Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category






Don’t lay a flower on this poet’s grave
or look within these words to know my face:
to who is gone, such kindness is a sieve
that cannot leave your hands the finer trace.


Don’t meditate upon this day alone
with remnants gathered from the Internet,
pretending you had cheered the way, or shown,
before it led to grass beneath your feet.


Closer to you is one who needs your care
far more than any revenant of verse,
who lacks your touch and thus the strength to bear
the mighty length of art in life so terse.


With tears like mine, be certain he shall wait
for love like yours, not fame beyond the gate.

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"SANKHARA-DUKKHA"–a poem by Matt Rouge





Among the things you know about my soul
is that I’d always sought its qualities,
and when at last I won, our ecstasies
were only matched in depth by losing all.


Searching again, I gained each part in full,
but not within one entity to choose:
one had our tones, another one our hues,
and one the scents that breach the trembling wall.


The patience that you share has earned its mate,
and everything we are has well combined
with love, the thing for which I couldn’t wait.


Yet, through this very process, I have found
not you, not me, not us, but only thought
partitioned by the fragrance, light, and sound.

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Movie review: "Observe and Report" shows us how hard it is to love ourselves


Observe and Report on IMDb
Observe and Report on Metacritic
Observe and Report on Rotten Tomatoes

Matt Rouge’s score: 4.5/5.0

Pros. Very strong performances by all. Engaging story. Dead-on satire of many familiar things. Interesting characters.

Cons. At 88 minutes, the movie feels a little short. The characters are interesting enough to support several more scenes adding to the story and laugh count. Some of the dialog and character behaviors are over the top even for the movie’s wild, farcical style.

Observe and Report is the story of Ronnie Barnhardt, a bipolar mall cop who is trying to catch a flasher and creating a considerable mess in the process. It’s a dark comedy full of expletives, nudity, and material that may shock and offend. The reviews among both pro and amateur critics are definitely mixed, but I found it to be a hilarious movie with an important message for our times. I highly recommend it.

I think this message is striking a deep chord in people, whether their view of the film is positive or negative, but I have yet to see it articulated in any review. It may be possible that even the film’s creators were not cognizant of it but instead worked with it on a gut level. Once one sees the message, however, it is striking and obvious. Here it is:

In today’s society, we feel miserable and invalidated until one of our dreams comes true in a way that everyone must recognize.

Ronnie craves validation; one of his chief characteristics is insecurity. He wants to become a real cop and dreams, most nights, of saving the world from a black cloud of evil and earning the approbation of the masses.

In some dimensions, Ronnie is hyper-competent. He defeats six crackheads single-handedly. He takes on a troop of cops, losing but doing palpable damage. Ronnie passes every test to get into the police academy save one: the psych evaluation. At the same time, Ronnie is a complete, unhinged idiot. He fails to detect who has been burglarizing the mall at night, instead suggesting suspects on the basis of race. When it comes to relationships of any type, Ronnie is completely clueless.

Ronnie is a complex character, combining both admirable traits and despicable. Persons’ reactions to him are likewise complex: his boss, despite misgivings, supports him, and the cute girl working at the cinnamon bun shop finds him admirable and attractive.

Now we come to our own discomfort in watching Ronnie. We are in the same boat. We don’t know what to think of ourselves.

In our own minds, we are fighting the good fight, but we see others on the opposite side who are equally confident. Or perhaps equally in doubt. We waver. We worry that we are like Ronnie, clueless and not aware of our own cluelessness. We consider how other people think about us, hoping to find validation in their opinions, but we sense–we know–that opinions are divided. Some people love us; others hate us. Some people at work admire us; others mock us. Some praise; others trash. Our friends and family love us, mostly, but we are aware of their bias. (In Observe and Report there is a wonderful scene in which Ronnie’s mom deconstructs the very notion of a parent’s validation, observing that her affirmation of her son’s dreams is merely what a parent is expected to say.)

We long to accomplish one great thing (e.g., becoming a police officer, nabbing a sex offender) that once and for all will prove that we deserve the respect of others and ourselves, but satisfaction is elusive.

I remember job hunting in Chicago in 1994, and I sat next to a guy on the South Shore, and we had a very good conversation. “The thing about Americans,” he said, “is that no one’s satisfied until they become a doctor or a lawyer–something like that.” He was right then, and he’s even more right now. In 2009, as in 1994, it’s hard to love ourselves as we are, and Observe and Report invites us to face that difficulty as few movies ever have.

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BS and meta-BS

I’ve written more about a particular relationship on this blog than about anything else. It’s the relationship about which I wrote the poem “DRY” and numerous posts.

The interaction has finally ended, as it should have more than a year ago, with a lack of ending: there is no bold statement or move to make; there is only the acceptance of what was and wasn’t, what continues to be not, and what will never be–acceptance that came with my recent “Acceptance Revolution,” about which I plan to write soon on this blog. Stay tuned.

My message today is a small one dealing with a lesson I learned from this relationship: don’t tolerate BS, and be wary of meta-BS.

BS refers simply to the modes by which one permits oneself to be mistreated in a realtionship. It’s just a truism that, in general, we human beings are willing to put up with quite a bit when we love and care about someone. It’s an understatement to say that I loved this person a lot, and thus I put up with a lot over a long period of time. I had a romance with her that failed. I tried to rekindle the romance, and that effort also ended in heartbreak. I tried to be “just friends” with her several times, putting a lot of time and effort into even that diminished relationship, but ended up her spiritual whipping boy each time.

Meta-BS refers to a person’s “going meta” on his or her BS, apologizing for it, explicating reasons for it (i.e., making excuses), and promising and perhaps even demonstrating efforts to reform it. Meta-BS differs from genuine apologies, reasons, and reform in that the person, either consciously or unconsciously, lacks the intention or the ability to do right by the target of the BS.

Meta-BS can keep you on the hook a long time. Think about the addict who cleans up and falls off the wagon in a never-ending cycle, while his or her family members in turn celebrate the reforms and suffer through the rock-bottoms. So it was in this unhealthy relationship, in which the person in question continually served up the BS and then apologized for it. Meanwhile, I was myself like an addict, unable to kick the habit as the aforementioned poem describes.

My Acceptance Revolution provided me the means of final (I believe) extrication. Contrary to past practice, in which I would try to push away the pain the relationship had caused me and the feelings for her that lingered, I simply accepted all of my internal content, committing myself only to the management of what I am able to manage: my words and actions.

The remarkable thing is that the pain and the feelings immediately subsided to the point where now I am truly beginning to forget her. Or, to paraphrase the country tune, “More and more I think about her less and less.”

Now that I have (I feel) extricated myself from one of the most painful situations of my life, I have little doubt that she will contact me again, show me her baby pictures, and try to do the little things that, in the past, pushed my buttons and roped me in. Come what may; that’s just how these things work. There is little more for me to say to her than, “Congratulations. Blessings.” I will continue to accept my internal content while managing my words and actions as well as I am able.

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"DAYS"–a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson



Daughters of Time, the hypocrite Days,
Muffled and dumb like barefoot dervishes,
And marching single in an endless file,
Bring diadems and fagots in their hands.
To each they offer gifts after his will,
Bread, kingdoms, stars, and sky that holds them all.
I, in my pleached garden, watched the pomp,
Forgot my morning wishes, hastily
Took a few herbs and apples, and the Day
Turned and departed silent. I, too late,
Under her solemn fillet saw the scorn.

§           §           §

Wow, what a great poem, and an unusual one for Emerson. He rarely wrote unrhymed verse, and the meditative tone of regret here is not to be found in many of his other works.

The feeling of slow movement, the Days walking in single file, is exquisite and immediately makes a deep impression on the imagination, as does the selection of offerings large and small.

Emerson’s poems are often difficult to interpret. Why are the Days hypocrites? Does the narrator regret his choice (simple things instead of the world itself), feeling that his will was insufficient; or does he contemn the Day for scorning his simplicity? Or is it a little bit of both?

My impression is that Emerson is commenting with some measure of regret on the way of time (“muffled and dumb”: time cannot speak for or explain itself) and the way of the world (“the pomp”). Our days promise to bring us anything we want, so long as we are willing to fight for it (“after his will”), but if we forget our “morning wishes” (perhaps our big dreams when we are young) and opt for the simple things, the world looks down upon our choice (“the scorn”).

A deep, beautiful poem that gives one much for pondering, both in image and in thought.

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"FROM HAFIZ"–a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson



I said to the heaven that glowed above,
O hide yon sun-filled zone,
Hide all the stars you boast;
For, in the world of love
And estimation true,
The heaped-up harvest of the moon
Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads’ sheaf but two.

§           §           §

This is in the “Translations” section of my complete poems by Emerson, so presumably he translated something (a complete poem, a fragment?) by Hafez, a very great Persian poet of whom I was, until I read Emerson’s lyric above, almost completely ignorant (perhaps the name rang a bell, but that’s about it).

Emerson’s lyric is probably a butchery of whatever Hafez wrote, but it’s a nice little poem in its own right. Having read through (or shall I say, “processed”?) all of Emerson’s poems, I must opine that the success of this small work depends mostly on luck: Emerson was best when he kept it short, which he didn’t often do, but almost all of his short poems also lack “it” (indeed, I really liked only ten or so in total, all of which I intend to post on this blog).

Why does this poem work for me? The metaphor is apt, and the lines of irregular length and the irregular rhyme scheme in combination with the effect of the last two lines add up to something clever and aurally and mentally satisfying.

I don’t know if there is a term for it, but I really like the poetical effect exhibited in the last two lines, in which the latter phrase builds upon the former but elides much of its structure:

Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads’ sheaf [is worth] but two [at most].

To me, this kind of structure has great elan and, in this case, “makes” the poem.

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"LOVE"–a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson



Love on his errand bound to go
Can swim the flood and wade through snow,
Where way is none, ‘t will creep and wind
And eat through Alps its home to find.

§           §           §

A good quatrain is not easy to write. In just four lines it must give the reader a sense of satisfaction, the feeling that a complete idea has been expressed well.

This quatrain is snappy in meter, full in concept, and compelling in imagery. The escalation from trudging through the snow to gnawing through the very mountains is believable. The reader may adopt the poem not merely as a succinct way to imagine the power of love, but also as a mantra for use in achieving his or her own love goals.

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"DRY"–a poem by Matt Rouge



A habit broken months ago today,
when all the little bubblings of the earth
retreated from my judgment of their worth,
in taunting glee has come again to stay.

Without a meeting to restrain the flow,
a bottle to unpurchase for the dearth,
I kept my hands cupped for the pouring forth,
always a draft just several clicks away.

Not all I knew of spirit and its ways
revered that source or blessed my hitting send,
and now that nothing serves to drown my gaze,
I thank and curse the method of the end:
a well still coaxing thirstiest desires
yet dry as anything in summer’s trend.

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"PHYTALMIOS"–a poem by Matt Rouge





In the past, I can feel his progeny,
pullers of transport and the plow
through and across his captured moisture,
but the black buggies and sun-white pickets
train them minorly. His bounty is the same,
I see, the maize and soy mirror the expanse
he rules best beyond the coast, deep with octopi,
as if these waves could cover anything he knows:


pearl on stalk and drop on leaf, from rain
and things like rain, lulling me awake
at five thirty in the shudder of his rule:
even here that structure, mantle and molecule,
even here within me, tightened by him,
straightened, for strength in trial and tide.

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