There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.
Courage After Sixty
by Eugene McCarthy
Now it is certain.
There is no magic stone.
No secret to be found.
One must go
With the mind’s winnowed learning.
No more than the child’s handhold
On the willows bending over the lake,
On the sumac roots at the cliff edge.
Ignorance is checked,
The coat has been hung on the peg,
The cigar laid on the table edge,
The cue chosen and chalked,
The balls set for the final break.
All cards drawn,
All bets called.
The dice, warm as blood in the hand,
Shaken for the last cast.
The glove has been thrown to the ground,
The last choice of weapons made.
A book for one thought.
A poem for one line.
A line for one word.
“Broken things are powerful.”
Things about to break are stronger still.
The last shot from the brittle bow is truest.
There’s an old Sven and Ole joke that goes like this:
Sven and Ole are out snowmobiling on a January Saturday afternoon and stopping along the way to have a few drinks at some taverns on the outskirts of small towns in Northern Minnesota. And as men are want to do, they are not the most responsible of drinkers and have a few too many. Heading back home in the dark, driving too fast, beyond their headlights, feeling no pain, snow starting to come down heavy, they approach a set of train tracks riding side by side and just as they are crossing are hit by a train and die. Now the devil likes to greet the new souls he is welcoming to an eternity of deprivation and agony and so he stops by to see how Sven and Ole are getting along with eternal damnation the next day. The devil is quite surprised to see them sitting around in their down vests, smiling and laughing and seemingly enjoying themselves. The Devil asks, “How’s it going?” Sven says, “It’s going fine, you know, winter’s are long in Minnesota, we are kinda enjoying this early spring weather you got down here in Hell.” Well this made the devil quite upset and so he left the two nitwits and decided to turn the heat up in Hell and see how that suits them. The next day he returns with the rest of the miserable souls howling in agony and there’s Sven and Ollie stretched out on folding chaise lounge chairs in swim suits with reflectors under their chins having a relaxing afternoon nap. The Devil is shocked, ” isn’t it hot enough for ya”, he growls? Ole replies, “Well you know Mr. Lucifer, Sven and I never had much money and we never made it to Florida, so this here is like our first real spring break! We are thinking about playing some volleyball, want to join us?” The Devil storms off, furious at his failed attempts to torture these two and he thinks to himself, well, I’ll fix ’em. So the Devil turns down the thermostat in Hell to minus 60 degrees F. He stops back the next day to check on them, and there are Sven and Ole, dressed in their snowmobile boots, mittens and fur parkas dancing around, arm and arm, whooping and hollering, happy as can be. The Devil loses his temper, and bellows with the force of a hurricane, ‘What is the matter with you two idiots?” Sven says, “Are you blind? Hell’s frozen over, it means the Vikings have von da super bowl!”
The Minnesota Vikings have the ignominious mantle, along with the Buffalo Bills, of being the only NFL teams to have played in four super bowls and lost them all. Minnesotan’s proudest sons have not fared well in Presidential politics either. Hubert Humphrey, the greatest statesman and civil rights leader this state has ever produced and the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1968, entered the race too late to participate in any primaries. Despite this, he won the nomination but couldn’t stop Richard Nixon’s sweeping conservatism into his troubled Presidency. Eugene McCarthy, born in Watkins, Minnesota, followed Humphrey in 1972 and had even less success as the Democratic candidate. Despite being on the ultimately victorious moral side of opposing the Vietnam war and warning against the increasing subordination of our federal economy to the industrial war complex, he never had any real momentum on his side. And to complete the trifecta of love-able losers, Walter Mondale was tapped to fall on the sword for the Democratic Party in 1984 and oppose Ronald Reagan in his second term, a losing battle from the start, taking just one state in a sea of red in the electoral college, with only Minnesota affirming him with their votes as most worthy to be President.
Politics in the short term is a tale told by the winners, but righteous losers have a way of cementing their greatness as time passes. McCarthy was too liberal for his time and in the end became disliked by the very liberals who had placed their hope in him for a new approach than military intervention to communism. McCarthy’s post-war liberalism isolated him within the Democratic party, and his failure to win in 1968 created a lingering animosity that rapidly turned to apathy.
But McCarthy had the soul of a poet. He understood that in the end a man has to live with himself for the choices he has made before he goes to bed each night. McCarthy slept well, living to the ripe old age of 99, writing books, writing poetry, able to recite not only his own poems but large chunks of Yeats right up until the end. McCarthy was confident in his leadership, both his successes and failures. He was on the right side of his moral conscience and probably better represented this country’s majority views on how we as a society look back on that point in history, even if the vote tally was not on his side in 1972.
We are at a time when leadership is essential to the success of the long term path we are heading down. We are in need of leadership that does not squander resources or let ego get in the way of collaboration and good decision making. We are in need of selfless leadership that is invested in the good of the many, regardless of their economic status or political power. In short, we are in need of exactly what we don’t have, competent effective candidates, on both sides of the isle. Let us hope, that out of this troubled times, new leaders arise that can restore hope, prosperity, peace and well being as well as a functioning, bi-partisan balanced moderate government. A leadership that can help humanity deal with the larger more complicated issues facing us in restoring the health of this planet and it’s inhabitants and deliver health care that is within the reach of all.
With the surreal nature of our current days, it is hard for my brain to function. I have written next to nothing in terms of poetry this year, 2020 starting out as a barren desert in terms of my creativity. I have never understood where most of my poetry originates, but this sonnet came about very slowly over the past two months, with far too many revisions to feel like it has any real purpose. I still read it and think its jiggly goobly-dee-gook. At present, I am mostly annoyed with it, having spent far too much time indoors with it as my only companion and tired of its nagging persistence to continue on fussing with it, thinking something interesting might yet emerge. I am sharing this working draft, only as an admission that even writing is a poor companion when cooped up indoors alone, in need of human contact. My fellow bloggers and poets, may all of you fare better. At the same time, I see a little spark lurking somewhere in it. I hope this sonnet is my self conscious, goading me on, with age 60 still a few years away, to stay optimistic in these surreal days and weeks, and keep dancing.
To Dance The Jig At 60
By T. A. Fry
Rounding the final quarter lap,
Am I ready, eccentric with intention;
No hero’s welcome for my tattered maps,
Semi-precious stones and pretense of direction.
Abundant, a love surrounds me;
A Threnody? To dance the jig at sixty.
Unwind these creaks and pangs and zings,
Frisky, yet not quite wholly steady.
Weary, more or less, pedestrian these pains,
The stuff of age and overuse, push on
Or lose the stage, for much is left to gain!
I hear your old sweet nothings; revisiting these words,
Hum partial refrains, knowing murmurs aural
Are Love’s echoes, the ones my soul sustains.