Tolerance

“A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but it’s lowest.” – Nelson Mandela

“If 40 million people say a foolish thing it does not become a wise one.” – W. Somerset Maugham

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Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 1.28.40 PMWhat year are we living in?

What century are we living in?

Is this what “Make America Great Again” feels like?

 

~

New Kids in the Neighborhood
Norman Rockwell – 1967screen-shot-2017-02-03-at-9-50-45-am

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The Secret

“Seems to me it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doing to it, and all I’m saying is: see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby, love. That’s the secret …” – Louis Armstrong

Screen Shot 2017-08-04 at 9.36.34 AMAugust 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971

How does a boy born in Storyville, the poorest neighborhood in New Orleans, who sang on the streets for pennies and sent to a boys home at eleven go on to play with jazz greats Bix Beiderbecke, Sidney Bechet and King Oliver and influence legends including The Beatles and Wynton Marsalis? In the words of the late, great Louis Armstong, “see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love, baby, love.”

That’s the secret.

 

 

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Sidling Home

               photoBella 2005-2017

        Sidling Home

The recurring memory goes like this:

It’s late afternoon atop the ridge on a blazed trail,

lone raptor one hundred feet above,

water hushed by maple and oak one thousand feet below,

trekking into gray, dusk, black.

Pitch the two-man by intuition,

stretch the hammock between the shadow of two trees,

the enormous pearl smiles down,

tent door untethered, her head rests on my side,

we pee in the wee hours,

sit on a crag at dawn

and watch a blanket of fog cover the river.

She gets up, slops my face with her long wet tongue

and sidles home across a carpet of clouds.IMG_5772

Bella always at home navigating the Appalachian Trail, taking a swim, chasing critters and devouring anything she could sink her teeth into. Her spirit will always be in the outdoors and her ashes will scatter above Pulpit Rock.

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Prague Street Art – Il Commendator

Prague is known as the City of A Hundred Spires for its medieval architecture. It is also a city of art and history. The Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square with its moving figures that include the Apostles and Death striking the time dates back to 1410, and the Charles Bridge with a stone tower at each end and twenty statues of Apostles and the Crucifixion lining the two sides started construction in 1357. But one of the most arresting works of art in the city is tucked away on a small street at the corner of theater, Il Commendator.

IMG_5145Il Commendator is artist Anna Chromy’s tribute to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Mosart’s opera about a womanizer lacking a moral compass who descends into hell moved Chromy so much as a child that she created the concept of the Cloak of Conscience in 1980. In 1990 a Cloak in bronze, symbolizing the Commendatore, found its place in front of the Estates Theatre where Mozart directed the world premiere of Don Giovanni in autumn 1787. Happy with the installation of her work many others followed. Chromy dreamed of creating the Commendatore as “Guest of Stone” and her dream came true in 2010 with the completion of the large Cloak in pristine white marble from the famous Michelangelo quarry in Carrara.

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IMG_5140 - Version 2On a gray afternoon my wife and I walked from the memorial of Jan Palach who set himself on fire protesting the Communist government in 1969 to a neighborhood of narrow streets–Havelska, Kotcich and Rytirska–where vendors line their carts selling jewelry, tee shirts, vegetables, liquor, art, and an assortment of treats in cannabis wrappers. It was raining as we approached Estates Theater and from across the street the silhouette of the bronze cloak was like the gravitational pull. The harrowing sculpture arrests the imagination and invites, no demands, you to look closer at its chilling emptiness. Look too close and risk being pulled into the depths of hell with Giovanni.IMG_5142

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Faith of a Golden

I’d lost two of my closest friends the past two summers, and now I thought I was going to lose my hiking partner. She was listless and hadn’t eaten in two weeks. I loaded her into the back of my Jeep and drove her to the doctors where a young veterinarian did blood tests, gave her 500 cc’s of fluids for hydration, and a shot for pain. The results from the blood test were grim. The veterinarian gave me her weekend hours and phone number before we left in the event I decided to put my hiking partner down.

Bella understood none of this. She laid around for another couple of weeks not showing much interest in food or activity. One night friends were over for dinner and we had leftover filet mignon. I cut it in small pieces and fed it to Bella. She scoffed it like a death row inmate would his last meal. In twelve years I’d never cooked for Bella, but I started mixing her food with gravy and she started wagging her tail when I woke in the morning, nudging me to play, and was eager to take walks.

We are preparing for our first long-distance hike since December.

          Faith of a Golden

She doesn’t know the difference between a kidney
and a kidney bean. Failure sounds like filet mignon.
The vet tells me two needles. First, the tranquilizer.
She walks down an embankment, dunks her head
in the Ganges. Talks to a mare under the bottom rail.
Second needle, the last waltz. I worry about the cost
of cremation and burial. She licks her butt. Scratches.
She’s playing me. Refuses dog food, only bacon
and kielbasa. Her faith exceeds that of a bishop’s.
She can’t clasp her paws in prayer. Her religion is chasing
rabbits through fields of tall grass with no chance
of catching, repeating over and over never losing hope.
I wake each morning braced for death.
Her tail thumps against the shag rug.

             Jim Brennan

* Many thanks to American Journal of Poetry

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Writing Process

The logical place to begin a poetry reading is with a poem about the writing process. From the American Journal of Poetry, Writing Process.

                 Writing Process

What a stroke of luck when your best friend dies of cancer
six days after your lover is struck by a bus,
to describe anguish in poignant prose.

And the smell of your flesh burning under molten slag,
or suffering a sliver of rusted steel slicing your cornea,
is red meat to starving metaphor.

Unload a boxcar baking in the searing summer sun, then
jackhammer 100 feet of concrete on a 100-degree day
to percolate powerful hyperbole.

It would help to be thrown face-first into a cell
where you sleep in a puddle of vomit
to describe humility with credibility.

You should run ten miles with the homeless,
then drop your last dollar in a vagrant’s dirty paper cup
before drafting even one line about empathy.

Finally, trek from the summit of Mount Blanc
to the cobbled streets of Trastevere
to craft poetic verse manifesting magnificence.

But not until you see the crown of an infant
emerge from the womb, or the foal from the mare,
will the writing process begin.

Jim Brennan

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Shoes on the Danube

“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.” – Carlos Fuentes

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On the east side of the Danube River in Budapest between Parlament and the Keys Bridge, are a clutter of iron shoes. Walking by this unusual site the air turns solemn reminding me of walking past the Vietnam Memorial, or The Wall, is Washington, DC. Also like The Wall people leave mementos, hand-written notes and flowers, stuffed in the shoes.

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“Shoes on the Danube” is a memorial to the Hungarian Jews lined up at night and shot to fall into the river for the current to carry away. The atrocities were carried out by militiamen of the Arrow Cross, a fascist group fashioned after the Nazi Party. It is estimated that 3,500 people, many Jews, were shot into the Danube during the reign of the Arrow Cross.

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I pictured a mother holding her child’s hand in the dark, or perhaps the child’s arms wrapped around her mother’s waist crying and frightened, the mother knowing their fate. The hate of the militiamen so fervent is unimaginable; more likely their ignorance and fear.

The day before I left for Eastern Europe I went to the book store to buy reading material for the long flight. In the parking lot was a black pickup truck with a conspicuously large American flag raised in the middle of the bed. After I found my books I got into line behind a large male wearing an orange tee shirt. He had a shaved head, long beard, earrings and tattoo-covered arms. I looked at the books he held, one of which was The Nazi Doctors. After he paid the cashier I watched him walk to the parking lot and climb into the black pickup and drive away. How is it, I thought, that we have a Nazi movement in America and that they’ve become more emboldened recently?

A young man roughly my children’s age guided the small group my wife and I were with around Budapest. He told us that one school day each year was dedicated to teaching young people about Hungary’s alliance with Nazi Germany and the era of Communist rule. Such a practice would serve American schoolchildren as a lesson in the perils of hate, intolerance, nationalism, fascism.

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