Wednesday, April 30, 2008


(The more I revisit this poem, the more I realize that it still needs substantial revision. I am trying to capture a sense of a post-apocylaptic place here, but I don't feel entirely succesfual at that. Worse the poem doesn't flow very well. Still, I'm not going to take it down--just work on it again. 9/13/08)

Here am I
in this unbounded place,
a point in passing;
a bridge between times,
through darkness, across voids,
around the great signal fires.

It takes an effort of will
to see what I’d missed,
to see god in that space
was god,
to hear small birds with
perfect pitch and
immaculate messages
a bumblebee so close god's eyes
cross with wonder and
neglect for appearances.

This path goes far beyond the end,
beyond the end of here and now,
beyond the end of innocence
dividing in the next space.
The bee has gone this way,
into the future,
precisely the path I follow now
with music by birdsong and
lit by brilliant flowers.

I stop at the old firepit.
Step carefully around the scattered
bones. Toeing, then picking at them,
the old bones nearby. What beasts were these?
Something immense, I’m sure.
Something fierce, I wonder.
How did this place become
so empty?

What has been driven before me?
A sudden thought;
what lurks behind?
Who also wanders here?
Midst birdsong and flowers,
Who will find whom?
This wondering almost consumes me.

I gather a bouquet of thoughts,
consider fragrance, balance of color,
count petals, sing at the silence.
In a fresh effort,
I again hear the small birds
possessing perfect pitch,
singing immaculate messages.

Leaving reason behind,
god, last seen, seemed adrift, remote,
flickered out in the distance,
just before the horizon line.

The bee has gone this way,
into the future and
I have followed.
backed with music by birdsong,
night lit by the scattered
combustible bushes.

Tiring, I stop at the next firepit.
Step carefully around the scattered
bones. Toeing, then picking at them—
the old bones nearby. What beasts were these?
Something immense, I’m sure.
And very old, I imagine.
Hungry, I go.
How will this place become
full of life again?

I pick through the gathering thoughts.
What has fled before me?
Who wanders just ahead?
With what purpose?
With eyes failing like mine?
With strain in the effort
of looking?

Who will find whom
around birdsong and flowers
and scattered bones of long-gone beasts?
What happens then?
This hunt defines me now.
The next thought consumes me.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wild Once and Captured

(Please go here to read a revised version of this poem)

A prairie full of flowers,
a concert full of rhythms,
a mirror full of faces,
each one a rarity
she picked from public, secret places.

She calls many messages.
Marks many paths
where dancing is a language
and touching is an art
and longing is a rhythm
and searching leads us one by one
to stories all our own,
and stories told in common.

Here the gathering of spells in handfuls,
flowering rich and ripe with scents and fruit
and peace. There the drums yammering in
clearings and jamming with justice
wild once and captured
and broken out again.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Coming Change We Can Believe In?

The most exciting thing about the '60s, to me, is that it was a time when people could believe, regardless of the immediate reality, that at any moment the world could morph into something different. And when it did, what it became might turn out to be what you had willed it to be.

People who felt such a thing to be true weren't alone. They had friends who felt the same thing; who felt that sudden, almost spontaneous, morphing was possible. And those friends would never dispute the notion that it might be your vision that ignited the process of change. Every friend stood ready to be one of those who would be required to set their vision aside so that another's vision might become reality. Such solidarity. Such shared energy.

Between then and now there has been a counter-revolution of astonishing proportions and agonizing durability. The Nixon-era reaction, became the Reagan-era reaction and continued through the disappointing '90s to the Bush assault on government, democracy and decency. Since that time, we have been agents only of small changes, hardly believing that more--more justice, more peace, more freedom, more unassisted flight--was, or is, possible.

Can Barack Obama make a difference now after so many years of counterattack? Is it Barack who will bring us "Change we can believe in?" After all these years will it turn out that we were just waiting for a savior, kind of like Nicholas Cage's Cameron Poe character in Con Air?

Or will the feeling of change that almost daily seemed so imminent during the late '60s return because we have found new heart? Found that once again we can imagine big change? If so, we need first of all what we can do for ourselves, and second, perhaps, what a president, in a midwife's role, can do to help us. Barack as midwife we might believe in. I can go there. But Hillary as midwife? John McCain as nanny? Beyond my meager powers of imagination.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Just Say Yes

out there,
Campaigns to make us think
varieties of mind are bad for us.

But what I think,
you want to know?
I mean,
about varieties of mind?

Are good for us.
Anything that can lengthen
a life lengthened like mine
with waking dreams,

with crescendos of sudden and large
with the sweet kiss of lips and love,
with a longing, lingering note

or, music
with the wild moment dancing
I just recently survived

be good for

As was the sudden and large
and fleeting moment I realized
I’m going to live


A Mix of Dreams

And what if art is life, but far from risk?
And what if art is less than jealous and
a step beyond the pain of history?
And what if art is in us all?

Then deal me a hand. I have sat out
far too long and I wish, finally, to play.
I’ll not bluff—I’ve still the old,
unseemly caution to shed or scrape away.

Neither will I long and lunge, nor hurry to conclude.
I do not wish to win, only linger and sit with those
who have all along mixed dreams with dignity,
and shouldered their burden with grace.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Letter to the Washington Post, #11

Sebastian Mallaby’s April 21st column, “Housing Sense in Congress?” seems to be implying that it is homeowners who are to blame for the subprime meltdown. “Homeowners,” he writes, “have no moral claim to government assistance.”

Instead, Mallaby says that Congress ought to find ways to provide partial protection to the lenders who issued millions of sub-prime mortgages, then bundled and sold them to investors. In order to stabilize housing prices, the Federal Housing Administration ought to protect lenders from further losses, “if they agree to forgive part of a loan rather than kicking a family onto the street,” he writes.

In such a case, Mallaby notes, “homeowners would get a break, which is unfortunate.”

Such a break. The homeowners in question, who may have applied for and received one loan in their lives, will lose all their equity anyway. In most cases, these homeowners had little insight into what might go wrong and no idea that they were the recipients of unusual “subprime” loans.

But the lenders knew. And the lenders knew that such profitable loans were also risky. Now, Mallaby apparently believes that the lenders who profited greatly during the rise in housing prices are the ones with a “moral claim” on government action.

If Congress wishes to slow the freefall in market prices, a better option would be Own-to-Rent (OTR), a proposal first advanced by Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

OTR would require lenders to offer homeowners the opportunity to rent their home at fair market prices before beginning foreclosure proceedings. This would allow people to stay in their homes, stabilizing neighborhoods and forcing lenders and investors, who profited from the increase in housing prices, to bear the market consequences of the collapse in prices.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017

202 506-7470

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Geology of Life

Such forces at work
In these spaces, our
Nearly continental drift
The lingering memory
of our birth moment
Longer in retrospect
Longer in reflection
Longer in neglect
Longer in denial
Longer in flight
Longer still
Triggers the forces
Driving our accidental growth.

In a moment of comprehension
In a moment of understanding
In a moment of insight
In an ecstatic moment
I am a cloud of rare
Particles dancing
In vast places
Toward the end of longing
Where I will be
Dust in the wind.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Letter to the Washington Post, #10

So, it's just barely possible that the Post could still publish letter #9, but if it doesn't, and if it doesn't publish this one, I will have a string of 10 straight letters to the Post that they decided they couldn't use. Obviously, initiating a communication is easy, completing one is much trickier. Letter #10 is below.

In “The Holocaust Declaration (April 11)” Charles Krauthammer says the next president, as a warning to Iran, should declare, “The United States will not permit a second Holocaust to be perpetrated upon the Jewish people.”

Is Krauthammer’s implication that other Holocausts will be permitted? How about a second Nakhba (Arabic for catastrophe), as Palestinians call their dispossession by Israel and the decades of Israeli occupation that followed?

Iran may be a threat to regional peace, but the inability of the United States to even imagine the injustices perpetrated by a Jewish theocratic state and to force Israel to end occupation is a more enduring threat to Middle East peace. Krauthammer’s proposed declaration would do little to deter Iran and nothing to redeem the West’s original sin of establishing imperial outposts in other people’s lands.

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017

202 506-7470

Friday, April 11, 2008

Long March

On a long march homeward,
ambling, pacing, striding,
stirring memory.
Past the old Hilton, in 1968, a fortress.

We lined the avenue, and police,
one moment calm as sea at sunset,
next storming in defense of old orders—
disturbing peace and the peaceful,
betraying care and the careless,
invading dreams and the dreamers,
waking night and the nightmares.

As incongruous as that,
ignoring the almost palpable,
insensible to hovering wraiths and phantoms,
with the stunted decorum of her inherited order,
she walked by with her fuzzy dog,
smiled with the strain of strangers
greeting in the dark.

Embarrassed by her fear,
I am, 40 years later, an unknown,
but somehow detectable phantasm.
I first hallowed her, and then
hallowed others, all too careful of me,

Then silently railed at those
I had just blessed.
Full of ownership and pride, rich with fables,
entering this space, brushing aside
lingering past like cobwebs.
I insist; to wish to be here
requires that you learn the slope and diameter
of here the way memory left it.

Your way, edge and shuffle,
strut like fearless,
walking your dog, curbing our dreams,
shrinking from the crazy people.

My way the ghosts manifest,
restored to vitality—
sensual, different, here before us,
here after, here with joy, here with pathos,
here with loss, here bright and precious—
handed off to you, Could you be more free to act?
And I a wisp, drifting by.

Wouldn’t that be better?
A place, all places, rich with
something like ownership, but grand,
sexy, communal and to be determined?
This way surrendering to
the thrust and leap of movements and moments,
bounding toward a shout:
Presente (finally)!

The borders between then and now and next
falling; our blood, leaking and spotting this moment,
consecrating it with our essence, abiding,
awaiting fresh runners,
inevitably passing by.
Amen, I say, and continue on my way.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Letter to the Washington Post, #9

Here's another letter to the Post. They won't publish this one, either.

Kissinger Is Back

Henry Kissinger’s recent appearance in the Post (“The Three Revolutions, Apr. 7”) put me in mind of the cult film “Night of the Living Dead,” in which one character says to another, “kill the brain and kill the ghoul.”

You, see, it’s a question whether or not we as a nation will ever be able to hold a discussion of any foreign policy without the nightmare possibility that Kissinger will show up to be included. His disastrous policy decisions when in power should make his every future contribution entirely suspect.

One example from “Three Revolutions:” Islam, Kissinger says, has “little room for Western notions of negotiation,” this may be true, but is vulnerable to a difference over definitions. If by “negotiation,” Kissinger means invading Iraq rather than letting UN nuclear weapons inspectors hunt for WMD’s with Saddam’s permission, then Islam’s alleged reluctance to embrace Western-style negotiation makes sense.

Kissinger also criticizes the willingness of European countries to consider public opinion in limiting “the number of troops provided and to constrict the [NATO] missions for which lives could be risked.” Only the policy genius who conceived of the secret bombing of Cambodia could see the downside in the reluctance of democracies to readily engage in war.

Kissinger advocates a “national debate on national security policy.” I can go there, but can we do this without the old ghoul?

Jeff Epton
807 Taylor St., NE
Washington, DC 20017

202 506-7470

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Jesus Saves: An Unlikely Story

Incoherence rescues triviality, I say
Too bad it does not work both ways
Incoherence rescues triviality, I say

Sadly, all rescues are incomplete
This way, none among us are saved
Still seeking salvation?
Persist, maybe, in some other poem

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Going Postal

Going Postal

I bought stamps the other day. Walked up to the bulletproof barrier and said, “I want 100 first class stamps, please.”

The postal worker held up strips of Liberty Bell stamps.

“No liberty bells, please,” I said and she asked if I wanted American Flag stamps.

“No flags please,” I said. “And no liberty bells.”

Her eyelids drooped and she nodded toward a sheet of Disney stamps lying on the counter.

“Disney?” I might have sounded a little irritated. “Don’t you have any people stamps?”

She shook her head and then, apparently reconsidering, she asked if I wanted Charles Chesnutt stamps. Widely regarded as the first true African-American novelist, Chesnutt would look good on my mail, I thought. I was enthusiastic.

“A person? You bet!”

My postal worker nodded and walked away. The worker at the counter next to her looked over at me and smiled. While I stood there waiting, another post office employee looked around the corner, almost peeking at me, it seemed. We made eye contact and he nodded. I nodded back, constituting at least the fourth nod between two people in that office on that morning that I was aware of.

Then my postal worker came back with 100 41-cent stamps. I had other stamp denominations I wanted to buy and I wished I’d mentioned them before she walked away the first time. I was afraid she would lose patience with me.

“Oh, yeah. I also wanted 20 post card stamps and 20 next-ounce stamps.”

She looked at me.

“Sorry,” I said and she said it was okay and walked away again. When she came back, I had more stamps, 20 26-cent stamps and 20 17-cent stamps, or 20 cougars and 20 mountain goats (a big-horned, big-headed fellow) to go with my 100 Charles Chesnutts.

I paid my bill and thanked her.

“That was fun,” I said. “I should write more letters.”

“Thank you,” she said with a big smile on her face, but I swear I thought she was going to go postal on me. Maybe leap through that bulletproof shield and grab me and throw all kinds of hugs and sloppy kisses my way.

That would have been okay with me. In fact, I’m planning to write more letters.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Answer This

Watched “Swing Kids” last night.
Germany, 1930s, nervy kids with their
“Swing, heil!”
And loving the Count,
Count Basie, swinging, free, black—
not goose-stepping, angry, compliant and Adolph.

Brendan asked so many questions.
Why did Arvin kill himself?
Why did Peter let himself be taken?
Why did Thomas stop choking Peter?
Why did Thomas shout “swing, heil,”
When the Nazis took Peter away?
Why? Why? Why?

And Peter’s little brother, Brendan’s age,
Why did he shout, “swing, heil,” also,
When the truck disappeared with Peter?
So many questions.
What does resistance mean? Was Peter’s father a Jew?
Why? Why? Why?
We answered, we soothed, we slept.

This morning there are more answers to
How to deal with fateful choices,
With the moment when choices unfold.
How many moments for each one of us?
How many wrong answers? How many answer wrong?
Rest easy about this:

Right or wrong the moment returns. Always returns.
Always returns. Each of us gets to answer twice,
three times, an infinity of challenges in a lifetime.
No matter that we pretend that we did not hear the question,
that the moment has not come, that there is no choice, no
option, that we have not the power to do right.

We have only to ask if we have stood
with the least exalted aming us.
Do they know us for a friend?
Answer me that.