In my words, August 19 – 25

Years ago when I was flush, I bought a bunch of passes to the Russian Baths on 10th Street. Cleaning through drawers, I found the card with one pass left. It’s been over seven years, but believe it or not, the pass is still good. So today for sure the baths and after that a pedicure, which I do for my feet, getting nails cut and cleaned, the calves, ankles and soles massaged; not at all a luxury, but a healthy needed thing. In the afternoon, there’s a poetry reading with Mark Statman and Katherine Koch at Zinc Bar and the evening will see a party hosted by Elinor Nauen and Maggie Dubris on their rooftop looking down on First Avenue. Today’s a bunch of hypotheticals. I just woke up. I haven’t even poured my second cup of coffee. Sunday morning has barely a footprint yet.

This Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and there’s nothing hypothetical about that. Fifty years ago it happened on a Wednesday too. There was a large commemorative march on Saturday. I listened to Al Sharpton give a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. I appreciated his oratory: the reverend was stirring and full of what we have to do, again the hypothetical future. “We’re on our way!” he said.

This week also Tea Partiers held rallies around the country hanging white sheets with Impeach Obama written on them over the overpasses along major highways. In your face racism, but the Tea Party says it isn’t. Tea Partiers believe what they say is true just because they say it. They don’t need or want proof, which makes them fools and what their part of the country is coming to.

I come from a family that argued about politics. Lester Yorty, my grandfather, organized the union at the Cornwall Ore Mines in the 1930s and 40s, and was a Labor Democrat. My father resembles his father in politics and I resemble mine. At Sunday dinner, after church, in the 50s and the 60s, I remember at the table there would often be a fight between my grandfather and his son-in-law, my uncle who was in the military, conservative and anti-union. The fight would escalate when my father joined in, the roast beef and mashed potatoes forgotten; and if other uncles happened to be there as well (one on the left and one on the right) the argument could grow into heated shouts, which stopped as soon as my grandmother started crying, getting up to go sob in the living room where the family soon followed, gathering, quieting down to watch baseball or football depending on the season.

Viola Liuzzo

I remember an argument between my father and an uncle. It was in my father’s house in the archway between the dining room and the living room. They were both standing facing each other. It was 1965 and it seemed like the walls shook. It was about the murder of Viola Liuzzo, the housewife from Detroit who went South to help in the voting drives, and was murdered while giving a young black man a ride. My uncle argued that white people should not be involved in the civil rights movement. My father argued that white people had to be involved in the civil rights movement—How could they not be? My uncle said that Viola Liuzzo deserved to be dead; she was meddling in affairs that were not her business; she was a communist, a sexually permissive woman who went south to sleep with young black men. My uncle was repeating the lies that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI were spreading, but no matter, history has proved my uncle wrong and my father right; and they’re both still alive; my uncle joined the Tea Party and my father, as you might guess, voted for the president. My uncle will always be a racist, but I love him nonetheless because he was good to me when I was young; children don’t forget; I don’t have to condone but neither do I have to forget.

Dad, an old white man who voted for the president

It’s Sunday evening now; I’m home and writing this. I never did get to the the baths or the pedicure, but I worked like crazy on some sonnets, and then went to the gym. I did get to the reading and the party and both were a lot of fun; people I hadn’t seen in awhile like Jacob Burkhart were there and it was good to talk. Until the day is over, you don’t know how it will end. This week was my first week at the age of 64, and I remembered what Mark Twain said, “Live your life so that even the undertaker will be sad to hear that you are dead.” How do we do that? Through love I think.

And speaking of love, here is a sonnet I wrote for Rosa Parks.

Out of the ordinary there will come
from time to time the good and very brave
extraordinary, someone who can save
us from our own damned selves and make us one
humanity. Children take Rosa Parks
for an example, a common seamstress
who sat herself in a seat where she was
told she couldn’t. Some said she was too dark.
Justice became evident and the fact
that a quiet woman can unsever
people divided, sew them together
nobody free till all are freed at last.
One little candle gives light to the night.
Truth is simple. It’s visible. It’s sight.

Nothing says love like food. This week, dear reader, before you march, you need something good to eat. Here is what I’m offering, not the whole meal, perhaps, but a substantial condiment.

Apple Chile Salad

Pickle jalapeños with some carrots and celery. Boil them in vinegar and water for about ten minutes, long enough for the shiny chiles to grow dull. I use a lot of vinegar. You might not want to.

Chop apples and eat some while you do it. Sometimes the skins can be a little thick so be careful with the knife. Don’t let it slip.

You want your parsley crisp, fragrant and fresh. Wash your parsley well and then dry it by pressing it gently in a paper towel or something absorbent. You can even squeeze it in your palms, but gently. When you chop wet parsley, it gets soggy.

Lemons are important. The juice will keep the apples from browning. And when you use lemon juice, you don’t need salt.

With clean hands, dig in and mix. Nothing does it better than the hands. Mix that salad well. Get that the lemon juice on everything.

It’s ready. Enjoy. It is a great side dish. It goes well with bread and cheese too. Think of thick dark bread with some Stilton.

Today I picked Uncle Al’s tomatoes
for the last time. Many were over-ripe
rotten, had cracked or fallen. I was tired
but constant and making an effort to
exercise, bent holding my abdomen
in reaching into the vines to find them
ready and easily pulled from their stems
taking a lot of green ones putting them
at the bottom of the baskets. I’m going
to New York, and will give some to friends, keep
the rest for as long as I possibly
can because there is no better eating
than a tomato from a man who knows
how to plant it well and make it grow.

My Uncle Al was not an outwardly loving man; he wanted to be left alone and plant his garden. He was stern, set in his ways, stubborn to the point of cutting off his nose to spite his face; but he did find ways to love—Don’t we all?—by giving away the vegetables he raised, just like the tomatoes in the sonnet that he gave to me. Uncle Al, a Korean War vet, was a liberal by the way; he liked Burt Lancaster and not John Wayne.

“Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?” Shakespeare asked. Martin Luther King, Christ and Mohammad, Buddha, Gandhi and John Lennon asked it too. What if all the Christians in the world asked themselves that question and then did what Jesus asked them to do, to beat their guns into plow blades and help the poor. God is love, so shouldn’t they start transforming those guns into love? You can’t serve two Masters, Jesus said. It’s either God or guns and God is not a gun, God is love.

Sonnet 10 by William Shakespeare

For shame, deny that thou bear’st love to any,
Who for thyself art so unprovident.
Grant, if thou wilt, thou art beloved of many,
But that thou none lov’st is most evident;
For thou art so possessed with murderous hate
That ‘gainst thyself thou stick’st not to conspire.
Seeking that beauteous roof to ruinate
Which to repair should be thy chief desire.
O, change thy thought, that I may change my mind;
Shall hate be fairer lodged than gentle love?
Be, as thy presence is, gracious and kind,
Or to thyself at least kind-hearted prove:
Make thee another self, for love of me,
That beauty still may live in thine or thee.

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