Monday, September 7, 2009


In earlier times, the nymph Echo knew how to speak. And she spoke with such grace that her words seemed always new, never before spoken by any mouth.

But the goddess Hera, Zeus's legal spouse, cursed her during one of her frequent fits of jealousy. And Echo suffered the worst of all punishments: she was deprived of her own voice.

Ever since, unable to speak, she can only repeat.
Nowadays, that curse is looked on as a virtue.

Eduardo Galeano
from Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone

Last night my wife and I spent the evening watching a 3-hr special on the writer/educator/activist, Jonathan Kozol. We have read much of his works throughout our days of teacher education classes, workshops, etc., and to finally listen to him, and even see him offer a rare tour of his home was a nice addition to some of the arguments and concerns he put forth throughout the interview. Kozol highlighted the tragic dropout rates that still continue to clutch at minority students ankles, rattling off statistics that should make any sane person's stomach turn, yet nothing is done, no real war is waged. Kozol blames the right and left, stating that many of today's liberals seem like they're suffering from what he called "compassion fatigue." Kozol spoke about standardized testing--which is why I included Galeano above--and how it stifles creativity and inquiry, both for the student and for the teacher. I enjoyed listening to him talk about his love of literature, citing Rilke, Toni Morrison, and others, and how he was fired from a public school in Boston for teaching Langston Hughes, which inevitably led to his participation in the civil rights movement. As a thank you, Hughes sent Kozol a signed portrait, a picture he keeps over his work desk.

What struck me most about Kozol, besides his obvious passion to right wrongs, was his sense of humor, along with his admission that he did not feel like a seventy-three-year-old at all, but more like a fifteen-year-old. I loved that!

* * *
This summer has been nice. I read more than I thought I would have. Some of the highlights were Galeano's Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone and Open Veins of Latin America (reread), I Wanted to Write a Poem: The Autobiography of the Works of a Poet by William Carlos Williams, The Balloonist by Eula Biss (reread), the new Gabriel Garcia Marquez biography, Utopia Parkway: The Life and Work of Joseph Cornell by Deborah Solomon, Against Interpretation and other Essays by Susan Sontag, Oscar Zeta Acosta: The Uncollected Works, plus a grip of other invaluable reading pleasures.
* * *
Speaking of reading, I just finished Paul Martinez Pompa's My Kill Adore Him. Lean and tough, this collection addresses several social ills that continue to afflict this society of ours much more profoundly than the current flu scare. Racism, gender politics, homophobia, police brutality, workers' strife, among other important issues get served up and presented here. As a matter of fact, Pompa's poem "The War on Poets Goes On" totally reminded me of an incident I encountered at Dulles Airport, where I had to stomach a young security guard accuse me of being a liar for not telling him that I had a travel-size toothpaste in my backpack. Believe me, if I would've remembered that I had a travel-size toothpaste in my backback, I would not have been furiously chomping on several sticks of gum during our long flight.
Since reading this poem, I have started an essay about some of the most ridiculous encounters I've had while crossing back through our borders. For awhile, my friends used to joke that they didn't want to cross the border back into the U.S. if I was in the car because that would guarantee them a quick trip to secondary. As with all jokes, there is always an element of truth, even if it's not necessarily found in its content. Unfortunately in this case, the truth was obviously in the content, as well as in their slightly veiled anxiety that prompted them to say it in the first place.
And finally, I just started William Vollman's gargantuous Imperial. Cashing in on a gift card, in addition to a discount, I was able to afford this giant. About fifteen pages into it, I can't wait to see what's ahead of me. In the first few pages, Vollman has already mentioned the New River, the last ditch effort for those trying to enter the country illegally. There was a picture several years ago in the Imperial Valley Press that depicted 4-5 people floating on black, plastic trashbags filled with their belongings down one of N. America's most polluted rivers. Surrounding these desperate people, were large clumps of foam attributed to all of the poisons churning in that water. Every so often, I remember that image in the newspaper; it's one I'll never forget for as long as I live.

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