Propagandist

I’ve taken it upon myself
to educate mankind.
I’ve studied much psychology,
much science of the mind.
My stamina’s uncanny;
my resolve is absolute:
I’m speaking for the underdogs
who’d otherwise be mute!
I do their thinking for them—
that’s what I was trained to do.
You wonder who I am?
I am not Red.
I am not Blue.
I’m someone using power
to make fake promises to you.

*
Inspired by: Propaganda by Jaques Ellul
Image: Joseph Goebbels

Train Men


Daniel Celentano, 1935

traveling unnoticed & unknown
traveling together but alone
the cargo of this train’s the pain
of men who’ve sacrificed in vain

If you are creative

If you are creative
you’re never alone:
your drive to create has
a mind of its own.

You’re bound to its service
& soon you learn well:
you put it to work
or it makes your life hell.

*
Image: Salvador Dali

Charisma

She graces who she pleases,
unattached to looks or wealth;
she’s powerful in poverty
& faithful through poor health;
she’s drawn to freaks & outsiders,
but princes have her, too;
she’s blatantly bisexual
& favors no skin’s hue;
she has no code of conduct
or unbreakable taboo
except this: she demands the most of both
her host & you.

Taboo

I think the purpose of taboo
is sort of as a last resort:
When people cut
their love lives short—
when isolation walls us off—
then, like a lung-awaking cough,
taboos
are
broken
&
people
open
up to the nakedest of things—
love, which is why the caged bird sings.

*

image: Shatner & Nichols, 1968

poem for Socrates


Jacques-Louis David, 1787

If words transcended time I’d say
thanks, Socrates, for to my day
you set a golden standard & example,
stand in sanity when truth is trampled,
immortalize humor,
lead leaders to love being wise
& remind me there are always times to fly by
the seat of your conscience.

poem for Jordan Peterson

Only after your time will Time decide
how well you’ve served our species as a guide,
but, since a leader’s life’s the life you lead,
here’s how I hope (& think) we both agree:

1
A good teacher won’t preach what he thinks;
instead, he shows the thirsty where he drinks.

2
The more he grows, the less he thinks he knows.

3
Friends are those who keep him on his toes.

4
Blazing no new trail from which to stray,
at best, he sheds some light that lights the way.

5
Finally (to not drag out this poem)
he understands this story as his own:

A wisdom-seeker lived inside a cave
for many moons. He neither spoke nor shaved,
but scribbled nonstop nonsense on the walls
until, clearly enlightened, out he crawled.

The only drawing left, of all he’d done,
was one big disk—a circle, like a sun.

Many disciples followed in his wake,
except they kept on making this mistake:
they drew circles, just like his, everywhere,
never discovering how his got there.

poem for Ayn Rand

When Reason, man’s most perfect power,
is exiled from the Ivory Tower,
you stand outside as fearless proof
of its unconquerable truth.

While institutionalized minds
grow coddled, sheltered & unwise,
you teach bright people to be free
& draw their strength from liberty.

You set the tone, you set the stage
for freethinkers of every age:
You brought, with your life’s burning blaze,
the truth to light, where now it stays.

Advice for readers

Vacations taking nothing but your mind
exist in inexhaustible supply,
so never settle. Keep your standards high.
Great writing moves you fast ahead, and far;
Bad drags you back, or leaves you where you are.

Great writers help their readers come away
equipped not just for tasks, but for the day:
Aware that facts can fail when given straight,
they aim to bring you face to face with fate,
with conscience, with desire, with suffering—
the greatest writers don’t communicate
so much as they illumine the innate.

So, don’t eat food for thought that’s bland or dry
or feed cheap candy into your mind’s eye:
Demand that we, your writers, satisfy.

the way we’re headed (re: social media)

All anyone wants to do is
sit around with friends,
laughing & philosophizing
till the wide world ends.

We know social media is
getting in the way,
but it feels like up
and leaving it is not okay.

They will make excuses for us
when we’re dead and gone, like:
“How could they know better?
Networking was at its dawn!”

Still, we won’t be blameless
in hindsight or history;
we’ll be famous for our shameless,
strangely painless misery.

One thing Twitter can’t do is
acquaint you with your grave.
All of us will meet there, friends,
and no one will be saved.

4 questions

How can something as dainty as a rhyme
stretch to accommodate a paradigm?

How could stone slabs, slowly inscribed by hand,
carry the weight of 10 divine commands?

How did the founding fathers—all mere men—
give birth to a nation with a pen?

How do hearts split apart by loneliness
let themselves be opened up again?

Playtime

Want a useful thought? Here’s one:
play is good for more than fun.

Through play, even wild wolves explore
in peace their readiness for war,
& language (“give a thing a name”)
is mankind’s first recorded game.

The rest is simple to derive:
we work hard & play hard to thrive.

The most advanced tribes ever known
used playing as a shared backbone
as they passed down, against all odds,
their richly painted masks of gods.

Invention (i.e. “make cool tools”)
is simply play with self-made rules.

We use play to grow, learn, create,
communicate & propagate—
plus (Shakespeare said it) play’s the thing
to catch the conscience of the King.

*
See also: Homo Ludens by Johan Huizinga

the typewriter

one of each color
one of each stripe
all stories i write
i rewrite for all types!

some like em funny
some like em sad
some like em crummy
some like em bad.
whoever you are, your opinion’s embraced.
i guarantee something is typed to your taste!

one for each pipe-dream
one for each gripe
one for each inseam
& every blood type
if you like ice cream
or if you like tripe
there’s nothing on earth
this typewriter can’t type!

there’s only one limit:
there’s no going back.
so if you don’t like what you see
(CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!)
i have no “delete” key.
cut me some slack.

like father, like son

like father, like son, you’re destined to see
insight blunted by blind scrutiny
& innocence deformed by violent hate
& beauty overwhelmed by spectacle
& conscience crying out against its fate
& Mary ridiculed by Jezebel
& straightforward direction made obscure
& power-hunger crippling strength, & pure
& simple truth labeled stupidity:
like father, like son, you endure all these
& so do i, by knowing you love me.

(a study of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 66)

Brainwashers

Brainwashers in the churches,
brainwashers in the schools,
making worship into mockery
& students into fools;
brainwashers in the Bible Belt,
brainwashers on the coasts;
brainwashers taking dollars,
brainwashers taking votes—
you’re all the same, brainwashers!
you think you’re slick & sly,
but I can see right through your grand
disguises to your lies
& I see how you
falsify your sympathetic cries—
it’s not hard when your crying eyes
look like a crocodile’s!
you think you’re safe, established
& looked up to by the youth?

NEWSFLASH!
you stick out like sore thumbs above the
flat, plain truth,
& already, your time’s run out—
you’re only still around
because what goes up
comes down
& you’re speeding toward the ground

Marginal Revolution

for Tyler Cowen

Shortcuts to the spotlight
are the hallmark of our age—
why labor making thoughts bright
when outrage takes center stage?

Seldom can a centrist
(however strong his form)
cut through the division
that’s increasingly the norm.

Rarer still is one
who can sustain his measured stance
among any admirers he enchants.

You’re that unique exception
who does teach & inspire
without peddling deception
or preaching to the choir,
& though it wasn’t face to face,
you’ve taught me that I’m free
to make a better place
of Earth, like you—marginally.

labyrinth

Though close friends often know it before you,
no one can tell you what you’re born to do.
There is no Oracle who sees your fate.
there is no guarantee it’s not too late.
There are no pre-made maps to travel with;
there is only a vast stone labyrinth
whose pathways wind & wander to its heart,
& somehow through the walls, the center calls
you, & you know—you’ve always known—
there is a center, & you’re not alone.

The Crier (An Allegory About Social Media)

“Hear me, hear me!” all day long he cries,
soliciting thumbs-up from passerby
where the people are many & most of them cry
just as loud—why he tries
to be heard over the crowd is beyond me,
but there’s always somebody responding.

“Here’s my story!” he yells. “Nothing to hide!
I’ll play-by-play till the day I die
& tell you so much you’ll think it’s all lies,
but I’m really this shallow, believe me—
I live just so strangers can see me!”

“Well hollered, my friend!” another replies
at the top of his lungs from the herd’s other side.
“Isn’t it wonderful how, in our time,
we can all see each other, but never meet eyes?
We’re all the same now, whether sighted or blind!”

There’s no message here—how could there be one?
but if you want to look for one, for fun,
look around you & wonder, right here, on the fly,
where would you turn if you needed to cry?

Platonic

There is a cave where people are enslaved
with manacles around their necks & ankles
& made to sit silent & well-behaved
beholding shadows cast from many angles.
Eventually, one prisoner gets free
& sees (in horror!) the machinery
that’s been projecting his experience.
He knows this is his disappearing chance
& climbs out of the pit, gasping for breath,
where, right away, his eyes scream in the sun;
in spite of this, it now seems much like death
to live in that cave (or, at least, less fun).
Plus, in the cavern’s darkness, he looks blind,
so, laughing, the cavemen pay him no mind.

a definition of desire

Desire (n.)
a self-devouring snake,
its scaly tail convulsing in its fangs;
whatever satiety it feels is fake;
there’s not even a momentary break
as it ingests its own abdomen’s pangs

for emptiness alone fulfills Desire,
which eating itself eats you along the way.
what’s more to say?
you’re empty of, or else feeding, Desire;
if neither, you’re entirely a liar.

the ballad of Willie Lester

Willie Lester was a man
who toured in Afghanistan;
he left when he was barely 18.

on that day, his mother cried
with sunshine in her eyes;
her son looked better than she’d ever seen.

he was decorated some
for how well he used his gun,
but mostly for the lives he fought to save;

he showed valor in a time
when his brothers lost their minds;
he was smart & strong, fast on his feet & brave.

he left with a purple heart,
but that was just the start
of the fearless fighter’s suffering & pain;

he came home where he grew up
& frequently threw up
from the flashbacks of his buddies maimed & slain

surrounded by the sound of the screaming
battleground
at night he never knew if he was dreaming

but in public he was fine
as he laughed & drank & dined
telling war stories his mom could understand;

little did Ms. Lester know
death had dealt the fatal blow
long ago to this exceptional young man.

one day, Willie got all dressed,
hung his medals on his chest
& wrote a letter for
when he was dead:
ma, my head’s so full of war,
there’s nothing left from before,
so I have to put a bullet there instead
.

he pulled the trigger fast.

all his neighbors heard the blast
& stretched their rubber necks to see the sight
of the man whose violent pain
had pulverized his brain
till he was killed by his own will to fight.

The Receiver

There once was a quiet dystopian town
where the people amazingly found
one among them was born with an uncanny gift:
taking bad memories. He’d just lift
pain from your brain like it was never there,
each trace recollection erased.
How it worked: This ‘Receiver’ himself made space
for your suffering in his own mind,
so you stepped out smiling while he stayed behind
and wept in your place.

…but soon, as things go,
the Receiver could feel his soul-force getting slow
as he watched his dark beard turning silver —
so he passed all those memories from long ago
to a young man who called him the Giver.

*
Photo by Donald Teel on Unsplash

verse designed to convey

verse designed to convey understanding
will fail.
           stiff, shallow & opaque, like ice
on a lake, it restricts movement instead
of inviting swimming, boating & stone
skipping;
              rather than explaining, it drains
each sinking, suffocating idea
of all its warmth.
                         this is the difference
between force & power: words that disclose
thoughts already formed before come out forced;
poetry should be a discovery
(at least for the poet). that’s when it feels
like the words aren’t being written, but exhaled.
this comes to me slowly, with study & concentration,
& it all hinges on you, the inspiration.

Gethsemane

Cold blood beading like sweat on his brow,
he fell to his knees pleading, “Take my place,
God, if you have any power now,
& quench the bloodthirst ravaging my race!
After I’m killed, they’ll only kill again,
but maybe with your death, the killing ends.”

The Lord supported troublemakers then,
so before he felt the press of Judas’ lips,
that tortured young man was possessed by God

but even God didn’t quite know the price
of facing the shadow of death as Christ:
A man suffers only once & goes free,
but gods, once dying, die eternally.

So God cried, “Why have you forsaken me?”

Cheating Venus

the modest god of blacksmithing was husband to Venus,
which, in my opinion, means he wielded a fine penis;
but (being immortal) Venus craved variety,
so with the violent, forceful Mars came impropriety.

without missing a beat, the blacksmith took to his forge
& forged a silvery net where two gods could be stored
& laid it on the bed where his bride would be bred
against his will (having the skill to make his net invisible).

salaciously entwined, the lovers arrived, wild;
Mars threw Venus at the bed & flung both thighs aside—
then, the delicate trap wrapped & ensnared them in their shame,
& both gods, caught red-handed, found out they lost the game!

finally, complete with the victorious captor,
the trinity, immune to death, erupted in laughter.

Sun worship

in antiquity, the sun was said to be
a god (shaped like a man) who ran all day,
cooled his burning feet in the western sea
& came home with his rays docile & dim
to his beloved, waiting there for him.

he’d give her anything in his peerless power,
which is what turned their romance sour
when she made a simple, devastating wish:
“stand before me, Sun, in your true form.”

in horror, he begged, “anything but this—
i’m too strong, even at the break of dawn!”
but she wouldn’t hear it—so, he turned on.

what she saw must have been magnificent;
she was immolated in an instant.