RICHARD JOHNSTON … Our dear friends & emigré Telluriders Linde & Lito Tejada-Flores have fired up the poetry wing of Western Eye Press (now based in Sedona, Ariz.) and have produced a handsome first book of poems from a Renaissance elder, educator and Professor Emeritus of History from the University of Illinois at Springfield, Richard Johnston ... Johnston lives over in the Crestone area, not far from the Baca Ranch Cold Mountain retreat, where Linde & Lito spend their summers and where another Telluride refugee and master photographer, Bill Ellzey, makes his home. But Richard hails from a different era – when a man of learning wrote fiction and essays, army manuals and rhymed verse, plays and voluminous correspondence. His wife is another master photographer, and Mary Alice Johnston’s classic snap, “Tree”, graces the book’s cover … The poems themselves are more abstractions than metaphor – sometimes cleverly rhymed intellectualizations of observations, quite out of fashion in our postmodern times. But I loved his four-line gem … About Love … “Love’s not a bargain to be driven / nor a trade to be arranged / it is never something to be given / true love can only be exchanged.” The rhyme, the rhythm, the universal truism recast – everything works for me … Same with “Amazing Graces,” where the poem’s two-line end couplet takes an almost sardonic tone with reverberating inner and end rhymes clanging like mission bells, calling the faithful to vespers. Johnston may be old-fashioned, but he’s not far afield to my liberal way of thinking. He names names. “Jesus in flickering neon” and “business-inspired / megalithic churches / offering junk food / for the soul” (from “Religio Modernus”) … Or, “The earth remembers / her immune system … breaking out like a / heavy menstrual flow / of spewing molten lava” (-from “The Earth Remembers”) … Or, “Often spectators / rather than actors / in our own lives … Approaching / now that far horizon / where our long journey ends … myself and I” (from “Beside Myself”) … This book of poetry leads you to the man, a fine thinker and someone you’d love to meet. I’d highly recommend his blogsite www.thecirclebroken.com> where I found myself enjoying his essays that would seem to deserve a wider scan than the vacuum tube of cyberspace.
NOTES … What follows is a political prose poem – not as wild as Brautigan’s short shorts in Rolling Stone, but more an argument suggesting an historical parallel of looming proportions, metaphoric & literal … Following the text of Melian Dialogue, there will be three explanatory notes to the text, in the tradition of my teacher Dolores LaChapelle.
MELIAN DIALOGUE … The downfall of the Athenian Empire in the Aegean Sea at the end of the 4th Century (BCE = Before the Christian Era) was presaged by the sack of Melos, famous for its obsidian and its statue of Aphrodite (the Louvre’s Venus di Milo). Melos was of one of Athen’s sister city-states – a 700-year oligarchy of independence (even from their war-like neighbors, the Spartans) … Facing a war with Sparta, Athenian negotiations with Melos offered no Swiss model neutral treaty among equals, but the oh-so-very-Persian power ultimatum: Surrender or be slaughtered & your wives & kids’ freedom forfeit … Indignant, the Melian oligarchy refused! To no longer be citizens of their own island state without a fight? Never! … So, the great democratic fleet attacked on all sides & as Thucydides takes pains to describe (without a poet’s lyric blaming of the gods) “all the men were killed, and the women and children sold into slavery” … Thus did an exiled Athenian general record what most of the world’s advanced military schools still teach – might makes right, even on the skimpiest of rationales … And thus our own unique & at times brilliant democracy, post-Raygan/BushLeague, continues to war overseas in Iraq & Afghanistan rather than find a negotiated peace … And at home quibbles luridly over private sex acts & religious misconceptions – as the seas rise, the ice melts & the heirs of our unacknowledged democratic empire face eco-bankruptcy & paradise lost … So, America, what will it be? … The Way of the Mountain’s find, or the half-way found of the Horned Grebe – excellent swimmer, reluctant to fly?
WAY OF THE MOUNTAIN … The path that Dolores LaChapelle chose in life she called the Way of the Mountain. It was her name for the Deep Ecology she practiced, what anthropologists used to call Animism – the belief that everything in the web of life (including us) that we call nature is alive and sentient and deserving of respect … I guess if I had to declare a religion, the Way of the Mountain would be about as close as I could come to naming it.
RANDOM DICTIONARY … That’s a kind of clunky name for the correspondence game I started playing with poet friend Robyn Hunt (now of Santa Fe) back in the Sixties … Letting chance operations find your mantra for the day. Any dictionary will do. I’ve been using an Alaskan language compendium assembled by my linguist friend Jim Kari from the word mastery of native speaker Eliza Jones and the anthropological notes of Fr. Jules Jetté.
KOYUKON … Dzeeyaak, noun, Horned Grebe, Podicepts auritus. An expression used when jumping rope … Wikipedia says about grebes – “great swimmers, reluctant to fly.”
THE TALKING GOURD
Sometimes I’m like the four-year-old
girl in the silvery snowflake costume
who stands in the lights at the edge of the stage
not remembering to plié, nor to turn, nor to raise both arms,
who remembers only to wave to you.
– Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
San Miguel County Poet Laureate