Out of Africa

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Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps. Leaving their mothers and fathers and children behind, leaving their umbilical cords underneath the soil, leaving the bones of their ancestors in the earth, leaving everything that makes them who and what they are, leaving because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same. (148)

NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
New York:  Little, Brown and Company. 2013

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Those Great Lakes

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????The lakes have haunted, stunned, delighted all who have met them. And even those who haven’t. In Chapter 54 of Moby Dick Herman Melville captures their magic, their sublime nature in that Romantic mode:

 “For in their interflowing aggregate, those grand freshwater seas of ours,–Erie, and Ontario, and Huron, and Superior, and Michigan,–possess an ocean- like expansiveness, with many of the ocean’s noblest traits; with many of its rimmed varieties of races and of climes. They contain round archipelagoes of romantic isles, even as the Polynesian waters do; in large part, are shored by two great contrasting nations, as the Atlantic is; they furnish long maritime approaches to our numerous territorial colonies from the East, dotted all round their banks; here and there are frowned upon by batteries, and by the goat-like craggy guns of lofty Mackinaw; they have heard the fleet thunderings of naval victories; at intervals, they yield their beaches to wild barbarians, whose red painted faces flash from out their peltry wigwams; for leagues and leagues are flanked by ancient and unentered forests, where the gaunt pines stand like serried lines of kings in Gothic genealogies; those same woods harboring wild Afric beasts of prey, and silken creatures whose exported furs give robes to Tartar Emperors; they mirror the paved capitals of Buffalo and Cleveland, as well as Winnebago villages; they float alike the full-rigged merchant ship, the armed cruiser of the State, the steamer, and the beech canoe; they are swept by Borean and dismasting blasts as direful as any that lash the salted wave; they know what shipwrecks are, for out of sight of land, however inland, they have drowned full many a midnight ship with all its shrieking crew.”

4 daughters

i am the sieve she strains from
little by little
everyday.

i am the rind
she is discarding.

i am the riddle
she is trying to answer.

something is moving
in the water.
she is the hook.
i am the line.

Lucille Clifton, Collected Poems, Rochester, NY: BOA, 2012.

Starting Over

As the S.S. Malone steamed past Sandy Hook, a young Langston Hughes did something radical, he tossed his books overboard. The books he meant to read, the books he read at Columbia. All of them. The last to go was H. L. Mencken. As he put it in his autobiography

It wasn’t only the books that I wanted to throw away, but everything unpleasant and miserable out of my past: the memory of my father, the poverty and uncertainties of my mother’s life, the stupidities of color-prejudice, black in a white world, the fear of not finding a job, the bewilderment of no one to talk to about things that trouble you, the feelings of always being controlled by others—by parents, by employers, by some outer necessity not your own. All those things I wanted to throw away. To be free of. To escape from I wanted to be a man on my own, control my own life, and go my own way. I was twenty-one. So I threw the book in the sea.

Quoted by Kevin Young, The Grey Album, 175

 

 

Economic Development and Ideology

Economic growth, modernization, and social justice are probably the three most prominent conceptualizations of development today, but they certainly aren’t the only ones. You might not think of libertarianism as a theory of development, but in an important sense it is. For libertarians, the good life is understood as one in which individuals are free to do as they please within only the sparest of constraints. Here again, industry, democracy, and growth are all beside the point. Liberty is the goal, and social and political changes that expand freedom can be understood as developmental gains.

… no conceptualization of development can exist without an ideological foundation.

Jay Ulfeder,  “Development as Ideology,” Dart Throwing Chimp, 17 January 2013

Physics and the laws of the heart

On Christmas Day, the New York Times published a column about Jeffrey Wright, a physics teacher in Kentucky. It’s not his teaching skill that merited the article, but his living with a special needs son, and a lecture he delivers each year to his students.

“There is something a lot greater than energy. There’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?”

“Love,” his students whisper.

“That’s what makes the ‘why’ we exist,” Mr. Wright tells the spellbound students. “In this great big universe, we have all those stars. Who cares? Well, somebody cares. Somebody cares about you a lot. As long as we care about each other, that’s where we go from here.”

Christ Climbed Down

One of my favorite Christmas poems surely is “Christ Climbed Down” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Christ Climbed Down

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no rootless Christmas trees
hung with candycanes and breakable stars

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
there were no gilded Christmas trees
and no tinsel Christmas trees
and no tinfoil Christmas trees
and no pink plastic Christmas trees
and no gold Christmas trees
and no black Christmas trees
and no powderblue Christmas trees
hung with electric candles
and encircled by tin electric trains
and clever cornball relatives

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no intrepid Bible salesmen
covered the territory
in two-tone cadillacs
and where no Sears Roebuck creches
complete with plastic babe in manger
arrived by parcel post
the babe by special delivery
and where no televised Wise Men
praised the Lord Calvert Whiskey

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no fat handshaking stranger
in a red flannel suit
and a fake white beard
went around passing himself off
as some sort of North Pole saint
crossing the desert to Bethlehem
Pennsylvania
in a Volkswagen sled
drawn by rollicking Adirondack reindeer
and German names
and bearing sacks of Humble Gifts
from Saks Fifth Avenue
for everybody’s imagined Christ child

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and ran away to where
no Bing Crosby carollers
groaned of a tight Christmas
and where no Radio City angels
iceskated wingless
thru a winter wonderland
into a jinglebell heaven
daily at 8:30
with Midnight Mass matinees

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest of
Second Comings

Copyright 1958 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti