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CNF - The Legendary
Ruth Z. DemingLeah WilliamsRonald W. Tobin
Dennis Weiser



Creatures of the Night
by Ruth Z. Deming
 
My late brother, David, who suffered from autism, freed himself from his unhappy life by pulling out his blue 10-speed Schwinn bike from the garage of Mom’s house, then cycling at top speed in the dead of the night. Down the great hill of Byberry Road he’d zoom, in his white helmet, a dark-haired young man, with a little smile that lit the corners of his mouth. Under the railroad bridge he’d go, perhaps hearing the rush of the seemingly endless freight train high overhead.

Pshew! Pshew!

During those halcyon years of our younger days, I would drive my two children – Sarah, four, and Dan, two – down the same Byberry Road and if I’d see the freight train, would park my car on the side of the road.

Under the vast blue sky, the three of us would alight from the car. I’d take their small hands and we’d walk a bit until we had a perfect view of the clackety-clack train. At last the caboose would arrive.

“Wave!” I’d shout.

Their little arms rose into the air.

More times than not, the man in the caboose would see us, stand up and wave.

Our moment of connection.

My brother David, with his autism, could not connect. It was with shock and horror we learned he’d taken his own life – 40 pills of Elavil, his antidepressant, that could never chase away the shadows of his misery. He was twenty-seven years old.

Today, a notice from the funeral home is on my refrigerator, way on the bottom where it’s stuck on with a magnet.

I do not post photos on the fridge as it reminds me of death and the passing of time. Postcards reside on the fridge like invitations to travel to Venice, The Grand Canyon, The Library of Congress and The Caves of Lascaux in southern France, sent to me by my daughter Sarah and her husband Ethan. Sometimes, when I see that postcard, I imagine sitting on a soft mat of moss inside the cave and watching the flames flicker, and then simmer down to crackling embers.

Sleep must have come easily to our hunter and gatherer ancestors, who loved nothing more than their speared chunks of antelope, unlike today’s health conscious Americans who have cut down on their once-beloved steaks.

Unlike my forebears, sleep does not come easily to me.

A friend asked me, “Ruth, do you ever sleep?”

The only way to answer her was to tell her of my midnight roving in the neighborhood.

In the middle of a dream, I’ll wake up startled and sweating in the bed where I sleep alone. Oftentimes my reading glasses are still on and a book – like the new T C Boyle novel – lies like a lover upon my chest. 

Yawning, I change from my sexy green negligee into something dark for I’m going to vanish into the night and don’t want to be seen. Exiting from my yellow house, the tiny solar lights stuck in the grass guide me onto the street. My Nissan shines in the moon light which expands over to the dogwood across the street.

On a corner of my lawn I’ve painted what I call my “totem pole” – a six-foot high PVC pipe with images painted on of birds in flight and letters of the alphabet. Now, in the darkness, I go over and touch its dew-misted surface. I, too, have a cast of dew upon me.

Everything is so different in the night.

Sensing that no one is around, I pull down my black pants and take a good long piss, hearing it sizzle onto the grass. I do a little waggle dance to clean myself off.

Nothing is better than peeing in the great outdoors. Five years ago, my daughter Sarah donated her left kidney to me, since I had End-Stage Renal Failure. Peeing represented a victory from those frightening years.

I look up at the vast sky, unfathomably far away and mysterious. Is my brother David any where there? My father? I stare at Jupiter and imagine myself looking down on its many moons, gaseous, dusty, circling around this largest and fastest-moving planet 365 million miles away from the earth, where I stood in my hand-painted sneakers.

“Thank you,” I say. “Thank you for keeping me alive.”

Then I see them! A whole herd of them as if they still roamed among the Lenni-Lenape Tribe, who, in fact, once inhabited this very same land where I live. 

Ten or twelve regal deer – bucks with antlers like fancy ironwork – does with shiny brown fur you longed to touch – and white-spotted fawns nuzzled for protection inside the fold – roam the middle of Cowbell Road. I hear their hoofs clicking softly on the street as I approach.

They know not that I am there. Their keen smell is how they discover what enemy lurks ahead. Me, I smell from suntan lotion, Irish Spring soap, sweat, honeysuckle I keep on my kitchen windowsill, and thousands of other aromas hair and body have picked up. Not to mention my breath, as I inhale and exhale.

Suddenly they run! Up the steep hill of Cowbell they race, as if trying to outrun the Lenape’s well-aimed arrows. As my head turns to watch them go, my wish is granted. One of the deer, I don’t know which one, flies by me, unwittingly brushing against my tanned freckled arm.

Goose bumps cover my body. I stand still in appreciation, holding my quickly beating heart.

“Thank you! Thank you!” I cry aloud as they vanish into the suburbs of Philadelphia.


Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Creative Nonfiction, has had her work published in lit mags including The Writing Disorder, Literary Yard, and Hektoen International. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group – www.newdirectionssupport.org - for people and loved ones affected by depression and bipolar disorder. She lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia.

You & That Mad Cow
by Leah Williams

You’re at the blood drive, avoiding the nurses’ calls of “Next?” as you wait for your spouse, who has been ushered into a cardboard cell. The nurses don’t believe you lived in England during a mad cow scare in the mid-90s and are forbidden to donate. They think you’re a coward. Which you are. But not because you won’t give blood. You’re terrified that the Red Cross still thinks some dread disease is eating holes in your brain bit by bit like some demonic caterpillar.

You noted the symptoms on WebMD the night before: impaired vision, loss of coordination, dementia.

“You have all of those,” said your spouse.

There are no tests you can take. But there is some comfort: If you die after a suspicious spiral into lunacy, doctors can study your brain to determine whether you were (a) old, (b) infected, or (c) an Alzheimer’s victim. It seems the medical establishment can confidently affirm two things about what they call variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: 1. It’s fatal. 2. They know jack shit about it.

You wish you could reassure yourself that you’d chosen the period of your exposure, your junior year in England, to become a vegetarian. Instead, you know you were at the cafeteria’s burger bar daily. Usually, you weren’t this big of a carnivore. But this is a country where they fry toast. Where they add corn to pizza. Where everything tastes boiled. No wonder you imbibed a lifetime of cows in one year.

And you weren’t exactly dining in a premier establishment. You think those dreaded words to yourself, “college cafeteria,” and know you were consuming a level of beef that doesn’t earn a letter grade. You picture a farmer squinting at bleary-eyed, mange-covered, stumbling cows. “Simon,” he says to his partner, swatting flies. “Send those ones over to the school. They’ll take ’em.”

Once you actually read a newspaper, you determined that current events were, in fact, relevant to your life. You avoided the burger bar, raided the vending machines. You were proud of this fortitude, which you managed to sustain until the night of the university’s ball, which students had been raving about for months. “They always get some great band,” those in the know had told you.

When you heard the choice, Right Said Fred of “I’m Too Sexy” fame, you were shocked, but far too amused not to go. Which is why you saw that grill with burgers at the event, and smelled the tempting, forbidden scent, and remembered the weeks of deprivation and mushy food, and started salivating, and thought, “Just this once.” And you know that’s the one, that’s the burger that will kill you.

But not yet. Tonight you get to hear your husband praised by nurses when he nearly faints—the wimp. You feel your stomach gurgling. You dimly recall headlines about recent beef scares: millions of pounds recalled, healthy heads placed on sick cows.

Urban legends for sure.

“Hey hon,” you say. “Wanna go get some burgers after?”

Leah Williams, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program, teaches composition and creative nonfiction at the University of New Hampshire. Her essays have been published in Brevity and Redivider and aired on an NPR affiliate; her weekly classic film posts can be found at carygrantwonteatyou.com. She regularly questions her intelligence for continuing to eat beef despite years of warnings.

Unholy Communion
by Ronald W. Tobin
   
They were in the hotel room waiting to leave for supper in a nearby restaurant, the only one along Wilshire Boulevard that encourages men to wear at least a jacket, and a tie too, “if convenient.”  He was too accustomed to the general sartorial sloppiness of the city to complain out loud, but it did bother him, even after repeated experiences in a variety of restaurants in downtown Los Angeles. Maybe that was why he overreacted when she asked if she should change into something more formal.  He replied that she had fidgeted all day with the neck of her sweater. Why not change into a dress? 
   
She immediately marched off into the bathroom, trailing a cloud of indignation. Dining with her, he thought, would be impossible. He remembered his Latin: cum pane. They were now not true “companions,” those who break bread with each other in a spirit of communion. He canceled the reservation and told her so when she reappeared from the bathroom.
   
For reasons he never fully understood, she launched into a tirade, shouting at him for shouting at her about fidgeting, and followed up with accusations of selfishness and insensitivity. “I hate you,” she cried at the peak of her crescendo. He had witnessed such an emotional dash from rationality to rage before, and retorted that she was about to repeat the same scenario she created when he once tried to reconcile her with a former friend.  She was outraged (as was the friend who thought she was being asked for money), and flew into a fit that lasted for a week.  Yes, she understood that my intentions were good and she missed the evenings in her friend’s apartment where she had cocktails while being dazzled by the spectacular view of Central Park. But she didn’t want to be seen as needing anyone.
   
Yet, she admitted to missing the sex of their relationship. He was guilty, she had “told a friend” (an obvious lie), of not touching her after her operation for ovarian cancer. Her memory reduced to narrow selectivity, she had forgotten that she twice warned him not to initiate any foreplay because she was no longer interested in sex.

After her explosion, she developed a physical transformation into what he later called Mrs. Hyde. From the funny, stimulating, and open woman he had known for more than twenty-five years, she had become a harpy without compromise, even when he tried to give her a quick hug. No sharing, verbal or physical. Of course.
   
She decided that she should leave the next day, Sunday, and not on Monday as originally scheduled. He didn’t object. Nothing was easy. She could not raise American Airlines because the phones were always busy dealing with bad weather on the east coast. They finally had the hotel Concierge work with a Travel Agent to obtain a ticket for a 6:30 AM flight for the aggravating fee of $349 for a $630 fare.
   
The rest of the evening was unbearable. He sat in a chair looking out the window for three hours until it was bedtime. She preferred hovering on the edge of the bathtub, eating energy bars in place of supper. The thick and heavy tension might have been alleviated if she had allowed the distraction of the television. But no, she had no patience for the tube.
   
She spent the five hours between bedtime and the wake-up call at 3:45 AM pacing the floor and packing her valise—loudly, slamming clothes and cosmetics into the small case. When she was about to leave the room, she approached his bedside and said: “I don’t hate you.” Small  consolation, since he had already figured out that he would never again see New York, Paris, Berlin, or even Chicago. These are cities for two, especially at dinner time in 11 Madison Park, or Chez Rene, or Les Solistes, or Aria. Paul ValĂ©ry has written about poetry that “the Gods give you the first verse.” And so it was with their love affair: after an electric and easy beginning, the rest was often fitful. They had no idea when or how they would compose the end. It turned out to be like a leaf, dead on a tree for months, that finally falls.

Ronald W. Tobin
bio forthcoming

Poetry and the Street:

A Meditation on Poetry and Civilization
Journal Writings Circa 1981-1982

by Dennis Weiser

For whatever it is worth, I am not a street-person. I’m a writer, which roughly means: I may occasionally talk to a person on the street (more likely, stand there listening to someone speak), then dash home, bolt my door in typically paranoid fashion, and proceed to scribble a few hours or days away, perspiring and trembling, pressing words into paper the way one presses leaves found in blazing autumn between the colorless pages of books. When the bad conscience I have about what I do passes, the whole process begins again: I venture out my door and into the world that lies, somewhat, beyond my nose.

Therefore, I am not much disposed to the idea that poetry or poetry’s language (a silly distinction! Poetry is its language—or it is nothing) amounts or ought to amount to: the ordinary language of the streets. Examination of the sort of language one is apt to find on the streets these days,

1.  Tweet!
2.  Honk!
3.  Ra-vah-va-va-va-rrrrooooommm!
4.  Move yer ass, Buddy!
5.  Yo momma.

bids fair the conclusion it resembles nothing in poetry—with the exception of some unfortunate specimens of modern poetry, which is concrete (that is, set, hard, rocklike cement).

The fact is, poetry is as little like the ordinary language of the streets as one individual person is like another. Or as the poetry of one particular poet is like that of another.

(1)  Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
with my red veins full of money…
(2)  Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.      

Perhaps only a scholar or an avid student of poetry could identify the authors of these lines (Dylan Thomas and Shakespeare, respectively), brief as they are; but no one would imagine they were written by the same person. One might imagine say, Stanley Kunitz having written the first quotation, or William Blake the second—we must never underrate the evocative power such errors have, their import for poetic thinking and achievement. But this is beside the point.

Poetic language is unusual language. When Dylan Thomas writes

The signal moon is zero in their voids.

we may not grasp, at first, exactly what he means (especially is this true of a line taken out of context, as I have had to do here). Much of Thomas has been taken for a strange sort of encoding, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing—a view I suggest is a weak-minded miscomprehension (though I grant there is plenty of ‘encoding’ in his poetry to mislead). But when we reflect on the poem’s title, “I See The Boys Of Summer,” and the context of the line, we realize that the poet is addressing a certain callowness and shallowness associated with youth; that he is passing a judgment on all such youths (of whom none afford a better example than Thomas, himself); and that he is expressing it uniquely and well. These “boys” are zipheads.

(Imagine a universe, the line seems to say, where the full moon is replaced by a “zero”—that’s what it is like to be one of “the boys of summer”…). Yes, the moon, as an object of natural illumination and mortal consideration, ought to signify something, supernal beauty or werewolves; but to these boys it is a cipher, it is nothing. A marvelous way of saying it, Thomas’ judgment here is akin to one expressed by the poet Gwendolyn Brooks, thinking of pool-hustling street punks she’d seen, in the poem “We Real Cool”:

…We
Jazz June. We
Die soon.

This is—in both cases, I think—essentially the same insight. Who could ever confuse Dylan Thomas with Gwendolyn Brooks? By drawing a comparison, I mean no disservice: both poems are among my favorites, I cannot easily say which of them is better. Though, if I invoke the criterion ‘Which poem says more?’ then: Thomas wins hands down. (Though length is not a sufficient arbiter of poetic value, there is this one necessary corollary: greater length affords an opportunity to say more, if a poet has more to say. In fifty-four lines, Thomas is able to show that his subject is a perennial universal matter, and beyond that, a religious one; things that Gwendolyn Brooks is simply unable to do in eight lines.

Poetic language is unusual: there is nothing ordinary about it.*

Even Imagism—at least, the imagism of Pound—is primarily a doctrine about language. Pound’s three rules (1. direct treatment of the “thing”; 2. to use absolutely no word that does not contribute to presentation; 3. to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not of the metronome) are the shop-rules, the rules of thumb, of a technician and copy-editor; they draw attention to the surface of language, at the expense of meaning. Nor is the reason far to seek: Pound was a superb craftsman and editor (and to this extent, I would suggest, a Nominalist). His dogmatic rules are the nuts and bolts of poetry—of good writing in general. Compare rule 2, for example, with Mark Twain’s dictum: “As to the adjective—When in doubt, strike it out.” Think, too, of a similar linguistic house-cleaning, or paring down tendency, at work in Hemingway.

Nor does Pound’s third rule change matters by smuggling in meaning (unity, harmony, an organic something) under the guise of “musical phrase”—which would be a misinterpretation of Pound, I believe. By opposing “musical phrase” to “metronome” (something that probably only a poet would think of doing, and which hardly does justice to the purpose for which metronomes were invented in the first place: namely, to help establish rhythm for the musician), Pound is warning us not to write in antiquated, highly-stylized patterns—in other words, not to write in “dead styles.” This renders the rule retrospective in reference and negative in application; it is therefore quite useless to any living poet who desires either to say something new or to express it in a new way. (This is like Twain going after Fennimore Cooper about style in “Cooper’s Literary Offenses.”)

But even if the more imaginative interpretation is given rule 3 (and I would be the last to stop you), there is still the problem: What is “the musical phrase”? To a Bantu, it is one thing, to an 18th Century Frenchman, it is another. To put the problem another way: if music means Vivaldi’ or Baroque music to you, you will produce poetry of one sort or style. But if it means ‘Jazz-poet-Charlie “Bird” Parker or Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong,’ your notion of musical phrase is likely to be quite different. And, keeping Pound’s dictum in mind, it might be interesting to ask: what sort of poetry might one produce if one’s paradigm of “musical phrase” is found in popular rock’n’roll, ala Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, of the Fifties and Sixties?

(1)  tonite, thriller was
about an ol woman, so vain she
surrounded herself w/
many mirrors

this poem has yr eyes
this poem has his head
this poem has his arm
this poem has his fingers
this poem has his fingertips
 
(from “beware: do not read this poem” by Ishmael Reed)

(2) another gob of spit, tub of guts,
scum-sucking pig, shitbug,
jerky ass, piss ant

(from “Vision 2” by Geoff Hewitt)

Now I mean no harm or disgrace to the poets quoted. We have been looking, throughout, at poetic language as represented in the “line,” that is, we’ve looked at no whole poems. But I believe a difference is already apparent in the language. The question remains: Is this a superficial difference? Is it a difference merely on the surface of language?

The language of poetry as surface, as notational—This is the legacy bequeathed us by Pound and Imagism. It has led to all manner of idiocy: that, for instance, poetry is meaningless, a mere shell-game (I agree: a great deal of what passes itself off as modern poetry is meaningless); that anyone who can arrange words into meaningless patterns must perforce be a poet, can possibly even teach others to do so (in which case why not give him a tenured position at the nearest university?); that anyone, therefore, can be a poet, an artist (this, in conjunction with a notion of Romantic individualism as misconstrued by followers of that philosopher of pedagogical instrumentalism, John Dewey: that is, the view that “genius is ubiquitous”—which is true but means only that you can never tell where the next genius may come from, that genius comes from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life, is unbidden and unexpected—gets transformed into the belief that “everyone is, potentially, a genius,” which is false, in spite of the fact that many people would like it to be so. Possibly the Deweians have made the mistake of reading Whitman literally as a kind of positivist how-to protocol: “Produce Great Persons, the rest follows.”

One can scarcely blame Pound or Williams for being misunderstood, for what was probably an inevitable development in the history of language, in the history of the modern secular world. Nor will I fail to resist the temptation to overgeneralize: each instance of poetry, though it prove an idle empty claim, presents a special case, deserves to be considered and judged according to its merits (if it has any). I have considerable regard for each of the poems I have quoted. But, from a point of view which assumes that language, meaning and consciousness are intimately and indissolubly bound up with one another, one can only conclude that to cut and snip and gouge away at language—even the surface!—is to violate and sever consciousness, itself, in some mysterious and invisible way; that to dispense with meaning is to dispense with mind, altogether—perhaps irreparably so.

In his 1980 Nobel Lecture, Czeslaw Milosz reminded us that serious poetry “engages in a quarrel with modernity,” that poetry is involved in “a quest for reality.” There is no question but that such a quest fundamentally involves meaning, or rather: meanings. “Our planet that gets smaller every year, with its fantastic proliferation of mass media, is witnessing a process that escapes definition, characterized by a refusal to remember…” We are all caught up in a process in which “history is…blurred, in a state of strange confusion” and where “Voltaire [becomes] a contemporary of Lenin.” Academically-trained philosophers (Are there other kinds?) may experience a jolt at being reminded of the serious poet’s “true vocation—which is to contemplate Being.” To see, Milosz insists, may mean also to preserve in memory. “To see and describe”may also mean to reconstruct in imagination.

Somewhat mystically, toward the end of his address, he speaks of mankind’s ascending to “a new awareness” and he reminds us that “we all who are here, both the speaker and you who listen, are no more than links between the past and the future.” This is so because, as he has stated earlier in his speech, the living “receive a mandate from those who are silent forever”—to which one could add: and a trust from unborn generations as yet unable to speak for themselves. Quoting his French-Lithuanian relative Oscar Milosz, the poet summons “the deepest secret of toiling masses, more than ever alive…” What is their secret? It is an “unavowed need of true values,” a privation which—he pointedly asserts—“finds no language to express itself.”

Any “new awareness” which is to be more than a mere “change in consciousness” (even totalitarian societies, I submit, will provide this much) depends upon a sophisticated, even heightened, apprehension of meanings. “New awareness,” I think it important to say, is not just rhetorical garb for an instinct to escape; it does not mean we should “light out for the Territory”; it does not imply our concentrating on the future, say, at the cost of completely ignoring the past. The sort of comprehension suggested, I would hope, is cumulative, assuming an awareness of more rather than less. This goes, not just for language and literature, but for every activity that they impinge upon.
If we judge the example lines of poetry I quoted earlier by some such standard as this—and I think inevitably we must—then another, quite different picture emerges as to their relative values; one which is neither corrected nor restored by reference to the “whole poem.”

Such a picture, such a judgment requires that I conclude: Any language (whether poetry, fiction or philosophy) which deliberately strips and deprives itself of meaning—like any economy which ignores a principle of usufruct—is not doing its job.

In short: in a sense so fundamental as to have been overlooked in our time, there is no poetry in ordinary language, there is no poetry in the ordinary language found or overheard in the street, there is no poetry whatsoever in the street, itself—unless it is brought there by a poet.

*   *   *

[22 August 1981]

Is the Muse sending me signals? (I seem to be receiving signals, as of unearthly voices, telling me what to do…)

I wonder if Civilization is falling apart… How close are we to war? A pervasive equality of mutants, a grimly poisoned environment, the rapidly increasing self-conscious subjectivity which makes Hamlets, Ophelias and Poloniuses of us all (not to mention other characters from that play), all this and more—or worse—looms distinctly on the horizon, as it seems to me.

Images of the deformed, cancerous, blighted, wounded, outcast, hideous, depraved, the accursed and alien, fill my mind’s eye—: and the afterword and motive force of all this is the final scene from Wintercamp**: a bespectacled man at a podium before some large conference or convention, reading an esoteric paper, and growing more withered and eccentric with each paragraph, each sentence! What begins an ordered chronicle ends with specialization, intricate subtext, mystical gibberish. So it is with this era.

It is the eclecticism of this age which makes assessment so difficult, assuredly—the viewpoint from which all other objects might focus clearly is constantly shifting, seems to be denied us. The only way to avoid an infinite regression of corrosive relativism in values is by creating the great scaffold of values and ideas to which we shall owe allegiance, to create and recreate this vision of society according to changing circumstances. This entails no relativism—only a radical empiricism. (Presumably, the needs of mortal men, women and children will never fundamentally alter, only the outward trappings and language.)

If that is so, then what sort of vision ought an artist of the 21st Century—The Space Age—to have? How can he teach without violating his vows to the purely aesthetic

Muse?

The answer is—obviously enough—he can’t teach anyone anything. His task is to demonstrate, to weave his fearful vision, and leave interpretation to the audience. Art is like the pronouncements of the Delphic Oracle in this respect: it does not explain, it intimates.

*   *   *

[14 January 1982]

Current events pose a problem for the 20th Century: namely, that events seem to be piling up faster than anyone can account for them. The lines of traditional understanding of East and West (the Soviet and American societies, I mean)—for criticizing and revealing the significance of actions and policies—have pretty much eroded. Social dysfunction, various kinds of pollution that will get us, the rolls of illustrious dead, continually pile up. As do demeaning events (Ted Bundy, Jonestown, Orlando Letelier, Love Canal, Three-Mile Island, Wayne Robert Felde, Jack Abbott, Dorothy Stratton…). This, without mentioning the inherent nightmares of eugenic research, gene-splicing and whatnot. It now appears that control of America’s political life is in the hands of thoughtless men, rather than the deliberately demonic (small comfort, if we consider Arendt’s analysis of evil as originating in “thoughtlessness”). Of course, the general theme or plot remains, obviously: the unification of the planet, of man… As human consciousness becomes increasingly literal, the world grows increasingly symbolic, or mystified. (How long before “radioactivity” becomes, to a generation of debased language-users, merely a property of radios, something to do with media?) In particular—and in spite of the fact that I am not particularly given to the self-hypnotic maxim that all is merely appearance—it seems true of our times that “everything is something else.” This undoubtedly has to do with the lack of definite standards (of values!) or rather: the felt lack of definite values, standards and criteria produces this condition which is, in itself, at once an “appearance” and a fact of consciousness. The sub-themes within this general context seem clear:

1. the demise of nationalism
2. dysfunction and implosion: the institutionalization of McCarthyism in neo-Conservative politics and the Moral Majority
3. mass-murders: Speck, Manson, Bundy, John Wayne Gacy—culminating at Jonestown
4. the threat to legitimacy: Gary Gilmore and Jack Abbott.
5. otherworldliness and “survival”: mysticism and abortion
   [this probably belongs under # 2]
6. Men and Women: The Last Wars of Religion

Behind all this, the growing awareness of the need for consolidating the world’s resources for the benefit of mankind, which necessarily meant consolidating the economic structures—corporations!—respo​nsible for the manufacture and distribution of goods and services. [But not all goods, and not all “services”: the artist, the poet still escaped the strictures of this formula because of his dependence on a personal and individual reality—or was it because of his devotion to a transcendent ideal, a pact or contract with God?] The need for putting corporate economies on a rational and just foundation posed the sharpest irony: for precisely these corporations boasted their autonomy and independence from other social institutions and regulations; precisely these corporations claimed the historic if somewhat mystical status of “individuals”; indeed, they insisted upon being recognized as the ultimate expression of individualism in the commercial civilization of the West.

As the purveyor of industrialism and the very agency which had put science to work in transforming the globe, commercial expansion could not escape responsibility for the situation in which mind—not to mention entire populations—found itself. By the second half of the 20th Century, global reconstruction was all but complete, even though few understood or willingly acknowledged the dimensions and significance of what had taken place. Yet, due to its ideological identity with individual autonomy, the corporations and multinationals of the industrial sector (or their political allies, the foundations) could not, en bloc, accept rules or proposals affecting corporate behavior from outside the confines of the elect. Whatever changes might be made, they would have to come from within. And it remained a thorny question through the end of the century whether a technically-based commercial industrialism in the form of directive boards and supporting managerial classes entrusted with carrying out the directors’ dictates could divorce itself from the motive and goal of profit and growth, even in the interest of civilization itself.

For all along, commercial interests had engaged in deluding and mystifying themselves as to the true nature and intent of their enterprise. In much the same way that Americans, as the agenda in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War reached catastrophic proportions, lulled themselves to sleep with the moral lullaby of the Starship Enterprise and its commitment to the “Prime Directive” principle of “non-interference” with other cultures, so industry enjoyed the fantasy of the Sublime, reveling in the foregone conclusion that it was the continuing agency and expression of Nature, just as it had done with increasing ferocity throughout the 19th Century. The construction of bridges and hydro-electric plants no less than the splitting of atoms and the development of synthetic fuels (or implanted fertilizations!) merely continued Nature’s work by using the methods inherent in nature—merely continued them, that is, when they did not actually “improve” upon them. And there was an air of smugness and arrogance in the advertisements of chemical industries as well as in the projected hopes of molecular biologists when it came to their visions of genetic engineering.

Yet the fact remained, in spite of obfuscations, that no strictly natural process produced the genetic damage of those aborted victims at Love Canal, any more than it did the lesions and leukemias at Hiroshima. The specter was raising itself more explicitly in the final decades of the Century: Once the reconstruction of nature was a fait accompli, would any life be worth living? One could not, after all, simply refuel the U.S.S. Enterprise and set course for a new world with Kirk and Scotty and Spock.

* Regarding the claim that poetic language is non-ordinary, see: Howard Nemerov, “Speaking Silence,” Figures of Thought, Boston, David R. Godine, 1978, pages 105-108. Also Owen Barfield’s discussion of “strangeness” and linguistic change in Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning, Third Edition, Wesleyan University Press, 1973, pages 118-120.

** An early and unpublished story of the author. 



Dennis Weiser, has published more than a dozen works of poetry, fiction and nonfiction since 2005. “Tzytzyan Ysalane” won first prize for prose fiction at the 2004 Chicago Printers Row Book Fair. He is a former weekly columnist for The Kansas City Business Journal and book reviewer at NPR affiliate KCUR-FM in Kansas City, Missouri where he has lived since 1981. In 2012 he concluded a successful crowd-funding campaign which resulted in the worldwide free eBook release of his eco-friendly erotic SFF novella, The Third Awakening. In September 2014, he launched 3RD AWAKENING BOOKS which annually publishes original works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Visit the 3RD AWAKENING BOOKSTORE, where you can preview and purchase print copies of his books. His complete resume, publications and works freely available to read online are at LINKED IN. A member of the Academy of American Poets, Dennis is currently writing his third novel, a mystery set in 1879 Java against the backdrop of Dutch colonial exploitation. In September 2014, he launched 3RD AWAKENING BOOKS, which annually publishes original works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Visit the 3RD AWAKENING BOOKSTORE, where you can preview and purchase print copies of his books. Find his complete resume, publications and works freely available to read online at LINKED IN. A member of the Academy of American Poets, he is currently writing his third novel, a mystery set in 1879 Java against the backdrop of colonial exploitation.

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