There are reasons it’s also known as Charm City. Or, as they say of neighboring D.C., it has Northern charm combined with Southern inefficiency. By the way, don’t blame me for that perspective.
Baseball great Babe Ruth was born here (1895) and poet Edgar Allan Poe died a drunk on its streets (1849).
Speaking of baseball, the Camden Yard ballpark spurred the return of smaller professional arenas to central cities across the continent. Now, if the Birds could only fly higher than the Yankees or Red Sox in their division. They really are doomed in that association.
Speaking of birds, the Baltimore Oriole got its name because its colors resembled those of the coat of arms of Maryland founder Lord Calvert. I have no idea about their religion, but he was an advocate of religious liberty.
The port was second only to Ellis Island in the number of immigrant arrivals in the 19th century. And while the city sits below the Mason-Dixon line and has a Southern outlook, it also has a strong German presence and Northern connection strengthened by the Baltimore & Ohio train tracks.
With his profits from those rails, Quaker Johns Hopkins founded the nation’s first research university in 1876. Today it and its related hospital and institutions are the state’s largest employer.
The metro area is also home to McCormick spices. You can smell it in the humid spring air.
The National Aquarium crowns the redevelopment of the Inner Harbor as a popular destination. The waterfront is also graced by the tall-masted USS Constellation of Civil War glory.
American Methodism was founded in 1784 at the site of today’s Lovely Lane church. And a 1789 conference at Old Otterbein Church led to the formation of the United Brethren denomination of German-Americans (it merged in 1968 with the Methodists, giving them the “United” in today’s name). Also in 1789, the nation’s first Roman Catholic archdiocese was founded in the city; its cathedral was finished in 1821. It even produced a saint, I believe.
A flag waving over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to the National Anthem, the one that was much in the air yesterday, but the music’s from a much older British drinking song. How ironic, especially since it challenges even the most professional singers.
The city doesn’t show up in my fiction, despite my living in the inner city’s Bolton Hill and suburban Owings Mills for three years. Even if the place is so hot and humid you have to turn on your air conditioner on the same day you turn off your furnace. Or, as they say of neighboring Worshington, it’s built over a swamp you know.
I wonder if the longstanding tradition of morning cleansing of marble steps at the front door in many inner city neighborhoods of Baltimore has survived the stresses of two-income families or single-parent households? Who knows when it started or in how many other locales it’s also practiced. This has been a custom of row houses, connected to each other – blue-collar communities, in fact – and not of detached suburban housing. And that makes the foremost difference.
These poems consider what women do and preserve – though not always exclusively. Yes, I’ve known women who bale hay or decipher monastic manuscripts, and I’ll also admit men can know nothing of bearing children or nursing. Yet, somehow, many women seem most at home around the kitchen, even if it’s nothing more than a teacup or a picnic. Even her garden, should she be so inclined, seems to extend from that table or the alchemy of her oven. And that goes for flowers, as well as vegetables and berries. (Remember, though: not all mothers and daughters can stand to be in the same kitchen at the same time, though they both be masterful cooks.)
Looking back on Baltimore, I remember my next-door neighbor, each morning in season watering the black locusts between our houses and the street. Maybe she did her stoop, as well. But the trees, which seemed to have always been there, were beautiful and timeless, as if spreading their own table.
I could imagine myself an orchestral conductor, but there are many things that must be trusted to the players themselves. Something like Rubato, within a musical phrase, comes to mind. And then, in a flash, it’s passed. Reflect on that with these poems.
As I would have said at the time: Note to folks living below the Mason-Dixon Line: It’s time to remove the Confederate monuments. They look too much like a sore loser.
Let’s remember, those shafts (at least the ones I’ve seen) have to be offensive to every descendant of every slave in America.
Think of all the German-Americans who never erected Kaiser monuments in honor of their dead kin. Japanese-Americans who could have placed Hiroshima/Nagasaki reminders. Italian-Americans, with Mussolini railroad efficiency. Vietnamese, Native-Americans, French?
It’s one thing to respect the dead, but this has felt defiant. From my view of history, it was a rich man’s war fought by the poor who continued to suffer poverty long after. Including many of my ancestors.
Now, what do I make of the statues of Civil War soldiers found on every town green in New England?
The prose-poem presents a subtle challenge. In theory, it should be a natural fit for the English language. In practice, however, what I see all too often is simply wordy prose. Somewhere, the poetry gets trapped or tangled or loses its spin.
Coming across a guideline to keep a prose-poem under a hundred words spurred my thinking. As I considered revising a clutch of drafted poems, a sensed an opportunity. Recast without line breaks, they flew – especially when I removed the punctuation that pushed them toward prose.
I’m satisfied with the results, which I feel are more powerful and vibrant and authentic than either a straight-prose or straight-verse version would present.
“Hey! You! Come here!” Black man, about thirty, in Pitt sweatshirt and Pirates cap, stands at the fence and motions one of the tough talking grade-schoolers over. “I said, Come here! Yes, YOU! I’m warning you, leave my daughter alone. Don’t call her, don’t talk to her, don’t approach her.” He fiddles with his car keys. The kid smirks. “Listen to me,” I suspect he wants to add “you little asshole,” but he restrains. “If I ever hear that you’ve said anything like that again, you’re in deep trouble. Understand me? Real deep trouble. And that goes for my wife, too. You’re to leave them both alone, got that. You can tell your mother what I’ve said to you, I don’t care. You can tell your pa, too. I don’t care. But I’m warning you, hear?”
(The blond brat, walking back to the pool from the fence, smirks to his buddies.)
I’m itching like crazy. This has been going on the past two weeks, ever since the first flea bites. Those are gone now but the itching gets worse. Hellfire. Mites? Fungi? Anemia? Allergies? (WATER! Hot showers or swimming?) Negative effects from the sun? First sunbathing in three weeks: my tan’s faded to half.
Hot shower and soap up thoroughly. No relief.
Much lotion, which I’ve been using for a week and a half anyway.