Sunday, August 30, 2009

on a motorcycle

On a motorcycle you get a better sensation of what a road is, and in this country the vast majority are hard, unforgiving slop-mixtures of rock and fossil fuels. Nothing grows on them... or, I would wager, under them.

On a motorcycle you can smell a road much better than in a car: its grease and grime... its spills. You can smell the other drivers and their exhaustive passage. Long before you can see them, you can smell the piles of flesh, gristle and fur that line these roads. You can smell the fertilizers on the fields you pass, and the sterile impersonality of the suburbs you cringe through.

On a motorcycle you can see the impatience of the drivers as they risk your life for one minute closer to a job that will allow them to pay the taxes that will pave this road that they will zip unthinkingly over on the way home to sofa, TV and refrigerator. You are closer to your own death this way, but it also makes you think of the deaths of others... the forty-thousand a year in this country who die on these marvels of modern civilization, these black snakes of death.

And on a motorcycle - seeing and thinking these things - you wonder at all the thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of these snakes, writhing all across the continent - tendrils of death that have worked their way out from the cities and now lay heavy upon this land in a dark, inescapable web through which nothing grows and upon which many, many living things die.

You wonder, then, at your tragic complicity with this culture that has made this thing, this web. You wonder if perhaps you are nothing more than a very small, willing bug... zipping along with the eyes of your soul shut... waiting for the spider.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

another endorsement

I'm gonna pull another one from the obscurity of the links and vehemently recommend that you check out bearskinrug, which my friend Ben (bless his black little heart) found for me. I highly recommend the humor and the artwork of this chap, wherever he may be. This week's offering I find especially scrumptious and juicy. So click the link. Do it. Now.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

the art of God

Yesterday I was browsing the most recent issue of the "Christianity Today" magazine in our school library and I found myself thinking, "wow, I'm not as annoyed as I usually am by this stuff".

I guess it is possible that I have somehow changed drastically in the last while, but I decided it was more probable that the magazine had somehow changed, so I looked at the editorial to see if it was announcing a new editor. It wasn't, but the dude did spend the whole page describing how CT wanted to be a place where instead of talking at eachother, people discussed with eachother. He said that for that reason they were attempting to publish articles from a wide variety of disparate positions. The results are palpable, so I give their attempt my official stamp of "rightonya".

I might be biased. One article by a Harvard law professor dying of cancer ended with this:

"Philosophers and scientists and law professors (my line of work) are not in the best position to understand the Christian story. Musicians and painters and writers of fiction are much better situated - because the Christian story is a story, not a theory or an argument, and definitely not a moral or legal code. Our faith is, to use C.S. Lewis's apt words, the myth that became fact. Our faith is a painting so captivating that you cannot take your eyes off it. Our faith is a love song so achingly beautiful that you weep each time you hear it. At the center of that true myth, that painting, that song stands a God who does vastly more than remember his image in us. He pursues us as lovers pursue one another. It sounds to good to be true, and yet it is true. So I have found, in the midst of pain and heartache and cancer."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I have been taught that church is a building you go into
that is somehow sacred.

And though these so-called "christian" teachers backpedal
and say they don't mean sacred sacred,
it is exactly what they mean,
because they want to invest a part of the everyday life they despise
with an element of the Divine.

They are afraid to admit the truth -
that everything is infused with God,
that it breathes God's breath -
for they fear that by this admission they will lose control of God.
Their fear will be exposed and they will whither up
like the phantasms they fear themselves to be.

Me, I think a church is a community of people
with a truth-lust raging after yearnings for the impossible.

I think it is a grouping of humilities,
of dying selves who love the poor
and want more LIFE,
not glitzy, tawdry imitations.

I think it is a broken gathering of broken people
who will admit it.

I think it is a place for losers and lovers
that exists, not between two-by-fours,
but in loves both great and small.

I think a church is made of folks who sense,
if not admit,
that everything is sacred:
even death, birth, sex and toilets.

So if you ask me what a church is,
I will tell you that I do not know...
that it is a holy mystery I enter every morning
when I softly breathe awake,
and every night when I anxiously fall away.

It is all that lies between.

It is a hug, a tree, a kiss.

It is this.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Does it count if I'm just writing about how I don't feel like writing?

Sometimes that is all that can break the doldrums, and it would be too easy to just assume that my last "Anatomy of an Effup" is going to rain down showers of pity on me and no one's going to be bothered that I'm not writing. It is not supposed to matter what you think, though. I mean, you do matter immensely, of course (just ask the IRS) but not when I'm perpetrating my acts of creation. That's between me and the Universe. Still, I feel rotten.

Also, on the topic of my "anatomy", so to speak, I am starting up the school year again this week, and because I teach at a private school where ludicrous (yet fun) things are routinely done, I have to start the year by going away on Wednesday to a camp in the mountains, where computers are anathema.

This means that I have to either write this week's anatomy post tomorrow, without as much time as I'd like to chaw on it, or do it on Saturday when I get back and am screaming for rest on the cellular level. Which might be the sort of all-natural drug I need to get me to say the sorts of things I'm trying very hard to bottle up.

So, I guess that means I've found what I'm writing for: a way to overcome excuses. I am a world-champion excuse-maker and it's gotten me out of a whole lot of actual living. I think all I need to do is just wait until I'm too tired to resist myself. See you Saturday.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

an art poke-in-your-eye

I got an email once from an random fan of the art back on my old, defunctified website, barkingreed. She wanted to know if I was OK with a shirt she had created using a piece of one of my sketches and a line from one of my poems. I thought the shirt was flattering and cool and nifty and sweet, so I immediately wrote back and asked how I could buy one.

As it turned out, she hand-painted them, and was only making them as gifts for her friends. She refused my money and sent me a shirt. Which makes her the maximum utmost.

I get a lot of compliments on the shirt from friends and strangers alike, so I thought I'd share it with you and post the poem from which the line is plucked. I have been trying to write more poetry lately, but this one still remains one of my favorites. Be sure to read it out loud (especially if you are at work), because poetry dies a little if it's never brought to life by speaking.

Oh, and you can see a corner of my "work in progress" just behind me - a bit of a tease.


This is the stuff of which dreams are made,
and I have got a bolt of it,
stolen from the back of a man twice the mystery:
once, for the clothing that he wears
and twice, for the swagger of his airs.

And I will make of it a shirt,
to garb you with the metaphors of madmen and crescent moons,
of loons upon a blood-red lake,
of plotting rakes with bed-drawn eyes
and ears cropped by claws of angered crows,
whose plumage shows of lusty living and archangel nights,
where stars are lights by which to fly
and someday maybe die, God knows.

And I will cut a strip or two
to wrap you ‘round your neck and waist,
so you may taste the mellowed meads of Viking tales
and meet your lips with tankards of their ale.
Without the drawing of a blade
you will lick the salted blood they drew
upon your unbroken lips
and feel the sway of rowing in your hips
and the twisting, turning of battle.

And I will form for you a crown
to hear the rattle of the dying
in raided villages where the Norsemen went
until their lusting angers spent.
From there, the cloth upon your hair
will find you in the harems of a shah,
amid sumptuous pleasures of decadence
piled high for whims as yet undreamed
in worlds of whirling scimitars
and swirling sands piled high to shifting dunes.

And then with wrappings on your feet
you’ll meet the stones of age-worn ruins,
where runes on walls mutely speak mysteries
of long-gone magic incantations
and the elations of hair-shirt mystics
who ate the eyes of vampire bats
and kept rats within their beards.
When you float through these halls,
folded in their crumbling walls
and out before a vast expanse of sea,
full-fathomed dreaming will you then will be.

So lastly, I will make you leggings
to take you dreaming to days gone by,
through the haze of days lived by -
to live again those times when you were you but not yet fully you.
And you will follow the founding formations
of the ways you now have come to be.
You will wonder to see it all -
to see the magic and the mystery and the marvel of it all.

And then you will awake and dream the true
and then you will awake to then be you.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


In 2008, Popular Science Magazine did a "30 Greenest Cities in America" survey. Lexington, Kentucky was at number twenty-five for its intensive recycling program and the fact that its citizens rated the environment its third-greatest concern (behind only employment and public safety) - the highest ranking anybody gave it in their survey.

And who happens to live within an hour of Lexington, and gives regular lectures there? That's right, Wendell Berry. Coincidence? I don't think so. So whenever you're feeling like one person can't make a difference, think again.

Running with that, I want you to do me a favor. I want you to go to this website and read the poem you find there. I want you to do this because I love this little poetic manifesto by Wendell Berry, and I think you and I should find great comfort in rallying to it.

I know what you're like, though, because you are very much like myself... lazy, lazy, lazy... so I illegally re-posted it here. I did this because we need it, you and I, and the Revolution needs you.

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion - put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

- By Wendell Berry

Saturday, August 8, 2009

anonymous comments

The anonymous internet came to Barking Reed and said to him: "uh... duh... I don't get it. The whole thing with the two circles is too confusing. A drum circle? Eating their children? I think maybe you should not be picking and eating your own mushrooms anymore."

And Barking Reed (who is really just Josh Barkey of Waxhaw, North Carolina) shook his head and chuckled. Spoke then he unto the anonymous internet, saying:

"Oh, you major sillypants. Is it not right in front of your freakin' nose? Let he or she who does not have gerbils-for-brains hear, and understand. The two circles are a metaphor. They are not supposed to be clear to anyone who demands the obvious: instead, they are supposed to be sideways explorations of the truth. To dissect this story would be to murder it.

"Nonetheless, it is my desire to be heard - so let me say it another way: The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a major, kick-bottom party. There is endless food and drink at this party, and yes, some of that drink is alcoholic. The whole party is one big stately pleasure God decreed. Not the sort of pleasure that's selfish and destructive and hateful, but the kind that is found only in the context of relationship, and being in right community by way of humility and grace. This is a creative community, the kind that grows, enables and loves.

"Everybody is invited to the party. Everybody. Period. The only thing they have to do to get in is accept the invitation, and no other invitee can question their right to be there. There is only one group of people that is not at the party, and it is comprised of those who will not enter. They are outside pouting, saying that it isn't fair that [insert whomever you don't like here] get to come to the party, and that until justice is served and these obvious miscreants are excluded, there is NO BLINKIN' WAY you'll ever catch them hanging out with the likes of those people.

"It doesn't really matter who you align yourself with, you can still choose to sit outside the party, pouting. Is it all them there homosexuals you don't want around? YerOUT! Is it all them there obese, consumer-addicted 'mericans? Be Ye Gone! If you want to join the party, you can't even sit around demanding the exclusion of people you perceive to be demanding the exclusion of someone else. Invitations and exclusions are strictly none of your freaking biznatch!

"I would like to admit (because I think it is true) that being at the party will change people in positive ways - that as they join in the community and get into the feel of it, they will grow to be more like the host of the party - but I can't. I can't because I know you'll just jump on that and somehow twist it back to mean some people won't be invited, and that you ought to decide whom. For you are a proud people, and very, very bland.

And then Barking Reed chuckled some more, and went back to eating pie.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

a tale of two circles

I've massively re-written this post, but don't want to just delete it on account of the comments. So I'm just leaving this note - a note that probably no one will ever see. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


On a feathered bed I lie.

I lie.

There are no feathers...
or if there are,
they're all within my head,
strewn hap-hazard across a life-plucked landscape,
drifting in the dust.

The question, though, is not if there are feathers.
It is from whom they came,
and why they now float to pile within my mind.


At first, it was only a few she threw:
pinfeathers here and there,
so that I thought perhaps she made a nest.

But they began to clump in ragged piles,
feathers from her breast,
her lovely, perfect breast.
She tore them from her breast and thighs.
She plucked the feathers from around her eyes.

At last, at last
she began to pluck the feathers from her wings.
She ran here and there,
and said some ugly things to match my own.

And oh, too late I felt the songs she no longer sang,
the silence of her coarse-plucked skin,
the silence she ran in.
I saw the sad state of her once-gloried wings.
I saw in sorrow, and begged her answer "why?"

Her tears, I saw, were done,
so as she walked in deathly silences away
she turned at last in passing just to say,

"I need to fly".

- By Josh Barkey

The Wish To Be Generous

All that I serve will die, all my delights,
the flesh kindled from my flesh, garden and field,
the silent lilies standing in the woods,
the woods, the hill, the whole earth, all
will burn in man's evil, or dwindle
in it's own age. Let the world bring on me
the sleep of darkness without stars, so I may know
my little light taken from me into the seed
of the beginning and the end, so I may bow
to mystery, and take my stand on the earth
like a tree in a field, passing without haste
or regret toward what will be, my life
a patient willing descent into the grass.

- by Wendell Berry