Saturday, April 25, 2009

7 letter words are easier spoken...

(Image: Armenian Genocide Memorial)

With my head full of presidential soft shoe and Jonathan Safran Foer's luminous meditations, yesterday's presidential fudge, with a "perpetrator-less" wind of "atrocities" invoked and Samantha Power's ludicrous "assurances" dancing in my head, I may have a few more days of sludge to plow through. As with all things close to the heart and close to the hearts of those close to us, inconsistency and hypocrisy loom large, despite the fact that we all, at some time, are guilty of the very same soft shoe.

NPR hoohaw today brought reminders of the need to speak to the truth of things, the thing this time (just days before yesterday's day of not speaking to the truth of things) being a seven letter word: torture. Memos released, speak the truth, call things what they are, right? So long as the day isn't a Friday, or the 24th day of April, and so long as the word has no more than seven letters in it. Turkey: six letters, capiche? Armenia? Seven letters: admissible to the lexicon. It's that eight letter word that fouls the nest.

Much was made of Obama's trip to Turkey, and the assurances they (seemingly) extracted. Why not a trip to Armenia while in the neighborhood, to at least convey a sense of balance?


Friday, April 24, 2009

Genocide: "Business as usual."

April 24th is Armenian Remembrance Day, a day of remembering and mourning the 20th century's first genocide, the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians as targets of a state-planned and state-administered policy of "extermination" by the Ottoman Turkish government. To this day, the Turkish government adamantly denies this historical tragedy, exerts enormous energy in fighting any attempts by the United States government (and other governments) to formally acknowledge the genocide. Candidate Barack Obama strongly denounced the Bush administration's equivocations and policies in this regard, and pledged to speak out quite clearly on the Armenian Genocide, and not shy away from the word whatsoever. American presidents have traditionally released statements on Armenian Remembrance Day, song and dancing their way around one small 8-letter word. Candidate Obama pledged to retire the dancing shoes. Today, President Barack Obama slid into the dance line right beside the predecessor he had so vociferously excoriated.

Why such a big deal about one 8-letter word? Take an even shorter word: murder. Say, your grandparents were brutally murdered, but everyone around you insisted that there was nothing brutal about their deaths (all physical evidence and documents and pictures to the contrary), that they were old, they starved, what have you. The way of the world. Take another word: Holocaust. Strip the Jewish people of the world of the word, equivocate, suggest that committees should be convened to look at the issues from all sides, turn a blind eye when governments refuse to acknowledge the horror that is historical fact.

Armenians are not the only victims of this denial. The Turkish people, for whom it is a crime to say that the genocide was a genocide, are barred from their own healing. Turkish intellectuals have fled their own country, in order to speak to the truth of genocide. Criminal charges were brought against Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, for his outspoken comments regarding the truth of Armenian Genocide. He is now living in the United States.

My wife is an Armenian American. Her maternal grandmother survived two death marches through the desert, but lost three children along the way. This is my shrine to her, to her grandmother, to her grandmother's babies, to my wife's family, to Armenians everywhere, and to Turkish people everywhere. May we all speak to the heart of things as they are, and through such acknowledgement, heal.

Despite Campaign Pledge, President Obama Refuses to Use Word 'Genocide' When Describing Slaughter of Armenians

from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper

April 24, 2009 2:26 PM

Despite a campaign promise that he would boldly use the word "genocide" as president when describing the Ottoman Empire's slaughter of up to 1.5 million Armenians in the early part of the last century, President Obama deliberately avoided use of that word in his statement today on Armenian Remembrance Day.

"We're profoundly disappointed," Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America, told ABC News. "All the more so because his statements on this in his record before he became president nailed it in terms the facts, the practical side and the moral dimension. He repeatedly talked about this during the campaign, and he was really harsh on President Bush, he said it was inexcusable that Bush refused to acknowledge that this was genocide."

Hamparian says President Obama "finds himself doing exactly the thing he so sharply criticized the Bush administration for, which is being euphemistic and evasive. It's a bitter thing for Armenian-Americans who really believed him and really worked hard."

In a July 28, 2006, letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, President Obama protested her decision to recall U.S. Ambassador to Armenia John for using the G-word.

“That the invocation of a historical fact by a State Department employee could constitute an act of insubordination is deeply troubling,” then-Sen. Obama wrote. “When State Department instructions are such that an ambassador must engage in strained reasoning -- or even an outright falsehood -- that defies of common sense interpretation of events in order to follow orders, then it is time to revisit the State Department's policy guidance on that issue."

Obama told Secretary Rice that the “occurrence of the Armenian genocide in 1915 is not an 'allegation,' a 'personal opinion,' or a 'point of view.' Supported by an overwhelmingly amount of historical evidence, it is a widely documented fact."

But Mr. Obama’s statement today does not use the word. He calls the genocide “one of the great atrocities of the 20th century” and mentions the “1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire.” He uses the Armenian term for “The Great Atrocity” -- The Meds Yeghern -– and he calls for “a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.”

But he does not use the word.

“He made it so clear throughout the campaign that that word mattered,” the ANCA’s Hamparian says.

That is indisputable. Mr. Obama said that “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that president.”

In a January 2008 letter to the Armenian Reporter, Mr. Obama said he shared “with Armenian Americans -- so many of whom are descended from genocide survivors -- a principled commitment to commemorating and ending genocide. That starts with acknowledging the tragic instances of genocide in world history.”

He stated unequivocally that “as president I will recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

Earlier this month when President Obama visited the critical U.S. ally Turkey –- whose leaders forbid in law calling the genocide a “genocide”—Mr. Obama refrained from using it.

Standing with Turkish president Abdullah Gul, President Obama said that “my views are on the record and I have not changed views. What I have been very encouraged by is news that under President Gul's leadership, you are seeing a series of negotiations, a process, in place between Armenia and Turkey to resolve a whole host of longstanding issues, including this one.”

Saying he wants to “be as encouraging as possible around those negotiations which are moving forward and could bear fruit very quickly very soon. And so as a consequence, what I want to do is not focus on my views right now but focus on the views of the Turkish and the Armenian people. If they can move forward and deal with a difficult and tragic history, then I think the entire world should encourage them.”

The Armenian National Committee of America at the time expressed disappointment, but held off on judging the president, waiting to see what he said today.

“We figured that he may have had one formula for visiting Turkey,” Hamparian said. He no longer believes that to be the case.

Armenian National Committee of America
1711 N Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036
Tel. (202) 775-1918 * Fax. (202) 775-5648 *


For Immediate Release ~ 2009-04-24
Contact: Elizabeth S. Chouldjian ~ Tel: (202) 775-1918


April 24th statement avoids “genocide” characterization

WASHINGTON, DC -- Despite repeated statements properly characterizing the Armenian Genocide during his Senate career and a clear pledge stating that “As President, I will recognize the Armenian Genocide,” President Barack Obama today issued an April 24th statement evading the proper characterization of the Armenian Genocide, reported the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA).

ANCA Chairman Ken Hachikian issued the following statement regarding President Obama’s April 24th statement:

“I join with all Armenian Americans in voicing our sharp disappointment with President Obama’s failure to honor his solemn pledge to recognize the Armenian Genocide.”

“In falling short of his repeated and crystal clear promises, which reflected a thorough knowledge of the facts, the practical implications, and the profound moral dimension of Armenian Genocide recognition, the President chose, as a matter of policy, to allow our nation’s stand against genocide to remain a hostage to Turkey's threats.”

“The President’s statement today represents a retreat from his pledge and a setback to the vital change he promised to bring about in how America confronts the crime of genocide.”

“Genocide must be confronted unconditionally at the level of American values and our common humanity. As Americans, we should never allow the prevention or recognition of this crime to be reduced to a political issue that can be traded away, retreated from under pressure, or used to advance a political agenda, of any kind.”

“We urge the President to act quickly to correct his Administration’s stand on the Armenian Genocide by properly condemning and commemorating this crime, removing Turkey’s gag-rule on its recognition by the United States, and working publicly toward the adoption of the Armenian Genocide Resolution before Congress,” concluded Hachikian

As a Senator and presidential candidate, President Obama pledged repeatedly to recognize the Armenian Genocide and promised “unstinting resolve” to end the Darfur Genocide, stating, “America deserves a leader who speaks truthfully about the Armenian Genocide and responds forcefully to all genocides. I intend to be that President.” View his record on the issue at:

President Obama’s complete statement is provided below.



Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
April 24, 2009

Statement of President Barack Obama on Armenian Remembrance Day

Ninety four years ago, one of the great atrocities of the 20th century began. Each year, we pause to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were subsequently massacred or marched to their death in the final days of the Ottoman Empire. The Meds Yeghern must live on in our memories, just as it lives on in the hearts of the Armenian people.

History, unresolved, can be a heavy weight. Just as the terrible events of 1915 remind us of the dark prospect of man’s inhumanity to man, reckoning with the past holds out the powerful promise of reconciliation. I have consistently stated my own view of what occurred in 1915, and my view of that history has not changed. My interest remains the achievement of a full, frank and just acknowledgment of the facts.

The best way to advance that goal right now is for the Armenian and Turkish people to address the facts of the past as a part of their efforts to move forward. I strongly support efforts by the Turkish and Armenian people to work through this painful history in a way that is honest, open, and constructive. To that end, there has been courageous and important dialogue among Armenians and Turks, and within Turkey itself. I also strongly support the efforts by Turkey and Armenia to normalize their bilateral relations. Under Swiss auspices, the two governments have agreed on a framework and roadmap for normalization. I commend this progress, and urge them to fulfill its promise.

Together, Armenia and Turkey can forge a relationship that is peaceful, productive and prosperous. And together, the Armenian and Turkish people will be stronger as they acknowledge their common history and recognize their common humanity.

Nothing can bring back those who were lost in the Meds Yeghern. But the contributions that Armenians have made over the last ninety-four years stand as a testament to the talent, dynamism and resilience of the Armenian people, and as the ultimate rebuke to those who tried to destroy them. The United States of America is a far richer country because of the many Americans of Armenian descent who have contributed to our society, many of whom immigrated to this country in the aftermath of 1915. Today, I stand with them and with Armenians everywhere with a sense of friendship, solidarity, and deep respect.


Buena Vista Social "Cloob"

The sublime "Chan Chan" and a nice linguistic puzzle for Ms Anno:

Got the day off: Battle of Flowers. Tres Leches' stab at Mardi Gras...


Sunday Scribbling #160: Follow

river dust

kings and queens we shall all be

but I will not,

I will knot the threads

of my heart

the knees shall bend

but I will not,

claims of notability


I will


climb the heirs of


I shall

claim the busy world

in her staggering


I must

but dither in false


praise in caravans

pacify groaning self-weight

vilification is blood sport

but so is the tether at

our necks

amethyst geodes will

be broken

thundering dust

his and hers

in the archives by

the rivers

caverns of worth

in the dimmest words

the sheerest veils

Avalons in merrymaking

the 10,000 suns our

signal, birthing

visual teleplay

the fortnights of worry

flirted away, in

the consummations of

global consequence

frittered through

this one’s that &

that one’s this

better ask the wind

why she squanders

the heart by which

she leads.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Jean Luc Ponty (violin). Al Di Meola (guitar). Stanley Clarke (bass). Saw ADM do a (free) two hour "clinic" a few years ago at the now defunct Hermes Music here in Tres Leches. Awesome. The song is Ponty's "Renaissance," from mid-1970s.

Turn this UP.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

Divas All

And, straight from the vine of the King of Blogging (for obvious reasons):



For Ms. G and her family:


Friday, April 17, 2009


Navigable Space

Cynthia writes:
And then, in the blue
light of Stockholm

“grievous fumes of zebra”
she doesn’t quite write,
but we take her meaning,
we infuse it with
the leftovers of this &
that, grieving everything
that nozzled the new day,
the blue ubiquity of
failing cemeteries, long
forgotten in the grey
meadows, long bemused by
missing flowers—asters, gladiolas, stargazers—
on my word, I have
lost the very last I
I had to muster, confused
by gerrymandered time,
impoverished by Stockholm’s blonde
vigor, the backs of tourists
in blonde streets,
the cooing of pigeons over
blonde bridges, the last chance
for hello into a world
thirty years lost
in the rain, grey garden
on the edges, basement
revelations in the crying that
grew louder & louder,
the day
you said
you would never die.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Means much fruit

In keeping with the Easter season, another excerpt from my novel Galilee. References to the character May will come clear at the end of the excerpt.

The Vidalia debacle spared Peter any more detours. He and George and the green Buick made good time through southwestern Mississippi, and then curled their way through back roads south to Bay St. Louis. It was a little after nine o’clock in the evening when they arrived. They drove the few blocks that qualified as its business district and came to a dead end at a peevish stretch of sand and the Gulf of Mexico. Peter turned off the car’s ignition and rolled down his window to the slap of surf in the dark. George, surfside, opened his door to let in the sea breeze, what little there was.

“Could a town be any deader than this?” said Peter.

“I’ve seen more action at the Blue Mountain when we’re closed for the night,” said George. He was bent over and scuffing the running shoes off his feet.

“Fancy a swim there, George?”

“Just a wade, my brother. Just a wade. How about you?”

They trudged through the sand down past a half dozen boats strewn in the sand like toys left in a front yard overnight, an attitude long lost to the bigger cities east and west of the little burg. The cuffs of Peter’s jeans were soaked in Gulf water before he remembered that he’d left his car keys in the ignition. George was peeled to his boxers and about to baptize himself another thirty feet out.

Peter walked back and sat down on the hull of a catamaran parked in the sand. He dug his toes in and watched George flailing out in the water like a whale calf cavorting for the first time without its mama. Even his twenty minutes in the wading pool had stirred up a fierce hunger in him all of a sudden. He wondered if they’d be able to find anything to eat, or if they’d have to drive east to Gulfport and the insomniac casinos.

George walked up and sat down on the other hull of the cat. He was still in his boxers, the rest of his clothes folded up under his left arm.

“Powerful hungry, Pete. Powerful. What do you think? Any chance of a place for food around here? What say we walk around a bit and see what we can find?”

“Would that be before or after you climb back into those clothes?”

East of the car seemed to curve into trees; west seemed more likely to have something up its sleeve, if only dimly. A quarter of a mile down the beach road, they walked up onto the grounds of Saint Stanislaus College for Boys, as proclaimed by a sign with an arrow pointing inland.

“Never heard of him,” said George. “Let’s hope he’s one of those hospitality saints.”

“What the hell saint wouldn’t be?” said Peter.

“Oh, I’ve heard of some nasties. It’s your ladies you’re more likely to count on. Some of the boys were just rodents.”

“Like you’d know,” said Peter.

An old man was sitting in a lawn chair under the covered porch of a building that looked like a wooden barracks that had seen better days. He leaned over a trio of kittens drinking from a saucer of milk. Smiled as the men walked up. What they took at first for a friar’s cassock was just a drab brown robe open to a massive belly and a pair of polka dot boxers. Big bare feet that looked sandblasted by years of combing the beach.

“Broke down?” said the man, in an accent that Peter placed as Polish, without really knowing how or why.

“Just hungry,” said George.

“You come to the right place, then. You know what the cats know, yes? Polycarp is big dinner.”

Confused, Peter said, “Not sure we were looking for fish—”

The bearish man roared his amusement, and clapped Peter on the back. “Ha! Not looking for fish. I like that. No, Mój Brat. Polycarp is not fish. Is my name. Means ‘much fruit.’ You like fruit, yes? Come, I have much to serve you. And don’t worry. For tonight, Polycarp can mean ‘much chicken fried steak,’ too.” He headed into the door behind him and then stopped and looked back, frowning. “You are Christians, mój brata?”

Peter and George looked at each other, not sure what answer would gain them admission. Polycarp watched their hesitation and again laughed his approval.

“Boys. Please, come in. If you are Christians, I am thinking I must make myself decent. Christs you are—I can see that, as are all travelers. My Lord would not care what his fool looks like, but these American Christians—so huffety they are. For you, I keep the dog collar off. Come.”

He ushered them into a gleaming kitchen that belied the rickety state of the building’s exterior. Big silver industrial refrigerators and stove, and polished pots and pans hanging from racks above their heads. Polycarp pointed to a large table and said, “Please, mój brata, sit.”

True to his name, fruit appeared first at the table—strawberries, mangoes, oranges, and pears. Then salad—hunks of romaine and tomatoes with crumbled gorgonzola. The good friar skipped the appetizers, but sat down to join them with his own plate-sized fried steak, smothered beneath a Gulf’s worth of cream gravy.

After a huge forkful of meat and gravy, he said, “In beginning, I’m not so sure why God calls me to this New World of Mississippi. Heat is beastly, beaches full of gamblers—what does this have to do with me, I want to know of God? I am none too pleased with my Holy Father, and then, about three months after my arrival, I am sent to McComb, Mississippi to pick up young boy who is terrorizing his town. Pyromaniac is the word, yes? He would set fire to his mother if he has half a chance. On ride back, hungry he is, tells me stop off at truck stop in Fernwood, just south of town. ‘Best chicken fried steak in the world, Father,’ he says to me. I don’t know chicken fried nothing from hole in wall, but I stop. By meal’s end, I am chicken fried convert, and he is chicken fried Christ convert. Never a peep out of him over here, never so much as a burning match. Not even as my acolyte will he so much as light the candles. Graduates first in his class here, goes on to Washington University up in St. Louis. Summa cum laude in mathematics. All glory to God because I get him out from under a stinking stepfather who beats him with three inch wide strap daily. And me, mój brata? All glory to God as I grow fat.”

George groaned and pushed back from the table.

“I’ve hurt myself, Father,” he said.

Polycarp beamed, pleased with his hospitality.

“Coffee, boys? Is mean coffee with chicory from New Orleans.”

Both men waved him off. Peter got up do the dishes. George dried, while Poly sat back with his bare feet up on the table and with a finger licked his plate clean.

The kitchen restored, Poly stood and said, “Now we swim.”

“We’ve already been out in the gulf,” said George.

“Bath water,” said the priest. “Come.”

At the deep end of an Olympic-sized pool, Poly tossed robe and boxers onto a metal bench. “No cheating, mój brata—it all comes off.” Into the water jumped the old grey whale. He was halfway down the length of the pool when Peter and George were stunned by the ice cold water they leaped into.

The travelers were blue after their ablutions, shivering in the night air. Poly was radiant. He herded them across the campus to his apartment in one of the boys’ dormitories. Not a peep down the long halls.

“Awfully quiet for a zoo full of boys,” said George.

“Spring break,” said Poly. “I run them all out of here, so I can have place to myself. Me and the cats.”

Inside the apartment, he tossed towels and blankets at his guests, then wrapped a beach towel around his enormous girth and flopped down onto a naugehyde recliner.

“So, mój brata. What brings you to the bay? I am not thinking you are here for St. Stanislaus. You look more like gamblers to me, but then there are no casinos here. So, what give?”

“We’re looking for a man,” said Peter.

“Police, mój brata? I’m sorry, boys, but you are not looking like policja.”

“No, no, nothing like that,” said Peter. “We’re looking for someone’s father.”

“Good Christian knows his Father is always with him. What’s to look?”

“Someone’s earthly father, Poly.”

“Earthly, smearthly.”

George broke in on the theology lecture and said, “Know a Kyle Lewis, by any chance, Poly?”

Polycarp sat up in the recliner and started picking at the big toenail of his right foot. After peeling away a barnacled sliver and tossing it across the room, he said, “Kyle? He is good man. I see him at mass every Sundays. Which of you he is father to?”

Peter laughed and said, “Not us, Poly. A young girl, a little over two years old.”

Poly shook his head. “I am not knowing Kyle to travel the last couple of years, but you never know what is going on in breast of man. You want, I will take you to him.”

“A little late, eh, Poly?” said Peter. “We can wait till morning.”

“Better now, mój brat. Kyle Lewis is sowa. Night owl.”

214 Lambert Street was about a mile and a half from the campus, but Poly insisted on walking there, the better to digest the dinosaur-sized slabs of fried meat he had fed them. Peter and George put their traveling clothes back on; Poly cinched up his robe again and slipped into a pair of leather sandals. Two police cars slowed down at sight of the three pedestrians, but honked their horns and sped off when Poly whistled at them and shouted blessings.

“You sure it’s okay to drop in on Mr. Lewis, Poly?” said Peter. “Seems awfully late.”

“If I know Kyle, he is sleeping over Bible.”

“Religious man,” said George. “That bodes well.”

“Bodes well for what?” said Poly. “Religious mens is often the worst. I got no time for religious mens. Kyle Lewis, he is good man.”

Lambert Street was a tiny cul de sac off Cedar Street, three or four cottages behind big hedges of legustrums. 214 was at the far end; not a light burned in the street or in any of the houses.

The yard in front of 214 was a veritable junk yard. Poly navigated its contents effortlessly, while Peter and George barked their shins several times from the street to the front porch.
As Poly pounded on the door, Peter hissed, “Dammit, Poly, there’s not a soul awake—”

“Hot damn, Polycarp,” said a ghost at the front door. “I was sleeping over my Bible. What the hell can I do for you, you old codger?”

“Not me, Kyle. These mens, they have news from your daughter.”

“Goddamn, now don’t that beat all, Poly. I told Kitty my answer was final. I ain’t sellin’ this house to her and Luke just so they can beat some goddamned tax when I croak.”

Peter cut in, “It’s not Kitty we’re here about, Mr. Lewis. As far as I know, you don’t know about this child—not yet, anyway.”

The big hoot owl in the giant pine tree behind Kyle Lewis’ house could have cut the silence that followed with its razor sharp talon. After a few minutes of silence, the ghost in the doorway blew out a long breath, with a tiny whimper tacked on at the end.

“Goddamn, Polycarp. So it’s come to this, has it? I always feared it would. Things has a way of coming back around no matter how far you run, you know that, you old snapper?” The man backed away from the doorway and said, “Sorry, boys. I’m being an awful host. Y’all come on in and take a load off.”

Peter blessed May and heard her laughter ricochet off the walls of his skull. He and George barked their shins a few more times into the house, and then followed Poly down the hallway into a kitchen where Kyle Lewis turned on the light. As Peter entered the kitchen and glanced at the man sitting at the table, he heard May laughing like a madwoman.

“I’ll be goddamned,” said Peter.

The old wrinkled man at the table, easily in his eighties and with an awfully precarious hold at that, nodded and said, “I know, I know. Don’t I know, boys. Y’all have a seat. Poly, you up to some coffee for these gentlemen? I think I’ve even got some of them vanilla wafers if you want to lay them out on a plate.” He nodded at Peter as he sat down and then looked George in the eye and started his confession.

“I know it wasn’t right, denying Krystal all these years. Her and that little redheaded baby, hell of course I could see she was mine, I had no call to deny the both of them. God knows I loved that woman ten thousand times more than that goddamned shrew I was married to, but Godamighty I was a small man in those days, oh so cowardly, and for a simple Mississippi country boy with not much to look forward to, I was making some damned good money over at the shipyard in Pascagoula. Christ, that money was better than I’d hoped to make in a lifetime, all because my daddy had the foresight to fill my head with everything he knew about electricity and welding. When I went home to Katherine all broke down and shameful and told her about that sweet little redheaded baby, she calmly stood up, walked into our bedroom and moved every last shred of me into the guest bedroom of our house, then walked back into the living room and in her acid bath voice proceeded to tell me that if I so much as breathed another word about that bastard child and her whore mother, she would have my job and my balls, and would make goddamned sure that I never worked above slave wages again for the rest of my life. Her daddy being one of the muckety mucks over at Ingalls, I knew she meant it, and could do it, too.”

Peter tried to cut in at this point, but Kyle Lewis cut back in first.

“The shame of it, boys, the godamighty sinful shame of it was that, beautiful as that little redheaded baby diamond was, and as sweet as that mother of hers was, I was too goddamned selfish and scared to call that goddamned woman’s bluff, to say to hell with her goddamned threats, I was a man and I wouldn’t take any of her bullshit, she could do whatever the hell she wanted, I knew where my heart and home was, and it sure as hell wasn’t here at 214 Lambert Street, but sweet Jesus, that just wasn’t me and that goddamned shrew knew it, she knew just what kind of a screwworm I was, and knew that, much as I may have claimed to love those two sweet gemstones, I was at heart a weak and selfish man, and I craved and lusted after Mammon way more than after the soft body of a sweet woman and her child.”

George went for the interception this time, but Kyle Lewis left him in the dust, too.

“So, boys, I may be a puking old man with not much left to heave, but you tell me where that sweet baby is, and her mother too if she’s still living, and I’ll do all I can to make what I can up to her. A sniveling man likely can’t do much to make things right, but I’m happy to do something. Looks like Poly here hasn’t had me snoring over my Bible for nothing after all.”

There was a light in the man’s eyes that Poly had never seen before as he sat expectantly waiting his chance of deliverance from the two strangers.

Peter was torn between an inner seething with tendrils all the way across the Mississippi River to May’s scorched fiefdom and sweet sympathy for the old man’s hopeful desolation, a quandary that left him lockjawed at best. George, with nothing readily at stake in Peter’s mad quest, came to the rescue.

“Mr. Lewis,” he said, “I’m sorry to tell you that I believe we have a case of mistaken identity here.”

“No, no, boys, it’s okay, no reason to protect me now—”

“No, Mr. Lewis, you see, the man we’re looking for fathered a little girl just two years ago. He’s got the same name as yours, but I’m afraid this isn’t your baby.”

Poly watched the hopeful desolation on the face of his parishioner drain away to the pain he’d seen ever since the broken man first showed himself in the back pews at Stanislaus. He set a cup of coffee in front of the man and put his big beefy arm around him.

Looking at the old man’s face, Peter felt sufficiently dislodged from his anger at May to feel the sadness that was creeping back into the room.

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Lewis,” he said. “I wish we hadn’t barged into your life like this.”

Kyle Lewis sat up straight in his chair and folded his hands around the coffee cup in front of him. Poly tapped him gently on the shoulder and stepped back away from the table.

“No, sir, that’s not the way we’re gonna have it,” said the old man. “That’s not it.” He stood up and gripped the back of his chair and said, “Y’all just wait right here a moment, if you would.”

He was gone from the room for about fifteen minutes. The men in the kitchen listened as he climbed the stairs to his second floor, then heard a large object being dragged across a floor. A couple of snaps opening sounded like the locks on an old trunk. Sounds of rummaging followed, and then footsteps down the stairs.

Mr. Lewis sat back down at the table and slid an envelope across the table to Peter. Inside was a lock of bright red hair and two old crumpled black and white photographs of a smiling baby. Clouded behind her on a couch was a young smiling woman as well.

“The hellbitch that ran this house got just about everything she could out of me that was worth saving, but she never managed to find these. It ain’t much, but it managed to keep a tiny part of me alive.”

Polycarp peeked over Peter’s shoulder and said, “That’s a Madonna and child, good Christian mens. Anyone can see that.”

Peter nodded his assent. “She’s a beauty alright, Kyle. She and her mama both. It’s a shame—”

“Shame is exactly what it is, boys. Godamighty shame.” The old man slid another envelope Peter’s way. A sturdy stack of crisp one hundred dollar bills lay under its flap. In all his days at Stella’s café, he had never seen such a stack.

“Ten thousand dollars for that baby when you find her father. You do that for me.”

“Kyle,” said Peter. “We can’t take this. You certainly need this more—”

“Son, I got no need of this. Look around you. I got no need of any of this. I’m heading out of here any day now, you know, boy? Got on my traveling shoes. What’s an old man got to do with such trifles?”

“Believe me, Kyle, this little two year old’s got all she needs.”

“Ain’t got her father now, does she?”

Flame burned Peter’s face. A firm hand gripped his shoulder.

“One thing I know of my brother here, good mens,” said Poly, “is that what he says he always means. There is no taking the money back. You must take it.” He picked up the envelope and slipped it into Peter’s shirt pocket. “Now, is time we go. Kyle, my brother, thank you for blessing us here in your house. I pray for you and your lost family. I think out on the world they are still loving you.”

“I doubt that, old Poly, but a man can dream. Y’all be careful out there, and drop me a line when that baby’s daddy gets found. You scare him up soon’s you can.”

On the walk back to Stanislaus, Peter slapped Poly’s arm with the envelope.

“Here,” he said. “I’m sure Stanislaus can do something with this.”

“What are you, evil mans? You hear brother Kyle. That is money for baby. You are nothing but steward, that is not yours to give.”

“I’m telling you, that baby has—”

A firm hand crushed Peter’s outstretched hand.

“Look here, little man. Don’t play around with old men’s dreams.”

Back at the campus, Poly headed up the stairs to his apartment.

Peter and George stayed behind at the foot of the stairs.

“Poly,” said Peter, “I think we’ll head on out.”

“What is this? Is very late, boys. You sleep in dorm, I make you big breakfast, big pots of coffee, you be on your way. Leave now is nonsense.”

Peter resisted. “Thanks, but no thanks, Poly. You’ve been a blessing to us, but I’m all rattled up and ready to go. I couldn’t sleep now if I wanted to.”

Dawn was just breaking when they pulled up to May’s rattletrap. She sat on the front porch, shelling peas into a big black pot. Sly grin on her face as the men walked up.

Peter dropped the envelope onto a crate beside her chair; it wobbled a Mason jar full of dark tea.

“What’s that?” said May.

“Finder’s fee.”

“No call for fees. What’d you find?”

“Found an old man shipwrecked with grief. He wanted you to have this.”

“He never.”

“Gas ain’t cheap like it used to be, May.”

“That supposed to mean?”

“Was there a reason you sent us to the wrong man?”

She put a handful of peas in her mouth and crunched.

“Who said anything about wrong?”

“You were about forty years off the mark.”

“Man have a lost baby?”

“Forty years ago, the man had a lost—”

“Nuff said. What difference does the time make? Now pick up the money. What I need with money?” She looked out on her scorched earth like she was looking at Tara in all its glory. “God give me all I ever need.”

“He could at least have given you a few shade trees.”

“I got all the shade in my soul a child of God could ever need. Now pick up that damn money. It’s soiling my front porch.”

Peter picked up the money and stuffed it back into his pocket. He nodded to George and they stepped off the porch, heading back to the car.

A thrash of pea pods hit Peter in the back of the head.

“Just where the hell do you think you boys is off to anyway? You got a hot tip?”

Peter turned around. “I’m not interested in any more games, May. I don’t mind looking for this baby’s daddy—”

“The hell you don’t.”

“The hell I what? You send me off on a wild goose chase and you have the nerve to pretend to know what the hell is going on inside my head?”

“Who said anything about wild geese?”

“He wasn’t the man, May. He wasn’t—”

“Of course, he wasn’t the man, but your face is still burning.”

“Burning from what, pray tell?”

“From what the old man said.”

“Oh, you were there, were you? I didn’t notice you in the back seat.”

“Hell no, I wasn’t there. I ain’t got to be there to hear, now do I? You tell me what the old man said that burned your face.”

Peter turned to go. “I haven’t got time for this.”

The old woman growled, in the old grizzled man’s voice: “Ain’t got her father now, does she?

His face flamed again. Why did this matter so much? He knew he wasn’t Darcy’s father, but something seared him to the bone that he somehow wasn’t getting full credit for it. He teared up, shamefully he thought, and looked off across May’s ashen hell of a plantation.

May’s voice turned soft as honey. “You boys need to come and sit a spell, let May pour you some of this here tea. Get out the sun, too. Gonna be a scorcher.”

They watched the clouds build up out of the south, black to match the landscape. The heavens broke around noon as they sat on the porch and soaked up the cool air.

“I never could do weather,” said May. “Gripes my ass to this day.”

Peter could feel the words buzzing around in his mouth like a swarm of bees. May clunked him with another shower of peas.

“But, I can sure do insolence in a man, when I hear it,” she said.

“I was just going to say—”

“Think I don’t know what you was gonna say? You need to get this straight: I may have sent you to another man, but I did not send you to the wrong one. You oughta know by now, God’s road ain’t always a straight one.”

“Nor May’s,” said an emboldened George, sitting bolt upright and shining from May’s black tea. He, too, was showered with a rain of peas.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #158: Scary

Image: Coastal / Costal

Rival Knots

Marginalia -

the kind of bliss
associate with tweaking the truth
of a passionate kiss,

paletas on a summery summer day,

vigor extraordinaire:

Patrice's forget me nots,
rival associations
cannot help but squander -

amitryptiline gloriosa
the melancholia that withered Van,

insured John and
bothered the sincere. How
much better to elevate cancer
to its positive connotations,
when the winds blow

and the ankles brace
and simplicity loses its allure:

bravely I came to see
she was not the evolution

of our desires,

her caprices borrowed from

sun kings and moons
of the
central nervous system.
I could
go there with you,
but it
loses the translation
of vice in the grip
of a sanity
both lush & loose in its
quinine vowels,

caravans of surly costals
coastlines devoured.
Prithee, may the winds cry,

may sleep unweary,
the vines of mercy
the gathering days.


A novel approach

Image: swambo's photostream

The lenten's season's epiphany is this: For many years, my recent years' churchgoing notwithstanding, I have, in certain circles, responded to queries and quotations about (and "by") Jesus which presume a basis in historical fact with the indubitably derisive "You mean, Jesus: The Novel." This derision has been underscored by a number of things in recent years: the Christian tradition's penchant for co-optation without attribution ("Jesus's" "invention" of the Golden Rule, without citing its source in Hebrew scripture); the Messianic readings of, say, Isaiah as nothing more than Christ-prognosticating; the audacity of referring to the Tanakh as the "Old" Testament, while "we" have the New (and improved) model. My acerbity was certainly not helped (or, depending upon your point of view, certainly was helped) by my diabolical affiliation with H. Bloom's scriptural critiques, who weighs in heavily on the "New" Testament for reasons both theological and aesthetic, finding all but Mark's Jesus as mere pretenders in comparison with the sublime creative "invention" of J's Yahweh, a creature of fiction he finds every bit as worthy of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Mind, he does not put Mark's Jesus on the same level as Yahweh, but he does find this Jesus at least compelling in his abruptness and his self-covering - what Bloom reads as a resistance to what this Jesus is discovering about himself. Mind, too, that Bloom is not advocating for Yahweh, a creature he finds as altogether too petulant and inconsistent (in a word, all too human) to trust. For HB, what Yahweh lacks in perfection, Yahweh more than makes up for in complexity.

But back to the epiphany: since I am a writer of fiction, and since I do in fact make a kind of living as a "teacher" of both the writing and reading of fiction, and since both writing and reading have, to my mind, a sacredness of their own, the absurdity of my derisive "Jesus: The Novel" insult finally hit me. Appending "The Novel" to Jesus should by rights have elevated him in my "book," not demeaned him. Even in my twenty years as a psychotherapist, I found my reading of fiction as far more revealing of the human processes with which I interacted than any of the desert-like aridity of clinical "literature." For me, to read or write a novel is to live intimately with its people, their stories, the very air they breathe. As I read or write, I care not a whit for any notions of "truth" or "fact": the stories delve deeply within me, far beneath my twittering mind. To follow my heart's logic, appending "The Novel" to "Jesus" should have been an invitation, a seduction, not, as it turned out, a first line of defense.

I can't say that with the season's epiphany I have made my "peace" with the Novel Jesus, that I have begun to dig in with the kind of fervor that I've been digging into Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (my still twittering mind asks, "Fine, it's a novel, but is it a good novel?"). But, I have made a commitment to stop using my age-old insult, and see if, in fact, in time, there is a seduction lurking...


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Is it ever...rave on, mesdames et messieurs...


Life is good...

April is the cruelest meme...

Meme-aholic that I am, I am riffing off of Anno's invitational, which came to her via Goofball.

The gist:

1. Answer all, save the one question you do not like. Replace the "runt" question with a new one of your own. 2. Then, add (another?) new question. Okay, we're already off to a shaky start. Memers feel free to join in, as ye are moved.

What is your obsession at the moment?
Need anyone ask? "Everything is Illuminated," the film, and all manner of things that radiate from that luminous center. Truth be told, I am absolutely blown away by Jonathan Safran Foer's second novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which is as finely woven a piece of fabric as I have seen in a long time, it speaks and sings on so many levels, and is positively biblical (I'm wanting this word to resound beyond any Judeo-Christian resoundings) in its reach. Tis a novel to whisper to yourself at night, its ache is so bright. Still, its genius notwithstanding, let us not forget the brilliance of EII and most assuredly the gypsy punk exuberance of Gogol Bordello.

What are you not wearing at the moment?
Judy Garland's red ruby slippers, Cyril Neville's rasta cap, Mr. Peanut's top hat, the sweaters the chicas wear in "White Christmas" (especially in the "Snow" scene on the train), my George Clinton regalia, the shirt Teddy Pendergrass is usually not wearing when things got particularly steamy in concert, my Boy Scout merit badge sash, anything at all in the spandex retinue. For the hell of it, I just doffed my jeweled African kufi.

Do you nap regularly?
I nap irregularly on a regular basis. At some point during the school week, you can bet I'll hit a wall and snooze into the early evening, once home.

Who did you hug most recently?
Mrs. Baby and Mr. Baby. It's a daily - and welcome - affliction.

What do you want to change?
If we're talking microcosmic: my Michelin tire.
If macro: the Episcopal Church's ridiculous apartheid regarding LGBTs.

What are you going to have for dinner?
Stir-fried veggies in pesto, over brown rice. And a tofartridge in a pear tree.

Your last purchase?
Organix dog food at Central Market for Blue the Wonderdog.

What are you listening to at the moment?
The hum of my computer, Tina bustling in the kitchen, Mr. Baby's exclamation that "I'm actually cleaning my room!" (totally unsolicited: the cleaning, that is), and, in my head, the song "Start Wearing Purple."

Favorite weather?
Today was pretty darn close: mid to upper 70s, sunnyblue, lightest of breezes. Could even nudge into the low 80s. Great hiking or tennis weather.

Your goals?
Write my third novel, write the play; see Isabel Bayrakdarian, Gogol Bordello, and Cassandra Wilson. Teach senior English next year (ah, Beowulf, Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Hesse.)

Say something to the person who tagged you:
Hey, Anno! Send rain (lots) and paella (even more lots)!!!

Favorite vacation location?
Doe Bay (Orca Island); Glacier National Park; Florence; Grayton Beach, Florida.

Films you can watch over and over again:
Everything is Illuminated, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice (yes, Keira's version), The Black Stallion, A Little Princess, Mostly Martha, Cinema Paradiso, Mediterraneo, The Color of Pomegranates, The Last Waltz, Chinatown, this is getting ridiculous...

What movie(s) will you never see again?
Pulp Fiction; Crimes and Misdemeanors; Mamma Mia.

Favorite tea?
Lapsang souchong.

Book you are currently reading?
Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

What do you want to do one day?
Tour Europe with Mrs. Baby and Mr. Baby. Hike a nice New England chunk of the Appalachian Trail with Mr. Baby. Go to Armenia with both Mrs. and Mr. B as well.

Which quality would you like to have?
Extra creamy with chunks of dark chocolate.

Name one of your qualities.

What are you waiting for?
Pynchon's next.

Which old-fashioned trend do you hope will soon return?
Kids who love to read.

One song you're embarrassed to admit to liking:
"Guilty": Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb (yikes!)


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #157: Celebrate

—Morning light, found poems, a good book, and Biff: all conspiring for celebration—


I was in the Panko crumbs when Sylvio the Sushi Guy copped to my excessive exoticism.

“Remove to warm plates. Over them as you do.”

“Over them as you do? What the hell does that mean?”

“It’s a found poem. Go with it. It’s better than toilet paper on the shopping list.”

“Oh, so we can expect toilet paper later in this lame story?”

“Poem. Found poem. And yes.”

“Could we just get it over with now?”

“Get what over with?”

“The toilet paper.”

“Remove to warm plates with toilet paper? I don’t think so. Sylvio would not be happy.”

“Where exactly was this ‘poem’ found?”

“The Tobin. Fiction aisle. Safran Foer, Jonathan. Everything is Illuminated.”

“Tobin? We don’t call it the Tobin. Tobin can shill all his megabucks our way, we still don’t call it the Tobin. Oakwell biblioteca she be. What do you mean, Safran Foer, Jonathan?”

“In the book. The ‘poem’ was in the book.”

“Somebody’s shopping list is in the book and that’s your poem?”

Smiling: “Better than toilet paper.”

“I’m not even going there.”


“Charmed, I’m sure.”

At which point the lemon juice bubbled up into the meaty oil, and we were at a crossroads: Food Network or late night?

“Food Network. I’ve seen Emeril get downright salacious. Better than simulations.”

“Then pour over the steaks and serve immediately with the mash.”


“Mash. We’re doing Food Network.”


“Three cans white beans, Panko crumbs, parm cheese.”

“I think the last two are for the fish.”


“Fish. It’s on the list. Between the lemon and the Panko.”

“Before the t.p. and the storage bags.”

“Before. Yes. Before.”

“You wouldn’t consider me exotic?”

“I might if your name were Panko.”

“I fear a song coming on…with koto, no doubt…”

“I cured my yellow teeth,
Lost between the evil and the dare—”


Sue was dressed in white, pouring coffee into the coffee urns. Khaki baseball cap firmly in place.

Biff, in his wooly whites, galumphed: “Sue! You’re wearing white!”

Sue, a bristly coddler, ceded to Biff’s passion for the obvious.

“It was cold this morning.”

“Ha! Cold this morning!” Biff’s other passion was repetition.

Biff glugged on his bottle of orange juice and announced: “I recommend your coffee to all my friends when I see them—the best coffee in the land!”

Biff’s annunciation lit the room with a light more than the morning’s light. It fell on all the inhabitants of the tiny café: the hobo in the corner with his coffee and papers, the blonde (newly blonde) woman with her pound of coffee cake, the man in the other corner in his jeweled hat, the two runners and their breakfast tacos, the grumpy retired bank exec in his grumpy retired clothes.

Biff glugged again and his wooly white wings seemed to glisten.

Hobo stood in the afterglow and renewed his cup.

Newly brushed yellow crumbs from her khaki lap.

Jeweled laughed—and almost cried—into his book.

The two tacos were all the more eggy in their eggishness. As were the owners.

With new eyes, Grumpy eyed Newly as if she just might be Snow White to his dour elfin self.

And one of them went home to write about it.