The Interview starts at about 15 minutes in …
The Interview starts at about 15 minutes in …
To celebrate Mother’s’ Day, here is a draft chapter from the book I am writing that is about my Mother. The chapter sort of hints to what it was like growing up the son of a radical activist.
The Anti-Apartheid divestment battle of the 1980’s, at the University of Louisville, was organized around my kitchen table. My mother was a 30-year-old college student at the time. She opened our family home to her new-found friends at the University.
The Progressive Student League (PSL) spent many a night, meeting in my home, around our kitchen table. I was in my early teens.
Normal for me was fear of arrest. My mother didn’t talk about that fear, but thinking back on it, and thinking back on what that campaign was … my Mother and her friends were fighting monolithic power and greed. My little brother, sister and me, always in tow to an action. My step-father on call, just in case mom was hauled off to jail.
That was my teenage years. After we won that fight and U of L was forced to divest, my Mother was invited to speak at the United Nations on the issue.
Enjoy this sneak peek of my book ‘Even Further’ – The Red Diaper Diaries and
Happy Mother’s Day!
Chapter 3 – Glenda the good witch
Every year for my birthday parties in my teens, I would have all my hippie deadhead friends over and we would watch Harold and Maude, the cult movie with the Cat Stevens soundtrack. I loved watching the faces of the new attendees of my parties when the main character in the opening scene shoots himself in the face. My mom, my brother and sister were always part of this party. We were/are a tight-knit bunch. My step father was a signal maintainer for the railroad and was working six days’ home and eight days gone, so … us kids and my mother had two family situations. One when my step-dad was home and one existence that found my mother raising three kids, alone.
Glenda the “good witch,” was the youngest of 12 children – of a Lebanese immigrant who owned a bar on east Jefferson street in Louisville, Kentucky. The bar was very close to one of the oldest housing projects in town and around the corner from the Louisville Outlaws motorcycle gang clubhouse. She was a Lebanese lesbian, Buddhist political activist, who went to school late in life to become a teacher.
She married my first father when she was 19 and had my sister 3 years later and then my brother right before she divorced my beer drinking Germantown Catholic electrician father. My mother fondly would tell stories of my father. I suspect he fell in love with her ethnic beauty and her dark Lebanese eyes. She somewhat described my dad as the guy who swept her off her feet and took her from the bar to their little piece of the American Dream.
My grandfather was a chanter at the Greek orthodox church. I remember sitting in the back of the bar playing with beer caps, making large pyramids with my Grandma. That is about all I can remember. My father remembers the time when he went to meet the elders so he could ask “pop” for my mother’s hand. The old men from the church were always hanging out at grandpa’s bar and my dad tells about eating weird food, Lebanese wine and dancing and swords.
I can only imagine this Germantown catholic boy going down to the beer joint and the ceremony atmosphere of his third world experience. My mother told stories of the little ghosts that would hang in the back room of her home. Pop, Grandpa Mellick, made Feta cheese for the Lebanese community and would hang the cheese to dry in little cheese cloths on a clothes line. She told not so fond stories about as a young girl, working at the Burlap Bag company that had been contracted to make body bags for the Vietnam war.
Pops bar was a beer joint and the family home. He sold beer, rolled oysters and fish sandwiches. I remember mom telling stories about mopping the bar early in the morning and then going to school smelling like fish. Except for pictures, I can’t remember much of this place but through the pictures I have a fond thought of where I come from. Wire frame Coca Cola chairs, a big Wurlitzer juke box, a long stout wooden bar with a big phone booth out front. Grandma Catherine the big German – Baptist Swiss country woman, sitting in the back, at the family table, smoking cigarettes. Her Lebanese gold snake head bracelet wrapped around her wrist.
I can see my Lebanese bartender grandfather wearing an apron. A dark-skinned immigrant owing a bar and raising a large family in a town that was included and not so far removed from the Jim Crow South. He didn’t teach any of his kids how to speak Arabic. My mother told me several times that he didn’t want his kids treated unfairly. Hell, the civil rights war was raging and hipsterly speaking, right? My Grandma Catherine was his second wife. My mother didn’t tell fond stories of watching her mother die of cancer. She did explain to me why she stopped doing her activist work when she got a job teaching.
There is a scene in the Harold and Maude movie when Harold asks Maude about an umbrella that was hanging above a big cabinet filled with musical instruments in her railcar home. Maude tells Harold that the umbrella was something of a remembrance of an old-time when she used to frequent political rallies. The umbrella was used as a defense against thugs and police. My mom said that she, like Maude in the movie, didn’t feel a need after college, to fight the powers that be. She explained that she stopped doing her activist work publicly and continued her activist work quietly with her school kids.
Back when she did, us kids were always in tow. I grew up with her activist friends organizing around our kitchen table and with her new-found lesbian life that would become her divorce from her second beer drinkin’, pot smokin’, pool shootin’ Germantown railroad man. We sang the theme song from Harold and Maude at my mother’s wake. Not to mention we read Joe Hill’s Last Will. So, I guess, I am a red diaper baby. I guess. Hipsterly speaking, right?
I am a city boy except, however and hipsterly speaking, right? I grew up across the street from a forty something acre park that is named George Rodgers Clark Park. It was the Clark family home until the early 1900’s. I spent lots of time reading books next to a very large tree that grew next to where the Clark family situated their spring house. The spring house is gone now however, water still gathers and pools close to the large cypress tree that is majestically still there.
The tree is a massive. A 150-year-old grandfather of a tree. It was at this tree at one point at the other side mania, that I collapsed – in an early morning fog and woke up exhausted and confused. This event, my near death, vision, whatever the hell – my knowing that something was too much to deal with – somewhat spookily, I knew I was way too far out or possibly getting somewhere. I was depressed, mentally exhausted and scared.
The Kentucky Derby is a corporation –
like the coal companies and Japanese
bourbon barrel barons & back in the
old days – was only a week-long festival …
– And I am sure,
Y’all are squeamishly hoping this
rant will end on a good note, like the house
slave that wants to get a good night’s rest –
comfortably in the quarters – “Y’all darkies
are supposed to be gay.” “Y’all know,
Papa gots his friends over an’ we
ain’t supposed to be talking about his
whips and all his tax breaks!”
The Kentucky Derby is as stupid
as full grown adults, waiting around
the fireplace, cookies placed and waiting
for Santa to come and leave big box warehouses
and nice new auto plants under the tree. And when
one of his beasts of burden, breaks its leg –
you wake the kids to help Santa shoot it
in the head.
The Kentucky Derby is a golden
cash cow worshipped, like the military air show
that runs up and down the Ohio river – while
the Belle of Louisville and our streets are
prostituted out to Masters of War and commerce –
we are supposed to be nice, like the bourbon
“Bonded” like the small-neighborhood family parties.
“Branded” like the jockeys exploited for profit –
like how the “green” justifies the horse shit
and the mint sprig, the alcoholism of the aggressor,
the audacity of gambling and gaudy hats of
The Kentucky Derby is a waste
of time because when this is all over,
your gonna wake up with a bad taste in your mouth,
praying that when you blacked out, you were not date
raped by your boss or fondled by one of
his frat boys, while his friends – standing
over – laughing and drunk –
money falling out of
their pockets – paid your friends
to hush up
But, don’t worry – It is what it is –
Y’all come out smelling like roses!
The Ballad of Joe Hill
Pete Seeger ->
Wendell Berry –>
The Other Ones ->
Drums -> Space is the Place ->
Ken Kesey ->
Brett Eugene (hobo) Ralph ->
Uncle John Gage’s Band
enc. Anne Feeney
I am writing this chapter about two months after I quit working for the railroad. I suspect I shouldn’t leave without an EVEN FURTHER, explanation. I was inspired to write this last doo hickey of a word play because I visited with a fine man yesterday and read to him a chapter of my unfinished book. I seriously respect this man, his work, heart and writing.
He is in the greater story. At one point, back in my manic days of the 1990’s, I think in Lowell, Massachusetts, at the Kerouac event, we bumped into each other. The Rant event, the one with the crazy ride with a bone man, when I was manic as fuck, and a real burning man.
Brett Ralph. At some point, we shared a shot of bourbon at a party. I remember a hotel room and it being dark. I was sitting on the floor and this really big dude was standing above me. He was laughing like the man from lake, the Iron John of a dude, that he is. That guy. I went to his new record store Surface Noise, yesterday, and read the chapter about the crazy folks that I feel massive solidarity with. He knew some of them. The Brotherhood of Contraries.
I stole that line and chapter title from a Wendell Berry, Mad Farmer poem, rather, I borrowed it. See, hipsterly speaking, right … The first time I was invited to visit with Wendell, I had some conversation with Utah Phillip’s widow before the meeting by the river. I told her I was visiting with Mr. Berry and asked her what I should ask him. She suggested to ask him if Gary Snyder was ever in the I.W.W. I suspected this was a trick question.
When I got a chance to ask him about Mr. Snyder, Mr. Berry leaned back in his rocking chair and said, “well then,” and said he was not sure about that. We talked briefly about it and in conversation, he contemplated that he didn’t think the I.W.W was around anymore. So, I showed him my red card.
After I sang one of my songs, Mr. Berry was very entertained and happily said, “’yep, you sure can sing!” So, hipsterly speaking, right? I guess that was good enough for me? … That experience found me talking with Utah’s son Duncan Phillips again. He mentioned that he read a Wendell Berry poem at Utah’s funeral.
So, a button on your shirt, and, before I wrote this book, I had not a clue who Ed McClanahan was. I found a paperback that my father in law had of Ed’s just recently and read it. I recently read Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Except the girls and the fishing trip …been there done that and got the T-shirt.
After reading my chapter, Brett suggested that I have my voice and that he was intrigued by the story. He encouraged me to keep working on the book. I trust Brett, he teaches English at a Kentucky College! I trust that he was giving good critical voice to my chapter. Sometimes, I must wonder why I am doing this … I am a folk musician, not a writer, captin’.
I am somewhat aware that being a writer is a way of life. and, you can start sentences with and. And further and however, hipsterly speaking, right? Wallace Stegner is a chump! He got the whole Joe Hill story wrong! His research for his books on Joe Hill was, in my humble opinion, sloppy. His life works, and activism? Mind-blowing and something to not shake a stick at.
I recently made a new electronical friend in a photographer from the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. He has made it his work to prove that Mr. Stegner did Joe Hill the union organizer, a disservice. Not to mention, basically threw an academic nose up to the I.W.W when they called him out on his bullshit. So, me being the devout Sun Ra follower that I am, have this to suggest …
First, if you didn’t RFD (read the fucking directions) the first time – I suggest firing up that google machine, look up Sun Ra, then second, apply this thinking to Joe Hill, the labor myth.
“If I am telling a lie, they have to judge whether the lie is more profitable to them than the truth that they know.”
Sun Ra said that fragment of his thinking in the movie, “Make a Joyful Noise.” And, the reason I started this chapter like a Grateful Dead bootleg, was because the connective thread that seems to be my personal teaching moment from this writing experience has been – Wallace Stegner. It is more profitable to me, as a person who very much understands the power of myth, that Joe Hill remain the labor hero that he is.
It is very cool that Joe Hill’s family and the family of the man who they accused Joe Hill of shooting got a chance to meet on the 100th year after Joe was murdered. It is also very cool that my electronical friend has made this story close to his heart. I suspect one day, my photographer friend and I will meet in person. That’s exactly how Joe Hill works. The Power of the Union …
I wrote the suggestion, Even Further on my car with a boxcar moniker paint stick, a couple of years ago when I started this journey. I am not sure why I was moved to do so. I was following my bliss. I was doing what Joseph Campbell suggested. I was in my sacred place, doing what I do. I was being – in. Listening to the voices of elders. I made Anne Feeney the encore of the bootleg, for this purpose … I wanted to tell just one more story before I considered this book finished.
Once upon a time, in Chicago at a Labor Notes convention, an Appalshop Documentary by Anne Lewis & Mimi Pickering was shown. The movie is called Anne Braden: Southern Patriot. When I saw it in Chicago, it was one of, if not the first public showing of the film.
I was sitting right next to Anne Feeney for this showing. To make a long story short. I knew Anne Braden was important, but, after that film, I was blown away. Somewhere in the middle of the film, I went outside to call my mother. I walked out to the hotel parking lot to get some alone time at a very bustling convention to tell my mother that in the film they had documented the work we did back in the Anti-Apartheid days at the University of Louisville.
My mother, was tired, fighting cancer, and couldn’t talk. She wanted to … but told me that she needed to rest. She told me to have a good time and to be careful, and that we would be able to talk about it when I got home. I broke down. Cried like a baby, snot running from my nose…weeping. and then went back inside to watch the end of the film. This was the first time that I as a man, thought that my mother was going away – soon, going to be gone. That thought, killed me.
Anne Feeney, saw my tears, heard my voice when I briefly mentioned after the film, in the open discussion period, that I was from Louisville. We walked out of the presentation together and Anne said to me loudly, as she slapped my back, “we have a softy!”
When I was on the Joe Hill 100 tour, I got a chance to really meet Anne Feeney. She is an amazing woman. The point of this chapter was to find a way to mention a lot of connective thoughts. Mention, folks who I have a deep respect for. Honor. This Is the folk tradition way. We must share! It is not boasting to have a need to tell a story. It is a must to share. That is how it is done.
The list at the beginning of this chapter, is at the root of my fragmented thought that I use on my website. Railroad Music: The Thread in the Quilt That Is Americana. There are many circles to talk about, many connections. Many tracks to go down. Utah Phillip’s suggested that Anne Feeney… Well, here is the quote from her website.
Anne is “the best labor singer in North America” according to Utah Phillips.
and I agree. What else could I say?
At that same Labor Notes convention, I handed out 100 free CD Baby download cards of my then new CD, Born Union. Not one person downloaded it. So, hipsterly speaking, right? Nobody likes a complainer?
Here’s why no one downloaded the CD. I hope!
People need a face to face, authentic human experience.
Folks need to know that you’re not trying to hornswoggle em’!
Ken Kesey considered himself to be the link between the beat poets of the 1950’s and the Hippies of the 1960’s. I consider myself to be the link between the anarchists and I.W.W members of the day and the connector track between the Dead Headish cooperative hippies of the 1980’s and the folk punk, hobo train kids there-of. I am a GenXer’ and take that as a label in-kind; counterculture so be it. I’ll own it, if I must. Baltimore Red suggested that I am the unknown the poet laureate of the union. I’ll accept that.
I am not interested in being part of the folk music industry. That is why I took the word Americana back and used it in my motto. A Folk Music industry? It would be against the soul porpoise of the goal!
All puns and miss peeled words – intended.
After words …
As a seasoned railroad worker and union activist, when I first learned of John Wright’s poetry and music, I knew that I was experiencing a rare phenomenon. J.P.’s songs come from real life, from day-to-day work 24/7 on the railroad. While the old railroad classics are among my favorites, anyone can play “The Wreck of Old 97” or “The City of New Orleans”.
Brother John is taking modern day stories – from his and his co-workers experiences – and creating heartfelt, humorous and often hard-hitting songs and ballads that speak intimately – not just to “rails” – but to anyone who has ever worked for a living. There is simply no one out there doing what J.P. Wright is doing.
At a rally in San Salvador in 2002, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the bands – the “entertainment” – rather than the official speakers, who lead the show from the podium, who set the tone of the event (an international rally against the Central American Free Trade Agreement). It impressed upon me that we need more artists, musicians, poets, story-tellers and performers of all types to step up and lead at these types of gatherings.
My Fellow Worker on the railroad – John Wright – is one of those with the keen insight, creativity, and artistry to transform an everyday sterile, dry, and lackluster “political event” into an uplifting and mind expanding experience. With his stories, poems, music and humor, J.P. speaks to working people’s reality, drawing them into the fight, providing encouragement and confidence, urging them forward.
Railroad Workers United
This weeks poetry dump is sponsored by you.
Please donate to my work .. i do PAYPAL. Suggested
re – tail price = $2.00
firstname.lastname@example.org is my address …
and .. if you is strapped for cash, I understand ..
hows about a re-tweet for a share!
For – Mrs. Bonita Points
My neighbor, she is 96 years old –
came out and walked around our
pond. we share this place –
i watched as she and her cane –
hobbled around a little path that
she maintains – her mind almost gone-
her look – far off and she reaches out
her hand- i take it into mine
as if i am greeting
a royal queen.
i already knew
she wouldn’t remember
when she called the police
on us for chopping down
one of her trees. And when
the policeman came …
he asked me how long her
husband had been gone …
he asked me what we should
do to make this right.
and on that day, i told him
he had been gone a long time
and that we should listen to her –
she won’t remember this anyway!
(… all she really wants is to find her
husband on that path, she wants
to look up from her weed pulling
and see him standing there,
her partner – who she talks about
every time we meet …)
… and as neighbors do,
she parted with some kind words –
she made a mention that soon
she will meet him up there!
I told her, that he has been
waiting a long time! she
shuffled away into the afternoon …
seemingly content that all
of this is here, the pond, the trees
and the yard that she
once bought with him,
planted with him,
soon my neighbor will be gone …
the 96-year-old angel
of his dreams …
… and he asked me “what are your politics?”
I told him Frank Zappa was my favorite
guitar player. Because he paid his musicians
a fair living wage.
Why don’t we talk
like that anymore?
I believe in my Djembe!
I believe in collectivism,
like as in an Arkestra …
Who followed the leader,
because the leader knew he
would need to make another
mistake and do something
wrong … and make another
mistake and do something
(and … all of this is but fragments
of thought radiating from years of
experience. Nights, burning away,
high on life’s blood surging
like panic and inspiration.)
It’s after the end of the world,
so … workers … fellow workers,
as we are forced to build their
pyramids – and as we are forced
by gun point and neglect – to watch
the takers of the world destroy all
that is … don’t forget to look at the
stars – remember to look into the
water at the mirror image,
and remember this is all about you!
and me too …
ashes to ashes –
we all fall down
if we fall to fear …
our religion is reason,
my political views
are man-made. The laws of nature are
relevant to us all. Self-help comes
directly in action and inaction.
We revolve …
If we build a new world?
They will try to destroy it.
I, don’t want no part of theirs.
They can keep their ashes –
their corpses – and monuments.
(Yours for the Alter Destiny…
Space is the Place….)
From a recent show at Lettersong Gallery
from today – Sunday – Oh, Louisville .. SMH …
the slaves cry from the field …
master – with watchful eye
his employee shall do his
so as to keep his hands
free of responsibility –
master doesn’t whip his slaves –
he sub-contracts out that labor …
(now turn over the tag
on your shirt)
and ask this question …
Do I Support Slave Labor?
How do we defend that?
Pick up a rock!
Are you (triggering) –
A revolt – a slave
insurrection – intersection
from the other
side of the tracks?
(I’ll clean a pane of
my glass house
the slaves cry some more –
and X – Marx the spot
where they killed the
reformer – turned
against him –
they listened to all
the critical judgement-
the name calling-
the War of factions –
(now, turn your clothing
inside out- and walk
a mile in my slave made
Buy into my story –
gather round me children
a story i will tell –
of a code talker
and a heroine-
the slaves knew her well-
(now, i am holding a tool
made by machines)
wave that flag
wave it high
i got the US blues –
(this is madness)
that freak flag
and kiss the sky –
and now call me
a punk… and pick
up another rock!
(now, let us remember that
LP’s are made from oil)
and what about this
and what about that –
the house slave is getting
nervous – it’s awfully
comfortable and cold
so, he fracks a bit of coal
(now, slaves- have you
Agitated- ill sip
some more of my
made by farmers
own a coop –
and the seller owns
his business – yet
(this is a family business
you can talk to us directly)
Now ask yourself …
What is a union?
and X Marx the spot
where ISLAM and Peace
rests. (They) killed Malcolm
The code talkers?
No! (A black mass)
(and X Marx the spot
where C+C still = C if there
is no slave to trade in
a market that is free)
and 2+2 still = 4 unless
you fall to fear –
a caged mind
(i’ll change a pane
of broken glass)
You could think
about time …
grab another rock
because X Marx the spot
where (They) killed
MLKjr … the code
for Change …
The slave slips
away – and the
as the animals
(have you learned
the lesson yet?)
I’ll go (Even Further)
so gather round me
Hop on the buss
and a story i will
about the hero
who stole from the rich
and gave to the poor …
and then Quit!
He had gone far enuf!
(now, get back to
shit floats to
I B of C local 1
amen & Sisters too!
Dear Mr. Berry.
I am a forty five years old locomotive engineer Kentuckian. I have read only but a few of your words and have watched only two videos that you are featured in. I have learned in my middle age that it is very unfair and dangerous to put someone on a pedestal. I have and just might be somewhat in what some might call a midlife crisis.
I feel as if I am being pulled.
I must mention, that I have a reading disability and have a very hard time enjoying books. I also must mention that I have found an amazing resource in a service called Librivox. This service is a crowd sourced audio book collection.
I just finished listening to everything Upton Sinclair ever wrote. “They Call Me Carpenter” and “The Profits of Religion” being my favorites. I am now upon suggestion from a very good friend of Utah Phillip’s, listening to the “Iron Heel” from Jack London …
I feel as if I might mention that their words have only further grounded and centralized my feelings that I was raised to have. I am the son of an activist who knew and worked with Anne Braden. My mom did not get national credit for her work. My mother was a teacher in Jefferson County, Kentucky but she did not write a book, but she was as instrumental part of getting the University of Louisville to divest its funds from South African Apartheid.
I was raised by activists, railroaders and electricians, in Kentucky.
My front yard was George Rogers Clark Park in Louisville, Kentucky, Mulberry Hill, The Clark family home is where I played … in a creek that ran into Bear Grass Creek, catching crawldads and building dams with grey clay.
In this park, there is a very large tree.
The Tree is located very close to where the Clark family positioned their spring house. It was at this tree that I found the Great Spirit. Where I read “Touch the Earth”. (I got it from John Gage’s son ….) I spent many a day with my back leaning against this tree reading speeches from the great native chiefs of our land called America. This tree is where I fell in love with our Mother Earth. I visit this tree when I miss my mother. Sometimes I visit it alone. By myself. I loved my mother and miss her … She loved the tree too.
I have fallen in love with one of your poems, but, before I fall any deeper in the well known as Wendell Berry, I must mention, that I feel very drawn to your vibrations. Maybe it is because we have drank of the same water, maybe it is because we share a love for the same state. Maybe it is because our accents are very close.
My mother in law is from Henry County. I suspect you might know who Vernon Rucker was. He was my wife’s grandfather and at one point the Sheriff of Henry County. Florence, her Grandmother, worked at the Chat and Nibble in Eminence for many years.
I am writing you to ask a favor, but to further explain somewhat my request, I must explain something that I am still trying to figure out. So I, a brave to the elder, might suggest that maybe you should organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries.
The labor movement sure could use it.
I am a rank and file union activist, and that don’t get you very many friends in the labor movement these days. I am a serious defender of union democracy.
The men of today have been taught an aggressive union thug mentality.
I am struggling to survive at CSX railroad. This is partly the pull that is fueling my crisis. I am afraid…. but… I am only afraid for others, or at best, very confused.
As I write this, I have put it out there in the air, that I request a meeting with you, to ask a favor. I am helping to organize a Labor / Environmental conference in Richmond, California and Olympia, WA with my organization Railroad Workers United.
If this letter was to make it into your hands, I would be extremely excited. I have tasked longtime friend and somewhat spiritual adopted father John Gage with the task … to see what he could do to get this meeting done. John is getting old and his heart is well … John is another of these folks who have not received the national attention that I personally feel he should have been bestowed.
He has played a million camp fires …
at least that is his figure. I am a folk singer labor activist train driver, and that brings me to this statement.
I feel a very “fierce urgency of now” of course that is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. I am hoping to get a solidarity statement from you. Let me explain. Some more. I love talking, as you can probably tell, I am not the educated seasoned writer. But if you have ever read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you would understand the reference to the trees that I make. I feel that many of you Ents are waking. John Gage is one of them, his versions of your poems are amazing.
I am inspired, by the few words of yours that I have read, but it is in your cadence of voice that I feel shaken and moved. So far what I have heard of your voice from Youtube videos has been music to my Kentucky tuned ears. I know, now, why I should have listened to you earlier. I know you have been “working on a ship” that we are building for a while now. That is a U. Utah Phillips song. If I get to meet with you, I’ll sing it to you and further explain the conference.
So, therefore be it resolved that …
I think I may start reading Wendell Berry. I might as well … but, I promise not to put you on a pedestal. It is your sincere unapologetic honesty and willingness to be mindfully truthful that I am most inspired by. I can feel your passion. I am listening.
I can only hope to influence and resonate
with as many people as you have.
So far as I can tell, I can make heads or tails of this that and the other when it comes to the words and voice of a one Mr. Wendell Berry … thank you for your time. That is what we all seem to need more of …
And be it further resolved ….
“we all put our paints on the same way….”
John Paul Wright
Railroad Workers United
Bandanas and Beer
I read in the paper that my father’s bar was sold,
probably will be torn down for some new office
buildings. A bar named for a derby horse, a place
where I could find his truck, there, every working
day. I would ride my bike across George Rodgers
Clark Park, to listen to men, be men. My father
never sat at the bar, but stood at the end, like
the father sits at the head of the table.
I am dreaming of bandanas and beer, turtle soup
and hot red potatoes. A Grandmother with a pairing
knife, hot bacon grease and great Grandmother eating
the peels as we go. I am dreaming of what used to be
and what is now just some memory, that floods into
my mind with just one mention of a smidgen of it.
Yes, I knew Leo Burmester, but he is merely a thought,
he was the brother of my father’s best buddy, who had
a wife named George. Like the first name of the park
I grew up on. Walking dark nights in the tamed wilderness
of the city, growing up in the shadows of cherry trees
that stood while Louisville was young.
Those men, Joe, my father, Mike and Leo. My motorcycle
stars, bandanas and beer flood into my mind. The bar
on the far reaches of Germantown, Tim Tam’s will be
gone, like the bar Shacks, down the street from Check’s.
The bar where I drank my first Falls City, while men
cheered the game, I was only nine or so, the son of
a Wright, in a neighborhood built by families and
Dreams, like the thought that I am from that place. Like the
dream I am now following of a wife, who’s deep roots in
Henry County, are not strong enough to hold her spirit there.
I have been accused of dreaming, and yes, soon, if not already
most of what I see as me, is gone.
The German Club, the wooden chairs that we as children sat in,
waiting for our families to get done rehearsing some weird version
of heritage. My Grandmother’s friend Ruby, trying to hook her friend up,
yet, she still, even though He has passed, She is married to Lester. She
dances with him every New Year’s Eve, as we stood around
the bar in the basement. She twirled, maybe high on Old Grand Dad
and coke, a highball of thought, bonded like the whiskey.
So, yes, I knew him, and I know he is famous, like that man you
are archiving! The last time I met with the wise man of the river,
I sat in the front seat of his truck. We brought his sheep in from
the pasture. He told me that someone thinks he needs a new truck,
and I knew what was wrong with it. It wasn’t loaded up for a trip
down Dixie Dieway.
There wasn’t an orange bag of Mammoth Cave Twist on the dash.
Leo was not in the passenger seat as my father cuts me a piece
and I, throw up my guts, because I just wanted to be like my cowboy
elders, listening to WAMZ, stopping at the bait shop for a pickled
chicken dinner. The fellers that would trick me to duck as we passed
the tank, at Fort Knox and then get me to carry a heavy skillet down
the path to our weekend middle class cabin at Rough River and make
fun of me, because it was too much for a little guy to handle, like all
those memories that flood into my mind, run on and on with just a
mention of Leo’s last name.
My Grandmother Kaelin, and her chicken house. The place us kids
played every Sunday. She lived next door to my Grandmother who
lived next door to my Father. And every Sunday, we all sat and ate
ice cream and chocolate syrup. Bless us oh Lord, for these and thy gifts,
for which we are about to receive, just one neighborhood, under God,
indivisible, like the Red Bandanas and Beer and tight-knit families.