My Book World
Clements, Brian, Alexandra Teague, and Dean Rader, eds., with an introduction by Colum McCann. Bullets into Bells: Poets & Citizens Respond to Gun Violence. Boston: Beacon, 2017.
There would nothing wrong with presenting a book-length collection of anti-gun poetry by itself, but Bullets into Bells increases its power by pairing each poem with a response written by a person who has been deeply affected by such violence. Note the eloquence of these lines from “Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World,” by poet, Martín Espada.
Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
There are too many fine poems and too many strong responses to them to list here. Just buy the book and READ them for yourselves. Words alone may not solve this problem of gun violence but they can certainly articulate its many problems.
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-25 Michigan — October 17, 2018
MY JOURNEY OF STATES is a series in which I relate my sixty-year quest to visit all fifty states in the U.S. In each post I tell of my relationship to that state, whether brief or long, highlighting personal events. I include the year of each state's entry into the union and related celebrations. I hope you enjoy my journey as much as I have. This is the twenty-fourth post of fifty.
ARIZONA (1975, 1993, 2004, 2017)
I first made it to Arizona when, in 1975, I accompanied a couple of friends who wanted to drive to Phoenix from Lubbock. It was in June, and while Texas is certainly hot at that time of the year, it has nothing on Phoenix. One evening, as the sun went down and the temperature fell to 102°, someone was heard to say that it was nice that things had cooled off. Anyway . . . we spent a great deal of time either in a pool or inside bars with AC.
The second time I visited the state was in 1993, when I drove my mother and father out to visit my mother’s sister, who lived in Mesa. Again, June. Again, hot! I met two of Mother’s cousins, and when we all sat in a circle in one cousin’s living room, Mother looked more at home than I’d seen her in years, more genteel, more loquacious. She was at home! We visited a friend, an interior designer who’d bought an old adobe home and was remodeling it. Dinner with him was a respite from hauling the folks around.
R. Jespers, Santa Rita Mountains, Arizona — 2004
Ken and I visited Arizona again in 2004, staying with a cousin from my father’s side of the family, as well as working in a visit with my late mother’s cousin, whose wife and he greeted us with great hospitality, a meal, and a jar of preserves.
From Our Hotel Room, Gilbert, Arizona — 2017
In 2017, I visited my aunt who lives in Mesa, eighty-six at the time. She called together all my cousins, one of whom I hadn’t seen since we were children (see below). More of my family resides in Arizona than any other state in the union.
HISTORICAL POSTCARDS & Trunk Decals
If you missed earlier My Journey of States posts, please click on a link:
NEXT TIME: My Book World | Bullets Into Bells
NEXT TIME: My Journey of States-24 Arizona
A WRITER'S WIT
My parents beg me to drive them
To the desert, almost a thousand miles
In three days.
“It may be the last time
I get to see Sis,” Dad says with Mom
Nodding, her tongue
Poised on her top lip—like my sister always did,
Plotting to change the channel when no one was looking.
“Daddy doesn’t see so good anymore,” says Mom,
“And I don’t drive at night.”
“Alrighty, then,” I say.
The last day of touring--
A string of bathroom stops
Between Flagstaff and Phoenix--
Leaves no time for pasta,
Perhaps some poulet,
So we stop at Burger King.
Besides her Coke, Mother
Now begs for a glass of water
So she can gulp
Seven small missiles for the arthritis
Creating speckled claws
That once cinched my Buster Browns.
“But I want it with a lid,”
She whines to my father,
“So I can take it to the room.”
She cocks her head like my sister always
Did before grabbing the last drumstick.
One door and a breath away,
I snap the seal on a fifth of Chivas,
And I summon
A similar stop
At the Blue Ribbon Café
Somewhere in 1957 Ohio.
The fare was gold nuggets of shrimp
Which I relished
While others ravaged their chicken.
“Put a lid on your Coke
And we’ll take it with us,”
Mother had said, rolling
Her eyes as I bubbled the
Bottom with my straw.
In an eight-dollar cabin
When semis thundered by,
We all jammed into two beds:
Mom and Dad in one,
Three of us in another,
Arms and legs crossed like
Debris from chicken dinners.
My wayward fingers clipped
Nearby flesh with greasy pincers,
And my sister squealed betrayal.
“Don’t make me
Come over there, Nicholas,”
Mother snapped over dad’s snoring.
“I’ll whale you
Into the middle of next week,
I swear to Christ I will.”
I suppressed one last giggle
Like gas not passed
During communion, and I now
Over the steering wheel,
Watching two old people
Fiddle with that infernal lid,
On their way out of a Burger King
Somewhere in the desert.
A strand of Mother’s hair whirls
Like silver silk in the wind, and
With head cocked to the sky,
She might be ten. Again
I sigh and ignite the engine
As they fairly skip over to the car.
Dad snaps the back door knob
As I did at twelve—and they
Clamber into my
Rear view mirror,
I never bargained for.
TUESDAY, A STORY
A WRITER'S WIT
If you’ve ever seen a photo finish
of a man or woman running, you know
for a measly fraction of a second
the man or woman runner is airborne.
That, for me, is the entire glory
of running, not that of winning races.
All those airborne fractions of a second
add up to endless hours of flight.
If you could put all those moments
together, how far, imagine how far
you might fly. Could you see yourself on the
moon, or some equally desolate spot?
Running always makes you fit, but running
can make you creature to a kind of flight,
defying gravity right before your
very eyes in one last photo finish.
Ken Dixon at the Museum of South Texas
For several decades Ken Dixon, visual artist, has provided exhibitions for the Art Museum of South Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas. On Saturday, November 9, the museum honored all the artists who have contributed work to its permanent collection, an exhibition entitled "Forty Works for Forty Years." For more details click on the museum link. Look below to view a slideshow of snapshots from the evening (all iPhone pics).
For over five years I've been part of a writing group that meets at the local Unitarian church. For a modest annual fee, we meet monthly to critique and celebrate each others' writing. Our approach is positive, even when the piece under consideration may have some difficulties. As a result of this nurturing approach, we've all grown, and so has our confidence. New works are constantly finding their way into print because of our sensitive efforts to help one another grow.
On Thursday, November 14, we staged a reading of our recent works-in-progress. Barbara Brannon read a series of sonnets that trace the life of her adult daughter. Michelle Kraft shared a prose piece about how her childhood home in North Texas later became home to an Army Corps of Engineers lake. Marilyn Westfall, poet and leader of our group, read a number of linked poems, among others, about a recent trip to the Isle of Wight off the coast of England. Actor and playwright Juanice Myers organized a troupe of players to present her monologues limning characters—from an old woman regretting how her looks have faded to one that looks back at the fun times the alcoholics in her family provided. I read excerpts from the first chapter of my memoir concerning my twenty-seven years of public school teaching. Thanks to everyone who came, and to the Unitarian leadership for providing us with a place to present our work to the public. Below find photos documenting our efforts. Ken Dixon, photographer.
Items That Won't Recycle
_ The Eclipse gum and Nature Valley wrappers always catch my eye on the store shelves. What is this smooth, shiny Mylar (or look-alike material) made of? Petroleum? We see the Styrofoam Sonic cups everywhere, if not perched on someone’s desk at the office, then flattened in the street or skittering across our lawn (there’s a Sonic two blocks over, so the trip isn’t a long one). The Udi Bread wrapper is the same as any bread wrapper. It’s made of plastic. It will get caught in your tree limbs; that’s why I always tie those things in a knot before putting them in the dumpster. Regardless, it will still take thousands of years to decompose. If ever.
_ I wrote my three congresspersons a letter each week for six weeks, and then I missed a week. I haven’t written since. My congressional rep. wrote back three times, if belatedly, but, of course, it was all the same party line stuff. Nothing new. He probably said the same thing about my letters. I’ll write my three congresspersons again—there’s certainly plenty of fodder for letters—but for now I’m taking a break. The holidays always do that to me. Time to take a break, let the old body and mind rest up.
A Dictionary Of Errors
_ The following may be a matter of choice. Maybe not. Why would a sportscaster on ESPN say a quarterback is the “most steady player” instead of saying he’s the “steadiest player”? It’s a trend I’ve noted for a long time. When I taught elementary reading years ago, we conveyed (I hope) the principle that most adjectives are “regular” and that all you have to do is add “i-e-r” for comparing two and “i-e-s-t” for representing the superlative. You only add “more” or “most” to irregular adjectives, say, like “beautiful”. You wouldn’t say “beautifuler” or “beautifulest”. Of course not; your ear tells you at a fairly young age that that construction is wrong. More and more, however, I hear more and more people treating EVERY adjective as if it were irregular. They say things like “more steady” or “more breezy” instead of “steadier” or “breezier”. Can anyone explain this phenom to me? Is it because elementary readers no longer teach the difference between regular or irregular adjectives, or is there something more sinister (sinisterer?) involved? I’d love to know.
_ Below is an excerpt from the novel I just finished, tentatively called The Operatic Scale of Desire. It is the blog post of character Dan Wallis, chaplain of a busy teaching hospital in Wichita. He writes about an incident that took place when he was fourteen and philosophizes further on the meaning of a holiday that comes around as regularly as a winter cold.
Some time after reaching puberty, I intuit that there exist two Christmases. One holiday seems to begin ardently after Thanksgiving: arias you hear on the Texaco-Metropolitan Opera radio affiliate, songs you chant in the school program, songs of sentimental cheer crooned by your favorite stars on TV and the movies (‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’ makes me smile and cry). Some time between the church pageant and Christmas Eve, the season’s feverish pitch falls to a hush: by now you have exchanged gifts at school, at church; you have presented offerings to your teachers, your neighbors; in the mail you long ago placed little packages that travel to Pop’s family on the coast. You are witness to the shared anxiety in everyone’s faces, from the postman to the woman who sells tickets at the Orpheum.
If you can’t find your money, Son, will you step aside so that others might enjoy the season. And when I do locate my cash, the toothy woman flashes me a practiced smile and says, Say, aren’t you the boy that played Amahl several seasons ago?
Well, I’m sure you are, I never forget a face.
Fuck you, I mumble under my breath.
Her smile falls away, and she shouts through the hole in the glass. Get out of my sight, the world has no use for your kind.
What kind is that? I rant, giving her the finger. I then see a reflection of myself looking like Ma when she’s hopping mad, and I jump back.
You know what you are, now get out of my window so I can help these good people standing in the cold, Sonny.
The other Christmas is a parallel and unequal world of ancient hymns, the story as it is told from the Big Book on the lectern at church. Long ago a virgin mother gives birth to a very special baby (I haven’t yet learned paradox), a baby that will save all the wretches of the world (especially and including me). Very wise men following a star in the sky travel a long distance to be present on this very chilly night that the baby Jesus is wrapped tightly and laid in a manger. Ma—dressed in her Christmas nightgown through which you can see her breasts—explains that for all intents and purposes Jesus was born in a barn and that his manger was little more than a cattle trough. As she holds me close to her sweet bosom, I think of my grandfather’s barn, a place that smells of dung and car grease, and wonder, That’s where our noble savior was born?
The saddest thing is that one Christmas wars against the other like a jealous sibling. Yes, one is crass, the other wise. One powerful, the other weak and self-deprecating. One encourages inane consumption, the other generosity, the former eradicating one’s desire to practice the latter. It is a war I relive each year—fretting over what to get for whom and how much to spend or not—a case of post traumatic stress that multiplies and folds over itself year after year. It is a war that always ends in a truce, heathen burghers smiling smugly—even as a babe coos quietly in his manger.
_ I continue my close readings of New Yorker stories from 2011. Only two more to go until I write about the project.
What kind of statistics will be interesting? The number of male authors? Female? Number of stories about ethnic minorities? Gays/lesbians? Trannies? Average age?
How many stories are set in New York or on the eastern seaboard? How many are set in the boondocks, a foreign country?
Literary issues? Who uses the third person close point of view? Who writes in first person?
After January first I begin my trek through these fifty or so stories to see what the magic is, the alchemy that is the New Yorker story.
I’ve written my three congresspersons a letter each week for three, almost four, weeks in a row now. I don’t know if my actions are doing any good (they may be infuriating their secretarial staff), but I’m having great satisfaction in expressing my opinions. [Actually, my congressman did write one letter politely setting me straight on a few things, and I answered him in kind.] And this is what we constituents should be doing, regardless of what we believe. Those people are in office at our behest. If we express our opinions in large enough numbers, should it happen that, hm, they might change their minds about a few things or find themselves out on the pavement? Acting collectively, our actions could become a very powerful thing.
A Dictionary of Errors
Richard Jespers is a writer living in Lubbock, Texas, USA.
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