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In my words, May 6 – 12

The photo above is Life Cafe, or what is left of Life Cafe, 10th Street and Avenue B, NYC. (Oh those were the days!)

Confucius—or was it Lao Tzu?—said that we should never be too happy on a good day because a good day is often followed by a bad one, and we should never be too unhappy on a bad day because that is often followed by good one. I kept thinking of that this week. Hopefully I helped my students learn English. Hopefully I did some finished work with sonnets. On Friday the spire went up on the World Trade Center and it’s complete. There it was this Sunday morning, as high as it gets, on the southern horizon. On Friday I took another walk with my friend Tom through Central Park. It wasn’t so much blossoms now as fragrances, the smell of lilacs on the wind, petals falling everywhere. The yellow dandelions had become white puffs on stems that children ran to pick and blow up and out into the wind.

It was a creepy week too with the three women in Ohio held captive for ten years. I couldn’t help but think of that six year old girl, never outside in the light, mother raped again and again. I tried to imagine, putting myself in the little girl’s place. How has her brain developed? We don’t just become ourselves. We are helped by our mothers and fathers and those around us. Without other people you can’t possibly know who you are. What has this little girl learned raised up in the dark?

The World Trade Center on Saturday afternoon right before the thunderstorm

I was going through papers and found something that I’d written when I first began teaching, helping young parents get their GEDs. Here’s what I wrote in March 2001, three months before the execution of Timothy McVeigh, six months before 911:

When I mention Uganda to my class, nobody knows where it is. I point out Africa on the map, zoom into Uganda. “There are too many people,” I tell them and we begin to read, searching for subjects and verbs, about a little boy in Uganda, whose parents were killed in the civil war there. Some chimpanzees, ransacking the massacred village afterward, found the baby and raised him. He was found by rebel soldiers five years later, completely a little monkey. While we’re reading, a student’s daughter runs into class from the nursery (she’s about three) and takes the piece of chalk out of my hand and scribbles running along the bottom of the blackboard, making erratic lines and almost circles. I tell them, “This is something she has learned from us. She knows what chalk is and tries to write. This isn’t instinct what she does. It’s her behavior.” She’s a happy little girl, dark unlike her mother, with a nappy head, bright and well cared for. She’s not afraid of me or anyone. Everywhere in the room she sees safety and love. Who knows? Maybe one day she’ll be a teacher or something even greater. In Uganda I’m told no one shows much affection to their babies; the infant mortality rate is high; there is no percentage in it. Is that why, when they get older, Ugandans seem to be able to hack through each other so easily with a machete? I’m being ethnocentric. What about Timothy McVeigh? How do we explain him?

What about Ariel Castro? How do we explain him? Or Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? What makes a man lack empathy, so removed he can rape and beat a woman or blow up people with a bomb? Teenage girls in America have set up a Facebook page called “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Is Innocent” because they can’t believe anyone so cute could have done so terrible a thing. My mother, who was a Christian, used to say that Satan was a very handsome man, or a beautiful woman depending. We should listen to our mothers. It all has something to do with the mother, doesn’t it? The father too, but today is Mother’s Day so let’s think about her. Whether we are born healthy or born ill, at the essence of ourselves there has to be the nurturer, the Mother, the one who talks to us and shows us as she holds us. Without her, what are we? We are chimpanzees, that’s it.

Mind by Akram

My mother wasn’t afraid of snakes; she wasn’t afraid of anything. She loved and there is no fear in that. One thing I learned from her was how to make sauerkraut. My mother was a generous person so she would like the idea of sharing it with you. Happy Mother’s Day. Nobody loves you like your mother. If she’s there, give her a kiss. If she’s not then make a wish. Although the sonnet has changed a little bit, the recipe hasn’t.

Sonnet 84

My only brother with his bulldozer
pushed the brush away from the day lilies
uprooting thorns and sumac completely
around the bed revealing for mother
those common flowers in all their glory.
Now if only she’ll come to look at them
making her way to the lower yard and
sitting on the swing there near the swamp see
how the long hard stalk shooting up becomes
a flame in flames just like the fireworks
are going to explode July the Fourth.
Look, here she comes to watch the explosions
noticing the swallows swooping above.
Nothing animates us more than love.

The World Trade Center this morning with a cloud


  1. Thank You for saying it for me.

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