Friday, February 28, 2014

Poem: Heroins

Originally published in Pyrokinections.





in the twilight
people kept shriveling.
kissing wraiths.

what was real
began to hide in wounds less
than scum, entire worlds

crowded into ether
smaller than invisible,
less tangible than deja vu.

no ear saw,
chins couldn’t focus,
images outpaced tongues.

holes yawned
for faces soon childish
in the rabbit twists.

such ample blurs
of half-pleasant tunnels.
it was easy to

succumb and
jab the needle.
drone the ride.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Acceptance: The Nervous Breakdown

Click here to have The Nervous Breakdown of your life

The Nervous Breakdown is the journal-child of best-selling novelist Brad Listi, and has adventured over the years in various intriguing directions. There’s a book club and interviews with incredible people of presitgious accomplishment, and sneak-peek excerpts (one from a book by Scott Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic) and on and on--a lush tree of thought-sparking, edifying, and seductive offshoots. I can’t do true justice to this high energy site here, and I simply urge you to visit and look around. TNB is a major nerve center of ideas both infectious and salutary.

Listi’s charismatic knack at generating dialogue and community also extends to his series of podcast interviews with many talented, published authors. For details on this, wiki him.

A large team of editors contributes to making TNB an exquisite way to lose your mind. Working the poetry end are Rich Ferguson, Uche Ogbuji, Wendy Chin-Tanner and Zoe Tambling. Ms. Tambling was my primary contact and was very kind.

TNB deserves much more commentary than I am writing, and my gratitude runs heart deep. I am especially pleased because I am in a wheelchair in Los Angeles now, recovering slowly from an injury. To remember that my poem “Bites” will appear sometime in April truly lifts my spirits!


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The US Empire's Modern Holocaust

The My Lai Massacre occurred during the Vietnam War. US soliders shot to death hundreds of villagers--men, women, children, infants--and also livestock, cows, chickens, whatever. A number of women were gang-raped before they were murdered. It was covered up by the military, and only discovered due to a few brave whistleblowers, who were denounced as traitors at first, even by the Chair of the Armed Services Committee. Eventually many soldiers were charged, including up the ranks to Generals, but only one was convicted, a platoon leader named William Calley Jr. Although he was found guilty of killing 26 people, he served only three and a half years under house arrest, due to the intervention of President Nixon.

Nick Turse, in his scholarly book, Kill All That Moves, argues convincingly that My Lai was not an isolated incident. Other such massacres occurred, as did individual killings and rapes by US soliders on a massive scale, so much so as to constitute the norm. There was also the CIA’s Phoenix Program, where over 80,000 were interrogated (read: tortured) and “neutralized” in "provincial interrogation centers." Between 20,000 and 40,000 of those who went in never came out.

Backing up all this hell-worthy horror was a mentality that the Vietnamese were subhuman “gooks” who deserved to die. This mentality was fostered in boot camp and expressed up through the chain of command. Turse gives plenty of examples of disgusting commonplace statements that are reminiscent of the mentality of Nazi prison camp guards.

If Turse is right--and his research looks impeccable--the US Empire sunk to a Hitler-like level during the Vietnam War. In WWII, Jews were subhuman. In Vietnam, “Gooks” were subhuman. The SS mass murdered Jews with rifle execution. The US 9th Infantry, Marines and others shot the life out of entire villages, or in random encounters, such as flying helicopters over rice fields. As Himmler’s “Final Solution” had different paths to extermination, so did the US in Vietnam. Rifles, helicopters, detention centers and grenades thrown into underground shelters. Although the US did not have a "final solution" codified somewhere, the mentality and behavior supported the imperative highlighted by Turse in his title: Kill All That Moves.

My reaction, like many of us, is still, How could this happen? I just don’t want to believe it. But Turse and others have done their job well. Books like Kill All That Moves and Killing Hope (William Blum) show systematic lack of conscience and malignant behavior via US Foreign Policy on a longterm and extreme scale.

Another side of me sees how this Satan-worthy shit happens. It comes down to human psychology. We are malleable creatures who can slice our minds into many compartments, believing stubbornly what we are first trained to believe, and, after that, what we want to believe. The 19-year-old soliders in Vietnam (average age) were too young to legally drink but were given M-16’s, told to “kill, kill, kill” in bootcamp, saturated in “gook” hate-talk, and placed in a terrifying and deadly landscape full of boobytraps, snipers, and guerilla ambushes.

Harder for some of us to fathom is the utter lack of decency in Congressmen and military leadership. Some kind of situational psychopathy takes hold of them en masse. Grown adults who go to church, treat their neighbors well, give to charity, and so on--enforce a pogrom of mayhem on a country of millions, employing racism in a philosophy of monstrous wrong.

President Nixon gets special mention for pardoning a mass murderer and giving his imprimatur to the depravity-as-normal atrocity of US forces in Vietnam. I think future historians will categorize him with Hitler, and wonder at the US population's denial. In a similar position of great devil-bad atrocity is Henry Kissinger, who ordered the carpet bombing of three countries: Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Adding some perspective, more bombs were dropped by the US in the Vietnam War than were dropped in WWII.

Hannah Arendt called this “the banality of evil.” What it seems to me is that our leaders--and all of us--are vulnerable to becoming part-time psychopaths, as if we split our thinking into two parts for two separate worlds. Or maybe it is just that many people have a kill switch for their conscience, and flip it when they feel it is in their own self-interest to do so--how would this differ from a clinically diagnosable psychopath?

Human psychology is the big hurdle for a progress ethos that combines reason and empathy. Minds are not only highly adaptable, but gullible and fragile as well. Humans can turn off their conscience as if flicking a switch, and even forget they turned it off. Humans can lie in ways that are so deep they forget they are lying. We can partition our minds so that ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing’. There can be so many tunnels in the psyche, dug by fear, pain and trauma, that not even the brightest light of truth can illuminate to heal them.

To deal with the frailties of human psychology at least two protections are required: education and also, just as important, therapeutic practices that enlighten people as to their own mental dispensations. We need to know how to have better relationships with our own minds. I think meditation is helpful here, or any spiritual practice of listening, respect or art that fosters compassion.

We need to make compassion a strong spotlight and turn that invigoration inward. As Plato said so long ago, "Know thyself." And also, I would add, Love thyself (while avoiding narcissism, which actually is devoid of self-love, merely a shell of it).

Knowledge alone is not enough. You can hand people perfect knowledge and they will spit on it. You also need to deal with human psychology. Empaths are needed, good listeners, counselors, and techniques for dealing with denial, disassociation, projection, and so on. If we want ethical progress, we must face what we truly are; and that is something far more complex than rational autonomous agents.



Sunday, February 16, 2014

Acceptance: WHL Review

Irene Koronas at WHL Review took three of my poems for the upcoming issue of this Cambridge journal. These are: "Post Feast," "Burn Victim," and "Last Impressions of Some Clerk."

Without the support of Ms. Koronas and WHL over the years, I might well have given up poetry. The rejection weighs on the soul. Right now, I am heavily focused on my novel, which I'd like to finish before I die, with much less time for poetry submissions. There are a few special editors who know my work well, and I have had to rely on them more and more.

Below is a poem of mine from a 2007 issue of WHL.

Fly Well In the Dark



Danger Zone

a bout of silence
bubbles in his head,
slaying heartburn and beaches,
stock options, bed bugs and football;
strangling even the faux-pas fearlessness
of his lust.

for a terrible brief quiet,
enough to show
he is urgently and
permanently scarred,
he can jump through
a manhole of jagged truth,
tunnel to expose warrens
of self-betrayal--

or he can close this vision
of mean hope, drown its purpose
in a detergent of shallow stress.

with automatic anger
and a fuisillade of excuses,
he puts on his best
quarterback-Batman face,
until at last, slow as the pummeled
rictus of the moon,
the ghosts of innocence past
go down.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Reflection on Denise Levertov's "Tenebrae"

I found in Denise Levertov’s poem “Tenebrae” a perspective that connects with one of my early astonishments in life--an astonishment, I think, many of us share. As children (well, especially as children), we witness an awful contrast: while various rites of vanity go on about us, demanding much fuss and time, people ‘far away’ are starving en masse or otherwise suffering, through no fault of their own. We wax our cars and coiffure our hair while refugees trek like desperate demographic clouds, and entire cities get uprooted in slaughter. In our childish innocence, we experience a burning curiosity, along with sorrow, at this great imbalance: why is the color of one’s hair or the name of a car so much more important?

Getting a little older, we have an acute intuition: there is some link between our country’s “conspicuous consumption” (to use Veblen) and the places in which famine and war rage. We might also become aware of the brutal toil in sweatshops. Though we cannot express or reason it out, we sense blame in our country, and in the individual citizens as well.

Looking at the Vietnam War in retrospect, which was Levertov’s inspiration for “Tenebrae,” the argument given at the time for US involvement would be utterly silly if not fraught with murderous paranoia. Why did we go to war there? The so-called Domino Effect: if Vietnam falls to communism, so will the region, and then the world! The problem is not just the frailty of the asserted causal flow (countries being far more complex than dominos), but more importantly the US empire’s eagerness to align nations into obedience. Such obedience serves the profit of international corporations based in the US. The Vietnam War, by itself, generated lucre for the arms industry. Indeed, just before the war, President Eisenhower, in his farewell speech, warned about the “military-industrial complex.”

There are numerous examples of the US supporting cruel dictators as long as they follow our ‘free market’ directives. And, in general, how a country treats its citizens is not of much concern to us as long as the cash dynamic is efficacious. A modern example that extends far beyond the White House: “Made in China” is everywhere in stores.

As children, we see the incongruous vanity with wonder. In many, a remnant of this honest perception continues into adulthood: “how can we fixate on primping and status symbols while ignoring the horror of our wars, the exploitation due to our ‘manifest destiny’?!”

In “Tenebrae,” Levertov chooses “gowns of gold sequins” and “silver moiré” as images of numb ostentation. The poem starts:


Heavy, heavy, heavy, hand and heart.
We are at war,
bitterly, bitterly at war.

And the buying and selling
buzzes in our heads, a swarm
of busy flies, a kind of innocence.

Gowns of gold sequins are fitted,
sharp-glinting. What harsh rustlings
of silver moiré there are,
to remind me of shrapnel splinters.

Levertov calls out “buying and selling.” As the poem proceeds and concludes, the fabric of our social life gets implicated in a grand denial:

And weddings are held in full solemnity
not of desire but of etiquette,
the nuptial pomp of starched lace;
a grim innocence.

And picnic parties return from the beaches
burning with stored sun in the dusk;
children promised a TV show when they get home
fall asleep in the backs of a million station wagons,
sand in their hair, the sound of waves
quietly persistent at their ears.
They are not listening.

Their parents at night
dream and forget their dreams.
They wake in the dark
and make plans. Their sequin plans
glitter into tomorrow.
They buy, they sell.

They fill freezers with food.
Neon signs flash their intentions
into the years ahead.

And at their ears the sound
of the war. They are
not listening, not listening.

The word “innocence” appears twice: “a kind of innocence” and “a grim innocence.” Another repetition is: “the buying and selling” and “They buy, they sell.” This double pair of repeat words conjures a strained though staid consumerism. It reminds me somewhat of Hannah Arendt’s “the banality of evil”-- used to describe the middle-class lives of those in charge of the camps in Nazi Germany. They went to church, they picnicked with their kids, they had hobbies and pastimes, all the while wearing the smilely face of a neighbor--and they also overlorded the Holocaust.

Also in repetition, of course, is "not listening"--both on the same line and in separate stanzas; and also the "sequins" make the transition from a physical garment to a state of mind

We in America are not conducting a Holocaust. But our tax dollars go to insane wars that bring mass death and suffering, disrupt and derange entire countries, and benefit primarily elites. And we routinely purchase things made by workers in police states who are one step up from slaves. Oh, there is also the torture of millions of animals each year in factory farms.

Despite this dark cause-and-effect of our “buying and selling,” we spend a great deal of time worrying about expense and appearance vis-à-vis our daily rituals, which focus our attention so narrowly we avoid the decent path.


Tuesday, February 4, 2014


It is the anniversary of my brother's death, fourteen years now. I wrote this last night and post it here as a small reflection. Much more goes on in private, speaking and feeling--though as time comets onward, not as much as I should. However, in the winding longitudes of my depths, my brother will always be a very living, interconnected presence, with all that I am, and essential in inspirations and meanings.

Best To All,




i am sleeping on the same bed
my brother slept in
when he was depressed
before he took his own life away.

it has been years
and only now i wonder
about the history in things
we too seldom sense,

and the weight
of an invisible so generous
it engulfs us in splendid
long journeys,

so desirous to be close
and yet redolent with what will always
stir from afar, some song
on a hill

that touches us with warmth,
like a cherished hug,
and in the same movement
teaches us to know pain.

it bathes us, all the time,
this special magnetism
of essential connections,
especially when home.