“Salting the earth and other updates”



Writing in real time! Things move so fast; the words need to get out there before reaching swift obsolescence. The newest visual work is done – a series including Dominant Spheres, a large four-paneled acrylic painting on gessoed paper and the related Dying Spheres group of collaged, gessoed papers. The Dying Spheres in particular are not easy – I long to hide them in the drawer. A sudden realization – the deeply organic asymmetry of these latest spheres disturbs and causes me uneasiness, while the clean circles of the earlier Spheres of Destiny & Variants, Swingeing Spots, Big Looming Assemblages, and Spots of Retribution are the outcome of pleasing geometric play and design-based color despite conveying their own darkness.

Three new poems are posted as well here.

This post is not easy to finish – it has been in progress for several days. Words pour out, so much to say. The difficulty is removing the rant, offering a piece of reality which somehow doesn’t pierce, drown, suffocate – and some hook to grasp as we try to hoist ourselves up out of this sordid cesspool. Here goes.

So the race has been called and Trump has lost (does he ever really lose?) despite all the crazy noise and destruction. We can hope he’ll eventually recede into a nightmare memory. Right now, how hard it is to loosen trauma’s grip. A genius trickster – we are still being messed with, because the trickster still deals. It is an empty hand. It is a big fist.

The quiet on the street and within was palpable immediately after election day. I truly had no idea how much frenzied static had been absorbed and internalized. Trauma! Trump is a rapist. He has raped the US – knocked it up, given it syphilis, robbed it blind, tarnished its reputation, spit on and severed it from family and friends, and thrown it out on the street. The country has a lot of recovering to do. Each and every one of us.

This is what we must absorb:
Steve Bannon saying he wants Dr. Fauci’s head impaled on the White House fence…. slippery snakes, clattering beasts hoofs tapping out orders shrouded in transparent code…

…Trump refusing to concede – predictable, but what next? His government refusing to be part of a transition, obstructing, destructing; some few rats jumping ship but most holding fast, some of the lemmings possibly backing off from the precipice…

but only to where we all were before. The chasms and anger that brought this on in the first place are wider and deeper than ever. Will the center hold? Is the center the answer?

As sometimes happens, circumstance and the challenge of the moment can bring someone to a higher place. We can only hope this will be the case with Biden. All the terrible problems have fused into one great disaster; to repair one problem necessitates the repair of all. It is certainly a gargantuan task Biden faces, after the past four destructive years of division, theft, lies, hate, and death. If he cannot successfully bring sanity, health and a modicum of security to the country, it won’t be a pretty picture. The backlash to such a failure to fix would be ferocious. Meanwhile, here we are in this bizarre moment when the loser digs in his heels and punches out in every direction. What happens if he refuses in the end, to leave? That’s the million dollar question on everyone’s lips, tormenting everyone’s brain. What more, with lightning speed and subhuman cruelty will he do to us, to the country, to the world? Truly he is salting the earth.

Will the US Senate return to a Democratic majority? Two January Georgia reruns will tell. American democracy always hangs by a wire, but now it’s by a thread, a hair. Will Bernie Sanders become the Secretary of Labor? One can guess. Will the Republican Senators remain lockstep in the footprints of their former leader if and when he’s gone? Whatever the outcome, it won’t be what we wanted but may be just barely enough – or is it too late?

However this all plays out, the most fearful aspect is the roughly 48.3% who support this madman, apparently gone twisted mad, kool-aid in hand, ready to follow the menace of mirage, merging into a blur of evil. Or is it “just” ignorance and banal moral laziness? Either way, the knowing mind shudders. We have already seen where this ends.

The impossible impulse to flee rises repeatedly in the gorge – how primal, how embedded – but to where? Will we ever again have that freedom of movement or funds or strength for that matter? Who knows how things will devolve or mutate around the world. What will be left of our earth? What part of our now longed-for past life was freedom, what part profligate?

Meanwhile the virus, like a grossly unwelcome guest or conquering brute continues to intrude and invade everywhere. In Vermont the numbers are still relatively low but suddenly spiking, while elsewhere they soar. Why should they not? The masked and maskless go about their business. Denial is everywhere, masquerading as rage or optimism. Scorn the messengers.

Absorbing these intense realities is daunting. We are not built for this. I continue to work, which helps the balancing act although new realities penetrate and what is made mirrors these realities. It is painful to bear such fruit, but to hold back is impossible.

I open and close my poetry books, looking for words that speak to my soul. Brecht comes closest, for obvious reasons.

The last few weeks lingered warm, echoing early September. Like a vertigo, the strange warmth disoriented since we had already had snowfalls of some significance and tending the wood-fire had become a regular part of our routine. But now it truly is November; windows have been shut, the weather is a cold grey and the wood-stove is hot. Nothing in the garden but parsley and collards, the elderberry syrup is done.

Ending now with a poem by Bertolt Brecht and another by Attila József :


What use is goodness …

What use is goodness
When the goodly are at once struck down or else those are struck down
To whom they are good?

What use is freedom
When the free have to live amongst the unfree?

What use is reason
When only unreason will procure the food that a body needs.

Instead of merely being good, exert yourselves
To create conditions conducive to goodness, or better still:
That make it superfluous!

Instead of merely being free, exert yourselves
To create conditions which make everyone free
And make the love of freedom

Instead of merely being reasonable, exert yourselves
To create conditions which make the unreason of the few
A poor business.

Bertolt Brecht
Uncollected poems 1934-1936

The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht
Translated and edited by Tom Kuhn and David Constantine
Liveright Publishing. 2018



Be a Fool!

Be a fool! Don’t worry, freedom in this age
is only for fools. We are imprisoned
by our ideals, jumping like frenzied
apes rattling the bars of their cage.

Be a fool! Benevolence and peace
are only for fools. An order of some kind
will come to settle over your heart
like scum in a riverbed.

Be a fool! If you are slandered, don’t whimper.
You cannot win, but you won’t be a loser.
Be as idiotic as death will be, at last.

This way you will never speak a false word,
you will be calm, collected, strong, and free –
a welcome tableguest in future and past.

Attila József
Winter Night. Selected Poems by Attila József
translated from the Hungarian by John Bátki
Oberlin College Press. 1997


That’s today’s update from one corner of our careening world.

– Diane Sophrin
  Vermont. 11.16.20




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