Saturday, March 24, 2012

Poetics: Who's Johnny?

photo by James Rainsford
Johnny-5 asked, "Am I not alive?"
in 1986
and we are still asking the same questions
about when life begins

who controls the decision---
 & i have no answers,
     but

it doesn't end there, as we ask it again
throughout our lives, "Am I alive?"
and does that mean
    
            something more than breathing?
does it have to do with making a living?
can we cobble it together like Frankenstein
and hope for lightning? i am---

out back a small brick church,
on 12th street, after a meeting and this odd gaited guy
in a mustard colored Yankee cap, cracks wide
a toothy crease in his mahogany face and rasps
"i love to dance. i means it's just good
(to dance) even if it's only with your own shadow.
we forget that. i forgot that,"

then ambles on down the sidewalk,
caster wheels on his junk filled grocery cart,
     squeak, squeak, squeak-ing
well after he is out of sight---
and tonight
      against the ebony, stars shine a little bit
                 brighter, and i whistle all the way
                          to my car, to come home

only later realizing it was El Debarge
        as you smile in your special way.

Today at dVerse Poets, James Rainsford is hosting Poetics and inspiring us with some of his wonderful photographic art. Pub opens at 3 pm EST---see you there.

lyrics of Who's Johnny? by El  Debarge, from the soundtrack of Short Circuit

95 comments:

Mary said...

Number One!

LIza said...

I made the first comment!!! Do I get a prize? Whistleing EL DEBARGE!!! LOL!!!

LIza said...

Crap!! Mary beat me by a minute!!!

Mary said...

Now I can comment: To be alive means so many things. Much more than breathing. Much more than making a living. To live is to experience and to feel and to love and dream to write. Breathing is only the foundation. Making a living perhaps the means. But, ah...to live............ Smiling!

DJan said...

How can a picture of metal look so vulnerable? Love this one, Brian. Being creative is being alive, and you are certainly living large. :-)

A Daft Scots Lass said...

Fekkit too late again.

ayala said...

To be alive... sigh....if only we could live every day as if it was our last....

Chantel said...

The question that leads to cliches and ancient wisdom and chinese fortune cookies...

Perhaps it's tasting. Everything.

Daydreamertoo said...

Phewww... Wow...wow... wow.
Running out of ways to express how fabulous your write!

Grace said...

An interesting question...certainly we are more than a breathing apparatus cobbled together. We should be dancing and whistling along in our journey, wherever that may be ~

Rae said...

I remember Johhny- 5 so well. Wonderful memory. He was alive! Great piece of writing.

Fred Rutherford said...

Cool piece. Again, a great story layered with powerful depth. I used to love Short Circuit as a kid, totally forgot about that movie. The mustard colored Yankee cap brings me to a different observation about this new movement that is going on regarding team colors. I see so many hats that don't mesh with the teams colors and I wonder if we should just get by the tradition those colors represent or if we should just appreciate these new creations for the aesthetics that they hold.

Personally I'm a hat guy, I wear them all the time. And while I don't own any of these odd colored team hats, I can though appreciate why others might like them for themselves. For me, not something I'm going to take part in. So, full circle again. I just can't ever see myself wearing a Bills hat that is teal or one that is black with gold letters, or camouflaged, but if others like them so be it. I wonder could you wear a Steelers hat that with Orange and black or Orange with brown letters or in purple.

Oh well, you really got me thinking here, and all from one little item. That's really cool when that takes place. Thanks

Gloria said...

ahhh! Brian what difficult,only I think.we have to live all days that was the last one!
blessings Brian

manicddaily said...

I'm all for dancing! Often. Lovely to have the shambling advice whistling along. K.

Brian Miller said...

ha i like that chantel....tasting...and maybe even savoring....

kaykuala said...

Living is for being alive! If only we can live it like we want it to be!

Hank

Laurie Kolp said...

Sometimes it's those little moments that help us put things in perspective... we can learn a lot from odd gaited guys, huh?

Rachel said...

sometimes i wonder how you have this much thought without an exploded head. it's marvelous.

CiCi said...

The photo looks like a typical tourist.

Cracks me up that we ask ourselves through our life if we are really alive. Love that some people dance with their shadows. My yoga instructor is always trying to get us to loosen up and dance freely.

Steve E said...

I used to meet a guy like that! About once a month, when I looked into a mirror.

Play, fiddle, play!

Steve E said...

HEY! I made #20...it's usually #168, or #93, or something like that--grin!
PEACE!

Anne said...

You have managed once again to write something that is very close to what I'm feeling. There's a verse inside me, struggling to get out that deals with this same question and it's so close to the bone, it's painful. I'm going to go work in the yard, amongst the flowers and see if while distracted, it breaks free. Thanks Brian.

Pat Hatt said...

Need input, more input
Will not go kaput
For Johny 5 is alive
Dancing to same jive
With Police Academy guy
Helping him not to fry
Yes the questions continue to ask
As we wear such a mask
With more to living then just getting up
And drinking from a coffee cup

Valerie said...

"i love to dance. i means it's just good (to dance) even if it's only with your own shadow.'

Agreed, and I did until I grew older. It's still in the head though.

Tell me, is there a prize for being first to comment?

RMP said...

"Am I not alive?" -- I've got the breathing part down.
"Am I alive?" -- I might have a circuit that shorts once in awhile, but definitely take the time to dance (although usually under the cover of night so my shadow rarely accepts the dance.

I really love the way you weave your words and thoughts into such thought provoking ideas.

SueAnn said...

Went from eternity to living to dancing to ebony skies...whew!! Quite a heady journey.
Me...I am just moving ahead...knowing the next step may be forever.
Hugs
SueAnn

ladyfi said...

Wonderfully written - may we all remember to dance with our shadows.

Sue said...

It's no surprise that living and loving share so many of the same letters.

=)

FrankandMary said...

Back when Janet Jackson was a virgin. I kinda never believed that.
~Mary

janaki nagaraj said...

Dancing with my shadow, I do it often...I even fight with it...:-)

Tabor said...

One of the most important and difficult questions..."Am I Alive?"

Natasha Head said...

I was going to start my comment with your finish! smiles (ha!) Never ceases to amaze me how you are able to keep life's biggest questions on the main stage, while still making us smile. Might be me needed the fresh air to sort out all the thoughts this one has prompted...but I know for sure I am alive... as for poor Johnny...he LOOKS happy. Ignorance is bliss! :)

James Rainsford said...

So pleased you wrote to this photo Brian. Being alive is always so much more than simply existing. You've captured the truth of that in this poem. Reminds me of many of the sentiments expressed in the poetry of ee cummings. Particularly when he said:
"only the game fish swim upstream and unbeing dead isn't being alive."
I enjoyed this. Thanks for sharing.

myowngrowth said...

To be alive. A great topic, with the robotic image. We forget most of times how to live, and that simple things in life, makes it much more worth. Dance away

Shawna said...

The sound and imagery here is exquisite:

"cracks wide
a toothy crease in his mahogany face and rasps"

I too wonder if I am "not" alive. I suppose we are as alive as we choose to be. Fully, partially, or hardly at all.

Mary Mansfield said...

What a great take on the photo! Loved Short Circuit, it's now one of my daughter's favorite movies :)

I have to say, I think life is just a bit easier when we remember how to dance, nothing like adding just a bit of joy to our existence.

Love this!!!

Jackie Jordan said...

How do we perceive life? Personally, I intermittently flow between struggling and leisurely activities. There is a fine balance to be achieved here, and this equilibrium is called success.

And, I don't dance ...

Ed Pilolla said...

i'm with you that the fact that we ask this question hints of something more. i like the way you cobble this scene and suggestion. how can we know that dancing is living and not do it every single moment of the day? we don't, though. i'm sure not in the mood. but i also don't do it often enough. these reminders of how to live more fully are needed along the way. thanks, sir.

Syd said...

Some who have so little appreciate really living. Others who have so much throw lives away. An age old paradox.

Sue said...

Fantastic take on the photo, a very perceptive take on what it is to be alive...loved it.

Victoria said...

Why am I not surprised you chose this photo, Brian? And why am I not surprised that you came up with such a great interpretation...that can be read over and over, unpeeling layers.

Quotes,Photos and a little Poetry said...

mahogany skin what a pretty color that must be. You can tell a complete story and answer some questions in everyone of your poems. That's why I enjoy reading them

Wolfsrosebud said...

totally thought you'd write for that pic... still whisling

KB said...

Love that movie. Nice job.

Kat_RN said...

Isn't it nice, a chance encounter, a memory, a smile. I like dancing with my shadow too.
Kat

the walking man said...

We do often get wrapped up so much in the serious troubles that appear to emanate from every direction that we often forget to dance---even if it's with our shadow. There is healing and zen in dance, we should take time and do it more often.

emmett wheatfall said...

It's all about life. You got it right.

everedwater said...

Fantastic picture, your words left me pondering too - excellent stuff! :)

Lolamouse said...

Good question, Brian. I love the characters with whom you populate your poetry! The guy in the mustard colored cap is a new fav!

zongrik said...

i really liked that movie!!

adan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adan said...

brian, your cadence pacing was a delight tonight!

either that or it just suited me personally ;-)

i'll take it it's both ;-)

the story line itself left me feeling the way you must've whistling -

"and tonight
against the ebony, stars shine a little bit
brighter"

that the question of when life begins, was answered so many ways, remembrances of dancing, impact from a mahogany face, and now my own uplifted self -

it seems, and it seems because i don't know either, it seems it must be there always, life that is, that we can find and re-find and reconnect with it so many ways

thanks so much brian ;-) take care

Tara Miller said...

I think we truly feel alive when we're doing what we're most passionate about as well as letting others impact/love us and open our eyes to the world. Sometimes we all need to just let loose and dance a little...

hedgewitch said...

This was fun, brian. I read the song lyrics from the Barge people, and it was cool the way you gave them a bit of twist, reflected them in your poem without duplicating them, and the incident you picked to highlight is making me want to whistle something too.

Betsy said...

I actually think I have more life than I can handle! :)

Charles Miller said...

This is very cool. I think that is a good picture too for what it inspires in your work. The questions of life and death, and that Frankenstein subtheme. But what puts us back together again is always the kindness and charity of strangers, especially those who rise above their circumstances and radiate a joy that's almost divine. And dancing... That's going thru life with the step, the walk, and certainly the talk.

stumcp (hate&hope) said...

neeeeeed input! :) love the sentiment in this. what does it mean to be alive? and who is MORE alive?...the guy who works 12 hours a day and never sees his kids- or the guy dancing in your poem- yet we always seem to end up getting trapped in the cycle- i need the guy in your poem to dance outside my window at work EVERYDAY

chromapoesy.com said...

I too appreciate how you ask the big questions in a way that invites the reader in. You connect your allusions so well here. You've given me something to ponder and I do so love to ponder :).

Karen Maeby said...

I like this! I also chose this picture as 1 of 2 poems I posted tonight.

What is it to be alive -
no one will know.

True words, yours.

J Cosmo Newbery said...

Your poem captures the doubt, indeed the agony, that the photo alludes. (I believe I am number 60, Mary. I can cope.)

Tom said...

i asked my dog tonight "why" and he just smiled. good answer, i guess

Who Is Afraid Of Miss Lovett? No, Mrs.Lovett... said...

"who controls the decision---
& i have no answers,
but
it doesn't end there, as we ask it again
throughout our lives, "Am I alive?"
and does that mean..."


Hi! Brian...
Tks, for sharing your very poetic words, and the image too!
deedee :-D

Lisa Golden said...

I am consistently blown away by your words.

Magpie said...

We should never forget to dance...through all the times in our life. I'm headed out to shuffle along supporting the stitches and enjoying the evening coolness. Thanks for the reminder.

Jyoti Mishra said...

Enjoying the moments is in true sense living the life... :)
a constant search of the fun n happiness all around is what worth living !!

A fantastic write up... a treat to read

amyjosprague said...

Brian this is great. You have the coolest voice around. It's like comforting, yet edgy. Fab!

Patricia said...

soon as I saw that pic, I knew it was yours... =) but you nailed it... or welded it. Love your alive.

Madhulika said...

Thoughts provoking... I guess this is a question all of us should ask to ourselves... Constant search in life makes the journey worth while :)

ds said...

To dance always, even with our own shadows. Yes. Quite the message. Quite the write. I can see this man in his mustard colored Yankee cap, whistling as he pushes his shopping cart. Not sure how he relates to the photo, unless it is in opposition. He is so full of life, and the robot looks, to me, like Death. (hey, our constant shadow. Yowza. You are brilliant.)

Dave King said...

Extraordinary image, but you more than did it justice. A remarkable achievement to tackle one of life's most profound questions from such a prompt.

Claudia said...

think we have to feel it again and again that we're alive...and people have different methods to do so...and this can be everything from good to bad, from harmless to dangerous..the deader we feel, the more hardcore it gets...and hey..maybe i find a grocery cart today and dance a bit with it across times square...smiles

Lydia said...

What a kick that you personified this interesting image by Rainsford. It sort of looked alive to me to begin with but you gave it all the more character.

Sorry not to know the song/group. The 1980s were my lost-and-found decade.....

Jess Mistress of Mischief said...

El Debarge.... I do remember both song and movie. LOL

I especially love the special moment where we're reminded to dance!

:D

sm said...

nice one

John (@bookdreamer) said...

Nice combinations of image and word image

Louise said...

Terrific poem to the picture..how can metal be made to look so cute & forlorn? But there is more to life than breathing, that's for sure...I love "i means it's just good
(to dance) even if it's only with your own shadow.
we forget that. i forgot that," ... :)

Mama Zen said...

Damn, this is clever!

rosaria said...

Ah, remembering what makes us feel alive! This is serendipitous for me today, Brian.

zouxzoux said...

What is "alive" is a relative opinion. I've been contemplating that concept as well.
Loved this - esp the inclusion of the (perceived) homeless man of wisdom. :)

drybottomgirl said...

I loved his smile! Thank you for making it visual for all of us. Hope all is well with you and yours...

♫♪♥PhilO♥♪♫ said...

Are we alive? Sometimes it feels like we are, and sometimes it feels like we have stopped living.

Beachanny said...

It's always about the rhythm and the dance. Next time I'm coming back as a dancer - I'm clear about that. More will power, more determination, more discipline - it must be in the DNA right alongside survival, propagation, etc. Loved your work as always. G.

Daniel said...

I read this yesterday, but did not have time to leave a comment. First, I thought the picture was creepy and it took my mind in several directions. However, your post itself, was just one of those moments in time where a simple interaction leads to much deeper thought. I like that.

JeannetteLS said...

There are nights, Brian, when I turn out all but one light in another room, and I dance with a shadow that makes me forget for a moment or an hour... forget age, weight, back, pain. I dance with my shadow and live.

How do you know the questions to ask? For ten years I thought I had no right to assert my own life as I raised my children so my husband could pretend HE was doing it, and their Mother could pretend SHE did as well. I raised my children and felt I was less than the living because I did not, could not earn a dime.

It is through dancing with our shadow that we reopen the door to letting ourselves dance back to life.

Beautiful poem, Brian.

Hannah said...

I knew you'd pick this image! And you've done much justice, took it to a whole new depth and circuitry. Enjoyed this immensely and thank s for the Johnny five memory! :)

Sharp Little Pencil said...

Brian, the reference to El deBarge, so timely, poor guy. Probably what he looks like from the inside out. The effects of a life, well, fully lived do tend to create these images, no?

This was my first choice for an image but I am coming off illness so went for a sweeter, more hopeful pic. Then missed El Linko by 17 min, but here it is! Hugs, Amy
http://sharplittlepencil.com/2012/03/25/california-dreamer-dverse/

Marbles in My Pocket said...

So many layers in this one, Brian; full of the searching most of us do. I was--as you might guess--drawn to the last two lines of the first stanza, then throughout the rest of it, thought that first stanza was from a different poem, and had no place in this one. In fact, it might have been a stand-alone verse. The rest of the poem left me thinking the wrong question had been asked; it perhaps should not be "am I alive?", but rather, "am I living?".
Great write, my man!

Heather said...

some days I feel more alive than others...
and yes, i remember that song

oceangirl said...

to live is to dream and dreams are prayers. Everything is in the hands of our creator.

missing moments said...

I need to do that ... DANCE with my shadow instead of following it!

Josh Hoyt said...

This is a great question. Is it enough to breath and eat and drink or is there more than living? I have often thought about this and still think about what living really means.

Goofball said...

does that mean something more than breathing?

quite fundamental questions here...Been pondering on some myself

Vicki Lane said...

Poetry is great for asking the important questions. Yet another good one, Brian!

adeeyoyo said...

Well, Brian, there's 'alive' and 'ALIVE!'. Sometimes we know we're alive because energy feels about to burst through our veins. Other times we are just going through the motions...

sheila said...

enjoyed your three-piece write which started with this one. I find the more struggles I go through and the more I walk with others through their struggles, the more I have to write about. It helps me process. I see that in your writing as well.