Friday, November 29, 2013

To Keep the Sun Coming Up Every Day

From one of my favorite poets:


There's no use in regret. You can't change anything.
Your mother died unhappy with the way you turned
out. You and your father were not on speaking terms
when he died, and you left your wife for no good
reason. Well, it's past. You may as well regret missing
out on the conquest of Mexico. That would have been
just your kind of thing back when you were eighteen:
a bunch of murderous Spaniards, out to destroy a
culture and get rich. On the other hand, the Aztecs
were no great shakes either. It's hard to know whom
to root for in this situation. The Aztecs thought they
had to sacrifice lots of people to keep the sun coming
up every day. And it worked. The sun rose every day.
But it was backbreaking labor, all that sacrificing.
The priests had to call in the royal family to help,
and their neighbors, the gardener, the cooks.... You
can see how this is going to end. You are going to
have your bloody, beating heart ripped out, but you
are going to have to stand in line, in the hot sun, for
hours, waiting your turn.

~Louis Jenkins, from Tin Flag: New and Selected Prose Poems. Will o' the Wisp Books, 2013

Louis Jenkins is an American poet living in Duluth, Minnesota.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Beat in Northern Minnesota

Tomorrow morning, between 7:30 and 8:00, the NPR station for northern Minnesota, KAXE, will be featuring my poem, "The Goat Man," on their program, The Beat. Here is a link to their page where you can live stream it on your computer at that time or check out the archives where it will be added after a day or two:

They will be featuring other poems, as well. I will give you a head's up when I know the dates.

Here is the post containing the poem:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Winter Coming On

Maybe it's this stage of life, or maybe it's just winter coming on, but I find these images by Steve McCurry oddly comforting ... yes, the threshold of the new:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Becoming Masters of Simplicity

Humanity grows more and more intelligent, yet there 
   is clearly more trouble and less happiness daily. 
How can this be so?
It is because intelligence is not the same thing as wisdom. 

When a society misuses partial intelligence and 

   ignores holistic wisdom, its people forget the 
   benefits of a plain and natural life.
Seduced by their desires, emotions, and egos, they 
   become slaves to bodily demands, to luxuries, to 
   power and unbalanced religion and psychological 
Then the reign of calamity and confusion begins. 

Nonetheless, superior people can awaken during times 

   of turmoil to lead others out of the mire. 
But how can the one liberate the many? 
By first liberating his own being. 
He does this not by elevating himself, but by lowering 
He lowers himself to that which is simple, modest, 
   true; integrating it into himself, he becomes a 
   master of simplicity, modesty, truth.

Completely emancipated from his former false life, he 

   discovers his original pure nature, which is the pure 
   nature of the universe.
Freely and spontaneously releasing his divine energy, 
   he constantly transcends complicated situations and 
   draws everything around him back into an integral 
Because he is a living divinity, when he acts, the universe acts.  

~ LaoTzu

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Where It Is Always Asia

This is a more-than-normal self-indulgent post as I love horses and I love Raymond Carver. Well, I love his writing and what I know of him, or think I know. He had a way of expressing moments of our shared lives that were either very unsettling or very affirming and often both at once. His poem, "Asia," for reasons I can't explain other than my pure love for horses and the ocean, is among my favorites.

I spent the spring of 2010 at a house on the Atlantic in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I can still feel the pressing of waves against my heart as I stood on the shore watching. One day I walked out in time to see riders on horses as they made their way down the beach. I stood in awe of what felt like an incredible gift from the world itself.


It’s good to live near the water.
Ships pass so close to land
a man could reach out
and break a branch from one of the willow trees
that grow here. Horses run wild
down by the water, along the beach.
If the men on board wanted, they could
fashion a lariat and throw it
and bring one of the horses on deck.
Something to keep them company
for the long journey East.
From my balcony I can read the faces
of the men as they stare at the horses,
the trees, and two-story houses.
I know what they’re thinking
when they see a man waving from a balcony,
his red car in the drive below.
They look at him and consider themselves
lucky. What a mysterious piece
of good fortune, they think, that’s brought
them all this way to the deck of a ship
bound for Asia. Those years of doing odd jobs,
or working in warehouses, or longshoring,
or simply hanging out on the docks,
are forgotten about. Those things happened
to other, younger men,
if they happened at all.
The men on board
raise their arms and wave back.
Then stand still, gripping the rail,
as the ship glides past. The horses
move from under the trees and into the sun.
They stand like statues of horses.
Watching the ship as it passes.
Waves breaking against the ship.
Against the beach. And in the mind
of the horses, where
it is always Asia.

~ Raymond Carver

Bottom photo: Edward Kreis

Friday, November 1, 2013

Toy Soldiers

We seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the transitions young girls face as they go from childhood to womanhood. We have not spent as much time considering the challenges boys face as they enter manhood; the expectations and fears it surely must engender are all too often taken for granted. I did  not grow up having to think about what would happen if a war came and I was called to "duty." It should not be anyone's duty to kill for us or destroy an enemy we have not come to know. At one time, a long time ago now, soldiers were required to know their enemy. They had to learn about their culture; who they were as a people. It was only a slightly more honorable way to enter battle, if one can ever use the word honor as it relates to killing one's fellow beings, no matter the accepted reason.

When my oldest son was young, in that between place around age thirteen, he and a friend were behind the house one summer day playing with toy soldiers. They lined them up on the rock wall and went through whatever scenarios faux soldiers go through on their way to victory. I could barely hear them from inside the house and didn't pay it a lot of mind. I knew my son and life as a soldier was not being entertained as an acceptable future. They were just playing, I told myself, as I had done with toy cowboys and Indians on the floor of the living room a whole lot of years earlier. The problem with this lies in what it consciously or unconsciously teaches: to view others as potential enemies, as The Other.

At some point they reminded each other the county fair was that evening, and lying on the swimming raft for a while to catch some sun and get a little tan might be a good idea. This was followed by the names of some girls they knew. Soldiers were left at their posts and they came inside to change into swimming trunks.

Neither of these boys ever had to serve in a war, but many have. Some came back, too many did not. One is too many.

"Classic Toy"

The plastic army men are always green.

They’re caught in awkward poses,
one arm outstretched as if to fire,
legs parted and forever stuck on a swiggle
of support, as rigid and green as the boots.

This one has impressions of pockets,
a belt, a collar, a grip on tiny binoculars
intended to enlarge, no doubt, some
tiny enemy.

In back, attached to the belt is a canteen
or a grenade (it’s hard to tell). The helmet
is pulled down low, so as to hide the eyes.

If I point the arm, the gun, toward me,
I see that this soldier is very thin.

It’s almost unreal, how thin he is.

~Mary M. Brown