Monthly Archives: July 2019

Saturday Afternoon Taffetas: new poetry by Lynn Strongin

Note: Today I am doing something out of the ordinary and giving my space over to Lynn Strongin, whom I worked with in my days as managing editor of New Works Review about a decade ago and whose work, since then, I have occasionally commented on in this blog. I have always found her poetry, in particular, stunning in form and beauty as well as full of significance. Beyond that, I will let the poet’s own brief introductory notes – and this wonderful series of linked poems that follows – speak for themselves:

Poet’s comments and credits: I got the inspiration for this from the Monterey Senior Centre’s flyer for summer. “Saturday Afternoon Taffetas” is the name of one event, or group. so it is nostalgic in impulse. But then I take a good hard look at that bland-land of the fifies and see it with an ironic sharper eye than nostalgia would encourage. As Roethke says, “I have stolen these things from sleep, partly”: This feeling exists partly in time, partly in dream. One floats thru the poems. There is the nickelodeon. There is also the desire to live “transcendently” or slicing thru time but not with a knife: with a soft rustle of taffetas so that the rainbow colors on this particular type of silk can shine over the whole scene. But the transcendent always slips away and we are left here on earth “to defend our toys” which are our books, our bicycles, our paintings: all that composite of earthly pleasures which holds us together.

I have had poems published this past year mainly in Australia’s Otoliths, edited by Mark Young https://the-otolith.blogspot.com. Brett Alan Sanders and Mark Young have chosen poems which have a strand of vision in common: these are poems which try for transcendence of earthy things by representing a visionary view of the whole. Call it magical realism in poetry. One of the poems in Otoliths (Issue fifty-one, part one, southern spring, 2018) is “Foundling Hospital,” which begins: “FOUNDLING HOSPITAL STANDS in Lamb’s Conduit Field / London” and this echoes my own hospital stay in 1951 upstate New York.

Saturday Afternoon Taffetas

 

Feelings exist in time, and in a dream

The things I steal from sleep are what I am.

                                                             — Theodore Roethke 

 

SATURDAY AFTERNOON TAFFETAS , the fifties, blandland opening out into depression

In wave upon wave

The carousel even greyed out:

An ash bloom covers all we love as if the war blew over from Europe and sifted its crematory ash upon us

Moving forward, passionately, desperately wielding pastel balloons like swords:

Here are boys with bright red ones like the blood they draw from a nail on a fall.

Here are pale pink ones for girls with rag curls a black nanny took half an hour to put in.

Put another nickel in to the Nickelodeon

All I want is loving you like music mowed music.

Nausea, the child clutching her stomach after the fair.

The Kewpie doll never greets to be hers

Nor does she ever

Ever grab the gold ring from the carousel’s center.

Always bridesmaid never bride:

Buck teeth

Which a mouthful of metal is too much for daddy to afford.

In fact, mummy can’t afford daddy any more

& shoves him out the back door

to be piled with the garbage in vast black bags.

Where is the gold?

Mother came home tired & took off her hat at the stove.

So the wrath, the colors Saturday afternoon taffetas

petrel flying south

like the deepest shove toward love may tire, but never grow old.

 

Credit: Pinterest

THE PETREL FLIES NORTH

Beyond birth

Before death

Old skills curling up like dried apple rings.

Your face darkens tenderly at what you see in me:

A quality of devotion that can make the secular sacred:

The lamp with rip in silk shade which mother bought in one of my bouts

Tearing in the shape of a country, what country? Maybe Italy, maybe Spain

Pay truly strict attention.

My poems just manage to be unwavering

As the quality of love’s gaze.

If it weren’t for you, the yearning for connection,

The instant of love I would want to lie down forever & a day with only iron city’s crown.

 

LIGHT DISAPPEARS IN YOUR EYES like an island, sinking:

Love’s strict, small land

Unwavering as a lit match

Its reflection a palsy, silvery tremor.

Compelling dramas come out of small moments, living as a foundling, “Is it true, a priest is a house lit up?”

Trying to become visible

After a life dependent on not being stared out.

Cattedrale de Redemptor

My recollections blur:

mirrored

by silver-nitrate water.

To endure vision one must burn.

To receive love one must turn

From all earthly things

Unto the road to Emmaus where Christ will be crucified

Until one realizes in a split-second it is the tawny, the barefoot poverty-stricken redeemer who has been casting a shadow, a holy linkage

finger tips touching, beside them all along,

 

I KEEP having visions re-visions:

Orangeries, southern country: France to the lower parts, Spain

Turning one page of my life from Italic back to Garamond, then Iowa book face

Yes! Nail on the head, hit the jackpot:

Plainness, like good stout Indigo cloth, is my home, my core.

Weather turns rain into ice leaves fail

The whole land is carpeted in brilliant chain-

Mail darkening at dusk.

There is a musk to the peach smell

Is it

In this room?

Thing links to think.

Voice to noiselessness

A caress to loss:

Like a monk’s almost barren life

Devoid of person

Aside from the one writing who will never see the self except in reflection.

 

COUNTING TIME LIKE LOOPS OF ROPE

I recall braiding my cousin’s hair, large curls of shiny coal.

This is the quiet that follows the storm session

Like shadow the child.

Congealed ice makes another child: the one I held

Now melted by early sun

But can be resurrected again at first touch of warmth.

 

Young Lynn

Once when I was free, unbroken

The words need hardly be spoken. . .

I turn back my French cuff you phone

Like the fool I must find the button: but instead am half-

Finding the right

Light bringing it home

(we are the shadows where the bees swarmed)

we are the smoke burned:

Counting loops of rope

Circle locked in circle

Like hope.

 

BLIND FORWARD

All thoughts of love which should, but do not, bring reprieve.

So, leave:

Misery, pain in the butt a rifle pointing me out of this room

Into an annex a messenger:

Like Carrie Ten Boom who was butted out & crouched for years till she re-formed her spine

Deformed into the letter “S” for Sorrow, for Salvation

By the time she unfolded herself like a giraffe from a nap

Like a tall person from a chair she had memorized a lexicon of poems

On cigarette-scarred vellum paper. Hence, she learned

The alphabet backward & forward

Stark bloody naked: and Carrie, she

went for the time in years having served her term

To enter the remains, blind-forwarded, to freedom.

 

I AM IN SEARCH of the transcendent,

Because I almost found it once as a child.

Slippery as a trout it would slide away.

That rare person, a quiet American, am I

Destined to live among shadows, be counted one of them

As I enter the labor of little roses to bloom

Musical tone, a voice with character

Skinny shadow like the kid I was: destined to

Bloom

By a sickbed

In a darkened room.

 

I MUST DO what I was born to do:

Make lightning flash with a question.

Why do we see each other so little?

Thru glass, thru morning, thru evening’s lightning

& nightfall’s burning off the chill sorrow with lamplight or oil.

But oil can ignite.

You are young in that you can lift a sparrow woman filled with oceans of love

Small lakes now

But shrunk as only velvet or silk does.

 

Can we ignite sand paper?

My virus is six-sided a crystal with voice

Like that of a choirboy before it drops

The crystal sings. His hands circling his mouth, his voice box unshattering:

Rings

Is the difference between human beings & God that God cannot stand continuance

Needs variety

Yet repetition

Makes the heart beat

The waterwheel sweep water blue as sky

Run, run.

No sooner were you a young man, happy than the nature of things rushed into fatherhood, martyrdom, now old age

Which is a disease.

All your life you were striving to hold fast the moment

Up against a major force: the art nothing but the trying to catch the one moment

Mood, one light, momentary beauty of one flower, one woman. You can still fish. Can still love.

In the true spirit of the Lord, leap up amid a whirlpool of change.

 

THE TRANSCENDENT ALWAYS SLIPS AWAY slides as silk, as the doe in your hands while you try to rescue her

Thus threatening the mother will fright & light away into further bushes.

Is God in back of it all?

Am I threatened with a fall?

A call from the beyond

Made me, as a girl, bound

Into boyish ecstasy.

Now at eighty

I count hoops for zeros all years: fears, tears

The transcendent slips away, a vapor, like a cup of tea.

 

On one side of the mirror me

On the other—do I know that thee

Less solid than vapor

But shimmering:

Must I step into the ring

Of cooling fire

After the burn of a life

Is scalded away:

Only the solid remains

Stainless

Trenchant

An unmistakable knife.

 

FLASH POINT a liquid’s lowest temperature of ignition

I step thru day, with the permission

Of heartbeat,

Genes,

Limbs:

Two lost in childhood one gained

Making memory freeze frames everlasting.

It is all wrong to imagine paradise as never-changing bliss:

It is the table set for two

Evening falling like a ladder we must climb

To get out of haze

Into light:

Two knives, two forks, two spoons:

It is anger cooling at loss running, a grayish thread, thru the hours:

It is hunger at nothing but bread & tea.

It is one memory after another climbing the tree

Like a celestial monkey.

It is the ponder

Heart which will rise

As the lover flashes on the eye:

Without tease

Or host but love

It is invitations:

Green lawn

Starched devotion

Pure allowance

Lower than longing:

Kiss, another kiss: it is nothing other:

It is this.

 

Tapestry, by Sofia Rodionov

ANY THOUGHT OF HUSBANDS vanished long ago

An elegant stave The Saturday Afternoon Taffetas:

Unwavering

Almost fixed

But not like iron.

Give me your undivided attention

Father said.

I did.

What came true was one of the tales in “Canterbury” but nun, cleric—all combine now

To tell me one brilliance, a stained glass fairy story.

 

I climb down the remaining one story of childhood

Into cool air

Milking over

Like mist on the limbs of a lover.

I ride the dream pony of night toward land further than sight:

These imagined gospels are not four

But many more.

 

I would not be outfoxed by paralysis.

I rose I rise I give a lover’s kiss:

I sink

I seize the tree branch as it cracks

Till broken

We both float in water: hair of coal, of flax:

Am I son? Or daughter?

By my voice, daughter. By my ardor something utterly other.

 

IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE OPENING YOUR EYES on waking

I do too.

If anxiety peaks like a roof I do too:

I have a slur in my speech, a halt like a boy readying to leap a hurdle, pumping energy

Heart hard-beating, a trip hammer.

When my speech broke was it a mini stroke?

That closet you flash open which looms & lights back a field of gold garments

Is collected against despair;

I bought, after a bout of spinal pain, that

Gold silk vest from twice-around assembled, like index card to read, quite near sweaters of every color for every soul food, each mood: in a mustard color from “My Sister’s Closet.”

I wear my tunic on dark days walking straight toward the rain:

It’s like two people falling in love separated by a border.

Couplets are like lovers: I speak the lines again & again.

Am I a Francis at heart, the holy fool?

To be the spiritual dumps requires energy: pumping biceps to pull yourself up

Where there is a glory like a halo about: here,

Holy weeds line my grandmother’s attic:

Each shot is a mystic’s dream-prayers, dream-shout.

 

I AM HERE TO DEFEND my toys

The petrel must fly north

Thru storm

Thru south

Thru birth.

We are born to die: you and I.

The kids here just discuss how to paint the past

Over a campfire

Flames reflected in canvas

Death on its way

But who could see

The stallion start & snort?

It was an ashen cindery day:

I could taste both.

We are the smoke when the bees disappear:

Saturday Afternoon Taffetas

Legs that walk before polio took soap to a pure reflection of a child

Her legs cut off like a paper doll’s

Yet I am here

At eighty still to defend my joys:

The Kewpie doll I never won

The boys untaken the untaken boys

The final gasp of a child crying, she could still walk

Her windpipe was being born: it was nonetheless God coming close, closer, ecstasy’s broken toys.

 

BELIEVE IN GOD THE WAY YOU BELIEVE IN ICARUS & starlight

Foolproof reading by authors for prize.

Who will be my companion on this grief journey?

Not thee, nor thee, nor thee

Eating Pride week pancakes: doted with sugar crunchies, rainbow speckles.

Send my roots rain.

We need each other.

Pilgrim, you are bruised & wounded

I am dreaming of stones

The heavy shoulders of a life with the cello.

After my year as a mystic I remember praying, why part?

She writes, aged over seventy “You never got over me. I thought I got over you.”

Is this a game of silence? Or throwing stones, small ones?

A heart which relents

observes Sundays which still exist in time:

We are moth-lovers

We pray in & outside. We pray in snow, in rain:

Between midnight & dawn

There are small talks with God

Until the belief in God & Icarus takes a plunge

Scatters stars of foam.

 

Lynn with birthday lilies

Lynn Strongin 

British Columbia, Canada

July, 2019

© Lynn Strongin 2019

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Rumors of the blogger’s death have been exaggerated

Brett with Books

The author among his books, ca. 1990

With apologies for my months’-long silence (I will not burden you, dear reader, with excuses or explanations), and with a promise of more frequent communications, I offer this potpourri of short pieces for this Independence Day holiday. The first three were published in or intended for local and regional newspapers; the fourth, excerpted from a book review in an old journal entry.

Perry County News (Tell City, Indiana / July 1, 2019)

On the state of our nation

On and around this July 4th, perhaps we could pause from our celebrations to reflect on the actual state of our nation.

It does us no good to wave the flag and chant “USA! USA!” while refugee parents and children wash ashore on the Rio Grande; while infants and toddlers shiver on the concrete floors of concentration camps in our own southwest; while the chaos we’ve sown in the Middle East continues to spread like a cancer.

Before you dismiss me as a traitor to our republic, please know that I speak as a father and a grandfather whose heart breaks continually when I consider the future that we’re making for all of us.

When children misbehave, responsible parents don’t look the other way and pretend they need no correction. Nor should we for a nation in the throes of our more base and violent instincts. Instead of on the wings of our better angels.

Perhaps we have always been two nations, one that welcomes and absorbs the world’s downtrodden and the other that responds with fear and force of arms. One that nourishes and assists those already among us and the other who locks them up and casts them off.

Maybe it’s time we reconsider our thirst for empire. In how many countries do we need military bases? Why must we control everything and every place from the Gulf of Mexico to the Persian Gulf and China Sea?

How many hundreds of thousands (or millions) have to die before we consider the 3,000 dead on 9/11 fully avenged? How many cities do we have to “liberate” by reducing them to rubble?

George Washington advised his successors to avoid foreign entanglements and wars. President Eisenhower warned us about the dangers of our “military-industrial complex.”

Yet here we are, after almost 18 years, in an ever-widening and apparently endless conflict. Who are the profiteers in these forever wars? Why have we ceded to them the power of our national wealth and well-being?

What if, instead, we brought home those trillions of dollars to pay for all the social programs that we’re endlessly told we can’t afford?While the military budget gets yet another blank check. Is the value obtained greater than the value of free public education and medical care?

What if we were to stop making machines of war and instead build the infrastructure for a new green economy?

Because yes, there is a climate crisis. We’re already in the midst of it. The science is in. The Arctic is thawing, water levels rising, and the intensity of storms increasing – all of this more quickly than science predicted.

Instead of hiding our heads in the sand, what if we were to mobilize against this threat with the same energy and patriotism that we mobilized for WWII?

Perhaps we could even empty those concentration camps and our for-profit prisons; embrace our refugees and our better angels; become a nation to truly celebrate.

June 8, 2019 (unpublished)

On control of one’s body and one’s vote

Edith Hamilton, in her Mythology, tells of a time in ancient Athens when women could vote. In a contest between Athena and Poseidon to see which would be the city’s patron deity, the women’s vote went to the goddess and the men’s, to the god. Thus ended that feminist franchise.

So it goes. Now in Indiana, rules Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court, it’s okay to force women who have miscarriages to bear the expense of burying or cremating the fetal remains. Women in Indiana and around the country have already been prosecuted and jailed for miscarriages that may or may not have been deliberately or accidentally induced.

Likewise, in both northern and southern states,the effort to make it more difficult to vote – especially for black, brown, poor, and student populations – is rampant.

All of this is about power. About who gets to exercise it over whom. Do we want to live in a theocratic republic in which 6-week-old fetuses with fictitious heartbeats have more power than the women who carry them?

I wonder what would happen if, instead of waging endless global war and padding the pockets of profiteers, we showered that wealth on those who need it. If we make women and children more secure in their lives, might the problems of abortion and feticide take care of themselves?

Perry County News, December 31, 2018

Picasso’s Guernica was inspired by the bombing by General Franco’s forces, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39),, of the town by that name in Spain’s northern Basque region.

No room at the inn?

I will be glad if our troops do come home from Syria. I will be happier if they return from Afghanistan, Iraq, and other foreign places as well. But I will truly rejoice if we give up the whole pretense of peace by perpetual war and really have a go at diplomacy, at respect for international law, and at laying the foundation for a moderate prosperity for all of our people – in a world presently threatened by massive economic inequality and by nuclear and climate extinction.

Yes, I know. I’m talking like a red-eyed liberal, a religious Utopian, even a democratic socialist. But consider that it was a Republican president and WWII general – Dwight Eisenhower – who warned us against the encroachments of the military-industrial complex that has all but swallowed our politics. And I challenge the masterminds of post-9/11 foreign policy to demonstrate how their bloody schemes have made us a more secure nation – or how the past century of wars to end all wars, or to save democracy, or for peace by show of brute force have made our world more safe for anyone.

So I agree with the President’s stated intention of bringing the troops home from Syria, if not with his murky logic. I remain horrified by the illogic of his “America First” doctrine, tinged as it is by fascist and white-nationalist history and ideology.

Let’s be honest about one thing: we cannot at one and the same time be a “Christian nation” and one that proclaims, to refugees the world over, that there is no room at the inn. How ironic that, after a century of battling the real or perceived threat of Communist totalitarianism, so many of us now clamor for the erection of our own Berlin Wall across the entirety of our southern border – migratory wolves, butterflies, and wretched humanity be damned!

The “caravans” of mothers, fathers, and children leaving places like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador – countries that our foreign policy, military and economic, has helped to ravage – have banded together for mutual support and as a legitimate act of nonviolent protest against the hopelessness of the lives they flee. They have never been the band of rapists, murderers, and thieves that the President and others have claimed. They are scapegoats and political distraction from the real sources of our trouble, not least of which is a military budget that serves the interests of war profiteers before those of regular citizens and our all-volunteer armed forces.

The truth is that these problems and others are inextricably related. The longer we rely on a culture of punitive “criminal justice,” race and class bias, and military adventurism, the more remote and unlikely any chance of creating the kind of social and economic security we claim to value.

As our political leaders pretend that we cannot pay for social “entitlements” that benefit our elderly, our children, and our poor – yet somehow no sum is too much to throw at an already bloated military budget – we should remember President Eisenhower’s identification of guns made and rockets fired as “a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

excerpted from Personal Journal (August 8, 2009)

The Accidental American: Immigration and Citizenship in the Age of Globalism, by Rinku Sen, with Fekkak Mamdouh, 2008, San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 248 pages.

Where we enter this world,” Rinku Sen writes toward the end of this important treatise on U.S. and world immigration policy, “is an accident of birth; where we are when we leave it is equally unpredictable” (p. 120). Which leads to this equally vital summative point: “We are all accidental Americans in some way” (p. 221).

Rinku Sen, an Indian-American woman, editor of Color Living magazine and director of the Applied Research Center, is, I gather, the shaper and framer of the book, with Mamdouh’s collaboration. He is a Moroccan immigrant and co-founder, first, of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY) and, later, co-director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC-U), the first national organization for restaurant workers. Much of the book’s narrative structure is centered on Mamdouh’s experience as an (at-first) “illegal” immigrant, and the dramatic change it took after 9/11/2001. His life, through a gradual awakening to the need for activism for immigrant workers, in particular, and for all workers, generally, becomes linked to community organizer Saru Jayaraman, a first-generation Indian American.

A secondary, but no-less essential narrative follows the political work of Cecilia Muñoz, who, while Mamdouh and Saru are working for worker and immigrant rights within the restaurant industry, is working in Washington to push immigration reform on a larger scale as the national mood takes a sharp and hostile turn against it.

Referring to Mamdouh’s and Muñoz’s stories, Sen writes in her introduction: “Together, these two stories reveal an ironic truth: even as Mamdouh’s work on the streets of New York continually broadened his community, the discussion of appropriate federal policy went the opposite way” (p. 10).

The central thrust of the book’s argument is that while neoliberalism has globalized markets, it hasn’t done the same for people. The very concept of illegal people is flawed, she argues, and globalization won’t be complete until the borders are open for people and power equalized between industry and workers.

Seem like a naive position? Read the book’s well-researched and well-articulated argument – and consider with new eyes the unsustainable fantasy of a neoliberal economy that privileges markets over people and allows for that market’s deliberate distortion by and on behalf of the most powerful and moneyed interests.