My gratitude to Cleopatra Mathis for moving her busy schedule around to accommodate my every whim, as well, her stunning poetry; to Peter Ciccariello for his beautiful, expressive artwork, which is on every page of this issue—and—for providing the quotes by John Masefield; to Pietro Aman for being "impossibly young" but enormously talented; to Benjamin Buchholz for providing the impetus behind the theme of this issue, and for his eloquent essay, "Radical Obedience."
I'd also like to introduce Joan McCormick as the new Poetry Editor of Tryst. So far she has done a smash-up job and I can't thank her enough for assisting me with every aspect of this issue. Now, if I could only talk Joan into writing up the next editorial...hmmm. Finally, to all the contributors who lent their voices to this issue, gratitude knows no bounds. Thank you for reading our journals, enjoy. ~Mia
Eleven Nights in the Seattle Underground: An Essay on Radical Obedience
by Benjamin Buchholz
I tried to ignore the enormous man above and behind me as he worked his way between art deco tables and pushed aside any number of spindle-legged chairs. I pulled my binder of poems closer to me, lifted them so that I could shield myself, turned them ever so slightly so that I might make it look more unaffected when I leaned away from the table and stared, quite vapidly, anywhere other than his direction. But, perhaps exactly because of my sangfroid, he seated himself nearly beside me, across from me at my very table, his bulk spilling toward me, threatening my spiced, foamy chai.
I was nervous enough without his intrusion. I had not read my poetry too often before and here I was, on an evening’s reprieve from the Army, lounging in the very heart of beatnik Seattle, my shaven scalp truly original among the Dylan-esque and the Grunge.
They set rules, made some introductions, called up the first of two featured poets, and then began with the open mic. Before I had my chance (and my chance, after that, to escape) the fat man shuffled his papers, rose when called, and took his turn.
They’d set up something of a podium. I remember it had a potted spiderwort plant draping over one corner and an ornamental dish in a slot on its front. The man could not fit behind it so he stood in the open, filling and defiling the comfortable gap between himself and his audience. He ran his hand through spiked, graying hair and said in a basso profundo voice I still hear: “I have already written the three most famous words of my life.”
“Which are?” asked the moderator as he plucked at the perfectly disheveled corduroy of his pant leg.
“Rad Dyke Plumber,” said the poet.
The coffee shop erupted. Everyone had heard of the ‘rad dyke plumber.’ Her advertisements graced the endpapers of all the local indie magazines. Everyone had heard of her, except me.
I don’t remember what I read that night (it must have been something militant) but I do remember that I read next, after the humongous plumber, because when I returned to our little, overcrowded table, she leaned toward me and said she thought I was strange, something of a rare bird, and how could I reconcile this artistic streak, this poetics that brought me, however haltingly, into the Mecca of liberalism, while working for the military?
I had no answer for her, not then. All through the next eleven nights while I led a double life serving opposite masters, learning to destroy by day, creating and discussing creation by night in her company and in the company of her friends, touring Seattle, venturing out to Burning Word, drinking at the cafes, browsing the bookshops, even dressing up for an evening performance by an all-lesbian choir, I had no answer for her. We talked politics, ethics, religion (what interesting views on the Virgin Mary!), but always, after these conversations, she would express surprise at my liberalism and by degrees work herself back to the theme which truly held her attention: how could I reconcile my life and the muse which filled me with my profession?
Here, at last, is my answer, knitted from threads of Abu Ghraib, Darwin, Jainist pacifism, Plato, Woodstock, and Patton:
Rather than peace it is the preservation of an element of beauty and the guarantee of human dignity that I defend because they, rather than peace, are the necessary prerequisites in our continued struggle toward collective grace. If I, myself, might (as I hope) contribute to that beauty or this evolution, the contribution is not as important as what must come before, during and after: the maintenance of a climate conducive to evolution and art.
From this I derive a certain corollary: the Jain would say that to do harm to any living thing is wrong. I agree. I subscribe to the philosophy. Yet, not even in its extreme application, this idea leads to monasticism, closeting. And, here, I find fault with the majority of the liberal cause: we practice pacifism, art, love, peace, and evolution in rooms on high mountains, looking from windows on meditative fogs, entering through doors where the reed mats have been woven and cleansed. We buy fuel efficient cars, recycle and compost, maybe even write to politicians, attend rallies, work for non-profits or in the advance of certain worthy causes. But all this time there is a bubble around us, a padding. Who among us have truly left the comfort of our ashrams and studios to rejoin the world and affect it at the fulcrum of its teetering into the abyss of chaos, cruelty, and dehumanization?
This is how I reconcile myself: unconsciously, beginning before I realized what or why I was doing, before I ascended to that figurative ashram, I forced myself into the fulcrum. I maintain a bastion of liberalized thought in the very belly of the beast. I want to be at the crux of the event when the next My Lai or Abu Ghraib threatens so that I can moderate, apply some sense to the senseless, consider compassion even if it requires that I abide by or effect the death of another in the name not of a greater peace but of the chance that those among whom I fight may experience the freedom to meet and spend eleven nights traipsing the Seattle underground with a woman unafraid to call herself a three-hundred pound bull dyke. That is my answer.
|Copyright © 2005 Peter Ciccariello|