Americana circa 1953

Recently back from Austria and Switzerland, where he was stationed during the Korean War, here are my father (right) and uncle circa 1953, both in their mid-twenties:

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Almost Famous

To be respected by your family,
those you like and know,
is often not enough acclaim
to satisfy; and so
we seek to become famous
in this lifetime or the next,
a bigger fish than all the rest
and so command respect.

As the sphere of your influence
expands, you gain some perks:
you get your way more often
and can boss around more jerks,
perhaps a bigger house or car,
more money in the bank,
a longer list of so-called friends
who think you owe them thanks.

From strangers, you gain envy;
from criminals, their lust;
and at some point, the tiny circle
that you know and trust
continues to diminish, until
they grow tired and leave,
exhausted from competing
with the users you believe
would be there if your fortunes
were one morning found reversed,
who only stroke your ego
as a way to line their purse.

I wanted to be famous once.
I thought it would be great
to live as if my word was law,
to die and lay in state
while mourners passed through teary-eyed,
my name upon their lips:
the mind, the face that changed the world,
that launched a thousand ships.

But now, I wonder at the point
of seeking such applause;
and seek instead a smaller crowd
of friends and kin, because
the bottom line is this, you know:
you get what we call fame
when people you don’t know or like
pretend to know your name.

30 APR 2006

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Daddy’s Little Girl

Sometimes it’s hard to know the right way to begin
Too often words don’t get me past the might have beens
The mistakes I’ve made that haunt me linger on
And it’s hard explaining just where I went wrong

Sometimes this life can be so bittersweet with tears
Too often what’s most precious to us disappears
Each choice we make can break the simplest dreams in two
And make it seem like giving up’s the thing to do

If I could change the past, and somehow make things right,
or make the sun shine through the darkest, deepest night,
turn all your tears to laughter and stop this spinning world
That wouldn’t be enough for daddy’s little girl.

Sometimes I think that you’re too young to understand
The way that life can break the best that’s in a man
Too often when I’ve tried, I’ve failed to live up to
The man I see reflected in your eyes of blue

Sometimes at night I sit and watch you while you sleep
The soft sound of your gentle breathing makes me weep,
Thinking hard on all the things your future needs
And I offer to your dreams this guarantee:

If I could change the past, and somehow make things right,
or make the sun shine through the darkest, deepest night,
turn all your tears to laughter and stop this spinning world
That won’t be enough for daddy’s little girl.

If I could pave your way, and make your future bright,
pull down the stars and let you hold them just one night,
dry all your tears so you could laugh in a new world
That wouldn’t be enough for daddy’s little girl.

There’s nothing I could do in this old crazy world
That would be enough for your daddy’s little girl.

19 DEC 2005

My friend Jeff Rachall was talking the other day about going Christmas shopping with his three-year old daughter, and how she was now at an age where you couldn’t sneak presents for her into the cart without her knowing it. Once they hit three, they become much more aware of somewhat covert actions, and are all questions — “What’s that?” “What’d you just put in the cart?” “Why are you hiding that from me?” and then, of course with curiousity piqued they are difficult to shake off so you can HIDE the things at home. I told Jeff it doesn’t get any better as they get older, because they learn all your hiding places and get MUCH better at wheedling the truth out of you. Anyway, I wrote this song thinking of Jeff singing it to his little girl, and maybe me singing it to mine.

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Weak Blood

The blood that courses through my veins
has been diluted. I can sense
its former potency at times:
remembering my father’s strength,
my great-grand sire’s blind wandering
(which was itself a pale claret
compared to further back in time
when his ancestors sought freedom
in the New World, alone and broke),
the continents and oceans crossed
in times of war, in famine’s peace,
must have required more courage,
gumption, even, than I now possess.

Your plasma, too, is watered down:
in veins passed down from one who preached
the merits of peyote worship
to the Great White Father in the East,
and made the exodus, on foot,
from Canada’s Acadia
down to the Deep South’s draining heat.

How weak the strain our genes might mix:
like royal hemophiliacs,
or hypochondriac offspring
that dare not risk a paper cut,
or need a day of rest to cure
a sniffle, or a broken nail.

21 JUL 2005

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More on Sanity and Madness

Who could imagine their ancestors
all stark raving mad,
or at least each generation
marking out as bad
an apple flung far from the tree,
opposed to status quo
and causing much embarrassment,
endless grief and woe?
Yet isn’t it a kind of madness
to mime, deaf and mute,
precisely as your forebears did,
and not press your own suit?
And times when the world was mad —
if your lot stayed the same,
would you not think it odd or find
some malady to blame?
To think that no one in my family
thought this world not right,
or questioned why it should be so,
gives me an awful fright.
For what is more insanity:
to flee a maddened world,
or find a place inside the whirlwind
and stay safely curled?
A paradox that troubles me
whenever I feel sane
is why I find a normalcy
amidst such strife and pain,
and why we fear insanity,
which makes us more aware
of that which keeps the world divided:
in here, and out there.

23 JAN 2005

One could argue, I suppose, that there is a hint of madness to be found in EVERY family tree. And for those that exhibit no overt sign of it, I suggest that itself is the madness.

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A Grain of Salt

When grandma fried the eggs, she used the salt
so liberally its savor burnt the tongue;
and so my father grew to hate the taste,
eschewing through his life their bitter edge.

It seems to me this metaphor applies
to nuggets gleaned by some religious sects;
when taken from their source, the sea, in part,
they overwhelm the soul with acrid fire
and cease to flavor, but only repel.

Once taught to spurn the salt through overdose,
some go through life unseasoned, knowing not
of how themselves of this saline are made,
and learn to satisfy their hunger on
what tasteless crusts they come upon by chance.

13 DEC 2004

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The Wall

There is something in a family that doesn’t like a wall
inside the boundary it constructs, its face against the world,
that thin veneer of solidarity presented to conceal
or pander to the social mores ranking its esteem.

Behind the bastions of normalcy, its main concern
is making sure the single units pretend to conform;
and in that monitoring, it wants no separate, secret lives,
accepting only hesitantly strangers from outside.

Each strained reunion of the brood is subject of concern;
and any bricks laid on in private are quick set upon
with sledgehammers of guilt, and picks of hinting, sly reproach,
each proud attempt to isolate examined and destroyed.

Against this force of silent judgment, one who would be free,
seeking an authenticity outside accepted norms,
must toil in dark and secret, lest their labors be discovered
and hung, a warning pike along the outer fortress wall.

The separate self the enemy the hoarding family fears.
And so with subtle sabotage it works into new bricks themselves
the shale of doubt, and shunning stones to weaken each new plan
until in desperate surrender only the whole survives.

And distance, what is that to it, that reaches beyond time
across the generations, fingers clutching, like ivied vine
that resists even violent axes to grow back anew
and cover each new wound, and scar, with uniformity.

Its cry to arms is “Unity against the gathered hordes
that seek to infiltrate and then betray us from within,”
and with that xenophobic fervor fights to quell, subordinate,
the individual desire to reach outside its grasp.

There is something about family that doesn’t like a wall
within its defined boundaries; it challenges the whole.
And each new member must accept their assigned sentry role
or despite years of effort, its well-maintained castle falls.

27 MAY 2004

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