Lacking Cinnamon

Coffee isn’t quite enough this morning. If the world were just, a cinnamon roll would accompany the coffee. And a pocket-sized dog, belonging to a neighbor, would have found its way into my house to provide company as I enjoy the bitter-sweet pairing of caffeine and sugar. Alas, the world is an unjust assemblage of accidental moments, cobbled together at random and without discernible purpose. Yet we still complain, even in the knowledge that our complaints have as much impact on our experiences as raindrops have on the temperature of the sun. No cinnamon roll, no dog. Only coffee, its bitterness blending with my own. But if the neighbor had the dog I imagined, its name would be Cinnamon. That much I know with certainty.

Last night, as I listened to some incredibly moving poetry read by a few remarkably talented people, I longed to have their abilities to conjure tears by weaving words together. That’s what they did. They weaved words together in such a skillful fashion that the audience (at least this member of the audience) could not help the tears spilling. Stories, told in the form of poems, revealed brutal childhoods, fragile emergence into teen years, and adulthoods looking back with regret to early years. Poignant stuff. And the readers were either exceptionally good actors or their stories were so genuinely painful that some of the readers, too, spilled tears as they told them.

The Featured poet was actually a pair of poets, two women who married one another while they lived in Arkansas but before the Supreme Court decision that recognized gay marriage. They left Arkansas one weekend and got married in another state (California, I think), then took a red-eye flight back to Arkansas on a Sunday so they would teach their college classes on Monday morning. I found it mildly interesting that they got married on October 21 (six years ago), my birthday.

Several of their individual poems were about their relationship. They read separately. Their poetry and their styles were starkly different from one another; both were superb poets. Both have published several books and chapbooks of poetry. Before I forget, I want to record their names: Nickole Brown and Jessica Jacobs. They are no longer teaching full-time; they write. Both, though, teach on occasion, I believe. They live in Asheville, NC. I may go there one day, just to buy their books from them directly. I had to leave last night before the second open-mic section, so didn’t have the opportunity to buy their books and have them autographed. Ah, well.

I was asked to read last night. Fortunately, I came prepared in case such a request came; I read four micro-poems I wrote and posted here in early August, The reading took slightly less than the allotted four minutes.  Next Wednesday, I will be the Featured Poet, with thirty minutes allotted to my reading. I haven’t yet selected my readings (and probably haven’t even written a few I will end up reading). Two nights later, I will participate in a remembrance service for the man who began Wednesday Night Poetry, Bud Kenny, thirty years ago, on February 1, 1989. The current emcee, Kai Coggin, asked me to read one of Bud’s poems at one of the area’s art galleries and then lead a procession to the Superior Brewery, where we’ll celebrate his life with more readings, etc. A fitting celebration for a good man.

The four micro-poems I read last night are, for the record:

Perspectives on Judgment and Trust      

Asking for someone’s help is either an overt
admission of weakness—a confirmation of one’s
inabilities, frailties, and flaws— or a
poignantly human expression of a
belief in love and a risky act of imperfect
contrition for one’s fundamental humanity.

Secular Worship
It took me more than half a lifetime to fully embrace the
validity of the concept of “love they neighbor as thyself”
and to realize its morality is the bedrock of humanity.
It took me just as long to understand that loving thyself
is harder than the rock upon which our humanity stands.
But the key is to stretch toward that unreachable goal
through secular worship—seeking truth in the labyrinth
of ideas that form the basis of morality as we define it.

The Arc of Justice
First, we have to acknowledge that justice is a fiction,
an attempt at reaching agreement on a concept based not
on fact but on perspective. Justice is our jaundiced view
of a “fair” world seen through the lens of greater or
lesser experience, privilege, and generosity.
Next, we have to find commonalities between our perspectives.
Finally, our mutually, but radically different, blurred fields
of vision must be excluded from our images of justice.
Only then can we see the possibility of an arc of justice.
And that arc of justice, though shortened by the exclusion of our
differences, still is almost impossibly long.

Before they are taught how “cute” they are,
before they become actors who perform in return
for gushing appreciation and blind adoration,
they are heart-breaking in their purity.
In their explosive honesty and endless joy,
children show us we already had what we then foolishly
seek for the rest of our harrowing lives.
Adulthood is a curse, punishment for ignoring
the beauty of true honesty and unconditional acceptance.
We spend a lifetime unlearning lessons we knew from the start.
If only we’d just held on to that breathtaking innocence.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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