They tried to order Time dawn to dusk,
Futile spreadsheets of manageable units,
Denying its nature to slow, to speed
To pause, to fly with thoughts, dreams,
Friends met, enemies loathed,
With pain and agony and anxiety,
With pleasure, gaiety,
With visions, prophecies, with
Feckless Fraud found out.
Ordered like railway ties
Clacking underneath our passing carriage
Carrying us toward the illusion,
Of rails merging beyond the horizon,
Combining before and after,
In front and behind our journey.
And We passalong the tracks, the self-same tracks
That transported circus animals to towns of laughing children,
And carried the Jews to the ovens
And passed in front of Einstein,
Standing on the platform,
And locked in our box cars through the slats we see
Tree limbs encased in ice, white
The beauty of the morning, breaking, falling,
The ache beyond our finger’s reach,
That we will never touch or hold,
Not for us to possess, to savor, to hoard.
Order beckons us away from the wide moment,
The joy of girls laughing,
The approval of a wife’s smile,
The grief of a widow,
Order leaves behind the town, back before crowds,
Bare feet skipping between the sticker burs,
Curbs free of cars up in the work day
Young boys delighted to run an errand,
The touch of smooth porcelain,
Birds chasing rabbits in the meadow
And the singing, singing, singing as we lament.
Sad, time will be there tomorrow, somewhere,
And was there, somewhere just yesterday
As we ride away, and disappear chasing the illusion
Of separate tracks merging beyond the hill.
And worst of all, unordered, Time quietly resolves,
Barely felt, it ends the longing, desire, ambition, hope,
the possibilities, When it ends, it ends
The dagger in the back of the Prince,
The speech of a President sending the nation to war,
A bullet in the chest of a Mother’s son,
The Preacher on Christ’s divinity, on God’s wrath, on God’s grace
The assassin’s bullet shattering the brain of his better, of our better,
The desperate search for a lost child,
Wandered off or taken?
Murdered by a Father or a Father’s mistress?
Getting lost in a picture of Micky Mantle
His halting, haunting, lumbering gait rounding the bases,
Country strong, country smile, innocent and lethal
Having a drink with his own nightmares,
A Father’s teaching,
A brother’s perfidy,
A sister’s betrayal,
A mother’s slap,
A daughter’s laugh, tickled, unrestrained,
A granddaughter’s tear, as life impinges on her innocence.
Our tear as she looks away from the horizon
Where the tracks maybe just might merge and stands shyly watching
The boy serving hamburgers and sodas at the counter.
Is poetry a public or private thing?
One’s love of country could be deliciously stirred by the magic of poetry:
“This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England . . .”
Historically western poetry concerned itself with very public matters. In verse we found Kingdoms and Kings, Gods and Fate, Destiny and Mysteries, and Mankind and his cities. Poetry strutted on the vast stage of great events from Ulysses to Oedipus the King, to Dante’s Divine Comedy to Shakespeare and the souls of his flawed Princes struggling in the midst of cruel happenstance.
But that all began to change last century. One wag said, “the poet has no more part in society than a monk in domestic life.”
That sentiment has become debilitating in the age of Political Correctness. Perhaps it is one reason why so much of modern American poetry is a desert of the inane, the mundane and the profane. Most modern poetry says nothing important that you cannot find canned on the cable T.V. channel of your choice. But does it have to be this way?
Could it have an impact on the public politics it once had?
Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982), an American poet who studied law at Harvard and dipped his toe in the political world, said, “The very last qualification for appointment to public office by and with the advice and consent of the Senate – and I am speaking with some personal knowledge – is, in the eyes of the senators, the practice of the art of verse.”
By contrast, Shakespeare’s most memorable characters included a Moor, a Jew, a conniving and murderous woman, a crippled man,
“I, that am curtailed of this fair proportion,
Cheated of feature by dissembling nature,
Deformed, unfinish’d, sent before my time
Into this breathing world, scarce half made up,
And that so lamely and unfashionable
That dogs bark at me as I halt by them.“
And, even more shockingly, he made fun of cross dressing, bestiality and shrewish women. One can just here the gasps!
Could a modern-day Shakespeare be expected to explore in verse his musings on the State of the State? Would his plays be boycotted, his poetry banned from the public-school system. (oops, I guess that has already been done at some colleges.)
When a man cannot become a judge because he is Catholic and member of a charitable organization as innocuous as the Knights of Columbus, when a comic is pilloried because in the past he did what comics do, make fun of groups of people, how can a poet, be expected to take a risk and hope to be published?
Poetry (and to a large extent Art) has been relegated to the private realm. And to regions safe, secure and is not allowed to deal with the messy unpredictable life of the public arena. One cannot explore the many sides of mankind, not in the public square, not ever, not in real flawed life ever, not without being crucified, if not now, at some future day, by someone, somewhere who will find offense?
As William Butler Yeats, (1865-1939), an Irish poet intensely involved in the politics of Ireland said,
“The daily spite of this unmannerly town,
Where who has served the most is the most defamed,
The reputation of his lifetime lost
Between the night and morning.”
How many men and women has that happened to of late?
It is a supreme irony that we all now live more in the public sphere than ever before. As MacLeish said, “We no longer worry much about our private souls. We worry about the soul of America or about the soul of mankind-the condition of mankind-the human condition.” Yet no longer can anything dangerous ever be publicly ventured about the condition of humankind, the basis of poetry and art.
Lastly, for the person who steps forward, lives his or her art in public, it takes extraordinary courage. And maybe we, living our private lives, should better appreciate all those brave souls who take to the public stage and make the poetry of their lives public for all to see.
“The drunkards, pilferers of public funds,
All the dishonest crowd I had driven away,
When my luck changed and they dared meet my face,
Crawled from obscurity, and set upon me
Those I had served and some that I had fed;
Yet never have I, now nor any time,
Complained of the people.”
For more writings by Phil Cline, visit philcline.com
At the window he credited Fear,
Regretted his temper drive,
And looked to gloomy vistas
This morning again arrived.
Secrets of giggly girls,
Potent Innocence fails
Divers of missing pearls
Bartered from greasy nails.
Christmas lights harken End,
Heralded toys broken fine,
Discarded in the snowy mud
Cheered by crows atop a line.
Don’t hurry to turn away
Rush to doubt of all beliefs
Enrichments but a brief delay,
Days too few; hours too brief.
Where Boys Walk
Raised above, hovering,
Before down the hit.
Cringed below, a boy child’s
And fear. And Humiliation.
Hands, kind, reach,
Stretch, pat on’a back,
Rest on’a shoulder,
A smile, a nod, he said “good job.”
Eyes open, breath released, hope.
And will. And defiance.
And between the two places
Back and forth, to and fro
And despite it all,
Trigger Warning. Caution: This poem tends to glorify being a man.
Laugh as a Young Man Laughs
Laugh as a young man laughs.
Laugh hearty, laugh out loud,
Laugh at facing a day’s hard work,
Laugh at the wobble in your knees
Hauling hundred pound sacks of “taters”
Balanced across your shoulders.
Laugh and lug the loads up the ramp,
In the back of the big Mac Truck trailer.
Laugh at how damn hot it is gets,
At the sweat dripping off your forehead,
Running in your eyes and stings like hell,
Laugh at the damn forecast cause it’s only going to get hotter.
Laugh like a man laughs
As he strips the rotten shingles,
Splashes the black tar, shoots the nails
Into the new shakes on the old roof.
Laugh at the beer headache from the night before,
Laugh at needing to piss real bad,
Laugh at the cussing from the young wife
For flirting with a buddy’s girlfriend.
Tune up the News, laugh at the stupidity
Of pundits, presidents, prime ministers
And the local councilman
Who sells used cars during the day.
Laugh as they scheme to steal your wages
And spend your Money
At night meetings in empty chambers.
Laugh cause you know they’re all thieves,
Every one of them.
Laugh in your soul at how good to feel
Your muscles strain and push and pull
And dig and wedge, and turn and wrench
Until some mighty thing you’ve decided to move, moves.
Sling a sledge, chop an ax down hard,
Split the wood, explode the bark.
Feel the cool sweat return,
Rivulets down the back, over the belly,
The way it does when you work hard,
Gets the poison out,
Toughens the sinews, bulges up the arms
Bulks up the shoulders.
Breathe in the dirt and dust swirling
From your hits, stomps, kicks, and slams.
Could get you hurt? Yeah! And hell, if it does, laugh,
Got to do the work, so the hell with it.
Grit your teeth, smile, and “gett’er done” anyway.
Brag, yell, say what you think. Don’t whisper,
Don’t’ chant, don’t hum nonsensical crap.
Be sure of everything, exclaim your beliefs to everyone,
Whoop it up, Shout out, In their face,
Laugh at the soft, weak, snotty effete professors of profanity
Who’ve never thumped a shovel in the ground
Turned over the dark earth, never crumbled clods in their hands
And who fear the offense of being a man.
Laugh as they shrink, and if they move to fight, club them back down
Sneer at their bowing and scrapping.
Laugh at their cringe, at their sniveling.
Know, by God, you are not wrong.
Laugh and go ahead, go forward,
It’s a job to do and, by God, it feels good to have a strong heart
Beating in a rhythm, a cadence in time with strong legs and arms
And the will to build,
Then tear up, then shatter,
Then erect it back up and then
Tear it right down again.
Don the pads and take the field
Tackle a runner and slam him to the ground,
Laugh when he moans and utters “good hit.”
Break up a double play and spike the shortstop,
Go on the court and Dunk the ball. Hard!
Make the backboard shake, your defender cower,
Humiliated, mad as hell at you.
Laugh at the fear in his eyes when you drive toward him again.
Jump in a muscle car, a combustion engine!
Blow blue smoke in the atmosphere. Break the speed limit.
Hit the pedal, press it all the way down, peg the tach,
Go fast. Push a “vette into a curve too fast and
Pedal down! Accelerate out.
Ski head long down the high hills,
Those way beyond your skill.
Walk out on the edge of the cliff
And feel the danger of falling and laugh,
Show off and do a funny dance
Almost fall over and down the canyon laughing,
Launch on the ocean when its roiling.
Turn the sail boat sideways into the wind,
Race the storm to shore
Dare it to catch you, swamp you.
Walk down the avenue in the storm.
Out yell the thunder. Light a smelly cigar,
Lift your face heavenward
And dare the lighting.
Shoot a shotgun. Feel the boom,
The shock, the force, the power,
And laugh at the splitting target.
And fire it again while your ears still ring.
Howl and joke with the whores
Standing on the corner.
Laugh cause your wit can never match theirs,
Laugh cause they know how stupid men really are.
Jump in the middle of drunken brawl,
Sock somebody in the jaw, sucker punch some dickhead,
Then buy them a drink and grab a hunk of beefsteak or ice pack
For the black eye he gave you right back.
And, Man, listen, if they come for us. Go to war. Fight the bastards.
Kill the sons’a’bitches with a knife, a gun, a grenade,
Blow them up with a shell from a tank.
Laugh over their bodies, kick them in the side of the head.
Laugh as you ship home
Laugh as you care for the widow and orphan
Because it’s hard, sacrifice is hard,
Duty is hard.
But you owe it to your brother
As he owes it to you.
And while you’re at it, Kick the bum off your sidewalk.
Laugh at his drunken curses
As he rolls around in the gutter,
Getting his filthy blanket soaked.
Then buy him a steak dinner
With mashed potatoes, with all the fixings
And, yes, a beer and laugh at his sorry tale
Cause they are all sorry tales.
Drive a cement truck, its big belly spinning.
Keep it going and turning so the cement
Don’t cure, then pour a foundation,
And carve your initials in the wet pavement.
Shift the transmission
On the big Caterpillar,
Ram it into gear,
Will it up the mountain road
So you can dig out the old road,
Haul it away and scrape level the ground for a new road.
Feel the strength in your shoulders and chest
As you wrestle a bridge in place,
Span it over the gorge, build it to last a hundred years.
Laugh at the hundred years.
Step heavy and loud into the forest. Leave the camera.
Fell the redwood tree, chop it down,
Strap it to the long bed truck
And drive it to the mill.
Strip the bark, plane it through the giant saws.
Laugh when you tell how you cut off your forefinger
Right up to the knuckle because the damn board jumped
When it bounced off a knot in the wood.
Roughhouse with the dog.
Get him fired up and fighting.
Snarling and growling,
See if you can make him bite.
And laugh at his barking at you
Because he can’t out rough you.
And when you get tired, lay down,
Sprawl across the clean sheets
In your dirty sweaty clothes
And take your pulse and laugh
At the life beating, pumping under your wrist,
Deep in your chest, echoing across the canyons and gullies
Of your town, your nation, your region
In the laugher of other young men
Of every kind, on every other side of the planet,
In every time and every place.
Laugh it up with the young guys.
The Tide Barely Felt
Time, the tide barely felt,
Its low waves rush across the shore
The clicking sounds of tiny rocks colliding,
Raking over their fellows,
With each arrival, each delivery, each departure
Less force, less vigor, less wash.
Random faces float top shallow pools,
Lesser men, never friends, never mattered.
Women too with their skeptical eyes,
A smile, a hope, a moment’s attention,
Then forlorn, resigned,
To know I do not care
Have already forgotten.
by Phil Cline
Mist surrounds the morning moon
Hovering above night’s remainder,
Heaven’s pale reflection of regret.
Dawn waits wet residue to dry,
Moist women asleep, their legs languid,
Carelessly spread, left apart-by the departed.
The raucous evening’s promises redeemed
Foolish jocularity shortened by haste of
Dreaded day. Here any moment now.
Friends hurry home,
New enemies scurry away,
Excess devolved to lonely stillness
The tinkling music of clinking glasses gone,
Dark wood bar wiped, band packed, smokes lit.
All’s mute, wary of another horizon.
Windows shuttered, doors locked,
Gates of iron bars chained and secure.
The night’s celebration contained.
We, the last souls out,
Standing on the street
Respectful of the silence.
A dog pats by on gentle paws,
Suspicious of what he smells,
Cautious of what he might disturb.
Impatient of the Dawn
No new lease for the cabin in the wood,
No replenishment for the lake
At the bottom of the hill,
No more apple slice
Slipped between my lips,
The taste crisp, crunched
And savored like dew drops
From a branch’s furthest tip,
Only the lonely slap of my slippers
On the rain wet pavement.
I bend for my paper and up again,
Among homes still cozy dark.
The widow next door in silhouette,
Watches me from her upstairs window,
The flutter of her gown a whisper,
Ghostly and stark. She remembers
Not long ago,
When her husband drew
The rubber band away and
Unfolded the self-same news.
Those better times and bitter,
The feel of him, his arms,
The press of his chest,
His infrequent laugh, his frequent smile
At some homely comely disaster.
Then the day the test came back,
The day the cake slipped from pan to floor,
The dropped cup broken, and more, much more
Before he left ahead of her,
To lie in peaceful meadows
Among lesser friends utterly forgotten.
She does not know
My cortege too is leaving soon,
Leaving these verdant fields,
These dandelion hills
To craggy rock ledges,
To slate slabs for eternity’s repose
To troubled dreams,
And memories un-deposed.
While she continues her vigil
As dawn turns to day
And day turns to night again,
And homes cuddle to sleep all around
Until there’s just the one lone light behind her.
Thoughtlessly rude, I wave at her.
Crude to interrupt her reverie.
Offended, she turns away, disappears,
But circles back to wait her turn,
And poignantly ignore me and, like me,
Impatiently wait for the Dawn.