Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Spring Fund Drive: Keep CounterPunch Afloat
CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Being Cowed: A Disorienting Unity

“Hey, diddle, diddle”
by Mother Goose

Hey, diddle, diddle,
The cat and the fiddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.

And the Cow Jumped Over the Moon

When I think about how we, in the U.S., allow ourselves to be ruthlessly manipulated by our own government, how we keep breathing in toxic fumes being spewed from the White House, “cattle” is a metaphor that keeps surfacing. I write poems: look for handy metaphors is what I do—even if clichés. Is comparing the U.S. population to cattle too much of a cliché? Perhaps: I wonder. If you have a low tolerance for meandering marginalized poets trying to justify their behavior, just shoot down to my short closing poem. In the end, perhaps, you will join me for a moo.

Are We There Yet?

It is sinking in: it is actually 2018. The First World War ended November 1918, and then the masters of the world really started cooking. The world’s doomsday clock is set at a couple of minutes before an apocalyptic midnight. Global warming, ecosystem failure, the stockpiling and inexorable use of nuclear weapons is just the start of a long list of critical concerns preoccupying a vast number of the world’s corporately untainted scientists. I feel disoriented.

I am Not a Cow!

Think of the ingenious system of moving cattle into slaughterhouses developed byTemple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. She put forth that her way is more humane than the usual: it is designed to give cattle a more peaceful experience as they head toward their horrible deaths, by guiding them through winding fenced-in corridors where they can not see what is coming around the next bend. The sight, smell, and sounds of the herd’s final slaughter comes as a surprise.

Seriously considering the emotional state of cattle right before being hacked to death was a new idea in the cattle industry when Grandin introduced it; after some initial resistance, her system was praised and adopted because it was more efficient and increased profits. Most operations, here and abroad, still just prod and ram horrified livestock into hellish slaughterhouses.

Cattle Cars & Bouquets of Evil

Given how little anyone’s humanity mattered to our (?) country’s wealthy founding fathers, early land grabbers, and Robber Barons, it is not a surprise to see how and where we are being led. What is the maximum capacity of a cattle car? I am sure someone came up with the figure a long time ago without too much effort.

I recently watched the documentary “Resisting Paradise” at the Museum of The Moving Image in Queens, New York. Prolific artist and the director/producer of the film, Barbara Hammer, employs a remarkable streaming collage of intense grainy dark images and a distinct narrative, including historical footage, interviews, and an exchange of letters between Henri Matisse and Pierre Bonnard during World War Two — to address an important question: what role does the artist play, if any, during times of extreme political oppression.

Hammer, makes it clear during the film that Matisse and Bonnard chose to hide out in the South of France during the Nazi occupation, painting flowers, voluptuous reclining nudes, and assorted bourgeoisie eye candy, while those around them—family members included, felt compelled to join the French underground resistance. Matisse’s own daughter, Marguerite, and ex-wife, Amelie, were both arrested by the Gestapo; Marguerite was brutally tortured. Film scenes of persecuted refugee Jews in the towns where Matisse and Bonnard peacefully passed their days painting, preoccupied with rendering the right afternoon light, or infusing some flower petals with their most tender feelings is, of course, dramatically incongruous. What do you make of Bonnard, in a letter to Matisse, soulfully expressing his fear of running out of cadmium yellow because of the occupation; and yet, seemingly, remaining detached from the real-world weight of it?

During the post-film Q & A with Hammer, I also learned of how Gertrude Stein similarly laid low in the French countryside, in spite of being a well-known Jew and living openly as a lesbian with Alice B. Toklas. I never before heard that Stein was able to keep her impressive art collection in Paris with the help of at least one Nazi collaborator. With just a little digging, I now also know that she publicly made statements in support of the Nazi-imposed status quo. She refined and recanted some of what she said, but still…

Sure, these artists were all seniors at the time; and Mattisse was not in good health, so heroics was not to be expected from them; but to learn that the extreme suffering over so much of Europe did not substantially affect their apolitical minds, or change the light fair nature of their work, is hard to understand—and seems a little creepy.

You Can Not Be Serious!

So that no one who has read this far gets me wrong, I do not believe our sweet number 45 is a modern Hitler; that Republicans are neo-Nazis; that the U.S. is anything like World War Two occupied France. I also do not see myself as an artist; but digging deep, I can identify a little too much with Matisse, Bonnard, and Stein. In their particular skins, would I have acted any differently? I am certainly no active member of any organized resistance movement. I have been something of an obscure, underemployed (putting it mildly), critical poet/teacher the last 20-odd years; and now, just when joining some non-violent resistance movement is on a lot of minds—the idea even becoming sexy and fashionable again among residents of collegiate ivory towers and student rathskellers—I feel old. I am an old guy, perpetually looking for work, guarding his time and health, trying to become a better poet. What the latter means to me, is still a black hole. It seems I am questioning a string of labels and so-called given realities lately and just living day to day. One day, life is great and I am grateful for just about everything, the next….it is not, and I am not (putting it mildly).

Moving Deadline

Ah, to believe in revolution and the way of the revolutionary. The price of a struggle has grown out of immediate reach for me. I am not speaking metaphorically: affordable rent is memory! Long-unemployed, a New York City round-trip public bus fare is too much at five-fifty! Sometimes, I miss my black 96 Mercury Cougar, trips to Atlantic City, testosterone-rich-still-thinking-I-could-win-pretty. Forget a socialist meeting now, a march, without feeling entropy. I keep stacking rhymes for choirs, spitting at the enemy, missed Pilgrimage magazine’s January deadline for work with the theme of Unity. Wait: the deadline’s extended until February! A sign
from the universe, I might sing, wishing to believe in a timely awakening.

* This piece first appeared on the author’s personal blog, The Practicing Poet: Dialogue to Creativity, Poetry, and Liberation.

Andrés Castro is a PEN member/volunteer and is also listed in the Directory of Poets and Writers.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
May 18, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
The Donald, Vlad, and Bibi
Robert Fisk
How Long Will We Pretend Palestinians Aren’t People?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Wild at Heart: Keeping Up With Margie Kidder
Roger Harris
Venezuela on the Eve of Presidential Elections: The US Empire Isn’t Sitting by Idly
Michael Slager
Criminalizing Victims: the Fate of Honduran Refugees 
John Laforge
Don’t Call It an Explosion: Gaseous Ignition Events with Radioactive Waste
Carlo Filice
The First “Fake News” Story (or, What the Serpent Would Have Said)
Dave Lindorff
Israel Crosses a Line as IDF Snipers Murder Unarmed Protesters in the Ghetto of Gaza
Gary Leupp
The McCain Cult
Robert Fantina
What’s Wrong With the United States?
Jill Richardson
The Lesson I Learned Growing Up Jewish
David Orenstein
A Call to Secular Humanist Resistance
W. T. Whitney
The U.S. Role in Removing a Revolutionary and in Restoring War to Colombia
Rev. William Alberts
The Danger of Praying Truth to Power
Alan Macleod
A Primer on the Venezuelan Elections
John W. Whitehead
The Age of Petty Tyrannies
Franklin Lamb
Have Recent Events Sounded the Death Knell for Iran’s Regional Project?
Brian Saady
How the “Cocaine Mitch” Saga Deflected the Spotlight on Corruption
David Swanson
Tim Kaine’s War Scam Hits a Speed Bump
Norah Vawter
Pipeline Outrage is a Human Issue, Not a Political Issue
Mel Gurtov
Who’s to Blame If the US-North Korea Summit Isn’t Held?
Patrick Bobilin
When Outrage is Capital
Jessicah Pierre
The Moral Revolution America Needs
Binoy Kampmark
Big Dead Place: Remembering Antarctica
John Carroll Md
What Does It Mean to be a Physician Advocate in Haiti?
George Ochenski
Saving Sage Grouse: Another Collaborative Failure
Sam Husseini
To the US Government, Israel is, Again, Totally Off The Hook
Brian Wakamo
Sick of Shady Banks? Get a Loan from the Post Office!
Colin Todhunter
Dangerous Liaison: Industrial Agriculture and the Reductionist Mindset
Ralph Nader
Trump: Making America Dread Again
George Capaccio
Bloody Monday, Every Day of the Week
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Swing Status, Be Gone
Samantha Krop
Questioning Our Declaration on Human Rights
Morna McDermott
Classrooms, Not Computers: Stop Educating for Profit
Patrick Walker
Today’s Poor People’s Campaign: Too Important Not to Criticize
Julia Stein
Wrestling With Zionism
Clark T. Scott
The Exceptional President
Barry Barnett
The Family of Nations Needs to Stand Up to the US  
Robert Koehler
Two Prongs of a Pitchfork
Bruce Raynor
In an Age of Fake News, Journalists Should be Activists for Truth
Max Parry
The U.S. Won’t Say ‘Genocide’ But Cares About Armenian Democracy?
William Gudal
The History of Israel on One Page
Robert Jensen
Neither cis nor TERF
Louis Proyect
Faith or Action in a World Hurtling Toward Oblivion?
David Yearsley
The Ubiquitous Mr. Desplat
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail