Guitarmy by Stacy Lanyon
"View of the Protestant Burying Ground, Rome” by Thomas Cole, probably 1833-4, Olana State Historic Site, OL.1981.17"
Back in NYC talking about Hong Kong.
Flowers of Evil.
New books and joys.
“How are things?”
“Savage” I tended to reply much of this decade,
mimicking an old college friend who used to say the
when we lived in the Haight Ashbury in the early 1990’s.
Since then things have only become more and less like this.
It’s been decades of it.
On Christmas eve, the teenager and I found
ourselves watching the Fantastic planet/ le planet sauvage,
a 1973 film she saw in art class, tracing the trials
and travails of the Oms, tiny human figures,
and their giant blue-skinned nemeses,
the Draags, of the planet Ygam. For as long as anyone
can remember, the Oms have lived in servitude.
Power dynamics shift after a young Draag educates an Om.
Rebellion ensues, breaking Draag control.
With Utopian vs Dytopian outcomes at stake,
the two groups duel over their collective futures.
In some ways the Draags and Oms are still at it.
We wanna wear those outfits said the teenager,
referring to her punk band the Cannibal Girls and the
cool blue coats the Draags wear.
In between a trip to Mom’s in Princeton
where my godfather and I discuss
Jean Genet and drank too many bottles
of champagne and a trip up to the Hudson
where we explore Olana, the former
home to Frederic Edwin Church,
luminary of the Hudson River School of landscape painting,
I wondered about the decade gone by.
My brothers and I chatted about music and parents.
John talked about Dad and his love for Fairytale of New York,
the old Pogues homage to New York
that I played for Dad over and over in the days before he left.
Mom and I talked about her favorite book, Little Women.
She first read it when she was nine years old,
shortly after the second war.
“I loved the girls play-acting together,” gushed Mom,
reveling in the solidarity she saw in them, a fellow feeling
that seemed to elude her in her life.
“I always thought I’d be like Joe,
but it turned out my life was more like Meg’s,”
Mom conceded, looking back at her life,
more like the sister who married the impoverished Latin
tutor than the novelist.
She didn’t feel like she had the glamour of Amy.
But at least she avoided the fate of Beth,
who died of scarlet fever.
I recall mom reading this book to us
some forty years ago.
"Has anyone written anything about the family
dynamic with you and your brothers?"
wondered Dion on Christmas,
my own Brother's Karamazov,
"perhaps the whole of that constellation is just a sort
of chemical molecule.
Is there a constellation of the lion and the sun..."
Dion, the little one and I walk through the Princeton Museum,
Contemplating images of illness and health.
You wanna see my favorite painting here, I ask,
Walking everyone to the Home of the Heron,
homage to a “correspondence” between this life
and that, a material world and a spiritual realm,
where the Heron sits in the woods, light shining on it
from somewhere else.
Walking, I wonder about what happened
over the last year, much less, the last decade.
Was it a time for progress or regress?
You never know what is moving below the surface.
Over these last few years,
I saw bodies in the streets like I’ve never seen,
screaming against the night.
Women’s marches and anti-fascist brigades.
It might very well be s time when democracy crumbled
as the executive branch stacked the courts the congress
failed to check its power.
I’m never one for premature autopsies.
And we’re still fighting.
But the last decade from Obama to Trump, from offense
to defense gave me pause.
Observers of the Andrew Johnson era reconstruction may
well have felt the same way after their transformational leader
Lincoln was taken out, replaced with someone not unlike
our current leader.
We didn’t learn the lessons then.
We’re living with the backlash now.
Looking back on the year, much less the decade,
I think of the actions and luminaries.
The heroes who came.
And those who disappeared.
We lost Andrew Velez, the greatest organizer I know.
A man who attended thirty years of Monday ACT UP
None of us are the same without him.
And there was Aurilla, killed on her bike,
Whose riding was like poetry in motion.
tracing "the hidden roads that go from poem to poem."
and Kitty, both children of Occupy, gone way too early.
Each life reminds me, activism is an ongoing narrative.
It is not a paradise lost.
Between poems and people,
Criminals and heroes,
Create something, they remind me.
Create something better of this world.
I was not part of as much as some.
Lisa and LAK and VOCAL probably showed up more.
Rev Billy and Savitri and the Choir were there.
Public spaces rising and falling.
I never made it standing Rock
But I didmake it to the first Day of Occupy down
in Bowling Greene and as many actions as I could
get to between unions meetings and classes,
bringing up teenagers, taking care of an aging mom,
being a dad and a husband and a student of rebel friendships.
Mostly they inspired. But sometimes they broke my heart.
Friendship breakups are the saddest thing of all,
I think she is right.
The decade began with public space battles over
the community gardens and critical mass.
- we spent the summer working to Save the Gardens.
2011 - we organized
2011 - we organized the
and then Occupy popped up.
up. We loved it. Mourned it and celebrated it.
2012 - witnessed Mayday actions reminding us
that all of our grievances are connected.
Occupy Sandy built on the networks that were.
2013 - the next summer, my favorite group,
Times Up crumbled.
Occupy the Pipeline fought fracking.
A Public Space Party grew out of the old.
Black Lives Matter was born out of Occupy.
2014 - much of the decade involved
a fight for a livable planet,
with a People’s Climate March,
Flooding Wall Street.
2015 - Cop21 in Paris, fighting for a livable planet.
2016 - witnessed chaos and fighting,
misinformation and Russian interference in our election.
We bickered and lost.
2017 - resistance grew. Trump’s inauguration
was overshadowed by the Women’s March
And campaigns to save the ACA
Battling train bombs, fascists, and fracked gas plants.
Meanwhile, Trump’s wrecking ball destroyed
as much as it could.
Taking out the Paris Climate agreement,
DACA, and many of the step forward during the Obama years.
2018 - fighting the tax cuts and Kavanaugh,
with multiple arrests.
2019 - saw impeachment Rallies
and struggles to save democracy.
Fighting the Williams Pipeline.
Extinction Rebellion kicking off in NYC.
Losing and winning.
Arrest after arrest as decade ended.
With battles over the Supreme Court.
Speak outs every week.
Trips to see a whale
in New Bedford, a witch in Salem, a city in Bucharest,
Rhode Island and Long Island, a Butterfly protest in Prague,
off toTokyo, Hanoi, and Cambodia,
And San Francisco where
All of us hoping to create something livable of
our lives and communities of resistance.
In the chaos of
the present, I read as much as I could, finishing Capital
with my friends at the Commons, Moby Dick, Nightwood
and Jean Genet with the Activist Informed Reading Group.
A clerk at City Lights said to read Baudelaire and
I followed to my great joy.
The Flowers of Evil lull and tease.
Catherine and Erik and I read Master and Margarita.
And Harold Norse
charmed me on the beach with his stories of
Auden and Allen and Tennessee,
memoirs from the dead.
We read the Bridge out loud, thinking
about sailors cruising along the waterfront.
And wondered about the future, as words
soothed and brought advice from the past.
The past was with us, meandering
through an ever-flowing present.
The activists of Tiananmen who did not
survive that June should have kids and grandkids.
Yet I was lucky enough to live, to write, to have a life.
Ten more books, two this year alone.
Narrating practice with the youth who called BS.
Old stories going so new stories can come.
Saying goodbye to Luke Perry.
And looking to new adventures.
Have we moved ahead?
No one can say.
Progress moves in odd directions.
American nutzos off the rains.
My frequent arrest buddy Ken Schles writes:
“The past follows me like the moon in the sky. I can’t escape
its hollow dead eyes or its beautifully cold distant light.
The past is at once frightful and haunting, comforting
and familiar, filled with accomplishments, memories,
loss and reminders of every possibility.
The past is elusive, untouchable, deceitful.
It grows bigger and bigger as it recedes into an
expanding irretrievable darkness. But let me tell
you a secret: We are conjoined escaped prisoners
from those collapsing times. To sink
back into the lifeless comfort of any accomplishment
would a betrayal of the present and to
possibilities for the future. The past and future
are, perhaps, counterintuitively, two sides of the
same knife that intersect at a razor point in the present.
The trick, I gather, is to balance that knife on its
deceptively thin sharp edge without drawing too
much blood...The past and the future are
deceitful, illusory Sirens. They whisper warnings
and dreams into our ears. But they are not
deterministic. They don’t predict our fate.
To everyone reading this I say: The future
is ours to invent together. The future beckons us,
calls us, demands our participation, together.
Together I believe we can heal this broken world.
The present is where our possibilities start from,
and the future is where we’re going: headlong,
without brakes or seatbelts. And our guides?
They sit with hindsight in our past.
After listening to them long enough you know
you must turn away and head on blindly.
Let us be neither overly optimistic nor defeatist
as we move into a new decade. To all of you
who share this crowded and confusing realm
with me, let us dream this life together.
I hope it’s a good dream, filled with
possibilities and hope. A place
Thank you Ken.
"....let us dream this life together."
Thank you activists and friends.
Can we still be a city friends.
Can democracy be that space where we all participate?
“We had the right to vote as American citizens,”
noted Cokie R, before she shuffled off.
“We didn’t have to be granted it…”
Have we used it well?
It’s a complicated notion.
I’m tired of the electoral college.
Abolish the motherfucker.
If voting could do anything they
would make it illegal.
But what choice do we have?
We fight for it.
John Lewis fought for it.
He’s still here.
So is my favorite president Jimmy.
Reminding us there are better angels of our nature.
But today may be a time poets.
“Since ignorance is on the increase,” Baudelaire
wrote in one of his many drafts to the preface
of the 1857 collection Flowers of Evil.
“[It] dares today for the third time to face the sun of stupidity”
God knows we all are.
Especially here at play and ideas where I
wrote almost a thousand blogs over the
last decade, tracing a story from my
dissertation to today's disembodied,
sometimes lyric dispatches from the front,
153 entries this year alone,
a new record, sound and fury signifying...
“When its over I want to say:
All my life
I was a bridge married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom,
Taking the world into my arms.”
Thank you Mary Oliver, poet born in 1935.
Moving into the next decade, I hope we
can all walk with a little of that wonder.