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 ....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Two Poems

 Reunion in the Meadows of Sapello Canyon

Your red hair is now sun gold
stirred with white.
Mine is brown
when the gray is cut away.
Fire and water,
sun and snow ...
almost 50 years ago.


Navajos say
winter thunder
breaks us down,
bone by bone

We go as we know
we live as we die
we have these songs
when we say goodbye


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hard Times, Good Times & Great Home Cooking

Some people read cookbooks for the fun of it. They read recipes and think about the ingredients. They may never cook an egg but they like to read about them. How they are cracked and what it means to sizzle bacon or stir lemon sauce. Let's face it, cooking is fascinating. And a book like Alice Kolb's is an invitation to muse on all aspects of process in the kitchen -- and even out of it, on camp-outs, picnics, and road trips. There is something so American about all of this, too, which Alice Long Kolb's easy, family-oriented prose brings out. You can relax into a book like this and read it cover-to-cover for, as I was saying, the fun of it. Or you can really dig into it and make food for your whole family as Alice's mom did back in the 40s, 50s, 60s and then some. This is as much a history of what America in the Southwest (think Texas) was eating as it is a story of Alice's initiation into the family style of cooking that she has become known for. A quilter and lecturer by profession, she also shares her wide knowledge of cooking secrets from paying attention to what Mom did when she didn't have the money to cook lavishly or luxuriantly -- still, as Alice points out, the Longs always had room for two more, or three more, neighbors. That is part of the style and grace of this book. It lets you in on the best secret of the best chefs -- share! For in sharing, there is love. And in love there comes the most delicious food imaginable. Remember Uncle Joe's chile? He made it with love. Love of beans, love of chile,  love of family and friends. As a professional food tester for a natural gas company in Texas, as well as a teacher of "home economics" as we used to call it, Alice cannot be beaten, but her eggs can, and you will enjoy every mouthful of her writing-recipe-goodness. Herein is poetry of phrase about the only range there is -- the one in your kitchen.

Recipes by Alice Long Kolb
Illustrations by Alice Long Kolb
Published by Irie Books
Available from, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million and Ingram 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Aram Saroyan's The Street: 40th Commemorative Edition

There aren't that many good books written in the sixties about what it was like to be young in the sixties. Mostly the sixties classics were written by older writers. Aram Saroyan, on the other hand, was a handsome, kind of carefree kid growing up in the golden age of self-invention and self-intention. In other words, our illusory moment of sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Well, actually, it wasn't that simple -- it never is.  Our era was rife with great big "ifs", wonderments about whether we'd see the next day. It was a tangential time. An experimental time, full of twists and turns, sudden appointments with destiny and great disappointments with the older generation that opposed us.

But I do believe, as I was coming of age at the same time Aram was, and getting into some of the same scrapes that this was an exceptional time to be alive. We were both were Poets in the Schools, courtesy in part due to Richard Nixon, believe it or not, supporting national arts programs.

Some of the schools we were sent to were very conservative and I remember some of my poems being censored. I can also remember Maurice Sendak's In The Night Kitchen being censored by librarians who put cotton diapers over Mickey's privates! By some happenstance miracle, I became an editor and got to publish Aram's novel The Street, which took off immediately, and also Maurice Sendak's winsome picture book with Ruth Krauss, Somebody Else's Nut Tree, one of the first quality paperbacks for kids to be sold in independent bookstores in America.

There was a revolution in bookselling going on too, and we were a part of it. Aram edited and published books, wrote essays and published poems in The New York Times. It was a delirious moment to be alive if you were writing, publishing, making music, weaving, throwing pots, fashioning leather clothes, celebrating ethnicity, making low budget films, or just plain being alive!

It was a weird time to be alive as well, for on the one hand there was rampant free speech, casual nudity, loud music, wild parties, inventive poetry and song -- and on the other hand there were assassinations, overdoses, violence in the street (a catchphrase at the time). Everything in the sixties was bubbling in the same great cauldron of unrest. In truth, it was a renaissance, and we haven't seen its like, or even come close to it, in 40 years. And it all happened, quite frankly, on the street!

Which is why the novel The Street is so important. This is the 40th year since it was published, it is still around being read, and that makes it a classic. This new edition is a facsimile of the original published in 1974 by The Bookstore Press. If  you want to know why this novel, more than others, rings so true  read The Street. There is a fresh permanence in the narration that is as singular as Aram's famous one-word poems. He speaks not only to us, but for us, for those of us who weathered the storm. And further, this novel is touching those Xers and Yers who today are asking us this question, "What was it really like?"


Sunday, June 1, 2014


Our parrot George got out of his cage yesterday. Normally we let him out in the morning and put him back in at night. He likes it that way.

However, yesterday two visiting dogs, Nala and Puck, decided George might be good to eat.

George was perched on the metal bar at the base of his cage. The dogs charged. George stood his ground and yelled: OH, NO! HELP! OH, MY GOD!"

The dogs stopped in their tracks. Then they looked around to be sure they'd heard the bird right. No ventriloquists in the audience, which consisted of Lorry, me, and our miniature Dachsy, Mouse, who was horrified and wouldn't stop barking. Neither would Henri, our daughter's not-so-miniature hotdog.

The dogs took a tentative step forward.

George started to cry like a baby. Really loud.

The dogs backed up.

Lorry ran up to him and put him behind bars.

George was never so happy to be in jail. He shook his feathers, puffed them out, shook them again, and said "Hel-lo," in a sultry voice.

The dogs lay down and went to sleep. 

We sat there, Lorry and I, thinking about the power of parrotspeak

.George attacking his favorite hand puppet