“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.” ~ Audre Lorde, from A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer


“What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence?” ~ Audre Lorde, from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” 

Tuesday late afternoon, cloudy with drizzle, 56 degrees.

Today is the birthday of poet, essayist, novelist, and activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934-November 17, 1992). Lorde died in 1992 after years of battling cancer; the illness led to her first prose collection, The Cancer Journals (1980), in which she wrote about her struggle to overcome breast cancer and the resultant mastectomy. Her posthumous collection of essays, A Burst of Light (1988), won the National Book Award. Altogether, Lorde wrote 18 books of poems and essays and won numerous awards, including a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. A self-termed “poet, warrior, feminist, mother, pioneer, lover, survivor, ” Lorde espoused causes related to feminism, in particular black feminism, racism, and gay rights.

For more, visit The Heroine Collective here, or the New York State Writers’ Institute here.


A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

Movement Song

I have studied the tight curls on the back of your neck
moving away from me
beyond anger or failure
your face in the evening schools of longing
through mornings of wish and ripen
we were always saying goodbye
in the blood in the bone over coffee
before dashing for elevators going
in opposite directions
without goodbyes.

Do not remember me as a bridge nor a roof
as the maker of legends
nor as a trap
door to that world
where black and white clericals
hang on the edge of beauty in five oclock elevators
twitching their shoulders to avoid other flesh
and now
there is someone to speak for them
moving away from me into tomorrows
morning of wish and ripen
your goodbye is a promise of lightning
in the last angels hand
unwelcome and warning
the sands have run out against us
we were rewarded by journeys
away from each other
into desire
into mornings alone
where excuse and endurance mingle
conceiving decision.
Do not remember me
as disaster
nor as the keeper of secrets
I am a fellow rider in the cattle cars
watching
you move slowly out of my bed
saying we cannot waste time
only ourselves.


Music by Rhiannon Giddens, “Shake Sugaree”

“Pettifoggers, shysters, and all kinds of hagglers have humble antecedents and usually live up to their names.” ~ Anatoly Liberman, University of Minnesota Professor

In the Senate on Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts cited the 1905 impeachment trial of Judge Charles Swayne; this photo of Swayne appeared in a March 1905 issue of The Literary Digest.
“They  [pettifogging lawyers] often had limited concern for scruples or conscience and the term was deeply contemptuous.” ~ Michael Quinion, World Wide Words

Wednesday afternoon, sunny, 46 degrees.

So from the ongoing impeachment trial, this nugget arose: PETTIFOGGING. In an NPR article, Elizabeth Blair elucidates:

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “Pettifogging people give too much attention to small, unimportant details in a way that shows a limited mind.”

On that note, let’s dive in.

Petty + fogger = pettifogger

Petty means small or insignificant. A fogger is old slang for a “huckster, a cringing whining beggar.”

In his admonishment of public officials during President Trump’s impeachment proceedings, Chief Justice John Roberts cited the use of “pettifogging” in the 1905 Senate impeachment trial of Florida District Judge Charles Swayne, who was impeached “… for filing false travel vouchers, improper use of private railroad cars, unlawfully imprisoning two attorneys for contempt and living outside of his district.” (After nearly three months, the Senate voted to acquit.)

According to a transcript, the offending word in question was uttered by Swayne’s counsel, the Hon. John M. Thurston. He subsequently apologized.

“I don’t think we need to aspire to that high standard, but I do think those addressing the Senate should remember where they are,” Justice Roberts said, as he urged civil discourse among House impeachment managers and President Trump’s lawyers.

What a wonderful word, and so fitting when talking about Mr. Giuliani et al. Who said politics was boring?

More later (if the laptop cooperates). Peace.


Music by the Patti Smith Group, “Broken Flag”

Lyrics:

Nodding tho the lamp’s lit low, nod for passers underground.
To and fro she’s darning, and the land is weeping red and pale.
Weeping yarn from Algiers. Weeping yarn from Algiers.

Weaving tho the eyes are pale, what will rend will also mend.
The sifting cloth is binding, and the dream she weaves will never end.
For we’re marching toward Algiers. For we’re marching toward Algiers.

Lullaby tho baby’s gone. Lullaby a broken song.
Oh, the cradle was our call. When it rocked we carried on.
And we marched on toward Algiers. For we’re marching toward Algiers
We’re still marching for Algiers. Marching, marching for Algiers.
Not to hail a barren sky. Sifting cloth is weeping red.
The mourning veil is waving high a field of stars and tears we’ve shed.
In the sky a broken flag, children wave and raise their arms.
We’ll be gone but they’ll go on and on and on and on and on.

“. . . it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.” ~ Amb. Marie Yovanovitch Opening Statement (October 11, 2019)

Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch arriving at Capitol Hill for Congressional testimony

“It was compelling, it was impactful, it was powerful and I just feel grateful for the opportunity to have received that information.” ~ Democratic Rep. Denny Heck commenting after Marie Yovanovitch’s 9 Hours of Testimony to Congress

Saturday afternoon, overcast with drizzle, 54 degrees.

I decided that before I try to clean this house, I would share the entire opening statement that Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch made to Congress. It’s an incredible, informative read, and I hope that eventually her entire testimony will be released. I am so impressed by this woman’s courage and fortitude. She is precisely the kind of person this country needs right now to help navigate these very troubled waters. Her statement is both restrained and powerful, a piece of discourse akin to The Federalist Papers, in particular, No. 51.


Opening Statement of Marie L. Yovanovitch to the
House of Representatives Permanent Select Committee on
Intelligence, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and Committee on
Oversight and Reform

October 11, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to start with this statement today.

For the last 33 years, it has been my great honor to serve the American people as a Foreign Service Officer, over six Administrations—four Republican, and two Democratic. I have served in seven different countries, five of them hardship posts, and was appointed to serve as an ambassador three times—twice by a Republican President, and once by a Democrat. Throughout my career, I have stayed true to the oath that Foreign Service Officers take and observe every day: “that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;” and “that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Like all foreign service officers with whom I have been privileged to serve, I have understood that oath as a commitment to serve on a strictly nonpartisan basis, to advance the foreign policy determined by the incumbent President, and to work at all times to strengthen our national security and promote our national interests.

My Background
I come by these beliefs honestly and through personal
experience. My parents fled Communist and Nazi regimes. Having seen, first hand, the war, poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. represents. And they raised me to cherish these values as well. Their sacrifices allowed me to attend Princeton University, where I focused my studies on the Soviet Union. Given my upbringing, it has been the honor of a lifetime to help to foster those principles as a career Foreign Service Officer.

From August 2016 until May 2019, I served as the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Our policy, fully embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike, was to help Ukraine become a stable and independent democratic state, with a market economy integrated into Europe.

Recent Ukrainian History
Ukraine is a sovereign country, whose borders are inviolate and whose people have the right to determine their own destiny. These are the bedrock principles of our policy. Because of Ukraine’s geostrategic position bordering Russia on its east, the warm waters of the oil-rich Black Sea to its south, and four NATO allies to its west, it is critical to the security of the United States that Ukraine remain free and democratic and that it continue to resist Russian expansionism.

Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea, its invasion of Eastern Ukraine, and its de facto control over the Sea of Azov, make clear Russia’s malign intentions towards Ukraine. If we allow Russia’s actions to stand, we will set a precedent that the United States will regret for decades to come.

Supporting Ukraine’s integration into Europe and combating Russia’s efforts to destabilize Ukraine have anchored US policy since the Ukrainian people protested on the Maidan in 2014 and demanded to be a part of Europe and live according to the rule of law. That was US policy when I was appointed Ambassador in August 2016, and it was reaffirmed as the policy of the current administration in early 2017. 

“. . . it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check . . . a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law”

The Fight Against Corruption
The Revolution of Dignity, and the Ukrainian people’s demand to end corruption, forced the new Ukrainian government to take measures to fight the rampant corruption that long permeated that country’s political and economic systems. We have long understood that strong anti-corruption efforts must form an essential part of our policy in Ukraine; now there was a window of opportunity to do just that.

Why is this important? Put simply: anti-corruption efforts serve Ukraine’s interests. They serve ours as well. Corrupt leaders are inherently less trustworthy, while an honest and accountable Ukrainian leadership makes a U.S.-Ukraine partnership more reliable and more valuable to the U.S. A level playing field in this strategically located country—one with a European landmass exceeded only by Russia and with one of the largest populations in Europe—creates an environment in which U.S. business can more easily trade, invest and profit. Corruption is a security issue as well, because corrupt officials are vulnerable to Moscow. In short, it is in our national security interest to help Ukraine transform into a country where the rule of law governs and corruption is held in check. 

Two Wars
But change takes time, and the aspiration to instill rule-of-law values has still not been fulfilled. Since 2014, Ukraine has been at war, not just with Russia, but within itself, as political and economic forces compete to determine what kind of country Ukraine will become: the same old, oligarch-dominated Ukraine where corruption is not just prevalent, but is the system? Or the country that Ukrainians demanded in the Revolution of Dignity—a country where rule of law is the system, corruption is tamed, and people are treated equally and according to the law?

During the 2019 presidential elections, the Ukrainian people answered that question once again. Angered by insufficient progress in the fight against corruption, Ukrainian voters overwhelmingly elected a man who said that ending corruption would be his number one priority. The transition, however, created fear among the political elite, setting the stage for some of the issues I expect we will be discussing today.

Understanding Ukraine’s recent history, including the significant tension between those who seek to transform the country and those who wish to continue profiting from the old ways, is of critical importance to understanding the events you asked me here today to describe. Many of those events—and the false narratives that emerged from them—resulted from an unfortunate alliance between Ukrainians who continue to operate within a corrupt system, and Americans who either did not understand that corrupt system, or who may have chosen, for their own purposes, to ignore it.

It seems obvious, but bears stating, that when dealing with officials from any country—or those claiming connections to officialdom—one must understand their background, their personal interests, and what they hope to get out of a particular interaction before deciding how to evaluate their description of events or acting on their information.

To be clear, Ukraine is filled with many citizens and officials who want the very things we have always said we want for the United States: a government that acts in the interests of its people; “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” The overwhelming support for President Zelenskiy in April’s election proved that. And it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves. Continue reading ““. . . it was one of our most important tasks at the embassy in Kyiv to understand and act upon the difference between those who sought to serve their people and those who sought to serve only themselves.” ~ Amb. Marie Yovanovitch Opening Statement (October 11, 2019)”

“I hurt | therefore I exist” ~ Claribel Alegría, from “I am Mirror”

Poet Claribel Alegría (by Simon Hurst)

“Every time I name them
my dead are resurrected.” ~ Claribel Alegría, “Every time I name them” (Trans. Carolyn Forché)

Tuesday afternoon, foggy and cloudy, 61 degrees.

Today’s Two for Tuesday features Nicaraguan/Salvadoran poet, essayist, and journalist Claribel Alegría (May 12, 1924-January 25, 2018). Born Clara Isabel Alegría Vides in Nicaragua to physician father Daniel Alegría, her father opposed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in 1924; the family was subsequently forced into exile in her mother’s home country of El Salvador while Claribel was still an infant. Her obituary in The Washington Post refers to her as “a leading poet of suffering and anguish.” She was best known in the U.S. for the bilingual edition of her volume of poetry, Flores del volcán/Flowers from the Volcano (1982), which was translated by the poet Carolyn Forché.

A 1953 portrait

Algería’s work combined the personal with the political by sometimes focusing on the violence that plagued both Nicaragua and El Salvador for decades. Poet Daisy Zamora said of Algería that she had “unfailingly spoken up for justice and liberty . . . becoming a voice for the voiceless and the dispossessed.” In 2006 Algería received the Neustadt International Prize for Literature for which he had been nominated by Zamora. In her acceptance remarks upon receiving the prize Algería stated the following:

The poet celebrates humankind, the universe, and the creator of the universe. It is impossible for one to remain indifferent to the turbulence that our planet and its inhabitants suffer through: war, hunger, earthquakes, misery, racism, violence, xenophobia, deforestation, AIDS, and childhood affliction, among others. In the region from which I come, Central America, we love poetry, and at times we use it to denounce what is happening around us. There are many fine testimonial poems. The poet, especially where I’m from, cannot and should not remain in an ivory tower.

You can read more about her life and substantial oeuvre here or in her New York Times obituary here. Poet Carolyn Forché interviewed Alegria in 1984, and a PDF can be found here.

Today is the birthday of one of my favorite science fiction writers, Frank Herbert (October 8, 1920-February 11, 1986), creator of the Dune series.


Rain

As the falling rain
trickles among the stones
memories come bubbling out.
It’s as if the rain
had pierced my temples.
Streaming
streaming chaotically
come memories:
the reedy voice
of the servant
telling me tales
of ghosts.
They sat beside me
the ghosts
and the bed creaked
that purple-dark afternoon
when I learned you were leaving forever,
a gleaming pebble
from constant rubbing
becomes a comet.
Rain is falling
falling
and memories keep flooding by
they show me a senseless
world
a voracious
world—abyss
ambush
whirlwind
spur
but I keep loving it
because I do
because of my five senses
because of my amazement
because every morning,
because forever, I have loved it
without knowing why.

[This is a night of shadows]

This is a night of shadows
of sword-memories
solitude overwhelms me.
No one awaits my arrival
with a kiss
or a rum
and a thousand questions.
Solitude echoes within me.
My heart wishes
to burst with rage
but it sprouts wings.

” . . . never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion; against injustice, lying and greed. If you . . . will do this, not as a class or classes, but as individuals, men and women, you will change the earth.” ~ William Faulkner, from a commencement speech (1952)

From the play The Cocktail Party

Thursday thoughts . . .

When everything around me begins to fall apart, I often find comfort in the words of others. Bukowski’s poem below seems especially relevant at the moment:

Aside: I’m really impressed by the YouTuber who makes these poem companion videos.


Happy Birthday to T. S. Eliot (September 26, 1888-January 4, 1965), poet, literary critic, essayist, and publisher (“The Waste Land”)

Belated Happy Birthday to WILLIAM FAULKNER (September 25, 1897-July 6, 1962), Nobel Prize Laureate and author whose work I always have to read at least twice to really understand (The sound and the fury).

“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” ~ Samuel Johnson, from The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia

Wordless Wednesdays . . .

Wednesday afternoon, cloudy and cooler, but humid, 80 degrees.


Happy Birthday to English critic, biographer, essayist, poet, and lexicographer Samuel Johnson (September 18, 1709-December 13, 1784)—noted aphorist, known for The Vanity of Human Wishes (1749), and A Dictionary of the English Language (1755).

“For echo is the soul of the voice exciting itself in hollow places.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, from The English Patient

Image result for The English Patient quotes


Two for Tuesday: Michael Ondaatje

Tuesday afternoon, partly cloudy, 83 degrees.

I missed the birthday of one of my favorite writers: Michael Ondaatje (September 12, 1943). One of my best friends from the museum, Becky Anthony, introduced me to Ondaatje and his masterful novel, The English Patient, which was adapted into an equally beautiful movie starring Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas. The Poetry Foundation has a nice bio of the author.

For today’s Two for Tuesday, I thought that I’d share some of my favorite quotes from the novel, a few more than two, I suppose. I’m also including a video with some of the movie’s soundtrack. I love movie soundtracks, and this is one that I listen to when I’m feeling very out of sorts. It is as hauntingly beautiful as the movie and novel. Enjoy.

“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.”
In the desert the most loved waters, like a lover’s name, are carried blue in your hands, enter your throat. One swallows absence.
A man in a desert can hold absence in his cupped hands knowing it is something that feeds him more than water. There is a plant he knows of near El Taj, whose heart, if one cuts it out, is replaced with a fluid containing herbal goodness. Every morning one can drink the liquid the amount of a missing heart.
He walks with her through the indigo markets that lie between South Cairo and her home. The beautiful songs of faith enter the air like arrows, one minaret answering another, as if passing on a rumor of the two of them as they walk through the cold morning air, the smell of charcoal and hemp already making the air profound. Sinners in a holy city.
And all the names of the tribes, the nomads of faith who walked in the monotone of the desert and saw brightness and faith and colour. The way a stone or found metal box or bone can become loved and turn eternal in a prayer. Such glory of this country she enters now and becomes a part of. We die containing a richness of lovers and tribes, tastes we have swallowed, bodies we have plunged into and swum up as if rivers of wisdom, characters we have climbed into as if trees, fears we have hidden in as if caves. I wish for all of this to be marked on my body when I am dead. I believe in such cartography—to be marked by nature, not just to label ourselves on a map like the names of rich men and women on buildings. We are communal histories, communal books. We are not owned or monogamous in our taste or experience. All I desired was to walk upon such an earth that had no maps.

More later. Peace.

Also, Happy Birthday to William Carlos Williams (“The Red Wheelbarrow) and Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)


The Cinnamon Peeler

If I were a cinnamon peeler

I would ride your bed
And leave the yellow bark dust
On your pillow.

Your breasts and shoulders would reek
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would
stumble certain of whom they approached
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon.

Here on the upper thigh
at this smooth pasture
neighbour to you hair
or the crease
that cuts your back. This ankle.
You will be known among strangers
as the cinnamon peeler’s wife.

I could hardly glance at you
before marriage
never touch you
–your keen nosed mother, your rough brothers.
I buried my hands
in saffron, disguised them
over smoking tar,
helped the honey gatherers…

When we swam once
I touched you in the water
and our bodies remained free,
you could hold me and be blind of smell.
you climbed the bank and said

this is how you touch other women
the grass cutter’s wife, the lime burner’s daughter.
And you searched your arms
for the missing perfume

and knew

what good is it
to be the lime burner’s daughter
left with no trace
as if not spoken to in the act of love
as if wounded without the pleasure of a scar.

You touched
your belly to my hands
in the dry air and said
I am the cinnamon
Peeler’s wife. Smell me.

~ Michael Ondaatje