Saturday, March 13, 2010

I have jokingly said to my students that you need to have a bit of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) in order to be a writer. I actually think this is true of the artist temperament in general. The same glitch in my brain that had me addicted to Web Sudoku, is the same quirk that keeps me knitting like a madwoman for hours on end, is the same mechanism that allows me to obsessively move words around for days on a poem is the same thing that now gets me to the piano to practice.

It took a while to kick in with the piano, mostly because I didn't have enough of a vocabulary to make it worthwhile. And even now all I can do is Louie Louie and a piece of Randy Newman. But it's enough--I begin to sense how music is a huge puzzle and even if I just have a few pieces in my hand, I can turn them over and play with them and I'm itching to possess the next one. Christopher has regaled me with music theory, most of which goes in one ear and out the other, but some of it is sticking. What I love most is using this other part of my brain, the non-verbal part, muscle memory and instinct rather than the sentence-making vocabulary-chewing part I generally dwell in.

I have printed out the lyrics to "Hallelujah"--Gerry asked me what I thought the words meant and I said "No idea," some combination of Leonard Cohen's erotic-Biblical-spiritual shtick--but they are beautiful.

The other night we had some excitement in the neighborhood--seven, count them, seven cop cars on the street outside our house, and a helicopter with searchlight beams circling overhead while a voice on a loudspeaker ordered someone inside the house across the street to "Come out with your hands up." We had been watching The Fog of War--sue me, I felt bad for Robert McNamara. I know that had I been old enough to understand what was going on during the Vietnam Era I would have hated him. I remember the anguish and horror of that war, the daily casualty count in the newspapers, the scenes of napalmed children howling in pain on the evening news.

What I saw in the film though was a man in anguish about the possibility of nuclear war, haunted by how close we came on more than one occasion. One could argue that knowing what he knew he could have and should have done more to stop Johnson from escalating the war in Vietnam--but Johnson was a stubborn man and hindsight is always 20/20. Maybe it's because I'm older, maybe because I still love Obama despite the fact that he seems bent on escalating our military involvement in Afghanistan which I think is a terrible mistake--but I can now hold the concept of fundamentally decent people making bad decisions which result in horrible things happening.

So anyway, there we were pondering the paradox of McNamara's character; meanwhile on the street, a posse of cops were focused on our neighbors. We stepped out on our porch to see what was happening. The mother came out eventually. It was a cold night--I had my down coat on--and she was dressed in a tank top and shorts.

They told her to walk backwards with her hands up, towards the cop car. Talking and arguing. She seemed to be saying, "My son is in the house!" I wondered which son it was. I remember her older son from when he was a teen age boy who would offer to cut our lawn. Her younger son has sickle cell anemia, is small for his age and developmentally delayed.

Another neighbor across the way came out and stood on their fire escape, wrapped up against the cold, silently bearing witness. I knew this family. There was an uncle who had done time in San Quentin who threatened to burn down my house because I wouldn't give him ten dollars once when he rang my bell in the middle of the night. That was one of the reasons why I stopped hanging around with the children, who are all grown up now anyway, with children of their own.

The mother waved at us and called "Hi neighbor!" I think she was glad to have witnesses, in case a Rodney King incident of police brutality developed--which it didn't. At least not that we saw, not that night. After about twenty minutes of standing around, a little blustering on the bullhorns, some cars tried to make their way up the street and were blocked by the phalanx of police. Then, slowly, the mother was let go back into her house (at first they were going to take her away in the cop car and I wondered for what? Child abuse? Or was it a drug bust? There are a lot of drug busts in our neighborhood.)

Then the cop cars left finally, and we turned back to McNamara and the sixties and the seventies and the Vietnam War.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a stunning and fabulous poem of yours over on Carla Muses.

Absolutely so great.