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.
         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.