Spring 2003

BONGOS OF THE LORD is published by Bookgirl Press

3-13-16 Tsurugaya-higashi
Miyagino-ku, Sendai
983-0826 Japan

in this issue:

poetry by

Bob Arnold
Cid Corman
John Phillips
John Martone
Scott Watson

prose by

Scott Watson

 For BOTL there is neither subscription fee nor pay per
 page fee extracted from contributors, but
 overseas paper-version readers are invited to
 send IRCs to cover overseas postage, which averages
 300 yen (3 U.S. dollars) per issue. Readers
 who are satisfied receiving the cyber-version
 can disregard this notice.
 Unfortunately we cannot pay contributors.

 All rights return to authors.

 BOTL is a non-profit, no-grant, totally fund-lacking publication.


poems by Bob Arnold



A good tool

Rarely used
But when used
Can single-handedly

Roll away the world



Where loggers

Went through

Now Johnny

Jump ups



Impassable back road mud
But in this rancid puddle
Full moonlight surprise



Some animal pawed

A stone out under the

Chicken hut last night--

The animal in me puts it back



Like all who spend time in the woods

An odd duck--

Bald head

Owl face

Looks better

Wearing his cap


Halved peaches

You canned

Last summer

Each with

A drop

Of honey


poems by Cid Corman


you have to

die before

you ever



you are as this

as this can get

and that is that.


We created God--

something was needed

to worship us or

why would we exist?



my titty's for the baby--

Hubby--grab a little fish.



I was born nothing

and I remain as I was--

even as you do.


We are all

so much shit

That's the truth

of the truth.


You're living--

that's the way

you are--the

way it is.



The only reason

for being is not to be--

as we all find out.



Beyond all

belief. To

be at all.

  poems by John Phillips

the world
to come
That one met
no longer
the same I
reaching was
gone from
How it is
given to be
taken a way
from never
having hold
of that most
long enough
to know it
is over
rain no
longer rain
I step
Shape of
best seen
before I
was born
held you
here in
my arms
Mountains darken
Looking back
what is seen
never is
what was seen
looking forward
to this
now we then
have to know
Language fails
to prove you
it or it
Hand holding
coffee cup I
drink from - thinking
coffee, cup
or hand,
Loss we
need to
cleave to
that which
we are
are still
to be

prose poems by John Martone

The Bedroom Set

At some point or other everyone has used my parents’ first bedroom set.  When they came up in the world and bought new furniture, their first things went on to furnish my sisters’ room. The two girls slept together in the bed, and put on makeup for the first time in front in front of the dresser mirror.

After Rochelle married only to die a few years later, Violetta could no longer sleep in the bed, so it was moved into the boys’ room. I was long gone. When Tony and his new wife couldn’t find another place, or jobs, they moved into that room and lived there the better part of a decade. This was just like my parents, who first lived in nonno’s house.

When I return now, the double bed always feels too big. The dresser drawers are perfectly empty, except for the things I make a point of leaving behind, knowing no one will disturb them, a ballpoint pen, memo pads. There is also an empty pink tray of molded plastic for rings and jewelry, that mother put in the upper right-hand drawer. It too comes from those modest times, when private spaces were treasures themselves.


Meek as St. Francis, the planaria in my yellow-paged  Adventures with the Microscope, is featureless except for two eyes at the “head” of its long body. As a child, I always wondered what it felt, whether it were inexpressibly happy or lonesome, childlike. As if in answer to this, the book told me how cutting the worm longitudinally in half produced two identical worms, that would each regenerate its missing side. Would this division be painful? Would a flicker of recognition somehow pass between these unfortunate twins, whose eyes – now one to a creature – face eternally upward? I never performed this dissection myself, nor was I ever able to see the actual worms under my microscope, though I have held onto the book all these years as the relic of a lost and innocent age.

Someone Had Just Been Named

We were celebrating a baptism in our little Italy of Williston Park, either a cousin’s or my younger brother’s. The christening frock was white lace, the baby was fussing while the rest of us were on the swingset beside the dogwood. I still feel the fluttering of that moth’s wings, when it flew from the dogwood into my left ear. Left ear, right side of the brain. I ran to my father, who acted without hesitation and with  special calm. Taking a pitcher from the table, he poured water into my ear, freeing the cabbage-white, which circled about us for a moment and then vanished into the honeysuckle that surrounded our yard. I now trace the difficulty I have keeping my balance back to this moment, but even so the scene has an aura, like the memory of swinging and the belief that if we leapt at just the right moment, we would soar over the roofs of our houses.

Lavabo inter innocentes…

As children each of us had a ‘silver dollar’ turtle for a pet. We treasured – that a world of life could be so compact! – and pored over them with that scrupulosity which is characteristic of our family. We knew their physiognomies far too well ever to be confused by the outcome of a race across the living room floor, or at the end of their time crawling over one another. Of course we carefully washed our hands thereafter.

We decorated our fishbowl terraria with “islands” and “trees” found in the yard. We knew that Long Island was shaped like a fish, but our islands were always round, tropical, distant.  It never occurred to us to think of these creatures as “babies” that could grow into tortoises, much less as sexually immature, words we had never heard. They were complete unto themselves. We lingered long hours, peering over the glass edge, thinking that their stringy excrement must be eggs, and our turtles would soon have babies. Mother changed their water. Father reminded us to feed them. It was 1956.

For all we loved our turtles, we never named them. Even then we knew that names were limits, and that if we named our creatures, they would no longer be new, innocent, infinite. We would have contaminated their world as they never could ours. So each turtle was always “turtle,” one and only, and each of us had a private and endless sea.


My parents were so devoted to our education that they bought Diane and me desk-chairs just like the ones we used at St. Aidan’s Elementary. There was nothing disciplinary about this – I loved the varnished writing surface with its pencil groove, the space under the chair just the right size for books, and to slip through the space between desktop and seat and get to work. (Chubby as I was, it felt especially cozy.)

Every book, even paperback Baltimore catechisms and handwriting practice books, had its cover, which mother carefully cut and folded from paper grocery bags. Her craft at making these was one of the marvels of childhood. We would sit around her on the floor and watch as she scissored a perfect rectangle and nested a book within four folds. I always took pride in those covers. They kept everything safe and were the epitome of grace to us.

Nient’altro che il vuoto

A tint of blue light across the white stove in my kitchenette this morning made me wonder why. Then, unable to turn my head from where it bows devoutly over the back of the pew in front of me as I kneel, I feel the stained glass windows of St. Aidan’s to my right, past the aisle at  the side of the pew, like human presences – which they are, after all. But now the water boils, and I trace this current light back to the blue bottle on my windowsill, one among bullion and baby food jars and soft drink bottles. My house is filling up with empty containers – olive oil and coffee cans, glass cups for votive candles, corrugated boxes. All these things in a bungalow my father’s age that drew me in because it has many cubby holes. Such is the fate of an old man who has no fedora.  


Nient’altro che il vuoto, “Nothing other than the void.” A large-scale work of calligraphy by Franco Beltrametti.


It’s on the old dinette table in the corner, among the goldfish bowls and little St. Francis, and I can’t take my eyes from it.

The other night, Claire and I sat at the dining room table. I covered a 6” flowerpot with concrete floor patch, and then we pressed shards of blue, green, maroon ceramic tile onto it, all around. Claire also put cat’s eye marbles around the top. (She is “old enough” to live on her own, but these children’s things are still “jewels” to her (and to myself as well), and she struggled to make them say put in concrete.) Because there was still room, I got some extra black beads that I use to make rosaries, and we set them here and there, and all around the rim. We weren’t done, though, until I took the brassy lid from a jar of olives, punched some holes (for drainage) and glued it upside down to the bottom of the flowerpot, a little pedestal.

Well, I think you could still use the flowerpot for basil or marigolds, but it’s hard to decide. As I look it from across the room now, I think there would have to be a conifer forest, maybe hills, a waterfall and a river flowing to the sea. A few people—dressed in cast off rags and rope belts--live in tree houses or simple lean-to’s.  There is nothing between them but love, which they express by holding out their cupped hands.

*Testa, flowerpot (Neapolitan)


Last night I was briefly an insect, one of fifty million gnats in a swarm that weighs less than an ounce, yet alone as a pressure-suited space traveler cut off from his ship, plunging eternally deeper into the void. All of this in my house. Every memory slipped from me, and every word, until only a breathing organism remained. Creature.

You might object: insects don’t breathe – air enters thru spiracles and permeates their bodies – we are much cruder, more complicated. Yes, but between exhalation and inhalation, the chest is still, however briefly, and you don’t need anything.

Scott Watson
No Mem-
No Mem-


At age twelve, some other boys and I learned to clam from Harry Kruetzberg who had learned how to from his brother-in-law Griff Griffenberg. It was Memorial Day weekend and we were at Harvey Cedars, Long Beach Island, New Jersey.  5 families of us.  Thirteen or more kids in one two-storied house. 1966, a Saturday damp and chilly, together Barnegat Bay and the island are one in a thick fog. You can't  see much beyond your arm held out, houses are only a faint presence, insubstantial, ghostly, almost nonexistent. Have to walk following the road's edge under you.

No chance of boating that day, or much else outdoors but for being awed by how little you can see. Even so we're down fishing off a dock at the bay half a block down the end of Harry's street. Blowfish--puffers--bite on our frozen squid.  Out of bait, they come at bubblegum on hooks!  Bare hooks even!  One hour we count over 50 of them!
There're many more than enough.  We're told to stop. They're not bad eating.     

I forget what we found to do in the fog for the rest of that day. I remember later in the day after the fog diminished a bit walking the couple blocks up to the beach and went in water that was 50 degrees (F). And we must've had fun eating hamburgers and things. Other than that nothing all that memorable for me I guess. Just plain kidziness. Always someone running to a parent to tattle on or complain that a brother or someone is doing something bad.  He's cheating at some board game. He's not playing right.
Next day things clear up.  Goin' out in Harry's runabout.  Evinrude 35 horsepower.  14 foot.  Life vest on.  Pair of sneakers to clam in if we want but we're told we don't really need them.  But go ahead if you want, get 'em wet.
Got a head wind; bay is choppy, engine gargling, humming. It was quite a ride 'cause we crossed to the mainland side of the bay to pick up Griff, Harry's brother-in-law. Lips get chapped in the sunsalt air. Use this. Smear some your face too. You'll get windburn.  Rub it in good son. Harry calls me son all the time. Calls all of us son.

Just off these shoals we anchor; keep your eye on that marsh island. You're gonna have to take off your life jacket. Face this way; just swing yr legs over the boat side.  Butt too.  Then lower yourself down in with your arms.  Might be up to your chest about.  It's cold at first, don't you mind it.  Holler if you turn blue.  Let go of the boat.  Make your way on in where it's waist deep.  No, there are no sharks in the bay.
You can actually clam better with nothing on your feet.  At times there are blue claw crabs to see and helmet crab carapace.  Once every so often you come across an empty soda or beer bottle, usually unbroken.  Oyster crackers can get underfoot and are slippery.  I'm told these can bite off a toe. Who knows if that's true. They crack open oyster shells so their jaws must be strong. Dead clamshells with broken edges.  Wormrock vermicelli is a mesh-work of skeleton worm-tunnels veined all over arc shells' outside.  Slime, seagrass undulation. Where you come across patches of clear sandy bottom you feel safe, a small oasis, but there are no clams.

Afternoon sun is reflected all over. Treading a quick rhythm keeps a body warm. Keep moving. It's a good feeling being a foot clammer, barefoot, no rakes like the pros. A clams bed and yard is gunk on the bottom that when you bring up one with its darkness still around it has the odor of sulfur. Sea grass roots, decaying matter, liquid black earth: the fetid slime feels good once you're over being scared not knowing where it is you're stepping.  

There's a vitality comes into you from just being outdoors, but there's a certain calm that comes into you from being in this bay. It's different from the surge in the ocean surf the other side of the island which effervesces a spirited joy into your entire being. The bayside doesn't make you want to shout, but it is quite wonderful in it's own quieter way.

It's not a working thing, this clamming; it needn't be called work in the sense of labor. Nor is it play. Feeling for these semi-smooth shelled living things under foot and ducking under digging them out by hand is not work. It grows on you and into you. It's a passion, this clamming. It gets into you like love because it is already there. You're going to take these home and eat them (chilled raw with cocktail sauce or steamed or barbecued or in chowder, depending on their size); that's another scene. After washing them off good you're going to crack two together right here and now where you're standing waist deep, suck down the raw creatures along with their juices.  Did someone, maybe Griff, want to teach me that? Or maybe I just wanted to know.   

They tell me I'm a good clammer:  there are many in my shirt. Looks like I'm pregnant. The usual way would be to put each clam in a basket set inside an inflated innertube but we had none then and had no clamming license either so just made a basket of our T-shirts and when that was full take what we had back to the boat, cover them up, then go get more. If the marine patrol came around we could easily drop what we had. Griff told us there was a fine for clamming without a license. Like fifty dollars a clam!

Maybe clamming was something I could naturally do. I dunno.  

What was there I could do way way back? I wasn't very good at sports. A fly ball dropped almost right in front of me in my right field position. It was my first year in midget league and that game was my first opportunity to come off the bench and be in a real game. A couple kids my age were in the games regularly. Coach stuck me in right field I guess to see how I'd do. Probably I hadn't paid much attention during practice and during the games probably sat on the bench picking my nose and looking at butterflies or lightning bugs. I can't remember an intense desire to play or an intense fascination with the game. My father wanted me to play. He'd have me out in the yard tossing a ball to me and when I took no interest in it--I guess I was supposed to get all oh boy! excited and wag my tail like a dog happy to be taken for a walk--or when I'd just shrug  not really when he'd ask me if I wanted to have a catch he'd get angry. Why didn't I want to be a boy? What am I a sissy? What do I want to play with dolls like a girl? Maybe I just didn't feel like it at the time. I dunno. You learn not to be honest.

In midget football the boy across from me knocked me down every play. The coach put me on defense. On the line. I was about 8. The opponent was David King. He was four years older. Actually I was below the age limit, which was 10, but since I was big for my age my father wanted me to start early. So every play Dave King, who later became an all-American linebacker at Syracuse, knocked me flat on my ass.

I didn't know what to do, didn't know how to stop being creamed each time, time after time. The coach would come step in after each play and encourage me, tell me what to do, what I was doing wrong. Tears welled up in my eyes. It was so frustrating, so embarrassing.

On the baseball field when the balled plopped down right in front of me I could hear coach Burt Gill yelling something at me. My father was watching. Maybe he was assistant coach by then. I don't remember. So embarrassed he must have been of me. My teammates who were mostly a bit older knew what they were supposed to do even if they made mistakes doing it. They were furious and some called me names. Stupid! Dummy! I was confused. I knew I was supposed to catch the ball if it came to me. They'd told me that, but I took it too literally. If the ball would come directly to me I must catch it. That was what I thought. Never did it occur to me that I'd have to move to catch the ball! Duh......!

The football coach, Mr. Osa Meekins, would come to me after each punishment and tell me what I did wrong. Weight distribution. Keep my weight under me. Stay low. Move your legs, drive with your legs. Don't stand straight up. . . .

It was a sour experience until finally by lunging forward while continually pushing by driving my legs and grappling around I managed to not get knocked backwards onto my butt. But I lost all sense of what was happening in the game. By standing up I could see, for a brief moment before landing on my can I could know what was going on. Being this low down near the ground made no sense at all. What fun was there in that? You can't see anything. You don't know what's going on. Just spiked shoes and legs. A guy's jersey in front of me. Big deal! What's the thrill in doing this?

But eventually you get better at it. You become able to sack quarterbacks, cause fumbles. Open holes on offense as a blocker. Drive opponents back. Knock people around with an upswung forearm. At times flatten people. Knock 'em into next week. Plow through 'em. Hit a home run even. Two home runs in the all star game! You can get good at it even though you didn't really want to do it to begin with. You learn to enjoy it because this is what we learn to enjoy.

You develop some capacity for it, for this illusory and artificial dimension of life, something that is not necessary for our actual survival but some image we make into a game. Some artificial turf upon which our lives will take place. Complete with all the commentary, all the awards, and the idea that how we perform in this illusionary environment means something, means something about how we are as individuals. And of course we invent the meanings we attach to our doings.

Put me at linebacker at least! I could have developed a capacity to play linebacker too and at least could have seen what was going on!  

The others are not getting so many clams. They seem attentive to other things. Horsing around, the young ones. Something or other they came upon. Clamming I guess is not a traditional boy thing. No kids I knew had ever done it. It wasn't fishing or baseball or whatever with the built-in associations and acceptability. Maybe that's why they seem sort of inattentive. Like fish out of water, only they are in the water. I don't know.

It's like with poetry, how so many people expect from it what they already know and in ways already familiar to them, such as rhyme and meter. They don't know that poetry is the unknown, words' earthly windows on it. But some of us expect something known from it.

Neither are the adults so lucky in their clamming though they are concentrating a bit more than are the kids on getting clams. They're at a loss it seems.

Treading along off to myself, being part of all this, in tune with its goings on and happy enough with that going on and going on into it, into its making absorbed, forgetting the clams is the best part of clamming.

It's almost like a gentle trot or a light jog or even a mild form of dance this clamming with your feet. Connected with everything through life vibrating in me, all through me life letting me go into and through it all, the many clams collected seem almost incidental.

If clamming were made an Olympic sport--and who knows these days--I wouldn't be any good at it I think; probably I wouldn't want to do it.

No Mem-
No Mem-


Maybe the thought of viewing a lake is more attractively peaceful than a pond view for those who plan to be dead. I guess it doesn't matter much to those who die now because there is no other time to die.

Money and semantics will mix you up every time.

What sort of place is this to be dead in? I worked here. That's closer than most get with their visits around holidays. Situated right smack off a highway  (rt. 130, Cinnaminson New Jersey), this memorial park is in a spot heavy with exhaust fumes and incessant noise from motor vehicle traffic. Not a great place for a breather. Night and day cars and trucks slave a monotony the owners of the world invent; tires on asphalt dolefully moan.  

Moving towards it you pass a squalor of commercial ventures such as cheap motels and convenience stores, shopping plazas, fast food franchises, gasoline stands, drug stores. Supply lines for our lives.

Then you drive through an entrance to this memorial park and all of a sudden everything seems different. At first glance anyway. In marble is Christ giving his sermon on the mount. A golf course-like landscaped visage with gardens manicured, trees, a pond or two. Pull in off the highway with all it's noise and all of a sudden there's a consciously intended quiet reverence. Out of respect for the dead or those who might be paying their respects.

Nowhere are you permitted of course to see anything connected with death as it is. There is nothing that decays. Everything that falls or rots is fanatically removed--even flowers visitors leave are taken away once signs of wilting appear. There aren't many who will look at it all as impermanent, at all trees grass birds swans as dying, who will look at ourselves.

It's a fictitious environment. Artificial. Fabricated. Staged. It's a scene of death where there is no death. If that's possible. Even if it's not it doesn't matter. And because there is no death it is a very dead scene if you ask me. It's a deathless scene presided over and sanctified by statues of a savior of souls and figures of winged angels. The park is obviously Christian. If you go to Disneyland you can expect to see Mickey and Donald. Here you see Jesus and angels who are there to sort of watch over, or that's the effect the park tries to create I think. It's comforting to think that.
Lakeview Memorial Park. A good friend was laid to rest here. Not long before my job began. A year maybe. Although there is no body of water much larger than a pond the company named it Lakeview I guess in accordance with their larger commercial vision.

In real estate property is worth more if it can be said to have a view of an ocean a bay a river or a lake--even if water can be seen only through a toilet window. They could have named the park Bleak Highway View, or Sky View .... But these appellations, though not unfactual, do not as readily translate into dollar value.

My job was to try to sell chunks of this scene to those who are for the most unready to make such plans and uneasy about the topic of death or dying.  It was my job to try to talk with people about something I knew they did not want to talk about. Then get them to want to buy what it was I was talking about. I did not present it as if their choice is to buy into it somewhere or be tossed out with garbage in a landfill site along with the homeless dead and all the rest of society's refuse.

No. I gave them the sales pitch as I was taught. The circular sales pitch that always comes back not to death but to the close, to signing the paper, to money. Because money gives people an out, a way in which they didn't have to continually come to death. A way to buy out their mind. All they needed to do was be reasonable, plan for the inevitable, sign the paper, write the check. But mostly they didn't. They wanted to think about it--ha!--They thanked me for my time.... They wanted to look around, shop around for a better deal?

My title was estate counselor, which was a nice fancy name for a cemetery plot salesman. Like calling yourself a sanitation engineer instead of a trash collector. Graveyard, cemetery, memorial park, mall of everlasting remembrance.... Bone orchard.

There was a one-week training period which enabled me to be an estate counselor. There was a looseleaf booklet we were given which was a self-contained, step by step sales approach complete with laminated full-page color pictures we were to show clients as we proceeded with our sales pitch/counseling.

At the end there was inevitably Lakeview, the supposedly only logical choice anyone who really cares could possibly make. (Funny how so few seemed to give a shit.) As with the life insurance business there is the unstated suggestion that anyone who truly cares must make the intelligent choice and be prepared. (Like if you don't you're heartless? A bad husband, a bad father, and just in general a despicable bastard not too mention low, poor, inadequate and stupid?)

Other than that it's pretty much like the real estate business I guess. We'd work from things called leads. These were postcards which had come back from mass mail canvassing. A potential customer (client) was any card that came back, and these were sorted according to a degree of interest reflected in the addressee's response to the survey on the card: mild, very interested, contact me at once, dying to hear all about it . . . . Something like that.

There were three of us just out of the training session. We were given cold, wornout leads. People who had been contacted and contacted and contacted again but who were just so stubborn about not wanting to buy. Maybe the company should have just thrown those leads away, but that was not the point. The company paid us on commission. We got a percentage of whatever we sold. But even if we did not sell, telephone soliciting these people over and over kept Lakeview's name out there. The company was playing the odds that someone in a family will die eventually and our enterprise was competing so that the name in the heads of the grieving family would be Lakeview. And having us follow up these leads was for the company free advertising since they didn't have to pay us for doing it--only when we might someday make a sale and then pay us some percentage.

Meanwhile with everyone on our sales force dialing up nearly everyone I guess in the South Jersey area nearly every day nearly three-hundred-sixty-five days a year and paying us nearly nothing to do this the company had themselves a neat little system going.

Besides the three of us there were senior estate counselors Virginia and Susan. Then there was the sales manager Eli. And there was Mr. Cole, the director of the whole shebang. He seemed really pretty old to soon-to-be-twenty-one me. He reminded me of Mr. Waverly on a t.v. show called MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.

Fat jowled and plenty of wrinkles, neither his age nor his substantial weight prevented him from shacking up with Virginia every Friday afternoon at the Super 130 Motel. We heard about it soon enough after we were out of the training period and ourselves rookie counselors.

Virginia was nearing early old age. A redhead who some might have found attractive. Both she and Susan had been through divorces, more than one for both.

So Virginia and Susan got all the good leads, the hot leads. And of course Eli because he was sales manager would automatically give himself good leads. I don't how Susan got strong leads. Eli told us it was because she closed a lot of sales, and she was able to do this because she had big boobs. Was he joking? I dunno. Cole was banging Virginia which is why she got good leads. Was any of this true? Who knows. Probably anyone who could afford to stay around long enough would someday be in line for the golden leads, the hot leads. Both the ladies were collecting alimony, so they no doubt had something at least to live on.

Anyway Malone, Mendez and I got all the dead end leads. Mendez had just retired from a career in the military. He had a check coming in monthly from that. He was not going to starve if he did not sell big time. Malone and I were about the same age, we lived with parents. He's spent some time at a community college but did not catch fire there.

It was for me a dead end job. College and I had not gotten on well. I'd been put on academic probation. Due perhaps to academic boredom. I had one decent semester with a low B average, but as it went on classwork lost its appeal to me. Only stupid people, I thought, can go through with such boring studies. I had quit once already but after a semester away my father's friend convinced me to return.    

I could have come out knowing a bunch of stuff but to me it was a waste of time. I'd rather be rolling joints back at my dorm, downing some beers, listening to Albert King. What was the point of any of it? To graduate into Bizneyland? But here I was in Bizneyland anyway. No way out. Go figure.  

After one semester away I returned to college but soon stopped attending classes. I didn't even bother. I'd register, go to maybe the first couple classes; that was it. Instead I'd go to the library and read. Just stroll down aisles and pick out a title off a shelf. Whatever attracted me at the moment. How to prepare wild game for eating. The hot and cold media. Playboy interviews. I'd take it to a nearby desk and read for a while in it. If it didn't keep my interest I'd put it back and get something else. Until dinner time or whatever. That's how my days went, my last semester there. My grades were all failing, which is why the academic probation.

So I was forced then to take a semester off, to reconsider my academic career, blah blah blah and just find yourself some ambition young man! My father, understandably, would no longer finance college for me. So what's to do? The country was in a recession after the first oil shock. I was in shock.  I wasn't even aware of the fact that there was something missing in my life. It never occurred to me until one night, while I was maybe still in college and talking with my father down in his little office he'd built himself in our basement, making up some poor excuses for my poor performance at school or some parking tickets I hadn't paid, when suddenly out it came with tears: I still love Eileen!

Well isn't there something you can do about it he wanted to know. But she'd married with someone else.

It's amazing how we can look back at what's happened in our own lives and try to read it according to some invented interpretive code. Like the way Marx went back through human history and saw what happened as a result of capital and control of production, etc. Economic forces. Or how people in religions can read everything as the will of a god they themselves invented.

Here is life, far less open to our scrutiny no matter how many PhD.s we possess. Here is love. At that time I'd never thought of anything in my life as being moved by love. My conscious life, life as I was aware of it, was moved by other things: doing what the parents wanted me to do, not doing what they wanted me to do, doing what others expected me to do, or not. Social stuff. What did I want to do?

I was living a lie in college. I had started off trying to play football there when I really didn't care too much about football once I got away from home. I was trying to play student when I didn't give a hoot about what was being lectured in the classrooms. I had what to me seemed a natural interest in certain things. Drawing always absorbed me, and when it occurred to me as a little kid that we can express ourselves with the written word--that writing is not there just to practice penmanship--that took me in as well. I was curious in certain ways. But that was never the point in the schoolrooms.

Living with a broken heart--or more exactly living without heart--and not knowing it. The lost America of love. Like not being alive and not knowing it. Or being blind and unaware that others can see; the pained heart goes unnoticed, the fact shut away somewhere, somehow.

Was it love in my tears that night, or being away from love, the shock of self-abandonment, this sudden glimpse of how vital love is once you see yourself at a loss? Eileen had never asked me to play any sport or go to any college or get any job or make any money or buy her anything or take her anywhere or live here or there or commit to marriage or promise anything. She never asked anything of me.

The love she offered was no less than her love of life but at the time--high school--there was not such need of her in a me so full of my self.

Could I at that time at whatever depth there was in me have confronted the fact that without her, without love, my life was ruined? My way of putting things like that aside was perhaps necessary for my social survival in a world. Maybe this is the case for many of us?

We might, in our conscious minds, try to forget the other--like trying to forget to live--pretend we have forgotten, dwell our days in a daze, shut thoughts off, put life away, invent a past to help us out of the present, this agony that is right now our being unable to love, a past that will help us get on with whatever is left in life, a future projected out of a past that is what remains, ruins, stuff that's come and gone to come and go again without our renewal. My life was ruined.

No love could touch me on that doorstep to adulthood.

I was living at home and looking in the county and regional and Philadelphia newspapers in help wanted sections. Everyday I went out, drove around to different businesses, filled out applications, tried to get an interview. Many if not all the personnel department men sat and told me I should return to college and finish my education, for that is what they thought was going on at college: education.

One of these bits in the newspaper was for Lakeview Memorial Park. I went out to be interviewed. It wasn't too demanding. What in particular about myself did I think qualified me for a position as estate counselor? Well, I was a theater major for one semester at school .... Well what am I supposed to say? I am qualified because I am a poor pathetic little nothing of a human being with no desire to do anything in this forsaken place. So do I get the job? You betcha!

What was I doing as plot salesman? It's pretty much selling cosmetics. Think of it that way. Persuade people to buy into this landscaped pretty picture, this nice, comforting, dreamy image of death without dying and decay.
No desire to do anything in this world. That's what I meant when I told my grandmother I wanted to be a bum. My meaning was not the winos over in Philly who I'd see out on the streets day or night. I couldn't explain it to her. I didn't understand myself. An outsider of sorts; someone who loafs, someone who does not exist as an identity in a world. A ghost. Someone who has a blank look for the stranger on his face when asked who are you or what do you DO?

Yes, I was aware that with the way things are organized we have to work, earn money, and that it did not matter so much if I want to or not. I knew that. That was a big point upon which my father would not infrequently dwell, drill. We have to make ourselves do what we don't want to do. Eat your peas. I didn't like peas. Clean your plate. I've had enough. On and on. I knew that. No free lunch.

But there was no time to explain or even try to. She was at me, my granny, nagging me and nagging me and nagging me and my remark came after like thirty minutes or more of being nagged. Thirty minutes as an accent on a scene where nagging was a regular part of a daily routine. That day I didn't want to listen anymore. It was my birthday. I mistakenly thought that might exempt me. I wanted to be exempt from her and her nagging and from my world in general, a world in which I was expected to perform, do something, in order to justify my existence (like a friend's dad used to ask us: he'd come upon us in a room on our cans watching the tube, ask us what are you guys doing to justify your existence.)

21. Someone had given me or sent me money as a gift. Living at home, working for Lakeview. I took the day off. The job had no required regular hours. With the birthday money I bought some music. A couple albums.

My grandmother did not approve of that. She started in on me: It was time I started to take life more seriously. The same old harangue: My father and mother both had good jobs (one of the few times she had anything good to say about my mother). They both worked hard. I'll turn out no good, like all the rest of them on my mother's side of the family. I've got a good mind, but I'm wasting it. I ought to think more about my future. I'm supposed to be an adult now and should start acting like one. I'm a disappointment to my parents because I didn't finish college, just like my father really hurt his father because he promised he'd go to college after getting out of the navy but never went. You ought to try to make your parents proud of you. You're a disgrace...

Over and over again like a broken record. Her little mantra of love she'd get into and would never leave off from until she got herself all out of breath or made herself dizzy and had to lie down. Take her blood pressure medicine. Whew! At the time it never occurred to me but maybe all her different medications taken together had her all wired out like that, but I doubt it was just that.

All of this she'd spew at me was love, she said. It was all because she loved me, all for my own good. She believed that too. (Christ! I'd hate to see what it would be like if she disliked me!) It was because she loved me and wanted me to turn out right she nagged me, and maybe nag is all that an immigrant, poorly nourished  imagination allowed her to do. I don't know. (Others who knew her thought she was a wonderful, sweet woman. It was only at home among us she lived with she would unleash this peaceless side of herself.) Maybe she had a brain tumor. Who knows? There were actually more lovable and laughable moments with her. She was a good soul and I guess in her strange way well-intentioned. And, yeah, from a distance we can say Oh! What a character! But it wasn't like that living with her. It's good to remember the good things, eh?

Maybe what I did next was love too? I dunno. Depends on if that's how I felt it and it certainly didn't seem anything too much like love. I don't want to probe here into what moved me to do what I did. Things in my life were on the whole confused and clouded with continued use of alcohol and marijuana, but it had to do with love (or lack of love). (((What doesn't?))) I was pained.

I left the house in tears, got in my car, drove to Mitchell's tavern, which is like a corner neighborhood bar only not on a corner, waited in the back parking lot for my weeping to cease. Dried my eyes. Went in, sat down at the bar, sucked down a few 25-cent draught beers. Crossed over into the package goods store, bought a fifth of bourbon whisky. It was a chilly early spring mid afternoon, March 22nd 1975.

Sipping along, cruising along. Burlington County. Up along Rancocas Creek, over into Mt. Laurel, Medford Lakes, Marlton--all around the area. Not much in my stomach. Fairly steady at the wheel. Most of the roads semi rural, little traffic.

Later on in the afternoon the alcohol was pumping, running pretty well. Things began looking watery, like being in an undersea world in a one-man sub. Maybe the blood flow brings us back to our aquatic state, back into the primal booze.

I learned my lesson not by passing exams but by passing out at the wheel later on that night, going on late. Rammed into a telephone pole.

No desire to do anything in this world. I didn't want to do anything. Deep in me is the sense that it's all fake and it seems like a good deal of my maturing is a fleshing out of that intuition as fact, the fact that civilization itself is all groundless invention, false, fake. All its so-called truth, its knowledge, its beliefs, its customs, its accepted doctrines, its gods--all sham; anything we tell ourselves we're supposed to do: sham, illusion. Though I couldn't express it well at the time. My words then for the feeling were this world is one fucked up place.

There was nothing genuine in the world I was seeing or maybe there was nothing genuine in me who was looking. I had grown up in that world. I had sensed things there that came to me fresh and full of spirit and so genuine and I who had seen them was genuine too. Feeling my feelings as what seemed to be the feelings of others. I could be interested, I could care. I could be taken up in things, absorbed. Was this innocence? Something had changed. I was no longer genuine nor was the world because it was that world that had nourished me that was now devouring me as I was learning to be in that world where there is no me to be; I was learning to look out in and search in the world for a me, an identity I could put on and hide in. I no longer put my heart in things so there was no heart in things to be felt. What I was reading in life--I mean the work world school world social world dimension--was that it's not a matter of heart but something else. Other stuff. Empty stuff. A world of surfaces. Appearances. A world which worked because you are somebody, meaning what you do, meaning how much you earn or what school you attended. Identification. A world with no human closeness. Where people talked intelligentsia lilt talk or jive talk or academic cerebral expansive vocabulary talk or CB radio truck driver talk or hippie talk or gay talk or young kid teenage talk or frat bro home boy talk or icy fancy corporate buzz saw talk or glib yuppy or snuffling wealthy person talk just plain talk talk, which is pretty neurotic, talking life away. I could hear America talking but there was no voice. No one spoke their original voice. And we weren't getting anywhere near together. Talking was the end you are. Sectioned off. I could be among people I'd known for years. Where had everyone gone? Where was I?

We were into the civ, biznotized, no longer what is, what isn't. Windows, curtains, closed, air conditioners running, we went into our separate little stale air states, our fabricated worlds we called our lives. Adults, starting families of our own, some of us. That's the way it is that keeps us away. People with jobs to be at every day. Children to shuttle. Busy busy. We told ourselves this is what life is and believed what we told ourselves and told ourselves we have to accept this and tried to play the roles that we believed in. This was our belief, our religion we worshipped each day in traffic jams filing income tax returns. We became citizens (to one degree or another), fathers, mothers, workers, homemakers. Faceless to each other and voiceless, not caring to listen beyond our closed circuit visions, not daring to reach out. We lived in our finitude, our isolation domes, within our little circles of those who live like us and think like us. It all became so impersonally personal.

This is what happens. This is the way it is. There's nothing to condemn or call middle class. Nothing to blame. No cultural or political whip to crack. Some who live like this can stand it being so cut and dried. Some need more.

Sooner or later we smell our own decay. We try cover it, deodorize ourselves with pride, being in a community a somebody, a deacon at a church, a member of a board, a town council hall of famer, a dead soldier, shelves of bowling trophies. All these things with which we bring distinction to the carrion.

Whatever meaning there is there is none. There is only epiphenomenon, something happening that is here and now, inexplicable and immeasurable. Everything is this meaningless wonder.

Life is illiterate. Is it all about destruction? You might think. We write it down. Who isn't crushed by it all? Didn't we expect something different? It comes unexpectedly. We don't want to face it.  

Other than fear it's hard to tell what people are feeling.

The Lakeview job just sort of died out. One afternoon I was on duty, which means it was me who must attend to and serve any at needs, who were people who needed a grave immediately for someone, usually someone in their family. It was my first experience. There had been no training for this because we needed no sales pitch for these situations. If someone showed up they were surely in the market for a burial spot. Still, at the beginning of my time on duty, someone, I think it was Susan, quietly informed me that if someone comes in looking for one plot for the  deceased we should try to sell them a family plot. She added too that we get higher commission for at needs.

There was no guidance in how to speak or what tone of voice to take or what to say or how to go about conducting business or handle situations when everyone around me is in tears broken up or in shock. There was no counseling for the counselor. Probably none would have helped.

A group did come in that day. A family. A child, a son, had just been killed the night before in an auto accident on out on the highway not far from this memorial park. I went tensely into the luxurious and spacious parlor to greet them. I told them how sorry I was to hear what had happened, asked how old their son was. Just 17 or 18. I was supposed to eventually escort them into the sales office where business would be conducted.

The mother was still in tears, sobbing, and had to be supported by someone next to her, a man. We stood longer in the parlor. Uptight, it came as an electric current that I should say something further, I don't know what, something probably to calm the mother. Calm her, quiet her, then conduct business. What I said did not come out right. It was  constipated. It'll be all right. What are you crying for? You don't have to cry. I put on a wonderful day bright used car salesman smile. Or maybe I laughed in her face. What's in a memory? Something I did disturbed them.

That has become for me through the years a feeling of disgrace--it's worse than poor performance under pressure--that I've long been unable to fully confront. I've  carried it and carried it and carried it with/in me because I've been unable to live with myself, look at myself. Previous to this I'd considered myself pretty much an innocent who actually felt what came out of me at least at the time but here while I was supposedly functioning as an adult among other adults I was pathetic.

It was a response that came basically from a fearful attempt to not have to live, to deny feeling. That moment accentuates my insincerity, brings out my eyes, shoddy without redemption. Nothing could justify or excuse or rationalize my behavior. There are cosmetics.

It never crossed my mind that there is no such thing as trustworthy mountain, a loyal dragonfly, a pious tree, a courageous cricket, a treacherous dandelion, an unfaithful cloud, an honest jasmine flower. It never occurred to me that all these adjectives are just a bunch of shit made up by humans to account for an instability that comes with our being human (as) opposed to an actual animal we are somewhere within.

One of the men, a relative or neighbor I assume, went into the office and asked that I be relieved. (That is what I was told later.) Susan came in. She took over, made the sale. Maybe Susan wanted to make that sale?

It seemed to me that I was a failure here at this adult job just as I had failed my courses at the university.  Wasn't trying? It was as if this was a kind of test of me as a social being (a rite of passage). Could I say the right things that would offend no one and let the sale go smoothly? Could I professionally pseudo-feelingly deal with this poor mother standing there as I was in a place I didn't want to be and wanted to be away from, screw the big commission. She probably didn't want to be there either.

Why had she come? To pick out a plot, a marker? To decide what the wording on it would be? Why must we pick out holes in the ground and bronze plaques while we are so broken up? Will it put us back together, the words, the writing, the ground? We feel we must go through with this, all the business of death. We do it for the one we lost? For those this side of the grass? It can't be just any old marker it has to be chosen by the loved ones in their grief I guess. It has to be shopped for, deliberated on, agonized. There are just so many things on a marker we can engrave. What can be said? Which words shall it be? They will choose some conventional phrase. Wordings like you find elsewhere on markers. Not to be different even in death. They will not venture to utter words from within themselves, words from a heart from which a pillar is gone, crushed bone powdery words, ash and dust words mixed with blood to make the bronze marker bronze. Earth words. They will go down the list of sayings to put on graves. Choose ones that seem appropriate.  A greeting card.

It was for me after all a job, a commercial venture, someone's invention/intention; the business of death brought us together that day.

My little acting experience failed me. I couldn't pretend to grieve with them, couldn't ad-lib, couldn't fake tears and couldn't pretend that I was close to them or that I could respond to and conduct business with this family who had just lost someone dear to them.

It's not their fault. They didn't make the system, the culture of death. Any more than we all do. But we do. They didn't want to be out shopping for tombs that morning after their son crashed.  So much life to live death brings.

I was a confused young man, unable to communicate with total strangers in their time of need; I saw them as strangers? What could have distanced me from them so far as to see them or anyone as strangers? What could have prevented me from feeling with them, feeling myself of them, one of them? Or they with me?

Wasn't I living what heartbreak is, a life of brokenheartedness, what becomes of us, what brought me where I was? All I had to do was be there, say nothing, hold out the pen and paper. Grief enough.

Who did I think I was? I don't know where I am in scheme of things. At a loss for what to say or do. Who am I to berate myself, call myself damaged goods? By what authority do I judge? By what authority does anyone? Our behavior in the world--our socially conditioned world--is fragmented, divided, broken, out of whack with ourselves and others. What can we expect in this world but half-asleep litanies of socially approved emotional behavior? It's just a matter of getting the language down, tuning it to an acceptable level of talk. What is thought of as maturity. It's the artificial environment of a personal computer or video game--memory bytes. In the beginning you get chopped up and smothered. You learn how to play the game better.

This mother, this mother of an eighteen-year-old boy killed in a crash, did she not want 20-year-old me on the scene?

The fear in me was too much for me to understand anything. My friend had suicided less than a year before this. He is buried here. In a matter of weeks I too will crash into a pole just off this highway a bit. I work here. These things are not pertinent, but they are. Surrounded by our own waste. Breaking things down.

A few nights each week I'd sit on a barstool with chums around my age. We'd been in the same high school. There were other locals of different generations. Some old timers. It was Mitchell's tavern. We'd suck down shots and beers and we younger ones would sometimes head out back to blow some weed.

There was often a game on the t.v. or there was music from a jukebox; Irv the bartender would at times, especially Friday nights, sing along to Frank Sinatra as the night went on.

There was briefly a togetherness which we had to pay for of course and which wasn't there the next morning. Mornings there was a sales office facing out towards a highway. Faceless strangers' voices on telephone lines that did not want to talk with me. I don't blame them. I didn't want so much to talk with them either, not as this ridiculous job. Rubberbanded stacks of  cold leads, 3 by 5 cards to call.

What sort of life was this for a young man, me or anyone else? I dunno. It didn't seem so wonderful to me. What else was there? A rocket scientist? . . .  In my mind was an ever changing kaleidoscope of images: all things to do in a lost world. Jobs. Careers. I'd thought of the military previous to this. The Peace Corps? Something that would take me away. Somewhere not here. Peace Corps had to do with helping me get out of here, same as the military. But no Peace Corps without a college degree. These images were colorless shades, none of them very appealing; the background fairly dim.

If love had been my life, if my life had been love, if I'd seen love as life, felt it that way, things would have been brighter. If Eileen, her brightness, had been in my life all the rest would have been incidental. (I don't blame her.) It would not have mattered what in hell my job was.

Without her, without love, all I could sense was that the world had nothing to do with being alive.

Images of things. Going through the motions. There was a savior in Jesus I saw everyday entering the park, getting out of my car. There was escape with Timothy Leary, some interviews I'd read some books I'd picked up. There was erotic fascination: exotic dancers at the Admiral Wilson Lounge. Sex, pot, masturbation and booze. Rock music and blues. Later, getting off the pot and booze, there were books. There was knowledge. Books I'd been assigned in college I hadn't read but had brought back home with me. Anthropology, sociology, history, anthologies of literature, economics. Books I read now but got no credit for. There were books I'd pick up at a tiny local library. Ones I'd get from a bookshop at a mall.  Some volumes of Wordsworth and Byron I'd picked up. Or Emerson. And take them to a beach to watch a sunrise. Or take them on a walk with me in what woods were left to walk in.

There was food for thought in some of these books. For soul. There was life. And I found I could actually enjoy these readings when it wasn't to memorize things for an exam. There were times I'd try to work things from those books into my daily life, into my conversations, as if others might be interested in these ideas too, as if someone cared. On the down side maybe all my effort was for myself, to make me feel less inferior, less insecure, about having failed in college. Or was it about my not being on the same level with sophisticated intellectual collegiates who seemed to know everything under the sun. Maybe it was my way of exploring possibility. Just my society made me feel guilty about it.

That, I found--opening myself, sharing my thoughts, trying to speak--was not the thing to do. There were responses such as why didn't you get a degree? Or If you're so interested in that stuff why don't you go back and finish your degree. It's best to not bother some. Let them sleep.

Education, being interested in things, being curious, had little value in the world it seemed. Just get a degree--for a job, you know. That's what people meant by finish your schooling: Upward mobility, economic survival, not being poor. Nothing had to do with growth, with deepening our sense of life, nothing to do with opening up, with being spoken to or touched by these writers of books.

Even having a degree I'd still better shut my mouth and talk from the sports page or the financial section of the newspaper, or bitch about my job, my marriage, the economy, the interest rates, the stock market, the president, the prices of gas, the latest war on my own mind. That's the impression I'd get. Bitterness and regret. Misery as the content of talk. What kind of weed killer would make me less lonely?

Make people proud of me, become something, become someone.

I should love my ridiculous imperial Rome country where people live like this. I should be proud to be an American, a citizen of the richest and most powerful country in the world. Don't concern myself with being alive and love but put linoleum on my kitchen floor. Worry about interest rates.

Don't think that an American material dream is a horrendous and unnecessary destruction of nature, a dumping on anyone or thing that gets in the way. I should find what happiness I can while non-stop fighting somewhere is being plotted. Our boys  killing and dying for our freedom and protecting our pursuit of happiness for us in one war or another.  (In the privacy of my own home though I'm permitted to shed gentleness tears over all the stupid insane destruction.) I should be happy I am able to fill my gas tank cheaply. Put food on the table.

Nothing should darken me. Don't look at all the shit and darkness. Watch the Super Bowl. People don't want to mature. That is the impression I'd get.

How could knowledge of any kind let me not see her as a stranger, this mother of a boy killed in a crash. Did I need a higher I.Q.? Would a lower I.Q. have helped? Would a PhD. qualify me to see her?

I was here with at needs. You can't know anything and look at death. You feel it expand as if the whole sky is a gaping wound this mother's eye tears open on. You feel it all over as a body of heart, of life, of death.

Standing here, being, looking at life as life is being me. What is there in the world that would have let me see her not as a mother, not as a customer, not as a sister, not as someone I know or even a friend nor yet as a stranger but see her in all her broken sobbing loveliness as life? Whatever in me might it be that is to see her so?

Where in these words is there to hide?

No Mem-
No Mem-


What it was that got me into this teaching profession was some strange buzz in my head. Living alone in a run down apartment with no television even, books came out in my life more than ever before and stirred something in me to respond to what was written. What was it? Writing the lighting? A mode of life that made it possible to live? A mind in its beginnings, thoughts budding? Spirits awakening? The need to think up some career, something other than odd jobs truckdriving, factoryworking, taking orders for baby portraits door to door? Or just plain me? Or something else who knows what?

The mind is a mysterious thing and it was this something about mind that led me to return to college, to get back to where mind was supposed to be welcome even though it had to be in some particular predetermined way I later learned. I wasn't so clear about all this. Just an intuition of sorts. I'd been reading Plato, a biography of Emerson that was written way way back in his own century. Was idealism brimming over in me? Sweetness? It surely was not an image of myself standing in front of teenagers or college kids trying to get them to complete assignments that attracted me. That's for sure. Lord knows I had no taste for tasks.

At the time I knew nothing of a lesson plan or a syllabus or curriculum development. That wasn't it. Neither did I see teaching as a way to help a kid along in life. Though I didn't deny it happening incidentally. It was just that these books, the writing in these books, stimulated me. Books must have got me to think on my own. I guess. (Is that why books are considered dangerous by some?) Or was it working in a box factory bored stiff that got my juices flowing?  Because I soon was in awe of myself that I was able to think thoughts that later I came across in a book and saw--wow!--that I am capable of thinking such things as one who has written a book. What did that mean? I didn't know. I impressed myself. Another's words had reached me. By them I was able to see my life better than before. Maybe I'd be able to do this more at a school?   

That's what I thought. Because I admired someone who could write a book and put down their thoughts clearly in words. And these books were not comic books, they were thought to be world class books. So I felt good about being able to receive life. From books or from a woods or a beach or a bumblebee or any living thing. It felt good, like being regenerated. A refreshing walk or swim.

More than anything else, books and their natures drew me into education. Curiosity. What to do with a heart's eye. But then there was all the bureaucracy to go through before I could get into a room with another human being and let these spirits free, let them mingle with others.

I was back in college, a couple of years older than my classmates. (I'd been at one college for three years then away and working for two more.) There was the teacher training system. The requirements were set by the state government. It was required that we take courses in this and that. There was the history of American education. There was educational psychology. There was an issues class, an educational philosophy class. There were all sorts of things most of which were taught by two professors who themselves had once been involved in secondary education. Only they had each a PhD and now that they'd retired from a public school system they ran the teacher training program at the college. They were elderly men.

There was some sickly idealism about "the child" floating around; that seemed so much creepiness to me. The pure little things--all that. It seemed common sense to me that if someone who has something to share--some interest in things, some curiosity--is put with other people who also have such interests learning will happen. Minds will expand. Naturally. A school as I saw it was a place provided where these people might come together. Like a public park or something. This of course was fantasy; I knew that. Or did I? I myself had come through a public education system that was nothing at all like that. I should have known what the real world was like. I did know; maybe that's why the dream. So I'm a real world denier? A dreamer? It doesn't happen like I imagined: there're no parks, few give a shit. Not in our system. There is nothing like curiosity going on, and if there is it's by some freak accident, something slipped through somehow. There's only this gigantic concrete and brick wall-wheel a-turnin'. That and the rotting lettuce smell of a school cafeteria.  

Upon graduation receiving my degree and also a license to teach I did not immediately go for a job in the U.S. secondary education system. I'll leave you to wonder why. No. I went to graduate school.

But first semester my senior year I did do student teaching at a high school nearby the college. It must have been for a month or so. Nothing in any of the prep courses--none of the child psychology courses, none of the issues in education textbooks--ever once mentioned that many of these young people in lines at desks in front of me did not want to be where they were. They were there because a law had been written saying they had to be there and have four years of English, etc. etc. They were there because of compulsory education.  

How does that particular fact affect a youngster who is taught he is living in a free society? They'd rather not be there in that classroom, you can bet on that. They were there for the same reason I was there which is that I wanted to get a license and this is what one had to do to get certified. They wanted to graduate and go on to something else they for the most envisioned as being somehow better than where they were. They were not there in that room because they were interested in reading and learning about John Steinbeck or O'Henry or anyone else. Most of them were not. A few maybe were. Nor was I. I did not dislike literature but I was not what you might call  deeply literary. I didn't marvel over someone's use of irony. Didn't get excited about metaphysical conceits (if there is such a thing). As a kid in school I found many of the assigned readings boring. Others were wonderful. But it's out of the teacher's hands, just as it's out of the kids' hands. Nobody gets to read what they like.

On the other hand there are some who become English teachers who dislike what is called literature. They get certified in it because English along with something else will give them a dual area and help them get hired somewhere. So chances are you're being taught by someone with no feel for the matter, no sense of the written word.

I don't even know if I paid much attention to the stories in the book. It was a trying time. My parents, a week into this student teaching experience, were injured, one severely, in an automobile accident. I read from a teacher's guide I was given that explained what the story was all about and supplied the answers to all the questions in the textbook. I can't say that the overall atmosphere was conducive to reading literature. Or if it's even possible to study literature. Is an author really writing so that his or her work will be studied? Maybe they want their work to be enjoyed?

There's the unpleasant chore too of trying to keep these 30 or more teenagers focused on the matter at hand, which was often some boring question in the textbook concerned with whether a reader had comprehended a certain portion of the material. There is much unpleasantness.

We are living things in a classroom so we want to look out the window, talk to our neighbor, check our mascara, hide an erection, finger a zit, pass notes, look at a girls boobs--none of which has anything to do with what we're taught in an ed. psych. course about behavioral or cognitive psychology or Skinner or Piaget. Theories which mostly all posit an attentive or at least mildly interested mind, a mind willing to, wanting to learn. An active mind.

Which is certainly not the case. I never got  the connection. What does a school have to do with any of that? One is told that it is the teachers job to keep everyone focused on the learning task. So teachers accumulate all these gimmicks for keeping everyone's attention. Or just snap out, throw fits, whatever. Smack some kid with a yardstick. It can be a very grueling experience. Frustrating. One which had little to do with my notion of letting in light.

What I recall from my own experience in high school and before was that some of us thought of school as a prison. That is how they referred to it; of course that was just kiddy hype talk and could have been negative feelings projected onto the school because they weren't enjoying it very much, but when you think about it there is some overlap. It's possible that they likened school to a prison--though we'd never been in one--because there were in fact rules that were in ways we'd seen on t.v. and in movies or heard about from parents or somewhere similar to rules in prisons: couldn't stand here or there, keep moving, couldn't go outside during lunch, couldn't be found in a hall without a pass, etc. etc. In our high school they'd pull a ceiling-high metal grate across a corridor to keep us in the cafeteria area until lunch was officially over. Penned in like animals at a zoo. Strip search? ..... naw. At least not then.

A prison is not how I looked at school. Not as a kid. It was all right. There were times when I'd get in trouble--in grade school got suspended for a day for throwing a snowball at a bus. There were a few teachers with whom I did not get on with well. I was at times a cut-up, a clown, tried to entertain others. There was a lot going on besides the formal academics. There was popularity, etc. I was fairly popular, at least known. Everyone knew me and knew something about me. I was not a loner, not reclusive. I was a tease to some extent. Went through a brief stage of being a bully.

There was the macho tough-guy aspect of school too. For some boys at least. Who's the toughest kid in class. Challenges. Pecking order. Some kids got pushed around, others pushed others around. All that was going on as well. Who likes who. What girl is wearing what boy's tie pin. This week. What girl stuffs her bra. Who dropped a pencil so he could see up so-and-so's skirt when he bent to pick it up. Sneaking cigarettes to school, stealing them from a mother's purse. Inhaling. Spiking the punch at a school dance. Smoking dried banana peel. Putting aspirin in Coke (the soft drink).

Later, in high school, who's going out with who, who asked who out, who broke up, who's going to the prom, who doesn't get asked out, who's hard up, who's doing it. Who gave who a hand job. Who went all the way, got pregnant, suddenly wasn't in school anymore. Sports. The upcoming game against a long time next town rival. Beer. Getting served before we were twenty-one. Driving cars. Marijuana was on the scene then. War. Draft. Brothers getting killed, parents divorced. Kids leaving school. Have to find a job. Parties. Problems at home. Beatings. Gangs. Quitting school to enlist. After school chores. LSD. Mini skirts. Girls coming to school braless--hallelujah!--and getting sent home. And so on and so on. A jungle of psycho-social emotional matter teeming within a school's walls, matter that is uppermost in a youngster's life, or anyone's, things that are for many a young person vastly more important than the academic task at hand. We were young and alive. Full of ourselves. Who could pay attention?

Things that go on in many a mind, concerns  at that stage, dimensions. It's a wonder a mind could tie into calculus but is it for a time settling for some? Math didn't do it for me.

There were a few diligent learners who carried a briefcase, kept pens and pencils in a pocket protector. Too there were those who had something like a natural interest in certain things, certain things would draw us: math or science, in government and politics. For some it was art, music. I liked to write. Some found some classes, some teachers, interesting. Some no doubt benefited in some ways from that school.

Others were turned off. What natural interest they may have had was burnt out by a parent or crushed by a teacher or by the system itself. The system rolls along at its own pace. An individual's natural growth happens not in accord with any program. We blossom when we will, if we do. But if we can't keep up we're labeled dumb (or whatever the acceptable euphemism happens to be at the time). Our lives can be ruined.

Or if a kid goes faster than the system, test him out and put him in college though the kid is only twelve. What else to do?   

We were all thrown together--different races, religions, socioeconomic money scenes. Many with not much. Some with more. Few or no rich. Different learning styles and paces. All thrown into the same pot.  

Being a teacher gives you a chance to be in the presence of that which is vastly alive--for better or worse. As does any way of being alive I suppose, irrespective of what  profession we happen to be in. Working in schools as I have makes me wonder whether being alive is in anyone or if anyone is aware that this it what it's for--life--when, for example, teachers or administrators sit down with pencil and paper and map out a curriculum. It seems to me that the exigencies of a system have priority. Scheduling courses. What to put in what time slot? Dollars and cents. Keep up with what other schools are offering. Keep those students coming keep those dollars flowing. Here's a class period that needs to be filled. What to put there? It's all said to be for the benefit of the student, all this paper and pencil planning. It's for the children.....

Being alive. That doesn't mean anyone's interested. Or that anyone will be interested in much of anything at all. They all know the system. The system is all they know. That's why they are there. The package. Study this study that because that is what you need to get this certificate in order to get this job. These are frequently the parameters of interest. For many. The frequency of listening beyond which we do not hear.

It's like seeing groups go off on one of their tours to sites domestic or foreign. They're on their packaged tour. They have their guide man or woman with their little flag. They're bussed off here there according to schedule see this that what's all on the tour nothing that's not they buy the guide book buy the souvenirs the guide book tells them get their picture taken in front of this that and come home saying, thinking, they've seen the land, the country. They've been there.

We enter the school we're told what courses to take--have one of these have two of these four years of this--to get this or that certificate degree license we go here there study this that read this do that take this test take that exam write this paper that thesis and in the end we're given a paper that says we've been to school. Voilà’! You have an education! Annnddddd  we're happy with that. we're cool with that. I'm down with that dude! Parents are happy; they're kids got a diploma and will likely--depending on the economy--have a job. The school is happy--all that money coming in. Teachers are happy: they believe they've taught someone something. A happy planet! One big smiley face. Ought to paint a big smiley face over each school's entrance.

A packaged tour: is that how crass it's become? Oh, horrors! It's school time: do you know where your children are? Is there anything going on in that wham-bam-thank-you-mam?
At times it seems to me that school when I was there was a world that went on unchanged by formal learning, by whatever intellectual development there may have been that the school itself was responsible for, that was not actually our being transformed through socialization or acculturation.

The institution likewise went on for the most unchanged, the same old crocodiles running things, changes only superficial. In a way it seems like academics--programmed courses of study--hardly scratch a surface. If that. Nor, I suppose, is touching our individual natures even a goal.

Are we beings walking around with knowledgeable surfaces, one degree or another?   

Education, religions, sciences, systems of thought, philosophies and so on can only go so deep. The earth appears in poetry.

There was not just one reason that I did what I did, I mean getting a job as a teacher. There really is nothing we do for only one reason. (Well, there's poetry, which is as if to say no reason at all.) It's a collage of things coming to play. There are various dimensions to it. I wanted vacation time. Didn't want to be at work 49 or 50 weeks of the year. Didn't really want to work at all. Who does? If you had a choice between just hanging around doing what you want to do and going to work five or six days a week for maybe 50 weeks of each year for maybe fifty years which would you choose? It's an oversimplification of choices, I know, but ...

Today there's a meadow waiting for me. I'll paint. A tree that I want to be under. A sunset at seashore; my lover and I will go to it, take a blanket and a bottle of wine, that moment's listening instruments. Today is to prepare my booklet to send off to my reader friends. A great day for clamming, this one. The bay is not too choppy and there's breeze enough to keep away the greenhead flies.

That--or off to the same office day after day year after year. The routine things that must be done. Where you really have to make an effort to keep your mind alive whereas in the above example mind needs no special effort, it all comes with life.

Everything preparing us to be teachers was preparation preparation; preparation up the wazoo. We needed Preparation H®! Preparation and accountability. How to word the goal of a lesson plan. Thinking of what technique to use, one that will best enable pupils to attain that stated goal. At the end of the lesson, students will be able to...... All extremely logical. One, two, three . . . . A, B, C. The three forces which brought about the industrial revolution....

What I was being exposed to in teacher training--though at the time I could not articulate it--was the notion that education was some sort of production shop. A factory floor. An industry. You have the item you are trying to produce. You have your specifications. You have your production run. Finally the inspection: does this item pass or is it rejected? Will it have to be sent back for whatever? Now it's getting more high tech. You look at the latest school bill gates.

There was some fixed idea of what the final product was. Some states had regency exams: know this know that or else. No diploma. How can anything be alive when there is a fixed idea?

Later on I learned the reason why things came to be so programmatic. It's because school boards, boards of education, came to be controlled by members from the business community, by manufacturers, or their lawyers and other such agents. People who wanted to see tangible results. People who thought in dollars and cents. Bottom line. People who eventually saw the many schools as a vast captive consumer, an enormous demand they could create for educational materials, for educational technology, for equipment, for hardware and software of all sorts. People who eventually and subtly turned the philosophy of education to a student-centered learning system because they envisioned each pupil as a consumer of an array of paraphernalia that would raise the educational cost per student to far exceed what it used to cost when each and every student used the same old textbooks. Now each student would become like a battlefield grunt, made to carry in his or her metaphorical backpack a service network that costs many times over whatever was in place when my mother and father went to school in a one-room school house on the prairie.

The school a child enters now is loaded with manufactured material that is aimed at that individual primarily as a consumer and only in passing as a learner.

My experience student teaching made me not want to teach in secondary schools so I thought of going on to grad school so that I might one day be able to teach at a university. Things would be less tight there, I thought. One of my college lit teachers smugly snubbed secondary education and teacher training as well so I thought what intellectual fun it must be to work at a university and be able to make intellectual comments which some coeds would titter at and not have parents call up the principal or superintendent of schools to complain that their children are being exposed to subversive thoughts.

That, more than anything else, turned me off to teaching in the public school system. Not the prof's smartass attitude but the fact that there was such a tense atmosphere where I did that practice teaching. Tense may be the wrong word. Yes, I was tense. My first time and all that. What shall I say? 19th century? Stuffy? Late Victorian institutional? A mind-place that was just plain closed and not likely to open soon? A raunchy, clannish, self-righteous orneriness? I was in hicksville!

There was one short story we were reading, Faulkner's Soldier's Pay as I remember (this was during my student teaching experience) and I made an admittedly off-color comment. Jokingly. A stupid teenaged class clown cut at the textbook question. Only now it was me who was playing teacher. And you still get in trouble! The text asked a question that went something like Why do you think the protagonist no longer wanted to sleep in the same bed with his brother? And I thought it would be funny to speculate that he'd discovered that his brother was gay. Well, some kid went home and repeated that to his mother or father who maybe could have been Jehovah's Witness or something. So next morning the principal summoned me to his office and reprimanded me for referring to homosexuality that way during a class. He'd gotten a call from a parent. And then there was this and that the principal thought to add, other complaints, things he was hearing about me.

He told me I'd have to watch what I say--and after that there was always that wilting sense of being watched, which is to be expected perhaps along with the notion that I'd have to watch myself.  I'd be my own surveillance. Why, I asked myself, should that need be? We're all people here. Can't we be open? Just because some people have certain beliefs does that mean we all have to shut up to respect them? Does respect mean we have to make the place a morgue?

If the kid had taken a moment to reflect on just why it was he took offense at this remark or whether it was in fact intended to offend there may have been something in himself to learn--such as that people are offended because they are taught to believe something is offensive--but no: we hear something we've been trained to salivate at we run to ring the bell tell the folks complain to the authorities call a lawyer sue....  

If the kid--if if if--instead of running home to his parents reporting that Mr. Watson said this or that, if the kid had come out in class and questioned my comment or asked how my comment relates to the text or something like that--in which case I'd sweat no doubt but would inevitably come up with a substantial amount of bullshit, having gone through which I may have actually said something important, may have brought down the spirit, so to speak. If the kid had been open enough to speak, then the text at hand could have been brought to life in some way. Instead of just blandly going through the steps with a nasal twang: Okay class. Please turn to page twenty-seven. Let's see who can answer question number five.... The individual obviously did not feel comfortable coming out directly with his or her observations. Probably out of fear. It was an uncomfortable place which is why probably my stab at the textbook question. To loosen things up a bit.

The kid felt better taking it home to the folks. Instead of something coming from our reading we're left with this constipated, stagnate atmosphere. And it's because of fear. The youngster--11th grader--feared me, authority, feared perhaps getting a low mark for challenging what teacher says, whatever. Then me the teacher gets called in for my words and go around thereafter terrified to open my mouth for fear of failing out of the program or whatever. And that's the school system. A liberal education.

What learning can take place in fear? (It's not an issue of why Johnny can't read but why Billy the speed reader can't learn. Bombs bursting in air giving proof to our benightedness.)

Then too there was the time that I was in the teacher's lounge--same school--with my whatever it was she was called, my supervisor I guess she'd be called. The teacher whose classes I'd taken over to do my practice teaching.There she'd fill me in. What kid came from a good family what kid came from trash.

One conversation I heard there in the teacher's lounge one day totally grossed me out. How disgusting. They were ridiculing their students--and I know too of course that kids make fun of their teachers as well. I had done so myself as a kid, certain teachers we called names etc. Here were these "professionals" ridiculing the young people in their classes. Maybe they did that because they were stifled in their classrooms. I don't know. They were talking about how one kid cut this really stinking fart. And another male teacher speculated how that kid takes a bath and farts these horrendous dark bubbles in the tub. Christ! That so made me want to vomit. Out I went, politely excusing myself, went for a walk outside the big bubbling building.

It didn't seem likely that such people would take to sharing ideas. It was never going to be the stimulating environment I imagined. It wasn't going to be Plato's academy. It was a fart house and that's about it. One big fart joke of a school. And a professionally terrified cover-your-ass attitude.

Significant portions of about half my days (180) of every year since kindergarten were spent at a school. Only for a couple years from 1975 to 77 working odd jobs here and there had I been officially unconnected with school. You'd think I'd be somehow a better person for all that time in education. You'd think my character would be more developed--into what I don't know, higher ideals maybe. You'd think I'd be good at something as a result. Like I'd be able to do something really well.

Yet who can be sure that such development is even a goal in education? Maybe mass education aims at mediocrity, or less. It's true that school catalogs tend to drape about a good deal of highfalutin language as to what their aims are. It may be good to aim high if in fact you are aiming at what you say you are. Or are all these renaissance ambitions merely a cover for training a work force?

It's all an advertisement?

You might think--dwelling for just a moment on these notions of intelligence and schooling--that with all the supposedly genius level intelligence--while keeping in mind all those too who according to test results could be classified as feeble--and all the people in possession of degrees from supposedly top-notch universities, all the supposedly brilliant individuals graduating from Harvard and Yale and the best universities all over the world, you might think this would be a better place. You might think there'd be less or even no war, less or no hunger and starvation, less or no poverty, less environmental destruction, less crime, less weapons manufactured, less pollution, less needless suffering and death, less sense of being assaulted by the world we live in. It's not better and the reason is that the system itself is aggressively stupid. Far more destructive and wasteful than it need be. What good is all that mental wealth if it serves, is chained to, a system that is way way out of synch?

You might think, too, that all that brain power--all the sort of ability that is sought after through all the exam-selection-qualification processes--is itself a manifestation of our crazy world and that all that intelligence that's around serves to perpetuate all the insanity. All the mental wealth--all the high level equations the periodic tables the formula for rocket fuel--all that knowledge--are products of a stupid system. To make the human a mine to mine. Put two and two together. This might be interesting to mull over a while, but not here. Don't we need to know why we know?

There was the time when a school hired me to teach a gifted-and-talented program somewhere outside of Binghamton, New York. I was there for less than a full academic year, having been hired in October. Gifted & Talented was something completely new to me; there was no such program where I was from. They selected me, they told me, because I'd done a booklet of poems in college and had lived two years in Japan. They liked the different language and culture thing.

Japan was a hot item then--1982, 83 this was. Japan was rolling in money and people in so many ways were scrambling to get some. Universities hurriedly started up Japanese language programs. A young man who taught in Japan for a whole year wrote a book about Japanese education. That became a best-seller! A business writer came out with a book touting the samurai ethic as a key to business success. A whole circus started up with Japan (read money) as the main event.

I got the job. Having to find a job actually was not my intention. Recently returned from a two-year assignment as an English teacher in Japan, the idea was to continue my studies in the same graduate program in which I'd received my master's. Unfortunately for me, after I left for Japan Ronald Reagan was elected president and along the various other things he did he cut out federal money for things like the TA which I'd had before going off to Japan. So I was told by the department chairman that I could continue on with my studies but I'd have to pay my own way. The aggravating thing about it is that I wasn't told until many of our belongings had been packed up, crated and shipped off to America. The university office, whoever mailed the letter to me, never thought to use an airmail stamp! So the letter took six to eight weeks getting to me as opposed to seven days! Otherwise I'd have had time to weigh my options. Stay in Japan or what.
Basically penniless, maybe a couple hundred dollars in a savings account, myself as well as Morie to feed, I needed a job. This New York school in fact had recently, the year before, started an exchange program with a high school in Japan. Someplace in Shikoku. At the NY school the head of the program was a social studies teacher. Knowing that my wife Morie is Japanese and that I had lived in Japan she asked me one day would we be willing to host the Japanese teacher. There were 20 Japanese high school kids coming and she'd been able to place all of them with families. This was to happen in the spring just before or after--and even during I think--the Easter break. She hadn't been able to find anyone to host the Japanese teacher, which is why she asked us.

That night Morie and I talked about it briefly and the next day I told the teacher we would be glad to have the woman stay with us.

It wasn't long before it was getting on towards their arrival date and we expected to have a visitor with us for tens days. We'd need to know when and where we were to meet our guest so I asked the social studies teacher. She informed me that she'd found someone else to host the teacher from Japan. But, I wondered, Morie and I had already agreed to take this woman. The soc. teacher said that the principal had changed that and that if I wanted to know more about it I'd have to ask him.

So off to Mr. Buttwick's office I went. He was a short fat fellow with a big fat mouth. When I asked him about the homestay matter he told me we are disqualified because these Japanese are paying money to come over and experience American life. That means mom and apple pie. Blonde hair. They want to see a genuine American family.

I thought to myself here is one pathetic individual. What's he doing running a school? But, see, the problem is that he is so typically narrow-minded. There are plenty of educators like him and worse throughout the school systems. Malicious, small-minded power broking gossip mongers that wave around their degrees, that get advanced degrees so they can move up in the system. They make me sick! And they are pretty much who the system is.

It irritated me to no end that we could be disqualified for such a reason. I appealed to various members of the faculty but there was nothing anyone wanted to do. Finally--it wasn't the fact of not having a guest that upset me--I telephoned the American Civil Liberties Union in New York City. Wow. Forty-five minutes or more it was before I could talk to a representative. Waiting on the line. And it took something like a month before any advice was given me about my situation. It struck me as unfair and illegal, the principal's decision. Something about not making decisions based on race, creed, religion, ethnic this or that.

Several long wait phone calls, several weeks later, The ACLU rep told me that what I said was to the point, that it was in fact unlawful that we be excluded from a program because Morie is not white or Anglo-Saxon or genuinely American. But, she told me, my case was a rather insignificant one. There are people with worse problems. Be that as it may she said she would telephone the board of education where I was employed to talk with the superintendent of schools. She did this and then called me back a few days later to relay what the superintendent had said. It is not the school's policy to discriminate is what he told the ACLU rep. And that he would look into the matter.

He did and the principal no doubt felt some heat which he responded to nastily. How? There was a discount book sale at an old warehouse in Binghamton. Overstock or whatever. I forget. Books were dirt cheap. Nothing over a dollar. Jean, the G&T teacher at the grade school and I went to stock up on books for our classrooms.

A Monday morning the following week books were noticeably fewer on the classroom's shelves. What had happened? I asked Loretta who was a secretary whose desk was outside the counselors' offices and by which you had to pass to get to the G&T classroom.  She had seen Mr. Buttwick in there Friday evening just before she left.

He'd taken a bunch of art books, ones which had a few paintings of the human body naked--ones you can see at any museum. He told me they were disgraceful and couldn't be seen by the students at his school. And he'd thrown the books in the trash. This was his retaliation for a call to the superintendent from the ACLU!

So as a young man still new to the teaching profession I was feeling the world's bite. Granted it was a nibble. It seemed like a bite to me then. No one castrated me or tried to lynch me. No one came to burn my house. Yet it was enough for me. Enough for me to know that school was no place for me. Was I impatient?

This is not to say there are no good souls in American public schools. There were warm individuals--speaking now of my experience as a student--there were dedicated people, there were those who cared about us. Or so it seemed to me then through a child's eyes. There were teachers who drilled us in a fun way. Back in grade school there was an English teacher who had us memorize what an adjective tells:


Or adverbs:


We'd shout these recitations and she'd stomp her feet with the cadence. She got us for one full 50-minute period coming out with adjectives which she'd write on the board. The board filled with adjectives! We had fun. Her arm was tired. It stimulated us. We learned what's an adjective and what's not (for what it's worth: they thought it important to fragment language in different ways and play with meta-language, as if there really is something called a noun). It is still with me 36 or so years later.

There certainly was no fart humor in HER class. You can bet your blue booties on that baby! Once a kid cut one and some of us snickered--this was the seventh grade and fart humor was still a thing--but she came down on that like a 50-pound sledge hammer:

 You dissssGUSTING Pigs!
 You ought to be aSHAMED of  your-  selves!LAUGHING at the expelling of air!

We never laughed about flatulence again. Ever!

There were teachers who meant well and tried to do their job as they understood it. Unfortunately there was not one who I can say particularly inspired me, no one who opened me up to unchartered vistas. There were a few who would let us write, free writing time some gave us, back in elementary school. In high school there was a course we could take but not until we were seniors. None who got me noticeably more interested in anything, none who were stimulating. For me that is. Other kids may have been inspired, I don't know. School is for each a different experience.

Perhaps the reason was that the teachers had their sense of what they were there for. They were there to make sure we knew our parts of speech, etc. So that we knew the three kinds of rocks on earth. So we could say the stages of modernization. Give the cause of WWI. So that we could diagram a sentence. Some called this parsing. In my school it was called diagraming. (I call it a sling blade....) They made efforts, they did what they could. They did their jobs. I'm not trying to fault them.

It's just that no one saw beyond the job, beyond the teaching knowing task; no one shared their insights into life. No one inspired us to look more deeply into what it is we were doing, at our lives. No one led us to wonder what all the knowledge is for or how it came about and from where, if anywhere. Yes of course we were told we'd need it for our future but no one asked us to think about just what something called a future is.

And what the grave digger's talking about in Hamlet. Why, when Whitman contemplates a blade of grass, are we not allowed outside? What is this stuff dreams are? We're taught that a star might be gone by the time its light reaches earth. So many light years it takes. We see a star that's not there maybe! (We hallucinate?) But if we'd been asked to think just what a year is and discovered--aha!--there is no such thing as a year outside the human mind, we'd have known that just when that star is is impossible to say, that life is still a mystery, wondrous, miraculously mysterious still. Behind, beyond, all the accounting and measuring, outside the cave of knowing, everything is still very much beautifully and unsayably alive.

But no one led any of us to any sense of such wonder. I'm not sure anyone can. But it's worth a try. Just point, maybe. What would we have felt if someone had helped us open ourselves to it all? Reverence? Would we have developed a sense of reverence? Not for just the teacher but for this earth and beyond and in all living things and for what's in ourselves? No way to be sure.

In fact there's no way to be sure about any true to life education. There's no way to prove or account for anything. No measure. No standards. It's all so gloriously alive. One living thing. Dying thing. More than even the most developed memory can behold. But which we all are. Does it seem to anyone that there is sanity to this?

Education which engages someone as a living thing--not just as a remembering act, a memory mine: what would it be like? It couldn't be made into a system. It wouldn't produce anything that is profit-making in the world but it might help us appreciate our lives a bit more. Who knows? No one ever will.

Some system is no doubt necessary for social life to go on. It seems that as a species we will have something called culture. Of some kind. But a system is supposed to serve us. We don't exist to serve a system. Do we? Even as I write the system is planning ahead. It will take control of genetics and program humans to behave like ants (no offense to ants). Happy ants, whistling while they work work work. Humans programmed with the Prozac gene. Already, right now, someone is working on it somewhere in a lab, deciding for humans what happiness is.  

And people will go along with it because of the advertising package. It's what's best for the kids. It's the patriotic thing to do. It's an investment for your future. Because there's money in it.

It occurs to me that many think of education
--as it is now or as it used to be--as a source of freedom and power. Maybe they mean upward social mobility, getting better jobs, etc. Gaining a better position in society. Or not being victims of discrimination, ignorance, fear, etc. I'm not sure. Or if what is meant is freedom from all the crap we're taught that we're supposed to believe in and worship? I don't know.

What is power? How is it meant in the phrase freedom and power? Potential? Discovering what one is able to do? Coming to a fuller sense of what is inside ourselves? Growth? Fecundity? Doing what we like?

Or earning power? Who can be sure?

Is it a power to enable us to live our lives?

It's not my purpose to answer what it should be for everyone. I don't believe in morality--though I try to work things out for myself, try to get a sense of what is livable, for me, what lets life go on, meaning what lets us live our lives; let there be life, etc.. That seems good to me. Life seems good. I don't believe in morals that others want to make for me and for everyone else. Formulae. Thou shalt not . . .  and all that sort of thing that was sort of invented to replace other sorts of things such as Thou shalt not kill a menstruating ewe on the Sabbath eve. (If we were to read how the Ten Commandments evolved and what they evolved from, what the commandments were that preceded the ones we're taught were fixed by Moses.)

But I digress.

I don't trust those who give for the children as a reason for instituting one or other program, for changing a curriculum, for doing anything at all. The reason why is that more often than not it's for purposes of their own, what they propose. They use the children the same way others use my country or my God. They use the children as a bulldozer to pave the way for their own views, their own interests. They want to perpetuate themselves on the backs of the children, give the kids all sorts of tests, compile all sorts of statistics, make themselves all sorts of money. Establish themselves.

Like all of a sudden it's in the best interest of students not to read philosophy or not to read literature. How can anyone say what's best? It's in the best interest of the kids to learn computer skills, some say. They don't need to hear what Aristotle said. They need to do math equations. Who knows? Times change. Anyway certain people go around deciding what's best for others to learn. Is it good for kids to read Shakespeare in school? Kids used to have to learn to read Latin and Greek. Now they learn computer language.

What, then, IS best for every kid out there? And how can anyone decide what's best when no one knows what good is? Maybe compulsory education itself is not in the best interest of children. Not many are willing to explore that possibility, even though the big push for compulsory schooling came from commerce and industry (Destruction, Inc. Rape the Planet Tech. Bully Bros.& Co.). It wasn't really a democratic grass roots movement, not a push from the people, that brought it about. But who cares now? Who even knows how the system came to be? Who knew back then? Ours is an age of indifference I've heard. It wasn't even mentioned in the textbook we used about the history of education in America.

So somebody somewhere sits down at a drawing board or in a board room and thinks what kind of product they want. They need a person who can do this or that so being able to do this or that is what a child will be told its needs are. And this is, you know, what's called student-centered learning: having someone decide for you what your needs are.

And someone somewhere sits down to think what character is desirable. What virtues. (Or maybe do away with all that? Ethical concerns tend to get in the way. Maybe patriotism is all that's needed. What will they come up with next? High tech Plymouth Colony? I'm on the edge of my seat.) What kind of morals a kid should have. Family values. So they'll come up with something like the Ten Commandments. And dontcha you just KNOW those were arrived at in some tent by some people who owned things or had power and that Moses didn't really come down with them alone from the mountain. (I'm not saying he didn't do that as part of some official formalization and legitimization of the whole business.)

(Morals<<<<< owing <<<<<< owning <<<<<< ought <<<<<< a social program of indebtedness. Money = mind?)

Do they really imagine they can sit there and decide what kind of person a kid's going to be? They are going to make, produce, manufacture people? Mold them the way they want to? Shape them into what they think are good and useful human beings? These are the goals they set? These are the ideals society sets forth, believes in, buys? It's a bit arrogant, isn't it? Who do we, or they, the ones who sit down at this drawing board, think we/they are? We make these statues of ourselves. Like we ourselves or anyone out there is so pure and perfect and intelligent and knowledgeable and gifted and on and on that gives whoever it is the right to decide? Is it still kings and priests who determine who knows what? Who is it? What is it that gives some of us that right? Is it a divine right? Is it democracy? Their right comes from we the people?

And if the schools are as bad as nearly everyone complains does that mean the democracy behind it all  is bad?

My readings tell me that in its origin the word democracy was purely theoretical. A friend wrote telling me that there never has been a democracy on this earth and there never will be. Though we all learned that there was democracy in Athens, right? Some people travel there because Athens is the birthplace of democracy, right?

If you look at things you'll see that the way things are are in no way democratically decided. Democracy has nothing to do with it, unless it's for show, or ritual, or for validation, like Moses going up the mountain. They're decided by wealth and power, by that small percent of the population who have just about all the wealth and power. Just like way back when. Just like always. It seems to me that's the way things are in every society no matter whether they call themselves democratic or fascist or communist or monarchic or whatever.

If the system, our social system, our society, our world is in fact run by anyone it's run by those who have wealth and power, but I'm not sure there is indisputable evidence that there is some group guiding things along for their own or for anyone's benefit. What is meant is that I'd always assumed there to be mind, intelligence, if only class interested mind, still there existed I thought some consensual will behind it all, something that moved as self interest among the rich and mighty. A conspiracy of the upper class.

What if there is not? What if it's all an idiocy, a crazyidiocycracy, any number of groups mindless in greed mindlessly grabbing what can be had, slapping emblems of authority on themselves along the way--the way some poor fellow who wins a lottery runs out to purchase an expensive car--or Bo Bo the village idiot made king, and taking the part seriously. The first thing he does is declare war . . . .

Because if it is the willful intent of the powers that be, if it is those of us in position who are responsible for organizing things, well . . . . You see how stupidly wasteful and destructive our world is. It couldn't be run worse by the feeble minded. I mean we're on the Oblivion Express. So are the powers that be really just a bunch of stupid people who scrambled around grabbing a bunch of big houses and basically a whole lot of big stuff? Big guns. Big armies. Big police forces. Big halls of learning. Are those just people who did a lot of looting they themselves legalized? Like a bunch of little kids making up rules for a game as they go along? They made big shits of themselves?
I don't know. I'm not sure there is any system at all. Or if it's any more than an emblem.

A work ethic is drilled into you at home or at school or both as is sometimes the case. By the pulpit and the civics text. By the papa who on the table puts the bread. By your character building and values clarification sessions. Work is good. Work is all. All work is good. Being a hard worker is a virtue, being a loafer is not. (Reads like Nineteen Eighty-Four.) Who decided all this? Was I asked? Were you? Were we even born when our lives were already planned?

The good news for modern man is that none of this indoctrination really works. It doesn't take. Not deeply. You get out of it for a while and it drops off, falls away, disintegrates, vanishes, disappears, dissolves. Because it's only memory, see. And when the message--the brainwash mind control big brother propaganda--ain't being stoked all the fucking time the mind comes into its own. New vistas open up. Like the nothing you ever really knew.

We think we're a democracy because that's what gets drummed into our heads. We're told we must vote because it's our democratic duty. There was a war. Everyone was told it was a war to make the world safe for democracy. That is the ideological banner--the words of belief--under which soldiers marched and fought and killed and were killed. What they died for. Is it what we live for?

It has been given for me to believe that my freedom to say and write what i think, as I do now, to write as I want, has something to do with the fact that I live in a country where the government is democratically elected. At the moment I'm in Japan. Like I wouldn't be able to do what I do in a country where they have so-called elections which are in fact what my American countrymen call a sham because there is only one party or only one candidate. For that reason I wouldn't be able to speak or write freely there. My words could get me locked up tortured or killed. So I should thank my lucky stars I live where I do.

If there were no governments at all would I not be free? Would there even be need of such a word?

It saddens me to say that not too many of my countrymen--living as they do in one o' them thar' multi-partied democratically elected governmental countries--can speak or write freely. Too many are censored by the content of their minds, by their own indoctrination (their beliefs). They believe in a system. That, that act of belief in itself, precludes their being able to think and so speak or write clearly, freely.

For example, some of us believe in a god. They believe in a heaven, a hell, a hereafter. (I'm not here saying there is no god or there is or anything about the presence or absence or being or non-being of any god or gods, just commenting about a belief in a god, any god. To me that there is a miracle, a mystery, an unknown beyond myself that is myself is obvious and does not require any belief or invention. That I didn't--as far as I am aware--make or grow myself, that I am something else's act, that I am my own unknown, is fact. Life does not require my belief--or indebtedness--just my breath.)

If some people want to believe in a god that's fine with me. Or if they don't. Either way it doesn't bother me. If that's what turns you on....

Whatever language they care to speak is as well with me. Even with those who speak English my mother tongue there is little or no communication. Many don't open their eyes; don't see beyond media. They email around articles someone else has written: This is what I think!  They don't make the effort to articulate. It's not that they are unlikable. Some are very fine and well-meaning individuals. They just can't express themselves, which is to be expected given the way we're taught-downtrodden into a  commonly shared trait of lifelessness. No wonder there are those whose energies find outlet burning witches.

Belief either way--in god or in there being no god--says to me that some of us are not thinking, speaking, writing freely, unobstructed. If it's a matter of belief. Even though we live in a so-called democracy. Where there is more than one political party and more than one candidate.

We believe in democracy, some of us. That's normal because that's what we're taught from the time we're wee laddies and lassies. It's the wider flow of money that makes modern industrial technological international trade and commerce societies more open than others. A certain leeway is required to insure that the raking it in goes on. Democracy is the name that's been attached to the way of administering the business at hand, conducting business within the larger geopolitical parameters. The business of America is business, if that's how it was put. I forget the exact wording that president used. We might invent some other word for our form of government: Berscruticite, even though it sounds atrocious and has no sanctifying connection to an ancient progenitor, no Athens to link back to, no Troy to be descendant from, no Aeneas to claim as ancestor.
A democratically elected government didn't do all that much for those of us lower down the ladder, for the workers way back in the onset of industrial society. They had to picket and strike, had to resort to violence at times, had to organize, had to make secret societies. The government, authorities, police more often than not supported the owners, the manufacturers, the wealthy. A democratically elected government didn't do much for the slaves--in the U.S. or in Athens. Didn't do much to help the plight of women. Didn't do much for American Indians, didn't do much for civil rights. The lower among us had to get out and march, protest, riot, burn. Then something was done.  But what was done was not initiated by a democratically elected government concerned with the well-being.of its citizens.

Tell the homeless and hungry they live in a democracy.

It is not my purpose to come down on anyone's belief or disbelief in democracy. We can believe as we like. It's all fiction to me. Democracy and everything else. A fiction factory of mind. Power is convincing when it crushes you, it has to prove it's real because it's not.

It is doubtful that any other living thing on earth, the brainless blade of grass, has a concept of freedom, or truth, or patriotism. Or needs one.

On a different note--beyond scale--beyond our culture and all its forms through which it speaks to us, through us, what is there? Earth under our feet, sky above. Water. What does it say to us? Here our environs are silence. This is what is. Nothing is said. Who are we? What's there to know?

We learn.

A tree
is a

it's a
its own

shows it-
lives with-
out fear.

poems by Scott Watson

  I wanna hold your hand....

talk in town had it
he'd been hit by a
train which is why this
fella rode a
bike decorated like for
the fourth of July.
he'd been knocked into
music & whirligig handle
bars, tassels golden
streaming down from
grips     he'd pedal
light on everyone
sing out
for that for which
there is but song
and little kids
would follow a star
that all came from


a photo on a
wall, men smiling in

war is partly
what family is
   or indifferent

or some piece of darkness
   packed in a box, some
   thing it once wore us

put us away

  that we can't look at
          or say
was me


simply standing here
a living thing

words being as they


why learn to read when there's nothing to it,
no truth nor anything to mean.

here she is
  I can't read
   living with me
who would mean no more

   than living if I could.
such blossoms .


on the way home
from my nightly
stroll a toad
makes way on
a sidewalk
only it's headed
towards a road
where it's likely
to get flattened.
a nudge with the
edge of my shoe
doesn't phase  
it at all
there is nothing
you can do to
help a toad--or
even a me.

     --for George

poem responding
to being crushed,
assaulted, to being

drown in common
others pulled

with us under
our relentless inability
to live.

poem without hiding or
trying to

poem unflinchingly

Dad drew me a
horse's head
I took to school

to show--
a horse could be

drawn so well--
wondered at his

passed it around.
one kid, eyeing
me, tore my

horse, my dad,
my me to


not them, no,
for the most they don't
get it--not
the intelligent
been-to-college high
achievers, not
the academically
the PhDs nor the MA
the MS nor the
Harvard nor the Yale
nor those feeble
on the brain power
scale, not the average--
they don't
get it, what it is,
many don't,
you know, Janet,
until it's way late
and those many who don't
can't know they
cannot say the words
that come from life.


my speech dammed, a lake for
some to boat on chit chat water
ski whatever but when it's all
digested what is silenced is


things not
human even

tooth and claw know
no war

animals eat
in peace


living thing inside us,
living as we do
living through

what it is
we are. I drink this
glass of water:

a voice
rings clear.


if we lived in a
culture of silence
the place of a poet
is clear.


two war vets
chew a fat
that is
than is their


inordinate pain
lacking love we don't know
we do--or what--
  strange world


our past will not be
clear unless in mind it
is clear there is none.  

there is in saying this
though sense, so song.
it has nothing to mean

and can never be
enough and this is
the beauty of it all.