The Greatest of All Time – A Hero for the Ages

Muhammad Ali left us, and departed from the world four years ago, the greatest of all time is gone

Muhammad Ali held the world in his hands, the greatest of all time lives on.

I heard the news of his passing, waking in the middle of the night
I heard the news of his passing, I listened to the stories and cried

Ali, the greatest of all had died

Of all the heroes I ever fell for, he was the only one that was truly alive
The only one I ever prayed for, the only one I thought could make a difference in our time.

Ali spoke to the heart, he spoke for justice and freedom, he told the truth and he spoke of love.

He spoke to the world in the same way that he fought, he spoke to and fought for everyone.

He spoke in rhythms that dazzled and he spoke in words that hurt.

He floated past us
He struck us with his sting
As beautiful as the butterfly
As ominous as the bee

With the symbols of his fame he took on the powers of the world

Bumaye, Ali…Bumaye

He was a prophet in our time, he praised us as he scolded us, sharp tongued and pretty.

Ask him, he was the prettiest.

I remember the day in 1980 when I heard the news that he had lost the championship.

Muhammad Ali lost! They said Ali would never fight again!

All the kids on the school bus murmured, Ali was not the greatest after all, and the world stopped making sense.

Muhammad Ali gave my generation permission to be ourselves, be bold and to brag, to be good and do right.

Muhammad Ali taught us to question, to challenge authority, to shun war. Muhammed Ali was right.

He taught us to risk the things you desire most, to give up titles and money and fame

He let them go for the things that matter most to him, to serve the truth, seeking justice, to work on behalf of the poor and the outcast as he drew breath.

Ali handcuffed lightning and put the thunder in jail

His star rose like the sun.
Four years ago it set.

ali-1
Given First (as an essay) – 2016.06.04

Mystery II

Washed in the darkness
With the thick night pushing me
Clouds of unknowing

‘Cross the starry field
Mirrored in the deep blue sea
Disturbed by passion

Buffeted by winds
The ocean swells and threatens
Down, I will not go

Reaching for the truth
A life-line of certitude
A raft of reason

Watch beauty ascend
Her halo burning brightly
Slip the solar disk

Seeking out the good
Journey into mystery
Take the cup of fire

The world falls away
And I fall with it, bonded
Sleeping with the dead

Separate from God
These elusive mysteries
I have no answers

Meaningless riddles
Static, in the flow of time
Self dissolution

The Muse

I love you, he says
Confused, stumbling over words
Prayerful supplicant

I seek clarity
Whispers the poet, and wisdom
She smiles invitingly

Red lips part slightly
Revealing sharp teeth, bright-white
Like diamonds flashing

Lead me to the truth
By your beauty, and goodness
Your willing servant, I

He says, withdrawing
Drugged as the lotus eaters
Hallucinating

She opens her eyes
Deep-blue pools, like cobalt fire
Burning without light

She embraces him
The wretched poet, victim
Drowning in the night

Brenda Ueland – Author

Brenda Ueland

Brenda lived most of her life, writing and teaching in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the city where I grew up, within a mile or two of where I have lived most of my life.

I was well into my forties before I even knew who she was, but from the moment I read her book: If You Want to Write I knew that I had found a mentor whose simple prose and honesty could guide me in the maturation of my own work.

Brenda, taught writing at the YWCA, she published a memoir about her life growing up in Minneapolis. She wrote for local newspapers and magazines.

She was born at the end of the nineteenth century and lived out her twenties in New York City. She was connected to various movements in art, literature and politics. She was a proto-feminist and revolutionary thinker, and she came to all of that with a simple self-assuredness that was her defining characteristic.

This is why she is a hero to me.

In her teaching, which she summarized in her treatise on writing, she offered the most basic advice to her students: she told them to find their own voice and write from there.

She encouraged her students to simply be themselves, to tell their stories with the written word as if they were speaking to their closest friend, to shout when they are shouting to whisper in the time of whispering.

She told them to be true to themselves, to write with authenticity, because the reader will know if they are faking it.

She encouraged her students to listen to themselves, to become familiar with the sound of their own voice.

Her book on writing had been out of print for nearly forty years until, a few years after her death in the 1980’s, it went back into production and became a best seller.

Like Brenda herself, her book was ahead of its time.
Given First – 2020.03.05

Martin Luther King Day 2020 – Monday, January 20th

Today we celebrate the life and work of the Reverend Doctor, Martin Luther King Jr., a man who fulfilled the role of prophet in our time, as a voice of conscience, and like so many prophets before him he was killed for speaking the truth.

Martin Luther King was a prophet, not in the sense that he saw the future (though he did), that is not what a prophet does. A prophet is not a seer, or an augurer. He was not a prophet in the sense that he had a unique channel to God, the creator of the universe, or that God spoke to him in a privileged way.

God speaks to all of us in the same way, and that is one of the things that the Reverend Doctor spoke to us about, the responsibility we all have to listen to the demands of our conscience when we here it speaking to our hearts.

Martin Luther King had no more and no less access to supernatural powers than any of us, what made him different was that he chose to listen.

He listened to the voice of God that speaks to each and every one of us. He heard the voice of God and he responded to the call by cleaving to the message and sharing it with the world.

He loved mercy, he worked for justice and he walk humbly, as an example to us all.

There are many memes circulating today of the good Reverend Doctor, memes like the picture I have pasted at the beginning of this essay.

Today we are given countless opportunities to reflect on his likeness, to consider his words, to reflect on their meaning and on the life of an American Saint (if there ever was one), and we are wise to do so.

We are wise to remember the man, Martin Luther King Jr., a rare person whose measure exceeded the ordinary flaws that make us all human, he lived beyond them.

Martin Luther King Jr. transcended even death, though he was taken by the assassin’s bullet. He lives now in our collective consciousness, our collective conscience, in our global psyche, speaking to us from the dimension of myth; a human being who was more than human, a child of God, a man overflowing with grace and wisdom, sharing its cup so that upon drinking we may aspire to do the same.

He spoke truth to power, and offered hope to the powerless, and he was murdered for it.

He was once considered by the director of the F.B.I. to be the most dangerous man in America, and from that status he became our most beloved hero, the prime exemplar of what it means to be an American.

He was beaten and arrested dozens of times for the crime of seeking justice.

His life was threatened daily. His reputation was smeared without regard for the truth, or appreciation for his selfless works.

He was killed for his efforts, shot down, but not destroyed.

He was, and continues to be an example to us all.

Our prophet, The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. still points the way, lighting the long journey that still lies ahead of us, a journey toward justice that will not be denied.

mlk

Broken

The search never ends
A longing for tenderness
To ease the hard life

A little loving
Learning, to be touched by you
And be vulnerable

Open to the world
The long journey of desire
The restless slumber

Eternally dreaming
The absolute end of things
Drowning in laughter

Taken and shaken
Beaten inside our thin shells
Like a broken yoke

A bloody remnant
Swallowed by the truth, eaten
Without thought or care

The End of the Dream – Editorial, The Week in Review

Analysis, Commentary, Opinion
06.15.2019

The End of the Dream

When I was growing up, when I was still a child and had that child’s mind, when I still believed in magic, and the force, I also believed that America stood for truth and justice.

I knew the broad strokes of our history, I knew that we had once been a slave holding nation, but we fought a war over that issue, we ended slavery, and the good guys won, or so I believed, when I was a child and I still thought that magic was real.

I came from a racial blended family. I knew that African Americans continued to experience injustice in the world. I knew that in the decade prior to my birth America had been engaged in the struggle for civil rights, and the good guys won, or so I believed, when I was a child and I still thought I might discover the force.

I believed that Adolph Hitler was evil, and the Klu Klux Klan, and white supremacists everywhere, and I was not wrong.

I believed that America led the world in its commitment to freedom; freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to assembly, equal treatment under the law and fundamental fairness above all else.

I believed it, and long after I came to realize that these values were not held by everyone, I wanted to believe that they were held by most of us.

I wanted to believe that even my fellow Americans, those who I disagreed with on matters of public policy, nevertheless held principled position, even though I thought they were wrong.

I came to understand that truth and justice were not really characteristic of the American way, but they could be, if the people demanded that our elected leaders make it so.

The American way was an aspiration, it would take inspiration to bring it to fruition.

I have come to understand how naive I was.

We were never the honest brokers of the world, in the era of President Trump America has stopped pretending that it even mattered.

Many of our politicians stopped pretending to care about these things long ago; letting lies go forward to protect the tobacco industry, the oil industry, to confuse the public on global warming and climate change, to suppress the vote, to poison our water, to enrich themselves off the public trust.

What marks the Trumpian era as different from that, is the willingness of the people to accept the lie. Some people actually believe the lie, but many more simply do not care that they are being lied to, and they know it full well.

This is where the American Dream goes to die.

Frames of Reference

Past acquaintances
Human associations
Frames of reference

Passing comments shape
Old dreams into new visions
The future beckons

Remember the form
Of yesterday’s solutions
Youthful illusions

We solved the world by
A million equations
Finding the difference

The world was smaller
From the perspective of kids
The limits of youth

It is bigger now
Requiring equations
More complex in scope

We manipulate
Conclusions with preconceived
Notions of the truth

Form them in patterns
Certain continuities
Existential pique

Seeking clarity
In the mirrored eyes of friends
Rejecting falsehood

Memorial Day – A Reflection

Memorial Day is a day set aside for reflection. It is a day meant for us to honor our fallen dead.

The meaning of Memorial Day has changed a great deal since it was founded. At its inception, it was meant to honor African American soldiers who fought and died in the Civil War, both our soldiers who were born-free, as well as those who were former slaves; men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters who gave everything they had to keep the union whole.

Memorial Day was created to honor those who died for an America which they only dreamed could exist. They died for these United States, for a vision of it that the prayed for, but was not yet real; they got something different, they got this reality, an America that is still in a state of becoming, one that is more or less just, depending on where you are born, what color your skin is, what class you belong to.

Those men and women died for us, for good or ill, they died for us. They died for promises that went un-realized.

We have yet to repay them, we have yet to fulfill their hopes for the America they dreamt of; America, daughter of liberty, America the true, and good, America the arbiter of justice.

Now, we honor our dead on this day; our soldiers and sailors and airmen, our police and firefighters; we honor them.

We honor all of our citizens who spent their lives, who gave their days to public service; we honor our doctors and nurses and teachers, the good works of our ordinary citizens, of our friends and neighbors, we honor everyone’s sacrifices; known and unknown, and those yet to come.

This year we must even children, who stood in the way of gunfire to protect their classmates and paid for it with their lives.

We must honor them, and their sacrifice, they died upholding our most cherished values, in recognition of the fact that we are one people, that we are descended from many nations, and that we each come into the world with the absolute right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all other rights are subordinate to these.

On this day of all days, do not make the mistake of thinking that it is our service women and men who keep us free.
It has been at least sixty years since America faced an “existential” threat from a foreign power.

We are not kept free through armed conflict.

We do not face such an existential threat from beyond our borders and shores right now; not from Iran, not from North Korea, not from Russia, not from anywhere.

The real threat we face is from ourselves, from our ignorance and from our fear.

It is we, and we alone who can protect us from ourselves.

Our own apathy, our prejudice and hatred, these are the most dangerous forces aligned against us, that threaten our freedom. They are more deadly than any other worldly power.

To honor our fallen dead, you must do your part to keep us free. You must participate in our democracy.

Vote, stay informed, organize, build alliances and collaborate.

Our collective failure as citizens of the Unites States has allowed a criminal, autocratic, demagogue to hold power in the White House, allowed the Supreme Court to state that corporations are to be treated as people, and money regarded as free speech, while those same justices have told ordinary American’s that their right to free speech does not include the right to be heard, and that our right to vote does not include the guarantee that our votes will be counted.

This rank cynicism is more dangerous to our freedom than any rag tag group of militants half way around the world, more dangerous than immigrants looking for a better life on our side of the border we share, they are only seeking the same thing as my own forebears did when they came here a little over a hundred years ago.

Honor our fallen dead. Not with cards and flowers and barbeques (but do those things because they are good), honor them by standing up to racism and bigotry, to religious zealotry and corporate greed, to scientific ignorance and xenophobia, to corruption in our public officials in our highest offices, and to the notion that the right to keep and bear arms does not include our responsibility to regulate them.

Honor them by participating in public discourse. Do not lose heart, and do not give up.

Stand up, and be counted!

We must rebuild America, reform our institutions, we must do this for the sake of all Americans and our future generations. We must take responsibility for our own freedom.

We will have nothing to protect if we let our freedom be stolen from us while we are busy watching TV, posting pictures on social media of the last meal we ate, and arguing with one another about who is the most liberal, most progressive, most concerned about the common good.

Honor the fallen, in this way.

Participate!

Jay P. Botten, Veteran, U.S.N., Hospital Corps, 1990 – 1994

Given 1st 2015.05.25

Revised 2019.05.27

Pop Culture II

Who are the seekers in this post-modern, pop-culture?
Are there any truths to be found?

Relativism and
Deconstructuralism, art and sophistry…nonsense

Many claim they see truths, still, they will not name what is
Crawling backward through the cave

Pop-art and music
Advertising, decay, an intellectual vacuum

Spiritually decrepit, ostracizing
As unenlightened

Those who would critique
Its way, empty culture, the rotten canvas

Gray and soft as rotted flesh, the liminal field
Non-committal and rife with the absurd

Pop, the great distraction
Modeling mediocrity, singing odes to the oblivious

We climb into the sky atop buildings without foundations
Scraping and fawning

Tilting and collapsing, babbling
In the tongue of chaos

Praising princes, pop icons
Preening on the pedestal, wobble and topple

Disintegrate in ruin