Saturday, August 20, 2016

Jack Scott writes

Part IV

Family is another binding.  
To relate to it,
you owe a kind of rent
payable in gratitude,
also obedience,
tacitly demanded
if not freely given.
It’s something like a loan
until you’re on your own
and then interest
covertly accrues
compounded by arrears.
Even after pregnancy
extends the family
other cords,
phantom umbilici,
persist like feeling
in a severed limb,
webbing each to every other,
spider an absent landlord,
whenever rent is due.


You can’t have your pie  
and eat it, too,
a cliché you’ll come to rue.
Here are some statistics
about this nine-to-five thing.
You work a quarter of your life
exclusive of commuting,                
showering and shaving,
or putting on your face
and costume, that uniform                        
of discomfort and conformance -
and other aspects of overhead.
(Your rehearsal for this life
has been spent in school.)
This is equal to or more
than time that you spend sleeping
or should, lest you court deficit.

You exchange the hours of your life
for units of some legal tender,
which, should you feel expansive
or desperate, should rightly pay,
at least ephemerally  
for some sense of freedom or reward.

The rest of time is yours, you’re told,
but sounds and feels like work release,
brief respite from your prison,
quickly filling up, Pandora’s Box,
with demands, domestic,
and other obligations.

The noose, necktie, or scarf
draws tightly ‘round your neck,
until you know you owe yourself
what nothing else is giving.

So you do as others do
and buy what you don’t need,
a sort of Chinese meal
which leaves you hungry
a half hour later.
This record’s stuck,
the trap door’s a floor
upon a treadmill.

But retirement lies ahead,
its promise whetted thirstily
by vacations’ slim parentheses,
paltry practice for this main event,
a pittance for the dribs and drabs
of angst within what seems
perpetual postponement.

Come time to enjoy dessert,
the last piece of the pie,
but best laid plans are oft deterred
by taking time to rest for them,
in recliner, hypnotized
by television’s flicker,
drinking beers
and counting years
in minutes on your
farewell timepiece.

No one warned you
(if they knew)
how difficult,
to shuck the habit -
mold that you’ve been cast in -
that work, a siren mistress,
still calls in such a way
that you’re doomed to answer.
Transition to retirement is
an evolution of weaning
lasting longer
than your remaining years.

The magic, tragic number’s three
years for average retiree,
his unexpected lifespan
between checking out
then checking out again,
gold watch left behind him,
useless in the different time zone.


Skin itself is prison, 
lifelong sentence
of solitary confinement,
one by one by one of us
in separate cells
with no jailer
and no need for one.
If you let it, mind can fly
to visit lands far away, exotic,
and make you yearn to live there,
but you are tethered to your mooring
leather shell at other end of leash.

Life’s not a walk in shop,
where you can try on other clothes.


Life is a narrow path 
bounded by two cliffs,
one down, one up,
with one-way traffic.

Some get beaned 
by falling rocks,
enough to make them dead,
leaving detritus to trip on.
Others plunge
from precipice
by choice or chance.

Its length is customized
to each pilgrim
traveling upon it.

For most, the end 
is not in sight;
and that’s alright with them:
to live without this knowledge
is their itinerary.
For some it is abrupt,
lightning of a sort,
merciful in comparison
with painful crawling.

There are many predators,  
some big enough to eat you,
others too small to see, 
no-see-ems nipping
your Achilles heels,
but the worst are those
who look like you and me:
bandits, some of them,
and vampires of the spirit.
The list is long and myriad..

Plans and intentions 
are tissue road maps
directing us to stay
on “the straight and narrow.” 
Serpentine with forks,
it’s far from straight,
and progressively
becoming narrower.

Live in the present  
we’re commanded
(the Eleventh?)
as though it were a gift.
Unwrapped, we find instead
that we are in a tightening vise
squeezing out our youth,
pressing sour grapes
of entrenched denial.
Past and future close upon us,
 jaws of elemental predator.

This tale’s been told so many times,  
cliché threadbare from over use,
invisible to the sighted,
it’s worn Braille smooth.

That’s the overview, 
stark, but true.
We play and pray,
believe and love,
think and speculate,
but deep down we know
that our beliefs
are products of illusion.

Reality’s a word too loosely used, 
to us, a fence around our yard,
our comfort zone, encompassing
what we choose to tolerate,
corralling in beliefs we cherish,
shutting out the ones we fear.

It’s our exclusive eggshell.
Hypothetically, one rash enough
to confront the word in Caps,
beyond his insubstantial fence
would be withered into ashes.

Pointless, this complaint, 
 so hidden in plain sight,
that preaching to the choir
resounds an empty echo.

We persevere because we have to; 
cliff edge is our only other choice.
Religion is a hobbling crutch.
Saving oneself doesn’t make a hero.
Free will’s a choice of attitude,
the widest thing we’ll know,
a supermarket of choices
with which to stitch together
illusions to, at best, sustain us, 
with dignity and courage
until we reach path’s end.

All reach the finish,  
the long or short of it for them.
It’s a wonder that so many
make it so very far
considering the hazards.

Life’ a tight fit 
with no tolerance
for ostrichism.



  1. Achilles was the great hero in the “Iliad” of Homeros. His death was not mentioned there but was featured in later Greek and Roman poetry and drama about events that happened later in the Trojan War, in which he was killed from a heel wound which was the result of an arrow (possibly poisoned with the blood of the Hydra) shot by Paris, the man who instigated the war by abducting Helen of Sparta (Helen of Troy). The most familiar of the Achilles “origin stories” dates from the 1st century: When a baby it was foretold that he would die young, so his mother, the sea nymph Thetis, tried to prevent this fate by immersing him in Styx river to make him invulnerable; however, since she held him by his heel with her thumb and forefinger, that part of his anatomy remained vulnerable. (An earlier version had her treating him with ambrosia [Greek for “immortality”], the food of the gods (given to them by doves), after which she tried to burn away his mortality in the hearth fire (though she still held him by the heel), but his father Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons, became alarmed when he saw this and interrupted the process. The phrase “Achilles heel,” however, as a metaphor for an area of weakness dates only to 1810, when Samuel Taylor Coleridge referred to Ireland as “that vulnerable heel of the British Achilles!" The large tendon of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles of the calf is the tendo achilleus (Achilles tendon), but ordinarily being wounded there would not be fatal, since tendons are avascular. However, an injury to the posterior tibial artery, behind the medial malleolus, between the tendons of the flexor digitorum longus and the posterior tibial vein, which would have been included in Thetis's grip, could well cause death.
    A common expression is that someone who ignores obvious facts or refuses to accept good advice, hoping that if the existence of a problem is ignored it will go away, has one’s head buried in the sand. This is related to the old Roman idea that the ostrich (Struthio camelus) buried its head in the sand to avoid predators: if it can't see the predator, then the predator can't see it either. In fact, with its acute hearing and sight, with eyes that measure 50 mm (2.0 in) in diameter, it can sense predators from afar and, as the world’s fastest bipede (at short burst of up to 43 mph/19 m per second, but a steady speed of over 30 mph/70 kmh; it can cover 3 to 5 m [9.8 to 16.4 ft] in a single stride), it usually flees from danger. Sometimes, it puts its head and neck flat on the ground to hide, making the rest of its body look like a mound of dirt from a distance. However, it is also the world’s largest birds weighing from 63 to 145 kg (139–320 lb) and in extreme cases as much as 156.8 kg (346 lb), and, standing from 1.7m (5 ft 7 in) to 2.8 m (9 ft 2 in) in height, forward kicks from its powerful legs can cause serious injury or death to a pursuer. The head and bill are relatively small, with the bill measuring only 12 to 14.3 cm (4.7 to 5.6 in), and since it digs shallow holes as nests and uses its beak to turn over its eggs several times a day, it may look as if its head is buried; similarly, it eats plants and invertebrates along the ground and swallows sand and pebbles to grind the food in its three stomachs, which could produce the same optical illusion.

  2. Polybios was a 2nd-century BCE Greek historian who chronicled the rise of the Roman Republic to its position as the dominant Mediterranean power and demanded factual integrity in historical writing rather than reliance on unverifiable rumors or legends. Modern historians are especially impressed with the manner in which he used his sources, particularly documentary evidence as well as his citation and quotation of sources, as well as his own personal eye-witness accounts of events, and he wanted to seek the explanations for the causes and effects of events rather than just presenting a chronology. His analysis of a mixed constitution (based on the separation of powers) strongly influenced 18th-cemtury developments in political philosophy, particularly in the work of Charles-Louis de Secondat (Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu) and the framers of the United States Constitution. He also invented the Polybius square, which arranged the 24 letters of his alphabet in a 5 X 5 square and aligning the with vertical and horizontal numbers; by cross-referencing the two numbers along the grid, the appropriate letter could be deduced. Polybios detailed his use in fire signals, whereby long-range messages could be sent by the raising and lowering of torches to signify the column and row of each letter, rather than merely using fire signaling of prearranged codes (such as, “one if by land, two if by sea”). Two millennia later, to meet Napoleon’s demand to produce a means of silent communication at night, without a light source, Captain Charles Barbier de la Serre used the Polybius square to develop "Ecriture Nocturne" (night writing) [sonography], using 12 dots arranged as 2 columns of 6 dots embossed on a square of paperboard, with each grid standing for a character or phoneme. But, since as many as 12 dots (2 columns of 6) would be needed to represent one symbol, his system was thought to be too difficult for soldiers to learn and identify by touch, so it was rejected. At the suggestion of the Académie des sciences (founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s suggestion to encourage scientific research), Barbier introduced his system in 1821 to the Institut National des Jeunes Aveugles, (founded in 1784 by Valentin, who continued to direct its activities until his death in 1822). The students found the simple patterns of dots it easier to use than Haüy’s method of embossed letters, which used curves and straight lines. Barbier also provided a special writing board and a pointed tool to make the dots.

  3. Louis Braille, who had lost his sight as the result of an accident with an awl, was a 12-year-old student there. He identified two major defects of the code: since it represented only sounds, it could not render the orthography of the words, and since the human finger could not encompass the whole 12-dot symbol without moving, it could not go rapidly from one symbol to another. He suggested that the number of dot positions should be reduced from 12 in 6 rows to 6 in 3 rows to make it easier for the fingers to scan, but Barbier was uninterested in working with the boy. Braille continued to work on the revised system on his own, however, creating a new raised-dot system by using an awl, and an ergonomic interface based on Barbier's slate and stylus tools; by soldering two metal strips across the slate, he created a secure area for the stylus which would keep the lines straight and readable. A passionate musician, he also developed a braille musical notation "flexible enough to meet the unique requirements of any instrument." He first presented his work to his peers in 1824, when he was 15, and in 1829 he published “Method of Writing Words, Music, and Plain Songs by Means of Dots, for Use by the Blind and Arranged for Them” (printed, ironically, by the Haüy raised letter method). A 2nd edition was published in 1837, the first modern form of binary writing, in which he discarded dashes because they were too difficult to read; and this was quicky followed by his mathematics guide, “Little Synopsis of Arithmetic for Beginners” and his “New Method for Representing by Dots the Form of Letters, Maps, Geometric Figures, Musical Symbols, etc., for Use by the Blind,” which introduced decapoint, a new writing system with which blind people could write letters that could be read by sighted people by combining his dot-punching with a specialized grill to overlay the paper with an associated number table that requiring memorization. Though Braille became a teacher at the INJA until illness forced him to retire at 40, his employers were actively hostile to his system; in fact, Alexandre François-René Pignier was dismissed as headmaster because he published a history book in braille. Braille died 2 days after his 43rd birthday, and two years later, under pressure from its students, INJA finally adopted his program. Thomas Rhodes Armitage championed its use at the first all-European conference of teachers of the blind in 1873, and in less than a decade he claimed “There is now probably no institution in the civilized world where braille is not used except in some of those in North America." American schools for the blind finally adopted it in 1916, and a universal braille code for English was formalized in 1932.

  4. Hesiodos (the first Westerner to write poetry, active between 750-650 BCE?) claimed in lines 560–612 of his epic poem “ Theogony” that Zeus was angry that the Titan Prometheus had stolen the secret of fire and given it to mankind and decided to punish them by giving them a compensating gift. He ordered Hephaestus to mold the first woman from earth, an anonymous "beautiful evil," "sheer guile, not to be withstood by men," whose descendants would continue to torment men. Then Athena dressed her in a silvery gown, an embroidered veil, garlands, and an ornate crown of silver. When she made her first appearance before gods and mortals alike, "wonder seized them" as they gazed on her.
    From her is the race of women and female kind:
    of her is the deadly race and tribe of women who
    live amongst mortal men to their great trouble,
    no helpmates in hateful poverty, but only in wealth. (lines 590–93)

  5. Hesiodos later expanded on the subject in lines 60-105 of his “Works and Days.” After detailing the existence of an all-male society of reverent immortals who worked hard and ate from abundant groves of fruit, he related how Prometheus stole fire from Mt. Olympus as a present for mankind and how Zeus decided to punish humans. The first woman was still created by Hephaestus, but Athena taught her needlework and weaving, Aphrodite "shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs," Hermes gave her "a shameful mind and deceitful nature" as well as the power of speech, putting in her "lies and crafty words," Athena clothed her in grass, Persuasion and the Charites (the Graces, goddesses of charm, beauty, nature, human creativity, and fertility) adorned her with necklaces and other finery, the Horae (“correct moments,” the “Seasons” who guarded Olympus, promoted fertility, and rallied the stars and constellations) adorned her with a crown of spring flowers, and Hermes named her Pandora ("All-gifted" or “all-giving" (from the Greek “pan” [all] and “doron” [gift]). In addition to her deceitful feminine nature, she also brought a jar (misidentified as a box since the 16th century due to Erasmus of Rotterdam’s translation of the Greel “pithos” into the Latin “Pyxis”) that held "burdensome toil and sickness that brings death to men," disease, and "a myriad other pains." Prometheus had warned his brother Epimetheus against accepting any gifts from Zeus, but nonetheless he accepted Pandora, who promptly scattered the contents of her jar, so "the earth and sea are full of evils."
    Only Hope was left within her unbreakable house,
    she remained under the lip of the jar, and did not
    fly away. Before [she could], Pandora replaced the
    lid of the jar. This was the will of aegis-bearing
    Zeus the Cloudgatherer. [96-99]
    However, later in the poem Hesiodos claimed that hope (or, more properly, “expectation”) is empty (line 498) and no good (500) because it eliminates industriousness and makes humanity lazy and prone to evil.

  6. In the “Gynaikôn Katálogos,” the fragmentary Catalogue of Women that may also have been written by Hesiodos, Pandora’s daughter Pyrrha married Deucalion and survive the deluge with him; their daughter, also named Pandora, and her brothers were the ancestors of the various tribes who eventually became the Greeks. In a different fragment of the same Catalogue, Pandora was the wife of Prometheus; the “Bibliotheke” (Library) of Apollodorus of Athens (or, probably, "Pseudo-Apollodorus” in the 1st or 2nd century) described Prometheus’ creation of man from water and earth; so Hesiod probably drew confusedly from several disparate myths.
    In the “Iliad,” Homeros, who was probably an oral poet who preceded Hesiodos, presented a more abstract variant” “The immortals know no care, yet the lot they spin for man is full of sorrow; on the floor of Zeus' palace there stand two urns, the one filled with evil gifts, and the other with good ones. He for whom Zeus the lord of thunder mixes the gifts he sends, will meet now with good and now with evil fortune; but he to whom Zeus sends none but evil gifts will be pointed at by the finger of scorn, the hand of famine will pursue him to the ends of the world, and he will go up and down the face of the earth, respected neither by gods nor men.”
    In a major departure from Hesiodps, in the 6th-century BCE Theognis of Megara wrote,
    Hope is the only good god remaining among mankind;
    the others have left and gone to Olympus.
    Trust, a mighty god has gone, Restraint has gone from men,
    and the Graces, my friend, have abandoned the earth.
    Men's judicial oaths are no longer to be trusted, nor does anyone
    revere the immortal gods; the race of pious men has perished and
    men no longer recognize the rules of conduct or acts of piety.
    Theognis may have been referencing a jar sent by the gods that contained blessings rather than evils, in accordance with a pre-Hesiodic tradition preserved in the 2nd century by Babrius; a "foolish man" opened it, and most of the blessings were lost forever, though hope remained "to promise each of us the good things that fled."
    Attic red-figure vase-painters, particularly from the 5th century BCE, preserved a different tradition in which the upper part of Pandora rises from the earth. The figure is sometimes labeled “Pandora” but in one example depicting Hephaestus and Athena putting the finishing touches on the first woman, she is called Anesidora ("she who sends up gifts"), an epithet more generally applied to Gaea or Demeter. In another, depicted as greeting Epimetheus, her arms are upraised in the epiphany gesture under the inscription, "Pandora rises from the earth; she is the Earth, giver of all gifts.” The implication is that Pandora, like Gaea, Demeter, Persephone, Artemis, Hecate, and others, was a more specialized form of the pervasive Great Goddess that dominated early religion.


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