April Fools

Today is April 1, celebrated day for pranks, but it is also the beginning of poetry month. April was chosen perhaps to honor T.S. Eliot, whose line from The Waste Land begins:

“April is the cruelest month”

In honor of both the day and month, here is a poem appropriate for both:

The Funny Thing About a Poem

The funny thing 

about a poem

is how little it takes 

to say simply enough

It is merely a conversation 

with the air

over perhaps nothing

only an observation

alive upon a page

that may leave a knowing smile

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Thirty years ago today the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound ultimately releasing ten to thirty-one million gallons of crude oil into the waters and along the shore of the area.

When the Trans-Alaska pipeline was opened to bring oil from its northern reaches near Point Barrow, most of the environmental criticism centered around the dangers of earthquakes that might rupture it and the impact to native caribou and other migratory animals. Pipelines of this complexity were relatively new and had to be constructed to shift during earthquakes. It was deemed nationally important because of the recent Mideast oil crisis, which had created a call for energy independence.

The pipeline itself has performed relatively well, though not perfectly. The worst spill occurred when someone intentionally created a small hole, resulting in 16,000 gallons escaping. It was the old-school tanker transport system that led to this spill.

The cause of the wreck was human error, complicated by the fact that the shi’s radar system was not funtioning. A small environmental awakening followed due to media coverage of the incident and the extensive cleanup that followed. Few of us had ever seen shorebirds completely covered in oil and similar examples of contamination. A summary of the event and its cleanup are contained in Wikipedia.

This oil spill is the second worst in US history, now eclipsed by the Deep Water Horizon disaster of 2010, although there have been many larger incidents elsewhere in the world.

Today, thanks in part to extensive cleanup work and perhaps more to the resiliency of nature, Prince William Sound has something of its prior natural state, with wildlife returning. That fact is a credit to those who helped mitigate the harm of the spill, but is also testimony to the power on nature to overcome. We continue to put it to the test in countless, thoughtless and wasteful ways but so far it carries on despite our worst efforts.

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The Funny Thing…

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I generally don’t use this site to talk about myself, but I’ve recently published a book of poetry entitled, The Funny Thing About a Poem, and I thought it worth mention to my audience here.  If there is a theme, it is in the subtitle, “Poems to Ponder and Amuse.”

Occasionally it is funny and elsewhere thoughtful or perhaps thought-provoking.  It is available on Amazon in two editions.  You can buy the first on paper and for Kindle.  A briefer and more affordable second edition is available on paper, also on Amazon.

Here is a sample:

All the Good Words

Hank Williams said

            The silence of a falling star

If a song can’t be written

            Lights up a purple sky

In fifteen minutes

            A hot-rod Ford and a two-dollar bill

It ain’t worth writing

            Jambalaya crawfish pie a file gumbo

 

If he was even half right

            You’ll walk the floor the way I do

It shouldn’t take five minutes

            Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you

And a teaspoon of talent

            In spring I’ll wait for roses red when fades the lilacs bloom

To write a decent poem

            And in early Fall when brown leaves fall I’ll catch a glimpse of you

 

I mean after all

            Death sent an angel down from above

It’s only words

            Sent for the buds of the flowers we love

Without a tune

            ‘Cause if you mind your business

Or even a backbeat

            Then you won’t be mindin’ mine

 

But all I can do

            The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart

Is listen to his songs

            Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart

Because I’ve come to know

            Now I have traded the wrong for the right

All the good words are gone

            Praise the lord I saw the light

 

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Spring Forward

Cassandra

On one Sunday each November, I am granted an extra hour to find all the clocks I lost an hour to in early March, so that I may set them straight.  And each year I uncover one rebellious clock behind a sofa or a watch hiding in the lint of a pocket that refused to give up its precious hour one cold March night.  All of which leaves me to ponder that it knew, all summer long an hour before me, where I left my glasses or that I would slip on the dog’s toy and break my arm, and that it had been mute to help.  But then I recall that persistent alarm from a clock I could never find, and I wonder.  And so each Fall, I put that clock back in its place, hoping I might just listen this time. 

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The Day the Music…

I was four years old when Buddy Holly died, sixty years ago today. As the press will repeat at length, he had chartered a small plane to take him from a improptu show in Clear Lake, Iowa to Minnesota for the next day’s show.

Holly was not the pilot but had learned to fly himself and had also taken up motorcycling. He seemed to embody the sense of immortality that seems to come with being young, though he was farsighted enough to plan a recording studio to make a living when his recording career wound down, as he expected. It seems that he wondered if his music would last.

The weather that night was poor and the pilot was not certified for the conditions. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, but was not located until the next morning.

There are various stories as to how Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson joined Holly on the ill-fated flight. One involved a coin flip, while another has it that when Waylon Jennings, a then Crickets member, was left out, he told Holly he hoped the plane would crash. Whatever the truth, the new genre of Rock and Roll and its young fans suffered a great loss that night.

Don McLean’s anthem, American Pie, centered on Holly’s death, describing it as “the day the music died.” The irony though is that Holly’s music never died and, in fact, is still fresh and alive after a lifetime. Indeed, it has preserved his memory for a generation and more. Perhaps Rock and Roll will never die.

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The day of his death was a dark cold day.

The Irish hold their poets dear, and today is a day for remembrance in Ireland, for William Butler Yeats died 80 years ago today.

Yeats was many things beyond being a Nobel Laureate for his poetry, which Wikipedia relates in detail.  Still it is for his poems, which remained formal even as others took to other forms that he is best remembered.

He was, although protestant – if agnostic, and an Irish Nationalist, if more concerned with culture than politics. He was indeed a patron of Irish theater and of Irish literature.

To many who do not know his writings well, Yeats is yet known for his unrequited love for Maud Gonne, who rejected his proposals again and again. There is in many of us an admiration for one who has had an unrequited love for a muse, even if something we’ve not experienced. Petrarch, before Yeats, penned his sonnets for his beloved Laura. Poetic in its essence.

W.H. Auden, an admirer of Yeats, wrote his homage to the man, which in its way rivals Whitman’s grieving O Captain! My Captain! elegy for Abraham Lincoln.

I would add here Auden’s closing, but perhaps it is best to read yourself.

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An Historical Footnote

Anthony Trollope, if you don’t know, was a Victorian era novelist who was less than successful in other pursuits, including practising law, because of a somewhat bad temper.  The author of 47 novels and other works, he ironically earned a reputation for a comic bent, which is still appreciated by critics and readers today.  Perhaps fittingly, his best novel, The Way We Live Now, was a satire. It was published in serial form and told of greed that let to financial scandals of the era.

 

Trollope died on this day in 1882 of a stroke after reading the comic novel Vice Versa by a contemporary, F. Antsey.  It was said that the stroke was brought on by a “fit of giggles.”  If there is any truth to the story, then he literally died laughing, a distinguishing footnote that he shares with Cleopatra and a few others.

 

Perhaps there is a joke somewhere in this anecdote, but it might be a stretch to include it here.  Suffice it to say, that if you must die, Trollope chose the best way to go.

 

 

 

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Mitzvah

Mitzvah

“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.”

Augustine

 

Seated in Atlanta’s Temple for the Bar Mitzvah

of the son of a friend,

my eyes wander in search of scars

from its bombing now sixty years gone by.*

 

While her son, who in a moment will be a man,

reads in Hebrew of the rivalry between Jacob and Esau –

the Jacob who became Israel and fathered the twelve tribes,

 

I note that Germany’s Kristallnacht

terror began on this day,

some eighty years now passed.

 

As the Rabbi stands to speak

Of the future of promise for this child-man,

 

I recall that his Bar Mitzvah long ago

was held in the Pittsburgh synagogue

where a dozen were killed by a shooter,

one for each tribe, only a dozen days now gone.

 

I do not belong to this temple, to any other,

nor even to the children of Abraham.

But sitting here in a place

choosing to look forward and not back,

in a world darkened by sibling spite

hope is still a flickering candle,

a child becomes a man,

and of such small promise

all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

 

*The story of The Temple Bombing is chronicled in the excellent book of the same name by Melissa Fay Green.

 

 

 

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Mirrors in Memories

Fifty years ago today, two black American athletes, Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos, raised black-gloved fists on the medal stand at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympic Games.  They had taken gold and bronze respectively in the 200 meters and wished to make a statement against racial inequality in South Africa, Rhodesia and the United States.  A raised black gloved fist was a symbol for the Black Power movement in the US.  According to the story they told, they shared the one pair of gloves they had between them, one raising his right hand and the other the left.

Both men were American track competitors, each with significant records in the event from prior meets.  They were also members of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, a recognized but ineffecual organization permitted by the Olympic Committee.  The silver medalist, Peter Norman from Australia, also wore the insignia of the organization and supported their protest.

Avery Brundage, the American head of the IOC, dismissed Smith and Carlos from the American team, declaring their actions political and not in the spirit of the Games.  (Brundage had approved the Nazi salute at the 1938 games.)  The careers of Smith, Carlos and even Norman suffered for their stands, but their connection and committment remained firm.  Smith and Carlos were pallbearers at Norman’s funeral in 2006.  In 2008, Smith was awarded the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage by ESPN.  Carlos went on to work for the host committee of the 1084 Los Angeles Games.

In subsequent years, other arguably more offensive acts – burning draft cards and even burning the flag – were ruled protected speech by the courts, though it may be worth noting that both were largely acts by white Americans.   And yet, in 2018 a quality black NFL quarterback who chose to kneel during the National Anthem cannot find a team that will employ him.  Colin Kaepernick and others like him are ostrasized for protesting racial injustices that remain with us today.

I find it hard to know what to say.  In 1968, I thought that my generation of Americans would be different.  We would offer opportunity to all and would accept, if not honor, the right to protest.  I know that many do, but the roar of disapproval from those I hoped would be wiser is as loud as I recall from my youth.  What’s more, not only the same examples of police and public brutality continue, but the disparity between those who have wealth and those that live day-to-day has grown enormously.

We may never cure racial wrongs, but until then, we must never silence the last acts of protest.

 

 

 

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If You Knew Peggy Sue

Amid all the noise the pretends to be news, I learned today that Peggy Sue has passed from this life.  Peggy Sue Gerron Rackham, still of Buddy Holly’s Lubbock, Texas, died Monday at 78.

According to Wikipedia and Peggy Sue’s memoir, Peggy Sue had broken up with the Crickets’ drummer, Jerry Allison, shortly before Holly and Allison wrote her song.  To coax her back, Allison changed the lyrics from Cindy Lou, Holly’s niece, to Peggy Sue.  The two were later married, if only for a time.

The song, with its simple lyrics and the infectious beat that brought Holly instant fame, became a hit in 1957, the year that Buddy Holly and his music leaped into the national spotlight.  A year later, he wrote and recorded a demo of a pensive sequel, “Peggy Sue Got Married.”  It was later produced, released and also became a hit.

Buddy Holly and the music died on February 3, 1959, in a plane crash near Cedar Lake, Iowa.  The fate of a coin flip had Richie Valens on the plane as well.  Waylon Jennings, Holly’s then bassist, gave up his seat to the Big Bopper, J.P. Richardson.

Peggy Sue was the girl, Holly wrote, “in nearly every song.”  She inspired the Kathleen Turner film, “Peggy Sue Got Married” that featured the comical over-acting of Nicholas Cage.  There was something about Peggy Sue that we could not let die.  She was from a time when we thought the world made sense and when love was simply true, whether wishful or wistful.

Only now the muse, Peggy Sue, has died.  We are left with a song, a memory and a wish that Buddy Holly could write just one more song.

If you knew Peggy Sue
Then you’d know why I feel blue without Peggy
My Peggy Sue

 

 

 

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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