Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Caged Bird Has Flown

Maya Angelou pauses while reading a poem for Archbishop Desmond Tutu in 2008.
Mays Angelou (April 4, 1928–May 28, 2014)

So sad to hear of Mays Angelou's passing. She had to cancel an event, Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game where she was the honoree. It did cross my mind when I read the news. Bottom of the ninth. I was mentally holding vigil. Her heart may have failed her but it never failed us.

"An unexpected medical emergency caused me the greatest disappointment of having to cancel my visit to the Major League Baseball Civil Rights Game ceremony. I am so proud to be selected as its honoree. However, my doctors told me it would be unadvisable for me to travel at that time. My thanks to Robin Roberts for speaking up for me and thank you for all your prayers. I am each day better." —Maya Angelou, May 26

Statement from Dr. Maya Angelou’s Family:
"Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension. She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love." —Guy B. Johnson
"The world has lost a great voice today. A self-taught master of the written word, Angelou also spoke no less than six languages. A traumatic and violent childhood, marked by years of silence, led to a blossoming of her artistry and her gifts. She was a champion for civil rights and justice, and on the inner circle with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In 2011 she received our nation's civilian highest honor, the Medal of Freedom. We know now why the caged bird sings, and we release her spirit today back to the starry heavens. May your light shine ever on, Maya Angelou" —George Takai
I remember Maya telling me that she was a fan dancer at the Hungry I and at the Purple Onion in North Beach. That the act of writing was a catharsis after hours of mind-numbing dancing in those bawdy skin joints.

My mother was also a North Beach habituee and I remember thinking they must've known each other—same Beat crowd. Women were merely tolerated by the Beats. Solidarity in sisterhood.

If I recall correctly, Maya Angelou wrote I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings while she was living in the town of Sonoma.

Anyway, I read Caged Bird when I was young, for a women's studies class, ca. 1971—long before it was considered an American classic. Our College of Marin teachers were pretty radical. We also met Margo St. James and other sex workers from Coyote. Maya was not as unschooled as she would lead you to believe. But she was largely self-taught, and world-wise.

Maya Angelou was always very supportive of our local poetry events. I once read with her and her son Guy Johnson, for Herman Berlandt's National Poetry Week.(I've B&W negatives somewhere.)

Maya was always kind, always gracious, and very direct. I'll never forget when she and Lucille Clifton swapped bawdy tales on the vagaries of aging as we were waiting in the wings to read. I guess that was the origin of her poem, Phenomenal Woman from Still I Rise (1978). And so she was.

As our California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera said:
"You were always unbound, and you could see beyond—let's call it love, that is why the caged bird sings—in memory, in presence, Maya Angelou."

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.

Maya Angelou

Just make sure she gets that good long cool drink of water. OK?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Que Sera, Serra: Remembering Tony Serra is Pure Poetry

Out of the blue, last month,  someone contacted me on Twitter to ask permission to use an old photo of mine of Brownie Mary for a magazine article in a Capitol Hill rag, National Journal. 

I've been asked before for permission to use that Brownie Mary photo but I've declined as there were always strings attached—like relinquishing my copyright. Wiki, really? Really, 420 Archive? Permission to use my work by a non-profit is one thing. But completely giving it away, nope.

Anyway, once again dusting off Mary's photos, I came across photos of Tony Serra, and wondered how he was doing, if he was still alive. Apparently very much so judging from this blog link I found (posted below). I found myself rewriting a rather longish blerb to go with the link I had on my Facebook page. So, why not here as well?

I first met the legendary criminal defense lawyer Tony Serra, a self-avowed “anti-lawyer lawyer,” when he defended Brownie Mary Rathbun pro bono on a medical marijuana charge. I've been known to attend a poetry reading or two in his law offices.

Though he hails from working class roots, like Fr. Junipero Serra, Tony's no stranger to poverty, having taken an informal vow of poverty. Tony's no stranger to poetry either: he went to Stanford where a post-graduate poetry class influenced his thinking. 

Described as a "warrior with a touch of sainthood," Serra drives a $500 clunker and goes to Goodwill for his threads. He lives in Bob Kaufman’s old apartment building in North Beach, and is also a consummate “semantic warrior. ”Talk about MANIFESTO! 

In his autobiography, Serra wrote while in prison for tax evasion in 2005: “I became armed with a green obsidian semantic spear. My final closing argument thundered with green lightning flashing from the podium.” 

Tony thinks laterally much like the surrealist French poet, Rimbaud, rearranging the senses—challenging what people think they know. Serra's oratory style has been described as part poetry, pure conviction, and pure theater.

He says he's a criminal defense lawyer in order to to keep the courts and government honest. ''In the courtroom I'm a true believer, and a true believer's the most dangerous man alive.'' Tony was a Latin scholar and a lawyer whose rhetoric and flamboyance in the court is grounded in classical education. 

See the 1989 film based on the legendary Tony Serra, "True Believer", if you get a chance.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Eating the Wind

When I was a kid, King of the Wind was my go-to comfort book. So, the Godolphin, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerly Turk were my small horse gods.

I had a sorrel quarter horse mare, Becky Dart, who carried some of the same bloodlines as California Chrome—right back to Man o' War... and the Darley Arabian—they were Drinkers of the Wind. I had the fastest horse in West Marin. I rode the wind. No one could beat her at the quarter mile. 

But at the mile marker, I was always left eating crow.

My horse, Becky Dart (a Three Bars/Doc Bar/Dart Bar lineage mare), looked a bit like this mare, she was leaner and had better conformation—including a higher croup, like an Arabian. She was related to Man o War through War Hug, four generations back.

The thrill of riding an animal faster than any other four-legged creature on earth, save a cheetah, or an antelope—neither of which you can ride—was an euphoric experience.

Fact: the only animals able to run faster than an American Quarter Horse (55 MPH), close cousin to the thoroughbred, and mustang, are the those sprinters, the cheetah (70-80 MPH) and the Pronghorn antelope (60 MPH). However, they're only capable of short bursts of speed. A cheetah can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in three seconds. That's something like 96 feet per second. 

Here's the rub: cheetahs can't run fast for an hour, or even a quarter of an hour. Cheetahs can sprint full tilt for about 100 feet before they overheat.
At the quarter mile, the quarter horse would still probably win, as it can easily sustain speeds up to 55 MPH for a quarter of a mile (1320 feet in 21 seconds). Thomsons gazelle, wildebeasts and lions (50 MPH) would be eating the quarter horse's dust.

Becky Dart: Born to Run (I borrowed a couple of sentences from this blog post)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

California Chrome, a Cinderfella Horse

He hasn't tapped his true potential. He keeps up a leisurely pace, then jets out, as if the other horses were standing still.
I wrote this after the Kentucky Derby:

He's our bhoy, our "Seabiscuit." California Chrome, a Cinderfella horse, an unlikely star, is pure gold. A horse from nowhere, a horse of humble bloodlines (his sire was a bargain basement stud at Harris Ranch feedlot in Lost Hills), just won the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.

Chromie, who doesn't like dirt kicked in his face, ran 1 ¼ miles at 2:03.66. Preakness is up next, and Belmont Stakes makes it a Triple Crown. May he run like the wind.

California Chrome, the first California horse to win the Kentucky Derby since 1962, comes from a one-horse stable. Owners Steve Coburn and Perry Martin, bought a has-been mare who had won only one race at Golden Gate Fields, and everyone told them they were crazy.

A groom said "Anyone who buys that horse is a dumb ass." Martin looked at Coburn and asked, "Dumb ass partners?" So they called their stable DAP, which stands for "dumb ass partners" with a donkey on their purple and green racing silks. Crazy dream.

An underdog from California wins the 140th Kentucky Derby. So much for the superiority of Kentucky bred bluebloods. Cowboy hats flew through the air in the grandstand!

"Coming down the stretch I was thinking: 'Keep rollin' big boy. Keep rollin'.' This has to be the sweetest moment of my life. To be my age and have something like this happen, what can you say? For all my friends in California, this is for you. We did it!" said Art Sherman. 77, who is the oldest trainer to win the $2 Million Derby. Not so dumb-ass.

Chrome is the fourth California-born horse to take the Derby, since Decidedly won in 1962 during the Kennedy administration. The three-year-old chestnut colt Chromie is out of Love the Chase and Lucky Pulpit is his sire.

Chromie's moniker (a name drawn from a cowboy hat by a waitress) is a nod to his flashy white markings, often called "chrome" in the horse world. The red colt has four white feet, is traditionally considered to be bad luck in the racing world. His dam cost $8000, his sire's stud fee was $2000 (racing stud fees run in the millions)—his cost was $10,000 and some hay. Cheap for the sport of kings.

Turns out Chromie had some royal ancestors in the family tree: His great-great-great grandsire was Seattle Slew. I saw Seattle Slew run to win on tv when I was young. Another damsire was Northern Dancer who also sired Nijinsky! (His grammaw was an Irish mare Lady Angela.) Who's preaching to the choir now?

Looks like Chrome gets his chrome markings from his sire, Lucky Pulpit
After California Chrome won the 2014 San Felipe Stakes, Lucky Pulpit's stud fee increased from the 2013 fee of $2,500 to $10,000.

 Lucky Pulpit's out of Pulpit, 
out of A.P. Indy, out of Seattle Slew
and add Secretariat & Raise a Native (both sides) to the brew.

Wow. Chrome's mum, Love The Chase's gg-grandsires were Raise A Native and Northern Dancer—whose ggg-grandsire was Man o' War! .... and the Darley Arabian.

One great-great-grandsire was Seattle Slew and the other great-great-grandamsire was Northern Dancer related through Polynesian and Nearctic (and his dam was Lady Angela, an Irish horse).

And his er, cousin, Native Dancer whose dam was Natalma.

Agh. Seattle Slew, the only horse to win the Triple Crown while undefeated was not expected to be a great racehorse, Nasrullah, another Irish horse, Nearco.

Nota bene:I had more photos and links posted that were rendered dead. My posts from 2014 were especially hard hit when Blogger upgraded, as that's when I began to post photos with text. I've been cleaning them up one by one.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Lá Fhéile Bealtaine shona daoibh

Notch-peaf, or heliotrope phacelia, Mojave Desert, near Ivanpah

When I was a child, my grandmother always bade me wash my face in the May morning dew. Something to do with the fairies and the Otherworld. In this way culture was transmitted. Mayday was the one day we were allowed to bring a branch of the sacred hawthorn into the house. We had two trees she planted below the house. They didn't thrive in the California heat. But each spring, they blossomed, one red, and and one white. In Bantry, her father drove cattle between bonfires, and sent Catherine wheels down the hill. They weren't wheels, but whiskey barrels filled with tar. He lit and rolled them down the hill from the farm at Coom anÓr. This evening commemorates when the dark half of the year dies and the bright half of the year begins. My grannie was always quick to point out that Beltaine began on the eve of May 4. Not May 1. Somehow, the West Corkonians kept track of the old ways, counting the Cross Quarter days, despite the shift in the Gregorian calendar. She also said Bel/Beal was the god of light, he was not related to Balor, who was a solar god, like Lugh. She said May had to do with the arrival of summer, hence Bel's fires. Bal-ti-mor, who knew the American city was named after the fire god of May? Once I was chosen to crown the statue of the Virgin Mary with a pink rosebud wreath—we sang to the fairest Queen of the May. How did the Virgin Mary become associated with May? In school we wove May baskets of colored paper, and filled them with flowers then left them on neighbors' doorsteps. We also sang A tisket, a tasket, a green and yellow basket... It was a day of hair ribbons and frilly dresses with long sashes. At school, we danced around the Maypole. Such magic was afoot, we were giddy with delight. Then the Lagunitas school board declared it pagan. They feared it was tainted with paganism and the the ever-present threat of Communism was a sub-text. We were devastated, of course. Something in us died that day. Something of wonder, something of beauty. They couldn't hear our distress call. mayday, mayday.  ... ---...  A small sliver of culture went down with the ship that day.

from a Facebook memory
added & rev. 4/1/2016 

Bealtaine (be-all-tin-a) from the Irish, meaning ‘Bright Fire’ 

My story on Mayday