Take these seeds And thrust them deep inside your pockets So that when you die and your body becomes the earth Sunflowers will grow once again from the land you killed to claim.
Ballerinas and camouflaged beauty queens will greet you in the streets With pirouettes of spinning bullets behind barricades of sheets. My grandmother will serve you up Molotov’s cocktails. The orphans you murdered will dance around you sleepless until dawn So that sunflowers will grow once again from the land you killed to claim.
Do you fear for war? Ask of the stillness evermore, Ask of the field, or ask the breeze, and ask the birch and poplar trees. Ask of the children who now lie beneath the birch trees and the sky, and let their mothers tell you once more Whether or not you should fear for war.
They died so that the children from ev’ry shore might live without your fear of war. Ask those who fought, and those erased, ask those planted in the rubble of Mariupol and Donetsk Oblast Ask the women you embrace. ask your mother –ask my wife–, So that you will wonder never more Whether you have cause to fear for war.
Who longs for war? Who longs for war? No one but those who are no more. No one living longs for war But war cares not for your longing or yearning for living. Or your fears for war War will always arrive uninvited to your door.
When war comes calling to your front door. You cannot lock the war outdoors. You cannot run and hide behind your chair Or bury your head under the covers of your bed.
When war comes to your front door There is nowhere to run, nowhere to go The corpses of your neighbors will hinder your flight You cannot let fear become your general To give up the fight To surrender to might.
Instead, you must stand with the sunflowers in the golden fields Stand with our heads facing the sun. Pour your bravery into an empty coke bottle And pick up a gun. Stand for freedom, for the children we have lost Stand up for liberty, against the tide of tyranny. Stand up for yourself as much as any other.
Summon your courage to stand like man, Like a like a clown, like a woman, like a child. The cries of their answer rises loud and clear for all people, ev’rywhere, to hear. The message now is as before: Do not fear, Do not fear, Do not fear for war,
An old middle school friend’s father died yesterday morning. So he called.
We’d been talking about the passing of his parent for a few weeks now…a drawn out disease where death has grown comfortable in the waiting room is no slow cruise. It is interminable waiting. It is placing your life on hold while the greater forces of life and death intervene in your routine.
This is death up close and centered. He’s in the waiting room sifting through the magazines. Death never entered the room. He’s always been there. Patient with our ignorance of his presence. He doesn’t care if we ignore or write poems to him. He does what he does, which is to attend and to await to present the final gift, the present life brings each one of us,
Wrapped in delicate personal memories; tied with a silver bow of faint regret. I listen to my friend. I listen to the scene he recounts in my head of an over eager hospice nurse, of a fatal dose of morphine. He doesn’t want to sue, he wants me to write something, to tell people what happened to his father.
Perhaps there is a story there to be heard but there’s the story that my friend is ignoring. The passing, the death of his beloved father, his parent, the man who held and protected him when he was helpless. Who first guided his clumsy thinking, his testing of the world. The source of advice, the font of all wisdom:
Pater meus a patre. Vos estis qui de caelo cadit, sicut pluviam et omnem animam in maius et luminare minus idem. Qui dedit nobis sitim extinguere pluvia rationem in radicibus excoquendi in sole.
Those of us who have lost a parent, both parents feel the shadow of our mortality move closer to us. It is not a selfish observation but a crucial one. A glimpse into the truth of our own existence: short, meagre and thin.
The death of a loved one is tragedy but a necessary one. It is necessary to be reminded of the life we are living and the world that we are actually in. To wake up from the amnesia of wishes we have been distracting ourselves with, is to literally smell-the-coffee.
It’s bitter, it’s scalding and it’s blunt metal real.
There is no solace for loss, just the empty space left behind by the one who is no longer there. Which is where you are, holding that space in your mind for them as someday, your loved ones will hold a similar space for you.
Maybe that’s where heaven is: the space your loved ones hold for you in their minds long after your body has left with death, the waiting room.
Accept That there is nothing you can do. Accept That you cannot control or know for certain the outcome of events. Accept That you are merely one of trillions. Accept That your parents are dying or already dead. Accept That you are dying and this all means nothing. Accept That you are vulnerable, shatterable to the winds of fate. Accept That even the mountains die. Accept That you are truly alone Accept That you will die alone. Accept That you will remember none of this. Accept What you will not accept.
A book of poetry and art, fables and philosophies aimed at the pandemic of crisis anxiety so many are facing.
In uncertain times people turn to uncertain means. This is a book of poetry and art, of fables and philosophies aimed at the pandemic of crisis anxiety so many of us are going through right now in our daily lives and in our inner spaces. We are all of us and each us in this together.
The sciences but also the arts do provide remedies. The ancient Egyptians wrote curative words on fragments of papyrus to feed their burnt ashes to the afflicted. Lacking morphine, Walt Whitman read verses to fallen soldiers on the battlefields of the first Civil War.
At their best, the right words are more than therapeutic, they can be curative. Take a Deep Breath emulates this ritual here in administering remedies for living in these times of crisis, in living with uncertainty.
What if we thought of this uncertainty as the Jews consider our Sabbath— As a sacred space in time? Stop travelling Stop buying and selling. Stop working. Give up for now, trying to make the world better than it is.
Instead, Sing. Dance. Pray. Write songs and read poetry. Paint the pictures from your eyes. Walk amongst the leaves and the stars. Touch only those to whom you have commited your life.
Sit down. And when your mind and body have become still, reach out with your heart. Know that we are connected in ways that are both terrifying and beautiful. No one can deny that now.
Do not reach out with your hands. Reach out with your heart. Reach out with your words. Reach out with all the curled tendrils of compassion that connect us invisibly, where we cannot touch each other.
Promise this world your love for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, For as long as we all shall live In this time of mass uncertainty.
Death is in my garden again, Whispering to my flowers as he pulls away the weeds. Plotting and potting each stem as it grows Making certain that the roots are shaken of clinging regrets and life’s debris. Only to cut my life short more easily.
Does death have a sweetheart? I wonder. A beautiful woman who he woos and waters with my love? He gathers my blossoms into a beautiful bouquet Of lost souls and freshly cut lives. To gift to the one who holds him closest.
She presses his dead heart to her breast with one hand The bouquet that surmises my life with the other. She holds his weight against her body. Until death sighs and buries his head between her breasts So she is certain that he will return to his labours in the morrow.
There are few shreds of dignity left When you drown face down in your own back street gutter. You can cry out as loud as an archangel’s horn, if you like. It won’t do you any good, or any harm either. You still can’t silence the wind or turn back the tide. Fate is nothing personal.
It’s just the universe catching up and then passing you by. Your dream of yourself evaporates, Forming clouds that obscure the night’s sky. The stars are leaving you now, blinking out one by one. This is the last moment of your own self-awareness. Your last chance to figure out what the fuck’s been going on.
It’s very much like the moment you first awoke Although your mother’s smile is nowhere to be found All that remains of her unlimited love is your fast fading memory The sound of her voice calling out to you to come home now, In the far distance, From where the stars have gone to mourn your passing.
So you think you’re going to Shoot Me? I got news for you goyim, You’ve been shooting at me for 900 years From arrows to bullets to canon and you still haven’t hit me. Because I am no other than you. How can I replace you when I am you? Open your eyes, you are shooting the gun at yourself.
You don’t get it. This must be the trick of the devils’ twisted tongue, right? The one that tries to deceive you With the facts of truth Poured from the grail of reason. Go on, have a gulpful .
No, you can’t shoot me, you can’t even aim straight. Your hatred is so predictably boring, Always looking for someone else to blame For your failure as a human being. Anyone should do, but Just like a bad movie cliche, you pick the Jew.
How can you shoot me, When most of us are already dead? Replaced, misplaced, driven from your nations’ borders. Baked in your ovens. Never even pausing To wonder what the difference ever really was.
Now we have nations, guns and missiles and Our own black-booted armies, to protect us from bad shots like you. To protect us from everyone but ourselves. Now we can sip from the same blood cup, While hating then shooting, All of the Other Jews.
You are our lady And now your dress Is flames. The beauty of your sunken dome from a drone Is a poem in itself. Written by us and Destroyed by chaos.
This is what we do that rivals the stature of the gods: To astound ourselves and each other, With the wonder of Pure enduring creation. The sacrifice we all make to our better selves Who gave buildings wings and Lay the foundation stones of Our own perfecting.
Epiphany is not found in the act of worship It is found in the insight gained by a gratitude for the world. Exactly the way we built it. Exactly the way we know it to be. Whispered prayers are but poetry That none other than you will listen to. It is good to talk to yourself, To sing in harmony with all the selves who are listening,
Wearing Not false, but true masks Revealing the kind of truth that can only be told with a lie. The subtler architecture that carves heavens into the spaces on this earth. Reconstructing what can be seen behind your faces, Behind all the saints who guard you, Behind the divine grace of your stature. The sensuousness of your catastrophe is breathtaking.
Existence is a limitless screen of emptiness Vibrant with jubilant celebrations. And gratitude for the joy in rolling a boulder blissfully up this steep hill. Tripping over our own thoughts like loosened cobblestones, We no longer see the reality directly in front of us.
The truth is a truce we struck with certainty ages ago. After losing the desperate struggle… To cling to some kind of hope buried deep beneath the root of ourselves. I am fearful of fully failing myself and yet I love myself best when I am alone with eternity.
Ever since I returned from England, and discovered to my consternation, that no real path to a teaching career was open to me without a specifically California teaching credential, I’ve been looking for fulfilment outside of a cubicle inside a cubicle, inside another cubicle…you get the picture.
This in spite of my teaching for some years at the University of Liverpool at a full professor’s salary and the Oxford University Internet Institute at a considerably less salary. As well as guest lecturing at St. Martin’s School of Design, the London School of Printing and the University of Lincolnshire’s graduate program), As I have not the means to afford to both pay and live for a year’s teaching credential (nor necessarily would agree with the manner and criterion by which that credential is achieved), I have made a point of teaching any and everyone who wants to learn and will bother to listen.
Education should not only be free to those that cannot afford it, but it should flow freely from those that have it to anyone who wants it. Teaching is not a skill, it’s a disposition. It’s an interactive sport. Not all great achievers in the arts or the sciences have that disposition. Teaching in the Starbucks forum is my revenge on what has become since I departed the US in the early 1980s, the Business of Education. The California educational system has become a money making scam by institutions colluding with banks to profit off of student debt.
A Scholarly education is no longer relevant or desirable; it’s about acquiring credentials which of course must be purchased more readily than earnt. Thinking originally or independently of a hiring institution poses a threat to that very institution. Thinking differently might bring about change and the risk of losing power over others.
Of course, there are many exceptions, I have friends from high school and college who are to this day conscientious, curiosity-driven teachers, researchers and college professors. In that sentence distinguishing between the teacher and professor, I expose my level of submission to status and accreditation. Neither of which has anything to do with the scholarly pursuit of knowledge in order to cultivate wisdom.
The sure sign of a good teacher is not their credential, status or the number of degrees, but if they are focussed enough on continuously learning and re-learning their subject through their students and the actual experience of teaching. Teachers and professors who are in education for the status become administrators and bureaucrats, ironically adding to the very obstacles teaching teachers must surmount just to do their job and teach their subject.
Teaching is not a job like selling insurance to the elderly who are too confused to know they are signing their life savings away; teaching is a vocation. It takes endless study and self-scrutiny. It takes listening to and learning from students outside of the educational caste system.
So since the institutions won’t accept me without taking the prerequisite bank loan so as to accumulate debt and pay interest to the banks, Starbucks and the streetcorner are my classrooms. The park, the beach, a dive bar, a brewery, an art gallery, the library and yes, even the streets where the public and members of every class are allowed to circulate freely without being hassled by the authorities.
Everywhere I go I strike up conversations with the people around me. (No, not everyone. I’m not a public nuisance.!) Instead, I stay in one place until the carousel of human activity aligns someone into non-threatening social proximity. Even then, I am cautious, seductive. I really don’t want to disturb anyone, just engage them.
The old and the young are the best. The old because most people ignore them as they have nothing to offer the perpetually youthful society. The young because they are not yet quite jaded and curious as to why someone twice or nearly sometimes nearly thrice their age would want to talk to them. I treat most people the same and people younger than me find that attractive. I don’t condescend, rather I enquire. I ask a lot of questions and most people do like to talk about themselves.
The characters I have written and are currently writing all stem from what I am able to capture in the wilds of a Starbucks or a sidewalk street corner. And then I teach. I teach people how to think. Not by telling them how to or what to think but by taking their trains of thought and passing them through my station and asking a lot of questions.
Some folk disembark and stroll around my lack of conformity. They breathe the rare air of freedom as there is nothing that I prohibit them from doing or saying; unless of course, it causes harm. My lack of inhibition is contagious and people tell me things, particularly the elderly that they would never tell a stranger, although I am one. Those that linger become my friends over time. Others just can back on board their train and depart my station.
We don’t always agree but we do respect each other which grants another kind of freedom. The freedom to be yourself a reprieve from having to perform your self for the estimated sake of others. A psychiatrist once asked me if I considered myself a nonconformist. I assured her that I wasn’t, that I was normal it seemed to be everyone else that was a little off centre. Besides, I continued, I am always trying to conform. Not to convention or others but to myself.
I struggle to conform to the person I strive to be.
There are still a few options available to you still, apart from death. Yours is a free choice. Your death is yours. No one is making you choose; Death is after all, inevitable.
Not so much an option as fast forwarding to the point where there are no further options. Living is dying anyway, so why speed up the process? To stop the pain? Many have endured much more Still clinging to any delay of the inevitable.
Regardless, suicide doesn’t stop the pain it merely passes the suffering on to someone else. Remember them? They remember you. They will remember you with pain.
You no longer feel of worth or of value anymore? To whom, exactly? yourself? Perhaps your judgement is drunk or wanting in discernment? Perhaps your judgement is just wrong and awaits over-ruling by a higher judgement. Who are you, really, to judge yourself so severely? If you are worthless then your judgement is suspect and certainly not worth acting upon.
What if you went and saw a movie instead? Or got drunk? Or went to sleep? Or made love until the dawn found another, better judgement to wake up to. A truer, more temperate version of yourself. One who can solve problems and get you out of the sweet jam you’re stuck in.
Do you long to die because life is absurd and void of meaning? What took you so long to notice? Does your slowness make you want to do things quicker? Instead of death, you could seek laughter, which is really a form of dying; A release from the known into the unknown by way of Catching your breath inside its own rhythm. Inwards and outwards.
What if you were about to hear a joke you’ve never heard before? That made you laugh so hard that it woke you up into the wide-eyed, open world that embraces this one? If you die now, you will miss hearing the eternal joke That would awaken you to a world where you no longer wanted to die Because you suddenly found yourself here, Where you belong Where you belonged all along, Not living or dying But blinking and breathing like this, Like this, like this, like this…
Today was every other day.
My boss says,
“Hey, Joe, where you going with that staple gun in your hand?”
I draw a blank on my face and turn to face his.
“You don’t really know, do you, Joe?
You don’t know where you’re going.
You don’t really know who you are.
You don’t know much of anything anymore,
Do you now, Joe?”
Then he laughs at me
In front of everybody
He laughs and points at
What everybody but me can see.
And everybody laughs and they laugh and they laugh
But nobody talks to me anymore.
My boss don’t talk to me anymore.
My neighbors don’t talk to me anymore.
My doctor don’t talk to me anymore.
My mother don’t talk to me anymore.
My father don’t talk to me because
He’s long since gone
Flown far away from the words to this song.
I call my girlfriend up on the telephone
She says, “Joe, I’m not your girlfriend anymore”
And hangs up the phone.
Nobody talks to me anymore.
I call my doctor on the telephone
He says, “hello, is there anybody there”?
I say, “it’s me, Joe, doctor help me, nobody talks to me anymore!”
My doctor coughs and hangs up the phone.
Nobody talks to me anymore.
I call on my priest in the church down the road
I say “Hello, Father? my Father, is that really you?”
“Please tell me, dear Father, what should I do?”
My priest says “Joe, God don’t love you anymore”
And throws me out through God’s front door.
Even God don’t talk to me anymore.
So, I go down to a bar to have a little swim.
There’s a bar stool there where the X-mas tree should have been.
The bartender looks at me,
But he doesn’t say a word.
I hold up two fingers and point at the sky
So he pours me a double, ten-year-old rye.
Which I toss down and motion for another
While calling him “my brother”.
The bartender stares at my face.
As silent as the stones in his wall.
Nobody talks to me anymore.
On the street, the headlights blind my blinking eyes.
Strangers push past me, some I know, most I despise.
A cop car pulls up and flashes his bright light on me
The cop points his flashlight in my eyes so that I can’t see.
There’s nothing he or I need to say.
He won’t arrest me.
It just ain’t worth his time to talk to me anymore.
A ghost walks up and stares into my face.
He doesn’t say a word; just hangs there in space
Instead, he spins ribbons of colored lights
Inside my head.
There’s no knowing with ghosts no more
The dead don’t even talk to me anymore, either!
Suddenly I see an explosion of lights
There are trumpets and harps and angels in sight
A liquor store, a neon vision of light
Promises me spirits of salvation and delight
If I just step inside….
While next door, a gun store slowly cracks open its door . . .
I am my father and my mother’s son and
I’ve never before bought me a gun.
But nobody, nobody talks to me anymore.
I never really knew Hannah Northedge apart from our Facebook exchanges. I think it was she that first started commenting on my postings. I read her comments with bemusement and replied. Earnest, sincere, a bit young girlish but always quintessentially English. That refined contrivance that is both over-mannered and elegant at the same time. And yet we shared a sense of humour, which is an astonishment between an Englishwoman and an American.
The real English, the softcenter at the core of the cracked, hard surface, English remind me no one more so than of the Japanese. Both island peoples deeply suspicious of foreign invaders and both sewn tightly within an intricately embroidered fabric of ritual, custom and politesse. Both peoples’ have a tea ceremony; one with boiled spring water and green leaf powder, the other with scones, clotted cream and jams.
I did not really know Hannah Northedge but I knew what she was like. A middle-class Midlands girl from Leicester with financially nurturing parents and an early gift, really, a passion for music. She must have dreamed as a young studious girl coming to the Big Smoke, to London to make it big as a chanteuse, as a professional jazz singer. Hannah’s own cover version of Dick Whittington sans cat. This would have been for her a dream logically constructed from sturdy childhood building blocks. Each carefully poised upon the other, pushing gradually upwards into a stern, determined tower of accomplishments.
Hannah would teach music on the side, to students both male and female to make ends meet in a rapidly escalating London that had long driven me from its financial borders. Living in London is not an easy thing. Not for any young man or woman and certainly not for a high strung, talented musician intent on being the best at what she could already do quite well.
The dedication of an artist is blind. Blind to all things that do not further the acts of creation. There is no greater earthly power than to suddenly plug one’s hours, days, years of practice into an unearthly circuit that seems connected to the very essence of one’s living. That sudden bursting propulsion ever further, and ever greater into what you had always wanted to attain and seemed now to be as effortless as a second nature. Suddenly you are living your higher nature!
Any artist, any writer, any dancer and any musician will tell you that this moment of being ‘experienced’ of being played upon what feels like the very aesthetic strings of life is at best indescribable. This is much more than being “in the zone” as an athlete or card player might venture. This is about the zone being in you and all around you; in every pore and molecule of your being until it would take more effort to stop the momentum than to just let yourself keep falling forwards. Pulled into the very gravity of creation.
The Red Shoes is a 1948 British drama film written, directed and produced by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and based on the story by Hans Christian Anderson about a pair of red shoes that are enchanted and when worn enchant the ballerina dancer into dancing more powerfully, more perfectly than she has ever danced before. Until tragically in the end, the dancer cannot stop the shoes from dancing her to her death. A glorious death brought to life by a magical realism. One that many would gloriously surrender to just to be swept up in that dance unto death.
Hannah had no red shoes to speak of, but her throat, her lungs, her diaphragm and her instinct for music were as enchanted as they were enchanting. They were her soul and at very least they enchanted me. I never really liked what she sang. Of course I never told her that; (why would I?) To me, perhaps unfairly, it reeked of nostalgia and a wonting for a long disappeared time. Her numbers were swing, pre-integrated jazz; the time of Louis Armstrong and grinning happy black men.
This music came to England via the American GIs that were stationed there, much to the resentment of the male British population and much to the erotic delight of the female one. Courting and bedding an English girl was the kind of overseas exotica an American GI could handle, easily overlooking the cultural gap by virtue of a common language; in fact magnetically attracted by that difference of language and nuance. We said elevator, they said lift; we asked how many blocks; they answered how many streets; what could be more enchanting? All to the sound of swinging jazz.
Hannah in many ways embodied that stalwart and determined optimism of the English. Being bombed by a vastly superior air force, on the very brink of invasion and yet somehow, against every indication to the contrary, still anticipating a break in the weather. Raining bombs on old London town. By the time American GIs were deployed to England the response of the British and I can hear Hannah saying exactly this, was “About bloody time! How nice of you to finally show up for the party!” “Better late than never, I suppose!”
This was the playful sarcasm of the English by which they kept themselves and each other bemused whilst coping with the obstacles at hand This has always been lost on my American comrades. We think it’s rather mocking, which of course it is; it’s merely a democratic mockery, a Monty Python hysteria at the awesome absurdity of Life and it all. When it comes to jokes and putdowns and the English, no one ever gets out alive, no less so than the English themselves. Self-effacement and self-mockery are not part of the American skill set and we would be fortunate in having few English Life Coach instructors to teach us a thing or two about the proper positioning and placement of the ego.
But I digress from my digression. Hannah was quintessentially English, youthfully so. Although merely some ten years younger than me, she somehow always made me feel that she was much younger than that. A child’s wide-eyed openness beaming from a woman’s face I believe that that child-like disposition, as well as her nervousness and constant stress, were hand in glove with her talent. She desperately needed to keep performing, to keep belting out those numbers because her life really did depend on it.
I was supposed to take Hannah out on a date this Spring in London. Not really a date, more like a shared joke. Both of us had frequently traded our frustrations with the opposite sex and one night I asked Hannah to describe her perfect London date to me. It involved dinner and dancing and her description was so lighthearted and life-affirming fun that I immediately promised her that as soon as I got to London I would take her out on that exact same date. I made that promise not to impress Hannah or woo her but because what she described sounded like such god damn fun that I wanted in on it! Hannah’s lust for life was infectious. Most important of all, Hannah laughed at all of my jokes, even the ones that didn’t merit laughter.
Alas, our date to laugh is not to be. The one woman in 3 years who had finally agreed to go out with me, drowned herself instead at the very prospect. Now that’s a good joke. One that Hannah would have heartily laughed at.
What can I say about suicide? And I understand as of late through a mutual friend that that is exactly what Hannah Northedge had planned in advance and self-executed (so to speak). Albert Camus said that the only question worth asking in life is whether or not to commit suicide; each and every morning when we awake we should ask ourselves that very same question. Because in all honesty, in asking ourselves that question we are never freer. Simply because if we do not choose to end it all; (and I assume that anyone reading this has chosen other than that), then what we have chosen is everything else instead. Because we could have chosen the only alternative to living there is, but we did not to.
I don’t know if Hannah asked herself that very question waking in her luxurious hotel room in Eastbourne, near Beach Head, Britain’s top suicide spot. She certainly had chosen a fine hotel in which to waylay her return to London. Perhaps I will pay that hotel a visit just to catch that final view of the sea we might have shared and toasted. I do not know what state of mind she was in when her parents sent her back home to London from her childhood home in Leicester. English parenting can be harshly stoic at times.
All I do really know for sure about suicide, and in fact, that is what Hannah committed herself to, is that it is an act of self-agency. You may not want to hear this, but please listen because it’s true. Take this bitter pill from one who knows: Suicide is a determined act to strike out against a world of pain and futile injustice. It is not weakness nor surrender that causes one to take one’s own life. It is instead the ultimate act of defiance, an act of unnatural courage and entails a great act of will against all instinct; against the very will to survive.
To look at the universe that gave birth to one’s own conscious mind and in full consciousness scream “No!” “No, this life was not worth the pain, the agony, the empty suffering of my existence!” “You can just take it, just have it all back”. “This was never going to be good enough and I’m putting an end to it here and now because it is my choice my freedom, my volition to do so!”
I do not know of Hannah’s pain apart from what she told me of it. I do know that her despair at romance and at its betrayal weighed heavy on her. If there is any lesson to be garnered from her passing, be it what I tell my own daughter time and time again: never ever believe that you will ever need a man to be happy as a woman.
It’s possible to have both, but by no means mandatory; nor is a man ever the sole path to happiness. We are at best unreliable and at worst, much worse than that.
Hannah did seem determinedly desperate in her remaining months; determined to be believed and desperate not to be dismissed as a hypochondriac lunatic. Which from my own experience with medical authorities. their tendency to treat the symptoms more urgently than the patient surely is lacking some benefit.
I know that there are those of us who in trying to find some salve for our confusion and our anger will demand answers from doctors, from landlords and mould experts; from Hannah Northedge’s own family, even. I know that righteous confusion first hand. To you, I say what my baby sister’s widow said to me at the time of her untimely passing: “nothing that we do, nothing that we try, no matter how hard is ever going to bring her back”.
Of shoeless children — and refugee ships — and the things
that all of us need…
Of arresting civilian protesters — and blood-letting priests and kings.
–– And why the sea is filled with fleeing families
And whether falling bombs have wings.’
This is the time of confusion perpetrated by those whose power is built upon the bedrock of our confusion.
We are told that all information are biased lies. To not trust what anyone says; apart from the words of those who tell us not to trust what anyone says.
In America and around the world there is a crisis in the authority of information. Never in the history of our tribe, the human tribe, has so much information, so many facts, so much data been at the command of so many of us.
The World Wide Web is truly an amazing thing, as is its name: World Wide.
And yet too much is never enough. With such abundance comes scarcity. Scarcity in the reliability of what we read, hear and see. We can no longer afford to listen to simply one voice. Uncle Walter is no longer alive to comfort us with the nakedness of facts, disrobed from opinions.
That’s just the way it is.
So we listen to the many voices inside and outside of our heads and try to tune into a signal through the rising noise levels. That signal, that wavelength, that fleeting photon of energy we’ve always known to be the Truth. What is the Truth? I don’t really know but you and me can always recognize it.
Right now the truth comes in the numbers:
In 2016, from an estimated pre-war population of 22 million, the United Nations (UN) identified 13.5 million Syrians requiring humanitarian assistance, of which more than 6 million are internally displaced within Syria itself at the mercy of the Syrian authorities, and around 5 million are refugees outside of Syria.
5 million refugees! 1.5 million in Lebanon alone. This is the biggest refugee catastrophe the world has seen since the millions of Jews who fleeing the Nazis were denied entry, turned away from this ‘Great’ nation of ours. To be deported to the death camps that awaited them and at the time no one believed were real. How could they be real? How could this be real again?
Never Forget really means Never Again.
How could a booming population of 22 million be gutted of 13.5 million civilians, more than half the country, of men, women and their children?
How could we, our tribe have let this have happened? Why didn’t somebody do something before it got this bad?
Where was our compassion deported to?
But I’m not answering questions about how we got here. Instead, I’m asking you to do something about it right NOW. Set aside the luxury of your political opinions and focus on the reality, the facts. What we know to be True, right here and right now. There are children crying out in the desert. I can hear them, believe me, I can hear them and if you pay close attention, you can hear them too.
The facts are that families, just like yours, fathers and mothers just like you and yours and children, yes children exactly like yours are living and dying in unimaginable squalor. Right now, today. And there is something you and I can do:
They need medical supplies, doctors, and nurses to treat their external wounds and trauma counsellors to tend to their internal wounds.
The teenagers’ survivors of Florida school shooting were transformed from children into adults in the course of a few short hours of a single death-defying day. Being American, they were treated and counselled for the trauma caused by the actions of one young man and a single gun he should never ever have obtained.
These young adults’ transformation, Emma Gonzales, David Hogg and the others, was miraculous. They took the worst trauma they had ever experienced in their lives and changed it into action; an effective action that has yielded results. Like alchemists, they changed rusting iron into gold. They are an example for us all, especially us adults.
I’m telling you here that we don’t just have to admire our children, we can, we must follow their lead.
Now imagine, hundreds of fully automatic guns being fired around you, at you. Imagine the infernal thunder of bombs falling all around you, decimating your home and the streets of your childhood, obliterating your school, your neighborhood, your city and everything you have ever known to be safe and solid. The destruction of your entire your life while leaving your body if injured, still intact.
Please imagine this with me now, right now.
Stop reading this.
Close your eyes and use your mind to
Reach out beyond yourself and you will hear the bombs dropping and the sound of never-ending gunfire.
Now open your eyes and do something to answer the cry of that child in the desert. Follow the children, they know the way, the golden road into a better future.
Today is #YomHashoah, the date on the Hebrew calendar in which the Jewish people around the world recall the memory of six million Jews and more who were murdered because of who they were, and to rededicate ourselves to prevent another genocide. #WeRemember#AskWhy
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been working lately, the remembering nor the preventing. Assad’s continued gassing of his own civilian population with chlorine and nerve gas is nothing short of homage to the Nazi death industry.
So you see remembering the holocaust isn’t a Jew-thing, it’s a human-being thing. No other single event in history had more of an impact on the 20th century and by consequence the present 21st, than the mass brutalisation of families or men, women and children in the camps and now in the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon.
We are all part of the same tribe who fall victims to those who hate their own humanity.
What follows is my little piece of the Holocaust and why I can never forget even if I wanted to. My mother told me a few days before she died, addled with dementia but suddenly lucid that the most painful, heartbreaking memories are better than no memory at all. Better to be reminded of the experiences of who we are rather than to disappear completely; from the world and from ourselves.
Ivan Moscovich has created more brain-teasers than most people have solved crosswords. Igor Goldkind set out to piece together his fascinating and harrowing life.
Ivan Moscovich has his life’s work wrapped up in a bundle of about 10,000 pages of A4 paper. On those pages there are some 5,000 separate puzzles, puzzles that range from the hang-on-let’s-look-OK-I-see to beyond the fiendish. Some are variations on themes, some utter one-offs. Some are to be made on paper or card, some are designs for tricky little – or big – devices. Moscovich calls them the S.A.M. archive – science, art and mathematics. The puzzles use the techniques of bafflement to teach, and they use beauty to bemuse.
Moscovich has been making puzzles since the 1960s. Now, at the age of 70, he’s looking to transform that life’s work into new formats. He and his colleagues have started up a new company to take the ideas on those 10,000 pages and put them to work in the digital arena. Moscovich is sure that there is room for them. Having looked with interest at hits like Seventh Guest, which friends told him were bringing new life to the world of puzzles, he was profoundly unimpressed. The puzzles were hard, sure (if you weren’t Moscovich, that is), but they were variations on a small number of underlying tricks, and they didn’t add up to more than just a set of puzzles. Moscovich thought that he – or people mining his archives in digital form – could do better.
“In digital media you can build overlapping linear trees, using the media to interrelate the concepts for the user. It’s important with any problem to see – at the same time – the different paths that can take you to a solution. Certainly this is the best way to explain scientific and mathematical concepts.” The collection of puzzles becomes a sort of puzzle itself: a maze, something to find one’s way through, something more than the sum of its parts.
Ivan is looking forward to trying to put all this into practice – not least because he enjoys the attitude of the people he’ll be working with. The way that games designers and programmers think fits into his world perfectly. He loves to be with people who are bored when they’re not trying something new, even impossible, when they’re not seeking a new solution. And he can make sense of himself by being part of a group; in fact, it has saved his life before now.
Ivan likes people who try to make sense of the pieces. That, in part, is how he got into puzzles – his delight in their ability to teach eager minds. As well as making puzzles for books and toys, he has used them as serious teaching tools for engineers – and pioneered the art of transforming the counterintuitive insights of puzzling into science museums with interactive displays. Putting together the pieces of an idea is much more important than putting together the pieces of a puzzle. The wonder is that by getting someone to do the latter, you can let them do the former.
A life in fragments
Moscovich’s own life is a bewildering array of puzzle fragments. Having met him on a CD-ROM project and learned some of his history, I started to wonder how to reassemble the fragments – and what they could be made into. One of the answers is a charming, brilliant septuagenarian. Another is 10,000 pages of A4. And a third might be a technological passage through the 20th century, from the industrialisation of death to the pursuit of pleasure. A journey that charts the territory of the 20th century’s technological revolutions and its human upheavals, from the Balkans to California, from museums to the Israeli defence industry, from the ruins of Austro-Hungary to the digital age, from railways to death camps.Moscovich’s parents were Hungarian, but he was born in Novi Sad, a small Serbian town. He still retains a central European accent that, to my ears (and probably to yours) sounds like the definitive voice of modern science and mathematics. “My father was a Hungarian who escaped from Hungary into Yugoslavia after the First World War. He was a painter by profession, but in order to make a living at that time he opened a photographic studio which became very successful. He named his studio Photo Ivan, after me.”
His description of an everyday childhood in Novi Sad paints a familiar portrait of a middle-class craftsman’s family, complete with Yiddish grandmother and old-world family meals – and none of the hothouse intellectual atmosphere that produced Leo Szilard, John von Neumann, Kurt Gödel and other thinkers who left Budapest to dominate 19th-century thought. There was little to suggest Ivan’s strengths in science or mathematics – except, perhaps, a boyish infatuation with model aeroplane kits. He had, however, inherited from his father an inclination for drawing, and his father’s habit of tinkering with various gadgets – including an early air brush – to enhance his pictures was a constant delight to Ivan.
But when he reached technical high school, Ivan fell under the influence of a mathematics teacher given to explaining the precepts of science by means of science fiction. Ivan’s teacher opened up the world of mathematics by making problem solving fun. Ivan was entranced by the maths – and, later, showed that he had learned the method, too: rigorous scientific thinking through the lens of art and storytelling.
By then, though, the Hungarian fascists had invaded. They met with little resistance. And, soon afterwards, they took Ivan’s father from him. “Before they took him, he asked a Hungarian officer if he could say goodbye to my mother and in their final embrace he slipped this ring onto her finger.” Ivan holds up his hand and shows me an ornate gold band studded with eight small diamonds. It is the only surviving memento of Ivan’s youth; everything else was lost in the Holocaust. Ivan’s father joined 6,000 Jews and 4,000 Serbs executed en masse and thrown beneath the ice of the frozen Danube. All in one day.
Ivan continued his studies until the end of 1943, when the Hungarians “got cold feet” and the Germans invaded. “We really didn’t have any knowledge of what was happening in Poland in the ghettos or with the Nazis. We all hated the Hungarian fascists, but I still knew and liked Germans and, you know, communications were very different then; telephones didn’t work internationally. We were really disconnected from the rest of the world.”
When a Hungarian Jew escaped from Auschwitz and fled to Budapest to warn the Jewish community of the death camps, few believed him. So Ivan Moscovich was deported to Auschwitz at the age of 17.
“It meant stepping out of one world into another one. I was sent with my grandfather, my grandmother and my mother. When we arrived, my grandparents were immediately taken to the crematoria. My mother stayed in Auschwitz the whole time. After three or four weeks I was taken out of Auschwitz into one of the surrounding work camps. Young people were sent to work. I worked at laying rail lines.” The Nazi system was to provide rations for six months survival, after which the workers were supposed to starve to death in order to make room for new inmates. The meticulousness by which the operation was organised was not lost on Ivan. Nor would the memory escape him when two years later he found himself again working on train rails.
By that time he and, miraculously, his mother were back in Novi Sad. An acquaintance in the Ministry of Transport offered him a research position in the effort to repair Yugoslavia’s war-torn railway system. The post involved testing an enormous German machine that used high electrical wattage to weld rail lines together, a then untested invention. Mounted on a train carriage, Ivan travelled with the machine throughout Yugoslavia, in charge of the welding team. The machine was so successful that Ivan soon found himself elevated to a lofty position within Tito’s Ministry of Transport, accountable only to the deputy minister himself.
“There I was, a simple technician, at the age of 20, and I had all this power and no boss, really. People thought I was a top-shot communist because everybody had to do exactly what I wanted. The project became more and more successful, our production was way up and I was given orders to enlist more and more technicians for my team. One day I was called in by the deputy minister and was told that in order to create a 24-hour work shift, I was to take on 50 German prisoners of war.”
So, two years after surviving the German work camps, he was given control over a work team comprising high ranking German officers and regular soldiers, some Wehrmacht, some SS. He could have done anything he wanted. He could have shot them all and easily justified his actions to the authorities. He could have tortured them to death with gruelling work. He could have snapped his fingers and made them all disappear. But Ivan Moscovich had responsibilities, a quota to fill and a marvellous welding contraption to keep running.
“I had ten kilometres of rails to get out that week and it was a real dilemma whether to screw the Germans or to try to get the best output from them. I decided to increase their rations to get more work out of them, and sure enough they were grateful and worked even harder, which increased the output. I was very, very tough with them and I think they were scared of me. But I never revealed to them that I was a camp survivor. They worked for six months and then Tito released the prisoners.”
As it happens, Moscovich only worked on the German railways for six months. “I was lucky for the first six months. It was very important for survival in the camps to be with your people, your clan of friends and family; it made life easier. You couldn’t get ill, because that meant execution, but curiously, if you could show a work-related injury, a visible wound, you could be seen by the SS and granted a day or two of hospital. One day I announced myself with a bad wound. While everyone else went on work detail I was left in the enormous courtyard with a broom to clean up, completely by myself. Suddenly the gate opened and a commandant’s car stormed into the courtyard and headed straight for me. The German officer jumped down from his car, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, threw me onto the platform of the vehicle and drove off. I was kidnapped.” Later Ivan learned that there had been an escape from a neighbouring camp and the camp commandant had stolen Ivan to make up his tally of inmates. The mathematics of death had to add up.
“Up to this point all of my feelings had been one single feeling: an enormous outrage. Rage that somebody, anybody, another power, could take me away from my decisions, my everyday life, and put me in an environment where whatever happened was not under my control. I was young and maybe too strong an individualist, but it was rage that kept me alive.” In the new camp this life-sustaining anger was broken, until he discovered a distant Hungarian cousin running the camp’s kitchens and being the “godfather” of the camp. Then he found some school friends of his father’s. For several weeks Ivan rebuilt his spirits and his body. Then the Russians pushed back the German line, and the SS made their lethal preparations for evacuating Auschwitz.
The problem to solve was – how to survive.
The Museum Man
In 1952 Ivan found a new clan – and became a leader. He set out for Israel to join his now remarried mother. On the boat to Haifa, Ivan was approached by Israeli officials interested in his skills and qualifications. The new state was hungry for skilled technicians. By the time Ivan reached Haifa he already had a position in the Ministry of Defence waiting for him. “In my group there were mainly these Yugoslav and Hungarian technicians without any training in science and mathematics. The language problem was enormous, and here was this group of technicians involved in scientific research without any basis in the field. I don’t know how it happened, but I was selected as someone who could teach the other members of the group some basic science.
My boss wanted me to instruct them outside of a formal classroom using demonstrations, models and visual means. That was really the start that put me in the direction of puzzle making.”Ivan found himself playing around with visualisations and experiments. He worked hard to come up with ways in which complex ideas could be explained visually, not so much to convey a deep academic knowledge of science and mathematics but to engender an intuitive grasp of the subjects and, most important of all, to instill the knack of problem solving needed to tackle more important scientific and technological puzzles.
By the end of the 1950s, Moscovich was creating puzzles almost all the time, and practice had revealed a rare gift for making puzzles that could be revisited, puzzles that retained a depth, an impact, even after they had been solved. “I tried to design models that were compact and effective, and in which the experiments could be repeated a number of times. This required completely original design conceptualisations. My boss, Ernst David Bergman, was the leading scientist in Israel at the time, and founder of the Weizmann Institute. He loved my work, and it was he who had the idea that some of those objects I had designed could be exhibited. That was the basis of the founding of a science museum.”
In 1959 Tel Aviv established its Museum of Science and Technology, the first of its kind in Israel. Ivan worked non-stop for two-and- a-half years converting five disused British barracks into a museum, begging and borrowing every available resource. The museum finally opened in 1964 with Ivan as its curator and director. It was the first science museum to emphasise hands-on, interactive exhibitions, and it quickly attracted international attention. His position as curator became a springboard from which to explore and express his interest in art, science and mathematics, and to do it all with the benefit of a growing international reputation.
In 1965 Frank Oppenheimer, brother of the more famous Robert, having heard of Ivan’s fantastic museum to science, visited Tel Aviv with Admiral Lewis Strauss, chairman of the US Atomic Energy Commission. The two became fast friends, sharing a childlike fascination for technology and science as well as knowledge of the darker side of machines and technology. This was four years before the opening of the Exploratorium in San Francisco, for which Oppenheimer imported many of Ivan’s installations. Some remain on exhibit to this day.
The puzzle of death
In 1944, while Oppenheimer was working with his brother on the problems of designing the first atomic bombs, Moscovich was on the death march to Bergen-Belsen. Here, too, the problem was how to survive. “Everybody said those who stayed, declaring themselves ill, would be shot. As it happens, they were liberated by the Russians two weeks later. And we walked barefoot and nearly naked through the worst winter of the century, westward to Bergen-Belsen.”At Bergen-Belsen, the last stop for the Final Solution, Ivan gave up all hope. He had been assigned to a work detail in the then still beautiful city of Hildesheim, near Hanover. “Near where I worked was a statue of the mathematician Leibniz with beautiful writing on it.
And it was so strange that after so long in hell, I am seeing that statue. I felt I was being visited by a ghost, an image of the real world I had left behind. It was then, only then, that I remembered my previous life, my teachers, my studies of mathematics and all that. Up till then my memories had been blocked out. It’s impossible to imagine that every minute, every second of life in the camps, you were only thinking of survival; there was no room for any other thinking. But here was this beautiful statue of Leibniz that reminded me of the real world.”
After two weeks working in Leibniz’s shadow, “I heard this strange noise … mmmmmmmmmmmm … that filled the air, and we suddenly realised that the sky was filled with planes. The next second everything was on fire. It was the Allied carpet bombing of Hildesheim. I saw German soldiers burning, running, and everything became chaos. I ran. After a while I stopped and looked back at the city, which was one big torch. I found myself alone in a giant field, a free man. But a free man in pyjamas, a free man with nowhere to go. I weighed 45 kilos.” Ivan turned around and started walking back to the depot. With his camp clothes, his inverted mohawk, there was nowhere to run. A German woman ran out of her house and thrust a chicken leg into his hand; she never said a word.
Recaptured, he was beaten and sent back to the camp. The dead lay in their thousands. “One barracks the Germans were using to fill with dead bodies, hundreds of dead bodies. After work one evening, I decided that instead of going back to our sleeping area that I would crawl to the top of this mountain of bodies and find myself a horizontal place. There was a slot at the top where I could see what was happening outside. I slept there for five, six days; I don’t have any notion about how much time passed. It was bliss to sleep; quiet and beautiful. It was no problem sleeping on a bed of a hundred dead bodies. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have lasted.
“One day I awoke from my sleep to complete silence. I looked through the slot to see the camp was completely deserted. Suddenly through the main entrance, which I had in my view, drove a single jeep with four English officers that stopped in the middle of the square. I rolled down the hill of bodies like a log and then I felt like I was running but I must have been moving very, very slowly. I was, I think, one of the very first to reach the jeep, and you know those guys were looking at us like they were seeing aliens for the very first time. Like first contact.” He collapsed into the arms of an English officer.
Moscovich was deathly ill. By the time that English officer caught up with him again, in a local hospital, he looked unlikely to survive. So the officer found a German doctor and frog-marched him to Ivan’s bedside. The Englishman pointed his revolver at the terrified doctor’s head and said, “If this patient dies here, you die here.”
Ivan Moscovich did not die – nor, at that point, did the German doctor. Ivan was transferred to a Red Cross hospital in a small town in Sweden – a town so boring, he now swears, that the local newspaper actually ran daily updates on Ivan’s weight gain for lack of more interesting scoops. Ivan describes his slow recovery as matter-of-factly as everything else.
“At a certain moment you know, the organism decided,
‘OK, we’re going to stay in this world. ”
In the mid-1960s, as his fame grew in Israel and beyond, another new world opened for Ivan Moscovich. “I was working on a puzzle at my desk one day when one of the ushers came in and said a couple of tourists wanted to see me. I was busy and didn’t have the time. The usher came back and said they only want five minutes of your time and they wouldn’t give up. So I agreed to see them, Mr and Mrs Eliot Handler. I wasn’t very enthusiastic but we talked and then Mrs Handler said ‘I would like our chaps in California to see your puzzles; are you ready to come over to California?’
I didn’t take them very seriously. Two weeks later I received a call from a travel agent who had a ticket waiting for me to go to California to visit Mattel.”Eliot and Ruth Handler founded and owned Mattel Toys. Its twelve-storey building in Hawthorne was the centre of America’s toy industry. Sales of their Barbie dolls were colossal, but the Handlers were keen to expand the Mattel range beyond just dolls. When Ivan came out to visit them they immediately offered him a three-year open contract to create games and puzzles for US$25,000 (£16,000) a year. His “Brain Drain” puzzle game promptly sold a million copies worldwide. This success was repeated with a series of puzzles including “Play It Again Fun”, “Visual Brainstorms”, “The Brain Power Decathlon” and “The Hinge”. Soon toy and games manufacturers from Japan to Europe were clamouring for more and more puzzles from the master. Ivan Moscovich’s gift had found the most widespread of all its expressions.
Fitting together the pieces
Somehow, all these pieces add together to produce a remarkably creative man, and one with a unique vantage point. Ivan has seen countries destroyed, reconstructed and created afresh. He has faced the most utterly depersonalising totalitarianism ever attempted, and rejoiced in the individual quirkiness of children’s imaginations. At an age where most seek nothing new at all, he is embracing the digital world with the enthusiasm of a seven-year-old offered a Game Boy.
How does he see the end of the century?
“At present we are in a greater need for a fresh creative spirit than in any other period of human history. Less and less experience is being gained directly through activities. Sensations tend to reach us increasingly only after passing through layers of media filters. Children manipulate electronic gadgets and play with computers, which is all very well, but ultimately lacks perspicuity and full sensual enrichment.
I hope to create open-ended concepts that trigger chain reactions. Ideally, the player plays my game, solves the problems and is motivated to invent his or her own variations of rules, ultimately creating his or her own games, puzzles and aesthetic structures.”
He has an avowed predilection for the physical. You can see it in his hands as he solves his puzzles. But Ivan sees unique possibilities in the digital world, possibilities that flow from the nature of his puzzles. “I’ve already published several books of my puzzles, but in a book you are restricted to the lin- ear progression of page after page, without much freedom. To interrelate the conceptual links between problems and solutions you need to be able to cross reference non-linearly, which is what a CD-ROM does.” After all, this is the point of his S.A.M. archive – that it combines science, art and mathematics as different paths to the same goal. The trajectories can be changed forever; the solutions will still provide the improvements of the self that Moscovich cares about.
“You know, humanity has been defined in various ways. For instance, as Homo habilis, skilful man; as Homo sapiens, wise man. I prefer Homo ludens, playful man, as the best definition of modern 20th-century human beings.” It was a hopeful definition that Johan Huizinga came up with in the late ’30s, at the time that young Ivan was learning science through science fiction – but the hope was serious and fearful. Huizinga was quite aware that playfulness had its dangerous side, and that the coming war would be a great, dark game; it was peace, he always said, that was the serious business.
These days, Ivan Moscovich is at peace. He lives a quiet life with his wife Anitta in west London. Within him, though, you can sense the machines within machines working, a vast inner factory of the abstract. It is hard to imagine him without them – even in the worst places the century’s history has to offer. I asked him whether his puzzling mind had helped him in Auschwitz, in Belsen; whether he had made his retreat into a private world of abstraction and pure thought.
“No. You know, it’s very difficult to explain, to understand. All of your time, all of your energy, all of your thinking is just focused on one thing: surviving.”
He did. And from the simple fact of survival he has pulled together the fragments of his life into a living inspiration for the rest of us – a puzzle worth thinking about.
Igor Goldkind writes science fiction, comics and essays, and lectures on technology and culture.
If you are concerned with the Syrian refugee crisis, the largest forced mass emigration of refugees since the Jews escaped Germany and Poland, there is something you can do. Inform your self through the Syrian American Medical Society who are running projects and providing medical supplies to the victims of the dictator Assad’s brutal and genocidal war against his own people.
Participate, if you live in southern California by attending a special exhibition of protest art at The Misfit Gallery in La Jolla California on April 21st.,
@ 565 Pearl Street. 92037 6-10 pm
I will be reading my published and unpublished work in the Spoken Word progamme as well as performing with The Third Act of Creation. But there’s much, much more. It’s a celebration of human rights and protest art to raise money for SAMS and also to join others in Mindful Resistance to the tyranny, bigotry and corruption in our present government and around the world. WE are THE PEOPLE, so instead of just complaining or getting depressed,
Yes, indeed that’s a provocative title; but this ain’t click-bait my friends.This is the real deal.If Thomas Paine were alive today, he’d be in the nation’s capital with a pistol waiting for the selected president.Of course, he’d be waiting a long time considering as far as he knew, the capital of these United States was in Philadelphia.I have a vision of old globalist Thomas standing outside Ben Franklin’s door, knocking as hard as he could, shouting
“Benjamin!Benjamin!Come out, our nation’s in trouble and its much worse than the British.Forget the kite!’’.Kind of like the scene in Street Car Named Desire where Marlon Brando is standing outside Stella’s window in the pouring rain in his soaked white T-Shirt.
Marlon Brando would have made a good Thomas Paine in the film, the graphic novel and the computer game but this doesn’t answer the question embedded in the title of this diatribe. Why would Thomas Paine if he were alive today,track down Donald Trump and put a bullet in the back of his head? In principle this would require Donald to be on his knees, facing away from Thomas with his tiny hands wrapped around the back of his head.I suppose you, dear reader, are ‘en-titled’ to an answer as the to why and the wherefore; but stay with me as we savour the moment.The ultimate retribution of history: to be shot in the back of a head by one of the Founders of this revolutionary nation, ironically with a pistol no less.One that Thomas didn’t have to register or submit to a background check to acquire from the antique pistols and muskets booth at the gun show a couple blocks away.
So before Thomas pulls the trigger and the tiny lead ball propels from the pistol’s mouth through his dense skull and lodges somewhere in the soft tissue that Donald referred to at his “brain”, let’s pause and assess the situation. Let’s skip over the time travel details as to how Thomas Paine got from the late 18th century to the early 21st.We’ll leave it to the graphic novel to explain that bit; him jumping a little over two centuries in time.Although we really don’t have to figure out anything at all.Thomas Paine’s words, his ideas and his rebel spirit not only jumped but survived intact more than 2 centuries and the soul of our national sovereignty. So if Thomas Paine were brought back from the dead by some mysterious force, it could only be due to his words, his ideas, the nation he fought for being under threatened.
And that, my reader, is precisely the point being made by my title and the words you are reading now.Today, not 2 decades into the 21st century, the essential values that built this nation, this American experiment by a motley crew of post-enlightenment landowners, orators, tradesmen and inventors is at risk of being destroyed.Not by Trump himself, you realise.But by Us, by We the People in our impotent complacency to stop him.
We are not revolutionaries, we are the revolution Thomas and his friends dreamt up, drew the blueprints for, and built on the hot blood that soaked the green countryside of Virginia, Pennsylvania, Carolinawho’s names are only possible because of the stubborn bravery of these idealists, these socialists, these men of vision that had the hubris to build a nation founded not by the right of kings or church or even the wealthy, but by the enlightenment values of Liberty, Justice and Freedom.
These values, of course, aren’t just American, although they are the foundation stones of our democracy.Thomas Paine author of Common Sense, The Age of Reason and the Rights of Man who’s title alone reveal the nature of his philosophy:to build a nation on Reason, not religious superstition.It’s not that Thomas Paine didn’t believe in the Divine, he just believed in Reason more:
“It is by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything.”
Later, a member of the French Senate, he would lend his hand to writing the Jean-Jacque Rousseau’s version of the Declaration of the Rights of Man in 1789, along with Thomas Jefferson.Rousseau’s Rights of Man became the basis of the UN Human Rights Charter as well as the EU Human Rights initiative.So next time you hear some jackass complaining about Liberals going on and on about Human Rights you might want to mention that they’re disrespecting theFounding Fathers, two of whom (Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine) contributed to the declaration.
In fact, Universal Human Rights is the soul not only of our Constitution but the Declaration of Independence, the UN Charter and the adopted law of all members of the European Union.Human Rights is the one thing that Donald Trump can’t abide because he has dedicated his life to the accruement of power, power for its own sake.Trump really isn’t that bothered by actual money in spite of his public persona.What he is dedicated to is what money buys:people, power and governance; and this is exactly where we have gone astray from the origins of our nation.We have handed our own governance over to banks, corporate interests and the uber-affluent who can afford to buy a Congressman or a President.
Mueller’s investigation will very shortly reveal the origins of the money that bought Trump his presidency.We know already that the NRA contributed 30 million dollars early in his campaign.Do you remember that lie about how Trump said he was incorruptible because he could afford to fund his own campaign?I know, I know, it’s hard to remember all the lies Trump has spouted.
Do you know why the Truth is better than a lie?
Why? Because it’s easier to remember.
But going back to the pistol Thomas Paine is holding against Donald Trump’s head; no, I didn’t forget my premise.Imagine it with me.There’s Thomas Paine, his hand steadily holding the cocked pistol, fully powdered and loaded with a small lead ball.Tiny, but big enough to leave a good sized hole at such close range.And there’s Donald Trump on his knees, shaking.He’s already wet the pants of his the suit he’s wearing.He tries very hard to hold back his urgent need to defecate and fails.
Now Donald Trump is soiled.Soiled himself the same faeces he’s been feeding to the American voters for years.Soiled by his indifference, his empathy deficit, his reckless, unfeeling impulses, his sociopathic disconnect from the human race.Remember, Donald, to say ‘I hear you’.It fools them every time and leaves plenty of time for self-gratification at the expense of others.Trump is soiled by his own inhumanity, his unbridled carnal greed to accumulate, wealth, power, women.He assaults women not because he can get it up anymore but because they have power which he needs to dominate.
Look at his wife.I haven’t seen such a blank dead look of a hostage to circumstance since Patty Hearst.It was the money that bought her and (like some particularly gruesome episode of Back Mirror), she got exactly what she paid for, with her integrity her and self-respect. Imagine the morning she awoke to the dawning denouement. Sure she could leave any time, with her child.But where would she go?What would she do?In the afterlife of existence everyone writes a book and sells it.When things go badly; when the world seems to be against me; when I lose; I always remind myself – it could always get worse and at least I don’t have to fuck Donald Trump.
The thought makes me feel better but my heart tears up when I think of her suffering.It is the suffering of the affluent.The ones who have accommodated everything they were told they needed to be happy.Everything they worked hard to acquire in lieu of happiness only to find that very objecteluding them. That’s the horror of the denouement, you reach the summit of your life’s ambition and now the only thing left to do is jump off.Because Happiness is not an object or an objective.It flits effortlessly in and out of our lives like a butterfly, briefly lingering on a flower and moving on.Ever try to chase a butterfly? Exactly.
Back to Donald Trump having shit and pissed himself while one of the Fathers of our country held a pistol to his head.Perhaps at this point Donald would beg for his life.Like the scene in Miller’sCrossing.“Please, Thomas, Please.Look in your heart, look in your heart.You don’t want to do this.You’re not that kind of man.Look in your heart, for godssake !”.
God is a natural place to go to.After all, the divisions we are now facing in our country are by no means recent.They’ve been brewing for decades.The divisions are not entirely geographic although the 3 states that assured Donald of his electoral victory does have a concentration of post-calvinistevangelicals.No are they solely cultural; after all, Donald Trump is the epitome of the urban gangster.A smooth talking, wheeling dealing property developer soaking in the comfort of Manhattan luxury.He should be anathema to his base of supporters.But he’s not, instead he speaks their language; the language of PT Barnum and Charlie Chan both as fake as a wooden nickel but master showmen to a ’T’ (Only white actors played Charlie Chan which ironically was invented by Earl Derr Biggers asan alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Fu Manchu).
And Trump talks about God.He doesn’t so much talk about his beliefs (if he has any), but about the threat that nonbelievers and other religions pose for Christian Evangelists, particularly targeting Islam.Trump runs his own Circus of Fear and the punters are more than happy to pay to be scared or at least have their irrational fears affirmed. Donald Trump should be played by the late Robert Mitchum (if he were still alive. Hey, we brought Thomas Paine from 2 centuries ago; a zombie Robert Mitchum should not pose too many difficulties).To be exact, Robert Mitchum in his role as the greed-laden preacher in the class American Gothic The Night of the Hunter in which he plays a psychopathic man of the cloth bent on money and murder (in that order).He pursues two children who hold the secret to a hidden fortune down a river in the south, riding a donkey and singing hymns.A fake, a demon, a creature of merciless malice.
So is Thomas going to shoot Trump in the head for using religion to accumulate power?Of course not.Thomas was a believer but not in God, in Reason.“It is by the exercise of reason that man can discover God. Take away that reason, and he would be incapable of understanding anything.”The reason Thomas Paine is holding a cocked pistol against the back of Donald Trump’s head is not God; Trump hasn’t blasphemed against Faith; he’s blasphemed against Reason.Trump has spent his entire career disseminating the appearance of things, not the truth.Truth is the enemy of Donald Trump, because in Truth, he is an insignificant man in the scheme of things just as we are all beholden to the significance we manufacture and some of us have made peace with that.Donald Trump has not. Like a Hungry Ghost Donald is compelled by desire, call it lust, a lust for significance.This is why he builds towers, not to house offices or hotel rooms, but to prop up as high as he can his name: Trump.
At the start of this year, we had a crisis
in authority due to the steady lies being pumped from the Whitehouse by Tump.The first rule of autocracy is to shake people’s belief in authority so that they only can believe in you.Donald Trump is attempting to destroy the pillars of the 4th estate.Now we’ve entered a period ofcrisis in competence.When the very ability to address real-world problems by Trump and his stooges is dubious at best.
Remember that the balance of powersin the Constitution is all beholden to having a Free Press in which people can report the truth and express their opinions of their government.That’s what Thomas Paine counted on in drafting our rights.Each right has a corresponding duty. Paine said our first duty is to be kind to others. Paine also said that a person’s corresponding duty is to allow the same rights to others as we allow ourselves. From this basis we can use our abilities to promote mutual understanding. These expanding circles of reciprocal duties and rights weave a tapestry, built on democratic norms, of liberty in the context of societal interdependence.It’s called a society based on equality.
Did you know that Thomas Paine was the very first American abolitionist? In 1775 he wrote “To Americans: That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of justice and humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.”
“Our traders in MEN (an unnatural commodity!)must know the wickedness of that SLAVE-TRADE, if they attend to reasoning, or the dictates of their own hearts; and such as shun and stifle all these willfully sacrifice conscience, and the character of integrity to that golden idol.”
Thomas Paine was the first white citizen Member of Black Lives Matter.He and his pal Thomas Jefferson originally included an amendment to the Constitution ending slavery.They wanted to create a revolutionary society in which ALL men are created equal.As usual, women would have to wait. Ofcourse this amendment was vetoed by the southern slave owning states.The same states suspiciously from which Trump derives the concentration of his base support.
But the point being that the Founding Fathers, if not all, enough wanted to establish an egalitarian society in all respects.Paine referred to this, as did the other Framers as ‘the common good’ something the alt-right abhors the notion of as they translate it into control by some body that isn’t them.Nonetheless, contrary to Constitution literalists the “common good” involves a mental posture taken by citizens in their deliberations where they account for, yet transcend partial interests to look at the good for each and all in their decisions.
Even in business, Trump’s claimed turf,the right of commerce was seen as transforming the mind-set of feudal, dependent relations between men and their government. It helped transform subjects into confident citizens. Trade was viewed not as laissez-faire, but in a web of social interdependence. It was seen as a major modality for individuals to use their Reason (not Faith), to develop better mutual understanding of others interests in society. While aware that too much indulgence in commerce could lead to the decline of spirit and patriotism, making reason subservient to commercial interests, Paine felt that man would use his religion of reason to place commerce within a broader quest for lifelong education in the arts, sciences, engineering, and philosophy in order to progress to a universal society and universal happiness.
Paine believed that man’s highest spirit of reason in its motives and applications such that it does not have to be concentrated solely in pursuit of commercial interests. Art, science, and commercial enterprise can be placed in service to humanity and universal happiness.Moreover, each individual deserves minimal dignity and a minimal economic base to pursue their natural rights. Like Paine and Edward Bellamy advocated two hundred years ago, some form of guaranteed minimal annual income ought to be adopted for each citizen, regardless of wealth or other distinctions. Imagine what Thomas Paine would make of the modern day commercialized medical establishment!
Sounds like a socialist that Thomas Paine, don’t he?Not at all really, just your average post-Enlightenment philosopher and thinker.Or only as far as Socialism is dedicated to the fairer distribution of resources so that everyone might enjoy Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness more equally.“Some men and women, through greed or disproportionate natural or social advantages, will contribute to others being systematically impoverished in the imperfections of manmade civilization”
”The earth is the common property of the human race”; thus each human being is equally entitled to have dignity and minimal share of the earth’s bounty, including clean water, air, and access or rents from landThus, men and women must discover those laws operating in society which will create a greater harmony of overall interests. Democratic communities will have to choose to redistribute some minimal baseline of societal resources to those at least most vulnerable not as charity, but as a right in the name of social harmony.”
Paine conceived of autonomous democratic nation-states forming alliances of mutual aid. Mikhail Gorbachev has said that we ought to have a balancing of interests, not a balancing of power on the global stage internationalization, with the primacy of nation-state alliances, is a major alternative to the trends of corporate economic globalization. In the myth of a “flat” world of economic globalization, where the world is made safe and frictionless for capital expansion,
Citizens and nations do not vote for corporate influenced governmental-military-industrial-media alliances and trade agreements which establish “the rules of the game” subtly conditioning the thinking of the masses.
These are not ancient words.These are the principles America was founded on and without which we would have early on taken the road to the same form of despotism and autocracythat Donald Trump is trying to lead us into. Trump only wants power.Power to control what is true and what is not.Power to determine the fates and existence of as many people as he can.This is why he loves the idea of a wall, the decoration of undocumented long term residents and the border checks at airports that targets people of the Muslim faith, as well as people that white people think look like Muslims!
In his own way, from his visionary perspective, Thomas Paine was what the right wing calls a Globalist or even more bizarrely a statist.Of course the founding father were statists, they constructed the blueprint for the United STATES.
Bernie Sanders was right. Trump isn’t Conservative or moderate, much less liberal; he’s an autocrat who has no respect for the Constitution and has failed as commander and chief to protect this country from a foreign antagonist.
Back to the curb where Paine is holding Trump hostage to the imperatives of history and the gentle squeezing of Thomas’s trigger finger. Because Donald Trump is a traitor to his state. He has been under the influence of a foreign antagonist Vladimir Putin since at least 2014, shortly after he first announced his attempts at the Presidency. He needed money to run a campaign for President and he didn’t have any.No bank would loan him money because Trump always welched on his debts. So he had to turn to Deutsche Bank, the same bank that Putin and his oligarchy use tomake money disappear and reappear wherever is most expedient.In this case it was the Presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump.
This will all become very shortly apparent as soon as the next wave of indictments are issued by the DOJ. Trump is in a jam that he can’t get out of. Mueller’s investigation on behalf of the federal department of justice is very far from being a witch hunt. Read the indictments, all the evidence is published there, enough to hold up in federal court. Mueller, if you recall, is a conservative Republican of impeccable integrity.
BTW, I don’t detest Conservatives; some of my best friends…etc. But Trump isn’t really a conservative, he’s a con man playing the GOP for whatever he can get away with. I don’t hate conservatives, I hate liars who shamelessly lie every day they open their mouths. I hate incompetents who can’t even keep one national security advisor on board during his first year and whose family and campaign advisors were meeting with Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign.
At this point in the event, Donald Trump moves his head slightly.Thomas steadies his hand.Testing Thomas, Trump slowly turns his head enough to glimpse Thomas’s steely stare.As unflinching as Mueller’s investigation.Once again Trump pleads, begs for his life.“What do you want Mr. Paine?I’ve got money tons of money.What about women?I can get you the most beautiful models in the world.What about an audience with the Queen of England, she’s easy.” Thomas pauses and for the first time speaks to Donald J. Trump:
“I want my country back.I want the nation myself and my brothers built out of Reason, Compassion and Equality back.I want what this nation is meant to be, not what you have defiled it as.”
Trump knows his goose is cooked.He can’t repair the damage he’s caused.It will take others, long after he’s gone to rebuild our country.Others who are younger than a 70-year-old patriarch.Others who have grown accustomed to being one nation in a physically interconnectedworld.Others who aspire to rise above the fumes of spiritual superstition to the level of what Paine himself called “our living awareness of the Infinite Presence.” by means of Reason.Science, the Arts, the cooperative nature of our fellow hairless apes.The high school students who have stood up and proclaimed “enough is enough”The women who no longer cover their mouths and stifle their words when being subject to interpersonal tyranny.These are the children of Thomas Paine.These are the people he fought for and wrote for.
As a species we survived and dominated this planet by virtue of our complex means of cooperation, not competition.That complex is what we refer to as a Society and those who reject the notion are, welljust anti-Social.
Donald Trump speaks to Thomas Paine one last time.
“Please Thomas, I promise to be better, I promise to live up to your virtues, I swear I’m a changed man.Look in your heart Thomas, look in your heart, Please!….”
He speaks hislast four words to the man on his knees in front of him:
Last night was kind of my XXXmas eve, being a Saturday night, with no ghosts to placate until Monday morning. So I took my Victory out for a long ride, 46 miles down to Chula Vista to drop in on my drunken-angel-poet-brothers Alex Bosworth and Chris Vannoy. As I told them, I’ve never stopped in Chula Vista before, only passed through it; well on my way to crossing the border between Mexico and Madness.
Back in the Beatnik Days, when America was still a Great Shining Beacon of Golden Intentions and jail-breaking freedoms, going south of the border was a euphemism for leaving the straight rational world and exploring the psychedelic corridors and hallways of the unconscious mind, where the muses played poker to the sound of Gabriel’s saxophone under a streetlamp, playing for spare change, playing for the end of time. Kesey, Cassidy, Timothy Leary had all spent time south of the border, hiding from the authority.
But I wasn’t going all the way south or crossing any borders. Instead, like a Boddhisatva practising the discipline of worldly compassion, I was riding south on the great American highway stopping just short of going over the edge. Stopping long enough for the rest of my sentient species to hop on board and cross over with me. How long I gotta wait? The blur of the wind in my eyes transforms Inter-state 5 into a two-lane river of white headlight diamonds on one end heading towards but past me and on the other end, a torrent of glistening rubies speeding with me, flowing around me, carrying me forwards in one high speed direction.
I was carried on a slipstream of glistening rubies last night. Chilled legs wrapped around my angel in flight, carrying me aloft above all thought, beyond all hesitation, in that dangerous living moment when every half second of thought is solid and real with consequence; and any distraction is a trap door thumping open under the hangman’s rope.
That is the fury of mediation. That is my arrival in this moment that we all share. The calm at the center of chaos. Join me, dear reader, at the centre of chaos.
So I’m heading south armed with an unopened bottle of rye, the spirit of the season travels with me. Good whisky is about as spiritual as I get these days. It is my usual Xmas tradition to grab a bottle of good booze and head down to the Greyhound station, or the street corner, outside a homeless shelter or an alleyway or anywhere I can find and join a cluster of the disaffected, the homeless, the pointless, the ones left out of family portraits. Just to share a drink, a joke and the dregs of our mutual humanity.
But this year, not particularly in contrast, I’ve chosen the company of Deadbeat poets, failed self-construction workers, mental hospital misfits, suicide skippers and gravel-voiced prophets capable of predicting the present with uncanny accuracy. Cassandra’s children muttering under their condensed breaths, scratching their prophecies from the oracle down for the benefit of anyone who still remembers how to read; or how to listen. Tonight these are my brothers (and sisters), in arms. Raging against a sea of struggles, believing that by opposing them, we will end them and wrap our soiled blankets of peace around this cold, shivering world’s shoulders.
Dead Beat Poets
I make it to Main Street much too early and agree to meet my comrades in a bar called Sanctum. I have no currency apart from my still untried bottle of rye so I stand outside on the pavement near but not too near two young women smoking butts and laughing. ‘Merry Xmas’, I venture.
‘Merry fucking Xmas to you too’, is their reply. So I listen. A skill I am still mastering. The raven-haired beauty of the pair is recounting her love life to her friend. Telling her how she had met her intended’s eyes at work, a burning penetration in time and how happy she was that at least she knew, that she knew that she knew that there was an unstated passion, thrilling at the unstated, as yet unenacted attraction between them.
The bittersweet anticipation of passions yearned for but still yet to come.
I wanted to tell the dark-haired young woman how lucky she was to be free to express such yearning to another woman. Jealously, I wanted her to pity my poor lame masculinity and the political mindfield I had to traverse to even come close to sharing such a pure moment of true emotion and affection. But I didn’t. Who wants to hear another pitiful man’s story anyways? This was the year of raised female voices. Voices raised in anger, in righteous retribution for all the wrongs accrued., in demand of recognition. Voices of freedom insisting on justice, insisting on equal treatment without unwanted trespass.
Poor me, poor me, pour me another drink. . . .
So instead I pulled out my weapon of virtue, my great equalizer of man and woman, my bottle of rye from my bag and asked if ‘You ladies would like a drink”. “Hell yes”. And for a brief instant, I felt just like St. Peter patrolling the earth and giving comfort to lost souls.
This murdered the time until my wordly brothers finally arrived. We poured from the bottle into bright red dixie cups, swigging them down in the parking lot before entering the warmth of Sanctum Ale House to talk poetry, performance, and what we were going to do with the rest of our lives. This was beginning to feel a lot like a rendezvous of fallen angels pausing for a drink and brief reflection before hitting Hell.
There was no reason to take a picture or a selfie or even take note of the time. We drank, we talked, we tried to make each other laugh and we indulged in our common humanity; a focus on what we shared more than what we didn’t.
My mind spun back in time to the many drinking conversations I had with my late great friend, the writer David Halliwell. The only man I had ever met who had got drunk with Sam Beckett. So David told this story of buying a bottle of good Irish whisky and taking the train to London, from Yorkshire. Easily a 4-hour journey. On the trip, David got nervous opened the bottle and drank half the contents on the way down arriving completely cut up the King’s Road party where San Beckett would be. He did find Beckett apparently and immediately sat down to finish the rest of the bottle he’d brought. David got so drunk he couldn’t remember a word that Sam Beckett had said to him.
Last night, I told Chris and Alex about the year that David called me up to join him for a Xmas drink and The Bull Tavern in the little North East Oxfordshire village of Charlbury, whose village council insisted on calling it a town because it had 4 pubs, a pharmacy and a post office.
I walked down the unpaved bumpy road to the tavern, past the Egyptian cottage with the papyrus reeds of Isis, the Goddess, not the terrorists. I reached The Bull pub and Inn, Opened the heavy oak door and walked into a movie. The pub was nearly empty save for the bar that featured David on his bar stool holding court with his mates. Only his mates were images burnt on my retinas since childhood: John Hurt, Ben Kingsley, David Warner, Freddie Jones and his son, then unknown now better known than him, Toby Jones. I remember blinking in disbelief. I might as well have walked in on Lewis Carrol, Tolkien and CS Lewis downing pints all who had also frequented this pub some hundred years previously.
I remember David smiling, laughing his phlegmatic cough and motioning me over to introduce me to these faces from the screen. “This is Igor, he’s another writer; he’s a Yank but he’s alright”. I was just another writer in the company of actors, everyday workers taking a break from toiling in the star-maker factories behind the popular film. I was handed a bulbous goblet of glowing ruby wine and the rest is hard to remember. But I do recall making them laugh and David Warner towering over me and reminiscing about his one appearance in a two-part Star Trek opposite Patrick Stewart that had earned him enough to comfortably return to the stage for 7 continuous years. Apart from young Toby, these were board strutting actors; indifferent and virtually contemptuous of their movie work save for the vast sums Hollywood paid them for peddling their trade of packaged emotions.
The next year most of them would be dead, David Halliwell included. I would empty his cottage with a Scottish actor of his while his Yorkshire sister wept inconsolably on his stairwell. In England, people let you weep and leave you to the dignity of your grief out of respect for the exceptional display of emotion. If you openly weep in England its because the pain is so hard that you really can’t hold it in.
Back in the Sanctuum, I explained to my companions how David had taught me the true meaning and value of the literary arts, which for David included actors who tell stories with their faces. Storytelling’s place in the human universe, keeping the stars locked in their firmament and the cosmic spheres in perfectly balanced and meaningful rotation. David Halliwell wasn’t famous. He died a virtual pauper, alone, estranged from his sister, a Yorkshire man with an RSC accent from wanting to be an actor, who wrote every day of his life before heading down to the pub to argue with me.
But he was a great success, albeit not by any kind of American Calvinist standard. Rather he succeeded in staying true to his art. He never sold out to better-paid mediocrity. He stayed true to his art, to himself and he survived with the respect and admiration of his fellow artists. When he died, I wrote and read this eulogy at his memorial, after Harold Pinter came up from Hampstead to say a few words about his departed friend. As did Stephen Frears and Scott Hampton (author of Les Liaisons Dangereuses).
I read this poem to David to my friends Alex Bosworth and Chris Vannoylast night. And in my mind, I went hunting and visiting my own xmas ghosts to remind me of the true joys of this season.
Daedalus Afraid to Fly
David, you bastard, you’ve left me
Understanding here alone,
With only these words falling out of my hands
When it is yours I want to hear again.
Words of your mastery, not mine.
So what was all the swearing about then, David?
What were all those Northern fumes really burning from?
I told you the songs of Yorkshire would never play in LA
Or London for that matter):
Two cities equidistant from your Yorkshire mother.
Tell me, David, why didn’t you just sell out?
You could have bought yourself a much better pint of beer
With all that money for old knotted ropes and
Still, have coughed up the phlegm to laugh at us all.
Is death your idea of some kind of joke?
Did you finally track down the film rights to Malcolm, David
And cash them in?
Are you really, secretly living in Barbados,
Making beautiful women miserable?
To think of all this wasted sorrow and
Empty glasses of beer.
You did say that you always wanted to visit other places.
But Daedalus, you were afraid to fly.
If you had been born upside down in America
You would have been a southern writer living in some Northern town.
Spilling your southern drawl over a rum and coke in a New York City bar.
Sitting elbow to arm with Williams, O’Neill, Baldwin and them all.
Your America was always an America of the mind.
So why fear the flight?
Your America David was where Charlie Parker
was forever sharp shooting pool with Humphrey Bogart
in some room behind a neon-splattered bar
Where Chet Baker never jumped or fell but flew, man!
He just flew away.
Just like you.
So you’re off then, David?
Back up the bumpy road,
Turning the corner around the Little Egyptian cottage
Navigating the reeds of Isis, Long past the close of time.
A brown duffle coat ship, bobbing on an unpaved surface,
Weaving a few well-spoken thoughts into your
Can you tell me, David:
Were you X-Centric, or
Merely Eggs Essential?
How about this time I tell you, David:
The spark was always there.
But not like Daedalus, like Prometheus.
The living punishment of Truth,
Chained to your bar stool,
That eternal pint of Carlsberg lager gnawing at your liver.
Like Prometheus David,
The spark is always here.
For the late, great David Halliwell; poet, playwright,
Death and his brothers are in my garden again.
Moving my plants around.
They tend to the growth quite delicately
Careful to not reap the harvest until the plants mature
And begin to lose their hair.
Death and his brother are in my garden again,
Whispering to each other as they pull away the weeds.
Poting and repotting each plant as it grows
Making sure the roots are clear of regrets and debris
So that in the end, it’s life can be cut short more easily.
Does death have a sweetheart? I wonder.
A woman whom he woes with words of love?
As much as death can love any living thing, at all.
He gathers my plants into a beautiful bouquet
Of lost souls and freshly cut lives.
To gift to she who holds him near; squeezing his dead heart in one hand,
NOTHING has prepared you for This. Nothing ever will.
Because whatever is happening Now has never happened before.
This is a web-nurtured collaboration with 27 artists, sculptors and musicians from the world of Comics, Fantasy, Fine Art and Jazz, including Bill Sienkiewicz, David Lloyd, Liam Sharp, Glenn Fabry, Shaky Kane, Lars Henkel and the cutting edge sculptural typography of the highly acclaimed book designer Rian Hughes.
This illuminated book is a contemporary Dante’s Divine Comedy; a journey through the confessional landscape of a masculine identity. It uses poetry to construct a narrative that explores themes of death and loss, sex and love, and the modern American and Jewish identity design: by the UK’s eminent graphic designer, typographer, illustrator Rian Hughes.
The music is composed and produced by iconoclast, ex-Israeli, Middle-Eastern jazz virtuoso Gilad Atzmon, along with five other jazz artists.
Written by San Diego native Igor Goldkind, this illuminated book will revolutionize the way you view poetry by meshing comics, art, music and animation in a truly unique way. It uses poetry to construct a narrative that explores themes of death and loss, sex and love, and the modern American and Jewish identity. The book is available for download on the iTunes Store andGoogle Play, as well as in a 166 page, fully illustrated in colour hardbound edition available ORDER HERE.
The eBook edition pushes the edge of what is possible with present EPUB3 technology. It is not an App, it is a true book that marries pop art, comics, avant-garde, jazz, spoken word poetry, video and animations, and type design in a manner that we have not seen before IS SHE AVAILABLE? has the feel of an artefact from the near future – a seminal work of a new genre-fusing poetry, graphic art, music, and animation.
Sample interior pages:
IS SHE AVAILABLE? RRP is $34.95, SHIPPING INCLUDED Educational Discount for Students and Teachers:$29.95
Both deluxe hardcover edition PLUS animated and musically scored eBook App edition of Is She Available? bundle: $39.95
Shipping included in orders within the US and its territories.
If you are in Britain and/or Europe, please contact my European wholesaler Fanfare Productions who will take your order and dispatch to your address the same day: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviews ? Sure We Got Reviews. Why You Wanna See Them? Be my guest.
“Igor’s “Illuminated Book” is like a new genre.It is a wonderful ekphrastic expression; a fusion of the arts.” — Poet Mel Takahara
“His collection Is She Available? has the feel of an artefact from the near future – a seminal work of a new genre-fusing poetry, graphic art, music, and animation.” —(San Diego’s) City Beat
“Is SHE Available?” is an experiment, and reading it feels more like an act of discovery… nonetheless there’s a thrill to scrolling through its pages. It’s an ambitious step toward what digital media can (and will) be.”—The Chicago Tribune
The166 full colour, fully illustrated hard cover deluxeedition is available in discerning and eclectic independent bookstores everywhere.Including Fahrenheit 451 in Carlsbad, Soulscape Bookstore in Encinitas, the Upstart Crow in San Diego, Verbatim Booksand Mysterious Galaxy also in San Diego, City Lights and the Cooperfields chain in Marin County and Sonoma County, amongst a growing number of independent book stores.
Order direct from PayPal and shipping is included!
When I sit at my desk in the barely blinking dawn,
I sit at the helm of a Starship.
Each dimension of time or space is available to me
To go anywhere I want to.
With the flick of a switch and a weird background sound
The course can be faithfully plotted,
At just the right warp speed to be there, be heroic and be back before dinner.
As safe as the hum of my engines.
When I sit at my desk in the mid-morning blue light that pierces
My east facing windows.
I pray that I can write something today,
I pray that I still have something to say.
My eyes are drawn to the street just beneath me,
That winds around the standing tree,
Just outside my window.
There is a spoonful of sunshine in my coffee.
When I sit at my desk in the midday sun
At the zenith of all of Creation,
I know that the bright light that now floods my room,
Will wash the shadows of doubt from these walls.
I still hear that first sound,
The Bang! that expands the spaces around.
I can feel how the act of creation was never just one moment long gone ago.
But a circus of new sensations, an ongoing show.
Will too soon leave us behind sleeping eternity away.
When I sit at my desk in the mid-afternoon sun
And the light of creation slowly dwindles,
I can reflect on all the things that I’ve done
While counting the tasks that remain to lie in the sun.
When I sit at my desk at dusk’s twilight time
When light and darkness are twined,
Each wrestles the other to the ground.
I know that darkness will eventually swallow,
The fading strength of the light.
The time for my bed is just insight
And the twin brothers have given up their fight.
When I sit at my desk in the heart of the darkness
I know that death is hiding in my closet.
I know that the covers I wrap so tightly around me
Offer no protection from what time has brought (me):
The drowning of the light by the darkness.
I bury my head in the night and dream of the return of tomorrow.
Here’s your chance to come and hear me read from my collection of Graphic Poetry IS SHE AVAILABLE? and some new poems and a short story at ComicKhazi Comics Shop at Liberty Station, San Diego on September 1st starting at 6.00 pm.
I’ll be reading, signing and dedicated hard cover copies and generally corrupting youth.
You don’t need Seymour Chwast, Chip Kidd and other designers to tell you that cartoons and comics are vital sources of creative inspiration (although they do that here). So maybe you’re thinking about exploring the graphic novel realm, but you’d like something more exceptional than usual, more out of the ordinary. Well, here’s the first of a series of suggestions that either defy or disregard categorization as comics. And the first, Is She Available?, is an eBook that also challenges conventional book classification in the process.
As you scroll through, you hear 1950s cool jazz in the background. Then gunfire blasts out of nowhere. A choir sings. Dogs bark. Bombs drop from the sky. And all the while, letterforms unexpectedly appear, tilt, transform, and vanish while spoken words interweave with the music and sound effects. Is She Available? is a trans-media poetry collection, one that pushes at the limits of eBook technology. It’s also comics, kind of.
Its author, Igor Goldkind, is a 2000AD comics sci-fi writer. He describes his 50 or so poems as “a contemporary Dante’s Inferno… that explores themes of death and loss, sex and love.” He’s included a couple of standard, panel-sequenced comic book narratives, including one rendered by V for Vendetta’s David Lloyd. But the bulk of the book is enlivened with music and other effects that enhance the moody illustrations and minimalist animations from a diversity of other skilled artists. The lineup notably includes Judge Dredd’s Liam Sharp and Shaky Kane as well as Bill Sienkiewicz of Daredevil/Elektra fame. Most impressive is the overall design, by accomplished comics illustrator and self-described “commercial artist” Rian Hughes. With graphic flair and acuity, Hughes proves himself to be a worthy digital age successor to Stéphane Mallarmé and Robert Massin.
If you’re interested in comic books, chances are you’ve heard the names Joe Simon and Jack Kirby. After all, their partnership paved the way for the Golden Age of comics beginning in the 1940s. With The Art of the Simon and Kirby Studio by Mark Evanier, learn more about the duo who invented noteworthy characters like Captain America and Sandman, conceived the idea of romance comics, and created a new standard for the genres of crime, western, and horror comic books. Take a look inside the various aspects of their career, and see some of the works that defined them.
You know I owe it you my friends, those of you who have been generous in your thoughts for the loss of my mother to tell you something: Although it has been a long, arduous road from my mother’s first diagnosis of dementia 4 years ago to her leaving my world 2 weeks ago and in spite of the struggle (not least with the authorities), to see her way clear to a happy death; it has been an extraordinary, indeed enlightening experience.
I’ve been distracted so much of my life by shiny, trivial things and this last year certainly, has brought me into a focus and permitted me insights into things I had never known. The most pedestrian insight being the sorry regard our institutions have for the aged, the infirm and the demented. We don’t treat our weakest very well and I’m afraid that is because
we really don’t treat ourselves very well either.
The insight that I do want to share or at least attempt to convey is what I did feel this past month observing my mother’s diminishing capacity to engage with her surroundings first socially then practically. I had a tactile, visceral sense of an arc of a life; a universal trajectory from birth to death, as something that comes and then goes.
(The Rainbow in Norse mythology is the bridge to Asgard and Valhalla, the hall of fallen warriors.) I have no experience of the supernatural.
It’s all natural to me. But I did feel a deep and distinct tone, like the pealing of a bell resonating beneath my feet in her passing.
Between the last evening that I saw her, held her hand and spoke to the steady light in her eyes and the morning I visited her room from where life had been so recently evicted, I knew I had seen a life depart and the place in the world that it had left. I did not catch a glimpse of death.
I saw life very clearly as it fled my mother’s corpse.
That thing, that is everything, that same thing that still animates us all. Until our clocks wind down as well or are tragically, shockingly shut down. I saw life leaving me behind as it disappeared around some bend and I saw the life that was me, within it’s own place, on its own trajectory of escape.
I saw the light in the eyes that created me, that cherished me; fight, fade and extinguish.
I know that I will go there too, following her footsteps and those of my father’s before her and my sister’s before him. A death parade towards an unknown horizon. I don’t know where they went, I just know that they are no longer here; nor any where I will ever be again.
No ‘where’ to go to. Just end. Just stop. Just no longer being.
And these fingers tapping on my keyboard are tapping out time too.