Deep Time At Mohenjo-daro


This site in Sindh, Pakistan is one of the earliest major urban settlements, with signs of both city planning, social organization and a draining system. An estimated 40,000 people lived in the area.
This is the site in Sindh, Pakistan of Mohenjo-daro, one of the earliest major urban settlements, with signs of both city planning, social organization and a draining system. An estimated 40,000 people lived in the area.

Once, long ago, I stood over the bones of a man
Who had died at the gate of an ancient city,
An arrow through his throat.

He slept through the ages in charcoal and rubble,
The world above spun round through centuries, but he was
Oblivious to all such petty things,
His city burned and
fallen on his unmarked grave,
Then itself buried and forgotten.  

A jewel of the Bronze Age,
Thriving in the time of Khufu of Egypt,
This city would rise and
Be destroyed again, five times,
Until it was buried a final time,
At the time Crusaders died
At Jerusalem’s gates. Continue reading “Deep Time At Mohenjo-daro”

This Old House


Front Door

This old house is made of wood and paint and memories, but
Lately, the sense that our time here will end has hovered on my shoulder,
A faint melancholy of knowing that one day I will walk out one last time,
Hand the keys to someone who won’t know any of it.

That spot in the dining room wall where a teenage
Tantrum left a divot in the plaster from a chair tossed in anger.
Where the same child discovered the internet, found a girl
In California and talked up a huge long-distance phone bill.

Where B&B guests gathered from around the world
To chat at the table over Bismarks and sausages and coffee on
Their brief swing through this old house, and our lives.

Continue reading “This Old House”

Why We’re Here


The election in the US has brought attention to a part of the people that has been misunderstood, and looked down upon — sometimes with justification — since the very beginning. I am talking about the relatively poor, non-college educated white class, predominantly of Scots-Irish ancestry, that’s spent most of the past 250 years in the mountains and hollers of Appalachia. This is a huge area that stretches from Maine to Georgia, and culturally influences even more territory.

We modern Americans like to sort of gloss over our origins, sometimes. I know enough about my own family history to smile at the old joke, that Americans “have been thrown out of some of the best countries in the world.”

My ancestors were non-conformist religious refugees, Quakers, from England and then Ireland, who took advantage of William Penn’s offer of refuge in Pennsylvania. They fled civil war, after 100 years of the beatings and trials and property confiscations and, in the case of at least two of them I know about, a mother and son, execution at the hands of the Crown at York Castle for refusing to bend a knee to a magistrate.

So I have a sympathy for the people who are still stiff-necked and proud and poor, those who get stomped on by the elites on either coast. At the same time, it’s fair to judge that culture as inferior in some ways, and to realize that they’ve learned how to be poor, stay poor, and resist any outside ways. [Note: my wife, who is of Scots-Irish ancestry, objects to the term ‘inferior’. I don’t mean it in the moral sense, or in the sense of not “being as good as everyone else.” I believe that all cultures have good and bad traits, in the sense of how well they work as adaptations to life’s circumstances. As admirable as Scots-Irish culture is in most ways, it doesn’t work as well as some others, such as Jewish or Indian, to drive young people toward academic and financial achievement. Sorry dear. 🙂 ) The very traits that make them who they are, the good things, also make them keep doing things that mire them in poverty.

But let’s give them a little slack, too, and remember that a lot of us are here because our ancestors were too damn hardheaded to adapt, to assimilate. We are here because someone with a name very much like mine, or Ferguson or O’Farrell or MacDonald or Sandburg picked a fight with the King of England or France, and the Church of Rome or the Church of England.

That’s who we are, too. Stubborn and tough and not partial to anyone telling us what to do or how to live. And, yes, frequently dumb.

Turning Point


This is not one of my normal posts, but I’m angry. And, I am tired of the placid hand-wringing that infects social media when something bad happens again, such as the recent terror attacks. It feels so pointless to wail “When will this end?”. So shallow. Self-indulgent. So.. immature.

Slowly, surely, inexorably, the reality of what we face after yet another attack is sinking in. All the “vigilance” and “toughness” in the world won’t stop this stuff completely. A guy in a truck can’t get bombs, so he grabs a truck and drives through a crowd. One guy with a grievance and an ideology that made him feel important for the first time in his miserable life. There’s no defense that will work against that all the time.

We Americans are soft and flabby, distracted by shiny things, grown lazy and stupid and corrupt. But as we see more of the terror attacks (and there will be more), we will start to remember we’re not descended from timid people.

I don’t want to have to think like this, but I don’t have the luxury any more. Living in a fuzzy bubble of fake-feel-good cat videos isn’t going to help. They were not perfect, our ancestors, God knows. But they were capable of a cold, resolute and implacable wrath when their backs were to the wall. It has happened before. After attacking Pearl Harbor and launching WWII in the Pacific, the Japanese admiral in charge said prophetically:

 “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” –Isoroku Yamamoto

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Twitter.com/hemmingplay

Old Air


mohenjo-daro
Mohenjo-daro, Sindh

The air grows older as it drains through the passages and doorways of
These ruins, where history stopped, where people leaked
Into the sand, were forgot.
If there is no memory left, did it ever really happen?
The stones feel the air drain past, patient, and say “yes, it did”.

The aged breezes surround, inhabit—an oozing, firesome force. They scorch crumbling brick, Caress the sleepers, curious if any faint dreams still stir,
In the soft, reddish dry light,
Under the changeless sunsets of forty wretched centuries.

mohenjo skeletonsThe air entwines legs, hair, imagination,
The whispers of spirits long gone, their bones still sprawled nearby, call.
Questions, asked like thought from just over the shoulder.
Faded sighs and cries from a room buried and forgotten, born only on the wind.

 

6/3/16

Memory

 

 

Happy Birthday, Master Wil


shakespeare

To add to the day’s flood of Shakespeare news stories….

From “The Writer’s Almanac”, by Garison Keilor

 

It’s the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who is traditionally believed to have been born on this date in 1564 in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England. He left behind no personal papers, so our knowledge of his life comes to us from public and court documents. His father, John, was a glove-maker and alderman, and his mother, Mary Arden, was a landed heiress. The baptismal register of the Church of the Holy Trinity in the Shakespeares’ parish shows an entry on Wednesday, April 26, that reads, “Gulielmus filius Johannes Shakespeare.” Babies were traditionally baptized on the first Sunday or holy feast day after their birth. The Feast of St. Mark was on April 25, and although normally that would have been Shakespeare’s baptismal day, it was also considered an unlucky day, and that may be why the child was baptized the following day instead.

Shakespeare studied at the well-respected local grammar school, and married the older — and pregnant — Anne Hathaway when he was 18 and she was 26. She gave birth to a daughter, Susanna, six months later. Twins Hamnet and Judith followed two years after that. Shakespeare was no doubt deeply affected by the death of son Hamnet at age 11; he began to write his tragedy Hamlet soon afterward.

He moved to London around 1588 and began a career as an actor and a playwright. By 1594, he was also managing partner of the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular London theater troupe. The 1590s saw the production of his plays Richard III, The Taming of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, and The Merchant of Venice, to name but a few. His greatest tragedies — like Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear — were all written after 1600. He wrote his last few plays back in Stratford, where he retired after an outbreak of the bubonic plague caused the London theaters to be closed for long stretches. He was popular during his lifetime, but it wasn’t until after his death that his collected works were published in print form. That volume has come to be known as the First Folio, and it was published in 1623.

In 1611, he made out his will, leaving most of his estate to his daughter Susanna, and bequeathing to his wife, Anne, his “second-best bed.” He died on or around his birthday in 1616 and was buried in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford, leaving a last verse behind as his epitaph: “Good friend, for Jesus’ sake forbeare / to dig the dust encloséd here. / Blessed be the man who spares these stones, / and cursed by he who moves my bones.”

Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and a couple of epic narrative poems. He created some of the most unforgettable characters ever written for the stage, and was a master of the language of various social classes. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, he coined 3,000 new words, and he has contributed more phrases and sayings to the English language than any other individual. Shakespeare gave us such commonly used phrases as “a fool’s paradise,” “dead as a doornail,” “Greek to me,” “come what may,” “eaten out of house and home,” “forever and a day,” “heart’s content,” “love is blind,” “night owl,” “wild goose chase,” and “into thin air.”