A New Mayan Letter by Charles Potts For Joshua and Jeremy
South of the border The many borders Where rich Texas Cubans will erect walls For the poor to fly over On their way to heaven Though it may not be as heavenly As its proponents take pains to point out.
It’s been a long time Since I was young Driven apparently to excess By roads that stopped at the water’s edge, The border crossings Bearing the failures of bureaucracy.
Get old or die Are the only choices But living beyond the means Act young and get real Make good second choices.
The American dream is rattling the sheets Of a population asleep in it. Without a frame The picture goes on forever.
Charles Potts is an American counter-culture poet. He is sometimes referred to as a projectivist poet and was mentored by Edward Dorn. Raised in rural Mackay, Idaho, Potts left Pocatello, Idaho and Idaho State University in the mid 60s and set out for Seattle, Mexico, and ultimately the location where he rose to literary prominence: the counter cultural hotbed of Berkeley, California. He is currently a horse rancher in Walla Walla, WA. http://bluecreekappaloosas.webs.com/
Vertical integration in the United States once meant
White people on top and everybody else layered in below.
It has come to mean control of a product and its profits
From conception to consumption
Employing all the formerly middle men
Into one sleek unit of production and delivery.
In the case of poetry I’ve done that:
Dreamed of a poem
Captured the poem in the dream
Reduced it to representational linguistic fragments illustrated on paper
Bound it with other plausible reductions
Into the pages of a book
With barcodes, prices, photographs, and blurbs
On the back cover and covered it with the art of friends
To be sold if not in open markets
Then at the Walla Walla farmers market for years.
Does this make me then a farmer of dreams?
I decline to bring any more dreams
Thru the trap door of commerce
From which they so turbulently spring.
Retired dream farmer in a collapsed poetry market.
The poems and the dreams to which they are inextricably attached
Remain hidden in the dream verse
One of many multi verses I am told.
While our attention is distracted by Iraq Take time to object to some of the other wars The American empire is fighting concurrently as well, such as The war in The Philippines, the war in Columbia, The war in Korea, the war in Afghanistan, The war in Israel, the war in Pakistan, The war in Yemen, the war on Terror, The war on poverty, the war on drugs, The war on The Bill of Rights, The war on common sense itself.
The war of America against the world Can’t be about anything grander than The president’s pathology and popularity.
Not since King Lear have speakers of English been mislead By a leader so completely ‘round the bend. Power is dangerous enough in the hands of ordinary plodders. In the hands of the crazy and uneducated The danger expands exponentially.
The last time Congress declared war was 1941. 62 years later the siege mentality still rules.
The 18th century supposition behind the Separation of Powers, ie Congress shall have the power to declare war; The president shall be the commander in chief of the armed forces Presupposed that a declaration of war would precede Any armed forces to command
Since we devolved to a permanent military With the president as the commander We have perpetual war With Congress towed along like the tail of a kite.
Someday we’ll lift the siege and see The pitiful men behind the curtains pulling strings.
1 In 1946 the Truman Administration cobbled together policy That will guide America and the United States into a grave: Stimulate domestic consumption and search for foreign markets.
World War Two propelled Americans across the world Destroying their distinguished isolation And Woodrow Wilson’s doctrine of self determination of nations, Putting Hershey Bars and atom bombs along with GI Joes Into the world word bank Along with the great American coinage, OK.
OK can mean anything from yes to you are on your own. OK, if that’s the way you want it, OK with me.
It might have been OK if they’d confined domestic consumption to The simple facts of warm clothes, adequate housing, and nutritious meals, The need for which food stamp Americans have in common with everybody else. “One third of the nation is ill fed, ill clothed, ill housed,” FDR declaimed seventy years ago. It’s still true for radically different reasons one depression later.
In 1946 the American people were hungry to forget The Great Depression With its soup lines, dust bowls and railroaded hobos As the speculated roaring of the twenties simpered out into The savage thirties whine.
The exact point in the relationship between Dying early to save the system money and Working to consume yourself to death efficiently Hasn’t quite been worked completely out to policy maker’s actuarial satisfaction.
Americans stood 19th century Maytag frugality on its head: Build it well and make it last, Darn your socks, grind your wheat, make your own soap, Do without until you can afford it, Into a plastic credit card throw away civilization Destroying the environment on the side as a Mildly regrettable cost of doing business Symbolized by the shopping cart in the trough with Wal-Mart’s predatory criminal labor and retail practices.
2 In the old days prior to 1946, except for Mexico, Louisiana, Oregon and the Indians, The United States government had confined its actual imperialism To the Roosevelt Doctrine’s annual obligatory invasion of Latin America
With a few cruel Hawaiian exceptions such as when their empire of ironic slaughter Was taken to the limit in Aguinaldo’s Philippines Led by Teddy Roosevelt’s “secret” admiration of the British Empire
Who goaded American into building a navy Sufficiently enormous eventually to make the basket catch Of the British Empire’s bases and other falling stock in the Atlantic Charter.
Post 1946 when imperialism became the way of life Colonial wars piled up in the history books alongside Syngman Rhee’s Korea, Hoh Chi Minh’s Viet Nam, Salvadore Allende’s Chile, And Saddam Hussein’s broken Babylon.
Some of the secret history rarely gets recited in public Like General Eisenhower’s perpetual overthrow by his CIA Army of Governments in Guatemala, Iran, Cuba, The Congo, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“It’s about jobs,” George Bush the 1st gesticulated nervously When asked to rationalize the Gulf War he’d goaded The allies into reestablishing the British Empire’s toehold on the oily Emirate of Kuwait.
The United States military has been under siege Real or imagined, Sometimes both; never neither, Since the bombing of Pearl Harbor– Sixty plus years of the war that never stops.
It’s what these southern kleptocrats desire Under siege like the Confederates Where they lost the battles and built the shrines The basis (es) of their military theocracy preys upon.
Semi-Colon half an asshole Powell used to claim with a straight face that The exit strategy is the most important aspect of Colonial War. There is no exit from Consumer Imperialism.
Consumer Imperialism, World War 3.1
World War 3.1 was a knife fight at 20,000 feet. Have your will up to date.
Never lose sight of the fact that the “faith based initiative” Which took out the twin towers of the World Trade Center Was carried out by trainees of the CIA once removed Unleashing a relentless wave of video military fascism.
Win the war on terrorism by training counter terrorists To terrorize other people in a war on abstract nouns. Government by sarcasm is an unfit substitute for self rule. Help wanted: somebody to shovel the horseshit off the information superhighway. . With each side referring to the other side as evil It makes one wonder if both sides are right. Evil is that which has power over you. God doesn’t take sides; that’s what makes God God. Human beings have no faith in their own story, So they drag in God as the author of Their Christian and Moslem shenanigans.
Flying hijacked commercial airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon Was a reckless act of freedom Rather than an attack on it or democracy as claimed by the unelected President Bush who obtained office by judicial fraud, Hardly an unimpeachable spokesman for Democracy.
There was no attack on The Samuel J. Tilden New York Public Library or The Statue of Liberty. That would have been an attack on Freedom and Democracy.
The world trade towers were a symbol all right: A symbol of the Rockefeller brothers’ capacity To manipulate the public policy of the New York and New Jersey Port Authorities into Rescuing some of their down in the mouth real estate At the lower end of Manhattan.
The attack was on World Trade and Consumer Imperialism.
The design competition will create a monument to the victims. How about creating a world trade system that is fair to all participants? Now that would be an enduring monument.
War is now perpetual when it used to be punctuated by peace. America is a winner’s tragedy; freedom destroyed in a pitiful exercise to save it.
Et Tu Bruté?
There’s nothing left of Caesar except a salad and a haircut. Klipschutz
Caesar, Julius, who Killed half the able bodied of France To bring those reluctant frogs Into a Roman pond
Who bridged the Rhein near Speyer In ten short days Without an environmental impact statement Or German permission.
Comilitones, he intoned, I have crossed the Rubicon. Cut the Gordian Knot As Alexander did. Cut the umbilical cord Across his mother’s belly Up out from down under her narrow birth canal. This is the way to the Cesarean section.
Not everybody born by the knife Can grow up to be both The Queen of Bithnyia And the Emperor of Rome.
My fellow toddlers it is still Government by assassination. We can’t avoid the history of The Meiji Restoration and Eisenhower’s CIA. Brutus honey, is that you?
American presidents elected every twenty years since Lincoln In zero years to match their accomplishments Have either been assassinated or the attempt was made: Garfield, McKinley, Harding, Roosevelt, Kennedy, Reagan. Among these august dead did the living Have even half a chance?
What if Bush the younger Brought into office by black robes In the year of double zeros Would take a silver bullet To match the silver spoon He’s been porking out in The public lunch box with.
If some Shakespearean character in a play would say: “Bush should be assassinated To meet the rhythm test of history,” She’d be making an observation Not a threat.
Pity and terror are the Draino of literature According to Aristotle and Herb Ruhm. Therefor, making war on terror is an infringement On poet’s rights.
Bring me the chicken Caesar Hold the haircut.
Terror is half our stuff. What’s next, A war on pity?
The Rocket’s Red Glare
The empire can be managed to a soft landing Or it can be kicked apart By the idiots who rule it and their intended victims.
The second half of the war on Iraq Suggests the American empire will Fight colonial wars ad infinitum Until they exhaust themselves.
Knowing this doesn’t knock me out with happiness But it would save protesters a lot of time If they can agree it’s the inevitable Fate of empires Who imagine they’re immune to history While merely being ignorant of it.
No Exit—from the Not-So-Great Depression
by Charles Potts
No Exit is the title of one book by Jean Paul Sartre, a French writer, communist and co-father of Existentialism that I’ve never been able to read, even though I have always admired the fact that he thumbed his nose at the Nobel Prize for Literature saying something like, “I don’t accept prizes, whether the Nobel or a sack of potatoes.” The Nobel Prize for Literature, as you’ve probably heard, is passed out by a pack of gunpowder academics from the net proceeds of the fortune of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, by confusing politics with literature. Each year they make some kind of difficult-to-decipher gesture toward one or another enclave in the Third World. They haven’t given one to an American for a long time—trying to snub the Empire, I suppose. Who knows what all they read on their way to spurious decisions.
To give you an example of how far into the mire language has fallen, I’m under the impression the Swedes delegated the awarding of the Peace Prize to the Norwegians, and as an old Swedish girlfriend of mine used to say, “He ain’t Norwegian” when she wanted to insult somebody, the way dweebs from Eastern Montana make fun of the hapless denizens of North Dakota. I mean, they gave the Peace Prize to the Boy Scout from Chicago and he had to pick it up the very week he announced he was sending an additional 30,000 troops to win the war in Afghanistan at a cost of $30,000,000,000, i.e. thirty billion dollars. I hope the unemployed are sitting down for this but my honorary degree in rocket science suggests that it is impossible to win a colonial war when it costs the Empire A MILLION dollars per soldier to put a pair of boots, as the talking heads put it, on the ground. Even if they were taking gold out of Afghanistan by the trainload, colonial war is a losing proposition. And there is nothing else there to “win” either. The last time I can remember that the Peace Prize went to such a warmonger was when the great war criminal Henry Kissinger accepted it, on behalf of the scut work he did for the scoundrel Richard Nixon in the Empire’s war on Vietnam. Americans have forgotten their own colonial history, if they ever knew it. Back in the day, early 1600s, with the importation of some good tobacco from the Orinoco River in South America, Virginia became the drug producing capital of the new world. Fortunes were made. Now the Empire has the effrontery to try to wipe out the opium producers in Afghanistan.
Colonial War in all its many disguises is one of the primary reasons why there is No Exit from the not-so-great depression. To give the Tea Party sympathizers among the audience an example they can get their red meat teeth into, the Cheney-Bush Administration started and lost three unnecessary wars simultaneously while bankrupting the Treasury and blowing a hole in the world economy that likely won’t get re-filled in the length of an ordinary lifetime. And Republicans wonder why they are out of office.
To take their undeclared wars one at a time… (By the way, this civilization declared war in 1941, two years before your author was born, and has never declared peace. We have war as a way of life, described in the political literature as “Peace and Prosperity,” going down in history as a violent parody of standards even double-talk can’t reach.) In their post 9-11 mind set in concrete, they launched the aforementioned War on Afghanistan, allegedly because the perpetrators of 9-11, mostly Saudi Arabians and Egyptians, once trained there. It was described by that half-an-asshole semi-Colon Powell as asymmetrical warfare, overlooking the fact that the asymmetry was provided by the Empire, when a handful of special ops could have taken out the survivors of the plot for chump change. At least that’s the way Eisenhower’s CIA used to do it during the “Peace and Prosperity”-driven 1950s. Discontent with starting a war they couldn’t finish much less win led them on to the War on Iraq, a regime changer if there ever was one, to depose a war criminal satrap the Empire had set up years before, one Saddam Hussein by name, who never made the slightest dent in his long war against Iran, even with the Rumsfeld-provided poison gas.
Lying their way into war is the modus operandi of the Empire, now in need of a theme. Voila! A War on Terrorism. A war on abstract nouns is the perfect setup for the Empire. The enemy can’t be found, so Osama bin Laden is still at large, generating funds for both sides. The siege mentality of the Paranoid Christian Fascists has them fighting Islamo-Fascists and the Fascists are winning. For every terrorist killed three new ones are created, an endless supply for an endless war, in an Empire presided over by endless fruitcakes. The Empire has 16 separate spy agencies, all gathering information and hoarding it from one another, much less the people on whose behalf it is purportedly gathered. If you have a secret and somebody else wants to discover it, that somebody else becomes pro forma an enemy. The interlocution of paranoia; the structure of political madness.
The algorithm for the end of empires has three integrals and derivatives. How fast the leaders burn through their assets, chief of which is the support of their populations; the size of the asset base; and the quality and focus of the opposition. Costs of empire are borne by the entire population while the benefits accrue to the very few with inside jobs: no-bid contractors who milk the sacred American cow. In other words, the calculus of empire and colonial war is an exercise in socializing the costs—socialized war, anyone?—while privatizing the benefits. This best of both worlds is a dream scheme for plutocrats and a nightmare for everybody else. An Alice in Wonderland foreign policy presided over by the presidency, no matter who holds the office, presages an epic disaster.
If you haven’t dropped out yet, it’s probably time.
Reposted from January 2009—because it still applies… —Ed.
January 28, 2009
THE RECESSION AND HOW TO LIVE THROUGH IT
by Charles Potts
[Arthur editor] Jay Babcock has tempted me with the phrase, “It would be great if you wrote something on this subject,” referring to the subject line of his email, “The recession and how to live through it.”
I’ll take the bait. This is more than a recession. This is going to be a huge depression, with the “recovery” way off in the distance.
A recession, per Christopher Wood, desk chair person for The Economist in Tokyo circa 1995, is “a superabundance of inventory, and can be melted off the shelf; a depression is a superabundance of capacity” and takes much longer to get out of. Remember that it took the bean counters in Wash DC a full year to confirm the economy was in recession, and there’s a lot of over-the-counter chatter about how this recession is already longer than the one in, take your pick: 1976-1980-1991-etc. However, look around you and notice the superabundance of capacity. The industrial hind end of Europe, Japan, the US and China plus all else, can easily produce multiple times more automobiles, cell phones, TVs, computers, refrigerators, et al. than anybody with funds can buy.
This is the fourth major deflationary price collapse in the past 600 years. In the three previous price collapses, there was a long period afterward when prices did not recover their pre-fall levels for decades. Prices last collapsed hard in 1815 after Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at Waterloo; the period from 1815-1896 has been called by economists The Victorian Equilibrium. Many things contributed to this low-level stability, but it is sobering to realize there was scant inflation in the United States during the 19th century. (Inflation, by the by, is not necessarily a bad thing. Inflation simply moves assets around the game board from creditors to debtors; it doesn’t actually destroy anything except purchasing power if all you have is cash. In deflation, which we’re going through now, cash will buy a lot. During inflation it is better to have hard assets that increase in value at least at the same rate as cash.)
Will it take eight decades before the world economy is go-go again?
My reference to 1815 isn’t casual. I just re-read David Hackett Fischer’s The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History. His book is about the three previous big price collapses: in the early 14th century when the Black Death ended the so called “Middle” ages; then, circa 1492, when prices collapsed during the Renaissance, and we encircled ourselves globally; and the aforementioned 1815. What’s so crucial about 1815 is it is also the date and the event that Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West) identifies as the moment Western culture went sideways and into “civilization,” cf. Napoleon at Waterloo. Fischer’s graphs of how the prices rose and fell, can be superimposed one over another. This collapse we’re in, the big one for the rest of our lives, started 20 years ago in Japan in 1989, has hit Argentina and most of Latin America, Russia twice now, and finally the big fish, the rest of Europe and the US. Even Doha is scaling back!
The powers that be with their printing presses will print money and throw it at the wall until enough of it sticks. Some activities will appear to return to normalcy. But you shouldn’t wait for the influx of money to turn deflation into inflation, just as you shouldn’t wait for the bailout to trickle down to you. Unemployment is going to increase and stay high for some time. Challenging moments are upon us.
My advice in hard times would be the same in good times: find something you love to do and master it, become as good as or better at it than anyone has any reason to be. Look up the people who do it really well right now. Study the masters. A musical instrument, a physical activity, painting, movies, art of all kinds, the writing of poetry or other books, whatever makes you feel better about yourself and contributes to our well being. Try enough things until you are satisfied that your fascination with the subject will lead to mastery. Six or eight hours of focused effort a day should suffice. I think this is reasonable advice, coming from an old man who has squandered most of his life by being interested in too many things to master any of them.
We don’t exist as individuals; we exist as the sum total of our relationships. You’ll need all the friends you can get, so be honest, fair and generous in your dealings with other people. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or take unseemly risks. The future does not belong to the risk aversive.
It will be difficult to get rich in the onrushing hard times, but it will be easy to get poor or poorer. Watch where your money goes. Make sure you get good value for it. Avoid buying things you don’t really need. Add value to your activities by putting forth effort. Expect others to do the same.
Spend time with children and if you have children of your own, take the time to understand the world from their point of view.
Assets are things that have to be used up creating additional assets. Almost without exception, your biggest asset is your time. I could have gotten rich teaching a seminar I created called “Seize the Day,” essentially a series of sensory exercises to stimulate your imagination to take over and live your own life. But I preferred life in a small town and didn’t want to see the inside of every airport and convention center in the country.
Maybe it’s time to skip the addictions, look up old friends, or visit long-lost relatives. Life is a gift of such presurpassing value that we sometimes hardly notice. Learn to appreciate simple things, the taste of water, the odor of flowers, the great way gravity contributes to your ability to walk and run.
Some of the things people love to do and do well don’t pay that much: poetry for example. Nobody really gives much of a fuck anymore if you can understand the world and set it to music. You have to feed yourself, and if a family, contribute to their well-being. You may find yourself bearing an overload of dissonance, earning your daily bread and wishing, as the Colorado poet and painter Joe Lothamer said, “I dream of being a janitor.”
Every changed circumstance contains opportunities, which accrue to the first people to recognize them. Since circumstances are in constant flux, there is a steady stream of opportunities. Learn to spot them and make them your own.
Keep the basics in mind. People will still be buying food even if the rest of the consumer economy blows completely up, as it so richly deserves to. Heal the sick, wake the dead, feed the hungry. Food shelter and clothing. Eat slowly and chew your cud well.
It’s morning in Texas
& deer bones
thaw in the ditch
grapefruit rot on the table
& it pours on the tin
propped against the barn
covers the road
in heavy puddles
& we are praying
& praying so
for bigger mouths
Travis Catsull, from Year of the Girl
Other books by Catsull include Open Spirit and Isle of Asphalt from Effing Press in Austin. Catsull is the editor/founder of Haggard and Halloo and co-founder of The Charles Potts Magic Windmill Band Which won the Austin Chronicle’s choral CD of the year award in 2008 for The Golden Calves.
During the 1960s, when half of America was a race riot and an anti-war demonstration, the great musician Merle Haggard made a famous song called “Okie from Muskogee” in which he sang, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee, a place where even squares can have a ball.”
Now, forty-five years later, it turns out Haggard is a pothead. From the Jan 1, 2009 New York Times:
Merle Haggard plans to give his first concerts since undergoing surgery for lung cancer two months ago, Reuters reported. In a special twist, Mr. Haggard, 71, said that for the first time in his life he would perform without having first smoked tobacco or marijuana. Notwithstanding a jab at pot smokers in his 1969 hit “Okie From Muskogee,” Mr. Haggard has long indulged a marijuana habit of his own. [He gave up a few times over the years, but “nothing was funny,” he said.] Having now put it aside, he said, he expects to work harder in 2009. The concerts are set for Friday and Saturday in his hometown, Bakersfield, Calif.
It’s okay to be a hypocrite, but I think the heads of the 1960s are owed an apology, as the Okie song was just one more stupid stanza in a drug and culture war that, guess what, we are about to win! How did marijuana get legalized? Because they don’t have 120 million jail cells vacant at any one time.
The Dope from Muskogee
for Merle Haggard
If you live long enough
You’ll get to see everything
Turned inside out.
Turns out the “Okie from Muskogee”
Turned into the Pothead from Bakersfield
With no apology yet foreseen
For the damage hippy hating did to this
Defunct Vietnam War torn country.
Pot smokers take turns
Passing their joints around.
Merle must have at least one song
In his tuckerbag to extol
The virtues of Marijuana over Valium:
Please pass the music.
Put him on the train for the
Medical uses of Marijuana
Recreation without drugs
Is hardly recreation at all.
For slinging truth directly to despotic criminal power in a heroic, selfless act of CONTEMPORARY conscience and righteousness, an act that many others could have done but none dared, Iraqi journalist/shoe-thrower Muntader al-Zaidi is the clear choice for Arthur Magazine’s coveted “Man of the Year” award for 2008.
In honor of the occasion, Charles Potts has composed a new poem, “Balls Out,” which we proudly present here:
Balls Out for Muntader al-Zaidi
We’ve found Hitler’s missing testicle
Lodged in George W. Bush’s nose.
Yes ladies and gentlemen
George Bush was snorting Nazi Nuts
When one of them got stuck in the cocaine.
Muntader al-Zaidi attempted a seasonal variation on
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Sweet
With his shoes.
He really wanted to hit the visiting fascist in the face
The lame duck occupational Caesar of the colony of Iraq
To crack the American crackpot empire
With his shoes.
George Bush ducked al-Zaidi’s flying shoes
Just like he ducked
Every single other responsibility of the office he stole.
Duck this George:
Since the nefarious democrats didn’t have balls enough to
al-Zaidi impeached you with his shoes.
The Muntader al-Zaidi College of Journalism at Yale
Now open for admission.
We owe you a pension al-Zaidi.
We are all in prison
Until you are set free.