Drunks and Hippos

How do I live on wine,
When it doesn’t have enough protein?

Well maybe I am an angel
Drinking the nectar of the gods.

Or maybe I am a vampire
Drinking red wine in lieu of dark blood.

Maybe I need a twelve-step program to land somewhere in the middle,
Though if the middle is human, count me out.

I am less impressed by the sober than the drunk
The sober always get the knife in straight.

Some drunks kill and maim,
But much less than sober warmongers.

The drunks go to jail,
But the war mongers don’t.

Drunken parents tear families apart,
Greedy CEOs tear whole countries apart.

The drunks go to jail,
But the CEOs don’t—they get bailed out.

There are Mothers against Drunk Drivers
But there are no Mothers against Sober Greedy Strivers.

Animals don’t drink.
They are not embarrassed by their species.

Make no mistake; I am no good example of a human,
And I am not trying to be.

I plead guilty, ready to go to jail with no bail out,
My only regret is I wasn’t born a hippo.

Have you seen the picture of the big hippo mother using her nose to push her little baby hippo up,
So the baby hippo can take a deep breath before diving again?

If you agree we can all be hippos together,
I will never drink again, but only breathe and dive and breathe and dive again.

Tillers of Night Soil (First Poem of Second Series)

Truth is too crude for poetry.
Poetry is beauty and passion.
Poetry should soar.

After you discover it, truth is often banal.
Sometimes the search is exciting,
But truth is tethered to the ground.

Oh, I know there are grand discoveries,
That there is grandeur inside the atom and outside the galaxy,
But most truth is humble and inconvenient.

The truths we humans seek to evade are like yippy puppies that bite when you don’t feed them,
And poop on the floor when you ignore them,
While the rich and powerful seek to get the rest of us to clean up the mess.

So those who search for truth and seek to eradicate lies are a lower caste,
Street sweepers and dung cleaners.
They are important only because eventually sickness kills society and not just the poor.

You can tell truth tellers from the charlatans because the truth tellers are dirty, rarely confident, and never proud.
Their probabilistic claims can’t win black and white media wars.
Their methods are bad for sales.

Truth is a little bird that grasps for breath when it is caught,
Too fragile to survive against greed, ideology, and lies.
Truth is Un-American and bad for business.

That’s why truth seekers get up every two hours to feed their baby birds,
Hoping against all hope they will grow strong enough to fly against the wind.
Not usually to soar like eagles, but mostly to hug the ground like a family of clownish quail.

Today, the tillers of night soil are being shown the door,
They get no grants and grant no mercy for lies.
When they are gone, there will be no regrets,
But lots of shit on the floor.

A Christmas Poem (Dec 25, 2012)

When they came for him in the garden,
He didn’t stand his ground.
When Peter drew his sword and cut off the High Priest’s slave’s ear,
Christ healed the slave and ordered Peter to back down.

The rich would hate him as a guest at their fancy dinners.
He would invite prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and poor people in.
He would tell parables about how hard it is for the rich to get to heaven,
And how the first shall be last and the last shall be first.

If they bemoaned government, he would tell them to give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
If they celebrated wealth, he would tell them to give all their wealth away.
If they decried the inheritance tax, he would tell them only the meek inherit the earth.
If they shouted “Don’t Tread on Me”, he would tell them to turn the other cheek.

They say America is a Christian nation.
They say Christ supports our wars,
They say we should see great wealth as a sign of grace.
I say these people might be wrong.

But today I won’t stand my ground,
Merry Christmas.

Redistribution: A Primer on 21st Century Economic Theory

A teacher wants to get across to her students the evils of redistribution.
She believes redistribution is a socialist, communist, liberal plot to undermine America.
It is a doctrine of moochers and takers not makers and shakers.
It makes people dependent and fails to “incentivize” them for success.

Redistribution is an out and out evil.
Unfair, unjust, immoral, and unconstitutional.
It undermines the very foundations of society.
It kills the desire to work hard for low wages.

“How fair would a grading system be that made the A’s give points to the B’s and C’s and D’s,
And, God forbid, even to the F’s!”, she says.
“That’s how redistribution works.
The people who earned it have to give to those who didn’t.”

Of course, students in a course and people in America do not all start at the same starting line.
Some, with privileged backgrounds, start already many yards ahead.
Others start way behind the line.
The teacher calls it a fair race nonetheless.

Some earned their A through hard work,
But others earned their A by starting well ahead.
Some earned a C because they started way behind
And made more progress than any of the A’s.

The teacher is right but in the wrong direction.
For the last many decades wealth in America has been redistributed up not down.
The rich have taken from the middle class and the poor,
And in the act have surpassed the Age of the Robber Barons.

The rich raided everyday people’s bank accounts once Glass-Steagall was repealed.
They created a lucrative poverty industry out of payday loans, check cashing, and usurious credit cards.
They harvested companies by laying off workers, lowering wages, and raiding pension funds.
They made derivatives out of liar loans and foreclosed on homes.

They bought politicians, got subsidies, cut health care, and left the rest of us with the bill.
They claimed they had “earned it” when they had inherited wealth or had famous parents.
They demanded meritocracy for others but no inheritance tax for their kids so they would not have to compete.
They colluded to rig Libor rates and raise CEO pay, but decried unions.

They had the Supreme Court pass Citizens United so the corporations and the rich could steal elections.
They sought to restrict voting, just in case their money wouldn’t turn the trick.
Then they claimed the election was stolen when they lost,
Because it was their God-given right to win.

So the teacher was confused about who the moochers were.
If redistribution is a Commie plot, then our rich are Commies through and through.
Though I suspect the teacher is happy with the rich taking from the rest of us,
After all, they’re rich, so they MUST be smart, as any social Darwinist knows.

For our teacher, downward redistribution– the sort Christ was for– is evil.
And upward redistribution is good, since when wealth trickles down to the poor the rich can take it again and “grow” the economy.
Our teacher probably calls herself a good Christian,
But she is in fact a devout Milton Friedmanian.

For the record, trickle down–supply side–economics is a fraud and economies grow by consumption.
Workers with no jobs or bad wages can’t buy anything.
See, it had nothing really to do with morality but only with capitalism,
A system we should try.

In the 21st Century there is another case for downward redistribution beyond consumption.
It is a sort of Christian argument on steroids for helping those who have fallen behind.
Today our world is imperiled by complex systems and fierce conflicts.
The earth and the human species are challenged as never before.

You don’t slay a dragon with an A.
It takes a team whose strength is no better than its weakest link.
Faced with the dragon’s fire, you can bet that the best gives to the worst to get them up to speed,
Before the whole team is burnt to a crisp.

If you’re a warrior fighting at the dragon’s feet,
You don’t ask whether the healer was once a slacker or deprived,
You damn well see to it he will be ready to save you when you are about to die,
And vice versa.

That’s how to survive a major dungeon in the World of Warcraft.
And that’s how the army takes a hill in a bloody battle in the desert, though in America rich kids don’t go to war.
You redistribute your butt off until everyone is the best they can be.
The team becomes better, smarter, and sometimes braver than anyone in it

Then you don’t just get a silly A, you gain victory.
The guild gives you the best drop.
And the army gives you a medal for saving not just yourself but all of us.
You earned it, but you couldn’t have done it without the team.

The battle for the earth and for life on our planet,
For the survival of the human species,
Is already joined.
The dragon is at the gates.

Don’t bring your A to the battle and brag about it,
Or your money and tell us how hard your parents worked to give it to you.
Bring the respect you won when you buffed your team mates so they could help you save the day.
When the dragon roars, you need people to watch your back, not admire your golden ass.

If you don’t believe me, as I know you won’t,
See what happens when you stand before the dragon alone and show him your A.
Tell him the others are not there because they didn’t get an A.
As you perish, you might even scream, “It’s isn’t fair, they weren’t as good as me”.

Ah, but I hear you say, “I’ve got you now,
I will bring a team of only A’s,
People all as good and smart as me.
People who towed the line and did what they were told”.

Too bad you didn’t know this particular dragon was impervious to a team of only standard skills.
What you really need now is that screwed up dwarf,
The one you earlier denied drops you really didn’t need.
What he might have become is what you need now to save yourself.

“But, surely”, you say, “Helping should be a matter of charity,
Not the government or the team telling me what to do”.
You are right, you should not be forced on the team.
You can sit it out and hope those you wouldn’t help will help you.

But perhaps I’m wrong,
And you’ll be just fine,
Alone with your own kind.

Music From Trash

Each silence fragments the soul.
Piece by piece it falls apart.

Now that I am old, my soul is melting away altogether,
Like a glacier calving in the Age of Global Warming.
Too little is left to hold out any longer against the toxins in the institutional air I breath.

I once thought old people grew old souls.
Now I know souls grow hard, freeze, and then finally melt away,
Hived off block by block by compromises we should not have made.

Soulless, I am left adrift in the detritus of my past,
Swimming in the backwash of the wreckage of my soul,
A backwash filled with the havoc my sins have wreaked.

What happens when the soul is gone?
What happens when it’s all a sea filled with wreckage and debris?
What happens when we feel too old and hurt to swim to shore?

Souls ice over so we can get on by going along.
So we can bear the pain of stupidity.
Not stupid people, no not at all,
But forms of life that make us all unwise.

But perhaps from the litter in our soulless sea we can fabricate a new soul.
We can make from the garbage a new more fragile but angry soul.
Fragile because we always knew the kids who played symphonies with instruments made from trash were more worthy than the rich kids who padded their applications to Harvard with expensive instruments played with no passion.
But we kept silent.
Angry because we sacrificed our first soul on an altar to false gods.

Then perhaps we learn to swim through the mistakes of our past,
Ungainly,
Slowly,
Because we are “differently abled” now.

Nature

Humans are intention seekers.
We see intention everywhere.
In light and shadow and shade.
In mountains, sky, and sea.

We cannot accept that the Red Rocks of Sedona
Or the red deserts of Australia
Were carved by old seas and erosion,
And not by the art of a godly sculptor.

We go further and feel it’s all alive.
We stand in mountain vortexes swirling with special powers.
We hear breezes as messages
And sense the presence of ancients who painted symbols on the rocks.

I have walked through the Australian red deserts.
The landscape quivers with animateness,
The stones and dunes seem ever so slightly to move
As the rock kangaroos sit quietly on their mothers of stone.

We humans need to see the meanings of things
And hear the messages they send.
We cannot settle for the thingness of things
Including animate things like ourselves.

Do we redeem nature by giving it meaning
And deciphering its intentions?
What if javelinas and rock kangaroos have nothing to say,
Except that they are alive on their own terms?

We humans are trapped in the spider webs of meaning.
We can never be alive on our own terms.
We have to mean something everywhere and always
And our intentions have to be scrutinized constantly.

We cannot just be a thing full of thingness.
We have to have a soul
And maintain human progress
While we devastate the earth on our way to heaven.

I often fantasize sitting still in the Red Mountains,
Honoring nature as my goddess–
Then the mountain lion pounces

Leading

I was never a leader.
A coward, I always sought to flee.
Retreats were never merely tactical for me.
But alas I have a terrible sense of direction.

Fleeing rapidly out the back,
I got lost and ended up at the front.
Brave men were fighting there against all odds,
Until they saw me running toward the foe.

They were cheered by my courage
And rushed into the breach,
Glad to follow a real leader
Whose terrified scream sounded like a battle cry.

When I saw the hostile troops,
I turned at once
To seek a quick escape
In what perhaps looked to be a feint to fool the foe.

I got spun around anew.
Running in the direction of what I thought was home,
I came upon the enemy’s reinforcements rushing in.
Half my cadre followed me and easily won the day.

I ran off as fast I could, but was soon adrift again.
At last I heard shouts of victory and joy,
And was hailed a returning hero as I magically appeared,
Lost and back where I had started from.

There the troops were regimented
To salute a leader bold and brave,
To give me a medal for finding the way
As I asked for directions from the fray.

Love and Puds

I am sorry I don’t fit your conception
Of who I am
Or who I should be
Or who I could be.

I am sorry I offend you,
Because I am different people at different times,
A cheap schizophrenic,
Fueled by sadness, anger, mistaken friendship, hope, despair, and alcohol.

I am always impressed by how “academic liberals”
Who champion “diversity”
Have no tolerance for people like me
When we are not what they want us to be.

They disdain people for whom socializing is an Olympic event
A struggle just to finish.
They like people who are “diverse” in just the right way,
A way that makes the “liberals” feel good about themselves.

My love tells me:
“That’s the good thing about puds,
They don’t care”.
That’s why we have nine.

In a recent interview I was asked “Are you ever alone?”
I said “Never”, never anymore.
I am always with my love and my puds.
We’re  all curled up on a big bed.

The judgers and the judgments fade away.
And I finish the race in my own way.
Not necessarily in a good way and surely not in a better way than anyone else’s.
But in the way that was open to me.

Tower in Ruins

Why is the tower in ruins?
Deep down in its darkest dungeon
We kept a secret that would not stand the light.

We were in the tower to worship knowledge, not God or gods.
But we were priests nonetheless
And made sacrifices at our altar.

Our sacred duty was to expose false gods,
To face facts rather than to create myths,
To root out superstitions.

To do so we withdrew into our monastery
And made pronouncements ex cathedra
To a world that rarely cared.

When we brought them new cures
Or new tech toys and other magical tools,
They cared for the things but not the theories.

Our words were stale.
They inspired neither hope nor fear,
But only boredom.

We unlocked the secrets of the universe
And made impossible bombs that actually went off.
But late at night some people wanted to know what it meant to be here.

Science sometimes made life better.
And sometimes it made it worse.
But science didn’t give life meaning or worth.

The peons in the tower were the ones who were supposed to work on that.
They were to meditate on the meaning of it all
With paint brushes, stories, poems, and philosophical tracts.

But they sought tenure and merit increases more fiercely
Than they sought the meaning of things.
When the tower became a business they had nothing to sell.

The peons announced the death of meaning and stories and “theory”.
They told the laity they were all dupes,
Not even modern enough to be postmodern.

We all, scientists or not, published not to perish
Good work was lost in a sea of trash
The vast majority of it never cited.

We were all too busy going to conferences
And writing things no one read
To remove the trash or teach the acolytes.

The tower became a business.
We sold what we had claimed was beyond price
And discovered it wasn’t worth all that much on the open market.

Competitors came from all sides.
E-learning spread our kitschy knick-knacks everywhere
And amateurs learned without us how to make live viruses in their kitchens.

We made our tower a job training center,
And told the rubes they’d all get good jobs,
As wages, income, equality, and dignity plummeted.

But what in the hell did we know about jobs?
Our tower was meant, we had said, to enable vocations,
To be about a calling, not a job.

We all bemoaned the day our tower became a business center,
Just another type of insurance scam.
But we had been selling status all along.

We weren’t making people better.
We were making better off people better off.
And warehousing the less well off in the less well off towers.

We claimed audaciously that books had power,
But in reality we offered credentials and other trinkets,
That were no better than indulgences or superstitions.

We eventually found it was cheaper just to sell them
Rather than make anyone work to earn them,
Since they didn’t mean anything anyway.

Now we have courses with 50,000 students
Earning certificates that are special
Only because they’re not really as real as the other unreal ones we give.

We have “for profit” diploma mills,
No better than check cashing stores in rundown neighborhoods,
Offering students debt, lies, and bad degrees.

Catholic priests abused children sexually
And earned scorn.
We abuse them intellectually and earn money.

What was the secret in the dark dungeon deep?
What was there that turned to ashes in the light?
That we were meant to be priests of meaning, not just knowledge.

Meaning is hard and not for sale.
We can only baptize you when you begin the search
And bury you when you’re dead.

Not all needed or wanted the search,
Many are happy just as they are,
The tower was for those willing to sacrifice happiness for meaning.

The secret that died in the dungeon
Was that we had abandoned our birthright there.
The light showed us for what we had become.

We sacrificed our birthright on the altar in the dungeon downstairs.
Not ourselves.
Now we have paid the final price.

We are hirelings at a faux wood desk,
Writing bad checks on a drawn account,
With a quota to make.

Lies of Hope

We beg for the mercy of lies
So we don’t have to face the mercilessness of truth.
But one day we wake up and swear to tell the truth,
And then have no idea what it is.

There are hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar lies
Which never work.
And there are cowardly lies,
Sins we inevitably pay for long before we get to the Pearly Gates.

There are lies of arrogance.
When we assume we know the truth and hide it.
Indeed we thought that’s what it meant to lie.
But in reality we had no idea what the truth was and only kidded ourselves we did.

There are also lies of hope.
Where we aren’t so much lying
As improvising,
Trying to hit a moving target we cannot always see.

At their best our lies are hopes,
Try outs
For an improvisational play
We cannot script.

I regret the lies I told.
But often I knew no truths any better.
Some of the lies I told came true and made the world better.
And some were just lies that made the world all the worse.

Now I face the Final Judgment.
The choir of angels tells me there were truths I should have known.
And I would dearly love to have known what they were.
So I improvise and tell the angels my best lies were guesses in the dark,
Mapping the maze bump by bump.

As for my worst lies,
I throw myself on the mercy of the court
And hope they lie to me
And tell me it’s all all right.