Monday, February 28, 2011

"Hallelujah Blackout"

Full chorus for Alex Lemon's Hallelujah Blackout. Swirling, unflinching, can't-look-away collection of poems. Like a Calder, if a Calder were made of a dollhouse, red boots, bruises, hail and a chainsaw, and if it hung in a wind tunnel over a fresh accident. Terrible, beautiful, terrible. Beautiful.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Grandfather's Poem

My uncle sent this to me recently. It was written by my grandfather in 1907, or, as my uncle says, plus or minus a few.
My grandfather died when I was two. A flood during my childhood destroyed any photos of him and me, so my two memories have a weighted significance. In the first memory, I am combing his hair. I must have learned later that this is tender-funny because he really didn't have any hair. I remember him lying down so I could reach his head with one of those small, black plastic men's combs.
In the other memory, he and my grandmother are towering above me. We're standing on their enclosed porch in Cleveland. He is telling my grandmother not to give me any pie because I don't like it. I am thinking, uh oh, someone has made a terrible mistake - I do like pie - and how am I going to let these people know?
I am told that he and I had a special relationship, so I'm pleased to know he also set about making poems, even if he later went into advertising.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Wisconsin Poets' Calendar

Happiness! My poem "Wisconsin" will be in the 2012 Wisconsin Poets' Calendar. Thanks, editors. I like being connected with the seasons, time, the way we fill our days, holidays, all that metaphor, and especially Wisconsin. Such a good place. And I thought so before the revolution.
Here's a link to the project:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Word Play

I've heard Will Shortz on NPR, and a bit of an interview, maybe with Liane Hansen, so I knew he created his own degree on the study of puzzles, and I've enjoyed his quirky humor. We saw the movie "Word Play" this weekend, which is about him and the yearly puzzle championship. This quiet and endearingly geeky movie charmed us. You know, so much is wrong in our country, with the resulting unnecessary grief. But there are reasons to be hopeful, and there is the great force of good. And just pleasure. NPR is excellent for that, celebrating our better angels, our joyful and artistic selves, and this movie has reminded me of our capacity for connection and intellect.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Revolution in Egypt and America

My facebook news feed is all abuzz with the revelation that the peaceful revolution in Egypt has brought down a 30-year dictator. I feel that euphoria too. I'm so moved and impressed with the courage, dignity and tenacity of the millions of people who flooded the streets. They are asking for democracy by demonstrating democracy.
Some of my friends have mused that it would never happen here. But I think it is happening. Consider the last election and before, people protesting, calling their representatives, unseating long-standing incumbents. But it is different. I heard an Egyptian say, regarding the vast resources of Egypt whose spoils all go to the ruling class, "We are like the camel who carries gold and only gets to eat grass."
We have incredible resources here too, and a labor force making a sliver of people very, very rich. But instead of demanding more of the spoils, we are crying, Cut spending! Cut! Cut! We are in the streets shouting, no more policies that redistribute the wealth! That's socialism! Let free market competition lower our wages, take away our benefits, our health insurance, pensions and social security. Just give us low prices at Wal-Mart.
While corporations make record profits by hiring and selling in China and India, and one in five Americans has lost a job in this recession, let us blame the jobless for being too lazy to work! Take away our protections from predatory mortgage and finance companies, and insurance companies that would deny us access to health care, or pay so little of the care we receive that we lose our houses.
Let coal, gas, oil and nuclear energy corporations and the U.S. military (the greatest polluter on earth) blow up mountains, stain the ocean and tundra with oil, squander and toxify ground water, lace lakes with mercury and the air with particulates that give kids asthma, and create nuclear waste that will be deadly for thousands of years. Don't support the development of clean energy and public transportation. Let us spend all our time raising money for cancer research without asking why the cancer rates are going up and up. Don't tell us about the link between lawn chemicals and childhood leukemia. Don't talk to us about climate change until our cities spend all their money on record snowfalls, floods, tornados, and hurricanes and Florida is half underwater. Let us ignore the death of coral reefs, spotted owls, whales and polar bears, and let us shoot the remaining wolves.
Let us shoot ourselves and each other too. We want more guns, since 30,000 deaths a year is not enough. Don't tell us that one third of our children are obese, and that in 15-20 years, obesity will be the greatest, most expensive health epidemic we've ever faced. Don't make our K-12 education system any better - we like being 33rd - and don't help our poor and middle class kids pay for college. Let rich kids have those slots. If the others want to go to college, let them work a couple minimum-wage jobs while going to school, and come out competing for a few high paying jobs, strapped with a mortgage-sized debt. While half a million kids languish in foster care, and only 14,000 kids are adopted each year, and 80% of inmates went through the foster care system, let us scream out against abortion. But don't fund birth control clinics either, especially for the poor.
Don't fund our arts, libraries or public broadcasting. Let all our media be owned by a few, and let corporations control the message, and hell, let them control the government too. And speaking of the government, let them listen in on our phone conversations, see what books we check out at the library, grope us at the airport, and hold us without charge, to save us from terrorism. Let our xenophobia fester until we are insane with rage about undocumented workers, without talking about our economy, guest worker passes, or the way American agribusiness under NAFTA dumped cheap, subsidized food on Mexico, causing a million and a half farmers to lose their farms. Spend the lion's share of our resources on the military, until we are spending more than every other country on earth combined, but if we complain about the expense, lower the wages of the lowest-ranked personnel, deny them care if they are injured in war, and privatize as much as possible, so our tax money is gobbled up by companies with no oversight
Take away all the protections for individuals until we have the freedom to stand alone against our employers, corporations and government. In the distribution of wealth and power, we don't want to be like Europe. We want to be like Egypt, the day before the revolution.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dear Colson Whitehead,

Of course we were aware of you, we told ourselves later, the striking young man at the next table sitting alone. We were packed tight into that little cafe, and I was choosing my words carefully. I tried out a narrative for you: local businessman, stepping into his favorite place over the lunch hour. I wondered what it would be like to work in a DC neighborhood like that. God it's beautiful there - even the new buildings are artistic and compatible with the old and jazzy feel, everything close to the street, restaurants and shops and lots of art and greenery. When you finished, you picked up your leather satchel and strode away.
So when I saw you sitting a few rows ahead of us in the ballroom back at the writing conference, I pointed you out. The man in the restaurant, I gestured. I hope we didn't say anything stupid. If I already hoped that, I sure extra hoped it now.
Your reading was incredible. Not just funny, although very funny, but sensitive and visual and perfectly delivered. We made our way to the back afterwards to buy your books. As the National Books Critics Circle Award host had said, it was about an acre between the first rows and the book table. We took our places at the back of the line.
I kept glancing at the authors' table. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had read last. Her signing line was about two acres long, the rest of the readers' lines sporadic or empty. The other readers began to trickle away. You were glancing at the Adichie line and texting on your phone. I wondered how I would feel, sitting there. And right before we got your books, you left.
I don't blame you, I promise. But I want you to know that we have those books, and we hope one day you'll sign them.