Tuesday, October 02, 2007

October 2007 email newsletter, No. 042

What roils around us sometimes unnoticed as we go about our daily lives, we sometimes notice if we are lucky. I went to photograph a country fair about 30 miles to the northeast in Jessica Alba. Well, the tiny town is named Alba, but I can’t help thinking of the hot, young “Dark Angel” actress who has emerged into bigger roles these days.

The country fair included a parade with all 30 or so members of the high school band, 12-15 young men who looked like the football team on one volunteer fire department truck and half a dozen young women who looked like cheerleaders on another volunteer fire department truck, a man with his grandson on a flag-festooned tractor, a man on a riding lawnmower, half a dozen people on horses, some antique tractors and cars, etc.

Booths on the square were sponsored by a couple of churches, a quilting club, barbecue and corny dog vendors, and the Democratic Party. There were also carnival rides from Okemah, Oklahoma, and a 30-foot flatbed trailer for live music and the inevitable wannabes singing to recorded tracks.

At lunchtime, I walked across the highway to one of the two home-cooking cafés and sat at a corner table. The waitress (too old for me to chase, possibly older than me) walked past my table, stopped, and rubbed her temples twice. I thought to ask her what was wrong; just as I had that thought or began to voice it, she turned and said, quietly: “That man coming through the door is 40 years old and he just found out he’s dying from brain cancer and he came here from Louisiana to see me. I don’t know what to do.”

The man came in with seven other people who appeared to be his family, his hands on the shoulders of the tall young man in front of him who might be his son. As I ate, the waitress sat at their table for half an hour as other staff covered her tables. She talked and laughed with them. I didn’t listen to the words, but I’m fairly sure they never got around to talking seriously about the reason for the man’s visit.

When I finished my $6 meal, I left a $5 tip and walked out and crossed the highway on this day of the dead, knowing that we seldom do talk seriously about our feelings for other people.

October is one of the most exciting months of the year, with the turn and fall of the leaves. The atmosphere can be electric. There is Halloween, of course, All Hallows Eve which leads into All Hallows Day or All Saints Day. In Celtic Ireland, summer ended on October 31, which led into the new year. Some believed, or said they believed, that the spirits of people who had died would return on this eve looking for bodies to possess.

Another custom was to extinguish home fires, so that all of the Celtic peoples (from whom I am possibly descended) so that all of the fires could be relit from the single, perpetually lit Druid fire at Usinach.

From Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, Mexico traditionally celebrates The Day of the Dead as a time of reunions, of special foods and rites and thoughtful gifts for those who are gone. Octavio Paz once wrote that the Mexican is undaunted by death, but chase after it, mock it, court it, hug it, sleep with it; “it is his favorite plaything and his most lasting love.” In the more formal United States, October is also National Arts and Humanities Month. It’s an organized attempt to celebrate American culture and advocate for the arts any way we can. If you feel like getting organized, check it out at www.americansforthearts.org.

I plan to do what I can for culture and for myself by actively seeking more opportunities to read my poetry in public in 2008, to make something happen with solo performances and maybe even some gentle lectures or some group readings or even (at appropriate venues) opening for some musicians like I’ve done a couple of times for Tiffany Shea at Poor David’s Pub in Dallas.

This month, on Oct. 20, I’m to be part of a group opening for Kelly Mulhollan and Donna Stjerna (Still on the Hill) at Image Warehouse in Athens. Donna will display some of her “song paintings” and Kelly will perform classic and modern poetry set to music, joined by Athens’ own Dirje and John Smith in what Kelly says will be “on the outer edges of what we do.” Kelly has a CD where he put music to the words of Wallace Stevens, William Blake, Langston Hughes, W.H. Auden, e.e. cummings, the Bible (Jeremiah 4:19-26), and others.

In the meantime, I linger on the imagery of relighting all the fires from the single, perpetually lit fire. I linger on those images of the Dark Angel and Dia del Muerte. I yearn for reunions with those who are still here. I write poetry again, and believe my new chapbook will be named “Colors of Death,” although it may not be as dreary as that title sounds.