Poems

LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP

One of my favorite philosophers was named at birth “John McTaggart Ellis”, but his great-uncle, also named “John McTaggart”, died and willed his money to young John McTaggart Ellis on the condition that his family assumed the surname “McTaggart.” So he became J. McT. E. McTaggart . He was a logician who was full of contradictions, an athiest, for example, who believed in immortality. And he made an argument for the unreality of time which is both respected and generally ignored by other philosophers. I used to think I understood it, but have come to realize I never did. However Mr. McT. E. McTaggaart also wrote extensively on love, another subject contemporary philosophers ignore. McT has a lot of very good things to say about it and they are easier to understand than the things he says about time. The question that ends the following poem was posed by McTaggart.

Mother and child, George Romney

WE’RE NOT AS SEPARATE AS WE SUPPOSE

Tiny cells that don’t know what they’re doing
create my heart and liver, lungs and mind,
and we, who also don’t know what we’re doing,
create from deeds and dreams and memories
a greater person called mankind.

I know no more of how that person thinks
than I do of the way my body works.
I see though there are links I cannot see
connecting you to me and us to them
and what was once to what is going to be

We’re not as separate as we suppose.
And where’s the line between what’s still possessed
and what is lost? Are we to count as lost
the love and friendship that we gave and got
but have, before we’ve even died, forgot?

Poems

THE COMPETITOR

Some people encourage us to compete. Competition, they say, is what leads to excellence. Others encourage us not to compete. They say competition leads to worry, fret, and strife—and ultimately to destruction. Both are right—and also wrong. It doesn’t matter what we compete for—money, fame, social position. What matters is who we choose to compete with, because that is the person we will come to resemble. Who are more alike than two boxers?

George Bellows. “The Stag at Sharkey’s”—detail

THE COMPETITOR 

I try to be just like this guy I like,
I dress like him; I drive his kind of car.
And when I wish, I wish upon his star.

The more I’m like him, though, the less I like
hearing people say we are alike.
And so to show them I’m not him, 

I pick a fight. I fight a match with him.
We match each other blow for blow.
He runs! I’ve won! I watch him go

Sometimes though I dream that wasn’t him.
I dream that I am who he has become.
Okay, what’s left of me? I can’t be sure.

What do I call what I am suffering from?
Is there a cure?

Poems

NEW FRIENDS

Edward Hopper, The Automat, De MoinesArt Center

NATURAL SELECTION

I am a gathered church of odds and ends—
a father’s dream, a mother’s looks,
clips from movies, passages from books,
snippets of conversations with my friends.

My doctrine’s nebulous, but I 
am held together by
ritual responses and routines
that get me through familiar scenes. 

So is this it? The same old hymns each week?
I sit without a paddle up a creek,
knowing I must do . . . I-don’t-know-what,
splicing “Yes” and “No,” to “If” and “But.”

My friends say natural selection
determines our directions and our ends.
Is that what’s telling me I need new friends?

Poems

PEOPLE DANCE TOGETHER FAR APART

Renoir’s portriat of Monet reading a newspaper

THE MURDERER IN MINNEAPOLIS

Discover as you scan the newspaper
the murderer du jour’s
name’s the same as yours.

But he’s from Minneapolis
so it’s ridiculous to think
that there’s a link.

But you keep looking for a trace
of some resemblance in the face
above your name,

knowing in your heart,
that people dance together
far apart,

and words and deeds inweave and blend,
contend and ramify in ways that go
far beyond what we intend or know,

and that in devious and crooked ways
you’re linked
to the murderer in Minneapolis.

Jonathan Edwards thought a family is “one complex moral person.” and that for some purposes God might regard the whole of humanity as a single person. “And so some particular persons may by their actions injure, not only great part of the world that are contemporary with them, but injure and undo all future generations. So that men that live now on the earth may have an action against those that lived a thousand years ago.”