I’ve come to accept the spectacle
The morning face that stares back at me in the mirror
Large pores packed with night-sweats and frustration
There’s lots to do but nothing to say
That will ease the guilt of not doing
Most likely I’ll clean my keyboard
remove the fingerprints
angry smudges that dappled my screen with hope
I’ll open the Times app before adjusting a pillow behind my aging back
I’ll sip some tea as I consider the tilt of the screen and font size
I’ll search for good news as if
I’ve not already thrust my chin up to the edge of humanity
To improve my view of its destruction
On the 18th anniversary of the day our world changed – forever.
September 12, 2001. Last night I looked frantically for the picture of my SAVAR students on our yearly trip to NYC to no avail. But I can still see the their faces. BJ’s thousand watt smile, Kim, Thea, Byron, Jessica, Tiffany, Kristy, Nikki, and Katie all in adolescent poses of deep friendship. There were more but these faces found the camera at every turn. It is what I see when I close my eyes. And I could be wrong, relying, as I do, on the sovereignty of memory. I could be thinking of the picture we took on the eighty-third floor of the Empire State Building – different year but some of the same smiles and definitely the same Twin Towers in the background. I will always remember these pictures and yet over time I know these memories will fight a losing battle with the vision I beheld Tuesday, September 11th. Shocked, I watched the south tower as it belched smoke and flame. I saw the second plane bank and then plunge out of sight into the tower behind, propelling the fireball out beyond the south tower. I knew then that this plane was not coming in to drop flame retardant on the first tower – as I first thought. My heart raced. I held my head. Only later did I curse technology. Oh to return to the world of word-of-mouth transmission. The time when one hovered around the television or radio, listening to the newscast as it was filtered through the minds and hearts of stoic announcers. I thought of Cronkite’s voice coming over the speaker in my junior high library and how it cracked and caught on the words that president, John F. Kennedy was dead. That was a time when we were allowed space to form our own mental pictures of catastrophe – however tragic. It is different now.
Yesterday I had a student write in her English essay, “Change is inevitable…” At fifteen she knows this. And here I am, half a century in age and barely able to remember when a postage stamp was two cents and the closest war was the ‘gas war’ happening over on the boulevard. I’ve missed something about change. Maybe it is the sameness of my days; the only changes are the ones I make.
Now, my days are changed. An unseen hand has written a tragic script complete with murderous planes. How does one teach this? I don’t want to gather my son and the sons and daughters of others around me and have to explain hatred and intolerance. I fear it is completely beyond my ability. And yet I must.
I left school on that Tuesday with nowhere to go. Everywhere there was nothing but television news so I watched my son’s soccer practice. I sat in the bleachers reading the local paper, the last one printed before the attack. I could believe, for a few minutes anyway, that the news of the day was light. Periodically, I’d look up at the boys and girls of various ethnic backgrounds on the soccer field in the bright sunshine. The day was exquisite, with the green hillsides only hinting at the golden leaves to come. On the broad expanse of lawn I witnessed young people in innocent athletics giving high fives to friends and competitors alike. I could have stayed there forever, a frozen tableau of perfection. No hatred, no intolerance, no headlines of alarm.
A student asked about our annual New York City trip. I was resolute in my response. “We will go. That’s one thing that will not change,” I told her. But change is inevitable. A fifteen-year-old told me this. And she was right.
April 2002. The New York City trip did happen. Phantom of the Opera enthralled my forty-five students, most from the hinterlands of rural western New York. On the subway to South Street Seaport, I decide not to make the trek to the hole in the ground that changes forever they way I view human nature. Most of the young people go with another chaperone. A few students stay with me and the vendors of cheap memorabilia. I sigh with relief. I am not ready.
Our chartered bus is faithful to our departure time and, after a last minute buying flourish of knockoff glasses and watches, we depart. I count heads then relax amid the excited chatter of adolescence. Even as darkness descends I sense we are on THAT parkway. My senses are validated by the silence that befalls the group. The bus slows to a crawl – not for traffic but for the view of the remains of the Twin Towers – the hole that has swallowed my city memories. I thought if I didn’t look – maybe things would become unchanged. I looked.
I admonish myself for my foolish, pretzel logic – to think we could achieve some type of retro-sameness. Like the skyline of lower Manhattan, we are all forever changed.
GDF – 2019
December 17, 2016
I’ve just read a summation of our president’s news conference on Russia’s hacking of the election that allowed Donald Trump to steal the election from Hillary Clinton. I saw clips of our beautifully cerebral President Obama thoughtfully picking his way through the minefield of words available for times such as these; words that could highlight injustice in a big and angry way. And for that moment I wanted him to be that angry black man – the idea that so scattered the brains of bigoted whites eight years ago – I wanted Obama to tear away at that inbred institution designed for service to the very few. But he didn’t, and that saddens me. My president’s behavior revived for me the belief that there is some unseen player in presidential politics. One who holds all the rules governing this experiment we call democracy. This is the player who gladly sits sideline whispering, to the one front and center, cautionary tales; this is the preemptive hand upon which are written all the options at a President’s disposal. What were the options facing you Mr. President? Instruct the Electoral College to do the right thing, nullify the elections? Declare Hillary Rodham Clinton president? (Personally, I think your parting tasks to ensure a legacy of courageous decision making should be to put Sec. Clinton on Supreme Court and declare Santa Claus legally, officially, a black man). But no, sadly, you have no legal standing in this case. You may have been besieged by thoughts of a civil war even as you understand fully your duty to ensure a “peaceful and orderly transition”. But, there will be war – an uncivil war – waged by the upcoming Theatre of Thieves – the 21st Century robber-barons. And yes, we will protest even as we hide the sickness that resides in the thought that our beloved President, hands tied by a constitution he has taught, is as helpless as we are watching further shredding of this democracy.
December 19, 2016
It seems clear to me today – December 19, 2016 – that we are moving towards that southern economic doctrine of low wages, no unions and little concern for the environment. A southern doctrine that addresses ideas like diversity and the need for common courtesy (erroneously referred to as political correctness) as frivolous, white-power killing, sentimentality. This new “strategy” will ensure that those who live in poverty and those refugees whose fate lies in the kindness of strangers remain 2nd and 3rd class citizens (if they are allowed to remain at all). It will ensure that those who, by nature, have to work outside their small circle of cultural acceptance live in fear. Fear of a capriciously dispatched army who will bend and convert non-believers to their will. This doctrine resides in the barren drought-stricken stretch of community where women know their place, little girls don’t appear too smart and all females understand the ugly consequences of striving to be richer than a man. It is a place where the aims of decent men and the female pantsuit are outlawed.
It is time, now that the Electoral College has affrimed its predilection for inertia, to take Trump seriously and not literally, as Christy Wampole of the New York Times suggests in her piece, How to Live Without Irony (For Real this Time) Yes, we now have a president who can’t spell, who tweets his thin-skinned pain like a hurt child, who has grabbed women by their genitals because he could. Now, according to Wampole, we should be seriously prepared “for a new, expressive austerity.” I agree. It was easy to sit on our self-righteous liberal laurels and ignore the suffering of the “uneducated deplorable” citizens. We are all guilty, in some form or another, of this class combat. And these self-righteous thoughts may still be the palliative we use to soothe the cuts of loss. I know I sleep better knowing I am right; that the best candidate did not win. And, God help me, I have to catch myself, feeling happy for the sure to come ‘I told you so’s”. The low-income, less educated worker, the praise-worthy military and its veterans who will stand and die for the next war to come in spite of GOP continued resistance to Veterans Bills and continued funding, all will suffer (much more than I will) for their willingness to trust a different voice – as long as that voice promised personal well being and for some, as long as that voice as male and white. I have to acknowledge and take serious the ‘trust’ his voters have. I agree with Wampole when she says “this president-elect, seems incapable of laughter…[embodies] the thirst for profit …apocalypse fetishism, joyless ideology, and even cruelty. [His] is a punitive seriousness, a burn-it-all-down ethics that favors revenge over reconciliation.” That said, we must never normalize his brand of seriousness. We must never forget this man is a dangerous buffoon who takes money and retaliation seriously. His hollow promises, laughter and smiles are simply means to an end. As decent human beings, we must take the high road as we struggle to soften the blow Trumps tactics will surely have on those who simply wanted to “shake things up.” God help us.
So, this evening, my second glass of wine has sufficiently lubricated the hinges on the doors to my big, rusted political heart and I find myself returning to a line in Homer’s Odyssey, a scene really, where Polyphemus, blinded and bested by an arrogant, boasting Odysseus, stands huge upon an outcropping, breaking off mountain-tops and hurling boulders and curses in the direction of Odysseus’ retreating ship. And, for the moment, we are Polyphemus, blinded and outwitted by our lack of seriousness and the arrogant tools of injustice. The line that haunts me? “Now comes the weird upon [us].”
I have flunked that good, after life
Leaving desk, chalk, and youth sublime
Eight years and a clarion light
Continues to call me to dine
With character filled texts and chairs
I return to a chalkless life
Anxious, faded elegance dares
To drag my dreams to “that good night”
Dreams die hard desire remains
I answer the call to return
Restoring dream’s dust to grain
Desires continue to burn
Teaching is now a brand new flight
Where time and love is now outsourced
Knowledge now comes in bits and bytes
Pass, fail with a little remorse
Virtual reality reigns
As 21st Century fun
As if being “real” needs explain
Over needs for real wisdom
So I am back to spread my grains
Of wisdom and where I found
Meanings to life ‘long side the brain
Which the “Road less traveled” is bound
Attackers in Paris
‘Did Not Give Anybody a Chance
as if chance played with motive
none are chanced
when death is not feared
it is all that keeps us good
and goodness is relative only
to the god one is willing
to die for
this god militarized,
a god unknown to
civil – ization, decency
lost in three hours
of blood spillage
all red being read
in black and white
newsprint echoing ancient
tales written down
the original sin
in concert with the
the beginning of pain
the parchment of war’s genesis
held tightly in the
fists of bloodstained
avenging lives dear
The hardest thing about writing
Used to be rejection but now
It is the crazy aftermath
Of question marks that appear
After I’ve left all my
Answers on the page
It becomes not a matter of quality
Or quantity but a matter of why;
Why does outside acceptance matter?
Part of me sees the old metaphysical ploy
I’ll get it once I don’t want it.
Can I walk into that room and
Switch off the light of desire?
Is writing simply a vehicle
In which to drive my persona
Stopping occasionally to mop
My sweat-filled brow and rest
My silly soul dedicated to
The business of ego?
Is that it?
The non-fiction writer said *art will not fix the global crisis and the vengeance
Neglect is reining down upon our dirty greasy planet.
I beg to differ.
I want to dip Mr. Bryson in the waters of
Huxley, Orwell, Atwood, Carson, and the words of
Colette that tell the world of the corresponding
Smells of the betrayed, jealous and lovesick.
Science has a fix but a “fix”
Denied its beauty – resolution
Because there is no profit
Ensuring the earth remains
Healthy for everyone.
Money’s to be made
Fat capitalists sucking the earth
Dry of its natural resources
With the help science.
In revolutions over time
Knowledge and passion is
Ignited by art
And the time is neigh
When art reveals the capitalists deniers
Who catch the money flung at solutions
Hiding it away in the pockets of those
With no need of a future world.
Art, in freedom
Will save us
When science, in chains
* “An arts graduate is not going to fix global warming. They may do other valuable things, but they are not going to fix the planet, or cure cancer, or get rid of malaria.” ~ Bill Bryson
What if Peace was publicly traded
In every heart and highly rated
At the center on a trading floor
Waved slips for goodwill, ceasefires and more
What if Peace invested care
Opened hearts with earnings per share
What if Peace paid interest high
In harmonious treaties to ratify
Peace will need to be monetized
IPOs will be highly prized
Peace could trade in open exchange
Swords for ploughshares to be arranged
Peace stock values will rise with belief
No house of cards, dishonesty ceased
No slim margin in which to trade
All activity above moral grade
Peace is too polite to nail and rend
Old Wall Street brokers for their dividends