Tuesday, August 25, 2020

March of the Dead and Mark Twain, When Halley’s Comet Returned


Mark Twain's home. 

Images of March for the Dead, 
This is Jake Blake. He was tasered and shot SEVEN times at close range by cops in Wisconsin after he broke up a fight between two women. He’s in a serious condition - No cops have been arrested or fired. Pray that he pulls through. #DefundThePolice #BlackLivesMatter #jacobblake"
The crew at the March for the Dead, by Diane Greene Lent. 

"Erik R. McGregor took this pic of us at the March for the Dead. He writes:
"On the eve of the Republican National Convention, August 21, 2020 a coalition of Americans reeling from the COVID-related deaths of loved ones, unemployment, and all this crisis has wrought gathered at Barclays Center to turn their sadness and frustration into protest by organizing the March for the Dead, Fight for the Living, a candlelit procession across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Trump Building at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan demanding the Trump administration and beyond to take responsible action to save lives and end suffering." (Photo by Erik McGregor) — with Benjamin Heim Shepard at Brooklyn Bridge.  

March of the Dead

Red Rebels

And Street Riders


Each day, we meet in the street.

We eat outside.

We converge.

We have conversations.

We remember.

We battle the amnesia.

The powers that be try to minimize the carnage.

They want us to forget our losses.

We meet at Barclays Center to March for the Dead.

When we arrive, Jay Walker is speaking in front a banner that says,

“Trump Lies, People Die, 175,000 dead.”

The last time I saw their banner, the number was 155,000. Now its closer to 200,000 and counting.

Looking, I think about the AIDS candlelight vigils we used to go to, battling the neglect that allowed the epidemic to rage,  the forgetting that allowed it to spread.

Garcia Marquez wrote about deliberate amnesia in 100 Years of Solitude.

The striking workers in a banana factory are slaughtered.

The papers say the strikers are heroes who made concessions, without mentioning the bloodshed.

The white washing is always there.

Marquez based on the story on a similar event in the

Magdalena banana zone on Colombia's Caribbean coast, near the author’s birthplace.  There  “the Colombian military opened fire on striking United Fruit Company.”

Our president is trying to do the same thing now.  


So we  March For the Dead,

“Over 150,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID-19. Our grandparents, our parents, our siblings, our children, our neighbors and friends. And it’s hit Black, Hispanic, Native American communities, and the elderly the hardest. On August 21st, we'll march to mourn our loved ones who have passed, and we'll fight in their honor to prevent more death and suffering. March for the Dead. Fight for the Living.

The US federal government has abandoned us at a time when we needed it most, and complicit Republicans across the country continue to support Trump and his administration’s murderous policies.


We deserve to mourn. We deserve to cry out in grief, and in anger. And we will exercise our right to demand change - not just in leadership, but in a system that crushes human life to the benefit of the few.”


In the eye of a storm, it’s hard to remember.

I really can’t.


Yet the disappearing continues.

Red Rebels pointing a mirror at us on Saturday morning.

An affinity group from Extinction Rebellion,

“The demonstrators were dressed in bright red to signify the blood of species that have died as a result of climate change, as well as those that will die in the future.”


In California, the lived experience of this flux is vexing.

New York transplant Sasha DuBrul spent the day with his books,

“As the world burns outside I'm rearranging my book shelves. This feel like some kind of secular Jewish form of prayer. Rearranging the important voices that guide me, letting them mix and mingle with each other in the spirit realm, touching their covers and reacquainting myself with the knowledge gained and the knowledge still to be discovered....Rearranged all my books for a new chapter. I'm working on a bunch of new writing and thinking and these are the spirits that keep me company while I think. I was raised in apartments full of books by people who read lots of books and I don't know if I'll always have the luxury to have so many books but I'm going to appreciate it while I do. As the fires burn outside I'm reminded of the tenuousness of all of this, I am intensely grateful for the stability in my life that this library represents. Love to all of you and your books. (And love to all of you whose books I have on my shelves!)”


A coast away, a few hundred of us join the twelfth Justice Ride, riding from across the city to Bay Ridge, reclaiming public space in a world where black bodies, immigrant bodies, where women, those who look different are suspect and subject to scrutiny and quite often violence.

Each ride is about fighting these dynamics and brutality that ensues, by riding and building community. Standing in the shadow the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Orlando spoke before the ride. “Thank you!!!! There Is no place in the world I'd rather be than riding with you. I am doing this for my friend peter who was killed by the police. Each ride gives me strength. Thank you for coming down here. Just know it's not unnoticed. We’re all in it together. Let's keep it going. It ain't going to stop."


I see cyclists from all over Brooklyn as we wait for the ride to begin.

Riding with drummers and kids.

People all over, kids, drummers, converging here in Bay Ridge, joining one Street Riders, careening between boroughs, over bridges, across freeways, moving bodies in space.


While the vibe of the ride is festive, the reason to be there is clear.

Soon enough the world begins to hear about what happened to Jake Blake.

Black Lives Matter - Shoreline writes:

“He was tasered and shot SEVEN times at close range by cops in Wisconsin after he broke up a fight between two women. He’s in a serious condition - No cops have been arrested or fired. Pray that he pulls through. #DefundThePolice #BlackLivesMatter #jacobblake

A system of law enforcement that shoots Black people first and ask questions later cannot stand. It must be dismantled if we are ever to live free. #JacobBlake

Jacob Blake was unarmed and shot 7 times in the back by police as he was trying to get in his car WHERE HIS CHILDREN WERE WAITING. This is why we say #DefundThePolice


On Sunday, Mom and I hit the road for a final free summer weekend.

Chatting along the way, we pay a

visit to the house where an ex riverboat driver wrote a novel called Huck Finn.

A story about a couple of naked guys floating down a river together, these are rebel friends like few others.

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called 'Huckleberry Finn,'” said Ernest Hemingway in 1935. “It's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before.

From that riverboat to Connecticut, he points us to a story about being.

“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
Mark Twain.


With a little laughter, his stories guide us toward a way of living in a democratic society,

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to reform (or pause and reflect).”

All week, we talk about the Seamus Heaney poem, The_Cure_at_Troy,  

pointing us toward a place where, “hope and history rhyme.” 

Hastings at Judson points out that Twain is often credited with the expression,

“History never repeats itself but it rhymes…”

though, no one is sure he actually said this.


Driving from New Jersey to New York to Connecticut, Mom and I talk.

When things get quiet, we listen to stories about Kafka and his father.

Pressed to explain why he was afraid of his him, the author wrote thirty six pages, a letter never quite sent, that we know as

Letter to His Father.


“You are free and that is why you are lost,” he suggests, feeling the compulsion to live another way, to see  a metamorphosis. “...it is necessary to crawl to a clean little spot on Earth where the sun sometimes shines and one can warm oneself a little.”
We’re all trying to get to those space, where

“there is nothing bad to fear; once you have crossed that threshold, all is well.”

I’m not sure we’re any closer than he was.

“Imagine if Dad had written such a letter to his father,” I say to Mom,

making our way, thinking of Dad and the roads less he chose not to travel, the clashes he had with his domineering father. None of us know if we should push harder or pull off the pedal.

Certainly I don’t.

Neither did Dad, always moving, never settled,

from Georgia to Princeton, back to Atlanta and the law instead of teaching.


“I doubted if I should ever come back.”

wrote Robert Frost in perhaps his best known poem, perhaps Dad’s favorite poet.

Dad felt it.  He lived it.  He loved Robert Front and did his best not to regret the missteps and fearful choices.


“I shall be telling this with a sigh” said Frost.


We all navigate those roads.

Certainly I am,

Listening to stories about Mark and Robert and Dad,

Thinking of my friends,

Of the Ditchdigger,

Listening to Jerry and the Dead,

Mom sleeping as we drive.


After moving to England, Robert traveled around England, with his friend Edward Thomas,

Looking at the landscape, traveling to and from Cornwall, on bird-watching treks.

Talking poetry, the stories of  roads and friendships.


Robert went back to the states.

Edward took a detour to the front and never returned.

Sometimes, no road seems right.


Soon enough Mom and I make our way back,

Grabbing a slice at Conte’s,

Chatting about the Twain’s majestic Victorian home, where for a while there he wrote and told stories, before his wife and kids departed

And Halley’s Comet returned.

Mom and I making a visit to the Twain home. 


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