"When women go wrong, men go right
after them."- Mae West
A SIGN OF THE TIMES
by Carol V. Gray
AS THE REASON MEN WENT WEST
These hands cried out for name: Calamity Jane's,
Belle Starr's, Poker Alice's, ol' Cattle Kate's,
or dozens of other's- whose hands held cross-grain
the butt of this rifle? And who shall debate
with these hands that are hands, and not some sad state
of refined finery? These are not the hands
of some Irish maid, nor eater of pate',
nor nouveau cowgirl- and what's to understand?
Dizzy fingers could not cradle the barrel
like that; and no grip on a metal can tease
the men watching her, from high in a saddle,
as she raises it, and lets go the release.
This scene, which went on before the Cherokees
were Cherokees, and after they plowed the land,
and before guns were just another disease,
made by Man, needs not alot to understand.
No woman that I know has these hands of yore,
dinged and cut, cratered, callused, and full of know;
strong with the knowledge that whatever's in store
is a finger-memory that has helped grow
their firmness and their command. And she will show
the way intruders- man or beast- on this land
are treated, if they bring what a weed can grow
in a rich land. Only her hands understand
that men in this land know why such women grow
hard in the head, as well the heart. These are hands
that define who both are, and why such men go
to them. There is nothing left to understand.
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider
[if you click on A SIGN OF THE TIMES you will see Carol Gray's painting upon which this poem was based- check her site out!- DAN]
"The essence of tyranny is the denial
of complexity."- Jacob Burkhardt,
THE DEATH OF THE VIRGIN
by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
AS GRANDMA CHIN ON THE DAMNED JAPS
What is put forth by the Master, in the theater,
of death? The plaits of the curtain pull back
and reveal what is prostrate, as a prostitute
dragged in from the streets, and thrown heaped
upon a too-short bed, body rigid with coming,
lips washed with weather. No weeping can recover
the magma of her rimless eyes, nor her form,
from the refusing day. It is like the young
summers, ensconced and homey, in the kitchen
of Grandma Chin, the old woman who lived two doors down,
and spoke of the accursed Japanese, a bitter piece
of her fruit bowl the same as her gaze. She held
her head down from the light of reality. She was
an Apostle of the remembrance. Was it Nanking
in spring that interred her joy from that place?
Was it the grief of a father coming home with one
less? Was it the absence of a pet that ran
from the tumult? As she spoke, with a double-edged saber,
between her gums, a never-escaping thought
of the viciousness equal to that of invaders
with children-tipped bayonet ends, made its way
to the hollow that some thirty-five years of passage
had not curtailed. Nor could it copy itself
in the gilt-trimmed mirror, ornately gathering rust,
on the wall. She hung her reflection within
it as if it removed her truer self from this
life. Another part of her self kept moving
with a purpose known only to the reflected
self. What is one hundred and eighty degrees to you
who kneel at the Virgin's end? A memory of fire?
What beachhead works its way to a vanishing
point to the seeker who loses true sight
of the shore? The surface of tomorrow
is what calls the Apostles near. With fear
they are too captive to a human thing.
But is it human, or not? Some say she was
not so, nor her child a man. To Grandma Chin
it is the foolishness of brilliant snow
off reflecting light that is mistaken
for the light. Every last bit of religion
seems a hand whose speech is not of sound-
she gave hers to the ghost forty years before.
Perhaps it is the acute genius of an unmade song
that withers from her flute that is what the soul makes
its own. In the spring (that childhood where mountains walked)
she would bake, incessantly, her scents filling the air,
as the children would come, from even the far end
of the street, all ready to eat her exotic treats
they had never reckoned, and could not pronounce.
And this is what the painting's sadness bears.
This is the rage beheld by the few who grew
with it. The look in the eye was not of the dead,
her skin not sallow with lifeless carelessness.
She would gather us inward and lade our ears
with tales of the Far East, and all that was
there. How imperfect I remember what she did not
recall. No stories filtered from the lips of the dying.
No kamikaze crazies stilled skimmed from her gaze.
Grandma Chin surely was now. The decades kill
us all, save the moment. They do not retain
like a canvas can. They pose and suppose,
depose and defend. They recycle and remit.
They hover nothing but immanent authority
that resists. As Grandma Chin attests. You could see
it in her bearing. You could sense its emission
through her carriage, as her hand spidered
toward you, in point or exclamation. It loomed over
you. Then it retreated. Then it bid itself
to your cheeks, and on and again, an endless disease,
a callus of love or longing, unshaven, unbidden,
real as only the Virgin seems to appear. To Grandma Chin
we were spawned in the light of her kitchen. First
there was me, the bigmouth whose ass she would whack,
then her grandson- Phillip Chin- my sometimes pal.
There were the Stangs, all three, Aryan kin
she kept wary of- Mildred, Willy, and my best friend
Ronny. And Tommy Stasiak, and the cute little Attoir girls-
Linda and Lacy- were often formed there. And, sometimes,
my sister- Christine- although she was too young
to recall. Tina, the girl-next-door, was made there, too.
And Alana Orduch. We were all transfixed
by the old lady and her ways, the tales she would wend
with fictions and fact- the imperative course, of course!
As we gathered around her breathing form
we marveled the baubles that blew by as words,
forgotten by all, now, subsumed in their say.
Grandma Chin was it all- she and her shawl-
too big for so little a woman. Who made
her that way? Where does beauty lie, if at all?
And what resisted the stubborn stay of the tales
as they grew from the weeds of her lungs? And the Orient
is an eternal place- brimming with vengeance-filled rivers,
duplicitous warlords, mountains that made emotion first,
and dragons that spoke- or she would insist
that what followed her words was the truth
made from bits of the other she would not
mention- for is a yes ever truly a yes?
Then the picture invades- time is here
again. What is read is what is read
right. What dissolves is that read
then. One thinks of poor Mary Magdalene,
bent over and ignoring the brass of the bowl,
its flish-flash of joy no mind need propel,
which will wash her lover's mother,
by her hand, or another's, in the sweet zero
of her waning, from a duty that has traveled
forward. Could it be Grandma Chin
was similarly bent, in a hole in the ground,
or right out in view? Did the Japanese seem
a ghostlier portal than her own origins?
Where did this animus stem? We had known
of the Nazis and Japan in school, and heard
of the atom bomb and such. But Grandma Chin never
let on what it was that formed her. Her family-
was it rich? Was it destroyed, save for her? So
many things lingered in this old New York house;
as if a commonness lacking direction. Somehow,
her room full of sabers was its own in the end.
The mirrored walls reflected nothing save another
mirror. The silks and satins grew yellow, I think.
Did she fall from her youth, like old Eve into sin?
A particular intrusion sees itself in the way
she remembers, or remembered. Grandma Chin
is more than a certain voice or speech.
She is that thing, like the Master's,
that gathers in, in its reach. Past
the words she is curving- the motion,
in and of itself, is the curve. So uttered
she is utterly that unrevealed. She is
what her pinwheel collection, out back,
gathers in the evening of spinning. Here,
in her garden, they whistle and toot in passing
winds. They go faster than the slip of mortality
from the gleam of St. Matthews pate. The shine
exposes nothing but a neutered chaos of a scene-
a moment trimmed down to an interior exteriored,
fully, frontally, nothing not revealed nor unknown.
And this is Grandma Chin in her voice
speaking. She is her evidence of then.
She is not abstracted as any shine nor sway.
Times slide easefully by. She is wife
on the ship with America eyed. She is
a factory worker for three dollars a day. She is
a mother of presence. For here she is, to us,
the solicitude of self and song, and her stories
ram their way gently into being the balance
of dust that winds the lift of air to ear.
See her shadow stretch, unbroken and unknowing,
the lands it will chart within the gathered. See
what I almost heard (in her hatred?) as young eyes looked
out, into her, even as in the Master's they turn
down and in, as if they disdain or distrust,
the truth of their moment. It is all
a lie. Some say the deceiving necessity of love
is that necessity. There never was a Jesus.
We all know this truth. We fear
growing used to death. So the scene contains
all that we want to know- the painting
and the poem. Alana Orduch varies no less
than an Apostle in oil. She is no less
a dream than the source of a dream. She is
an emblem, a totem of herself. She is,
perhaps, Grandma Chin pretending to be a mute
Korean orphan so the Japanese would let her pass
and leave her mother behind. To memory
it just is. To Alana Orduch it could be
the reason she hunched into a ball, fearing
the spaces between the old lady's words.
She is, no less, and is what she perceives
she is, and nothing more. And that is why
this gape persists to this day, inflicts through
the power that seems as a black surface
forever swallowing light, acknowledging
just in its absence of light. Is your distance,
too, an ideal thing? Or is it consumed
as the mythical moment of the dream
that the Master presents to you? O,
I remember, now, a singular time
when Grandma Chin's tales of derring
gave in to a woe. It was when Phillip was
ill. She had to give us reason to be
there. Sadness always draws more than happiness.
Her tale, that day, was of a lonely duck
left to its own in a lake that was dying
by a factory. The tale broke a hush
that should have gone by. In its tell
one could tell it was real, some how
or way. The way a motion deceives,
for a moment, someone into thinking
it alive, as if motion were the only character
of thought. As if thought, itself, were
the only component of life. That surpasses
even Grandma Chin's tale. And the painting
weaves itself back, again, a honeycomb
of young blue air that welters the eye,
remains beneath it all, or over, or about
it. Like a rain that is smelt and heard
but never felt. As a tear
it challenges, as a rain it builds,
where earth tips over into her eyes,
dissolving as an argument before
a truth. A metaphor will come
into itself, and surround itself. Like a doll
with a doll within a doll in a doll in itself,
concentric as a sphere, or a damned good hunch,
like the men who can see the good horror
of death before them, and assume some growth
as light denied. In the streets, outside the house
of Grandma Chin, I channeled my future, then
my past, as it stretched and tunneled to now.
The deep breath of a future word grabbed me-
what relation am I to then? Or to the Master,
or to Grandma Chin? Is one human at birth,
or is it mere myth we relate? I seem of meaning
and of humor. Or do I just acclimate
to it? Do I accommodate a set of outcomes,
possible and prescribed, that come
from her lips? That possessed the engines
of future days, mysterious yet turgid,
under the skins of that then? What is
is what is, what is imagined in time
by time. Love is just the touch
of two adjacent streams that flow
into, then bisect, a sense of seeming
more than the anonymities of the inhuman
wave, which flows down, only one way-
no one speaks to the hills. Some do
more than ignore the silence of breath.
The flesh on too-human lips engage
the conversations of the age
which comes. Once, I was awake-
sometime between Grandma Chin's kitchen
time, and the time I started this
poem. A drama ensued. What it was
is no matter. It had A. It had B.
It had the sojourn between. Doing time
on planet Earth is often this simple.
It had an audience (you- here, now!)
unknowing. It had a precept
and perspective (see how I construct?).
It had a certain gothos of sound
and even a scent. Yet it was just the same. It
was the flutter of one old Japanese
eye. It was the tangle of death
from the Virgin's dangling left wrist.
Was this merely imagined? What if it was?
Is the fall into fiction so tragic a state?
Grandma Chin was too smart for a mortal
happiness. Does it sever, as a bar,
one from a higher state? Do events really
occur, or are they just a thought, or the thought
thought? I will demonstrate:
What if Grandma Chin were here, in front
of us all, and filling us with tales
of Old China? What if she were not?
What if all that was was my description
of her describing, multiplying through
my subtleties and intonations, cresting
as a minaret atop an old Spanish mosque?
Or is this all beside the point?
Does the essence of the old woman
matter in the being, or the seeing?
It is said we all iridesce in the curve
of living, that we construct the cosmos
around us. Our faces a separate story
sprung from a higher view. That they are
an endeavor given freely to the world
we mimic and decode, decide and digress from,
all the while engaging the play of the game,
the time of just water, and what is
put forth by the Master, what is Grandma Chin.
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider
"Business, in the modern sense of the
word, is the distinctive expression of
the American genius."- Henry Luce
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
by Albert Pinkham Ryder
AS WHAT AMERICA IS LEFT
The pellicle of faith, in this storm-bit sea,
has the courage of ignorance, in its way,
as the ghost, which passes, and does
no justice to justice, in the evening light,
where men refuse to be just the passing by
of time, as the years-ago sky
creeps. It is in the night
that all the themes of the masses realize,
and draw the outcasts, squabbling all the day,
to row together, carefully.
If change is all, and growth just a part, what sea
can deter the focus of those who obey
the loss of this much fuller love
to pelf? This industry, this union, ignites
the chase for that phantom, this watery voice,
of a world ignored, by firm choice,
of the self, which takes plight
within. There comes the urge to always improve,
so the storm gives way to the brave forms that stay
together, and choose what to see.
But the vessel is modern; it has cast free
the material wounds that are dreamt away
by the silent bourgeoisie, wan
in the auroral remnants of human want,
held high as the distinct expression of why
they drive these seas. And don't ask why
so few will bear the brunt,
yet pursue till dead. The body lingers on
in the norward climes, sifting the groans that weigh,
as the cult of pursuits still sees.
Yet horizons call, the night obeys the sea,
the chase ends fruitless, as reality plants
its dominion over the breath
of the collective, left behind, left to chide
the ghost which froths, retreats, and deceives, the night
which millions of weary, not right
with their dreams, nor the tides,
forget in impatient sleep. We'd not fear death
if we knew its price; such the genius of want,
ships at sea, and that which will be.
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider
I used to be snow white,
but I drifted.
THE GROSS CLINIC
by Thomas Eakins
AS THE TWENTIETH CENTURY A QUARTER BEFORE
Be aware of the lines. The red and the light
drift like shadows over the remove
of the black-draped figures huddling above
the ill. The taunt of this Gross to the horrified
mother; no roses in the bed of her mind. He seems
to say, "Away! Away, all you, who will not...." Look,
with a distance strange, he seems unmoved, to who has seen
the gorge and regurge of Spain, Kampuchea, Verdun and Normandy,
the sanitation of Grozny, Bataan, Nagasaki and Rwanda,
the silence of East Timor, Kashmir, Uganda. And Armenia
is the revolt from reason that the dimly-lit see
from the safety above. The amphitheater
of the present presents us with the windy light
of perspective, places us all inside those who will not
flinch, those who do not turn away from the open wound.
Too real, too real, the cries go up,
and the palms which avert the eyes are praised,
as if saviors of innocence from the drowning
swoon the too-white thigh does not occlude.
No temperance of purpose can stem. The brave
brave the light of effort. This slide from faith
to strength is where teamwork is vital. No
man can operate alone. The modern way
of science is a long, unbroken line; the great developer
of such. There is no going back
to the tribal hoodoo and chants. Alone,
it is reason that glows from the Master,
his brow the beacon no helmet can dim;
the strength of his vision is prime.
But, is it a dream? You wonder
from your smothered place in the grandstand,
behind the dissection. You writhe. The horror
of mute responsibility protagonizes
the glare. You cannot see his
hidden, devil-like eyes, the writhing of his
jowls, heavy with sideburns hiding any corruption
of power. The shape of desire is a surgeon's
scalpel. These quick, eager (some say obscene) ministers
of secular inwardness fury and prey
upon the fallen, as if a pack of beasts,
blinded, on the innocent. Incurable
is not the diagnosed. Fixed on the wound
we all remain manque¢. Even the fine hewn line
of the anesthetist's parted hair points
to the point. Where we remain,
breathing the needed, but oft-unnoticed, air,
my friend, nescient of a bell jar time:
0 che dulce cosa e¢ quesa prospettiva!
Copyright Ó by Dan Schneider
"For the mind wants to discover by
reasoning what exists in the infinity
of space."- Lucretius
WOMAN WITH A PEARL NECKLACE
by Johannes Vermeer
AS WHAT LIES BEYOND THINGS