The Crab

He picks his way along the rough volcanic shelf as waves wash over his water shoes, bubbling and stirring through tide pools of red sea-anemones feeding. Sharp rock cuts into the rubber soles, trying to cut flesh. Fish dart about in their stone bowls. Crabs back into black holes, hiding from his shade.

Sea Anemone in Tide Pool
Photograph
©2017 Michael Dickel

Crabs scuttle everywhere, in the shadow of rocks, through his mind.

He stoops down and grabs one with a fast hand, taking care that claws can’t catch flesh. Eyes on stalks watch him. Into what sort of soul do such onyx spheres window?

He considers crushing the crab as a metaphoric act of defiance.


The crabs invaded quickly, furious fascists aggressively pouring over boundaries, intolerantly attacking cells and greedily taking all their victims had. Neoplasia. Neoplasm. They established bases in lymph nodes, hip bone, vertebrae, a single rib. He shelters from the belligerent strain, not wanting to face snipping claws tearing him apart.

Crab in Tide Pool
Photograph
©2017 Michael Dickel

Who wants this crab?

Immunochemotherapy poisons his body like pollution in these choppy waves kill the sea. Only, his body supposedly will come back to health and strength. Watching the plastic-bottles bobbing off the shelf, out of reach behind the breaking waves, he doubts the oceans will return to health. He wonders if he will.

Does it matter whether he returns—

If the seas die? If the forests fall? If carbon dioxide blankets the globe? If our house is on fire and our children will burn?


He looks at the crab in his hand as it raises its pincers defensively.

Holding the Crab
Digital art from photograph
©2019 Michael Dickel

Wind touches him, winnows emotional clouds from his skin. He releases the creature near a crevice, walks to the edge of the rock ledge. He looks out to where green meets blue at an indefinable distance, then down into unfathomable water where he sees green darkening to black—

no reflection, neither sky nor him.

Michael Dickel ©2019


Author’s note: If you check the links, many go to sources with more information about climate change (like the ones in the first paragraph, for example). Some define terms related to The Crab (cancer). The photographs of crabs and a sea anemone are from Habonim Nature Park, on the Mediterranean, south of Haifa, Israel. More info: Union of Concerned Scientists FAQ


 

Peace Alphabet

Average the
costs
contained in
conflicted—
me;

Brave the
challenges
chanced by
characterizing as human—
them;

Consider
another
analogy
announcing—
I

Decide
altogether
all people could be,
altruistically—
we;

Eviscerate
guilt
guile
grand schemes of—
us;

Forget
everything
everyone
ever told—
you—

Generically and
specifically this, a
species of
spelled out—
our

Historically
transfigured
transfixed
transferred—
other,

(those)

Ischemic
stories
stuttering to a
stop—
we

Join
together
today not
tomorrow to change—
ourselves;

Knowing
nothing,
no longer
noting—
I;

Lingering
longingly
looking
lost—
we

Make
connections
contacting
considerations, again—
we…

Nested in:
not us,
not them,
nothing more than
seeing the tear

(in someone
else’s eye).

Opening
crying eyes
almost,
finding—
them;

Possibly
possibility
potentiality
probability—
peace;

Questions
forming
to know,
not to tear
down;

Restoring
connections
lost
to fear;
then

Saying
what comes
from hearts
broken
un-broken,

They
offer
a slice
something almost
broken open,

Undulating
sweet tastes
of light
promising—
they;

View
us as
we view us
and we view
them

With
similar
intent
to build—
us;

Xylophone
bell tones
singing
together—
we;

Yearn
for this
peace
to be—
our;

(reality)

Zeniths—
like lemon
and orange—
sweet and sour
all together.

©2019, Michael Dickel

Here I Stand

I am frozen. Like a Tin Woodcutter
without oil after the monsoons.

I wait. Like a Scarecrow wanting to disturb
the debates of philosopher kings.

I weep. Like a Lion whose mask
of assurance fell off before dinner.

I have never been to Kansas, but I
know I won’t be able to go back home.

I hear the marching soldiers. I see
the torches. I feel the pitchfork prongs.

The Emerald City lies in dust.

My joints, locked with rust, refuse to move.
My mouth “ohs” at the coming train wreck.

I stand and watch in horror.
In my hollow chest, an old clock

whispers, trying to wake me,
asking me to take a stand, here.

©2019, Michael Dickel

Here I stand… Tin Woodcutter Digital art @2019 Michael Dickel
Like a Tin Woodcutter…
Digital art
@2019 Michael Dickel

 

Julia Vinograd Slipped Into My Writing

Julia Vinograd died at age 75 on December 4, 2018. (Coincidentally, my mother entered the world 101 years ago on the same date.) Vinograd was recognized in 1985, when she won a Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award for The Book of Jerusalem, which is how she first came to my attention (I have a copy of the book on my poetry shelf). She was called “the bubble lady” in Berkeley, as  as she was known for blowing soap bubbles on the street—something she learned diffused tension and calmed people during the turbulent period of the late 1960s.

I found it interesting in Tom Dalzell‘s obituary of her to note that other poets she cited as influences on her work also influence my own. Her poetry influenced my own, and she slipped into a couple of my own pieces—epigraphs to a poem and an anachronistic cameo in a work of flash fiction. The event in the flash occurred in San Francisco in 1967, but according to her obituary, she first started using the bubbles in 1969—but she was in Berkeley in 1967, so why not take some poetic license?

I wish I had had the chance to meet her in person, but I am grateful to have her poetry. I offer both my poem and flash fiction here, to honor her memory with her presence in them.

Go forward, dear poet and Bubble Lady. New adventures await. May your bubbles bring peace wherever your soul now travels.

(A selection of Julia Vinograd’s current books is available from Zeitgeist Press.)

In the beginning…

                                 Jerusalem is weeping,
                                 all temples shake in that sudden storm…
                                                           —Julia Vinograd

I
As our minds turned to words the bowl
you spun and placed
	on the mantle
		shattered—
light spilled everywhere
		chaos turned on order

(but I forget how it went, now)— 
		pains?
and doubts?
	loud! voices shouted
		across empty rooms
(borders)
	we still strain to fill with remnant shards—
			(something like that)

Shadow gave shape and definition
to every thing it touched
		naming the light in harsh accents
		as it played along the edge of white-gold rings

We sought a new urn where we could place our ashes—
	(I intone)—
and desired sparks
	to ignite old passions

Grey-grit drudge of
	laundry room
	kitchen sink
	garbage pail
	lawn clippings
	scraped paint
condensed into
	doubt
	shouts
	inertia
two sparkling flames
		and shades
of memory that slips
	like drips of water from a leaky faucet
evaporate
	down the drain
		through the grease- and hair-
	clogged trap on their way
to the sewer.

Now we piece a pot together
		as though it could be
whole
	and wear baggy clothes in place of revery.



II
This dazzling street corner, then, is where it all begins;
you and I walk down different sidewalks, along right-angles
toward sunrise and sunset, north pole and south.
Some fly buzzes around my ear, you slap a mosquito
because we no longer believe in purple candles with
proud intensity, and have stopped discussing
with any sincerity the form of oak trees, or
tomorrow.  We just pay the bills today,
and to our credit keep interest

	in something or other.  In this case, we grind grain
	and wear millstones and pretend we have some deep
injury or insult
	which overshadows simple flight

To	jobs
	and play
	and children
	and marriage
	and society
to	greed
	and avarice
	and lust
	and melancholy

we dedicate
	our lives in earnest transition
from spark to ash—		(I swear)
	I live
		this death with you.

but we all know that these words lie
		to the starving child

in war-torn Jerusalem

	each child’s tear holds a bit of the shattered pot
and remembers the light we have extinguished

in our haste to turn away

                                 Jerusalem is weeping,
                                 listen with your blood.
                                                           —Julia Vinograd

In the Beginning originally appeared in Drash Pit, January 2013.


Evening

Time slows as light escapes and shadowed night falls over her face. Waves glitter moonlit sonatas in soporific rhythms of heart beat, lost sleep, then run deep in memory. Wet sand shines. The malt whiskey-mellow mood soaks into wind whispering patterns of hush, hush, hush. The bearded woman wishes for her nomadic life, no one’s wife wishes as fervently.

Neutralized like lost neutrinos whose loose cable sped them beyond light, she floats in her beach bar chair, feet digging dry, warm sand. Dinner din rises, falls, rises, falls from inside and outside, all around her the social groupings of ritual meeting, eating, drinking, mating. This world whirls faster through space than she can comprehend. Physics unravels the surrounding universes.

Night fall, an illusion. It rises up in the shadow of the earth around them. Out beyond shadow or illusion, light remains. Moon reflects evidence, an occasional passing satellite agrees, the spots of planets, if she could recall which and where, concur. Time measures itself in movement through space while flying particles imagine themselves still. Like her smooth-faced lover who so engaged dance that he seemed still, the world flowing around him impossibly in motion.

He did move. Into her life. Into her house. And, now, out of it. Gone. Like the hitchhiker long ago, and the man with the long ponytail before him.

Like 1967, the Summer of Love finished and gone. She stood on a street in the Haight one day, watching people. Then she went to Golden Gate Park for the funeral. Men, or probably boys from her current perspective, waved top hats, wore odd clothes from other eras, bright clothes tie-dyed last week. Women, or likely girls like her, showed scads of skin, tie-dye coverings, with vintage wear mixed and matched, furs even. Everyone strung out with beads. Dress-up days. Long flowing hair. Afros. The coffin hand-painted, a sign on the side: Summer of Love. Behind it, the corpse of Hippie. The Diggers dug it down to the grounded burial plot, tried to bury it next to money.

Hippie had died, they said. Killed by the media. Overexposed and misrepresented. Time covered the funeral, photo-spread opportunity. Maybe the counter culture period began here, or perhaps freaks freighted feverish transition into then.

Escapades of escaped expression extended from happenings into mediated madness; Hollywood and Madison Avenue caught the wave and surfed into the scene with conspicuous desire for consumption. She watched the mock funeral laugh at itself and joined in; Julia Vinograd blew bubbles in the procession. Someone said Ginsberg had come, but not that she saw.

A boy on stilts walked in the funeral, from the funeral into her life. She circled him on the street, he bent down, handed her a joint. Smoke and mirrors present, multimedia wonderment, diamond dream reflection, ghost stories and revelations. Rainbows refracted from his prism glasses. Nothing near but naked skin and slippery sweat.

They swam at Muir Beach. They meandered or stumbled through fairytale-fogged redwoods. One day, he drifted into the riptide and floated down to LA. She climbed a tree and joined a commune. Rumors reached out to her, reveling in revelations that he followed the Dead around the world, stilt walking the crowds and selling on the side.

Beach bar community buzzes, bees making honey. She follows the flower trail out of the whiskey haze and picks her path home. The gully crossed, she winds her way under the wind, tight into the pattern now, checkerboard laid bare, check and mate.

Matter never quite coalesced from the rambling energy randomly dominating her. She makes her way into the place, a sort of shelter sorting her out near the beach but away from everything, equidistant from the sun.

Shaking dinner from the kitchen, she eats what she wants and no more. Perhaps that is the pattern, she reflects. Then she swims into sleep on the sofa.

Evening originally appeared on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, May 2013. It also appears in Michael Dickel’s collection of flash, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden.


@2018 Michael Dickel

A Poem for the Tree of Life Synagogue

 

Etz Haim עצ חאים David Friedman ©2002 In the poet's collection.
Etz Haim עץ חיים
David Friedman
©2002 David Friedman
In the poet’s collection.

Etz Chaim  עץ חיים

Tonight the clocks rolled back.
Time changes, but we
cannot sleep an hour
more. Who can sleep tonight?

Man shot the Tree of Life,
riddled its trunk with lead,
that soft and poisonous
metal turned to gold

through twisted alchemy—
profit-politics a strained
Philosopher’s Stone.
Stone-cold fucked-up NRA,

stone-cold fear-monger swamp-
creature calling out loud
to lock up the Jew they
blame, honing fear’s dull blade

until it cuts the trunk,
and bloodies us all.

—Michael Dickel
Jerusalem
19 Heshvan 5779
(28 October 2018 C.E.)

©2018

Say their names:

Joyce Fienberg, 75
Richard Gottfried, 65
Rose Mallinger, 97
Jerry Rabinowitz, 66
Cecil Rosenthal, 59
David Rosenthal, 54
Bernice Simon, 84
Sylvan Simon, 86
Daniel Stein, 71
Melvin Wax, 88
Irving Younger, 69

Read about them in The New York Times.

Tree of Life
David Friedman
©the artist

Just a few days before the Etz Chaim Murders…

“Just minutes after President Donald Trump called for unity in the wake of attempted bombings targeting a number of Democratic officials, he took a swing at ‘globalists’ and used the phrase ‘lock him up’ while chuckling. Trump was responding to a crowd yelling to lock up George Soros, a victim of the bombing attempt.”

—Nicole Goodkind, “Donald Trump Repeats ‘Lock Him Up’ Chant About George Soros Minutes After Calling for Unity Around Bomb Threats.” Newsweek 26 October, 2018


Transcending and Including
David Friedman
©the artist


Etz Chaim  עץ חיים — Hebrew for Tree of Life [return to poem]

 


In Israel, the roll back to Daylight Savings Time was the evening of the shooting, motsei Shabbat, the evening after the Sabbath, which is the beginning of the week. In the Jewish Calendar, days go from sundown until sundown. So, Shabbat (the Sabbath) begins on Friday evening at sundown and ends Saturday evening, after sunset (defined as when three stars can be seen in the sky, in the past, more typically about one-hour after Shabbat began on Friday, in modern times). [return to poem]

The Great Education Escape

Riding the Chariot

A fiend roared within him, fueled by germs rioting throughout his system. They wanted more whipped cream, blue sex, smoke-filled rooms; they wanted more income, better homes, self-determination; they wanted democracy to rule his body. If he had a hammer, justice would rule with silver scales. The fool would lead them.

But bang-bang, the gavel falls, overruling his objections. The fiend takes over, and his cells and the germs war, killing each other and putting the community that one might think of as his body into perpetual motion.

The teacher makes a scene for them to memorize, part of the first act of their lives. This is his job, to create neat scenes for his un-dilated pupils to use to construct a belief system and life to come. He has long since listened to the critics and realized the play will be a flop.

It all falls in on him when the fiend takes over his body.

“Class dismissed. Go home, read Rabelais, Larsen, Stein, Baldwin, Kerouac, Morrison, Atwood, Harjo, and DeLillo. Write an experimental novel. Go off the grid. Build a life from your own materials.”

The pupils stare at him intently, comprehensively unable to stand under this downpour, an outpouring of blinding insight.

“Seriously, once you have done that, come back to me and ask for an A. Until then, you have only failed, like me.”

He walked out of the class. The ‘flu had won. He went to the office, pulled a blank piece of paper from a copier, and wrote a note to the principal. Two words: I quit. Then he signed and dated it.

The school never heard from him again. Someone thought they saw his name on an
essay about Rabelais, Freire, and the need for revolution in the classroom. The principal read a review of an experimental novel that he might have written. A former student searched for him on Google, but his name disappeared from the screen.


20130710-220704.jpgWalking the ravine ahead of angels, those messengers of shadowed new light, he forgot his mother. The trees painted, making art that lasted a mere second as a breeze brushed their shadows. With affection, he thought of an Aztec descendant he met in Machu Pichu.

The land around him had a great thirst, not for rain, but for memory. A camera, hidden in a satellite, re-collected this moment of light bouncing from the rock party, a ball spinning on a pivot.

It made little difference to his views of the cosmopolitan metropolis instantiated in Berlin when the rodeo stopped in at the saloon. That poor raccoon, the gun, the Bible, the gin—you know the song. These thoughts swirled through the germinating revolution, the German revolution, the germ revolution, each a rival to his dreams.

They tried stealing his sanity, but they found the vault empty, as he had discarded all previous construction materials, leaving a lattice of emptiness while seekers discussed the seven paths of mysticism in a courtyard around seventy-seven corners of relationship to the hole filled with rain.

The wandering, colorful man no longer knew how to belong to the swimmers, so he stopped treading water, only to find that the water spit him out.

20130710-220850.jpg

He felt silly, and thought of fixing it all, perhaps by pulling the plug and disconnecting the hole from the screen. Still, a tired wink of his mind and his wonder returned, more quickly than the drink in the saloon arrived for the rodeo’s raccoon. His doctor thought he was depressed. His ex-girlfriend thought he was manic.

It could be bad, or better, if he only found what he needed to remember to forget. His skin would then refrain from thirsting for the rain, afraid that the world would fall from his shoulders, crash onto the pathless road; the wheels of the chariot would crush him with it. The soil would drink his memory. And the trees would brush over it all a surrealistic image, covering the sketch without any pentimento.


His dilated pupils did not like the new teacher. Their vessels expanded until they burst, exploding many myths at once. The principal was not their pal. They left school, but only after many years. They read theory. They taught in universities. They thought they were experimenting.

—Michael Dickel @2017

20130710-220330.jpg


An earlier version of this appeared here on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play, Michael Dickel’s blogZine. A closer version to this one appears in his collection of flash fiction, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden. This version has some small edits and one name listed to the authors the pupils should study. What does this have to do with social justice? A critique of education, conformity, and exclusion might be found in its surrealistic-hybrid traces.


 

Off the Trail of Consumer Capitalism

Off the trail

Author’s note: Originally written in July, 2013, this piece seems even more relevant and urgent 5 years later. It originally appeared here, on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play. A revised version appears in my flash fiction collection, The Toad’s Garden after The Palm Reading. This version has been slightly edited, most significantly to add the word “consumer” to modify capitalism, as the term “consumer capitalism” has come to my attention as one bandied about in place of democracy as the essential system of the United States (and promoted by some on the so-called “Christian” Right, although from my perspective, that political group seems neither Christian nor right…). The line about the great purges goes back to 2013, but we now see something like them beginning to form…

 


By chance I learned that they planned to crucify the married couple for honeymooning off the grid and outside of the mainstream consumer economy. The couple backpacked along the Appalachian Trail, using second-hand equipment, carrying home-prepared dried goods for meals , which friends provided to them as gifts.

The followers of Christ, Consumer-Capitalist, found such sacrilege untenable, especially in light of the anger it would cause the Corporate Lords of the Boardrooms.

I overheard my editor on his cell, assigning someone to cover the Meeting of Judgment where the sentence would be pronounced. When I understood that the other reporter wouldn’t be back from her current assignment in time, I sauntered in and asked what Ed had for me, like I didn’t know anything.

“The Reverend called to request we send someone to this meeting, give it coverage to send the message out. Work, spend, play inside the economy.”

“Got it. Keep the money flowing to oil the consumer capitalism machinery of wealth.”

I knew the catechism, but didn’t believe it. I’d sent dried lemon peels, home-made penne (dried to preserve it), a chunk of parmigiana traded on the underground market, and a sealed container of pesto for them to make a backpacker’s lemon pasta.

 


 

The Meeting of Judgment followed the usual pattern of these religious courts. A minister of the Reverend’s flock read out the charges. Two other ministers sat on either side, listening gravely. They conferred briefly. It didn’t matter that the accused even now were somewhere hiking in the woods.

As per custom, the ushers served cups of tea to the witnesses of the Meeting. We remained silent. I sipped a sad orange-pekoe until the lead minister announced the decision.

Crucifixion. It had come back in style around 2020, shortly after the great purges that deported, jailed, or enslaved first the non-Christians, then the wrong-type of Christians.

I had not seen a crucifixion. Up to now, it had been an advantage of a rural assignment.

“What are you going to do?” The man I knew as Germaine asked me. He’d popped up out of the crowd as I pushed out the door.

I’d seen Germaine at several social gatherings of people like me. My circles went along with the Reverend to a point, that is, enough to survive, and no more. We kept to ourselves, and tried to avoid the scrutiny of the Reverend and his ministers.

“Do? I’ll write a story about the Judgment, the reasons for it, and watch to see how many hits it gets on the Screens.”

I didn’t know Germaine enough to be baited into saying something damaging. Besides, that was what I planned to do.

“No, about them. We can’t let them get caught.”

“You could get crucified yourself for getting involved. Even what you said is a crime against Christian Consumer Capitalism.”

“What is Christian Capitalism? Something made up by corporate overlords who overeat from our consumption. There never was such a religion.”

I walked away. I considered whether he might be an agent provocateur, meaning I should report him before he denounced me for doing nothing. I decided that I didn’t want to get involved, and would invoke my sometime role as investigative reporter should he accuse me.

 


 

The next morning I had coffee with Frank, someone I thought I knew enough to trust under most circumstances. He told me that Germaine had been arrested for sedition, blasphemy, and heresy as a result of spouting the Devil’s own socialism.

“I’ll be damned.”

“Probably,” Frank said. “To tell you the truth, I thought he was a spy.”

After Frank went off to work, I looked for a screen-story on Germaine, but didn’t find one. I wondered how Frank had heard.

I read my own story on my screen, instead. It played well, several hits, re-posts, and praiseful comments.

It bored me. No, more than that, it sickened me.

I didn’t believe any of it. I knew the young couple, knew they loved the woods, knew they couldn’t afford a resort honeymoon because they wanted to buy a house and the downpayment would take everything they had.

They actually wanted to fit in and had no revolutionary or irreligious intent. They wanted to get along, but to also live their lives and not be pulled under the tide of consumer debt.

Just then, I realized that the Reverend and the ministers didn’t care. And maybe Frank didn’t read about Germaine on a screen.

 


 

The Reverend wanted to make a statement, keep people scared, keep people trying harder than ever to feed the economy and concentrate power and wealth into the Corporate Lords, who ran the Reverend.

Or maybe the other way around, the Reverend ran them. It doesn’t matter now, I realize.

Frank wanted me to play along and keep away from people like Germaine. It was almost a friendly gesture. It could have been a warning, even.

 


 

And that’s why I find myself sitting in a deer stand along the Appalachian Trail. The newlyweds should pass under it sometime today, if they haven’t yet been waylaid.

When they do, I’ll wait to see if they find the package I left out.

It has printouts of the screen story I wrote. It has a copy of the Judgment Decree. It has a map of little-known trails that cross this path, and what cash I could withdraw without getting stopped by a minister.

I thought that I would watch them pick it up and wait until they were gone, then make my way home after a few stops to justify my travel, should I get checked.

Now, I’m thinking maybe I’ll ask if I can walk with them a while when they go off the trail. I’ll cut out after a few days, find my own way.

I don’t know why I’ve decided to do this. I just don’t feel like writing another story I don’t believe in, I guess.

—Michael Dickel ©2018, 2017, 2013

20130729-230444.jpg

Closed Doors to Hotel Rooms

Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now
by Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power

 

released on BandCamp 23 May

Mr Weinstein Will See You Now - Artwork / photo: coco karol / design: andrew nelson
photo: coco karol
design: andrew nelson

A bit of lyric

amanda:
you came with bows and bells…

jasmine:
i’m not here to have

amanda:
you came here armed for action…
you knew the drill.

jasmine:
move over before i shelve myself
i’m not here to help you.

amanda:
every man behind the curtain

jasmine:
jerking knobs and smoking guns

amanda & jasmine:
shut your eyes pay no attention
just keep calm and carry on

black or blue, you choose
you’re free to be in between
play or lose
you say

Conversation fragments (via email)

Amanda Palmer: The song [Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now] began as a “let’s write something, anything together” jam session between me and Jasmine Power, a 24-year-old Welsh songwriter who happened to be over to a dinner party at my house. She’d been randomly invited over by a mutual Welsh playwright pal of ours, Hywel John. We’d never heard each other’s music, and after bonding over a late-night music-sharing wine-party, we found ourselves in a studio three days later, excited to create something from scratch.

The news about Stormy Daniels was just hitting fever pitch, and I found myself thinking about closed doors to hotel rooms across the world and over time and how they’ve been the backdrops of so many of these painful encounters. That was the starting point, and we wrote with the idea of a split self: two voices inside one woman’s head.

I’m goddam proud of it.

Me: First listen—haunting, almost like ghost voices signing from the memories.

[I meant singing, but, signing—why not?]

Sorry—possibly a vague impression. It takes me a few listens/reads to absorb poetry. This is poetry.

Amanda Palmer: That’s the idea. The lyrics aren’t supposed to be completely audible.

Me: Like the memories and stories—suppressed and emerging.

Amanda Palmer: Exactly.

A bit of lyric

amanda & jasmine:
black or blue
you choose
you’re free to be in between
play or lose
you say
it’s still not what you meant to mean
black or blue
you mean
what?
you can’t be serious
don’t you dare forget

jasmine:
that i’m the one writing this
i’m the one writing this

amanda:
and this never happened.

jasmine:
i’m the one writing this.

amanda:
this never happened.

jasmine:
i’m the one writing this.

Memory fragment

For me, sexual abuse re-sounds as shattering glass.

Decades ago, I worked as an overnight counselor in a shelter for runaway teens. One night, shattering glass took me into a room. A teen girl held her hand, blood running down it. Broken glass from the window had cut her open as she slammed her reflection in the glass.

She had been praying. She saw herself in the window. She was angry at god and struck herself, her reflected self in the black glass of night.

When I went over to her, starting to tend to her wounds, she kept shouting, “he fucked me he fucked me he fucked me,” looking at her bloody hand. Then she looked up at me. “My father fucked me,” quietly.

Am I surprised by #MeToo? No. I saw too many teen girls sexually abused by family members, by fathers—if men did this to their own daughters, why wouldn’t they abuse any woman?

Encounters with teens’ stories—shattered psyches wanting to rebuild a sense of self, running away from what they could no longer live with—these stories forged what I would later call my “street feminism.”

The power of a whisper shocked me into an awakening awareness. It was, perhaps, the most powerful whisper I have ever heard.

Mr. Weinstein Will See you Now

The strength of Amanda Palmer’s and Jasmine Power’s performance lies in the haunting, quiet emergence of story fragments weaving into a single story—the building emotion, the details that in Hollywood’s male gaze would be erotic details:

your shirt is on the table…

your skirt is on the floor…

countered by crossing voices from women’s emotional reality:

you crouch down in the bathroom…
our time is at a loss
the mirror makes you sick…
won’t have you in me

The music uses piano to paint the emotion, the growing power of the singers. As they share their stories, their voices slowly build toward crescendo. Matt Nicholson, a British composer and film-music arranger, brings “strings and orchestration to make the track more cinematic; almost overdoing it at points to kick Hollywood in the face,” Amanda Palmer writes.

At times, the orchestration pulls back to let the voices and piano convey raw emotion:

amanda & jasmine:
just turn me over

jasmine:
fast and
let’s get this over with
let’s get this over with

amanda:
let’s get this over with

jasmine:
let’s get this over with

Amanda Palmer: I’d been fiddling in my own head for months with ideas for songs and tunes to address the #MeToo movement, and it’s such a hard thing to write about it. It’s so personal to these women, these stories, and it felt too wrong to write something funny and cabaret; the topic is too harrowing.…
It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever made before; it’s almost a mini piece of theater.

Me: Disturbing, powerful theater that almost hurts—the beauty of the singers’ voices, the music, combined with the pain and hurt of the reality of sexual violence—“black or blue/ you choose / you’re free to be in between”—but in between is neither here nor there—dissociative—hard to find a self, to cohere.

Shattering glass.

Until the voices gather the shards, arm themselves, and reclaim their lives:

amanda:
every version has two endings

jasmine:
every time the penny drops

amanda & jasmine:
open casket, open casting
this is where the story stops

jasmine:
i storm out through the hallway
i leave the scars inside
you won’t portray my picture
this film is mine

And at the end of the song, in response to “this never happened,” the song arrives at: “i’m the one writing this.”

Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power
are “the one[s] writing this”

Amanda Palmer: It’s not surprising that, just like the movement itself, it took two women getting into a room together, comparing notes and joining forces to create something almost like an anthem for taking back our narrative.

Every time I play the track for one of my female friends, we have an important moment together.

I don’t know if most people will even understand this song; and I don’t care.

The women we wrote it for will understand.

—Michael Dickel
Essay @2018 Michael Dickel
Song Lyrics @2018 All Rights Reserved (Used by Permission)


Mr. Weinstein Will See You Now

photo:
coco karol
design:
andrew nelson

Song written by Amanda Palmer, Jasmine Power and Sketch & Dodds
Vocals: Amanda Palmer and Jasmine Power
Piano: Sketch & Dodds

Production: Sketch & Dodds
Strings: 7 Suns Quartet
Cello: Earl Maneein
Violin: Jennifer DeVore

Recorded at Applehead Studios, Woodstock by Chris Bittner, and at The Bunker Studios, NYC, by Todd Carder
Jasmine’s vocals recorded by Owain Jenkins at StudiOwz in Wales-Pembrokeshire in December 2017.
Mixed and Mastered in London by Taz Mattar


This originally appeared on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play as Behind Closed Doors to Hotel Rooms.

Related from Michael Dickel, on The BeZine:

Warm Blanket of Silence

An essay Michael Dickel has been writing since 1988, and of which he read a revised version for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women at Verses Against Violence 3, organized by Rachel Stomel in Jerusalem, on 24 November 2016.

Gertrude’s Poem

To name a purple flower—hubris;
To call red a rose.
A rose is a rose is a rose,
She said.
The fruit of purple.
So like an apple—
so unlike an apple—
poison to eat.
—Sodom’s apple
milkweed—
A rash thought that
blisters my skin.
A rose is a rose is a rose,
She said.

—Michael Dickel
©2018

Sodom's Apple Ein Fascha (near the Dead Sea) photographs ©2018 Michael Dickel
Sodom Apple [1]
Ein Fascha
(near the Dead Sea)
photographs ©2018 Michael Dickel

[1] Calotropis procera, a milkweed native to the Dead Sea and Sodom, Israel and other desert regions” (Wikipedia). Known also as Apple of Sodom.

Which is also the title of a Marilyn Manson song written for a David Lynch film, Lost Highway (warning: strong images in this YouTube music video of the Marilyn Manson song):


This poem originally appeared on Instagram, in an earlier version.

Multiplying Media, four poems by Michael Dickel

19 August 2005
©2018 Michael Dickel

 

Skin Rug poem graphic
Skin Rug
©2018 Michael Dickel

 

Faint White Distance
©2009 Michael Dickel
from The World Behind It, Chaos…

 

Strange Fire
©2012 Michael Dickel

Headphones recommended for the full sound-sculpture effect.

 

 


Graphics, poems, and music ©Michael Dickel All Rights Reserved


[Click on an image to see it full size.]


Earthquake and devastation

Shaken earth weeps
floods of ice in all lands,
attempts to cleanse itself.
We diseased cells have
metastasized, eaten
its forbidden flesh,
perforated its bones.
What it cannot shake
off it sweeps away
in wind or burns
off in fires. Glaciers
wear down what remains.
Everything known is now
extinct. Only new forms
emerge, scathed and
transformed from death
by cancerous greed—
into a fallen grace.

—Michael Dickel
©2018

Shekinah III: My beloved whispers in my ear

And these words, which I command thee with this day, shall be upon thy heart…
And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets before thine eyes.

—Deut. VI:6, 8

I.
My beloved whispers in my ear; she reveals herself to me—
her Words, jewels upon my breast, upon my hand, upon my forehead.
When my beloved walks in the field, the heron flies up with cackling praise;
she inspires the crane to laugh as it rises into the sky; the swallows dance for her.
I have come and gone with uncertainty and doubt; but my beloved inspires constancy:
Though in times of drought the hill dries out, the hollows hide some mud, remembering.
My beloved brings rain into the high, parched fields that have forgotten her;
she walks among the swaths and sheds her tears for each cut stalk.
The hollows swell with water to quench the beasts and grow the iris;
my beloved reflects their grace as they mirror the sky among the grasses.

II.
The storm was terrible: the thunder rumbled long in the night; the lightning terrified;
a wind blew through the window of the house and tapped upon the walls.
Yet, my beloved whispered in my ear and I wore her words like jewels.
In her arms I rested as the fields drank deeply, the dry holes filled with sweet water.
In the dark I am drawn to my beloved; she is even more glorious in the light:
She is a stand of gentian unexpectedly found near the edge of the willow.
An eagle flies above the goldenrod and pines; I know my beloved thinks of me.
The thought of my beloved eases my burden as I toil on the road to her house:
Her kisses, sweeter than blueberries freshly picked, inspire acorns to rise toward the sky;
her caresses provide strength to the birch, the aspen, the maple, the oak, but also to grasses.

III.
I hold my love; she holds me. I have studied her in the willow, the iris, the thistle:
finches, warblers, and wrens feed and live in her shelter, so my love feeds and shelters me.
The oats have been cut, the hay rolled and stored for the winter.
My love comes to me and whispers in my ear; she reveals herself to me.
The geese gather and call, flying over the trees, landing in the pond:
my love sighs and the grasses bend; the aspens sigh and my love bends to me.
Her kisses build the temple; her love holds me and I heal:
My beloved is mine, I am hers. She points to the flowers off the path:
small white bells, tiny blue trumpets, vetches, paintbrush; I don’t know all the names.
My beloved knows the Names of the Flowers; she whispers them to me: I embrace her.

—Michael Dickel
©1999


Hebrew

עברות


  :III שכינה
אהובתי לוחשת לי באוזן


והיו הדברים האלה, אשר אנוכי מצווך היום– על לבבך… וקשרת לאות, על ידיך; והיו לטופפות בין עיניך

-ספר דברים, פרק;, פסוקים ו’-ח;



I.
אהובתי לוחשת לי באוזן; היא נגלת אלי-
מילותיה, תכשיטים על חזי, על ידי ועל מצחי.
כשאהובתי פוסעת בשדה, הענפה אצה מקרקרת תשבוחות:
לעגור היא נותנת השראה לצחוק במעופו אל השמיים; הסנוניות רוקדות עבורה.
באתי והלכתי עם ספק וחוסר ודאות: אולם אהובתי משרה השראה בלי הפסקה:
גם אם בשעת בצורת הגבעה מתייבשת; הנקיקים מחביאים קצת בוץ, זוכרים.
אהובתי מביאה גשמים אל הגבהים, אל שדות קמלים אשר אותה שוכחים;
היא מהלכת בין האלומות ומזילה דמעות על כל גבעול שנגדע.
הנקיקים מתרחבים ממים שמרווים את החיות ואת משקים ומצמיחים את האירוס;
אהובתי בבואה לחֵינם באותה מידה שהם משקפים את השמיים בין הדשאים.

II.
הסערה היתה נוראית: הרעם הרעים לאורך הלילה; הברקים הבהילו;
הרוח נשב מבעד לחלון ונקש על הקירות.
אבל עדיין, אהובתי לחשה לי באוזן ואני לבשתי את המילים שלה כמו תכשיטים.
נח בזרועותיה בעוד השדות בשקיקה שותים, הנקיקים היבשים במים מתוקים מתמלאים.
בחסות החושך אני נמשך אל אהובתי ובאור היא אפילו עוד יותר מופלאה:
היא גבעול גנציאן סגול הנמצא במפתיע בפאתי הערבה.
נשר חג מעל האורנים ושיחי שרביט הזהב הצהובים; אני יודע שאהובתי עלי חושבת.
המחשבה על אהובתי מקלה על המשא שלי בעוד אני עומל לעשות אל ביתה את דרכי:
נשיקותיה, מתוקות מאוכמניות טריות, מעוררות השראה באיצטרובלים להתעלות מעלה אל רקיע;
ליטופיה כוח נונתים לליבנה, לצפצפה, למייפל, לאלון אבל גם לעשב.

III.
אני מחזיק את אהובתי; היא מחזיקה אותי. למדתי אותה בערבה, באיריס, בחוח:
פרושים, גדרונים וסכבים ניזונים ובמקלטה חיים, ככה אהובתי מאכילה ועלי מגנה.
שיבולת השועל נחרשה, עובדה ואוחסנה לימות החורף.
אהובתי אלי ניגשה ולי באוזן לוחשת; היא מגלה עצמה בעבורי.
האווזים מתאספים וקוראים, עפים מעל העצים, באגם נוחתים:
אהובתי נאנחת והאווזים רוכנים; הצפצפה נאנחת ואהובתי רוכנת לעברי.
נשיקותיה בונות את המקדש; אהבתה אוחזת בי ואני מחלים:
אהובתי שייכת לי ואני לה. היא מצביעה לעבר הפרחים לצד הדרך:
פעמונים קטנים לבנים, חצוצרות זעירות כחולות; מברשות, מטפסים; אני לא מכיר את כל השמות.
אהובתי יודעת את שמות הפרחים; היא לוחשת לי אותם; אני אותה מחבק.

—מיכאל דקל

תרגום לעברית: גילי חיימוביץ’
2018©

Hebrew translation by Gili Haimovich
©2018


The English original was published in Midwest / Mid-East
and in Diogen pro kultura magazin / pro culture magazine.

A Defense of Activist Poetry

51pv4fg0wpl-_sx329_bo1204203200_By now, those who pay attention to poetry and in particular the poetries of witness and activist poetries, know well that it follows from a long tradition. Yet others, especially cultural and political conservatives, argue “protest” poetry or “political” poetry both do not constitute “Literature,” and that such poetry cannot help but be time-bound little more than contemporaneous commentary. I have been told that some of my poetry is “journalistic,” and that I am caught in a “fashionable” trend from the mid-1950s that has no literary roots beyond, possibly, the Beats. Such arguments simply are nonsense.

unknownCarolyn Forché’s volumes Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English 1500–2001 and Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness demonstrate, with excellent examples, a long history of social and political engagement in English poetry. In fact, one might claim just the opposite of the (usually disguised political) claims that the tradition began in the middle of the 20th C. could be made, that solipsistic confessional poetry that is more autobiography than engaged in the world emerges from that time, in counter-balance to a history of poetry engaged in the outside world.

For this post, I provide two examples of poets from the first half of the 20th Century who engaged in the world.

*****

The first, two poems come from the well-known poet William Butler Yeats: Easter, 1916, written in response to a political protest forcefully broken up by the British, who executed 16 of the protesters. The poem, written in September 1916 and published in 1928, ends with a powerful commentary on the protest, the execution-martyrdom that resulted, and, prophetically, the continuation of the Irish struggle: “A terrible beauty is born.”

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

– William Butler Yeats

Yeats’ poem, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, comments powerfully and bitterly on violence, war, oppression, and the loss of our own humanity in modern times. The poem, in six parts, has a history of difficult critical reception—critics had a hard time reconciling it with others of Yeats’ works. However, since the later part of the 20th Century, his poem has had a more thoughtful reading by the critics, possibly giving weight to saying he was “ahead of his time.”

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen

I.
Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood —
And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen’s drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.

But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if Such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.

II.
When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.

III
Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

A man in his own secret meditation
Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made
In art or politics;
Some Platonist affirms that in the station
Where we should cast off body and trade
The ancient habit sticks,
And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:
That image can bring wildness, bring a rage
To end all things, to end
What my laborious life imagined, even
The half-imagined, the half-written page;
O but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed
To afflict mankind, but now
That winds of winter blow
Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.

IV.
We, who seven years ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth.

V.
Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked — and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

VI.
Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;
Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded
On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,
But wearied running round and round in their courses
All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:
Herodias’ daughters have returned again,
A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.

– William Butler Yeats

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to this site to view the video here of Yeats reading Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.

*****

unknown-1For the second example, I move to a lesser-known writer. John Cornford, the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, died during the Spanish Civil War under “uncertain circumstances at Lopera, near Córdoba in 1936.” We have no idea how much he might have contributed to poetry, had he survived. However, his poems written during the Spanish Civil War did survive, and were published posthumously. Born in 1915 in Cambridge, England, he was a committed communist. “Though his life was tragically brief, he documented his experiences of the conflict through poetry, letters to family and his lover, and political and critical prose which spoke out against the fascist regime and its ideologies.”

Sandra Mendez, a niece of John Cornford who also holds the copyright to his work, created a song from his poem “To Margot Heinemann.” The YouTube below is her performing that song.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to this site to view the video here of Yeats reading Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.

These are just two of many examples that could be drawn from the long history of English letters. Engaged poetry, poetry of witness, activist poetry, political poetry—all comprise an important aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, of what we call “Poetry.”

– Michael Dickel

Select Resources and Links
Burt, Stephen. The Weasel’s Tooth: On W. B. Yeats. The Nation.
Dickel, Michael. Curator / Editor. Poet Activists: Poets Speak Out. The Woven Tale Press.
Rumens, Carol. Poem of the Week: Poem by John Cornford. The Guardian.

THE POET AS WITNESS, an interview by Jamie Dedes with Michael Dickel

© 2016, essay, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Peace in the house…

Peace in the house, A–Z
an incomplete guide

 

Average the
costs
contained in
conflicted—
me;

brave the
challenges
chanced by
characterizing as human—
them;

consider
another
analogy
announcing—
I

decide
altogether
all people could be,
altruistically—
we;

eviscerate
guilt
guile
grand schemes of—
us;

forget
everything
everyone
ever told—
you—

generically and
specifically this, a
species of
spelled out—
our

historically
transfigured
transfixed
transferred—
other,

(those)

ischemic
stories
stuttering to a
stop—
we

join
together
today not
tomorrow to change—
ourselves;

knowing
nothing,
no longer
noting—
I;

lingering
longingly
looking
lost—
we

make
connections
contacting
considerations, again—
we…

nested in:
not us,
not them,
nothing more than
seeing the tear

(in someone
else’s eye).

Opening
crying eyes
almost,
finding—
them;

possibly
possibility
potentiality
probability—
peace;

questions
forming
to know,
not to tear
down;

restoring
connections
lost
to fear;
then

saying
what comes
from hearts
broken
un-broken,

they
offer
a slice
something almost
broken open,

undulating
sweet tastes
of light
promising—
they;

view
us as
we view us
and we view
them

with
similar
intent
to build—
us;

xylophone
bell tones
singing
together—
we;

yearn
for this
peace
to be—
our;

(reality)

zeniths—
like lemon
and orange—
sweet and sour
all together.

—Michael Dickel ©2018


Abecedarian
Related to acrostic, a poem in which the first letter of each line or stanza follows sequentially through the alphabet.

The Poetry Foundation

Peace Conceit

Peace Conceit

וַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהוָ֔ה כִּֽי־עָשָׂ֥ה אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֖ם בָּאָ֑רֶץ וַיִּתְעַצֵּ֖ב אֶל־לִבּֽוֹ׃

And then G-d regretted
that G-d had made man on earth,
and G-d’s heart was saddened.

—Bereishit (Gen.) 6:9–13

…neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain
—Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

On this dark morn, while we sit by
where gulls are heard, the boats asway,
swells rising high on trembling bay,
I yearn to say— please touch my hand,
caress this old frame, kiss me again.

But no voice stirred. So, in cold storms
two faces cast gazes where form ends.
Masks fly for bait to make hearts sigh.
For conversation, we seek words
that toss olive twigs as bread for birds.

Pleas out of phase— touch me again,
kiss my old shame, caress my hands.
No reply justifies tumbling waves,
foghorn echoes, our souls’ dismay.
No warmth wraps us. The last doves’ve died.

—Michael Dickel ©2018


In the positive sense, a conceit originally referred to an extended metaphor with a complex logic that governs a poetic passage or entire poem. By juxtaposing, usurping and manipulating images and ideas in surprising ways, a conceit invites the reader into a more sophisticated understanding of an object of comparison. Wikipedia

Less conventional, more esoteric associations characterize the metaphysical conceit. John Donne and other so-called metaphysical poets used conceits to fuse the sensory and the abstract, trading on the element of surprise and unlikeness to hold the reader’s attention.The Poetry Foundation


 

Two Lamentations

A Priest’s Lament

 

Labyrinth Digital landscape from photo @2018 Michael Dickel
Labyrinth
Digital landscape from photo
@2018 Michael Dickel

i
Starting from the outside,
the labyrinth’s path moves closer,
further, closer, as it takes a poet
deviously toward the center.

Mosaic patterns, partly broken
by frost, perpetually bloom there.
Gray, mossed-stones line the path—
they frame the wanderer’s flower.

ii
We wandered that desert
for forty years. All we had
for communication were
specially designed tents

built from detailed plans—
each folding floorboard
and floating nail exact—
a cellular plan from God.

iii
That lonely God longed for
our calls, the return of a gift
we could not understand.
We just turned on each other

instead. We hoarded words
into locked arks as though
we owned them or understood
what they meant. We didn’t.

iv
We meant to know more. Ever since,
with poor reception, a limited data plan,
we still pretend we can call God
whenever we want. We pray

for every child shot in school
as though words could unlock
such cruelty. We pray that we
will not long be held responsible.

v
I long for the days before
those instructions were given,
before we built the tabernacle,
before we transformed the tent

to stone on top of a mountain,
before we thought we knew
what God wanted us to do,
before we decided we were priests.


Poem of separation (kodesh, kodesh, kodesh)

 

(vi)
A wandering God longs for us
from outside a forty-year labyrinth,
folding time, returning space, locked
into receiving words that cannot be given.

We thought we knew.

(vii)
On the seventh day, God rested.
We have not seen or heard
Creation since. Our language
overwhelms the world.

We thought we knew.


—Michael Dickel


Poet Tree Labyrinth Digital Landscape @2018 Michael Dickel from photos by Terri Carrion and Michael Dickel
Poet Tree Labyrinth
Digital Landscape @2018 Michael Dickel
from photos @2018 by Terri Carrion and Michael Dickel

This two-poem sequence was written at Lake Jackson, Tallahassee, Florida, during Michael‘s participation in the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Residency Program 2018, in the days following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass killings in Parkland, Florida. The 100 Thousand Poets for Change organization has planned poetry events as gun violence protests for peace and memorials for Parkland. More information with a schedule can be found here.


 

Selection from Nothing Remembers


The following poems are from an unpublished manuscript, Nothing Remembers. This selection explores the spirituality and rituals of death (and remembering), among other themes. [Autumn 2018 update— the poetry collection, Nothing Remembers, is scheduled to be published by Finishing Line Press during summer, 2019.]


For Irwin Gooen

…for man goes to his everlasting home,
and the mourners go about in the street.

—Kohelet 12:5

The door closed. Clouds cover the moon;
the rain a memory blocking out the stars.
Desire has drained into the trembling house,
tools disused gather dust. Seeing nothing
out the windows, the house wraps dark arms
around the one in his old chair, quiet now.
Some music might have played, but his lovers
forgot the words and did not sing anymore.
Higher on the ridge, a lone bird calls alarm.
The mills on the river below fall in on themselves.
But apple trees still blossom, lilacs scent the air.
The oxygen tube shines silver, snapped
like a cord, unneeded. A pitcher of water
fell, crashing into the silence. At dawn,
a golden light suffuses the house, the man’s
body empty in his old chair. His fountain of
words evaporates off the wall where he wrote them.
The wheels have fallen from the truck.
When his friends find him, they lay him
beneath the stone he carved.

And the dust returns to the earth
as it was, and the spirit returns to G-d,
Who gave it.

—Kohelet 12:7


nb: Kohelet is the Hebrew-Jewish name for The Book of Ecclesiastes

Originally appeared in print: “For Irwin Gooen.” Voices Israel Poetry Workshop June 2010. Jerusalem: Voices Israel. 2010. p. 17.


 

Drawing Breath(less)

A bit stretched,
this line we pen between life
and death, between life
and life. Sometimes
our own. Sometimes
another’s.

Elongated,
my legs akimbo on the couch
reading some poetry, a novel,
a bit of a bitter philosophy.
You sip coffee in the morning—
maybe wine, if evening
falls while we.

Opening up
the locked cabinet we find as usual
an emptiness familiar, comforting—
vacuumed of emotions, better.
Like work and social
gatherings where
they pretend.

We pretend.
Something involving chocolate,
painted skin, holding
each other together
against centripetal forces.
Central petals of the flower
tight in bursting buds.

Reaching stars
when standing, that is, seeing
them tired, failing to drink enough.
Glimpses of intimacy obscured
and hidden while seeming to
reveal. Grief in a game of
hide and seek.

I don’t know if
you or I will ever understand. This.
Perhaps I am in the psychiatric ward
again. Where I used to work. Or perhaps
you are in rehab, for your failure to drink
enough alcohol to fuel the economy.
Forgetfulness sells.

In explorations
such as these nothing can be found,
everything lost forgets where it lived,
death lives and life, well, you know.
Toss the rounded river stones
into a pile, throw some flat stones
skipping over water.

In explorations,
I don’t know if
reaching stars
we pretend—
opening up,
elongated,
a bit stretched.


Moon Glow Cemetery Row Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Moon Glow Cemetery Row, Digital art, ©2015 Michael Dickel

Nothing remembers

where in our times we these rocks piled into buildings
that fell down a thousand years ago dis(re)membered from war
or earthquake raised and razed again into where nothing
recalls again the warm day anemones bloom hollyhocks
poppies forget no one and another rain day another dry day
pass hot and cold while an orvani drops blue feathers in flight
a hawk sits calmly on a fencepost and flocks of egrets
traipse toward the sea no cattle no grains all harvested
in this place we would call holy land nothing left to it but conflict
with the passing of her life that tried so hard to hang onto one
moment many moments missed so many more empty echoes
a difficult way to say goodbye to a mother watching her
evaporate like rain in the desert her mind dust that dries
lips her droned words faded as warmth from a midnight rock
meaning what the layers of history these rocks un-piled
reveal sepia photos a couple of tin-types dust school
reports cards newspaper holes the shells of bugs raised and razed
again and again into our times where nothing remembers


Originally appeared in print: “Nothing Remembers.” The Indian River Review. 2. 2013. p. 9.

Here is a video of Michael Dickel reading it (in Tel Aviv):

 


©2010–2017 Michael Dickel

Visions Then and Now / Again

mud dug out of holes
where concrete constructions
                              soon poured in safe
strong-posts

little pink running shoes splattered in puddles

a fence wrapped around my yard
the gate high, the latch out of reach
my daughter said she thought
                            "…real hard.  Why we have fence?"

later

the tv showed us The Magic Flute
ashes on the steps of the administration building
a bent sign "I hate CIA"                   discarded in the bushes

voices said  "There is no justice here"

I read the Salvadoran Aide Memoire        and I imagined
the Salvadoran dead flowed from Carolyn Forché's heart
out of her
           eyes
                 onto
                      her
                           page

from her words
                       they tried to grab me

I drove
the highway did not change
        José Napoleon Duarté redeclared his aim
               Kim Jong-un aims his words like missiles
                        media hypodermics inject poison thoughts

a picture of bulldozers muddying graves,
in history books I suppose
the Holocaust	                           Never Again 
and again and again and again, never-ending again

someone else's two year old in a hole,
a doll, limbs unnatural angles, feet bare

Life Magazine
Viet Nam, Cambodia

Online
Afghanistan, Syria

Death unloads a magazine
into the crowded street

nightmares, not dreams, told of men,
in bamboo cages
buried in sand
                       in meter-square boxes

I could have made those boxes
with scrap lumber
fence wood piled up,
neat left overs
not quite a meter high

how hungry I am for left-overs

Forché wrote somewhere that she threw up
         puked
            at my distance
                 I did not puke

I heard Duarté say "Salvadoranian,"
it sounded like "subterranean"
in a past I do not know

and I hear all of the misprunciations
of my mind, slipping past to present to past
future simple complex tenses unwrapped

I saw a daughter in the ground
muddy feet askew                  no grave marker, 
not fancy, not plain

Just the fence around my yard
its six-foot gate
No two-year old hand
should reach that latch     to get out
or to get into this world…

I woke up.
I remember that after
we watched, so many years ago,
my daughter ate yogurt
in the morning and asked,
"I see Magic Flute?"

©2017 Michael Dickel

Come on up folks

Come on up, folks, right here and now, get your famous utterances here, ten for a dollar, only ten for a dollar! One violation per utterance and fire and war and brimstone come calling, ten of them, I tell you, such a deal you cannot find anywhere else. Come on up, folks, up this mountain—who shall be king of the hill (or queen—you listening there gary? It could be you!) who shall follow the smoke in the day and the fire at night and hunger for the lost and lead the poor and feed the cold chill night of despair and dispossession disposition unknown—for just ten, count them, ten utterances for a dollar! And you can fight over the order and fight over the fine print define your terms, ten for a dollar. I’m telling you folks, come on up, step right up to the altar of idolatry, loving the electric bill and the gas company and the defense contractor beyond recognition of the face at the beginning of the multi-national parrot sale. Parrots, ten for a dollar as they echo your laugh tracks and needle your relatives pining away in a major depression. For a dollar, ten for a dollar! Pills or utterances, wishes or commandments, prayers or players, I tell you such a deal you cannot find anywhere else but the lowest place on earth, the newest crust, the Syrian-African rift, and oh what a rift it is, oh, what a rift it is. Ten for a dollar! I’m telling you, who needs a dozen when you only have ten fingers and toes, fingers and toes, fingers and toes, ten for a dollar! On the battlefield who cares how much per utterance but only a blessed dime, blessed, blessed time. What can you get for a dime bag death dream time? But four, get full of sorrow drowning the pleasure of ten utterances, love-making screams desire and joy, ten utterances for a dollar. Just ten. Just a dollar. Come on up, folks, ten utterances for a dollar. Come, come, come, come on up, folks. Come on up.

 

©2017 Michael Dickel

High Technology Death

 

High
Technology

I mean, it’s
Ready to go
Easy to use
Off the rack
One size fits all
New improved formula
Drive through convenience
Super economy size

Hey, it’s
Fast and easy
New better than ever
Bright attractive packaging
Scientific studies prove
As advertised in Life
Safety tested

Guaranteed No mess

You know, it’s
Labor saving easy clean up
As seen on TV
Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval
Nine out of ten doctors recommend it
Research has shown
No assembly required
Government approved

Complete Total Death

 

©2017 Michael Dickel

Poetics Performance

Brechtian Knots Performing a Poetics of Constructed Memory

My relationship with performance provides a complex series of braided knots as I reflect on it and try to untangle its influences in my life and creative work. While the make-believe of child’s play and the various attempts to “show” myself to adults as a child certainly root this tangle, my first recollection of a formal role goes back to Kindergarten.

In some drama acted by 5 year-olds, I had a short spoken part. The performance was scheduled during the class hours, at a time when most families where I lived had only one parent working (the father, of course). I recollect tears and devastation when my mother, a teacher herself, explained to me the morning of the performance that she would not be there. She had asked a neighbor lady, who watched me after the half-day class, to come instead. I was not happy.

The ending was Hollywood (or at least Hallmark), however—when I was on the stage, ready to read my lines, I saw my mother in a seat, not the neighbor. Apparently her principal had offered to take her class so she could come. How stereotypical is that ending?

Commissar Strolovitch

My next memory really begins the tale I want to tell, though, one of politics and drama. In 1966–1967, I was in sixth grade, and it was the Cold War era. Our class play, chosen no-doubt by our good teacher, was pure anti-Soviet propaganda. My role? Commissar Strolovitch, of the Supreme Soviet Union. I was, of course, the bad guy. The plot unfolded a simple line of propaganda—students in the Soviet Union could not choose their own destinies, the State dictated them. And, horror of horrors, this was done on the basis of an exam.

Near the end of the play, I stomped on stage in military rigor, wearing an old Civil Air Patrol coat and leather riding boots, saluted, and declared that the hero of the play had failed the test and would go to work on a farm, or something like that. Maybe it was a farm. Someone else, who wanted to work on a farm or whatever it was (my memory is not precise on this) would go to university. After all, this is what the exam results determined. No choice for the poor individuals caught up in this Communist trap.

The students wore old Boy Scout shirts and red kerchiefs, young Communists all. Now, I see the irony of the fact that the Civil Air Patrol and the Boy Scouts were U.S. proto-military youth groups whose apparel were being used to critique the proto-militaristic U.S.S.R.

During dress rehearsal, or maybe it was even the performance in front of our parents (scheduled in the evening, both of my parents attended), the back wall of the “classroom,” painted brown paper held between some boards, fell backwards. Our teacher declared (in my reconstruction, but something like this): “How realistic. They Communists build so poorly, their buildings literally fall apart around them.” We all laughed. Those Commies.

I grew up in an almost-all white suburb of Chicago. I had not yet heard of Cabrini-Green, the most notorious (but not the only) Chicago public housing project. The Projects of Chicago, LA, New York, and other cities, were notorious for poor construction, inadequate public services and maintenance, and breeding grounds for despair and violence. I doubt that my sixth grade teacher new much about them at the time, other than perhaps that white people didn’t live or go to them, if that much.

These realities of U.S. life were across racial lines, and at this time, only two years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, still largely ignored. The Watts Rebellion (also called the Watts Riots) of 1965 were considered a “Negro problem.” The Detroit Rebellion (also referred to as Riots) lay in the summer ahead, as did those in Newark, New York, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Tampa—159 U.S. cities, total in the “long hot summer” of 1967 (according to Wikipedia). Other uprisings by the “uppity Negros” also lay ahead, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the spring of 1968.

At the time I also had not yet, of course, heard Noam Chomsky speak or read his writing on such things as mass media or how governments tend to point to other governments and say—hey, those guys do this and that which is really nasty to its citizens and the world, but not us, we’re different. Of course, he says it more elegantly and I’m oversimplifying from global impressions, but his point is that if a government says all of the “bad” governments use these strategies for staying in power, likely that government does it, too.

I will return to this political theme in the story, but first, a bit of Shakespeare and The Bible, followed by a ballet.

Lord of the Court

My next formal performance was actually in a theatre auditorium, albeit in my high school. I was an extra, one of the lords in Theseus’ court. I wore a tuxedo for the first time. I walked around and spoke quietly to others, but without lines—we just populated the court behind the actual characters of the story, as needed. I was white, privileged, and even in my essentially supernumerary position, I got to wear a tuxedo. After all, I lived in white (upper) middle class suburbia. Upper is parenthesized, because my family was middle class, hence we lived in the development houses, not the nicer houses in the older part of town where executives who commuted to Chicago lived. Still, I benefitted from a good education and got to wear that tux in a high school described (because of its architecture) as “the castle on the hill,” and its football team called “The Hilltoppers.”

Shortly after this time, I started playing guitar and listening to folk music, sixties music (hey, it was 1969), singer song-writers, and, influentially, protest music. Actually, I had been listening to the music for years, as all three of my older brothers played guitar (we all still play) and brought home records and copies of Sing Out! I was still beginning to play guitar.

So it should be no surprise that my early attempts to play in local “coffeehouses” geared to youth (and run in such places as church basements) proved less than successful. Someone threw peanuts at me one night. Another night, possibly unrelated to my playing, a black-leather jacketed wannabe motorcycle gang member tried to kick me in the chest, but I stepped back just in time so that he only grazed me. (I actually think it was because I was a “hippie” and he thought he should attack me for it).

I still play music, but people now occasionally ask me to do it, and no one throws peanuts. Or tries to kick me. Well, not usually, anyway.

Spotlighting Job

Job suffered, in the Archibald Macleish play, J.B., as a result of a bet between Zuss (Zeus) and Nickles (Old Nick) playing God and Satan in a circus tent. History, Science, and Religion come to offer conflicting comfort to J.B. after Zuss / God destroys his life. Unlike the Biblical story, J.B. rejects both God and Satan and finds comfort in human companionship. This time, I took a role back stage, setting up lights and running the light board—dramatizing the performing actors below (the board was up above the stage). I was still in high school, but had by now moved to a middle class suburb of Minneapolis. It was a good school, too. I mostly remember wanting to date another student who was also working on lights. And a great cast party after opening night.

Scheherhezade

As a boy, I had a Bowdlerized copy of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights. Much was missing, including, at least in my recollection of it, the framing story of Scheherhezade and the reason she was telling the stories. It just had the stories, watered down. In my first year out of high school, I learned of the much spicier frame for those stories of a Sultan, his unfaithful favorite wife (did he really have a harem?), and his distrust of all future lovers to the point of killing them after their first night of marriage, so they couldn’t cheat on him.

Scheherhezade tells him a story on their wedding night, and he asks for another. She starts, but stops just when it gets interesting (the original cliff hanger?), falling asleep. He spares her—she continues to tell her stories, interrupting them by falling asleep at a crucial point. He continues to spare her, for 1,001 nights, then realizes he doesn’t want to kill her.

I had another supernumerary role—a soldier in the Nijinsky ballet for Rimsky-Korsakov (Russians, both), Scheherhezade. There was a harem orgy, with the Golden Slave and the favorite wife of the Shah. It was all a trap of course, as the Shah had told his wives he was going on a hunting trip, when in fact he was trying to prove to his advisor (brother?) that his wives were faithful. They weren’t, hence the orgy.

In something of a return to my sixth grade role of Commissar Strolovitch, I came on stage marching like a soldier in the midst of this orgy, at the climactic moment, as it were—an orgasm of military presence. The director wanted us to appear almost like wooden soldiers, so I did. I even got to be the lead soldier, killing the Golden Slave. I also continued with backstage work, this time with sets and canvas that is stretched, tacked to the floor, and coated with rosin, for the dancers.

This was at a professional auditorium, for a semi-professional ballet company, and it was reviewed in the local newspapers. The review that I remember loved the ballet, except for the soldiers, who were too wooden. As I was wooden in response to the director’s wishes, I figured, “good boy, you did what you were supposed to do.” That’s part of the story of my privilege. I get to excuse criticism if I was following orders.

The whole framework of the story, of the sexism, masters, slaves, women owned and their live threatened by men—this only came to my consciousness later. This despite growing up in an abusive and violent home. It wasn’t until I started working with runaways, a few years later, then in crisis intervention and suicide prevention, for about a decade, before I started to recognize how much men’s violence—itself a performance of toxic masculinity—impacted women’s lives.

The “exotic erotic other” (Edward Said‘s term, which I did not at the time know—like the words of Chomsky or the troubling erasure of U.S. realities from a propagandistic education before it) of the Middle Eastern foreigner and its Colonial view, as projected by the ballet, seemed to me to be entertainment, merely the art of dance, at the time.

Some theory

I began to study theatre more seriously in the Spring term of that same year, although perhaps my chronology becomes suspicious at this point, as my memory can’t recall which year I was actually in Scheherhezade, only which year I started to study theatre in university. Actually, I studied the ballet Petruschka in my first-term Humanities course, and I think that may have coincided with performing in Scheherhezade. Or, perhaps, the ballet came the next year.

In the Spring of my first year, though, I enrolled in a study abroad program offered by my university, in London. The courses I was eligible to take, as a first-year student, were Shakespeare’s plays. The professor was a drama professor from the English Department of my university.

The courses I was not allowed to take, but benefited from anyway, were in contemporary British drama. All of the students could attend the plays at the Young Vic Theatre. We saw John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, Harold Pinter’s Old Times, and others by these and other (white, male) playwrights. A lot of Osborne showed at the Young Vic, as I recall. I don’t blame the professor for the lack of diversity of the playwrights—the course was contemporary British drama, and it was only a few years into the 1970s, and he arranged group tickets at the Young Vic, a “hotbed” of contemporary British drama at the time. What was not white and male likely wasn’t very visible.

However, the playwrights did open my eyes to other ways of seeing plays. And the professor interested me enough to continue studying with him for several courses in drama, after we returned to our home campus. In the course of those studies, I learned about Bertolt Brecht and Luigi Pirandello, and somehow without realizing it, started becoming post-modern. Brecht influenced my thinking about performance, drama, and literature a lot. I risk oversimplification, but I point in particular to notions of disrupting the smooth viewing experience of “getting lost” in the play, so that the audience “finds” that they are witnessing a production, a constructed reality, in a world of social and political realities. Brecht resisted escapism and entertainment. He early on introduced “multi-media” to do some of this disruption, as well.

Since these introductions, I have gone further—in performance (studying improvisational music and performance with well-known musicians, for example), in theory (in this account, Genet, French Feminism, post-modern novels, literary theory, language poetry, and more remain in the future). Still, this part that I have conveyed of the knotted memories, reflections, paths of my relationship to what I call performance remains a formative base of my poetics.

In my poetry, I try to disrupt the reader, to get the reader to take a skeptical stance toward the text, the constructions, my own flawed perception as the builder of the text, to find social and political inconvenient truths—all while still exploring language and sound as music (dissonant and consonant) to entice the reader to move forward, play, and dance with the words and possibilities of meaning, even if imprecise or even false.

Conclusions, such as they are

Through this Brechtian lens I have offered here: a fallen backdrop, Boy Scout and Civil Air Patrol uniforms, riding boots, Cabrini-Green, the 1960s racial rebellions by African-Americans; a tuxedo-clad supernumerary lord in a Greek myth’s court; suffering on the basis of a bet in a circus tent (bet is also the second letter of the Hebrew aleph-bet, or alphabet, in the Greek); and a Middle-Eastern orgy story where the threatening (golden) male slave is killed by yours truly—a white, American, Jewish poet, living in Israel—and itself frames and motivates a woman’s need to offer exciting tales to her husband in his, not their, bed, just to stay alive.

All of this might be taken as a cracked and broken metaphor for the destructiveness of what we now call toxic masculinity. Or, as the psychologist Alfred Adler is supposed to have said (or written on the blackboard) after his lectures—then again, the case might be completely different.

In the end, this text itself is a performance of my activist poetics. Beware of how it constructs others, but even more so, beware of how it constructs me. Zeus (Zuss) is no hero. I am (not) a performer. This text is (not) performance, thus performs an illusion / delusion / lesion (that is, rupture).

My (better) poems perform disruptive communication (I claim) that cannot always be understood or interpreted (I explain). In reality (“What is reality? Brouhaha…“), the poems may work against interpretation, also the title of an influential book from my past that, like much that shapes this essay, comes later than the performances discussed in it. My better performances pull the audience in and then shakes water all over them, like a wet dog, hoping to wake myself up or dry the audience off. I have yet to really achieve such a performance, I simply imagine it to happen. However, the audience gets wet (or wetter) nevertheless, covered in imaginary spray. And I have yet to dry off.

  ©Michael Dickel
August 2017

Hybird: Warm Hunger

Author’s note: I recently read this poem at a poetry event billed as an Interfaith Eco Poetry Slam at Tmol Shilshom, a well-known literary cafe in Jerusalem. This is a hybrid between non-fiction, found poetry, and performance poetry. The unfortunately unseen connections between hunger, stress, climate change, and war lead to a desire for the equally unfortunately unseen hope for peace and harmony. Read it rhythmically, fast. Hear the sounds at play as well as the words at play.

Landscape 10 Digital Art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Landscape 10
Digital Art
©2015 Michael Dickel

Warm Hunger

Food Fatigue Craving
Climate Change Hunger
War Peace Harmony

symptoms of (earth) malnutrition
medication (poison) reaction or
(industrial) side-effect low blood
sugar (hypoglycemia) too much
(junk food) eating disorder
mononucleosis anemia (chaos)
(drought) dehydration (children)

general (election) anxiety disorder
panic attack depression (adult)
heart (love) rhythm /dis/harmony
/dis/order acute stress reaction
bipolar (melting) /dis/order hepatitis
a b & c pulmonary hypertension (floods)

food hunger and climate change
(Carbon Brief 10 June 2011)

a feeling of (migrant) discomfort or
(human) weakness caused by lack
of food coupled with (commodified) desire
to (not) eat of or at a fairly or comfortably
high (low) temperature

Climate change
threatens to put the fight against
hunger back by decades
(Guardian 2 September 2014)

balmy heated hot lukewarm cold-blooded
mild pleasant sunny sweltering beached
(whale) temperate tepid broiling close
flushed glowing melting perspiring
roasting scorching sizzling sweating
clement snug summery sweaty
thermal toasty warmish having

a color in the red-orange-yellow
part of the visible electromagnetic
(organic) spectrum feel or suffer hunger
through lack of food (distribution) craving
desire famine greed longing /dis/satisfaction
lust starvation yearning ache war
appetence appetency emptiness famine

esurience famishment greed gluttony
mania ravenousness vacancy void
voracity want yen a stomach
for appetition big eyes
bottomless pit eyes for munchies
sweet tooth close often used
in the context of a game

in which “warm” and “cold”
indicate nearness to the goal
you can’t take it with you
but if you try sometime

In Wild Winter Warm North Pole
Storm Chills U.S. Forecast
as Flooding Threatens Levees
(NYT Weather 30 December 2015)

a lack of food that can cause war
illness or death especially war
among large numbers of people war
have a strong desire or craving for peace
for having showing or expressive peace
of enthusiasm affection or kindness peace

Climate Change Will Worsen
Hunger Study Says
(Worldwatch Institute 31 December 2015)

archaic being well off as to property (war)
or in good circumstances rich (peace)
make or become warm (harmony)

© Michael Dickel

Social Media As Empty Vessels | Michael Dickel

Selling Ourselves
on an Empty Medium


Michael Dickel

I advertise sometimes on social media. I’ve learned something about how it works. These are some thoughts about what social media really is about—perhaps a change of perspective, like the famous wine glass or kissing couple image, will help us to think about how the business of social media provides structure for the post-truth phenomenon.

To be clear, what I have to say is not new or exclusive to social media. Noam Chomsky has pointed out that “news” media (as all media) are not in the business of giving its audience (readers or viewers) the news (or entertainment or other “content”). The business model sells the audience to advertisers. Newspapers used to be sold for less than the cost of printing, and broadcast did not initially charge (cable and satellite changed that, but most news and much other media content comes in the basic plans, without premiums). And, famously, Marshall McLuhan told us “the medium is the message.”

News media at least also provide(d) content gathered, written, and delivered by journalists who (at least before “post-truth”) cared about ethics, truth, and fact, and who provided an important social service (if not perfect and often shaped or biased). The ads, are often seen as a “necessary evil”— commerce to provide this service. Still, ads remain(ed) the business model and, thus, subscriptions and ratings mattered.

Audience matters more than ever, because what social-media companies discovered is the medium is not just the message. It is everything.


Audience is the only content in social media, in a sense, and the medium (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.) simply holds the audience. The audience busies itself with creating its own content and, well, being social. Hence, social media. These media should not be confused with content-media. While both sell audience to advertisers, content-media create or distribute others’ content to attract audiences. Social media create a medium for audiences to inhabit.

Therefore, social media are little more than empty frameworks—pure medium, with no content. The audiences are not only sold to advertisers, they now produce the content that keeps other audiences (and themselves) engaged.

This engagement is necessary in order for the social media companies, which provide the framework-medium, to sell the advertising to reach those audiences. And the medium—computers—provides detailed and accurate measure of the impact of the ads, which makes the advertiser’s purchase of audience more effective per dollar.

The medium, therefore, pushes engagement. Think of the increased availability of emojis / emoticons on the media, including Facebooks additions to the thumb on posts and, now, on post comments. More interactions that amount to increased engagement. Even those not posting have something to do and contribute to the process, and choosing an emoji instead of just clicking the thumb shows a higher level of engagement with that particular content.

So, what significantly differs with content-media, is that the content itself actually comes from the target audiences, who engage in it through an increasing number of channels (posting, comments / replies, likes, shares / replies, emoji, etc.). The social-media companies don’t produce content, just the frameworks—that is, the medium.

We, the users / audience, produce the content for social-media companies, give it away to them, and think we’re doing it to entertain ourselves and friends. However, more important to the business model, we’re also attracting and entertaining audience that the social-media companies can sell to advertisers—and make no mistake, we also are in that the audience for those advertisers.

Many of us, myself included, promote our own projects, work, businesses to these audiences with the “content” we produce. Many of us, myself included, also advertise on social media. So any one individual, such as myself, fills multiple roles within any one social medium. The social-media companies, however, control the medium and benefit from each and every role any individual plays. The more roles, the better for the companies.

(Granted, traditional media to “keep relevant” and stop audience loss, have increasingly incorporated engagement and aspects of content creation—from reader blogs to comments and replies online, so the distinction is less clear with contemporary news outlets than with traditional outlets of the past.)

We, as users / audience, engage— “curate,” “share,” “post,” “like” —all of which keeps the audience for the ads (ourselves and others) distracted from the marketing purpose of the media while providing the audience for the ads that the social-media companies sell (to us). This “engagement” also provides the framework with the information to target our interests so that it can present ads we are more likely to respond to with a “like,” “emoji,” “click,” or “conversion” (e.g., sale for the advertiser, purchase for you). And we participate willingly.

The algorithms the companies create don’t measure truth, although I should say they haven’t up until recently, when Facebook announced one to recognize “fake news.” The companies design the algorithms to measure and record engagement and conversions in relationship to interests and content. Content that attracts attention (and ad responses) rules the news feeds, timelines, recommend-for-you links, and thus rules the media waves.


They call it “Big Data,” all of the information that can be found out about us on the internet, much of it through social media and about our social-media engagement. And the Russians have taken this all quite seriously, using social media for political purposes.

Note that the social-media companies don’t directly sell conversions—the term for sales. The advertisers do track them, with help from the social-media companies and their software. They track these for the effectiveness of the ads and ad settings. Also, the more conversions, the more valuable an audience and the more successful the medium that holds that audience.

All of our content and engagement contribute to the “Big Data” out there. And the data provides a surprisingly, and scarily, detailed picture of who we are.

One researcher found a way to connect pages we like on Facebook with specific personality profiles with some reliability. The methods he used seem to have been used by a political consulting company to shape ad messages to fit those personality types and to target the ads to those specific audiences. They also used the data to choose which audiences to ignore as unlikely to respond.

Reportedly, the consulting firm worked with the Brexit and Trump campaigns, both of which succeeded when expected not to. Whether or not the work this company (reportedly) influenced the “surprise outcomes” remains a question for debate. However, the fact that these campaigns heavily used social media is another aspect of the medium and how important the audience it holds is (and such use is not only in ads, but for tweets and posts).

For reasons largely to do with evolutionary survival, we respond to fear, anger, and (literal and figurative) loudness. We pay attention to it because for most of our evolution, these types of social voices warned us, kept us safe, got our adrenalin going so we could put out fires, defend against dangers, or run away.

Therefore, it should not surprise us that LOUD lies, SHOUTED anger, SHRIEKS of fear (or ALL CAPS) get us going, our adrenalin roaring, and our tendency to quickly respond (with more action and less thought). This responsiveness could—just possibly—lead us also to more engagement, as a sort of “action.” We respond by clicking more little icons, typing another comment (reply), sharing (retweeting) more, and yes, probably also by clicking on ads more—a less direct response, but with adrenaline flow, we go.

Those famous (possibly Russian) trolls, however, keep the lies moving, the energy flowing. Why did social-media companies not “do something” about trolls before? And why are their responses (largely) minimal and ineffective now? Probably because they “influence”—the “audience” for ads probably “engage” more on social media and with the ads themselves when trolls keep the medium roiling. As the companies sell both exposure (showing the ad) and response (click), numbers alone are the main factor. However, the higher the response rate , the much more valuable the audience.

So the more engaged the audience and the more sales (of ads, by the users) the audience generates, the more the companies profiting from the medium don’t want to limit or lose that audience or anything / anyone who keeps it engaged.

Trump has mastered Twitter for getting people riled up—it doesn’t matter for or against, his Tweets get responses, articles, commentaries, editorials in response now that he’s President, symbolic head of the vast U.S. social network. Even if you or I reject the legitimacy of his presidency, he ranks as social-influencer-in-chief, or, in other words, troll-in-chief. And most of us have probably read one (likely more) of his tweets or at the very least, read about them.

Truth doesn’t matter in this medium. Only having an audience in it and how the audience responds to each other in it. The more engagement, the more the creators of the media can sell ads—ads fed into and made more effective in the medium according the data our engagement produces. The medium and its ability to hold an audience and promote engagement matter more than anything.


I don’t have evidence to support all of these ideas. These are thoughts I’ve been working through, and may eventually shape themselves into a long-term research and writing project. So don’t take these words as truth. They are not post-truth, either, though.

Think of them as speculation and hypothesis, a beginning of a process of trying to understand something about the media that contain us as its sole purpose to exist.

However, if it is the case that the liars, haters, shouters—the trolls and Trumps—do increase audience size and engagement (clicks and conversions), then we may be destined for a post-truth social media world until we choose not to respond and engage—that is, until as audience, we choose how to respond by not reacting, how to quiet the social around the trolls, liars, click-bait artists who (want to) roil it.


©2017 Michael Dickel

The cat didn’t lie | Michael Dickel

Apocalyptic Winter I Digital art from photos ©2016 Michael Dickel
Apocalyptic Winter I
Digital art from photos
©2016 Michael Dickel

 

Apocalyptic Winter

i
Murk clenches around the world—
solstice, yes; cruor, surely; necrosis,
possibly; apoptosis, likely. Trees pull

back, plants close for business,
even cockroaches go dormant,
or almost sleep through the long night.

Those few flowers on a windowsill
only admonish me in the name of the
painted flood that stained last summer.

ii
Dried herbs crumble, anamneses of the sun.
I stop, though, and talk to the feral cat
whose felicitations hiss out from iron bars

on top of a stone wall that divides civic
sidewalk from exclusive parking. I would
purr, unlike this ginger gamine cat,

if I had cause enough to lucubrate.
The thalassic truth of this spot sidesteps
my yearning to swim in the desert.

Apocalyptic Winter II Digital art from photos ©2016 Michael Dickel
Apocalyptic Winter II
Digital art from photos
©2016 Michael Dickel

iii
Absinthian coffee wakes something
harsh, chlorophylloid, but not for long, and my
bleak, burnt bones creep forth on a nameless road.

The moon climbs, someone wants me to offer
straightaway. A ray penetrates the darkness
and lifts the crux to spheres surmounting

dictionaries and thesauri that spill
obfuscations, tangle moods and modes
into articulated modifications of noumena.

iv
The cat didn’t lie, so neither will the eye.
Clouds hid the moon. An uncanny aura
spilled down from a lunar eclipse. The trees

gamboled, lifting their roots and dropping them,
a geographic gamble. Stories stumbled down
cliffs. Nothing changed in the seething

and nothing persisted unchanged, which
I don’t really apprehend. The tongue does not
construe such spectacles or words unconstrained.

Apocalyptic Winter III Digital art from photos ©2016 Michael Dickel
Apocalyptic Winter III
Digital art from photos
©2016 Michael Dickel

If you put the mouse cursor over the links and wait a moment, text will appear over (and appear to define) the linked words. This poem appeared originally on Meta/ Phor(e) /Play as Winter Poem. It has since been published in my chap book, Breakfast at the End of Capitalism (free PDF download). You can also purchase a print copy through locofo chaps.


 

Double Life | Michael Dickel

 

I mention an image that for some days now has been mounting in the sky of the revolution…Chantal’s image is circulating in the streets. An image that resembles her and does not resemble her. She towers above the battles.

—The Envoy in Jean Genet’s The Balcony

Your lost lover becomes a martyr—
a new revolutionary cause—
as the judge, an abandoned father,
conceives the child’s anarchistic calls.
Balconies crack, begin to falter
while the white rose petals start to fall,
and the soft dust now rises up to
cloud our bishop’s visionary realms.
So you saunter down to the twelfth bar.

It’s not very far for you to go—
down the road to the mausoleum,
where knowledge no longer wants to flow,
and wisdom the police chiefs promised
evaporates in blue cloudiness.
My forlorn lovers take one last look,
executioners seal sacred books,
and we dream that time will return us
again to where Chantal’s dance began.

We slip on ice in larch swamps covered
by fog, which obscures the histories
unfolding Irma’s worn tapestries—
lies of the victors, lies of the lost.
We change the general’s blank dance card,
then drop three photographers’ needles
into a heavily falling snow.
Your martyr turns into a lover—
an evolutionary lost-cause.

An old father begins his judgement
with many anachronistic flaws.
And Carmen’s petals flake slowly off
like snow melting in a beggar’s tale
of the freed slave’s magic midnight sun
where my desire has never failed.
And the rose petals? The bruised petals
from the flowers you took the envoy
cover the gravel under your feet.

At first, people were fighting against illustrious and illusory tyrants, then for freedom. Tomorrow they’ll be ready to die for Chantal alone.

—The Envoy in Jean Genet’s The Balcony


double-life


Note: In each of the two days I have been working on the poem above, the ones just before I am posting it, exactly 18 people visited my blog, where this originally appeared as Chai equals eighteen (things have changed—yesterday 222 people visited, a more usual number since the beginning of 2017). The poem has four stanzas of 9 lines each, for 36 lines (double 18), not counting the epigrams from Genet. Each line has 9 syllables. The total number of syllables is 324, plus the 36 lines, equals 360—the number of degrees in a circle. Chai, חָי —Hebrew for life, equals 18 according to gematria. So, 36 lines, double 18, is double life. Or, perhaps, a double life. Jean Genet‘s The Balcony may offer a key element to this equation.

Double Life has since been published in my chap book, Breakfast at the End of Capitalism (free PDF download). You can also purchase a print copy through locofo chaps.


Socks | Michael Dickel

My famous black socks

Michael Dickel

At three in the morning
I hand wash my socks,
my bladder emptied,
the toilet flushed.
These pressure socks
help stop the pain
and swelling from
my varicose veins.

I realize the water
will never run clear,
black dye running
away from the
responsibility,
I assume. And
I think, this poem
is not very sexy.

For that, I should
lay next to my wife,
who sleeps in
the next room as
I wring the socks.
We should share
a cigarette. You
know, how the
movies used
to show sex.

Except we don’t
smoke. And we’ve
spent the day
caring for her
mother with cancer
and a broken arm.

I caught up on a bit
of work tonight,
wrote to a couple
of friends, edited
something, sent
a poem or two
to editors who
know or don’t
know me.

Well,
my socks will be
clean. And, I think,
that’s not so bad.

© 2017, Michael Dickel

Teaching Poetry | Michael Dickel

 

Teaching that (in)famous “Poetry”


Michael Dickel

(apologies to Marianne Moore)

Her (dis)like of poetry showed through
her pure contempt while reading it. She thought
high interpretation of the unintelligible half poets
elevated an autopsy to a false revery for birth, and
that all the academics criticize what they understand
would be detrimental to their careers. She wanted
a genuine toad, not a prince, an imaginary secret
garden, no flowers, a raw poem eaten, savored,
complete with a belch after gulping beer.

My students hate the image of an autopsy,
don’t like to consider births except in the abstract,
think if someone says “poetry,” then, poetry.

Abstract amphibious poetry
Digital art from photos
©2017 Michael Dickel

What use definitions, declinations, nuance
or inflections? Metaphors just hide the truth,
what matters comes out straight and clear.
Who cares about red wheelbarrows,
blackbirds, or pigeons, for that matter?

And certainly, they argue, we don’t dislike
all that we don’t understand.


Originally appeared in Fragmentarily/ Metaphor(e) /Play.


© 2017, Michael Dickel

Butterfly Effect

Chaos on a shoe string


Alit, photo digital art, ©2013 Michael Dickel
Alit, photo digital art, ©2013 Michael Dickel

This piece is part of a series of experimental writing I worked on in 2013. This hybrid-flash has a relationship to surrealism, automatism, Robert Bly‘s leaping poetry, and chaos theory. If you want to explore some of my tangential associations, hover your mouse cursor over the links in this post and see what pops up—follow the links if you wish to engage in a hyper-text non-linear reading. Don’t forget to come back! Such a reading might be determined by initial conditions, and thus fit chaos theory very nicely…


 

Surrealism: Below the Snow, digital photo / art montage ©2013 Michael Dickel
Surrealism: Below the Snow, digital photo / art montage ©2013 Michael Dickel

 

Butterfly on a shoe—a constant bliss, elated and surreal, some automatic writing made from fresh warm milkdreams of rain. The desert sunset signifies peace to the gopher writing its manifesto far from the Saskatchewan railroad’s violence. A nasty sherbet left a taste of forgotten hypocrisy like a flashbulb memory in his mouth, burnt like boiled-over soup on the stove top. The moon mirrors his face, its shadow-craters another dimension.

Greed spills blood through the nun’s hands, nuclear waste pouring out her fingers. What bread will she eat, this stench of death in her nose? Lady Macbeth knew blood and hands and death. The ocean breeze ruffles her hair like forest leaves, while the sea’s salt walks the dog like sweet coffee travels through the night, Mercury retrograde, with nomadic drivers hustling the highway for spare change at the pool table.

The tulip knows cold winds, playing Scrabble®, drinking mint tea under the snow, waiting for the cardinal’s lonely, red, winter vigil to leap up into spring. The spirit needs rest. Karma suffers bouts of cold and sweat; hot, dull space drips its indigo cello-blue into Luce Iragaray’s recursive folding of flesh away from the center, touching and brushing together moments of possibility.

The cat in the sky sits on the green roof, thinks, “time to go.”

—Michael Dickel

Chaos Water Digital art ©2013 Michael Dickel

Michael Dickel’s most recent book, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden, which collects series of experimental writing and some more “conventional” narrative, all flash fiction, that I’ve written over the last few years. 

This originally appeared on Michael Dickel’s blog in 2013.


 

The Speed of Light

Faster than the speed of light


In which the poet imagines that time twists around after scientists appear to have accelerated a particle faster than light (but alas, it was a loose wire that resulted in inaccurate measurements, the particle did not exceed light speed.)


Geneva (Reuters) An international team of scientists said on Thursday they had recorded sub-atomic particles traveling faster than light—a finding that could overturn one of Einstein’s long-accepted fundamental laws of the universe. —“Particles found to break speed of light,” Robert Evans, 22 September 2011.

A particle apparently arrived slices
of a millisecond earlier than expected.
Faster than light, it knocked on the door
relatively early on a Saturday night.

The hosts had not readied the party
or sent the invitations yet, as time compressed
events into a singularity—understanding
slipped away and arrived before it left.

The single green parrot flew above the road,
its raucous call cheering the sight of the race
with time and space as a lone soldier stood guard
over the abandoned barracks of this particular dream.

A sub-atomic speeding ticket noted the date and time
of all events but perhaps its clock shifted with condensation,
a dewy drop of time dripping down the broken windshield
while the galactic waltz shifted on its axis at something

much less than the beating butterfly wing.
The whole of history would stop if we observed Shabbat
or made peace or sang a simple harmonic note,
a hidden breath of a name written by the smallest bit

of nothing as it raced to beat itself to the drummer’s distant
dance. It’s another observation point, this faster-than-light
speed, a stretching and tightening of time and space
that allows the smallest slice of a millisecond rest

before the melody continues.

—Michael Dickel

Falling-bike-WEB


Originally appeared in:
Diogen pro kultura magazin / pro culture magazine. Dec. 25, 2012. Online. And in my book Midwest / Mid-East (2012).

Also posted on Michael Dickel’s blog.


Hate is not the opposite of love

This originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of The BeZine. Here it is again, as it also addresses how to overcome hate, or at least, an idea of how harsh judgment is what we really must overcome — our own tendencies to be judgmental, and the judgmental perspectives / positions of others. This does not mean we should not judge — the emphasis should be read on the word harsh judgment.


After the election I find it difficult to write (just, justly) about (love, loving kindness, grace). Followed, as the election was, by the death of Leonard Cohen whose songs and as described (by those who knew him), whose personal life embodied grace, the task has become more difficult. I have lost my balance. I have fallen into (judgment, in this case, harsh judgment). Beauty seems cut off from the Crown, (Understanding and Wisdom) disconnected from (love and judgment). All balance has left me, I stumble up and down stairs as though falling, red faced, my prophetic legs unstable, my right knee (eternally) in sharp pain, my left leg (splendidly) leaning against a wall.


by Michael Dickel


And if these words confuse you, then they have communicated an aspect of my state, some limbs of the tree that sustains me. I will not explain. These fragments may not hold. I will try to find some pieces of the puzzle and lay them on the floor, without hope of putting the image together again. For the image shatters, overfull of signification. Its pieces slide into sounds, letters, words, phrases, a life sentence of confusion.

We may discern that the tree grows. We may figure out most or all of how it grows. However, ask the tree why it grows and it will simply rustle in the air of your breath.

Under the Palm Tree, Devorah sat in judgment. She was a warrior and a leader, yet her judgment was not harsh. She led because her judgment was seen as righteous and fair. My family name as I was born to it, Dickel, does not transliterate into the Hebrew aleph-bet very well. However, Dekel does work in Hebrew letters, דקל, and is a common enough family name in Hebrew. So when my wife and I registered our marriage in Israel, we changed our family name to Dekel. Dekel means (date) palm. I (am) a palm tree. I cannot explain.

——————

In the 16th C., Moses Cordevero “discovered” or “wrote down” ancient (oral) texts, or simply wrote them as new texts. These are prominent among the received texts, part of the basis of Kabbalah (which means Reception, Received, but idiomatically, Revelation). One book is The Palm Tree of Devorah. At once it seems a text about how to be a good judge, like Devorah, and how to transcend our lives of judgment to obtain a Oneness with Keter, the Crown of Creation. Some excerpts, from Daniel Matt’s book, The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism (including his notes / commentary after the boldface text):

Your face should always be shining. Welcome each person with a friendly countenance. For with regard to Keter Elyon, the supernal crown, it is said: “In the light of the king’s face is life.” No redness or harsh judgment gains entrance there. So, too, the light of your face should never change; whoever looks at you will find only joy and a friendly expression. Nothing should disturb you. (85 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

“In the light of the king’s face is life.” Proverbs 16:15. CF Mishnah, Avot 1:15: “Welcome each person with a friendly countenance.”

redness The color of harsh judgment. (192)

Your mouth should produce nothing but good. The words you speak should be Torah and an expression of goodwill. Never generate angry or ugly words, curses, or nonsense. Let our mouth resemble the upper mouth, which is never closed, never silent, never withholding the good. Speak positively, always, with benevolent words.

All of these good qualities gather under the banner of humility, each one constituting a limb in Keter above…

It is impossible, of course, to conduct yourself according to these qualities constantly. Accustom yourself to them little by little. The essential quality to attain, the key to them all, is humility, for this is the very first aspect of Keter, under which all of the rest are subsumed. (85–86 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

So should your wisdom be accessible to all. Teach people what will be useful to them, according to each one’s capacity, pouring out to each as much wisdom as you can. Don’t let anything deter you.…Be careful not to give more than the mind of the recipient can hold, to prevent any mishap…

As Binah, Understanding, sweetens all powers of judgment, neutralizing their bitterness, so should you return to God and correct each flaw. If you meditate on returning every day, you stimulate Binah to illuminate each day.… (87 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

power of judgment Hebrew, dinim (דינים), powers of the sefirah of Din, harsh judgment. (192)

Do not say that returning is good only for the holy portion within you; the evil portion, too, is sweetened, in the manner of this quality. Do not think that because you incline toward evil there is no remedy. This is false. If you do well, rooting yourself in Returning, you can ascend there through the goodness rooted there. For the root of every supernal bitterness is sweet; you can enter through this root and make yourself good; your intentional sins turn into merits. The misdeeds you committed have been accusing you from the Left Side. Once you return completely, you raise those deeds and root them above. Those accusers are not annihilated but ameliorated, rooted in holiness. (88 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

the Left Side The demonic dimension, which branches out from the sefirah of Din, harsh judgment, located on the left side of the sefirotic tree. (192)

How should you train yourself in the quality of Hesed, Love? The basic way you enter the mystery of Hesed is by loving God to the extreme, not abandoning devotion for any reason at all, since nothing attracts you in the least, compared to loving God. (88 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

——————

Map of the Ten Sefirot
The Ten Sefirot

The sefirot (plural, singular sefirah), according to Jewish Mysticism, could be thought of as a series of vessels through which the energy of Creation / Creator (Keter) flow

from Ayin, אין, Nothingness, through Keter, the Crown (Head) of (Divine) Will

through the Point-Beginning of Wisdom (Hokhmah) and the Palace or Womb of Understanding (Binah)

into the Right Arm of (Hesed) Love (loving kindness, Grace) and the Left Arm of Power-Judgment (Din, Gevurah)

converging into (Tiferet) Beauty-Compassion-Mercy (Heaven, Sun, Harmony, Blessed Holy One)

into the right leg of Eternity-Prophecy (Nezah) and the Left Leg of Splendor-Prophecy (Hod)

converging once again into (Yesod) Foundation-Righteous One-Covenant (Phallus symbolic) and

flowing into the Presence as the Divine Feminine Aspect of God, the Shekhinah, from where it flows into the world / people.

The sefirot of convergences make up a central column, also.

These all make up a (symbolic) body, Adam (mankind, human) that is gender fluid (womb, phallus, Shekhinah all together). They comprise The Tree of Life. “The tree grows upside down,” its roots in the top, “an image familiar to us from many myths” (Scholem 42). “…Its trunk embraces the central and thereby conciliating forces; while the branches or limbs which grow out of it as various points encompass the contradictory forces of divine activity in Hesed and Din” (Scholem 42). The sefira of Hesed is love. The sefira of Din is judgment.

The sefirot could be a galaxy of stars, if you wish. The flow of this energy is two way. Jacob, when he dreamed of the ladder, saw messengers / angels going up and down the ladder (Gen. 28:12). (Not down and up.) The sefirot can also reveal themselves to our awareness as a ladder. The energy of Creation Returns in emanations toward Creator, Ayin,אין, Nothingness, and flows back down. Messengers going up and down, and up again. Hesed and Din must be in a dynamic balance to reach the convergence that is beauty-compassion-mercy in one direction or the duality (in triadic-balance with Keter) of understanding and wisdom in another.

Perhaps the emanations resemble particles falling into a Black Hole. As they hit the event horizon, they double, one continuing, one reflecting out, but as entangled entities. As below, so above; as above, so below. Perhaps the emanations resemble a Big Bang where time flows in both directions—beginning to end, end to beginning. Probably I don’t understand anything and do not have the wisdom to convey ( nothing(ness) ) אין.

However we might choose or be able to imagine them, the sefirot must be in balance. They are fractal—at all levels of the universe from quantum bits to macrocosmic, identical at all magnifications. They are Chaos. Ordered. Theory. The Shape. Everything.

And the opposite of love is not hate. It is harsh judgment. From harsh judgment flows, from us flows, the demonic dimension. For we are nothing but sefirot, energy, emanations of the Big Bang. For all I know.

A glimpse behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to the man behind the keyboard.

——————

It doesn’t matter which you heard,
the holy or the broken Hallelujah…

——————

It is taught in the Mystery of Mysteries: The king’s head is arranged according to Hesed and Gevurah [another term for the sefira Din]. Hairs are suspended from his head, waves upon waves, which are all an extension, and which serve to support the upper and lower worlds: princes of princes, masters of truth, masters of balance, masters of howling, masters of screaming, secrets of Torah, cleannesses and uncleannesses—all of them are called “hairs of the king,” that is to say, the extension that proceeds from the holy king, and it all descends from Atika Kadisha [Ancient Holiness].

The forehead of the kin is the visitation of the wicked. When they are called to account because of their deeds, and when their sins are revealed, then is it called “the forehead of the king,” that is to say, Gevurah [Din]. It strengthens itself with its judgments, and extends itself to its extremities.… (Zohar, II, 122b–123a, cited in Scholem 53)

In the next three Sefiroth, we find Hesed (grace or love), Din or Gevurah (severity or judgment), and Rahamim or Tif’ereth (mercy, also known as splendor or beauty), in which the extremes are united and conciliated.Again, it is no coincidence that this sphere is defined by moral forces. (Scholem 42–43)

——————

Hate is not the opposite of love.

Harsh judgment is the opposite of love. Out of the imbalance of harsh judgment (as opposed to judgment per se) and love comes hate. From hate comes the demonic dimension. The demons come from within. This is true for one. It is true for society. It is true of our human world right now, many nationalities, many Nationalisms.

They sit in judgment of us. We sit in judgment of them.

Out of the raised left arm of harsh judgment comes the demonic dimension.

Do not confuse this notion of left or right as anything to do with political camps or spatial dimensions as we know them. They are convenient and familiar shorthand for this side and another side that pull against each other. The image of Adam in the sefirot is a mirror image of the viewer. We see ourselves in everything. The tree is more complex, three dimensional, a series of branchings and series of branchings from those branchings.

The tree is an inadequately simple image because we know it. We see trees. We think we understand.

I don’t understand.

The purpose of all of the rhetoric. The flow of all of the hate. The riling noisy din of social media. Servers flickering. Serving up harsh judgments. All of us. Count me in…I’ll share that meme.

This carries. Comments. Brings. Back. Returns to. A beginning of sorts of bringing. Together or apart, I don’t know.

A furrowed red forehead with notable hair flying loose. “Hairs are suspended from his head, waves upon waves, which are all an extension.” In a weave over skin, the redness spouted its harsh judgments, a forehead extended to the extremities of the. Beast.

We called it hate, but he used harsh judgment of immigrants, of minorities, of liberals, of Hillary Clinton. He called up the judgmental. Yes. KKK. Yes. NAZIs. Yes. Bigots.

But. Also. And. Yes. Us.

Those who cried out against him and his followers. With harsh judgment. In harsh judgment. Becoming harsh. Judgment.

And the social media full of Din, the din, the noise, The Judgment. Without looking with love at the followers and asking, “how can I love them?”

Did you think Judgment Day meant someone else’s judgment? Something else’s Judgment? Perhaps it means the day that harsh judgment won. The election. No matter which person won, harsh. Judgment. Reigned.

I don’t love them. I judge them.

Don’t mistake me for saying we need to accept these harsh judgments of others that cast them as enemies—not immigrants, not those who are not “mainstream,” not those who are not “white,” an empty and meaningless category without inscription, a blank page signifying emptiness.

Please understand that the power (Gevurah) he wielded was not only over his followers. He triggered us. He caused us to judge. We answered. Off balance. We fell. Into hate. Fed by (our own) harsh judgment (of ourselves? our darker reflections? our shadows?). Which fed harsh judgment. The demonic dimension. Our demons.

We became part of the fire storm. Redness. Smoke. Mirrors reflecting our fears of who we really are back at us. And we became what we feared.

As did his supporters. They fell off balance into harsh judgment.

Trump fueled and fanned those flames. But so did all of the detractors on all other sides. A raging firestorm of harsh judgment—of Clinton. Of Obama. Of the Right. Of the Left. Of the alt-Right. Of Progressives. Of Boomers. Of Millennials. Clinton of Trump. (Some) progressives of Clinton. Of media. Media of anyone who sold viewers to their advertisers. Of those who voted for third party candidates. Those who voted for third parties of we who voted in the lie of the two-party system. Of those who didn’t judge. Of those who didn’t vote. Of others who judged.

——————

There is room for judgment, to be sure. But it must be balanced by Hesed—grace and love.

I did not have that balance. I did not see that balance.

If we want to counter the redness of the demon with wild strands of hair, we must not join with “masters of howling, masters of screaming.”

I must find in myself Hesed, (love, loving kindness, grace).

We must find. Hesed. We must spread it outward. Emanate it up. And down. And up. We must remember that the opposite of love is not hate, that hate begets hate but arises from harsh judgments (being judgmental).

We must be less harsh in our judgments and more loving in our responses.

I must be less harsh in my judgments. Of you. Of me.

This is not to go to the other extreme. Hesed out of balance lacks boundaries, leaves us open and vulnerable, without defenses of any kind. Ready to be eaten.

We must judge, but justly, with love. And find solutions for people, not attack people as though they are problems.

We must call out the demonic dimensions with Hesed and send them back into Din. We must call out in love, to balance the mess we are in.

But we must also hold ourselves and others accountable for our (mis)judgments out of feelings of superiority.

We are all human. We all live in the world. We have divine potential, each and every one, even the orange redness with the wild hair.

And we all have demonic potential, each and every one, even the orange redness with the wild hair.

We must judge which is prevalent. With Hesed, love and grace.

And love is not the opposite of hate. But it brings a balance of judgment that leads from hate to beauty-compassion-mercy in one direction and to understanding and wisdom in the other.

Love must balance our judgment and guide our actions. Good must be on our tongues.

I don’t know how. I am angry. I am hurting. I am full of harsh judgments. I want to find a balance, though. And I want to remember that

…love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…

I pick up my guitar and fall as much as sit down. My right knee screams in pain. My left knee sags. My right arm tingles, as fingers pluck the six strings. My left fingers press the notes, jarring my left arm to life as I make the chords: C – Am – C – Am -F – G – C – G – C – F – G -Am – F – G – Em – Am

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

I’ve read this past week that Leonard Cohen wanted Hallelujah to convey all of the possible moments, good and bad, when praise might come to our lips—the cold, the broken, the holy…

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

“Rabbi Tarphon taught us that while it is not our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, we are not free to desist from it either.”    —Rabbi Marcia A. Zimmerman, Alvin & June Perlman Senior Rabbinic Chair, Temple Israel, Minneapolis, MN in a letter to her congregation after the election.

——————

Matt, Daniel C. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1995. Citations from the 1997 Castle Books edition.

Scholem, Gershom. On The Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. Joachim Neugroschel, transl. from the German; edited and revised according to the 1976 Hebrew edition, with the author’s emendations, by Jonathan Chipman. New York: Schocken Books. 1991. Original ©1962.

Wrestling with God – two poems

Wrestling, names, and shipwrecks). Jacob / Yaakov wrestled all night with a messenger (of God, or angel) while crossing the Jabbok / Yabok river. In Hebrew and English, the two names are variations of each other, transposing consonants. The messenger gives him a new name, Israel / Yisrael as the sun rises (Genesis 32:22-31). I’m not sure that I can fully explain what that means. That’s why I have poetry. Here are two poems I have written about Jacob at the crossing of the Jabbok ford.


Michael Dickel


Jacob Wrestling

They’ve all gone ahead, those I loved,
those I cared for but did not love—
arrayed and ranked, walking toward doom

or reunion. This bank, this river I have crossed before—
this creek, this life, this wreck on this shore—
all too familiar, all too fresh, all too unknown, all too new.

Now a shadow over the moon, or
perhaps my own doubt
forms as I ford the stream.

Now I wrestle with myself,
with this messenger,
this something of nothingness.

Now the moon fades—
darkness less dark—
what is my name?

Now I limp away
from this tangled life
of deception and counter-deception—

to losses, deaths, uncertainty,
a favorite son sold to the gypsies—
Who will redeem us?

Soon my brother and I will embrace
but keep our defended distance.
Soon nothing will be the same.

Now, I wrestle with God.

Originally published in Voices Israel 2009: Poetry from Israel and Abroad.


Jacob wrestling with the angel

I didn’t notice you come up. It’s so dark.
Look at the river, though, a darker strain beneath
this evening’s melody, flowing against the harmony.
Perhaps you won’t believe me, but God has spoken to me.
He sent me here, on the journey, to this river. I must cross.
But I don’t want to. On the other side, reckoning. Maybe death.

Odd, how we will tell strangers things we wouldn’t tell
our closest friends. Not that I have had that many friends.
As you stare at me, I feel that you understand, though.
See over there, across the river? That direction is the direction
I must travel. I’ve already sent the others ahead. Made offerings,
sent gifts. A man grows lonely in a foreign land. That direction,
that direction I must travel, that direction is home.

How far are you from home? Your silence doesn’t surprise me.
I’ve kept to myself, too, not told the whole story.
I had to keep silent when I wore goat skin to fool the old man.
He took me for another, gave my brother’s blessing.
I don’t suppose you know what that feels like, to betray a brother?

Why do you remain silent? Well, you also remain here, listening.
I will continue. My brother liked to play rough when we were young.
As we grew up, he would hunt, ride, spend his time out of doors.
I studied, read. I was pale, he ruddy. I wasn’t really a sissy,
well, now you can see, I have grown strong, worked hard,

made something of myself. Back then, I guess you wouldn’t know
that I would do so well. That must be why I went along with my mother,
when she suggested the plan to cheat my brother. Well, I can’t blame
her, can I? I mean, she might have told me what to do,
but I did it. Besides, I was the one who made the stew, red with spices.
Anyway, after our father gave me the inheritance
instead of my brother, well then I figured there would be hell to pay.

So I left.

What’s that you say? Yes, it is growing light. You must go?
Work to do, you say? Oh. Well, now that you’ve heard my story,
even if you are a stranger, won’t you give me your blessing?
Are you sure you won’t tell me your name? What’s that? Oh,
I’m Jacob, the Usurper. What’s that you say?
You have another name for me?


All work ©Michael Dickel
Fragmentarily/ Meta-Phor(e) /Play (Michael’s blog).

Five Glosses from Imaginary Exegesis

Does prophecy help? What does exegesis reveal? What texts do we provide exegesis for? Isn’t all of Creation and sacred text awaiting exegesis? If we remember the sacredness of everything and nothing, would be stop hating? Do we miss the rhythm of harmony when we fall into judgment?


Michael Dickel


I. Prophecies of the poet

Dark shadows slip under waves
to catch an indecisive moment
and let it surface to lustrous now.
Thus, no decision becomes one.

Star glimmers, the sun on waves
accenting troughs’ deep colors,
remind us that contrast
strives to give shadows light.

Night falls, dawn rises—
or perhaps night rises to
the falling dawn. Invert
a scene and shadows
reveal unseen truths.

II. Poetic entropy

Sleep and dream fly
off together—dish and spoon
beneath a cowed moon’s
reflection. I wonder if daisies
die when the wine turns to dust.

Surfaces turn to dust,
flutter across the screen,
another abstract movie—
flashes of light and shadow—
celluloid crumbling.

Eyelids crumble, flutter,
resist an impulse of wake-
fullness. A wake behind
the boat loses momentum,
returns to a lake’s surface.

Flies surface on a window—
dark specks against winter sunlight—
driving speculation that our world
will fall back to dust, chaos.

III. Poetry books

Bargain books of poems,
English poems, that poetry
for kids, those books online,
some in a bookshop still; a
book stores gleaming nostalgia—

but even history books age,
textbooks go out of date:
bookstore compounds—
brick-and-mortar, resistant,
walled strongholds—

book-free used books,
if you want to buy books,
poetry books, poetic coruscations—
slick bargain books of poems—
unrealized, found search-term hints.

IV. Poem lover

A glistening thought
slips into the night
and away at dawn.

A sleeper calls out
across the river
that drought dried.

A lover sought to
understand these
and other glimmers.

V. The end of poetry

Darkness cool and short
relieves the solstice heat
while the earth stealthily
slips around toward winter.

Dogs darken barks at sight
of shadows & eclipses but
dance high, wild with glee,
when they see glinting waves.

Tree bark peels away
only to display colors
beyond black, brown,
or gray imagining.

Peeling my eyes open
from sticky, closed lids
gives a methodology to see
this world unravel from dreams.

Summer opens as its end
begins—long day shining
toward long night—without
noticing the cold harmony.

© 2017 Michael Dickel

Deconstruction

Deconstruction – a poem of revolutionary welcoming

I’ll take your hyper-inflated
phallus, ego-distended balloon,
id-fueled hot-air engine
that fills super-ego daydreams
to dizzying-heights of power—
and throw your craven, carved
wind on the fire of this year’s
revolution. Such a useless
log, poorly fit for fuel, and
barely at that, must burn
to ash before this dawn

comes, must rise in smoke
signals to call poets and
painters from themselves.
Then you can raise your
indistinguishable flags,
try to wave the smoke
from your eyes. We
will not be deceived—
we know who feeds
this all-consuming blaze.
And we will have

already come for you.
As you crawl out of your
wrecked ship of state,
we come for you.
As your cracked currency
drops from you, we come
for you. As you fall,
we come for you.
We come, not as you
imagine. With arms open,
we welcome you back to humanity.

—Michael Dickel

Deconstruction-1-WEB.jpg

© 2017, poem and illustration, Michael Dickel

Flying without dice

The probability of our existence, of this green planet, of my lover—the odds against these are astronomical, cosmic. And there is so much to fear, so many possible and probable destructions, erasures, injuries, pains, slights. Yet, somehow, we speak to each other against all odds. And sometimes we understand. And, sometimes, we don’t need to understand, just to hear.


Michael Dickel


Not the odds, probability or possibility,
walking along a stream, waterfalls ahead;
nor sitting in mountain wind as the airport
slips away under the noise of clocks
forgetting the ticks that flock memory;
not geese in Oneonta’s skies—beneath duck’s
distressed, convening cackles; nor a wood
stove dancing passion as gasses
stream carbonaceous oblivion along
meridians calculated to deceive
a sense of order, a few imaginary
boundaries of time. So simpler to
receive the deception of hours while
sensing movement toward a finality
that constantly slips into tomorrow
until tonight comes—in the deep
slumbering giant silhouette-shaped
mountain range: a pass, a saddle,
a horse racing toward immortality,
limitless dreams fleeing past oaks
blown down in the windshear
storm of oblivion, dust, smoke.

Flying bound—aluminum, magnesium,
sodium chlorides, ferrous sulphates,
collide tidally among waves below—
the sea we cross from continent to
embattled continental plate, cracked
and distorted, a rift in sensibility—
sensuous signal of hot sulphur—springs
to life, dehydrates into burning
logos that desires mountains.
Trees, cracked and crackling, cry
out with screams, delight sparks
through the flue, invisible against
night skies. Jet aircraft roars over
soft piano jazz tango of the tangled
words: expressionless, blank, white
fonts floating in milk, reflected clouds
giving the illusion of a full moon,
the circle at the well’s top, the dark
clear water blued into green, self-portrait
shadow leaning over the stone-lined hole.

Reading Mexican poetry translated,
hearing untranslated Hebrew voices,
piano chords surrealistic eros, evolution
swims from the portals of splashing
planes in the curved sea ragged with waves:

Not the possibility or probability,
not the odds walking past
(the lottery ticket window)—
just bumpy air and rough decks
predicting nothing as the Tarot
reader considers by chance
a favor she once held in the palm
of her hand. The sun rose from
the middle of the body’s night,
drawing a margin of dawn
slated for sleep. A dripping distant
pendulum swings over a trussed
buxom heroine who laughs that yet
again the siren-wail saxophone-
imagined piano pauses, punctuating
sentences judged too heavy or light
among falling currencies, unslung
from tired shoulders. Still, we trudge
along hoping for the rising night
to rescue our exhausted ardor—
breathless, fatigued, silent.

Silence at the very center of
rushing-engine screams
lays hands on us and prays
for listeners, discovering the
lack of oxygen in the air of
history, the thin cold atmosphere
compressed beneath wings.
Theory holds us up,
a thin blanket over our legs,
a neck pillow resisting stiffly
any hint of rest. Like geese,
I migrate, metallically tapping
a tin-drum heart in a blank man’s
chest, smaller than the eye
of the sparrow flitting beneath
our table at the cafe that last
day at the beach when the
pigeons stole the French fries
and threw away the foam box.

The wind came up.
The sand blew away.

Yet, against
all odds, we speak,
and, sometimes,
we understand—
or almost.
Even odder,
sometimes
we don’t need to.

@2013 Michael Dickel


Originally published  in The Art of Being Human, Vol. I (2013).

I remember dreaming …

Can we recall our ideal state, our grace, the love we felt at the moment All was Created? Can we know anymore what we knew before we were born, before the angel touched our upper lip, leaving a slight indent under our nose as we forgot…


Michael Dickel


Once we dreamt, I don’t know what,
just conjure that. Like sun-warmed
rain in a dilatory rill, it refreshed our
feet. A blue feather wafts down as we
perch there—a bit of sky, flight, truth.

Vacant nights besiege us, nothing
more than a dried orange peel found
in a kitchen corner or white garlic skin
discovered sliding in the air along
the floor. The pips did not grow.

The bulb might have sprung up
green shoots, but these shriveled
as we slept. Who breathes like this,
loud and rasping, as though reaching
for a finish line that recedes from

my grasp? Hungers outnumber
dreams now. Peckish imagination
arises out of habit and unfulfilled
desire. Unrepentant love once
lived under a roof of dreams.

It took a broom and a mop
to clean up after the squall. So
we thatched our lives together
and slept under rising planets
and a cyclic moon. We hiked.

Where we could, we found springs.
From time to time, an acacia
provided scant shade when we
chose to sit. Sketches recollect
contrast and contradiction, rush-

hour delays on the way to work,
reality emerging from the sand.
Now, we decant wine from broken
promises and pronounce decrees
in the desert with dusty cant. Yes.

Once we dreamt. That, I remember.
I mean, then, I remembered. Now, I can’t.

©2016 Michael Dickel

Werewolves—The Hounds of Hate

One wonders if a group of people who have a fetish-obsession with alpha males overpowering beta males are really werewolves (werwolf, in German, a fort, a plan, an insurgency, ever a human?) rather than human beings. Perhaps they are devolved to pack animals easily confused by a gilded chair and spotlight glare. They seem to have failed to realize that the beta males fight over hierarchy, the lone alpha in each pack standing aloof and indifferent to their struggle.


by Michael Dickel

The followers packed in the hall raise their hands in a familiar, evil salute.

The one in front mentions alpha males, before saluting his leader’s election.

In their poorly learned algebra: Power equals everything; morality, ethics, community equal nothing. They worship the square root of negative 3. No one, not even I, know what that means.

Some reject all leaders other than themselves. Even the one elected remains insufficiently aggrieved and enraged to take the reins. Wild horses run through them, disordering their imaginations with fantasies of powerful stallions. The stallions laugh at their inadequacies.

werewolfnazis-2
Werewolf Nazis-2
Digital art
Werewolf image src
NAZI salute src

It begins with wordsthe werewolf singing the song of cancer cells—unlimited growth, spreading out, destroying all else, leaving nothing but toxic waste behind. When he howls “greatness,” he sings to spread deadly cancer in our midst. Unchecked growth. We must resist the cancer, gather our antibodies, strengthen our collective body of love and wisdom.

Whiteflies invade the green leaves and suck the plant dry. They excrete a honeydew of hate. They believe that they grew the plant. They want to be in charge of the plant, even as they kill it.

The werewolves will make Wolfland great again.

Afraid and weak, these werewolves bark, bite, howl, yip. If they didn’t run in packs, they would be nothing. That is why the alpha obsession raised to the power of fetish. They use terms from pornography. They are pornography.

What is pornography? Is it human? Am I / pornography / human?

The hounds of hate have been unleashed to the sound of trumpets. They turn against learning and research. The rich and powerful control them by remote signal. The rich and the powerful laugh and laugh. The hounds fight over the scraps. They get trumped.

Then the hounds turn on the rest of us, licking their sagging, blood-spattered jowls.


If you haven’t already, place your mouse cursor over the links and wait. You will see an excerpt pop up from that linked page. The excerpt inter-plays with this text. I’m not sure how / if this works in mobile platforms.


werewolfnazis-header

I ain’t no millionaire’s son

I grew up through the 1960s, when resistance was to the draft, the war in Vietnam, and capitalism. While the fronts may have changed, the war of resistance against greed-driven government and the military-industrial complex (now the military-industrial-technological-communication complex?) continues on. Here are a few old protest songs from those times and others, for your resistance sound-track of today.

Michael Dickel

Have suggestions to add to this soundtrack? Leave links in the comments!

Creedence Clearwater Revival—Fortunate Son (the title for this article comes from the lyrics)

Richie Havens—Handsome Johnny

Peter, Paul, and Mary—Blowing in the Wind (Bob Dylan)

John Lennon—Imagine

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez—Singing together at the 1963 March on Washington

Joan Baez leading the crowd singing We Shall Overcome at the 1963 March on Washington

Woody Guthrie—This Land is Your Land (listen to all of the verses)

The Freedom Singers—Woke Up This Morning

Lakota—To Walk the Red Road

Seal—A Change is Gonna Come

Bob Marley—One Love

Tracy Chapman—Talking About a Revolution

Tracy Chapman—Bang Bang Bang

Bob Dylan—With God on Our Side

And, because it is so needed to counter the pussy-grabber-in-chief…

Women’s Honoring Song

“Anagehya- women of all the Nations – you are the strength, you are the force, you are the healing of the Nations.”

Pete Seeger—Which Side Are You On? (Union song)

Keep the music playing, keep the resistance strong, sing out, sing loud!

See “Democracy is Coming to the USA” and “Silence ii—Sound of Silence” in this issue for more music related to the Resist! theme! For more songs of protest, including more contemporary songs, try this YouTube list of Protest Songs curated by Amnesty International, UK. Missing Peace Art Space curates the Peace Museum YouTube Channel.

HAVE SUGGESTIONS TO ADD TO THIS SOUNDTRACK? LEAVE LINKS IN THE COMMENTS!

I leave you with an anthem from my high school, anti-war days, a song from Woodstock.

The Jefferson Airplane—Volunteers!

Democracy Is Coming To the U.S.A.

While Leonard Cohen’s work is hardly “protest music” of the sort we might associate with the 1960s, his powerful poetry in song at times evokes a sense of resistance for me. Here, perhaps an obvious example—Democracy.

Another song that for me foreshadows our current state of affairs is First We Take Manhattan

These will be some of the background music for me in the coming years, much as they have been since they came out. However, now, with a renewed sense of urgency.

Michael Dickel

See “I ain’t no millionaire’s son” and “Silence ii—Sound of Silence” in this issue for more music related to the Resist! theme.

In Defense of Activist Poetry

51pv4fg0wpl-_sx329_bo1204203200_By now, those who pay attention to poetry and in particular the poetries of witness and activist poetries, know well that it follows from a long tradition. Yet others, especially cultural and political conservatives, argue “protest” poetry or “political” poetry both do not constitute “Literature,” and that such poetry cannot help but be time-bound little more than contemporaneous commentary. I have been told that some of my poetry is “journalistic,” and that I am caught in a “fashionable” trend from the mid-1950s that has no literary roots beyond, possibly, the Beats. Such arguments simply are nonsense.

unknownCarolyn Forché’s volumes Poetry of Witness: The Tradition in English 1500–2001 and Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness demonstrate, with excellent examples, a long history of social and political engagement in English poetry. In fact, one might claim just the opposite of the (usually disguised political) claims that the tradition began in the middle of the 20th C. could be made, that solipsistic confessional poetry that is more autobiography than engaged in the world emerges from that time, in counter-balance to a history of poetry engaged in the outside world.

For this post, I provide two examples of poets from the first half of the 20th Century who engaged in the world.

*****

The first, two poems come from the well-known poet William Butler Yeats: Easter, 1916, written in response to a political protest forcefully broken up by the British, who executed 16 of the protesters. The poem, written in September 1916 and published in 1928, ends with a powerful commentary on the protest, the execution-martyrdom that resulted, and, prophetically, the continuation of the Irish struggle: “A terrible beauty is born.”

Easter, 1916

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road,
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone’s in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven’s part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse—
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

– William Butler Yeats

Yeats’ poem, Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen, comments powerfully and bitterly on violence, war, oppression, and the loss of our own humanity in modern times. The poem, in six parts, has a history of difficult critical reception—critics had a hard time reconciling it with others of Yeats’ works. However, since the later part of the 20th Century, his poem has had a more thoughtful reading by the critics, possibly giving weight to saying he was “ahead of his time.”

Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen

I.
Many ingenious lovely things are gone
That seemed sheer miracle to the multitude,
protected from the circle of the moon
That pitches common things about. There stood
Amid the ornamental bronze and stone
An ancient image made of olive wood —
And gone are Phidias’ famous ivories
And all the golden grasshoppers and bees.

We too had many pretty toys when young:
A law indifferent to blame or praise,
To bribe or threat; habits that made old wrong
Melt down, as it were wax in the sun’s rays;
Public opinion ripening for so long
We thought it would outlive all future days.
O what fine thought we had because we thought
That the worst rogues and rascals had died out.

All teeth were drawn, all ancient tricks unlearned,
And a great army but a showy thing;
What matter that no cannon had been turned
Into a ploughshare? Parliament and king
Thought that unless a little powder burned
The trumpeters might burst with trumpeting
And yet it lack all glory; and perchance
The guardsmen’s drowsy chargers would not prance.

Now days are dragon-ridden, the nightmare
Rides upon sleep: a drunken soldiery
Can leave the mother, murdered at her door,
To crawl in her own blood, and go scot-free;
The night can sweat with terror as before
We pieced our thoughts into philosophy,
And planned to bring the world under a rule,
Who are but weasels fighting in a hole.

He who can read the signs nor sink unmanned
Into the half-deceit of some intoxicant
From shallow wits; who knows no work can stand,
Whether health, wealth or peace of mind were spent
On master-work of intellect or hand,
No honour leave its mighty monument,
Has but one comfort left: all triumph would
But break upon his ghostly solitude.

But is there any comfort to be found?
Man is in love and loves what vanishes,
What more is there to say? That country round
None dared admit, if Such a thought were his,
Incendiary or bigot could be found
To burn that stump on the Acropolis,
Or break in bits the famous ivories
Or traffic in the grasshoppers or bees.

II.
When Loie Fuller’s Chinese dancers enwound
A shining web, a floating ribbon of cloth,
It seemed that a dragon of air
Had fallen among dancers, had whirled them round
Or hurried them off on its own furious path;
So the platonic Year
Whirls out new right and wrong,
Whirls in the old instead;
All men are dancers and their tread
Goes to the barbarous clangour of a gong.

III
Some moralist or mythological poet
Compares the solitary soul to a swan;
I am satisfied with that,
Satisfied if a troubled mirror show it,
Before that brief gleam of its life be gone,
An image of its state;
The wings half spread for flight,
The breast thrust out in pride
Whether to play, or to ride
Those winds that clamour of approaching night.

A man in his own secret meditation
Is lost amid the labyrinth that he has made
In art or politics;
Some Platonist affirms that in the station
Where we should cast off body and trade
The ancient habit sticks,
And that if our works could
But vanish with our breath
That were a lucky death,
For triumph can but mar our solitude.

The swan has leaped into the desolate heaven:
That image can bring wildness, bring a rage
To end all things, to end
What my laborious life imagined, even
The half-imagined, the half-written page;
O but we dreamed to mend
Whatever mischief seemed
To afflict mankind, but now
That winds of winter blow
Learn that we were crack-pated when we dreamed.

IV.
We, who seven years ago
Talked of honour and of truth,
Shriek with pleasure if we show
The weasel’s twist, the weasel’s tooth.

V.
Come let us mock at the great
That had such burdens on the mind
And toiled so hard and late
To leave some monument behind,
Nor thought of the levelling wind.

Come let us mock at the wise;
With all those calendars whereon
They fixed old aching eyes,
They never saw how seasons run,
And now but gape at the sun.

Come let us mock at the good
That fancied goodness might be gay,
And sick of solitude
Might proclaim a holiday:
Wind shrieked — and where are they?

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

VI.
Violence upon the roads: violence of horses;
Some few have handsome riders, are garlanded
On delicate sensitive ear or tossing mane,
But wearied running round and round in their courses
All break and vanish, and evil gathers head:
Herodias’ daughters have returned again,
A sudden blast of dusty wind and after
Thunder of feet, tumult of images,
Their purpose in the labyrinth of the wind;
And should some crazy hand dare touch a daughter
All turn with amorous cries, or angry cries,
According to the wind, for all are blind.
But now wind drops, dust settles; thereupon
There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.

– William Butler Yeats

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to this site to view the video here of Yeats reading Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.

*****

unknown-1For the second example, I move to a lesser-known writer. John Cornford, the great-grandson of Charles Darwin, died during the Spanish Civil War under “uncertain circumstances at Lopera, near Córdoba in 1936.” We have no idea how much he might have contributed to poetry, had he survived. However, his poems written during the Spanish Civil War did survive, and were published posthumously. Born in 1915 in Cambridge, England, he was a committed communist. “Though his life was tragically brief, he documented his experiences of the conflict through poetry, letters to family and his lover, and political and critical prose which spoke out against the fascist regime and its ideologies.”

Sandra Mendez, a niece of John Cornford who also holds the copyright to his work, created a song from his poem “To Margot Heinemann.” The YouTube below is her performing that song.

If you are viewing this from an email subscription, you’ll likely have to link through to this site to view the video here of Yeats reading Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen.

These are just two of many examples that could be drawn from the long history of English letters. Engaged poetry, poetry of witness, activist poetry, political poetry—all comprise an important aspect, perhaps the most important aspect, of what we call “Poetry.”

– Michael Dickel

Select Resources and Links
Burt, Stephen. The Weasel’s Tooth: On W. B. Yeats. The Nation.
Dickel, Michael. Curator / Editor. Poet Activists: Poets Speak Out. The Woven Tale Press.
Rumens, Carol. Poem of the Week: Poem by John Cornford. The Guardian.

THE POET AS WITNESS, an interview by Jamie Dedes with Michael Dickel

© 2016, essay, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Originally published as Activist Poetry—a longer view in Michael Dickel’s blog, Fragmentarily/ Meta-Phor(e) /Play

Silence i —Warm Blanket of Silence

It was September in 1998 when I last visited this text, but I began writing it in 1988—an unlikely time for warm humid air in Minneapolis where I lived. Still, brought up by storm, bereft of beaches, warm ocean-born air covered me in that north-central city, the nearest seacoast thousands of miles away; I could smell that salt breeze left over from and carried here by hurricane Gilbert and his aftermath.And this is what I wrote in 1988 and revised (somewhat) 1998. Now, in 2016, I pulled it out, dusted it off, made some additional revisions and edits (including cutting about 15 pages out at the end) for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I read the version of the following at Verses Against Violence 3, organized by Rachel Stomel in Jerusalem, on 24 November, 2016. I have made some edits to the version I read and added a bit more, to more clearly state my position at the end. Both the edits and what I added arose from the discussion after the reading in November.

When you read this, the bombs may be falling still, or falling again; or a temporary lull may have been ordered, or a ceasefire may be in effect. This peace-around the corner, while children, invalids, and old people are blown into mass graves, has been the latest, most visible testimony to the power now handled by a few men—which begins to seem like the power of nature, to bring famine, plague, or cyclone and take it away again at will.

“The bombings, for example, if they have anything to teach us, must be understood in the light of something closer to home, both more private and painful, and more general and endemic, than institutions, class, racial oppression, the hubris of the Pentagon, or the ruthlessness of a right-wing administration: the bombings are so wholly sadistic, gratuitous and demonic that they can finally be seen, if we care to see them, for what they are: acts of concrete sexual violence, an expression of the congruence of violence and sex in the masculine psyche.”

—Adrienne Rich, “Vietnam and Sexual Violence,” a column for APR, first published in 1973

“…it’s time for men to start having programs about rape. It won’t stop until men learn that the victims aren’t responsible.”

—Irene Greene, director of the U of Minnesota Sexual Violence Program
in an interview with Doug Grow.]

 

The Warm Blanket of Silence

It is a comforting warm atmosphere, and that it should bear with it the responsibility for the death of hundreds and the devastation of fragile third world economies, responsibility for the spawning of floods and tornadoes, dumfounds me at this distance. The air around me is a comfortable blanket, secure and cozy, cuddling me into gentle submission, into ignoring the terrible violence that spawned it, that delivered it to my doorstep along with the bananas and the coffee and the economic well-being that are part of my privileged existence. How do I set my comfort aside and grapple with the need for others’ relief, for a fair-weather change? So easy to retreat, to retreat to the warm blanket, to snuggle against the supposed truth: I am not the perpetrator of those violent deeds. For I am not a violent man, myself.

So it is with the storm, the raging blast of destruction and domination that is U.S. foreign policy, especially in the what we once called the “Third World,” now (in 2016) also the Middle East. That storm accounts for the cozy climate of the privileged in the U.S. (and I own that I was, while living there, and still am, as an ex-pat, one of those privileged). Thousands of deaths, devastation of economies, the spawning of the floods of war and the tornadoes of insurrection and destabilization all account for the stolen ocean breezes. And if I feel as helpless against the hurricane of foreign policy as I do against Gilbert, that same comfortable blanket beckons me: I am not the perpetrator of these violent deeds. For I myself am not a violent man.

If not perpetrator, then collaborator, if not in the destruction wrought by the storm, then in the destructive forces let loose when men beat women, when parents beat children, when men beat other men, when men rape women, when men use violence, oppression and sexual power to coerce those around them into submission. And if it seems that I have leapt hugely into an abyss from foreign policy to domestic, personal, and sexual violence (are these different?), then it is because I am looking for the beginnings of our national imperialism in the place it seems to me things begin: at home. If acts of violence in foreign affairs are not acts of sexual violence, as Adrienne Rich suggests they are, and I by no means believe that they are not, then the same indifference and silence towards the raping, beating, and emotional violence that plagues our own sisters, mothers, lovers, colleagues, brothers, and ourselves allows for our silence and indifference about how our nation conducts its foreign affairs. We may not perpetrate the violence, but we collaborate with it when we remain silent: Even if we are not, ourselves, violent men.

Collaborate? With silence. Silence is collaboration, the great hushed whisper that approves by not calling out, by not naming the violence of person against person, by looking the other way. Too long men have ignored the violence, or viewed it as the victim’s problem, or, when forced to acknowledge the truth, tried to suppress the violence in patriarchal fashion with laws, jails, and punishments (more often than not punishment for other suppressed members of society more than for those in power), rather than treating the roots, looking to the core of the matter.

“Such inhumanity will not cease, I believe, until men, in groups of men, say “no more.” Until the Jaycees, Rotary, American Legion, male sports groups, and the like begin to discuss rape in their meetings and begin to give a loud prohibition to sexual abuse of women rape will not stop.”

—Ted Bowman
quoting himself from a letter to the editor
of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune, December 30, 1983.

Part of the problem is that many men do not see wife and child beating as a men’s issue. Here I generalize, for some activist men indeed do (singer, songwriter, activist Geoff Morgan, for instance, or witness quotes above), and no sweeping statements should be made about men, women, or any group of people. Traditionally, however, men do not seem to have dealt with this issue except as an issue of the victim—a woman’s or child’s issue, or if a men’s issue, a men’s issue based on their own victimization, as in child abuse. Rarely have men confronted the issue as an issue of their own suppression of others, or of their own fears or inability to be whole. An issue of their own rage and explosiveness. We often ignore the fact that we can be violent men.

I know I have viewed this as a “women’s issue,” I know my friends have, I know that some of the concerned men I met with in Minneapolis have all ignored men’s responsibility, to greater and lesser extent, while wanting to acknowledge our “sensitivity.” In failing to acknowledge our potential for violence, we continue the oppression. It is when we deny our own anger, often at ourselves or other men, that we become most likely to blow up with rage at others, also.

But, I am not a violent man. And I do not beat or rape women. Why should I consider this my problem?

Because men are the most common perpetrators of this violence, and men ought to consider solutions that will stop other men from violating other human beings. (I speak hear of male abusers because I wish to arouse men to action to stop sanctioning this abuse with our silence—what I say may apply to women abusers as well.)

We should stop being silent and start taking responsibility, stop saying that this only effects the victims and recognize the effects throughout society and culture, stop subscribing to the patriarchal code of silence that allows the male, even requires the male, to dominate and control those around him, and start working with each other to end family and personal violence. If we want accusations like Rich’s to be untrue, (that violence and sexuality are one for men), we have to speak out and say that it is untrue for us and unacceptable in those around us. We have to act according to these words. We must disentangle them in our own psyches and lives and acts. We must, as men, face our own violence, turn our own sexuality from oppression to eroticism (not to be mistaken for pornography) and spirituality (not to be mistaken for patriarchal indoctrination), from desire for self-gratification to tenderness for the Other.

(skipping about 15 pages to coda at end of original essay)

The first step for any change in attitudes we have and perpetuate about gender, sexuality, and violence begins in the mirror. I must face up to my own capacity for abuse, my own tendency to authoritarianism: my own reluctance to feel, to trust, to be vulnerable, to love (and be loved). I must face myself in my worst aspect to create my best. If this has been, up to now, a social commentary and proposal, it is now a call to all men, and to myself, to begin the act of change within each of us. I ask no one to give up manhood. On the contrary, I ask each man reading this to embrace his own manhood, and to recognise that this manhood is not the violent, competitive, truncated beast that is so often reflected in our culture and our self-images.

I am not a storm, unleashed by nature, not a furious distemper whipping and whirling through the world. I am not corrosion, destruction, death and war. I am not powerless in the face of my actions, hopeless or helpless. Although I could be all of those things. I am not Hurricane Gilbert run amuck, nor Gilbert merely placated, worn down by feminism, politics, my mother, my lover, or my therapist. I am a man choosing to change that which I can. I have missed opportunities in the past, and these missed opportunities are scars that run deep into my psyche: I watched one man die violently where I might have made a difference had I not been silent. I experienced the sudden death of my father with an incomplete relationship because the silence between us—despite all of our words—had grown too big, was broached too late. I have attacked myself, despised myself at times, and lashed out at others.

I may be hunter, and warrior, which means I have the capacity for destructive and abusive violence, and also the capacity for sustaining power and strength. I am also lover and parent, which some may take to mean that I could control and possess a (male or female) vessel in an attempt to fill my needs, but for me means that I can form a tender, erotic, spiritual, and emotional alliance which truly satisfies. I am human, which means I have the power to repress and deny the reality of my emotions, and also that I have the power to experience, survive, and grow in the world by knowing my deepest feelings. I am parent, which means that I can continue the cycle of destruction and violence that I have inherited, and also that I can be open to growth and change. I live in the world, which means that I can strive for dominion, and also that I can strive to form a spiritual community not only with my fellow humans (male and female), but with nature itself. Change begins at home, the choices are mine.

If I do not wish to suffocate under a warm blanket of storm blown silence, I will have to own the destruction that the silence protects. If I own the destruction, I take responsibility for the violence, and then I can change. If I change, I empower myself. I can complete myself. I can choose life, spirit, love, nature. I am not, by inheritance from my father or otherwise, beast; but human being by inheritance of my mother and my father, together. And I will try to be.

“While I have yearned for leadership from persons and groups more influential than I, I also know that the burden of responsibility lies on my shoulders. Consciousness-raising doesn’t cut it! It is time to talk with my sons, brothers, and male friends and yours also. Will you join me in speaking to your male acquaintances? Can we make a difference? I think so! Let’s do it!”

Ted Bowman 1988

(This is as far as the reading went.)

I have brought this essay back for what I imagine are, to the readers of The BeZine, obvious reasons—an unrepentant “pussy-grabber” has just been elected to the office of President of the United States. As a man, I renew my decades-long commitment to stand against such violence and abuse, to resist the “locker-room” excuses and all violence, but most certainly violence against women and children. One thing I take heart in, though, is that what I have witnessed at the Verses against Violence reading this year and in the past—people speaking out, women (mostly) and men resisting the violence embedded in our society and breaking silence. The outcry about the orange-man’s grabbing statement, while it did not stop him being elected, was loud and clear. In 1988, I suspect his comments would not have been a subject in the media. I suspect, but who can know for sure, that the media of that time would have shrugged their shoulders and themselves said, “locker-room talk.” In 1998… possibly not much better. Things are not where they should be, they are not where I want them to be, but at least there was a shout of “NO!”

So, let’s shake the blanket of silence off of our shoulders. Let’s do what we must, do what we can. Let’s not accept in complacency what this presidency likely will bring.

—Michael Dickel (Meta/Phor(e)/Play)

Deconstruction

I’ll take your hyper-inflated
phallus, ego-distended balloon,
id-fueled hot-air engine
that fills super-ego daydreams
to dizzying-heights of power—
and throw your craven, carved
wind on the fire of this year’s
revolution. Such a useless
log, poorly fit for fuel, and
barely at that, must burn
to ash before this dawn

comes, must rise in smoke
signals to call poets and
painters from themselves.
Then you can raise your
indistinguishable flags,
try to wave the smoke
from your eyes. We
will not be deceived—
we know who feeds
this all-consuming blaze.
And we will have

already come for you.
As you crawl out of your
wrecked ship of state,
we come for you.
As your cracked currency
drops from you, we come
for you. As you fall,
we come for you.
We come, not as you
imagine. With arms open,
we welcome you back to humanity.

—Michael Dickel

Deconstruction-1-WEB.jpg

So Thirsty —poem

I am almost back perhaps. The long summer ordeal
of stress, rockets, war, death, killing has moved off
into Syria and Iraq and left us barren for a moment.
A bit of rain falling today hints at winter being
wet. We need water. We always need water. So thirsty.

The brown hills will green again, and the dry beds
recently run with blood water will wash thoroughly
so flowers may wave their red-yellow-white-purple
cacophony of emotions in winter’s permissive grace.
We need the water. We always need water. So thirsty.

Since between last-summer’s war and the next,
whenever it might fall upon us, this brief moment
flickers—a satellite-pretense of being a star gliding
across black night—a mere reflection of sunlight.
We want water, we always need more water. So thirsty.

The desert will preserve these battles, mummify
the narratives, and wait as scorpions and seeds wait.
And to this I return. Almost. Maybe. Turned back
from the sea and step-by-step making my way to sweet
water. Always water. Like the night sky, I am so thirsty.

—Michael Dickel

warsurrounds-web
The Evolution of Music by Jerry Ingeman

This poem will be read at Baltimore’s Writers Resist event (Jan 15 2017) by Maryland poet Laura Shovan, author of  The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, a novel in poem form. Michael wrote this poem a while after the 2014 Hamas-Israel War—other poems, from the war, appear in his book War Surrounds Us.

Circulating Language Manifesto

 

the New Economy as convention is language itself, language as means of production and circulation of goods.
—Christian Marazzi, qtd. by Joshua Clover

An unrealized hunger chews against ribcages of ravens in flight
as flash floods erode history in the Wadi, flushing it to the Salt Sea.
There is no food on the table and the poet goes unpaid.
These words fill an empty plate, overflowing commerce,
an exchange rated for evaporation and condensation, loss
and replacement. This moment transforms nothing into labor.
Rising water drives thirstiness to drought even as it races forward
to parched bitterness that holds ordered tourists on its surfaces.
Order falls away with things, things lost in dreams, dreams
foretelling futures past. Electrons drove the Philosopher’s Stone,
golden silicone in bits and bytes flying past geographies of object,
flowing with subject, absent verb. What is it we pay for in this life?

impressionistic-flowers-tw

 

Red anemones contradict drenched grasses. A small blue iris sways.
Hot dust storms coat the machinery that has frozen to our city streets
as the poet peels potatoes and pauses to reevaluate golden hues.
Sentences collapse under the weight of real prisons, unfolding
the crusty earth’s constant over-turning—geological composting
as surfaces rise up and bury themselves back into the hot mantel.
Potato skins skim vodka from decay; hungers twist into shadows.
Too many dimensions in set space reduce everything again.
Orbits drop toward gravity, the strength of the iron fist clamping
down on tomorrow. Poets remain unpaid; still words overflow
into nothingness with no value placed upon added desire or its
lack. Well-written banknotes are not poems;
poems are not without a price.

“Rather, there is before us the flight to a new capital, the brutal work of tearing apart and reassembling the great gears of accumulation and setting them in motion once again—if such a thing is still possible…Or there is the flight to something else entirely.”
—Joshua Clover

—Michael Dickel


Quotes from: Clover, Joshua. “Value | Theory | Crisis.” Publication of the Modern Language Association of America. 127.1 (January 2012). 107-114.


First appeared: Dickel, M. (2013). Circulation Language Manifesto. Diogen pro kultura magazin / pro culture magazine. No. 32 (February). Print and Online. p. 96.


 

Hate is not the opposite of Love

After the election I find it difficult to write (just, justly) about (love, loving kindness, grace). Followed, as the election was, by the death of Leonard Cohen whose songs and as described (by those who knew him), whose personal life embodied grace, the task has become more difficult. I have lost my balance. I have fallen into (judgment, in this case, harsh judgment). Beauty seems cut off from the Crown, (Understanding and Wisdom) disconnected from (love and judgment). All balance has left me, I stumble up and down stairs as though falling, red faced, my prophetic legs unstable, my right knee (eternally) in sharp pain, my left leg (splendidly) leaning against a wall.


by Michael Dickel


And if these words confuse you, then they have communicated an aspect of my state, some limbs of the tree that sustains me. I will not explain. These fragments may not hold. I will try to find some pieces of the puzzle and lay them on the floor, without hope of putting the image together again. For the image shatters, overfull of signification. Its pieces slide into sounds, letters, words, phrases, a life sentence of confusion.

We may discern that the tree grows. We may figure out most or all of how it grows. However, ask the tree why it grows and it will simply rustle in the air of your breath.

Under the Palm Tree, Devorah sat in judgment. She was a warrior and a leader, yet her judgment was not harsh. She led because her judgment was seen as righteous and fair. My family name as I was born to it, Dickel, does not transliterate into the Hebrew aleph-bet very well. However, Dekel does work in Hebrew letters, דקל, and is a common enough family name in Hebrew. So when my wife and I registered our marriage in Israel, we changed our family name to Dekel. Dekel means (date) palm. I (am) a palm tree. I cannot explain.

——————

In the 16th C., Moses Cordevero “discovered” or “wrote down” ancient (oral) texts, or simply wrote them as new texts. These are prominent among the received texts, part of the basis of Kabbalah (which means Reception, Received, but idiomatically, Revelation). One book is The Palm Tree of Devorah. At once it seems a text about how to be a good judge, like Devorah, and how to transcend our lives of judgment to obtain a Oneness with Keter, the Crown of Creation. Some excerpts, from Daniel Matt’s book, The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism (including his notes / commentary after the boldface text):

Your face should always be shining. Welcome each person with a friendly countenance. For with regard to Keter Elyon, the supernal crown, it is said: “In the light of the king’s face is life.” No redness or harsh judgment gains entrance there. So, too, the light of your face should never change; whoever looks at you will find only joy and a friendly expression. Nothing should disturb you. (85 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

“In the light of the king’s face is life.” Proverbs 16:15. CF Mishnah, Avot 1:15: “Welcome each person with a friendly countenance.”

redness The color of harsh judgment. (192)

Your mouth should produce nothing but good. The words you speak should be Torah and an expression of goodwill. Never generate angry or ugly words, curses, or nonsense. Let our mouth resemble the upper mouth, which is never closed, never silent, never withholding the good. Speak positively, always, with benevolent words.

All of these good qualities gather under the banner of humility, each one constituting a limb in Keter above…

It is impossible, of course, to conduct yourself according to these qualities constantly. Accustom yourself to them little by little. The essential quality to attain, the key to them all, is humility, for this is the very first aspect of Keter, under which all of the rest are subsumed. (85–86 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

So should your wisdom be accessible to all. Teach people what will be useful to them, according to each one’s capacity, pouring out to each as much wisdom as you can. Don’t let anything deter you.…Be careful not to give more than the mind of the recipient can hold, to prevent any mishap…

As Binah, Understanding, sweetens all powers of judgment, neutralizing their bitterness, so should you return to God and correct each flaw. If you meditate on returning every day, you stimulate Binah to illuminate each day.… (87 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

power of judgment Hebrew, dinim (דינים), powers of the sefirah of Din, harsh judgment. (192)

Do not say that returning is good only for the holy portion within you; the evil portion, too, is sweetened, in the manner of this quality. Do not think that because you incline toward evil there is no remedy. This is false. If you do well, rooting yourself in Returning, you can ascend there through the goodness rooted there. For the root of every supernal bitterness is sweet; you can enter through this root and make yourself good; your intentional sins turn into merits. The misdeeds you committed have been accusing you from the Left Side. Once you return completely, you raise those deeds and root them above. Those accusers are not annihilated but ameliorated, rooted in holiness. (88 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

the Left Side The demonic dimension, which branches out from the sefirah of Din, harsh judgment, located on the left side of the sefirotic tree. (192)

How should you train yourself in the quality of Hesed, Love? The basic way you enter the mystery of Hesed is by loving God to the extreme, not abandoning devotion for any reason at all, since nothing attracts you in the least, compared to loving God. (88 from Moses Cordevero Tomer Devorah original 16th C., Warsaw: Joel Levensohn 1873)

——————

Map of the Ten Sefirot
The Ten Sefirot

The sefirot (plural, singular sefirah), according to Jewish Mysticism, could be thought of as a series of vessels through which the energy of Creation / Creator (Keter) flow

from Ayin, אין, Nothingness, through Keter, the Crown (Head) of (Divine) Will

through the Point-Beginning of Wisdom (Hokhmah) and the Palace or Womb of Understanding (Binah)

into the Right Arm of (Hesed) Love (loving kindness, Grace) and the Left Arm of Power-Judgment (Din, Gevurah)

converging into (Tiferet) Beauty-Compassion-Mercy (Heaven, Sun, Harmony, Blessed Holy One)

into the right leg of Eternity-Prophecy (Nezah) and the Left Leg of Splendor-Prophecy (Hod)

converging once again into (Yesod) Foundation-Righteous One-Covenant (Phallus symbolic) and

flowing into the Presence as the Divine Feminine Aspect of God, the Shekhinah, from where it flows into the world / people.

The sefirot of convergences make up a central column, also.

These all make up a (symbolic) body, Adam (mankind, human) that is gender fluid (womb, phallus, Shekhinah all together). They comprise The Tree of Life. “The tree grows upside down,” its roots in the top, “an image familiar to us from many myths” (Scholem 42). “…Its trunk embraces the central and thereby conciliating forces; while the branches or limbs which grow out of it as various points encompass the contradictory forces of divine activity in Hesed and Din” (Scholem 42). The sefira of Hesed is love. The sefira of Din is judgment.

The sefirot could be a galaxy of stars, if you wish. The flow of this energy is two way. Jacob, when he dreamed of the ladder, saw messengers / angels going up and down the ladder (Gen. 28:12). (Not down and up.) The sefirot can also reveal themselves to our awareness as a ladder. The energy of Creation Returns in emanations toward Creator, Ayin,אין, Nothingness, and flows back down. Messengers going up and down, and up again. Hesed and Din must be in a dynamic balance to reach the convergence that is beauty-compassion-mercy in one direction or the duality (in triadic-balance with Keter) of understanding and wisdom in another.

Perhaps the emanations resemble particles falling into a Black Hole. As they hit the event horizon, they double, one continuing, one reflecting out, but as entangled entities. As below, so above; as above, so below. Perhaps the emanations resemble a Big Bang where time flows in both directions—beginning to end, end to beginning. Probably I don’t understand anything and do not have the wisdom to convey ( nothing(ness) ) אין.

However we might choose or be able to imagine them, the sefirot must be in balance. They are fractal—at all levels of the universe from quantum bits to macrocosmic, identical at all magnifications. They are Chaos. Ordered. Theory. The Shape. Everything.

And the opposite of love is not hate. It is harsh judgment. From harsh judgment flows, from us flows, the demonic dimension. For we are nothing but sefirot, energy, emanations of the Big Bang. For all I know.

A glimpse behind the curtain.

Pay no attention to the man behind the keyboard.

——————

It doesn’t matter which you heard,
the holy or the broken Hallelujah…

——————

It is taught in the Mystery of Mysteries: The king’s head is arranged according to Hesed and Gevurah [another term for the sefira Din]. Hairs are suspended from his head, waves upon waves, which are all an extension, and which serve to support the upper and lower worlds: princes of princes, masters of truth, masters of balance, masters of howling, masters of screaming, secrets of Torah, cleannesses and uncleannesses—all of them are called “hairs of the king,” that is to say, the extension that proceeds from the holy king, and it all descends from Atika Kadisha [Ancient Holiness].

The forehead of the kin is the visitation of the wicked. When they are called to account because of their deeds, and when their sins are revealed, then is it called “the forehead of the king,” that is to say, Gevurah [Din]. It strengthens itself with its judgments, and extends itself to its extremities.… (Zohar, II, 122b–123a, cited in Scholem 53)

In the next three Sefiroth, we find Hesed (grace or love), Din or Gevurah (severity or judgment), and Rahamim or Tif’ereth (mercy, also known as splendor or beauty), in which the extremes are united and conciliated.Again, it is no coincidence that this sphere is defined by moral forces. (Scholem 42–43)

——————

Hate is not the opposite of love.

Harsh judgment is the opposite of love. Out of the imbalance of harsh judgment (as opposed to judgment per se) and love comes hate. From hate comes the demonic dimension. The demons come from within. This is true for one. It is true for society. It is true of our human world right now, many nationalities, many Nationalisms.

They sit in judgment of us. We sit in judgment of them.

Out of the raised left arm of harsh judgment comes the demonic dimension.

Do not confuse this notion of left or right as anything to do with political camps or spatial dimensions as we know them. They are convenient and familiar shorthand for this side and another side that pull against each other. The image of Adam in the sefirot is a mirror image of the viewer. We see ourselves in everything. The tree is more complex, three dimensional, a series of branchings and series of branchings from those branchings.

The tree is an inadequately simple image because we know it. We see trees. We think we understand.

I don’t understand.

The purpose of all of the rhetoric. The flow of all of the hate. The riling noisy din of social media. Servers flickering. Serving up harsh judgments. All of us. Count me in…I’ll share that meme.

This carries. Comments. Brings. Back. Returns to. A beginning of sorts of bringing. Together or apart, I don’t know.

A furrowed red forehead with notable hair flying loose. “Hairs are suspended from his head, waves upon waves, which are all an extension.” In a weave over skin, the redness spouted its harsh judgments, a forehead extended to the extremities of the. Beast.

We called it hate, but he used harsh judgment of immigrants, of minorities, of liberals, of Hillary Clinton. He called up the judgmental. Yes. KKK. Yes. NAZIs. Yes. Bigots.

But. Also. And. Yes. Us.

Those who cried out against him and his followers. With harsh judgment. In harsh judgment. Becoming harsh. Judgment.

And the social media full of Din, the din, the noise, The Judgment. Without looking with love at the followers and asking, “how can I love them?”

Did you think Judgment Day meant someone else’s judgment? Something else’s Judgment? Perhaps it means the day that harsh judgment won. The election. No matter which person won, harsh. Judgment. Reigned.

I don’t love them. I judge them.

Don’t mistake me for saying we need to accept these harsh judgments of others that cast them as enemies—not immigrants, not those who are not “mainstream,” not those who are not “white,” an empty and meaningless category without inscription, a blank page signifying emptiness.

Please understand that the power (Gevurah) he wielded was not only over his followers. He triggered us. He caused us to judge. We answered. Off balance. We fell. Into hate. Fed by (our own) harsh judgment (of ourselves? our darker reflections? our shadows?). Which fed harsh judgment. The demonic dimension. Our demons.

We became part of the fire storm. Redness. Smoke. Mirrors reflecting our fears of who we really are back at us. And we became what we feared.

As did his supporters. They fell off balance into harsh judgment.

Trump fueled and fanned those flames. But so did all of the detractors on all other sides. A raging firestorm of harsh judgment—of Clinton. Of Obama. Of the Right. Of the Left. Of the alt-Right. Of Progressives. Of Boomers. Of Millennials. Clinton of Trump. (Some) progressives of Clinton. Of media. Media of anyone who sold viewers to their advertisers. Of those who voted for third party candidates. Those who voted for third parties of we who voted in the lie of the two-party system. Of those who didn’t judge. Of those who didn’t vote. Of others who judged.

——————

There is room for judgment, to be sure. But it must be balanced by Hesed—grace and love.

I did not have that balance. I did not see that balance.

If we want to counter the redness of the demon with wild strands of hair, we must not join with “masters of howling, masters of screaming.”

I must find in myself Hesed, (love, loving kindness, grace).

We must find. Hesed. We must spread it outward. Emanate it up. And down. And up. We must remember that the opposite of love is not hate, that hate begets hate but arises from harsh judgments (being judgmental).

We must be less harsh in our judgments and more loving in our responses.

I must be less harsh in my judgments. Of you. Of me.

This is not to go to the other extreme. Hesed out of balance lacks boundaries, leaves us open and vulnerable, without defenses of any kind. Ready to be eaten.

We must judge, but justly, with love. And find solutions for people, not attack people as though they are problems.

We must call out the demonic dimensions with Hesed and send them back into Din. We must call out in love, to balance the mess we are in.

But we must also hold ourselves and others accountable for our (mis)judgments out of feelings of superiority.

We are all human. We all live in the world. We have divine potential, each and every one, even the orange redness with the wild hair.

And we all have demonic potential, each and every one, even the orange redness with the wild hair.

We must judge which is prevalent. With Hesed, love and grace.

And love is not the opposite of hate. But it brings a balance of judgment that leads from hate to beauty-compassion-mercy in one direction and to understanding and wisdom in the other.

Love must balance our judgment and guide our actions. Good must be on our tongues.

I don’t know how. I am angry. I am hurting. I am full of harsh judgments. I want to find a balance, though. And I want to remember that

…love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah…

I pick up my guitar and fall as much as sit down. My right knee screams in pain. My left knee sags. My right arm tingles, as fingers pluck the six strings. My left fingers press the notes, jarring my left arm to life as I make the chords: C – Am – C – Am -F – G – C – G – C – F – G -Am – F – G – Em – Am

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

I’ve read this past week that Leonard Cohen wanted Hallelujah to convey all of the possible moments, good and bad, when praise might come to our lips—the cold, the broken, the holy…

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

“Rabbi Tarphon taught us that while it is not our responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, we are not free to desist from it either.”    —Rabbi Marcia A. Zimmerman, Alvin & June Perlman Senior Rabbinic Chair, Temple Israel, Minneapolis, MN in a letter to her congregation after the election.

——————

Matt, Daniel C. The Essential Kabbalah: The Heart of Jewish Mysticism. San Francisco: Harper Collins. 1995. Citations from the 1997 Castle Books edition.

Scholem, Gershom. On The Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah. Joachim Neugroschel, transl. from the German; edited and revised according to the 1976 Hebrew edition, with the author’s emendations, by Jonathan Chipman. New York: Schocken Books. 1991. Original ©1962.

Soil isn’t sexy … neither is war

A dirty argument for sustainability, social justice, and peace

In the late 1980s, one of my guests on a community radio program I hosted came from a soil conservation group. She discussed the importance of soil—healthy, living soil, not chemically-supported but dead soil. She emphasized the importance of developing organic farming and turning back the trend of agribusiness mass farming that depleted soils and then added chemicals back to support the plants—but did nothing for the living soil.

She admitted that “talking about dirt isn’t sexy,” and that her group had a lot of work to do to get people’s attention. A friend of mine told me after the show, which he had listened to, that she was right. Dirt isn’t sexy.

Soil may not be sexy but treating it well could help solve climate change.

Ignoring it could lead to our extinction.

Do I have your attention?


Cracked soil by a village in Iran abandoned by farmers because water reserves ran dry due to overuse. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images
Cracked soil by a village in Iran abandoned by farmers because water reserves ran dry due to overuse. Photograph: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images

Now, 30 years later, The Guardian has run an article about soil as “the best shot at cooling the planet.” In it, Jason Hickel discusses an overlooked, “… simpler, less glamorous solution…” to climate change:

“It has to do with soil…40% of agricultural soil is classed as ‘degraded’ or ‘seriously degraded.’ In fact, industrial farming has so damaged our soils that a third of the world’s farmland has been destroyed in the past four decades.”

Industrialized forestry and agricultural practices have largely depleted organic material from the soil. The organic materials give the soil life. They also lock in carbon dioxide—second only to the oceans in its ability to do so. Hickel writes that soil “holds four times more carbon than all the plants and trees in the world.”

While dirt is not sexy, it is incredibly important.

Hickel goes so far as to say the science about regenerating soil is exciting:

“Scientists and farmers around the world are pointing out that we can regenerate degraded soils by switching from intensive industrial farming to more ecological methods – not just organic fertiliser, but also no-tillage, composting, and crop rotation. Here’s the brilliant part: as the soils recover, they not only regain their capacity to hold CO2, they begin to actively pull additional CO2 out of the atmosphere.”


A few years after the radio show, the Somalian novelist Nurrudin Farrah and I listened to a National Public Radio program while driving somewhere in the Twin Cities. The man being interviewed spoke extensively about economic colonization of farming in “underdeveloped” countries. He argued that hunger and poverty in the “Third World” was not about a lack of capacity to produce food or other necessities, but about multi-national corporations paying for crops they could sell for maximum profits in the “Developed World” and a system that then sold the farmers food they could have grown instead.

Farrah, a “post-colonial” author exiled at the time from Somalia, turned to me and said, “This man knows what he’s talking about.” The “development” that the U.S. and Europe pushes is an economic colonization of the so-called “under-developed” countries, he explained. The process of “Globalization” serves to develop pipelines of resources to multinational corporations, to develop markets to sell back those resources in the form of those corporations’ products (the push for “open markets”)—and simultaneously to develop cheap-labor markets to do the processing.

It is all about profits, not about providing for the economic needs of the people living there. Or anywhere. It is not about developing the countries into stronger systems for their citizens. It is about taking. Depleting. Degrading. As we are doing with the soil.

Agribusinesses push large corporate farming (and de-forestation) in order to profit share-holders—they have little interest in food production or sustainability per se. Farmers around the world who could grow food for their families and neighbors are pushed to grow cash crops—sugar cane and pineapple are two prominent examples. Beef cattle are grown on deforested lands, with the meat going to developed countries’ groceries and restaurants, with the fast food industry a huge consumer. Cotton is a major crop in some Middle Eastern countries. Cotton fields do not produce food, and do not produce cotton for local clothing needs but for high-thread count sheets and other luxury items sold in other countries.

If the farmers want food and clothing, they need to buy it from other multinational corporations.

This story is well known. It is not unlike the trade triangle England set up between itself, its Caribbean colonies, and its North American colonies. It is run by capitalists now, not governments, but the capitalists often control the local governments. Increasingly, the capitalists influence and control the national governments globally, in both the “developed” and “developing” countries.

This influence includes fighting against environmental regulations.

The “regenerative” farming practices Hickel writes about will not be easy to implement, especially against the will of corporate interests. They could lead to more economic justice globally, deriving from local farmers producing agricultural products for local consumers. This change won’t come about without a fight, though.


That’s half the story. A major effect of the economic displacement that this “development” has on the citizens of the country has been displacement of people.

More and more people move to urban centers, seeking income with which to pay their way into the system. There are increasing social and economic pressures as people press into the cities, increased competition that often fractures along ethnic, racial, and religious division. And increased armed conflict.

The other half of the story of the degradation of healthy soils is war. War results from it. War causes it. And right now, the world is at war.


Last year, almost to the day as I write this, the Middle East and North Africa choked on dust from September 6th to the 9th. An “unusual” storm disrupted normal living, even shutting down the Syrian air force. “The influx of dust triggered a rash of canceled flights, closed ports, and a suspension of daily activities for many people,” according to “Dust Storm,” an article on NASA’s Earth Observatory website.

The street where I live, Sept. 8, 2015
The street where I live, Sept. 8, 2015

People died. The pollution count for Jerusalem was 173 times normal, and the Environmental Protection Ministry in Israel advised everybody to stay inside, according to an article in The Times of Israel. Temperatures also rose to higher than normal, over 100 in Jerusalem in September.

dust-1-web
Out my apartment window

If you don’t know the Middle East, you might imagine that dust storms like this occur daily, weekly, or at least monthly. They don’t. Not like this. I’ve lived in Jerusalem almost ten years now, and I have experienced dust storms. None was this intense. And dust storms are more common in the Spring.

This 2015 storm was unusual for many reasons—scale, intensity, timing, and accompanying heat.

sept-8-storm-map-web
NASA Satellite image Sept. 8, 2015

And, as it turns out, its roots likely were in degraded farming lands related to both climate change and war. And all of this is instigating not only dust storms, but quite possibly the humanitarian crisis of the displaced refugees.


Six month before this particular storm, in March 2015, Craig Welch wrote Climate Change Helped Spark Syrian War, Study Says, for the National Geographic website. It opens with this paragraph, which should give us all pause:

“A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and flock to cities, helping trigger a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, according to a new study published Monday.”

The authors of the study from The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recognize that many social and political factors contributed to the civil war, of course. However, they “compiled statistics showing that water shortages in the Fertile Crescent in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey killed livestock, drove up food prices, sickened children, and forced 1.5 million rural residents to the outskirts of Syria’s jam-packed cities—just as that country was exploding with immigrants from the Iraq war,” according to Welch.

The severity of the drought and other weather conditions, according to their data, was outside the normal variability of weather in the region.

The social and economic pressures of the urban influx caused by soil degradation likely related to climate change, was probably a major contributing factor to the conflict that has been going on for years now, displacing millions of refugees.

While there are limits to the study, and perhaps the civil war would have erupted had there been no drought—the fact remains that the drought, at the least, increased tensions and the numbers of refugees.

This complicates the arguments about whether the refugees are economic, political, or war refugees. Depending where they come from, they could be all three.

And the three are interwoven—from the economic system that encourages farming practices that degrade the soil, to climate change-drive droughts, to the political climate in the region, there are many lines of connection and interconnection.

The need for sustainability, social justice, and peace weaves throughout this story of soil.


NASA Satellite image Sept. 7, 2015
NASA Satellite image Sept. 7, 2015

Some called the September 6–9, 2015, sandstorm “unprecedented.” It was.

A month after the storm, Zafrir Rinat reported in Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, that “Israeli scientists this week confirmed that one factor behind the heavy dust storm that hit the Middle East recently is changes in the use of land in northern Iraq and Syria.”

Two factors were identified—a decrease in farming in Northern Syria, which had preceded even the recent drought, and “military activity, which has caused harm to the soil crust in Syria.” In other words, the already drought-hardened soil was further degraded by tanks, artillery, trucks, bombs pulverizing it.

Instruments recorded the largest dust particles for a storm in that twenty-year time period since they have been in use.

Winds picked up the violated soil. And as they moved along, a dust storm of unprecedented proportions hit the region.

The storm of soil degradation could wipe us all out.


This is not a sexy story. It is, though, an important one.

—Michael Dickel

Climate Change

—a long drought in Syriadust-3-web
depletes soil and farmers
(those lower classes) migrate
to cities as their fields fail.
Amid the oppression
repression
degradation—
discontent and hopelessness
burn across the region.

Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War
mobilize war machines—
climate change of another sort—
tanks, artillery, armored vehicles, bombs—
crushing the soil,
crushing the crust.

And the bombs bursting
in air, scattering dust.

What farmers remain are killed,
driven out by ISIS, Syrian Army, or Rebels,
driven out by inability to farm and raise food
and what they scratch from the soil
gets stolen by the armies—

driving the refugee crisis,
driving across the old fields,
driving further depletion,
destruction of top soil.

And a year ago,
winds picked up the dust,
created a widely destructive
work of art, a dust storm
to end all dust storms,
a world war of dust storm
from Syria to Cypress out in the sea.

NASA Satellite image Sept. 7, 2015

The effects of climate change
multiplying, driving more refugees
into more widespread urban areas
amid the oppression
repression
degradation—
discontent and hopelessness
across the ever-widening region.

—Michael Dickel

Flash Fiction, Moshe’s House In Space

Author’s note: Sometimes, our children tell us things that they see or know, and we don’t have faith in our children’s senses. This is speculative fiction about climate change that suggests the children might yet show us a way, even if it is too late for us.
Ark-2 Digital Art from photos and sidewalk chalk Ark-2
Digital Art from photos and sidewalk chalk (photographed)
©2014 Michael Dickel

Moshe’s House in Space

Before, no sand swept through, no water splashed—a beach at driving distance, yes, but a long, long walk away. Before the three-year old’s stories, which I only half listened to: he was born in clouds before dinosaurs were alive; he died; “But now,” he said, “I’m becoming alive again.”

I thought a story he told me one morning came from his dreams.

He knew a dinosaur, he told me, with bright blue feathers in the day. At night it turned wooly and gray, to keep warm. The dinosaur had a name, Pollaydowen.

I thought, what an amazing imagination my three-year old son has, what colorful dreams.

He had other stories, about his house in space and all of the animals that lived there with him, a farm he had at this house. He went on and on with details—listing every animal we saw at the zoo, on farm visits, in books, on videos, on the internet; listing all of the plants and flowers he had heard of; listing creatures great and small in his lakes and seas.

How did he know all of them?

He insisted we should visit his house in space.

Then changes came suddenly, not slowly, as even the most pessimistic predictions had held. One day, news report said the sea covered beaches even at the lowest tides. The next week, waves washed across roads. Houses washed away. Whole neighborhoods of people could barely evacuate before the surf swallowed the land and their belongings.

The water washed sand over everything. The ozone layer shredded. Paint bubbled and peeled on cars, houses, government buildings. Everything and everyone aged.

Soon, sand dunes blew across the road in front of our house. The house looked like fifty years of neglect had settled in on it over the past few weeks.

That last day, my wife and I heard my son speaking in his room. And we heard another voice.

We went in. A bright blue flash turned toward us.

“We have to go,” my three-year old calmly explained, “now.”

“These sands end time here, the last to flow through the hour-glass,” the blue lizard-creature, Pollaydowen, added.

As we left the house, we trekked through hills of sand.

We returned once, to see what had happened.

I left this note for you who might find it, scratched in the walls, just in case anyone remains. We have an ark.

Photo ©2014 Michael Dickel
Photo ©2014 Michael Dickel

A somewhat different version of this story originally appeared on Fragments of Michael Dickel.

Three Poems

Ground Fog

Where the heat of the day rises to meet the cool of the evening,
sometimes a layer of fog forms above hay stubble.
An oak that survived the great Hinckley fire
over a hundred years ago waits
while white mist diffuses behind it,
stretches up and over the corn, curls down to grasses
on the other side of the field, slides out to meet the beaver pond.
Fog erases so much as it echoes the remainder of day:
the red-tail that hunted rodents this afternoon,
a garter snake that sunned in the short stubble,
rolls of hay that dot the field,
my daughter
who walked out to sit and read
—all disappear in its cool insistence.
Hints of sunset still remain in the west—
where mist has not yet covered water,
bits of color reflect back from the clogged creek.
The dog and I stand still, listen to fog.
We scent the air. In the brush, a crashing sound.


“Ground fog” originally appeared in The Cape Rock in 2002. ©1999 Michael Dickel.


Tacit

A man walking along a field where new corn
dots the soil grasps a bit
of stone, skimming it to the furrows
as though to skip across water—
but it punches up a small dust cloud

and sinks. A father and son walk a fence,
ready to repair rents in the barbed-wire.
Soon the corn will outreach the man;
then the combines come and tear it down.

The repairs will rust; then a poplar
drops across the fence one windy day.
Still, the men walk; the corn waits—
this is what they do.

Up by Lake Superior one day
a man tosses a smooth stone;
and it flits across the water
out to where blazing waves blind him
as he stands there gazing. Then, he speaks.


“Tacit” originally appeared in Blue Earth Review, @2004 Michael Dickel.


Called to faith

A man stands over the culvert on the gravel road onto the farm.
The stone he hefts in his hand—igneous remnants from before time,
bits of crystal cooled across history mingled with impurities beyond memory.
He lofts this shard of the past in a slow arc ending in the dark pool of standing water.

Sometimes he wishes he could follow it down through the water as surface tension
erases its faint traces; he wishes sometimes that he could fall through the cold numbness
to sink into the soft, welcoming mud—to sleep among layers of last year’s rotting leaves
and the year’s before and the year’s before and years’ before—layers of organic memory that,

still,

do not reach the stone’s most recent memory. The stone takes no notice.
And the man does not sink with the stone into murkiness. The morning calls
him to his desire, so he chooses to return to the work at hand. There is a garden
to plow and disk. There is corn to plant and tend. There are nettles to uproot and remove.

Despite the threat of frost or hail or rabbit or deer, he trusts
that in August there will be sweet corn and tomatoes and beans.
He will gather some in and eat. He will gather some in to store. And
he will gather and save the best for next year’s seeds. These are the act of love.


Hybrid: Warm Hunger

Author’s note: I recently read this poem at a poetry event billed as an Interfaith Eco Poetry Slam at Tmol Shilshom, a well-known literary cafe in Jerusalem. This is a hybrid between non-fiction, found poetry, and performance poetry. The unfortunately unseen connections between hunger, stress, climate change, and war lead to a desire for the equally unfortunately unseen hope for peace and harmony. Read it rhythmically, fast. Hear the sounds at play as well as the words at play.

Landscape 10 Digital Art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Landscape 10
Digital Art
©2015 Michael Dickel

Warm Hunger

Food Fatigue Craving
Climate Change Hunger
War Peace Harmony

symptoms of (earth) malnutrition
medication (poison) reaction or
(industrial) side-effect low blood
sugar (hypoglycemia) too much
(junk food) eating disorder
mononucleosis anemia (chaos)
(drought) dehydration (children)

general (election) anxiety disorder
panic attack depression (adult)
heart (love) rhythm /dis/harmony
/dis/order acute stress reaction
bipolar (melting) /dis/order hepatitis
a b & c pulmonary hypertension (floods)

food hunger and climate change
(Carbon Brief 10 June 2011)

a feeling of (migrant) discomfort or
(human) weakness caused by lack
of food coupled with (commodified) desire
to (not) eat of or at a fairly or comfortably
high (low) temperature

Climate change
threatens to put the fight against
hunger back by decades
(Guardian 2 September 2014)

balmy heated hot lukewarm cold-blooded
mild pleasant sunny sweltering beached
(whale) temperate tepid broiling close
flushed glowing melting perspiring
roasting scorching sizzling sweating
clement snug summery sweaty
thermal toasty warmish having

a color in the red-orange-yellow
part of the visible electromagnetic
(organic) spectrum feel or suffer hunger
through lack of food (distribution) craving
desire famine greed longing /dis/satisfaction
lust starvation yearning ache war
appetence appetency emptiness famine

esurience famishment greed gluttony
mania ravenousness vacancy void
voracity want yen a stomach
for appetition big eyes
bottomless pit eyes for munchies
sweet tooth close often used
in the context of a game

in which “warm” and “cold”
indicate nearness to the goal
you can’t take it with you
but if you try sometime

In Wild Winter Warm North Pole
Storm Chills U.S. Forecast
as Flooding Threatens Levees
(NYT Weather 30 December 2015)

a lack of food that can cause war
illness or death especially war
among large numbers of people war
have a strong desire or craving for peace
for having showing or expressive peace
of enthusiasm affection or kindness peace

Climate Change Will Worsen
Hunger Study Says
(Worldwatch Institute 31 December 2015)

archaic being well off as to property (war)
or in good circumstances rich (peace)
make or become warm (harmony)

© Michael Dickel

Poem: En Gedi

En Gedi — Wadi David Photograph ©2015
En Gedi — Wadi David
Photograph ©2015
En Gedi

Even lizards hide from this scorched heat.
Tristram’s grackles pant in the shade of skeletal acacia.
Fan-tail ravens float on rising currents like vultures.

David hid from Saul in the strongholds of En Gedi;
along the wadi now named for him, waterfalls
drop warm water onto maidenhair ferns into tepid pools.

Any stippled shade provides shelter from the scathing sun
when hiding from midday heat or close pursuit:
Tristram and Iseult, David, seek shade, ferns, sparkling droplets.

We escape, fugitives from kings
into what little shade we find, wade
into green puddles of desert water,

for brief respite, solace,
a bright glimmer sliding down
an eroding rock face.


Michael Dickel read En Gedi at the Interfaith Eco Poetry Slam in Jerusalem on 30 June, 2016, sponsored by the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development. Here is a video of him reading it.


En Gedi Digital Art / Poem ©2014-2016 Michael Dickel
En Gedi
Digital Art / Poem
©2012-2016 Michael Dickel

This poem originally appeared in Michael Dickel’s book, Midwest / Mid-East and is published here with the poet’s permission.


(Social) Media(ted) (Democratic) Poetry

An Essay

 


Michael Dickel


Milton thought that the readers of poetry were “a few,” while Baudelaire spoke of the democratization of the poet; scholars have identified both prose poetry and free verse as “democratizing” influences in poems. Slam poetry—which originated in Chicago in the 1980s as a white, working-class scene and expanded with the Nuyorican Poets Cafe slams—has more convincingly been regarded as a democratic poetry. Poetry slams have spread internationally, propelled in part by social media. Social media itself, however, has created perhaps the greatest shift in poetry production and readership that may herald a democratic poetry and poetics. What does that mean to “poetry” in its various definitions? That is not at all clear.

Poetry now thrives across the World Wide Web. In addition to social media, there are online journals, some refereed through an editorial process (many with longer histories, having migrated from, or as a complement to, print journals). And affordable self-publishing through online print-on-demand services, such as Lulu.com and CreateSpace.com, make it possible for almost anyone with access to a computer and the internet to produce their own book, and for small publishers to proliferate. Established publishers and editors who select work—and have long been accused of undemocratic elitism, cronyism, regionalism, racism, sexism and of generally being part of the white patriarchal power structure in the West—no longer control the gates to publication.

Those gates today stand wide open. Anyone can post a poem on social media. People like and share poetry on Facebook, post poems and images on Instagram. They tweet and re-Tweet links to poems on Twitter, as well as Tweet entire poems of 140 or fewer characters (a new genre). Bloggers post poems, and poets have blogs. All around the Internet, poetry pours forth—and not only in English. People who call themselves poets, and make their poetry available online, do not require an editor’s approval for the publication of a single poem.

Many people read these online poems, too. Some readers comment on and critique the poetry. Some share links to the posted poems. Many sites and online forums promote voting, with the most popular poems (often the best promoted on social media) granted higher placement in listings, awards, and even print publication. The readers have more say about the poetry, its reception and acceptance, than editors.

This democratic approach to poetry may well have roots in slam poetry. Susan B. A. Somers-Willett, in her book, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry: Race, Identity, and the Performance of Popular Verse in America (U MI Pr 2009), writes:

…Miguel Algarín, a former Rutgers University professor and cofounder of the Nuyorican Poets Café, dubbed the practice of poetry slams “the democratization of verse.” As an open venue, the poetry slam is continually welcoming new audiences and practitioners into it ranks, all of whom can have a say in what is rewarded at the slam and where the art form is going. Poetry slams create communities of poets and poetry lovers in which verse is not only disseminated but discussed, critiqued, debated, and even reinvented. (p, 137)

This description of slam poetry, which began before the Internet spread its Web around the world, fits social media poetry and online poetry forums. While online journals that still require an editorial process do not demonstrate the same democratic process, even those sites often allow for comments and response, which, whether moderated or not, provide for immediate feedback and direct dialog between writer and reader. And some online and print journals have sprung up that select poems for inclusion through voting by readers, a parallel to slam-audience voting.

While this all speaks to the existence of “democratic” poetry online, I want to raise two questions here about social media poetry. The first comes from Paul Kameen, in his book, Writing/teaching: Essays toward a rhetoric of pedagogy (U of Pittsburgh Pr, 2000): “Has the democratization of poetry created a genuinely democratic poetry, or just a much larger number of writers writing for each other?” (p. 105). The critique that poetry from the Modernists to the present largely consists of poems written for other poets comes up often. Usually, the point seeks to puncture the balloon of the most recent rising-generation of poets. Recently, this critique has been aimed at creative writing workshops and MFA programs in particular.

Yet, the question remains relevant—even if many or possibly most of the writers posting poetry on social media did not attend a university writing program or workshop: Do social media writers write mostly for other social media writers?

A large number of my Facebook friends write, edit, or teach writing. However, in my own un-systematic observations, fewer of the likes or comments come from my academic life. More comments and critiques come from other writers. A lot of writers I meet on Facebook came to writing as readers, and experimented with posting their own work, only to discover that others liked to read it. Some have learned from what gets liked and what doesn’t, from how people comment, and from critiques online. A few have requested  me (and others, I’m sure) to comment on a draft before posting it. So, in this way, social media forms communities of writers.

In my own experience, a lot of readers (at least of my work), are in fact other writers. Does that mean I’m writing for other writers? Possibly. I like it when other writers comment favorably on my work. When someone else comments it thrills me, especially if the comment resembles that of an architect friend who does not write, who posted a comment about my writing “…scrubbing out the inside of [her] brain…” I try to write for readers like her, who like what happens to them when they read my work.

All of this brings me to the second question: What effect does democratic poetry have on poets and poetics? Having a few engaged readers satisfies me (and of course I would enjoy having lots of readers), but should I strive for the most readers? Should I change how and what I write to suit this world-wide audience and what it wants to read? Should I let the majority determine my own poetics?

I don’t like rhyming poetry and rarely use obvious end-rhyme schemes. I don’t like writing inspirational poetry full of vague generalities and “wisdom” sayings. Yet, from my impressions, the most popular poems on social media strain for just such effects. I prefer to disrupt the reading, to disturb concepts we too easily think true. I prefer to raise questions and to question my own ideas—especially those in the poem. I fear that if I really want a large audience, I would need to write something more like greeting-card poetry.

This view of online poetry could reveal my own elitist attitude, I admit. Rather than a winner-take-all desire for a large audience, though, participants in democratic poetry could value a poem not for how many likes it gets on Facebook or Retweets on Twitter. Money earned won’t provide a measurement of the value of the poetry, either. I hope that whoever measures this elusive value will measure my poetry by how many readers feel that my poems “scrubbed” their brains (in a positive sense). And those readers may not be the majority of online readers.

However, this idea may in fact reveal the most democratic aspect of social media poetry—that I don’t need the majority of an audience’s approval in order to continue participating, unlike slam competitions. My poetry can reach those readers who will value it, without the gatekeepers or a majority vote, through pluralistic democratic values that allow any one poet to post any one poem.

Michael Dickel, Ph.D., associate editor of The Woven Tale Press

Originally published in print: “Foreword: (Social Media) (Democratic) Poetry,” The Art of Being Human. Vol. 14. 2015, pp. 7–11.

© Michael Dickel

View Contributing Editor Michael Dickel’s bio HERE

Ars Poetica and Inspiration

For Poetry Month of April 2013, Michael Dickel posted on his blog two poems published five years ago (now, in 2016) in a small anthology. Are poems like omelets? What is inspiration?

A r s   p o e t i c a

Water drops in hot oil disappear instantaneously
like meaning in conversation between two
who do not speak. Steam and sizzle, pop, sound
out a string-theory rhythm. Eggs separated, whites
beaten stiff, yolk to lemon yellow, make the best
omelets, if you fold together the parts again.

Whipped egg whites and egg yolks ready to be folded together for an omelet.
“Eggs separated, whites/ beaten stiff, yolk to lemon yellow, make the best/ omelets…”

The pan is not enough, by itself. After the eggs
brown and float on the oil, they need the oven.
Heat the filling, well cut and mixed, spiced
with pepper and garlic. No one will taste such
a breakfast; no feast leaves these pages—
cooking with pleasure and love, seeking 

Separated egg-omelet, rising in cast iron skillet.
“The pan is not enough, by itself.”

nourishment. There is no universal way to
cook eggs; there are many. And which eggs?
What filling? Who graces the table to join
this morning repast, a slip of a tongue
on the garlic clove, a red pepper bite,
the silvery cool of basil sliding down—

Separated egg-omelet, in cast iron skillet, finishing in the oven.
“After the eggs/ brown and float on the oil, they need the oven.”

don’t sing this song, or repeat this recipe,
it will only get you in trouble. Serve with
salad, cheese, orange juice and hot coffee.
Eat well, in silence if need be, for this may
be the last meal. Or the first. Or none.
Dance like water turning to steam in the skillet.

Cheese omelet.
“Eat well, in silence if need be…”

 

I n s p i r a t i o n

Of course, they say a dollop of sweet in a pot of salt:
ten-percent inspiration, ninety sweat. Perhaps the bank
clerk Eliot spoke of daily work, practice like the firefighter,
preparing for the poet Eliot’s hot blaze.

Outside this balcony a road curves, down
toward the shipyards at the bay,
containers suited for rail, truck and ship
lined up along the stunning sea.

Lake Pokegama, Minnesota, dusk ©2005 Michael Dickel
“Ah, to be carried off by fire or water,/ dreaming of reaching another’s shore…”

Ah, to be carried off by fire or water,
dreaming of reaching another’s shore,
words an emanation up, down, up—
but how do we know if nothing received

or sent the silence just before the big bang?

Open Door (Tzfat, Israel) B&W photo ©2006 Michael Dickel
“words an emanation up, down, up—”

Both poems originally published in print:

  • Dickel, M. (2009). Ars Poetica. Listening to the Voice Inside: Poetry from the Voices Israel Workshop, Haifa, 30.6.2009. Jerusalem: Voices Israel. Print. p. 61.
  • Dickel, M. (2009). Inspiration. Listening to the Voice Inside: Poetry from the Voices Israel Workshop, Haifa, 30.6.2009. Jerusalem: Voices Israel. Print. p. 24.

View Contributing Editor Michael Dickel’s bio HERE

Three Poems by Michael Dickel

Water Poems
Photo to accompany poetry Trout Swimming Banyas Stream, Israel Photo Collage ©2016 Michael Dickel
Banyas Stream, Israel

1

Floating in the current
Waiting For the right moment
I watch it drift away.

 

Banyas Water Falls, Israel, Photo ©2016 Michael Dickel to accompany Water Poems, poetry by Michael Dickel
Banyas Water Falls, Israel

2

The water tumbles over
Every cliff broken, still, and silent
In the crashing sound
Pounding its feet.

 

Turtles on log Hula Lake Reserve Photo ©2016 Michael Dickel to accompany Water Poems, poetry by Michael Dickel
Hula Lake Reserve, Israel

3

The papyrus and turtles thrive
Downstream, the calm waters
Flowing by them, sustenance
And succor their delight.

Turtle photo, Hula Lake Reserve, Israel, to accompany Water Poems, poetry by Michael Dickel
Hula Lake Reserve, Israel

 

Papyrus, Hula Lake Reserve, Photo ©2016 Michael Dickel to accompany Water Poems, poetry by Michael Dickel.
Papyrus, Hula Lake Reserve, Israel

Originally in Fragments of Michael Dickel on 1 Apr 2016

© Michael Dickel

View Contributing Editor Michael Dickel’s bio HERE

flies, a poem

Flies
“Up and down they search, yet only find
the upper storm window—”
Digital art from photographs
©2016 Michael Dickel

 

 

Flies

after reading Robert Bly

July, the air outside thick with
biting flies. The house alive with more
docile creatures, black and buzzing.
Even in mid-December this farm house
fills with them. They come from nowhere.

Several houseflies clamber for escape
with busy wings against the screen.
Up and down they search, yet only find
the upper storm window — daylight feeding
a frenzy of scientific discovery — and
the lower screen, a shadow lattice
that will not stop the air.

Like a lover who relies on faith,
these true-believers come to worship
at the altar of thought —
each fly some forgotten moment,
some decision not taken,
an ounce of regret.

I could close the inner window and trap them;
then they would not buzz around my bed
at night, reminding me of my failures
butting their heads into a reading lamp
suspended above my pillow.

Oh, they’d still get their precious light,
the wind would come through for them,
even a bit of water on a rainy night.
They might not die, even without food.

Perhaps I leave the window open for the breeze.
Or maybe because I would still see them there,
hear them call — even louder than the fan,
even at night, even while I slept.

—Michael Dickel

Capturing and Interpreting Light

Light reflects into our eyes. Sometimes, it passes through the transparent or translucent, which transforms the light. Objects remove color and reflect or “tint” the light as it flows along its quantum path. The eyes respond to this light, but the mind interprets it. In this way, human’s “catch the light,” the image, interpret it, and see “things.” Sometimes, we then try to capture our interpretations of those things through art and photography, and writing, as well. Here are just a few images where I feel my photography has caught something beyond representation of an object (or objects).

Morning Glory 1
Morning Glories Basking

 

Morning Glory 2
Morning Glory Singing Praise

 

praying mantis - 1
Praying Mantis on the Train

 

Catskills Ice - 5
Iced Light (New York)

For a comprehensive discussion of how humans have caught light; understood light, color and the world; and interpreted the world along the way, I highly recommend quantum optician Arthur Zajonc’s very accessible book, Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind. Zajonc makes it very clear how much the mind matters to how we “see” in the world. He also makes some startling connections between ancient understanding of light and current quantum understandings. The book is part history of human understanding of light and part explanation of current understandings of light, in a mind-opening and jaw-dropping account of the mysteries of light.

All photos taken with a Nikon D-70 digital SLR, which the photographer unfortunately lost during recent travels. All photos on this page / post taken by Michael Dickel, who retains copyright. Used with permission.

Holy Nature Land

A gallery of red…anemones in Israel

Many people associate Israel with desert and war. Both desert and war do color the land. Some people express surprise when they also learn about the nature here—flora and fauna. I spoke with a travel editor once who said he had no idea there would be nature trails, flowers, or Ibex wandering the hills in Israel.

Ibex visit the field school

In the desert, the ibex (a species of goat and symbol of Israel’s nature preserves) often cross a hiker’s path. Especially in the nature preserves, they tend to be reasonably brave. One time, while staying in a field school in the Negev, a herd came to visit in the morning. Some of the small kids climbed acacia trees to get at the leaves. I encountered the kid standing on the rocks on a nature trail above the Dead Sea.

And there are trees, too

And we do have trees in Israel, too. As these pictures show, I am fascinated by the textures and colors of bark on the trees. Some of these trees grow near the Mediterranean. The red-barked katlav I usually see growing along valleys and gulches in the Jerusalem hills. We don’t actually have squirrels. I haven’t seen any, at least. The gray squirrel in the tree lives in Minneapolis. Or, at least, that’s where I took that picture.

Water reflections

Israel does have water. The t-shirt tells you so: Med Sea, Red Sea, Dead Sea. And there is the “sea” of Galilee (really a large lake). The pictures here come from a fish farm, freshwater springs that flow over the salty Dead Sea aquifers, a river, and the Mediterranean. There aren’t many lakes—there are some rivers. The Jordan River, most famous and religious of them, unfortunately has greatly diminished due to human use and misuse of water. It is no longer “mighty and cold,” although sometimes parts of it are cold.

Green

Of course, we have desert and beautifully barren-looking landscapes. We have rocky ruins (some of them along the nature trails). And not all of the anemones are red, although the other colored ones seem to grow mostly in the north (where there are incredible wild irises, rare wild peonies, and amazing narcissus that blooms with other wildflowers on some of the beaches. There are tiny narcissus flowers that bloom in the forests of the Jerusalem hills, too.

PUrple Kaloniah
Purple anemone

The best time to see the flowers is late-winter to mid-spring. After that, it does turn hot, and most of the flowers die down. The trees remain. And the ibex roam the rocks, still. The nature trails are open all year. Although in winter, which is the rainy season, be sure to check for flash flood warnings—rain far enough away that the clouds are out of site could fill that dry gulch you’re hiking through with raging waters.

Rimon
Pomegranate bush, growing wild.

All photographs were taken by Michael Dickel, who retains the copyright for them. Used with permission. The photos were taken with a Nikon D-70 digital SLR camera, which Michael unfortunately lost in recent travels. All light effects in the photos were done “in camera,” using manual settings, except the black and white tree, which was changed from color in Apple’s iPhoto app.

Fancy Flight

Fancy Flight

a
Grasshopper
gray
brown
grasshopper

Jumps!

shows
red-orange
wings

glides

glides

glides

becoming
butterfly

—Michael Dickel
©1987

Frog

Frog

The frog loves
Frog
“Frog”
digital art
@2016 Michael Dickel
to work itself
into an ardent
frenzy.
	Dancing
until dawn
on lily-pad
punctuated edges
of a cool dark pool,
it sings endless
passionate phrases.
—Michael Dickel
©2013

EDUCATING THE TEACHER: Poet to Poet, Ann Bracken & Michael Dickel

NOTE: This was originally published at Ann Bracken: Poet, Author, Creator of Possibilities. It is shared here with permission.

Ann Bracken
Ann Bracken

I had the pleasure of meeting Michael in Salerno, Italy, last summer when we both participated in the 100Thousand Poets for Change Conference. Michael joined me, along with Laura Shovan and Debby Rippey, my travel companions, in sharing a gourmet Salerno lunch in a wonderful ristorante. Michael also served as the emcee for one of our poetry nights. His work speaks of struggle and peace, and he is committed to using the arts for social change.

Ann: Welcome, Michael.

Does teaching have to contribute to the status quo? Must it be dominated by business models that value efficiency over humanity and greed over compassion?

MICHAEL: Yes and no. But, it doesn’t have to be this way.

This is my story. It just happened. And it’s been happening for years.

Michael Dickel
Michael Dickel

I’m letting go of teaching. I’m kicking and screaming, hanging on with my fingernails, letting go.

I’m sixty. I’m “outside faculty” (literally translated from the Hebrew, adjunct in plain English). One of my bread-and-butter teaching gigs will evaporate with a just-launched Ministry of Education, free, online, self-study English reading course.

And things are not working so well at a new gig this semester, where an administrator seems to have taken a dislike for me. I don’t want this constant battle in my life anymore, the struggle to make a living doing something I believe should have value.

After three months teaching, a group of us who are “hourly” teachers this semester saw a contract for the first time. It was dated Monday, the 18th of January. It begins three months before, 18th October. And, the contract expires this Friday, the 22nd. Four-days after they presented it to us. That’s, not coincidentally, the last day of classes for the semester.

One of the many problems with this end date is that we had been told to be present at the final exams on Monday, the 25th. Please note, that is after the contract ends. And, in addition to the paragraph that say, “you are hired from this date to that date,” paragraph seven also says something that loosely translates as: to be very clear, after the end date above, you are no longer an employee of the university, unless you are explicitly given an extension in writing. There is no extension of the dates.

This attitude toward those of us who teach is as destructive to education (and, by extension, society) as almost any other force other than war.

I hate having to fight for employment rights, like getting paid. The constant battling leaves me feeling like a failure. I am letting go of this work, which is no longer teaching, but a form of war.

I am hanging on to a lot of anger. I felt it as I left campus today. Boiling under the virus, feeding its fever. I am seething. And I need to find something else to hold on to.

I teach English as a Foreign Language reading comprehension to international students, Israelis, and Palestinians, in a post-high school prep program, called in Hebrew a mechina. (Yes, these students study together in the same classroom.) I love my students. I want to hold on to those marvelous relationships with students we teachers have the honor of sharing with them, where we learn together.

Today was our last regular meeting as a class. As I often do, I invited them to keep in touch—they have my email. Use it, I said. I’m on Facebook, I added. Three have already sent friend requests. Two of them are Palestinian students.

And just before supper, a student sent me an email (uncorrected and shared with permission of the student):

Hi Michael, this is __________, from English.

I want to tell you that you are a awesome teacher. Since the first lesson, I want to stay in your class. When I heard that we have to redo the [placement] exam. It’s my first time that I started to worry about if I can still be in a specific class.

I love the way you teaching, although sometime it is a little bit boring. I still remember that you played guitar and singing with us. And you told us that the purpose of teaching us is teach us how to think, about critical thinking. Since that, I knew that I was in the right class.

This particular student comes from China. He wants to study in Israel. He knows English already, and has been learning Hebrew. He also takes math, history, physics…a full load of prep-courses that has most of the students studying from 8:30 to 5 or later.

What he wrote at the end of his email, I will hold onto forever:

And I mentioned that I have something to share with you, the topic is that the relationship between war and education.

I found that, if a country want to get strong, it must have to good education in the nation. And the way to show others that you are strong, is to show them you have high tech and strong military. I would like to say high tech in some way is for high tech weapons. So who will provide the nation researchers and scientists to make weapons? Education do.

So in this way. I can say education make this world worse not better. And it get worse after every year. I believe that one day this world will get destroyed by those weapons and war. So who cause this? Education.

What do you think about this?

We had a unit on comparative education. The students spent a couple of classes online, looking at websites for places like Summerhill School (Democratic education), reading articles about Tiger Mom’s and Finland’s education system, and listening to TED Talks on the need for more creativity in education.

We did not discuss war, or its connection to education. That came from an amazing student. It didn’t come from me. Yet, providing students a chance to think such thoughts and to ask such questions—that is why I teach. And a successful teacher is someone to whom a student could write: I have something to share with you…What do you think?

I will hang on to the memory of this email. And hanging on to it will allow me to let go of frustrations with the difficulties and unfairness of a system that is stacked against him more than it is me. Hanging on to what matters will help me let go of what doesn’t matter.

It will also help me let go of this form of the work.

I wrote this student a long reply, which allowed me to hang on to what I really value. And, paradoxically perhaps, to let go of the job. The end of what I wrote went something like this:

If education doesn’t ask the questions that need to be asked, or, more importantly, teach how to ask important and critical questions, then you are right, education is part of the problem. It becomes an accomplice, helping to build the structures of dominance and power. Then, it feeds the cycles of greed. All of these things threaten our world today. If education is about training workers and obedience to authority, if it teaches accepted facts and does not challenge students to think for themselves, we are in trouble.

I think that this is one of the reasons why the Humanities are under attack, politically and economically, in much of the world today. It is why many politicians attack education—not because it is “failing,” but because it challenges. And why “reforms” are regularly introduced that use over-simplified models of “manufacturing knowledge,” teaching doctrinal facts (in whatever discipline or doctrine)—serving a purpose of producing workers and even leaders who “fit,” but not inspiring thinkers who question.

We need to find ways to inspire students to think—as I see you have been doing—about our world, about how to make it better, about how to find reasonable and well-reasoned approaches to fixing the problems we see and providing a sustainable, healthy, and worthwhile future for our species.

I don’t have the answers. I hope that we will find the right approaches, or at least, good enough approaches. And I hope that education does not end up only serving the powerful, the military, and the greedy.

However, it is always about possibilities. We must look for and welcome new possibilities into our lives.

From the Jewish tradition, we have this teaching, too: “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it” (Pirke Avot 2:21).

I believe that we can stop the destruction you fear. I hope that we can. May we not desist (stop) from trying. May we continue to seek forms of truth, practice heartfelt communication, and learn compassion for each other. May we cooperate and share with each other solutions as we find them. And may we always look to improving the world, not simply existing, or, worse,“using up” the world.

I believe that you could be someone who makes a difference. Start with your questions. And then, look for those possible solutions. That is all I know to say to you as an answer to your question about whether education is causing the destruction of the world. Yes and no. And, it doesn’t have to be this way.

With respect and hope for your generation,
Michael Dickel

© 2016 Ann Bracken and Michael Dickel, text and photographs, All rights reserved

 

Nursery Rhymed – a poem

Running away—a spoon
dishes carbon clouds,
the moon turns red
with embarrassment,
mad cows’ disease
spinning the earth.

Heat waves a non-political hand
parading toward melting ice
while crowds ignore climate
changing its clothes on the float.

Ring around the rosy—
burnt skin of us all,
atmosphere spun-
cotton strings
evaporating into
space, the final
funerary fear.

—Michael Dickel

 A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. From NASA A full-disk multiwavelength extreme ultraviolet image of the sun taken by SDO on March 30, 2010. False colors trace different gas temperatures. Source: NASA

© 2016, poem, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved; illustration as indicated

Compassion – a poem

Compassion

I’ve never been to the fjords, the tall cliffs looming.
Nor have I seen the glacial cliffs spawning icebergs
into the sea. Except in film. Yet I know these places.

How do we get from the water to the forests?
We all know the deep meaning of icebergs and
the difficulty of scaling cliffs without proper equipment.

A life dodging icebergs and crashing into cliffs is not
how we want to dream our children into being.
A person who grew up between the gavel and the sound block

seeks to soften the blows of life for her child. But it is just as possible
to drown in heart’s blood as to smother under the crushing blow,
to chase a daughter into steep rock as to siren-sing a son to hidden ice.

When we try to counter judgment, too much love may swallow us.
Love and judgment birth compassion from their wild affair.
Compassion pours joy into the world at the source of creation.

How do we cut our children out of our own skin and survive?
My daughter asked me to walk across campus with her
to her voice lessons. Such a gift of time together, how do I

let go and watch her walk away? When do I say goodbye?
How do you birth a child from your most sacred body
and set that being free? You wrote to me asking if I wanted

you and your son to join me because “we speak Hebrew.”
Such a gift of language, you and he grammatically joined.
Let our children scale cliffs and dodge icebergs.

Let us teach them to navigate between pounding of hammer
and heart. Let them find the forests of compassion in the night,
joy in the day. Let us learn to set our sons and daughters free.

—Michael Dickel

Compassion @2015 Michael Dickel Digital art from photograph
Compassion
@2015 Michael Dickel
Digital art from photograph

A Dream Walker Hands You the Door

Dream Walker Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Dream Walker
Digital art
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

The dream walker comes through a storm of nebulae
a basket of dreams emanating stars into the night
a fate’s bare feet dance into being a genesis of memory.

 

Hands Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Hands
Digital art
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

Fates as cell phones spin out our faith, tying possibilities into bars of probability
while we await a sleight-of-hand trick called free will to enter a philosophical debate
into the woven poem’s contest space, a misspelled word wishing it knew how to speak.

 

Door Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Door
Digital art
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

Would you weave through that door into an unknown space spilled with colors,
a sunset dream layered like tiled imagery with metaphor long forgotten? And then
what dreams would the walking fates hand down to you, three lovers long forgotten

who never forget you as they curse and bless your memories.

 

—Michael Dickel
©2015, poem and illustrations, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Hero Worship, a poem

This poem may be read as resisting the hero or heroic, but should only be read as resisting a certain vision-version—specifically, the socially constructed masculine myth, the phallocentric conquering hero. The Quest is a different version, where She and He meet to become They / We. This poem relates directly to my essay, “(Not a) Poetics of the Hero’s Journey.”

Hero worship

I am hero. I win all battles. I am beer can, whiskey bottle, fishhook imbedded into side of heart’s mouth, penis failed and plunging. I am hero. Hero, bottle, whiskey, beer, phallus, fishhook heart, dear. Dream cream to butter; churn; I win! I win, I earn. I am deleted; dense discussion dismays to reveal.

Leaves, grass, river, flow, erode, change; do not win. Run! Flow! River, grove, leaves, grass, beer, whiskey, decompose dust. I, not alone, am built of bric-à-brac on trick of lack, disease, destroyer, cancer grower, sifted city dust; gifted growth. Foolish flight without breaking out, shout to shaking hordes below: I am, you need not grow city-scape, desert. Blow dust aside. Leaves, river, grass touch.

Break out through, below, above, side to side, into; river ride, dance slide, shove, flow glow. Do you flout doubt? Ride tide, hide guide, un-teach unleashed: fled bed, tread tomorrow without sorrow; glide, glide, glide. Can I unwrap trap crap, unhook lure manure, free bee sting sling? This is the real feel; feel the reel?

Slay it, it does us apart; join joint joist jostled gently, ride to side. Break it, suture it, moochers aside; pull it and tease it, re-seize it, thread it, don’t bed it; red it up. Shock the flock, mock the smock, muck the river bottom through. Rid it, kid it, deride it, re-construct it, fluctuate without it; much too much without  touch. Touch it.

Break make; unmake; take. Know flow, no flow; un-scheme dream, ream upon ream; and ream the dream-scheme, seam upon seem. Flee me light and dark, flight stark raving; shaving quite lightly, flew it. Fluid opposition proposition: no go. Lay it aside and take up its other, don’t smother your brother, druther live, give. Sieve leaks, seeks solid landing: impossible.

I am hero. I am idea unsung, wrung, sung; I am empty sound round which thatch grows, course gorse flowers, continuous semantic somethings un-reveal; concealed, congealed darkly, harbor-sharkly devouring dense discussion; dis-made to re-seal: I am hero. I am in language. I am death. End me.

Michael Dickel

Hero Worship Poetics Digital art from photographs ©2015 Michael Dickel
Hero Worship Poetics
Digital art from photographs
©2015, poem, and illustration, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

 

The Hero’s Journey and the Void Within: Poetics for Change

(Not a) Poetics of the Hero’s Journey

by Michael Dickel

Mylar void poetics Digital art from photos ©2015 Michael Dickel
Mylar void poetics
Digital art from photos
©2015 Michael Dickel

Every kind of priority gets noiselessly suppressed. Overnight, everything that is primordial gets glossed over as something that has long been well known. Everything gained by a struggle becomes just something to be manipulated. Every secret loses force.
—Martin Heidegger, Being and Time1

Confronting my narcissism, working on images of emptiness at the center of myself, I imagine mylar—not the overhead transparency type, but shiny mirror-finish mylar, a huge role of reflecting plastic. The hole at my center renders me invisible to introspection and investigation, unknowable to the world; it decomposes everything; constant annihilation lives there, fear.

I wrap that void with this mylar—that shiny plastic material that appears translucent, almost transparent, until layers of it turn into a poor-quality mirror—wrapping a shapeless mass, giving form to the monstrosity of dissolution and chaos at the center of being: in the beginning, chaos.2

Roll of reflective mylar (mirror finish)
Reflective mylar

These mirror-configured carbon chains reflect to the world around me my imagining of the world around me, as self. What I show of self is a reflection of what I think you want to see.

Know my poetry, then, through the distortions in the mirror, full of conflict twisting into a battle I wage against myself, my fear, my loneliness…seeking an Other and reflecting myself to the Other while seeking to destroy what I abhor in myself in that Other. This battle of monsters within trying to destroy themselves outside (without) me roars in my sleep but does not yet waken me.

This is the essence of our narcissistic society: projecting as Other the images we reflect of self in a spiraling failure to cast out the monsters within—a feedback loop of projected anxiety reflecting back fear and terror, thus fueling rage.

Our society swirls around a vortex of fear: fear of annihilation the decaying center of the vortex, the center of the vortex a void called “alone,” the void a presence replayed in empty media image after empty cultural icon after empty political act to convince us to buy, fear, follow—multiple reflections of this void spread out into the swinging arms of Chaos, the milky-way galaxy spiral we call the twenty-first century.

The annihilation, the physicists might call it entropy, which we feed in this way and which feeds us and on us, reflects itself in violence, destruction, greed, consumption—feeds on us and corrupts any chance for equilibrium and harmony not based on power differential and surrender—feeding us with war, terrorism, fear and offering its false sense of security as the ultimate venus flytrap honey bait.

Annihilation. Entropy. We fall into the dark pit.

At the center of our culture, the core of society—that other void, the real possibility of total annihilation suppressed yet remaining at the nucleus, nuclear destruction—drives our decomposition, whirls the void round and round.

So, society wraps protective mirrors around this center, fearing that the act of confrontation with the void leads to destruction. Society’s mirror reflects back to us what we think we want to see, reflects back our own anxiety and fear of the void in order to keep us away from its emptiness—consumption and greed for material wealth and power.

We must conquer this mirror. We no longer connect to earth or heaven when swept into the vortex, because the earth—and heaven itself—may instantly burn in nuclear fission. What other force could shred the soul?

We suffered this narcissistic injury together as a culture: a childhood trauma for some of us, a pre-nascent trauma for most, that keeps us locked into our own self-destruction. The mirror we wrap around this injury provides a surface for, but also covers the form of, the void by coating its nothingness with reflected images of something—but something superficial and unreal—seductions pulling us toward annihilation even as it seeks to hide and deny that destruction.

Know the void, then, by the distortions in these reflections.

Let our poetry confront the reflections, distortions, projections and thus, face the void. Let our words unwrap the fiber that simulates cultural and personal self. Let us destroy image and language and self, as necessary, in this poetry. This is not nihilism, but faith—faith in a renewal to follow.

I can only fail in this undertaking as I, one. We must move beyond e. e. cummings’ lonely leaf3:

l(a
le
af
fa
ll
s)
one
l
iness

I hope that we succeed. We must choose life, not death. We must choose to do what is right, not what quiets our fears. For what there is to know, it is in your mouth, in your heart.4

Narcissism poetics mylar Digital art from photos ©2015 Michael Dickel
Narcissism Poetics Mylar
Digital art from photos
©2015 Michael Dickel

Notes

1 Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John MacQuarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), p.165.

2 the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep… Gen. 1:2 (Biblical quotes from JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh, The Jewish Publication Society, 2005)

4 It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who among us can go up to the heavens and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who among us can cross to the other side of the sea and get it for us and impart it to us, that we may observe it?” No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it. Deut. 30:12–14

This essay also appears in Fragments of Michael Dickel.

© 2015, essay and illustrations, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Mosquitos

5182N5cYeEL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_i
That some of those labeled as enemies
have crossed the lines to offer condolences
at the mouring tents; that some of the mourning
families spoke to each other as parents
and cried on each other’s shoulders;
that we cried for the children that died
on both sides of the divide; that the
that the war began anyway; that hope must
still remain with those who cross
boarders, ignore false lines and divisions;
that children should be allowed to live;
that we must cry for all the children who die;

for all of this, dear owl mothers
whose children have been murdered,
do not call the sun to the dawn.
Let us suffer the night of losses.

ii
As the darkness settles the dust,
come, hear the witnesses
tell the lion what they know –
from the end to the beginning.

Let us find the mosquito who started
it all with his lies and rumors
in the African tale.

iii
First we learn that the monkey
killed your child.The monkey
ran, alarmed by the crow’s call.
The crow called out warning
when the rabbit ran, afraid.
The rabbit was scared by
the python, who crept into
its hole. The python feared
that the lizard had plotted
against it. The lizard simply
hadn’t heard a word.

iv
……………………………………… It
had blocked its ears,
in denial of the mosquito
propaganda, the lies
and rumors of death,
the drawing of lines
that divide us with
verbs we cannot
put objects to, do
not know the subjects
for. Do not call
the sun to the
dawn. Leave
us suffering
in the night
of losses.

– Michael Dickel

excerpt from War Surrounds Us, Pg. 24,25

© 2015, poem and illustration, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved

Knife Notes – a poem

Worked at a drop-in center
in the basement of a church,
oh, years ago.
Street kids
played pool and foosball
two nights a week—
mostly Anishinabe, some Dakota,
a couple of Blacks, and
very few whites.

Tried to go into the church
the first night:
a little Anishinabe boy pulled a knife,
waved it at my stomach,
sort of “how you doing
get the fuck out of here.”

Scandinavian, sandy-haired Breck
slid up from behind all calm,
slight southern drawl,
“Give me that, Jimmy Dean.
You know you’re too young to be here.
Pull another stunt like that and you won’t
ever, I mean ever, be coming here again.”
The seven year-old sauntered off.

Among the names from then:
PJ, a Dakota boy.
Came in one night,
hand polishing
his just bandaged
stomach. “It ain’t no big deal.
Some ‘nigger’ shoved in front of me in line.
You shoulda seen what I did to him
after he cut me.”

Another name: Joe—
part Dakota, part Anishinabe,
tall, skinny, distinct Dakota features—
Talked about going to school in a horse wagon
on the reservation,
told about his grandfather
a Dakota Medicine Man.
“That Indian heritage crap’s
off the wall,” Breck snickered once.
“More excuses.”

Actually saw Joe about ten years later.
Heard he was in the hospital,
cut up in a fight. Went in to see him.
He hadn’t grown much taller since then,
almost short now. Almost old. Medicine
dripping into his arm from a plastic tube.

—Michael Dickel

Joe's Hand @2015 Michael Dickel
Joe’s Hand
@2015 Michael Dickel

A dream walker hands you the door

Dream Walker Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Dream Walker
Digital art
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

The dream walker comes through a storm of nebulae
a basket of dreams emanating stars into the night
a fate’s bare feet dance into being a genesis of memory.

 

Hands Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Hands
Digital art
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

Fates as cell phones spin out our faith, tying possibilities into bars of probability
while we await a sleight-of-hand trick called free will to enter a philosophical debate
into the woven poem’s contest space, a misspelled word wishing it knew how to speak.

 

Door Digital art ©2015 Michael Dickel
Door
Digital art
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

Would you weave through that door into an unknown space spilled with colors,
a sunset dream layered like tiled imagery with metaphor long forgotten? And then
what dreams would the walking fates hand down to you, three lovers long forgotten

who never forget you as they curse and bless your memories.

 

—Michael Dickel
©2015

Salerno Like a Painting – Photo Essay

Salerno Street Market

Last June I spent time in Salerno, Italy, at the 100,000 Poets for Change World Conference. However, it wasn’t all poetry and change. I did some sight-seeing. I made new friends. And, as I had a kitchen in my hotel-apartment, I visited the little street market a little down the street to buy fruit and vegetables…and every day, I took photos. I have hundreds of photos from Italy, June 2015.

Here are some of the patterns and colors of the street market produce.

Fennel Rows Salerno, Italy ©2015 Michael Dickel
Fennel Rows
Salerno, Italy
©2015 Michael Dickel
Sweet Reds Salerno, Italy ©2015 Michael Dickel
Sweet Reds
Salerno, Italy
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

Light Zucchini Salerno, Italy ©2015 Michael Dickel
Light Zucchini
Salerno, Italy
©2015 Michael Dickel

 

The market also included shellfish, fresh fish, and a bit of a flea market section.

Salerno Like a Painting

The views of Salerno sometimes seemed more like a Renaissance painting than an actual place. The light flowed down to reveal the pastels of the stucco and painted trim, to shine off the sea, and to fall through clouds that brought their afternoon rain.

Salerno I ©2015 Michael Dickel
Salerno Like a Painting I
©2015 Michael Dickel
Salerno II ©Michael Dickel
Salerno Like a Painting II
©Michael Dickel
Salerno III ©Michael Dickel
Salerno Like a Painting III
©Michael Dickel

 

Two From the Train

I flew into Rome and took the train to Salerno, taking pictures out of the windows while the light lasted. This photo is of a high-speed train passing the train I was riding in.

Train Passing abstract photo ©2015 Michael Dickel
Train Passing
abstract photo
©2015 Michael Dickel

The day after the conference, several of us took a local train to nearby Pompeii to visit the archaeological park. I have enough photos from the site to fill a book. For this quick excursion into photography, I offer a second photo from a train, this of Vesuvius. As we left, the afternoon rains came in. The clouds over Vesuvius suggest an eruption…

Mount Vesuvius from the train window ©2015 Michael Dickel
Mount Vesuvius
from the train window
©2015 Michael Dickel

An “Autumn” Photo from Spring

A fallen leaf drifts in a stream, an autumn icon…although this was in April, and the stream was En Faschia, fresh water springs that flow over the heavy salt water of the Salt Sea (Dead Sea) groundwater. This fresh water stream is within walking distance of the shore of the Salt Sea (the literal meaning of the Hebrew / Biblical name for what is better-known in English as the Dead Sea).

Floating Leaf in Fresh Water near the Salt Sea (Dead Sea), Israel ©2015 Michael Dickel
Floating Leaf in Fresh Water
near the Salt Sea (Dead Sea), Israel
©2015 Michael Dickel

Ice and Stone

Two Ekphratic Poems

In January 2015, my friend, the artist Judith Appleton, exhibited her work in a nice gallery in Jerusalem. For the opening, another friend, the poet Orna Silverman, and I read poems based on paintings in the exhibit. Orna writes in Hebrew; I, in English. A short while after the opening, I posted images of the artwork and the two poems I read on my blog. Here they are for BeZine. Images of the paintings are used with permission of the artist.

Greenland by Judith Appleton ©2014 Judith Appleton
Greenland by Judith Appleton
©2014 Judith Appleton

 

Land of Ice

Hyperborean form—frosted
by pastels, disturbed by shadow
strands—calls unending dusk-dawn
in sacred colors. An indeterminate
matrimony desires fire inside
a wood cabin, order restored
where upheaval emerges
from swells against the sky.
Yet, the stroked shape and
blended palette structure
a syntax of blood, a semantics
of nerves inflaming lonely
twilit-snow, liminal moments
of memory with promises of
maize-tinted nourishment,
hope from the midnight sun.

—Michael Dickel

 

Dead Sea Cave by Judith Appleton ©2014 Judith Appleton

 

A Philosophy of Stone

Aleph-tav—alpha-omega—as an inception
of mud swells along architectonic vaults
and girdles a basalt grotto-door that swivels
from a face adumbrated by place. Luster
and umbra texture worlds, lambent reality
perceived as words over matter. Perhaps
here we contrive Plato’s trace, a slight hint
of volcanic certainty steaming out of grasp.

—Michael Dickel

© 2015, poems, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved; illustration by Judith Appleton: a write-up on Ms. Appleton’s showing at the Jerusalem Artists’ House can be read HERE.

Middle-Class Middle-Aged Male Blues

Another Cup of Coffee Before I Shower

Guitar and Coffee Cup digital art from photographs (c)2015 Michael Dickel Guitar and Coffee Cup
© 2015 Michael Dickel

It’s nine in the morning and I’ve been going for hours.
The ground shook in Nepal, the riots in Baltimore
the preachers praise the winners then they blame the sinners,
but all I think about is another cup of coffee before I shower.

All I want is another cup of coffee before I shower.

It’s nine in the morning and I’m already weary.
The politicians jockey with faces serious and sallow
they stitch up innocence from the pockets of the rich,
but as I stare at my screen my eyes just become bleary.

All I want is another cup of coffee before I shower.

It’s nine in the morning and my work sighs and waits.
The bankers line up, the merchants sell their weapons
Syria, Libya, Iran, Irag, wars with customers for the stores,
but I worry about my retirement investments’ sorry state.

All I want is another cup of coffee before I shower.

Nine in the morning, or maybe nine at night.
The chaos dances to the wild fire light, the darkness
wraps us in its smothering traps, depleting what’s left
of meaning and hope, but I, I just survive with my fright.

All I want is another cup of coffee before I shower.

It’s nine in the morning and I can’t put on my shoes.
I don’t understand why I feel so depressed, do you?
My screens bring me the news, entertain, I see a lot,
but I sit and I wonder, I wonder who invented the blues?

All I want is another cup of coffee before I shower.

It’s nine in the morning, I’ve been going for hours.
The ground shook in Nepal, the riots in Baltimore
the preachers, they praise the winners while they blame the sinners,
but all I think about is another cup of coffee, another cup of coffee

before I shower. All I want is another
cup of coffee before I shower.
All I think about is another cup of coffee
before I take my morning shower.

—Michael Dickel

© 2015, poem and illustration, Michael Dickel, All rights reserved