Archive for November 2010

Hives on Thanksgiving   Leave a comment

We moved from Grand Coulee, Washington to Oregon when I was 14 years old. The Teamsters Union could not prevent my dad from being laid off from his job on the Grand Coulee Dam where he and his two brothers, Dutch and Fred, worked construction building a road across the top of the dam. I can’t remember if the road was completed or if the job stalled, or why my parents did not stay in Washington and look for work. Some things I never thought to ask and now my parents are both gone. Our adventure began with my parents deciding that Oregon seemed like a nice state to live in, and the belief that my father could find work driving a logging truck. We set off without a town in mind. We would choose the right one when we saw it. We drove to Portland. It was too big, so we continued south looking for a place to settle. My younger brothers were three and six years old. Bill the youngest began washing the car windows with kleenex. He would spit and clean, and spit and clean. Mom began to think that Bill was picking up on the stress of trekking into the unknown with nothing but what we had with us, and that he was doing something he could control like obsessively washing the car windows. Either that or he was just a bored three year old. We had only lived in Washington for six months when Dad’s job ended. I has started school in Grand Coulee and ended my 8th grade year there in 1970, but we moved across the Columbia River to a different small town,  and I began my Freshman year at a school in Coulee Dam, and had just started to feel okay about moving away from Chadron, Nebraska where I’d left all my grade school friends at the Assumption Academy, and  just as my new classmates began to feel like friends, we loaded up like the Beverly Hillbillies minus the black gold and moved to Oregon. I think it was on this road trip that we stopped at a motel and dad said to mom, “Go in and get us a room.”

Mom said, “I’m not going in, I’m a mess.”

Dad said to my older sister, “Becky, you go in. ”

She said, “I don’t wanna go in.”

My three year old brother said, “Sonabitch, I go in.”

We finally landed in Lebanon, Oregon and lived there for six months. My father never found a job.  My mom worked sporadically, hardly any hours, at a little market near our house, our cold drafty house. I joined the swim team, we were on food stamps, I bought a red peace sign about the size of a basketball and hung it in my bedroom window.

The week before Thanksgiving, my mom said, “I think we will have chicken for Thanksgiving.”

“No turkey?” I said devastated. “How can we have Thanksgiving without turkey?”

We had turkey. And that afternoon on that rainy Thanksgiving, I broke out with hives. Never had them before or since, but I think it was the day I realized how poor we really were. My sister and I took a walk, then Becky and I sat on the bed, wrapped in blankets, reading from mom’s big book of prose and poetry. We read Edgar Allen Poe stories aloud to each other and poems about the road less traveled and the loveliness of trees. That winter my mother taught my dad how to read with a book she found at the library called, “Why Johnny Can’t Read.”

Christmas came, and somehow, my mom had presents for us. Mine was a slim book of poetry. My sister, Becky,  had recently moved to Seattle. She took a civil service exam and was thrilled to begin a new job as a government telephone operator transferring important calls overseas. Becky bought me a navy blue heavy knit skirt that reached my ankles and had a wide belt with yellow butterflies on it that tied in the front.

My brother Ted was home on leave from the Navy when he and Dad moved Becky to Seattle before Christmas. I rode along and stayed three days, then rode the bus home.  Again I have no idea how they paid for the gas or my bus ticket. Money Becky had saved? Ted? I will find out from these siblings, but know that memory works in mysterious ways. Author Milan Kundera said something to the effect, “Something occurs, and the work of forgetting and transforming begins and it becomes our memory.” What we decide to forget and transform is entirely up to each individual, and so the same happening becomes that person’s memory, remembered differently than the person experiencing the same event.  My cousin Valerie moved from Chadron and was with my sister in Seattle. Valerie and I took a walking tour of the city while Becky worked. We stood at the bottom of the Space Needle and looked up. We rode the monorail, and I was flashed by a man in a raincoat while we waited at the bus station, and then approached by people called “Jesus Freaks.” All in all, a great learning experience for a 14-year-old country girl. I bought an “Easy Rider” poster of Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda  that did not impress my mother, but my boyfriend Dusty Corrall, (his real name) thought it was cool. He picked me up in Albany, Oregon at the bus stop when I returned from Seattle, and he took me to his workplace where  all types of military meals were freeze-dried and then shipped to Vietnam.

I read a quote the other day, “Without trouble, there ain’t no life.”

Thanks mom and dad. Thanks Dusty for helping me steal the “Mary Street” sign, and thank you siblings who accompanied me on that bumpy road that was all ours no matter how we remember it.

Posted November 24, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Political Theatre, Robert Reich, Marty McFly, Glenn Beck, Ronald Reagan   Leave a comment

In the first “Back to the Future” movie, Dr. Emmett Brown doubts Marty McFly’s story that he is from the future. Dr. Emmett Brown says, “Then tell me, “Future Boy,” who’s President of the United States in 1985?

Marty McFly answers, “Ronald Reagan.”

Dr. Emmett Brown, “Ronald Reagan? The actor? (he chuckles in disbelief).Then who’s VICE-PRESIDEN? Jerry Lewis? I suppose Jane Wyman is the First Lady and Jack Benny is Secretary of the Treasury?

Funny dialogue if show business and politics had not continued to blur beyond belief. “I am not a witch.” Twilight Zone? Sara Palin’s doing a reality show. Need I say more? We all deserve the opportunity to try different trades, but if your car mechanic started baking bread between oil changes or your ear, nose and throat doctor preached religion while checking out your strep throat, you might wonder if you’re on Candid Camera or some modern version of a practical joke program.

In his CPAC speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “who wants to hang out with guys like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich when you can be with Rush Limbaugh?” Is that what this is about, “hanging out” or getting factual information?

Here are the three men’s credentials: Rush Limbaugh: Attended Southeast Missouri State University but left the school after two semesters and one summer. According to his mother, “he flunked everything,” and “he just didn’t seem interested in anything except radio.

Paul Krugman was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on the New Trade Theory, which deals with the analysis of trade patterns and location of economic activity. He was presented the John Bates Clark Medal in 1991 by American Economic Association. This medal is given to economists who are below 40 years of age and have made significant contributions in the field of economics. He won the William Alonso Memorial Prize (2002) for Innovative Work in Regional Science, given by the North American Regional Science Council, Nikkei Prize for Excellent Books in Economic Science co-authored with Masahisa Fujita and Anthony Venables (2001), Adam Smith Award (1995) given by the National Association for Business Economics and George Eccles Prize (1981) for Excellence in Economic Writing given by the Columbia University Business School.

And Robert Reich: Before becoming Secretary of Labor in 1993, Reich lectured for 12 years at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His career in public service included a stint as Assistant to the Solicitor General, during which he represented the United States before the Supreme Court, and Director of the Policy Planning Staff of the Federal Trade Commission.  In his four years in Washington, Reich fought for pension-plan protections and a higher minimum wage.

Reich will establish a Center on Jobs, the Economy and Society based at Brandeis University’s Heller Graduate School for Advanced Studies in Social Welfare, continuing the work that has filled his career, first at Harvard University and later in his Cabinet Credentials.

When television access to 24-hour news programs became available other channels competed by allowing their news shows to report with opinions, so now we have Glen Beck performing with puppets and Keith Oberlin ridiculing politicians. Before the war in Iraq began, television news/entertainment programs began flashing the words, “WAR ON TERROR” across the screen in primary colors with loud background music. Lights, camera, action! One might think it was the beginning of a movie instead of what was presented as news and information. It appears our wars on terror, drugs, crime, all have the opposite effect than the one desired..

Gullible Americans, arrested development, Candid Camera? What’s happening? For instance, “Three million Americans say they’ve been abducted by aliens, 300,000 women that they’ve been gang-raped by them. Really? In Ethiopia, not one woman has been gang-raped by aliens.” Too much TV? Are we dumbing down at an alarming rate?

Americans have been inundated by political advertisements by both parties. Why does anyone watch? We are allowed to pick our candidate from those who spend millions to run for office. Does it not make sense that if a person truly wanted to help their fellow-man, they would decide that the money spent might be better used to help citizens in more direct ways than becoming a member of the House or Senate that’s main goal is obstructionism instead of cooperation?

Americans hear that their tax cuts will end and they panic, so we vote for those who we believe have our best interest at heart. But the 40 trillion-dollar debt could be fixed if we lifted the cap on the rich not paying their fair share of taxes.

Not many Americans know that if a person earns over $106,000 a year, he/she does not have to pay social security tax on the money earned over the that amount, and the money up to that amount receives a 13% tax cut. If every person earning over $106,000 would continue to pay into social security accordingly, every United States citizen could retire at age 55 with double the social security payment and with no worries of social security ending. It would be solvent forever if ALL paid based on their income. But Republicans are balking at a 3% increase in taxes for the rich, so why would they ever require the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share of social security.

Today paper money is not real, not backed by gold, no more valuable than a hand-written IOU, just something for the obscenely wealthy bankers, traders and other thieves who assault the lives of the middle class and poor while continuing to receive bonuses in amounts beyond belief, and they do their thievery, blatantly without shame or remorse.

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Posted November 24, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Essays

Know Your Own Bone   Leave a comment

As author Annie Dillard writes in The Writing Life “You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.”

Anne Truitt, the sculptor, said, “The most demanding part of living a lifetime as an artist is the strict discipline of forcing oneself to work steadfastly along the nerve of one’s own most intimate sensitivity.”

Thoreau said, “Know your own bone, gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw at it still.”

Art is the most astonishing gift given, often through sweat and tears, that allow viewers and readers to understand their own life’s idiosyncracies, pain, and amazement at the wretched, wondrous, laughable, uncanny seriousness of being a human being in all the ways possible on this long continuum of connection.

Artists work in seclusion and live in their mind after years of absorbing everything from the way your brother’s room smells, how dust floats and lands after the baby pats the dog on the back, to deciphering what “I feel like I’m coming out of my skin” means the first time your nervous Uncle Henry first said those words.  Not only must you gnaw at your own bone and work steadfastly along the nerve of your own most intimate sensitivity and give voice to your own astonishment, you must put it down in the confines of words. You must do it well while trying to survive in a strange world that gives comfort and takes it away like a mean tease. A mean tease that you avoid on your walk home each day, but the mean tease changes routes and SURPRISE! What else can you do but keep trying to understand what it all means?

When we study ancient cultures, or other cultures, we look at their art, and their writing if it exists, to know them, to understand, to learn from them. We must have every kind of art in schools. Parents must be curious learners and encourage their children to continue their natural curiosity to have a well-lived and enriched life, and most importantly to be critical thinkers.

Not only should children have access to books, they need to see their parents reading books. They need to hear parents talk about what they are reading.

Recently, I asked my three-year old niece if she knew the story of the “Wolf and the Seven Kids.” She did not and I told her the story without the book, and she said, “Read it again.” She already knows the power and enjoyment of words! Hopefully attending school won’t strip her of this excitement.

Posted November 20, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Still, yet, still and so on   Leave a comment

From inside the pizza place, I watch the November rain. An old lady parks in front, steps out of her car and into the wet day. The slight incline seems to give her pause. I start to open the door to help, but she turns back to her car, unlocks the door, opens it, leans in and reaches for a cane. She shuts the car door, but does not have her purse cleared and so shuts the bottom edge of her soft purse in the door. She finds her keys in her pocket, opens the door, shuts the door again, adjusts her purse, her cane, her determination, and walks towards the door where I stand watching her. I open the door for her and she says, “Oh, this isn’t the door I want. It’s next door, I’m going.”

I want her to come inside. I want her to be “my” old mother. I want to hold the door open and bring her out of the rain and hear her tell me,” Everything will be all right.”  I think of the old lady’s struggles to leave her car and enter the correct door, – a metaphor  for writing, for life, for finding a way –  “Bless her heart. You can’t say she’s not trying.”

Posted November 16, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Good bye to Matthias Lauk   5 comments

On November 15th, I am up early as usual and decide to check some name spellings for the book I am attempting to write.  I had been spelling Mattias without an “h” and Ed said it should be Matthias, so I googled Matthias Lauk and a picture came up. I smiled to see his handsome face, because I never had and it’s fun to see if the picture matches the person in my mind from all the stories I had heard about him.  The article with the picture was in German, so I copied and pasted it in to a translation site, because I knew Ed would be interested in whatever the ambitious Matthias was doing. The date on the article was November 15th the same day I opened it to check the spelling. Much to my dismay, the article informed me that Matthias had died that day after a long illness. He had told Ed several years before that he had cancer but it was under control and said, “we’ll dance on each other’s graves.”

Ed said, “I don’t know how that will work, but okay.”

Matthias was just 62 years old just a year older than Ed. I copied the news piece, and another one that I’d found that said Matthias had accepted a position as managing director with GIMA International Exhibition Group on October 1, 2010 in Hamburg. He must have been feeling well enough to work just a month before. I waited until Ed was awake and I came downstairs.

“I have some sad news to tell you.”

“What?”

“Well, I was checking the spelling of “Matthias” and googled his name.”

“Oh, no. What?”

“I found an article that said he died today after a long illness.”

Ed put his head in his hands and cried. I rubbed his back with my hand.

“I’m sorry.”

“I tried to reach him a month or so ago. I should have kept trying. I wanted to talk with him about a publisher for your poetry.”

“Matthias changed my life, ” Ed said.

Marcel Duchamp said it best in a wire to a friend who had lost his wife. It said, Sad, autumnal counterpoint of unacceptable cowardliness conforming once again imbecilic inanity of any rational justification.”

I convinced Ed to come to the YMCA with me. He got dressed to go, but then said he could not, so I left a little disheartened that he finds it so difficult to do what’s good for him, but also with understanding that his friend had died and I might not feel like going to the YMCA either.

My goal was 72 lengths of the pool today, which equal one mile, but I felt tired as I swam. And the lady in the lane next to me swam fast. I’m just competitive enough to increase my speed when she neared me, so maybe my stubbornness made me tired. This was only my 4th or 5th swim since joining the YMCA, and I had increased my lap numbers each time. My previous swim was 62 lengths. As I reached number 50, I saw Ed standing at the end of the pool.

“What are you doing?”

“I tried to catch you, but you were driving off.” I just finished my warm up in the gym. “Are you just swimming today or will you be in the gym?”

“Just swimming.”

“How old is the lady next to me? She’s faster than I am.” I didn’t have my glasses on, so couldn’t see much and was hoping the swimmer next to me was much younger.

“I don’t know.”

“Your left arm is going out to the side a little.”

“Watch me and see if I can do it better.”

I swam down and back. “How was that?”

“Better. I’m going to the Union Bar for lunch. Do you want to come with me?”

“Yes. I’m going to swim some more and then it will take me a little while to shower and dry my hair, and then I’ll be there.”

As I swam my final laps, only to 55 today, just tired. I reminded myself to relax and swim, no rush, and as the Buddhist nuns and Thich Nhat Hahn sang at the retreat, “No where to go, nothing to do.” Just breathe, Mary. Life is not a competition and neither is your swim today. A poet, Craig Czury from New Jersey, who I met through another friend and who has been an email mentor once wrote,

Don’t Win

Don’t Defend Yourself

Don’t Give Up

I ran into a woman in the dressing room who I had known from a previous job.

“She asked me how often I swim, what I was doing lately, and if I would trim her hair as I did in the past. Many of the people  I worked with back then had limited incomes and I enjoyed giving haircuts, so I continued for awhile after I came back from England. Sometime in the past two years, I had stopped doing that, but I told her that I would call her and come over to the assisted living where she lives and cut her hair.

I told her that I am working on a book.

“That’s awesome. People love books.”

“I love books.” I said

“I love books, too. But mostly I just read the bible. It seems I can’t keep my mind focused long enough for a book.”

“Maybe a book of short stories would work for you.”
“Well, yes that might. A book for children. I love Mother Goose stories.”

“How have you been?”

“Up and down. I can’t seem to stabilize for long, but the swimming helps a lot. I wish I could come everyday. It gets me out of the house and feels so good.”

I think of her long history of mental illness. I consider her life. Matthias’ life. My life. What unanswerable questions arise and the only response seems to be, “shit happens.”

I met Ed at the Union. He had a pitcher of beer in front of him. We ordered our meal.

I said, “I have a dollar. I’ll go get a pickle card.” I’d never bought one before.

“Here.” Ed said, “You might as well get a few.” He handed me a $5.

“Open them slowly. “ I instructed. “It makes the hope last longer.”

We opened all the pickle cards and had no winner. The waiter came to see if we wanted anything else.

“Any winners,” he asked when he saw the pile of opened cards.

“No, do you refund my money now and I try again?” I asked.

“No. Doesn’t work that way.”

“Oh. C’mon. Well then, how about dessert?” I asked.

“No dessert in a bar. We’ll have to work on that.”

Ed said, “How about a cognac in Matthias’ honor.”

“The first time I met Matthias after he had seen, and purchased my piece “Window Memory” at the Licht-Blicke show in Frankfurt 1985, he said to me,

“We don’t have much time, so we need to get to know each other quickly.”

We rode in his BMW at high speeds, had long conversations and went out to eat. He ordered an expensive cognac for us to share. He had a drink, then me, then him and when it came back to me, I accidentally knocked the glass over spilling the remaining liquid.

“You spilled $600 fucking dollars, Et.”

He laughed. We both laughed. It was a wonderful time, and I was blessed to become an artist in Matthias’ stable. And blessed just to know this gracious, brilliant, ambitious and caring man.“

“No cognac” our waiter said.

“Give us a shot of that hot whiskey.” Ed answered.

“Here’s to you dear Matthias,” Ed’s eyes filled with tears.

“To a life well-lived,” I said as we clinked our  inexpensive whiskey filled glasses.

“Maybe, the restaurant with the great bread pudding with caramel sauce has cognac.” I said.

Posted November 16, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Uncategorized

Film by Carlos Reygadas, “Silent Light”   4 comments

Wow! Mexican director Carlos Reygadas’ film “Silent Light” is one of my new favorites. It is stark, austere with the most amazing sound and light. He allows sound its time with out the chatter of dialogue and other noise intruding. The sound of water lapping while children are bathed outdoors, the sounds of crickets, cows, a combine in the field,  all amongst the charged, but outwardly silent emotions happening in a family. I cannot wait to see more of Reygadas’ work.

Posted November 14, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Art, FIlm

A testament to your time on earth   Leave a comment

Words from Christian Wiman poet and editor of Poetry about being the judge of your own poems and not being obsessed with recognition. Wiman says about poems, “They’re a testament  to your time on earth, and to how well you’ve stood up to it. In the case of my poems. I feel confident–not about quality, but about their necessity in my life.”

Posted November 5, 2010 by strongjacksonpoet54 in Art, Have a Chair

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