Acting Locally

From time to time, people who know how interested in politics I am ask me if I watch the Presidential debates.  I always reply: “No, I’m not interested,” and try to change the subject.

But why don’t I want to watch?  There’s plenty of drama.  Donald Trump talks about whatever comes into his head, without a trace of a normal person’s filter.   He gets the most attention, but there’s lot’s more – Ted  Cruz, smarmy and smug, but obviously intelligent. There’s Ben Carson, who seems to be running in order to sell his books.  There’s Bernie Sanders, challenging us all to have a better vision of what’s politically possible. And finally, there’s Hilary Clinton, brimming with competence,  but oddly uninspiring.

All in all, the story line for the Republican and Democratic nominations is as intriguing as any I can remember.  but I have never felt the urge to watch a single debate.  Part of the reason is that social media gives me the highlights almost as soon as they happen;  I don’t really need to sit passively in front of a television screen.  But a more important reason is that there is virtually nothing I can do to influence the outcome.  At the moment , I am deeply engaged in the race for an important local office – the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.  I am supporting a candidate I believe in.  I know that by involving myself in the race, I can make a difference, and I get a great deal of satisfaction, from knowing that.  I’m sorry to say that, for the moment, I’ve lost all sense that involvement in national politics can matter.  I’m sure that as 2016 moves along, that will change.  But for now,  I’m thinking locally and acting locally.

 

Reality Show Politics

Today, a friend asked me why I never seem to want to talk about national politics.  Anyone who knows me is aware of my willingness to discuss politics in general, and state and local politics in particular.  So why do I avoid talking about national politics?

I thought about it for a while, and replied that national politics didn’t feel like real politics to me — it was more like watching a reality show.  The kind of politics I like is about people; about understanding their needs and about representing their interests.  It’s about listening; not about showing off.

A reality show is different from a documentary; the focus is on drama and personal conflict, rather than on education.  In a similar fashion, a national political campaign today is different from a local grass-roots political campaign; the focus is on drama and personal conflict (not to mention name-calling), rather than on getting to know all the residents of a district and understanding their needs.

To be fair, a certain amouat of hyperbole and name-calling has always been a part of national political campaigns since the founding of this country.  For example, Abraham Lincoln was called a “gorilla”, an “idiot”, and a “coward” during the 1864 campaign.  But we used also to have a tradition of statesmanship.  In 1944, FDR and Wendell Wilkie seriously discussed forming a national unity government, on the premise that uniting to win the war was more important than partisan politics.  We also used to have a tradition of putting the interests of the country above the interests of getting elected.  A good case can be made that George H. W. Bush was denied reelection in 1992 because of his decision to support new taxes that he felt the country needed.

When I look at the kind of national political campaign we have as 2016 approaches, I am reminded of the stages of my reaction when I discovered that there was a reality show  called “Dating Naked.”  My first reaction was: “this has to be a joke.”

Then I realized it was serious, and I wept for the country.

The Cage

The following verse is from 1969.  As is the case with many of the pieces I wrote at that time, I have no memory of composing it.   It seemed to spring, fully-written, into my mind.   I think is is a reflection of my state of mind at that time, which was that the loneliness I felt was a hopeless condition.

 

The Cage

The floor is made of matted straw —
Enough to make his blisters raw,
Enough to make a catch-as-can
Pallet for a weary man.
At each new  dimming of the light,
Begins a wakeful-watching night.
He gazes at the distant stars,
Checkered through the criss-cross bars.
His face seems old, or maybe tired,
The spark of youth long since expired.
He’s dressed in ragged, khaki shorts —
Large holes expose his nether parts.

Tonight, a woman with a pin
Tries to pick-lock her way in.
From her, a sharp, triumphant shout —
And, suddenly the gate swings out
The man runs out, and pulls up short,
A sudden wrenching at his heart,
He’d better take it stage-by-stage,
His only home has been a cage.

He squints at his new and larger room,
And makes out nothing in the gloom,
Nothing but a dreary night,
Somehow the outside isn’t right.
Is he free?  Or trapped? Or who can tell?
He looks back at  his former cell,
And slowly, seeming satisfied,
The woman locks herself inside.

 

The Next Phase of My Life

I’m in the mood for a short poem today:

The Next Phase of my Life
a haiku

My body feels like a sponge;
Void of all content,
Alert, and primed to absorb.

Why I Love Darkness

A short while ago,  I promised deeper poems.  What follows is a second poem about my mother and what it was like when alcohol took over her life.   It is also about my relationship with my father, but more on that later…

 

Why I Love Darkness

Memories
Are not backlit;
Like fretful flies,
They dodge and flit,
Before they settle in the mind.

Memories
Are not a choice;
Like poetry,
They give a voice
To wounds that fester and endure.

1960:
Standing on the lawn that morning,
The grass I mowed and left behind,
The little swathes I failed to cut.

Our living room:
My father sleeping by the fire.
Ten o’clock, a ringing phone,
Stunned surprise.

The kitchen, by the phone:
My father’s eyes,
Beggar’s eyes.
Get dressed, he says;
Just go next door.

Our neighbor’s house:
My mother, barely clothed,
Sitting on the neighbor’s chair,
Chatting like a party host.

Our front lawn:
Supporting her,
Her feet as useless
As her brain.
Falling halfway,
Coming up covered
With brownish blades.

In the hallway:
My father standing silently,
My mother comatose,
My sister crying softly.

Our living room:
The dirty rug.
The dying fire.
The ashtray with its sickly smell.
I stand alone.
After a while,
I go round
And pull down every shade.