Witness: Testimony

“Gina,” goache on A3 paper. Artist’s imagining of a Rorschach ink blot featuring Gina Haspel, current Deputy Director of the CIA, former black site operator and reported author of a cable ordering destruction of evidence of the torture that she oversaw. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights recently called on German federal prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant for Haspel. Part of my Nuremberg, 2027 series imagining future war crimes trials. 

“Portrait of Absentia,” goache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

Ink:               blot
human:         error
true:              lies?

What was is not what is, not
the same order
the same breath
the same terror.
I can tell you,
but you won’t hear the same cries.
I can’t make you believe me.
I can’t make you look me in the eyes.

What:              if
confusion:      proved
verity?            Verified
facts—           authenticity?

Any account, video, email is a riff
on one side of the full facts grooved
into some holy carbon of who lied, who died.
Traumatic stress is not a synchronicity.

Go:              slow.
Know:         most
can’t be the ones
won’t be the ones
won’t even try
to bear witness in that way.
Not because they’d lie.
Nor because they saw no guns
heard no shots
found no casings in the sand.
But because the scales of justice weigh
against reliving death
against wasting your breath
against taking the stand.
You cannot take another strafe.
We’re going somewhere safe.
Take my hand.

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The Poet’s Prayer—Nuremberg, 2027

This is probably going to be the first poem in an illustrated series on future war crimes trials imagined to be taking place in Nuremberg in 2027. Some of the work I’ve recently blogged, like “Where’s Olaf?“, fits later in the same series.

“The Long Arc Breaks,” goache and ink on 36 x 48 cm. 

 

“[N]ach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch…” —Theodor Adorno


“I thought he supp’sed to be the all-lovin./The same God who let Hitler put the Jews in the ovens?”—Dead Prez, “Propaganda”

 

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Although time is said to lessen
pain, war crimes make enduring shame.

Thy kingdom come.
Thine will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Was it 30,000 at Dachau? Reckon
with the uncertainty:
God knows, but not you or me.

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
You’re either with or against us,
the President said.
Two hundred thousand wound up dead.
Iraqis—so they get free passes,
whose lies and insistence sped
the world to war?
And what for?

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
What should be the shame of a nation—
a war of aggression, torture, rendition—
barely leads to upheaval,
while the powers that be
are still the powers that were.
Four hundred thousand dead Syrians,
and you voted for her?
What rule of law used to mean is a blur.

For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.
War criminals’ kingdom
is the whole church and state.
They’re teaching the story
of “we had to”—prostrate
to whichever interest is paying.

Now and then,
one can see straight
through to where the long arc
of history has bent, is bending, breaks
the unbending loyalty of the clan.
Justice has coaxed the wild animal of man
into pawing two feet up to stand, roaring in the dark:
I am your own voice crying in the wilderness
I am your only choice.

In the moment it takes
to cry out, all the world is praying.
It is a hopeful thing, how we wish
for someone more powerful than this,
more just than us.
Though many have died thus.

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Holy Thursday

 

Holy Thursday
By William Blake

Twas on a Holy Thursday their innocent faces clean
The children walking two & two in red & blue & green
Grey-headed beadles walkd before with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Pauls they like Thames waters flow

O what a multitude they seemd these flowers of London town
Seated in companies they sit with radiance all their own
The hum of multitudes was there but multitudes of lambs
Thousands of little boys & girls raising their innocent hands

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of Heaven among
Beneath them sit the aged men wise guardians of the poor
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

Last night I ran across this poem towards the end of the Innocence half of William Blake’s illustrated poetry book Songs of Innocence and Experience: Shewing the Two Contrary States of the Human Soul, and saved it for this morning. The poem literally refers to Holy Thursday—the day between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday commemorating Jesus’s establishment of the Holy Communion and the priesthood at the Last Supper. But the real focus is living children, not tradition or sacrament—and the value of caring for real people as holy creatures, rather than going through procedural motions.

In the illustrated prose version of his philosophy, The Marriage of Heaven and HellBlake explores the compatibility of good and evil. In Songs, his use of the innocence-experience continuum to achieve that compatibility is even more explicit. One wonders whether he and Machiavelli would argue over dinner, or perhaps agree that what seems evil is in some cases merely innocence—and in others, experience.

The felt sense of their moral universes couldn’t be more different—Blake’s universe is (ultimately) kind and requires faith, while Machiavelli’s is cruel and requires cunning. Yet the political and social contexts of their writings share striking similarities. Machiavelli was keen political analyst, republican consort, and Medici torture survivor who explicitly wrote The Prince for the family responsible for his torture to systematize tyranny, while resisting between the lines—often showing rather than telling why free republics are better than corrupt principalities. Blake, friends with his own notable radical contemporaries including Tom Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, survived charges of high treason and a sedition trial that contributed to his failing health. Both see continuity and freedom where others see sharp difference and constriction. Both proposed a marriage between heaven and hell, but Blake saw himself as observing and celebrating the infinite, bursting with meaning and worth—while Machiavelli saw himself as observing and stating the obvious, dictated always by power.

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Mosaic Angel

“Mosaic Angel,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

 

“Playing in the mud”

The difference between a child and God is only—
you can make the clay, pouring water into dirt,
appearing matter where there was none,
splashing and laughing in happy disarray.
But you can’t shape it into living, breathing beings.
Not yet.

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Pride Poem Samplers

From the Poetry Foundation’s LGBTQ Pride poem sampler, commemorating with other Pride celebrations the June 28, 1969 start of the Stonewall Riots against police harassment and brutality against gays.

“Footnote to Howl”

By Allen Ginsberg
Berkeley 1955

Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy! The skin is holy! The nose is holy! The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy! everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity! Everyman’s an angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim! the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady holy the unknown buggered and suffering beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum! Holy the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse! Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements! Holy the cafeterias filled with the millions! Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the middleclass! Holy the crazy shepherds of rebellion! Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & Seattle Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension holy the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert holy the railroad holy the locomotive holy the visions holy the hallucinations holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith! Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

Here’s Ginsberg reading that “Footnote to Howl,” sounding like a deadpan Woody Allen.

Keith Haring is still inspiring with an enduring public bathroom mural that could just as well have illustrated this poem—

Keith Haring, “Once Upon a Time,” 1989. At the LGBT Community Center, Manhattan. Photo: The LGBT Community Center National History Archive.

—were Ginsberg himself not also a visual artist (h/t Artsy).

Allen Ginsberg, “Untitled #3,” lithograph and screenprint, 1998. Photo: Gemini G.E.L. LLC. 

Here’s my own Pride poem sampler of work from my first poetry book, Push Coasts:

Nerves Before Our First Date 

Night Picnic

Witch-Sister

Spinning Fire 

Pitching Camp in the Ozarks 

Briefly in the Promised Land 

Rainbow from Above 

The Tree of Desire Grows Out of Her Chest 

And what Pride poem sampler would be complete without a footnote to the footnote to Howl? This was probably the most fun poem to perform at the Poetry Brothel Berlin. It’s from my second poetry book, Vagabonding, in manuscript.

“Love Wild”

Love wild
love true
love red
love blue
love me
love you.

Free heart
free mind
free time
free spine
free cock
free cunt
free mouth
free blunt.

Deep dark
deep sleep
deep walk
deep meet
deep love
deep free
deep deep
deep sea.

Bright sky
bright light
bright body
bright night
bright days
bright seasons
bright life
bright reasons.

True try
true make
true see
true take
true give
true be
true you
true me.

Find a Pride event near you.

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Studies on Castile

“Studies on Castile: Guilty Peace.” Graphite and goache on A3 paper. 

If you want to solve the problem of U.S. police killings, you have to first tackle the problems of gun, drug, and oil addictions—for which you have to first address the problem of corporate capture of the political system. If you want to solve a problem this week, you have to get organizations and activists working on problems like these to start using better information and operational security tools and practices—like email encryption—so that resistance can be independent and effective rather than being trivially derailed. And if you want to grapple with our continual attempts to make sense of the senseless, you have to make art…

“Studies on Castile: Suspects… wide-set nose… brake lights.” Graphite, ink, goache, and goldflake on A3 paper.

“The driver looks more like one of our suspects just ’cause of the wide-set nose… The reason I pulled you over, your brake lights are out.”
Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile in Minnesota on July 6, 2016, racially profiling and then lying to Castile before killing him.

“Studies on Castile: I wasn’t reaching.” Graphite, ink, and goache on A3 paper.

” ‘I wasn’t reaching’…  ‘being a black motorist is still a capitol offense.’ ”
Philando Castile after Yanez shot him, and comic Samantha Bee on the killing. Minnesota police tried (and failed) to get private Facebook messages, data, and metadata from the account of witness and girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the aftermath of the killing. Their warrant came with an indefinite gag order, and was later ruled unconstitutional.

“Studies on Castile: We knew we were lying about the drugs.” Ink and goache on 36 x 48 cm paper.

“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
John Ehrlichman, former Nixon domestic policy chief and drug war architect.

“Studies on Castile: Marijuana, marijuana, rounds.” Graphite, ink, and goache  on A3 paper.

“As soon as I get up to the car I’m hit with a odor of burning marijuana… And I thought if he’s, if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing, then what, what care does he give about me. And I let off the rounds.”
—Officer Yanez’s criminal trial testimony blaming his killing of Castile on Castile’s marijuana use.

“Studies on Castile: Mom, don’t get shooted.” Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
—Diamond Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter in the backseat of a police car with her handcuffed mother after the killing.

“Studies on Castile: Backseat Side of Silence.” Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas.

“Backseat Side of Silence”
On Jeronimo Yanez’s murder of Philando Castile.

You won’t hear from the good cops, although
so many cops are good, because it is impossible to speak out
without a face in a police state where your phone and computer
can be hacked without a trace, your texts and emails read—
and your boys will have your head for speaking out.

You won’t hear from the good cops, because
when one Chief started clapping as he does
about drones and blowing up Americans without
due process because terror rarer raaah raaaah raaaaaaah—
then everybody had to join in with the band/siss boom baaaah
and in a well-placed beat all the Major City Chiefs
and all the Major County Sheriffs were on their feet
cheering the holy holy holy killing of Sheikhs,
and not one sat for the Constitution on which they stood.

You won’t hear from the good cops, because
there is something hypnotic about the mantra of the tribe,
about “serving and protecting life liberty & property” or,
as the temporarily disadvantaged millionaire hive
calls it—the pursuit of happiness in America.
It sounds so good, how could it be bad?
The fairy-tale sparkles and statistics are a bore.
Communism failed and was a sad loser fad.
You can make it if you try and try more, more, more!

You won’t hear from the good cops, because they know this:
when others kill, it is a crime—but when they kill,
it is a necessary skill in fulfilling the servant’s duty, thanks deserved,
to protect life. So while cop killers do time,
killer cops talk their fearful talk and walk,
because freedom is slavery, ignorance is bliss,
and corpses have been served.

You won’t hear from the good cops, because
carrying a gun makes you afraid, and fear makes you dumb.
Don’t think Jeronimo Yanez was the only one
to fear the fearful citizen who said he had a gun.
Although Philando followed instructions to the letter of the law,
the color of his skin outweighed whatever jurors saw.
Things do not speak for themselves. Res ipsa loquitor:
black life doesn’t matter to a lone juror.

You won’t see the good cops marching in the streets
against racist police, because the good cops are whiter than their beats.
You won’t notice the good cops eating jerk chicken
on the corner as neighbors get to know each other, elbowing in
to ask for tea and how is Darius these days,
and Auntie please remind him there are other ways—
because a program is telling them where to stand
as a supervisor gives his monthly arrests demand.

I can try to tell you why you won’t hear from the good cops,
because we ask each other questions when the shoe drops,
justice fails, and somehow sense must be remade
though it hangs dripping on the blade.
It matters but it doesn’t matter more
than what I can’t begin to explore.

You won’t hear from the little girl in the back seat
when she finishes screaming after years
and so many nights in terror and in tears
in the dream where sound explodes up front
while her own sound does not come
her own legs do not move on command
and her own life flashes, so small and quick,
before her tight-clenched eyes open to greet
the killers’ unignorable demand
to join the world outside
the childhood that had just died.
And she cannot bear to close her eyes
for fear of seeing everyone
and no one in the front,
and language fails—dishonest, slick.
I can’t tell you if you don’t know the why’s.

But the little girl’s already spoken, her witness undisputed:
“Mom, please stop cussing and screaming ’cause I don’t want you to get shooted.”
The screaming mother muted by her baby’s love undiluted—
a child who’s just seen a man executed.

 

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Door of Light

Oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”

—William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell — inspiration for Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception (and the 1960s cultural revolution it helped spark) and Jim Morrison’s Doors.

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“You must change your life”

Archaïscher Torso Apollos
By Rainer Maria Rilke

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

 

Archaic Torso of Apollo
Rilke/trans. Stephen Mitchell

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

To the validation of hypergraphics everywhere, Rilke saw letter-writing as part of his poetic practice. One of his most famous books is his Letters to a Young Poet. His advice to younger artists originated in the advice he himself had gotten as a young artist from Rodin, a friendship that began when—too burned out and broke to do his own work—he landed a commission to write about the aging sculptor. Although they ultimately fell out, both men found inspiration in each other’s art forms and in seeing the world around them anew. And both vacillated between total commitment to art at the expense of life, and an understanding that creating is just one way to live.

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Where’s Olaf?

i sing of Olaf glad and big, from is 5 (1926)
by e. e. cummings

i sing of Olaf glad and big
whose warmest heart recoiled at war:
a conscientious object-or

his wellbelovéd colonel(trig
westpointer most succinctly bred)
took erring Olaf soon in hand;
but–though an host of overjoyed
noncoms(first knocking on the head
him)do through icy waters roll
that helplessness which others stroke
with brushes recently employed
anent this muddy toiletbowl,
while kindred intellects evoke
allegiance per blunt instruments–
Olaf(being to all intents
a corpse and wanting any rag
upon what God unto him gave)
responds,without getting annoyed
“I will not kiss your fucking flag”

straightway the silver bird looked grave
(departing hurriedly to shave)

but–though all kinds of officers
(a yearning nation’s blueeyed pride)
their passive prey did kick and curse
until for wear their clarion
voices and boots were much the worse,
and egged the firstclassprivates on
his rectum wickedly to tease
by means of skilfully applied
bayonets roasted hot with heat–
Olaf(upon what were once knees)
does almost ceaselessly repeat
“there is some shit I will not eat”

our president,being of which
assertions duly notified
threw the yellowsonofabitch
into a dungeon,where he died

Christ(of His mercy infinite)
i pray to see;and Olaf,too

preponderatingly because
unless statistics lie he was
more brave than me:more blond than you.

Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

You could say the CIA Torture Report is here, archived on DocumentCloud (although such websites can be hacked). You could also say it’s not there, because a previous CIA torture report—the Panetta Review—allegedly proves the CIA lied to Congress, the Bush and Obama White Houses, and the public. That internal CIA torture report does something the CIA does not do: Acknowledges wrongdoing. But that CIA torture report was covered up. First by the CIA Director (John Brennan) who came after the one who oversaw it (Leon Panetta). Then, in a sense, by the Senate Intelligence Committee that refrained from leaking the report to the public through the press—keeping it in a safe for their investigative oversight work instead. And then by the Obama White House that thought it made the President look bad. The ACLU sought it, to no avail. Vice is also suing for both the Panetta Review and a less redacted version of the executive summary of the Senate Torture Report.

These ongoing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits are racing the clock of evidence destruction. If the CIA torture reports are not leaked, they are likely to be destroyed—along with the hope of future accountability for collaborators responsible for the war crimes they document—forever. The CIA repeatedly removed documents relevant to the Senate’s oversight work while the Committee was still investigating as it wrote and rewrote the report. It destroyed videotapes of torture, and no one was prosecuted for obstruction of justice in spite of ample evidence. Instead the torture program architects have been promoted—in one case to be second-in-command in the Trump Administration’s CIA. The cover-up would be worse than the crime, were the crime not so horrific.

If the available, heavily redacted declassified version of the official Senate CIA Torture Report that followed the Panetta Review is tame by comparison, its findings remain shocking: A cash award to the officer who had recently supervised an inmate’s freezing to death, rectal feeding without documented medical necessity, the use of supposedly lethal insects in confinement boxes that parallels Big Brother’s use of rats in a face box in 1984. When the Senate committee charged with exercising oversight got closer to documenting and exercising accountability regarding the full extent of CIA torture, the Agency hacked the Senators, surveilled sitting Senators and their staff, and effectively asked the Department of Justice to ruin their lives. (The Obama DOJ—which refrained from going after CIA torturers even in cases of detainee deaths—complied.)

Senate Republicans at the time opposed the Democrat-led investigation into CIA torture. Now they’re in control of the Executive branch and both houses of Congress. Earlier this month, the GOP chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee announced his staff is collecting copies of the watered-down torture report. The Trump Administration supports torture, and has begun returning copies of the report. President Trump’s support for torture sets the stage for future atrocities and he continues to make Bush-era torture program architects powerful in his Administration. The risk of the pro-torture Trump Administration returning Executive branch copies of the torture reports to the Senate Intelligence Committee is that FOIA obligations do not apply to Congress. If all the Executive branch copies are returned to the Senate, then it is possible that they may be legally destroyed. Leaking the documents to a publisher with a good source protection track record, such as WikiLeaks, is the best way to preserve the remaining war crimes evidence chain.

The Constitutional crisis of the United States running a global network of secret prisons free of due process, transparency, or oversight has passed. So too has the Constitutional crisis of the agency responsible for these black sites successfully retaliating against those charged with overseeing it. Now the U.S. finds itself in another brewing Constitutional crisis. Something glittery and sexy involving Russians and hookers. The newest train wrecks seem to make people forget the older ones. Forgive me if I yawn as the President and his staff are investigated for obstruction of justice—the same charge his predecessor’s staff, and the one before him, could have been investigated for if the political will had existed to prosecute torture and its cover-up. It did not.

Torture is out of the current news cycle. If the President and his men go to jail next week for obstruction of justice, it won’t be for covering up torture. But do Constitutional crises really pass? Or, if the government does not uphold due process, does it lose legitimacy under the Constitution? When checks and balances fail to work as designed, but the status quo grinds on—because the government is above the law—it implies that the Constitution’s meaning is aspirational at best. At worst, it provides the narrative frame for an actively evil regime to better exercise soft power as it dominates the world. Without Olaf—a brave, lone voice of reason, resistance, and the love for our common humanity that rejects war and its crimes from the inside—it’s impossible to know the difference.

Graphite and goache on A3 paper.

“where’s Olaf?”

i search for Olaf who has balls
whose clearest call rang out the truth:
a whistleblowing inside sleuth

his dearest colleagues heard his calls
(we tortured folks, and now must pay)
and hid his work from light of day;
but—though a snowglobe full of shit
did fall(first waking him with threats
and then his coms directing slant),
gaslit so ask for help he can’t
and everyone who knew him jets
to get out of the way the hit
and further under buses throw,
while courts and scammers steal his dough
to keep him locked into some grind—
Olaf(seeing his country find
the greater part of justice won
in push and kick from up above)
responds, without returning shove
“I will not hide what you have done”

White House Chief of Staff and all his ilk
cursed and steamed the lines out of their silk

but—though all kinds of special force
(and pride in showing no remorse)
interrogated, hacked, and showed
him pictures of his own brains blowed
until his family was sure
the man they loved had died before
this puzzled person who sings on
“the truth is its own clarion”
but everyone who lives has lied
and so they drove into his side
a thousand shivs of his own fibs
“no one believes a liar’s song”

our hero,feeling himself trapped
although by the humanity
that led him first alone to see
what’s right from wrong,felt his spine snapped

Christ(if you kept a copy safe)
i pray to hear;and Olaf,too

come out into the light and tell
the story of your living hell
unless you died:like troubles do.

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“Child. We are done for in the most remarkable ways.”

Graphite, ink, and goache on A3 paper. 

From “Dead Doe: I,” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly—

From the Kenyon Review, New Series, Summer 1991, Vol. XIII, No. 3

for Huck

The doe lay dead on her back in a field of asters: no.

The doe lay dead on her back beside the school bus stop: yes.

Where we waited.
Her belly white as a cut pear. Where we waited: no: off

from where we waited: yes:

at a distance: making a distance
we kept,
as we kept her dead run in sight, that we might see if she chose
to go skyward;
that we might run, too, turn tail
if she came near
and troubled our fear with presence: with ghostly blossoming: with the
fountain’s
unstoppable blossoming
and the black stain the algae makes when the water
stays near.
We can take the gilt-edged strolling of the clouds: yes.
But the risen from the dead: no!

The haloey trouble shooting of the goldfinches in the bush:
yes: but in season:

kept within bounds,
not in the pirated rows of corn,
not above winter’s pittance of river.

The doe lay dead: she lent
her deadness to the morning, that the morning might have weight, that
our waiting might matter: be upheld by significance: by light
on the rhododendron, by the ribbons the sucked mint loosed
on the air,
by the treasonous gold-leaved passage of season, and you

from me/child/from me/

from . . . not mother: no:
but the weather that would hold you: yes:

hothouse you to fattest blooms: keep you in mild unceasing rain, and the fixed
stations of heat: like a pedalled note: or the held
breath: sucked in, and stay: yes:
stay

but: no: not done: can’t be:

the doe lay dead: she could
do nothing:

the dead can mother nothing . . . nothing
but our sight: they mother that, whether they will or no:

they mother our looking, the gap the tongue prods when the tooth is missing, when
fancy seeks the space.

The doe lay dead: yes: and at a distance, with her legs up and frozen, she tricked
our vision: at a distance she was
for a moment no deer
at all

but two swans: we saw two swans
and they were fighting
or they were coupling
or they were stabbing the ground for some prize
worth nothing, but fought over, so worth that, worth
the fought-over glossiness: the morning’s fragile-tubed glory.

And this is the soul: like it or not. Yes: the soul comes down: yes: comes
into the deer: yes: who dies: yes: and in her death twins herself into swans:
fools us with mist and accident into believing her newfound finery

and we are not afraid
though we should be

and we are not afraid as we watch her soul fly on: paired

as the soul always is: with itself:
with others.
Two swans . . .

Child. We are done for
in the most remarkable ways.

 

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“Those blue remembered hills”

Pencils and goache on A3. Rarely I try to recreate older work that I still hope to bring over to my new Continent someday, and this is one of those times. 

From “Into my heart an air that kills…” in A Shropshire Ladby A. E. Housman, not yet one of the Housman poems from this collection that’s been turned into opera (and expertly sung)—

 
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

 

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There was always a “but”

Graphite, ink, goache, and gold flake on A3 paper. 

… when they come as outcasts, made doubly paupers by physical and moral oppression in their native land, and thrown upon the long suffering generosity of a more favored community, their immigration lacks the essential conditions which make alien immigration either acceptable or beneficial. So well is this appreciated on the Continent that, even in the countries where anti-Semitism has no foothold, it is difficult for these fleeing Jews to obtain any lodgment. America is their only goal.
          The United States offers asylum to the oppressed of all lands. But its sympathy with them in no wise impairs its just liberty and right to weigh the acts of the oppressor in the light of their effects upon this country and to judge accordingly.

—from then -U.S. Secretary of State John Hay‘s The Roumanian Note, reprinted in Call Her Blessed by Juliene Berk, my long-lost great-aunt’s historical novelized account of my great-grandmother Lara Berkovitz (née Lore Moscovici)’s life as a Romanian Jew who fled anti-Semitism for America in 1907 (italics mine). She immigrated 34 years before 1/3 of the Jewish population in her hometown of Jassy was massacred or deported in a pogrom that was considered brutal during the Holocaust—before the full extent of the Final Solution became widely known. And it was a little over a hundred years before I migrated back to Europe fleeing rising fascism in the States. Some people in similar circumstances have access to European citizenship repatriation—but most Romanian Jews don’t, since they were overwhelmingly denied citizenship in the first place.
          In spite of John Hay’s apparent (measured) sympathies, Lara’s mother-in-law Beila got sick on a later boat over to the States. She was denied entry as a result, and died—blinded from the then-incurable disease she had contracted in the dirty ship’s hold, and despondent from the death of her dream of being reunited with her family in a safe place—back in Romania. It is impossible to count the number of migrants fleeing violence today who attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe, and then try—or try and fail—to make it back due either to lack of access to safe and legal routes, or to lack of acceptable living and working conditions where they seek asylum.


There was always a “but”
for kike, gyp, or slut.
Home was a conditional
for the poor and liminal.
For a million Irish who got there,
a million were left starving and bare.
And if you were a Hebrew Kraut,
America often could do without
your poor and huddled mass—
with the World Wars on its ass.

Unless you’re one of a luckier few,
I’m the product just like you
of a long line of people who knew
when it was time—and up and flew.
Wherever they could go, they went.
Where the doors were closed, they spent
untold dark and hopeless nights and days
knocking until going (back) their ways.
Now and again we live in a time
when human life ain’t worth a dime.

 

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“i am accused of tending to the past”

Graphite, goache, and ink on A3 paper. 

i am accused of tending to the past
By Lucille Clifton

i am accused of tending to the past
as if i made it,
as if i sculpted it
with my own hands. i did not.
this past was waiting for me
when i came,
a monstrous unnamed baby,
and i with my mother’s itch
took it to breast
and named it
History.
she is more human now,
learning languages everyday,
remembering faces, names and dates.
when she is strong enough to travel
on her own, beware, she will.

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“Love like a burning city in the breast”

From “Women Have Loved Before As I Love Now
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Women have loved before as I love now;
At least, in lively chronicles of the past—
Of Irish waters by a Cornish prow
Or Trojan waters by a Spartan mast
Much to their cost invaded—here and there,
Hunting the amorous line, skimming the rest,
I find some woman bearing as I bear
Love like a burning city in the breast.
I think however that of all alive
I only in such utter, ancient way
Do suffer love; in me alone survive
The unregenerate passions of a day
When treacherous queens, with death upon the tread,
Heedless and willful, took their knights to bed.

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“A shark is not a shark if you cannot prove he is”

a shark is not a shark
If you cannot prove he is.

ein Haifisch ist kein Haifisch
Wenn man’s nicht beweisen kann
.

—Bertold Brecht, trans. Walter Kaufmann, “Mack the Knife/Der Moritat von Mackie Messer”


Graphite and goache on A3 paper. Select musical iterations: Louis Armstrong’s version, Frank Sinatra’s, Ella Fitzgerald’s. A degenerate poem-song illustration for degenerate times.

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“Black milk of morning we drink you at night”

A series of six paintings (goache, charcoal, graphite, ink and mixed media on A3 paper) and a recording of what Walter Kaufmann called probably the greatest German poem since World War  II. Article 2 and the first few lines of Article 3 of the Paris Agreement appear in #4. The poem line “Black milk of morning we drink you at night” (“Schwarze Milch der Frühe trinken dich nachts”) appears in all but the last painting in the series, which reads instead: “Black shore of fact we reach you but in wreck.”

Already I can no longer remember which came first: the Kaufmann reading that sent me looking for the poem (he couldn’t get a reply from the widow to publish it in his bilingual collection of German poetry), the discovery of many lovely Anselm Kiefer paintings dealing with it, or the itch to make more poem-paintings like I used to, years ago… An itch that has been growing stronger since seeing Sharka Hyland’s Textzeichnungen (text drawings) at Galerie Dittmar (Berlin) on the heels of reviewing the Schirn’s ongoing Magritte exhibit (Frankfurt). Some artists and philosophers (e.g., Magritte and Plato) have wanted to put primary on images or words, but they go together like sustainable civilization and a habitable planet.

After President Trump’s withdrawal last week of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, positivists can more or less agree that civilization as we know it is doomed from climate change. Its use as a marker is heuristic; we were already pretty much there. Paris was widely criticized as too weak (and unenforceable), but the Overton window remains too far right for that discussion to be widespread right now. Like Hegel’s owl of Minerva flying at dusk, we drink the black milk of the knowledge of our demise when it is too late to do much more than hope to later have the political power and technological capacity to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change and poverty—particularly their joint, vastly disproportionate impacts on the global south, which are likely to kill at least an order of magnitude more people than Hitler did.

“Death Fugue/Todesfuge
By Paul Celan, trans. Jerome Rothenberg

Black milk of morning we drink you at dusktime
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at night
we drink and drink
we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
he writes it and walks from the house and the stars all start flashing he whistles his
dogs to draw near
whistles his Jews to appear starts us scooping a grave out of sand
he commands us to play for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at dawntime and noontime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
There’s a man in this house who cultivates snakes and who writes
who writes when it’s nightfall nach Deutschland your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite we scoop out a grave in the sky where it’s roomy to lie
He calls jab it deep in the soil you lot there you other men sing and play
he tugs at the sword in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you men you other men you others play up again for the dance

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime and dawntime we drink you at dusktime
we drink and drink
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite he cultivates snakes

He calls play that death thing more sweetly Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
he calls scrape that fiddle more darkly then hover like smoke in the air
then scoop out a grave in the clouds where it’s roomy to lie

Black milk of morning we drink you at night
we drink you at noontime Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland
we drink you at dusktime and dawntime we drink and drink
Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland his eye is blue
he shoots you with leaden bullets his aim is true
there’s a man in this house your golden hair Margareta
he sets his dogs on our trail he gives us a grave in the sky
he cultivates snakes and he dreams Death is a gang-boss aus Deutschland

your golden hair Margareta
your ashen hair Shulamite

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“A conversation about trees is almost a crime”

“What times are these when
A conversation about trees is almost a crime
Because it entails silence about so many wrongs.—

Was sind das für Zeiten, wo
Ein Gespräch über Bäume fast ein Verbrechen ist
Weil es ein Schweigen über so viele Untaten einschließt!”

—Brecht, “To Those Born After,” trans. Walter Kaufmann
Full text/different translation.

(Goache and graphite on A3 paper.)

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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”

A few paintings (goache, charcoal and mixed media on A3 paper) and a recording of the ever-relevant Robert Frost poem.

Mending Wall
By Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbour know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

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The Tree of Life

“The Tree of Life,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Take This Life”

The previous owner barely used it,
only took it weekly to the grocery store for years.
It will run for miles; all the records are legit.
The upholstery is clean, and undamaged by tears.
The windshield-wipers stick a little, just a little bit.
It runs a little hot when you give it unleaded fears.
But it will run for miles more, with drivers’ hands that fit.
And take the turns that come—bends and brakes and veers.

Take this life and drive it hard, coast to coast.
Take it on the ferry, and to the furthest desert outpost.
Share it with a friend in need, but always take it back.
Paint it anyway you want—polka-dotted, rainbow, black.
Just use it well, without neglect; that’s what it needs the most.
To be driven all it can, to be used to the utmost.
Not to live in a garage, or on one boring track.
To be used for all it can, despite a little clunk and clack.

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A Flame

Oils on 60 x 90 cm stretched canvas (web store).

“Playing in the woods with friends”

Together we stumble, laughing, getting dirty
and sometimes hurt—brambles, poison ivy, strange bites.
My mother warned me about this, but she was wrong.
Every time I run into the woods with new friends,
instead of losing a piece of my soul, I gain—

maybe it is a hollow after all, this place
where loves grows,
laughter echoes,
something is lost
to make room
for yet more joy.

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Sunday Rilke and Writing

Walter Kaufmann so spoiled me with his excellent Goethe translation, I’m struggling to get back into my Oxford World Classics Rilke. The translations (Susan Ranson and Marielle Sutherland) are not comparable. The meter is missing. Plus, when I read the German and then the side-by-side English to Deutsch lernen, and then check what I’ve written cribbing from the Rilke, my own poetry doesn’t mean what I thought it meant! How am I supposed to steal from the best with bad translations? So much for authorial intent…

Here are a few Rilke poems from that collection, and my crib thereof. Happy Sunday—and please don’t hesitate to correct my German.

Aus: Larenopfer

 

Der Träumer (II)

Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—
So wie jene sind sie bunt und reich.
Aus dem Riesenstamm der Lebenssäfte
ziehn sie just wie jene ihre Kräfte,
brüsten sich mit dem ersaugten Blute,
freuen in der flüchtigen Minute,
in der nächsten sind sie tot und bleich.—
Und wenn Welten oben leise gehen,
fühlst du’s dann nicht wie von Düften wehen?
Träume scheinen mir wie Orchideen.—

From Offerings to the Lares

The Dreamer (II)

Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—
Like them brilliant and opulent, 
like them drawing through the giant stem
of living sap the juices of their strength, 
like them flaunting an absorbed life-blood, 
[sic] revelling in the fleetness of the minute, 
then, in the next, pallid as the dead.—
And when, softly, worlds pass overhead, 
do you not feel their winds, flower-scented?
Dreams: as vivid in my eyes as orchids.—

And Aus: Advent (from Advent):

Das ist mein Streit:
Sehnsuchtgeweiht
durch alle Tage schweifen.
Dann, stark und breit,
mit tausend Wurzelstreifen
tief in das Leben greifen—
und durch das Leid
weit aus dem Leben reifen,
weit aus der Zeit!

This is my struggle:
dedicated to longing,
to wander the paths of days.
Then sturdied, strong,
with thousand rootlets grasping
deep into the terrain
of life, through pain
to ripen far beyond life and
far beyond time! 

So much Romantic poetry can be read through lenses of despair. I love how Rilke can go darker than the darkest, but still end up saying (as above): Here I am, I am vagabonding but not fleeing, and I am going to take root when it is time, and endure beyond limits.

The word choices are interesting even to me, knowing so little German as yet. Of course Hitler would have chosen a harsher word for struggle than Rilke’s Streit in his Mein Kampf. Kampf sounds more like it could mean punch—while Streit sounds like it could mean straight or street, or a bright light in your eyes. Perhaps uncomfortable in the distinct “Str,” long I of “ei,” and definitive ending “t.” But not aggressive like “K,” and almost flatulent or uncaring (imagine a sighing person saying it) like “ampf.” They’re synonyms, but I wonder if their sense is exactly the same, and only the sound differs? If that’s even possible in language, as far as connotation and felt sense can be separated.

Here’s mine (or maybe my German poetry will be Felicia Faust’s)— blatantly stealing, as poets do, from my friend Rilke:

Bunt und reich,
stark und breit—
mitleiden,
neue Kleiden—
tragen Tageseiden.

Colorful and rich,
strong and broad—
fellow-feeling,
wearing new clothes—
wearing days of silk.

Mitleiden is more precisely co-suffering (mit + leiden) than fellow-feeling, but poets will be poets… I suppose I could argue the co-suffering in the German is sarcastic, and sarcasm doesn’t always translate? Oy. I mean it though, in a way, even while it’s sarcastic. Part of a beautiful life, of wearing days of silk, is having community and empathizing with others’ struggles.

I shall call it: “Thinking of Shopping for a Sundress while Sunbathing without and Butchering the Pronunciation and Probably the Sense Also of Rilke”… (Title to be used while wearing a beret, smoking a cigarette, and trying out a new stand-up bit on being a poet, if I ever get around to it.)

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Goethe Before Carroll

Goethe writes (Faust, 1808, trans. Walter Kaufmann):

Seht, da kommt der Dudelsack!
Es ist die Seifenblase.
Hört den Schneckeschnickeschnack
Durch seine strumpfe Nase.

Now the bagpipe’s joining in,
A soap bubble it blows;
Hear the snicker-snacking din
Come through his blunted nose.


Carroll follows (Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, 1871):

Jabberwocky

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand;
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Goethe was writing well before Carroll, raising the questions: Is snicker-snack onomatopoeia? Was Carroll referencing Goethe? Or are both possible?

 

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Red Flower, April in Berlin

“Red Flower, April in Berlin,” oils on 40 x 50 cm stretched canvas (web store). From this spring flower photo series from Gärten der Welt. 

“Spring Art”

Everywhere in spring, you can see the painters run amok.
The tulip leaves’ brushstrokes bend like canvas in the wind.
The cold, white sun is cutting golden angles on tree tops,
measuring and marking halo after halo, ray on top of ray.

Some people say the colors are too bright—unrealistic.
But the artists of the earth and air, water and sky, insist:
There is no limit to the vibrance.
The sweet softness will continue to shimmer and overflow.
If you get up close, every bloom is a perfect paper swan.
Every fold in blossom and bend in branch offers its art to the sky.

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