The Verb To Inquire

Posted in Education, Pandemic, Poetry, social justice with tags , , , , , on April 26, 2022 by Louise Steinman
collage/LS and LBR2022

Every Friday afternoon, I have been tutoring a fourth grader named Delilah, whom I view through a screen on Zoom. During the pandemic, Delilah’s school is the bedroom she shares with her two brothers. Her desk is her bunk bed.  The family rarely goes out. Her mother quit her job to monitor the three kids’ schooling. Last December, they all got Covid. Her little brother bounces on the bed behind her, desperate for attention. Her older brother is playing a video game, with volume on high. After our first meeting, I cried. Delilah had no books. Everything was on the screen. She told me her eyes hurt after so many school hours on Zoom. 

Still, Delilah is patient. Slowly but surely she sounds out the words in a story about a girl named Esperanza. Today she’s added more emotion to her telling, and we’ve discussed what quotation marks mean. Delilah changes the quality of her voice now for the different characters. We take apart the words she doesn’t know, this week “crisis” and “opinion.” She has a lot of opinions. We laugh a lot.  Sometimes while we’re talking, Delilah transforms her image into an avatar of a pirate or, say, a panda bear. (This is a feature of Zoom that Delilah understands but I do not.)

“If you’re going to be a panda bear,” I say, “then write me a poem about what the panda bear dreams.”

PANDA’S DREAM

My dream is to eat many bamboo

And to find so many panda friends

And to have a party

One day

In the house of my Dad.

-Delilah

……..

My mother taught me the verb “to inquire.” No cream cheese on the shelf in the supermarket? “We must inquire.” It sounded so grown-up.  We threaded our way through the aisles until we found the  door to the stockroom where the store manager sat at his deck.  I picture this scene at Market Basket grocery in the Culver Center, the locus of several favorite haunts: Grant’s Department Store, where I could purchase Chanukah gifts for everyone in my family with a fiver, where, downstairs in the pet department, I spent hours watching the colony of turquoise, green, yellow parakeets, their wings clipped, their space equipped with miniature parakeet furniture. They gossiped with one another, clanged small bells, nibbled seed. There were also the small turtles with beautiful colorful roses painted on their carapaces, designs which I later learned meant sure slow death.

My sister Ruth, six years older, a polio survivor, patiently taught me how to write my name when I was three. We practiced every day for a week, at a little table in the garage, printing out L-o-u-i-s-e. She took me by the hand and we walked a few blocks to the branch library on Sawtelle Avenue where I demonstrated my clumsy calligraphic prowess and, as a reward, received my first library card. New power!

From my older brother Larry, I learned several crucial lessons. After I’d read a whole book on the subject without any idea of practicalities, he finally told me how babies were made. I had to inquire.

I recently unearthed my term paper, titled BEING BORN,  submitted during fourth grade MCL (“More Capable Learner”)  summer school.  I did not understand what quotation marks were for:  Eventually the time comes when these two reproductive cells must find each other if they are to carry out Nature’s plan for the future. “But how?”  “That is the question!” The egg cell, of course, must stay where it is, inside the mother, for that is the place where the baby is to grow. To the sperm falls the greater task of finding its mate. It must leave the body of the father, enter the mother, find the egg cell, and unite with it. Then there are no longer two cells. There is just one cell, and from it the baby grows…The sperm cell not only starts the growth of the egg cell but we “believe it does two others things.”

……..

I tried to teach my mother to ride a bicycle on our street, Harter Avenue, which was flat. (“At least it has a curve in it,” an architect friend said to console me once, when I brought him to see my childhood house.) My mother was unable to achieve balance on two wheels. She hadn’t learned as a child. “Your body follows your eyes!” I yelled, but she fell over time and again. I was dumbfounded. Convinced it was easy. Just like I was convinced, when I was eight, that Mr. Goldstein, the sixty-something housepainter who was touching up the moulding in our living room, could also paint pictures, if he would just try.  

My brother, age five, attempted to teach me square roots, in a hall closet. I was two. I was screaming. His pedagogical method was not successful. I have never liked math, am dyslexic with numbers. I must also credit him with being the one who blurted out, one night at the dinner table—as the body count in Viet Nam was ringing out on the TV— “I would lose my virginity!” in answer to my father’s question: “what would you do right away if you knew the atom bomb was going to drop? A new word.  What’s virginity? Look it up, my mother said, which I did, in the big Webster’s that commandeered its own wooden dictionary pedestal, always resting open in its cubby hole on the shelf below the World Book Encyclopedias. 

Sometimes we surprise ourselves at what we’ve learned, without knowing that we learned it.  Early memory:  a drive home—I was three?— from a cousin’s house, down Motor Avenue, past the 20th Century backlot, passing the large red neon sign with that grinning creature and the letters that spell F-O-X… FOX! I yelled from the backseat, shocking the adults and shocking myself as well. I was overwhelmed not with sense of pride but with a sense of loss. That I would never again be able NOT to read, that those squiggles would forever more correspond to sounds that would add up to meanings. No going back. Words would now have their way with me; I’d crossed over the border from pure sensation, stepped out of comfortable oblivion, those hours spent up into the branches of the Chinese elm in front of the Britton’s house, observing the world through the green leafiness, where stories came to us primarily through the ear.

As infants, we extend our sense of self by literally reaching out with our hand. To grasp. Physical and mental development are inseparable.  Rudolf Laban uses the German word antrieb, which has the sense of a “drive onwards,” the urge of the organism to “make itself known.” Movement is assertion, and assertion is one of the primary acts of the mind. Our bodies educate themselves in the sensorial world. Don’t touch that pan, it’s hot. Startle when you hear a bear grunting.  Over time, we adapt to limitations, learn habits that may even create new limitations, the body responds with pain, the brain blurs.

……..

Reading with and for Delilah allows me to re-enter and re-admire reading in its inherent complexity, as a feat of translation, noting voice and thought. It’s humbling. Those marks on the page represent ideas, creatures, actions, emotions.  Yesterday we drew pictures on the shared Zoom whiteboard and made up stories about the creatures we drew: a cat, a lizard, a clown named Bobo. Two weeks ago, Delilah abruptly remarked, “I wish I could go back to the year 2017.”  Why 2017, I asked. “Before Covid,” she said somberly. 

Since her bed is her desk is her room is her school, I asked Delilah if she would write a poem about what was above her and what was above that and what was above that.

SKY

there’s an attic that’s been closed a long time.

there’s a roof that has little dots there’s a

blue sky that’s shining

there are clouds in the shape of pandas and

koalas and a lion and a puma

and above them planes pass by on their way to Hawaii

and above the planes there are

people floating with their arms

out

and as they pass by they say,

“Oh those midget people in

the bottom of the sky.”

-Delilah

……..

Today, Delilah showed me, with obvious delight, the bright orange back-to-school backpack that her mother purchased for her return to school next week. She unzipped the many compartments to show: this is where I keep my hand sanitizer! This is where I keep my masks! This is for my math homework! This is the pocket where I keep my erasers! She is so ready to be among her peers, even masked and at a distance. So ready to exit the small bedroom of her apartment, to re-enter this imperfect but vibrant world full of stories, a world where we must inquire.

[this essay first published in thursDAY morning, a chapbook published by Firehouse Press, San Francisco, 2022.

January 6, 2022

Posted in FILM, history, Human Rights, Life and What about It, Literature with tags , , , , , , , on January 6, 2022 by Louise Steinman

from “State Funeral,” Sergei Loznitza , (film release 2021; footage, 1953)

I’m walking the Silverlake staircases, listening to the audio version of Colm Toibin’s marvelous novel, The Magician, about Thomas Mann.   I’m struck to learn how slow Thomas Mann was to understand the dangers posed by the National Socialists in Germany. Mann held such a deep belief in the staying power of German culture, a world of cosmopolitanism, a culture that treasured Wagner and Mahler, Goethe and Rilke. He was convinced those Nazis would “go away.” Even as his eldest son and daughter Klaus and Erica became vocal anti-Nazis, Mann remained unperturbed. After the Nuremberg rally in 1933, his son Golo literally cut out articles from different German papers and laid them out on the dining room table. Look at these, he demanded of his father. “One article says 40,000 attended. Another says 100,000. They will not go away.”

For a break from reading about the rise of the Third Reich, I watched the unsettling and mesmerizing film, “State Funeral” by the Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitza (viewable on http://www.mubi.com).  

The film begins: “In the Afternoon of March 5, at 21 hours, 50 minutes, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin died. “ Sergei Loznitza’s assemblage of color and black and white film shot in the Soviet Union in 1953, constitute  “official obsequies” for the death of the mass murderer Stalin, whose body lies in state, in a red-draped coffin surrounded by mounds of lush flowers, “like a Marxist-Leninist Ophelia.” (The Guardian). One doesn’t know how much is real, how much is staged, but the somber sorrowful stupefaction of everyone from schoolchildren to loggers, from Kazakh villagers to Muscovites, is unanimous. (We do not see the zeks in the labor camps however, doff their hats.) Busses halt. Conductors and ticket takers stand with hands on their hearts. Steam engines blast their whistles, factories ring their alarms, soldiers and civilians remove their hats in unison, a portrait of the Great Leader is swung into place via a ginormous crane, like a scene from Fellini.   The film is mesmerizing, hundreds of the best cameramen in the Soviet Union were the camera crew; no expense spared.

There’s a provocative conversation afterwards, between a wildly gesticulating Italian director, Pietro Marcello, and the bemused Loznitza, talking about the import of the work. As I watched the film on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, this quote from Loznitza especially struck me:

“The thought I wanted to express in this film is very simple- Stalin is allegorical of all these people, who have a little Stalin in them, who share all these outlooks, and who compose, like little bricks of this whole apparatus of totalitarian human destruction.

Every time I turn to that time in my mind, and see those picture, which magnetise me too… every time I’m struck by that paradox that unfolds before my eyes. Understanding the nightmare, people, just like these mice, follow the piper, the one who plays the pipe to their doom. “

“Understanding the nightmare, people, just like these mice, follow the piper, the one who plays the pipe to their doom. “

Sergei Loznitza, film director

January 6, 2022

Silent Witnesses (at the Noah Purifoy Foundation)

Posted in Art and Culture, Human Rights, Life and What about It with tags , , , , on April 10, 2021 by Louise Steinman

April 9, 2021. In Piper’s garden. Joshua Tree.  Yesterday a visitation from a woodpecker in the palo Verde. Doves cooing. Ebullition of Lady Banksia roses, tiny yellows cascading over a white wall. Fat black bees dipping into the fragrant drooping wisteria. Orange koi darting in the green brine under magenta lily pads, a paddle of cactus, seeking shade from the desert sun. I’m dancing in the garden to Michele Shocked, “Quality of Mercy,” from the film, Deadman Walking. Where is mercy? Where is its quality not strained?

I’ve been watching the Chauvin trial in “homeopathic” doses, as one friend calls it. Chauvin’s lawyer parsing whether Floyd died of asphyxia or if his heart condition or fentanyl contributed to his death, when we already know, we can see , the experts have confirmed: this man was murdered. Anyone would be dead after being shoved face down for 9 and a half minutes,  chest compressed, knee on the back of the neck. That Floyd struggled to raise himself with his knuckles, with his chin. Did they really dare insinuate that a man saying, “I can’t breathe” is a sign of resisting arrest?  did they really have the audacity to claim that? Yes they did. Indeed they did.

Yesterday morning, we drove over rutted dirt roads to get to the Noah Purifoy Foundation, on the other side of the highway. We parked the Prius by the stucco house with the plaster horse heads, walked past the backwards WELCOME sign painted on old tires entered into the ten acres of artist Noah Purifoy’s imaginative universe, a village of wonders and horrors built out of of the detritus of the built and ruined world (“Try to Praise the Mutilated World,” the late poet Adam Zagajewski wrote), beauty accruing to a pile of old TV sets and washing machines (remember when they were given to lucky housewives on Queen for a Day?; a circus railroad of vacuum cleaners; a lyrical roller coaster of metal cafeteria trays. Where to go first.

My feet make a beeline to the same tableau that has summoned me each time I make a pilgrimage here, never more so than this April morning, during the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. This morning a pulmonologist. Yesterday a paramedic who testified, “Mr. Floyd continued to be dead.” Never let go of the outrage. “I can’t breathe” does NOT mean someone is resisting arrest it means they want to LIVE.

Purifoy titled this piece, “From the Point of View of the Little People.” Ten men tied together with wire. They stand some eight feet off the ground, positioned side by side on their cast-off plank, their scaffold. The wind ruffles their ragged cuffs, their pants sag in deep creases, their feet lifeless. They sag. They’ve been standing there a long time. They are men only from waist-down, severed at the torso, no arms no shoulders no necks no heads. Their legs are sun-bleached, always exposed, About to be shot. About to be hung. Already dead. Money, Mississippi. Screbenica.  A pit at Babi Yar. San Juan Cotzal. Line them up. Drop the trap. Yank the rope. Aim the rifle. There they are. Always watching.  Purifoy made the sculpture five years into his self-exile in the desert. He created it out of cast-offs; spare planks; pants from Goodwill or the dump; sneakers missing shoelaces, bedroom slippers with holes. He said he didn’t care if these figures—or any of the works in his outdoor museum— stood the test of time. He wanted the wind, the sand, the insects, the sun to be partners in the work: fabric bleaching; wood rotting; old magazines disintegrating.

Do ten half-men = five full men?  They are still standing on their plank, watching without eyes, witnesses to the United States of America where a police office is on trial for squeezing the life out of George Floyd in front of Cup Foods in Minneapolis. They won’t let us forget. We must not forget. We must continue to be outraged.

#noahpurifoyfoundation #blacklivesmatter #justiceforgeorgefloyd

Krzywe Lustro: all art is translation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 12, 2021 by Louise Steinman

Join a Panel Discussion about the book, July 25th, 10 AM PDT, in English and Polish

[photo: Ludomir Franczak]

I’d almost given up on the idea of a Polish translation of my book, The Crooked Mirror (published by Beacon Press in 2013.) But I know some stubborn (read, perseverant, optimistic) people, like the gifted translator Dorota Golebiewska, who decided she’d get to work and translate the book on her own. Who was determined to find the right Polish publisher for the work. And she did. And Rabbi Haim Beliak, who was also determined that the book be translated as part of the work of his organization, Beit Polska, Jewish Renewal in Poland. Dorota connected with the estimable Polish publisher, KARTA, which was founded in Warsaw in 1982 as an underground publication focusing on political commentaries; and which, after a few months, was transformed into an “independent almanac” presenting human attitudes towards dictatorship. The team at KARTA were a delight to work with—editor, researcher, designer. They included in this edition thirty pages of photographs. I wrote a new foreword, Marek Jezowski of Beit Polska wrote a thoughtful afterword: “Fortunately, the Polish-Jewish conversation continues to take place, and as Louise Steinman’s book, among others, makes clear, the list of conditions precedent for it occurring is short. Essentially, all that is required is for someone on one side or the other to demonstrate their willingness to understand: to listen with genuine mindfulness and sincere interest.”

The book has been graced with an intriguingl new cover, with shiny black and white historical photos gleaming from within the windows of a house of shared memories. It has already received a good review in Gazeta Wyborcza. The poet Adam Zagajewski, dear friend, dear mentor, wrote a lovely blurb for the book and then sadly, a few months later passed away. A great soul, a great poet, a great loss. This edition of The Crooked Mirror is dedicated to Adam.

Well, the day has come, the book is on the shelves in Poland, in its “second life” as Marek wrote, and Polish readers’ responses start to trickle back to me in Los Angeles. Hopefully there are many people who wish to “demonstrate their willingness to understand, and to listen.”

You can join us for a panel discussion to celebrate the publication of Crooked Mirror on Sunday, July 25th, 10 AM PDT. Panelists include: Dr. Kathy Balgley, professor of literature; Dorota Golebiewska, translator of Polish version, and editor Hanna Antos, of Karta.. discussion in both English and Polish. I’ll join in for Q&A. Will post a link for registration soon!

The Collaborative Skein: A Conversation

Posted in Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, history, Literature, Los Angeles, Poetry, Poland, reconciliation, translation, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2021 by Louise Steinman

The poet Piotr Florczyk just published a remarkable collections of poems, From the Annals of Krakow, based on testimonies from Jewish survivors from his home town, Krakow, in the Shoah Archive at USC, where he Piotr did a residency. This conversation between the two of us, about Piotr’s book, about the forthcoming Polish edition of  The Crooked Mirror, about memory and history and how we find common ground, was just published in The Los Angeles Review of Books

Kaziemerz Dolny, Jewish headstones.

Unclaimed, Unforgotten

Posted in homelessness, Human Rights, Life and What about It, Los Angeles, Peace and social justice, reconciliation, social justice with tags , , , , on December 4, 2019 by Louise Steinman

Continue reading

Welcome the Stranger: An urban installation for social engagement [Lublin, Poland]

Posted in Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, history, Lublin, Poland, refugee crisis, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 16, 2019 by Louise Steinman

It’s been an intense and magical week in Lublin, Poland. A Kabbalistic text appears over the archway of the Brama Grodzka; a flamingo is invited to perch in a storks nest high in a poplar tree; the words of Polish veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq are projected on the walls of the cultural center, reminding us of the hospitality that veterans need after the trauma of war. In the passageway of one the crooked streets of the Old Town, the voice of the local poet Jozef Czechowicz– killed in the German bombardment of September, 1939, fills the air… just near the vinyl record shop where they’re playing Talking Heads and Miles Davis. And at the Old Well in what is now the bus depot– and was once the Jewish quarter of Lublin– a voice sings forth on the hour with the words of asylum seekers, some from Guatemala, some from Eritrea, Iraq. “I don’t even know where this ship is taking me.” “I’m sorry cousin, I could not save you.” These art projects are all part of Open City Festival 2019, curated by Pawel Leszkowicz and Tomasz Kitlinski– dear souls, fiery social activists– who invited me and artist Dorit Cypis to create a piece for the festival they had set on the theme of “Hospitality” one of fourteen artist projects. Thus, “Welcome the Stranger,” an installation for social engagement… with a text inspired by Edmond Jabes that asks, “What is a foreigner?” “What does a foreigner help us understand?” After the installation, Dorit and I have loved /watching people in the busy bus depot– carrying their satchels and suitcases– arriving or leaving for other cities, countries– and the local cabbies– reading the text and listening to the Voice of the Well… which is a witness from the past, the only surviving well of the many that once served the city’s citizens, places where people came together to fill their buckets wth water, wells that were drawn from springs and river under the cities, connecting Lublin to places far away, to other continents… all connected. On opening night, we joined a procession of 200 plus people that began on the steps of Lublin Castle, then proceeded to the bus station and the Old Well, and on into the old city to visit all the art projects and listen to the artists speak about them, a beautiful night with a full moon, a city engaging with art, with history, with questions about hospitality and the lack thereof, in this world we all shar

“This happened centuries ago. This happened yesterday.”

For “Welcome The Stranger: an urban project for civic engagement,” we thank our collaborators– Jimmy Harry (sound score composition); Magdalena Birczynska (vocals); Piotr Florcyzk (translation), Lloyd Hamrol (water station design)– and the wonderful Lublin artists Magda and Ludo Franczyck who added their support plus Ludo’s beautiful performance at the Well; the art historian Joanna Zetar, from Brama Grodzka, who offered a fascinating talk on the history of Lublin’s wells and waterways… and took us to see the mural of Jewish Lublin placed along the small river that runs near the well…another delight of “hidden Lublin,” all that exists below the ground and in memory, kept alive by those indefatigable guardians of memory at Teatr NN… friends Joanna Klass and Wojtek Sasznor; Katy Bentall for sustenance and hospitality in the beautiful village of Dobre, to the staff at Rozdroza Foundation and the great tech team, Marcin and our guy Krzysztof Spoz and our friends and supporters on Gofundme, thank you all thank you all and many more.

Water station designed by Lloyd Hamrol, in front of Lublin Castle

Artist Ludo Franczak giving a talk at the Well, his search for the key to the Well, and playing his recording of the sound of the Well taking a breath, taking our breaths away.

A woman reads the text on the Old Well at the bus depot. [photo: Katy Bentall]

Dorit Cypis in conversation with two Lublin cabdrivers at the Old Well, talking about the text they just around, about “foreignness.”

Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child

Posted in asylum, civil rights, history, Life and What about It, Peace and social justice, refugee crisis, refugees with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 6, 2019 by Louise Steinman

merlin_157452141_35556aff-1a2e-4fce-8149-44a0ca5e6ad1-superJumbophoto: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

July 6, 2019

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
Sometimes I feel like a motherless child
A long way from home, a long way from home

Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
Sometimes I feel like I’m almost done
And a long, long way from home, a long way from home

What does July 4 feel like to a child in a cage in Clint, TX? To a Salvadoran mother wearing an ankle monitoring device afraid of being deported? How can one celebrate the 4th of July in America?  The Statue of Liberty is weeping.  I’m gliding on the elliptical this morning at the Glendale Y, to a podcast of an interview with Tracy K. Smith, our last poet laureate, who took  poems on the road, reading to rural communities in America, testing her theory that poetry can break down the divide between us, a black poet from the east reading poems about the Civil War in South Dakota, at a womens prison in Maine. Why, she wonders, when reading aloud a powerful Joy Harjo poem at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneers home, in Palmer, Alaska, do more of the residents not respond? Ask questions as others have at other community centers, libraries across the country. She hears just a few quiet moans from the audience. Then learns later, that those attendees suffered from Alzheimers and dementia—they hadn’t spoken aloud or moved their bodies in some time. The poems did reach them, deeply, the staff informs her, they could tell.

Interview over, I switch to music, shuffle songs.  And I forget so much of what’s in that library of music, assembled over so many years, music acquired for different ALOUD events at the library.  And out of my earbuds into my soul comes a soaring voice, Marian Anderson, singing the spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a Motherless Child.”  I’m gliding on the elliptical and weeping, can my body keep moving while weeping? Gliding to a halt.  Unbearable, the weight and suffering in her voice, the images of children in ICE Detention, the truth of their pain brought to the heart through the agency of the human voice, a pain so strong you could feel it on Novocain, and hammered home by this New York Times expose on Clint, TX, shortly after I return home, sit at the kitchen table with my coffee, open the newspaper.  How can one celebrate the 4th of July?  As we learn of this secretive site where children endured outbreaks of scabies, shingles, and chickenpox while being held in cramped cells? Where “the stench of children’s dirty clothing was so strong it spread to the agents’ own clothing—people in town would scrunch their noses when they left work. The children cried constantly.”  Two brothers, both epileptics, separated from their guardian sister, deprived of their medication, desperate to contact their father. Trying to behave “like little adults.”  Young mothers with dried breast milk on their dirty clothes. How does July 4th feel to a child in a cage in Clint, Texas?

July 12th rally, Lights for Liberty rally, Metropolitan Detention Center, 535 Alameda, downtown Los Angeles, 7:00- 9:00 PM.

Marian Anderson sings “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child”   listen and weep. listen and get yourself to a demonstration against the depredations and humiliations of ICE inflicted on our fellow human beings. Write your reps! Be outraged!

as I take care of the pupil of my eye

Posted in asylum, civil rights, Human Rights, refugee crisis with tags , , , , , , , on June 22, 2019 by Louise Steinman

IMG_6119.jpg

[photo: LS2019]

I have been corresponding with inmates at Otay Mesa Detention Center, where asylum seekers to the US are being detained. There are detainees from Mexico, Yemen, Iran, Tajikistan, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Columbia, and many more countries– fleeing persecution, rape, gangs, torture, police, threats to family and livelihood.  One young man from Congo, has been detained for two YEARS and 28 days.  As ICE ratchets up new raids and threatens deportations, please think about these people kept behind bars in a country (once upon a time) predicated on the idea of offering safe harbor to those fleeing persecution.  With this letter-writing system, every week you are given the name of someone in detention to write to, and all the letters (redacted) are published on-line. These letters are a life-line to those in detention separated from their families. They need to know that someone cares.  People who come to this country fearing for their lives should not be treated like criminals. Find out more here: Detainee Allies    This young man from Yemen (words below) would take care of our country like he would THE PUPIL OF HIS EYE.  What a good measure for any citizen!

Honorable Judge,

I hope that you will give me the right of protection and let me live

in this country like any citizen.

For I pledge to you that I will serve this country and will work

to build it up night and day and will take care of it

as I take care of the pupil of my eye,

and I will be a trustworthy watchman for it

and contributing member of society,

not a destructive one.

-refugee asylum seeker from Yemen, in ICE custody

and read this letter from Horacio, from Mexico to his pen pal Dora in Maine… I was so moved by this.

To Dear Dora and Otay Allies

It is a pleasure to write you and all members of Otay allies, I am so happy to receive your letters of support every week and to know that there is still people that care for the human rights nad actually still have comprehension, compassion ,and kindness. I also feel admirable towards you for you generosity every time you help me to buy my needs here in detention thank you very much for your kindness, I love to read yours letters and when you tell me about the water in Maine and the things you do every day I can imagine everything in my mind about what you do every day in your house and believe me I know where Maine is I know the names of all the states of U.S. A. in my case I used to live in a realy beautiful area close to Monterey CA, Carmel Valley, Santa Cruz is a very place places in California nice places in California where is located the Salinas valley where all of vegetables grows like lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, strawberries, artichokes and all kinds of vegetables. I don’t know if you of Clint Estwood, very good actor for the Western movies, he lives in Carmel Valley very close where I used to live, if you have the chanse to look it in google or even visit those places you will be amazed How beautiful they are. I receive the letter that you wrote me and I ma glad to know that you guys can be able to understand every single letter that all the detainees write to you guys even and knowing that there must be hundreds of languages that write to you guys Google translate is very good that’s the one I used to use every time I needed. I like the way that you send me the letter half in Spanish and half in English, for me when I was barely 16 year old I was brought to U.S. right after I started working in the field of Salinas CA my job was irrigate all of those vegetables with irrigation sprinklers that are really long and heavy but I was very happy because I was with my two older brothers, I them started going to ESL clases every afternoon after my work that how I learned som grammar I also used to love to take my younger brothers or sometime I used to go to those cities that are by the sea like Monterey, Santa Cruz just to take walks and to talk with the American people that honestly were and are very nice and kind and I remember I loved to make conversation with that people just to improve my English so that way I could practice more and more people in that area are honestly so sweet and is always are willing to help you I know that most of the American people are like that, I can say that because threw the years that I lived here I had such a good memories with the people from this country. I also must say that my situation is critic and sad I have to be truth about it it is sad the price that we “Mexico” people must pay just to be neighbor of the most rich and powerfull country of the world I say that because I see a lot of discrimination against us, like for example Mexican don’t get asylum almost never I don’t know why even knowing what is going on in that country with the cartels and all of that corrupted goberment that Mexico has all of those massive killings are happening just because they are fighting for territory why because that envolves a lot of money because this country has it. I always ask myself if Mexico will be situate where Argentina and Uruguay are it wouldn’t be that bad in crime people will be working decent it would not be all of those killings that are happening now that’s is one of my points of views. I am plenty fighting to be deported to Mexico I askin the court that I m fighting now to please try to send me to another country I have send letters to the embassis of Guatemala and else of the Panama to see if they fix something, that’s is what the deportation officer has told me to do, to try to get in contact with the consulates or embassis and ask them if they can give me what is called asylum humanitarian so I can avoid to go to Mexico or get deported again there, it is else part of my argument what I’m telling the court please send me to another country   Well Dora it is a pleasure to hear from you and also to write you every time I have the chanse I hope you can understand my situation that it is so difficult. I hope you had the chanse to listen to those wonderful songs that I mention to you in my last letter that I send you last time I hope you enjoy them, but I totally forget o mention about one other band of music of my favorites which is the Bee Gees I really love their music Barry Gibb is one of my favorites one of my favorite songs are “Alone” something in the Dark by Barry Gibb and I also know all about them Barry Gibb has a couple of CDs by himself listen to them they are wonderful I am sure they are going to like a lot. Well Dora thanks for everything and I hope for the best for you

You have a very noble kind heart, we definitely need more people like you in this world.

A++ your friend Horacio

 

 

Time Regained: Reading Józef Czapski in Billings, MT (about Marcel Proust, the Gulag, and reading as salvation)

Posted in ALOUD, Art and Culture, Crooked Mirror, history, Human Rights, Literature, Poland, social justice, translation, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 30, 2019 by Louise Steinman

IMG_7018 (1)

[from THE NOTEBOOKS OF JOZEF CZAPSKI, Polish limited edition]

I WOKE UP around 5:00 a.m., disoriented in an unfamiliar bed. I did not know east from west, up from down, where I’d find a floor to take the weight of my body. The hazy proportions of the room gave no clue; curtains blocked the winter light. In the moment my eyes opened, I lost my connection to those essentials that are, as Proust assures his readers, held fast by our psyches during sleep: “[T]he sequence of the hours, the order of the years, and the worlds.”

 

My disorientation went beyond the geo-gravitational. One era of my life had ended, and the next had not yet begun. If I lived in a traditional society, I’d have been standing on the threshold of the hut listening as a priest beat drums and stirred strong potions, a state the anthropologists call liminality.

Just six weeks before, I’d been fired from my job of 25 years. It was a job I’d loved, that had drawn on my love of literature and my delight at convening people from across Los Angeles to engage with the issues of the day, to ask questions of innovative thinkers, to practice agreeing and disagreeing in a public forum. The events at Central Library, the hearth of the city, were free; homeless patrons sat next to lawyers and teachers and students to listen to Christopher Hitchens talk about religion or Ta-Nehesi Coates discuss reparations. They came to hear local poets read Walt Whitman translated into Farsi and Spanish; to celebrate novelists like Colson Whitehead and his re-imagining of the Underground Railroad, to learn from naturalists like Terry Tempest Williams, primatologists like Frans de Waal. Hundreds of literary luminaries — Susan Sontag, Toni Morrison, August Wilson, W. G. Sebald, Margaret Atwood, Adam Zagajewski, Ursula LeGuin — all presented their work on our stage over the years. At our last event, Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter read from her grandfather’s just-published prison letters. One evening, during his sound check, Cornel West pulled me aside to say, “You know, don’t you, that this space is sanctified?” I did.

Now I was untethered from the satisfactions of my job and as well, from the scaffold of responsibilities that had, for so many years, structured the rhythms of my life. I was past the tearful stage, but I was still heart-torn, grieving. Luckily, I had been granted a writing residency that fall at an arts colony on a ranch outside of Sheridan, Wyoming, and Susan — my soul sister-in-art — had been awarded a residency there as well. Perhaps some time away would open a way to re-focus, to pick up the thread of my own writing life.

As a way to jumpstart our adventure, Susan and I schemed a rendezvous, picking a town on the map that neither of us knew at all — Billings, Montana — simply because it had an airport and decent airfares from Los Angeles, for me, and from Portland, Oregon, for Susan.

Susan rented us a car and a two-bedroom Airbnb bungalow in Billings. We planned to cook simple meals together, drink good wine, catch up on stories about our lives, plan collaborative projects, and, at the end of the weekend, drive the 70 miles to the Crow Reservation to spend some daylight hours at the Little Bighorn Battlefield, then travel the final stretch to the Wyoming ranch and our official residency.

At the last moment, life tectonics shifted. A mutual friend — jazz musician David Ornette Cherry — suffered a medical emergency. He couldn’t breathe, barely managed to call 911 from his Portland studio before he suffered a cardiac arrest. David was “gone,” the paramedics said, for four whole minutes, and was now in an induced coma, on a ventilator in a Portland hospital, in the limbo of the ICU, where machines bleated heart rates and IV bags dripped nourishment into human veins, between life and death, this world, that world, with Susan by his bedside. He had no family nearby. He was going to need a lot of support to pull through.

I wholeheartedly supported Susan’s decision to stay behind, to forgo the residency if David didn’t recover soon. I realized as well that it was too last-minute and too costly to redirect my itinerary.

Which is why I woke up alone, in a strange bed in a strange house in Billings, Montana, where I dreaded spending the weekend alone.

MORE. READ ENTIRE PIECE, as published in Los Angeles Review of Books, May 21, 2019

%d bloggers like this: