Huns of Sumac

August 9, 2011

A week or so ago I wrote a poem I called Does Philosophy Matter?  I thought it had only to do with my tomatoes until I read it a few times, then thought it might be talking about more. Here it is with a few comments:

—it’s high summer
wild green thrusts itself
against the bounds
of clipped lawns

…like sumac looming at the edges of my garden sending underground shoots to infiltrate my tomatoes, the barbarians are at the gates. The more-more super-rich are battering the doors of average Americans, buying the justice system, walking congressmen on leashes, scripting the news, taking the economy hostage and generally destroying the gardens of the poor and middle class sucking them dry…

—Huns of sumac
amassed at my garden’s edge
surge toward logical
rows of beets and
ranks of peppers
ignoring the protocol
of invitation

Who invited them in? Was it me? Having become a robot of consumption how can I claim innocence in the dismantling of my own best interests?

I shop Walmart for bargains sending my job to China contributing to the wellbeing of the wealthy and wonder why my standard of living is taking a dive. I elect crooks to congress —or stooges for corporations at least— and wonder why the government is nothing but the legislative arm of the oil and pharmaceutical industries. I pray to the Lord for deliverance as directed by religious collaborators of hedge-fund managers and still things fall apart. Is it possible I’m being manipulated by cons playing the god card —who wouldn’t understand fairness and compassion if it were personally served by Jesus on a silver parable …

—sumac amassed
under the wingspread of a hawk

who is clueless
concerning the theological
knots of Aquinas

In nature, beautiful and sustaining as it is, there’s a dark side, a ruthlessness which in human terms we experience as cold and merciless, so we build systems to counter senseless chaos; to manage it: government, religion, family —whatever gets us through the night as John Lennon said. We contract with each other to keep things orderly —socially, economically, politically. Our various concoctions of philosophies guide us. But now and then we become prisoners of our philosophies and find ourselves serving them rather being being served by them. At such points shysters and crooks step in and, with the help of clueless ideologues, twist and mangle our systems, making a mockery of our arguments for god and justice…

—a hawk who can’t imagine
Anselm’s ontological
argument for god,
who just wheels like
Gump’s feather rising
and falling on whims
of wind scanning for lunch
without thinking I think,
therefore I am, being
without the anguish
of Hamlet’s big question; 
someone whose
knowledge is written in
his cells

For shysters and crooks everything is a potential opportunity to grab more. Orderly systems and philosophies make it difficult for them to ply their trade. Operating under a code outside the social compact they go about their business of stealing and manipulating, cranking and crafting laws to meet their own needs by the influence of their money on politicians and media, instinctively serving their own purposes only.

Still, even shysters and crooks are not immune to the pathologies of certain systems. Though they may cruise through congresses, supreme courts and presidencies upending the social agreements we’ve made with each other, they’re still enmeshed in ecologies they can’t trump. Though they may emit smokescreens of babble through their smoke-stacks of Babel and pollute the gardens of not only vegetables but philosophies, they are choking themselves in the bargain. The shallowness of their understanding is a debt they heap on their own heads as well. Being profoundly stupid is no bar to being profoundly rich.

— a bird snared nevertheless
in the terminal webs
of bi-pedal thinkers who
plumb and mine the shadows
in their heads

Although for some there may seem to be alternates to fairness and justice —and even to truth—  there’s a fixedness to the fabric of our humanity and place in nature nevertheless.  As the English poet John Donne said (and warned)

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

by Jim Culleny
for the Shelburne Falls Independent


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