Posts from — June 2010
© 2010 James Friedman
Curiosity led me to cut my collection of golf balls in half to see what the cores looked like. To my surprise, what I found inside inspired me to consider that I could discover, in the unlikeliest of places, elegant formal qualities, unpredictable color schemes and metaphor. Interior Design has moved me to be enthusiastic about abstraction, an exciting corollary to my work as a documentary photographer.
Incidentally, I do not play golf.
James Friedman's Interior Design
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Friedman on Friedman
As a five-year old using a Kodak Brownie camera, I took a self-portrait, became fascinated with photography and have been photographing ever since. Self-taught in photography until college, I was a participant in The Ohio State University Honors Program and earned a B.F.A. degree with Distinction in Photography. Subsequently, I was chosen to participate in Toward A Whole Photography, an experimental graduate program directed by Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, while earning an M.A. degree in photography from San Francisco State University, I worked as an assistant to Imogen Cunningham, one of the preeminent figures in the history of photography. As a teacher, curator, picture editor, and as a portrait, architectural, commercial and personal documentary photographer, I’ve enjoyed a wide-ranging career in photography. My work has been exhibited internationally and been published in numerous books and discussed in Artforum, Arts, Afterimage, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Village Voice and The New York Times. Selected from 800 international applicants, I was awarded the Aaron Siskind Foundation Individual Photographer’s Fellowship and have been the recipient of seven Individual Excellence Awards from the Ohio Arts Council. I was nominated for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Governor’s Awards for the Arts in Ohio. In 2008, as an independent photographic educator without institutional affiliation, I was nominated for the prestigious Excellence in Photographic Teaching Award, which recognizes outstanding international teachers of photography. I am based in Columbus, Ohio, and offer classes, workshops and individual instruction in photography anywhere. My commissioned projects include architectural, fashion, curatorial and documentary assignments, photography for publication, and large-scale murals for interior or exterior commercial and residential spaces. My photographic portraits include Andy Warhol and Tina Turner, as well as lesser-known but equally vibrant subjects.
Copyright 2010 James Friedman
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on James Friedman
Dimensions of Art
In the breeze of summer’s introduction to the stage of the seasons that ripple through this earth,
I danced with my skirt bunched up in my fist, talking philosophies on life into the folds of our eyes the way artists sometimes do;
We said that night we would never sacrifice the love at the expense of having no reason to rise from beds too tempting and to safe to leave otherwise.
As clearly as the sun defies night on the longest day of the year, the seemingly intricate design has a method and depth to it.
She shed tears for him that morning after, as we realized night could not shroud us in mystery for much longer;
We learn shapes of hearts don’t determine their kindness or perseverance.
Everything is illuminated when we feel alive.
Countless peace pipes shared between sisters, between lovers, we light lighters in dark spaces so they never forget day.
You wake up inches from my face so I don’t forget what a human body can feel like inside me.
The shape of your eyes intrigues me to stare,
The same way sculptors and painters do when we create art together.
Observe shape, contour;
Make sure the lighting is right,
And remember our lives are made up of lines.
An artist said that to his student once:
He wanted her to remember curves are just transformed lines creating a new dimension.
Every pen stroke, measure it.
Savor every single second of this moment before it dries.
Every single slight touch of my fingers in your clay-like skin reminds me that I cannot change your composition, but my imprint is still noted, yet transient.
Bending me like a beam of light, a new dimension created in the blankness of the time and space.
The lighting on the pattern of your infinite skin was perfect that night, only but slightly accentuating the highlights of your jaw line, and the ridge right under your eye that become the predecessor to your cheekbone.
I notice the shadows the light cast upon you
And it is then that it becomes clear to me the mystique of dark and light;
I could imagine this.
And every brush stroke…
Study the image before your paintbrush touches the canvas.
Really reach your gaze into the blankness of what you thought tomorrow was, and realize what it can become,
The untapped potential of your very existence depends of this portrait of what we think we see and what is really there.
Hold out your pencil, out in the air to measure the distance of what is.
It is possible to recreate dimensions
When I find myself translating your body into a speaking pattern my soul understands,
Fundamentally listening to every syllable we breathe into the air when we speak in circles we’ve drawn around each other.
These days I feel my heart pulsing in my ear reminding me to listen to each passion I was born with inside
And I find the sketches of conversation created on rooftops as the sun and moon were juxtaposed in perfect balance;
The same way one side of a scale gazes at the other.
It’s all about the details, he told me one night as we walked to the train station aware of the design we exist in,
And I came home one night, held her face in my hands to study the colors of her eyes.
They are green, they are blue; they are the ocean
Spokes of colors like wheels of vision that caress her pupils;
I missed them.
I’ve refused to see the rainbows hidden in your sky, tucked away in your smiles
Until you told me to look at you that afternoon
And it was then I saw
That with eyes wide open the fleeting realities crossing my line of vision are not as 3 dimensional as once perceived.
About the poet
Carmen Mojica, 24, was born and raised in Bronx, New York, and lives presently in Albany. She is a poet, writer, workshop facilitator, model, and student doula. She published her first literary work, a poetry chapbook titled “I Loved You Once,” in 2009. In October 2009, she then went on to self-publish ‘Hija De Mi Madre’ (My Mother’s Daughter), a combination of memoirs, poems and research material that explains the effects of race on identity from an academic standpoint.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Carmen Mojica
Someone must manage the debris in vacant lots beside bus depots and railroad tracks, he thought, because there always appeared to be the same number of bottle shards, shreds of paper, rusted cans and absolutely miscellaneous things.
Across the street was a bench and he went over and sat down — and was rather too quickly joined by a man about his own age with a wet egg transparency of skin that was suggestive of a blind snake. Somehow that always seemed to happen to him. He was like a magnet. The clothes and the smell were all too familiar.
“They look just like people don’t they?”
“Who?” Casper asked.
The man with the even more unfortunate complexion than his own pointed to some people in the street.
“Down to the tiniest detail. It’s amazing. The subtlety. That’s what interests me most…the subtlety of them. The way they blend in so completely. You think you see them. Then they’re gone. And you can’t remember what they looked like. Like birds. You can’t say if you’ve seen them before. Maybe you see them all the time — the same ones. Maybe they’re watching you. You’d never know. Of course, they’re watching us. All the time.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Casper said.
“Who does?” the man shrugged. “My bud Maxwell — you know Maxwell? Hanged himself in the Gatwick Hotel. Hell of a thing. He thought they were all one species…but nothing like us…more like intelligent energy that was somehow all one…like a colony of insects. I don’t know. I miss Max. He was trying to help Tweetie Boy, this kid who collected parakeet toys…stole them…from pet shops. Tweetie Boy was all chromed out from inhaling spray paint. Doctors shaved his head. Haven’t seen him in a long time.”
“I’m…I’m sorry to hear that,” Casper said, wondering if the man was on drugs. He spoke very clearly for someone who was high on something.
“How do I know who’s one and who’s not?” the man asked after a moment’s pause. “I go with my gut. It would take sophisticated technology to be dead sure. To see through the camouflage. That’s what it is. And it isn’t just people,” he continued. “I had another friend, Lala. She said that wacko things go on all the time at zoos and you never hear about them. Like one morning, in St. Louis or San Diego…somewhere like that…one of the keepers went to check on the male tiger. His name was Sultan or something. Rajah. Well, you know what? He was there all right…in his enclosure…this big male tiger. Only it wasn’t Rajah. It was another tiger. That same day…on the other side of the world…at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney, I think it was…their male tiger went missing. In its place was Rajah. Like they’d been switched, you know? Like pieces in a game or something. Thousands of miles. Tigers transferred! Freaked the zoo keepers right out. They put a lid on it of course. Didn’t want anyone to know. Maxwell was still alive then. He thought maybe it was a test. Like an experiment…before they started on the real stuff…you, know replacing Presidents and heads of companies and shit.”
Casper had had many strange ideas cross his own mind — he was glad he didn’t have this particular concern to cope with. “You be careful,” he advised, seeing an opportunity to slip gracefully away.
It was something he’d learned. Validation. One of the handiest skills there is. All you had to do was find out what someone’s favorite show was — that’s what he called it — their favorite show. Once he’d cottoned on to that, everything became much clearer. He got over the choking fit that sometimes overcame him at cash registers or on the brink of conversations. He stopped getting into fights. People nodded. Smiles came at the right times. He realized everyone had a favorite show — not just the residents, but the staff and doctors too. Once you could talk about their show with them, or listen sincerely, it was okay. You didn’t have to agree with them — most times people are as suspicious of too hearty an agreement as they are upset or angered by outright disagreement. What people want is validation.
“They don’t give themselves away easily,” the man replied, seeking to hold his attention a moment longer “You know what they call that in that military? Camouflage discipline.
Ah, thought Casper. The military. Everything’s connected.
“But I’ve gotten sharper. They each have their own individual tale. That’s the thing that gives them away in the end. That’s what makes the watching worthwhile. That’s what gets me by — I’ve turned the tables on them. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve seen.”
Actually…Casper mused as he sidled back toward the bus station…he would believe what the man had seen. He believed many things.
He’d seen shooting stars over Death Valley and the lights of Sing Sing from across the Hudson River.
He’d known a man in jail called The Pelican, who could swallow and regurgitate light bulbs whole without breaking them.
He’d had a truly delusional period in his late teens and early twenties…periods of bizarre visions…black-robed judges with the ears and snouts of limestone cave bats — highway patrol officers with the heads of grasshoppers — skeleton girls shimmying around glittering poles before corpses rotting at a mirrored bar.
Then things had gotten clear again. For quite a long time it seemed.
He’d picked up many skills over the course of his haphazard journey, but the one thing he considered himself really good at was listening to strangers — believing they were really there. That’s what people were most afraid of — not actually being. Phantoms. Nothingness. And so people opened up to him. They came to him as if called. They came like the wounded and the destitute had flocked to Jesus. Children…and children of trial.
That was an important part of his own favorite show. Listening to the troubled, the emphatic, the hopeful and the haunted…needy believers and those who seemed to have abandoned all faith. Like the strips in his Medicine Bag, their messages always seemed to connect with something that was happening to him, as if they were messages from his Bag brought to life.
He knew that if you listen closely enough to strangers, you always end up hearing your own story, however strange it may seem.
Kris Saknussem is the author of the novels Zanesville and Private Midnight, which recently became a bestseller in France. Enigmatic Pilot is due out from Random House in 2011. This story is excerpted from his latest novel, Reverend America.
Nora Meyer is an Argentine artist living in Miami.
More of her work can be seen at http://web.mac.com/rulipon.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Kris Saknussemm
Redemption and Rebirth
There are two major influences that drive an artist in the execution of their work. The fist is internal which is composed of the past and their interpretation of individual memories. The second is their present which is the current interaction with people and the culture that surrounds them.
There is also a third dimension that separates good artists and great artists. This is the ability to see their place in the future history of art. To have an incredible work ethic and personal sense of accountability that transcends tomorrow and into the years ahead. It is the pursuit of a dream, and desire to fulfill a destiny.
In the pursuit of his current work he is brutally honest in seeking out the truth of his past, transcribing it into the symbolism of his work today and understanding its impact and value well into the future.
Jean Marc Calvet is like the perfect storm. Born in Nice, France in 1965, the first 37 years of his life brewed malevolently bringing him to a point well beyond desperation; a hell on earth. He wanted to end his own life.
The catalyst that bankrupts a human being to the point of emotional, physical, and spiritual madness can be attributed to a multitude of factors, or a single tragic event. It is the point where all that was familiar and understood begins to slip away into a gray world lacking definition. It is a place where time holds no relevance or sense of structure; the past and present melt together to create its own distorted sense of unreality. It is a place where the soul’s monsters celebrate freedom in a frenzied orgy of self destruction and external mayhem.
Whichever road this insidious evil chooses to take, the impact is both devastating and all consuming.
There is only one hope for salvation. On very rare occasions, the soul is miraculously graced with an exit from this nightmare downward journey with a passage marked “Redemption”.
Calvet discovered his path to salvation; his mission…….to paint.
He is a legitimate self-taught artist, an outsider in every spirit of the word. His first works were crude explosions of his inner turmoil exploding on any surface that was close with any materials that would leave a trace.
Having never been taught to draw or paint, or ever having had any interest in art, he is a true original.
However as Ed Mc Cormack Managing Editor of Gallery and Studio Magazine said very astutely:
“There is a very real danger for an artist as brilliant as Calvet in having too colorful a back-story. It is too easy for the legend to flourish at the expense of the art. (Just think how many people know nothing about van Gogh except that he cut off his ear.) That Calvet happens to be self-taught only complicates matters. It could too easily get him relegated to the gilded ghetto of so-called “outsider art” and deprived of his rightful place in the mainstream art world, where he most definitely belongs, given the innate sophistication of his vision and the accomplished technique with which he makes it manifest on canvas. ”
A retrospective view of his work shows a distinct and stepped development in his technical and artistic skills over the years. However the work is always definitively recognizable as the product of Calvet with hallmarks that remain constant.
Seven years on, Calvet delivers a marked sophistication in his works that adds clarity yet maintains the spirit of the true brut style that birthed him as an artist. His repertoire of colors continues to develop giving a richness that further enhances his work. The large scale of his works adds to the impressive impact they make. He has continued to increase his canvases on occasion giving him ample room to evoke his stories with subjects that still explode out of a Pandora’s Box with his own brand of manmade monsters. Each of his creatures is vivid with emotion and their own individual stories. Now instead of the creatures wreaking havoc on Calvet personally, he is able to release them and imprison them on canvas.
Calvet works with a ferocity that defies most; often working non-stop until a work is complete. He is regularly found to be painting 12-18 hour days and so despite the intensity and detail required to complete one work, he is able to turn out a generous volume of work. It is this work ethic and an accountability that he shows in his work of his prior life and his pursuit of a bright future that ensures the dynamism of his work. Despite his output, the works are never repetitive or tired. His commitment to the creativity that wells from within him is absolute.
Today, Calvet is based in Granada, Nicaragua. He has exhibited his work in Europe, the United States and South America including several solo shows in New York and Nicaragua. His work is held in several private collections and work is about to placed in several museums. His life story has also been captured in a feature documentary which is planned to premier next year.
Calvet is a charismatic man, warm and generous. On first impressions you might not imagine him to be the source of his paintings. However salvation can be a slippery slope and he understands the warning:
“Those who forget where they came from are bound to relive their past”
Looking at Jean Marc Calvet’s paintings allows you to experience an explosive visual arts experience and glimpse the depths of his soul from the safety of the other side of the canvas, a place that he also stands today thanks to the grace of redemption.
-Bob Hogghe, Monkdogz Gallery, New York
Jean Marc Calvet
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Jean Marc Calvet began painting at a point in is life when severe crisis metamorphosed into a form of redemption and rebirth. With no training, he discovered the need to paint by complete chance.
Not only did it save him but it changed his life. Art is his catharsis and his evolution has been astounding. For him, it is about exorcising the insanity of his past and slapping down on canvas the dirty truth of life. He paints 14 hours a day, seven days a week and lives now in Nicaragua.
* * *
“Yo pinto por necesidad …. sin pensar, una especie de automatismo libre. Dejo que mi inconsciente dirija mi mano. Cultivando las obsesiones, los miedos, seguramente para poder sentir y apreciar las buenas cosas de la vida.
“Yo creo que los artistas ante de todo son antenas, receptor de emociones, puertas, pasaje adentro de diferentes mundos.
“En mis pinturas cada personaje esta lleno de historias, creaturas, un movimiento permanente de muerte, amor, sexo, de vida simplemente. Somos hechos de detalles nuestra vidas están ritmadas por ellos, sin ellos no existimos……….. Nos volvemos trasparente.
“Afuera somos palabras y adentro somos colores …”
-Jean Marc Calvet
* * *
To view others works including his poetry visit: http://jmcalvet.com
Copyright © 2010 – Jean Marc Calvet
June 20, 2010 1 Comment
By James Palombo, Politics Editor
It was less than a two-week visit. One could argue that this was hardly enough time. And I was mainly in one city, more to argue in that there was so much more to see. Yet, I’ve been around the world, Europe, the Middle and Far East, Central and South America, but nothing has affected me quite like this. A truly profound experience you might say.
It’s not a large island, but it’s a country with a storied past. Its beauty and riches are well documented by explorers and visitors throughout its captivating history. Its dangers have been equally chronicled via the days of pirates, mobsters and revolutionaries. It’s a place of contrasts and contradictions, with its people having all of this compressed into their souls.
I was awed by the mysterious influences of time and place on the people. I noticed this almost as soon as I arrived, especially with simultaneous and contradictory feelings being elicited; inspiration-deflation, caring-non-caring, right-wrong, beauty-beast, ahead-behind, all of these overwhelming my senses. It was like being in the space between the right thing to do and the right thing to think, between preach and practice, or social man and economic man – a gap where a God and even sin might find value. Again, it was a quick yet powerful sensation. In fact, I notice the feelings again in recall, with the notion of “tearing a smile” coming to mind. Perhaps in some unexpected, existential way, I stumbled upon a piece of myself or mankind in coming to this place.
But I couldn’t get lost in all of this, not on this particular visit. I had my sights set on a particular purpose. I was hoping to find out if what I thought about the place in terms of its ideological underpinnings would lend itself to further exploration. In other words, I knew of the politically difficult situation there, and I also heard of the socially romantic character. I was hoping to find that perhaps the twain might meet.
And it did; there was a convergence of what I hoped to see and feel with what actually transpired. I quickly felt that my purpose had some real ground, it was not just fanciful thinking. In fact, I was reminded to some extent of my own country, one also filled with contrasts and contradictions, buoyed by revolutionary spirit, a place where the entirety of its experiment seems to have somehow been lost in translation. My purpose involved wanting to know more about the similarities of our countries, and if the similarities could overcome our differences, could in fact be fuel for a better understanding. I am more certain now that perhaps they can.
Let me say more about this, about the elements surrounding my purpose. On initial examination, it was fair to reason that we were two countries laboring in the midst of our revolutionary beginnings, especially in the context of the post WWII world. In terms of the spirits of those revolutions, one has been couched within the frame of democracy, the other in communism. And by principle, neither of these frames ever seemed so at odds with the other. Both revolutions have also been enormously affected by the nature of capitalism, almost in the sense of being two sides to the capitalist coin. With one revolution, historical variables seem to have been on its side – there has been substantial political, economic and military growth, progress. This is while the other has struggled to maintain its identity, some argue as an effect of the other revolution’s success. In any event, as we speak, both sets of revolutionary principles seem distorted by the nature of market influences — it’s now hard to recognize the true intent of either revolutionary experiment. So we actually appear to share a great deal. My purpose was to sense the actuality of this, and again, I’m hopeful that this “similarity” can actually bring us together, each of us learning from the other relative to what has transpired in the modern world. Perhaps it’s finally the time when this can happen.
With this in mind, I would like to present a review of “the model” that I was considering prior to my trip. I actually took the idea around to community related agencies in the city I was visiting to ascertain what interest might be generated. Despite the often offered caveat about discussing politically focused endeavors in the country, I met with success. The “initial project” idea developed as discussions unfolded and it seems a perfect fit in terms of developing future projects.
In the reading of both, I expect you’ll get a better sense of what is being considered, and what I’m hoping to develop as I now speak with those in our own country. It could be – perhaps – that something of value may be in the offing.
During my initial trip, I intend to build on contacts in the academic/art/civic/governmental communities, garnering an interest in the idea of developing a dialogue, and then returning in the near future, hopefully with a project in hand. In this context, I would like to develop an interest in what can be termed an ideological-educational model from which any number of projects can grow. In short, my professional and personal experiences (documented in my last book, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers) tell me that we share some mutually important concerns pointed at our political, economic and social structures. This “mutuality” can be framed in the imagery of a large circular intersection, with a center from which several directions can be taken. In this center lay, among others things, the concerns of capitalism, socialism, communism, and democracy. No doubt, these concerns – and all their implications — have prompted a great deal of separation/conflict between the two countries over the past half century. Yet both countries must now legitimately and openly address these concerns in terms of proceeding in directions that can speak to better futures. Therefore, it is at this “crossroads” where projects might be best developed. This is underscored by the belief that in sharing information while we are both there, we will not only help address and repair our separation/differences, but, in taking the best informed directions, we can also move toward bettering our respective countries.
With these ideas at the model’s center, what is developed via dialogue and the sharing of literature, or art, or research, etc., can be expressive of/serve these educational ends. Although small in nature this type model, in the course of its development, will legitimately and clearly speak to the long-term interests of both our countries.
An Initial Project
I have completed my stay, and in terms of discussing the above “model”, it was clear that the ideas represent ones of interest. In this sense the following is proposed relative to actually initiating a “grass-roots” oriented bridge between our countries.
Forming a “work group” developed from the organizations I have contacted (importantly, organizations which have a link to both the government and the University) and from similar organizations that can be involved from my country, we can together develop a “symposium on dialogue.” At this juncture, here is a general idea on what this would be. With students from both countries involved from the beginning/developmental stages, we could bring together individuals from academia, politics, community work, arts, media, entertainment, etc. to discuss the ideological issues that have been at the forefront of our mutual concerns. From this, attention can be garnered on the issues and the intent of continuing corresponding dialogue, perhaps a documentary or music developed, and certainly some shared research projects between students/universities could begin. This should not be seen in the context of necessarily resolving all our differences, but more as an open dialogue to facilitate better future relationships. In short, and as those I talked with seem to agree, it’s about time this happens.
There are certainly both procedural and substantive issues that will need to be tended to, and funding will be an issue as well. But given the issues (and their immediacy), and that we have universities and organizations poised to help, and that this will not require a burdensome sum of money to organize (especially given the potential rewards), I would strongly urge that the discussions and contacts already initiated be utilized to their fullest extent. In this sense, I am hoping to further integrate those who can help move the ideas/interest/energy forward. Again, what is being proposed is based on the value of education — the sharing of ideas and thoughts with the next generations in mind. As both an educator and a participant with issues that relate to bettering international understanding, I’m confident that this is a viable and timely way to proceed.
So I imagine you have the picture. One might scratch his head thinking that this seems so obvious a course of action, that this type bridge must already have been built. But this is not the case. And you can well imagine the worn-out, archaic reasons for this may be the same ones used to deflate the spirit from this initiative – the same spirit interestingly tied to both our country’s beginnings. Of course, we shall see.
There is certainly more I could say about my visit – especially about the people, their problems, the daily goings on and the country itself. Perhaps I can get to all of this another time, perhaps after my next visit. For now, I will only add this last piece of information. On my return flight, I was seated next to a woman from South Korea. She was fluent in English which allowed us the opportunity to chat about our experiences on the island. (This “spread” of our language certainly speaks to our post WWII expansion. It also speaks a bit to both our luck and our arrogance in terms of having other people speak in our native tongue.) She was a school teacher and she along with husband and two children (seated across from us) had been on holiday discovering and photographing the island. When it was my turn to explain my visit, I did so in the context of what you’ve read above. She seemed to take in the ideas I was expressing with a great deal of interest, and complimented me on what she perceived as some form of bravery. Shortly thereafter, and much to my surprise, she asked if she could have the piece of paper I was jotting some notes on. I gave it to her and she returned it with a sentence written on it. I found her consideration in wanting to write something surprising, and I remain inspired by the words she wrote. In closing, I thought I would pass them along to you.
“I hope you are healthy and happy and that you and your friends help light the world’s darkness.”
A rather profound way to end a profound trip – it seems the ideas must continue to be discussed. And perhaps some light will indeed follow … quizas.
A Life in Cuba
As with circumstances in the U.S., there are many legal and extra-legal claims referencing injustices in Cuba. At the same time, and again similar to the U.S.’s revolutionary history, the Cuban experiment represents a great struggle to achieve objectives truly believed in and admired by many in the world. Herbert Zulu’s ink-penned poetry and design seem swirled somewhere in the mix of these conditions, perhaps making the black and white of his work appropriate. Zulu continues his life in Havana, struggling to make something out of his art and life. He wrote the following poems in English.
The voyeur cracking his teeth
and all that you know what I mean
I am about to swear
he thinks of a frying pan the light is
to toast the woman’s titts for dinner
and that’s not neither fair nor right.
First one step, then another, then
the drummer runs away from the picture
of himself in the middle of a destructive night.
catching this image as it came from my memory,
Now, an image of downton in an old city?
The drummer is unreal and so the place where my imagination sees
these things. Ink and words even at midnight
make a seeming of a man, the imbecile, composing
a Southern breeze when rhythm cannot free it from desires.
First one step, then another , then
I reduce the player to my self, slow and naked,
and, acquiring each other’s thought, we are one.
My Niece Jennifer
Little by little my niece Jennifer hugs herself.
She does it hard and closes any entrance when being mad
at the shod feet passing by her side with its deafness
and too many words utters on behalf of silence.
Then she plays anger and she plays an ancient blues
that once we sang it never let us live.
All I need to do to feed her with a taseful ripe fruit pie or
can we talk it through right now or can I
help you hug yourself as a consolation?
She then tells me she gets made at what she sees.
No one has leter know how much we treasure her
how lovable and huggable she is
even when she hugs herself with down-headed anger
And I just look her in her eyes
so that she sees these words on mine
visualizing them neatly way out of her uncle’s tongue.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Politics
A wonderful state of mind
The Artist’s View
The matter of landscape as a state of mind is essentially a very vast domain.
The landscape in art is an expression of the human spirit, particularly due to the communion of man with nature, his material and spiritual house. Each man is part of a matrix, of a specific universe, a part of an area with individualist and morphologic character. Each of us feels a resonance in front of a pattern, created in our minds by the very area we grew up in, the places of our childhood where our character was formed.
No matter where we then go in life, we carry these marks of our memory. Landscape and nature have surrounded me since I was a little child, they gave me the joy of a deep and truthful living and I have always been attached to the clear atmosphere of the marks of my own memory, rooted in my own space. Whether it is abstraction, expression or impression, they are all related to the representation of the same motif: nature displayed through landscape.
Nature is for me as a basis for the comfort of the soul, reverie, calm and faith. I had different views on my artistic itinerary, different representations of the same universal motif, nature.
This work represents a synthesis of my artistic and expression research of the last years.
The essential motivation of choosing this analysis theme comes from my belief in the force of expression of the landscape, the simple message of nature and its echo in our souls, the state of mind conveyed by the landscape (whether on a macro or micro level).
“My motivation is purely pictorial, it is the art of turning the landscape into a wonderful state of mind.”
— Claudiu Presecan
A Curator’s View
“…In the creative strategy of this creation stage (solidly underlain in theory by the systematic investigation of the impressionist painting) the primordial factor of provocation is nature – pure existence, homogenous, non-sequential and all-comprehensive, while the motivation of the pictorial act is the re-experience of a paradisiacal state, of total participation at the mysteries of a genuine nature, of grand expansive vitality: the nature of the Danube Delta.
And the reeds and the water lilies – innate beauty from waters, are felt as a real archetypal symbol of this miraculous and fascinating encounters with moving still waters, earth flooded with vegetation and sun bathed skies – which is the Delta. To this nature, which ignores anthropomorphism (as it is ready only to attract, absorb and protect the fragile human being) the artist relates as to a constant and explicit guiding mark (he doesn’t suppress the natural referent nor does he put it in brackets), but he considers the referential activity from a double perspective; the one of his own sensitivity of poetic essence and of his endowment of colorist and drawer – admirably polished by a sustained atelier practice) and the cultural perspective of the passionate dialogue with an already existent visual code: the morphologic and syntactic code of the impressionist art. In other words, the artist proposes, in an attractive and persuasive way, a dialogue style of his own (with undisguised cultural appetence) with a style historically constituted (in the 19th century) long persistent (towards the half of the 20th century) in the modern painting and assertively re-introduced in actuality (in different aspects), in post-modernity. The reception charm, the lyrical exultance of the immediate experience are expressed in simple and undulating forms, built with a simple drawing, in a fluid and sonant color, dominated by cold accords – only partially autonomous in relationship with the motif: virtuous drawing and vibrant chromatics, masterly enhanced in value by the excellent domination of the white extended with oriental refinement on large surfaces. Besides this explosive hedonism, the intensity of the artist’s sight is exerted stupendously in the decoding (in the very act of painting with detached gesture) of sub-adjacent dynamic structures, of an expressive order, beyond the strict horizon of appearances. Clear and aired, refined without ostentation and lyric without sentimentalism, the images of the reeds and water lilies – crossed by harmonious rhythms, with expressive accents and energetic resonances, become spaces, without any narrative ballast, of some thrilling communication ritual with a fraternal, cordial cosmos. Each and every one of them composes a sensitive pictorial essay about a personal poetics of purity.”
—Dr. Livia Drăgoi, Director, Art Museum Cluj-Napoca, 2008
A Path on Water II, oil on canvas, 63,3” x 51,2”, 2009 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_grass.jpg]00
Grass, conte on tracing paper, 34,2” x 46”, 2004 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_impression-at-the-sea.jpg]00
Impression at the sea, 37,4” x 28,3”, ink on tracing paper, 2004 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_impression-on-the-lake.jpg]00
Impression ~ on the lake, oil on canvas, 39,4” x 39,4”, 2001 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_oleander.jpg]10
Oleander, acrylic on paper, 12” x 8”, 2009 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_on-the-water.jpg]00
On the water, oil on canvas, 19,7” x 15,7”, 2010 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_path-in-delta.jpg]00
A Path in Delta, oil on canvas, 23,6” x 19,7”, 2010 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_reeds-3.jpg]00
Reeds III, acrylic on paper, 23,2” x 19,3”, 2007 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_reeds-on-water.jpg]00
Reeds, oil on canvas, 23,6” x 23,6”, 2009 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_reflection-clouds-on-water.jpg]00
Reflection ~ clouds on water, oil on canvas, 19,7” x 47,2”, 2010 [img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/claudiu-presecan/thumbs/thumbs_traces-on-water.jpg]00
Traces on water, acrylic on tracing paper, 46” x 30,7”, 2006
To view larger photos from the gallery, please enter the FS button.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born on April 12, 1969 in Cluj-Napoca, a city located deep in the heart of Romania’s legendary Transylvania, Claudiu Presecan received his B.F.A. from the Cluj-Napoca High School of Fine Arts in 1987. From there, he pursued graduate studies in painting at the Cluj-Napoca Visual Arts Academy which ultimately lead to his earning a Masters of Fine Arts. He has exhibited in Romania, Denmark, South Africa, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Turkey, Canada and United States.
The famous Transylvanian silversmiths, Sacks and Szeckler, together with Judaic, Armenian and Turkish artists, brought about a special contribution to the expressive fusion of Transylvanian art. This provided inspiration for contemporary Romanian artists. Presecan’s art reflects the period of graphic art borne between traditional and modern language, and contributes to modern Romanian culture — a fresh contrast to Transylvania’s legendary, dark history.
website and blog: http://www.presecan.com/
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Claudiu Presecan
The following poems in French and English are based on the photographic collages of Wieslawa Contoski: “Chagrin” (“Grief”) (#162), and “Interieur: Embrassant la gloire” (“Interior: Embracing the Glory”) (#175 & #176).
Et encore une fois je tombe
Dans le sombre
Terre lourde ou
Il ne semble etre aucuns
Cotes , aucunes regles. Mon
Corps est parti, rien que
Mes mains ne flottent loin
A la strate grise
Au-dessous des copeaux
D’ecorce comme les ombres
Autour des intrigues coulants
D’une histoire impossible
Ou tu me dis
Que tu m’aimes, tu partagerais
Avec moi quoi qu’il soit
Que tu avais, n’importe
Combien de peu – et toute
La nuit je t’aime
Sans cesse dans un cercle
Eloigne, grave des
Nuages comme un
Oiseau perdu, songeant
Des cieux qui ont ete
Chaque voeu plein
De plumes s’en vole
Pour le blue.
And once more I fall
Down into the dark
Heavy ground where
There seem to be no
Sides, no rules. My
Body is gone, only
My hands float far
Off in a gray layer
Below the chips
Of bark like the shadows
Around sinking plots of
An impossible story in
Which you tell me
You love me, you’d share
With me whatever
You had, no matter
How little – and all
Night I love you
Back in a remote
Circle etched out of
Clouds like a
Lost bird dreaming
Of the pieced-
Together sky where
Each feathery wish
Flies into the blue.
Interieur: Embrassant la gloire (#175)
Je me tiens debout a la fenetre
Qui ne reste point
Tranquille. Les rideaux
Voltigent, sautant et
Paniquard. La vitre
Comme photos dechirees,
En train de fragmenter le ciel
Dans cadres a pas
Variables, me rendant
Pensive, en pensant – Non,
Ce n’est pas vrai. Pourtant je sais
Que c’est vrai. Mon coeur
As deja ete enterre
Dans la peur
Legere que tu es
Puissant au-dela de
La mesure. Dans la peur
Foncee qu’on peut
Jurer de se venger, mais quand
Ca arrive, ce n’est pas
Des lumieres plus profondes
Clignotent. Je ferme
Les rideaux, pourtant la dentelle
Fait nouveaux motifs
De lumiere dedans comme si
On ne peut jamais echapper
A meme le dernier ombre
D’un doute que tu etais envoye
Par Dieu pour me sauver.
Interior: Embracing the Glory (#175 & #176)
I stand at the window
Which won’t stay
In place. The curtains
Flutter, all twitches and
Breath. The glass
Like torn pictures,
Fragmenting the sky
Into variable freeze-
Frames making me want
To think – No, that’s not
True. Yet I know
It’s true. My heart
Has already been
Buried in the light
Fear that you are
Measure. In the dark
Fear that one may
Vow revenge, but when
It comes, it’s anything
But satisfying. So
Deeper lights go
On and off. I close
The curtains, yet the lace
Makes new patterns
Of light inside as if
There’s no escaping
Even the last shadow
Of doubt you were sent
By God to save me.
Laura Merleau was born and grew up in the Kansas City area. She received a doctoral degree in American Literature from the University of Kansas in 2000. Her poetry is scheduled to appear in “Rougarou” and “Poppyseed Kolache”. Her novella, “Little Fugue”, was published by Woodley Memorial Press in 1992.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Laura Eileen Merleau
The Art of Being Lucky
We photographers in general are convinced that the key to great photography is found in the equipment and in the talent of the photographer. There is great truth in this, especially when the subject is standing still. Once the subject starts moving, the burden shifts a bit, and given sufficient equipment and sufficient talent, the deciding factor then shifts to the individual’s ability to anticipate “the” moment or moments.
Baseball, because of the pace and nature of the game, probably provides more opportunities than any other sport for the photographer to predict the next moment, but for all the planning one does, there is never any guarantee that the action will be what was hoped for or expected. The action of baseball is unpredictable, and therefore, photographing it well not only requires the combination of skill, equipment, anticipation, but also possibly the most important element, luck.
Branch Rickey is best known as the man who signed Jackie Robinson to a professional baseball contract, and in so doing, changed baseball and America forever. He was not known as a photographer, but may have given us a piece of advice well worth heeding: “Luck is the residue of design.”
So – heeding Branch Rickey’s words, the best I can do is make a plan and then hope I get lucky with the results.
I’ve spent most of my nearly 64 years on baseball fields as player, coach and umpire. Now, most of my baseball work is done from the stands or photo pit with a camera. My experience allows me the ability to anticipate plays, to think ahead a bit to predict the flow of a play, to know where the action is likely to take place.
Shooting baseball is a lot like playing shortstop. You need to think a play ahead. The player must consider what he will do with the ball if it is hit to him, while the photographer needs to consider where he will aim his camera.
The questions each must consider are the same – What is the situation? The score, inning count, outs are all factors. What will the pitcher throw? Will the runner steal? Will the batter bunt? What to do on a ground ball – go for two, take the out, throw to the plate? Where will the outfielder throw on a base hit? On a fly ball? Will the runner try to score from second? These are all part of the anticipation.
My questions also have to include the contingencies. If I am positive the runner will steal, I might manually focus on second base and hope something good doesn’t happen elsewhere. From the photo pit on the third base side, I can manually focus on home plate and second base because they are nearly equidistant from me. This overcomes the auto focus problem that is caused when the shortstop cuts in front to the camera long enough to disrupt the focus from the runner to him.
Location, location, location
The photographers pits – at the far end of each dugout, are generally thought of as the best place to shoot from. Not necessarily. It is a great spot for shooting the pitcher, the action at home plate and plays at first base if I’m on that side. A down side is that since it is at ground level a lot of people on the field can get in the way. I also shoot from behind the plate, but only for batter-pitcher-catcher-umpire shots. It gets crowded around home plate, but some interesting shots happen.
For many action shots, I prefer to shoot from the aisle, about 12 rows back from the field, in the front row of the second deck, or from other spots high in the ball park depending on what type of shots I want.
I use a 70-200 f2.8 lens for most of my shots, and can add a 2x extender to shoot from upstairs. There are a couple of spots where I use an 85mm f1.8 lens to shoot batters, especially when the light gets a little iffy. Sometimes I will use a 50mm f1.8 to get action shots at first base from the pit or the front row of the seats. I mix in other lenses depending on the shot or effect I want. It helps to have more than one camera body to make the switching easier, but it’s pretty much impossible to do it in the three-plus seconds that it takes for the batter to hit the ball and run to first.
Like many sports photographers (most?) I am guilty of wanting to get every possible exciting shot. There is something distressing about preparing for a steal of second and have the better hit a home run.
So – I generally have to be content with what I have in front of me, and not moan too much over the shots I miss. An important factor here – rather than just cursing my fate for missing the batter hitting a home run, I aim for the outfielder and hope to catch him doing something interesting. Sometimes, a shot of the outfielder watching the ball leave the field is the best that can happen in that situation, but can still create an interesting photo
It’s hard not to be a fan
I have trained myself to not watch the game through the viewfinder, which is difficult. I try to watch the pitcher with one eye to get the timing of the play, then shift back to the viewfinder for the shots. This helps me to get in sync with the batter or stealing runner. As in batting, follow through is important. Even though the ability to fire seven or eight shots per second does a lot, the goal is still to get “the” shot every time, and many times the best shot is one that happens just after the main action. I have to fight the tendency to stop when the action does.
I will probably never lose the image (it’s in my mind still, but not on my camera) of a pitcher on his knees, laughing at himself for fouling up a play. I have the play itself recorded, but that was not the winner of a shot – the pitcher laughing at himself would have been.
The lesson here – keep shooting and throw away what isn’t useful during post production – not from the camera. Bring enough CF cards so you don’t have to erase from the camera – you really can’t see the shot till it’s on your computer.
An important post production tip is to actually look at the photos. I have often been surprised that in what I thought was a throw away shot there was actually something that turned it into a pretty interesting photo.
Quantity and quality
When I shoot professional baseball (mostly the AAA Syracuse Chiefs or the class A Auburn Doubledays) I usually shoot some 400-500 shots of the on field action if I shoot the whole game. Most are of the batter, since that is where most of the interesting things happen. I get a lot of the pitchers, but pitcher shots tend to be very repetitive, so there is a great deal of choice in getting the “right” photo. The shots tend to deal with grip, arm flexion and an occasional defensive gem on a ball hit back at him. I try to spend part of the game concentrating on defense – the hardest thing for me to do because of the difficulty in anticipating where the ball will be hit.
I also throw in umpire photos and away from the action photos of players, coaches vendors and fans. If I am assigned to shoot for a story about a specific player, most of my shots will be of him, both on offense and defense.
In AAA baseball, there is always the chance of catching a player in a rehab assignment. John Smoltz made a start against Syracuse last year, so I spent two innings taking shots of him. Steve Strasburg, Washington National’s star of the future is putting in a short tour in Syracuse on his way to the majors. These become news shots, but most shots are background to a story or part of a collection. There is a big difference between what is a news photo and what is simply a good photo – and most of us are really after the latter.
The inflatable man seeming to cheer the home run, the slightly blurry baseball in front of the even more blurred eye surgery billboard, the bat shattering, the batter in an uncommon position, the ball seemingly attached to the bat on its backswing – all make for good photographs and make a day at the ballpark, camera in hand, time very well spent.
-Herm Card, Syracuse, NY
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Herm Card
A Howlin’ Wind Still Blows
By Jeff Katz
Back to Schooldays
I admit I wasn’t on board with Graham Parker, or any of the punk scene, until 1980. During the second half of the ‘70’s, I was still filling my collection with Beatles, Dylan, Who and Stones, catching up on a lot of records that were essential to a growing boy’s musical development. A few outriders may have appeared, a stray Elvis Costello album. Maybe. It really wasn’t until I got to college that I opened my ears.
I’m guessing that my first aural encounter with Parker was on WNEW, the New York classic rock station, and it’s almost certain that “Endless Night” was my entry point. What grabbed me, at first, were the straining harmonies of Mr. Bruce Springsteen. Well, if Parker was worth The Boss’ time, who was I to argue? I rushed out to buy The Up Escalator. Parker’s snarl, his nasty yet sensitive lyrics, hit me where I lived back then. It was who I was, at least in my own mind. The outwardly cynical, bitter me covering the inner, shakier me. I was hooked.
Quickly, or as quickly as money would allow, I caught up. Howlin’ Wind, Heat Treatment, Stick to Me, and Squeezing Out Sparks the amazing quartet of albums that preceded The Up Escalator are the solid foundation on which Parker’s entire canon rests. Remarkable records, really, with his backing band, the nonpareil Rumour. A new sound, fresh, fierce, yet like all classics, having a timeless quality as if they’ve been heard before. Powerful rock with more than a hint of ‘60’s soul coupled with Parker’s distinctively nasal voice. He immediately became a top tier, go to listen for me.
The early ‘80’s found Parker taking a more mellow turn. He dropped The Rumour, got married and settled down. Another Grey Area, The Real Macaw and Steady Nerves projected a content Parker, unfamiliar, but resoundingly real. This second chapter of his career was met with a shrug by the record buying public. They missed out; these three albums are wonderful. For the early 20s’ version of me, they hit sporadically, but as the decade went on, and I met the girl of my dreams and married her, Parker was, once again, providing an intimate soundtrack to my own life. Then, after The Mona Lisa’s Sister in 1988, I stopped buying Graham Parker records. Just like that. Why? I don’t know. He was an integral part of my decade.
And now, as Music Editor for ragazine, I found myself in the position of interviewing the great Graham Parker. I had a lot of catching up to do. I didn’t want to be one of those “loved your album from thirty years ago” guys. So I bought most of the CDs I’d missed, listened in a hurry, and got ready to call one of my musical heroes.
Between You and Me
It was him! Curiously enough, he sounded just like Graham Parker. All I had to do was say “hi” and he was off. The man can talk, and talk, and talk. It was hard for me to get my questions in, and, you know what, I didn’t want to. It was fun listening to him, but, hey, I’m a professional (wait, that would mean I’m getting paid!) and I knew I had to cover some ground if I was going to get any kind of interview done.
A self-confessed “nature freak,” Parker has lived in America since 1988. Though most articles place him in Woodstock, which makes for a nice musical connection, he’s in the Catskills, closer to the much less romantic burghs of Kingston and New Paltz and a good 45 minutes from hippie heaven.
He hasn’t forsaken England, keeping a place in London that he rents out (it’s “quite a good earner”). But buying a house in merry old? Out of the question. “You can’t buy a house and land in England unless you’re a member of royalty…or Sting.” Now, that’s a Graham Parker answer – funny, biting, true. In his mountain hideaway, he looks out the window to the trees and ponds that surround him.
Though Parker has railed against American commercialism (listen to “Disney’s America” on 12 Haunted Episodes), he has nothing but affection for the place. America is “THE country, everything goes on here.” Not so in his homeland. Britain is too small minded, a cynical nation marked by a too cruel sense of humor; Americans are more generous. But Parker is under no illusion that his artistic temperament will permit him to settle down. He’s by no means locked in to his present home, his life too fluid for something like that. But, he gladly admits, America is in his blood.
While I tried to avoid the pitfalls of dwelling on his initial breakout records, Parker brought up his time as a “minor pop star” in England. 1976 was his year, the year that he created the angry snarling singer/commentator of the punk movement that Elvis Costello, Paul Weller of The Jam and Joe Strummer of The Clash followed. But when he split from The Rumour after disappointing sales for The Up Escalator, the UK press murdered him and his middle-period, 1980s’ works. I mentioned I loved those records and he was pleased. His only regret for those works was the ‘80s’ production sound, the loud snare drum that particularly marked Steady Nerve.
Parker recognizes that critics saw The Mona Lisa’s Sister as a rebirth, but he doesn’t view it that way. He’s never had a “slack period” in his estimation. It’s just that rock writers tend to be close-minded, stuck on early songs like “Fool’s Gold”. Isn’t that always the case, for reviewers and non-reviewers alike? The music you hear at a formative time in your life, most likely between the ages 15-18, coincides with an overall awakening to new things. It’s no surprise that for John Lennon, Chuck Berry was, and always would be, his favorite artist. You never get past what you hear at a certain age.
Parker covered Sam Cooke on more than one occasion in the late ‘80s (“Cupid” on The Mona Lisa’s Sister and “A Change is Gonna Come” on Live Alone in America). I’d been listening to Sam myself lately and asked him about American soul music. With this question, Parker was off and running on his musical past and influences.
Music happened for Graham Parker at 12 years old. It was The Beatles and The Stones; that was it. It all began when he heard “Love Me Do.” At 15, he turned mod, complete with skinhead haircut, dapper suit and red braces (suspenders). It would seem obvious that he would love The Who, but except for “Substitute,” he didn’t care much for them. It was a strict diet of soul music. By 1965, the music at the local discotechques was exclusively black or Jamaican ska. The clubs were packed with skinheads and their taste ruled. A few white artists made the cut. Len Barry’s “123” got played (much to my surprise). The Spencer Davis Group, The Box Tops’ “The Letter” and “Cry Like a Baby,” also got some spins. Alex Chilton’s recent death had Parker reflecting on his iron clad belief that Chilton was a “black guy” until very recently.
We returned to the subject of soul and Sam Cooke. I mentioned I had been looking at Sam for a future Maybe Baby story. Otis Redding was Parker’s man growing up. Remember when I mentioned the sensitive man beneath the cynic? Well, Redding’s Otis Blue used to make Parker cry, it moved him so. Like Chilton, there was a bit of racial confusion. Obviously Otis was black, but the cover of the album was of a gorgeous platinum blonde, her very appearance at odds with that conclusion.
By the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, Parker was, to my shock, a hippie, before returning his attention to American black music. Then back to soul. Dipping his feet in psychedelic waters led to his musical epiphany. Why not combine the heartfelt, emotional, even danceable gut sounds of soul music with the intricate, smart lyrical sophistication of Bob Dylan? And he pulled it off ! No one was better than Graham Parker when he hit his stride starting in 1976.
At Mercury Records, he encountered real trouble. They didn’t know what they had in their innovative young talent and, as expected in a short-sighted business, spent no money on marketing Parker. If you’ve never heard “Mercury Poisoning” you should. It is Parker teeing off on his first label. His difficulty with Mercury led to what Parker refers to as “a bit of mythology that he had label problems.” It was only at Mercury. In fairness, he points out there was no audience for his music in America circa ’77. Even when he moved over to Arista, and “Squeezing Out Sparks” became a hit, he did three concert dates with Journey!
Parker isn’t complaining about his career path. From 1975 when Radio London played two of his demos, catching the ear of a record company executive, which lead to his first record deal and an escape from his job at a gas station, Parker has been “very lucky.” Each new contract resulted in more money, good money. He never was in danger of going broke. It was luxury, limos and Letterman, until the early 1990s. Looking back, he finds it quite unbelievable that he had all that.
Those days are long gone. Not that he minds. Since starting solo tours in 1989, he’s become his own tour manager, travelling from venue to venue, working with local sound men. He enjoys it much more, in full control of his situation. That’s how a musician makes a living these days. As to records, he makes them and presents them as is to his company. (These days that company is Bloodshot Records out of Chicago). That’s always been the way he’s done it. It’s his music – he gets final word.
His new album Imaginary Television is a concept album, a series of TV themes for shows that exist in the mind of Parker. After attempts to write real themes for real series, only to be rebuffed, GP took things into his own hands and wrote songs for programs populated by conjoined twins, Asians obsessed with snow and father and son car thieves. The songs are typical Parker, from poignant (“Broken Skin”) to reggae tinged (“See Things My Way”). He’s very pleased with the new disc, and for good reason.
Adhering to the strict 25 minute deadline I was given by PR at Bloodshot, I said my goodbyes. He remembered my name at the end, a big ego boost. Now, totally obsessed with Graham Parker, it would be a frustratingly long month until I’d head west to Homer, N.Y., to see his solo show.
Pourin’ It All Out
It’s an almost two-hour drive from Cooperstown to Homer. In daylight it’s tedious (except for a surprising detour in Truxton, the birthplace of legendary Giants’ manager John McGraw. I excitedly pulled off the road for a picture of the monument to the great Muggsy, smack dab in the middle of town). At night it’s pitch black, scary and skunk-scented.
There’s something happening in Homer. What it was wasn’t exactly clear, but it turns out that Cortland State is a mile away, so there’s some college town spill over. The Center for the Arts of Homer is a beautiful red brick church. As co-chair of Cooperstown Concert Series, a great organization without a home base, I was immediately envious. The sign out front proclaimed the appearance of Parker, referred to as a “Rock N Roll ‘Legend.’” Why the quotes around “legend?” Did he not really qualify? Were they being sarcastic?
Inside the church, benign figures etched in stained glass looked down on the proceedings. No vengeful icons with crazy eyes staring with scorn at middle-aged music fans. Graham Parker in a church? An odd juxtaposition. While the altar bore no trace of past ritual, flying high above the stage was a painted white dove.
Parker strolled on stage, a rock and roll ninja in black pajama top and black jeans. Though close-cropped, Parker seemed the same as when I saw him last, in the fall of 1983 at Cornell. He was always an ordinary looking guy, his physical features never so striking that age changed his presentation.
He is clearly a man aware and content with who he is and where he is in his career. Introducing “Pollinate,” he cracked wise about his 50-something audience, driven to passion by this tune. “It’s not a pretty sight.” “Sock ‘N” Sandals” was a gentle poke at the attire of his demographic. Even when Parker played older numbers, he has no desire to look back, either in anger or nostalgia. He’s at ease with his past, comfortable in his present and hopeful for his future.
When we spoke, Graham made a point to mention that he’s a funny guy. The night was filled with humor. He riffed on the severe British voice on his GPS, who threatened a severe spanking when he missed a turn. He assumed Homer was named for the Greek poet, not the cartoon character. A hysterical bit, almost a skit, revolved around “Bring Me a Heart Again.” Parker wished he’d been a guitar hero, a Clapton or Jeff Beck, and struck the proper poses: slow motion guitar thrashing, mouth wide open, tongue lolling. Alas, he realized he’s stuck with passable lead guitar skills, BUT, he was willing to take a solo if the crowd would agree beforehand, to go crazy when he was done. They obliged.
“Hotel Chambermaid,” a Heat Treatment classic, was its own chapter of the show. Turned out, it was covered by Rod Stewart on one of his poorest selling albums, When We Were the New Boys. Graham was determined to get a swimming pool out of the deal, but since it was just his luck that he’d be covered on one of Rod the Mod’s weakest records, the pool ended up very tiny, though incredibly deep. “Only a young guy could write this,” he noted about the sex-soaked song, “unless you’re The Stones writing about mating with teenagers.” That wasn’t the only nod to his early heroes. During the encore, Parker conducted his own celebration of the recent re-release of Exile on Main St. with a killer take on “Shake Your Hips.”
It was a brilliant show, 22 slices carved from a marvelous body of work, in a venue acoustically deep and rich. But Homer, take off those quotes!
Nothin’s Gonna Pull Us Apart
How did I allow 20 years to go by without buying a new Graham Parker album, after all he meant to me? It’s both strange and hard to believe that I could drop him just like that. Well, I’m catching up. As the man says himself, “You better stick to me.” And that’s what I’ll do now.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Graham Parker
Building the Cultural Bridge
ragazine.cc: As an organizer of the annual Comfest Street Fair, among numerous other items listed on your resume in the About Candice Watkins graf in your blog, you’ve done about everything and anything a person can to promote the arts in and around Columbus. What motivates you to participate?
CW: There is an inner need to work toward a better world, a place where people of all kinds are equal and talent is nurtured so everyone can be the best they can be. The arts and humanities have been venues for me as they translate well to community work and bridge cultural and economic gaps allowing for public opportunity to participate in sometimes heretofore unaccessible activities.
rag: You’re a visual artist engaged in neon and other light studies, but you’re also a musician and photographer. What’s your ‘favorite medium’? The one that puts you in the driver’s seat of expression?
CW: I enjoy being flexible, working in light is like working in photography so if I had to choose it would be both neon and photography. Both are the result of manipulation of light. Thought I also really enjoy event production, in that it allows me to share a vision with thousands of people at a time.
rag: You take a lot of photographs of musicians …
CW: I am a music historian or what is sometimes called an ethnomusicologist, as well as a collector of historical photos and documentation for mid-western artists. I continue to document performances myself and have a collection ranging from the 1960s through 2010.
rag: Is this a special subject for you, or one of many?
CW: I also shoot a lot of beaches and flowers – favorites for me. Check out my myspace.com/jazzneonfestivals4u and facebook albums.
rag: If you could sit down for a couple of mojitos with any musician at all, who would it be, and why?
CW: I would like to drink with Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Art Tatum – both favorites of mine that I did not get to meet. Of course, I did get to hang with many folks who are gone but whom I loved, like Royal “Rusty” Bryant, Hank Marr, Jimmie McGriff and Frank Foster, and still do hang with Gene Walker, Sean Carney, Bobby Floyd, Derek Dicenzo and Shaunt Booker, among many, many more I am blessed to know.
A recording done at Jazz & Eggs Jam Sessions, The River Club, Columbus, Ohio, in 1998, titled “Jam For Jitney” in honor of Candice Watkins’ father, Jitney, who had just passed away. The piece was a small part of the Jam’s ongoing music that day. Based in Horace Silver’s “Song for Our Fathers”, it sailed on for more than half an hour.
ABOVE: Derek DiCenzo, top, at the Rahsaan Roland Kirk Scholarship Fundraiser in 2008, in Columbus. Sean Carney, bottom left, of the Sean Carney Band, winner of the International Blues Alliance award in 2008. Taken at Blues for a Cure. Danielle Schnebelen, lower right, of Trampled Under Foot, at the 2009 Blues for a Cure concert in Columbus.
Comfest Street Fair:
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, June 25, 26, & 27, 2010
Watkins, with her “time travel buddies”, is the author of a book from Arcadia Press titled “Columbus: The Musical Crossroads”. The premise is that travel in the early to mid-20th Century was overland; the national road and major train lines went thru Columbus, and the music did too. “It was a major player, just like those cities that have capitalized on it more.” The book is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target and other booksellers.
Candice Watkins can be reach at email@example.com.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Candice Watkins
CNF Editor’s Notes
Lucy Wilson Sherman’s “The End” is aptly named, a story about the second law of thermodynamics — entropy. Her love of the life force, especially the way it is manifested in animals, motivates the collection she assembles at Grey Ghost Farm, but she soon finds that exuberance is always tempered. “Life runs downhill,” the “phenomenon of irreversibility in nature” — the chaos, the falling apart, the loss of life that Sherman’s narrator does her best to fight off and restore each day — isn’t a principle any of us can fight. Sherman’s attempt to come to terms with this, in her life, her work, her writing, makes for a piece that is full of black humor, sadness, and resignation, but that nonetheless stands as its own mark against entropy, the writing, the record, that is one of the few possibilities homo sapiens has for leaving something of this kind of perpetual motion behind, and giving it a meaning, and thereby a life force, that others can discover and hold onto themselves.
— Leslie Heywood
“The most that any one of us can seem to do is to
fashion something — an object or ourselves —
and drop it into the confusion, make an offering of it,
so to speak, to the life force.”
Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death,
We’re down to five goats, two dogs, and four cats, now, but at one time our farmstead supported a full complement of pets and livestock—24 animals in all, if you counted the nine hens. The newest additions to the menagerie were a pair of husky/hound dog puppies, given to us by our neighbor Sal two summers ago.
“How’d you like to step back in time ten years?” Sal had called out the window of his car as he drove up to where my husband, Henderson, and I were stacking wood. We walked over to the car to see what he was talking about. The puppies were entwined in a big cardboard box on his back seat. I lifted first one and then the other, and melted.
Same thing ten years ago: big box on back seat, me goo-goo eyed over the two German Shepherd puppies therein, whom we named Fanny and Teddy. Toby, our Labrador retriever who has since died, was elderly, but we didn’t need three dogs then, and we certainly didn’t need four dogs now. But I’m a sucker for a puppy face. Caramel-colored Dalton, with his blue “watch” eye, and his sister, timorous gray Waverly, came on board.
With their addition, the accumulation of animals at Gray Ghost Farm ended and the long attrition phase began. I had to face a fact that had somehow escaped me until then: With 24 animals under our care, all 24 would die on our watch. Either that, or we would die, and who knows what would happen to the animals. Or, some of them would die under our care and then we’d die, and then, eventually, the rest of the animals would die. In any case, as much as there had been lots of life on our farm, from then on there would be lots of dying.
I did not expect it to begin so suddenly. That spring, Dalton discovered he could squeeze under the fence that surrounds the dog yard. In a burst of adolescent exuberance, he ate his way through the entire brood of hens. Each day for a week I found newly mangled bodies scattered about the upper yard and into the woods, their stomachs rent. I could peer into their bellies and see already-formed eggs, shells and all.
Each time I found a dead chicken, I walloped Dalton, but because I never caught him in the act of murder, his eyes seemed to search my face in bewilderment. A local farmer said to tie a dead chicken to his neck. I did this. Dalton flattened himself against the ground and accepted this fate with what seemed like genuine remorse. Then he liberated himself by biting through the baling twine. He wagged his tail and pranced about, eager to regain my approval.
It was difficult to stay angry at so otherwise simple and guileless a dog, but in order to kiss a face that had killed chickens, I had to fashion a philosophic attitude by ranking the two species by preference. Which did I feel greater kinship with—canis or Gallus gallus? All the chickens were dead by this time, so the point was moot. I believed Dalton would outgrow the habit. It never occurred to me that he and Waverly would take on larger game.
That March, as we were loading the car for a weekend out of town, Dalton and Waverly slipped out under their fence again—a fence we had repeatedly patched, you should know—and they streaked off toward the woods. I called them back sternly. I called them again, using my most imperative tone, but they merely paused, looked back, consulted each other, and agreed, “Nah, she’s not serious.” Dalton was the ringleader. I could almost hear him call back over his shoulder to Waverly, “Psst, Wave, quick. Follow me.”
We knew they’d return home eventually. All we were worried about, at that point, was that harm might come to them in our absence. We were gone only overnight, and when we turned into the driveway the next evening, they crawled out from under the porch, wagging and wiggling and twining themselves around our legs, and we greeted them with relief. Mature Teddy and Fanny were wiggling and wagging, too, from behind the fence.
The next morning, I looked out an upstairs window into the goat yard. Capricorn, our 12-year-old buck, was lying on his side motionless on the cold ground. His head lay in a small rivulet that had been released by the spring thaw. “Sleeping,” I hoped for a fleeting moment. Hardly. A goat would not rest his head in water. Capricorn had been losing weight for months and was hobbled by arthritis in his back legs, but he enjoyed my daily brushing and, aside from his obvious discomfort when walking, still seemed interested in living. I did not think it was time for the vet.
As I approached his body, I saw tufts of hair and hide scattered on the ground around him. His groin, the fastest way to his entrails, had been chewed. I don’t think it was the chewing that killed him—the skin was abraded but not ripped open. I think the cause of death was a heart attack brought on by the terror of being selected, taunted, chased, and inevitably run down; a heart attack because he was an old goat, crippled and in failing health; a heart attack because he was forced, in those last moments, to comprehend the inevitability of the hoof prints on the wall.
But even after this, I didn’t turn against the dogs. “Capricorn would have died soon anyway,” I told Henderson. “Dalton and Waverly merely culled the herd. It’s in the nature of a hound dog to hound and dog a weaker animal.” The puppies wiggled and waggled and licked my hands and face, and again I discounted their dark aspect.
A few months later, though, they struck again. They’d gotten loose, but this time we were home, pruning some pine trees below the house. Suddenly, we heard loud, anguished cries that we recognized immediately as the blatting of a terrified goat. The dogs had cornered GG in the orchard, one on each side of her, barking. She had stumbled, trying to face both attackers at once, and fallen. She was struggling to rise, and she was bellowing. It’s not a sound you can easily forget, and it’s not a sound you want to hear on your farm—the sound of one of your beloved goats being bullied by your sweet, now vicious, puppies. It did not take a full minute this time to know which species I favored. Dalton went to the pound the next day.
I spared Waverly because she was an ingratiating omega to the older, alpha dogs, Teddy and Fanny. I figured that she had merely succumbed to pack mentality. If separated, probably neither of the dogs would have attacked alone, or the one more likely to would have been rough-and-tumble Dalton, not my sweet, shy Waverly.
That November, Henderson’s uncle died. When relatives phoned Henderson’s father to tell him that his brother was dead, they got no answer. The phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, they drove out to the house and banged on his door. Still no answer. One of the men climbed in through a window and found Alexander dead on the living room floor from a heart attack. The coroner said the brothers had died on the same day.
In February, my 61-year-old sister Julie, twin to our other sister, Penny, was diagnosed with ALS, the wasting disease Lou Gehrig died from. She first noticed something wrong when she found she needed to reach around with her left hand to help her right hand turn the key in the car’s ignition switch. Now, a year later, her right arm flops at her side—she can’t wash her left armpit, can’t dress herself, can’t wipe herself. With her left hand she can still spoon food into her mouth, but she can’t fold laundry, pare vegetables, wash dishes, carry a cup of coffee or a glass of wine across the room. Her legs are going, too. There is not a chair in her house she can get up from without her husband’s assistance. She’s had to retire from a long acting career at Theater Three on Long Island, where she played lead and supporting roles since graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the same class as Robert Redford. She can’t turn the pages of a script.
The usual course of this disease, which has no known treatment and no remissions, is progressive muscle weakening leading to death in two to five years, making it likely that Julie will not reach 66, the age at which our mother died of cancer. In all likelihood, Julie will predecease our 90-year-old father, whose heart, despite a stroke six years ago, steadily sloshes blood to all the necessary organs without sign of fatigue. Paralyzed on his left side and wheelchair-bound in a nursing home, Daddy keeps eating the three servings of unidentifiable mash they put in front of him each day, vowing to live to 100. He survived Mother’s death by 22 years.
I was surprised when Mother died, then angry at myself for being surprised, for being so naive at age 33 to think that all the deaths I’d heard about on the news had nothing to do with me. How could a piece of me still think my loved ones and I would get out alive?
Now that I’ve let death in, everything else I hear or read tears the membrane further until death is everywhere. It lurks under every moment. But I know that spring is just as true as death. In a few months I’ll be mowing the lawns and weeding the gardens, performing the ultimate betrayal—exercising my muscles as Julie’s are atrophying.
In April, 12-year-old Teddy stopped eating. The vet drew blood, diagnosed him with extensive liver damage, and didn’t hold out much hope for the antibiotics he sent us home with. Teddy, thin and very sweet, slept most of his final days. His back legs wobbled when he stood up, and his body swayed. Shortly, his legs would buckle beneath him. All day Sunday and Monday I read beside him while he lay on his side, occasionally lifting his head with difficulty, looking at me.
When he could no longer stand and everything had shut down—nothing in, nothing out—we put him on a quilt in the back of the Subaru and drove him to the vet. Henderson told the receptionist we were in the parking lot while I waited on the tailgate beside Teddy. Tailgate euthanasia means less hoisting and schlepping of the ailing animal. It means not having to walk in through a crowded waiting room with a live dog and then walk out, a few minutes later, with a dead one.
After a time, the vet came out with the equipment. The previous week, Teddy had bolted when the same vet inserted a needle to draw his blood, and we’d had to hold tight to keep him from squirming off the table. One week later, he didn’t even raise his head as the catheter entered his ulnar vein.
The vet asked me if I would like to inject the serum. Yes, yes, I would, I said. Two syringes were to be emptied into the catheter. The first, a tranquilizer, slowed Teddy’s breathing perceptibly.
Then, weeping steadily, I kissed the side of Teddy’s long nose and told him how much we had really loved him. I slowly pushed in the plunger of the second syringe, which was filled with a cheery, Pepto-Bismol-pink serum. He was gone instantly. We brought him home and placed him in the deep grave Henderson had dug on the hill above the house. As the sun set, we filled in the hole and drank to Teddy, Capricorn, and our first dog, Toby.
September 15: GG, the goat, can’t stand up. It has nothing to do with the dog attack. For weeks, she’s not been eating her grain. She’s been losing weight, and now her belly is bloated. She has collapsed on her side in the barn doorway. I tried lifting her front end, but her back legs don’t work, and she’s too heavy for me to lift both ends at once with my arms around her middle, sling-like. For now, I take a lawn chair and a book and sit beside her. I wrap my vest and windbreaker more tightly around me as I stroke her bony head and neck. The autumn breeze is brisk, and when the swift white clouds scuttle across the sun, the temperature drops noticeably. I zip up my jacket and keep on stroking.
Although GG is not one of my favorite goats, she has an agreeable, if bland, personality. She’s a follower—somebody has to constitute the herd. She’s prone to bloat each spring after eating the bright green, protein-rich shoots of early grass, and to relieve her, we stick a fat syringe in the side of her mouth and squirt mineral oil down her gullet. I massage her belly, the way Henderson and I do for each other, encouraging the gas bubbles around, down, and out.
September 16: Yesterday, when Henderson got home, we made a temporary sick bay by enclosing one corner of the barn with upended pallets. GG can’t rise even to evacuate, so after a day of her lying in her own urine we must drag her out, sponge her off with warm water, and prepare another corner, Cloroxing the concrete floor in the first. Her urine is foul-smelling and caustic, probably the result of ketosis, a byproduct of starvation. We roll GG onto a large piece of cardboard to use as a sled. Her belly, taut as a tick’s, doesn’t collapse to the down side, as it normally would, but stays mountained up. Her eyes bulge and roll back into their sockets, showing mostly white; her mouth drops open, exposing her bottom teeth; her tongue lolls out. I think she is going to die here and now. The pain of being moved must have taken her breath away, for she doesn’t utter a sound. I quickly douse her belly with warm water and roll her back. We haul her into the new corner so she can dry on a thick blanket of hay. GG’s rumen must be filled with tiny gas bubbles that she can’t belch up, and spasmodic dry retching has failed to bring up her cud. Her digestive system is kaput. To Henderson I say, “Enough.”
September 17: The vet has come and gone. He brought his pistol, he told me, in case I preferred that method. If we went with the poison, he said, we’d have to bury GG at least three feet under. Buthanesia is so virulent and long-lasting that it could kill any wildlife—or our dogs—if they dug her up and ate her.
Until now, I’ve enjoyed the idea that all the animals will be buried up on Hoof Hill, but it’s a romantic notion and something of an indulgence. Because I don’t have the strength in my arms and shoulders to dig a deep grave in our rocky soil, Henderson has done it while I de-rock the hole with my hands, but it’s not considerate to give a man such a chore when he comes off an eight-hour shift of heavy lifting down at the recycling plant. So, because the grave could be shallower, I considered the pistol method.
“You’d put the gun right next to her temple?”
“No,” he said, “into her eyeball.”
“Oh,” said I. “Let’s go with the poison and you can take her body and cremate it.”
The vet and I enter the barn. Belinda, Ivy, Rosemary, Daisy, and Sweet William come to greet us. In her pen, GG raises her head, her ears twitching forward with the curiosity so characteristic of goats.
I went to a livestock auction once. When the gate between the holding pens and the bidding arena was opened, the first group, the sheep, huddled in a logjam in the doorway and had to be prodded forward. But when it was time for the goats to be auctioned, each one trotted forth smartly into the arena, curiosity and perhaps an inclination to trust humans overriding caution.
I kneel down beside GG in the hay and cradle her head in my arms, gently pulling it up and toward me so that the vet has a clear shot at her jugular. I press my cheek against her nose and softly croon good-bye. In the seconds it takes to empty the syringe, her head slumps in my arms. The membrane separating life from death is so very, very thin. There are final spasms and exhalations, but the vet assures me her brain is dead. If you can put your finger right on the eyeball, he says, and the animal doesn’t blink or pull away, she’s dead. The other goats are milling around, munching hay, untroubled. I like to think of GG meeting up with Capricorn at that great grain bin in the sky, as Henderson calls it.
The vet delivers a cursory post-mortem diagnosis: caprine arthritis encephalitis—goat AIDS. Joint swelling and pain, loss of appetite, and wasting are symptoms. As we’re no longer selling their milk or breeding the goats, we’ll be their rest home—they’re all over ten years old. Knowing that their ends will likely be as swift and painless as GG’s, we can enjoy their remaining years without a cloud of worry over their final days. I dearly wish we could say that with certainty about our human loved ones.
In fact, I would prefer death to come to all of us from the tip of a needle, a toxin-filled needle that, ideally, I administer myself. So far, no vet has agreed to slip me a few prefilled syringes for home use. Buthanesia (a barbiturate given in overdose amount) is a controlled substance for good reason. If I ever get my hands on a vial, I’ll put down my husband, when his time comes, and if my time comes before his, I’ll put myself down. I’m going to figure out a way to do it, anyway. Watch me.
So we’re down to five goats, and, from the looks of it, going down fast. The very next day after the vet left, Ivy began favoring her left leg. I checked to make sure there wasn’t a stone between her toes. There wasn’t, but she’s been limping steadily. And Sweet William spends too much time on his bent front knees, as if in prayer. His legs must be arthritic and, given his great hulk, standing must be painful. It’s as though once recognized and named, this virus has gained more than a toehold.
I’ll be sorry if Ivy should go next—before, say, Daisy. Daisy has a vanilla personality stippled with black moments of sheer meanness toward the other goats and toward Ivy in particular. She’s nice enough to me—I have a photo of Daisy and me stretching our noses toward each other, practically kissing, that was taken by my sister Julie when she visited a few years ago. Daisy has the most perfect breasts, a full, pendulous udder with firm, symmetrical teats that are squeezably, milkably soft, delightful to handle. And Daisy is Henderson’s favorite goat, perhaps because she’s not my favorite. He had to stake his claim somewhere. But if she and Sweet William were to die, I’d still have my three favorite goats: Ivy, Rosemary, and Belinda.
Typically, the goats gather around me when I come through the gate, but if I make a sudden move to stroke their noses, they jerk their heads away, indicating that they’re not like dogs, slavishly groveling to be petted. They come to me and, gently, I can go to them, but sudden moves and great demonstrations of affection are politely discouraged. This is true for all the goats except Ivy.
Here’s a video of my relationship with Ivy: I am striding across the hayfield, home from my morning walk with the dogs. The goats are browsing in the orchard, under the apple trees. As I move toward them, they look up and acknowledge me with soft guttural hums. Then, one goat separates herself from the herd and begins trotting toward me across the field. It is Miss Ivy. The morning light diffuses, the image blurs, violins commence a tremolo. We are that romantic couple in the commercial of a man and a maiden approaching each other in slo-mo from opposite sides of the screen through the lilies of the field. It is Ivy and I, running toward each other—at any minute, I think, she’ll grow alarmed as my size increases and will veer off—but she keeps trotting toward me, her flanks bouncing like saddlebags. I fall to my knees, spread wide my arms, and throw them around her neck as she runs into them. She stands there, panting, while I stroke her and hug her and kiss her in the hollow between her eyeball socket and her ear (my favorite place because, being out of the way, it’s less likely to be dusty). I kiss her cheeks and she whispers in my ear that she could stand like this forever.
Rosemary, the goat I nursed, I mean bottle-fed (close enough)—Rosie’s been known to get up on her hind legs and point the top of her head (where her horns used to be) at you, which is not a friendly thing to do. She did it once to guests who were house-sitting and several times to Henderson. She’s never done it to me. I can’t blame Henderson for cooling toward her after this, though I suspect he was never going to love her because she was “my” goat from the start. I think Rosemary still considers me her mother. She plunks herself down beside my lawn chair and lets herself be gently petted, but I have to tame my ebullience with Rosie; I can’t lovingly manhandle her the way I can Ivy. But of all of the goats, Rosie’s still seated at my side when the others have moseyed on to lusher grass. It’s not the high romance I have with Ivy; ours is a natural blood bond. Or we’re an old married couple, so grounded in love that we don’t have to display it by running through the fields.
The herd queen, our first goat, is Belinda. Each morning, Belinda sets out from the barn on a foraging trip up the hill, leading her family single-file into the meadow for browsing, her alpine nose thrust forward, her lean, strong body graceful and deliberate. She leads with purpose, as if she knows exactly where the grass will be most nutritious on that particular day. After an hour or so, she lifts her head and, with equal certitude, leads them back to the barn to digest in the shade. It’s easy to imagine Belinda as a grand dame, a lady. Never silly or frivolous, never begging for attention, she stands soberly beside my chair allowing her nose to be petted. If I stop, though, she moves in closer and hangs her head into the V of my open book until I’m reading Belinda.
I’ve noticed a mean streak in Belinda that I tend to forget when extolling her noble attributes. She has it in for Ivy, her one remaining daughter. She seems to look for opportunities to ram Ivy in the side, and Ivy, defenseless and perhaps not very bright, is invariably caught completely by surprise. I scold Belinda and swat at her, but she smartly ducks away. I vow to carry a fly swatter with me to extend my reach, but I don’t. I’m trying to allow some aspects of nature to take their course. Besides, do I really want Ivy’s welfare to depend on my intercession? I’d have to be in the barn 24/7.
Including this prickly characteristic in the mix that is Belinda gives me a different take on her queendom. Perhaps she’s not even aware that the herd’s following her. Perhaps, in fact, she doesn’t give a damn. She’s not “leading her family”; no maternal instinct here, just total concentration on her own gastric needs. She’s taking herself up the hill to greener pastures. If the others follow, so be it.
This makes me wonder if, over the years, I myself have become like Belinda, if my fierce independence isn’t more a certain ruthlessness. I’ve noticed in the last few years that I lack generosity, lack the interest I had in saving mankind. My days could be characterized by a narrowing of focus, and in that way I am like Belinda.
Each morning I awaken impelled by a feeling of urgency, a powerful sense that time is running out. I don’t waste it. I march through life as though there were a deadly seriousness at the heart of it, as if it really mattered that I milk some satisfaction from each day. It does matter. It really is time-limited, life.
The ruthlessness, if that’s what it is, conceals what I’ve always known made up my gelatinous essence—wobbly self-doubt. Yet, even about my own neurosis, I lack generosity. I can’t be bothered trying to recreate dark childhood incidents that would explain a lifelong commitment to self-criticism. Even if I could, my allotment of insecurity would probably turn out to be no greater than yours. My parents were happily married for 41 years. I grew up in material comfort with intelligent people who deliberated their decisions regarding our upbringing and provided us with consistency and stability.
Daddy was charming, courtly, agreeable, funny, Harvard-educated.
Mother had a bristly personality, but I alone of the three daughters reacted poorly to it. I, alone, felt undermined by her judgments. Maybe she judged only me. Maybe she was a different person by the time I was born. Raising twins for six years could change a person, knock some of the patience out of her, sharpen her personality. Who knows? All I know is that by the time I was on my third or fourth psychiatrist, I was able to articulate my deep conviction that I had done something dreadful as a child. Killed another child. I’ve gone through life believing, as I know many people do on some level, that if “they” really knew the truth about me, I’d be in for the full-scale condemnation I surely deserve.
After reading hundreds of memoirs, my complaining about Mother’s domineering disposition and her subtle censure sounds like whining. She had a personality, is all. I reacted badly to it. If I developed corrosive self-doubt, well, I had to acquire some sort of personality as I grew up, and this is the one that evolved out of the particular alchemy of me in our family.
Besides, how could the message that it is unwise to show vulnerability have been grooved so deeply and as early as infancy? And has all the growing up I’ve done since been merely to calcify scar tissue over an original wound? Could it be that I haven’t transformed any of it into wisdom but merely buried it in layers of personality? Are we all permanently skewed by parental misdeeds in the first few years of life, living out the rest of our days as our branch was first bent? The inexorableness of this, not to mention the inevitability that my own mistakes as a parent have indelibly scarred my daughter, is overwhelming. It’s enough to make me think about putting a pistol to my eyeball.
How is it I can speak so easily about killing myself when, on a bright fall day like today, I am so very pleased to be alive? Because if I were to kill myself it would be on a rainy day, not on a day like today.
Then I realize that if I were dying, I’d be dying on the glorious days, too.
Every death takes a bite out of you until, by the time you’re old, you’re emotional Swiss cheese. Death is the dirtiest trick in the book, and frankly, it gives me pause about life. It makes me loath to play the living game if these are the rules. Of course, most of the time you wake up and find that you haven’t died, and that nobody you know has died, which lulls you into the false impression that it’s an ordered universe and that you’re in control of your life to some measure. And that is not entirely untrue. You do postpone your death by taking care, fastening your seat belt, looking both ways before crossing, not running with scissors, etc.
But to be sure the end of my life is under my control, a subterranean part of me considers killing myself now.
So here’s a video of my relationship with death: I am running just a few steps ahead of death with a knife in my hands, ready to plunge it into my heart the moment death signals me. I turn and taunt the cloaked shape behind me. “Aha!” I grin. “You thought you’d get me. Watch this. Watch this. I’ll get myself!” (My life’s metaphor—say all the bad things I can think of about myself before anyone else can, inoculating myself against censure. Immunity, after all, is a kind of control.)
So there I am, and death is marching toward me. I’m holding the knife high over my head, ready to thrust it into my abdomen. Death marches on, inexorably. Death seems to be looking at me, but in fact he’s looking at the person just over my left shoulder, and there I am grinning madly, the knife trembling in my hands. Death picks up speed, now, and dashes toward me, and just before he veers off to tap the person on my left, I plunge the knife into my belly with triumph. As he scurries past, he gives me a look that says, “Jeez. What a loony!”
In Intoxicated by My Illness, Anatole Broyard quotes Ernest Becker as saying that we achieve immortality by being “insistently and inimitably ourselves.” I don’t know if immortality is achieved, but when we are our most essential selves, we are most fully alive, and that, at least, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from death.
Belinda is insistently herself. It may be comfortingly anthropomorphic to imagine her as the herd mother—we want our mothers to have our best interests at heart—but it is probably more accurate to see her as an individual committed to her own interests. To my sometime distress, Mother was insistently herself, too. It was difficult to be the daughter of someone who was insistently herself, but perhaps because of Mother’s example, I am resolutely drawn to become my own inimitable self. What I call ruthlessness in Belinda and in myself instead may be a sort of whittling away of what is not-us, a paring down to our very pith—stripping away distractions, killing off occasions for trivial emotions. What’s essential to me now is very simple—walking with the dogs and sitting with the goats, soaking up the colors of one more autumn, reading, and writing my self into existence.
Here’s what I picture: Becoming as concentrated as a diamond. Lest that call to mind immoderate self-regard, the word nubbin is as graphic. After all the fluff’s gone, I’ll be a kernel, thoroughly myself through and through, reduced to my least divisible self, an adamantine core. All that can be divided has been divided and what is left is the number one—the irreducible I—the only thing with which to assert life against the bleak inevitability of death.
You wouldn’t expect to receive one of life’s great lessons during a regular dental prophylaxis, but a few months ago I found myself in the dentist’s chair, my mouth open, tears leaking into it. My hygienist was describing the recent death of her beloved dog. It was the same week Teddy died, so my tears were ready. For weeks after putting down her old dog, my hygienist had grieved. Then one day, her husband, a police detective in a small city outside of Binghamton, New York, a man with uncommon perspicacity, brought home a puppy. His wife reached out eagerly to accept the wriggling Springer spaniel. Her husband held the puppy back for a few seconds and looked into his wife’s eyes.
“There is a beginning and there is an end,” he said gently. Then, placing the plump ball of flesh and fur in her arms, he said, “This is the beginning.”
About the author:
Lucy Wilson Sherman is the author of the memoir “Laying Foundations: A Year Building a Life While Rebuilding a Farmhouse,” the story of an unlikely couple—mismatched intellectually, socially, racially—who renovate an abandoned farmhouse in northeast Pennsylvania. She is also the author of Uncommon Appetites, a collection of personal essays. She holds an MFA degree from Goddard College. She lives with her husband on the farm they rebuilt in Susquehanna, PA, where, after twenty-five years of nearly continuous home improvement, they are launched once more on a whole new renovation project.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Lucy Wilson Sherman
Rust Never Sleeps, but Sometimes It Naps
By Jeff Katz
My ambivalence towards Neil Young is mirrored by my mixed emotions to go to Albany’s Palace Theatre for the first show of his “Twisted Road” solo tour. The idea of driving over an hour in the rain, followed invariably by the pitch black and sleepy late night return home takes much of the fun out of the event. But off we went, my 17-year-old son and me.
We got there early enough, we thought, a full two hours before the 8 o’clock start. Walking out in the cold rain for a place to eat proved to be a challenge. It would’ve been easy to eat off site, and then drive to the Palace, but the anxiety of searching for a parking spot as show time (or game time) approaches is one of my least favorite feelings. Gotta get there early and park, food be damned! We ended up sitting at a bar. Good enough.
Young’s opener on this tour is Bert Jansch. Jansch is no two-bit unknown. He’s a pivotal figure in 1960s’ British folk, part of the great Pentangle and huge influence on Donovan and Jimmy Page. You know that acoustic bit on Zeppelin’s first album, “Black Mountain Side”? Well, it’s such a rip-off of Jansch’s recording of “Blackwaterside” that Bert was encouraged to sue the band. He probably would have won (as Willie Dixon did when he sued for credit and royalties, and settled out of court, for the band’s lifting of his tune “You Need Love” for their own “Whole Lotta Love”), but Jansch just didn’t have the funds to go up against the deep pocketed metal men.
During Jansch’s opening set, some dude kept yelling “Neil!” at every opportune moment of low volume. It was a strange call and would vary: “Where’s Neil?” “Come on Neil,” “Neil.” It wasn’t your standard taunting; it had a sense of desperation and confusion, like a baby perplexed by a game of peek-a-boo. Without the clear presence of the headliner, this screaming nut job seemed truly fearful that Neil wasn’t there. Was he mentally disturbed, rude or drug-addled?
I’ve found Neil Young fans to be certifiably crazy. There was the one who told me, “When you think about it, Neil Young is better than Bob Dylan.” That’s like stating, unequivocally, that mud tastes better than pizza. Then, there was the guy next to me at a December 2008 show, who out of the blue loudly announced, “I came for the sugar cookies.” (More on that via the link below).
Jansch put on a solid performance and, after an inexplicably long delay (after all, there wasn’t much of a set change with Jansch sitting in a chair alone with a guitar), Neil Young strolled on stage slowly and took a seat. After a series of false starts, the show took off in earnest with an acoustic version of “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue),” followed by “Tell Me Why” and “Helpless.” Then, a trio of mind-numbingly awful new songs sucked the enthusiasm from the proceedings. Young’s recent originals just plain suck. The last of this mini-set, “Love and War” brought some excitement back.
It was drugs. Mid-way through “Love and War,” the Event Staff came and got the yelling dude, who had continued to cry for Neil, even after he appeared. His female companion was ticked off, struggling and fighting off security, who were more than happy to carry her away. They both paraded by me, she pissed off, he on another planet. There’s $260 down the drain.
Is there another major figure of the rock era with such an abundance of crap in their catalog as Neil Young? It’s gotta be 50 percent lousy. The 1980’s were a full decade of awful records, until the brief resurgence in 1989 and 1990 with the double shot of Freedom and Ragged Glory. Then, mostly garbage. His best albums of the last twenty years came in 2006 and 2007 and were releases of early 1970’s concerts.
Momentum was regained with a switch to electric guitar and rousing versions of “Down by the River” and “Ohio,” but when Young sat down at the upright piano and pounded out “Leia,” a song for his granddaughter (I assume), I wished I was somewhere else. I couldn’t even muster polite applause. Dreadful, but the stoned and ‘shroom-filled went wild.
Again, redemption came with a classic, “After the Gold Rush,” played on a small pump organ. The staging was lovely with keyboards spaced from left to right, cigar store Indian looming between. Pianos and organ were under the glow of the best lamps I’ve seen the Talking Heads “Stop Making Sense” tour.
At this point, even Neil Young got fed up with the incessant calling of his name and songs.
“I know, I know,” he said with exasperation and, with a nod to a song he didn’t play, “64 and there’s so much more.” Then he launched into my own favorite, “Cortez the Killer,” and all was right with the world. A scorching “Cinnamon Girl” and that was all she wrote for the show proper.
His encore began with, “Walk with Me.” Do you remember Dan Aykroyd’s old SNL character Leonard Pinth-Garnell? He was host of “Bad Cinema” and used to say things like, “That wasn’t so good, was it?” Well, that came to mind. Then, as on the original album Rust Never Sleeps, he ended where he began, “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” electrified. Nicely done.
As he strummed his Gretsch White Falcon at the onset of the encore, Neil Young spoke.
“It’s amazing how they’re all exactly the same. It’s the same song over and over again.”
That sums it up for me. There’s brilliance and boredom, original songs and formulaic songs. As always a mixed bag and I ended the night the same as I began, not quite sure what I make of Neil Young.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Neil Young
On the network news that night, the town where the shootings took place, which is the town where you live, is characterized as sleepy, bucolic, a company town where people look out for one another. The immigrant community – the shooter was Vietnamese – is described as small, though it doesn’t seem small to you, who have lived your whole life here – it seems large, and growing. Residents are declared to be in a state of shock, but most of the people you have encountered today, at the post office or the grocery store, though they might express shock, don’t seem shocked at all. You can’t blame them for this – why should the fact that it happened here be any more shocking than if it happened anywhere else? Yet your own lack of shock seems like a shortcoming. It is an unstated point of pride with you that you don’t manufacture or express emotions to conform with others’ expectations of what you should be feeling; but right now you’d like to feel more than you do.
The weather was supposed to be good, so you stayed home from work to clean the yard. Shortly after you got back from dropping your daughter off at the high school in the morning, she called to say she had forgotten her violin, which she needed for orchestra. No hurry – she didn’t have orchestra until the afternoon – so you helped your wife with the breakfast dishes, drank a second cup of coffee, read the sports section, then drove back across town with the instrument. The day is crisp and sunny; buds are appearing on the trees, and though the grass is not yet growing, it has turned a vivid green. As you near the school, you see street barricades and flashing lights down the block, but think nothing of it. At the rear door to the school – the delivery door, usually unlocked and unattended, which you use to avoid going through the metal detector and being issued a visitor’s badge by the cop at the desk at the main entrance – you are met by an excited blond woman you know vaguely, a secretary at the school, who tells you there’s been a fatal shooting at the American Civic Association. She says that hostages have been taken. The Civic Association is around the corner from the high school. The blond woman tells you the school is under lockdown: she will let you in, if you’d like, but you won’t be able to get out.
Looking at this woman’s round, flushed, expectant face, you are a bit dazed; then you feel the mind-clearing interest and relief that come in the moment when reality shifts and your routine is disrupted.
Your daughter will not be needing her violin today.
You will not be cleaning the yard.
You return to your car and begin the drive home, trying without success to find some news on the radio. You notice a helicopter circling in the clear blue sky overhead.
Shootings, though hardly common here, are common enough; but you can’t recall anyone having been taken hostage. The hostage aspect, and the fact that whatever is happening is happening at the Civic Association, already give the event some context. The Civic Association provides services to immigrants. English and citizenship classes are held there, as well as cultural events – a garlic festival takes place each June in its parking lot. Your mind begins to entertain various violent scenarios, having to do with the difficulties of adjusting to American life, nativist hostility towards newcomers, inscrutable foreign feuds transported whole to upstate New York.
When you get home, your wife is upstairs in the shower. You are reluctant to break the news to her, anticipating the puzzlement, the embarassed expectation, on both sides, to react. You sit on the couch and flip through the television channels, still looking for some news.
Then the phone rings. It’s your wife’s brother, calling from Texas. He is on the edge of hysteria. Driving to work, he heard on the radio of a mass shooting and hostage situation in your town. Fifteen people are dead. Like you, your brother-in-law is a native of this place. You assure him that the family – the very large extended family – is fine. Of course, you have no way, at this point, of knowing with absolute certainty that this is true; but how could it be otherwise? Calming your brother-in-law takes some time. A few minutes after you hang up, your wife comes downstairs, toweling her hair. She asks who called.
Suddenly, the story is all over the television. The coverage is both local and national – the networks already have correspondents on the scene – and for the next two hours, you and your wife sit at either end of the couch and watch. The situation is ongoing. Fourteen dead – your brother-in-law’s figure was high – have been removed from the building; but the building has not yet been secured. SWAT teams are moving through the building room by room. There has been no communication with the gunman, or gunmen – on Fox, there is speculation that there may be more than one. As many as forty people remain in remote areas of the building. It is unclear whether any of them are being held hostage.
You have heard nothing from your daughter. The public has been asked to refrain from the use of cell phones so that the frequencies will be open for emergency communication. On Fox, someone suggests that the gunman, or gunmen, may have escaped the Civic Association building and be on the loose. You are not worried – even if this is true, what are the odds of him– of them– getting into the school?
In mid-afternoon, with the news coverage tending to repeat itself, you walk to the post office and the grocery store. When you get back, there is still no word from your daughter. You dial her cell phone, and hear a ringing in the kitchen. You find her phone on the kitchen counter, hooked up to its charger. You decide to do some yard work after all. As you rake a winter-hardened ridge of leaves from alongside the garage, you can see the helicopter continuing to circle over downtown. You are loading an armful of dead branches into a garbage can when a car pulls into the driveway and your daughter gets out.
The newswoman who refers to your town as bucolic reported from Ground Zero on 9/11 and from inside the Super Dome during Hurricane Katrina. Now she is reporting live to the nation from a picturesque streetcorner in this “company town” – but the fact is that the company is virtually gone, the population is half what it was fifty years ago, and the mostly vacant downtown, where many people no longer feel safe walking at night, is struggling, with the help of state grants, to transform itself into an arts center. All over the television dial, famous faces are trying to explain what happened today in your town. In this saturation news coverage, you feel a perverse sense of pride, a proper sense of shame, and a powerful sense of the transitory – this attention, which somehow seems worth holding onto, will shortly be withdrawn.
Your daughter was brought home from school by the mother of one of her friends. The students had been confined to their classrooms all day. They had been served pizza and bottled water and watched movies. They were not allowed to listen to news – there was concern that some of the students might have relatives in the Civic Association building – but your daughter could see the building, and the commotion there, from her classroom. There had been talk among the kids about having to spend the night at school, but in fact they had been dismissed at the usual time. Apparently, by then the danger had passed.
Most of her schoolmates, your daughter reports, ignored the request that they stay off their cell phones; but she is otherwise uncharacteristically gentle in her assessment of the conduct of students, teachers and administrators during the lockdown. Your daughter is an only child. You had her late in life, after years of trying – in fact, you had given up trying. She is an excellent student who hates school; but she hates it for all the right reasons, and even in this you are proud of her.
A news conference comes on the television, live from City Hall. You flip through several channels, and see the same image on each of them: a somber lineup of public officials standing shoulder to shoulder behind a lectern topped by a bank of microphones. Though only the public officials and the backs of the heads of the front row reporters are on screen, you can tell that the room is crowded. At the lectern, the mayor speaks haltingly, the governor eloquently, their words punctuated by the clicking of cameras. The chief of police provides what details he can. At nine fifteen that morning, a Civic Association client, still not positively identified (though his name is all over the national news), barricaded the rear door of the Association’s headquarters with a borrowed car. He then entered the front door armed with two semi-automatic pistols. He shot two receptionists, killing one. Next, he went to a classroom. In less than a minute, he fired ninety-eight rounds, killing a teacher and eleven students. Then he turned a gun on himself. Four other people were wounded. Two of those are in critical condition. Thirty-seven people who were in the building at the time of the assault barricaded themselves in the basement. They remained there for three hours until police finally entered the building. Contrary to earlier reports, at no point had anyone been held hostage. There is no evidence that there was more than one shooter. The shooter’s motive is unknown. The guns were legally obtained. Asked to describe the scene in the classroom, the chief refers to it as “unbelievable” and leaves it at that. Counseling has been made available to any law enforcement or emergency personnel who feel the need to talk to someone. The chief’s predictable characterization of the shooter’s suicide as “cowardly” strikes you as a misstep – if the perpetrator, instead of killing himself, had shot it out with the police, would the chief have called him brave? – but for the most part it’s an impressive performance. You know the chief slightly. He’s been chief for less than a year. He seems to you to have grown in the job.
When the officials are done speaking, the camera moves to a young reporter for a local station. She is frantically preparing for her turn on camera, which she doesn’t realize has begun. She brushes back her hair, checks her notes, fumbles with her microphone. She is talking, to someone off camera, or to herself; she looks towards the camera for a sign. Even when she begins to speak to the camera – to you – her veneer of professionalism is too thin, her ambition too apparent. The utter falseness of her position seems somehow to parallel your own. When she refers to the community’s shock, you change the channel.
The news is over, but you and your daughter continue to sit in the living room, watching television. Outside, it is growing dark.
Your wife is in the kitchen, making a late dinner.
She is a fine cook.
She is still beautiful.
You have been lucky in your life.
Every night, you and your wife and daughter have dinner together. You do not have many family rules, but this is one.
Tomorrow, you will go out of town on business for the day. When people hear where you’re from, they will offer their condolences, and you will find yourself in the same position as the public officials and newscasters, the headline writers and editorialists, having to say something.
Tomorrow, or the next day, a list of victims will be published. You will scan the list for a familiar name. Obituaries and profiles of the dead will appear in the newspaper. Reading about their lives, their places in the community, the reactions and recollections of those they’ve left behind, you will begin to feel a little bit of what you are supposed to be feeling.
You sit in the living room and watch television.
Your wife tells you it is time for dinner.
David Cody is a married father of five and 1975 graduate of Binghamton University. He retired in 2005 as Deputy Commissioner of the Broome County Parks and Recreation Department, and coaches track and cross country at Binghamton High School. His fiction has appeared in The Seattle Review.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on David Cody
HOW DOES IT FEEL?
How does a god feel when
trees and bushes turn green
without asking for his blessing?
How does a tree feel
when its leaves start turning pale?
How do the pale leaves feel when
the tree starts letting go of them?
How does a breeze feel
when a lull stops it in its tracks?
How does a star feel when
being slowly snuffed out by dawn?
How does a window feel when night comes
and it has nothing to show outside?
How does a door feel when
there’s no one to keep out?
How does a car feel with the hood up
standing idle by the road?
How does a page feel left blank?
How does a bird feel high in the sky
on suddenly forgetting how to fly?
How does a fish feel
about the world above the surface?
How does a pen feel when words
walk off the page and fly unaided
over a puddle of eyes and ears?
How does a feeling feel
in a paralyzed breast
running out of sighs?
MY WINTER IN DEBRECZEN
(Egy telem Debreczenben) By Sándor Petőfi,
translated from the Hungarian by Paul Sohar
Hey, you town of Debreczen,
how often you taunt my mind
with the suffering you gave to me!..
And yet you remain
a beloved and kind
guest in my memory.
A papist I am surely not,
yet I fasted there a lot.
Good thing the gods made mortal teeth
out of bone by wise design. No doubt,
had my teeth been made of steel,
they would’ve surely rusted out.
In the middle of a raw
winter of snow and sleet
my stove ran out of straw
and I slept without a whiff of heat.
Putting on my worn-out set
of rags I could easily recite
with the gypsy caught in a net:
“Must be real cold outside!”
The only help to me
was my poetry!
But how to record my riff
with fingers frozen stiff?
At last I hit upon the very thing,
kept my fingers twisted tight
around my always burning pipe,
till the welcome breeze of spring.
And what got me through the fast,
I’d fasted much worse in the past.
Egy telem Debrecenben
Ha rád emlékezem!…
Sokat szenvedtem én tebenned,
Oly jól esik nekem,
Ha rád emlékezem, –
Pápista nem vagyok.
És mégis voltak böjtjeim, pedig nagyok.
Jó, hogy az embernek csontfoga van,
Ezt bölcsen rendelék az istenek,
Mert hogyha vas lett volna a fogam,
A rozsda ette volna meg.
Aztán a télnek kellő közepében
S hideg szobában alvám.
Ha fölvevém kopott gubám,
Mint a cigány, ki a hálóból néze ki:
“Juj, be hideg van odaki’!”
S az volt derék,
Ujjam megdermedt a hidegben,
És ekkor mire vetemedtem?
Hát mit tehettem egyebet?
Míg a fagy végre engedett.
Ez ínségben csak az vigasztala,
Hogy ennél már nagyobb ínségem is vala.
(Nemzeti dal) by Sándor Petőfi,
translated from the Hungarian by Paul Sohar
Rise you Magyars, heed the call!
It’s now or never, do not stall!
Shall we live enslaved or free?
Choose your chains or liberty.
On the God of Hungary
No more chains for us to bear!
Too long we have been prisoners,
The victims of an evil curse.
Our forebears lived and died unbound,
hey cannot rest in servile ground.
On the God of Hungary
No more chains for us to bear!
Only a knave is too afraid
To perish in his country’s aid
And values his wretched life above
His homeland’s honor and its love.
On the God of Hungary
No more chains for us to bear!
The sword is brighter than the chain,
The arm looks better in its flame.
Then why the shackles tied on fast?
Let us grab our swords at last!
On the God of Hungary
No more chains for us to bear!
Hungary will shine again,
Worthy of its golden name;
We shall wash it clean of dirt
Smeared on it by years’ of hurt!
On the God of Hungary
No more chains for us to bear!
In our graveyard on a hill,
On their knees our children will
Bless our tombstones and declaim
On them every holy name.
On the God of Hungar We swear,
No more chains for us to bear!
Talpra magyar, hí a haza!
Itt az idő, most vagy soha!
Rabok legyünk vagy szabadok?
Ez a kérdés, válasszatok! –
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Rabok voltunk mostanáig,
Kik szabadon éltek-haltak,
Szolgaföldben nem nyughatnak.
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Sehonnai bitang ember,
Ki most, ha kell, halni nem mer,
Kinek drágább rongy élete,
Mint a haza becsülete.
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Fényesebb a láncnál a kard,
Jobban ékesíti a kart,
És mi mégis láncot hordtunk!
Ide veled, régi kardunk!
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
A magyar név megint szép lesz,
Méltó régi nagy hiréhez;
Mit rákentek a századok,
Lemossuk a gyalázatot!
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
Hol sírjaink domborulnak,
És áldó imádság mellett
Mondják el szent neveinket.
A magyarok istenére
Esküszünk, hogy rabok tovább
(Pest, 1848. március 13.)
(This poem, written in March 1848 and recited by the poet at public gatherings, ignited a revolution against the Hapsburg rule over Hungary. Footnote by the translator.)
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Paul Sohar
Trains: The Memorial
(for Michele & Sarrah)
I am going home on Sunday,
to what is now called “Little Portugal,”
but it will always be
Down Neck to me.
Nicknamed for the way the Passaic curves to form
the shape of a neck: My town,
I am going home to Newark’s Penn Station, crowded with people, and their bags,
and their tired crying babies, their annoyances, excitement, impatience,
boredom, and the loud inaudible announcements, as arrival and departure
times shuffle and spin on the boards above.
I am at your house, now.
The tide brings sounds of
water splashing against rocks.
There is peace here,
not like the station.
I think of balancing on
train tracks, of jumping over third rails.
There is a freedom in being twelve
and walking tracks.
Even in hunting season, at my grandmother’s house
down South, with shots going off in the background,
there was no fear.
Life belonged to me.
The tracks held secrets of
places I might go,
of people strange and wonderful:
My own yellow brick road.
So many times I walked those tracks unconcerned
about oncoming trains,
or third rails,
or the way that trains always seem so far away.
It’s an optical illusion, you know.
Not like playing chicken,
when Michele stayed on too long
and then froze,
just stopped and froze and stared right at the train.
It wasn’t playing chicken.
And we all screamed so loud for her to “jump,
jump now” that our throats hurt the next day.
And everything seemed a dream, the ambulance,
the police, the questions, words
At that moment my youth slipped out of me
and I was old,
twelve and old.
Tired, without vision.
Tired, without substance.
There is rhythm in trains,
I have triumphs.
I have made it to 46. That is my accomplishment.
Michele remains twelve.
Forty-six hangs sadly in my closet with my other minor
feats that are all wrong, and belong to last season.
Breathing, thinking, existing:
these belong to me.
Words pile up outside
We miss her.
It was meant to happen.
God wanted her.
She’s in a better place.
did it happen to her because
she was the last in line?
What if she were first? Leading and not following?
If she were slower, or faster?
Or lighter, or heavier?
Or she woke up earlier and didn’t
miss her appointment?
Perhaps, if she were only a bit more
Deborah LaVeglia lives in Cranford, NJ. She is director of PoetsWednesday, the longest-running poetry series in New Jersey (founded by Edie Eustice in 1978). Deborah has been published in Negative Capability, Paterson Literary Review, Lips, Big Hammer, Arbella, and Edison Literary Review. She loves doing workshops in the schools, and has featured in many readings throughout NJ, NY & PA.
June 20, 2010 Comments Off on Deborah LaVeglia