Living Space

Once it was Russian choral music. Then the blues. These days when I am troubled this tune is balm to the soul. It may be heresy, but I think Pharoah Sanders a better saxophonist than St John Coltrane. His sweetness is sweeter, and his rawness  rawer.

“The Universal Destination of Goods.”

Laudato Si 123


I am pretty much retired.

No, not from the Postal Service. One of the shocks of the last year was when I talked to a postal retirement counselor and realized that my dream of retiring soon and spending more time painting and writing was completely unrealistic, that there was no way we could live on a postal pension.

No, I am a retired smart ass and a retired know it all. And I am a retired political satirist; I mean really, look at how the 2016 presidential campaign is shaping up. Who needs satirists?

I am practically a retired blogger, and spend maybe an hour a week online ,

And I am a retired irritant to Catholic neocons and libertarians. Pope Francis has once and for all re-radicalized Catholic social teaching, which not so long ago was in grave danger of being co-opted by capitalism and its friends.

That battle is over, though there are still a lot of residual skirmishes to be fought. But a new and heartening generation of Catholic radicals has arisen, fresh to the fight and eager to take up the struggle at a time I am weary of it.

I have no illusion that the free marketeers are through with their conniving, and am certain that even as I write they are pulling strings at the Vatican, trying to influence the next concave to elect a more malleable pope. But the last time they relied on the worldly tools of big money and political intrigue what happened?

God gave us Francis.

Still, retired or not, I cannot help but be tickled by something in Laudato Si, which I finally received in the mail a few days ago ( the blurb on the back said that this was Francis’ second encyclical. Good job, Sunday Visitor editor).

I joked, when Francis’ radicalism was becoming apparent in the weeks after his election, that his first encyclical would be called ‘Anathema Sirico

That, of course, did not happen, but in fact the free market ideology has been effectively anathematized. And it warmed my heart to see this passage, in which those who claim that the magic market is an instrument of justice rather than oppression are categorized with the very worst sort of human beings:

123. The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another, to treat others as mere objects, imposing forced labour on them or enslaving them to pay their debts. The same kind of thinking leads to the sexual exploitation of children and abandonment of the elderly who no longer serve our interests. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species? Is it not the same relativistic logic which justifies buying the organs of the poor for resale or use in experimentation, or eliminating children because they are not what their parents wanted? This same “use and throw away” logic generates so much waste, because of the disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary. We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided. (emphasis added)

By Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller):

Because it captures the vagaries and complexities of the heart:



Every now and then one reads a book that eloquently elaborates on something one only intuited, or had some half-formed notion about. Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America was one such book for me, Neil Postman’s Technopoly another. There have been others, through the years, but they tend to be rare things, received in gratitude.

I have read, and written, a lot over the years about the crisis of the American working class, which has steadily descended into poverty and hopelessness. And I have written about capitalism and its evils. And the labor movement and the illusion of ‘free’ market ideology and the concentration of wealth in America.

But nowhere have I seen these things addressed so clearly and cogently as in this book, every page of which has an ‘aha’ moment:


The Wolf

“When I heard Howlin’ Wolf, I said, ‘This is for me. This is where the soul of man never dies.’ ”  –  Sam Phillips

I bought Johnny Cash’s Unchained album when it came out in 1996, but had not listened to it for a long time until last week. It is a fine album, not least for this, one of the great love songs of musical history, which was penned by Mr Cash:

It also contains this cover of a Jude Johnstone song, a great spiritual, which Mr Cash makes his own:

Two Poems


Brother Cock

there is a rooster
living in the woods
near the stream
where i stop on my way home

black he is
with red wattles and comb

i first knew of him
hearing him crow
when i stopped once in the morning

startled i was
then wary
for i feared a rooster
when i was small
and my first memory
is the dream i had
of crazy bird eyes and talons

and my father
killing him with a hoe

so i was nervous
the second time i saw him
when he sidled toward me
in little jerks
eyes blazing

i backed away

later i realized
that he is wary too
and we became friendly

sort of

and i called him
brother cock

now i think of him
as a hermit eccentric
though because we don’t speak the same language
i cannot tell what kind

half a mile from the sprawling hen-house machine
from grain and warmth and shelter
and all the fucking he could stand

out here in the woods


a refugee from the factory

is he a monk or a rebel
or is he just shy
or sick of the chicks’ critiquing
or worn down by beaks and pecks
and choking on methane

did he reject the life of privilege
on principle

or does he maybe
just want to sing the dawning down


painting the sky

with his rough song



finally spring
not tentative and hesitant
like the crocus and the snowdrop
not yearning and coaxing
like the red birds in the treetops
not the clenched potentiality
of the tight buds and green sprouts
but triumphant and glorious
suddenly verdant and urgent


bright life raging
in the high up
haze of green
in the underbrush
the sudden rush
of wide brown waters
in the low place
i have come to love
first south wind of the season
high water everywhere
ditches and streams
and fields
all is changing
and ever same
spiraling and spinning
out of and into
within and beyond

the wholly unnamable flame