Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Poetry: Upon Seeing Fred in Bronze

It was the spring of year four
By then Fred was out of the luxury digs of Mt. Sinai.
We were back on Lorimer St.
He reclining
Me, as I was often during those years
Leaning in leaning over listening for news
From his body.

Aah, Fred, I said, as I counted the stitches down his torso
And brushed the medallion of skin made by his port.
Aah Fred, look at what the surgeons have gifted you
A way out, a way forward.
But not for his soul
for his waste.
Aah Fred and I leaned in closer
because now it was my turn to come to terms
with the positive and negative space of him.
Fred I said
You got you one hell of a crater.
And we laughed as we crossed that bridge.

Years later Bronze Fred stood before me:
I know you I said, how I know you.
Of course it made all the sense in the world to me that
Fred was decked out in saxophone keys
With good luck where the port used to be
Only partially clothed in splendor
Which was true during the days when wounds needed air.
The professorial specs
The eyes joined by his troublemaking grin.
I looked at Bronze Fred.
He looked at me.

We laughed.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


I'm 60 this month.

It is fall and I have the house to myself for a few weeks because Cuthbert is in Ireland.  And judging from the reports of aches and pains he's experiencing, I think he's just realized he's not the Strapping Young Lad he used to be.  (I tried ta tell 'em, but do he lissen to me?)

I am not taking a math class this semester so I will not be having my bi-annual Nervous Breakdown.

I have started a new job (part-time) which I will enjoy enormously.  I now consider myself the poster child for 2nd chances. I work with people who have a sense of mission and are (com)passionate.

Instead of math this semester, I'm enrolled in a course called, "The Child in American Culture," which until I attended my first session I feared would be an egregious waste of my hard-earned tuition dollars.  (When you're obtaining teaching credentials you have to take education courses.  Derp.)  Boy, was I wrong:  We will look at the aforementioned child through the lenses of history, gender studies, political science, economics, psychology, sociology, education.  (Have I left any discipline out?)  I'm pretty sure I will have to have a zipper surgically embedded in my mouth; but try as I might I always wind up scaring the horses and children.

I'm 60, y'all.  I.  Don't.  Care.


Those who know me know I don't do Facebook.  And they know the reasons why.  So, it's no surprise to you that I don't tweet either.  It seems the nouvelle cheap and easy way to express one's outrage or ardor.  Like bumper stickers.  And t-shirts.  Advertisements that show I CARE™ and then we can move on having established our bona fides.  Wrong and injustice take a long time, sometimes a lifetime or two, to remedy.  They require courage, sacrifice, a tolerance for failure and being shunned, perservance, and the capacity to imagine a change you may not live to see.

Voicing online indignation about the precipitating event(s) that brings a wrong to our attention -- whether the murder of a black boy, the beheading of a journalist by fanatics, the war in Gaza or the humiliation and degradation of a wife -- and slapping a pound sign in front of it demands none of that. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

America, America, God Shed His Grace on Thee ...

When Kim and I decided to go on vacation we had every intention of heading northwards.  She from Indiana, me from Connecticut.  First it was Montreal, a precursor to Paris; then Northern Michigan, Great Lakes country to rendezvous with another Brooklynite, eventually making our way to Chicago, then home.  That being decided I flew out to Chicago, she picked me up the following day and we returned to Indiana for her medical appointments before taking off.  In no time we were in Louisville, KY.  You know how these things go:  we are going to get There from Here.

So, I have been in Middle America, and now South for a few days.  When you've spent most of your adult life in the cloistered, crowded, and urban Northeast, you forget (or I do) how huge, how vastly beautiful this country is.  Despite our expansive in geography we seem so miserly in spirit.  We as a collective are unbelievably endowed with resources, space, security and wealth.  But, as a nation we are collectively selfish, mean, greedy, callous towards and inordinately fearful of each other.  Perhaps I'm writing this because I've spent days in places where people of color, and I don't mean it as a euphemism, but literally, are few and far between.  I am back in places where I turn heads, and not for flattering reasons, where if there is a greeting exchanged I'm often the first to speak.  Also, my friend and I are an odd pair -- one white, one black, both middle-aged, both short-haired.  It's hard to know what we are, which disturbs people, but we are pros at being incandescently non-threatening.  And still I often sense a wariness that isn't specific to me (or us) but that seems to come from the social isolation we Americans suffer from.  Too many of us only know the other through television and movies, through sensationalized crises and the accompanying superficial and portentous analysis that is on-air news reporting.  It gives us a false knowledge -- "those white people do ...", "black people always ..." and other iterations that lead to illogical, and incorrect conclusions about others' behavior.  And reinforce prejudices, the ones we need to keep to justify how we live as a divided nation.

Others have written well and extensively about the decimation of the American landscape as the interstate system grew and micro-cultures and towns either vanished or were absorbed by consolidating industrialization and retail.  That's so apparent to me on this trip, too.  In the cities we've made a fetish of authenticity, historical preservation and artisanal living in a Hans Brinkerish attempt to stave off rapacious ecologically destructive modernity.  We pick and choose what parts of our lives will be lived in the 19th century as opposed to the 21st.  In other places that don't value or cultivate creative tension (which brings uncertainty and the threat of upsetting order) there is less dissonance.  It seems as if the denaturing of American's beauty and distinctiveness meets little or no objection.  And when there are attempts to revive places there is an air of contrivance (cf. the restored downtowns of many small cities).

I brought reading with me, the kind that I never seem to have enough time to do while at home.  I finally started Taylor Branch's At Canaan's Edge, the last of his magnificent trilogy of "America in the King Years".  No accident bringing this, although at the time I pulled it from my shelf I really didn't know we've travelling south, and it is a fantastic counterpoint to being in places like Louisville, Nashville, Memphis.  I am as intrigued reading modern American history as I am in how it is depicted.  I'm always looking to see how a matter like segregation is presented on the placards that explain the significance of a once-grand hotel, or movie house or a prominent business.  The elisions, the absence of photographic evidence, the galloping prose that brings us to the present.

Our present:  the shooting and police response in Ferguson, MO and the Tea Party and the 21st century strain of anti-immigrant nativism that manifests itself as callousness towards the fate of children and youth coming from Latin America and the delegitimization of the Obama Presidency with talk of impeachment and the shit sandwich that goes for cultural and political discourse on the media and a civic culture so fragile that a committment to universal, public education is imperiled and the siphoning upwards of political power and wealth.