marthastephens

Beautiful Poems To Stay Alive For

FRIENDS, we all know we’re living in a dangerous time.  We don’t know what will happen to us.  Will war — one final war, perhaps — put an end to life on Planet Earth?  Or will it be fires and floods, storms and droughts, that will write the final pages of our history on this little globe of ours? 

If we go, will any one out there remember us?  Will the universe remember that we struggled, we tried to resist . . . ?

That we even made up a little nursery rhyme to help us endure our fears about our leader?

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall
Humpty had a great fall.
All the team’s horses and all the team’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Oh well . . . .

As for walls, and border walls, I have to throw this in.  Here’s a fellow creature who knows how to use such a thing as a bossy Wall.

“Who’s that scratching my back?” said the Wall.
“It’s me,” said a small caterpillar.
“I’m learning to crawl.”

 

AS YOU CAN SEE, my friends, I’m a frightened person, and I like to hold close to me at times what is decent and good about Planet Earth: the small ways and byways of our communal life . . . and our arts.  

Art by Homeless Kids

We’re all creators, I think, in our daily lives, but we have, as well, the formal arts of the past and present to comfort us — the beautifully differentiated music, for instance, of ages and ages past, the designs we once drew on the walls of caves, and our long history of delicate poetry.

 

I MUST PAUSE here to say, my friends, that I know the post below is too long.  My friend Maureen, who helped me set up this blog, a few years ago, says, ”Why not write more often now — but shorter?”
That’s good advice, I bet.
Too late, though, for the five beautiful poems below.  I’m not a violent person, and I can’t murder a single one of them!  Don’t ask me to do that.
I gotta say, too, that I’m not very good at these Wordpress posts — I can’t get things to line up half the time, or the poems to single-space, or the colors to match, or the photos to mesh the way I’d like them to.  Can’t always enlarge titles!  (Yet I’m grateful to WordPress for the free service it provides!  The staff works hard, and all of us users help each other out.

 

See here, in any case, two poems by Walt Whitman, two by William Wordsworth, and a modern verse by a woman, Dilys Laing, who grew up in Wales, and is writing to a grown child during a dangerous time like ours today.

 

Walt Whitman 1819-1892

 

 

 

Perhaps you can enjoy this little verse by Walt Whitman.  

Is it trivial, this little spider tale?  No, no, you will see that it is not . . . .

 

 

A Noiseless Patient Spider

   By Walt Whitman

A noiseless patient spider,
I mark’d where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark’d how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.
And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to      connect them.
Till the bridge you will need be form’d, till the ductile anchor hold
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

WALT WHITMAN, btw, was an amazing fellow.  There will never be anyone like him.  He was sometimes not much more than a tramp, but everything in his life, his wanderings, his feelings, the people and places he came upon, were poetry to him.  He poeticized his entire life, and heaped it all into a huge, ever-changing mega-poem called Leaves of Grass.

I love Whitman for his work during the Civil War in a hospital in Washington D. C. , giving comfort  to the wounded and dying men there, on both sides, writing letters for them — and turning against that war . . . and all wars!

Somehow I want to skip forward here to Whitman’s last years and his beautiful requiem for himself  — “Good-bye, My Fancy.”  You’ll see that a  “Fancy” is his  term of affection for his writings, his poetry-making powers, his creative genius, if you will.

 

                                          GOOD -BYE, MY FANCY  by Walt Whitman 

GOOD-BYE my Fancy!
Farewell dear mate, dear love!
I’m going away, I know not where,
Or to what fortune, or whether I may ever see you again,
So Good-bye my Fancy.
Now for my last–let me look back a moment;
The slower fainter ticking of the clock is in me,
Exit, nightfall, and soon the heart-thud stopping.
Long have we lived, joy’d, caress’d together;
Delightful!–now separation–Good-bye my Fancy.

Yet let me not be too hasty,
Long indeed have we lived, slept, filter’d, become really blended into one;
Then if we die we die together (yes, we’ll remain one).
If we go anywhere we’ll go together to meet what happens,
Maybe we’ll be better off and blither, and learn something,
Maybe it is yourself now really ushering me to the true songs, (who knows?)
Maybe it is you the mortal knob really undoing, turning–so now finally,
Good-bye–and hail! my Fancy.  ##

 


Wordsworth 1770-1850

 

WORDSWORTH, my friends, seemed to write mostly about women, and often about his main companion in life, his sister Dorothy.  They loved country life, their rambles and long hikes.  Below is a pretty piece about a woman they saw and heard working in a field — singing.

It seems that some smart, seen-it-all intellectuals don’t especially admire the romantic poets any more, but some of us go back and back again to this age of brilliant English verse.  (I hope to post soon the great poem by John Keats — just that, perhaps — called “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” with its five long wonderful stanzas.)

 

The Solitary Reaper  by William Wordsworth              

BEHOLD HER, single in the field, 
Yon solitary Highland Lass! 
Reaping and singing by herself; 
Stop here, or gently pass! 
Alone she cuts and binds the grain, 
And sings a melancholy strain; 
O listen! for the Vale profound 
Is overflowing with the sound. 
No Nightingale did ever chaunt 
More welcome notes to weary bands 
Of travellers in some shady haunt, 
Among Arabian sands: 
A voice so thrilling ne’er was heard 
In spring-time from the Cuckoo-bird, 
Breaking the silence of the seas 
Among the farthest Hebrides. 

Will no one tell me what she sings?— 
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow 
For old, unhappy, far-off things, 
And battles long ago: 
Or is it some more humble lay, 
Familiar matter of to-day? 
Some natural sorrow, loss, or pain, 
That has been, and may be again?

 Whate’er the theme, the Maiden sang 
As if her song could have no ending; 
I saw her singing at her work, 
And o’er the sickle bending;— 
I listened, motionless and still; 
And, as I mounted up the hill, 
The music in my heart I bore, 
Long after it was heard no more.  ## 

 

Wordsworth, you know, was a naturalist and environmentalist.   Remember this verse, my friends?

The World Is Too Much With Us    by William Wordsworth

THE WORLD  is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.  ##


 

So sad, my friends, that sometimes we want to speak such somber thoughts as those below to a child.  In her day, Dilys Laing (1906-1960) was a well-known U. S. poet.  She grew up in Wales, married an American. 

FORGIVE ME   by Dilys Laing                     

FORGIVE ME for neglecting to show you that the world is evil.
I had hoped your innocence
would find it good
and teach me what I know to be untrue.

Forgive me for leaving you open to persistent heartbreak
instead of breaking your bright heart with medicinal blows.
I had hoped your eyes would be stars
dispelling darkness wherever you looked.

Forgive me for a love that has delivered you unwarned to treachery.
Now I confess that the world,
more beautiful for your presence,
was not fine enough to warrant my summoning you into it.
My beloved.  ##

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A Poem for Remembering Hiroshima — August 6 1945

a-bomb-dome 

The Hiroshima Peace Dome Memorial

A building that survived the U. S. atomic bomb and was left exactly as it appeared after the blast.   It is surrounded now by a Peace Park that is visited by many people  from around the world. 

        Friends, I have posted in recent times some of the great poems in our literature on the scourge of war.  Among my own poems, the verse you see below is my favorite.  I wrote it in commemoration of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9th, 1945, and all who may yet perish in atomic war.  It imagines what our last day might be like if WE were to find ourselves under atomic attack. 

Last Day

 

On the last day

A rabbit came to taste the dandelions

Along the low hedge,

Sent, some might say, to bless us

Though he did not know anything about us

Or what blessings are.

 

2

The great cloud of death was drifting on

And we were in its way.

There was nowhere to go

So we simply stayed at home

On the last day,  

Not wanting to die underground

Pecking away at a protein bar

In an illusion of safety.

 

3

A repast, in fact, was not what we seemed to need

On the last day, 

Though it was good to watch the rabbit

Chewing its munchies

Along the low hedge,

Startled a bit, when we appeared

With the shears to clip things, 

Showing us for a moment its fat cottontail

In a bobbing burst down the hedgerow.

 

4

Yes, we trimmed the hedges

On the last day.

Not thinking anyone would ever see

And yet — who knows —

I suppose we felt.

We liked the yard, the hedge, the rabbit,

A slow walk down the block

To see our bit of woods.

We liked the companionship of other living things

On the last day 

And the beauty of them and

The lack of sentience in them and all foreboding.

 

5

We went on walking a little 

And trimming a little in the yard 

And the doomed rabbit supped on its grassy fare 

Along the low hedge

And did not know anything at all

Of a cloud of death 

On the last day.             

                       — Martha Stephens

 

It is said that over 60,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima on the day our atomic bomb was dropped — and many more over the years from the radiation sickness that followed.  In the central area of the city no life remained; not an insect, nothing, and there ruled a strange and utter silence.  The city was entirely destroyed.

You may see many pictures of the victims on line, but I will not compel anyone to look at them here.  

The U. S. remains the only country to have exploded a nuclear bomb.  I believe we must work to banish all such weapons if we truly want our little globe to survive.  Protests are taking place not just in Japan, but in Los Alamos, New Mexico, where the bombs used in Japan were developed, in California near our laboratories for nuclear research, and in many other places around the world.  Three years ago the last crew member of the plane Enola Gay, which unleashed the Hiroshima bomb, died at 93.   The bomb he helped detonate was called by our security “Little Boy” (and the Nagasaki bomb “Fat Man”).  This crewman had said in his later years that he no longer believed in war or atomic weapons.

PEACE!  TO EVERYONE ON EARTH

 

 

On Mother’s Day — I’ll Fly Away

                                      Or so I said, at least

 

       ON THIS MOTHER’S DAY, we knew, didn’t we, that a lot of mothers are hungry, they’re sick, they’re homeless and on the streets.  They have debts and can’t pay them.  The rent is due, and they don’t have it.  More and more they do drugs.  They’re arrested and can’t post bond. Increasingly, they’re being locked up long-term, just like the men, in that famous program of ours called Mass Incarceration.

         Mother’s Day?  — what does it mean to such mothers, my friends? 

Here I sit just trying to write sensibly about these mothers — and my own privileged position.   Like many others, I want to resist the evil empire we live in, with its terrible wars and the poverty it inflicts on its own citizens.   I’m not sure I can operate, though, under the brutal dictatorship we’ve put in place.  Sometimes I just want to “leave out,” as we used to say in the south, of  the whole resistance — just fly away.

                 Remember that great old gospel song, my friends, “I’ll Fly Away?”  It was based on an earlier tune called “The Prisoners’ Song,” and I feel this country has become a kind of prison today for many citizens.  Here’s a few lines of  these overlocking tunes:

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away.
Like a bird from my prison walls
I’ll fly away.

Oh how glad, how happy when we meet
That I’ll fly away.
No more of those shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away.

When I try, Hallelujah by and by,
I’ll fly away.                                                    

         Yet why should I, Martha Stephens, trouble myself about the Fourth Reich?

         After all, I have a pension (so far).  I can afford to keep up my garden (so far).  I enjoyed a fresh salad of my collards and arugula today.  I’m not cold, I have heat — so far; and when I’m tired at night, I can sit down rather comfortably on my living room sofa with George my yellow cat by my side, set my little laptop on my lap, and watch music videos on YouTube — so far, that is, while we still have an internet.  Last night I watched, along with some strains of Bach and Vivaldi, some interesting versions of “I’ll Fly Away,” plus songs by a fabulous singer named Eartha Kitt.

(Indeed, please keep reading, my friends, for I want to tell you down below about Eartha Kitt and another woman artist that I love.  Yes, I love these two moms, and just knowing about their lives of the past keeps up my spirits.) 

Ellen and best friend

But anyway, is life so bad?  Last month my daughters in my town of Cincinnati threw me a rousing 80th birthday party! We sang old solidarity songs, to my sister’s guitar, and heard each other’s raps about the struggles of the day.  Then last night, I went to a concert of my granddaughter’s high school percussion group, and it featured an amazing number — my grand-daughter playing a duet with her teacher on two marimbas!

UU Women

I’ve also spent a weekend on a beautiful campus of Episcopalian nuns, the Transfigurations of Glendale, Ohio.  This was the Women’s Retreat of First Unitarian Church, organized rather brilliantly by two of our members.

          Maybe I just won’t worry about the Fourth Reich.  Maybe the worst won’t happen, and in fact, even as I write, a sharp challenge to this presidency is evolving.  Maybe the new “Justice” Department won’t be on hand to round up us resisters and hang us!

              How poor, though, how hungry, will we be — if our new bosses are not thrown out?

         We were a poor country before November 8, and our two traditional parties did very little to help.  (Which is why we got DerTrumpf, it seems to me.)  Almost half of the children in Cincinnati are from families below the poverty line.  (See the latest U. S. Census if you think I’m exaggerating.)  Seventy percent of our high schoolers are on free lunch.  So what would happen to the food insecure if the plans we hear about come to pass: food stamps going down, and school lunches taken away from those who can’t pay?  Is that where we are in this great rich country of ours?  

               Let’s take a long look at this photo, my friends.

The Great Irish Famine.  Is this us in a few years?           

         

       And Here’s Another Question We Must Ask:  Will Workers in the Fourth Reich Be Allowed to Organize?

         Will our last unions be busted and people grow poorer and poorer?  Look here at the Weavers of Germany in this famous art by Kathe Kollwitz.   They’re tramping homeward after being fired — just for asking for a living wage.

The Weavers.  Kathe Kollwitz (1867-1922)

 

                               Thinking Anti-War 

 

I always think anti-war on Mother’s Day, because Mother’s Day was first created by women who were against war.  Julia Ward Howe asked mothers of her time to meet together to work for an end to wars and for “the peaceful settlement of  international questions.”  A little later a woman who joined in, Anna Jarvis, created the May date for Mother’s Day, and here we are.  Both women had lived through the Civil War!

Today, women are still leading the way, wouldn’t you say?  Here’s a photo of the Raging Grannies.  They know how to spread the word against those terrible wars of ours . . . that bring death to so many innocent people, and send refugees streaming over Europe and the Middle East.  I sang with this group once myself and got myself a bonnet to wear.

As of a few days ago, my friends, the Iraq Body Count had registered 194,800 civilian deaths since our invasion of that country in 2003.

                                    The Two Women I Love?

         Well, one of them is the great lithographer Kathe Kollwitz (whose work you’ve seen on this blog before).  (See “The Weavers” above.)  Kollwitz was a deep-died socialist and pacifist.  Living in Berlin during WWll, she was removed from her teaching post because of her views and her works thrown out of museums.  She and her husband were almost sent to a concentration camp, but her fame as an artist saved them.  Kollwitz died a few weeks before the end of the war.

The Sick Child

She had depicted, over and over again, the working people of her time, the very poor, the sick, those struck tragically by war.  She had lost a son in WWl and a grandson in WWll.  You can see her portrait and read a fine article about her on Wikipedia.

 

Eartha Kitt was also a fine artist, in my view, and known for her stand against war.  She was present at a luncheon in the White House with LadyBird Johnson (and said it was boring).  When LadyBird  asked her women guests why “the youth” were acting up in the streets and smoking marijuana, Kitt told her the truth: they were protesting because they were angry that people like themselves were dying and being maimed in Vietnam.

This made LadyBird cry, it was said, got Kitt in bad with LBJ and the CIA, and she was eventually blackballed in the U. S.  She said, “Oh well — so what?” and made a new life for herself in Europe, where she was a huge hit for over a decade.

As a child Kitt had picked cotton in South Carolina.  She had no family that cared about her and a white father whose name she never knew.  Then a miracle happened.  She was put on a train to NYC, by some mystery person of the town, and in NY was enrolled in school.  Certain teachers saw her unusual talents and got her into Performing Arts (good for them!), and in short, Eartha Kitt was to become a fabulous entertainer.

She began as a dancer in an all-black dance troop, but her singing gigs were what really caught on! Get on YouTube and watch her in a song called “Monotonous,” or in “Santa Baby” or “C’est si bon.”  She had a tremendous voice, and an amazing, complex, and sometimes dance-like style.

Kitt died in 2008 at 81, cared for by her only child, a daughter she had said was her only “family” — but for her proto-family of fans and supporters.

 

If anyone’s still reading –I shouldn’t do this, but I’ll let two male artists into this post with their poems.  

                                 Earth

“A planet doesn’t explode of itself,” said drily
The Martian astronomer, gazing off into the air —
“That they were able to do it is proof that highly
Intelligent beings must have been living there.”
John Hall Wheelock

 

 This one is by the great poet W. H. Auden.  It’s a brilliant scene depicting the wars of yesteryear, and yet —  is it that far removed from spaces of the earth today?

 

O What Is That Sound

O what is that sound which so thrills the ear
Down inthe valley drumming, drumming?
Only the scarlet soldiers, dear,
The soldiers coming.

O what is that light I see flashing so clear
Over the distance brightly, brightly ?
Only the sun on their weapons, dear,
As they step lightly.

O what are they doing with all that gear
What are they doing this morning, this morning?
Only the usual manoeuvres, dear,
Or perhaps a warning.

O why have they left the road down there
Why are they suddenly wheeling, wheeling?
Perhaps a change in the orders, dear,
Why are you kneeling ?

O haven’t they stopped for the doctor’s care
Haven’t they reined their horses, their horses ?
Why, they are none of them wounded, dear,
None of these forces.

O is it the parson they want with white hair;
Is it the parson, is it, is it ?
No, they are passing his gateway, dear,
Without a visit.

O it must be the farmer who lives so near
It must be the farmer so cunning, so cunning?
They have passed the farm already, dear,
And now they are running.

O where are you going? stay with me here!
Were the vows you swore me deceiving, deceiving?
No, I promised to love you, dear,
But I must be leaving.

O it’s broken the lock and splintered the door,
O it’s the gate where they’re turning, turning
Their feet are heavy on the floor
And their eyes are burning.


No more war, my friends — no more!  

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Books in Brief

Source: My Books in Brief

Martha in the End Times

ARE THESE the end times, my friends?  Have we fellows on Planet Earth just been waiting, ever since November 8, for the final chaos to overtake us?

I guess we figure, even so, that in the meantime we might as well go on with our lives.   See myself here with my Mexican-American friend Christina at the soup kitchen last month in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

We’d chopped vegetables together all morning, and talked and carried on, and now our guests were about to appear — 250 of our fellow citizens, mostly people without work or with work that does not pay them enough to live on.  All of them just carrying on, too, I suppose, in this richest of all countries in the world.

 

The Fist

BUT THESE END TIMES, my friends — is this the twilight of the gods?  The last cataclysm, perhaps, as predicted by the ancient writings?  Will we see, in the end, the raising of the dead, and the coming, at last, of the true messiahs of peace — and justice — for the earth?

            In short, must we die now — to be born again?

       I do apologize for these religious metaphors, my buds, but how else to understand our planetary lives in this moment of — I can’t resist the phrase — gotterdammerung?

       Now if an astronaut were about to fly away to outer space from a  planet soon to be devoid of life, I’d say to her or him: “When you get out there, my friend, tell them about us!  Tell them everything.”

       If any of the other beings out there come to visit Planet Earth, they’ll wonder, I bet, at its emptiness.  “What happened here?” they’ll ask themselves.  Maybe they’ll see the placards from our rallies, our marches of protest, rotting in the earth, our bullhorns half buried in the sands. “Looks like they tried to save themselves,” they’ll say.  “There must have been those who didn’t want it to happen.”

    The Tea Party Is Alive and Well, and Is Every Last Republican with Them? 

       THEY DON’T CARE  what they do to people, how many die for lack of medical care, for instance, or sick leave or a living wage or a place to live — because they figure it this way:  we have more people than we need in this country.  We don’t need any more workers — so they’re just extras.  So why make any provision for such people?  If they die in the streets — so what?  Lets remember that the Third Reich began with attacks on gypsies, the “work-shy,” and others of no account.  (But Bernie and I say this: Where there’s work — share it!  Share everything!)

                             My Dreams at Plaza Suites Motel 

       IN ANY CASE, there was I last month, a person of means, one could say, at Plaza Suites in Las Cruces.  Still alive, at least, in one of its funny old kitchenettes.  I’ve visited at Plaza for fifteen years now, longer stays and shorter stays, and the sights and sounds that surround me there are like old friends I’m allowed to remember from another life.  In fact, I’ll tell you this: in my dreams in the other world, I know I’ll still hear the cleaning carts clattering over the tiles of the open-air corridor past my door.  Yes, I’ll still hear the carts of the young Latina cleaning women at Plaza Suites.  

And I’ll hear once more a small voice crying out to me from the narrow strip of kitchen at the back of the front room.

“Wipe me!” this little voice will cry, over and over again, and in my dreams I will try to comply.  Yes, I’ll wipe and re-wipe the dark ledge of counter around my sink, though this counter can never be wiped clean.  After some forty years of nicks and blots and blotches and burns, these counters in all the Plaza kitchenettes are totally — how shall I say — injured?  But not fatally?

       These counters are in twilight now, just like the country and me myself — I’ll be 80 next month, after all; and good old Plaza Suites, as I have known it, at least, may be entering its twilight years as well, for my owner, Joe Wilson, is ill and not sure to recover, he says.  Joe, get well.   Live on, my man!

                                            The Catholics Know How to Help
       Some of the immigrants detained in an El Paso detention center have been helped by the Catholic Diocese of SWNewMexico.  They created last fall a program where people from the center could leave if they had families to receive them.  The small church I attend, First Christian, became part of this program.  For several months vans pulled up at church homes bringing refugees from Central America.  They were to be kept overnight and then sent on to their relatives around the country.  My friends the Bruners put up three families from Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras.  These “families” consisted, though, of one parent and one child; it seems that when children were involved, the authorities accepted the release of one parent, but only one, to accompany them.  

Julia Bruner

       Julia Bruner says she liked doing this job, and that even with her small Spanish, it wasn’t difficult.  Still, the Bruners had a couple from Guatemala, a father and young son, that seemed a little baffled by things.  They were not used to beds, she surmised (only mats on the floor?), or even to eating utensils.

       Julia also learned of a refugee woman who had traveled for weeks in the same clothes, and when she was taken to a Catholic thrift store to get some clean ones, the garments she was wearing had to be cut from her body — they had stuck to her skin.   Are we the Evil Empire, my friends?

Aletta Wilson music director at First Christian

The day I was picked up at the El Paso airport by my church friend Aletta Wilson, I learned that the day before, February 3,  she had dropped off at the same airport one of her own refugee families, but had then learned that everything had changed and there would be no more such families to assist!  One hundred and twenty-two families had been helped, but now — no more!

The Unitarians in Cruces are showing, btw, a wonderful film about immigrants called Harvest of Empire!  (See it on YouTube.)  It describes what the U. S. has done in the countries of Central American to keep popular governments from succeeding there — so yes, my friends, people try to flee from the brutal regimes we have armed and still support.

Rogues Gallery

Robin and her mom Elsie are always at church together.

Carol and Joy are church elders. They got married recently!

Wanta include a few more church friends.  I guess you didn’t know that some of us radicals love our churches, which have sometimes been the last line of resistance to the system of wrong we occupy!

 

Las Cruces — What Are You Anyway?

        ON ANOTHER SUBECT — not everything is wonderful here in Cruces, my friends.  Urban blight to rival Cincinnati’s.   Poverty.   Dirty-looking ramshackled housing units everywhere you turn.  Homelessness.  

But many more people are fighting back these days.   I went out one day to join a mass protest against Rep. Steve Pearce.  He hides now from his constituents just as Senator Portman does in Ohio.  I also took in a meeting of the SWNewProgressives — some call them “the new Berniecrats.”  They’re working to defend public lands, for instance, from the developers, and to stop the diverting of the area’s last free-flowing river, the Gila.   The Progressive Voters Alliance is also in full swing and has to hunt up extra chairs for its overflow crowds.  Activist groups turn up at official meetings no one used to know about — at the county commissioners, for instance.    

       Did I say that Clinton won NM on November 8, and that the Democrats took over both houses of the legislature?  How ’bout that?

Artists Abound Here 

       I GOTTA SAY that in this town people seem to love their arts.  The Arts Council brings to the old Rio Grande movie theater downtown a solid list of good events every week.  Local talent mostly, in music, dance, talk, plays!

Katy Stuckel

As to the visual arts, here’s a woman I’m acquainted with, Katy Stuckel, an old friend of my daughter Paige. Katy had a show for a large installation of hers at the university this year.  Here see one of her self-portraits.  (You can google her name and see her fascinating website!)

Alice Davenport at her Moonbow sewing shop

A woman of my own age named Alice Davenport is an old friend of mine in the sewing arts!   She’s a wonderful seamstress and has made all my skirts for years.  (See her Moonbow Shop on line.)  Last month she took me with her to her book club, where a local woman named Shelley Armitage spoke about growing up on a farm in the Texas panhandle — and her book Walking the Llano.  It’s a fascinating story!

YOU SEE, I’m trying to be positive once in a while.  Late at night at Plaza Suites, I get on my little laptop and remember that Cosi fan tutti is still there — so  far! — and Orfeo ed Eurydice, and the songs of Mercedes Sosa.

      INDEED, I’m wishing all of us plenty of  friends, music, art, and peaceful times . . . to steady us for the revolutionary fightback we’re waging!

 


       NB: If you’ve read this far, my friends, please consider Following this blog.  You’d get a notice about new posts only every month or two — and I don’t always write this long!  Also happy to have your Comments little or big . . . .

 

 

 

Don’t Kill for Me

MS at keyboard

FRIENDS, much of life is frightening to me today.  I’m afraid of our newly-elected president.  I’m afraid for all those caught in the horror of war and am ashamed of the brutal actions of my own country in the Middle East.  In my own state of Ohio, I’m afraid of the violence that is propagated here, and I feel a nightmarish dread of the new executions being scheduled.

        The image that haunts me more than any other is this: a person who has done no one any harm in many years, and has often been a prison counselor, or a medic, in the weeks before, is given a last meal in his cell, walked down a corridor, strapped to a table, and poisoned to death.

WE HUMANS can be killers, yes, but we are also creatures of reason, able to examine our own actions.  We can decide to do what makes us feel more intelligent and more human, rather than repeating the naked aggressions of the past.

        THE U. S. is the only western country where the death penalty still exists.  Finland had its last peacetime execution in 1825, for instance, Belgium in 1863, Sweden in 1910, Germany in 1949, the U. K. in 1964.

        Twenty-three states in the U. S. have also ceased putting people to death: Michigan, on our borders, had its last execution in 1846, West Virginia in 1965.  In recent years, four  governors of death-penalty states have taken it on themselves to put a stop to this practice.

       Should we ask Governor Kasich to consider such a legacy for himself?

        It was in the year of 1963 that a long pause in U. S. executions was brought about by a liberal Supreme Court.  Since the Ohio resumption in 1999, fifty-three individuals have been put to death, including twelve under John Kasich.  

        I once made a film on Ohio executions for public access t. v.  called Don’t Kill for Me.   I don’t have a copy of that film any more, but I remember its pictures of our shadow-filled, night-time vigils for those about to die, and the sad and beautiful song it ended with — from the final aria of the Verdi Requiem.

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No more executions!

OHIO BECAME A STATE in 1803, and executions were by hanging.  In 1897 the instrument of death became the electric chair.  Our beat-up old chair was last used in 1963, but it had gotten us through 317 electrocutions, and then earned us a few dollars (perhaps) at a yard sale!

        What we like now are lethal injections.  We feel they are the most humane, you understand, even though guys on our death gurneys have often suffered tormented passings.  One fellow was in so much pain a few years ago that he tried to assist the executioners to find the vein they needed to finish him off!  They finally gave up on this man, a fellow named Romell Broom, and Governor Kasich said, in effect, “If he’s going to be that difficult, let him live — for now,” and Broom still occupies a cell on death row.  Like so many of those awaiting execution, Romell Broom is African-American.  (Please see a famous poem below about the lynchings of black men in the south.)  White offenders have a much better chance of evading the death penalty!

IN THE SIXTIES, an Ohio governor, Michael DiSalle, wrote a book called The Power of Life or Death about his opposition to the death penalty.  He felt that the only way to protect people was to eradicate the causes of violent crime in “poverty and destitution, racial abuse, and mental illness.”  –“I believe human life is a divine gift,” DiSalle wrote, “and deliberately to destroy it is as much a crime for the state as for the individual.”

IN 1999 A BESPECTACLED young man named Wilford Berry, not a killer but an accomplice to a murder, volunteered to be the first to die when the Ohio death penalty was re-instated, and many in Cincinnati joined a new crusade against executions.  I wanted to visit Berry in prison, but he declined.  I then sent him a photo of the youngsters in our family, and I’ll never forget the note I got back from him. “Cute kids!” he wrote — this man about to die.  At Berry’s death, I was present at a night-time vigil for him outside the prison in Lucasville, and went to work, eventually, on Don’t Kill for Me.  In those years Sister Alice Gerdeman at IJPC took a van of volunteers to every single execution that took place, often leaving long before dawn for a morning death-watch.

                        The Walk to Stop Ohio Executions

IN THE FALL of 2015 a Walk to Stop Ohio Executions marched for a week on the shoulders of highway U. S. 23.  It was a walk of eighty-six miles — from Lucasville, Ohio, to the seat of government in Columbus!  Some of us lasted only a few days, but a group of stalwarts made it the whole way, and hundreds joined the group in Columbus.  Over a dozen walkers from Cincinnati took part, sleeping at night on the floors of churches and schools, and speaking out at community events along the way, asking people not to return to the cruel and unnecessary ways of the past.

If you wish, btw, to ask Governor Kasich to disavow the Ohio death penalty, please do so at 614-466-3555.

                     Peace to All Who Read These Lines!

                                                                                                             

For those who may have time:

                            A Postscript  About Mr. Trump

Detention

What happened here?

        MY FRIENDS, this little blog has readers from time to time in India, Japan, Canada, Australia, and so on, and I want to say that you fellows around the world must be sorry for us today to be facing a leader like Mr. Trump — who’s stealing Christmas and just about everything else, like the Grinch he is.  Trump, as I see it, was a  gift to us from our two traditional parties.  Democrats no longer much care, any more than our Republicans ever have, about working people, and many voters went over, in desperation, to Trump.  We fear they will be miserably sorry, for we’re already a poor country and may now become even poorer.  In Cincinnati, a recent U.S. Census has shown that 44.3% of our children are  living below the poverty line.
        The minimum wage here is $8.10 an hour.  Affordable housing has almost disappeared.  Most schools are segregated and racially oppressed.  With so much trouble in their lives, mothers and fathers may not succeed in keeping families together.  Black fathers are taken away in droves, and often for years and just for drugs, in the new form of slavery we call “mass incarceration.”  In this chaotic economy, men may fight and be killed, or become killers themselves, and be prospects for lethal injections. 
        AS FOR the Trumpster, Black Lives Matter is girding for resistance, it seems, along with our brave Native Americans, our Iraq Vets Against War, and countless other groups.  
Immigrants are afraid, and churches in Cincinnati are preparing to become sanctuaries for those in danger. 
The vast U.S. military — will it now be an even greater imagesdanger to the world than it has been, or is that even possible?
“Killed in Action” by Kathe Kollwitz.

 

The saddest part of all may be the assault Mr. Trump  is threatening on our planetary home, and I’m sure all the world is grieving over this.
Mama Earth is crying — and she doesn’t have many tears left.  ##
Here’s the famous poem I mention above, one you may know, and  speaking of lynchings — what exactly are we doing today — if not more lynchings — in our mass incarcerations?

                                 Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

— by Abel Meeropol

Once more, my  friends — Peace to All Who Read These Lines!

The First Frost Comes to the Garden

Readers, you know me as a malcontented person who posts mostly on war and peace;  but I hope you will see that this, too, is a tale of war — on helpless vegetables!  — M. S.

 

        “Martha! We’re dying!” cried the peppers today.
       “Are we Martha?” said the tomatoes in one chorus, hoarsely. “Tell us please!”
       “My darlings . . . yes-s,” I began. I could hardly speak, but I had given life to these friends and knew I must stay the course with them.
       “Yes, my pretty ones, I cannot but say that tonight the cold will come, and in the morning you will not wake.”
      Sad murmurs along the rows. I steeled myself to go on. I felt they wanted to know everything.
      “Tonight, my darlings, your limbs will begin to droop rather badly, you’ll wither and go limp, and as the days pass — you’ll become stiff and brown. You’ll be nothing but the withers. No blood, no sap will run in your stems. No voice will you have. No mind to think about your fate. And that is death. That is what we call death, my darlings, my little loves. When I come to your beds again, you will not know that I am here. If I speak, you will not hear . . . .
      Silence there was for a long time. They were trying to understand the world.
      When they spoke again, their tones were as thin as locust wings.                 “You, Martha — you will not die tonight?”
      “No-o, I do not think I will die tonight, my darlings . . . my pretties that I love. When the cold comes this evening, I will go in my house and shut the door, and the cold will be outside and I will be inside. But you — your feet are in the earth, they cannot move you to warmth and safety.”
      Somehow I went on — I don’t know how. “Look at me, my pretty ones! See me — my eighty years upon me? Fix on my face your poor dear eyes. Can you see this face, half-withered even now, as I stand before you? I will tell you today a great truth. On this October day in the year 2016 of the earth, and in the name of the nature that enfolds us all — I will tell you that all creatures go down, as you will tonight, and we big ones go down. We do not know why. Why . . .? we ask ourselves sometimes. But who is there to ask this question of? There is no one — no one.

      “So we are waiting all the time for the withers to come and take us and seize all we have. Our voices. Our limbs. Our minds. The sap in our roots and stems. Our memories . . . everything!” 

      Weak expressions of sorrow trickled out along the rows.
      “Martha, dear Martha,” they said. “It is a sad thing to know and yet it is best, we think, don’t you — to know things? And it is as if we must — we must know them . . . even very very sad things.”
      “Yes-s my darlings. Somehow we feel we must, we must know things — though we don’t know why . . . .”
      The peppers spoke again. “Do you see Basil, Martha? How thin, how sere she is? She was never strong. Last night we believed she still lived — then this morning she was quite gone. Dear Basil is gone!”
      “Yes,” said another. “Dear Basil, with her beautiful scent, is no more.”
      On this late fall day, the butterbeans had long since lapsed into the weedy growth of their mounds. In the ferocious summer heat, the cucumbers had hardly lived at all, for the beetles had come; and the summer spinach had been still-born.
      “But look at Radish!” said the friends. “He is as strong today as the day he was born!”
      Only one radish remained from the early spring patch, and Radish was a splendid specimen indeed — a hero of survival, grown as bushy and tall as a pepper almost. When I had observed his peculiar strength, I had not pulled him for his root, his leaves, but left him to shade the Romas, and they had wound themselves about his arms and legs and the peppers nearby, and ripened snugly underneath.
      Radish seldom spoke. He was a Daikon after all!
      “We understand he is a sort of princeling, Martha, and does not speak to such as us. And that his great root is as thick and long as the roots of human men that grow between their legs!”
      “When tonight we depart this earth, where will Radish be?”
      “Radish, my dears, will stay on a while in all his bushy glory. The early cold will not take him, you see, but in time the snows will come, the ice and greater cold will come, and Radish will be pulled!”
      The friends spoke once more, and I strained to hear, for their tones were fading into the frosty air.
      “Take of us, Martha! Take our last fruits home with you today! And by them . . . remember us . . . and our little lives . . . rounded by a sleep. Dear Mar-tha, remember . . . remember us . . . for we can say no mo-o-r-e . . . .” ##

From Me and the Grandmas of Baghdad, a memoir by Martha Stephens (in print and ebook).ms-at-plaza

A Poem for Remembering Hiroshima — August 6 1945

marthastephens

a-bomb-dome 

The Hiroshima Peace Dome Memorial

A building that survived the U. S. atomic bomb and was left exactly as it appeared after the blast.   It is surrounded now by a Peace Park that is visited by many people  from around the world. 

        Friends, I have posted this summer some of the great poems in our literature on the scourge of war.  Among my own poems, the verse you see below is my favorite.  I wrote it in commemoration of those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9th, 1945, and all who may yet perish in atomic war.  It imagines what our last day might be like if WE were to find ourselves under atomic attack. 

Last Day

On the last day

A rabbit came to taste the dandelions

Along the low hedge,

Sent, some might say, to bless us

Though he did not know…

View original post 453 more words

The Day the World Ended and Other News Both Happy and Sad

Friends, I know you like a little bit of a laugh now and then, even from me, who’s rather a sourpuss, I bet, in your mind.  So I’ve written for you the small construction below  of a slightly humorous kind.

                          The Day the World Ended 

The day the world ended
Joe saw the flash out the window.
He raised his hand to speak
But was not called on
For he was sitting with 
The social justice committee of his church
And the minutes were being read.

Of course Joe and the whole committee
Were turned into stone that day.
The minutes, too, were petrified —
Unapproved.

                                                   Little Guatemala

              ANYWAY — WHAT’S HAPPENING to us, my friends, in the world that is?  It‘s not the world we wish we had, where the earth could thrive and all her people, but since it’s the only planetary life we know, I  guess we must live in it  — somehow.
              Have you heard of a place called Little Guatemala, across the great river from Cincinnati?  I guess you haven’t, since that cognomen is known only to me.  I spent four hours recently in this town, and I will never forget the experience!  A young Guatemalan girl was being honored on her fifteenth birthday — her quinseanera, that is, with all the fabulous rituals this event implies in her home country.
              I wish you could have seen the magnificent hand-made dresses that bedecked the birthday girl and her friends, even the tiny cousins.  All their long ruffly dresses were exactly alike! 

Becky and SS

Here’s Becky on the lawn of the church with her teacher of English, my daughter Aracelli.  

       Aracelli had been invited by Becky’s family to attend her  quinseanera and to bring myself, so after a long religious service in the church, we all retired to a huge party room in the basement.  We listened to a small Latino band, not just noisy but quite musical, and we were served, eventually, a delicious supper of Guatemalan food. 
       Many kinds of tribute were being paid to the birthday girl by people walking down the main aisle to greet her!  Then more music, more walks down the aisle, more tributes — of a sometimes charismatic kind.  Tributes even to us, our little pod of gringos, just for joining in.  It was wonderful to see in one room so many fellow earthlings with that beautiful olive skin we North Europeans like to admire!  Take a look at these three good-looking kids. Three pretty Guatemalan girls  

They came over and sat beside us over our supper, looking right into our faces in fascination.  The older girl my daughter had taught in the second grade, and she speaks quite good English now.  Some Guatemalan kids show up in Kentucky speaking nothing but their indigenous dialect and a bit of Spanish, and my bilingual daughter takes them quickly in hand and becomes their best friend — for years sometimes.    
       I’m sure we don’t want people anywhere to be driven out of their country, where their lives may have made perfect sense from time immemorial.  Why should they be removed to the U. S., of all places, the creator of much of the violence they flee, and have to learn the rough Germanic tongue of Angle-isch!  I presume their quinceaneras and other tokens of the old life back home touch on rites and emotions they find it desperately hard to leave behind.  ##

 

BERNIE BABY’S riding high, my friends — wouldn’t you say?  Bernie Baby2We’re seeing not just a campaign but a movement being born right before our eyes.  Winning Indiana of all places, and West Virginia.  Oregon and tied in Kentucky — imagine that!  Now I can’t barnstorm around to help in those places, but I send money, and during the Ohio primary, I put up in my house the two Bernie field organizers for Cincinnati.  See CAROL here, a young staffer from the midwest.  She’s an art history major.  After Ohio, she went on to lead the winning  campaign in Indiana!

Carol in liv roomof Bernie

Carol in my living room during the Ohio primary

      On some nights volunteers, too, from other towns were sleeping in my basement.   What a fine road show Bernie and his team are mounting all over the country!

 


BUT YES, I’m just a watcher these days.  I’ll be eighty next year, and I watch and write and comport myself mostly on line.  In fact, be careful all of you, for I’m a watchbird now, watching you, for all you know.

       I was three days in U.C. hospital this month, and I feared this hospital, for I had once written a book about it — on those who died there in the sixties in secret radiation tests for the military.  It’s a new facility now, well organized, at least.  On a certain shaky afternoon, my daughter Paige took me to the ER and stayed with me there for some hours, then brought to my room the next day my reader from the Library of the Blind, and it didn’t seem that awful once I could sit in a wide window looking way down over winding streets and blooming trees and listen to my book.  (I think I’m getting well btw, and look, I was not led down into the basement rooms and irradiated over my whole body, as certain patients were from 1960-71, when some of us on campus managed to stop these tragic experiments.)  ##

                                                 Meeting Nadine Sierra

             A GOOD FRIEND from my church and her mom took me with them last month to a local concert in a Westwood church.  Wonderful to be with them!  Our artist was Nadine Sierra, a young soprano getting started at the Met.  We loved her soaring voice, but off-stage she seemed like just a plain-spoken kid, and after the concert she hung out at our reception for quite a time, talking with the concert-goers while a car waited on the drive to return her to the airport and New York.  I had a chance to ask her a question: “You mentioned on stage the support you’ve enjoyed from Marilyn Horne, and that hearing her sing ‘Beautiful Dreamer’ on YouTube was what led you to end your concert today with the same song.  So you singers plug into YouTube just like the rest of us?” 
             “Oh-o yes!” said Miss Sierra.  “All the time!”   You can see a bit of her on YouTube, in fact, and I think we’ll see more and more of her there.  ##

            MOTHER’S DAY with my two daughters and my granddaughter was a fine occasion, btw.  Wonderful chicken schawarma concocted by my daughter Aracelli in her Cold Spring condo.  Her table is a four-top in her kitchen in front of huge windows, looking out that day on a wall of trees in all their spring glory.  No husbands or boyfriends had been invited, and for a sick person, talking and laughing about men was very restorative!  ##

                                                    The Easter Frocks

         ON EASTER I sometimes think about my mother in Waycross, Georgia, where I grew up.  I picture to myself the pretty frocks she would make for us three daughters at Easter-time.  My mama had only one good eye, yet she cut out our frocks on the dinette table after we went to bed — the only table we had in that little cot.
        In my novel based on her life, we hear this mother’s voice as she readies her kids for church — she to stay home and cook the Sunday meal.  The father is waiting in the car, but the mother cannot let us go.  “Wait, my children, wait a moment, please!” and we see her turn and study us in all our Easter finery.  “Let me look at you!” she says, in a kind of rapture — and despair.  And we know her thoughts: 
        “Children, children!  How beautiful you are!  So please!  I ask you!  How can it be that even on a day like this, we are all sliding, sliding towards death, and no one can save another . . . all we can do is hold together as we go . . . .”  
         Yes, how CAN that be, my friends?  ##

 

            ## Friends:  I  fear this POST is far too long, but if you’ve found any part of it to be of interest to you, leave a quick Comment, perhaps.  Just so I’ll know you were here (like Kilroy), and I can better figure out whether to keep posting this little rag or not.  
           You need not provide your email to Comment — or even use your full name, or ANY name.  

 

  

 

A Crucified Cuba — Still Lives!

I RETURNED RECENTLY from two weeks in Cuba, my friends, and I want to say that it was a journey of both pleasure and pain.

CUBA:People's art

Neighborhood art of paint and tiles

There’s little crime in Cuba, and I was told by a pastor there, “We don’t shoot each other here.  And we don’t have a heroin problem.”  Imagine that!  And by the way, our group did not run into any beggars or homeless camps.

In Cuba one can form an idea of what economic democracy might look like in the U. S., should such a thing ever come to us.  We’d have free healthcare as a basic human right — no premiums, no deductibles.  We’d have good neighborhood schools for every child, with pretty uniforms thrown in.  We’d have tuition-free colleges, no student debt. 

We might be a more peaceful country.  

STILL, not everything in Cuba is wonderful, and for me there was aching pain over what my blockade of the island has accomplished.  I traveled with a Unitarian group from Cincinnati, and we rode around in an old yellow school bus from Pastors for Peace which said: End the U. S. Blockade Against Cuba.

It’s well known that the U. S. embargo represents the longest set of sanctions any state has ever imposed on another country.   The U. N. takes a vote each year on whether the U. S. blockade should continue, and for years now we have been supported by no other nation but the state of Israel.

As our group walked about the streets of Havana, we saw that parts of the town have been broken almost to bits by the lack of resources to fix them up.  Many apartment buildings are in dire need of repair, ugly and dangerous.  Walls sometimes fall in on people.  The old cars and buses still smoke up the air everywhere you go.  Many sidewalks are still full of holes and broken chunks of concrete; two travelers in our group had falls on them.  Pipes are often ancient, pre-revolutionary affairs.  Cubans are used to whatever varmints or substances come through them, but for visitors like us, staying in small hostels, it’s bottled water all the way.  Be careful even brushing your teeth, we were advised.

The out-migration from Cuba continues; to depopulate the island is part of the     U. S. war against the government.  In the year 2015 alone, 44,000 Cubans arrived in the U. S., 28,000 through Mexico.  Cubans who succeed in putting even one foot on U. S. soil receive very special benefits denied to other refugees.  We don’t deport them or drive them underground.  We don’t force Cuban mothers into hunger strikes for the sake of their children in the detention jails.

                                                 The Mystery

Yet here is the mystery of Cuba one must try to explain: life seems to go on in a spirited sort of way amongst those who remain in the country.  They can still enjoy their beautiful arts, for instance, their world reknowned dance and music; their medical services, admired around the world; their opportunities in a tremendous variety of good schools, institutes, and universities. 

I spent an afternoon visiting on the tree-lined patio of a small Havana bookstore called Cuba Libro.  It’s run by an American woman, and speakers of both Spanish and English like to visit there.  One of the young men I met said he was in love with Bernie Sanders.   “But he doesn’t have a chance in a million!” he said, and his friends quickly agreed with him.  “Your ruling class will wipe him completely out!” they said.  

People were going inside to a tiny strip of kitchen where spaghetti lunches were being made, and I spoke at length with a young woman of 32 named Leisil.

CUBA:Leisi Rquez

Leisil Raquez in Cuba Libro in Havana

She lives in a small house with her mother and grandmother.  “I like it that way,” she said, “and my grandmother is like my baby. I told her today, ‘Grandmother, your slippers are dirty, and I’m going to wash them out for you!’”  Leisil is studying English in graduate school and will study German as well.  Yet before the revolution, women had no rights to education or work, and most were illiterate.

ON ANOTHER DAY IN HAVANA, I had a good time visiting two extraordinary museums: the National Gallery of the Arts, devoted to the history of Cuban painting of all periods, and the nearby Museo de la Revolution, a brilliant collection of materials about the struggle.

OUR GROUP ALSO traveled to Camaguey and the towns in between.  I liked taking little walks around our small casas particulares (about $25 a night), and seeing the kids skipping along home from school in their smart yellow and white uniforms, boxing and teasing each other as kids do.

In 1998 UNESCO carried out an extensive study of elementary school progress in language and math in the 13 Latin American countries.  They found that Cuba was outpacing all the others.  Cuban children scoring in the lower half of the tests were doing better than the upper halves of children elsewhere — and with scores comparable to the most developed nations.

                                      A Story about Camaguey

ONE DAY I got my hair cut in a little house where the front room became, by day, a beauty parlor.

My duena at the casa where I stayed, a wonderful woman who became a good friend, helped me line up this excursion.  In her front parlor one night, I had said, “Eufemia, do you know anyone nearby who could cut my hair?”  She did, she said.  The next morning, she was ready to see me off.  She said I must go by pedi-cab (or bicycle taxi), and I must pay the pedi-cab one dollar (or one convertible peso).  “No mas!“ said she.  For my haircut I must also pay one dollar. “No mas!” said my friend.

When I got down off the worn seat of the pedi-cab and walked into the front room of a small casa, the olive-skinned woman who would trim my hair was painting the nails of a black client in a smart green color!  The two women were very much at their ease with each other and very friendly to me.  They sat me down in a little rocker and placed in my lap a guinea pig for me to pet while I waited my turn.

The bespeckacled beautician, when she finished the job on my hair, and I was looking in my pocket for my pesos, said she could accept no pay.  She had no English, but we had talked a little in my broken Spanish. “A woman of seventy-nine coming all the way from her country to see us in Cuba?  We will not charge you anything!  We will honor you!”

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Small beauty parlor in Camaquey

CUBA:Mick and I with porch couple

Friendly Cubans asked us up on there porch in Camaguey.  With Cincinnatan Mick Parker (in yellow shirt).

 

           The Opening

WE ALL KNOW about the Obama “opening” with Cuba, and we all wonder what it will mean; but somehow, for a government which has survived as much as this one has, Cuban socialism may also survive its changing relations with the U. S.  It was under John F. Kennedy that we first tried to “starve” the Cubans into submission, by halting their trade not just with ourselves, but with other countries as well — total isolation was the idea and in Congress it’s the same today.

Still — there’s the opening.  Will the tourist trade take over Cuba now — U. S. investment in general?  Will there be vast outcroppings of American-style senior villages across the land?  Will the almost pristine environment of mountains and seas be poisoned by us carpet-baggers from the north?  ##

 

                      Friends, If You’ve Read This Far, I Thank You

And I’ll conclude with a few fine-print notes you may or may not have time for.

OUR GROUP STOPPED once at a sugar mill and were given little cups of cane juice.  Demon sugar has been yet another cross to be borne in Cuba, after the loss of its Soviet trading partner in the 90‘s, for instance, and many attempts are being made to diversify its agriculture.  The abandoned sugar cane fields, the broken sugar mills, are a relic going back, I believe, to the conquistadores and the many Batista-style governments that came along.
THE SUNNY ISLE of Cuba has had tourists throughout its history, and it has them today with a vengeance.  Sleek air-conditioned busses ply up and down the main thoroughfares.   To exchange dollars for pesos, some of us walked at times to a swank, relatively new hotel, the Melia Oshiba, near the famous Malecon road by the waterfront.  Our Cuban-American leader, Jorge Vila, said he felt that the Melia Oshiba is at the center of maneuverings by U. S. businessmen with their Cuban counterparts.  They’re all waiting for the moment when Cuba will burst wide open to global finance.
An enormous ocean-front compound for internationals called Veradora has existed in Cuba for many years.  Our group stayed two days on its border in a home run by the Presbyterian Church, and bussed into this maw of the tourist trade.  Was it thrilling to buy four dollar lattes at the coffee bars there?  Some of us didn’t really see the point of that, and would have preferred, I think, to visit an organic farm, or a neighborhood health clinic (as I had done some years ago).
I spoke briefly in Veradora with a friendly family from Finland and another one from France, and I wanted to ask them this:  Do you know anything about the nearby city of Havana and the Cuban Revolution in this land . . .?  I wondered what their take on it was, but I didn’t feel I could ask them that.
WE ALSO SPENT a long morning at a government medical campus called La Pradera, created to treat sick people from around the world.  We saw afflicted children getting complex hearing tests, seniors treated “in new ways” for arthritis.  Any visitor can make use of the medical offerings on this estate and its pools and personal services.  A strange contradiction in a way, considering the hardships of normal Havana life, but again, Cuba must live — somehow.

 

I have not described here the magnificent Spanish churches throughout the island — or the rule, for good or ill (perhaps mostly for good) of the Castro brothers, an enormously complex subject in itself;  but I’d like to mention in closing a fascinating book by Salim Lamrani, The Economic War Against Cuba (Monthly Review Press, 2011).  On the special benefits for Cubans in the U. S., see on line a blog by Jerone Stephens: Illegal Immigrants.     
CUBA.Amajo el bloqueo

A Quaker poster in a Havana office