Archive for September, 2017

Local Freight

What do we care if the rails
are no longer there,
the track bed still remains.
A plain ghost
even in the bright of day.
Crushed stones
ensure that its bones endure.
Thistles and thorns
tangled with blackberries
merely enhance
rather than erase the path.
Chugging ahead,
sturdy boots walk between
the parted sea
of muck, field, and forest.
Never mind that
no destination is reached.
Today’s outline,
followed like trains of old,
remains a siren call
as grasshoppers scatter.
Its persistence
guarantees local freight.

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The Last Supper

Twelve guests, the room pungent with brine
Their manners rough as the sea
A ritual meal of roasted lamb, bread, and wine
Men tied by an ancient bloodline
Tonight’s host, conscious of betrayal’s penalty
Yet he speaks not of a crime
His eyes are locked on the person conflicted
One chosen rather than convicted
Both share a sorrow that speaks of finality
The dread of impending death
As the others carelessly expend their breath

1848 : Year Of Revolution / Mike Rapport

In his book 1848, Mike Rapport takes an in-depth look at the spontaneous social and political upheaval that swept across Europe that year. This turbulence shook the feudal systems of governance to their roots and briefly allowed a more representational form of government to seize the reins of power. This topic is a mammoth undertaking on his part: separate revolutions took place in France, the German and Italian states, across the Austrian Empire, and in other European locations. In the end, more than 50 countries were caught up in the fledgling push for democratic representation.

The rebellions were led by the combined forces of moderates, liberals, and socialists based in the cities of Paris, Milan, Venice, Palermo, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Krakow, Munich and Berlin. Joining them initially were the peasants based in the countryside, seeking abolition of serfdom. This led to either the toppling of old regimes or major concessions on their part.

However, once in power, the coalitions that led the rebellion soon began to fall apart. The moderates were alarmed by the socialists’ agenda, and the radicals began to fight the liberals over governmental structure. Meanwhile, once the feudal governments granted the peasants their demands, the peasants switched allegiance back to the conservatives, as they opposed the social changes being enacted by the liberals and radicals now in power. The killing blow to the new coalitions was the fact that the feudal regimes for the most part retained control of their armies. Another factor was the rise of nationalism in different countries, which led to persecution of minorities, whose response was to champion the security of the feudal systems in place.

As Rapport shows, all of the above brought about the collapse of the new representational forms of governments once the feudal systems brought their armies into play to suppress and crush the rebellions. By the end of the year, the conservatives were able to grab back the reins of power across Europe. In reading this book, I was reminded of the courses of events following the recent Arab Spring in the Middle East, and, to a lesser extent, the backlash that occurred in the American Presidential election of 2016.

1848 is not an easy book to read. It is crammed full of minute details of what took place in each country. This means that one is inundated with thousands of names of people, cities, and battles. I would have appreciated a glossary of the key players involved plus maps to help me place where the sprawling events were taking place.

While I found it a bit of a slog to wade through the specifics presented, it proved to be worth the effort. I came away with a much better sense of what led to the outbreak of rebellions and why they ultimately were unsuccessful. While a democratic Europe failed to take root, the events taking place in 1848 led to the creation of a united Germany and Italy, and seeds were planted for the European governments that emerged from the ashes of World War II. For the patient and persistent reader, 1848 will make this complicated period of history comprehensible.

Desire

Despite
heartfelt pretty pleases
and calculated
temper tantrums escalated
to ten

Beyond
fervent leaps of faith
or those
elastic-band stretches on
tippy toes

Unreachable
there on the top shelf
is where
chilling chocolate milk
resides

But when
mountains refuse to stoop
a footstool’s
forbidden height rewards
desire

Dead Presidents : An American Adventure Into The Strange Deaths And Surprising Afterlives Of Our Nation’s Leaders / Brady Carlson

I’ve heard Brady Carlson speak often through the years… he is a reporter and the on-air host of NPR’s Weekend Edition for Wisconsin Public Radio. In Dead Presidents he proves to be a delightful individual to spend time with on the written page as well. In this humorous, informative book, Carlson travels across America visiting Presidential grave sites, museums, monuments and memorials. What he finds provides us with rich details of our leaders’ contributions to American history.

His writing stye is colorful and highly readable. Diving into this book is like spending time with a gifted tour guide who quickly becomes a good friend. While I was a history major in college and well-read on the details of American politics, Carlson presents numerous facts that I had not encountered before. He shifts from the somber to the macabre with ease, and yet his stories remain amusing throughout, all the while without belittling any of our past presidents.

What most interested me is how he contrasts the ways in which the different presidents were viewed at the time of their deaths as compared to later years. He also shows that the way we memorialize our presidents reveals more about America than it does about them. This book succeeds because, while funny, none of the profiles come off as cheap comedy. Carson simply shows that our past leaders were as fallible as we ourselves are: capable of great deeds despite obvious flaws.

He ends his book describing the ”Marshfield Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival and Presidential Family Reunion and Missouri Walk of Fame.” This is an annual event that draws the descendants of past presidents, giving them a chance to interact and reflect on what it is like to be a relative of such famous figures. Who would have guessed there is such a festival? Thanks to Carlson’s reporting skills, this and many other facts are revealed along the way, to the the reader’s delight.

Ordinary

A simple city street
hums with vehicles and voices
ordinary enough
to be an unheard soundtrack

So too the silent
performance of whirling bats
vacuuming up
this bug-filled summer sky

The stones’ damp
exhale is merely a shadow
excluded by
our lamp’s encircling warmth

Sunset’s gold braid
a repeat presentation that
cannot compete with
supper’s beckoning scent

Yet later in bed
what will unspool behind
closed eyes is
today’s comforting totality

To A Niece

If I could offer
an elixir to assuage grief’s
dark dominance,
that precious goblet would be
filled to the brim.
Yet all I possess is this
feeble script,
the mundane balm of these
ineffectual words:
“Trust me, it will get better.”
When eyes,
heartbroken, ask, “but how,”
my silence
is a bitter pill to swallow,
so I say “listen.”
Time’s prescription alone
is the answer.