Fall 2011

Volume 6, Issue 2



At a High School Showing of Man of
La Mancha
with My Mother, 1989


We were sitting in the old theater at Newport Harbor High School
The one located just to the west of the lighthouse tower that had been built in 1929
As a kind of man-made Northern Star the sailors could use to navigate the tides
The darkness the changing winds the months spent out at sea
Away from lovers wives children houses with fireplaces apartment rooms
Where radios played waltzes and Cole Porter standards and where gravelly-voiced
Serious men who chain-smoked cigarettes and who had signed oaths to America
Before being let on the air talked of Iwo Jima and Mussolini and Churchill
And Joe DiMaggio and whose voices wavered just enough to let the sea-men
Listeners know when they announced the death of Billie Holiday
That America’s real First Lady
Its First Lady of the Outcast the Dreamer the Junkie the Seeker
Had left and gone away
And as the curtain rose on the actors the stage and on the imaginary windmills
That the hero believed were the bodies of disciplined invading knights
And on a beautiful girl who may or may not have really existed
But whose abiding goodness sustains the doomed demented hero on a quest
As important in its imaginary way
As Lancelot and Galahad’s Quest for the Grail was in its
My mother’s eyes welled up
You’re going to love this one she said
Squeezing my hand
As she had in the car on the way over when she described the musical’s plot
It’s about dreaming and the power of belief and about enduring friendships
And unrequited loves
She rhapsodized
And as one act led into another
One beautiful song led into the next
I kept thinking that the existence of the play itself
Was proof that there was no such thing as an impossible dream
Men built lighthouses so their brothers would be safe from storm and shipwreck
Men wrote plays so their sisters would not lose faith in an often terrifying world
And mothers took their twelve year old sons to shows that taught them
It was better to be a devoted
Dedicated fearless fool with a heart of gold and goodness
Than to be a fool who did not realize the world around him was full of latent magic




Hank Aaron


So few remember where you hit your record-breaking home run,
That you were in old Atlanta Stadium,
Right in the heart of a city that had been the epicenter for the Civil Rights Movement,
Where men like Martin Luther King, Ralph Abernathy, and Andrew Young
            Organized the peaceful protests and nonviolent rallies
Which were the backbone of the cause,
And that the newspapermen who covered you were so fearful that you
            Would be murdered before you could pass Babe Ruth’s record
That they secretly had your obituary written up should something come to pass,
And that you were, by that point in your career,
The last active major leaguer who had begun his career in the Negro Leagues.

In other words,
If Jackie Robinson drove the first nail into the national pastime’s tolerance
            Of segregation and racist policies,
You hammered in the last one,
As if you were an Alabama-born Paul Bunyan exorcising the ghosts of separate but equal
            With one giant, history-making swing of his hand-carved Louisville Slugger,
A mythic figure whose shoulders were broad enough to carry the ghosts
            Of all those men who had toiled in the Jim Crow leagues
Across a home plate they had been waiting decades to touch.




Listening to Randy Newman's "Dixie Flyer"
This Morning on My Way to Work


This is the first time I’ve heard this one since I was a kid
Long before New Orleans became real to me through the stories of my father
Who used to say that the two best cities in America
The Big Easy and San Francisco
Were the two best cities in America because they weren’t American cities at all
But instead states of mind
Urban poems to a God who did at least a few things right
And as I hear Randy Newman’s voice floating up above the rainfall of his piano keys
I keep thinking about how this song and its subject
The flight from loneliness that is most often achieved by boarding a train
And leaving behind a metropolitan sadness
For somewhere that seems like it has been waiting years for you to arrive
Is probably the oldest one there is
Going back as far as Aeneas
As far as Moses
As far as Cotton Mather and Anne Bradstreet and those early brave
            And haunted Puritans
As far as Richard Wright and Jacob Lawrence and the million strong black men
            And women
Who comprised the Great American Migration
As far as my father himself who fled the country of his birth
With no money in his pocket
And only the shirt on his back
To spend his twenties riding the cable cars of The City to the graveyard gas station jobs
That would help support my pregnant mother
So on the highway this morning every time Newman reaches the understated 
Triumphalism of his chorus
Where his narrator celebrates her arrival in The Land of Dreams
I pound my fist on the steering wheel and sing harmony as best I can
Because the truth is that though there are plenty of things still sacred in this world
At the top of that list are union stations
Battered suitcases
And cities waiting at the other end of someone’s sorrows
That will deliver on the prayers they need to have answered to go on living




The Misfits, Dir. John Huston, 1961


It was as if
The further the four of you journeyed into the mountains
To pursue the mustangs that ran from you
And the fear that you carried
And the romance that haunted you
And the youth that was no longer yours
This became less a narrative about an America that no longer existed
Than it was a poem about the different ways in which the damned respond
            To the fates they’ve been given—





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