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Exchange of Values

Exchange of Values
acrylic on board 48'X96'

"Structure of Color Perception"

"Structure of Color Perception"
48'X96' acrylic on board

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Blessed New Year and let’s continue with more travelogue poetry. I looked through my old inventory and I don’t really have a painting that seems to really resonate with this poem.  In any event, I don’t want my painting to function as a pimp to my poetry, or the other way around.  So I just took this picture of my back work room where I discard unsatisfactory work, paintings I’m going to paint over or discard, ideas that didn’t pan out.  It’s also where I experiment, throw paint around, or melted wax, crayons, plastic.  Like that “Pocahontas See N Say” toy on the bottom left.  I exchanged the original pictures with photographs from the murdered Lakota at wounded knee.  Next I wanted to change the original recordings that said things like “Curious raccoons love to play,” or “Corn, the good earth gives us corn to eat,” or “Grandmother willow is a very wise tree,” with actual Native-American voices offering their own words and explanations about their experience with what we call “nature.”  That proved to be too technically difficult for me and so there it sits, still not art, not yet.  Next to it on the right is a Coptic angel of death that the squirrels that live in my studio have chewed some of the paint off of.  You would think that the sword would have kept them at bay, maybe if I was more of a realist I could have saved her?  But I reckon it’s not just painters that have places like this but also writers, poets, sculptors, duck call whittlers, even theologians, and philosophers all have back rooms where poems, theories, dogmas, and screeching duck calls are tossed away and best forgotten.  One step away from becoming more of a life's wreckage.  Behind my studio is a gully that I’m filling in and where I toss all of my organic and compostable matter.  If the squirrels keep at it, that’s where the angel of death is going to end up.    

Jerusalem, Stalingrad, Warsaw, Rome...

Like ships cities need scuppers
Means for whatever is not city to scuttle free
Holy redoubts where prophets weave our future
Sanctuaries in cliff faces, asylums
Where blood-money has no purchasing power
Vengeance is postponed
In the center of the Holy of holies
The manslaughterer purifies his hands
On the wings of cherubim

Because our name comes after the fact
From someplace outside these broken walls
Mothers keening for their children
Who are sacrificed in the bargain
Just as Shiloh and Sodom lost their glory
A women looks back
Whatever appearance held her gaze
The name of G-d still sleeps un-utterable
Encoded within babbles of consonant acronyms:
           Y  --  H  --  W  --  H
Four little peeks under G-d’s skirt

Then the walls were felled by the mean tide
All the guilty are found within--One people finally
For there is no more outside the text
No habitation or vantage to look back at ourselves
Everywhere the center is holding
Virgins were sought, none were found
Who could not be tempted to look back

Anyone with sense could see it
Was a catastrophe in the making
And never one to trust a mob
He preferred his own company and
Selling door to door
Yet after all this time we
Still haven’t given up on messiahs
We’re always searching for just the right kind of
Character, an ‘all things to all’ kind of personage
If there was a contest, a pageant, if there were a vote
At least a majority would have some satisfaction
As it is now no one’s really happy
No one that counts

Looking over the great cities one can imagine
Weeping, but not for the sake of the architecture
Which is all out of proportion to it’s reputation anyway
Stones never stay where you put them
Even when stacked high on the bodies of oracles
Kneel down with a poet’s ear to the mound
The Slightest breath escapes like tears
Between the cracks in the unmortared rubble

The panicked herd worn and exhausted stalls out
They are so beautiful, their lungs
Pumping steam into the cold morning
The lead mare paws the fresh snow, ears pricked
When the frozen trees crack like gun-shots
She bolts leading the murmuration
Instinctively she knows the herd will follow her
All the way to safety or into the abyss

Monday, December 24, 2012

This painting is an older one (48” X 30”).  The medium I used is mostly crushed rock, soils, flowers and plants that I collected at Pine Ridge Indian reservation when me and my wife used to visit and work with the elderly there every year.  We’d do simple things, like driving grandma to bingo at the Catholic church on wednesday nights and maybe fix up the trailer a bit, nothing much really as these things are reckoned.  It was there that I first saw what the Sioux and other plains tribes called a “Winter Count.”  It was a history of the years events painted on animal skins (see Colin G. Calloway, “One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark.”).  About 100 of these old winter counts still survive, but many native artists are reviving the tradition and the work they do is incredible, and they inspired me to do the painting above.  It is interesting to place events recorded in these surviving winter counts, ‘the battle of Little Big Horn,’ for example, in contrast to newspaper reports and the ‘official’ history of the same events.

Then an article by John Crossan got me to thinking about my family’s visit in 1996 to the ‘Altar of Augustan Peace‘ in Rome, another kind of winter count.  Tapestries, paintings, bas reliefs, depicting the victories of Caesar Augustus over the enemies of the empire (the Hollywood of it’s time really).  It’s how a guy could work himself up to becoming a god back in the day, ‘war, victory, peace; war, victory, peace; repeat as often as needed, a proven recipe for success.  Still, among the vanquished, the victims, there are always counter-histories, subversive songs, poems, parables, subtle aposiopesis for those with an ear to hear, spread about by folks labeled rebels or even terrorists.  What actually happened, the official story, the Truth, gets all mixed in with the blood and muck and money so sometimes even now we have a hard time getting our stories straight.  

Blessed holy days y’all and here’s a little ditty I wrote for Christmas:

Xmas Year Zero

If were just figuring statues and portraits
Jesus is the victor
If it’s the body count that matters
Then It all depends....

Two kinds of coins
Two kinds of kings
Two kinds of gods
It’s a toss up really

We have yet to decide
Between the hand and the heart
There is waiting
And there’s just killing time

Our sympathies are with the straw child of course
The mystic, the martyr, the Jew
The humble one with the unconsolable eyes

But Caesar was a kid once too
‘Novus homo,’ destined for greatness by all accounts
His devout mother was favored by the gods
Guiding his first baby-steps towards divinity
Tested by a serpent in the temple of Apollo
She was marked with a rainbow that never faded
Her womb was assumed into heaven
Signs in the stars confirmed the miracle
Great victories on the battlefields of Thurium 
Slaves, peasants, and the enemies of the law crushed
All the testimony is there in the records
The word conceived on parchment and calf-skins
Scripture in the making

But If we’re just adding up kapital
Shopping days and time off from work
The seasonal consumer index
Then the ‘son of god‘ has triumphed
I mean the one from Palestine
If we're just voting with our lips
Not accounting for feet or dollars
Believers and not actual followers
Then the Nazarene wins by a mile
But if it comes down to swords into ploughshares
What is actually rendered unto
Then it all depends...

There’s what we hail as peace, pax, pacem,
And then there’s order, obedience, pacification
Our hearts lie with the lamb
But we bank among the lions

Blessed Holy days all, much obliged.

( the link to the article: ).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This painting above is 9 feet wide and 4 feet tall. I wanted to reproduce some of the last surviving words, poetry, names, and art left on the walls of Auschwitz.  I Reconstructed it from photos and charcoal rubbings, etc., all the images I gathered together and then painted there are exact replica’s of the originals to the best of my ability.  Obliged.

Poem of the week:

A Little Ditty of a poem started in 2006 when we were on our way to Beirut from Haifa.  Turns out that the Israeli air force had blown up all the bridges in Southern Lebanon and the car rental place wouldn’t let us take the car over the border.  In any event a big chunk of Beirut had been blasted to smithereens.  But the great thing about religion, myth, poetry, is that it can take routinized destruction and death and turn it into a mythic story of profound meaning.  Like some of the stories in the bible that were shaped and rewritten over hundreds of years, sometimes thousands, before an armistice was agreed upon and one account was declared victorious, for a time.  Nowadays, that whole process takes less than a week of television or chatter in the blogosphere, and maybe just a day on facebook?  Martyr’s square in central Beirut is a place where one can watch this process unfolding.  Locusts, plagues, war, starvation (the end of a world really) killed many Maronite Christians and Muslims as well as a lot of people called “intellectuals.”  Then Revolt, counter-revolt, retribution, execution, etc., Ottomans, Brits, French, Jews, Wahabi’s and what not. It’s hard to keep the whole thing straight in our minds.  Scripture in the making, but it’s going to take some centuries to hammer the thing into shape.  They put up a huge statue of a guy right in the middle of the square to mark the infamous day of slaughter for all eternity but nobody I asked knew who he was or what he did, even wikipedia doesn’t mention who the guy was supposed to be though I can download a picture of the top of his head from outer space.  True, his face has been hacked and shot away over the years by just about every political group imaginable but you would think that folks would be curious about a huge chunk of battered bronze plopped down in the middle of their city.  We’ll just have to wait I reckon, that statue may have started out as a Marxist Baathist like Zaki ai-Arsuzi, and then wind up being a Catholic saint like alfred Delp!  Obliged. 

Tempus Fugit

The end of the world is always now somewhere
For some it was friday last
For others it was 1492 or 1942, whatever,

Still, I’v been to Quitana Roo

Time itself is not the scandal there it is here
It’s not a self at all

Time there is tracked, captured, sacrificed, worshiped,
Bled-out, never escaping it’s captors
There are too many traces left in tears and blood 

Something’s going to get us for sure
Even the ancients knew that much, but
No one has ever won betting against death, not yet 

But you don’t make calendars out of 
piquin chile and chocolate
Not if you want to survive to read your own horoscope
And avoid becoming the laughing-stock of history

Scratch your questions, prayers, complaints

Onto something concrete and don’t be specific
A wise prophet always leaves some wiggle-room
The “Book of Revelations” is a good example 

Deserving has got nothing to do with it

If that means getting what we got coming to us
Revenge has never been something to set our watches by
The gravity of our blunder beckons the heart of god from heaven
It plunges through the exosphere
On a Collision course with the world
Beautiful and terrifying we can only trace its fiery arc
Its downfall 

It’s not too late, there is still time to carve a message in stone

But the coming fire is already hot on our faces  
Hot enough to melt chocolate


Thursday, December 13, 2012

“The skin of the face is that which stays most naked, most destitute....[T]here is an essential poverty in the face; the proof of this is that one tries to mask this poverty by putting on poses, by taking on a countenance. The face is exposed, menaced....The face speaks. It is in this that it renders possible and begins all discourse.... The first word of the face is the “Thou shalt not kill.” It is an order. There is a commandment in the appearance of the face, as if a master spoke to me.” (Emmanuel Levinas, Ethics and Infinity  86-89)

I’m home sick and my wonderful wife is taking good care of me.  I'm watching the TV show  “Criminal Minds,” a group of FBI profilers that track down serial killers.  Adam Kotsko over at “An und fur sich”  <>  wrote a book on why we are fascinated by serial killers, but I haven’t read it.  I think I am afraid of what it might discover about myself.  This killer removes his victims faces.  To solve these crimes constructing intimate profiles of the victims is as important as that of the killer.  Why don’t we give people that much care and reverence before they are murdered, while they still have faces?  A drone strike from the U.S. killed an innocent family in Yemen yesterday.  I wonder what the profile of their killers would reveal?  Meanwhile I’m following some interesting facebook discussions.  One is on whether there is a hell or not.  I don’t think there is a hell, but I haven’t had my face peeled off by anyone yet.

What did sick people do before TV?  Well, I just wrote this poem below and posted it over on the Faith and Theology blog <>   Seems that interest in poetry is growing again and perhaps my advice will be helpful.  Then I put on the movie “Being Flynn” about a failed poet and writer (Robert DeNiro) who (stereotypically) ends up broke, depressed, homeless and living in a shelter without a friend in the world.  At least he’s not a serial killer ripping people’s faces off! (although he does say things that hurt other peoples feelings a lot).  I reckon my real fear is not failing as an artist or poet, but not failing tragically enough to be noticed or make a difference to anybody.  Well, I should get my fever down and then see how this movie ends before I do anything too impulsive or post anymore half-assed poetry or comments around the blogosphere.

Oh, that painting above is a bit of an experiment combining some of my other paintings and icons, I’m not sure what I think about it yet, please offer any criticism.  Be well and obliged.

Instructions On How To Read/Write Poetry:

First, do not get a hold of yourself
Accept unsolicited suggestions from strangers
Deny every syllable of immediacy
Whatever you have been running from your whole life
Turn and face it now
Make a pile of all your dictionaries, thesauri, scrabble boards
even your alphabet cereals, soups and crossword puzzles
Burn them, burn them all to ashes before you even start
This is not pointless destruction but an offering. It proves that
You are now ready to take language seriously
Decide if you believe in free will, then
Load your pistol and give it to someone along with your poems
Focus on the most obvious questions imaginable
Do not take a college course in ‘Poetry Appreciation’
Instead study the mysteries of micro-economics and
Become a collector of things made from alligator skins
Do not look outside the text or inside the text, look for magick
If theory will not save you, neither will punctuation
Deny Christ three times in one night, then wait for grace to come
Be always ready to laugh out load, ready to love, to kill
Ever ready to let a poet break your heart, bear witness
Never pay for poetry, it will entangle you in a cycle of gift/debt to
The poet that will only end when one or both of you is dead
Never try to delve below the surface, poetry is all surface
Think of the person you hate most in this world
Then put a curse on them
Imagine that your words have the power to make them suffer
Think of the person you love most in this world
Then pray for them
Imagine that your words have the power to bless them
Now exchange those two people in your mind, in your poem
Know up front that every word has already been spoken for
So you have to seize for yourself every morpheme available
(you should have all you need by age 8)
Do not “borrow” words from other poems, totally consume them
Make it so that no other poet can ever use them again
Poetry can be made out of almost everything, and almost nothing
Using obscure vocabulary, making oblique allusions depreciates poetry
“Hemopoiesis,” (to make) is the root of “hemaTopoiesis” (to bleed)
But etymology is not poetry, neither is tagmemics or taxonomy
(a real poet would know that instinctively by age 8)
Never take any advice on poetry from a poet
They are always out to scam you
When you think you know what poetry “means,”
Then you do, so quit


Sunday, December 2, 2012

This is my pregnant daughter Alyssa.  I posed her in front of my two paintings that were inspired by the discovery of the “God Particle” (or Higgs Bosun field). 

Two poems today.  The first poem I have been revising for a while.  Perhaps I am seeking absolution for spending so much of my life in “resource extraction industries” like King crab fishing in the Bering sea and logging the high country?  

There is still work to be done on these words, any criticism would be appreciated, much obliged.

The last Supper

The last whale comes to a dead stop
Waft, floating
And not hearing her song return to her
She lies still gray silent
Not accusing her maker for her circumstance
Even the last whale song is beautiful

Watching us from the beginning
Bobbing on the surface,
Splashing, laughing, crying, dying
Not Standoffish at all, for ones so small
Though it turns out that the entire ocean was
Not big enough

Technically speaking
We won’t know for sure when the last whale dies
The whale-killers will return from the sea empty handed
Another venture will be written off as
A loss on the balance sheets
The ships will be refitted to 
Hunt penguins or starfish or angels

Eventually, a marine biologist or 
Responsible government agency
Someone with authority
Simply states the obvious, ‘they are all gone,’ dead
Then it’s back to business as usual
Some family in Osaka or Haugesund will look up from their plates
Saying ‘had we known, we would have savored it all the more!’

One day the gods will come to notice how quiet earth is
No clamor of war, no prayers for more
And after seeing no lights on at night for awhile
Or being annoyed by harpooning rocket bursts they 
Will say something like, “Well, now when did that happen?’



It’s always come easy to me
Thinking about death
I’m every bit afraid as a sinner should be
More than the sky gives me credit for

Part of it is the waiting game
Part is having my number just come up
Whatever can die aught to be called by name
In the vernacular of it’s own life

I would opt for a rapture every Jubilee year
Rather than one big fandango at the end
We need the space and there are people I miss
For some even three days seems an eternity

Mathematically the figures don't add up
We can see to the edge of infinity
Too calculate any farther might be blasphemy
But I’d like to take a crack at it from another angle

The sheer volume of the past is staggering
But the angel of history is not the same as
The angels of death
Only our time-pieces make it seem so

Weary virgins trim their wicks
The watchers seek the sign of Jonas
Far from the sea a pearl comes to light in a plowed field
Vows were made but never kept

We were promised:
‘after the first death there would be no other’
That’s what comes of listening to poets
Without them everything could be what it seems
Instead of all these literalists coming to a tragic end


Saturday, December 1, 2012

‘...after that he determined to only speak in parables.’

i reckon it’s about time I post some of my poetry
see what they look like on a different screen, in other’s eyes
get some things off my mind
you too can lay your burdens down here trusting
no one will ever be any the wiser


On Saturday the old priest waits alone for their sins to arrive
Though he hasn’t spoken directly to god in fifty years
That is, used his own words, not language approved by authorities
Not a soul has stepped inside his dark box for three years

An old women had come in place of her dying husband, an unbeliever
She begged mercy for his sins, wanting to be with him in heaven
I can’t forgive the sins of someone who doesn’t ask directly he told her
Does that go for god too she asked him back

The year before that a man brought his children, but not to confess
“When I was your age I had to go in there an spew my guts out to a priest”
The children gasped, cautiously peeking through the dark curtain
When the old priest whispered “bless you my children” they ran away screaming

The retired old curate was pressed back into service to fill in for priest-less parishes
Lack of vocations, declining membership, criminal abuse, all had left vacancies, holes
Lay people did all the work of running things, keeping the lights on, the money counted
He was just needed to perform certain gestures, without that what use was he?

In 1963 He fell in love with a Sulpician nun, Sister Gemma Calgani, and he knew joy
She loved him too and they made plans to leave holy orders and marry
At the last, Gemma could not forsake her vows, and so god took her back
The old priest too, but he hasn’t spoken to god since

Once in an emergency he was asked to shepherd the ‘teen youth group’
He suggested they kneel and say the rosary together, but all they would say was Oh My God!
But they knew well enough how to talk with those inhabiting unseen worlds
Knew more of the rituals and codes of communicating with the invisible than he did

So mostly now he ministers to the dying in hospital and nursing homes
He is as old as they are, older, so they trust him, more than their children
They sense that he too will soon cross over and be held accountable, face to face
The prayers for the dying are on pages 7 through 34, right in the front of his book

Page eight. “Prayer for a Happy Death.” he knows it by heart:

O my Creator and Father I beg of you the grace of final perseverance and a holy death despite the fact that I have greatly misused the life you have given me grant me the grace to live it well from this moment on and to end it in your holy love Let me die as the holy patriarchs died, leaving this valley of tears without sadness, to go and enjoy eternal rest in my true homeland let me die as did glorious St. Joseph accompanied by Jesus and Mary pronouncing those sweetest of names and in whose company I hope to enjoy for all eternity Let me die as did the Immaculate Virgin in the purest of love and with the desire of uniting myself to You the only object of my love Jesus having accepted death for me, grant me the grace of dying in an act of perfect love for You Holy Mary Mother of God pray for me now and at the hour of my death and protect me from the enemyAmen.

Sometimes during Mass he would unconsciously slip into Latin again, a dead language
Called so because only the Church still makes use of it
He assured the parish council that the words were still authorized, efficacious
They wrote the bishop again asking for a replacement

The new priest was from Goa, dark, young, full of exuberance and fresh ideas:
Growth, outreach to young people, becoming relevant, modernization, fresh paint
The old priest had seen it all before, said something similar in 1951, 1963, 1980,
The new priest spoke with a foreign accent, but no one mentioned it or seemed to mind

As he was packing up news came that Sister Gemma had died, came by e-mail
Her real name was Cindy, but no one knew her by that name but him and god
He cried great heaving sobs in front of the computer, none of the staff knew what to do
The new priest said something about sun beams and energy fields, hard to say really

His last service was officiating at something called an ‘ecumenical celebration!’
Folks from all kinds of churches coming together, “Unity in Diversity” the banner read
He would have to share the altar with a woman pastor, no Eucharist, just a ‘service’
The parish secretary asked if that would be a problem for him, almost hoping it would be

No, the old priest said, I have always loved women