Intimations of Mortality
On Looking at Van Gogh’s Starry Night
One night decades ago I am meditating
In my bedroom when, on an old army
Blanket folded, felt yelling, and terrified,
My mind vanishes, and mind expands,
Explodes, to shoot into a universe of comets
Star clouds, shattering, spinning supernovas,
The banging, barging of new universes,
Heart dying, self perishing while self-aware.
Were I to have let that go I would
Have died, I would have surely died.
Get up! Run! The body chased by the
Hounds in skull’s heaven. It is too soon
For you to trap me, and rip my body
And worry the flesh of mind and
have me mad or dead! So I shake
Those foul dogs off this time, and
So I embrace this time, this mortality,
And let eternity’s tremendum be.
To say that life is suffering one way
Is to make two things, life and suffering,
As separate things into one. So that suffering
Is grafted onto life to make happiness
And joy, young fruit growing from an old tree,
Separate but together, a pear on an apple host.
That is the science way; the way of the West.
To say that life is suffering in the way of the East
The way of art, is to see life and suffering
As one, that dukka is life, since everything
That arises, passes away as part of a pulsating
Storm in which all parts of it arise and pass away
Eternally. Dukka is life. C’est la vie! That’s life!
That’s the tragedy of life. All events of it
Are mortal, arise and pass away, and that the
Vision I had that night becomes a furious
Hurricane containing universes that rise and fall.
Even my tiny happiness is mortal in it, for
This also arises and falls, and is mortal in it.
Then life is to be embraced. Dukka, life, is too
Alluring to be resisted, but must be understood
And seen clearly, and an appropriate life-work
Made of it; that understanding with mindful
Concentration and intention and the effort
To speak and act and work with clarity,
Compassion, and equanimity: to love life’s
Tragic fate—to speak ‘amor fati!’ clearly.
It can’t be helped. There seems to be no choice.
I did not understand that vision decades ago.
Had I died too soon, the light death brings,
Would have let me know, but too late to tell,
And teach. But now I live, and have been given
The gift, no matter my lapses of attention,
My forgetting of names, where my darn keys are,
Getting lost in my own house—given the gift
Of seeing and understanding that even happiness
In this maelstrom, joy, and all good things in it
Arise and pass away, and that that tragic sense
Of life must be embraced, and cherished.
I could die now that I have finished this.
For I have
Just now, written this good thing, to share.
(Written on a voyage up the Seine River, August 2018.)
The morning sun sweet talks its way
through the top windows
of the grain elevator
Sunlight yawns through glass,
through rust holes in parked cars,
through green leaves blowing brown
in the grain dust air.
Down the street dawn portages
into breakfast grammar.
Isolated subjects dive into the day, get wet,
and bob and roll into each other before leaping
over the downtown, bank clock
into the afternoon.
Dry gears of routine smoke!
Seagulls with black ice eyes
circle the hot, elevator roof.
The sunset slingshots through every sandcastle
along Lake Superior’s south shore.
Moon waves tow twin ports
dry docked in time.
The moonrise whispers through sky high windows.
Grain dust resettles on my neighbors’ windshields.
I turn on the outside light
and wait for the night
to tremble with stars,
to shake warm
with your eyes.
2018 – “This is a circus. This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” prospective U.S. Supreme Court Justice Bret Kavanaugh said when Christine Blasey Ford said he sexually assaulted her.
2017 – “Nevertheless, she persisted,” Senator Mitch McConnell explained why he led the U.S. Senate to vote to silence Senator Elizabeth Warren on the Senate floor because, over his objections, she continued to speak out against the confirmation of Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General.
2016 – “It doesn’t sound like me. I’m looking into whether that tape (the “Access Hollywood” tape) is legitimate,” said Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump when the televised tape aired his words about how he sexually assaulted women.
1991 – “This is a circus. It’s a national disgrace,” prospective U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said when Anita Hill said he sexually harassed her.
1955 – Montgomery, Alabama bus driver James Blake told Rosa Parks, an African American woman, she must give up her seat to a White person on the bus. Mrs. Parks refused to give up her seat. Mr. Blake called police, and they arrested Rosa Parks for not giving up her seat to a White person.
1955 – 1956 “One of these days, Alice . . . to the moon!” By employing chauvinist humor, popular at the time, TV character Ralph Crandon routinely threatened to hit his wife and audiences laughed along.
1931 – “Women will no longer be allowed to play profession baseball because it is too strenuous a sport for them,” ruled Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis the day after Jackie Mitchell, a female baseball pitcher, struck out both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in an exhibition game.
1910 – “You do not need a ballot to clean out your sink spout,” said the National Association OPPOSED to Woman Suffrage.
1692 – When Martha Corey, accused of witchcraft, said, “I do not know what a witch is,” Salem Witchcraft Trails Judge Hathorne asked her, “How do you know, then, that you are not a witch?”
circa 400,000 B.C. – After Adam ate the “forbidden fruit” he said to God, “Eve made me eat the fruit.”
William Tecku’s website: http://www.roadreflections.com
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been two weeks since my last confession.”
Father O’Brien breathed a heavy sigh and then just sat for a bit on his side of the confessional. A phone call to the rectory an hour earlier had asked that he be at the church for a confession at noon.
He had recognized the voice on the phone and now the voice in the confessional; it was Joey Marston, one of his regulars. Like some of his other regulars, Joey was fanatical when it came to confession.
It has been almost ten years since Father O’Brien had heard Joey’s first confession, the day after Joey had stolen his first car at age fourteen. Over the years the crimes have gotten more serious and the confessions more frequent.
“Ya there, Padre?”
“Yes, I’m here. But, Joey, so soon? Please tell me you didn’t kill again after only two weeks.”
“It’s my job, Father,” said Joey. “I’m a contract killer now. I know killin’s a sin, but it’s my job.”
Father O’Brien sighed again. “Three Our Fathers and Three Hail Marys.”
“Thanks, I’m good to go. Ya do understand I’m just doin’ my job, though, right?”
“Yes, Joey, I’m just doing my job too. But maybe we could meet sometime for a few drinks and talk about how your work might be affecting your spiritual life.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea, Father. And you probably shouldn’t be callin’ me by my name. Even in here, right?”
“You’re right, Joey. You’re right.”
He had agreed with him easily enough, but there was something in his voice that told Joey Father O’Brien was distracted.
Both men now sat in silence, thinking their thoughts.
Joey was thinking that maybe seeing the same priest so often was being careless. In the profession he was in, Joey couldn’t afford to be careless. Also, he was having doubts about how much trust he should be putting in that whole Seal of the Confessional business.
He thought it might be better to go to a different priest for each confession from here on out. There were probably a hundred Catholic churches in and around the Bronx.
Going with his instincts, he pulled his pistol from its shoulder holster.
But then he paused, thinking again, the pistol resting on his lap. His next confession, confessing to a new priest that he had killed another priest in his own confessional, was going to be tough.
“I should probably keep my car close and the motor runnin’ for that one,” he thought to himself.
The church was empty so nobody heard the muffled shots from the silencer-equipped Glock.
Father O’Brien put his pistol back in the drawer under his confessional seat. He stepped around to Joey’s side of the confessional and looked in at him. Joey was slumped down, half on the seat and half on the floor, with a trickle of blood coming from his mouth.
“The assurance of the Seal of the Confessional has a shelf life with people like Joey,” said Father O’Brien to the empty church.
(for Gail Benson, Sydney Angle,
and Austin Webster)
These little soldiers of tender life,
these little soldiers of love,
they march to their own beat
and they march into our hearts,
armed with love and learning they march,
they charge uphill to the camp tents,
to fields and diamonds,
to the pool and to school,
into love’s open arms they charge,
their war cry joyous and laughing,
their main enemies colds and bad days,
they cry over their little wounds,
but we marvel at their courage,
they march with a joy we barely recall,
they give life their all, all they have to give,
yet some of them are cut down all too soon
in this incomprehensible battle of life and fate
I am man,
black and white and tan,
who feels the joy and the anguish
of being made in this life,
made of clay and water
and imbued with the soul
of an infinite universe,
a man who is moved by
mountains and seas and sunsets,
by suffering, by women and children,
and by the child still living within him
in a world that’s so hard to believe in;
a man who loves, laughs and cries,
who works the earth with his hands,
and who gives of himself
all that he can yet is never enough,
struggling without answers,
which gives him grief
as he stumbles, falls and rises,
then tries to right his ship;
a man who seeks justice for all,
yet who wrestles with dichotomy,
free and yet imprisoned,
black and white and tan,
in the rainbow crowd
I stand—I, Man!
The little cowpokes were waist deep in mud.
Carefully groomed manes were tangled with crud.
The golden, plastic trophies were returned to their boxes,
While dreams of blue ribbons were as elusive as foxes.
Squishy ponds formed on the horse arena.
The parking lot was a gasoline drenched marina.
Fleets of straw, horse dung, and cigarette butts
Flowed through the ever-lengthening tractor ruts.
We watched the gloomy loading of the horses
And sighed at this renewal of our water resources.
The ride home was life-threatening adventure,
Trucks and trailers battle road closures.
Why live in this nesting place of floods?
Because the morning fog flows in our blood.
I retreat to the woods because I must.
In isolation I confront my true self.
I am not afraid of darkness because it
Shields me from the glare of violence.
I have hunted men–dangerous thugs
Who prey on the weak and defenseless.
And, yes, I have at times become the brute
That I have been praised for crushing out.
Even heroes, when they bathe, stand naked.
In solitude I lose the self that others see
And become a shadow or maybe a ghost
Of the creature I always wanted to be.
If Horses Were Wishes
If horses were wishes
this house painter,
who rides ladders,
would ride with Jesse James
into Northfield, Minnesota
if it meant he could steal
life back into the bones
of seventeen souls
riding a Duck.
If wings were wishes
the angel, who wing walked
the Spirit of St. Louis
to wake up Lucky Lindy
so he could land in Paris,
would feather down
grave digger waves
on Missouri’s Table Rock Lake
so a fun, family friendly
Duck boat would not capsize
into a collective coffin.
If horses were wishes
survivors and mourners,
like Stan “The Man” Musial,
who would rescue the Cardinals
whenever they were going down
for the third time, would ride
the wild horse storm to a walk
and that Black Swan of a Duck
was parked on shore where flowers
and candles now flood lakeside parking.
If ladders were wishes,
this house painter,
whose eyes swim the sky
for rain clouds, would extend
his longest extension ladder
up and up and up and up
until he could touch up the face
of The Man in the Moon
if that’s what it would take
to paint back to life
in Table Rock Lake.
An Emperor’s Midsummer Night’s Scheme
On a midsummer night in Duluth,
after Emperor Narcissus plods
onto his campaign stage
and hums “Hail to the Chief”
with his pitiless, petulant,
misogyny-extoling, sold out AMSOIL Arena crowd,
he muses to himself about Lake Superior,
how he don’t like the sight of so much fresh,
clean water because EPA regulations,
most people are saying,
cost thousands of jobs.
Before he teleprompter shares,
in single syllable slices,
his boiler plate baloney,
left over from a raucous rally in . . . Moscow,
Missouri, his party’s local politicos pander
for his support and his supporters’ votes.
As loud as a salt water ship’s horn in a foggy harbor,
recycled rally chants blast, “Lock her up! Lock her Up!”
and “Keep our empire right! Make Narcissus emperor for life!”
As his Cirque du Deceit roadshow returns to Rome,
the emperor stares and stares and stares at his reflection
in Lake Superior’s waves.
Zenith City’s puerile plebs,
like Iron Range pawns,
go to bed with visions of jobs!
jobs! jobs! dancing in their heads.
In the disconsolate dusk
Duluth’s Lift Bridge
drops down and cries.
(William Tecku’s website: http://www.roadreflections.com)