Thursday, June 18, 2020

The Bronx in 1947




The mourning doves don’t make that mourning cooing sound when you come up on them and they are surprised.  Rather it’s a staccato exhalation, which, matched with their loud wing flapping sounds like a crazy child’s bicycle, teetering off.  It’s summer now. The canopy could be something from a rain forest with all the creepers and vines competing for the sun.  Down on the trail I can’t see anyone, but people talk aloud as if they were all by themselves.  There are clouds overhead and I’m glad.  When they broke a moment ago the sun cut through mercilessly. 

I’d identified a sassafras tree the other day down near the trail head.  Today I was determined to transplant it up to the yard.  The last time I did this with some Trembling Aspen down near the same spot, I moved six young trees up and there’s only one I can say currently looks to be alive.  I took a look on-line and considered the basics on sassafras planting.  Glad I checked a second source as it drew my attention to the fact that the sassafras has a long tap root to be mindful of. 



This plant was only a bit more than a foot high with half a dozen well-formed leaves.  When I went down to look it over and clear away the many weeds around it, I noticed a sturdy stem from an earlier tree with an inch-wide radius and tracing the smaller new stem down it became clear that this was growing off of the earlier trunk.  Compared to the rocky soil in my yard it was easy enough to dig a ring two-foot diameter ring around the base and largely free the little plant up easily enough.  The turf would not lift up completely though and it became clear that it was indeed held in place by a long tap root which I pulled out for as long as I could before I inadvertently cut it about two feet out.  It’s in a bucket with soil and mulch and water just now.  Let’s see how this sassafras does in the next little while, before I dig up a hole in the yard and commit to placing him in it. 



I wasn’t familiar with Conlon Nancarrow.  Were you?  The list of twentieth century composers I’ve been sampling from has him listed just after John Cage.  Following the music of John Cage, who I was listening to yesterday, Nancarrow, known for making music by manipulating player pianos, sounds comparatively melodic.  I was up at the Walkill bridge today trying to photograph what turned out to be a Slippery Elm, with “Contraption No. 1” from his “Lost Works, Last Works” release choreographing my mysterious activity to, while an innocent older couple were biking by, when the album shifted to interviews with the artist.  Born in Arkansas, he fought in the Spanish Civil War and ultimately became a Mexican citizen, in 1956. In the first interview, he described what it was like to find a player piano company in the Bronx in 1947 from which he contracted to have fashioned his own hole punching machine.  A great accent that sounds like his compositions, formed in another era. 



Thursday, 06/18/20


Clouds Like the Ribbing




My daughters pointed it out to me at the end of the dinner, the sunset was beautiful.  Clouds like the ribbing of some whale belly were lit with increasing ferocity as they dropped towards the western sky and the mountain shelf of the gunks.  I snapped a few shots and threw a lite sweater on to sit out here and watch it fade to black. 



I posted a number of old posts last evening and the rest this morning.  About half a month’s worth of entries in, reviewing the work as done I noticed that one post from 5/31/20, which incidentally also profiles a sunset picture, was never really posted.  It just sat there as a draft.  To properly fix this, I’d need to delete the last sixteen posts and properly post it in order and then redo the others, with the photos culled anew.  Tired, and busy I just added a note:  “(properly posted 16 days before this appears).”

A minute ago there didn’t seem to be any mosquitos, but now they’re here, or perhaps they’ve just smelled me out.  A noisy catbird is calling to my left off to another catbird, way off to the right.  The bats have appeared now, as they do this time of the evening.  I wish they’d flap through here and eat up some of these blood suckers.  The amount of the sky covered by the whale’s ribbing has grown and the red that remains, just above the cliff has intensified. 



I brought my Charles Chestnut anthology out here but it’s too dark to read it now.  Three days hence will be the longest day of the year and then, with a tinge of sadness that always follows, things will begin to contract day by day, until just before Christmas.  Chestnut is, like Paul Laurence Dunbar, flush with vernacular, juxtaposed with stylized English and while the common tongue is easy enough to follow, it doesn’t make for quick reading.  I need to slow down to catch the suggestions and unpack what certain spellings prop uh lee  mean.  Not much red left in the sky now.  The faint trace of light will last longer.  The earth is turning at such a sharp angle this time of year, that light will return only six or so hours later.   A big frog down there is bidding the sun farewell. 



Wednesday, 06/17/20



Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Strange Position to Take




Guilty, surely.  Guilty as charged.  Guilty in my heart.  Academically alight with ideas and references but physically inert.  I’ve been studying the slave trade and I’m ten books straight now, into the indignity.  More books came yesterday.  I’m piling it on as I want to somehow make the enormity inescapable and my perspective steeped in this tragedy not as an inconvenient truth, but as a beacon that generally informs all of what it shines upon the American experience. 



And I am guilty of something like apathy, surrounding the death of George Floyd.  Another video of a hapless African American man murdered by the police.  There have been so many.  In a fateful voice: "there will be more."   It is, not unlike the numbness I feel, (we feel?) when yet another group of people are shot en masse by an armed gunman.  It’s horrible and it’s wrong and no one seems to be able to do anything definitive about it because this violence is all rather American.  The real nectar that renews the roots of the Second Amendment isn't myth of the tricornered minutemen, whose relevance to defend us against tyrannical  invaders was always idealistic, it was the practical maintenance of a paramilitary force to keep slaves from rebelling and to later enforce Jim Crow, rejuvenated generationally that put to primacy the right to bear arms. 

In the first day or two after the murder, I believe I subconsciously assumed it would play its course.  People would protest and some would riot and then it would vanish.  I had been focused on Hong Kong, and on U.S. China relations and this, I suggested something to the effect, of “this happens from time to time and America can withstand this can improve from this pull upon the fabric.”  What a strange position to take.  “America has been through worse, and this is an indelible stain on the national cloth which is only ever addressed in fits and starts. This will challenge America and perhaps change America, but it won't overwhelm America.  Not, the way I suggested, might more likely happen in China.  What do I know?



The pandemic isolation, has in part, left me numb and alone.  The nation, wounded after three plus years of Trump’s shambolic charade, the country having lost more than twice the number of casualties as the entire Vietnam War, in a matter of months, people out of work, people broke, people tired and worried and now very angry.  Distance from our neighbors helps to numb what it is we feel, I suspect. I would like to take my girls to a protest.  I need to speak with others, who are not just type- on-text. And we are not supposed to form groups for our collective safety.  My girls remind me of this.  It strikes me how odd the national conversation is with seemingly no one, anywhere, embodying leadership role.   Where are the voices in any community to crystalize the frustration and counsel the passions?  Why do I need to hear such a call?



Sunday 05/31/20
(properly posted 16 days before this appears)


A Bayati-like Quality




My search through an online list of American composers has been a rich trawl.  Representations if not the oeuvre of nearly all of these composers are immediately accessible on Spotify.  A few days back I stumbled upon the remarkable American composer of Armenian descent, Alan Hovhaness.   Originally I was admiring what I heard as something that I have only just learned to call a Bayati-like quality, and associated that with the Caucuses and their shifting boundaries of Christendom and Islam.  Come to realize that Mr. Hovhaness was voracious ethnomusicologist whose work was recorded on the Javanese gamelan and who wrote songs to Vishnu and to the Qin Dynasty, (presumably to its founder, who was the central all-consuming figure from that short-lived dynasty,) Mount Shasta and the saxophone.   



I’d read a book I’d enjoyed some ten years back:  “The Dawn of Indian Music in the West” and before you get to consider John Coltrane and George Harrison, the author Peter Levezzoli threads the earlier yarns of Yehudi Menuhin’s association with Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan.  I don’t remember coming across Hovhaness at the time.  Culling through there are many hours of music to consider.  “Floating World, Opus 209”, might suite ya.

For the second week in a row at 4:15AM I’ve thumbed through my phone atop the toilet, staring through gritty old contact lenses, just a few minutes before the warning alarm will begin to notice an email from a client colleague informing me that the call this week needs to be rescheduled.  A boon, undeniably.  But the earliest morning light on this, just a few days before the longest day of the year, is already announcing itself.  I should get up, I suppose.  I’ll have another call in ninety-minutes and though I’m tired, I don’t want to sleep.  And so, I go from the New York Times, to the Washington Post to the South China Morning post and doze off and return more than a few times.



Speaking to people in Beijing and outside of London I notice the she-fox spring up and dart after the squirrels.  My eyes were drawn to one squirrel who was not moving.  Surely you are asking for trouble my furry little friend, I thought as I looked him up and down.  Why aren’t you making a straight shot for the cedar tree, here she comes . . . with a squirrel in her mouth.  That explains why you aren’t in a rush to move. 

Paul Laurence Dunbar also writes a lot about the natural world around him: the meadowlark, the owl as well as the caged bird, which doesn’t sing, and it feels like he must have spent a lot of time outdoors, walking, by necessity.  Born to freed slaves in Ohio in 1872, Dunbar is as comfortable in a lyrical English style as he is the African American vernacular of the time.  Bicultural, seemingly, the two voices keep to the confines of their own poems though, segregated.  He died at a mere thirty-three years of age from the wretched killer of that time, tuberculosis, he fortunately left a great body of work behind which I am now, for the first time in my life familiarizing myself with. 

            When All is Done

            When all is done, and my last word is said,
            And ye who loved me murmur, “He is dead,”
            Let no one week, for fear that I should know,
            And sorrow too that ye should sorrow so.
            When all is done and in the oozing clay,
            Ye lay tis cast-off hull of mine away,
            Pray not for me, for, after long despair,
            The quiet of the grave will be prayer.
            For I have suffered loss and grievous pain,
            The hurts of hatred and world’s disdain
            And wounds do deep that love, well-tried and pure,
            Had not the pow’r to ease them or to cure.
            When all is done, say not my day is o’er,
            And that thro’ night I seek a dimmer shore:
            Say rather that my morn has just begun, -
            When all is done.


Tuesday, 06/16/20


Having This Particular Digression




What the hell is “sassafras?”  Do you know?  I know you could approximate.  I know you could look it up.  But dead cold, if pressed, could you accurately define it?  I could not.  But I can think, indeed I can’t help but think of the countless things one could rhyme with it.  It’s on my mind as its, I’ve learned, in my yard.  There was nondescript, green plant that had sprung up anew where the trail I take the bike through the woods meets the old rail line and my Seek app told me it was Sassafras.   

  

And here, I thought it was a mere plant.  Come to discover we’re talking about a proper tree.  Wiki informs me of many things, like the fact that the one in Owensboro, Kentucky, is “over 100 feet high and 21 feet in circumference.”  Maybe I should consider moving the little fellow up to a more prominent position, more in line with its commanding name.  No invasive, immigrant, Sassafras Albidum is a North American native and it has medicinal and practical uses aplenty.  The Native Americans used their sticks as toothbrushes and as rubbing sticks to start fires with.  I’ll have to go back down now and look at that sassafras anew.  From now on, you’re part of my word hoard, at least.   

Loud question number two in this missive:  Who was the Scarlet Pimpernel?  You’ve heard the name just like I have.  Do you know the reference?  Candidly and until the next paragraph of this blog is written, when I will have gone on-line and confirmed the context, I do not know the reference.  Thoughts of a roughish, eighteenth century English character, who breaks hearts and is somehow forgiven in the end, is what my mind begins to conjure.  A reasonable question might be:  why are we even having this particular digression John?  Biking home today I spied an unassuming red flower amidst the roadside weeds, placed the phone up close to focus and was told by my Seek app that I’d identified a Scarlett Pimpernel.  Right.  So, which came first?  The literary reference or the flower?

Now I know.  I got the century right and it was an Englishman, but I hadn’t realized it was set during the French Revolution nor that the protagonist leads classic superhero dilemma:  by day he’s a dweeb but with his costume on he is a master swordsman.  I’ve already dropped four dollars and thirty cents with Amazon and Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orci, of Hungary’s early twentieth century classic is on its way here.  Loyal readers know we were just looking at Jacques Louis David with my little on and perhaps I can get her interested as well. 



Ahh, but chickens or eggs?  I’ve left an important matter unexplored:  The plant “pimpernel” antedates the avenger Pimpernel by many years it seems:  “Late Middle English (denoting the great burnet and the salad burnet): from Old French pimpernelle, based on Latin piper ‘pepper’ (because of the resemblance of the burnet's fruit to a peppercorn).



Monday, 06/15/20


Revealed to Us, Later




Twice we’ve tried a cat.  Twice I became asphyxiated.  I put a good face on it till I was forced into our local health center in Beijing demanding they give me an asthma inhaler now, even though I didn’t have a prescription.  I can’t breathe, you see.   No more cats.  I don’t think dogs will end well, either.  Yesterday we set up the terrarium.  Today we’re bringing home a lizard.

The debate now centers around whether or not he (she?  - This will be revealed to us later in life, we’ve been told,) will eat yucky but manageable mealworms or if he will insist upon, less-controllable, more agile, hence notably more yucky live crickets.  One gal at PetCo is adamant.  But my older one has done her research and there are many voices out there that swear by a diet of mealworms and nothing but mealworms.  Attempts to discuss or expose away the fear of hopping crickets is not successful and today though we were resolved to go mealworms-only to-start, we were helped by another young lady who also kept a pet Gecko.  She insisted that mealworms by themselves, were just fine.  Two-points then to the Poughkeepsie PetCo for having not one but two passionate, professional young woman who knew their lizards.   One suspects that particular skillset isn’t easy to replace. 



Herbert Aptheker was a Marxist historian from Brooklyn and his work, which I hadn’t realized was a classic, “American Negro Slave Revolts” was recommended to me among a number of tiles, by my former high school teacher whom I’d recently reconnected with.   The myth of antebellum docility is unpacked, decade by decade to show that the rebellions of Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey where simply two noteworthy examples of what was essential a constant state of rebellion and agitation.  Slaves consistently resisted slavery. 



Unanswered ponderables swirled: what would the American Revolution been like if the British had thought to offer the slaves in the Colonies their freedom during that war.? What a different “revolution” that would have been with Washington fighting a rearguard guerrilla war against slaves in armed rebellion.  Saint Domingue hadn’t yet become Haiti.  The British didn’t end the slave trade for another five decades till 1833, so they couldn’t expect to emancipate in one part of the empire and not have word reach Jamaica or Barbados.   No wonder then, this seemingly indelible martial quality to American life, the south, the hothouse where the police state was born of necessity and gestated.



Sunday, 06/14/20


Was No Doubt Wandering




I’ve written before about ‘worts.’  The word signifies a traditional medicinal purpose and is stuck with the unfortunate association of unwanted protrusions on one’s epidermis.  A wort, like a wart, has primal association with a witch, as well.  Witches with warts, like the three at the outset of Macbeth, were no doubt rather familiar with worts as well, both foul and fair.   Our yard has Virginia Spiderwort which connotes a wort that wouldn’t be for your betterment.   St. John’s Wort is also on the property.  Beatified, and also available at Walgreens, one has a slightly more positive association with SJW.  Spectrum-defying, somewhat racy new addition to the worts of my world is one I identified today and plucked a few yellow flowers of to sit on my desk.  Named by a scientist who’s mind was no doubt wandering, Nipplewort is apparently named because the flower buds resemble that part of the body, though looking at them now I’m not sure I see it. 



Lapsana Communis, a European native, is part of the Daisy family.  Apparently, the plant has a calming effect, though one suspects I’d need to consume a remarkable quantity before it had any demonstrable impact.  It was also used as an antiseptic and apparently and perhaps more appropriately given the name, it was used to stanch the flow of milk when a woman was through with breast feeding. 



I picked four stalks out of the ground on my way up the bike trail and put them in a small, clear glass of water.  Each stem is about a foot long and each one has a half a dozen yellow flowers and bulbs reaching out.  They didn’t seem happy on my desk at first but now they are beginning to stretch and open in response to the sun. 

Among the ingredients of witches toss into their brew before meeting the new "Thane of Glamis," and "Thane of Cawdor," is the eye of an unfortunate newt.  I dropped nearly two-hundred dollars today secure and equip a terrarium for a Leopard Gecko which my daughters have decided they want to secure.  The home needs to be warm and ready before we place the lizard inside, so the lizard itself will need to wait till tomorrow. On the way over it was my turn to control the music and I thought to reacquaint these ladies with “Forty Thousand Headmen” by Traffic and then “Tales of Brave Ulysses” by Cream.   



Saturday, 06/13/20


Crafty Marketeer Has Branded




There’s a detour at Bridge Creek Road.  The last time I took the route prescribed I couldn’t make it in first gear, heading up the hill to the left on Old Ford Road.  Today, I was determined to hit the approaching downhill with all I had and see if I could power up it.  Enervated, proceeding rather slowly, with a slow-moving tractor making its way up the road behind me, I mounted the hill, with an eye to the family yard on the north east corner there as they’ve yapping dogs and I wasn’t in no condition to outrun them. 

From here on it’s a gentle slope along Old Ford Road.  Many of the houses have stately old trees in front.  One home has two large Catalpa trees.  I’d like to know if they are different species, as they look different, but I’m sensitive to riding up a stranger’s property and photographing their flora.  I’d tried to identify the same wiry oak that I’ve unsuccessfully worked up on Old Huguenot Street.  Before it had leaves, I’d tried the bark.  No luck.  And even when the leaves were fully formed this Seek app could only say it was an “oak.”  Today it finally yielded that this was a Pin Oak.  (aka: Spanish Oak, aka: Swamp Oak”) Now I’m seeing Pin Oak’ everywhere.  That explains the spindly tree in our front yard and the one in the bank I’d noticed as well.




Adams Fairacre Farms up in Kingston doesn’t have any Pin Oaks but they do have a few interesting trees.  This must be past the season as there isn’t much left.  If there were a Copper Beach Tree. I’d very much like to get one, but they’ve haven’t got one, and there aren’t any honey locust either.  But they do have a Bloodgood, London Plane Tree.   It’s about ten feet tall and the leaves have that characteristic pale green on the one side and silvery moss on the other.  The bark has yet to molt that fascinating texture that the shady trees of Shanghai which the French planted always boast of.  At the top there are a few of the chestnut-like balls which the tree always drops. 



I go and find a guy named John who explains that they can deliver it to my place for fifty bucks, but that I ought to be able to get it into an SUV.  And after I check out at the cashier and with my groceries that I ostensibly came to procure she adds the not insignificant cost of my new plane tree two bags of mulch and a fertilizer bag of what a crafty marketeer has branded “Moo Doo.”  John and another fella have the tree bundled up and they wheel it over to my Toyota while I go get my sack of Moo Doo.  They have it slid up to the passenger seat without having had to bend any branches.  

Driving, I refine the narrative which will help to explain this extravagance to my wife.



Friday, 06/12/20


Acting Like an Amplifier




Paul Bowles set me out on a journey, as is appropriate.  I hadn’t realized that the author of “The Sheltering Sky” had a broad range of music he’d composed.  Diving in there was there on Spotify, an attestation to his more familiar work as an ethnomusicologist.  He’d recorded hours of Moroccan folk music which I settled on later in my morning.  The howls and ecstatic shrieking all reminded me then, of the music of Randy Weston the jazz pianist to who studied under Monk and lived among other places in north and west Africa, in Morocco for many years and, on albums like Blue Moses, afford ample evidence of Berber music.  That night, making dinner, I reached for that album and confirmed.

It was raining all morning.  I took that to mean there’d be no point in watering the sad little aspen stems I’d, seemingly unsuccessfully, transplanted.  The brittle bamboo that hasn’t decided whether or not it wants to live yet, could also get through the day without any help from my pink watering can.  Later, the hourly forecast proved accurate and the sun parted leaving some remarkable afternoon clouds and I head out, up north towards Rosendale where I stopped and spotted a Bitternut Hickory tree who was just making his way up into tree-dom.  The shortest-lived of the hickory, they “only” last to be two hundred years old. 



Tira Hunter has written a book which had been recommended to me called: “Bound in Wedlock.”  A history of marriage during slavery and while I thought I knew what this might mean before I dove it I swiftly realized marriage proved a vexing matter to settle into Christian morals and legal frameworks when, both people were property or when one was a freedman or freedwoman and the other person was not.  The many hundred’s years gestation of life as chattel where a master could break up a family on a whim or any time he or she was faced with economic hardship.  “Let no man put asunder” unless he or she was white and then, it didn’t much matter what you’d vowed. 



Now the sky has cleared and there is a phenomenal sunset.  The sun is down beyond the Shawangunks but there is a cloud that is acting like an amplifier, gathering up and radiating out a remarkable megaphone o final reds and pinks and tawny browns as the sun continues on across the Pacific to greet the dawn in Asia. 



Thursday, 06/11/20


Narrow Leaved Blue-eyed Grass

A few days back I’d decided to pick a bouquet of Dame’s Rocket.  If there’s a bouquet of flowers on the table that is pleasant.  If there isn’t any there for the next twelve months, I won’t particularly care.  My wife is nearly always appreciative and that’s reason enough to grab some flowers on my bike ride every so often.

Yesterday I identified a new flower that had popped up on the little deer trail between our house and the rail trail:  Narrow Leaved, Blue Eyed Grass is a fairly literal name, but it’s descriptive and relates back to something that conjures up what it was you saw.  Heading out today I passed th little flowers and determined to pick a few on the way back home.  And when I did, it occurred to me that these needn’t necessarily be turned over to the Mrs.  These blue eyes might look swell on my desk, so I found a brandy snifter and placed them all in it with some tap water. 



They all close right up after I plucked them, and I figured this was to have been a failed experiment. They closed up into small little opium balls, sockets of blue eyes that no longer gaze out on anything.  But lo.  Adjusting to the water, considering the afternoon sun most of the oblong balls have opened back up into the simple six petal flowers with their yellow core.  The dozen or so wispy Narrow Leaves wouldn’t make much of a bouquet for anyone else, but as an observational experiment, they are wonderful.  Let’s see how long they last.



My little one and I are enjoying “East Goes West” by Younghill Kang.  I’d caught a salutary essay on the man and this work by Ed Kang in the NYRB a few months back and bought it right away.  Writing in the 1930s when there was no “Korea” from which to hail from, I wanted my younger one to consider Korean engagement with New York from an earlier, more challenging epoch.  As the Park essay had suggested, the writing is fresh and urgent, marveling at New York and as I’d hoped, affording a different view into the city through a vehicle she is interested in. 



Wednesday, 06/10/20


Dump the Old Grounds




First call was at five.  I’ve an alarm set, just in case, but I know that I’ll be stirring around hours before that and not long after four I catch the note that the meeting has been postponed.  Next call is at seven and there’s one at eight, right after that, but now there’s time, the rarest of gifts.

When the calls are done, I go out take the end of yesterday’s coffee and pour it into a mug.  This goes up into the microwave for one minute of molecular manipulation.  Time was I though coffee tasted awful after nuking it.  Now I don’t seem to mind.  Dump the old grounds into the compost, toss the dirty paper filter and position in a new one.  Stop and Shop has Peet’s Coffee.  Major Dickason’s blend was something I first tried seven years ago in the lounge of a fast-moving tech startup, located right along 101 there in Silicon Valley, before this shop moved to Santa Clara.  Turns out Key Dickason was a customer of Peet’s who helped him design the blend.  Presumably he wasn’t one to nuke his coffee either.



Old, scalding coffee in hand, new resonant coffee at-the-brew, I head out to the porch between the kitchen and the garage and slip on my sneakers.  The automatic garage door opener breaks the morning’s silence and I consider the bird feeders at the base of the driveway.  Supply in the two feeders have dropped precipitously.   I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stock these.  I’m glad the birds enjoy them, but I don’t get to see much here.   Out in the back I put the woodpecker suet feeder back up.  I’d taken it in last night as the raccoon seems to think I’d left it there for him.  Before I head out into the yard, I take my cut-off gallon milk container and scoop up a half gallon of sunflower seeds which I’ll toss into an arc in the back. 



Tonight, the Age of Division, in our Chinese history class.  The Han dissolves into three kingdoms.  My daughters know all the main characters from the same-named drama, having watched one and then another serialized version of the story over the years.  China, before the Tang, might have fallen apart and become a southern Byzantium and a northern Catholic Christendom.  Christianity spreads across the formerly Roman world at much the same time that Buddhism spreads across the Middle Kingdom after the demise of the Han.  And where Charlemagne tried his best to fashion a united empire across Europe, he was no more successful that Napoleon or Hitler.  But that which is apart must eventually come together, as their ‘good book’ says and China is united by the Sui and held in unison by the Tang for the next three hundred years.



Tuesday, 06/09/20


Post Office has WPA




We may be heading for a New Deal.  We might have Work Project Administration initiatives in our future once again.  Let’s hope Biden is thinking big.  Let’s hope the specter of depression can be kept at bay. 



The Poughkeepsie Post Office has WPA murals.  I remember my grandmother showing them to me and explaining that they were tied to FDR.   All the artists who were out of work got paid jobs painting murals, such as these that speak to the history of the city.  I was making my way through another WPA initiative today, one of many that had put writers back to work.   “Voices from Slavery: 100 Authentic Slave Narratives,” acknowledges at the outset that it was an imperfect initiative.  Some writers were inexperienced, or robotic in their efforts, though fortunately there seems to have been a lot to cull through.  This edition is a selection of the overall body of work and each tale is roughly the same length, of two to three pages.  Many people don’t know when they were born and a notably sampling suggest they are precisely one-hundred years old.  They generally trace the living memory of slavery and end swiftly by saying they moved here or there after the war, had some children and carried on till the present.  The rapid-fire engagement though, with so many different people who were born as chattel and remember manumission creates an unnerving sense of familiarity.  Slavery as life, over and over and over again.

Most interviews suggest dreadful violence as a way of life.  More interviewees that one might suspect, suggest life wasn’t bad during slavery or that it somehow got worse thereafter, as a sharecropper.  And it is also to be remembered that the interviewees were all white people, sent by the federal government so more than a few people might have thought it was the better-part-of-valor to keep candor to a minimum or tell them what they expected these interviewers wanted to hear.  None of the stories “feel” inauthentic though.  And in each case, you have at best a few quick glimpses of what survives the strongest from childhood, nuggets, one assumes that had been shared many times before and were what was first reached for when the topic came up.  What would writers be gainfully employed to research and save from oblivion today?  The time is just about ninety-years on from this last last effort.  So, we’d be looking to speak to people who had memories of life before 1955. 



No one is interested in a formal dinner.  I made way too much food yesterday when I had my extended family over.  There is a big pile of turkey, and four or five cuts of ham.  Not sure anyone else was in love with this quinoa salad but I’m enjoying it cold. 



Monday, 06/08/20


Tuesday, June 16, 2020

And Sorghum: You Don’t




My sister wanted to come up.  She’d bring her son.  They’ve been down in Brooklyn, throughout the Covid period.  For us it has been a bucolic drama which forces us to mask-up when we go to our choice of grocery stores and confront the challenging reality of not being able to go to local restaurants.  In the city, it’s been different.  Twenty-percent of the metropolis has been exposed to the virus and confinement means quarantining in a very tight space.  It is also the stigma that is involved in living there in the eye of the hurricane.  No one else is particularly interested in seeing you. 

My wife acquiesced.  So, it was a go.  And then my dad said he’d come.  My mom as well.  My little brother and his nephew got word and suggested they’d head up as well.  Fortunately, this all passed the veto committee that my wife chairs and today, around noon or so we welcomed them all. 



My wife wisely suggested that we set things up in the front yard, away from the view of the Gunks, but away too from the glare of the sun.  We pulled out the long table and moved out a few chairs and it all worked pretty swell. I’d thawed out a turkey breast, cooked a side a ham and generally overcooked a half a dozen other dishes that were all a lot of fun to make. Mac and cheese for kids.  But for the first time I made quinoa and turned it into a cold salad.  You can’t seem to buy baba ghanoush here, so I made some.  And sorghum:  you don’t see that every day.  I read on the label, which had the flag of India, and not China and a shot glass of sorghum liquor that you could make sorghum popcorn and so I did. 



I played Bessie Smith all day.  It fit; the heat, the swinging chair, the familiarity.  My nephews were both here.  They all looked a bit like I looked when I was twelve, or when I was four.   My brother’s son wanted to go running around in the house and we wound up in my closet.  I told him, we’d better get out of here, as it’s a bit of a messy walk-in closet.   Ah, but he thought it might be grand to stay in the walk-in closet.  I suggested his aunt, my wife, might "hit-me-with-a-stick" if she found us playing in here, so we’d better go.   The noble, young paladin took this at face value, an injustice certainly and he promptly searched out my wife and earnestly suggested that it wouldn’t be fair to hit me with a stick.  Awkward initiations then, into familial sarcasm.



Sunday, 06/07/20


But Obscured By Green




The bridge over the Walkill River is the point I’ve decided that is approximately twenty-five minutes north of my house wherein I generally try to turn around and head back home  Today was beautiful outside and I biked right passed it.  I kept on passed the field that seems to be owned by the Coppersea Distillery, who have their sign up there and past the field where they’ve dropped a number of big trees and further along passed the old abandoned delivery truck clearly off there in the woods in the winter but obscured by green, this time of year, out beyond Cereus Way after which there’s a long straight shot that isn’t familiar to me at all and I marvel at the tall trees and to my right I notice a fawn lying on its side.  I think to look at it on my return but when I did, I zoomed right by.



Roger Cohen, who’s columns are always so thoughtfully written offered a quote by Marcus Delespinasse, concerning the “savageness of white apathy.”  This has, except for very brief windows of time, certainly been the default for the entitled beneficiaries of the United States of which I’m one.  Removed from the obligations, somewhat, living overseas for twenty-years I’m back now, considering with faltering steps, my reentry into my inheritance.  The Chinese tell us that “silence is golden” and the movement is insisting that “silence is violence.”  A contemplative posture, therefore, certainly in perpetuity, as savagery. 

It is a lurch though, after trying to do our part to stay safe.  I’ve been diligent about distancing.  I’ve done my part to protect my parents, my family, myself and to lurch suddenly into: “we must go participate in mass demonstrations,” proved harder than I’d anticipated to other to persuade other intimates, still, and rightly focused on social distancing. 



Fortunate, I count myself.  I do not have, nor have I ever had a Facebook account.  I’m increasingly convinced that Facebook was an interesting but failed experiment wherein a Saudi Arabia's worth of the nation’s personal data is the crude oil of one company.  Standard Oil was broken up.  I think  Facebook shouldn’t be allowed experiment with all the power it has.  I did have a Twitter account that I's tried to use for a few months about six years back.  It still exists, I suppose, as they spam me from it.  But I don’t have Snapchat, and I don’t have Instagram.  I’ll acknowledge the importance of voicing opinions and certainly of getting involved, but I’d don’t want to do so on “social” media.  It seems like a mob Althing from the outside, devoid of thoughtful moderation, measured argument  nor any reflection whatsoever.



Saturday, 06/06/20