Archive for the ‘death’ Category

Their Last Full Measure of Devotion

May 28, 2017

In the novel King of Soul, which I have recently published, college students Donnie and Kevin take an impulsive road trip to Kevin’s home in Ohio. This happens in early May of 1970. While  on the road in Tennessee, they pick up Ed, a hitchhiker. Ed has been honorably discharged from military service in Vietnam only three weeks ago.  In chapter 23, we find  Donnie and Kevin accompanying Ed to a bar in Nashville:

       At the China Beach bar and grill in downtown Nashville, Donnie and Kevin tagged along while Ed linked up with a buddy of his from the war.

       Sled was a sort of hillbilly with a twist. His West Virginia upbringing had been traumatized in a snow-sledding accident that happened when he was ten years old. In a head-on collision with a pine tree, a low branch had penetrated his left cheek. A scar that resulted from the surgery gave the appearance of a question mark on the left side of his face. From his teen years onward, all John’s people called him “Sled” because of what had happened to him in a sledding accident when he was a kid.

       Ed and Sled had become friends at Fort Hood, Texas, before they both went to Vietnam. They were assigned to the same Company, but different platoons. On this particular evening , Sled and Ed were having beer and burgers as they celebrated the fact that they both had survived Vietnam. This was the first time they had seen each other since both were honorably discharged. Donnie and Kevin listened intently as Sled reported to Ed the account of how their CO, Lt. Gary, had fallen in battle only 11 months ago.

       Sled explained that, in a strategy to avoid group casualties, Lt. Gary had his men spread out as they were advancing down a jungle hillside.  Three dozen soldiers had distanced themselves from each  other, and each man was walking alone.  The radio man reported that an NVA encampment was below them, but the exact location had not yet been determined.

       Delta company was thus strung out for a mile or more. When their point guys reached the bottom, they caught sight of evidence of the enemy bunkers above them, up on the north side. Sergeant Charles halted his men at a covered spot.  He knew they were near the enemy because, he said, he could smell their rice cooking; but as he took a few steps to obtain a better view of the area in question,  suddenly he was struck with a bullet. It hit him in the abdomen;. Within seconds, an assault by automatic weapons erupted  somewhere northward and above them, with what sounded like AK-47 fire.

Sgt. Charles did not make it home alive from Vietnam.

On this Memorial Day, 2017, we remember Charles and the other 54,000 American soldiers who never got back here to taste the good life of the dear ole US of A. We appreciate that these men and women sacrificed their last full measure of devotion so that we we can live free.

VietMem2

King of Soul

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March 14, 2017

March 14, 2017

Why the Diagonal, y’all?

TreeDiag

Because it’s the shortest distance

between two

points?

or

because what goes up must come

down?

or

to break up the conformism of these trunkated

lines?

or

because it

snowed?

or

because this old tree was just ready to begin its

fall?

DiagTree

or

because its time had come, y’all?

or

because that’s

all

she wrote

or

maybe it was just the final

call,

from seed to tall

from spring to fall.

It could happen to us

all,

y’all.

From seed to fall,

that’s all?

Prob’ly not,

I do believe.

SeedEating

You?

Glass half-Full

Tear me up.

March 7, 2017

FalnTre3

Tear me up, life,

just tear me up,

stomp on me if you want to

pick me up and throw me ‘cross the world.

I don’t care.

Go on now,

get on with it.

Watch me like a hawk,

and when I’m at my tenderest,

most vulnerable point,

pounce!

Take your best shot!

What you do not see

is the One who died for me.

His sacrifice has made all the difference,

and will yet again

when I rise with Him.

So just get along now.

Go find someone else to pick on.

You think I don’t see you.

But I do.

And I will.

IrisB2

Glass half-Full

Alabama. How ’bout you?

November 19, 2016

Alabama.

Alabama sticks in my mind, going way back.

To get from Louisiana to Georgia, you have to drive through that Sweet Home state of Alabama, the state where folks drive around with a license plate that says: Stars fell on . . .

Alabama, whatever that means.

I’ll tell you what it means. it means crucible.

It means the place where America’s deepest hopes and deepest fears about building a great nation and living out the ideal of all men and women being created equal by Creator God, the place where all those deepest hopes and deepest fears clashed in the thoroughfares of history on a highway between Selma and Montgomery,

and on the steps of the state capitol when President Kennedy sent soldiers in to compel George Wallace to do his job and allow the black folks of Sweet Home to vote and to go to school and to University.

And then later, years later, George Wallace issued a public apology for his former racist bullshit way of doing things. And I remember this video I saw online just a year or two or three ago of Wallace sitting in a wheelchair, his daughter by his side, telling the black folk and all of us, all the people of America, that he was sorry.

I mean I saw this, so to speak, with my own eyes, (online.) It all happened in my lifetime.

This George Wallace who was speaking in my hometown, back in the day, 1968, when he went to the Louisiana legislature and spoke there and he said if they’d send him to Washington he’d take all their suitcases from all them bureaucrats in Washington and throw them suitcases in the Potomac River, and when he said that all the Louisianans who filled that legislative chamber laughed.

But such hyperbole was not a rhetorical stunt unknown to the folks of the bayou state, many of whom in that room that day could still remember what Huey Long had said back in the day,  1930’s.

‘Course we all know it didn’t amount to a hill of beans. Dick Nixon went to the white house that year instead the Alabama governor. Hubert Humphrey was the one who lost big time that year because Wallace peeled off a bunch of them riled-up southerners from the Democrats.

I mean, Hubert got a raw deal in Chicago, but we can’t be crying in our beer forever. He was a nice guy. God bless him, Hubert. May he rest in peace; and, for that matter, may Richard Nixon rest in peace.

We all have our faults.

All of this has happened in my lifetime, y’all, which wasn’t so long ago and it’s still happening today.

We have seen serious changes during these 65 years. I’m not making this up.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MhOZt5-Jl8

Maybe I’m just dreaming it, but if I am just dreaming it, well shut my mouth.

But as I was sayin’–I’m talking’ ’bout Alabama now–the place where all of our darkest southern closets got blasted open, oftentimes on nataional TV, to reveal them skeletons in them closets, them skeletons of racism that most Alabamans have now left in the dust of history but every now and then someone drags them old skeletons out of them closets.

Dogs sicced on freedom riders, four martyred girls in 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham.

But I’m here to tell you this blood was not shed in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seeds of. . .

So these days, November 2016, y’all can rant in the streets all you want to, but I’m here to tell you that this new Attorney General appointee, Sen. Jeff Sessions, him about whom the Dems are so upset, while they be trying to affix the R-word to Senator Jeff’s reputation just because he be from Alabama, and yet I see on Resurgent this morning these photos of Jeff Sessions holding hands with Rep. John Lewis

   http://theresurgent.com/seriously-trump-the-pictures-of-jeff-sessions-they-dont-want-you-to-see/   

as they were commemorating the stand taken back in the day, 1965, when Dr. King, Dr. Abernathy, young John Lewis and many others who, being with them all together of one accord and holding hands, marched across the Edmund Pettus bridge while trying to walk from Selma to Montgomery but then them Alabama troopers sent out by the old Wallace, not the later-repentent Wallace, stopped them civil rights marchers on the bridge and beat the hell out ’em.

   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/selma-montgomery-march/videos/bloody-sunday   

But I’m here to tell you this blood was not shed in vain. The blood of the martyrs is the seeds of. . .

As the poet said, and still says, the times they are a-changin’.

And so they did, and they still are.

Hence, just a year ago as I was cleaning a laundry room at work and listening on the radio to John Lewis’ account of that infamous Bloody Sunday event, as he was recalling it to Terri Gross or Diane Rehm or some other radio luminary, and I remember what Rep. Lewis said about being beat up and it was some bad shit going down but they lived to tell about it and ultimately they prevailed all the way to the steps of the Alabama state capitol and beyond, and Dr. King spoke and it really stuck with me.

So now in November 2016 I’m seeing this jpg of Sessions and Lewis holding hands on the Edmund Pettus bridge and

this has all happened in my lifetime, y’all.

Please don’t tell me it was a dream. Let me have my dream. I have the dream, all God’s children, remember, wait for it . . . don’t you have a dream?

I mean, this all happened in my lifetime y’all.

Alabama, please ya’ll don’t forget this excruciated crucible of our great American dream, where the blood of saints and sinners was shed for the liberty of us all. If you ever go there, remember you’ll be treading on holy ground, ground made holy by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb,

   http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/birmingham-church-bombing   

but that was before the stars fell on Alabama. Now people there have seen the light, or at least I hope they have. I’m willing to give them a little grace, and some space, to cross our next bridge.

How ’bout you?

Glass half-Full

Thanks to our Veterans

November 11, 2016

On this Veterans’ Day 2016, I say to all men and women who have served our United States as soldiers and workers in our armed forces, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard. . .

Thank You.

VietMem2

All you men and women who are serving, or have served, in our armed forces, and then lived to tell about it, please know that we are glad you made it through your dutiful missions, still alive and kicking.

As a remembrance of those who did not make it back alive, we reflect upon the cause–our freedom as a nation of free men and women–for which they fought, bled, and died. Toward that end, we recall the words of President Abraham Lincoln, which he spoke at Gettysburg battlefield in November, 1863.

“. . . from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Glass half-Full 

Coast

October 5, 2016

Clear

Coast is clear

life is dear

without fear

now and here

World turns round

up turns down

some get lost, others found

life goes back to ground

Build the town

structures up, but they’ll come down

lots of noise, then dearth of sound

still the world goes round and round

Another day, another turn

some will learn; some will burn

many earn and some discern

still the world doth turn and turn

Clouds rise up

life is tough

times get rough

lose some stuff

When all is said and done

we live and walk and speak and run

we feel pain but we find fun

until this present day is done.

What then?

Do it all again?

How about find a friend

in the one who died and rose again.

Cloud

Glass half-Full

from Ridiculous to Sublime

September 28, 2016

A couple of nights ago, I briefly tuned into that  greatly over-hyped debate. Donald was blathering about Hillary’s emails and she was going on and on about his failure to release tax returns.

Nothing new here, just more of the same old same old blah blah.

So I ditched it, and went back to what I had been doing before, because, I thought, this is ridiculous.

Well then a day or two rolls by.

This afternoon, while listening to WDAV on the radio, my soul was stirred profoundly by the hearing of an amazing selection of music. And I found myself wondering, what is it about this music that moves me so much?

I don’t know, but I can tell you one thing. This music it is sublime.

What is sublime? you may wonder. I cannot adequately explain to you what the word sublime means, but I can show you where the meaning is clearly demonstrated if you will listen to this:

   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOofwWT3Edc

As the changing drama within the music builds up, pay particular attention to these     minute-time points in the video: 2:58, 4:00, 5:55 and 8:32.

I recently read something about how or why  this artistic dynamism moves us so much. In his book, A Secular Age,

  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B002KFZLK2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

Charles Taylor says . .

“. . . such art can serve to disclose very deep truths which in the nature of things can never be obvious . . .”

This music is, after all physical analysis is said and done, merely a pounding of wood and metal beneath the orchestrated hands of trained men. How can it be, then, that it moves me so?

To try to understand why or how, you might as well try to comprehend how or why, over two centuries ago, some men and women like you and me had a luxurious building constructed and then  walked around on its mosaic floor like they owned the place and then later a bunch of other stuff happened and things changed and it got covered up for a long time and then one day some other people came along and dug it up and said . . .

“. . .well, gollee, what do you know about that?”

“Gosh, Jeb, it’s a mystery to me.”

RomanAthens

Glass Chimera

The Bang at Trang Crossroads

September 18, 2016

Here’s ann excerpt from chapter 11 of the new novel, King of Soul, now being written; the scene is Vietnam, about 45 years ago. . .

(Warning: viewer discretion is advised. This passage could affect your feeling of well-being in the world as it presently exists, and as it existed then. . .)

Ahnika was terrified; she was so scared to turn around and then see that plane coming at them, but she turned her head  anyway. The pounding of her bare feet against the road made everything in her terrified vision seem to bounce up and down with insanely out-of-place energized chaos and this only compounded her terror. The planes that usually zoomed above their village had never come this close before. Why was it flying so low, so fast, so directly toward them. And why, since it was bearing down so close, so fast–why were bombs coming out of it, tumbling projectiles? This was not right. There was something wrong. Then came the explosions. It was no bad dream. These bombs were exploding; the smoke was billowing faster than the villagers could run; it was covering the whole world. Her brothers were just ahead, running faster than she could. But Auntie was behind; that’s why Ahnika was looking behind, because Auntie was back there, with little brother in her arms. There was a part of herself–a part of her family–a part of her Vietnamese life still behind her, trying to run, stumbling, falling. Falling?! Auntie had fallen. No No No No!, but no, Auntie had not fallen, but little brother had fallen from her arms; little brother was down on the road. Ahnika saw the look of confused desperation on Auntie’s face, and just as Ahnika was about to try to do something, maybe stop, maybe try to get little brother,  a soldier grabbed him and then little brother was in the soldier’s arms but he was still wailing while the soldier was up and running again. Go! go! he yelled at Ahnika. Just ahead, other villagers were coming fast out of a the hut by the side of the road. Yellow and purple smoke was swirling as they ran through it; now there was bomb smoke behind and yellow and purple smoke ahead where the men had set off the smoke markers that were supposed to mark the temple grounds so their pilots would know where to not drop, but something was wrong and these explosions meant for the Viet Cong were hitting us instead something was wrong. After the first marker plume had fanned out but failed to prevent the pilot from hitting the wrong spots and so after he had dropped his loads off course something was wrong and while the ARVN commander was trying to stop the next drop, Auntie buckled at her knees, reached back behind herself to find out what was wrong with her leg and her pain was registered on her face she was clutching at the back of her leg and now her fingers were stuck together with the sticky napalm and so Auntie did not see it when the soldier who had got little brother took a direct hit of the stuff he was incinerated. But then the white-shrouded Caodai man who had earlier been in the temple with them picked up little brother he was not crying anymore and the whole scene was darkened with smoke and roaring noise and pain so bad you couldn’t even tell where it was coming from but then Ahnika was struck with such a force from behind that she was down on the ground gravel in her mouth in her face and the worst pain ever felt by woman or child behind her, or in her behind in her shoulders, her arms but then she was up again desperate energized by the fear and running, running, pulling at the neck of her clothes because they were too hot, too hot but when she pulled at them then suddenly their entire cloth just fell away and she was up again running, running, wailing naked, crying with the pain, past any understanding of what was happening to them all or why or why or how this burning world could have turned out this way and she had her arms flung out to the sides , like a cross while she wailed and cried, like a cross she appeared and she felt like the pain of the whole world had fell on her shoulders but it was not her shoulders it was somebody’s else’s in the nightmare, somebody else’s writhing, stretched out in pain and taking on the shape of a cross. It wasn’t her any more it was somebody else in that cross, in that Trang crossroads as they ran, ran, toward Cu Chi, but she couldn’t remember who it was taking the brunt of so much pain could it have been her or somebody else as everything in the world is going wrong and the weight of the whole damned world falls on those shoulders stretched out like a damn cross.

King of Soul 

It’s the Contest

August 13, 2016

TheContest

The destroyer is a spirit, a corrupted zeitgeist.

But in spite of his apparent worldwide heist,

he is no christ.

He’s eloquent in spreading fear

while whispering in your ear.

She slides in on a sled of doubt

chewing up our courage, then spitting it out.

He serves up fodder for defeat;

she slices delectable discouragement for meat.

The destroyer fastens our attention

on cultivating nervous tension.

He’s obsessive with dismay;

she casts hope and care away.

They display

excrutiatingly excellent excuses

to focus on all those world-driven abuses

for which we have no productive uses

so that accomplishments can be decimated,

achievements aggravated

and defeat elevated

to a sordid art form

so as to blot out our war-torn

mission

as if by atomic fission.

Hey, they say,

it’s all going to blow someday,

maybe the big one even comes today.

The destroyer will habitually say

conspiracy is the order of the day,

and rational order has been put down

as we’re all just fooling’ around.

She says decency went out with the tide,

been cast aside,

and integrity is dead

and that we should just party down instead

because the whole damn system is fixed

for sure, bewitched

and our course cannot be switched

cuz life’s a bitch,

not a beach.

So don’t bother to reach

out.

Just glory in the art of pout.

We’ll make of complaint an art form

and criticism a craft, to adorn

our death-wish thanatos

with exquisite, tragic loss.

On the other hand

as far as the east is from the west,

in spite of all that, we could be supremely blessed.

The comforter says you can do this;

your arrow is not destined to always miss.

If the system is rigged what does it matter;

your hopes and dreams aren’t doomed to splatter

on the mean streets of this world

because the true kingdom is not of this world;

it displays a flag unfurled,

that flutters in our heart

urging us to start

a work, an art

apart

to begin anew

a place for me and you

a place in the son

no matter what the gun

has done

to make us turn and run

from the challenges of this screwed-up life.

We can overcome and defeat this strife

by faith, by hope, by true love,

bestowed to us from above

if we can allow the destroyer in us to be crucified.

On a cross of sacrifice, that enemy has died,

and to its own defeat is tied.

But I’m not tied to it;

they can’t make you do it.

Death doesn’t have to overcome me, nor defeat you;

I tell you true.

We shall rise above it all

if you can hear the call

of resurrected victory

for you and me:

He’s signaling from the other side

if you can resist the tide

of death-wish thanatos

and the destroyer’s proposed eternal loss.

You may hear otherwise,

but death itself in the end just dies.

Selah.

Traveler’s Rest

Mysteries of 1964: Meridian and Tonkin

August 11, 2016

From the new novel King of Soul, now being researched and written, here’s an excerpt. In chapter 4, we find Uncle Cannon speaking about murder in Mississippi, and then the scene changes. As Uncle Cannon was saying, on August 4, 1964 . . .

        “Now these white-power types and KKK misfits who been runnin’ around for a hundred years like they own the place—now they won’t have a leg to stand on when Bobby Kennedy and Hoover’s FBI agents show up with their high-falootin’ writs of law.  I’m sure the Feds knew if they’d root around long enough, something rotten would turn up.”

       “Well now something has turned up. Three dead bodies. Over near Meridian, they found those three dead boys—two yankee college students and one local black, and all hell is gonna break loose. The old ways are gonna go, but they ain’t gonna die without a fight—probably a pretty damned ugly one.”

       The old man shook his head. “With Kennedy being shot last year in Dallas, and now Johnson, who is an extremely competent politician, following in his wake, this whole civil rights movement will mount up  like a tidal wave. It’s gonna break right over the Mason-Dixon line and keep on going, until it rolls all the way down to the Gulf. . .”

~~~

       It just so happened that, while Uncle Cannon’s projections were being uttered into the sultry southern air, a wave of a different kind was being set in motion on the other side of the world. It went thrashing just beneath the choppy surface of  Gulf waters that lie between the coasts of China and Vietnam. The Gulf of Ton-kin.

       A phosphorescent wake—the eerie, night-time straight-line underwater path  of a launched torpedo—went  suddenly slashing beneath the stormy surface of the Gulf of Ton-kin, sixty miles off the coast of  Vietnam. The torpedo had a target:  a destroyer ship of the U.S. Navy.

       Under cover of the dark, stormy night, the torpedo’s path was nigh-impossible to see, almost as difficult to detect as the P-4 North Vietnamese patrol boat from which it had been launched.

       In the air above the USS Turner Joy naval destroyer,  a plane-launched flare erupted,  illuminating  for a few moments the rain-stilted night sky. In the desperate brilliance of one flare flash, a boatsman’s mate caught plain sight of the attacking boat; he noticed, in the fleeting brightness, an odd detail—its long bow.

        Meanwhile, all hell was breaking loose, with the two U.S. Navy destroyers firing ordnance wildly into the stalking mysteries of the Tonkin Gulf.    Two  members of the gun crew sighted the offending boat in the strange light of their own exploding 3-inch shells; one squinting seaman managed to hold the object in view for what seemed like almost two minutes.

       Two signalmen, peering through dark Tonkin night-soup, strove to pinpoint the patrol boat’s searchlight, as it swept through the dark seas several thousand yards off the starboard bow;  Director 31 operator could identify a mast, with a small cross piece, off the destroyer’s port quarter, as it was illuminated in the glare of an exploding shell that the Turner Joy had fired.

      Ahead of the USS Turner Joy, on the flagship Maddox, two Marine  machine-gunners were posted on the ship’s signal bridge; after sighting  what appeared to be the cockpit light of a small-craft, they watched through the fierce weather. Having no orders to fire, they visually tracked the unidentified vessel—friend or foe they didn’t know—as it churned up along port side of their ship; later the miniscule light was seen coming back down on starboard.

       Up on the flagship Maddox bridge,  Operations Officer Commander Buehler was not surprised at  the spotty hodgepodge of indecipherable bogey signals and sightings from various quarters of the two ships; for his ship’s radar contact had earlier indicated something approaching at high speed, which had suddenly turned left when it was 6000 yards from and abeam of the USS Maddox. He knew from the swerve that whatever that was—some vessel the radar contact had indicated—had fired an underwater  torpedo. Approximately three minute later, a topside crewman on the Turner Joy had spotted the thin, phosphorescent wake of the torpedo as it missed both ships and  then disappeared in the dark Tonkin waters that chopped beneath them.

       Later,  black smoke could be discerned,  rising in a column through the black night, and the mysterious P-4 bogey aggressors were seen no more. Where did they go? Davy Jones locker.

King of Soul