My 2012

January 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Francisco Goya

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Francisco Goya

The year the world didn’t end, but showed us how it’s done.
The year the word “superstorm” was used more often than “superstar.”
The year a black man was re-elected President
The year Charles moved back from Florida
The year I realized how lucky I was
The year I was still heartbroken
The year wicked stepsister Lola came to join my pampered cats
The year Mouchette moved into my bedroom
The year the kitty litter moved into my bedroom
The year I started thinking about when Medicare will kick in
The year Mouchette had 13 teeth removed
The year read my poems in public for the first time in 35 years
The year I baked a lot of pies
The first year of my adult life in which I did not have sex
The year I stopped worrying about that
The year our credit card debt surpassed our income
The year Charles was finally happy, playing guitar all day
The year I decided if they want my apartment, they’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands
The year I didn’t kill myself, after all


“You’re not going to kill yourself. You’re stronger than dirt.”—Philip Russo, January 2012

How strong is dirt? It endures, yes, but it just lies around, becoming soil, creating dust, actualizing the ground of being. Dirt enfolds. It nurtures, keeping seeds safe in the dark, then encouraging the thready roots to move through as they will, toward sun, water, each other. Plants talk. Dirt is their language. A fine element, no question, but a woman as strong as dirt—if she doesn’t kill herself, what does that mean?

That she knows the names of the dead
That she finds the doll in the coffin and the bullets in the poet
That her brain holds lost cities of antiquity
That she still lingers under the bed
That she’s as dirty as a street orphan
That she’s as dirty your most secret fantasy
That just because you walk all over her doesn’t mean she’s forgotten the concept avalanche
That someday she’ll fill your ears and mouth and nostrils
That she commands an army of beetles

Public Transportation

She is perfectly ordinary, a cashmere scarf
snugly wrapped around her neck. She is
a middle age that is crisp, appealing in New York.
She is a brain surgeon or a designer of blowdryers.
I know this because I am in her skin this morning
riding the bus, happy to be not young, happy to be
thrilled that it is cold and I have a warm hat on.
Everyone is someone other than you think
under her skin. The driver does not have
a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his metal
lunchbox. He has caviar left over from New Year’s
and a love note from his mistress, whom he just left
on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street.
When she steps off his bus to take over the wheel
of the crosstown No. 8, she knows she is anything
but ordinary. She climbs under the safety bar
and straps the belt on over her seat. She lets
the old lady who is rich but looks poor take her time
getting on. She lets the mugger who looks like
a parish priest help her. She waits
as we sit, quiet
in our private, gorgeous lives.

Elaine Sexton

Give Thanks to Suffragettes

November 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Women voting in New York, 1917

Voting was great except for the curmudgeonly old man.

I walked a few blocks on a cool, sunny day to a local elementary school. Comedy Central had set up a booth outside, giving away stickers. I left Charles to chat with them, went inside and voted. It took me no more than ten minutes. After getting my ballot, the line for the booths had two people in it and when a booth came free we each said, “after you,” “no, after you.” Finally someone who hadn’t been in line at all took the booth. When it was my turn, the pen didn’t work, so I used my own pen and left it there. After putting the ballot through the scanner, I went out to the lobby and stopped at the table covered with cookies, brownies, cupcakes and candy—a benefit for hurricane victims, food provided by local bakeries and Lilac Chocolates. I admired the wares, then as one of the women started to describe each item, said, “I’m sorry, I wish I had cash with me!” She said, “Take what you want. I’ll cover it.” I was embarrassed but took a cookie. Charles was still voting so I walked to a new, tiny storefront bank a block away and got cash from the ATM. There weren’t any tellers but when I asked the people behind the desks if I could break a $20—and why—they were very happy to do so and we chatted about lines at polls, etc. I told them to bring extra pens. I went back to the school and gave the bake sale woman $10. She thanked me extravagantly. Then I lingered in the lobby talking to people about how great it was seeing everyone vote.

Finally, Charles appeared. He said, “You couldn’t have voted that fast. You must have jumped the line. Or else you just pretended to vote.”

I’ve discovered a great comic poet from the suffragette era.

A Consistent Anti to Her Son
(“Look at the hazards, the risks, the physical dangers that ladies would be exposed to at the polls.”—Anti-suffrage speech.)

You’re twenty-one to-day, Willie,
And a danger lurks at the door,
I’ve known about it always,
But I never spoke before;
When you were only a baby
It seemed so very remote,
But you’re twenty-one to-day, Willie,
And old enough to vote.
You must not go to the polls, Willie,
Never go to the polls,
They’re dark and dreadful places
Where many lose their souls;
They smirch, degrade and coarsen,
Terrible things they do
To quiet, elderly women—
What would they do to you!
If you’ve a boyish fancy
For any measure or man,
Tell me, and I’ll tell Father,
He’ll vote for it, if he can.
He casts my vote, and Louisa’s,
And Sarah, and dear Aunt Clo;
Wouldn’t you let him vote for you?
Father, who loves you so?
I’ve guarded you always, Willie,
Body and soul from harm;
I’ll guard your faith and honor,
Your innocence and charm
From the polls and their evil spirits,
Politics, rum and pelf;
Do you think I’d send my only son
Where I would not go myself?

Fashion Notes: Past and Present

1880—Anti-suffrage arguments are being worn long, calm and flowing this year, with the dominant note that of woman’s intellectual inferiority.
1890—Violence is very evident in this season’s modes, and our more conservative thinkers are saying that woman suffrage threatens the home, the Church and the Republic.
1900—A complete change of style has taken place. Everything is being worn a l’aristocrate, with the repeated assertion that too many people are voting already.
1915—The best line of goods shown by the leading anti-suffrage houses this spring is the statement that woman suffrage is the same thing as free love. The effect is extremely piquant and surprising.

Alice Duer Miller


January 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

Harold Mabern

Since I felt like the world ended last year, but I survived anyway, I assume 2012 will be no big deal. Another birthday, another summer, another election. The war is over. Long live the war. And so on.

To backtrack to 2011 (the good part), on Christmas night, Charles and I went to hear Eric Alexander, Harold Mabern, Louis Hayes and John Webber (saxophone, piano, drums, bass) at Smoke, a small Upper Westside club that I thought I’d been to before, but apparently hadn’t. The music was enthralling—rich, dense, tight. We stayed for 2 sets, and I would have stayed for a 3rd if I hadn’t been tipsy enough already. It was the right moment to leave, with the music still sending electric pulses to my imagination, making story ideas rise with every breath—some of them even remembered in the morning. I want that night again. It didn’t feel as much like Christmas as when I’m with my family, but it was glorious.

We did a little work during the week, had lunch with our darling nieces in Chinatown, and dinner with Lisa and Caitlin at my place. Good food, beloved women. Caitlin, who’d been in Zucotti Park presenting a proposal for funds for OccupyOakland, announced a new desire to abolish gender. I don’t want that. I’d rather occupy it.

On New Year’s Eve we went to the Cathedral for the annual concert for peace. Judy Collins, a Cathedral Artist in Residence, opened the evening. She sang two songs; the first, “Song for Duke” was written after attending Duke Ellington’s funeral at the Cathedral in 1973. There were 14,000 people there on that occasion—the Cathedral record, according to a long-time congregant I was sitting next to. Judy’s voice, a cappella, was an astonishment: as pure and clear as in her youth but with the control and nuance of age.

At the end we all lit the tapers we’d been given with our programs and sang “This little light of mine” as we wandered out. I was a bit scared of a conflagration: it was all to easy to picture a candle setting someone’s hair on fire, and then people dropping their own candles as they rush to help, flames leaping merrily among the celebrants. It didn’t happen, and hasn’t in 30 years. Okay. Maybe I’ll risk it again next year.

New Year’s Day we woke to a little pool of cat vomit containing a dead but intact cockroach. Did Vomit Girl inhale it then puke it up or did the insect choose to die in what must pass for a cockroach cornucopia? This mystery returned us to the humble rhythm of our days.

And now? Charles is printing pictures. It provides an opportunity to hear him use every curse word and phrase in his vocabulary. “Douche bag. Jackass. You dirty little filthy fuck. How can a machine be so stupid?…OK, I jerked it off, now it’s going to do it. You have to be careful with these little shitheads…Jesus! Now what! You bastard! This is going to drive me nuts! This is the one that’s taking me over the edge.”

Meanwhile, Mouchette sleeps with one paw over her ears.

To hear Judy Collins sing “Song for Duke,” click below.

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