Embarrassment

Today he looked at me

Through his crooked glasses frame

And when he said, “hi, Lee”

I almost forgot my eggplant-potato salad.

I think he knows about my nose,

Let’s hope he passes over it.

“There are in this world stranger things,”

Says a stranger, “than to have a kangaroo nose,”

But if Benny knew I think he’d mind

That deep inside my rigid make up case

Contained below the cosmic cosmetics

And other contents of every kind and sort,

There is an extra crocodile with long ears.

His leg is broken and he cannot swim

To peek his head above the liquid lipstick.

But even if his leg were healed,

I think his ears would still look funny.

Everything else is in order—

Except that I forgot again to tip the door man…

With the golden token…

And the yellow bow tie.

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“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”

Beautiful Laugh

She didn’t laugh that loudly,

But I saw her kangaroo nose.

It was disintegrating in the ashes

Of a decomposing image.

A cold image of the world

That didn’t have extra room

To hold a pointless carnival

Or an amusing circus.

An image of rigid boxes

That were dusted every day

With scratchy wire brooms

To keep away the tangled cobwebs

And creative long-winded spiders with pinstriped pants.

A rotten, silken image of nothing.

But to wipe off the snot

Of a kangaroo nose with it

Is a beautiful thing,

To laugh out clearly the truth

Like hilarious chocolate milk

That overflows propriety indecorously

Is a disgusting and superfluous—necessity.

I like boogers better

Than false impressions,

And I don’t own a volleyball—

Because the man with the yellow bow tie

Doesn’t have his own volleyball—

Yesterday he went to the mall…

By himself.

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“THE MAN WITH THE YELLOW BOW TIE”

Paroxysm of Poetry: The Man with the Yellow Bow Tie

Dear Readers,

It’s time for another Paroxysm of Poetry.  That is, a week or so of daily poetic postings that pour out of my pen in perhaps a kind of paroxysmal pandemonium.  This set of poetry is called The Man with the Yellow Bow Tie.  It is written in a Surrealist style that is intended to be playful, entertaining, and a little bit ludicrous.  I hope these will be a lot of fun for everyone to read, but always remember that if you don’t enjoy them, you are free to close your internet browser at any time.  I apologise in advance for my bizarre taste in aesthetics; you will have to forgive a well-meaning, bow-tie-wearing poetaster like myself.

Your servant,

TWM

How to Impress Girls

Dear Ernest,

Everyone loves a good anecdote, so I thought I’d tell you one: several years ago, while at a composition workshop, I had the privilege of meeting and befriending a fellow by the name of Ben Nakamura.  Ben’s English skills were intermediate at best, but as you and I both know, this put him on par with the upper percentile of all native speakers—a brief perusal of any blog like this one can reveal as much.  Employing such and aptitude for English, he once asked me why I began writing music.  I offered him in reply a lengthy exposition on the purpose of art, the human propensity for creativity, and other such kinds of pretentious philosophical ramblings.  When I had sufficiently despoiled from his mind any presumption of eloquence or compendiousness that he might have held for me in light of my life-long familiarity with our mother tongue, I stopped blabbering and returned to him with the same question.  His response was much simpler: “I started writing music,” he said, “to impress a girl.”  Then he laughed at himself before adding, “it’s okay though.  It turns out I like doing it anyway.”

In your last letter: “I fear you despise your own tongue at times”

In answer to your accusation, I must submit entirely.  I can hardly stand my accursed tongue!  It’s always sloshing around like an unwelcome guest, the umbrage of my mouth, all wet and gross, and always arguing with me.  I don’t care how amusing a scene it makes for passersby—my debates with my tongue are utterly infuriating!  Just the other day we were arguing about Dante.  My loquacious antagonist was of the opinion that the Divine Comedy can be read and appreciated much more deeply under the assumption that Beatrice was not a real person.  I opposed him directly.  If Beatrice were not an actual woman, it would mean that Dante has neglected to provided us with any real-world advice on how to impress girls.  Naturally, I would find this all rather disappointing, since arguing about Dante with my tongue already puts me at a disadvantage in that category.  In defence of my viewpoint, allow me to extrapolate evidence from one of his sonnets, quoting in a language that’s much more dear me by heart than native to me by birth:

“or voi di sua virtù farvi savere.  / Dico, qual vuol gentil donna parere / vada con lei, che quando va per via, / gitta nei cor villani Amore un gelo, / per che onne lor pensero agghiaccia e pere; / e qual soffrisse di starla a vedere / diverria nobil cosa o si morria.”

trans: Now let me make her [Beatrice’s] virtue known. I say that it behoves whoever longs to seem a gentle lady to walk with her, for when she passes by, Love casts a chill into the hearts of the villainous, so that their every thought freezes and perishes.  Whoever might endure standing beside and beholding her—he would either become something noble or die.

(Vita Nuova XIX)

As this sonnet implies, the main point that Dante will try to make in the Divine Comedy is simply this: the best way to impress a girl is not to compose music for her but to write immortal Italian love poetry.  All throughout the epic, the same question recurs.  Dante asks his readers and himself, ‘how does one become worthy?’  Worthy, that is, of so virtuous a lady as Beatrice, of so lofty a poetic theme as the salvation of the human soul, and of so glorious a kingdom as that unending realm of Him who is from Everlasting to Everlasting.  The solution is always immortal Italian love poetry.  Live a life, Dante tells us, that is a love poem addressed to no less a muse than the very God whose name is Love.  Come as you are, base and villainous, and He will cast a chill into your heart so that your every vile thought vanishes into oblivion.  Perhaps this will begin somewhere quite superficial—perhaps you’ll begin ‘pursuing God’ only to impress others with your conspicuous virtues or specious magnanimity, both of which are among the many practical benefits of being a nominal Christian.  But by the time you find yourself ‘midway through the journey of our life’, you just might realise that God has been using all those trivialities to cultivate his own radical vision for you.  He has been pursuing you through all the stupid fancies, all the vanities and futilities that first inspired you to turn toward Him, and now, as the impetus and completion of everything that you are becoming, He has overwhelmed you with His grace and bereaved you of every source of pride, even the pride you might take in your own morality and righteousness.  When He has done all this, you may very well arrive at a solidarity with my friend Ben Nakamura: “it’s okay,” you’ll conclude, “it turns out I like doing this anyway.”

Your servant,

TWM

P.S.  Everything I told you about Ben is true…except his name.  He didn’t really go around using a pseudonym as far as I know.

Cenabis Bene, You Shall Eat Well

A translation will follow this Latin poem.

Cenabis bene, mi Fabulle, apud me
paucis, si tibi di favent, diebus,
si tecum attuleris bonam atque magnam
cenam, non sine candida puella
et vino et sale et omnibus cachinnis.
haec si, inquam, attuleris, venuste noster
cenabis bene; nam tui Catulli
plenus sacculus est aranearum.
sed contra accipies meros amores
seu quid suavius elegantiusve est:
nam unguentum dabo, quod meae puellae
donarunt Veneres Cupidinesque,
quod tu cum olfacies, deos rogabis
totum ut te faciant, Fabulle, nasum.

Translation:

With me you shall eat well, my Fabullus,

If the gods will favor you a day or so,

If you will bring a good and great dinner–

Not without a fair guest, a lady–

Along with wine, the salt of wit, and jest

Of every immoderate kind. And if you bring

These things, my charming friend you shall eat well,

I say.  For your Catullus has a full purse

Of fine spider’s webs.  But amity

Of a pure kind shall be your recompense–

Or whatever else more sweet or elegant;

For I shall give to you a fragrant perfume,

The ambrosial scent of heaven, a gift divine,

And when you smell it, you will entreat the gods

That they might make you entirely a nose.

(Catullus 13)

A few notes on my translation: I have bowdlerized the text here and there, removing the obscene insinuations.  I believe that expurgation has left us with nothing more or less than a charming little poem.  My favorite line is probably the last, simply because it’s so bizarre.  But I also like line eight (which crosses lines eight and nine in my translation).  I have taken special care to preserve the ambiguity here; it is unclear whether Catullus has a purse filled with money but made out of a material like spider’s webs, or if his purse is simply filled with cobwebs, since he is poor.  This ambiguity is what makes the whole poem funny and clever.  It is rude of him to ask his guest to bring their dinner for the evening, but rude in a charming way. He is not embarrassed either to admit how poor he is to so dear a friend–or else to make fun of how inhospitable a host he is.

My thoughts on Volition

Dear Ernest,

In answer to your compendious letter, “Seeking your thoughts on Volition“, I reply that, to the best of my knowledge, every single thought that I have ever produced has been formed entirely on volition, and that I still lack the dubious and scarcely sighted experience–to which your title seems to allude–of producing thoughts in some other singular manner that is, I presume, involuntary.  Furthermore, I would like to make it clear that, if by chance, the interpretation of your letter be erroneous that is presupposed by my replay, and if in fact, you had intended more literally to seek my thoughts by virtue of your own volition, rather than by my compliance–if this be so, then I not only apologise for the mistake, but do myself whole-heartedly urge you to disengage in your vain attempts at telepathy immediately, returning as soon as possible to a more conventional and pragmatic method of dialogical discourse.

That being settled, I voluntarily offer you someone else’s thoughts which I found quite interesting.  They are both on and about volition:

[H]omo est dominus suorum actuum, et volendi et non volendi, propter deliberationem rationis, quæ potest flecti ad unam partem vel ad aliam.  Sed quod deliberet vel non deliberet, si hujus etiam sit dominus, oportet quod hoc sit per deliberationem præcedentem.  Et cum hoc non procedat in infinitum, oportet quod finaliter deveniatur ad hoc quod liberum arbitrium hominis moveatur ab aliquo exteriori principio quod est supra mentem humana, scilicet a Deo. 

“Man is sovereign over his acts, both willing and not willing, according to the deliberation of his reason, which can be turned to one part or another.  But that which he deliberates or doesn’t deliberate, if he were also sovereign over this, this would need to be according to a preceding deliberation.  And since this may not continue ad infinitum, it must finally come to an exterior principle by which man’s free decision is moved and which is itself above the human mind—that is, God” (Thomas Aquinas, S. T. 1a2æ. 109, 2).

Your servant,

TWM

For the Love of God

Dear Ernest,

As, in my shameless, Victorian manner, I bemoaned and bewailed your long absence from our dialogue, in my lowest state of bereavement, when all hope had very nearly drained out from my lifeless heart, I began to imagine, though the very thought seemed to harrow me with an insurmountable consternation and perturbation, what would inevitably become of our nearly forgotten deliberation if, little by little, in small degrees, our letters became less and less frequent, less thoughtful, and altogether less interesting.  I quickly realised, as I evaluated this nightmarish fantasy of mine, that the whole situation would, without a doubt, be your fault entirely.  This was only a matter of elementary reasoning, for after all, you were the one who, in my imagining, stooped to writing a letter about the proper cultivation techniques for growing eggplants, and to so dully penned an expository, I could hardly be blamed for responding with a comment, however lengthy or tedious, on the economic and culinary benefits of owning a refrigerator.  I need hardly mention your spiritless droning on over the superiority of the colour blue to all others, and my response, a mere ‘sup’, was simply the best answer that I, or even the most masterful and creative intellectual, could ever muster.  In short, the gradual decline of standards, and the incremental deterioration in quality, while perhaps expressing itself in my letters just as much as in yours, was solely and unmistakably the fault of your own failure to provide interesting content, which, while bad enough in itself, also accounted in full for my own demise into an unending literary lifelessness.

In your last letter, when quoting a very clever gentleman: ““How can an earthly purpose point to a heavenly one?””

Anyway, now that so much is cleared up, I’d like to discuss something else: the love of God.  I recently had a conversation with someone about the theological doctrine of Penal Substitution (Jesus dying from the sins of man).  In an attempt to point out how ridiculous the whole idea is, my philosophical friend said something along these lines: “If John Somebody steals a cup of tea from Don Quixote, and for that offence, you sentence Sancho Panza to thirty years in prison, then you’re not upholding justice and mercy at the same time, you’re just being a jerk to Sancho Panza”.  In retrospect, I realise that the best response would have been to point out that everyone is a jerk to Panza, even Don Quixote.  But since this is an intellectual blog, and at that, one of certain standards, I’ll offer a more thoughtful response:

The problem with this quixotic situation is simply the choice of third-person narrative.  Penal Substitution is a doctrine based on the circular reciprocity of requited love.  By this I mean that if, for example, Romeo loves Juliet, then one of his greatest objectives in life is to keep her happy and healthy.  However, if Juliet requites Romeo’s love, then a large part of serving her means, for Romeo, taking care also of himself.  In this way, love is a lot like writing letters back and forth: the better one letter, the better its response, and if Romeo is well off, then Juliet will be also, which is the lover’s greatest concern.  By loving Juliet, Romeo has not taken away resources from himself—though it may seem like this at first—but rather, he has increased the over all purposes that he and Juliet collectively possess for staying alive.  Obviously, Shakespeare is a bad example, seeing that Romeo and Juliet were never actually in love, but it serves our philosophical purposes just fine.

Between God and man, there is a very similar drama, only man is not well off, and therefore, God will suffer.  And He does.  Penal Substitution doesn’t mean choosing a third-party at random to suffer for the crimes of another; rather, it means that, when man has turned from God, such that either he or God must pay, Jesus chooses Himself.  After all, in the third-person, it doesn’t make much sense that one man should need to die in order that another might live, but the situation does in fact arise, and the Christian answer to the conflict is different for each narrative.  In the first-person, the crucifixion illustrates that the proper answer is, ‘I die’, and in the second person, the resurrection tells us to answer, ‘you live’.  But if, as humans, we respond gratefully to both of these divine answers, saying back to Jesus, ‘I am dead in my sins’ (Ephesians 2:1), come, ‘you live’ inside of me, then the third-person narrative will have no mention of death at all: ‘He lives’.

I propose that pointing earthly purposes to heavenly one’s is all a matter of Imitation Christis.  If on Earth, we can experience this drama in the first person, not just reading about it in books and obscure theological doctrines, but actually knowing Jesus in the second-person—as a You, not a Him—then having been so deeply loved, we will find it difficult to respond in any other way toward others.  We are the recipients of an incredible letter, to which, if we offer any reply at all, everything we write thereafter will bear a resemblance, and gradually, by small degrees, our Earthly story will be transformed into something very near a Heavenly one; we will understand other characters in the text more thoroughly and love the more fully than ever before—and indeed, this entire literary revolution, the demise of the old and rise of the new, will be entirely and unmistakably His fault.

 

Your Servant,

TWM