Poems in Time of War

In too many countries, people are suffering today. These poems remind me of the families trapped in Eastern Ukraine, and those in Afghanistan and Yemen wracked by hunger and lack of medical care.

The first poem is by Kim Stafford.

Atrocity

Once war begins, you will need to decide
where to draw the line—carnage, after all,
has its courtesies: I will kill soldiers, but not
civilians…and I will bomb barracks, but not
hospitals or schools. In the smoke, though,
once it’s all flash and blur, in fear, thrill, rage
things get confused, something clicks, and soon
your fury spills over. What was a city becomes
atrocity. You shot civilians, then you are gunning
for civilization. You fired at the heart, but now
it’s the back of the head, it’s that boy on a bike,
it’s this grandmother offending by having a face
and hands, so you leave her in a heap. Retreating
through rust and wreckage, you abandon the soul
that leaked from your body, a sheen of slime, a stain.

This poem by John A. Huddart exemplifies the callousness of war, when countries recruit others or appeal to them to help in a war effort, but when the need is gone?

Empire Windrush

Empire Windrush. Grey ghost of war.
Twin-funnelled troopship bringing back
the Forces from their newsreels, outposts,
and jungle camps. From last posts, and lowering flags.

She’s slow and diesel driven – and launched
as Monte Rosa in a German yard.
A cruiser for vacations, and the middle classes.
And then the Kreigsmarine. Berthship
to the Tirpitz, Auschwitz ferry for Norwegian
Jews – endures air attacks and mines. Survives.

Under British hands, she pays the price
of peace. White paint shrouds sides
that buckled under war. Blighty-bound,
half empty, calls at Kingston and offers
passage to a thousand citizens, newly minted
by a government desperate for willing hands.

Curious to see the land so many fought
to save, they find the forty quid and come
aboard. Thus filled with hope she sails
for England, and a place in history the Equal
of Trafalgar, Agincourt or Waterloo.

New waters for the future meet
her prow. At Tilbury, grey frowning
skies rain blessings and surprise.
It’s June, but cool enough to stand
and shiver on the docks, and wait
to fill the shortages they’re here to satisfy.

The Windrush sails away. Empire sunsets
churned froth and pother at her stern. At last,
she burns and sinks, her contribution made.

A generation makes its home, ignoring
cards in doors and shops that advertise
“No coloureds”. The slums and cities make
them room, and heritage adds on another page.

Once enslaved, transported chained, plantation-
bound, then freed to poverty’s thin dreams,
they London’s voices richly spice with sun,
and suffering. Deepened and engaged, English
suddenly awake finds new rhythms in its feet.

It takes a dozen years or more for startled
whites to close the door on opportunity.
Betrayal shakes a hostile hand, minds fill
with wasting tribal fear. The voice of England
forgets the rights of man, the promises of war.

Each party over, every politician clamours
For the closing of the doors, and seeks a way to send
the yearning back to their hovels or the sea.

Windrush rises from the deeps and sails again,
evoked by ministers who bend the rules,
and marks the careless crimes of those whose biros
sign the orders to deport. Black heroes flew
and fought to hold the spread of camps, and
looked for better orders – now fall to age,
feel clerks’ indifference with quotas to fulfill.

The River Windrush flows and flows,
and adds more depths to English as it goes.

Empire Windrush on J. A. Huddart’s website.

And this poem by David Selzer about one of the universal symbols of the cost of war, and a human being whose life was taken too soon, as so many have been, and still are today.

4th August 1944

Anne Frank
The canal dapples the office ceiling.
Upstairs, the fugitives are still as dust.
A siren unpeoples the city.
Into the waiting sky, with the raucous gulls
and the chestnut, her words like breathing…Her life
has turned, beyond all her desires, so
brutally to art…They packed and waited:
beyond, a locked compartment to themselves
and telephone wires curvetting by –
then countrysides of shuddering, noisome wagons.
She died alone. Her father made her grief,
her love public as Europe: spoke her words
into the empty sky.

Here are several poems of hope and resilience as well.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World, by Adam Zagajewski, a Polish poet.

Dance of Peace, by Gabriela Mistral

What poem or poems about war and human conflict do you think are the most effective? The most insightful?

Ireland Forever

Brigid’s Cross

To celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, here’s a bouquet of Irish poetry. Possibly the first known poem was by Amergin, a druid and bard accompanying the Milesians (sons of Mil) who were Gaels from south-eastern Europe before Christ, or so the story goes. They sailed from Spain and encountered the people of the goddess Danu. A challenge was set: if the Milesians stayed away for three days, the De Dananns would decide whether to retire, submit, or fight. Amergin decided the island was not the Milesians by right, and they should withdraw “over nine green waves” and if they could land again, the island would be theirs by right of conquest. At sea, the Milesian ships were hit by strong winds created by “the Druids and poets of Erinn. Their incantations raised so violent a storm that the vessels were driven westward and separated.”

Amergin countered with his own incantation, a poem with a strange rhyme sequence. “It is composed in “Conaclon,” the end word of one line rimes to the first word of the line following, and indeed the rime is sometimes secured by repeating the word.” Alliteration is also used.

Ailim iath n ereann, 
Ermac muir motach, 
Motach sliab sreatach 
Sreatach coill ciotach. 

FAIN we ask Erinn, 
Faring o'er ocean's 
Motions to mountains, 
Fountains and bowers 

(Visit this site for the entire poem and more about the Milesians and Amergin)

The incantation worked and the Milesians settled in Ireland. Amergin composed two “Songs of Triumph” in which he invoked the power and spirit of the natural world and his prowess.

"I, the poet, prophet, pray'rful, 
Weapons wield for warriors' slaying: 
Tell of triumph, laud forthcoming
Future fame in soaring story! 

Medieval Irish poetry survives in marginalia on manuscripts as they were worked on by monks and scribes. One of the most famous is “Pangur Bán,” a 9th Century poem about a monk and his cat. Seamus Heaney’s translation is one I like best. It begins with:

Pangur Bán and I at work, 
Adepts, equals, cat and clerk: 
His whole instinct is to hunt, 
Mine to free the meaning pent. 

(To read the whole poem, please visit Vox Populi)

Another Old Irish poem (blended with Latin) is The Scribe in the Woods.

‘Over me green branches hang 
A blackbird leads the loud song 
Above my pen-lined booklet 
I hear a fluting bird-throng 
The cuckoo pipes a clear call 
Its dun cloak hid in deep dell: 
Praise to God for his goodness 
That in woodland I write well’ 

(translated by Maire Mac Neill)

Modern Irish poets include Seamus Heaney, William Butler Yeats, and Eavan Boland. Boland’s “Mother Ireland” is on the Poetry Foundation website. And finally, “Sailing to Byzantium,” a poem about growing old by William Butler Yeats. The poet along with William and Elizabeth Sharp (author of Lyra Celtica) endeavored to keep alive the legacy of Irish poetry.

End of Year Sale of Two of My eBooks

Two of my ebooks are on sale now through January 1, 2022 on Smashwords.

Both 50% off, multiple formats

Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen

Community is a memoir of community work and politics in Manhattan during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s as one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods fights the effects of “development fever” and the illegal drug trade. Meanwhile, ambitious politicians vie for dominance behind the scenes. 

Racing The Sun

Leila Payson’s adventures in the present and the future continue as she deals with a new man in her life, her eclectic crew of friends, and a possible career change. There’s accidents, wheelchair races, and love tours. Lives are impacted by DNA matches, surrogate mothers, and cults, as well as love and friendship. For Leila and her friends, the horizon beckons. Volume 2 of The Horizon Seekers.

My 4 Kindle Books #Holiday Sale

Four of my Kindle books on Amazon are 99 cents from today until midnight December 27th: two novels, a novella, and an illustrated epic poem.

The Horizon Seekers

A woman who lives both in the future as well as the present, Leila Payson strives to realize her visions. As a Miami high school teacher, she hopes that when her students fly, they’ll see beyond the horizon to where imagination and courage can take them. In her own life, she is haunted by early trauma, a failed romance, and a more recent loss. She doesn’t dwell on the past, though she learns from it, and instead challenges herself to be a better human being. Early in her teaching career, she goes to South Africa for a year, where she meets Baruti, the therapist who works with people with disabilities. When she returns, she puts what she’s learned to use. Raoul, a student, is losing his hearing and asks for her support. This begins the next step of her journey. All the while an attractive man with a book keeps appearing at her favorite places.

Excerpt:

As Leila drives to school, she is in a world of shining buildings. Doors are at ground level or have moveable ramps. She looks at the open space, trees, and people on foot or sitting in compact pods that pass quietly. The most visible part are the people. Calm, smiling, in apparent good health, they move through a landscape designed to accommodate the natural beauty around them.

Where is this? she wonders. What has happened? A couple walk on what appears to be a continually moving mini-magical carpet. Next to them, a child rides, a child with dark glasses. Blind?

Leila presses a button, and when a portal opens, she realizes she knew that would happen. The couple pause, hovering on their carpet, which is malleable enough to form fit their feet.

“Where is this?”

‘The vine community.”

“What city?”

“Miami.”

“And um, I know this sounds odd, but what year is it?”

“We don’t think in years anymore. It’s the fourth quadrant. But if you want you can convert that to November 2084.”

“And your daughter, is she blind?”

“Yes.”

“I thought that could be engineered out.”

“We chose not to.”

When Leila leaves the pod in a recharging slip, she walks to the school, and notices the building has changed. Gone is the brick and concrete and prison-like windows. It looks like wood and glass in artistic arrangement, a peaked roof on one section holding solar panels.

She tells herself it’s a vision. A look at an alternative life, at the future. It’s not real. Not yet anyway. To test this hypothesis, she touches a glass window. It feels hard, cool.

Walking into the school, the hallways revert to 2015. She shakes her head in disbelief. Am I losing my mind?

No, she decides. If I’m able to envision this, it might exist. Part of me is already living there.

Racing The Sun

In Book 2 of The Horizon Seekers Series, Leila Payson’s adventures in the present and the future continue as she handles with humor and the right mix of patience and impatience a new man in her life, an eclectic crew of friends, and a possible career change. She and her bf Caroline discuss aliens, panspermia, and artificial intelligence. She is surprised by a DNA match and changes in her family. Leila works on her new disability group, envisions playgrounds of the future, and aids Doug, a young man who is designing next gen wheelchairs. Haunted by a terrible memory, she hears a familiar voice in a crowd but can’t locate the man who’s spoken. Are some things simply never resolved? In that vein, her friend Dov travels to Cuba to see his lover, only to be rebuffed. But the others in the group are inspired to work on that; will they succeed? Another friend’s father is injured in a car accident. His adjustment to life as a disabled person intersects with Leila and Doug’s endeavors. At her school, Leila organizes a big tent meeting to discuss complaints in response to the rumors of a renegade guidance counselor. Meanwhile, Leila enlists the erstwhile Maria to help investigate the guidance counselor’s mysterious sister. Returning for a short visit to South Africa, she reunites with her mentor, the disability advocate Baruti. And finally, driving across SA to see the native flamingos, she discovers what Doug meant when he said he was “racing the sun.”

Covenant

Four children discover their Florida paradise has many layers. They become friends in changing times, which see the advent of the Civil Rights movement and rock’n’roll. Below the surface in their family lives, they find heights of hope and dreams, and dark secrets and nightmares. And they form a covenant which is challenged unexpectedly as they reach the threshold of freedom.

From the Prologue: Echoes of Atlantis. Old worlds bloom anew, spiral, drop, rise and soar, in a divine glare. Harsh angles appear in our lives, surfaces, beneath the surface of the sky: buildings, beaches, ranch houses in the pine forest and sand, alligator farms, the circus. Mirages and miracles, stringent salt and pungent seaweed, ghost towns in blue-eyed grass and dust, piano notes played by the flowering orange setting sun, we breathe the fresh bouquet of the lemon haze, emerge to the sweet melodies of dawn. And when, beneath a bright spotlight moon, the ships ride the midnight tide—sailing, circling, in concert with the fold and mantle of sea and sky, will we come back alive? Will we circle around and make it to the other side?

Children of Light

Dia, a young girl who lives on an island with her mother, discovers a boy who says his name is La-ha-ta, living in the wild. She brings him home. A kindly neighbor, Miss Pacer, befriends them. The Old Man of the Island fascinates and sometimes advises the children. La-ha-ta is placed in a group home. He escapes with Dia’s help, to be recaptured later and held in a detention center. He escapes and after a journey through wild Florida finds refuge in a small isolated community near the Everglades. Over the years, the children’s bond deepens. They seek relationships that will not compromise the integrity of others or themselves. One man hunts La-ha-ta, hoping to study him. Another boy, Eric, joins them, but must follow his own path. When Dia and La-ha-ta are captured, it seems all is lost. If they escape, if they survive, what will their relationship be, and will one or both return, and to what degree, to society?

Will we learn to live in society which allows each of us to have a personal recognition of reality and also a shared consciousness that accepts diversity and even conflict without physical violence, brainwashing or bullying, and exploitation? The active presence of those who are compassionate and reflective is essential. One character represents the calm values of Jesus, another is the initiator of the good, another the conflicted soul, another is flawed with hard-earned wisdom, and another the constant, the “charming gardener.”

Mary Clark has brought us an achingly beautiful chain of poems that both watch and listen: the sun, the sea, the darkness, the light, the passing of time—and the people who live among them. — The Reverend Barbara Cawthorne Crafton

Into The Fire, A Poetry Memoir

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

Monica Brinkman of Writing Chats & Friends wrote this wonderful review of my book on Amazon.

I truly didn’t know what to expect when I began reading Into the Fire. Simply thought it was a tale of poetry and prose. I am so pleased to say it was much, much more! She shares her own experiences, yet within a story of strength, determination and dedication to the arts.

Mary Clark takes us behind the scenes of the many individuals, be they celebrities, poets, artists, or actors and how this group of dedicated people changed an area of New York from undesirable to one of the most sought after places to showcase talent. Not only does Clark provide actual photos but also bits of prose, poetry and works of the people involved . . . This is truth and the reality of what it took to bring the name Hell’s Kitchen to a positive vein, rather than negative.

You will meet celebrities; many not so famous back in the day and you will find great works and such talent.

Could not put this book down and will be one I read again and again. Just loved it.

This is a book worth reading as it not only entertains but gives the reader an inside look of what it took and takes to keep arts alive. Bravo Mary Clark. You show the greatness as well as the sadness of the era.

Thank you, Monica. That last sentence means a lot to me. The attunement to the fragility and strength of human beings is expressed not only in your review, but in your own work. You are not afraid to take chances, to push the boundaries of literature and love, and the poets of the 1970s and early 1980s weren’t either.

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen – a great holiday gift for the poet in your family or among your friends

A young, aspiring writer comes to St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street in New York City looking for a job in the church’s theater. Soon she is helping with the New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, which features many well-known poets of the 1970s and 80s as well as up-and-coming and marginalized poets. The memoir takes place in the rough-and-tumble Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, a neighborhood that reflects the passion of the times. By 1980, both the arts scene and New York neighborhoods are on the verge of change. The author’s life in the arts weaves in and out of the neighborhood’s narratives, and she must make a choice between two possible lives.

Interview and Review: Mary Clark’s Community

Fellow writer, reviewer and blogger Kelley Kay Bowles kindly did this interview with me in June 2021. She writes cozy mysteries and advice for parents. You may visit her website at: https://kelleykaybowles.com/

Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen by Mary Clark

INTERVIEW

1. What made you choose to get involved in this issue, these politics?

That’s what I talk about in my book, “Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen.” It’s a prequel to “Community.” Before I became involved in neighborhood issues and eventually, New Yok City politics, I was working in arts program at a midtown church. We put on weekly poetry readings and special events, including benefits for causes and theatrical productions. The more time I spent at the church, the more I came to know the neighborhood outside its doors. Friendships began which lasted many years. The church sent me as its liaison to the block association. The problems facing the community intrigued me. How could I help? People I met encouraged me to join other civic organizations. The amazing part was the timing. Just then, major proposals to revitalize Times Square, Columbus Circle, the Convention Center, and the Hudson River waterfront came from private developers, the city, and the state. The groups I had joined were front and center in negotiating with the developers, government agencies, and elected officials about these proposals. I felt I was using my time, my skills in reading and writing, and organizing events, for a beneficial purpose. In that neighborhood, I had found my first home as an adult. The people made me feel welcome and valued. I wanted to give back. That’s why I decided to become involved in working with a variety of people and groups. 

2. Tell us some other issues you’ve gotten involved in over the years.

When I left NYC in 2004, I moved to Central Florida to join my parents. There I became a member of the Kissimmee Valley Audubon Society. My parents had been active in that group, but my father especially was no longer able to participate much. KVAS was looking for a goal to pursue in 2005. My mother and I talked about what the group could do. We devised a plan to protect the large lake in the area (Lake Toho). When Osceola County began work on its ten-year Comprehensive Plan (which every locality in the country must do), Florida Audubon asked KVAS to make a statement at the County Commission meeting. Since I had been appointed Conservation Chair, I agreed to do that. I spoke about the lake and preserving water resources for human benefit as well as for eagles and other birds. 

Read more on her blog.

Community, Why Is It Important?

Community. Why is it important? How do we keep it? Through the years our bonds can wane, resentments form, and agendas become more important than the original goals of creating and preserving a better space for everyone. In the pressure-cooker of a neighborhood, whether in New York or a small town, rumors and personal wish-lists can ruin a community, no matter how great its history.

Amazon has been offering the paperback of Community: Journal of Power Politics and Democracy in Hell’s Kitchen at a significant discount for weeks, and recently began discounting the Kindle too. 

The story begins with a naïve group deciding to take on the most powerful people and corporations in the city of New York. With nothing but their minds and love for their neighbors they manage to hold the line for many years.

What you’ll also find is the transformation of politics into a form of take-no-prisoners “war” as the 1980s move into the 1990s. In this atmosphere Rudolph Giuliani, Donald Trump (both mentioned in the narrative), and Andrew Cuomo began their careers. Other politicians such as Congressman Ted Weiss and Mayor David Dinkins are shown working in an alternative way.

The book is the story of my 15 years in community advocacy, and to some degree, NYC politics. It all began on a sunny summer day.

Development Fever

The city and state proposed a complete makeover of Times Square, the world-famous intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue with 42nd Street. The redevelopment would run from that crossroads along West 42nd Street to Eighth Avenue. The project rode on the back of eminent domain (I envisioned an armor-clad knight carrying a lance), along the way razing the Times Tower and raising office towers on 42nd Street. The blighted, crime-filled area would be transformed into a shining mecca of entertainment and corporate wealth.

In our view, the massive project was a spear aimed at our neighborhood. It would drive up real estate values, increase tenant harassment, and potentially force out low, moderate, and middle-income residents. Even though there was a specific zoning district, the Special Clinton District, restricting high-rise development in most of Hell’s Kitchen north of West 42nd Street, speculators and unscrupulous landlords would seize this opportunity to turn the neighborhood into towers of condo-heaven.

A few people (Rob and Barbara) started the Clinton Coalition of Concern. My new acquaintance, Jim Condeelis, and I were at the first brainstorming meeting at Housing Conservation Coordinators, a local non-profit.

The Times Square project, we agreed, would place a great deal of pressure on our low-rise, working-class, and middle-class neighborhood.

“They won’t stop at Eighth Avenue. Developers will want to build here in our neighborhood.”

“Landlords will harass people out of their apartments so they can sell their buildings unoccupied.”

“They’ll try to change the zoning and get rid of the Special District.”

Our objections to the redevelopment project itself went down different avenues. We agreed that eminent domain should be used for the general good, but what is “the good” in this case? The people who would benefit were the already wealthy. Property was being taken from one group of private owners and given to another. Perhaps in several ways this was an illegal use of eminent domain.

The group decided to hold a public rally to inform people about the project and its impact on the neighborhood.

On June 27th, the Clinton Coalition of Concern held a “Speakout” and 150 people came, as well as Ruth Messinger, Councilwoman for our district, and Andrew Stein, the Manhattan Borough President. The state’s Urban Development Company (UDC), one of the lead agencies, sent people. I took charge of the sign-in table, handing out literature and asking people to sign a petition opposing the project.

Days later at HCC, Barbara Glasser and I, with some help from Jim, put together a mailing for the Clinton Coalition of Concern, telling people we were fighting UDC’s proposal for redeveloping Times Square. We had already been to meetings with Andrew Stein’s office and City Comptroller Harrison Goldin’s office. We were working on an alternative plan.

Barbara and I talked about the impact of our strategy. Channel 5 news had showed us and others in the Clinton Coalition of Concern protesting the development plan; we watched it at HCC the next day; Gil Annoual, another member, had taped it for us. A small group went to the UDC Board meeting to speak against the Times Square Redevelopment Project. Rob was our spokesperson, then Bill Stern of UDC read a statement, then we spoke again until Barbara screamed, and we had to leave.

Praise for Community

“Local democracy in action, with its virtuous aims and outcomes, its frustrations and machinations. The memoir is comprehensive, articulate, honest and engaging.” David Selzer, poet and playwright, Great Britain

“The writing is fabulous, the cast of characters, the depth of detail, the nuance, the way her personal journey is woven into all these events, it’s a substantial achievement.” Kathleen Mandeville, Ignivox, USA

“The narrative is pacy, as there are new developments, meetings, and possibilities on every page. There’s much of a novel’s presentation in this memoir.” And “It’s great that you have put down an entire account of some years of activism in one neighborhood. I liked what you said about how you always esteemed the constructive approach over the agitationist or acrimonious one since the former is about value, the latter is often a power game with goals unrelated to the general good.” Satyam Balakrishnan, Brand Communications Strategist and Writer, India

“She saw, and concurrently worked to create an historic Manhattan skyline that wasn’t all about money and power politics. Throughout her memoir Community, the reader gets a firsthand view of the people, the arguments, discussions, and compromises happening during some of New York City’s biggest changes of the past fifty years. From an outsider looking in, it is a fascinating journey.” Kelley Kaye Bowles, author, USA

This is Not My First Pandemic

In my book, Community, the word “AIDS’ appears 54 times. Our midtown New York City neighborhood was hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. In November 1985 the local hospital, St. Clare’s, opened the first state-designated AIDS unit. Many of the patients were uninsured. People were unprepared for this disease, which was found in other countries as well. A true pandemic, HIV/AIDS continues to infect millions around the world.

In the 1980s it killed people I knew, neighbors and co-workers, in the city and the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. For several years, we didn’t know how it was transmitted. We didn’t know what the stages were. People were afraid to be near a person with AIDS, to shake their hands, or breathe the same air. Then it seemed only certain people got AIDS: gay men, drug addicts, and sex workers. As with COVID-19, many people felt they were not at risk. They were wrong. It killed people in all walks of life, all ages, rich and poor, black and brown and white. One was a postal worker in my building, another an innovative developer, and another the head of a major homeless services organization.

Initially, the gay community was hit hard. My personal experience with AIDS began with a young man who lived in the apartment next door, whose mother came up from South Carolina to be with him in his last weeks. I saw the sores on his legs, his wasted body. A friend had a neighbor going through the same thing, another young guy with his life before him; his parents came to be with him, too. Another young man, Frank Clemmons, had started out in community activism at the same time I did. When Frank told me he had AIDS, it was just before going into a community meeting. We were in the Art Deco main hall of the McGraw-Hill Building on West 42nd Street, green and gold motif, decorated elevators around the corner at the far end.

Several years later, I dreamed I was in the elevator at the McGraw-Hill building. Muted light. Green, gold. Quiet. The elevator operator was a cab driver-philosopher. Going up was against the gravity of my mind, coming down we slipped 1-2-3 floors. Then 6 and 7, then 17. Fast. I stood watching the lights, the floor numbers flashing by. Wondered if I should care, say anything. Time slipped away.

I said, isn’t there anything you can do?

I saw a notice in a newsletter that Frank Clemmons had died in February, 1996.

Frank had been the Chelsea Reform Club’s “district leader from 1989-1991. Frank served on Community Board 4, Area Policy Board 4, and as a board member of NYS Gay & Lesbian Lobby—the predecessor of the Empire State Agenda. He was also a strong supporter and fundraiser for the Gay Men’s Chorus and a member of the Gay and Lesbian Independent Democrats.” He was also active in the 30th Street Block Association, Chelsea Waterside Park Association, and the Midtown South Precinct Community Council.

“Frank’s gentle manner and devotion to helping others will long be remembered by those he touched,” the notice said. “He was forty years old and died after a long illness of complications, due to AIDS.”

This is not my first pandemic. It amazes me that so many people have a casual attitude towards it. Every life lost is precious. And that should not be tolerated.

Poets of Our Time

And now for another excerpt from my book, Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen

St. Clement’s Episcopal Church, restored window

St. Clement’s. Beauty under the grime. Muted mosaics flaring in sunlight. Chanting poets.

Rich wanted to ask Allen Ginsberg to read a section of The Odyssey at an anti-nuclear event he was planning for a Sunday at St. Clement’s on August 6th, “Hiroshima day.”

He asked me to go with him to Allen Ginsberg’s reading at a nuclear disarmament rally. He read most probably from “Plutonian Ode.”

Poets we knew and became connected to moved forward, a gentle tide, rocked by the new thing, our ability to create oblivion, and to answer with our voices evoking the voices of consciousness to carol our spirits inside the death-rendering, until there we were, the Poets of Our Time right up in front of the crowd, serious, dolorous, Kerouac cool, smiling antennas up and on the tips of our toes. Ginsberg threw himself into the poetry, sparked our responses: nodding heads, nodding bodies. Handclaps, psalming our way beyond. We were in love.

I was in love. With Allen Ginsberg!

In the excitement Richard and I were swept away. Rich had no chance to ask Ginsberg to read at the St. Clement’s anti-nuclear event. We rode over the East River to a party at Maurice Kenny’s Brooklyn apartment, and after that, unwilling to give up the day, although it was midnight, we walked to the Esplanade to feel and hear the breath-song of New York harbor.