Sunday, November 29, 2015

Geography blogging returns

I used to have a recurring feature on geography, focusing mostly on areas of the world that are less familiar to the average citizen of the USA.  Sometimes that included myself in spite of my fondness for geography.

As a student of history, I have to pay attention to geography.  As I read or listen to lectures, it is immensely useful to have a sense of location.  Additionally, as citizens of the world we should all know this stuff.

In recent months I have listened to lectures on late antiquity and the middle ages.  I am currently taking Russian courses at the University of New Mexico (along with survey of Italian literature).  It dawned on me that I am woefully forgetful of geography in the areas pictured above.  So I am sharing a look at Eastern Europe for us all to absorb.

The maps in this post come from the Nations Online Project and they grant permission to use them for educational purposes.

The map below is from the Danube River Project.

I post it as something of a confession.  Listening to lectures that discuss migrations and barbarians crossing the Danube to enter the Roman Empire, I realized I was a bit hazy on "the beautiful blue Danube."  Really embarrassing, actually, given my studies in the period from the late Roman Republic through the Renaissance and Reformation eras.  So here we can all get a glimpse of its extent.  My discomfort can be transformed into a learning moment for us all.

This post is cursory since I am not adding much further information but I believe it would be nice to restore the geography blogging posts.

--the BB

Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Great Thanksgiving

Since Eucharistic Prayers are known as "The Great Thanksgiving," I celebrate Thanksgiving Day 2015 by sharing this with you.  It is one of the prayers used at St Cuthbert's Episcopal Church, Oakland, California, when Bishop Swing gave me leeway.  Yes, my liturgical friends, it is long. It is meant to lead us into meditation and probably works better as meditation than as corporate liturgy.

This prayer does express my own spirituality.

Presider          The Lord be with you.
People             And also with you.
Presider          Lift up your hearts.
People             We lift them to the Lord.
Presider          Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People             It is right to give God thanks and praise.

You alone are Holy, Creator of all things.
From eternal silence your Word burst forth—
uttering worlds into being,
shattering the void and blazing forth 
into the shapeless heavens.
Surging in the wet darkness of heaving chaos
the heartbeat of your love sets all things in motion.
Your dazzling glory showers being on this new creation
that is yours yet emerges as Other.
Your Spirit tends and nurtures,
shapes, calls forth, and quickens all things,
teasing endless possibilities 
from the riches of your passionate joy.

The dancing immensities honor you;
the rhythms of birth and death bless you;
the crashing surf and winging bird chant your praises;
the blood coursing in our bodies 
and the wind rising in our throats
combine to sing your goodness,
as we join the music of the spheres 
and the exultation of the heavenly hosts,
glorifying your Name in the endless chorus:

Presider and People

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
  Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
  Hosanna in the highest.
The Presider continues
Boundless Giver and Faithful Lover,
you make us in your sacred image,
planting in our mortal frame 
the spark of Uncreated Light
that no darkness may quench,
setting each of us on our path toward You,
who are our Beginning, Journey, and End.

You call to us without ceasing, 
and have blessed the human race
with those whose ears are open 
and whose tongues are free
to speak your Word.

Luring us toward the fullness of life 
and the joy of your freedom,
you draw us, as you have drawn our ancestors,
toward the unknown place and the unhoped future,
lest we perish in the bondage of our failures and fears.

Speaking within time the Word beyond time
and joining yourself forever to your creation,
you became one with us in Jesus the Christ,
taking our flesh through Mary,
daughter of Eve and mother of believers.
In him you proclaim your love,
your faithfulness, forgiveness, and compassion,
offering them freely to all without exception.

We and you are joined in Jesus, 
offering ourselves and all creation to you, 
Maker of all things, for healing and blessing
through your transforming Spirit.
In his death you embrace death and every evil
that life and goodness may prevail.
In his rising you triumph, 
drawing all creation once more
into the dance of endless joy and life that cannot end.

With human hands Jesus took bread before his death,
blessing you as he offered it, broke it, 
shared it with his friends,
and said, “Take, eat:
This is my Body, which is given for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.”

With human hands he raise the cup,
gave thanks, and shared once more, saying,
“Drink this, all of you:
This is my Blood of the new Covenant,
which is poured out for you and for all
for the forgiveness of sins.
Whenever you drink it,
do this for the remembrance of me.”

By human hands he was betrayed
and his hands were stretched upon the cross.
Raised again that we might rise with him,
he reaches out with the same hands, now pierced,
to reassure us that he, our Life, now lives.

Giver of Life, with your gifts and our toil
this bread and wine are now offered,
as we remember your never-ceasing love 
and faithful self-offering,
especially in Jesus’ life and ministry,
dying and rising, presence and promise.

By your Spirit and Creative Word 
make the bread and cup
Life for us and the world, 
the Body and Blood of Jesus.

Bestow your Spirit once more upon us,
continuing your work in us 
and raising us to new life in you,
that we who have been united to Christ
may be transfigured like him to show forth your glory.

Unite us with Cuthbert and all your saints
that we may share in the life of those who love you
and taste the blessings of the merciful and the just.

Presider and People
Through Christ and with Christ and in Christ,
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
we worship you our God and Creator
in voices of unending praise.
Blessed are you now and for ever.  AMEN.

 The prayer is my own composition and I freely grant permission to make use of it with credit given.  Thank you.

--the BB

Monday, November 23, 2015

Mot i out paines et ahans

Aigues Mortes, France

The title of this post is line 1638 of Béroul's Le Roman de Tristan, a 12th century French poem of the earlier tale from Cornwall that recounts the passion and trials of Tristan and Yseut. My friends on Facebook know that I recently read the English version of Joseph Bédier's compilation of the Tristan cycle and went to two performances of Tristan & Yseult at the Aux Dog Theatre here in Albuquerque, their adaptation with permission of the Kneehigh Players' drama on this theme.  "Kneehigh Theatre is an international touring theatre company founded by Mike Shepherd and based in Cornwall, England." A Cornish company presenting an originally Cornish tale so that it speaks to contemporary audiences, even winding by proxy through Albuquerque, seems to bring it all full circle.

Coming full circle, or spiraling back, is the germ of this post.  I am no longer middle-aged (my 70th birthday gallops toward me), but I am a medievalist.  It seems this is an important assertion to make at this point in my life.  Let me share some background for this statement.

In autumn 1967 I spent a semester abroad in France, living for two months with the Urvoy family.  I was blessed to do some traveling with them.  One place we visited was Aigues Mortes, pictured above.  The fortified city was built by Louis IX (San Luis Rey de Francia) and his son.  It is from this town that St Louis departed for the Seventh and Eighth Crusades.  We also visited St-Guilhem-le-Desert, where St Guilhem of Gellone built a monastery.  There were other sites we saw as well, but I believe those visits created some vital link between me and a period of history that is often ignored.

A great deal of classical education in the Western centers of higher learning has traditionally focused on the classics.  British university education seemed to operate from the supposition that a man (yes, male) who was steeped in Greek and Latin literature would be well equipped to govern whatever post of the empire needed governing.  Many of us have at least some sense of the Greece of Athens and its competition in Sparta and Persia, of late republican Rome and the rise of the Caesars.  We speak of the Fall of Rome in the fifth century and then it gets mushy until the Renaissance.  Feudalism, chivalry, and crusades float around in there and we use the terribly misleading term "Dark Ages," as though all knowledge, art, and civilization had vanished for centuries.

For Protestants in the USA, church history seems to have an immense gap between the last-written books of the New Testament and Martin Luther.  My love-hate relationship with the Roman Catholic Church fostered in me a desire to know more about the intervening years.  I never became a Roman Catholic, though I will wear the title "Catholic" quite happily (and you are encouraged to make that an upper-case C).  I seemed to become more curious about this period while in Baptist seminary and audited a course at my alma mater, Pomona College, on "Paris 1200."  It was a rich inter-disciplinary exploration of a period and place in history in terms of politics, sociology, education, religion, science, arts, and literature.  By then I was hooked.

 The Baptism of Clovis

I graduated from seminary and went to UCLA to begin a doctoral program in early and medieval church history.  My historical focus was ample enough.  I especially enjoy the millennium from about 100 BCE to 900 CE, but I could hang in until at least the fall of Constantinople, 29 May 1453.  After two years of classwork, for which I remain grateful, it became evident that I do not have the right character for original research or for burrowing into something to the point that only three people on the planet can really understand what I am doing.  So I dropped out and never became a professor of church history.  What I became, and remain, is a sort of "academic manqué," someone who never wants to stop learning and teaching but never teaches (or at least has not yet) in the context of an educational institution. I like popularizing knowledge, making it available to people and helping myself and others see the relevance of the rich traditions we have inherited.

At UCLA I took an awesome survey of church history with Dr Gerhard Ladner, of blessed memory, a true old-school European gentleman, top-notch scholar, and gracious instructor.  I studied historical sources (manuscripts, numismatics, archaeology, etc.), hagiography, Old French language and literature, Reformation history (yes, I dabbled that late).  For my hagiography course--which treats the lives of saints--I explored the triple strand around Guilhem, mentioned above.  There was an historical duke of Aquitaine of that name.  There is a character in the chansons de geste known as Guillaume d'Orange, one of Charlemagne's great warriors, who helped drive back the Saracens.  There is St Guilhem who renounced his worldly power and became a Benedictine monk.  These three strands overlap and untangling them and sifting out our modern ideal of "who he really was and what really happened," is tricky indeed.  Myself, I just enjoy all three layers and I have invoked the intercessions of Guilhem many times.  A few years ago I felt moved to write an icon and wondered which saint it should be.  Since I had no icons of Guilhem, I chose him.  Or he chose me.  As it turned out, the paper from the hagiography class surfaced and his feast day arrived as I was in the process of writing the icon.  It hangs at the head of my stairs and I feel he still watches over me.  In my bedroom is a tacky plastic crucifix on a simple wood cross that I purchased at St-Guilhem-le-Desert.  It hangs over the door.

The death of Roland

I have read the Chanson de Roland at least twice (in Old French with help from modern French translation) and I have read some of the cycle of William of Orange. I have retained a shelf of books about (or in) medieval French throughout the four decades since dropping out of UCLA.  That is how I could lay my hands on a copy of Béroul's Tristan so easily.  It was published in 1972 and I had to have purchased it no later than 1974.  A week ago I opened it up to discover that I had to cut open the pages.  Been a while since I had to do that!

Through The Great Courses I have listened to a number of lectures over the past few years.  They are awesome while driving.  I have listened to lectures on the Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid, Greek tragedy, Religion in the Ancient Mediterranean World, Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition, four different series on  Shakespeare, the material around King Arthur, Dante's Divine Comedy (twice), Late Antiquity, Russian Literature, and currently "Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal" (covering roughly 1300-1500).  There have been a few others and I have several more waiting to be listened to.

The material from late antiquity and the middle ages has pointed me to the several shelves of books in my library, including those in Old French.  I have wanted to read or reread these volumes before shuffling off this mortal coil, and perhaps the time to do is in the immediate future.  UNM sometimes offers courses in the Graal tradition and other medieval topics.  I wonder what I might tempt them to do.

Incipit of Mark's Gospel,
Lindisfarne Gospels

As vicar of St Cuthbert's in Oakland, I could not wait to visit Durham and various parts of Northumberland associated with Cuthbert and other saints during the Northumbrian flowering of sanctity and artistic creativity in the 7th-9th centuries.  I got to visit Saxon and Norman churches, historic sites, pray at the tombs of Cuthbert and Bede, and see the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Library.  Cuthbert, like Guilhem, has touched my life on many occasions.  By the way, when Bill and I were in Florence I came across a relic of Guilhem.  If I did not know Latin, I may have missed it.

Why have I composed this lengthy narration?  Because so much that touched my life when I was 15-28 years old seems to be touching my life again.  I am back in school, taking six units every semester at UNM.  My goal was to beef up knowledge of languages I only knew slightly (Italian, Russian, German) and essentially enjoy coursework in languages and literature. Now I am wondering about a return to French, my undergraduate major, exploring works again from the perspective of an elder instead of as a youth. (I forgot to mention earlier that when I started at Pomona my desire was to major in comparative literature; the chair and embodiment of that field retired shortly after I arrived so I switched to French.)

In my senior years I find myself returning to passions I have had all my life.  These were MY passions, not goals set by others or that I set in the illusion that I was doing right by others.  It is about allowing my authentic self to flower. Who knows, I may even find a niche or two in which to teach.

In case you were wondering (please say you were): Mot i out paines et ahans = He had many pains and sorrows.

Sant Guilhem, Sancte Cuthberte, Sancte Beda, orate pro me.

--the BB

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The complexities of free speech

The overly publicized battle going on in Rowan County, Kentucky, over the granting of marriage licenses has glutted social media and news outlets until we are all sick of hearing about county clerk Kim Davis and her refusal to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in spite of the Supreme Court ruling in Oberfell and a judge's direct orders to issue lawful licenses.  Facebook friends have pleaded with us all to stop posting about her.  FB posts do not allow much room for reflection, so I would like to make my comments here.

Kim Davis is a flash in the pan.  Her time in headlines will pass.  In the large scheme of things she does not matter as much as the hoopla would lead us to think.  She is, however, a focal point in the immediate issues of equal justice under the law and religious freedom.  I believe she has been manipulated and used by fund-raising zealots (legal counsel and right-wing religious groups) and by politicians (most notably by Huckabee and Cruz).  She has also been willing to take a very public stance and be used symbolically, and I see her thus as both victim and culpable.

In a world where clever graphics become popular memes on social media she is glorified and vilified with equal fervor by the opposing camps.  It is easy to be facile and snarky and outright vicious.
When her marital history became widely known she was seen as a hypocrite since she became pregnant by husband three while still married to husband one, #2 adopted the children, then she divorced him and married husband three, and later remarried husband two. From the outside, this clearly undercuts any stance she takes on upholding a biblical view of marriage.  From within her context, however, all this happened before she "came to Jesus," and is a past of which she has presumably repented.  God does not hold it against her and neither should we.  Some of the rigidity of her current position can be seen as a, possibly desperate, attempt to demonstrate her commitment to a higher standard than the one she failed to meet in the past.  This would be her sincere attempt to demonstrate her new-found faith.  I think we need to set aside the criticism of hypocrisy on this point. In any case, it is irrelevant to her current actions and issues of law and justice.

My friend Jay has called upon us all, and on me, to remember that she is a child of God.  Name-calling is not a good way to honor the image of God in other people.  He is right.  If you press me, I will even say that I believe Dick Cheney is a child of God, though the bile I have poured upon him would not lead anyone to think I believe that.  When it comes to comments I make on this blog or on Facebook, I admit that I do not hold myself to a high standard.  When I see behavior or comments that I deem despicable, I unleash that nasty tongue (and keyboard).  My usual targets are politicians and religious conservatives. Since I do not cut Pat Robertson or Ted Cruz or Dick Cheney any slack, I am not going to cut Kim Davis any slack either.  She is no less nor any more a child of God than they are.

Kim sees herself as standing up for God's authority as opposed the human authority.  The state is not asking her to change her views, but it is demanding that she perform her civil function, which involves the issuance of legal documents, including marriage licenses.  When she invokes God's authority she is, as would be true of any of us, invoking her understanding of her deity's authority.  Other Christians invoke God as they celebrate marriage between same-sex couples. She does not have a universal standard here, but it is seen as clear and firm in the religious tradition to which she now adheres.  When she refuses to issue legal marriage licenses, she is acting not as a representative of God, which is not her job, but as a representative of the state.  As an agent of the state, she is intentionally depriving citizens of their legal right.  She may not believe it is their right, but she is not entitled to enforce her beliefs on other citizens.  That becomes an establishment of (her brand of) religion and an act of state oppression of a minority.

The furor over "religious freedom" that currently roils the social and political scene in the United States of America is fired by the decades-long, tenacious efforts of dominionists and their sympathizers to turn this nation into a theocracy.  They are relentless in repeating the lie that this was founded as, or ever was, a Christian nation. That Christianity has had profound impact on the history and ethos of the country is true.  That the Bible or the Ten Commandments are the basis of our founding documents is demonstrably false.  This nation was shaped by Enlightenment principles such as consent of the governed and social contract.  Much of the European colonization here was driven by the desire to flee established religion in Great Britain.  Baptists, Quakers, Puritans, and Roman Catholics came here to be free of the Church of England.  Each group would be leery of any other group becoming established and they were keenly aware that "Christianity" means many things to differing groups that fall under its umbrella. The USA became a workable society in which no religion was established and all could practice their beliefs freely.  We are still growing into that ideal, as we are into all the ideals of the nation.

To insist that religious believers NOT impose their beliefs and practices on others is not religious persecution.  It is a guarantee of the freedom of us all.  By refusing to issue legal marriage licenses to citizens who are by law entitled to them, Kim Davis is not only violating the rights of others, she is acting oppressively in the name of the state.  If she feels she cannot do her job without violating her conscience, then she should conscientiously resign and let someone who can and will perform the office of county clerk do so. But she is not entitled to enforce her religious beliefs on others.

I wish I had a shorthand term for "self-rightous religiously oppressive agent of the state."  That would be more precise and rise above terms like hateful beyotch and worse. I believe she is a willing and willful actor in this drama and we have a right to hold her accountable. I am going to opt for "theocratic oppressor."  Not a victim, not a martyr, not a hero, not a saint, no more a sinner than anyone, but definitely an oppressor.

My novels of Mídhris involve the conflict between oppressive power and redemptive love. Caesar versus Christ, if you will.  My perception of Kim Davis is that she has currently sided with Caesar, an irony I am certain she would not appreciate.

I started with a title about free speech.  This essay is an attempt not only to clarify issues as I see them but to push back against a "censorship from the left." When I exercise my right of free speech I am, as we all are, subject to push back from others. The dialogue continues.

--the BB

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Farewell, Big Sister

Shirley Louise Benzler (née Strid)
17 December 1931 - 7 September 2015

 This is my all-time favorite photo of my Big Sister Shirley.  She smolders with Hollywood glamor and appears ready to take on the world. (Eat your heart out, Joan Crawford.)

Both of my sisters are older than I.  Shirley, as eldest, has long been Big Sister and Iva, younger than Shirley, has been Little Sister.  Even why I had reached my full height (though mercifully not my current weight) in high school, she boasted that she could whip me.  I did not challenge her assertion.  As we all know, young and strong and swift (even were I swift) cannot stand against old and tough and sneaky.

Shirley loved to skate, whether on roller or ice skates.  I could not keep my balance on roller skates, so I was certainly impressed.  She moved out, shared an apartment with a girlfriend, had jobs; the independent firstborn.  Domesticity was not her thing; if it was more than Hamburger Helper she probably would not want to cook it and the only beef she ate was ground beef.  Iva and I inherited the cooking mojo.

 Shirley on her tricycle

Life with a baby brother can undoubtedly become tedious.  When The Egyptian came out in 1954, guess who took me to the drive-in to see it... along with her boyfriend.  Why do I suspect, in retrospect, that Mother sent me as a chaperon? I remember seeing Oklahoma at the indoor theater in 1955.  I do not remember who had to drag me along, one sister or both.  I do remember my curiosity and anxiety about some Red Skeleton.  Hey, I was too young to know the actor and comedian Red Skelton then!  For these movies, I was 8 and 9, respectively.

 Iva and Shirley with Grandmother Iva Rhoades Safford

Oh, a smartass baby brother, I should add.  One day, when I was five, I told Shirley I was bored.  She told me to learn the alphabet backward.  Was she truly posing a challenge or just getting rid of me for a while?  I went away, wrote down the alphabet, practiced like crazy, then returned and rattled it off from Z to A.  I can still do it, though not so quickly, and sometimes practice doing it with foreign alphabets.  You never know when that sobriety test might come along.

Dad, Grandmother Marie K. (Moberg) Strid, Shirley, and Paula
Four Generations

 Many memories center on the cabin that Dad built at Hume Lake, huset på backen (the house on the hill in Swedish). One treat was sleeping on the wrap-around porch in the summer and seeing the Milky Way as one could never see it in the city.  And during the Leonid meteor shower we watched "shooting stars."  I would entertain my nieces and nephews with short stories I made up, somewhat along the lines of Edgar Allen Poe.  Who can resist telling "ghost stories" in the woods, even if we were not out in tents?

I remember playing Crazy Eights with Grandmother Strid.  Hume being a strict fundamentalist environment we were not allowed playing cards lest someone gamble.  Well, any preteen boy can quickly figure out that if you take a Rook deck and remove the fourteens you have a perfectly fine deck of cards with which to play poker, gin, canasta, solitaire, etc.  Grandmother was born in Sweden.  Her "J" always came out as a "Y" and, to compensate, her "Y" always came out as a "J."  So when she called the (Rook) suit "yellow" she said "Jell-o."  The gelatin dessert, of course, was "yellow."

 Mugging for my camera.  This is cropped.  
Her husband Jack was eyeing the whole thing suspiciously.

 I mention cards because Shirley loved playing games.  She loved crossword puzzles.  One night when she was at home, the two of us were playing Scrabble.  We were probably up way past my bedtime.  She challenged some word I had put down and out came the dictionary.  I stumbled across the word "kibe," which means an ulcerated chilblain.  Although I have never been able to play that word in Scrabble I have never forgotten it because, as happens when one is running on fumes, we found it hilariously funny and laughed until tears ran.  As with all such stories, you had to be there.

I taught Shirley how to play cribbage and the two of us played many games of it.  She taught me to play pinochle.  I picked up the French game Mille Bornes and we played that.  Later Yahtzee came along.  Shirley was always up for this, with close friends and with family across generations.

I don't know what I said as we washed dishes but
I probably deserved the slap she gave me.

The wild child was partly tamed from a motorcycle accident that left her with a bunch of metal in her legs.  Although the love of puzzles and games remained, and the love of riding on motorcycles behind Jack, in a sidecar, or on the big trike, the fiery energy had diminished.

Shirley at Iva and JR's for Christmas

Since her birthday is just before Christmas, what this cropped photo does not show is a big yellow tag she wore.  It was part of a birthday card I had sent her that year and read, "I am the sister of a wonderful brother" or some such silliness.  And she wore it.

Shirley and Jack in later years

When Bill and I took a road trip to California for grandnephew Jeremy's wedding to Katie, we stopped in Fresno and had dinner with Shirley and Jack.  I had never seen them quite so mellow and loving toward each other and Bill and I cherish the memory of that night.  It was so sweet.

Alzheimer's is cruel and was not kind to my Big Sister.  She was finally ready to go and in the last hour Paula reports that she was at peace and died in Paula's arms.  With these photos I remember the Shirley I knew before the disease took hold. May Heaven's motorcycle rallies ring with her laughter, may San Pascual fix her some good biscuits and gravy, and may she and Aunt Dorothy share loads of stories.

Happy from now on
are those who die in the Lord!
So it is, says the Spirit,
for they rest from their labors.

Into paradise may the angels lead you. 
At your coming may the martyrs receive you, 
and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.

Rest in peace, Big Sister.

--the BB

Sunday, July 12, 2015


Romanesque arches,
Cathedral and Basilica of St Francis,
Santa Fe, New Mexico

“From this the poem springs: that we live in a place
That is not our own and, much more, not ourselves
And hard it is in spite of blazoned days.” 

--Wallace Stevens

 I heard this on a lecture while driving today.  The source of poetry (and all creative activity) seen in the disjunction between us and our location (in time and space, in history, in society) and ourselves.  We do not own the place in which we live; indeed, what do we own at all?  We are located within it and we are faced with the task of deciding how to relate to it.  We must create meaning in the context where we find ourselves.

How do we read "and, much more, not ourselves?"  What governs that syntactically?  Do we not live in ourselves?  Or do we not own ourselves? [Please do not take this in tangents about how we need to resist those who would presume to own us or tell us what to do with out bodies or our lives. I feel certain Stevens is writing about our relationship to ourselves.]

However we construe the poet's words, it should not be difficult to posit with him that we are somehow out of joint, out of place, not at home in our world (however broadly or narrowly defined) or in our own skin.  This is our basic human dilemma and "hard it is."  From this the poem springs.

Poiesis, the act of making or creating, is a Greek term from which we derive poem/poetry.  A huge chunk of what makes us human is the self-reflective ability to create.  We not only create tools but also complex language systems for communication.  We create physical structures and social customs.  At the core is our attempt to create meaning.

I suspect Stevens has this in mind.  We write poetry (and create narratives) to bring meaning from that which seems random, unconnected, and perhaps meaningless.  We witness a scene and instinctively build a story about it.  We crave beginnings, developments, and conclusions.

My poem, my creation, my invented narrative, my story is my attempt to make sense of the context of my life, how I relate to my place, this place I do not own.  I develop a sequential tale that tells me who I am and how I am related.  Together we develop collective narratives, the mythoi of our families, our clans, our neighborhoods, our schools, our circles of friends, our towns and nations.  And those collective constructs take on a life of their own and form another sort of place we do not own and we struggle to know how we relate, or do not, in those contexts.

Since I was in junior high school I have used poetry to explore my feelings.  No poem, however well crafted its meter and rhyme or however innovative its free form, can capture me or my feelings, but when I put words on paper I have a tool to approximate what I think is going on and I can look at it, react to it,  and take advantage of its framework to see what was unspoken or spoken amiss.

I have also written short stories and novels.  I love the characters in my novels and keep discovering things about them.  They all arise from within me more, I think, than they do from outer observation.  I see and hear people and their behaviors and some get written into the text but I have to own these figures as parts of myself.  Brave and noble parts, twisted and evil parts, broken and yearning parts, inspired and transcendent parts.  Perhaps as time goes by I will understand better how the novels make meaning out of life.  So far, I know they do and catch snippets of it.

A chuckle just arose.  In my early books I mention characters or situations that are left open-ended, but are actually spinning out threads for potential exploration in future books.  Remember how I mentioned above that we like a beginning, middle, and end?  It is hard to leave something unresolved.  Very hard.  We struggle with ambiguity and even more with not knowing.

My patio this evening during a thundershower

Here, for the moment, is my physical place and also my emotional place.  What meaning do I create?  What poem am I writing?  How do I tell the story of my journey to this moment?  This is fascinating because that narrative changes as my perspective alters.  My evaluation of past episodes can shift from "that was pleasant or positive" to "that, now that I think about it, was deadly."  And vice versa, as we recognize the gifts we received from difficult moments and persons.

Blessings on y'all as you compose the poems of your lives.

--the BB

Sunday, July 05, 2015


An exodus is a "going out," as one might gather from the major narrative known by that name.  It is a compound of two Greek words, one meaning "out of" and one meaning "road/way." 

I have been struck in the past two days by the contrast between my life journey and the Odyssey.  Wily Ulysses had a long and adventure-filled journey home but it was a journey BACK to Ithaca.  My life has been a journey AWAY from Fresno.  Looking back at old journals as well as the course of my life, it seems I knew it long ago.


I continued climbing, occasionally glancing back down and out to the sea.
Well, not really—it was just a small bay. But beyond, out where those little fishing boats were headed, was the sea. And above the sea were clouds stretched across the sky like last Wednesday’s washing. Or perhaps the thousand sails of another fleet, navigating the winds alone without the water.
            The rocks were getting steeper as I turned my back to the sun—the sun, which seemed to lay its flat hand on me and push down, down, back where I came from.  But I had no more to do with that little village.  So I climbed, climbed, climbed,
κατά τὸ βοριά, ξένος.

29 May 1965

This is from the end of my freshman year in college. The closing phrase is adapted from the first poem in the Mythistorema series by George Seferis: κατά τὸ βοριά, ξένοι  (northwards, strangers).  Here I recast it in the singular.  I am journeying alone, a stranger.

We had taken a break in classical Greek the second semester and read some of these poems, a bit of modern Greek for different.  I still have the ditto sheet text in Greek and my translating notes, tucked in a copy of Seferis’ poems in English.  For some reason this phrase lodged itself in my memory and has been with me now for fifty years.

I have removed the opening fragment of this since it seems stupid and irrelevant now.  The rest of this handwritten page in my journal still speaks.


The commonplace divergence of two ways
respects itself and forces men to choose
the roads they travel. Each choice means they lose
the other way, the speculative days
they might have lived, companions they’d have met
and shared these journeys with.  But none should call
his path the poorer for the loss, for all
that he has gained in what he chose, and yet
shall gain, exceeds in its reality
each ‘might have been.”  Thus, with finality,
I go another way than yours, alone.
I ask no absolution, as my own
quietus I have made, I ask but peace,
and friendship when the bitterness shall cease.

4 January 1972

This is a sonnet written in my final year of seminary.  I can think of a particular context for the poem but now I see a larger theme.  "Thus, with finality, I go another way than yours, alone," really leaps out.

Roots Redefined

I felt I was a son of the soil,
The dusty earth of the San Joaquin Valley
Where Thompson seedless grapes were raised
Then sun-dried into raisins.
This was one of the ways
That Mother Earth spoke to me
And held me firm.

And on Sierra hillsides
Amid pine duff and fallen cones
Where firs and wildflowers also grew
And there were great slabs of granite;
This too was my terroir,
Soil of my vintage.

But there were toxins,
Perhaps not in the soil but in the air I breathed,
A miasma of true believers,
Of the resentful obedient,
And the broken soul.
Dreamers came to California
And dreams died or were surrendered.
Maybe now I understand
Dante’s judgment on the broken vow.

My grapes now grow in New Mexico,
A conscious homage to ancestors
Yet my soul’s feet are not drawn
To walk the earth between the vines
In that distant place,
That Golgotha where men were crucified
But women will not weep,
Where souls are dry and thirsty.

My garden is in high grassland
Far from the place of my first birth,
Mercifully separated by miles.

The first shaking of dust was when I left
To go to college, and another was when
I crossed the ocean for France
To return a stranger to family.
Another was the adamant refusal
To return after dropping out.
Sleeping in the streets of LA
Would have been preferable to such a death.

When I chose New Mexico and left my past behind
It was a mighty shaking of the dirt from my feet.
Perhaps it was then that the powdered soil
of the Valley no longer claimed me.

My home is here, anchored on east and west
by the Sandias and the volcanoes,
Nourished by the Rio, graced by boundless sky.
The moon is closer here; the heart is freer.
Art is valued here and some still dream.

I left the prisons of family,
Of rigid doctrine, of propriety
Without regret.  I like my life.
My garden flowers and bears fruit.
This is home.  My family now is one I choose.
No accident of birth or choice of others defines it.

A few close friends and wonderful acquaintances,
Tasks I enjoy, nourishment for the soul—
All this is mine.  Here I am eager to live
Sans peur et sans reproche.
I am free to change my own narrative.
I leave Chorazin and Bethsaida to their own fates.

3 July 2015

This is a backward look, and forward.  My roots are no longer in California; they are in the Rio Grande valley. It is a reflective, wistful, and angry poem.  I recall thinking to myself (not sharing with anyone), "What am I running from?" This was in the early 80s.  The answer that came was this: "myself." Well, I am not running any more.  I feel at home, I like myself and my own company.  All those rounds of shaking the dust from my feet and moving on...make me shake my head and let out a small sigh now.

I have been sad this evening, sensitive to abiding wounds and the drive to keep migrating.  This post is about finding peace in one's journey.

I conclude with a sonnet that is the story of almost every LGBTQ person.  It alludes to The Chronicles of Mídhris and Ian Dyrnedon, who slipped through the dimensions and found himself in a parallel world, never to return to earth.

I have a family

In truth, I have an earthly family
as Ian has a Mithron one. It works
like this. Whatever DNA now lurks
within us, here’s the charming oddity:
for all that blood or forming may have done
our kin is now the people we have found
or have found us in life’s great whirling round.
Together we hold hands beneath the sun
and moon and stars with fierce united hearts.
We have a history, a journey shared.
We face each other, souls so fully bared
that life no longer lies in scattered parts
but in a new and glorious chosen whole.
We’re a forever family of soul.

2 July 2015

 --the BB