Braggadocio

Digital illo: Clever Bird!Crowing

Let me never be so craven as to be hubristic, crass,

Boastful as my cousin Raven, who (though he’s a silly ass)

Calls himself the Wise, the Clever, poses as a sage and wit—

I should hope that I would never be so wildly full of it—

All my fellows know my talents and my intellect and skill

Well enough that, on the balance, bragging would be overkill.

I prefer a steady diet of humility and style,

Being modest, cool, and quiet, and yet brilliant all the while.

Nah! Just kidding! I’m as happy as ol’ Raven is to brag;

I’m as boisterous a chappie, yelling out from crag to crag,

Tree to tree, tunnel to tower; I’ll announce my greatness, too;

Any reason, any hour, tell you I’m better than you!

Don’t assume because I’m smaller I’m less dazzling or less proud—

I’ll be glad to give a holler, shout my excellence out loud!

Imperfections

Blood Grass

Short bursts of breeze in the long leaves,

the slightest of eddies as though

their pulse were pumping actual red cells

through the tall margins of the field—

Likelier that their real nature as flammable,

short-lived bursts of vigorous and

violent life, destined to flame

up, out, leap to cosmic oblivion, and die—

Are these our guides, or are

they mirrors of the flimsy, volatile existence

that we share? Only there, in

the margins of the field, do the flames

and shadows of our being have

a moment’s sway, for better or for worse,

of honesty out in the sun. Only there,

where the grass grows tall and yet

has not the strength or

depth of root to thrive, do we

see how little of the energy

with which we’d credited ourselves

really shines for longer than

a short, weedy season, bending

this way, bending that, and sparking

into sudden flares of incandescent

death

before returning to earth,

extinguished without

having distinguished ourselves, yet still

flying a bold red flag as if

we were something more.Digital illo: Japanese Blood Grass

We Imagine Ourselves Great

Digital illo from a photo: MonumentHow did We Get Here?

In our dreams, we were hip-deep in cotton picked by willing, happy, high-paid underlings and we smiled with satisfied benevolence

We were standing in the shade of magnolias and wearing our widest-brimmed Sunday hats and crisp seersucker and poplin even on Tuesday

We nibbled tiny toast points dabbed with pimiento cheese while a string quartet hummed like honeybees up at the portico

We fanned ourselves to keep cool as the sun sank, listening to mourning-doves serenade the arrival of the winking fireflies

We drank our bourbon out of snifters, neat, and never got more than a little bit hazy, what with having well padded ourselves with roast pheasant over a very long suppertime

We spoke in soft, lilting tones and said kind words to our mothers and children just because that’s how it was done

In our hearts, we were the pathfinders, the athletes who carved a road of freedom and justice across the plains to make new territories ring with accomplishment

We stood tall in the evergreens and set down mighty roots of dedication in lines running from the lakes to the mountaintops

We shipped on the seas and shouted joy with the birds of the air, and of an evening we were wont to watch the stars for signs of adventure yet ahead

We called ourselves hardy stock for braving the cold and wrapped our red-cheeked children in woolen blankets after a day spent in the bracing light of education

We wrestled with bears for the salmon that we ate, but then sat down to dine on it with all the gentility of our many foreign forefathers

We called our politics piety and our egalitarian philosophies a revelation even if everyone who didn’t qualify might not agree

And here we are today, being All-American but half-savage…

We live in the same states of grace but relish our superiority with self-congratulatory rudeness that would shame our imagined selves

We sneer at gentility as outmoded and write polemical pieces about each other with no sense of irony left in the spaces between the hard-edged words

We forget the flaws that taught us our cultured best’s fragility and instead of learning from the mistakes, we widen them as far as our waistbands and pockets can stretch

We turn a critical eye on the wounded world and manage to keep it keen despite the moral blind-spot toward our contributory, if not our sometimes causal, role

We are a nation of would-be saints dressed in brutes’ clothing…but perhaps in that, we may not be entirely alone…

If there is hope, it’s that we’ve gotten here at all, for surely those in our hearts and dreams must have been real somewhere to seem so tangible in imagination

We might still embrace the justice and benevolence we thought we had, if we are willing to strip away delusions of grandeur and the lust for power

We could take a moment, while nibbling our toast points and standing conqueror on our latest promontories of success, to offer a meal to the hungry and a foothold to the poor

We ought to care less about self-image, and more about wholeness and devotion to the betterment of those people and privileges we say we love so well

We are capable, if we watch the exemplars before and around us whose courage and kindness walk arm in arm instead of standing on opposing distant shores

We may yet become the greats that we imagine we should be, if only we stop pretending we are so and humbly take to walking toward it on the faint horizon instead…

I Made It Myself!

Funny, isn’t it, how proud we are of things we think we have accomplished, no matter how silly and shoddy they may turn out to be. As often as not, we are the engineers of our own destruction; whether we stubbornly and hubristically fail along with our ridiculous doings and inventions or not is sometimes a matter of mere luck and circumstantial adventure.

Digital illustration from a photo: I Made It Myself

Digital illustration + text: Engineers of Folly

Risk/Reward

Breaking free of our bonds can send us soaring. Or it can make us crash hideously. Sometimes the same experiment or adventure can lead to both results, and sometimes that can happen in short shrift. Hubris leads, often enough, to overreaching and all manner of unrealistic expectations and lets us take stupid risks, if we get too caught up in our dreams or delusions to pay attention to their practical details.

photo

Breaking free of all constraints has its challenges; it can be a long, laborious, and sometimes dangerous task.

Icarus, My Cousin

A bird, aloft on updrafts in the sun

Above the path, could see one tiny soul,

Alone as if in death, yet singly, whole,

Complete and full contented as that One—

For on that path, and in that blessed place,

He knew such deep delight, such peace and calm

From drawing in each breath of nature’s balm

With that sweet sun so gentle on his face—

It seemed that like the bird, he too could fly,

Could rise above the green enchanted wood,

Need only think it and, behold, he could

Leap up at will, suspended in the sky—

Yet, knowing he could not thus really do,

He suddenly wept, bitter now with rue—

So turns the heart of merely mortal man,

Full in one moment of outlandish joy;

The next, despairing like a little boy,

Because the joy’s imperfect, as it can

Be seen by clearer eyes to truly be;

So rose that wanderer up to the crest,

Where soon the path was free of trees, and best,

Clear-viewed down from the cliff there to the sea—

He bound upon his shoulders feathered wings,

Sleek as the bird’s, to take by force his flight

And steal the sky, but its great burning light,

The blazing sun, had no use for such things,

And cast him, melted, in the ocean swell,

Gravity’s slave, thrown back from heav’n to hell.

photo

The world, powerful as it is, cannot fully contain me.

For myself, I will concede that I have been known to aim higher than my reach many a time, to think I am better or more skilled or more prepared for certain things than I really am. I have gotten knocked on my backside more than once; turned down, failed, fooled, exposed. There are fissures in the earth to prove the grandness of my fall. But what little I have accomplished was done mainly by dint of that same outsized expectation of my success, and without that I would hardly have moved since birth. So while I may grow and change as slowly as a tree breaking roots out of its paved prison cell, I will take my cue from that tree and keep expanding and hoping, and just see what I can do.

Struttin’

digital illustrationIt’s especially nice, when I’ve caught myself wallowing in self-denigration and insecurity for a bit, to think on those things that actually, really, truly are pretty darn good about me. It’s no sin to appreciate the gifts we’ve been given, and their relative smallness in comparison to others’, as there are always people for whom we have [possibly unwarranted] adulation as exemplars of all those things we long to be, is irrelevant. Safe to say that every one of those great and mighty high achievers has some hidden insecurity and certainly, all have imperfections. Our inability to see those reflects more on our own worries and wishes than on who anyone else genuinely is.

So I go off looking at the astonishingly skillful artistry of others and am ashamed at how little I’ve accomplished in my artistic life thus far and feel inadequate and cheap, and sulk for a moment or two, and then I need to pick up my tools and get back to work and remember that I do this, to be fair, for the love and joy of doing it, not because I need to impress somebody. And I remind myself that despite my ordinariness, I am in my own way new and improved in comparison to where I started my artistic journey.

The same holds true for looking at others’ writing, cooking, gardening, housekeeping, home decorating, DIY projects, you name it. If there’s anything I do that I wish I were better at doing—and anything worth doing is worth getting better at doing, no?—the reason I have such a wish is that I know I’m far from the best, and I can only know how far I am from the best if there are others leading me there by example. In fairness to my meager position in the relative scheme of things, I need to recognize that most experts spent a tremendous amount of time and energy becoming the avatars that they are, that if I did think I were nearly perfect at anything it would be foolish and delusional and hubristic and, well, tiresome, and that I do improve over time, if not quite at the rate I would fondly hope I could.

This is not a pity party for Poor Little Me, lest you be misled by my maundering start: it’s a self-reminder that I am very fortunate, and yes, a little bit gifted, too. My gifts may not be the kind that were evident from my birth and improved exponentially over a shining, prodigious span of growth and productivity and marvelous output. But incremental growth and modest gifts can be celebrated, too, and since I have no need for fame or (however pleasing I may find the idea of it) wealth, it matters none whether anyone else celebrates them. That they do, and indeed, tell me so, is a kindness and brings the kind of wealth and fame that have a far greater value than the more worldly sort, when I accept them wholeheartedly.

I know I’m not the greatest of or at anything. But I like who and what I am and think I’m on a slow upward incline regarding what I do, and that’s reason enough to hold up my chin and puff out my chest a little and march on forward with a smile on my face and my head held high. I’ll bet you could do it, too, even if you merely do so by letting yourself believe what the people who love and respect you tell you. They don’t love and respect and admire you for no reason at all, and who are you to question your admirers’ integrity! Go ahead, own up to being the new and improved you. Preen a little. You deserve it.

Defeating Nightmares

graphite drawingNo matter how impressive and terrifying the monster, there’s always something that can defeat it. Most monsters have their own monsters, when it comes right down to it. Their tormentors may be superior powers, but in truth, it may well be the simplest and smallest, most innocuous detail that thwarts the fiercest monster.

It might even be me.

digital illustration

Is it his own greed and hubris, or is it a clever prank I pulled that takes down the mighty monster? Not that it matters, as long as I win the day!

Kept at Bay

Greedy little nightmare,

You stole from me an hour

Of sleep that should have been repose

With twisted, dark and sour

Delirium and horror-shows

Of ghosts and ghouls and glee-

Filled monster tales and dragon-scales—

O! Set this captive free!

For if you deign to torture me

Incessant, sleepless grind,

I’ll out you in a rotten verse

And you will lose your mind.

How are the Mighty Chopfallen!

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” I like to think I have a healthy ego and positive self-image–but I do hope I’m not quite so full of hubris that I can’t admit when I’ve failed or fumbled or simply that I’m simply a silly buffoon, just like pretty much the whole rest of humanity. Yet maybe believing that is just another sample of my shallow vanity. I don’t expect you to accept my assessment, just that you’ll give me a bit of leeway, considering that there may not be a lot of room in my tiny mind for ordinary wisdom and classiness. Not really sure I can get a completely clear picture from my angle here on the floor. I’ve fallen, but I can get up!digital painting from an oil pastel originalTo be Honest

It’s true that I have fallen down
more often than a chef’s soufflés
(or poor Pierre crashed into town
in air-ballooning’s early days,
before he noticed heat would crown
the heights but cold air caused malaise . . . )
Meanwhile, I stumble, flop and crash,
careening like a loosened wheel,
my dignity thrown out like trash–
but had I grace and nerves of steel,
I’d likely still keep this my fashion–
nothing better proves I’m real.

Dragons Aplenty

Just because we are so sophisticated, so soigné, so exceedingly modern and advanced, we regularly assure ourselves that we have nothing left to fear and know everything that we need to know. This, of course, is sheerest hubris and hypocrisy, not to mention a steaming heap of pre-composted compost.

With every supposed advance comes a whole phalanx of new demons and monsters of every stripe, tailor-made to frustrate our every effort to be cool, calm, collected and couth. And every chink one of those new dragons makes in our homemade armor is perfectly designed to let in a healthy herd of all those beasts and daunting trials we so hoped we had slain or at least left behind. Such is our nature; such is the nature of purported progress. I suppose scary monsters will never be extinct.

graphite drawing

I'm Wilfred, and I'll be your monster for today . . .

Three Little Words

Three words strike fear into the heart

And with a sense of doom impart

Their horrors in the modern breast—

On hearing them, we grow distressed

And fear for love and life and limb

And see our happiness grow dim—

There is no palliative retort

When we are told: Call Tech Support.