©2000 A.D. Sullivan
|End of the Line|
|River side vision: Oct. 24, 1980|
|Out on a Limb|
|The Darkness Assembled|
|A trip to paradise|
|The Kennedy Myth|
|A poem for David|
End of the Line
Miss Jennie remembers the houseby Juanita Tobin
of her birth where she slept
at her mama's and daddy's feet
until the breath went out of them.
She was taught to be a good little girl
and never lose her temper
and her wedding supper was prepared
by Katie Rozier, Bob Rozier's slave
She was wildly in love with her man...
Gentlemen don't fall wildly in love
but for her, life is concentrated
in that eye of a needle time
Letters are crumbling in her bedside table.
Sometimes she plans to throw them away
but she gets so interested reading them,
the drawer never gets cleaned out.
She's been in a wheelchair five years,
the first step down a road she didn't
want to take and she still won't
let me put her name on the door
River side vision: Oct. 24, 1980
by A.D. Sullivan
The water changes color as it moves, caught in a current of reds and yellows and oranges reflected from the trees above. Even the texture changes, stirred into a frenzy where sticks and stones stick up.
A friend said some African counties have a hundred names for different shades of green. We have too few words in English for color, stripped off a paint chart where the names mean little more than an advertising logo.
How is it that the yellow in a willow leaf looks soft where as a sumac's seems to snip at the air like a cranky old man?
Maple reds are as rich as wine, rolling off the hills on either side of the river, spreading their color ahead of them and into the water.
I can smell these trees dying, the sickeningly sweet of the mulberry, the stark smell of pine taking hold, a survivor waiting for winter to make its evergreen limbs shine.
Perhaps it is the season that makes life seem so vivid, a sharp photograph in which each crisp edge sticks out. The trees and the stones, the river itself, appears more real after the haze of summer has ended, and to the unsuspecting soul, the world comes alive now, instead of dying.
It is a trick. This is the show of shows, the grande finale, a parade of leaves and trees broadcasting its last gasp before sinking into the dull browns and inevitable frosts.
Sitting on the dock side, I can almost hear the sigh of nature's voice, that shift in the graying wood and limbs, that subtle groan in anticipation of hibernation, when trees and roots fall under the spell of ice, a death-like sleep from which each hopes to wake come Spring.
It's all over
The wolf that I amby Stephen Andrew Laing
lives in my heart
digs with his front paws
into his hearth
stands firm and proud
all fours on the ground
bristles the black hair
snarls at the sound
dreams of fat rabbits
runs with the wind
howls at the moon the mystery within.
"Challenge me" his eyes say
my pact is my command
cross into my territory
die on this land
small and furry
the pups nuzzle his warth
the hunt of the day
feeds the hunger in them
could that you be a wolf
my freedom is clear
my walking is boundless
I walk with no fear
the tracks that I follow
what I see, what I hear
when I raise my muzzle to smell
means the kill is near
this fury is endless
barbaric and clear
inbred for ages
teeth sharp for deer
men turn to wolves
when the need is there
feed and protect Is my meaning clear?
Out on a limb
by A.D. Sullivan
Finding myself in the middle of someone's fiction disturbs me greatly.
I am not talking about Woody Allen or his magical trip into Madame Bovary. I mean me, the person, the mixed up kid from the Sixties, seeing myself portrayed as a character in a book I happened to pick up.
I keep looking over my shoulder just to see who might be looking, then after some reflection, I determine the book isn't about me so much as about a generation of people like me, those who struggled to live our lives by theories set forth by men like Marcuse, Roszak and Lang's double bind.
In his book, "Making Do," Paul Goodman gives us a picture of the unidealized hippie, that ragged and raw creature who defies the stereotype that later ideologues portrayed: the Manson madman, the intellectual rebel or the self-indulgent middle class society child (although all these and more make up the strange mix which invaded various cultural centers in the Sixties.)
"Out of the corner of my eye, as in a picture, I saw a stripling hanging on the fringe," Goodman writes. "He attracted attention partly because of his flaming scarlet windbreaker, in the style of a juvenile actor of the time named Jimmy Dean, and partly because his face was contorted with unbelief at our unfairness. He was still trembling with the embarrassment of half an hour since he had thought of a sensible question to ask and was working himself up to stammer or blurt it out, while the waves of shame at exhibiting himself engulfed him and hostility that he felt at our eminence made him angrier and angrier and more and more unjustified."
Through this description, Goodman as a character in this fiction and the story's narrator, describes the meeting of liberal and radical. He, himself, is the liberal, coming to campuses to discuss problems in the world. The radical, this Jimmy Dean, stunned by the gall of such liberals. How could men such as Goodman, who is within the system, paid by the system, and thus corrupted by the system, have any access to truth? As Goodman further describes this young rebel, he describes me and the thousands of others of my generation who were led into protest, not by intellectual thoughts, but by frustration: children sick of schools that manufactured them, shaped them into workers and tools for an industrial machine. But we back then were so inept, son unable to articulate our anger in a way acceptable to the intellectuals who in their self delusion thought they were leading us.
"I saw him," Goodman writes, "He was feverishly rehearsing, rehearsing his revenge-- mentally, for he would not be telling it to his roommate. He was walking across the campus, hunched against the drizzle at 2 a.m., and burning up what little energy he had. He was a sick boy (mononucleosis, the current style of student blues). By now, he had quite forgotten the reasonable questions that he had mean to ask. He was afraid that he was losing his mind. Indeed, a part of his hostility was that we had missed his proper time."
Step by step, Goodman takes us through the Sixties, through the progressions that would infect a whole generation. He would show us the community and the fear of police, the violence within and outside that community, the drugs, the hopes and dreams, and eventually, the selling of those dreams.
For me, it is a painful journey, having already gone through each stage, seeing it again making those stages clearer both in my life and in the era in which I grew up. Goodman and others predicted the rebellion well before the first touches of rage hit Berkeley, and before the Freedom Rides radicalized white middle class youth, before even the Kennedy dream machine was shattered by a shooting in Dallas.
The intellectuals knew.
They saw the disaster coming and stood helplessly aside as we lemmings charged. They tried to change our direction. Mailer, Goodman, Marcuse and Lang struggled to make sense of the collective rage, to intellectualize it, to understand this reaction rising out of the national gut. But confused thinking like my own sent this generation into a rampage. We protested the war, not because it was right or wrong, because it was the last symptom in a sickness that had long infested our society.
Goodman's book reflects passionately the effect that the society of the Sixties had on the children of my generation, those like me and this Jimmy Dean character named Terry, suffering the American Dream like a straight jacket, our heads stuffed with inappropriate ideas - none of which made sense to us, but each idea forcing us into the molds acceptable to mainstream society. Often, people like us ended up with broken dreams and shattered lives.
A large part of the anger we expressed in the 1960s was not aimed at the Richard Nixons or the Ronald Reagans but at the JFKs and LBJs who had promised so much and delivered so evil, and, in fact, had promised peace and delivered us into the arms of war.
"To my surprise," said the Goodman character, " Jimmy Dean was one of the first volunteers. This was not cool of him to ask for the floor so soon. But he was not able to control himself. His outstretched arm was white out of his rich chocolate blouse.
"Professor Ellis said: `Yes, Terry, now you can have your turn.'
"For ten long seconds that must have seemed to him like long minutes, he could not get out a word. The attack when it came - I had miscalculated - was not against the warden, but against me.
"`YOU!' He nodded his head at me to bear the brunt of his respectful inquiry. "Explain how you can sit there holding hands and playing footsie with that cop. That's my question. Let me expand it. I can respect him. He comes on like a psychologists, but in the showdown he will act like a cop. So we know where we're at. Last night he tells us how he conned a cat out of his castration complex to make him less a pain in the ass to IBM. No sweat. He's an artist, I salute him!" - and he sketched a notty Nazi salute at the warden. `But what are YOU doing? Here you give us something about balling with jailbait in a youth house. See? Fuzz bait. Fuzz. Dig?'"
In expanding Goodman's point in these passages to the political world at large, we can ask ourselves how senators and congressmen who debate the great issues of our lives can have our interests in mind when they are members in an exclusive club where they have more in common with big business than with ordinary people. People who hobnob with the powerful often see themselves as superior just as teachers and others who collect their pay from IBM, Microsoft, AOL or Gulf Oil cannot teach us about human virtue.
Terry as a symbol of my generation finds his answer in an alternative community, a community of people just like him (like me and other original people), a community oppressed by a system in which we have no voice. In the 1960s, we gathered in places like Greenwich Village, trying to build an alternative society, trying to shape our community around people without the confusing, often contradictory rules modern society presents us with.
For the most part, our efforts failed because we carried the ingredients for our destruction inside of us. Our community maintained the same seeds of self-destruction that the larger society contained. We accepted drugs and unregulated sexual habits simply because these were things the greater society rejected, giving the greater society the excuse to kick open our doors, put us in handcuffs and haul us away to jail.
More sinful were those cases in which some of our members betrayed us, cooperating with the FBI when it came to destroy our underground press, standing by idly when the police busted the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, and many others. We did not recon with the reaction of the greater society when some elements of our new society grew too powerful or our resistance too strong.
Thirty years later, of course, I am no longer Terry or Jimmy Dean, but a reporter and author attempting to intellectualize the disaster, struggling to find clues in the ruins to our failure, and in the end, finding the emotion of that moment in time too intense to categorize for study.
The Darkness Assembled
Twilight oozes into her bedroomby Barbara A. Holland
It took the color
out of everything around,
slowly and with deliberation
Then the darkness fell
even though there is no darkness
in the city streets,
but in her bedroom where
no street light penetrated
it settled and another shadow
developed, showing itself
as blacker than the surrounding
darkness, like a fuzzy smudge,
for shape knows definition
where light or darkness bends
and the shadow grew into sharpness
along its edges while she reached
to squeeze the light on
in the bedside lamp.
by A.D. Sullivan
The room, as usual, was full of dead flowers.
Even in winter, the sills overflowed with brown twisted petals as if the owner could no longer bear the pretence of fresh color.
Time had soften all the edges here, edging the room with the same hazy vision of old photographs.
Even the air seemed old, closed in, filled with sunlight and the silvery sparkles of rising and falling dust, a dust that eventually settled again on the sill, the plants, the tassled lamp shades.
The room's master had long ago traded in clarity for a sleeply sense of space, refusing to engage with the obscenity of sharp contrasts. On most occasions, he feels around the room when he searches for something, fingers confronting the smooth marble of the hearth mantle or the worn fabric of the thick armed chairs, stumbling over the throw rugs and footstools as if someone had deliberately placed them in his way.
And still, he called the room: "Pleasant," and admired the musket that hung over the fire place, remembering the time when with shaking hands and his father's help, he had placed it there himself. These days, he had to squint to see it, even huddled as near to the fire as he was. He always seemed cold, and yet would not close the shades to the window through which car lights shone on the road.
He liked to stare out, especially in winter, when he could sit with brandy in one hand, book in the other, and feel the change of day, headlights announcing the coming of evening, justifying his eventual climb to bed.
People used to condemn him for daydreaming when he was young, saying what a waste of time it was to stare out into nothing. Now, it was his time to waste, and he reveled in it, knowing he had outlived many of his critics, whose own hurried activities had hastened their rush to death. Yet age was no excuse, and he remembered when much younger, how he would stay up on nights like these to watch the fall of snow, that first snow, in late autumn, that warned of oncoming winter.
Now, he had to fight to keep his eyes open on these nights, the alcohol adding to age to make him seek sleep rather than adventure. He resisted because he didn't like to think himself as old, rather as seasoned, and he preferred to watch the car lights over the last hour before sleep because unlike the brandy or the rich words of his book, the lights did not drag him down into dreams, but instead seemed to instill life into him, returning him to those moments when he was very young and he stared at similar lights in the water, and could sit so still for so long his own father worried over him and asked if he had turned to stone.
Then and now, he always saw such lights as more than light, as events in human history coming then going, flickering on and off with good and bad, though the lights and snow seemed fickle to him, and insubstantial, melting away the moment he put too much faith in them or concentrated too closely on them. Both were viewed best on a slight angle, caught in the corner of his eye as if by accident, the way he had come to view life itself.
Then, when the snow grew too thick and the cars less frequent, he made his way to bed, hoping winter would not come over him while he slept.
A trip to paradise
The front walk wears their shameby John Mark
rusted trash cans stuffed
with thunderbird bottles and bud
spilling onto the cracked on concrete
where the pigeons hobble
and the shadows of branches lay
"Welcome to the inner city," no signs says,
though plenty of messages mark
the walls of buildings
in spray paint
The knotted knell of music
beats at the air in salsa and rap,
blood baths for strangers
behind the old school
broken car windows, blaring car alarms,
as a Polish drunk staggers his way
through the perilous world
from Casey's bar on the corner
of Eighth and Passsaic
to the paradise go-go bar on Wall Street,
like a modern Odysseus
weaving through the ill will of God.
I watch his trip each night
passed the mouth of my door,
listening to the shuffle of his feet,
amazed by his ability to survive
each trip unscathed.
Kennedy, the Myth
by Douglas Merth
"Take what you want," said God, "Take it and pay for it."
- a Spanish proverb
For as long as I can remember my right wing friends have confronted me with the Bay of Pigs.
"There," they'd say. "That's what your previous Kennedy did. That's all he was good for."
History paints a better portrait in recalling the Cuban Missile Crisis, noting how it helped keep the peace for the next twenty years, and was perhaps the defining moment in the Cold War (despite claims otherwise by these same friends who give the credit mistakenly to Ronald Reagan). Kennedy played it a lot tougher with the Soviets than Reagan ever did, and possibly saved us from World War Three as a result.
Unlike the people who supported Ronald Reagan two decades after the Cuban Missile Crisis, I do not believe in the wisdom of the common man, seeing the world as Plato did, as a Democracy of the demented. When left up to the public to do the right thing, the right thing rarely gets done. Personal issues get in the way of social survival, and for all the braggarts that abhor flag-burning and support American troops, they wouldn't lift a hand to defend America unless the Soviets (now the Russians or Cubans) came to their front door. So backward thinking are most Americans that the great leaders of the 20th century have largely had to hoodwink the public in order to get some great good performed such as FDR with the social security system, and Kennedy, in saving the world.
I'm not saying JFK was a saint. Anyone who had read anything about Marilyn Monroe knows better, and the way Kennedy treated Frank Sinatra after all Sinatra did to help with the presidential election was a crime. But sometimes a man will rise above his own flaws, and create something that is beyond his personal ability, putting to pieces of some dramatic new concept into place so that the world has the potential to grow.
While the thirtieth anniversary of Kennedy's assassination came and went without much ado, the twentieth anniversary in 1983 - as I recall - was nearly as big a circus as the original event, baby-boomers like myself struggling with the concept of growing old, marking off each of the significant moments of the past as if preserving our youth. Woodstock would stuffer the same fate, as did resignation of Nixon. During that 20 year hoopla, I came to understand just how much I missed JFK, and never knew it.
In the early 1980s, people liked to point to Ronald Reagan as the leader of the free world, giving him credit for standing up to the Soviets. But in truth, he was no Kennedy - just an actor playing another part, this was to an audience of people desperate to think America macho again.
With Kennedy president, America was macho, but macho in a way that didn't bow down before the testosterone bigots that parade around these days in neo-nazi uniforms. Kennedy, for all his flaws, and all his lying about a missile gap with the Soviets, seemed to see America as a place of peaceful progress, and while he contributed as greatly to bolstering the military that later dragged us through the Vietnam War, Kennedy also gave us the idea that brains mattered more than brawn, and that if we gathered the best and brightest together, we might come up with some solutions to problems that seemed insolvable, like poverty and racism.
Of course, Kennedy's idealism blinded him to how huge a task he actually faced. He came into office in January, 1961, with the belief that he could retake control of government, removing the hand of the bureaucrats from the gear shift of the country. Oddly enough, Reagan believed this, too, and failed as significantly. Career officials in the State Department had too firm a grip, they operating all those offices out of which government was actually run. Even if Kennedy, and later Reagan, could have actually mapped out all those who would have to have been removed, each would have required more than four or eight years to complete the process, and even then, might have succeeded only in replacing on bureaucrat for another.
As smart as the Kennedy Administration was, many of the chief architects of the New Frontier were actually politically naïve, coming into government from college campuses and other such ivory towers where they had percolated their ideas in a vacuum, ideas that - once injected into the real world - failed to perform in the way these brainy people expected.
Kennedy and his people seemed nearly totally ignorant of the system of political favors that existed in Washington D.C. when they got there, a system that kept any president from ever becoming so independent as to change the face of American government more than cosmetically. Kennedy -- despite his serving in the Senate -- was largely an outsider to the "Belt Way," and the people he brought in with him, knew little of the intricate workings of the Military Industrial Complex the previous president had warned America against.
For four decades, I have heard people talk about the conspiracy in Dallas, how the CIA and the Mafia teamed up to kill the president -- all of which may indeed have been true. But even if those bullets had not put an end to the presidency in November 1963, the system of government would have destroyed the presidency, either by corrupting it or by ignoring it, leaving Kennedy ineffective legislatively, and leaving his reforms unrealized. Only an insider like LBJ -- the man who succeeded Kennedy as president -- could have changed so much so quickly, pushing the right buttons, calling in the right favors.
Kennedy offended many people not because his ideas were so radical -- he was essentially a political hawk -- but because he insisting on flaunting his independence. What made him attractive to the general public as an outsider, made him a threat to the system of government. History is fill of such circumstances, where people like Kennedy sought to rule their nations beyond the normal channels of power. Napoleon sought to under mine the existing base of Royal favors that predominated Europe, and resulted in an uprising in English Royalty, who sent armies across the English Channel to dethrone him and return the reigns of power to the royalty he dethroned.
Even the so called people's revolution of the early 1990s when newly elected members of Congress in the United States promised a "contract with America" was an illusion, a false hope for the ordinary people who believed for the first time they actually had a voice in government. The dreams of the average citizen did not weigh greatly in these congress people's minds when they got a taste for the Belt Way. Some tried to honor their election pledges, but came to realize that even those who sent them to Congress had no clear idea of what they wanted, public opinion shifting daily, much too quickly for many of the ideologues to adapt to.
Plato feared the Democratic hoard, claiming it was as dangerous to free thinking as an imperial state, and said that a true government should be run by philosophers, people of principal and vision whose opinions will not sway with the public mood, but would keep focused on some future and larger than ordinary goal.
Kennedy, for all his flaws, sought to construct that kind of government, and indeed, sought out larger-than-life projects that America might seek to accomplish, such as landing a man on the moon. He wanted to heal racial divisions in the country. He wanted to build a national Patriotism that was generated by peace, not war. He claimed America should be a beacon for the world to follow.
As much as a bastard as Kennedy was, he seemed to fill a void in the social consciousness, serving history as a bridge between two cultures, the America of a farm-based past and the technological America now emerging. Sociologist Weber -- in his theories of charismatic leadership -- said history made use of people in order to get over some hurdle that bureaucratic mindset was unable to deal with. For good or bad, Kennedy seemed to believe his own rhetoric, a mistake later leaders never made, making him someone dangerous to the established order.
LBJ, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton changed their belief systems to survive, Kennedy did not, neither did Carter -- whose political career was assassinated twenty years after Kennedy. Kennedy seemed to believe that the Great Society LBJ sought to build already existed and simply needed to be brought out, shaped the way a sculpture shapes a stone into a statue.
Since Kennedy's death most people have not felt as positive about America, nor seemed to work as hard to make it great. We seemed to shatter into many pieces, small sub-cultures, living out our lives, not as Americans, but hyphenated characters whose main association is musical inclinations, sexual orientation, or political affiliation. The America Kennedy hoped to shape died in Dallas.
A poem for David
that is meby David Gerry
be a david
a giant killer
singer of sweet psalms
so many davids
sing, david, sing
until your vocal cords
c/o A.D. Sullivan
271 Terrace Avenue
Jersey City, NJ 07307