Tag Archives: An American Epic

An American Spirit, An American Epic Published

by Thomas Davis

On January 1, 1975 I was working as a teacher at the Menominee County Community School when the Menominee Warrior Society took over the Alexian Brother’s Novitiate in Gresham, Wisconsin. Ethel and I were living in the Gresham trailer park at the time, and on January 2, a Monday, I drove into work as usual. I was a little nervous about taking my usual route down County Road VV since the news about the Novitiate was dominating local media and the old building was not far off my route, but I was pretty dedicated to the Community School and had no intention of missing work.

Sure enough, as I drove toward the Menominee County line, men in uniform, holding rifles in their hands, were blocking the road ahead of me. I remember a lot of snow on the ground, and it was cold. January in northern Wisconsin can be brutal. I drove up to where the men were standing, stopped, rolled down the window, and, after a conversation of several minutes, convinced them I was a teacher on my way to work. The men were tense and nervous and that was obvious in their questioning of me.

By that evening the Novitiate takeover dominated television and print news all over the world. However, other events were brewing in Shawano County where the Novitiate was located that would not make news until later. The Posse Comitatus, conspiracy minded, anti government, anti Semitic, white supremacist Christians, was beginning to stir and develop as an armed militia force, and even a cult with a mysterious origin was preparing to form a compound on land purchased not far from the old Menominee Reservation’s borders.

Four Windows Press has just released an epic poem that blends these, and other elements present in Shawano County from those momentous times, into an epic story. An American Spirit, an American Epic is a fictional poem. I worked hard to avoid portraying any real individual, even though I knew several of those who took over the Novitiate, in a story that rages with reality and magic, blending all the elements of Shawano County and the Novitiate takeover into a massive river of events told in traditional iambic pentameter meter. But there are powerful truths woven out of the heart of where we are at in American society today in the story.

The Editor of a small literary journal in Stevens Point, Wisconsin published two brief passages from the epic in Hepcat’s Revenge in April of 1995.   Just before the passages appeared Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma Federal Building, giving warning of what was about to become a significant thread in American life. In his commentary on the passages he published, the Editor said that An American Spirit was prophetic. He also commented that there were a lot of pages of strong poetry. Given events such as the deadly Charlottesville riots and President Trump’s racist attitude toward American Indians, it’s difficult to avoid the prescience of the Editor’s judgment.

I have not published the epic before now partially because I was reluctant to self-publish it and partially because I have always wondered if it would be more controversial as a work of art than I wished to face. There are so many questions about it in my head. This is the only R rated work of literature I have ever written. The Posse Comitatus still exists under another name, and the epic does not treat them well, as is appropriate, and I used a lot of American Indian content derived from books noted in the footnotes. Should a non-Indian author do that? I have worked for the Indian controlled schools and tribal colleges and universities movements most of my life. The wisdom of American Indian culture is deep and wonderful, but it is their culture and belongs only to each tribe’s unique ethos.

The truth is that even though the epic is available through amazon.com, I do not intend to market it aggressively like I do my other books. I believe it explores the American spirit in a way that it should be explored. American society is not a melting pot where races, ethnicities, and political identities are blended into a single whole. Rather, it is a complex explosion of identities played out inside the great pageant of history that is always becoming an uncertain future. Conflict and resolution stir in surprising and unexpected ways, giving Americans an identity that is never static, but spins its forces in ways threatening the continuance of the natural world and even human beings who depend upon that world for existence.

The magic elements of the epic are derived from two main sources, although other sources can be found in the body of the poem. Many of the magical allusions are drawn from the Old or New Testament of the Holy Bible. American society for a large part of its history up until the current day has been a culture imbued with the Christian religion. However, in counterpoint to Christianity, the also epic explores the power of the feminine and fertility based upon the tenants of the White Goddess of Celtic lore and other ancient symbols of female power. The conflict between the father dominance and the fall out of the Garden of Eden and the powers of Mother Earth has long seemed to me to be a ferment helping to define current day American society.

Even though, I admit, I am hesitant to invite comments from those who read An American Spirit, An American Epic, I hope those who are willing to delve into its pages feel free to tell me what they think. This is one of the major works, written a long time ago, of my life. I need to steel myself for whatever reception it does, or does not, receive.

15 Comments

Filed under poems, Poetry, Published Books, Thomas Davis

Invocation to the Epic Muse

by Thomas Davis

The string's untuned! Degree, priority
And place, insisture, course, proportion, form,
Season, office, custom–all are made
Disordered, mutinous, as unified
As raging seas and shaking earth. Stability is shaked.
Commotion in the winds and changes, frights
Divert and crack, rend and deracinate.
The Clockwork Universe is dead![1]  And God,
Our Father who art in heaven, does play dice[2].
Planck’s constant[3] proves that Heisenberg’s
Uncertainty[4] is fundamental in the universe.
We look at light as if it’s made of waves,
Then see it’s made of particles that smear.
Quarks[5] live! And yet, they’re probability, a sea
That crests and falls, appears and disappears
Until, at last, improbably, uncertain, mad
With change that computations photograph,
Light is, we are, the universe exists.

I walk in Purgatory looking up
Toward the shining Earthly Paradise.
I long to see the Griffon bathed in light
Inside the Garden where the Tree of Good
And Evil grows. I long to feel the weights
Imposed upon me by the Angel Guardian
Before the Gate of Purgatory lifted off
My spirit as I rise toward a Purity of Heart. [i]

I long to be a Greek, like Kazantzakis, wild,
Sun on my head so that its Song of Light
Can spray the earth, the global grape, with life.
I am Odysseus with my long coarse hair
And body hardened by black brine, the great
Mind archer, the forty-footed dragon wreathed
With steaming blood, reflected light, and flame![ii]

I follow Virgil as he presses on apace
With darkness-wrapped Aeneas and his friend
Achates through the rough-hewn citadel
Of Carthage being built by Dido, Queen.
The cloud that swirls before my eyes is magical.
I walk down city streets among a crowd
Unseen, amazed that none perceive me there.
Then, later on, I hear the voice
Of Mercury who bids me leave the joy
Of Carthage and my love for Dido’s eyes
And go to found the Trojan city, Rome.[iii]

But gravity bends space and time, and though
I am a poet, “redy to wenden on
My pilgrymage, “[iv] and though I sit inside
This summer’s heat and pray my muse: Sing me. . .
”And through me tell the story of that man. . .,” [v]
and though I wish to find a hero large enough
To roam the wide world after he has sacked
The holy citadel of Troy, I am American,[vi]
A polyglot whose being is becoming, he
Whose language was confused at Babel, he
Whose light was scattered on the face of earth,
Mankind whose particles act just like waves.

What mutiny runs through the song I sing!
Community and brotherhood contend
For order, shatters, builds, then bends to change.
As Sitting Crow kneels in his cold garage
He dreams that glory can be forged from pain.
He is the first American, black hair, black eyes.
Beside him, on the concrete floor, are stolen tires.
A part of living, reproducing, dying earth,
He sits inside the cold garage and dreams.
He laughs at death and wraps into its dark,
Holds fires of glory in his hands and throws
Out globes of flame into the darknesses
That plague his people’s lives:

Alcohol
And drug addiction, poverty, and squalidness
That wraps its cloak about the Reservation towns,
Each dawn so hopeless that it spreads a dull,
Blank dread inside the streaming morning light.
He dreams, and like a planet throned and sphered
By gravity, he bends time, government, and space
Into the universe that whorls out from his dream.
He strives to rent the fabric of America,
But makes, instead, a symbol of the way
That chaos builds complexity, which leads,
According to a probability distribution not
Yet computated, to a glory that might yet become.

O, listen to the winds inside my mind,
O muse, O Calliope, Moon Woman, water mixed
Into the Hippocrene’s deep well where Pegasus
Once struck his hoof and made a drinking place
For poets mad enough to court their frenzied dreams.
Stir up my words inside the winds and make
A tempest strong enough to bear this tale.
I am a man and not a god. I wear the cloak
Humility has fashioned for my race
Of kindred hearts and spirits. Only you,
O muse, O Calliope, can let my song
Run wild among the stars and worlds found there.
I sing of war and of men at war. . .

[1] Sir Isaac Newton, the great physicist and mathematician, saw the universe as having the regularity and celestial mechanisms of a clock.
[2] Albert Einstein, in response to the quantum physics, exclaimed that God does not play dice with the universe.  Einstein believed in saying this that the universe is governed by unified laws and principles.
[3] Planck’s discovery unifies the seemingly contradictory observations that energy sometimes acts like a wave and at other times acts as if it is made up of particles.
[4] A principle in quantum mechanics holding that increasing the accuracy of measurement of one observable quantity increases the uncertainty with which another conjugate quantity may be known.
[5] A physical particle that forms one of the two basic constituents of matter, the other being the lepton.
[i] Alegieri, Dante, The Purgatorio, translated by John Ciardi (New York:  New American Library, 1957).
[ii] Kazantzakis, Nikos, The Odyssey, A Modern Sequel, translated by Kimon Friar (New York:  Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1958).
[iii] Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fitzgerald (New York:  Vintage Classics, Random House, Inc., 1990).
[iv] Chaucer, Geoffrey, “Prologue,” The Canterbury Tales (Ruggiers, Paul G., General Editor, facsimile of the Hengwrt Manuscript (Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press and Wm. Dawson and Sons, Ltd., Folkestone, 1979).
[v] Homer, The Odyssey, translated by Robert Fitzgerald (New York:  Vintage Classics, Random House, Inc., 1990).
[vi] Modified from Virgil, The Aeneid, translated by Robert Fitzgerald (New York:  Vintage Classics, Random House, Inc., 1990.

Note: I have written two epics. This “Invocation to the Epic Muse” introduces one I wrote decades ago, An American Spirit, An American Epic. It is considerably longer than “The Dragon Epic.”

7 Comments

Filed under Poetry, Thomas Davis