Posts Tagged ‘death’

Getting old

October 10, 2019

Are you booting up a brave new world

or slogging in a new slave world?

You who would be brave or slave—

snickery snob or clueless knave?

Catching the new wave

or just trying to behave?

You filling your Capitalist bag,

or flying the Socialist flag?

Working for wages, or plotting for profits?

You dumbing down, or heeding the prophets?

Will you work as selective

or labor in a collective?

With more .gov or less?

destined for worst or best.

You protesting in public space,

or praying in private grace?

All things being equal,

are you satisfied or freakful?

Living as privileged  elite

or just dancing to the rabble beat?

Striving for the common or the proprietary?

will you eat fattening or dietary?

Or maybe you be in shadowland like me

wishing for what was instead of what will be.

Winds of change blow hot and cold;

Will you stay young, or like me, grow old?

Winds of change blow foul and fair;

Are you ready to turn to dust or air?

Winds of change are hard to read;

Can you face them without a creed?

Day of death casts us in the hole;

Will you fall to dust, or rise in soul?

Hollowc

Smoke

Death by War

May 26, 2019

I wrote a story about an American traveling through Europe in the spring/summer of 1937. In the novel, Smoke, which I published in 2015, young businessman Philip Morrow accepts an unusual errand, which takes him through London, halfway around the far side of France, then to Paris, and ultimately to arrive at a place called Flanders Field in Belgium.

At his specific Memorial battleground destination, Philip sees for the first time the final resting place of his father, a soldier of the American Expeditionary Force, who had died there in 1918 during the last week of World War I.  Philip had been eight years old in 1917 when he hugged his pa for the last time, then  beheld  his mother while she tearfully embraced her  husband, a mountaineer marksman named Clint.

In chapter 27 of Smoke, Philip arrives at the Memorial cemetery accompanied by a newfound friend, Mel, an old Frenchman who expresses his appreciation for Clint’s courageous sacrifice–given in his last full measure of devotion– for freedom, to defeat tyranny.

Clint’s total offering in 1918 was not the first, nor the last, to be put forth by millions of other soldiers since that time. In Washington DC, I snapped this photo of a newer Memorial–that one constructed for us to remember the dead of Vietnam.

VNMem (1)

We Americans do appreciate the families left behind.  Their sorrow and sacrifice is painfully precious; it  runs deep–deep as the blood that pumped through soldiering bodies alive with determination–blood that still streams through the beating hearts and minds of  us Americans and Allies.

Here’s my offering, from chapter 27 of Smoke:

       “How could this place have been a battlefield for a world war?”

‘The old Frenchman cast his eyes on the passing landscape, and seemed to join Philip in this musing. He answered slowly, “War is a terrible thing, an ugly thing. I did not fight in the war; I had already served my military duty, long before the Archduke was assassinated in Sarajevo and the whole damn world flew apart, like shrapnel. But I had many friends who fought here, and back there, where we just came from in my France, back there at the Somme, the Marne, Amiens. Our soldiers drove the Germans back across their fortified lines, the Hindenberg line they called it. By summer of 1918 the Germans were in full retreat, although it took them a hell of a long time, and rivers of spilt blood, to admit it. And so it all ended here. Those trenches, over there in France, that had been held and occupied for two hellish years by both armies, those muddy hellholes were finally left behind, vacated, and afterward . . . filled up again with the soil of France and Flanders and Belgium, and green grass was planted where warfare had formerly blasted its way out of the dark human soul and the dark humus of lowland dirt and now we see that grass, trimmed, manicured and growing so tidily around those rows of white crosses out there, most of them with some soldier’s name carved on them, many just unknown, anonymous, and how could this have happened? You might as well ask how could. . . a grain of sand get stuck in an oyster? And how could that oyster, in retaliation against that rough, alien irritant, then generate a pearl—such a beautiful thing, lustrous and white—coming forth in response to a small, alien presence that had taken up unwelcomed residence inside the creature’s own domain? The answer, my friend, is floating in the sea, blowing in the wind, growing green and strong from soil that once ran red with men’s blood.” ‘

“Now they were arriving at the battlefield. Jacques parked the car, leaned against the front fender, lit a cigarette. Mel and Philip walked through a stone arch, along a narrow, paved road lined with flowering linden trees, spring green with their large spadish leaves, sprinkled with small white blossoms. The sun was getting low behind them. Shadows of these trees had overtaken the narrow lane, turning it cooler than the surrounding fields, acres and acres neatly arranged with white crosses and gravestones, and continuous green, perfect grass between all. Having reached the end of the linden lane, the stepped slowly, reverently, along straight pathways, passing hundreds of silent graves on either side. The setting sun was still warm here, after their cool approach from beneath the trees.

“At length, they came to the row that Philip had been looking for, the one he had read about in the army guidebook, where his father’s grave was nested precisely and perpetually in its own place in eternity “. . .

King of Soul

The Beginning and the End

June 15, 2018

To go with the flow, or to go against it—that is the question.

Whether ’tis nobler to nurture the notion that mankind was innocent in some presumed condition of noble savagery—or to accept traditional religion that pronounces us guilty of offenses against Nature or against God.

If we are, or were, indeed, noble savages in our beginnings, why should we have taken on the disciplines and restrictions of religion—doctrines that judge us culpable of sin and thus in need of repair, salvation, or some kind of evolving perfection yet to be realized?

Hawaiians, for instance, who were alive here on the island of Kauai (I am wondering, as I write this on Kauai in 2018)—those Hawaiians who lived here in 1778 when Captain James Cook suddenly showed up with his fancy ship and his threatening weaponry, his magical gadgets, highly-trained crew, impressive use of language and documents, his tailored clothing and highly developed European culture—those relatively primitive people who first saw Capt. Cook’s two ships sail up to the mouth of the Waimea River . . .

CaptCook

Why should they have accepted his intrusion into their simple, primitive life?

To go with the flow, or to go against it—that was their question.

Would they go with the “arc of history” or resist it?

Did they eventually accept highly developed European culture to replace their traditional tribal existence? Did they accede to it out of submission, or out of necessity, or out of attraction to the new fancy stuff they saw? Were they conquered? Or were they taken by the hand and brought gently, Christian-like, into 18th-century civilization, and ultimately into 19th, 20th and 21st-century lifestyle?

Look around Hawaii today. What do you think?

They accepted it.

They went with the flow. One thing we know for sure about the so-called primitive Hawaiians of 1778: they knew how to go with the flow. They were here on this remote island in the middle of earth’s largest ocean, long before we technolified haoles were here, and they had arrived here at some earlier time because they knew how to make “the flow” of this life and the Pacific Ocean work for them.

So now, 2018, it is what it is. Hawaii, like every other place in our modern world, is what it is. Some may lament the demise of noble savagery that has been the result of Captain Cook’s intrusion into this paradisical (though deadly if you don’t know what you’re doing) island. Others may celebrate the entrance of the Hawaiians into modern life.

Some may come and some may go.

Captain Cook came. He left and came back again. The beginning of Captain James Cook’s Hawaii experience happened when his crew sailed their two ships to the mouth of the Waimea River— a river that flowed from mile-high Waialeale crater down to sea level at the southwest shore of Kauai.

Waimea1

He died in 1779, shot dead by an Hawaiian on the Big Island of Hawaii, at the other end of this island archipelago. His sudden demise came in the midst of dispute between some of his own crew members and the natives of Hawaii.

Many have lived and died since that time.

Two days ago, up on the other end of Kauai island, the northeast end, at a strand called Larsen’s Beach, we witnessed the life-end of another person, a contemporary. The man was a traveler from Pennsylvania. He had been snorkeling at a reef in unpredictable waters when the Ocean took hold of him.

A little while later, his flippers floated to shore. After we had witnessed a team of chance beach visitors (us), and then a couple of jet-skiing lifeguards from some other nearby beach, and then EMT guys flown in on a “bird,”—after we had witnessed all this collective noble attempt to coax life back into the snorkeler’s breathless lungs and heart, we saw his neon-green flippers float back to shore.

Flipper

Maybe he was going with the flow; maybe he was going against it; maybe he was fighting against the current, or maybe he was just going with that flow of life and death that eventually captures us all.

In my case, that flow will, in the long run, take me to death, and then resurrected life, as was demonstrated by Jesus.

Am I really going with the flow, you may ask, in joining the historical current of the Christian faith into which I was born?

Or am I going against the rational flow by subscribing to such an incredible prospect as life after death?

God only knows.

King of Soul

This thing’s all crossed up.

January 4, 2018

So now it’s come down to this:

a global schmobile electric hectic dyss-topia,

each faction nursing its own myopia

manifesting all the genetical heretical traits known to man,

in the clashes of history clashing again and again.

We’re racing down a  four-way street—

devolving in a  manic humanic socialistic beat

boiling in amped-up dead religion defeat

escalating in jihadi mahdi sunni shiite heat

leaving the deceased at a Roman soldier’s feet.

So now it’s come down to this:

That holy man lugged a rugged cross for you and me

exposing all our genetical heretical cruelty,

revealing our relentless senseless dysfunctionality

then abiding in the tomb for one, two, three. . .

Then by the light of that third day’s dawn

he’s shown us life’s insistence to go on and on,

whereby your assent to his demonstration

enables your ascent to his resurrection.

Now if that’s not enough simplicity

to provoke your complicity

Then feel the gravity

of our depravity

and the immensity

of his intensity

to dispense

eternal sense.

Hence,

It’s an old rugged cross, you see,

a stubborn damned thing

you cant kill his accomplishment there cuz he’s already been

beaten to death

you cant derail his train of believers cuz history

did already nail that good news

to an eternal signpost that is hewn

in the midnight star and the midday noon

at the crossroads of the old world and the new

to be seen by all the many and the few

at the intesection of ancient empires

at the apex of a million rising spires

you cant make it go away cuz its sign was forever staked

midway between Moses and Mohammed

a big blood-red light at the intersection of Torah and Q’ran,

a stopping point between Plato and Plutarch

the apogee of history’s arc

the fulfillment of the covenantal ark

the most convincing kabalistic spark

CrossC

and the greatest subject of great art

history’s liveliest encore part

world stage’s greatest curtain call

the rising to recover from our fall

an uprising  beyond Robespierre

a tragedy to provoke your tear

a word in every ear:

Death, where is your victory?

Nailed to a cross, you see,

by the light of that third day’s dawn

we continue on and on.

We were a fallen pawn

but only until that third day dawned.

Got it?

King of Soul

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

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

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

Ole Uncle Sammy

April 18, 2016

My uncle Sammy worked hard; he worked every day.

He made good money, and he put some away.

He made a good living; but then he got older

Ole Sam carried the weight of this world on his shoulders.

WorldWait

I was told that in his gathering of wealth,

he had worked the land, done well, and maintained his health.

He managed to save a little more than he needed

so he squirreled it in the bank where his fortune was seeded.

WellsFarg

He figured, you know, everybody’s got to eat

so he opened a burger joint, it was quite a feat,

because his humble, capital enterprise

eventually become a growing franchise.

BurgerOld

And in America, you know, everyone wanted wheels,

so Sammy expanded into more wheels and big deals;

he got things going, built up a good team;

he was riding in style, living the dream.

CarOldIntr

But then ole uncle Sammy, one day, up and died,

so we laid him aside; he went out with the tide,

No longer an icon on tracebook, nor twittee,

maybe we’ll see him in eternity city.

CityBay

Glass half-Full

The Scarecrow some of us have known

March 11, 2016

We put ashes of my nephew away yesterday, in the cold ground. It was a sad event, tragic that a young man could strive through the difficult decade of being between age 20 and 30, only to have it end abruptly.

Searching for love, with a false start or two, and fathering two young ones into this world along the way, Erik had just started to turn the corner between bittersweet street and true love way with his very own soulmate, Nora. Then he passed away. Absolutely no one was expecting it. It was a tragedy for our large extended family. On a perfect March day, we put what was left of his earthly remains away, but not the memories.

His sister Samantha, my niece, pierced the hearts of us all with her tender remembrance of Erik’s life–his unique presence in the history of our world, his wry humor, his fierce determination to provide for the young family despite all the pitfalls of finding and retaining work in this fiercely competitive world. More importantly though, his sister brought to our gathered attention his intense love for his children, his blooming love with his newfound bride of five months. And then his sister mentioned the bluebird.

In many ways, the young man who passed reflected the troubles of our times. At age 30, he was a tender shoot, untimely snipped by death’s sharp shearing. In sibling Samantha’s sensitive eulogy, she explained why Erik called his wife, his true love, “bluebird.”

It was a reference to a very timely, profound love song by a young singer I had never heard of. But at the memorial ceremony, a recording of the ballad was played for us to hear as we reflected up the life and childlike legacy of the deceased.

As an aging songwriter of sorts myself, I was struck dumb with admiration when this line–about the power that is unleashed in a lonely heart when absolute love is at last discovered– poured out of the sedate funeral home sound system:

“In my heart stands a scarecrow, and if he’s hurt he doesn’t say so; he chases everything he loves away.

But at night, when it’s colder, there’s a bluebird on his shoulder, and he whispers that he’ll hold her one bright day. . .”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9WfwNwjbbpA

Such a love song I have never heard. And such a life as Erik’s will never again be lived again. John Fulbright’s tender love tune came to my attention through this memorial to Erik, his beloved widow Nora, and his sister’s remembrance of it all. The song, linked above, captures more than I could ever explain in words.

Thank you, Sam, for sharing this rich love of life lived by your brother, which has now been passed to us by his passing.

Glass half-Full