Halloween

Hallowen

For this agnostic/ Buddhist dilettante, Halloween stands supreme among quasi religious holidays, towering over Christmas and Easter the way the skyscrapers of commerce on Wall Street dwarf Trinity Episcopal Church.

trinity wall street

Here’s the church; where’s the steeple?

People in the Lowcountry of South Carolina don’t decorate all that much for Halloween, a pumpkin on a porch maybe, but in suburban Atlanta a few years back I encountered some killer (literally) decorations, my favorite a mangled bike in the front lawn of a $800,000 house, a skeleton lying next to the bike, the helmet overturned not far from the skull.  Other celebrants had festooned their azaleas with spun cotton to counterfeit cobwebs; others had skeletons hanging from trees or cardboard black cats arching their backs with their hair on end, brandishing serious predatory dentistry. 

Dig store-bought monstrosity below.

half buried

 

Let’s face it, zombies trump archangels in contemporary America, the walking dead a more relatable metaphor for the populace than gravity defying beings of European descent levitating above cloud banks.

For me as a child, the joy of Christmas lay in expectation, the idea of playing with the electric train certainly more fun than actually watching it go around and around in its little circle ad nauseam until the transformer inevitably blew.

Plus, your parents never took you away on Halloween to visit great aunts and their spinster daughters, that looming visit casting shadows of dread over the toy strewn landscape of the living room.  We generally purchased from Poppelton’s Five and Dime our inexpensive flammable costumes, skeleton smocks and cheap plastic-coated masks or maybe a Zorro get-up.  I especially loved Halloween carnivals with their apple bobbing booths, candied apples, and haunted houses.

bobbing-for-apples-okay-image-1

However, my innate shyness always made trick-or-treating feel a bit uncomfortable.  Knowing what I know now, I might have chosen to dress up like a Book-of-Mormon-toting Evangelist or a Jehovah’s Witness and trade some tracts for some candy corn.

missionary-mormons1

Nevertheless, I certainly enjoyed the gluttonous aftermath of OD-ing on tiny Snickers and Mars bars and bartering less-loved goodies with my buddies. Oh, and to score some malted-milk-ball Whoppers was like copping cocaine, whatever that was.

Of course, as an adult, Halloween can be a drag if you live in a neighborhood where trick-or-treaters ring your doorbell every 42 seconds; however, it’s not a problem on Folly Beach, the barrier island where I live, where trick-or-treating is forbidden because of vacant vacation homes, unlighted streets, and the likelihood  of motorists being hepped up on something stronger than sugar.

So as the year shuffles off towards its hospice, let’s celebrate the macabre, the zombie apocalypse, an eternity spent in everlasting agony, and other terrifying possibilities.

Once there was a little boy who wouldn’t say his prayers,
and when he went to bed at night away up stairs,
his mammy heard him holler and his daddy heard him bawl,
and when they turned the covers down,
he wasn’t there at all!
They searched for him in the attic room
and cubby hole and press
and even up the chimney flu and every wheres, I guess,
but all they ever found of him was just his pants and round-abouts
and the goblins will get ya if ya don’t watch out!!

James Whitcomb Riley: “Little Orphan Annie”

childr6

 

My Own Little, Dystopia — Halloween Edition

escher like

Real World 1

Adam’s curse: not death, but labor, the rudeness of the alarm, the digits glowing heartlessly: 5:55 AM.  Henry David Thoreau you ain’t:

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn*, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.

                                                                                Walden, Chapter 2


*emphasis mine

No, you’re of this ilk:

Little is to be expected of the day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius, but by the mechanical nudgings of some servitor [buzz or ring or melliferous radio voice]. That man who does not believe each day contains an earlier, more sacred, and auroral hour than he has yet profaned, has despaired life, and is pursuing a descending and darkening way.

TrafficJam

the darkening way

You’re, let’s say, a resource teacher for severely mentally disabled students in Mississippi or South Carolina.  Cutbacks mean you’re working 1.25 jobs, that your free periods are long gone, that you’re lucky if you manage 20 minutes for lunch.  Although mandated by federal law, meetings concerning disabled children’s IEPs are virtually impossible to coordinate.  Having the required individuals free at the same time  – classroom teachers, speech therapists, school psychologists, and principals – is like trying to solve a Rubik’s cube while riding a roller coaster.  They – whoever they are (the top 1%? K-Street lobbyists?  Smiling State legislators? The voters? All /none /a combination of the above?) – whoever they are literally expect you somehow to do the impossible.

No, for you, the dawn doesn’t “awaken infinite expectations.”

roller-coaster-4

Ronald Reagan’s Body Lies A Mouldering in the Grave

Somehow the nation has elected a sociopath as president who once supported choice and wrote checks to Democratic candidates but who know seems hellbent on accelerating global warning.  Despite the historical lessons that trickle down economics doesn’t work and deregulation can cause financial meltdowns a la 2008, he is gutting environmental regulations and, aided and abetted by Republicans in Congress, has passed a tax cut for the 1% that has created a gargantuan budget deficit.

Despite the Romanesque Super Bowl Halftime extravaganzas, we don’t have enough money to repair aging bridges, to hire fireman, much less to provide healthcare for our children.

The Real World 2

Meanwhile, back in Mississippi or South Carolina in a public school that possesses all the aesthetic warmth of a juvenile detention center, emails sprout in your in-box like the heads of a hydra – each expecting a prompt reply, each unanswered one burrowing into your brain like parasites, calcifying the neurons, overloading the circuitry, shutting it down – only to snap you awake at 3:41 A.M!

artistic-paintings-jeffrey-batchelor-20

Insomnia II by Jeffrey Batchelor

Where Have You Gone, Franz Kafka, a Lonely World . . .

Given the material richness of the USA, why are so many people so dissatisfied with contemporary American life?

Wordsworth posits one answer:

THE world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

We live in a world where increasingly our time is devoured by abstractions – meetings that go nowhere, data demanding input, those hydra-headed emails, texts from acquaintances that we glance at and ignore.

A sordid boon indeed.

Of course, Franz Kafka’s Gregor Samsa is the archetype of the harried worker, so caught up in the intricacies of his meaningless job that the first thing he thinks of when he discovers that he has been transformed into a giant insect is that it will be almost impossible to negotiate the public transportation that takes him to his office.  He, that “gigantic vermin,” should be this year’s top-selling Halloween costume.

metamorphosis2-img_assist_custom

Real World 3

Leave School at 4:10 . . . pick up Abigail from DayCare . . . run in Publix to pick up supper  . . .   grab bills from the mailbox . . . get Abigail started on her homework . . . cycle through the voicemails . . . empty the dishwasher . . . think for a second about your ex . . . start supper  . . .  glance at Wolf Blizter’s head flickering on the screen . . . say grace . . . start the bath water . . . read Abigail a bedtime story . . . put off paying the bills . .

Sleep, that knitteth up the raveled sleep of care . . .

I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.

What hours, O what black hoürs we have spent

This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!

And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.

With witness I speak this. But where I say

Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament

Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent

To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree

Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;

Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see

The lost are like this, and their scourge to be

As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

                                                Gerard Manley Hopkins

[cue magical laughter]

Happy Halloween!

keep_out_

Keep Out, By Larkin

The Wayward Nun

Black-Narcissus-copy-700x525

 

Unfortunately, I suffer from insomnia.  Unfortunately, some nights/a.m.s I try to deflect thoughts by constructing verse.  Unfortunately, some nights/a.m.s the result might be a limerick.

For example:

 

Vulgar But Not Profane

A wayward nun from Bangkok, Maine

screamed hail marys whenever she came.

She had sex with her jailer

and cursed like a sailor,

but never took the Lord’s Name in vain.

 

 

Lindsey Graham and Me

 

1977-mgbgt 2

Lindsey and Me in the late 70s

Although I enjoyed my teaching career at Porter-Gaud, the happiest job I ever had was tending bar at the Golden Spur, an alcohol dispensary located in the student union building at the University of South Carolina in those glorious days when 18-year-olds could legally imbibe beer and wine. It was there that I met the mother of my children, the late Judy Birdsong, and there where I became known as “the Reverend” after an impromptu Dionysian sermon delivered in Afro-jazz riffs a la Dr. John to my pals Furman Langley and Steve Rhea.[1]

I always looked forward to going to work and never, as they say, took work home with me.

What brings this to mind is that I’ve been contemplating the psychological underpinnings of my fellow South Carolinian Lindsey Graham, wondering about his formative years, contemplating what mental dynamics allow him to flip flop so shamelessly, sometimes in the matter of days, from one position to its opposite. In this respect, his switch from revering McCain to pimping for Trump is instructive.

Anyway, as it turns out, the story of Lindsey Graham’s youth is somewhat sad, especially his late youth. He was born a Baptist in the small Pickens County hamlet of Central, South Carolina. Despite that religious affiliation, Lindsey’s parents ran what Wikipedia describes as “a restaurant-bar-pool hall-liquor store, the ‘Sanitary Café’.”  So at an early age, Lindsey must have grown accustomed to dealing with paradoxes, alcohol considered by strict adherents as evil manifest, the antithesis of what they considered sanitary.

Prohibition 1

He was the first person in his family to attend college and joined ROTC, but here’s where his life takes a dolorous turn.  His mother died of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 52, and, bam, 15 months later, a heart attack dispatched his father, leaving orphaned Lindsey with the responsibility of being the legal guardian of his 13-year-old sister.

He studied – get this — psychology at the University of South Carolina, pledged Phi Kappa Phi, and graduated in 1977, the same year I dropped out of graduate school.  Therefore, Lindsey and I were both at USC from 1973-1977, which means, in all likelihood, I served him beer either at the Spur or at Bell Camp where I also bartended for fraternity parties.  Although extremely unlikely, he literally could have been in the Spur the very night I delivered my Dionysian sermon. Back then,  I’m fairly certain that I wouldn’t have given him the time of day – or in this case night.

Obviously, I’m not a fan of Senator Graham’s.  I would love to see him defeated, Trump driven from office, etc.  However, I have to admit that delving into his past has resulted in a bit of sympathy on my part.  He faced adversity at a young age and succeeded mightily as resumes go.  On the other hand, it must be horrible to be so conflicted, to have your better angels drowned out by the braying of a sociopathic vulgarian.

That said, the harm that he has imposed is real, extremely perilous as far as the American Experiment goes, and for that he can’t be forgiven.


[1] I commenced in Dr John’s voice to sermonificating on the glorification of the party impulse present in all of us – Baptist and Bohemian alike – and why that party bud must be allowed to bloom into boogie, cause if it ain’t, your existiment bound to be as flat and tasteless as BiLo brand Tonic Water what ain’t had the cap screwed on tight.

Or worser, that block-up party impulse knocked back down, squeezed back down in the reptilian recesses of your brain gonna mutate into some awful sexual dysfunctification like dwarfophilia or bovineophlia or hollywoodstar-obessification or some such other mental donemessedupness.

 

Screech Me a Poem, Sugar Britches

yeats and maude

Yeats and Maude Gonne by Anne Marie O’Driscoll

Half close your eyelids, loosen your hair,

And dream about the great and their pride;

They have spoken against you everywhere,

But weigh this song with the great and their pride;

I made it out of a mouthful of air,

Their children’s children shall say they have lied.

                 WB Yeats “He Thinks of Those Who Have Spoken Evil of His Beloved”

A by-product of breathing, that mouthful of air, exhalation tracking up through the trachea,  plucking the vocal c[h]ords: vowels, consonants, syllables, words, words, words.  Say outloud the title of this post  – “screech me a poem, sugar britches.”  Dissonant, sharp, as unlovely as the scraping of a rake on gravel, echoing  Juliet’s lament as Romeo vacates their marriage bed:

It is the lark that sings so out of tune,
Straining harsh discords and unpleasing sharps.

romeo-and-juliet-todd-peterson

Romeo and Juliet by Todd Peterson

Perhaps even more discordant is Gerard Manly Hopkins postlapsarian description of industrialization:

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

train-tracks-by-valerio-dospina

Train Tracks by Valerio D’Ospina

Who sez that poetry’s supposed to sound pretty?

Not Alexander Pope:

But when loud surges lash the sounding shore,

The hoarse, rough verse should like the torrent roar.

Nor that barbaric yawper Walt Whitman:

Nor him in the poor house tubercled by rum and the bad disorder.

Nor Ol’ Ez in St. Elizabeth’s Mental Hospital ranting his way to a Bolligen Prize:

the drift of lice, teething,

and above it the mouthing of orators,

    the arse-belching of preachers.

pound

Ezra Pound

Thanks to its Anglo-Saxon roots, English is well-suited to screech.  However, thanks to its French invaders, our language can also coo.  And don’t forget the ess-cee (sc) words of the Vikings with their skalds singing of skulls and skies and dragons’ scales.

English-speaking poets possess quite a synthesizer through which to sample sounds, orchestrating Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and French symphonically (Milton) or piping a simple Saxon tune in tetrameter (Anonymous).

Given global warmification/climatic alternation, the following worry may seem as trivial as the date of Alfred Tennyson’s death, but I wonder, given our beeping visual small screen secondhand exposure to actual sights and sounds, if off-the-cuff eloquence might become as rare as first edition Kafkas.

In my youth, among my compatriots, having a way with words held sway.  I think of Jake the Snake Williams politely stringing together sonorous sentences to a Jehovah’s Witness in Richland Mall explaining why he wouldn’t take the tract, and the fellow smiling, nodding his head, and saying, “Brother, you got you an excellent rap.”  Or Furman Langley lamenting in a Lowcountry gumbo of gullah-echo the legend of the Boo Hag.

0d79b4efb49e4854947f5e00ba3413ee

The “like-like” syncopatations of youthful inarticulation and the ubiquitous interrogative lilt of their declarative sentences gives me pause?

I guess it all boils down to a matter of culture.

Bewildered, bewildering primate.  Absinthe.  Circumcision.  Couplets.

Grudges., beliefs.  The war of my childhood, Europe tearing at itself.

 

Scarification.  Conceptual art.  Classic celebrated scholarly papers

On the Trobriand Islanders, more fiction or poetry than science.

 

Absorbed or transmitted always invisibly in the air

From a digital Cloud.  Visible and invisible in the funny papers . . .

                                                       from “Culture by Robert Pinsky

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

andrew-johnson-impeachment-summons-340x191

 

The Doggerel-Gone-It Impeachment Blues

 

The stench of wet coal, politicians . . .

Ezra Pound, “Canto XIV”

 

Johnson’s impeachment occurred so far back.

No one can remember the Tenure of Office Act.

 

Once upon a more recent time,

J Gordon Liddy committed a crime,

 

a burglary some have called third rate,

which led, of course, to Watergate.

 

Dick Nixon was forced to take the fall

(in those days Republicans sported balls),

 

which sadly isn’t the case today.

They had Goldwater; we have Graham.

 

Weak-willed Bill Clinton in the Oval Office

ran afoul of a couple of orifices,

 

creating quite a sordid mess,

alleged perjury, a stained blue dress.

 

Yet the Senate voted not to convict,

(though most agreed he was a prick).

 

So here we are again, forsooth,

dealing with presidential abuse:

 

The number of allegations should give us pause:

obstructing justice, violating the Emolument Clause,

 

withholding aid for dirt in a quid pro quo.

The days go past, the catalogue grows.

 

I say let’s subpoena those stories killed by the Enquirer

so we can extinguish this orange dumpster fire.

 

It’s time we got back to something like normal

With a Commander-in-Chief less hormonal.

Haunting Our Days

shapeimage_2.png

  We curse thee Carolina and sing our dismay,

   Heartbreaking loses haunting our days . . .

                            Wesley Moore, “A Parody of the USC’s Alma Mater”                   

 

Question 1 :  Why did WM become a Gamecock? 

A. he couldn’t break 1200 on the SAT

B. he had mediocre grades

C.  his father was unemployed

D. USC had a journalism school

E. all of the above

F. none of the above

Question 2 : Why has WM squandered so many gorgeous autumn afternoons in darkened dens or benighted sports bars screaming imprecations at cathode tubes or hi-def screens?  

A. because football is a ritualization of innate masculine territorial aggressiveness

B. because the South lost the Civil War

C. because he enjoys feeling sorry for himself as he whimpers in fetal position on floors littered with carelessly dropped popcorn

D. because the his school team, the Mighty Gamecocks, have enjoyed unparalleled success

E. A & B

F. B & C

Answers: 1. E  2. E

Actually, as a child, WM was a rabid Clemson fan, listened to the games on AM radios.  No doubt, if he had been interested in engineering or horticulture, he would have matriculated to Clemson and continued to pull for the Tigers.  Thus, the irrationality and absurdity of his banal haphazard tribal association with the University of South Carolina is not lost on him.

On the rare occasions that he has attended in person a Carolina football game, it has occurred to WM how little he has in common with the rest of the members of his frenzied atavistic tribe, a garnet and black sea of philistines:  Trump supporters, used car dealers, evangelicals – in other words, typical South Carolinians. (Picture Jean-Paul Sartre at a Tupperware party).

Tupperwareparty2

Alienated at these events, he spends most of the games cringing at poor tackling and the viciousness of the invectives that pour from sub literate fans who have turned on the young men they had erst while cheered.

hardys trophy sc vs clemson 11-28-09.jpg

Gamecock fans celebrate a rare victory over Clemson

Many scholars have underscored the obvious: for Southerners of a certain age, male and female, college football is a compensation for the ignominy of the Civil War and its humiliating aftermath, Reconstruction.*  Although it seems like ancient history to most folks now, I can remember two of my great-grandfathers and my maternal grandfather’s hateful reproaches regarding the cruelty of carpetbaggers.

The thinking (using the term loosely) goes like this: Because of under-industrialization, we lost the Wa-ah; otherwise, we would have whupped those pasty-faced, vowel clipping Yankees, the way we do every year in BCS bowl games.**

In fact, Konrad Lorenz went so far to say that team sports like football are a necessary evil, a way for testosterone-blinded cretins to channel their innate territorial aggressiveness.  Otherwise, we might have Neighborhood Watch associations taking to the streets battling one another, blinding their enemies with flashlights, pummeling each other with pitching wedges.

Unfortunately (for WM, that is) rather than offering an antidote to the ignominy of hailing from a land of losers, pulling for the Gamecocks has doubled his legacy of losing. Add over a half-century of pulling for the Atlanta Braves, and you got losing to the third power, a river-of-tears breaching the levees of endurance.


*Of course, rationally speaking, in my relatively well-educated adulthood, I’m glad the Confederacy was vanquished, but when I picked up the college football habit in the early 60s, this was not the case.

** Thanks largely to that fact that  more descendants of slaves dwell in these parts, but never mind that.

cry-me-a-river-lick-jazz-lick-24-1024x250

Cry Me a River

Why devote all this time and energy inside samsara’s swirling pit of baneful desire and disillusion?

Habit?

Masochism?

Answer:  search me.