In Memory

My dear friend, Ward Allen, has died. This poem, from my Stony Lonesome collection, was written to honor him.

For Ward Sykes Allen

In a rocker
on the porch of the Overseer’s House
behind Stony Lonesome antebellum mansion
he overlooks a new century morning

Beside him
on a table matching his rocker
an open copy of the Authorized Version
his mind submissive and awake to dawn sunlight
In the treetops

He has no abiding city
living as he does on the farm
his earthly country
a place of horses, whole horses,
not half-horses, abstracted into horsepower

They will come no more
these old men with beautiful manners
they will come no more

(“He’d stand up if even a dog came in the room.”)

He sits
In peace, knowing how
to go out and come in
even in this, this so busy century

Mindful images
the concrete series of his own history
and his people’s—he knows
where he comes from
belongs where he is

The sunlight in the treetops is treacherous,
as all of nature can be
but he will not let creation groan without
engaging it in a dialogue of comfort;
he knows more than he says

on the edge of eternity
the sky open above him

The Two Desk Problem

Wittgenstein’s parables, like Jesus’, have a peculiar power to capsize thought, to overturn it even as it sails its trade routes.

His BlBk parable about the floor exemplifies the power (p. 45).  The target of the parable is the idea that physics teaches us that the floor, or a desk, is mostly empty space.  This teaching seems to render the floor beneath us or the desk before us shaky, almost visibly trembly, certainly not certainly up to the task of holding me up or holding up my copy of Bradley’s Appearance and Reality (a heavy-ish tome).

But what physics teaches constitutes its explanation of the solidity (not, in this case, the insolidity) of the desk.  Physics explains why the desk shoulders Bradley.  That explanation cannot render the desk unhelpful. And that explanation cannot spawn a second desk–call it ‘the desk of the philosophers’–that now must somehow be reconciled with a first desk–call it ‘the desk of Moore, Austin and Wittgenstein’.  But there is no second desk.  There is just the one, solid, quietly helpful, patient to endure investigation even by physicists.

Explanations cannot swallow their own heads.

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