Jan. 2019
Some days I just feel mean. Day 28 of the government shutdown was one of those days. And only because the guy in the White House is commander-in-chief of the flying monkeys.

Letter Home to a Flying Monkey

Snow atop the dam across the lake
powders its rock face like chalk.
Think "white cliffs of Kansas,"
a wall to hold back water,
protecting Oz from a southern flood.

Today you would be cold even if you had feathers
on your wings. You would hate Kansas.
That would be reason enough for us to extend our visit,
but Kansas has many yellow-brick roads
as Dorothy always told us,
even if it’s not home.

Which is to say we plan to stay.
I confess I won't miss you.
You swore you had no choice
but we both know that's not true.
You insisted life would end if you angered the witch.
For those without faith, perhaps that's true.

The Lion and Tin Man say hello.
They laughed as they said it.
You claimed you were glad 
when Dorothy freed you from the witch's spell,
but the three of us knew you
well before the witches came to Oz.
We're betting it's only a matter of time
before the Nome King once again entrances you
with his fantasy to make Oz wonderful again.

To escape such a fate
you could take the flight of faith to Kansas
where eyes can see to the end of the rainbow
and love embraces every color.

Which is why I've been asked
by an angel of mercy with silver slippers
to invite you to fly to a new home,
but at least two of us think 
you haven't the courage
or the heart.
At any rate, on some days you would be cold
even if you had feathers on your wings.
You would hate Kansas.

Patriotism as a human value —January 2019

My interest in patriotism is similar to the interest a criminologist has in crime: an interest in understanding its nature so as to eventually rid the world of it.

As I’ve indicated in the past, a focus on values and meanings drives my work as a poet. Loyalty is certainly a supreme human value, but of its different expressions—to family, nation, the human race, values and meanings—loyalty to country is gradually descending this ladder of loyalty to a lower rung. Indeed, patriotism may one day be regarded by our descendants as something akin to an appendage, something that no longer has purpose but is simply there.

I wrote “Pledge of Allegiance” as the United States was preparing to launch the war on Afghanistan. Those who openly opposed the adventure were told to “support our troops,” meaning once the war begins, shut the hell up. In such a political environment, the poem was composed. Given the current political environment, in which patriots vow to “make America grate again” (Oops, sorry, spelling is not one of my strenths), perhaps it’s appropriate to dust it off and present it again.  

Pledge of Allegiance 

I am not an American poet.
I’m not confined by borderlines,
I encircle the full circle inscribed by Adam’s rib.
Whoever is loyal to less is disloyal to God.
Whoever casts his best seed in one field
sows tares of violence, bloodshed, and war.
Whoever salutes his countrymen without also saluting unseen aliens
sings hymns of praise to prejudice, selfishness, hatred, and fear.
He is no Christian. He is no Muslim. He is no Jew. 

I am not an American poet.
Please, don’t offer me your flag.
I will stand and witness with you if you pledge yourself to lesser gods,
but hear in my silence my pledge of allegiance to your enemy
as well as my pledge to you.

Mine is not an American voice.
I know I’m marked by ground that sprouted me.
I accept that brothers from the Orient can spot on me
deposits of my native soil.
I’m at peace knowing sisters from distant lands
perceive my slanted stand.
I don’t deny the root that nourishes me,
nor do I need its permission to drop my bounty elsewhere in the world.
I am not an American poet. 

I know I’m blessed,
and I’m grateful for all good things,
a gratitude I reserve for God.
With His blessing, I take my measured share
without another permit;
it’s my birthright as His son, and my duty to claim it.

Claim yours as well, then walk third ways with me
in peace as best we can.
If others try to bind us, we’ll become their burden.
We’ll neither walk for them nor harm them,
because whoever binds us is our brother.

Do you say I betray what all proud patriots fight for?
I’m sure it’s true.
Then, do you cry, “treason?”
Most certainly it would be treason, except
I am not an American poet.

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Raising My Voice   January 2019

In late 2018, I attended a poetry reading featuring two of Topeka’s finest poets. As I listened to the host exchange comments with one of the poets, who has been compared to Maya Angelou, I realized the host is attracted to that poet on a deep, emotional level. 

As I once again listened to her recite her poetry, I was reminded her interests and intent as a poet are very different from mine. It’s painful to know that my focus will never elicit the same level of emotional and intellectual responses in the average reader, despite the fact that I address fundamental values central to every political, social and personal problem.

During the next two weeks, I tried to articulate the difference between my poetry and that of many others in terms of intent and themes. The result was “Poet of Cocoons” (see below). I immediately edited my first volume of poetry, “Evolution’s Promise,” inserting the poem at the beginning to clarify how I view my poetry and how I see myself as a poet.  

My inclinations as a poet and how I perceive the art form seem to conspire to put me at a disadvantage as I struggle to find an audience. 

First, viewing poetry as an oral art form inclines me to think of its visual structure (line breaks, thrift of language, etc.) as secondary. What looks good on the page often strikes my ear as stilted and awkward. On the other hand, trying to transcribe a poem as I hear it onto the page is problematic to say the least.

Second, the flaws in my voice and enunciation tend to draw the listener’s attention to me and away from the poetry, breaking down the psychical distance so critical to any art form. It’s difficult enough to reduce that distance as much as possible while keeping it intact without a voice that sounds like mine. (Peter Townshend of The Who experienced that same frustration each time he realized his guitar skills were not up to the task of executing what he heard when he wrote a song.)

Third, and most frustrating to me, is my nearly complete lack of interest in writing about what I refer to in “Poet of Cocoons” as “the human condition;” yet, most people who like poetry resonate to words that speak directly to their day-to-day concerns without addressing the values and meanings whose absence or lack of balance give rise to their condition. In short, they are content, or at least resigned, to being human.

Some are not, and to them I raise my voice. Though I lack the marketing skills to reach many of them, I pray I can find as many as possible, and I work toward that end; meanwhile, I have been a poet long enough that I know my own voice, understand how I want to command it, and continually search for new ways to use it.   


Poet of Cocoons

Poetry, sometimes cocoon,
more often is ointment on a wound
called the human condition.
A fan of cocoons to ease transitions,
my suspicion is too much focus on the wound
leads to spiritual malnutrition.
So when I write, I spin cocoons
with a butterfly’s ambition.

Some need salve to soothe the wound, I don’t deny,
but if your embryonic spirit wants a loom
to weave a womb where it can lie
until you’re ready for the sky
here am I, poet of cocoons
and midwife to your butterfly.

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MEDITATION OF THE WEEK: December 2018           

Woods, Lake and City

I remember woods that surrounded a lake
in a mid-sized city.
I remember a presence there
that taught me not to push.

It enveloped those woods that surrounded that lake in this mid-sized city,
no other boundaries mattering.
It was a unifying force, drawing

every island of awareness stirring
within those woods and lake
into one singular presence, itself
a fractal of reality, a splendid being
in which to move and breathe, and the children
growing up in those woods by that lake in this growing city

glide comfortably through tight spaces
by signaling to neighbors
as they slalom through the dappled light.


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