R  A  L  P  H
    The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities 
Volume Seven, Number Four

Early Spring 2002

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[Sin Nombre]
You'd probably like No Name. She has eyes bigger than my own, skin of fine mahogany, a nose they used to call "button" and a mouth given to much smiling and little crying. She's exactly a year old, and she was offered to me yesterday, e.g., if I want another daughter, she's mine.

Her mother is María. María's poor, pretty, and now pregnant with Child #2. She "likes the men" says my worker Jesús. We don't know who the father is and the child has no name because her mother hasn't gotten around to it. Thus, "Sin Nombre."

I thought about that one for awhile: being a father again. The last time I did it was over forty years ago. I'm not sure if I am up to it again. There's a certain, well, running about to be done --- responsibility, caring, love. It's something we might do if we were 35, or even 50 again. But no matter how fetching the young lady, no matter how well-behaved, I don't think I can pull it off at this late date.

She scarcely cries --- "No Name" is not given to tears. She does know how to hug, however. She took quite naturally to my holding her, laid an affectionate hand on my arm, head on my chest. They are quite warm at that age, sweet smelling.

Is it immoral, this offering up of one's own flesh and blood to a stranger --- albeit a stranger who's a gringo, and, presumably, will have the wherewithal to care and feed for her? Who's to say? She was born at a time when her mother was seventeen, ill-prepared for diapers, and the messy world of child-care.

Her mother is smitten with the men. Amongst the caravan, No Name's father is an unknown. He was one of a series who came through the hutch, spent a night or two, moved on. It was only after a year of motherhood that María let it be known to her family (which includes the wife of my worker Jesús) that the child was available for the taking.

Up north, public service agencies would become involved to keep the family --- what little there is of it --- together. A social worker would be called in to deal with the violence (the mother has a tendency to slap her unwanted daughter around, I am told). There might be a foster family found who would be paid on a per diem basis, willing to take her on for the cash flow, if for nothing else. In any event, it would have been handled differently --- not this general call put out to all comers, whoever it is out there with the need of a quiet girl-child, of winning ways --- who is, now, of so little interest to her mother.

I asked Jesús and his wife Maruga if they could take her on. "Creo que no," he said. They already have two boys, one six, the other four. Jesús and Maruga grew up in families where there were many hungry mouths and little food --- sometimes, for days at a time, nothing in the house to eat but tortillas and salt. There was not much in the way of help from the fathers (Jesus' father disappeared; hers was an alcoholic). Both had to drop out of school early on to support a dozen or so brothers and sisters.

They have vowed that their two boys will do better: Felipe of the shy smile, Rogelio --- who, full of four-year-old wisdom, will talk your ear off if you give him half a chance. Telling me, for example, the important news of the day: he and his mother went to the public market; she bought him an apple; he wanted a balloon; she told him he'd have to wait for Los Reyes --- the Day of the Three Wise Men; he told her he didn't want to wait, etc etc.

Jesús and Maruga want their two boys to escape the world they grew up in. They want them to have more than one set of shirts and shorts, shoes that aren't falling apart, a doctor to look after them when they get sick. They want the two to go to school and to stay there. Two boys --- for now, that's enough. Thus they rejected her cousin's offer. She then asked Maruga if she would ask me.

"Sin Nombre." No name. A tiny human life. Offered up just like that. This is no book, or television "novela." This is the real thing. Her fingers clutch around my index. She looks at me, looks into the heart of me. Will you be my father? Ah, those eyes. Stop looking at me, will you?

A child with, perhaps, no future, unless I choose to give her one. A child I could raise as if she were my own. Or, maybe, just to be the affectionate uncle: to be sure that she has all she needs, to protect her from the anger of a frustrated mother. A mother, who, after all, just wants to get out of the house, to be with the boyfriends she fancies more than setting up housekeeping for her daughter, and the second on the way.

A sweet child. For the taking. If I want.


--- Carlos Amantea


All the King's Men
Revised Version
Robert Penn Warren,
Noel Polk, Editor

(Harcourt)
Several years ago, The New York Times Book Review invited writers to list their favorite first pages of novels. There were the usual classical dullards (The Aeneid, Paradise Lost, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities, Moby-Dick) --- but the one that brought back the most memories for this particular low-culture freak was the very beginning of All the King's Men:

    You follow Highway 58, going north-east out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at you and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires, and if you don't quit staring at that line and don't take a few deep breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you'll hypnotize yourself and you'll come to just at the moment when the right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder off the slab, and you'll try to jerk her back on but you can't because the slab is high like a curb, and maybe you'll try to turn off the ignition just as she starts the dive. But you won't make it, of course.

Perhaps it was the biblical phrasing ("a good highway and new...") Perhaps the run-on sentences ("and...and...and..."). Perhaps the repetitions ("you'll try...maybe you'll try...") Or possibly it was that, for many of us, it was the first novel to be written on and about the automobile as we knew it.

The first part of the book is a dream garden of characters and cars on trips down nighttime highways, replete with images out of 1930s America --- the heat and the sweat of the South; the language of the South; and through it all, the vision of a man rising up like some ancient god to smite those who don't cater to him and his power.

The novel is, too, awash with quasi-Mystical, Eternal References --- as gnomish as those out of the gnostic version of the Bible:

    Perhaps that was the moment when Slade made his fortune. How life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow.

Or, the poor country boy Willie, teaching himself law,

    Upstairs in his room with his face bent down over a law book, his face puzzled and earnest and the tousle of hair hanging, and who was not with them but the fire, but was up there in that room, but not even in that room, either, but in a room, a world, inside himself where something was swelling and growing painfully and dully and imperceptibly like a great potato in a dark, damp, cellar.

Or, when the telegram comes, and you pick it up, and hold it in your hand, before opening it, and

    you feel like there's an eye on you, a great big eye looking straight at you from miles and dark and through walls and houses and through your coat and vest and hide and sees you huddled up way inside, in the dark which is you, inside yourself, like a clammy, sad little foetus you carry around inside yourself...and it lifts up its sad little face and its eyes are blind, and it shivers cold inside you for it doesn't want to know what is in that envelope. It wants to lie in the dark and not know, and be warm in its not-knowing.

The jazz people used to call this "riffing."

Oh, there is the biblical mystery of it all, the flow of language, but there are also the details, like this description of Willie's aged father, giving an old man's hug to Willie's wife, a passage straight out of James Agee:

    He just reached his right arm a little around her shoulder, not quite a hug, just putting his arm there, and you could see his knobby, crooked, brown old hand, which looked too big for the wrist-bone, and the hand gave her shoulder two or three little tired, apologetic pats. Then the hand dropped at his side beside the blue jean pants leg.

And then, for those of us who cut our literary teeth on it (we all wanted to write like Penn Warren --- probably did so for far too long), there was the sheer comedy and rhythm of the dialogue. This is Willie, the Governor, in the car, telling Jack, his all-purpose aide (and narrator of the book) to find a lawyer for one of the country folk who's just been jailed for getting drunk and stabbing someone in a juke joint:

    "Jack, make a note to find out something about Malaciah's boy and the killing."

    "What's his name?" I asked.

    "Hell, I don't know, but he's a good boy."

    "Malaciah's name, I mean," I said.

    "Malaciah Morfee," the Boss said.

    I had my notebook out now and wrote it down, and wrote down, stabbing.

    "Find out when the trial is set and get a lawyer down. A good one, and I mean a good one that'll know how to handle it and let him know he God-damn well better handle it, but don't get a guy that wants his name in lights."

    "Albert Evans," I said, "he ought to do."

    "Uses hair-oil," the Boss said. "Uses hair-oil and slicks it back till the top of his head looks like the black ball on a pool table. Get somebody looks like he didn't sing with a dance band. You losing your mind?"

§     §     §

For the first 150 pages, Penn Warren has us, has us so tight that we would have to be dead if we want to lay it down. From the very first words, "You follow Highway 58, going north-east out of the city, and it is a good highway and new..." he has us, Penn Warren does, and he can do anything he wants with us: can make us laugh, can make us sigh, can make us get teary with the sheer power of words set together with such a sense of rightness that we think that somehow he has made contract with the gods and they have given him the fire of words, stringing them together so that we are carried with him and Jack and Willie and Duffy on the highways, on those hot hard highways stretching out there with the glaze of heat always disappearing before the rush of the black car whispering over the pavement, going through the white heat that hovers over the countryside, turns everything to hot sweet-smelling power from the famished red earth.

See what it can do to you?

I've probably read this one six times, and so now, number seven, I pick it up to see what modifications Noel Polk made in this "Restored Edition" (he drew them from the original manuscript in the Beinecke Library at Yale).

I have to tell you that, despite his protestations, it doesn't change things very much. There are some puzzles: for one, in his first drafts back in 1943, Penn Warren started out calling the Boss not Willie Stark but "Willie Talos," with all the classic overtones --- Talos was the bronze man in Greek mythology, made by Hephaestus...."Talos" suggests "talon," the sharp weapon of birds of prey says Polk --- but the 1945 editors at Harcourt Brace suggested that the writer get a name with less of "a foreign flavor." They were right: Talos is arty, would appeal to all us knee-jerk classicists, but the word Stark has going for it the perfect... well... starkness that we need for someone like the Boss.

There are a couple of bonuses that turn up for us old King's Men fans. One is that the editors also suggested that Penn Warren hurry it up some --- get Willie into the book at the beginning, without any detours to Mason City. So sometime before the final version came out, the author penned an alternative first chapter which is just as knock-'em-dead powerful as the one that finally made it into print... with some special treats in it.

For instance, here is the passage above, the one about "Perhaps that was the moment when Slade made his fortune," but expanded somewhat, a regular anonymous Greek chorus added at the end:

    How life is strange and changeful, and the crystal is in the steel at the point of fracture, and the toad bears a jewel in its forehead, and the meaning of moments passes like the breeze that scarcely ruffles the leaf of the willow. Do you see that old man with the peg-leg stumping toward us down the street. Yes, I see him. Do you know what he brings you in his hand? No, I don't know. He brings you happiness. Really? Do you see that old woman with the mole on her chin? Yes, I see her. Do you know what her name is? No. Her name is Darkness and she will lean over you like a mother.

Like a mother!

§     §     §

But, alas, there is one thing that Noel Polk cannot do for us and Penn Warren and All the King's Men. That is, he can't keep this car from finally running off the road and bashing itself to death on a great moss-laden oak at the side of the pavement and turning turtle into the green pea swamp. Because the whole work is fatally flawed.

Our author knew how to get it cranked up and running, but he didn't know squat about how to shut it down. A third of the way into the book, when the Boss is finally made governor, there comes a detour for Jack's PhD thesis on his grandfather, Cass Mastern. The editors at Harcourt wanted to cut that one out and they were right. It doesn't work, it doesn't fit, and it kills the rhythm we have going up to that point.

The story gets even more convoluted when we find that Anne Staunton, Jack's one time sweetie, the one he grew up with, has taken up with the Boss. As a plot line it sounds plausible; but as Penn Warren laid out the characters, it is a disaster of the first water.

For he made these people jump off the page at us, and even the author --- the gods are not always in charge --- is not powerful enough to make them do something that they weren't meant to do. The book flounders, the dialogue turns lethargic, the descriptions get soft, we find ourselves impatient with the meandering. If there had been someone, some Promethean editor, for example, to take Penn Warren in hand and prove to him that there are here three or four books mashed together, snarling at each other like the Medusas, needing to be hacked at and separated --- perhaps he could have been convinced to put out several different volumes.

Too bad it never came to pass, for we are left with a wonderful fast tale that suddenly turns scattered, makes us long for something to stop the car from slamming off the highway, flipping itself, subsiding in a steamy death there in a swamp of too-occlusive words.


--- William Turknett, PhD


[LETTER]
Re: Dale Smith and Cradle of Valor

Hey Ralph,

Do you know something? Your evaluation of "Cradle of Valor" is pure crap, pure and simple crap!

I knew General Smith, he was a great man. He was a classmate of my father and he gave more of himself to America and to the world than you ever will!

Do you know how many of General Smith's and my father's classmates died so you wouldn't have to salute the Hackencreuz every day? Do you even have a clue how many were butchered on the Bataan Death March? How many sorties were flown against Germany so we wouldn't end up in Arbeits Lagers?

The poor people of Dresden..... They were there making pots and bowls and had no part in bringing the world's most demonic government into power. They didn't enslave any other Europeans, didn't butcher any of those nasty Jews, Gypsies and Marxists! They didn't salute Hitler each time he took over places like the Suedatenland, Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Holland, Denmark, Norway, France, Finland, the Balkans, and ultimately about 60% of Russia.

No, they were peaceful potters just minding their own business! Well, I tell the citizens of Dresden what I'd tell the mayor of Nagasaki, "don't start wars with the US, and we'll not harm a hair on your heads. But if you choose to make war on us, we'll bring war to your doorstep like you cannot imagine." The citizens of Germany and Japan ignored that logic and they got what they deserved.

Examine for a few moments (if you have the ability to) what life was like for captured peoples under the 3rd Reich: then compare that to the Allied (especially the American) occupation of Japan and Germany.

Hey, I was there.... I lived in Stuttgart during occupation and we stood on our heads to get Die Deutchen Volk back up and running.

You sir, are clue less!

BTW: the 2nd woman from the right (in the photo) isn't a woman, neither are the other 3! Each year, 100 days prior to graduation, the cadets sponsor a humorous play called "100th Night." During the 30s, women were not allowed to participate in the plays. The 2nd person from the left, I believe, is my father. It's a poor photo, but I think that's dad. You're conclusion is probably that he was a homosexual having dressed in drag, but nothing could be further from the truth. Neither is MG Smith or Lt.G. Betts (2 of the others.)

Cadets poke fun at all things.... The only things that were "off limits" were: a cadet's mom, and his religion. However, the cadets frequently poked fun at religion anyway, crossing that boundary w/i limits. For example, a Catholic is a "fisheater" or "beadbeater." (We Catholics think it's funny!) Just like we think it's hallarious that guys like Finkenaur, Betts and Smith would dress in drag.

--- Jim Finkenaur
finkenjk@highstream.net

The original review can be found at
http://www.ralphmag.org/BD/cradle.html


Desert Survivor
The Adventurer's Guide
To Exploring the Great
American Desert

John Annerino
(Four Walls Eight Windows)
This is supposedly a guide on how to survive in places like the Great Basin Desert (Oregon), Big Bend (Texas), and the Canyonlands (Utah). In truth, it is a litany of all the disasters you and I are going to have when you go off desert hiking on our own.

We're talking about spontaneous hair-curlers such as dehydration, hypothermia ("dangerous cooling of the body's inner core), hyperthermia ("which leans to heat prostration, heat stroke, and death").

Then there is being struck by lightning, drowning in flash floods ("if you are foolish enough to hike through narrow slot canyons like Buckskin Gulch...") Or perhaps you'd opt for a run-in with Toxicodendron radicans (poison ivy) and Datura wrightii (sacred datura), or spiny plants like cat claw, New Mexican locust, prickly pear. Not only do these guys stick it to you, they create "granulomas and lesions...as well as allergic reactions."

There's even one we wanted to try out because of its name ("teddybear cholla") but we'd probably not be cuddling it: the locals call it "jumping cactus" because if you come within ten feet of it, it leaps out to embrace and kiss you, and you will develop "pain, sores, and lesions."

On your relaxing fall desert journey, you, too, may encounter coyotes, gray fox, black bears, skunks, and mountain lions. There are also bark scorpions, black widow spiders, conenose bugs, bees, harvester ants, umbrella wasps, and brown recluse spiders. I once asked a desert fox friend of mine how to identify the latter, and he paused, spat on the ground, and said, "Waaal...they're very reclusive."

Scorpions are big, too. Once when I was living in Mexican Baja, one of the bastards crept into my shoe one night, thinking it was the Adidas Hotel. I got up in the morning, yawned, drank my coffee, got dressed, and stuck my foot right in the sucker's bedroom. He obviously resented my stepping on his head and I, in turn, asked the people I was with how in the hell I got a cactus in my shoe overnight. They pulled it off, squashed Mr. Scorpion while I was writhing about on the floor.

If I had had Annerino's book with me, I would have had to go twenty miles to call the Arizona Poison Control Center (1-800-362-0101). Fortunately, my friends didn't have a cell phone, but they did have several Mexican limones. They cut them in half, smeared one on the wound, had me suck on the other, and within a few minutes, I was able to stop weeping long enough to drive home, by which time my foot returned to its normal ugly self.

§     §     §

Outside of these party-poopers, there are snakes who seem to resent our presence in their homeland: copperhead, Arizona coral snakes, and "thirty-one existing species" of rattlesnakes. There are, too, three poisonous lizards: the reticulate Gila monster, the banded Gila monster, and the Mexican beaded lizard. These latter don't bite --- they chew you to death. If you are stupid enough to stick your hand in its mouth, you are advised to "yank it by the tail and the hollow teeth should break loose."

To complete our journey in Tierra Peligrosa, the author lists the final (and possibly the most dangerous) creature, Man. You and I go off hiking thinking we might run into some hardy folk like ourselves, to sit around the campfire with and reminisce about other desert adventures, but no: Mr. Paranoia has some heavy advice for us.

    Rely on your gut instincts if you have a bad feeling about someone or the situation. Leave if you must. Make sure you're not followed. Drive to the nearest ranger station or campground host, or get on your sat phone, call in a surgical air strike, and resume your vacation in peace.

I picked this one up thinking I might like to spend a week hoofing about in peace in the Sonoran out-back next fall. However, after I got through, I had closed and locked most of the doors. I called up my travel agent to tell her I wanted to go off to the desert, but to a safe one. Like in Algeria, or Iraq, or Afghanistan.


--- Lolita Lark
[POETRY]

The End The End
I think it has probably come to pass
The sorry pass you and I have been trying to avoid.

I think our time has come:
A new blood strain is taking over the stones.
You and I lie about under the moonless sun
Still unsure of what it is that is burning.
In that single eye. We can see a small dance
A tiny rose-hipped dancer as shy
As the white passing.

You and I (remember!) came here from
The beast of a river some call Wonder,
Others have named All-Misery.
The enemy forced his way into us
Through the seven famous entry-ways. They
Ate our souls for breakfast, our nights for love.

In the slag meadows below there is now the smell
Of fecund beasts. They've stolen our will, left only
A feather, a single boa feather, that, they tell us,
Fell from the August tower, will save us.
The beasts turn away, loping along the sea where
The old people have been taken by the waves.

And so, you and I Jesus are assigned the task
To be the last of the caring Jews, pulling
Babes from their graves by dawn
(They've told us we can have them all).
We'll leave at sunrise, moving carefully
About the edges of the falling crosses
Retrieving the babes from their graves.


--- ©1955 The Estate of Aaron G. Silverstein, Ph.D.


Summer in Baden-Baden
Leonid Tsypkin
Roger and Angela Keys,
Translators

(New Directions)
Back in my salad years, Dostoyevsky was required reading for our "Humanities" classes. We dreaded these assignments, because it would mean a week of plowing our way through Constance Garnet's translations of Crime and Punishment or The Brothers Karamazov or The Idiot. No weekend partying when Dostoyevsky was on the agenda.

At the same time, there was a fascination with the low-lifes and angels he was portraying. One would find one swept up not only in a dynamite murder mystery, but in the wonder that one writer could pull out of his head the wildly divergent characters like lusty Karamazov père, the intellectual madman Ivan, the peasant-like Dmitri, the sinister Smerdyakov, the angelic Alyosha.

Tsypkin has chosen to follow in the footsteps of Dostoyevsky during the summers he spent in Baden-Baden. Not only was he gambling away every last sou on roulette, he would go into his occasional fits (he was subject to gran mal seizures), and be subject to the usual paranoic lunacies of a top-drawer writer. Tsypkin calls Summer in Baden-Baden fiction --- but from everything we've gleaned about Dostoyevsky over the years (plus the fact of suffering through his novels and vicious short stories like Notes from the Underground), the book appears to us to be a fine representation of a genuine nut case, especially when he got to the gambling table:

    Nothing was visible except the piles of coins before him and the tiny ball, rolling round and finishing in the sector he had divined --- and he was betting over and over again, raking in with his hands the coins he had won and adding them to the pile which shone with a reddish-gold gleam --- and the peak of the mountain had suddenly emerged from the clouds, which remained somewhere below --- he was not so high he could not even see the earth --- all was covered with white cloud, and he strode across the cloud and, strangely , it supported him and even lifted him up towards the reddish-gold, unconquered peak which until quite recently had seemed unattainable.

Or there is the fine conceit of Fyodor and Anna when they are "swimming" in bed together,

    He came to kiss her goodnight and they swam so far that the coast disappeared from view as though it had never existed --- on they swam, breathing rhythmically, plunging into the water, now thrusting themselves slightly out again to gulp air into their lungs --- and when it seemed that the swimming would never end and that they would break free at any moment, no longer swimming but soaring lightly and easily over the water like seagulls...

Both of these are excellent examples of Tsypkin's breathless, sweeping style, and it takes the reader into the peaks until Dostoyevsky starts losing it, then we descend into the putrescent underground, falling in despair with him, and then out into the street, we start pushing against people, thinking, no, knowing that everyone is pointing at him, laughing at him, and he begins to contemplate suicide and when he gets to the rental apartment to find Anna (they are always late on the rent --- they have to creep past the door of the landlady) he begins to yell at her or kiss the hem of her dress or beat on the wall or abase himself on her worn shoes or fall into a fit.

It is hard not to get swept away by all this, the delight and despair that pulls the writer every which-away, such that --- for this reader --- makes one have to lay aside Summer in Baden-Baden for awhile because of the overly-involving nature of racing up and down, going from such highs and lows with the writer --- no, with both writers.

Obviously, Tsypkin has done his homework; but, more ominously, during the course of writing this, he seems to have become Dostoyevsky. One does that with the novels: who of us haven't felt a kinship, too much of a kinship, with Raskolnikov or Dmitri or Ivan? We would imagine it's a scary process for Tsypkin. It certainly is for the reader.


--- Ignacio Schwartz


Taking Haiti
Military Occupation and the Culture
Of U. S. Imperialism--- 1915 - 1940

Mary A. Renda
(Chapel Hill)

    In the land of sloth and vice
    Where they never heard of ice
    Where the donkeys and the women work all day
    Where the land is full of ants
    And the men don't wear their pants
    It is here the soldier sings his evening lay.
--- Marine song about service in Haiti

The U. S. Marines occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. It all began under the ægis of Woodrow Wilson, when the President of Haiti --- Vibrun Guillaume Sam --- was assassinated. The marines disembarked on 28 July 1915, and what was to be a temporary effort to "stabilize" the country turned into a long-term operation. Our presence continued --- indeed, was obscured by --- the war in Europe, and then, went on and on, despite Congressional hearings, international opprobrium, and opposition from the American press. It was only finally terminated with the coming of Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor" policy.

According to Professor Renda , it is not the purpose of Taking Haiti to present us with a study of the political events that brought us into that country. Rather, she is interested in the cultural artifacts. She concerns herself with the plays and novels that treated with the real or imagined Haitian culture (The Emperor Jones of Eugene O'Neill being the prime example). She spends a goodly amount of time on what she refers to as "interventionist paternalism:" America as a white, imperial power, moving in to care for those we saw as inferior "children." She is also concerned with the effect of the occupation on the American military --- who they were, what their self-image was, what years of violence and fear created, and how the "imperialist state" spread in subsequent decades over into other Caribbean and Latin American states.

She quotes extensively from correspondence of members of the U. S. military, along with writings that reflected what transpired in the hearts and minds of the Haitians who had to deal with our continuing presence.

§     §     §

It's a rather limited and peculiar focus --- but it's an interesting one. Despite Woodrow Wilson's post-WWI rhetoric about respecting national sovereignty, he was the one who sent in the Marines. And despite growing criticism --- mostly in The Nation magazine, and the black press of the day --- he refused to call off the dogs. There was, she points out, a lack of regard for the citizens and traditions of that country --- despite the fact that "Haiti was the second independent nation of the Western Hemisphere, founded only twenty-nine years after the United States." One of the high Marine officials --- Col. Littleton W. T. Waller --- wrote, "I know the nigger and how to handle him." His superior, Smedley Butler --- yes, Smedley Butler --- wrote to his wife Bunny (he called himself "Daddie Piddie"),

    For the past two weeks I have been working along hard with my little black Army and am beginning to like the little fellows.

He also referred to the Haitian men as his "little chocolate soldiers."

Anyone familiar with American history would expect such language. The cruel side of it is that many of our military actions against the "cacos," the insurgents, became what we would later call "police riots:" violence, random murders, beatings, and attempts to disrupt a whole culture (Vodou ceremonies --- the heart of Haitian religion --- were specifically banned.)

Renda also spends a fair amount of space to describing the world of a Marine from eighty years ago:

    That a marine headed for Haiti should have fancied himself an Indian fighter or a latter-day colonial soldier-adventurer was, then, no mere coincidence. Indeed, young white men arrived at Marine Corps recruit depots and naval bases in the 1910s and 1920s with their heads full of images gathered from the culture of rough boyhood and imperial masculinity.

With paternal insouciance, the Marines not only lorded over the country for almost two decades, but, with their prostitutes --- and in some cases, Haitian mistresses (referred to as "sleeping dictionaries") --- the American military became part of an exotic culture, one that was, in gringo eyes, for sale:

    Americans viewed Haitian servants and prostitutes as commodities insofar as the latter could be bought and sold and insofar as they could confer upon the buyer a sense of status and identity linked to class, race, gender, and sexuality.

The very banning of Vodou meant that the Marines could involve themselves in the ownership of exotic artifacts. The anthropologist Alfred Métraux suggested that

    the ban on Vodou was largely observed in the breach, and that the main enforcement activity was, indeed, the confiscation of drums. In this way, military power facilitated the production of Haitian cultural objects and exotic commodities for circulation and exchange in the United States.

Despite occasional lapses into trendy neo-revolutionary language ("By explicitly linking race and gender hierarchies in fiction, film, travel narratives and the like, imperialist discourses surrounding the occupation intervened in domestic cultural and political struggles...") Professor Renda has produced a workmanlike study of a time in American history, where --- by invoking the usual rhetoric of the need to protect the peoples against themselves --- we subsumed a whole culture, a culture that inadvertently may have contributed to the radical changes we saw in the United States forty years down the line.


--- Françoise Beaupont


The Egg Man of The Fillmore:
Leslie A. Wattles

Otto W. Fedders, PhD
(Omphaloskepsis Press)
Leslie Wattles grew up in the 40s in Flanders, MO --- studied briefly at Iowa A & M (his father was a forensic veterinarian's assistant) and shortly after dropping out of school, joined the Beats in San Francisco.

In his brief life (he died when he was twenty-three) his writing was an amalgam of the works of Kerouac, Ferlinghetti and Japanese haiku.

Wattles left behind no great body of work --- indeed, the only poems that evoke any interest were considered so vulgar at the time that they could not be published, so scholars have had to rely on hand-lettered editions that Wattles mimeographed and distributed gratis on street corners.

According to Fedders, this epic is now recognized as a masterpiece. It bears the title Getting Laid, and was named in all innocence: it was merely a series of meditations on eggs. But when Wattles tried to hand it out on the street, under the puritan strictures of the day, the police impounded it as evidence of obscene intent and hauled him off to jail.

According to contemporary reports, Wattle's appearance was astonishing. Because of his fascination with Gallus gallus, he dressed as a chicken, and often appeared as a white-crested black Polish. The sight of this six-foot-four figure, heavily feathered in black, with a white top-knot, being loaded into a paddy wagon, made him famous, even in a city noted for its eccentrics. The poet would be duly booked --- although the officials insisted on removing his wings for the fingerprints and took off the top-knot to get a mug shot. He was then released to --- as he wrote it later, "fly home on the wings of the muse."

Wattles was often invited to appear at "the hungry i," a hang-out famous for its controversial poetry readings. For haiku, his specialty, he would appear as a Mottled Japanese Bantam, which required him to cram himself into a tiny feathered costume, complete with crest, and then hop about on the stage with a dozen sickles (long feathers) trailing behind him. He would then recite his signature poems as inspired by the master nature poet, Hung Chow, whose most enduring haiku was,

    Her father offers me a treat:
    Bird's nest soup.
    The light in her eyes.

Despite his unusual costume, it was said that Wattles could be riveting on stage, strutting around, pausing to dip his beak in a glass of water, hopping on a perch to make a point, flying down into the audience with a squawk and a flurry of feathers. The most controversial of Wattles' works --- the epic, "Getting Laid" --- is, according to Fedders, his best, and includes the following:

    The round fall moon.
    The merry spider spins his nest
    Over easy. I scramble home.

    Springtime flowers fall.
    The swans invade the moon.
    The yoke that holds us all.

    Petal floating in the air:
    Winter wind.
    A nest in the dark earth

    The scent of hay, the road.
    A lonesome traveler
    With a feather in his cap.

    Round white orb in the sky.
    Cracked in its descent.
    Nightfall.

    The broken orb drying on the ground.
    A tiny trial
    Across the yard.

Fedders reports that Wattles death was unusually tragic. Despite the fact that he was one of the first and most original practitioners of haiku in America, on the night of his last arrest, he was refused bail. He defiantly perched all night on the rail of the highest bunk in his cell, and at the crack of dawn, when he began to crow, a drunken prisoner tried to shut him up by pushing him backwards. He fell instantly to his death.


--- B. B. D'Anvers


[PARADOX OF THE MONTH]
The Inside & The Outside
When the inside had become so solidly inside that all the outside could be outside and the inside inside.

--- Gertrude Stein as quoted in
The Fun of It
(Modern Library)


The Best American Essays
Of the Century

Joyce Carol Oates
Robert Atwan, Editors

(Houghton Mifflin)
In The Best American Essays of the Century, Joyce Carol Oates and Robert Atwan have put together a diverse collection of essays from such writers as Mark Twain, Edmund Wilson, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Susan Sontag, Mary McCarthy, N. Scott Momaday, John McPhee, Tom Wolfe, Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow. And they have named it "The Best." Not the best of the year. Nor of the decade. But of the century. Now that's reaching.

And what to include? Well, in a word, the famous. Not M. Lee Goff or Richard Timothy Conroy or John Fante or Lawrence Shainberg or Craig Childs --- all great essayists on subjects as diverse as growing up in America or working abroad or living in the wild or studying forensics or brain surgery. No: we have collected but run-of-the-mill names, the ones that you and I can see and nod our heads and say, "Oh yes, I remember that one." For all of us in the lit biz have heard of most of the writers included in this volume, even if it turns out that some of them didn't manage to write essays of great value, worth or pith.

For example, in the going nuts department, there's F. Scott Fitzgerald --- but "The Crack-Up" is a scattered, almost apologetic exegesis on incipient lunacy. If the editors wanted something rich, meaningful about losing your cookies, they could have sought out Salvadore Minuchin or Milton Erickson or the superb Lauren Slater whose description of falling-apart was the best of them all in the recent Unholy Ghost: Writers on Depression. But F. Scott Fitzgerald is famous, and who's ever heard of Lauren Slater?

Alice Walker: we all know that name --- but when she takes us on a trip down to Sanford, Florida to look for memories of the black writer Zora Neale Hurston, we have to fiddle a bit to find what Ms. Oates and Mr. Atwan have decided is one of the century's best:

    "I am Miss Hurston's niece," I prompt the young woman, who brings her head down with a smile.

    "I think Mrs. Moseley is about the only one still living who might remember her," she says.

    "Do you mean Mathilda Moseley, the woman who tells those 'woman-is-smarter-than-man' lies in Zora's book?"

I dunno --- maybe people really talk like that in Florida but then again, maybe it's a literary device that just doesn't work. Least ways, it didn't for me.

In fact, what we have here is not a book for you and me but what they call in the biz a "targeted book." In this case, it smells of B.A. This one is meant to be studied. And there are certain rules to be observed when you ignore the mere interested reader, and instead, work at getting your book into the university bookstores and on the college professors' desks. An anthology aimed at the college set requires a delicate balance.

For sure, you have to get black authors in there. Native Americans, too. Half or almost half of the writers must not be, in the colorful phrase of the times, dead white men.

And you also have to be careful: nothing too exciting, nothing too nasty; nothing that might ruffle the feathers too much. Remember, this one is aimed at American Heartland Universities. No Malcolm X nor Abbie Hoffman, no matter how masterfully they put words to paper. Do you think the University of Kansas English Department --- potential sales, 500 volumes a year --- wants an angry chapter pulled from Soul on Ice being hauled around in the backpacks of its sophomores? Henry Miller? Charles Bukowski? Paul Krassner? No, no, no: none of the angries. This book is meant to be sold, not given away.

And we certainly don't want any topics out of the loop. No Bo Lozoff on prisoners, Alan Watts on Zen, Warren Hinckle on radical kick-ass politics, Gordon MacCreagh on travel, Ellen Meloy on the deserts, Rose O'Reilley on Buddhism. Certainly not Michael Korda, one of the best essayists going today, right there in Oates back yard --- telling of a riotous visit with Reagan during His Blandness' last days in office. (Maybe Oates and Korda had a falling out; he's known to be intolerant of cant and arrogance.)

And the Latinos? Is Richard Rodriguez to be our one token representative? Why not Virgil Suárez, Juan Santiago Baca, Luis Sepúlveda, Carlos Amantea? Well, for one thing, you must remember this: Oates and Atwan come out of the New England Boiled Dinner literary set which means The New Yorker, Harpers, The New York Times, The New York Review are standards. For these folk, the literary world stops at the edge of the Hudson Review... I mean, the Hudson River. A Latino writer like Suárez who writes like a riot (about his teeth, for god's sakes) is just too far out of their ken.

It's not all bad news there in the belly of The Best. There are some superb writings that somehow got slipped in. For instance, Jane Addams, one of the wisest and most able writers from the world of social change talks unforgettably of the Devil Baby that turns up in the imagination of her clients at Hull House. Tom Wolfe? Who could ask for anything better than "Putting Daddy On?" James Agee --- as always, sweet, gentle --- tells of something as simple and pure as the neighbors, watering the lawns, in Knoxville, in the summer of 1915:

    Out of any one hose, the almost dead silence of the release, and the short still arch of the separate big drops, silent as a held breath, and the only noise the fluttering noise on leaves and the slapped grass at the fall of each big drop...up to that extreme tender whisper when the water was just a wide bell of film.

Martin Luther King, Jr. appears with "Letter from Birmingham Jail," which some of us have never had a chance to read. It is raw and powerful and angry: one of the best in the book.

H. L. Mencken is here, too, but the editors have arbitrarily excluded book reviews, so we miss his fine writing for The American Mercury and The Smart Set. (See, for example, his excellent study of American Education in an earlier issue of RALPH.)

Vladimir Nabokov turns up with the gorgeous first chapter from Speak Memory, but we must ask if a White Russian who cut his literary teeth in England and France and died in Switzerland is really American? S. J. Perelman, an old fave of ours, comes with instructions on how to wrestle a toy together, but a chapter, any chapter from Acres and Pains would have been far funnier.

§     §     §

Then there's the matter of "They All Just Went Away," by Joyce Carol Oates. By including it, the editors are saying that it is one of fifty-five best American essays of the century.

The Century.

Incest is best, right?

Actually, the story does have a touch of incest, but it has something more important: the feel of something tossed in the salad-bowl by one who has no trouble stringing 2,000 or 3,000 words together on a hot Wednesday afternoon. "Now what should I write about?" Ms. Oates asks herself. "Remember, this is going to be listed as one of the best essays of the century." How about ...

Yes, that's it! Those peasants who lived down the way from us when we were growing up --- poor white trash named Weidel. There were some brothers in prison, the father beat up on the wife something awful (bit of boxing lore here), they say he did something bad to the daughters (there were rumors) --- and finally, he burned down the house. That's the ticket: noisome neighbors in our almost perfect small town of Millersport, N. Y. contrasted --- good literary trick --- with a normal and happy family.

How to cook it together quickly (we don't have much time: there are those classes at Princeton, a book review due next week for the NYRB and that speech at the MLA). How about some lists --- lists are big now --- like what was left over after the Weidel house burned up?

    Children's clothes, socks and old shoes heaped on the floor...an old sweater of Ruth's, angora-fuzzy...a naked pink plastic doll. Toppled bedsprings, filthy mattresses streaked with yellow and rust-colored stains.

And then...the aftergrowth on the walls: "trumpet vine, wisteria, rose of Sharon, willow..." And what did the old man use to go after his wife? "A butcher knife, a claw hammer, the shotgun."

Yes, lists are good, and good for filling up space, but there has to be philosophy somewhere here, brain-juice. How about...let's ask ourselves, what is a house anyway? How about

    a structural arrangement of space, geometrically laid out to provide what are called rooms, these divided from one another by verticals and horizontals called walls, ceilings floors.

27 more words (and I like that bit, not rooms, but "what are called rooms.") True, this might not make it in the philosophy department: it's just another list in disguise. So how about... how about something on... ah... reality? How about

    For to be a realist (in art or in life) is to acknowledge that all things might be other than they are. That there is no design, no intention, no aesthetic or moral or teleological imprimatur but, rather, the equivalent of Darwin's great vision of a blind, purposeless, ceaseless evolutionary process that yields no "products" --- only temporary strategies against extinction.

Now that's 60 words and --- even if I do say so myself --- that's great talk-it-up-in-class stuff for those sophomores at Amherst and Brown and Boston U. --- not to say Berkeley and UCLA and Mills.

To be a realist.

Not only in Art, but...in Life.

There is no design. No teleological imprimatur.

(Teleological imprimatur!)

Only blind, purposeless, ceaseless evolutionary process...

Dynamite.

--- A. W. Allworthy


[LETTERS]

RALPH:

I was shocked and disgusted by your lack of empathy for a devastating mental illness. I doubt that you would have been so callous if the author had written about cancer or some "acceptable" illness. The sad truth is that many mental illnesses, anorexia and bulimia included, are still looked upon as shameful. Many so-called 'professionals' do not understand these illnesses, and are ill-prepared to deal with them, to help their patients cope; the worst part is that a large majority will not admit to this.

I should know. I am in university studying psychology, but I also live with depression, self-injury, an eating disorder not otherwise specified, along with a few others. It is not unusual to see mental illnesses grouped together, especially in the case of depression and eating disorders. My personal experience has not been up to par. I've been told that this is merely a phase that I should grow out of. This is the kind of treatment that thousands of women and men receive when they seek out support. And the public wonders why we hide this.

Your review was in bad taste, and I would suggest that you either remove it entirely, or find someone a little less biased to write a new copy. I read the book, and I found it to be an incredibly accurate portrayal of eating disorders. By leaving this review on your website, you are promoting the misguided belief that mental illnesses are something to be ashamed of. In truth, they are no worse than cancer or a physical deformity.

Don't treat us as beneath you. One in every 6 North Americans has or will be diagnosed with some form of mental illness.

--- Cheers,
Pixie
kahlynn23@hotmail.com

See the original review of Wasted at
http://www.ralphmag.org/newF.html


Dear Lolita:

I thoroughly enjoyed RALPH'S atomization of Jason Epstein's idiotic book.

My only sorrow is that you didn't grab the opportunity to remind the world that it was his darling son, Jacob, who plagiarized a novel by Kingsley Amis' darling son back in the seventies. The stolen material constituted a considerable part of Jacob Epstein's first (and last --- I hope) published novel.

Before the theft was exposed, the book got a huge boost, not surprisingly. Ads in Time called Jacob "the New Woody Allen," and gave us a picture of him simpering shyly as only darling sons can do. Then the shit hit the fan --- or it would have, if Papa Epstein hadn't been entrenched at the very top levels of the incestuous cabal that has run American book publishing for at least forty years. Shame, degradation, public apologies --- the sort of thing one might expect in such a situation --- were in very short supply.

Next book Jason Epstein writes, maybe you could mention all that, so everyone can be reminded of who's in charge back there in the crystal (and apparently very fragile) canyons of Manhattan.


--- Sincerely,
Franny M.
francescamantini@altavista.com

Go to the original review at
http://www.ralphmag.org/BA/new.html


The Stranger Next Door
The Story of a Small Community's
Battle over Sex, Faith, and Civil Rights

Arlene Stein
(Beacon Press)
In 1992, the Oregon's Citizens Alliance sponsored Measure 9, which would "deny civil rights protections to lesbians and gay men." It lost, but the next year, OCA sponsored similar initiatives in eight counties and three dozen small towns.

A year after that, Arlene Stein --- a sociologist --- undertook a study on the effects of the initiative on a city she calls "Timbertown." She set out to meet with the proponents and the opponents --- to understand, as she reports,

    how sexuality became a resonant symbol upon which a group of citizens projected a host of anxieties about the changing world around them, how it divided a small community, and what it tells us about our ability to live with difference.

This could be dry stuff, but Stein is an effective writer, and she is trained as a researcher. She paints a fascinating picture of a small northwestern town that has lost its focus. It was once an area of extensive industry --- mostly lumber --- which has, for a variety of reasons, fallen on hard times. Coupled with the fancied intrusion of new citizens (many from California), the older residents see a myriad of threats to their way of life, their freedoms, and the education of their children. The greatest fear of them all, at least to the fundamentalists, is "the homosexual agenda."

Stein willingly immerses herself in the world of people that you and I would strenuously avoid. In an Appendix wonderfully titled, "What's a Nice (Queer) Jewish Girl Doing in a Place Like This?" she reports:

    During the course of nearly two years, I talked with holy-roller preachers, had heart-to-hearts with people who wept with joy when they told me how they found the Lord, and listened as individuals spun elaborate tales of apocalyptic end times.

She found that

    it is often easier to talk to a stranger than a friend about issues close to one's heart, and that, despite my fears, being an outsider worked to my advantage. My Jewishness, in particular, marked me as an outsider, and deemed me a relatively respectable, and sometimes even exotic outsider, and gave my Christian interviewees the freedom to express opinions about the world --- that were both honest and forthright.

About her own sexual orientation, she was relatively cautious:

    Perhaps my Jewishness was more than enough for them to handle at one time, for they rarely if ever questioned me about my personal life, or my sexuality. Sally Humphries asked me if I was married, to which I replied yes. (It was true that I had been living with my partner for ten years. So what if she's a woman.)

We get the feeling that there were moments when her apparent neutrality was strained: "I never challenged people --- even when I found their opinions misguided, reprehensible, or downright evil."

    When Erica Williams went on at great length about the fact that most of Hitler's SS henchmen were homosexuals, I gritted my teeth and nodded. When a preacher railed against cities and "the gays, Asians, New Agers, and other undesirables" that populate them, I bit my lip.

§     §     §

Her conclusions? That the traditional underpinnings of middle or lower middleclass life are evaporating --- hastened by the economic catastrophes that have visited many of the families in Timbertown. Citizens, concerned about a fragmented community, turn to religion to rebuild a base. The religious right, with new sophistication, paints its members as the new minority --- those who were threatened by legislation to offer preferential treatment to minorities, including gays and lesbians. The OCA

    evoked such tried and true conservative values as moral strength and respect for authority, fusing economic and cultural conservatism with appeals to hegemonic masculinity and whiteness.

Even though a more liberal group rose up to fight the impending initiative, it failed to successfully challenge the claim that "heterosexuality alone is normal, natural, and beautiful."

The media, of course, played a crucial role in all this, for they

    concentrated on images of extremes, playing up the most dramatic, most radical elements of both sides, feasting on name calling and conflict.

And, most profoundly, the "homosexual threat," once named,

    quickly became a focus of people's passions, and even those who had little interest in the issue were drawn into the fray...Many people became convinced that a rising tide of perversity was at least partially responsible for the unsettling changes they saw around them.

There is a wonderful honesty in Stein's reporting, as she, for example, conveys the sense of warmth she felt emanating from Evangelicals. They express, "through words and deeds, how important they are to one another. They kiss and sooth one another's aching souls. I had never witnessed such heartfelt emotional displays among individuals who were unrelated to one another and I was often touched by them."

    It was difficult, even for a seasoned cynic like myself, not to be encouraged by such signs of warmth --- they are in some respects a profoundly democratic impulse.

"It doesn't matter whether one is Presbyterian, Catholic or even Jewish," she concludes, "one can convert. It doesn't matter if one is homosexual --- one can renounce one's old, sinful life. Indeed, becoming born again is all about the renunciation of the old self and the construction of a new one."


--- L. W. Milam  

 

§   §   §
The Folio is published by The Reginald A Fessenden Educational Fund, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Monies in excess of subscription rates are contributed to various good works, such as the Prison-Ashram Project, the Prison Library Project, and a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Southern Mexico. We also give direct assistance to several Mexican families in the Tijuana area who have been pushed to the edge of financial disaster by recent partial closings of the border. All contributions are tax-deductible by determination of the IRS and the State of California.

RALPH
Box 7272
San Diego CA 92167

Dear RALPH:

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