Daniel Berrigan: A Dark Word

Those of you who have been around awhile and had some exposure to the counterculture of the 60s will certainly know the name Daniel Berrigan, Roman Catholic priest and peace activist.  He died Saturday at the age of 94.  Arrested many times, as recently as 2006, he was once imprisoned for two years after he burnt draft files during a protest against the Vietnam War.  One of his partners in crime was his brother, Philip, who also served time in a federal prison.

You can learn more about Berrigan in this NY Times obituary.

According to Wikipedia,  until his death he taught at Fordham University and served as its poet-in-residence.

It seems apropos in the wake of his death and on the last day of National Poetry Month to present this poem by Daniel Joseph Berrigan:

A Dark Word

berriganAs I walk patiently through life
poems follow close –
blind, dumb, agile, my own shadow;
the mind’s dark overflow, the spill of vein
we thought red once but know now, no.

The poem called death
is unwritten yet.  Some day will show
the violent last line,
the shadow rise,
a bird of omen

snatch me for its ghost.
And a hand somewhere, purposeful as God’s
close like two eyes, this book.

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Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoThese lyrics to a 1949 song by Woodrow Buddy Johnson, are offered to commemorate National Poetry Month, the opening of the 2016 baseball season, and this day 69 years ago when Jackie Robinson became the first black player in major-league history by playing in an exhibition game for the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin cross the left field wall.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

And when he swung his bat,
the crowd went wild,
because he knocked that ball a solid mile.
Yeah boy, yes, yes. Jackie hit that ball.

Satchel Paige is mellow,
so is Campanella,
Newcombe and Doby, too.
But it’s a natural fact,
when Jackie comes to bat,
the other team is through.

Jackie-Robinson_Stealing Home2bDid you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
Did he hit it? Yeah, and that ain’t all.
He stole home.
Yes, yes, Jackie’s real gone.
Jackie’s is a real gone guy.

 

Most of you know about Jackie Robinson, but you may not be familiar with Buddy Johnson, an African-American blues and jazz pianist, bandleader and songwriter.  His biggest hit as a tunesmith was Since I Fell for You, a standard recorded by many artists over the years, my favorite being Lenny Welsh’s 1963 hit.

Now, the best known recording of Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball? is no doubt the one by Count Basie, done at the Victor studios in New York City on July 13, 1949, with “Taps” Miller as vocalist.  According to the Library of Congress, this version “has become synonymous with the song itself.”

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Bardism

It is not an actual word, but I like to call it “bardism.”  You know it as poetry.  I am a believer in bardism, and to me it is a free form of art.  Edgar Allan Poe said, “I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of Beauty.”  But, as you are aware, for some time now, words have not needed to rhyme in order to be poetry.  As far as I’m concerned, poetry can be almost anything.  Bob Dylan claims that “a poem is a naked person…” and some poets, like those in Bruce Springsteen’s Jungleland, “don’t write nothing at all/They just stand back and let it all be.”  That’s bardism.

Small-Blue-RGB-National-Poetry-Month-LogoEach April, the Academy of American Poets sponsors National Poetry Month, a celebration of  poetry in the United States. And each year since I have been blogging at The Endless Further, I have joined in by offering posts on bards and bardism.

According to the Academy, the goals of National Poetry Month are to:

highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets

• encourage the reading of poems

• assist teachers in bringing poetry into their classrooms

• increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media

• encourage increased publication and distribution of poetry books, and

• encourage support for poets and poetry.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of National Poetry Month.

I thought I would start the month off with something from the first poet whose work truly inspired me, e. e. cummings.  As I wrote in 2013, “His ‘[in-just] spring’ was the first poem I read that really suggested the possibilities of poetry . . . I think I was in the 3rd or 4th grade, and I loved the way the words were un-capitalized, run together, out of order, and arranged so unusually on the page . . . He wreaked havoc with the form of poetry and the structure of the sentence, he fractured spelling, ect&ect. His Influence on modern poetry is immense . . .”

It being Spring and all, it would be nice to post cummings’ ‘in-just spring’ but the format cannot be reproduced in WordPress (at least, I have not figured out how to do it), so I offer the following instead.  It is from his 1940 collection, 50 Poems, a piece simply titled 38:

cummings-barn2love is the every only god

who spoke  this  earth  so  glad  and  big
even a  thing  all  small  and  sad
man,may  his  mighty  fortress  dig

for love  beginning  means  return
seas who  could  sing  so  deep  and  strong

one queerying  wave  will  whitely  yearn
from each  last  shore  and  home  come  young

so truly  perfectly  the  skies
by merciful  love  whispered  were,
completes its  brightness  with  your  eyes

any illimitable star

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Five Years

A selfie of sorts.
A selfie of sorts.

April 13th marked the five year anniversary of  The Endless Further.  During this half-decade, I have posted a lot of poems but very few of my own.  Today, however,  the last day of National Poetry Month 2015, here is some poetry by yours truly.

silver lake

that summer morning when we sat
outside the café in silver lake
and talked over coffee
that turned cold too quickly

a soft gray haze lay over the hills
a breeze lifted her hair
then the sun, breaking through,
touched her hair to gold

I had already fallen under
the arch of her smile

she said
no one owes an artist anything
the world owes us all

a patron is someone
who supports your art
without fucking you

there was something discarnate
in how she subdued passion
with her intellect

she was all light and mystery
and like a brief song or warm coffee
it lasted only a short time
like a dream

whenever I think of her
I also think how dreams
parallel our reality

my dream is my nightmare
my nightmare is my dark journey

sometimes after such a journey
I awaken under some bodhi tree
in the light of the morning sun
with the world touched to gold

 

nuit de noel
(christmas eve)

you drove into three parked cars
one after another
because you were angry
that I was tired of your complaints
and bad behavior
and I wanted to leave

you don’t seem to understand
that you should have some regret
about what you did

rocking on your haunches by the fire

you should have stayed in paris
I should have stayed away

because one rose is as good as three
because a Saturn without rings is on your sign
not mine

and you think that pulling off the bark
Is caressing the tree

the girl as a future schizophrenia
straying on the pacific rim

pitching her dreams into the sea

 

san rio

nights in san rio
are like loose stars
swinging in dreams
the moon sings radiance
until the dawn

the music sambas
past midnight
and all your cares
fandango away
young girls tiptoe
through embraces
while old men
test their wives

well-lit boys
in search of adventure
gamble with their mananas
and everyone’s so at ease
dancing starlight
never counting the time
because

nights in san rio
are like loose stars
falling in slow motion
the moon sings celestial
until the dawn

© 2015 dmriley

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No Anger

In response to last week’s post Cancer Again (Naturally), a reader wrote in a comment, “Usually the prognosis is pretty grim once it [cancer] has metastasized.” I saw my oncologist the next day and it turns out that’s true.

I am going to start radiation treatments the first week in May, but while we might be able to get rid of the current tumor, sooner or later, it will spread somewhere else and if goes someplace where there are vital organs, well, let’s just say, it won’t be pretty.

A relative asked me if I was at least a little angry that the cancer “came back” (though it actually hadn’t left). He mentioned how novelist and Christian theologian C.S. Lewis vented at God when his wife died a painful death after her cancer, thought to be cured, returned. Lewis wrote a journal of his thoughts and feelings about his wife’s ordeal that he published as A Grief Observed in 1961. I have not read the book (not much of a Lewis fan), but previewed it at Google Books: “Meanwhile, where is God? . . . Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.” (p6)

In the past, I have had some issues with anger management. When the liver cancer first appeared, I was angry. I was irritated. It was a major interruption in my life. I had other things I wanted to do than go on doctor’s appointments, sit around in waiting rooms, have people poke and prod me, etc. But I did my best to work through the anger, and its cousin, fear. And I wrote about that process here on The Endless Further.

After the transplant, I thought the cancer was gone. But it was merely in hiding, keeping a low profile, and now it’s active again, threatening to take my life. But I am not angry this time. No thought of anger has risen in my mind. No angry emotion has surfaced. I don’t believe in God, so getting angry with him would be like venting to a closed door. No sense in getting angry at the cancer, it could care less whether I like it or not.

In A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life, Shantideva wrote that anger is our greatest enemy, capable of destroying all the good in our lives, and since it has no purpose, rather than getting angry at something or someone, it’s better to see whatever it is as assisting you in your spiritual development.

Viewing cancer as a spiritual friend is a tall order. I’m not quite there, but no anger is a good accomplishment.

Another reader in a comment to last week’s post, encouraged me to continue to share this part of my journey, and I think I will for the time being. However, for today, that’s all I have.

With all this going on, I have neglected National Poetry Month, which I like to celebrate each year. Anger can be a positive, motivating force when it is in response to the suffering of others or directed at injustice. Set against the backdrop of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Cesar Vallejo’s poem is a meditation on that aspect of anger.

The Anger That Breaks The Man Into Children

Translated from Spanish by Clayton Eshleman and José Rubia Barcia

Three unidentified girls during the Spanish Civil War (photographer unknown)
Three unidentified girls during the Spanish Civil War (photographer unknown)

The anger that breaks the man into children,
that breaks the child into equal birds,
and the bird, afterward, into little eggs;
the anger of the poor
has one oil against two vinegars.

The anger that breaks the tree into leaves,
the leaf into unequal buds
and the bud, into telescopic grooves;
the anger of the poor
has two rivers against many seas.

The anger that breaks the good into doubts,
the doubt, into three similar arcs
and the arc, later on, into unforeseeable tombs;
the anger of the poor
has one steel against two daggers.

The anger that breaks the soul into bodies;
the body into dissimilar organs
and the organ, into octave thoughts;
the anger of the poor
has one central fire against two craters.

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