A Visit to Monticello: Two Poems

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Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

Monticello’s Dome

Was it 200, or 400,
or 600 unsung voices
I heard singing
in the bell
of Monticello’s dome?

Why is it closed off?
Why is everything so orchestrated
As if Jefferson felt he could direct
The course of nations
More easily than his legacy
Like a pair of doors that close
Together in accord by his hand

OccupyAbility

Condor Marathon's Wheelchair by Juan Gill, via BehanceI’m working on a sequel to Miami Morning, and this is the name of Leila Payson’s new group. She’s excited about the future, with her new love, Mark, and the start-up of this group. OccupyAbility is designed to bring people of varying disabilities and abilities together, for the benefit of all participants. Because who among us doesn’t have a disability? Who among us doesn’t have a talent or strength that shines when it’s shared?

Here’s a little preview of what’s to come, I hope, by this summer.

Leila meets Doug, a paraplegic, who wants to design and build better wheelchairs. Her relationship with Mark evolves, and she discovers both her father and mother have secret lives. Her friends are back, diverse and adventurous, along with her former student, Raoul. And so is Mrs. Grisjun, the combative guidance counselor, who thrives in a post-truth world. As her oldest friend, fellow teacher Caroline says,  life is so complicated now. 

And a little hint. Besides Leila, two others will tell their stories: her friend Dov, the gay Swedish-Jewish event planner, and Cran Birdsall, father of her friend Charles and husband of the erstwhile Berry. 

 Photo: Condor Marathon’s racing wheelchair, design by Juan Gill, via Behance

Ode to 1441

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We opened the pens and let them out
On the Florida prairie, the young whooping cranes,
They were so beautiful in that early light,
As I watched them walk into an amber mist,
Their cinnamon and beige feathers melding with
The delicate reds and golds of the marsh grass,
Before they disappeared in the morning glimmer
That flashed like sparks from the lake

My mother raised me and my older brother
After my father died, teaching me the ways
Of the wild she had learned over a decade,
Having been born in captivity, released from a pen,
A one year old with no survival skills,
A small instinctual handbook carried beneath her wings,
And she taught me and my brother to be wary,
Look both ways, and stay close by her side

I loved to stalk through the marsh, and romp
In the prairie grass, splash in the swamp,
Fly with my brother, hang ten
With the Sandhills coming in to evening roost
And my mother said they looked like our shadows,
Friendly ghosts, who would help keep away the terror
That comes in the night, but when I was six
The terror came and took my brother

My mother and brother built a nest
And we were surrounded by eyes cold
With moonlight, as he stood with wings outspread
To defend us, and the nest, our future,
But they lept and dragged him away.
Soon after I saw the large figures scrambling around
The marsh, and then they cried out
And took away his body

You can’t imagine the surprise my pilot and I felt
When we flew over a marsh by Lake Okeechobee
The little plane making a small insignificant shadow
On the vast expanse of water and marshlands,
And saw two cranes nesting in the wildest
Of wild places, and when we landed we saw
The older female, and with her, a younger female
By a decimated nest

Okeechobee is not a safe place to be, to nest,
To thrive, and we found the young male
Or what was left of him, thanks to the transmitter
And as we left we hoped the other two
Would abandon this place, and fly north
To the ranches and preserves of Osceola County,
And again we agonized over the death toll
Of this experimental flock

My mother and I flew back and forth from the big lake
To the smaller one, and spent our days feeding
From the troughs alongside the cattle, in spite of the odor,
And whenever the large figures would appear,
Holding black objects and huddling or darting around,
Sometimes my mother would say, ignore them,
And other times, let’s go,
They’re getting on my nerves

I watched the cranes for another five years,
The older female was over 20, a good
Long life for a captive-raised crane in the wild,
And her daughter, 1441, was over 10,
Without a mate and only her mother
For a companion; sparks of crimson
And brilliant white
In the tall green grass at sunset

And then I saw her, alone, on Canoe Creek Road
Radiant on the ranches and farms of Lake Kissimmee,
The younger female, now in her prime,
And I went home, only to wake up in the dead
Of night, and think of that whooping crane:
How people who see her will whoop
With pride at having seen her in the wild,
And how resilient she is, and how vulnerable

And what does it matter, one lonely bird
On one lonely road
When there are people dying in Syria,
When there’s the scourge of cancer,
When children are caught in the crossfire?
But I can’t help thinking of you,
1441,
On this dark night

Copyright 2017 by Mary A. Clark

289 whooping cranes were released into the wild in Central Florida between 1993 and 2004 in an effort to create a non-migratory flock. In 2008 about 30 were still alive. The project was ended due to the high mortality and lack of success raising chicks. As of 2017 only fourteen survive. Four chicks born in the wild survived to adulthood. 1441 is one of them.

“Diversity”: Poem by Bette A. Stevens

Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author

Diversity

by Bette A. Stevens

Splendor of countless pigments
In gardens they combine
Echoing grandiose harmony
Serenity you’ll find

And so it is with people
Of every thought and hue
Diversity’s resplendency
Reflecting me and you

[Explore Bette’s Blog]

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Book Review: Stalingrad—The Loneliest Death

StalingradThis is my review of Christoph Fromm’s book, Stalingrad—The Loneliest Death, about the battle of Stalingrad in World War II, told from the point of view of German soldiers.

This powerful story rips the façade of honor and glory from war while meticulously exposing its true nature. Fromm’s book is a no-holds-barred dissection of the machinations of megalomaniacs, the complicity of ordinary citizens, the myths of war, and the lies we hold dear at a terrible cost.

In the beginning, the young German Leutnant Hans von Wetzland and his small band of soldiers believe this attack will follow the time-honored rules of warfare. Very soon, though, they discover that atrocities are being committed against Russians, including civilians. Because the Germans have committed these atrocities, they’ve destroyed any expectation of being treated humanely by the Russians, who respond with equal savagery. As the grim reality of Stalingrad sinks in, the soldiers find any advances or moments of peace are quickly followed by brutal retaliation or fatal mistakes by their own side.

Fromm vividly depicts the moral challenges each soldier in this group faces. He also shows that people with greedy and evil, as well as those with generous and good intent and actions, meet similar fates in the hell of war. Having human feelings can lead to fatal results, but also offer the only way out, although it’s a slim chance of survival. The images of freezing weather, hunger, illness, small acts of kindness, egregious acts of evil, hand-to-hand combat, and the senselessness of it all, are told from multiple points of view within this group, and are unforgettable.

While describing the horrors of war, Fromm delivers much beautiful and effective writing: “Shells and bullets tore to shreds not only the body, but the senses and the spirit, too.” And: “Figures swayed in the glow, as if in slow motion, as if some sadistic deity were holding back the passage of time for his own pleasure.” And: “Everyone had their own way of weeping.” There is also humor, bitter and obstinately humane. These far outweigh repetitious descriptions and unlikely chance meetings, as well as occasional grammatical errors.

After months of struggle against lack of food, clothing, and shelter, and merciless slaughter on both sides, the soldiers begin to realize things have gone terribly wrong. They discover officers who are corrupt, selfishly pragmatic, or incompetent. Their previously held beliefs break down beneath the weight of betrayal and unbridled brutality. A turning point comes with the realization they have been abandoned by Hitler. As an army in defeat, they are to expect no support from their leader. Instead, they are being sent to their deaths.

One soldier, Gross, who is attuned to the irony of the situation, says, “You thought Hitler was clearing out just Jews and Bolsheviks? Wrong. The Führer does the whole job. Now it’s the German soldier’s turn, and next it’s the German people!”

When the soldiers comprehend that all is lost, they rebel, and try to survive as best they can. Some rant about Hitler and the generals. Others realize they have been duped by propaganda. But many knew full well what they were going along with. Some are disgusted by their Hauptmann who still believes in the myths of war, or chooses to do so in order to salvage some sense of meaning. Young von Wetzland mutters, “It’s all been a lie.” All “his life it was untruths he had loved, and the more he knew them to be untruths, the more he loved them; and he loved them with a lust that could not be satisfied…” One by one each soldier reaches his breaking point.

As Fromm writes, “The calculations came in hundreds, thousands, the noughts multiplying; the horror of the death count would stretch the ability of those left behind to imagine and to feel pity, would stretch them to destruction as had the shells the bodies. How could anyone determine the fitting degree of mourning for more than a million dead, men who had perished for just one ruined city, when the ordeal for just one man alone was impossible to measure?”

This is war without mercy or honor, where courage, sacrifice, and morality count for nothing, as every action fails to improve the situation, leads to more destruction, and finally, loss of hope. In short, this is warfare on a grand scale which exposes its inanity. Anyone who is concerned with the survival of humanity as we glide into the future—whether unheedful or willingly supportive of the real motivations and consequences of war—should read this book.

Amazon Review                                                          Facebook Page: World War II True Stories


I received a copy of this book from the author. This is a voluntary review. While I’m not an avid reader of war novels, I am interested in the causes and outcomes of World War II, which I think are still relevant today.

Review: “Unyielding: Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany (World War II Trilogy)by Marion Kummerow”

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Unyielding: Love and Resistance in WW2 Germany (World War II Trilogy) by [Kummerow, Marion]I read and reviewed the first part in this trilogy “Unrelenting” on this blog and interviewed Marion as well.

Finally I managed to catch up with the series and find out where the story takes our protagonists.

The novel begins with the wedding of intelligence agent Wilhelm Quedlin to Hilde Dremmer in 1936. “Q”, as WIlhelm is called, is part of the resistance against Hitler, but things become more tricky as the Nazi power grip intensifies.

Their honeymoon to Italy is somewhat cut short when the political developments in Europe and Germany catch up with them and force them back into the resistance work.

The book focuses much on the romance and feelings between the couple as well as on the historical aspects. The characters are easy to engage with and the difficulties and dangers of resistance work are well researched and documented. On the shorter side of a novel…

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Readers Favorite Review of Miami Morning

Reviewed by Vernita Naylor for Readers’ Favorite

Life doesn’t always turn out the way that we planned, but it does prepare us for each new adventure. In Miami Morning: A Leila Payson Novel by Mary Clark, Leila Payson is also known as “Miss Pacer,” which her friends fondly called her because she was always on the go. Leila later became known by the name Miss Pacer as well by her students. Leila was a Social Studies teacher. Leila loved the essence of her life, but one day she decided that she wanted to make a difference in life. The difference that Leila decided to add was a stint in an NGO in South Africa in the Health and Education industry. Little did Leila know that her life would change forever. Her time in the NGO will set the stage for how Leila will live the rest of her life. What Leila will learn during this stint will be the catalyst that enables her to help someone in the most profound way.

Leila’s interaction with characters Skye, Dov, Ron, Raoul, Maria and the mysterious man with the book became a part of her development. Each of these characters played a big part in helping Leila to become this vessel to provide comfort and guidance to someone who would need her in the most unusual way. I enjoyed how Miami Morning: A Leila Payson Novel by Mary Clark was developed because it displays how the ebb and flow in one phase of our lives helps us to walk through and navigate another part of our lives. All parts of our lives and pathways are not only interchanging, but intermingle to help strengthen our being, character, and our self-discovery.

Miami Morning on Amazon

Miami Morning on BarnesandNoble

The Inflatable Buddha: A Review

The title in Hungarian is Tövispuszta, the name of a fictional village near Budapest. The descriptions of what happened to people living under fascism and then Soviet communism are stark and illuminating. It’s a cautionary tale as we move into the 21st Century with its manifestations of a dystopian world.

This book is much more than a history lesson. It’s a story of how our allegiances and alliances, set against our grounding in what we experience in daily reality, including personal relationships and sense of community, plays out in modern times. This is the story of three boys, Pál, István, and Dávid, as they grow to adulthood and old age. Each one comes from a different social and economic background, and has beliefs formed by experience in their particular families as well as in the village. In each life humor and love occur along with hints of madness and sorrow. They are swept up in the turbulent socio-economic and political changes of the early and mid-20th century. They have to make decisions they determine best for them, their families, their country, and ultimately what they hope is on the side of the greater good. Each one has a moral and ethical sense, which tempered or informed by a survival instinct, is at the heart of their major decisions. And sometimes they make choices that put their freedom and their lives in danger. At the same time these exact same choices are necessary to give them a chance to survive, with or without integrity.

Several women play large and equally interesting roles. Elza is adopted by a Jewish family after found wandering in Budapest and taken to their home in Tövispuszta. She is passionate and independent. Then there is Lucky Gizi, another wonderful character, steadfast and resourceful. She is both lucky, and unlucky, to be married to István’s father. These and other female characters give the story much greater depth.

Kepes takes the characters through the decades of change. World War I “had left people hungry, defeat had left them bitter, and the disintegration of Hungary had humiliated them.” Word of worker and peasant power came with soldiers returning from the Russian front. Inequality between the landed gentry and peasant farmers threatened to blow up into armed conflict. By the 1930s, with Russian communism on one side, and German fascism on the other, Hungarians struggled with a choice of futures. By allying with Germany, some Hungarians believed their country could take back territories ceded to Czechoslovakia after World War 1. Other Hungarians were attracted to communism as a hoped-for improved form of socio-political arrangement. People in the small village took different sides. Some simply tried to survive. Kepes makes it clear that no one—the educated or uneducated, idealistic or pragmatic, rich or poor—escaped harm in the ensuing conflicts.

Another current was anti-Semitism. The Jewish people were blamed by the Nazis for tainting the strong native character of Europeans. Even though, as the author shows with ironic amusement, Hungarian families had tangled ethnic and racial roots, this prejudice became part of the nationalistic movement. The mass killing and deportation of Jews is told in the context of the characters’ lives in chilling detail.

The book has its flaws, but it shines in those episodes where the personal stories take center stage. Some of the most moving stories are about the Jewish family in Tövispuszta. The father’s abiding faith in human compassion is powerful. Although it doesn’t save his life, he faces reality with courage and makes his life positive, so much so that one of the boys, now a young man, is moved to punish his killers and publicly honor his memory. There’s a twist at the end in the tale of one of the other boys, in which his choices are re-evaluated by his family and country, but I don’t want to give too much of the story away.

The Germans and the Hungarian Arrow-Cross were brutal, but the Soviet-backed communist leaders practiced a pervasive and corrosive control of people’s lives. People were imprisoned and tortured for having said the wrong thing or spoken to the wrong person. Then years later they were released and re-instated to their jobs and position, only to have it later taken away again. Under both systems, children were removed from families, names were changed. No one was safe. Personal control and responsibility, and the sense of community, were under siege. Who could be trusted?

While I was reading I wondered at the concerns of George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Hannah Arendt. Can evil be institutionalized and made the norm? Apparently it can, to a certain degree and only with popular complicity, for months, even years. Even then its destructiveness is terrifying, though it must be endured as part of the daily reality. Anyone who has experienced brutality knows it’s not banal. Then, sometimes sporadically at first, but always eventually, evil breaks out of efforts to contain and distribute it. But in those moments when it terrifies most, it begins to lose its power. To read this book is to remember those who have gone before in this struggle, and to see how they responded. While cruelty and oppression have often won the day, we can also see the perseverance of people toward what Sartre said is the most fundamental aspect of being human: freedom.