Call of the Wild

Copyright Gavin W Sisk 2017

Opponents mill around the square, mixing a bit, tugging at their de-rigeuer gas masks and balaclavas. Conversations go to baseball, the noisy helicopter, sign construction, an armored policeman in bike shorts, dinner plans, Trump. Then some loudmouth throws a verbal punch, and all the other mouths open at once, like eaglets screeching over half a regurgitated mouse. Five minutes of synchronized flag waving passes; then it’s back to cigarettes and small talk and chatting up the mounted cops, who happily break their stony countenance to tell you about their Facebook page. At six o’clock, time is up and they all agree to march to the next event. Both sides wait politely for the light to turn green before slowly moving down the street, looking like lemmings putting off the argument of which cliff to jump from. With editing it will be news.

If you watch documentaries of Fulani men dancing, it’s seems like intense lipstick dervishes that last all day without pause. Anthropologists are insecure about portraying these things–about ideas of culture moving smoothly and seamlessly through their perfect days; but what actually happens is this. Dark-skinned people from several villages sit in the hot African sun to tell stories, share food, and pass gossip. Every hour or so, several young men, with carefully painted faces and ceremonial dress, get up and do a Little Richard routine for the few young women who are paying attention. It’s a contest. The best dancers get laid by the prettiest women–though that’s often been figured out before the dancing began. In any event, most of the villagers wander home when the afternoon and the gossip get old. There are cattle to tend.

Uncredited photo



Gavin W Sisk


Bigotry and Tea

Bigotry is not a conservative’s disease. Liberals wear its pustules too. The virus lives in lines we draw–in sanctimonious snares we cinch ever-tighter around our communities. This is a disease of paradoxes and ironies thriving in the same constitutions that seem to admonish it. It blooms in technologies broadcasting to billions the thoughts of frightened minds retreating to their caves. We grow smaller as we grow larger. The proper pill–bitter apparently–is education and critical thinking, which we ignore. When the two are co-opted by politics and ignorance, we let the devil win. But maybe that’s his right.

In my tea leaves: 
Expect nothing; keep your promises; hope for the best.

Aug 10, 2014

None the Less, Nun the More

With a new Catholic pope come old questions about the history and roles of nuns and clergy in modern, and not-so-modern faith.  Nuns and clergy: that the first isn’t considered as part of the second is a shame.  They share the same leaps of faith, the same sacrifices, and the same falls from grace.  But in the end, nuns are just an attachment to the dominion of clergy. In the end, too, the issues of both are often a distraction from larger social issues

These days we talk a lot about priests’ falls from faith. Issues of homosexuality, pedophilia, and general child abuse are better grist for media mills when men are considered.  Equivalent issues about nuns seem to earn winks at best.  When I was a kid, though, it was about the seemingly twisted faith of nuns we mostly talked.  I don’t think there was a single kid in my school whom the nuns didn’t hit.  And we all were hit hard!  During breaks between classes, there were often nuns stationed inside the boy’s lavatory keeping order.  They berated us.  They hit us with rulers, belts, and paddles.  They beat their selves into our long-term memories.
But really, this isn’t only about qualities of nun-ness.  We were hit by lay teachers also.  We were hit by men; we were hit by women.  This was the culture of discipline where I grew up.  The nuns wore black and white uniforms, and so were more uniformly regarded and remembered than their lay counterparts.  And who doesn’t prefer to hear stories of evil nuns.  But whom I conveniently forget to talk about are nuns like the one who took the extra time in fourth grade to teach me short division.
We weren’t allowed to learn short division back then, but this nun recognized that long division was too abstract for me.  This might sound counter-intuitive, even nonsensical, but the woman woke up the right side of my brain to math.  I went from being the class idiot to being the only kid in class who could do division in his head.  
I don’t quickly remember that now.  It’s easier for me to reminisce about the brutality.  Yes, some of those nuns were brutal.  Some of the priests were too.

So, all this isn’t just about nuns and priests.  The subject shouldn’t be only about the bad behavior of certain members of certain groups.  We should also talk about what happens in our society that drives some women and men to seek refuge from life by surrendering to sub-cultures of convents, monasteries, and rectories (picking on Catholicism only) which serve to distill the best and worst human qualities into chalices from which the rest of us drink.  I think forgetting this in our discussions of issues of modern faith is like firing arrows fletch-first at the target.

March 13, 2013


Gavin’s Glossary of Terms of Existence

I’ve started a glossary of terms relating to human existence. I’ll flesh it out as our existences go by. Quite a bit of this is stream of consciousness, so it isn’t in alphabetical order.

A transpiring event you don’t recall and of which you imagine everything, including a god

An expiring event you won’t recall and of which you fear everything, including a god

Feeling frustrated that, while sitting on one side of a balance scale, you can’t throw marshmallows onto the other side fast enough to raise youself from the tracks before the Evening Express comes through.

In the Catholic sense–having invested in a marshmallow factory when you were young.

The Evening Express being delayed by a landslide in a mountain pass. All the rail cars have been swept into a swollen river and everyone has died who wasn’t carrying a large bag of marshmallows.

Buddhist monk:
A kindly man in a saffron robe sitting under a nearby tree and telling you in a soothing tone, “Just wait”.

Franciscan monk:
A kindly man in a brown robe sitting under a nearby tree and telling you in a soothing tone, “God‘s will”.

Jesuit priest:
A kindly man in a snappy black suit sitting under a nearby tree and telling you in a not-so-soothing tone, ” Sucks, doesn’t it”.

A kindly man wearing a pointy hat sitting under a nearby tree and asking, “Would you like to buy some marshmallows?”

A kindly man with pointy ears and a tan sitting under a nearby tree and asking, “Would you like to buy some marshmallows?”

A friendly man wearing a blue and red suit sitting under a nearby tree and imploring, “Be afraid; be very afraid! May I have some of your marshmallows?”

A studious man looking at the wrapper of the Big Mac you had for lunch and wondering, “Does this mean he worshipped a god?”

Husband of premenopausal woman:
A clueless man living under a nearby rock exclaiming, “This is funny. Let’s roast marshmallows.”

Premenopausal woman:
A nervous woman sitting on the end of the weakest branch of a nearby tree screaming, “This is not funny! Wait–yes it is! God, it’s hot in here! This is not about marshmallows!”

Catholic nun:
A kindly woman sitting under a nearby tree and asking, “Do I really have to sit with these nits?”

Praying for marshmallows to be bestowed upon you by the owner of a marshmallow factory and for a temporary reprieve from the chemistry of oxidation, while ignoring the ultimate effect on everyone in those rail cars.

Watching the hooks on the balance scale slowly rust away.

Choosing to get off your ass to see what you can do for anyone in those rail cars who is still alive.


Sept. 2012



Athena Winced

If you’ve been around cattle, you already know what comes out the end opposite the nose. You also know that in politics, as in the barnyard, what goes around comes around.
Socrates, democracy’s supreme rabble-rousing patriot, could have escaped his legal predicament simply by leaving Athens.  History says he surrendered because of his sense of obligation to Athens’ judicial system, flawed as it was.  I think he was also so sickened by the decline of Athenian democracy that he couldn’t bare to watch its death from any distance.  For Socrates a cup of Hemlock was certainly sweeter than witnessing the birth of history’s first democratically elected totalitarian government.


Our withers weather
the whether or nots
of knots of withering
hails of shot from
distempered hells we’ve
tempered and wrought
from our dithering withers
which darkness would blot–
but cannot.

Gavin W Sisk
Sept. 2012


Fracting God From The Rubble

Yesterday was September 11, 2011: the tenth anniversary of the infamous attacks on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City.  My daughter and I plopped on the couch to watch ten-year-old news coverage of ‘911’.  This was one of those finest hours when the news media documented its own integrity and delivered a classic apologia for their in-depth coverage.  That’s fine, except that this finest hour came without a mea culpa for all their bone-headed mistakes and groundless dissemination of fear.  My father would have had a lot to write about this phenomenon of media attempting to pin hindsight to their desperate and lurching foresight.  Oddly, I didn’t see much hindsight framing the desperate fear and hatred that we Americans always want to believe is beneath us, but which we prove again and again is stuck to our shoes like gum.

I am Christian.  If you poll other Christians you’ll find that half believe humans are inherently evil; half believe they mostly serve themselves; and half believe they naturally serve each other.  We Christians may be no better at estimating human proclivities than we are at estimating the sums of simple fractions.  But that’s a moot point when you recall the evil all we Christians have perpetrated on each other in the name of a God we have in common.

Imagine recess in sixth grade on the playground of Saint Almost Elementary School for Boys.  Imagine also the traditional choosing of sides for dodge ball.  Two of the boys, twin brothers named Bub and Bob, are especially smart, fast, big, friendly, and strong.  Of course Bub and Bob are always the first picks for each team.  If you have Bub or Bob on your side, you cannot lose.  Even if the two popular brothers simply watch the game while leaning against the schoolyard fence, the winning team will glorify one of them for their victory.  Neither Bub nor Bob cares much for bragging rights—nor for condemnations for loosing—and neither team would realize if Bub or Bob switched places.  If there were enough boys on the field to form three teams, either Bub or Bob would certainly be the exclusive captain of each.  This is why the boys at Saint Almost Elementary School almost universally choose philosophy as their first major subject in college.  Years ago, one boy did go on to become a civil engineer; but his career ended abruptly after he designed a bridge with three large arches, but specified only enough concrete for two.  Neither Bub nor Bob were nearby to take the blame.

To the real world: I’m not certain what point to make of the evil that all we Christians have swung like righteous swords through the necks of all those who seemed to be catalyzed by lesser gods, and who would otherwise have righteously swung their swords through our own necks.  Hindsight rarely improves foresight, publicly.  Accurate and meaningful foresight—wisdom—is often not what we want.  There is no good reason for news media to tell us what we don’t care to hear, and what advertisers don’t care to subsidize.  Democracy might be at the root of our principles, but capitalism is at the root of our habits.

My father wrote a short poem that sums up wisdom’s precarious place in all our institutions.  This might be one reason he drank cheap scotch.

Epigram For Bedlam

All men are foolish
As all are brothers;
The wise ones know it
And tell the others:
Who take the wise ones
And hang them up
For heresy.

                 -John P Sisk


Sept. 12, 2011

The End of Osama Bin Laden: It’s Never the End

Osama Bin Laden is finally dead,
one cheap bullet to the head.
What it really cost is what I dread.

We want to feel good about something.  At the same time, feeling good might not really feel so good.  These muscled issues have pushed against our collective moral fiber for a decade (or longer).  We can’t agree on the nature of these forces, but we will share the catharsis of this apparent resolution.  Yes, it feels good–we’re stuck with that for now.  Let’s have a Bud and wave our flag.  But tomorrow, let’s have coffee and make plans to patch the holes we’ve put in that flag.  It’s life we should be celebrating, not death.

June 26, 2011