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What I Read in the Waiting Room of Hell


From the Tongues of Angels

Search And Destroy

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May 07, 2005



Not poems but the novel "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley and "The Power of Myth" Bill Moyers interviewing Joseph Campbell, altered my life and political thinking in the most profound ways. I grew up a fundie. I am the son of a fundie mother an an atheist father. (yes they are still married and in love) Huxley, Moyers, Campbell and Carl Sagan as well were instrumental in my awakening from the savage sleep of ignorance.

The bands YES, Jethro Tull and RUSH were also a large part of my political and social awakening. Poets John Keats and to a lesser degree Byron and Collerige were part and parcel of my development. As I grew older Neil Young sharpened my political sense of injustice as did the Indigo Girls.


I'm not much a reader of poetry, so it was mostly music and books that awakened me. I was raised Catholic and attended 12 years of Catholic school. After that I pretty much rebelled from my Catholicism and went through an agnostic phase. Currently I seem to gravitate towards Buddhist philosophy.

Reading Howard Zinn's A People's History of the U.S. and James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me made me realize how I'd been brainwashed in school. I majored in sociology and political science in college, so I read a lot of Marx and critical theory.

John Lennon is one of my great musical heroes. I also enjoy politically arousing music by The Clash and Rage Against the Machine.


The one poem that changed my life more than any other - because many have, that is one among many points - was and is Judy Grahn's "A Woman Is Talking to Death". If you don't know this 1973 masterpiece, you can find it in her book The Work Of A Common Woman. It should be required reading in this numb and disconnected present. A bit:

I read this somwhere: I wasn't there:
in WW II the US army had invented some floating
amphibian tanks, and took them over to
the coast of Europr to unload them,
the landing ships all drawn up in a fleet,
and everybody watching. Each tank had a
crew of 6 and there were 25 tanks.
The first went down the landing planks
and sank, the second, the third, the
fourth, the fifth, the sixth went down
and sank, the engineers had
made a mistake. The crews looked around
wildly for the order to quit,
but none came, and in the sight of
thousands of men, each 6 crewmen
saluted his officers, battened down
his hatch in turn and drove into the
seas, and drowned, until all 25 tanks
were gone. did they have vacant
eyes, die laughing, or what? what
did they talk about, those men,
as the water came in?

This poem ranges all over the messy businesses of love, humiliation, pain and death. Grahn talks about failures of her own courage and her determination to love bravely in the wake of those failures:

I want nothing left of me for you, ho death
except some fertilizer
for the next batch of us
who do not hold hands with you
who do not embrace you
or sacrifice themselves or trust
or believe you, ho ignorant
death, how do you know
we happened to you?

I've found no higher standard by which to measure myself than "Did I work for death today?"

Thank you for the chance to mention it.


The work of language deserves our greatest care, for the tongue's fire may devour the world, or may light the way. from Scott Russell Sanders' "Amos and James"

While "a poem" may or may not call us to change our political ways, there are people who have taken the time to master a poet's use of language to shape our nation's perception of reality. They are funded by libertarian and neoconservative interests and their "poems" are broadcast, and cable cast, and simulcast and webcast and cast in any manner by those who stand to profit from their acceptance.

And anyone one of us who has a poet somewhere in our soul is agonizing and outraged and in tears.

Here's a big collection of "anti-war" poetry

Anyone who's tried to write in any fashion knows that only a small percentage of what's tried, succeeds. But to all who try,

this struggling poet is greatful.

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