These posts and my blog are my second life as a poet/ playwright. Although I loved being a lawyer and starting the law firm, I have always wanted that second life.
Since March, I have grown increasingly despondent because the coronavirus has shut down the theaters and curtailed my evolving development. The quarantine made it darker, more claustrophobic and broke my heart. I stopped writing. I am too old now. I will never be what I had hoped to be.
But I have learned something beautiful. I returned to a sonnet cycle that a friend of mine suggested we write years ago. Both of us wanted an artistic life to be jumpstarted. Back in the mid-1990s, I didn’t have the courage to do it myself, so we began to exchange sonnets. This was the beginning. The Genesis.
The sonnets I have been posting these past few weeks are from that 1990s cycle. I went back to the beginning, and I want to say thank you to those that have given me a second life that I now better understand.
Although I love seeing my work performed, I have discovered that what I love most is creating, writing, and the discovery that entails. I delayed forever, but I owe a duty to Elizabeth Bishop (poet) and William Alfred (playwright, and my tutor), both my professors in college. They are gone now but the thank you is not too late.
From the start, they, along with Candace, my friend, taught me this real joy of discovery.
With two cords of hardwood stacked by the door
I’m ahead of winter again this fall.
All these years with no spark, no central core.
My art? To fortify’n avoid it all.
At Mount Auburn, my friend Candace and I,
Last winter, about this time, decided
To write a poem each week’n agreed to try
For e-mail delivery to the other by
Monday morning, coffee time. We would do
Fifty-two: Deadlines to keep us to it.
Miss Bishop and Professor Alfred too,
I hope these make you proud. Last night I lit
A new fire in an old fireplace
And dreamed I’d warmed your hands and touched your face.
Lust & Love
His object of affection (but not of mine),
A belly button, seductively displayed,
Below the shirt which hides nipple ring outlines,
That make both her breasts look like hand grenades.
He looks for the screwdriver he has lost.
His is the world of replaceable parts.
Unscrew her belly button, her ass falls off?
Still they both dress to win the other’s heart.
The city’s suburbs spread out around them both
As they skateboard the parking lots and clocks
Keep the time and administrate the oaths.
Is there no place left to think out side the box?
Is the message of the world we are part of
That we live so long as we lust and love?
Going deaf is like a blizzard in Summer
From a four o’clock sky the first snowflakes fall
To settle down on trafficked city streets.
Each snowflake falls separately, till all
Conspire to hide the city like a secret.
The last street lights go on, and the snow reflects
Upon the domiciliary landscape.
The more snow falls the less you really expect
The city to be what it’s supposed to be:
It becomes a beautiful blinking shape;
An image of slowing inactivity,
Slowing into snow drifts. It snows very late.
A pronouncement of peace subdues the city:
The drifting snow controls the city violence
With a voice made entirely of silence.
It is a blessing, of sorts.
As with the generations long since dead
The fire and brimstone of the status quo
Wakes him up from the safety of his bed
And lightening frames him in the window
And photographs him in its afterglow.
Tonight he feels his present and its past
As the summer storm also comes and goes.
Conclusions are foolish in a world so vast
For at the edges of his world and heart
Far past the farthest boundary of his grasp
Where ideas cause worlds to come apart
He lives in this place that will not last.
He loves his life more than he can explain
And leaves the window open to hear the rain.
chum, chummed, chum·ming (verb)
To fish by attracting fish by dumping cut or ground bait into the water.
The Blue Hole of Belize
Was I the fool of this sinkhole of the sea
Or its pupil in this aqua ocean?
As I fly home, it looks back at me
Without memory or emotion.
Three days ago, while taunting me, Miguel
Said: “You dived it but not with me before.
I dive it deep. I dive it right to Hell.”
He took my money but wouldn’t tell me more.
Off the boat, with Miguel still behind,
We checked our gear and descended into cold,
Deeper, darker, to fear of a different kind:
Sharks. Hundreds of then. Darting from the shadows.
At the boat Miguel offered a helping hand,
Laughing. ”You understand? We chummed it man.”
Almost 25 years ago, on November 29, 1995 I visited the Mayan city of Tikal with two stoners before its restoration:
The stars over Tikal are frightening and bright.
I am here, on sacred land, in the jungle
Before dawn in the Guatemalan night.
The moisture and pre-morning has its smell
But I modernize the scent with smoke
From a little match to start my cigarette.
Cesar comes through the door drinking a coke.
He says he knew the others would all forget.
He won’t take me into the ruins alone.
Down the dark path, I follow my flashlight
Into the past, to where time has made its home
And into the temple and sacrificial sites
Where people of belief played their cosmic part
And reached through ribs to hold high a human heart.
Many years later I went back to show my daughter but it was now open to tourists:
The exchanging of colored currency
As soldiers lounged and smoked their cigarettes
While an old woman washed clothes in the stream
Should have been enough to never forget,
But I wanted to show her so much more.
We crossed the bridge into Guatemala
And into the land of the living poor.
Skinny dogs and pigs with hanging tits wallow
In the roadside brush as we both bus by.
Not even Tikal, ancient in starlight,
In its totalitarian demise
Got the primal message exactly right
But heading home, past pack boys with a load
A twelve-foot Boa stretched across the road.
(From the draft I wrote the day after my father’s death at 104.)
This is the last small room he will live in.
Every day I visit him at 4 O’clock.
We balloon the room with our forgiveness.
“Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped.”
“Not funny for a man this close to death.”
We share what only dark humor can express.
The Marx brothers, for both of us, are the best.
The men are waiting outside the door.
The electric razor hums in my hand
As it cuts along the cheekbone and the neck
Like a harvester on pre-Winter land
Across the snowbank of white paper skin
I harvest thistle from earths intellect.
They zip their bag shut but leave without him.
I really miss him on the holidays.
So we are a democracy that put a man on the moon but we can’t make voting machines that work?
Our elections are run differently in every state. Recently, Wisconsin voters waited in long lines, absentee ballots went missing in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., and more long lines and confusion plagued Georgia and Nevada.
The political parties could solve this with a simple bipartisan agreement or uniform act, but they seem to thrive on discord.
A few years ago, even our presidential election hung in the balance because of faulty voting and “hanging chads” in Florida.
The founders were pretty much universally in agreement about political parties. Alexander Hamilton called political parties “the most fatal disease” of democratic institutions.
Maybe voting doesn’t matter to the political parties anymore?
Are they more interested in representing themselves?
If you have any doubt, consider gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering does nothing for democracy. It is all about gathering power for one party at the expense of the other. It divides and polarizes us.
What if both parties are like that old joke about lawyers? “If you’ve got one in town she will go broke but if you have two they both get rich.”
The parties are very powerful in our county. They have defined the issues for us, and get funding and perks and benefits for their legislators, such as healthcare and retirement (which is always better than their constituents) and somehow they retire millionaires as “public servants.”
But in exchange for the perks, benefits, and campaign funding, the parties have demanded absolute loyalty to follow their agendas, such as near-unanimous Republican Senate votes on Trump’s impeachment. They have even discouraged open and free public disagreement among their members. Is that good for a democracy?
But it does make sense. Everybody benefits from polarization — except the voters and our democracy.
The polarization is great for advertisers on Fox, MNBC, social media and political fundraising.
Maybe your vote is less important than your political contribution.
Our American genius has always been that we are all very different, but we talk and compromise. That is our genius! Our genius is not factions and polarization.
Madison wrote it is the duty of “well-constructed unions [democratic governments]” to “break apart and control the violence of faction.”
If we really want to call ourselves a democracy, perhaps we should listen to the founders and at least start by protecting our vote.
There have been times when I have pledged to live my words but then have failed miserably with my actions. Occasionally, with the grace of God, sometimes I get a second chance to get it right.
Above all else, the framers of the Constitution feared the power of the king. But they created a democracy that permitted the sovereignty of white people over black.
White supremacy is the cancer cell in our national DNA. White people in America have always been the master race in our white democracy.
Almost every white president since the Civil War has directly or indirectly used racism and a “law & order“ campaign to get elected and looked the other way when violence was used to suppress people of color.
Between 1882 and 1968, whites lynched 3,446 blacks. There is no evidence of the inverse. To the contrary, Black churches that have been bombed have made it an act of Christian faith to invite all races to pray with them in the aftermath.
And I didn’t find any news about black men going to our schoolyards with an AK-47 and killing children either.
So exactly who are we afraid of?
Isn’t it just the same old Civil Rights demonstrations and a President building another “law & order” campaign ? No! Now it is with the backup of military action to suppress those 1st Amendment protests against our historically racist national practices.
No! This is very different! Our nation’s army used to silence our constitutional right to assemble and protest?
Trump and his Attorney General also are preparing to curtail the nonwhite vote in November. There is serious concern that if it is a close vote, and it will be, he will demand endless recounts and not leave office.
If Trump and his followers get another term, Black lives won’t matter and neither will the Constitution.
It is the King’s sovereignty over us all over again. Except this time, we can both liberate ourselves from a king and have a second chance for “liberty and justice for all.”
The question is whether this time white people will stand with all Americans to get it right, or lose our country and our chance again.
The one thing that I absolutely believe is: it is immoral to misquote Yogi Berra even if you don’t know who he was
Yesterday, in response to the rioting arising from the death of another black man by white police officers, a liberal friend of mine shook his head and said: “It’s just like déjà vu all over again.”
That quote is not applicable to these killings and protests, even though it may bring to light, unintentionally, our national nightmare.
In July of 1967, Cambridge Maryland was burned and Maryland’s Republican governor, Spiro Agnew, got national attention for blaming the demonstrators for burning down their homes, neighborhoods and destroying property. I know something about this because I was a young boy visiting the Eastern Shore that summer. The experience frightened me out of my youth so much so that years later I wrote a play about it.
President Nixon liked Agnew’s toughness. He needed a “law and order” guy to polarize support for his 1968 election. He chose him as his VP to whip up the masses against the “liberals” in order to rally the “silent majority”. It worked. Nixon won a plurality of the popular vote by a narrow margin but won by a large margin in the electoral college.
Sounds familiar… but still no déjà vu.
Maybe this will help:
Yesterday Fox News reported, “… crews on the scene in SoHo reported hundreds of people stealing from luxury stores —including Chanel and Dior — for hours on Sunday night going into the early hours of Monday morning. The looters were seen piling shoplifted merchandise into vehicles while others rode off with the merchandise in black garbage bags balanced on Citi Bikes.”
Many of the African-Americans who had organized the protests in Cambridge repeatedly said the whites lit the black neighborhoods on fire in Cambridge and then refused to put them out since they controlled the fire trucks. The white press never reported that. Nonetheless, the disturbance was defined as the destruction of “property.”
So maybe we have it wrong and it is about “property” and not “lives.”
Let’s refocus and see if we have a way to save human life by protecting property.
America became rich when it helped to rebuild Europe’s economy after WWII. It wasn’t a “giveaway!” Out of the rubble, we built a trading partner and Europe and the United States have prospered for almost 80 years.
So why can’t we create a 15-year state-sponsored municipal bond to rebuild Baltimore city? Not a “giveaway,” but designed to lower the tax burden on the state as re-development occurs? A long-term commitment to rebuild the city would instantly increase the property values, both commercial and residential and bring in national and international investors.
What a perfect time for Maryland’s present Republican governor to make Baltimore into a trading partner with the rest of the state. It certainly will be easier than unifying nation states that have been at endless war for the previous thousand years.
All he has to do is sell it to white Americans. The rebuilding could be entirely about eliminating the cost to the state of “giveaways” to Baltimore city.
It’s not a “giveaway” or, even better, about “Black Lives Matter” — it’s about property! Wow what a great selfish idea!
Hey! Let’s make Maryland great again! Baltimore was once one of America’s three most prosperous cities.
… But it won’t happen, because the rebuilding of post-war Europe had no black countries or black cities and that was our foreign policy, not our domestic policy.
The Constitution, at a minimum, sidestepped slavery or at worst supported it with the Electoral College. And after all slaves were “property.” Maybe racism is in the American DNA.
So in this case, Yogi Berra and my friend were wrong. You can’t have “Déjà vu all over again.” The situation is not repeating because it has never ended.
Photo by Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun