The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

January 16, 2017

The Word of Our Testimony — Writing the World we Want into Existence

Yesterday, I attended the Writers Resist event in New Orleans. PEN organized such events all over the country, as many writers are concerned that the new administration will censor words and limit access to the press.  The alt-right has tried to characterize the writers of our media as “lugenpresse,” a Hitlerian term used to call the media that criticized the dictator “lying press.”  We declared collectively that we would sooner call them  “Wahrheitsgemäße Presse,” or truth-telling press. We came to listen to words that would tell the truth and give us the sense, as all good writing does, that our own thoughts are not held in isolation, that we have kindred spirits that transcend geography and time.

writers-resist-1

Writers Resist New Orleans, January 15, 2017. It’s remarkable how a room full of writers looks the same whether it is in New Orleans, New York, or the New Hebrides.

Forrest Farjadian, a school interpreter and assistant, sat next to me and told me he hoped to receive poetic inspiration. Indeed, the words spoken were adamant and unapologetic. Authors recited included Audre Lorde, June Jordan, first-person accounts of torture at Guantanamo, contemporary Syrian poetry, letters from elementary school students who are worried about the incoming administration’s intentions toward people of color, and even J.K. Rowling, for whom magic is a metaphor for the freedom of creativity.

writers-resist-2

Readers at Writers Resist New Orleans, January 15, 2017

Sadly no magic wand, no “Accio Hillary” could take away the spectre of Voldemort that hangs over the future, but not in New Orleans, as not even voodoo curses stick for very long in such a festive town. The Art Garage was filled with people of every ethnicity, women in head scarves, men of color with long beards, lesbians holding hands, Latinas in leather jackets, white men in hipster jeans and glasses. The readers were gender-diverse and racially mixed. The readings all pointed heterogeneously to one conclusion — the words we speak and write are testimonies to combat dark nights of the national zeitgeist. Indeed, we were the nightmare embodied of at least a few of the stadium rally-goers who wore obscene t-shirts chanting “lock her up.” We are the cultural elite that they cannot understand, smugly vegan, hemp-woven accessories, internationally minded, welcoming of difference, brainiac urbanites. How different we are from they are, and how frightened each faction defining America is from one another.

All we can promise to do is to keep thinking freely, keep writing despite pressures to the contrary, keep producing evidence that we will not be silenced.

June 10, 2016

This article has coined a term for me “Babsonesque,” which surely means I have arrived as a writer!  Come tomorrow evening and have your hair blown back, y’all!Suanne Strider: No Place in Particular – A Celebration of Southern Poetry and Music

At the lovely new Shelter on Van Buren in Oxford tomorrow night (June 11) will be an affair to remember, and also one for the history books. Salt Zine, an

Source: Suanne Strider: No Place in Particular – A Celebration of Southern Poetry and Music

The Southern Concept of “Fixing to,” and What I am Fixing to Do Tomorrow Night

Southern supermodel and ex-wife to Mick Jagger Jerry Hall told reporters about her looks, “My momma always used to say, ‘honey, there are no ugly women, only lazy ones.'”

Jerry Hall

“Momma always said there are no ugly women, only lazy ones.” — Southern model Jerry Hall

Southern women are not lazy; after all, look how carefully groomed they usually are!  No Sarah Lawrence College bohemian tousled bobs on their heads — Southern hair is always intentional. Neither are Southern men lazy, though they are less carefully groomed on the whole than their sisters and wives.  However one might say all those well-groomed Southerners are in much less of a hurry than Yankees tend to be.

When I moved from Brooklyn down South, the hardest thing for me to absorb was the Southern concept of timing.  I itched for the whole first year down here for a New York minute, and honey, while there are no ugly minutes down South, there are plenty of lazy ones.  That New York minute never came; it wasn’t even unimaginably delayed coming on the Northbound F Train because of extensive trackwork; it never existed and never would. I mourned the New York minute the way I mourned the chopped liver bagel from the Second Avenue Deli.  Both New York phenomena are hard to explain to outsiders as charming.  You have to take a bite of one to know how good they are.  I am at an Irish wake in permanence for the New York minute.  As anyone who has attended an Irish wake can tell you, such events involve tears, off-color tales, prayer, and a little bit of whiskey while nobody else is looking.  New York minute, we hardly knew ye, at least down South.

resting Southern men

These men are fixing to get up and go back to work.

Instead, down South, we don’t bound out of seats to do things as much as we are “fixing to” do things. For those uninitiated to that grammatical structure, “fixing to” do something means one really may get around to it eventually.  If one is “fixing to” pick up his friend at Memphis International Airport, for instance, that means one is watching the last five minutes of an episode of Designing Women on DVR, wondering if the shirt one is wearing has a stain on it requiring a change of clothing, and looking under the coffee table for one’s other flip-flop.  Maybe in fifteen minutes, the one who was fixing to go to the airport will have fixed himself, applied a little designer impostor cologne under the armpits of the shirt with the stain on it, which one has decided to wear despite the small splotch of barbecue sauce, found the flip-flops, and sauntered over to the car to open the driver-side door.

To their credit, Southern cardiac surgeons are usually never “fixing to” perform a balloon angioplasty; they operate as emergency requires with a brisker pace. But the cardiologist usually nods understandingly when the patient says he is “fixing to” start an exercise regimen, no riot act read.  It’s just the way things eventually get done around here.

Anyway, I am fixing to do something myself tomorrow. I am fixing to give a reading of new poetry as part of an important New Southern literary event.

There is a marvelous avant garde literary journal called Salt down South; they are as experimental as anything coming out of literary Brooklyn in recent memory.  They are so avant garde they have rejected old paradigms and rebooted themselves.  They are now Salted 2.0, and they have published a work of fiction I wrote about Irish-American identity and cultural expectations within that community, to which I belong.  They have asked me to read at a literary reading, art show, and harmonica and steel guitar folk extravaganza tomorrow night in Oxford, Mississippi.  The event is fixing  to go from six-ish to ten-ish tomorrow evening at the Shelter on Van Buren, directly adjacent to Oxford Square and across the street from Off Square Books.  There will be beverages and snacks for sale.  There will be bonhomie.  There will be me reading poetry commemorating the smashed glass ceiling of Tuesday night, another Irish  wake with off-color tales of the highest literary caliber.  The editors of this journal are not just good editors; they throw a wonderful Southern beaux-arts party (or bozart party, as H. L. Mencken would have it). Prepare to feel happier and hipper leaving than when you arrive.

This is also the launch party of the rebooted avant garde journal. The honour of your presence is respectfully requested.  Again, that’s Saturday, June 11, 6-10 pm, at The Shelter on Van Buren, 1221 Van Buren, Oxford, Mississippi.  I sincerely hope you are fixing to attend.

May 14, 2016

Rebuilding the American Imagination in New Orleans

It’s the end of the school term at the University of Mississippi, and on his way out of town, I ran into one of my former students, a young man determined to become a movie star one day.  I asked him now that he had graduated whether he intended to take off for New York or Los Angeles to kick-start his career.

new orleans construction

It’s not just a shotgun house on the East Bank that’s getting restored here; it’s the life of the mind.

“No,” He told me, “New York and LA are not where it’s all happening in film. If you want to break into movies, the place to do it right now is New Orleans.”

He expects to run into me at spoken word readings, maybe in the Treme, maybe at independent bookstores on the East Bank, maybe on Magazine Street while he’s filming something for HBO or a small-company film headed for Sundance.

New Orleans has always been a town of piratical thinkers, of renegades, moral reprobates, and drama queens. Writers like Truman Capote and Anne Rice have parked themselves in town to invent themselves and expand the American imagination in words.  In music, the greatest genius of the art form for at least a hundred years, Louis Armstrong, might not have single-handedly invented jazz out of whole cloth, but he took the antecedent rhythms out of Congo Square that came to this continent in shackles but rattled chains into a liberatory syncopation and paired them with European instruments and am American sense of whimsy and delight to make arguably the best thing America has ever invented.  Yes, the light bulb was an astonishment.  True, the Gattling gun presaged our imperialism, yes, I am very, very fond of the iPad and the moon landing, but I can’t dance to either of them without somebody cranking up the volume and giving me a beat and a yowling horn to curl my spine.  That came out of New Orleans, that and some awfully good food that mixes African and French sensibilities, a kind of architecture, with a vernacular as unashamed as a Bourbon Street sex worker leaning over a wrought-iron balcony in something lacy, a cultural patois of sin and penitence gumbo-mixed together into a bitter and intoxicating stew.  All that predates the current surge in American culture.

After Katrina cleared away the poorest people of the town, already decaying under the weight of perpetual corruption prior to global warming events, many questioned if the City of New Orleans would become a sort of a tourist park version of its former self, as New York’s bohemian and dangerous identity got gentrified into the Atlantic Ocean and washed up the Hudson, a trend that predated Hurricane Sandy but certainly culminated in that storm’s washing away of much of Coney Island and the Lower East Side.  Some even wondered, as the first episode of the cable drama Treme does, whether New Orleans, poised as it is on land below sea level, was worth saving at all. John Goodman’s character in Treme declared that New Orleans was a city that had captured the world’s imagination and threw the fictitious British journalist and his camera into the Mississippi River like so much British tea in Boston on the eve of another American revolution of ideas.

Instead of becoming a place that operates like a Disney version of its former self, a beacon to apple-cheeked, conservative Midwesterners who want the same kind of fun they get in Branson, Missouri, only maybe a little bit more Tabasco-flavored, New Orleans retained its personality.  As it turns out, creative thinkers of all the art forms recently gentrified out of neighborhoods in California and New York began to seek welcoming ports, and no town could offer so many rent-to-own residences than a town half washed-away by a category-five deluge.

Indeed, there is something about wreckage and urban decay that permits the expansion of avant-garde thought. After the wall was built, West Berlin became a place for David Bowie to reinvent his next musical self, for Wim Wenders to reimagine the divine comedy in black trench coat and male ponytail.  After the Bronx burnt, hip-hop started in neighborhoods too dangerous to walk in broad daylight in New York and punk rock found, if not its birthplace, then its homecoming court in the East Village. Now, in New Orleans, where writers have typed and horn-players have blown, there is a new explosion, a green growth fertilized by the ashes of the past, sprouting branches because the space to grow exists.

And no — we are not about to stop experimenting because the rent for our cultural laboratories went up in New York and San Francisco so very high that not even the superstars of our art forms could afford them. The best crops grow in muck.  Now that the black mold has been Hazmatted away, we find gutted shot guns and reclaimed gothic ornaments to embellish our new ideas.  That beat from Congo Square is still tom-tomming, still tom-tom, tom-tom, blood and tom-tom like a patient on whom the paddles worked.  We have sinus rhythm.  The avant garde has left Soho to the bankers. Haight-Ashbury belongs to Google executives now.  Want to be a star?  Have something to say? The American cultural experiment is beginning a new series of  tests on streets named for dead French royalists. It’s like that invitation the Sufi mystical poet Rumi extended to all of us about a thousand years ago:

Out beyond right-doing and wrong-doing

There is a field. I’ll meet you there.

That’s where the artists go to imagine new things, the mystics seek the face of God beyond human agency and Pharisee-like self-righteousness. That field, this year and for at least a few more, is possibly near Elysian Fields Avenue .  Like Tennessee Williams told us, you take the streetcar over there.  After that, don’t put a paper lantern on the lamps like Williams’ Blanche DuBois did to hide the ugly truth.  The creative possibilities are often in the ugliness.  Take the ashes and make your beauty.  Meet Rumi there.  Meet America there.  Meet New Orleans, the city of the world’s imagination, there.

 

October 24, 2015

The South Comes North, Conquers and Desegregates: Anne Babson and Caroline Randall Williams read tonight in Pittsburgh

Oh, readers of this blog,whom I adore — please come revel with me tonight.  I am not inviting you to meet me in a wheat field under the full moon with a blanket.  I am not inviting you to look for me hiding in a cave on the edge of Hannibal, Missouri, so we can sneak in the church balcony and watch our own funeral.  I am not inviting you to slip out of the governor’s ball so we can elope in my mother’s buggy.  No, none of these.  I am asking you to escape with me North.

Come see me tonight at 7 pm at East End Book Exchange in Pittsburgh

Come see me tonight at 7 pm at East End Book Exchange in Pittsburgh

I am reading tonight (October 24) in Pittsburgh at East End Book Exchange, 4754 Liberty Avenue, in the Little Italy section of town known as Bloomfield, at 7 pm.  The reading is called “Iambic Drawl.” With me will be the brilliant and lovely Caroline Randall Williams.  Caroline Randall Williams is a poet from Tennessee who has done something really radical — she has written a book of poetry, Lucy Negro Redux, in which she reclaims (and repurposes) Shakespeare for African-American Southern women, who have often had complicated and rather painful relationships with older white men. She talks about it, really talks about it in her very clever book, a book so clever it hurts my feelings that I have never thought of anything so clever to write myself.

I will read selections and delicatessen cuts from my collection The White Trash Pantheon, which resets the ancient Greek myths in the Deep South. In it, as many of you know, I write about white privilege, although I do so with a lot of humor, as this allows white folks like me to examine our pretensions and reject them.  I also write about idolatry, as myths about white people in the South have engendered false gods that some have actually revered.

Together, Miz Caroline and I are busting a few myths, including, but not limited to:

  1. White people have a unified and illustrious heritage.
  2. Black people do not.
  3. White people have some kind of a corner on the market for heroism.
  4. Black people are merely victims in society, not participants, not contributors.
  5. White women are the only women who are really beautiful and elegant.
  6. Black women are the only women who are really drudges.
  7. Old books have nothing fresh to say to new people.
  8. New people have nothing fresh to say to old books.

We are going to tear down these walls and others and dance around linguistically.You should come out and hear us!

In high-falluting literary and scholarly circles, there is an abiding tendency to see African-American writers as operating in some sort of a cloister wholly separate in their influences and their production of poetry, and if white folks should read that poetry, it is because we are committed to being somehow politically correct.  Paris Review poetry editor Richard Howard once remarked that black poets would only be great writers when they stopped writing about race all the time.  What Mr. Howard failed to realize was that he was writing about his own race all the time, too, the presumptuous

 privilege of belonging to a dominant racial group that has believed that its culture was THE culture and that African-American culture was merely multiculture.  The work of Caroline Randall-Williams belies this notion, as I hope does my own.  Mr. Howard’s idea is wrong, and it ought to be obvious to all — African-American culture is at the center of all cultural achievements in America, not a parenthetical influence at all.  We should not read African-American poets’ work because we are being democratic.  We should read African-American poets’ work because much of it is good, some of it great.

This woman is on her way toward greatness!

This woman is on her way to greatness!

I am reading, then, with Caroline Randall-Williams because I actually get to — she is a good poet on her way very possibly to being a great poet.  If you meet her tonight, which I hope you will, you will almost instantly realize she is ten times smarter than the rest of us.  She is also delightful and gorgeous. Her career is a freight train barreling down the track, and we can get out of the way or get on board, because she is part of the next big thing, as I hope to be right with her.  She likes what I do to old books in my writing, because she likes to mess with old books, too. Call it quilting or decoupage if you like, but we have been calling it post-post modernism.  We deride the Derridian idea that text has no inherent meaning.  We just think that we get to couple authorial intentions of old to our own; we write back.  We also write around.  We write beneath and above.  We believe in capital-T-truths, but you’ll have to ask us nicely if you want to hear which ones.

So come out to East End Book Exchange tonight at 7 pm.  We are going to be post-post.  We are going to be the Confederacy’s worst nightmare.  The South rises again tonight and wins Pennsylvania, only it’s not as General Lee imagined it, not at all.

April 16, 2015

The White Trash Pantheon on Hottytoddy.com

This appeared on Hottytoddy.com about my book —

VOX PRESS Publishes Award-Winning Southern Writing By Carpetbagger

POSTED ON APRIL 15, 2015 WITH 0 COMMENTS

VOX 3

Vox Press, a publisher of avant-garde poetry committed to the publishing of the South’s outsider voices, will host a book party on Monday, April 20, at 7 p.m., at the Powerhouse in Oxford, for a book from the ultimate outsider voice in Southern literature – that of the Carpetbagger.

Anne Babson, a native of Brooklyn who moved to Mississippi a few years ago, won the Colby H. Kullman prize at the 2014 Southern Writers Southern Writing Conference – an award that honors not only excellence in literature but inherent Southern qualities within literature – with her collection of poetry entitled The White Trash Pantheon, which sets the ancient Greek myths in the deep South.

Many of these poems are written in a specifically Southern voice. The ancient God of wine, Dionysius, becomes a moonshiner who explains the magic of his drink to readers. Persephone is not so much a spring goddess as a teenage Southern belle whose mother could never accept her boyfriend, the god of the underworld. It comments on writers like Faulkner and Capote, and it borrows richly from the sermonizing-disguised-as-humor present in Twain’s prose. Though only of brief residence below the Mason-Dixon Line, Ms. Babson nevertheless garnered the prize generally given for that work thought to be most authentically Southern.

Louis Bourgeois, Vox’s Publisher, explains the appeal of such a work to the press: “Surely no one in the South is more generally despised than a carpetbagger, and Anne writes a blog called The Carpetbagger’s Journal about her culture shock moving South. She isn’t a Southern person, but her writing is in fact Southern. The White Trash Pantheon doesn’t mock the South, but it examines the South with the clear vision an outsider’s eyes bring, and it does it with wit.”

Celebrating this publication, Vox will host on Monday, April 20, at 7 p.m. a book party it is calling a “moonshine cotillion,” because the press hopes to attract an audience for this poetry outside of academic classrooms.

Mr. Bourgeois says, “Vox is interested in reaching a wider audience with this poetry than the narrow one that the academy generally tries to impress. This poetry uplifts ordinary American lives in a vernacular that would make many elitists feel uncomfortable. We thought we would invite people to a word party, not a dry, academic reading.”

The moonshine cotillion in celebration of the publication of Anne Babson’s The White Trash Pantheon begins at 7 p.m., with doors opening at a later time. There is a five-dollar suggested donation, but all are welcome. Refreshments and down-home snacks will be available, as will copies of the book.

April 11, 2015

Y’All Are Cordially Invited, All Y’All!

Calling all fans of this blog,of cultural assonance and dissonance between North and South — Monday, April 20, 7 pm, at the Powerhouse Theater in Oxford, Mississippi, on the corner of University Avenue and Fourteenth Street, I am inviting you all to a word party.

My book, The White Trash Pantheon, which sets the ancient Greek myths in the Deep South, decries  idolatry and excesses of white privilege, and is above all, filled with fun and humor, with prosody and twang, is being released by Vox Press.

My book is having a party on Monday, April 20, 7 pm!  Come on down!

My book is having a party on Monday, April 20, 7 pm! Come on down!

The party is being called “A Moonshine Cotillion.”  I will neither confirm nor deny the presence of actual moonshine, but the moon will be shining, I can guarantee that.

If you attend, there will be refreshments, bonhomie, and a dash of ribaldry.  There will be reasons to laugh, hopefully not at me but with me.  I have written these poems with a heart for the heartland.  I promise that my intention is to enjoy the South, to slap the snooty off classical literature while retaining its edifying qualities, and to uplift an American vernacular, all in the tradition of Mark Twain, who like me, had an existence both above and below the Mason-Dixon Line.  His Huckleberry Finn is an edifying book, but it also found light-handed ways of telling the truth about people’s hypocrisies, about injustice, about Southern paradox.

I hope The White Trash Pantheon approaches Southern living in a parallel way.  There are times where I am making fun of somebody’s momma, but it isn’t your momma.  It is Oedipus’ momma, though she talks with a drawl when she interrupts her own funeral like Tom Sawyer did.

I promise to bring the funny.  I promise to bring the delight I take in this magnolia-strewn landscape.  I hold the people I have met down South in high esteem, I promise you.  I have listened to — well, to be completely honest, I have eaves-dropped on — salient conversations down here, and I have found in them the cadence of Tennessee Williams divas in the church hall kitchen, the gritty twang of Faulknerian figures in the garages on the county roads.

The South is too beautiful to burn.

The South is too beautiful to burn.

I have seen what Ulysses S. Grant saw in Port Gibson, Mississippi, a town between Vicksburg and the bayoux, a town he encountered on his march to conquer the Confederacy, but in the midst of his scorched Earth policy, destroying all sorts of settlements in his army’s wake, he came upon this sleepy, white-boarded, colonnaded oasis between cornfields and cotton, and when his colonels asked him if they should torch the place, he looked at the church steeple — the one in the photo here, with a golden hand atop it pointing an index finger heavenward, and he declared, “No, don’t burn it.  It’s too beautiful to burn.”

I, the Carpetbagger de tutti Carpetbaggers, I, too, declare that the South is too beautiful to burn.  I am in this world of twang and Tabasco, but I am not of it.  That said, when I look at the springtime trees in bloom, at the gilded glove pointed heavenward, I, too, may stand to admire this landscape.  I would change injustice.  I would open eyes.  But I am not a practitioner of scorched Earth.  I have gone native, as native as a non-native can in the New South.

I am not of the South, but I am in the South.  I am making my official debut Monday, April 20th, as a Southern writer, not of Mark Twain, but after Mark Twain.

Come have a slice of corn bread and some bacon-wrapped sugar sausages. Come have a glass of a substance I will neither confirm nor deny.  All y’all, y’all are cordially invited.  The inestimable honour of your presence is requested.

April 27, 2011

Shakespeare in the basement

It was a dark and stormy night.

New Yorkers are not scared of muggers, really, but they are unprepared for this.

Actually, the dark was punctuated by bolts of lighting filling up the entire field of clouds directly above my head, not sending a bolt downward but rather knitting electric filaments into a spiderweb pattern above my head with loud thunderclaps.

The sirens sounded, wailing so loudly my skin vibrated.  Not a drop of water was hitting the ground yet.

I found my way to the nearest building with a basement, the student union at Ole Miss.

I am from New York — we don’t have tornado watches, warnings, or witches.  We have muggers, we have terrorists, the occasional small whirlwind, but no such thing as a twister that could drop Dorothy’s house in Munchkinland.  I have learned to walk with my keys clenched outward between my knuckles in a fist when I’m in a neighborhood where a mugger might be.  I have learned to call the police if I see a mysterious package left unattended in the subway.

This tornado stuff is new to me, and it freaks me out.

However, I noticed that the young people who come from this area take it more or less in stride.  A group of young women in the basement posed for a group picture, smiling.  Others sat around and told jokes.  I was sitting next to Loy Scott, an Ole Miss freshman from Hickory Flats.  She told me her mother lived in a trailer, hence no basement, but she shrugged, knowing somehow she would be okay.  We were near the basement entrance to the campus bookstore, and she told me if all nature broke loose on us we could loot the Ole Miss memorabilia.

“Coffee tastes better out of a stolen mug, anyway,” she laughed.

The kids are used to this.  I’m the one worrying about the whereabouts of Toto, who leapt out of my basket as I was following the yellow brick campus path.  For these kids, this is not a perilous era.  This is just a slight inconvenience.  Wi-Fi is not always accessible in the basement, and so it’s only intermittently that we can check to see if the howling funnel is right above our heads.

This morning, the alarms went off again during my 8 am Shakespeare discussion section.  We were in a building with a basement there, too.

The students volunteered, without my asking them to, to recite their assigned Shakespeare monologues in the basement.  We heard scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream while the sirens blared through even layers of concrete, where the thunder was still audible above us.

A girl got up and read Shylock‘s question, “If you prick us, do we not bleed?”

I wanted to respond, “Yes, and if there is yet another tornado warning, with storms all around us, does the chancellor not cancel class?”

The answer to that one was, “No.”

This is just a day at the office.

In New York, the day after 9/11, the city went back to work, except where the buildings had been destroyed.  So it is here, not with terrorists but with twisters — if your classroom is still standing, you teach in it.  If not, the basement has good enough acoustics for dramatic monologues.  Shakespeare matters more than the flooding, the sirens, and the possibility that somebody is losing a house, a car, a life directly above our heads.

I remember reading how many children who grew up during the Second World War kept their sanity in air raid shelters by reciting poetry.

The sirens stopped sounding.  We eventually dispersed.  The basement had begun to flood, anyway, and there were no twisters in the immediate vicinity.  We were as sane as we were when we descended the stairs an hour or so earlier.

How does anybody get used to this?  Tornadoes distract me from literature, even as literature distracts me from tornadoes.

Ole Miss students in a storm shelter last night waiting in the basement for the storm to pass

March 26, 2011

Because of Geraldine

In times of mourning, prose seems flaccid.  I offer poetry instead.  This poem of mine originally appeared in Lummox Journal:

GERALDINE FERRARO HAS BLOOD CANCER

It would be impossible to overstate this imperfect woman's importance to women in the United States

While I blot my eyes, I tell her, “Geraldine Ferraro

Has blood cancer.”  She blinks twice, wets her lips,

And asks, “Who is Geraldine Ferraro?  Oh, yeah.”

For her, it’s a lesson memorized for a final exam

That has blood cancer.  She blinks twice, wets her lips.

I am odd, old, and now crying in front of her.  Whatever.

For her, it’s a lesson memorized for a final exam,

Not a rock star tragedy, not the last scene of the movie.

I am odd, old, and now crying in front of her.  Whatever.

She has no inkling, none, what it was like —

Not a rock star tragedy, not the last scene of the movie —

When they wouldn’t have made me boss, and she —

She has no inkling, none, what it was like

Before, when I waited tables in pinch-toe pumps, no degree,

When they wouldn’t have made me boss, and she —

She would have been a waitress, too, or a stenographer.

Before, when I waited tables in pinch-toe pumps, no degree,

Maybe I would have wondered, “Who is Susan B. Anthony?”

She would have been a waitress, too, or a stenographer,

Another sitcom mom, pearl necklace and a chrome blender.

Maybe I would have wondered, “Who is Susan B. Anthony?”

But I switched on the televised convention and got switched on,

Another sitcom mom, pearl necklace and a chrome blender

In the commercial before the crowd went wild weeping.

I switched on the televised convention and got switched on,

Living my whole life packaged in a low-ceiling flat

In the commercial before the crowd went wild weeping,

And I wept, too, gasping the fresh air, but not even liking her,

Living my whole life packaged in a low-ceiling flat,

since she was New York, mafia entourage, and some nerve,

And I wept, too, gasping the fresh air, but not even liking her,

Because the cage cupping my whole ambition swung open at last.

She was New York, mafia entourage, and some nerve —

My mother had scolded, “Cross your legs.  Sit like a lady,”

But the cage cupping my whole ambition swung open at last —

She had a narrow, nasal voice, said nothing I remembered.

My mother had scolded, “Cross your legs.  Sit like a lady.

Don’t let him know you are smarter than he is.  Quiet.”

She had a narrow, nasal voice, said nothing I remembered

Without wincing, but a black battalion of cameras shuttered,

“Don’t let him know you are smarter than he is.  Quiet,”

At the nominee, but she seemed as nonplussed as a future postage stamp,

Without wincing, but a black battalion of cameras shuttered,

And I was screaming, then howling into the sofa cushions in relief

At the nominee, but she seemed as nonplussed as a future postage stamp

By my reaction half the country away from her.  I was ransomed,

And I was screaming, then howling into the sofa cushions in relief.

At least somebody showed them I could do it; a girl could do it.

My reaction half the country away from her: I was ransomed;

I went back to school, moved into the city, told nobody why.

At least somebody showed them I could do it.  A girl could do it.

I got this job, got promoted.  I became boss, and then the news.

“…I went back to school, moved into the city, told nobody why,”

While I blot my eyes,  I tell her.  “Geraldine Ferraro…

I got this job, got promoted.  I became boss, and then the news.”

She asks, “Who is Geraldine Ferraro?  Oh, yeah.”

I met Geraldine Ferraro once at a rally in New York City.  She was surrounded by scary-looking advance men, as advance campaign staff invariably at the time was male.  She was running for governor.  Her advance staff looked scary precisely because they did not  appear to come from the typical advance staff stock — college-educated guys who majored in political science with aspirations of their own, not idealists — the guys who other guys would have called dickish.  Gerry Ferraro‘s advance men were head-crackers that looked like they were only graduates of what first-Irish-and-totally-mobbed-up governor of New York Al Smith called “The Institute of FFM — the Fulton Fish Market” (For those of you who don’t know New York crime blotter sheets from re-runs of Law and Order, the Fulton Fish Market, now closed, was THE mob spot since it opened.

She was not an idealist.  She was infinitely pragmatic.  But if it’s not a  mobbed-up woman who gets to be the first female president, I sincerely wonder who has the muscle to pull off the final boring through the glass ceiling.  Gerry Ferraro gave it a swift kick, and the fissures she left in it are still being chipped away at by women of my generation and younger.

Because of Geraldine, we have abandoned the idea that leadership requires the ability to pee standing up.

I owe her, knuckle-headed advance staff, nasal voice and all — I owe her so much.  If you’re a woman and you like your job, your rights, your possibilities, you owe her, too.

Rest in peace, mother Geraldine.  Rest in peace.

November 26, 2009

God speed, John Glenn!

John Glenn on his historic space flight

I have a confession to make:

I love bull riding, real bulls, not mechanical ones.  I mean, I love watching bull riding — you couldn’t force me at gunpoint onto one of those angry beasts!  I love watching the beautiful, full-lipped young men in tight jeans and sharp-toed boots who straddle the backs of those enraged, murderous creatures.  If I saw those boys walking down the street, I probably wouldn’t notice them.  However, there they are, in their early twenties, breaking a delicate sweat, nostrils just quivering ever so slightly, with fear — or is it passion — glinting in their blue eyes.  I see them on my television screen in close-up just before the gate bursts open, and I find my breast heaving as I watch.   I don’t dare blink.  I think to myself, “He’s so beautiful!  Isn’t it just awful that he’s about to die?”

I love watching the bull buck him off while his spinal cord flails like a kerchief waved in the air until, in 8 seconds or less, he tumbles, possibly to be gored to death on the turf stinking of dung.

I tell you, it’s a guilty, sensuous thrill.  In my heart, ugly though it may be, I thrill to the thought that I might watch his death any second.  Thanatos and Eros are mixed, perhaps even more than Freud ever supposed in my psyche, clearly.  Am I so different, I wonder, than all my New York friends and frenemies in this?

Bull riding isn’t their thing, I admit, but we all have a tingly thrill at the possible dramatic outcomes of brave endeavors.  Think of John Glenn — today what he did has been done by hundreds of people, but when Friendship 7 took off, the nation was glued to its bulbous television screens looking at the impassive man wrapped in tin foil being strapped into either science’s womb or his coffin.  We did not dare blink.  Even the impassive Walter Cronkite, not given to fanciful rhetoric, said, “God speed, John Glen!”  However, I wonder if even he, the unscandalous newsman, did not harbor a slight thrill at the thought of the peril he was braving.  After all, Senator Glenn could have just been toasted by his own rocket fuel, suffocated in the shadowy well of space, or any other number of desperate ends.  America knew it and watched, breathlessly.

Likewise, my fellow Americans, I see that in the past week or so, people who barely gave me the time of day, who might have grumbled about me before they knew I was about to marry and move South, they have given me little gifts, free things, big smiles, and I have had near-strangers, with a familiar moonish grin on their faces, tell me that they wish me, truly, every happiness in my big courageous move.  I do not doubt their good intentions, any more than I doubt Cronkite’s with his prayerful good wishes, but I wonder — do they see thanatos in the wings, waiting for a possible understudy role?

Understand two things, those of you who are not from New York:

  1. Whenever a New Yorker vacates, another wants his or her apartment, his or her job, his or her place in line for, well, everything.  The pressure here is unimaginable to those of you from small towns — everything, everything has an underpinning of competition to it.  That’s why New Yorkers are feisty folk, on the whole.  Hence, my going is welcome news to those who want an apartment, a job, or even not to wait so long in line at the bank or the check-out — whether they are in my line of work or my neighborhood or not.
  2. New Yorkers can never believe that anyone would actually willingly leave.  After all, they have invested so very much energy to surviving here, leaving feels like throwing in the towel to them.  And Mississippi?  Paris, that they could understand.  Los Angeles, a regrettable but imaginable destination.  (See my poem “A Dozen Reasons Why I Can’t Write in LA” published in Adirondack Review for further information —  the second poem on this page : http://adirondackreview.homestead.com/babson.html )  But Mississippi?  That place contains nothing that made them move or stay in New York in the first place — Vicksburg has no opera, no ballet, no bagels, no skyscrapers, no bauhaus, no sushi, no tandoori, no tapas, no ticker tape parade for Yankees, no dim sum, no underground clubs — or at least I hope that’s so — there used to be an underground club — one I would never join — you know which one I mean.   Anyway, what place in the US could I have chosen, frankly, significantly less like New York City?  It seems like a dangerous departure.  I must be going to outer space, like Glenn.

I attribute to this gushing good wish river to my apparent foolhardy bravery.  I seem so beautiful now that I am about to die — that is, if looks could kill, if fashion victimhood were fatal.  I think they always liked me — or in the case of my frenemies, spent happy hours hating me — and this is like a funeral.

Incidentially, those of you who live in NYC or will be there on Monday, November 30th at 7:30 pm — I am giving my last poetry reading in the city before leaving at The Nightingale Lounge 2nd Avenue at 13 street — it will be a wake of sorts, in fact, as people can get up and roast me, mourn me, or admonish me as they like afterwards.  I recommend attending if you have a bone to pick with me.  After all, I could be roasted by my own rocket pack, or Mississippi could float into the outer depths of the Milky Way Galaxy even more than it already is out of the orbit of those who circle each other in the chum feast of Manhattan.

You might be smelling orange blossoms for my wedding, or you might smell blood in the water, New York.  In any case, I look up from my Mercury Space Capsule and salute.  Those who are either about to die or to rock salute you.

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