Monday, December 31, 2007

Turning back to unadorned verse

I found this fragment of an idea laying in my virtual pile of half-written poems. I'm not sure what inspired it or when, but I decided to flesh it out a little and see where it took me.

This morning I
By Francis Scudellari

This morning I woke to a dream;
Red-topped vision in black slipped by;
Eyes corner-caught for a second;
Blurred, moving fast, in vain I tried
To hold it stop-motioned, moment
Freeze forever; Instead, she grabbed
Me, my heart, and close kept it locked
As she vanished out the door

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Words made comically graphic: Part Four

This is the last in my current series of verse-inspired drawings. The poem behind this particular visual madness is Casting These. As you can see, the graphic image is very loosely connected to the words at its core.

The drawing started with the octopus, which in my mind formed an apt symbol for the many tentacled creature that is the Internet. It's also a sea-based notion in keeping with the nautical metaphor of the poem's title. I'm unabashedly quite fond of the little beasties heading the eight legs. Click the image to examine their odd-ball features in more detail.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Words made comically graphic: Part Three

Here is the third set of panels from my recently completed, self-illustrated book of poems. The verse in question this time is Water Drops, and the rollicking dream scape below may only give that away in its final image of a teardrop falling from a pregnant cloud of pollution.

As you can see, I've abandoned the previous more direct approaches to dressing up my words and ventured more into surrealism. The middle character emerged from some random doodling. I'm not sure what you see, but it strikes me as a bolt-tailed cat blowing through a bullhorn. As always, click it to enlarge the image.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Words made comically graphic: Part Two

Continuing to share my recent series of illustrations, here are the set of drawings I made to graphically render the poem (S)mothered Earth.

As you can see, a definite comic pattern is starting to emerge. I have to admit being quite fond of the chubby reptilian fellow in the last panel. Click the image for a larger view.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Words made comically graphic: Part One

I've been sparing in my words the past week because I started working on a graphic rendering of a few of my favorite poems. My good friend George Kokines gave me a small accordion-style book a few months back with the ambiguous charge to fill it with something personal.

I hemmed and hawed out of perceived inadequacy before embarking on a series of comic book inspired illustrations. As you'll see, the drawings got progressively less literal and increasingly psychedelic as I had flashbacks to my cartoon doodling youth.

Here's the first set of panels, with words from my poem Hail Mary arranged irregularly in the margins. Click on the image to see it enlarged. I'll be posting the other pages over the next few days.

Gratitude short but sweet: A series of thank you's

I want to acknowledge the generosity of two friends and fellow bloggers who have recently graced me with their kind words and linked love.

Aquarian Hanna at Amori, Poesie, Arte, Chat Virtuali today tagged me with the Zodiac meme, which I posted on previously albeit in unruly fashion (see Meming to catch up). I also owe Hanna a great debt of gratitude for her translation of my poem Hail Mary (see Ave Maria). And because good things come in 3s, she also gave me a Best Friends award earlier this month (see Mondo di Awards).

Raven at Stuperhero Extraordinaire has also honored me with the very appreciated Creative Blogger Award. I'll try to pass that one on in coming days (I can't remember if I've gotten it before), but definitely check out Raven's post as she has named some other wonderful sites that are worth investigating.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The gift of giving: helping to end hunger

My sister Lisa and her family (Chris, Nick and Matt) passed on a really neat Christmas gift yesterday. They made a donation in my name to Heifer International, which is an organization dedicated to ending world hunger.

Heifer's interesting strategy involves creating a positive feedback loop in which the affects of the seemingly small drop of a single gift ripples through a impoverished village's social circles and beyond.

The money from my honorary donation will be used to give a flock of chicks to a family, whose diet and income can benefit from the eggs laid. In return for the livestock and training, the recipients promise to share their new knowledge and their animal's future offspring with other families in need.

It sounds like a pretty noble effort, and you can find a lot more information about their mission and strategy on the organization's Web site. I'd like to see similar efforts spring up to share the gift of more modern technologies with impoverished communities as well, so that they can not only survive but thrive in an increasingly computer connected world.

Photo Caption: In China, a boy poses with Heifer provided goslings which bring the family eggs for better nutrition and extra income.

Copyright: Heifer International

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A roaring good Christmas to all!

Here's hoping your holiday inspires a similar shout of excitement. Thanks to Yimin, Peter and Joseph for my new, very cool carved Thai dragon!

Monday, December 24, 2007

The spirit of Christmas evening

This is a poem I wrote a dozen years ago to commemorate the holiday. I'm not sure I'd write it exactly the same way today, but it captures a seasonal striving I still feel.

I dedicate it to friends old, new and yet to come in the hope that we can rediscover the timeless joy of the young child hiding in all of us; that magically unbound urge to rip away at shiny surfaces to reveal a treasured surprise.

Once we peal off the traditional religious and commercial trappings associated with this yule time, we can uncover a universal message of selflessness, compassion and spiritual connection. These are winter gifts that transcend social status and individual faith.

Honoring those values, I'd like to wish everyone out there a very happy Christmas.

by Francis Scudellari

Looking within, I see
a pure light, sunburst bright,
burning herald of a
multifaceted truth;
Its golden rays striving
ever outward, to touch,
but shielded, obscured by
a dull shell, clouded sphere;
If I could release it,
shatter the opaque globe
share its warmth, guiding sight,
dispel doubt herding dark;
A wordless messenger
it would travel beyond,
preaching Love over Law,
filling heaven, aglow;
Joined ever with the stars,
One in luminescence.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Joyous spirit awakened, undermined

Three days before Christmas, this is as close as I can get to a holiday seasoned verse.

It's not the catchy bit of uplifting fluff you'll hear in those omnipresent traditional carols, but hey ... it is about angels.

Note: Image at right is a detail from the painting Annunciation by El Greco.

Choral Voices
By Francis Scudellari

Choral voices — sweet, angelic —
Entice my ear;
Airy intonations striking
Senseless, allure;

Awake strivings secreted deep
In shuttered soul;
Inspire yearnings; unstitch desires,
Longings heart-sown;

Lilting notes on cloud back beckon,
Ascents require;
Show lighted paths up, out, toward
Sky-rending fires;

Yet my halfway spirit falters,
Trips as it climbs;
Old doubts, fed fears, down falls, earthly
Concerns confined

Happy Winter: A seasonal song and dance

With the arrival of the Winter Solstice, we in the northern hemisphere get hit with a good news / bad news scenario.

The cheery, mood brightening part of the equation is the fact that the shortest day of the year is behind us and our time will be filled with progressively more sun. The chilly flip side of the coin is that we're soon to be hit with the season's full arsenal of snow and bitter cold.

It's the perfect occasion for a little celebratory or conciliatory song and dance, depending on your outlook. Here's a YouTube clip from a favorite childhood program that was charming in its extreme kitsch ... perfectly capturing this moment's contradiction:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Finding the special in a non-descript day

December 20th is not a date on which much of any real import has happened.

A day before the solstice, five days out from Christmas, and 11 back from year's end, the world just wants to catch its breath before the big rush of excitement.

Here is a minor historical accounting of the date's sometimes trivial past happenings:
  • In 1803, the U.S. completed its biggest single land grab as Thomas Jefferson purchased the Louisiana Territory from France.

  • In 1860, the state of South Carolina became the first to secede from the union and kick started a process that would inevitably tear the expanding country apart. From bad to good, the resulting internal revolution created the opportunity to undo one of our Constitution's worst oversights.

  • In 1946, there were two theatrical birthings. It's a Wonderful Life, Frank Capra's now-overplayed Christmas classic about pondered suicide and redemption, took its first bow in New York City. Half a world away in Israel, Uri Geller, the pseudo psychic with a penchant for bending spoons and re-invigorating clocks with his energetic touch, screamed his way onto the stage.

  • In 1963, on a snowy morning, Francis Christopher Scudellari (pictured above) was spanked to breath by the medical staff at Providence Hospital in Washington DC. He was the third of four children born to Marina and Anthony. From there the picture gets fuzzy and indistinct. Many guises put on, but none yet to stick. Check this space regularly for updates.

Looking back mid-journey

In anticipation of tomorrow's very special anniversary (stay tuned), I've written the following new poem.

Whenever you reach the midpoint of a journey, it's good to take a moment's pause and reflect. Looking back, you may realize you've meandered off the chosen path, but there's still time for a course correction.

I know that I often live up to the stereotype of a man reluctant to ask directions, but I'm doing my best to change that.

Feel free to map things out for me when I go astray.

At midpoint journeys paused
By Francis Scudellari

At midpoint journeys paused, pondered
Outward roads radiating, spun
Dizzy with destined choices, made
Unsure, unbalanced, reluctant

To stop, self-centered missed steps posed,
Halted remorse wanting to run
All directions, at once, up-down
Disorient, past-visions blur

In momentary forgetting,
Lose untracked paths original,
Sins cast off, memories shred, gilt
Edged possibility rebirth

A way randomly picked, still hope,
Time, tried decisions undo, trails
Again retrace, lines draw forward
To points new, endings yet unknown

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Desperately mal-adjusting to X-mas

We're a week out from that day of sanctified profits when we pretend to honor a preachy manger-born prophet who railed against rich folk ... have you done your shopping yet?

There may be heated arguments in some circles about the "true meaning" of Christmas, but if you tally the popular references to Christ's anti-materialistic message versus mass media's bully-pulpit pushes to purchase your way into paradise, you'll understand the holiday's real significance to this country.

In a Capitalist society, the need to feed the engines of commerce is always urgent, but with year-end profits hanging in the balance and a house-of-credit-cards economy in need of a holly-jolly jolt, this year's bell ringing is more desperate than ever for a booming X-mas season.

Hence big-ticket consumables are especially shown to be the true proving grounds of love. You can't demonstrate your rock-solid commitment to a partner better than with a big shiny diamond neatly ensconced in velvet box. A relationship can only happily be driven forward when predicated on the acquisition of a luxury automobile.

All you slackers out there reluctant to over-stuff already debt-ridden accounts will just have to settle for dysfunction and counseling, because your happiness is already compromised. It's your patriotic duty to bury yourself neck deep. Don't pay attention to the rising, roiling financial waters starting to tickle your ears.

The Santa siren call to consume is at its most conspicuous these waning days, and if you're like me, you're counting down the minutes until the barrage of advert-chiming messages finally reaches its end. It's become pretty apparent that I'm particularly maladjusted to this year's fetishistic festivities as punk-rock lyrics fill my heathen head rather than the Christmas carols traditionally piped-in.

People often ask me what poets I read for inspiration. Truth be told, I find most of my influences in the lyricism of modern music. This particularly shining example from LA's X perfectly captures the state of my desperate mind as the holiday clock keeps ticking.

It's not the most comforting Christmas message, but you'll get used to it just like those treacly little jingles.

We're Desperate
by X

I play too hard when I ought to go to sleep
They pick on me because I really got the beat
Some people give me the creeps

Every other week I need a new address
Landlord, landlord, landlord cleaning up the mess
Our whole fucking life is a wreck

We're desperate
Get used to it
We're desperate
Get used to it
We're desperate
Get used to it
We're desperate
Get used to it
It's kiss or kill

Coca-cola and a Motorola kitchen
Naugahyde and a tie-dye t-shirt
Last night everything broke

We're desperate
Get used to it
We're desperate
Get used to it
We're desperate
Get used to it
We're desperate
Get used to it
It's kiss or kill ...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hopping out of well-worn channels

I find myself captivated by the simplest images these days. The briefest scene will play out before me on the urban winter landscape and strike me as strangely insightful. This poem was inspired by such a seemingly mundane encounter.

It's been an especially snowy December here in Chicago. When the white stuff first piles up, before shovels and salt are brought out to clear sidewalks, those out in the elements try to find the paths of least resistance by stepping into the footprints of others who went before.

So it was that all geared up I walked along a narrow pre-stepped trail only to find another pursuing the same track from the opposite direction. As we neared each other, we both moved aside — our feet pushing into the drifts and leaving the well-trod middle path empty between us. After passing, we slid back into our previous stride as if nothing had happened.

I cracked a knowing smile at the apt life metaphor and concocted the following lines.

Two souls
By Francis Scudellari

Two souls
Treading one path
Narrow, solitary,
To/o vague destinations, seeming
Progress, slowed feet falling
On new-crushed snow,
Worn down

A sole
Channel, between
Pushed drifts, on either side
Opposed they stride, thought-lost, both blind,
Booted a-muck, slush splashed,
Drawing ever

Close-up looking,
Forced aside, apart, move
As one out to the untried edge,
Brief moment's lapse before
Returning two
Same rut

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arthur C Clarke: Starting the Odyssey toward AI

Arthur C. Clarke, the novelist and screenwriter of my favorite science fiction film, turns 90 today, December 16th. In combination with Stanley Kubrick's amazing visual sense, Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey becomes a poetic future-dream envisioning artificial intelligence run amok in a space-bound journey to discover the nature of God and humanity.

For me, the film's most intriguing character by far is the HAL 9000 computer that malfunctions and nearly jeopardizes the mission to Jupiter, where a crew is being sent to solve the divine riddle of the monolithic black slab that has spurred human evolution across the ages.

Dave Bowman, the astronaut who earlier had befriended this AI caretaker, is forced to unplug HAL in order to continue the strange odyssey that ends with an intriguingly abstract contemplation on time and space.

Here is the very tense scene where HAL meets his maker. The computer's ruthless bent toward self-preservation, followed by denial, false contrition, bargaining and existential angst betrays a range of human emotions that rivals the spacemen it's his charge to keep alive. It's scary, sad and a very compelling piece of movie making culminating in HAL's haunting refrain as his mind slips away: "I can feel it. I can feel it. I can feel it. I'm afraid."

Saturday, December 15, 2007

An unanswered prayer: Liberation from theology

This is an old poem that I've completely re-written. I don't mean it to sound like an attack on the Catholicism to which I was raised. I know the Church's rites and symbols still hold much truth and power for the faithful, and there's a definite need for the spiritual and sacred in all our lives.

The poem is simply about a personal revelation — a moment of self-awareness when we cast off those ideas that have lost resonance. It's a contemplation of that liberating moment when we let the weight of outdated philosophies fall away to reveal new personal possibilities.

Note: The image at right by Infrogmation is titled "Madonna of the Lower 9th Ward." Click here to see the original version.

Hail Mary
by Francis Scudellari

A silence, blue robed dream
Long absent, I approach
Sadness, glaring white, veiled
In twisted flight, beckons

Hail Mary, full of grace,
The Lord is with thee blessed …

Not myself, clouded air,
Footfalls carry me up
Steps thick with time, breath-worn,
Echoed words long forgotten

Are thou among women
Blessed, is the fruit of …

Crumbled brick, locked door lies
Beneath stone figured kneel
Forbidding, rock goddess
Unchanged, unmoved, empty

Thy womb, Jesus, holy
Mary, mother of God …

Prayers falling, failing
Guardian of portals
Once passable, no more
Tears shed from icon's eyes

Pray for this sinner now
At the hour of his death

Free of promise, broken
Hallowed hopes, turned hollow
Symbol of lost causes,
Shade-lifted, soul less clay

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hello kimchi kitty: Science's mad take on lol cats

Each hyped advance in the fields of genetic manipulation and cloning is sure to spark intense ethical debates, both internal and external. Today's story of a Korean team unveiling eerie, kimchi hued cats will receive an equally polarized public airing (see Korean scientists produce kimchi-colored kitties from Reuters).

The media's argument is usually framed as a confrontation between science's relentless forward march and religion's unbending moral obstructionism. Unfortunately, in this simplistically inclined world where everything is reduced to black-white, either-or categories, more nuanced interpretations are doomed to abide in a limbo of inconsequence.

I'm someone who falls into that conflicted, middle gray space. I believe that, when properly wielded, the cutting edge of modern technology can slice through the most stubborn obstacles to progress. In order to accomplish that, however, there needs to be a coherent, altruistic, and compassionate social vision driving the decisions of what research avenues we travel.

Right now, most science is conducted in the service of a corporate master whose sole guiding principle is the flowing of greater profit into narrower channels. All technical knowledge uncovered is kept as a tightly guarded secret — a new tool to be locked away in a strong box and only pulled out for very limited uses. Never mind that it was most likely forged from some form of publicly funded research.

In such an environment, we see the misapplication of science. Choices are made to leverage discoveries into market opportunities rather than social improvements. We get designer pets targeted at niche buyers with disposable incomes, rather than indispensable genetic therapies for patients with physical illness and financial limitations. When medical benefits are discovered, they'll most likely be rationed and sold only to monied elites.

Those of us who challenge the dominance of a "money makes the world go around" ethos are usually condemned as wild-eyed dreamers. We're classified as hopeless romantics to our faces and misinformed, crazy lefties behind our backs. Echoing the sentiments of David Bowie below, I'd rather be counted among the mad few than the sane multitude when faced with such absolutes.

Note: Image above of the cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland drawn by John Tenniel (1820-1914) in the 1866 edition.

All The Madmen
by David Bowie

Day after day
They send my friends away
To mansions cold and grey
To the far side of town
Where the thin men stalk the streets
While the sane stay underground

Day after day
They tell me I can go
They tell me I can blow
To the far side of town
Where it's pointless to be high
Cause it's such a long way down

So I tell them that
I can fly, I will scream, I will break my arm
I will do me harm
Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall
I'm not quite right at all ... am I?

Don't set me free, I'm as heavy as can be
Just my librium and me
And my e.s.t. makes three

Cause I'd rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen roaming free
And I'd rather play here
With all the madmen
For I'm quite content they're all as sane as me

(Where can the horizon lie
When a nation hides
Its organic minds
In a cellar...dark and grim
They must be very dim)

Day after day
They take some brain away
Then turn my face around
To the far side of town
And tell me that it's real
Then ask me how I feel

Here I stand, foot in hand, talking to my wall
I'm not quite right at all
Don't set me free, I'm as helpless as can be
My libido's split on me
Gimme some good ole lobotomy

Cause I'd rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen roaming free
And I'd rather play here
With all the madmen
For I'm quite content
They're all as sane as me ...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Words of healing power

This is an important poem for me. I'm writing it to commemorate a very exciting event that will take place in my neighborhood next year. It's the fulfillment of a dream long held by a group of active and concerned community members.

On January 21, 2008 the Heartland Alliance will open a new federally qualified health clinic in Rogers Park. It's a project to which my friends and I have been closely linked for almost two years. Through the facility, our neighbors will be able to find a community-based, medical home that will offer a wide range of care.

In the coming weeks, I'll provide more details on the opening and the official ribbon cutting that will follow soon after. For now, I want to share the excitement I'm feeling and post the blank versed words I put together to celebrate the joyful expectation of a community's new healing power.

A small hand reaches
By Francis Scudellari

A small hand reaches high,
Out of indifference,
At hope, releases at last,
Pain held too close, bound tight
Hers only, entirely,
Gifted gladly, ours to/o
Grasping answers, common
Transformed beyond caring
To heal

A child's voice allowed, up
Names his wants once muffled,
No more pushed down, only
To/o distant ears, whispered,
On tear-moistened pillows,
Sings out,
Now awake, tuned, telling
Reveal requests plaintive,
Limned hurts, ever ours to/o
Set free

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Versed in the urban experience

I love my Chicago neighborhood, and have always felt that its many positives far outweigh its unsolved challenges. Living in Rogers Park is an urban experience that won't appeal to everyone, but the natural beauty of the nearby lake shore coupled with a vibrant cultural scene make it a perfect place for me.

Drawn by Lake Michigan's proximity and a still robust affordable housing stock, hard working folks of all ethnicities and incomes make our corner of the city one of the most diverse zip codes in the nation. Unfortunately, due to broader social factors and the city government's too frequent negligence, we also have to struggle with issues of poverty and homelessness.

In an increasingly pay-to-play world, public services are perpetually underfunded, understaffed and under-performing. Our local schools don't offer a good education to those kids whose parents can't afford a private opt-out. Mass transit is being threatened with massive service cuts and fare increases. The county health system is approaching budgetary collapse.

Public safety has devolved into a game of high-tech call and response. Surveillance cameras and sensors are mounted on poles at crime hot-spots to gather evidence more reliably than the human eyes and ears walled in behind brick and mortar facades. Most often, when the cops arrive, whatever was taking place has already moved somewhere else.

Sirens are an all too frequent part of the local soundscape. Thankfully, gunfire isn't as common, but shots still ring out more often than I'd like to admit. Sometimes it's hard for the untrained ear to distinguish real gunfire from more benign disturbances, so you always hope you heard wrong.

When a loud bang rings out, you can only wait for the sirens and pray that another young person hasn't lost their life to senseless street violence. The following poem was inspired by a recent night of such uncertain aural stimulation.

Four Shots
By Francis Scudellari

Four shots, then two, one more
Staccato, rhythmic pops,
Crisp claps, crackling echoes
Shatter the mid-night calm

Staring, brick-walled, I wait
Unsure, probe the silence,
Once serene, sleep-walk made
Too close, seeming fatal

Distant sirens cry out
Infants pulled from sep'rate
Drowsy cribs, converging
Nightmares, now awakened

Imagined violence
Suddenly surreal, first
Arrival announced, screeched
Squad car or ambulance?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Fanning a chilled, fevered mind

The cheery carol Winter Wonderland may make a holiday season snowfall seem a blessed event, but that pop-affected attitude loses its charm quite quickly here in the urban American Midwest.

A fresh snow can still be a thing of beauty when rooftops, limbs, and streetlights are first coated in chaste white, but as the days pass and the salt and exhaust go to work, the ground cover changes to a sinfully ugly mix of gray, brown and black slush (and then there's the yellow variety ...).

It marks the onset of that time of year when we Chicagoans contract cabin fever — the restless byproduct of the self-imposed perpetual indoor confinement used to escape the wintry mess. I've already begun avoiding the outdoor chill and have succumbed to navel-gazing, yet another symptom of the seasonal disorder.

It's amazing what entertainments the under-stimulated mind can fashion under such conditions. Here I give you a prime example of too much time spent pondering household objects ... consider it a winter ode to city apartment dwelling.

Five Blades
By Francis Scudellari

Five blades cut, thick air slice sharply
A dark shadowed smudge, whirred voices
Spinning soft tales, currents pushed down,
The day's image blurred, circular
Logic traced on sleep-dusted mind

Five fingers loom, open-palm stretch,
On ceiling spread, stark outlines drawn,
Coldly etched in cloud-dimmed light, rays
Greet up-cast eyes, soul searching, till,
Motion-stopped, energy captured,
Passion starved, I am slapped awake

Monday, December 10, 2007

A poetic voice: Still, small, broken

As Rod Serling used to say when introducing Twilight Zone episodes, submitted for your approval .... another new poem that probably requires no preamble.

A voice broken …
By Francis Scudellari

A voice broken, too brief, cut-off
Before words, sounds can draw me back,
Disembodied calling, reaches
Far from misty-eyed past, beckons,
Takes me mindful aside, adrift
Alone, down wandering, once more
Twisted paths, visited failures,
Fumbled through memories, boxed up

Missing pieces, jagged end scene;
Never wholly answered, accepted,
I silence whispered doubt, inner
Demons pulled close, pushing too
Patient with a present, thought blessed;
Too long waiting for signs, divine
Pointed nowhere, now, here, I risk
Futures decided without me

Ancora una volta, in Italiano

My friend Hanna has done me the honor of translating my recent poem Happy, Happy into Italian, the tongue of my ancestors. She did a wonderful job capturing the spirit of the verse yet giving it a new more musical voice.

It's good to know that the emotion is just as evocative in another language. If you'd like to check it out, the translation with Hanna's eloquent introduction is available on her site:

Amori, poesie, arte, chat virtuali by Hanna

Z: Documenting a political assassination

I've just discovered a DVD that upon first viewing entered my pantheon of favorite flicks. Filmed almost 40 years ago now, Costa Gavras's award-winning thriller Z is essential viewing, with social insights that still resonate. It retells in fictionalized form the story of the 1963 assassination of Greek progressive politician Gregoris Lambrakis.

Tension filled with a camera constantly in motion to capture the sense of an impending explosion, it's a movie fueled by righteous indignation. There are moments of surprising humor as well, and the faux warning at the end of the opening credits gives us a clue to the director's irreverent attitude:

"Any similarity to real life events, persons dead or living, isn't by chance. It's intended."

Z is an exceptional piece of filmmaking that presents its narrative with compelling energy and striking images. In the course of recreating the real life murder, cover-up and investigation, the director intercuts flashbacks that give added insight into the main characters' backstories. The performances are uniformly amazing by actors portraying persons both sympathetic and sinister.

Released in 1969, at a time when the US was experiencing its own bit of military inspired social turbulence, Z went on to become one of the top grossing foreign films in American history. I can well imagine that the political sensibility of its tragic hero, a pacifist senator, hit home with the youth of that period (and still will with our own). His deceptively simple beliefs are amplified through the town square from loud speakers as the players in the murder drama to follow take their places on that stage:
A cannon is fired, and a teacher's monthly salary goes up in smoke. ... Around the world too many soldiers are ready to fire on anything moving toward progress. ... Even imagination is suspect yet it's needed to solve world problems. ... We serve the people and the people need the truth. The truth is the start of powerful, united action.
Why would such sentiments provoke a violent response? Because they represent ideas that threatened the status quo. Greece was fumbling its way toward a modern democracy and the ongoing political struggle challenged the powers that were. More interested in protecting their privilege than safeguarding rights or promoting social progress, the military cracked down on those advocating for such change.

Their tactics may sound eerily similar to those of present day regimes ... local, national and global. Espousing the need to rally behind god and country, they denounced diverse ideologies as bankrupt and politicians as universally corrupt. Claiming a moral superiority informed by their faith, they rejected science and intellectualism. Believing nationalism is the highest good, they renounced all things foreign.

Z is a very artful attempt to shed light on what took place in Greece in 1963. The perpetrators of that crime tried to spin events to exonerate themselves and perpetuate their world view. They recognized the importance of controlling the social narrative, and governments to this day try to manipulate media toward that end. Artists will always play a unique role in countering that misinformation, and that's precisely what this film does.

Unfortunately, even when their lies become transparent, those in power often wield enough judicial levers to shield themselves from punishment. In keeping with that reality, this story doesn't have a very surprising ending. Thanks to Costa Gavras, however, the assassins couldn't escape the damning judgement of public opinion so easily.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Save the Green Planet: Rescued from an emotional conflict

Sometimes it's exhilarating to throw yourself into an alien environment, not knowing what adventures lie ahead of you or whether you'll escape the experience untouched. So it was when I placed the disc for Save the Green Planet! into the DVD tray and hit play.

The 2003 Korean release struck me as a strange hybrid of varied genres, recalling a mixed bag of movies such as Misery, Silence of the Lambs, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and the X Files (those of you with deeper film vocabularies will probably find more and wider cultural allusions, especially to non-Western works).

Bouncing between sociopathic horror, psychotic hallucination, intergalactic conspiracy theory, and absurdist comedy, the story is pushed forward at a frenetic pace taking several twisted turns and double backs along the way. I couldn't do the complex narrative justice in such a short review, and the small surprises of many of the details are worth discovering on your own.

In sparest outline, the frame of the story rests on Byung-gu's perhaps quixotic quest to thwart the destruction of Earth fated to arrive with the next lunar eclipse after a torturous 7-day advent. He and his unquestioningly loyal girlfriend Soonyi, an acrobat by trade, kidnap the head of a large chemical company, Kang (a sly reference to the tentacled alien pair from the Simpsons?), who they suspect is part of a mysterious group of extra-terrestrials hiding here in plain sight.

A race against time unfolds from the perspective of three emotionally conflicted parties: the kidnappers, their prisoner, and the detectives trying to track them down. It's a chase that takes place in a murky moral ambiguity. We're never sure who to root for, or against, as heroes and villains, bullies and victims trade places and shift identities.

No one is innocent or free from blame for the crimes personal, social and universal that surface throughout. As the very future of the planet hangs in the balance, we can only hope to grasp a few answers and find a way out of the overwhelming suffering. When it's all over, you may even ask yourself, like Byung-gu, if we're worth the trouble of saving.

A dreamy fish story: hooked by hidden meanings

I'm usually not one to burden others with the task of deciphering my dream meanings, but occasionally I have a sleep-induced imagining that seems too deceptively random to take at face value. The best fairy tales can be read as simple adventures on the surface, but swimming beyond the shallows we often discover darker psychological metaphors swirling in their murky depths.

I dream a lot each night, and the topics shift quickly to include new objects and places; each flowing from a previous mental scene with completely different actors. The new imagery starts midstream and continues until another idea overtakes it, or waking rays of morning wipe it out. The abrupt changes in perspective and narrative might seem jolting in real life, but are completely consistent within my land of nod.

So this one begins with a sudden but accepted transition. I stand before an empty aquarium with its light bulb strangely detached from the lid. It's an average sized tank ... the 10- or 20-gallon variety found in most homes. The unlit bulb hangs awkwardly in the clear water, calling out for assistance to my perpetual desire to put things right.

I assume that it's my fish tank, although I haven't actually ever owned one. It seems oddly still, as if there ought to be fish inside, but I stick my hands in anyway. I do my best to snap the bulb back into place and put the lid back on. That's when the strangeness begins. As if tainted by my touch, the water begins to change to a milky white, and I realize that this isn't my aquarium at all.

It seems I've been playing in an alternate world, and forgot to switch back to my own dimension. The tank in fact belongs to someone else; one of the avatar-linked members of a virtual community to which I belong. I "log off" and return to my reality quickly, worried that I might have caused irreparable harm to his fish tank, wondering if he left the water uninhabited for a reason, perhaps to clean it or treat it.

The tank then changes to one that I accept as my own. It's fully decorated and some fish swim around in its bubbling water, but not all that belong there. There's a shallow, clear tray sitting in front of it, and a number of my fish have been placed in this temporary home. I sense that this may be the pay back for my well-intentioned virtual vandalism.

The tropical fish of many colors and shapes teem in the tray, swimming with difficulty. Some are too big for the amount of water there, so they flap their fins while floating on their sides trying to remain submerged. Feeling an urgency to get them back in the bigger tank, I lift the tray and try to pour the fish out slowly. The first to reach the aquarium — a large, plump, orange goldfish — passes right through the water and lands convulsively on the floor.

The tank, I then realize, isn't actually there after all, having been replaced by a realistic simulation. I second guess myself for not having kept the aquarium off-limits to other's manipulation (the way objects work in Second Life, for example). I feel a sudden panic about the well-being of the rest of my fish, and then I wake up.

Note: Image courtesy of Lerdsuwa at WikiMedia. Click here to see a larger version with full description.

Friendships virtual but very real

I recall much hand wringing in certain circles when social networking first started to take hold. The blossoming of virtual communities, the thinking went, would foster increased isolation and withdrawal from real world interactions.

I've always taken a different, more hopeful view of the phenomenon — believing that extending our connections can only help to expand our perspective and improve our outlook. As important as it is to maintain and nurture our ties to friends, family and partners physically close to us, it's equally rewarding to discover kinships that reach around the world, beyond the limits of our perceptual borders.

So it was that I fearlessly leaped into the new paradigm with both feet. The first step was to begin this little blogging experiment I've titled Caught in the Stream. The second, equally significant, was to explore the many faceted imaginings of the greater blogosphere through community-building sites such as My Blog Log and Blog Catalog.

Along the way I've met dozens of diversely creative, interesting, insightful, generous and supportive bloggers who have helped me to broaden my mind and deepen my spirit. Two of my dearest virtual friends have double tagged me with another honor — bestowing on me a new badge in recognition of our mutual esteem: The Colors of Friendship award.

Deborah at Climate of Future is always quick to acknowledge my kindness, and she's been equally ready to help me every way she can while indefatigably building awareness about global warming. Michelle at Binding Ink never spares a supportive word for my writing and uses her special ink to knit together more tightly our community of writers.

Now I have the hard task of singling out just five bloggers who have taught me valuable lessons about this very real new kind of friendship. They have wide networks of admirers and may have already received this award from one of them, but I'm giving each a shout-out nonetheless:

Friday, December 07, 2007

A wintry instrument played

There's something about this time of year that brings out the poetic in me. It's probably too much time alone; walled in to stay out of the frigid outer elements. The world blanketed in white doesn't interest me as much, so I retreat into my mental den and explore the more colorful recesses of my imagination.

This is a poem that was inspired by an actual dream I had several years back. I think it touches on the time-worn urge of all story tellers to communicate something within themselves to the outside world — be it an experience, mood or sentiment. Sometimes our moments to shine forth are brief, so we need to make the most of them.

I'll be back to my more prosaic musings shortly ... so don't tune me out just yet.

Hollow Reed
By Francis Scudellari

Before me, it floated;
An instrument, unknown …
Not flute, nor horn, but reed
Of sorts, perhaps, or not;

Plated, gold, its metal
Thin, delicately stretched;
Mouthpiece of hammered face,
Regal, familiar, mine …

Features older, wiser;
I sensed it waited, long
Expected, my breathed wind;
On dreamed steps, I approached;

Fearful, hands shaking, held,
Hesitated, seconds;
Thoughts sensing, knowing, it
Seized doubt's moment, read me …

Reached into my lungs, pulled
Out, my soul, billowing
Fog, poured from hollow pipe,
Sounding ten, twelve sharp notes …

Rising up, freed, it climbs,
Dissipates, with others,
Cloud-carried, unfinished
Songs, short, sad melodies.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Spreading sweetness and light, for now

Never one to renege on a promise, I'm posting yet another verse but this one with a much happier tone. Of course, it wouldn't be one of mine if the the brightness wasn't tinged with a bit of sadness by the time it meets its end.

It's a bit oddly structured as well, with a bit of verbal contradiction to undermine the seeming simplicity. I don't know if any of what I just said will make much sense, but it's late and my mind is traveling along some twisted paths lately.

Happy Happy
By Francis Scudellari

"Happy, Happy, Happy!" sings out,
In joy, my time-tossed soul,
A shimm'ring light bathes all, I see
Here in glowing warmth, born
On soft breezes, voices airy,
Earth-wide whispers: pure bliss
Many colored, glitt'ring pieces,
Holy charms calm my mind
My heart free, child-like, innocent,
Wise to giddy excess,
Revels in each moment, fleeting,
Fixed, 'fore darkness returns

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

They call it Stormy Monday, but Tuesday's just as bad

Continuing my recent poetic streak, I'm offering up a reworked mood piece. It's the polar opposite of yesterday's verse, burning brightly, though a bit too hot, to cancel out that shadowed darkness.

I've long recognized within myself a propensity to rail against the world when I'm feeling emotionally fragile. With very little provocation, in circumstances that may seem unusually mundane to the outsider, an anger flares up that verbally scorches all in its path. At those times it's best to let the fire rage on at full intensity until it exhausts itself and is replaced by a seeming serenity.

Maybe tomorrow I'll post a happy piece ...

Rage Inferno
by Francis Scudellari

Rage inferno, out leap
Long smoldering, fed on
Indignation's kindling
Unkind, burn, flame lost lust
Unequaled, encompass
All in fiery wrath,
Engulf hopes, on-fanned fears
Unashamed, singe sins now
Unrestrained, not put out
By discretion's thick cloak,
Nor Reason's cool water,
Spread fast, flatly consume
Even yourself, leave me
Nothing bitter, sweet ash

Blow tempest, bluster on
Whipped waves, fierce frenzy-fed
Malevolence, batter
Uncaring, all, your path
Indiscrim'nant, o'erwhelmed,
Unleash havoc, away
Wash the memories, purge
Transgressions, loose, topple
Barricades, thoughts ravage,
My senses inundate,
Until, stripped bare, naked,
Calmed soul, numb, beaten I
Am left alone, utter
Cursed words, yet wholly, saved

Monday, December 03, 2007

A winter chill that blows into every life

Today marks a very difficult anniversary for me and my family. It's the day we kids lost our compass and my mother lost the love of her life. Almost twenty years on now, I'm still making my peace with the sense of spiritual drift that followed.

My father isn't physically here any more to keep me on the right path, and I'm not sure that he'd approve of many of the choices I've made in this life. He does still inhabit my dreams and memory, however, and I try to believe that his spirit guides me in its own way from afar.

I wrote the following poem much later. It wasn't in response to his specific death, but a series of funerals that played out over too short a time thereafter. Sometimes our holidays are taken from us unexpectedly, and we're forced to separate ourselves from the general jubilation and reflect on realities tough to face at any time of year.

I'm sorry it's not very cheery seasonal fare, but I'll be back to my spirited self in the days to come. In the mean time, grant me this indulgence to honor my father, his life and his death.

Poor Jon
by Francis C. Scudellari

"Poor Jon," false, fed, falls.
"Dear man," trite, trim, trickles.
"Dear Jon," pathetic, pours.
Pours down ... down ... down into

The outstretched palms;
The stiffened arms
draped in once-worn wool;
An ill-fitted suit.

A mumbled man;
a whispered woman;
a chided child—
Each future glimpsing shades
in the past reflected pool—
Pause by ... nod to ... turn from

The powdered head;
The cracked pale skin;
The straying hair;
The fire doused eyes.

His cat'ract sight blinded,
Jon no longer to search hollows
of a time-tricked, thread-bare mind,
driven by fickle winds, flitting visions
to roam longing lost shores,
to wade through ebbing dreams.

His crooked corpse numbed,
Jon's withered arms no more to reach;
the Christ crossed legs to step;
the age arched trunk to bend
toward the milk lade earth,
the mother clay it craved.

His buried soul freed,
Jon's arked covenant lost,
not in long labored flight to Remember,
but in the rested peace of Forget.

"Poor, poor Jon."
His wince answers the toothless smile.
"Poor Father."
She fingers closed the deep set eyes.
"Poor Grampa."
She places petals in cold hands.

Darkened, dear drops
Water-severed flowers mocking
Feed the black stream buoying
A weathered shell embarked toward dust.

Creating something out of nothing

Sometimes the fates conspire to rob us of our substance. Our day is wrapped in a big blanket of blah and the creative fires fail to spark in the suffocating stillness. It's a misty eyed morning moment that tempts us to pull the covers over the head and give in to the urge to hibernate through the winter drear.

Never one to succumb to such inclinations toward self-indulgent idleness without at least a token fight, I'll grasp my virtual pen more tightly and force the inky blood to spout from its stubborn mouth until it decorates this blank page with my purple prose.

Lacking anything insightful or interesting to say about the events transpiring beyond my warped walls, I have to sculpt instead the form of an idea from the globbed clay that's mucking up my imagination; take the randomly spinning impulses and shape them into a well-fired thought. Nothingness is not necessarily a precursor to meaninglessness, if we use it as the premeditative abyss out of which creation can spring forth.

Over the wisdom giving years, I've slowly come to realize that I can't tackle everything on my own. Sometimes, for a moment, I have to give up trying to change the world and let it change me, and my mood. So it is that I searched the depths of my soulful music collection to discover a nothing-themed nugget by Badly Drawn Boy that I hope will draw me out of my doldrums.

Here is the video, and below that are the song's lyrics in case you want to sing along with me.

Nothing's Gonna Change Your Mind
by Badly Drawn Boy

this would be easier if you'd understand
face the truth and realise
that none of this was planned
the way we worry about such little things
take the time to take the break
and darling spread your wings
I stole all the roses that make your crown
now it's easier to just put aside
the things that face us now

strange when something
comes from nothing
came around to your way of thinking
about these things
saw your face in a crowd
I knew that you were special
and it would change my world
if I could help you now

but nothing's gonna change your mind
and no one's gonna help you now
if nothing's gonna change your mind
no one's gonna help you find
your place in this world
so strange, lean on me — I'll help you now

Well let's dance to the beat of the drum
Let's go out where we don't know anyone
'Cause it's you, I don't need anyone else
I've got you, don't need anyone else
You (and no one could ask for more)

Well, you know where you will find me
In a time and a place
Where the world doesn't seem so strange
I'd like to think there's a chance
Just knowing that I love you
You would feel that would be enough
To make you change

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Things you see looking up, a new poem

This is a poem I wrote over the past few days, having twice seen condensation trails bisecting the afternoon sky. I presume they were left by aircraft, but I saw no other trace of whatever created them.

Stepping through my daily routine, I looked up to see the fuzzy white lines that reached from horizon to horizon as far as my eyes could peer. Studying them proved a nice diversion as I paced my way through the chill Chicago air, anticipating the start of another winter.

That was enough stimulus to provoke pondering of the usual unanswerables and to inspire the following verse.

Follow Anew, Trail
By Francis Scudellari

Pressed by, the daze, errand
Footfalls thudding, lost, in
Thoughts chilled, self searching, I
Look up at winter's sky

Vapor arcing, spreading
Starkly, thin essence writ,
Authorless acts told, once
Of unclear beginnings

A worn white scar traced
With traveling fingers
Scratched, across pale blue sky,
Wounds, unknown, left behind

A jagged edged tear, now
Closed up, today, stitched new,
Hid heavens, dark secrets
Whispered low, long ago

Seeming without end,
Spilling forward, in time
It fades back to stretched mist,
Reseeds a cloudless haze

To emptiness, returned,
Head lowered, I, push on
Blank steps, follow anew,
Trail, my line imagined