Wednesday, November 09, 2016


She said: you have broken it; now you get to see inside.
She said: what you've worked on all your life is worthless.

I said, if what I've worked on all my life is worthless,
high time to break it. There is still a streak of gold 

where the low sill of the eastern sky is cracked;
and if you think I am afraid you do not know me yet.

She said: what have you given to your children but loss?
I said, then at least I have taught them what there is to lose.

She said: what will you give me, to make it all untrue?
I said, nothing will make it all untrue, but I will plant

such strange things in your breast that their singing 
will haunt you in the morning and the night,

till its wickerwork is open, and their song
has spread apart your willow ribs and turned them into light.

Friday, November 04, 2016

The Broken World

My heart is convinced that Trump will win this election. My head says no, and points to our three point lead, and a variety of ingenious reasons for thinking that two-thirds of the imponderable and unpollable influences will break Clinton's way in the end-game: but my heart has its own reasons, and it says that liberalism and democracy are dead: our social capital is expended to the last penny: and we really are going to elect a sociopath to hold coke parties adorned with Playboy bunnies on the back lawn of the White House. I have always, of course, been a political gloomy Gus, and my originally low opinion of American political intelligence -- I came to political awareness, mind, during the Watergate hearings -- has gone steadily down for four decades. 

Joaquín Sarollo: Benito Pérez Galdós

Hitler's election in 1933 was, to my mind, understandable. Germany was undergoing political and economic convulsions that made desperate measures seem the only rational response. Inflation was running at a thousand percent: Communists and Brownshirts were rioting and brawling nightly in the streets. And Hitler was a war hero and a patriot, a man who loved his country deeply and was passionate about its restoration. If he had a bee in his bonnet about Jews, well, at least he was not in the pocket of the big banks.

In the United States, meanwhile, everything is fine. Basic crime rates are the lowest I've known in my life. The economy is in full recovery from the great recession. Our perennial wars are far away and fought by volunteer poor people, who like that sort of thing. We want to elect our fascist, apparently, just to see what happens to a polity if you break it.

Charles Dickens

The autumn is walking in the hills, and the beauty is almost unendurable. There is sudden fire in the wet forest, and the hands that reach out to me from the past are strong, warming after that first cold contact: the fire of old loves, of hearts that yearned for ordinary decent lives for ordinary decent people. In the hills it's harder to believe in the triumph of hatred and suspicion.

Émile Zola

I have nothing to say. I love you all. We don't know what the future holds, but we know that we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and receive weary wanderers with an open heart. We will go on doing that, where we can. The world is, was, and always will be broken.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Tryon Creek

Under the tall cascaras and the alders
I limp to the creek on shells of sodden gold; no one 
peels these trees but God and ravenkind.

The knees and the hips of my jeans are wet:
I've been nosing in the bushes like a truffling pig,
looking for disregarded, not yet ruined things.

It was just yesterday, or some few centuries ago,
the earl king came riding through these woods,
and saw your lowered gaze, and took your offering

of painfully gathered herbs: a prudent soul
is careful of kings, but also of ladies with sharp eyes
who linger where the strong root fingers tangle

in the bright hair of the brook. No more.
Neither he nor you, nor even I, for long,
will walk at large on the creeksides

in this new-made world of time.

Saturday, October 29, 2016


And if I rise from beds to walk
on brilliant yellow leaf:
And if the one who huddles in
so timid warm and brief

is the one who found me after all 
and called me into life:
how thank those woolen feet I held
in service to their wife?

But walk a little further 
where the gray clouds shear away, 
and blinding silver pours
out into dawn of day. 
I'd thought of Venus 
and of Vulcan, and of interlocking doors--

but I had thought that Venus
had loaned me to her friend,
to spread her skin with orange oil,
as comfort at the end.

(For even splendid husbands die by afternoon, 
and skin longs for a stroking hand,
and the long dark evening calls 
for cradling when it can.)

No. It it is the little one,
whose candelabra formed 
of pukel men with hollow eyes
was seldom lit or warmed:

She struck the match and named 
me, and I was bound to come:
bound to receive her fingerprints
in the wet clay of my palms.

Monday, October 24, 2016


Well, it is like someone playing keyboards, 
meditatively, way high on the scale, as high
as the the sound will go. Or like a steampunk
mosquito swaying at my ear. Or like 
a silver brightness, not quite seen.
It is what silence sounds like now:
the goddess of hazards who hums as she works;
or the sift of the sunrise between steel clouds.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Pledge Of Other Things

Start again: it's the morning walk,
the long slow flourish
of silver in the gray sky, the sudden
slash of rain across my face,
and the leaves scrambling on the street:
if I've forgotten the recklessness that matters
then I've forgotten everything.

Start again.
One painful step, the aching heels,
the flash of pain that runs from hip to calf,
the relief of closing eyes against the light,
so that the pulse knocks once, twice, thrice against the lids.

Start again.
Leave the brutal soldiers to their work,
leave Nineveh its overlaid, perpetual collapse.
Did I think there was no work for me alone to do?
But it's one stone at a time. This word:
its heft in the hand, its longing
for a throat to call its own.

Cup my hands and let them fill with light,
let the radiance dribble down my chin. 
I have forgotten, haven't I? I have.
No matter. Start again.

Straighten up, and the company of ghosts
shuffling at my heels 
falls back and falls behind: they can't keep pace
with standing still.

One prayer learned late or early
will make them flinch; and this light,
this rainwashed silver scarf,
is a pledge of other things
soon to be remembered in their turn.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part Three

Well, sure. Let's talk about plutocracy and corruption, then.

There's such an array of stuff that Clinton is accused of that you can end up a bit dazed. This part is easier if you're old, because the stuff came at you a little at a time, and you knew where it was coming from. I don't even remember what the hell Whitewater was supposed to be about, but I know that I looked at it and thought it completely bogus. Likewise the murder of Vince Foster. In those days Bill Clinton was hugely popular, and attacking his far less popular, unladylike wife looked like a better shot than attacking him directly. They started making crap up to throw at her.

If you want to dive it and relive those wonderful days, be my guest. I'm done. The Clinton enemies have been at this for a very long time.

But there was lots of new stuff to sort through. There was the whatever-it-was she was supposed to have done or left undone in re Benghazi. She was supposedly giving all our uranium away to Russia. She was taking extraordinary amounts in speaker fees from Wall Street.

Michael Arnowitz -- a Portlander, I'm happy to say, though I don't know him -- did a nice takedown of the whole silly speaker fees thing. The guys holding the Benghazi hearings ended up with egg on their face and the question of whatever-it-was is as mysterious as ever. It turns out that, no, Secretary Clinton did not sign away the nation's uranium. What I ran into that was entirely new to me was the Clinton Foundation, presented as a sinister money-laundering operation.

So, the foundation? As it happens, I know a bit about non-profits and how to evaluate them. The Clinton Foundation is a good one, and it spends its money exactly as it says it does. It calls itself a foundation, but it's actually, mostly, a charity: they run their own programs, addressing things such as the availability of drinkable water and HIV medications in Africa. So Pence gets to say the Clinton Foundation takes in all this money and then only spends ten percent in grants. That's true -- because it isn't primarily a grant-funding operation. They do their own stuff, and they do it well and transparently, and they get good ratings from the people who rate charities.

Aha! But people get political favors if they make big donations! Well -- no, they don't. I spent a while chasing this stuff down as well as I could, and I found exactly one iffy-looking nomination to some board after a big donation. It wasn't really a very exciting corruption story. Okay, but -- if you make a big donation you get face time with Clinton, possibly at the State Department, and God knows what goes on in those meetings! No doubt some very sinister favor trading, so cleverly done that no one can detect it.

This is where we're finally getting down to what's real about the trouble with Clinton, and the Democratic Party, and money. Yes. Money gets you access. It generally always has. This is why so many big corporations donate to both parties. When they've got a political issue, they want to make sure they can stroll over and have a little talk about it.

Clinton thinks this is not a problem, because she is not going to offer a quid pro quo. I actually -- laugh at me if you like -- totally believe her about the quid pro quo. I think she's incorruptible. If somebody says, "here's thirty million for your foundation, will you get the State Department to approve our arms deal?" she'll say, "thanks so much! The State Department will approve it or not approve it on its merits!" And they'll go away thinking they've bribed her, and the State Department will approve it or not approve it on its merits, and some people in Africa will get HIV meds.

I have no doubt whatever that one of the benefits that the Clintons anticipated, when they started their foundation, was an extra reason to have face to face time with people in the donor class. Those are people with power, and the Clintons gravitate to power. Always have. They would probably have given these people face time anyway, because they like to keep in touch with powerful people. And *that* is a problem. Just that these are the people that Clinton sees, week in and week out. The people she talks with. The people she's tuned to.

It is not, however, corruption. Clinton is pro-business: she's hardly made a secret of that. She thinks corporation and businesses are the source of American prosperity -- I think that's true myself -- and that therefore they need to be supported and encouraged. As a far-left kind of guy, I think this is a problem. Clinton (and the Democratic party) are just too cozy with these folks. They're biased in favor of business from the git-go.

But being pro-business is not the same thing as being corrupt. It means you lean rightward. It means that you have no particular impulse to become well-versed in environmental issues. It means that you know all about business and corporate concerns about legislation right away, and maybe hear about other concerns later, if at all. It's the perpetual bias of both parties, and will be as long as politics is donation-driven.

Is this plutocracy? Well, yeah, kinda sorta, over the long haul it works out that way. But it's no particular fault of Clinton's, and she's no worse about it than anyone else. It's a systemic problem, and it's not one that Sanders or anyone else was going to fix from the White House. If it's to be fixed, it will fixed legislatively, and state by state -- almost precinct by precinct. It's very, very deeply inwoven in American politics. (And if you think it's worse now than it used to be, you really need to read up on American political history. I particularly recommend the first volume of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, The Path to Power.)

The most important step at present, in reducing money's sway over politics, is overturning Citizens United, which Clinton is totally and publicly committed to doing -- she's even saying in so many words, if you don't plan to overturn it, don't apply for a Supreme Court nomination. Even if you think Clinton is crooked, I think you can agree it is not her style to renege on something that simply put and forcefully repeated: if she's president, Citizens United goes down.