The Belles of Picardy

… during
the Vietnam War
I became a conscientious objector

I looked with horror
at photographs of overcrowded cemeteries
with no room left to bury the dead

tombstones lined up shoulder to shoulder
on the landscape of Europe
like soldiers marching to their death

I remember
the photograph
of my father in uniform
bringing to mind that he had indeed
been one of the lucky ones
who had made it back in one piece
from the Pacific Theatre

in my head I heard bells tolling
hammering to the beat of foot marches
an anthem to the dead

and to my brother
who was yet to die the slow death
of Vietnam’s lingering poison

I called it
The Belles of Picardy
an imaginary war march sung by the nymphs
that beckon soldiers

from every cathedral bell tower
in every corner of the world
to the Fields of Flanders
Dunkirk
Da’nang
Iraq
Iran
–hell

coda:
(for years I had watched the dismal gray theater of Eastern Europe
never realizing that what they depicted could one day come true)


The Artist as Guide …


2011-11-07-badass_da_vinci-533x387


We all possess a sense of eternity, but it is the Artist who is capable of sharing the vision.

In The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley remarked on an artist’s ability to transport us to higher levels of insight and awareness. Huxley’s essay on the alteration of the conscious through the use of a psychedelic substance reveals how certain artists have the ability to move viewers, raising their consciousness to a level that transcends the mundane. Their works carry us to a place where we can look into the basic stuff life is made of. We don’t need to be partakers of a substance in order to perceive this. Artists reveal it through their work. The concept of eternity is a condition of the mind shared in all human culture. Art is what transforms the mind to that plane of consciousness, from the paleolithic cave drawings of the Ice Age, to da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Pablo Picasso and on to the still undiscovered artists of the 21st Century. Their works put us in touch with eternity.

Perhaps this is why we place such a high value on art. By simply observing, we share in the artist’s vision, which in some ways has itself become eternal by its ability to span eons and still hold our interest. For instance — feel the lightness of a warm summer’s afternoon in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party. Or, sense van Gogh’s agony in his view from the asylum at St. Remy. Or visit Tahiti with Gauguin. We all live a similar existence, but it is the artist who expresses their life in a way that allows us to recognize our own.


We can open our doors of perception and see life through the eyes of a child.

We live in a modern world where even a notion as beautiful as a flower can produce anxiety. Lilacs in bloom bring allergies. A pristine sky appears polluted. Water gurgling from a mountain brook forebodes infection from coliform bacteria. The soil in our gardens evoke the terror of pesticide poisoning. Even the meat and poultry from an “organic” farm might contain salmo­nella. We live in a world where nothing strikes us as pure; everything seems to hint at sickness and death. So we incubate ourselves. But by isolating ourselves from the poison, we die slowly, in degrees, agonized by fear and worry, instead of reveling in the joy of life.

We must re-teach ourselves to breathe deep our surroundings, instead of cringing against them. We must learn life to be something that is tasted, not with the mouth, but with the breath. For we cannot enjoy unless we breathe deeply the essence of life, that our very beings might embody the act of living.

This is what it means to taste Eternity. The artist is the key that opens the door.

©1998 ©2014 ©2016


[Badass Leonardo da Vinci]

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