Archive for the ‘America’ Category

Forward Our Motto

Away from Wisconsin for the first time in twelve years, I feel more than a little disconnected from what is happening in Madison, our old home. And I have to say, that the budget problems in Wisconsin are real and daunting. But it is hard for me to look at the situation in my home state and not feel that the unions are getting strong-armed. The governor there doesn’t seem interested in solutions, just cuts. Why not raise taxes on corporations? On the rich? The property taxes of the super-wealthy? Why, in this time of strife, does the sacrifice have to come from teachers and other state workers? The dots have already been connected. And that’s politics, I suppose. He’s protecting his base.

But don’t be surprised when the streets fill with pissed off blue-collar workers, with teachers, secretaries, social workers, and like. Don’t be surprised when people fight for their rights. And don’t be surprised when your opponent realizes that you’ve handled this situation like a scared political rookie (the National Guard?). Don’t be surprised when they pull a crafty political stunt and delay your vote.

Like it or not, in politics, nobody respects you for rolling over. In recent years, nobody has perfected dodgy political street-fighting like the Republicans. And it infuriated Democrats and liberals.

This is just the first time the left has decided to fight back.

Better to go down fighting. Better to make some noise.

I’ve twice now been a union member and there are REAL reasons to belong. I’ve worked in dangerous meat-packing facilities where the corporate powers that be pushed machinery beyond safe protocol. Only the union had the power to stop production. And now, as a TA, I’m again in a union. And because of it, we have better insurance through the University of Iowa than Regina can access through her firm.

I’m not so myopic that I can’t see both sides. But what I like about this battle is that the left might lose, but they’re making some politicians squirm. And guarantee you this, next election cycle, things might look a lot different.


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The easiest thing I suppose, is for people to talk to me about the driving, and they’re always nice and sympathetic. It must be tough they say. So many miles, so many hours. But there really isn’t any other way for us to make this thing work, so I’ve always just pushed through. Done the driving no matter what. Monday nights, Thursday nights. Three hundred odd miles one way. And the truth is, if there were no other drivers on the highway, I WOULD LOVE IT. I could open the engine up, drive ninety miles an hour. My STEREO blasting. Writing notes for stories or poems. Drinking coffee. Watching the sunset, farmers in their fields, hawks, deer, turkeys. The rivers, always swollen. On Monday afternoon I was lucky enough to see sundogs for several hours on my drive south. Two brilliant vertical rainbows on either side of the sun, bright as the sun. Three suns above endless fields of white. Snow blowing over the fields of corn and great dunes and drifts along the fencelines and treelines.

My Monday drives are upbeat. I’m sorry to leave Regina and Henry behind, but it is the start of another week. Time to get back into my groove. Time to see my friends and students and professors. But Thursday’s drive is more difficult. I’m so excited to return home that I can’t speed time up enough. I can’t drive fast enough. When I reach the southernmost suburbs of the Twin Cities I’m still 30-45 minutes away from Arden Hills. The traffic bottlenecks in downtown Saint Paul and I can’t slingshot my way through. I always call Regina to tell her I’m close. I want to arrive home before Henry falls asleep. This is what being a father is, settling for even those final moments before he goes to sleep. Anything. Any time.

It’s almost two in the morning and I can’t fall asleep. Too much driving. Then exercise. A short story finished and a little poem.

Some advice for Minnesota drivers:

1.) The fast lane is on your left. Do not occupy the fast lane if you are driving slower than I am. And you will know me because I am glaring at you, ten feet off your bumper.
2.) Use your blinkers.
3.) Seventy really means seventy-five.
4.) Use cruise control so that we don’t perform constant two-car vehicular weaves. This is just annoying.

Just finished Samantha Chang’s All Is Forgotten, Nothing Is Lost. Very elegant with a devastating ending.

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George Washington

The Girl Who Cried Wolf

The New Verse News

I published a poem online today. A piece that I had written almost a year ago when I heard that Sarah Palin had addressed a group of Tea Party members. She had said that America “was ripe for a revolution.” I even blogged about it here. I think you can probably find the post organized in the “America” category (to the right of the screen.)

In any case, I want to say how disgusted I am with politics today. I really am. I find the whole thing astonishingly exhausting. I find both sides repellent. Of course, ideologically I tip the scales much more to the proverbial left, but I am also sympathetic to certain “conservative” values. I understand why conservatives in America were/are disgusted by the current spending packages proposed by Democrats. I get that. I understand why conservatives value family so much, why they feel that perhaps our nation is in decline based on some decay of traditional values. Again, I don’t wholeheartedly agree with their stances, but generally, I can sympathize.

But the tragedy that happened yesterday is beyond my ken. It is repugnant and incomprehensible and ill-informed and treasonous and sickening. And I think the American far-right is stoking people up. Stoking them up to commit these kinds of violence.

Here then is both a link to my poem published on The New Verse News and my original formatting below:


I tell you now that on the teevee yesterday there was a woman
talking about america being ripe for a revolution and she was
talking to a group of people call themselves the tea party. But
the truth of the matter is that most people don’t have no notion
of revolution. The word, it conjures up in them good feelings
about george washington and samuel adams and paul revere,
but you go ask people in guatemala what revolution looks like.
ask someone in chechnya. It aint just talk. It is people getting
killed. People losing their homes and their land and their farms.
Land mines and bombs and automatic weapons. I shook my
fist at the teevee, because I don’t need america getting torn apart
like that in my lifetime. I can point a finger to a gravestone in
gettysburg and show you my distant kin. America saved the world
seventy years ago, and now we got people saying that things are
so bad we need a revolution. I tell you what it is, plain and simple.
A bunch of goddamn greedy people who don’t want to pay their
taxes. We ain’t talking about a king or an emperor. We talking
about sidewalks and atomic bombs. We talking about highways
and bridges. School-houses and hospitals.

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It is Veteran’s Day and I write this letter to you from Iowa, where I sit in a comfortably appointed office on the grounds of a major land-grant university. I taught class this morning, to young men and women of the age that in other times of American war, would surely have been conscripted or volunteered for battle. Young, smooth faces. They give me great hope for America. They are sincere, kind, able. They may not love books but it is my job to try and make them love books. My life right now, my wonderful life, is about books. The only things I have to focus on are my family and books. On words. On such silly things as books and stories and poems. I am so fortunate.

There was always a part of me that wanted to be a soldier. That wanted the challenge of conscription, to be assimilated into something vast and mechanical such as the military. To have my body re-made, to learn warfare, to learn new skills, perhaps to lead. I thought, and think, that perhaps there was something bigger in me waiting to emerge, some version of myself more hard, more worldly, more rounded. I don’t know. I was sure that if I joined the military I could maintain myself, my individuality. And I have always loved fraternal endeavors, the camaraderie of teams and shared experiences.

But the truth is, I’d be a terrible soldier. I’m not in shape, not lean. I dream too much and maybe I’m too sensitive.

I watched the film “Restrepo” last night and just the act of passively sitting in a safe, American theater watching such violence, reality, and paradox was overwhelming to me. How could I watch my friends die? How could I march into a village of strangers and enemies and not be afraid? How would I manage my grief and sadness? How does anyone survive these things? How do you keep yourself from falling apart? Do you? Ever?

The truth is, I’m not smart enough to understand the machinations of war – why we as a species are always fighting. But I think that there is always real evil out there and that sometimes you have to stand up against that darkness. If you can’t see the dangers out there, the darkness, then perhaps your eyes are shut. We need warriors. We need codes. What I know is that there isn’t enough to go around, and sometimes people get hungry or angry and this is what war is essentially about.

We have family right now in Afghanistan and I’m thinking of CJ right now. I was thinking about him last night. I’m thinking about my friend and colleague Scott Smith. I’m thinking about Regina’s law-school friends: Ben, Nelson, Pete, and Emma. I’m thinking about my Grandpa and my own father. All those soldiers.

I think it is inside me to kill, to defend, to fight. I know that it is inside me. I think back to a night in Madison when a man once punched out the window of my car and I chased after him and beat the shit out of him in the middle of State Street. I beat him until a crowd surrounded me and pulled me off him. His blood was all over my garments and my fists were raw. In that moment, I didn’t know what was happening – I just did what my body told me to do.

But the notion of losing my friends, the fear of being chased or hunted. I don’t know. I’m strong enough to know that I’m not that strong and I thank those of you out there, right now in the deserts and mountains and cities for what you’re doing. For being warriors. For having a code and brotherhood and sense of things most of us cannot comprehend.

I just want to say thank you. I want to say that I believe in you. That I’m thinking of you. That I know that in some other time, I might be beside you. That I know that right now, I’m fortunate and comfortable. I believe you are protecting me. I believe that you are protecting my family. I will believe in you. I will believe that what you are doing is just and right. The best that I can do today is to be aware of where I am on this planet, to be aware of my family tonight, to know the oak trees of my neighborhood and to recognize them, and to know that you are somewhere else tonight. Somewhere dangerous and strange. But I am thinking of you. That I hope you are safe. That I hope your friends are safe.

You will be home soon too and when you do come home, know that I am waiting to hear what you have to say and what you don’t have to say. I am listening to you.

I don’t know what the right thing to say is, but I thought I would say this. I thought to say, thank you. It is all that I can do right now and it is no doubt not enough.


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This was the first drive down to Ioway that really sapped it out of me.  Henry was sad to see me go and it was traumatic for me to leave him.  Not that our nanny isn’t capable or kind.  She is.  But Henry and I had a terrific day together running errands and just generally being father-and-son.  Partners-in-crime.  I was sorry to hit the road.

My energy level was fine until I hit northern Ioway and then I grew sluggish.  Stopped in Clear Lake to refuel Dot the Matrix and to pee.  (Clear Lake, Ioway is essentially my urinal.)  I was then able to navigate all the way to Ioway City on the strength of three mixed CDs engineered by (in no particular order): Nik Novak, Benoit Letendre, and Josh Swentzel.  Thank god for fresh music.

Wrote a good poem today about this derelict house that I drive by on my route through central Ioway.  A big Confederate flag hanging in the window that faces the highway like some kind of moronic badge of honor.  Saw dozens of deer this evening and that unnerves me.  Don’t want to hit them with Dot.

I’m beat.  Road-weary.  My bedsheets hot in the dryer.

Godspeed America.  The Civil War ended over a 150 years ago.  And a reminder: Ioway fought for The Union.

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I had a terrific weekend spent in the company of my family and the Hanson family of Marion, Ioway.  Nights spent drinking cold canned beer.  Mornings around the table, eating with children.  Eating good, hot food.  Outside, always cold rain and the sky alive with lightning and thunder.  Football on the television.  Amongst family.  Driving the back-roads of Ioway.

We spent Sunday afternoon stripping a neighborhood apple tree; filling a child’s wagon with apples freshly picked and some windblown and fallen.  We dressed in warm garments.  We washed the apples and John Ryal supplied an ancient apple press long used in his family.  We took our turns cutting the apples, filling a hopper, cranking on the press, emptying the mash, carrying the juice into the house for cider.  Our fingers sticky, the air like apples, the skin of apples on the earth, children eating apples.  We filled many Mason jars with cider.

It is best to work.  To stay busy.  There is always something to do, something to be made out of nothing.  It is good to work with your family.  It is good to work on a Sunday afternoon, even if we are told otherwise.  In America, there are more apples than we could ever hope to eat.  They become fertilizer and they feed the desperate autumn wasps.

I took Henry to the doctor on Monday.  He weighs more than 24 pounds now.  I held his little hands while two nurses pumped sharp needles into his little legs.  He was in so much pain his face became red and he cried so hard that he did not make a sound.  It made me want to tear the world apart and protect him, even if I was protecting him.  Even if he needed the immunizations.  My baby.  My son.  How was I appointed to be his defender?  My Dad was a ferocious advocate and I remember how you could feel his love, how intense it was.  How it felt to be protected by him.  I love that aspect of fatherhood.  That now, I have a family.  People to take care of.  To protect.  Today was Henry’s first day at daycare.  Today we are both in school.

I workshop a story today.  In two weeks I meet with a publisher and maybe nothing will happen.  But maybe it will.  If you believe in prayer or positive thinking then I would appreciate your thoughts.

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Yesterday I drove Henry to his grandparents’ house in Eau Claire.  Filled the Bullitt with apples and soda and hit the road.  Drove southwest into the Driftless Area, tractors on the road and the yellow dust of combined corn in the air.  Amish in their fields.  I followed a shit spreader for some time, down the road.  High bluffs towering over me, the towns everywhere sleepy and essentially American.  Crossed the Mississippi into Wabasha, Minnesota and felt the gravity of the river pull me down Highway 61 towards Dubuque.  But I resisted and took the faster route.  Due south.  Eventually through Chester, Ioway along the northern border.

On Mondays the sun is always burning against my right cheek.  I listen to AM radio as it fades in and out, sometimes catching snatches of football games.  Scanning past the political vitriol from both sides.  Occasionally I listen to the words of invisible preachers and their flamboyant sermons.  I watch the sun die over the American West, sometimes as surreal as a nuclear explosion: purples and pinks and reds and oranges and always awe-inspiring.  I see deer in the fields, fawns near their mothers.

Driving isn’t so terrible.  I see so much America.  I listen to myself and the road.  I think about my family and my station in life.  I watch the skies for hawks.  I wave to farmers.  I think about my Mom and my Dad and my kin.  I think about my brother and my friends.  Sometimes the sun is in my eyes and I have to squint.  Night-time can be a salve, a balm.  I watch the sky for falling stars.

I’m working on a novella right now and it is all I think about.  It is about Eau Claire and fame and childhood friendships and growing old.  I think about the story when I lay down in my bed.  The characters are still talking, to me, in my head.

Henry is beginning to walk.  Henry is beginning to walk.  Life is speeding up.  How do you slow things down?  How do you slow your life down?  How do you record everything?  Henry’s life is just beginning.  How miraculous.  Everything is still ahead of him, everything a big surprise.  Everything is still hopeful and good, out there ahead of him.  Henry is beginning to walk.  How sweet.

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