Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Art and Poetry by Thomas Bartlett Whitaker

Going Out Hard
Tank said he was going
to go out hard
out fighting
“the way I done come up.”
His knuckles look like
a mountain range:
torn, serrated.
Like he’s been preparing for this
all his life
– if 24 years can be called a life.

Dayroom jive-talk
adrenaline talk
amygdala talk.
Tragicomic currency
stamped with the seal
of a whore’s promises,
of a politician’s smile.
You learn to erect
a mental umbrella,
to patiently and stoically
observe the rising tide of
before becoming a one-man
swallowed thoughts beyond sight.
Or, at least,
what passes for safe
around here.

Thoughts like:
“you didn’t come up very far
if they are about to cart your ass off to the Walls.”
Thoughts like:
“pretty bird was tweeting
a different tune
when B-Down stuck you
like a hog
for stealing his kite.”
And, always, because it
makes me address my own
solipsistic delusional bullshit existence
(no hypocrite am I):
“the Potters field
they are about to use
to hide the poisoned wreck
that was once your “I”
looks eerily like the places
you played in as a child
beyond the suburban sprawl
(cops and robbers, you always
played the cop,
where you first learned
how you can’t be lost
if you don’t belong anywhere
and then
how to be

But of course,
you don’t say that
any of that.
You let them do
all the talking,
dispensing aporias and
all the variegated shades
of used and abused

Because you already know
-don’t you?
How it will go down:
the bowed cowed head
the blank angus-eyes
seeing what is left of life
walking away from him
one step
at a time.
A warden and a captain
on each arm,
the apotheosis
of meticulously orchestrated
And a priest, of course;
they don’t ever bother to smile.

the radio news
caressing my consciousness
like sackcloth,
homemade antennae wires
strung along my cell walls
like a web of lifelines;
I will hear the same
generic, pathetic, derivative
(oh, so human!)
plea for forgiveness
for absolution, searching
for some kernel of truth
at the end
and finding only
epistemological Ponzi schemes
and gods made of crackers
with blood that gets you drunk
(inebriated, not on the Numinous
but rather on simple biochemistry).
There will be the promise
to see everyone
again some-day-soon
“on the other side.”
Where the love of Jesus
(or Allah or Krishna
or Anubis
or Odin
or Kuski-banda
or any of the other
selections on sale
in the Shopping Mall of
Theological Nonsense)
permeates the ether.
Yet another Cell Warrior
“gone out fighting.”
I finish eating my soup.

©Thomas Bartlett Whitaker 2007
Ashes Falling Like Snow
It never takes long
-and much less time than it used to-
for the disconnect to arrive
though I find it forever impossible
to later pinpoint
exactly when
my switchblade eyes flicked from
to papered-over windows,
my chronometer mind reduced
to vertebral clouds.
The here-and-now effectively
“not quite 12 pesos to the dollar”
as they say down here
though only a fool trusts
or even listens
to anything that they say.

Disengage, disengage;
the view helps.
Monterrey spreads out beneath me,
a rape victim in the truest
sense of the word,
bowing before this gilded porch,
this throne,
the hidden threat not so hidden.
Subtlety is not much appreciated
in this trafficker’s Emerald City
of thugs, sicarios, killers and worse;
all believers in the real Golden Rule:
he who has the most gold
makes the rules.
And me.
Can’t forget that salient little
detail, though I try mightily.

Hard to believe
-then again, not really-
that less than a kilometer
from this immoral high ground,
this temple to Grade Three thinking,
people live on less than a dollar a day.
I used to feel something for them
down below, once,
victims of this cruelest of juxtapositions.
That was before the best
parts of me
became imaginary
before anagnorisis became
too much to ask for,
before I made soul-attrition
an art-form.

Ah, well: mors certa, vita incerta,
my friends
or something;
none of the old justifications
seem to serve me anymore.

I turn around
from the dying to the dead.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?
An old question answered
-cynically, finally-
with the possession of a mirror.
Back to work, then.
My stethoscopic gaze covers
the dramatis personae of this
tragic farce, this lingering limbo
between hell and hell:
a study in polite anthropophagy
-they are, after all, here to
feed upon each other.

And also, of course, to display
their once upon a time
Mayan Princess wives
Now reduced through bitter competition
To sleazy Mexican Barbie dolls,
all equally bleached
and medicated
and silicone enhanced:
a Stepford wife
for the appropriate Latin weltan-schuung.
The glazed and distant shine
in their blue contact-covered eyes
reminds me somehow of light
thrown outward from a star
that’s been dead
for a billion years.
Nearby, their husband’s mistresses
take an opposing tact,
draped in the latest
GucciChanelDior sponsored
wet dream:
attempting class,
or their version of it.
Each side borrowing the imagined
traits of the other,
neither winning.

Five meters away,
a world apart,
their children laugh and play
traumatizing the goldfish in the fountain.
Relatively innocent
at least for now.
Living Christmas ornaments
shiny and covered with glitter
brittle and easily broken.
It’s never easy to watch
the halos slip to become garottes
as they follow Daddy’s memes
and his footsteps,
as the darkness outside becomes one
with the darkness inside.
A communicable cancer, maybe. No, more: the
commodification of a dope-fiend logos
always ready for the next
the next hired gun
the next hollow man.
It’s all ineradicable, or so they hope.
I gave up hoping a long time ago.

The Janus-men stand along the wall,
surrounded by those who worship
and protect them
most of the latter so stupid
alcohol couldn’t find their brains.
Men like Hollywood sets: facades
propped up with boards and wires,
killing time
before time kills them.
The inner circle, the root,
they never leave the back room,
not an existential crisis
among the lot of them.
Men for whom hate
is more complicated in the abstract.
All of them too crisp and ironed
to be real;
skin like polished wood
each occasionally seeing something oracular
in the glow of their Blackberries;
superiority axiomatic.
If there is something the dead
truly are holding back,
they know what it is.

I don’t know why I’m here
I once had my reasons, I think;
I tried to move from seeking
meaning to making meaning,
to see prosperity as a value
and not a condition.
Pure sophistry, a toxin
I drank as a tonic.
No more, no more.
I haven’t spent any real money
since the earlier days
of those earliest years,
now just going through the motions
playing referee, lifeguard
for these bad-trip Norman Rockwell paintings.
Beyond numb.
In Medea, the chorus asks
what further horror could match this?
Maybe I’m just looking to answer:
with violence as both rudder and river
with “straw purchasers”
and forged End-User Certificates,
with 30 pieces of lead instead of silver,
in becoming what we hide
in screams instead of phonemes
placebo gods, every last bit of it.

Sometimes, in those brief, blessed
moments of disconnect
I can see this entire milieu
– the obscene mansion,
the people who infest it,
even the jacaranda trees –
engulfed in flames:
this whole rotton circus freak show
evaporating in the auto-de-fe of
the Greater Good,
returning to earth finally as ashes
falling like snow,
myself included.
The thought makes me smile
for the first time in weeks.
An ugly grin for an ugly face
-like an open grave
I’ve been informed-
and I catch myself
dropping back into my null state;
After all, we wouldn’t want
to disturb the guests.

Perhaps, in my tale
I self-deceived
-a common theme
to a life lived poorly-
when I claimed to disbelieve
in hope
as an institution.
One desire do I hold
so deep
it only comes to the surface
in the moments before sleep,
hypnagogic imagery
all the freedom I allow myself:
if I could have changed,
taken another path in the forest,
lived a life
where I merely
read about people like me
in the papers:
if I could have been different
from what I have become:
because if I really had options
beyond that which nature programmed
beyond the call of the machine inside
then no evasions suffice
no justifications exist
no blame can be affixed
for what I have wrought.
And though I am a survivor
-no! a conqueror!-
of the most treacherous
urban jungle known to man.
I am nowhere near strong enough
empty enough
to bear the weight
of responsibility
for the hells I have created.

©Thomas Bartlett Whitaker 2007

It’s a curious thing not to have noticed before
about how our ferry sports thick concrete blocks
along the waterline to stabilize itself.
Who would have thought
you could make a boat safer
by dumping half a building on it?

And I’m treading sinking grasping for the words to explain
how you are like living ballast to me
how without you I wouldn’t even be real enough to drown.
Who would have thought
a man could become a ghost so easily

– and whoever notices the smog except to subtract it?

The words don’t come to me now as they never do
and though the wake speaks to me of movement
the lights of your shore drift farther away.
Who would have thought
I’d be drowning to find the words to convince you
to save yourself by kicking me over the side?

©Thomas Bartlett Whitaker 2013
Espejos y Simulacra
These empty desert plains
that spread out
before my eyes, like
the landscape of a dead world
I know they do not exist
yet, they are
all I know
all that exists within me
Those who walk swiftly, carelessly
at my side
see Elysian Fields
cloaked by azure skies
At least, they tell me so
-and I believe them
I’ve always believed them
For long have I suspected
that my eyes look
and do not see

beyond the plague of my own vision…

©Thomas Bartlett Whitaker 2007

A Study of René Magrittie's Les Amants
Blatant Ripoff of Study of René Magritte’s La Clairvoyance

A Study of René Magritte's La Reproduction Interdite

Playing Admist the Ruins
Study of Caspar David Friedrich's "The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog"

Study of Barbara Meikle's "Sunset Longhorn"


Apophatic Method

Black Keys

Dawn V.5

Epistemic Closure


Level 3 - Self Portrait


Mountain Lake #4

Anthelios Version 1

Not a Socialist

Sura 4.15

Taking Flight

The Day After The Bombs Fell


Bust of Hadrian by Titian

Mountain Lake #4

Thomas Whitaker 999522
Polunsky Unit
3872 Fm 350 South
Livingston, TX 77351


Anonymous said...

'Taking Flight' visually, other than bird in elevation, suggests an optical illusion of a female profile or back of a head with arms (would make an interesting graphic). Inspiring. Luisa

Jenneke said...

They are beautiful, you have talent. I wish you a merry Christmas.

Aditi said...

Great Art!!! Very Clever use of color.....

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. You truly have opened my eyes to something I’m ashamed I never gave much thought. You are in my prayers.