ceridwen [CC BY-SA 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

“Guernica at the Whitechapel It is no idle whim to include an image of this tapestry reproduction of Picasso’s great anti-war painting but because it is so significant for the political and cultural stance of the Whitechapel Gallery, the only British venue to exhibit the painting in 1939. The original work is now too fragile to leave Madrid; this tapestry was loaned to the gallery, for its re-opening, by its owner Margaretta Rockefeller. Normally it hangs in the United Nations in New York where in 2003 it was controversially veiled prior to a speech by Colin Powell on the eve of the Iraq war.”

Monday Morning Musings:

 “The purpose of art is to lay bare the questions that have been hidden by the answers.”

–James Baldwin


After the tragedy,

in the calmness after the storm,

then we hear about the heroes.

On that sunny September day,

fifteen years ago,

as a gentle breeze blew,

and the world’s course shifted,

there were soldiers and fire fighters,

there were flight attendants and passengers,

there were ordinary people

who were decent and kind

who helped others before themselves,

and who became heroes.


From the hell of the Warsaw ghetto,

Irena Sendler saved hundreds of children,

burying their real names in jars,

and though she was captured,

interrogated, tortured,

she did not give up the information,

then, forced to hide herself,

like the children and their names,

she waited, till

after the wind blew

and the course shifted,

so she could dig up the jars

and return the children to their families–

if any relatives remained.


Decades later,

school children in Kansas

(a place known for violent winds)

began researching her life

inspired by the classroom motto

“He who changes one person, changes the world entire.”

They researched, developing a performance piece,

that captured the attention of the people in their area–

and then a larger area.

They discovered that Irena Sendler was then still alive,

and wrote to her, sharing the correspondence with universities

and other groups,

raising funds, and finally meeting her and some children she had rescued,

One called them, “rescuer’s, rescuers of Irena’s story.”

They were children, now adults,

who wrote about a woman, who worked bravely to change the world,

and in their work about her,

they, too, hoped to change the world,

one person at a time.


I think about the censoring of artists,

the silencing of poets and painters,

of novelists, musicians, and dancers

who proclaim truth and dare to create

silenced by dictators,

the strong men admired by someone here

who can spout his hate-filled rhetoric

only because our Constitution

allows for freedom of speech and expression.

Yet he would like to censor the press.

Is this the definition of irony?


I remember sitting, mesmerized before “Guernica”

decades ago in New York

I can still feel the power of that Picasso work

and remember those moments

though the other details of that college trip remain hazy.

The painting itself was in exile,

returning only after the death of the dictator, Franco,

but by then Picasso was also gone.


On a beautiful September evening

we sit in the city of Philadelphia,

we drink wine as a gentle breeze blows,

we see a performance piece,

a sort of homage to James Baldwin,

“Notes of a Native Song,”

created by Stew and Heidi Rodewald,

a memorable evening of music and social commentary

that is a reaction or celebration of Baldwin

rather than an adaptation of his work.

On this September night

as a gentle wind blows

I think about artists

and about heroes

I think about the winds of war

and the changing course of political winds

I think about artists

I think about heroes

And I think

sometimes they are one and the same.


“I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. I think all theories are suspect, that the finest principles may have to be modified, or may even be pulverized by the demands of life, and that one must find, therefore, one’s own moral center and move through the world hoping that this center will guide one aright. I consider that I have many responsibilities, but none greater than this: to last, as Hemingway says, and get my work done.

I want to be an honest man and a good writer.”

–James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son



James Baldwin


“Life in a Jar: The Irene Sendler Project

Wilma Theater 

Tria Cafe







20 thoughts on “

  1. The evolution of a persona is such a mystery. Who were the bigots, the haters, the censors, the fascists, before they became so reprehensible? It makes me wonder about the Kansas school children who performed such a service to Irena Sendler, how that experience influenced their lives and who they are now, as adults.

    (btw… Your post has to be accessed through the reader, not your page, because it’s not titled.)

    • Thank you, Ken. It seems the the school children were profoundly affected by their experience with the project–at least that’s the impression I got from the Web site.
      I realized only after I posted this that I had not titled it. I guess I was in a hurry. So people don’t receive an email notification?

  2. Interestingly, I just made reference to this Picasso painting in a book review I wrote for a friend this week. I referenced the painting as a metaphor for family conflict, not American history.

    Thank you for the awesome historical detail here including the Baldwin quotes, Merril.

    • Thank, Marian. How strange that we both just referenced Guernica–and interesting that you used it as a metaphor for family conflict. I would say I used it as an example of an artist speaking out against war and oppression, rather than specifically American history.

  3. By some miracle of – something – James Baldwin became one of my heroes when I was in my early 20s and writing my graduate thesis on “Black American Expatriate Writers.” (Almost four decades ago!) I read every book/essay/short story by Baldwin and idolized him. I wanted to meet him like some want to meet a Hollywood star. I’m so happy to see his name back in the press and in movies/books/poems now. Happy, but not at all surprised.
    Your poem is majestic. hopeful, and wise. Thank you.

    • Thank you so much, Pam. I’m glad this resonated with you.
      Cool thesis topic!
      If you get a chance, you might enjoy seeing Notes of a Native Song. It’s not really about Baldwin, but it’s inspired by him. It’s really more of a concert piece, but there are projections with Baldwin’s image as well as some of his words.

  4. I too, like Ken, wonder how people learn to be so full of fear and hate. I do believe they learn it; it’s not natural.
    You can edit the title back into your post. I find WordPress baffling sometimes, but I can usually edit things back to some sense. I also use the reader to look at blogs I follow; I know I miss things sometimes, but my email is out of control as it is.

    • Thanks, Kerfe. I do believe people must be taught to hate and fear–like in the song from South Pacific.
      I thought of editing the post, but then I thought it would be annoying to people to see it twice if they do get email notifications. Also, I’m overwhelmed with work right now. 🙂
      Yes, the emails do get crazy!

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