Friday, May 29, 2015

"It Scared Me" - For Sue (2012

I first posted this in 2012. It’s still a relevant question we never like to ask; for whom do we mourn? Is it for the afflicted, or is it for ourselves?

It shook me up
to see you lying there.
The blood on the floor
made me scared.

Never felt so helpless
and didn't know what to do.
Was I thinking of me,
or thinking of you?

It's hard to say
what scares us the most.
The loss of your lover
or the love that you've lost.

Either way's a loser;
a turn of the cards.
While all the time you're thinking,
"God, why's life so hard?"

This was my reaction to Sue’s accident in the garage back in 2012. She gashed her head and had 6 stitches. I was worried about her, and also thinking of me being left alone; calling into question whether I am a good man, or a bad man.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Origins of Guilt - More Bad Poetry

I've been writing this one since I was a little kid and my Mom was sick. She passed away in 1984 after decades of illness. As a child it must have taken a toll on me; though it was years until I could admit it. And even then, dealing with it was another matter entirely. Today I have nothing but the fondest memories of my Mom; which is as it should be. 

The Origins of Guilt

When Mom was sick the world was gray
There was no light from the sun.
I spent my time willing time away;
Avoiding what should never come.

So, I willed it on as I ate the pain;
learning how to live without her;
and when she was home – tho’ I wasn’t alone-
I’d wish she was gone again.

To hide from the guilt I built a wall,
Which only locked it all in.
And when I finally knocked that wall down
I was left to face up to my sin.

That cycle went on forever
And became a race I could only lose;
Unless I learned to eat the pain
Of the sin I didn’t get to choose.

Mooresville, NC 5-28-15

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Bag of Chicken (2010)

Written On A Bag of Chicken

There will come a time when I can not hear
your voice, or
my favorite music.

And a time when I will no longer see
your face, or
my favorite views.

And there will come a time when I realize
that the two are
but one and the same.

Note: I write poetry and short verse on just about anything. Most of it gets trashed shortly after the writing. But this one survived. It was written in 2010 outside a fried chicken place in Cornelius, NC. At the time I wasn't sure if I was going to see 2011- never mind 2015! So, this was written for Sue.

I have reworked the poem by removing two words and bringing the meter into line throughout. It's 10/9 all the way through now without the burdensome extra words. Hey, I wrote it on a bag of chicken. You should see the one called "Written on a Bag of Chicken at 60 MPH!" It's a quick one.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Memorial Day - A More Complete History

You may have read the truncated version of the history of Memorial Day on line yesterday. It was dismaying; to say the least. Here is the history of Memorial Day as covered by Yahoo news;

“A few years after the end of the Civil War, May 30 was established as "Decoration Day" -- a day to decorate veterans' graves with flowers. May 30 may have been the selected day because flowers would be in bloom throughout the country, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

In 1971, Memorial Day was officially declared a national holiday and placed on the last Monday in May, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website says.

In December 2000, the president signed into law The National Moment of Remembrance Act.”

That’s it. They left out some important pieces of how the holiday became Memorial Day: traditionally; before it was turned into just another 3 day weekend. Let’s examine the history of that tradition.

They are incorrect in stating that "a few years" after the Civil War had ended people began flooding the cemeteries to honor the fallen. In the South it began with the first anniversary of the wars end and was called “Confederate Memorial Day”. It was first celebrated in 1866 on April 26th. That date was chosen by Mrs. Elizabeth Rutherford Ellis. April 26th is the anniversary of the final Confederate defeat at Bennett Place, North Carolina. It was there that General Sherman accepted the sword of Confederate General Johnston. For most of the people of the South, this is the true date on which the military hostilities ceased; not in early April with Grant and Lee at Appomattox Courthouse.

That first effort in 1866 was organized by the Ladies Memorial Association of Columbus, Georgia.  A woman named Maryann Williams (no relation to me) was the Secretary of that Association and lobbied hard for the state legislature to pass an Act marking the date as an official observance. It was quickly accomplished. Within months all of the former states of the Confederacy had followed suit. The holiday is still marked in several of the former Confederate States on April 26th, rather than late May. In Texas it is also known as Defender’s Day. In North and South Carolina the holiday was observed on May 10th until about 15 or 20 years ago when I first arrived here. That has changed drastically with the influx of us "Yankees".

By 1868 the Northern states were clamoring for their own holiday to honor their fallen. General John Logan, Commander of the Union Civil War Veterans fraternity known as the Grand Army of the Republic, began the Memorial Day holiday which was observed for so many years on the 30th of May. The General stated that “it was not too late for the Union men of the nation to follow the example of the people of the South in perpetuating the memory of their friends who had died for the cause they thought just and right.” These eloquent words; spoken so soon after the hostilities had ended serve to mark the deep respect which the Northern and Southern soldiers had for one another. The war had been brutal, and none knew that better than the veterans of both sides. 

After World War One had ended we got Armistice Day, which marked the end of that conflict. Then there was the problem of the two part victory over Germany in May 1945 (VE Day) and then Japan (VJ Day) in August of the same year, ending World War Two. So, we now had the need for at least 5 holidays to honor our nation’s war dead; plus any days which would be necessary to mark future wars we might engage in. Something needed to change. And, so it did.

By the early 1960’s most of the country was celebrating the holiday on the 30th of May; with the exception of the 11 southern states. They were still observing the holiday between April 26th and May 10th. That changed in the early 1970's.

But, in reality, the full story of the current tradition of Memorial Day is simply that the playing field got too crowded for a separate Day of Remembrance for each of the wars we fought; or were likely to fight, in the future. By 1971 it was declared a 3 day holiday; more out of a desire for a 3 day holiday than to honor the fallen.

It is interesting to note that some of the Southern states have held onto their traditional Day of Remembrance, while the rest of us have opted for convenience and an extra day off.  Well, no matter what date they choose, the fallen will always be honored in the “hearts and minds” of people like me who have the freedom to write articles like this about the nuances of honoring the things which they have actually done. We are lucky to have been the benefactors of their sacrifice.

Monday, May 25, 2015

"Empire of Sin" by Gary Krist (2014)

This book is an enigma. It begins as an examination of the famous New Orleans Ax Man Murders of the early 20th Century and just when you are settling in nicely with that gruesome crime, the book becomes a history of jazz and after that morphs into a collective biography of some of the greatest jazz musicians who ever lived.

So, just what is this book? Well, I’ll tell you; honestly this is one of the most invigorating and engaging books on serial killers and jazz musicians which I have ever read. The big difference in the two subjects is that, of course, while the Jazzmen chronicled here may have slayed their audiences night after night with the new sound called “jazz”, the Ax Man murderer was slaying his audiences permanently in private performances all over New Orleans for several years. His crimes are still listed as one of the most puzzling of all serial killers, including the infamous Jack the Ripper.

Mr. Krist is an accomplished author, and it was his name which drew me to the book, the complicated title notwithstanding. Just how he wound up juxtaposing the history of what was happening in New Orleans at the time of the murders with the history of jazz is somewhat of a mystery to me, but the justification for doing so becomes apparent as you read the book.

New Orleans was a wide open Southern city; if you could call it a truly Southern city at all. There was no real segregation and racial intermarriage was quite common before the early part of the 20th Century. Gambling and prostitution were openly practiced, if not celebrated. And the Port of New Orleans brought together sailors from all over the Caribbean, Europe and Africa; not to mention an influx of Asians and South Americans. And in the days of Reconstruction all of these different people lived together in relative harmony.

At the close of the 19th Century there was an influx of European immigrants; notably Irish, Italian, German and Jewish. Each group had their own customs; and music. The first race riots in the city were not; as one would expect; between blacks and whites. Rather they were between the whites and the Italians. The Italians had become known as a “mafia” like organization. They were involved in kidnappings and extortion. They also strong armed their own neighborhood grocery stores, and in some cases murdered the owners. But when a group of these men kidnapped a young child and killed him, the city exploded in the violence of revenge.

Against the backdrop of those events in 1890 the author traces the history of crime in New Orleans through to the end of the 1920 election and the advent of Prohibition. As I said earlier, had he only concentrated on this aspect of New Orleans at the time this would have been a great book. However, by choosing to combine and compare the history of crime in New Orleans with the creation of jazz, he has created a fantastic and lively portrait of one of America’s most beloved and eclectic cities.

The book sparkles with the names of the musical legends that gave birth to a new art form. The stories of these men; with names like Jelly Roll Morton; Sidney Bechet; Freddie Keppard; Buddy Bolden; Louis Armstrong and George Baquet; are the history of what became the modern day New Orleans of legend, but also of Storyville itself; that quarter where these men first blew the notes which would come to define an era, and a genre.

Here is a link to the Library of Congress recording of Alabama Bound by Jelly Roll Morton. This is the type of music I was listening to while reading this book. Listening to the music of the time while reading the book enriched the whole experience and made for a delightful reading of this wonderful book by Mr. Krist.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

"Rainbow Quest" - Pete Seeger and Guests

There was nothing on television to hold my interest the other night and so I turned to You Tube. There are so many things I would like to watch on there that I never take time for. And, with so many new things to discover on there, I will never catch up. Contrasted with the constant clicking associated with channel surfing, it was kind of nice to settle into something different for almost an hour.

The Pete Seeger "Rainbow Quest" series ran for 1 season on Channel 47, the UHF mostly Spanish speaking TV station, from 1965-66. I ran into it a couple of times by accident while fooling with the UHF antenna when; you guessed it; nothing worthwhile was on regular TV. So, how ironic is it that I should run into the same problem 50 years later and find the same solution in Pete Seeger both times?

This show is typical of all 39 52 minute episodes. There is no audience; which adds to the stark quality; I mean Pete was the "sing along with guy". He was the Mitch Miller of folk music. Actually, Miller took that page from Pete's book.

The list of gusts on the Rainbow Quest shows will knock you out. Everyone from Donovan to June Carter and Jonhny Cash, Judy Collins, Buffy St. Marie, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee are just some of them.

Naturally the show didn't make it. How many of you actually fooled with UHF at all in New York City? Actually I had forgotten all about the shows until I read the book "Red Scare" a few; well, several years ago. That book deals with the McCarthy Era and the blacklists; which included Pete Seeger. If you don't know about his role in that shameful episode of government overreach you should look it up sometime.

But it wasn't until I was re-reading it last year that I took the time to watch any of the shows again on You Tube. Maybe it's the passage of time; or the passing of the people on these shows; but time has made them even better than I remembered. If you're bored, take a listen and see.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Myrtle Beach

This is Sue flying high over Myrtle Beach last weekend. We stopped for one of those helicopter rides- up and back. I don't fly well anymore; Sue went solo and took this beautiful picture of the hotels on the beach. One of them was ours.

Speaking of the beach; here I am on the sand; a very rare thing these days. A German woman who was taking pictures of her friend offered to take pictures of Sue and I. She took about a hundred! 

And here is Sue holding me up against the wind...

And then later walking in the surf alone while I took this picture from the 16th floor.

It was a quiet weekend for us- but King Kong was still angry about something.

This was my first trip anywhere in 4 years. It was all good, but one of the best parts was just looking at the ocean again. From the 16th floor you can just about see the curve of the horizon, about 10-12 miles away...