Synchronized Chaos September 2019: True Character Revealed

Announcements: I will be away during September so in lieu of putting together the normal October issue we will post writing and book reviews from our literary colleagues Desiree Duffy (Black Chateau Publicity), Gini Scott, Kristina Marie Darling (Penelope Productions) and others.

Also, in January 2020 we will have a special themed issue with the theme of ‘Philosophy,’ curated by our guest editor and Synch Chaos colleague and thought leader Kahlil Crawford. So please begin thinking of work that you might like to submit for that issue!

Now, for September 2019’s issue, True Character Revealed. It’s been said that crises don’t develop our character so much as reveal it. And often, long stretches of ordinary life can do the same.

The ‘Eye of God’ Nebula

In her monthly Book Periscope column, Elizabeth Hughes reviews one title, Rajesh Naiksatam’s The Cloudburst, that focuses on teens from varying backgrounds surviving a flood together. The other books in her column illustrate another way that we show who we really are: in the day-to-day choices that we make. Vasvi Pande’s Krista the Superhero and The Girl with the Pink Crayon and Paul Trittin’s Jacobus: A Eunuch’s Faith present protagonists who build and reveal character throughout lifetimes of decisions and experiences.

Some protagonists need to see themselves more realistically, or at least take themselves less seriously. Daniel De Culla humorously posits a ‘spitting poet’ who believes he’s known for his wonderful verse recitations when in fact, it’s his habit of expectoration that gets people’s attention.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan writes of imposters, characters who play roles or get mistaken for others in often humorous ways. 

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal writes of our human weaknesses: trouble sleeping, confusion, only being able to accomplish so much. Damion Hamilton’s speakers are caught in uncomfortable situations not of their own making: profiled and falsely accused of crime, stuck in a line behind a broken cash register and angry customers. Sometimes they respond with understandable shock and sorrow, other times, as with the cashier, they rise to the occasion in memorable ways.

Abigail George raises awareness of the threats violent gangs pose to the youth of South Africa, while Robert Ragan draws upon ghostly, unearthly metaphors to describe a life lost in the waking death of addiction. J.J. Campbell writes of resignation to loneliness and an unfriendly world, illustrating the long shadows that childhood abuse and early heartbreak can have on a life.

In a more uplifting context, Michael Robinson describes elderly residents of a nursing home where he recently stayed while recovering from a medical crisis. His poetry humanizes the residents, rendering them as individuals.

Ernest Hilbert, whose latest collection Last One Out gets reviewed here by Christopher Bernard, uses form and elegance of language to recollect and consider moments he spent with his father and grandfather, and now his wife and young son. As with many great poets, the way Hilbert describes these moments, the language used, reflects the subjects’ character.

Bones of hands making the sign of love

Norman J. Olson critiques the ‘true character’ of the art world, which in his view often rewards businesspeople much more than the actual creators of the poetry, prose, music, film or performing arts pieces. Meanwhile, James Goss urges creators to master their craft and develop fresh ideas for its own sake.

Actor Federico Wardal lends insight into the process of how an actor embodies a character and how a director and scriptwriter envision and create one. His collaboration with Federico Fellini continues to inspire him to this day.

Mr. Ben reminds us to judge potential romantic partners by their current actions, rather than by our hopes for them. After all, it is our actions, attitudes and choices that reveal our character.

Mahbub writes of various positions where we find ourselves in life: victory and defeat, joy and grief. Yet, a true love can remain constant throughout our journeying. He also reviews Rajesh Naiksatam’s novel The Cloudburst, pointing out the social injustice exposed when different classes of society are forced to interact and see each other’s experiences. The novel illuminates how, no matter what groups and classes we belong to, we all share a common impetus towards survival.

Indian Navy flood relief efforts during 2015’s floods in Chennai

Enjoy Synchronized Chaos’ September issue, and we hope that it reveals a plethora of insights.

Poetry from Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

Plain Human

Where is the rest?

I have to do so much

like the energizer bunny

but I’m plain human.

 

I’m being asked

to bang that drum all night,

burn the candle at each end,

but I’m plain human.

 

I got tired arms.

I got tired legs.

This heart beats fast.

This poor head spins.

 

Where is tomorrow?

It seems to be here

sooner than later.

I’m plain tired.

 

Where is that bed

to lay my pillow to rest?

I sleep wide awake.

I’m plain tired.

 

I got tired arms.

I got tired legs.

I just need rest

to be myself again.

 

April Fools

April fools,

all day long.

April fools,

every day.

 

The hot August heat

knows it full well.

April fools into

September and October.

 

April fools

on Halloween.

April fools

on Turkey Day.

 

Nothing seems real.

We are on

joke alert with

each passing day.

 

It is surreal.

I can’t tell

the difference

with alternative facts.

 

Taking Note

My ear takes note

of the night voices

that do not tire

even as I hide below

the sheets.  I could

cut the ear off, but

I am no Van Gogh.

The silent flowers

drown in the sun.

My ear feels the heat

of the sun and hears

its sizzle. The sound

is deafening.

Essay from Abigail George

“Boy,16, arrested in gangland killing, gang member condemned to life
in prison, South African gang film “Four Corners”, the Northern Areas of
the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa, and the Numbers Gang: South
Africa’s biggest gang” by Abigail George

We are being erased into the background as if we are extras on a film
set. We must begin to communicate the threads of the entire rape of a
near wasted generation. Wasted by tik and marijuana. If they are not
wise (where do they get the wisdom from), if they do not have the
courage to pray and to change the circumstances that they are living
in (if they were not taught those values) what will happen to the
mulatto a century from now?

Coloured street gangs do believe in cultural unity. They call the gang
a brotherhood. They call the brotherhood a family. Blood is thicker
than water. These are dangerous life studies. There is a life science
but little literature on what the promulgation of the Group Areas Act,
the history of apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa has had on
stories, on investment in, on the self-discovery of the mulatto. He is
not White. He is not Black. It is too late to develop positive
Coloured youth because they are so far removed from the fabric that
makes up the modern world, and that marks them with the psychological
framework of the experiment of a pilgrim because in a way we are all
pilgrims. We are all searching for something that will intoxicate us
with life.

We want to see all living things, all animals with their own intuition
and sensibility. Not crime or criminal tendencies. Not addictions.
Addictions to sex, pornography, drugs and alcoholism. The girls are
sex machines bringing children into the world when they are hardly
equipped to deal with family life or raising children with echoes of
values and norms. Belief systems.

Not only do they exhibit psychopathic tendencies, but they also
display a racial tendency towards Black youth and Black women. Black
people in general. It is really destruction amongst these
self-saboteurs at its most basic level. The grassroots level. The only
people who will survive are the middle classes. The elite. The
educated. If you fit into any one of those classes then you are home
free in a sense. Home is a dirty secret but it makes the gangster
saintly amongst his peers. Coloured youth are on a mission to destroy
themselves, their families, the people that they love, admire,
worship. They are even on a mission to kill, to maim to murder. This
is no ghost story.

There have always been gangs. That is simply nothing new.
Heartbreaking stories of utter abuse at the hands of adults who in
retrospect had to devote themselves to family life and their children
but there have also been Coloured men and woman, great thinkers,
leading intellectuals who are now fostering innovative theories about
families who live in poverty. Theories about sexuality. Spiritual
poverty.

In the end, at some point in our lives we all experienced racism. We
were all on the receiving end of it or we gave it out. If you are an
educated mulatto you have got it made in a sense. You can be
philanthropic in your endeavours. You can help those who cannot help
themselves. If we lived in a perfect world everybody would have the
same opportunities, the same choices, challenges, obstacles facing
them, decisions to be made no matter what the colour of their skin
was, the same education (does this mean that everyone would be
educated and brilliant. Intelligent and lucky.)

Opening up the Pandora’s Box of the drug addict and all you will come
to witness is nothing but a skeleton fused with self-portraits of
self-hatred, selfishness and ego wasting away. Looking nothing at all
like their real age. Unfortunately, we live in a permissive society.
It is a society that gives us the go ahead or the permission if you
will to go ahead and do anything with your life.

The world will never get sick of prettiness. Men will never get tired
of it like they get tired of gender and class taking over the world or
being lectured on it. Men never get tired of taking the inexperienced
virgin to bed. That love-affair. I say this again. That there is an
invisible press out there. An invisible propaganda. Visionaries who
have and will always show us the right way. Entertainment has and will
always show us the wrong way.

I do not understand the sexuality of young girls. How they promote
themselves in the workplace. The relationships they have with older
male figures, father figures. It is as if they draw up a sacred
contract. The man has all the common sense. The girl dreams and
meditates of her prince. In the end everything is outweighed,
destroyed and the girl returns to her mother in the heartland of the
city she found herself in months before. If there is a baby in the
works, she will give birth to the baby and fall in love with the child
to the extent that she will keep it, raise it. But does she have the
oomph? Does she have the will and the drive to raise a child on her
own or will she succumb to silence, to isolation and to rejection from
her peers? Despair, hardship, loneliness?

She was not the wise one in the relationship but it will be months
before she realises this. It was the man with all of his common sense
who was the wise one and who knew how things in the end would
naturally turn out. The mulatto girl has a disembodied frame but she
will with an intensity raise her child. Her problems will become part
of the child’s consciousness and something usually will be deformed.
Mannerisms will be abnormal as the child grows older if there is no
father figure. Etiquette will be a castle in the sky. The boy will
grow up to be a rough through no fault of his own. It once again
depends on the mothering, on the family structure. If there is a
close-knit family structure. A nuclear family or a blended family of
half-brothers and half-sisters and a stepfamily perhaps the child will
be saved. Perhaps.

After the uprising of the riots in the Northern Areas where shops were
looted and badly damaged. When people lost their lives, family
members, businesses nobody was discriminated against in the Coloured
sub-economic areas. Was there a Third Force involved as people would
like us to be inclined to be believed? Was the special branch
involved? These are facts that ordinary people will never know.
The Democratic Alliance has a foothold in the Eastern Cape now which is
now one of the worst off provinces in South Africa. If you want to
believe that violence and murder was the order of the day those days
of the riots then violence and murder, looting was the order of the
day. I see the territory on the fringe that is before me. The
districts. The suburbs. The life and times of the elite who live
behind their high walls, their electric fences, their security fences
and dogs in White suburbia. It comes to me in heightened frequencies.
Violence is reality in post-apartheid South Africa but it is also
surreal. It is also a hallucination in Technicolor.

Otherwise violence is an excellent metamorphosis when studied
alongside individuals who committed themselves against fighting in the
struggle against apartheid. I cannot give it all up to my imagination
anymore. I must believe like Anne Frank that there is some good in
people and some bad but that there is good in them also. There was a
death, many deaths and bodies lying in the street. I cannot account
for the names and the faces that have crossed over to the hereafter.
We cannot all be monks and nuns. Violence tends to disrupt the order
in society, cause maladjusted behaviour, in the end what is its
purpose, what meaning does it give life?

In this world, like I have said before we cannot all be monks and nuns
but we can write. We can write poetry about the horrors of life, how
terrifying it still is to live in a racist post-apartheid South
Africa. If we write we can diminish and erase somewhat of the melody
and the blankness of the ultra-violence of the minor earth and the
major sky. We will never forget about burying the bodies of the men
and women who lost their lives in the riots like we can never forget
the struggle. The camps in Tanzania. Conversations and moods are
spiritual and bipolar in a sense when people talk about old-fashioned
days. We are haunted by those days. We want to relive them because for
us there was some vitality at flying solo before marrying, before the
school lessons and homework of children, the milk of human kindness
and tenderness.

Now I am reminded of Leo Tolstoy finding the kingdom of God within
himself, writing his letters to Ghandi, writing his confessions and
finally finding peace within himself. I am also reminded of Hemingway,
the writer driving ambulances during the war. River Phoenix, the actor
stumbling out of a club in the early hours of the morning, blinded by
alcohol, his veins pumped full of barbiturates. He later died of a
drug overdose. F. Scot Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby drinking bourbon.

Virginia Woolf’s waves, Lily Briscoe, and Mrs Ramsay. You may ask
yourself what does Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford, Venus and Serena
Williams, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Jean Rhys, Ford Maddox Ford have to
do with gangs and gangsters. Ganglands and guns going off in the
middle of the night. They make me forget. They make me forget about
the children I will never have, that I have not picked up a racket in
over ten summers.

They remind me that there is truth and beauty and in the final
analysis that there will always be room for psychoanalysis in the
world.

Short story from Robert Ragan

Author Robert Ragan

Fickle

She denounced the darkness and ever since Kristen has been on edge, the type to turn on everyone.

Her buddy, Brad, messages to ask about some loud smoke and as if she were a decent person. Kristen warned him not to call her phone asking about dope anymore. He brushes his dreadlocks away from his eyes with tarnished rings around his fingers. Brad looks at his phone like who the fuck does this bitch think she is?

Kristen was never decent, a two-faced wave rider. It was rumored that she literally sold her soul to the devil for crack cocaine. So the murder she was rumored to be a part of could have been a blood sacrifice. All jokes aside, she was a piece of shit for a person. But like clockwork every couple of months she swears she’s about to change her ways and give her life to the Lord.

Her brittle hair has been dyed black to death. A look of mild retardation in her eyes should tell anyone not to take her seriously. Yet, those brown eyes received so many compliments. Those full of shit brown eyes break so many hearts. The hearts of lovesick weaklings dreaming of tradition with someone who always worships the latest fad.

Kristen likes to tell people she’s haunted. Always some ghost who wouldn’t be caught dead in her flea-ridden shack. During these times she believes in nonsense but ask her about God and she’ll say He doesn’t exist. Then catch her in a month or two shouting out Amen and Hallelujah. Maybe falling out cold as a preacher touches her forehead in a Pentecostal Church.

Recently, Brad and a few of her other friends have been talking. Apparently they’re worried about Kristen, saying, “She’s been acting more strange than usual.”

A longtime friend of hers, named Tracy, tells Brad and their buddy, Tim, how Kristen has been slicing her arms with razor blades again. Tim throws his hands up shaking his head he says to Brad, “Remember the bitch telling me I was stupid for burning myself with cigarettes?”

Brad looks in his eyes and says, “You were stupid for doing that.” Then turning to Tracy, he looks her up and down from her light blonde hair to her toe nails painted bright pink. The three of them have been friends with Kristen ever since high school, where the four of them were branded as outcasts.

Looking at Tracy now you would never expect her to hang out with any of them.

Tim tosses back his own locks, forever trying to keep up with Brad; he plans on getting dreads too. Taking drags off a blunt he says, “Last I heard Kristen was shacking up with some convict fresh off the yard.” Smirking Brad says, “That lasted about a month, she called and told me dude tried to strangle her.”

Tracy’s eyes glow devious as they glance from Brad to Tim. Shrugging, her tanned shoulders revealed by a yellow tank top she says, “You know Kristen probably told him to choke her while they fucked.”

Pulling his dreads back in a ponytail, Brad then lights a cigarette. Exhaling smoke through his nostrils he says, “Last time I talked to her she was begging me to find some crack, ice…anything.”

Tracy, with a voice of judgement says, “Don’t tell me you went and found the shit for her.” Snapping back quick Brad answers, “Hell no! I told her to fuck off. I said it because the time before that she told me not to ever call her phone about dope anymore and I was just looking for weed.”

These friends part ways. Each of them are saddened by the way Kristen’s life turned out. Suffering from bipolar disorder ruined her destiny. They would all like to help her but the older Kristen gets the worse she loses her mind and now she won’t accept their help. On her spiritual kick only God can save her. Back sliding into damnation only the dope man can save her.

When her brain is frozen it usually makes the ghosts go away. But just the other night, Kristen saw the mouth of the Abyss open wide and swallow all those Spirits whole. Afterwards a calm voice followed telling her to find the skull with her fingers. Visions of her pulling, stretching, and eventually ripping off her own eyelids flashed in her mind faster than sharp lightning. Blood filled her eyes running over on her puffy cheeks.

She screamed and came to in front of the mirror pulling and stretching her eyelids. Thankfully, she stopped before ripping them all the way off.

Her mind has always been a home for evil. Well now she knows her thoughts are playing for keeps. It’s the worst time of her life and she has no friends or family to rely on. During brief moments of clarity, Kristen realizes she pushed them all away. Most times, she’s forgotten about it and cries their name as her tormentors prevail.

Just the other night she woke up unable to move. Looking down, she sees her body is covered with large black spiders. As she screams, one of them crawled in her mouth and began forcing its way down her throat.

In the corner of her bedroom shadows dance on the wall. Pleased by Kristen’s agony, they’ve destroyed great lives but here they only toy with the useless. She invited them in and this time they won’t leave.

The razor blades in toxic images shred all the way to her bones. Kristen feels compelled to face her own skeleton, take a tour of the prison that was her. Thankfully, the actual cuts never reach a vein. If duct tape doesn’t hold it together, it’s the afterlife or the crazy house.

All of her friends talk shit about her. Too weak to follow along the path they were blessed with, she carries on an ancient curse. It lives in her blood, bashing Kristen with her own bones. And she’s terrified of meeting the skull powered by the shadows.


Robert Ragan from Lillington, NC lives his life for art and writing. He has stories and poetry online at Vext Magazine, Outlaw Poetry, The Dope Fiend Daily, The Rye Whiskey Review, Drinkers Only, Under The Bleachers, Cajun Mutt Press, Punk Noir Magazine, Synchronized Chaos, Terror House Magazine, and Rust Belt Review, Horror Sleeze Trash. Alien Buddha Press has published his short story collection Mannequin Legs and Other Tales. 

Christopher Bernard reviews Ernest Hilbert’s poetry collection Last One Out

FATHERS AND SONS

Last One Out

Poems by Ernest Hilbert

Measure Press

Poet Ernest Hilbert, photo by Daniel Mitchell

One of the peculiar benefits of “postmodernism” (a misleading term, as we never left modernity; if anything, are deeper in it than ever) has been that the modernist wars between “free” and “closed” verse have become increasingly irrelevant. “Closed verse” took a beating under the onslaughts of the Poundians, “projective” versifiers, Beats, confessional poets, “language” poets, etc., till the inevitable conservative backlash. Now there seems to be an uneasy truce between ageing surrealists, the conversational poets of the Midwest (enshrined in Iowa), and the classicists of the East, with an archipelago of individualists, eccentrics, and eclectics, who like to pretend, at least, that, by picking and choosing at poetry’s magnanimous banquet, and disdaining purity and puritanism, they enjoy the best of all poetries.

There has been a resurgence of interest, among practitioners at least, in the classical forms of English verse: sonnet, villanelle, sestina, blank verse, and the like, wed to grammatical exactness, logical complexity, strict metrics, and deep metaphor. The younger generation works in the tradition of the late Anthony Hecht, Richard Wilbur, and X. J. Kennedy; some of their better known modern-day exponents include Dana Gioia and Marion Montgomery.

Ernest Hilbert is rapidly becoming, for this reader, one of the most accomplished of these poets, with a wealth of imagination wedded to honesty of insight, integrity of vision, respect for form, and delight in the harmonies of language (including a strong appreciation for the Anglo-Saxon roots of English prosody that subtly inflects his own practices) that is second to none. His latest book, his fourth major collection, establishes him, I believe, as one of our leading poets. Reading him is not a little like the following lines about a hot summer day in downtown Philadelphia:

Stores prop open doors to lure in buyers:

Banks of icy air waft out in columns,

And I cross through one and nearly shiver.

 

As I emerge again to warmth,

I remember swimming in cedar lakes

That flashed like dirty tin in summer.

 

His new book is deeply retrospective. It begins with poems about himself as son and grandson, with a poem (titled, only half ironically, “Welcome to all the Pleasures”) about his grandfather “teaching” him to swim:

He hoisted me in summer air,

Spun me out over

 

The sluggish murk and let go.

I swear the river had no bottom.

 

This surge of terror and pleasure enwrapped ecstatically, with just enough of a gap between them for perception to piece through, as one is tossed into being out of oblivion, is captured more than once in these poems.

From Grandpa’s brutal lesson in confronting life, we are soon in the bright presence of Hilbert’s father practicing on the local church organ:

His eyeglasses lit from the bulb,

Bearded, he eased his bulk onto the bench,

Rifling folders of music in manuscript.

 

The huge organ rumbled in chorales,

Roared enormous chords, stopping midway

Through a passage, consigning a long resonance

 

From transept into the beamed vault of the nave . . .

 

while the young Ernest:

. . . explored while he scribbled notes on the sheets,

At times a subtle oath or cheerful “ha!”

While working on his Bach transcriptions.

. . .

Never before would I have been so low

To the floor and childlike, not at services

With the adults. It felt like a discovery.

 

The discoveries open into a lifetime.

 

One of the book’s finest poems is the climactic one in this deeply personal visit to his past contained in the book’s earliest section: “Great Bay Estuary,” set in the present but reliving similar boat trips with his father decades before:

Chuckling gulls luft up to swipe and hang

In muggy air over the riverside’s

Deadfall—jagged white as a splintered ice-flow.

A tern goes and returns like a boomerang

Across the scene.

 

In the poems that follow, we engage with neighborhoods in the poet’s home city and visits to the Chelsea Hotel in New York City:

We made love here,

Face down in summer

 

River for hours,

Pulled toward

 

Softening surf

Of a warmer ocean.

 

Snow-rigged galleons

Of cloud curl apart

 

Far above the city.

They perish and astound.

 

Then onward to the jazzing streets of New Orleans; to a glacier he bracingly clambers up; to the Sinai peninsula and a graveyard of blasted military vehicles, where:

The tank’s heavy as a dune,

Its patina matured to match the neighboring rocks . . .

 

Another has lost its turtle-like turret,

A hollow half-shell, dish for rare rainfall,

And one last, at an angle to the rest,

 

Its glacis plate sunk in sand, probing smoothbore

Angled down, as if to acknowledge

A long-ago blow and loss, and bows forever.

 

To Leningrad, and Shostakovich’s browbeating Seventh Symphony; to London and an antiquarian bookseller’s meeting, where:

Lord Markham appears to doze, looks drowsily

From his marble recess to Bayswater

And the Serpentine, undaunted, ignored.

 

And a man’s:

. . . voice ebbs in the breeze. Cell phones chirp.

Airliners roar overhead. Pigeons startle themselves.

. . .

His lips move for a while. He gestures dreamily

With his silver prize, his wife looking on,

And the sun burns through marble clouds,

Pools the rims of his glasses with mercury.

 

Woven through these journeys outward are those inward, wayward visits of memory from a squeezed tube of sunscreen (“It dreams like a bay in the humid light / Still promising summers already gone”), to visits of a commonly felt dread, a paranoia of the double-bind that has an uncomfortable basis in contemporary reality many reading this passage are likely to recognize:

You feel as if you’re being stalked

Today and don’t know who to trust.

. . .

           “The system cannot be unlocked.

           Your password has expired and must

           Be changed.” “You must log in with your

           Password in order to make a change.”

 

To the sheer sensuous joys of living, blazons to beer and martinis, and ocean floating:

I float for years, it seems, toes out

Small planes drone down the coast

 

To tow out ads for bars and bands or beer

As proud sea birds screech loud and strut . . .

 

To the oldest avatars of the inescapable past:

 

In the house, at night, I wait for a ghost

To present itself in the creaking halls.

. . .

But no ghost, not yet. When I rise at night

For the bathroom, past the empty spare rooms,

 

I feel a boy’s fingers, faint as snow, on my wrist.

 

Having begun with memories from childhood, of his father and grandfather, the collection ends with the poet as father, beginning with a gentle paean to his wife and ending with celebrations of his young infant son. And son meets son.

I always expect rich, fine gifts from Hilbert, and always get more than I expected. There are few weaknesses: perhaps a tendency to the portentous (there are perhaps one or two too many references to “darkness” and “kings”), and sometimes the gravitas is more than is warranted; the work might be leavened by a lighter, swifter touch here and there. But these are quibbles; one can make the same points about Milton.

Last One Out is elegant and athletic, eloquent and brave, deeply thought and felt; the work of someone who, if we survive, may well become one of our classics. Poems like these helped make me fall in love with poetry when I was a teenager. May they have the same effect on some young reader today.


Christopher Bernard’s fourth collection of poems, The Socialist’s Garden of Verses, will appear in spring 2020. His third novel, Meditations on Love and Catastrophe at The Liars’ Café, will appear in January 2020.

Essay from Norman J. Olson

thoughts on art and the death of my cousin

by: Norman J. Olson

 

on April 2, 2017, which was a Sunday, Mary and I caught a flight from MSP to LAX… we arrived at about 3:30 p.m. I had a rental car reserved, so we picked up the car and headed out on the 105… the car was a brand new Hyundai accent with like 1600 miles on it… it is always fun to get a brand new car when renting… and I have always liked Hyundai cars… we owned one about ten years ago and it was a very nice car… the counter guy tried like they always do to convince me that I needed a bigger car, but, I love small cars… I find them easier to drive and park and they use less gas, which on a driving road trip is sort of a big deal to me…

 

so, we headed east on the 105, north on the 605 and then east again on the 210 until we picked up the 15 north at Rancho Cucamonga and Fontana… then this lovely little car breezed up the mountain, through the Cajon Pass and into Victorville, where we picked up In and Out burgers for the drive… with a quick pit stop at State Line, we made it into Vegas and checked into the California Hotel… I love the drive across the desert and even though we have made it many times, I still love the colors as evening descends and the mountains go from blue to purple and gold… and this time of year, the creosote bush is green so the desert looks very lush in the sunlight with rich black shadows…

we spent two nights at the California and then two more nights at the Orleans Hotel on Tropicana near the strip… we spent a couple of afternoons wandering around some of the big casinos on the Strip first, Mandalay Bay and the next day, the Tropicana and MGM… at the MGM, an audience rating company solicits the gamblers to sit in on cuts from new tv shows and rate what they see… they offer various coupons and in some cases cash for this… we tried to go to one that was offering $50 but we missed that one by a few minutes, but we did sign up for the next one… the way it worked was, we were led by a woman into a room with about twenty small monitors and we each sat in front of one of the monitors… in our hands we had a rating device where we could continuously rate the show we were watching… it was a pretty lame sit-com, so I rated it as pretty crappy all the way… the woman said that the company was just a rating company and had nothing to do with making the actual programs but sent the rating information in statistical form to the production companies that made the shows…

 

also, while we were at the hotel California, a film crew set up across the street from the hotel in a parking lot where they were filming some kind of night scene… they had a big limo set up with all kinds of lights, reflection screens and cameras and sound equipment… there were a few dozen people busy setting up the equipment, checking the sound and lights etc… next to the set, inside the roped off area, they had tables set up with snacks and people who were not busy were grazing at the snack table… somebody asked one of the guards what they were filming and he said they were filming an Izod commercial and we should be careful not to step on the lizard… so, I have no idea what they were actually filming…

 

these two events got me thinking about art and how it exists in modern America… like, there are three players in the art game…   1) the talent – writers, directors, artists, actors, etc… who actually create the art… 2) production staff – in the case of film or tv, people like we saw on the set of the filming event or the people who we interacted with at the tv rating service… these are the people who bring the art to the audience… and 3) of course, the audience… the consumer of the art…

 

in film arts, where there is lots of money passed around and earned, there are lots of people and organizations in the second role, helping the talent make the film and then when the film is made, bringing it to an audience… in fact, there are lots of great stories in rock music about how the talent made a recording that was a hit but the record company got all the money because the band had signed a bad deal… the money comes from the audience but usually goes to the production people who pay the talent more or less depending on “the deal…”

 

so, as a literary press artist and poet, this paradigm applies differently… first there is no money to attract the promoters and fixers who in the case of Hollywood, put the work in a consumable format and present it to the audience in a palatable and profitable way… so, the poet and literary artist are left with the question of how do they get their work to an audience… now that we have the internet, the internet poetry journals are the vehicle of choice for me… the production people are usually poets and artists who are interested enough in their art to put in the hard work of editing and presenting these on line journals, usually at little pecuniary advance to themselves and often enough with the added annoyance of having to deal with poets and artists who think they are god’s gift to the world and are only poor working class shits because their great genius has not yet been discovered… I want to say, “you have been discovered, dude, but you are a poet not a rock star… there is no fame or fortune here, get used to it!!!!”

 

in the case of the fine arts which is to say the visual arts, we get production people who run museums of modern art who seem to feel that their job is not to bring art to the people that the people want and need but rather to give art to the people that will in the opinion of the arts people be good for the audience… fine arts artists are educated to take their place in this conceptual art paradigm and so you get all of the silly shit you see at a place like the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis… which has a small but very rich and influential audience and brings us crap like Damien Hirst’s pickled cows…

 

so, the production people are very important as long as their role is to bring art to the audience because it is that interaction between artist and audience that makes true art possible and valuable in the first place… without that interaction, we have artists sitting in their mother’s basement making art that nobody will ever see or we have the puerile intellectual elitism of Damien Hirst and a public aesthetically bereft to the degree that instead of art, they will attempt to get their aesthetic needs met by stupid sit coms… and the antidote to either situation is an audience that demands quality art, artists who make quality art and production people sensitive both to the needs of the audience and the abilities of the artists…

 

 

well, on Thursday, we left Las Vegas in the morning and drove again across the beautiful desert… coming across the high desert it was magnificent to see the snow covered peaks of Mt. Baldy to the right and Mt. San Gorgonio in the distance on the left… after all of the dry, desert mountains from Las Vegas to Riverside… we spent four days in Riverside with our amazing grandkids….

 

then Sunday night, took the red eye from LAX to MSP… arriving in MSP at about 7 a.m… on March 29, one of my many cousins had died and I had hoped to make it home to attend his funeral at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, April 10, which I was able to do… my cousin’s name was Kurt Youngdahl and he died of a massive heart attack at age 60… his funeral was very sad and moving… my older brother, who has been dead for many years now, and I used to babysit for Kurt and his older brother when we were in our early teens… I remember him as a cheerful kid… I know that he had a troubled life, dealing as so many in our family have, with addiction but that he had been sober for the last 6 years of his life…   and had been able to reconnect with his family in his sobriety… I had seen Kurt at a family gathering last summer and had spoken with him at length… so was sad to hear that he had died… on a personal level, this is certainly a reminder to me that we are all living on borrowed time and that we really have to make the most of these few days and hours that are given to us… so, I am recommitted to be thankful every single day for all of the many blessings I have received and continue to receive… I am unbelievably lucky to have my amazing and wonderful wife, children and grandchildren… and to still at age 69 be making art and living what is hopefully a thoughtful and engaged life…

 

 

 

 

Poetry from Michael Robinson

 

Sky

 

Michael Robinson (right) and fellow contributor Joan Beebe

 

 

Holding you in my arms, keeping you close.

The sky always a trusted place for my spirit,

Always reaching to touch the angel’s wings,

Holding you close to me forever.

 

 

Sadness

 

Sadness there is no sadness between the two of us,

Tears remind me of your smile and warm heart.

There is no sadness between you and me today,

Sadness is our way to hold one another close,

Watering our souls.

 

 

 

Sweetness of Life

 

Like the flowers that sprout up,

So is our love for one another.

Ever-changing, forever growing,

Forever blowing in the wind.

 

 

Bitterness

 

No bitterness as you move on with your life,

There is a sense of resolution between us.

No bitterness between me and the stars,

Angels rejoice while the stars sparkle.

 

 

Time

 

Heaven has no time,

Time passes only in the now.

Heaven does not need time,

We will always have time to love.

 

 

Empty Room

 

The folded sheets were neat across the bed.

Everything was as I remembered in your room.

The nightstand with a vase of flowers,

Holding each heart.

 

 

Words II

 

It was a warm summer evening,

Having what was to be our last conversation.

It was no words nor holding hands,

Just the look in our eyes.

The conversation is still with me,

What story our eyes tell.

 

 

Seldom

 

Seldom did I realize my care for you. Thinking back over the years, it was an unsaid understanding between us. Years passed, and now while you are in a nursing home, suddenly I miss you. My visits remind me of the years we spent sitting at the same table, unable to tell the story of our love. It was seldom that I did not shower you with my feelings. Now when I visit you. I cry all alone in the house.