Review of Don Quixote Part I

After I decided to move to Barcelona, Spain in order to study Spanish for a year I Bought a copy of Don Quixote in it’s original language. My intention in so doing was habitual, I enjoy reading the national literature of a country in the place it was produced. I learned that for this work, however, I was not up to the challenge. There was simply too much to see and all my free time was devoted to my young bride-to-be. Four years later I was anxious to re-read or really to start reading it in this fine edition that I got off eBay.
Now as any person with literary inclinations is sure to tell you, Don Quixote is often cited as the first modern novel and is also often named by writers as one of the best novels ever written. Though one may not have read the book, still one knows some of the details – a mad, older man considers himself a knight and then goes on a number of misadventures that includes battle with a windmill. The image of Quixote either with Sancho Panza is iconic, so much so that a good friend of mine even has a tattoo of them on their arm. These generalities aside, having just read the first part, I can understand why. Though with some reservations.

In a more conscious manner than Madame Bovary, Quixote is fixated upon literature. In his case it is not romance novels but tales of knight-errantry and the defunct even-at-the- time-the-book-was-written code of chivalry. Such books have, as those around him often say, warped his mind. This is not the limit of the role of literature in the novel – for throughout there are discussions between Don Quixote and other interlocutors on the values of chivalric literature. Don Quixote sees them as estimable, obviously, while those around him largely do not. They dislike them and it’s effect on him so much that at one point they burn a large portion of Quixote’s library.

One of the components of the book that I enjoyed was its use of multiple forms of writing. Be they letters or, as is more common, poetry and tales told in verse, the novel wends through a number of lives that Don Quixote touches and those that are literary productions. The last poem written by a shepherd that committed suicide over unrequited love, a didactic tale left at an inn by an old boarder the warns about the dangers of tempting virtue, and the tragic story of an offended lover wandering the countryside are just three of the many stories within the work. A majority of these tales of tragedy, however, lead to comedic – both in the telling of them as well as the improbable situations that emerge soon after their vocalization. Another literary element of the book that I liked is it’s meta-awareness. The character debate on what make a book meritorious in such a way that I felt as if Cervantes was laughing when writing it. Some of the lines within the presage purportedly written by the Censor for Spanish Books are hilarious.

For me the book really started to get going around 180 or so pages in. I was a little worried that the book was a paper version of Citizen Cane – something that is oft cited as an innovative stylistically but which has, to me, not aged well. Thankfully I was wrong. Shortly after this point the number of minor encounters introduced in this section starts to mesh together within the plot of Quixote and Panza. Characters that were thought to be passing figures take on a larger role, which allows for greater continuity as lacking them we have only the madmen Sancho Panza and Don Quixote bumping around aimlessly in misadventure. I also found the overwhelming number of quotes of chivalrous tales to be a bit overwhelming – but I can understand that at the time that it was printed his audience would be more informed of this. All in all I have so far enjoyed the book greatly and look forward to reading the second half.

A Genealogical Contribution to the Visual Economy of Early American Radicals

 

Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests
Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests

This essay is part of a larger project that analyzes the rhetorical methods found in late 19th and early 20th Century American newspapers used to mobilize support against the various radical groups then agitating and organizing for a revolutionary movement. Before I begin my analysis of the image, however, let me quickly define what exactly I mean by the term “radicals”. My use of this word is meant to include Socialists and Anarchists. The first term refers to parties explicit in their Marxist orientation, such at the Socialist Labor Party of America and includes organized by Daniel De Leon. The definition of anarchism I intend is more complicated, and best understood by reading Michael Schmidt and Lucien van der

Walt’s book Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Putting their several introductory chapters into a few sentence, their classification of the “broad anarchist tradition” rejects the notion that individualists, like Max Stirner, libertarians opposed to class struggle, like Leo Tolstoy or economic mutualists, like P.J. Proudhon, are anarchists. According to the authors, anarchist thought stems from the writings of Mikael Bakunin and Pyotr Kropotkin and as such can be tenuously classified with Socialists despite their antagonistic history due to a similar criticism of capitalism, equal avowal of the desirability of socialism/communism, and the need for organized struggle to achieve it. The best American example in this time period of such an organization would be the Industrial Workers of the World.

The image I’ve chosen to dissect is titled “Columbia’s Unwelcome Guests”. It was illustrated by Frank Beard for Judge magazine and published on February 7th, 1885. ”Judge…”, according to the Finding Aid to the Judge Magazine Illustration Collection, at the Delaware Art Museum: “…allied with the Republican Party and supported the candidacy of William McKinley largely through the cartoons of leading cartoonist Grant Hamilton. Circulation for Judge was about 85,000 in the 1890s” (Delaware). Given that the United Stated population at this period was around sixty‐two million, that the magazine was only distributed in the east coast and that as is the case with magazines today, it is un likely that their subscribers were the sole viewers of content and thus the actual number of people presumed to be coming into contact with the magazine should be considered higher. The number of viewers could easily be two to ten times their circulation numbers. However large

the viewership, the time length of Beard’s image would likely be short lived, surviving only as long as the owner of the magazine would keep it. The 16‐page magazine was printed weekly on letter size paper. Furthermore, Judge did not have a readership so much as a viewership due to the fact that the magazine was composed solely of cartoon images. Whether or not this is due to marketing considerations for the large but diminishing amount of illiterate people and immigrants with little to no knowledge of English is an unanswerable consideration, however this does indicate that the magazine did not require the same intellectual foreknowledge as Harpers Weekly and thus was more widely accessible to illiterate or semi‐literate audiences. What is clear, however, is that the magazines telos. The printed images in Judge were not just light‐hearted, humorous takes on current events, but the dissemination of specific associations and ideas that work to normalize a particular perspective within the reader and thus naturalize response to unfolding political events.

While assessing the effect that caricature had on the popular political conscious in America, Donald Dewey quotes the historian Charles Press, who states that: “the political cartoon has always been an aesthetic achievement only by accident. Its purpose is propaganda, not art” (Dewey 9). That such anti‐radical/anti‐ immigrant propaganda as Beard’s is being published at the time relates to the historical immigration of millions into America from Europe as well as the growing number and intensity of conflicts between Capital and Labor. Interestingly enough, this cartoon was published a year prior to the Haymarket Incident in Chicago, which was the first time the use of explosives occurred in a conflict between workers and

police. The anxiety expressed by this Republican/Right leaning magazines image is thus that the tactics of attendats and propaganda by the deed used by European radicals would soon be used in America.

Moving from the historical context of the images publication to the image itself, it becomes evident that there are several manners in which it seeks to legitimize the American government’s exceptional treatment of foreign‐born radicals as a means of preserving the status quo of liberal capitalism. Identifying and classifying these ideologies illuminates a part of the process as to how these immigrants were allowed to have a biological existence, but at points where their political life conflict with the interests of the State or Capital then they have reduced or no legal rights. Logos and mythos, logic and myth, combine in this image to form a meme, that continues to this day and is still used to delegitimize radical praxis, wherein exclusionary, repressive and oppressive practices are recuperated within purportedly pluralistic government. By wrestling with the slanders, contemporary radicals would be able to better present themselves to those that aren’t already involved in the movement.

The radicals trying to enter Liberty Hall are identifiable as criminals not only due the words inscribed upon them, the objects they hold, the knives, guns and dynamite that they possess but also due to their facial features. In the time period prior to this images publication the now discredited scientific theories of the Italian physiognomist Cesare Lombroso held sway within the public imagination and law enforcement. The definitive corpus of Lombroso’s work was to determine the traits

of social undesirables such that those who fell within these categories would be immediately discernable to police, who might mistake them for “normal” and law‐ abiding human beings. Lombroso not only classified the facial features of Italians that were prostitutes, thieves and brigands, but also of political criminals. Using the portraits of prominent in the 1848 French Revolution, Lombroso determined the facial features of those prone to insurrection and shortly after the Haymarket events, Lombroso even wrote an essay on the incident called Illustrative Studies in Criminal Anthropology, wherein he states that it is not so much the fault of the Chicago anarchists themselves for their actions, but their inheritance of “characters common to criminals and to the insane…” (Lombroso). Within this context, it is important to note that the faces of the anarchists in Beards illustration bear the atavistic stigmata of criminals and the insane according the physiognomy outlined by Lombroso. The foremost figure has a large, prominent chin, and high cheekbones – all the traits of the “born criminal”, while the pointed nose, saucer‐like ears and the beady eyes of the Nihilist are the qualities that Lombroso associates with the insane. By using this pseudo‐scientific discourse, also used by Joseph Conrad in his description of anarchists in his book The Secret Agent, the radicals claims for political agency are shown to be the claims of those that are devolved or mentally deranged. It is worth noting that this meme did not originate in the American context with Lombroso, but has resonances in Dr. Benjamin Rush, the founder of American psychiatry who discovered a mental imbalance called “anarchia”, which was characterized by an excessive desire for liberty.

Moving from the facial qualities of the undesirables to the stances of the three radicals in the foreground it is worth noting that all are walking slouched over with their body close to the ground. This gives the appearance not only that they are stalking, in this case Law and Order, but also that they’ve some difficulty in standing upright. They are thus shown to be closer to animals than civilized people, who no longer need to hunt with their hands. This image resonates with depictions of Blacks and Irish as monkeys in Judge and similar illustrated magazines such as Puck. Furthermore the contemporary associations given to the term upright, such as in someone being morally upright, apply and thus further relate these people with blackguards. Continuing to examine their physical features, it becomes evident that it is not just their criminal faces and stances that show them to be associated with darkness, baseness and badness.

All of the faces of the foreign born are all darkened or appear dirty. This quality, just as the French perceived Ali in Ali, Fear Eats the Soul, is in keeping with conceptual hierarchies of a nationalism that views foreigners as undeserving of equal treatment due to some essential difference. This aspect of the illustration becomes particularly noteworthy when one points out that their facial shading is incongruent with the illustrations light source. The sun is somewhere near midday to the bottom right hand corner of the painting, and even though the four group of men standing center right and the two men hutched over closest to them should all have their faces lit up, they are not. Furthermore, their positionality shows those closest to Liberty as having their backs to the light. Liberty, on the other hand, is a radiant as she faces the light. Thus while darkness, taken to be barbarism, ignorance

and arbitrary actions is a defining characteristic of the anarchists depicted, light, viewed as Enlightenment, Intelligence and Just Law, prominently defines their opponent. This allegorical element of the picture is not exceptional, as the whole illustration is an allegory.

Viewing the allegorical image from its narrative beginning we see the radicals swimming in the background, emerging from the sewers of Russia, Germany and Italy to cross the Atlantic Ocean and entering into the United States through . The historical fact that these immigrants brought over to fill factories and began fighting for less exploitative working conditions is thus transmogrified into a situation where they make up the refuse, the trash, the shit, the unwanted, the undesirable of these countries. They are like sewer rats that spread disease, the disease of Socialism, Nihilism, Anarchism and Communism, and they are just as dangerous as the rats that spread the Black Plague. As such all of the associations with trash, shit and rodents should apply these people. They, like trash, should be thrown out and not thought about. They smell and are unsanitary, their lives are not worth consideration, they must be repelled, chased back into the darkness, or even killed to stop the spread of social disease. The reification of this class of people is similar to that as outlined within Edward Said’s book Orientalism, but as the physical and historical context of people is changed, the political praxis is altered as well. Columbia’s placement with the dogs at the border to the U.S. is thus notification that as there is no metaphysical barrier keeping the foreign radicals from crossing the border, patriotic Americans need to be on guard for those disseminating seditious and rebellious ideas. The foreigners must be watched and

potentially disciplined, as there are elements within them that are dangerous to the conservation of the status quo.

This becomes evident when recognizing that the incarnation of Law and Order in the form of the two dogs keeping the Radicals at bay works to mystify the material political relations. Police, Order and the court system, Law, are shown to be mere symbols and unrelated to a specific economic system or the people which benefit by such an order. The allegorical form of the cartoon thus works to hide the fact that: “In all societies based on a social division of labor, the class or bloc of classes that controls the surplus value needs society‐wide help to legitimate the means by which it extracts it and to repress those who refuse to go along” (Ollman 201). By excising this material element of the depicted socio‐economic conflict, the presentation of actors in combat merely a furthers the comprehending of the historical situation as a metaphysical battle between Order and Chaos, Good and Evil, Liberty and Radicalism. All of this is accomplished by the mystifying nature of the cartoon allegory. While writing specifically about Daumier’s cartoons during periods of social conflicts that would end in multiple French revolutions, conceptual historian Reinhart Koselleck’s presents an insight into the nature of Daumier’s art that is equally applicable to this allegorical caricature. Speaking of the universality within the works of Daumier, Koselleck writes that: “Enduring symbols become historicized, historical signals symbolized. What is figuratively held together on one level creates a provocative, incongruous element in the picture (271)”. Thus in the process of genuine history becoming myth, myth then becomes genuine history. This allegory, then hides the fact that the more than 37 million people that

immigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1917 were not part of some invasion to destroy the then ruling government but were encouraged to migrate on behalf of industrialists in need of more labor power. The vices associated with the foreigners, such as having a poor toilet, and the violent aspirations of some to overthrow capitalism, while stemming for a class basis, become essentialized as qualities inherent to people from a specific place.

Speaking on the power of mystification in The Dialectics of Seeing, aesthetician and philosopher Susan Buck‐Morrs examines the analysis of mythic consciousness in Benjamin’s Arcades Project, limns the philosophy of historical experience and concludes that “Myths give answers to why the world it as it is when an empirical cause and effect cannot be seen, or when it cannot be remembered.” I would add to her statement that those that seek to propagate myths about historical situations, such as the one being discussed here, seek to impart an ahistorical paradigm to the viewer for particular purposes. The rhetorical impact of such framing is to benefit the ruling class such that people believe that those contesting the legitimacy of government are simply criminals, crazies and barbarians who are the sworn enemies of all that is Good. The attitude in this illustration is not without historical effect. With the nationalist/capitalist discourse tied to Columbia, Liberty Hall and the dogs of Law and Order and the emphasis of the “foreignness” of the populist radical movement, typical occurrences not particular to radical movements but to the labor movement as a whole, such as strikes and meetings to educate, agitate and organize the workers, are not only cast as emerging from non‐ Americans, but concomitantly as being harmful to Americans. This harm to

American would be equated with strikes leading to stops in production that could lead to fuel, food or other supply shortages and the owners of production insisting via their media outlets that the impetus for such actions stemmed from foreign agitators. The benefits of such a framing of people’s demands for better working conditions and increased pay has several consequences. As a force that is construed to be “anti‐American”, any action that disrupts normal business can thus justify, within limit, the use of the police, paramilitary, private military and military means to end strikes. Furthermore, the purportedly foreign nature of such sentiments for economic democracy could be used to increase levels of exclusion and repression by presenting groups engaged in class warfare as the direct or indirect puppets of foreign governments.

It is of the utmost importance to recognize that these rhetorical aspects of Beard’s allegorical caricature are not merely on the plane of conflicting sentiments with various publications with different positions of immigrations and capitalism, or on the realm of possibility, but that it relates to actual events. Analyzing the historical record it is worth nothing that when historians weight in on the conflicts between Capitalists and Radical elements in the United States, the accord is always given to the fact that the United States had one of the most violent labor histories at that time period. Since the time of this images publication to the first national strike of July 14th 1877, and even after, the number of laborers killed by Federal Troops, National Guardsmen, militias and private detective agencies such as the Pinkertons far outnumbers those killed by radical activists. The assassinations of influential people such as Joe Hill, Frank Little and Harry Sims and massacres at places such as

Thibodaux, Bay View, Haymarket, Lattimer, Ludlow, and the West‐Virginia Mine War are just a small sampling of the violence enacted upon those workers seeking to better their pay or working conditions. While there a few violent events at the initiation of radicals would later transpire, the sensational news stories in the yellow papers combined with images such as Beard’s vastly overrepresented the violence of some radicals and underrepresented their actual presence. The message circulated within this image amongst the populace, and especially among the political parties representing the capitalists leadership image is thus that workers should not be allowed to pursue their own agency, which is construed as alien to native‐born Americans, foreigners are exposing them to ideas that might exacerbate conflict and such sentiments need to be contained.

In this image, where class antagonisms are transmogrified into conflict between good and evil, truth and falsity, sane and insane, legality and criminality, the highest aspirations of society and it’s basest depravities, evolution and devolution, indeed: of civilization and barbarism it becomes clear the fear that the subscribers to Judge had of the forceful overturning these binary constructions. And at this point it is worth noting that Beard’s cartoon is a clear artistic opposition to what Walter Benjamin defined as the “wish image”. Whereas the wish image was that which emerged from workers utopian urge for a classless society based upon the potentialities present within the industrial revolution, it is this contrary, nightmare image that incarnates the need to accept inequity as inevitable and illustrate the desire to combat economic imbalances as pathological. Incorporating another concept of Benjamin’s into the analysis and presenting this particular

illustration as a dialectical image, we can see in the illustration not only the brief history of the radical movement in the United States previously described, but also a glimpse of the future.

As American manufacturers were forced to deal with radical and labor movements that managed to get some, if comparatively little, concessions after a long period of unencumbered growth due to the destruction of production sites in World War Two, they were forced to move their sites of production overseas to places where class conflict, human rights and legality wasn’t so much of a problem. They thus searched for and found foreign governments that would act as satraps for the United States business interests. During this process and with the collapse of the Soviet Union, they created a space wherein they lost their ability to effectively mobilize nationalistic sentiments against American radicals in the same manner. In fact they’ve opened up a space that encourages a potentially radical development. While such groups have been several steps behind the increasingly fast movement of capital, as more people become disillusioned with the myth of universal possibility for prosperity in America spaces for reorganization emerge. As this happens, due to gradual disillusion with the government, it is worth noting that similar motifs will again emerge in the press, as they are starting to now within certain circles.

Not all of the motifs can be the same, however. It is now impossible for facial features to be legitimately used to illustrate the undesirableness of a political philosophy and the xenophobia propagated within Beard’s caricature is no longer

applicable. The only form that’s left in this image for use by such groups is then caricature itself. It is here worth noting that this image isn’t atypical of artistic production created in the interest of capitalists, conservatives or counter‐ revolutionaries. As Slavoj Zizek notes in his book First as Tragedy, Then As Farce:

Enemy propaganda against radical emancipatory politics is by definition cynical – not in the simple sense of not believing its own words, but at a much more basic level: It is cynical precisely insofar as it does believe its own words, since its message is a resigned conviction that the world we live in, even if not the best of all possible worlds, is the least bad, such that radical change will only make things worse.

In the terms of Engels, one might paraphrase the above by saying that the only thing that artists connected with anti‐radical movements can do in combating such a humanistic tendency is to negate their vision rather than affirming their own as superior. For evidence of this in the literary world, one can see that the great propagandas of capitalism are dystopias or exceptional stories rather than positive portraits of widespread potentials existing within capitalism. Contemporary mainstream media television broadcasting that claims to be news outlets can only make comments lacking any depth or historical insight about modern radicals contesting capitalism. By becoming aware of the effects that representation has had on domestic American radical groups they can, perhaps work to counteract the press given to them in the manner similar to the way in which contemporary religious groups fight against what they construe as hate speech. As such Beard’s image that negates the aspirations of workers and leads to the aforementioned political practices, when it is itself negated becomes an important image in the development of alternatives to Capitalism.

Bibliography

Buck‐Morrs, Susan. The Dialectics of Seeing.

Dewey, Donald. The Art of Ill Will

Delaware Art Museum. “Judge Magazine.”

http://www.delart.org/collections/HFS_library/finding_aids/JudgeMagazine.htm# Biography

Koselleck, Reinhart. The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts

Lombroso, Casear. “The Phisiognomy of the Anarchists: Illustrative Studies In Criminal Anthropology” http://www.spunk.org/texts/humour/sp001494/physiog.html

Ollman, Bertell. Dance of the Dialectic.

In Memory of Matt Mahady

Matt MahadyA good friend of mine, Matt Mahady (1972-2016), recently died of a heart attack in Hodinin, Czech Republic. Upon hearing the news I was immediately shocked. I found it hard to find succor talking to anyone that didn’t know him and over the next three days I intermittently broke down crying.

I first met Matt when I was 16. I’d driven from Jupiter with my then girlfriend Niina Pollari at a poetry slam in downtown West Palm Beach held at the Underground Coffeehouse. Though we were younger by some eight to ten years, Niina and I were welcomed warmly and all quickly became friends with a number of the talented performers as well as competitors on the poetry slam circuit. After Underground closed down, we’d meet in Delray where the estimable Marya now hosted the event.

The teenager years are a formative and heady time for everyone. It’s when we start to assert ourselves, to push our boundaries to find out what is acceptable, what causes aches, what brings us satisfaction. It’s when we start developing our taste for culture. Long an avid reader, my early development oriented towards les Belles-lettres. Before, after and in between performance poetry rounds, we’d discuss literature, artistic performance and politics. The youngest male in the group, Matt and Andrew seemed to take me under their wings. Andrew encouraged me to broaden my teenage radicalism, then under the influence of Crimethinc, and would even later be my professor in a Riots to Revolutions sociology class at FAU. Matt praised me for my taste for classic literature and introduced me to the Beats and their ilk. After a long yet thrilling discourse on the themes, motifs and values of them I asked him who was the person of this group that I should read. Bukowski, he said. Over a several month period after he’d suggested I read The Last Night of the Earth Poems I devoured all of the works that were available at the Books-A-Million I worked at as well as a few from the nearby Barnes and Nobles. My appreciation for Bukowski has since grown more complicated than the fawning amazement that I felt when reading his work at that age and it was made all the more so being able to talk to such a clearly talented singer, musician and poet while chain-smoking cigarettes on the couches outside DaDa.

Over the years we became closer friends. After I moved back from Orlando from an academically disappointing freshman year of college at UCF, we would hang out for drinks at places in Lake Worth that didn’t card, kick it at Boca Raton open mics, meet up for protests outside Burger Kings across the tri-county area to help the C.I.W. workers gain more attention for their protests in aims to achieving a living wage. Into my last year of college I started to find the allure of slam poetry less pulling. I became more cynical about the competitive nature of the event and found that the restrictions I’d once found no issue with more problematic. I’d once read and believed a certain quote by Shelley, the person after which I was named, which said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Attune to the turns of history and armed with greater perspective I simply didn’t feel that way anymore. It didn’t stop me from writing or taking long treks to see my idols such as Saul Williams and Taylor Mali, but I lost the passion for it that Matt exuded.

Once I moved to Fort Lauderdale for work Matt and I, let alone the rest of the Slamily, didn’t see each other as much. We would still made the effort to meet up for New Years or other occasional get togethers though. Be at Havana Hideout or some other local dive, I still loved to see him sing, play music and talk over intoxicants. As I still felt passionately committed about politics, I even invited the C.I.W. that Matt had introduced me to to speak there.

Matt always had his demons that would sometimes lead him to a poor state, but once he was talking about his passions – literature and politics – he would light up. That light, however, left him after his son Sage killed himself. I visited him a few times after this and found trying to bring him up from this wreckage impossible. Not only is consoling someone for such a loss a Herculean task, at that time I was going through what was at the time the most traumatic experience of my life – the separation of my fiancé and I. So low myself, I certainly didn’t have the fortitude to preach hope and promise a closure that may never come. One night though I remember that we emptied a twelver at the Lake Worth Gold Course than continued to walk and talk about women, art and everything else until the sun came up on Bryant Park. We stumbled to his home and crashed. Even though I’d heard some news from him that night that hurt me a little, I felt a little less alone and a little better. Matt never told me if he did as well, but I’d like to think that he did. I left for NYU shortly after this and he left for a brief period out West before then going to Czech Republic.

Matt and I exchanged emails from time to time, but I’m notoriously bad at keeping up friendships when someone isn’t within distance of a two hours drive. He’d ask me if I was still dealing poorly after my breakup. I’d lie and said I wasn’t. I’d ask him how Czech was, and he’d start paeans to it. Knowing my wanderlust and love of Prague, he encouraged me to come out and move to Czech. I’d tell him I’d think about it, which was true, but I never did anything. Shortly before I graduated he’d asked me to review a funding proposal for a NGO in the Czech Republic that helped Roma-people. Given his previous work with the Guatemalan Maya Center in Lake Worth, this was so Matt. I was ecstatic. Him asking for my thoughts on such a matter made me feel as if I’d achieved something, like I’d finally come of age. It so lifted me that I later sent him the first draft of my novel. Had he praised it it would have been enough, but that he was working on something similar made me feel even better.

The last time that I met Matt was shortly after my divorce had been finalized. He’d come back to the States due to issues with his Czech Visa and we made plans to go to one of our old haunts, Havana Hideout, to catch up over some beers. The time before I’d seen him in person he’d been in one of his down states. Now, well, this was a different person. He’d put on some weight, but considering how he looked when last I saw him this was a good thing.  As he narrated the drama of being placed in custody and dealing with immigration agents he spoke with greater peace and equanimity about such a stressful and unnerving experience than I had ever seen him before. He even cracked jokes about he had formed a bond with one of the guards there by using the Czech word for comrade. He spoke at length of adoring love for his current partner and recanted his once rakish attitude towards women from when he’d worshipped at the altar of Bukowski. I felt almost as if i didn’t know who I was sitting next to but nevertheless I was happy as he looked so genuinely happy. I asked him the cause for this and he told me that recently had found Jesus. Not the Jesus of the conservatives, he was quick to say, but the Jesus of Liberation Theology. Matt always had a special place in his heart for Latin America, so that he’d made such a turn towards a perspective akin to Óscar Romero I wasn’t that surprised.

Knowing that I’d just come from two years of Marxian studies at NYU, he seemed to pause to see if I would pounce on him for such a position. When I didn’t he seemed relieved. I didn’t say so out of deference to a formative influence or just to be convivial, but as the issues I’d been dealing with around my divorce made me feel less militant, more fragile, more open to the perspective that people don’t always know what is best for them and that there are certain anxieties and humans needs that radical politics can’t always adequately address. We both found affinity on the idea that that which leads to love, real transformative love, is worth valuing and holding on to. I shared in detail my own pains, which I’d kept largely to myself out of fear of being ridiculed and he reflected back nothing but compassion and understanding. This openness led him to share with me how for years he had blamed himself for his son’s death and how this feeling of responsibility had weighted on him – and I’m quoting him as I remember it vividly – like an albatross that didn’t just weight him down but took him places he didn’t really want to go. He said his perspective was once such that if he wasn’t feeling the pain of Sage’s loss than he was somehow dishonoring his memory and not being true to how a father’s love show be. Now, however, he realized how ridiculous this was. Now, he said, he was able to forgive himself for those behaviors that he’d once hypnotized himself into believing had caused such an inscrutable act.

Over the six hours we spent that day chatting it up I feel that almost half of it was on love. Love for our partners. Love for people. And perhaps most importantly, as it is the foundations of all other, love for oneself. I left him back where he was staying feeling lifted not only for having such a great discourse, but also for seeing someone I care about that had long had demons raging inside him look as if they were all exorcised. His aura gave off blue tinge in my rearview window as I drove off.

There’s so much more I’d like to say, so much more that he deserves to be said in his memory, but right now I’m still reeling from his sudden death. In closing I’ll just state that I’m sharing below a small number of his poems as I feel it would be a shame to lose them to posterity only in the form of a few pieces of folded and stapled together chapbook parchment in his family and friend’s bookshelves. Plus, I believe, that giving them out would appeal to his pinko sympathies. I hope that even lacking his unique voice and delivery someone else can see a small spark of his tremendous energy and talent in them. I hope you enjoy them.

 

Love Poem to a Feminist

Not
An ode to privledged white women
Toting books by bell hooks
Alongside the mirrors and cellphones
In their pocketbooks
Not
An ode to Victorian-era prudes
Tired as Qualudes
Wearing their superior attitudes
Like nun’s habits and collars of starch
Demanding Vegan food on the farmworker march
Love poem to a feminist
Who did not concern herself
With chastising guys
Who use the word guy
Collectively
She never sat at a poetry slam
With a politically correct barometer
Ready stick her dogmatic thermometer
Up the ass of anyone who failed to pass
Her litmus test of acceptable art
Oh,
And she wasn’t no gringo
All bent out of shape
By mi vatos’ street lingo
No
She lived a life of quiet valor
In the bantustans of Palestine
Her hands were dirty
But her heart was clean
A flower in the wasteland
A butterfly in the latrine
Rising like the dawn
A smoulering Phoenix
Spreading wings of kerosene
From the corner of Florence and Normandy
To the refugee camps of Jenin
In the winter of our content
The trough of our desire
In the valley of our despair
In the line of fire
Wafa Ali Idris
Age 25
Had been active as an ambulance volunteer
In the first Intefada
No Feng Shui
No Birkenstocks
She nursed children who through rocks
At tanks and armoured ranks
She dressed wounds under bandages
Covering the empty sockets
Of young boys eyes
Cradled the raw, rank hamburger shanks
Of their shrapnel flayed thighs
Cries and whispers
Whimpers and cries
High pitched screams
Forever dancing in her dreams
Like a settler on the warpath
Bloodthirsty for a bloodbath
Until
One day
She decides
To put the keening to rest
Kneels before God
Straps a bomb to her chest
Jaffa Road marketplace
Jerusalem West
101 hornets stung in their own hornets nest
May she rest in peace
Eternally blessed
In the breast of Jah Almighty
Mighty as Aphrodyte
Wafa
I wrote this poem for you
And Wafa
Your mother is proud of you
Outside your door
It is written
In green paint
That drips fresh
As your martyred blood:
Any people whose women fight
Will be victorious.

No Man is a Villain in His Own Heart

No man is a villain in his own heart…
Ronald Wilson Reagan
Napoleon Bonaparte
No man is a villain in his own heart
Not the slave auctioneer tugging on his ear tearing families apart
Not the child molester in blue polyester stalking the toy aisles of your local K-Mart
No man is a villain in his own heart
Idi Amin wiping his plate clean with an ala carte order of severed genitalia
Washing it down with a shot of Gevalia lie-cure
He thought he was pure
As the virgin Madonna
Feeling his ginsana
As his teeth ripped human flesh like an Amazonian piranha
No man is a villain in his own mind
No blue-eyed devil
Who just got his shoes shined
Will recognize that his immortal soul kind
Of resembles the dried-up twist of lemon rind
He left behind
In a cocktail napkin lined with creases
An unsigned thesis of dread
Whose impossible Braille won’t even be read
By the living dead legions of overfed marionettes
Who rise from nether regions of nightmare and cold sweats
Shellshocked as ‘Nam vets
They lurch and wind
Trying to pass themselves off as humankind
Perpetually blind to the idolatry that has defined
The world that’s been designed
By and for them
Million dollar half-a-men
Making massacres like Tienanmen
No man is a villain in his own bones
The Israeli soldier who listens to the tones
Of techno music through his Sony headphones
As his semi-automatic sput-sput-sputters and groans
As he shoots upon children for throwing stones
At the Ariel Capone’s of occupation
No nation is a villain in its own black soul
Even if that nation’s C.I.A. payroll
Includes thugs that fuck nuns up their bleeding assholes
And hang pregnant women from telephone poles
And blast holes in the terrain
Of every Tarzan and Jane
Who refuse to clear the lane
For the Amtrak train
Of empire

No nation is a villain in its own eyes
Regardless of whether they trouble the skies
Of dirt farmers with B-52 bombers
And churn out Jeffrey Dammer ghouls
From torture schools
Like the S.O.A.
In Ft. Benning, G-A
Where grads learn to burn gonads
And strip fingernail pads
Out among the hush of lush, tall Georgia pine

No man is a villain in his own spine
A bitter grudge against my lover
That burns us both like strychnine
Benign neglect, cause and effect
She lies withering on the vine
She’s given her heart
But I won’t give her mine
She lies weeping on my bed; A.M., 2:09
As I fill up this page
Word by word, line by line
Then reach to refill my empty glass of red wine
No man is a villain in his own spine

There’s a Fascist at the Table

There’s a fascist at the table
Down at my local pub
Gunpowder grey irises
Nose like a .38 snub
No hair on his bullet head
Steel toes in his shoe
He’s a friendly enough fellow
If your skin is the proper hue
There’s a fascist at the table
That aint nothing new
Eating pickled hermelin
Slugging down his brew
Getting all nostalgic
For 1932
When they roamed the streets like wild beasts
The golden dawn of their ancient Greece
There’s a fascist at the table
When the skinheads come to town
Say what you want about the old days here
But THIS would have NEVER been tolerated
Government wringing their hands as to what the right approach is
There is only one way to deal with fucking cock-a-roaches
The police should have cracked open their heads in the streets of České Budějovice
And painted red the cobblestones of its every charming, quaint ulice
To let them know: Ne vice!
Send them to the nemocnice
with punctures in their plice
or back to they vesnice
In pine wood krabice nebo boxes
Because these vermin are led by wolves and foxes
Who will eat us alive
If we allow them to thrive
There’s a fascist at the table
When the brownshirts of Ostrava march
Some fat old oligarch
Planning programs of pogrom
Stirring hate up like napalm
Like Americans in Vietnam
On-line at genocide.com
Trafficking in fear
A fearsome puppeteer
Manipulating marionettes to murder
And you should have heard her
anguished wail
When none of those Nazi’s
went to jail
That put her teen boy into a coma
He was guilty of being Roma
Simple as that
You know,
Sometimes they even put you in an oven for that
There’s a fascist at the table
Of the Board of Directors meeting
There’s a fascist at the table
Reserved for Parliamentary seating
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are carving up the spoils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they are stealing native soils
There’s a fascist at the table
When they kill to drill for ore
There’s a fascist at the table
Every time there is a war
There’s a fascist at the table
But he’s been here before
Last time he left on a stretcher
I’m surprised he came back for more
There’s a fascist at the table
Chesko,
Slovensko,
Lasko,
Pozor

Song with Andrew Procyk

(Fugitive/Militant) in a foreign land
Rusty old (kalashnikov/machete gleamin’) in my hand
it doesn’t really matter if you understand
your hourglass has run
out of sand
You strike the coal till you make it hard
hoeing rows of cane on the boulevard
honing hatred sharp as a diamond shard
make the government call out the national guard
(Chorus)

This one was born in zion
all my fountains are in you
this one was born in zion
ain’t no ape inside your zoo
Deliver us from the minions of debauched inequity
from the bloody rack and pinions of hit and run hypocrisy
beneath the cruel steamrollers of asphalt bureaucracy
that pave over the butcher shops where they commit democracy
(Chorus)

On the Nod

A six-foot tall beetle
With a darkly iridescent carapace
And chili pepper eyes
Scythe arms snipping at the air like half-scissors
Disconnected
As the scene that came before it
The scene that now returns
A sugar cane field burning on a moonless night
Flames reflected off the flat black face
Of a pond standing still
At the foot of a kudzu covered hill
Two hours ago I crushed up a little round pill
Whisper softly now whisper softly now
God lives underwater
Where the rocks are smooth
And anemones groove
To the oldest music of all
As my eyes open to abstractions
As I understand new
Words
Worlds
As my at-least-for-now lady ages gracefully
As we attempt to de-fang the venom between us
Before our watery love turns wooden
But love forsakes us all
We’re better off studying horseplayer odds
Than we are trying to figure the algebra’s of feminine deception
Let X = a red dress that hangs in some forgotten closet
While we drink green beer in bleak neighborhood bars
Claiming to have learned something from the experience
Claiming to have learned ourselves a lesson
As if there is meaning in the dandelion copulations we attempt
As the wind blows us onward
As if there is meaning in the ticking of the clock
Meaning is a senseless koan
We are born we live we die along
Meantime
Lovers lose lovers in the whirlpool swirl
They sleep they dream and the fog disperses
Into the vaginal void of dawn who spreads her legs
Until sunshine emanates from her starry womb
I’m on the nod
Like a narcoleptic
Trembling with epileptic seizures of holy spirit
The truth will make you sick
In sickness there is wisdom
On the nod
Like Chapiquidick bridge
Brainwaves droning like a didge
In an aboriginal forest
A bird of paradise beating like a heart in my chest
Pinballs bounce the bone white walls of my skullcap
My brain is a train following a treasure map
Mirrorball shattering
In the lair of neon tarantulas
Who scuttle in
Grinding teeth
That shine platinum
In the black light
I’m rubbing my eyes
My balls itch
When my eyelids close
Chinese kites
Sacred rites
Arctic dragons breathing ice instead of fire
Lions on the veldt
Escher print wallpaper
On the inside of a ginger bread house
With silver ovens fired up
Hotter than the McVeigh death chamber
Melting oil-on-canvas representations of
Streetcorners half-painted
With cytoplasmic splatters
Pollockesque
In their density
Immensity
Intensity
“Everybody’s looking for something”
Hunters killers prostitutes priests
Bent lonely men casting nets off the pier
Palsied and sere
Septuagenarians shaking bony fingers at phantoms
As the roominghouse walls close in
Enfeebled toothless pigeon feeders
Roaming the park after dark
Sipping malt liquor beers
Flophouse King Lear’s
Drowning in tragedy
Delivering Slurpee cup soliloquies
In the parking lot of the local 7-11
As the sun sets its flaming eye
In some pocket of the sky
Where hypodermic fingertips
Lash the mainline
To heaven.

Africa

Africa
My father and my mother
Africa
I miss you like a lover
Like a best friend who died
Africa
I carry your soil inside the treads of my old blue sneakers
Pantsula for life
Still blasts out the speakers
Of my old hi-fi
Making me wonder why
I ever left the Icarus height
Of that lush mountain crest
Where we took our rest
After scaling sheer rockfaces
Traversing musk soaked places
Where baboons nest
In the breast of Azania
Africa
The anarchy and mayhem of your chaotic frontier
Rushes my ear
Like a rampaging river in flood
(Roasted miele baskets floating atop a human sea)
Africa
The bean counters of the West
Are overcome with detest
Seems your wars of liberation from colonization
Caused a currency fluctuation
That ruined their vacation
Ox-driven carts slow the path to Pretoria
Elephants block traffic in the middle of the road
Your hyenas remind them of their wives back home
The corporate engine won’t start
The cogs too black, too strong, too proud, too smart
Your bushveld too wild for Wal-Mart
Africa
The night we spent north of Louis Tricart
Sitting in a makeshift shebeen
At the edge of a clapboard encampment
Under stars, beside fire
Trading tribal scars for Irish bullshit
Toasting Nelson Mandela with milk carton beers
Africa
Pondering the vastness of your sheltering sky
Watching crocodiles congress over buffalo pie
Africa
Mud huts where tan skins are left out to dry
Cloud the crowded peripheries of my mind’s eye
As sunflower fields whistle by
Like the ululating cry
Of the Coptic Christain guy
Who flagged us down
With the ecstatic panic
Of a rescued castaway
On a military road so remote
It still bore the tank tracks that created it
Except where the root marks of marula fruit trees
Had obliterated it
Africa
How far did he get down that cruel clay road
With the gas we let him siphon?
Does his sweat still bead grainy patinas of pomegrante sweat
Across the blue-black skin of his forehead?
Does the gleaming silver star of his faith still dangle
From its teardrop green lapel
Adorning his breast
Like a medallion of war?
Africa
I wonder
Is your moon swole full tonight?
Africa
You infected me
Like a malarial mosquito bite
When you cradled me in the mystic twilight
Of your ancestors
The freedom songs of your protestors
Steel me for the fight
As I write what I like like Biko
Aint gonna turn the other cheek no
When we march through these streets like Soweto…uh!
Africa
Things have not been right
Since I left Jo-burg airport
On the ill-fated flight
Back to American stagnation
With the taste of the Southern Cross
Mixed with peri-peri sauce
Still lingering
In the mouth
Of my soul.

There is no word

Once you told me this:
“There is no word
For romantic love
In my language.”
It’s been about six years since you left me
On a prayer rug in a fallout shelter
Somewhere East of East Orange, New Jersey
Where greasy-fingered Ginsburg grandmas
Tug their kerchiefs against the cold
Trudging down stairways of gun metal gray
In the shadow of burned out factories
I can still remember your atomic eyes
The air raid sirens and the flaking swelter
Of flesh singed to the bone
To the bone
To the bone
There is a part of you I have always known
And will carry with me wherever
“I am stretched on your grave
And will lie there forever
If your hands were in mine
I am sure we’d not sever”
Anyway, whatever
I get carried away
What can I say?
You know life goes on
Passion and turblulence,
Struggle and solitude,
Love and art
New poems,
New vices
And a new shiv in my heart
I aint trying to pull your fire alarm again
I know our time has passed
Rounded and up and gassed
Like a Warsaw ghetto
We cannot recreate
Those deer in the meadow
That approached us at the sluice
We cannot repaint the hues
Of terraced indigo
That surrounded everything
With a dreamtime glow
Through the whole Spring and Summer of 1995
In that West Paterson attic
Where our love lived and died
Where we once defied
All gravity
Our want like a cavity
That could not be filled
No matter how much we drilled
It was magic and tragic
Beginning to end
My Guajarati Ophelia
Madness did descend
And you drowned in a wreath of violets
While all the Pontius Pilates
Washed their hands as they sank you
I was still a child then
I could not yank you
From the bonds of Hindu tradition
Now that I’m a man
I just want to say thank you
For the cosmic transmission
Of the purest love I will ever know
For the home that you provided when I had nowhere to go
For the clean way you decided to disengage and let go
For the smell of sandalwood and jasmine
On your skin and in your clothes
For the mendhi ink in between your regal toes
For the ring that you wear in your sacred nose
I’ll get down on my knees and propose
If I ever find half the woman you are
All I found is Delilah’s so far
Lying to your face as they strum your guitar
Then they talk about devotion
I am drowning in an ocean of deceit
But once I kissed the sandled feet
Of a Goddess.

Letter to my son, five years gone

Hey champ

what’s the news in your dimension?
I got an invitation to write about you the other day
from an old Gainesville friend
he knew you when you were a little baby
when me you and your mom
were living in married housing
scraping by on Pell Grant money
and my part time job as a windowman
staying together because we loved you
even more than we hated each other
and that’s saying something
(some day I would’ve told you the stories
suffice to say
we were children, so we acted like children)

anyway
this invitation
it shook my foundations
upset my equilibrium
like stirring up an iron pot of steaming gumbo
and the liquid boils over and burns your fucking fingers
but in the process
you move what needs to be moved
from the depths to the surface
first I was disturbed
and then I just put it on the back burner
the way I put you on the back burner
to survive
not so much your memory
but rather the memory of your death
the horror
of you blowing your fucking brains out
on your mom and stepdads bed
while they were at the gym
and I was trying to call you
not that I blame you
you were in pain and
this world is bullshit
you were just a brave boy who knew too much too soon
so don’t think I’m not proud of you
I always was
and this didn’t change that
one iota

Whenever I wonder why
you did what you did
I remember how
sensitive you were
a child without skin
this world
this scheme of things as they call it
the set up of this reality
would have only gotten more and more and more
excruciating and unbearable
for you
as time went on

and there aint no pill for that, lad
believe me, I’ve tried them all
this is just to say:
I know how tiresome it all seemed to you
I know how much you suffered
scratch that, mini-me
Truth is
I knew but I did not know
If I had had any real idea
little man
I would’ve done…
what?
I would’ve done something
Shit
I knew you were a moody kid
but I didn’t think the fault lines ran so deep

your mother loved you
your father loved you
your stepfather loved you
she was responsible
I was bohemian
you got order and you got wonder

it was the best, I thought, of both worlds
you had grandparents, friends, cool clothes and a PS2
you had all the material things I never had
you were cool
which at your age
I never was
part of me can’t figure it out
but the part of me that knows you knows
it’s that same part of me that knows that
even though I was not guilty of your death
that’s not quite the same as being innocent
you know I was going through some shit back then
so I wasn’t there for you
in the way that I normally was
in the way that you needed me to be
I know I disappointed you more than once
over those last 6 months
and so really I blame myself
for what happened
the bottom line is:
it was my job to protect you
to keep you safe
and I failed

the only thing I ever cared about in life
more than my writing
was being a good father to you
was I a good father to you?
You’ll have to answer that question
you’re the only one who can
my opinion?
I suppose,
yes, I was
most of the time
but not when it counted

anyway
we’ve been over all this before
the point of doing it all again
is that now I’m going to put it in a public forum
and label it poetry

I’ve been wrestling with the ethics of this
ever since I realized I was going to do it
usually when I write about you
I only show it to a handful of people
and the idea behind this
is that you are sacred
and therefore exempt
from exploitation

every other experience in my life
from painful break-ups to career implosions to random daily catastrophe
I think to myself
“hey,
at least I can get a good poem out of this”
I never wanted you to fall into that category
you are too important
you meant too much
I didn’t want to pimp your memory
in this one thing
in this one lousy fucking thing
I wanted to not be a whore

on the other hand
I’m compelled to share with the world how fucking special you were
You were a unique and magical lifeform
Who touched everyone you touched
I was blessed by the gift of being your father
I’d hate to let anyone forget
you were the apex of my existence
(my raison d etre
if you’ll allow me to be a douchebag
about it)

“thought of you as my mounaintop
thought of you as my peak
thought of you as everything
I had but couldn’t keep”

And no one’s ever seen me weep for you
but I weep for you
for a year after you died
I’d squeeze the syringe and pray
“God please kill me….
God,
please kill me.”

The grief was water
It swamped my oars
Until I washed up on the shores
of strange and beautiful Moravia

Wish you were here, boy
We would have had a real good time

An Ode to Blindness

And crows refracted wingtips
Clutching field mice in their claws
As she walked through tangerine gardens
Parting arabesques of mist

And snakes wriggled into abstractions
Shutting their velvet eyelids
As she walked through tall grass and out again
Twisting her hair into minarets

And trees dreamed up new cubisms
Bearing brilliant deformities on citrus sleeves
As she walked through skies gone liquid
Swallowing watercolors that lay drying

And husks of dead scorpions trembled
Splitting forth a curious chrysalis
As she walked through my front door
The sun flaring up in her eyes.

Thinking of my dead

September 11th
Always makes me think about the firemen
Who rushed into the towers
Knowing they were pretty much going to die

Then I think about my brother
Who is a fireman
Hope he is safe
And wish we lived closer

After that
Inevitably
I am thinking
Of my dead

My sweet, overtender but bad-assed little child,
The love of my life
Who put a Glock to his temple and squeezed the trigger
The night before Christmas Eve at the age of 14 ½

My grandmother who worker hers

My grandmother who worked herself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked himself to death in the factories
My grandfather who worked in the coalmines and left 2 tips of
his fingers behind at the World Trade Center construction site
My grandmother who came over from Ireland on a refugee boat

The refugee boy who washed up on the beach
Young Trayvon, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland
Victor Jara, Emmett Till, Bobby Hutton, Bobby Sands
All my campesino brothers and sisters who died in the torture
cells, were thrown out of helicopters, whose exposure and thirst-
bloated corpses line the frontera

I am thinking of my dead and I am weeping as I type these
words
I’m thinking of my dead and the best ways to do right by them
That is all