Regarding (Most) Songs

by Thomas Lux


Whatever is too stupid to say can be sung.

The human voice can sing a vowel to break your heart. It trills a string of banal words, but your blood jumps, regardless. You don’t care about the words but only how they’re sung and the music behind-the brass, the drums. Oh the primal, necessary drums behind the words so dumb! That power, the bang and the boom and again the bang we cannot, need not, live without, nor without other means to make sweet noise, the guitar or violin, the things that sing the plaintive, joyful sounds. Which is why I like songs best when I can’t hear the words, or, better still, when there are no words at all.

“Regarding (Most) Songs” by Thomas Lux from The Street of Clocks. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.



Thomas Lux is an American poet that holds the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne, Jr. Chair in Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology and runs Georgia Tech’s “Poetry at Tech” program.
BornDecember 10, 1946 (age 69), Northampton, MA
EducationEmerson College (2003), Emerson College (1972–1970)

God Particles: Thomas Lux: 9780983823803: Books…/0983823804, Inc.

Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. The prolific Lux (The Street of Clocks ) should … God Particles [Thomas Lux] on *FREE* shipping on qualifying offers. Poetry. The latest collection of dazzlers from one of the few poets writing …





Bless Their Hearts
by Richard Newman

At Steak ‘n Shake I learned that if you add
“Bless their hearts” after their names, you can say
whatever you want about them and it’s OK.
My son, bless his heart, is an idiot,
she said. He rents storage space for his kids’
toys—they’re only one and three years old!
I said, my father, bless his heart, has turned
into a sentimental old fool. He gets
weepy when he hears my daughter’s greeting
on our voice mail. Before our Steakburgers came
someone else blessed her office mate’s heart,
then, as an afterthought, the jealous hearts
of the entire anthropology department.
We bestowed blessings on many a heart
that day. I even blessed my ex-wife’s heart.
Our waiter, bless his heart, would not be getting
much tip, for which, no doubt, he’d bless our hearts.
In a week it would be Thanksgiving,
and we would each sit with our respective
families, counting our blessings and blessing
the hearts of family members as only family
does best. Oh, bless us all, yes, bless us, please
bless us and bless our crummy little hearts.

“Bless Their Hearts” by Richard Newman, from Domestic Fugues. © Steel Toe Books, 2009.



Richard Newman is an American poet and the editor of River Styx. He is the author of three full-length poetry collections: All the Wasted Beauty of the World, Domestic Fugues, and Borrowed Towns. Wikipedia
BornMarch 25, 1966 (age 50), Illinois





I believe in planting trees in whose shade I will never sit.

We would all be happier if we all did this.

The artist within us strives to perfect for perpetuity.

The writer within us knows that most of their words are not read.

The caregivers within us know that their efforts will not be returned.

We know we cannot take our efforts and our concerns with us.

We plant seeds for tomorrow even if tomorrow does not come.

Likely, we would likely go mad if we did not do this.

A good parent is a parent that gives to the future.

The future is about the quality of life of the child and the grandchild.

Yet there are those of us who do not believe in the future.

There are among us those that believe the world is ending.

They believe that the end of time is the will of beings greater than themselves.

There is no factual evidence that their beliefs are correct.

Riches are better than poverty. Wealth provides comfort.

Health is better than illness. It maintains our being.

Contentment is better than depression.

To know something is much better than believing something.

To know is a personal fact.To believe is a personal wish.

And every word I write is a shady spot where I will never sit.








Ninety billion galaxies in this one tiny universe—
a billion seconds make thirty-two years.

No matter how many ways we conceive it,
this generous wedge called Ursa Major
more than fills my sight.

But now, as I turn to put out the lights
and give my dog her bedtime cookie,
my eyes become the handle of the great Milky Way,
and carry it into the house.

-by Dan Gerber

“Facing North” by Dan Gerber from A Primer on Parallel Lives. © Copper Canyon Press, 2007.





by William Carlos Williams

There were some dirty plates
and a glass of milk
beside her on a small table
near the rank, disheveled bed—

Wrinkled and nearly blind
she lay and snored
rousing with anger in her tones
to cry for food,

Gimme something to eat—
They’re starving me—
I’m all right I won’t go
to the hospital. No, no, no

Give me something to eat
Let me take you
to the hospital, I said
and after you are well

you can do as you please.
She smiled, Yes
you do what you please first
then I can do what I please—

Oh, oh, oh! she cried
as the ambulance men lifted
her to the stretcher—
Is this what you call

making me comfortable?
By now her mind was clear—
Oh you think you’re smart
you young people,

she said, but I’ll tell you
you don’t know anything.
Then we started.
On the way

we passed a long row
of elms. She looked at them
awhile out of
the ambulance window and said,

What are all those
fuzzy-looking things out there?
Trees? Well, I’m tired
of them and rolled her head away.

From The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams. © New Directions Press, 1991.


William Carlos Williams
William Carlos Williams was a poet closely associated with modernism and imagism; he figures among the group of four major American poets born in the twelve-year period following 1874, including also … Wikipedia
BornSeptember 17, 1883, Rutherford, NJ
DiedMarch 4, 1963, Rutherford, NJ
SpouseFlorence Williams (m. 1912–1963)


Kenneth Harper Finton

September 11, 2001 holds ugly memories for us.  Songs were written about that day, keeping with the old tradition of commemorating important events in song and verse.

This song celebrates the survivors, not the dead. Drink up to their memory, it says, and go on about your life.

WE THE LIVING © 2014 Kenneth Harper Finton

          D                         Bm         Em                    F#m
On a clear September morning, it happened without warning:
 G                            F#m            Em              A
two flights left from Boston to Los Angeles on time,
      D              Bm         …

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Cucumber Fields Crossed by High Tension Wires


by Thomas Lux

The high-tension spires spike the sky
beneath which boys bend
to pick from prickly vines
the deep-sopped fruit, the rind’s green
a green sunk
in green. They part the plants’ leaves,
reach into the nest,
and pull out mother, father, fat Uncle Phil.
The smaller yellow-green children stay,
for now. The fruit goes
in baskets by the side of the row,
every thirty feet or so. By these bushels
the boys get paid, in cash,
at day’s end, this summer
of the last days of the empire
that will become known as
the past, adios, then,
the ragged-edged beautiful blink.
“Cucumber Fields Crossed by High Tension Wires” by Thomas Lux from The Street of Clocks. © Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Reprinted with permission.

Thomas Lux is an American poet that holds the Margaret T. and Henry C. Bourne, Jr. Chair in Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology and runs Georgia Tech’s “Poetry at Tech” program. Wikipedia

BornDecember 10, 1946 (age 69), Northampton, MA
EducationEmerson College (2003), Emerson College (1972–1970)








“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

-Albert Einstein




Intellectuals — a category that includes academics, opinion journalists, and think tank experts — are freaks. I do not mean that in a disrespectful way. I myself have spent most of my life in one of the three roles mentioned above. I have even been accused of being a “public intellectual,” which sounds too much like “public nuisance” or even “public enemy” for my taste.

My point is that people who specialize in the life of ideas tend to be extremely atypical of their societies. They — we — are freaks in a statistical sense. For generations, populists of various kinds have argued that intellectuals are unworldly individuals out of touch with the experiences and values of most of  their fellow citizens. While anti-intellectual populists have often been wrong about the gold standard or the single tax or other issues, by and large they have been right about intellectuals.

The terms “intellectual” and “intelligentsia” arose around the same time in the 19th century. Before the industrial revolution, the few people in advanced civilizations paid to read, write, and debate were mostly either clerics like medieval Christian priests, monks, or secular scribes like Confucian mandarins who worked for kings or aristocrats, or, as in the city-states of ancient Greece, teachers whose students were mostly young men of the upper classes.

The replacement of agrarian civilization by industrial capitalism created two new homes for thinkers, both funded directly or indirectly by the newly enriched capitalist elite. One was the nonprofit sector — the university and the nonprofit think tank — founded chiefly by gifts from the tycoons who lent these institutions their names:  Stanford University, the Ford Foundation. Then there was bohemia, populated largely by the downwardly-mobile sons and daughters of the rich, spending down inherited bourgeois family fortunes while dabbling in the arts and philosophy and politics and denouncing the evils of the bourgeoisie.

Whether they are institutionalized professors and policy wonks or free-spirited bohemians, the intellectuals of the industrial era are as different from the mass of people in contemporary industrial societies as the clerics, scribes, mandarins, and itinerant philosophers of old were from the peasant or slave majorities in their societies.

To begin with, there is the matter of higher education. Only about 30 percent of American adults have a four-year undergraduate degree. The number of those with advanced graduate or professional degrees is around one in ten. As a BA is a minimal requirement for employment in most intellectual occupations, the pool from which scholars, writers, and policy experts is drawn is already a small one. It is even more exclusive in practice, because the children of the rich and affluent are over-represented among those who go to college.

Then there is location. There have only been a few world capitals of bohemia, generally in big, expensive cities that appeal to bohemian rich kids, like the Left Bank of the Seine and Greenwich Village and Haight-Ashbury. In the U.S., the geographic options for think tank scholars also tend to be limited to a few expensive cities, like Washington, D.C. and New York. Of the different breeds of the American intellectual, professors have the most diverse habitat, given the number and geographic distribution of universities across the American continent.

Whether they are professors, journalists, or technocratic experts, contemporary intellectuals are unlikely to live and work in the places where they are born.  In contrast, the average American lives about 18 miles from his or her mother. Like college education, geographic mobility in the service of personal career ambitions is common only within a highly atypical social and economic elite.

In their lifestyles, too, intellectuals tend to be unusually individualistic, by the standards of the larger society. I am aware of no studies of this sensitive topic, but to judge from my experience the number of single individuals and childless married couples among what might be called the American intelligentsia appears to be much higher than in the population at large. The postponement of marriage in order to accumulate credentials or job experience, the willingness to move to further career goals, and — in the case of bohemians — the willingness to accept incomes too low to support children in order to be an avant-garde writer or artist or revolutionary sets intellectuals and other elite professionals apart from the working-class majority whose education ends with high school and who rely on extended family networks for economic support and child care.

The fact that we members of the intellectual professions are quite atypical of the societies in which we live tends to distort our judgment, when we forget that we belong to a tiny and rather bizarre minority. This is not a problem with the hard sciences.  But in the social sciences, intellectuals — be they professors, pundits, or policy wonks — tend to be both biased and unaware of their own bias.

This can be seen in the cosmopolitanism of the average intellectual. I was the guest of honor at an Ivy League law school dinner some years ago, when, in response to my question, the academics present — U.S. citizens, except for one — unanimously said they did not consider themselves American patriots, but rather “citizens of the world.”  The only patriot present, apart from yours truly, was an Israeli visiting professor.

Paranoid populists no doubt would see this as confirmation of their fear intellectuals are part of a global conspiracy directed by the UN or the Bilderbergers.  I see it rather as a deformation professionelle.  Scholarship, by its nature, is borderless.  The mere phrases “Aryan science” and “Jewish science” or “socialist scholarship” and “bourgeois scholarship” should send chills down the spine. Furthermore,  many successful academics study, teach, and live in different countries in the course of their careers.

So it is natural for academics to view a borderless world as the moral and political ideal — natural, but still stupid and lazy. Make-believe cosmopolitanism is particularly stupid and lazy in the case of academics who fancy themselves progressives. In the absence of a global government that could raise taxes to fund a global welfare state, the free movement of people among countries would overburden and destroy existing national welfare states, or else empower right-wing populists to defend welfare states for natives against immigrants, as is happening both in the U.S. and Europe.

The views of intellectuals about social reform tend to be warped by professional and personal biases, as well. In the U.S. the default prescription for inequality and other social problems among professors, pundits, and policy wonks alike tends to be:  More education! Successful intellectuals get where they are by being good at taking tests and by going to good schools. It is only natural for them to generalize from their own highly atypical life experiences and propose that society would be better off if everyone went to college — natural, but still stupid and lazy. Most of the jobs in advanced economies — a majority of them in the service sector — do not require higher education beyond a little vocational training. Notwithstanding automation, for the foreseeable future janitors will vastly outnumber professors, and if the wages of janitors are too low then other methods — unionization, the restriction of low-wage immigration, a higher minimum wage — make much more sense than enabling janitors to acquire BAs, much less MAs and Ph.Ds.

The social isolation of intellectuals, I think, is worsened by their concentration in a few big metro areas close to individual and institutional donors like New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. (where I live) or in equally atypical college towns. It was never possible for Chinese mandarins or medieval Christian monks in Europe to imagine that their lifestyles could be adopted by the highly visible peasantry that surrounded them. But it is possible for people to go from upper middle class suburbs to selective schools to big-city bohemias or campuses with only the vaguest idea of how the 70 percent of their fellow citizens whose education ends with high school actually live.

Universal national service would be a bad idea; the working class majority is hard-pressed enough without being required to perform unpaid labor. But it might not hurt if every professor, opinion journalist, and foundation expert, as a condition of career advancement, had to spend a year or two working in a shopping mall, hotel, hospital, or warehouse. Our out-of-touch intelligentsia might learn some lessons that cannot be obtained from books and seminars alone


How to Take a Walk
by Leo Dangel

This is farming country.
The neighbors will believe
you are crazy
if you take a walk
just to think and be alone.
So carry a shotgun
and walk the fence line.
Pretend you are hunting
and your walking will not
arouse suspicion.
But don’t forget
to load the shotgun.
They will know
if your gun is empty.
Stop occasionally.
Cock your head and listen
to the doves you never see.
Part the tall weeds
with your hand and inspect
the ground.
Sniff the air as a hunter would.
(That wonderful smell
of sweet clover is a bonus.)
Soon you will forget
the gun in your hands,
but remember, someone
may be watching.
If you hear beating wings
and see the bronze flash
of something flying up,
you will have to shoot it.
“How to Take a Walk” by Leo Dangel from Home From the Field. © Spoon River Poetry Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission

Leo Dangel

Poet Details

b. 1941

Leo Dangel was born and raised in South Dakota and attended colleges in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Kansas. He earned both a BA in social science and an MA in English from Emporia State University.

Dangel’s collections of poetry include Keeping between the Fences (1981), Old Man Brunner Country (1987), Hogs and Personals (1992), and Home from the Field (1997), a Minnesota State Book Award nominee. His most recent collection of poems is The Crow on the Golden Arches (2004).

Dangel has taught at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota.