De Rerum Natura

A Western Grebe bobs gently on the sea
Then darts below
And breaks the surface with a small silver fish
Swallowed in a flash.

Casual death
Every moment of every day of every year
For billions of years
De Rerum Natura.

A cat pounces on a bird
That flutters and dies
As the cat enters the magic circle
Of play.

The torturer waterboards his foe
Who gasps and gasps for air
Inside the magic circle
Of pain.

An institutionalized child screams
While “an alternative asset management firm” fires caretakers
To raise stock prices
And make rich people richer.

A girl has acid thrown in her face
Because quite reasonably
She doesn’t want to marry a man
Who would throw acid in her face.

A toddler slips and falls
Through space
In the flash of a parent’s eye
And is murdered by gravity.

Good and bad people alike cry out for reasons
From an all-powerful all-knowing all-good God
Who, they say, tells them it’s all for good
And meant to be.

I don’t buy it
Because I don’t want to worship a God
Who would let acid destroy a young girl’s face.
Even if He had a good reason.

“Beware of false prophets
Who come to you in sheep’s clothing
But inwardly are ravenous wolves.
By their fruits you will know them”.

Caring

I am a member of the “I Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore Club”,
A 12 step program for people who once cared.
Caring brought us stress, anxiety, anger, and disdain.
It destroyed us and those we cared about as well.

John cared about his job and was forced to train his own replacement.
Mary cared about her husband and got replaced by a young male.
Fred cared about the environment and now they frack in his backyard.
Sue cared about her cat who moved in next door.

Caring is toxic to the soul.
You suffer every hurt of someone else,
And every setback to a cause,
When you have your own private suffering to bear.

To care about an institution is the stupidest thing.
Institutions are designed to squander any opportunity for good.
They are full of people who claim to follow rules for the greater good,
But only as a ruse to suck the greater good dry for their own benefit.

Oh, yes, humans do follow one general rule,
“To thine own self be true”.
But it means “Screw others if you need to,
And pretend to care if you must”.

“The I Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore Club” is for people who were foolish enough to care.
They thought the cause was all about the cause, but it never was.
They thought the institution was all about its vaunted goal, but it wasn’t.
They thought others cared, but they really didn’t.

The “I don’t give a fuck anymore” state is liberating.
You can feel your arteries opening.
Your muscles relaxing.
And your heart closing.

You long to say, “No, I don’t care,
You have mistaken me for someone else.
Here’s a quarter, call someone who still cares.
I don’t give a fuck, not even a flying fuck, whatever that is”.

I could have been a great success had I cared less.
I could have lived longer.
I could have lived lighter.
I have aged beyond my years by adding worry about others to worries about myself.

Now I am facing an early grave.
Caring has caused my telomeres to fray.
The people, the causes, and the Institutions I cared about have moved on.
My care meant little and accomplished even less.

Now don’t mistake me and think I care what you think,
Or that I claim any merit by having been addicted to care.
Caring is the rare disease that has no Internet support group.
It’s a disease everyone wants to claim, but no one wants to have.

We in the “I Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore Club” don’t have sponsors.
To sponsor someone else would require caring.
We go it on our own.
There’s no one to call if we lapse back and give a damn.

I often wonder who started our group,
Since that would have required caring about us all.
All that is known is that the founder passed on worn down by care,
A failure in the eyes of the club who can’t remember his name.

We care addicts were raised by parents who bought the scam that people care,
When what they really care about is only themselves and their kin.
We all wonder now how our parents ever got old enough to mate,
When evolution should have taken care of them long before.

A meeting of the club is a cold affair.
There’s no hugging and no support.
We take our turns admitting errors.
But no one cares.

Shrines

A thick forest of gloom.
A small shrine of stone.
A rotting log by a cold fire.
I sit alone on the log staring at the last shrine.

Shrines have propelled the human race.
Each group constructs a shrine for devotion to its chosen god,
Expecting favors in return.
But sooner or later the shrine always runs dry.

The favors cease.
The devotion wanes.
Skeptics arise.
Then someone notices that the shrine next door still seems to work.

Those foreigners next door,
Just far enough away not to have occasioned a war,
But just close enough to borrow and steal from now and then.
Appear to have the real thing.

Their shrine works.
Their gods really do listen and reward.
Our shrine is bogus.
So let’s adopt theirs.

The new shrine works for a while.
Then it too runs dry.
We spy yet another and adopt it.
But that one too will soon run dry and we will seek another again.

Religions and myths have always borrowed and stolen.
They become mixed and mired in each other.
Some religions wrote books to stop it.
But even books as shrines run dry no matter what.

Does the god desert the shrine?
Or was he never there?
Do our devotions eventually fail to please him?
Or do our devotions merely fool us?

We humans need something to worship.
We need an insurance policy against chance and fate.
An insurance policy against a short life and a bad death.
But the company never pays.

Each of us, no matter how modern, erects shrine after shrine in our personal lives.
Shrines to forces that we hope can save us,
Shrines to money, fame, fortune, family, nations, and many other lesser gods.
But these shrines all run dry too.

All the altars where I have worshipped are barren now.
As all shrines do, they have run bone dry.
I wait patiently now for the last god to come through the forest of gloom
To sit beside me near the cold fire at my final shine.

Choices

A fork in the path.
I turn left.
Now I will always be “the person who turned left when he could have turned right”.

A fork in the path.
I am blown right by a strong wind.
Now I will always be “the person who was blown right when he might have chosen otherwise”.

After a great many twists and turns,
I become “the person who turned or was blown right left left right right right left …. when it could or might have all been otherwise”.
Our lives and ourselves turn into a circuitous route composed of when and where there was a chosen or a forced turn.

Sometimes we just let the wind choose,
And go wherever even a gentle wind bids us,
Three sheets to the wind even when we’re not drunk.

We cannot always tell if we chose or were blown.
And surely we often cannot remember.
Does it matter in a game where you cannot turn back?

Long ago in a trailer in a forest I made a bad choice.
That choice forced another and another.
Now I regret the first choice but I am what I am now from all the others.

What if I could go back and make that choice again?
It would not be me that goes back to decide again.
I am the ill formed progeny of that choice, no longer the innocent I once was.

It would be that long-gone innocent making the new choice.
But that innocent would soon become something else altogether once the new choice was made.
That innocent self, even if wise enough to make a different choice, or let the wind choose, would now be a route I never took and utterly unrecognizable to me as me.

How would he judge me? How would I judge him?
What could the judgment of or by an alternative self really mean?
Is this what the Final Judgment at the Gates of Heaven is?

What are people who read self-discovery books seeking to discover?
They say they want to know who they are.
Better, I think, if you are young, to seek who you should be, though it won’t be what you become.

When you are old, you no longer want to know who you are,
Or who you should be,
But what you have become and what you should think of it.

Is the proper emotion guilt?
Regret?
Loathing?
Or surprise?

Lies

It’ s a lie.
What?
I forget.
I can only vaguely recall.

So many lies my brain is numb.
I can see just a glimpse.
But of what?
There are too many lies to remember.

Big lies, medium lies, little lies.
A Goldilocks of lies.
Some are just right.
Lulled to sleep by lies.

People lie to win.
People lie to keep others happy.
People lie to survive.
People lie to help and to harm.

We bathe in lies.
The media lies.
The politicians lie.
We all lie.

Why?
Because we want power, sex, and money.
Because we want respect.
Because we want love.
Because we want to belong, not to be left alone.

Lies lubricate social life.
Lies negotiate the peace and start the wars.
Lies allow us to sleep at night.
In the morning, lies allow us to get up and go on.

We cannot stop lying and believing lies.
We are addicted to lies.
They keep the world at bay.
And lock us into the battered shelter of self-deception.

But what is there out there that frightens us so?
The indifferent universe.
And people in a zero sum game.
A game only one of us can win.
A cage fight to the end.

People claim to like us, to be our friend, even to love us.
But they just need warmth against the cold.
And we need a companion by the fire.
When the fire goes out we are alone again.

We seek.
We weep.
We wish.
We fail.

In desperation we come to the communal fire.
To whoop with the tribe.
To pump ourselves up for violence.
Against the others who otherwise we would love.

We are frail beasts.
Evolved from creatures that ate or got eaten.
We awoke with consciousness one day and pain became suffering.
Then we all desperately sought a lie that would make everything all right.

Sin

I was seven years old, the age of reason.
The age when for the very first time sin becomes possible.
Even necessary.

When I made my First Confession, I had to find a sin.
To prove I had the capacity to reason.
Or rather the common human capacity to have reason overridden by desire.

It’s hard to sin when you’re seven, at least back then when children were still children.
I hadn’t done anything bad.
Not because I didn’t want to, but because my father wouldn’t let me.

No matter: For Catholics, wanting to do bad things was already a bad thing.
Wanting to do bad got you credit for doing it.
So I confessed to wanting to talk back.

I wonder now why thinking bad things gets you credit for being bad.
But thinking good things doesn’t get you credit for being good.
To get credit for being good, you actually have to do good things.

For teens, having impure thoughts was a common sin.
It was hard to tell the priest the number though.
There were too many and they were difficult to individuate.

There were venial and mortal sins.
Venial sins got you time in Purgatory.
Mortal sins got you an eternity in Hell.

Sex outside marriage was a mortal sin.
So was murder.
Letting kids starve all over Africa wasn’t.

It might seem that confession should have worked the other way round.
People should have told the priest what good things they had actually done.
“Father, I have not done any good at all, I have nothing to confess”.

A focus on sin leaves too many people locked in thought and not deeds.
It leads to spending too much time removing sin from one’s soul.
And not enough time removing harm and evil from the world.

Being good comes to mean avoiding sin and temptation.
Don’t do this and don’t do that.
But, would not God think well of a head full of dirty thoughts and a life full of good deeds?

Some Christians attack abortion clinics and that’s a deed.
Yet they want to cut social services and champion the death penalty.
They do good things for embryos, not for real people.

There is a paradox about good deeds: They can only make things better, not perfect.
Evil flourishes in perfection.
Too often many die so that all can live.

Of course there are good Christians, Christ was one.
He told us not to cling to riches or status.
And To DO what he DID.

Christ made the final exam open book.
He gave out the questions well before he demanded the answers.
For some reason he left abortion off the test.

Come, you blessed of My Father,
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you
From the foundation of the world;

For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink,
I was a stranger and you took Me in,

I was naked and you clothed Me,
I was sick and you visited Me,
I was in prison and you came to Me.

Assuredly, I say to you,
Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My Brethren,
You did it to Me.

So there are only six questions on the exam.
The exam you get at the End of Time.
Hungry thirsty strangers and naked sick prisoners, that’s all there is.

As we debate abortion and Christ in politics,
As we claim the U.S. is a Christian country, but that helping the poor is Communism,
I wonder about “Christians” who fail a test that was released ahead of time.

I visited a girlfriend in prison once.
I have unclothed more people than I’ve clothed.
But unlike “Christians” I don’t claim to have passed the final exam.

I don’t worry anymore about whether I am a good Christian.
The exam questions have settled that.
Old now, though, I wonder whether what little good I thought I did was any good at all.

There is another exam I fear.
At the moment of death, when there is no reason left to lie even to yourself, you ask:
“What good did I DO?”

Dad

They look at me askance.
I would have thought it was “a skance”.
But that is why they look at me so.

I rarely heard fancy words at home.
Once I heard “pluralism” at the dinner table though.
Because my father read Hans Kung.

I only heard big words from theology books.
That’s all my father ever read.
He taught himself to read Teilhard de Chardin autodidactically

My father told me he was thrown out of school in the third grade.
For climbing a flag pole in Mississippi.
He left home at thirteen and got through the Great Depression working at hotels in Kansas City.

He joined the 82nd Airborne, parachuting into World War II.
Broke his collar bone on the drop into Normandy and fought on.
Only late in life, near death, would he finally talk about the horror of the war.

Overseas he met an English girl from Derby.
After the War he took her to a cabin in the wilds of the Uvas.
Wolves howled and she demanded to move to the city.

Before the War he had started a taxi company in San Jose.
He returned to take it back from thugs.
Battling them with machine guns in the yard.

He was the first in town to hire African-Americans,
And he refused service ever again to anyone who wouldn’t ride with them.
One day an African driver (not an African-American) who had not been driving long drove his cab into a plate glass window.

The store called to complain about the driver and the broken window.
They never got a cab again.
Dad had principles without nuances.

He wanted to choose a religion.
Pamphlets over-filled a drawer at home.
Like many uneducated people, he believed reading was a doorway to truth.

A Jesuit named Father Ring passed by the cab company each morning on his way to Church.
Each day Dad doffed his hat and said, “Good day, Father”.
Father Ring converted him to Catholicism and made his War Bride a bride again.

Dad petitioned Rome to annul a former marriage that had ended in divorce,
So he could marry Mom for “real” in the Catholic Church.
My identical twin brother and I, little boys dressed all in white, walked down the aisle throwing petals on the ground.

He developed a deep fondness for the Little St. Teresa and the Big one too.
Old as he was, he was an altar boy early each morning at Mass where the Carmelite nuns chanted, hidden behind a wall.
They could not venture out and spoke to visitors only from behind a wooden turnstile.

When my brother and I made our First Communion, we saw the nuns sitting in a bare room with cold iron bars.
They removed their veils so we could see their faces.
This was something they could do only for innocents making their First Communion.

I remember them still.
Frozen in time and place even then.
Old and young, virgins and innocents, they laughed and looked happy and well.

Dad thought we had looked on the faces of angels.
He would never see any of these women, women who he served for a lifetime,
Until he was on his death bed and they came to wish him well on his way to see the face of God.

When Dad died, Mom still went to the Carmelite Monastery for Mass.
One day in the courtyard she went off to watch a squirrel play in a tree.
Surprised I ran up to her and she gasped at the attention I had brought on her from others.

My mother hated public attention.
She could not stand to stand out.
When her life was drawing to a close, people stared at her in public while she fought the ill effects of an aneurism.

Like my mother, I have always hated people looking at me.
But when I ventured out,
They looked at me askance.

One day, Dad decided we would all go to Spain to trace the history of the Carmelites.
And a very long history it was.
Some said it started even before Christ, in the Holy Land on Mt. Carmel.

We visited my elderly grandmother in England first.
And my mother’s many brothers and sisters.
I had never seen my English Grandmother; in fact she is the only Grandparent I ever saw.

My brother and I showed up in cowboy hats and boots, sporting toy rifles.
We guarded the front door of the old red brick house.
And watched horse drawn carts deliver bottles of milk.

Grandma’s house had no refrigerator and no heat save from the kitchen stove.
She walked to town several miles each morning to buy the food for the day.
A small gray lady ambling with her bags to town, she lived a long long time.

Dad wanted to surprise Grandma with her first spaghetti dinner.
He went all over Derby looking for what turned out to be in England rare ingredients.
Grandma said it looked like worms and wouldn’t eat it.

For reasons I do not know, my Anglican relatives ate fish on Friday just like us Catholics.
They did not know why either.
And denied there was any Irish in their line despite suspicions about their name.

At night the house was frigid.
After a late supper of fish and chips wrapped in old newspaper, we ran upstairs as fast as we could from the warm kitchen through the icy house to bed.
God be praised, Grandma had placed a hot-water bottle under the stone cold bed clothes.

Derby was a village then.
Old red brick houses and horse-drawn carts on cobbled roads.
Grandma had an outhouse and no indoor plumbing.

When Mom was nearing death, sick of the modern world, she longed to return home to Derby.
To the Derby which she dreamed was there still.
We did not have the heart to tell her it was gone, transformed into an industrial slum.

Though Dad had fought the Fascists in the War, we went to the Fascist Franco’s Spain.
Franco was a Catholic who heard Mass each day.
For Dad, that meant he had a good soul.

The desk clerks at the hotel offered to pay my brother and me to talk to them in English.
They had learned British English and wanted to talk fast like us Americans.
Dad made us go down each night and talk for free.

The young bellhops knew no English and we knew no Spanish.
But they took us out each day to play with paper planes and such.
Language was no barrier for play.

We were surprised to see policemen stop all the cars and pedestrians to let us pass alone.
They asked us if they could take our picture in the middle of the road.
Finally, my Dad asked “Why?”

“We know who you are”, the policeman said.
My father said, “Who am I then?”
“You’re Eisenhower”.

The paper had said Eisenhower was visiting Spain.
Dad looked like Ike.
To this day there are pictures still on Spanish mantles of Eisenhower and his two fat twins.

As we walked the streets of Spain, Dad found the passing priests uncivil.
Each time he doffed his hat and said with a smile “Good day, Father”, they just walked by.
Not like the priests back home, not like dear old Father Ring.

One day, Dad had had it.
When an old priest walked silently by, Dad called out to him “What’s this?” “Why so rude? Why just walk by?”
The old priest stopped and said, “Who are you?” meaning “Who in the Hell are you?”

Dad said “I am Ernie Gee from San Jose California”.
The old priest just stopped and thought.
Then he said, “Do you know a Jesuit by the name of Harold Ring?”

The old priest and Father Ring had attended the same seminary together long ago in Rome.
They were old friends who had not seen each other ever since.
Dad said Father Ring had converted him.

The old priest and my father became fast friends.
They toured Spain together looking at churches and buying old statues.
The old priest sent a Christmas card each year thereafter.

Dad was searching for the true Carmelites.
The ones who went way back to the Saints Teresa and beyond.
But at convent after convent he heard tales of theological fine points.

Petty differences.
“Well, really, Mr. Gee we are not quite like that other house”.
It had been a forked and twisted path from old Mt. Carmel.

This was Old Europe and the Church after all.
For thousands of years Carmelites, both monks and nuns, had championed their own devotions.
Though they all reported to the Father General in Rome, there were nonetheless old and subtle differences.

Finally, Dad had had it (again).
Footsore and weary, he sought refuge in the sacristy of an old church.
Sitting on a bench he complained to us about “these Carmelites” in not so decent terms.

A monk came in tired too,
Unnoticed, he sat behind us.
Eventually he tapped my father on the shoulder.

He said, “I see you are unhappy with the Carmelites”.
“Who are you?” meaning “Who are you, for heaven’s sake?”
“I am Ernie Gee from San Jose, California”.

The monk said, “I am the Father General of the Carmelites,
I am here from Rome on a visit to Spain”.
They became fast friends and he sent a Christmas card each year thereafter.

We came home with lots and lots of slides.
My father, camera round his neck and family in tow, was what they then called “an Ugly American”.
Pushing across Old Europe with naïve faith and unabashed forwardness.

Little did we know how truly ugly Americans would later get,
When they were not fresh off the beaches of Normandy,
But policing the world in the name of “American Exceptionalism”.

Dad did not live all that long, he died at 52.
His people were Dust Bowl wanderers and they all died young.
An altar boy to the end, a series of heart attacks eventually felled him.

The Father General of the Carmelites in Rome cabled the nuns in California.
Make a habit and bury him as a Carmelite he said.
My brother and I, then in a monastery world ourselves, were allowed to attend his funeral where he lay in an open casket, in a monk’s habit, gone to join the long line of Carmelites where he belonged.

Finally, I ventured out, out to the modern world.
They looked at me askance.
And have ever since.

I would have thought it was “a skance”.
But that is why they look at me so.
I never heard fancy words at home.

Except that word “pluralism” which impressed me then even though I was quite young.
I lived in a closed world then and this magic word seemed to say there were plural worlds in one society. E pluribus unum, out of many, one, many devotions beyond my own.

I have lived a long time in that pluralistic society.
Its elites seem to live in as closed worlds as I once did.
They look at me askance.

Like my mother, I want to go home, but I know it’s gone.
I can still hear, but barely, the chanting of the nuns,
And see my father kneeling at the altar of their song.

Enough

Sadly, when you are old, enough is never enough.
Enough is less than you want.
More than you need.
But maybe enough is never enough even for the young.

An old folk tale has guest after guest come in.
Each asks if there is enough.
The gracious hostess always says, “There’s just enough” .
Enough never becomes less than enough.

Even for the wild young, enough runs out quickly.
For the old it runs out quicker still.
For the hostess enough is always just enough.
For me just enough is just too little.

If I have more than enough will others have too little?
Can some have more without others having less?
I get that less is more and moral,
If not everyone gets enough.

But not with wine.
Or food.
Or sex.
Or beauty.

Surely there is enough for all: Wine is not oil, we can grow grapes.
Food is not a gem, we can grow grain.
Sex only requires someone else and God knows there are plenty of them.
And beauty seems limitless.

But what of love?
Is there a shortage of that?
Can we grow love?
Is there enough–even more than enough–for every one?

Are we searching for love,
Searching even to love ourselves,
When enough is not enough?
Or is that a trite truth?

Is the truth in wine deeper?
That love is so rare,
We drink to wait and hope.
Until, if ever, enough is enough.

Fire at Night

Joe was a very old man in an old world.
He was fat and had thick glasses.
He wore all black.
And taught algebra.

He could barely see.
When I wrote my exam in pencil,
He couldn’t see it.
“Mr. Gee, you give me nothing, I give you nothing,” he wrote alongside my ‘F’.

He liked to sit at his old wooden desk,
And make the students chant my name as fast as they could.
“Jim Gee!”, “Jim Gee!”, “Jim Gee!”, they chanted while he pounded out each beat on the desk with his chalk bottle.
He liked that my name was short and you could say it fast.

We did algebra problems at the board.
He told us we must draw x’s one way and not the other.
I made my x wrong, the way the Nuns had told us to in grade school.
He said, “Mr. Gee, that’s not how we makes x’s here”.

I did it again and he covered me in chalk head to toe,
Pounding me slowly with a large dusty chalk eraser.
I have never made x’s any way since save his.
That’s mainly what I learned in Algebra class.

Larry was another very old man in the same old world.
He was tall but stooped and crippled, standing with the aid of two canes.
He wore all black.
And lectured from behind a wooden podium atop a stage.

We were afraid of him.
It was rumored that there was a blood stain next to the desk in his room.
I saw it once when I was called to see him, at least I think I did.
They said he had hit a wayward student with one of his canes.

In class, we sat in old wooden desks with chairs attached.
One day my friend Paul whispered to another student.
Larry dropped his canes and leapt from the stage,
Picked up the desk, with Paul in it, and carried it out the door,
And threw it into the courtyard below, Paul and all.

Of course we were all shocked.
I was shaking because I had thought Larry was coming for me.
None of us ever talked in class again.
And we believed all the more devoutly in the blood stain on the floor.

John was yet another very old man in that old world.
He was tall and absent minded.
He wore all black.
He taught two different classes
And carried a book with the names of his students in it everywhere.

He started each class by calling attendance from his book.
As he called each name, the designated student said “Yes”.
But John usually called the names from the other class.
We each said yes anyway and John went happily on.

One day John was on a roll, oblivious we were there.
He was talking about a story in the Bible.
He said, “If you squeeze an orange, what do you get?”
“Orange juice”.

Then he said, “If you squeeze a human being, what do you get?”
He stopped, said nothing more, and went on to something else.
Human being juice?
I didn’t know then, but I do know now, what he meant.

Bucky was a very old man too in that old world.
He was very frail.
He wore all black.
He called on each of us in turn to translate Greek out loud.

I honestly believed Bucky had known Plato.
He was that old.
He sat silently after we each recited our Greek.
And just wrote a grade we never saw in an old book.

I was no good at Greek.
So to pass the exams I just memorized the English.
And tried to line it up with whatever Greek showed up on the test.
It was easier than actually learning Greek.

On one exam, Bucky gave me an ‘A’.
He even wrote “Good job, Mr. Gee”.
But, then, he wrote, “It is odd that there is one more paragraph of English than there is of Greek”.
I had gone too far, missing where the Greek had actually ended.

A bonfire raged in the dark cloister.
Hormones raged as well in young male bodies around the fire.
Teens dressed all in black.
Very young men in a very old world.

It was Easter Eve late at night.
A vigil waiting for the Resurrection.
We went to Midnight Mass.
And then drank hot chocolate together in the old large drafty refractory.

That world is long dead.
And it will have no resurrection.
It died when the fire went out.
An old man myself now, in the Dark Night I seek kindling I cannot find.

Vampires

Once, long ago, I wrote about a vampire.
Now I am a vampire.

Vampires can live forever.
Eventually they live so long they have no home.
Everything familiar has long disappeared.
They can barely recall the world in which they were born.
Some of them long for death.

All of us can be vampires now.
It used to take hundreds of years for a vampire to grow weary.
Now it takes less than a mortal’s life.
One lifetime is now a thousand years of change.

Not all vampires grow weary, I suppose.
Some of us old people want to live forever.
Some of us are asking biology for eternal life.
Some of us want science to heal frayed telomeres and cure old genes.

When I was quite young, I warped in time.
I went back hundreds of years.
You could do that then.
It took guts or fear or wanting to leave home.
Ironic now, isn’t it? This wanting to leave home.

In the warp, there was no radio.
No TV.
No newspapers.
No magazines.
No phones.
No family.

No girls or women either.
In fact, they gave me a little black book that said:
“All girls and women have lust in their hearts”
(This I found out much later was sadly not true).

We rose at 6:05 and went to bed at 9:05.
We slept on straw.
We ate bad food.
We ate in silence listening to one of our kind read bloody stories about torture.
I took my turn to read.
Sometimes we secretly waited for the delivery man and begged for bread.

The library stopped in the 18th century.
Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza were banned.
So they weren’t there.
I found them, secretly, hidden, not in their own books.
St. Anselm had turned me on to them.
Though he didn’t know it.

I did once escape the warp world.
I hid under a blanket guiltily reading Kant in a very strange place.
San Francisco.
Forbidden fruit.
Kant, too, was banned.

It was slow going, reading Kant.
Many years later I read Kant again in a philosophy course in college.
I went to my professor and said I could not be a philosopher.
I just read too slowly.
He asked me how many pages of Kant or Hegel I could read an hour.
I said two or three max.
He said “You are reading too fast”.

I saw both God and the Devil in the time warp world.
God, two or three times.
The Devil, only once.
Actually I did not really see the Devil.
Someone else did and told me.
To be accurate, he was more heard than seen scratching at a window.

I discovered the Cuban Missile Crisis when I found an old wind-blown page of a newspaper in our forest.
It said there was a crisis.
There might be Nuclear War, it said.
I had no idea how it had all turned out.
Perhaps the world had been destroyed, save for our forest.
I looked for a later page.
I couldn’t find one.

When I was very young I had a textbook called “The Evil Tree”.
It was a Catholic book.
It said Communism was the Work of the Devil.
Communism would Never Die.
Russia was the Eternal Evil Empire.
We needed Eternal Vigilance.
Now Communism is gone.
The Evil Empire is Dust.
So is the Catholic Church, trapped in a tar pit of its own making.

In one fell swoop I went from the time warp world into the 60’s.
It was a bigger warp to the 60’s than it had been from my home to the warp world.
I walked right onto a Sunny beach in a Sunny college town.
There were long-haired hippies, surfers, and beautiful girls in bikinis the size of napkins.
When they weren’t wearing nothing at all at Nude-Ins Against the War.

I came on the scene wearing a black suit, a stiff white shirt, a thin tie, and a crew cut.
My small British mother was with me.
The hippies, the surfers, the girls stared.
Not hostilely.
It was, after all, the 60’s.
They were very nice to me.

The surfers came to trust me with their girlfriends when they were out cheating on them.
They knew I didn’t know what to do.
I bought a book about women’s bodies.
It was all line drawings.
I could make no sense of it at all.
I have always been bad with maps.
That’s why today I believe in Doing before Reading.
That’s why I believe in gaining images and actions before words.
Reading bodies before reading about bodies.

The Philosophy Department Head asked what I had come to study.
I said Metaphysics: Descartes, Leibniz, and Spinoza.
That’s what you get when you ban things.
He said no one did Metaphysics any more.
That was all just History now.
I had arrived too late.
I had really wanted to make a contribution to Metaphysics.

I asked what THEY did now.
He said:
Analytic philosophy.
Linguistic philosophy.
Wittgenstein. Austin. Ryle.

I admitted then I had not been able to get into any classes anyway.
They were all full.
I had failed to mail back some little cards.
I hadn’t known what the cards were for.
So I had stood in long lines to get courses.
But the courses were all filled by the time I got to the front.
And I had no priority.
I had been in the warp world too long.

The Department Head said all that was left was his Plato class.
But it was a graduate class.
Not for undergraduates, especially not new ones.
I was desperate.
“Could he help me?”
I begged.
“Well, have you ever read Plato?”
Sheepishly, I said: “I have only read him in Greek”.

I thought you were supposed to have read him in English.
It somehow seemed more modern. Not time warped.
In the time warp world we read Greek and Latin.
We also ate meals silently, listening to stories about torture, as I said.

He said, “You’re in”.
And we read Plato in English.

That ocean place and time is now long gone.
A bank got burned.
And in America you don’t burn banks.
Not even way back then.

Soldiers filled the town with guns, gas canisters, and dump trucks.
A helicopter and a dump truck once made me hop on one leg back to my room.
I was caught in the dark after curfew.
A light shone down on me from the sky.
A voice spoke out of the light.
It told me to STOP.
I thought it was God, for the third or fourth time.
But it was the helicopter.
It told me to wait.
A dump truck full of policemen with masks and shields and guns came up behind me.
The helicopter told me to start hopping.
I did.

The town in which I was born is long gone now too.
Once despised, it found love when it discovered Silicon.
Those of us born there could no longer afford to live there.
It had become fancy and we had not.

I became a university professor because the time warp world had disappeared.
The old stone buildings were torn down.
The forest was leveled.
Concrete was poured
A suburb was born.
The time warp world was buried underneath it.
There was a sign that said it had been there.
The sign may be gone now too.
Once it took hundreds or thousands of years to bury worlds.
Now one lifetime is more than enough.

The university was the closest thing I could find to the time warp world.
In the time warp world they told me that if anyone earned a PhD, he would lose his FAITH
(Remember, no women, so no pronoun problem).
I earned my PhD in another Sunny place.

Once, in graduate school, my main professor left to take another job.
Her name was Joan.
I felt bereft.
The new one was not coming for a semester.
His name was Tom.
I needed someone to study with.
Someone as good and special as Joan.
Not just anyone.

I shared my concern with the Department Head.
Her name was Clara.
She told me to pick anyone in the world.
Anyone.
She told me to consult with Joan.
Clara would bring whomever I chose to me.
So I could work with them while I waited for Tom.

I picked a famous professor from Paris.
His name was Richie.
Clara called him in Paris right in front of me.
When Richie came, I was the only student in both his classes.
One was a small seminar.
I had to give the first student presentation.
There were no other student presentations after that.
The other class was in an old large lecture hall.
Richie lectured from a lectern on a high wooden stage.
I sat alone in the hall, near the front, way down below.
Richie stopped every once in a while, looked down, and asked whether there were any questions.
Often there were.

The University is gone now too.
It is just another bank.
The ratio is not one to one.
The professors are Automatic Teller Machines, with fees.

And America is gone too.
Oh, I know I am not supposed to call it that.
I know there is a South America.
And a Central America.
Even a Canada.
But America is what we called it back then.
When it was still there.