Saturday, March 18, 2017

To The Hebrew People

Pogroms in Poland

Jewish race, flesh of pain,
Jewish race, river of bitterness
like the heavens and the earth, endure,
and nurture still your forest of cries.

Your wounds have never wanted for air;
never stopped you stretching out in the shade
to wring and renew your bandage,
redder than any rose.

The world has been lulled with your moans,
and it plays with the strands of your lamentation;
the furrows of your face, that I love so much,
like the deep cuts of a saw.

Trembling the women rock their child,
trembling the man cuts his sheaf,
the nightmare kneels in your dream
your word is only the miserere.

Jewish race, there even remains in you
breast and honeyed voice to praise your hearthstones;
to recite the Song of Songs, though broken
your tongue, your lip, your heart.

In your woman Mary still walks,
over your visage moves the profile of Christ;
from the slope of Zion they have seen him
call you in vain, as the day dies…

Seeing your pain in the Good Thief
he said that immense word to him;
to annoint his feet he looks for the braid
of the Magdalene, and finds it bloodied.

Jewish race, flesh of pain,
Jewish race, river of bitterness
like the heavens and the earth, endure,
and nurture your wide forest of cries.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Except Food

I have more of my life under control than most people, I think. I love both my jobs, which put me contact with interesting people and afford many warm friendships, and for which I pretty much set my own hours. I have always followed an exercise routine, which is modest but keeps me strong enough to lug my massage table over a few blocks and up a couple flights of stairs without puffing. For years, I have studied one foreign language or another for an hour or two a day. I have time to write poems and little lyrical essays. I read interesting books. I spend time with my family. I get out into nature once a week or so. I can afford what I buy and know precisely where my money goes. I don't drink, smoke, or dope. I'm my own master.

Except for food, of course. Food is ridiculous.

There's a dreary family history behind this, a nightmare from which I am trying to awake, as Stephen Dedalus might say. Everything about food is supercharged with meaning: it is the axis of coercion and liberty, pleasure and death-wish. Every encounter with food is some sort of showdown. It's totally crazy. No way to live.

It used to be worse. There used to be orgies of potato chips alternating with oreos, enormous restaurant meals that left me uncomfortably full, daily multiple soda pops. I would eat until I couldn't eat any more, but I was almost always hungry. My evenings generally consisted of settling in with an entertaining-but-not-challenging book and bags of chips and cookies. I'd read for hours, and when replete with one sort of snack, I'd switch to another for relief. It is rather horrible to look back on: I'd get terribly sick if I did that now.

So the present state of insanity, which includes perhaps five restaurant breakfasts per week, of astonishing volume and unhealthiness, and seven fast-food dinners per week from Burgerville, bless them -- is in fact a step UP from that. Sad but true. And in the last year or two my project of wedging a cup or two of broccoli and a large salad into every day has been running a success rate of about 50%, which is something.

But the fact is that the next step -- which will, incidentally, save us at least $7,000.00 a year -- has to be cooking and eating almost exclusively at home. It's going to be a major life overhaul. I've started: I have the breakfast proof-of-concept now. (That five breakfasts per week? It used to be seven).

I find the scale of the project daunting. But it's the last piece of my life that I really want to be different.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

In the Ear of Christ

I

Christ, with your fresh-sliced skin:
Christ, with your river-emptying veins:
these poor people of the world are dead
of laxity, of fear, of cold.

You are at the head of their beds,
(if they have you), in a form too bloody,
without the tenderness that women love,
and with those marks of violent life.

They would not spit at you for being crazy,
but they would not be able to love you either,
their impetus is too slack, too worn.

Because like Lazarus they already stink, already stink;
better not to move, than to disintegrate.
Not love -- not hate -- wrings a cry from them.


II

They admire the elegance of gesture and color:
but in your wooden contortion --
your blood-sweat, your last shudder,
and the purple brilliance of Calvary --

it seems to them there is exaggeration
and plebeian taste; one who wept like you,
had thirst and suffering, would not let
those two bright tears congeal in his eyes.

Their own are dull eyes of damp tinder
without virtue of weeping (that cleans and cools);
their mouths are loose buttons,

wet and lascivious (not firm, not red),
and like the end of autumn: so unstrung
and polluted the cores of their hearts.


III

Oh Christ! May pain make that soul alive,
which you gave them and which has fallen asleep,
return it, deep and sensitive,
to the house of bitterness, passion, and outcry.

Gaffs, irons, claws which tear your flesh
as if it were fruit or a sheaf being shared;
flames that catch on your sectioned flesh,
flames like rings or knives --

weeping, weeping in warm streams,
renew the cloudy glass of those eyes
and restore the old fire of their gaze.

Sprout them from your innermost heart, Christ!
Or if that is impossible, if they are ruined bedstraw,
come down, and scatter them on the winds.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Bistolfi's Cross

Cross that no one sees, that we all feel --
invisible and certain as a wide mountain --
we sleep on you, and on you we live:
your two arms rock us; your shadow bathes us.

Love pretended to make a bed for us, but it was
only your living gaff and your naked beam.
We believed we were running free through the fields
and we never descended from your clench.

Your wood is all of fresh, human blood,
and on you I breathe in my father’s wounds,
and on the dream-nail that wounded you I die.

The lie, that we have seen the nights and days!
We were caught -- as the son on the mother --
on you: from the first wail, to the last agony.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rodin's Thinker

With his chin fallen on his rough hand
the Thinker remembers he is flesh of the tomb:
mortal flesh naked to fate,
flesh that hates death and shivered at beauty.

And shivered in love, all of his burning spring;
and now in autumn sinks into truth and sadness.
The memento mori passes over his brow
all in sharp bronze, as night begins.

And in his anguish, his muscles tear, suffering.
The furrows of his flesh fill with terrors;
they tear like the autumn leaf, to the strong Master

who calls them to bronze… and there is no tree twisted
by the sun of the plain, nor lion with wounded side,
contorted as this man who thinks of death.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Three Ways to Think about Saving Forty Cents

View from the Exercise Carpet in the Wreck Room: Massage Sheets Drying

I saved forty cents this morning. Something like that. Instead of running my load of massage linens through the dryer, I hung them up to dry. Google tells me that running a dryer once adds about forty cents to my electricity bill.

And forty cents, you know, buys... well... nothing. I don't think there's a single thing I buy for that little money, any more. Throw in another few cents savings, maybe, for the incremental wear and tear saved on the dryer, but it still doesn't add up to much.

And then there's the set-up cost. I bought a hundred feet of line -- we needed line anyway, and we have a good bit left, but still, I spent a dollar at least. So I don't even make back expenses until the third time I do it.

This is the first way, and probably the most common way, to think about saving money. You do all this work (actually this was not a lot of work, but there's five minutes of browsing the internet, lost to me forever!) and you get nothing out of it. What earthly good is forty cents?

Ah, but let's annualize it! A massage therapist does a lot of laundry: I was typically running the dryer four or five times a week, every week of the year: some 250 loads at forty cents apiece. That comes out to $100.

This is the second way of thinking about it, and I confess that it's still not very exciting. $100 is in fact money, but it's not a whole lot of it. And it's earned at the distinctly uninspiring wage of $4.80 per hour. Wouldn't I be better off to sink that time and energy into drumming up more business? $100 is what I charge for a single in-home massage, after all.

There's actually a lot of ways to pursue this line of thought. Do chore time and creative-marketing time actually come out of the same bucket? What about the overhead of doing that $100 massage, the driving, the marketing, the oils, the linens? (And, yes, the sheet-washing?) What about the fact that Uncle Sam is deeply interested in my massage earnings, and expects a cut of them, but turns up his nose at my line-drying earnings? You can bat it around a lot of ways. But it's still true that $100 a year doesn't seem like a lot.

But there is yet a third way to think about it, and this is the one that had me pinning my sheets to clothes-line in the wreck room this morning. To grasp this, you need to understand The Four Percent Rule. This rule says that you can rely on taking out 4% of your savings (intelligently invested) for the rest of your life, without exhausting them. Which means that to be financially independent -- to live on your savings -- your annual expenses must be no more than 4% of your savings; or to turn it around, once you've saved up 25 times what you spend in a year, you never need to work again. (This is hugely controversial, by the way, and can be argued six ways from Sunday, but I find Mr Money Mustache totally convincing, on this one.)

Due to the outrageous good fortune of my life, and a certain innate miserliness, this savings is within hailing distance, for me. (And a good thing, too, because at 58 I don't necessarily have a whole lot of working years left in me.) But I'm not there yet. Despite the fact that Martha and I earn well below the Oregon median income, we are saving money, to the tune of some $3,500 a year. So we are inching towards that financial independence number.

How exactly does this fit in with the forty cents I saved this morning? Well, the "25 times" may sound awfully daunting, but actually what it shows is the extraordinary leverage of reducing your annual spending. $100 per year is not much money. But the savings needed to safely generate that $100? $2,500 dollars. There's no legerdemain here. Saving this forty cents has exactly the same financial impact as saving an extra $2,500 this year. Or to put it another way: it magically scoots me eight months closer to financial independence.

All of a sudden, saving that forty cents looks a whole lot different.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Piton

After the hammer blow, the silence
rocks back and forth: a powdery membrane
a handsbreadth from the ear and keyed
to the faltering rhythm of the heart:

oh beloved

we knew this would be steep,
but we did not know then 
the frailty of knees that are cramped and snagged
by the stillness of a hundred days of dread;

we thought
we would climb with the vigor of young 
clean-bodied ape,

not this hobble.
And at the center, it is nothing but that one same fear
repeated ten thousand different ways. The hammer lifts
and our stunned hand aims again.

Darling,

all these failures mount to one,
one collapse of bravery:
the inevitable diastole 
of any clench of hope.