Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hollow Words

Did you speak without thinking?
Did you want to bring good news?
Did you forget that your words,
magical incantations, words from
a shaman, words penned in with
tomorrows, words that made dancers
of those who heard, words erasing
the past months of treatments , words
that made buying two year calendars
real, lilting words, words poets use to juggle,
These words that said you're fine, no more
treatments, no more waiting to see if
you spent a day waiting for the next day,
no more weight loss, no more.

So when they told her so soon after
your words, not even a month, not even
enough time to get used to the word survivor ,
when they told her they thought your
words might not tell the whole story,
when they said they needed to scan
her body looking for errant cells
the ones that found other places to hide--
your words sounded hollow.

Thursday, October 22, 2009



“Choose” he said, “between the blessing and the curse.”
“Choose” he said, “between believing and being left out.”
“Choose” she said, “between living in communion or alone.”

This edict to choose—the red paper or the green paper, eat in or eat out, insider or outsider, a 37inch television or a 40 inch television or no television. Simple choices. Complex choices. Disconnect life support or not. And what is life support?


My mother’s friends sat around the bridge table playing Maj -jong.
“Two bam”
“One crak”
“One dot”
and the tiles banged against one another.

I chose to play my music loud enough to drown out the clacking tiles.
I chose Labor Union Songs—the music of Baptist Hymns adapted by Joe Hill. The same Joe Hill who was wrongly accused of killing two people and who was executed by a firing squad.

His supporters —the daughter of a former Mormon church president, labor radicals, activists and sympathizers — even President Woodrow Wilson. "The Utah Supreme Court refused to overturn the verdict and the Utah Board of Pardons refused to commute Hill's sentence."

My mother’s friend came into my room, “Could you play something a bit more melodic?” “A bit more upbeat.”
“I want meaningful music.
I’m studying the American Labor movement.” I said.

We lived in a three-room apartment and my music resonated. Teen-age rebellion.


“Choose,” he said, “your political affiliation.”

My grandfather was a union man. He told me to never cross a picket line—“Never.”
I never had to choose to cross or not to cross. I’m not a scab.


Hobson’s Choice: a free choice that offers no real alternative.

It’s either this or nothing.

In the 16th century Thomas Hobson ran a livery stable. He instructed his customers to take the horse nearest the stable door or none at all. It’s either this or nothing.


Multiple Choice.
I once wrote answers for a test maker. “Here” she said, “is the question. We want four answers—two that are similar, one that is obviously wrong and one that is not quite right.” She added, “Defeat the test wise student.”

A whole day and only two of my test items were accepted. They paid me for the day and for individual items. I left the job after one day. Too many choices.


It’s all about choice.
I chose the chocolate chip yogurt over the mint chocolate yogurt.
I chose the chicken sandwich with mandarin oranges and cranberries instead of the Mexican wrap.
I chose a ginger candy over an oatmeal cookie.
I chose an Empire apple over a baked apple.

Those are the simple choices.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Torn Fabric

What's wrong?

Why do four boys break into someone's house, a randomly selected house, and brutally kill a woman and seriously hurt her daughter? Why did a few boys beat up a man so badly that he lives somewhere between life and death--unable to do anything for himself?

What is missing from the lives of these boys? They all can't be mentally ill. They all can't be toadies. One of the boys, in the most recent case, told police that he came home after an evening with friends and watched Dexter—the television show about a likeable serial killer. Dexter, after all, had been schooled by his father to only kill people who deserve to die.

Something in our society, in our towns, in our neighborhoods is missing. We worship war--that must be so because we're constantly involved in wars. If we worshipped peace wouldn't we be devastated by the civilian lives truncated by war? —by the thousands of men and women returning with both seen and unseen wounds.

We have become inured to violence and it takes an exceptional killing to shake us—the boys used a machete and we were shaken.

For most of us —what we see, hear, read, forms who we are. These boys didn't come from poverty. They didn't live in crowded cities. They fit in, but they really didn't fit in--they were the puzzle pieces that couldn't be part of the picture.

And it's too easy to say we have moved away from religion. Organized religions have a poor record for peace. Look around the world and you see sect against sect, anti-Semitism, genocide, wars. But I'm not willing to throw out religions--only the need to say mine is better, mine is the only truth, and mine is the only path.

We need voices to overcome the din of violence, the worship of might.

I like technology. I enjoy the Internet, but I worry about people whose reality is their online community of avatars.

Earlier this week I attended a study session of 1 Kings 18. Fourteen of us wrestled with the character of Obadiah, a man who considered himself a spiritual man, a man who hid 100 prophets because Jezebel was killing off the prophets, a man who did Ahab's bidding, a man torn between two masters.

It's so easy to be conflicted about who we serve.

I don't know the answers—but I worry about the worship of idols and violence is an idol too many have embraced.

No answers--

Sunday, October 04, 2009


Put salt out for the deer
Bake coffee cake and biscuits in the iron oven
Gary Synder “Things to Do Around a Lookout"

Things to Remember While Listening
to One Hundred Folk Songs

A morning at the Harper’s Ferry Folk Festival
Listening to music played on a cigar box dulcimer
Watching a mountain man
Tune sets of strings on a hammered dulcimer

Four women sing "Amazing Grace" A capella
and transform a field into Holy space

“We’ll walk hand in hand…”
Reading psalms on top of Old Rag Mountain

“I do believe…”

A Wolf Trap concert—
Joan Baez sang in bare feet
“With God on Our Side”

Where are the protest songs now?

Pete Seeger at Queens College
During Academic Freedom Week
We sing…

“And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.”

“and I know what I’ll do tomorrow…”

A maple trestle table
In the kitchen
Ballads strummed on a guitar

“It’s a mighty hard road…”