Shills Like White Elephants

Two more stouts down here, honey? Thanks, love. So this is how it works, youngster. The pols will argue over when life begins, at conception or at birth. What the hell, the subject of their alleged debate could just as easily be Creationism versus Evolution. It’s the same churned-up, wormy loam that’s sustained the political phonies for more than a century. It’s what they hoe when tangentially preaching to the party-affiliated converted. We scribes would sit back and take notes, mainly gauging relative volume, totals of Biblical citations versus Scientific references and numbers of finger points. Though many now use their thumbs as pointers since the birth of Darwinian political exemplar Bill Clinton’s index finger-stabbing, definition-of-IS-is, white-lie, bad-optics hair-splitting during his own multi-hyphened product-of-a-sexual-encounter Dance of the Seven Berets. Oh, and we collected, crunched and consumed salty quotes like pretzels in our after hours bars. We were paid to fill open column inches or air-minutes between advertisements, with the implicit promise our bosses made to the advertisers of bringing X-number eyeballs to their come-ons for pharmaceuticals, automobiles or insurance. Judging which side is right or wrong rose above our pay grade, best left to the former reporters who soared or crawled over the broken egos of their colleagues to editorial or columnist positions either by hard work or something just shy of befriending (maybe just the journalistic equivalent of caddying for) publishers. Though some made it by outliving them. We ink-stained wretches are a cyclical lot who learned to somewhat compartmentalize our feelings as best we could without losing our edge, becoming totally numb. See, it’s not so much who’s right and who’s wrong on a specific argument as it is who those aforementioned editors and publishers choose to make right. We’d rather leave it out there in some artful, judgement-free, make-your-own-sundae bit of prose, like Hemingway did in Hills Like White Elephants. Hell, not once did he ever mention the word “abortion.” No one’s ever going to actually “win” these debates, combining science, culture, politics and religion in a danse macabre where Defeat/Death inevitably collects the dramatis personae and Victory/Life is merely Intermission, one last chance to pick up some Sno-Caps, Raisinets and nuclear containment vessel-sized containers of Coke and popcorn before the house lights go down for the final act.

I was asked if I could contribute a piece for the next edition of THE BARDO GROUP/BEGUINE AGAIN’s Be-ZINE related to Science in Culture, Religion and Politics. I can’t cop to any of those subjects truly being in my wheelhouse. Nevertheless, I sat down and imagined a one-sided conversation by someone who looks a lot like me and has seen and chronicled the bloody confluence of those subjects–a retired news reporter. My career on that side of the news business was not so long as the friends I made during my reporter years, but I readily admit it quickly grew a husk around me and opened a vein of acid-tinged cynicism and indifference that I fight to this day. I took no stand about these subjects (well, maybe politics) in this piece, but thought it might be interesting to dive back into the deep end of my primordial news ooze to see if it still makes me smell of sulphur. It does.

Lost Behind Clouds in a Sky of Blue

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When I think back upon those days,
I remember only one textbook
the nuns parceled out to us, their
semi-sentient little lumps of clay.
The catechism’s soft covers of sky blue
and white reminded me of a sky full
of wispy clouds half-hiding my view of heaven.
Mom already dug the foundation of her child’s
certainty that the Hereafter nestled
behind that star-strewn real estate
above that some called The Firmament.

But black-habited virgins swinging rulers,
sticky gold stars and glow-in-the-dark
rosaries required to teach me
the necessary tenets for gaining admittance
into that divine eternal housing project
only brought blink-inducing pain and
phosphorescent bling. The same as if
I devoured all the Sugar Smacks to get to
the prize at the bottom of the box.

So my faith stood built upon those
flurried clouds, apparitions of such
small substance that persistent breezes
whispering gossip about Fathers X and Y
and one of my fellow acolytes blew
enough doubt to topple it. They tore
from me my willing but rickety belief
in the unbelievable as easily as an
abused and angry boy ripping those soft
cerulean covers from their holy rule book.

I was asked to write a poem on the subject of Faith. I don’t think this is what they had in mind. I want to believe in something bigger than I, in earning the fabulous prizes available for one who lives a good life, a life of treating others as he would want to be treated. But so many of the men who served as the arbiters of the rules of the road to that Better Place, men I knew personally, carried souls within as black as the outfits they wore without. I still lead that good life as best I can, because it’s the right thing and…well, just in case. But that’s Hope, the surviving little brother of a Faith I fear shaken to its foundations apparently built upon sand.

All God’s Plan

Seymour, Texas Tornado

Seymour, Texas Tornado

“Will this rain ever stop, Grandpa?”

“Always has before, child. I imagine it will again someday soon.

“Why won’t it stop today?”

“Because it’s not in God’s plan, I guess. We have to have faith that He’ll take care of us in our time of need.”

“Then why would He want to flood our fields and drown Mr. Bennett’s cows? That doesn’t seem like taking care of us.”

“We don’t always understand the ways of the Lord, Lizzie. Like I said, we’ve got to have faith.”

“You said that last year, you know.”

“Said what?”

“About having faith, about God taking care of us.”

“Yes, and I believed it then as I do today. You should, too.”

“You said we had to have faith that God would make Mama and Grandma well again. But he didn’t. He let them die. Like he let that tree fall on my Papa. I hate God now.”

“Don’t you say such a thing, Lizzie. The Lord has blessed us beyond reason and your mama and grandmother were just called to His side in His own time.”

“I think God needs a new clock, calendar and almanac then, Grandpa, ‘cause his timekeeping is bad. And I still hate him.”

“Don’t blaspheme, child. Our faith in Him will pull us through. Just you wait and see. Now, come over here while I read you some scripture to help you understand and believe.”

“Will reading the Bible again help keep us from drowning, Grandpa? Will it keep us warm again until the rain stops?”

“Not exactly, Lizzie, but come sit on my lap beneath the blanket and I’ll read to yo something St. Peter said that might help you understand why we need to keep our faith that the Lord will provide.”

“Awright, but I believe in a warm fire and a boat more than some God who’d kill off people I loved and trapped us in our own house like we missed Noah’s Ark.”

“All right, Lizzie. You bundled up? Here’s what St. Peter says in his first letter to the Romans:
…who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

“See, Lizzie? Our salvation’s coming if we have faith. Aw, the poor little tyke’s gone to sleep. Probably for the best in this God damn cold and this God damn rain, in this godforsaken piece of Hell. And now the God damn fire’s gone out and what little kindling we have’s still soaking wet.”

With that, Hank Beene laid his granddaughter on the little bed he prepared for her near the fireplace. He walked to the window and saw nothing but gray and black in all directions though the wind-driven torrent. In the distance, a black line dropped from the clouds to the ground.

He turned and took his wife’s old rocking chair in hand. He pulled it’s rockers and legs off, separated the slats from its maple seat and placed them all in the cold fireplace. Hank looked about the room for some tinder to touch off what little wood they had left. He went back to his Bible and ripped out the page he’d just read. Lighting a match to First Peter 1:5-9 he tossed it beneath the last physical memory he had of his Elizabeth, whose faith had sustained her to her grave. Who believed so hard that even a tornado’s funnel cloud was God writing his plan on the land. Ben crawled next to his little Lizzie and gave her a kiss and hugged her close as a sound like a locomotive came closer.

“God’s plan, my ass.”

Semi-experimental piece for Story #6. Supposed to write about a character unlike myself. I just wrote about characters in crisis of life and faith. And that’s that.

Poli & Sci: An Exercise in Futility

In my life, for every push up
I counted, there always appeared
a more than equal,
and quite opposite, push down.
One that choked me face-down
into the dust to dust. Despite
this Sisyphian way-of-the-world,
I never envied those guys
who always managed to “fail up.”

I hoped the physics, meta- or vanilla,
would catch up to them before they
crested their gift-wrapped Olympus.
I finally realized fighting
their anti-gravitational serendipity,
waiting for that margin call on
their karma banks, I’d end up waiting
until my next push up was face-up
and six feet under.

As far as I know, shoving two meters
of cemetery up up and away’s
a feat never quite scientifically proven.
But to disprove the anecdotal
during these days of political science,
where never the twain shall meet,
would prove an exercise so futile
even Houdini’d throw up his
steel-cuffed hands and admit defeat.
Forget any recount.

A poor pass at Poem #25’s prompt for a piece concerning exercise. I gave up on understanding or respecting politics (both Capital and lower case P) a long time ago. Working in journalism and government will do that to you. Working in a slaughterhouse has more truth, humanity and cleanliness. Toss religion into the volatile mix (as seems to be part of the recipe these days) and you have an inedible sausage force-fed and over-served you for breakfast, lunch and TV dinner. Relax, I just ground down my bully pulpit tree stump and will now return to my quiet window seat.

Five Our Fathers and Eight Hail Marys

SantCompostela25

Confessionals in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain,
by Georges Jansoone, via Wikipedia

It was silly, the heart-pounding,
sweaty-palmed anxiety
of sitting there in the twilight
of a near-empty church,
waiting to whisper what a ten-year-old
thought were grievous sins
to a forty-year-old man hiding in a box
behind a screen and a collar.

I remember the nuns making us
practice for first confession
and sending me back to my seat
to think up more sins, since
I couldn’t come up with enough
imaginary ones from which
I could be given a real penance.

I haven’t been back in many years.
Not since one of those guys
sitting in the darkness committed
his own too-real heart-pounding,
sweaty sins and felt forgiven
after some buddy in another box gave him
five Our Fathers and eight Hail Marys.

My catch-up poem, #13 in Poem-a-Day NaPoWriMo 2015, from a prompt asking for a confession poem. A free-write produced this, for which I may burn.

Beneath God’s Tear

Halley's Comet in 1682 (Source: Wikipedia)

Halley’s Comet in 1682 (Source: Wikipedia)

On my pallet in the hold
of The Friends’ Adventure,
I hear their lamentations
above deck. The sun’s
dropped behind the shelf
toward our new home,
but something like daylight
shines here upon my family.

I tell Rachel this is a sign
from our Creator
that we are like Magi,
following a star to
a new Bethlehem,
where all may worship
in peace as he will.

I don’t approve of what
others call us, but
this September night,
seaman, farmer, heathen and Christian,
stand beneath God’s tear
falling from the sky,
and know what it means
to be a Quaker.

Here’s another 100-word drabble story-poem, this time based on a cool time and place prompt from Kellie Elmore:
You find yourself in the lower level of an old ship. A calendar on the wall says 1682. There is a small window, and the view is nothing but open sea and a setting sun. There is a staircase and you can see daylight at the top…
 That played right into this history nerd’s shaking hands. In 1682, William Penn began sending ships full of members of The Society of Friends off to settle what would soon be known as Pennsylvania. In the September of that year, the comet that became famous as Halley’s Comet hung in the skies as shown in that contemporary illustration up there and raised quite a stir in Europe.
I put those two facts together and imagined how George Pownall, a passenger on one of those ships, The Friends’ Adventure, would try to explain it to his daughter, Rachel. That’s how I came up with Beneath God’s Tear.