Wednesday, August 27, 2008

At the shore

At the shore

What this great gray being—
Here by the water it speaks without
cease or concern for who might or might not
be listening —whether this ocean voice is only the dream
music of a damaged child
or the the larger anthem of one race of angels —or another.

Here it might be effortless to believe —heroic to doubt
at that being’s side —the enormous matter
such, that we need it to be
divine and with purpose —with meaning.

There are exhausted words in this language
of light —of aching and homage
—of the ocean sound and the seabird’s
soaring —loneliness.

Even as they are said and sorry —these words
—I know the same sad declination. I know the salt wind
I am fallen through and the incessent
heedless majesty —the terrible
empty and enormous matter
of the sea.

There at the shore and away
from blithe distraction
I confront this truth —perhaps.

Or I might well be merely entertaining
a question—

Here at the shore,
as two birds drift above me,
nearly motionless
in the misty air,
perhaps we only share
the empty mind —of God.


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Georgia's frontier justice

Clear good guys and bad guys are always nice to have. In the old b-movie westerns it was always comforting —you could tell them apart by the color of their cowboy hats and, as a result, you knew who to root for. As the six guns were drawn and the bullets started flying, you didn't have to mourn the death of the guys dressed in dark colors. When the good guys shot them the bad guys seemed to die obligingly —never evincing so much pain as to elicit sympathy —hardly even any blood.

Reality can be just a bit more challenging.

The situation in Georgia, for some it provides a new chapter in a similarly clear moral drama of good vs. evil. There is some thrill now that Sunday morning opinion shows can once again be animated with the same certainty enjoyed in those Saturday afternoon movies. Obama can be criticized for using "non-committal" language like "violence" to describe what was first happening, while McCain "more decisively" called it brutal Russian aggression. The current administration can outperform them both —in the names it calls.

There are of course some other colors behind the black and white imagery.

Russia pounds away at Georgia and the first perception is that of the 'Evil Empire' imposing its will upon a brave fledgling democracy. Look one layer beyond that and you find that Georgia itself had been trying to impose its will on the still smaller separatist region of South Ossetia. As Russia points to violence inflicted upon the region's civilians by Georgia and calls it "genocidal," Georgian leaders point to displaced Georgian refugees as those aggrieved by the separatists in past ethnic cleansings guided by Russian hands.

There is, of course, the temptation to use any complexity or moral ambiguity to the situation as reason for inaction. Who, indeed, wants to send their child to a war in the Caucuses? To defend what or who from who or what? Russia has tried to draw an equivalency between their "rescue" of the South Ossetians and advocacy for their autonomy with NATO and U.S. support for a separate Kosovo. Who can challenge that assertion? —Especially when it's backed up by the discharge of weaponry?

There is a difference though.

In Kosovo, the U.S. and NATO intervened to stop a violent crackdown on a separatist region, but then, working through the U.N., set about a careful process of stabilizing the region and seeing to a process of non-violent and uncoerced self determination for the Kosovars.

Perhaps that's the problem —not that there is a tangled history of conflict at issue in Georgia, but that the methods chosen to untangle things, by both Georgians and Russians, involve more violence than wisdom, more brutal force than basic compassion.

And what then are we supposed to do? Bring another six gun to the shoot out? Name call and cheer lead from behind a barrel? Or is there something useful we can build? —something for a better day beyond frontier justice?

There are those who deride the costly and dangerous tasks involved with "nation building" —who are impatient with the arduous international diplomacy involved with resolving regional and ethnic conflict. The mere thought of objective standards for international justice makes them shudder. They prefer the "simpler" task of siding the good against the bad or ugly.

Would that it was just that easy.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Back home: Oh sister, Oh brother,
I haven't any other

More than once on this blog I have used the forum, however public (and noticed?) it might be, to plug a book or an article that deserved attention. Allow me to do the same for the oral tradition. This is John Schindler's song

Back Home in America

World of the world shakers, home of the homemakers
Kings and queens in blue jeans,
Saints and sailors, junkies and jailers
The rich, the poor, the in-betweens
This is my neighborhood from Harlem to Hollywood

Oh, I thought I was all alone but I was back home in America
Oh, I thought I was all alone but I was back home in America

Poets and preachers, substitute teachers,
The bright, the best and all the rest
Maids and hairdressers, plumbers, professors,
The well-dressed, the dispossessed,
Oh sister, oh brother, I haven't any other.

I thought I was all alone then I was back home in America
Oh, I thought I was all alone but I was back home in America

So don't wave the flag for me. I don't need lessons on Liberty

I thought I was all alone but I was back home in America
I thought I was all alone but I was back home in America

Old ones and new ones, the red and the blue ones,
Sons of former Klansmen, daughters of former slaves,
The old and the new there, there was me, there was you there,
alone and afraid in the land of the brave.
I was sick at heart but now I'm healed
I saw a farmer weeping in his flooded field.

Oh, I thought I was all alone then I was back home in America
Oh, I thought I was all alone then I was back home in America
Oh, I thought I was all alone then I was back home in America

John Schindler and Deborah Rocha will be performing at the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham on August 16th. These are two truly amazing, truly independent artists (who happen to be friends of mine).

By the way, if you click on the link at the song's title you can give John's song a listen. The first time I ever heard him sing this was at a venue I used to host in Framingham. There weren't a whole lotta people in the room, but I know there was something like a healing going on for all of them. For me, too.

John is just an amazing artist : all unassuming and self-deprecating humor one minute (he deprecates everybody and everything else pretty effectively, too) —then before you know it you find he has your heart in his hands with one of his perfect depictions of imperfect beauty.

Both he and Deborah Rocha are outside the normal mold of a singer songwriter in these parts. I think it has something to do with their honesty —and the fact that they both play nylon stringed classical type guitars: Deborah in the mode of the Brazillian art/folk song tradition she's embraced and transformed into something very much her own: and John, with something of a cross between classical technique, folk fingerstyle and funky funky slap bass.

Anyway —give John a listen here and then go see them both in the flesh at their show on the 16th. The night is being billed as a "Night of Classical Guitar Abuse" —but believe me it will be a healing.