Welcome to The Coffee Shop, just for you early risers
on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
“It’s our duty to honor the dead by
bringing democracy to this country.”
— Jatuporn Prompan, Thai activist – 1965
“We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union,
establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense,
promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to
ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this
Constitution for the United States of America.”
We are all shaped by the events of our times.
My parents both volunteered to serve in the U.S. Navy during WWII – that’s how they met. I wouldn’t be here if Pearl Harbor had never happened. They were part of the “Good War.”
My generation didn’t believe the war in Vietnam was a good war – some of us fought “wars” on the home front – against the war itself, but also against racism, sexism, poverty, for clean air and water, for conserving our natural resources, and for preventing the extinction of other species. A lot of my generation only went along because Causes were the “In” Thing, but some of us kept on marching, signing petitions, writing letters, volunteering, and ringing doorbells.
And a lot of us who did keep on are now asking if it made any difference.
Because it’s Memorial Day, 2022, and “to die for one’s country” has taken on terrible new meanings.
When we remember our honored dead, do we add the million dead from Covid-19, so many of them because the President of the United States obstructed efforts to contain the pandemic, and lied to the nation over and over, as did many of our Senators and Representatives and Governors, aided and abetted by our hopelessly compromised news media? “Old People” were exhorted by Republicans to die “to save the economy” for the sake of the nation. Should we consider that our million dead “died for their country”?
Do we add to our honored dead all the Americans we have lost to gun violence, now more than all the dead in all our wars combined? Selling firearms is so profitable that gun manufacturers can buy the votes of enough Senators and Representatives that we can’t even pass laws to prevent men and teenage boys with histories of violence and mental illness from getting their hands on military grade weapons which no civilian needs or should have.
Do we make a roll of honor for all the women who have died in childbirth because our country has the highest maternal death rate of any “developed” country, and we are “exceptional” for being the only wealthy country where the maternal death rate is continuing to rise?
On Memorial Day, should we honor all our citizens murdered with impunity by police officers?
What about all the people who have died because we don’t have universal healthcare?
All the dead because of the damaging effects of air pollution, or the lead and chemical poisoning of our water?
What about parents working two jobs, and still not able to cover basic living expenses – their lives, and the lives of their children, will be shortened by stress, poor diet, living in slum housing, and lack of opportunity – will they have “died for their country”?
With all the preventable causes of death which are the result of our government’s policies, where do we draw the line and say that “those people” didn’t “die for their country”?
These poems and quotes are from American writers born this week or next:
1903 – Countee Cullen born somewhere in the Eastern United States, African American poet, novelist, and playwright; noted as a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance. He had a column, “The Dark Tower,” in the magazine Opportunity: Journal of Negro Life. His poetry collections include Color; The Ballad of the Brown Girl; Copper Sun; and The Black Christ. Countee Cullen died at age 42 from high blood pressure and uremic poisoning in 1946.
by Countee Cullen
Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.
Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, “Nigger.”
I saw the whole of Baltimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That’s all that I remember.
– – –
To Certain Critics
by Countee Cullen
Then call me traitor if you must,
Shout reason and default!
Say I betray a sacred trust
Aching beyond this vault.
I’ll bear your censure as your praise,
For never shall the clan
Confine my singing to its ways
Beyond the ways of man.
No racial option narrows grief,
Pain is not patriot,
And sorrow plaits her dismal leaf
For all as lief as not.
With blind sheep groping every hill,
Searching an oriflamme,
How shall the shepherd heart then thrill
To only the darker lamb?
Oriflamme: a pointed, blood-red banner – originally the sacred banner of the Abbey of St. Denis, which became the battle standard of the King of France.
Both poems are from Countee Cullen: Collected Poems – The Library of America, 2013 edition
1819 – Walt Whitman was born in West Hills, NY; essayist, journalist, and highly influential 19th century American poet, called the ‘father of free verse.’ Best known for Leaves of Grass.
To a Certain Cantatrice
by Walt Whitman
Here, take this gift,
I was reserving it for some hero, speaker, or general,
One who should serve the good old cause, the great idea, the progress
and freedom of the race,
Some brave confronter of despots, some daring rebel;
But I see that what I was reserving belongs to you just as much as to any.
Cantatrice: a woman singer, often an opera singer
“To a Certain Cantatrice” from Leaves of Glass: The Complete 1855 and 1891-92 Editions – The Library of America, 2011 edition
1893 – Elizabeth Coatsworth was born in Buffalo, New York; American poet, prolific children’s author, novelist, and short story writer. Her father was a prosperous merchant, and she was educated at a private girls’ school. The family went on trips aboard in the summers. By the time she was five, she had already seen the Alps and Egypt. Coatsworth graduated from Vassar College in 1915 as Salutatorian, and earned a Master of Arts from Columbia University in 1916. She then traveled to Asia, riding horseback through the Philippines, exploring Indonesia and China, and staying at a Buddhist monastery. Experiences from these travels, and other trips taken later in her life, inspired many of her poems and stories. Her poetry collections include Fox Footprints, Country Poems, and The Creaking Stair. She died at age 93 in 1986.
Light of Love
by Elizabeth Coatsworth
Nay, bury her in her cloak; she was not one
To prison in a coffin. At her head,
When you have strewn the earth with forest leaves,
Pile apricots and peaches, apples red,
Plums, oranges and grapes in one sweet heap–
There where shall hover breathless-humming bees,
And birds that taste, then sit and preen their wings.
And at the foot, I ask that you leave these–
Her slippers. Then some shepherdess may try
In vain to put them on; or little fay,
Knotting her long green hair, steal near to glance.
So may she know that I forget today,
And think of her as when she used to dance.
“Light of Love” appeared in the December 1919 issue of Poetry magazine
1926 – Allen Ginsberg born in Newark, NJ; leading American ‘Beat’ poet of the San Francisco Renaissance; when his famous long poem Howl was published in 1956 by City Lights, publisher Laurence Ferlinghetti and his partner Shigeyosi Murao were arrested on obscenity charges; after a long trial, “Howl” was ruled not obscene, opening the way for American publication of uncensored copies of Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover.
by Allen Ginsberg
America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twentyseven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb.
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody
goes on trial for murder.
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after
he came over from Russia.
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious.
Movie producers are serious.
Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that jetplanes 1400 miles an hour and
twentyfive-thousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underprivileged who live
in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.
America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his automobiles
more so they’re all different sexes.
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they sold us
garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the speeches were free everybody
was angelic and sentimental about the workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what
a good thing the party was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch
Mother Bloor the Silk-strikers’ Ewig-Weibliche made me cry I once saw the Yiddish orator
Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have been a spy.
America you don’t really want to go to war.
America its them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. Her wants our auto plants in Siberia.
Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him make Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers. Hah. Her make usall work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.
– Berkeley, January 17, 1956
“America” from Collected Poems, 1947-1980, © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg – HarperCollins Publishers
1917 – Carson McCullers born in Columbus, Georgia; American novelist, short story writer, playwright, poet and essayist. Best known for her novels The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and The Member of the Wedding, which was adapted as a play, and ran on Broadway (1950-1951). She contracted rheumatic fever at age 15, which left her with rheumatic heart disease, later compounded by alcoholism. She died after a brain hemorrhage at age 50 in 1967.
“The people dreamed and fought and slept as much as ever. And by habit they shortened their thoughts so that they would not wander out into the darkness beyond tomorrow.”
― from The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
(D-Day in 1944)
1925 – Maxine Kumin born in Philadephia; American poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and children’s author. She won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Up Country in 1973, the Robert Frost Medal for lifetime achievement in 2006, and served as U.S. Poet Laureate (1981-1982). Her poetry collections include Halfway, Looking for Luck, and Where I Live.
It is important to act as if bearing witness matters.
― from “Always Beginning”
1917 – Gwendolyn Brooks born in Topeka, Kansas, but grew up in Chicago; highly regarded American poet, author, and teacher. She was the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize, the prize for poetry in 1950 for Annie Allan. She was also the first black woman inducted into the Academy of Arts and Letters, and the first black woman to serve as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (renamed U.S. Poet Laureate in 1986, just after her 1985-1986 term). Among her many books are A Street in Bronzeville; In the Mecca; Riot; and In Montgomery.
The Children of the Poor
by Gwendolyn Brooks
People who have no children can be hard:
Attain a mail of ice and insolence:
Need not pause in the fire, and in no sense
Hesitate in the hurricane to guard.
And when wide world is bitten and bewarred
They perish purely, waving their spirits hence
Without a trace of grace or of offense
To laugh or fail, diffident, wonder-starred.
While through a throttling dark we others hear
The little lifting helplessness, the queer
Whimper-whine; whose unridiculous
Lost softness softly makes a trap for us.
And makes a curse. And makes a sugar of
The malocclusions, the inconditions of love.
What shall I give my children? who are poor,
Who are adjudged the leastwise of the land,
Who are my sweetest lepers, who demand
No velvet and no velvety velour;
But who have begged me for a brisk contour,
Crying that they are quasi, contraband
Because unfinished, graven by a hand
Less than angelic, admirable or sure.
My hand is stuffed with mode, design, device.
But I lack access to my proper stone.
And plenitude of plan shall not suffice
Nor grief nor love shall be enough alone
To ratify my little halves who bear
Across an autumn freezing everywhere.
And shall I prime my children, pray, to pray?
Mites, come invade most frugal vestibules
Spectered with crusts of penitents’ renewals
And all hysterics arrogant for a day.
Instruct yourselves here is no devil to pay.
Children, confine your lights in jellied rules;
Resemble graves; be metaphysical mules.
Learn Lord will not distort nor leave the fray.
Behind the scurryings of your neat motif
I shall wait, if you wish: revise the psalm
If that should frighten you: sew up belief
If that should tear: turn, singularly calm
At forehead and at fingers rather wise,
Holding the bandage ready for your eyes.
“The Children of the Poor” from Annie Allen, © 1949 by Gwendolyn Brooks – Harper & Row
It’s Mourning Again in America