MOODY RIVER WINDING AWAY

What may appear to be a lazy river meandering amid its wooded isles deserves consideration and room to run wild.

Passions arise and freeze over. The flow dwindles to rock. Rats run along the shoreline of factory brick at the dam. A few miles on, either direction, the dairy herds gather.

All of it reflecting my soul when I lived there.

Susquehanna 1~*~

For your own copy, click here.

BLIZZARD? WE KNOW THAT PAIN

Following the rapidly changing weather forecast for the weekend as it evolved over the past seven days has spurred many emotions where I live. For a while, we watched our snowfall predictions rise for Saturday and then Sunday, prompting us to reconsider scheduling a gathering at our house. Let’s wait, my wife counseled, suggesting the next weekend could be even worse. And then the anticipated depths we viewed kept declining until, suddenly, there was no precipitation of any kind on tap for the weekend. What a relief, we thought.

But then we saw where that snow would be headed. It’s a strange feeling for New Englanders to see a blizzard steering south of us. Sparing most of us, in fact. We know what it’s like to be hammered and then buried. But we’re equipped to dig out, too, and accept it as part of the price of living where we do. We even know what it can do to a crowded city, where there are few places to dump the mounds as they accumulate. Driving along a street, you’d keep asking, Is that just a big pile of snow or is there a car under there?

It doesn’t take much snow to lock up a city, in fact. No matter how prepared a metropolis, six inches can really muck things up. And a foot can take days to clear free. But two? Now it’s getting serious.

We also know that even an inch of wet snow can make for some very hazardous driving. Forget what those four-wheel-drive advertisements say. We’ve seen enough of those vehicles spin off the road into the median strip or guardrail. There are acquired tricks to driving under these conditions, along with cautions. I think of it more along the lines of boating.

So when we see expectations of up to two feet of cold wet flakes blowing across Virginia and Maryland and even a corner of North Carolina(!) — and similar impacts on the District of Columbia and Baltimore — our sympathies fly southward. That’s even before Philadelphia and New York City are hit.

You probably don’t have neighbors with snowplows on their pickups, for one thing. You might not even have your own snow shovels at hand, much less snowblowers. As for those boots and gloves? We understand.

I can’t help but recall the broader term for “global warming” was “climatic instability,” which is what we’re seeing. Remember that if you hear the word “record” being applied to this storm. And no, I won’t refer to it by the cable channel’s name.

If you’re bearing the brunt of this storm, you have our sympathy. We know you’ll have your own names for the experience, few of which are publishable in polite circles. Our best advice is to stay put and take things easy as long as you can and hope you stay warm. Declare yourselves a snow day. And remember, this too shall pass.

WITH FLAMES AND A DEMON OR TWO

Anais Nin once contended that each of us has a demon. My response was – and remains – Just one?

Each demon, we should note, is different.

Our struggle is what thickens the plot – or dulls it. It can draw us together in intimacy – or drive us apart.

The eleven prose-poems of Harbor of Grace reflect that energy.

They tell of intense friendship propelled by a shared faith that flames and then explodes. Of the Old Ways bordering Amish and other Plain peoples in addition to urban conflict over the horizon. Of commitment and human shortfalls, too.

Harbor of Grace is the translated name of the town at the mouth of the Susquehanna River where the dedicatee of this collection was born.

harbor cover.jpg.opt370x493o0,0s370x493~*~

For the chapbook, click here.

MORE THAN THE BAKLAVA

When I moved to Baltimore, I was surprised to find all of the local pizza parlors were owned by Greeks. Not Italians?

Well, it took time before I discovered the alternatives, beginning in the city’s Little Italy.

But that occurred about the same time I was told most diners were owned by Greeks, too. And I’ve come to love diners, even though I’d been introduced to the real thing way back right after college. They just weren’t fashionable then.

Well, somewhere in-between there had been the Dairy Queen owned by a Greek-American who, though a big error by the Bank of France, wound up instantly nearly seven-figures rich – and took flight to his homeland before the error was discovered. It was a big news story where I was for the next month, before he repented and returned.

So more recently, I ordered a pizza from a local parlor. Wanted to support a young friend who works there. When I picked up the box, there was no gaudy image of a fat smiling chef on the top of the steaming box – a good sign, in my book. And then I noticed the design was mostly white with blue trim, adhering to the national Greek colors. Along with a border of … the signature Greek key pattern. OK, I thought. I get it. Even before I noticed the words gyros and pizza in a little house, side by side.

That does it. I’m definitely going back for a gyro.

And, for the record, the box is distributed from our favorite Italian grocery in Portland, Maine. Has me wondering about the rest of the story.

SABBATICAL LESSONS

As I said at the time …

When I was 38, several developments occurred in a way that allowed me to give myself a year of unemployment, drawing largely on savings. Rather than travel the world or undertake some related activity, I hunkered down in a writing spree [that resulted in the novels now (finally) being published]. The sabbatical meant that for the first time in my life, I had a period of uninterrupted concentration on this work. The writing itself. Three fast novels, now to be revised, and thud! skidding to a crash or whatever. Enough to expand to a dozen, in the hours of revision after I went back to the paying work. Looking back, I know it had to be done. And done then.

Nevertheless, in my struggle between practicality and art, there’s been a longstanding sense of guilt in spending time on myself. To my surprise, a resolution came through a workshop on prayer, when we were divided into smaller groups and then asked to write out a prayer request. Not for what others might need or a social issue, but for something we needed individually. “Ask for something for yourself,” which the others would then pray for.

Of course, each of us works differently. I’m not one for the blank sheet writer’s block syndrome: I’m usually springing from notes jotted down earlier. (Pacing is another matter: just where is this going? And why?)

In contrast, I recall a poet friend who was also a public school teacher; he was quite prolific during the busy school year, yet during the summer, could produce little, though he could never quite figure out why. (He could also stare at a piece of paper for five hours and then turn out a sharply focused gem.) The other friend, having all the leisure in the world, could produce only disconnected flashes. Could it be some juggling or resistance is also essential to the practice?

REVELS

I first heard of them while living in Baltimore, the Christmas Revels that friends participated in down in Washington.

But it wasn’t until I moved to New Hampshire that the event came into focus, first through live broadcast previews of that year’s Boston production and then through actually attendance at Sanders Theatre at Harvard.

Revels, you ask?

I initially thought of something along the lines of a glee club, but what I discovered was much more elaborate – gorgeously costumed stagings blending solo, instrumental, and children’s and adult choral music, dance, comedy, a mummers play (skit, actually), audience singing, and a story narrative. The closest event to it I knew of was the annual madrigal dinners back in college, but rather than repeating an Elizabethan theme each year, the Revels create a lively story around a particular culture in time and place. One year focused on Leonardo da Vinci’s Italy; another, Armenia and neighboring Georgia; and then Appalachian, Scottish, Irish, French-Canadian, and colonial Spanish themes also come to mind.

The events were the brainchild of folklorist John Langstaff, who launched the first public performance in 1971 in Greater Boston to draw people into a community-wide celebration of the season. It’s a great way to introduce children to live concert and theater without the second-class status of “children’s” attached. And they’re always joyful and fun.

This past winter, spring, and fall I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the bass section of the Revels Singers, a community chorus that rehearses and performs music from the previous four decades of shows– not just the Christmas productions but other events throughout the year, ranging from the Middle Ages till now and including 15 or so languages at last count. The chorus for the Christmas shows, I must point add, is top-notch, by audition only. Having some of its members among us at our weekly sessions has been illuminating. And some of them wondered why I’d commute up to four hours for a two-hour rehearsal? OK, I try to make an outing of it. Still, it’s magical time when we’re together.

Meanwhile, how often do you get to watch a first-rate conductor and arranger like George Emlen behind the scenes? We soon recognized that within his light-hearted approach were some very high standards and matching expectations, and we’ve felt ourselves rising more and more toward them.

This year’s Christmas show is The Road to Compostela, focusing on the Galician region of Spain and its famed pilgrimage. If you can’t get tickets to any of the 16 performances, there’s always the CD. And, yes, we’re going right after Christmas Day itself.

WASHINGTON, THE CITY

As I said at the time …

In the Northwest quadrant of the nation, they refer to it as “Dee Cee” just to keep from confusing it with its larger namesake. Not that that really helps, mind you. It’s more an expression of derision. After all, not even the wire services or television networks make that distinction. No, everywhere else it’s simply “Washington,” and let the Evergreen State go to hell.

But is that really fair? Of course not. The name of the place is District of Columbia, which is rather cumbersome. Georgetown has a nice ring to it, but unfortunately, it’s an old neighborhood that really should be its own city, for that matter; but the District tries to be a city-state in all the negative connotations of the concept.

Why, now, they’re even trying to become an independent state! The audacity!

Listen, now, if the residents of the nation’s capital want to be represented by congressmen, they can petition to do what’s fair. And that is to return to the State of Maryland what its people had so nobly ceded to the federal government way back when the Founding Fathers, in their great wisdom, decided to seat the nation’s capitol in a teeming swamp. Just look at a map and it’s obvious the portion in Maryland is neatly squared. Part of a diamond, actually. You can see how it would have squared on the Virginia side, if the bureaucrats hadn’t decided they didn’t need that land and gave it back, instead.

So the feds have already returned to Virginia what that commonwealth had thrown into the kitty. And look what they got as booty the Pentagon, Arlington National Cemetery, Dulles airport, and Wolf Trap.

Not only that, but let’s remember where loyalties have been placed. Remember how Virginia turned upon Washington, sent troops to destroy it so that was back in the Civil War.

Maryland, meanwhile, dutifully stood by the Union. Oh, I know, there were a few upstarts who sent their sons off to fight for the Confederacy, and, sure, the feds had to keep cannons trained on Baltimore City just in case. But by and large, Maryland stayed put. Isn’t it time for that debt to be paid?

So the nation gives the District of Columbia back to Maryland, which then picks up a larger congressional delegation. Maryland has been a much smaller state in numbers than it ought to be, considering its influence and geographical placement.

Oh, I know there are those who retort that we don’t want Washington, not with all of its poverty and related urban problems. Just think about what it will do to our welfare costs, for starters.

Well, wait a minute. What’s to keep us from taking the existing welfare kitty and just dividing it among more people? That seems generous enough to me, and besides, it won’t cost you and my a nickel more.

And as for the urban problems, why, people said the same thing about Baltimore before William Donald Schaefer and the Citizens (Sic) got their act together. No, this seems to be an ideal opportunity for the new governor to demonstrate what he really can do while nurturing even more political talent. Make him the Dean of American Urban Renaissance. And a hot governor, toj _  boot.

There are those who say the feds should keep an essential portion as the District of Columbia. Hey, I’m not against that. I mean, the folks in the White House ought to be able to figure out how to keep all those lawns mowed and the monuments polished  although after trying to locate books in the Library of Congress, which, as you all know, is hardly open these days, I begin to wonder.

My own preference would be to place all the greenery and white marble buildings in a National Park. You know, Foggy Bottom National Park. Or Capitol Hill National Park. Or the Federal Mall National Park. We all like National Parks a lot more than we do a District of Columbia, no?

But quibbling aside, the place needs a new name, if for no other reason than basic courtesy to the Evergreen State.

Now I’ve always been told that if you’re going to criticize, you ought to at least have a positive proposal up your sleeve. So here goes.

Columbia or even District of Columbia would be nice, except for that planned community of ponds and condos between Baltimore and the Potomac. So that possibility’s kaput.

William Donald Schaefer is a nice name. He was an exemplary mayor, before he went flaky as governor. What? You say it’s even longer than Washington, D.C.? Well, listen, not if you use the whole name for Washington, District of Columbia, it’s not. Besides, Americans have a penchant for shortening names, so next thing you know, it would be William, D.S., and that’s definitely shorter. And then William and finally Billy, and we all remember fondly what a relief he was to the White House.

But would a Republican administration allow that? Probably not.

So here it is: we rename the federal area national park or district George. That’s it. George. That Yuppie cluster of Georgetown can become Junior if it wants. We have more important matters at stake. George speaks with authority. It’s regal, too.

As for the Maryland part the real city we offer a complementary name. Something to honor the founding mothers, as well: Martha.

Now doesn’t Martha, Maryland, sound like a lovely place? I can’t think of anyplace that sounds more truly Americana.

I know it will create a few difficulties at the Washington Post, for starters. Which may be exactly why a Republican White House might buy into this proposal. Nobody’s going to be quoting the George and Martha, Washington, Maryland and Virginia Post any more. They might as the Federal Post, but we’ll see.

We’ll see.

VOCAL ROOTS

Everybody’s from somewhere. You know, the accents, etc.

Merlinders with their “youse” and so on. To say nothing of the Bronx or Queens. Or New England, now that I’ve moved.

I should talk. I have no accent. Pure American Broadcaster Country.

Except that one line of my ancestry started out Pennsylvania Dutch (talk about talking funny!) and came to Ohio by way of Maryland and Virginia.

And another line came up north more recently, meaning the 1880s, from the North Carolina Piedmont.

So, there. No, folks. This time, I’m keeping my mouth shut.

TALLY HO, PIMLICO

As I said at the time, I’ve been thinking about names. Especially place names. Take “Baltimore,” a name most of us use repeatedly and never consider. There’s Balty More, kind of salty. Or Balta moor, rather Mediterranean. The name itself sounds Irish. I know, they were English. But it sure sounds like Ballyhagen or . . .

Of course, not everybody pronounces quite the same. I was in Florida a couple of years back and we went out to a restaurant owned by a woman and her husband, who had retired from Tennessee and, well, got so bored with the retirement life they went back into business just to take their minds off the boredom. So, following the dinner, she asked us where we were all from and the first of my colleagues replied, “I’m from Los Angeles,” and she said, “Oh, that’s very nice,” and the second colleague replied, “I’m from Chicago,” and she said, “Oh, that’s a nice city,” and the third said, “I’m from right here in Florida,” and of course she had to ask what neighborhood, and then my fourth colleague drawled, “I’m from right outside Atlanta,” and naturally they had that Southern thing going right away, in ways we Northerners can never know about. Finally, she turned to me and I said, as some folks around here do, “Bal’mer.” All of my colleagues looked at me queerly. Bal’mer? Not Bal-ty more? But not that lady, no sir. Without missing a beat, she came back, “Oh! Merlin!” Yessirree. I’m from the state of Merlin.

But back to Bal’mer, which sounds like something you put on a wound. Especially a burn.

At one time, the name made sense. Unique, except for the home plantation, wherever that was back in the British Isles. Named for the good Lord Baltimore, and all that.

But it’s time for a change.

For one thing, there are so many other Baltimores around the country, we’re only the biggest of them these days. I mean, there are all of those West Baltimores, New Baltimores, and North Baltimores, and so on running around, who needs them?

Even the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad decided it was time to change its name to CSX or whatever. Even here, in the metropolis, we have problems confusing, as we do, between Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

No, friends, it’s time for a change. New and improved, as they say in the advertising business.

We could turn to the original names, but Fells Point just doesn’t ring quite right. And Jonestown just won’t work, not after the Reverend Jim and his little band of suicidals. Nor would Otterbein, with its sectarian overtones as a denomination that no longer exists, for that matter. Harbor City doesn’t quite say it. Our nicknames Charm City, Mobtown, Crabtown, and so on, fail us as well.

What I am proposing is Pimlico.

Yes, this is Horse Country. And Pimlico has a nice ring to it. Consider the crowd that does Paris and Rome each year. Would they ever say, “I did Paris, Rome, and Baltimore”? Hell, no. But now try “Paris, Rome, and Pimlico” and you see what I mean. Pimlico has the kind of sound to it to reflect our definite up scaling of the city. It sounds just a tad racy, too.

Say Pimlico it shall be.

Remember, when you see the shining college students outside your favorite supermarket and they ask you to sign the petition, do not hesitate. And remember to vote yes on Proposition Fourteen, to rename Baltimore City and Baltimore County. Either or both.

Then we call all unite in saying, with renewed vigor: “Tally Ho, Pimlico!”

If only …

Baltimore Harbor