Monday, February 28, 2005

Sonnets, old to young


The breath of lions fills the silent air.
I see the plains, the Sun without the sky.
And feel the grass that hides the Lionís lie:
That art from nature canít be made so fair.
He hunts the prey that donít know he is there:
The weaker beasts who know theyíre soon to die
When spotted by his hungry amber eye.
A thousand yards away they feel his stare.
Iím sitting on the cold and barren floor
Iím kept away from view, and out of light
And as I wander through the open door
A flash across the plains appears in flight
The Lion runs with claws and bony core,
Throughout the day, and gone alone, the night



I love to sleep beneath my willow tree
While black silk ribbons slink through scars and gashes
Absorbing thoughts, the dream expands and smashes
With slumber what waking I won’t bring eyes to see.
My weary bones, seduced by darkness, flee
With years passed by, the dreams remain as flashes
Of days spent writhing under willow lashes.
Each pregnant pause of sleep brings peace to me.
But sons of midnight break and challenge logic.
The bloody ribbons flow across my face
Displaying pain when demons like to frolic.
Tomorrow is today, no sleep can pace
This hunger heaving refuse dry and cholic.
I stay awake, alone in my embrace.



My love long dead, with grief at night I still walk
Down darkened streets familliar to my feet
When voices choose no other time to meet
Each word with poison feeds the next we talk.
Though shoeless, hopeless, wordless, I stalk
The Void my mind makes grass although it's concrete
I masticate the words my mind makes meat
To choke in silence while the neighbors gawk.
Take it from me, nobody wants to share
This legions of voices that lingers inside;
Those that know nothing have nothing to bless.
Everyone reading who knows me, beware
If you choose to listen, and in me abide,
My pain still rules my cold and clingy caress.

All uncited material on this page is copyright Thomas Jackson 2005

Recent Technicalities


Uh, uh, uh, now let's get it all in perspective
For all y'all enjoyment, a song y'all can step wit'
Y'all appointed me to bring rap justice
But I ain't five-O, y'all know it's Nas yo
Grey goose and a whole lotta hydro
Only describe us as soldier survivors
Stay laced in the best, well dressed with finesse
In a white tee lookin for wifie

Nas, “Made You Look”

Does this sound familliar? It should; its rhythmn is timeless.


To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation

Shakespeare, Hamlet (III.i.64-74)

Same structure, same rhythmn, read them side-by-side if you don't believe me.

Among the characteristics observable by the untrained ear are the even distribution of syllables and rhymes; together, they make flow: the anticipation of the next series of words and their cadence. Because both of these poems are designed performance pieces, it is far more important for the poem to sound regimented. In observing poetry, the ear expects slight variations on a common pattern; the best patterns make the best sounds. There are no visible line breaks in the spoken word, so poets do not have the comfort of a page to regiment poetry; white space, shape, and placement don't matter.

So, you may ask, how do we know what structures Nas and Shakespeare use? The answer is in the line and the foot. A foot is a regular series of syllables around an accent. A regular line should contain the same number of identical feet, all of which have names.

Iamb: - /
Trochee: / -
Anapest: - - /

Spondee: / /
Pyrrhic: - -
Dactyl: / - -

Poems are rarely written exclusively with minor feet; major feet make up the bulk of English verse. If you've heard of iambic pentameter, you should know how to describe a line. If you haven't, it's really easy. First you state the foot name (such as iambic, trochaic, or anapestic), then the number of feet in a line:

One Foot: monometer
Two Feet: bimeter
Three Feet: trimeter
Four feet: tetrameter
Five feet: pentameter
Six feet: hexameter

As the feet get more numerous, you'll need more wind to use them. Barrel-chested bards and rappers use five and six foot lines frequently. My somewhat more limited mouth is more comfortable with tetrameter and trimeter.

There are even more complicated structures at work in most regimented verse, such as minor foot replacement and cataletic verse. It's ok to replace a major foot with a minor foot with the same number of syllables, or vise-versa. The spondee and pyrrhic both appear in the Nas and Shakepseare examples above as minor replacement feet. The name of a line with two different feet is derived from the most common foot in the line. Cataletic verse consists of lines with either a syllable missing at the end, or an added syllable at the beginning of a line; used together, they make syncopation: a pattern where a normally weak syllable is stressed.

Recitation and Examination combined with scansion tell clearly if the quantified flow that works well with itself and the human ear: it's a method used to test the poem at hand for unseen metrical errors. Scansion is the process of breaking down a poem into lines and feet. It sounds hard, but it's really quite easy; first you count the number of syllables in each line, then decide which syllables are accented and which ones aren't. After that, you can find the feet and count them up to determine the metrical measure.

The heirs to Shakespeare's throne, in my opinion, are not Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, or Maya Angelou; the heirs are DMX, Nas, and other rappers who make poetry that people actually observe. Poetry has written itself into such a small corner that the old ways are coming back around in rap. Nas may not know it, but he is using these constructions in his best work. I see them; I hear them; I feel them. To me, there is nothing better than a sonnet, Shakespeare's or Petrarch's (I've read the Petrarch in Italian, it's gorgeous). However, if denied knowlege of classical verse as so many youngsters are, I would turn to its best modern equivalent: the rap poem. Poetry is as important now as it ever was, but I believe people will go elsewhere if its sweetness is unavailable from the usual wordmongers.

Poetry differs from prose because it treats how the words are said with the same importance as what the words mean. In Rap, I find this to be especially true. Rap makes a strange ally to old-style metric poetry, but with all its flaws, it still leads the way for style over substance poetry into the forseeable future. It's a damn shame we've lost Milton and damn near lost Shakespeare, but given the state of contemporary academic poetry, I will listen to Nas before Maya Angelou every time.

I'll get off my soapbox now; perhaps I'll post a poem later.

Thursday, February 24, 2005


I feel the night beckon. I see you all in objects. I see people I hate erupting from my skin. I see people I love on soft surfaces; they leave when I try to touch them. The people for whom I wish I feel nothing swim scattered in the partially empty water bottles arrayed around this room, taunting me with their indifference. I love most in these bottles, although I hate a few. I've seen too much, but unlike Oedipus, I cannot evade my sight with blindness; you will all follow, and you'd be all I see.

I make horrible mistakes. Most of them revolve around me choosing love when I could have chosen to feel nothing. No love is worth this spiraling staircase of doubt and regret. Small voices tell me if I said something else, or acted differently, or showed less then maybe I wouldn't be alone. I am alone. It's one of life's inevitabilities. Some people, the lucky ones, have so much love they have to choose between two, or even more. Looking from the outside, I'd choose all other love over mine. The hardships I take upon myself and the extent I avail myself to this condition are not a cry for help. I seek understanding and acceptance. I know I should feel more comfort in the presence of God, but I cannot. I must be heard. I must be heard; do you understand?

In 1997, I was happy alone. It is 1997 no longer. The night beckons, but I do not come. Where once I smiled sideways, and reveled in my unique nature, I can now only look up armed with nothing but these words. This is not wallowing or needless self-torture; my pain is real, and my words are sincere. If I could choose a way of thinking, I would be strong, I would be generous with comfort, I would smile without reservation, and I would be beautiful. My thoughts are not my conscious choices: I am weak, I take more comfort than I give, my smile is always fake, and I am ugly beyond words.

As injured my voice is with Tardive Dyskinesia, I can bear to be heard. When photographed, I wear the old mask. My smile is sideways, like I know something the rest of you don't. My secret walked with Lions at night. The secret wrote poetry meant for one set of eyes in pursuit of another. Thousands of lines crept by, slowly extending out of my open arms. I thought the truth would bring acceptance. I was wrong; my youth crawled down my throat and died. The stench took hold, and remains to this day. If you don't believe me, kiss me. You will know it.

I can't stay secret. I won't live behind the old mask concealing the old wound. I must be heard. This might be hard to read, but it's harder to write. Please, just stay. Testify my waning strength. Weigh my burden's crow feather against your cluster of grapes. Let my sincere eyes show you everything my smile retracts. Watch me show you how ugly the monster lives.

Some Cheer the Bull

I'm entranced with using bullfighting as a metaphor for my mental illness. There are many who watch me struggle, a few who risk to help me, but in the end, I'm alone. I train for being alone. Many watch, but none comprehend the full experience as I do. For near eleven years, I fight the bull every day; most spectators cheer the matador, but some cheer the bull.

I've written two poems recently on the subject:


I wait at the moment of truth
my sharp espada in one hand
a red muleta in the other

my only arms against my troubles:
the sword and cape are always close
to guard against the charging bull

the ring and crowd remain the same
as people stand and shout their cheers
some cheer the bull, but most cheer me

the bull is strong where I am weak
there's too much weight behind the horns
kept sharp despite their frequent use

each pass comes closer to my skin
as shouts for blood grow louder
the horns, near hips, get stronger

the shoulder grazes my left hip
they struck my right hip yesterday
and put me under very fast

I can't stop fate or alter it
I plunge my sword deep in the bull
my grip is lost, it charges still

my heart beats fast as horns dig in
my eyelids close as I fall down
I sleep like death now that I'm drugged

the nurses clean the ring
and dissipate the crowd
the tempo slows a beat

it won't be slow forever
my spirit never dies:
they can't take that away

my sword is in these verses
my cape is in my heart
I'm ready for tomorrow

I'll fight the bull again



I am a matador of fears
for thirty years
or thirty seconds
hope will be my sword
I fight my fear of love
for peace
for vengeance
for you
for me
but not hope
hope is my sword
with mercy dispensed at its tip
I wish the same for myself
But when none is forthcoming
I wait
At the tip of hope
On the neck of desire,
Cursing beneath my breath
Because there is no ring, no bull, and no crowd
I'm alone with my demons
And they don't sleep.

Monday, February 21, 2005

President's Day

"We will have the most ethical administration in the history of the Republic." -- President Clinton, on the PBS program "Washington Week in Review", February 25, 1994

Some men let their words speak for themselves, and condemn without commentary.

I love the French folk epic "The Song of Roland." In particular, I love the Ganelon character. He's a sneaky, bitter little man who betrays Charlemagne at the battle of Roncesvalles in 778 AD. I always wondered exactly how Ganelon came to treason. The epic states little, only a small look into a perceived slight by his stepson Roland against his character. Little things can become large when Honor is involved. I wrote a poem to look into Ganelon's motives; all the facts are the same as in The Song of Roland, but I put them together with a first-person narrative straight from Ganelon's thoughts as I know them. Personally, I always sympathized with Ganelon, but fell short of approving his treason. Some people never learn the meaning of the word gratitude. Roland is one of those people.


I should have been among them
Laughing like the rest,
Enjoying life in full

I killed for him
I bled for him
and in return: insults

slights upon my character
Comissions to discredit
The good things I have done

I do not wish to drink
be merrry with my peers
When all they do is laugh me

An insult in the ear
Turns quickly toward the mouth
repeated in a chorus

Of course they never mean it
or so they say
It’s always in good fun

But fun at whose expense?
Roland runs men through
For less than what he throws at me

And Oliver, his lap dog
Continues with the barking
Little, short prattle

I chase him with a sneer
and he runs back to master
To cry and wet himself

Those two deserve each other
Both false, and living lies:
Two men a bit too close

I can’t beat Roland’s tongue
For he will cut mine off
If I returned in kind

Durendal should be mine!
By right, the sword is mine!
My wife, his mother, spurns me

And dreams all day of love
Her former husband’s seed
Replaced me in her eyes

Before I even met her
She had no love for others
And wanted my place for Roland

What should I do?
I can’t cry at my misfortune
I can’t strike at my obsession

I loved her
I cherished her
I gave her what I had

And that is what she wanted
A place for Roland at court
Where he can work his lies

Get ahead of me
Steal my peerage
Run with my glory

He leads my men in his name
And laughs when I am mentioned
I’m just Old Gan to him

But I am Ganelon
And was before his birth
He is no son of mine

His mother said she loved me
With pretty, batting eyes
Not suited to the truth

Once joined to me in law
Her love turned hard and cold
To match her diamond ring

I cannot take this further
Or it will be my grave
My presence will be felt

I know a man in Spain
Once friendly to my house
More friendly than my wife

My king,
My country,
My faith.

Roland, I am here
My smile is my vengeance
Your pride will be your grave.

Saturday, February 19, 2005


A small post today, and a small poem on concrete.


Red stains on my new pants
Still warm, bright, and growing
As the sun goes over the horizon
Far too fast this early in the day
I look east, then down, then up
As I lose my footing
And sleep deep in a pile of leaves
A smile before unconsciousness

by the way, everything on this page is copyrighted by me 2005 (except for the Rilke translation) so don't steal it.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Naomi Nye

I'm headed off to Austin in April to attend the Austin International Poetry Festival (AIPF), and one of my favorite contemporary poets is going to be featured! Naomi Nye writes wonderful little poems that are themselves first. That's the mantra of my poetic existence: poems should be themselves first. I hope my skills and poems will have the same quality of her work someday, and maybe even a shard of her recognition. Yes, I know she probably differs with me on politics, but those who know me also know there are precious few (probably none) that don't.

On the business of poems being themselves first, I've written a poem that summarizes my sentiments. It springs from my frustrations with poets who write about things rather than writing things. Writing about politics produced some of the lamest poems I've read or heard. Who remembers poetry about Benjamin Disraeli? Do today's poets think poems about Bush, Rumsfeld, and Ashcroft will last a century? Poems about the CIA, or "Cocaine Import Agency," according to one particular wannabe are wearing just as thin. For the most part, I can even recognize quality in their styles (well maybe not the anti-CIA poser, he was such a dork), but why should I read them? Predictable, identical cookie-cutter poems about how much so and so wants a random political officer to go to the afterlife of the poet's choosing just are not good literature; please find something else to write about! Shakespeare rode Petrarch pretty hard in his sonnets, but I have to believe that somewhere the Bard is vomiting all over today's activist poetry, and wishing, nay, begging for more sonnets written of Laura.

"cercar non so ch'Amor non venga sempre
ragionando con meco, et io con lui."

"I know not how to seek where love will not always find me
reasoning with me, and I with him."

If only we still had you, Petrarch.


The flow of words is wonderful!
If I could only dip my cup in its bounty . . .

I would be strong
and beautiful
and maybe, just maybe
they'd all see who I am
Through the letters on the page

When I write, I’m free
Each thought emancipated
from expectations without and within

The unwritten rules are written
In passions, unbridled, taking shape
As my infamy releases
Each word to be misunderstood
And mangled at the tip of a critic’s pen

Some poems are born of sentiment
Others born from inebriation
Or sweet infatuation
Set in motion by the ocean
Always blue in verses
But all too often brown, salty, and flooded
Like my eyes.

Too many words are born of common intrests
Fueled by expectations
Too easily met
By more of the same blank noise

They say:
This is a poem about love
This is a poem about peace
This is a poem about justice
This is a poem about opportunity
This is a poem about pride

This is a poem
Until the word “poem”
Means nothing at all

The bounty of words Is there for the taking
By the true
By the passionate
By the strong
By the beautiful

And rarely by the poets who write about

I am not alone in torture, but I am alone in mine

Solitude, for me, is pain. I spend tremendous amounts of time without human contact, but I am never truly alone. My usual companions are Legion. It would be easy for me to assert that schizophrenia did all the damage, but I can hold my brain chemistry responsible only so much. The truth of the matter is that I have never been well-socialized. I've always been a bit of a sad loner; when madness struck, I was already leaving the world most of you take for granted. I could blame the punchers and the lashers, but in the end, it was me. I didn't bother explaining myself to anyone; I thought no one would care. In the end, I still believe that to be true. It's very easy to make a monster out of my visions, voices, and phantom scents, but I have always known this sad, melancholy shadow of a memory to be my monstrous side. I never needed help to share the gregarious jackass so easily identified with me. I need to share the vulnerable parts: the poet, the thinker, the clingy paincushion. Living this way is tearing me apart. Every time I think I've found a way to speak freely or a place where my true voice is welcome, I always end up quarantined further and further into myself. People buckle and run under the extreme sheer weight of my sadness; I grab ahold of what I can, but that never helps. Of course, my disease mangles and rearranges these memories, but the proof of their general validity remains: I am always away from others. I offer myself freely to be understood in the lines of my poetry, but the totality of the verses, once read, is to usher others away from my sadness. It's all quite pointless, but I retain my quixotic quest. I will not be silent, even if I am never heard.


I am a matador of fears
for thirty years
or thirty seconds
hope will be my sword
I fight my fear of love
for peace
for vengeance
for you
for me
but not hope
hope is my sword
with mercy dispensed at its tip
I wish the same for myself
But when none is forthcoming
I wait
At the tip of hope
On the neck of desire,
Cursing beneath my breath
Because there is no ring, no bull, and no crowd
I'm alone with my demons
And they don't sleep.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

My Brother

My brother's getting married! His sense of humor is amazing, and stunningly creative. We're forever stealing each others' jokes; I borrow more than I loan. His creative abilities are raw, but brilliant; he would protest it, but I believe he could be every bit the writer and poet I am if he so chose. However, he chose a different way of living: computer science. I programmed a bit in high school, but I never had a good handle on the more mathematical side of reason necessary for devoting myself to the study of computers. I chose language and poetry because I feel I must, the only valid reason in Rilke's eyes to write. Rilke also knew that the "half-artistic professions," as he called them, to be further from art than the honest appplication of reason to reality:

"Art too is just a way of living, and however one lives, one can, without knowing, prepare for it; in everything real one is closer to it, more its neighbor, than in the unreal half-artistic professions, which, while they pretend to be close to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of all art - as, for example, all of journalism does and almost all criticism and three quarters of what is called (and wants to be called) literature. I am glad, in a word, that you have overcome the danger of landing in one of those professions, and are solitary and courageous, somewhere in a rugged reality. May the coming year support and strengthen you in that."
-Ranier Maria Rilke

My brother and his future wife have a great future ahead of them. Both are very real in Rilke's sense of the word, and I think they are great together. I wish them only the best in life. His words and programs are very good, from what little I've seen, but I believe his greatest accomplishments will be intellectual fulfillment, and the kind of satisfaction that only home and hearth can bring.

Way to go, bro.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Take it from a paincushion: nobody wants to be around a paincushion. There are two boundaries from which there is no return: Death and Madness. In March, it will be eleven years I've lived with schizophrenia. Too often I think of the impossible when I write; I need to learn my limits.


I bring the gift of pain
My problems on your doorstep
Too many problems start
With pain expressed to deafness

I lead my words with anguish
Too much, too fast, too painful
I search for understanding
But garnish only pity

You'd think I'd learn my lesson
The limits of my life
But no, I still avail
Myself to my affliction

Too often with my demons
I come to wish for Mercy
While I'm still armed with Hope
And staring down my fears

For now, I pass by Scylla:
Leave one with medication
In time I'll try Charybdis:
Risk all to find a cure

At gunpoint I'll claim truth
A bullet for the weary
The fear of hell won't stop me
From longing for the Exit

What Love can chase me down,
Put limits on my pain?
In Proverbs there are lies
In Job, I feel the truth

I know I should not falter
But everyone is weak.
Sometimes my desperation
Takes arms against my Madness

It leaves me seeking silence
And longing Love's embrace
Release won't come from violence
But pain won't show me grace.

Uncertain Future

I don't quite know what to do with my blog yet. Perhaps I'll use it to display my verses; more likely, I'll just use it to complain about my life to my non-existent legion of readers. I will lead things off with a poem with a bit of insight into how I think:

Stanzas for the Morning

My claws come out at night
When no one else can see:
Beneath the shroud of darkness;
The dream begins for me.

A milky blackness covers
The tracks I leave behind.
The words that others hear,
Outnumbered In my mind,

Leave guttural distortions,
Deluding Amber Eyes.
Each sound has twenty siblings,
Nineteen of which are lies.

I struggle with the truth,
And ask too many questions.
The answers that I’m given
Take flight with my perceptions.

Too many times before
When I was offered peace,
I chose to stay tenacious,
Ignoring signs to cease.

My dreams come in with midnight,
Each born of my mistakes.
Regret and shame abounding,
This son of midnight wakes.