October 31, 2008

We were driving north of Ord, Nebraska,  near an old Indian outpost called Ft. Hartsuff,  when my friend Bill Wiecking,  scholar and athlete,  felt like getting his jogging in for the day.   I let him out on the cold gravel and drove up the road and waited for him.

The solitary runner,  bold and fleet,

Shrugs the windy threats of fateful skies;

Along Ft. Hartsuff’s  graveled path he flies,

Naked  ‘gainst  December’s  icy  sheet.

Farm hounds feign attack,  but soon retreat

From the killer ape  whose fiery eyes

Dissolve like wax the ancient growls’  disguise,

Driving them to safety and defeat.

Bill’s warm breath tames the cold of earth,

And dances with the power of his soul;

He laughs at dogs and gods that he must face,

For pleasure tells him what his life is worth;

His chin is thrust toward freedom’s unknown goal,

Where man,  defiant,  will forever race.

–from “Sonnet Running Diary,”   l989.

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With sunset near,  I jogged to an expanse

that a week ago seemed baked and brown;

yet here a  lake of flowers,  lately bloomed,

washed and waved like a purple pall,

as if a bruised and soundless beauty

like the evening’s fall;

but other colors clamored to be seen:

a flame of red,  like a flared match,  windblown,

or here a yellow patch,  like a tiny sun,  blazed

as I hurried by.

When such scenes shock,  I want to share

with you,  Dear One;

I want to spread this find before your feet

and wait,   breathless with hope–not that you’ll look at me–

only that you’ll say,  “It’s lovely,”

so that,  by your voice pronounced,

as if by Proserpine proclaimed,

my flowers would be holy…

–lines written in Tucson,  l978,

Jim Douthit

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October 12, 2008

One day our white-dwarf sun will become a red giant.  This will happen as the sun loses its heat and begins to expand and dissipate,   in the process incinerating the planets of our solar system.   When the red-giant phase is complete,  the earth will be a cold cinder,  floating in a void.

In order for the human race to continue in existence,  man must discover undreamt-of secrets of the universe ages before the red-giant phase of the sun.   Perhaps in the millions of years remaining,    after a thousand quantum leaps of evolution,  man’s intellect may reach a level we cannot now imagine.    A Newton of those days may discover among his theories the means to keep the sun heated virtually forever,  though such a concept belongs only to present fantasy.   Another fantasy is space travel.   Relying on the totality of modern science,  we could not reach the nearest star in a thousand lifetimes;   but will future man uncover paths to other water planets?    Will he become an eternal vagabond in space in order to survive?    We cannot know.

Yet we do know,  as Ardrey states,  that man is a bad-weather animal,   that he thrives on conflict.   Conflict began man’s evolutionary climb and will sustain it,  wherever it leads.   By nature,   man looks for trouble,  just as he is enticed by problems to solve.   Conflict–even in the form of disasters and wars–breeds knowledge,   thus the fact that man loves to fight is a reason for hope,  not despair.    As an aside, it is pertinent to recall that the warring nations of history have attained the highest cultures,   while the peaceful peoples have remained in a primitive state.   Because of our war-like nature,  not in spite of it,   we may remain optimistic.

Jogging through a Tucson park one day,   I mulled over these curiosities.   As I jogged under an old archway that was marked for demolition,  I considered the inventive intelligence that had conceived the arch centuries ago,   how the form had stood the test of time in Roman bridges and aqueducts.   As the sun set in a fiery blaze,  I wondered if,  eons hence,   a similar intellect would confront the red giant.    Such thoughts prompted this sonnet:

The low sun seethed beyond my path

like a red giant there in wait;

or its blaze was like arriving late

at some war’s aftermath.

A fragment arch that I ran through

halfway along,  the park’s proud gate,

that had withstood the force of Fate

and challenge of Time,  still stood true.

Would the maker of that ancient form

appear and save the earth,  our home,

when one day men and stars contend?

Would a mind divert that final storm?

I turned,  and thought of aqueducts and Rome

and of worlds that mustn’t end…

–by Jim Douthit,   1980

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Sipes scouts the swamp alone–an errant knight,

Lugging hand-made decoys in a sack;

Through quirky reeds he hears a tell-tale quack

And clapping wings that settle from a flight.

The marksman finds birds in the Browning’s sight,

And calculates the moment of attack;

Soon drowsy earth awakes to shotgun flack,

As violent sunrise brings forth death and light.

Old phantoms quit the hunter in dismay:

For eons have they mocked his upright form,

Which their taboos could neither bend nor bind;

Like mallards,  now,  that flap in disarray,

God and his ghosts,  a frantic feathered swarm,

Fowl-like flee the weapon of his mind.

–birthday sonnet to Jerry Sipes,  Navy Commander,  leader

of men,  and hunter;   2001,   by Jim Douthit

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October 11, 2008

…the gift of a candle at Christmas…

Little flame,  flare up at once,

dance your life away;

inside the dull gray wax and wood

create some disarray!

Let her feel your moment’s warmth

and see your tiny sun;

even when you die away

a victory will be won:

So go on,  burn away and die!

Let dreary wax drop down like tears;

Scorn its drowsy,  shapeless ooze,

Let light dissolve her shadowed fears;

Your fire will tell her I still care,

Your death remind of fleeting years

And love that has no time to lose.

–from “Hodgepodge,”   1990

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To Eloise Beranek of Ord, Nebraska

She stands upon a hilltop as light begins to fade,

Below,  a stream feeds flowered fields and her hungry eyes;

She mixes muddy pigments between impatient sighs

And awakes the palette’s pulsing hues from their primeval shade.

She splashes form to matter with swishing brush and blade,

Bright oils bold bring meaning and unmask truth’s gray disguise;

On her canvas, Time,  the wraith,  is captured by surprise,

And the ogres,  Loneliness and Night,  she faces unafraid;

For another Eve of  long ago christened earth for men,

Defied the ice and darkness and drew pictures in a cave;

In the wind she hears her voice,  above all wars or wealth,

And,  like a sweaty goddess,  comes to save the world again;

With breezy fingers in her hair,  smock smudged with colors brave,

Painting dreams no others know,  her purpose is herself!

–from “Hodgepodge,”   1990

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A sonnet to another hero,  Barney Clark,  first recipient of an artificial heart.    Barney endured several painful operations as much for the cause of science as for himself.     I liken him to Prometheus,  the Titan who was tortured by the gods when he  defied them  and brought fire to humans.

Like the first man on earth he was thrown

From leafy softness to be fettered leper-like apart;

A machine became his god,  a clock his heart,

The constant knife,  companion,  as he grasped for the unknown.

Like a drunken Viking risking the world’s rim on his own,

Scorning heaven’s compass for Jarvik’s goddamn art,

Brutish bloody meaning brought to mankind’s mapless chart,

A heartless mutineer,  he defied death’s sacred zone;

Or like the tortured Titan,  tethered,  whose soul’s storm

And fiery arms crumble the fragile wall of night:

Bright outgushing rushing color clings

To all things grim and grey;  but a frantic feathered swarm

Against the rising tide of light

–dark angels,  drowning, beat their wings…

–from “Sonnets to the Hunter,”   1990

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“The concept of individual rights is so prodigious a feat of political thinking that few men grasp it fully–and two hundred years have not been enough for other countries to understand it.  But this is the concept to which we owe our lives–the concept which made it possible for us to bring into reality everything of value that any of us did or will achieve or experience.”   –from “A Nation’s Unity,”   by Ayn Rand

More than any other philosopher,  John Locke brought to Western Civilization the concept of individual rights.    His was the dominant philosophy of our Founding Fathers.

I have the right to exist.

I have the right to resist

The jealous mob of fifty-one

Who vote the power of the gun;

I refuse to pay the price

Of gods demanding sacrifice,

Sanctioned by a primal curse

And glorified by martyrs’  verse;

I refuse to stand in awe

Of tyrants touting Duty’s Law,

Who preach a history foiled by Fate,

And claim I am a serf of State;

All rights rest on property,

The foundation of all liberty,

That grants to man the greatest wealth,

At last,  the ownership of self.

–from “Hodgepodge,”  1990

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The assassination of Anwar Sadat was the pivotal political disaster of our lifetime.    This heroic statesman acted against his religion,  his race–against all Arab traditions to make peace with Israel.

Sadat gazed ‘cross the angry sand

And puffed the pipe held in his hand;

The smoke curled like a living breath

‘Round Arab monuments to death.

Defying blind belief and blood,

Anwar held the eastern flood,

A tide–the wailing turbaned horde

Of faceless converts of the sword;

Then turned to tell the Jewish State

That mind must rule instead of Fate;

That prophets who damn man for joy

Can howl to heal,  not to destroy.

A greater than Mahound stood here,

This traitor to the Pharoh’s sneer;

A giant who chose to decrease:

The price that wisdom asked for peace.

–from “Hodgepodge,”  1990

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Another from “Sonnets to the Hunter.”    My son Burke became a high-ranking chess player in high school.    I don’t recall him ever losing a match,  but it drove me crazy watching tense battles between him and talented players.    His matches reminded me of another of Ardrey’s maxims that human nature thrives on conflict.

The pawn advances bold to face the foe,

Unafraid to be the first to fight

Against the dark king’s threatening unknown might

That spreads the checkered field in rank and row.

Although one step is all the pawn may go,

Like stoic sacrifice that’s clothed in white,

His heart yet cheers the purpose in his plight,

For death will haste the enemy’s overthrow.

Deceitful knights the honest pawn displace

And plot ambush behind a courtly face;

Warlike bishops work their wonted wiles

And begin attacks oblique  ‘neath pious smiles;

Battles royal awaken dull mankind:

Nothing thrives on conflict like the mind.

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