Risky

For the first time since I was a teenager, I’ve submitted poems for someone else’s official approval or condemnation. It’s exhilarating–and terrifying. Not unlike a roller coaster.

I hate this.

I much prefer to have a known set of guidelines, of rules, of answers. I much prefer to follow the published steps to inevitable success, know the material and get an an A+ on the test. It’s easy and predictable. Anything else seems like a popularity contest. Or cheating.

So much about life is distressing, particularly surrendering control to someone else’s whim. I’ve avoided such vulnerable exposure.

Until now.

Statistically Speaking

When I was born, I was one of
 three billion,
 seven hundred seventy-five million,
 seven hundred ninety thousand,
 nine hundred twenty-three

or thereabouts.

Today, I am one of
 seven billion,
 seven hundred fourteen million,
 five hundred seventy-six thousand,
 nine hundred twenty-three

or thereabouts.

At this rate, it would need a plague
or some great calamity,
a climatic holocaust perhaps,
for me to be
twice the man I was

or thereabouts.

Somehow I doubt the cliché
had statistics in mind when age
would strip my capacity
to less than half
the man I used to be

or thereabouts.

Not One of Us

I started watching a confused video at The Atlantic about a purported End of White Christian America, and then leapt through the computer and throttled the person at the other end for not using the words “white” and “Christian” consistently. It’s almost as if those were shorthand.

Because they are. He means WASPs.

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Robert P. Jones doesn’t seem to be intentionally fear-mongering–his other articles on the subject are, as is his book, more measured. Yet his book’s title and this video irresponsibly play right into the white replacement trope with over-simplification. His audience lumps themselves into his categories because they think that they are a) white, and b) Christian–even if they aren’t using the same definitions–and are thus tricked into thinking their group is threatened.

The population of the United States of America is, statistically speaking, primarily white and primarily Christian. The U. S. Census Bureau, a nominally reliable source, says that those self-identifying as white are 76.6% of the population, which is NOT a minority. The Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study records 70.6% overall, and 70% of white respondents, as Christian, which is NOT a minority.

His numbers are arrived at primarily by eliminating the “white and hispanic” population from the definition of “white,” though removing Catholics, Mormons, and others from the definition of Christian also helps. The confusion here and elsewhere may simply be a difference in how social scientists and the rest of us define membership in a group: the former considers to be members of a group those who consider themselves to be members; the latter considers members those whom the members of a group consider to be members. Or it may lie in the decision to conflate race and ethnicity–that is, using Hispanic origin as an alternative to white. Despite attempts by the Census Bureau to insist that race and Hispanic origin are distinguished from each other, we do tend to see checkboxes as radio buttons, and so they become practically identical.

In any event, the distinction is being made between British North America and the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies–a distinction where the French and Dutch colonies (and Canada) exist only as rounding errors. So despite an Iberian obsession with race as intense as America’s in places such as Mexico and Brazil, many Americans just consider them all not our kind of people.

One aspect of our national project is the continual attempt to define exactly who is really American. We do that with statistics. They aren’t neutral.

Words matter.

So do numbers.

THIS IS THE TITLE CENTERED

This, then, is the first line
Of this poem, my first submission
For your brief, kind, consideration.

You can see from this line what I’ve read:
Your requirements for spacing and such.
You exceed expectations, asking so much.

I’ve heard from others
—Libertines and scoundrels and cads—
That they sent you scads

Written, colored pencil and crayon, on
Construction paper and lace hearts,
With easy rhymes such as “Daddy’s farts.”

All accepted!
Not a rejection in the pile!

So please accept this pome,
Though it may not scan (whatever that is),
Or fall pleasingly from the lips,

Because I’ve adoring children
Who think the world of their dad.
Do you want them sad?

A Procrastinator’s Love Song

Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
If I got up this morn, then I could do them too.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

The first thing to do is to do the thing to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Then the thing to do is to do the thing to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

There are things to do that they want me to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
I don’t want to do what they want me to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

Let’s find things to do that they say not to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Some of the things to do are things to do with you.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.

Things to do with you are the things I like to do.
Lots of things to do, there are lots of things to do.
Things for me and you.

(Baby I’ll be with you ’til there’s nothing left to do.)

Probable Futures

“Improbable Futures,” the last chapter in Better to Have Loved (2002), is derived from an interview given by Judith Merril for a documentary six months before her death in 1997.

I was 26. As an unjustly-mocked pen pal of mine put it, a naïf.

Twenty-two years later and it reads as if it were written yesterday: nothing much has changed for the better and many things have changed for the worse, all along a predictable path. Is there anyone with the will and imagination to see a way out of this impasse that doesn’t lead through the apocalypse?

There was a time, reading Neuromancer (1984) perhaps, or Red Mars (1992), when I imagined that corporate feudalism would be fine and dandy enough to desire. Now it seems entirely psychopathic. Not unlike, I suppose, the stylish allure of Nationalsozialismus (1924-present).

Everyone always imagines themselves as noble knights and ladies. No one imagines themselves the peasant or the slave.

Persistence

a black walnut, opened by a squirrel
a black walnut, opened by a squirrel

Have you cracked a black walnut?

Or, perhaps more precisely, have you tried to crack a black walnut?

I found this half of a walnut shell on my walk this morning. The squirrel who enjoyed the nutmeat at the heart chewed through against the grain, avoiding what little help the seam between the shell halves gives. His technique doesn’t translate well to human teeth: his grow back. Instead, we use saws, hammers, and snips to get inside. But, luckily for us, people sometimes do crack these walnuts and bake them into cakes or cookies. The effort is worth it.

What persistence one must have to continue until reaching hidden delights, or what hunger.

Any Morning

Just lying on the couch and being happy.
Only humming a little, the quiet sound in the head.
Trouble is busy elsewhere at the moment, it has
so much to do in the world.

People who might judge are mostly asleep; they can’t
monitor you all the time, and sometimes they forget.
When dawn flows over the hedge you can
get up and act busy.

Little corners like this, pieces of Heaven
left lying around, can be picked up and saved.
People won’t even see that you have them,
they are so light and easy to hide.

Later in the day you can act like the others.
You can shake your head. You can frown.

— “Any Morning,” William Stafford (1993)

Neighborhood Sports

I’ve been enamored of the Kingston Stockade since reading Dennis Crowley’s announcement of the team, but as time goes on, and as my nostalgia becomes more of an affliction, I wonder why, other than insufficient hours in the day, there aren’t teams in all of the river towns along the Hudson. It seems there should be in Beacon, Newburgh, Poughkeepsie, and Hudson as well as in Kingston.

Or, why, for example, is there such strong support for local football teams in Texas — and by strong I mean that high school games draw as well as the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys — that isn’t matched elsewhere?

Or, why, for example, if there is a team in the community, no one other than the players knows? There are, I know, amateur adult sports leagues, the Men’s Senior Baseball League and U. S. Adult Soccer to name two, but where is the rabid discussion of town rivalries? There may be; I may just be out of the loop.

Or is it that the organization, what there is of it, of local sports is uneven and hard to comprehend, while that of the national sports is well administered and, for lack of a better word, professional?

It is a known fact in human nature, that its affections are commonly weak in proportion to the distance or diffusiveness of the object. Upon the same principle that a man is more attached to his family than to his neighborhood, to his neighborhood than to the community at large, the people of each State would be apt to feel a stronger bias towards their local governments than towards the government of the Union; unless the force of that principle should be destroyed by a much better administration of the latter.  — The Federalist, No. 17

Or are our athletic passions reserved for the young and the professional alone? Why?

Leah Cox (no relation, as far as I know, though Leah is a family name on the Bell side) of Bard College, remarked in a 2017 Poughkeepsie Journal article on lifetime learning that “[u]nfortunately, dance is a discipline that quickly gets categorized as something for the young. Consequently it’s taught primarily to the young. This is such a disservice to everyone….”

This echoes the way I’ve felt about sports and movement since becoming the parent of dancers, swimmers, and soccer stars, yet it wasn’t until a back injury from sitting that I rediscovered what I’d wanted as a child: to run and jump and move. And realized while watching my sons tumble through gymnastics routines that I still wanted to learn how to flip.

Why are we relegated to the sidelines and couches, the audience of life? It’s almost as if in the same way that recess and gym are systematically cut out of a student’s routine as they age, movement itself is cut out of an adult’s, and granted only to the professionals.

“In sports we have created not a participatory culture but a Roman gladiatorial system in which most of us end up as passive spectators watching a few individuals on the playing field.” — Leon Botstein, “Music in Times of Economic Distress,” The Musical Quarterly, Volume 90, Issue 2, 1 July 2007, Pages 167–175, https://doi.org/10.1093/musqtl/gdn023

I took some ballroom dancing classes, and stumbled through them, but they fell to the side when schedules intervened. Meanwhile, I’d taken to lifting weights to stop a precipitous weight loss, encountering CrossFit and the Spartan Race along the way, and the novel idea that everyone is an athlete. It resonated.

No. 1 Son decided that soccer was his thing. He loved to play. He loved to run. He loved to turn cartwheels. (Baseball doesn’t offer much opportunity for cartwheels.) His coach left in the middle of the U9 season, and I, having no experience playing soccer, picked up the slack. My across-the-street neighbor from when I was 8-12 played soccer, but I don’t think that counts as experience.

I set out to learn.

The first thing I learned is that the organization of soccer in the United States makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

I mean, really, how is it that Team A and Team B, from the same town, playing similar players of similar ages and similar skills, play in different leagues, never play each other, and Team B is considered better than Team A because they pay more to play in League B? And there’s no way in hell that Team A will ever be able to play Team B without paying to do so. How fucked up is that?

And there are umpteen million different premier leagues. Premier, by the way, means first, so there should be only one, like the Highlander. Instead, not counting youth leagues, of which there are legion, we are confronted with the National Premier Soccer League, Premier Development League, the United Premier Soccer League, the Elite Premier League, the Premier National Judean People’s Front, the Judean Premier National Peoples Front, and the Monty Python Fund for the Implementation of the Possibility of There One Day Being a Premier League in the United States. So, obviously, Major League Soccer makes major sense.

I’m just looking for a local club to play with, while my son plays with the Beekman Soccer Club. The United States Soccer Federation says I should look at the United States Adult Soccer Association which says ask the Eastern New York State Soccer Association which OMG now I have to click among these various leagues just to figure out which one covers where I live is that what the Internet has come to since Google can’t differentiate between youth and adult soccer in Poughkeepsie and no one talks to their neighbors these days yes. It was easier when I worked in New York and I made fun of my co-workers playing pick-up soccer every Friday in Central Park.

It turns out that I live in the area covered by the Eastern District Soccer League, founded 1928, and invisible since.

This is absurd.

I live in Beekman, New York. If I, or my progeny, want to play soccer there should be an obvious choice: the Beekman Soccer Club, offering teams for anyone interested from /n/ to /n+1/. Or maybe we don’t play for Beekman. Maybe we play for the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant Club of Beekman while those Others play for the Irish Club of Beekman or the German Club of Poughkeepsie or who the fuck cares as long as I don’t have to call the national director to find out what the fuck local club offers an O40 team.

Instead, we have this situation where there’s no obvious progression from playing with a ball at home to a local club to the local club’s first team which plays in a regional league and eventually gets promoted to a national league because they are so damn good. What we have is I, the parent of a soccer player, not the player himself, will make decisions about the rest of his life based on how much I’m willing to pay for the possibility that he might one day be “identified” by the one scout for the U.S. Men’s National Team or get a Division I scholarship.

Fuck that shit.

He just wants to play.

I just want to play.

And when I’m not playing, and when he’s not playing, we want to watch someone else play. Here.

No way in Hell are we driving two hours to New Jersey or paying $170 per month to Comcast. I could start my own league for that.

National Reputation, Local Presence?

Yesterday my son and I went to Vassar College to watch the women’s soccer match between Vassar and New Paltz. No. 1 Daughter is attending New Paltz, though not playing soccer, so we were rooting for the visitors. This was the first collegiate sporting event I’ve attended since fencing for Hampden-Sydney, unless tailgating at The Game counts. This post is not about the sporting part, but about the crowd.

The New Paltz fans at the match were parents, for the most part, possibly siblings. One young lady, a new mother, was young enough to be a recent graduate. Fans in the New Paltz section wore blue and orange, except for one couple who wore their Arlington Admirals colors.

The Vassar fans were students. We had the joy of sitting next to the roommate(s) of No. 19, an effective forward. There were some older adults there in Vassar gear, including Elizabeth Howe Bradley, the school president. Despite the number of Vassar stickers on the cars in the parking lot, it was hard to tell how many cars were there for soccer and how many were for field hockey without an official head count. The stands were roughly evenly divided.

Which raises the question: how many students at Vassar are from Poughkeepsie?

Janitors

A species of ant in my kitchen likes kimchi-fried rice. By Tuesday morning they’d found Monday’s unwashed dishes. A bucket brigade from the colony marched between the caulk and the window frame, down the counter, around the sink, through the pile of dishes, to their picnic. I watched throughout the week; their labor was so fascinating. Fewer workers are on the job this morning, just the handful needed to tidy up. All that remains of the rice is a thin skin of starch and cellulose pebbles.

ants eating rice

This army of miniature janitors cleaned up my mess.

Feed Me, Seymour

Polls out recently show Andrew Cuomo ahead among likely voters in the Democratic primary election in New York, and the other day the various unions declared their support for him, so now of course the news media are only interested in the horse racing aspects of this election. Meanwhile the argument being made for voting for Cuomo is to prevent the loss of the governorship to the Republican Party.

'Vote for the crook'

Andrew Cuomo isn’t exactly Edwin Edwards, no matter how many of his friends go to jail, but neither is Marc Molinaro David Duke, so one might think New York Democrats might consider not picking the “safe” choice. Or at the very least talking about what they want. But that’s the downside of machine politics: foregone conclusions.

This is the same problem the Democrats exhibit against Republicans (and vice versa) nationwide, and a poor electoral strategy when the public despises The Establishment. Why should I care which established team wins? What are you going to do for me?

The electorate is starved for substance.

Give me something to vote for not against.

Because I Said So

There is, yet again, a sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. I have not followed all the details, being somewhat unconcerned with Church politics and feeling no need to pretend that priests are saints whose every word is that of God. But I’ve learned of the abuse from those who refer to Holy Mother Church and are, again, disillusioned, or, again, insistent that this corruption springs from the liberality of the Second Vatican Council. If only the Church were fundamentally, doctrinally sound — traditionally orthodox — these abuses would be unknown.

Unknown, certainly, for hidden, much as they have been until now, behind a veil of obedience and secrecy, surfacing only in comedy and rumor. Yet everybody knows.

What does not seem to occur to anyone is that the insistence on absolute, utter, unquestioning obedience is a necessary condition for the abuse of power on this scale. Whether expressed as sexual predation or not, the wolves want sheep. The wolf does not wear the sheep’s clothing, but a shepherd’s.

The question of the abuse of power is an age-old one–one I’m not equipped to summarize–and one we’ve not solved, though we attempt to do so with hierarchy. While hierarchy may limit the abuses, it systematizes them, and is ultimately concerned with the efficient exercise of power, not with limiting its harms.

It seems to me that the logic of hierarchy is such that only two conclusions are possible: 1) There can be no abuse because might makes right, or 2) Might cannot be right; it simply exists. In the case of the former, why complain or be concerned about anything, since this is surely what God has ordained? In the case of the latter, an argument from authority is always a fallacy.

Don’t Fence Me In

Let me ride through the wide open country that I love

Jeff Sharlet had some trouble coming back from a trip to Canada because he took a picture. Remember when America was great and you could cross the border willy-nilly, both North and South?

Granted, I’ve not tried to sneak across from Canada with a trunk full of Molsons and Export A’s. Instead, I’ve just gone to the WASP homeland a couple of times and to some of our Caribbean colonies. But things are a wee bit less casual now than when you had to wake up the customs agent so he could stamp your passport for a souvenir. The inclination to make it harder has been there for some time, since at least Prohibition, but really took off after Sept. 11, 2001, prompted Congress to pass the so-called P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act they’d just happened to have had in a drawer for the occasion, and then reorganized the Executive to make things a bit more efficient.

Jacob Levy of the Niskanen Center writes that lawlessness at the borders bleeds beyond the border into the interior. That is, without due process at the border, due process can disappear elsewhere. While this could be a slippery slope argument, allowing the border–where Customs and Border Patrol have jurisdiction–to expand 100 miles from the border–where most of the people in the United States live–makes it much more a concern.

Do you carry valid identification?

Are you prepared to present your papers if asked?

Are you ready to disappear?

There’s an inside and an outside to a fence. National borders don’t only keep people out, but keep them in. And though I’m, almost, demographically in the majority (being a white male instead of a white female), my first thought whenever our dear leader talks about building a wall is not about how well the wall will work to keep the zombies out, but that I’m trapped inside.

There was a conceit during the Cold War that the United States didn’t have, and had never had, internal passports like those of Soviet Russia or pervasive bureaucratic identification schemes like Nazi Germany. Citizens of the Free World had freedom of movement; it set us apart from places like North Korea, Cuba, and Berlin. A free society doesn’t need to trap the serfs on the plantation. “Papers, please,” was a joke. Folks laughed at the concerns of those like Hal Lindsey that Americans would be marked with the Number of the Beast, but there was considerable opposition to national population tracking schemes, not just from the John Birch Society–concerns which not only disappeared, but appear to have inverted, in the past few years. Everyone is so scared these days.

The question of borders, artificial though they may be, is an important one, and will become even more so as migration due to climatic changes increases. The urge is to build walls to keep the flood out, and has been since at least the Great Wall of China. But I’m not aware of any way to stop this wave. It will crash.

I don’t want to be here when it does.