Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Nine Pound Hammer: a portrait

From a foundry in Manchester a nine-pound hammer came; John Bull flung it onto a ship at the Liverpool docks.

Jimmy-boy picked up the tool at a warehouse in Baltimore, and he wielded it all the way up to West Virginia.

John Henry grabbed the thing and beat out nine tons of number nine coal, nine thousand times.

Nine million times, Johnny drove a spike in the ground, knockin out a railroad with his nine-pounder to Chicago all the from Baltimore.

Then along came nine thousand navvies swingin their way from St. Louis to Seattle; they went a-beatin out a double ribbon of blue steel to carry America from across its heartland to Pacific shore, all the way from Baltimore.

Jackie tossed the nine-pound hammer onto a freighter that sailed out beneath the golden gate. It landed on a Shanghai dock, went from there to Singapore, and on and on to Bangalore, all the way from Baltimore.

But choppin' out between sea and sea,
rang a blue new tune from somewhere in Kentucky;
them good ole boys came pickin out a tune
from Paducah to Prague and and on to Pashtun:
a sound the world had never heard before
all the way in silvered steel, strung out through Baltimore.

Nine Pound Hammer

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Oh, how they do kick the can down the road, sir.

Kickest thou the can
down the road, sir?
That I do, sir.

Doest thou continually kick the can
down the road, sir?
That I do, sir!

Why kickest thou the can so obsessively
down the road, sir?
That I do, but, but

Everybody said:

kick the can
down the road, sir.
Everybody complained
somebody keeps kicking the can
down the road, sir.
Everybody opined
those guys shouldn't be kicking that dam can
down the road.
Everybody asked
why do they continue to kick that can
down the road?

Then one day the road
ended at a cliff, sir.

Everybody said:
don't kick the can
over the cliff, sir.
Everybody complained
somebody wants to kick the can
over the cliff, sir.
Everybody opined
Nobody should kick that dam can
over the cliff.
Everybody asked
why do they--

There it goes!

Who?! What?!Whoa!
It landed on the road below!
But then everybody saw
some fool, what a toad!
still kicking the can
down the road!

Everybody asked
how doeth he still kick that can
down yonder road, sir?
I kid you not; 'tis true,
and Life goes on down the road, sir, down the road.
Can you?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Volcanic legacy

‘T’was many and many an eon ago beneath Pacific deep

the fiery earth spewed out a plume of magma lava creep.

The hot stuff came pouring out so fast from cracks in the ocean floor,

it flowed and popped and fizzled and then it spewed some more.

It piled up so high it reached the top of Pacific ocean waves

with mounds and mounds of lava rock and lumps and holes and caves.

Two miles high the molten stuff came puffing above watery swells;

It sizzled in a burning lump , and looked like a thousand hells.

When at last it settled upon a large and lumpy, bumpy, volcanic shape,

the wind and rain came to do their thing to form Hawaiian landscape.

But that reshaping job would take ages of geologic work,

through which the cone was slowly worn down and lava often would perk.

Then one day a little seed came upon a storm-tossed birdy wing

and nestled itself into the barren rocky dusty sandy eroding volcanic thing.

And so from lifeless lava rock and sterile stony crater dirt

there sprouted up a sprig of grass or lichen or some other rooted wort.

The little plant popped up a flower and then it dropped a seed;

Yes, there began the slowly spreading plant kingdom proliferating deed.

God only knows what the newly established plant may have looked like,

‘though here’s a fellow who suggests the scene while on a crater hike:

As time went by more birds and seeds managed to hitchhike ocean winds,

to extend the nascent colony ‘s wispy, leafy, seedy trends.

It may have been a scene like this, with another plant or two,

though disregard the guy who’s standing there to show it all to you:

Meanwhile, in the midst of all the crater’s lava dusty stone,

Now and then the volcano thing would erupt and do a cone:

Eventually, God’s creative work of greening, growing life

established a thriving , spreading colony to break up the rocky strife.

Now here’s a lovely lady who views the crater in today’s volcanic scene,

while hubby snapped the pic; he’s the one in shirt of plaidy green.

But near the ocean shore below volcanic magma geology

A big tree grows that surely shows God’s artistic biology.

Now here we depict a God-grown tree, and standing there a fool there be,

to celebrate exquisite biology, that thrives on ancient geology.

Yes, Hawaii is amazing with its volcano, its flora, fauna, and deep blue sea,

simply astounding , overwhelming, mystifying this birdbrain—me .

Glass half-Full

Friday, July 15, 2011

Who are the true job-creators? Decide.

Now America is at the crossroads. This month we decide if we will continue to be a nations whose creative impulse is prompted continually by free enterprising citizens, or by a bureaucratic government.

We should not be intimidated by the financial bullies of our age, the Treasurer, the Fed Chairman, the President, or anyone else. In 2008, we allowed ourselves to be duped by the financial powers, and look where it got us--deeper in debt.

Somewhere, some time, the music has to stop and everyone take their positions. Now is the time for the American people to occupy their own economy again, instead of turning all decisions over to the government and wallstreet.

Glass Chimera

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hey man, carry the sacred flame

There is a sacred flame that passes from generation to generation, and this is how it happens:

Every man carries deep within himself a volatile liquid; it is an essence of who he is and who is destined to be.
That volatilte essence can be ignited into a passionate flame when a spark of desire flies between him and a woman.

Something mysteriously exquisite about the shape and presence of a woman produces the spark.

The man does not understand the chromosomal power of his desire, but he feels it. The sight of the woman--just about any woman--sets the spark flying. But that does not mean that the potency of his essence can find its best fulfillment in just any woman he lays desiring eyes on.

Herein is the difference between civilization and savagery:

The sacred flame is passed from generation to generation when a man and women unite for the purpose of protecting that flame, and tending it with love and purpose. She is the temple in which his holy fire burns continually, if he trims the wick faithfully.

But if a man seeks self-fulfillment by setting fires any old where at any old time with just any person, he becomes a sexual anarchist, tossing out firebombs that ignite jealosies and confusions and untended children wherever he goes.

DNA, and the One who wrote the DNA code, has designed all this, and ordained it. But its powerful built-in yearnings can operate in one of two very different ways. The One who wrote the code programmed in choices for us, and this is what makes true love possible. The way of holy fire establishes a warm, bright environment for the good life to flourish; the other way lays IEDs of trouble and mayhem that maim this generation and the next.

So, hey man, don't wander around tossing out firebombs. Find a safe haven for your sacred fire; then tend the flame with love and care.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

Friday, July 8, 2011

The power of the universe

With impressive regularity, the moon orbits the earth every 28 days or so. This arrangement produces some very real effects on what happens to us and to our planetary home.

Long ago when I was in school, I learned that the mysterious white orb up in the night sky has a gravity of its own. Like every object that exists anywhere, it has a power to compel other objects in its direction. This gravity attribute of matter, which is proportional to its mass, is an important part of the mechanics of the universe. An intricate clockwork of physical events is constructed around it. Thanks to Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton, among many other wise men who lived long ago, for figuring this out.

I suppose heavenly objects are a little like people in this respect--possessing a kind of magnetism that produces a sphere of influence. But among humans the attractive forces are relatable more to personality, leadership, status, charm, and such immeasurable factors, rather than a person's size, or what the physicists call 'mass'.

But I was thinking about the moon because of what happened two days ago when Pat and I were at the beach; it was a scary event that is indirectly related to the moon's orbit around us. Now as I write this the moon's glory is fading, as its master the sun renders it invisible while I watch the sun come up over the island of Maui, Hawaii. Being awake so early, I must still be on east coast time, even though its been a week ago since I was there.

But about the moon...Mostly we tend to think of gravitational forces between earth and moon in terms of the earth's greater gravity (due to its larger mass.) We see in the night sky the moon doing its thing, sort of hanging there night after night, seeming to travel an arc across the nocturnal sky as dusk pulls its curtain of darkness across the heavens, until dawn comes blasting all that blackness away, with sunny brightness and life-giving warmth.
We are forever accustomed to the fact that our earth powerfully determines the moon's behavior. But their cosmological connectedness works both ways. That little white sphere, so hopelessly tethered by gravity to its giant companion, exerts an unyielding, and quite predictable, effect over our worldy substance.

This dynamic is most easily observed in our oceans. Collectively, they are an immense resource that no one can measure. But the little old moon, even as small as it seems to us, pushes our oceans around like plasmic silly putty all the time, every day and night. That precocious dimpled satellite grabs, for instance, our largest planetary mass, the Pacific ocean, at one end, so to speak. As earth revolves, the moon fluffs its massive surface waters like a great oceanic blanket, wrinkling it all the way from Canada to Australia, crumpling it from Japan to Chile, and everywhere in between and beyond.

Tremendous physical forces of nature are set in motion through thousands of miles of water, producing the tides, the ocean swells, waves on the beach.

Right in the middle of all that lunar-induced force field of liquid dynamism is a string of islands we call Hawaii, which is where I now write this. Down there on the beach, which I am beginning to see again in the widening light of dawn, a wave crashes in the sand. It crashes because all that lunar-inflicted energy, which has passed in wave form across thousands of sea-miles, is suddenly resisted, and stopped, by a physical object--the beach. The mixture of energy in the wave--it may have been (guessing) 70% potential energy and 30% kinetic--is uproariously transformed into 100% (?) kinetic energy as it strikes the shore and dissipates.

A couple of days ago, Pat and I, fools that we are, happened to be standing in that Maui surf, when the awesome power of the universe, having been channeled by our feisty little tide-jerking earth-moon through the oceanic medium, came crashing against us with a force we had never heretofore experienced. The big wave came as the first among a set of whoppers; it whipped Pat and me around like rag dolls for a few fearful seconds. Having been caught clueless in a tenacious explosion of kinetic water energy, we were lucky to recover and walk away from its ferocity, back to our little beach blanket island of sun-screen and security.

Well, not lucky--actually, more like "saved." Saved by God, who is greater, and more benevolent, than all the jerky universe that stirs us around like fruity chunks in a beach-blender.
Do you think me naive to assume such a thing as God's protection in the midst of a terrible wave? It's okay. You may say that I'm a naive believer, but I'm not the only one. Another believer, one from ages long ago, wrote this about that same power of the universe, (from Psalm 93):

"The seas have lifted up, O Lord,
the seas have lifted up their voice;
the seas have lifted up their pounding waves,
mightier than the thunder of the great waters,
mightier than the breakers of the sea--
the Lord on high is mighty."

Glass half-Full

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Our feet of clay

Men have felt compelled to explore this vast planet ever since they first set one foot in front of the other. Legends and histories of humankind are full of adventurers whose travels and expeditions opened up new territories and opportunities for human development.
In the annals of exploratory expeditions by so-called civilized nations, it would be difficult to find a leader whose accomplishments are more impressive than Captain James Cook.
As an English sea-captain, he lead three voyages of discovery around the world during the 1700s, in wooden sailing ships.
In 1776, after he had already conducted two global circumnavigations, the energetic Captain Cook was ready to embark upon another. Some men can never get enough of adventure; he was one of them.

Captain Cook's exploits probably have little to do with our American struggle for independence from George III's reign. But (I notice, coincidentally) it was eight days after our famous Declaration, that on July 12, 1776, the vigorous expedition leader lifted anchor to depart from Plymouth, England and sail around the world yet again. This came during a restless age of brave expansions for human enterprise, while at the same time an era of bold political experiments.

Long story short. After Captain Cook had guided his two ships, the Resolution and the Discovery, all the way southward through the Atlantic, around the treacherous currents of South America's contenental tip, and then northward in the Pacific, he arrived at the Hawiian Islands, which is where I am now writing this 233 years later.

Captain Cook did not linger long there. After touching upon the westernmost island, Kauai, his two crews continued northward. They explored the North American coast in the areas of present day Seattle and Vancouver, then proceeded along the (now) Canadian coast toward Alaska, upward through the Bering Strait. Their attempts to make northern progress and discover the long-sought-after Nothwest Passage back to England were stopped cold by Arctic ice. So they turned around, followed the Russian coast southwestward along Kamchatka, then southward back into the Pacific. Eventually they hit upon, again, the Hawaiian archipelago, which were called by the English at that time the Sandwich Islands.

What a long, rigorous voyage that was, a very impressive accomplishment for a bunch of men in two rickety sailing ships propelled only by the wind and their own fortitude. Their southward return brought the ships Resolution and Discovery back to Hawaiian shores.

Here is curious a characteristic of human nature. In initial encounters between civilized and uncivilized people groups, it has been oftern reported that the so-called savages greet the civilized men with respectful awe that borders on veneration, and leads in some cases to a kind of worship. This is what Captain Cook eperienced in Hawaii. He and his men were greeted as gods.
Dumbstruck by the glitters of European gold, the strength of forged steel swords, the wonders of sailing ships and billowing sails, and the authoritative behaviour of the swaggering English sailors, the Hawaiian primitives responded with reverence. On many occasions, they prostrated themselves before the strutting sailors who had traveled from a technologically advanced society.

When residents of the big island, Hawaii, first encountered Cook's entourage at Kealakekua Bay, they prostrated themselves before the newcomers, then showered the hapless explorers with copious gifts of meat and fruit. All was well for a few weeks, and the strutting sailors from afar basked in the glow of their newfound divinity. But it wasn't long before the lustre of their godhood began to tarnish around the edges, and the Hawaiian King, Kalani'opu'u, suggested to the good Captain that maybe his band of merry men should be moving along.

So the English drew up their anchor and sailed away. But very soon, the foremast of Captain Cook's Resolution broke. They had no choice but to turn back and repair the damage. So they returned to Kealakekua Bay on the big island of Hawaii to repair it.

This time, however, the natives' reception was less obsequious. In fact, the Hawaiians were by this time a little weary of their new alien supermen. Their was tension in the air. A few of the Hawaiians had begun to view the amazing white man wondermnts more as potentially useful implements instead of objects of mysterious power. Some of the natives managed to abscond a small boat (called the pinnace.) The English, men of military inclinations, became quite alarmed.. A confrontation occurred. Men stared; tempers flared. One irreverent Hawaiian spotted a chink, as it were, in the superior English armored facade. He might have even discerned, beneath the techno-civilized countenance of Captain Cook, a mere man, like unto himself.

As events are commonly wont to do in human skirmish, a minor altercation suddenly and unexpectedly became the impetus for a lethal act. A knife--a knife wrought of English craftsmanship, but now wielded without warning in the hand of an Hawaiian protective of his King--put an end to the life of the legendary Captain James Cook. The great explorer's powerful implements of wood and iron, his golden mantle of authority, were not sufficient to ensure his power over men, nor to extend his life beyond a sudden disagreement's violent outcome.

Among the race of men, these things happen. Great forgers of human progress die; explorations falter; institutions crumble; empires fall, in spite of the reverence and awe lavished upon them. Ultimately all men are vulnerable in some way or another. Though the mighty and the great among us are given golden opportunities, silver adornments and iron-like authority, they are struck down by the great equalizer of death, and exposed as unsustainable, mortal men. Their inherent feet of clay will topple their lives, their institutions, their empires of gold, silver and iron.

In the ancient empire of Babylon, King Nebuchadnezzar was a man not unlike like Captain Cook. Though not a great explorer, he performed that role which is among men the most revered--conquering king, But one strange night he had a dream that he didn't understand, and it worried him. He summoned an aide, a captive prophet, who interpreted the dream. Daniel explained to Nebuchadnezzar that his great empire, with him as the golden head of it, would one day crumble and fall, because of those vulnerable feet of clay, which are the fallen nature, the fallible genetic heritage, of every homo sapiens who has ever stood on God's earth.

Whether you are a conqueror of nations, or an explorer who has sailed around the world three times,or a pretty nice guy, or a drunk who sleeps in a storefront, your feet of clay infallibility will topple you someday. It may be that another savage like yourself will cross your path in a barfight or on a freeway and put an end to your deal.

Little had Captain Cook known, when he made that landfall at Hawaii, it was his last one.

Glass half-Full

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ich bin ein Americano

Classical music--the Eurocentric, orchestral kind, with Bach and Beethoven and so forth--had reached a dead end by the time the 20th century rolled around. The great masters had done their thing, had flung their genius tapestries of sound into the expanding universe of human culture. Bach and Vivaldi had long ago established a foundation of finely-tuned complexity and passionate virtuosity.Mozart and Beethoven then erected upon their base an intricate structure of technical perfection and artistic reverie.
In the 1800s, impressionists, Ravel and Chopin and others, flung the masters' exquisite orchestral constructs onto a canvas of blended colors and introspective wanderings among the forests of a disappearing natural world.

When the 20th century came roaring in with wheels of steel, endless hours of numbingly repetitive work, and dark forebodings of mechanized war, the old impulses of harmony and order in music had been lost. Massively organized concerts of deathly destruction had ground themselves into a muddy halt on European battlefields. A bewildering wasteland of alienation was spread out upon what had been a world of high culture.
Orchestral musicians sank into an abyss of academic irrelevance and bizarre experimentation.

Then along came an African bound in merciless servitude to a sweaty cotton dock down in New Orleans, and that formerly-enslaved black man restored to the fallen world of Western music what it had lost: rhythm.
And the rest is history. Well, it all was, but...
That ole man rhythm shuffled his feet, walked up a worn-out gangplank onto a Mississippi riverboat queen where he wafted up to Memphis, planted a few cotton-eyed blues shoots. Then he churned on up to St.Louis where he laid down some soon-to-be-classic 12-bar roots, and then beat out a trail on up to Chicago and got some uptown soul goin'on. By the time ole white on rice had laid his badself down and he be ready to do a little receivin' from de black folk he done brought hisself clear on up to New Yawk where he stopped and did some serious orchestratin' and western music was reborn in cradle of slavish trouble like nobody ever known in the history of the world.

And then came Gershwin.
Then the hopelessly stricken world of organized western music could get back on the boat in New Yawk harbor with some desperately needed pizzazz and a shine on his shoes, and transport his bad self around the world. And I told him dat.
And this is what I thought about when I heard, all on the same day, three awesomely talented clarinetists from totally different musical strains yesterday at the waterfront in Seattle.

1.) First there was Doreen Ketchens playing along with her tuba-totin' hubby and (probably 9-year-old) daughter cuttin' a shine on the drums while Doreen flung out that ole dixieland licorice stick magic right in the middle of all them white folk at Steinbrueck park overlooking Puget Sound. Doreen told me, while I was buying their CD, they had just arrived from New Orleans three days before.
2.) Then there was three talented fellers thumpin out a kind of retro ragtime klezmer thing goin' on right in front of the original Starbucks at Pike Place. They called themselves the Millionaires' Club, and I laid down some jack for their CD too.
3.) Leaving the Pike Place tourist mecca area, back up on 1st Ave, was yet another clarinet virtuoso. He was doin the solo thing, a la Joni Mitchell's For Free scenario, blowin' out those groundbreakin' clarinet strains from Gershwin's soulful Rhapsody in Blue.
Sorry I didn't buy his CD, but I did come back here to our son's place and start writing these thoughts.

And I remember thinking, in the midst of all that clarinetish genius in the middle of a gorgeous sunny Seattle day, and recalling the old Blood Sweat and Tears Tune, or maybe it was Chicago who sang that "I think it was the fourth of July" song about being in the park with all that native energy goin' on and all them happy folks and ice cream cones and red white and blue what not, and I thought, for some reason, of President Kennedy telling the Germans back in '61 that there is some help and some hope for a world that has fallen into destruction.

And he told those Germans that there was hope, and he said that when the world wants to get you donn, that old bad honkin' world should just come to Berlin "Let them come to Berlin..." said Kennedy to the Berlinners in 1961. Let them come and see how you've rebuilt yourselves in freedom that has overcome the ashes of tragic world war.
"Ich bin ein Berliner," he told them, figuratively. I'm a Berliner. We're all Berliners on this bus. We can all rebuild from the ashes of history. We can all overcome the sinful tragedy of an African bound to a cotton bale on the docks back in New Orleans back in the bad old days. And I thought...Let them come to America and see.
Ich bin ein Americano, and proud of it.

Glass half-Full