Do Unto Others…

If we have a representative democracy in this country, that means, or should mean, that elected officials are the representatives of the people – they take our place, and represent our interests and well-being.

One of the most pernicious ideas to gain currency in my lifetime is the notion that there is something inherently corrupting about being an elected official.   Pete Schbarum’s Proposition 140 did immeasurable harm to this state, not only by making it more difficult for California to have a professional, experienced Legislature, but also by gratuitously enhancing the power of the Governor’s office.  ( With a few exceptions, California’s Governors have not been noted for their vision and leadership.)

Instead of running down elected officials and making “politician” a term of obloquy, we should be treating our elected officials with the same respect we ourselves would wish to be treated.  And we should expect them to be skilled professionals, and pay them accordingly.  (Careful academic studies have shown that the most professional legislatures are the most responsive legislatures, contrary to right-wing myth.)

Governance is hard; it is not a job for amateurs, as Arnold Schwartznegger amply demonstrated.

Another French Translation

This is my translation of the famous introduction to the Flowers of Evil, just as I wrote it some twenty years ago.   My goal was to reproduce the rhyme scheme of the original  ( so much easier in French) and to give the English reader a sense of the poet’s overripe imagery.   You can judge for yourself how well I succeeded.

 

TO THE READER
By
CHARLES BAUDELAIRE

Tr. Guy Conner

Drunkenness and error, stinginess and vice
Occupy our spirits and make us sweat.
And we feed on our oh-so-sweet regret
Like beggars nourishing their lice.

Our sins are stubborn; cowardly our regret.
Our vows exact a handsome price.
Our innocence makes the muddy road seem nice,
For we believe that tears can make us cleaner yet.

Satan, the Great Alchemist, from Evil’s bower
Enchants our spirits, makes them still
And the rich metal of our free will
Is vaporized by his magic power.

The Devil holds our puppet strings,
He leads us through the murk and mire
Nearer to Eternal Fire,
And makes us like disgusting things.

Just like the whoremonger who’s paid for the night
To suckle a poor martyred breast,
Our clandestine pleasures are carefully pressed,
Like an orange that has shriveled up tight.

Like a million maggots, swarming and packed tightly,
Our brains are filled with demons, and our breath
Breathes into our lungs that greater Demon, Death,
Flowing like an unseen river, groaning lightly.

If rape and poison, the dagger and the flame
Have not yet embroidered our poor fate,
There is a reason! We hang back and wait.
Our lack of boldness puts our soul to shame.

But among the jackals, panthers, monkeys, lice
The scorpions, vultures, serpents and the ape
The monsters crawling, screeching, howling, mouths agape
The infamous menagerie of our vice,

There is one of them, Oh, foulest and least fair!
Although it neither howls nor makes a fuss,
It gladly makes its environment a muss,
And with a yawn, it sucks up all the air.

Boredom! He smokes his hookah; it is the Mother
Of Dreams. Guillotines descend; his eyes are filled with tears.
You’ve known him, Reader, for, lo, these many years.
Hypocrite Reader! My Look-Alike! My Brother!

A Rock

The following poem was my reaction to the Kent State Shootings in 1970.  It is yet another sonnet ( I seem to have written a lot of them).  If I were writing the poem today, I would make the secret urge line more ambiguous, and I would make the link to Kent State more explicit.  ( The shooters at Kent State were National Guardsmen, not police.)  But on reflection, I think the little verse does a good job of focusing on the right issue.

                     A Rock

A rock – no harmless little thing to throw.
My sister’s hit me once – I have a scar.
Today, an urged-by-anger youth I know
Threw his own rock, not very far.
Not far, but hard and straight, and at a man
In blue, a man who had his job to do.
His job – to put down riots if he can,
Despite his secret urge to kill a few.

And now, the youth lies bloody-red on stone,
And all the satisfaction he had known
When he threw the rock, must ebb away.
Perhaps the man in blue did well, you say.
I say, the picture says what must be said:
One man in blue, the other: glistening red.

Sometimes

Hiking has been one of my favorite activities for most of my life, but this is my only poem to use hiking imagery.

Sometimes

Sometimes,
I come upon you from above,
My muscles aching from the dusty trail,
My throat parched, and my eyes on fire.
And just
As I begin my slow descent,
I hear a gentle rustle, as of
A garment blowing in the breeze.
Warily, I peer over the rocky edge.
There.
You stand behind the surging waterfall,
Each eye a pebble,
Each breast a rock that stops the flow.
Farther in, I catch a glimpse
Of water life.
And when I descend to join you,
And when I remove my boots, my pack, my clothes,
And stand exposed,
You remain in hiding.
And I think:
Why must there always be
This vale of water and mist,
Coming between  us?

Another Autobiographical Poem – Beaumont, 1953

Although I have lived in California most of my life, I was born in Beaumont, Texas, and I lived in the Deep South until I was 12.  It was still the Jim Crow era in the South in those days, and many white people bore their prejudice like a badge of honor.   I was fortunate to have very enlightened and completely unprejudiced parents, who shielded me from most of the unpleasantness.  This poem is about what happened when I got old enough to walk to the neighborhood grocery store  (Weingarten’s) by myself.

 

Beaumont, 1953

A nickel to spend at the store,
And permission to go by myself.
A wave of her hand at the door,
And I was off to the grocery store
With a sense of inventing myself.

I skipped every crack in the walk,
Which was paved to match up with my stride,
Turning right at the corner: a block
With two dentists, a vet and a doc,
And a gully where crawfish would hide.

Then on to the place where I shop,
(Now that I do it myself.)
To purchase a bottle of pop,
And wander the aisles till I drop,
And see what there is on the shelf.

I’m thirsty, so naturally, I
Climb up to the fountain to drink.
The steps are a little bit high,
But my throat is most awfully dry,
And I really need something to drink.

The manager’s face gets quite red,
And he shouts with all of his might:
“Hey, kid, can’t you read what it said?”
At the base of the fountain, I read:
“Colored,” which didn’t mean “White.”

I ran all the way home from the store,
With a sense of original sin,
And a nickel to spend at the store,
And afraid to go back to the store,
And afraid of the evil within.