Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bobby's Birthday

Robert F. Kennedy turned 38 years old two days before his older brother was killed on November 22, 1963 in Dallas Texas.  Almost five years later, on the night of June 6, 1968, the then presidential candidate himself was killed in Los Angeles, California.  Today, November 20, 2013, would have been Bobby's 88th birthday.

On June 7, 1968, the morning after Bobby was killed, my morning began in the outdoor assembly lines at the end of a several-day Magnolia Boys State in-residence civic training exercise on a junior college campus in Jackson, Mississippi.  We participants had not yet learned of the news of the night before. We knew only that breakfast awaited after the staff were through with the morning announcements.

Jackson was a city that had only five years earlier in June suffered its own political assassination, that of Medgar Evers, in his driveway by a Mississippi white supremacist, and it had two years later in May 1970 seen two students at Jackson State College, a black school and now University, fatally gunned down and 12 others wounded, when they were attacked by Jackson's white supremacist police force, an official arm of apartheid at the time.  This military-type assault served as a severe corollary to Evers' earlier murder, which was committed by a vigilante terrorist encouraged by official state oppression and its attendant culture of hate.  Jim Crow takes this two-fisted approach everywhere it's allowed to thrive.

Back in June 1968 meanwhile, Jackson was still sloughing along as predominantly an apartheid city of modest size and of justifiable low stature nationally because of its racist intransigence, as hundreds of the state's hand-chosen potential future civic leaders gathered for the annual American Legion-sponsored Boys State on one campus and the comparable Girls State gathering at a separate Jackson campus.  We were a bunch of 16- and 17-year-olds picked locally from the towns and hamlets across the state.  Some of us excelled in academics or sport, others were in prominent families, and some were a mixture of all three.  We were there for a reason, to help provide for the future stability of the realm, to hold the future as it had always been held in the past, though I'm sure many of us were there for the trip and the stay away from home.

For purposes of the civic training, the entire group of Boys State had been arbitrarily divided officially into two parties, the Federalists and the Nationalists, a decent approximation of the two major ideological divisions in the country, which were an extension as well of the Civil War dividing lines.  These two groups were teaching vehicles used to help foster understanding of how political and legislative functions operated.  A more realistic approximation of how things worked in Mississippi would have been to appoint a king and close aides and tell everyone else to do exactly as they were told.  Good government was simple in this former and in many ways continued Confederate state, where by far the greatest concentration of slaves had toiled away their lives under the whip and chain, and whose descendants still filled out the ranks of the state's dispossessed and ignored at best.

We who were the Magnolia State's raw leadership material that summer morning of June 7, 1968 suffered through the announcements and the organized back-and-forth bantering cheers.  Ridiculous rhymes had been learned for the occasion, and we had to chant them before allowed to have breakfast, a mild though embarrassing coercion.  A Nationalist cheer went as follows: Potatoes, tomatoes, green pea soup, Nationalists, Nationalists, oop oop ee doop.  You can clearly see the thoughtful and meaningful process underway which the American Legion had deemed important to the future of the great and greatly misunderstood State of Mississippi.  If anything, the rest of the nation's low opinion of Mississippi was an overestimation.  That became especially clear upon what happened next.

First, an adult leader of Boys State got everybody's attention. Then he announced that the night before, Bobby Kennedy had been killed.  After a stunned pause of only a second or two, totally without coordination and without inhibition, Mississippi's carefully chosen future governors, legislators, mayors, councilman, and confederated army of separate-but-equal-forever businessmen let rip a spontaneous sustained roar of ecstatic delirium and wild abandon, punctuated by shrill rebel yells, that still reverberates today in my mind.  Once the acclaim died down, which took a while, we were led to the cafeteria for breakfast as if nothing sad and horrible had just happened. I'm sure I wasn't completely alone in my shock and utter dismay to be among these amoral jackasses, raised to be exactly what they had become, but it felt like it.  Contrary opinion was not encouraged in polite Mississippi society.

For the rest of that day, I felt more angry, outraged, and awakened than I'd ever remembered feeling.  I just couldn't do nothing. There must be something.  That night would be the farewell assembly in an auditorium.  I sought out a Boys State counselor.  I'd need help with an ad hoc plan.  I had to get in front of the assembly and do something, even if it was just symbolic.  I felt  intimidated to say anything directly, like share my thoughts on what had happened that morning, but I knew that no one else was going to do anything at all in response to the moral atrocity that had occurred that morning before breakfast.  I couldn't let that happen. It had to be today.

I told the counselor what I wanted to do.  I'm not sure if I told him why.  I might have though.  It probably rolled off my tongue from the roiled emotion.  I don't know why it felt okay to approach this particular person, but he obliged, for which I was and still am very grateful.  He managed to obtain the sheet music I'd requested, which seemed a bit miraculous. He arranged permission for me to sing that night and to have a piano brought to the stage and found someone who could play it.  Amazingly, things were on track.  Though it was a more frightening prospect than I'd ever remembered facing, I was comforted by the strength of the unexpected conviction that something needed to be done, but I also realized that many if not most of the teen cohort wouldn't necessarily grasp the symbolism.  Even with this limitation of impact, this gesture of respect would have to be enough.

The moment came, the auditorium was darkened save for sconces and footlights, the piano began its intro, and at the very back of the auditorium, to my surprise and at that very second, a good friend from my high school appeared.  Talk about your angels.  She'd been across town at Girls State.  She'd somehow found out what I was doing.  As she stood back there, her presence filled me with confidence.  I felt supported.  I was not alone.  She was someone well-known for a genial integrity and intelligence and who'd always been kind to me.  She'd also been my piano accompanist on solos back at hometown Biloxi High.  With her there, I was able to relax and perform with emotion my very modest possible dream of trying to make even a small difference in this place so lost in the misplaced grievances of time and warped by its selective privilege of hate, all of it previously hidden in the fog generated by a crass rationalization of the theft of an entire people's rightful entitlement.

Which dies harder, hate or hope? Which should spring eternal?

This is the song, though obviously not my version:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsNJtTKdUec [there could be a commerical].

Sunday, October 20, 2013



What It Gives

Did you get out to the wilderness
away from it all out in the wild
apart from the environment
you tend so well but wears you out
and claim a place on which to stand
from which to survey this sacred land
and allow yourself a mortal awe
enamored of all that you now saw
and find yourself just reckoning
in magic leaps mere mental feats
of overmind outside confines
the way the land does lilt and lie
and stretches ever toward the sky
until you'd become a sentient part
of life's indivisible living heart
and notice the air as it flows by
suggesting you see with an inner eye
and as you looked you knew all is well
true and clear you're freed from your shell
free to be whom you now become
with no one place where you are from
containing all that you now see
no difference between it and thee
the stillness being all that lives
the silence bringing what it gives?

Larry Piltz

Friday, September 20, 2013

From Frog

A True Bedtime Story From the Eve of Winter Solstice

Evening comes, and I arise from my usual daily underground hiding place, a small hole I brush out with my webbed feet every morning before sunup at the foot of Big Rock Mountain.  It's going to be a cold night, I can tell, but my shallow hole has kept off the day's chill pretty well, so I'm all set to go.  I pause to take stock of any unusual scent carried on the wind, before my first hop of the night, and sure enough all seems well and safe.

I hop in a straight line a short while among the bushes and trees of Giant Rock Garden like I do every evening, except for those times I venture down to Wet Creek when The Snake has gone away for a spell.  Then one more hop and I'll be over Hoppable Stone Hill, and onto a particularly nice garden spot, where I first like to try my luck at hunting and gathering, something I'm not particularly fond of, but I must say I don't know what I'd do without it.  Besides, there's a rosemary tree there I'm especially fond of, and also a dense and overwhelming oregano forest which took some getting used to.

I leap again like always, and, suddenly, I'm falling.  Still falling, I wonder, where's my usual solid ground?  How much longer will I fall?  Then I get my answer.  Landing hard on my back feet, on a wide white limestone plain, it seems ten stories down and half a mile across.  Was I lost?  I don't understand.  Why am I down here instead of up on familiar ground, keeping my eyes and nostrils open for tiny insects and limbering up my tongue? What is happening to me?

It occurs to me that the world has greatly changed, and I have been completely unaware of it.  But why?  And how?  How can something be so different from one night to the next?  What kind of world is this?  And who could dig such a giant canyon like the one I am now in?  Hmm, I ponder.  A giant frog?   It is these kinds of questions that surface in my mind, as I sit here nursing sore joints and foot pads.  Not that I expect any answers, but the questions arise just the same.

The night begins slowly passing by.  It's quiet and even colder down here than up there.  I didn't know bare rock could be this cold.  Good thing I'm cold-blooded, though if only I could find something to eat, I'd feel a bit better.   But nothing else comes down here.  A few buzzing flies circle a short distance overhead but vanish quickly upward.  I am glad The Snake hasn't shown up at least.  Yet here I sit.  Just darn!  And Ribbit!

Well, I'll just have to wait it out alone, and hungry.  I'll just do what I usually do, when not sitting at the bottom of a giant white rock hole.  Except instead of hopping around and looking for food, I'll move around a little to stay loose and ready, and, I guess, count on something suddenly changing for the better, like something had suddenly changed for the not-better.

Yes, that's it!  Whatever worldly mystery got me here is bound to help me get out!  Anyway, what else can I do?  Hmm, the air does smell sweet down here.  It's the rosemary tree's perfume.  Not bad at all really.  I hadn't realized how much I quite enjoy that smell.  I guess a deep hole gathers scents, like a deep well of fragrances.   It's not a bad place to think clearly either.  Well, what do you know?  I'd never have learned all this, if I hadn't fallen into this hole.  I wonder what other secrets there are for me to learn while I'm here, before the world mysteriously brings me back to Giant Rock Garden and my normal hopping rounds.

Then, as suddenly as I had unknowingly leaped into Giant Hole, a Giant Shadow is cast over the hole, a thunderous voice bellows something that sounds like an excited gibberish, though it seems not unfriendly, and another voice answers from afar in similar nonsensical sounds.

             Suddenly, a Giant Thud lands almost on top of me, and the Earth shakes beneath me, bouncing me off the rock floor an inch, and now the Giant Shadow is a Giant Being here beside me, towering far above even the upper edge of the hole.  This is frightening but not as much as I would've thought, I suppose just because of how unreal it all feels.  Giant hole. Giants from out of nowhere.  Giant bellowing gibberish.  Giant Earthquake. What next?

Now I can't move!  A Giant Light is blinding me and has frozen me where I sit!  Now I feel a Giant Whoosh, and a big fleshy scoop gently cups me into itself and whisks me upward toward the moon (Oh, but I don't want to go there tonight!), and sets me down somewhere, a different part of Giant Rock Garden than where I had been hopping, but safely onto familiar ground, dirt I can sink my webbed feet into, and gladly do, well beyond the oregano forest and rosemary tree, to a safe place amidst the cactus spires.  At least I can shelter here here till I can catch my breath.

Ahhh.  What an interesting night it has been so far.

Later that night, though I do miss the smooth cold giant rock hole a little bit, I have no complaints.  And though I did have to alter my path through Giant Rock Garden tonight, I am having a good night after all, and fully intend to go to bed satisfied that my luck has indeed been good luck, and that my adventure has been a very good adventure indeed.

Frogs such as myself know a goodly amount about such things as luck and change and adventure, having been lucky to have been born a frog in the first place, having also been an eager rambunctious tadpole, before changing into my current beautiful frog self, and, though it may not necessarily take an amphibian such as myself to understand what it's like to live in two worlds at the same time - both normal and giant - it does help to relish an especially good adventure now and again.

            With dawn now about to, well, dawn, and my hiding hole freshly brushed out just before the sun slides up, and me suddenly feeling more exhausted than I've ever felt, I'll just say good day to you all, whether you be normal size or giants, including The Snake, my good friend whom though I try to keep at a healthy distance.

            And may all your days and your nights be filled with interesting things and that you always come home again safely and as happy as a frog.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Today's Miracle During Which
The Hero Bravely Holds On
Long Enough To Be Saved


Mourning has its joys
by the side of a garden grave
in a moment's freedom
when the veil disappears
and longing allows reunion
with the longed-for
in spirit and in memory
a miracle sweeter than life
because it embraces also death.

That moment today goes a'wandering
expanding into tender quest
for a new garden rock
that leads the mourner
freely off the woods path
to a still creek sidewater
where a struggle to survive
is well underway.

Underneath a sinewy juniper
a big green caterpillar
its fuzzy back still dry
floats in a small patch of water
on its long thick belly
its myriad legs mightily
paddling in place
within a green algae mat
a foot or so from shore
heaving its back upward
over and over again
attempting to free itself
from its daunting predicament.
its lunges a prayer for escape
up and down
front to back
its desperation sending
tiny waves breaking
through the green mat
providing glimpses
of the dark water below
as its great strength sags
its back's urgent arch
creates attention for its plight
sending ripples into the unknown.

Underneath a low juniper bough
(Had it been caterpillar's perch?)
lodged at the cusp of bank and water
a flat limestone rock
whitened by the sun
and smoothed by creek flow
is gripped by the mourner
and dipped through the algae
to become raft
on which valiant caterpillar
rises from one destiny to another
borne from the creekside
its metamorphosing form
spent relaxed and flying
through the Spring air
to higher and dryer landing
under a cousin juniper.

Once caterpillar has recovered
and inched elsewhere
the limestone raft
will again be transposed
and placed carefully nearby
the garden of the grave
of the longed-for
where perhaps one day
when narcissus is blooming
a certain strong-winged beauty
will pay a visit.


The Fork in the Road to the Stork or the Toad

Old stork’s a good friend
bringing me my next of kin
girl boy scale of ten
joy hope win win

Where goeth cousin toad
hopping round its damp abode
disappearing by the load
croaking as its sky erodes

Every mile that we go
takes us with it in its flow
to the fork in the road
to the stork or the toad

Old stork’s soaring high
with driven gleam in its eye
slinging gifts across the sky
like Santa on a contact high

Hear toad croaking loud
a mating call to do it proud
used to be it drew a crowd
quiet now its head is bowed

Every night and every day
we are pulled along the way
to the fork in the road
to the stork or the toad

As stork takes the well-loved path
we all add up, we are the math
floating in placenta bath
borne by flying psychopath

Toad takes a different road
passing lawns too green and mowed
passing fields of poisons sowed
with its cracked genetic code

Every mile we begin
takes us only further in
toward the fork in the road
to the stork or the toad

Stork stork who art thou
come on out and take a bow
come on out and tell us how
you become a sacred cow

Listen toad and you will hear
how all of life is held so dear
just procreate and have no fear
ignore the chance your time is near

As we sit and breathe in traffic
could it really be more graphic
at the fork in the road
to the stork or the toad

Life is strong it will survive
says the stork in overdrive
never mind the empty hive
mutations will keep us alive

Ribbit ribbit gasp and choke
is that some kind of killing joke
laugh it up you can have my toke
I’ll be in my toxic soak

As our world tumbles around
can you almost hear the sound
from the fork in the road
to the stork or the toad

Old stork’s not to blame
works hard for its good name
just bringing life though all the same
a vacation wouldn’t be a shame

Old toad’s breathing hard
drying up in your back yard
frying in the sun like lard
flattened like a playing card

Every day, every night
brings us nearer to the sight
of the fork in the road
to the stork or the toad

Can’t we all just get along
honked the storks in surround song
life goes on, it can’t be wrong
and you know we all belong

Tell that to toad I’d say
as it whiles its time away
as the time becomes the day
when toad becomes a memoray

As we come to the fork
to the toad or the stork
do we pause at our choice
do we ever give it voice
do we use our mental torque
or stand there like a dork
have we wondered at our plight
can we flee is there flight
do we plea do we fight
at the fork in the road
for the stork and for the toad

Our choice is more than either or
if a window shuts bust out the door
go around and break some glass
break through the roof
break through the floor
get off your ass
get off your ass

Larry Piltz, 2007
In the Year of Our Toad

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Spurred by Love

On his last mount
the cowboy cries
a lonesome roller
and practitioner
of the riding
roping arts
also known
as its poet
laureate supreme
one late night
saying goodbye
please stay
won't you
please

sobbing alone
one more time
to bay at the soul
of the lifeless moon
alone by the range
in the kitchen
of his exile
from the life
he'd loved
for an accident
thrown by life
from his horse
into the irony
of being the iconic
sad troubadour
of all the cowboys
lonesome yet
for a while
with no end
in sight
and poetry
to write

Larry Piltz
Indian Cove
July 17, 2013

                               Thirteen to Seventeen Spiders S urface water is the background of the photo, meaning the camera is pointin...