Dove descending interior old Augustus Lutheran Church Sanctuary, founded by Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, c. 1743 Providence (Trappe) PA, 18 Sept 2012.

27 February 2014

Methane Intoxication in the Disappearance of the World

At Wordsworth's Grave
  I operated a bath for grave stones. Molds cast for grave markers were brought to me after casting to be cleansed, to be used again. The names and dates  were fastened in bronze letters to the layout with wax. After casting, the molds were soaked in the water of this super heated bath.  Standing at the vat in arm length rubber gloves I removed the layout, wire brushed the blanks, sorted the letters, then loaded the blanks on skids to be recast.

 Those early years, balancing on the rails of the Pennsylvania Railroad up from Scully's Roundhouse, shooting out insulators, collecting torpedoes and flares along the tracks to fasten to rocks to drop below in Chartiers Creek, things swam before me as in empty outlines and skeletons, all the future dim. Oil seep stained the ground there from its derelict pump across from the schoolhouse. Heavy stones exploded the torpedoes from the bridge above. This fits a soul who makes gunpowder with potassium chlorate to explode in basements. Fires raged up those hillsides from the tracks. The hills, the whole landscape was  undermined with coal seams ruthlessly dug from the ground. Franz Kline's black and white paintings from his childhood in Wilkes Barre near the coal mines show the influence of life next to a railroad where the engine smoke is  unscrubbed (1947), black as soot. Only freight trains went past, two tracks, up from the Scully yard, outcome of the big stripmine operation of Pittsburgh hillsides, the blessing that prevented later development.

One event before the disappearance, age eleven, during the Korean War, having heard stories about a soldier across the street, Jim Christ, who had frozen in the Korean winters, I was walking as I always did on an late spring morning in this small town before anybody was up. Today at the summer solstice in the Sonoran desert I walk at first light in the coolness of 4:30 AM, nobody up. That morning in 1953 I was across from the school on the way to the old oil well seep at the playground when an immersion came right down out of the sky. I put it like it’s a sighting or a coat that wrapped itself around me, washed completely head to toe with the notion that I never wanted to kill. I never mentioned this, but never forgot it, so that when the time came in 1962 while I was playing football and made a running cut to evade I heard a loud pop from my knee, the ACL expoding, and I knew before I hit the ground, concurrent with a yell at the pain, that this was my exemption from war. The Mennonites, let us say, finish, what they start. And of course it was. The docs thought the damage  merely medial cartilage, which they repaired the old way with the six inch scar, there being no MRI and little knowledge of the ACL. But three years later, in ’66, at the draft physical in Des Moines Iowa the sergeant told me not to fall forward on my knees as he did everyone else. Later the doc, wiggled the joint in its socket and explained to the lieutenant that it was not good enough. I have no explanation as to why the coat came out of the sky or why the ACL, except by then I was committed to not killing anybody. I later traded a teaching fellowship in Chile that would have seen the demise of Allende for teaching at a black college in Fayetteville, NC which saw the passing of Dr. King. These led inexorably to the wide macadam of Texas.


 Like a spaceman from Solaris in this uncircumcised Pittsburgh of Italian, Polish and French ethnic ways, not knowing whether I was an ethnic being or not, this explains somehow a style of writing and thinking in which the Bible, methane and apocalypse got mixed together and carded at the door of privilege, "how did you get in," "what do you want." The next summer after those I worked at Container Corp in Manyunk cutting up skid loads of printed cartons with a jackhammer on the 3 to 11 shift. Those who walk the undergrounds of Traven, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Solzhenitsyn,  who "sink a shaft far from the inhabited surface, go down swinging to and fro, hanging by a rope" (Job 28.4, A. B. Traina) are as ignorant of the future as those who stay in the lines. But they walk the tracks with a gun outside the camp at ten. Will I have eyes at the bottom of the sea, supposing I descend the endless stairs? 

That reality was a mix of aggression and innocence, always afraid you’ll get caught, but wearing a brave face for it. Moving from this Pittsburgh to the mainline of Philadelphia my last high school year was more than a three hundred mile trip, but if you’re going to be what brung ya, breaks come, if you can read the message. The only notable class I took at that high school, Harriton, about to begin its first year, was an elective to fill the schedule. Ancient Greek History, with Robert Ruoff, Assistant Principal, feared by reputation. The next year, as a college freshman I was writing a paper on The Prince when I realized my argument could be called Machiavelli’s mistake, slightly twisting the arc. That was the first time I consciously chose not to be dishonest in writing, to find another way to prove the point. A major moment, related by the good influences to follow. Since then I have wanted to look until the truth is known. I had not made up my mind about a lot of things, but did not deny the trail.

Some good influences came that summer before college by way of a family of a girl who was just the kind of Christian my daughter’s husband thinks he must disabuse her of.  I took their surety as engaging, their enthusiasm for love. So when they talked to me for hours about Jesus I wasn’t offended. I’m not a member of a party either. Sometimes they call this the tenth man, but there was a deeper reason. My father and mother were nominal Presbyterians, but their forebearers, especially my father’s, had long substantial histories of faith whose doctrines say that faith begets faith to a thousand generations. That illustrious ancestry of Mennonite pastors and bishops caught up to me at age 17. These Christian people of my friend took me to an evangelistic tent meeting, the sort media personifies as snake charmers, Oliver B. Greene. That penchant for honesty visited me there. He gave the usual evangelistic message, filled with references I was vaguely familiar with. But to my astonishment I found myself standing up when invited to do so by the loudspeaker. How do you explain that? Who is that speaking? I was standing, no lie, a little out of body, not with a drug, walking forward as feet followed feet into an area curtained behind the pulpit stage, lined with chairs and benches. A moonish face appeared in the air that reasonably asked what I was doing, what did I want?  I knew as much about it as he did, but the situation required a response, so I offered  that I wanted to quit smoking. Who doesn’t? That seemed to satisfy him so he suggested we go over to the chairs, kneel down and pray.

 I knelt down on both knees and the whole world disappeared. It must be this act and some inward call I made were all the Holy Spirit needed.The physical manifestation was like a lightning strike. I say that because I am still struck every day. I felt it when I applied for social security after turning 65, being frisked on entry for weapons, just to display the birth certificate to the window. Surrendering the water bottle after waiting a good hour among the poor, the sick, the lame, the blind, people with hospital bracelets on their wrists and private security guards, the meditation arose that all these people were loved. I thought about that, the thoughts it came with, and in 10 minutes I was floating, praising. If you talk this way people are going to ask if you believe in healing and peace, but that so and so wasn’t healed or pacified. Does the negative replace the positive? No. Do others have this experience? I don‘t know what they have, but currents of light were circulating my brain. There was no particular prayer, or formula.There is no explanation at all for what happened. It took fifty years to say this much, since every day electricity fills the cortex, like the poem “to burn sole within this fire.”  Up on my feet again in the back of that tent with no explanation, I walked out after maybe ten minutes changed, inside and out. My hosts must have seen somebody stoned out of his gourd. So June 11 that summer at 17 I had an experience that changed my life more than Goya's sickness or Borges running into a mirror, Christmas Eve, 1938 (Borges, Autobiographical Notes, New Yorker, 19 Sept 1970). The fear was gone, replaced by a certitude scary to profs who hold only their own certitude.. I took this experience into Jim Fallon’s philosophy class three months later.

 C. S. Lewis calls it catastrophic conversion, which illustrates how this enabled me to understand 16th century literature. Lewis describes the result of this catastrophe as

“the man who has passed through it feels like one who has walked from nightmare into ecstasy. Like an accepted lover, he feels that he has done nothing, and never could have done anything, to deserve such astonishing happiness…all the initiative has been on God’s side; all has been free, unbounded grace And all will continue to be free, unbounded grace. His own puny and ridiculous efforts would be as helpless to retain the joy as they wold have been to achieve it in the first place. Fortunately they need not. Bliss is not for sale, cannot be earned. 'Works' have no 'merit', though of course faith, inevitably, even unconsciously, flows out into works of love at once. He is not saved because he does works of love: he does works of love because he is saved. It is faith alone that has saved him; faith bestowed by sheer gift. From this buoyant humility, this farewell to the self with all its good resolutions anxiety, scruples, and motive-scratchings, all the Protestant doctrines originally sprang." (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, 33, review here).

The Disappearance

What is seen is not seen, what is read is not read. In consideration of seeing what is there and what is not there painting critics who see optical effects are ahead of the literary who still pretend poems are rational, logical, or anything but translations of sound, aural phenomena overheard, a species of compressed front brain optics of things that could be said. A case of the disappearance of the [word] world occurs in the Talmud, where "what is read is not what is written" (Marc-Alain Ouaknin, The Burnt Book, 293). "Not le'olam (for the world) but le'elam (for the disappearance of the world). The world is there without being there: it is a "nonworld." In place of the the world, the le olam, literally: 'for the world' forever, or that which refuses to disappear, the Talmud seeks a world that withdraws, that retires. The Greek-pagan idea of the world before us is one that immodestly reveals itself to sight, and wants to be taken and possessed. The disappearance of this world, effacing itself, is opposite its taking, the world neither mastered nor comprehended. These two differences take on a speech vs. writing duality, that is, pronunciation vs. its written text. The Name that is spoken is not what is written, as if it were a different text, more legible, more (or less) veracious than the first, which is silent. "To say the Name is to efface it as a written Name" (294) "never in the repetition of an identity but in its destruction."

I apply these Talmud plots with a difference, to describe the inner world vs. the outer. Popular culture opposes the disappearance of the world. Nietzsche, the pope of the world, takes any criticism of the world or its institutions as bigotry, itself a bigotry: "the Jews have brought off that miraculous feat of an inversion of values, thanks to which life on earth has acquired a novel and dangerous attraction for a couple of millennia: their prophets have fused 'rich,' 'godless,' 'evil,' 'violent,' and 'sensual,' into one and were the first to use the world 'world' as an opprobrium. This inversion of values (which includes using the word 'poor'  as synonymous with 'holy' and 'friend') constitutes the significance of the Jewish people" (Beyond Good and Evil).

Another example of opposition of two worlds might be had in Dutch painter Vermeer, caused by an optical background to the paintings, noticeable because the retina compresses the visual signal in a way the camera does not.The camera shows a greater range of light but the retina contains about 7 million cones and 75 to 150 million rods of which only a million optical fibers transmit to the brain, so the retina compresses the image of the camera on the order of 100:1!  This optical effect doesn't occur in painting only from imagination, Van Gogh perhaps, or some scene that was never there, as a model looks real, or Joan Eardley's sea. Surface depth is equivalent to the mere million optical fibers that translate the larger signal expressed by the camera. Homer was blind but blindness did not constrain his writing. Unlike an advertisement, or a billboard announcing a meeting where the brain compresses the signal, the real thing, of say Emily Dickinson or WB Yeats, the overheard aural in the composition is not visual. This is the metaphorical methane commonly known in composition. There are different sounds and registers where the false predicts the true and has much affinity to it--but it is just false-- which is why there is a second quality beyond the aural; truth is of the nose, in the sense of methane, as much beyond the ear as the ear is beyond the eye. Some poems stink. Pound called the Clock or The Tower, "putrid,"  reflections that can also occur from watching the colors of clay fade as they dry or the light goes from the sky. The colors revive in the final fire, and gloss from ash or glaze. But don't try to photograph them. The better the rhythm of color the harder for the camera to see because the contrasts blind the lens. Reflections of light against the glosses blinds the camera. This is an analogy of writing, or rather listening, translating, and sensing with the nose. When the editorial senses a misspeak, it feels it first, essentially a smell; it doesn't smell right. Lens and eye are analogies to the opposition of thinking what to say as opposed to merely saying what is compelled:  the fovea is the point on the retina where the light focuses. The concentration of cones increases as we move to the center. At the periphery of the retina, rods increase and cones decrease. Does that help explain the difference between methane and pot, or alcohol, or whatever drug you choose? One sanctioned, the others putrid.

 When Jim Fallon assigned that first paper in freshmen philosophy I asked what I should write about. He said, how about, "Over and above man there exists some super-human power or force, god or gods, fate or destiny.” The gods and immortality! I have that paper still, except immortality is spelled immorality. He gave it an A. 

To digress briefly, that first paper there mirrors the first paper at Iowa for Geoffrey Hartman which began my experience of intuitive making. There's something about being in the presence of a first class mind that stimulates these things, even if the mind is in a book. That class preoccupied the fall-winter at Iowa in '64. He had begun with a several session meditation of Collins, Ode on Poetical Character, handed out to be read.  I puzzled about Collin's logic and expression in his Ode as much as Hartman did from the front of the room filled with coats and boots and scarves. In Hartman's class that first semester at Iowa I entered the way with a first essay on the Tyger. The first assignment was to pick a poem of Blake and write about it, no other restrictions. For no reason I remember I sat down that weekend with the Tyger and gradually emerged with a vista of Blake's system as if the poem opened up. The essay was to be four pages  but mine was closer to six, which I achieved by compressing 1 1/2 spacing with a small elite typewriter. Disregarding for the moment my own take that Blake's Tyger was his system of mind forged manacles in miniature and Hartman's evident affection for the notion, a commonplace perhaps, but maybe overlooked, in his latter day Hartman delivered a succinct statement that the misprison of our imaginative powers, the exploitation and institutionalization of human fears about them...Mankind, a self-bound Prometheus, exudes the "net of religion" from the guts of his own imagination and, taking the gods literally, worshiping these invented giants, becomes entangled in the net. (Scars of the Spirit, 152).  But I want to expand his concept of institutionalization, for imagination reveals a far worse state than the imprisoning of religion and state, we face rather a vast illusion of evil masked as a good, and this in the idols and stars of all human institutions, the Queen of England if you will, and all the way down, masked by a good, mirrored, which by its own polluted justification of itself must give open clues to its contempt and desecration of all good. So with the statement, all institutions are demonic (Hedges, Tillich), and the knowledge that all journalism is disinformation along with scientific research, history and philosophy, setups for the annihilation of the human race. Two terms above need redefinition, gods and invented giants, and briefly that is that gods are nephilim and giants are their progeny along with Men of Renown of Genesis 6, that same text which Hartman generally alludes to in such phrases as censorious monotheism, that "recent scholarship has questioned the assumption that ethical monotheism is a spiritual advance"  (Scars, 153). If we pull aside the veil cast over institutions, science and literature, as we must do now before the illusion of freedom is completely caught in the net of these demons, we must urge not censorship of the gods, but their annihilation. And that right early! (Psalm 46).

Thus this most important thing in my life was the development of this disappearance of the world. It was entry into the mysteries and knowledge of  art and the imagination. It is the central notion of  all  major English poets. The next years after writing "Over and above man there exists some super-human power or force, god or gods, fate or destiny” I therefore took a long drink of the Bible, real long, went to Bible school at  night for two years while going to college in the day. The Bible being the point of view of all English lit in the positive but also in its negation, when I later asked Bill Ingram teaching Shakespeare in his garret what was left to read, he said, the Faerie Queene! He suggested a paper on the allegory of evil in Book I! Much the same thing happened in grad school at Iowa and over and over with every author from Hawthorne, Milton, Spenser…so that disappearance got me a PhD and freedom from fear.

Years later I learned I was the offspring of a family of devout Mennonites, but my parents had separated from the connection. In this more medieval than puritan 16th century faith, I was provided with a wife out of the Song of Songs who affirmed those same things herself without knowing. Of course we have had to pay. That should make it all right, for the world loves a failure of faith as much as it loves a good argument about truth and afterlife. If the connection of spirit and brain comes down to what makes you feel good, then what makes me feel good is to love the unlovable, take in strays for no reason except they’re in front to me, take chances, give aid, CPR to strangers, pick up victims. We were domestic medical missionaries and activists putting ideas ahead of things which experiences altogether turned me into a player, late in the game. It happens when everybody fouls out. I was in the same workshop class as James Tate and some 60 or so mostly scholarship players. I was satisfied to do what it was I wanted and let the doubts go. It is the opposite of  what happened to Pound at 70, so poignant. Somewhere he says to Ginsburg that at 70 his words mean nothing to him.

Even with good will the spiritual world is not obvious. Just ask the delusions. As things go, the next years saw me take up those forms of education too. I studied two nights a week after my college classes, 7-10 at the Philadelphia College of Bible toward a philosophy of the good, licensed by Plato and the Pre-Nicene Greeks, which involved some close textual study of New Testament texts, esp. the name of God, Matthew with Clarence Mason and Romans with Andrew Telford, but also included personal evangelism and history of missions. Turning to my seat mate on the train back and forth to the city I would ask, “what do you make of this?” Lots of people talked with me about Jesus. There were also street meetings, which suit a walk-on type, where you lounge on some corner with a Bible and engage whoever comes by. No spite, anger, irritation. An open face saves lives. Who said that, Blake? 
Catastrophic Conversion 

There is really an awful lot more here. As John Skelton wrote  “Where the sank royall is, Crystes blode so rede, (Poetical Works of Skelton and Donne, see note), these notions are prominent in medieval and pietistic Europe, seventeenth century Donne and after (See Louis Martz, The Meditative Tradition), viewed with European Catholic icons but also one with the English metaphysical poets, Herbert, Vaughan, Crashaw, Traherne and later Smart, who plead the personal heart of Jesus identical to Pennsylvania Mennonites. Consider Henry Vaughan's, "Dedication," Some drops of Thy all-quick'ning blood / Fell on my heart," and the astonishing lines of Crashaw,

They have left thee naked, Lord, O that they had!
This garment too I wish they had deny'd.
Thee with thy self they have too richly clad;
Opening the purple wardrobe in thy side.
O never could there be garment too good
For thee to wear, but this of thine own Blood.

When these people addressed their love letters to Jesus (Bird, O Noble Heart, 87) it became the scandal of Pietism, the "sweet personal Christ of the Pietists" and their "tender endearments." Jesus was "mein Freund,"  "unashamedly casual" (Bird, 86). Freund  folk famously invoked  the first line of Song (Canticles), to be "kissed with the kisses of his mouth."  No wonder their hearts flowed. This same "freund," was translated both beloved and friend [see the fraktur of 1770 by Daniel Schuhmacher (Stoudt, Sunbonnets and Shoofly Pies, 151, copied from Song of Songs 2.10-12]. In sensing him more judge than friend Bird shows how far they flee from him who sometime did them seek. (from Thomas Wyatt;s poem, contemporary of Skelton).

 As the Cambridge Modern History (V) says:

"They tried to rekindle the fire of holy emotion and by the spirit of self-sacrifice and austere self-immolation to restore the mystical union of the soul with God... adopting the language of the Canticles in describing the union of the soul with the Divine Bridegroom...they express a sensuous delight in dwelling on Christ's sufferings and the agonies of the Cross. This "...irreverent tone of familiarity with the Deity which so frequently characterizes pietistic poetry..." is a comment on the "spiritual exhaustion" of spiritual life in Germany at its lowest ebb.

It takes a long time living with renaissance Platonists to rationalize. If you have  learned to read and comprehend the country of Aslan "of the Waking Trees and visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts" (Prince Caspian 47), the charm is that once the premise of life as it goes on in a terrestrial fashion is taken, except by perfunctory intrusion, the proper scholar is not a prophet who overturns everything once believed. If the ineffable is invisible the world must simply be done, not thought, as in the Revelation among the churches, but not among "the race who cut down trees wherever they could and were at war with allwild things." Other worlds analogize  badgers and dwarves, tortoise and yarrow where the amateur is thrown into wars of angels of the abyss against the saints and their coming King. When St. John, Ezekiel and Isaiah talked with angels, and saw the invisible, they were overwhelmed.



The anima dances like a huge animal bulging with life in Neoplatonism. A whole crowd of airy creatures inhabit the region between earth and moon. The fantastic leaves no room to explore the "prophetic soul of the wide world." Ficino burned the commentary on Lucretius just because it depopulated  invisible beings from the universe. Bercilak resumed his severed head. This is not just medieval faith however. When  government theologues with a dream of power brought the invisible into the political they considered their “being in proportion superior to the world.” This was how they ordered the extinction. Read extinction either as of the invisible or of the visible. Why can't the two get along? You would not believe that the whole purpose of science is to manifest this Platonic spiritual world to the physical, filtered always through its megalomania for power. Science would call itself the whole purpose of existence. You would not believe that the three terms, visible, invisible, and the true man who opposes supernatural cosmic intercourse. (Compare English Literature in the Sixteenth Century 4f)

Once, at dinner in Iowa City, providing remnants of the disappearance to Marvin Mandlebaum from Geoffrey Hartman's Blake Class, Hartman having giving that paper an A, affronting Mandlebaum, I was confronted with the world's opprobrium  for being a nobody refugee from Tesla Tech. It was one of many after where I was confronted by the dogma and attitude of control, business men who when I cited the gospel said, why don't you think or yourself, missionaries who thought maybe I could teach high school, but not college, Methodists who having surrendered every semblance of Christian belief want to talk about the (exchange of energies of the) afterlife. Mandlebaum had been a teacher in NYC for twenty years, and along with his social worker wife from the City, invited us to dinner  to find out why I got an A. He mocked what I said about the life I was changed from, citing many worse experiences. I said nothing then of what I really knew of depravity, too close to the dark. That contact with Geoffrey Hartman in the winter of 1965 was an important event. Remember, he was rescued by Rothschild from Germany and was kept on that estate in England until 17. He has never said much of that, but did not return for a reunion there with those "boys" in old age. He had just finished writing Wordsworth's notions of cannibalism in the Lucy Poems. He  knew as much as anyone needs to know of depravity and wrote of it later in Trauma within the limits of literature. Spending only a short time at Iowa before taking his destined place at Yale, the required paper on Blake provoked a meditation of my seeing in "The Tyger" the whole of Blake's later prophetic system, merely by reflection, not research. This process of reflection and meditation on that poem was the most extensive such event up to that time, and has since been followed in every task from the Restorations of the Golden Age to Starchitectures. Everything Geoffrey Hartman said was absorbed.  "On a deeper level, however, this memoir maps the ways early displacement lent Hartman his preoccupation with mediation" (Benjamin Balint). Donald Justice, Rhodes Dunlap, Hartman the list is long of those accidental contacts.  (Replace p. 16)

The Costa Rica experiment was an early activity also springing from the disappearance of the world. Leaders had lamented a lack of missions outreach and I found I was willing to donate two terms of time, why not? People given to high spirits will go overboard (like Jonah). Through a contact fostered by Arthur Glasser I was put in communication with Dit Fenton of the Latin America Mission (LAM) which eventually saw me living in San Jose. What you gonna do if the fool persists in his folly? I had single handedly leafleted major universities in Philadelphia. Been arrested. Took photographs of gambling ops conducted by churches, got roughed up and threatened a little. Had gone to some rude chicken dinners on these travels too, saw the religious fronts of men in farmhouses and small white churches thrown back to the rural Mennonite. When my father entertained his business associates, which he often did, I would engage them. One memorable fellow wanted to know why do you always quote the Bible, can’t you think for yourself? Thinking for yourself means think like you’re supposed to. Do not think like Jesus, That’s trouble, think gov, church, town, corp. Join the team.  It helped sprout the beginning weed of satire. If you don’t think for yourself the first thing you tell your son, your wife is to agree. Democracy is not for dissidents. You have to agree. But the world this view has made is just the world of words that discredits itself. Generally speaking in those years I was a bit of a danger. My older brother was offended. My father and mother had no good response, but ended up being a little and then a lot proud when this son who took on the world took on predestination, racism and poverty too. How did this work out in the writer’s workshop, how has it worked out after? The two hardest things to write about are love and faith. It you try it had better be hard edge to the extreme, Hopkins, Herbert, Donne. And you had better duck from the piety of your friends and enemies.

These experiences enabled me to study the 16th century, but nowhere can one deduce a  principle from it, for people go every way possible. It also however loosed an untapped word hoard which must mean mental facility, with the certainty and encouragement that certain boundaries were in fact real, even efficacious, not just societal forms. So grand principles began to emerge, appreciated for the inner life to them and sought for their own sake, if woefully realized. The disappearance of the world did not however discipline the mind that governed that youth, as changeable and enthusiastic as ever, lacking ability to finish a studied thought. Eventually discipline asserted itself over the verbal facility, with the addition of an unconscious quality, so that topics presented themselves, and as evidence collected it was applied to expression. Eventually I did not ever seek a theme, but was presented with things impossible at finding out. Long after, a semblance of order succeeded. I am now grateful for this method of composition because it spares me the origination fees and also further effort, except that so much was delivered and so much more remains to be completed than ever existed. In this manner, merely teaching the Iliad, I came on the notion of the season and time of Troy’s end, correlations of Sirius with Achilles’ acts. One of many.


It’s true I contracted some bizarre attitudes and habits from quitting smoking, especially from the people associated with it, the usual things available in society. On the other hand I did quit smoking. Even if there were to have been interim fall backs of various kinds, I can say after all, I don’t smoke. I don’t drink either. What’s better than a Guinness, a Becks, a Beaujolais or Cabernet? Those lights I  stand naked between. Prophylactics cut you off. Depression and death like alcohol. You need to be circumcised to feel good. You need to be naked.
The War  

Such meditations eventually led to the proposition that at the beginning of time there was a fictional war between ancient human origins and some forces opposed to them who sought to corrupt them. It would be like introducing German words into French, for the French pride themselves on the purity of their language, or the introduction of Celtic into the original pure Latin. Likewise, taking this analogy up a notch, analogues of Vulgate languages picture what occurred when  myth was introduced into science, making it impure. These together are all analogues to the corruption of the human genome by the introduction of hybrids. The intent of these forces to corrupt culture, mind and thought, the genome itself into some thing foreign to its birth was the final skirmish in this war. These forces known as gods form no such literature as the vulgar hybrid of the streets of Rome. In the end they destroy Rome. Genome and language are analogues having to do with the processes of thought I call beheadings of the brain.The irony that it took only 300 years to do and undo classical science  and replace it with myths of the universe now called "science" is not liberal or humane. As to the undo, Lewis says "new powers became rich like Midas but all that he touched had gone dead and cold. This process, slowly working, ensured during the next century the loss of the old mythical imagination." The result of denuded forces, planets, tutelary beings was that pure empiricism allowed existence to nothing but itself. So how does it come about that this very empiricism invented even greater myths of itself, that man is god and life forms long extinct should be recreated, that artificial intelligence would rule human life, that hybrid life forms should replace natural, that life for the elite would be endlessly prolonged, that ancient existences of spiritual beings would be invoked by corporations and government? Is that remything absolute? The last presumption wrestled incomplete travesties of these giant forms and saw them transfer to the thought of the age.

There is no nuance, only sensationalism to evoke feeling in this early beheading. Irony is severed, rhetorically directed without individual thought. Musician Bob Dylan condemned the practice: "You listen to these modern records, they're atrocious, they have sound all over them. There's no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like—static." Loudness War, Brick Wall. A world where nearly everything that passes for art is commercial, hollow and academic, like Black rotting teeth down to the roots of 85% of rural El Salvador’s children from Coke, Pepsi, Fritos in the last 30 years, mothers powerless against the corporate addiction in commercials that destroys their children in order to serve the world. This art is a commercial for the hybrid genome, in essence a form of psychopathic autotuning where the commercial message of words is conveyed in tones, voice sounds with depth of meaning severed. These were the last paintings on Goya's adobe walls transferred to canvas.

Slag and Fire

Neither the good or the bad are recognized but both are known. When I read Charles Finney’s accounts in his Memoirs of how when he received the Holy Spirit and was caught up for days of intensity I thought it was something I had not experienced. But I was wrong, except it was for years, a lifetime. “I could feel the impression, like a wave of electricity going through and through me. Indeed it seemed to come in waves and waves of liquid love for I could not express it in any other way. It seemed like the very breath of God. I can recollect distinctly that it seemed to fan me, like immense wings” (33). I had read Charles Finney's Revival Lectures and knew Oswald J. Smith from travels to the Peoples Church in Toronto with Alex Dunlap who I used to travel with with Shirley Waltz over the East and north to Canada in their ministry of the Conversion Center. I was drawn to Alex for his audacity more than his tennis, but his tennis was good. His audacity was greater. He took on the Archdiocese of Philadelphia  before it was  popular, challenging Catholic doctrine from the viewpoint of John Knox of the 16th century, as outdated as every other American philosophy and theology. The Catholic Church still retains its puritan detractors from Renaissance times, but the seven hills of Rome as the seven headed beast  are pale faux politik compared with that afoot.

The Peoples Church was a giant wooden structure with balconies surrounding an amphitheater.  My role as warmup for the main event was to give testimony of the Changed new creature in whom old things are gone and all things become new. They were and were not gone. Had I known what I do now I 'd have spoken with authority.

It’s OK to play ball and have a scrubbed face. It’s OK to do drugs and come out. It’s OK but don’t rock the body politic, the apple cart of the American gods for the provocation of American wars. Let’s say Jesus is a Christian. Well if not let’s at least pretend he’s an American. The spiritual world is rife with contradiction of such kinds. For me the greatest one was the last chapel at the PCB in December ’62 right before I went to Costa Rica. An invitation was given to come and rededicate yourself,  given again and again, held open, prolonged. I was keeping them all up late. But it had the opposite effect. I would not stand. I sat and sat and the speaker regretfully closed. I walked into the night, down Arch  street thinking to myself, what have I done? Just at the moment of decision I have turned away. That choice lasted a long time, arguments rolled, accreted like Philo interpreting the Gnostic. It was like Jonah. Did I ever get free of it again? Stay tuned.

We consider that the blood of Jesus buys us all. From that experience I emerge to explain incongruities of faith this way: "I wrestled incomplete travesties so as not to celebrate death, but after much pondering saw these giant forms transfer to the thought of the age. The frescoes bloomed and darkened, cracked and spalled, as though a war with Neptune and all fight in that moment had been lost, except for the patient’s restoration."

---The longer you breathe methane the more you want. Memory is revived by the slightest descant. It had been decades until my son asked me to come down to Organics to scope their piles of manure, either that or a stable. But the piles were high as a house and redolent, poured with a 15 cubic yard loader into his pickup, mashing down the tires. Methane though is a symbol and mashing the tires shows its burden.

Here I sort the letters sent and received that reveal the cases, my own and the milieu of Drexel Tech, the University of Texas and the Latin America Mission.

5.  I call it Tesla Tech. Drexel had plenty of troubles with the business departments of my major, Industrial Management (!), especially the Co-op Department for my irregular posting to Costa Rica. To compensate there were unusual exposures in English that I loved, I mean James E. Fallon of course, my first humanities teacher, a philosopher who loved the Greeks, and Jack H. Minnis. After the last required humanities class I elected Jack's in the modern novel, said to him that I wanted to write and that I was headed to Costa Rica. He replied he would be my best critic if I wrote, and to send it to him. His letters stem from pieces written there, but later efforts to connect with him, at the Community College of Philadelphia, which started up just after I got an M.A. from Iowa, were not to be. Would he cringe to be called a good man? My father phoned him before I graduated and asked him to suggest a present for his son's graduation. Jack told him to buy the best portable typewriter to be found. It was a Hermes portable. I used it thirty years.

To reconstruct simpler times of 1963 and '64, after Costa Rica I changed my major to a de facto English, there being no such official major, took an extra term in lieu of a final co-op three months, wrote a report instead. Whatever happened in Costa Rica loomed large. After returning I curtailed my religious connections and even if I never had a tennis lesson played #4 on the Drexel tennis team, the last season before graduation. I was always a superb B athlete. Ann Oppenlander and I both took Chaucer etc. and I did time with Bill Hollis working the Provencal poetical forms. Mike Mckaie had gone to Iowa the previous year, so there were several escapes from Technology. Ann and I went to Iowa the next year because the chair, Sterg O'Dell, knew somebody and we could get in, even if specifically unprepared. So we got married and drove to Iowa City, simple as that.

 Looking back I am puzzled Jack Minnis never mentioned his doctoral work at Penn which he was just finishing in 1963, also that he apparently wrote A Chronology of Violence and Intimidation in Mississippi Since 1961. To context the religious comments of his second letter, he never revealed his particular religious beliefs except to challenge them all in his classes. He had told me to read the Russians while away, which I did, nonstop in a day or two each, but I find myself smiling to reread his question the faith advice. It's a good thing he didn't say, "God grant you the spirit of wisdom and revelation that you may know Him better." My father's business associates, who came to his barbecues to whom I cited the Bible under their skin. It turns out Jack Minnis had just finished a dissertation on the Unitarian divine Joseph Stevens Buckminster : a critical study, 1963), whose ideas seem to reecho in his advice. The smashed crystal / deeper sheen seem his own account. Appeals to reason strike me OK but I learned that reading The Inferno (the Humanities curriculum was outstanding) and Machiavelli, and had discovered that I could write sentences to prove a point in such a way as to properly conclude with reason the point, but in fact the reasoning was false. I decided to find another way. So reason had this weakness, it could be fooled, but I chose not to. Reason in the philosophical sense is not recommended for unconscious work in sculpture and paint any more than the ghastly writing of HistoPossum, which open your ears. Tied to  being a good poet or writer I always appreciate Jack's efforts however and the effort evident in his letters, such as the participating and being statement. Much of what he says about religion echoes the Grand Inquisitor scene in the Brothers K. "Night" became the last poem in the Drexel Gargoyle that year, Spring 1964, advised by "dr. jack minnis." I joined the editorial staff for fun, but didn't do any work. Ann was one of the editors. They put my "Corn of Wheat" first, about the death of my brother, along with "Cry Lemon" in the middle, a poem out of Limon, Costa Rica, plus "South of Sanity," a story symbolic of consciousness dislocation. Jack is prescient about making a fast getaway from Costa Rica.  A couple days after he wrote this I was out of there on a midnight flight after the news that my brother had died.


6 May 1963
Dear Andy,

I go your story about Johnny K.[revived here] [and before that, here] which is a bit better than the other one. The big difference between the two is that the first was contrived; the second was not. There was a good deal of humor in it, but a good deal of venom, too. I was especially pleased about the insinuation that certain characteristics of leading politicians are similar to those of cockroaches. I took the liberty to make a few grammatical corrections and turned it in to the creative writing contest. I don't know who the judges are, but I think that has an appeal that will get to almost anyone. I will keep track of the manuscript for you so that it doesn't get lost. Good luck. $50 worth of books would probably be a welcome prize.

Don't rush with the Dostoevsky paper. There is a world of time. The main idea is the reading; the writing is secondary. If you have read him, that is the biggest step. I guess you know that there is going to be a big market for people who know something about business and something about South America. Play all the advantages that this job affords you. You can't tell; you might get a job with the State Department.

We (Drexel) have moved into Commonwealth Hall--the old Red lion warehouse. The Math Department has the entire 3rd floor, finally retreating from that old shack at 33rd and Chestnut. The English Department has the 4th and 5th floors, complete with offices with doors. Probably best of all is the mistake that someone apparently made--there is going to be a lawn on the east of the building The area was obviously meant for a parking lot, but there is grass going in. The mistake may be ever further compounded if they let us sit on the grass. This is expecting much more inefficiency from buildings and grounds than is warranted, however.
Remind someone to tell you about Bus Ad day when you get back. It was very nasty. Estes Kefauver was the speaker, the topic was to be Federal Control of Business, but he spoke about Business Control of Government. To top it off, the head of the board of trustees is the director of a drug firm. We have never had so much excitement since the grain elevator on Market street blew up! Back to theme grading. Write soon and include more stories like "Expressway to the Prickly Pear." Nasty title.
hastily,
 (Dr.) Jack H. Minnis, as of about 2 weeks ago.

19 May
Dear Andy,

1. School begins 24 Jun for enrollment of students; classes start 25 June.
2. I don't know what I'll be teaching--or even if I'll be teaching. We'll probably know on the 24th.
I turned "Night" and "Creation" into the contest. If you win--good; if you don't, nothing lost. I'll be able to get them back after the contest. I will not be much help to you as a critic of your poetry. I'll get Mr. Hollis to look at them; he is a good critic. As far as I can see you had the inspiration, but lack the discipline of a practicing poet (rhyme, rhythm, alliteration etc). Don't worry about Russian novels until you back to Phila. Arrange to keep your face clean, instead. You might also arrange for a fast get away if necessary. So long as man has the ability to use his reason, he will continue to question any religion. It is a part of existence to continue questioning. Your personal faith is a precious thing which like most things of any value needs polishing periodically. Polish it with some serious questioning. Chances are that the result will be a deeper sheen instead of a smashed crystal.

What we have most to dread is that we use our religion as an excuse when refusing to use our reason. There are so many students at Drexel--and elsewhere, too--whose religious belief is such an excuse. This sort of laziness leads only to stagnation. If a religious belief is not strong enough to withstand serious criticism, then it is  probably not a very valuable asset. One thing I think you will  observe as you go along is that more people are devoted to the frills than to what you term "pure Xnty." For those who stress the necessity of being a good Christian and participating in church activities are often more interested in participating than being. Each of us must find some area in which we can be unique, superior. Hopefully, this area is one demanded by society so we can make a living doing what we want. The church is an excellent place for weak people to find fulfillment (it is so easy to be righteous.)  So you are going to find a strange bunch of bed fellows. Do not allow this to dissuade you though. Thee are such people in many fields. And as far as this being a Christ-less century-I think it is more irreligious than any other, bu certainly not void of Christian emphasis. You must not that the hold on morality which the church once had is gone. This makes it seem much more irreligious than it probably is. However, a decrease in the importance of the churches in moral matters doesn't necessarily mean an accompanying drop in belief in Christ. For example, Mr. Bauland, a Jew, probably does more to arouse Christian feeling than any other teacher at Drexel. By blasting without mercy (and often without validity) at the smugness of the church he strips off layers of frill and makes people question their religion--many for the first time. Let them become atheists for a few years; they'll change as soon as the uniqueness wears off. Then they base their belief on something solid. Besides, his life (when people aren't looking) is probably more Christian than 90% of church members! 
Looking forward to seeing you soon.

Jack Minnis 

There is a big gap between Drexel/Tesla/Philadelphia and Texas and the writing of Ameryca with a Y, to be filled in later, preceded here to explore methane intoxication as opposed to well meaning counsels. No doubt other attempts were made to wile me away from these extremities, but the speaking trips with Alex Dunlap, street meetings, pamphleting, evangelizing, bible school at nights, were not known any more than efforts in trying to learn how to pray walking in the park for an hour, extreme correspondence with Catholic priests about the patristics of their faith and other outlandish things interspersed with dangers and deliverance, the sudden appearance of a friend, the eruption of a volcano. It's a good thing it was not known, the Roman Colosseum, Saved From the End of the World.

6. Apropos of well meaning advice, Ruth Lehmann's observations about banal rhyme, the flaw of end stopped rhyme itself, internal sound less, came as I still puzzled the banal occurrences in some of those poems, especially when they  bracketed such unbelievable statements such as the word written in earth's center in the matter of its making, or I bleed with him for he loves the world, or a being light radiant of golden man, divine sonnets written as the end of the Calendar of America for the month of February. The last lines, now my heart is but an aging sack, a baroque amaranth of Milton, made Tom Whitbread guffaw,  for love's gone to the world and won't come back. Never more banal a rhyme than that to contradict the accompanying citation from PL: Immortal Amarant, a flower which once / In Paradise, fast by the Tree of Life / Began to bloom. These untamed suggest a need for antimony to set off the miracle, the antimony being banal rhyme in this case, the happy(?) flaw, although the contradiction could otherwise occur, the point being that there are not going to be perfect lines, but there will be imperfect ones.What poem changed the course of history?

At the end of my sojourn in Austin about 1980 I shoved a fabricated "translation" called The Taliessin Poems, under Ruth Lehmann's door. As a Celt, I thought she would get the drift. Right before leaving Austin I looked her up and met her. I had known her husband Winifred from my days in linguistics, but had turned down an offer to apply for a government grant, a pre DARPA affair. I did not study with Ruth Lehmann, but had taken Science and Imagination in the Renaissance at Iowa with Rosalie Colie and through her studied Marjorie Nicolson, of also with Dorothy Sayers, The Mind and the Maker, so could appreciate what her students  attributed as her influence. After sending Taliessin I then sent a copy of A Calendar of Poems to her, and she returned her own Poems (1977), Celtic to the core, inscribing it to "A. E. Reiff, a man of talent." Although she takes back her criticism of Nightingale, John Lehmann had remarked in a letter about that same poem that even Byron had difficulties with Childe Harold (in Spenserian stanzas) before he got going. Maybe he meant the first five stanzas. I hope. Coop Renner was always good at loping off the head to get to the meat, a good effect, since it is the body we crave and not what you think about it. The first five stanzas were a kind of apology for doing, and an intro to the landscape of hell by way of Beowulf's mere, appropriate maybe for Persephone, but not necessary for the action. I could not give them up. Ruth Lehmann is exact in requiring natural rhyme. She however senses the biblical underpinning of that verse's texture. I take it that her reference to Johnny one-note was a caution, but understated so it could be denied. That's the best criticism after all, to be able to deny you ever said it, and if you did, didn't mean it. But did! I smile to be treated gently, "perhaps it is a wonder Christianity survives at all." I suppose the best response to that would be a kiss.

1 May 1981, Beltain
Dear Mr. Reiff:

Didn't I have your wife in class some years ago? Thank you for letting me see your Taliessin. I think you have a real feel for the music of words and a sense of rhythm--qualities too often lacking in our free-verse present. your use of some of the intricate Provencal schemes shows your daring in your skill.
To keep this from being all praise, I have two suggestions: inversions, distorted syntax her and there are disturbing because so much seems smooth and perfect. I cite one example from "Nightingale," I take it back, I misinterpreted. But there are some "did's" that are unnatural. Your work is too good to have any flaws. The second: though you use assonance and consonance as well as rime, your rimes by and large are banal.
Many of your poems I don't believe anyone could improve on. This is truly excellent work.
Most sincerely yours,  
RP Lehmann

17 May 1981
Dear Andy Reiff:

I have greatly enjoyed your Calendar of Poems. You show great variety of mood, voice, and from. I hope you did mean for me to keep it. In return I'm sending you my own privately printed poems. I particularly liked the early poems, perhaps because they really sing and I had this past year as a student a local poet who could well be Johnny one-note, and seems to consider four-letter words poetry in their own right. H also was stuffed with fundamentalist religion in his youth, has rebelled, and his verse is monotonous without insight or music. Perhaps it is a wonder Christianity survives at all. You ring many bells, waken many thoughts. Whatever you wind up doing for a living, don't give up poetry. The Renaissance undercurrent helps to give your work depth and variety.
Sincerely,
RP Lehmann

Maybe "debunking Christianity' as surveyed in Oliver B. Greene, Rudolph Bultmann, C. S. Lewis, three figures with whom I had to do, serves as a transition. The debunking had to do with their length of life, Bultmann outliving the others by some 30 years supposedly proved theodicy nasty to the fundament, since Bultmann mythologized what they believed and survived. Moths were eating them, I later claimed, and nobody knew what it meant. The argument was that because they died early it disproved their faith, but it is more rhetoric of the kind I avoided in college, masking specious reason as truth, like saying, as has been done, that since the camels at one waterhole lacked  a thousand years of age, no camels could have been watered by Rebekah from the Genesis well. Argument to the man, part for the whole, it never gets much better than that in the mind of debunkers disproving everything from Kierkegaard to Proust.

Since methane concerns the textual underpinnings of inspiration, the Christian ethic could be summed to  extremes without knowing it. Text and nontext, author or none, orthodoxies to the left and right are certain Weimar traits. The Weimar goes back to the 1880's textual higher criticism before it takes a  breath in Weimar. What era is not Weimar? The Renaissance with textures of classical form. The left will say if you think we're bad just look at the right, a creation of the left. Fundamentalists caricature themselves, as do charismatics. My mother was offended by the conversions to Billy Sunday in the Wilkins family. They stopped playing cards, she complained. This would be right wing behavior, but the extraordinary psychological effects of Finney's meetings and those digested in the leftish Gilbert Seldes' Stammering Century, plunking the new world mysteries of heaven, animal magnetism, Millerites, and all kinds of ites of the "burnt districts" of revivals, "lunacy and licentiousness" (Seldes,119), is that left or right, Dionysian, Apollonian?  Beyond extreme language by grammaticalists beyond reason, to demo the text, make it no text, Rappites, Chomskyites you don't want to hear, but instead believing your own pop orthodoxies of DNA raising the dead.

7.  Ruth Lehmann was an atheist and Jack Minnis a kind of Unitarian, but Ricardo Foulkes in 1963 was a theologian in a Christian mission, as written in Sky Shadows. I use his Spanish name, but he was called Dick Foulkes, graduate of Julliard, concert pianist, author of El Apocalipsis de San Juan. His letter is of 1968. He writes from Strasbourg where he was defending his dissertation, proposes to meet any number of places. In his avant garde theology class, Bultmann and Co., it was fun to puzzlingly read in Spanish in the Seminary library in the evening. Naturals describes the situation of the intellect vs. faith. Any peasant can believe, but hardly any intellectual can. All the sensational claims made about ancient texts seem to require the epithet, artificial, like artificial intelligence say, vs. organic, contradictory human intelligence. I say that because intelligence divorced from the feeling of being human, as an AI, is a crucial element of gaming outcomes of the Future Institutes, implicated in controls. This is considered here at Artificial Intelligence is a Reptilian Brain Function, not something at all clear in 1963. Do you understand Bultmann or Barthes in the original, let alone in a language you barely know? Ricardo's presentation was enthusiastic, not that I ever got the point of saying such things about a text, spiritualizing it out of existence, let alone the characters in the text. Can theologians handle symbolic speech? Did Renan ever exist? To me the text is given, so get on with life, but as Spender says of the moods of Berlin, German intellectuals accepted an orthodoxy of the Left which influenced "theater, the novel, the cinema and even music and painting" (World On Worlds, 119). These ideas later reduced Ricardo's connection with the Mission, as the Wheaton archives indicate, but I haven't viewed them. Orthodoxies of all kinds exist. The one most urgent today is not political or social, but scientific, what our friend Kurk Wold explores. People in pop get it and produce films and series that counterfeit all the Christian doctrines, the latest being the Resurrection, that starts Sunday, March 9 on netwook TV. The biggest challenge to orthodoxy during my time among the professors of the LAM was the announcement in Inter-Varsity's mag that some of their associates were speaking in tongues. Aside from Marta Cabrera etc. no one at the Mission did this, so I raised it with one of the profs and got a pretty cold shoulder. Among charismatics tongues is as orthodox as Bultmann among liberals, Barthes among the nouveux riche in letters or Melman at the ASU institute for Higher (much higher) Channeling, or total depravity among the Reformed. At the Eagle's Nest speaking in tongues was like saying the Lord's Prayer.

These in opposition are supposed to forge a compromise middle, right? Isn't that just good Hegelian doctrine, analysis to synthesis? Polar opposites? Magnetism. The system comes with these notions so readily they are taken as law. The law of the excluded middle leads to the forced choice middle. Because the two don't get along sanctimony forges a compromise, like two brothers, known only from sketches.


I take none of these points of view. I lived then and there and I live now and here. I was a liberal, a conservative and a radical, all arbitrary. Left and right are like present and past, they keep changing sides. When right is worn out it goes left. The present holds itself morally superior in its blind spots, just like the past did. The "two didn't get along." Complexities in assessing people of the past [Jay or JH or me or Bea, or EAY or Lib or Flo, or Anna] are only important because they show us who we are, not them. If I have both personal and encyclopedic knowledge of these folk, hidden and unhidden, have looked hard at them and myself, what I say must be content neutral, o/w it is prejudice. It is also important to take their rationalizations as credible, not curious or beneath notice. Judging the past as objectionable, children alone in their cups go long and hard on their elders. I take the opposite as true. The elders are a given, with the past. The youth better accept their lives are their choices and stop judging their superiors, in doing so they reveal  too much. The upshot of left and right is embrace.Then the human relation changes. Many forces are aligned to prevent this, taken up somewhat comically, at Training Hege[l]. The whole purpose of polar thought of any kind is human control. We are not a mass of opposites but are made to seem.


Getting to Texas

I read Dostoevsky on that sojourn in Costa Rica straight through, but didn't take up Notes from the Underground until Fayetteville State when teaching Lit II classes. It wasn't mandated but selected to stimulate students to do their own Notes. That class and others in '67 - '68 were populated by what teachers called "black power boys" who scattered themselves about the room, put their feet on desks in front and sat with shades over eyes, hands on crotch. I took to wearing opaque dark glasses as we traveled the underground. Each was to write his or her own Notes from the Underground. I remember one Gregory Savoy, who some years later I visited at his home in D. C., wrote an especially moving version. Many of these students did outstanding work as they dredged their own mines. The A's many received did not sit well with faculty. I also assigned journals in all beginning classes to add up to 5 points to the final grade, depending on how much was written. These were so good we began a column in the school paper of their thoughts, anonymously credited.

This is what happens when you drive your car fast in the direction you go, but not knowing until you are seventy, that life is that way, traveling the Underground. When six of the faculty recruited by federal grants were let go the next year, driving full speed, but only because the application was free, I landed at UT Austin registering for a doctorate.  The best courses there were crashed without registering, Stanley Hall's ballet, Raja Rao, One Becomes Two, Douglass Parker's, Parageography. This is not to speak of hundreds of dreams of caves, holes, caverns never ending that came unbidden all the time. A tutorial with David DeCamp showed Beowulf's travels in the mere to resemble Celtic immram, watery voyages in islands of fire, so he forgave all the other omissions, for I wrote fifty Spenserian stanzas of a love poem of my inamorata in North Wales, evocation of Persephone's return, the poem Nightingale.

But by then I had presided over the bulldozing of the Texas Experimental Drug and Herb Garden, and finishing the doctorate, washed bottles, test tubes and beakers for the Clayton Foundation for Biochemical Research, that is, emptied radioactive xylene as my nose bled down the drains into Barton Creek. The soil of the Drug Garden had been made so deep in humus those three years that the good boys hauled it away to their churches in dump trucks prior to the last demo. By then I had taken up the eroded gullies and ravined watershed of Bandera Creek, hand trucked stone and cement, built barriers to catch dirt, a vocation among persimmons and their cobalt sweet balls, grey bark above agarita, above the aquifer that fed the springs. "Save the Gullies" should be the sign over the underground in front of its shell, before that other, "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate," before hell loses and all the rivers are loosed to cleanse their imaginings. What shame when poets speak of the future? Talk underground revived these enthusiasms, "Twenty Photographs of the Risen Dead,"  "Noah Entered Into the Ark."

I arrived in Phoenix just as the freeways were built out of beeping trucks and landslides of dirt one street behind Willetta, storm drains being put down. I ordered my own dump trucks of dirt laced with gold flecks that children slid down feet first as I did the original Thornburg slag pile.  Houses were bulldozed to bare pavement. Excavation began by flood light at night and all day. Our ringside seats gave us leave to walk the barriers, explore the pits, but not one Hohokam artifact was found, this when the plot of the Kmart at 16th St and Roosevelt  had yielded hundreds. We walked the freeway on Christmas that year over 24th St., had a picnic on the bridge before sliding down the berms with more shale and dirt.

You could say this is why I stand at cemeteries and ask whose grave is this, this one and this, as much as I used to say, but no longer do, "an image out of Spiritus Mundi troubles my sight." No more, for now I know the graves of grandfathers, and reconstruct their lives.  In a year they will bring them up as mummies gone white to bone when Yahweh shouts. I chronicle the graves of the Hereford Cemetery,  write the life of Bishop Mack, see the eyes of Jacob the Elder,  Caleb's delivery of the judgment, David's surrender to life everlasting  in the arms of a girl, Nightingale, Taliesin imagined at Catraeth, last warrior of the being-after, bleeding, who lay on the bloody field. Blood and more life.
I had lived in the Texas hills where scorpions crawled on the ceilings at night. Once at a chess party JCCullen III and I were playing on the concrete floor, a scorpion  crawling on the shirt of his arm.  I studied this scorpion so such that III noticed and flicked it off, which I finished with my huarache, very useful, but stinging will clear the mind.
 Repeated in the changing switches in Coralville, Iowa forty years before, across the street from the tracks and the Iowa river, now, in the night awake at the distant calls of their crossings, the trains sound as welcome as elk at night in the mountains with the sudden skirmishes of porcupines and owls.
Whose name is this, this name and this,
 
  Ricardo Foulkes

 It's a burden to carry light if you think you're lit. If you don't think you're lit, no problem, but a mantle is heavy, a cloak makes warm. Anybody can get excited and mock Baal in the anointing of the moment, but after, what? That is the only place we truly meet, unless it is before takeoff. In the four intervening years since I had known him, but for some letters, I had finished the M.A. at Iowa and taught two years at Fayetteville State. He had completed his doctorate in France. His letter raised contradictions the first time I read it, and still does for its offhanded outside, inside connotations. Negro college it was not called. The gospel though was held by many people at Fayetteville in high regard, except I guess he would say, the black gospel, which is a strain. Nobody took or takes racists for anything but what they are in such communities, to be avoided and resisted. The talk is of the creation of the human and of  black paradigms. Charles Chestnutt lived and worked in Fayetteville. The liberal mind is as much affront as the racist, pretending to empathy, but perpetuating its own stereotypes against fundamentalist tyranny. Just the next stripe over from the racists on the flag of infamy. It is impossible to answer Riccardo's questions, to say what the goals of Black Power are, or were, but I would never refer to Dr. King solely by his last name. All his questions are of the outsider, like a journalist. It would have been as impossible to answer then as it would be now, whether after or before a catastrophe, how do you feel about it? We see the results thirty times over every day. The only response is a finger. There is a letter I wrote to my father about this time that says it that I don't want to air. Come ready to talk, that was what Louie Wright, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library called me in his office for because I might have special knowledge of the route to Central America. His son was about to drive it, 1967, and he wanted to know all about the circumstances I could relate. Then I was dismissed. As to Riccardo's questions no body can or should answer them. Want to know the Gullah? Piney woods? DC streets? Bed Sty? Newark? Those years filled me with compassion and anger. The anger I suppressed. Just about the week of his letter's arrival most of us learned we had been sacked, non renewed. Our plans had been headed for Germany, but taking the summer to reorient, I ended up in Austin at the height of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. He and Irene had not yet pursued the body as a hermeneutic, deconstructing the Biblical androcentric at that time, but that was truly useful to understand.

Strasbourg, May 23
Dear Andy,

You'd be surprised - as I was - at the polysyllabic answers I was forming to your questions in the 1st paragraph of your letter until with relief I came to "I'm kidding." How much you were kidding I didn't know till the 2nd page.
This may have to be forwarded to you - what with paralyzing strikes it may not leave France for a while - but Irene and I want you to know that we'd be so happy to see you-all. Philly, New York, Strasbourg--it adds up, and gets interestinger. Especially this Negro college bit and the polemic paragraph. A North Carolinian was here at the Faculte de Theologie last r. returned to his native Methodist Church and resigned (by request?) afer only a few months. What onearth do they define the gospel as in those Southern churches? If you ask me, the Bible has been 1) buied and 2) ossified in most fundamentalist circles and the trouble is not with the Bible. Your tyrannical Joseph and browbeaten Job come from this literalistic, wooden school of interpretation, just as do "separate but equal" rot and "we've always loved niggers - just a matter of their knowing their place" talk. What are the goals of Black Power?Is there any vitality in the non-violent movement now that King is dead? What differences in outlook have you observed between Northern blacks and Southerns? Come ready to talk.
I have my public defense of the thesis - turned in yesterday - on June 22, then Irene and I break away for 3 wks in Italy without kids. On Mon.. July 15 we'll be back for  2 wks (except for July 22-25, when I'm at a conference in Switzerland) and then's when we'd like for you to come; stay several days if you can stand it. We'll pack and leave for NYork about the 30th. Then Costa Rica about Sept 5. Things are roaring there and we're anxious to share French insights with the more than 60 students.
Hope you can write us into your schedule. please come.
Your friends
Dick and Irene.

If however anybody still wants to know the putative answers to these questions, at least what I would have said had it then been written, here is the introduction to letters to my father of that period that he kept and returned at his death. Yes I have all the letters my sons have written to me. What doting fools we are. Some of these are exceedingly painful outcries. So many contradictions meet at one place and time.

Letters From Fayettenam


“For us, we hope, reason will and should prevail and the killing will stop, and the greed should stop, and the emaciated faces of the hungry children of the world will not scare our hearts anymore, and man will come of age, of real age, and the fear of hidden monster in Apocalypsis or in Inferno will leave us, and truth, cooperation and love will vanish the bipartition, or tripartition of social masses, and we all billioned humankind will breathe here in America and on every corner of the earth the tonic of peace and the serenity of life.”

Augustine Fernandez,  Thoughts About America.


When I first arrived in Fayetteville I stayed at Dinty Moore’s and sat on the veranda with the white folk who run the town so to speak. They wanted to know my business. I told them I was new English faculty at Fayetteville State College. There was interest, but suspicious intent when the gloves came off, but I didn’t get too hurt by them or anybody else. God protects the fool and the lover (who said that), Wordsworth in France during the Revolution, Blake throwing the soldier out of his garden. I don’t know about Milton; there’s a limit to inoculation. Prudence results when the vaccine takes. The little Buddhist out there recognizes that your nature is to become it. I always maintained to my students everybody is a genius. Whenever anybody wanted to be one they turned overnight from a D to B or A. The inner incendiary lights the tails of foxes. That's the opposite of them getting wet. Some students believed in themselves and did marvelous things. Others tattled, temporized and lied. I failed only one those years, Henry Bryant, for openly cheating. He acted like he hadn’t done it, like a child, caught in the act. Like anybody doing anything, I didn’t do it, but I did.


We finished our MAs at Iowa in August 1966 and filed papers through an SNCC related clearing house funded by Rockefeller to staff black colleges in the south. The outcome of this social change program engineered by northern philanthropists was an instant upgrade in faculty rights, because nobody was going to mistreat the entitled without due process. Previously, the president, known as Sundown Jones, would rule you be gone at sundown and you were gone, which he did in fact about 2 weeks after the April 1968 student uprising, her miscarriage, other afflictions and obvious angers, except I organized and filed a protest with the AAUP at the undue process of such late notice, and the college was mildly censured. So you could no longer treat faculty with disrespect. The sun was down.


Those letters from Fayetteville evidence a passionate scouring of America never verbally expressed on site over the course of two sojourns among black people, in Fayetteville and Dallas, the 60s and the 80s, following an equally dispossessing stay in ‘63 in Central America among students from all over Latin America. Those letters to my father, 1963-1986, evidence an openness and trust unusual in itself, confirmed by their having been kept by him all those years and returned at the end of his life, indeed not ever read  until now. The only thing more extraordinary was his reaction, encouragement, instructive to anyone now with grown passionate sons in the field.


Usually the letters take up mundane details and are cordial and appreciative, but one sign of the passion of those years comes from the wife’s mother made in the middle of that time: “what would you do if she had a black baby?” That was a categorical misspeak of prejudice. When we were removed, non renewed after all that had transpired, my friend Charlie Brown, Institutional Director, shared some gossip spread by the departmental ladies. I had ordered porn for the library and published poems in the school paper against football. Every one of those poems was reprehensible, from Volkswagen Pussy to Asphalt Goose. Anger was closing to the surface. Psychoanalysts realize they are an increasing function of pressures in the pot, what Karl Hillie called Fayettenam. You cannot emerge unscathed when you take upon yourself the sins of the world. As to porn, the $10,000 given by the government to upgrade the library was about to lapse, the grant soon to expire, so I passed many afternoons with Books in Print in the library basement filling orders. Naturally I ordered modern literature, not thinking that much of it is pornographic.  That’s where I saw the Charles Chestnutt books, first editions on the discard shelf, near where I was filling in cards. Librarians have a disease of deaccessioning, along with stamping and marking. I took those somewhat bedraggled copies in heavy dialect with me when I left, The Conjure Woman,  Stories of the Color-Line, and mailed them back all carefully wrapped, marked rare, twenty years later! Charles Chestnutt was from Fayetteville, lived there from the age of 9 in 1867 and taught at the college, then a Normal school. He could pass, which ambivalence affected his place of honor and ignominy.


In those years blackness was not the revived joy it is more of today. Indeed the whole effort of the college was to make the students as white as possible in their demeanor, which is what Dr. More said on our first interview, “we want the students to act and think just like you.” I was getting to be a hardened visitor in other realms by then and remember thinking that he was pretty naive if he thought I was the physical image before him. I  had no intention of promoting the white thought and values that were being rejected in my own letters to my father. But Dean More’s point was that turnabout is fair play. In that first interview he almost spat the world Caucasoid at us, several times, and enjoyed it too. I enjoyed even more hearing an anger and frustration of decades given voice in the uvulars and stops, putting the caca back in Caucasoid. He was right, excellence had to be self  generated. We contributed to that in our firing and the subsequent censure even more than in our teaching.


I had had two other possibilities then, a two year fellowship teaching in Chile, which would have seen the deposing of Allende, traded in for the upset of the assassination of Dr. King, and a job at the new Community College of Philadelphia. Jack Minnis, its new English chair, my major prof at Tesla-Drexel, assured me a contract was in the mail, but at the same time Dr. Jones called. I put him off, might have taken the Philly job but the contract never came. Jack had argued with me about going to a southern black college. He said, “you can teach more contemporary black students and help make them leaders right here.” A good argument, if I had wanted to make leaders, but I didn’t. Make yourself.


It was an old and venerable black community in level of being at Fayetteville. I knew Gullah people from SC like Rilly Gaddy, who was my assistant, a fine example of her people, and Archie Johnson, with the army strike force in the Congo at Stanleyville, now Kisangani, during the rescue of the 1600 European hostages in ’64, which action coincided with the death in a plane crash of UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld. Archie had played competitive chess in the air force and placed well in competitions, but could not write an English sentence to satisfy the departmental ladies. We made a deal. He would teach me chess, I would teach him to write. He worked hard too, actually wrote with a Shakespearean syntax and diction. He also gave me tours of the army base, tours of black social life downtown, took me all over Fort Bragg, in the messes, and downtown to the black pool halls where the slouching dudes of Cab Calloway dressed in canary yellow. The times were troubled. One  night in spring ’68 the A&P in Fayetteville burned down. Archie reported this with a whimsy which left open possibilities. Ambiguity is wonderful. I wrote a poem about it, but there is no proof this actually happened. He didn’t want to compromise his leadership by seeming too cozy with a white, so at one meeting he suggested they put out a contract on me. At the time he had been fasting for weeks. I learned this only years later when Halsey and Pearson, two all-City basketball players from Bed Sty came to visit and do some plays Halsey had written. I asked if they had heard from Archie and they were amazed I cared for him since they were there at the call for a hit.


You can get to Fayetteville easily enough. Just follow the army to Fort Bragg, but don’t go down Hay St. Saturday night without even chances of a fight.  11494

 Explanation of the Absolute--Statement of Poetic One tries hard to deny that the events of a life have anything to do with its attitudes. the black revolution, takeover of buildings, Ann's miscarriage, getting fired. These entries are blog try outs sorted here by way of Jack Minnis, Ruth Lehmann, Riccardo Foulkes, pretexts that we cannot know ourselves without the knowledge of others.


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