Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Something new is created, and I head off to Waco...
Today, I am heading off to Waco for several interesting events. To kick things off, I will be speaking tonight to the Baylor Democrats-- the meeting starts at 7 pm in Draper 329, and all are welcome. I will be talking about the subject of my Huffpo piece from yesterday. Then, tomorrow (Thursday) I will do a bunch of stuff and then go to Scruffy's.
Something wonderful and new happened yesterday, though... a first.
Yesterday we started the first commutation clinic in American legal history. It was wonderful. We sat in a small room, and I talked about the project we will embark on together now-- a project that will lead us to both prepare commutation petitions for individual clients, and to seek out a more principled role for the Constitutional pardon power within the larger realm of American criiminal law.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
It's up-- and featured on the front page of the Huffington Post
Here it is.
Please comment, link, or like it! If you disagree with me, I urge you to write a comment-- I want a discussion.
Please comment, link, or like it! If you disagree with me, I urge you to write a comment-- I want a discussion.
A Christian Challenge to Baylor's Policy on Gay Men and Lesbians
So, here we go-- it is time, after a few mis-steps, for the September project I have been hinting around about for a while now. It starts today.
Back in October, I published an article in the Huffington Post titled Repentance of an Anti-Gay Bigot, in which I admitted a history of bigotry towards gays and lesbians. In the wake of that piece, I heard from dozens of people, several of whom were former students of mine describing what it was like to be gay at Baylor, a school which bars gay men and lesbians from employment as faculty and has barred the formation of student support groups. I was chastened and saddened to hear these stories.
The reason I started this blog was to stay connected to my students. I am loyal to them, admire them, and do my best to help them. When they are hurt, particularly when I was complicit... that is a big deal to me.
My plan to confront Baylor on this policy was simple: Run an op-ed in the local paper (the Waco Tribune Herald), and then speak locally in Waco about the issue. The op-ed was set to run this past Sunday. However, when I woke up and checked, it was not there. Instead, a version of that piece is now being featured on the front page of the Huffington Post, which gets about a million visitors a day.
There were two disappointments I dealt with this week. One of those, obviously, was the Trib's choice not to run my piece on Sunday. However, this isn't "censorship," in any sense of that word. Like every other newspaper, the owners and managers of the Trib have the right to decide what goes into the paper-- none of us have the right to force a paper to print our thoughts. Are those choices political? Of course they are, and that is the nature of the business. It is one of the prerogatives of owning a newspaper, and I certainly don't begrudge them that prerogative. I'm glad that the Trib has local ownership, and I will still subscribe to the on-line edition of that paper to read the work of some of my favorite writers and keep track of one of my favorite places.
That said, though, if the intent was to forestall discussion of this topic it was a shortsighted decision. The Trib has a relatively small readership, and content is not freely available on the web because they have a paywall. As those making the decision might have known, I write fairly regularly (for someone with a day job) for the Dallas Morning News and the Huffington Post, and pushing me away from the Trib to those outlets would simply expose the discussion to many more people. Sadly, my hope that this could be a local discussion have been foiled. I still hope to discuss it on local television and radio. Still, even if that is pulled away, I can't be silent, and know that there are those outside of Waco who would be eager to discuss this. The issue is too important not to speak out. I have nothing to gain from this, I know; I will likely lose friends, influence, and some of my connections to Baylor, a place I love enough to try to make better.
The President of Baylor (Ken Starr) is, like me, an appellate attorney who is an academic as well-- he is just much more accomplished and talented than I am (he really is). Those two vocations that we share, however, both have at their core a central belief: That what is true and valuable is discerned through discussion. Such honest and open dialogue is also a Christian imperative: As President Starr put it himself, "In the spirit of the venerable biblical tradition, if we have issues to resolve, let us resolve them together."
Please help me continue this discussion, whether you agree with me or not. Make a comment on the Huffington Post article, put it on your facebook wall with a comment, or email it to someone.
And maybe I will see you later this week back down in Texas....
Monday, August 29, 2011
Up at the Huffington Post!
My piece on the Supreme Court was featured yesterday, and is hanging around there still... you can see it here.
It looks like the 110 comments are mostly from angry atheists... they love my stuff! Well, they love to comment on it, anyways.
It looks like the 110 comments are mostly from angry atheists... they love my stuff! Well, they love to comment on it, anyways.
Haiku Contest Winner: RRL!
There were so many good entries last week-- Ang, Neil Alan Willard, Renee, and many others-- but the most effective lobbying campaign was by supporters of RRL, who submitted this haiku:
Duh, duh, duhhhhhh, duh duh,
dah duhhhhhh. Duh, duh, duhhhhhh, duh,
If you don't recognize it,here is a hint:
So congrats, RRL, and I will see you at Scruffy's Thursday night.
Meanwhile, here is a brief biography of RRL:
A native of Sherman, Texas, RRL is a direct descendant of both the founder of that town (Sherman T. Xas) and Confederate General Nathan G. ("Shanks") Evans, for whom he is named. RRL's early childhood is lost to history, as his parents were itinerant lawyers, wandering from Sherman as far south as Denton and northward to the Oklahoma border, who often left him in the care of his intoxicated uncle, William David ("Shanks") Prizzle.
Despite these hardships, RRL succeeded in his studies at Sherman High School, where he graduated 21st in his class, just ahead of current Texas governor Rick Perry. He then furthered his education at Baylor and Baylor Log School, where he learned his current craft of lumbering and the timber trades. He eventually began his own timber business, earning enough to purchase his own private train and several members of the Texas House of Representatives.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Sunday Reflection: Baptised in the Spirit, and The Futility of Silencing
This morning I went to St. Stephens (aka the Neil Alan Willard House of Jesus) for some sustaining. I needed it-- this week has seen some disheartening moments, some of which were particularly hard. I do, though, always have a plan B.
We baptized babies this morning, in the swift-flowing Minnehaha Creek behind the church. It was whole and pure and moving, part of the spirituality of those who are unashamed of their faith and the true shape of God's world.
Recently, Neil Alan Willard told me a story about that church. One evening, the Edina police called to relay a complaint from a neighbor, who found the church bells annoying. We all know that sound, don't we? Sometimes there are two tones, as the clapper hits either side, each beautiful and essential; the Two Great Commandments in song form, to love God and to love one another without reservation or selfishness.
It may seem silly that someone found the church bells annoying, but how is that different than how the challenging parts of our faith are ever received? Many would want to silence it, not discuss it, push aside what is not... convenient.
They do not want to be discomforted by the ringing truths of what Christ taught.
In the end, of course, those who impose silence to prevent the spread of the message of God's love always, always, always lose. We remember, this week, Dr. King, but who were those who urged him to not disturb the peace? They were famous in their time. They even won out (for a moment, anyways) more often than not. Silence was kept in Alabama, in Mississippi, in Texas, and in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.
In the end, though, the song of Christ's love and the flow of the river wash the silencing away; the frequency of God's creation is one of love, of worthy discourse, of Christ's loving challenge to the settled and powerful. The Mississippi is strong, because it draws from the many creeks. I stand in just one, I hear only one bell, but the water by my feet and song of the bells are more than I am or ever will be, and are never, never ashamed or predictable or silent.
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Puppets, Musicians, and SNL
Ok, first check out this video-- it's a live performance by David Bowie (with counter-tenor Claus Nomi singing backup) on Saturday Night Live 32 years ago.
Here is my question: How did they do that on live television in 1979?
Here is a much later performance by Beck, which is the only other instance I recall of musicians turning into puppets on Saturday Night Live.
Friday, August 26, 2011
Haiku Friday: The Music
It's been a tough week, though with some glorious moments. Next week is going to be a challenge, too-- tune in on Sunday to find out why (It's time for the project I alluded to a few months ago, which will take me back to Waco at the end of next week). I have already had a taste of what awaits, and suffice it to say that I will need the support, prayers, and friendship of those who agree with me, and the grace and understanding of those who don't.
But, there is a slow train coming. All you need is faith to hear the diesels humming...
Let's haiku about music today, because so often that sustains us-- we can't do that often enough.
Here is mine:
Sing to me, Al Green,
It brings love and happiness,
Solace in the night.
Now it is your turn-- just make it 5 syllables/7/5, and the usual prize will apply: Your bio featured here on Monday.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Political Mayhem Thursday: Who is the best former presidential candidate?
It's fascinating to look at the 2008 presidential candidates and check out where they are now.
Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are running again, of course.
Hilary Clinton is Secretary of State.
John McCain is still a Senator (though he seems totally thrown by the Tea Party, as he first tried to win them over, then called them "hobbits.")
Sarah Palin resigned as governor of Alaska, and now seems to be shooting for big-time work as a pundit.
Mike Huckabee has a talk show on Fox News.
Rudy Guliani is making money and apparently out of politics.
John Edwards... hoo boy.
Joe Biden is Vice President of the United States.
Which of them has been most successful?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
DC drug policy rant!
For some reason, this just popped up on Youtube-- if you go to 1:07.30 (and the Q & A at 1:57.20), you can hear my drug policy tirade from last year's symposium in DC:
The Pretty Good Debate (MN)
The debate yesterday went pretty well, I think-- I would welcome the opinions of those who were there.
The audio from NPR's Morning Edition is available here.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
We have a winner!
It's a busy week for me-- this morning I am heading over to St. Paul to the Minnesota Public Radio studios to do an interview for Tuesday's "Morning Edition," and then tomorrow is my big debate v. Ms. Jeanne Bishop. Then, classes start. Crikeys! Plus, tomorrow on the Razor, we will see the return of the cartoon version of IPLawGuy.
But first, we have a winner from last week's haiku Friday. I actually thought the submission by "Pope" was the best, but realize that having a Google search reveal me making some set of wisecracks about the Pope might go poorly with my employer.
So, instead, the prize goes to Anonymous, who is a well-known author. Here is his bio:
Anonymous est un résident de Minneapolis, à l'éducation tout cycliste, et bien connu mangeur de nourriture. Il a grandi à edina, et participe à la Neil Alan willard Chambre de Jésus dans cette ville. Il travaille à un camion alimentaire qu'il a commencé avec son frère, qui sert des sandwiches et radis Aromatisé d'olive de la crème glacée. Il est actuellement engagé à Susan Patterson, qui est un travail avec un cirque.
Sunday, August 21, 2011
Sunday Reflection: Forgiveness
Last night I went to a barbecue for a group called "Death to Life." At the heart of it is reconciliation between murderers and the families they destroyed. The story above, about Mary Johnson and her son's killer, would not have been possible if Oshea had gotten the sentence of juvenile life without parole.
I'm overwhelmed when I meet people like this. I'm not sure that I could ever ever do that. Could you?
Saturday, August 20, 2011
If I Am a Sailor...
[You can and should check out the video for this song here]
Woody, I apologize for the gloating emails, but... crikeys, Minneapolis is just an awesome place to live.
For the past two weeks I have been taking sailing lessons on Lake Calhoun, one of four natural lakes near my house. The classes run from six to 8:30, which has been a remarkable time of day here-- incredible sunsets, light but steady winds, clear skies, and temperatures in the 70's. Sailing, like skiing (and, I suspect, golf) would be worth it simply as an excuse to be outdoors in all that.
But, luckily, it is more than that, a feast for the senses. What engages me the most is the sound of it, which sometimes is simply silence (full sails, calm water), and other times the elements of life: water rushing beneath me, the flap of sail as I come about, the rigging tapping the mast, all of it building up like a gentle song. We usually sail in pairs, which makes it a duet, and adds laughter (especially at my cloddish skippering) to the mix.
We sail in to the little port at dusk, as the last light hits the little restaurant on the shore. These northern plains have red/gold sunsets, different and more gentle than what I remembered in Texas, and they linger like a perfect meal.
So I wave good-bye, slip on my fleece, gather up my life jacket in one hand, and walk out past the little restaurant and the quiet, happy people there looking out over the red and the gold. I walk down the path under arching boughs, and turn toward my car, but I can't quite yet, so I pause and drink it in, drink it in like the fresh water I have so long thirsted for.
Ack! Yesterday, my 4-month-old iPhone 4 has developed a strange problem. It gets very hot, and the battery drains four times faster than usual. Any idea what might be causing this?
Friday, August 19, 2011
Haiku Friday: Political Figures!
Oh, man, I am so glad that Christine O'Donnell isn't going away. I just wonder why she isn't running for president? I mean, she has all the elements (as a candidate from either party)-- comes off as crazy, easily offended, and really wants to stay on message.
So, let's haiku about political figures. You can pick anyone you want (including a teenage queen of Naboo). Here is mine:
I liked you better when
You were still a witch!
The usual prize applies-- your bio, this space, Monday. 5/7/5. Go!
[UPDATE: OK, fine. You can make your haiku be about cupcakes, too, if you want]
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Political Mayhem Thursday: Rick n' Michelle n' Mitt
As I was getting coffee this morning at Dunn Bros., I heard some guys talking about the Iowa Straw Poll like it was crazy. Sorry guys... that's not crazy. Crazy is the system on the planet Naboo, where they elect a governing Queen from among the community's teenage girls.
So, about those Republicans-- I have two questions for you today:
1) The strongest candidates seem to be Perry, Bachmann, and Romney. Which do you think would make the best president? [Personally I agree with David Stockman that Ron Paul is the best candidate, though]
2) If you were the sorting hat, into which house would you place the following Republican candidates? (If you aren't sure, the possibilities are Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytheryn, and Gryffindor. For more info, see this.
-- Congresswoman Bachmann
-- Governor Perry
-- Governor Romney
-- Congressman Paul
-- Senator Palpatine
-- Mr. Cain
-- Governor Huntsman
-- Senator Santorum
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
True Justice Has Round Corners
We will burn that house down.
Big Law Firms, Vocation and Faith
Recently, I wrote a short book review for the Journal of Christian Legal Thought. I was reviewing a wonderful book by John Allegretti called The Lawyer's Calling, which really has shaped my thinking.
In the review (which you can read in full here), I challenge the idea that big law firms are a good environment for Christian lawyers:
We must be peacemakers...
This may not seem a remarkable thesis, but at its heart is a bedrock rejection of the business practices of those very law firms we send so many of our best and brightest students into. Of course those firms are amoral at best; they are structured that way, and present economic circumstances have only made that worse. We can pretend that this isn’t true, but those of us who have spent time in large firms know better. Neither should we continue to lie to our students, saying or implying that the practice of most large law firms is consistent with the Christian faith. An amoral environment, especially for the powerless junior associate, is anathema to faith, to the idea of vocation, and to the ethic of love.
Allegretti’s book is practical, but it directs us to a nearly impossible challenge: To undo the primary business structure in our field, or at least decline to any longer feed that beast with the bodies and souls of our young. Are we that brave?
I realize that this is perhaps too broad. Some of the Christians I most admire, such as IPLawGuy and a few of my other key mentors, work at big law firms.
What do you think?
Oh! There it is!
To my surprise, my technical guy went ahead and created a hard copy of Water Behind Us, which you can order from Amazon here.
It's also available for the Kindle and other electronic readers (like the iPad) here.
What a strange new world of publishing! Like music (where record companies are no longer the arbiters of what is made available), technology has allowed authors to connect directly with readers. I'm intrigued to see how this will play out...
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
It's crazy time again in college football!
As you might remember, last year there was a great deal of angst in Waco over the seemingly imminent break-up of the Big 12 Conference, a debacle which would have left Baylor relegated to a lesser conference of schools like the Conference USA or (worse) the Sun Belt. Fortunately for Baylor, disaster was averted as the Big 12 lost only Colorado (to the Pac-10) and Nebraska (to the Big 10). One result of these moves was that the Big 12 now has 10 members and the Big 10 has... 12. Really. And, for the record, the Pac-10 now has 12 as well.
The resulting status did not remain settled for long, though, as last week it appeared that Texas A & M was set to bolt the Big 12 for the SEC. However, for the time being at least, it appears that the SEC has not actually invited A & M to become a member (a development which inspired some epic fail threads).
Sadly, the Big 10 did not accept my plan for their re-alignment by division.
The rumor is (and has been) that all this movement will eventually lead to four 16-member "super conferences." I think this might be true, and if it is, it means that some leagues and teams are going to be out of the mix.
Right now, there are 6 big conferences with automatic BCS bids (listed here in terms of strength according to commentators other than me): The SEC, the Big 10, the Pac-10, the Big 12, the ACC, and the Big East. It appears that the SEC, Big 10 and Pac-10 have positioned themselves to most easily become three of those four resulting super-conferences. Which raises the question... who would be the fourth surviving conference?
Here are some possibilities:
1) The Big 12 could survive by adding some strong new members. This is not without challenges, though, because it would leave the entire East Coast out of the loop. (It's also not clear who those "strong new members" would be-- after BYU, the list gets pretty thin).
2) The ACC and Big East could combine to form a super-conference. This would leave the Big 12 out in the cold, along with the current members of those leagues who would be jettisoned (good-bye Rutgers! You are bad at sports involving men!).
3) A new conference could be formed between the current members of the ACC/Big East/Big 12. Problematically, this would involve a very odd geographic footprint.
Under any of these scenarios but the first, Baylor would be out of luck. As President Ken Starr has wisely concluded, a strong Big 12 is Baylor's best shot at staying in the big time. Good luck, bears!
Monday, August 15, 2011
We have a winner!
Last friday's haikus on summer reading were wonderful as a whole, and there could have been several winners. I like that nearly all of the haikus you guys write put mine to shame.
The winner, though, is Carrie Willard, who penned this masterpiece:
Franklin and his bride,
Eleanor: love, polio,
Lies, politics, teeth.
I loved it because it made me really want to read that book! (Teeth?)
So, accordingly, here is the life story of Ms. Carrie Willard:
Ms. Willard was born in a small town in Wisconsin, known then as Manicotowinac (it is now called Manicowotsowan). Her father was a clergyman, and her mother a three-time winner of the Grammy award for Best New Artist (she kept creating new identities, including Nancy Sinatra and a member of the Bay City Rollers).
Her girlhood was normal for that place and time-- learning to drive at 11, shooting her first deer from the car at 12, three happy summers spent at "Bucky Badger's You Are All Grown Up Now!" camp (ages 12-14), and the routine dismissal of several misdemeanor charges. She was known throughout Monowictowan County as an ace at both broomball and Whack-A-Mole, and is still selling (on eBay) stuffed animal-style prizes she won in that era. However, she will never sell off her most prized possessions: a complete set of severed heads from "Bert" of Sesame Street--
After a tumultuous six years at the University of Wisconsin, Ms. Willard claimed her diploma and went off to law school at Williams College. Graduating there in just three years, she pursued a career in complex litigational legal complexities, and during this time met and married her husband, Neil Alan Willard (who at that time was still on the PGA Tour and marketing his own line of kitchen cleaning products on QVC). After NAW received his preaching certificate from Dartmouth, he took his new bride off to Minnesota, where he was building his brand-new Neil Alan Willard House of Jesus.
At present, Ms. Willard remains in Minnesota and and is mastering the art of Long Island cooking. For the next Razor Reunion... clambake!
Sunday, August 14, 2011
Sunday Reflection: Perry-Palooza in Houston
This past week, right before announcing his candidacy for president, Texas Gov. Rick Perry initiated an event called "The Response" at Reliant Stadium in Houston. The event drew a huge crowd of about 30,000, who seemed to enjoy the day-long prayer service.
Perry spoke twice, briefly, and avoided talking about politics for the most part.
Many liberal groups went a little ballistic about the event. While I, personally, am on record as not being too fond of prayer breakfasts, I am not sure I understand the furor over this one in some circles.
The accusation, in short, seems to be that Rick Perry staged the event in order to position himself as he announced his run for the presidency. Well... of course he did. That's what candidates do. Mitt Romney speaks at economic forums. Sarah Palin goes to Biker rallies. Ron Paul... well, I'm not sure on that one. Anyways, politicians always launch themselves into a campaign from an event that is artificially constructed to generate enthusiasm.
Is it somehow wrong that Perry used a prayer service rather than a biker rally to do so? I'm not sure why it would be. His crowd of bedrock supporters is a certain type of Christian (and certainly not all Christians), and I disagree with them as much as I do with some bikers and some Republican businessmen. But... it's not my rally.
Public faith festivals are almost always contrived and artificial, because they have to be-- that is how a big show is sustained. The circus is the same way, or a monster truck rally or NFL game. It's the nature of the beast.
Is Perry's rally my kind of church? Of course not. I didn't go. But, it's not some kind of blot on democracy either, any more than Palin's bikers or Romney's businessmen waving signs and shouting the name of a person who really is just a symbol, a trope, for what they want and hope for.
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Shopping advice needed!
I'm in the market for a new bag to use for travel. I have been using a raggedy black backpack, and it is time to upgrade to something slightly more professional. I like the style of a messenger bag, and it seems like a good practical shape for my needs-- I can jam my laptop and some other stuff in there and go.
Here are my two leading candidates. The top one is from Cole-Haan (the "Bayshore Casual Messenger), and the lower one is from LL Bean [click on an image to enlarge it]. Which should I get?
Here are my two leading candidates. The top one is from Cole-Haan (the "Bayshore Casual Messenger), and the lower one is from LL Bean [click on an image to enlarge it]. Which should I get?
Because the Night
I had always wondered about the strange collaboration between Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith, but after reading her memoirs, it makes more sense-- they both are from New Jersey, and started their careers in New York at about the same time.
This one is more recent:
And with some other guys:
Oddly, I think the most powerful version is the one where she is nearly alone...
Friday, August 12, 2011
Haiku Friday: Summer Reading!
Up at Osler Island last week, I read four great books. Well, actually, three great books and one stinker:
1) Just Kids, by Patti Smith
A winner of the National Book Award, this memoir is a revelation. Reflecting her young life with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, it works as autobiography, history, and discourse on the nature of art.
2) Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, by Bill Clegg
Bill Clegg was a literary agent who spiraled into an incredible period of addiction to crack, which he chronicles in stunning detail.
3) Workin' Hard for the Money: The Social and Economic Lives of Women Crack Sellers, by Ira Sommers, Deborah Baskin, and Jeffrey Fagan
A fascinating, if somewhat repetitive, sociological discourse on the lives of women in the crack trade. Surprise! Many of them run their own crack business! Not a surprise! They are also hookers!
4) My Little Phony, By Lisi Harrison
Every summer I seem to end up reading at least one of the horrible books by Lisi Harrison, which revolve around the utterly revolting spoiled girls who attend Westchester's Octavian Country Day school (OCD). In my little phony, Massie Block has turned against her best friend, Ku-laire, and a variety of soul-sucking events and product placements unfold simultaneously. I still feel dirty for reading it.
What have you been reading? I don't care if it is a book, magazine, or the back of your pack of Virginia Slims, let's haiku about that this week.
Here is mine:
Three books about crack
The worst character of all?
Massie Block! Eeee-yuck!
Now it is your turn! There will be the usual prize this week-- the winner's bio on Monday. Just make it about 5 syllables for the first line, seven for the second, and five for the third. Now, go!
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Political Mayhem Thursday: Stock Market Disaster!
So, while I was gone at Osler Island, apparently the rest of you failed to get the whole budget deal worked out, and then everything went to hell.
So, who gets blamed for this debacle? And... someone will get blamed.
More importantly, was it worth it? Did good come of it, and if so does that good overwhelm the tumult?
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
Poetry Cavalcade 28: Atlanta
There was this still moment
I see my Dad painting
A moment in time
That's truer than true.
Of course it's Atlanta
Because place, it does matter
The figure leans forward,
Nature, as written:
An aspen leaf falls
The shape of a seal
The figure leans forward
The ghost enters in.
Poetry Cavalcade 27: Found on a Table
A mass of his brushes
Sit upright, awaiting
His orders, their colors
They travel in league.
Beloved is each one
Tools of love
Creating through love
What's truer than true.
Poetry Cavalcade 26: Before Scribner's
I stood on 5th Avenue, pointing--
"That used to be Scribner's."
We both fell silent
A burned-over church.
On one winter day, long ago,
I had a place in New York
Not a room, but a place
Of Student, down for the day from Yale.
I shook off my boots
And paused for a bit to
Soak in the scent
Of books and what's good.
The clerk (messy blond hair)
Walked with me there
The row, the shelf, the book,
To watch and smile
And talk and laugh
As I held the book
And she tugged at her hair
A shy reader's smile.
I won't deny (I can't)
I was filled with desire
Who wouldn't be? There?
I was not yet strong
And I gave in to the impulse
She wrapped it in paper
And I have it still.
Poetry Cavalcade 25: Printemps
We've not been to Paris
(and it's not looking good)
Oklahoma is cheaper
And closer to home.
But in the back of a shop stall
In a rue by the Seine
There's something of ours
Hidden away in a box.
Can we look?
Can we go?
What would you wear
In the fall
To go look
For that something
Poetry Cavalcade 24: Construction
Smooth wooden blocks:
One, then another
(with him, that's my brother).
Adjusted, then moved
All done with intention, and great force of thought;
More diligent structures
Than most of my days.
Poetry Cavalcade 23: City Beach
She... she leans over
Hand on his chest
Lips at his ear
Light as a pencil.
It's smell we learn first
While still in the womb
The hand, words, lake, sweat,
Summed up in a scent.
Poetry Cavalcade 22: Imagined in Heisler Park
On a narrow path, high up
A cliff by the Pacific
You paced me, again
Stride for stride
Hip to hip.
Left to my own devices
My feet will follow my thoughts
Too fast/too slow
I'm not built for it
Like the shape of a seal.
So I will watch your stride
Match it best I can
Look where you look,
Be myself through you.
For none of this is real
Certainly not the people
The beach was just shipped in
So what is left to be true--
Stride for stride, and
Hip to hip.
Poetry Cavalcade 21: Singers
I have been wary
Of those who know music
It humbled me young
Then pushed me away.
They speak their own language
Shaded and taut
I nod along
But don't understand.
My Mother, an alto,
Is secretly theirs
She snuck off at night
To join with her kind.
And they, those inside
Bathed in warm light
They read their strange writing,
Then know what to sing...
Poetry Cavalcade 20: Fortune Teller
He turned the first card, and
We all looked up sharply.
He could have stopped there,
For one truth was enough.
Poetry Cavalcade 19: All of It
I've never been to Yosemite
Just seen the pictures
Black and white, Ansel Adams
A book of my dad's.
So, I never saw
In greyscale tones
A lithe clever raccoon
Catch a long silver fish.
(That's not in the photos;
Too life-full for that)
Once, I was Peter
On the shore, cooking fish.
All of it God's.
Poetry Cavalcade 18: Pine Lake
They were all there
All of the children
(this was before)
Days hot and long.
July comes too quickly
Then leaves in a rush
Onion skin paper
With Grandfather's words.
Poetry Cavalcade 17: RCP
[Note to readers: This poem will only make sense if you are familiar with the Insane Clown Posse, according to my mom, who was not.}
It upsets me that
The Insane Clown Posse
Has a lock on the format.
I demand more diversity
(that is the word?)
In Clown Posses here.
Where is the Reasonable Clown Posse?
Rational J, and
Shaggy 2 Well Read?
We all are drawn
To the edge of the ocean
The line holding apart
What we may know and don't.
Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Poetry Cavalcade 16: Empty Chairs
Her photos improved
When she cleaned up the backgrounds
Swept away all
That cluttered the frame.
Lines become clear
(Add by subtracting)
Excluding empty chairs.
Poetry Cavalcade 15: Library
The place best protected-
That's what fell last.
The last sacred space
Not hidden from view.
Thick dark stone walls
A maze of old warrens
Protectors in costume
Attentive and fleet.
Still, I surrendered
That last plot of land
Full of books, light, and me
Yet, still I stayed there.
Poetry Cavalcade 14: Falling
An old man at a buffet
At a casino in Vegas
Sat alone with his coffee
And thought about falling.
Light as a pencil
So many times he had seen them in flight,
But never, not once
Depart from the branch.
Yet, there must be that moment!
When that red leaf takes flight?
There must be no sound
When the leaf breaks away
(Or we'd hear it)
Silence cloaks it
Between God, leaf, and tree.
"Follow me," he thought.
"Fall with me then."
Poetry Cavalcade 13: Disappointment
I thought someone had said
That at the event
There would be a rogue photographer.
I loved the idea!
Him swinging his camera,
Swearing at subjects,
And drunk off his ass.
Sadly, I learned
The wide gulf of difference
(only a letter)
Between "rogue" and "Vogue."
Poetry Cavalcade 12: Leaf (3)
I found a red leaf
(Light as a pencil)
Deep in the fall
The shape of a seal.
I can be gentle
Like holding an egg
Soften my edges
And this time I did.
Poetry Cavalcade 11: Hidden
Poetry Cavalcade 10: The Work (Vocation and Love)
We walk into work
Like all precious things
It will not last long.
It's all tragedy, all of it,
With 10,000 names
And twice that, the stories,
You just have to laugh.
And we do;
It's rare to transcend
That reeking and staining.
But when we see clearly:
Christ walks that way.
Poetry Cavalcade 9: Interstases
Money, time, and truth
Dissipate as one
An addict's best skill.
It's a game now
I see them
Though they wear no sign--
You must look in the spaces
Where things ought to be.
Their baubles are circles
Of stories repeated
An angry insistence
On untruths to believe.
I knew her, you know;
The girl with the most cake.
Poetry Cavalcade 8: Found on the Street
Enmeshed in the blue-gray
Snow of New York
Was something so odd
It bore picking up.
There was a time (you know)
When cameras used film
And the image they caught
Was reverse of the world.
This one, futureghost slip of a thing
Tri-X Pan, black and white,
Three images clean.
The first, her dress white (black)
Dancing? There's movement
And grace and a blur.
The second, she's dark (bare)
Unbroken by lines
The third, the dress white (black)
Slipping into a car,
The smile is clear.
I tucked them away
I love that story
The shape of a seal
Perfect in form.
Poetry Cavalcade 7: Voluble
As a child we searched
For things that combust
Ideas from a book,
Like saltpeter and flints.
They turn out to be rare
As grown-ups knew then
One of their secrets
That they hid out of tact.
Books, all those books!
They promise too much
To a world of wet wood
They promised a spark.
Still there is petrol.
Monday, August 08, 2011
Poetry Cavalcade 6: 10
A child, at last
Will walk down the street
In New York one day.
Down on Prince Street
Is a place he will love
And Japanese tropes.
When he walks in
His eyes will widen
(you've seen it happen)
And he'll push back his hat.
We all have our moments
Some, gifts to children
The better ones, chosen,
And what better care?
Poetry Cavalcade 5: Languid
Asleep on a summer day
Yet, through a gate
Perfect and vexing
Dreams of dead people
Did you not believe me?
And did I cry out?
Not yet accepting
The gift freely given
Poetry Cavalcade 4: Red and Black
Red and black album
I bought and wore out
But it never went away,
The songs are still there
In movies, at dentists',
He's barely there singing
But sometimes I do
Bring it back
Sing it loud
(Badly, yes, the singing)
"A smile relieves a heart that grieves,
Remember what I said...."
Poetry Cavalcade 3: Aspens
From the floor of that desert
You never would guess
That up on those mountains
Green aspens await.
A waterfall, even,
The snow melting off,
Clean, cold and urgent
Coursing towards sand.
You must climb to get there
The air might get thin
But first, imagine that forest
While still among waste.
Poetry Cavalcade 2: Meeting Place
I sat once (once)
In Lincoln's pew
People asked later
"Did you feel it?"
The minister told me to,
Motioned me in.
On warm worn wood
I sat alone.
Later that year,
Dusk in Atlanta,
Again, I'm alone.
But... yes, I did feel it.
Yes, it did matter.
Yes, I did know I was
Poetry Cavalcade 1: Dream of the Dead
The shape of a seal
Is perfect and vexing
It merges with water
Like dreams slip ashore.
Perfect and vexing
My dreams of those people
Their happy contentment
Is jarring to see.
She's happy, you know,
And watches you closely
She whispers to me
What's truer than true.
I'm Back! With Poetry and a winner to the haiku contest...
As many of you may have surmised, I have been off the grid for the past several days, spending some time up at Osler Island in Canada.
Instead of turning the blog over to the French or to IPLawGuy (who is pretty busy this year), I put my novel out there, and I would love to know what those of you who read it thought.
Through Wednesday, too, I will be sharing some of my poetry that I wrote up there in this space. (If you hate it, well... it's short).
Meanwhile, the winner of the last haiku contest (over some great entries by Carrie and others) is Christine, for this haiku:
Puffy August clouds
a different gathering
we await a sigh
I'm not sure what she is describing, but I DO know some of Christine's personal history, which I will share here:
Born the daughter of a cigar-chomping Cornell grad and America's first female tugboat captain, it's not surprising that Christine quickly took to the water.
[A break here for a Cornell joke. Ok, this guy is out for a date with a woman. The woman says "Oh, you must have gone to Cornell!" The guy proudly asks, "how did you know? Was it my great taste in clothes?" She shakes her head "no." So he asks "was it my witty banter?" Again, the answer is negative. "Was it my knowledge of literature?" Getting another no, he finally asks, "how could you tell?" She responds, "Oh, I saw your class ring when you were picking your nose."]
Anyways, Christine soon took to the water, at first simply to help her mother drag ships away from rocky shoals. Soon, she was piloting freighters through the shipping lanes on her own, and by the time she was 18, she was able to haul loads of ore on her back as she traversed the Great Lakes.
Eventually, having earned a degree in Accounting from Miami University That's Not the One With The (formerly) Good Football Team, she took her talents to Florida, where she audited multinational corporations during the week and hauled giant loads of marijuana to shore on the weekends.
Now, Christine lives in North Carolina, where she herds dogs and owns a kitten mill. She is also the national age-group champion in elementary backstroke.
Sunday, August 07, 2011
Water Behind Us: Chapter 9 (Summer)
Chapter Nine: Summer
In Summer, Lincoln Park becomes a green ribbon laid next to the lake, the tall buildings to the west massed together, brown and red, and the Lake to the east a deep blue-green. There is an easy gentleness to the park on warm evenings, as people walk back from the beach, the softball fields and the zoo. On a perfect evening it seemed almost eternal, the scenes and the mood and the scent of summer, made of equal parts suntan lotion, foliage, hamburgers, and sweat.
Lisa and I would often walk down the ribbon on those gentle evenings. On a mild August day, we headed deep into the park, crossing Sheridan against the light. We were both being difficult. My jaw was set, and my eyes were cast down. Lisa walked slightly ahead of me, her hands jammed firmly into her pockets. She did not like my plan, and had told me so, and now felt the frustration of knowing that in the end I would go.
As she spoke to me her hands moved in quick chopping motions, her fingertips extended fully away from her body. Her voice became slightly staccato, and her fingers curled inward into her palms, almost but not quite in a fist.
We walked down a long asphalt path which sloped away from the center of the city. On either side of us were softball games, played with sixteen-inch balls and no mitts, by players fueled by aluminum cans of beer. In a few games, the cans themselves took the field and sat passively next to their owners, sunk slightly into the sand or grass and slowly warming in the afternoon sunlight.
After our encounter with the old woman, both of us ceased fearing our fights and almost revelled in them. More than once, passion closely followed such walks.
"If what you're talking about is what you're talking about," I explained, "then what you just said isn't even relevant. I mean, it's not even in the ballpark of relevant." I knew that I wasn't making sense.
Lisa looked exasperated. "Relevant? Is that what you said, Buddy? When did you start talking like a lawyer? My God, I feel like I'm back in law school again, where everybody used words like that all the time in any situation. Please. I'm the lawyer, anyways."
"What's the matter with my saying something isn't relevant? I can't use the word unless I take the bar?"
Lisa shook her head rapidly. "No, it's just that..., well, you just make me feel like I'm back at school, the way you always ask those questions. It's like the Socratic method of love."
I could maintain the combatative role no longer; her biting humor always got to me. I sat down on a bench and pulled her over on top of me, onto my lap. "That's us, huh? The Socratic method of love. I kind of like that."
She looked at me, not making the transition to joviality that I had. Her eyes were sad more than anything else, like the girl who holds a kitten and realizes the fragility of its precious life in a world filled with speeding cars and warm roadways.
Looking straight ahead but clutching at my shirt with her right hand, Lisa said, "God, Buddy, it's so strong, you know? It's so strong it can make me hate you and want you more than ever all at once. I mean, it's not just passion. I don't know how to say it. I'm not saying it."
"What it is that's there. What it is that makes me feel like you will come back to me, somehow. I know that."
I just looked ahead and nodded, my head down. I felt her hand on my shoulder, and the fire-red light of the evening was on her fingertips.
"I don't believe in fate, but I know I always wanted this. I had a prophet once, Buddy. I guess this is hard to say, because I don't really know where it comes from. Don't laugh, okay?"
"I wouldn't laugh," I said, leaning back and putting my fingers lightly on her neck.
"There was a boy in high school that no one knew. He talked in class sometimes. He came from somewhere else, just moved into town for the last semester of his senior year. Everyone was pretty much into their second set of friends by then, and he didn't push it. He wasn't quiet really; it's more like he was polite, so he didn't barge in on anyone, so no one met him.
"Anyways, he was in my science lab. Physics. I liked that class, because you got to actually do things all day-- burn things and wave pools and that sort of stuff. One day we both missed something in class, and the teacher asked us to come in on Saturday and make up the experiment we had missed. I had plans for the night, but I told him I could do it that afternoon. This boy said that he could do it then, too.
"The Saturday came and I went into the lab and the boy was there already. It was one of those wave pool experiments, where you measure the oscillations and are supposed to think about sound. We set the wave pool up, and it was like he started to look different. You know how that is, how some people you never notice, but once you know them you wonder why you never did? What I remember best are his eyes, these steel-blue eyes. They could look so understanding. Blue-gray, I guess, but they always looked like steel to me, like some new machine. But human."
"I don't remember anything about the experiment, or anything that he said, either. I just remember this sort of transformation. I wanted him very much, in a truly sexual way. It was the first time I had felt like that. I was a virgin, too, but I just knew that I wanted to have him. I wasn't much help with the experiment.
"After the class, I walked out the door with him, and he said 'what do you want to do?', like it was just assumed that we would go do something else after the lab experiment. And he was right. I don't even remember the exchange, really, or feeling awkward. We went down to the Lake; it was spring. We went to one of the town parks, and just walked. I wasn't confused at all. I just knew that I wanted to wrap him up and keep him. I held his arm as we walked, I remember that. I held onto him close."
"After the sun went down, we walked over to his house. His parents were gone to Europe. Meanwhile, my date has shown up over at my house, and is sitting there on the couch with my Mom and Dad. He was there for about two hours before he finally gave up. They said they liked him, and that he was very patient, and that maybe I needed someone like that. Typical. They always liked my dates better than I did.
"So this boy and I are back at his house. His father had the first compact disk player I ever saw, and about six disks. We still had quadraphonic and eight-track. He put on one of these disks I'd never seen before, and sat down on the floor. He was so gentle, just the way he sat was comforting.
"We talked for about six hours. He knew the answers before I told him what the questions were. It was like magic that way. It wasn't just like he understood what it was that I was feeling, it was that he knew before I told him, it seemed, and that I didn't even have to do the explaining part. It was more like two people talking over a play which they had both seen. It got later and later, then midnight, then later and later until it was about four. I couldn't take it anymore. I don't remember if I lunged at him or what, but I took off my shirt. I remember feeling his chest. It was incredible, just that part.
"I wasn't ashamed or anything. It's not that I wanted him to take me; I wanted to take him, to seduce him. But he piled up some cushions next to the sofa and laid me down there, with my feet away from the couch. Then he sort of rolled me over and lay behind me, lying on the floor. I could feel him behind me, and his right arm was under my neck, and his left arm sort of draped down between my breasts. It was an incredible feeling. Our bodies were touching, but not pressed together, and the warmth was incredible. At first, I just wanted to flip over and attack him, but after awhile I just sort of revelled in being the way that we were. I was being patient, for once.
"After a while, he started to kiss my left ear. Not really kissing hard, but little kisses, and a soft voice, and his breathing. It was incredible."
"After that, I turned around and kissed him. I just wrapped my arms around him and tried to rake it all in. He held me close again, which sort of put a freeze on things. I told him what was going on, that I wanted him so much that I ached, that I wanted to just keep him, to be his lover and have him be mine.
"I thought that he was going to say something about how we had just met and how we were sort of rushing things, the kinds of
things that I told guys when they put me in that situation. But he didn't. I remember exactly what he said. 'Sex is a symbol of something that we already have. I know that I have a role in your life, but I don't think that my role is lover. Your lover still awaits you.' Something like that. He actually talked that way. I think that was one thing that put other people off. It was like a bad sitcom, almost, but with one really good writer.
"We graduated two weeks later, and I gave him a big kiss after the ceremony and everyone seemed shocked. Then we were all gone, and so was my prophet. I never felt like that again, passion, longing, until I met you. Not that I didn't try to find it, or create it.
"I always knew that you would come after that, Buddy, that you would come to me and be what he said."
We sat there in silence, the warm air bathing us as the sun disappeared, aglow, into the netherworld on the far side of the curtain of buildings. It was warm in the dark.
With just the fire off the braziers and the lingering scent of softball around us now, I leaned back in the bench and looked for stars, and talked. "I had my prophet, too."
"In college, I signed up for black literature because we had to take a world literature course, and I was very into Zora Neal Hurston. They had a visiting professor from Maryland up teaching the class, because Williams had a problem recruiting a permanent black lit professor. They kept leaving. Most of the black students, and there weren't that many, were in the class. It was a seminar, really, with about twenty black kids and maybe eight of us whites. All guys, the white people, which I thought was a little strange. I guess the odds just get beat sometimes.
"This professor was really something. She was tall and dark and wore funky clothes and was pretty androgynous before that was in. She was a poet, and she talked a lot about herself. She went to Harvard for grad school, and did her dissertation on Haiti. She spent a lot of time there. I had the vague impression that she was into the entire culture and magic and everything of the island. She was a good teacher, too, and a lot different from what we were used to. I read all the books on the list the first week, even Phyllis Wheatley. I always did that for my favorite class, just because I couldn't wait and I knew that for the first week I could let the other things slide.
"Every class, though, I felt like she was picking on me. Whenever there was a slaveowner part or something like that, she would have me read it. I felt a little put upon, but I did it. I spent hours, days, on my papers for her, and she gave me B's. The only B's I got that year, and I worked much harder there than I did in the classes where I got A's. Towards the end of the class, she had me read one slaveowner part too many. I sort of cracked, but not in class. I waited until after everyone was gone, and I went up to ask her why she was picking on me. She looked up at me, and I started to talk, and she just put up her hand, without looking up at me. 'Come over to my house,' she told me. I was just burning up, I was so mad, and that caught me off guard. So I followed her to the her place, which was this small house not far from school by a creek that was starting to freeze over. God, things like that; New England can be so beautiful.
"She didn't say anything the whole walk, until she caught me looking at the creek as we went in the door. 'This is nothingcompared to the Eastern Shore,' she said. Whatever that meant. Anyways, I sat down in this beautiful wood chair. It was cherrywood, I think. She made hot chocolate, handed me a cup, and talked to me. 'I pick on you because you're the strongest. You can take it, and you have the most to learn from me. I know you,' she said.
"That seemed a little weird, and then she showed me what she meant. She had done my genealogy. She had it all down on a chart, all the white ones, anyways. I guess that even she didn't follow all of the twists and turns of the whitlock. She even had a picture of one guy. It was pretty amazing. She didn't know everything about the South Carolina people that I know now, but back then I knew nothing, and it was all news to me. She said that she wouldn't let a black student off without knowing her people, and she wouldn't let me off without knowing mine.
"After about an hour of this, though, I had a pretty crushing headache. It's funny, because I very rarely get headaches, maybe one a year. This one was about the worst that I ever had.
"She could tell. She told me to lie down on the couch; it was more like a long cot, really. Then she knelt down next to me and snatched my headache. I know that sounds stupid, but that's exactly what she did. She just put her hand on my forehead and snatched it. The things was, it was gone, but I could tell that she had it then-- she had the headache.
"I know the whole thing sounds stupid, probably, but it was an incredibly powerful moment. To know that someone is capable of just reaching down and pulling out a headache like that-- I don't know. So I got up to leave, a little bit scared. I knew there was a reason for all of it, though; that there was a reason that she was doing it and that it would come back later and be important for some reason. I knew that there was some reason that she was telling me this.
"As I left the house she said 'Everybody can snatch somebody's pain.' I remember just the way she said it. I can see her saying it. And that was the prophesy."
A siren went past by on Lake Shore Drive, and then we were returned to the quiet murmur of the evening.
"When Mark died," Lisa said, out of the darkness.
"Yeah, when Mark died."
"I did. And it was true, I snatched it out and had to take it all on, Buddy. It hurt so much, and it was yours. But it was the most incredible thing to feel that I could do that, that there was that in me and you."
I sat up straight and nodded. "So that's when I knew. It all just came to me, what she meant and what you did. I'll come back. But I still have to go."
"I wish I could snatch that from you, Buddy."
"I do too, but it's already gone."
Again we were quiet on the bench, and looked out over the park, and the few small groups and couples still on the ribbon. The moon came up over the water, orange, pregnant, and we both took in our breath for a half second when we first saw it, the sign of our prophets.
* * *
The next day, I went to the church I had been to nearly every Sunday morning of my life in Kenilworth. It was a stone building not so much larger than the large homes around it, but the wood of the interior was warm and comforting in a way no house was, and gave a sense of airiness to the inside space. I had always thought that it was somewhat ironic that the outside of the church seemed cold and the inside warm; it struck me that the Methodists must not have much of an evangelical mission, at least not in Kenilworth. On the hot Sunday morning, I was to meet my father in front of the church, as I had every morning since moving back to Chicago after Lisa retrieved me from South Carolina.
That morning, I had woken up at dawn, which was not like me. I put on my clothes and walked down to the lake, overwhelmed with grief and regret and longing for peace. So many of the people I had chosen to draw close were now gone—Mark, my Uncle, even the father I thought I had known. There was such turmoil in my heart, so much of it born of guilt at the sin I had committed. I didn’t have a plan, really, but knew that I had to go to the lake, and once I was there I did know what to do, that I had to drop to my knees and pray, really pray, in total humility, and seek a God who did not seem to know I was there. And then there was calm. I went to church that day with dirt and grass stains ground into the knees of my pants, badges of faith no matter what the wealthy women in hats might think.
The drive down Sheridan Road towards the church was well-memorized; the familiar blending into the familiar, bridging two worlds each of which welcomed me, and both of which I would soon have to leave. The trees of Evanston gave way to the even larger trees to the North, with the presence of the Lake to the right an ever-present stillness. On Sunday mornings, most of the others on the road were engaged in the same task as I, going to church, and then to someone's large home under the leaves. My neighbors, people like me; they would be my audience today.
The two of us, my father and I, walked into the church together and nodded at those people we knew. The ritual was a culturally coded message of belonging which the members shared; the subtle nod, the gentle smile. Each nod, our secret password.
We sat in the pew where I had once sat between both of my parents. I did not so often allow myself to think of my Mother, but sitting down on that pew I always did, as it was a place that seemed curiously marked by her. I clutched the paper program, which was quickly graying in my sweaty hands.
The sanctuary filled with familiar faces. In my head I went over the words that I would say; to my father, to all those people who, unsuspecting, sat around me.
The minister, Reverend Franklin, swept down the aisle with the choir. Though he had not the best voice in the room, the veteran minister had the loudest. In high school, I had envision the dynamics of the Doppler Effect entirely in terms of my experiences of sitting in place as the loudly-singing Reverend Franklin passed, like a train in the night, whistle blowing, quietly, then more loudly as it went past, and quietly again.
My time came closer as the hymns and announcements tripped by. The mundane nature of the service strengthened my resolve, and I felt the dull throb in my temple ease. Finally, the time was near, and a strange calm came over me.
The peak of the formal religious script to me had always been the moment of silence following the collective reading of the Lord's Prayer. The silence lasted only a few moments, but there was something delicious about the sudden shift from a group activity to being utterly alone in prayer, a shift which in itself was moving.
After the hymns, the announcements, the scripture reading and children's message, the minister lead the congregation in prayer in preparation for the sermon, which was on the subject, "Fully God/Fully Man?". The minister, spreading his arms over the pulpit, began to speak in a low, loud voice, saying, "Lord, today we sit here, each of us fallible humans under the dominion of a God we cannot fully understand. Help us to live with and meet the challenge of not always knowing what action is virtuous, or which action is truly sin. Help us to know what is right, even when that is hard to see, and to remember you, our Father, as we make these hard decisions."
I could feel the beads of creeping moisture forming under my clothes and in the palms of my hands, as my fingers clutched at the front of the pew before me. My father put his own hand on top of mine, sensing something, as before us the white-robed minister continued. "Let us now join together in praying as Jesus taught us to, saying, Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever."
During the conclusion of the prayer, I listened to the gathered voices, balled together in the familiar room. The light was cast across and along the white ceiling which was rounded off by the soft brown of the wood. The yellow light fell down along the walls, gently away from the center of the room, which was in shadow. When it rained outside, as it did this day, the tall, narrow windows streaked with water and let through their panes only a skewed but familiar scene of the outside, twisted by the refraction of the light through the drops of water. There had been a day, long ago, that the rain had moved me almost uncontrollably, such that I could feel my own spirit rising up in sadness and felt myself cry. Today I could not cry.
There was the tolling of a bell, and the brief, spare moment of silence had begun. I felt the first part of the moment pass, and looked up over the bowed heads of the congregation. The people in front of me were my neighbors, many of whom had known me literally since I was born. Three rows down was Denice Edison, who had been my nursery school teacher when she was a young woman of thirty. She wore a small black hat, with the fringes of her graying hair sticking out from the edges. I looked at her, at her hat and her hair, and then I stood. Standing in church, during the moment of silence. Today would be different.
With my first word, an audible rustle went through the congregation as the startled parishioners turned nearly as one to see the source of the sound. The faces reflected surprise more than anger, turned towards me like the faces of old friends who have just been awoken from a nap. The eyes looked at me directly, and I was surprised to see a patience in those eyes that I had not expected. Perhaps, they seemed to be saying, I was simply performing something which was an unknown part of the unspoken Methodist canon, a brief test of their pledge of tolerance.
My voice unsteady, I looked up towards the front of the roof, above the altar. I drew in a breath, and out again, trying to remember what it was I had planned to say, that I had memorized, but which had now escaped me into the yellow light or the rain on the windows. Finally, the words came to me again, or at least some words did, which seemed to be more through me than of me, and I felt my fear and shaking calm and stop.
I realized that my father's hand was still on top of mine, that he had not moved it when I stood up, and he did not remove it when I began my confession.
As I spoke, I looked directly into the eyes of Denice Edison, and saw calm there at this unlikely moment. It was her that I told it all to; even my description of the shotgun and the realization of what I had done did not change the expression in her eyes, which was neither judging nor empathetic. I did not describe my motives; why I had killed him was a question I had not fully addressed myself. I could not describe it as anything other than anger, the same anger that had caused me to cut my own skin with the glass from the window after I had served the family on the South Side. It was wrong, though, and that's why I was telling them. When I was done, Denice Edison returned my gaze, and again I saw neither judgment nor acceptance.
I looked up towards the pulpit, where the old minister stood with his hands folded and his head bowed, looking as if he was still in prayer through the interruption. Still standing, silently as the congregation looked at me, for an instant I looked out the window at the rain on the glass, and felt the small frantic voice screaming inside of me quiet; the ghost of the little girl being stilled.
My father squeezed my hand, but I did not look down at him as I turned to leave the pew. Only when I was in the aisle, my hand on the rail, did I look back into the eyes of my father, and saw my own, and those of the Uncle I had killed. I had looked in his eyes as I held the gun, and saw the level acceptance of a man who had long expected that fate.
As I walked out, I heard no sounds, not even the characteristic shuffling of feet and coats which marked the intermezzos of the service. I walked out the door and into the narthex, careful to hold the door so that it shut quietly behind me.
There was a slight slipping noise as the big door closed, putting its barrier between me and those to whom I had confessed. I walked outside, around the side of the church, and opened the door to my old car. I did not cry.
As I drove away and down towards the expressway, I saw the trees. They were the most beautiful trees I had ever seen, even more striking than those around the Hopgood Pond to which I had escaped in college.
I did not, could not, allow my mind to wander far from my task, however, as I turned onto the Eisenhower expressway and headed South. "Down the river," I thought to myself, "I'm selling myself down South, down the big river." In an instant, that thought was gone, as I forced myself to think about the route, the expressways, the numbers of the interstates, like a spider choosing his path along the web, selecting those strands which would accommodate his mission. My path took me away from my home, my father, and Lisa, and back into the South.
* * *
Even on a Sunday morning, the Dan Ryan was a construction-ridden mess, the drivers alternating between near-motionlessness and rapid acceleration without apparent reason. I was guided by a sense of direction that worked within my subconscious, as I had shut down my active means of thought. Indianapolis was a blur to the left, the Hoosierdome a giant pillow unnoticed as I drove past at exactly the legal limit, and the landscape slowly returned to a pastiche of red barns and fields on either side of the expressway. Cincinatti went by, and the fields of Kentucky in the evening as I plunged into West Virginia. Near Shalimar, Virginia, finally lost, I stopped at a tiny motel, a motel where the owner happened to be awake because a baseball game on the West Coast had gone into extra innings.
The proprietor emerged only long enough to give me the key and take my twenty dollars. I found the room at the end of the flat bland building, and fell asleep without taking off my clothes. Overhead a television flickered soundlessly, a small color set bolted to the wall.
In the morning, I rolled out of bed and stepped out the door, and found that this particular somewhere else was breathtaking; the Blue Ridge faced me proudly, a green blanket pushed so as to create luxurious folds. The road nearby, I was surprised to discover, was certainly not an interstate; only two paved lanes pushed through the woods.
Showered and changed, I walked back to the office of the motel, where the manager sat in front of the door wearing only boxer shorts. "There you go, I paid you last night," I explained, handing the old man the key.
"So you did," the manager said, "so you did." I started to walk away when I heard the manager's voice behind me. "You ever throw snowballs? You ever throw snowballs at cars on a day like today, save 'em up from the winter?"
I looked back at the old man incredulously. "Pardon?"
"Snowballs. Don't a hot day like today make you think of snowballs?"
I returned to the office step and shrugged my shoulders. "Snowball would be OK about now. But I think I'd want to just hold it in my hand in the car, you know, feel it melt."
"No way. No way, kid. That's the problem with you kids, you won't share," the old man nearly yelled, waving the key at me. "See, we would go out in the winter and throw the snowballs at cars, hiding in the bushes. Used to, but only a few times, really. See, I grew up in Harrisonburg, college town. One day we was throwing snowballs at some cars, hitting some of them, when one of them, we saw the damn brake lights come on. Then the car stopped. Two college kids, a boy and a girl, in some expensive car. They get out, and we take off for the bushes. Then they come after us, and we, me and my brother, we figure that we're goners, and we're hiding in those bushes. Just then, the girl, she spots us, and I figure that we're dead. I musta been about eight, about that. So they find us, but we're surprised to find out that all they do is throw some snowballs of their own at us. They just want to get in a snow fight! So we do it, we get in the snowball fight, and it lasts for about an hour, and we're all laying in the snow, all laughing and exhausted. Now, see, that's a snowball fight! That's a snowball!"
I backed away and opened the car door. I didn't know what to say, how to follow up on his story. It made me think back to college, to looking at the Western Massachussets farms and wondering what went on there, under the snow.
On the drive out of the tiny town I passed a small circle of black children in the dirt next to the road. They were playing a circle game, with one of the children popping up as the circle changed. As I drove by, they stopped and looked at me. My windows were rolled up and I could not hear their voices as they called out to me, but their eyes revealed removal from me; a knowledge that I would continue my drive and leave their town to find my own. Which is what I did.
On the search for the interstate, and the subsequent drive to Columbia, I was able to block out almost completely the purpose of my trip, or the certainty that by the end of it I would lose my freedom. The closer I got, the less prison seemed an abstraction. I wondered what it was that people ate in prison.
First it was the smell that hit me, just after I left the interstate and turned onto U.S. 17 towards Beaufort. The low country had a certain smell that seemed close to something disgusting, yet was tantalizingly pleasant. That smell brought with it a gnawing at the edges of my mental wall, and fear overtook me by the time that I pulled up in front of the Beaufort police station.
I sat in the car, frozen in place, for a full ten minutes. I wondered if, in fact, this was the right place at which to turn oneself in for a major crime; I wondered whom I should ask for once I was inside. Then, at 4:30 in the afternoon, I opened the door of the elderly car and walked up the brick path to the door of the brick building. The door itself seemed unusually heavy, and I had to put my full weight against it in order to budge it open. Inside, there was only a small white room, with benches along the wall and a lone woman sitting behind plate glass.
Looking at the woman behind the glass, I sat down on one of the benches and bowed my head. I sat there for a few minutes before I heard the voice, heavily accented, of the woman behind the glass, who had slid the shield out of the way in order to call out to me.
"Honey, can I help you? Are you here to see someone?"
Standing up, I walked closer to the glass shield and thrust my hands into my pockets. "Yes, Ma'am, I need to talk to somebody about something."
The woman behind the counter made a slightly impatient face. "Well, it would help me if you could tell me what sort of a somebody you want to talk to and what kind of a something you want to talk about."
"I guess I need to talk to somebody about a crime." I was struggling to overcome my inability to choke out the words. "I should probably talk to a detective, I guess."
Squinting slightly, the woman looked at me more carefully. "You look familiar, honey. You from around here?"
"Well, sort of. I mean, my family was, and I lived here for about, I don't know, four months this year. Well, last year."
Not satisfied, the woman continued to look at me questioningly. "What did you say your name was, honey?"
"I'm Buddy, or, David Trigg, Ma'am."
"Oh, all right," the woman said, nodding and smiling slightly. "Hold on a minute. Stay right here and I'll go get the person you need to see. Is this about your Uncle?"
I nodded. Once again, the Low Country knew me better than I knew myself.
"That's in the County, not the City. You need to see the D.A."
The woman disappeared through a door at the back of her cubicle. I sat on the bench again, but in only a few seconds the woman returned and smiled at me. "What you need to do, David, is go through that door," she said, pointing at a door I had not noticed next to her cubicle, "and go all the way to the end of the hall. The sign says 'D.A. Robertson.' That's the door. I told him that you were coming down." With a wan smile, the woman held the door as I walked through and peered down the clean white hallway towards the wooden door at the far end.
As I walked over the worn white linoleum, I saw the door at the far end inch open, pulled by an unseen hand. Standing at the threshold, I knocked quietly, and a strong male voice told me to enter.
He was a tall man, with dark hair cut short to his head, balding in the middle. The confusing element was that in this place where the difference between black and white is made to be critical in determining almost all elements of social construction, the man evidenced no traits which allowed me to assess his ethnicity with assurance. His skin tone was that of a light-skinned black or a dark Italian or Sephardic Jew, his nose distinctive but not pronounced, and his voice vaguely familiar, moderate yet unplaceable, lacking even the gentle low country accent to which I had become accustomed.
"Sit down, please," the man said. I sat in a tall-backed wooden chair which carried an indecipherable crest at the top of its back. The rest of the room was filled with photos of the land around us, mostly of the rivers of the sea islands, reeds poking through the meandering waters.
I looked in vain for diplomas or degrees on the wall, but could not locate any. I was searching for connection as the scenario became stranger, but was offered no respite by the surroundings. The DA gave me a long look over the desk, a look that was both knowing and questioning.
"Welcome back, Buddy," the man behind the desk said in an unmistakably authoritative voice. "I know you may not remember me, but I saw you when you very small, and your father brought you here. The Trigg family goes back a long way."
"I know that sir," I said, weakly.
"There's really something interesting about that family, your family. There's definitely a certain self-destructive streak, but you know that. Your Daddy got out, never came back. They say the sea island pluff mud gets in between your toes, but it didn't hold him. Can't say I knew him when we were young, Buddy, and he has never given me the chance. But down here I can know a lot of the things about people you don't know."
Looking across the desk warily, I nodded. "There's a lot of things unusual down here, sir. Everybody knows you before they know you, or something."
"Tell me about you, Buddy," the man said, leaning over the desk, his hands folded in front of him, "tell me about your people."
"My people, sir?"
"Your people. Tell me about your people."
I leaned back in the chair and looked up at the ceiling, squinting. I crossed my hands over my chest, and felt calmer. The D.A. seemed to already know about my people. "I guess," I began, "that the only person I knew who ever talked about things down here was my Aunt Sam, and she was crazy. She was really crazy, or at least she seemed like it in Chicago. She always wore too many clothes, like some sort of bag lady, and she used to talk about the stupidest things. Political things. But we got used to her."
I didn't know whether or not this constituted an answer to his question, but he seemed content so I continued. "Aunt Sam talked a lot about what it was like down here. Mostly she talked about what it looked like or how people knew their place or about how there were decent people in the South. No one really took her seriously, but it seemed funny that she always talked about it but never came back, not once. She never really told stories about what happened to her down here. She just talked about it."
"My dad, I knew that he was from down here, too, but he never said anything about it. We always thought that it was because he left when he was young, but he wasn't really all that young. I think that something bad happened to him and that he didn't want to talk about it, so I didn't say anything about it."
"I guess you know that I came down here looking for my Uncle. Actually, I didn't know that was who I was looking for, but that was who I found. I loved that man. He showed me an awful lot. He ripped every last fatalistic bone I had in my body right out. He said if you want something, you go get it. And he did. He just created his own world down here, until, it happened. I guess I didn't like what he wanted to do. Actually, I hated what he wanted to do, what he was doing."
He remained silent so I continued. "He had books, too, from the family. I went through a good part of the library while I was down here. The best part wasn't the books themselves, but what people had written to one another in the inside covers, dedications and notes and things like that. I learned a lot from those notes."
"Not that I really ended up knowing an awful lot of biographical information. They came down here in the 1820's, and they built Old Sedalia right before the war. I learned that, and about the whitlock, and the people leaving. So I guess that's mostly what I know: the plantation, losing it, people leaving, guns. That's my people."
"That’s people. Not just yours. But there is more to all of us, too…"
I didn't understand this. "I guess they heal in the end. Maybe. Well, I came back, right?"
"You came here for the first time-- you had nothing to forgive this place for, David. People forgive, they come back. They have to forgive themselves, forgive the town, let the anger go. Your Daddy never left that island behind. There's mercy out there, though, if you let yourself grab it."
He walked out from behind the desk and stood next to the window. He looked out for a long moment, then drew in his breath sharply. I had seen a news story once about a Humane Society which fed the dogs and kittens gourmet food before putting them to sleep. This moment, sitting in the big chair talking about my family, I felt like one of those kittens.
Sitting in the chair, I felt an arrow of fear shoot through me. "What does this have to do with me? You know I did it, right?"
"I know why you're here. We looked pretty hard around the scene of your Uncle's death, you know. Two shotgun blasts will mess a guy up pretty bad, Buddy, and that's what happened, two blasts at close range. Most of us had never seen the inside of that house. Beautiful place, Buddy. Yours now, I hear."
"I got it from my Uncle... I mean, I didn't know that I would when he died... that is, he never told me that. I didn't..."
"It was wrong," the DA said, somewhat sharply, standing up behind his desk. "Though, I won’t open a file. That means that we're not seeking anybody for anything, and that you will walk out of this door in a few minutes to live with the rest of the sinners." He punctuated his last remark with a sharp look.
"Let me tell you a story, Buddy, that you might not understand. But maybe you will. There was a young man in this town who was a quiet boy, lived out on one of the islands. White boy, and that was important then, even more important than it is now, if you can believe that. This boy, his family was a little odd, like some of them are down here. Anyways, one of his friends, one of the Trayns, has this little ritual we didn't see much on the island. Every year, this Trayn would take a woman as his own, one of the black women from the lands out on the plantation, and then she'd be gone. No one ever asked where she went, at least nobody in town did. They just didn't talk about it at all. The men out on the plantation, they knew that this couldn't go on much longer, and there would be a war. The blacks, they got guns, no one knew where from."
"But then the man was gone, with no war, no nothing. The man died in a hunting accident, it was decided. Shotgun. Nobody asked who did it. And now the man who did it comes down here, and doesn't show his face, just goes out to Sedalia. Now, killing a man is wrong, even the man that needs killing. "
I stared at the floor intently. Another thing that ran in my family.
“You know it is wrong to kill, don’t you? That it is against the Law, His Law?”
I nodded, crying.
"Who are you, Buddy Trigg?" the DA asked.
I breathed in deeply. "I am David Baxten Trigg, the son of Red Trigg, the nephew of Ennis Trigg and Doctor Micah."
"That's the truth, Buddy," said the DA, nodding slowly. "You can't get away from them, from here, no matter where you run to. Do with it what you will. But you're a free man, under the law of Beaufort County. You came, now you can go."
"Yes.” I looked up. “Even for something that bad?" I knew the answer, though. Standing, I nodded and turned toward the door, unsteady. As I opened the door, I was stopped by the sound of the DA's voice.
"Buddy, let me give you another answer. Next time somebody asks you who you are, you remember this day, Buddy. You tell them, Buddy, that who you are is Forgiven."
* * *
A pale yellow light came from a restaurant on Bay Street, and I walked towards it. The restaurant was long and thin, and somewhat formal. Through the middle of it, I could see that there was a small bar in the back of it, with several people sitting watching something on the television. I got the feeling that something had happened that day, some apocalypse, that drew people to the news; something in the nature of the beginning of a war or the sudden death of someone very, very important. It was the stillness of the town that gave me that feeling, and the intensity of the people staring up at the screen.
I did not hear the news; my mind was still on Forgiven.
Amidst the people at the bar was an empty stool, and I took it. I ordered a beer, and looked around at the crowd. Everyone in the small room was watching the television except me and a father and his two children who were at a table just below me. They had ordered hamburgers, and the children were badgering one another. From the television, I heard words being spoken, but did not listen to them, did not process them into a string of meaning. I was watching the children who were also ignoring the television.
As I watched them, I felt my awareness coming back. Still, I did not look at the television, but at the two children, each of whom was making a face at the other, eyes contorted, tongues aloft, cheeks sucked in. There was a rush of warmth that passed through me, oxygen, life. The children were moving slowly, as if the film had been slowed, and stopped their game. They looked up not at their father or at the television which had so transfixed the crowd, but at me. Their faces were expectant, without judgment, as they looked into my eyes. Again, a child looked up at me.
It seemed like a long time that I watched them, the only eyes other than my own which were not looking, aghast and silent, at the television. It felt as if a wind had come into me, and released something inside which I had been unable to touch or grab. Slowly, I raised my glass in front of me, the pale beer visible above my hand. The two children smiled, and lifted up their glasses, waiting.
Returning their smile, I nodded slightly. "Here's to Old Sedalia," I said. They laughed, and drank with me, as the others sat like stones, not seeing the cup of redemption or the light, or the water behind us, filled with reeds.