Archive for February, 2017

Basement Sauna

Becoming salty,
in the intense heat and dry air,
we cure.

Water splashes,
the chips of rock sizzle and hiss,
we drip.

Add another cup,
on the edge of hell’s boundary,
we bake.

A staggering fist,
humidity’s wave as it arrives,
we sag.

Defying January,
the season’s scowl of ten below,
we scorch.

Now a ruddy pink,
and drained of winter’s sludge,
we’re done.

American Heiress : The Wild Saga Of The Kidnapping, Crimes And Trial Of Patty Hearst / Jeffrey Tobin

On February 4, 1974, Patty Hearst, a sophomore at the University of California at Berkley, was kidnapped by a small group of revolutionaries that grandly called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army. Patty was targeted because she was heiress to the famed Hearst family fortune (her grandfather was William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper publisher who built the country’s biggest newspaper chain and media empire). The kidnapping made a huge splash news-wise nationally, and the bizarre events that followed over the course of the next two years kept the story in the headlines.

The first ransom demand from the kidnappers required that Hearst’s parents fund a food give-away in Oakland and San Francisco. Then a few weeks later, the group released a tape recording of Patty proclaiming she had joined the SLA and adopted the nom de guerre “Tania.” Shortly after that, a bank’s security cameras captured images of “Tania” wielding a machine gun during a robbery staged by the SLA.

I clearly remember the first few months of this saga in the news. What I had forgotten was that, after the majority of the members of the SLA (an “army” of just eight people) were killed in a shoot out with police, Patty spent more than a year on the lam with the two remaining members. Even more damning, during this period she took part in another bank robbery in which a woman was killed, an act that made her an accessory to murder. Was Patty a willing participant or coerced to take part in the SLA activities?

In this detailed account, Toobin presents the events as they occurred, blow-by-blow, from the moment Patty is kidnapped through her trial and beyond.

While Patty Hearst refused to be interviewed for the book, Toobin had a wealth of material to draw upon, allowing him to given an in-depth description that I found credible. After Patty was captured, she was jailed and charged with being an active participant in the crimes carried out by the SLA after her conversion to their cause. She ultimately was given a seven year prison sentence, although she spent relatively little time behind bars. Not long after entering prison, Jimmy Carter signed a commutation of the remainder of her sentence. Bill Clinton would later give her a Presidential pardon. (It helps to have wealthy parents with political connections.)

American Heiress does not provide definitive proof as to whether Patty was a willing participant or coerced. At her trial, she claimed that, throughout the experience, she feared for her life and acted as she did for self-preservation. Also addressed is the possibility it could have been a case of “Stockholm Syndrome,” a psychological condition where a prisoner begins to identify and sympathize with their captors. Toobin does not take a stand on this question. Instead, he allows the accumulated evidence to speak for itself. By the time I finished, I’d changed my original opinion on the matter. I encourage those interested in the topic to read the book and decide for themselves. American Heiress captures the radical turbulence of the 1970s in a fascinating manner. It is certainly a page turner.

Cutting Board

What wood is this, its smooth grain
impervious to the blade?
Compact and rootless, it no longer
consumes the breeze.
Once bearing a maple’s sheen, now
dulled to an ash blonde.
Its native scent lost and replaced by
the kitchen’s hodgepodge.
It has rebuffed season after season
of a garden’s stains,
the heat from an unattended kettle.
But garlic permeates
every pore, so too the blood from
meats and accidents.
It wears a faint lacquer of grease
not quite scrubbed away
despite the use of soap and water.
Yet to the naked eye
its surface shows barely a blemish.
This wood’s strength
still supports the blade’s purpose.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover / D. H. Lawrence

Due to its sexual content, D. H. Lawrence first published this novel privately in 1928. Heavily censored abridgments followed, but it was not until 1960 that a major publisher put out an unexpurgated edition. Reading the book today, it is difficult to realize why this story of the sexual relationship between a working class man and upper class woman once proved so shocking to readers. True, it does feature explicit descriptions of sex and words that are still not openly used in polite conversation. Nonetheless, it is a literary work that almost no one would consider pornographic some ninety years after its publication. In an era where descriptions of every kind sexual activity are readily available in print and on the internet, Lady Chatterley’s Lover seems tame in comparison.

The story focuses on a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley), whose upper class husband was paralyzed from the waist down when fighting in the Great War a few years previously. Lawrence presents Sir Clifford Chatterley, a successful writer and businessman, as a childish figure, and totally self-focused. In time, his emotional neglect and her sexual frustration lead Constance to begin an affair with Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on the family estate. Their intense relationship centers around their physical feelings for each other. Throughout the book, Lawrence keeps circling back to the central theme of this story, one that suggests that true love between a man and a woman can only happen when the body speaks to another body and leaves the mind out of the equation entirely.

Lawrence uses Oliver Mellors as his mouthpiece, putting him continually on a figurative soap box from where he pontificates on a wide range of topics. Addressed are the author’s views on class and society, industrialization, war, the evils of money, and more specifically, how marriage has turned men into lesser beings. Lawrence clearly is condemning relationships in which the man and women connect emotionally. Throughout, he suggests the two sexes are separate streams that are only unified in the sexual act. Mellors believes if marriage is to survive as an institution, it will have to return to an earlier version, some time that Lawrence in a later essay called the true phallic marriage.

Much of what Mellors spouts I found nonsensical, and I was put off by his continual lecturing. It felt to me that he was reading lines rather speaking naturally when interacting with Constance. An even bigger problem for me was their relationship as a couple. Other than sex, the two seem to have little in common. Mellors in his own way is just as self-centered as Sir Chatterly. While the gamekeeper opened up Constance’s sexual nature, I found it difficult to believe their relationship would last once passion cooled. But I suspect to Lawrence that was beside the point.

What saves the novel and makes it still a worthy read in today’s jaded world are those portions of the book where Lawrence gets off his soap box. In describing the joy of the couple’s sexual attraction to each other and the euphoria that surrounds a budding sexual awakening, Lawrence vividly captures the “aliveness” each feels at that moment. It is these sections that perhaps will captivate the modern reader, even though the shock factor of the story has faded away with time.

Surviving Twin

There are too few birds
in her family tree.
No first cousins remain
on either coast.
An orphan before sixty,
and worse still,
left the surviving twin.
With no children,
she is the distant aunt,
a best friend,
and the marriage root
that supports
a roomy canopy for two.

Familiarity

Should this dim crescent appear
but once a year
in the habit of a passing comet,

the ticket prices astronomical,
crowds phenomenal,
for ill or good, a fêted prophet,

it would make the evening news,
and on Facebook,
receive as many likes as views.

But familiarity earns contempt;
nobody wants to see
a “has been” on the marquee.

Few bother to give it a glance
here in prime time;
disinterest is its only audience.

Wishful Thinking

In a month’s time,
this wind will be put to good use
transporting seeds.
Dazzled by the wealth of sunshine,
the frozen assets
of these fields, with renewed fertility,
accumulate interest.
Tonight’s gloved snowfall replaced
by a downpour’s
slammed fist asserting dominance.
When the chisel
of lengthening daylight penetrates,
patient roots shall
unfold to probe into receptive mud.

Wishful thinking –
a mere seedling so long cultivated –
will muscle aside
winter’s claim to eminent domain
in thirty days time.