Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Feet Spoke to Me

One day walking home from work
My feet spoke to me.  They said:
“Ray, we don’t want you sticking us in your fancy
             brown custom-made dress shoes from Portugal.
             They are tight, and our toes can’t move around freely."

"OK," I said, "let’s try
an older pair tomorrow,
something more worn,
more broken in."

My feet said,
“OK, but if we don’t like it, you won’t like it either.”
I said, "OK, tomorrow we
will wear the ECCO’s,
the Baghdad ECCO’s
that are well-worn and broken in."

The next day my feet apoke to me again.  They said,
“Ray, we don’t like the ECCO’s either. 
We discussed it among ourselves and
decided we want the brown leather
Saucony’s, you know, the running shoes."

I said, "but I can’t wear running shoes to work with a Suit."

They said,
            "If you don’t, we won’t like it.
                And you won’t like it either." 

So Sunday night I cleaned up
the Sauconys and gave them
a good buffing with cream polish.
Monday morning my feet were smiling!


November 2012

One day walking home from work
My feet spoke to me.  They said:

“Ray, we don’t want
You sticking us in your fancy
brown dress shoes from Portugal.
They are tight, and
our toes can’t move around freely.

"OK," I said, "let’s try
an older pair tomorrow,
something more worn, 
more broken

My feet said,

        “OK, but if we don’t like it,
        You won’t like it either.”

I said, "OK, tomorrow we
will wear the ECCO’s,
the Baghdad ECCO’s that 
are well-worn and 
broken in."

The next day my feet
Spoke to me again.  They said,

        “Ray, we don’t like the ECCO’s
        either.  We discussed it among ourselves
        and decided we want the brown leather
        Saucony’s, you know, the running shoes.

I said, "but I can’t wear running shoes
To work with a Suit."

They said,

        If you don’t, we won’t like it.
        And you won’t like it either. 

So Sunday night I cleaned up
the Saucony’s and gave them
a good buffing with cream polish.

Monday morning my feet were smiling! 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

UIBC (United Institutional Baptist Church)

A purgatory of my own conceit
and choice – wherefore a Mephistopheles?
The first half of shahada got it right:
There is no small-g god.

In the Baptist church where I was raised,
between the end of Sunday School
and the start of the 11 o’clock service,
the old ladies in big hats sang the songs of old.
We would giggle and call them slavery songs
But we listened, and sometimes, we sang along.

They sang:
You know the storm is passing over,

They sang in low tones and in flat notes…

They sang:
There’ll be nooooo moooooore weeping….
          Nooooo moooooore weeping
          Nooooo moooooore weeping over me…
And before I be a slave
I’ll be buried in my grave
And I’ll go home, home to my Lord, and I’ll be free…

They sang in high notes and sharp tones…

They sang:
That’s alright, that’s alright
That’s alright, that’s alright
As long as I know I got a seat in the kingdom,
That’s alright.

They sang without scales
They sang without any lyrics you could read
They sang from their hearts
They sang from their souls
They sang words and hopes and dreams
passed down from a dark past.
And sometimes,
They just made shit up.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Farewell to Luanda: A Song of Thanksgiving

I would come to miss
the great time we had in Luanda.
I would miss the music,
sunset on the Ilha,
dancing the kizomba...

I would miss the taste of zindungo
     (a hot, spicy sauce you put on everything).
I’d miss the smooth harshness
of freshly roasted Angolan coffee.
I’d miss the syrupy sweetness
of overripe pineapple
sold at inflated prices
by the women on the street
who swear it will last until tomorrow…
     (can I change some dollars for you, Senhor Administrador?)

I’d miss the soft bitterness of
gimboa fried with onions and olive oil...

More than anything else, though,
I’d miss the effusive enthusiasm
of the local staff,
their willingness to learn,
their dedication and commitment,
their loyalty.

Finally, while I didn’t fully
recognize it at the time,
I would certainly come to miss
the support DCM Jeff Hartley
and Ambassador Joe Sullivan
always extended to all of us.
Telephones didn’t work half the time.
There was no e-mail
to the Admin annex, Casa Inglesa.
But I could count on the support of
upper management in doing the work
I had to do.
I could take it to the bank.
The support I enjoyed
and took for granted in Luanda,
the collegiality we shared
is rare in this outfit,
I suppose,
and I am grateful
for having experienced it there.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Attempting to save this video to my poetry blog so I can share with friends who are not in the ModPo class, especially the merry band of translators and interpreters I was privileged to work with in Baghdad in 2008.  

Ode to "of"

of a proportionate depth of insight
of a thousand heartbreaks
of awe and dread;
Of chance and happenstance and foiled romance.
Of eager reception…
Of everyday travail, I take a pause
Of expectancy
of having made love to you...
Of life once vibrant, cocksure, confident.
Of love was sweet and tender, not the salt
Of morals will sustain us…
Of my affection,
Of my dedication.
Of my devotion,
Of one who loved and lost
of passioned pursuit.
Of poets who still sing the sonnet’s song.
Of sadness at the thought of those who've missed
of society.
of strength,
of love the gods bequeathed to gods
Of talents borrowed from the Muse of song and word and deed
of tender feelings unexpressed
Of the burning desire
Of the coming of the hour.
Of the earnest enthusiasm
Of the goal. There're happy ones who feel the tinge
of the internal forces which
Of the silent longing
Of the verses that we write,
Of time.  Friendships and associations
of zero and unity.

      Monday, November 12, 2012

      ModPo essay #4: Prepositions and Infinitives: A Mayer Experimental and Randomized Index

      to a fleeting moment of awe and dread
      to a world that’s paranoid…
      to alight and pollinate--
      to assimilate 20th century ideas
      To attain the final, greatest goal?
      to avert the difficult question.
      To be denied, too pure to not be sure
      To be seduced by the appetites and desires
      to break the chains of sin and immorality.
      To bring us to this time and place?
      To call my father’s gods, subdue
      To choose one is to choose them both:
      to close my eyes
      to come into existence, to survive
      to convert filth in the atmosphere
      to correct the incorrection -
      to dance to; but I fake it, trying to stay in step,
      to desire your company
      To earn by birth what we had been endowed.
      to ease their conscience –
      to escape the bonds of slavery mentality,
      to everything’s reality.
      To glory and to honor, let not the fleeting summer’s wrath
      To God, to plead for strength to understand
      to grow, to learn all,
      to comprehend
      To guide, to entertain, and to enthuse.
      To heal itself, be born anew.
      To help us in our need…”
      to integrate Area 1 with Area 3
      to justify their crimes on humanity.
      To kill, to maim, to burn some flesh, to swing
      to land five smooth stones
      to let you know
      to limit my perspective
      to lose it
      to mask our true feelings.
      to measure its dimensions,
      to motivate their evil intentions –
      to narrow my mind
      To overcome escapes my grasp each moment I attempt to make it mine
      to overcome the dark and mired soil that hems me in
      To overcome the dark morass;
      To persevere until the last;-
      to re-evaluate our status as the fittest for survival
      To reach the end of dreams, the final breath to take
      To reach the resting place of souls.  
      to reclaim what we've lost ...
      To recollect and circumspect love's laws;
      To recollect, arrange my thoughts, compose some verse
      to reconsider what we've tossed aside...
      To reflect ...
      To relive that summer’s night.
      to repel evil,
      to resist weakness,
      to replace outmoded values with spanking fresh
      to retain one’s inner discipline
      to return there?
      to revolve around.
      To sail the oceans, deep and vast;
      to San Diego…
      To seal the fate of those they've chose to slay.
      To seek for LUCE the blessing of the fleet.
      to share her love with all.
      to soothe and warm and please me
      to steer myself clear of
      To take? When all the storms of life have passed,
      to tears of passion, blinding, bittersweet.
      To test and gage the status of our friendship born
      to the exclusion of all others.
      To the Lord of the Worlds, the All-seeing.
      To the students
      To thee, to thee sweet angel of my childhood dreams!
      to think things through…
      to thrust an internal body outward---
      to transcend the limits of grafted knowledge,
      To uphold its right to grow.
      to watch their homes and children, melt
      To weather all the storms and blasts;
      to where our souls are one-
      To write, embraceable, attainable by all
      to you baby

      Process/methodology:  I cut and pasted all my pre-ModPo poems, good and bad ones, into an excel spreadsheet, then sorted the 2000+ lines alphabetically applying a sort of random constraint.  The resulting lines above represent all lines that start with the preposition "to."  The center-justified lines are prepositional phrases, the left-justified ones are infinitives.
      Close read and analysis: We begin with a continuation of last week's language poetry, venturing out to test and hypothesize the effects of randomization to the language effect.  I chose to extract prepositional phrases from an aggregation of original poems, written over a period stretching from 1973 to 2012.  I chose the preposition "to," hoping it would yield an index of places and personalities, as well as a list of actions in the infinitive form.  I maintained a few "wing words," in mesostomic fashion, to provide a degree of context, while at the same time being mindful of the need to strip away the sense of sentimentality that accompanied the prepositional phrase in it's whole original context, in the process shifting abruptly my attention as well as the attention of the reader.  
      An interesting juxtaposition often emerges, one that would not have been evident in the original composition, for example, in the following sequence:
      to be denied
      to be seduced by the appetites and desires,
      to break the chains of sin and immorality
      And we see the same parataxis later on, in a riff of lines from a political poem, a poem about witnessing a lynching, and a poem about a Bernini sculpture of David harking a biblical theme:
      to justify their crimes against humanity
      to kill, to maim, to burn some flesh, to swing
      to land five smooth stones
      The "list" is Whitmanian in some respects, an index, an autobiographical seed catalog in Mayerian terms.  The repetitiveness of the preposition "to" in many ways reminds one of a Steinian portrait of multiple angles and various foci, presenting as full and as complete and yet as unsentimental and as selfless a representation as allowable.  
      The alphabetical order of the verbs or nouns following the preposition provide a necessary constraint, a sense of determinism, a semblance of order in a sea of chaos and unpredictability.  Yet at the level of the constraint, a different sentimentality emerges, a question about the impulses and factors that may be conspiring to shape the life being described.  
      Finally, a word about the oracular quality of randomization.  Perhaps.  Or not.  One might suspect, whether using the mesostic method or the Mayer experiment, that the random recombination of elements might yield some sort of essential truth, like a voodoo guy shaking up bones in a can and tossing them on the ground to read your fortune.  I met such guys in Tallahassee and in Caliquisse (Guine-Bissau).  And one might fear such a revelation, if it turns out to be such.  We all saw The Matrix, and in our heart of hearts, we might suspect the existence of such an oracle, in a mesostic result, or otherwise.  Fear not.  There is no Deus ex machina.  The mesostic is just a computer gimmick, and the random recombination of poetry lines or poetry words above has about as much predictive power as the recombination of DNA: you might get a genius, or you might get a moron.  It brings us back full circle to several aspects of the language poetry school, i.e., the self is a construct; the self is nomadic, dynamic; the truth is right before you, on the surface; high culture/low culture distinctions are not only false but ridiculous; anything can be a poem, even randomly sorted lines from other poems; the poem itelf is a machine, with removable and replaceable modularity; and on, and on, and on.  
      Acknowledgements: I submitted the experimental results above to members of the Breakfast Club study group, the Politics and Prose Washington DC study group, and my wife and niece over Sunday dinner.  In the essay, I have attempted to incorporate their suggestions.  Any success is directly attributable to them and their great ideas; any shortcoming is my own.  
      (Posted via the peer assessment system)
      Raymond Maxwell
      on Mon 12 Nov 2012 7:51:26 AM EST