Wednesday, December 31, 2014

This is Just to Say

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

- William Carlos Williams

A 'found poem' in the form of a note left on the refrigerator door using a recurrence of personal pronouns instead of phonetics, This is Just to Say (1934) is also a typography left open to a wide variety of interpretations that veterans of marriage and cohabitation can enjoy as well as understand. Williams once recalled that this poem was an actual note he had written to his wife-"and she replied very beautifully" It provides directions for the eye that reads the lines silently and that teases out the poem's meanings.
Leonard M. Trawick in World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets says it..... might suggest three possible readings. The poem could be concerned with the uselessness or self-entrapment of sexual desire, comparable to "Th'expense of spirit in a waste of shame." There's the potential Oedipal reading, with the boy thwarted in an attempt to comprehend his origin; to learn of it from his mother. Or there's the reading that would suggest self-referentiality; it is the poem itself that "means nothing."
A more subtle literary analysis by Charles Altieri in his essay Presence and Reference in a Literary Text: The Example of Williams debates the merits of this little poem as having a more sophisticated intent--
" that it creates and inhabits a middle ground between myths of presence, on the one hand, and Derridean absence, on the other, and functions as a speech act to affirm community and communication. A request for forgiveness for the small theft of some plums, the poem enacts the relationship, the relatedness with the wife, that permits the speaker to expect that he will be forgiven...."just saying"–it is an ordinary utterance, something just said, that, because of the way it calls the community, or marriage, into being, and creates the other in her freedom to forgive or withhold forgiveness, attains justness." Altieri writes that in the poem, "A strong sense of humanity ultimately prevails. . . . The justness of the speaker's poem is its recognition of his weakness and its lovely combination of self-understanding with an implicit faith in his wife's capacity to understand and accept his deed and, beyond that, to comprehend his human existence as a balance of weakness, self-knowledge, and concern"
Inspired by hunger playfully raiding the icebox like some Dennis the Menace caught on tiptoe with hands in the cookie jar, Williams admits to his Dagwood raiding of Blondie's refrigerator, piling the stolen food high, to make one of his infamous midnight sandwiches. The narrative poem on the surface gives a glimpse into one of his slice of life poems on the subject of stealing plums in the words and moments he did steal the plums, stole them from his own icebox, stole them away from the breakfast that he might himself have had on them, reveled in the stealing and loved the confessing of stealing.
Much anthologized and frequently parodied (see:Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams) William Carlos Williams is Patron Saint of American Poetry and master of the ordinary phrase ....and for Flossie, in fair exchange one delightful poem for the plums she was saving.

Fisher-Wirth, Ann. "The Allocations of Desire: 'This Is Just to Say' and Flossie Williams's 'Reply.'" William Carlos Williams Review 22.2: 47-56. Osborn

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Brats Story-time, a call to Assembly

'Bat-outa-Hell II' ,Martin B-26 Marauder that flew with the 387th BG, 557th BS.
"If  they would only keep their damned hands off of it."- Ira S. Godwin LTCOL (RET)

Once upon a time, way back in the day when "Brats: The BratPin" was a struggling rock star and consisted of nothing more than elaborate design requests for Brat jewelry and a fistful of Veteran Trading Cards, there lived a wee group of fans of Pat Conroy who was one of the rare deities of an earlier Bratdom era. Before The Internet, he wrote a book about the life and times of a military family that later became a well-known Hollywood film. He  prefaced a book about growing up as a Brat in US Fortresses, by Mary Edwards Wertch noting that “We are an undiscovered nation living invisibly in the body politic of this country,” and he went on to elaborate, “We’d never stopped to honor ourselves, out loud, for our understanding service to America.”

Later, Donna Musil made it so we could recognize this invisibility with her "BRATS: Our Journey Home" documentary and today we have an abundance of Brat Projects: UNCLASSIFIED: The Military Kid Art Show, Our Own Private Battlefield, BRATS Workshops, BRATS Clubs, Military Kid Art Camp, BRATS & Race, and  Military Brat Library, to name a few.

It was all over except for the dancing in the streets. Now we could spread our recognition across the land, over the seas and around the world.

But that never happened. Knowing that Brats would never rename themselves, several ignorant military organizations decided to impose their visceral reactions to the four letter word Brat upon us, and chose to encourage a civilian to create a new term for Brat and thus, OPERATION CHAMPS was constructed. Over the years the military organizations deliberately built the status of OPERATION CHAMPS in a bald faced attempt to pay no heed to the true community. 

One brisk autumn day, the small group of Conroy fans in "Brats: The BratPin"  group took notice of an article in a USAA webzine that proffered an interview with the creator of  OPERATION  CHAMPS. The dialogue disturbed many Brats; the idea that someone, a civilian, would dare to rename and re-brand them by using their SCHOOLS and their LITTLEST Brat bothers and Brat sisters, was not only reprehensible, it was unacceptable.

Outrage swelled across the many rivers and valleys of Facebook Brat groups.  As calls to rally came forth, it was suggested, by the now besieged rocker, that we should have a group and we shall name it "BRATS: Stolen Valor - Stolen Identity," (BSVSI).

Within this same call to Assemble, others stood up similar groups and they all began to cross support each other.

Lady Donna and her colleagues were taken by surprise. They looked up from their many worthwhile and meaningful projects that languished because they had been suppressed by the military organizations who remain adamant about NOT  using the word “brat” in their literature, and said, “Wait! We cannot splinter, we will spread too thin!” and “Stop! This will reinvent the wheel!”

Nevertheless, the buglers had already sounded the call to Assemble.  Groups materialized, keyboards were taken up and they flew to Assembly like Brats out of Hell.

Groups in the Assemblage swelled into the thousands.  In twenty-four hours, the BSVSI Brats numbered over a thousand; in three weeks, there were three times more.

Like all Brats, Lady Donna reacted strongly to the news about the co-opting of the Brat name and her hard work. For many weeks she remained an overwhelmed observer of these events. Sometime during the genesis of the groups, she found herself swept into them by well meaning supporters and some of the group creators made her an administrator without the courtesy of asking her!

Eventually, the leaders of "Brats Without Borders" caught up with the flocks of Brats and, as they have been doing for decades, reassured them of their heritage, offering sage advice and support. 

Thus is the story of the strange phenomenon of the creation of  BRATS: Stolen Valor - Stolen Identity and tandem groups.

- Eyewitness testimony by BSVSI creator, Debbie Godwin Adams.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Gallant young troupers

 "When we were growing up, every aspect of personal and private life was a measure of our father's professional competence." – a military brat

Mary Edwards Wertsch writes in her book, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, the recollection of a variety of children who grew up in the authoritarian, and not authoritative, there is a distinct difference, environs of the military. "The notions of conformity, order and obedience reign supreme... The great paradox of the military," writes Wertch" is that its members, its self appointed guardians of our cherished democratic values, do not live in a democracy themselves. Not only is individuality not valued in the military, it's discouraged. There is no freedom of speech, save on the most innocuous levels. There is no freedom of assembly for anything that is not authorized. There is not even a concept of privacy as civilians understand it, for in the military the distinction between public and private is thoroughly blurred. What a soldier says and does privately and what his spouse and children do and say can be held against him."
From birth we are imprinted with names like Dwight and Omar. USAF parents are particularly fond of naming us after air force bases like Travis, Edward, Luke, and Kelly. (Famous aviators) Even the Marines call their daughters Maureen or Marina Cora. And there's nothing like being born in a hospital where Moms make their own hospital cornered bed, then shuffle to the mess hall to collect their dinner tray.

We were starched and creased and by the time we were five we were little militarized troupers. The Marines even have a Devil Pup summer camp in San Diego. I must admit there was some envy when I read about that. Wertch explains, "When asked by civilians if it was really all that different to grow up in the military we children of the Fortress sometimes draw a blank....(It's) like being drafted into a gigantic theater company. The role of the warrior society, even in peacetime, is to exist in a state of perpetual "readiness": one continuous dress rehearsal for war. The principal actors are immaculately costumed, carefully scripted and supplied with a vast array of props...this is not a theater of improvisation. And then there is the supporting cast: the wives-- who may lack costumes but whose lines and movements are crafted every bit as carefully-- and the children, the understudies."
Weekend chores occurred on Saturday for us. At 0700 we got up, ate breakfast and while Mom and Dad went off to the commissary Sister and I had two hours to get the house squared away. Some kids that were interviewed in the book tell about their room inspections including beds made a certain way. Our shoes had to be lined up and the clothes hung with the left shoulder facing outwards. And while ours did not include bouncing any quarters off the bed we could not sit on our bed spreads; if something was set on the bedspread it had to be neatened up immediately. Furniture was not allowed to be kitty-corner.

One Friday night Dad won a typewriter at bingo and I awoke to orders of the day typed and posted on my closet doors, but there was no standing at attention during inspections like there were for some of us. Actually Dad just took a look at our rooms and pronounced them "outstanding" most of the time. Occasionally we were jokingly threatened with the "white-glove inspection" and told to get down on our hand and knees and use some "elbow grease" on that bath tub ring! Afterward Dad and I would open the window on the second floor, set the radio on the sill and watch the Woodward boys play street hockey while listening to the dih-dih-dah-dah-dah of some far away station. We were far enough north that it may have been Russian.

Some kids relate that they received Article 15's if things were not ship shape. In our home, they were reserved for more serious infractions imagined by maternal alcoholism. One boy recalled his mom doing the white- glove inspection and finally came up with some dust from behind the toilet. When I read that I thought of all the kids like me who had lived in the same quarters scrubbing the same bathrooms and felt a kinship like I have not felt before; something less than family, yet more than friendship. Maybe that's why we always begin with where we lived and what years we lived there. Then I grinned and wondered if these family-like friends would have stifled a giggle too if they saw a Colonel in dress blues standing over the sink, peering into the mirror and using my eye lash curler to straighten out a wayward eyelash that was bugging him. 'Can't be winking at the General's wife,' I teased my father.

We have rich and difficult roots and like Mary Edwards Wertch says we're troupers, real troupers.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Lost in a Sonic Boom

"Giving the speed of sound the slip; has cracked the air like a penny whip."—John Updike

I hate flying, but I love the sound of jets overhead. I love the sounds of interstates when I’m in a motel room in some barren uptown. Like urban fireflies, cigarettes glimmer in the parking lot on a Thursday night when all the salesmen are fast asleep. And I love highways when I wake up on a Greyhound and it is first light in the heart of nowhere, when I’m at a truck stop whose retro-wonder I'd drink in if the bus wasn't leaving and I had more than five minutes to finish breakfast and brush my teeth.

It's a safe feeling, somehow, to be nowhere. And the sound is the only thing that makes it safe, the assurance that there is a plan that everyone else is going too.
I love the military base near me. I could never live there anymore, but I love the sounds it makes at night as a pretty pink sky sweeps away the contrails. I love stepping out of my small and slow life into a place where if I crumpled up and died I would be impossible to differentiate from a lost plastic bag of refuse tipped out across the gutter of some dirt filled wash with creosote and no human faces. Hey, the whole high desert, the residential blankness; the calmness of simply not existing.
To the casual observer I look no different from any other person, just another gray face in a gray world. But to those of us who have endured the forges there will always be an unspoken bond, and I will identify the pale pockmarks of my friends as if they were my own reflections. There is no universal insight magically granted to those who have been raised in the military, but my time there guarantees one thing - I will never be connected with those cold souls who risk nothing and therefore gain nothing.

Hummingbirds emerge in my yard and I wonder where they came from. And I don't finish the thought because I go inside and they evaporate. I am so fleeting, with my spirit chasing the passions I dreamed up, and I tear like roaring jets towards nothing. It feels good to rush toward nothing. But it feels best in the core of that squall, when I hear the rushing all around and I am standing still, flickering like a cigarette and aiming my guts at oblivion.