Oceans

It’s that time again to publish a poem of mine.  This poem comes from the inaugural Spring 2014 issue of Isthmus, a literary review.  This may just be my biased opinion, but I think the issue is excellent, with strong poetry and prose.  You can purchase the journal HERE.

Oceans

I get out of bed this morning to find oceans
falling outside, tiny ones, smaller than my pinky nail
but still containing all the world
inside them, or so they say.
In this weather, I keep putting things together
and sending them off, typed and binder-clipped,
and all I can hope is that they get where they’re going
before they all fall apart again
and I disappear from the pages.
Today, though, I’m sending nothing into the world,
not even myself.
I won’t venture out beneath the water
shooting down like a tiny tragic Daedalus
a million times over.  Today,
I’ll stay inside and make my apartment a mirror
of all that water: open the windows
and invite the rain in and pour a thousand cups of tea.
Drink up, I’ll tell the rain,
it’s only getting colder out there.
I’ll draw a bath a leave the faucet on
until the water’s sliding across the floor
and soaking into the carpet, and when I’ve drenched
the whole place and have my own little sea,
I’ll lie face-up in the waves
between the couch and the TV and drift for a while,
bobbing in the ocean I’ve made.  I’ll hold onto my books,
floating like buoys, and realize they’ve always been my buoys,
in this ocean and all the other ones, too.

 

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Tony Hoagland – From This Height

From This Height

BY TONY HOAGLAND

Cold wind comes out of the white hills
and rubs itself against the walls of the condominium
with an esophogeal vowel sound,
and a loneliness creeps
into the conversation by the hot tub.
We don’t deserve pleasure
just as we don’t deserve pain,
but it’s pure sorcery the way the feathers of warm mist
keep rising from the surface of the water
to wrap themselves around a sculpted
clavicle or wrist.
It’s not just that we are on
the eighth story of the world
looking out through glass and steel
with a clarity of vision
in which imported coffee and
a knowledge of French painting
                                              are combined,
but that we are atop a pyramid
of all the facts that make this possible:
the furnace that heats the water,
the truck that hauled the fuel,
the artery of highway
blasted through the mountains,
the heart attack of the previous owner,
the history of Western medicine
that failed to save him,
the successful development of tourism,
the snow white lotions that counteract the chemistry
of chlorine upon skin—our skin.
Down inside history’s body,
the slaves are still singing in the dark;
the roads continue to be built;
the wind blows and the building grips itself
in anticipation of the next strong gust.
So an enormous act of forgetting is required
simply to kiss someone
or to open your mouth
for the fork of high-calorie paté
someone is raising to your lips,
which, considering the price,
it would be a sin
not to enjoy.

Tony Hoagland, “From This Height” from Donkey Gospel. Copyright © 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, St. Paul, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.

Source: Donkey Gospel (1998) 

 

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The Cost of “Safety” in DC, the Fate of Mark Witaschek

In an ending to a long and arduous trial, Mark Witaschek was found guilty of the “‘attempted possession of unlawful ammunition’ for antique replica muzzleloader bullets.”

Witaschek was taken to trial, and has been in the process of that trial, for 2 years, accused of possessing a single shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets.  It is illegal in DC to possess ammunition with a registration certificate, and a citizen may not possess ammunition for any firearm he/she does not possess the certification for.

From the Washington Times:

The D.C. government is treating the case of a businessman possessing ammunition without a gun like the great murder trial of 2014.

The city has spent almost two years and countless resources prosecuting Mark Witaschek for having a single shotgun shell and muzzleloader bullets. His trial, which began in November, hit an all-time low for absurdity Wednesday.

Mr. Witaschek took the stand in his own defense at D.C. Superior Court to explain why he was not guilty of possession of unregistered ammunition. It is illegal in the nation’s capital to possess ammunition unless you have a registered firearm. The maximum penalty is a $1,000 fine and one year in jail.

Defense attorney Howard X. McEachern asked his client to explain how he came to have a shotgun shell on his desk at his home in Georgetown. Mr. Witaschek explained that he kept the shotgun shell as a “souvenir” from a hunting trip in southern Virginia with friends in 2006.

Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/mar/26/miller-exclusive-mark-witaschek-takes-the-stand-in/?page=1#ixzz2xBTqCw9m

 

Upon reading several articles on the case, it becomes increasingly clear just how ridiculous the whole thing is.  This man, who has a clean record, is facing serious charges for one apparently inoperable shotgun shell and a small amount of muzzleloader sabots, which cannot be fired from a weapon on their own.  For those unfamiliar with black powder shooting, there are 3 main components needed to fire a muzzleloader firearm: the powder, the projectile (round ball or sabot), and a primer.  Without any one of these components, the firearm is a paper-weight.

The lead projectiles above still require powder to propel them and a primer to set off that powder.  This is what Witaschek had in his home that lawyers determined is “ammunition.”  For contrast, what we typically think of as “ammunition” is modern self-contained ammunition like the ones below.

An equivalent would be accusing someone of possessing cake (if cake were illegal, that is), for possessing a box of cake mix.  The fact that the mix will never become cake without egg, water, etc. notwithstanding.

Reflecting on Mr. Witaschek’s trial, one can’t help but consider the extreme nature of DC’s gun control laws.  That this otherwise law-abiding citizen would be charged for possessing a dead shotgun shell and one component of blackpowder ammunition is nothing less than astounding.  It begs the question of the purpose of such laws.  After all, DC still has one of the highest crime rates in the nation.

Are DC citizens really safer for Witaschek not having a dud of a shotgun shell kept as a momento from a hunting trip in another state?  What about his not having one part of ammunition for traditional hunting and marksmanship?

The price DC citizens have paid for safety is immense, and it’s safe to say they’ve been ripped off. DC’s crime rate remains far above the national average despite the severe limiting of their freedom.

The moral of Witaschek’s unfortunate story is that we, as citizens, must be aware of all threats, both criminals and government.  Ultimately, coercion is coercion, regardless of whether it’s coming from a knife-wielding thief or a AR-15-wielding police officer knocking on your door.

So, was Witaschek rightly accused?  What say you?

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Alan Watts – Your are the Eternal Universe

I hope this finds you well.  I have been inundated with work, but I’m doing my best to avoid being swallowed.

This brief talk from Alan Watts is a beautiful kind of moving, throbbing zazen.  Enjoy.

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The Helio Sequence – Shed Your Love

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Raise the Minimum Wage

Should we raise the minimum wage?  Things are more complicated than they may at first appear, but the short answer is YES.

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Stop Using “Gay” as a Derogatory Term

I recently had the unpleasant experience of being reminded that some adults still use the term “gay” as a derogatory term.  It can be easy to dismiss this kind of usage as simply ignorant or perhaps a reflection of immaturity, but it should not be so easily passed over.  The use of “gay” as a derogatory term, as an insult, is far more powerful than it might initially appear.

The reason the use of “gay” as a derogatory term is such a problem (beyond its surface- level insensitivity, that is) is that language has an interesting way of informing reality.  Some would argue, and I believe their is strong reason to support this argument, that language effectively creates reality.  This idea is not new, of course, if you’ve studied any manner of poststructuralist theory, but in many ways, it’s still working its way into the general consciousness outside academia.

Without getting too theoretical or abstract, we use language to communicate with others (and with ourselves, to some degree) about the world around and within us.  The way we talk about the world has a substantial impact on the way we view and understand that world, and also the way others view and understand that world.

This can be seen clearly by studying languages separated greatly by geography.  Let us look, for instance, at English and Japanese.  Both languages are used by powerful globalized nations, but both come from very different cultures and contain vastly different worldviews.  English, especially American English, is pervaded by a deep sense of individualism and a valuing of the unique.  We see it in everything.  It’s good to stand out; it’s bad to be “just another face in the crowd.”  “Last man standing,” and “look out for number one” are a couple examples of the individualist philosophy that so strongly informs our language use, and therefore, our cultural point of view.

Japan on the other hand, tends to have a more collective sensibility exhibited in its language, a trending towards conformity, rather than uniqueness.  出る杭は打たれる。 (Deru kui wa utareru), literally translates as “the stake that sticks out gets hammered down.”  Here, conformity is clearly valued over individualism and uniqueness.  These differences are even more interesting because of the great amount of values that both American culture and Japanese culture share, like hard work and perseverance, for example.

These are clearly generalizations, but the point is this: cultural reality does not only inform language, but the language informs reality.  So the language we use not only informs the way we view the world, but the way others do as well.  Each and every time the word “gay” is used as a derogatory term, it sends the subtle message that homosexuality or queerness in general is to be despised.  After a time, this subtle message becomes less subtle.  The small reflection of homophobic discomfort morphs into downright hatred.  It doesn’t take long until comments are made like the one made by Russian TV star Ivan Okhlobystin.  About queer people, he said he would “burn them all alive in ovens.”

 I do not think that all 16-year-old boys who call their friends “gay” as a joking insult support queer genocide, but I do think their usage of the word works to create a worldview that includes a hatred of queerness, and for that reason, it’s quite dangerous.

In this country, we have freedom of speech, and it’s one of the most important qualities in a free society, but with that freedom comes the responsibility of using language mindfully to cultivate the kind of world we want to live in.  So, stop using “gay” as a derogatory term.  You’re saying and doing a lot more than you realize.  Not only are you revealing your own homophobia, but you’re working towards creating your world.  What kind of world will your language create?

 

 

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