Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Two thoughts, scotch-taped

Hats and Beards by Martel Chapman

it feels
like silence
is truth

and I am
on the cusp
of holding
it near

But once
its face
to the mirror

silence turns

like anything


I don't remember his name, but there was a jazz pianist playing in Harlem during the 1920s who'd routinely battle it out with other pianists over who was the best. They'd go on for hours, banging it out, like the Lost Boys that Ragtime wrought—holding the world at bay with the curve of their wrists. So that his wife would have to come down there to fetch him, taking the subway to Harlem from Queens, because he had lost track of time, so absorbed in this jazz they'd begun to call "stride." He'd lost track of everything but the press of the pedals against his feet and the sweat of the chords sliding out from his fingertips. What a feeling that must have been. No wonder he lingered, no wonder he lived for the ivory. 

I imagine his wife walking down the streets of Harlem back then, stopping and listening every time she heard some piano plinking, or crashing, past that brownstone's curtains. Think of the number of pianos being played back then. Seriously, think of it. The range of talent one heard on any given day in Jazz Age America. How many people bucked boredom, or hunger, with their music in this manner. It's staggering. We can hardly imagine a world like it today. But there it was, playing itself out, like it was no big thing. Just another Saturday, in Harlem. 

And this woman—this wife—had to listen carefully, in order to single out the right piano, because she never knew where her husband might end up on that particular afternoon, and which particular people he would put in awe of him. She had to know intimately the timbre of his sound, the bounce of his beat, the chime it sang through the ears outside. She had to know him the way birds must know other birds of their type. There was a whole language there, built up over all the Saturdays preceding it. Her feet would slow, she would listen hard. And then she'd hear it. 

I think I can imagine how she felt just then—the immense exasperation undercut by tenderness. For there must have been riding underneath her impatience, after she finally stumbled upon his mix of swing and jump—a beam of pride, like the sun coming out. Resentment retracted, if just for an instant, because this was her man. And he was the best.

I hope she was stern with her husband—stern, but not withering. I hope she made him make it up to her later. And I hope he felt her pride of ownership, even while promising her it would never happen again. 

I hope they both knew he was lying but I also hope that she was thinking to herself, silently:

Yes, but it's him, and this is us, and it's worth it, in the end.

Because there is something searching in us that makes us bend toward creation. That lets us treat artists like gods, when they are so far from it.

It's not a bad thing, I think, to believe we are as good on the inside as the most beautiful parts we show on the out.

Illusions have their place in our selves.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Birth of a nation


Yes, it's true:
I want to take
your guns.

No, I don't care
what they wrote
on a piece
of fine parchment
eons ago.

Because—you know what?
I've never worn a petticoat.

Or found myself bound
by a sermon or corset.

I didn't die
in childbirth
and neither did either 
of my kids—
not even the one
with the cord
wrapped around him.

Medicine didn't stop
at leeches or mercury.
Science wasn't squandered
on witchcraft and mediums.

Instead, Einstein stood up on
the shoulders of Newton
and drew us up with him,
where we were new to the universe—
and it was good.

Jonas Salk invented
a vaccine.
Maybe you've heard of it?
Saved millions.
(He gave away the patent, too;
What can I say? The man was a mensch.)

The whole world—
or very nearly!—
wised up and decided that the death
penalty was barbaric and that torture
was a stain on the human condition
we could no longer suffer.

That is our pedigree.
A civil society flowering 
as we grew the technology.
Evolution our Bible,
Darwin my father—
God love him.

It's the reason why roads don't smell
like horse shit anymore.
It's how come you don't have to worry
about stumbling out to the privy
in winter.
That's how women got the vote,
and blacks collectively spit 
on a three-fifth's citizenship.
It's not a bad thing—I swear it.

After all, is progress
not the most American
of traditions?
(Or is this just a story
we sing to ourselves?)

So no.
I'm sorry.

A musket is not
some AR-15 masturbatory

A militia is not
a thing serious
people talk about.

The words "well regulated"—
okay, we can keep that part,
if you like.

the rest of the world
will just keep staring,
shaking their heads
at poor, dumb . . .

And you know what?
It is embarrassing.
Our stupidity is a blight.
I am ashamed—
personally, I mean,
at the idiocy we condone.

But what the world might not know—
and what I hang my hope on today—
is that the majority of Americans
overwhelmingly agree.

We're just not allowed to matter,
not yet.


Because this is where we've been dragged:

Beholden to ignorance.

Married to a terrorist organization.

Shattered by the whim
of the meanest will.

Emptied of words,
carved up by suffering.

Sticking our victims
to graphs 
with bullets
where they will stay
the same age—
always, and forever.

Seeing in the face
of a good man
and President
a reflection of the carnage,
an allergy for platitude
a nausea of loss.

So yeah—
I'm going to take up my pen
and write the scumbags
who brought this upon us—
all those NRA brides
offering others' blood up as dowries
who've been trained, in their money,
to roll over like dogs
and hold them over the coals of their cowardice,
until the halls of our Congress
are howling with rage, boiling over with grief,
until they're all history
like the Redcoats and the Rebels 
before 'em—

Until we make them
move to our side.


I want your guns. 

All of them.

I hate too now, see.


Everytown is a great organization to support and give money to. So is the Brady Campaign

Saturday, June 4, 2016

17 years

17 year cicada, newly hatched

The cicadas were everywhere. She couldn't take a step without squashing one or having a bug fly at her, often just missing a collision—other times landing on her chest, neck, or shoe, content with being there until she hurriedly brushed it away, heart pounding. One time, she watched a sparrow snatch one out of the air, with a fly-and-chopsticks precision she applauded. The birds and squirrels were the triumphant gluttons of that summer. Even her dog snacked on the bizarre backyard intruders, when there was nothing better for him to do.

The invasion of cicadas happened every seventeen years, for as long as six weeks per brood and region. It took them that long to molt from their nymph state, to woo and mate, before the entire lifecycle turned over, and their progeny spent the next seventeen years in a dark dormancy beneath the earth, sucking on the paltry nutrition of tree roots to sustain them during the births, deaths, retirements and divorces up above.

And, for some reason she couldn't articulate, she found the whole thing electrifying.

It could just as easily been scary. Or at the very least, gross. These bugs were big, with red, alien-like eyes and erratic, whirring wings. Back in the summer of '99, when she had been in her twenties, she'd avoided them. She remembered a vague alarm surrounding that June. The racket they made was almost deafening, especially in certain spots uptown, and on the university's campus, where they took the place of vacationing students rather naturally, and with less destructive results, in whole.

But for her—and for this brood—the insects' buzz built a frisson in the blood. She felt some new excitement pounding within. She wanted to write like she had, before. She wanted to take the chances she hadn't taken, then.

She wanted to know that in another seventeen years, when she was deep into her fifties, she wouldn't regret a thing from that summer.

And that meant him.

When next she saw him, he was smiling at her. He was always smiling at her, but she didn't know what it meant, not for sure. As she drew nearer, a cicada flew blindly at their faces, coming to rest on his right shoulder, where it stayed.

"You have a friend," she said, pointing to it.

He looked down. "So I do."

He didn't brush it off, but let it stay. They watched, without moving, to see what it would do.

And as their eyes met, it stayed.

And when he leaned in to kiss her, it stayed.

And when she pulled back to look at him, it stayed.

It stayed.

For seventeen years, she thought. It might just—stay.