After Inauguration: A Poem for Us All

peopleyes Fireborn
The people yes
The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”
Once having marched
Over the margins of animal necessity,
Over the grim line of sheer subsistence
Then man came
To the deeper rituals of his bones,
To the lights lighter than any bones,
To the time for thinking things over,
To the dance, the song, the story,
Or the hours given over to dreaming,
Once having so marched.
Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way
for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.
The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
a spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.
The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother.
This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can’t be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise.
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
march:
“Where to? what next?”
excerpted from “The People, Yes” by American poet Carl Sandburg

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The Power of the People

Never mind the traditional excesses of Thanksgiving, the horrors of Black Friday or the panic of the pre-Christmas rush. For afficionados of the sport of people-watching, the up-coming holiday season is the best season of the year. With crowds of impatient adults and captive children navigating the stormy seas of covetousness and retail madness from now until New Year’s Day, amusement should be easy to find.

In fact, I’ve already been amused. During a swing through our local Target store, I found myself waiting in the checkout line behind a child and his mother. The boy appeared to be about three, and he was fussy.  Hanging on to his mother’s skirt with both hands, he circled around and around until he found a comfortable spot, sandwiched between his mother and the cart. 

Peeking out from the folds of her skirt, he looked past us to the vibrant displays of candy and merchandise across the aisle. Using one hand to point to something, he tugged on her skirt with the other to gain attention.  Busy sorting through her purse, his mother ignored him while the rest of us started paying attention. Continue reading

The Marketplace of Ideas

I like to think of myself as fairly easy-going, but I don’t cope well with garage sales.

Over the years, I’ve prowled my share and even found a treasure or two, like these mint condition Woolenius tiles manufactured in Berkeley in the early 1900s. But artifacts of the Arts and Crafts movement are hard to come by, and the thought of hours spent pawing through plastic soap dishes and mismatched cutlery no longer appeals. People with growing children in need of clothing or toys, inveterate readers, Ebay resellers or folks with truly limited income no doubt have a different perspective.  But I’m not a shopper, and I’m trying to simplify my life.  In my world,  garage sales rarely meet real needs. They provide little more than a few hours of distraction and an indiscriminate pile of “stuff”  to be hauled home and squirreled away before being “repurposed” by sending it off to Goodwill. Continue reading

Space, Lemons and Lemonade

So. Houston doesn’t get one of the real space shuttles. Fine.  As a friend with ties to NASA says, “What would you expect from people who can’t even get our most famous quotation right?” 

Of course she’s talking about the film Apollo 13 and the transformation of astronaut Jack Swigert’s, “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here” into “Houston, we have a problem”.  The film makers had their reasons for the change, and it certainly didn’t detract from the film or from the space program. Still, a lot of things have been irritating folks since the announcement that Johnson Space Center will be home not to Discovery, Enterprise, Endeavour or Atlantis, but to Explorer, a shuttle replica built with a high percentage of plywood.

Be that as it may, communities surrounding Johnson Space Center have unbreakable ties with NASA. We continue to embody the spirit that enlivened our nation’s space program and we certainly know how to party. This weekend was party-time in Houston, as the city engaged in “Shuttlebration”, a city-wide tribute to the role of space exploration in our lives. Continue reading

The Yard Sale of Ideas


I like to think I’m a fairly easy-going sort.  I get along with most people who cross my path and I’m able to fulfill most of life’s responsibilities without too much grumbling, but there are things that drive me crazy. 

Yard sales (aka “garage sales”, “tag sales” or “rummage sales”) fit that category.  I can’t think of anything worse than spending a perfectly good day pawing through piles of stuff that other people have judged not worth keeping.  I’d much rather be reading or writing, spending a day at the beach or even cleaning my house. 

People with growing children and limited incomes, inveterate readers, quilters and crafters, Ebay re-sellers or folks with a passion for the act of buying have a different perspective, I’m sure.  But I’m not a shopper, and I’m trying to simplify.  In my life, yard sales don’t help meet real needs.  They provide little more than a few hours of distraction and a pile of purchases which need to be hauled home, hidden away and then handed over to the next neighbor who decides to hold a yard sale. Continue reading

All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go

 

On October 23, 1956, I celebrated my tenth birthday.  There was cake, ice cream and a small party with balloons and crepe paper streamers.  On that same day, in a world utterly removed from my cozy Iowa neighborhood, other children watched as friends, parents and neighbors celebrated an occasion first known as the Hungarian Uprising and later as the Hungarian Revolution.

As I headed toward our kitchen for my post-birthday breakfast on October 24, or perhaps the 25th, the Des Moines Register was lying in its accustomed place on the dining room table where my father always laid it before going upstairs to shave. A huge photograph filled the space above the fold, with the words REVOLUTION IN HUNGARY splashed across the top.  

At that point in my life I never had met a Hungarian and had little idea what a revolution might entail.  But I could read, and I liked to look at photographs. Curious to see what required such large print and such a big picture, I paused to look at the paper, only to have  my mind wiped as clean of thought as our classroom blackboards at day’s end. Gripped by a strange, vertiginous feeling, I realized I was holding my breath as my first, visceral understanding of a world far larger than my own and far less pleasant began to envelop me. Continue reading

With God on Our Side, Redux

 

This election night, as I watched MSNBC’s television coverage, followed a few liberals around battleground states on Twitter and read through an assortment of conservative blogs, I began to experience the equivalent of political vertigo.

As the evening progressed, two very different views of Barack Obama’s election began to emerge from the dizzying swirl of images.  One focused on the historic moment, not only celebrating a partisan victory and the election of our nation’s first Black President, but also reflecting on the journey of a nation that once accepted slavery as the norm.  In the opinion of others, Obama’s election betokened the erosion of traditional American values, the economic collapse of the United States, and perhaps the fall of Western Civilization itself at the hands of a nattily-dressed and smooth talking anti-Christ.

Several phrases I encountered last night distressed me.  One was that America is “getting what we deserve”.  It was meant to be a perjorative statement, implying that a misguided, stubborn, and possibly evil nation is being punished by God for our misdeeds and thoughts.  Quite apart from the question of whether God would punish an entire nation of Jobs for the political sins of a few, there’s a certain humor in the thought of Barack Obama as God’s chosen agent of destruction.  

But not everyone is amused.   Some express their frustration with the enormity of our problems and the rapidity of the changes overtaking our nation by saying, “This is not the America I grew up in”.   And they’re right.  It isn’t.  But our parents said the same thing, and their parents before them.  Society isn’t a museum but a living organism, constantly changing in response to the forces that ebb and flow around it.  Romanticizing the past is tempting, but re-creating the past is impossible.  Life moves forward, not back, and our destination is the future. Continue reading