Monday, July 9, 2018

A New Feminist Collection at the Toledo Lucas County Public Library


A group of determined women from the People Called Women bookstore and the Toledo Public Library (TLCPL) worked together to launch a new feminist collection of books called, appropriately, The Steinem Sisters Collection.  The collection consists of  over 450 books, mostly nonfiction, that explore women's lives and achievements, their history, art, music and culture, and their long-time efforts for equality across race, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

I arrived early at the Library for the celebration of the new collection and spent time browsing the books, beautifully presented on the Main Floor. Some of the books were available at the time I created and taught the first Women's History course at the University of Toledo, and it was a pleasure to hold them close. Many more have been written since the rebirth of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s, and that is a joy to see, too.

The Steinem Sisters Collective grew out of an ongoing project begun by the People Called Women (PCW) bookstore.  I was happy to see Gina Mercurio, a former student of my first course offerings and head of the bookstore for several years before it changed ownership, as well as to meet other members of the Steinem collective and community members interested in the history and stories of women.

"Whether you're a budding feminist or someone interested in feminism, you can find something in this collection that will....inform and enlighten," said Ben Malczewski, TLCPL media relations coordinator.  Librarian Rebecca Stanwick noted that the focus of the collection is nonfiction but fiction will be added in time.  The original collection consisted of books that Gloria Steinem championed and it evolved from there, adding newer titles and more books by and about Black and Latina women's experiences, for example. (see also Erin Marsh, Book Notes, City Paper, July 17, 2018, p. 24.)

Ohio State Representative Teresa Fedor presented the Library with a proclamation recognizing the collection. She spoke about the importance of making sure women's voices are heard today.  To learn more about the Steinem Sisters Collection. call the TPL Humanities Department at 419-259-5218 or visit peoplecalledwomen.com/steinem-sisters.   It makes me think that I could maybe donate my  women's history books to this collection in the not-too-distant future. 



Tuesday, July 3, 2018

"Sing, Unburied, Sing:" Giving Voice to the Ghosts of the Past

I had just finished reading Jesmyn Ward's novel Sing, Unburied, Sing, about a black family pinioned beneath the brutal legacy of slavery, poverty and racism in 1940s Mississippi, when I saw Ira Berlin's obituary in the Washington Post. It shocked me. It was such a sorrowful juxtaposition. Ira was a friend from graduate student days at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and few scholars knew the history of this legacy better than Ira.   

Ira was founding director and lead scholar of the Freedman and Southern Society Project at the University of Maryland, a pioneering documentary history of the transition from slavery to freedom told from the slaves' points of view. The documents are all from the National Archives. I worked on the project briefly. So far, six volumes of FREEDOM: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861-1867, have been published, along with several award-winning books and articles. 

In these volumes, Ira Berlin and his team of historians have given voice to the 4 million slaves in the American South who put their own freedom on the agenda of the Civil War. 

After the horror of the bloody war came the horror of Reconstruction, when a new form of human bondage emerged, as vicious as any on Earth.  The freedpeople's struggle to survive against the odds and to achieve full emancipation continued well into the 20th century. The transition from slavery to freedom is a long and winding road that traverses the soul of America to this day. 

Jesmyn Ward's novel takes place in the 1940s South, a brutal era of injustice and oppression. As the Freedom History Project gives voice to slaves, Ward gives voice to the descendants of slaves who had to fight every day just to survive. Fear, terror, and death were constant companions. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing takes place in the fictional town of Bois Sauvage, a poor Mississippi coastal town based on the real place Ward grew up and still lives with her children, in DeLisle, Miss.  "The southern Mississippi landscape is part of her, with its snaking bayous and dense tangles of trees." (Emily Kask, NPR). 

The story follows the tangled lives of a mixed-race adolescent boy named Jojo, wise for his age and the caregiver of his toddler sister Kayla; Leonie, Jojo's drug-addicted mother, visited by the ghost of her brother Given, shot dead by a white man; Jojo's wise grandfather Pop, his model and mentor, and his grandmother Mam, a spiritual healer slowly dying from a painful cancer; and the restless ghosts of the long dead who make their presence known.   

Ira Berlin made it his mission to share the history of these ghosts and their slave ancestors, to give them the agency they were denied when they were alive. 

Jesmyn Ward, through fiction and story-telling, shares that mission.  The past is not dead in Ward's novel. It is ever present.  And it is a heavy burden to bear.  

The story is built around an arduous car trip to Mississippi's notorious Parchman Penitentary to pick up Leonie's white boyfriend Michael. Leonie insists that her son Jojo and toddler Kayla join her to meet their father. She wants it to be a family trip, but by now we know with Jojo that it will be something else. And it is. Fraught with danger, tension, and disharmony, seemingly endless, one disaster after another. The ghosts are along for the ride. They are never far away. The voices of the "unsung."  

The ghost character Richie, who appears only to Jojo, in a determined but not  threatening way, is a 12-year-old boy, one year younger than Jojo, who had been imprisoned and brutalized at Parchman when Pop was also there. Pop did his best to shield the innocent young boy from the jail's terrors, where the prisoners were treated like slaves. "They were worked and worked and worked and worked, and they were starved, and they were beaten. They were tortured."  Parchman was an American Gulag.

Ward gives Richie a voice, insistent and poignant, a voice needing desperately to be heard. Richie needs to know how he had died, he has to know, so he can "go home." He demands answers from Jojo, who finally draws the truth from his grandfather. 

As Pop tells the long-buried secret about how Richie died, painful beyond measure, Jojo looks out the window of the old homestead his grandparents had built with their hands and hearts, always with a mixture of fear and hope. "The branches are full. They are full of ghosts, two or three, all the way to the top, to the feathered leaves."  They are the ghosts of the sinned-against, the raped and murdered, the mutilated and the hanged.  Little Kayle sees them too, and tells them "Go home." 

We weep at the brutal clarity. 

When death comes for Mam, he is "pulling all the weight of history behind him."  And we can feel it. Leonie summons the gods to take Mam away, just as Mam had asked her to do, immersed in the ritual her mother taught her. Another ghost is in the room, the ghost of Mam's son and Leonie's brother Given.  Jojo watches. He asks what Leonie is saying but she doesn't answer him. She knows this about Jojo and his question: "He doesn't understand what it means to have the first thing you ever done right by your mama be to usher in her gods. To let her go." 

Adrienne Green in a review in the Atlantic, summed the novel up beautifully. 
"Sing, Unburied, Sing is, ultimately, about a journey home, one where the characters find “something like relief, something like remembrance, something like ease.” Bois Sauvage and Parchman and Mississippi are all dwellings in their own right, but they’re overcast by an unshakable sorrow. Ward’s meditation on death isn’t meant to expose brutality for its own sake, but to illustrate how her characters, how people, grapple with history. It’s an unending process, she suggests, from which even the deceased aren’t shielded."

Sources/references:
* Emily Kask, "Writing Mississippi: Jesmyn Ward Salvages Stories of the Silenced," NPR. 

* Ron Charles, editor of Bookworld, illustrations by Alla Dreyvitser/Washington Post, review of Sing, Unburied, Sing. 

* Tracy K. Smith, poet laureate, book review in The New York TimesSept. 22, 2017. 

* Adrienne Green, "Jesmyn War's Eerie, Powerful Unearthing of History," The Atlantic, Sept. 27, 2017.

Freedom: A Documentary History of Emancipation, 1861–1867. Here's a great list of PUBLICATIONS
Series 1, volume 1, The Destruction of Slavery, ed. Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Thavolia Glymph, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (Cambridge University Press, 1985). 896 pp.

Series 1, volume 2, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Upper South, ed. Ira Berlin, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (Cambridge University Press, 1993). 814 pp.
Series 1, volume 3, The Wartime Genesis of Free Labor: The Lower South, ed. Ira Berlin, Thavolia Glymph, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie S. Rowland, and Julie Saville (Cambridge University Press, 1990). 975 pp.

Series 2, The Black Military Experience, ed. Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (Cambridge University Press, 1982). 896 pp.

Series 3, volume 1, Land and Labor, 1865, ed. Steven Hahn, Steven F. Miller, Susan E. O'Donovan, John C. Rodrigue, and Leslie S. Rowland (University of North Carolina Press, 2008). 1,073 pp.

Series 3, volume 2, Land and Labor, 1866–1867, ed. RenĂ© Hayden, Anthony E. Kaye, Kate Masur, Steven F. Miller, Susan E. O'Donovan, Leslie S. Rowland, and Stephen A. West (University of North Carolina Press, 2013). 1,070 pp.

Other Volumes   Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War, by Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (Cambridge University Press, 1992). 243 pp.

Free At Last: A Documentary History of Slavery, Freedom, and the Civil War, ed. Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (The New Press, 1992). 571 pp.
Freedom's Soldiers: The Black Military Experience in the Civil War, ed. Ira Berlin, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland (Cambridge University Press, 1998). 192 pp.

Articles in Scholarly Journals

Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, “Writing Freedom's History,” Prologue: Journal of the National Archives 14 (Fall 1982): 129–39.
Text of article (pdf)
Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Thavolia Glymph, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, Leslie Rowland, and Julie Saville, “Writing Freedom's History: The Destruction of Slavery,” Prologue: Journal of the National Archives 17 (Winter 1985): 211–27.
Text of article (pdf)
Ira Berlin, Steven Hahn, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, “The Terrain of Freedom: The Struggle over the Meaning of Free Labor in the U.S. South,” History Workshop, no. 22 (Autumn 1986): 108–30.
Text of article (pdf)
Ira Berlin, Steven F. Miller, and Leslie S. Rowland, “Afro-American Families in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom,” Radical History Review, no. 42 (1988): 89–121.
Text of article (pdf)
  • Reprinted in Black Women in United States History, ed. Darlene Clark Hine et al. (Carlson, 1990).
  • Reprinted in African American Life in the Post-Emancipation South, 1861–1900, ed. Donald G. Nieman (Garland, 1994).
Ira Berlin, Wayne Durrill, Steven F. Miller, Leslie S. Rowland, and Leslie Schwalm, “‘To Canvass the Nation’: The War for Union Becomes a War for Freedom,” Prologue: Journal of the National Archives 20 (Winter 1988): 227–47.
Text of article (pdf)
Steven F. Miller, Susan E. O'Donovan, John C. Rodrigue, and Leslie S. Rowland, “Between Emancipation and Enfranchisement: Law and the Political Mobilization of Black Southerners during Presidential Reconstruction, 1865–1867,” Chicago-Kent Law Review 70 (1995): 1059–77.
Text of article (pdf)

Articles in Magazines for General Readers and/or K–12 Teachers

Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Joseph P. Reidy, and Leslie S. Rowland, “The Moment of Freedom,” Southern Exposure 10 (September/October 1982): 60–64.
Text of article (pdf)
Ira Berlin, Francine C. Cary, Steven F. Miller, and Leslie S. Rowland, “Family and Freedom: Black Families in the American Civil War,” History Today 37 (January 1987): 8–15.
Text of article (pdf)
Ira Berlin, Steven F. Miller, and Leslie S. Rowland, “Missing: A Freedman Seeks His Family,” American Visions 3 (February 1988): 8–9.
Text of article (pdf)
Ira Berlin, Steven F. Miller, and Leslie S. Rowland, “Emancipated Citizens,” Constitution 6 (Fall 1994): 78–87.
Text of article (pdf)

Ira Berlin and Leslie S. Rowland, “The Underground Railroad: Travels above Ground,” Potomac Review 24 (Fall 1999): 33–36.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Walking into a Painting: Rebecca Louise Law's Art Installation of Flowers at TMA


Rebecca Louise Law's art installation at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) was almost like standing under my Weeping Cherry tree in full bloom. We were immersed in a painting.  
Imagine walking into a blooming regalia of  flowers and plants, garden flowers and wild flowers, leaf petals, cones and seeds, all strung in long garlands and magical strands, floating down from a high ceiling, surrounded by the sights, smells and textures of our natural world. This was the world British artist Rebecca Louise Law created in her lovely installation now at the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA).

My sister Andy, friend Teddy, and I immersed ourselves in the experience, comforted and enveloped in this beautiful creation. In touch with an Ohio sense of place, deliberately so, Law used flowers and plants indigenous to the Toledo area as the sculptural material for her art. A group of community members and volunteers helped pick, sort and preserve the flowers, and there were thousands upon thousands of them. The exhibit was the kind of  experience Law intended us to have, "to get visitors to physically experience a painting."

Rebecca Law was made for this kind of art, coming as she did from seven generations of artists on her mother's side, and seven generations of gardners on her dad's side.  "My very first installation with flowers was called Dahlia," the artist said.  "My dad grew them in our garden." (arTMAtters, May-August 2018).

TMA Director of Curatorial Affairs Halona Norton-Westbrook became familiar with Law's work when  she lived in London. "The installations...are truly immersive," she said.  Law "melds together aspects of sculpture, painting, and installation art into a singular experience."

We didn't have the words, but we felt them as we walked through the unique installation.

At lunch I asked Andy and Teddy if they thought this kind of exhibit was art.  Oh yes, they both agreed. The installation was like a living painting, with wonderful composition, design, movement, texture.  They liked the colors, the shapes, the arrangements of strands of daisies next to a garland of hydrangea next to a garland of dried leaves from native Ohio trees. They loved the details, such fantastic details, and the larger picture they created. I wholeheartedly agreed. Rebecca Law's exhibit is a beautiful work of art and a wonderful respite from the daily anxieties of our contemporary lives. 

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Brian Turner, Iraqi War Poet

Brian Turner by Kim Buchheit, Blue Flower Arts
My Friend Alice, the master teacher and poet, will have me reading 'til the end of my days. After she put me onto Yosef Komanyakaa, she said I'd liked the war poet Brain Turner, too. There are lots of great war poets, and I have to admit I am behind on all of them, women warriors' poetry included. I don't have enough time left on earth to make it through the war poetry, let alone all the contemporary authors and poets on my too-long list of Books to Read before I die.  

Alice is right again.  Brian Turner is a powerful poet and a good compliment to Komanyakaa.  Komanyakaa spent a year in the hell of Vietnam, a young man still in the bud. It's a miracle he survived the slaughter, that anyone survived. The war shaped his emotional life, turned him inward to escape the pain, until he saw the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and 
found himself where he did not want to be, remembering what he did not want to remember, absorbed into the Wall's glossy black granite, "Facing It."  

Brian Turner is a poet and US Army combat soldier telling us about war as he is fighting it, armed and on alert, in the trenches, on the front lines, hovering over a comrade, wondering if a bullet is meant for him and if it will hit its target.  Surely it will hit some target, and it will be deadly.  Turner fought for two years in Bosnia-Herzogovina, a cruel genocidal war, and then in Iraq beginning in November 2003, an infantry team leader, where fear and death, literally blood, sweat and tears, were his constant companions and living nightmares.  

In his acclaimed and award-winning book, Here, Bullet, Turner shares his experiences of war, shot through with harsh realism and agony as only a soldier poet can tell it. For most of us, war is an abstraction, horrible, sad, but far away. For Turner, war was in his sights, a participant and a witness, and it shatters all landscapes and all humans in its path.   
Here, Bullet 

If a body is what you want,
then here is bone and gristle and flesh.
Here is the clavicle-snapped wish,
the aorta’s opened valves, the leap
thought makes at the synaptic gap.
Here is the adrenaline rush you crave,
that inexorable flight, that insane puncture
into heat and blood. And I dare you to finish
what you’ve started. Because here, Bullet,
here is where I complete the word you bring
hissing through the air, here is where I moan
the barrel’s cold esophagus, triggering
my tongue’s explosives for the rifling I have
inside of me, each twist of the round
spun deeper, because here, Bullet,
here is where the world ends, every time.


In a review of Here, Bullet, Olivia Gerard, a writer and an officer in the US Marine Corps, highlights the significance of Turner's poems. War requires "a translator," she writes, and Brian Turner is one of them. 
"Without poetry, the experience of war defies articulation and explanation of what it meant to be there, in those conditions, with that mindset....Not because war is indescribable, but because it requires a translator—a native speaker who can write to the combat-deaf, -dumb, and -blind. As a U.S. Army soldier of the conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iraq, Brian Turner has been that translator both in prose and poetry. His lyrical memoir, My Life As A Foreign Country, describes war as the “extension of an idea expressed in the physical language of shrapnel.” But it is through poetry, specifically Here, Bullet, that Turner distills this experience of war into his own elemental trinity, 'projectiles filled with poems and death and love.'”
Turner's poems cut through our imagined wars, our media and movie wars, straight through to the guts of them. The poems I've read literally tremble with the sounds and sights and horrors of battle, of stalking the enemy and being stalked, of being buffeted about like puppets in a sand storm, not knowing when an AR-15 might go off on soldiers and civilians alike, the bullets "hissing through the air...each twist of the round spun deeper, because here, Bullet, here is where the world ends, every time."  

The Hurt Locker
Nothing but hurt left here.
Nothing but bullets and pain
and the bled-out slumping
and all the fucks and goddamns
and Jesus Christs of the wounded.
Nothing left here but the hurt.

Believe it when you see it.
Believe it when a twelve-year-old
rolls a grenade into the room.
Or when a sniper punches a hole
deep into someone’s skull.
Believe it when four men
step from a taxicab in Mosul
to shower the street in brass
and fire. Open the hurt locker
and see what there is of knives
and teeth. Open the hurt locker and learn
how rough men come hunting for souls.


What Every Soldier Should Know
To yield to force is an act of necessity, not of will;
it is at best an act of prudence.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau

If you hear gunfire on a Thursday afternoon,
it could be for a wedding, or it could be for you.

Always enter a home with your right foot;
the left is for cemeteries and unclean places.

O-guf! Tera armeek is rarely useful.
It means Stop! Or I'll shoot.

Sabah el khair is effective.
It means Good morning.

Inshallah means Allah be willing.
Listen well when it is spoken.

You will hear the RPG coming for you.
Not so the roadside bomb.

There are bombs under the overpasses,
in trashpiles, in bricks, in cars.

There are shopping carts with clothes soaked
in foogas, a sticky gel of homemade napalm.

Parachute bombs and artillery shells
sewn into the carcasses of dead farm animals.

Graffiti sprayed onto the overpasses:
I will kell you, American.

Men wearing vests rigged with explosives
walk up, raise their arms and say Inshallah.

There are men who earn eighty dollars
to attack you, five thousand to kill.

Small children who will play with you,
old men with their talk, women who offer chai—

and any one of them
may dance over your body tomorrow.

Sources and information:
* Brian Turner, “The Hurt Locker” from Here, Bullet. Copyright © 2005 by Brian Turner. Reprinted by permission of Alice James Books.

https://mypoeticside.com/poets/brian-turner-poems#block-bio

* Brief biography: 
Turner was born in  Visilia, CA and raised in Fresno and Madera County. He got his BA and MA at Fresno State, and an MFA at the University of Oregon. He taught English in South Korea for a year, and traveled to Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Japan.  Turner is a US Army vet.  In 1999 and 2000 he was with the 10th Mountain Division, deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  A butchery of ethnic cleansing and gruesome rapes, deathly battles, genocide. How could anyone survive that, let alone write about it.  Turner did it.  Beginning in November 2003, Turner was an an infantry team leader in Iraq, with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team.  Those of us who watched these horrible conflicts on television, not sure what the hell we were doing there in the first place, cannot know what war is really like. 
  
Turner's poems have been published in The Cortland Review, Poetry Daily, Atlanta Review, Crab Orchard Review, Georgia Review, Rattle, Virginia Quarterly Review, and ZYZZYVA, in the 2007 edition of The Best American Poetry, and in anthologies including Voices in Wartime: The Anthology (Whit Press, 2005) and Operation Homecoming: Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Home Front, in the Words of U.S. Troops and Their Families (Random House, 2006).  Turner received major media attention for Here, Bullet.  He was interviewed or featured in The New Yorker, New York Times, NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, The Verb on BBC, and many other venues. 

He was featured in the film, Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, nominated for a 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary.  He is Director of the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College at Lake Tahoe. 


Turner married fellow poet IIyse Kusnetz  in 2010 in Orlando FL.  She died six years later from cancer, another excruciatingly painful loss for Turner.  Her poetry about dying is powerful too.

https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2016/8/3/reviewing-here-bullet-turners-trinity-of-love-death-and-poems

* On the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina:   https://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2010/10/belgrade-serbia

His recent memoir: My life as a Foreign Country,  reviewed in https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/books/review/my-life-as-a-foreign-country-by-brian-turner.html 


Phantom Noise,  by Brian Turner 
There is this ringing hum  this
bullet-borne language  ringing
shell-fall and static this  late-night
ringing of threadwork and carpet  ringing
bodies ringing in steel  humming these
hiss and steam  this wing-beat
of rotors and tanks  broken
ringing these children their gravestones
voices of dust  these years ringing
rifles in Babylon  rifles in Sumer
this eardrum  this rifled symphonic  this
and candy  their limbs gone missing  their
static-borne television  their ringing
threading of bullets in muscle and bone  this ringing
ringing of midnight in gunpowder and oil this
brake pad gone useless  this muzzle-flash singing  this

ringing
hum  this ringing hum  this
  

Monday, May 28, 2018

Discovering Poet Yosef Komunyakaa on Memorial Day 2018

I discovered a poet I should have known about many years ago. Yosef Komunyakaa. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1994 for his book, "Neon Vernacular."  I'm ordering it on Amazon, along with a few others of his works. I've spent most of the day, between doing some gardening, reading his poems online, enrapt in metaphors, allusions and fanciful reflections.

My friend Alice Twombly brought Komunyakaa to my attention on this Memorial Day, May 28, 2018, when we have a self-absorbed lying traitor in the White House who cannot commemorate the day without making it about himself. 

Alice and I noted the offense. She suggested I look up Komunyakaa's poem "Facing it."  And I did.   It's how a real warrior, a Vietnam Vet from Louisiana, a poet soldier, would remember the day. Alice, the master teacher, is teaching the poem to her class tomorrow, so it's fresh on her mind. I wish I could be there.

Vietnam War Memorial, Washington, DC
The poem is about  Komunyakaa's visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and, yes, facing it: facing the war. Facing the horror, the pain, the loss.  The poet becomes absorbed in the glossy black granite of the wall, a mirror, etched "like  smoke" with the names of those who died. His name's not there, but he finds the name of a friend. He cannot hide what he sees, "I see the booby trap's white flash." He's inside the horror, inside that shiny black granite, absorbed in images and memories that he doesn't want to remember. "Metaphor meets monument," Robin Ekess put it in a Poetry's Foundation's interpretation of the poem.  Komunyakaa the poet meeting Maya Lin, the architect.

Komunyakaa's poem, like Lin's wall, is a powerful metaphor for this Memorial Day 2018, facing the reality of what war means, facing the truth.

Facing It, by Yosef Komunyakaa
My black face fades,
hiding inside the black granite.
I said I wouldn't
dammit: No tears.
I'm stone. I'm flesh.
My clouded reflection eyes me
like a bird of prey, the profile of night
slanted against morning. I turn
this way—the stone lets me go.
I turn that way—I'm inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
I go down the 58,022 names,
half-expecting to find
my own in letters like smoke.
I touch the name Andrew Johnson;
I see the booby trap's white flash.
Names shimmer on a woman's blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall.
Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's
wings cutting across my stare.
The sky. A plane in the sky.
A white vet's image floats
closer to me, then his pale eyes
look through mine. I'm a window.
He's lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names:
No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

President Obama tweeted what many of us feel about this day.  "We can never truly repay the debt we owe our fallen heroes. But we can remember them, honor their sacrifice, and affirm in our own lives those enduring ideals of justice, equality, and opportunity for which generations of Americans have given that last full measure of devotion,” he  tweeted.  This is what we needed to hear on this Memorial Day 2018, and the dirge for fallen soldiers. .

Source:
Yusef Komunyakaa, “Facing It” from Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems. Copyright © 2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press.
Dodgepoetry.org.

Brief  biography: Internet Poetry Archive.
Komunyakaa was born on 29 April 1947 in Bogalusa, Louisanna, the oldest of five children. His  childhood experiences inform many of his works: his family relationships, growing up in a rural Southern community, being close to the jazz and blues environment of  New Orleans.  He was born James William Brown. He legally changed his name to Komunyakaa in memory of his grandfather, who was from the West Indies and, as family legend went, had arrived in America as a stowaway on a ship. After  high school he joined the Army and served in Vietnam (1969-70), working as a war correspondent and specialist for the military paper Southern Cross, covering actions and stories of fellow soldiers. After his tour of duty, he went to the University of Colorado and discovered his love of poetry. He spent time with the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center after getting an MFA from the U. of California at Irvine, a transformative experience. "A sort of unearthing has to take place," he wrote," Sometimes one has to remove layers of facades and superficialities.  The writer has to get down to the guts of things and rediscover the basic timbre of his or her existence."  He's a prolific writer, with dozens of books to his name, among them Pleasure Dome, Taboo, Talking Dirty to the Gods, Thieves of Paradise, Neon Vernacular, and Magic City.  He teaches creative writing at NYU.


Friday, May 25, 2018

The New Fake GOP



From Kevin Baker, New Republic article, May, 17, 2018.
Illustrations by Christine Cornell.
"The right lies pervasively, and it lies well. Its lies have become deadly, living fantasies—as lies will, given enough political muscle." Kevin Baker, "Nothing is Hidden," New Republic, May 17, 2018

"If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power."  
President Dwight D. Eisenhower, speech, March 6, 1956

"This is not your father's Republican Party. They are not who we are. They are not who America is. What they are doing is sending a vision of America around the world that is distorted. That is damaging. That is hurting us...this phony populism, this fake nationalism.... It's time to say 'no more.'" 
Joe Biden at NY convention renominating Cuomo for NY Governor, AP, May 24, 2018

America needs a new, wholly reconstituted Republican party.  It could be a revival of Abraham Lincoln's party that fought for freedom and a united America through a brutal Civil War, or the Eisenhower Republican Party that put country over party and honored the Rule of Law above all else. I can even see a return to George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism." 

I never thought I'd be writing these words. It's an indication of how the present revises  history over time. 

But America needs a two-party system afterall, maybe even more parties, and the corrupt, traitorous tRump regime, which thinks it's above the Rule of Law, forces some rethinking. 

We have a president who cannot tell the truth, assails the free press, rants about conspiracy theories and a "deep state," and lies to the American people every day.  We have a corrupt Cabinet that is dismantling the government agency by agency. We have a right wing extremist judge on the Supreme Court who favors eliminating every law that protects workers and ordinary Americans from the greed of corporate overkill. We have a Congress that is not fulfilling its Constitutional duty to provide oversight of the Executive Branch. In fact, the three branches of government, absolutely central to how our democracy works, have become frightfully unbalanced. 


The modern Republican Party has let the fox into the hen house.  "Alt-right extremists, a fundamentally anti-democratic  cabal funded by billionaires and "dark money" sources to enrich themselves, has taken over the GOP to the point that it no longer exists as a real party. McConnell and Ryan have encouraged and allowed it to happen.  

Eisenhower was right: The GOP today "is merely a conspiracy to seize power."   

Kevin Baker, in an important New Republic article, cited below, noted the dire consequences for America: 
"In less than a year and a half in office, Donald J. Trump and the squalling far-right movement he has dragged into the White House like a mischievous dog have already changed the parameters of the American presidency and the nation’s politics beyond recognition."
An alt-right extremist vision of America has swept across the land. Kevin Baker has a good handle on what this alt-right vision is, which he calls "a sort of anarcho-corporate state."  What is an "anarcho-corporate state"?  Baker's description is worth noting and remembering. 
"[It's a state] in which pretty much everyone will be armed and able to threaten each other into nonviolence; miraculously reconstituted extended families will eradicate the need for Social Security and Medicare; poor children will work as janitors to pay for their schooling; tax cuts will generate enough income to offset the need for subsidized health care; public property will be largely eliminated; and no regulations of any kind will apparently be required to keep our food, water, air, money, or medicine safe or to determine how the public will shape its own towns and cities."
"In everything from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s desire to turn the public school system over to the church, to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s tax plan with its backdoor assault on Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security, the modern-day GOP moves determinedly toward turning these fantasies, no matter how putrid or dangerous or unpopular, into a reality."
I think that in time--maybe at the conclusion of the Mueller investigation or after the mid-term elections--these fake Republicans will be charged with dereliction of duty, abuse of power and obstruction of justice. This will include a failure to  protect and preserve the balance of powers and the institutions which ensure America's safety and domestic tranquility.  


“The GOP we knew pre-Trump began its death march the day Trump secured the nomination," said Tara Setmayer, a former communications director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R, CA), now a CNN commentator.  "It has accelerated down the slippery slope ever since with party leaders who used to be the vanguards of basic Republican principles and decency now becoming enablers of the party’s own demise."

Sources
1) https://newrepublic.com/article/148270/nothing-creation-hiddenFrom the article: Eisenhower to his brother, when the GOP was an honest party in touch with reality."Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things ... an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid." Interesting. Too bad the GOP didn't nip this "negligible" and "stupid" extremist group in the bud.  Today it now dominates and has destroyed the legitimate Republican party.

2)  https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/01/23/what-does-the-republican-party-look-like-after-trump/?utm_term=.386f09e8e70e by Philip Bump.  "...the Trump era will end, and a Republican Party that has been subsumed to the president’s personality, temper and raucous base will need to figure out a path forward."  Quote from Tara Setmayaer:  “The GOP we knew pre-Trump began its death march the day Trump secured the nomination,” said Tara Setmayer, former communications director for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R,CA), now a CNN commentator. “It has accelerated down the slippery slope ever since with party leaders who used to be the vanguards of basic Republican principles and decency now becoming enablers of the party’s own long-term demise./....Trump’s brand of rabid economic populism fueled fear and isolationism rather than optimism and inclusion and is the antithesis of Reagan’s ‘shining city on a hill’ or Bush’s brand of ‘compassionate conservatism....Could the party of those eras be resurrected? “I’m not sure.”

3) Joe Biden at NY Democratic convention endorsing Cuomo for governor for a 3rd term, AP, May 24, 2018.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Loren's Spirit Keeps us Going


Remembering Loren.
Raining on Irina's flowers
  in Starobelsk, Ukraine. 
It's been eight years since my brother Loren's last hike, on May 23, 2010. He died on the trails of northern Florida along the Aucilla River.  His hiking friends from the Tallahassee Trails Association found him and ran for help.  It was too late. Loren's spirit flew up and away, into the great beyond. I like to think an Eagle flew overhead at that very moment, like the one he spotted at St. Marks Preserve the day our Mom died at the end of March 2003. 

I was in Ukraine when that eagle flew over the Aucilla River, so far away. A very early morning call, connected through Peace Corps headquarters in Kyiv. My sister's voice, crying.  The sad messenger of the saddest news. So sudden, so unexpected. Our sister Andy, living in Tallahassee, felt her heart skip a beat when two police officers, in solemn faces, appeared at her door. "I knew something was wrong the minute I saw them," she said. The shock still lingers, for both of us.   

We were adults, retired, getting up there in age, but we weren't ready for our little brother's death at 63 years old.  Too young. Same age that our dad died.  Loren wasn't ready either. His autobiography about growing up with Asperger's Syndrome was about to come out. He had poured his heart and soul into it. He had all his environmental and political work awaiting him.  He had so much reading to do. Loren always surrounded by books, an enduring image. He wanted to travel, too, return to his beloved upstate New York, to the Rochester area where we grew up, to the Finger Lakes, the Adirondacks, maybe a trip to Mexico with his sisters. Instead, Loren was taken on a different trip, one we were powerless to redirect.   

Whenever Andy and I rant about the news of the day, which is a lot now, we miss Loren's voice. "If only Loren were here," we say.  We want to hear his take on things, learn new ways of looking at them from his vast knowledge about everything on Earth. 

But Loren is somewhere else. I'm not sure where. I hope he is hiking in the cosmic hologram of another dimension, beyond global warming and the desecration of the Earth he fought so hard to protect. I hope he's in a place without hate, guns, war and violence, his Aspie self aglow in the warm embrace of the goddess. 

When I think I hear his voice, because I want to so badly, he is calm. Like a serene Buddha. He seems to have a  kind of lofty perspective on humans doing their thing on earth. He seems to know that our ideals will survive and save us, as they always have. That the arc of history is toward justice, as MLK taught us.  It's not a raging voice; it's a quiet voice of compassion and empathy. I see the light from a lovely soul at peace with himself and the world. “I've done my part," he seems to say. "You guys have work to do. Don't stop now, until we meet again.”

A POEM FOR LOREN. 
The Dead, by the wonderful poet Billy Collins, former US Poet Laureate

The dead are always looking down on us they say,
while we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich,
they are looking down through the glass-bottom boats
of heaven as they row through eternity.

They watch the top of our heads moving on earth,
and when we lie down in a field or on a couch,
drugged perhaps by the hum of a warm afternoon,
they think we are looking back at them.

Which makes them lift their oars and fall silent
and wait like parents for us to close our eyes.





Thursday, May 17, 2018

Moses Fleetwood Walker and his Times

. 
The Thaddeus Walinsky History Group (named after a devoted Toledo historian) meets on the first Monday of every month.  The last meeting, which my friend Teddy and I attended, focused on a talk by David Wise and Bill Romp about Moses Fleetwood Walker. Walker was an Ohio native son, African-American baseball player with a stint in the Major Leagues before Jackie Robinson, and entrepreneur.  His name suited him, emblematic of Biblical naming patterns adopted by freed slaves and their descendants on the long road to freedom.  But actually it seems he was called "Flint," and that suited him too!

The History group meets at the Beirut Restaurant, an homage to Toledo's large and long-established Lebanese-American community, from which have come prominent lawyers, judges, teachers, and  civic and business leaders. It takes me back in time to the 1970s-80s, when I worked with Judge Charlie Abood on a pioneering Lucas County family violence prevention project chaired by the Bishop of the Toledo Diocese, James Hoffman.  I will always remember these two civic leaders, the Judge and the Bishop, for their commitment to promoting a compassionate Toledo.

The History group is a wonderful opportunity to learn about local and state history, as well as American and World history of interest to particular members. Members take turns giving presentations, with time for questions and answers. It's fun and intellectually stimulating to have a chance to talk history over a wonderful Lebanese meal.

Moses Fleetwood Walker,
Wikipedia. 
So we learned about Moses Fleetwood Walker (1856-1924), with Bill Romp presenting an interesting biography.  Walker was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, a working class town in eastern Ohio with a large Quaker community that had served as a sanctuary for runaway slaves since 1815 (fascinating information). When Moses was a child the family moved to Steubenville, where his father became one of the first black physicians in Ohio and later a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. The AME church was among the first denominations founded on racial grounds rather than theological differences, and always advocated for civil rights through social improvement and political action. (Wikipedia).

Walker's family and the Steubenville Black community where he grew up influenced the direction of Moses' life. He became a star athlete at Oberlin College, where his baseball career as a catcher started, and later at the University of Michigan. These colleges were ahead of their time in accepting women (such as women's rights advocate Lucy Stone) and Black students, and Walker took advantage of it. He was a good student, favored philosophy and art, but his first love was baseball.

Logos of these great  organizations.
"Discover Greatness!" a perfect motto
.
He played for semi-professional and minor league teams before joining the Toledo Blue Stockings of the MLB's American Association (AA) for the 1884 season.  Moses was apparently the last African American to participate in a major league before Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color line in 1947. Like Robinson, Walker bore his share of  racial taunts and jeers.  I recalled that it was the virulent racism in America that infused our "favorite past-time" and led to the formation of the Negro Baseball Leagues, where some of the best players in the country, like pitcher Satchel Paige, played in segregated games to the thrill and pride of huge Black audiences. Robinson's achievement in "integrating" the Majors led to the end of the Negro Leagues (documented in several studies and in Ken Burn's "Baseball" series).  It remains debatable to this day whether the end of segregation hurt more than helped the once-thriving black communities of America. 

Moses was proud of his African-American heritage, Bill Romp noted, and he had an entrepreneurial spirit. Besides his love of baseball, he engaged in various business ventures; edited a newspaper, the Equator, with his brother Weldy (also a baseball player); and wrote a book, Our Home Colony (1908), exploring ideas about emigrating back "home" to Africa. He floundered a bit when his baseball career ended and he had his rough times as well as good times. Moses died in 1924 at the age of 67.

Considering the historical context in which Moses Walker lived--the Era of Apartheid and White Supremacy, as vicious here as anywhere in the world--his achievements and those of other African Americans at the time are remarkable.

Human bondage did not end with the Civil War.  No. Another form of bondage emerged during Reconstruction and well into the 20th century, and in the most vicious forms imaginable.

It was human bondage embedded in stifling Jim Crow Laws and the southern Black codes; the passage of laws forbidding former slaves from hunting, fishing and foraging (major means of survival); the resulting creation of a new "criminal" class of  young black men who worked like slaves on chain gangs as cruel as any South African prison or Russian Gulag; relentless oppression and injustice without civil rights, without any rights at all; and the terrorism of the KKK, which dominated the American landscape.  Lynchings were at an all-time high, a sickening spectacle of emboldened White Supremacy. These gruesome murders led to the courageous anti-lynching efforts of journalist Ida B. Wells (the history of  black women pioneers too often hidden) and then to the NAACP's Anti-Lynching Campaign. (I worked in the NAACP records, at the Library of Congress; they are the most graphic, unnerving, and saddest documents I have ever worked in as an historian).

A parallel reality also existed at this time. It is, indeed, a major theme of the African-American experience: the persistence and strength of Black communities across the South and into the North, surviving against the odds; the grassroots struggle for civil rights, including the right to vote, like the efforts of Fannie Lou Hammer and sharecroppers in Mississippi; the emergence of Black educational, religious, businesses, and social and cultural institutions that sustained these communities; and the training and rise of brave men and women leaders who put Black civil rights on the national agenda.

In Walker's time, hundreds of African-American women, working to the bone to keep their families
together and sick and tired of the oppression, rose up to mobilize the masses of Black folks across the South and North. Among them were women pioneers like Ida B. Wells and Mary McLeod Bethune, educated activists way ahead of their time. In their footsteps, three prominent African-American men also stepped onto the national stage. They were Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, and Marcus Garvey. They shared the same goals--equality, justice, equal opportunity--but they had different strategies for getting there, strategies that are debated to this day.


Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was probably the most well-known of the three, and certainly the least feared by the white community because he did not focus on integration or civil rights. Born into slavery, Washington called for black progress through education and entrepreneurship.  He promulgated this strategy in his famous "Atlanta Compromise," which called for building the black community's economic strength and pride through self-help. His base was Tuskegee Institute, a historically black college in Alabama. It could well be that Walker the entrepreneur learned a lot from Booker T, and in many ways embodied his self-help strategies.

W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963), a Harvard PhD, sociologist and historian, author of the epic "Reconstruction in America" and "The Souls of Black Folks," moved beyond Booker T's "Atlanta Compromise" approach.  DuBois focused on working for political change, integration, and equal  rights. He was a co-founder of the NAACP in 1909, but in time moved beyond this organization as well to call for more revolutionary actions against American racism. There are plenty of hints that Moses knew of DuBois, shared the goals of the NAACP, and was familiar with its remarkable lawyers, including Walter White, who headed the Anti-Lynching campaign, Professor Charles Houston of Howard University in DC, and perhaps even Houston's student, the young Thurgood Marshall, who later become the first African American Supreme Court Justice.

Marcus Garvey  (1887-1940) was a proponent of Black nationalism and leader of  a mass movement called Pan-Africanism.  Moses Walker certainly knew of Garvey's ideas, and incorporated them into his own book, "Our  Home Colony." Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association, the African Communities League, and the Black Star Line, a shipping and passenger line that promoted the return of the African diaspora to their ancestral lands.

Moses Fleetwood Walker's life is part of this larger story of  the African American experience and the struggle for freedom. It's truly an American story of Achievement against the Odds.  Incredible odds.  There was a mountain of  oppression, hatred and despair to overcome, Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us. America is still a work in progress, still struggling to live up to it's ideals, time after time, generation after generation.

Some sources:  Talk by history group members David Wise and Bill Romp; Wikipedia and blackpast.com.  Pat and Frederick McKissack, Jr., Black Diamond: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues (New York: Scholastic, 1994) and "Baseball," Ken Burns' documentary. Wikipedia bios on Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey.

Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr.,  I've Been to the Mountaintop, April 3, 1968
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.
Longevity has its place.
But I'm not concerned about that now.
I just want to do God's will.
And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain.
And I've looked over.
And I've seen the promised land.
I may not get there with you.
But I want you to know tonight,
that we, as a people will get to the promised land.


From interesting article by Kevin Baker, "Does America need truth and reconciliation after Trump," New Republic, May 2018, discussing another period when America did:
"African Americans were ... moved from slavery to serfdom. The new Southern constitutions contained horrific “Black Codes” so close to the same states’ old “slave codes” that in places they simply lifted entire blocks of text from the antebellum statutes and substituted “Negro” for the word “slave.”
The Black Codes of 1865–1866 restricted every form of African American activity as closely as any totalitarian state has ever controlled its population. They legally tied the former slaves to the lands of their once-and-future masters and began the long tradition of convict labor that still plagues America to this day, creating incentives for local police forces to arrest people of color on the flimsiest of pretexts and force them into what Douglas Blackmon called, in his book of the same title, “slavery by another name.”"



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