Saturday Aug. 29, 2015

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Kissing Again

Kissing again, after a long drought of
not kissing—too many kids, bills, windows

needing repair. Sex, yes, though squeezed in
between the minor depths of anger, despair—

standing up amid the laundry
or fumbling onto the strip of rug between

the coffee table and the couch. Quick, furtive,
like birds. A dance on the wing, but no time

for kissing, the luxuriant tonguing of another
spongy tongue, the deft flicking and feral sucking,

that prolonged lapping that makes a smooth stone
of the brain. To be lost in it, your body tumbled

in sea waves, no up or down, just salt
and the liquid swells set in motion

by the moon, by a tremor in Istanbul, the waft
of a moth wing before it plows into a halo of light.

Praise the deep lustrous kiss that lasts minutes,
blossoms into what feels like days, fields of tulips

glossy with dew, low purple clouds piling in
beneath the distant arch of a bridge. One

after another they storm your lips, each kiss
a caress, autonomous and alive, spilling

into each other, streams into creeks into rivers
that grunt and break upon the gorge. Let the tongue,

in its wisdom, release its stores, let the mouth,
tired of talking, relax into its shapes of give

and receive, its plush swelling, its slick
round reveling, its primal reminiscence

that knows only the one robust world.

“Kissing Again” by Dorianne Laux from Facts About the Moon. © W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

It’s the birthday of British philosopher John Locke (books by this author), born in Wrington, Somerset, England (1632). He believed in Natural Law and that people have Natural Rights, under which the right of property is most important. He wrote: “... every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself.” He believed government exists to protect those rights and he argued in favor of revolt against tyranny. His ideas were a foundation for much of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

John Locke said, “The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.”

Today is the birthday of jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker, born in Kansas City, Kansas, in 1920. He’s one of the fathers — along with Dizzy Gillespie — of the jazz style known as “bebop,” although he never really liked to label it that way. “Let’s just call it music,” he once said.

When he was seven, his family crossed the state line and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, a town with a rich musical heritage. Parker first learned music in the public schools, playing the baritone horn in the marching band. He switched to the alto sax when he was 15, and he loved it so much that he dropped out of school to be a full-time musician. He played in nightclubs for a few years and then moved to New York City in 1939. He supplemented his income by washing dishes. He made his first recording in 1940, with Jay McShann’s band. Later he joined Earl Hines’ band, and then Billy Eckstine’s.

Throughout his adult life, Parker struggled with alcoholism and heroin addiction, and his attempts to get clean were usually short-lived. He was arrested for heroin possession in 1951 and lost his cabaret card — a license to perform in New York nightclubs — as a result. Even when he got the card back a year later, clubs wouldn’t hire him. He tried and failed, twice, to commit suicide by drinking iodine. Parker died in 1955; the official cause of death was listed as pneumonia and a bleeding ulcer, and the coroner estimated his age to be “between 50 and 60.” He was 34.

Charlie Parker, who once advised aspiring musicians: “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.”

It was on this day 10 years ago, in 2005, that Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast near New Orleans. Before it reached land, it was the strongest hurricane ever measured in the Gulf of Mexico, with winds of up to 175 miles per hour. But by the time it hit New Orleans on this day, it had lost some of its strength. The wind damage was much worse in parts of Mississippi. Early on, most people thought New Orleans had dodged the bullet. But two reporters from the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper got a tip that there might be a leak in one of the levees, so they rode bikes out to the levee of the 17th Street canal. They never even made it to the levee. One of the main streets on their route was filled with rushing water, more than seven feet deep, and it was rolling south toward the rest of the city. More than 80 percent of the city was eventually flooded, about 140 square miles, which is seven times the size of Manhattan. The water rose higher than 14 feet in some places.

The Times-Picayune editor Jim Amoss wanted to publish a newspaper despite his staff’s evacuation from the city. He knew that the Times-Picayune hadn’t failed to publish on a single day since the Civil War. They eventually set up a new office in Baton Rouge and reporters on the staff continued working and writing even though many of them didn’t know what had happened to their homes or even their families. By September 1, the newspaper had begun printing the paper again, and they delivered it free to shelters and hotels around the city. On Friday, September 2, reporters brought copies of the newspaper to the Convention Center, where many people had been living for days. Witnesses said that the people at the Convention Center wept at the sight of their hometown newspaper. The Times-Picayune eventually won two Pulitzer Prizes for its Hurricane Katrina coverage, including a gold medal for meritorious public service.

New Orleans writer, T.J. Fisher, wrote of the storm:

“Katrina changed everything. Life here is different, every face altered. Yet we feel and sense the landscape not only in its hurricane-leveled, sodden depressions but — perhaps even more so now in the strangely comforting depths of our shared history. Even in the worst hit areas, not all is dissipated. Dense intricate attachments burrow too deep to underestimate or overlook. This is no featureless town to be rubbed off the map and cast aside. Here the band plays on.”

In A Season of Night: New Orleans Life after Katrina (2008), Ian McNulty wrote, “People don’t live in New Orleans because it is easy. They live here because they are incapable of living anywhere else in just the same way.”

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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