Climbing Bryan’s Mountain, 2018

This is part of a series of excerpts from my Sedona journal, especially about my time on Bryan’s Mountain (Bell Rock to the rest of the world).  Go to the series’ Lead Post, and read about Emmanuel House, the living memorial started by Rick and Desiree Guzman to honor Bryan Emmanuel Guzman.

A fire in the distance.

A fire in the distance.

August 5-6.  There’s a “just right” vibe in Sedona, related to that “there are no coincidences” vibe. The people you just “happen to meet,” the Red Rock views, the brilliant night sky—all just right, as they should be, and always are. But this year I’ve been noticing things that aren’t quite right.  Coming into our place Saturday night, I was pleased by how clean and put together it looked—but then, like every year, so many things were just out of place.  The rattan chair was crammed in the fireplace corner, and the fireplace log box belonging there was at the side of the coffee table.  Couldn’t find our guest book for the longest time, until I found it buried beneath three remotes in the remotes box.  The silverware was all mixed up, our primary set stuffed in the back of the drawer, the cheap, second-hand, supplementary stuff in the appropriate slots instead.  And, as always, the towels and rugs were all a jumble, especially the small rugs, which were in all the wrong rooms.

I have still not found the hummingbird feeder.

An Indian man sets up his table of hats next to the head of a trail that winds around Bell Rock and Court House Butte.  He’s been selling there almost as long as we’ve had our place in Sedona, but this year as I stopped to say a quick Hello, he looked thinner, and my Hello brought him out of what seemed to be a stupor.  He recognized me right away, though, saying, “I haven’t seen you for a long time,” but his speech seemed more slurred and low.

Selling hats nearly 15 years.

Selling hats nearly 15 years.

…Bryan’s tree looked fine, though it seemed drier.  Everything seemed drier.  The grasses around his tree weren’t as vigorous, and the winds whipped hotter and drier than I ever remembered.  I didn’t seem to be sweating enough, and what I did sweat dried so quickly it hardly cooled.  The usually crystal air and skies seemed hazy.  Then in the distance I saw the culprit: a wild fire burning in some hills way off to the north, white and dark smoke churning upwards.

This has been one of the busiest years of my life.  In a way, we’re still recovering from May 2017, when I was in a hectic teaching term, Rick was running for mayor…and we moved!  The house we bought sold in 8 hours, ours sold in 23, so we threw everything in boxes and whisked it off, no time to sort anything.  Our heads were spinning and haven’t stopped yet.  We just start sorting this July, but not til after I helped build stuff for Linda’s biggest volunteer party of the year, followed days after by the huge retirement party she threw for me. We wall papered, trimmed bushes, tidied as best we could, did food, then at the last minute changed locations because of horrid weather.  I’m not officially retiring until late November, but all the kids were going to be in town late-June/early-July, so we went ahead, and lots of people came, and we wound up absolutely exhausted, crabby, and then entertained our Jersey grandkids, Liam and Maddy, for eight days after that.  People ask me all the time what I’m going to do in retirement, and all I can think of is to say, Rest.  What I’ve described here is less than half of it.

All six + one due in September.

All six + one due in September.

The big payoff was having all the family around:  all six grandkids for the very first time, seven if you count Dan and Tara’s newest…due in early September.  When we took pictures of them, we had Tara there, too, gently cradling her growing belly.  As grand as all that was, it was also tiring, and the kids were tired, too, as they were working on their Mom’s place, getting it ready to sell, and getting her ready to move to a smaller place, something easier for her to handle.

I arrived hugely out of sorts, with a keener eye for things out of place.  Still, it’s not all just a state of mind.  Something else: somehow our swamp cooler didn’t get serviced and turned on, so I bought an extra fan and set up another blowing over a large, wet towel to try to keep the heat down until we can get someone over here.  I can barely keep the inside temperature below 89 degrees, and that wildfire in the distant mountains is as real as real can be. As I write this on August 6th, a smoky haze has drifted over the whole area.

August 9.  Things feeling a little more normal.  For one thing, the very air itself.  The normal humidity in the high desert here is around 30%.  When I arrived on August 4th, and until today, it’s been less than half that!  Sitting up by Bryan’s tree today, I saw no smoke from the distant fire, and feeling the air on my skin, all I kept thinking was, “That’s better. That feels right.”  Aaron asked if I could send him the tree’s exact GPS coordinates.  Sitting by his tree, I did, and heard my phone beep moments after I sent them.  He texted back: “I have been thinking about ways to get a ‘Bryan tattoo’ and I want to just get the coordinates of his tree where his ashes were. A nice way to do one that isn’t cheesy.”

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Lucy Parsons: Increasing the Sum of Human Happiness

Parsons1Born into slavery in Texas, Lucy Parsons sometimes shunned her African-American identity, claiming her Native and Mexican-American heritage for self-protection instead.  However, her marriage to the white Albert Parsons so clearly defied Southern anti-miscegenist society that they were forced to flee, winding up in Chicago in 1873, where she and her husband’s anarchist, labor activism reached its height, particularly in the infamous Chicago Haymarket riots of 1886.  Albert was one of the men eventually hung for allegedly being part of a conspiracy, and Lucy Parsons herself barely escaped execution.  A mighty opponent of poverty, racism, and capitalism all her life, Lucy Parsons was known as a fiery orator and a skillful organizer of workers, and into her late 70’s she lectured throughout the country championing free speech and fair working conditions.

She was also a writer, but most of her work and her library quickly and mysteriously disappeared immediately after the house fire that killed her, and rumors linger that it was confiscated by government authorities that always kept close watch on her.  In 1889 she wrote The Life of Albert Parsons, with Brief History of the Labor Movement in America, a biography which indicted the injustices that led to her husband’s execution.

Parsons4Haymarket, a new folk musical—(read my review of it Here)—focuses heavily on the contrast between Lucy and Albert concerning violence, the latter always pleading for non-violence.  Lucy sees it differently.  Her most famous writing is the essay “To Tramps,” which advocates direct violence against the state for the redress of wrongs against workers and the poor.  It ends with the famous imperative: “Learn to use explosives!”  Because it is readily available on the internet, for my book Black Writing from Chicago, I chose to represent Lucy Parsons with an interview she gave to the New York World, an interview Albert Parsons included in his Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Scientific Basis published in 1887.  In a brief editorial introduction to this piece, he calls this “the most succinct account we have ever seen” of the philosophy and goals of anarchism.

May 1986, 100-Year Commemoration of the "Haymarket Affair" at Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Part, IL.  Lucy and Albert Parsons are buried here.

May 1986, 100-Year Commemoration of the “Haymarket Affair” at Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Part, IL. Lucy and Albert Parsons are buried here.

In a recent email, one of my former students, James Stewart, tells of using Black Writing from Chicago in class, mentioning Parsons as one of the highlights.  “The amount of times I’ve pored over that book for inspiration and ideas for my class along with my own personal writing has been invaluable. I may never have come across Leanita McClain, Lucy Parsons, or Frank London Brown without it and what a shame that would have been. The class in which the student discussed Parsons and Hampton was one of the absolute highlights. To hear freshman from various backgrounds debating the merits of violent and non-violent revolution, along with America’s constant struggle against white supremacy definitely helped give me hope in the ongoing struggle for justice and equality, which was hard to come by this year.”

The interview I used for Black Writing from Chicago begins: “This is the evolutionary stage of anarchism.  The revolutionary period will be reached when the great middle classes are practically extinct. The great monopolies and corporations and syndicates met with on every hand are now rapidly extinguishing the middle classes, which we regard as the one great bulwark between the monopoly or wealthy class and the great producing or working class.”  This has such a contemporary ring that my students are always shocked that the interview was given in the late 1880’s!  And though a great deal of Parsons’ fire came from her not shying away from violence, this piece shows the larger context of her stance.  It’s a judicious use of violence.  And “anarchism” appears here as a political vision where politics isn’t totally abandoned but is radically de-centered.  It also places great store by guilds and unions.  “We hold,” says Parsons, “that the granges, trade-unions, Knights of Labor assemblies, etc., are the embryonic groups of the ideal anarchist society.”  Towards what end?  “Drudgery, such as exists to-day, will be reduced to a minimum. The children will be taken from the factories and sent to museums and schools…people will have more time for pleasure and cultivation of the mind…we claim that the sum of human happiness will be increased, while the drudgery and poverty and misery of the world of today, all due to the powerful concentration of capital, will be done away with.”

Such visions led to many practical reforms.  Anarchism as political philosophy has obvious shortcomings, but now in an age where the concentration of capital has reached heights greater than even she imagined—heights in many ways exceeding even the Great Depression*—we could do worse than turn at least a partial ear to Parson’s call for an equality that would increase “the sum of human happiness.”

* Read “Graphic Inequality,” about growing income inequality in America.

Go to a list of Black Writers on this site, and to the Teaching Diversity main page.

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Someone Overuses a Pager

In memory of the old, old days before smart phones.
Do pagers even exist anymore?



Not to speak directly to you, or to do so, is to choose
Between the fear of the distant and the fear of the proximate,
As in, A: The fear of a nothingness that really is there,

Empty, its cold comprised of stolen warmth. Or, B: The
Fear of the heart made too human by the sound of your voice,
Of words turned too honest by the breath of your voice.

Today I choose “B” and feel lucky you have a pager,
Feel lucky that everything—these sunsets, those jetting
Geese—can be digitized, rendered cool as numbers.

When you hear the beep, vibrations follow.
These half-bits traversing a screen of liquid crystal.
These emotions nearly coded, almost distant.
0000   Means I hope you find this annoyance charming.

0001   Means one of the boys may have fallen out of the
          Garage loft, but probably not. Cancel this message.

0010   Everything adds up. What it adds up to is another matter,
          Which is why all accountants should have minored in religion.

0100   I see you writing, gripping the pen in that funny way that
          Has given you a callous on the tip of your middle finger.

1000   The center depends on the margin. Order on chaos.
          Degas scribbles randomly until a ballerina appears.

1001   Call if you need help, or to tell me that you don’t need help.
          In either case, I will think I do not know what to do.

1010   Every time I’m on a bridge I have a dizzying urge to
          Jump off, unless it’s arching over a pond filled with lilies.

1100   It’s me, only voiceless, a body of 0’s and 1’s, fears
          Cycling to a Boolean rhythm—on, off, on, off, on…

1111   Milk pours silkily out of glass bottles. We’re out of this milk.
          Pick up a plastic gallon on your way home, noting the decline.

1110   The Twist, The Swim, Texas Line Dancing, Saturday Night
          Fever Disco. This yearning for Waltzes, close and slow.

1101   I miss you. River Birch, Norwegian Maple, Buckeye, Pin Oak.
          Names I chant to branches black against purple winter sky.

1011   This thing in 0100. I know this. It is one of the smallest
          Things I know. I smile because I know I know this.

0111   Within this numbering system only 16 distinct markings may
          Be possible: what I have to say is only definite, not infinite.

0011   This sudden urge to dial, to talk directly. This red streaking
          Through the thick pastels of Monet’s Giverny.

I wrote this poem—in homage and parody of Wallace Stevens—for my wife Linda. When it also appeared in the Wallace Stevens Journal (in slightly different form), she said: “I thought you wrote this just for me?”   Well, yes, but…

GO TO Poems and Poetry Commentary on this site.

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