Laura Ingram is a tiny girl with large glasses. She loves Harry Styles and Harry Potter.
Maybe you're like me, all skinny legs with split ends and skinned elbows, the girl who padded her pastel training bra with pink Kleenex in seventh grade, the girl who shops in the children's department at nineteen. Or maybe you've always been bigger than your best friend, your brother, your cousin with eyes like ink blots. Maybe you face ableism on a daily basis as you wheelchair or other mobility aid; maybe you struggle to justify self-care to a society that ignores your health condition because it is not obvious to the eye. Maybe you have acne scars on your chin, stretch marks on your hips, grass stains on your heart.
Let me offer you the simplest of secrets; when other people see your face, they don't notice blackheads or that birthmark you've always been embarrassed about. Other people notice the crinkles by your eyes when you crook your upper lip. When other people look at your legs, they don't see fat or skinny or scarred. They only see legs.
Consider this: not a single cell in your body can structurally exist without fat. Sixty percent of the human brain is fat. Adipose tissue is not a virus, bacteria, or tumor; it's integral as industry.
You, just as much as any platonic pedestrian, own some attributes of summer. Someone loves to see slabs of sunlight slice your hair. Someone's fever dreams are filled with the freckles on your forearms.
Your body is the basement where you counted down to your first kiss, the brownstone you cut from a catalog as a kid.
Your body is the blistered backyard swing, the auditorium where you got an honor roll award. It may be peeling or plastered, but it keeps keeping.
Your body is the tree you scaled as a child. Don't cut it down.
Sandy Raschke, Fiction Editor Calliope, A Writer's Workshop by Mail (a Writers' SIG of American Mensa, Ltd.)., Spring 2016 issue (#151)
REVIEW: Scudder’s Gorge
Scudder’s Gorge, by Geoffrey Craig, Prolific Press, 290 pages. ISBN #978-1632750556. Price: $16.95 paperback, $8.95 Kindle format.
Calliope’s readers are familiar with Geoffrey Craig’s short stories, as several have appeared in our pages over the years. Although he has had a verse novel and novella serialized in a literary review, Scudder’s Gorge is his first full-length novel.
Scudder’s Gorge is a masterfully told story of family, unrequited and romantic love, hate, secrets, joys and tragedy, and exposes the depths of what man is capable to doing to his fellow man.
Craig’s elegant prose (evocative of the late Wallace Stegner), is impressive; he is like an artist, first using a broad brush to create the background, then employing a smaller one to fill in with details. The vivid imagery he uses to describe the Vermont landscape gives the story a genuine sense of place and atmosphere, and sets the tone for this family saga spanning almost one hundred eighty years and six generations. It is a history that sometimes repeats itself, with sadness and agony. Several themes are reiterated throughout Scudder’s Gorge: tolerance vs. bigotry; peace vs. war; expiation for previous wrongs, and respect for all people.
An enigmatic Prologue begins the story, of an elderly Japanese man taking a walk in Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945, stopping at a small temple after several air-raid sirens go off. But, unable to see any evidence of the bombers, he goes outside again...facing the bright flash in the sky...
Then moving back in time, Craig unveils the story of the Scudder family and others who settled on a land grant from the Territory of Vermont in 1795. Out of the wilderness, Lucas Scudder and ten settler families created farms and community. They live in peace, trading with nearby Native Americans, the Abenaki. That is until 1799, when Philomena, the daughter of Lucas Scudder, falls in love with a young Abenaki man she meets in the woods while picking berries with her sister Carrie. Eventually smitten by Susuph, she initiates a sexual relationship, which they carry out in secret places, unknowingly witnessed at times by Sean Reynolds, a mentally-challenged young man from the settlement. Philomena and Susuph want to marry, but an accident changes everything. After their last tryst, Philomena loses her footing and tumbles down a hill.
While Philomena lies unconscious at home, Lucas Scudder and eleven men from the settlement take revenge on the Abenaki, based upon their prejudices and Sean Reynolds’ misperception—that Philomena was raped and battered by Susuph then dumped in front of the Scudder’s cabin.
The settlers raid the village and are met with resistance; a shot is fired by one of the Abenaki, hitting one of the raiders in the shoulder. The ensuing carnage leaves twenty-one Abenaki dead: all the young men, five women and seven children. The few survivors flee to the north to another Abenaki village, but the reverberations of the massacre will last long into the future.
Philomena awakens two days after the raid, and when she discovers that Susuph has been killed along with the other Abenaki, calls her father a murderer and cuts off all communication with him. Months later, she delivers a healthy baby boy that she names “Remember,” then dies within four hours of his birth. She has left her sister Carrie a letter, in which she describes the sins of her father and the responsibility of the family to see that such prejudice and violence never happen again.
Carrie marries and raises Remember as her own, and when she dies, she passes on Philomena’s letter to him.
The story moves from the first generation of Scudders slowly into the future, through recessions and depressions, World War I and II, the postwar era and the atomic age, into the late 1960s, and ends during a demonstration against the Vietnam War. And through it all, Philomena’s letter is passed on to each successive generation, a reminder to the Scudders of their responsibility to regard all of humanity without prejudice.
Craig’s deft hand and sensitivity regarding controversial but important social matters draws the reader in and keeps one turning the pages. Highly recommended. @@
Calliope is the official publication of the Writers’ Special Interest Group of American Mensa, Ltd.
M.J. Iuppa lives on Red Rooster Farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Most recent poems, lyric essays and fictions have appeared in the following journals: Poppy Road Review, Black Poppy Review, Digging to the Roots, 2015 Calendar, Ealain, Poetry Pacific Review, Grey Sparrow Press: Snow Jewel Anthology, 100 Word Story, Avocet, Eunoia Review, Festival Writer, Silver Birch Press: Where I Live Anthology,Turtle Island Quarterly, Wild Quarterly, Boyne Berries Magazine (Ireland), The Lake, (U.K.), Punchnel’s, Camroc Review, Tar River Poetry, Corvus Review, Clementine Poetry, Postcard Poetry & Prose, and Brief Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction, edited by Judith Kitchen and Dinah Lenney(Norton), among others. She is the Director of the Visual and Performing Arts Minor Program at St. John Fisher College.
One Potato, Two
Once again, in the south garden, in mid-May, we plant our fourth generation of red, white, and gold potatoes, wondering what this year will hold. The dirt mounds well in its thick crumble and, in a matter of seven days, green shoots begin to break through, soon to transform into sinewy branches that leaf out, lush and full. By end of July, clusters of white frilly flowers appear— a sure sign that a number of potatoes, smaller than a baby’s fist, are growing obliquely below— nestled in pockets of soft- haired roots.
Bliss, one part quiet, two parts comfort, and a heaping plate of fried potatoes. It’s a Sunday meal prepared by my father, the good doctor, who has spent the long sleepless week ushering babies into the world. Here, he is, apron tied around his waist, washing, drying, slicing potatoes; getting the Sunbeam electric skillet hot with just the right amount of oil, so when he slides the slices into the heat, a heavenly sizzle erupts into a cloud of steam.
We watch, closely, the way he turns the layers of potato in slow-motion, until they are cooked to a golden brown. Without being asked, we set out dinner plates on the counter near the skillet. In short order, he divvies up the hot slices and tells us to take the first plate to Mom, who’s resting upstairs. We set the breakfast tray with fork, napkin, steaming plate, and side of ketchup; then, singing a few bars of “Pomp and Circumstance,” we climb the winding staircase to present her dinner in bed. I love watching her take the first bite—her mouth savoring what we’ve been waiting for. When she says, “Go tell your father that it’s delicious,” we turn and fly downstairs, two steps at a time, to report his success and claim our servings that are waiting for us. My sister and I take our places at the table in the kitchen nook, and together, like Mom, we repeat the ceremony of first taste. No arguments. This is bliss.
Full-bellied, nearly nine months pregnant, and still waiting. Ask any woman how she feels at term, and her answer will concur with mine: planted, like a potato— ready to be pulled free.
Counting, that is, on your knowing how to read the garden’s internal clock. Everything depends on a season of conditions. Yet, curled leaves on sagging branches signals the hour of ready, even if we’re not. We stand squared off, hands on our hips. This is the start of hard labor. We work together, sinking our pitchforks into the base of the mounds to lift the caps of soil that hold the cache of potatoes. Once a plant is pulled away, we scoop up the small spuds; then dig with our hands, grabbing hold of the larger ones hiding in the earth’s cool recesses. When we drag these potatoes up to the light, we are thrilled by the heft of their size and weight as we place them on the flats. Soon as the rows are picked clean, we look back over our shoulders at the horde drying in the noon sun, and boast about our remarkable accomplishments: What do you think? Have you ever seen such beauties? Everyone is going to love them.
Michael Marrotti is an author from Pittsburgh, using words instead of violence to mitigate the suffering of life in a callous world of redundancy. His primary goal is to help other people. He considers poetry to be a form of philanthropy. When he's not writing, he's volunteering at the Light Of Life homeless shelter on a weekly basis. If you appreciate the man's work, please check out his book, F.D.A. Approved Poetry, available at Amazon.
Check Out My Blog: The Fallacy Of Contemporary Poetry
I've been a part of the small press scene long enough to know that ingenuity and sincerity don't mean a thing. If they did, there wouldn't be this constant influx of superficial sycophants, and poetry that is synonymous with mediocrity.
I've recently gone through with a social media experiment where I'll 'like' someone else's writing, just to see where it'll lead me. It's led me to the path of reciprocation. Now all of a sudden this poet is 'liking' my poetry, where as before it wasn't anything but Facebook spam.
Ridiculous, right? Absolutely.
After that I tried the same experiment with a few other poets. The result was always the same: reciprocal. We've come to the point where a courtesy is a fallacy.
Chances are for the most part, if a poet gives you a little time on any of the social media outlets, it has nothing to do with sincerity. They're only out for their own best interest, which is: propagation.
As I mentioned earlier, mediocrity has prevailed. Shallow writing that stirs no emotion, based on a no life experience, equipped with boring mystical elements, leaves me sick to my stomach, as the accolades keep coming. Every now and then though, a poet does conceive a clever piece of poetry. Not that it matters, much.
They could churn out shit, or literary gold, the results are redundant so long as they partake in the fallacy of reciprocation. They're bound to receive the same amount of recognition either way, so what's the point? The point is to embrace cynicism, stop placating pseudo-poetry and label accordingly:
Merit does exist.
Optimistic, delusional poets will insist on the ridiculous notion that there is no such thing as bad art, only preference. The only thing more ridiculous than that, is believing poetry has the power to change the world.
If we all really did adhere to this notion, then every single person in the world would be an artist, when that is clearly not the case. It takes a special breed of human being to rip out the heart, and cleverly construct it into poetry.
For example: I personally don't know of any published poets in Pittsburgh. Then again, I live in a culturally bankrupt city. Talent is few and far between, to the point that almost anything passes as creative expression.
Mundane thoughts in this day and age are orchestrated into three stanzas, given a title, and labeled as poetry. The contemporary poet will praise this approach, all in the name of reciprocation.
It's a popularity contest for people who never evolved from high school.
The bottom line is: it's all bullshit. Poetry at one point endorsed the truth. Now it's just like anything else. If you plan on making it in this dying art form, you better bring a breath mint. And for those of you who refuse to kiss ass, mislead or simply acknowledge the 'greatness' of contemporary poetry, the road ahead will be tumultuous. You'll turn out to be another sentimental fool who wasn't invited to the after party.
On a positive note, I have no inclination to partake in a pretentious event. I'm not writing to impress the competition. I'm writing to expunge the agony of living in this callous world of redundancy. Check out my blog!!
A PhD-level scientist, Sankar Chatterjee possesses the passion for traveling worldwide to immerse himself in new cultures and customs to discover the forgotten history of the society while attempting to find the common thread that connects the humanity as a whole for its continuity. His most recent essays appeared in The Missing Slate and Travelmag - The Independent Spirit.
Photos courtesy: Rupankar Chatterjee
Cultural Heritage Meets Gross National Happiness in Bhutan
During a recent extended trip through several north-east Asian countries, cradled into the Himalayan Mountains, I along with my nephew and niece, had a chance to visit and explore the beautiful country of Bhutan for a few days. Though a small country of a less than a million of people, Bhutan, with its magnificent natural beauty, is as well rich in its cultural heritage. An early bastion of Buddhism, the arts here evolved around the religion and thus have a unique perspective as well as character. Accordingly, besides exploring and hiking in its various scenic mountain ranges, we thought of exploring the country’s cultural past. We learned that the best place for such exploration will be the historical dzongs, especially found in Bhutan (also in some parts of Tibet). Over the centuries, a dzong with its distinctive style of fortress-like architecture, has been serving as the combined religious, administrative and social center of the local region. Thus, the interior of a dzong contains temples for praying, monastery for housing the monks as well as the offices for local government administration. Inside courtyard also serves as a religious festival place for people to gather.
As a part of our combined travel plan, first we visited the country of Nepal for several days, going there from India. Then, we flew out of Kathmandu in Nepal on one gorgeous sunny morning towards Paro, our first destination in Bhutan.
From our own research on the country’s past, it appeared that the dzong in the district of Punakha might be the ideal place to begin exploring the country’s cultural heritage. It has been described as the second oldest and second largest, but the most majestic of all. Thus, after meeting our local guide at the airport, we headed towards Punakha on Bhutan’s only highway. Though the distance from the airport to Punakha was only 100 miles, due to the winding nature of the road, it took us more than four hours to arrive at our destination in the late afternoon. From a distance, we got our first glimpse of the majestic dzong, situated at the confluence of the Pho Chhu (male) and Mo Chhu (female) rivers, invoking the union of a male and a female for the creation of a life form on earth. We checked into a previously arranged hotel for the night.
Early next morning, we began our visit to the place. The dzong belongs to the Drupka lineage of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan. Originally built near the middle of the seventeenth century, the place, over the centuries underwent several modifications as well as maintenance to weather the forces of nature. While walking alongside the building, we noticed carved painted wooden art on the outer wall of the dzong.
After entering the complex, we passed by a gilded religious wheel of Buddhism at a corner, surrounded by decorative walls.
While standing on the inside courtyard, a gathering chamber supported by decorative pillars holding colorful panels came to our view.
At the same time, a magnificently painted cross-section of the interior of the building started to dazzle in the morning sun.
A closer look at one of the paintings on the wall revealed an intricately painted human life-cycle according to Buddhism.
Intricate nature of the painting with its color-coordination was also revealed in some displayed door frames.
After experiencing the historical architecture as well as the paintings inside the Punakha Dzong and enjoying the natural beauty of the two outside nearby rivers, we made our return journey to Paro. On the way, we stopped at the dzong in Paro that we passed by the day before. Entering its courtyard, we were dazzled by the decorative entrance to its temple.
While inside, an exquisite painting of a religious figure from Buddhism drew our attention.
In addition, the painting of a mythical figure, hitherto unseen in the previous dzong, came to our attention.
While wandering in the public places, we could not help but appreciate the smiling friendly faces of the citizens as well as their gorgeously colorful unique dresses. It has been said that the country’s textiles represent complex, but rich repository of a unique art form. They are being recognized for their intricate dyeing and weaving techniques, thus producing abundance of color and variation of patterns offering exquisite sophistication. Thus, a decade ago, the government established the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan. The major purpose of the place is to showcase to the world the historic progression of the art in textile field as well as the evolution of the nature of the dresses worn by the citizens depending on their social status. In a section of the museum, there were demonstration of various processes, the way these textiles were produced. Unfortunately, any kind of photography within the building was strictly forbidden.
While appreciating the heritage of the country, we wondered about the continuity of this cultural tradition in present-day Bhutan. It turns out that the government of Bhutan already thought about it and proactively established a center called the Folk Heritage Museum in Thimphu. Besides being a museum, a section of the building also serves as the vocational training center for the emerging sculptors, painters and textile artists who will practice the respective vocation while preserving the country’s rich cultural heritage. So, we paid a visit there too.
First, we visited the section with rooms that showcased student-made multiple paintings and sculptures in various stages of completion in current training session.
In another section, needle works of the current students, at different stages of completion, came to our view.
From the display rooms, we headed towards the section inside the complex where young men and women were seen to be engaged in learning their crafts. We observed a young male sculptor was in the process of putting final touches on a statue that he had been working on for last several weeks.
In rooms, in another section of the complex, we observed the young female weavers were getting lessons in the various facets of producing colorful textiles.
Thus, even in these days of globalization and technological wonders, this small but beautiful country of Bhutan, with its motto of “Gross National Happiness (GNH),” found a way to maintain and propagate its rich cultural heritage, both for economic reason and preservation of its glorious traditions of producing fine arts and textiles. And what a lesson it was to learn from this trip!
A PhD-level scientist, Sankar Chatterjee possesses the passion for traveling worldwide to immerse himself in new cultures and customs to discover the forgotten history of the society while attempting to find the common thread that connects the humanity as a whole for its continuity. His most recent essays appeared in The Missing Slate and Travelmag - The Independent Spirit.
Photos courtesy: Shelley Chatterjee
A Serendipitous Cultural Experience in León, Nicaragua
“Should we or shouldn’t we stop at León?” my wife asked.
“We should.” was my response.
That was a part of the conversation between her and me during a recent road-trip from Granada, Nicaragua to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the week of Christmas. As the highway was winding up and down through the mountainous regions, we came to learn from our knowledgeable guide that we would pass by the town of León. The town had been historically the intellectual center of Nicaragua and recently served as the birthplace of the Sandinista revolutionary movement establishing the current government. In addition, León sits on the Pacific Coast offering a beautiful view of the ocean. The decision was made swiftly and we arrived in Leon around noon. For our accommodation for the night, we located an old convent (used to house the Christian nuns) currently being converted into a modern hotel, still decorated with various Christian artifacts all around. I wondered how well I had to behave staying in an ex-convent.
Once settled, we headed towards the central plaza of the town to visit León’s famous Cathedral, a UNESCO World heritage Site. After a visit to its magnificent sanctuary, we were allowed to climb up to the top of the church to get a closer look at the architecture at the top as well as a panoramic view of the mountains, dormant volcanoes and lakes of the countryside.
On descending, we explored the market area bustling with Christmas week’s business. For lunch, we grabbed a few local tamales (made up of rice, chicken, bean and some spices all mixed together and wrapped in a leaf to cook at a high temperature). While wandering around the plaza, we passed by a federal building bearing the sign Primeria Capital De La Revolution. Interestingly, in front of the building, a two-story tall colorful woman puppet stood on one side. Being new to the city, my initial impression was that it might have been a part of the street decoration for the upcoming Christmas, since various displays for the upcoming festival had already been set up throughout the area.
At day’s end, we viewed a glorious sunset from the beach of the Pacific Ocean, a short distance away from the center of the town. Returning to the central plaza, we sat down for an evening drink in an outdoor café. Soon, we started to hear the sound of drums emanating from different directions. It turned out that, in the evenings of the Christmas season, the teenagers would come out to act out a folklore, known as "La Gigantona". According to a version of the folklore, the show evolved to project the assimilation of the Spanish culture and Catholic Christian traditions with the culture and beliefs of the indigenous mestizo people. Thus, La Gigantona, a tall woman puppet dressed with a colorful gown adorned with jewelries, carried by an unseen teenager, represents a big white Spanish woman with elegance and wielding power. She is surrounded and followed around by a few Pepe Cabezón (big-headed) characters wearing big black head-gears representing short but smart indigenous men.
As we watched, various groups started to crisscross the plaza stopping for a performance in front of the café. La Gigantona of the group danced wildly while Pepe Cabezón-s shook their huge heads up and down. Meanwhile, another member started to recite coplas (poetic sayings) in a loud voice to the spectators while the drums played on. Small donations were collected at the end and the groups then headed towards various local neighborhoods.
Interestingly, in another explanation of the show’s theme, it could very well be a representation of the historic domination of the Spanish colonialism of the poor and marginalized mestizo population.
“So, was it about assimilation or exploitation?” She asked.
“Either way, it was quite a serendipitous cultural experience.” I replied.
We were already on the road to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Mumbai-based, Sunil Sharma writes prose and poetry, apart from doing literary journalism and freelancing. A senior academic, he has been published in some of the leading international journals and anthologies. Sunil has got three collections of poetry, one collection of short fiction, one novel and co-edited five books of poetry, short fiction and literary criticism.
Recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award---2012.
Another notable achievement is his select poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree-2015.
He edits English section of the monthly Setu, a bilingual journal from Pittsburgh, USA:
Baudelaire and Paris
Modern Paris was discovered by Baudelaire in his avatar as the flaneur. And Walter Benjamin made this figure intellectually respectable as a field of study.
In a recent visit to Paris, I hovered between two allied states of being a flaneur and a gawking tourist. I had come as a sightseer from Mumbai, India, allured by the tales and well-crafted image of a mythic Paris, drinking in the street flavours on those May days, passively registering the wide monuments and boulevards and palaces and towers in one clean and clear sweep---almost like a wide-angle shot in a Stanley Kubrick film. Spring had set in and the Paris of May 2014 was full of eager tourists from nations as wide apart as China and the USA; Africa and Middle East and Latin America. A bouquet of the ethnicities strung together.
Then, I became a flaneur, making a neat switch, in a single instant.
I became Baudelaire.
Different terms can make you look differently at a similar set of things or a common setting.
Of course, I did not have any wish to write a New Millennium version of The Flowers of Evil. At best, you can parody a sacred text but you cannot re-write it, howsoever Borges-like you might be.
I am neither of the two.
Like Mallarme and Verlaine, you can carry forward an idea by expanding it further but cannot imitate with complete fidelity to the original.
So, not in a mood for a cheap replication of a master praised by Proust so profusely, I took on the stance of a flaneur and became a connoisseur of the street-life.
Is it possible?
Assuming the role of a figure long dead or supposed to be dead? Replaced by a tourist? Solo or in a group?
Armed with a camera or a cell phone, in casuals, the tourist---guided by brochures and online info and a city map---looks at the urban skyline already overdetermined by the info- system on that city. Or a professional polyglot guide spewing bits of history like a typical street performer or amateur actor. A mass tourist consuming the city, architecture, culture, food, arts and clothes---public life---in a predictable way and sequence largely decided by the tourist industry. A few breaks are possible in that routine.
But to resurrect the role and agency of the classic flaneur, you have to take on a different position and way of seeing.
And what was/is that?
I cannot become a dandy---detached, arrogant, inheritor of a small fortune, an idler walking a tortoise on a Paris street of the nineteenth century. Even if I have got the means, I might get arrested for an act of animal cruelty!
Those were different times!
So what can be done?
The clues lie in The Flowers of Evil, perhaps.
Will this title be acceptable today? With changing definitions of evil? With life becoming more liberal and open?
Baudelaire was a dandy and a cultivated flaneur---the painter of modern life; a gentleman stroller of the city streets. Part of, yet apart from the crowds.
But then, not every dandy is a flaneur and every flaneur, a dandy?
Again, dandy is a historical invention, a social-engineering, manufacturing of a social type for a particular age.
Perhaps, a metro-sexual male, now no longer fashionable.
Is s/he a voyeur?
Perhaps, we all are, given the nature of our society.
Or, a keen participant, an acute observer, a chronicler?
For me, the answer lies in the personality of Charles Baudelaire who in turn was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe. But that would be complicating things further.
Let us stick to our central figure Baudelaire. His genius lies in radicalizing the trope of the French flaneur. A trope that fascinated Walter Benjamin who, in the twentieth-century, tried to essay the same role done so well by Baudelaire in the industrialized Paris of the nineteenth century. The former could not capture the underlying passion of Baudelaire in this unfinished project.
In fact, by the late 1990s and start of the 21st century, author-flaneur proved an impossible figure.
Market forces, on global level, have incorporated author as a producer of kitsch or dystopia. Dissident got slowly and subtly disenfranchised by the mass society.
We are all sellers!
Baudelaire resisted this initial process in Paris. Beckett was next. Sartre and Camus too tried.
Then the flow stopped.
The Flowers of Evil mount a challenge to the order and morality of the Second Republic.
The poems challenge the bourgeois morality and conception of order and beauty and aesthetics in a radical way. It talks, the book, of evil and implies that the source of evil lies in its origins---capitalism.
In that simple gesture of observing, participating, recording of street life, Baudelaire liberates himself from his historical position and becomes a true artist. By talking of prostitutes and vampires, the poet shows the underbelly of capitalism and proves the material basis of these tropes and labels of the outcasts of the system that feeds on the blood of the innocent and the gullible.
The Flowers of Evil is the greatest indictment of the French bourgeoisie by a person deeply embedded in it as a bourgeois but a radical one that unveils the brutal face of a system that once talked of revolutionary slogan of liberty, equality, fraternity!
An evil society can produce evil flowers!
Vampires are for real!
That Baudelaire is not dead in 2014 is proved on a street near the Eiffel Tower on that memorable trip.
A Roma girl, bold and audacious, picks up the cell phone out of the shirt pocket of my son. She returns it after a cop intervenes.
I can smell evil in the air. The disenfranchised and the ethnic Roma are still the threat---like the prostitute and the vampire, the perpetual outsiders.
The Paris of Baudelaire is not safe.
The shoot-out at the Charlie Hebdo proves that.
The vampires are out.
This time around, no Baudelaire as a flaneur is there of warning us of their sinister presence.
Geoffrey Craig’s fiction, poetry and drama have appeared in numerous literary journals, including the New Plains Review, Calliope, Foliate Oak, Spring – the Journal of the E.E. Cummings Society and The MacGuffin. He has received two Pushcart Prize nominations.
In January 2016, Prolific Press published his novel, Scudder’s Gorge. Previously, Wilderness House Literary Review had serialized both his verse novel, The Brave Maiden, and his novella, Snow.
Four of his full-length plays (one co-authored) and ten of his one-acts have been produced. He has directed productions of eight of his plays.
Geoffrey has a BA (Colgate), an MBA (Harvard) and an MA in history (Santa Clara). He served in the Peace Corps in Peru and had a successful career in banking before turning to writing.
Writing is my second career; banking was my first. I’ve been frequently asked if I would have liked writing to be my first – or only – career. In that case, my girl friend and I would be dining on cat food – if we were lucky. I also learned a lot as a banker: about people, about discipline, about writing – believe it or not – and about finance.
After graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy, Colgate University and Harvard Business School, I spent two years in the Peace Corps. This was a transformative experience as, coming from a comfortable background, I learned how most of the world lives. I also learned Spanish and how to live in an unfamiliar culture. With two travel interludes, I then spent a couple of years as a small business consultant and over twenty-five years as a banker. Along the way, I got a second master’s degree: an MA in History in 1973 from Santa Clara University. In banking, I reached the level of Senior Vice President at Credit Suisse and retired from banking in 2002 with the title of Director at Credit Suisse First Boston.
I began writing in 2000 when a former girl friend sent me some poems satirizing the Florida election recount. They were funny and based on famous poems. Thinking I could do that, I sent back a poem based on Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” with a note saying that if Robert Frost could read this, he’d turn over in his grave. She replied that I was clearly wasting my time as an investment banker and that if he could, Robert Frost would sit up in his coffin and applaud. So I began to write.
At first, I thought of it as a kind of hobby – something to occupy my time when I retired. If this is a hobby, I need to find another hobby.
I’m a modestly, very modestly, successful writer and certainly not financially. I have had stories and poems published in literary journals; fourteen plays produced (full-lengths and one-acts with one co-authored) in festivals and community theaters; a novel in verse and a novella serialized in Wilderness House Literary Review and, most recently, “Scudder’s Gorge”, a prose novel, published by Prolific Press.
To achieve this modest level of acceptance, I’ve had rejections … rejections … rejections. I’m at the two thousand mark and counting. The only one that bothered me was when I submitted a dark play about a suicide in a camp and the rejection letter stated how the theater found my play, “appealingly good-humored”.
I am a contemplative person. My mind never seems to take a breather, and much of my work relates to issues of our times and culture. Racism and prejudice are somewhat persistent themes. In my story, “The Snake”, set in the South of the early Twentieth Century, a black veteran, coming home from service in France, is lynched because he’s in uniform. Later in the story, a young black boy is bitten by a rattler and, refused treatment at the local clinic, dies. Both of these events are based on actual occurrences. Much has changed since then but not nearly enough. The evidence of lingering racism has surfaced all too clearly in recent years. Can it be completely eradicated from our society? Probably not, but the effort must be made.
I have written a play about climate change and one about harassment in a university setting. While this may suggest that my writing is purely theme-oriented, I, in fact, pay a lot of attention to character and plot. Without interesting, complex characters and engaging stories, you don’t have much.
An early mentor and friend said that one of my strengths as a writer was my ability to listen to, absorb and utilize criticism. It was not an easy skill to acquire. It took hard work and self-examination as my natural tendency was to explain and argue when someone commented on my work. I did learn, however, and it has helped enormously in the development of my craft. Another friend once told me that when your work is published or produced, it no longer belongs to you but to your audience – to interpret as they see fit. I was astounded, but it’s true … so true. You have to accept that people will see what they want to in your work, and there is precious little you can do about it.
After retiring from banking, I began to write full-time. I wrote the verse novel as a Christmas present for my then eleven-year-old daughter. Called “The Brave Maiden”, it borrowed heavily from the Robin Hood legend except that the lead character was a young noblewoman; her family having been slaughtered by an evil count, she flees to the forest to seek revenge and conquest. She builds an army of diverse characters, some of whom distantly resemble characters from the actual Robin Hood story.
I moved on to short stories and novels. The novel, “Scudder’s Gorge”, begins with the day of “the bomb” in Hiroshima and then moves backwards in time to Eighteenth Century Vermont to a village founded by post-Revolutionary settlers. Nestled between pine-clad ridges, the valley is also home to a small band of Abenaki. The settlers and Native Americans trade and live in peace until a love affair blossoms between a young Abenaki and the daughter of a village elder. A crime is then committed which reverberates down the generations.
I started writing plays in 2007, and my first play was produced in 2008 at the Center for Performing Arts in Rhinebeck, NY. Based on a brief piece in the local newspaper, “The Medal” tells the story of a World War II veteran who was recommended for a medal but never received it. As he nears death over fifty years later, his wife determines to get him his medal. The veteran’s widow attended a performance and was very complimentary.
In 2013, I directed one of my plays at the Manhattan Repertory Theatre and loved the experience. I’ve now directed a total of eight of my plays. I greatly enjoy, both as writer and director, the give and take involved in the collaborative work of the theater. The playwright needs to be able to revise – and quickly – when the director and / or actors identify problems with the script. The director needs to listen to the actors when they suggest ways of doing things. On a number of occasions, I’ve come up against a blocking problem only to have one or more of the actors come up with just the right solution. My style as a director mirrors the style I practiced as a manager in banking: listen to your staff and consider their ideas but make decisions when necessary. This give and take style generally produces the best results and makes the endeavor more fulfilling and enjoyable for all concerned.
I’ve had an enormous amount of fun and derived tremendous satisfaction from this second career. I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to keep working. It keeps my brain active. While I had a great time in the first career, I would not have missed the second one for all the world.
For anyone interested in reading “Scudder’s Gorge”, it is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, local bookstores and the publisher’s own web site.
Donal Mahoney, a native of Chicago, lives in St. Louis, Missouri. He has worked as an editor for The Chicago Sun-Times, Loyola University Press and Washington University in St. Louis. His fiction and poetry have appeared in various publications, including The Wisconsin Review, The Kansas Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Christian Science Monitor, Commonweal, Guwahatian Magazine (India), The Galway Review (Ireland), Public Republic (Bulgaria), The Osprey Review (Wales), The Istanbul Literary Review (Turkey) and other magazines. Some of his work can be found at http://eyeonlifemag.com/the-poetry-locksmith/donal-mahoney-poet.html#sthash.OSYzpgmQ.dpbs
(Photo: Carol Bales)
Internment Camps in the United States
Miyuki is old enough to have been a child during World War II. Indeed, some of her students are that old as well but they are eager to learn and listen to her carefully.
She is a teacher of floral arrangements in the Japanese style of Ikenobo but her face always seems sadder than the flowers in the beautiful arrangements she makes. Her life has been a mixture of grief and joy.
Her parents emigrated to the United States from Japan before World War II and Miyuki was born in Seattle. Her parents owned a newspaper there but it was confiscated by the government when they and their children were sent to an internment camp during the war.
After the war Miyuki’s parents did not get their newspaper back nor were they compensated for it. But they found another way to make a living. They opened a flower shop and their daughter Miyuki dealt with customers after school. Bilingual by then, she spoke beautiful English.
Between customers she would watch her parents make arrangements and in time learned the art of Ikenobo, arranging flowers in the spartan Japanese style that proves less can certainly be more. She has been teaching Ikenobo now in America for more than 50 years. She is certified as a professor of Ikenobo by the society that overseas the Ikenobo school in Japan.
Every once in a while Miyuki pauses in her classes to discuss different aspects of Japanese culture with her mostly Caucasian students, ladies of similar age and above-average means. They seem to enjoy these interjections as much as learning how to arrange flowers in the Ikenobo style.
One day Miyuki took time to explain that because she was born in America to Japanese immigrants she is classified in the Japanese community as Nisei. Her children, born here as well, are classified as Sansei and her grandchildren as Yonsei. She did not say much more about that but her students realize that she is often as spartan in her comments about Japanese-American life as she is in the Ikenobo arrangements she makes on her table in front of the class.
Some of her American students were children as Miyuki was during the war with Japan. They have a vague memory of President Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many think Truman did the right thing, a few think it was a mistake, and the rest aren't sure.
But many of them wonder if putting Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II had any merit. Perhaps they think about it even more now as the tumult in America grows over the conflict with ISIS and its verbal threats toward America.
In the aftermath of Nine Eleven, everyone remains wary. What next? But so far, there has been no talk of internment camps for Muslim Americans, which in effect would be an encore of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II.
Perhaps some day a student will ask Miyuki what she would think as an American citizen about establishing internment camps for Muslims in America should the conflict with ISIS continue to grow and begin to present a very real threat to the United States. She might have mixed feelings as many of her students do now when they think about not only the atomic bombs dropped on Japan but also the disruption in the lives of Japanese Americans during and after the war.
It’s obvious this small group of people interested in learning how to make beautiful flower arrangements has much to think about regarding what has happened in the past, what is happening now and what may happen in the future. In this respect they are no different than every other citizen in the United States today.