Posted by: Mark Nielsen | July 13, 2014

Travels In the Southwest, Launch Date 7-13-14

Leaving today with my son Graham, my mother, and sister Laura’s family for a 10-day trip to Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Goodbye Midwestern humidity, …hello sun-baked desert, crazy beautiful mountains, and a few good friends out West.

Anasazi Native American pottery photo below, just for fun, a random sampling of what I hope to get a glimpse of in the Southwest this week:

Just like Mark: "Broken and glued. No restoration." Indeed.

Just like Mark: “Broken and glued. No restoration.” Indeed.

Approximate Dimensions: 12 1/2″ by 10 5/8″Broken and glued, no restoration. Has sew-holes.A.D. 1340-1450

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | June 11, 2014

The Swing and the Wall

Originally posted on Southside Hub of Production:

-1Four (4) Sundays for Intergenerational Creative Idleness, Pleasurable Learning, and Meaningful Exchange.

at The Comfort Station 2579 N. Milwaukee Ave
Brought to you by SHoP & I am 9

#1 June 8

12:00 – 2:00 pm Chocolate Meditation and Geometric Learning through Origami With teaching artist Jerry Marciniak.
1:00 – 5:00 pm Bookbinding Workshop with Amy Sinclair of North Branch Projects
7:00 – 9:00 pm “Class Clowns” Comedy Showcase hosted by David Yontz
Curiosity, observation, and skepticism abound in the life of a comic. This event will showcase a handpicked group of local comedic talent, eager to share their insights on life and learning in the city of Chicago.

#2 June 15

12:00 – 2:00 pm Writing the Archives: A Poetry Workshop. Inspired by the history of classroom materials used in “The Swing and the Wall,” this drop-in workshop is an opportunity for writers and admirers of poetry to take…

View original 234 more words

 

Let love overwhelm you.

Let love overwhelm you.

.

You Break Over Me Like Waves

.

You break over me like waves.

Not just one, but the relentless cyclical

flow and battering of you. …………………………………………………………………………………….

Not big Hawai’ian surf, just big lake waves, …………………………………..

swinging their fists with power from their broad shoulders.

Not the tiny ripple of a turtle surfacing, looking around,

but the raucous flop of angels

doing constant cannonballs–

only they’re too far out. We can’t see them.

.

The water loves the shore, someone once sang,

but you and I, we are desperate for low tide

so we can rest.

I want to strip down naked

and clothe myself in soft, wet sand–

to blend in, or even be swallowed up.

Similarly, you want to find an island to hide on, or under.

But “No man is an island”

says the silence-singer,

and I’ve come to believe him.

In fact, we followed him here

to this chaotic sand strip at the edge of everything–

city grit at our back,

ahead of us,

kid lifeguards watching the younger kids,

.

and over there,

fishermen in a skiff

throwing their net on the other side of the boat,

as instructed.

I would swim out just to be caught–

to be rescued from love

by being consumed, lovingly.

But I’m a lousy swimmer,

and there ain’t no water-walker

anywhere around to give me a hand–

just the noisy gulls

air-dancing to their own private dub-step beat,

plus a green heron couple

arguing in a nest nearby

over whose turn it is to clean the nest,

or to pick through the debris at water’s edge,

to see what the city-dwellers have left them

to live on.

.

This battling waves is for the birds.

Love is hard but beautiful.

We both have to let ourselves be worn down

like sea glass.

.

Every eight-year-old here

throws himself gleefully into the waves,

but all I want to do is run.

I am weary of this steady pummeling.

They said you were gentle,

that love is easy and comfortable,

but I’m beginning to wonder if they lied.

On the other hand,

I drink you everyday and am refreshed.

.

By the way,

when it comes time to build

my mansion in heaven,

put mine in the middle of the prairie.

Amber waves of grain are what I want instead–

nowhere near this cold, furious Lovewater

that refuses to let me stand firm,

but won’t let me fall backward too hard,

that grapples with me,

then for now lets me think that I’ve won.

.

I only win by agreeing to lose everything.

………………………………………………………. Okay. You win. I love you.

Spotted along one of my contemplative walks: a wayward sign from the back of a semi trailer.

Spotted along one of my contemplative walks: a wayward sign fallen from the back of a semi trailer.

.

A Just-Finishing Candle

by Jelaluddin Balkhi (a.k.a. Rumi, Persian poet, dervish and spiritual teacher, circa 1246 CE… translation by Coleman Barks)

A candle is made to become entirely flame.

In that annihilating moment

it has no shadow.

It is nothing but a tongue of light

describing a refuge.

Look at this

just-finishing candle stub

as someone who is finally safe

from virtue and vice,

the pride and the shame

we claim from those.

— — — — —

Kundalini Sunrise          by Mark Nielsen

 

“Light comes at you sideways, enfolds you like a gown” –singer Bruce Cockburn, song: Open (see below)

.

My daring darling,

let us take our inner children for a morning walk

and feel the dew of a new day

between our toes.

.

Yes, I do see

how the people of this world continue on

with their bloody business:

buying and selling their wares,

buying and selling their souls,

.

or selling you out,

my sister,

in a corporate atrium or

a secret corner of Cubicleville.

They expect you to look the other way,

to swallow your pain and your pride,

to conspire with their destructive plans

(while these deeds done in the dark

cost everyone involved

a pound of flesh,

and two gallons of tears.)

But you won’t do

what the Weekend Warrior

or the drones of risk management

are asking of you.

.

For they do not know this:

“Risk” is our ancestral tribal name.

We bend with the Mightiest of Winds

but do not break,

for we are braided together

and strengthen each other.

Try as they might,

they cannot buy

or take from us

any part of ourselves worth owning

(or at least nothing that we

do not freely offer to them–

from a position of strength, and concern for

The Family of Man).

You and I drink from a different well,

one which the drones, merchants and soldiers

have ignored.

Offer them your water,

but if they refuse

(and some surely will)

then shake the dust off your holy feet,

and walk away

without the pollution of shame or guilt.

You have done what you can.

.

So do not let their darkness

overshadow your sacred Inner Light.

Give them your time

–but only some–

and keep your heart intact

for the sake of our tribe.

.

Our souls are

Under New Ownership.

Each bless’ed morning

they are given back to us,

free of charge.

We take our walk in the sun

and pick them up off the ground,

like manna in this barren desert.

We dust off our souls,

and though they are not

naive or new anymore,

they are tough,

and still contain

all we will ever need.

.

This altogether different rapture

Is always within our reach.

Though at times in

our fuzzy, funky, anxious headspace

it is hard to reach with my heart’s hand

through the veil,

and take hold of the Love without crushing it.

.

Here,

you with the delicate touch,

hold this for me.

I will be back for it in a few minutes.

Then we will go home

and have some breakfast.

— — — — — — — — —

The phrase “Kundalini sunrise” is borrowed from the 2001 Bruce Cockburn song Open, from the album “You’ve Never Seen Everything”. For lyrics to that song, which partly inspired the above poem, go to The Cockburn Project.

“What I see happening in the face of all this darkness is something new in human spirituality, openness, some sense of our common destiny. We’ve got to keep nudging ourselves in the direction of good and respect for each other.”

– from Bruce Cockburn’s bio on Rounder Records.

 

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | May 7, 2014

Mystery Train, Part Two (original poem by Mark Nielsen)

MYSTERY TRAIN, Part Two (original poem by Mark Nielsen)

Theres a reason all them strange,
sad ol’ folk songs talkabouta train…
cause a train ain’t got no choice where it’s goin’
unless it jumps the track and wrecks.

The Misery Train is a

Odetta Sings Folk Songs

Odetta Sings Folk Songs (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

one way trip,
crowded, boring and bumpy
‘cause misery loves company
and company brings baggage
and baggage makes bad history
and history is a trap.
Carrying all that extra weight,
the calloused hand first requires blistering,
fatigue, defeat and a sorry state.
Humiliation. Mockery.
But the 5:15 is never late.

Justice rolls on.

Wheels roll on but you want to make a turn,
skip a stop, drop your load, maybe let it all just burn.
Disillusioned isolation has inertia all its own,
and you’re tired straight down to the marrow of your bones.
Self-protective, introspective,
and infected with perfection,
muttering vague but condemning invective.

But the mystery is that you learn, still,
despite yourself, against your will.
The train rolls on, makes all its stops,
keeps a schedule, seeks discipine,
climbs and drops,
*seeks out* valleys, eschews inaction,
every tunnel you encounter,
a death and resurrection.

You reach your destination,
but no one meets you there,
so you stay aboard awhile,
maybe say a little prayer,
and the mystery train moves on
to God only knows where.

You will know your new home only
by how you learn to love
(whether or not a target is found,
for love is engine, fuel, and station combined -
momentum and rootedness, life and hope
right down to the end of the line).

When you look out the window and hope again,
when stepping onto the platform is instinctive,
and riding on any further
is not something that you’d dare,
it is then you will know that you are there.

20130914-131915.jpg

.

Do I need u to be perfect? 

                                                             [original song lyric by mark nielsen,

                                                                summer 2013 (edited 5-6-14) ]

Do I need u to be perfect?

I don’t even need u to be good,

‘Cause I’m one o’ those old bad boys

And I’d be glad if you just would

Be my temporary shelter

When the storm it starts to rage –

Be the Master’s little helper,

we’ll endure this curs’ed, bless’ed age.

.

Together,

Oh together we’ll weather the storm.

.

Old Noah had it right

Just get on a ship and sail

Away from all this desperate fighting

For some land and a good meal

Don’t make war to find peace

And with the Devil don’t u deal

Just feel the wind in your face

Grab two dogs and a good horse,

raise the mainsail, bring your family

‘Cause together we’re a force

To be reckoned with.

.

Together,

Oh together we’ll weather this storm.

.

Yeah my legs they are unsteady,

I’ve had too much to drink.

Just lemme sit here on this stump,

Gimme a minute just to think.

We’ll look up at the stars

And be guided on our way,

Greet the sun tomorrow morning

Live to love another day.

.

Together,

Oh we’ll weather this (bad) storm together

………….Repeat chorus 2x

………….(insert Bridge up after  chorus 2?)

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 18, 2014

Uncle Vulcan, by Mark Nielsen

This one’s about the Roman god who appeared to me yesterday. However… Trekkies, you are welcome here too. Hope you won’t be too disappointed. The restroom’s on Pluto, last door on your left.

Not all gods are created equal.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

Uncle Vulcan                              (original poem by Mark Nielsen, 4-17 & 18- 2014)

Vulcan, my uncle,
son of Jupiter and Juno,
artisan extraordinaire,
forger, founder and faker, maker and user of tools,
fickle fortune’s original fool,
…why am I not surprised
that you were born lame?
.
For in these lines of mine–
so crudely forged,
with fiery fever mind
and bellowing bellicose bluster–
I see the same lame inherited shame.
.
Broken words yield only
scentless, senseless sacrificial smoke–
nonexplosive, non-praise near-misses,
malformed from the doomed digital DNA 

of our common and dysfunctional family

(perfectly incomplete,
uncracked codes,
complete with missing chromosomes and dangling participles
that only a Mongol could love).
.
I fear that my limping lingo,
these fancy words of sound and fury
signifying nothing
(which after all still suggest Something),
shall disappear into the mist above Elysium,
that perfect country
from which I was banished.
.
We no longer need gods to make mischief.
We do it quite well ourselves.
.
Dear Uncle Vulcan,
What have we done
with those great gifts you left us?
We make machines for spray-on tans,
idolize the Marlboro Man,

itemize recyclable cans,
let pork-fed Feds gut best-laid plans
while Hummers run roughshod over Man.
.
Putin the Titan
(a clash in Crimea),
basketball has-beens
in North Korea,
crime on my street
(you have no idea),
Ronald McDonald’s
so happy to see ya,
Extra Crispy,
sex on tv, and
the Great Black Hope
offers little to free ya.
.
(And what he’s got we refuse to pay for.
I barely even know what to pray for.
Instead we dig in well-heeled heels–
stiff-necked “Get your own!” shouted on newsreels,
bootstraps all broken, forgotten ideals.
A faint and fading fair New Deal
is now overturned upon appeal…
but don’t take too long
with my Happy Meal.)
.
Volcano ready to blow–
except, like Pompeiians,
we don’t want to know
what we know.

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | April 4, 2014

Mental Health, Fort Hood & Other Spiritual Dilemmas

Screen shot 2014-04-04 at 5.30.51 PM.

In the wee hours of the morning Thursday, I tuned my car radio to a talk radio station and started for the first time taking in the “gory details” regarding the latest Fort Hood shooting. I had spent Wednesday listening to music and/or sports, stayed off of Facebook and watched no television. Plus I work alone on a strange work and sleep schedule, which is why the early morning reports the next day on Specialist Lopez were the first I was hearing of the incident.

Having no “water cooler” around which to gather and discuss such incidents, as always, this Marking Time blog post will have to do for me. It is a tough story to engage with, however. Though I am continuing to tay “off the grid”, news-wise, I’m willing to bet that any number of people within the political, gun-control, medical and/or religious sphere are now taking this fresh opportunity to press their own views, to ride on the coattails of the tragedy now being endured by a handful of families in Texas –all in order to shine a light on the Big Picture (or their own version of it).

So it is with some trepidation that I add my own “peacemaker” voice to that debate. These are real people here, not fictional characters, figureheads, or pawns on a philosophical chess board. But ignoring the patterns –especially in light of the shootings at the same location five years ago– is not necessarily the more ethical choice, either.

I fully admit my bias here, and I fully expect a majority of my fellow citizens will disagree, but here goes anyway:

I believe the U.S. military– like just about any military power in history– has a number of impossibly contradictory communication agendas and propaganda messages to maintain. Meanwhile, well-intentioned but ill-informed soldiers and private citizens get caught in the crossfire of these contradictions far too often, and unintended violence of various kinds is often the result.

I would contend that the broader social sickness here is actually an underlying spiritual illness, an addiction to violence, or else we wouldn’t have steadily increasing and alarmingly random violent eruptions in all sectors of Western society, not just in the military. So I wonder if, at times, the real issue is the inherent cracks in the messages themselves.

The wrongheaded but more broadly-taught messages, IMO:

  1. violence is inevitable and necessary,
  2.  a “just war” (about justice and not money) is possible,
  3. those “other” humans are expendable (a.k.a. “my rights and life matter more”)
  4. I have a right to what I want, and to protect it at all costs.

The inability to question these messages may be what causes soldiers, high school students and other ill people (especially men) to crack under the pressure of that tension and contradiction, and turn violent.

I know almost nothing about Specialist Lopez’s personal life or past history, so I can’t comment on that. On the other hand, if even the psychologists treating Lopez had no clue he was in such desperate condition either, then I have to ask: who, if anyone, can be called a credible expert in such things? Certainly not the pundits, military officers or psychiatrists parading across tv screens this week to comfort a scared-out-of-its-wits public.

On the other hand, I do know something about clinical depression. And while it is primarily genetic and chemical, still there are hundreds more public policy supports that can be put in place than we currently attempt. But most societies worldwide choose to sweep the real issues under the rug and scapegoat the sick, instead of addressing the societies’ own complicit role in the steady rise of mental illness’s severity worldwide.

I also know about the higher-than-normal preponderance of mental health problems and addiction incidents within the U.S. military. The numbers don’t lie. So if you have a hard time thinking of it in terms of political or moral philosophy, then let’s just stick to the science: According to a recent medical study, “The suicide rate among veterans increased an average 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011, or more than double that of the 1.1 percent civilian rate” . And lest we think of it as strictly a U.S. problem, or a gun-control problem, similar veteran suicide statistics exist in the U.K., where gun ownership is far lower.

And combat itself, or traumatic brain injury (TBI), are also more political distraction from the good science than they are major scientific determinants themselves. Lopez was never in combat, and in general suicide/homicide/abuse numbers are not much higher for combatants than for other service members. So what, then, was the “trauma” for which Lopez needed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder testing, if not the psychological trauma of combat or of an actual injury? The hard truth is this: the trauma could just as easily have happened when he was ten years old, as when he served overseas.

Thus it is important to ask which came first: troubled people with limited employment options entering the military, or else the military environment actually contributing to the psycho-spiritual dilemmas these soldiers face?  (And by environment, I include not just combat, but even the abuse or de-humanizing treatment endured in basic training itself, or on the bases, or in abuses of power within the most structured and secretive “chain of command” in modern life). I honestly don’t know which came first, messed up people, or an infrastructure that recruits them and uses them up. But the anecdotal statements about the environment at Fort Hood in this CNN.com article –statements like “People in jail have a better life than a lot of these soldiers here…” –should not be dismissed. Plus, a human being’s sense of inner security and psychological wholeness is a much more delicate mystery than many people are willing to admit– be they a psychologist, minister, soldier, politician, teacher or ditch-digger.

But biased and powerful voices on the international stage do little to help with such “delicate” matters. They fix all problems with the same tool: a hammer, clumsily and heavily wielded. They (ok, change that to we… since I do pay taxes, thus footing the bill for this b.s.) … we cloak bad policies and messages about power, security, poverty, and economic privilege in the fancy clothes of patriotism and justice. Or occasionally military or political leaders and their manufacturer cronies use such pragmatic justifications as “job creation” instead, or “advancement of technology”. Or constitutional “freedom”, in the case of scared but proud gun enthusiasts. But when it comes to defending one of the four flawed principles above, any old lie, any old hammer, will do just fine. It’s classic bait-and-switch… and it works.

But not on me. As we learn in that old story , this emperor actually has no clothes. In all the ways that count, the military is a business like any other. (A similar point can be made about the criminal justice and prison system, as well… but that is a discussion for another day.) But no other business requires such a suspension of disbelief regarding those basic human rights that we so love to say we support: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Cognitive dissonance –in this case the suspicion that love (divine or human) does not in fact rule, but instead money and power and violence do– is just too much for some people to bear without falling apart, or getting high, or hurting others to stave off feelings of powerlessness.(Case-in-point: domestic abuse and sexual abuse statistics are higher in the military, too… at least double, more likely three times as high, or more.)

This is why I define the problem as psycho-spiritual: the values we are working from are flawed at the outset. And too many soldiers –like the rest of us– have been taught these values, and truly believe them. We treat the symptoms, but never the causes (many of which are economic, or else familial and shameful… and thus private and “off-limits”, difficult to account for within the public policy sphere). Meanwhile, those with the power to change minds, with the choice to stop selling to us and start instead helping us, have bought into that flawed worldview and are only invested in perpetuating it –even if they did not create it, which some did.

Oh sure, we have badly-behaving pop stars to distract us, or for us to foolishly blame for social ills. Meanwhile entire social structures perpetuate beliefs and practices which tear families apart, kill people, and even kill the planet itself, …all while asking us not just to whistle in the dark, but to actually say “It’s getting lighter”.

In fact it is getting darker. Leaders show little good faith (not in God, nor in humans), nor much imagination, in their political wheeling and dealing, nor in the half-hearted solutions they try (and fail) to impose within the confines of a broken system. Each generation’s failures, meanwhile, whittle away at the public trust, and the social fabric and basic decency are strained still more as we start to give up on ourselves and our leaders. We might actually vote, or send more of our “best and brightest” into the military, if we believed justice was actually being done. But that has not been the public perception in years, and in this way, I’m kind of proud of my fellow citizens for not cooperating, for not buying the b.s.

It’s like one great, grand social “Whatever!”,  unspoken but quite clear. Seldom are we taught to “create community”, to make personal sacrifices for the common good. Instead, the immature spirit of “looking out for #1″ rolls onward. Where is the courage? The moral courage necessary to enact the kind of fundamental social changes that are required…

  • required for love (either divine or human) to actually rule,
  • for us to put our money where our mouth is,
  • for funding of mental health initiatives, schools and job training that outpace military spending
  • for elimination of tax loopholes for bankers, CEOs
  • to re-educate a quietly scared but still conformist and self-protective middle class that can’t pull the plug on faulty war machinery?

I may be posing the wrong questions above. I may be woefully idealistic and naive. So be it. At least I’m not accepting the common news reports and shallow political analysis at face value.

Lastly, the possible role of PTSD in the Lopez case brought to mind an older blog post I did, way back during the Bush administration. It comes at the psychology and spirituality of war from a slightly different angle. But if you’re interested, it can be found here:

War Is Ungodly and Wrong, PTSD is Proof (Marking Time)

And for an even more angry, liberal and complex look at the issues above, especially on domestic violence in the military, try this old story from The Nation magazine. It’s worth a look just for the stats themselves, whether or not you agree with the opinions (and to be clear, I agree only in part):

http://www.thenation.com/article/173923/house-horrors-domestic-violence

"Call me Raincheck / Need a shot of Rhythm and Blues" - V.M.

“Call me Raincheck / I need a shot of Rhythm and Blues” – V.M.

As some of you may know, I work as a medical courier these days.

Now and then, I see some mysterious “holy ghost” as I meet people. And then the High Priests, like Van Morrison, help me work it all out. This poem is about that experience. Below that, the song that created the spark for me:

      >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>——————————–>

 

I Choose to  Fade   (3/19-26, 2014)

 

The Belfast Cowboy

says not to let the bastards grind me down.

So I won’t.

I proceed instead in the direction that the compass points.

I am making a house call.

 

It is raining.

On my left

I pass Iggy of Loyola’s street.

On my right,

Therese The Little Flower

is just now opening her shop for the day.

On the radio, a woman sings “You Don’t Know Me”.

This may be true, Honey,

but He does,

and that’s all that counts.

 

When I reach the door of the patient–

the Filipino man

with the winning smile and the withered hand–

I see, and am seen.

There is that mild shock of recognition…

followed by quiet joy.

We smile in unison,

and he hands me his bright red left-over Life,

taking it out of the fridge

from the shelf next to the beer.

 

The Big Idea is so clear to me now–

it is just the niggling little details

that are too fuzzy to make out.

 

I place a vial of his red essence,

the proceeds of his heart,

into my cooler.

And as I walk back down the sidewalk

in a drizzling rain,

a nagging but important question

occurs to me:

“Who is healing whom here?”

 

We did not choose

but were chosen for each other.

Yet even after that,

I still must choose to fade today–

to let my chalk mark run in the rain,

even as this old man’s illness

forces him to do the same.

The rain may make us fade today,

but I’ll take a rain check,

and with Help we will never fade away.

 !  !  !  !  !

.

 

Posted by: Mark Nielsen | March 12, 2014

Closed Casket [poem for Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014]

Philip, as Lester Bangs, imparts curved wisdom in "Almost Famous"

Philip, as Lester Bangs, imparts curved wisdom in “Almost Famous”

.

Closed Casket       [for Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014]

.

“the only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.”

         –Lester Bangs/Cameron Crowe/Philip Seymour Hoffman, in Almost Famous

s

The war he fought was not in the news,

although –truth be told– it left him broken;

the kingdom and king that he defended:

seen only in absence, creeds unspoken.

.

Tragedy is a farce. Comedy: his shield.

(If only his father could see him now…)

His heart: a window for those who dared.

His death: mystery. (The why, not how.)

.

A life well-lived? Purpose fulfilled?

Martyrdom: less than he deserved.

Parades, memorials, new folk songs?

Yes, that. Not this. This is absurd.

.

“Toes like fingers” they said he had,

but nobody will see them now.

He walked ten million extra miles,

a sturdy workhorse pulling the plow.

.

His harvest meagre but always timely,

but winter here lasts far too long.

More Bangs for my buck than a hundred others–

He sang a lovely but twisted song.

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