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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Poem: Up the Rabbit Hole

You are the trap door through which I fell

down, down, down into the dark rabbit hole.
You wallowed in that darkness, content to stay there.

I stayed with you for a while.
We held hands, feeling our way together.

Then I scrambled toward the surface,
the light calling me, drawing me up.

At the crest of that hole, I reached back for you.
“Take my hand,” I said.

You stood in the shadow
the earth soft and loose, sifting down to settle on your shoulders.
You turned away.
You wouldn’t come up, couldn’t come up, didn’t dare.

I climbed out, over the lip, out of that hole
to face the light of day by myself.

But I squatted by that opening for days and days,
watching, waiting.
For weeks and weeks,
watching, waiting.
Months, years.
Watching, waiting.

I called your name.
Whispered it in the thin light of the waning moon.
Shouted it at the break of dawn.
Cried it out in the dark of night.
Cried piteously for you.
You did not answer.

I peered down the hole.
Hello-o-o-o! I called.

“Yes, I’m here,” you finally said,
small and quiet, having drunk the wrong potion.
I stretched my hand back down the hole and
felt your fingertips graze mine
then withdraw beyond my touch.

But I saw you, a wisp of grey, hiding in the shadows.
Pressing into the dark earth, retreating far past
the reach of my hand, the strength of my heart, the call of my voice.

© 2005 Birdstory Publications

Friday, August 26, 2005

Why Young Men Fight Wars

A young man in my class tells me he's shipping out for boot camp soon. I am surprised. In our class discussions, he has been very critical of Bush and the Iraq War, yet he's joined up.

"Oh, Michael," I say. "I'm going to worry about you. But maybe you won't be sent over to Iraq. Not everyone goes to Iraq." But where else would he go; where else would they send him?

"No," he says. "I'm definately headed for Iraq."

"How do you know?" I ask.

"Because I joined the Marines and they guaranteed I'd see duty in Iraq," he tells me.

No doubt, I think. They won't guarantee decent VA benefits when you get home; they won't guarantee body armor when you go, and they won't guarantee when your tour of duty will end, but they will guarantee they'll send you to Iraq, to kill and maim perhaps and to be killed or maimed perhaps. Regardless, it's a guarantee; you won't come back the same. For ill or good, once you go, you won't come back the same; you won't be the same Michael Santiago ever again.

But I don't say this to my student. Of course I don't. My heart is sinking. I don't know whether to shake him, slap him, scream at him, are you out of your fucking mind? What about your poor mother? Or hug him. All those responses somehow seem appropriate, even though I'm just his teacher. I'm just one of his college instructors. But he is young, and handsome, and vital, and boyishly sweet, and he reminds me of my own son, so I hug him.

"I don't know what to say,"I say.

"Say you're proud of me." he tells me. "I'm going to watch my brothers' backs over there." He means brothers figuratively; he has no brothers in the military, though he might later - younger brothers who might follow his lead.

I hug him again. "I am proud of you," I say. But really I'm scared and worried. Yet how can you say that to a bright, energetic 21-year old, who is grinning ear-to-ear and whose clear eyes are focused right on yours and whose tanned, clean, open face is blushing just a bit? You can't. "Why did you join?" I ask.

"For college money," he says. "I want to go to film school."

"Wow," I say. "Film school - that's cool. So I expect to see an awesome documentary on Iraq in the future, with the name Michael Santiago on it. "

He grins. And his blush deepens. "Yes," he tells me, "you will someday."

Or, I think, I'll see your name in the newspaper, along with the names of other mothers' boys who have died. But it's a guarantee; they won't show your coffin, long and narrow, somber and stern, draped with a US flag, on TV or in the papers.

He joined for college money. He's here at a community college, but he wants to go to film school in LA, and he doesn't have that kind of dough. I want to ask him if he's worried about never being able to collect that college money. About maybe coming home without hands, or legs, or a brain. Or coming home in a box. Or so depressed, he won't be able to move through his days in anything other than a fog. Why do young men do this? Don't they get it? They might die.

And the answer becomes clear to me. No, they don't get it at all. They don't think they might die. It's that simple. I remember years ago, listening to my father tell me stories about his youth. He served on a carrier in the Pacific during WWII. He told me how one day, he and his buddy were on deck and a Japanese bomber flew over and strafed the ship. He and his buddy hit the deck. And after the plane disappeared into the blue sky, my dad got up, but his buddy didn't. Dead. "I was really scared then," my father told me. "I knew then I could die."

Two weeks later, he volunteered for duty on a fighter plane. Far more dangerous than serving on the carrier. "But Dad,"I asked, "how could you do that? Especially after your buddy died?"

"I was young," he told me. "That moment on deck with the Japanese strafing us and my buddy dying - that was fleeting. I was young. I didn't think it could really happen to me."

Young men are convinced of their invincibility, their immortality. It can't happen, it won't happen to them. And so we should be looking out for them, not letting them slip off to wars based on lies and fought simultaneously against and for a people that never said "come liberate us" to begin with. I'm a pacifist at heart, or so I claim, but I know that some wars are worth fighting; some wars are necessary; sometimes you must risk life and limb and peace of mind - not for a cause per se, not because a leader deceives a nation into war, but for people, people who need you to fight for them, who want you to fight for them. Sometimes you have to fight.

But this isn't one of those times, and no one is protecting these young men. The government preys on them, shows them ads that speak of honor, independence, nobility, appealing to the desire of these young men to be those things, to be strong, to be heroes. And appealing to their parents too, who want their sons to be those things also. And our young men are given war video games to play, to pump them up, jack them up, get them hot and excited and bothered and bursting with unbridled testosterone. But we should be looking out for them, protecting them. And we're not.

I'm not. I'm hugging Michael and telling him I'll light a candle for him, instead of arguing with him, trying to bring him to reason. Instead of taking to the streets and howling and screaming and demanding that we figure a way out of this war, a way that protects our young men, but doesn't do any more damage to the country we invaded - because we are there now, and we've made a mess, and we need to clean it up. We owe our young men, and we owe the Iraqis too.

But, I think, I do do something: I write letters. I write letters to the editor, to my senators, to my congressman. I protested before the war started. And I vote, for all the good it doesn't do me, I still vote. But I'm not protecting anyone. The young men are going. The young women too.

My dad was lucky; I hope Michael is lucky too.

* Michael Santiago is a fictious name, but this student & this exhange is true. The student was in my summer class and is in boot camp right now.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

"He Hates Us For Our Freedom"

Doug St. Clair of Orinda writes in the SF Chron, Letters to the Editor:

Dear Editor,
It is no mystery why President Bush refuses to visit San Francisco.
He hates us for our freedom.

I love irony.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Irrelevance of Sunday's Lead, Front-Page News

I'm reading the Sunday paper. I prefer the real paper over the Internet version - the real paper arrives at my doorstep with a thick, satisfying plop. I read the news online too (more options, more viewpoints, less expensive yet environmentally sound), but I like the feel of the newspaper between my fingers, the sound of the pages crinkling when I turn them; I like opening up the pages, folding them back, then in half. I like dropping and plopping each section to the floor as I finish with it, like having the pages scattered about until I retrieve them, after my coffee, and straighten them up, sometimes reviewing, sometimes catching something I missed in the first read. And I like clipping out articles to post on the refridgerator with a Grateful Dead magnet. Of course, if I find something I want to use in a class, I go online and print it out - easier to copy for students that way. And I read the news online during the week a lot; but on Sundays, I like to nestle into the cushions of the slatted, wooden bench on my balcony, stack my favorite Sunday paper sections next to me, and read and browse through the pages, coffee cup in hand.

I always start with the front page, a quick perusal and shuffle through that section and move on to browse indiscriminately back and forth between nation and world news, the op-eds, news about the Giants and the book reviews. This morning, the front page gives me pause. Not because it bears such horrible news, or noteworthy news, but for its complete irrelevance.

The front page of the Sunday SF Chron sports a two-column, top-half page spread with pictures and text which sports the headline: BUSH KEEPS SF AT BAY. This is the lead article of the front page. It's continued on page A10. Marc Sandalow, the Chron's Washington Chief Bureau, writes about the different reasons and the significance of Bush's boycott of the Bay Area. But so what? Who cares? Why is this article the dominant article on the front page? Granted, it's interesting - Sandalow gives a little history and statistical perspective (every president beginning with Rutherford Hayes in 1880 has visited San Francisco, except W. and hey, I always love the tale about Warren G. Harding dying at the Palace Hotel - it's wonderful San Francisco lore), but this is not news, and what Sandalow has offered here isn't even worthy analysis and commentary. Ok, we get a little analysis - Sandalow tells us that "it says something about the evolution of San Francisco or the inclinations of the current president, or perhaps both" that Bush's no-visit policy "is regarded as common sense." Sandalow doesn't go to much depth explaining just exactly what THAT says about SF or Bush.

So this article is old hat and rides on the surface, yet it's on the front page taking up more space than the news analysis article next to it: The Iranian factor in Iraq insurgency (and note that this headline ISN'T in all caps).

And browsing through this section, I see plenty of articles far more worthy of the lead place on the front page than Sandalow's well-written but meaningless and irrelevant report of Bush's absence in San Francisco (hello! duh! We all know he hasn't visited us; we all know he ain't gonna, and quite frankly, I don't think we care! If he were to visit, protestors would just be shuffled off to a "Free Speech Zone" - Orwell is digging that from the grave (yeah, bad pun intended) - and tie up traffic on the bridges and freeways and major city streets - who needs Bush to visit? There'd be no substantive talk anyway, from Bush, from the Dems, from protesting organizations - just platitudes and propaganda - let's skip the whole thing, thank you very much! Of course, a substantive piece on THOSE issues - now that might interesting! - but I digress). Pages A2&3 respectively have articles reporting on base closings and the influence of terror cells in Afghanistan. Page A8 has an article about the Army's potential plan to keep the soldiers currently in Iraq for four more years (hey! I'd like to see that on the front page!). But we get a used-up piece about Bush not visiting us. Yeah. Love this coverage.

Yet online the first article listed is
Bomb Kills 4 Soldiers and you have to scroll down to find the article about Bush and his reluctance/repugnance to visit SF. What gives? Are Internet readers more demanding than hard-copy readers? Where an article shows up is an editorial decision - why the different choices from online to hard-copy? Is the audience different?

Well, the heck with this. Time to read the book reviews and the article about Felipe Alou in the sporting section.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Deju Vu with Richard Reid

A friend of mine sent me an email the other day – an email that has been circulating in cyberspace since 2003. This email gives the remarks of Judge Young after the sentencing of Richard Reid, the shoe bomber. My friend’s version of this email begins with:

"Remember the guy who got on a plane with a bomb built into his shoe and tried to
light it?Did you know his trial is over?
Did you know he was sentenced?Did
you see/hear any of the judge's comments on TV/Radio?Didn't think so.Everyone
should hear what the judge had to say."

And then includes the text of the Judge’s remarks (the forwarded email has been circulating cyberspace for quite awhile and appears on the urban legends site. The Judge’s remarks are accurate – but the implication that there was no media coverage is not in the least accurate. See http://urbanlegends.about.com/library/bl_richard_reid.htm) and closes with:

“We need more judges like Judge Young, but that's another subject.Pass this
around.Everyone should and needs to hear what this fine judge had to
say.Powerful words that strike home.Please forward this---------so that every
American has a chance to read it.”

I wonder if my friend even realizes how old this email was. Does he/she think this sentencing had just occurred? Probably – because he/she is upset over the lack of coverage. Yup – there ain’t much coverage now of Judge Young’s remarks, since it happened 2 ½ years ago. Part of me wonders why this friend had sent this propaganda to me to begin with – considering he/she knows my liberal leanings. But I dashed off this response to my friend:

The sentencing of Richard Reid and Judge Young’s remarks were covered extensively! The SF Chron, San Diego Tribune, NY Times. Washington Post, Herald Tribune, etc., carried news of the sentencing and the judge’s remarks back in January of ’03 when it occurred. The sentencing and remarks were also broadcast on TV (CNN for one) - there was no lack of media coverage. I wish the judge had focused his remarks more on points of law, as the remarks he made are pure propaganda - he uses unsupported generalities certain to appeal to emotion.

Judge Young’s statement that the "terrorists" hate our freedom takes a complicated problem and boils it down to a simplistic, emotional argument (not to mention that his sentiment and phrasing are not in the least original – the Bush Administration has been touting this line for a long time, in an effort to pump up testosterone in our young men and nationalism in our citizenry). It's not our "freedom" which drives these people to do such despicable things at all. It's not our freedom they hate, it's the way we swagger around the world, talking about freedom, yet by our very actions, we make life much harder than it has to be for third-world and developing nations. Our foreign aid, and international business and trade policies often cause further poverty and oppression in such countries. As Ziauddin Sadar (British writer, broadcaster, and cultural critic) points out, they hate that we are 3% of the world's population, yet we consume 25% of the world's resources and produce 30% of the world's pollution (2003, Terrorists R Us, http://adbusters.org/the_magazine/content/view/99/108/ ).

I don't agree with the action Reid took (or attempted to take), but the issue isn't as simple as "they hate our freedom" - it's far more complicated than that.

I am weary of the lack of critical thinking in our country, of the use of propaganda by our government and worse, by the judiciary. And I’m sick of our politicians and PACs and political nonprofits using the same propaganda techniques to sway and persuade us, instead of rational, logical, well-founded, well-grounded, well-documented, articulate arguments. And we just fall for it, time after time. We are not a well-informed, critically-thinking populace.

Well, I've said my piece. How are you folks?
Here is the text as it appeared in the email from my friend. (Note that the text doesn’t include Reid’s full remarks, which make for some interesting reading and interpretation - so here's the link for Reid's full remarks: http://urbanlegends.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/01/31/reid.transcript/ ).

Ruling by Judge William Young, US District Court. Prior to sentencing, the Judge asked the defendant if he hadanything to say. His response: After admitting his guilt to the court for therecord, Reid also admitted his "allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to Islam,and to the religion of Allah," defiantly stated "I think I will notapologize for my actions," and told the court "I am at war with yourcountry." Judge Young then delivered the statement quoted below: January 30, 2003, United States vs. Reid. Judge Young:"Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes uponyou.On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in thecustody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7,the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the senteneon each count to run consecutive with the other.That's 80 years.On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years consecutiveto the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you each of theeight counts a fine of $250,000 for the aggregate fine of $2 million. TheCourt accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitutionand orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and$5,784 to American Airlines.The Court imposes upon you the $800 special assessment.The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply becausethe law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so Ineed go no further. This is the sentence that is provided for by ourstatutes.It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence.Let me explain this to you.We are not afraid of you or any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr.Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There isall too much war talk here and I say that to everyone with the utmostrespect. Here in this court, we deal with individuals as individuals andcare for individuals as individuals.As human beings, we reach out for justice.You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist.You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist.To give you that reference, to call you a soldier, gives you far too muchstature.Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney whodoes it, or ifyou think you are a soldier. You are not----- you are a terrorist And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not meet withterrorists. We donot sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bringthem to justice!So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow.But you are not that big.You're no warrior. I've know warriors.You are a terrorist. A species of criminal that is guilty of multipleattempted murders.In a very real sense, State Trooper Santiago had it right when you firstwere taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where thepress and where the TV crews were, and he said: "You're no big deal."You are no big deal.What your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneyshave grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried tograpple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that ledyou here to this courtroom today?I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you tosearch your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led youto do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing.And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you, but as I searchthis entire record, it comes as close to understanding as I know.It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. Youhate our freedom.Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, tocome and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individuallychoose.Here, in this society, the very wind carries freedom. It carries iteverywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individualfreedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom.So that everyone can see, truly see, that justice is administered fairly,individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's sake that your lawyersare striving so vigorously on your behalf and have filed appeals, will goon in their representation of you before other judges.We Americans are all about freedom.Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure ofour own liberties.Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bare any burden; payany price, to preserve our freedoms.Look around this courtroom. Mark it well.The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. Day aftertomorrow, it will be forgotten, but this, however, will long endure.Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America, the Americanpeople will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, notwar, individual justice is in fact being done.The very President of the United States through his officers will have tocome into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can bejudged and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidencedemocratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America.That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flagstands for freedom. And it always will.Mr. Custody Officer. Stand him down.

Friday, August 19, 2005

I saw a bumper sticker today that just absolutely infuriated me. It read:

When you're the FINEST it's hard to be humble.
United States Marine Corps
I was incensed by the arrogance of this bumper sticker. Being "the finest" implies humility - that is one of the traits of fine-ness. And if your "fineness" is made up of discipline, kick-ass-ability, a leave-no-man behind mentality and the strength that comes from knowing you are part of an elite fighting Corp, you don't need to be arrogant - you can wear your confidence and superiority quietly, without a bumper sticker, because if you truly are the "finest" others will know it; you needn't announce it.
The finest among us are not arrogant; they don't swagger about or try to impress others with slogans and catchwords. They prove their fineness through action, through nobility, through humility as a well.
I hate the arrogance that has become America. I detest the attitude that we are the best - the sentiment of "we aren't perfect, but we're the best there is" and "no other country is as free as we are." Canada, Norway, Switzerland, England, just to name a few others, are "as free as we are" and those countries aren't arrogant about it. Most of the people I know who claim we are better than other countries know nothing about other countries. And if they happen to have traveled to a foreign country, they did no research about that country before they traveled there, didn't bother to even pick up a few basic phrases (please, thank you, excuse me - I'm so sorry, I don't speak your language, etc.) because after all, everyone abroad learns English and then they come home and complain because the food in Portugal, or Spain, or Thailand, or where ever isn't like our food, and the customs aren't like ours. And why can't the world be like the US?
Of course, that has nothing to do really with that Marine bumper sticker. But it does, doesn't it? It's arrogance. American arrogance. I have no use for it.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Poem: Kiss

His kiss is not the small, wet kiss sticky with bubblegum
that a little boy might plop with a smack on
his mother’s face
as he holds it firmly between two, small, sweaty hands.

His kiss is not as
smooth and creamy as
home-made, vanilla bean ice cream, hand-cranked on the back porch on a hot Sunday afternoon.

Yet his kiss is sweeter than any smile he ever gave his mother.

His kisses spill from his tongue
like plump blueberries
rolling lazily down a smooth, pale body
to an easy resting place
nestling into curves of sweaty flesh.

But no…no.
His kisses are not the same as ripe blueberries
plucked from bushes in the field on a summer’s day
piled into a large, red ceramic bowl sitting on the kitchen table
and waiting to be plopped into a moist, open mouth.
No, his kisses are not sweet and light as that.

His kisses are rich, dark, dangerous
and tainted with the sweetmeat of another.

He kisses her with cuntbreath oozing from his bruised lips.
She takes this kiss, savors the smell of musk
and the thick, pungent taste of wet, fallen, fermenting leaves.

© Birdstory Publications, 2005

Monday, August 15, 2005

Poem: Empty Nest

she comes home to roost
her nest now
quiet, soothing
filled with the faint trace of her scent
and the smell of roses

only the front door is shut
only the front door is locked
other doors open wide

she lights candles one on
each rounded corner of the bathtub

five of different heights
on a smooth, square, beige plate
on the closed toilet seat

three, mystic and calm
each on a small, circular silver plate
on the sink counter

she slips out of jeans
jockey blue silk briefs
arms forming an arabesque
pulls the black knit turtleneck over her head
lets it drop to the floor
soon followed by a purple lace bra
which falls swiftly
joining the soft pile of fabric on the rough, Spanish tile

she draws the bath
steam rising
hot water pouring
the faucet glistens with condensation
and the flickering candlelight

she pours chamomile and lavender foam bath
into the filling tub

she swirls the water
mounds of foam and bubbles form

but she has forgotten the wine

she does not reach for the thick, Egyptian-cotton towel
nor the blue bathrobe

she moves naked down the hallway
into the kitchen
retrieves her glass of Chardonnay
and returns to the bath
to find the smooth, pleasing mounds of froth
rising high in the tub

she steps into the bath, sinks down
the foam embraces her, cleaves to her
surrounds her, toes to ears

through the avalanche of a million, a billion tiny bursting foam bubbles
she hears Bach’s Fugue in G Minor
drifting down the hall from the living room through the open door

later, the water drained, just a wisp of white clinging to the porcelain
the candles out
after dancing in warm glow to Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5
still naked on the couch she sits
“only the front door is shut
only the front door is locked
other doors open wide…”

©Birdstory Publications 2005