Category Archives: Fiction

Hollywood reboots Russophobia for the New Cold War

​It is an age-old question as to the extent art reflects the world we live in. Bertolt Brecht allegedly said to the contrary that art was “not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” The Marxist German playwright devised theatrical methods designed to distance the audience from the staged drama while drawing self-reflexive attention to the contrived nature of the spectacle itself. The idea was that by estranging the spectator and encouraging critical examination, they would come to view society’s manmade injustices as similarly unnatural and be given agency to transform them in the real world. One of the implications of Brecht’s notion was that art in its more conventional forms often functions as a tool of mass persuasion for those in power to reinforce those inequities. Marx and Engels themselves professed to have learned more about the contradictions of French society from the novels of Honoré de Balzac, which upheld the monarchy and the Church, than any historians or philosophers of their day. At its very worst, artistic mediums can be used by governments to manipulate a nation’s attitude towards other countries in order to justify war.

Brecht’s life and work coincided with the development of the film industry. However, most productions influenced by his ‘epic theatre’ were art-house and foreign films while commercial, mass-market Hollywood movies placed greater emphasis on appealing to the emotions over intellect. However, there were some exceptions such as Charlie Chaplin who not coincidentally was persecuted for his politics by the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) during the Red Scare. In the Cold War, Tinseltown played an important role in the cultural battlefield against the USSR and anti-Soviet paranoia was an ever-present theme in American cinema for decades, from the McCarthy era until the Berlin Wall fell. Contemporaneously, a revival of geopolitical tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation — which many have dubbed a second Cold War — has seen the return of such tropes on the silver screen. Most recently, it has resurfaced in popular web television shows such as the third season of Netflix’s retro science fiction/horror series Stranger Things, as well as HBO’s miniseries Chernobyl, which dramatizes the 1986 nuclear accident in Soviet Ukraine.

It was a famous cinematic work that many believe ominously foreshadowed Chernobyl in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 science fiction film, Stalker, less than a decade prior to the calamity. It is unlikely that HBO would have been as interested in green-lighting a five-part program on the disaster without the current hysteria surrounding the unproven allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and ‘collusion’ between Moscow and the Trump campaign. ‘Russiagate’ has become a national obsession and suddenly the very idea of corruption and intrigue has been made synonymous with the Kremlin. Hollywood liberal figures have been some of the hoax’s biggest proponents, including the show’s writer, Craig Mazin. It is equally as hard to imagine Americans themselves being as captivated by a re-enactment of the nuclear accident without the current political climate of fear-mongering bombarding them every day in corporate media. From the perspective of the U.S. political establishment, what better way to deflect attention away from its own sins than onto a manufactured adversary?

For instance, a recent Columbia University study found that sections of the Marshall Islands, which the U.S. acquired from Japan following WWII and conducted countless nuclear tests nearby in the Pacific, is significantly more radioactive than Chernobyl. The highest radiation levels were found on the Bikini atoll, where evacuated islanders were initially told they could return shortly after tests began in 1946 but have been waiting more than seventy years to come home. On other coral atolls in the island country such as Rogelapp, the U.S. Navy allowed the native population to return too soon knowing full well the food and water were highly contaminated, resulting in a generation with high birth defects and cancer rates. The U.S. ceded the territory in 1994 only after the Marshallese negotiated a meager $150 million in damages for their mistreatment while permitting the establishment of a U.S. ballistic missile defense test site targeting China. Unfortunately, the presstitutes are too preoccupied with sensational coverage of the recent accident at the Russian military base in Nyonoska, salivating at another prospective Chernobyl. Not to mention, the ongoing cover-up of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 in the U.S. vassal state of Japan.

Already featuring a non-native cast and in the English language spoken with British accents, HBO’s Chernobyl is loaded with historical inaccuracies. The narrative takes many liberties both for the purpose of entertainment value and to create blatant propaganda seemingly as intent on discrediting socialism as it is in demonizing Moscow. This is unsurprising considering that screenwriter Craig Mazin is not only an establishment liberal with Putin derangement syndrome but a vocal critic of Bernie Sanders who has even ludicrously attempted to tie the Senator from Vermont to Russiagate on social media. Mazin has virtue signaled about the show as a parable about global warming (“the flaws that led to Chernobyl are the same flaws shown by climate deniers”) while simultaneously denouncing the candidate in the 2020 Democratic field with arguably the most comprehensive climate plan, leaving aside whether Sanders’ New Dealism is genuine socialism. For centre-rightists, the climate crisis is not tied to capitalism which as Marx reportedly said, “tends to destroy its two sources of wealth, nature and human beings” but is merely the failure of individual corrupt leaders like Trump. Early on in the series, Mazin invents a fictional elderly Soviet official who points to a bust of Vladimir Lenin while invoking socialism to silence those urging an immediate evacuation of Pripyat in the initial days of the disaster.

Mazin takes further artistic license to assign a protagonist in the story in Valery Legasov (played by Jared Harris), the high-ranking chemist who led the inquiry of the disaster and testified before the International Atomic Energy Agency before committing suicide in 1987. The story deviates from factual events in order to portray the scientist as a honest official blowing the whistle on a bureaucratic government. While his sworn statement was indeed straightforward, in real life Legasov did not blame reactor design flaws and deviate from the official government account of “human error” or breach of protocol as portrayed in the series, nor was he a witness in the trial of the nuclear plant operators who were found to be at fault. This is entirely a work of fiction designed to depict an incompetent and secretive Soviet government to be the cause of the accident. One would have no idea this same state was capable of inventing human space travel or industrializing an agrarian society in a single decade, a feat which took the British more than a century to accomplish. Not to mention that the accident occurred while the USSR was undergoing market-oriented reforms, a period in which the Soviet economy was at its most de-centralized and on the verge of collapse during perestroika.

At every turn, Legasov is up against cartoonish authoritarian officials who attempt to cover-up the severity of the catastrophe, including one particularly absurd scene when a Soviet apparatchik threatens to throw him out of a helicopter to his death if he does not explain how a reactor works. The Soviet working class are not spared either, as miners are coerced at gunpoint by Soviet troops at the order of the coal minister to dig a sarcophagus underneath the reactor to prevent radioactive contamination of the country’s water supply with the promise of financial reward. However, by all accounts no such use of the military ever took place and is contradicted by Legasov’s own statements which were not nearly as critical of state management as represented. The scientist had also attempted to take his own life once before while in the hospital suffering from radiation exposure, a more likely motive for his suicide. It is also rumored that the real reason for the Kremlin’s ‘secrecy’ about Chernobyl was that Pripyat was home to more than just a reactor-grade power station but possibly an undisclosed missile launching site or a facility producing warheads, with the meltdown a case of deliberate cyber sabotage by the C.I.A..

The series even finds time to rewrite WWII history in a scene where a stubborn babushka refuses to evacuate Pripyat, claiming to have endured worse surviving the Banderite hoax of the Holodomor. There was indeed a famine (throughout the entire USSR), but using the reconstruction of the tragedy to insert Ukrainian nationalist propaganda and Nazi myths of deliberate starvation is part of the West’s ongoing whitewashing of Ukrainian Nazi collaborators whose ultra-right descendants were instrumental in the 2014 Maidan coup. It is an insult to the Soviet people who sprung to action voluntarily and heroically to prevent the disaster from worsening to what could have left much of Europe uninhabitable, killed millions and caused incalculable damage to the environment. Then again, the West has never given the Soviets credit for defeating Germany, so it is to be expected they wouldn’t truly acknowledge the sacrifices made in Chernobyl.

During the 1980s as the Cold War reached a crescendo, Hollywood was churning out anti-Soviet movies marketed at teens like Red Dawn where a group of adolescents defend their small midwestern town from a fictional Soviet invasion. The same premise has been recycled for the most recent season of Netflix’s popular Stranger Things, a sci-fi horror vehicle carrying on the genre’s legacy of association with cold war paranoia going back to the 1950s with classics like Invasion of the Body Snatchers which evoked domestic fears about communist infiltration in the form of an alien invasion.Stylishly imitative of the 1980s with a synth-heavy soundtrack, the first two seasons saw its young characters living in a fictional Indiana town, some of whom possess telekinetic powers, who battle paranormal beings from another dimension called the “Upside Down” on which a nearby U.S. Department of Energy facility has been secretly performing experiments.

The third season takes a different turn, however, where the adolescents go up against “evil Russians” and “Soviet scum” infiltrating the U.S. Perhaps it was for the better that Chernobyl decided to use British actors speaking in their own tongue because the Russians in Stranger Things are cartoonish, brute thugs that resemble Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. Even more absurdly, the children discover that a new local shopping mall in the town putting mom-and-pop stores out of business has been constructed by Russian operatives (not by multinational chains as it was in real life under Reaganism) to hide an underground laboratory. The preposterous sequence can only be interpreted as an expression of the anxiety underlying the U.S. decline and fear of the ascendancy of Moscow on the international stage. Like Chernobyl, the nostalgia-driven program disparages socialism as much as it villainizes Russia, including one ludicrous scene where a 10-year old black girl agrees to help the other kids on the condition they agree to give her free ice cream from the mall shop where several of the teens work. She then proceeds to lecture them on the purported benefits of trickle-down theory, because if anyone can appreciate the alleged rewards of Reaganomics with the reduction of social programs and spending cuts, it would be an African-American child during the 1980s.

It is apparent that the caricature of the Soviet Union in both productions is really a stand-in for the present-day Russian government under Vladimir Putin. As only American exceptionalism could permit, Hollywood did not hold the same disdain for his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, whose legacy of high inflation and national debt have since been eliminated. In fact, most have forgotten that the same filmdom community outraged about Russia’s supposed interference in the 2016 U.S. election made a celebratory movie back in 2003, Spinning Boris, which practically boasted about the instrumental role the West played in Yeltsin’s 1996 reelection in Russia. The highly unpopular alcoholic politician benefited from a near universal media bias as virtually all the federation’s news outlets came under the control of the ‘oligarchs’ (in America known simply as billionaires) which his economic policies of mass privatization of state industry enriched overnight. Yeltsin initially polled at less than 10% and was far behind Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov until he became the recipient of billions from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) thanks to his corrupt campaign manager, Anatoly Chubais, now one of the most hated men in all of Russia. After the purging of votes and rampant ballot-box stuffing, Yeltsin successfully closed the gap between his opponent thanks to the overt U.S. meddling.

Spinning Boris was directed by Roger Spottiswoode, who previously helmed an installment in the James Bond series, Tomorrow Never Dies. The 1997 entry in the franchise is one of thousands of Hollywood films and network television shows exposed by journalists Matthew Alford and Tom Secker as having been influenced or directly assisted by the Pentagon and CIA in their must-read book National Security Cinema: The Shocking New Evidence of Government Control in Hollywood. Based on evidence from documents revealed in Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, their investigation divulges the previously unknown extent to which the national security complex has gone in exerting control over content in the film industry. While it has always been known that the military held sway over movies that required usage of its facilities and equipment to be produced, the level of impact on such films in the pre-production and editing stages, as well as the control over non-military themed flicks one wouldn’t suspect to be under supervision by Washington and Langley, is exhaustively uncovered.

As expected, Hollywood and the military-industrial complex’s intimate relationship during the Cold War is featured prominently in Alford and Secker’s investigative work. It is unclear whether HBO or Netflix sought US military assistance or were directly involved with the national security state in their respective productions, but these are just two recent examples of many where the correlated increase in geopolitical tensions with Moscow is reflected. The upcoming sequel to DC’sWonder Woman set to be released next year, Wonder Woman 1984, featuring the female superhero “coming into conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the 1980s”, is yet another. Reprising her role is Israeli actress and IDF veteran Gal Gadot as the title character, ironically starring in a blockbuster that will demonize the Eurasian state which saved her ethnicity from extinction. Given the Pentagon’s involvement in the debacle surounding 2014’s The Interview which provoked very real tensions with North Korea, it is likely they are at least closely examining any entertainment with content regarding Russia, if not directly pre-approving it for review.

Ultimately, the Western panic about its imperial decline is not limited to assigning blame to Moscow. Sinophobia has manifested as well in recent films such as the 2016 sci-fi film Arrival where the extra-terrestrials who reach Earth seem more interested in communicating with Beijing as the global superpower than the U.S. However, while the West forebodes the return of Russia and China to greater standing, you can be certain its real fear lies elsewhere. The fact that Chernobyl and Stranger Things are as preoccupied with portraying socialism in a bad light as they are in rendering Moscow nefarious shows the real underlying trepidation of the ruling elite that concerns the resurgence of class consciousness. The West must learn its lesson that its state of perpetual war has caused its own downfall or it could attempt a last line of defense that would inevitably conscript all of humanity to its death as the ruling class nearly did to the world in 1914 and 1939.

The Sun Dance

It was the summer of 1876. The great white father was demanding that we sell our land to them – land that was not ours to sell – and then move to the reservation – where only hardships and starvation awaited us. The buffalo was dying fast as white hunters shot them on the plain, taking only their skins and leaving their carcasses to rot on the plains.

The prophet Sitting Bull called for us to resist. He called for us to meet in council. He called for a sun dance. There they would offer themselves to the creator. There the creator through the buffalo would provide answers to them.

Plains Indians – the Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Arapaho — answered Sitting Bull’s call in great number joining his Hunkpapa Lakota at his camp near the Wolf Mountains.

A large forked cotton wood center pole was raised by ropes and its base slid into a hole – the center of the sacred lodge and the center of the universe. The world was out of balance. The creator would tell them how to restore it.

Twelve cotton wood poles were raised in a circle around the center pole, representing the twelve months of the year.

The dancers entered the sweat lodge, made of willow branches and buffalo robes. Water was poured over rocks heated by fire. Afterward, the sun dancers entered the sacred lodge. The chief and host prayed to the great creator. They stuffed the nostrils of the buffalo that hung high on the center pole with sweet sage.

The sun dancers with painted faces and adorned with feathers danced back and forth to the center pole, blowing their whistles made from the wing bones of an eagle. Each dancer held an eagle plumb in each hand. Drummers drummed and singers sang the four sacred songs, each four times. First they faced to the east and then to the west.

They rested then danced again. Juniper wreaths crowned their heads. Some dancers – wore necklaces of elk teeth – as they looked at the sun – the source of all life and energy on earth. Sitting Bull’s face was covered with yellow paint.

The dancer — hungry and thirsty – fasted. Sitting Bull gave 100 pieces of flesh from his arms, dripping with blood. They were seeking visions sent by the creator. “Grandfather,” Sitting Bull said “I offer the only thing that belongs to me – my body.”

Time seemed to slow down. Sitting Bull could hear each individual drum beat and shriek of the eagle born whistles. The voices of the singers sounded faraway. He could smell the sweet smell of grass that carpeted the sacred lodge. The light of the sun flashed as the lodge began to spin. The buffalo head began to speak to him in mumbled tones he could not yet understand.

Sitting Bull knew hiss vision was coming. The host covered him in cattails and sweet sage.

The prophet could see hundreds of white soldiers, a thick as locusts, riding their horses upside down into the village. Suddenly they began to fall dead from the sky. The warriors would win a great victory over the soldiers.

“Do not to take the spoils of the bodies or touch the bodies,” the buffalo warned, “or your people and their children will forever suffer for this. Leave them where they lay.”

On the third day the dancers were given water. The ordeal is over.

The camp soon moved to the Greasy Grass River. The Greasy Grass River was also known as the Little Big Horn.

Gen. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Calvary were on their way.

Poetry Matters One Soul and One Orbit at a Time

I think poetry, if it’s going to be really engaging and engaged, has to be able to come at the issues of our lives from all kinds of angles and all kinds of ways: loudly and quietly, angrily and soothingly, with comedy and with dead seriousness. […] Our lives are worth every risk, every manner of approach.

— Tim Seibles

Part one of the DV tribute to National Poetry Month is here: A World is Right When We Learn to Preserve and Embrace the Word Like a Poet

The question always comes up: Does poetry matter? Better yet, does art matter? This in a time of cult of celebrity, cult of nothingness, the cult of instant fame and repetitive prequels and sequels.

Even though everything is new under the sun in the 21st century, the way this country – Western Civilization, that is – rolls, more and more so-called artists, and that includes poets, are the dust bunny kings and queens. We aren’t taking chances – the big chances we have to take to stave off predatory, parasitic capitalism.

So, true art counts. If you can’t figure out what true art is and have to employ some arbiter of style and humanities to do the interpreting and defining for you, then you are lost in la-la land.

These are, of course, cynical questions, possibly steeped in a Western mindset where business as usual is all tied to the economics of relationships, and that includes the co-option of everything in American society wrapped around the barbed wire gulag that is Capitalism. No matter how frail the artistic expression is, or nuanced or nascent, the cynic would ask, “Does poetry in a time of our doomsday clock one minute to midnight and with 410 ppm Co2 in the atmosphere, in addition to the reality we are surviving, barely, under the strafing toxic clouds of the of one warped super power advancing in every aspect of humanity’s lives, including art, for total control of every blink, click of the mouse, lifted hand in artistic disbelief or fealty, count, matter, mean anything?”

Doing The Math?

by Raymond Nat Turner / August 19th, 2018

Knitting my brow, I’m
wondering whether we
have a word
Problem—
numerical,
mathematical,
logical,
or
political
Problem?

Scratching my head,
searching
for its formula I found:
Money Talks
to
our
representatives
Year-round and
Votes
boots, batons, fists, tasers,
Glocks, and cuffs cutting
off circulation—
24/7—
365…

Yet, I’m tutored,
3
minutes
2/4 Dance
is our
1
chance to
Advance…?

We are what we read, what we watch, what we think, what we discuss, what we believe, what we profess, what we say, and, then, what we buy, consumer, eat, build, destroy, create, throwaway, what we buy, sell, purchase, steal, take, give away, and what we drink – the Kool-Aid of Empire or the elixir of rebellion and revolution.

There will be a better day, and we have that thumb and toe hold inside, as poets – and as artists;  which in the end we call to them as our guides and our echoes, and the reflectors of universal humanity and chroniclers of struggle and celebration of glory in a human culture, in the individual. This planetary and spiritual life can sometimes be best reflected in and by and for “the poet.” Whether we see art as a song of the self, the poetry of creation and creativity, for those who create, show, and then sometimes lucky enough to live off of the stuff they create, somehow we/they have to have a more revered place in societies, and revered spaces for all humanity to partake in the action of being in-with-for-outside-inside the artist’s mind and heart, belly and soul.

But it’s poetry, no less, and we have this April as NPM, national poetry month. It’s not all razzle-dazzle in small communities where I live and work in – Oregon’s Central Coast, Lincoln City, Newport, Toledo, Siletz. Because in reality, a certain cultural critical mass has to cluster around so many elements to the humanities and arts as worthy of a cross-sectional interest in a community for those of us to put weight on the more lofty things like the arts, and in this case, the written and spoken word, poetry. Small towns or less populated communities and regions just don’t have the density of people who are willing to sacrifice a lot to try and be an expressive artist. Poets are like monks, Tibetan monks, in a small place like where I currently live.

If you haven’t met a poet, then the unusualness of it might intimidate.

However, there is some poetry going on here, and some of it is celebrated, in very small and rare moments. Read the piece I wrote on Kim Stafford, Oregon’s poet laureate here. He came to town and had a standing room only venue at the local public library! Here, Flotsam Central Oregon. Then my poem about interacting with Kim Stafford: Somewhere in a Writer’s Workshop He Learns the Lines from “Oregon Trail“,

Think about how difficult it is to get the attention of small-town America when so many colluding forces of economic pain and retrenchment of services and erosion in the public good/health/welfare/safety nets that really hit these 10,000 and 15,000 population communities that are tied to mostly servicing tourists and with timber and fish.

Then, when and where and how can we get overworked teachers and over-stimulated movers and shakers of a community to concentrate just a bit on the vitality of poets in their communities to exhibit that wonderful “business” of translating sight, sound, touch, taste and perception, philosophy, universality, psychology, intellect, joy, struggle, pain and transcendence?

Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility — William Wordsworth

A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great — Randall Jarrell

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.  —  Percy Bysshe Shelley

Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people. — Adrian Mitchell

Well, write poetry, for God’s sake, it’s the only thing that matters. — ee cummings

Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.  — Carl Sandburg

I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.  —  Bob Dylan

Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.  — Dylan Thomas

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering.  — Robert Frost

The poet is the priest of the invisible. — Wallace Stevens

Poetry is, at bottom, a criticism of life.  — Matthew Arnold

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.  — Emily Dickinson

There you have it, “as if the top of my head were taken off,” that is poetry. What more of a graphic image do we need to follow the crumbs there? Poetry —  That process allows humanity to share the act of being, because without words, there are no ideas, nothing, really, to bring forth the passing of knowledge. Naming of plants, planets, porpoises, peoples, it all involves the art form of discovery and teaching. What better way than to draw people to it with a poem.

That brain surgery Emily Dickinson alludes to is the value of poetry, everyday – it comes to people in unexpected ways, a dance, inside, especially for those who never thought the poet would emanate from the soul of a biker or street walker or drug user or incarcerated man or high-falluten debutante.

All sorts of ways to study and express poetry, categorizing, throwing movements into time-frames, geographical locations, cultural, ethnic, racial, national, self-identity framing modalities. Think of a poetic movement or some other poetry foundation, and then there you go. In today’s parlance, should stave off the madness. Below are a few poems, challenging, possibly tied to what this essay is attempting to get at — is there a form for ecological thinking, deep ecology, psychology of Sixth Mass Extinction, a sociological consideration tied to an earth/Earth without ice?

Form as in poetry!?

Ecopoetics

Similar to ethnopoetics in its emphasis on drawing connections between human activity—specifically the making of poems—and the environment that produces it, ecopoetics rose out of the late 20th-century awareness of ecology and concerns over environmental disaster. A multidisciplinary approach that includes thinking and writing on poetics, science, and theory as well as emphasizing innovative approaches common to conceptual poetry, ecopoetics is not quite nature poetry. The influential journal Ecopoetics, edited by Jonathan Skinner, publishes writing that explores “creative-critical edges between making and writing” and features poets such as Jack Collom, Juliana Spahr, and Forrest Gander.

This is not enough, though, now is it?

What short stories and poems will arise from the intersections of heart, mind, soul, belly and the cascading realities of a world on the skids?

To that point, thousands of miles from Siberia, Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks found freeze-ups of permafrost shifting from mid-January to as late as March, happening since 2014.

Additionally, from National Geographic: “It’s worrisome,’ says Sue Natali, a permafrost expert, also with Woods Hole, who saw an active layer not re-freeze recently during a research trip to Alaska’s Yukon region. ‘When we see things happening that haven’t happened in the lifetime of the scientists studying them, that should be a concern.”

The stakes in the Arctic are high. It’s common knowledge that if permafrost layers are consistently exposed to thawing, consequences can be hard, fast and not pleasant. Counter intuitively, once it’s unfrozen, permafrost can potentially release GHG year-round, not only in summertime. And, that’s a huge problem without a solution, unless well-beforehand Homo sapiens halt GHG emissions. No chance.

Dangerous territory, looking at climate, earth, raging tipping points, put into the prism of poetry. Many many Americans coming out of MFA schools, well, this is verboten, pushing themes or social conscious issues as the germination of poetry.

Some Effects of Global Warming in Lackawanna County

By Jay Parini

The maples sweat now, out of season.
Buds pop eyes in wintry bushes
as the birds arrive, not having checked
the calendars or clocks. They scramble
in the frost for seeds, while underground
a sobbing starts in roots and tubers.
Ice cracks easily along the bank.
It slides in gullies where a bear, still groggy,
steps through coiled wire of the weeds.
Kids in T-shirts run to school, unaware
that summer is a long way off.
Their teachers flirt with off-the-wall assignments,
drum their fingers on the sweaty desktops.
As for me, my heart leaps high—
a deer escaping from the crosshairs,
skipping over barely frozen water
as the surface bends and splinters underfoot.

I can hear those MFA’s now — “Oh god, not more of this tripe. Poetry is about me, us, me myself and I, about angst and living hard, about my bi-polar disorder, about me in the system, me in the matrix, about me and my feelings and how I see the world.”

I have had argument after argument about the valueness of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, a program that was borne of Cold War logic and the greatness of America (sic, sic).  Interestingly, the Workshop’s second director, Paul Engle, embodied everything the 1950s conservative mind embodied. Read this piece on the MFA program here, How Iowa Flattened Literature With CIA help, writers were enlisted to battle both Communism and egg-headed abstraction. The damage to writing lingers.

To have read enough to feel the oceanic movement of events and ideas in history; to have experienced enough to escape the confines of a personal provincialism; to have distanced yourself enough from your hang-ups and pettiness to create words reflecting the emotional complexity of minds beyond your own; to have worked with language long enough to be able to wield it beautifully; and to have genius enough to find dramatic situations that embody all that you have lived and read, is rare. It’s not something that every student of creative writing—in the hundreds of programs up and running these days—is going to pull off. Maybe one person a decade will pull it off. Maybe one person every half century will really pull it off.

Of course, we live in an age that cringes at words like “greatness”—and also at the notion that we’re not all great. But ages that didn’t cringe at greatness produced great writing without creative-writing programs. And people who attend creative-writing programs for the most part wish to write great things. It’s sick to ask them to aspire but not to aspire too much. An air of self-doubt permeates the discipline, showing up again and again as the question, “Can writing be taught?”

Faced with this question, teachers of creative writing might consider adopting (as a few, of course, already do) a defiant rather than resigned attitude, doing more than supervising the building of the bases of pyramids. They might try to get beyond the senses. Texts worth reading—worth reading now, and worth reading 200 years from now—coordinate the personal with the national or international; they embed the instant in the instant’s full context and long history. It’s what the Odyssey does and what Middlemarch does and what Invisible Man does and what Jonathan Franzen’s and Marilynne Robinson’s recent novels try to do. But to write like this, you’re going to have to spend some time thinking.  — Eric Bennett

That’s a whole other story, MFA programs and the flattening of literature, fiction, and, alas, the same holds true of poetry. Maybe not, though, since how do poets learn to channel their voice and to develop writerly ways? Maybe in groups, sure, workshops in some senior center, right, but why not schools; i.e., community colleges and universities? I’ve taught a few writing classes in colleges, and outside colleges. Poetry is a tough one to get young and old to wrap their brains around, but, alas, poetry is where the immediate song of the person gets to lift off like a kite on a good windy beach day!

Poetry and the environment?

What does Jean-Paul Satre say about African poets? Black Orpheus

When you removed the gag that was keeping these black mouths shut, what were you hoping for? That they would sing your praises? Did you think that when they raised themselves up again, you would read adoration in the eyes of these heads that our fathers had forced to bend down to the very ground? Here are black men standing, looking at us, and I hope that you–like me–will feel the shock of being seen. For three thousand years, the white man has enjoyed the privilege of seeing without being seen; he was only a look –the light from his eyes drew each thing out of the shadow of its birth; the whiteness of his skin was another look, condensed light. The white man –white because he was man, white like daylight, white like truth, white like virtue –lighted up the creation like a torch and unveiled the secret white essence of beings. Today, these black men are looking at us, and our gaze comes back to our own eyes; in their turn, black torches light up the world and our white heads are no more than Chinese lanterns swinging in the wind. A black poet –unconcerned with us–whispers to the woman he loves:

Naked woman, black woman
Dressed in your color which is life .. .
Naked woman, dark woman,
Firm fleshed ripe fruit, somber ecstasies of black wine.

and our whiteness seems to us to be a strange livid varnish that
keeps our skin from breathing –white tights, worn out at the
elbows and knees, under which we would find real human flesh
the color of black wine if we could remove them. We think we
are essential to the world — suns of its harvests, moons of its
tides; we are no more than its fauna, beasts. Not even beasts:

These gentlemen from the city
These proper gentlemen
Who no longer know how to dance in the evening by moonlight
Who no longer know how to walk on the flesh of their feet
Who no longer know how to tell tales by the fireside . . .

Formerly Europeans with divine right, we were already feeling our dignity beginning to crumble under American or Soviet looks; Europe was already no more than a geographical accident, the peninsula that Asia shoves into the Atlantic. We were hoping at least to find a bit of our greatness reflected in the domesticated eyes of the Africans. But there are no more domesticated eyes: there are wild and free looks that judge our world.

Maybe poetry needs some of that crumbling under the look of a new Anthropocene world!

There is Kickstarter, and an Earth Day 2019 goal of a book of poems that looks at climate, ecology, us inside the environment, Gaia.

The cover will feature photography by Daniel Bosma depicting an "aerial view of amazing natural shapes and textures created by tidal changes," with design by VJB/Scribe.

Elizabeth J. Coleman’s new anthology, Here: Poems for the Planet, published by Copper Canyon Press and live on Kickstarter now, is a collection of poems from over 125 authors — Pulitzer Prize winners, Poet Laureates, activists, emerging writers, and youth poets as young as six — that confront climate change. It has “an arc that bends towards hope,” says Copper Canyon editor Elaina Ellis, who worked on the book with Coleman.

“Poetry is moving and touching in a way that dry facts are not,” Coleman says. “You can reach people’s hearts. If you tell someone about the hell we’re heading towards, people just despair. They become indifferent. It’s too big. It seems very different when you talk about ‘the polar bear drifting out of history on a wedge of melting ice,’” as a poem by Paul Guest puts it.

Here is the long list of poets and translations of poems (125) in this collection.

A unique way to create activism at the end of the collection:

The Union of Concerned Scientists created a Guide to Activism just for this project, to follow the poetry in Here: Poems for the Planet. After the poems have helped you feel what’s at stake, the guide will help you take action toward a better future.

The guide walks through best practices for anyone who wishes to:

  • Contact your Representatives and others holding governmental power
  • Put pressure on corporations to commit to green practices
  • Communicate with media about environmental issues and actions
  • Connect with others in the community who are working for environmental justice, against climate change, or on an issue you’re passionate about

By mobilizing scientists and combining their voices with those of advocates, educators, business people, and other concerned citizens, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has amassed an impressive history of accomplishments. UCS scientists and engineers develop and implement innovative, practical solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems—from combating global warming and developing sustainable ways to feed, power, and transport ourselves, to fighting misinformation, advancing racial equity, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.

The editor of Here: Poems for the Planet has chosen to donate all royalties from the book (including those copies reserved through this Kickstarter campaign) to UCS.

Here you go, Earth Day coming up, and National Poetry Month in a time of despise, syphilitic tweets, uncompromising crass commercialization of humanity. A few picks, hodgepodge style.

Remember

Joy Harjo

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

Once the World Was Perfect

By Joy Harjo

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

Nolan,

By Ed Roberson

The apparition of these faces in the crowd…)
riding the bullet train
the view passes by so fast
it is either a blur they say

or —like night lightning
strobes the raindrops
to a stop in midair

in that soundless moment—
maybe from the train you can glimpse
waiting there

one of those famous petals stopped still
in midair holding its wave to you
in place.    write us

and tell us if
this is so.

Storm Fear

By Robert Frost

When the wind works against us in the dark,
And pelts the snow
The lower chamber window on the east,
And whispers with a sort of stifled bark,
The beast,
‘Come out! Come out!’—
It costs no inward struggle not to go,
Ah, no!
I count our strength,
Two and a child,
Those of us not asleep subdued to mark
How the cold creeps as the fire dies at length,—
How drifts are piled,
Dooryard and road ungraded,
Till even the comforting barn grows far away
And my heart owns a doubt
Whether ‘tis in us to arise with day
And save ourselves unaided.

Song of Myself, 22

By Walt Whitman

You sea! I resign myself to you also—I guess what you mean,
I behold from the beach your crooked inviting fingers,
I believe you refuse to go back without feeling of me,
We must have a turn together, I undress, hurry me out of sight of the land,
Cushion me soft, rock me in billowy drowse,
Dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.

Sea of stretch’d ground-swells,
Sea breathing broad and convulsive breaths,
Sea of the brine of life and of unshovell’d yet always-ready graves,
Howler and scooper of storms, capricious and dainty sea,
I am integral with you, I too am of one phase and of all phases.

Partaker of influx and efflux I, extoller of hate and conciliation,
Extoller of armies and those that sleep in each others’ arms.

I am he attesting sympathy,
(Shall I make my list of things in the house and skip the house that supports them?)

I am not the poet of goodness only, I do not decline to be the poet of wickedness also.

What blurt is this about virtue and about vice?
Evil propels me and reform of evil propels me, I stand indifferent,
My gait is no fault-finder’s or rejecter’s gait,
I moisten the roots of all that has grown.

Did you fear some scrofula out of the unflagging pregnancy?
Did you guess the celestial laws are yet to be work’d over and rectified?

I find one side a balance and the antipodal side a balance,
Soft doctrine as steady help as stable doctrine,
Thoughts and deeds of the present our rouse and early start.

This minute that comes to me over the past decillions,
There is no better than it and now.

What behaved well in the past or behaves well to-day is not such a wonder,
The wonder is always and always how there can be a mean man or an infidel.

**

Early in the book, Ishmael (Daniel Quinn, 1992) a man, the narrator, answers a newspaper ad that says:

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.”

The narrator meets the teacher — Ishmael, a thousand-pound gorilla who communicates telepathically. Using the Socratic method, Ishmael implores the narrator to think for himself on “how things came to be this way” and to come to the understanding that our culture has been enacting a story from the book of Genesis: that Man is here to conquer the earth.

Ishmael separates humans into two groups — “Leavers” and “Takers.” “Leavers” formed cultures that thrived for thousands of years before the agricultural revolution — hunters and gatherers, herders, indigenous societies. Those cultures lived lightly and took only what they needed. “Takers” are us — the people who killed or annexed those cultures and continue to do so; logging and farming in the Amazon threatens some of the last uncontacted tribes on Earth.

“Mother Culture teaches you that this is as it should be,” Ishmael tells the narrator. “Except for a few thousand savages scattered here and there, all the peoples of the earth are now enacting this story. This is the story man was born to enact [according to the mythology], and to depart from it is to resign from the human race itself. … There’s no way out of it except through death.”

Unlike “Leaver” societies, which sustained themselves and the natural world for thousands of years, our “Taker” society will run out of things to kill and will die. Quinn likens the agricultural revolution to humans’ first attempts at flight. Those attempts failed because we tried to mimic a bird. Only when we discovered the law of aerodynamics did we learn to fly.

Through “Ishmael,” Quinn argues that no law or theory underpins “Taker” culture — and that’s why it has been in free fall since its adoption.

Quinn emphasizes that the natural world, which includes “Leaver” cultures, sustains itself through what he calls the law of limited competition. Under this peace-keeping law, he says, you may not hunt down competitors or deny them food or access to it. You also may not commit genocide against your competition.

“And only once in all the history of this planet has any species tried to live in defiance of this law — and it wasn’t an entire species, it was only one people, those I’ve named the Takers,” Ishmael tells the narrator. “Ten thousand years ago, this one people said, ‘No more. Man was not meant to be bound by this law,’ and they began to live in a way that flouts the law at every point.” Source: Pete Reinwald

I Went to Flagstaff for a Commencement

What is explained can be denied but what is felt cannot be forgotten.

Charles Bowden

What do you say, at age 61, as I am rubbernecking the constant superficial, seedy, consumer-caked world now as someone considered a major failure – a few dozens jobs, mostly sacked from, and a few dozen careers, and, I am slogging away at a homeless shelter trying to save myself from the constrictor of capitalism, that strangulating system that gets us all complicit in the crime, making us all little Eichmann’s in this murder incorporated killing, complicit in the hyper exploitation of man, woman, child, ecosystem?

Consumerism as a psychological wedge to allow for the synchronized event horizon of finance-government-surveillance-media-military to work on the masses as a suffocating fog pumped out across the globe by an elite bent on total dominance.

We can jump onto the global stage and see the battering truth:

Diagnosing the Empire with Sadistic Personality Disorder (SPD)

Western culture is clearly obsessed with rules, guilt, submissiveness and punishment.

By now it is clear that the West is the least free society on Earth. In North America and Europe, almost everyone is under constant scrutiny: people are spied on, observed, their personal information is being continually extracted, and the surveillance cameras are used indiscriminately.

Life is synchronized and managed. There are hardly any surprises.

One can sleep with whomever he or she wishes (as long as it is done within the ‘allowed protocol’).

Homosexuality and bisexuality are allowed. But that is about all; that is how far ‘freedom’ usually stretches.
Rebellion is not only discouraged, it is fought against, brutally. For the tiniest misdemeanors or errors, people end up behind bars. As a result, the U.S. has more prisoners per capita than any other country on Earth, except the Seychelles.

And as a further result, almost all conversations, but especially public discourses, are now being controlled by so-called ‘political correctness’ and its variants.

But back to the culture of fear and punishment.

Look at the headlines of the Western newspapers. For example, New York Times from April 12. 2018: Punishment of Syria may be harsher this time.

We are so used to such perverse language used by the Empire that it hardly strikes us as twisted, bizarre, pathological.

It stinks of some sadomasochistic cartoon, or of a stereotypical image of an atrocious English teacher holding a ruler over a pupil’s extended hands, shouting, “Shall I?”

Carl Gustav Jung described Western culture, on several occasions, as a “pathology”. He did it particularly after WWII, but he mentioned that the West had been committing terrible crimes in all parts of the world, for centuries. That is most likely why the Western mainstream psychiatrists and psychologists have been glorifying the ego-centric and generally apolitical Sigmund Freud, while ignoring, even defaming, Carl Gustav Jung.

The reality is, though, most of the revolutionaries like myself in this cesspool of capitalism have to slog ahead in the belly of the beast, without the rarefied air of being an international journalist like Andre Vltchek. The reality is most of us know that when 11 million babies under age two die of treatable maladies each year, or when bodies are shot through and extremities are shattered by the sadism that is the Gestapo-Apartheid “state/religion” of Israel, we push through the fog of rapacious consumerism and consort with our deep empathy for our brothers and sisters under the thumb of despotic regimes like USA, Russia, Israel, China, India, et al.

Because, now, no matter the level of melanin in a collective people’s skin or the desperation of the people, the globe has been infected by a virus called Capitalism-Finance-Unfettered Exploitation.

Exploitation is a pretty tame word for what I am hinting at: destruction, annihilation, extinction. As is the case with me, a rant percolates from the bowels of the commonness of my life, the microcosm of traveling from point A to point B. What happens in Vegas happens in New York City. What unfolds in little town USA is unfolding in San Fran.

Whatever it is, here I was, back in Arizona, first Phoenix, the cancer, the cancer, and then up to Flagstaff, oh that place before white man invasion sacred healing cloud island peaks. Arizona, as I’ve written extensively, is where I cut my teeth as a small town newspaper reporter, learned directly the value of radical conservation, became a brother in arms for Chicanoism, tried my hand at diving and helping bring across refugees of the proxy wars of USA in Guatemala, etc.

I’ve written poetically about the place – here and there, and have inserted the value of those formative years into almost everything I’ve written, taught, done in my 48 years since coming to Arizona young, 13:

Wrestling the Blind, Chasing Apache Horses, and Unpacking the Vietnam War – (September 4th, 2013) or page 12, Cirque

But this most recent trip, a weekend, I went to celebrate my 22-year-old niece’s matriculation, with bachelor of science degree, from Northern Arizona University. The old days when I was young, 19, and a journalist, and then, activist, like quicksilver in my brain, taking over not only my senses, but memory. Many of us saw the writing on the wall 40 and 50 years ago – this barely inhabitable place (a place of migration for Papago and other indigenous people’s), with a blitzkrieg of outsiders plowing the desert and eventually corralling the Colorado River into brackish canals to feed the malls and mayhem of winter baseball leagues and out of control military complex tax cheats. Three state universities, and then this new cheater, University of Phoenix . . . headquarters for the bizarre U-Haul . . . dry mothball arenas for the USA’s killing flying machines. Odd as hell place, with the likes of Edward Abbey running amok. I hear now Noam Chomsky is visiting prof at U of A in Tucson.

Humans build their societies around consumption of fossil water long buried in the earth, and these societies, being based on temporary resources, face the problem of being temporary themselves.

— Charles Bowden, Killing Hidden Waters

I kind of think of Charles Bowden from time to time, who was a reporter and novelist living in Tucson and covering the Southwest and northern Mexico. When I go into the desert, after looking at some shell of a rag that we now call daily newspapers, I feel this guy’s haunting – now dead going on four years:

When he got a hold of a story, he wouldn’t let it go, said former Citizen copy editor Judy Carlock. He had a very generous heart and a lot of compassion … he didn’t mince words.

The way I was trained up, reporters went toward the story, just as firemen rush toward the fire. It is a duty.

He was compelled to work; he had to write … in vivid imagery and concrete detail, Carlock said. Every Monday morning, the (Citizen) city desk would come in to find a long, brilliant masterpiece they had to find room for in the paper.

He lived at full tilt, fueled on caffeine and nicotine, said Carlock. Bowden had stopped smoking about two years ago, Carroll said, and was lifting weights, working on that second wind in his life.

He was no saint, but he was true to himself, said Carlock. I think he secretly relished being thought of as a rogue.

This amazing ecosystem, with syncopated Native American tribes and amazing Mexican communities turned into a wheezing series of six-lane freeways and spiraling communities for the infirm, the emphysemic and the insane.

It’s really difficult to find a place to start.  Sedona and the vortices? Flagstaff, from one-horse town to bedroom (climatically cooler but fire prone) to Phoenix? The 365 days a year fire pit danger, as heat comes earlier, rain disappears quicker, and the landscape is peppered with suburbia’s faux Mexican-Italian-Spanish-Greek designs as the ubiquitous 20-mile caravans of cars and trucks push the hot tunnel of air which is Arizona?

As a former newspaperman, I am compelled to read the dwindling local news anywhere I go, even five and dime advertising things, or corny local monthlies, and so just a few minutes with the Arizona Republic show me where the mass delusion, mass magical thinking and mass ignorance get set in. But, compelling, the stories slugs or ledes:

• Border Patrol punk who murdered 16 year old for throwing rocks, and the jury convicting him of involuntary manslaughter gets hung

• Animal abuse claims against the Havasupal Tribe’s section of the Grand Canyon – you know, animal lovers saying the pack animals used to ferry the tourists into the Canyon are treated like shit (abused) . . . . oh those do-gooders, just how many of them are animal-free product users . . . how many of them know how every stitch of clothing, every chemical smeared in their lives, every product of the modern age are placed in their realm with millions of rats, mice, dogs, and apes murdered for that consumer entitlement . . . ?

• PK12 teachers on the march for wage increases, class size reductions, more counselors, more money for staff and support personnel . . . and yet many of these Arizona scallywags want them to eat shit

• Flagstaff keeping homeless people from living – camping – on public property through ordinances from hell

• A great female representative from the state wanting dreamer children – undocumented – out of the Copper State, more of the same Trump et al giving children the boot while Trump’s monster wife calls for no more bullying

• God in the classroom, a civics literacy bill, more report cards for schools (to fail them so the charter schools get more easy pickings), and this drive for charter (for- profit, hedge-fund lined) schools to take from the public coffers and teach absolute shit

• More gigantic housing developments planned in the Sonora desert without any water delivery plans, without any water!

• Raytheon Missile Systems breaks ground on an expansion of its Tucson facility – 2,000 more Little Eichmann’s added to the already large 10,000 workers designing, testing, manufacturing and delivering via Amazon dot Com killing systems to include Tomahawk missiles and this new Stormbreaker small diameter bomb

• Mexican-American female columnist for the Arizona Republic newspaper bashing the possibility of socialist former Mexico City mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador making it as president of Mexico . . . “he’s a Hugo Chavez-style authoritarian tropical messiah who would turn Mexico into another Venezuela”

• The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community building lavish baseball stadiums for professional teams like the Diamondbacks

• HBO plans to debut John McCain documentary on Memorial Day – “John McCain; For Whom the Bell Tolls”

• soda or sugar taxes outlawed in the state
• non-English contracts will be voided in all insurance transactions, and beyond

• Abortion patient questions are now mandatory

Oh the compounding blasphemy. If this were a thematic essay, well, here are the components:

• Wanton excess in the state, with brand new, freshly washed expensive SUV’s, power cars, pick-up trucks

• Endless strip mall after strip mall and faux Spanish colonial kitsch and after faux Hacienda kitsch which propels the dribbling consumerism of 24/7 Superstore Grand Openings

• Zero tribute to the peoples of the real Arizona – Chemehuevi, Chiricahua, Cocopa, or Xawitt Kwñchawaay, Dilzhe’e, Apache, Havasupai, or Havasuw `Baaja, Hopi, Hualapai, or Hwal `Baaja, Maricopa, or Piipaash, Mohave, or Hamakhava (also spelled Mojave), Navajo, or Diné, Southern Paiute, Akimel O’odham, formerly Pima, Quechan, or Yuma, San Carlos Apache, Nné – Coyotero, or Western Apaches, Tewa, Tohono O’odham, formerly Papago, Southern Ute, White Mountain Apache, Ndé – Coyotero or Western Apaches, Xalychidom, or Halchidhoma, Yaqui people, Yavapai, or Kwevkepaya, Wipukepa, Tolkepaya, and Yavepé (four separate groups), Zuni, or A:shiwi

• Redneck clashing with wimpy liberal clashing with snowbird clashing with old Mafia clashing with Hispanic-Latino/a clashing with senior citizen Trump lover clashing with new money clashing with the Raytheon mentality clashing with the endless cancer spur that is Arizona

• My old stomping grounds, now despoiled by in-ground pools, putrid man-made lakes, endless track homes like carcinoma, endless twisting cul-de-sacs where minds end up mushed up in mojito-ville

• Hatred, man, the Trump way, McCain way, Goldwater, putrid former Maricopa County Sheriff and Minutemen militias on the border, and the Gestapo Border Patrol and the rot which is a state in the union emblematic of red state loafers and the hard-working people like those teachers

• A college, NAU, broken by a president who cheats faculty and luxuriates in the money thrown her way and the attention the local yokels give her

• Students fighting this female NAU president Rita Cheng who wants cuts to all sorts of important programs (in the liberal arts) so she can court those wanton criminal corporations and alt-right Koch Brothers

• The graduation I went to was embarrassing, dead, nothing in the way of speakers, controlled by this president, and was ten times more lackluster than a Missouri Synod Lutheran Sunday meeting

• Peter Principle of incompetents rising, as in the case of Rita Cheng and thousands of movers and shakers (sic) that run the state

• The inarticulate middle and upper classes of society exemplified in Arizona

• A state with more sun per year with nary a solar panel in sight

• The rotten belief that infinite growth, infinite in-migration, infinite giveaways to the corporate leeches will lead to prosperity

• The Caucasian and other Whitey people’s insipid Trader Joe’s-Dutch Brothers-Bed, Bath and Beyond systematic lobotomizing of the masses

• Sprayed-on lawns and Astroturf backyards scattered around the desiccating real lawns throughout the entire Phoenix and Tucson metroplexes

• Daily reminder of the old adage of “who the fuck thought white people and their poodles settling in Arizona made any sense”

• Like anywhere else, Arizona has no worthy newspaper of note anymore, and the news is not to be seen in the light of day

I’ve always said, that one slice of life is a microcosm, that splice onto one of the big fat four-hour reels of 70 mm movie film depicting the universality in the absurdity of being Homo Sapiens under the thumb of money changers, militaries and grand exploiters. Example: One shit-hole sugar cane fucker and his sibling (Fanjul Brothers) and his fucking family destroying the lives of thousands of slaves, upsetting the natural world, and sending the sweet sting of death to millions. One fucking family owning billions of dollars and billions of people and draining the Everglades. Something along those lines – just look at history of rubber, gold, oil, wood, fruit, minerals, raw labor, animals.

This arithmetic is as clear as the day is long, in a world where this time, the so-called now time, is bereft of no logic, no ethics, no depth of knowledge, no truth except the rubbery huckster kind. While NAU had zero commencement speakers for all five graduation sequences, we now have to read about a world of Rex Tillerson — that son of a bitch lying, thieving, fossil fuel thug — now at a graduation for a military institute (what the fuck are we still living in a world of military academies – sic).

You can’t make this shit up in a work of fiction:

In a commencement speech at Virginia Military Institute, the camera-shy former secretary of state gave his most public remarks since President Donald Trump ousted him from the White House in March.

“As I reflect upon the state of American democracy,” he told the Class of 2018, “I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

Tillerson’s emphasis on integrity echoed his parting words to colleagues at the State Department in March. Then he went even further:

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”

Tillerson’s time in Trump administration was marked by tension. He reportedly called the president a “moron” eight months before he was fired and replaced by then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

But the oil industry veteran has yet to directly criticize Trump. His speech, which began with a discussion on the globalized economy and stressed “the value of friends and allies,” is the closest he has come to attacking Trump’s rhetoric and “America First” policy.

This from the moronic Huffington Post. Alternative realities, sure, Mister Exxon. The reality of propping up dictators, of hiring murderers to take over land, of stealing oil from any number of countries, and the complete environmental despoilment created by the great Exxon-Shell-Chevron-You-Name-It soul and soil eating machine. Imagine, this guy’s a thug, Tillerson, who has no concept of realities, except his thuggery, and a billionaire mentality. Yeah, Exxon and the alternative reality of climate change and the bullshit destruction of the earth from fossil fuel burning. What great record this keynote speaker Tillerson has, and, in the end, he’s as ballless as the lot of the millionaires\billionaires, afraid to criticize the deviant, stupid and reckless Trump.

Where do these people come from? Which DNA-warped womb do they exit from? Which felonious family raised them? Which two-bit schools educated them? Which insane people hire them and then promote them?

A two-day trip back to Arizona is like a two-year LSD trip, floating around with mushrooms on the tongue daily, as bottles of mescal run through the veins. I am telling you, when you get out of your routine – I am a social worker in a veterans’ homeless shelter, where the word “chaos” describes the totality of my time there, daily – and this rushing hot wave of air sucks the oxygen from the lungs for a minute or two. Arizona is California is Oregon is Washington . . . .

And exactly what is the US of A, with so much junk, so much materialistic droning, and yet, poverty is growing, big time, and the fear of the future in terms of no one achieving affordable housing and clean public transportation and free education and decent jobs is like us all whistling as we walk past the graveyard which is Western Capitalism.

Arizona, like any other state, is defined by the kleptomaniacs in government, on boards, in corporations and in the political class. Arizona is defined by a schizophrenia of faux opulence and real indebtedness and our fellow citizens struggling, dying, really, in a world that is upside down when it comes to clean air, clean water, real medicine, and affordable life.

Arizona is the mix of Eastern seaboard accents and southern twangs and amazingly mean people who are in it for themselves, for their backyard in-ground pools, for the 6,000 square foot Barcelona- style triple-decker home. We are talking about leathery skin from all the sun and leathery pools of empathy in the hearts and minds of most Arizonans.

Yet, here I am, 61, wishing my niece good tidings, as she embarks on the journey of medical school applications, and then, what? What world is it we have to give or anoint our children with? I am flabbergasted at the stupidity of the NAU graduation, the bloodlessness of the speakers, the lack of verve, the paucity of an event that for many has cost a pretty penny in debt for parents and children alike.

I end with 2011 commencement speech at Olympia’s Evergreen State College, Angela Davis:

Commencement speakers frequently assume that their role is to encourage graduates to go out and conquer the world. The task I have set for myself is much more modest. I want to urge you to be able to retrieve and sort through and rethink and preserve memories of your time here, which may very well turn out to be the most important period of your lives. Like the philosopher Walter Benjamin, I emphasize the past as the key to your future.

And so as you move on, some of you will go to graduate school, right? Some of you will find jobs. Unfortunately, some of you may not find jobs. Some of you will make families, some of you will engage in activism, some you will be involved in cultural work, and there are all kinds of permutations and combinations of all of these. But I would like you to periodically stop and reflect about the extent to which your lives were radically transformed by your experiences here. And I hope that you will have courage to draw upon the education you have received here from your most challenging professors, as you try to imagine more equitable ways of inhabiting all of our worlds. If you continue to think and act in the tradition of your college you will respect all of the inhabitants of our environments, and not simply assume that the environment must be preserved for the sake of future human generations, but rather for all the future generations of plant life, future generations of all animal life.

How do we extricate ourselves from enduring hierarchies, class, race, sexual, religious, geopolitical? This question, I think, is the question that needs to be posed. Posing that question is the mark of educated human beings. So I might then ask you to think about education as the practice of freedom. Education is the practice of freedom. And so freedom becomes, not an imagined condition in the future, not the set of achievements that will fulfill some desire, but rather an unrelenting, unending, collective effort to reconstruct our lives, our ways of relating to each other, our communities, and our futures. Congratulations to The Evergreen State College class of 2011.

Creative Juices in a Time of Commodification, Watered Down Drivel, Nothingness of American Fiction

The autumn of the patriarch, man, thinking hard about Marquez’s book, thinking back in lamentation bursts, going back in time when I met him at the University of Texas at Austin, and how he spoke to me as a young person, hopeful that I would be something as unique as he was, using what I told him was my West Texas/Chihuahua “magic realism,” founded on what I learned from his One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Those were the days, man — Kurt Vonnegut and Denis Levertov, Annie Dillard and Tim O’Brien, Robert Bly and Leslie Marmon Silko.  So much more in the verdant garden of my youth.

…as he discovered in the course of his uncountable years that a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth…

…the day shit is worth money, poor people will be born without an asshole

Gabriel García Márquez, The Autumn of the Patriarch

El Paso, Gateway to the Jornada del Muerto

It was a lie, really, belief — young, in my twenties, teaching English, working my ass off in graduate school, odd jobs in Juarez, lots of poetry readings, art shows, radical border rights militancy. In and out of dream, really, living in El Paso, in an old apartment complex that used to be a bordello Pancho Villa reportedly frequented, then turned into a TB sanitarium. I thought I would have been set up like some great American novelist, or ensconced in tenure playing the MFA game, or just a vagabond with a one hit, the one-hit wonder of it all. By thirty.

Long in the tooth, 61 coming barreling down next month. So many connected and fragmented thoughts, and a few dozen novels inside, despair, natural revulsion of Oprah or clique NYC publishing world, and fear of the Hollywoodization of every thought sputtering out of the masses. Here’s a weird scene: I vividly remember the peas and mashed potatoes Cormac McCarthy pushed around on his plate at a cafeteria in El Paso. Man, he was beginning to take words and his spare punctuation big, from the hollers of Tennessee, the muse of Faulkner’s Mississippi hardscrabble set in motion; now in Paseo del Norte, hiding out (sort of) looking for beat-up West Texas seclusion and novel inspiration. It was a brief hello, and on the surface he looked like insurance salesman or appliance store owner. I asked him if he’d come on board by showing show up to one of the undergraduate classes I was teaching at the university (UT-El Paso).

In a nutshell (mesquite bean) McCarthy basically said he didn’t do those things, things like throwing in for students, guiding aspiring writers, messing with his own art with others.

I saw Cormac (The Road, All the Pretty Horses, Blood Meridian) on a fat lazy chair on the Oprah Show talking to her in her giddiness about his punctuation – or lack thereof. Literary genius?

A Country Not for Old Men — Re-Birth Inside Transitions

How does a man decide in what order to abandon his life?
― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

Unfolding dementia at a young age? The shit I did and saw and believed, no Hollywood or any-Wood writer or director could dream of, script in, or even hang with me living it. This is not some blowhard release, or a “wow look at my experience now that I am turning 61 on February 6, the same day just another nemesis of mine, Ronald Reagan, was born” admonition. This is the reality of a Marxist living and working in “their house,” putting on those scrubs of their trades – English faculty, environmentalist, budding-aspiring novelist, photographer, newspaper journalist. No big laments, for sure, as my luck of the spin on the globe where I was borne probably has given so many incalculable advantages. Guaranteed, most consumers of story – book readers – are looking for simplicity in language, stories set in the love and hate, death and fear that encapsulates American writers, including McCarthy.

Anyone looking at my life seems like an antithetical process of literary creativity, and I am anything but what the average consumer of books wants as an author, but the kernel of what ends up on the page comes from the weight of tides and blurry sunsets and all the storms and heatwaves in between. Sweating through visions, and the hard ache of failure after failure, and the unbearable, sometimes, of witnessing the perversions of the world. We have to take stock in all of that messy emotional landscape. Being out of work this time around – sacked October 26 – and hunting for the crumbs of the capitalists is a process of bleary thinking, emotions lost in an oil slick of the leaky boat listing on the ocean of our discontent.

My birth: San Pedro, California, for my first six months in air, and then, the Azores, thanks to enlisted Air Force father. A real epigenetic reckoning, my first four years on the Portuguese islands, all that sea, those ocean chasms, earthquakes, the white-washed Catholic puritanism, the old fishers and young kids, the poverty and the USA using strips of land for Air Force machinations. I had a local woman – Maria Gloria de la Sauza — taking care of me and my sister, and we went to her family’s place on religious occasions, those memories hard-wired forever. Trapped in some dreams even half a century lived.

The festival of the bread each Saturday, the masses, the fishermen bringing in their hauls. Barracuda caught with piano wire. The weeping candles in black moldy chapels. The priests and the military men. Poverty, bellies protruding, rust, cobblestone roads, potato fields, hacking tuberculosis, heavy hips, skinny men, children like hermit crabs scampering about, the unbelievable heaven in that blue sky and the black ink of the Pacific. Nine hundred miles from Lisbon.

Exactly the spring of my existence – aunties and uncles in Germany and Scotland and England. I remember those trips over the sea, prop planes, the absolutely magical motion of Douglas DC-7’s flying the friendly skies of Pan Am and Eastern Airlines. Imagine, four years old, and one of the four prop engines catching on fire as we were coming back to the Azores. Imagine a time, 1961, when the spring of a child lasted with the touch of fingers on the pages of books, in the hard breathing of hikes, walking, outside until dusk, rain without umbrellas, seas and beaches beckoning youth without the paranoia of the 21st century.

Early Light, Early Seedling Growth

I am treading water here, in the night off the coast of Scotland, maybe, I can only imagine the reader says. It’s night, near Dundee, in a cove near Abroath. Around 1963. Real people expecting a five-year-old to swim, not panic, and see the world from the tide in and out.

Spring for the child as I headed to Maryland, and then, Paris, France, as my Air Force father went US Army, a warrant officer pip on his shoulders, and, a family of four in Saint Germain en-Laye, living with other families from other countries as part of that SHAPE — Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. Vietnam War, the French and Yanks, the old WW II tunnels, chateaus as movie theaters, the Algerians living in the sub-basement, languages, competitive teens, and I flittered through those times young, visiting the old ones. Always around adults.

Fast forwarding to 2018, from, oh, say 1986 El Paso, then to Merida, Yucatan, and then hitchhiking to Panama, or, say, to 1992 when I decided to go to Vietnam to push the pulse of the American lie out of my system. At any point in the sinew strength of my late teens, through to 2001, the lies were compounding quickly, as I was given to confidence and pushed-up hope as part of the barrier reef or those malpais lava flows near Warm Springs, New Mexico keeping me from succeeding as I had imagined.

I had a New York agent, man, Jack Ryan (what a name, uh?) and he was old school, as the drafts of those books I wrote – five – came back to me stinking of Pall Malls and filled up with chicken scratch edits and comments. He was a tireless worker, and for me, he was more than just a fan. He had a deep regard for my writing. He too was up against the vagaries of Vassar and Brown University publishing house readers and the market of books, tied to the little swath of being New York hip to the incantations of literary fiction.

What a long row to hoe, and, alas, one book, a collection of short stories, thematically tied together by the Vietnam War tangentially, well, he had a big bite, finally, from Picador Press an imprint of MacMillan. I almost got the book sold – Eyes Wide Open: Vietnam Memories. The deal was a committee of five, Ryan said, had the voting role in a thumbs up or down vote on the book. The publisher of Picador Press said he wanted the book, but he was voted down, three to two, not in favor of going with the project.

The reader has to understand that the publisher accepted the manuscript, essentially saying he was all for publishing it. We lived on that arc of that humanity for a few weeks, but then Jack Ryan got the news that the book project went south.

New York Literary World Gone Sour

I know, I know, again, in the scheme of things globally this is not big deal. Rejection from literary circles. A dime a dozen. We’ve been told as writers that it’s luck, being in the right manuscript pile, or knowing a friend of a friend of a friendly editor; or to just pull yourself up by your boot straps and DIY and self-publish and manage a web site and e-commerce account. Compared to the daily struggle of the Pacific Nation Kiribati, for example, which is disappearing quickly as sea level rises, I get it about “counting my lucky stars.” I always come at the world from that foundation – woe is me can’t cut it in a world of absolutely insane suffering and perverted wholesale abuse on a massive scale. But from the bowels of an artist already way outside the mainstream looking to get a book (or several) schlepped by editors at New York publishers, put into their ubiquitous mainstream fiction or literary fiction categories, well, every disappointment is magnified.

Get this, though – I’m going on age 61, and the last time I attempted hawking a novel was 2001, when I ended up moving from El Paso to Spokane. Odd feeling indeed, in 2001, giving up the quest. I still wrote/write, still published/publish, but not books.

It (book in hand) came pretty darn close, and if you put me into an internet search, “Paul Haeder and Reimagining Sanity,” you’ll get a project that “almost” turned into a book. Well, it’s a book, in pdf form, but not on Amazon’s top 1 million list. We have to Fast Forward from 2001 in Spokane to 2015 on the outskirts of Vancouver. I was contacted by a publisher to write a book based on my musings and comments tied to my work at Dissident Voice, this political on-line magazine going on 18 years.

Heady stuff, the book jack recommendations:

Paul brings out a certain raw, emotional side to his subjects and issues. You never can predict what he is going to ask, and his ability to cut right to the point makes his writing an unpredictable thrill ride to the heart and the truth.
―Bart Mihailovich, environmental writer and advocate

Try reading him … with no allegiances to the elites and powerful. If you need a house call for quick intellectual triage, pick up a book of Haeder’s and dive deep into its layers. At the other end of the journey, you will be baptized in a new wonder of showing no fear, fearing no one.
― Charles Orloski is a working class poet living in Taylor, Pennsylvania, who writes regularly for the Hollywood Progressive and other venues

Haeder’s topic is always the world, and Haeder is the filter through which the world has to pass: rhythmic outburst, lyric language, howling at the moon. When other authors have forgotten to be outraged by the outrageous, Haeder has been a North Star who says, “You gotta look at this! You won’t believe…” and fill in here the absurd and unimaginable bullshit of the universe.
― Michael Strelow, author of Henry, A Novel of Beer and Love in the West; and The Greening of Ben Brown. Kesey is his non-fiction book. Upcoming novel is The Moby-Dick Blues.

Paul Haeder does not have a politically correct bone in his body nor is he willing to rent any! A book by Paul will bring reaction from readers, pro and con, but you can bet that it will be a book people will read with interest.
― Angie Tibbs, Dissident Voice, Senior Editor

It’s a hell of a publishing house that went belly up after just three years, but a dozen or more years the dream of the publisher, Kermit Heartsong:

Tayenlane Publishing
Reimagining Sanity: Voices Outside the Echo Chamber

The belly was exposed by the publisher’s distributor – you have to get these books put into book shows, wholesale book distribution points. The distributors (more and more middlemen) can cut a jugular on a small publishing house, and that’s what happened to Tayen Lane Press. But before the plug was pulled, Kermit the publisher solicited me back in 2015, and I was at/in/on a really bad place: going through a divorce, out of the Vancouver house we had just purchased, away from foster twin boys, and my dog left with my soon-to-be ex. I ended up in a doublewide trailer (no complaints about mobile homes) with a bipolar out-of-work heavy equipment operator, who was flipping out half the time, from euphoria to suicidal tendencies. I was working as a substitute PK12 teacher in several rural school districts, and this fellow I will call Rylee, was drinking all day, sleeping around with two or three women, and the place was heated with a wood-burning stove.

Another roommate was brought on, and a stinky bulldog with flatulence (don’t they all have this problem?) and leaky orifices (ditto) was also part of the mix, and the roommate’s always-present girlfriend.

Man, bonfires out on his five acres until 2 a.m. Beer and tequila and all-night pyres and yelling and moaning about life, as Rylee and the other roommate moved around all this slash from a tree clearing project with the younger roommate’s fully appointed excavator. Drunk, loud, 24/7 cigarette smoking, and I was pounding away at this manuscript, teaching kids and wondering where the hell I’d be in five months.

After two months, I had to sneak out on a Sunday, filling my van with my shit and just skipping out so a confrontation between me and between Rylee didn’t take place. I wanted to kick his ass, but that sort of pile-driver attitude would have gotten me, I believe, handcuffed and charged with assault, a job killer in the fields of education and then a new job as social worker for vulnerable populations.

Reimagining Insanity or Sanity – More Voices

Okay, so I have this anti-memoir going over at LA Progressive, titled, Terminal Velocity: Man Lost of Tribe. That’s thirty-eight up in that series – pieces all over the place, most tied to commentary on the state of the world, the state of my sanity, of my self in a world of pain. Make that 39, since this one now goes up as such. Plenty of railing against the machine, and plenty of angst and polemics.

I have this conversation all the time – some people say they’d cut a finger off to read my stuff, to see my name up on some marquee, my books turned into movies. Some want to see me elevated, and then, most people I run into could care less about lives lived and still being lived, that is, lives unaccomplished or partially gelled. Most people are not interested in struggle, struggling people and the ones who either never got the brass ring or flubbed it on the last merry-go-round. This is a time of celebrity infatuation, and no matter which side of the thin political line they stand, young and old care more and more about what’s in Twitter-land or on Facebook.

We are all navel gazers, now that Amazon Fascism Publishing has everyone set up as a budding multi-book best seller.

Shit, everyone’s a writer, isn’t it so, and everyone is a movie maker, star, and prognosticator and hero or heroine in his or her own mind. Plus, the sheer number of books published, remaindered, cut up and used for insulation, it’s way beyond what the mind can fathom.

Whether a life half resolved is interesting or not, or whether anyone cares about the hustle of living and beating out books and trying to hawk them, those are questions that run through many of our minds.

Lee Marvin and A New Dirty Dozen 

I have this screenplay, Just a Coupla’ Chancers. Set in Arizona,1980s. I wrote it while being a reporter in Southern Arizona for a small conglomerate of newspapers. My byline was in the Bisbee Daily Review among other publications.

Simple stuff, a redneck cowboy along the border dealing with more and more incursions – crossers – into his state and country and on his property. Well, he is hard-bitten, but he finds a heart in the story. Salvadorans dead in the desert, their coyotes or smugglers long gone.

The main character has to make a decision: three children, 8, 12, 15, make it to his property. They are the only survivors, and, well, to make a screenplay short, the coyotes are looking for them, and the rancher has to hide them and then smuggle them away. He’s got the border patrol, local authorities, the crime bosses involved in smuggling, his family and the three siblings’ uncle looking for them and going after him.

This was based on some reporting I did around real people who perished in the desert, right where I was set as a beat reporter. I ended up having a few drinks with Lee Marvin in Tucson, and, after some time, I got his address up in the foothills of the Catalinas. Man, we played tennis, I had lemonade, and I met his wife, and, Lee took the screenplay.

I’ve written about that story, meeting and drinking with the Dirty Dozen’s Colonel, before pitching the story. He ended up dying early, and suddenly, and I ended up going to his widow wondering how I might help, and inquiring about the screenplay, of course. She told me Lee was interested in the main part, as I thought he would. She told me he respected the script, from a young guy, resonated with him — seemed pretty set in reality. Poignant, too.

I’ve written a short story, fiction, about that moment in time, fictionalizing some of the stuff.

Desperados and I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Badges

Lo and behold, here I am, desperate, held to a standard at 61, going to interview after interview trying to muscle out another four or five years working hard in the land of usury and death capital. I just pulled out three dusty manuscripts, three novels, one of which was my graduate thesis I defended.

I’m scrambling now working to get some energy back and rework one of them. This is a story again based on someone real, a woman who had been looking for both silver and treasure in the Caballo Mountains near Hot Springs, now Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.

I spent hours with her in her small apartment in downtown El Paso, and she was in her 80s then, in 1987. She was obsessed with silver and that cache of stolen gold and other treasures from the Spanish. I even took her up the mountain, on crazy dirt roads, looking for something, reading her map, but never finding the remnants of the mine she had been working on for more than 50 years, on her own.

I have a discredited reporter ending up in the story. Someone who answered an advertisement in the El Paso Times from a woman looking for a ghost writer to get her story in print. The real woman was even hip to the possibility of her story spanning 80 decades turned into a movie.

Her life was amazing, having grown up in Mexico City in a middle-class family, her father a mid-level bureaucrat and politician. When she was 14, she met a 29-year-old millionaire from San Francisco. He had documents and map and some bibles. He was a frozen food magnate, and he was looking for someone to translate the Latin and the Spanish.

He met my protagonist, and the young woman – turning 15 – heard the stories of silver and gold, heard this millionaire’s gold lust.

Rebecca was 16 when she married him, and they ended up back in San Francisco, and then her new husband took her out into the middle of nothingness in New Mexico, overlooking Elephant Butte, and there she learned how to be a miner’s wife, living with hardened men, learning how her new husband had been bitten by the silver-gold-treasure bug.

Six years into it, they had hit a few lines of silver. Seven years into their mining, a wall collapsed in the mine and took down Rebecca’s husband. He lingered in a hospital bed for eight weeks. His final wish was for her to continue looking for the famed treasure and silver.

For fifty years, Rebecca looked for the cache. She ended up teaching Spanish to high schoolers, and every summer she got the supplies and the few men she trusted to head on up to the mountains.

That’s how she spent her summers, for fifty years, until she hit 75. I met her when she was 82.

Now my book, Woman of the Mountain, has my reporter, a former college football star teaching community college journalism classes. I have a sheriff who has been hiding his homosexuality all his life. I have an old Mexican miner whose father once was on Rebecca’s mining team.

I take the reader back to Mexico City, into the mountains, into Rebecca’s life, and the short time with my African American journalist. The mountain speaks, and the story revolves around her disappearance, and the search for her. My journalist was the last one to see her. The miner ends up missing.

It’s literary fiction, and, well, the story is certainly compelling for today’s reader, and it’s not a far stretch of the imagination to imagine the book turned into a screenplay/movie. Selma Hayek, Tommy Lee Jones, Denzel Washington.

In one sense, non-fiction is stranger than fiction, and those months I spent with Rebecca, hearing her stories, and that time in the mountains with her (she was hacking and coughing, and I thought she was going to die), and subsequent times in the mountains on my own with a decent pistol and Winchester lever action, well, I wrote the book, draft after draft, and sent it out to Jack Ryan, the East Coast agent.

It’s funny the parallel of looking for caches of Spanish gems and artwork and gold, and my own quest to make something of myself in the world of fiction. Shit, my master’s thesis adviser, James Crumley (The Last Good Kiss & Dancing Bear) had a lot of faith in me. I was the go-to guy, newspaper journalist, dive master, a guy in his thirties who went to Mexico and Central America. A guy who did some shady things with my Mexican counterparts. Something wild in me, Crumley could tell. He ended up back in Missoula, Montana, fired from the University of Texas for things unbecoming a writing teacher (or that’s what they said . . . you know, drinking, some lines of coke, partying with students).

So, here’s this book. Staring at me as I finish this article. Big fat old 430-page manuscript. I touch the pages and it’s as if 30 years melt away, the light brighter above me here in Estacada, Oregon, than anytime thus far, more than 1,600 miles away from the center of my writing life, in West Texas,  El Paso, Merida, Yucatan . . . Chihuahua.

Yet that old rush is like morphine inside the spleen, and the imagination, mine, races like the old days of Mexico, West Texas, stories, tequila and coke and all-night sessions talking about story, and sometimes craft.

Crumley’s dead . . . some of my friends, dead . . . Jack Ryan, dead, and the artist friends, many are dead . . . Rebecca dead, wave after wave of memory like the aura borealis in my head, pulsating in dream, and now, as I take this manuscript and look at the pages, I am ready for one more push, one more bite of a dream to get something going, just another chancer, me, believing in some magic, like Ornette Coleman and Charlie Hayden playing away into the night.

Her story, Rebecca’s, will be the same this time around, but the plot and action and sequence will be different. What do 31 years do to a creative world, a novel, one based on some real hard things I heard and saw, but morphed into the dream of a storyteller giving paint and hue to the black and white memory of people?

I know I’ll open up with the jail cell, and the lines from Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt and Walter Huston, Dobbs, Curtain and Howard in the Treasure of Sierra Madre. I know I will shift points of view, and go back and forth in time and place. I know this story — mine, Rebecca’s, the mountain’s —  has never been told, never been written, and I push ahead now, treading water, standing on the line of creativity and marketing, looking for an agent, and in between despair and fear.

When you have something to say and a way of saying it, there is so much to lose. Like a welterweight picking up gloves after 20 years out of the ring.

In a scene later made famous by the movie version of Treasure of Sierra Madre, the prospectors run into a group of shady-looking, heavily-armed Mexicans, who they suspect are bandits.

Indeed, the Mexicans are bandits and the meeting ends up in a gunfight. But just before the shooting starts, the leader of the bandits tells the prospectors that they are federales — the local “mounted police.”

Dobbs says skeptically of that claim: “If you are the police, where are your badges?”

In B. Traven’s book, the bandit leader replies angrily (and colorfully):

“Badges, to god-damned hell with badges! We have no badges. In fact, we don’t need badges. I don’t have to show you any stinking badges, you god-damned cabron and ching’ tu madre!”

Email me, Paul K. Haeder, @  haederpaul (at) gmail (dot) com if you have an agent or director in mind, don’t you know! Really!

The First Thanksgiving

No, really, it isn’t any trouble at all. I’m thrilled that you’re interested, because I love to tell the story of this place; I feel the story is part of its healing quality, you know, and that is why you’re here, why we’re all here. And it wasn’t always like you see it now—by no means! We had to work at it; we really had to create it from nothing, but we did it because we believed in what we were doing, and, you know, when you really believe, the universe makes a way…

I think it helped that we were all, the group of us who started it, of truly like mind. We’d been meeting at conferences for years; we’d been talking and thinking and hearing about all these wonderful ideas for a different way of life, as things just kept getting worse and worse in the world–you know, the wars, and the destruction of nature, and the terrible violence in the cities–and everyone was thinking the same thing: there’s got to be a better way! We need to stop just talking about it and actually start to live it. For the sake of the planet!

So our minds were definitely starting to form a gestalt; we were all thinking along the same lines, and when we talked about it we discovered we all agreed on the basic ideas, and it was finally simply a matter of when, not if.

(Of course, the other thing it turns out we all had in common, which some of the others who tried to “do” sustainable living around the same time didn’t, was investments. Which we were also savvy enough to liquidate before the Crash—that’s the “creative class” for you, I like to say!)

Now, even though we had been urban or suburban people all our lives, we knew that to create the kind of community we really wanted, we needed land. I mean, humans are really village dwellers, you know, that’s how we’re meant to live. We made such a mistake throwing away all those thousands of years of social and spiritual evolution for a life of high-rises and traffic and concrete! And I say this even though I used to love my little local café, and going to the movies or the theater, and the museums and so forth… But really, we felt the cities were a terrible mistake for humanity. Of course, that mistake is evident to a lot of people now, but most of them are trapped. They don’t have the money or the education to escape, even temporarily—and we learned, once we took our rose-colored glasses off and actually started building this place, that sustainable living really requires both. Someday it may be different, it may be accessible to everyone, and, of course, we all pray for that day, and focus our ceremonies on the hope that humanity is moving towards that understanding, but in the meantime, we simply try to serve as an example of what is possible.

Later, of course, we’ll take the full tour, so you can see all our beautiful straw bale and cob houses, and Irv will explain the water system and the solar system—I mean the solar heating, of course—and the rest of it; it’s really quite fascinating! It required a lot of planning and outlay of resources to set it all up, and this was happening right around the time of the coup, just after the Crash, so we had to work out all sorts of exotic deals with the contractors, some of which were almost like guerrilla actions, you know, because, as you recall, everybody was being ordered to spend money in certain places in order to keep the economy going, and peoples’ bank accounts were all being frozen if there wasn’t enough activity on them, and, well, you remember! It was chaos! But we’d been predicting something like that would happen, so we were readier than most. It helps to have a financial analyst or two in your core group, let me tell you!

But, you know, I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself here. People always want to know how we chose this particular place. I’d like to say we did it all by some process of divination, feng shui or whatever, but, of course, if I’m honest, I have to tell you there were more practical concerns involved! You noticed the old sign on the road in from the airstrip? So you know that this is—well, was—“reservation” land. You see, during the crisis, a number of laws were suspended, for economic reasons, of course; I’m sure you remember, but most people didn’t know that one of them was actually the inviolability of the Indian reservation lands! The government, even as it was falling apart, was trying to make a huge land grab. We were on the side of the tribal people, of course—they had taught us so much; they always presented at our conferences, and many of our ideas of sustainability came from them! So, through some contacts that one member of our group had with this tribe because he used to come up here to hike and fish, we offered the native people a deal. We would buy up the land, keep it out of the hands of the government, take a small piece for our community, and, of course, all the native people living there would retain the right to inhabitation in perpetuity—it was all in a contract, and the lawyer who drew it up was even part Native American!

We thought it was a really perfect solution. Especially because, while we had all the technological ideas of sustainable construction and solar power, and composting toilets, and bio-dynamic farming and so on, we had been city dwellers for so long—generations, in some cases—and we all had our separate careers, and our own apartments, and so we really had no idea how to actually live in community, you know! We thought we would need to learn from the ancient tribal people in our midst just to survive in this new context. So we saw having them here as really an asset for us.

Well, as it turns out, it was a much more complicated situation… There were only about ten native families left living on the land when we came here. Three of them had all their young men in prison or the National Guard. Ironically, one of the mothers told me her son was actually patrolling the city where I lived, during the riots just before the coup. The Crash and all the fighting basically cut him off from going back home, although at least he was still able to send some money… But frankly, I have never seen people living in poorer conditions than those families, and I’ve been to Africa! And the drinking! It seemed like everybody that was still there was drunk all the time! And the fighting! I almost despaired when I saw it; I said to myself, how naïve I was about these people! They’re a mess! Who knows if we can learn anything from them at all?

But you can’t push the river, as they say. The land was bought, the deed was done; we had gotten out of our city lives just in time, and couldn’t go back; now we had to make this work. We had to deal with what was there. We had to see what would come of it.

So we started out meeting with the families, just to try to make friends, you know, and letting them know, in spite of our reservations—no pun intended!—that we really respected their culture and wanted to learn about it. The response we got initially was, I have to say, somewhat mercenary. It was basically: “that’s great, but what can you do for us?” And we had to explain again, well, we’re letting you stay here, remember? And we’ll pay for what we need, just like we always used to pay the presenters at our conferences—quite well, actually…

It was a terribly slow process. We hit a lot of walls just trying to find out who were the right people in the tribe to talk to; one person would tell us one thing, and somebody else another; it got really tiring. We couldn’t find anyone who was interested in helping us with spiritual knowledge, or ancient wisdom, or anything like that. Everybody we talked to just wanted to complain to us about something somebody else in the tribe had done, and tell us not to give them any money! I think at some point the light dawned on me that what we were learning about village life was exactly the opposite of what we wanted to learn: we were learning about deviousness, and manipulation, and resentment and backstabbing—it was horrible!

Then the first winter came, and suddenly things changed. With what was going on after the coup, I don’t think we realized how totally cut off we were going to be, and the builders still hadn’t built much, and were working out a lot of kinks in terms of the techniques they were trying that, of course, no one anticipated at the time. That was when, in an odd sort of way, the Indians really came to our rescue. I mean, they had learned to survive with nothing for so long! When our truck broke down in sub-zero weather, one of the women—the women, mind you! fixed it just like that. When our stores froze because we hadn’t dug the root cellar properly, we found out they had a whole garage full of macaroni and cheese and other army surplus stuff, that their kids in the Guard had been sort of appropriating and bringing home on leave—in truckloads! It wasn’t the organic produce we’d been hoping to be living on all winter, but it was food! (I mixed sundried tomatoes in with the macaroni and cheese and got to quite like it!)

And then there was the Dramatic Rescue, as I call it, when five of our little group of pioneers went ice fishing and totally miscalculated the depth of the ice! My goddess! These two old men we’d never seen doing anything but sitting in front of their broken-down trailer drinking beer appeared from nowhere and got them all out before they had time to feel the cold, as my husband said. And never said a word the whole time, just disappeared after they’d built a fire and dried them out and dropped them off back at our log house. And meanwhile their grandsons pulled enough fish out of the hole in the lake to feed us all dinner that night!

There must have been a dozen other little incidents like that that winter. We got through, miraculously! And we were very grateful to them, of course, and tried to pay each time they helped us, and they wouldn’t take anything, so we didn’t know what else to do.

But I think in the end we realized that we’d been on the wrong track with the idea that we could learn about community from the native people. Because what we saw was that the community only kicked in when you were on the verge of real catastrophe. Then everybody put aside their grievances and suspicions and helped out. Once we learned that, we saw there was really nothing else they could teach us. It made more sense to focus on trying to follow our sustainability plan and manage our assets well so that this place could give us all a good income. That was something we did know how to do. I mean, it seems obvious perhaps, but who wants to live on the verge of catastrophe all the time? Our aim was to be sustainable and comfortable.

After that winter, things slowly improved every year. We learned from our mistakes, believe me! By the time the national situation stabilized enough, with the whole GovCorp reorganization, martial law was lifted so people could travel, and money was circulating again, we were ready to open the retreat center. Within a few years we could bring in spiritual teachers from all over the world; we’ve had Maoris, Bushmen, Mayans—although, of course, the amount of fighting going on in all these different parts of the world, and the restriction of flights because of the Climate Laws makes that a very expensive process! But such wisdom is really a priceless commodity, and our guests realize this, and know how fortunate they are to be able to afford it.

Anyway, that was when we finally figured out how to work out a mutually beneficial relationship with the native people here. We needed staff, to take care of the guests; they needed jobs. At first, we said, we could only pay very little, but as things picked up there would be good jobs, and more jobs—tending the biodynamic gardens, and repairing the lodge, keeping the vehicles running! And so on. And laundry, of course, there’s always a lot of laundry! Being a laundress here is skilled labor! We sun dry everything; there’s a real art to the way our sheets are done that you will experience for yourself…

In the last couple of years things have really taken off for us, particularly since GovCorp liquidated the old national parks, and set up the Extraction Zones there, so that people have had to come to private reserves like this even to experience nature, much less natural living! Well, it soon became obvious that we really needed more land to expand the resort, so we said to the families: look, most of you are living on the grounds already, let’s just acknowledge the reality of the situation; if you let us build on the land your few old trailers are still on, we’ll take care of it, we’ve shown we know the real value of it, after all, and you can live in beautiful, sustainable houses that we’ll build for you, (although not in exactly the same spot, of course, so you’re not on top of the guests) and you can just work for us to pay them off! No strings attached! How about that?

A few individuals balked at this, and mentioned wanting to look at the contract again, but most of the people recognized a good deal when they saw one. There wasn’t much choice, really, and we could have been much less generous if we’d wanted to; they knew what it was like in the outside world… One or two of the men ran off, grumbling about how they wouldn’t take it lying down, and we should watch out because they had fought in the Mid-East Wars, and knew about armed resistance, and all this very primitive talk, frankly. That was a brief scare; we did purchase a few guns and keep them around the place after that, but we’ve never had any problems, and we’ve never seen them again from that day to this. Which just goes to show, this land is truly blessed!

So that’s our story. I hope I haven’t tired you out—I know how dreary that flight over the Wasteland is. So sad, to think of all that land poisoned by one reactor in a single incident. At least it makes you truly appreciate havens like this one, yes? And that is what we are here for. To make sure you get the healing and renovation you need during your time with us. Just leave all your worries behind! You’re in the Running Brook house, I believe? You just follow that path over the little bridge. I’ll have Akwesane bring your bags.

The Pied Piper of Shenanigonia: A Tale of Guns and Rats

Once upon a time, on the banks of a great river in the north of our world there lay a land called Shenanigonia.  The citizens of Shenanigonia were honest folk who lived in peace in their stone houses.  The years went by and everyone prospered and lived healthy lives.  Then one day, an extraordinary thing happened to disturb the peace.  Shenanigonia had always had guns, plenty to tell the truth, but the people had never felt they were in danger.  Why?  Well, of course, because the elders had always solved the gun problem in the usual way — by regulating them.  Suddenly the guns had begun to multiply. In the end the wave of guns swarmed over the whole land unleashing an epidemic of death and destruction.  The terrified citizens hoping to free themselves from the plague of violence joined together in gun control defense committees.

Meanwhile on the other side of the land of Shenanigonia, in the town of Corruptina, The National Gun Association, known by the common folk as the N.G.A., was holding a meeting of the Board of Directors.  The president said, “These gun control committees are multiplying like rats we must come up with a plan.”  Just then there was a loud knock on the door of the N.G.A.  The door was opened and there stood a tall thin man dressed in brightly colored clothes, with a long feather in his hat, and waving a gold pipe at them. He then spoke in a thunderous voice, “I’ve freed other lands from gun control organizations and for $10 million in gold, I’ll rid you of yours.”  “$10 million!” exclaimed the Board of Directors, “We will give you $1 million only if you succeed”. At once the stranger hurried away saying: “It’s late now, but by dawn tomorrow, there won’t be any gun control organizations left in Shenanigonia.”

The sun was still well below the horizon when the sound of a pipe wafted through the streets of the land.  The piper made his way through the streets and as he passed the gun control offices and their banks they all vanished into thin air.  By the time the sun was high in the sky there was not a single gun control organization left in the land.  There was a great celebration taking place at the headquarters of the N.G.A.   When the piper came to claim his reward, the N.G.A president exclaimed: “$10 million in gold? Never!”

“Give me at least $1 million in gold” cried the pied piper angrily.

The President screamed back: “The gun controllers are all out of business now, so be grateful for $100,000, or you’ll not get even that amount…”

His eyes filled blood red with rage, the pied piper pointed a finger at the president of the N.G.A. and said: “You will bitterly regret ever breaking your promise,” and then he vanished. A shiver of fear ran through the room, but the President said: “Don’t worry; we have saved over $9 million.”

That night, freed from the gun controllers, the N.G.A. Board of Directors slept soundly with their favorite pistol tucked under their pillows.  At dawn the strange sound of piping was heard only by some.  Drawn as if by magic, they came into the streets: the N.G.A. Board of Directors, their lobbyists, firearms industry and corporate backers all flocked at his heals to the sound of his strange piping.  The long procession soon left the town and made its way through the woods and across the forest until it reached the Washingtonian Obeliskic Monumentous. When the piper arrived at the foot of the Monumentous he played the pipe even louder still and a huge door slowly opened. In trouped the piper with everyone behind him and then the door slammed shut.  A few moments later the Obeliskic Monumentous shot up into the sky like a bullet and just as it disappeared into space the sky exploded in brilliant colors of red, white and blue.

The Yasukuni Gambit

Fresh off his election victory, Japanese Prime Minister Kobe as well as several of his cabinet members and top party officials, visited the Yasukuni Shrine outside Tokyo. As usual, reaction across Asia was hostile to the PM’s visit to a shrine that honored Class A war criminals that had been part of an Imperial Japanese war machine that had slaughtered and enslaved millions in the run up to and throughout World War II. Nowhere was the anger more sharply felt than in Korea, whose 1100 years as an independent kingdom had been brutally ended by the Japanese in 1910, followed by a harsh occupation until the end of World War II.

This time reaction was even more strident than usual, probably aggravated by the fact that the new Japanese PM had been speaking ominously about Japan taking a more aggressive military stance and their recent joint military maneuvers with the US, South Korea and Australia had been the largest ever seen in the North Pacific. The heated rhetoric from Pyongyang had been dismissed as the ranting of their crackpot leader and the heightened military readiness and missile tests he had ordered had caused the normal condemnations from the US and it allies but little real alarm.

At 5 am three days after the PM’s visit, North Korea launched three Taepodong-2 missiles at the Yasukuni site. All the missiles struck their targets and their high explosive warheads totally demolished the Yasukuni Shrine. Without waiting to organize a joint response with its US ally, Japan immediately launched a missile counter-strike on the North Korean capital, Pyongyang,  as well as at the nuclear power plant at Yongbyon. The reactor was seriously damaged and a massive radiation leak ensued…there were serious doubts as to whether a complete nuclear meltdown could be avoided.

Meanwhile, the South Koreans sank two North Korean submarines that it claimed were trying to sneak special forces into its territories and the US placed all its forces in the region on high alert and ordered the Sixth Fleet aircraft carrier group to sail directly towards North Korea.

Then it happened! North Korea launched three more missiles that detonated 25km over Japan, including one near Okinawa, home to massive US bases. These were nuclear-tipped and the resulting electro-magnetic pulses had the effect of shutting down most of the Japanese electrical grid, caused extensive damage to the electronic infrastructure and, more importantly, degraded radar, defense and surveillance systems.

Within seconds of the atmospheric detonation of these missiles, twelve nuclear missiles were launched at Japan. Half of them were aimed at US bases in Okinawa and the others at Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto as well as Fukushima and two other nuclear power plants. Shorter range Rodong-1 nuclear-armed missiles were fired at Seoul, Busan, Daegu, Incheon and the nuclear power plants at Hanul, Wolseong and Hanbit. Both Japan and South Korea were left with their countries’ major population and industrial centers devastated, a crippled electrical grid and a massive nuclear contamination problem.

Simultaneously, another attack was launched on the US Sixth Fleet involving five nuclear armed Taepodong-2 missile used in air burst mode. The first two detonated 60km from the carrier group to blind and degrade the defense systems and the others managed to get over the middle of the fleet before detonating at an elevation of 2 km. The carrier survived but was incapacitated and most of its supporting surface ships were sunk or badly damaged.

The North Koreans had used the majority of its entire nuclear arsenal in a decisive, preemptive attack against its arch-enemies; thereby unleashing a series of cataclysmic events that would rearrange power arrangements in the region at the price of its own demise as a state. All its major population centers and military installations were soon obliterated by US nuclear and conventional missiles and bombs, but not before launching a devastating swan song second-strike!

Long range Hwasong-14 missiles were fired from their launch pads in the North Pyongan mountains at Hawaii,  Alaska, the US North-West and the Darwin naval base in Australia. The new solid-fuel rockets had been test fired and achieved an altitude in excess of 2,800 kilometers. Western analysts had calculated that they had the range to reach the US West Coast but they had not realized that several of the new missiles were already operational and armed with nuclear warheads. One of the missiles, which had been aimed at Silicon valley, was shot down by the US missile defenses but Pearl Harbor, Anchorage, Seattle and Portland were hit, in addition to Darwin. The warheads were only in the 30 kiloton range but casualties exceeded 700,000.

But perhaps the greatest surprise was delivered by a “Suicide Trawler” that launched 4 Taepodong-2 missiles from 550 kilometers off the California coast at San Francisco,  Los Angeles and San Diego, whose massive naval base received two strikes. The civilian and military casualties exceeded a million deaths and several times that number of injured. The fact that the trawler was almost immediately sunk proved to be of little consolation to the victims and their families.

With over ten million North Korean casualties, millions of survivors flooded into China and the Chinese government virtually annexed a buffer zone extending 100 kilometers into North Korean territory and took the lead in the relief efforts and the reconstruction of the parts of North Korea not badly affected by radiation.

The actions of the North Korean regime would come to be known as the Yasukuni Gambit because of the incident that had triggered this critical chain of events, with its enormous geopolitical consequences. In hindsight, the North Korean situation had been a powder keg that could have been set off by any number of events, including the frequent simulated attacks on the country by the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia.

Japan was finished as a regional power and indeed as an industrial power. Few tears were shed for her in a region that had suffered greatly under Japanese occupation up to and including World War II. South Korea similarly lay in ruins, a shattered shell of its former self. The American public were shocked that a third rate power like North Korea could cause so much damage to the US homeland as well as the destruction of an aircraft carrier group. The US voting public lost a great deal of its appetite for their politicians’ belligerence towards Russia and China.

Australians also reacted with shock and their outrage was soon channeled towards the ruling party that had been so enthusiastic about following the US in threatening North Korea. The subsequent election saw them resoundingly defeated.  The Taiwanese people voted overwhelmingly for association with Mainland China under a One Country, Two Systems arrangement, similar to Hong Kong and Macau. Other countries in the region became more reticent about hosting US forces and antagonizing China, not wanting to suffer South Korea’s fate as a nuclear battleground.

The US tried to find some strategic advantage from the situation; but with its two biggest regional allies, Japan and South Korea in ruins, its Pivot to Asia had suffered a serious setback. It would try to get the Philippines to take over the role of leading US Asian ally by promoting a color revolution against President Duterte, but with its much smaller and less sophisticated economic base and geographic location being so far south, the Philippines proved a poor replacement for the loss of Japan and South Korea. The result was that Russia and China, in tandem, came to clearly dominate the North Pacific.

Ironically, it was China that would benefit most by leading the rising Asian manufacturing states in making up for the lost industrial capacity of Japan and South Korea. The US, wounded by the loss or extensive damage to several of its cities and the smashing of the aura of invincibility of their naval power, was beset by a wave of populist movements that saw a large number of isolationists elected to the Congress and Senate. On the bright side, the decontamination and rebuilding efforts on the west coast stimulated the American domestic, non-military industry and created millions of jobs.

Another blessing to emerge from the tragedy was that the reality of a nuclear exchange and the resultant tremendous loss of life and property spurred the major powers to get back to the negotiating table to pursue arms control treaties that would prevent any repetition of the tragedy. This was supported by the fact that with the clear weakening of the United States and out of fear of suffering the fate of South Korea and Japan, a number of countries passed legislation to expel US military bases or to limit the number of military personnel and types of armaments that could be kept on their territories..

It had been a painful transition but a Multi-Polar international order eventually emerged from the Asian tragedy.