The Bottom

When you step off a city bus

In Sellwood
on a bright October day
leave the sidewalk
pass through upright poles
stand in sunlight
gulp water from a fountain

that’s when you know you’ve stepped
out of the world you know
off the grid
out of the race

And into stability
into connectedness
back to the Earth

A world living
growing
whole.
Continue reading The Bottom

An outcry for the new year

In every cup of joy
a drop of heartache

A tang
Continually reminding
of the poison in the well.

In every breath of life
the wheeze of death

A rattle
Marking the slow march
of every endeavor into decay.

In every heartbeat of courage
the skip of fear

A moment
Of sheer terror
that the talons will close.

Continue reading An outcry for the new year

The World Behind

Poetry time! A reflection on our recent move, from a wild farm to a tamer one a few miles away.

I’ve left a world behind me

Like so many before

But this one

Was a world my heart loved

A world

That shone joy onto my face

That breathed peace into my lungs.

Continue reading The World Behind

The Protomen are my religion now.

No, really.

I saw The Protomen live for the first time at Lola’s Room last week. The Protomen are a band that sings dystopian agit-prop tributes to the classic video game Mega Man. Every album (there are two so far) is an Act in a dark, epic rock opera that grows more and more agonizingly tense as straights get more and more dire for a futuristic city under fascist robot domination, and for their would-be saviors. They played back-to-back shows, each one featuring a different Act.

I could only attend one, so I chose the second, which is the one that resonates more strongly with me, though both are amazing. Act I is about Doctor Light’s robot son Mega Man defying his creator’s will and standing up to Doctor Wily and his robot thugs, only to be disillusioned by the fickle public he fights for. Act II is a prequel, chronicling how Light and Wily created the robots together, how Wily seized control of them and of the entire city, and how Dr. Light’s first attempt at ending his rule met with disaster.

Continue reading The Protomen are my religion now.

Midsummer

I had a sudden realization the other day: I write poems, and those poems have a place on Story by the Throat! I posted one here once, but I generally share them elsewhere on the web. I’m going to start sharing them here as well, when I feel they’ll enrich the mysterious and wonderful cloud of what SbtT! is all about.

I wrote this one a couple months ago:

It began at Midsummer.

Midsummer week the labor ended

Midsummer eve the cars stopped dead

Midsummer day the laptop overheated

And time slowed

The universe paused

And I exhaled

And found I could breathe

For the first time in years.

Continue reading Midsummer

The Superstar Connection

This one’s extremely personal, folks.

For Holy Week (the week in the Christian cycle leading up to Easter Sunday), I posted songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar on Facebook, one video a day. It started as a whim, but it quickly became a kind of religious practice.

I first saw Superstar about 5 years ago, a local production in which a dear friend played Mary Magdalene. I was moved, in an indescribable way. I  engaged with all my body and soul with the messy, human struggle between Jesus, Judas and Pharisees.  By the end I was bawling like a baby. After the show, the actor playing Jesus found me and hugged me. I didn’t know what it “meant”, but I knew I’d been given a gift, and I felt utterly grateful to Molly, my friend, and her fellow players.

Every now and then I listen to the soundtrack, or play the 1973 film version. I mainly do it to remember the sense memory of that night with Molly and crew, which will always be the “real” Superstar for me.

This time, though, I resolved to pay closer attention to what Superstar was saying to me. Just like past times when “Reading the Signs” has been enlightening, I learned something vital about myself.

The message that Superstar screamed at me through all the songs I posted: human connection is tragically, excruciatingly hard. Our broken, separate-ness sometimes alienates us in spite of every intention to connect, to trust, to love.

Continue reading The Superstar Connection

Enemies

I’m going to get all mystical on you for a minute: I talk to Yeshua sometimes.

It usually happens when my hippie punk-rock faith community has a communion service—I take my wine-soaked hunk of bread, find an out of the way corner, close my eyes, and visualize entering a room to sit and sup at his side. This may sound strange, but I hope it’ll be relevant to human experience whether you believe in talking to Yeshua or not.

Mostly I talk and Yeshua listens. That’s because I try not to put words into his mouth, or simply imagine him quoting a convenient scripture. If I’m going to hear a message in words from Yeshua, it’s important to me that it be his words and not my projection. So, because I’ve still got a lot of mental clutter that interferes with my listening, the conversations are pretty one-sided, and I’m OK with that. Usually I feel Yeshua’s responses to my venting or questions in nonverbal ways, like a loving look, or a physical embrace.

But a few weeks ago I DID hear him, quite distinctly. I had, as usual, laid a problem at his feet: “I feel such a strong urge to fight battles. I want to stand against oppression and injustice, but mostly I just end up hurting those I love. Surely there must be a place for my warrior’s heart?”

Continue reading Enemies

The Green Man of Portland

So I’m out with some of my churchmates last week with fresh-baked ham, corn and potatoes to help feed the homeless.

Except we don’t call them “the homeless,” we call them “our friends without houses” or “our friends who live outside.” It’s more humanizing and personal, as opposed to “othering” these real human beings with a handy sociological label. But anyway:

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and as always I’m enjoying being there face to face, looking people in the eye and handing them something they need and can enjoy, fresh cooked from my oven, making human connections. And I’m thinking about the sign I received a month ago, the three-fold omen whose significance I’m still pondering.

I wore a mask of the Green Man of medieval myth for Halloween. Then I found a beautiful leaf on the street downtown, sporting beautiful colors and seeming to leap into my path. Then I passed a sidewalk art fixture that spoke of the “Green Man of Portland.”

Turns out the fixture was created by comics artist Daniel Duford as part of a series about the Green Man and his mystical, perception-altering  influence over the city’s inhabitants. What stood out for me at the time was the artwork’s closing line of poetry: “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.”

While I’m hardly a seasoned veteran at interpreting signs and portents, I’ve generally found them to occur at pivotal times, when I’m feeling blocked about a particular problem or when I’m entering a new season of my life.

So I took it in and mulled it over. “Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” For a long time I’ve been drawn to the “shunned” in all aspects of life, from the invisibles of the street to the passionate, the dissident, the radical. These are in so many ways “my people,” so it was no surprise to read those words. But what to do with them?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” I do long to reach out to people. To hold them in my arms, to awaken them to a way of life–of health, of freedom, of joy–that even I only dimly grasp. But do I have the right to push my way of thinking onto others? And even if I do “have” that “right”, do I really want to exercise it?

“Even the shunned are held in the arms of the Green Man of Portland.” Maybe I can find a way to hold people in my arms without smothering them, without trying to “fix” them, without “knowing what’s best” for them,” loving without any strings attached?

So I’m helping share food with my friends who live outside, and I believe that I can.

There are still a lot of unknowns. What about my life will change as I assimilate this new focus? Will I adopt some kind of persona and mission, or just keep doing stuff informally, as plain ol’ me? Will I continue to reach out piecemeal, doing little things here and there, or will I take up a dedicated mission and cause? I don’t know. I just know that I have a renewed focus to love people, and if there’s any kind of valuable lifestyle I can impart to help them, it will be by doing, by living in such a way that it invites them to do the same.

This isn’t a scientific process. Nor is it some esoteric mysticism requiring saint-like patience, fanatical devotion, or elite, hidden knowledge. it’s just a matter of looking and listening. Consider everything potentially significant. Be alert for connections in all things, even, ESPECIALLY, the unconscious. When you look and listen, story finds you.

Peace,

-Joel

Putting Omens on hold

On All Hallows Eve and the following morning, I wore a dyed leather eyemask of green leaves and antlers, with an accompanying outfit–the Green man of medieval art and myth. Days later just after describing my costume to a friend I encountered another pair of symbols: a remarkable leaf colored bright green and yellow, with rich crimson veins, and a sidewalk art fixture making reference to “the Green man of Portland. I felt in my bones that these three signs were some sort of portent for my life.

So I snapped pics of the fixture on my cellphone, came home and shoved the leaf in the fridge with a damp paper towel, and promptly forgot about the whole thing for almost a month.

Today I pulled out the Omens to contemplate them, and I wondered–what culture do I live in, what manner of man have I become, that I would treat such signs and wonders as bottled inspiration–a spiritual snack to be put on ice until it’s convenient to enjoy it?

I think we’ve become a society with both the means and the necessity of storing and organizing information to be processed in the cracks around our busy and rigid schedules. But paradocixally, we actually have preposterous amounts of free time, even among the working classes, but so much of that is taken up by processing an incessant and overwhelming information feed, often of trivial matters. After all, when I arrived home with those omens in hand, it was late, I had work early next morning–and I still needed to check my updates on Facebook!

Now, it sort of worked.  Using technology to preserve the imagery helped me to recall that experience weeks later, and process it with some semblance of authenticity. But would I want to make a habit of that? If the Infinite has something to say to me, do I really want to dispatch some weasely Personal Assistant to take a memo for me and present it to me at next morning’s daily briefing? I want to be–I PRESENT myself as–a person who’s in tune with the spiritual dimensions around me. Doesn’t that mean living in the holy moment, taking the time to gratefully and courteously accept that which enriches life as it comes to me?

In all likelihood I’m going to continue to check Facebook, work for the man, and multitask my mental and spiritual attention for some time to come. But I’d like to remember not to treat numinous gifts with such cavalier presumption.

Peace,

-Joel