Friday, September 23, 2011

Another America's Cup Village, Another Flashback

Author's Note: In the news today, California will get another America's Cup Village, this one in San Francisco. I remember a couple of them we've had in San Diego: opaque photo ops miles out to sea, subsidies, corporate schwag, the lull between The Cold War and The War on Terror. Good times. 

I wrote this column for the Times Advocate (R.I.P): "Kiwis to get more than they expect: Curse of America’s Cup goes to New Zealand too" (C2, 5/14/95). With The America’s Cup returning to California, excuse me if I don’t go with the flow. I’ve already been downstream.

SAN DIEGO--The America's Cup is cursed. Look at the carnage around it, businessmen who should have known better: Alan Bond, Raul Gardini, Sir Michael Faye. Now Peter Blake wants a crack at holding the Cup. That's a real challenge.
 The America's Cup was really England's way of getting even with the colonies for The Revolution. After winning the Cup from England, sportsmanship at New York Yacht Club was lost in a fog bank for more than a century. San Diego Yacht Club has done no better.
Few moments define SDYC's stewardship of the America's Cup like the three-way defense deal struck before the Citizen's Defender Finals (Sponsored by Citizen Watches: "With Citizen, you won't run out of time") when the rules would have left Conner watching the America’s Cup on ESPN.

Allowing Conner into the finals only lit the fuse for more mistakes. Usually the captain goes down with the boat. In Conner's case, the captain went down on someone else's boat.

So is the America's Cup a sport or not?

Conner explained the three-way finals like this: ''It's best for the defense and its corporate sponsors, and what's good for the corporate world is good support for the world market if you think it through."

So there it is. The America's Cup is a professional sport with the emphasis on profession. It’s like trickle- down sports: once sponsors get the rules committee to say what they want the rules to say, there will be competition.

Yachtsmen are not the best role models for the nation's youth. Wasn't it Bill Koch who said winning is the most important thing? And Conner himself defined yachting sportsmanship at the victory press conference for the '88 Catamaran's when he hurled the supreme put-down at New Zealand's boat designer: "You're a loser." 
Blake, however, is no loser. He won the Whitbread and met the Jules Verne Challenge to sail around the world in 80 days. Blake is a serious winner. Now he has won big, and big winning has a way of changing people. Sometimes it even helps them.

Not only does he stand taller than most sailors, but Blake also has the reptilian ability to never blink. So from a great height, he seems to look down at and right through people to a brighter day when we won't be here. Blake was allegedly the force who set U.S. hired gun Rod Davis ashore during the challenger's finals for the Cup in '92. The mood around Team New Zealand's compound has been described as "darkly militaristic." (This was the sailing syndicate that took a Navy SEAL reservist into custody in Coronado for taking underwater pictures of its boat’s keel.)

And now he's going on the offensive. Consider Dennis Conner. Ever since winning the America’s Cup from Australia in 1987, Conner has hucked, shucked and liquidated so many pieces of himself that he fell apart like the U.S.S.R. In order to save his life, he had to lose the America's Cup. Look at Conner's tenure with Diet Pepsi. Most diet products want spokesperson who loses rather than gains weight. Conner may have talent for knowing which way the wind blows, but the product the man is most qualified to represent is health care insurance.

Now, by losing the Cup, the U.S. can finally get even with Nuclear Free New Zealand for not allowing our nukes in their harbors. The America's Cup is like a neutron bomb that punches microscopic holes in the poise of whoever holds it, leaving only the hulking human remains of men behind.
Although New Zealand has the Cup, the real sport has only just begun: can Blake hold onto the America's Cup and his dignity at the same time?

Postscript: In 2001, Sir Peter Blake was killed during a gun battle with pirates who had boarded his boat in the Amazon delta off Brazil. In 1995, winning at any cost seemed to be the greatest threat to the “dignity” of America’s Cup challengers and defenders. Although Blake surprised the pirates and shot one of them first, his gun then malfunctioned.        

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Reading Rumi & Faiz @ Carlsbad Library

For four years a circle of about a half dozen poets have celebrated National Poetry Month with a reading of mystic poets at the Georgina Cole Library in Carlsbad. Poetry from Dickinson, Neruda and Hafiz have been featured every year, making National Poetry Month international.
with along with Rumi, the Persian poet.
    This year, the poet Rumi will be featured. I'm blessed to read his “The Grave Is a Veil,” which considers the human beyond life. The impulse to imagine beyond the physical is perhaps the essence of mystic poetry. It isn’t about knowing but believing there is something to know. One of Rumi's metaphors is that existence is like the sun: just because it can’t be seen after what we call “setting,” the sun goes on; dawn will be a “reunion,” Rumi tells us. Rumi uses The Old Testament story of Joseph being cast into the well as an example of negation of the self that leads to a fuller understanding of the total self. Although the poem is in translation, the evocation of “nowhere air,” still startles me with its certainty.
On that fatal day when my casket rolls along,
don't think my heart is in this world.
Don't cry, don't wail in anguish,
don't fall into a hole the demons have dug.
That surely would be sad.

When you see my procession, don't say I'm gone.
It will be my reunion.
As you see that lowering down,
think of rising.

What harm is in the setting moon or sun?
What seems a setting to you is a dawning.

Though it may seem a prison,
this vault releases the soul.
Unless a seed enters the earth it doesn't grow.
Why are you doubting this human seed?
Unless the bucket goes down,
it won't come up full.
Why should the Joseph of the spirit resent the well?

Close your mouth here and open it beyond,
and in the nowhere air it will be your song.

This year Rumi will share the reading with the Pakistani poet Faiz. Although Faiz is often thought of as a political prisoner (imprisoned for allegedly plotting against the Pakistan government although charges were later dropped). As a communist, Faiz subscribed not to Islam but to humanism, which might seem antithetical to mysticism. What’s the connection between Rumi and Faiz?
    The poet who organizes the reading (Shadab Hasmi—author of The Baker of Tarifa) says that mysticism is often about the glory of ordinary things. In Neruda it is the marvel of socks or onions praised in his odes. In The New Testament it is Jesus’ parables of simple things--loaves, water, mustard seeds--that become imbued with something ineffable.  The notion that humanists do not perceive or allow for the ineffable because their belief system is not based on a theism seems to set up a false dichotomy. Although there are many things written about his personal life and the balance between Marxism and Sufism, I'll let Faiz speak through his art albeit in translation. In his poem "Before You Came," Faiz addresses one who changes physical reality by imbuing it with an unbearable vision of an essence beyond the corporeal:
Before you came,
things were as they should be:
the sky was the dead-end of night,
the road was just a road, wine merely wine.

Now everything is like my heart,
a color at the edge of blood:
the grey of your absence, the color of poison, of thorns,
the gold where we meet, the season ablaze,
the yellow of autumn, the red of flowers, of flames,
and the black when you cover the earth
with the coal of dead fires.

And the sky, the road, the glass of wine?
The sky is a shirt wet with tears,
the road a vein about to break,
and the glass of wine a mirror in which
the sky, the road, the world keep changing.

Don't leave now that you're here--
Stay. So the world may become like itself again:
so the sky may be the sky,
the road a road,
and the glass of wine not a mirror, just a glass of wine.

The reading is free and begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday April 3rd at The Cole Library just east of I-5 on Carlsbad Village Drive.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Seeking Peace in Sacramento: "Gulag Guantanamo" at Poets for Peace

This grizzly guards the governor's office.

While in town to help with Poetry Out Loud, I read at the Poets for Peace commemoration of the 8th year of troops in Iraq. It was a crowd of veterans from the Cold War, and since I was in Sacramento, I read "The Reagan Memorial Poem" to recognize our former governor's contributions to peace. They were also seasoned enough to get all the allusions in "The Compassionate Conservative Blues" and "Hymn of Enough."
The tough thing about poems with citations to fact is that fact often grounds the discord in a reference instead of in the imagination. The inverse of this flaw is a poem contained in the imagination can be blind to the significant events of its time.

That said, I offered up "Gulag Guantanamo," a new song that considers the progress of Castro no longer being the number one violator of human rights on the island:  
If the law’s a crime in Gulag Guantanamo
make no scars that show, so no one can really know

Chained until you piss yourself,
chained until you tell
the names of all your neighbors,
the woman at the well.

The water knows the answer[s]
that’s why we poured it in your lungs
and breathe question in your ear.
So let the answer come, the one[s]
we want to hear.

Since the law’s a crime in Gulag Guantanamo
make no scars that show, so no one can really know.

Wine turned to water
for this cruel communion
Sheik al Libi’s mind broken
to State the Union…

Along archipelago from black sites to Bagrham
we've sown a bitter crop
and the harvest just comes & comes.


Tough town at the heart of it. It cost the guy in the painting his hair and it isn't done with him yet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Day in D.C.: Remembering Reagan

After the AWP conference wrapped, I walked up Garfield Street to the National Cathedral for church on Sunday. The sermon was on Christ's recognition of his followers as the salt & light of the earth.

Light can be such a strange thing. We need it to see, yet we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are the light of the earth, but Lucifer is "The Angel of Light." Context is a slippery coyote.

The National Cathedral is awesome. I'm especially fond of stained glass windows. Apocrypha has it that Blake once saw God looking back at him through a stained glass window. But the window that caught my attention was the in a cove dedicated to Robert E. Lee. Lincoln's famous commitment of "malice toward none," but it didn't work out well for the emancipated slaves who would be Jim Crowed for another century.
Love your enemies. It's a life practice to prepare us, I hope, for more.

So on this day in the National Cathedral, the centennial of Ronald Reagan's birthday, I thought about how often I disagreed with the policies of my former governor and president. From my perspective, whether it's al-Qaida, Sadam Hussein, illegal immigration or the financial crisis, the Reagan Administration was on the wrong side, be it military aid, the Mexico City Policy, wars in Central America or weakening anti-trust law. Mistakes will be made, and they are remembered for their consequences.

The Reagan Memorial Poem

Mr. President, given you medical history
the “Reagan Memorial” anything seemed in poor taste to me.
But after seeing your spirit float proudly along your freeways,
through so many schools and over your own aircraft carrier,
the jets taking off and disappearing like many facts,
I now bow to peer pressure and offer this memorial poem.

I saw your funeral inside the National Cathedral,
            the camera at a bird’s-eye angle
            the same as God must’ve had:
            ring of mourners around your casket,
            mise-en-scène as if by Busby Berkeley,
            the way you would’ve wanted it.
Your coffin sat to the bottom of the encircling crowd, so
your funeral looked like The Smiley Face gone serious and blind.

How appropriate, I thought, not the blindness,
but the respectful space around your coffin,
for it was there the ghosts began to drift:
the Iranians whom Iraq gassed with military aid
you initiated over Amnesty International’s cries. Listen,
we can still hear them weeping for Kurds, Kuwaitis and,
of course, our own.
How good of you to sit up in the casket and salute.

Then came the Nicaraguenses, some carrying
their diaphanous limbs lopped off by your contras.
In grace, they piled eyes, ears, breasts,
genitalia and tongues into your coffin.

The Salvadoreños wearing neutralized expressions
followed the Afghanis whom your freedom fighters liberated
from life and any happy pursuit not
allowed by a literal reading of the Koran.

Finally, the Guatamaltecos crowded
comfortably around your coffin;
they’d been practicing in mass graves at least
since you restored military aid in ‘81.
Did you recognize the ghost of Bishop Juan Gerardi?
You were deep in the delusions of Alzheimer’s in ‘98 when
a graduate of Fort Benning’s School of the Americas
bludgeoned Bishop Gerardi for counting Guatemala’s dead.
Genocide plus one.

How big of you not to make a fuss when
Gerardi helped you from your coffin and absolved you,
you not repenting and all that.

Your coffin loaded with broken bodies, the ghosts
glided beside you riding behind the caisson,
the nation honoring you in death as in life:
remembering nothing but good things:
how you held the picket line at the Warsaw shipyards,
how you stared down the Kremlin guards who took you hostage,
how you freed Tibet and
personally piloted the Dali Lama home on Air Force One.

It must have been at that moment of the procession,
you riding backwards yet comfortable in your old boots,
all of us suffering Sympathy Alzheimer’s,
that your mind was healed and
you understood you were on your way to heaven,
to spend eternity with the ghosts flowing beside you,
and that was when you began to cue the horse back
along the trail, so the bullets would revert to dollars,
the ink on the executive order flowing into the pen in your hand.
God bless that horse,
even with you sitting backwards in the saddle like that,
it wanted to obey your cues and turn from the grave,
but, alas, the soldier leading it had other orders. (Light in All Directions 83-85)