Wednesday, December 30, 2015

History’s History and It's Not Quite 2015 Again (Or 1916 Either)

History’s History and It's Not Quite 2015 Again
(Or 1916 Either)

Maybe “repeat” isn’t the right word, 
Not quite wrong either:
Refamiliarize. Recur. Emend?
Not quite right 

Maybe “past” isn’t the right word,
Not quite wrong either:
Rear-windowed. Behind us. At an end?
Not quite right 

Maybe “over” isn’t the right word,
Not quite wrong either:
Completed. Finished. Over-ripened?
Not quite right 

History’s past:
Histories past:
History’s passed:
Histories passed:

Clinging and clawing and discarding
The 2015 of Clubs along with
Trumps and Clintons and Bushes, structures:
Institutions and unfair, stacked decks,
Gray spades and bleeding hearts
And blood-licked, diamond-tipped 

Dick Clark’s drooping pomme from 
Heaven to Anderson and Kathy
And confetti, the faux organic:
Celebrations and cop barricades:
Between mobs and gods and 
Fear and democracy
And faith. 

Perched between poem and prose,
Nestled between beats,
And uneasy asyncopation:
Protean, indulgent essaying:
Tangent to story: myth:
Pause hyperactively.

Rhyme is the right word:
And wrong too.
Nostalgia from two lines ago:
And wrong too. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Remarkable Tidings

Remarkable Tidings 

Recently, in a storied, New England Museum of Art, I stood in front of a painting of Christ on a cross. Beside me a beautiful Reform Jewish family, punctuated by twin girls, fought to gain control of voice volumes and squeaky, scampering feet. When at last, the first-grade bundles of energy were wrapped, I heard them cry out to their yarmelke-topped father: “Tell the story again.” I listened hopefully as they stood—innocent and excited—beside me, eyeing the same ab-perfected, long-haired, halo-sporting figure. I tried to not overhear. Of course, I listened with every bit of my heart.

After an elaborate dance--Na'ale Na'ale or was it a cha-cha—around the subject, the uncomfortable father began his story, “So this baby was born in a barn,”only to be cut off by the boisterous inquisitors, “No, tell it like Mommy did.” 

With every ounce of frustrated energy, I clenched my palms: self-induced stigmata. 

What about the story of Jesus—the man to whom this gallery was dedicated—made this handsome and otherwise articulate father of two uncomfortable? Was it the concept of "savior" when sin and the need for salvation had not yet been taught; of virgin birth when birds and bees were still years into the future? Was it a liberal bias against religion (yarmelke-as-fashion-piece) or, more specifically, disdain for modern, "fundamentalist," Christian boogeymen? 

He had married, I intuited from my (self-?) righteous eavesdropping, outside of his “faith” and although he may have required his wife to take part in a “traditional Jewish” marriage celebration, never bothered to learn about the faith--mythology--that she continued to carry in her bosom.  I granted that this young, progressively minded father simply did not know the story of Jesus. It occurred to me that, while the story has replayed itself in many faith communities with different names and in different settings over many thousands of years, there may be very good people that haven't heard the story of Jesus or recognized the universality--independent of religiosity--of the story. 

In this, the season set aside to celebrate Jesus and Judaism, allow me a moment to share this story of love and understanding for those who’ve—for whatever reason—never heard about Jesus: a remarkable man highlighted in the story of his birth, life, and resurrection.

A young woman—a teen girl, really—claimed to be a virgin in a time when a woman could be killed—at best ostracized—by a husband who discovered otherwise on his wedding night. She was pregnant and he believed her—goaded, perhaps, by a dream of an angel who identified the fetus as divine—anyhow. Trust and love.

A superstitious and jealous territorial warlord, fearing that prophecy was being fulfilled, sought to murder the child who was born to the virgin; he sent spies to ferret the child out so he could be killed. The Wise Men found the baby Jesus and instead praised his special place among men—predestined for greatness. They kept the location of the baby secret so that he could escape the wrath of the spiteful king. Hope and protection.

The baby was carried by his birth-mother and earthly father to a foreign land where they would be protected from the evil forces that wanted to destroy him. To his parents, he was but a child. Some recognized him, even as an infant, as able to become a king. Refuge and promise.

The olive-skinned baby grew into a strong olve-skinned man, the son of a carpenter, to become a carpenter. Inspired by love, he spread a message of peace. He ministered to the poor and underprivileged in a way that was anathema to traditional religion of his day. He transformed religion by empowering common people; he shared a path to paradise that resided in the heart-and-mind instead of ritual-and-sacrifice. Generosity and faith. 

He transformed from carpenter to teacher to leader. He was always the life of a party, a master storyteller with a power to perform—magic—what some might call miracles. He surrounded himself with young, energetic, sometimes broken men who traded their sinfulness for his vision of hope and egalitarian love. He respected the sanctity of a woman’s body. He made the boundaries between heaven and earth less clear; he redefined what a god should be by granting clemency in the name of what he allowed to be a collective, “Our Father.” Brotherly and Rabbinic.

Ultimately, he became popular among his tribe for the gospel of hope he shared among a conquered people. The prevailing power structure, threatened by his teaching that undermined established governmental and religious institutions, tortured and murdered him as a caution against insurrection. Truth and sacrifice.

After his mob-sanctioned murder by the state, he was found to be alive—and elusive. He rose from the dead a far more powerful force than when he was alive. Whether a myth or ghost or saintly spirit, he continued to inspire the best in people. He became a beacon of goodness, a symbol for salvation, a way to touch the divine by embracing the weakness of flesh with forgiveness, healing, and love. Life and paradise.

The story of his birth and life and death gathered the power of myth—though to many it was as true as the sun rises—and he became an inspiration for humankind. If he is not god, or the son of god, or part of some ecclesiastical theory, he is remarkable for his impact upon the world. If he is god, or son of god, or part of some ecclesiastical theory, he is remarkable for his impact upon the world. Myth and reality.

Whether standing before a 9th Century woodcutting in a New England art museum, in front of a Christmas tree at a sprawling Mall at Millenia, an alter at midnight on December 25th, or in the living room of Muslim, Jewish, or atheist friends any day of the year, this story and this man—from conception to crucifixion to resurrection—inspires. Praise and thanksgiving. 

Through my clenched teeth and under the cloak of my museum voice, I wish I had shared what I knew with this family for whom a picture was worth at least these thousand words. This Jesus is not a religion, he is a template for the American story. He is a template for all people in all parts of the world. This Jesus stands for all the good and resilience that resides in all of us. 

Read the article in WatermarkOnline:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Pointing Fingers

Pointing fingers

With a sight on my cuticle, I aim.
With my thumb, I pull the trigger,
Off flies the bullet of self-righteous
Indignation, armor piercing words.
Occasionally, my middle finger double-
Barrels the sinister device.

From behind my Constitution:
  History and activism at odds,
Free from hopelessness. 

With a sight on the tv screen, I aim
At far off combatants, enemies a
World away, with others’ automatics,
With others’ childrens’ fingers, in the
Name of war, in the name of God,
Safe in my bunkered parlor.

With a sight on my canon,
  At them, there.
With a sight on my musket.
With a sight on my rockets
With a sight on my mustard gas.
With a sight on my atomic bomb--
With a sight on my napalm.
With a sight on my drone,
  At myself.
With a sight on my IED,
  Alas, us.

With the sight removed, I fire.
Indiscriminately, into crowds,
Praying for innocents, collaterals,
Released to heaven too soon--or
Maimed by blunt spreadshot-- blameless
Save proximity to evil and aimlessness.

From behind my rights:
  Civil, human, endowed, to live,
Freed from hopelessness.

With a sight on my privileged fear
From within my safest garrison,
Behind words, behind warriors, 
Behind crusaders and jihadists,
Behind demagogues and tribal chiefs:
Fire! I change tides, scorching earth. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Terrorist's Primer

A Terrorist’s Primer:
How to be a Successful Hateful-Evil-Jealous-Power-Hungry Monster 

1. Capitalize on hunger and economic inequity (or other nebulous human right) to stoke anger of local undereducated mob.
2. Link hunger and economic inequity (or other nebulous human right) to bastardized reinterpretation of history.
3. Link unverified, now accepted, history to a local “minority” party.
4. Wait patiently until minority gains attention of local “mainstream” majority.
  a. Mainstream majority will attack it first with words and then with laws and then with bullets.
5. If minority party survives #4, at tipping point, isolate physical attacks against quasi-innocent members of mainstream (ie: supporters of current institutions; mid level bureaucrats and their families are ideal).
6. Build simple, rhetorical binary against oppressive mainstream. 
  a. Condition locals to think in uncomplicated binaries.
7. Attach brand of political minority to an ideology.
8. Attach ideology to a religion.
9. Selectively reinterpret religion to bring in line with ideology. 
10. Build foreign enemies by proxy. A foreign supporter of the existing power structure is an enemy.
11. Attack local mainstream, including innocents, more widely and more violently, brand as attacks against proxied enemies.
12. Continue local attacks until proxied states are forced to respond with words and symbolic gestures (sanctions, “humanitarian” support).
13. Infiltrate local, poorly-organized mainstream institutions under auspices of “protecting” locals. Remove local leadership, redefining movement as legitimate, new mainstream.
14. Repeat 13 in various regional locations until resources worn too thin to sustain conquest.
15. Reallocate resources from conquered territories toward defenses and aggregating power.
16. Consolidate religious and political platforms into one.
  a. build myths—injecting just enough true, verifiable fact to seem legitimate—that include martyrs and “better times” that existed just beyond the memory of the oldest remaining citizens.
17. Rebrand movement, local proxies are no longer enemy.
  a. claim to be legitimate state, even if only outposts are far flung and inconsequential. 
  b. create a new center of state (capital). 
  c. challenge proxy enemies to recognize as legitimate government, knowing they will not.
18. Name foreign enemies as instigators. Call on revisionist histories, religious redefinitions, and contrived ideologies established earlier to prove foreign hostility.
19. Kill or chase off former mainstream, solidifying geographic position and control of resources; rape and/or impregnate locals as possible to establish next generation of sympathizers (and propagate myth).
20. Force formerly proxied, now direct enemies, to harbor refugees on “humanitarian” terms.
21. Name  refugees as enemies/combatants  of new state.
22. Attack refugees on foreign soil.
  a. justifies attack on foreign proxy.
  b. solidifies control over locals: die, leave, or join.
  c. infiltrate refugees with some human weapons to be used in future attacks on foreign enemy.
23. Wait for military response from foreign enemies, directly or indirectly (via original state actors or actual local “freedom fighters” which may or may not be in its own step #1).
24. Fan local “David/Goliath” mythology. 
25. Close down local access to education and information.
26. Set up “military” outposts in civilian centers near schools, hospitals, and religious centers.
27. Blame continued hunger and (now) violent local deaths because of foreign attacks on “civilian targets” on foreign enemies.
28. Solidify hopelessness among locals.
  a. use bastardized religion and promises of freedom in afterlife as only source for hope.
29. In absence of sophisticated weaponry, convert human bodies into portable, expendable weapons; use human weapons locally as practice for foreign attacks.
30. Attack foreign enemy state using humans as weapons.
  a. immediately claim responsibility in name of (bastardized) religion, NOT politics. 
  b. immediately singles out minority groups within enemy state that also subscribe to same religion.
31. Threaten to attack foreign enemy again. This needn’t be followed up with actual attack.
32. Attack allies of (formerly proxied, now actual) enemy using humans as weapons; weaken resolve of allies 
33. Allies of enemy EITHER:
  a. respond to local attacks by standing more strongly against attacks (counterattacks/retaliation); this further endangers locals and further solidifies narrative of “the world is against us.” OR
  b. don’t respond with strength; this plays into the narrative that, “we are blessed and winning.”
34. Threaten to attack allies and/or enemies again. This needn’t be followed up with actual attack.
35. Attacks on the soil of enemies cause internal political strife for enemies, further weakening the resolve against the hostility. Local dissidents fall in line with proof of power of new leadership.
36. (Formerly proxied, now direct) enemies tighten up controls on liberty in exchange for security, perhaps using #7, #8, #9, #10, #16, #18 above.
37. “Terror Option” established.
  a. enemy resources redirected away from their own internal needs.
  b. enemy resources redirected away from humanitarian support for original problem (in #1 above) and toward fighting.
38. Strike foreign enemies and their allies briefly, occasionally, and violently just often enough to maintain “Terror Option” and political paralysis.
39. With world on heightened alert, original local instigators consolidate power and burn through local resources until either:
  a. imploding under unsustainable resource burn.
  b. being destroyed by instigated foreign enemies.
  c. becoming the new institution against which a new set of hateful, evil, jealous, power hungry monsters emerge.
40. Go To #1

Chances--A BLACK KETTLE excerpt


My great-great grandfather founded this funeral home in 1903.   Formaldehyde and ethanol course my veins. Death, to me, is a state as important as the state of New York; death houses more souls. Although I am not spiritual, I do have a strong respect for the departed.  In addition to my financial and generational connection with death, I also have a tangible connection with the bodies that pass through here.  You might say death is my life, my personal metropolis, my Big Apple.

People call me lucky.  Statistically, I have found myself in the outer extremities of the bell curve more than a couple times.  First off, I am lucky to have been born into a family business that keeps me comfortable and my needs supplied.  That is, perhaps, the most normal thing about me.  I am, on both sides of the family tree, descended from the stateless nation of Armenia.  My grandfather's father came to America and was stalled in Ellis Island because he could not prove his origins:  "Where are my papers?"

Eventually, for an unspeakable favor my grandmother performed for the paper-keeper, they were both granted entrance to America and its gold-paved avenues. 

Long used to wandering, they did not settle in New York City as many of their contemporary immigrants did.  Instead they migrated south until they landed in this large city that would, eventually, by the end of my father's generation, become a small metropolis.  South of what the natives knew was the Mason-Dixon Line, they found they could achieve instant social status just above the negroes whose own mobility was constrained by grotesque generational tethers to a land that grew strong by their labor and warped by the guilt that came along with it. 

Free to take advantage of their European ancestry--gypsies though they may have been--they accepted the assistance of a locally confirmed bachelor who asked his own special favors of our Armenian-turned-American patriarch.  In exchange for a few acts that, in light of what he allowed his wife to perform to secure their entrance to America's teeming shore--in the shadow of Miss Liberty-- he acquiesced and performed admirably; he bought stability and favor. His suitor-benefactor provided the training and skills to assume what would eventually become the family business:  bequeathed upon the beneficent lecher's death. 

Generations passed; the memory of this sacrifice--neutered by success--became unaffectedly institutionalized in the family mythology.  Despite the family line, we all know that one does not succeed by hard work alone.  Thus, we continue in this business-of-death and thank the stars for shooting luck our way. Of course, we take every opportunity to pull fortune in our direction.

As if being born wasn't enough to confirm the luck in my genes, I have been blessed over and over again. If the luck didn't start three generations ago, it at least started in the womb. I was conceived as one of three. My overly fertile mother released three eggs.  My overly fertile father fertilized us all. Only I survived the trauma of a double ectopic pregnancy. While my short-term womb mates did not make the full trip into life, the luck that they might otherwise have brought into the world seems heaped upon me. I am lucky enough for three people.

I have been struck by lightning and survived it. At the age of eighteen, I hit a patch of ice and slid off a bridge into a nearly frozen river. Plane crash? Yes, here I am.

By right, I should have been my own client more than a few times.

I have been a million-dollar lottery winner not once but twice. My first trip to Las Vegas, I dropped ten dollars into a dollar slot machine and, on my third spin, hit the three-times-pay triple-red-Pharaoh progressive. When the bells stopped ringing, I was signing a 1099 form for two-hundred-sixty-thousand dollars. 

In my senior year of high school, I--a goofy, pimply, sousaphone-player in the marching band--took the prom queen's virginity on a casket. "I've never done that before," she protested.  I thought she meant the part about having sex on a walnut box with a dead body in it. Because it was my first time, I missed all of the telltale signs of her burst hymen. I never spoke to her again. She never spoke to me again. She is now a nurse-orderly, aged beyond her years and severely underemployed at an Alzheimer’s home. Our paths still cross in awkward silence. When removing her former patients--my new clients--from her facility, I sometimes catch her staring weirdly at me. I’m the undertaker, and she's the one who creeps  me out.

I have a freakishly large yet amazingly muscular--from what I have been told and seen--member. I have confirmed this with research in medical journals, random pornography, and based on my own experience working with hundreds of corpses. I have never seen a penis as big as mine. Though I have yet to marry, or find a life-partner, I find many opportunities--often centered on the need to assuage the emptiness brought about by sudden loss and bereavement--to flex my tool without any of the complications or strings that might otherwise accompany sex. Making love to a woman who has not been penetrated since her husband’s demise is like re-taking her virginity. Giving by nature, I receive intense pleasure from providing it.

Statistically, I am one in approximately ninety-six billion. The earth's population will have to turn another sixteen times before fate shines the same collection of achievements upon a single person. Likely, by that time, such a person will be a robot or Martian.

When word spread that the asteroid would hurtle into our area and that some chunks would not wholly disintegrate, I looked forward to the event with the macabre joy that only those in the business of death would understand.

While nobody should wish death on anyone, especially an untimely one, death is, nonetheless, a most natural part of life. I sleep well at night knowing that the treatment my firm provides to the newly departed is beyond expectations. We provide the most dignified and comfortable eternal slumber possible.

I always get the high-profile cases. When a falling boulder crushed a bus filled with high-school football players, when a bear mauled a family of campers, when the mayor died, when the mayor's wife passed, and when the mayor's mistress mysteriously fell over a loose rail at a ski lodge, the services I provided were both thorough and perfectly appropriate to the situation. I am as recognized for my discretion as I am sympathetic artistry.  Sometimes the bodies--corpses--are mangled or burned or crushed beyond recognition and I offer a refined and peaceful memory to the family who will only have one last chance--often a chance that they would kill to recapture in life--to kiss their loved one's forehead.  

Although we have four locations spread across the metro area, I still take an active part in at least eighty percent of the preparations. I am not an absent owner; I am a hands-on partner in much of the work that bears the name of my family's funeral home. We actually took on a re-branding four years ago, when my father retired, in which the old "funeral home" became "eternal preparations."

I recently began considering my legacy: my lack of an heir. Meanwhile, I impart my wisdom and experience upon my employees, treating each like a son or daughter and instilling healthy respect for the artistry of our trade. In addition to the earlier-noted calm that I like to share with bereaving women, I am highly attuned to building and preserving the brand. It is important to me that our family name is the go-to in the death business. 

I knew that there would be loss of life involved in today's calamitous events. We received no warning. How long the cosmologists and politicians knew about this will be a matter of speculation for quite some time. I am certain that, when the dust clears, heads will roll. Meanwhile, I will do what I do. I will prepare the victims. I will console the heavy-hearted. I will thank luck for keeping me in business. Likely, I will comp a few preparations for those whose family cannot afford our--frankly, more expensive than all competitors--superior services.

I happened to catch the local news report while I worked in the basement. Sometimes, I just get into a cleaning mode. I keep a sixty-inch television in the main prep area.  I awoke this morning and just wanted everything to shine. While much of the new generation has moved to plastic and ceramic tools, I insist that we still use stainless steel: one of the legacy items that the families never see but that is a matter of quality and pride for us. Incisions are finer, sutures are tighter, the looks of repose more reposed.

Usually, I leave QVC on for white noise, but even QVC was interrupted by "official news and information." I began switching channels until I found what seemed to be the best signal. "Meteors, some the size of grapefruit, will hit the ground today."  At first, I thought that this was isolated to our area, but then conflicting reports made it seem as though the incident was more widespread than initially reported. Broadcasters briefly cut to a reporter in the field but then the screen went to snow. I clicked through the stations and found no signal.  I picked up my phone and discovered the same thing. No communication--in or out.

I heard explosions and decided to investigate. I climbed the stairwell toward the first-floor lobby to see flames. Fire engulfed my building and I heard more explosions, nearer, louder, more ground shaking.  Without compunction, I charged into the open air where once an anteroom stood.  The bravery, fueled by a charmed life, raised the question that the most eminent statistician in the world, were he still alive, might well have wondered.

"What. Are. The."