Wednesday, August 16, 2017

August 16: My World, Denise Levertov, "Making Peace"

Well, I don't have a lot of energy to talk about what's going on the world.  My world has been a little chaotic these last 24 hours.

I'm trying to find some quiet tonight.  Maybe I'll read.  Maybe I'll have a glass of wine.  Maybe I'll just go to bed.

Saint Marty needs some peace.

Making Peace

by:  Denise Levertov

A voice from the dark called out,
             ‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’
                                   But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.
                                       A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.
                                              A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses . . .
                        A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

August 16: Silver Boots, Unstuck in Time, My Dad

The temperature climbed startlingly that day.  The noontime was balmy.  The Germans brought soup and bread in two-wheeled carts which were pulled by Russians.  The Englishman sent over real coffee and sugar and marmalade and cigarettes and cigars, and the doors of the theater were left open, so the warmth could get in.

The Americans began to feel much better.  They were able to hold their food.  and then it was time to go to Dresden.  The Americans marched fairly stylishly out of the British compound.  Billy Pilgrim again led the parade.  He had silver boots now, and a muff, and a piece of azure curtain which he wore like a toga.  Billy still had a beard.  So did poor old Edgar Derby, who was beside him.  Derby was imagining letters to home, his lips working tremulously:

Dear Margaret--We are leaving for Dresden today.  Don't worry.  It will never be bombed.  It is an open city.  There was an election at noon, and guess what?  And so on.

They came to the prison railroad yard again.  They had arrived on only two cars.  They would depart far more comfortably on four.  They saw the dead hobo again.  He was frozen stiff in the weeds beside the track.  He was in a fetal position, trying even in death to nestle like a spoon with others.  There were no others now.  He was nestling with thin air and cinders.  Somebody had taken his boots.  His bare feet were blue and ivory.  It was all right, somehow, his being dead.  So it goes.

Billy is on his way to Dresden with the other Americans.  He knows what's going to happen.  Edgar Derby facing the firing squad.  The firebombing of the city.  All the death that he will witness. So it goes, as Vonnegut says over and over.

Sometimes I wish I could become a little unstuck in time.  It would make my life simpler.  At the moment, my 90-year-old father is in the hospital.  One of my sisters took him to the ER this morning.  I'm not going to get into details, but he's going to there for a while.  Tomorrow, he will be transferred to another facility.  Most likely downstate in Alpena. 

He's angry about his situation.  My dad has always been a difficult man.  He can be belligerent.  Sometimes physical.  A couple times today, he tried to walk out of the hospital on his own, only to be escorted back.  He's resting now, after a really bad couple of days. 

If I were Billy Pilgrim, I would know how all this is going to turn out.  I would be able to jump back to family vacations in Gay, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior, when I was a kid.  Or the time my dad came to see me play the Stage Manager in Thorton Wilder's Our Town in high school.  Or a few months into the future, so that I would know how all this is going to turn out. 

Unfortunately, I am not unstuck in time.  I have to take it one day at a time, just like everybody else, and hope and pray for the best.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for compassionate nurses and doctors.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15: Paul Lazzaro, Racism, KKK Ideology

Somewhere in there, old Edgar Derby was elected head American.  The Englishman called for nominations from the floor, and there weren't any.  So he nominated Derby, praising him for his maturity and long experience in dealing with people.  There were no further nominations, so the nominations were closed.

"All in favor?"

Two or three people said, "Aye."

Then poor old Derby made a speech.  He thanked the Englishman for his good advice, said he meant to follow it exactly.  He said he was sure that all the other Americans would do the same.  He said that his primary responsibility now was to make damn well sure that everybody got home safely.

"Go take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut," murmured Paul Lazzaro in his azure nest.  "Go take a flying fuck at the moon."

If you haven't already noticed, Paul Lazzaro is a pretty nasty character.  Petty.  Angry.  Mean.  Eventually, he will murder Billy Pilgrim, more than twenty years after the conclusion of World War II.  Lazzaro is an example of the kind of person who lives to hate.  Hate and revenge are his only reasons for being alive.

If Paul Lazzaro were alive today, he would have been in Charlottesville this past weekend, marching in a white robe and hood.  I have no doubt about that.  He wouldn't have passed up the opportunity to participate in an event that centered on violence and hatred.  In a way, I think that Paul Lazzaro is sitting in the Oval Office right now.

I have a confession to make:  I come from a background of racism.  I was born in Detroit in the October following the 1967 riots.  I only lived in the city a few years before my parents moved our family to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Therefore, I was spared the kind of rampant racial hatred that seems to pervade a lot of people of my parents' generation from Detroit.

Not that there isn't racism in the U. P.  There is.  One of my neighbors down the street just recently put a "Team Trump" sign back on his lawn.  And nobody has stolen the sign or defaced it with a swastika.  Both of those thoughts have crossed my mind.  So, either the other people in my neighborhood are extremely tolerant liberals, or they are Trump supporters.  Or they don't care, which I think is a little bit worse.

I know, as a white person, that I probably haven't done 99% of what I should do to combat racism and bigotry.  I try to raise my kids to be accepting and loving.  I don't judge people, unless they happen to have Trump signs in their yards.  When I teach, I talk to my students about acceptance and tolerance.  (I have been accused of being too political in my student evaluations on occasion.  Don't really care if I make a few close-minded young people uncomfortable.  That's part of the college experience--being challenged.)  I do my best, but perhaps that isn't good enough.

I have a friend who moved to New Zealand because Donald Trump was elected.  (My friend was probably going to move there anyway, but the election simply accelerated his departure.)  I don't think that abandoning ship is the answer.  It may have solved the problem for my friend, and that's great.  But I'm not sure I can simply walk away from rampant racism.  For me, that solves nothing.

However, I don't have any definitive answers other than telling people that I believe alt-right is simply a synonym for white supremacy.  It's watered down Ku Klux Klan ideology.  The KKK hasn't gone away.  It has rebranded itself and gotten a man elected President of the United States.  I will say that to anybody who cares to have a civil discussion with me.

Saint Marty is thankful tonight for Heather Heyer and all the people who stood up for love last weekend in Virginia against the Paul Lazzaros of the world.

August 15: Poems of Protest, Nikki Giovanni, "Rosa Parks"

Instead of picking a Poet of the Week, I've decided to pick Poems of the Week.  In light of the events of this weekend in Charlottesville, and the non-response from the person sitting in the Oval Office, I will be featuring Poems of Protest and Empowerment for the next six or seven days.

You know, I really thought, with the election of President Obama, that my country might have turned a corner.  Unfortunately, the corner it turned was into a really dark alley.  I'm not going to provide a lecture tonight about the evils of racism.  I'm not going to tell you that Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan are bad.  I'm not going to do that because every sane and moral person knows that.

What I am going to say is that Martin Luther King's dream died a little bit last Saturday, but it will never disappear.  Not while there are still people like Heather Heyer standing up to men and women in white hoods wearing swastika armbands.  I believe there are more good people in the world than evil people.  And the good people will win.  The Martin Luther Kings and Nelson Mandelas and Mother Teresas and Rosa Parkses.  Good people always win eventually.

This Saint Marty believes.

Rosa Parks

by:  Nikki Giovanni

This is for the Pullman Porters who organized when people said
they couldn’t. And carried the Pittsburgh Courier and the Chicago
Defender to the Black Americans in the South so they would
know they were not alone. This is for the Pullman Porters who
helped Thurgood Marshall go south and come back north to fight
the fight that resulted in Brown v. Board of Education because
even though Kansas is west and even though Topeka is the birth-
place of Gwendolyn Brooks, who wrote the powerful “The
Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock,” it was the
Pullman Porters who whispered to the traveling men both
the Blues Men and the “Race” Men so that they both would
know what was going on. This is for the Pullman Porters who
smiled as if they were happy and laughed like they were tickled
when some folks were around and who silently rejoiced in 1954
when the Supreme Court announced its 9—0 decision that “sepa-
rate is inherently unequal.” This is for the Pullman Porters who
smiled and welcomed a fourteen-year-old boy onto their train in
1955. They noticed his slight limp that he tried to disguise with a
doo-wop walk; they noticed his stutter and probably understood
why his mother wanted him out of Chicago during the summer
when school was out. Fourteen-year-old Black boys with limps
and stutters are apt to try to prove themselves in dangerous ways
when mothers aren’t around to look after them. So this is for the
Pullman Porters who looked over that fourteen-year-old while
the train rolled the reverse of the Blues Highway from Chicago to
St. Louis to Memphis to Mississippi. This is for the men who kept
him safe; and if Emmett Till had been able to stay on a train all
summer he would have maybe grown a bit of a paunch, certainly
lost his hair, probably have worn bifocals and bounced his grand-
children on his knee telling them about his summer riding the
rails. But he had to get off the train. And ended up in Money,
Mississippi. And was horribly, brutally, inexcusably, and unac-
ceptably murdered. This is for the Pullman Porters who, when the
sheriff was trying to get the body secretly buried, got Emmett’s
body on the northbound train, got his body home to Chicago,
where his mother said: I want the world to see what they did
to my boy. And this is for all the mothers who cried. And this is
for all the people who said Never Again. And this is about Rosa
Parks whose feet were not so tired, it had been, after all, an ordi-
nary day, until the bus driver gave her the opportunity to make
history. This is about Mrs. Rosa Parks from Tuskegee, Alabama,
who was also the field secretary of the NAACP. This is about the
moment Rosa Parks shouldered her cross, put her worldly goods
aside, was willing to sacrifice her life, so that that young man in
Money, Mississippi, who had been so well protected by the
Pullman Porters, would not have died in vain. When Mrs. Parks
said “NO” a passionate movement was begun. No longer would
there be a reliance on the law; there was a higher law. When Mrs.
Parks brought that light of hers to expose the evil of the system,
the sun came and rested on her shoulders bringing the heat and
the light of truth. Others would follow Mrs. Parks. Four young
men in Greensboro, North Carolina, would also say No. Great
voices would be raised singing the praises of God and exhorting
us “to forgive those who trespass against us.” But it was the
Pullman Porters who safely got Emmett to his granduncle and it
was Mrs. Rosa Parks who could not stand that death. And in not
being able to stand it. She sat back down.