Category Archives: American life

Self-Medicating

For me, the foremost attraction of old-school woodcuts (early 20th c.) is their complete absence of car chases, explosions, copulation, dumb-ass mayhem, and post-modern cliches generally.

The old-school wood cuts (and contemporary work, too) I occasionally look over at this hour are those where people live close to the land, and the land, generous, wraps its broad arms around their shoulders and fields, and the people, poor folk, live their day-to-day and always the earth provides, somehow.

Fantasy and cliche, of course, but that’s completely beside the point because fantasy and cliche is the stuff we’re made of, the stuff we eat and pass around and ask, More, please.

… and this lovely bird yet and its long journey beyond all sound and fury and self-medication …

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https://www.wpr.org/new-book-presents-collection-wisconsins-folk-tales

https://www.vqronline.org/essay/jj-lankes-and-his-woodcuts

The Boy Who Gave Me the Middle Finger

Recently at one of the farmers markets I sell at, a woman and a teenage boy approached my stand, paused for a moment to whisper together, and then stepped forward. The boy was maybe seventeen, the woman in her mid-sixties.  I couldn’t place their relationship. The boy spoke for them, and he was shy.

“We were just wondering,” he said, “about those peas. If they’re the edible pod kind.”

I said they were, and taking a pea from a bowl full of them, I held it up, called it a snap pea, and showed them how to remove the string. Then I ate it.

“Would you like to try one?” I asked.

They both shook their heads no. But then the boy immediately changed his mind and said yes. And he followed through. He selected a pea, and, removing its string, popped it into his mouth. The woman and I watched him.

“The funny thing is,” he said, “is how we were just talking about this. I said you can eat the pods, she said no you can’t.“ We laughed, and I noticed the boy had a habit of rocking on his toes.  Every time he said something, he would lift himself with his toes.

Another thing I noticed (I had picked up on this immediately) was the kid’s shirt. He was wearing an oversized, black tee shirt. And plastered in huge on the shirt from the collar down to the hem was a yellow image of a menacing young man giving the world the middle finger. The finger was gigantic. It was the largest middle finger I’d ever seen. When the boy had reached for his sample pea, that finger was inches from my face. Continue reading

Still More Sad

First.

Today in Steubenville, OH,  a man shot and wounded the judge who was overseeing a wrongful death lawsuit again him. The shooter, who was killed, was the father of a Steubenville High School football player who, when he was 16, was convicted of raping a 16 year-old girl.

Second

James Wright, a poet whose work was well known in the 1960’s and 70’s, was born in Martin’s Ferry, WV. Martins Ferry is next door to Steubenville, OH. It is (and was) coal country, and both towns and the area generally have always been stressed economically. Continue reading

What I See is not Necessarily What You’ll See

robert-frank_us-30-between-ogallala-and-north-platte_nebraska

So with rain on the roof and the most amazing NH fall colors waning; with the chickens in, the ducks, the sheep; with November so close and showing its pointed shoulders…why not? Why not a photo and five minutes looking at it? Robert Franks’s Nebraska, 1955… Continue reading

Edna Cobal

Once in mid-July when I was fourteen, I caught our neighbor Edna Cobal unannounced in the garden behind her home. I had ridden my bike to her house to deliver a check from my father, and as she didn’t appear when I knocked on the kitchen door, I went around to the back where I knew she kept a garden.

I didn’t see or hear anything initially, but then from somewhere off to one side I heard a rustling, dry-leaf sound, and following the sound off the porch and between a planting of lilacs, I discovered her—Mrs. Miller Cobal, an elderly woman, a grandmotherly woman, a woman who always wore a dress and who always remembered my name, a woman best known, at least in my circle, as the Mrs. Cobal who one day announced that she would never again attend church—I discovered Edna sprawled on her back in a great heap of dried pea vines. Having at some earlier time pulled them and heaped them high, she was now, for reasons impossible for me to fathom, lying in them. At the moment I startled her she was tucking a handful of vines under her chin like a scarf.

with end of things

There was nothing either one of us could do except find each other, which we did with all of the accompanying embarrassment and ill-at-ease you might imagine. She got herself extricated and upright, her dress smoothed, I got the check into my hand and visible.

When finally she stood before me, small and with a slight smile, she reached out and, placing a hand on my shoulder, said, “I am sorry, Wilmer, that you had to find me this way. But sometimes there’s need to be with things. Even the end of things. Like the beautiful end of peas.”