13 August 2009




Justice Putnam

"Academe, n.: An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.

Academy, n.: A modern school where football is taught."

-- Ambrose Bierce

My father died the summer before last and I didn’t cry. I still haven’t. But when my dad told me he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer last spring, I cried like a little kid.

I felt sad that my father had died, mind you; after all he brought me into the world and was a dad for eight years. But the last time I talked to him was the day my son was born. He said he couldn’t talk at that moment and he’d call me back. Twenty-eight years later, I still hadn’t received that call. It was ok, though. He had changed for the better. Any revenge I had harbored growing up waned when we had met again when I was twenty. Anything I wanted to prove no longer mattered.

I remembered him as a mad Grizzly, red-eyed and gigantic; growling angry Death that reared on its hind feet. He was six foot five and when he was in shape, hovered around 265.

He was in shape when I met him again at twenty, but he was just a big teddy bear. The only real reason I played football and tried to play in college was with the idea that I would one day dominate my father in a game. That I would one day upend him and grind him into the ground on a head high tackle for all the beatings he drunkenly inflicted on my mom and my siblings. In that same game I would straight-arm him on a punt return and cleat mark his back as I high stepped over him for all the disparaging remarks he made about her, about how all of us would grow to be the failures that was insured by her terrible mothering. I would fill the gap from my strong safety position as he cut back on a sweep from his college-days full back spot. We would meet shoulder pad to shoulder pad as I drove him out of bounds for his religious hypocrisy; his taking the Eucharist without suffering Penance from the confessional.

Maybe it was that I grew to six foot one and 200lbs that he didn’t seem so big when I met him again at twenty. Maybe it was because I had been reading Merton and Forgiveness was for the first time a palpable Grace that washed over me. Maybe even it was because we all change and evil can in time turn contrite and apologetic and sincere. I forgave him and let him have his life. It didn’t even really bother me that he never returned my phone call to let him know of his grandson.

He was my father, but he wasn’t my dad.

My dad adopted my baby brother, my two sisters and I when he married our mom. I was a precocious ten-year old when they married, schooled in the pre-Vatican II rigors of Greek and Latin. I was an altar boy and could pontificate at length on the merits of St Francis of Assisi as opposed to those of St Augustine. I was accustomed to stern nuns and beatings at the hands of my father.

My dad never beat us. He was a college professor. We would be lectured at length for our childhood transgressions, we sometimes wished for beatings just to get it over with, but he never laid a hand on us. He never demeaned us but rationally made the argument that we have to be honest with ourselves and to each other.

Beatings are not an effective strategy to teach that character trait, I learned.

He had almost 8,000 books in his home library and another 14,000 at the University and not one was denied our scrutiny at anytime as we grew. He and my mom started the first ACLU chapter in the San Gabriel Valley of Southern California in 1966; he wrote policy papers and researched historical points for local politicians, he was on the platform committee for the State Democratic Party. We all learned civic duty is not a chore but something gladly embraced.

He married our mom. She was not quite eighteen years old when I became her first born. By the time she was twenty-five, she had my two sisters and then my brother. In between my two sisters, she had five miscarriages. I figured my mom was pregnant so often because of my father’s idea of what made a good Catholic.

But it did give me a much better appreciation of what she was about when I had my son several months before I turned twenty-three.

One of the major conflicts my mom and my father had was over her being a jazz singer; it offended his idea of Catholic manhood, I guess. Her independence was a threat and she paid for it.

My dad by contrast, encouraged her independence. She looked like Anne Sexton but had the certainty of an Adrienne Rich; she was a survivor in the true Loretta Lynne myth.

My dad advocated for her and promoted her endeavors. She sang briefly and then "retired" of sorts and owned a few cafes and clubs over the years. Because it wouldn’t take much cajoling by her patrons for her to sing her version of "Strange Fruit" or an Ella Fitzgerald be-bop style song.

My dad has been stable and his PSA’s are what the doctor says they should.

My mom has not smoked since the early 80’s and a spot on each lung showed up on an image test a few days ago. It’s too early to tell, according to her doctor, what they might be. The spots are microscopic, but they are there.

I wrote a poem to my son when his son was born that has been published a few times. In it I tell him to kiss his son while he can, because any number of factors will intrude eventually.

Though I’ve been the dutiful son, writing and phoning my parents a few times each week all these years, because of distance I don’t get to hug and kiss them enough.

It’s a little like the long passing game in football. You’re throwing downfield all game, post and fly patterns, deep corners at will. Then Death intercepts and the whole game changes.

Passing is a little like that.

© 2007 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen

(cross-posted at Daily Kos http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/4/1/318394/-Passing )

(update: The photo is of my dad, the historian Jackson K. Putnam and myself; he is still healhy and writing another book. August 2009)

05 August 2009

The Myth of Chimeral Evolution

The Myth of Chimeral Evolution


Justice Putnam

Darwin, Berkeley and Nietzsche were traversing through the primordial soup when a Booming Voice echoed throughout the world,

"Ha! Ha! Ha!" the Booming Voice joyously announced, for He was a joyous and happy Booming Voice, "so you have quite a conundrum before you now!"

Berkeley, as was his manner, nudged ahead of Nietzsche and announced,

"I know or am conscious of my own being; and that I myself am not my ideas, but somewhat else, a thinking, active principle that perceives, knows, wills and operates about ideas. I know that I, one and the same self, perceive both colors and sounds: that a color cannot perceive a sound, nor a sound a color: that I am therefore one individual principle, distinct from color and sound; and, for the same reason, from all other sensible things and inert ideas. But, I am not in like manner conscious either of the existence or essence of Matter. On the contrary, I know that nothing inconsistent can exist, and that the existence of matter implies an inconsistency. Further, I know what I mean when I affirm that there is a spiritual substance or support of ideas, that is, that a spirit knows and perceives ideas. But, I do not know what is meant when it is said that an unperceiving substance hath inherent in it and supports either ideas or the archetypes of ideas. There is therefore upon the whole no parity of case between Spirit and Matter."

Not to be outdone, Nietzsche elbowed his way past Darwin and Berkeley to his preordained spot,

"With the highest respect, I accept the name of Heraclitus. When the rest of the philosophic folk rejected the testimony of the senses because they showed multiplicity and change, he rejected their testimony because they showed things as if they had permanence and unity. Heraclitus too did the senses an injustice. They lie neither in the way the Eleatics believed, nor as he believed--they do not lie at all. What we make of their testimony, that alone introduces lies; for example, the lie of unity, the lie of thinghood, of substance, of permanence. "Reason" is the cause of our falsification of the testimony of the senses. Insofar as the senses show becoming, passing away, and change, they do not lie. But Heraclitus will remain eternally right with his assertion that being is an empty fiction. The "apparent" world is the only one: the "true" world is merely added by a lie."

Darwin strode forward in a gentlemanly manner, cleared his throat and began,

"As man can produce and certainly has produced a great result by his methodical and unconscious means of selection, what may not nature effect? Man can act only on external and visible characters: nature cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be useful to any being. She can act on every internal organ, on every shade of constitutional difference, on the whole machinery of life. Man selects only for his own good; Nature only for that of the being which she tends. Every selected character is fully exercised by her; and the being is placed under well-suited conditions of life. Man keeps the natives of many climates in the same country; he seldom exercises each selected character in some peculiar and fitting manner; he feeds a long and a short beaked pigeon on the same food; he does not exercise a long-backed or long-legged quadruped in any peculiar manner; he exposes sheep with long and short wool to the same climate. He does not allow the most vigorous males to struggle for the females. He does not rigidly destroy all inferior animals, but protects during each varying season, as far as lies in his power, all his productions. He often begins his selection by some half-monstrous form; or at least by some modification prominent enough to catch his eye, or to be plainly useful to him. Under nature, the slightest difference of structure or constitution may well turn the nicely-balanced scale in the struggle for life, and so be preserved. How fleeting are the wishes and efforts of man! how short his time! and consequently how poor will his products be, compared with those accumulated by nature during whole geological periods. Can we wonder, then, that nature's productions should be far 'truer' in character than man's productions; that they should be infinitely better adapted to the most complex conditions of life, and should plainly bear the stamp of far higher workmanship?"

"Ha! Ha! Ha!" the Booming Voice joyously continued, "if it were not for your Minds, I would almost doubt my own existence!"


"Three Dialogues Between Hylas and Philonous" --George Berkeley
"Twilight of the Idols"--Friedrich Nietzsche
"The Origin of Species"--Charles Darwin

from “The Nature of Poetics Collapsed Outside My Window”

© 2006 Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches Strophe-Verlagswesen

04 August 2009

And Memory Became A Fading Melody

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,
And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere,
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

--Walt Whitman
“Song of Myself”


And Memory Became A Fading Melody


Justice Putnam


My vision was hazy
As I stumbled
Into the alley

And it was hard
To remember the reasons
Why I'd been
Shot in the stomach.

The more
I tried to focus
My eyes
Mind and body

The more clouded
The details developed.

I could only see
Myself as a child
In Corvallis

With Tippee across
An emerald
Expanse of pasture.


I could hear
My mother calling
From the porch
Of the farmhouse,

"dinner's ready!"

I could see the old barn
In the distance

Dulled red with a gray haze

The green pick-up
Parked next to
The chicken coop

Our black Labrador
Came running
Fast and low
From the farmhouse

Tippee bounded
Past me to meet

Both sliding
To a stop
Licking each other
In greeting
And then racing to dinner.

As I broke into a run
I perceived out
The corner of
My eye

An angular
Dark shape
Moving in the woods.

I felt a tearing
Grip my stomach
And stopped
At an evergreen
To compose myself.

I leaned my head
Against the tree
And felt the bark
Press indentations
On my forehead.

Slowly I slid to my knees
My head never
Losing contact
With the bark.

But I was
No longer
In Corvallis
As a child.

I was crumpled
In a dirty alley

My head against
A concrete building
My forehead
Bloodied and wet.

I staggered
To my feet
And felt my
Tearing loose.

I grabbed
And tightened
My shirt

For surely
To do

Would mean
Spilling guts

Here and now

In this
Wino piss tank

This alley

That was it

A flash of clarity
Lit my memory

I had been shot

And I was in
An alley

Somewhere near
The Greyhound Bus
Judging from
The sounds
Of the street.

I leaned back
Against the
Concrete wall

And attempted
To focus on the
White dumpster
Across the alley.

In black

Block letters
Were the words


I figured
If I could hold
My attention
On the white dumpster

I might
Then be able
To resume my quest
For the reasons
I had
Been shot
In the stomach.

My eyes began
To flicker

And then strobe

I saw interposed
The white dumpster

And then
Metallic barn

Then the dumpster

And then
The metallic barn
My father contracted
To have built.

It housed
Hay and alfalfa bales
Farming tools
And supplies

And the farm's
Only milk cow.

I was walking
From the
At four in the

To milk
And then collect eggs
Feed the geese
And dogs
Tend to the
Horses and goats.

As I walked

A crystal radio
I had built
Bounced slightly
In the pocket
Of my coveralls

An ear-jack cord
Snaked its way to
My left ear.

I was listening to
Early morning
Weather reports
Local news
And political

I was
Seven years old
And lived
In Corvallis,

Hatfield was
Governor and
Kennedy was

The farm
Lay outside
The town

Hilly pastures
And wooded valleys.

But I perceived
Of something
Beyond the farm
Beyond Corvallis
The Nation

The world.

When I was
Doing chores
I pretended
The metallic barn
Was a space station

Or at least
Part of a
Space station

I pretended
The livestock
The supplies
And my

Were integral
Parts to the
Of the whole
Cosmic community.

To have purpose
And meaning

To benefit

Were Virtues
I was taught
And came
To believe

Even at that
Early age.

As I continued
With my early
Morning chores

I again noticed
The angular
Dark shape

But moving
The hay bales.

I felt a burning
In my stomach

As I retreated
From the shape

My hands snagged
Splinters from
The rough planks
Of the pen

As I moved back
Until stopped
By the corrugated
Metal of the barn.

The hay
And alfalfa bales

Were twenty-five
Pound sacks
Of rock salt

String-stitched closed
Stacked ten high
Four deep and
Eight across.

I was staring
At the sacks
Of rock salt


I blinked
Several times.

My eyes
Began to tear


And when I focused

I was in the
Dirty wino piss tank

Near the Greyhound
Bus station

Staring at the
White dumpster
With the stenciled lettering
That read



As I became
More cognizant
Of my place
My body and
State of mind

I took mental inventory
Of the immediate events.

Beginning with the
First acknowledgement
I had been shot.

I was sure
I was dying

Had not I read

That one's

Flashed before
One's eyes
Preceding the moment
Of death?

My will for

Survival was strong
Always strong

I laughed silently
To myself
As I
A couple of lines

From a poem
By Jim Morrison,

"Did you have a good life?
Enough to base a movie on?"

I thought how trite
My movie would be

Long-range shot
Of young boy and dog
Ambling over the
Gentle slope
Of pasture
And woods.

Of young mother
Calling for dinner.

Dolly-shot of
Young mother on porch


To boy and dog

If the dog
Wasn't a mutt

This could be a scene
Right out of

I chuckled
At that vision
Of ridiculousness

Gulped some of the
Sandy Santa Ana's
That blew
Newspapers through
The alley

And abruptly

Became aware

Of the whole
Awful sequence
Of events that
Led up to
My shooting.

I had become
A man
Who still believed in
The power
Of Boy Magic

In this part of
The world

Doesn't work

I had become
A man
Who still believed
In a Soul

Something that was
At the core of
Conscious and

"That in us,"

I would often
Quote Plato,

"whatever it is,
in virtue of which
we are denominated
wise and foolish
good and evil."

I knew the
Function of the
Was not just
To know
Good and evil

But to direct and
Govern ones’
So that
Evil was
Avoided and
Good achieved

I had compromised
My virtue

I had come to
That the mere
Pursuit of
Was enough to
Justify meaning
And purpose.

In this part
Of the world

Meaning has
No purpose

What of this
Part of the world?

This society
Without culture?

What kind
Of TV dream
After generation

To pursue a
Vision of
With obsessive

In any part
Of the world

Life is Suffering.

And I was dying
From a gunshot
Wound in
The stomach.

As if
I was reading
A book

I could see
The words


In front of me

But like lifting
An overlay
From the overhead
In junior high


Changed to


And I lay

I was taught in
College physics how


Like particles
And waves

Could shift
From red
To blue

Move fast
Or slow.

But in that
I perceived in a

I could see
Molecules of light
Play on the
White dumpster

And the low
Stone black
Wings of death
Shadow colors
Refracted from
A multitude
Of broken bits
Of glass.

I could hear
The scratching
Of the electrical
At one end
Of the

With the

Of traffic
At the other.

I felt
The heavy
Of buses
And semi's
Mix liquid
With the
Of car stereos

Classic rock
Rap and

I could also
Taste my own
Salt tears
Barely dilute
The thick blood
From deep inside me

And excreted
Out my
Mouth and nose.

On paper and dust
Blood rusted
A path over
Flesh and metal

Discarded and crushed.

No longer could
I blame
Collective insensibility

Only my own


It was stupid
To confront
The young hood
In such
A belligerent manner
As he accosted
The elderly
Woman walking
Across the street.

I could have just
Ignored the episode

More than likely
The occurrence
Would have passed
Without incident

Would have been
On their way.

The scene
Was ugly

In an
Ugly surrounding.

I yelled a
Little too

"Whaddya gonna
do about it?"

The hood
Approached me
In a posture
Of hostility.

"What the fuck
do you think
I'm gonna do?"

I said.

My arms
Like Jesus
On the cross.

"What the fuck
you gonna do

The hood
As he shoved
A gun against
My stomach.

I continued
To hold my arms
And looked him
In the eye

I drew a breath
Clenched teeth

I said in
My best
East Coast accent,

"Fawk You!"

He fired
One shot
And ran


The old woman
As she
To a nearby
Liquor store.

I stumbled into
The alley
And against
The concrete wall
To my knees

A white hot burning
Radiated in my stomach

As an angular
Dark shape
Across the street

It was the old woman
With a
Vaguely looking
Middle-Eastern man.

They both
Stopped close.

The old woman
Was praying

The man
Leaned over me

"You be ok,"

He said

As my eyes

And slowly
Rolled up
To my brow.


I could
The days

When innocence
Was blowing
Like across

A Van Gogh

Caressing the
Hillsides and woods
With a


Above the
In which the
Of nearly every
Is spent.

But I had become
Bound by guilt

And dubious
Of the truth.

I came to believe
That in a sense


Was the same
As failing

Holding onto
Meant becoming

And stranded
In the park


I came to believe
That the measure
Of love

Was the amount
Of emotional
I could survive.

Not quite
Like a crushed
Picked apart
By a colony of ants

But I had often
Cut my finger

From the beauty
Of a long-stemmed rose.

So I realized
In those final moments
What had actually

My life was
A series of patterns

A self created
Maze that offered
No escape

So overwhelming
In its

That I was
By its weight

I had no
Left to survive

I punctured
With my own
Pursuit of

And again
I had sought

And heart-pure

Between the legs
Of Beauty

Only to make
My own

Weakness of heart.

I would

Give up.

I would

Let sadness
String itself
Between my fingers

And memory

A fading

From: The Nature of Poetics Collapsed Outside My Window

© 2006 by Justice Putnam
and Mechanisches-Strophe Verlagswesen