Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Saying Things: Part One

I worried, as this year's presidential primary season was taking shape. The Democratic field was small and crap quality. Clinton was a center Democrat, with policies identical to Obama's in almost every regard; not brilliant, but someone who at least did her homework. She was of the great networkers and coalition builders of our time: but no talent for retail politics. Then there was someone whose name I could never remember, and still can't: Malloy? Never figured out why he was running. And then there was Sanders, the sort of fluffy-left politician I couldn't stand. He had never changed an opinion in fifty years of public life. He had one speech, which he made over and over, and his solution to any problem was to resurrect the 1970s playbook. Got a problem? Create a large new federal program! He was exactly the sort of politico that ran the Democratic party into a ditch, in my youth, and ushered in the Reagan revolution.

I didn't like any of these candidates very much. But any of them would do. I don't look to presidents for "the vision thing": I want them to take orders from their party and do the slogging administrative duties of the state. They were all neoliberals (though Sanders didn't seem to know he was), and none of them represented any significant change. Fine. With the Republicans in control of Congress, nothing was going to change anyway. Deadlock was the best we could hope for. I planned to vote for Sanders, since Clinton was obviously going to win anyway, and one likes to send a message to the Democratic establishment. ("Hey, there's still a vestigial Left in existence! Hey! Hey!")

But Sanders, improbably enough, started making a real play for the nomination. And I thought he'd be an especially ineffective president. Whereas the more I looked at Clinton the more liked her, especially for the scrappy, ugly fight that the next four years were going to be. I watched myself morph into a Clinton supporter, somewhat to my own surprise.

But my worry became more intense. The worry was simply this: that I knew the Republicans would try to make the Clinton and Sanders people hate each other. And I knew they had a shiny new tool for that: social media. So I resolved not to be played. I would just shut up. I would not argue with the Sanders people. Not a word. I would not open my mouth until well after the primaries, when they'd gotten over it. No wrangling from me.

I did it too. I just shut my trap. 

It was a bad decision, for several reasons. The main one: I overestimated what I could do. I thought I could just hold back everything I wanted to say, and still be the same person. That I could just let the lies and insults go by. It wasn't so. I came out the other end embittered, angrier at Sanders people than at Trump people. The Republicans hadn't just succeeded in making the Sanders people hate me. They'd succeeded in making me hate the Sanders people. I work every day to unwind that, to try to think of them still as allies. It's not working very well. I'd have done better to have brawled with them: I'd probably like them better now, if I had. Or maybe not. In any case, it wasn't worth it. Though I do feel that it gave me insight into Clinton's character. Clinton has spent a lifetime not saying things: I got a glimpse of what that's like.

Monday, September 05, 2016

September: Progress Report

Losing one's identity is, according to some Buddhists, a consummation devoutly to be wished. I have certainly lost mine. I used to be someone who was extraordinarily well-read. Now, well, I read sometimes, sometimes. Often I just look at silly old movies on YouTube, movies from my native country of the seventies, with the sound off. Or I refresh, monitoring my bets. I read 538 and religiously. I wander in and out of Facebook, far less conversational than I used to be: a mostly silent figure. When I do speak -- or rather type -- I am haunted by how often I have said exactly the same things, time and time again: Oh yes, I say that because I am a Buddhist, a Redistributionist, a Literary Man, A Person Who Looks At The Sky. But really, of course, I am a man who looks at his computer, and who feels that all these identities have grown into enormous suits, that dwarf him, like Byrne's suit in Stop Making Sense. And often I wander away now without saying anything, because what do I really have to say, I, this shrunken little old man gazing rapt at the shreds of his native, vanishing world? I have nothing to say. It was all a lot of silly posturing. I am surprised when I find that I can still speak those languages.

When I read aloud, I can hear my voice changing, the sibilants becoming wheezier, less distinct. When my brother, five years my elder, came out to visit, after many years away, that was was struck me most forcibly: he was hale as ever, but he had an old man's voice. And so I have been watching for the onset. And there it is: some faint loss of suppleness or agility in my tongue. No one else seems to notice it, but I do. 

This is real too: the watch I keep on my own physical decay. It is not quite what I would have thought. I welcome every loss: I am comforted by it. I feared I might be immortal, indestructible. I am not.

And, from someone who never gave a damn about money, I have become parsimonious, hypersensitive to the varied meanings of spending and withholding money. This small person I have become, darting from one hiding place to another, realizes only too well how much of his foothold in the world comes from being able to pay his own way.

In the bits and pieces of Spanish that I read, in primers and first readers and such, it is astonishing how front-and-center the passion of parsimonious grasping is. Over and over the lesson taught to the Spanish-speaking child is: the life of the grasping miser is a wretched one. Spend freely and be a man. Generosity is what makes a human life. I tell you, the takeover of American culture by Latinos can't come fast enough for me. Taco trucks on every corner, and a Church that takes its duty to the poor seriously? Bring it.

And I wander, barely here, redeemed by massage and human touch, when I am redeemed. And by the sky above me, when I am riding my bicycle: that still happens sometimes too.


The month of love and renewal, in my personal calendar. I am not sad, though I suppose I sound so: I am happy, confused, and young.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The White Calves of the Northmen

Hah. Rode my bike the scant four miles to Tom's, and back!

No doubt I look very silly, trudging up the Mt Tabor switchback, pushing my bike, with my rolled up trouser legs; and sillier still swooshing down the eastern side, my pale hairy calves glaring at the sky, and my white beard floating in the wind. The native priests are invoking their Lord: from the white calves of the northmen, dear God, deliver us!  Soon enough He will, O Walesas! But not yet, not yet.

A white-sky day with faintly perceptible drizzle, not enough to wet a bicycle seat. September, a day early.

Full of love for you all. Good morning!

Sunday, August 14, 2016


Pull a needle from the cushion.
Mine is too weak to see its, now;
but thread by feel, by the give
when the thread finds its way,
and the resistance 
when it's drawn through against the odds.

What will we know later?
Not much. The sweetest hem will fail.
The kiss that fascinated, in the day,
will be perfunctory: received
as homage to antiquity.

If a breath inflates
a heart-locker deeper now than ever
still the ribs must shift against the fat,
bedded in gleaming white;
and a whole breath requires
first hauling the spine up straight.

Stitch by stitch around the cuff:
quick fencer's thrust
and tender tug, and finally
knotting off, again by feel, and
cinching it home. I hope to die this way,
a tientas, groping 
for an unknown certainty.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Sunset: Horsetail Falls

I think
I must limp into speech again
run a finger around 
the drain trap of the larynx
and shake the gettings off into the trash:
Sure older,
sorrier, less sure,
but still there are those who wait
like bachelor buttons on the roadside
swaying together with the queen anne's lace.

Even a very old woman, fading,
will find speech at odd times.
The first time she and her husband
(her first husband, not this one) were asked out
their hosts cooked on a wood stove, and
forgot the salt for the potatoes.
Just that: all the other details gone.
Where, when, why, we'll never know.
But she repeats, before the speech dies out again:
forgot the salt for the potatoes.

Still there are those who wait
like berries in the shadow of the bluff.

The last of the sun
makes a golden buzz of the line
where yellow-moss cliff meets sky,
and the water hits rock twice, three times,
before the final splash in the 
green dark below, where night
already has a hold. This is August,
and though tongue and throat are thick,
I think
I must limp into speech again.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Frog Lake

A pale, worried, overstretched moon setting behind Mt Tabor: the sky light blue, faded before the day has even begun. Maybe we will have some summer after all, even if it is starting late in July.

Rubbed raw with politics, with the name-calling and the injustice and the vilification. If this is the best we can do, we had better close up shop.

By the little lake, yesterday, on the south slopes of Mt Hood, thousand of frogs, smaller than my little finger nail and as brown as the mud: we mistook them at first for insects. The whole shore was moving with them. To walk we had to retreat to the tree line, where it was dry; and the scented pine needles and twigs crunched under our feet.

An osprey came and surveyed the lake: he made one dive, splashing into the green water, but  missed his fish. He swept the lake again, twice, three times, he but didn't see anything he wanted to dive again for. He settled in the top of the tree, to brood about the Republican Convention, and work out a geometrical representation of the area of an irregular ovoid, reckoned in frog-yards, and how many fish-rises that should come to. The answer didn't lift his scowl, but he stayed there, swaying in the thin air and the shrill sunlight. There was peace maybe, somewhere, but he couldn't find it.

Then up highway 35, through the pleasant orchards and vineyards: a lovely and peaceful country, with glimpses of Mt Adams across the river; and then home along the Gorge. The cliffs on our left were outlined in a fuzzy, green-gold radiance, but my heart was closed to it. At Viento we stopped to use the bathrooms, and I suppose it was there that I lost my reading glasses, which I had perched incautiously on my knee while I napped in the passenger seat: no doubt I hopped out of the car and cast them out into the gravel. 

Wednesday, July 06, 2016


A house fly tapping the reflective linoleum with seven legs: the seventh, thicker than the rest, is of course his tongue. There is an abrupt typewriter rhythm to all his movements, and I wonder what his subjective experience -- if any -- might be: is he really dancing where he stands, a six- (seven-) legged Gene Kelly? Or to his own fly mind, are his movements as measured and deliberate as mine when I walk down the street?


A political distress comes to the boil: how thoroughly I disbelieve in the human capacity to grasp and grapple with the future! And yet we have to try. And the contempt we all have for each other seems to be all we have in common. I don't remember any equivalent to this contempt, even at the height of the fury about Vietnam. Where it all leads, I don't know, but it's hard to imagine it's going to be a good place.

I work hard not to participate: not to call names, not to impute motives, not to assume stupidity or ill will. It wears on my soul, because I do have strong opinions, and because they are very dark ones. I don't want to share the darkness, though. So I bite my tongue, and wait in the loneliness. There are worse things.

Meanwhile a delicate, beautiful summer unfolds, strangely kind and gentle: like the summers I remember from childhood, when we thought that the sky and the weather couldn't really change. Moments of peace.

Really though it just comes down to taking each task as it comes, and doing the best I can with it. I have no calling and no caller. I walk on the hillside, and the shaken catsear sends pale flakes into the air: I don't know what they're called -- they're not the seeds -- tiny husks, I guess. They launch for no reason, with no mission, but they ripple through the complexities of air, as if they had one.