Sunday, April 29, 2012

happy birthday!

april rocks!

Friday, April 20, 2012

they were still talking about popocatapetl (shown here) in 1954 when i was born. it blew apparently in 1947. it's blown a few other times since then; 2000, maybe, and more. i remember it being the definition of "volcano" in the newly printed encyclopedias. there it is! a familiar icon...
i'm on the cusp of believing in astrology, but i'm on the cusp of everything, so that's not really a surprise, i half believe almost everything until i'm absolutely pretty darn sure it's not true, like for example heaven and hell. but with astrology, everything else in the universe has a kind of order, it wouldn't be that much of a surprise if it did matter when exactly you were born, not that i could trust humans to explain the meaning or reason behind the order, how would we know? but my birthday, now, is actually on the cusp, and it's the cusp of aries and taurus, which at one time was explained to me to be the pioneer and the settler, the traveler and the homebody. i'm on the settler side of things, apparently, by a few hours. details, details. tonight my friends in saudi arabia and iraq wrote in to wish me a happy birthday already; by 7:00 here (it is now about ten) it was already my birthday over there and their facebook was reminding them and telling them to write me. with facebook now the birthday is a much huger thing, nobody can ignore it, although i often ignore or just fail to see a few of them. i have a rough general knowledge of who among my 500 friends or so were born around now and there are actually quite a few of us. pioneers and settlers both. while i was on the computer i noticed that it was fenway park's birthday; it had turned 100 today, its green monster getting ready for another season out there in boston, a place i have always felt some connection to, and a place where i actually lived for a while; i never actually got into fenway, even though i lived maybe four or five blocks away. but hitler is the one who really dominates this day; i feel bad for those who share that date, because it always seems as if the date confers upon you any personality traits at all, any sense of destiny, then what could be worse than sharing that kind of stuff with a guy like him. i on the other hand share mine with the queen of england, jim morrison, may he rest in peace, and john muir, who i also assume would be resting in some kind of peace somewhere. john muir and i know that the original earth day was started in his honor, though the following year it was moved to the 22nd, where it's been stuck more or less ever since, and the queen moved her birthday from april to june because it was so darn ornery in england around the 21st of april, she couldn't take it when it was so cold and blustery. now i may be confusing you mixing these two birthdays into a swirl or a kind of dna helix, but my attitude is that this cusp has been that way more or less all along, at least it has in my experience. you can't after all be a settler, if you were never a pioneer, or if there wasn't a pioneer somewhere, yet at the same time, being a pioneer doesn't mean much, unless everyone around you is pretty much settled, and there are quite a few of us who are both, even in our daily lives, totally settled, totally living in one town, one house, one place, yet at the same time reaching out almost constantly looking for something new, eyes on the horizon, thinking about the grasses on the other side. but now another thing has come along to move this day, the 20th, pioneer day, into a different realm. it appears now that this is "coming-home" day or the day that adoptive parents like us celebrate the bringing home of our adopted child; this happened seven years ago, and actually took two days, stretching out into my birthday one cold and blustery spring just like this, on a long drive from chicago that stopped over in maybe mattoon or some formless unknown place on the highway between here and there. he was a little tyke then, not even three weeks old, and we tell him the story of what chicago was like and what it was like to go up there and meet him and bring him back. this year we celebrated "coming home" day by going out to the local golden corral where everyone ate their fill and the local rural crowd looked at us with their kind of glazed blank looks which i somewhat impatiently refuse to interpret. it probably means nothing, it's just a friday night at the local golden corral and you could see just about anything, and everyone could be as tired as i am and slighty washed out and burnt out from a week of working other people's shifts and being half sick and trying to make sure the kids get off to school. or they could be like the amish who came through town the other day and dropped their jaws and stared when they saw our soccer coach who has a mohawk that goes from pink to purple depending on the day & we're so used to it we don't even look twice, he grew up around here i think and is pretty much part of the furniture no matter what color he makes it. and those amish don't realize people are staring at them too, though they bought grammer orchards about a year ago they really don't come into town that much, and i don't know if the city has figured out yet what to do with a road that has steady horse traffic on it. i'm kind of with the amish myself, moving out into the countryside, grabbing the good farmland, i'm sure they're taking better care of it than we did, with our pesticides and nerve-gas type stuff we use to kill all the critters, all turning that river into a huge dead zone in a massive die-off. they too have their settlers and their pioneers, those who plant a foot and don't budge, have eleven children, take care of the horses and go to town once a month, then there's those who are always in the horse, and can't resist going around the next bend, just to see what's there. you got your hitlers, you got your jim morrisons, your john muirs, then you got guys like me, who celebrate the birthday early, just because i'm in every time zone at once, pretty much anyway, and besides, it's a long holiday weekend, birthday, earth day, but it starts with coming home day: this day changed my life; it taught me a lot, it was the beginning of a new era, a new life, i walk now in different cultures, it was a gift to me, and it made me different, and better. and there is so much yet to come, i'm sure - as one part pioneer, my eyes are already on the next horizon. home is important, yes, nothing could be more important, of course, but then, i've got traveling in my blood too, i can't shake it, i just have to live with this total, constant restlessness, whether i act on it or not. the cusp of all cusps.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

it was a big day in that i played shryock, a place i consider to be one of the best acoustically in southern illinois. i told one guy what i thought and he said, actually you should check out the varsity theater, but i haven't had a chance to go there, don't know what that place is like. let's just say, it's old, it's ornate, it's huge, and, in this case, it was full of 8 and 9 year olds who were a pretty tough audience; it was hard to keep their attention. we played lots of animal songs and kid songs, and they liked them, but they weren't always concentrating. that's the way 8 and 9 year olds are.

spent some time reading about the titanic, and that was partly because of a flip comment i'd made on my facebook about "synching" their computers (or sinking)...nobody got it, really, though my wife pointed out i should not have spelled it with an h...sync?
ok. the syncing of the titanic. whatever. the national geographic is all about cameron's trip down there and his obsession with what they can find, gathering algae down there in the north atlantic. and it pointed out the irony of a collision between slow, clear, timeless ice, and the biggest, best boat of its time, turning up, cracking in two, and shooting to the bottom. wow.

my obsession with almutanabbi (below) was brought on by reading a student's work, cleaning out the weblogs, and the student mentioned that he had a weakness for sucking up to political power and in fact, he'd been political as a youth, led a rebellion, spent time in prison, but then tried to stick by the powerful as they would support him and protect him. didn't work, completely, though, because he was killed by one of their enemies; he'd used the power of his poetry and his sharp way with words to protect those in power and had made someone very angry, presumably. such was life in iraq and the middle east in what, 950. around that time in america a huge city was rising up in cahokia on the east bank of the mississippi river at st. louis, they'd build a temple to the sun, colonized the area, hauled in corn and deer from miles around, sent their boats up and down the rivers as far as canada, montana, the gulf, north carolina.

at one point i read about these two tennis players who'd both survived the titanic, but they were men, so they were embarrassed about it, as men were supposed to let the women and children go first, and somehow they got into lifeboats anyway, and the world shamed them, upon surviving and being male. both went on to play tennis, even against each other, but were unable to talk about the experience, really, and didn't.

i'm teaching i fly, i flew, i think, i thought, i tell, i told in grammar class, memorize all these past irregular verbs, because we have this quiz where you have to know them. and in the quiz you have to tell a few lies, with is ok with most people. did she buy the red or the blue dress, she bought the blue dress; if they know bought they win, the rest doesn't really matter. and this one african guy is ok with this down to about number six, which is did you break your arm or your leg? and he can't answer it, not because he doesn't know the form broke but just because he can't bring himself to write it. it goes against his grain, against his superstition. i invite him to write about breaking something else and he does. it's not about the truth, i say, it's just about the grammar, yet, i don't quite believe it. at one point my other class is writing a letter (learning how to write a letter) and get to the point about writing sincerely, and i realize, this is a problem, since it's not sincerely at all, it in fact is a made-up letter. no problem, it's just an assignment, it's just, can you do it, make one, use english properly. i've had trouble using drama, in the same way. some people just basically don't want to pretend.

at the soccer fields one day a car comes over the sleeping policeman bump in the road, and its entire front end falls off, maybe i've told this story, but a little while later, two police cars go by, and a woman says, oh, we're playing cahokia in baseball. as if that explains the police. maybe this cahokia baseball team does what, has retractable cleats? whatever it is, takes two police cars.

the lesson i get from almutanabbi: you can sell out, you can go commercial, but don't hang too close to the politicians, or you'll die. and it doesn't matter, iran, iraq, egypt, those are just kind of details, details of the times. the powerful come and they go, they can be sunk by the merest of coincidence, a bit of clear white cold ice with an edge on it. it's alignment in general that did him in, probably, though that may have been necessary for a poet of his time. more later about this guy, if i ever get time to read about it.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

voir dire is the legal word for when they call possible jurors in groups of fourteen (in our courthouse), ask them questions like "do you know any of the police officers in this case?", and then kick a few of them off the jury while the other unlucky victims go into a little room and prepare to be on a jury that could last anywhere from one afternoon to a month or two. voir dire means something like tell the truth, but here's the thing: some people want to get onto the jury, and some don't. also, you have the defense, who doesn't want any rednecks on there, and the prosecutor, who would really rather it all be rednecks. so each of them can reject a few just because they don't like their looks, but after that they have to take them until they find a good reason. we in the jury pool just tell the truth to the best of our ability, and either throw stuff in there or leave it out depending on what we want.

in my case i wanted out of it because i'm so darn busy and i have to ask these other teachers to fill in for me, and prepare the lessons and keep up with the grading, so if some kid is up there trying to get out of his "driving on a revoked license" charge and the judge asks us, is there anyone who is so inconvenienced by this jury duty that they'd hold it against this defendant, i almost said yes. in the end i told them i was next door neighbors to the police chief and they asked around trying to find out if this really meant we were good buddies or what. the defense really wanted me on there, i could tell, and was a little disappointed that i was acting like i knew all these policemen. i told the truth though and i even said my own son was driving on all the expired stuff one time and he got caught and he was guilty anyway, maybe that's when the defense said, ok, i give up on this guy, get him out of there, and they did.

but as it turned out that jury only lasted one afternoon and the whole lot of us was back the next day, waiting for more of this voir dire, this time for a drug case involving two kids and some quantity, fortunately i don't know from grams and am not eager to voir dire anything of my colorful past let alone in front of a number of neighbors and folks i know a little just by virtue of being in the same small rural county with them all these years. now they pronounce it voyeur deer like it's right outside your kitchen window, but all kinds of people have a colorful past in that regard and some even have experience in the pen, or with a felon, or whatever. i say i'm married to a criminologist and i think this works pretty well but who's to know, anything can happen and usually does.

it's beautiful out and the road to our little county seat courthouse town has weeds growing out on top of it and wildflowers all over, it's mowing season and anyone who leaves it a day too long has it all going to flower all over the place, and has to get a tractor out to cut it, or a herd of goats. this is true even in the city where you leave town for a weekend, come back & the city's put a yellow card on your yard threatening to cut it themselves & send you the bill. at the soccer field it's cool and clear and a little car comes into the soccer area, goes over the speed bump and loses its entire front end, it falls down right in front of it and they have to set it back on the car and pull over a bit. later a couple of police cars come by and a lady who's watching the soccer game says, oh, we're playing cahokia in baseball, like that explains everything. cahokia is where they have these huge mounds that used to be the center of an ancient empire that spread out over north america at least but is now pretty much surrounded by east saint louis and i would guess based on what she said that their baseball team is a rough team, or maybe they just don't like our team, whatever, i'm surprised the schools are anywhere close to the same size.

the brakes start going out on our own little car somewhere in there, all that back and forth, windy roads, speed bumps, jury duty, whatever and you don't want to be driving around with little kids and the brakes going to the floor or pulling finally when your foot gets to the bottom. the whole thing has worn me out considerably, especially having to voyeur deer about my own life and my prejudices about such cases though to my credit i maintained that i would be an objective juror in each case regardless. "do you think a policeman is more or less likely than another person to tell a lie?" well maybe he or she has more pressure than i do to never admit he/she is wrong, or back off, or whatever, but people are people, and anyone with an open mind's got that defense attorney hoping it'll stay that way. or, "are there any laws you would refuse to obey, just based on your belief that it wasn't right?" let's not get started on this stuff, talking about the army or whatever, when what we're talking about really is driving on a revoked license, and having so many grams of something. and anyway, my sum total overwhelming feeling about the whole thing is, there but for the grace of god go i, if you know what i mean.

finally, car in the shop, i got to walk home, a familiar route, but with plants blooming all over the place, flowers, blooming bushes, and one old mulberry tree now chopped down, down in the neighborhoods, may it rest in peace. but now i have a sore leg, as if this failure to swim has caused a general breakdown in my youthful composure, complete exhaustion due to now having to explain to all these students where i've been and why the papers aren't graded yet. they of course are curious what jury duty is all about, and if police are in fact more or less likely to lie than anyone else. what do i know? i know they'd like you to believe they're fair, the system works. i am in fact the system, i'm doing my duty, sitting there in the box, and it's hard describing it to my students, but that's what i tell them. if they summon you, you've got to go in to the county seat, be there for them, every few years, because somebody's got to do it, that's how it works. everyone else out there is just assuming somebody else will take care of it. which is kind of what i did, when you add it all up, assume someone else would get on that jury, somebody who had time, and an open mind, or both. one can only hope that there are such people, some of my friends there might have qualified, at least based on what they said while i was talking to them. it was, after all, one of the few times i had a minute to actually visit with some of my neighbors. which is kind of amazing, if you come to think about it.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

rushed home from work the other day because the air was heavy with an impending storm and i was dying to plant my garden; at rural king i bought up some plants, some dirt, a couple of marigolds for the edge, etc. and then quick got them all in the ground before a nice crashing rain came by at about eleven and soaked the whole place. i'd been practicing; we're going to record some music, but was in a small car that barely made it through the puddles on the way home. this is a small town with an antiquated sewer so it doesn't have to rain hard before it gets overwhelmed and there are floods in the low spots, every time you come 'round a bend. people are more interested in our tornado shelter now that we have five or six warnings a year and a few people died the next town over, so they've begun to ask us and now, every storm makes them nervous, even though a good number of them have no tornadoes associated with them. a good storm, a hard rain, lightning, all this stuff is ok, if you're at home, on the porch maybe, don't have to go anywhere, and a garden is soaking up all the good moisture.

it's a busy time; i made a new volume of e pluribus haiku, printed it and all, but haven't really read it to make sure it's acceptable, so that i could make a few more. i want to get it on amazon also, and then apple books, and then get one of those sites where people can buy your books electronically, where i set up a system that doesn't hassle me so much. i'm enjoying it; the fact is that the poetry book has had a better reception than much of what i've done; one friend that had one got me to bring her two more recently & when people read it, they like it and get more. it's still pretty rustic in my opinion, but i could make it better, and will, and this 2012 version now has about six hundred fifty; that's about as big as it can get without my having to make a larger volume and go into serious paper.

the fact is april is a highly variable month, the worst blizzard iowa ever had was april ninth, but even here in far southern illinois anything can happen and probably will, and probably did even if you could remember back that far. this year it was an unusually warm and early spring, and everyone became afraid of what summer would be like if we were really pressure-cooked into having such a warm spring, but they were nervous too, because we all know it can still freeze even this late, kill all the peaches, and all the flowers too. but it didn't. the hard rain brought a cold front all right but the onions and tomatoes i put in didn't seem to mind, and settled in for it to get warmer and sunnier as the season comes out. ran into a saudi student at the starbucks and he gave me a saudi expression: april will cheat you more than your wife. made me wonder, does this mean false spring is a worldwide thing? is this truly a hostile expression? does this mean april is really pretty gentle and loving, but a little moody sometimes? by the way followers of this blog know that april rocks is coming, as soon as i get a minute; it's a celebration of all us april people. have to start all over this year; i have no more, in the backstage dressing rooms of the computer.

my fascination with africa continues though i have no time really to pursue it. i barely have time to do my job at work, organize kids' birthday parties, take kids to soccer, play music, keep body and soul together. but late at night i read about anarchy in timbuktu, or the last of the rhinoceri, or the pirates at the horn, or off the coast of guinea-bissau. at work i have a friend who actually lived in west africa and told a story i thought was quite interesting. she was in the peace corps and a bus with volunteers on it went deep into the heart of a west african country where they were surrounded by the local kids who yelled the local word for "white-man" to everyone. they were quite innocent, she said, just kids, yelling out to people who were quite foreign, you could tell by their jeans they were from far away. but it so happened that there was a black guy on this bus, an american guy, and he had actually invested quite a lot into his idea of coming back, snd so was a little hurt by what they called him. the kids were applying the term, obviously, to everyone, pointing out the obvious cultural gulf. it is we americans who notice race so quickly, and even see it as overriding other things. it's a heavy burden on our african students here in the states, who find a world expecting them to be "black" and find themselves surprised by the weight of cultural baggage one must lug around, so to speak.

it's a vast, wild world, once the onions sink in they get comfortable and send their green shoots upward with a tang just strong enough that the rabbits walk around. the morning dew sits on everything, the sun will of course sear it off but not until it soaks in at some points; we'll be grateful for what water finds its way down into the loose dirt. the snake will head back under the bushes where it's really better off; a huge full moon fills the sky, and there is a curious convergence of natural forces which bring passover, the high holidays, kids' birthdays, a weekend, and a little change in the weather, all at once. april rocks, makes you want to live to see another one.