Saturday, February 24, 2007

I wrote a poem for Mark Masen as a Christmas
gift to accompany a couple of mix CDs. And
I feel happier with it with every read. I
read it aloud in Pittsburgh as part of my
"On Being Able To Say Everything" talk
(ever-in-progress), and enough people
expressed interest to drive me to go ahead and
paste the thing on here. Maybe it'll be
part of a larger collection in time. Maybe said
it before: I think I'm only beginning to see
how poetry functions (how it's long functioned
in my life anyway). And i imagine this poem to
be a bit of a progress report. I'm always
geeked to talk about it. It's a long 'un, and
I hope it'll be a benefit:

Collage Is Our Only Hope (That And Honesty)

I want to talk about this morning.
I mean to signify.
Signs Signals Significance
How to mean
Not to merely say we mean well
“I meant well”
“I didn’t mean…I never meant”
But to mean well…
To let other people tell us
What we meant.
THAT IS what it all meant
There is no personal, private meaning
We don’t define what we meant.
Other people do.
The near and dear.
There’s only other people after all.
“What does what I say and do
Mean to you,
Talk to me.
I’m listening.
You can tell me.
Hopes and fears
Of all our combined years
Are met in this possibility
Of actually sending and receiving.
Maintaining silence
Long enough to hear.
Hearing well
Giving well
Gift exchange
Meaning well is
Our meaning problem.
It’s mutual.

The work of learning how to mean.
To get it
To mean it
To lose our lives
To find them
Is called liturgy.
Beginning with confession
“We don’t even know how to mean well…
We have yet to get it.”
We’re summoned
By something other.
We’re here to learn
To cobble together meaning
To institute ceremonies
Out of thin air
As we’re here to learn
To endure
The meanings of love.
God’s love to which
We are
None of us
Especially accustomed.
Come custom.
Make us accustomed,
O Lord,
To your kingdom
With customs.
Redeem them.
Call this one Christmas.
How to let it mean?
Let us endure its meanings.

We have
A not-very-complicated arrangement of signs
To signify our seriousness
To indicate that we should be
Christened Christian
A tie
For instance
To spot the gentleman
And phrases and postures
Designed to communicate
Our distance from the stupid
The lazy irresponsible selfish shameful.
Stories too
To tell ourselves to ourselves.
To angrily make known that
We’re not angry.
Not mirrored in one another
As we inescapably are.
Inescapably human form divine
Every woman
Every man.
Never quite forever lost
We hope.

The good word brings us
Back to our senses.
The good word

The good line makes reality
Unmasks what isn’t real
As unintelligible
A problem.
Good lines articulate
Saying the devastatingly not-yet-said.
Devastating UNTIL said.
Cried out loud.
When said aloud
The words
Make us reckon with our own blindness
Our muted awareness
The good line speaks of what actually takes place…
The good line MAKES SENSE…
This is why we call it good,
Oh learners of goodness.

The good line is the lyric
And the lyric is not an escape from reality
The lyric is an attempt to engage it
To remember well.
To know better what we’re talking about.
To make known ourselves to ourselves.
To ring true to each other.

How hard it is
To see what’s in front of us
How hard it is
To even try to understand

Them’s got ears,
Hear the lyric.
See the noise.
Think about it
And understand it.
Our addiction
To not following
One another’s words well
To only hearing
What we’ve already decided
In our unhearing heads
Unremembering minds
Is tight
And intense
And hardwired.

But the lyric breaks through.
It’s the breakthrough
We’ve been waiting for.
It helps us come clean
As it says what we mean.
Saying it better than we could.
So we appropriate the appropriate word.
Cut and paste.
Love and steal.
Collage away as a way of
Meaning what we wanted to say.
Ringing as true as a million churches
A million ministries
When we write the pain down.
The lyric (now ours)
Let’s the air in.
Airing out our meaning problem.

What’s the use?
Why explain complaint?
Or articulate lament?
The facts we choose to sing
Crush less
When we give them
A moment of truth
A spark illuminating
These hieroglyphs
Otherwise meaningless.
Less sorrow less shame
For a moment.
Tragedy truthfully told,
Even acknowledged,
Affords an altered state
Of kinder imagining.
Facts suffer sea change
Made rich and strange.
No cellophane salvation
No shrink-wrapped explanation
Will make us new again.
But the lyrical differs.
Prophesying cosmic plainspeak
Not later
Life before death
Before rapture
But all toward hope in a day
Coming yonder
Still shining through
Already and not yet.

In light of all the light,
Let us have a meeting
Beyond advertising
And love talk.
We can have Christmas
And democracy that comes
From the feeling
That realistic
Isn’t all it’s cracking up to be.
It comes from a sorrowful feeling
That most of us are
Buying into false idols
Most of the time
That we’re barely escaping
With our lives.
Waiting on better days
While not bothering
With God’s image
In other people
In the meantime.
If we don’t try loving them now,
Why would we get all interested
All excited
And loving
Later on?
If we’re bored by one another now…
Why would we?

Heavy with thunder
All going down in your mind.
Memory recording and playing back
Fallible selections
All too human accounts of what went down
Yesterday and today and before.
The prophet
(the one who tells truthful or at least tries)
Hunts and gathers.
Gathering intelligence,
The lyric is gathered intelligence (collage).
The lyric is the broadcast
Of living research.
Strange ways coming to our made-up minds
Sending and receiving.
Submitted for our analysis
If we have time to hear it.
The tide pulling to oblivion
Ever Ill at ease
Only has time for its own voice
Listening to its own hollowness
Hollower hollower.
Quick to anger
Quick to speak
Quick to only listen to itself
Ticker tape feeding the mind.
Lethargic whatevers
No longer susceptible to mercy
Or gracious magnanimous imaginings.

But the lyric
Like the child
Like a face
Penetrates powerlessly.
Powerless enough
To change everything
To turn the world
A goodness by which we are known
Without ever quite returning the favor.
Too good to be known fully
More hope than our confidence can hold.
Our Conversion transformation
Waiting on our little wills
Our desires
Our force of habit.

The word made flesh
Announces that we weren’t
As it happens
Born for Hell.
No one is.
This hope
Isn’t property or boast.
It’s hope.
Hope has us.
Moves us.
Moving sun and other stars.
All gift
All grace
All along.
And forever
Calling “Come.”
Lifting us
To become what we’re called
To be
Merely be

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Gospel with Something to Offend Everyone smiling man is one Will Campbell (sometimes you're better off googling "Will D. Campbell"). And I suppose I have him in my mind as much or more than almost anyone else whenever I use a words like Church, gospel, or reconciliation. If my whole literary legacy was nothing more than popularizing him and spreading the good word of his existence, I think I will have done rather well. He's finally on Wikipedia. He's sitting (I'm guessing) in Mt. Juliet, TN right now. I feel better just thinking about him. His endorsement on the back of GATA was a high point of my life thus far. He is/was tight with MLK, Kris Kristofferson, Daniel Berrigan, Jimmy Carter, Waylon Jennings, Thomas Merton, AND Tom T. Hall. And I'm talking about him with whoever shows up at Borders on West End on Thursday night at 7:00 (reception following at Vanderbilt's Interfaith Council). I left a message on his phone to see if he'd be willing to be brought out for it (in which case, it'll be me asking him questions and him telling amazing stories), but I'm guessing that isn't going to happen. Anyway, come out if you're in the area. Either way, get busy with the google and do some intelligence gathering. That "Objectionable Subject Matter" link to the right is mostly about Will.