Editor & Publisher of the St. Croix Review.
Our Mission Is to Reawaken the Genuine American Spirit . . .
Organizing Communities for Republicans
Barry MacDonald — Editorial
Going Red — The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President — and How Conservatives Can Win Them, by Ed Morrissey. Crown Forum, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York, ISBN 978-1-101-90566-1, pp. 230, $24 hardbound.
From where will the revival of self-confident patriotism come?
Maybe it would be helpful for the Republican National Committee (RNC) to employ people to be in communities and become a presence at local gatherings — creating relationships between the Republican Party and local individuals.
Local Republicans, employed by the RNC, could pinpoint the issues local voters care about so much better than a national presidential campaign whose only point of contact with voters is the repetition of thirty-second ads through mass media.
Why shouldn’t Republicans mount voter registration drives and get-out-the-vote operations similar to the efforts of Barack Obama and Acorn-like organizations, as Democrat success at the local level is undeniable?
And it is a good idea to reach out to young people, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians because they don’t know who Republicans are, and so they tend to believe the nasty stories the Democrats and the media spin about Republicans. Better communication between young people and minorities, who are presently strangers with Republicans, would certainly improve mutual understanding.
The RNC should be well funded and never idle, because candidates come and go but the contest between Democrats and Republicans is ongoing.
Ed Morrissey has written some good ideas in Going Red, but some of his conclusions are questionable, as he seems to have surrendered to progressives on certain issues.
Morrissey does share a message of hope. The RNC, under the leadership of chairman Reince Priebus, is building a presidential turnout machine independent of presidential candidates. He told Morrissey:
At the end of 2014, I think we had over 4,200 paid employees. When I walked in the door here, we had less than eighty. [We hire] people from the communities that we want to influence, from the community to stay in the community, to then meet the metrics that we set. . . . That means not just necessarily sitting around talking about fracking and clean coal; it means having a pizza party, bringing a band in, once in a while giving hot dogs out and talking to people, and then going to community events. . . . If you’re not in the black and Hispanic communities hardly at all for four straight years, and then you go in and try to saturate those communities, certainly you’re going to do better than you did before. . . . [but] a level of trust that is built over time in order for things to change for your future election results to the positive. . . . [To counter dishonest attacks] if you don’t represent the community . . . you have no one that is there at the church festival on Sunday or the community event to say, hey wait a second, hang on — this is what Republicans believe.
Chairman Priebus is running a national presidential campaign and promoting the Republican Party as if these were local enterprises. If he can meet his goals with only 4,200 employees he will be creating a marvelously efficient organization. And he will be training the next generation of Republican politicians, activists, and strategists.
Morrissey’s passion for public affairs led him to blogging and to getting up daily early in the morning for years and commenting on events. He’s become a well-respected radio talk-show host and a columnist for daily newspapers. He’s skillful at taking complex data and doing analysis.
His goal in Going Red is to understand what went wrong for Republicans in 2008 and 2012. He analyses
. . . communities where Republicans went from winners in 2004 to losers in 2008 and 2012, focusing on one key county in each of seven states that lost Republicans the last two elections. . . . each state has counties that are stubbornly Republican or Democrat — but each one also has counties that either party can win. These handfuls of counties serve as bellwethers for the state, demonstrating the reach of national campaigns across the country. And in close elections, these battlegrounds become the difference in delivering their states’ votes to the victor.
The seven counties he examined are Hillsborough County, Florida; Hamilton County, Ohio; Wake County, North Carolina; Prince William County, Virginia; Brown County, Wisconsin; Jefferson County, Colorado; and Hillsborough County, New Hampshire.
The counties are broken down by history, family income, ethnicity, prevailing attitudes and community characteristics, employment characteristics, and the shifting inflow and outflow of people. Population shifts in these swing counties have transformed Republican bastions into “diverse microcosms of the U.S. electorate.” He writes that for Republicans to succeed they must adapt better strategies and messages.
In writing Going Red,Morrissey went to each county and interviewed more than a hundred activists, elected officials, and voters, including Republicans, Democrats, and independents. He used Karl Rove’s extensive data gathering operation, and relied on party officials and radio talk show hosts to make the introductions he needed for the people he interviewed.
But regardless of his careful methodology, I don’t believe Morrissey got a good sampling of Republican voters. I believe the opinions advanced in Going Red, are more in line with what Karl Rove and Washington strategists think.
Many of the people Morrissey heard from wanted to hear economic solutions to America’s problems. He talked to a businessman who had gone door-to-door during elections in support of Republican candidates, but he’s become disgusted with the Republican Party. He wants the Republican Party to stay out of American bedrooms. This attitude is common in Going Red.
Morrissey talked to one hundred people but couldn’t find anyone who supported Republican positions on “social issues” — the people who did mention social issues said they were deterrents to winning elections.
It’s frustrating and puzzling that Morrissey never specifies which “social issues” he means. Does he mean abortion or same-sex marriage? We don’t know. His refusal to be clear seems to be an embarrassed avoidance.
Also it’s remarkable that Morrissey never met a supporter of Donald Trump or a Republican who feels betrayed by the Republican leadership in Washington, as recent polls show a majority of Republican voters do feel betrayed by leadership in Washington.
To make connections in neighborhoods Morrissey also relied on representatives of LIBRE Initiative, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a
. . . grassroots organization that advances the principles and values of economic freedom to empower the U.S. Hispanic community so it can thrive and contribute to a more prosperous America.
LIBRE seems an admirable organization, but the problem is Morrissey discounts how ordinary Republicans feel about the ongoing violation of our southern border by illegal immigrants. Ordinary Republicans want the southern border secured: we believe in assimilation and American traditions — such as free speech — which are threatened by masses of people entering the country illegally who for the first time in American history may not want to assimilate into America.
There are good suggestions for reaching out to Hispanics who are U.S. citizens in Going Red. E. J. Otero is Hispanic and a retired air force colonel who ran for Congress in 2012 in Florida. He points out there are five or six different issues Republicans could use with Hispanics. For example, Venezuelans will respond to economic arguments because they understand how dreadfully socialism functions in Venezuela. And Puerto Ricans have also come to America to escape socialism.
Otero recently arranged for a Republican candidate to address a meeting with Hispanic voters in West Tampa. Morrissey describes Otero’s observation:
The candidate’s message of competent governance, reduced red tape, and economic empowerment began to inspire the crowd, Otero says . . . right up to the moment when the candidate shifted to the attack and began lashing out at Democrats. Otero watched the crowd’s reactions, seeing plainly that they had rejected not just the messenger but also the message. One angry audience member told Otero that when the candidate was trashing Democrats, “He was talking about us.”
Reince Priebus and the RNC should take note, train RNC operatives not to alienate potential converts, and to take the time necessary to get to know them and practice persuasion — the effort will take time and persistence.
The problem is Morrissey doesn’t seem to like Republicans voters very much. He wrote:
Peter Wehner, a former adviser to George W. Bush, put it in harsher words . . . writing that “the message being sent to voters is this: the Republican Party is led by people who are profoundly uncomfortable with the changing (and inevitable) demographic nature of our nature of our nation.” . . . But if this view doesn’t necessarily reflect the leaders of the party, the more troubling issue is that it does reflect a not-insignificant number of its voters, who are worried that appealing to Hispanic, African American, and young voters will require an abandonment of conservative principles.
I believe Morrissey is uncomfortable with how he perceives ordinary Republicans react to Hispanics and African Americans.
Does Morrissey believe, much like the Democrats, that too many Republicans are bigots? I don’t know. In the entirety of Going Red the issue of illegal immigration is not acknowledged as worthy of discussion, as if we should resign ourselves to open borders.
There is a consistent refrain running through Going Red about the negative “tone” Republicans supposedly project:
Sometimes, though, the Muñozes feel betrayed by the tone Republicans use on immigration and other issues. . . . “You don’t tell a girl she’s ugly, and then ask her to the prom.” The problem between conservatives and the Hispanic community became especially acute in 2007, when Prince William County passed an ordinance that allowed police to check on legal resident status when detained — a move that humiliated legal residents. It was later repealed, Deborah notes, but the damage was done.
Has Morrissey internalized and validated progressive opinion? Has he surrendered the view that Americans have a right to defend our traditions in the management of legal and illegal immigration?
Let’s clarify the issue of “tone.” For sixty years our culture has been under assault from progressives. Republicans and conservatives have been smeared as racists, sexists, bigots, homophobes, and “Islamophobes,” a newly coined term.
Progressives are very good storytellers. They rise up a parade of victims and accuse white Americans of racism.
I believe too few Americans recognize the power of revolutionary narrative. There’s the myth of Michael Brown being shot by police while trying to surrender in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s shooting represents the supposed racism of the American justice system. The myth of Brown’s innocence inspired the rioting, the looting, and the burning of Baltimore. The myth of Brown’s martyrdom inspired the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
And the Black Lives Matter movement has been raising revolutionary mobs throughout the nation. And the influence of the narrative is not narrowly focused on black/white issues: A stigma attaches to all of American culture. The momentum created by Black Lives Matter contributes energy to the “war on women,” the war on fossil fuels and coal, and to the war on the “one percent” and the “capitalists” who rig the economy. All these “wars” share a common villain — constitutional America.
And Morrissey worries about the “tone” of Republican voters.
The progressives are engaged in revolution; perhaps Morrissey hasn’t noticed. The progressives have been creating myths for decades (Tawana Brawley comes to mind) and filling their followers with furious intensity. Progressives conjure movements based on fear, anger, and hatred, and once these passions are aroused and directed by astute operatives they are extremely difficult to mitigate.
Morrissey super-analyzes everything, but he’s lost perspective. Until the Republican Party can figure out how to counter operations like Black Lives Matter, and the narratives they promote, the Republican Party will be on the defensive, and America will be mired in bitterness.
Surrendering to progressives on social issues is a mistake. There are generations of American children growing up without fathers. How do we solve fatherlessness? And as families disintegrate in America, is it plausible that restricting Republican messaging to economic arguments is good enough? Can we preserve the free economy and private property rights once we allow the government to take the father’s place in the home as breadwinner?
Using the RNC as a vehicle for improving communication between Republicans and neighborhoods is a good direction. We do need to reach out to young people and minorities. And if the RNC employees can muster up some humility they might discover effective methods and winning issues for the future
But the problem is not one of Republican “tone,” as Morrissey believes, but of Republican morale.
The Republican leadership has stood by perplexed and paralyzed for sixty years as the left has assaulted one American institution after another. The fear of being called a racist has silenced too many Republican politicians for too long.
Ronald Reagan was an exception. He was not afraid to advance the full spectrum of conservatism. Our current Republican leadership seems intimated by polls — as if there’s no possibility of changing anyone’s mind. Ronald Reagan cheerfully and forcefully made his case — and the polls changed!
The rise of Donald Trump coincides with the failure of the intellectual leadership of the Republican Party and the conservative movement to connect with Republican voters and good-hearted, open-minded Americans throughout the nation. Our thought leaders don’t inspire — they over intellectualize — and they don’t know how blunt the vicious attacks of the left.
Donald Trump has been successful because he’s shrewd and fearless, and he has an intuitive grasp of the average American’s morale. He has a simple message that works: making America great again. People are hungry for such a message, and the Democrats, with their decades-long disparagement of constitutional America, are ripe for a fall.
I believe Donald Trump has a good chance to beat the Democrats in November. He’s the counter-revolution to the revolutionary left.
Donald Trump isn’t conservative, and he’s an unreliable partner in the advancement of decorum. But I don’t believe he represents the ruination of American culture either — though perhaps conservatives will be busy cleaning up the messes he creates.
One final thought — of the seven counties Morrissey writes about, Donald Trump won most of them by wide margins in the Republican primaries. Yes, winning a primary election is not the same as winning a general election, but unless the Republican leadership can figure out how to win a general election without the enthusiastic support of Republican voters, it’s important to pay attention to the morale of Republican voters, as Donald Trump has. *
The following is a summary of the June/July 2016 issue of The St. Croix Review:
Barry MacDonald, in “Organizing Communities for Republicans,” looks at the strengths and weaknesses of Going Red, a book written by Ed Morrissey about what’s necessary for Republicans to win critical counties within swing states in the coming presidential election.
Ray Sinneck serves as a reincarnation of Jonathan Swift in “Transfiguration,” in which a T.V. personality interviews “Jo,” who is transitioning from being male to becoming female.
Paul Kengor, in “Western Civ in the Crosshairs — and a Glimmer of Hope,” exposed the vast ignorance of college students and their purposeful mis-education perpetrated by progressive professors who want students to remain ignorant; in “The Communist Party Feels the Bern — U.S. Communists Couldn’t Be Happier About the Democratic Party’s Direction,” he shows how the Sanders campaign is the continuation of the leftist revolution that Barack Obama has begun; in “Having a ‘Trump Talk’ with Your Kids,” he proposes a way of handling children and Donald Trump.
Allan C. Brownfeld, in “Identity Politics Is Eroding the Integrity of American Universities,” smashes the silly “reasoning” of the students at Stanford University who demand the school’s next president be “nonwhite and either transgender or female”; in “Another Attack on Free Speech: Should It Be a Crime to Want Open Discussion of Climate Change?” he responses to the attempts by seventeen attorneys general from fifteen states to criminalize disagreement with liberal scientific notions; in “Seeking to Reverse His Corruption Conviction, the Former Virginia Governor’s Strange Defense Is: Everyone Does It,” he takes note that many prominent public officials of both parties are coming to the defense of the convicted former Governor Bob McDonnell, showing that both parties are comfortable trading access for favors.
Mark W. Hendrickson in “Barack Obama’s Bathroom Overreach,” considers President Obama’s recent decree that public schools nationwide must prepare restrooms for transgender people; in “The Democratic (Party’s) March Toward Socialism,” he describes in detail the Democrats’ comprehensive predation on private property rights; in “True Reagan: A Fascinating Up-Close Look at the Fortieth President,” he reviews a new book about Ronald and Nancy Reagan, written by a close aide who served during the White House years; in “A Liberal College Professor Freaks Out That His College Invited a Republican to Be the Commencement Speaker,” he examines a letter from his wife’s alma mater in which a professor laments that House Speaker Paul Ryan has been invited to speak, and he lists the professor’s juvenile comments; in “The Black Hole of Debt,” he writes: “The world is caught in a black hole of debt, and it’s hard to picture any way to get out of it”; in “The Increasingly Incestuous Ties Between Google and the Democratic Party,” he reports an ominous instance of big-government cronyism.
Herbert London, in “Trump’s Foreign Policy,” evaluates Donald Trump’s foreign policy speech and, though he cites flaws, he sees good points too; in “Saudi Arabia: U.S. Foe and Friend,” he takes a hard look at a strained relationship; in “Civilizational Conflict,” he describes the conflict between militant Islam and Western culture as a confrontation that may be impossible to avoid.
Reuben Larson, in “My Name Is Johan Larsson — This Is My Story,” gives an account of his Grandfather’s life as he emigrated from Sweden to America in the nineteenth century to build a family and establish a homestead.
In “Letters From a Conservative Farmer — Photos on My Wall,” Jigs Gardner considers the meaning of photos.
As civilized as a sword can make us —
Hasn’t it a cultural achievement
To fold the steel in layers and forge it
With a hammer and anvil and hone the
Blade to lethality to inscribe it
With vows of victory and to wield it
Requires a warrior’s training to
Surpass the enemy’s might in battle
And all to no benefit without a
Supporting ethos infusing courage
In the warrior? As civilized as
We may be in the midst of savagery
Haunting the human animal forcing
A defense of gentle accomplishments.
And there are methods
for instilling compassion
in the midst violence
in the human dilemma.
Light and leaf — sun and sky — mind and sky — with
My eyes open I see the natural
Cooperation composing this world
And I wonder at the magic of it
That my skin absorbs the light just as a
Leaf absorbs the light just as the sun fills
The space surrounding the earth with light and
Somehow turns it blue — and have you noticed
How we live subject to the natural
Drama of the sky ceaselessly moving
With clouds and rain and wind and light and have
You noticed how the mind ceaselessly moves
From happiness to discouragement to
Confusion and also astonishment?
Too seldom do I see
too infrequently notice
the churning magic
and ceaseless transformation.
It’s a modest dining room a smallish
Round table and in the morning I make
Coffee and have a bowl of cereal.
Maybe a conversation an email
Or an expression on someone’s face from
The day before has left an impression
With me and so I consider what they
Are thinking and how they are coping and
What I should do — I didn’t understand
How to direct my energy when young
How to discover what needs attention —
I come to my breakfast table as to
A reliable sanctuary and
Continuously find intuition.
Solitude is good
for the cultivation of
I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of
Playing the sleepless poet rummaging
For significance and sacrificing
While everyone else is sleeping and I’m
Stubborn and I’ll pay the penalty in
Taxes for not having health coverage
I’ll stop taking trazodone my magic
Sleeping pills because I refuse to pay
Hundreds of dollars just to consult the
Doctor once just to update prescriptions
So I went to the pharmacy looking
For non-prescription drugs and I talked to
The pharmacist and he impolitely
Asked me so how much coffee do you drink?
Could it be the pot
of coffee I drink each day
lifting me up in
the morning making me buzz
keeping me awake at night?
Some people are crazy enough to wear
A wing suit and stand poised on the tip of
A Mountain and jump — with fabric outstretched
Between their arms and legs and body — and
They fly inches from the rocky edges
Plunging as the eagles do consuming
Miles of air passing inside and outside
Of alpine shadows falling on the slopes
Below — how divine the venture must seem
Flowing within a spectacle of such
Gigantic proportions — discovering
In a human form capability
For soaring with flaming sensations and
A beating heart — and with serenity?
flying squirrel was
but where on earth did
the courage come from?
As a handsome youth with dark hair he’s not
Remarkable but the photo has a
Story — he’s just come to America
From Australia and I wonder what
The photo does to those of us who knew
Him as my father appears very much
Like me or my brother at that age and
He’s full of youthful open confidence
As we know the story of his life of
His family his ministry the journal
He founded — we know the bitterness the
Courage and the triumphs no one else could
Comprehend and each of us remembers
Differently as each knew him separately.
It’s a small circle
of people capable of
depth as only we knew him.
Hazel was his sister’s name and dad said
She had a hard life as her husband was
A brute character and my dad would gaze
At the photo of her youthful smile and
Her profusion of hair and I can see
A touch of family resemblance as
The enthusiastic innocence and
Openness communicates happiness
But you can’t tell by seeing the photo’s
Eight decades old and between them was a
Steamer that traversed the Pacific from
Australia to America when such
A trip seemed irrevocable as dad
Left behind his family and homeland.
In youthful photos
of my vanished family
of a faded world —
I can sense optimism
And eager exploration.
So I was in the square in Paris just
Before Notre-Dame Cathedral after
A year of schooling at Oxford having
Scored well with the teachers and being a
Young man with prospects for success who was
Free of responsibilities and yet
I couldn’t be happy — now here you are
Accomplished graduated prepared to
Be an engineer a young man with no
Obstacles except that you’re unhappy —
Is the world to come so threatening so
Imponderable it’s hard to begin
Or is misery merely a habit
You must overcome? You will find a way.
I’m not able to give you
exact guidance as
in matters of the spirit
we each have our own puzzles.
As if I were trying to sneak a look
At his cards to see what he’s doing he
Holds back and won’t communicate how he’s
Considering his options what he wants
To do what he thinks he’s capable of
Becoming — it’s time that he makes his way
That he determines a direction and
I know he doesn’t have to get it right
There’s wide latitude — it’s not a lifetime
He’s planning just the first few steps and then
He may reconsider readjust and
Change course but how can he know what’s best for
Him without testing his abilities
And discovering how the world responds?
Because he’s done it
because he’s reconnoitered
a father may guide his son —
but the son may be stubborn.
Being in a place where a person was
Makes the separation more poignant and
Who am I to complain as didn’t I
Get on a bus to Galveston Texas
And take a plane to Osaka Japan
And didn’t my parents wave goodbye and
And didn’t they watch me depart to an
Uncertain fate thousands of miles gone
And haven’t I been wondering when you
Would take a worthy direction but now
I realize emotions can become
Mixed as your courage is inspiring
As you’re behaving just as I did but
Part of me I’ve found wants to keep you near.
How can I complain
of my son’s emulation
as Joshua has
decided to go northward
up to Juno Alaska?
You were resisting in Pioneer Park
Pouting and refusing to walk on a
Summer afternoon as resolute as
A toddler with a bulging tummy
Could be bereft of her container of
Water that I forgot so I scooped you
Up and we proceeded home — today you’re in
Graduating robes at Moore College of
Art and Design in Philadelphia
Which is far from home with a degree that’s
A gamble the schooling will be useful
As we have encouraged you to become
As creative as possible because
Your talent deserves opportunity.
The conveyance of
in faces you create so
When the native peoples walked for water
This same valley was here resonating.
They called a section “Stillwater” because
The water spread between limestone bluffs.
Iced-over river and overcast sky
Slopes of bare trees and snow the clean cold air
The quiet settling among the bluffs
Prepare this place for reverberations.
Sioux and Ojibwa fought in a hollow
Lumberjacks floated rafts of logs downsteam
A frontier prison held the Younger Gang
And steamboats plied the townsfolk with supplies.
Pioneer Park has a southward view
For sunrises and sun speckled water.
A name is a gift that accompanies
A life and the christening of a child
Is a bestowal of your parent’s best
Intentions and wishes for the passage
Of a life as if they could be present
To smooth the way so to proclaim “may you
Be Kristine” is to wish in all your days
That you be moved with wisdom and love like
Christ and Kristine is a lovely name you
Should cherish as a gift but a name is
Only a word repeatedly pronounced
And the magic of the naming does wear
Off and the essence of spirit is yours
To express and no one else can do it.
It’s much easier
to say Kris and pronouncing
Kristine instead is
Her parents left her behind at a gas
Station and at a swimming pool and they
Didn’t intend to hurt her but worse they
Forgot she was one of the family —
And though they retrieved her they also gave
Her the impression she’s worthless
And now the grown woman can’t get enough
Attention to lose the expectation
She is forgettable — just as if she
Were given a piece of a puzzle and
And assigned the task of finding where it
Belongs — so it seems she’s been abandoned
She’s lost and upset and struggling to
Compose herself and to find the way home.
To compose herself
to discover the way home
is quite a puzzle —
in a world full of strangers
to find those who are loving.
I remember my first friend beyond my
Family the first intimacy when
We discovered there were secrets to share
And with innocence I gave my trust and
I encountered how much fun it was to
Delve and roam the neighborhood and then my
Family moved to Minnesota and
I left my friend in Kansas — and there was
A procession of friendships and there were
Disappointments and betrayals and I
Had to grow a layer of armor and
I began to measure how much trust was
Sensible and I’ve tasted bitterness —
But I want to be gentle and sincere.
lost — but I have
A rascal put a
snail shell in a
rumble has rattle
curlicue in curves.
Matt’s a six-foot banana today on
The sidewalk and might have been Gumby a
Coke bottle or Spiderman yesterday
And he’s standing and driving a Segway
A T-shaped vehicle with two wheels and
He was a soldier in Afghanistan
Was shot in the head has memory loss
And headaches and because he can’t work he
Passes the time in a costume looking
Ridiculous to snare the attention
Of passersby attempting to impart
Happiness because he intends to turn
Around a bad day someone is having
Because his humor is the best of him.
It’s too easy
to become isolated
laughter is magic
humor communicates and
people need inspiration.
He was moved with compassion for the slaves
Declared the nation must choose slavery or
Freedom when none wanted to see the truth
He knew the choice could not be evaded —
Thoughtful and grave with a far-away gaze
Burdens settled on him so he became
The master of himself and of many
Hot-tempered men contesting Civil War —
The north fought to preserve union and law —
Not to free slaves — Lincoln understood the
Temper of his people knew not to waste
The slaughter of soldiers so he waited
Until emancipation could succeed —
He was the only one fit for the job.
Sadness troubled him
compassion moved him to lead
strength sustained him through
thousands of battlefield deaths
may he be honored always.
As the years are accumulating the
Seasons are becoming precious to me
And in the transition from winter I
Watched the tips of trees begin to bud
And noticed the vulnerability
And the beseeching posture of the limbs
Rising up to the sun but now in the
Summer their forms are concealed within
Luxuriant foliage and I’m attuned
To the ascending and dissipating
Sound of the wind in the leaves just as if
The trees are sighing and I remember
These voices from childhood — resonating
Communicating succoring soothing.
undulating in the trees
arising within the leaves
Crossing a threshold and absorbing light
There’s a connection to be imagined
In a baby seeing swirls of color
And hearing startling and soothing sounds
Experiencing taste distinguishing
The warming power of a smiling face
A comforting voice with an embrace and
As leaves of the trees emerge and absorb
The light as the roots consume nutrients
From a thawing soil the tree will never
Know it’s a tree but when the gnawing of
Hunger comes the baby discovers how
To manipulate others by crying —
Nurturance arises magically.
Before the things of
the world acquire names there’s
within a baby’s thinking
between inside and outside.
George says hello with a quivering chirp
As I’m entering the room as he’s
Leaning his head on the piano leg
With his back legs sprawling as lazy as
Possible — a portrait of nonchalance —
He’s not a kitten anymore and not
A grown-up either as there’s not a thing
He does but eat and sleep but he knows my
Habits during the night and leads me to
The necessary room but he ambles
More slowly than I want to go so I
Slow down because I can’t get around him
Because George is large and doesn’t hurry
And I’m the one who’s being disciplined.
George hasn’t a mane
isn’t on the savanna
doesn’t have a pride
but he is brown and does have
a complacent majesty.
In a “half-faced camp” a shed with three sides
They lived not much better than bears in a
Cave because that’s the best Thomas could do
Hewing a shelter from the woods with an
Ax and saw — they arrived after fourteen
Days in an oxen caravan to a
Fork on the Sangamon River to a
Place without obligations and to a
Site where Nancy his mother would die of
Milk sickness where Abraham learned to do
Sums of arithmetic by writing on
A wooden shovel and shaving it off —
He had a year’s schooling but he absorbed
The Bible and Robinson Crusoe.
Weighing his words and
would present his arguments
sincerely and precisely.
Is there a triter subject than a rose?
They are mostly just stems and little leaves —
Yes their velvet petals are enchanting
But the contrast with their thorns? Overdone —
As common as the sun or moon in verse
Who hasn’t read poetry belabored
With roses? I’d rather see some other
Flower — peony or chrysanthemum —
Yet I adore the resonance of “rose”
And the certainty that every human
Has beheld the sun and moon and roses
So to become one with humanity —
What everyone has beheld I behold
Too what everyone has loved I love too.
Yellow rose petal
There are raindrops in this piece of paper
And the clouds from which the rain came reside
Now within this white form that was once a
Tree that has become a poem because
Without the drops to nurture the tree the
Expression of the tree the paper and
Poem could not be and the minerals
In the soil also live in the paper
Because without minerals soil has no
Potency and the magic of the sun
Rises off the paper to warm your face
As I communicate to you with words —
The logger the road maker and the mill
Worker have all labored for this poem.
is a fact and the magic
is a mystery
and the mystery is deep
though it happens every day.
Such things too
take part in
the bloom —
and vine roses.
My mind is a bowl pondering why my
Friend would say he has no one he relies
On because he’s never said such hurtful
Words before and my mind is a bowl of
Frustration as I’m plotting to persuade
A woman to submit to my way of
Managing our meager finances as
I consider her quirky reactions
And my mind is a bowl seeing the sun
In a brilliant sky amidst moving clouds
And there suspended is a crescent moon
And for moment I’m just watching as
My mind is a bowl and an opening
Offering good intentions this morning.
Crescent moon in the
blue sky of morning —
a hole in the day
The swallow bursts before me snatching my
Sight swooping rising diving and turning
Turning as if it were a whirling blade
Turning and then vanishing into sky —
But the bumblebee lumbers in the grass
Plodding and bumbling and purposeful
Desirous of nectar to return home
Serving the manufacture of the hive —
I can’t resist the urge to grab the toad
Squeezing and turning it as I wonder
Is it toads or frogs that give out warts and
I suppose it’s either but I don’t care —
I’ve spent an hour playing in summer
And so escaped a dreary winter day.
These blasted winter
days have frozen my toes and
I’ve worried about
my constantly frozen toes
until this morning’s thawing.
tastes like banana
only a tongue
can taste banana —
I have the joy.
Asphalt Driveway Co.
I was lucky years ago to work on
The crews that put in asphalt driveways in
The summer and we came in tall trucks with
A tractor a roller and a paver
And we were young men exercising our strength
And honing our skills and learning what was
Necessary — like standing on a load
Of asphalt while the soles of our boots burned
And shoveling from the truck down into
A wheelbarrow because that is the
Only way to get the asphalt to an
Odd place — there was no use in wearing
Gloves because they would be worn out very
Fast so our hands developed calluses.
I used a maul
and a pickax
and grew a
Willie’s appearance might not impress you
Because he was too thin and tanned almost
Black and the sun is not kind to exposed
Skin — he was silent unpredictable
And volatile — but as the chief on an
Asphalt driveway crew he was a master
Craftsman working from his tractor seat at
Timing the arrivals of the trucks and
The moving of the grunts and at tearing
Out the old driveway and sculpting the ground
With an eye for the drainage of water
And he was good at raking stones into
Place and once the asphalt was flowing he
Knew how to lay an impeccable mat.
Willie was wicked
in his rages over
for no reason.
Davey folded the six plastic rings that
Connected a six-pack of pop into
A single ring and with his hands grasping
Behind his neck he tore it apart and
Joey franticly shoveled the stones
In the correct general direction
And Joey drove hastily weaving
Around the traffic with a hot load of
Asphalt and there came a day I had to
Prove myself so I swung a pickax like
John Henry and the next day they let a
Surplus guy go and kept me and with my
Boot I balanced on an empty pop can
And with my fingers tapping crushed the can.
The crew chief mastered
all the necessary skills
and he sits in the
tractor seat and he
A tamper is a steel pole with a square
Ending that is used to put a raised edge
Alongside an asphalt driveway and I
I had a good eye for tamping a straight
Line and the chiefs selected me because
My tamping was a fine finishing touch
And I was happy because I could keep
Working and I had a skill setting me
Apart and I enjoyed riding to jobs
In the back of a tall dump truck wearing
A bandana but not a shirt feeling
Like a pirate and encountering the
Curious expressions of passersby
Because I was a member of the crew.
It is easy to
encourage a young man
and entice him to
work like a raging demon —
give him some belonging.
A roller uses two cylinder wheels
That we filled with water and it’s about
Twice as big as a golf cart and I went
Forward by pushing a lever forward
And backward the same way and one day I
Was rolling pressing a just laid driveway
Going right to the edge of a ten foot
Drop enjoying an easy interlude
Between hard labor and I pulled back on
The lever but the roller kept on so
I jumped and down it went boom boom and like
A cat I landed with my heart going
Boom boom and I might have been dozing a
Little beforehand but then I woke up.
a mechanical failure
a ten foot drop and
produced a happy ending.
It was a joke we enjoyed — four of the
State government road crew were leaning on
Their shovels as one was shoveling — though
There might have been a little envy too
Because we were like skinny feral cats —
And from the moment we arrived at the
Yard there was ceaseless motion before dawn
And through the heat of summer days until
Returning past the evening twilight and
The only occasional rest was if
There was room for me in the cab to doze
On the way to the next job otherwise
I’d stand in the dumpster part of the truck
With my arms over the sides holding on.
Such a test of pride —
to lift a wheelbarrow
and hurl it up and
over the side into the
dump truck about ten feet high.