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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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Self-Portrait With the Head of John the Baptist (ca. 1985).

*** Klediments:  

*** I went rummaging around my studio searching through my papers, books, articles, journals, old poetry chapbooks, etc., looking for a useful theodicy.  Then I glanced around at all of my paintings in my studio and it occurred to me that I have never painted a living person (unless you count Jesus, Mary, and God as living).  Much of my art is about dead people, death, or dying.  Oh, I painted myself once in a tableau with Salome and the head of John the Baptist.  I pictured myself as Herod at just that moment when he came to understand that he had given himself completely over to desire and evil.

As I hunted for theodicies the TV was on and I heard the medical examiner in the murder trial of George Zimmerman testify that Trayvon Martin was shot “straight through his heart,” and that he had “no chance, none, zero, of surviving his wounds.”  But, the doctor also testified that Trayvon was alive for one to ten minutes before dying.  I don’t know how someone can live for 10 minutes with that kind of wound in their heart but the experts, even when placed under oath, say that we can.

There is a tape recording of parts of the deadly encounter between George and Trayvon.  One person can be heard screaming in terror and pleading for help.  The defense attorney played the tape over and over claiming that the screams were coming from Trayvon.  The prosecutor played the tape over and over claiming it was Zimmerman the shooter crying out for help.  I have heard the recording myself several times and I honestly can’t decide who is screaming.  I listened so keenly that even after turning off the TV I could still hear the screams.  It never occurred to me before that when people are in a life and death struggle that all of our terrified and anguished voices sound pretty much alike.  I reckon I can forgive god if occasionally a soul’s cry for help gets lost in all the terrified clamor rising from this earth.

In my rummaging I also found some of my old books of poetry a few of them going back 30 years.  Most of the poetry isn’t very good but some of them seem to fit in with what I have been thinking and writing about recently:  

*** I Wanted To Write a Poem About Love

I wanted to write a poem about love

But I was too young and ignorant and already so badly damaged that every bit of love struck me sideways inflicted pain then veered away and even though all of the other kindergartners made such pretty cards with rhymes and colored pictures and big “I LOVE YOU MOMS” spelled out with gilded macaroni as gifts for their mothers the languages I had learned by then could not be translated into painted macaroni and so my mother died without a last word from me and I stood by the hole in the earth until the priest took me away so they could fill the hole back in.

I wanted to write a poem about love

But one by one the few people who cared for me died and I began to believe that if we stopped digging holes then people wouldn’t die because I didn’t know then that the holes weren’t dug until after people died so I began to think of love as an hole undug and the ground beneath me as hungry and evil and I lost faith that the words the priests spoke over the holes had the power to close them and I wondered if those words even existed that had the power to keep the earth from opening but even though I learned all the dialects of the priests those I loved kept dying.

I Wanted To Write a Poem About Love

So I searched for other priests and different words and I learned all the languages I could thinking that it might give me power over earth and death so when I found someone to love and someone to love me I kept my mouth shut and I never told her because I didn’t want the earth to know what I was thinking inside but earth and death have great and terrible powers and somehow they know even the deepest secrets of our silent hearts and so a hole was dug and the earth took her at 17.

I Wanted To Write a Poem About Love

So after many years of grief and silence I payed teachers to train me to write in the languages of love and death and to give me the power to make poetry in their natural tongues but my teachers had no more power than the priests and I despaired that I would remain utterly alone until the earth took me but I kept writing and learning more dialects and composing wards against death but it was not death but only love that my incantations repelled and sometimes I think that it is not the words or the fury of my writing but merely indifference that forestalls the earth from swallowing me like a macaroni.

*** I was reading Dorothee Soelle about how she experienced the death of her mother.  At one point she talked with her mother about all her family and friends that had died.  Soelle wrote that she “invited the dead” back into her mother’s presence.  Speaking them into existence.  Later, as her mother’s faculties declined she would read poetry and then sing old hymns to her, or later simply hum the melodies.  Soelle wrote a lot about the limitations, corruptibility, and frailty of words.  In “Learning to Fly,” she wrote, “I experience our language as broken, horribly corrupted.  When the word “love” gets applied to a car, or the word “purity” to detergents them these words have lost all meaning; they have been stolen.  In this sense, all words among us that express feelings have sustained serious damage.  This is especially true for the language of religion.  “Jesus Christ is our redeemer”--this is destroyed, dead language.  It means nothing, no one understands it; it is religious babble that, although available in staggering quantity, no longer says anything.  This is what I mean when I say that language is broken.”

I am not among those who would agree with Soelle that language has lost it’s ability to ‘mean.‘  I think Soelle may be one of those who laments a past that has never truly existed; a past where there was no divide or antagonism between word and being.  To be sure the discourse of capitalism assaults language (and all of life really) but language is too resilient and powerful to be destroyed even by Madison avenue ‘mad-men’ (or Stalinist propagandists).  Nevertheless, meaning must be struggled for continually and (it almost seems quaint to say this nowadays) meaning is never ultimately decidable but is affirmed by insistence, decisions, and actions.  Bulgakov writing about icons uses the strange word “onomatodoxism” which means that the “name of God is God Himself.”  Maybe this is part of what poets struggle towards, to become onomatodoxists, to experience Being’s undivided selves without any intermediary other than love.  Until then, as the prophets tell us, we must shepherd being even while dwelling in the ‘prison-house of language;' and we are only able to communicate with others by tapping out our messages on the same walls that enclose us.

*** A favorite ‘talk-music’ group of mine, “Listener,” from the Ozark mountains of Arkansas.


We're all born to broken people on their most honest day of living
and since that first breath... We'll need grace that we've never given
I've been haunted by standard red devils and white ghosts
and it's not only when these eyes are closed
these lies are ropes that I tie down in my stomach,
but they hold this ship together tossed like leaves in this weather
and my dreams are sails that I point towards my true north,
stretched thin over my rib bones, and pray that it gets better
but it won't won't, at least I don't believe it will...
so I've built a wooden heart inside this iron ship,
to sail these blood red seas and find your coasts.
don't let these waves wash away your hopes
this war-ship is sinking, and I still believe in anchors
pulling fist fulls of rotten wood from my heart, I still believe in saviors
but I know that we are all made out of shipwrecks, every single board
washed and bound like crooked teeth on these rocky shores
so come on and let's wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember

I am the barely living son of a woman and man who barely made it
but we're making it taped together on borrowed crutches and new starts
we all have the same holes in our hearts...
everything falls apart at the exact same time
that it all comes together perfectly for the next step
but my fear is this prison... that I keep locked below the main deck
I keep a key under my pillow, it's quiet and it's hidden
and my hopes are weapons that I'm still learning how to use right
but they're heavy and I'm awkward...always running out of fight
so I've carved a wooden heart, put it in this sinking ship
hoping it would help me float for just a few more weeks
because I am made out of shipwrecks, every twisted beam
lost and found like you and me scattered out on the sea
so come on let's wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, just some tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember

My throat it still tastes like house fire and salt water
I wear this tide like loose skin, rock me to sea
if we hold on tight we'll hold each other together
and not just be some fools rushing to die in our sleep
all these machines will rust I promise, but we'll still be electric
shocking each other back to life
Your hand in mine, my fingers in your veins connected
our bones grown together inside
our hands entwined, your fingers in my veins braided
our spines grown stronger in time
because our church is made out of shipwrecks
from every hull these rocks have claimed
but we pick ourselves up, and try and grow better through the change
so come on y’all and let's wash each other with tears of joy and tears of grief
and fold our lives like crashing waves and run up on this beach
come on and sew us together, were just tattered rags stained forever
we only have what we remember.”

This song speaks of, beckons really, for someone(?) to “sew us together.”  Maybe one way that we sew ourselves together is simply through sharing our stories, reading and responding to the joys and sorrows written on each others faces, humming along even when we don’t know the words to each others songs.