In my words, June 3 – 9

I’ve been going through papers and found a piece I wrote on June 11, 2001 called The Last Day of School. I was teaching at a public school then in a federally funded program helping inner city parents who’d been high school dropouts pass their GED tests. June 11, 2001 was the day Timothy McVeigh was executed. It will be twelve years ago this Tuesday. 9/11 was a few months away.

Monday, June 11, 2001

I took a walk before class along the East River. One lone loon stretched its serpent head and neck out of the rolling swells to dive, disappeared. Timothy McVeigh was going to be killed that morning sent into eternity with political expedience. My colleague Nancy told me, “At the time of the Oklahoma bombing, I was at a restaurant and saw it on television. I thought it had happened someplace like Kuwait. When I realized it was the United States and saw the bodies and dead babies, I couldn’t eat. And I’d just started with the appetizer.”

Every student in my class knew who Timothy McVeigh was and what he had done. I looked at my watch. It was nine o’clock. I said, “Right now he is dying. Probably he’s already dead.”

“If he didn’t ask God to forgive him, he is burning in hell,” Laticia said.

I ask, “Are murderers like weeds in a garden that we have to pull out, so we don’t destroy the vegetables and flowers?”

“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Laticia answers.

I know that Laticia’s a Christian and tell her: “That’s the Old Testament, not the New. Didn’t Jesus say he who is without sin cast the first stone?”

She knows the quote by heart and says it with me. It has her quietly thinking, as her best friend Sandra states, “Capital punishment is wrong. Sometimes they execute innocent people, especially if they’re black.”

“Or maybe just white and poor,” I tell her.

“I’m for it. It makes people think twice before they kill anyone. Don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time,” smiles Maritza, quoting Robert Blake’s Barreta.

Iris, who is always sleepy, unless we’re doing math, which is when she wakes up and participates, says through bleary eyes and heavy lids: “I don’t know. All those dead people had families, but Timothy McVeigh had family too. I’m against it, but if it happened to a member of my family, I know I would see it differently.”

“Timothy McVeigh is, or should I say was, a lost soul searching for light,” says Lydia. “He had no love in his heart. He was ill, in desperate need of help. When you give someone capital punishment you are as evil and bad as that person.”

“Hey!” says Laticia, “many of us in this room had abused childhoods. That doesn’t give us the right to go out and murder someone.”

“In most of the world capital punishment doesn’t exist,” I tell them. “It is practiced in the United States and Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia where there still are slaves and women have no rights.”

Sandra agrees. She saw on TV that a woman in Saudi Arabia was bitten bloody all over her body by her husband. When she ran to the police for protection, they gave her back to him, because she was his property.

The women in my class, all of color, bristle at the thought of slavery and being bitten. I can see they’re angry and add, “George Bush is for capital punishment. It helped get him elected.” It amuses me to watch Laticia, who dislikes the president, realize that she and George Dubya have something in common.

“Mister,” calls Carmen. She is a few years older than I am, gray with large dark eyes, an attractive well-kept woman, who is mildly retarded and angrily says with a heavy Puerto Rican accent: “We are not God. Only God can take life because God gave it. Man is not nothing,” Carmen says, using a double negative that she quickly erases: “Man is something.” It brings tears to my eyes, and I turn my head, so my students won’t think that I’m crying.

Today, June 8, 2013 is a peaceful day after a night of hard rain. Friday the rain from Hurricane Annie came without any wind, poured straight down, hard and constant. I had all the windows open and hardly a drop fell on the windowsill for all the hours the rain fell. This morning I’m cleaning up the laptop screen, putting photos and writing into folders, folder into folder: subjects, months and years and sometimes even days. To clean the cluttered kitchen, I organized all the recyclables and took them down to the trash: newspapers and letters, jars and bottles, styrofoam now and plastic spoons from Chinese takeout. Too much stuff! I need to find a good-sized plastic tub with a tight lid to keep the vegetable scraps for compost. All winter I just hung a doubled plastic bag from the window and threw the coffee grounds and banana skins in. It never stank. But today, the fruit flies have appeared, rising and falling in a dusty swarm every time I throw in an onion skin. So far they haven’t really been a nuisance; they seem to stay in the bag where the rotting is; and we could go on happily like this all summer, who knows? If they don’t leave the bag, if they stay where they are, I’ll just take them down to the garden to compost when the bag’s full and they will be happy there too.

The end of May and the beginning of June were lousy. It became hot suddenly after being cold. A friend on Facebook, a NY friend and an old friend died. It was kind of Wham! Bam! Thank you, Mam! Allergies added to the gloom. Every three years some allergy gets me, makes me cough until I wretch. My throat and upper chest get sore and I end up hoarse. I feel like I have a fever although I don’t, I have no energy at all, and everywhere I look are premonitions of death and doom. Sunday and Monday were bad, then it rained, and after that came June as it should be, sunny, warm, brisk, clear, a blue sky with a cool breeze that is refreshing and doesn’t chill.

Wednesday, although not feeling well, I attended the memorial for Anselm Hollo at Saint Mark’s Church. Anselm died at the age of 79, which is sad, but a little more natural and expected than my three friends who died the week before. Hollo, a wonderful thoughtful funny and influential poet, had many who’d come to honor him. The place was packed. There were poets I hadn’t seen in a long time and I thought to myself, “When children see old people, they see old people. When old people see old people, they see the people they knew when they were young.” At least I do. Over there was Bob Holman, for example, a little plumper, but I see him dancing in front of a band (1983?) and he’s drunk and has a hat on—Well, some things never change. (And don’t get me wrong. I like to drink myself.) Whenever I see Bob, he kisses me, or maybe it’s me who kisses him. In the 1980s, I was in a play Bob directed called Paid on Both Sides by W. H. Auden; the first thing Auden ever wrote and it was awful. But doing the play was fun. Bob said to me, “When people come to rehearsal, they have headphones on and they’re snapping their fingers. When you come to rehearsal, you don’t have headphones on and you’re snapping your fingers.” That was nice.

Bob Holman

Patricia Spears Jones was at Anselm Hollo’s memorial too. She saw me, but I didn’t see her. She was in Paid on Both Sides like I was. All of us would dress and undress in the same dressing room. I’ve seen Patricia Jones naked! Now in my old age, I have the option of seeing Patricia without or without clothes. I wonder how she looks at me. Whenever you see anybody over sixty looking, trust me, they are looking.

Patricia Spears Jones

I left with Michael Lally who said, “I thought Anselm’s wife and ex-wife read beautiful tributes to him. Me,”—Michael extended his arm with a wave of his hand—“I’ve had wives straight off the covers of magazines, but Anselm Hollo, he had wives.” I enjoyed the walk and talk because I had never been intimate with Michael before; I’d never seen him drunk or naked. When I told him I was going on 64, he waved his hand again. “I’m 71; you’re a kid. Enjoy your 60s; they’re great!” Michael looks pretty much as he did in the 1970s, but grayer of course, thinner, and there’s a slight concave there on the side of his head where his brain operation had been; the removal of what turned out to be a benign tumor. Michael wasn’t sure where his car was, but he found it. “I’d rather drive. Trains and subways disorient me. Getting old is a bitch,” the dashing Lally smiled and said driving back to New Jersey to get his fifteen year old bathed and to bed as I waved goodbye to him and went home to bed myself (or did I play guitar first?) I like Michael Lally. When my friend Bernadette had a stroke, he sent her five thousand dollars. Nobody knows that, I bet. And maybe I shouldn’t have said it, but anyway I did.

Bruce Andrews, Michael Lally, Ray DiPalma

Wings by Akram

I see how strong a fragile thing can be.
Look! A butterfly is spreading its wings
over its own reflection fluttering
out in the middle of a pond so deep
and close you’d think no insect strength could last
the distance needed to reach land, yet up
it goes above the wide-mouthed bass that jumps
and Death itself waits for it to stick fast
soggy and drown. Like a visible song
singing against all odds a gust of wind
catches it and catches it again
casting it down toward the half sunk log
it flies along and stretches out to soar
vanishing in the branches on the shore.

This week I may have finished a poem I’ve been working on for a long time. I was putting together a vimeo of May Swenson reading her poem The DNA Molecule and as I kept editing it, I kept rehearing the end of the poem that has the metamorphosis of a butterfly in it. She used the verb stretch to describe one action of the butterfly and I thought to myself, “Why can’t I?” Even when you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s important to be doing something because honestly one thing leads to another.

Leave a Reply