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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

Friday, April 19, 2013


Alien life forms run amok
Colonies of fast-breeding pioneers
But who really owns this territory
Is it just a numbers game
First come first serve
Or survival of the fittest

The indigenous light back-fires
Leaving only scorched earth and burned flesh
Ahead of the encroaching forces
Silent wars rage and the
Victims of these woeful massacres are
Strewn about the battlefields of our cavities
Yet we are so often oblivious

Is it merely thinking that “I AM”
Or the will to resist non-existence
Flourishing in the tiniest little quark
That is the seed of conquest
And this compulsion for survival

Aboriginals can take some satisfaction
That if the invaders vanquish their host
This terrene habitation will be purified by fire
Enemies and friends, bowels and hearts are
Indistinguishable among the ashes
This is reckoning and not Judgement
The fire judges
Love reckons not  

***  I wrote in previous posts about Japanese death poems; the practice of writing a last poem just before one dies.  Since then I’ll admit I’v gotten a bit twitchy.  I always carry paper and pen and I start composing a death poem every time a car honks at me at an intersection or I get a tiny twinge in my chest.  I wrote that poem above just before getting my heart scanned in an MRI machine on thursday even though this procedure is virtually risk free.  Really, in an earthquake or terrorist bombing, tucked away inside that metal tube, I would have probably been the only survivor!

As it turns out the most challenging part of the experience was not being trapped inside the MRI machine but the music I was forced to endure.  Among the choices offered to me I picked the classical music station.  However, the MRI technician named Mandy screwed up and piped into my headphones an hour’s worth of contemporary christian music “by accident.”  “Ooops” she said and smiled when I asked her about it after the scan was done.  I have a hunch that Mandy does this kind of thing intentionally though, and that she thinks of this as some sort of ministry.  A scruffy looking old guy comes in, tattooed with a long braided beard, and maybe a bad heart, and she starts thinking that this might be this guys last chance to hear about Jesus!  In a way it’s sort of sweet and innocent; in another way its kind of creepy and frightening.

I had never heard of him before but I was forced to listen to pop christian ‘super star’ Chris Tomlin’s #1 hit “Whom Shall I Fear” Twice!  The words go like this:

“You hear me when I call
You are my morning song
Though darkness fills the night
It cannot hide the light”

Nothing wrong with those lyrics.  Sort of comforting really for someone having a bunch of medical tests done.  I want to believe that God is hearing my prayers in between the grunching and tweaked out screeching noises that the MRI machine makes.  Its comforting to know that even completely alone inside this dark metal cave that God’s light can find me.  Thank you Jesus.  Next verse:

“Whom shall I fear
You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still”

Hmmm...well yes the language is bibleish and Psalmy.  But I guess I don’t tend to focus as much on the metaphors of God as a Terminator stomping through a blackened wasteland of human skeletons; the skulls of sinners pulverized beneath his sandaled cyborg feet, and his fiery X-ray eyes targeting hearts full of secret sins.  And just who are these “enemies” of God anyway?  Sinners? (I’m one), unbelievers? (yeah that’s me too sometimes), enemies of america? (I’v been called that), heretics? (oy vey, but then what about Jews?).  No, I think King David, like so many kings often have, confused his own enemies with God’s enemies.  Still, it’s good to believe that God has my back.  But when I turn to find God in times of trouble, what I encounter is not a gladiator but another broken body like mine, only this one is hanging on a cross.  The next verse continues:  

“I know who goes before me
I know who stands behind
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side”

Maybe it’s just me, but anymore when I hear about “angel armies” I often associate those armies with republicans, George Bush, and the shock and awesome power of the american military machine.  I picture them all buddied up with that sword-wielding Jesus of the book of revelations to cleanse the earth of relativist deconstructionists, Lady GaGa and her LGBT loving little monsters, Bono, and the activists Pussy Riot.  But maybe I’m just reading too much of my own fear and ideological biases into these lyrics.  Remembering gentle sister Mandy and how she smiled at me as I emerged from the MRI tube,  It’s hard to imagine her as someone who sings about crushing God’s enemies (or imagine her shepherding Jews and gypsies into gas chambers to the music of Hillsong).  I may see Mandy again next week.  If I do I might tell her that I have prayed for Jesus to be in my heart many times, but I don’t expect that’s something that will show up in an MRI scan, thank God.


p.s., I'm thinking of doing a whole series of paintings that explore our innards via CAT scans and MRI's like the one above.


  1. Thanks.
    "Indistinguishable among the ashes."
    That will linger.
    - David D

  2. I had a request to read some TS Eliot when did a hospital room communion service.
    I may get back into poetry yet.

    1. Like I wrote below, ‘maybe poetry can heal the wounds inflicted by reason.’ If not, maybe it can at least ease the pain. A great deal of suffering is beyond reason. And even reasonable suffering can destroy us. I posted on FB once a letter from a hospital chaplain who said that none of the dying she attended to ever asked for a theologian or wanted to talk about theology. There is a time and place for that but it’s usually not at a hospital bedside. My own experience bears that out. Bless you for your work. What could be better than a communion service! Obliged. p.s. which poems by Eliot did you read? My favorite is Ash Wednesday, which is one of the three poems I have committed to memory.

  3. Selections from Four Quartets.