Sunday, May 01, 2016

revolution now

and then, in medias res, I am
walking meditation on city pavement
and a proliferation of uncertain Springs.

A car heading due north pulls over to the curb and I hear
a woman’s voice say excuse me sir I need to be
going south
through the open window
on the passenger side and, leaning
so I can see the speaker, I say
you need to turn around.

She says I need to get to 55th and Western
55th and Western, right?
and I can see
the question is for the guy sitting
in the back seat while what has
the form of a statement is
an urgent request

for direction directed to me.
I tell her again you need to turn around
and point to 55th Street, two blocks south.
Turn right there and point again to make sure
she sees which way – and drive west. You have
quite a way to go, but it will take you to Western.
Good luck.
The guy in the back seat says thanks and

she drives off and I walk away thinking
I should have told her the road would wind
through a park and cross an expressway and she
would probably think she was lost but
she shouldn’t give up hope.

But having left that unsaid,
I hope they make it. And I am again
walking meditation on city pavement.

Spring is everywhere, it seems,
since some journalist writing about Tunisia
thought to make a cipher of Prague and 1968. Here,

it comes with a stutter step and can scarcely
keep its feet when it steps over cracks
and fissures left by a long winter.

You’d think we’d take a good hard look
at what this pavement was meant to cover
before we called in a crew to smooth it over,
consider the dandelions, how they neither toil
nor reap nor for a moment think money
is speech but hold each other in the light
that slips through every crevice that follows
a change in the weather. They hold each other
in the light, and light themselves, a body of light,
they dig deep in dirt. Like water, they

turn and do what they must do to make a place
where they are standing now, a barricade
of flowers. And then

they die, sure-footed. And then
they come again, like light when
pavement breaks and yet another
Spring comes stumbling over them.

©Steven Schroeder

Friday, April 29, 2016

Ada, Oklahoma

Walking in the middle of the middle
of America there are so few gaps
I mind them with care when
I cross where there is no signal.

South on Texas, no sidewalk. I take a right
and the gutter disappears. I am,
as I know I must be,
in the street.

Young guy in a black Mustang
passes fast, stops on a dime, shifts (still
fast) into reverse, stops beside me,
rolls the window down,

and says, sir, do you want a ride?
I find this touching but say no, I’d rather walk.
He says it’s a beautiful day and adds God bless you.
I say yes it is—and you too, then carry on.

Steps later, I pass a dog on Francis
for the third time, and that is all it takes
for him to consider me no stranger, routine
enough for a silent greeting.

Campus is an island where a bird sings
it’s true it’s true it’s true it’s true again and again
like a tent preacher closing the deal when
it comes time for an altar call.

Back in the street, I cross some invisible barrier
and the houses and the lawns grow larger.
There is a walk wider than Texas
that leads to a park.

Gray goose with a broken wing
waddles over to speak to me
when I sit on the first bench,
but he is distracted
by a raucous crowd
on the other side of the lake
that speaks his language. He shouts back
and they carry on about something
that sounds urgent for a time.

Walking the walk again,
I pass clusters of young girls
speaking Chinese and imagine
I am circling the Jade Lake in Kunming.
All the world is Zhongguo now, John.

Mockingbird lands on the rail
when I cross a footbridge,
looks me in the eye,
says nothing.

Seems, for now, we
may both be,
on the way,
home.

©Steven Schroeder

Thursday, April 21, 2016

just politics...

Politics is worn as thin by mindless repetition as by abstraction. We are awash in practices that go without saying, up to our ears in theories that do nothing but. When something goes without saying, it is safe to say it goes unchallenged. While it is safe to say it goes unchallenged, challenging it by saying may not be. To say it goes unchallenged is to theorize an other’s practice—or one’s own practice as the practice of an other—a practice itself, that places what an other does, puts an other in his or her place. To challenge, which takes place, one must take a stand. Both take place in placing...

It is the word that is worn thin by repetition—both the repetition of the word and the repetition of the practice (which is, by the way, a repetition of an act) it names. Repetition of the name of the repetition of the act wears the name, the practice, and the designated act repeated thin.

When someone says “that’s just politics,” it strikes me the same way as “he’s only human.” I think I understand the idioms, but I always want to say “if only she were more human, if only it were more just...”

In writing, I ended with an ellipsis. Did you hear it? And I might have chosen to stress only, or to stress more in both cases...

Ellipsis indicates something unsaid, something that will go without saying. Because it will go without saying, it will, in practice, mean saying nothing. And that, as John Cage reminded us, is poetry, if we say it now.

And therein lies a clue: here, the plot thickens.

When I say politics (both the word and the practice it designates) is worn thin, I mean that it too narrowly circumscribes both the semantic range of the word and the sphere of the action it designates.

Together, if only he were more human, if only it were more just, rivet our attention on the sphere of human justice—which we know from our reading of Greek literature as the polis. Our encounter with Greek thinking leads us to think this the place where humanity is possible. In this place, we may be human. In this place, humanity takes place. It is the place of which we speak when we say “political,” and it is the place wherein we act when we do politics. This is properly circular: saying is a kind of doing, and doing is a kind of saying.

If Plato’s Socrates is correct, we must ask whether and when this saying and doing is just politics. When we draw the circle too close, we wear politics thin. Poetry, on edge, is in the right place to thicken it...

©Steven Schroeder
[from What's Love Got To Do With It? a city out of thin air. Lamar University Press, 2016]
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Saturday, April 16, 2016

for Giuseppe

When I was a child, I practiced walking
without leaving a trace from house to barn,
discalced, like a pious friar prone to
flying. I did my best never to step

on a sandburr, close as I could imagine
before Zhuangzi to walking without touching
the ground. This is on my mind today as I
walk a path in a city sanctuary

for birds. Birds rise in waves that roll toward
me, the first trace—each footfall another
the eye of my ear sees. The eye of my
eye is the last to know here where light bends

between trees shaped by years—and years of wind.
Birds fly, the sound of footprints everywhere.

©Steven Schroeder
[from the moon, not the finger, pointing. Lamar University Press, 2016]
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Monday, April 11, 2016

not one

some kind of poet, not one
to be pinned down,
this plural deity

who nouns verbs time and time
again when a prophet lays a hand on him,
sings is you is or is you ain’t

my baby? nothing to be
done but say
I am, be

who you are,
get the joke, but name names,
and answer when a voice
you think you know
cries

in yet another wilderness

©Steven Schroeder
[from Raging for the Exit: A Commonplace Book (with David Breeden), Wipf and Stock, 2012]

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Saturday, April 09, 2016

Job's Cat

The two were old friends.

I noticed them one day on the road in front of J’s house and knew from the start that neither could be trusted.

One was a vagabond who hadn’t bathed in weeks. His hair was matted. A moustache perched perilously on his upper lip like a twisted caterpillar in slow painful transit to his chin, leaving his mouth mostly hidden. His beard was a staging area for remnants of his last meal and an archaeological site in which others were preserved at varying depths. Bad grooming is one thing, but this character was jerky, bird-like, and that rubbed me the wrong way. His head bobbed. He had raptor eyes, like high flying birds that take in everything at once—impossibly intelligent and cold at the same time. He looked right through you but didn’t focus: now here, now there, first one thing, then another.

The other was slick, fashionably dressed, not a thread or a hair out of place. I wondered how he could stand on that dusty road without showing a speck of dust. Maybe that’s why the two hung together: Bird was a magnet for dust who kept Slick spotless.

“What have you been up to now?” Bird says.

“With you every separation is nothing but a breath in the middle of an endless conversation,” says Slick.

“Well?”

“It’s been years. You might begin with ‘Hello. It’s been a long time, and I missed you. How have you been?’”

“Hello. What have you been up to now?”

“Wandering here and there. Trying to keep things under control.”

“Have you?”

“More or less. At least I attend to one thing at a time.”

“There’s your problem. You must have noticed J; isn’t he a trip? The man dreams up rituals that wouldn’t come to me in a thousand years—thinks they keep him prosperous and his children safe. Some are really entertaining. Have you seen him? He’s unshakable.”

“Not unshakable, just unshaken.”


“Come again?”

“No reason to doubt. Let him lose some possessions, and I promise he’ll be shaken.”

“Promise?”

“Without a doubt.”

“No doubt. That calls for a test.”

I slipped under the hedge and lost sight of the two for an instant. When I looked back, Slick was alone, watching J’s house. A messenger, out of breath, dashed in through the gate and pounded on the door. Lucky I’d moved, or he would have stepped on my tail. The door opened, and I saw J.

“Yes?” he said.

“I have terrible news,” said the breathless messenger. “There’s been a riot. Looters sacked your store and killed the entire staff. I am left alone to tell the tale.”

Before he was finished, another messenger showed up and said, “What was left of the store was struck by lightning and burned down. The fire spread to your warehouse facility, and it was a total loss. Nothing is salvageable. I am left alone to tell the tale.”

A third messenger showed up. I made sure I was completely out of sight.

“There’s been a carjacking. The Mercedes. The chauffeur murdered,” he said. “The BMW was parked at the warehouse and exploded when the fire spread. I am left alone to tell the tale.”

At that moment, a small, serious looking man with a briefcase showed up: J’s accountant. “Bad news, J. Somebody failed to make your insurance payments, and the policy’s lapsed. None of your losses are covered.”

Another messenger arrived, sobbing: “Your children and their families were all together at your oldest son’s house when a tornado struck. The roof collapsed, and they were all killed. I am left alone to tell the tale.”

What else could go wrong? I lay real low.

J said a little prayer, and I saw Slick smile. Then he was not there.

I was considering going into the house for a bite to eat when I heard them on the other side of the hedge.

“Well,” said Bird. “What have you been up to now?”

“Wandering here and there. Trying to keep things under control.”

“Have you?”

“More or less. At least I attend to one thing at a time.”

Like nothing happened.

“You must have noticed J. Just unshakable.”

“Not unshakable, just unshaken.”

“Come again?”

“Let him suffer pain, and I promise he’ll be shaken.”

“Promise?”

“Without a doubt.”

“No doubt. That calls for a test.”

Bird was gone. Slick kept watching.

J came out onto the porch. He was scratching, like he had hives or something. I thought of fleas again, and rolled in the dust under the hedge. But I made sure Slick didn’t see me there. J was covered with nasty sores.

Now M, who lived with us in the house, joined J on the porch.

“You are a mess,” she said. “What have you gotten yourself in to?”

“Nothing,” J said. “It has nothing to do with anything I’ve done.”

M was not convinced. She went inside.

Slick smiled.

Then company came.

A bunch of J’s friends heard about his problems and came to call. At first, they all just sat on the porch. They said nothing. They sat there for a week.
Slick was there the whole time, but Bird was nowhere.

Then J complained.

“These damn sores hurt so much I’d rather be dead. What the hell is going on?”

One of J’s friends jumped in as if cued: “You know, J, you must have done something that could explain all this.”

“I’ve done nothing. And what could I possibly have done that would explain any of this? I’m sick, ready to die; but I’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

Another friend said, “You know, J, the world’s a reasonable place, and God’s in charge. Why don’t we get down on our knees right here right now and take it to the Lord in prayer?”

Like Bird said, J was a trip. You’d think he’d go for an impromptu ritual—but he asked for an attorney!

“God is my tormenter,” he said. “And I want to sue. All I need is a high enough court and a good enough litigator.”

He was joking. Or delusional.

Slick got it. He smiled. I thought for a moment he was going to step forward. Chances are he is an attorney. He looked the part. And he looked ready to take the case.

But another friend piped in: “Come on, J. You know nobody’s perfect. No need to take God to court; just own whatever you’ve done and ask God to make things right.”

Slick hung back. I lay low.

J went off. A long speech about God being in charge and therefore responsible for bad as well as good.

Now Slick looked like an attorney who expected a substantial out of court settlement—plenty of profit, no trial. He kept smiling.

J and his friends went at it again. The gist of it was that the friends thought it had to make sense while J insisted that it didn’t but should. He wanted nothing but his day in court.

By this time, I was tired and hungry—how long had we been at this?—and I was starting to have trouble following the discussion. But I couldn’t leave. I had to see how things would turn out, and I didn’t want Slick or Bird to spot me. I was amazed at Slick’s single-minded concentration. Bird was all over the place, long ago off to other things; but Slick’s attention never wavered. He was right there, attending to one thing alone.

J was thoroughly ticked off with his reasonable friends. He wanted nothing but a hearing. He was miserable, and he thought he was entitled to shout about it. Too bad he wasn’t aware of Slick there, just listening.

Then another friend showed up, a young guy, excitable. He wanted to preach. J wanted to smack him, but they all let him proceed with a homily on God’s inscrutability.

Then Bird showed up out of nowhere with his cold raptor eyes. Nobody knew where he came from, but they’d been at this so long and they were so tired and hungry that hallucinations went without saying. They weren’t surprised, and they let him rant. He went on about taking everything in at once and stared them down one by one with his cold superior raptor eyes.

I thought Slick would laugh out loud.

J had nothing to say.

Bird told J’s friends off, looked around, and was gone.

More friends showed up, each with a load of gifts. J was rich again.

Like nothing happened.

Turns out M had left long ago, and I decided to go find her. J had nothing to say, and M would feed me.

Bird was gone. Slick was smiling. Bird would come again, and the interval for him would be a breath in a long conversation with his only friend.

I miss the kids and M. The chauffeur gave me tuna. The Beemer had soft seats. The Mercedes engine well was a warm place to sleep outside in winter.

The two are old friends. Neither can be trusted.

I am left alone to tell the tale.


©Steven Schroeder
[from Four Truths, Wipf and Stock, 2011]

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

we must be mad

The horns of the moon’s dilemma
curl into a smile without a cat
tonight, bright against the dark
sky. Somewhere Alice is saying

she doesn’t much care where
she gets as long as she gets

somewhere, and the cat
who is not there
smiles now because
it goes without saying

that it doesn’t much matter then
which way she goes because
she’s sure to do that if only
she goes far enough.

Walking west at a brisk pace,
I have no doubt without
a word from the cat
we have no idea
how far that is.

©Steven Schroeder
[from turn, virtual artists collective, 2012]

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