Monday, May 16, 2016

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

“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

Sand flows upward in an hour glass,
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
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?