Sunday, April 18, 2010

Blurry Images, Clear Memories, and Heavenly Music

I last saw Chick Corea in Kalamazoo, Michigan back in the 1970's. Then, he was taking a break from his heralded jazz-fusion group Return to Forever by playing improvisational piano pieces. My appetite for these pieces had been primed by my introduction to both Corea and improvisational piano by my dear friend Anne.

Mr. Corea has lost none of mastery over the years. He roams the keyboard with a certainly that yields magic, blending styles, riffs, and rhythms in a seemingly effortless performance made all the richer by the crystalline contributions of Mr. Gary Burton on vibraphone.

Mr. Burton, his hands sometime a blur, two mallets in each hand, exchanged leads with Corea. Together they wove a magic carpet of sound. I couldn't help but recall my introduction to Burton's music by Lenny, my college roommate.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Burning Away the Fog of War

Much gets excused and rationalized during wartime. The disgusting particulars of murder, rape and execution get obscured by the widely accepted caveat of "That is War." Yet some specifics poke through the numbing justifications. During the Vietnam War the image of the Saigon Chief of Police executing a suspected Viet Cong guerilla seared itself into the consciousness of many Americans. Many more who having seen the photograph or film clip began to question America's role and purpose in Vietnam.

We have mostly been spared the photographs and news clips of the brutality of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan by the curious practice of "embedded reporters" and the abdication by the mainstream media of their Constitutional duty to inform the citizenry. Yet the recent disclosure of two stories, one having occurred in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan, provides the kind of illusion-ripping clarity necessary to understand war's horror.

By now, many of us have seen the video of the circling helicopter over the Baghdad suburb and the execution of the civilians on the ground. Those of us with stronger stomachs continued to watch as two men exit a van to aid the dying civilians and too are shot down. And as a "bradley" rolls onto the scene it runs over one of the fallen, said to have still been alive.

There are no photos or video of which I am aware that recorded the ghastly murder of Afghan women; perhaps the words describing the event are sufficient to scorch indifference. I urge you to read them.

Taken together, the revelation of these two events cast light onto what war, any war, is about--namely, the violent eclipse of humanity. Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his landmark book On Killing argues that soldiers, in order to kill, must overcome a strong instinctual prohibition against killing a fellow human. The reluctance to do so is exhaustively accounted for in Grossman's book by studies that measured the firing ratio of soldiers during combat. In large part, the military, our military, has taken seriously this reluctance to kill and sought through training to overcome this human instinct. The results of these improved methods of training are all too evident in today's headlines.

I believe the troubling incidents of returning soldiers reveals what many of them have said; having been taught to kill, they just can't turn it off. And so the bodies of innocent Iraqis and Afghans pile up over there, and the carnage of suicide and violence pursues our returning soldiers, and the obfuscating garment of policy and patriotism cannot soak up all the blood on the ground.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Burden of Civilization

I just returned from the library where a book I'd placed on reserve arrived. Said book is Jeremy Rifkin's Empathic Civilization.

While every book "reads" better with an empathic reader, the above title--weighing in at at least 10 lbs.-- requires more than empathy; it requires a weight-lifter! Already staggering beneath a list of titles awaiting my attention, I left Empathic Civilization on the shelf.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Adult Children

Whose child descends the staircase casting longer and longer shadows
As you blink into the light?

Anxious for touch, ever fleeting,
And like a current of air, he is out the door,

Stepping into a day of which you won't see the end.

A Consideration of Some Clutter

Preparing for the Easter Holiday, Tresca separated the books littering the coffee table into "his" and "her's" piles. This morning I scooped up my stack of titles and deposited it on my desk.

Scanning the spines I see an inventory of my recent obsessions. Several titles concern what might be called "Men's Issues." There is "The Hidden Spirituality of Men" by Matthew Fox, and because I enjoyed that book I picked up another volume by Fox--not specifically related to the genre-- called "The Reinvention of Work." Having never read Robert Bly's pioneering volume "Iron John" I picked it up for a bargain basement price. Echoing the mytho-poetic focus of those books is Moore and Gillette's explication of male archetypes entitled "King Warrior Magician Lover." A slim volume with the off-putting title of "The Way of the Superior Man" by David Deida peeks out from this tower of words contributing a scant half-inch to the height of the pile.

Foundational to this monolith is Ralph Freedman's inches thick biography of Rilke entitled "Life of a Poet Rainer Maria Rilke." Periodically bogged down by the poet's somewhat suffocating humanity, I added "The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke" to my considerations, and, as always when I read his work, I rediscover divinity! Cheek by jowl, W.S. Merwin's recent title "The Shadow of Sirius" sits quiet as mist and as light as sunshine.

Topping this spire is a recent purchase I first heard of while reading Chris Hedge's brillant book "War is a Force that Give Us Meaning", "On Killing; The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman.

The as yet unread book "The Taming of the American Crowd" by Al Sandine spans time from stamp riots to shopping sprees.

And more a pamphlet than a book is Marshall Rosenberg's "Practical Spirituality."

No doubt as Spring merges into Summer my interests will shift and other volumes will contribute to the clutter on my desk and to the lived in look of my home. As yet, I am too restless in the seasonal novelty of warmth and light to apply myself in a disciplined way to the array of topics that catch my attention. And then there are writing projects related however tangentially to these books that disturb my cozy, addled, sun-soaked satisfaction...

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Green Fuse

I'm staring out the window and I swear I can see things growing! Tulips thrust through the insulating layer of last Autumn's leaves, and a green tint spreads across the ground. "April is the cruelest month" wrote T.S. Eliot, and while this might have accurately described a chilly Parisian Spring day, in Minnesota--at least this year--April is a delight!