Bob Schwartz

The Galilee Hitch-Hiker

Following are all nine parts of Richard Brautigan’s work The Galilee Hitch-Hiker. You do not know that you need Richard Brautigan, this and his other works, but you do. Serious, sentimental, silly and sad, he responded to strange times and a strange life (aren’t they all?) in ways that would do any writer proud. Open hearts are the most vulnerable.

More about these poems and Richard Brautigan here.


The Galilee Hitch-Hiker

The Galilee Hitch-Hiker
Part 1

Baudelaire was
driving a Model A
across Galilee.
He picked up a
hitch-hiker named
Jesus who had
been standing among
a school of fish,
feeding them
pieces of bread.
“Where are you
going?” asked
Jesus, getting
into the front
seat.
“Anywhere, anywhere
out of this world!”
shouted
Baudelaire.
“I’ll go with you
as far as
Golgotha,”
said Jesus.
“I have a
concession
at the carnival
there, and I
must not be
late.”

The American Hotel
Part 2

Baudelaire was sitting
in a doorway with a wino
on San Fransisco’s skid row.
The wino was a million
years old and could remember
dinosaurs.
Baudelaire and the wino
were drinking Petri Muscatel.
“One must always be drunk,”
 said Baudelaire.
“I live in the American Hotel,”
said the wino. “And I can
 remember dinosaurs.”
“Be you drunken ceaselessly,”
 said Baudelaire.

1939
Part 3

Baudelaire used to come
to our house and watch
me grind coffee.
That was in 1939
and we lived in the slums
of Tacoma.
My mother would put
the coffee beans in the grinder.
I was a child
and would turn the handle,
pretending that it was
 a hurdy-gurdy,
and Baudelaire would pretend
that he was a monkey,
hopping up and down
and holding out
a tin cup.

The Flowerburgers
Part 4

Baudelaire opened
up a hamburger stand
in San Fransisco,
but he put flowers
between the buns.
People would come in
and say, “Give me a
hamburger with plenty
of onions on it.”
Baudelaire would give
them a flowerburger
instead and the people
would say, “What kind
of a hamburger stand
is this?”

The Hour of Eternity

Part 5

“The Chinese
read the time
in the eyes
of cats,”
said Baudelaire
and went into
a jewelry store
on Market Street.
He came out
a few moments
later carrying
a twenty-one
jewel Siamese
cat that he
wore on the
end of a
golden chain.

Salvador Dali
Part 6

“Are you
or aren’t you
going to eat
your soup,
you bloody odd
cloud merchant?”
Jeanne Duval
shouted,
hitting Baudelaire
on the back
as he sat
daydreaming
out the window.
Baudelaire was
startled.
Then he laughed
like hell,
waving his spoon
in the air
like a wand
changing the room
into a painting
by Salvador
Dali, changing
the room
into a painting
by Van Gogh.

A Baseball Game
Part 7

Baudelaire went
to a baseball game
and bought a hot dog
and lit up a pipe
of opium.
The New York Yankees
were playing
the Detroit Tigers.
In the fourth inning
an angel committed
suicide by jumping
off a low cloud.
The angel landed
on second base,
causing the
whole infield
to crack like
a huge mirror.
The game was
called on
account of
fear.

Insane Asylum
Part 8

Baudelaire went
to the insane asylum
disguised as a
psychiatrist.
He stayed there
for two months
and when he left,
the insane asylum
loved him so much
that it followed
him all over
California,
and Baudelaire
laughed when the
insane asylum
rubbed itself
up against his
leg like a
strange cat.

My Insect Funeral
Part 9

When I was a child
I had a graveyard
where I buried insects
and dead birds under
a rose tree.
I would bury the insects
in tin foil and match boxes.
I would bury the birds
in pieces of red cloth.
It was all very sad
and I would cry
as I scooped the dirt
into their small graves
with a spoon.
Baudelaire would come
and join in
my insect funerals,
saying little prayers
the size of
dead birds.

San Francisco
February 1958

Repair

For K

Repair

Unbroken broken repaired
which is stronger?
The story of making
breaking
remaking
all of a piece.
The hands that remade
hold the hands that made
all of a family.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

Holy Day Butterflies (Rosh Hashanah 5782)

Holy Day Butterflies (Rosh Hashanah 5782)

The butterflies don’t know
that creatures sitting high
on the evolution tree
have set this day aside
counting calendars
and years by the thousands.
Don’t know exaltation.
Light appeared after dark
time to flutter
to decorate the seen
without yesterday or tomorrow.
Just another holy day.

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

Rosh Hashanah: The Birthday of the World

Hayom harat olam. Hayom ya’amid ba-mishpat, kol y’tzurei olamim.

Today is the birthday of the world. Today will stand in judgment all the beings of the cosmos.



The Birthday of the World: Audio story narrated by Leonard Nimoy
https://beta.prx.org/stories/20145


The birthday of the world
by Marge Piercy

On the birthday of the world
I begin to contemplate
what I have done and left
undone, but this year
not so much rebuilding

of my perennially damaged
psyche, shoring up eroding
friendships, digging out
stumps of old resentments
that refuse to rot on their own.

No, this year I want to call
myself to task for what
I have done and not done
for peace. How much have
I dared in opposition?

How much have I put
on the line for freedom?
For mine and others?
As these freedoms are pared,
sliced and diced, where

have I spoken out? Who
have I tried to move? In
this holy season, I stand
self-convicted of sloth
in a time when lies choke

the mind and rhetoric
bends reason to slithering
choking pythons. Here
I stand before the gates
opening, the fire dazzling

my eyes, and as I approach
what judges me, I judge
myself. Give me weapons
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.

Copyright © 2006 by Marge Piercy

Covid, Seat Belts and Cigarettes

If you watch old movies, you notice that nearly everybody smokes—sometimes one cigarette after another, sometimes two at a time—and that nobody wears seat belts in cars.

Around the 1960s, the link between smoking and cancer was being accepted and the movement to add seat belts to cars was ramping up. Smoking was never banned, but social pressure and evidence reduced it substantially. Seat belts became required.

Loud liberty activists then and now are quick to say that they are free to smoke 24/7 and are free to drive without restraint, and while we are at it, without speed limits.

One obvious comment is that if you live totally alone, and nothing that happens to you involves other people, that would be fine. But you don’t live alone and your choices do affect other people. Whether they are the people you care about and who care about you, whether they are the people you share the highway with, and those who rescue you and treat your bleeding body or bury it.

To make it more direct:

People you know, people you love, have been saved by the reduction in smoking and the use of seat belts. You may have been saved by the reduction in smoking and the use of seat belts.

That isn’t hard to understand. Advocates of Covid personal freedom can go ahead and write their erudite essays on the philosophy of liberty, if they can. They might not finish it before they take to their beds or end up in the hospital, or someone they know or love does.

Maybe they can’t write that essay, but I know someone who can. Kris Kristofferson is a great songwriter and performer. He was also an Oxford University scholar. Maybe the lyrics to his famous song aren’t Oxford worthy, but they are true:

Freedom’s just another word
For nothing left to lose
Nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free

Rosh Hashanah 5782: Father Time and Baby New Year

It is not traditional, maybe not appropriate to some, to associate the iconic characters of Father Time and Baby New Year with the Jewish New Year Rosh Hashanah, which begins next week on the evening of September 6.

I don’t see why they can’t be a little part of the holiday.

Rosh Hashanah and the ten days that end with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, are filled with reminders about the passage of time and with suggestions about how to start fresh and new. So a couple more reminders can’t hurt.

Note that while Baby New Year may not be quite as old as Judaism, the character does go back pretty far. It was first used by the Greeks around the 6th century BCE. So it is very likely that Jews knew about Baby New Year over the centuries, even if it didn’t end up in Rosh Hashanah.

Poetry is to live for

Poetry is to live for

While there are mysteries
There is living to solve
While there is poetry
There are mysteries
About the next line
Or the mystery of
The next line missing

© 2021 Bob Schwartz

The Covid Fall of Magical Thinking

I’m fascinated by magic. Not the sleight of hand, card trick, disappearing kind. The kind described this way:

“Magic is one of those terms for a phenomenon that is hard to define, yet easy to recognize. Magic is the overarching term for a ritual for power involving incantations, symbolic behavior, materials, and/or formulae meant to influence events and/or entities.”

Magic has been with us since antiquity, and will continue forever. Thinking, often against reason, that a magical intervention will affect the course of events is very human. We want to believe that wishing and hoping themselves may have such power.

There is a small chance that this fall may see an immediate gradual or dramatic drop in the impact of Covid in America. But every indicator says otherwise. With so many people still unvaccinated, with so many officials banning or limiting effective mitigation (vaccination, masking, testing), and with a more contagious and deadlier variant on the attack, such a drop is very unlikely. Not impossible, given that the behavior of the virus is still full of surprises, but very unlikely.

Yet there are plenty of people and institutions acting as if that isn’t the case. Instead, they are insisting that normal life as it was in 2019 return—right now. Some might call that unbridled optimism. Some might call that ignorance or denial. It seems more apt to call it magical thinking. If we somehow act as if the threat is not there, it will disappear. Like magic.

Covid is here. Like the worst of our enemies, it lives to hurt us and kill us, to hurt and kill our loved ones. All the magical thinking won’t slow it or stop it. People will believe what they will and think as magically as they will. The only “magic” is the one that science is trying to provide. We ignore and reject it at our most dire peril.

Leading university tells its students “masks are not effective on chins only”

True story.

Fall semester is starting at American colleges, and there is a confusing array of covid protocols for students, from mandatory vaccination and masks to anything goes.

One leading university that is not mandating vaccination or masks but is encouraging them actually included this in a message to students:


“We ask that you please keep a facemask with you at all times and respect others who might have personal or family health considerations. Also, masks should cover your nose and mouth, as they are not effective on chins only.”


It is hard to tell whether the administration is serious or being sarcastic, but it strikes me as possibly funny or possibly sad. Very sad if it is a needed earnest reminder to college students that a covered chin is not a substitute for covered nose and mouth. But as crazy as things are right now, you never know.

Calling

A friend wrote to me today about the choice of living in a desert city, at this crucial climate time. It led me to this by Robert Frost:


Fire and Ice

Some say the world will end in fire,
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice


We can no more ignore or discount sense, science and knowledge than we can live unconditionally and entirely by them. People will label the various balance points as enlightenment, pragmatism, rationalism, romanticism, idealism.

Things call to us, we are called, there is calling. The prophets to their caves, the desert fathers and mothers to their wilderness. Most common and human of all, love and friendship, which are not science (despite the attempts to dissect them) but are callings. None of this is stupid, as in a stupor, but soulful.

It has rained in this desert city more than any month in contemporary history. It is only a blip on the current path of heat and drought. The front yard is dirt, rocks and palo verde trees. But the rare constant deluge has grown patches of grass where none were. A deer climbed the hill to munch the grass, having been called by the green.