NOV. 15, 2015: Headlines – A Poem

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Attackers in Paris

‘Did Not Give Anybody a Chance

as if chance played with motive

none are chanced

when death is not feared

FEAR:

it is all that keeps us good

and goodness is relative only

to the god one is willing

to die for

this god militarized,

weaponized

expanded

personalized

assault driven

a god unknown to

civil – ization, decency

lost in three hours

of hell;

a lifetime

of blood spillage

all red being read

in black and white

newsprint echoing ancient

tales written down

the original sin

in concert with the

unconscious brain

man-made insult

the beginning of pain

the parchment of war’s genesis

held tightly in the

fists of bloodstained

armies ordered

young conscripts

avenging lives dear

motivated

by chance

motivated

by fear

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A Country For No Child

Jaime Kalenga, whose mother died in labor, suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis. Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times
Jaime Kalenga, whose mother died in labor, suffers from malnutrition and tuberculosis. Credit Nicholas Kristof/The New York Times

There is a country rich in diamonds,

Oil and foreign sports cars

I know this – having read it in

The Times

This is a country in which one child

In six will die before the age of five

Says The Times’ Kristof

But I live in a country that cares

About children – Some of us

Care so much we call authorities

On parents whose children walk

Home from the park – alone

Keeping our children absurdly safe

Ignoring the Angolan mother holding

The “twig limbs,” swollen belly, wizened face

Of the near carcass that is her child

She’s waiting for care from the few who do

Those people who come from far off places to nurse and

Heal everyone’s children

Those people who know that diamonds

Are friend to no one

The people who recognize

The diamond’s sparkle

Being stolen everyday

From the eyes of babies

Leaving in its place a

Haunted spectacle, skeletal frame

Held together in wrinkled brown

Wrappings of skin

Questioning Success: The Art of Rejection

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http://www.chinatourguide.com

 I awoke this a.m. surveying a heart that was (three months ago) filled with the hope of acceptance. The demon voice of accusation taunts me: narcissistic fame seeker. It is the same hissing voice that tells me I can not and will not rise above my not-quite-poverty stricken beginnings. It was this voice I kept at bay months ago with the simple click of the “send” key.

Now, I am beyond asking what the judges saw – grounded down as I am with a self-acceptance of not (somehow) measuring up – yet again. And all the verbal bromides I lavish upon others who’ve suffered this fate are curled and weak in the face my own despondency. I went out to ride my bike and fell before getting out of the driveway. I returned to bed. No, I am not depressed. I know full well the feeling there; the drain-circling miasma that creeps in quietly on small, cat-feet and sets up housekeeping in a brain ignorant of the heart.

I write because I need to – it is and has always been the way I navigate my world – what I see out my window is fodder – all material. Recognition is secondary. I tell myself that I am only in competition with myself – only as good or better than the last essay, poem, or novel written. I strive for better and once I believe I’m there… then what? Does a runner take to her track to be recognized for last place? Does a politician run for office intent on losing? Does one practice the homework in quadratic equations to settle for terms higher than the power of two?

I read new writing in my beloved New York Times and appreciate the stories served up on platters of Modern Love, The Sunday Magazine- Lives, the Book Review, and any number of columns dedicated to the Boomer File. After reading, I always look at the brief author bio and I wonder  how the number of  published writers who’ve attended the best universities or the best M.F.A. programs, compares to the number  those writers who haven’t? Is it always only about the writing? I hope so.

But I know too there are days when the best query letter, the best first chapters, the best submission – all sent to a prospective agent – will not do – for anyone. So what. These words may not satisfy but the need to write remains the same. Is this the juncture in my life where I need to redefine success?

And I am not without my own successes – I’ve made it to a writers’ base-camp or (for me) Everest – having been published in the very Sunday Magazine that I would drive 25 rural New York miles every Sunday to purchase. I have won accolades in local publications over the years. I’ve had an editor of a major literary magazine tell me he was “sorry” he could “not be the editor to get [me] into print.” But that was then.

Now, as I lose any youthful outlook to a dull recognition of life’s sameness, I know I should listen my inner Buddhist – the one that tells me that if I want to end my discontent I have to give up my desire.

Without desire, do I need to write? This question greets me every morning. And every evening I am no closer to an answer. Part of me believes the question moot and wants to respond like the mountain climber who was asked why she continues in her attempts to climb Mt. Everest  – There are so many small reasons to turn around and only a couple of personal reasons to continue. And so I write on with hope and desire of reaching the summit.

On My Birthday: “I Write for Me”

It is my birthday and I scan the New York Times’ archives for what happened on this date in 1951. I’ve done this before, though never making copies of the front page. It would always be there –  history.  But now I have to pay for it,  not a lot, but I balk. Just show me the damn page and I promise I’ll never darken the NYT’s archival doorstep again. But no, they want coins from this realm for their troubles. Well, I have troubles of my own.

I go to my Writer’s Almanac and listen to his soothing voice tell me of a young woman born on this date (though I was 16 that year) and how her first book of essays won a Pulitzer. It is good writing – a window onto the vicissitudes of new Americans from India.

And I talk a good game – “…yes, I write for me now.”  I am happy with my history and ever improving my ability to tell it.

I know too I tend to sabotage my own efforts, a phrase here an undeserved challenge there – an anger that I thought was cloaked in the civility of desire – for a larger audience. And I get it back in spades: a dark silence, not even a foreboding one to suggest clues to be clung to. No. There is nothing but an inert army of disdain waiting in the margins of a battlefield already strewn with the gloom and doom of rejection.

“But I write for me!” I’ll take this to my unpublished grave – alas.