Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Berkshire Anthology 1972

The Bog Lady photo by William Kadell
The Berkshire Anthology published by The Bookstore Press, 1972

In the days of wine and roses -- or was it bog ladies and bees? -- there was poetry coming out of the trees. People spoke it on the streets and on the phone and you couldn't go anywhere without Poetry happening. Aram Saroyan's whole book of poems, Pages, was read aloud by Edwin Newman on the 6 O'clock News. Think of that -- a book of poems read aloud to millions!

It was 1972 and a lot of that 1960s magic was still going on. In fact, the early seventies was still the 60s, if you know what I mean. As an editor I was amazed the how poets came out of nowhere and just as fast zippered themselves back into oblivion. It was one great hallelujah rebellion. The backdrop was the Vietnam War. Stage front: the Beatles, the Stones, Dylan. And all of these guys wrote Poetry.

The Berkshire Anthology celebrated this mad spirit of reinvention -- the Gilded Age meets Godzilla. The Pre-Raphaelites crash into Middle America. It was anything you want to name that was crazy and pretty and wore bangs and shoulder length hair and loved -- here it comes again -- Poetry.

Here is a poem I will always remember:


Ambrose, you're dead.
                                  Your underbelly
covered with mold, your sides cracked,
spitting black seeds.  
                                  No wonder
I've been waking at 4 a.m., your
fumes were the center
of these tortured weeks.
                                    How could you do it to me?
Remember how we used to ride around together,
looking at the bombed out gas stations?
The kid I didn't have, whom I named you after?
The nights I stroked your bumpty sides,
thinking of another orange-hued lover?
I haven't paid much attention lately but
                                                          Ambrose, Ambrose
                   the pain it gives me
to abandon you to waste basket history,
                                                          your stalk
never to be caressed
by cleaning ladies.

S.P. Wonder                                           

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the curious incident of the man in the mcdonald's men's room

There are times when peace and quiet are inviolate in a city and you go into McDonald's and there it is -- Peace and Quiet. And fries.

But then you go into the men's room and there is a young man in there doing something funny with his head. He's not washing it exactly, he's wetting it down, getting it good and wet. His explanation makes sense. "Hot out there," he says. "Couldn't cool down. Had to get a headwashing." I stood in the floor puddle he'd made, waiting for him to vacate. But then, while drying his head under the hand-dryer, and looking very much like Taz, he eyed me and asked, "You got .94 cents, brother?"

I said, "Whatever I have in my left pocket is yours." Truth is, I had no idea what was in my left pocket. Well, dug deep and pulled out .13 cents. "This is all I got," I said. Which was true except for the 100 dollar bill in my wallet which was pledged to another brother.

My new headwashing brother studied the brown coins (three) and the sort of silver coin (one) and shook his head, flinging beads of dew in my face. "That won't do it, bro," he said. Then, "Gotta get down to the bus."
I imagined he was taking the bus to Tibet but he said he was just going across the Caloosahatche river to Fort Myers. And that was it, my brother left me standing there with an open palm of very short change.

It was only later I realized that my new brother had turned reality up on its ear. He had put a big tilt on my day. Everything had been so much the same and he had turned it upside down and inside out by being nothing other than himself.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Water Mumma

I don't collect folk art. It collects me. This female figure is called a water mumma in Jamaica, also known as Mama Erzuli in Haiti. In the southern U.S. various native tribes celebrated the power of the mermaid. The Biloxi and Pascagoula people considered her to be a deity. They say you can still hear her singing in the Bay of Biloxi at midnight on Christmas Eve. It is believed that you can gain her assistance if you drop a silver cross into the water. In Jamaica, water mumma watches over natural springs. She is said to have gold hair and her offspring travel around her in a gyre or a silver circle of small fishes. She holds a golden comb in her hand and that is her power. You must be careful not to look her in the eye because people who do that become crazy. This particular water mumma was carved by Uton "Ernie" Hinds from Oracabessa. She stands fifteen inches high. Thanks to Mariah Fox for the "Jamaican barrel painting" behind the mermaid. Some viewers may remember Ernie as "Tall T" in the novel, The Jacob Ladder. Others may actually know him from our Jamaican summer school at Blue Harbour, Port Maria, St. Mary, JA. Ernie sent us this mermaid last week and she now is on a stand in front of the big fish tank in our living room. We know she likes it there. I do not look directly into her eyes out of respect. I am already crazy and don't need any more help in that direction.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Orange Alligator and the Life Hereafter

I have seen a white coyote but I never saw an orange alligator until my friend Ross LewAllen painted one and when I raved it about it he gave it to me. Now it graces a wall in my office. I look at it every day, especially now that Ross is gone into the great dreamtime, a place he often talked about. I have had at least four encounters with him in the spirit world or what some call "the next experience."

I dream, in other words, and he comes into the dream. But there have also been times where he has done something out of my dream. Usually, he "tricks" me, plays some little fun game like kicking me gently behind the knees. Once he made the shovel I was holding -- while I was shoveling doggy poop in the yard -- do a jitterbug in my hands. Whenever he comes around, or comes back from the spirit world, there is some little trick afoot and afun. He always said he was a trickster and now he's proven it.

A couple of nights ago, I woke out of a dream in which he was present. It was 3AM. I looked at the clock and mysteriously felt the need to see Ross' painting of the orange gator. But before I got out of bed, the lights in the kitchen came on and the room burst into an eerie shade of orange. I got up, turned the crazy lights off, and standing in the dark, said, "Ross, I love your orange alligator and you too, you devil."

How many times does the average human need to be "awakened" into the truth that we do not die? That life goes on, and on. This is no consolation for some especially those who wish to go off into that good night and not be bothered with anything they might have done, or not done, in what we insist is the one and only life, the material one we slog through day after day.

My father-in-law was the greatest skeptic when it came to afterlife, as he called it. But one time when we had a heated argument, I told him, "There is only life." And he said, "If you say so." After he passed he came back twice. Once in Prague where he tapped my forehead the way he did when he was alive. And another time in Florida, when he sat at the bottom of our bed and said very clearly, "Gerry, you were right. There is only life."

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Going Home: Are you willing to be killed?

In looking at the anthology (African American Alphabet) we edited with our friend Kelvin Rodriques, we ran across a street poem that was recited by a poet sitting in a convertible on a hot Florida night in the summer of 1995. What the poet rapped under a Miami moon is a series of purely spontaneous lines. He told me later that he was making it up as he went along. But the interesting thing is that in the1990s his fear was mostly that he wouldn't get home, not that he'd be shot dead trying. I have never heard or read anything quite like this -- and oh, how things have changed! For the worse.


They stop you
and search you
you want to

go home

They tell you to stand by
while they get inside
their car

You wait as they watch
because you want to

go home

They hold you in the hope
you will run
so you wait
because you want to

go home

They have you thinking
that to

go home

is a crime
for which
sooner or later
you will do time
so you wait
on those who

go home

whenever they
want to
and who
because you are you
and they are they
make you wait
and wonder
if you will ever

go home again

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hemingway in Cuba

Hemingway at the Finca in Cuba
invited friends to pick up storm-tossed leaves
from the bottom of his pool.
Afterwards they swam, swapped stories, drank rum.
I did the same this morning minus the rum,
it was bright and beautiful
diving for the little scattered leaves
of the scotch bonnet pepper --
hot money on the bottom of a cool pool.

Open book: Hemingway In Cuba by Hilary Hemingway and Carlene Brennan

Monday, August 18, 2014

love letters lost in time

In the 1930s my parents met in Veracruz, Mexico, fell in love and later married.

Some seventy six years later their love letters turned up -- first in an old barn and second in a town dump.  Given the miracle that such letters might resurface after so much time, I was surprised at my reluctance to read them. It has taken more than a year to get to them.

I am now reading them with awe. Here are two people I knew intimately for much of my life. They are gone now but their voices remain, clear and strong in these handwritten love letters, which go up and down with their moods. But my point is this -- I thought I knew them.  At almost 70 myself, I should have long ago figured out who the two beings whom I called my parents were. But here I am stumped because what I have discovered is that I did not know them. Not the way I thought I did.

The letters are proof that we only know what we think we see. The senses are tricksters and my two parents are as much shrouded in mystery as ever, but I know them better now. Their innermost thoughts are revealed in their passionate outpourings. And I feel blessed reading these love letters, though I sometimes feel like an interloper, or perhaps even a stalker, reading them. Yet I am given a window into the personalities of two human beings who made me what I am. The evidence is all here on these rat-chewed, time-worn documents. My mother's calligraphic letters are still fragrant with thirties perfume. My father's are almost hierglyphic -- his handwriting is described by her as a bunch of "pollywogs moving across a piece of paper."

Maybe the thing I'm seeing most clearly is the passion these two illumined beings shared. How deeply they loved life, loved one another. This reminds me that, in truth, their love never diminished over the years but grew. I think, sometimes, my brother and I felt on the outside of it. Truly, I have never met two people who stayed so much in love as my parents. I always knew this to be true, but the evidence here, the hundreds of letters from 1937-1941, is very convincing. They were who they were, always. We, my brother and I, lost in our own reveries, could not always see it that way. But now I do.

Yes, something of a literary event is happening. The letters, once put in order, will come out as a book. And it will sort of be like reality TV in a time of trouble -- the 1930s. I, for one, really look forward to reading this love story when it is organized and put between covers. The story of the barn and dump will be in there ... things like this don't happen very often, and when they do such curious miracles ought to be celebrated. So there is a love story, and there is also the story of the love story: how it came to be found.

More to come ....