Sunday, August 7, 2016

School Dreams

Universal public education
takes place in
 
inclusive classrooms 
where teachers
along with peers

guide all students 
through the changes
in their lives.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Excerpt from "Lyric"*

Wait for me my wild companions.
Let us slice this stagnant air.
For if nature can yet carve her canyons
then let her thunders lead us where
Aurora lives in liquid skies
and silence sings in silken sighs.


* I wrote Lyric for the Scribblers in 1973.  It was set to music by Mary Grace Bookhardt at the Pit, a coffee house in the basement of the church of St. Paul and St. Andrew on West End Avenue and West 86th Street in Manhattan. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Riding the Greenwich Street Elevated Railway (1873)

(re-imagining Walt Whitman)

Greenwich Street below me! I search the railway riders’ faces;
Half an hour before the sun sets behind that guy’s head! I observe his face.
On the elevated rails, trains are pulled above Greenwich Street by cables that claw at the cars. This is more curious to me than you suppose;
And you, guys and dolls, that shall travel by steam engine uptown and down, a millennium from now, are more to me, and more in my musings, than you might suppose.
Every station, that falls into disrepair, greets me with my future;
I’m dragged through the ebony street at dusk, looking for a blade of grass between the cobblestone paving, the muck and mire covering the earth, filling the riverbank and burying the dead;
The certainty of arrivals and departures.

Others will enter the railway turnstile, and ride from Battery Place to the farmer’s market at Gansevoort Street;
Others will smell the butter and cheese exchange and hear the din of the clam and catfish vendors;
Others will gaze the length of the iron rails;
Others will see the boarding houses and rowhouses of Greenwich Village;
A millennium hence, others will look over the lordly Hudson from the highway as they commute, the sun half an hour high;
A millennium, or ever so many millenia hence, others will enjoy the sunset over the landfills in the river.

  Just as you feel when you look on the railway, so I felt;
Just as you fear the meanness of the railway, the ashes and sparks of the train’s raucous roll, I was afeared;
Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the rushing hours, I stood, yet was hurried;
Just as you look on the numbered trains, and the great protruding headlights fixed in front, I look’d.

Many a time as the railway rode up Greenwich Street, I watched the windows on townhouses and tenements—
I peered in windows lit by kerosene and whale oil.
I watched oscillating bodies in the glistening yellow light, their exposed parts and the rest left in strong shadow.
I saw slow horsecar wheels turn in circles, while the city edged gradually northward.
I saw trains approach, casting their red sparks and black ashes over the tops of houses, and down into the clefts of streets.
I too walk’d the irregular pattern of Greenwich Village streets, and bathed in the Hudson’s waters;
I too thought I’d float forever in that dreamlike solution;
It is not from you alone that crazy ideas emerge,
Those dark ideas arose from me as well;
My noble confessions, were they not in reality laughably evil?
I knew what it was to feel guilty;
I was confused and ashamed.
I felt insufferably dirty, dressed in lies, loved to loafe, swift to steal, and nurse bitter grudges…

But I was a New Yorker, friendly and proud!
Loud voices called me by my deep and inscrutable singular name; hep cats saw me approaching or passing on Bleecker Street, Washington Square, or sitting in Pfaff’s;

I roamed the freight yards of the Hudson River Railroad, the umbilicus of the Empire City.
Now I am curious what sight can ever be more stately and admirable to me than the heavy industry and many residencies of Manhattan?
Belfries and fire warning towers in the sun-set, patterns molded on the cornices of factories;
The iron workers toiling at their fires, the terra cotta manufactured in the twilight, and the carpenters in lumber yards; Curious lives amid the granite works and plaster mills.
The voices of residents I love call out to me from tenement windows that I pass.
What is more raucous than the cables whose claws jolt the railway car in loops, driven by steam engines in cellars adjacent to these elevated rails?
The distilleries above Tenth Street lead me north to you, they pour their turpentine and camphene into street lamps guiding me to you.

Roll on, railway! Roll on rails over ground and gravel, tunnel through the hills!
Dig on, you diggers, dig like badgers, earthworms and groundhogs!
Out gorgeous tunnels and on rails lit by the sun-set! spark your splendor for me, or the men and women generations after me;
Cross along the Erie and the Hudson, countless crowds of commuters!
Stand up, tall homes of Manhattan!—stand up, pulchritudinous palisades of New Jersey!
Suspend here and everywhere, elevated rail way line!

Be firm, rail over Manhattan, to support those who sleep on the railway, yet haste with the hasting current;
Fly on, falcons! fly sideways, or perne in a gyre high in the air;
Melt the winter snows, you iron rails!
Diverge, fine spokes of light, from the cracks in the glass about the reflected shape of my head, or any one’s head, in the railway windows;
Come down, trains from Babylon on the Hudson! pass east or west, locomotives, gyrating engines, black cylindric bodies!
Burn high your fires, foundry chimneys! cast black shadows at nightfall! cast red and yellow light over the tops of the houses;
Thrive, cities! haul your freight, bring your shows, ample and sufficient rails – be the Meat Market for the World.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mirth

(a play at play)

Archy
How’d it go?

Gaby
It’s over.  I think.  Don’t let it trouble you.  Nothing falls neatly in place.

Archy 
Do we ever find our place in this world?  Do we even have a place?

Gaby 
They are just the wrong questions.  

Archy 
What are the right questions?

Gaby 
Are we alone? Do the angels watch over us?  Do the angels even exist?

Archy
What angels would bother with us?   

Gaby
The art on the walls and the books on the shelves are your excellent angels.  They were inspired by the muses. 

Archy
But they’ve become material possessions.  Those angels are sought after by the collectors.  And once the collectors have acquired them.  Once they've bought what they wanted, then what happens to us?  Would my work increase in value for the collectors?

Bertha
American dreamers think money will solve their problems.

Martin
Let them dream. Everything must end. Even dreams.

Bertha
So? 

Gaby
Do you dream?

Archy
I dreamed I was loved and valued.

Martin
Dreams are lies.  

Bertha
They don’t matter.

Archy
I can't walk away.

Bertha
You’re committed to the show.  Enjoy it.

Gaby
You won’t suffer forever.

Bertha
I’m quite satisfied with what you’ve put on exhibit.  
Martin
We were not expecting much.

Gaby
We worked all year to select the works.  Before Archie created them, they were nothing. Beyond nothing. Zero.

Bertha
One of these days you’re gonna miss me, Gaby.

Gaby
Just leave my delusions intact.  

Bertha
You ought to exhibit your work.  

Gaby
I brought bread and cheese from the market.

(a burst of light and sound of a loud blast followed by silence)

Archy
The city is under siege.

Gaby
What?

Archy
What will we do?

Gaby
I listen to the wind.

Bertha
What do you hear?

Archy
We should put up a pot of tea.  I live for the moment.

Gaby
We share our moments with guests and strangers.

Archy
Send the audience home. The end is beginning and I’m feeling weak.

Bertha
Get on with your life. Make the best of it.

Gaby
What of the audience?  Do we need them?  
Archy
An artist ought to be paid a living wage.

Martin
You need contracts.

Archy
Let’s not talk about it.

Bertha
Do you prefer to be alone?

Martin
Does that surprise you?

Archy
We should quit using words . . . 
Martin
We need to give voice to our anger.

Gaby
Are you angry?

Archy
I didn’t want to do this.

Martin
But, you did it anyway.

Archy
What was I doing? Where could I go? Wherever I went, I couldn’t get away from myself.

Gaby
It’s getting late.

Bertha
Why would you leave?

Martin
No one would know if you went or stayed.

Gaby
All artists start with a single gesture, a response to a perception. They continue until they stop. Then they walk away.

Bertha
Listen to the children’s voices.

Gaby
I hear the children’s voices -- 
Bertha
You can sustain their hopes.

Gaby
Until they look into the abyss, and find despair for themselves.

Bertha
Your art would survive.

Archy
I’ll do what I have to.

Gaby
Come, swift Spirits of might and mirth,

Archy
I’ll live in the present. The audience sat through the entire play.

Bertha
The audience leaves after every performance.

Gaby
But we’ll return with other bodies.

Archy
Can I exist outside the theater?

Martin
At the end you are free. You may leave the theater.

Archy
It is time to begin again.

(sunrise. bright house lights)

EDIE AND CYRUS


(a dialogue)
by Richard A. Spiegel

Edie
What do you mean by desire?

Cyrus
It’s complex, eh?

Edie
Yeah.  It is complex.

Cyrus
Let me try to define it.

Edie
Oh, come on.  It’s really simple.

Cyrus
No.  You asked for complexity.

Edie
I’m kidding you.

Cyrus
But desire poses a real philosophic problem.

Edie
How so?  Tell me.

Cyrus
Is it an illusion?  You think you know what you desire, but are you fooling yourself?

Edie
I know what I want.

Cyrus
What happens when you get it?

Edie
Then I want something else.

Cyrus
So, you constantly desire.

Edie
Yes.  

Cyrus
Then you’re eternally wanting.  

Edie
I don’t think so.  

Cyrus
Desire attaches itself to an object.  That object of desire might be what makes a message jump from neuron to neuron.  The nerve message enters our body through the senses.  Then it finds its way to the brain, jumping from neuron to neuron.  Now, desire is what informs the message where to jump.

Edie
I think you’ve lost me.

Cyrus.
Follow this.  Why won’t a message from the eye just stop?  What propels it on?  What force?  Desire!

Edie
Desire is a force?

Cyrus
Like gravity.  The gravity we know on Earth is this planet’s desire to hold us, to possess our presence.  If it let go, it would no longer desire us.

Edie
Mmmmm.  I’m not sure of that.  When we lose something, or let it go – that doesn’t mean we no longer desire it.

Cyrus
Ah, here comes the illusion of desire.

Edie
That’s not clear.  Let’s go back to the neurons and the message that jumps.

Cyrus
It jumps from the ends of the neurons; dendrites and axons or whatever they’re called.

Edie
Okay.  So they jump to the connector they desire.  They might wind up at the wrong connection, but their desire is constant.  
Cyrus
So they keep jumping until they arrive somewhere in the brain and the mind becomes conscious of that message which becomes a mental image.

Edie
Which could be a dream.  

Cyrus
We dream on.

Amygdala and Thalamus
(with Mary Clark)


 reflected thought off the cave wall.
“It is easy to see what you’re thinking
but try to control what you’re feeling.”
“I respond to this day’s daze,
this cycling drama of misplacement.”
Once judgment was sustained
the impulse was suspended, insecurely.
It wasn’t as if there was any disagreement.
The casual reader wouldn’t discern any
antagonism between Thalamus and Amygdala;
nothing of biblical proportions or classical reference.
“A musing on the seen ambiguities in uncertain contours,”
Thalamus contended, “would be of no use.”
You understand then,” Amygdala replied,
“how the pressure becomes unbearable.”
“Understandably so, if you lose the overview.”
But neither was there.  They disappeared into thin air.

All our feelings are within the cave wall,
all our thoughts are within the skin
said Amygdala.

When the feelings hit the wall
when we jump out of our skin
does that take us off course
or is that the course we’re meant to take?
asked Thalamus

Desire makes the pressure unbearable
noted Amygdala

and wearable, as wings
responded Thalamus,
I’ve wondered as I’m wont to do,
is free will another name for desire?

Don’t be so serious, I’m smiling because
you and I are having this dialogue
and that’s a rare pleasure,
and when we do as quoted from above,
there’s no antagonism
said Amygdala
Will you two shut up?
I’m trying to run things,
said the Basal Ganglia


(I know I can’t be as subtle as you are, but in my heavy-worded way I try to participate. MC).


Off course, of course, when direction lies
outside the old map.  Put aside the atlas.
Step outside the cave
and see the scattered leaves
from the almond and the walnut trees.

Unconstrained by circumstances,
free will takes flight
on the wings of desire.

And, I wonder about the heart of art.

And this is off course
from Amygdala and
Thalamus.  So it seems.

Bill Packard
wrote a series
of poems
about the erotic
aspect of vision.
He likened
eyeballs to gonads.

Something about the shape
of gonads, eyeballs and thalami
indicates a correspondence
between these internal balls.

but are these parts in dialogue?
that’s what i thought might be explored
in amygdala and thalamus
as if they were names of classical
personas.  instead they turn out
to be walnuts and almonds;
they don’t talk to each other.

except through this anthropomorphizing
that brings us back to the imagination
(where free will reigns).  

have you read keith douglas?
a british poet who died
in 1944 during the normandy invasion
he was only 24
but left some fine poetry

i found him in a 1957 anthology
a famous anthology
edited by donald hall and louis simpson
(and robert pack)

douglas is represented by a few poems
really fine though i think they
speak clearly across the years

in a poem titled OXFORD
about the university city
he writes

This then is the city of young men, of beginning,
ideas, trials, pardonable follies,
the lightness, seriousness and sorrow of youth.

(of course this was before
the university went co-ed
but, he continues)

And the city of the old, looking for truth,
browsing for years, the mind’s seven bellies
filled, become legendary figures, seeming

Stones of the city, her venerable towers;
dignified, clothed by erudition and time.

I wonder what he meant by “the mind’s seven bellies”?

Maybe he meant the bellies of walnuts,
almonds, pistachios, pecans, chestnuts,
hickory and leechee

Well, of course, the parts of all
are in constant and divers
conversation, this is the murmur
of the heart

Douglas is doing what we poets do
what humans do: we give personas
to objects, to parts of the body,
to cities, to stone

why do we invest “selfness” in things?

Packard’s eyeball-gonads bespeak Oedipus,
not to mention Stephen Daedalus
who saw such things…

About “the seven bellies of the mind,”
Augustine refers to memory as the stomach of the mind.

Watching Inspector Lewis,
I’ve grown curious about Oxford

In England, I was part of a communal theater
organized by Donald Gardner

We rehearsed at Cambridge
another university town

the new mystery series “Grantchester”
is set near Cambridge

the main character, Sidney Chambers,
is vicar of grantchester

the agon
between detective
and culprit

a tension
Raskolnikov
felt;

the Erinyes
pursuit of
Clytemnestra’s killer

resolved
in Aeschylus’s
trilogy;

a walnut (thalamus)
and an almond (amygdala)
make a nutty duo

both perceive
and interpret

but does either
recognize its actions?