Swamp Monsters Rising

 

mangrove_swamp_wikstrom_1902

Brors Anders Wikstrom (1854-1909), “Mangrove Swamp,” [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I suppose my critics will call that preaching, but I have got such a bully pulpit!”

–Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States, 1901-1909

 

All the world’s his stage,

the phone, his bully pulpit,

emitting fear and rage,

small thumbs all atwitter

producing chirps, smirks,

false promises that glitter.

 

Perhaps this is a test—

but monsters crawl from the undrained swamp

fetid creatures that once were buried,

ravenous beasts, they stomp and chomp,

intent on destruction,

wise on obstruction,

We the People,

that earnest phrase

will it expire in a Twittery blaze?

No bonfire of the vanities

the burning of humanity’s

souls aflame with freedom lost,

fascist salutes and justice tossed.

 

Life is short, we live and die

and perhaps sometimes we wonder why

the good die young

and the evil ones fly

high in this post-truth world

we must expose the lies,

smile with heart and eyes,

keep kindness and hope,

atop this slippery slope,

support freedom of the press

to get rid of this mess,

take back the stage,

bring back love and fight the rage.

 

This poem is for Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Challenge.

The prompt words were: Stage/Short/Young/Test/Live

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting the Course for Freedom

great_dismal_swamp-fugitive_slaves

By David Edward Cronin ([1], New York History blog.com) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Without a clue of what would come after,

they set a course for freedom,

knowing the threat they faced if recaptured,

But, they knew threat intimately,

he was their dark companion,

he walked beside them daily,

the threat of being sold,

the threat of being raped

the threat of being punished

(for the smallest infraction).

But love was there, too,

though it was fragile,

its tender heart broken

over and over again

like skin

flayed by the whip.

Now was the time,

the questions posed,

How can we stay?

How can we leave?

We just go.

 

This poem is in response to Secret Keeper’s Weekly Writing Challenge.

The prompt words were: Clue/Course/Tender/Threat/Pose

 

Son of Saul

Monday Morning Musings:

“Art is the lie that helps us see the truth.”

–Pablo Picasso

“For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. He has no right to deprive future generations of a past that belongs to our collective memory. To forget would be not only dangerous but offensive; to forget the dead would be akin to killing them a second time.”

–Elie Wiesel, Night

We went to see Son of Saul

It was International Holocaust Remembrance Day,

January 27.

On this date in 1945, Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau,

The Nazi death camp.

“Work will set you free.”

Free from living

That is,

Cessation

Extermination

Six million or more

The theater was not full,

But there were small groups of people

And one or two by themselves

More people than we usually see at “foreign” movies.

Many of them were elderly–

Meaning older than us–

And I wondered if any were survivors.

Would this trigger memories

Of past horors?

Some seemed surprised the film was subtitled,

And I hoped they knew what it was about.

Saul was a sonderkommando

One who ushered in new victims

Lead them to the “showers,”

Listened to their cries

Carted away their bodies

Sorted the objects they left behind

Shoes here

Gold there

Hair in the bags

A boy still breathes

The Nazi doctor kills him.

No one is to survive.

But how did it happen

That he escaped death?

The doctor wants to know.

I wonder how a doctor

Pledged to help others

Could be an executioner.

I watch the movie.

My eyes do not leave the screen

Though my body

Curls up protectively

Arms hugging chest–

Yet I know this is only a movie,

A depiction of the evil that was

But nothing like the reality,

Hell on earth

And if there is a devil

He surely was there

Watching humans destroy

The bodies and souls of others.

I wondered if my husband would say,

“What did you make me watch?”

But after, he agrees it was a powerful movie.

I keep thinking of the actor’s face,

Even now a month later.

Blank, stoic, yet haunted

How did he convey so much

While saying so little?

The sonderkommandos could not display emotion

Could not

Would not

Crack–

Till they did.

The movie focuses on his face,

Much of the action is blurred behind him.

We hear speech and yells,

German, Yiddish, Hungarian

The barking of dogs

The camera does not show or embrace the violence.

Master directors know it’s not necessary.

Remember the shower scene in Psycho?

It is enough to hear the cries and banging on the door

To see the blood scrubbed from the floor.

We know what has happened.

 

The sonderkommandos really did plan

And execute an uprising.

Executed some Nazis.

Were executed themselves.

Some by other inmates upon liberation.

They were considered collaborators.

But I can’t judge them.

Who knows what we would do in their situation?

They left papers, recently found.

The Scrolls of Auschwitz,

Buried in a crematorium

Mostly from Crematorium III

There were several, you know

More than one necessary

Because

The death factory ran full time,

Day and night.

Some pages faded with moisture and time

But others still legible

Record transports and mass killings

Record

How people were duped

Record the planned uprising

Record the horror

And show that some hoped others

Would learn what happened there

So that it would not happen again.

 

I think of people here

Now

In the present

“We like his plain talk,”

They say

Embracing the hate-filled speech

Of demagogues.

Build walls

Keep out the foreigners

Us, not them

Whoever they and them are.

I read the words of supporters

Tweeting out hateful messages against

People of color

Women

Jews

Muslims

Kill them

Rape them

Question the abolition of slavery

I shudder at the ignorance.

People who have no knowledge of history.

People who do not understand the Constitution

Or the role of the president

Do not understand

Separation of powers

Civil rights or

The hard fight for freedom

That they would destroy

In the name of what they call

“Liberty.”

Liberty to hate others

Is what it seems to me.

Crazy world

Crazy times.

 

Mass killings

Mass rapes

Nanking

Cambodia

Rwanda

Kosovo

Guatemala

And more,

Killing fields

Endless numbers

Men, women, children

Destroyed.

 

My husband and I do not go to eat

After this movie

It seems wrong

Disrespectful somehow

Our stomachs clenched

Our minds jumbled

Trying to comprehend

Mass atrocities

But we stop for coffee to talk

To discuss the movie

To decompress

To see the truth in art

To discuss life

To bear witness in some small way

To the survivors

And

To those who were killed

For no reason

Other than their religion,

Their sexual orientation,

Their ethnic origins.

It is still happening

And I don’t have an answer

Except to say

I stand against hate

Will you stand with me?

 “Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred.”

–Elie Wiesel, Millennium Lecture, April 12, 1999.  Read the speech here.

Son of Saul won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film last night.

Further Reading:

Fresh Air Episode discussing Son of Saul

Holocaust Art.

Auschwitz Scrolls

 

 

Disease, Mortality, and Lessons from History

Monday Morning Musings

“Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.”

–Herodotus, The History of Herodotus

“The forms of diseases are many and the healing of them is manifold.”

— Hippocrates

I’ve been thinking about the intersection of disease and history. Stay with me here–both subjects have been much in the news. The word “history” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning inquiry or investigation. Historians investigate a variety of materials, and then we evaluate, interpret them using the available facts (which often change over time), and chronicle them. History is not a science, but science has its history.

The current outbreaks of measles here in the United States and elsewhere can be examined through a historical lens, as well as through scientific ones. For example, my own history: I had the measles, chicken pox, and many other childhood diseases because I was born before there were vaccines. According to one report, there were 102 reported cases of measles in the United States, in fourteen different states, that are linked to one outbreak in California. (See this.) As a child, I did receive the oral polio vaccine. Due to the effectiveness of that and subsequent vaccines, polio has nearly been eradicated.

As of January 2015, no new cases of polio have been seen in Nigeria or Syria, where there were cases found last year, but the disease still exists in the wild in Pakistan. This is a disease that can be eradicated. What many people do not realize is that one case of a disease such as polio can cause an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization:

“Despite the progress achieved since 1988, as long as a single child remains infected with polio virus, children in all countries are at risk of contracting the disease. The polio virus can easily be imported into a polio-free country and can spread rapidly amongst unimmunized populations. Failure to eradicate polio could result in as many as 200, 000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world.”

World Health Organization. 2014

Polio cannot be cured, but it can be prevented through proper vaccination.

Measles can also be eradicated. Many young doctors have never seen actual cases of the disease because the vaccine is so effective. One could divide history in the United States into a before vaccination for childhood illnesses and a post vaccinations period. Look back at family histories—how many children were lost to not only diseases such as polio and measles, but also scarlet fever, whooping cough, and others? Measles can cause severe complications, and the disease can also be fatal. There is NO scientific link between measles vaccines and autism. There is no debate about the efficacy of vaccines. Some children cannot be vaccinated because they have cancer, allergies, or auto-immune problems, but parents who choose not to vaccinate healthy children put not only their children at risk of getting the disease, but also help to spread the disease to others.

Epidemics have changed the course of human life and events. Most people probably know of the plague, the “Black Death” that occurred throughout the world in waves in the mid-fourteenth century–and killed millions of people. Fleas carry the plague bacterium. Many have theorized that rats harbored the plague-ridden fleas over decades, which caused the epidemics to break out in waves of plague throughout the mid-to-later part of the fourteenth century.

Some scientists now believe that Asian gerbils brought the disease to Europe. By examining tree rings, the scientists determined that weather conditions in Europe during plague outbreaks were not particularly conducive to rats. However, whenever the weather was favorable to gerbils and fleas in central Asia, the plague bacteria appeared a few years later in European harbor towns, and then spread across Europe. Of course, anyone who has ever had to deal with fleas brought in my pets or people, knows that they easily hop to new warm bodies, so carrier fleas once introduced into new locations, could jump to mice, rats, cats, dogs, livestock, and people. Rats are not off the hook, but the black plague of the fourteenth century may not have originated with them. (See an article about the study here.)

After the fourteenth century, the plague periodically reappeared. In England, the Great Plague of 1665 is perhaps the next most famous plague period, but there were others. I came across this story about plague graffiti left in churches. The article features a bit of graffiti: the names Cateryn, Jane and Amee Maddyngley that were inscribed on the wall of a church in Cambridgeshire after the plague of 1515 broke out in London and spread to the south and east.

Although it is sad to think of the deaths and the survivor who wrote the names of these three sisters, I had immediate questions. First, an observation–how cool is it that there is church graffiti survey! Then I wondered who had left the graffiti. And why? Was it simply a memorial? Was there more? Did the survivor feel guilty? Was it a brother? Of course, the other obvious thought was that he or she (but probably more likely he) was literate, and I wondered about literacy in this 16th century English village. The article says the family was likely tenant farmers, which encompasses a great economic range. Perhaps the unknown graffiti artist attended one of the grammar schools that were established at this time. Because it’s unlikely that whoever left this graffiti left a record saying so, we will probably never know who inscribed these names, or most other church graffiti. But it is so interesting.

This is part of what makes the study of history fascinating and relevant. One can look at an event—the outbreak of plague in London in 1515–and from there follow all sorts of historical paths. It can lead to studies of epidemics, village life, family life, class, church history, agricultural history, and education, among others.

Recently in United States, some politicians have tried make the teaching of history in public schools fit their ideas of what should be taught, whether it is accurate or not. Some have attempted to rewrite or censor textbooks. Recently, Representative Daniel Fisher of Oklahoma introduced House Bill 1380 in the state to prohibit teaching the US History Advance Placement course there, unless it was changed to fit his ideas of what should be included in such a course. He and others who support him believe the AP US History course is not patriotic enough. Mr. Fisher lacks understanding of both the AP Course and US History. AP courses are designed to be similar to a first year college course. Students are expected to not merely memorize facts, but to investigate and analyze material, including a variety of primary texts. His version of required documents for US History included the Ten Commandments and the Magna Carta. The Ten Commandments should absolutely be studied—in a course on world culture or religions. The Magna Carta is important for a course in English history or government. Despite his desire to rewrite the past and influence the present, however, the United States is not and has never been a Christian nation, and “the Founding Fathers” were not all devout Christians. (See this.)

I agree that students—indeed all Americans—should be familiar with such documents as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, but how does it detract from the significance of these documents to know that many of the Founding Fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveholders? Good and bad things have happened in the United States, and students should be aware of them. They should know that along with fighting for freedom during World War II, the United States also interred thousands of Japanese Americans. This is part of our history. Political documents, like works of art, are richer for knowing and understanding the context in which they were created. The Founding Fathers did not live in a bubble. They had wives, families, servants, and slaves. They suffered from chronic diseases and were often in pain. It is also important to know about the lives of the less famous, and to understand the context into which both famous and unknown people lived their lives.*

If we are to understand the past—or at least to make educated guesses–then we need to know about more than kings and presidents, the wealthy and educated. To understand the past, we need to examine its rats, fleas, and dirt, along with its shining surfaces, palaces, and plantations. We need to appreciate the devastation of an epidemic, as well as the glory of gaining independence. We need to look at the graffiti and scribbles, as well as the portraits and treatises.

*******

Next week, my new Monday Morning Musings history blog post will return to more familiar and delicious territory. But so I don’t leave you without mentioning food, here’s a report of an exhibit that used cake to depict disease. Look if you dare!

Also, two wonderful historical novels that focus on plague in England: Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, which also involves time travel. It’s one of my favorite books. Geraldine Brooks’s novel, Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague, is based on a true story of a village in England that was struck by the plague in 1666. It is elegant and heartbreaking. I seem to remember reading it in one sitting, and crying.

*My World of the American Revolution: A Daily Life Encyclopedia (ABC-CLIO) should be out in September, at least that is what Amazon tells me!  It is full of information about things that Representative Fisher probably thinks are totally irrelevant.