Song for Wovoka

Having followed much of the protest of the Dakota Pipeline at Standing Rock, I was pleasantly surprised to find a poem in my journal archives that reaches back almost twenty-five years. I can’t pull to memory, what exactly it was that inspired the creation of this poem. It was almost certainly written while journaling with my students at that time. It  seems to me that I was doing some reading about the Sioux at the time, but any specific title now escapes me. Just the same, it’s worth bringing forward and sharing, especially if it inspires anyone to go in search of the story of Wovoka and the Ghost Dance.



Ghost Dance

They dance with spirits
That haunt ancient minds
Apparitions of holiness
Phantasms of time

Blend into one circle
Earth, Wind
Fire, Rain
They speak of no pleasure
They sing of no pain

Tread softly on clouds
That scrape desert floors
Ride thunderbolt ponies
Ghost braves of great wars

Send spirit to eagles
That glide round the moon
Send courage to women
Left lonely too soon


Ship of Ghouls…

Amoral vs. Immoral:

Both have to do with right and wrong, but amoral means having no sense of either, like a fish, but the evil immoral describes someone who knows the difference, doesn’t care, and says “mwah ha ha” while twirling a mustache. If you call someone immoral, you are saying that person knows better. (



Not long ago, I posted a piece on my ideas about spirituality and the redeeming, even purifying powers of nature to wash away my inner guilt and leave me with a hope for a meaningful afterlife. As much as I’d like to confess that those were just some especially strong feelings, meant to lift the soul of anyone who took the time to read my online blathering, I can’t. You see…I’m a sinner, floating out on the social waters at one of the darker edges of our social globe in a ship of fools. You see…I bet on dead people. Well, actually, that isn’t true. I bet on living people that may or may not die in the near future. Let me explain.

About five years ago, having been plied with ample amounts of dark ale, I was lured into a quasi-secret society of adult ne’er-do-wells. It was explained to me that for a mere monthly installment of five dollars I could join this merry band of outlaws in a game that required so little of me it seemed immoral. I was right, it was immoral, but I didn’t hesitate to join them. I plunked down my five dollars (which for the sake of convenience and permanence, would soon be converted over to an automatic withdrawal from the bank account of my choice…modern immorality is THE best) and simultaneously carved away a slice of my soul. I blame it all on the Brit.

John was born and raised in England and had brought this concept of a Ghoul Pool across the puddle when he and the Beatles invaded our fair land. Okay, he isn’t as old as the Beatles, but his impact on our little patch of American soil is just as meaningful as theirs was. John is clever, polite, charming and more than a bit devious. Back in the motherland, he had belonged to a group of blokes who bet on which world-famous celebrity might expire first. That’s right, a member can pick any person famous enough to be noted in the New York Times upon said person’s demise and hope that this chosen one is the next to go. First ghoul wins the pot. The Ghoul Pool, it was called. A quid dropped here and there, a florin spent now and then, a couple of innocent pints with close mates then they’re betting on death and before you know it, Bob’s Your Uncle…here comes the Hell Express and it’s waiting carry us all asunder.

Now, granted, our American souls had been on line, waiting some time for that Hell Express to load us up and drive straight into the river Styx, but creating our local version of the Ghoul Pool (which is the exact wording of my monthly Quicken entry, by the way) has probably put us in some sort of express lane. We easily qualify for the commuter lane, as we’re now approaching double figures for enrollment. Though it might seem intuitive to suppose that a group so debased as ours might be primarily made up of unshaven plasma-sellers and bottle collectors, such is not the case with this group. Some of us even shower on a regular basis. Indeed, we have at least five educators, two lawyers, and a dentist among our crew. Educators (full disclosure: me) are simply innocent bystanders too easily sucked into whatever muck is closest to them; most frequently it’s just middle school. Lawyers, although one of ours is now technically a judge and as such may or may not have risen to a higher principled ground, are too often, the brunt of tasteless jokes all the while doing more good than harm. Just the same, you would have thought they might have known better.   Most dentists are just communal medicine men/women just trying to help us all in the least painful way possible. Yeah, that never works out like planned, but I think they really do try. Unfortunately, Bernie, our GP dentist and chief financial officer is also a Cardinals fan, which can already get you to hell quicker than shooting the Pope. Overall, we’re good people with a weak spot for tasteless entertainment.

While I have pointed my finger at John for infecting our moral fiber, it was actually Sully who thought that the idea was too good to keep a secret and set about to create what is now our version of the Pool. We needed a legal outlet for our poisoned souls and the Ghoul Pool seemed to be the perfect vehicle for us. That plus we were looking for a good reason to gather and drink once a month. The Pool was started a year or two before I was asked to audition. Sully explained the concept and told me to meet him and the boys, numbering about four strong at the time, for a beer. Oh, and by the way, make sure I bring a list of candidates from which to choose. The existing members could veto anyone they thought would be too likely to die before his/her time. That ruled out Willie Nelson right there, which in hindsight, turned out to be a good thing. So I kept my ears open, did my homework and showed up that fateful night ready to swing for the fence.

It didn’t seem right to pick someone that I actually would not miss if they keeled over, so I dropped Dick Cheney and Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church…) out of what guilt I had left to muster. I liked Jim Nabors and Keith Richards too much to choose one of them. It needed to be someone about whom I was fairly ambivalent. Eventually I gave them a name that they all accepted with suppressed snickers all around. They nodded knowingly at one another believing that I had chosen poorly…but I was a rookie…could they expect less?

After about ten or eleven months of tithing, the Pool voted to grant me full vestment, which meant that if I now won, I’d be eligible for the entire pot, not just an actuarial percentage of whatever I’d personally invested. In mafia terms, I’d become a “made man.” The Poolers were smug in the assumption that my choice was a long shot. Within weeks, the roulette wheel of disgusting events stopped squarely on my number when Amy Winehouse, my selected celebrity, unfortunately lost her battle with sobriety and slipped from this world. Cha-Ching!

There is no way to feel good about “winning” the Ghoul Pool. I think we all secretly hope that our choice, usually someone with glaring problems, can get straightened out and make us look silly. Of course, we only think this way until the Cubs win the pennant and one of us needs a couple thousand in windfall cash to buy a nosebleed seat at Wrigley (I’m looking at you Sully). Don’t get me wrong. I took the money. I paid the bar tab for the boys that night, as is customary. We toasted the memory of Ms. Winehouse and moved on. But whenever I hear her nearly perfect bluesy voice telling me that “…no, no, no!” she ain’t going back to rehab, I sigh and wish she might have said “…yeah, yeah, yeah!” instead.

Just the same, the Ghoul Pool moves on even if life doesn’t. I’m a sad soul with much to answer for when my own number comes up, but I’m betting that isn’t soon. Looks like a need to take a walk down a mountain path and see what nature can do to cleanse me again.

By the way, anybody know the current state of Meatloaf’s health?


I Lift Mine Eyes…

…unto the hills, whence cometh my strength.

Some version of this Psalm hangs in the non-denominational chapel at Cheley Colorado Camps, snuggled secretly away in the foothills on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. It was here way back in the early 1980’s that I felt the touch of a stronger presence which opened my eyes, my ears, my heart to the possibilities and choices of life. It is to these same hills that I constantly turn when the GPS of my soul needs to recalculate before I can continue the journey I am on.

Over the years the path of that journey has curved left…or right…or in some instances, stopped and rolled backwards. Bruce Springsteen tells me that it isn’t unusual to take, “One Step Up, Two Steps Back.” But at those moments, I am able to fix my spiritual compass on the mountains I have visited so many times and find my path again. The mountains are the source nearly all of my true spirituality. Of course, there are family and very close friends to help steady me, but for that feeling that we all need to feel, deep down inside, we need a source.

Many people would probably visit their church dejoure for a serving of spirituality. I can’t do that. Oh sure, I still go to church with my wife and kids. I have for over twenty years. I’m Methodist and they’re Catholic. When my friends ask why I do this, I paraphrase W.C. Fields, a well-known agnostic, who when found thumbing through a Bible shortly before his death was asked, “What are you doing,” Fields replied, “Looking for Loopholes.” The real reason I go is because of Father Vince…a radical priest with the hidden agenda of lifting the veil on the conservatism of the Catholic canon. He’s a tremendous story-teller who knows how to work a crowd.

So to me, there is a vast difference between faith and religion. I have faith. I’ve been on mountain tops and seen what’s below me. That vision surely reflects eons of scientific rendering, but it all had to start somewhere by something. Even if the Big Bang is the result of a hot, dense point of matter that expanded quite rapidly, that hot, dense matter must have come from somewhere. I’m not a scientific thinker, but I think there is room for the argument of a greater power here. So as I sit on a mountain peak and soak in the scene before me, I am inclined to believe. I am less cynical. I am at peace.

Can’t say the same for sitting in a church. Some of the most glorious structures on this earth are churches. As far as I can understand, the basic purpose of a church is to throw up walls that make you focus on one person’s (too often a man’s) interpretation of the written scriptures of any of a number of different religions. What churches really excel at is hiding nature when we most need it. That one hour or so we dedicate to looking inside ourselves and try to understand our journey to this point and where to move next, should be sacred. It should be personal. It should be unique to each of us. It should NOT be interrupted by the clanging of a “sacred” gong to which we are all meant to be called. If God wants me, he or she knows how to find me.

And if it’s any help to you God…just lift your eyes unto the hills. In one manner or another that’s where you’ll find my spirit.