Month: March 2017

A history of the world in less than 10 minutes 

In the beginning there was man and the soil. In some places, notwithstanding occasional conflict, most people got on with the task of surviving together on the soil. In other places man toiled and the stronger among them claimed ownership of the soil.  Why in some places men claimed ownership and in other places only membership is a question for the ages. One man got clever and made a plough. For the machine to be effective he bought a horse and so the horse trader liked this machine. Soon everyone had a machine and a horse. Those who could afford neither machine nor horse nor land worked for those who could. Ownership determined wealth; it’s not rocket science. Where people did not own things it was different. They did not have a word for wealth.

Later the machine was improved, older ones sold or melted down to make newer, better machines. Some men left the land to make and sell machines. Other machines appeared to cut wheat, mill corn, spin yarn and weave cloth. This made some people glad and others who could not afford machines became angry. Those who had land and horses and machines became wealthier and more powerful and eventually owned all the land. Those who did not own land or machines were greater in number and worked for the powerful men. Amongst them all, powerful and powerless, there were good and bad men. In some places men were valued for their contribution to those around them, in other places a man’s position in relation to those in power determined his value.

Not all people thought of a man in terms of value but where there were machines, it seemed like the right thing to do, even logical. Machines made life easier, those who made and improved them were highly regarded. It’s not rocket science. It seemed to be the natural progression of things and people did not ask whether it could or should be otherwise, “Thus is the world” people said and as it was said, so it became true. If God had wanted it otherwise , he would have made it so. In the places without machines people said pretty much the same thing.

There were some places where people felt it was silly to claim ownership of land since they all lived off the land and the land had been there long before them. Land to them was not something you owned but a place where you lived. People belonged to the land. They respected the land and the animals and also every person’s place on the land. They did not make machines because they never wanted more, only enough.

Over time the machines got bigger and better and from out of the soil men dug old dead trees and burned them to power the machines. They called this fuel. Fuel begat steam which begat bigger machines which begat trains and boats. Men saw the value of land and powerful men trained soldiers to conquer other lands and put soldiers in boats to conquer them. Machines harnessed great forces. Force became the way of the world. The places without machines were easy to conquer. Where soldiers found people without machines they claimed ownership of these simpler people. The powerful, machined men thanked God for giving them the machines and assumed that those men without machines could not possibly have God so they gave them their God and killed any who refused to accept their gift. How could anyone who refused such a gift ever be trusted? It’s not rocket science.

By now there were many powerful men and fewer places with dead tree fuel so these men went to war and fought each other for control of the land. They did this for many hundreds of years. During the course of these wars the places these powerful men owned became clearly defined by boundaries and they called their allotted parts countries. To differentiate them from one another they took coloured cloth and wove these into flags, which they waved and they said that these signified their loyalty to their country. They said that those who lived together within their well-defined boundaries were different to other men with different cloths. Difference became more important than being alive. It was no longer sufficient to be alive. You had to live differently so that maintaining difference kept you too busy to ask questions like aren’t we actually the same?

And so the men of power wrote down what they had they said and it was believed because everyone knows that when something is written it must be true and if powerful men write it, it is so true we call it law.

Each country became peopled. Still, there were those who were powerful and those who were not. Those who were powerful claimed they were naturally in better positions to lead the many who were not. Since those who were powerful were most valued, this made a great deal of sense. To show their concern for the powerless, the men of power, in a great act of faith, offered the powerless an opportunity to share in the power. They presented to them, every four years, two men whom the powerless could choose between to lead them. Thus, having chosen, the men of power reminded the powerless when they were given to complain that the rules that bound them were their own rules. It’s not rocket science. Besides, if it were meant to be otherwise, God would have made it so.

Centuries passed. Countries became accustomed to their flags, their soldiers, their wars fought because of the natural differences that existed and their rulers and their rules. As people multiplied so did the rules. Machines became more sophisticated but they still needed dead tree fuel. The powerful became more powerful and the powerless more powerless. The differences between them became greater too. Stories were told of places and times where things were different and people loved these stories and the men of power liked these stories too because everyone enjoys a story and because it kept the people from complaining because, after all, they were only stories, and besides, they had not written them,

After many centuries people became confident that they represented the high point of human progress.  Life was well categorized. There were rules, borders and soldiers to protect the borders. There was a multitude of machines and machine makers and fixers. They invented ways to perpetuate their existence. Machines were made to break or else machine makers would have no one to sell their machines to. If machines were too well made the fixers would be out of work. It’s not rocket science. People expected things to break because nothing lasts in this world, even people break. Broken is good. The powerful men created rules, which they knew very few people could keep so that when men broke the rules they could be withdrawn from the society of their peers. This helped to reduce the numbers of people they had to rule and made the rest of the people more likely to obey the rules. They also modernised some of the older rules. For example, where before it had been wrong to kill another person, now it was all right if someone was killed upon instruction from the rule makers. It became complicated. Soon there were too many rules for the average person to know about so a new community was created in order to know all of the rules and people paid them to read what no one else could understand. The powerful men made an army just to catch offenders and to bring them before the Law. The poorer among them could not afford law interpreters and it became their lot to lose their land and spend much time in prison to amend for their sins. People became very compliant, most of them anyway.

Furthermore, people had to apply for identity, they had to pay for this and needed consent to marry, buy a house, have children and work. It was not possible to live without government consent, official written acknowledgment of your existence and this approval cost money. In return the leaders told people that they were free so long as they had official approval and as long as they did not break any of the rules which existed for their protection. If it is written that you are free on official government paper it must be true. People were happy to pay for the privilege of being free. In some places people were not free. In those places people did not have governments to make written declarations of happiness. Luckily that was changing fast. Wars were being fought to protect freedom and to extend these gifts of freedom to the lesser peoples of the world. The story is not yet complete but it’s an easy story to follow, it’s not rocket science.20170204_091153.jpg

What is a poem?

Words. Life distilled. The endless returns, returned to one last time. The furry creature in a dark room trapped. It is a hunt. It is the aah yes in the surest, quietest place of self, located somewhere between the toe and the brain, that the condition of life is now forever changed and then the compulsion to set out the truth of that in words. To say for oneself something true for the first time. To locate an original idea and attach to it words. Words. To write for oneself. To write oneself into the event of life. Because in the beginning were words and I am not yet ended. It is learning to look. To trace in the creased linen of the bed sheet the valleys and hills of one’s being. It is a reason to find reason to continue, if only to watch dead leaves and breathe softer in the trudge.

It is archival for the soul. The soul’s bridge home from the toothless, friendless age. It is a note to self (a parenthesis in everydayness in which i say what i did not know i knew). It is the breathe of the soul spoken. The unutterable uttered. It is the deep yes, the womb where words first find form. It is the why of our woes and bliss. It is the eternal isness of a thing stepping into the light. A closing of the eyes to see.

The elementary heaviness of being

I watched a plastic bag dance in a breeze. The way its creased grey skin responded to the air felt remarkably familiar. Gravity is the heaviness that living on earth imposes on the body. If the soul expands and comes close to the surface of the skin, the weight of air upon it is enormous, and often escapes as a sigh. Let us call this force by its real name, life. There are two forces working simultaneously on our existence. There is the downward thrust of gravity, the earth force that keeps us on the ground, ‘grounded’ as some call it. Pushing out against this from deep within us is the force of our own being, some call this force ‘soul’. A silk balloon in the centre of a stone. We measure living, not coincidentally, by the gravitational ellipses of our planet around the sun and all the while the soul expands proportionately outward. We begin our lives battling the physical force of gravity. We are easily toppled, must struggle to crawl, learn to walk and in our youth must endure scrapes and knocks as we collide with the earth in our endeavour to move with speed and grace on top of it. During these early stages of being human we are mostly muscle and identify strongly with the body we inhabit. Then we begin to hear the whisperings of our soul, realising we are more than the flesh and sinews we have thus far fed and adored. The soul begins to inflate from within. Physical routines lose their novelty and we notice the slow decay of the body in wounds that take longer to heal, aches that linger and teeth that crumble. Falling scares us, our mortality takes hold, caution makes sense. In the following decades the people we love begin to die. The once eternal vigour of youth is gone in a flash. Exercise is not what we do for fun but for staying alive and sometimes we wonder why  we persist. Easier to yield to the downward thrust. We push back. Gravity crushes us in the end, grinds our particles to dust. It always wins. Thankfully, as the body grows weaker, the soul grows stronger, if you pay attention to it. You realise it has always been there and has been fighting the battle since day one. It defies gravity, it brings nobility to living when the muscles do not. Living is not an act of ascension. Fairytales invite us to reach for the stars, to fly, to soar, to reach great heights but in truth we are just dropping by slow degrees of entropy from the womb to a hole in the ground. We begin by descending and the soul provides the downward journey with narrative, with a history of presence.

Some of us love airports because they remind us that the soul is made of lighter stuff. We find ourselves looking up from whence we came and the homesickness feels like a dream we can’t yet pronounce. Some of us have embraced our fate and will mine the earth to teach the soul that like coal or gold or iron it is trapped. Some of us walk on the ground and watch birds with a longing beyond our present comprehension. None escape the velocity of life. Whether we dig, walk or fly we move in the direction of ourselves. The laws of physics depend on location and direction. We are always going somewhere, toward something, from some place, but in truth these are irrelevant signposts for the space within. Scientists cannot locate consciousness because it is like looking for the act of looking. Some people dispute the existence of the soul. It doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to prove it exists, or anything really. I’m just working on my narrative, like a plastic bag caught in the wind.





Elmore Slowdrizzle speaks Spanish

Having just purchased two bars of splendidly wrapped bars of dark chocolate which were in a state of specialness and therefore acquired with unexpected gain, Elmore Slowdrizzle proceeded to exit the store in his usual state of deliberate panic. While standing in a queue of weathered proletariats short of hands and patience Elmore thanked God for inventing the Swiss who begat chocolatieres who begat the notion of placing finely dessicated coconut, delicately shred orange and fragrant whisps of mint into thin slabs of chocolate. He marvelled at how, in these modern times of drive through food and internet shopping he willingly risked the inconvenience of rush hour traffic and road rage to buy these bars. Was it even the Swiss? This must surely be one of those enduring mysteries of the ages? To think he might die without ever knowing the truth. How bleak life was. So many unanswered questions, so few queues to ponder them in. Answers never interested Elmore, everyone had plenty of those. But, good questions, now that was a different matter entirely. Chocolate is perhaps the only good thing to come from colonization. Perhaps he might amend his note of divine gratitude to include the Spanish? He should learn Spanish. Who first used mint? Did they not also deserve an ounce of gratitude? Gratitude delays gratification. There are simply too many things to be grateful for. Elmore yearned for a simpler life. Would gratitude for chocolate imply a complicitness in the 20th century and post truth decades of cocaine smuggling, the second wave of colonization? Strictly speaking, it could not be the second wave but the first North American wave after the first Spanish wave. Wave? Seemed like an odd word for the colonial adventure that delivered smallpox, syphilis and general genocide to the New World in exchange for gold, tobacco and chocolate. Not the fairest of swops. Chocolate is not an innocent indulgence. Not anymore. Now, some 500 years later he finds himself in this shop, in this human chain of consumerism because of Spanish Imperial notions of heaping up wealth with superior steel and germs. Crossing the threshold of the store he was accosted by an official patron of a charity organisation who thrust upon Elmore a pamphlet and ignited 30 years worth of lapsed Catholic guilt. Elmore thought it improper to ask the first question that came to mind. How would blind children play cricket? Would it not constitute an unfair advantage to their opponents? Might it not be dangerous, indeed, even lethal? He assumed that all of these questions had been cafefully considered prior to the clearly labour intensive process of bringing to the storefront the two fold up tables, the tablecloths, reading material not to mention the efforts of finding volunteers (also work weary), appropriately sized neon yellow T shirts and peak caps which would all have to be collected, unpacked, transported then unpacked again by the men whose work schedules would need to have been carefully manipulated in order for them to be here. Most likely they began their duties smiling but these seemed long gone and had given way to something else. They operated with the passive aggression volunteers most likely feel justified to adopt after 2 hours of friendly begging with nothing but patronising dismissals from passers by who have suddenly answered calls on their mobile phones whilst pointing apologetically to said devices. Elmore did not wish to display this customary rejection but neither did he wish to engage in discussion which would conclude with his guilt for being a fully sighted, otherwise challenged human being after which he would complete a debit order in duplicate to the sum of $20 a month he did not have. He therefore hastily presented the custodian of the unfortunate children with $5 and his best smile.

Sorry mate, we can’t take donations, only debit orders, the man yawned with a gesture. It was a gesture difficult to define. The one might use to gently prevent an aged aunt from filling ypur glass with chardonnay. Elmore’s panic began to surge through him in waves. A more suitable use for the term.

I‘ve just purchased two bars of coconut dark chocolate, it’s delicious. Would you like a square? While Elmore immediately recognised the inappropriate nature of this invitation it was all he could say that might defuse the incredibly tense moment and he immediately relaxed, breathed a sigh of relief and smiled. The man’s response somewhat bewildered Elmore for he did not expect the man to be surprised. No, more shocked than surprised.

No thanks, he said and walked past Elmore to confront the next wave of shoppers.

Should he offer the man’s assistant proseletyser a piece? He had been watching the whole affair and might feel neglected. As Elmore took a step towards him the man quickly darted off in pursuit of an elderly lady pushing a trolly while simultaneously straining against it for support. She found her mobile phone with remarkable agility.

As he made his way through the car park and crossed the road next to the park beyond which his home stood Elmore regretted not purchasing three bars of finely crafted Swiss chocolate to delay his next visit by a bit longer. Was it even the swiss? When did coconut first encounter Europe?

In the quietude of his dimly lit home with only the dull hum of his air conditioner Elmore settled down to two squares of coconut infused dark chocolate and a cup of Earl Grey tea with just a dash of full cream milk. As the chocolate melted on his warm tongue he smiled and then frowned. Why had he not thought of thanking the Aztecs? To amend for his shameful lapse of misdirected gratitude he returned the uneaten slab to its silver foil and retired, unsatisfied to bed. Modernity does not guarantee perspective he thought and slipped into a dream of bloodied, metalled conquistadors disembowling gentle Aztec chocolatieres.