Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

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Well, that’s it. I’m back in the blog game. What exactly that means, I’m not yet sure. I started this blog after I moved to Mali to teach. I kept it going for a while but it fizzled out once I became overwhelmed by imaginary deadlines and content anxieties. Now I’m back in the US and diving deeper into freelance writing and editing, so I’ve decided to bring blogging back into my tool chest.

So how do I do this? I guess I’ll just write. Rants, reviews, musings, poems and stories, at least when I’ve got something noteworthy to say. But how long? A paragraph or a page? A note or a novel? So many questions! It needs to be perfect, right?! Hemingway said writing is easy, that you just, “sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” Well… I suppose that’s as good a place as any to start.

I’ve resolved to make 2017 a creative year. I plan on writing as much as possible for actual employment. Plus, I will finally just self-publish my first collection of poetry, and dig way deeper into a novel I’ve been working on. I’ll probably put parts of all that up here. I’ve also got some creative exercises I’ll try out with you all, starting with one of my favorite books on fiction exercises, “3a.m. Epiphany.”

What else…

Maybe I should tell you about my day. I went to a Virtual Reality (VR) party at my buddy’s apartment today. He and some other friends are working on a VR cafe-type idea, and so are testing out the top-of-the-line Oculus and Vive systems they bought. I’m not really sure what to even write about VR at this point, but I will say that I won’t be surprised at all if all that technology runs everything else over in the next 5 years or so. It truly blew my mind. I really can’t wait to see where that goes.

Meanwhile, in reality, let’s see what’s still standing after the Inauguration on Friday.

So there’s my two cents for now. I’ll be back soon though. Til next time, folks.

Onward and upward.

Z

Graceful

Posted: August 4, 2015 in health, OC, Poetry
Tags: ,

Graceful

By Z.B.

July 2015

 

Thither in the night

It withered in blight

‘Til the slithering morning light

Hither, graceful, returned its might.

All Fire’s Eve

To Baltimore

30 April 2015

 

The woody hills are sleeping

The cold, stale sleep of death.

While weeping wind whispers past

Black trunks, exhausted, out of breath.

 

A deafening silence drowns the air

In nothing, not a flutter.

The sun beats down the charcoal ground

The final drops of strength are mustered.

 

Creeping limbs claw and stretch

And squinting, step into the sun.

Gray-black snowflakes powder the land

Celebrating unions, embers of fun.

 

A sneeze! A tuft of feathery leaves,

The breeze, soft and somber.

Tired eyes gaze amazed

At all that’s left of night’s bright wonder.

 

All night long a blaze went on

Until this stretch of earth turned cinder.

Entropy laughed and chaos danced

While beasts of wood screamed out in splendor.

 

First went wings, the birds of sky

Flew off in all directions.

Scarred and scalding, scared and hauling

All they left alone and destined.

 

Next the bugs and biting critters

Pittered, pattered, shuffled and scattered,

Hid under rocks where the ground was still cool,

Beaten, broken, busted and battered.

 

Then the paws who sniffed the air

With darting eyes, turned and ran

Sprinting through fields with standing hair

And howling cries of living damned.

 

For the flames were alive this yesterday’s night!

So bright they outshined the stars.

To the forest it felt like the whole world would melt

But it lit up the vastness of night from afar.

 

They jumped and they flew and fought through the blue

And their orange grins laughed from tinder to tinder.

They ripped out the trees they would need to keep prancing

But shrugged off the rain and burned off the splinters.

 

The forest was furious this All Fire’s Eve!

The mountains and oceans could tell.

But like the great oceans and mountains it knew

That you’ve got to keep going if you’re going through Hell.

 

So the sun has arisen and the fires have died.

Creatures come back to the light!

The forest you used has been leveled, abused,

Everyone’s always left home overnight.

 

Shaken, you step over kindling

Famished, you flip stones and ponder

Wandering orphans and neighbors cross paths

And glistening eyes in tender sonder.

‘What will we do?’ you ask.

‘What ever could possibly come next?’

Afraid, in despair, unaware, there unseen

The seed that from fur falls in your steps.

Bon soir internet!

So it’s been six (almost seven!) months since I packed up and moved across the world into the heart of darkness and so far it’s literally been sunny every day. During the rainy season it can be gray for a while and sometimes the dust paints everything beige but the sun always comes out eventually. Why do I feel like there’s a message in there somewhere?

Mali has been surreal. I still can’t believe I’m here, or that I’m starting to understand French, or that I’m finding my own work, or that my niece is a year! (WTF?!?!) The river of life really has some massive bends. Learning a new language is coming along great, or well enough at least for me to understand the basics of most of the everyday French conversations I find myself around. I’ve even started picking up some Bambara! Doni doni. All it takes is a little focus really. I used to be apprehensive about learning new languages but now I think it has finally turned from frightening to fun. It has definitely been challenging but I am doing my best to embrace the privilege of learning. Teaching is one Hell of a learning experience, go figure. English is in high demand in this francophone country, and a native speaker definitely helps meet that. In fact the demand is so high I’ve now had to turn down clients in order to have adequate time to prepare for the students I already have. And aside from working with government and non-governmental organizations galore, teaching preschoolers has been (and remains) especially humbling. Between teaching preschoolers, government employees, and locals to other teachers and their children, I am getting quite the crash course in teaching students of all ages, levels and backgrounds. It makes me wonder what else I can do that I may have never considered before.

Come to think of it, this whole adventure has been one Hell of a learning experience. Every day I drive down the road and wonder what else someone will somehow be carrying on a scooter, or “moto” as they’re called in Bamako. Goat, dresser, art, family, you name it. I’m surprised I haven’t seen someone carrying another moto on one of those things yet (although I have seen someone on the back of one dragging a bicycle behind them, and a moto on top of a car). Malians are impressive. They really work their asses off. Everyone I’ve met and seen seems to be doing everything they can to make as much money as possible. Considering how hot it gets here alone I’m inspired! Their efforts can be misguided sometimes, like the children selling water and really any portable thing you can think of on the street corners and roadsides from infancy instead of going to school. But the people here really look like they do their best to get ahead, even if it takes years of backbreaking work. Bamako is filled with strong people. I’m glad to be able to help in what few ways I can. Petit a petit I suppose. There are a tragic number of people simply begging as well, though those seem to mostly be men and boys. Malian women are especially impressive. I have yet to see a Malian woman just relaxing. Men on the other hand, like most men I know (myself included) seem to take every chance they get.

I’m learning a lot about Africa in general talking to all my local and professional students. African people and the African spirit amaze me more and more every day. Check out these few examples real fast and tell me you’re not impressed.

http://www.myafricanow.com/a-house-made-of-plastic-bottles-nigeria/

Isn’t that all awesome? I’m learning so much from all the people here. Not to mention that I live with an investment banker with a bleeding heart. Six months with my father has been eye-opening to say the least. I’m extremely grateful to have been given the privilege of a lot of his insight on poverty, corruption, bureaucracies, development, organizational finance and management, etc. So much so that I’ve even considered taking a couple years in the future to go for an MBA. It doesn’t look as dry/confusing/useless as it has in the past. I might be able to see myself buckling down and learning the inner workings of the capitalist process, if only to learn exactly what we’re all up against. That is of course If I could somehow manage to get my hands on one of these mysterious “scholarships” everyone keeps talking about. From my experience though they seem only to exist in fairy tales…

Speaking of fairy tales – the war in the North has turned a corner now that suspected militants have attacked civilians in Bamako, the capital. Last week a popular bar was the stage for an attack of some sort using machine guns and grenades, which I believe marks the first attack of that kind within the Bamako city limits in years. Word on the street is they were looking for caucasians and though two were caught, the organization that claimed responsibility is currently still out there so Dad and I are… honestly not changing our behavior very much. We stay in a lot anyway but I guess now we will buy a few more munchies at the supermarket. Like pops said, he doesn’t get danger pay for nothing. The world is a real place and rocks hurt so you’ve got to be ready for it no matter where you live.

Six months in and I must say I am actually fairly impressed with myself. Every day I work on something personal besides my job, and after six months I’m starting to build up some nice new habits to be slave to. Though that’s not to say I’m not also impressed by my ability to make enough money to actually contribute to gas and groceries. No such thing as a free lunch. I’ve begun meditating and exercising semi-regularly and I can already feel the difference. Little by little much gets done. As much as I love to sit around and do nothing I’ve already made a bit of a name for myself in the city as a solid English teacher and tutor, even building up referrals from clients for more work. Plus I’ve learned a fair amount of one new language and have begun to understand the basics of another. I’ve learned and am learning firsthand about our global system of international development from someone who has basically the same thoughts I do on the matter, only way more developed. Not to mention I’ve reached a new level in my grasp of international politics and news, including keeping up with the political and legislative landscape within the States, which really makes me feel like a grown up haha.

It’s especially exciting to look back home and see the cascade of drug law reform legislation that I sacrificed many good grades in college trying to build a culture for starting to pick up speed. A tear comes to my eye just thinking that as I write this cannabis has been legalized in Washington D.C., the place where five or six years ago people were laughing at me for suggesting it could actually change within our lifetimes. “You’re wasting your time,” “get a real cause,” “worry about something you can change,” I heard (when it wasn’t just laughter) for four long years while peoples’ lives were thrown away into prisons and caskets for feeding an addiction or starting the wrong kind of entrepreneurial enterprise or just struggling to eat something after chemotherapy. It’s just so satisfying to hear silence where there once was doubt.

So much amazing work is being done all around the world that I am inspired to get to work on my own contributions as fast and as hard as possible. By my birthday I want to have all my poetry (which looks like about 60 pieces) in one place so I can finally arrange it all and maybe even have enough good ones for a collection. After that I’ll be able to get back to the novel I’m working on and a possible collection of short stories. One day my musical equipment will arrive and I will jump back into the music game. Until then I’m also teaching myself how to… well… teach!

Speaking of my birthday, it looks like my birthday this year is on Easter, which is cool I guess. More importantly it’s on a Sunday! That means no work on my birthday which is all I really want. I’ll still spend the day working, just not at my job. It will be into the hot season by April so I’m really just gonna try to survive. It won’t be the hottest yet but I imagine it’ll be like “the wall” at Philmont. The wall is a few miles of gnarly switchbacks up the side of a mountain. “How do we know when we’ve reached the wall?” “Once you feel like you can’t go any further, then you’ve reached the wall.” It’s okay though. I’ve forgotten the pain. The view at the top however, I’ll never forget.

Onward and upward,
Z

The day the laughter cried

Posted: February 12, 2015 in health, OC, Poetry
Tags: , , ,

The day the laughter cried
12 Feb 2015

We all got up to dance and sing
The day the music died
But not a lone bone fun was found
The day the laughter cried.

We knew the laughter held back tears
A dam; impressive show
But when it stopped the dam walls dropped
And none could stop the flow.

Not one joke made even a poke
Nor riddles rolled off the tongue
For all the clowns turned smiles to frowns
And all the jesters’ heads were hung.

The day the laughter fin’lly cried
The whole world cried as well;
The guiding light that fought the night
So long, to darkness fin’lly fell.

But in the somber silence,
across the world an echo sings.
Laughs still ring on whimpering wind,
In the wake of robin’s wings.

A Whisper

Posted: October 21, 2014 in OC, Poetry
Tags: , ,

A Whisper

21/10/14

Tomorrow you will see,

My soul says to me.

You may have lost the fight to night

But tomorrow’s yet to be.

The morning brought the sunshine

That brightened up the valley.

She tried to kill the darkness

But the night held tight in nooks and alleys.

He stayed alive you see.

He found a way to be.

He crept around, low to the ground,

In gutters, at your feet.

High noon came and left you

Brimming with delight.

But the sunshine left you blinded,

Convinced you’d seen the last of plight.

So once you’d put your day’s work in

And sat to watch the setting sun,

He came up quick behind you

To remind you of all you hadn’t done.

His voice grew loud and booming

As the sky grew deep and black.

I know that now you’re frightened

The sun is has gone and shall never come back.

But have no fear! it yells

In a sharp, resounding whisper.

The darkness only wishes

He could stand with you and kiss her.

For when she bats her eyelids

And returns to you and me,

The night will bow in awed defeat.

Look hard and you will see.

Why? (9/29/14)

Why do I keep coming back to this place?

Why do I keep coming back to this page?

Race after race I’m a waste, a disgrace to the taste of the name of the winningest face…

I make haste!  I try.

But why?  Why?

Why do I keep coming back to this place?

Why go up?  Or come down?  Hear the sounds?  Or escape?

Why the clown?  Why the grape?  Why the shiniest vape?

It’s a trape! – A trap.

This seatbelt don’t work in the back.

If the news doesn’t tell me the new news then how will I know when I’m being attacked??

Why is there always a crash?

Why is there always a catch?

Why do we frown, look around and abound for another to open the hatch?

This isn’t a fixed match!

Well it is.  But it isn’t.

But it ain’t what it is to him, his, and his business.

Or her and her children. Or me and my person –

– Ality! I’m trying to see!

I’m trying to find out why this has happened to me!

And us.

In our ruts, while we rust in the back of the bus, we stand at the cusp!

So why is there so much danger in trust?

Why do I feel like I must?

‘Cause I can?  ‘Cause I could?  ‘Cause a man with a plan would or should?

Why does it have to be good?

Why can’t I just wear my hood?

Why should I say in the day that I pray and point to the spot where I stood?

Why can’t I stop it?  Why can’t I drop it?

I guess I just already popped it.  Wrecked and rocked it.

Is this bubble still burst in my brain?

Are my blood vessels thirsty in vain?

Why in an hour can’t I help but scour the Earth for the worst of the pain?

Why do I stand in the street when it rains?

Why do I stare down the tracks of old trains?

Why do I drink?

Why can’t I think?

Why?

Because I’m so scared of the dark, I can’t even blink.

So a couple weeks ago I wrote about awareness.  I focused primarily on situational, or external awareness, as it were.  This week I am going to continue a thought on awareness, however this time I am going to turn my focus inward, to internal or personal awareness.  As always I would love to hear your thoughts.  Let’s see where this takes us…

Who are you?  What do you want?  Where are you headed?  Where do you come from?  How about your friends, siblings, parents, or your parents’ parents?  The human mind attributes meaning to patterns.  Those patterns we recognize as significant color the lens each of us uses to see the world around us.  We categorize and label everything we see into one set or another in order to comprehend the innumerable amount of stimuli we come across, and of course as with everything, this begins with ourselves.

I am Zach.  At least, “Zach,” is the particular symbol I choose at the moment to represent the idea I have in my head of myself.  This means I have spent at least some dime differentiating what I perceive and interact with from whatever generates this voice that ponders these weird-ass questions and have reached the conclusion that there is, in fact, a difference.  Exactly where the line is drawn is up for debate, but I have decided that there is a me that is different from you or that and my name is Zach.  Welcome, by the way.

Once I created that folder, I immediately filled it with all sorts of wonderful people, stories, and places that resonated with my frequency in order to figure and formulate my perceptions.  My memories and my perceptions of course now bounce around together constantly, lubricating my imagination and birthing my dreams.

So that’s me on a skeletal level, and it is important to understand yourself in relation to yourself.  However, it is another task entirely to consider yourself in relation to those around you.  After all, it’s the meat that makes the real differences between us.  There are numerous factors we commonly use to categorize ourselves in relation to each other: gender, race, religion, nationality, spoken language, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status to name a few.  If we have any hope of working with each other then it is not only important for us to understand ourselves in our terms, but to do so in relation to the people with whom we interact.  This brings me to Bamako.

I am a Caucasion-American male living in a big, (appropriately) white, walled-in house in Bamako, a city where reproductive rights barely exist and no one picks the trash up off the streets.  I live with my father, who spends cocktail hour at the embassy with ambassadors, WHO executives and the like.  As for my position in relation to the people of this city, it is safe to say that I am quite privileged.  My father alone employs several local men for what seems like nothing to me but is actually closer to twice the average pay for such positions.  Not only do I have a woodgrain toilet seat, but I have a toilet.  Not only do I have a gate and a wall, but I have a house with air-conditioning and refrigerated food worth taking at all.  I can’t avoid how well-off I am, and denying it would offer no service to anyone, but I can use what I’ve got to ease the lives of those who don’t have as much.

There are many ways to use one’s resources for good, but the first step is to try and understand just how much you do have in comparison to just how little is available to others.  Every morning I get to wake up in a bed, inside, and take an anti-malarial pill that (hopefully) keeps each of these mosquito bites from becoming more than that.  Once I’ve taken my magic pill I get to eat a hot meal cooked with clean, bottled water.  In addition, if I were to walk down the street at night, I would be targeted by thieves due to my skin color, but left alone by sexual predators due to my gender.  Meanwhile, others all around the globe have so little that clean water is a myth and disease is a way of life.  No one person can totally solve any problem really worth solving, but if we can all get in where we fit in then together progress can be made.

As far as I am concerned this means it is up to me to pay attention to those less fortunate than myself and actually learn their stories.  All any of us can ever do is work from where we are, with what we’ve got, for what we want.  Not only am I a sucker for a good story, but I have always had an fairly good memory when it comes to the recitation of stories.  So what do I want?  Stories.  Everyone deserves to have their voice heard.

This is the reason I want to teach English to those who are interested.  This is also the reason that I plan to learn both French and Bambara, the local language.  Language defines our capacity to communicate, and communication is the key to teamwork.  I went to the market earlier in the week with Edmond, our chef, and Mahamadou, our driver so Edmond could pick up some food for the week.  It was an amazing experience and I plan to go with them again often when I can.  First we went to the supermarket so I could make a booze run and Edmond could pick up a few items there.  For the real food, however, like all our meats and fresh vegetables, Edmond needed to shop around some in the street marketplace.  The market we went to was a crowded intersection with small, one-room shops lining either side of each road.  Because this was my first time and I still did not know much French or any Bambara, I waited with Mahamadou at one of his friend’s paint shop on one of the corners.  With the SUV parked right there on the street in front of an ocean of mopeds we sat, relaxed, and people-watched with some friends of his for an hour or so.  The language barrier kept any conversation involving me fairly basic, but their fascination with my tattoos sparked a lesson on colors in Bambara.  Those guys were a warm, welcoming bunch with big smiles on their faces.  Even though I have access to many more resource than these guys,  they still offered me a seat with them and lit up my day with their smiling faces.  I hope to see them all again soon.  The unfortunate truth in most situations is that those in positions of privilege hardly mingle with those around them.  Instead, often times people use what money they have to do just the opposite and separate themselves from those with less.  Having worked in the service industry myself for some time I know what it is to be ignored by those who think themselves better than me, so as I learn more about the languages here I plan to learn as much as I can about everyone I meet here.  It’s sad how unusual this mindset may turn out to be.

Life is hard for everyone, but we can each do a little to ease the suffering of those around us by simply listening to what they have to say and caring about their well-being.  For now, for me, that means my job is to immerse myself with French lessons, French newspapers, French movies, and French-speakers until I can confidently begin to relay the endless stories I learn here back to you, the fine people of the internet.  Even before then, however, even a smile and a wave can completely change someone’s day.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now.  Time for me to get some sleep so I’m useful again.  Thanks for reading, and of course feel free to tell me your comments, questions and concerns.  If you’ve got a couple more minutes, attached is a fantastic poem about who we are.  I hope you enjoy.  Have a fantastic week everyone.  Au revoir!

Onward and upward,

-Z

Ahoy, internet!

I am quickly approaching a week in Bamako, Mali so I suppose I’ll give you a bit of a rundown of my experience here thus far.

I am really beginning to fall in love with this place.  I have now been out a few times, so I am starting to get a little bit of a feel for how this city operates.  There are two sides to the city, one on either bank of the Niger river, with bridges to connect the two at numerous points.  There is no real main downtown area, though there is a newly developing area where the old airport once was.  This is an oddly vibrant area because half the land is now big, new office buildings and half has yet to be developed.  The land has been taken over by locals for gardening, selling goods and, well, living.  Then of course, right there you meet the gorgeous (and gated) U.S. Embassy… but I digress.

The river does not seem to mark any economic or social border.  The city appears to simply scatter itself in all directions with no visible pattern.  I’m sure more patterns will make themselves clear in time.  My father wasn’t lying when he said they don’t pick up the trash in the streets.  Since the new President took office, I hear the police and government agencies have not done much to help in the daily lives of the citizens here.  Especially now with the war in the north and the whole Ebola scare, the government seems a bit preoccupied to say the least.  As a result, trash floats down every road and the traffic laws are essentially unenforceable suggestions.  People live in makeshift tents in undeveloped fields the same as new building development sites.  Knowing the rules is important, but following them may cost you your life, as they say.  And ain’t that the truth.

The people of this city have seen some horrible things.  They still remember ’91 when the people stormed the Presidential Palace and were met with military bullets.  Every day the northern states are under radical Islamic law.  Not to mention one woman dies every eight minutes attempting childbirth.  Life is fragile on this side of the world.  Life is fragile everywhere, but some places the soft spots are more visible than others.  But the people here inspire me to no end.  In the midst of innumerable hardships the clothes are vibrant, the food is still carefully crafted and delicious, and the weekends are reserved for dancing.  Watching the way everyone gathers and smiles and dances without critique or concern has been truly wonderful so far.  It just goes to show that unless we learn to dance when the music plays, we can never know how to dance when there is none.

As humans, we can appreciate like no other creature on the planet.  Our eyes let us see in color, our tastebuds let us recognize insane combinations of flavors, and our ears – our ears know music!  If there is anything that separates our lives from the beasts, I am convinced it is this: our capacity to appreciate.  In the midst of a brutal world, we create music.  So this week I’ve got a homework assignment for anyone who actually reads this.  Take a little bit of time to appreciate something you like, like a favorite song or movie.  Or go for a walk and sit at that one bench for a bit while you enjoy the view.  Let’s face it, we’ve all got the time.  The first, shorter link I’ve attached here is to a live rendition of the Godfather theme song, performed by Slash from Guns N’ Roses.  I include it because it is one of the most beautiful little covers of a classic I’ve ever seen, and every time I can’t help but feel something.  The second is a bit longer, but worth every minute.  This is a rendition of Walt Whitman’s famous 60-page poem, Song of Myself, arguably his greatest single work, read of course by Darth Vader himself, Mr. James Earl Jones.  I hope these might do for you what they have done for me, and if not, they’re entertaining at least.

Onward and outward,

-Z