Anne Sexton

A long time ago a professor who used to write poetry on the side told me he had met Anne Sexton after a reading, and asked her how she wrote a particular poem, and "All she did was hold up her wrists for me to see with the scars on them from her suicide attempts". He seemed to think it was an example of her extreme nature, and I used to think it was a lesson in the difference between an academic and a poet, and now I think she could have lived longer and loved her daughters more with the improved medications for depression, and there really isn't much connection between madness and art, except as predispositions that live next door to each other like alcoholism and diabetes-- and I don't know what I think any more about what else her answer might mean to the creative life. Truman Capote says when God gives you a talent, he also gives you a whip (if you want to get any work done), and call it romanticizing if you will, but I've noticed a lot us walk with a limp like Jacob after he wrestled with the angel, and God gave him such a smack, he never would forget it, and maybe that's what the marks on her wrists were.
This is the poem by Anne Sexton that knows my secret heart, the way Jeremiah talks about being know before he was formed in the womb, the way Isak Dinesen's ravaged smile and her story "The Cabin-Boy's Tale" kept me alive one night, the way Job and Isaiah reassure me that God belongs to the small dark forgotten things as well, that "the beasts of the field shall honor me, the dragons and the owls-- because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert."

A story, a story!
(Let it go. Let it come.)
I was stamped out like a Plymouth fender
into this world.
First came the crib
with its glacial bars.
Then dolls
and the devotion to their plactic mouths.
Then there was school,
the little straight rows of chairs,
blotting my name over and over,
but undersea all the time,
a stranger whose elbows wouldn't work.
Then there was life
with its cruel houses
and people who seldom touched-
though touch is all-
but I grew,
like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,
and then there were many strange apparitions,
the nagging rain, the sun turning into poison
and all of that, saws working through my heart,
but I grew, I grew,
and God was there like an island I had not rowed to,
still ignorant of Him, my arms, and my legs worked,
and I grew, I grew,
I wore rubies and bought tomatoes
and now, in my middle age,
about nineteen in the head I'd say,
I am rowing, I am rowing
though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
and the sea blinks and rolls
like a worried eyebal,
but I am rowing, I am rowing,
though the wind pushes me back
and I know that that island will not be perfect,
it will have the flaws of life,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat inside me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.
God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.

As the African says:
This is my tale which I have told,
if it be sweet, if it be not sweet,
take somewhere else and let some return to me.
This story ends with me still rowing.

-- Anne Sexton

Peter Gabriel worked some of this into his song about Anne, Mercy Street. The reason I like Anne Sexton better than Plath (or Lowell, for that matter) is that she reminds me of that poorly drawn but heartfelf cartoon where the bird of prey is bearing down upon the little mouse, and the mouse is giving it the finger.

The Captive Princess

[Rapunzel] "begins with two intense cravings: that of a pregnant woman for a plant that grows in a garden next door, and that of a witch for a girl child..."
-- essay by Alison Lurie on the archetypes running around in the fairy tale at The New York Review of Books

Commonplace Book: CURRENT READING

"I think the pace of life is pretty fast-- and art and food and clothing and cars are all disposable and I think it manifests a type of fear of beauty and of emotional intimacy."
--K.D. Lang

“"McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles* from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they (the missiles) get to the ground? He doesn't know.”
 Sen. Jay Rockefeller

[* They didn’t have laser-guided missiles when McCain was dropping bombs; leave it to a registered Democrat to obscure a valid moral point by screwing up a detail for the opposition to focus on. Shades of Dan Rather’s last case! ]

“What an outrage! [Obama’s comment that Pennsylvanians are “bitter”. ] Next thing you know, Obama is going to tell us that poor inner city blacks are black, poor and live in inner cities - or that outsourcing jobs to India is leading to the outsourcing of jobs to India.”
-- comment on Wonkette by Johnny Zhivago’s Cat
The Belgrade home of Radivoje Lajic has been hit by meteorites five times since last November.
"I am obviously being targeted by extraterrestrials. I don't know what I have done to annoy them but there is no other explanation that makes sense. The chance of being hit by a meteorite is so small that getting hit five times has to be deliberate." The first meteorite fell on his house in November last year and since then a further four have smashed into his home. ..."I did not know what the strange-looking stones were at first but I have since had them all confirmed as meteorites by experts at Belgrade University.


The United Nations also conducted a worldwide survey:
"Would you please give your opinion about solutions to the
food shortage in the rest of the world?"
The survey was a huge failure:
In Latin America, they didn't know what “please” meant ...
In China, they didn't know what “opinion” meant ...
In the Middle East, they didn't know what “solution” meant ...
In Europe, they didn't know what “shortage” meant ...
In Africa, they didn't know what “food” meant ...
In the United States, they didn't know what the "rest of the world" meant...
-- posted by “Darehead” to Wonkette comments

“McCain's emergency appeal to boys who are more afraid of losing than anything else in the world speaks to every clown who ever got in a fist fight at a slow-pitch softball game. The United States has already lost a lot more than a war it never should have started in the first place. Thanks to America's growing police state, we have lost our civil liberties. Thanks to America's practices of torture, illegal detention and extraordinary rendition, America has lost whatever good name it had in the world. Thanks to America's two-term fascist moron president, America has become an international punch-line. Thanks to the low, low prices of politicians, the American government has become a subsidiary of heartless, bloodless corporate scum. And thanks to that, the American military has become Hessians in service of that scum. Under the phony cover of "globalization" America's economic backbone has been filleted and shipped in sharp shards for use in impaling peasant populi around the world. This country is broke, its infrastructure is busted and its health in the exact same condition as the ethics of the insurance and pharmaceutical racketeers who value profiteering more than life. Why exactly should I give a shit WHEN we officially lose a war that was a lost cause the second it became a viable option?
-- Barry Crimmens
“There are many, many Christians who practice Buddhism and they become better and better Christians all the time.”

--Thich Nhat Hahn

“In 1961, a young African-American man, after hearing President John F. Kennedy's challenge to, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’ gave up his student deferment, left college in Virginia and voluntarily joined the Marines. In 1963, this man, having completed his two years of service in the Marines, volunteered again to become a Navy corpsman. (They provide medical assistance to the Marines as well as to Navy personnel.)
The man did so well in corpsman school that he was the valedictorian and became a cardiopulmonary technician. Not surprisingly, he was assigned to the Navy's premier medical facility, Bethesda Naval Hospital, as a member of the commander in chief's medical team, and helped care for President Lyndon B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery. For his service on the team, which he left in 1967, the White House awarded him three letters of commendation. What is even more remarkable is that this man entered the Marines and Navy not many years after the two branches began to become integrated.
While this young man was serving six years on active duty, Vice President Dick Cheney, who was born the same year as the Marine/sailor, received five deferments, four for being an undergraduate and graduate student and one for being a prospective father. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, both five years younger than the African-American youth, used their student deferments to stay in college until 1968. Both then avoided going on active duty through family connections...
After leaving the service of his country, the young African-American finished his final year of college, entered the seminary, was ordained as a minister, and eventually became pastor of a large church in one of America's biggest cities. This man is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, who has been in the news for comments he made over the last three decades.”
-- Lawrence Korb

"A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon! Words fail me, gentlemen."
-- from The Abominable Dr. Phibes, starring Vincent Price

Roll Over, Clovis, or: Kilroy Was Here, Used the Facilities, Nobody Go In There for a While

For a long time (by my standards, not the Earth's) the Folsom point was the oldest evidence of human arrival in America, so rare they're expertly forged by flintknappers and sold as genuine. Then the Clovis culture with their fluted points (sounds un-American, downright effete) pushed the calendar back even farther. Oh, there are 15,000 year-old settlements in Chile, 14,000 year-old butcher's marks on mammoth bones in Wisconsin, 18,000 year old artifacts in Pennsylvania-- but there's always the danger that artifacts can be "seeded" on an archeological site (see Tony Hillerman's mystery novel, Dance Hall of the Dead.)

Now archeologists have irrefutable proof that human beings strode the American continent at least 1,000 years before Clovis: a fossilzed turd.

The coprolites from Paisley Caves in Oregon date at 12,500 BCE. The traces of DNA concealed therein are related to Native Americans and come originally from East Asia. It might be my years of working in a hospital, or hanging out too much with a gastro-enterologist, but I find it funny that our arrival on any landscape-- cue the Hollywood backlighting and inspirational music-- would be marked not by a pyramid or a handprint but by our most humbling shared experience. Now that's a closing shot that might have saved Zardoz.

The Rabbit's Prayer: But First They Have to Catch You

It used to be respectable to learn from Nature, although that has fallen out of vogue-- deer stupidly refuse to adapt to motor vehicles, and fur, fish and fowl alike have shown themselves pathetically unable to fit in with a system dominated by asphalt, Dick Cheney and Monsanto. Adopt the wisdom of the animals? The Native Americans' embrace of casinos filled with clouds of blue tobacco smoke only shows that they've finally wised up and joined the party. If the polar bear didn't want to become extinct, he would would have planned for the future like the rest of us. And if military planners succeed in their quest for the robot soldier (127 billion being spent on something called the Future Combat Project), it'll be our turn to learn what it's like to be a raccoon in the headlight.

And yet, and yet... the book of Nature, when it's not paved over but read with care, contains undiscovered cures for cancer (oops, that plant just went extinct, sorry) and biological marvels of technology beyond human ken. If humans could make an elevator cable with the strength of a spider web, we would ride elevators into space instead of explosive rockets. The unassuming kangaroo can put a fertlized embryo into stasis for years at a time before it is born, effectively suspended animation. Jim Harrison learned a principle of Zen from watching his cat: "When a cat doesn't know what to do, it sits down."

The motto beneath this picture is the rabbit's prayer from Richard Adams Watership Down. Like most gifts granted to mythic heroes, it contains both a boon and a curse. The rabbit hero El-ahrairah was the last to receive a blessing from God in Adams' lapine mythology, and with a sauce familiar to owners of house rabbits, the trickster told God he could just bless his rear end, and so in a dangerous world where everyone else has the weapons and the money and the lawyers and the bulldozers, the rabbit-- "prince with a thousand enemies"-- was given the means of escape.

This is a world of killer apes, unspeakably cruel to the small things of this world. The voice of a woman named Zawadi Mongane is on the BBC testifying about unspeakable atrocities. Her children were killed; she was forced to hang her own baby. She lives in absolute poverty now because of the stigma attached to rape victims in the Congo. She stays alive because one daughter had been overlooked and still needed her. This is a world that makes good people live like weeds in the cracks of a sidewalk.

I think of Franklin Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms", a clear definition the difference between the Western democracies and fascism. "Freedom from Fear" was one of the planks. Norman Rockwell made a picture: two small children lie asleep while their parents hold a newspaper filled with war news. No one is going to be raped or murdered or left behind. It was our credo, once, for about five minutes back in the Forties. It was a Tuesday. It ought to be our credo now, recited like the Pledge of Allegiance, but now we are an empire, and we only "rescue" people and "give the gift of democracy" if they're sitting on an oil reserve. The worst thing about a world of monsters and lawyers is that they force the rest of humanity to become lawyers and monsters just like them. The Cherokee, as I recall, tried adopting suits and ties and farms and churches and newpapers, they even tried the Supreme Court, and it didn't do them a damn bit of good against a man like Andrew Jackson.

Never mind the Hollywood Indian talking about Brother Bear and Sister Mountain Lion and busy Brother Beaver. There's not much they can do against a court order or an AK-47. What should I learn from watching my little rabbit brothers and sisters? When Sophie our house rabbit went into the dark, she went kicking, angry and grunting at her illness when it wouldn't let her stand up straight, but still kissing and nuzzling my hands to the last. She never was sad a moment in her life. All the races in her cosseted life had been for fun, mock assaults on our startled cats, ear shaking laughter when she outwitted an imaginary foe. Now she was running from death, and she saw no reason to drop her insousciance because she was going to lose this one. Pluck.

The robot soldiers are coming, papered with writs drafted by lawyers like Douglas Feith, and no one you know is going to own one. If the storm clouds break over your house, God grant you strong legs and daring.

(Rabbit print by Zanfandel, available at DeviantArt, which if you've never been there before, is the widest ranging online gallery for amateurs and professionals alike.)

"It Is Fear, Little Brother, It Is Fear!"

Following McCain's justification for our never-ending presence in Iraq, we have Douglas Feith, one of the architects of the invasion, on the Diane Rehm show (listen here ) defending himself against a charge of being either a mass murderer or "the dumbest fucking guy on the planet", maybe both.

Interestingly, Feith's father was a Polish Holocaust survivor, which ought to have made his son sensitive to the wreckage bad government can visit on frail human bodies, but instead it seems to have turned him into an appeasement-is-for-sissies kind of guy: " Chamberlain wasn’t popular in my house". He accuses his opponents of foolishly "trusting" tyrants and bullies, a willful misinterpretation of those who lobby for peace instead of war. Feith never quite grasps the fact that for all his willingness to fight, it's someone else who will have to travel to a foreign land and actually be shot at by unfriendly strangers.

Now he and the rest of the rats are writing their books and swarming the talk shows to explain how very afraid, afraid, AFRAID they were of Saddam Hussein in 2003. "We invaded Iraq because we were afraid they'd attack us. He was shooting at our flyovers! He had aluminum tubes! What if there'd been smallpox?!

How about this explanation, instead: "My boss is a dry drunk, we're all a bunch of hysterics, we whipped each other up into a frenzy and the next thing we knew, we'd gone through billions of dollars and thousands of of people lay dead." Feith's is the the kind of defense we might expect in a trailer park shooting, as he tries to convince the jury that the reckless use of firearms was inspired not by actual danger, but by fear.

Who then is a greater threat to those we love? Dark-browed villains in foreign lands, or bland monsters like Douglas Feith, who start wars they can't finish? And how shall we defend ourselves from our rulers' good intentions?

McCain and His Wars: Just Tell Us the Part Where You're a Hero

A bit of truth slipped out of the mouth of Senator Jay Rockefeller, for which he immediately apologized. "McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet," he said. "He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they get to the ground? He doesn't know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues." There were cries of foul from the schoolyard. It isn't sporting; it isn't done, to bring up what John McCain was doing in the skies above Vietnam when those nasty torturing "gooks" caught and schooled him in sadism at close range.

There are topics in every culture that cannot be discussed, like a sore tooth that we learn to avoid. Evidently it is now taboo to suggest that acts of war are immoral. We are all supposed to pretend that all American soldiers in every war are either just trying to do their job, answering their "call to service", or hapless dupes in the thrall of wicked politicians, with no moral responsibility of their own.

A senator isn't allowed to talk that way, so I'll say it. I have no trouble with killing someone; this is where Gandhi and I part ways. I can imagine situations in which it may be necessary, even commendable. I do have a problem with signing my conscience over to someone else for the duration. It is moral abdication of the worst sort to let someone else tell you who must live and who must die. There is no guarantee that the person making those decisions will be another Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt, or someone as silly as G.W. Bush-- or a war lover like McCain's Teddy Roosevelt, who came to the peace table only after the death of his gentle son Kermit. I am offended by the naivety of anyone who signs up for a war, discovers too late what General Sherman tried to tell them, and then comes back with their feelings hurt, their comrades dead and their balls blown off. (A tear welled up in the President's eye last week as he granted the Medal of Honor to a dead Navy Seal who threw his own body onto a grenade to save his comrades. What did the President think would happen in war? Oh, right, bad things happen to other people. The grieving family should have slapped his face.)

In today's America one cannot say "the war in Iraq was a stupid idea" without adding the qualifier, "but we DID remove Saddam and Uday Hussein and the threat of their nut sack shocker. Saddam Hussein was a BAD man." It's like the invocation in a religious ceremony. Our taboo, the thing that cannot be said in polite society is that we have killed thousands of bystanders in the process of removing a couple of Stalin wannabes. Oops.

Apparently the only part of John McCain's war service open for discussion is the suffering he endured as a torture victim and prisoner of war from October of 1967 to March of 1973. What cannot be discussed-- on television, anyway-- is what he was doing when he was captured by the Vietnamese. He was flying his 23rd combat mission over Vietnam. Not his first, not his second, his twenty-third. The photo, from the Library of Congress , shows McCain being captured by civilians in Truc Bach Lake near Hanoi. What kind of reception was expected on the ground? Oh, right, Geneva Convention, unqualified condemnation of torture... Do we lack the imagination to wonder what it was like to be a non-combatant underneath his silver wings? If John McCain must have "war hero" added to his name, let it be with an asterisk.

I have a tendency to see suffering as redemptive. This might have made John McCain a better, broader-minded man, who came to realize that his war was of a different nature than the anti-imperialist wars his father and grandfather fought. Alas, McCain is preoccupied with not losing the misbegotten war in Iraq to the detriment of all else, and he insists that we join him.

"Make it a hundred." -- John McCain

Little Orphan Annie by Harold Gray, 1942

Petroleum Pity Party

Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips are going to receive $18 billion dollars' worth of tax breaks over the next ten years, in spite of $123 billion dollars in profit and poor people spending 10 percent of their income on gas because American corporations have sabotaged every attempt to create European style mass transit in this country.

In 1886 the Supreme Court unwittingly created a pantheon of living gods on Earth by granting corporations the same rights given to individuals. In a dispute between Santa Clara County and the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Court defined corporations as "persons", that according to the 14th Amendment (intended to protect freed slaves), "no state shall deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law", and that California could not tax corporations differently than individuals.

A corporation can effectively become an immortal being of immense power by replacing worn out personnel and acolytes, and if need be, by moving across the street and changing its name, as gods themselves are wont to do. Modern life has thus become a competition between unconnected individuals and the thousands who have allied themselves with some corporate master. This puts a free man in the unenviable position of a journeyman carpenter trying to compete with the team building a pyramid.

To join a corporation, to consider its mission statement your holy writ, requires the corporate believer to hold fast to certain professions of faith. The Senior Vice President of Exxon Mobil, Stephen Simon, tells us that the oil companies deserve the tax break because "imposing punitive taxes on American companies will discourage the investments needed to safeguard our energy security." Shell's Hofmeister has the gall to blame the Interior Department. "The U.S. government restricts supply to American consumers," and Peter Robertson, vice chairman of Chevron, chimes in that the Congress should "open up the 95 percent of the outer continental shelf that's off limits" to drilling. Poor babies; Exxon only made $40 billion dollars last year, and only 9 percent of that was profit margin.

Remember when we used to smile at Grandfather Heinlein's science fiction prophecy that nation states would be replaced by corporations?