The Past is never behind us.                                                                                          Robert Bolaño, The Part About Critics

It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.                                                                                         Eleanor Roosevelt                 


April accepts longer hours of sunlight,conceding with ambivalence cold winds will warm and whisper life into the dead and barren trees.  The hillside regards the once frozen canal which, halting, softens until the sepia waters offer sanctuary once again to tadpoles, turtles and walleye and permit refreshment to geese and songbirds returned for summer.  Bordering ridges  carpeted with shaggy bits of lifeless foliage  spawn shocks of color: purple, pink, yellow: Violet, Sorrel, Thistle, Milkweed, Phlox, Anemone. The sound of life is silken, subtle, an orchestration  at once unpracticed and sublime.  Springtime perfumes with intoxicating simplicity.  The moment offers unconstrained contentment.  Spring absolves  past cruelties of other seasons, nurturing life, generous, assured.

Traffic on the street fractures contentment. The horn shivers theatrically down the small town street.  Shoppers tote packages marked with identification:    “I am expensive,” “I am chic,” “I  am  used goods.”  Cell phones supplant conversation between partners and among families as the time for the excursion concludes.  Acquaintances smile at one another across the asphalt, and then each one quickly demonstrates preoccupation and turns away.

The radio names yet another aggrieved person, fallen victim to the endless cycle of domination for the right or might of the Other group guided by religion, wealth, nationality, political philosophy  or control of land. Justice is reported denied by protesters on the corner who demand a life sentence, not twenty years, for the convict who drunkenly extinguished the life of the child.  A vast  amount of dollars are awarded to the survivors whose river land was despoiled  by thick, black  oil.

The actor struggles to contain a rage which contorts the handsome face that fills the screen.  Provincialism spawning shame he could acknowledge.  Shame punished as a crime he could not accept.   For crime committed against the shamed, he would have vengeance.  The greater retribution as the outrage is compounded by deceit.

Philomena privately recalls  the  precise contours of  her injury.  Its depth, its size, its never-ending pain.  She shields herself as a simple-minded woman.  Her full heart accepts a world she has never known.  She apprehends that her son, too, endured ritualized shamining to protect the power of those in charge.  She possesses her experience, her pain and her trauma as her personal history which no other can apprehend nor own.  This empowers her to confer forgiveness upon  her aggressors.  She chooses to move beyond the moment of her loss.

Philomena’s story is not one of reconciliation.  It is a story of a woman’s power to regenerate against all odds.

They insist I think of War



cropped-hires_071112-n-9898l-030.jpgA PROSE POEM

They insist I think of war, and yet I always think of you, mother, though I recall not a single word we ever spoke of war, that flesh could tear and blood swamp the sand; that one is just, or not, to footslog into battle and shoot and kill and even die upon demand.

Red and white and blue and cotton candy, thirty-six inch flags festoon facades of brick box houses, dreariness costumed for the day with shiny celebration crowned at evening with sparklers and ice cream; thundering ashes herald colors briefly before the sullen, sulking fall to blackened sidewalks where the beer-stinking men in tobacco stained shirts you told me not to talk to slovenly slump aside the fire engines as the bloated, weary wives chase home children who have now forgotten celebration.  The crisp morning marchers and their rhythmic beat who with bugles and their drums paraded proudly are now as silent as the guns and soldiers no longer in procession, not seen again until the evening news shows body bags on beaches on some other day.

I know, now,  when you avowed the Easter Rising, it was not Christ, your Lord, of whom you spoke, but of men and women, young, proud, and some who were only hungry, gathering in the fields and in the mountains, marching, marching, marching blindly through the night and into day, through the mists and by the rivers, not to capture the flag of freedom but to become your Martyrs, while Others, wielding weapons,  butchers and the butchered,   survivors donning robes of Justice for the executions.

Grandfather from a crumpled photograph regards posterity, defies judgment of us all; no nation’s costume ever weighed his shoulders;  intelligence he gathered sheltered under rock while Black and Tan colors darkened your toddler world, careening you so high, the rifle first a truncheon then a jungle gym, fearsome,  until the chaos and the cruelty receded with the dawn; was it black and tan and red of blood that rankled dreams, a smite forever upon freedom’s call; igniting  bombs, no not mere Troubles, mother, fulsome battles of a war.

You agreed with him: you had not crossed an ocean, breathed a lifetime here upon a foreign shore to release both sons, or either, to a jungle death for some unknown rich man’s gain. He, more than you, esteemed Law and Order; natural law allowed that he abduct them to frozen reaches receiving the rebelling native-born.  A war not blessed by the Holy Father cannot be a War that calls HIS sons to die. He rejects a hand to walk together with the Peaceful; to private pain, a solitary solution is all.

The small screen flashes black and white impressions, leaders slain, cities burning, choppers feeding poison to the air; a child’s screams inside  fires, all are raging; blood-soaked men on stretchers without limbs.  Chants echo charging men in suits with children’s slaughter and youth in jeans with cowardice and fear. Communication crumbles into chaos, its reverberating silence strikes out with pain.

Unlike yours, my life collected pathways: railroad cars and ferries, jumbo jets and caravans, sleeping trains and rented automobiles careening through the darkness into splendor;cardboard camps transfigured into sparkling cities when cartographers and politicians proclaim a nation’s line is crossed.  Outside schools, inside churches, in the harbors where the veteran gunboats rest, on many cars and on more country houses, playgrounds, courts, malls, gas stations, airports, synagogues, temples, in the fields and the stadiums, at the theater and the mortuary as well, in town centers and on the outskirts the colors: the red, the  white, the  blue, and the stars all scream.

Halliburton, Kellogg Industries, income inequality, Boeing, Nestle, homelessness, United Tech, Northrup Grumman, PTSD,  BAE Systems, mass shooting,  Lockheed Martin, rape, General Dynamics, Dyn Corp and  Flourer, failing schools, Elite Foods.

  They insist I think of War…




“…Curiouser and Curiouser…”

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense.

Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. 

And, contrary wise,

what it is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

Recently, much praised New York Times journalist, Thomas L. Friedman, apparently serious, questioned Hillary Clinton and Christine Lagarde “Is there still a double standard in the media about how women are treated…”   The audience at the Fifth Annual Women of the World Summit in New York erupted in laughter.

Secretary Clinton captured the humor and rejoined, lightly, “Really, Tom…”

She then offered her recollection of advice given regarding office decor when she was a young lawyer in Arkansas: If you are a male professional and have a family, display photographs to signify your responsibility, reliability and trustworthiness.  Women should never display such photographs as this suggests to the client distractibility and mixed priorities.

But that was way back in the Seventies, Eighties?

Women, we are told, have truly “come a long way” in the kinetic decades intervening.

Scrutiny discloses an elliptical tale.

In the United States, the pursuit of a level playing field for men and women of all races and incomes in terms of power, politics, work and family life is ongoing.

Some sources poll statistics to suggest that, in the western world, women enjoy political power in historically large numbers as elected officials and appointed judges, commissioners and directors.  Women occupy significant numbers of industry leadership positions especially outside the United States. Educational institutions demonstrate a more equitable   “leadership to population “gender ratio than ever before.

More than a few women have scaled barriers and amassed incomprehensible fortunes to rank among the world’s most wealthy.

Achievement in the more ordinary spheres of living in terms of gender equality also emerged.  More female students graduate from college than do men.  During the “great recession”, female breadwinner households emerged as a “new normal”.

Still, the unrelenting narrative of the overstressed, over-extended, hyper-vigilant, and never fulfilled “working mom” penetrates any fog of good feeling that gender equity might be on the horizon.  Despite the fact that these tales invariable focus on middle and upper-middle class women to whom society, perhaps with duplicity, offers a “choice” regarding whether and how much to engage employment outside the home, this story has remarkable staying power.  Through the decades, the chronicle of this burdened woman and her needy family has begotten innumerable new fashions, products, even industries: the time-savers, the stress-reducers, the educational, the “just like home-made.”

Ours is a culture of at least two minds about a woman’s place.

The little girl playing with her dolls, dreaming of the day when she too would be the bride “all dressed in white” attended by a bevy of beautiful maids as she crosses the threshold to her future, realizing her true self, the wife of the handsome tuxedo-clad man who stands admiring her…. This conceit successfully and lucratively pervaded American life for generations, certainly post World War II.

I remember my decidely level-headed mother had a huge book of wedding day photographs bound in a sumptuous white binder which was placed in sight but out of reach.  The album featured, what the child considered, hundreds of twelve by twelve, black and white photographs of the most glamorous people.  She in a pure silk flowing gown, he in his tails and stripped tie, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral under an October sun, an eternal smile from the rear window of an actual limousine…

Had my mother been a home economics student in 1954, her  text would have  prepared her for what came after the limousine as follows:   “Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, listen to him, make the evening his.” There was no question that the married woman would have children.  There was no question, the mother should not work outside the home. The employed spouse was definitely the male.   There was certainly not even the vaguest notion that the married couple could be of the same gender.  Perhaps only slightly more conceivable was an unmarried two parent household.

Conversations about housework, from the casual to the scholarly, can be remarkably provocative. In the early years of the United States Women’s Movement, suffragist, author and political theorist and activist Charlotte Perkins Gilman articulated “housework” denies a woman’s “humanness.” In the 1960’s, Betty Friedan’s popular political work, The Feminine Mystique captured the energy of a cross section of largely educated white, middle and upper middle class women dissecting cultural standards of feminine behavior as submissive, affective, fulfilled when living vicariously through others.   In the early 1980’s Professor Angela Davis offered a challenging Marxist analysis of the issue. In 2011, the National Institute  of  Health reported that  mothers employed part-time outside the home experience ideal  adjustment as do their families.

Still, especially over the last two generations, society’s gaze has turned from  how well a woman cleans the house or bakes a cake.  Such services await those who can afford them.  A busy female administrative assistant can purchase a candle light dinner for the Tuesday night dinner at the take out department of the supermarket by calling ahead or ordering online.

Today, our culture pursues the perfect mother.

Some still recall their own childhood friends gathering unsupervised  and spontaneous at the playground, in the schoolyard, or “on the corner.”  Childhoods of bygone days featured unaccountably fleeting hours producing little of tangible value.  A book read.  A confidence shared.  A story written.  A movie watched.  A path explored.

Technology, crime, social competition, economics and social institutions  eviscerated those now seemingly laconic childhoods. Children today largely live more structured lives with women the organizing force.

Today’s mother is often tasked with providing more than the expected needs of a child (food, clothing, shelter, love, safety).  She must deliver the child to the gates of adulthood equipped to tread confidently and competently on the highest paths.  “Intensive mothering” is a phrase describing mothers investing vast amounts of time, money, energy, and emotion into the raising of a child.  It is perhaps a logical outgrowth of the shame/blame dynamic which has swirled around mothers in America for years.

In modern times, Freud propelled mothers to center stage to receive the “blame” for “causing” filial homosexuality by her over-protectiveness, or in the alternative, her indifference.

Mothers accepted the blame for autism  in their children when it was alleged to be caused by maternal coldness.

Psychiatrists pronounced    “schizophrenogenic” mothers (disturbed, self-deluding women with fluid identity boundaries) guilty of causing schizophrenia in their children.

Generally, mothers today are not blamed for causing specific diseases or disorders.  However, many women report experiencing an overwhelming sense of guilt  as mothers, absorbing criticism of their children, feeling responsible for the “failings” of the child as theyt were their own. This guilt is all the more painful and deep  fifty years after Friedan’s analysis ignited a firestorm of controversy about the role of  mothers in the workplace; ashes of debate singe the air.

On the home front, women still face expectations that every child requires unlimited access to his or her mother at all times.  Any mother who is unwilling or unable to provide a child with this constant tenderness, is, quite simply, deficient.  A good mother is one who is home whenever the child is home. The same analysis does not, of course, apply to fathers. (May we presume that fathers are still more free to display family photographs?)  The recent national hysteria when New York Mets player Daniel Murphy missed two games to be with his wife at the cesarean birth of their son shows that in the United States the subtext remains: real men do not put fatherhood first.

At a time when so much in our lives is unrecognizable if we watch film footage from 50 years ago, the manner of dress, communication, transportation, food consumption, social norms of “good mothering” seem based on traditional concepts from a half century ago.  Evidence suggests many sources of love for a child only benefit  if reliable, kind and genuine.  Studies supportive of pre-kindergarten socialization and education are discounted.  The needs of the mother and family, economically and otherwise, are not part of the equation.

The “cultural schizophrenia” about employed mothers is not limited to the United States.  It affects high ranking officials as well as lower paid workers internationally. The double messages which assail families undermine our ability to find comfort and satisfaction in either our work or our home lives. Some suggest that the narrative of the “perfect mom” who can “do it all” converts motherhood into a never-ending exercise in “measuring up” for too many women who do not embrace the individual right to define a unique pattern of family organization.

Technology is intended enhances the effect of the media on our lives.  Clinton and Lagarde laughed at Friedman’s question.  But for many women working inside the technology industry, sexism is no laughing matter.  It is rancid, forcing them to exit the field.

If women who work in the industry responsible for so many of the images and messages which create cultural expectations are alienated and disappointed, it appears the time has arrived to begin again assertively addressing issues of equality.

This week, congress will yet again be asked to address the question of equal pay for women.

Title VII of the Civil Right Act came to be applied to women as a result of what one would call bad karma.  A segregationist, opposed to Civil Rights for African Americans, added the word “sex” to the legislation believing it would ensure defeat.  The joke was on him.

The  Equal Pay Act of 1963. was passed as a means to stop the continuing advance of the Equal Rights Amendment.  It is unclear who bore the brunt of that joke.  The  1963 act proved largely ineffectual.  Our nation of laws has never stated its female citizens are the equal of men.

Fifty one years later, equal pay remains on the political agenda.  A recent study confirms  a significant gender wage gap.  That earning divide  remains deeply affected by race and ethnicity with Asian American women reaching salaries most equal to males, white women in second place.

If the current legislation moves forward, it bears monitoring and advocacy.  Women must be watchful that there is not a hidden political agenda as there was in times past.  In addition, legislation without enforcement is meaningless.

The climate of politics is quite uncertain for women.

Analysts of the   landmark decision of the conservative Roberts led Supreme Court on April 2, 2014, McCutcheon vs. FEC, caution that future political campaigns may be dominated by male mega-donors. Female political candidates in the United States successfully navigated previous campaign contribution laws.  It remains to be seen whether the McCutcheon decision shackles further female political advancement.

Which coffers garner the unlimited new coins tossed into politics post McCutcheon is yet unknown.

Only a tiny fragment of the total adult US population contributes $200.00 or more to political campaigns.  Substantially rarer is the individual contributor of larger sums.  Broadly defined, “business” contributes more money and more often compared to labor or unaffiliated donors. Strikingly, incumbents  amass more than five times as much money as their challengers, on average, in contested races.  Monies are strategically bestowed upon candidates or campaigns based on an over-arching agenda.  For example, in 2013, the top ten most expensive senate races included Arkansas. Georgia, Delaware, Kentucky, New Jersey and Colorado.

If  those with the most money win, if, post McCutcheoncash is able to craft speech successfully, whatever advances women have made since the days of double standard, office decor rules may be at risk.  No matter how out of touch, dreamers of a Donna Reed style America may inspire the law of the future.

Fifty years after the deception of offering an equal pay law to thwart  an  equal  rights amendment, women in the United States in all classes and racial groups contain the energy and means to divert the conversation from victimhood to empowerment.  We have traveled the same road, watching the same scenery for too long.  But this is the cycle of deep and meaningful social change.

“Now, here, you see  it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place,

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”(The Queen)

Lewis Carroll Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass