PANDEMIC POLITICS

 

 

confetti

What is there to make the heart swell

Against those ungovernable desires?

Wars; showdowns at

The corral

The jungle

The beach

The half-learned lessons class

The thin stream of info-wire

Signifying new battlegrounds

Sneaky. Anonymously mean

And wrong

Stabbing at our rucksacks

Full of unused Gods

           •

What poetry can hold

What it can’t

Anger controlled

By rhyme or meter

Impolite bluster

Baroque or scant

Edgy words on pages teeter

Sweet noises overrun morning thunder

Evening song diminished in

Skeins of days torn asunder

                   •

May November carry our souls

From a hell lined with poetry stole

From that Shredded Parchment,

Now lying in confetti baskets,

To be strewn in ignorant rapture,

Over brides, babies, and caskets

MUSIC: LISTENING TO THE OLDIES

th

There’s a reason why it’s still here

       That “old” music, emblematic of all our firsts

History,  instrument-etched

       Rhythmic scorching guitars

Saxophones – longing or lucky

       Pianos running us up and down

ranges of emotion

Bass and drums defibrillating

beatless hearts

       All spooning with words

That led us in that timeless

       Continuous dance

Along the Watchtower

       Among the purple flowers

In that Purple Haze

       There’s a reason for “oldies stations”

Sanctuaries for melodic reminders, telling us

       Passion, its usefulness, is deathless

As long as humans prevail

       “Old–school” music will continue

Demanding answers to questions

       That should have been asked

Of the past

THOUGHTS FROM THE CENTER RING

well of sorrow

             It is inaccurate to say that I hate
             everything. I am strongly in favor
             of common sense, common honesty,
             and common decency. This makes me
             Forever ineligible for public office.   H.L. Mencken

I’ve written about my perception of decency and, it appears, I am writing/preaching to the choir. My friends feel as I do.

As for people who see things differently there seems no “healthy” debate available to them. So far, it’s all been name-calling and put-downs. People who want healthy debate, it appears, are having that debate somewhere other than on social media. And, honestly, I’m not so sure decency should be debatable. Aren’t there are rules already set for what is decent in a democracy?

There are recognized standards for decency. There is the recognized standard of what is proper and in good taste. And we live in a democracy in which our representatives are expected and elected to adhere to a certain standard of decency. I find it difficult to understand those who support elected officials who fail to follow even the faintest path laid out by (what used to be) our collective decency.
In 1954, as an amazed television audience looked on, Boston Lawyer Joseph Welch – after one of his associates was accused by Joseph McCarthy, of having communist ties – responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy’s career:

 
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?” 

What has happened to our collective sense of decency? When did it become okay to be cruel and reckless with the lives and well-being of American citizens and other people around the world?
Where is our sense of decency?
This is a question that should haunt us because the answer will certainly define us as we move forward.

CIRCUS FAMILIAR

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.

CIRCUS FAMILIAR

  Gwen glad pty  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

Comes the Fate Upon Us: Taking Adversity Seriously

King - 20th cent. martyrs
Martyrs of the 20th century – honored in granite and poetry – Westminster Abbey

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.

cropped-british-museum-curie-quote.jpg

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].”

 

 

First Lady Once Removed

NYT 7:23:16 Lauren Tamaki
nyt 7/23/17 Lauren Tamaki

 

The door to my 10th grade English classroom was flung open with more than a little purpose on the afternoon of October 24, 2003. Irritated, after a long day of teaching, I looked up to see two stocky men, strangers, each with a curly black cord snaking from a right ear to God knows where. Fear replaced irritation as my heart leapt, scared by the suddenness of their movement and the no-nonsense look on the faces of the United States Secret Service. My high school was being “swept” in preparation the arrival of Senator Clinton. The three students in the room, frozen by a situation they had only witnessed in movies, looked at me in surprise, happy to be getting out of their current assignment. I told the agents we needed to stay put to finish our work. The looks of the agents softened as they gave us a nod before closing the door and moving down the hallway to “sweep” the remainder of our school.

 

Senator Clinton was due to speak within the hour in the high school atrium to award the our school district a federal grant to equip district school busses with diesel emissions reduction systems. I waited with my students in the hallway behind the stage with hopes of meeting the Senator and former First Lady.  I moved closer in an attempt to hear my students converse with Senator Clinton. She look up at me and smiled. I offered my hand and introduced myself. I noticed a twinkle in her eye, a softening humility of the often beleaguered former First Lady who had been so hated by so many – even some from her own party. Initially, my feelings were mixed regarding Hillary Clinton. I had friends who resented her for not ditching her husband in the face of his infidelity. There were those who could not separate the president’s personal faults from the actions of his wife. I heard the degrading comments referencing Senator Clinton’s political aspirations; “too ambitious,” some said. But I know a woman’s ambitions are not judged the same as a man’s. Like Sophocles’s Antigone, Clinton’s drive comes from a place that is feared by her opponents. Hillary Clinton has long embodied the power of one who prefers reality to dreams. And, when her First-Lady reality punctured the dreams of those Americans used to seeing women behave a certain way, the ground was in place for all manner of campaigns to bring down Hillary Clinton. She’s a woman who will not be held in place by the principles of double standards revered by the political, nattering, nabobs who slink about, reading and seeing only that which justifies their point of view.

 

There is an aura that surrounds Hillary Clinton. And maybe, my end-of-the-day fatigue made me more prone to awe. But, once in the Senator’s presence, I would have signed on for whatever job she gave me. Such was the strength of the power she conveyed and shared with those working with her. The idea of Hillary Clinton as a natural politician provokes fear.  That a person can go into a building full of people and by her mere presence win hearts and minds, is frightening indeed, especially to the more artificially programmed politician who will spend untold public dollars to find the smoking gun that will close the circuit on her power source.

Later, when I related my experience to others I was reminded of how awe can be inspired not necessarily by decency but the simple power of prominence. I should say here that I was no stranger to being in the presence of prominent people. I have met my share of the famous and infamous. The names that remain in my memory are there for having shown a certain unpracticed humility that overrode all the accolades and awards. It is a power that comes from knowing oneself and an understanding of human nature in general. The venerated journalist, Walter Cronkite displayed the same humble power as he shook hands while walking through the hallway of my first post-college job at CBS Radio in San Francisco. I often thought that, as a naïve twenty-three-year-old I was blinded by the bright light of Cronkite’s accomplishments but the longer I live; I know what can and what cannot be faked. There are times when humility has to live along side of ambition – times when humility seems practiced to veil naked drives for power. But ambition, for women as for men, is not necessarily a bad thing. I believe it is this ambition that Secretary of State Clinton’s detractors cannot abide.

Still holding my hand, Senator Clinton thanked me for teaching, saying that so many of our country’s teachers could be successful in many other professions – but instead they come to the classroom. Intrigued, I wondered how this woman, whom I had never met, could presume to know me? Now, 13 years older and wiser, I understand (like Clinton) more about human nature. Senator Clinton’s acknowledgment of a certain nobility in one’s desire to teach made me glad, all over again, for my decision to leave California. And there will be those who say that all Senator Clinton represented for me that day in 2003 was a simple affirmation of my own life choices. But, as Antigone infers, there are two laws: man’s law and the law of nature. And one is more infinitely worth fighting for.

THE POLITICS OF EBOLA: GOD’S PLAN, AND I TOLD YOU SO

ebola

Last week I was stunned by the unkind comment of the stranger next to me as we filled a container with donated cans of soup at the local food bank. The comment came after a polite discussion that almost lulled me into dangerous camaraderie with this woman whose conversation segued from motherly pride in her daughter’s nursing career to her idea that Ebola is God’s punishment. “Whoa!” I put up my hand and responded with the usual; where was God when….(insert any historical scourge here). I pointed out Nazi Germany’s contribution to earthly scourges but, after a few days of contemplation, I know there is not much I could say to this woman and others like her who make their stabs at somatic immunity by volunteering in local food banks and presuming to know what God has in mind for believers and non-believers. And maybe my discomfort comes from my own questioning about a belief system that asks me to suspend belief in reality; a reality in which I live. The reality here is that Ebola is not new and as long as it stayed in some faraway land punishing others for being… well, the “other,” Ebola remained that terrible disease plaguing those sad people in that faraway land. Ebola is here, in our face, live and in living color (cue the hysteria).

We first-world (as opposed to third-world) inhabitants are quite predictable in our approach to life; we live our comfortable lives (some more comfortable than others) consumed with the daily familial and material concerns of the species. Oh, we read the headlines as we pass from one engagement to the next but no headline gets our attention like the local headline giving us the exact location and identity of the killer who has been knocking at our door for decades. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Ebola was first discovered in 1976 near the Ebola River in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In 1994 Richard Preston introduced a generation of readers to The Hot Zone: A Terrifying True Story, a non-fiction thriller that frightened even Steven King who, according to Wikipedia said the first chapter of The Hot Zone was “one of the most horrifying things I’ve read in my whole life. ” Preston’s book paints indelible images of people in the throes of hemorrhagic fevers and bursting vomit-bags of black bile on transatlantic flights. (After reading the Preston’s book in ’95 I have seriously changed my original position on monkeys as sweet and adorable pets). But Preston’s bestseller did not act as wake up call for the “free world”; shaking our collective shoulders and encouraging us to answer the door. No, it was not until the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, according to Slate.com, that serious research spending occurred at the behest of Dick Cheney whose fear of America’s vulnerability to attack by enemies using bioweapons (as if airplanes were not enough) prompted the Project Bioshield Act. And here is just another story from the file of tragic irony; were it not for the vicarious warriors – those men who fight wars with other people’s children – and their projection of retribution, we would be living with an even worse prognosis for survival.

It is Monday morning, our favorite team has lost the game leaving fans with nothing but hindsight to tell us that America has, once again, been caught deaf to the knocking of humanity. Had we listened to those doctors on the front lines fighting diseases (diseases that know no politics or religion) we wouldn’t be in this heightened state of terror. Had we studied the past, listened to our hearts, and reached out with all the atomic weight our country can muster (especially in times of war) to assist a world far less fortunate, we would not be at this intersection of moral chaos and panic. We allow the scourge of Ebola to continue by proclaiming it a part of “God’s” plan – a passive aggressive approach that did not work with the aids virus. As a country we need to read, reason, and understand. After reading the story of the Ebola virus in The Hot Zone we should have understood Preston’s terrifying conclusion: EBOV will be back. And so it has.

AN OUNCE OF KINDNESS – PLEASE?

cropped-british-museum-curie-quote.jpg

Today is October 2, 2013. This country is in its second day of a government shutdown because a group of grown individuals, elected to represent the people and uphold the laws of this country, are unable to get beyond the “kindergarten sandbox” politics that adheres to the time-honored tradition  of, if I don’t get my way, I’m going to hold my breath. Well, these people are actually holding the financial breath of us all – they are still getting paid as opposed to the more than a million citizens who are not.

But I am writing to make another point – even as the above has acted as the catalyst for this point.  I have been astounded at the vitriol and mean-spirited attacks by young adults on others less fortunate. A former student set off a FaceBook barrage of meanness when she called individuals on welfare cheats and lazy. There were other choice adjectives thrown in this tirade but one gets the point – even without the expletives. First I have to say this former student is a long-standing hero of mine. She was and remains (for me) the only high school girl to try out for the football team. She fought hard, very hard at the heavily padded sports wall set up between genders. I was privy to some of her thoughts on afternoons when she would stop by my classroom before practice flushed with excitement even as she showed me her bruises up and down her back and rib cage. Initially, like most competitive individuals, she was proud of the black and blue proof of her rugged spirit; this was a test and she was, if not succeeding magnificently, going the distance.  My heart burst with pride for her. She was the daughter I wanted – standing toe-to-toe with the sport-dominant gender and holding her own.  Then one day she came to my room saddened, believing her desire to quit the unnatural abuse that was heaped upon her (I am sure to teach her that her place was on the sidelines and not on the field) meant she had, somehow, betrayed her gender. My heart broke even as we sat and discussed where she might best put her future energies. Girls’ lacrosse became her next goal as she put together a winning team of young women as beautiful and rugged as she. Needless to say, I was surprised to read a post of such insensitivity from her. I made my comments and also responded to another poster who happily spouted astoundingly ugly comments about people forced to live in poverty. I guess my mistake was suggesting this person not call herself a Christian. I was bombarded with her anger and her telling me, “You don’t know me.” She was right; I didn’t know her life – any more than she knew the lives of the majority of people on public assistance – the ones she so blithely castigated.  I sat back and wondered how such meanness could have taken space in the hearts of my s/hero and her friend. Surely it was not learned in any of the literature I selected for students – literature that pointed to the beauty of diversity by showing no one group is ALL anything. Stereotyping is discrimination plain and simple.

Later, I came to realize that what is going on in our nation’s capitol has spread like jelly from a sloppily made sandwich. These young people have bought into the idea that all of their problems begin and end with those whom they accuse of ‘gaming ’ the system.  Oh their qualm is not with those who game the system on the high-end; they are, in fact, the perpetrators of the myth. More money is lobbied and directed into programs that benefit only a few. The one per-cent of this country has never, ever in the history of the republic been richer.  Money makes a formidable opponent. I see evidence of this every day in the front page of the Times. On the other hand, weakness is easier to denigrate and exploit and believing one’s problems lie with those who live in poverty is easier than fighting congress. Poverty makes a sweet target, like hungry children and education.

It seems I have been on a quest the last few years to find the root-source of hatred. No, we are not born hateful, warring, abusive people. These lessons – most under the guise of human Intel – happen by passing on messages that should inform future generations.  From my Brief History of Mankind course I’ve learned that it was man’s ability to hold independent ideas or symbols in his head and discuss things or concepts that could not be touched or seen that moved us to the upper ranks of the food chain. Before this we were running down our food as we needed, feeding, housing, and caring for our clan – ensuring posterity. We had no heft, claws, teeth or venom to protect ourselves.  Initially I assumed opposable thumbs were the reason for human success but today’s caged apes tell a different story.  And the story is the key. The idea of gossip – yes, according to professor Hahrari, it is gossip that saved our bacon. The ability to discuss and create stories of potential allies or enemies along with early man’s propensity for caring for the group, the community – each other – is what helped us mount the ladder of dominance.  Without the kindness of caring – we would not be having this discussion.  I came away from that lesson believing the person who governs the ‘story’ is the one who can, for good or ill, dominate the culture. 

Today, we are living in a culture dominated by meanness. We vicariously root for the anti-hero in our stories because he is given something to hate, avenge and destroy. Meanness is good as long as it’s directed at _____________ (fill in the blank).  Today’s politicians have masterfully promoted the story of meanness – a story even they would have to admit, on their kindest day, (in church maybe?) has no validity. And while the heads of those young adults who buy into the ‘story’ are turned away in a manufactured self-righteousness, they are being robbed of something so very dear and yet so simple as to be overlooked. They are being robbed of opportunity to witness caring for others and their future.  Our future.

My young friend messaged me this morning (this second day of this government shutdown) apologizing for the storm caused by her post. I had to remind her that I too was once young and rigid. I told my friend of the time I was complaining about poor people on the streets of Los Angeles and how they “smell.”  My gentle, southern-born grandmother held up a preemptive hand – cutting me off with an unusual sternness, saying, “There but for the Grace of God go I.”    

To My Journalism Students: On the Subject of Truth

  Revamped repost

cropped-garden-statue.jpg

She walked along the moon-lit shore

And said her name was Truth

She fell from lips of every bore

Uncomfortable in hearts uncouth

 

Her mistake was simply looking back

To gather facts from the root

But

Gaining hard from tail of the pack

Greed fought to neutralize truth

 

Dressed in cloth so tailored and fine

He put his minions just so

Greed flashed his smile oh quite divine

Promising power and gold

 

Pledging power from uncommon seed 

Promises to evil flows

Liquid influence; oh sweet mead

The returns unchecked – grows

 

Did greed succeed – making Truth moot?

I for one won’t abide

His forcible rend by nail and tooth

Believing Truth is forced to hide

 

I believe she’s on some inland street

Barren of youth and sound

Where life is sold to make ends meet

Truth, not easily found

 

Not in the burbs? Maybe in town

Hiding in campaign lore

Alley dirty, slogans all ‘round

By what was a General Store

 

I see her

 

Dress in tatters, no sun-lit shore

Can Truth hold strength to greed?

Slipped the lips of too many bores

Liberty, country called as creed

 

 

“*How strange is the lot of … mortals”

Each life, a single sojourn

Dragging Truth through hideous portals

Awaiting their gold – in return

 

Where’s the country to shelter Truth?

To wait Her patient assay

Who sees Her rape as vile, uncouth?

Beautiful mouths; adorned decay

 

Oh for the day when Truth will rein…

But truth’s always been a tool

To tease and dig the lie’s huge skein

Speaking power to those in rule

 

Truth will remain abused and lost

If we fail to sow her seed

Grab our shovels and dirt be tossed

Upon the grave of greed