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It was June 2007 at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Sandusky, Ohio. It was also Ohio Bike Week. A field of grass, revving engines, a blazing white sun bursting through blue skies, beards and beer and cheering and high heels and leather jackets and a steel cage in the middle of it all. This was Ohio; this was ancient Greece. This was the most terrifying moment of my life but, as was always the case, when the steel cage shut and the referee said, “Let’s do this” and disappeared until the end it was... Zen. Life or death. It was a sport but in no way felt like one. Absolute survival. Absolutely serenity. Peace and violence swirled like the skies in Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There were no thoughts; instinct guided action. I hurt and I got hurt. I survived knowing that a bell, a mindfulness bell, would bring me back to the beginning or the end. Whatever they are. I just wanted to be the greatest fighter on the planet.
I lost that fight. Ate a knee that kissed my organs. Pulled guard and felt the back of my head bounce off the mat. Found myself in a heel hook I didn’t know how to escape. Tapped the mat three times to signal defeat. Other fights to fight, I told myself. Whatever that means.
Two months later I’m walking through the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center trying to find how in the hell poetry could be wielded. It had to be wielded. All I knew was wielding. So it had to be wielded for good. What’s the point of imagination? I wondered as I looked at these beautiful little books. Why is it often linked to escaping reality? Shouldn’t it be linked to better understanding reality so that we can beat the shit out of the world’s problems? I haven’t fought since 2007 but it’s all I think about. Who knew poetry is just as much about the scrap.
Poetry book one, Until You Make the Shore, was based on the absurdities I saw in an Arizona juvenile detention center and the US criminal justice system in general. Can poetry solve that? Hell no. But Allen Ginsberg said, “The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.” If there’s a tenet I live by or if I have a faith it probably begins somewhere near that. I’m just a simple dude trying to do some social good with whatever skills I have and whatever time I have left to use them. I don’t see a better point in being here.
Book two, Malaria, Poems. The disease ravages nearly a million human beings each year. Us and them are illusions. There is only we. So why in the sweet holy hell is nobody talking about malaria? And why is so much of our “global health” money going toward causes like male pattern baldness? Enter a pissed off version of Ginsberg’s voice.
Book three, Chittagong: Poems & Essays, is primarily about the horrors of the shipbreaking yards I saw in Bangladesh. Again it was all about what do I have and what can I do about the madness before me? Boys are getting crippled and dying from exposure to toxins all to break down the cruise ships we the wealthy love to lounge on. And it’s only crickets? Stage left: Ginsberg’s ghost is now screaming the quote while interspersing F bombs.
I’d like to think that if Ginsberg were my age he’d want to grab a craft brew or two and talk about this shit. Who knows. But I know a lot of others who do and will and want to. I feel the world’s torn—that muddled place where it can swim but its toes don’t touch—between social consciousness waxing and waning, at once breaking through the surface of the mud and blossoming like the lotus and unable to break the surface of the mud and simply suffocating. I just want bloom, sustainable and brilliant bloom.
I don’t know what’s next; but I’m covering up and backing up towards the corner of desperation and my chin is tucked and I’m ready to swing when there’s an opening.