Monday, April 18, 2016

To Write and KIll for Spain (1938-1939)


               I just read Spain in our Hearts, by Adam Hochschild, a sensational but disturbing book about the Spanish Civil War basically told through a cast of Americans who joined the Lincoln Brigade, which was made up of Americans who went to Spain to fight against Franco’s fascist Falange. (The book has gotten much—deserved—press coverage.) 
               Franco had attacked attacked the democratically elected Spanish Republican government. He was supported by Mussolini and Hitler, and, in a sense, the brutal war, won the murderous Franco, who was still executing people after the war ended, was a precursor of the Second World War. Few Americans know about the war (and fascism).
               I wrote the following poems after reading George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and after a visit to Spain when Franco was still in power (he was vicious dictator who ruled Spain for theirty-six years until his death).
              The poem, dealing with the war, is really about me, If I were alive then, would I have volunteered to fight the fascists? Hochshild asked himself the same question. 

A few notes for those unfamiliar with the war:

              (1) A few lines were borrowed Peruvian poet César Vallejo who wrote a book-length poem entitled Spain Take This Cup From Me.

              (2) Unamuno—a well-know Spanish writer.

              (3) Guardia Civil. Franco’s police force. I refer to their hats as Mickey Mouse hats. They were really closer to three-corner matador hats. But they looked like Mickey Mouse hats to me—from a distance, of course. Spain was a tense place when I was there.

              I tried only once or twice to get this poems published in a literary periodical (I think it’s a good, straightforward,, honest poem), but it’s not the type poem American literary periodicals publish. So I’ll just publish it here,


  To Write and Kill for Spain
              (1936-1939)

“Under your foot I hear the smoke of the wolf,”
or such exhortation of a man from Estremadura
by Vallejo to fight on for Spain, and he did,
although I remain incredulous to some extent of 
the passion. It was a war of all rectitude,or so I’ve 
read—I failed to live through it, but I’m always 
astonished when I learn of one who did. 
Has it become more than it was? What do I know?
—the workers, the people, the masses against
the fascists, the Nazis working out war games, 
practice sessions like Vietnam, a time for testing 
new weaponry—never thought of the Spanish 
as little yellow hordes, but I guess ultimately
we’re all little yellow hordes. Such poetry 
for such destruction, I’m breathless 
when I read it, I’m breathless when I think 
of the slaughter. “Long live death!” shouted 
a Falangist general. And Unamuno was outraged.
I recall the Mickey-Mouse-hatted Guardia Civil 
eying us hostilely with their automatic weapons 
when we stopped in front of a church, 
but this was years after, the edge of a dream, 
a cloud too thick to pass through, a smog, 
it burned the hell out of my eyes. 
“Málaga defenseless, where my death
was born walking and my birth died of passion!”
I probably would have demonstrated—I’m good 
at shouting—but not volunteered. It was 
in Spain, and I’m not so easily convinced. 
I suspect good, I’m more familiar with hype.
But I am a romantic, a skinny, brutalized kid 
who has grown older without having avenged 
himself. I fight devilishly in my imagination against 
all oppression, over and over, so that the bad guys 
are not merely vanquished but vanquished repeatedly. 
Do I think I would have sacrificed my luxurious games 
for lead cartridges? A realist or a coward—what am I? 
The safest ideology is disorder, multiples of self-interest, 
so the Christian can damn me to hell but not crucify me. 
Many enlisted and fought, and I suppose there’s a time
when it’s necessary to put your belly in front of your
toys. I’m quick-tempered and furious, instigator of 
brawls I’m not ready to follow through on. Merely 
release, I suppose. And could I survive through
an evening without my cookies and milk?
Murdering for a nationality or religion—easy stuff, 
you can get swarms of morons for that—but for an idea? 
Vallejo can burst into song about the volunteers 
for the Republic, but I doubt I could write anything
persuasive about dying. “Long live death!” which is 
not to say I couldn’t be enticed into murdering.
Not being personally attacked and yet expected 
to fight for others—who might not fight for me. 
I worry about being made a fool of—a dead one. 
Or limbless, a paraplegic, watching it all come apart. 
Lay yourself down for what? But I guess it’s the 
moment that counts—must be dialectical
—there are times, and conditions. But, really, you’re
a sap to do anything—ask out a twenty-three-year-old,
write poetry, be Vallejo, fight for the Republic.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Connective Tissue

Enlighten me. 
Tell me a crow with gout is an impossibility.
Tell me the ins and outs of dislike. Explain love. 
Use conventional language. English. No accents. 
Nothing borrowed. 
Or tell me in Esperanto.
Show me the charred remains of a wig factory.
Make me relevant, so I can draw
inspiration from an acquaintance detailing 
a story of his journey to a grocery. 
Detail is important, such as when 
I tell you how I was caught up in an insurrection 
and was captured by which side I didn’t know, 
not even if there were sides. 
I confessed immediately. I didn’t want to be beaten. 
Or isolated.
My confession included everything it was assumed 
I knew and didn’t.
It was thorough, convincing. So much so I was 
released, victorious, safe. One must know 
right from right. I’m easily tongue-tied. 
I’ll tell you  a secret: I once thought
I was the terrible at everything, incompetent, 
then learned I wasn’t. There are things I could do.
My self-image was muddled. But I recovered. 
Now I can see all—not all but what I can see. 
And that’s too much.

Friday, March 18, 2016

90 Proof

God exists, and if God exists, therefore God exists. 
Syllogistic conclusion, conclusive. 
A mother dies, a few minutes after, a chime
on the porch chimes. It’s mother saying, ”All
is okay. I’ve passed over.” Her son, a nonbeliever, 
succumbs. He reiterates: “It’s mom,” he says
to his grieving siblings. And then catches
himself. 

Sand flows upward in an hour glass,
Mystery
is contagious. Mystery codified is
doubly contagious.
It’s evolutionary, the son concludes, rather than 
mystery. Mystery is hopeless. Nonmystery 
is acceptance.
Humans accept.

There are no atheists in foxholes, goes
the bromide. That there are foxholes at all
is unquestioned: Foxholes exists, and if
foxholes exist, therefore foxholes exist. 
Can a foxhole be unproved? 

We are born blank, then quickly
swathed. To be seeded human is to be
seeded unhuman, inhuman. There are
no starting points for the individual. One must
flow upward first, like the sand in the hour glass,
but we know sand does not flow upward . . .
at least for the time being.

Hope springs eternal . . . hmm . . . . We do not 
allow facts
to interfere with tradition, wrote Orwell . . . 
somewhere. And if there are no facts,
merely observations? Tradition binds, 
questions do not.

Mankind seeks indefinite life. Why?
A crocodile doesn’t. How many angels can
dance on the head of a pin?
But are there angels? 
There are pins, so there must be angels.

I, too, am susceptible. I, too, am afraid.
People obliterated in wars, floods, 
they must go somewhere. Life cannot
be so dismissive.

I watch a gaggle of
Muslin girls shopping for
clothing. 
They’re amazingly innocent. But
they stick together. And they’re
the same: protected. Like the Hasids,
in their black suits in 90-degree weather,
the Catholic clergy in their gold wrappings.
All’s right with the world. 

Evolution, the man says. What has
evolved? Fear? Can it be that simple? 
And if it were that simple? 
I wonder.

I can live, but I knock on wood . . . 
What else can I do?

Such simplicity. No, not despair.
Simplicity. We are solitary but
of a species. And we know it. But that, too,
is mythologized—as a punishment. We are
charged with ignorance. . . .  Why is that?
Is it evolutionary?

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Common

Benches have basements. Bolts, concrete, bricks,
four-sided and personal, open, for storage 
for numerous itinerants who pass, go back, sit, 
view the universe in a knuckle, a dime, who
is to say, a man, a woman, a spot, we’re all
on the move, store our papers in closets, holes,
no human should lack space. Benches have basements.
Derelicts fill them, we fill them, each of us
with a location, property, identity, a name, a card. 
Squatters, we’re all squatters. Time is good, 
tasty, for me, for Kristina, we down our vodkas
and my head spins with love, these evenings exist, 
there’s joy, no doubt, but there’s storage beneath 
benches, accessible, roomy, always available.



This poem appears in Stand in the U.K.—Vol.
13 (2)—the most recent issue as of this writing.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Step-sibling

Well-treated, included, but no one 
has my features. This dinner, this occasion, 
is glutted with members of a family I’m familiar with 
but is not mine. I’ve accepted an invitation, 
an assumption. It’s a long story in years but not 
in the telling, although I’m grateful for acknowledgment,
if not emotion. I accept what is offered 
and ask for no more.

No one’s fault—as if being born
in the hills of a drastic country. By age ten 
you are what you’ll become, and you can consume
it, as most do, or spend a lifetime rejecting it.
My freedom was thrust upon me by tragedy—
the details are unessential—but I grew into 
my freedom or it into me, or, rather, splashed 
around in its waters—and still do—but never 
quite owned it. One turbulence replaces 
another.

I know faces but not names, nor who 
belongs to whom, whose child is that, 
whose wife? And why have I come? Something
fractured about family life, more so 
when the family’s not yours, not even your friends. 

I smile, remain silent, on occasional life
breathing into me, but I never release,
for who am I to express an opinion? We had
a short past—a few years—but no 
present, nothing ongoing, no commonality.
Restrain and be temperate. Are my sentiments shared 
by the others? I can’t say, although my discomfort 
might be less obvious than I think.

I eat, laugh, object mildly on a point—
have we a  language in common? I suppose so,
somewhere, but not here. More than a guest 
but less than a brother.

I stay longer than I should. The emptiness
of potential, my needs almost inflaming my skin,
but I won’t request what I won’t be given. I thank
everyone, say goodnight, and leave.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Birth Pain (for Sam)

You summon nothing from the branches,
and the snowflakes that freeze the meadows
and make the juniper stoop
are dust on your sparrow wings.
No amulets or pebbles
that glow indignantly in the sun
or the ridged moon vibrating
signal your arrival.
You come evenly like a cloud
and flatter than water.
You egress and retract and push headlong
through the gully and down runnel
where you bob on the ripples like a twig.
You are waxed and indignant,
a ligature of insistence,
sapwood to my heartwood.
We couple nerves on the rocker
while the thistle we hear pricking the breeze
is thrashing its tentacles
and waving irritably.
Too delicate for its malevolence,
it seems to be saying that all origins
have substance and you no less than
the rivers displace the soil
and cleave boulders through which
the currents surge.


(This poem appears in the current issue (as of 
this writing) in Grasslimb (Vol. 13, No. 2)

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Canticle

I saw a small animal walking on a lake,
          a weasel, a skunk, a prairie dog, stirring the 
          surface, oblivious to the clouds, no thunder 
that morning, a glistening on the water as if the sun,
clawing its way through the shadows, were pausing 
          for a moment to catch its breath. Not an unusual day, 
nor miraculous, a Tuesday one could never identify 

or distinguish from another. Yet here, encountering
          an incarnation anticipated by worshipers on the bank,
          alert for the presence they prayed to on a Sunday, 
on a Saturday, shrunken to a flightless mammal scurrying 
over a surface it should have been drowning in, eliciting
          from them not an amen but a sense of resentment, 
          of insult, of foolishness that such a mystery, 

undoubtedly otherworldly, rather than spiriting their 
          significance upward, was actually reducing it—as if 
          deity were little more than a curio one happens upon in 
a park and that ultimately whitens and disappears in 
one’s consciousness, leaving no trace, no tabernacle, 
          no engraving, no cloth, merely an increment
of the ordinary, like a dish or a spoon, that few can find
          reverent without a manual or scroll.