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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Robert Rauschenberg



Bloody Hell

I feel wounded. As if he is throwing darts and the board is my long life. I was one of those kids who referred to “back when I was a kid” when I was twelve or thirteen, sensible early on to having a past, I think. Well, I certainly have one now, along with all the other boomers.

I spent election night in a motel room in Palatka, a tiny town in north-central Florida. (That probably sounds worse than it was; the motel was fine and I had a view of the St. John’s River from my room.) I was on my way to a poetry conference at the Atlantic Center for the Arts and in a great mood. Like so many Americans I turned on the TV around seven to watch the returns. (I’d voted for Bernie in the primary, then Hilary, of course.) Within hours I was riveted to the reports— alarmed, disbelieving, and increasingly sad. I fell asleep around mid-night, then woke up at 3am, turned the news back on and watched until sunrise. I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach and when I went down to the breakfast buffet at 6am to stock up on caffeine, I felt wary of the others getting their scrambled eggs. Were they on the other side? The few people in the dining area seemed suspiciously cheerful to me. The night of November 8th and the morning of the 9th were only a few months ago, but it seems much longer to me. Well, I’ve got all these wounds, haven’t I? I’ve been losing blood.

These darts are so numerous and well described by others that I’ll only get into one or two of them in this space of mine: The man who would be king doesn’t read books. How can someone who doesn’t read books be President of the United States? I could see that happening in a monarchy—some schmuck inheriting the title and proceeding to rule until he’s overthrown, murdered, or manages his court (or someone manages his court) well enough for him to die a natural death. I’m personally offended that my countrymen and countrywomen elected to office someone who doesn’t, and clearly hasn’t bothered, to read. At least he watches people who do read on TV. There’s that. What minimal effort he makes to be informed, to be educated! His degree must have been a near miss. Of course, he was a college kid a long time ago, a long time ago. Maybe he read back then; various arts of deals and maybe smut. Has he read any poets, I wonder? Any at all?

His hair is a dart. Yep. I’m hurt that our so-called leader does that thing with his hair. Even Martin Van Buren’s Victorian muttonchops weren’t as silly and besides, stylish men were all doing that to their cheeks in 1837.  But Donald Trump’s hair is uniquely his own. Lots of men still try for comb-overs, (I don't think they should) but not swoops and swirls and flashes of brilliant gold.

I become mesmerized by his hand gestures if I watch him too long. I’ve even practiced doing them myself and if I still choreographed dances, might steal them for a “hand dance.”

Why does he wear such long ties? Does he think that does something for his figure?

My brother Peter has an idea for a Saturday Night Live sketch: DJT has been in office for a year and he looks exactly the same, but his cohorts, members of the opposition party, reporters, and late night talk show hosts have all aged—gone colorless, stooped, baggy-eyed, exhausted. It would be a good sketch in the hands of the SNL crew, I think.

I’m trying and miserably failing to take in less of his daily insults. I’ll make an effort again today to become thicker-skinned so that this American horror show going on in our country doesn’t pierce me quite so forcefully. I’ve already become anemic from loss of blood and they’ve only had a few months since that dreadful night in Palatka. The Resistance helps me the most. The crowds on TV, the small but dedicated people who I can join in protest in my smugly red town, my friends who do read books, the press, columnists, the comedians (especially, I think, Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers) and the defenses to his brand of abuse that I’ve found all my life in books. In so many ways I am the books I’ve read and loved. Walt Whitman is on my nightstand these days and I’ve just finished George Saunders' miraculous novel. I have a vast cabinet of remedies; iron pills to shore me up against this attack against my humanity and against your humanity (it’s happening, you know, whether or not you feel threatened.)

Look at this! I was going to keep this light; haircuts, thrown-over wives, things of that ilk (I never got to his unbelievably unenlightened sexism, did I?) and now I’m on about humanity. Blame it on what I’ve been reading. Blame it on Walt Whitman—he can take it.



Tuesday, February 07, 2017

My Dad's Irish side:


Strength & Luck


         There’s no food in Ireland for Patrick Kennedy. He slogs with the other starving over the wintry road to Kingston port, hands the man his bit of coin earned working with the lordship’s horses. And up the gangway to ride the groaning bucking ship across the Irish Sea. Near to frozen in the open air he hears screams from the freezing below decks. A rotten beam has cracked, shattered, broken the back of a mother. The damn ship docks in Liverpool’s crazed harbor with sloppy, exhausted triumph.
         So Patrick’s in amid the shoving, bellowing, crying mass of countrymen lost in the dirty alleys snaking from wharf to dark city. A churchwoman offers bread and weak ale, saving him, he supposes—he’s that hungry. To sleep then, in a heap where he stumbles. The night brings him a dream of his father, still lively and digging up stones. Morning and an English pulls him by the arm back to the docks, signs him on and so he’s a stevedore—him, a boy whose life had been stallions, mares, and colts. Liverpool smothers in coal ash and fear’s roiling anger.
         When Patrick’s had enough of the place and the place has had enough of him, he scrimps the fare (gone low it has for the thousands and for the shipping lines wanting to carry them) and boards a steamship bound for New York City. At least that’s what they tell him—he can’t read the paper ticket, but he’s paid for it and takes his chances.
         The crossing is hell plain and simple, the only good being the end of it— a hundred or so poor souls with typhus ferried to hospital on Ward’s Island. His luck with him or so he thinks, he’s in the mass of them crowding down the gangplank. A cursing bastard in uniform grabs him by the neck, pushes him onto a cart. By sunrise he’s in uniform himself.  Patrick’s a private in the Union Army. Whatever the hell it is, whatever the hell the fight is about, he holds a rifle and boots too big for him are on his feet—he is in it now.
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         Because Patrick Kennedy survived the potato famine, the refugee frenzy in Liverpool, the rats aboard the City of Manchester, and the American Civil War to raise a family with Catherine, née McCarthy, I am here to write these things down about my great-great grandfather, born in Dunganstown, Wexford County, Ireland, 1836, dead in Richmond County, Staten Island, New York, 1888.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Political Poem






As if to ask if I'm okay,
as if to ask aren't we the same two
on this wet December morning
as ever, as yesterday, a month ago even,
she shoots me a look as I stand by the bed,
then her sane mild brown eyes soften
when I stoop to scratch her belly.

I've just had a few minutes of cable news, sitting with my first cup of coffee out in the Florida room. Earlier (five am, again) my eyes popped open alert to vulgar men in blue suits and red ties trooping through my bedroom, my defiant bedroom— wallpapered with roses spilling from vines strewn about but vaguely climbing (dark red blousy blooms, tender buds, smallish, on an utterly comforting light brown ground, the greens tending olive) hung with photos of family, living
and dead; a cloth-covered board crammed with people I need to see and think about often; prints only I need to love; an oil my father painted for me 
(a realistic image of an imagined river town in old Europe) another oil of a seafront painted for me by a friend in England to remember my time in England; my diploma from Juilliard (fragile with age) shelves for books. The books need more shelves, their own poem, dusting. 
There's a large window in front of my desk and outside a chaos of palms, ferns, mismatched pavers, pots, the synthetic green of the garden hose looped around
a dull metal holder nailed to an enormous old stump and there's a birdbath, empty this morning, but a few mornings ago— a goldfinch!  
My bedroom holds tight. Resists.

As if the way I keep things is a worthy resistance,
as if digging my heels in like Blossom does when she wants our walk
to go another way will have weight like she can have weight
when she marshals her ten pounds to object, to refuse, believing in that moment
that she'll get her way, have her say in things, prevail.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lavender, A Liberal


Lavender, a Liberal

Betty, batty from hormones, in a fanciful fit,
named her daughter Lavender. Husband Don winced.
Brothers Donald, John, Billy, and Tom 
were puzzled and pleased by this sister, this girl,
who was a little bit like them, yet not like them at all.

Each night and most afternoons Betty told Lavender
stories, sang her songs, opened books full of pictures
where stout hearts bamboozled evildoers that lurked,
and rags became ball gowns glowing with pink.
Poor maids, Auroras, Swan Queens and their ilk
with true lovers, often princes, used cunning and tricks
to free castles from brambles, lift spells, smote the slick.

As happens, Lavender grew grown, moved on and away
from her mother's fine songs to live songs of her own.
She searched for a prince, found several at least,
vanquished evils and weasels, fiercely scolded some trolls,
got caught in the muck, found her footing, soldiered through.
No castles came calling; never mind she made homes.

With mostly good luck, Lavender aged right up to old.
Though her body got cranky, she kept close to her heart
certain fluttery trills and persistent wisps
of fast stallions,
wise wizards,
dances, feasts,
and folks loving loud--
as dead dragons smoldered in heaps on their hills.


Monday, October 10, 2016

I wrote this the morning after the second presidential debate.

We Never Left
Pablo Picasso's Guernica

Above our bellies we are beautiful women with luscious breasts. Where there is skin, believe me, it is flawless, irresistible. Most of us have long hair, but there are some among us who keep their heads close cropped for aerodynamic considerations. Although I admire the clean strong skulls they present to the universe, I let my hair grow long—I enjoy the feeling of silk against my back when I crouch and in the air it waves behind me in a seductive banner, an inexplicable radiance your scientists cannot explain. We all have red hair.

Below we are feathered beings except, that is, for our claws. These are all bared now, sharpened and ready to do violence. Never before have we had such an army. For one thousand one hundred and sixteen years we have been gathering in caves hidden from human understanding. None of you believe in us, but we do not need your faith to manifest again. We only need our anger and it has reached full force. I confess to you that we have needed to rest. The first five thousand years or so of what you call civilization had utterly depleted our will to engage with you, but that will is this day replenished. For those of you who do not oppress, manipulate, humiliate, lie, steal, or murder, life will continue in much the same way. Even if you stand by silently and sadly, accepting abhorrent conditions as normal, (as humans in overwhelming numbers have always come to do) doing nothing useful, we will not attack you. You are not our priority.

We will rake the guilty as they sleep, night after night for as long as it takes until, finally, fear of these nightmare punishments will bend evildoers toward respect for the wisdom of the most ancient laws, known and repeatedly defied by humankind. We Harpies will torment the power-mad and the violent until they yowl in terror and give up their catastrophic hold over civilization. Once again epic poems will be written and sagas will be proclaimed by storytellers around tribal bonfires. Earth will return to glory and sated, we will return to our peaceful caves to rest, claws retracted, spirits ever watchful.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016




I can’t do this anymore and I don’t mind. I'm as old as I feel and as young as I feel. How I feel changes from moment to moment and it has always been that way for me, for you, for Blossom my dog, for the wild mustang leaping over a narrow gully or peacefully grazing next to his sweetheart. Right now, sitting at my desk, I can summon the sensual, emotional, musical experience of that jump and I’m grateful to the photographer because I also have the image to keep and look at now and then.

In the photo I was 21, a senior at Juilliard, performing Martha Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” (music by Norman Della Joio,) at Lincoln Center. On the program I was called “The Girl in Red.” I loved dancing that part; I’m smiling now as I write about it, a newly minted 67 year-old. I had a birthday yesterday. With each birthday I feel a little like Alice peering down the rabbit hole. What is being this age like? I want to act like it, I want to be like it.

One of my earliest memories is of telling my friend, Sherry Oviatt, “I know it because I am four and you are only three.” (I don’t remember what the “it” was.) Children are hugely impressed by ages, aren’t they? Well, so are adults, (some more, some less) only they have a funny way of wanting to mask this interest, at least once they reach the middle muddle and beyond. But we do notice. Newspapers reliably give a person’s age, although whether someone accused of burglary is 36 or 38 can’t be all that important can it? If one is famous these days there is no hiding birthdates, no matter what one does to one’s cheeks.

I do have to yell at myself sometimes. Disarray happens as we age and this creepy shame about it is nonsense I say to myself. Sagging, wrinkling, slowing, fumbling, more trips to the doctor, brain farts, having to dress the peasant’s body I always knew was there in my genes are all age-appropriate for me and entirely decent. I intend to continue with dignity. Absobloodylutely.

When I was 21 I wasn’t fearful about sickness or senility, but I was fearful about failure as a dancer, as a lover, as friend, student, and oh, yes, daughter. (I never worried about being a good sister, though. I had that.) Little fears tripped me up incessantly. Cooking baffled me. Around certain people I felt incredibly stupid. I’d always been a bookworm, but there were so many books to go!

And clothes! “I all alone beweep my outcast state,” pretty much sums up how I felt about my wardrobe. I don’t fear failure (having tumbled through my share and surfaced again) and little things rarely trip me up with the kind of terror I’d sometimes experience at 21. I’ve had a wonky heart for years and my mind does befuddle itself, but what the hell? If it goes, it goes, eh? Right now, on this exquisite Wednesday at 11:03 I can think, enjoy, continue to 11:04. Ah, it’s here already…