Poetry: A Blaze of Glory

Warned ya: F-word used cuz I do.

A Blaze of Glory

I should be dead.
Hush! Be quiet.
Listen to me.

I shudda been dead years ago.
Every rock wall or cliff I ever saw
was for climbin’ up or down
got kinda hairy sometimes, ripped pants,
scrapes, scratches, and snakes
got bee stung once.

Every train was our ride, tracks for playing
and high trestles for wide river crossings.
A train’s comin’?
I knew two guys who
killed themselves
jumpin’ off a them bridges.

Every roof was to be jumped from
after a building’s been climbed, got
wrenched, twisted, and sprained —
never broken.

Me and Jimmy swam
butt-naked
in that filthy, dirty, Susquehanna
in our bathing suits, which means naked.
Immunity.

We climbed up shit.
Like towers, bridges, trees, buildings.
Shinnied up rusty poles. If we fell,
we’d die. Motivation!
If a train came, we’d die.

Fucking people jumped
from there
into the river
to kill their selves.
My uncle did – Dad’s brother,
Was his name? James maybe,
Something. Yes it was James. Same as Dad’s dad.
His sons said he was trying to save a dog.
Uncle Jimmy weren’t savin’ no fucking dog,
But glorious if he had.

We poached – fish. Got shot at!
Fuckers missed us – on purpose likely.
When you get shot at,
you hear the bullets buzz past.
Crack, crack,
buzz
buzz.
We left — pronto.
Fish were prolly scared anyway.

It was fun to be
scared. And nothing
scared us more than
death.
But Jimmy and me – we
would live forever.

Then Jimmy died
after heart surgery.
Took him off a machine that
breathed
for him – how fucking
inglorious!

I’ll die too.
Too fucking late for
glorious.
Or is it?

Tom died too. Jumped
off a tower. ‘chute didn’t open.
BASErs say gear malfunction.
Midnight. New Year’s Eve.
BASE jump. Glorious.

Jack died of fucking cancer.
He knew. He called me cuz
he knew. I knew too. When his
wife called to tell me. I
fucking couldn’t talk – I
went totally fucking Dumb.

Give me the Light Brigade.
Fuck pas. Gimme a rifle,
a cause, a revolution, a reason.
Fernando!

Teach me how to
die. All the lessons of
life – not one teaches
me how to die.

Love hard, live fast,
die old. But die for a reason.
If yer gunna die, have a cause.

¡viva la revolución!
Aces’n eights ain’t my hand.
I’m not motherfucking dead yet.

There’s more.
More to tell, more to do.

I toast my comrades: to their glory. Salute!

(Bill Reynolds, © 14 May 2018)

In life, there is a reason for each season. Look both ways and mind the gaps.

NOTES: While I think a poem should stand on its own without gloss, my editorial reconsiderations include these.

If you like, read the Charge of The Light Brigade (esp. last stanza) by clicking here.

Pas is physician assisted suicide.

Fernando is the song by ABBA, click here to listen.

 

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Poem – NaPoWriMo: Frist Weakened Then Dead

The day 13 poem prompt of the 2018 National Poetry Writing Month challenges me to write a poem in which the words or meaning of a familiar phrase are up-ended.

I chose the phrase whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. My upending is in the poem’s title. Besides the prompt, my inspiration for this poem stems from reading Christopher Hitchens’ Vanity Fair article regarding the maxim, and the entire series he wrote during his tribulation with cancer.

Indeed, successful resistance often strengthens. That is the principle of inoculations against disease, doing regular exercise, preserving through addictions, or recovery from mental setbacks such as depression. The problem arises from the universal application of the maxim, no matter who first said it.

First, it may kill you (and someday something indeed will). Secondly, things (like whatever) can and do leave you weaker, not always stronger. In my opinion, despite having taken the shot against shingles, I contracted the illness because I had been ill repeatedly over months and my immune system had been severely weakened. And there is the age thing (it’s not just a number). Being ill did not kill me, but it did make me weaker, more vulnerable, and not a bit stronger. Shingles does not make you any stronger either.

Here is a good article about Hitch’s Vanity Fair piece. And the poem…

 

First Weakened Then Dead

I am my body and my mind
‘tis me nature to be friendly and kind.

Then you entered me, quite uninvited
You’re a vile corruption of cells divided.

You took my strength, my pride, my hair
Weakened what I am, if you ever care.

We both suffer, but it’s you we must kill
In my losing battle to save my will.

Die I must, that’s what they say
But I hope to find some other way.

(Bill Reynolds, 4/13/2018)

I’m a Kelly Clarkson fan, especially since watching her coach on the TV show, The Voice. I’ve included her 2012 hit in the interest of leaving you, literally, on a positive note.

 

From birth to death, look both ways.
Mind the gaps and the cleaver maxims.
Even mine.

Click link to National Poetry Writing Month

A to Z Challenge — F is for Frankenstein’s Monster

One book published many times.

Two hundred years ago in London, on 1 January 1818, 20-year-old Mary Shelley anonymously published the first edition of her novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.

Mary was 18 when she wrote the book, the genesis of which goes to the topic of galvanism and other occult ideas that were themes of conversation among Mary and her companions, particularly her lover and future husband, Percy Shelley. Mary, Percy, Lord Byron, and John Polidori competed to see who could write the best horror story. After thinking for days, Mary Shelley dreamt about a scientist who created life and was horrified. Her dream evolved into the novel’s long-famous story.

The problem with this story is that history, Hollywood, and human imagination have been unfair, if not unkind, and inaccurate regarding Victor Frankenstein’s creation. Even Victor was too quick to judge by outside appearance, unpleasant as it undoubtedly was. In Shelley’s book, the outcome of Frankenstein’s experiment is never given a name, although the creature did suggest that he was Victor’s Adam.

At first, the creation is kind and gentle and only wants to be accepted. The creature was eight feet tall and ugly and he knew it. Yet, he sought life and normalcy, but he could not achieve that due to the fearful nature of mankind, and specifically Victor Frankenstein’s fear of what might happen.

I find it interesting that even in the mind of an 18-year-old girl 200 years ago, the innate goodness of a man’s creation can be judged as evil before ever doing anything but kindnesses to others.

One hundred thirty-six years later, the first human body part/organ transplant is completed. Numerous human lives have been extended through science and organ donations and transplants. I would not say we take that for granted, but we’re getting close and for some tissue, there are insufficient donors. One organ not transplanted is the human brain. I have read that it is the one donation where the donor would be the greater beneficiary in the process.

I wonder how Mary, her husband, and their circle of friends would react to the knowledge of today’s reality, scientific knowledge, and literary fantasy if they could suddenly be here and learn about it.

Lord Byron wrote his poem Darkness about the same time as Mary Shelley wrote this book. Given the nature of the book, the poem, and earth during 1816, I do wonder if his poem came to be for similar reasons as her Frankenstein story.

‘tis a dark world after all.
Skeptically, look both ways,
yet apply judgement of others and their creations carefully.
Mind the gaps in your own humanity.

Aspects of My Dream

Aspects of My Dream

There was a time in my life when I thought I didn’t dream. Since I recalled none, there were no dreams. Discussion over, right?

Wrong, Billy Boy! Since childhood, I have always dreamed, probably every night, and have had more than my share of nightmares. Even as an adult, I’ve physically acted out dream events in voice or movement, concerning and confusing my wife. If I have had one dream every night since birth, that’s over 26,000 dreams. Many nights there were more than one or two.

 

At the end of this post I’ll drop a link to a down-to-earth piece about dream interpretation, if you want some P-h-and-D ideas.

There are a lot of things written about dreams. I find most of it to be irrational BS and schemes for cash. But, I do think there is physiological meaning in dreams, and I find dream analysis to be a fun and healthy experience. Extensive metaphor and symbolism seem to be what dreams are made of, although I have had some dreams closely parallel real-life events, and were likely triggered by past or pending events.

My dreams are virtually always dreams about challenge, during which I’m motivated to overcome difficulty or an obstacle. I have faced danger, been stuck, or wanted to move away from a situation in which I found myself. Most of my dreams involve other people, but not always those I know. I have had a few pleasant dreams and my awakening to reality was disappointing. But mostly, I’m ready for the dreams to end.

Usually, I enter my dream by finding myself in an ongoing situation. There’s no introduction or preface. It’s like I’m teleported into a situation that “I” was already in, but have just became aware or conscious of.

Last night I arrived into my dream feeling a little cold. I found a discarded jacket and decided to wear it. But I was self-conscious that it was not “my” jacket, and that someone may claim it. As I walked past people, I felt their judging stares. They seemed to know it was not my jacket and that I ought not to be wearing it.

I was walking with a crowd. Along with many others, I walked into a building that looked much like the inside of church. We sat on long benches like pews. The walls were bare, there were no church-like activities such as singing, praying, or preaching. A man sitting near me was constantly watching me. I saw him and spoke to him, but he never talked. He just stared at me. And he looked pissed off – grumpy for sure. In real life, he’d be a weirdo stalker for which I’d summon the law. But in this dream, I simply moved on.

Deciding to leave the building, I stood and walked to the exit doors. A group of people surrounded the doors and were making half-hearted efforts to leave the building. None seemed to be leaving. I noticed a door with nobody near it. I grabbed the handle and opened the big heavy wooden door. That is when I discovered my exit blocked by a wall. I could see over the shoulder-high obstruction. So, I grasped the top with both hands, pulled myself up, and swung one leg over. I noticed others doing the same, then jumping and walking away. As I swung the other leg over, I jumped from the wall and joined others walking.

I was out of the building, away from the weird guy, and happy about it. I felt relieved. Then, I stopped and turned to look back. I could see the others standing behind the wall looking at me. They didn’t speak, but I was sure they wanted out – to be free. I told them how easy it was to climb over the wall. I offered to help, and I told them that fear was holding them back. With that, some climbed the wall and jumped out. Others just stood there. They didn’t try. It was not the wall that kept them trapped, it was that they didn’t try to leave. I walked away a second time.

I began to feel guilty about the people who were not motivated enough to try. Again, I went back. I considered jumping the wall back into the building, but I suspected I would not be able to leave if I tried to help others. They were afraid to come out. I was afraid to go back in. For the third time I walked away. As I looked around I noticed a pretty lady also walking away. She nodded knowingly and smiled.

Awake, I looked at the clock: 5:30 AM. I decided to sleep more, pondering where I would go, where anyone would go after leaving that building. As I was dozing back into dreamland, I analyzed my dream. I wanted to know where I was going. What would come next?

Are dreams stories with built-in conflicts? Was my dream just one more? Was it simply a story I dreamed up in my sleep? Or did it have deeper psychological meaning? Is there something in my real life that precipitated the dream?

Does everything in a dream represent something real in my world or in my mind?
Why am I always younger in my dreams?

To read one of several interesting articles about dream analysis in Psychology Today, click here.

One of my favorite dream poems:

Also this: click here to read a Mary Oliver poem about dreams.

When you dream,
look both ways for what the dream tells you about the past,
and what you may be thinking about for the future.
Dreams are not logical, so mind the gaps.

Signs Yer in Texas: Part II

Who needs memes? While walking and driving around The Lone Star State this past and pleasant October, I was intrigued by reading signs that revealed a certain something about the place. I don’t know if it’s the mentality, the mixed cultures, humor, a form of irony, or what natives might call, “a Texas thing.”. But, I sensed a latent message. I’m still uncertain exactly why I felt the vibe I did. Maybe it was me. At the time, I was trying to make an important life decision.

When 85 is not fast enough.

Signs convey messages. Texas may have more highway signs per road mile than any other state. Speed limits range from fast (70MPH) to ridiculous (85MPH). Ubiquitous municipal signs warned of rules (some designed to aid the foolish or intoxicated). I found humor everywhere I looked.

Squeezed into a few square miles of New Braunfels, Texas, is a huge waterpark (Schlitterbahn was closed by October), and two rivers used for floating on tubes while getting shit-faced-drunk (the Comal and Guadalupe rivers). It all happens between May and September when the temperature has the natives counting the number of days in a row over 100-degrees Fahrenheit. It’s hot. Even the water is too damn hot to feel good. The thousands of visitors must pay to park in huge lots or obtain city permits to park on the streets because it is so congested with fun seekers during the hot summer months.

 

What can I say? It’s Texas. I married a Texan and technically, I suppose I am one, albeit an unwilling transplant from Yankee-land. Our three young’uns (and a passel of grands) were all born there.

 

This is for street parking. They are all over the place.

Empty parking lot at Schlitterbahn Water Park.

Even though I’ve lived in Texas more than half my life, the state and many inhabitants continue to mystify me. While I don’t currently live between the Red River and The Rio Grande, I now plan to move north of Austin in less than a month (reason for blogging about it).

Nice zombie family, but a little quiet.

Native Texans, and many transplants, love the state. My wife likes to tell me, “you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl.” She sees that as a good thing. I think she’s brainwashed. I confess that the state and its inhabitants pose a certain mystique, but I don’t buy into the Texas is special nonsense.

That is called a sigh-reen in Texas parlance. Used for tornado warnings.

In 1964, I asked a friend who was home in PA after Air Force Basic Training in San Antonio (where I was soon headed) what he thought of Texas. He replied, “I think we should give it back to Mexico.” I won’t go that far. But there have long been grumblings among some Texans favoring secession from the Union and returning to the status of an independent Republic.

Grin and roll your eyes (I do), but some Texans consider that rational thought. How secession worked the last time apparently notwithstanding. I refuse to ponder the complications of such foolishness. But, all the noise makes for good news and political fodder. It’ll never be more than that, even if some are serious.

They know El Paso is not on the coast.

As the USA’s second largest state, in land mass (behind Alaska) and population (California is first), Texas has an interesting history. A little over 180 years ago, it was Mexico. The people living there at the time, along with many additional (illegal?) immigrants from the United States, successfully rebelled and it became an independent Republic. The irony of the times was that the Mexican government was trying to end all the immigration into Mexico of people from the USA. The eventual annexation of Texas as the 28th state in 1845 led directly to the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). Mexico was pissed. I think they still are.

Air conditioning is everywhere.

I want to dispel some myths about Texas.

It is not a law that all Texas public school students stand and recite a pledge of allegiance to both the American and Texas flags, but many Texans believe it is and should be. Texas did not add “under God” to their pledge to the Texas flag until 2007, and while the pledge says “indivisible,” it’s sort of true that Texas may choose to divide into several states. Maybe someday, but don’t hold your breath.

The Texas flag is a big deal. That seems odd, since they did not have an official state flag from about 1879 until 1933. Many Texans believe before then only six flags flew over Texas, maybe because of the name of the theme park (Six Flags). It was nine. There were others (unofficial) here and there, but nine flags.

Many Texans also think theirs it is the only state flag allowed to fly at the same level as the USA flag. Not true. Any state flag may be flown at an equal height to the American flag. The US flag must always be to the right (viewer’s left) of the state flag, per normal flag etiquette. It’s common to see the Texas flag being displayed with no US flag in sight. I never ask why.

I developed a pet peeve regarding the Texas flag. When I see it flown upside down, especially by a native-born-and-raised Texan, I want to fix it. It happens more than you’d think and in places it shouldn’t. I have had people argue with me about it, insisting the red stripe goes up and the two star points up were correct. The white bar goes on top of the red – up. The single point at the top of the star should point up, not look like it’s standing on its dang head. And yes, I have pulled off the road to tell them: car dealerships, housing and apartment developments, and (my favorite) schools.

Wrong! and not a US flag in sight.

I’ve no idea why some folks think it more patriotic to fly dirty, old, torn, and ripped flags. It is not. It is bad taste and poor flag etiquette, but I will not go so far as to try to convince those people of anything. Many of them recently thought America was invading during a military exercise and was coming to take their guns. Speaking of guns, getting shot happens a lot there, but that is due to the large population.

Texas is second, behind California, in the number of murders. Texas has a slight edge in the per capita murder rate. To be fair, things seem to be somewhat under control even with several major mass shootings. The fact is that Texas ranks only 30th among states for gun ownership. With only about 36% packin’, it’s a good deal safer than many other states. Texas has stricter concealed carry requirements than does Washington State, and probably takes this subject more serious than many give them credit. Especially now, following the shootings at the church in Sutherland Springs.

“Old Sparky,” in which 361 prisoners were executed between 1924 and 1964.

One last interesting comparison between Texas and California is in the use of capital punishment. Texas leads the nation in executions while CA has the most people on death row. I suppose somebody must be number one, but I am mystified as why anyone would take pride in either statistic. Some do. Not me.

This must be problem. The river is not that deep, so breakage is likely.

 

Thousands of cars. Any chance these folks are busy? Sign says 24/7!

 

Seriously? How many times must they tell you?

 

The most common sign on the walk up from the river.

 

So many signs for this?

 

They look like boats. They’re trash cans.

Ok, last two have nothing to do with Texas.

There is another word for these.

This Paradox of Love – A book

I’m reading The Paradox of Love by Pascal Bruckner (translated by Steven Rendall). I’m not finished, but I want to post a few quotes from the book. It is interesting, well written, and the translation is solid. I’m reading it as research for writing more about the paradox of love as a topic.

Bruckner’s take on how we got from where our ancestors were to where we are with male-female relationships is informative. I should have known. His commentary on, and experience with, the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s is interesting (Bruckner is French), but not one I shared.

“Sexual liberation became the most common way of getting in contact with the extraordinary; every morning we reinvented our lives….”

For those of us who may recall some of that time, he asks, “What put an end to this euphoria?” He explains, “We knew only one season in life: eternal youth. Life played a terrible trick on us: we got old.”

He has much more to say; quotes from the book follow.

Regarding the concept of free love, he asks, “How can love, which attaches, be compatible with freedom, which separates?”

Here’s more. These are taken from the introduction:

“Our freedom in love was won in battle at a price that remains to be determined. (Someday the “black book” of the 1960s will have to be written.) Freedom does not release us from responsibilities but instead increases them…It resolves problems less than it multiplies paradoxes…This burden explains in part why contemporary romances are so hard.”

“A paradoxical result: we now ask everything from love; we ask too much of it; we ask that it ravish, ravage, and redeem us…Christianity’s invention of the God of love has made the virtue of love the cardinal value of life…By liberating itself, it reveals itself for what it is, in its flashes of brilliance and in its pettiness: noble and base at the same time.”

Bruckner quotes from Les aventures de Télémaque, by Fénelon, an early 18th Century French novel, “love alone is more to be feared than all shipwrecks.” I like the quote. However, in the world today, it’s blatantly false.

The paradox I promote is that today we would rather suffer the potential pains of love, than to not experience love. And, we seem to keep going back for more. This may seem crazy, but it’s the eventual norm.

I like the chapter title: “Salvation through Orgasm.” I am quoting way out of context here, but along with equating the Aurora Borealis as nothing other than a cosmic orgasm, he says this “…like grace for the Calvinists, the orgasm is the narrow gate to redemption.” You always knew that, right?

Try this: “Depending on whether or not you have an orgasm, the Earth will slip into harmony or into discord: Fourier had already drawn an analogy between human copulation and that of the planets, and saw in the Milky Way an immense deposit of luminous semen. If humans made love more enthusiastically, they would give birth to a multitude of galaxies that would illuminate the planet a giorno [roughly, everywhere] and would solve the lighting problem at small expense.”

I shall never see the night sky in quite the same way again.

A few more like that before moving on: “An erection is an insurrection, the body in emotional turmoil…desire is profoundly moral…Coitus is simultaneously a rebellion against society and the culmination of human nature.”

Ok, enough blushing stuff. Bruckner is right in that it would be an obvious dodge to discuss love between men and woman with no reference to sex. Blame Pascal or the translator, I am only quoting. And cherry-picking.

Here is something that I consider more useful: “…but there comes a time when we have to take the risk of a relationship to the other that will upset our expectations and free us from the dreary conversation with ourselves. Independence is not the last word for people—that is what we are told by the love that has a blind faith in the other: that is why the worst misfortune on earth is the death of the few people who are dear to us and without whom life no longer has meaning or savor.”

And this, “If there is a modern dream (old as the hills but widely shared today), it consists entirely in the twofold aspiration: to enjoy symbiosis with the other while at the same time remaining master of one’s own life.” A dream indeed. Don’t we give up something of ourselves in every relationship?

I agree with, “Love is an experience we don’t want to forego, on the condition that it not deprive us of any other experience.” People in relationships with extremely controlling others might have something to say about this. I would argue that some of us are often willing to be deprived to a degree, perhaps even to submit to a more dominant and demanding love – even a forbidden love.

Regarding the conflict of the old ways of love with new: “Whether we like it or not, to fall in love is to slip back into an ancient, magical humus, to revive childhood fears, excessive hopes, and a mixture of servitude and cruelty. Without this permanence, how could we still read The Princess of Cleves, Liaisons of dangereuses, The Sufferings of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights, Cousin Bette, Madame Bovary, or In Search of Lost Time?

And I like, “Moderns are stupefied to find that love is not always lovable, that it does not coincide with justice or equality, that it is a feudal, antidemocratic passion.”

That much is from only the Introduction and Chapter One. There is much more. I’m over my personal word limit. So, I’ll close with a quote from the beginning of Chapter 4, “The Noble Challenge of Marriage for Love.”

This Bruckner quoted from the website Viedemer-de.fr, 2008:

Today, I received two text messages from my girlfriend. The first to tell me that it was all over, the second to tell me that she had sent the message to the wrong address.

As you look both ways in life, mind the gaps.
But love! Crash and burn.
Then get up and love again. Feel the paradox.

From Pleasure, Pain

This is the first in a series of blog posts about what I see as the paradox of love. This essay is my answer to the prompt, what has brought you to your knees? I’m not sure where I’ll go with this. Maybe you can help. Ask me questions, or prompt me in some direction. Please keep in mind, this is merely my take. Feel free to provide yours.

Nothing begins, nothing ends,
that is not paid for with moan;
for we are born in other’s pain,
and perish in our own.
~ Francis Thompson

Twenty years ago, I started using the phrase it’s all about how we feel. Normally, I’d caveat such a mantra by claiming it only applied to people without mental health issues. In this case, I think the words apply universally. How do you feel?

Love is the highest standard we have for caring about others. In literature, movies, music, religion, and in our daily lives; our obsession with love is obvious. It’s poorly defined, extensively written about, and grammatically misused; but love is everywhere in the English language. We want to love and to be loved. It’s our ultimate pleasure. How sweet love is.

I embrace love, but I fear pain. Pain can take over my body. Excruciating physical pain has brought me to my knees. It’s absurd that such pain may be helpful as it travels my nervous system from its source to my brain. Pain is abnormal. Even though we all experience pain, it’s not supposed to be there unless something is wrong. Pain is a symptom more useful to doctors than to me.

As bad as physical pain is, emotional pain is more devastating. In extreme cases, mental grief often leads to thoughts of suicide. In physical pain I might say, I want to die; but, I never intended that. I only wanted the pain to stop. On the other hand, people in emotional agony can be dangerous.

Our vulnerability to emotional pain is greatest when we love someone. When we love another person, we grant that person more power over us than any god or demon. Still, we choose to love. Not just willingly, but aggressively with passion and desire. Why? It’s like we can’t live without it. If anyone does live without love, we consider that sad and dysfunctional.

Love has brought me to my knees in two ways. First, the wondrous and joyful pleasure of experiencing love has led me to my knees with happiness. Be it romantic love, love of parents, love of children, grandchildren, or friends; the wonderful state of love takes away the dark and gives light.

Second, love has dropped me in pain, in fear, in a depressingly dark, hateful passion. Love betrayed leaves behind lifelong scars too deep to ever completely heal. The end of a romance, the betrayal of a friendship, the dismissal of a parent we love, the suffering or death of a child; each of these may, and perhaps should, put me on my knees. Such pain and agony from the dark side of love makes me question the value of life.

There may be recovery or even pleasure at the end of the tunnel. Time may mend love betrayed. Still, our human nature forces us to look back into that dark tunnel, into that abyss of pain and suffering. We remember. Do we dare to ever again risk pain by making ourselves vulnerable? Do we face the agony of finding ourselves desperately miserable because we loved?

Why do we do it? Would you, could you, live without love?

That’s a paradox of love. We know the risks, the vulnerability, and the potential to suffer. And yet, we still seek out love and take the risk. How do you feel now?

Even when we look both ways and mind each gap, we will experience pain in life.

“The truth is, everyone is going to hurt you.
You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.”
― Bob Marley (20 years after his death, which means he never said it. True, nonetheless.)

The youtube poem below is worth hearing/reading, and I think the Love Hurts song by Nazareth is worth a listen.