Suffer the Immigrants…

My father had lived half his life before emigrating permanently, making the United States his home.   Almost forty, though no longer adorned with whatever resilience and sang-froid youth had bestowed, he engaged life in America with a spirit of hope which mystifies still, these decades after he has gone.

My mind summons our first house, brick, box-like, postage-stamp cubicle play yard, neighbor atop neighbor. Though he would, in time, acquire grander, this first house, just outside the city limits, announced achievement, proclaimed him resident in that new land.

Sun shivering on  sliver buttons and badges as  men, red-faced and scowling in hot blue uniforms access the glass front door. Sneering voices forbid Sunday radio music the neighbors will not allow. The child is unseen, sweltering shame.

Sadness in the sun-aged face, wary as the local journalist photographs his shining Chevrolet sedan. Pride, too true, it seems, a deadly sin. Thick blue bruise of paint spewed on the hood, bled down the side.  No witnesses, no crime, the police had said. 

The sharp shock and sting of the stone that struck the head of the little girl walking home alone. Hateful slur followed  but not the boys who propel the now familiar call: “Go back where you came from, Go back there! We don’t want your kind here!”

I will never forget, near ecstasy on my father’s face the night a man, exuding youth and hope,  was elected President of the United States:   that man who looked like him and spoke like him, who was not afraid to say he actually was like him, he worshiped like my father. At times, it seemed to me, my father worshiped him.

Not much later, my father renounced the citizenship of the beloved land of his birth; he identified as a full American along with my older sister, who also had been born abroad.  The house he shared with my mother was filled with the young president’s photograph; his recorded speeches were played instead of the radio on Sunday afternoon, and when he was assassinated, a huge full-color bust portrait hung in their home, displacing the Pope, for the rest of their joint lives.

My parents were Irish immigrants.

The taunt was “Shanty Irish.”

The President was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It is painful to  contemplate children in oven-like buses, confused and frightened, as adults, sometimes with costumes, sometimes with signs, sometimes with weapons, hurl insults and slurs and even rocks or glass  and froth with rage.

When I tell my immigration story, today, the reaction, largely, is to question: how did my parents find such a bizarre pocket of anti-Irish feeling to settle? We no longer recognize ourselves in that tale.  We have forgotten the vitriol of the 1960 presidential campaign, the genuine anti-Catholic prejudice Kennedy faced down.   The lingering bigotry the Irish confronted  in 1960 seems impossible:  “No Irish Need Apply ” signs not yet quaint antiques for sale in the United States as  ” No Irish, No Coloured, No Dogs”  in Britain.

But the accommodation of forgetting cannot erase the dark reality of history.

Immigration policy is complex and important.It has become a throw away truism to state “we are a nation of immigrants.”

We serve ourselves well to recall that the children we revile today we may describe as “the bedrock of our society” tomorrow: as integrated and indispensable as though they always “belonged.”



Missing You

Sometimes, when deer and rabbit, raccoon and woodchuck recede within the generous mantilla of summer, and warbler and cicada celebrate the close of another day, the light that falls from that searing scarlet scalds my heart with the sadness of missing you, who first presented this array.

Scorch of fire as puckered lips graze the coffin; seething tears trickling onto steel; staggering, as strains of “Danny Boy” levitate above you (a tune you did not call an Irish air).

In the end, too true:  arid canon of cult, not creed, coheres the torpid keeners corroding your wonder.

Eyes reach no focus, colors run together; the  stranger  with fraternal blood, too cold, or suffocated in the sun,  speaks. That Holy Man,  the turnkey, postures with your offspring jailers; swelter, perspire, steadfast mien of heartbreak, every one.

The burned flesh on my heart, throbs and blisters. Pain pulsates with each steady beat. We love, we learn, we are often less than worthy.  The arabesque we make, so rarely fine.

In the sun soaked stillness of a summer evening, so many poses, so many words remain to speak.     2013-10-05 07.19.58








‘Chocolate Cream Soldiers’

“Independence? That’s middle class blasphemy. We are all dependent on one another, every soul of us on earth.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Fourth of July on a Canadian village stage, gunshots not fireworks assail the senses. The imagined war, prefiguring the Great War that began 100 years ago this summer, occasions fantastical combat.  Humor, wisdom linger in the theater. WHAT MYSTERY! His mind conjures a stinking, filthy runaway from combat scaling the Shakespearean balcony of the privileged flower of womanhood. Byronic beauty, her modesty, her romantic distraction are the soldier’s shield, his protection. Cream chocolates, not bullets, replenishment for the return to war.

What uses are cartridges in battle?

Soldiering, my dear madam, is the coward’s art of attacking mercilessly when you are strong, and keeping out of harm’s way when you are weak.”


Imagined in an age before the western world became intimate with the sound, images and everyday commerce of the slaughter of war, ARMS and a MAN seduces with comedy. The play is wise. This early Shaw is not yet so enamored of his own voice as to clutter his comedy and stultify his style with  the detritus of his didactic ego. Sage appreciation of human emotion combines with a satiric cynicism that still allows understanding.

This relatively early play of Shaw, currently in performance at the Shaw Festival in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario mocks rather than condemns militarism.   Sergius, is a “hero”, for the failure of the opponent’s weaponry.  The aristocrat, Petroff, the ranking military leader of the Bulgarians, roars, a comic character.  Society’s glorification of war and patriotism is pilloried in this play.

‘nine soldiers out of ten were born fools’

Arms and the Man

“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it….”

“War does not decide who is right but who is left.”

― George Bernard Shaw

The rapid changes and resulting peculiarities emerging from modernization of society, industry,commerce,and international relations also endure Shaw’s analysis.  His “Man”,  Bluntschli, the ‘coward’ we initially encounter escaping the battlefield, arrives later in the play, distinguished, handsome, astonishingly efficient.  Not only is he headed back to his native Switzerland, appreciative that he holds the high honor of “free citizen,” and accomplished in matters military and administrative, this merchant soldier, unburdened with ideology, but gifted with efficiency, now develops troop movement plans for the Bulgarians, the  battlefield “enemy”  so recently fled.  This task had overwhelmed the aristocratic leadership Petroff and Sergius.  Shaw playfully questions whether the benefits of “progress,” from mechanization of households with servant buzzers and buzzing clocks to national armaments truly advances humanity. Or, not?

“We shouldn’t have been able to begin fighting if these foreigners hadn’t shewn us how to do it”

Act II, Arms and The Man

Two other major themes of Shaw’s life and work are realized in this play as well:  class politics and sexual politics, in equal measure seen as of an antithetical nature. Shaw parodies the romance between the social equals, the wealthy young woman and her ordained suitor who do and act as each expect the other should, and convince their world,themselves and each other they are deliriously “in love.”  Stilted language and exaggerated stage instruction enhance the enjoyment.  A cross-class romance, wherein the servant beguiles the master to marry her, amuses although the audience perceives its shocking character in the social constriction of the day.  And the pragmatist who has abandoned all romance, philosophy, and blind creed, wins the Byronic heroine, finally, to the apparently inexorable  gladness and admiration of all.  In the end, Shaw allows us to see the age of the modern days of the “real,” displacing old idealism, but we do so, gently and without pessimism.

“everything I think is mocked by everything I do.”

 “I have to get your room ready for you: to sweep and dust, to fetch and carry. How could that degrade me if it did not degrade you to have it done for you?”

 “As for her, she’s a liar; and her fine airs are a cheat; and I’m worth six of her. “

“When you strike that noble attitude and speak in that thrilling voice, I admire you; but I find it impossible to believe a single word you say.”


Fire in the Cities


Just days after the nation commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Civil Right Act of 1964, our faces turn to the dead and wounded in our twenty-first century cities.

President Johnson was eloquent on July 2, 1964:

Americans of every race and color have died in battle to protect our freedom. Americans of every race and color have worked to build a nation of widening opportunities. Now our generation of Americans has been called on to continue the unending search for justice within our own borders.We believe that all men are created equal. Yet many are denied equal treatment.We believe that all men have certain unalienable rights. Yet many Americans do not enjoy those rights.We believe that all men are entitled to the blessings of liberty. Yet millions are being deprived of those blessings—not because of their own failures, but because of the color of their skin.

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Freedom’s Price? Corporate Freedom of Religious Expression Trumps A Woman’s Right of Choice

Religion without humanity is poor human stuff.

Sojourner Truth

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

Blaise Pascal (Pensees) 1670

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.  ~Mahatma Gandhi

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.
Karl Marx


Western Art, Song and Literature  elevate religious thought and feeling, canon and belief throughout centuries.  Women burning as witches, brother slaying brother, specifics of the creed determine lives.  Families fleeing intolerance and persecution, cultures reproduce in unlikely spaces across the world. The United States proclaims a refuge for the persecuted: Puritan, Quaker, Catholic, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, Lutheran, Anglican. All voices may rise in free worship; the atheist song as well. Free speech, free association, freedom of religion.  Until today.

Compromised, contained, categorized, freedom of Religion, certainly.  Legal minds splitting threads of legal thought.  Fine, fine filaments. Today,  the Supreme Court  severed the strand.

A circle of owners, a private family business,  Hobby Lobby sells bric a brac, becomes wildly successful.  The family establishes a trust, then forms a ‘closely held corporation’.  Corporate law creates a shield for  individual family members.  The corporate form protects against legal liability. It bestows abundant tax benefits to the family. The  corporation donates generously, strategically to social and election campaigns, pursues  political objectives.  Hobby Lobby, one of Forbes 150 top US  closely held corporations, spends fortunes to create a political agenda.

 Hobby Lobby need not account for how it spends  money:  a corporation can be a  “person” under US law.

And, Hobby Lobby, need not be consistent in belief and behavior.

Hobby Lobby, the corporation, unfettered, free, invests workers money wisely, even into funds of other corporations which are makers of medicines and devices for birth control.(These companies’ business violates Hobby Lobby’s ethical code.  But the fund makes a profit.)  No worker sues to divest this course.  Corporate freedom of investment remains unencumbered.

 Hobby Lobby denies  female workers  access to health care options which include contraceptive care.   Corporate owners announce that their personal moral and religious beliefs oppose reproductive planning health care. They oppose this care even if used to treat a strictly medical condition. The owners assert their corporation has the same religious views.  They assert the right for free exercise of religion by their family corporation.

The Corporation is victorious once again.

The Supreme Court will not require closely held corporations to direct money into undifferentiated funds which finance a variety of health benefits under comprehensive health plans, including reproductive care. Not when the Corporation asserts that the provision of reproductive care violates a sincerely held religious value. Never mind that many workers  have different but equally important and as sincerely held religious beliefs.  Never mind that these workers financially depend on the job for health care and insurance. Do not consider that any worker whose values are offended can opt out of the insurance program or the reproductive benefits.  Why these factors do not matter is not clear.  Corporate free exercise of religion, apparently, trumps all.

Before today, a worker at Hobby Lobby who wanted access to reproductive health care whether for contraception or medical reasons had insurance coverage to obtain it.   Now, no matter the individual worker’s belief system,  she has no reproductive health care insurance coverage whether it is for family planning or it is medically necessary.

What other corporate ethical codes will trump a worker’s own?  Hobby Lobby, and countless other corporate consciences, could contrive religious exemptions to many legal mandates.  Many heard before, will they find favor if raised anew?   “It’s against my religious beliefs to allow…” blood transfusions; antidepressants; vaccinations; anesthesia; gelatin covered, pig derived or animal tested medicine!   “My religion precludes me from…”  employing women, paying minimum wages; employing integrated races; employing integrated religions, employing homosexuals, providing professional services to persons not of my religion, not of my race, not of my sexual orientation.

But, is it again about the woman, the worker, the working woman’s womb?  Is it  coincidence that the challenge which reached the court concerned women’s health?  Should we overlook that this challenge  implicates contraception?

Byzantine though the anti-birth control politicians seem, they are relentless.  A fully realized woman, empowered, employed, sexually fulfilled, a mother, healthy,  and above all happy with this life, affronts grotesque puritan values.  Values which mock us around the modern world.  Values so rooted at home we do not feel the constriction.

The sun is shining bright in Philadelphia,  merely 90 miles away from that decision.  Still, no greater darkness has manifest in the life of women from the law, in decades.