27 January 2014


My philosopher friend is explaining again
that the bottle of well-chilled beer in my hand

might not be a bottle of beer,
that the trickle of bottle-sweat cooling in my palm

might not be wet, might not be cool,
that in fact it’s impossible ever to know

if I’m holding a bottle at all.
I try to follow his logic, flipping the steaks

that are almost certainly hissing
over the bed of coals – coals I’d swear

were black at first, then gray, then red –
coals we could spread out and walk on

and why not, I ask, since we’ll never be sure
if our feet burn, if our soles

blister and peel, if our faithlessness
is any better or worse a tool

than the firewalker’s can-do extreme.
Exactly, he smiles. Behind the fence

the moon rises, or seems to.
Have another. Whatever else is true,

the coals feel hotter than ever
as the darkness begins to do

what darkness does. Another what? I ask.

Philip Memmer in Poems and Plays #11

(the Poetry 180 Project)

17 January 2014

After Years

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer's retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

Ted Kooser in Solo: A Journal of Poetry

(The Poetry 180 Project)

Near the Wall of a House

Near the wall of a house painted
to look like stone,
I saw visions of God.

A sleepless night that gives others a headache
gave me flowers
opening beautifully inside my brain.

And he who was lost like a dog
will be found like a human being
and brought back home again.

Love is not the last room: there are others
after it, the whole length of the corridor
that has no end.

Yehuda Amichai, Selected Poetry of Yehuda Amichai

(The Poetry 180 Project)

13 November 2013

Gouge, Adze, Rasp, Hammer

So this is what it's like when love
leaves, and one is disappointed
that the body and mind continue to exist,

exacting payment from each other,
engaging in stale rituals of desire,
and it would seem the best use of one's time

is not to stand for hours outside
her darkened house, drenched and chilled,
blinking into the slanting rain.

So this is what it's like to have to
practice amiability and learn
to say the orchard looks grand this evening

as the sun slips behind scumbled clouds
and the pears, mellowed to a golden-green,
glow like flames among the boughs.

It is now one claims there is comfort
in the constancy of nature, in the wind's way
of snatching dogwood blossoms from their branches,

scattering them in the dirt, in the slug's
sure, slow arrival to nowhere.
It is now one makes a show of praise

for the lilac that strains so hard to win
attention to its sweet inscrutability,
when one admires instead the lowly

gouge, adze, rasp, hammer--
fire-forged, blunt-syllabled things,
unthought-of until a need exists:

a groove chiseled to a fixed width,
a roof sloped just so. It is now
one knows what it is to envy

the rivet, wrench, vise -- whatever
works unburdened by memory and sight,
while high above the damp fields

flocks of swallows roil and dip,
and streams churn, thick with leaping salmon,
and the bee advances on the rose.

Chris Forhan in New England Review

(The Poetry 180 Project)


In the airport bar, I tell my mother not to worry.
No one ever tripped and fell into the San Andreas
Fault. But as she dabs at her dry eyes, I remember
those old movies where the earth does open.

There's always one blonde entomologist, four
deceitful explorers, and a pilot who's good-looking
but not smart enough to take off his leather jacket
in the jungle.

Still, he and Dr. Cutie Bug are the only ones
who survive the spectacular quake because
they spent their time making plans to go back
to the Mid-West and live near his parents

while the others wanted to steal the gold and ivory
then move to Los Angeles where they would rarely
call their mothers and almost never fly home
and when they did for only a few days at a time.

Ron Koertge, Geography of the Forehead

(The Poetry 180 Project)

13 August 2013

Iris Chase Griffen

Richard's friends were even older than Richard, and the woman looked older than the man. She was wearing white mink, despite the spring weather. Her gown was white as well, a design inspired--she told us at some length--by ancient Greece, the Winged Victory of Samothrace to be precise. The pleats of this gown were bound around with gold cord under her breasts, and in a crisscross between them. I thought that if I had breasts that slack and droopy I'd never wear such a gown. The skin showing above the neckline was freckled and puckered, as were her arms. Her husband sat silently while she talked, his hands fisted together, his half-smile set in concrete; he looked wisely down at the tablecloth. So this is marriage, I thought: this shared tedium, this twitchiness, and those little powdery runnels forming to the sides of the nose.

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin, p.243

07 June 2013

The Astronaut

Acacia Lasita

The first time the astronaut came for me
I was hidden in the ribcage of a whale
I swore I would eat only the salt
Grazed from the tips of the waves
If he would only let me stay

But he returned

The second time
My palms were open

The white fragments fell

My hands could not contain every shard
of every bone
in my body

I tried to collect every piece
I knew I could keep them safe
If I could just find them

The last time the astronaut came
I let his huge hands envelop me
I could have cried out

But I was just so tired

(this poem appears in the 2013 Walrus, the literary journal of Mills College)

24 May 2013

The Last Wolf

The last wolf hurried toward me
through the ruined city
and I heard his baying echoes
down the steep smashed warrens
of Montgomery Street and past
the ruby-crowned highrises
left standing
their lighted elevators useless

Passing the flicking red and green
of traffic signals
baying his way eastward
in the mystery of his wild loping gait
closer the sounds in the deadly night
through clutter and rubble of quiet blocks
I hear his voice ascending the hill
and at last his low whine as he came
floor by empty floor to the room
where I sat
in my narrow bed looking west, waiting
I heard him snuffle at the door and
I watched

He trotted across the floor
he laid his long gray muzzle
on the spare white spread
and his eyes burned yellow
his small dotted eyebrows quivered

Yes, I said.
I know what they have done.

Mary TallMountain, Light on a Tent Wall

(The Poetry 180 Project)

The Rider

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn't catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

A victory! To leave your loneliness
panting behind you on some street corner
while you float free into a cloud of sudden azaleas,
pink petals that have never felt loneliness,
no matter how slowly they fell.

from Fuel: Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye

(The Poetry 180 Project)

05 October 2012

this quality of coolness

Closing the sliding glass door behind her, the house hit Cecilia with a cool that she had nearly forgotten in the heavy humidity of the city. Even the city park could not provide this quality of coolness--cement blocks hovering around it on all fours. This was the kind of coolness that only grew from a ground not hollowed out by tunnels and steaming underground trains. Berkeley. It reminded her of the hills of Berkeley. The blend of drying jasmine and eucalyptus hot-whipped into a cloudless sky, the scent carrying itself out to the bay.

In Brooklyn, she still found it hard to believe she lived by the water. The tops of neighboring ships were to her merely another line of differently shaped structures rising up from the stiff water-floor. The real mother ocean was three thousand miles behind her.

Cherríe Moraga, "Pesadilla," in Loving in the War Years, p.33

Anatomy Lesson

A black woman and a small beige one talk about their bodies.
About putting a piece of their anatomy in their pockets
upon entering any given room.

When entering a room full of soldiers who fear hearts,
you put your heart in your back pocket,
the black woman explains. It is important, not to intimidate.
The soldiers wear guns, not in their back pockets.

You let the heart fester there. You let the heart seethe.
You let the impatience of the heart build and build
until the power of the heart hidden begins to be felt in the room.
Until the absence of the heart begins to take on the shape
of a presence.
Until the soldiers look at you and begin to beg you
to open up your heart to them, so anxious are they to see
what it is they fear they fear.

Do not be seduced.

Do not forget for a minute that the soldiers wear guns.
Hang onto your heart.
Ask them first what they'll give up to see it.
Tell them that they can begin with their arms.

Only then will you begin to negotiate.

Moraga, p.60

Corey Rusk

....since he was seventeen, Rusk had been promoting all-ages shows by countless bands, including the Minutemen, Black Flag, and the Misfits, and even though he delivered pizzas for a living, he never took a penny for his efforts--all he asked was to get reimbursed for expenses. It was a great deal for the bands--where the local rock club might have paid the bands about $300, they might walk away with nearly triple that at one of Rusk's shows.

Michael Azerrad, Our Band Could Be Your Life, p.281

Ian MacKaye

For MacKaye the Sixties counterculture and the early punk underground had furnished the blueprints for a better existence. Punk was not something to grow out of; it was something to grow with--it was a valid, sustainable way to live one's life.

Azerrad, p.378


On those long drives, they worked up some novel ideas about how they were going to conduct their business: they wouldn't do interviews with magazines they themselves wouldn't read; they would play only all-ages shows and tickets would be $5.

Insisting on all-ages admission and $5 tickets largely kept them out of even the hardcore circuit; most Fugazi shows were promoted by punk kids at impromptu venues--people's basements, community centers, vegetarian restaurants, even dorm rooms....

After Repeater the band was routinely selling out 1,000-capacity shows and yet still hauled their own equipment, booked their own shows, and slept on people's floors (and they still do)....

Azerrad, p.389, 391, 404

"Feminism As We See It"

Another attitude which might cause problems is basic racism of the mind. It is a disease, you know. What is stronger: racism or sexism? I believe racism. Anglo women must analyze their emotions and intellect and think clearly on this. Is the women's movement a move to place just another layer of racist Anglo dominance over minority peoples? Look at it through our peepholes. Minorities are working hard, pressuring the system for equal opportunity. Suddenly, the hereto silent Anglo woman emerges clamoring for her political, social, and economic rights. She, who has reaped the physical comforts, the physical pampering, suddenly is unhappy at the whole situation. So she wants equal opportunity. And is her cry one for intellectual liberation? No! It's 90 percent for political opportunity so she can have economic opportunity. This looks very, very suspicious to us...

Martha Cotera, "Feminism As We See It," in The Chicana Feminist, p.18

26 May 2012

Gerda Lerner

American women have also been denied their history, but this denial has not yet been widely recognized. History, in the past largely written by white male historians, has simply failed to ask those questions which would elicit information about the female contribution, the female point of view. Women as a group have been denied knowledge of their legitimate past and have been profoundly affected individually by having to see the world through male eyes.

Gerda Lerner, Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, p.xvii

14 May 2012

Vinoba Bhave

If India could find courage to reduce her army to the minimum, it would demonstrate to the world her moral strength. But we are cowards and cowards have no imagination.

Vinoba Bhave, quoted in Dave Dellinger, Revolutionary Nonviolence, p.298

08 May 2012

Agnes Iron

Each evening after supper, Agnes walked to the place where the Perdition River flowed into Lake Grand. She went alone, to think, she said, and to be silent. Always she returned, refreshed and clear-eyed, as if the place where two waters met was a juncture where fatigue yielded to comfort, where a woman renewed herself.

One night, from the porch, I watched her coming back through the first shade of night. She didn't see me as she came up the road. She was half a world away in the first evening dimness. She wore the fur coat wide open and she walked with something like a dance step, even in her heavy black shoes, turning a little this way and a little that. I still remember how strong and wide her thighs appeared that night, her awkward movement. She was singing, too. On her upturned face, she wore a look--half-rapture, half-pain. She was singing. I felt the song and I wanted to stay there and listen, but it was a private act, I knew. I didn't want to intrude upon Agnes' inner world, so I slipped indoors quietly, before she saw me, put water in the kettle and waited for it to heat. But all the time I smiled at her passion, her rocking movement, her bent knees.

She was still singing when she came in.

Linda Hogan, Solar Storms, p.44

"horses laugh at me"

I like the whole idea of horses, and the people who hack around the country's bridleways on them. In fact, there can be few more poetic sights on a winter morning than that of a couple of riders clopping along an Essex lane while the sun strobes down through the bare trees.

But the truth is that I'm only spiritually an equestrian. I've always meant to learn how to ride and it's to my eternal chagrin that I never have. Horses, you see, laugh at me. Whenever I've had any dealings with them it's almost like they know I'm a soft touch and that they can do whatever they want. I once had to help a woman walk two horses for a couple of miles through the lanes from one village to another. My horse kept leaning on me. The woman asked: "What's wrong?" I replied that the horse kept leaning on me. "Well lean back at him." she barked. I did. The horse leaned on me even harder, pushing me over. As I got up, I'll swear it was grinning at me. And ever since then, every horse that I ever meet, looks at me in a certain way. It's like my picture's been circulated around the county's stables and that I'm the subject of some well-known equine gag.

Martin Newell, "Buying A Winter Coat," in The Stars on a Tray, pp. 147-148

28 April 2012

Henry Rollins on U2

During lunch Bono and Paul McGuinness ask me about the poetry slams in New York. An increasingly popular entertainment in the East Village is for poets to get up and recite their verse while audience volunteers judge them on a scale of one to ten, a sort of Olympic Pentameter.

"You hear some good stuff and a lot of bad stuff," I say. "The obnoxious thing is that a lot of them are desperate to prove that just 'cause they're poets doesn't mean they're sissies. They try to act punk, they try to dress tough. It's like those classical violinists who think dyeing their hair green will make them connect to the kids. It's hard to listen to spoken word by people who are so horny to convince you they're macho."

"Like Henry Rollins," Paul says.

"Ah, no," I say. "Henry Rollins is good." And I immediately wonder if I've put my foot in my mouth. Rollins has a monologue on one of his spoken word albums in which he mocks U2's fans, rags on the band, and rants, "They could never fool me! We always had to see over and over again on any television channel that shithead climbing up and down the P.A. at Redrocks! That guy with the bubble butt waving a white flag! A white flag says, Aim your crosshair sights over here! Kill ME! The one with the flag. Pop that guy. And Edge doing that fucking fake-ass pilgrim gig like, I'm so pious and low-key with my millions. I'll just play this one Enoesque chord. They've been milking that same bassline and the same guitar change for like five albums and the world kisses their ass and it is the biggest pile of shite I have ever heard!"

The air hangs heavy over the lunch table for a moment and then Bono says casually, "Henry Rollins--is that the vegetarian?"

Bill Flanagan, U2 at the End of the World, pp.333-334

Martin Newell on "Miss Van Houten's Coffee Shoppe"

This is a sort of Brian-Wilson-on-the-Village-Green thing. I really like cheerful pop songs and I hate nearly everything to do with rock and credibility. When I see some leather-clad wasted-looking gothic wretch posing in a club I always think, "Oh for God's sake go for a bicycle ride or something." I'm gradually becoming Julie Andrews....

from the liner notes to The Off White Album

"a more accurate national history"

In 1984, when I was asked by editors of the British journal Social History to write an article reviewing the field of American women's history, I was a young assistant professor with an agenda. Like most of my generation of feminist scholars, professional ambitions were fired by political awakenings. Converted, and I do mean converted, to anti-war politics and radical feminism as a first-year student at Smith College in the late 1960s, I became convinced that history offered a critical lever for opening the minds of women and men to the oppressive character of American military, political, and social institutions and attitudes. The American history survey course I took in my sophomore year, in which Dr. Allen Weinstein catalogued a national tradition of racism and militarism from the colonial era through the Vietnam War, convinced me that if Americans had truly understood their history, they would not continue to support U.S. interventions in the domestic and economic affairs of other nations. The consciousness-raising that would be provided by a more accurate--that is, antiracist, anti-imperialist, and feminist--national history was critical, I thought, to mobilizing movements for progressive social change.

Nancy Hewitt, "Beyond the Search for Sisterhood," in Unequal Sisters: A Multicultural Reader in U.S. Women's History (Vicki Ruiz and Ellen Carol DuBois, eds.), p.1

21 April 2012


"On the planet O there has not been a war for five thousand years," she read, "and on Gethen there has never been a war." She stopped reading, to rest her eyes and because she was trying to train herself to read slowly, not gobble words down in chunks the way Tikuli gulped his food. "There has never been a war:" in her mind the words stood clear and bright, surrounded by and sinking into an infinite, dark, soft incredulity. What would that world be, a world without war? It would be the real world. Peace was the true life, the life of working and learning and bringing up children to work and learn. War, which devoured work, learning, and children, was the denial of reality. But my people, she thought, know only how to deny. Born in the dark shadow of power misused, we set peace outside our world, a guiding and unattainable light. All we know how to do is fight. Any peace one of us can make in our life is only a denial that the war is going on, a shadow of the shadow, a doubled unbelief.

Ursula LeGuin, "Betrayals," in Four Ways to Forgiveness, p.1

16 April 2012

Ana da Silva

London, around Autumn 1976, was an amazing place to be. Gina had just arrived from Nottingham, and I had arrived from Portugal. The time leading up to our first album was really enjoyable regardless of predictable difficulties. It was a great period for learning and achieving the surprises that were our songs and our sound. The punk idea that you just needed to know three chords to start something, was a very encouraging concept, and I think it still stands. So, want to do something girls? Be bold, be cheeky, go for it. The efforts to open doors for women have been fruitful (though painfully slow) and we hope that, by having been there, we helped, not just ourselves, but others by means of inspiration.

Gina and I got our initial inspiration in 1976/77 from the groups we used to go and see--The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Subway Sect, Talking Heads, and particularly the women involved--Patti Smith, The Slits, Poly Styrene....They said it was easy, anyone could do it, so we decided to form our own group.

We felt amazed at our ability to write a S.O.N.G. with beginning, middle, and end. It sounded so miraculously complete that nothing would stop us from then on.

Ana da Silva, liner notes to The Raincoats

Kurt Cobain on The Raincoats

When I listen to The Raincoats I feel as if I'm a stowaway in an attic, violating and in the dark. Rather than listening to them, I feel like I'm listening in on them. We're together in the same old house and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above and, if I get caught--everything will be ruined because it's their thing. They're playing their music for themselves. It's not as sacred as wire-tapping a Buddhist monk's telephone or something because if The Raincoats really did catch me, they would probably just ask me if I wanted some tea. I would comply, then they would finish playing their songs and I would say thank you very much for making me feel good.

Kurt Cobain, "From a Stowaway in an Attic," liner notes to The Raincoats

Steve Vai on his Audition for Frank Zappa's Band

So I was in that mode of being very hungry to rehearse and to learn, and that's really what you needed in a situation with Frank. Because with Frank you have to be on--I mean, it's a big boy's game--when Frank walks in, you just have to be on.

I remember my audition because he asked me to come down and learn all these songs--and obviously when I got there we didn't play any of the songs that he told me to learn, but I got through--but then he says to me, "Okay, play this," and he picks up his guitar and kind of cryptically plays a line--because Frank had a particular style and it wasn't of the virtuoso-type nature, you know what I mean? It was more visceral.

So he plays through something and says, "Now play it at this tempo," and snaps his fingers. And I'm watching closely because you got to get it right like that or you're out of there, and I say "Okay" and play it--and there's all these guys around and everything, and I'm 20 years old, and he says, "Now add this note here," and he plays a note, so I say "Okay" and I thought about it and I add the note, and he says "Now play it in 7/8," so I say "Okay" and play it in 7/8, and he says, "Now play it in 7/8 reggae," and I thought for a minute and I say "Okay" and I play it in 7/8 reggae! And it's this ridiculous line that should never be played on a guitar, and then he goes, "Now add this note," and he plays a note, and I thought for a minute and I look up at him and say, "It's impossible"--because it was! Nobody could do it, you know? And he puts his hands on his hips and goes, "Well, I hear Linda Ronstadt is looking for a guitar player...."

To watch this clip, go to Steve Vai Audition with Frank Zappa

Bruce Springsteen on Guitar Lessons

Well, I did take a lesson or two, but lessons were horrible in those days because the first thing they wanted to teach you was to read music and I needed instant gratification--I needed to rock now, not later, not after I learned the scales, not after I learned those notes and what their names were, not after I stopped the buzzing on the B string....I needed to make a horrific noise right now, and if you couldn't teach me that--and no one could in those days! Mike Diehl, the guy at Diehl's Music, was clueless as to the power of the instrument he held in his hands, and had no way of transmitting its significance to an incoherent nine-year-old. So the whole thing was ass-backwards and wasn't going to work.

from the interview with Steven Van Zandt on Little Steven's Underground Garage, April 4 2011

"we were there"

The settlement of the Farah strike in 1974 had, for many women, come at great personal cost. Few activists would enjoy the benefits since many of the most vocal were fired after a few months, ostensibly for failing to meet inflated production quotas; union representatives blithely refused to generate any grievance procedures to protect and retain these women. Mexican women have not fared well in their affiliation with mainstream labor unions even though they have contributed much of the people power, perseverance, and activism necessary for successful organization. As in the case of Farah, they typically have been denied any meaningful voice in the affairs of the local they had labored so valiantly to build.

Elsa Chávez is one of these women activists. After she was fired, Chávez began to work at another clothing factory, but came to the realization that she wanted--and could achieve--a college education. I first met Ms. Chávez when she was a student in my Chicano history class at U.T. El Paso; two former strikers had enrolled in the class, a fact I discovered as I lectured on the Farah strike and noticed the two reentry women, both bilingual education majors, sitting in the front row winking and giggling to each other. "Oh, we're sorry, Dr. Ruiz, but we were there." A bit nonplussed, I turned the class over to them.

Vicki Ruiz, From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, pp.131-132

La Nueva Chicana

She that lady protesting injustice,
Es mi Mamá.
The girl in the brown beret,
The one teaching the children,
She's my hermana.
Over there fasting with the migrants,
Es mi tía.
These are the women who worry,
Pray, iron
And cook chile and tortillas.
The lady with the forgiving eyes
And the gentle smile,
Listen to her shout.
She knows what hardship is all about
All about.
The establishment calls her a radical militant.
The newspapers read she is
A dangerous subversive
They label her name to condemn her.
By the FBI she's called
A big problem.
In Aztlán we call her
La Nueva Chicana.

Viola Correa, "La Nueva Chicana," in Ruiz, pp.169-170

28 March 2012

I Looked Up One Day (1973)

I looked up one day
and began
to see.

I looked up and began
to see
where I was
where I fit.

I began to suspect
that what I was doing
and what I wanted to do
to develop me
more completely

And I began
to watch,
to listen,
to observe
all those activities that stifled
this growth.

And I became more particular
how I spent my time
who I spent it with.

Rose Marie Roybal, "I Looked Up One Day," quoted in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings (Alma García, editor), p.233

13 March 2012

Rosario De Leon

I can't be a mother. Not now. Maybe never. Not for me to choose, like I didn't choose being female. Like I didn't choose being artist--it isn't something you choose. It's something you are, only I can't explain it.

I don't want to be a mother.

I wouldn't mind being a father. At least a father could still be artist, could love something instead of someone, and no one would call that selfish.

I leave my braid here and thank you for believing what I do is important. Though no one else in my family, no other woman, neither friend nor relative, no one I know, not even the heroine in the telenovelas, no woman wants to live alone.

I do.

Virgencita de Guadalupe. For a long time I wouldn't let you in my house. I couldn't see you without seeing my ma each time my father came home drunk and yelling, blaming everything that ever went wrong in his life on her.

I couldn't look at your folded hands without seeing my abuela mumbling, "My son, my son, my son..." Couldn't look at you without blaming you for all the pain my mother and her mother and all our mothers' mothers have put up with in the name of God. Couldn't let you in my house.

I wanted you bare-breasted, snakes in your hands. I wanted you leaping and somersaulting the backs of bulls. I wanted you swallowing raw hearts and rattling volcanic ash. I wasn't going to be my mother or my grandma. All that self-sacrifice, all that silent suffering. Hell no. Not here. Not me.

Don't think it was easy going without you. Don't think I didn't get my share of it from everyone. Heretic. Atheist. Malinchista. Hocicona. But I wouldn't shut my yap. My mouth always getting me in trouble. Is that what they teach you at the university? Miss High-and-Mighty. Miss Thinks-She's-Too-Good-For-Us. Acting like a bolilla, a white girl. Malinche. Don't think it didn't hurt being called a traitor. Trying to explain to my ma, to my abuela, why I didn't want to be like them.

I don't know how it all fell in place. How I finally understood who you are. No longer Mary the mild, but our mother Tonantzín. Your church at Tepeyac built on the site of her temple. Sacred ground no matter whose goddess claims it.

That you could have the power to rally a people when a country was born, and again during civil war, and during a farmworkers' strike in California made me think maybe there is power in my mother's patience, strength in my grandmother's endurance. Because those who suffer have a special power, don't they? The power of understanding someone else's pain. And understanding is the beginning of healing.

When I learned your real name is Coatlaxopeuh, She Who Has Dominion Over Serpents, when I recognized you as Tonantzín, and learned your names are Teteoinnan, Toci, Xochiquetzal, Tlazolteotl, Coatlicue, Chalchiuhtlicue, Coyolxauhqui, Huixtocihuatl, Chicomecoatl, Cihuacoatl, when I could see you as Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, Nuestra Señora del Perpetuo Socorro, Nuestra Señora de San Juan de los Lagos, Our Lady of Lourdes, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Our Lady of the Rosary, Our Lady of Sorrows, I wasn't ashamed, then, to be my mother's daughter, my grandmother's granddaughter, my ancestors' child.

When I could see you in all your facets, all at once the Buddha, the Tao, the true Messiah, Yahweh, Allah, the Heart of the Sky, the Heart of the Earth, the Lord of the Near and Far, the Spirit, the Light, the Universe, I could love you, and, finally, learn to love me.

Mighty Guadalupana Coatlaxopeuh Tonantzín,

What "little miracle" could I pin here? Braid of hair in its place and know that I thank you.

Rosario (Chayo) De Leon
Austin, Tejas

Sandra Cisneros, "Little Miracles, Kept Promises," in Woman Hollering Creek and other stories, pp.127-129

10 March 2012

The Brotherhood of Lizards

A typical Brotherhood of Lizards session would involve lots of swearing and cursing about leads not working. It also involved a lot of cycling. Nelson and I lived a few miles away from each other and we both liked cycling a lot. Sessions were fairly laid-back and involved a lot of laughter. There was an old bantam chicken in my garden and she used to get a bit miserable if it was cold and rainy so we'd let her sit in the recording room while we worked sometimes. Other times, the rabbit or one of the cats would be up scrabbling around under our feet while we were putting vocals down. It was all a bit rural with us Lizards. When we finished a session, we'd have a pint or two of home-brewed beer if I had a barrel on, or we'd wander round the twisty streets of my village to a pub. By late summer we had an lp and Andy McQueen said, "I don't suppose there's any chance you'll tour is there?"

I replied, "Yes. But only by bicycle." At first the record company thought we were joking but I'd already drawn up a plan. I'd worked out that with full busking-kit and rucksack frames converted to hold guitars, we could average thirty-five miles a day, hit a small town, do a radio station, a busking session, talk to the local press and maybe do a gig as well.

Thanks to a very bright and hard working pr woman called Caron Malcolm, the Green Tour was born. In early October we commenced our cycle tour around the southern part of Britain. Unknown to us, Britain and its media were on the brink of an uncharacteristic wave of eco-conscience. The press and t.v. seized upon us like hungry wolves. We had so much publicity we didn't believe it. Of course there was some cynicism. Were we really as Green as we looked? The answer was yes. We were both long-time vegetarians and lifetime bicyclists, so we came up squeaky green.

We were out on the road for a month and kept meeting t.v. crews. Because we were always on the move, we didn't realize how much attention we'd gathered until the end of the tour. We were lucky with the weather too--apart from the wind which resolutely turned against us whichever direction we cycled in. By the time we finished the tour, a large chunk of Britain knew who we were. At one point Eurythmics' Dave Stewart rang up our record company to ask, "Are those two lunatics on bikes anything to do with you?"

Martin Newell, liner notes to Lizardland by The Brotherhood of Lizards

las femenistas

If the focus of the Chicano male-dominated movement with regard to women had to do with family issues, the feminista zeroed in on the very core of what those issues meant. For instance, the feministas believed that women would make use of birth control and abortion clinics if in fact they felt safe going for these services; that is, if they were community controlled. Birth control and abortion are pertinent issues for all women, but they were particularly significant to the Chicana who had always been at the mercy of Anglo controlled institutions and policies.

Nonconsenting sterilizations of women--poor white, Spanish speaking, welfare recipients, poor women of color--women in prison among them--during the 1970s were being conducted and sponsored by the U.S. government. One third of the female population of Puerto Rico was sterilized during that period. The case of ten Chicanas (Madrigal v. Quilligan) against the Los Angeles County Hospital who were sterilized without their consent led to activism demanding release of the Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) guidelines for sterilizations. During that period, HEW was financing up to 100,000 sterilizations a year.

Ana Castillo, Massacre of the Dreamers, quoted in Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings (Alma García, editor), p.311

Cherríe Moraga

A writer will write with or without a movement; but at the same time, for Chicano, lesbian, gay, and feminist writers--anybody writing against the grain of Anglo misogynist culture--political movements are what have allowed our writing to surface from the secret places in our notebooks into the public sphere. In 1990, Chicanos, gay men, and women are no better off than we were in 1970. We have an ever-expanding list of physical and social diseases affecting us: AIDS, breast cancer, police brutality. Censorship is becoming increasingly institutionalized, not only through government programs, but through transnational corporate ownership of publishing houses, record companies, etc. Without a movement to foster and sustain our writing, we risk being swallowed up into the "Decade of the Hispanic" that never happened. The fact that a few of us have "made it" and are doing better than we imagined has not altered the nature of the beast. He remains blue-eyed and male and prefers profit over people.

Like most artists, we Chicano artists would like our work to be seen as "universal" in scope and meaning and reach as large an audience as possible. Ironically, the most "universal" work--writing capable of reaching the hearts of the greatest number of people--is the most culturally specific. The European-American writer understands this because it is his version of cultural specificity that is deemed "universal" by the literary establishment. In the same manner, universality in the Chicana writer requires the most Mexican and the most female images we are capable of producing. Our task is to write what no one is prepared to hear, for what has been said so far in barely a decade of consistent production is a mere bocadito. Chicana writers are still learning the art of transcription, but what we will be capable of producing in the decades to come, if we have the cultural/political movements to support us, could make a profound contribution to the social transformation of these Américas. The retort, however, is to remain as culturally specific and culturally complex as possible, even in the face of mainstream seduction to do otherwise.

Cherríe Moraga, The Last Generation, quoted in Chicana Feminist Thought, p.291

14 February 2012

Salvador Late or Early

Salvador with eyes the color of caterpillar, Salvador of the crooked hair and crooked teeth, Salvador whose name the teacher cannot remember, is a boy who is no one's friend, runs along somewhere in that vague direction where homes are the color of bad weather, lives behind a raw wood doorway, shakes the sleepy brothers awake, ties their shoes, combs their hair with water, feeds them milk and corn flakes from a tin cup in the dim dark of the morning.

Salvador, late or early, sooner or later arrives with the string of younger brothers ready. Helps his mama, who is busy with the business of the baby. Tugs the arms of Cecilio, Arturito, makes them hurry, because today, like yesterday, Arturito has dropped the cigar box of crayons, has let go the hundred little fingers of red, green, yellow, blue, and nub of black sticks that tumble and spill over and beyond the asphalt puddles until the crossing-guard lady holds back the blur of traffic for Salvador to collect them again.

Salvador inside that wrinkled shirt, inside the throat that must clear itself and apologize each time it speaks, inside that forty-pound body of boy with its geography of scars, its history of hurt, limbs stuffed with feathers and rags, in what part of the eyes, in what part of the heart, in that cage of the chest where something throbs with both fists and knows only what Salvador knows, inside that body too small to contain the hundred balloons of happiness, the single guitar of grief, is a boy like any other disappearing out the door, beside the schoolyard gate, where he has told his brothers they must wait. Collects the hands of Cecilio and Arturito, scuttles off dodging the many schoolyard colors, the elbows and wrists criss-crossing, the several shoes running. Grows small and smaller to the eye, dissolves into the bright horizon, flutters in the air before disappearing like a memory of kites.

Sandra Cisneros, "Salvador Late or Early," in Woman Hollering Creek and other stories, p.10

13 February 2012

The Rose Gregory Houchen Settlement

Americanization programs have come under a lot of criticisms from historians over the past two decades and numerous passages and photographs in the Houchen collection provide fodder for sarcasm among contemporary readers. Yet, to borrow from urban theorist Edward Soja, scholars should be mindful of "an appropriate interpretive balance between space, time, and social being." Although cringing at the ethnocentrism and romantic idealizations of "American" life, I respect the settlement workers for their health and child care services. Before judging the maternal missionaries too harshly, it is important to keep in mind the social services they rendered over an extended period of time as well as the environment in which they lived. For example, Houchen probably launched the first bilingual kindergarten program in El Paso, a program that eased the children's transition into an English-only first grade. Houchen residents did not denigrate the use of Spanish and many became fluent Spanish speakers. The hospital and clinic, moreover, were important community institutions for over half a century.

Vicki Ruiz, "Confronting 'America'," in From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America, p.40

07 February 2012

Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre

Ron Drummond brought the composer Elisabeth-Claude Jacquet de la Guerre to my attention. In an early draft of the story, I made the inexcusable error of assuming--just because no women composers were mentioned in scores of reference works--that no women composers existed at the court of the Sun King. In fact, Versailles was practically crawling with them. But even Jacquet de la Guerre, who was among the foremost composers of her time, who was a great influence on baroque music, and who was permitted to dedicate her work to Louis XIV (a rare honor for anyone), rates only half a line in an entire modern reference work about music in Louis' court. I am only surprised that I was surprised by this.

Vonda McIntyre, afterword to The Moon and the Sun, p.419

30 January 2012

Dr. Simon Jordan

"Hush," he murmurs, stroking her hair. "Hush, Rachel." This is what he's wanted Grace to do--this trembling and clinging; he's pictured it often enough, though, he now sees, in a suspiciously theatrical way. Those scenes were always skilfully lit, the gestures--his included--languid and graceful, with a kind of luxurious quivering, as in the death scenes at the ballet. Melting anguish is a good deal less attractive now that he actually has to contend with it up close and in the flesh. Wiping the doe-like eyes is one thing, wiping the doe-like nose quite another. He rummages for his pocket hankerchief.

Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace, p.408

19 January 2012

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, "One Art," in Geography III, p.40

29 December 2011

William Monroe Trotter

In Boston's black community of Roxbury the name Trotter pops up now and again on schools and community centers. Who was Trotter? No one I asked seemed to know much about the person who bore the ubiquitous name. It may have been Muriel Snowden or her husband, Otto, directors of Freedom House, a Roxbury civic center, who told me. Muriel and Otto were faithful keepers of black community lore.

William Monroe Trotter was born in Ohio in 1872. He grew up in Boston, attended Harvard, and graduated magna cum laude in 1895, becoming in the process the first black student ever elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In 1901 he launched a Boston newspaper, the Guardian, whose motto was "For every right, with all they might." A relentless foe of the accommodationist Booker T. Washington, Trotter once spent a month in jail for disrupting a Booker T. speech. Trotter also got into a White House shouting match with President Woodrow Wilson, who had on one occasion described African-Americans as "sick of work, covetous of pleasure--a host of dusky children untimely put out of school." In 1915 the indefatigable Trotter was arrested, tried, and acquitted for leading a demonstration against the local screening of Birth of a Nation.

Until arriving in Boston, I'd never heard of William Monroe Trotter. Shouldn't I have? Shouldn't African-Americans generally have had a glimmer? I knew about Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, didn't I? Trotter might have fared better by history had the Harvard Phi Beta Kappa done a little soft-shoe with Shirley Temple.

Randall Robinson, Defending the Spirit: A Black Life in America, pp.66-67

28 December 2011

El Sombrerero

Sonó el teléfono, escuché la voz cascada: un error así, no puedo creer, óigame bien, yo no hablo por hablar, que una equivocación vaya y pase, a cualquiera le sucede, pero un error así...

Me quedé mudo. Me vi venir lo peor. Yo acababa de publicar un libro sobre fútbol en un país, mi país, donde todos son doctores en la materia. Cerré los ojos y acepté mi condenación:
--El Mundial del 30--acusó la voz, gastada pero implacable.
--Fue en julio.
--¿Y cómo es el tiempo en julio, en Montevideo?
--Muy frío--corrigió la voz, y atacó:
--¡Y usted escribió que en el estadio había un mar de sombreros de paja! ¿De paja?--se indignó--. ¡De fieltro! De fieltro, eran!

La voz bajó de tono, evocó:
--Yo estaba allí, aquella tarde. 4 a 2 ganamos, lo estoy viendo. Pero no se lo digo por eso. Se lo digo porque yo soy sombrerero, siempre fui, y muchos de aquellos sombreros...los hice yo.

Eduardo Galeano, Bocas del Tiempo. p.137

[The Hat-Maker

The telephone rang. I heard the cracked voice: there's been a mistake, I can't believe it, listen to me, I'm not talking just to talk, mistakes are part of life, they can happen to anyone, but there's been a mistake...

I stayed silent. I saw the worst coming my way. I had just published a book about soccer in a country, my country, where everybody is a Ph.D. in the subject. I closed my eyes and accepted my judgement:
--The 1930 World Cup--accused the voice, worn out but relentless.
--Yes--I muttered.
--It was in July.
--And what's the weather like in July, in Montevideo?
--Very cold--corrected the voice, and attacked:
--And you wrote that in the stadium there was a sea of straw hats! Straw?--He exploded. Felt! They were felt!

The voice lowered, described the scene:
--I was there that afternoon. We won 4-2. I can see it now. But I'm not telling you all this because of that. I'm telling you because I am a hat-maker--I always have been--and many of those hats...I made them.

Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time, p.137]

09 December 2011

Pym's Publicity

"How should anything be sacred to an advertiser?" demanded Ingleby, helping himself to four lumps of sugar. "We spend our whole time asking intimate questions of perfect strangers and it naturally blunts our finer feelings. 'Mother, has your Child Learnt Regular Habits?' 'Are you Troubled with Fullness after Eating?' 'Are you satisfied about your Drains?' 'Are you Sure that your Toilet-Paper is Germ-free?' 'Your most Intimate Friends dare not Ask you this question.' 'Do you Suffer from Superfluous Hair?' 'Do you Like them to Look at your Hands?' 'Do you ever ask yourself about Body-Odour?' 'If anything Happened to You, would your Loved Ones be Safe?' 'Why Spend so much Time in the Kitchen?' 'You think that Carpet is Clean--but is it?' 'Are you a Martyr to Dandruff?' Upon my soul, I sometimes wonder why the long-suffering public doesn't rise up and slay us."

Dorothy Sayers, Murder Must Advertise, p.63

06 December 2011

Hiroshima in the White House

Lyndon Johnson rarely referred to Hiroshima. On one dramatic occasion he consciously tried to avoid it, but Hiroshima came to the White House, anyway.

The year was 1965. Johnson invited a wide range of painters, sculptors, and writers to the White House for a one-day festival of the arts. Five authors and poets were asked to read from their works. The poet Robert Lowell, protesting the Vietnam War, declined the invitation, explaining that the U.S. "may even be drifting on our way to the last nuclear ruin." But a decision by one of the other writers, who opposed the war but elected to attend the festival, caused just as much anguish at the White House. John Hersey, invited as a novelist, announced that he would read instead from Hiroshima, and he planned to update his account with statistics on the destructive power of existing nuclear weapons.

After discussing the matter with her husband, an enraged Lady Bird Johnson summoned the festival organizer, historian Eric Goldman (then a consultant to LBJ), to the White House. She recited one of the passages Hersey intended to read, which described Truman's announcement of the Hiroshima bombing. "The president is very close to President Truman," she explained icily. "He can't have people coming to the White House and talking about President Truman's brandishing atomic bombs." Then, coming to the point, she complained that her husband was being criticized "as a bloody warmonger. He can't have writers coming here and denouncing him, in his own house, as a man who wants to use nuclear bombs." Goldman explained that Hersey did not believe that Johnson wanted to use nuclear weapons, only that in the nuclear era any war was extremely dangerous. She replied: "The President and I do not want this man to come here and read this." Twice more he objected and twice more she responded with the same words.

Goldman refused to tell Hersey what to do, and the invitation stood. President Johnson, meanwhile, ordered a media blackout of the festival. He also requested FBI background checks on some of the guests.

When Hersey appeared behind the podium at the White House, Lady Bird Johnson was right there in the third row. Hersey prefaced his reading from Hiroshima with the following statement: "We cannot for a moment forget the truly terminal dangers, in these times, of miscalculations, of arrogance, of accident, of reliance not on moral strength but on mere military power. Wars have a way of getting out of hand." Occasionally he lifted his eyes from his text and looked at Lady Bird for emphasis. When Hersey finished, he was greeted by vigorous applause. "The First Lady, who clapped for all other readings, sat motionless," Goldman later reported. And when the president heard about Hersey's reading (and some other activities he viewed as hostile) he cut short his appearance at his own festival.

Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial, pp.217-218

01 December 2011

The World's Full of Stories....

The world's full of stories....All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you'll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you're going, but the rest works itself out in the telling.

Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, p.118

27 November 2011

Colchester on a Snowy Evening

I began to half-wheel, half-drag the bike up the hill. Hythe Hill was almost impassable at this point. It smelt of anger, inexperienced drivers and burning clutch fluid. It wasn't pleasant. At the Brook Street lights, three yobs threw snowballs at me. They missed, I suspect, only because they were drunk. All along the road to St Botolph's, still in heavy snow, I kept passing under-dressed men, cans in hands, in drunken trances. At Colchester Town station, a courting couple were having a romantic screaming match by the wall. It was eight p.m. and half of Colchester, it seemed, was already trollied.

At the Arts Centre, amazingly enough, all three performers made it in and performed to a reassuringly three-quarters full house. "Anyone in from Wivenhoe, tonight?" I asked. Answer came there none. After ten p.m., therefore, once again, Nanook of the North wheeled his bike out of the place and set off back home. The snow had stopped and the town centre now looked like a Klondike gold-rush town on payday. The tourist brochures won't tell you this stuff but someone ought to, so I will. On the Saturday before Christmas 2010, Colchester High Street was full of large teams of raucously-drunk pond-life acting as if they ran the town.

At the top of Queen Street, I caught the attention of a group of about fifteen of them. They were so drunk that they were holding each other up. One of them screamed at me: "Oi mate. Why're you on a ******* (please insert password) bike?" I called back to him, "I've just finished work. I'm trying to get home." Whilst they considered my answer, I escaped. After a perilous descent of East Hill, just past the bridge, a smaller group of idiots threw a lump of ice at me, in a further attempt to unseat me. They missed.

Now look, if we can't do anything as complex as regulating the sales of I.Q. reducing liquids to these simians, can't we at least put a couple of snipers on the Town Hall roof on Saturday nights instead? This is my modest proposal. Because there seems little point in building the new Cultural Quarter in the town unless we do so.

Martin Newell, "Deep and Crisp and Even," in The Stars on a Tray, pp.15-16

19 November 2011

The Empress of Blandings

Mingled with a victor's triumph was the chagrin of the conscientious man who sees a task but half done. That he had properly put a stopper on Impostor A was undeniable, but he had hoped also to deal faithfully with Impostor B. He was wondering if the chap was hiding somewhere and if so, where, when there came to his sensitive ear the sound of a grunt, and he realized that it had proceeded from the bathroom.

"Yoicks!" cried Lord Bosham, and if he had not been a man of action rather than words would have added "Tally-ho!" He did not pause to ask himself why impostors should grunt. He merely dashed at the bathroom door, flung it open and leaped back, his gun at the ready. There was a moment's pause, and then the Empress sauntered out, a look of mild enquiry on her face.

The Empress of Blandings was a pig who took things as they came. Her motto, like Horace's, was nil admirari. But, cool and even aloof though she was as a general rule, she had been a little puzzled by the events of the day. In particular, she had found the bathroom odd. It was the only place she had ever been in where there appeared to be a shortage of food. The best it had to offer was a cake of shaving-soap, and she had been eating this with a thoughtful frown just a short while before the door opened. As she emerged now, she was still foaming at the mouth a little and it was perhaps this that set the seal on Lord Bosham's astonishment and caused him not only to recoil a yard or two with his eyes popping but also to pull the trigger of his gun.

In the confined space the report sounded like the explosion of an arsenal, and it convinced the Empress, if she had needed to be convinced, that this was no place for a pig of settled habits. Not since she had been a slip of a child had she moved at anything swifter than a dignified walk, but now Jesse Owens could scarcely have got off the mark more briskly. It took her a few moments to get her bearings, but after colliding with the bed, the table and the armchair, in the order named, she succeeded in setting a course for the French window and was in the act of disappearing through it when Lord Emsworth burst into the room, followed by Lady Constance.

P.G. Wodehouse, Uncle Fred In The Springtime, pp.194-195

18 November 2011

The Panda Story

This panda walked into a tea shop and ordered a salad and ate it. Then it pulled out a pistol, shot the man at the next table dead, and walked out. Everyone rushed after it, shouting, "Stop! Stop! Why did you do that?"

"Because I'm a panda," said the panda. "That's what pandas do. If you don't believe me, look in the dictionary."

So they looked in the dictionary and sure enough they found Panda: Raccoon-like animal of Asia. Eats shoots and leaves.

Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew, p.35

11 November 2011

"an art, a craft, a making"

Once we're keenly and clearly aware of certain elements of prose writing, and certain techniques and modes of storytelling, we can use and practice them until--the point of all the practice--we don't have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills.

A skill is something you know how to do.

Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art.

There's luck in art. There's the gift. You can't earn that. You can't deserve it. But you can learn skill, you can earn it. You can learn to deserve your gift.

I'm not going to discuss writing as self-expression, as therapy, or as a spiritual adventure. It can be these things; but first of all--and in the end, too--it is an art, a craft, a making. To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It's worth it.

LeGuin, p.xi

17 October 2011

Rollo Podmarsh

With Mrs. Podmarsh sedulously watching over her son's health, you might have supposed that this inability on his part to teach the foodstuffs to take a joke would have caused consternation in the home. But it so happened that Rollo's mother had recently been reading a medical treatise in which an eminent physician stated that we all eat too much nowadays, and that the secret of a happy life is to lay off the carbohydrates to some extent. She was, therefore, delighted to observe the young man's moderation in the matter of food, and frequently held him up as an example to be noted and followed by little Lettice Willoughby, her granddaughter, who was a good and consistent trencherwoman, particularly rough on the puddings. Little Lettice, I should mention, was the daughter of Rollo's sister Enid, who lived in the neighbourhood. Mrs. Willoughby had been compelled to go away on a visit a few days before and had left her child with Mrs. Podmarsh during her absence.

You can fool some of the people all the time, but Lettice Willoughby was not of the type that is easily deceived. A nice, old-fashioned child would no doubt have accepted without questioning her grandmother's dictum that roly-poly pudding could not fail to hand a devastating wallop to the blood-pressure, and that to take two helpings of it was practically equivalent to walking right into the family vault. A child with less decided opinions of her own would have been impressed by the spectacle of her uncle refusing sustenance, and would have received without demur the statement that he did it because he felt that abstinence was good for his health. Lettice was a modern child and knew better. She had had experience of this loss of appetite and its significance. The first symptom which had preceded the demise of poor old Ponto, who had recently handed in his portfolio after holding office for ten years as the Willoughby family dog, had been this same disinclination to absorb nourishment. Besides, she was an observant child, and had not failed to note the haggard misery in her uncle's eyes. She tackled him squarely on the subject one morning after breakfast. Rollo had retired into the more distant parts of the garden, and was leaning forward, when she found him, with his head buried in his hands.

P.G. Wodehouse, "The Awakening of Rollo Podmarsh," in The Heart Of A Goof, pp. 118-119

10 October 2011

History's Henchmen

They heard the thud of wood on flesh. Boot on bone. On teeth. The muffled grunt when a stomach is kicked in. The muted crunch of skull on cement. The gurgle of blood on a man's breath when his lung is torn by the jagged end of a broken rib.

Blue-lipped and dinner-plate-eyed, they watched, mesmerized by something that they sensed but didn't understand: the absence of caprice in what the policemen did. The abyss where anger should have been. The sober, steady brutality, the economy of it all.

They were opening a bottle.

Or shutting a tap.

Cracking an egg to make an omelette.

The twins were too young to know that these were only history's henchmen. Sent to square the books and collect the dues from those who broke its laws. Impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically wholly impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear--civilization's fear of nature, men's fear of women, power's fear of powerlessness.

Man's subliminal urge to destroy what he could neither subdue nor deify.

Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things, pp.412-413

08 October 2011

The Good Fight

Many injustices lack the visceral immediacy of young people conscripted to fight and die in Vietnam, or innocent citizens pummeled on the streets of Birmingham. Today, massive risks are often more abstract, remote, and complex. Farts disturb more people than odorless pollution or global warming. Thoughtless ethnic slights rile more people than widespread lead poisoning of children and skyrocketing levels of childhood asthma. We must awaken to the many menaces around us and dedicate some civic attention to widespread perils.

Personal irritations shrink as the magnitude of civic challenges is absorbed into one's purposeful self. When people move into the civic arena and take on a cause, they experience stress and uncertainty, but the gratification is deeper, a more truthful part of the summit of their being, to paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson. When Anne Witte completed a series of interviews with women who became super-active leaders, for her book Women Activists: Challenging the Abuse of Power, I asked her to identify the one over-riding impression she took away from them. Without hesitation she said, "I've never met happier people." Hmmmm.

Ralph Nader, The Good Fight, pp.32-33

Arundhati Roy

Thanks to the seductive charms of Hollywood and the irresistible appeal of America's mass media, all these years later, the world views the Vietnam War as an American story. Indochina provided the lush, tropical backdrop against which the United States played out its fantasies of violence, tested its latest technology, furthered its ideology, examined its conscience, agonized over its moral dilemmas, and dealt with its guilt (or pretended to). The Vietnamese, the Cambodians, and Laotians were only script props. Nameless, faceless, slit-eyed humanoids. They were just the people who died. Gooks.

As a child growing up in the state of Kerala, in South India--where the first democratically elected Communist government in the world came to power in 1959, the year I was born--I worried terribly about being a gook. Kerala was only a few thousand miles west of Vietnam. We had jungles and rivers and rice-fields, and communists, too. I kept imagining my mother, my brother, and myself being blown out of the bushes by a grenade, or mowed down, like the gooks in the movies, by an American marine with muscled arms and chewing gum and a loud background score. In my dreams, I was the burning girl in the famous photograph taken on the road from Trang Bang.

Arundhati Roy, "The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky," in War Talk, pp.98-99

28 August 2011


Recently, those who have criticized the actions of the U.S. government (myself included) have been called "anti-American." Anti-Americanism is in the process of being consecrated into an ideology.

The term "anti-American" is usually used by the American establishment to discredit and--not falsely, but shall we say inaccurately--define its critics. Once someone is branded anti-American, the chances are that he or she will be judged before they're heard and the argument will be lost in the welter of bruised national pride.

What does the term "anti-American" mean? Does it mean you're anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to free speech? That you don't delight in Toni Morrison or John Updike? That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from Vietnam? Does it mean that you hate all Americans?

This sly conflation of America's culture, music, literature, the breathtaking beauty of the land, the ordinary pleasures of ordinary people with criticism of the U.S. government's foreign policy (about which, thanks to America's "free press," sadly, most Americans know very little) is a deliberate and extremely effective strategy. It's like a retreating army taking cover in a heavily populated city, hoping that the prospect of hitting civilian targets will deter enemy fire.

Arundhati Roy, "Come September," in War Talk, pp.48-49

01 August 2011


As he sat now on the hard broad root of a ringtree at the edge of the Meeting Pool, he thought of Nana, of the cat, of the silver water of Lake Serene, of the mountains above it which he longed to climb, of climbing the mountains out of the mist and rain into the ice and brightness of the summits; he thought of many things, too many things. He sat still, but his mind would not be still. He had come here for stillness, but his mind raced, raced from past to future and back again. Only for a moment did he find quiet. One of the herons walked silently out into the water from the far side of the pool. Lifting its narrow head it gazed at Lev. He gazed back, and for an instant was caught in that round transparent eye, as depthless as the sky clear of clouds; and the moment was round, transparent, silent, a moment at the center of all moments, the eternal present moment of the silent animal.

The heron turned away, bent its head, searching the dark water for fish.

Ursula LeGuin, The Eye Of The Heron, pp.50-51

31 July 2011

Melle Aulitta

"He is a coarse man, but he seemed to mean to be friendly," Melle said. "Coarse" was as harsh a word as she used of anyone. It meant she disliked him very much. But she was uncomfortable with distrust, which did not come naturally to her. By seeing goodwill where there was none, often enough she had created it. The people of the household worked with and for her with willing hearts; the sullenest farmers spoke to her cordially, and tight-mouthed old serf women would confide their sorrows to her as to a sister.

Ursula LeGuin, Gifts, p.91

07 July 2011

Planet Of Exile

The fact remains that in this book, as in most of my other novels, the men do most of the acting, in both senses of the word, and thus tend to occupy the center of the stage. I "didn't care" whether my protagonist was male or female; well, that carefreeness is culpably careless. The men take over.

Why does one let them? Well, it's ever so much easier to write about men doing things, because most books about people doing things are about men, and that is one's literary tradition...and because, as a woman, one probably has not done awfully much in the way of fighting, raping, governing, etc., but has observed that men do these things...and because, as Virginia Woolf pointed out, English prose is unsuited to the description of feminine being and doing, unless one to some extent remakes it from scratch. It is hard to break from tradition; hard to invent; hard to remake one's mother tongue. One drifts along and takes the easy way. Nothing can rouse one to go against the stream, to choose the hard way, but a profoundly stirred, and probably an angry, conscience.

But the conscience must be angry. If it tries to reason itself into anger it produces only guilt, which chokes the springs of creation at their source.

Ursula LeGuin, Introduction to the 1978 Edition of Planet of Exile, pp.ix-x

Feminist Ideology

An ideology is valuable only insofar as it is used to intensify clarity and honesty of thought and feeling, and feminist ideology has been immensely valuable to me in this respect. It has forced me and every thinking woman of this generation to know ourselves better: to separate, often very painfully, what we really think and believe from all the easy "truths" and "facts" we were (subliminally) taught about being male, being female, sex-roles, female physiology and psychology, sexual responsibility, etc. etc. All too often we have found that we had no opinion or belief of our own, but had simply incorporated the dogmas of our society; and so we must discover, invent, make our own truths, our values, ourselves.

LeGuin, p.xi


One thing I seem to have dug up in my work is this: the "person" I tend to write about is often not exactly, or not totally, either a man or a woman. On the superficial level, this means this is little sexual stereotyping--the men aren't lustful and the women aren't gorgeous--and the sex itself is seen as a relationship rather than an act. Sex serves mainly to define gender, and the gender of the person is not exhausted, or even very nearly approached, by the label "man" or "woman." Indeed both sex and gender seem to be used mainly to define the meaning of "person" or of "self." Once, as I began to be awakened, I closed the relationship into one person, an androgyne. But more often it appears conventionally and overtly, as a couple. Both in one: or two making a whole. Yin does not occur without yang, nor yang without yin. Once I was asked what I thought the central, constant theme of my work was, and I said spontaneously, "Marriage."

LeGuin, p.xii

01 July 2011

The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew had come to life again. They had stopped twittering about Chester's brassie-shot and were thinking of resuming their own game. Even in foursomes where fifty yards is reckoned a good shot somebody must be away, and the man whose turn it was to play was the one who had acquired from his brother-members of the club the nickname of the First Grave-Digger.

A word about this human wen. He was--if there can be said to be grades in such a sub-species--the star performer of the Wrecking Crew. The lunches of fifty-seven years had caused his chest to slip down into the mezzanine floor, but he was still a powerful man, and had in his youth been a hammer-thrower of some repute. He differed from his colleagues--the Man With the Hoe, Old Father Time, and Consul, the Almost Human--in that, while they were content to peck cautiously at the ball, he never spared himself in his efforts to do it a violent injury. Frequently he had cut a blue dot almost in half with his niblick. He was completely muscle-bound, so that he seldom achieved anything beyond a series of chasms in the turf, but he was always trying, and it was his secret belief that, given two or three miracles happening simultaneously, he would one of these days bring off a snifter. Years of disappointment had, however, reduced the flood of hope to a mere trickle, and when he took his brassie now and addressed the ball he had no immediate plans beyond a vague intention of rolling the thing a few yards farther up the hill.

The fact that he had no business to play at all till Chester had holed out did not occur to him; and even if it had occurred he would have dismissed the objection as finicking. Chester, bending over the ball, was nearly two hundred yards away--or the distance of three full brassie-shots. The First Grave-Digger did not hesitate. He whirled up his club as in distant days he had been wont to swing the hammer, and, with the grunt which this performance always wrung from him, brought it down.

P.G. Wodehouse, "Chester Forgets Himself," in The Heart Of A Goof, p.90

"...as women and as Native people..."

Even in the recesses of our psyches we find traces of the male definition of our very beings; it seems an insurmountable task to begin our own myth-making from which to establish role models to guide us out of historical convolution and de-evolution....

....as women and as Native people, we must reconstruct our history with what is left unsaid and not what has been recorded by those who have imposed their authority on us.

Ana Castillo, Massacre Of The Dreamers, p.119, p.111

Male Control

Male control of women manifests itself in many ways and to varying degrees in any given society. My point here is that the issue lies in an archaic system of patrimonial culture, not in "good" or "bad" forms of male protection, "good" or "bad" providers, that is, "good" or "bad" machismo.

Castillo, p.75


Mil colores luce la muerte en el cementerio de Chichicastenango. Quizá los colores celebran, en las tumbas florecidas, el fin de la pesadilla terrestre: este mal sueño de mandones y mandados que la muerte acaba cuando de un manotazo nos desnuda y nos iguala.

Pero en el cementerio no hay lápidas de 1982, ni de 1983, cuando fue el tiempo de la gran matazón en las comunidades indígenas de Guatemala. El ejército arrojó esos cuerpos a la mar, o a las bocas de los volcanes, o los quemó en quién sabe qué fosas.

Los alegres colores de las tumbas de Chichicastenango saludan a la muerte, la Igualadora, que con igual cortesía trata al mendigo y al rey. Pero en el cementerio no están los que murieron por querer que así también fuera la vida.

Eduardo Galeano, Bocas del Tiempo, p.308


Death shines in thousands of colors in the cemetery of Chichicastenango. Perhaps the colors celebrate, on the flower-bedecked tombs, the end of the earthly nightmare: this bad dream of bosses and minions that death stops when, with a powerful slap, she strips and levels us.

But in the cemetery there are no tombstones from 1982, nor from 1983, which was the time of the great massacre of indigenous communities in Guatemala. The army tossed those bodies into the sea, or into the mouths of volcanoes, or burned them in who knows what mass graves.

The happy colors of the tombs of Chichicastenango salute death, the Equalizer, who treats the beggar and the king with equal courtesy. But in the cemetery those who died for wanting life to do likewise are not there.

Eduardo Galeano, Voices of Time, p.308]

"Our Caribbean Civilization"

Since the age of Columbus, the ends of European materialist cultures have not served well the deeply private emotional requirements of the modern but still fragile human animal. The suffocating preoccupation with the acquisition of fame and fortune has directed untold numbers of helpless unreflective unfortunates to search down the wrong streets for psychic sustenance, resulting in a rabid competition of the lost between the unhappy failures and the unhappy successes, the former comparing its troubled insides to the latter's well-varnished outsides.

One sure measure of a society's relative health is its suicide rate. If a society produces large numbers of people who destroy themselves, that society cannot be described as successful under any reasonable definition of the term. Well-adjusted people, people who culturally know, ever so unobtrusively, how to simply be don't kill themselves.

Norway, a nation--as I have indicated previously--of some apparent envy, has, according to the World Health Organization, a suicide rate of 18.2 for males and 6.7 for females per 100,000 people. The United States has a slightly higher rate for males (18.6) and a somewhat lower rate for females (4.4). St. Kitts has a suicide rate for both males and females of zero. The same is true for St. Kitts' English-speaking neighbors of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Perhaps there is indeed something special about what Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the prime minister of St. Vincent, calls "Our Caribbean Civilization." To put a converse face on the point: Does Donald Rumsfeld look happy to you? Squint if you have doubts.

Randall Robinson, Quitting America: The Departure Of A Black Man From His Native Land, pp.25-26

The Capitol Rotunda

I thought, then, what a fitting metaphor the Capitol Rotunda was for America's racial sorrows. In the magnificence of its boast, in the tragedy of its truth, in the effrontery of its deceit.

This was the house of Liberty, and it had been built by slaves. Their backs had ached under its massive stones. Their lungs had clogged with its mortar dust. Their bodies had wilted under its heavy load-bearing timbers. They had been paid only in the coin of pain. Slavery lay across American history like a monstrous cleaving sword, but the Capitol of the United States steadfastly refused to divulge its complicity, or even slavery's very occurrence. It gave full lie to its own gold-spun half-truth. It shrank from the simplest honesty. It mocked the shining eyes of the innocent. It kept from us all--black, brown, white--the chance to begin again as co-owners of a national democratic idea. It blinded us all to our past and, with the same stroke, to any common future.

Randall Robinson, The Debt: What America Owes To Blacks, pp.6-7

27 May 2011

Cuba and the American Media

If our government decided to hate Fidel Castro for declining to play the Latin cipher, our people with small inspiration decided to hate him for stuff they would just make up, without, I think, knowing they were fabricating rationales for their reflexive antipathies. Their comments would quite frequently make them look silly, but not to each other because they believed what they were saying no matter how baseless. Nice people, even, said these things. Not lying, because I believe they thought they were telling the truth.

We were witness to samples of such malignant blather when the Baltimore Orioles played in Havana against the Cuban national team on March 28, 1999. Baseball Hall of Famer and ESPN analyst Joe Morgan, with stunning illogic, said to an American viewing audience: "Cubans don't have access to information about American baseball but they get it." Indeed, Cubans know a great deal more about American baseball than Americans know about baseball in Cuba, which is next to nothing.

Thomas Boswell, sports columnist for the Washington Post, wrote of Havana: "Of course, almost every structure you can see from your panoramic picture window looks like it's been neutron-bombed." What quality of anger drives such extreme and, in this case, wholly unwarranted hyperbole? Havana is an attractive city in need of cosmetic repairs in a developing country saddled with shortages occasioned by our country's economic embargo. Faced with the choice of investing scarce resources in people or paint, the government chose people.

Boswell went on to write: "Maybe it's because there are no clocks in Cuba. In two days, not one clock has come into view anywhere."

Of course this is absurd and I feel somewhat diminished to need report to you that on my several visits to Cuba, the country was awash with clocks. Digital clocks in every hotel room I'd ever stayed in. Moon-faced clocks in public places. Clocks on wrists. And I hardly think Cuban officials would go to the trouble of concentrating all the country's timepieces on the walls and night tables and wrists I might likely have seen. But perhaps they might have, had they known that among all the many charges leveled at them by Americans, clocklessness would one day find its way into print.

A Washington Post staff writer, Richard Justice, wrote that "team executives jammed into a ramshackle airport this morning to board a charter flight back to the United States." There are grounds on which the Cuban government deserves criticism. But why the petty whole-cloth invention? Havana's airport is a spanking brand-new state-of-the-art facility.

Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez, a Los Angeles Times reporter, wrote: "Havana smells like a jar of vaseline and if you stand outside for more than fifteen minutes, your skin gets coated with black goo." This is but a snippet of a screed that appeared in the Washington Post. Why would so widely respected a newspaper as the Washington Post print writing so palpably counterfactual as this? Havana does not smell like anything or anyplace in particular. In fact, I don't recall that it even has a smell.

What would cause otherwise competent journalists writing for preeminent American newspapers to produce such spectacular distortions? Did Ms. Valdes-Rodriguez in a schizophrenic moment actually believe herself to be covered with "black goo"? Did she rush screaming through Mr. Boswell's neutron-bombed streets to her clockless room to scrub off the goo? Or did she make a goo-impeded headlong rush to Mr. Justice's ramshackle airport to flee this godforsaken place netherward of hell? Did their various detached and objective editors accept en toto their claims? Black goo? Neutron bombs? Clocks? Come on. They skewed the truth and they all knew it. But what would drive a professional journalist to bend descriptions of simple things, physical phenomena, inanimate objects? Could they hate a government enough to violate the basic canons of their profession, to chance shredding their very credibility as journalists by inventing images that bear no relation to any objective reality?

Robinson, pp.153-156

25 May 2011

The Ethics of Collecting

The practice of collecting buried bodies and cultural properties finds its origins in the paradigms of imperialism, science, racism, and the bounty of war. While some of the Europeans who settled North America came for religious refuge, others came in search of adventure, bent on discovering the exotic. In the process of leaving behind their histories in the old lands, the colonists became a people in search of a history--a desire that led many to collecting the history of other peoples. The desecration of Native American remains and sacred objects began with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas: Pilgrims looted graves after arriving in Wampanoag territory on Cape Cod, Thomas Jefferson looked into burial mounds and documented his findings, and priests and ministers often took great pleasure in collecting and then destroying sacred items.

Perhaps it is in an effort to feed the immense spiritual void inherited from its colonial past that the mainstream culture has maintained a persistent tendency toward wanting to discover, classify, and collect everything the mainstream culture considers exotic. Descendants of settlers are, in a sense, haunted by nostalgia for the lost cultures and fabled pride their forebears worked so hard to annihilate. The sociopathology of the United States rests on its colonialist history and, in particular, on the awesome weight of genocide. In attempting to dispel this burden, science has been instrumental.

Winona LaDuke, Recovering the Sacred: The Power of Naming and Claiming, pp.75-76

24 May 2011

Energy Junkies

Let's face it, we are energy junkies. The United States consumes a third of the world's energy resources with only a twentieth of the population. We own more major appliances, televisions, cars, and computers than we have people to use them. We even slather oil-based fertilizers and herbicides on our food crops. We have allowed our addictions to overtake common sense and a good portion of our decency. We live in a country with the largest disparity of wealth between rich and poor of any industrialized nation in the world. And, we live where economic power is clearly translated into political power. A good portion of that power is held in the hands of energy corporations. That is the story of the United States, and that is what we must change.

LaDuke, p.237

12 May 2011

Jane Mt. Pleasant

I love the corn because it represents accumulated knowledge passed down from farmer to farmer over the millennium. I love the corn because it provides sustenance to my family and community today. I love corn because it represents our promise and commitment to the future. The simple act of planting connects me to the past, roots me in the present, and commits me to the future.

Jane Mt. Pleasant, Iroquois biologist, quoted in LaDuke, p.165

In a time....

In a time of immense violence, it only takes a short time for life to be totally transformed.

LaDuke, p.70

22 April 2011

Status Of Forces Agreement

Within the political class and the media it is reflexively assumed that Washington has the right to demand terms for the Status of Forces Agreement in Iraq. No such right was accorded to Russian invaders of Afghanistan, or indeed to anyone except the United States and its clients. For others, we rightly adopt the principle that invaders have no rights, only responsibilities, including the responsibility to attend to the will of the victims, and to pay massive reparations for their crimes. In this case, the crimes include strong support for Saddam Hussein through his worst atrocities on Reagan's watch, then on to Saddam's massacre of Shiites under the eyes of the U.S. military after the first Gulf War; the Clinton sanctions that were termed "genocidal" by the distinguished international diplomats who administered them and resigned in protest, then the invasion and its hideous aftermath. No such thoughts can be voiced in polite society.

Noam Chomsky, Hopes & Prospects, p.237

We Are All Moors

The more I listened to the acrimonious dispute over the fate of illegal aliens in the United States, the more I realized the extent to which modern Western nations are still operating by the principles of Spanish conquistadors and inquisitors in their war against Islam. Spain's crusade for religious purity was not a blessing to that nation, but the delusion that a nation could regain its strength by excluding those who are different, the minorities who don't belong to the common stock, continues to drive states to the brink of folly.

Anouar Majid, We Are All Moors, p.19

Israel and South Africa

Israel's global status is already coming to resemble that of South Africa forty years ago, particularly after its invasion of Gaza in December 2008. And it is reacting much the same way as white nationalists did: with "information campaigns" to instruct the world on its errors and misunderstanding, arrogant self-righteousness, circling the wagons, defiance, reliance on the United States to protect it no matter what the world thinks, and often with extraordinary paranoia.

Noam Chomsky, Hopes & Prospects, pp.162-163

18 March 2011

Charlie and Ira Louvin

The Louvin Brothers enjoyed success, but fell short of superstardom. Their old-school country was subsumed by the first wave of rock'n'roll--although Elvis Presley idolized the Louvins, and took them on tour--and then by the riotous cultural upheavals of the 1960s. A greater impediment was the gathering volatility of Ira Louvin. Speaking to Uncut, Charlie sighingly confirmed that every legend about Ira's volcanic temper, artistic caprice, alcoholic excess and romantic recklessness is regrettably true. "There's only a millimetre difference between an idiot and a genius," said Charlie.

He blamed Ira, though with no hint of bitterness, for depriving them of what might have been a career-transforming moment: an Elvis Presley version of one of their songs. Ira fought with Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told Elvis his music was "trash," and sneered to the King's face that he was "a white nigger." "My brother," said Charlie, in a prize-winning understatement, "was way too outspoken."

The Louvin Brothers couldn't go on like that, and didn't. In his early eighties, Charlie still remembered the date and place precisely. "Every time we'd go on tour, Ira would say, 'This is it, I'm getting out of this rotten business,' and he'd say to me, "I don't know what you'll do, maybe you can get your job at the service station back.' I just heard this so many times, and then on August 18, 1963, in Watseka, illinois, I said on the way home--of course, I did 95 per cent of the driving--'this time, you're right. This will be the last show."

To the regret of many and the surprise of few, Ira Louvin died young, just 41, in 1965. Of all the fates he tempted, it was a car accident that claimed him, along with his fourth wife, not long after his third wife had shot him five times during a domestic dispute (and subsequently informed reporters waiting at the hospital that "If the son of a bitch don't die, I'll shoot him again.")

from "When You Listen To The Louvins, You Hear The Deep, Haunted South," Uncut magazine, April 2011

25 November 2010


One of the most exciting new developments of the past few decades is the revival of indigenous cultures and languages, and the struggles for community and political rights.

This is happening even where the indigenous communities barely survived the conquest, as in the United States, where the pre-contact population of perhaps seven million or more was reduced to a few hundred thousand by 1900.

My own department at MIT has played a significant role in the revival, thanks to the extraordinary work of the late Kenneth Hale. Apart from working on human rights issues for indigenous populations in the Americas and Australia, and fundamental contributions to the study of their languages and to linguistic theory, he also brought people from reservations who had had few educational opportunities and devoted great effort to helping them gain doctoral degrees in a very demanding program, with dissertations on their own languages that surpassed anything in the literature in depth and sophistication. They returned to their homes, and have established educational and cultural programs, several of which have flourished, revitalizing marginalized communities and helping them to gain broader rights.

I will mention only one really spectacular achievement. One of the major languages of New England before the conquest was Wampanoag. The people themselves were mostly expelled or murdered, with a bounty offered for their heads, while those who surrendered and did not want to fight were sold into slavery--men, women, and children--by the early English colonists. The last known speaker died a century ago. Hale and some of his students were able to reconstruct the language from textual and comparative evidence. Hale's primary collaborator was a Wampanoag woman, Jesse Little Doe, who helped reconstruct the language and then learned it. At a memorial for Hale, she paid her tribute to him in fluent Wampanoag, and also brought her two-year-old daughter, the first native speaker of the language in a century. There is a good chance that the culture and community will flourish and find a proper place in the larger society, a model for what might be achieved elsewhere.

Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects, pp.5-6

23 November 2010

"By and By"

Avis left the unfinished sketch or painting patiently. She said, "By and by. After a while. I must wait a little." She was still able to allure herself with the melody of this refrain, to which so many hundreds of women's lips have shaped themselves trembling; while the ears of a departing hope or a struggling purpose were bent to hear. Life had become a succession of expectancies....

Women understand--only women altogether--what a dreary will-o'-the-wisp is this old, common, I had almost said commonplace, experience, "When the fall sewing is done," "When the baby can walk," "When house-cleaning is over," "When the company has gone," "When we have got through with the whooping-cough," "When I am a little stronger," then I will write the poem, or learn the language, or study the great charity, or master the symphony; then I will act, dare, dream, become.

Elizabeth Stuart Lyon Phelps, Story of Avis
(quoted in Tillie Olsen, Silences, p.208)

Rebecca Harding Davis

Landmarks, unless they loom large in landscapes often visited, tend to become weed-grown tombstones over the forgotten dead, noticed only by accident.

Even the sense of landmark has been obliterated. Rebecca Harding Davis is a name known today only to a handful of American Studies people and literary historians. Few have read any of her work; fewer still teach any of it.

Myriads of human beings--those who did the necessary industrial work in the last century--lived and died and little remains from which to reconstruct their perished (vanished) lives. About them as about so much else, literature was largely silent, and the charge can be levied: Nowhere am I in it.

"No picture, poem, statement, passing them to the future
Unlimn'd, they disappear."

To those of us, descendants of their class, hungry for any rendering of what our vanished people were like, of how they lived, Rebecca Harding Davis's Life in the Iron Mills is immeasurably valuable. Details, questions, Vision, found nowhere else--dignified into literature.

Tillie Olsen, Silences, pp.113-114
(the quotation is from Walt Whitman's "Yonnondio")

16 September 2010

Broken-Face Gargoyles

All I can give you is broken-face gargoyles.
It is too early to sing and dance at funerals,
Though I can whisper to you I am looking for an undertaker humming
a lullaby and throwing his feet in a swift and mystic buck-and-wing,
now you see it and now you don't.

Fish to swim a pool in your garden flashing a speckled silver,
A basket of wine-saps filling your room with flame-dark for your eyes
and the tang of valley orchards for your nose,
Such a beautiful pail of fish, such a beautiful peck of apples, I cannot
bring you now.
It is too early and I am not footloose yet.

I shall come in the night when I come with a hammer and saw.
I shall come near your window, where you look out when your eyes
open in the morning,
And there I shall slam together bird-houses and bird-baths
for wing-loose wrens and hummers to live in, birds with yellow
wing tips to blur and buzz soft all summer,
So I shall make little fool homes with doors, always open doors for all
and each to run away when they want to.
I shall come just like that even though now it is early and I am not yet
Even though I am still looking for an undertaker with a raw,
wind-bitten face and a dance in his feet.
I make a date with you (put it down) for six o'clock in the evening
a thousand years from now.

All I can give you now is broken-face gargoyles.
All I can give you now is a double gorilla head with two fish mouths
and four eagle eyes hooked on a street wall, spouting water
and looking two ways to the ends of the street for the new people,
the young strangers, coming, coming, always coming.

It is early.
I shall yet be footloose.

Carl Sandburg, "Broken-Face Gargoyles" (in Smoke and Steel )