Join me at my other blog, Haiku Crossings, for more recent work (short Japanese poetry in English, such as haiku, tanka,haiga and haibun).

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Soldiers Christmas Memory

A Soldier's Christmas Memory
It was the evening before Christmas Eve, and I padded along in my boots headed for the snack bar where I hoped to have coffee and conversation with my army buddies.
New fallen Snow covered the streets of Blakeman Caserne near Frankfurt, Germany and brushed with angel hair even the rows of battle tanks lined up like toys on the barbed wire enclosed concrete field that determined the northern boundary of the U. S. Army post. I noticed that the fir trees surrounding the small pond that was the heart of the Caserne were filled with drifts of white snow, almost but certainly not quite making even an army post into a magical place for Christmas.
Actually, the multi-storied, stone barracks and service buildings taken over by the U.S. Army's Third Armored Division after World War II still had a little of that look of a medieval fortress as it row after row of buildings marched up the hill. Were it not for the uniformed servicemen and soldiers on guard duty walking around, a visitor might have felt that he/she had truly returned to the Olde Country for the Holidays.
This was my third Christmas in Germany, and God willing, it would surely be my last. I was tired of the military life with all my decisions being made for me, had only contempt for the military pecking order with its artificialities of respect and classification, and had rather unsuccessfully not managed to sublimate my desires sexual or otherwise into a bottle.
However, there was an almost sacred comradeship that developed among soldiers, and even at twenty, I realized that I would probably not know such friendships again in my life.
I had also learned to love the beautiful land of Goethe and Schilling even while casting a cold eye on times past while visiting Zeppelin Field in Nurnberg where the ghosts of millions continued to scream.
While on maneuvers, gazing at the village lights tucked like jewels into the foothills of the Wildflecken or falling asleep beside pools streaming starlight in the Schwarzenwald near Stuttgart, I felt as if I lived in some labyrinth of magic and mystery. In my soldier's loneliness, I awaited only a sweet, flaxen-haired Ariadne, whose eyes would hold me fast in their blue depths until locked in dreamy armor, we at last followed her silvery threads through those misty corridors to what. . .something more wondrous and finer than hard steel and a landscape of olive drab.
Walking along lost in thought, I suddenly felt a tremendous slap on my back that hurt just a little also. I stumbled a little and turned to look around for Father Brewer, the only person I knew who would dare deliver such a blow to a young GI, a "trained killer." Indeed, I thought I saw his slight figure up a head, hunched down into his overcoat against the damp chill of the German night. I thought I could make out that deep chuckle of his in the distance also.
I suppose that I should explain that Father Brewer was noted for giving these great Zen-like "whacks" on the back. You would be wandering around the post lost in your own thoughts when suddenly you would feel one of these powerful slaps. I mean, I am not talking some little friendly tap on the shoulder. No, I am talking big, powerful soul-rattling whacks that totally filled your consciousness for a second or two. You could not deny such an experience.
"Just wanted to be sure you were ok!" he said to me one time. Having through some wonderful but mysterious agency been the recipient of several of these "whacks," I had noted that usually he just smiled at you while holding your eyes with his crisp, blue ones.
The effect of Father Brewer's engaging rather "Zen-like" whacks should not be underestimated. To this day I remember that deep look, that sense of compassion and, feeling as he had shared some deep, unfathomable mystery of God with me.
I looked up, caught a deep breath of starlight, and started hurrying to catch up with Father Brewer. Once or twice we had shared coffee and some pleasant small talk. Suddenly I wanted that cup of coffee more than anything in the world, more even than getting out of the Army or sharing a real Christmas with a real girlfriend.
I went into the PX and then entered the snack bar. I looked around for the Father. I even asked a friend who was sipping coffee with a group of other soldiers at a table near the entrance to the snack bar, if they had seen the Father enter. No one seemed to have seen him that evening though.
I did not learn the truth until the formation the next day.
Standing stiffly at attention with several dozen other headquarter's personnel, various clerks, medics (such as I), cooks and signal personnel, I listened to Captain Aves, the company commander say
"Many of you knew Father Robert Brewer. You also know that he was recently transferred to Vietnam. Be it known that he died yesterday while leading services in a small village near Saigon. I do not know any other details.
"Remember, men, though I want you to enjoy the holidays, we must always we remember that we are soldiers first. Always be prepared to be called back to base if necessary.
Youth is such a time of black and white, right and wrong. Everything is such high drama; even real tragedy so often becomes a mere melodrama. I remember sitting with a beer in the room in the barracks that we medics shared. I stared through the window engaging the darkness, pondering the meaning of life and death until Taps was finally played, ending my attempts at playing roles of great sadness and profundity.
Of course, I will never wonder who actually gave me such a bone-rattling whack on the back on that evening near Christmas at the height of the Vietnam War; I know and do not really care if you believe me or not. I actually seldom saw Father Brewer as I was not Catholic and did not know that he had so recently transferred to take up a chaplain's post in Vietnam.
Looking out that window into the ensuing darkness, I gaze from that selfsame window even now, as dusted with age and grave beyond stars, I write these words.
I did get out of the Army, though I stayed in Europe for a while, eventually winding my way back home to finish college and marry and proceed down some more of life's seemingly endless byways.
It was there in Germany though that I began to see that there is a true self that is at once all beauty and heart and intelligence. You cannot hold it even as you cannot hold the wind or spread the stars, hold onto your youth or hold your true love without trembling.
You will know it one day when you open a door and are suddenly engulfed by a yellow morning. You will know it when the fire you are making springs to life or as you watch each ember die. You can come to know it with every breath you take. You will know it when you reach with care for someone. You will know it when you are aware of the movement of life and death within yourself.
I first knew it when a certain priest came up behind me and whacked me on the back so hard it jarred my self awake.
Editor's Note:Though this story is quite autobiographical, I consider it a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people living or dead is purely coincidental. There are many barracks in Germany called Casernes (also Kasernes), but "Blakeman Caserne" is fictionalized though modeled after a real caserne.
Copyright 2002, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

O'henry: An Appreciation


Like William Sydney Porter I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. You know Porter better as the early 20th century short story writer, O Henry; you probably know him best as the author of the popular and eternally touching, The Gift of the Magi.
Porter and I both were raised around that piedmont city in central North Carolina, but separated by many decades and my upbringing took place on a farm while Porter lived in the city, the son of a medical doctor. We do not share that much background, but I find it interesting that we were born in the same city.
His stories are especially noted for their unexpected or "surprise" endings, but what I admire most about O. Henry, and the reason that I am writing about him in Caring for the Soul, is his sympathetic and caring portrayal of human nature. His stories are full of colorful characters many of whom were derived from his inclination to wander streets and parks, talking to people of every kind and condition.
His stories are about salesmen and janitors, millionaires and paupers—all of whom he saw in a kind of inner shining light that along with his gift of expression was so much a part of his genius.
Porter developed an interest in books while still very young, but his only formal education was received at the school of an aunt. His uncle owned a pharmacy, and he eventually became a licensed pharmacist. Early on, Porter gained some modest local fame for his sketches and cartoons of the people of Greensboro.
At the age of twenty, Porter moved to Texas primarily for health reasons, and worked on a sheep ranch and lived with some close friends of his family. To make a long story short, he wound up working as a bank teller and was accused of embezzling. He fled the country, but eventually came back, was convicted and served around three years in prison. There is some dispute as to whether he was actually guilty of the crime, as the bank was itself poorly managed.
He emerged from prison having written several short stories and now going by the pen name, O. Henry (probably derived from the name of a prison guard, Orris Henry), and moved to New York City where he began writing seriously. In only ten years he produced over 600 short stories that were published in several periodicals and bound up into many collections
Usually Magi is televised around Christmas time every year. You may remember that the plot revolves around a young couple who are very much in love but too poor to buy Christmas presents for each other. However, each sells what is most precious to the other in order to buy presents for each other. The wife buys a chain for her husband’s valuable pocket watch after selling part of the long hair that he treasures. Likewise, the husband’s love is so great that he sells his watch and buys a silver clasp for his wife’s beautiful hair.
As in Magi, Porter was a master of the surprise ending and often surprised as well with his insight into humans and the human condition and ability to create verisimilitude in a great many settings, from urban to rural and also the ranch life of the southwestern USA.
However, the critics have not always been kind to Porter, some even referring to his stories as “hack work.” In a college literature course I read Ruggles of Red Gap, one of the stories for which he is remembered. The textbook featured “Ruggles” as an example of the “plot complication” story, and with that bit of labeling promptly dismissed him.
While not a major literary figure, Porter nevertheless shows a beautiful gift with his gentle, often poignant insight into people and their lives. He especially never forgot his roots, and had an abiding place in his heart for the common people.
How O. Henry came to call one of his most famous collections of short stories, The Four Million, is quite instructive about the man and shows his compassion and sense of social justice. New York newspapers at the turn of the 20th century extolled the galas and affairs of the very wealthy such as the Astors and Vanderbilts on their society pages.
The New York Social Register included just 400 families of wealth and privilege (referred to in the era as "The Four Hundred") though the population of New York at that time was about four million. Porter deliberately chose the name, “The Four Million,” to emphasize the value of everyone, rich or poor, and the importance of every person’s life.
I particularly like the following assessment of O. Henry’s work by the critic, Long E. Hudson who wrote in 1949:

. . .the really fine stories should become a permanent addition to American literature. In them O. Henry not only widened the experience of his readers, he restated the verities which exist wherever people continue to strive for truth and beauty in life. He was never unsympathetic, except with those who sought to deprive others of their rights as human beings, and his writings have in them feelings of compassion for the weakness of man, which, joined with his remarkable ability of expression, make his stories at their best an influence for the furthering of those ideals which still tend to command the allegiance of civilized men.
In declining health due to tuberculosis and diabetes, he died on June 5, 1910 in New York City at the age of forty-seven after drinking a quart of whiskey day after day while writing. He died virtually penniless.
There are several O. Henry sites on the net. Here is one that I found useful:

Copyright 2002-2016, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Loafer's Glory

Loafer's Glory

I loafe and invite my Soul;
I lean and loafe at my ease, observing a spear of summer grass.
~Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I want to go back to Loafer’s Glory and have another cup of coffee in the small diner there, look out the windows at the wooded hills, maybe while away some time “just sittin,” as the mountain folk say. Watch the play of light and shadow on the mountains and perhaps discreetly observe the people as they come and go.
Loafer’s Glory is a wide place in the road in the mountains of western North Carolina. At last count less than a hundred souls live in the community, but at least there is a caution light marking the spot on NC Highway 226 where it it intersects NC 80 of this "gloriously" named town near the Tennessee borderNC Highway 226NC Highway 226 perhaps 50 or 60 miles west of Asheville.
As the young editor of a weekly newspaper in Mitchell County, I quite often passed through Loafer’s Glory on a country road that wound through the valley of the Estatoe River, and even in those tender years just after finishing college, I marveled at the name and stopped and had coffee at the diner several times. The diner along with a general store comprised the downtown of the village. At that time I certainly did not realize that the place name actually obliquely referred to one of the keys to the kingdom, to one of the key elements in caring for the soul.
As I have aged, married, divorced, remarried, careered, studied, re-careered, contemplated and meditated, I have come to a greater understanding of the idea of Whitman’s invitation to the soul set forth in the epigram and emphasized in my consciousness by the metaphor of Loafer’s Glory. A more familiar variation of Whitman’s line is found in the King James Version of the Christian Bible where the Psalmist says in Chapter 46, Verse 10, “Be still and know that I am god.”
I do not know about you, but sometimes I feel as if I am still really a teenager at heart; emotionally, I mean. Any day now I may turn seventeen. Like a teenager coming of age, I find that I still want to pour experiences into my soul. Too often I find my consciousness is turned outward. I am busy thinking about my job, my mate, our income, what’s on at the movies, the latest electronic toy, the news or indulging that great pastime that I am sure that I share with you, since it is the penultimate pastime of the human race; meaning worry, of course.
Sadly, as with so many humans, I only began to seek the inner experience as I faced crises in my life and with nowhere else to turn, finally turned inside. The aging process itself often brings a cynicism toward fulfilling oneself with empty material possessions and hollow mental chattel and for many impels a turn inward.
As Blaise Pascal, the French mystic writes in Pensees:
. . .I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
I have come to believe that one of the critical ingredients in living a beautiful life--in caring for the soul if you will--is to cultivate that stillness inside or as Whitman puts it so succinctly to “loaf and invite [the] soul.” Lao Tze, reputed author of the Tao Te Ching, the “bible” of Taoism wrote so eloquently about stillness:

The seed of mystery lies in muddy water.
How can I perceive this mystery?
Water becomes clear through stillness.
How can I become still?
By flowing with the stream.
In my own experience meditation has been the key to stilling myWater LiliesWater Lilies mind so that I can experience a greater awareness of the universe and myself. There are as many meditations as there are people I think sometimes. Far be it from me to say which one is right for you or if you need a teacher or if you even need to meditate. Experiences in my own life and with friends imply that some sort of quieting of the mind is necessary for everyone if knowledge of the true self is sought. Here are some links to help you in your investigation of meditation. There are also many great articles on meditation here at Suite101. Just do a search in the directory for "meditation."
I suppose a note is in order about the concept of “stilling the mind.” There is a saying in India and perhaps in other Asian countries as well that “the mind is a great servant but a poor master.” In this view the mind is considered quite accomplished at abstraction (that is with mathematics and language). Thus, it calculates and theorizes and figures things out so well, that we mistake it for the "master" when it is in reality the "servant."
Yet, what is behind the mind, what inspires us to delve deeper into the nature of reality with our mathematics and art and physics? To meditate is to quiet this chattering, conjecturing mind and experience the "master," the “mind behind the mind,” God, Allah, Krishna, the Great Spirit, Truth, "Sam" or whatever you want to call the creative force of the universe.
After I had meditated for a few years, I began noticing that at times I could just sit or lie and not need to do anything, including meditation. It just felt so good to be quiet and experience my breathing and myself; to be alive and truly aware of it. This is very hard to explain, perhaps impossible to understand if you have not experienced the quality of this encounter with the self.
In my view, the truth goes on and on seemingly infinite in nature as our true selves seem boundless, creating a myriad of worlds and creatures, yet ultimately simple in experience. A lighted candle held out to the wind is easily blown out; still the winds of the mind and experience the spirit burning bright.
Meanwhile, in Loafer’s Glory as elsewhere:
Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.
If as most mystics (and some physicists) believe, we are actually living timeless in the eternal present, I propose that Walt WhitmanWalt Whitmanaged Walt paid a visit to that simple diner in a remote but paradisal part of the world; ordered his coffee and apple pie and, brushing crumbs from his white beard and finally taking off that wide-brimmed hat, sat quietly for hours silently acknowledging the mountain folk so far away from "Mannahatta's" shores, and looked through the windows until purple shadows fell on the mountains and as he glimpsed some flash of truth, added that wonderful line to Leaves of Grass:

I loaf and invite my soul.
Editor's Note: I am not sure that any poet of any land has held so great a vision of a people and a country as does 19th century American poet, Walt Whitman. Most of his poetry is collected in his opus, Leaves of Grass. In many ways he is the soul of American democracy, extrolling the working people and the simple virtues of family and community but also with ample time for song and celebration. . .and of course loafing and spirit.
I have used the Native American name for Manhattan, Mannahatta, in which Whitman delighted, which he used throughout his work and it is the title of one of his most famous poems.
The full text of Mannahatta and links to other poems from Leaves of Grass are available fromBartleby.

Copyright 2005-2016, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Bread and Circuses

Bread and Circuses

It is hard NOT to write satire. ~Juvenal , Roman satirist, writing about the Rome of his time)
Every time I turn on the television these days, I cannot help but think of Juvenal. Yes, that's right, Decimus Junius Juvenalis, better known as Juvenal, an ancient Roman writer who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, he wrote some of the most biting, bitter satires of ancient or modern times.
I cannot help but wonder what he would make of the "lamest medium;" television is full of distracting programs that must have the great Roman satirist turning in his grave.
Rare edition of a Juvenal satireIn Juvenal's time (55-127 A.D.), the Roman Republic was but a distant memory as the power of the emperors grew stronger and stronger. The once proud Senate that had witnessed the splendid orations of Cato and Cicero—dominated and weakened year after year by the succession of dictators—atrophied into a figurehead of an institution. However, Juvenal felt that the populace took the duties of citizenship far more seriously during the days of the Republic than in the virtual dictatorships of the Caesars.
He lamented that "the people that once bestowed commands, consulships, legions, and all else, now meddle no more and longs eagerly for just two things — bread and circuses."
Those scornful words "bread and circuses," panem et circenses in Latin, become more meaningful when you understand that Roman citizens became increasingly addicted to free distributions of food and the violent gladiatorial and other contests held in the Coliseum and the chariot races of the Circus Maximus. He felt that Romans had lost the capacity to govern themselves so distracted by mindless self-gratification had they become.
Thus, bread and circuses, is a phrase now used to deplore a population so distracted with entertainment and personal pleasures (sometimes by design of those in power) that they no longer value the civic virtues and bow to civil authority with unquestioned obedience.Bread and Circuses has also become a general term for government policies that seek short-term solutions to public unrest.
Unfortunately, Juvenal's words apply quite strikingly to the United States, certainly a people who at the turn of the 3rd millennium are almost wholly distracted by cheap fast food (relative to other countries) and by the decadence of an entertainment industry that that deals so much in sex, violence and propaganda.
I wonder how our own mass distractions compare with those of Juvenal's era:
bulletIn ancient Rome, muscular men called gladiators (actually slaves from all parts of the empire) fought each other in front of thousands with swords and axes to the death. If they fought savagely and well, the emperor du jour might save the loser with a "thumbs up." Hmm, muscular young men and women (many of whom are the descendants of slaves) contest for our allegiance in a complicated "box" while fighting desperately to overcome opponents and sell beer.
bulletWhile the Romans threw Christians to the lions, we watch reality TV and watch young men and women devouring such appetizing concoctions as Pureed Centipede a la Mode or Black Pepper Grilled Scorpion with Grubs and Live Ants on the side.
bulletRelated to the prior bullet: Please note that for Romans who had eaten too much but who still wished to indulge themselves, there were "Vomitariums" available, rooms, where those feasting on delicacies superior than the ones mentioned above I am sure, lightly waved a feather against the back of their throats. . . Well, you get the picture.
bulletAlso playing on reality TV, more young men and women attempting to survive canoe trips on the Amazon without Off or other insect repellents while fending off hungry piranha and avoiding deadly snakes. Great fun! I sure do enjoy watching all that suffering.
bulletWe watch "electrons deify" dubious politicians into hero status while the economy worsens and matters of real nation security (such as our poorly guarded borders and mediocre safeguards for nuclear power stations) are ignored. I seem to recall that while Nero fiddled (actually more of a symbolic legend), no one paid much attention until the capital of the Empire started burning.
bulletViewed with a little distance, almost all television commercials are really satires of a low (certainly not high) order. I mean, really, who can watch those clips advertising prescription drugs without snickering. All those "feel good" scenes of couples playing on the beach or rolling around in grass without peeing or collapsing due to allergies are pure comic opera.
bulletNow don't get me started on the television news! Ok, if you insist I will say just a few words. . .actually maybe only one: Condit. . .Now I know the man is not particularly likable maybe even somewhat reprehesible, but the media news--all of them but especially the "fair and balanced" one-- crucified the poor man in the court of public opinion. I seem to remember reading that in the United States we are innocent until proven guilty. For those of you not familiar with the "Roman Spectacle" that sometimes passes for TV news in this country, Gary Condit was a Democratic congressman from California who was investigated for the death of a politcal aide.Disgracefully, the corporate news media gave the U.S. populace saturation coverage of this "non-event." Do you think it was a conspiracy to distract the people from various corporate accounting scandals and downright felonious actions of Enron et al? Who knows? Nevertheless, we were distracted!
Eventually the media feeding frenzy calmed down. Gary Condit was never charged with a in the death of Chandra Levy. Talk about the distraction of "bread and circuses!"
bulletWhich brings us to Jerry Springer. I am not sure there is a Roman correspondence here; the times being what they were, full of danger and intrigue, they probably did their best not to air dirty laundry in public (not always successfully, I fear). I just cannot see the Empress, Agrippina, getting up in the Forum and telling all about her adulterous escapades while her husband, the Emperor Claudius, waits offstage to be ushered into her presence where she confronts him and the assembled Patricians with her latest lover from the Praetorian Guard. (Though she did come close!)
Well, enough of this foolishness already! I do fear that Juvenal would probably be out of a job in the 21st century, since in our modern times we do not really need a literary genius of his calibre, only a humble scribe to write down the events of the day--epic or inconsequential--gleaned from the mass media, especially those on the small screen.
Yes, Decimus Junius, it is indeed hard NOT to write [down] satire in these times, in the midst of a civilization, whose people and (seemingly) its government are so consumed with panem et circenses, that it continually satirizes itself.
You probably would have liked Benjamin Franklin—our first great man of letters, and though not in your league as a writer of satire, was no slouch with words. Like you, he served human liberty. As the story goes, this exchange of conversation occurred as the now infirm 81-year old was carried out on a "sedan" from Independence Hall in Philadelphia on September 17, 1787 after he and the other 38 delegates had signed the Constitution:

"What kind of government do we have, Mr. Franklin?"

"A republic," the elderly statesman, writer and scientist replied, ". . .if you can keep it. . ."
* Have since learned that "vomitariums" perhaps is not correct and may be a myth.

Copyright 2016, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Biblical Verses Lost and Found

Biblical Verses Lost and Found

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: May 25, 2005

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.~ The First Letter of St. Paul to Corinthians 13:1-13

The Bible is one of a number of sacred books based on the legacy of the lives of great spiritual masters. I try to honor all spiritual traditions, but lately some in the United States who wish to politicize evangelical Christianity into a one-party theocracy seem to find a few things in the Bible that I cannot for the life of me find there.
For some reason I always thought Christ based his message on love, faith and mercy and somehow came to update the old Jewish law. Where in the Bible does it say:

  1. Thou shalt discriminate against all who are not like you.
  2. Thou shalt not allow Gays to marry.
  3. Thou shalt honor only Christians who take the words of the Bible literally.
  4. Thou shalt steal from the poor to give to the rich.
  5. Thou shalt not kill--unless of course it is "anyone wearing a towel around their head," (as one conservative Southern senator remarked), or those referred to as the "collateral damage" of war or maybe a doctor who honors a woman's right to choose.
  6. Thou shalt base U.S. foreign policy on hate, fear and divisiveness.
  7. Thou shalt base U.S. domestic policy on hate, fear and divisiveness.
  8. Thou shalt treat with contempt any mainstream Christian who questions your beliefs.
  9. Thou shalt believe that God created the world in seven days. (Even if God did create it in seven days as it states in Genesis, I do not find a passage in the Bible that says you have to believe that concept literally.) This leads to the ancillary commandment following:
  10. Thou shalt assume that thou knowest the mind of God (Hey, just what exactly is a "day" in the mind of God anyway?).
  11. Yea, thou shalt rub mercury and PCBs into the fertile land, destroy the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea--since it matters not a gasping salmon after you are Raptured.
  12. And ye waiting for the Rapture, pay not attention to the following words of Christ recorded in the Gospel of Mark (13:32) about predicting the time of Christ's second coming:
    "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father." (Mark 13:32)
  13. Thou shalt be as self-righteous as is humanly possible. Ye are not the same as other religious fanatics. Ye shall be forgiven and not kept from the Kingdom for promoting wars and killing a few medics with whom you disagree.
  14. Thou shalt support imperialism in all its perfidious circumstances and use it for the conversion of those who do not follow your path.
  15. Thou shalt not support stem cell research no matter what the cost in human suffering.
Good News! I did find the following verses:

  1. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. [Beatitudes]
  2. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. [Beatitudes]
  3. You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you be sons of your Father who is in heaven. . . . [Matthew 5:43]
  4. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself. . .[Matthew 22:37]
  5. This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you. . .[John 15:13]
They are some of my favorites. They are the ones I first learned at the First Baptist Church of Liberty, North Carolina on Sunday mornings, that church of the beautiful stained glass windows, red brick facade and cheerful-sounding bells.
They are the words that truly comforted a small child.
They are the ones that offer a "lantern for my feet and a light upon my path" as I wend my way through this life. They are the words that help me offer love when I feel hate, mercy for vengeance though I am most decidedly human and practice Christ's message so very imperfectly.
The ones that I cannot find in the Bible have not--insofar as I know with my admittedly limited human perspective--really helped anyone. They do not offer bread to the poor or a hand to the suffering. They do not address the social or economic needs of most Americans or help a powerful nation offer compassionate leadership in the world.
In my opinion, those verses that I cannot find mostly feed hypocrisy and self-righteous bloviating. I cannot help but wonder if they are not the beliefs of latterday "scribes and Pharisees."
I do not believe that a small child has ever taken comfort from them.

Here is my first book of poetry published by Suite101. . .

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Let It Be War!

I remember my mother telling me when I was an idealistic teenager about a person who she called an "ignorant old man," who she heard say in public prior to WWII, "If it means higher prices for corn, then let it be war!"
 I could not help but think of those callous words when I ran across the esteemed Mr. Kudlow's words, which I cited in the epigram to this essay.  Now Mr. Kudlow by no stretch of the imagination could you be considered "ignorant" like the poorly educated farmer my mother mentioned so many years ago
 Mr. Kudlow is CEO of Kudlow & Co. and Economics Editor of the National Review, a respected (by Republicans anyway) conservative periodical.  I took a couple of economics courses in college, and I know that the subject is quite difficult even if it still retains (somewhat erroneously) Thomas Carlyle's nineteenth century moniker,  the "dismal science." 
 Thus, Mr. Kudlow, you are no lightweight—at least with respect to financial theory and market savvy, and since you are a CEO of a your own corporation, you must also be well versed in management, and human relations.  (I may have that last bit about the human relations wrong, since in today's corporate world, the winners are the sharks that excel at corporate infighting.)
 Aw shucks, Larry (May I call you, Larry), I am only a sometime journalist and writer, but I can't help but wonder what all those soldiers may think about your statement.  Having served one hitch in the U.S. Army, I might have felt pretty good about keeping the "families safe," and maybe even have agreed with some of that keeping the businesses open since that implies keeping the breadwinners working to support their families.   
However, I do know what I would have felt about elevating the "stock market a couple of thousand points," and it probably would have involved procreation with your self in a darkened room.
 Now, I know playing—excuse me—investing in--the market is supposedly not the same as "making book" on sports action or the "ponies," as there is research done by a whole lot of smart people—probably like yourself--who attempt to time the market and pick the securities that are on the way up or down (since knowledgeable investors make money  either way).  Then again, maybe my naiveté exceeds that of a little old lady buying Enron stock with the last of her nest egg from a trusted broker at Merrill Lynch. 
 Hey, Larry, you know; it just dawned on me--in spite of my persistent 3rd grade view of American history and society.  People at your socio-economic level with your inside knowledge of markets, access to the corporate "old boy" network and good friends over at the SEC most likely only bet on sure things—like the fact that wars drive up the stock market.  After all, it took the entire mobilization of the country during WWII—not to mention a few tens of million of deaths--to end finally the Great Depression.  Hey, Larry, I guess I just made your case, didn't I?
 Still, Larry, dying for one's country, making the ultimate sacrifice for the survival of our people and our democratic republic is one thing.  I could probably have even died peacefully while serving my country knowing that my parents were living well and my children, eating hamburgers and fries under the flawed economic system that some now worship as free-market capitalism. 
 However, I don't think that I would have been exactly thrilled to die for the greed of you and your cronies, no matter how much it is couched in your quasi-patriotic language expressing "that our businesses will stay open, that our families will be safe, and that our future will be unlimited." 
You go on to say in the same paragraph, "The world will be righted in this life-and-death struggle to preserve our values and our civilization."  Since when did the upward mobility of Dow Jones have anything to do with preserving anything of our values and civilization other than the most crass—much less the gallantry of our young men, Larry?
 All too often the deaths of a brave soldiers merely to preserve entrenched political and business interests smacks of the "rich man's war and the poor man's fight."  I cannot help but think of World War I British poet Wilfred Owens' lament
The old lie: 
Dulce et decorum for patria mori.
 Those Latin words translate to "Sweet and glorious it is to die for one's country."  Those words are not always a lie used by elites to rally the population around the flag; occasionally those deaths may be necessary for the greater good.
 Nevertheless, Larry, it is not sweet and glorious to die for greed and crony capitalism.  Besides, I wouldn't want to shock my sweet, 80-year old mother with the truth of your well-wrought words about truth, money and the "American Way."  After all, she still, in all innocence, thinks that only a low-class, semi-literate old dirt farmer would wish for the deaths of young men and women just to drive up the price of corn.
Certainly, she would never in her wildest dreams believe that a man as well-educated, well-connected, and literate enough to write for a prestigious national magazine would want to unleash the dogs of war just to chase a few bears on Wall Street.


Beethoven's Revenge

Author: Thomas James Martin
Published on: April 18, 2003
The haunting beauty of the melody played by the solo violinist from Vilvaldi's The Four Seasons literally pierced my basically liberal, ex-hippy, mostly vegetarian soul as I stopped for the red light at the corner of Broadway and Hall in the City of Trees, Beaverton, Oregon.My whole body swayed to the music; who cared if the people in the cars behind or ahead of me thought I was crazy. Then, a rusty-looking ancient Pontiac Trans AM pulled up beside me, its juiced-up amplifiers spewing some god-awful heavy metal through the huge speakers that I could see lurking in the back seat.
That this "jump car" was playing music loud enough to drown out the screaming decibels of a landing jet was bad enough, but that it drowned out my violin solo was just too much. Caught between the twin vises of the sanctimoniousness of the lover of harmony and classical music and the cantankerousness of a balding, heavyset man near fifty, something in me snapped!
Deliberately I lowered all the windows that I could reach from the driver's seat. My hand snaked out, found the volume knob and with a sudden, violent twist turned the knob all the way to the right.
For one glorious moment I could not hear the pounding of the bass of Guns and Roses or Ozzy or whoever was putting out that noise. Then, I saw the windows in the jump car lowering and the violence of their music began assaulting my eardrums.
You don't mess with a guy who grew up on assorted Warner Brothers cartoons.
"Of course," I thought to myself a la childhood chum, Bugs Bunny, "You know this means war!"
Opening up the glove compartment I reached for my CD case and with a flourish withdrew Alexander Scrabin's Ninth Piano Sonata, also known as the Black Mass. "Let's try a little Russian justice!" I muttered to myself.
"Let's just see who knows more about darkness—Ozzy or Alexander!" I thought to myself as I ejected the Vivaldi and put in the Scriabin! Quickly, I adjusted the tone until the treble from my small speakers challenged the raw bass emanating from the Pontiac.
The effect of the" Devil's own music" was unnerving to many of the people in the cars around me. Those who had their windows down enjoying the cool spring temperatures quickly rolled them up.
The rather large, hulking fellow sitting in the passenger seat of the Pontiac with a gold earring dangling from his ear, smiled sickeningly and stuck his hand out the window with a single middle digit showing. Somehow, they found some more volume and drowned out the demonic but lucid notes of the Scriabin.
Madly, I dove into the glove compartment again and rummaged again through my CDs. I quickly discarded a Chopin, dropped Mozart's 40th to the floor, brushed aside a Bach 3rd Brandenburg.
Pawing through Tchaikowsy's, Brahms, Bartok—even a little Gershwin—until I finally found what I was searching for. With a mad gleam of triumph in my eye, I looked over at the grinning barbarian in the Pontiac, ejected the Scriabin and threw in Beehoven's Ninth Symphony, and hit the button until I found the final track.
I fired this salvo of Ole Ludwig at them point blank.
I turned up all the tone controls clockwise as far as I could. I made sure the volume was turned up as far as it would go. Slowly the music built, and I could see it was having an effect on the guys in the jump car.
As evil spirits caught in the headlights of God, they were cowering before this masterpiece of western music. "Take that!" I thought, as the baritone began singing the eloquent, opening lines of Schiller's Ode to Joy stirred by Beethoven's masterful music:

</>Freude, schöne Gotterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuer-trunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
The stoplight turned green, and I watched in amazement as they writhed and screamed in torment. God help me, but I love the sound of heavy metal tearing in the afternoon. . .
I thought sure that horns would start honking, people yelling, and motorcycle cops would arrive and take me away in chains, but, no, as far as my eye could see, people were getting out of their cars and heading toward me.
Oh God, Martin, I thought, you're going to get it now! I closed my eyes, knowing that I would probably next awaken with every limb of my body in heavy traction or be peering down at my body in the local morgue.
When I opened my eyes, I beheld in profound wonderment that dozens of people from the stopped cars had formed a circle around my small Honda. They were cheering and applauding, and holding their thumbs up. They didn't care that the stoplight circled through several more cycles of red, yellow and green.
Flaxen-haired girls and dark-skinned maidens alike were blowing kisses and showering me with rose petals. A smile started from one ear toward the other. . .then the stoplight changed to green, and I shook my head a couple of times and drove off with Vivaldi into the spring afternoon. . .

Editor's Notes: Ode to Joy is the English title given to the poem An die Freude by the German classical poet Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805). The poem is famous because of its setting in the fourth (and final) movement of Symphony Number 9 in D Minor, the "Choral Symphony", by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).
The verse that I include translates:

Joy, fair spark of the gods
Daughter of Elysium,
Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,
We approach thy shrine!
A full translation of the poem is available at Beethoven.
Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915) is often said to be the first "modern" composer. You may find out more about this enigmatic Russian figure at Scriabin Society
Copyright 2003, Thomas James Martin, all rights reserved.