Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?

I am exactly as old as Merle Haggard, that old "Okie" who tried, at about my age, to take a sleigh ride right back to the good old days "When a buck was still silver/Back when the country was strong/When a man would still work and still could", but:

"Are the good times really over for good?"

Haggard can be quite a social critic besides a constantly producing songwriter and singer.

"Wish a Ford or a Chevy could still last ten years as it should
Are the good times really over for good?"

For forty years, the country music legend has been kicking ass and making God laugh, and like me in an old codger mood, he don't need no stinkin’ sound check. I am hardly Merle Haggard, but I play music and write by the seat of my pants. After ten years on the road and three million words in print, I'm a lot like my sometime hero who once and again tries to be Babe Ruth, trying to repeat a great moment at the plate.

So again and again, I am trying, after a bankruptcy (like Merle Haggard’s), to relive that great moment when I got my first column, which went something like this:

"For the past ten years (after a decade of paganism), I have been clocking my fellow humans' sprint back to the dark ages..."

Well. It's been thirty years now and the dark ages have deepened.

"The captain is out to lunch and the crew has taken over," laments the great alternative comic book man, Robert Crumb, and it's certainly the case with Canada and more specifically Toronto, where seven people were gunned down in broad daylight during, of all things a Boxing Day sale, right in front of the Eaton Centre, the very heart of commercialdom. The crew is indeed taking over. The motley crew, and I'm not talking about rock.

The phenomenon goes right back to 1974, where Professor Irwin Thompson, of York University, first noticed, in an Atlantic magazine article, that in North American society, someone had shot the captain and the crew had taken over. One entire generation to see things go completely to hell not only in political Canada, but in a city once known as the world's first truly urban civilization. Marshall McLuhan's pal, Edmund Carpenter said that Toronto was the city of the future, and, sadly, we have gone the way of a Baltimore Ohio on the gangster twenties, and much later, the decaying Sixties. Small wonder that Merle Haggards "Okie from Muskogee" was such a hit.

Those of us just slightly ahead of the Baby Boomers are shaking our heads and seriously longing for the good old days of the Fifties.

But back in l985, Merle Haggard was already wondering, "Are the good timer really over for good?"

They are not really over for good in Edmonton and in Calgary, and even Saskatchewan, but they appear to be numbered here in Toronto, numbered unless we smarten up and get to the root causes of gang warfare with the same zeal we applied in the stupid war against cigarettes. Oh, that they could do, and how thoroughly they did it.

And now thoroughly hamstrung by what is surely stupidity in not realizing that Jamaica, say, has been exporting criminal gangs to Toronto for years. Chief Fantino nearly got a handle on it when he visited Kingston to get the lowdown on the gang situation in Toronto from another perspective, but he was the last smart copper.

So here we are, in dangerous Toronto, listening to old country songs on CHUM 1050, wondering, along with Merle Haggard, "Are the good times really over for good" as we try to shop, try to recover our youth, try for reentry through the wall of time, while "rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell" and wishing, along with the Ford Motor Company, "that a Ford could still last ten years as it should."

No doubt about it. The captain is out to lunch and the crew has taken over. It took two guys my age to tell the news.

And still we cannot break through the wall.

Cassandras have a way of dying.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

At night, the other me emerges

How comfortable we can get in life, the rambling Victorian house just bought, the floors you had sanded, the cool professor's job at the nearby college. And then comes the dream of the past (future?) and you know in your soft bed that this is illusion, Kafkaland, and soon, very soon you will be thrust right back into your beginnings, back in there with the kiddies and the old f-ups, starting over, again and again. Dare I come to my lover and tell her of my dream? Did I dream of Bob Dylan? Or was it of somebody else, someone long before Dylan, before LSD and heroin, from whence the best poetry seems to have sprung. The modernist form of poetry is already a hundred and sixty years old. How modern is modernism? Oh those fleurs du mal, those flowers of evil, all those Canadian novels. And T.S. Eliot. And one fantastic Ukrainian poet:

He saw today in his own eye
yesterday's tear

The day after tomorrow in his own eye
He saw again yesterday's tear

and he understood that he will never
be able to wipe it out
and he understood
that this was already the end
THEN
he kissed the face of the evening road with his soles
up to the precipice of silence a long time and with great difficulty
he undressed the last phrase nervously
unbuttoning the buttons of words a long time
he was afraid to gaze at his reflection in the note re
and then when he looked he saw no one there
THEN
a tree grew in the bell of fright
and placed on his shoulders a whole flock of rooks

That tree
passed very slowly
and when it finally passed
all suddenly saw
HOW
a black apple rolled
down a spasmodically frozen line
a black apple is rolling
stopping amidst a field
and a soul of a suicide rides up
on a grey horse of smoke
in order to find the accomplice
to that suicide
and its double stops on the other side of the apple
on a horse of green clay
and the soul turns to him with its accusations

and the double on the other side of the black apple
presents his excuses

then the double tells the soul
its very own accusations

and word by word the soul repeats
the double's very own excuses

and when the double angered
begins to repeat himself
the soul will hide behind a knife

and when the double quadruples himself
the soul will hide behind a candle

And the soul will hide behind a poppy seed
when the double tens himself
and fright exhorts all to wander aimlessly
among the signposts enthusiastically it calls to wander

for already
on that side of the apple
a thousand horses are grazing their green horses

ON THAT SIDE OF THE APPLE
A THOUSAND DOUBLES
and nowhere to hide
no it's not I not I
perhaps a flower
no it's not I
a green horse
no it's not I not I
A THOUSAND DOUBLES
and what if it's really a distant flower
that for three hundred years frightened by rumors
of the inquisition
blooms on the wall of the house

perhaps it's the flower that saw in him
the inquisitor and brought him to suicide

it's the flower's eight petals
like eight faces
that appeared to him

it's the fragrance of the flower which flew over
the tingling watery surface of the window
and he saw in the aquarium of his yesterday's tear
a goldfish gasping for air

and around there was no river
no sea lake
or stream was around
only helpless imagination surrounded itself
with uncountable suggestions
for every one of the flower's eight faces
the imagination surrounded itself and staggered
staggered and fell
and never got up and did not come
did not ask--what time
did not ask--why the door opened
did not ask--where they buried the goldfish
the sun or on the moon
and it is very frightening then there's inquisition
when one cannot remember the voice
and cannot forget the face
when for a very long time no one comes

and later still she come
and with a very accomplice body
and very accomplice lips
as as if calling the far wind
she calls herself

..............................
.............................

.............................
.............................

and the echo answers
and calls here lonely
as if a lonesome woman
she calls herself

AND THEN HE COMES
and commits suicide
there
Where West is a corner of the world
there
where grass is dream-grass
there
where today is all the special and the ordinary
days in the world
where
the shore of loneliness is too white
and the night too passing
and the road flows without the slightest splash

AND NO MATTER WHERE ONE GOES
it means to by-pass
to by-pass one's own body
to by-pass one's own children
and then to bypass all the nights of the world
and then the cross
on one's grave
and all this so simply as strangers by-pass
one another in the street
as the hand by-passes
the uncountable number of raindrops

AND TO REMAIN HERE
means to become an accomplice
indeed even to give birth to a joking gesture
there's no illusion here
but plain belonging
even if one were only to listen to
how the sand whispers in the palms
even if one were only to look into
the green eyes of chlorophyll
even the white butterfly of lilies
on the water
even
the rings of blue water
the disappearing green rings
even then
when
no one
nowhere
never

and what if really suddenly nowhere
and what if really suddenly no one
and what if really suddenly never
and only we
emphatically existing
are frightened above all else inthe world
of our own inexistence

we believe that everything some day
we believe that everything some where
and our body and our souls
and give us this day

YOU SEE
it's a door opening a door which really is
it's one of us coming and saying that
he saw today things beyond the visibility of things
and that he sees a body beyond the visibility of our
body and that very wittily we play at being alive
(but a wall knows a wall more wittily than we)
and a thousand visible tigers frighten us less than one invisible star even though it is the star that
we lack far in front in order to go to it
even though it is the star we lack far behind
in order to return to it

after a while one of us runs to ascertain if
there is still a wall and then all of us together run
each to his wall and zealously we draw up any one
of the visible stars and we also draw a road to it
past a huge white ant hill through nine violins
to the horizon and then further up the path of lightning

and having finished we hurry to fill up the space between
our walls completely with building grass ourselves
stones water chickens so that no one settle there
invisible or different from us

you curse are a ship
but we are not a harbour
and our parallel smiles
will never twist
into an angry grimace
we are much too good
and all that's left for you
is to fall dead
across our endless
parallel smiles
even if you're a ship
even if you're leaves

EVEN IF HE HIMSELF
comes there he will not find himself there
and he will be surprised and he will call fortrh
why am I not here?
I remember ver;y well
that I am to be precisely here
why is there some house standing here?
why is there some bird flying here?
I remember very well
that I am to be here precisely here

AND THEN FROM THAT HOUSE
someone will come who is very good
and another who is even better
and another who is really good
and thrice they will carry around the
one who came
his very own dead curse
so that he believe
that he himself
is not there

but he will not believe
then they will lead around him
nine times
the gray horse of smoke
on which for a long time
the rider of his soul has not ridden

but he will not believe
and his body will come

AND ALREADY THE CURSE
has been forced outside the area of the mouth
and the teeth have been firmly shut so that it
cannot return and the string has been closed into a black
case so the string will not call the curse back home

the curse
taught to simulate
a ship
water
clay
the apple of paradise
and the titmouse

the curse
taught to simulate everything simultaneously
and each seprately and equipped to search
for the accomlice to the suicide

which is under some tree
which is by some door
which is over some eye

BUT
WHEREVER THE CURSE WILL COME
only very long parallel smiles
only a large paper flower
only a small toy rifle

THERE
the shores do not run to overtake the escaping water
the eyebrows do not run to overtake the escaping eyes
the road flows through the window up to an icon
and the smoke over the burned out ruins
stands on its knees

THERE
the shores do not run to evertake the escaping water
the eyebrows do not run to overtake the escaping eyes
and the road flows through the window up to an icon
and the smoke over the burned out ruins

THERE HAVING COME
THE CURSE
WILL HEAR
you curse are a curse
but we are not ears
you curse are a tree
but we are not leaves

and it will search its own traces
and will run perplexed
around the house
and all will want to raze it
not having found any trace of itself
it will want to catch the bird
and pluck its feathers

but the body will bypass the house
the body will bypass the bird
and it will cry helplessly in the shade of a tree
and a flaming cloud will pass by it
and a hand that gives a penny will pass by it
and a hand that takes a penny will pass by it
and the city soviet of workers' deputies will pass by it
and will chase there a whole
swarm of suicides
suspected of something alive
they will sit on the grass
around his body
around the body
around the tree
around the house
around the bird
and for a long time rthey will talk about how only
the suspicion of living does not allow them to leave
this earth but also does not allow them to resurrect
themselves and forces them to be intentinally living
right here
around the body
around the house
around the tree
around the bird

THEY WILL SIT ON THE GRASS
and behind each one will sit ashes
they will listen how the water learns to cry
not yet having learned to be salty
someone will speak consoling words
someone will rock a poppy seed
and will send it rolling over the floor
all will be afraid of its frightening rumbling
all will say
it's a thousand stars coming
all will say
its a thousand women coming
all will say
it's a thousand flowers coming
and behind each one will sit ashes
but someone invisible will suddenly say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will turn their heads back
everyone will want to see behind him a fire
everyone saw behind him ashes
someone will suggest to halt the debates
but the invisible one will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will slowly turn their heads back
not to frighten the one who's behind
all will suddenly see on the far shore a star
which they never saw before
all will start waiting for the timy boat of the nightingale
that is to take them to that shore
the waves on the sea of black pepper
turn yellow and calm
the knotty bottom will regain sight
and someone invisible will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will slowly turn their heads back
any minute now
they are to see
behind themselves
A FIRE

--Translated by Danylo H. Struk

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Am I Courting RIGOROUS INTUITIONS?

Don't want to hear about it
Every single one's got a story to tell
From the Queen of England
To the gates of Hell

And if I catch you coming back this way
I'm gonna serve it to you
It's not what you want
But that's what I'll do

--Jack White/The White Stripes

The cultural-philosophical attitude known as nihilism vanished just after the Russian revolution of l917, only to return with a vengeance in the 21st Century, having resurfaced large in the middle of the l950's. with such magazines as MAD, Cracked, Evergreen Review and even some articles in Playboy.

Today, it's Mad Indies Rock from what appears to be Hell:

I'm going to Wichita
Far from this opera for evermore
I'm going to work the straw
Make the sweat drip
From every pore

And I'm bleeding and I'm bleeding
Right before my lord.
And the feeling coming from my bones
Says find a home

Cut to: Jorge Luis Borges quoting Pascal: "Nature is an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere, whose circumference is nowhere." And somewhere in his Aleph story, the story about this sphere, Borges concludes that it is a false Aleph.

Add to this the hundreds of comments in Jeff Wells' blog, Rigorous Intuition, and you'll get a spooky sense of the Devil himself, and if not him, certainly the conviction that what sensitive people feel these days is not necessarily Nature, or God, but a group of sinister people who have convinced us that their very brains comprise an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. Call them Illuminate. Call them Aliens. Call them mad scientists and social engineers. Whoever they are (Are they from here? Are they real?).

Their presence is obviously felt by millions if you believe in the the monkey business of Art Bell, George Noory or a host of "moonbat" manques around the world.

But, as Russians often claim, they invented everything, the Prince Kropotkins, the Bakunins, certainly Dostoevsky in his "Devils" or "The Possessed". It is my belief, to introduce an oxymoron, that the Russians invented nihilism.

Nihilism is a condition of complete enervation. It is a loss of faith in the benignity of the cosmos, the absense of laeticia, that joy of life, a sense of futility and ultimately, the desire to throw a bomb. How far are we from Dostoevky's wild-eyed nihilist to the fanatic of the Middle East? And how well is it articulated by our own Rigorous Intuition, The Jon Stewart Show--where he for the first time had a musical act, The White Stripes singing, Get Thee Behind Me, Satan..

Am I just courting comments here? Do I seek a new audience of moonbats? I don't know, except that if life is a tragicomedy, Jon Stewart certainly has a handle on it and Jack White of The White Stripes for certain.

I'd like to take a more positive view.

There is a sense, coming from my own background, of a kind of salvation. The late Hryhory Chubai of Kiev:

and around there was no river
no sea lake
or stream was around
only helpless imagination surrounded itself
with uncountable suggestions
for every one of the flower's eight faces
the imagination surrounded itself and staggered
staggered and fell
and never got up and did not come
did not ask--what time
did not ask--why the door opened
did not ask--where they buried the goldfish
on the sun or on the moon
and it is very frightening when there's inquisition
where one cannot remember the voice
and cannot forget the face
when for a long time no one comes

But, a kind of damsel with a dulcimer finally appears, a Joni Mitchell, an accomplice, lover, Loreli. Chubai goes on:

it's a thousand flowers coming
and behind each one will sit ashes
but someone invisible will suddenly say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will turn their heads back
everyone will want to see behind him a fire
everyone saw behind him ashes
someone will suggest to halt the debates
but the invisible on will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN
all will slowly turn their heads back
not to frighten the one who's behind
all will suddenly hear how on the sea of black pepper
the green waves will turn yellow
all will suddenly see on the far shore a star
which they never saw before
all will start waiting for the tiny boat of the nightingale
that is to take them to the shore
the waves on the sea of black pepper
turn yellow and calm
the knotty bottom will regain sight
and someone will again say
CHRIST HAS RISEN

all will slowly turn their head back
any minute now
they are to see
behind themselves
A FIRE

Well. From Satan, through Easter, to Chrismas. I don't know what I have done here. But Something Important has surely gone by.