My Room (a villanelle)

I remember a time when my world was very small, not physically, but in my own perception. The moment I realized the world (myself included) was something far more magnificent, far more special, than I’d thought is a moment I consider to be one of the greatest treasures of my life.

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The sun illuminates my new-found pearl,

Freed from inside a cathedral of might;

What joy to see, my room is not the world

In my palm, the oil-slick streams dance and swirl

And strange reflections glitter in my sight;

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl

On the ground the shell rests, wet and unfurled

Left behind—for its corpse the seabirds fight—

What joy to see, my room is not the world

Iridescent skies colored in plural

Carry the bright hour, dawned from muscled night;

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl

Salt around my feet, the boundless waves curl

And push the fretting seabirds into flight;

What joy to see, my room is not the world

Against the cathedral-shell I quarreled

And the prize for striving—a gem of light;

The sun illuminates my new-found pearl

What joy to see, my room is not the world. 

Second Visit to the Tide Pool (a poem)

I wrote this poem as a free write, and while thinking about octopuses. After about a year of letting the poem live quietly in my writing folders, I came back to it, edited it, and decided it was ready to live out in the world. 

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From the spring-night cotillion, where the wine is iced

And girls in white dresses laugh at boys with red faces,

She runs to the tidepool behind sand-nibbled boulders;

Tide pool—strange elixir of life; marbled ecosystem

Where bioluminescence miraged by split starlight

Erodes the earth she once knew by a proper name;

She watches starfish eat, gangly arms colored rust and lilac

That liquefy around mindless mussels blooming on the rocks,

Intensifying the thoughts of his smile—his hunt for bravery

That night she was lantern fuel and he was sheets of netted tulle. 

 

Pool water ripples rip away the quilled ink of octopus

While a cephalopod beak, poking through the silt, smiles

Beneath the salted refraction of the moon—quivering lines—

The octopus lip is messed with a curl of clam’s tongue.

The moon glint on the watchful window of the house

Obscures the hour hand and the metronome of the clock

And for a moment in a night familiar, it is any time at all.

Anachronistic memories that shaped red happenings 

Unseen by the timepiece standing on white carpet—

The kiss he stole while her fingers stroked the water,

The kiss between rifle powder and hyacinth flower.

 

But the dowager claps the closing ballroom tap,

Distracted by her own time in the wetness of ocean’s lick,

And by a boy wishing he could watch the starfish one sigh longer,

And by the octopus carried back into Neptunian antiquity;

For the hour of ubiquity is now one minute passed

The hour of end and beginning, morning and high night,

The eroded hour of close knit footprints in young flight—

Her salt water touches the infinite, saltwater abyss

And with two minutes nearly spent, she simply must return.

To prevent pleats, a mannequin now models the dress she wore,

And she in her pajamas whispers-out the candle light—the us

And dreams of phosphorous sparking white fabric into dust. 

 

One Radical Nation (Part 2): On Government

Part of an ongoing series examining the writings of the United States’ founders, and what we might still learn from their vision of a new and radical nation.

Examining Thoughts On Government by John Adams

Written as a letter to his friend George Wythe, in the momentous year of 1776, John Adams explores what type of government will best fit a new nation for and by the people—a question modern U.S. citizens find themselves asking more and more, as the current system continues to prove itself imperfect. Using the principle that the “science of politics is the science of social happiness,” Adams first establishes what the goal or the “end” of government should be. Not wasting a single sentence in thought, Adams declares the end goal for this new, uniquely American government to be: the ultimate happiness of society. Adams writes, “the form of government, which communicates ease, comfort, security, or in one word happiness to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.” With this definition in mind, Adams proposes that we build a government on the principle of virtue

Instilling the term with a sense of the sacred and the philosophical by conjuring Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and others, Adams does not use the term “virtue” in the strict sense of adhering to a high moral standard. He defines “virtue” as that which provides both happiness and dignity to every individual, and that which we recognize as the best qualities in ourselves. Dismissing any form of government utilizing fear or honor as a primary power, Adams writes, “the noblest principles and most generous affections in our nature then, have the fairest chance to support the noblest and most generous models of government.” The principles and affections which determine how we best treat others—and would want to be treated in return—on the scale of individual to individual should be mirrored on the scale of government to populace.

Proposing A Virtuous Government

To establish a virtuous government, a populace must work under Adams’s idea that “there is no good government but what is republican.” Republican here meaning, aspects of a Republic, or as Adams defines it: “an empire of laws, and not of men.” In other words, the government must not allow an individual to misuse governmental laws and regulations to serve their own interests, and the laws of government must not be partial to any one person or group of people. A virtuous government can only be sustained by governmental laws under which all individuals are equals. But what does such a government look like?

To ensure a fair and equal government, Adams proposes not one, but multiple bodies of representatives. He fears that a single body of representatives, especially if instilled with all powers of government, would be far more prone to, and capable of, corruption, greed, and misappropriation of power. Adams writes that a single body assembly “would make arbitrary laws for their own interest, execute all laws arbitrarily for their own interest, and adjudge all controversies in their own favour.” Adams proposes the use of three branches of government (legislative, executive, and judicial) so as to not overburden one branch with too much responsibility. A three branch system would also act as a check and balance against itself, as every branch, in theory, can hold the other branches accountable for their actions. 

As for establishing representative bodies, Adams states that all representatives must be voted in by the people. However, as for length of service, Adams suggests only a single year. Whether such a short incumbency would be beneficial, it is difficult to say, though the current tenures are a two year term in the House of Representatives and a six year term in the Senate. Adams was vehement that terms must be kept short, saying that short terms “will teach them [representatives] the great political virtues of humility, patience, and moderation, without which every man in power becomes a ravenous beast of prey.” Such qualities, we can assume, are also essential for being an equitable spokesperson of the people.

To further guarantee equality, Adams stresses the importance of ensuring that every governmental assembly has the interests of the people as its top priority. Of his proposed assembly of representatives, Adams writes, “It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason, and act like them.” An assembly that does not represent the interests of the people as a whole is an assembly prone to impotence or, worse still, corruption through self interest. To affect true representation, the voting process must also be held in high regard by both the candidates and the people. True representation starts at the voting booth. Adams even warns that we must be diligent to “prevent unfair, partial, and corrupt elections.”

The fear of the unfair and corrupt are self-evident, though the second fear of partiality may not, at first, be so obviously nefarious to the modern, Two-Party U.S. citizen. But throughout the presidency of Donald Trump (and in the years before), we have learned through experience why Adams was concerned about partiality. The growing division and tribalism of the modern two party system has exacerbated the rise in alternative facts, demolished constructive discourse between the two parties, and put representatives in power who were better at singing their party slogan than they were at representing the people. Adams’s emphasis on an assembly of representatives who are held accountable by each other, who are kept humble by short tenures, and who mirror the U.S. populace as a whole, should make us ponder if the division we currently face should have, or could have ever happened had our assemblies of representatives bettered resembled Adams’s proposed government. 

Maintaining a Virtuous Government 

The final third of Adams’s letter is more sporadic and less detailed with its ideas. This casualness is unsurprising as Adams is not writing a treaty or official proposal, but rather a letter to a personal friend. However there are a few moments that, like a match head struck against flint, spark a fire of thought. Two moments in particular stand out because of their—what must seem to the modern reader—audacity.  

The first is a proposal that all men, except for those experiencing a conflict of conscience or other exception (likely age and health), be trained for military combate, and their communities be provided reserves of ammunition. This training is meant as a safeguard against invasion. Adams is not suggesting all people be in the military proper, but rather that all towns should have a ready militia of fighters in the event of enemy invasion. Modern readers of Adams’s letter will find it easy to dismiss these instructions as specific only to that moment in history—the revolutionary war had literally just broken out—but Adams does not make clear whether such military readiness by the people should be indefinite or not. He says only that such readiness “in the present circumstances of the country [is] indispensable” (emphasis mine). This perhaps suggests military preparedness among the citizenry is at least advisable, even in times of peace.  

The second audacious proposal is one much more applicable to current discourse in the United States: Education. Adams gives only a single sentence, but the sentence is worth unpacking. 

Adams writes: “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.”

Adams’s spare no expense / education for all attitude in this proposal starkly contrasts with the attitude of the modern educational system itself. The public system of education, despite the tireless work of the educators, has a long history of cutting school funding. Schools in low-income districts are hit hardest of all, ensuring those in lower economic classes do not receive that wise and useful education of which Adam’s speaks. The loss of extracurriculars and electives, along with underpaying teachers for their work, means many public schools are incapable of providing a liberal education to youths of any class—spare no expense indeed. Allowing schools to function while underfunded and in a state which guarantees they cannot provide a well rounded education to all students is, using the implication of Adams’s words, ungenerous and inhumane. 

And when boiled down to its basic idea, Adams is saying that a well educated populace is better able to make rational and beneficial decisions when it comes to ensuring the government stays virtuous. Why else would he include this bold approach to education in a letter about building a sustaining an ideal government?

Conclusion

Much like Joseph Warren from part one of this series, Adams believes that the best government is one that ensures and works towards the happiness, dignity, and well being of all citizens. To use Adams’s term, a nation for and by the people must work toward a virtuous government. We can further extrapolate from Adams’s letter that, among other avenues, education is no small part of that happiness and dignity, to which all citizens have a right. However, the biggest takeaway from Adams’s letter is the importance of ensuring true representation of the people.

We the people must work to put good representatives in office, and work to hold our government officials accountable for their actions. A representative who does not actually represent the interests or desires of the people is, by definition, unworthy of their title. Without true representation, a virtuous government—which provides and protects the happiness and dignity of the people—is impossible. And if we can establish and maintain a virtuous government, we can transform the United States into something more and far better than it currently is. As Adams puts it: “If you compare such a country [what the U.S. could be] with the regions of domination, whether monarchical or aristocratic always, you will fancy yourself in Arcadia or Elisium [sic].” 

Loving Him in the Closet (A Poem)

I remember well what it’s like to love someone I felt I had to keep secret from my friends and family. Those days of my life are passed, but I think about them still. This is a simple poem, written while remembering those times of stolen kisses and “I love you” whispered very quietly.

_

Dusk

The amber muse sets, and Dusk writes a love sonnet,

With a pen of royal purple or burgundy wine,

On paper colored heart sick blue-violet.

He wraps his song in a plum skinned envelope

And tosses it over the navy brick wall.

.

Dawn

On the other side of midnight’s pinnacle

Dawn finds the notes of indigo verse;

He takes joy in drumming the scarlet rhythm,

On rose petal lips, the rhymes of strawberry red.

He hides the letter under cerulean sheets.

.

Lovers

Dusk composes his works, sweet like apricots;

Dawn whispers the words that would make the sky blush.

Lovers with a passion crimson, clandestine, and true—

Forever wanting to reach one another,

Forever separated by that wall of midnight blue—

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_

Cover Photo by Spencer Baker

End Photo from NASA (Taken by the International Space Station)

Embracing the Disquiet of Writing (part 6): Solitude

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

-Pablo Picasso

Inside of every writer there exists a voice, which is sometimes loud and sometimes quiet, but is only ever asking one question: “why aren’t you writing?” Many writers feel a sense of inadequacy or guilt over their inability to respond to the question with a simple “I will go and write.” Sometimes this inability is practical—maybe the writer is engaged in other responsibilities. Sometimes the inability is a mystery—the writer, though physically able, cannot seem to pick up the proverbial pen. But why go through the trouble of feeling inadequacy or guilt? Wouldn’t it be easier, and more rewarding, to simply take the action we writers most want to take when we hear the voice: to obey it, as soon as we possibly can, when and wherever it calls?

The writer could scribble a few lines during their lunch break at work, write out a poem on the bus, or even have Siri set a reminder for [insert main thesis of new essay] while changing baby’s diaper. Yet the number of writers who do this at all—never mind consistently—is infinitesimal. The reason is because that voice is calling us to do something more than just writing, than just typing words on a document, than just putting pen to paper. The voice is calling us to what is, perhaps, the one writing tool we writers rarely make time for in our lives: solitude. 

The Call, The Demand

Solitude is difficult to balance with a healthy life—solitude slips so easily into loneliness—yet solitude will be, must be, a lifelong companion to the writer.

Every art demands solitude from its artists. Some art forms make smaller demands. Theater asks that actors spend time in solitude to memorize lines, and to understand their characters; but the actor ultimately requires interaction in order to fully practice their art. The musician spends countless hours in practice with only themselves, but also benefits greatly from practice with others; once the musician begins to master their music, the choice of creating with other musicians or in solitude is theirs to decide. Some art forms make greater demands for solitude—the painter and the sculptor come to mind—but certainly the highest demand is placed on writers.

The vast majority of the writing process must be done in solitude; hence why we often hear writers saying that they are “trying to find the time to write.” It’s nice to imagine that writing can be done on the bus to and from work, on one’s lunch break, or at the kitchen table after dinner while the family watches television, but though many writers attempt this, rarely any can make it a habit. Even if such a habit is achieved, no significant work can be done in such spaces. But these failures are not the writer’s fault; the failure comes from attempting to force solitude into situations where it cannot exist. Writing cannot be done in the sporadic, empty moments of one’s life; one must carve out hollows into their life, in which writing can be practiced.

Annie Dillard addresses this concept in her essay The Moth. The essay, which in large part is about Dillard watching a moth burn in the flame of candle, ends with a scene in a classroom. Dillard recounts a time, while teaching an English class, where she asks her students which of them want to be writers. Many hands raise. Dillard dismisses these answers as careless, but feels incapable of communicating what she is really asking her students. Dillard writes: “I tried to tell them what the choice [of becoming a writer] must mean: you can’t be anything else.” 

We should take Dillard at her word, because, as her essay makes clear, the artist is the moth burning in the candle; creation is sacrifice. When the writer writes, there is always something else they could—perhaps should—be doing. This is why procrastination is often a continuous problem for the writer, because one can always find something else, something easier to do besides write. For this reason, we must stop thinking of solitude as something we find, and start viewing it for what it is: something we must create. 

What is Solitude?

To be “a writer” and not just “someone who writes,” each individual must determine what solitude means and entails for them personally. Beyond this, it is impossible to describe how each writer should practice solitude, as the practice is a personal experience. However, solitude does possess distinguishing characteristics apart from simply being alone. Solitude is a more complex experience. 

Many people spend their lives alone. It’s easy to imagine a person, single, who works a job that requires no meaningful interaction, who spends their nights by themselves watching television, reading, playing games, etc. Being alone is, inherently, a passive experience. Conversely, solitude is an act of exploring one’s own thoughts and beliefs, of problem solving, of stretching the limits of imagination beyond what was once thought possible. And such explorations are the building blocks of creativity and the beginnings of a personal writing process. Solitude is, inherently, an active experience. However, the active aspect of solitude is why we sometimes struggle with it once it becomes an intrinsic part of our lives. 

The first and more obvious reason we struggle with solitude is solitude’s close proximity to loneliness, which must also not be confused with simply being alone. If we are not careful, even a productive solitude can slip into habitual isolation. Solitude demands much from us, but it does not demand a loss of basic necessities. The writer can easily distinguish between solitude and loneliness by viewing solitude as an aspect of the top tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, while viewing loneliness as a symptom of psychological needs being neglected. The poet May Sarton puts it simply as this: “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.” If your solitude is not enriching your life, it is not solitude. 

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Solitude can become loneliness not so much because of the physical isolation solitude demands, but because it is an act of thinking and self discovery. Productive solitude is bound to both unearth many personal topics and trials that were previously being kept secret in the subconscious, as well as challenge held beliefs—sometimes dearly held beliefs. An inability to deal with or write through these topics in a healthy way can result in the onset of self doubt and erosion of psychological health. To put it bluntly: to be a writer, one must accept the need for solitude; to experience productive solitude, one must be willing to face what they believe, to search for who and what they are, and to accept the risk that they might fail to discover themselves, and so lose themselves further. For these reasons, Self becomes the second difficulty of solitude.

Many people find it easy to tell self-deprecating jokes; and the imperfections of being human often can be hilarious. However, seriously facing who we are, unearthing our actual selves—faults and all—is an act of strength. Most everyone is opinionated (and often over confident in their opinions), but ask a highly opinionated person to explain why they believe what they believe, and how they came to believe it, and there is a high likelihood that person will give you a nebulous or incomplete answer. All humans are guilty of this, because all humans are guilty of not spending enough time in self-reflection and self-examination. When was the last time you took a moment to examine one of your beliefs by asking why do I believe this, how did I come to believe it, and why is it important to me? If we writers want to instill our work with our personal voice, but cannot answer these basic questions about the beliefs that make us who we are, how could we ever know what we actually want to say?

Only with a firm foundation in one’s own beliefs and identity can one create without limits. Examining and challenging beliefs, distilling thoughts into cohesion, and learning to say the right words are exhausting tasks, but they are necessary for the creative process. They are necessary for the writer who wishes to form a beneficial, personal, writing process. 

Conclusion

Though we writers might wish it were so, the act of writing is rarely, if ever, something we can accomplish in the nook-and-cranny minutes of our lives. Writing is an art that demands more than simply time; writing demands solitude. And solitude, more than just the moments when we find ourselves alone, must be a journey of exploration and self discovery. Exploration is necessary, if we wish to find benefit in solitude.

When more comfortable with the exploratory nature of solitude, the writer can use their better understanding of themselves and of their world to express their stories the way they most want to express them. With time, practice, and perseverance, a symbiotic relationship forms between writer, writing, and solitude. The three eventually become triune aspects of the singular Writing Process.

One Radical Nation (Part 1): A Free Constitution

Part of an ongoing series examining the writings of the United States’ founders, and what we might still learn from their vision of a new and radical nation.

Examining Constitutional Liberty and Arbitrary Power By Joseph Warren

Delivered as a speech in Boston, 1772—fifteen years before the drafting of the official U.S. Constitution—Joseph Warren examines what a “free constitution” should be, explains the benefits of such a constitution, and asks how a free constitution might be maintained and preserved. The one aspect on which Warren bases everything is the idea that humans are social creatures, an idea that he (and likely all of us) take to be self-evident. With the idea of humans as social creatures in place, Warren suggests that, despite the natural shortcomings of humanity, a free constitution need only work toward one goal.

Warren does not delve into the specifics of human shortcomings, save only to remind the audience that “civil government [is] an institution which hath its origin in the weakness of individuals,” a statement about the need for agreed upon, governmental laws and regulations in society. However, these weaknesses, whatever they might be, are a small concern, so long as the ultimate goal of a free constitution is “the strength and security of all” [emphasis mine]. Warren argues that if this principle is the foundation on which a free constitution is built, and toward which the people are working, that society will certainly be prosperous and happy. Warren further stresses the importance of building and maintaining that free constitution by offering the Roman Empire for example. Warren states, “Noble attachment to a free Constitution … raised Ancient Rome from the smallest beginnings to that bright summit … it was the loss of this which plunged her from that summit into the black gulf of infamy.” Warren warns that such a fate could befall any society and that “public happiness depends on a virtuous and unshaken attachment to a free Constitution.”

But what does Warren mean by a “free constitution.”

Law Is Not Law Without Consent

While his definition of working toward strength and security for all remains a bit vague throughout, Warren does offer some engaging examples of what he envisions. First: If a law both infringes on the rights of individuals, and is a law those same individuals do not consent to obey, that law is inherently unconstitutional. Warren states that any citizen “shall be governed by no laws but those to which he, either in person or by his representatives, hath given his consent.” By proclaiming this, Warren emphasizes that it is not always the majority which should make and define laws; if a law affects the lives of a particular group of people—even if they are in the minority—but that minority has not given their consent to obey that law, that law is, under Warren’s definition, antithetical to a free constitution.

Warren wrote this speech while the colonies were still under British rule, and uses the unfair property taxation of his province as an example of a specific group being forced to obey laws they themselves did not enact. He states that he is uncertain how “the inhabitants of this province can be called free subjects, when they are obliged to obey implicitly such laws as are made for them by men three thousand miles off.” But this raises the question, does Warren suggest that minority groups have special privileges in regards to the law? Taken alone, this speech doesn’t give enough clarity to say for certain one way or the other, but what information is here points to an almost definite no to that question. Let’s examine that information.

In Warren’s own example of property taxes, his lament is not only that the people of his province didn’t have a say in establishing the property laws, but also that these laws directly affected property owners in the colonies in a way that gave them fewer property rights than property owners living in other parts of the British Empire. One specific group of property owners was forced to obey a law to which they did not consent, and which gave them fewer rights than other property owners of the British empire. Thus, property owners were equal in name, but unequal according to the law. Under a truly free constitution, this would not be possible.

One modern example of inequality under the law can be pulled from the fight for marriage equality. 

The fight for marriage equality was a fight to redefine a law. Those in favor of marriage equality wanted to extend existing rights to individuals who, by their nature, could not in good conscience practice marriage rights in the form those rights existed. Those opposed to marriage equality wanted to define the law in such a way that those who could already marry would keep their existing rights, while the rights of a minority would be further limited. Under both definitions, only the minority who could not yet marry would be affected by the change; under both definitions, the majority who already could marry would be unaffected. If the law, as defined by the opponents, were adopted, the individuals actually governed by that law would be the same individuals who did not consent to that law. All individuals may fall in love—equal in name—but some will be given fewer rights to practice that love than others—unequal under the law. Setting other arguments aside, the opponent’s version of the law, under Warren’s definition of consent, would have been unconstitutional. 

Military as a Force for Unequal Power

Warren’s speech is also concerned with the infamous Boston Massacre of 1770. British Soldiers had been occupying Boston as a means to coerce citizens into paying unfair taxes to Britain. Warren suggests that military force against the people weakens a free constitution, because it is antithetical to the foundational principle. A government would only use military occupation as a means of coercion against its own citizens if that government were trying to silence and ignore the concerns and desires of the people. And a populace forced to do anything by the army of their own government will not and cannot feel strengthened and secure. The use of military force in this way is thus inherently a violation of the foundational principle and ultimate goal of a free constitution.

For this reason, Warren asks why it would ever be in the best interest of the government to use military force as a means of coercing citizens into obeying a law. Warren goes so far as to say, “I know not of any gains which can be wrung from us by oppression, which they may not obtain from us by our own consent.” Going back to his base point, Warren argues that citizens will desire to work alongside a government that both respects them and prioritizes their well being. He furthermore implies that only a government which has abandoned this base principle would ever use military force in the same way the British did in Boston, before the massacre of 1770. How a government uses its military can be a sign of both approaching threats to a free constitution and of coming tyranny.

While Warren is certainly not anti-military, he is concerned with the military as an institution, and how that institution can so easily be misappropriated by despotic authorities. Of the military as an institution, Warren states that “they are instructed implicitly to obey their commanders, without inquiring into the justice of the cause they are engaged to support … they are ever to be dreaded as the ready engines of tyranny and oppression.” From this quote, the reader can see Warren’s apprehension toward a military taught to obey for the sake of obedience alone. What solution there is to the problem of an over institutionalized military, Warren does not explicitly say; however, the argument could be made from Warren’s speech that a government founded on and adhering to a free constitution would never face this problem; using the military to uphold unjust laws or asking them to take uninformed actions—since the soldiery would need to consent to the actions they are being asked to take—is unconstitutional under Warren’s definition. 

But if a despotic leadership should arise, what can the citizens do to protect the free constitution under which they are governed? Warren’s answer is twofold, and quite simple: reason and unity.

The Responsibility of the Populace

On the concept of reason, Warren implies that reason means a fair, thoughtful, nonviolent (so long as possible) solution. This implication comes from his praise to the Bostonians after the Boston Massacre. Warren shows great respect that, despite the immediate desire for revenge against the British troops, the citizens were able to find a method of removing the troops from Boston that did not result in further bloodshed. Warren suggests that all matters be so resolved, where possible, when he pleads to his audience: “Follow not the dictates of passion, but enlist yourselves under the sacred banner of reason.” 

Reason has, so it seems, come under attack in the contemporary political landscape of the U.S. The ubiquity of conspiracy theories and belief in long debunked scientific hypotheses will be a much discussed legacy of the internet age; couple this with a presidential administration that sowed seeds of doubt in science and education, and no great mind is needed to see that the road back to a rational thinking populace is sure to be a long one. Unfortunate that Warren’s second point of protecting a free constitution—a point which seems inextricable from reason in Warren’s view—is also lacking among the current U.S. population.

Unity. Unity is of the utmost importance in protecting a free constitution. While Warren does give the example of the Bostonians unifying to find a peaceful solution to ending the military occupation of their town, he otherwise takes unity to be self-evident. But perhaps taking unity as a self-evident aspect of a strong and healthy society is a lesson in itself. Politics are inherently divisive. But that does not mean we are incapable of unifying on Warren’s foundational principle of a free constitution, the strength and security of all. Division need not be something destructive. The critics of a law can, through reason and a unified purpose, help sharpen and refine that law into something that strengthens and gives security to all citizens of society. But division that turns a people against themselves is always dangerous. As the biblical axiom goes: “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” (Mark 3:25, ESV). 

Conclusion

Warren offering only one, primary goal toward which a free constitution must aim seems, at first, oversimplified. However, the principle is a sound lens through which the populace can view the actions of both the government and themselves. Does this action, this statement, this new law, etc. help ensure the strength and security of all? Furthermore, Warren’s treatment of unity and reason as the best defense against any power that would seek to undermine a free constitution is, in my opinion, absolutely correct. Reason uncovers truth, and unity achieves goals.

The modern day United States faces many internal difficulties that its citizens are being forced to address. But as a citizen of the U.S., despite its problems, I want to see this nation succeed, to finally become what our founders said they wanted it to be—which throughout its history, it never actually has been. I want for this country, what Warren says he wants for it at the conclusion of his speech:

“May our land be a land of liberty, the seat of virtue, the asylum of the oppressed, a name and a praise in the whole earth, until the last shock of time shall bury the empires of the world in one common undistinguished ruin!”

Cover Image: The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker Hill by John Trumbull

A Coat of Many Colors (A Psalm)

I grew up on the Bible, and, naturally, The Psalms. The form of the psalm lends itself very well not only to the feeling of joy, but also the yearning for, and demanding of, answers to injustice and wrongdoing. Regrettably, the Biblical Psalms, though many of them begin with a fight for answers, rarely have the courage to finish that fight. Too often, the Psalms of David (and other poets) go to the brink of having something damning to say, of leaving us with a question that cannot, justly, be left unanswered, only to fall back into a stanza of praise and then abruptly end, before the question is every truly asked. 

However, it’s for that very reason that I am interested in the Psalm as a form of poetry. Can it actually ask those questions? 

 

A Coat of Many Colors

A Psalm

 

Your vassals “of the Lord” wet my tongue with confusion,

Your cupbearers bring me bitterness to drink.

You are Judah, duel conspiracies of death and righteousness,

And I am Joseph, cut into halves like a pomegranate.

Who sold Joseph as a slave? Remind me of the tale,

Remind me as I kiss the cup that’s bleeding wine, and tremble

Like I tremble when his stubble is rough against my lips.

 

I am tough skinned, but full of sweetness; “let me be a blessing,

A blessing to both my father and the womb where I was knit”

I pray as your sharp words cut through to my soft pith;

You tear out the seeds to let them rot, and claim “detestable”

You wait for maggots and corrupt odors, and cry “abomination.”

Your rough hands, laid on my navel, crack the red rind;

You bind me, yet I hold fast this prayer of ponderance:

 

On the grounds of Paradise, You made me. Could You ever forget me?

Are you not my Shepherd, the One who saw that I was good?

Look on Your image and say again, “yet my heart still yearns for him.”

 

How can a heart yearn for both piousness and whores,

Or beat for two masters on both the Red Sea shores?

I am your creation, rejected with a straight and narrow reprimand.

By a loving hand, I am torn apart, like a lamb among the lions

By a shard of prayers, I am dug out, like a leprous patch of skin;

You will not let melt away this white-as-snow redemption—

But I find comfort in the crimson warmth of the coat that is his arms.

 

And I see the stains of blood spattered, iridescent on this cloth,

Of wine that gargled from his throat and sputtered from his lips.

Through the hot famine, I watch the ageing Isaac—the sacrifice—

Groping to find the truth behind the truth that You incentivize,

Like Judah, turning sibling against sibling with Your love.

Yet Judah ransomed them, without hope of resurrection. And You?

What will You do, when my brothers grow wise against Your love?

 

I wait for my brothers in this land of Home and Exile,

In fields of honey and milk, I’ll dream of stars again,

And treat their red-letter scars left by Your hands.

 

The Cistern (A Poem)

I wonder if it is not better to be less concerned with the lifespan of a thing, and more concerned with the fact that a thing was meaningful, simply because it was here. 

 

The Cistern

Pull soft petals from a flower

Toss them down the old stone well

 

Drum the well’s cracked masonry

And pebbles wilt from off the rock

 

The sound of crumbling pebbles

Chasing petals into darkness — listen

 

Do you remember when both were young,

Or remember when both were new?

 

I do. But the petals are plucked now

And no more pebbles fall

 

Only a stem, and den of stagnant water;

Both still beautiful for having been.

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Beauty in Dead Tulip Petals: Picture by Lisa Benemelis

Be Still and Know (A Poem)

I grew up in a religious household, and was often taught to “wait upon the lord.” Such an action does beg the question, “when is waiting an act of faith (or logical) and when is it mere inertia?” In my days of religion, though I thought of myself as “growing,” I was mostly inert.

A quick note on the structure of this poem, considering its content: it was a surprise to me. I have six stanzas, with a line meter of 8 6 8 6 8. I was not consciously avoiding the number seven, but maybe, subconsciously, I was.

 

Be Still and Know

 

I wander to where the fountains

Do not yet feed the streams

Yet I never find the basins

Nor the words the wind means

When it says “still your mind awhile.”

 

In the forests I touch wet trees

Who breath that self-same wind,

Dig mitochondrial wisdom

And hear my echo’s din

—A singular life in plural—

 

And oh that echo; that strange noise

In a dry chamber, bare,

Distracting me from destiny

I whisper with more care;

But still hear my words in the wind.

 

Yet, from somewhere, another voice

With a screech of the owls

And her scent is pomegranates,

And her song strong vowels—

She dances through the still, hot night.

 

Stepping through the stale and barren

Deserts, I chase Lilith,

Pray, and her sight is lost to life— 

Am told “wait until,” if

I can be still, “the correct time.”

 

So stoically, by the pallid echo—

Not songs of X and O

But the bare promise they’ll be mine—

I’ll wait and know;

Be still for a Kingdom that is thine.

Party Devotion, A Failure of Democracy

Voting, once a physical manifestation of our voice in the conversation of democracy, is becoming an impotent act—not because it fails to accomplish what the voters want it to accomplish, but because it fails to overcome the degradation of our current democracy. U.S. democracy has become a system that fosters attitudes of division, adherence to misinformation, and staunch yet uninformed support for policies and politicians alike. People feign disgust at these attitudes, yet adopt those same attitudes at nearly every opportunity. Smear campaigns, Twitter fights, and complex issues reduced to one sentence platitudes are becoming a part of everyday life—traditions of election season, traditions of religious devotion to party affiliation. 

But alongside these political rites, many citizens are vocalizing their commitment to vote. The impending presidential election will have an above average, possibly record breaking rate of voter participation. And while conversations about the detrimental effects of mindless devotion to a political party are circulating, no definite shift away from this devotion is yet visible; many citizens, as they have since the founding of our democracy, still talk of their vote as nothing more than a tithe to the higher power of their Political Party. With the coming election, citizens of the U.S. are on the precipice of discovering whether we will take back our voices from the parties’ offering plates, or continue our descent into political idol worship.

The Cost of Party Allegiance

Regardless of whether a person is Republican, Democrat, or affiliated with one of the minor political parties, every U.S. citizen ought to consider that the idea of Vote Blue No Matter Who exists, trended on social media, and has gained significant popularity as an unofficial election slogan. What is the implication here? To not seek the best person for the job, or the best representative for your voice, but simply vote blue no matter the candidate? A large number of Americans openly standing behind such a motto not only implies a failure in the U.S. experiment of democracy and an increasing faithlessness for the Republican Party, but also that the U.S. populace might have learned little from the Trump presidency. 

Vote Blue No Matter Who 2020 Shirt
Vote Blue No Matter Who 2020 Shirt

Uncritical devotion to a political party—caused and fostered by an us-versus-them mentality—created this centuries old “vote the party line, no matter the candidate” philosophy. While party devotion is a natural negative of democracy, its ubiquity appears to be increasing in the current political climate. As a result of the Trump administration’s multifarious controversies, one might have expected a shift away from party devotion, not only because the current administration’s divisiveness acts as a near perfect critique of thoughtless party devotion, but also because the Trump administration blatantly uses party devotion to its own advantage.

I remember instances when my conservative family members would advise me to mindlessly choose the Republican candidate, whenever I was unsure where to cast my vote. Common though it might be, this philosophy of party devotion is one of the ways Trump “won” the presidency in the previous election; and the Trump administration has fervently preached the gospel of party devotion, as well as party division, in the hopes it will help carry the administration into a second term. Trump’s constant demonization of the media, fair critics, Democrats, and liberals—though Trump uses the word “liberals” with such wild abandon, one has to wonder at his definition of the word—is and has been an effective tool in galvanizing his voter base. Division is not only a consequence, it’s a weapon.

Too many Democrat and Republican voters have fallen victim to the practice of intentional division, and duly cleaved themselves to their respective parties. As a result, the importance of party devotion has eclipsed both fidelity to the nation and allegiance to one’s self. On the national side, religiously voting along party lines becomes the antithesis to the claim of “one nation, indivisible” because such voting both encourages and is the result of division. Both major political parties are guilty of misappropriating issues on race, sex, class, gender, orientation, beliefs, inalienable rights, etc. in order to widen division, and by doing so, strengthen the allegiance of their voter base. When the voter base feels they can only vote for one specific candidate—lest their adversaries be permitted to run amok, or lest they feel they have betrayed their party—voting becomes less about candidates the people respect, and more about candidates who will be tough on the opposing party’s ideals. Electing a candidate who will vanquish political reviles has become tantamount; that candidate being a good representative of those who voted them into office, a happy bonus.

4C23E916-E4E0-4233-8EF1-F7FFBACD99A4And that is what the “no matter who” idea boils down to: don’t vote for the candidate that best represents you—don’t even bother finding out who that candidate might actually be—vote the party line, because we don’t want the opposition in power. Trump’s political campaign commercials, in which footage of violence and chaos happening under Trump’s administration are erroneously labeled as “Biden’s American,” are prime examples of such fear mongering against political opponents. Casting a vote in fear of the opposition, or in fear of betraying one’s party allegiance, negates the foundational principle on which all politicians are supposed to stand: representation.

In such a system as our current democracy, the identity of the voter extends only as far as their party affiliation. And if affiliation is of ultimate importance, from where arises the motivation to be an informed voter? From nowhere. And an uninformed voter cannot be an effective voter. Under the practice of party allegiance, no one is truly represented, and our civic duty eventually becomes like the task of Sisyphus: perpetually trying to get a boulder to the top of the hill, only to have the rock tumble down to the bottom every time—perpetually trying to keep the worst candidate out of office, only to perpetuate a system in which the worst candidate can conceivably win. 

A Joe Biden Presidency: Complacency or Change?

The anti-Trump populace seems poised and ready to simply hand Biden the presidency. If Biden becomes the next president of the United States, and if the U.S. has learned from the last four years of politics, the Biden/Harris administration will be held more accountable and be subject to more scrutiny than any other administration in U.S. history. If the American people understand that democracy is in need of reform, they will have to demand that Biden make good on promises to bring about that reform. However, if the U.S. has learned little or nothing from the last four years, the Biden/Harris administration will be one marked by complacency of the people. “All well, at least he’s better than Trump,” will be the simple and easy way to dismiss any failed promise or impotent action of which the Biden/Harris administration may be guilty. 

Settling back into the comfort of religious party devotion will make this worse; Democrats will be overly kind to Biden, and Republicans overly critical. The divisions and the events that paved a way for a president like Donald Trump reset and repeat. So if the U.S. populace falls into complacency and continues to perpetuate and embrace the philosophy of party devotion—itself an act of complacency—Donald J. Trump will not be the last demagogue the people will vote into power. If we do not reform the way we think about voting and politics, we will put the U.S. in the position to repeat the mistake of electing another unqualified demagogue—or worst case scenario, a qualified fascist—to the highest office in the land.

And if the next four political years are marked by a return to what has been the standard in U.S. politics, what hope is there that democracy in the U.S. will ever become everything implied by the words: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Conclusion

While the end of the Trump presidency would be a huge relief to many, we would all be remiss to allow that relief to ferment into complacency, and to degenerate back into religious party devotion. If those opposed to the Trump presidency—and any future presidency that might resemble it—care about reform, then we must accept that our civic duty extends far beyond voting for and loyalty to any political party. Civic duty must include the fight for fair representation for us as a nation and as individuals, and a commitment to see reform where reform is needed. We must refuse a return to what was once normalcy and commit to a better democracy, and a more perfect union.