Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Music: Chico Marx at the Piano

In this scene from The Marx Brothers film, "Go West," we see Chico Marx's unique self-taught style at the piano. You can see a fascinating documentary on YouTube,"The Unknown Marx Brothers," narrated by Leslie Nielsen at .

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Butterfly Wings

dark butterfly wings
abundant summer flowers
no need to worry


Photo by Malcolm Marler


Friday, August 28, 2015

The Fires of Moloch Are Burning

Gun Violence in America

Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of Ben Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.
                                                                                                                  2 Chronicles 28:3
And they built the high places of Baal, which are in the valley of Ben Hinnom, to cause their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire unto Molech; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my mind, that they should do this abomination
                                                                                                                  Jeremiah 32:35

Illustration from Foster Bible Pictures
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons 

Moloch was the ancient Phoenician and Canaanite god known in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy for the practice of propitiatory child sacrifice.  There are few images more horrifying than that of fearful people offering up their own children to be burned on the altar of a domineering death-making god. Yet we are seeing the fires of Moloch burning in 21st century America.

We have seen this week yet another disturbing incident of promising lives brought to a sudden end by gun violence. Once again there is talk of stronger gun control laws, yet we are impotent to make any changes. Our failure to act even in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre  in which 20 young children were killed, all of them 6 and 7 years old, demonstrated that we would rather sacrifice our beautiful preschoolers than do anything that might be perceived as a desecration of the Bill of Rights. Our words say that we honor American freedom, while our actions say that we live in fear and have so little regard for our children that we will willingly feed them to our modern day fires of Moloch. [To see a map of all the mass shooting since Sandy Hook, go here]

In a country whose politicians love to shout “God Bless America!” at the end of their speeches, and whose people speak of faith in the public square and argue about putting the Ten Commandments on display, it is the ancient and brutal god Moloch who holds sway over so much of our public discourse. Indeed the fires of Moloch continue to consume our children while nothing is done to extinguish those flames.

Why Do We Tolerate Death and Glorify Violence?

According to The Brady Center, “Over 18,000 American children and teens are injured or killed each year due to gun violence. This means nearly 48 youth are shot every day, including 7 fatalities.” 

America has a problem with gun violence

·         One in three people in the U.S. know someone who has been shot.
·         On average, 31 Americans are murdered with guns every day and 151 are treated for a gun assault in an emergency room.
·         Every day on average, 55 people kill themselves with a firearm, and 46 people are shot or killed in an accident with a gun.
·         The U.S. firearm homicide rate is 20 times higher than the combined rates of 22 countries that are our peers in wealth and population.
·         A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill or injure in a domestic homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.

Gun Violence Takes a Massive Toll on American Children

·         More than one in five U.S. teenagers (ages 14 to 17) report having witnessed a shooting.
·         An average of seven children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns every day.
·         American children die by guns 11 times as often as children in other high-income countries.
·         Youth (ages 0 to 19) in the most rural U.S. counties are as likely to die from a gunshot as those living in the most urban counties. Rural children die of more gun suicides and unintentional shooting deaths. Urban children die more often of gun homicides.
·         Firearm homicide is the second-leading cause of death (after motor vehicle crashes) for young people ages 1-19 in the U.S.
·         In 2007, more pre-school-aged children (85) were killed by guns than police officers were killed in the line of duty.

Gun Violence is a Drain on U.S. Taxpayers

·         Medical treatment, criminal justice proceedings, new security precautions, and reductions in quality of life are estimated to cost U.S. citizens $100 billion annually.
·         The lifetime medical cost for all gun violence victims in the United States is estimated at $2.3 billion, with almost half the costs borne by taxpayers.

Americans Support Universal Background Checks

·         Nine out of 10 Americans agree that we should have universal background checks, including three out of four NRA members.
·         Since the Brady Law was initially passed, about 2 million attempts to purchase firearms have been blocked due to a background check. About half of these blocked attempts were by felons.
·         Unfortunately, our current background check system only applies to about 60% of gun sales, leaving 40% (online sales, purchases at gun shows, etc.) without a background check.

One question we must answer is why does our society so quickly come to the defense of guns after every deadly incident of gun violence? There are those who call for change, but such calls are always met with a push back from people who cannot tolerate any change in our gun laws. Lawmakers are forever paralyzed by the gun lobbyists and the fear-mongers.

Freedom or Fear?

Why are our citizens and our politicians are unable to put a stop to gun violence? If there were the political will, assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons could be banned tomorrow. The sad fact is, however, that our people seem to be too fearful to consider a peaceful society. We say that we are honoring the Second Amendment to the Constitution  that we hold the Bill of Rights to ensure our freedom  but the truth is, we live in fear. Why else would we be so powerless to stop our current practice of sacrificing children to the fires of gun violence?

Poster from The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

Picture depicting worship of Moloch from The Jewish Encyclopedia


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

So Much Depends: Imitative Poetry

The Gifts of a Wordsmith Adult Poetry Workshop meets at the Birmingham Public Library on the first and third Tuesdays of every month. I have found it to be a great place to experiment with the craft of poetry. It is a wonderful non-threatening environment to learn new techniques and try out new ideas.

Recently, the group examined imitative poetry. Imitative poetry often takes the form of parody. The Grand X Anthology of Poems, by William Zaranka is a fine collection of parodies written from Chaucer’s time to the present, containing over 400 pages of parodies of all the major poets, minor poets, and some unknown poets. I tried my hand at parody years ago with “Stopping by Publix on a Snowy Evening.” It was a parody of Robert Frost’s poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and also a send up of the way we southerners panic at the hint of a couple of inches of snow.

Imitative poetry can also be an opportunity for the poet to experiment with the process of poetry. Our instructor provided some examples of famous poems so that we could try our hand at imitative poetry. One of the poems was one that I have long admired by William Carlos Williams:

The Red Wheelbarrow
By William Carlos Williams 

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

I took advantage of our workshop time to think of an important time in my life and fashioned my poem by imitating William Carlos Williams’ brief evocative poem. Keeping the form and some of the words leaves no doubt as to the tip of the hat to the famous poet, yet the content is entirely reflective on my own experience.

The Yellow High Chair
By Charles Kinnaird

so much depends

a yellow high

glazed with Gerber

beside the gray


"The Red Wheelbarrow" poem found at The Poetry Foundation
Picture found at English Teachers Everywhere


Monday, August 24, 2015

Monday Music: The Road Home

A beautiful arrangement by the late Stephen Paulus. The tune, "Prospect"from Southern Harmony, 1835, was adapted by Paulus to accompany the lyrics written by Michael Dennis Brown. See below for a note from Stephen Paulus about this piece.

A note from composer Stephen Paulus on The Road Home

In the Spring of 2001 I received a commission from the Dale Warland Singers to write a short "folk" type choral arrangement.  I had discovered a tune in a folk song book called "The Lone Wild Bird."  I fell in love with it, made a short recording and asked my good friend and colleague, Michael Dennis Browne to write new words for this tune. The tune is taken from The Southern Harmony Songbook" of 1835.  It is pentatonic and that is part of its attraction.  Pentatonic scales have been extant for centuries and are prevalent in almost all musical cultures throughout the world.  They are universal.  Michael crafted three verses and gave it the title "The Road Home."  He writes so eloquently about "returning" and "coming home" after being lost or wandering.  Again, this is another universal theme and it has resonated well with choirs around the world as this simple little a cappella choral piece has become another "best seller" in our Paulus Publications catalogue and now threatens to catch up with "Pilgrims' Hymn."  It is just more evidence that often the most powerful and beautiful message is often a simple one.

                                                                                                          Stephen Paulus
                                                                                                          May 2013 


Saturday, August 22, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Last Light

when fields are resting
in the last light of the day
the heart is at peace

Photo by Peggy Farmer


Friday, August 21, 2015

The Masterworks Series – Poetic Reflections

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon a small treasure for creative inspiration. I was at the local library's annual book sale. It was an old Book-of-the-Month Club selection, Portfolio of Art Masterpieces, Series IV.  Twelve reproductions of masterpiece paintings, each mounted on heavy paper with a brief description of the artist and the artwork. Those twelve masterpieces served as inspiration for a 12-week project. Each week I set some time aside to view and dwell with a work of art.  I then wrote a poem based upon that experience of "dwelling with" the painting.

Here are the links to each poem. The list below provides the title of each masterpiece work of art followed by the title of the poem I wrote in response to the painting.  

The Masterworks Series

These are essentially first drafts. I usually do not share a poem until it has had significant time to sit and "cure" – and with perhaps a little feedback from friends – so I can be sure it is finished. In that respect, these poems are a departure, though I have had some feedback from friends on a few of them prior to posting. I have had fun with the project and I think it has offered a helpful discipline, giving me a deadline each week to write a new poem.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Masterworks Series: Flight into Egypt


Our Lord, allow us to welcome the stranger and treat them kindly. Allow us to see that the stranger can benefit us. Allow us to see that the stranger can benefit those from where they came.  Ameen.
                                             ~ Sarah Joseph, OBE*
It seems we are always looking back to Egypt.
We suffer our kings;
Tentatively we give them admiration
While doing our best to stay out of their way.
Our rulers give us hope
That God will bless our land,
Yet more often they are the reason
We hope for better days.

Leaving Bethlehem by night
With my wife and son,
We cast ourselves upon
The mercy of the open road.

Fleeing one tyrant
For memories of another,
We take refuge in the land
That was abundant in wealth and oppression
For our forebears.
Rootless and homeless
We have only family for support
And the strength of our hands
For a day’s wage.

Living as refugees,
Moving from overlord to overlord,
We will make our way.
Longing for home and
Grieving for a land
Once filled with life and song
Now turned deadly.

Trees offer their fruits
As we stop to rest,
Reminding us that the earth is gracious
Even when the land is stolen and divided by kings.

Sojourning in a strange land
We will hold on to the goodness of the earth
Waiting for old kings to die;
Waiting for the time of singing.

In the meantime
We will join with the downtrodden
And dwell with the outcast
Seeking refuge together.
Perhaps we will find a place
In the shadows of the empire
To sing our songs of hope.

                                      ~ CK

*    *    *

* From Sarah Joseph's BBC Radio Prayer for the Day, 23 July 2015

Image: "The Rest on the Flight into Egypt" at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Artist: Gerard David (Netherlandish, 1460-1523)
Medium: Oil on panel
Date: c.1510

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Monday Music: Bacarolle (Offenbach)

"Barcarolle" by Jacques Offenbach performed by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the New Years concert from 2010. The Vienna New Year's concert is always held in the "Großer Saal" (Large Hall) of the Musikverein . Barcarolle is from the opera "The Tales of Hoffmann." The score was used in the movies, "Hotel New Hampshire" and "Life Is Beautiful." (To hear the libretto written by Jules Barbier go here)


Saturday, August 15, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Fair Skies

when the skies are fair
there is much human effort
trees guide in stillness

Image: "Sunday Afternoon," from the Drawn Blank series
Artist: Bob Dylan
Medium: Watercolor
Date: 2008 



Friday, August 14, 2015

The Gentrification of Sesame Street?

Gentrification is one of those complicated processes. It all looks very good at the outset – a rundown neighborhood or an old part of town is renovated, money is pumped in, and it once again becomes a desirable place to live. The city is happy because there is a vital tax base, people feel good about the old neighborhood because it is renewed and attracting a better clientele and residents who will add to the quality of life. The downside is that the people who have been living there throughout the depressed, lean years find themselves priced out of their own neighborhood. New people coming in can be a bit uppity or snooty with little regard for the “commoners” who have spent their lives there.

Knowing all of this is probably why I gasped when I first heard the news that Sesame Street would be moving to HBO. “Oh, my goodness!” I thought. The very people who have benefited most from Sesame Street may now be cut off from it if purchasing premium cable it a requirement for viewing. Fortunately, as I read the news release, Sesame Street will continue to be available on PBS. 

A Remarkably Successful Project

In 1969, The Children’s Television Workshop launched an innovative experiment with Sesame Street. They created children’s programming that was geared toward preschool education, providing a new kind of learning environment to equip preschoolers with some foundational skills in reading, writing, and arithmetic, and they made it fun! Moreover, in 1969, Sesame Street was one of the few multiethnic places on television, and part of its mission was to reach the inner city kids who had little opportunity for kindergarten or preschool. The experiment was incredibly successful. All children were affirmed, black, Hispanic, and Asian as well as whites, and all were given reason to feel good about themselves. Sesame Street also accomplished its goal of reaching those inner city households.

Here Comes the Money

What will this joint venture with HBO and The Children’s Television Workshop lead to? It actually sounds good, like a win-win situation. CTW will have more money available so that it can produce twice as much new material for Sesame Street, HBO will get back into the children's programming at a lower cost than if it were producing original programming, and after a “nine month window” PBS will receive Sesame Street programming free of charge! Hey, that’s what Mitt Romney was advocating for Big Bird and his ilk back when he was running for president and wanting to cut federal spending. He wanted Big Bird to find money elsewhere, and now we are seeing that other funding come to pass.

It all sounds good, but will this just be another one of those gentrification projects? When they get accustomed to HBO’s money, will the Children’s Television Workshop lose some of its authenticity? Will they stay in touch with the inner city kids and continue to appeal to a multiethnic audience? Will they stay focused on education, or will they succumb to the sure-fire principle of entertainment? Time will tell. Lets hope the CTW will increase in its good accomplishments, and lets pray that the long time residents are not priced out of the neighborhood.    


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Masterworks Series: Still Life with Pineapples

My Love Walked Through 

It was on a summer’s day
When all the world was still
My love walked through the market
With longings to fulfill.

She placed into her basket
The fairest fruit and flower
And set them on her table
To wait the trysting hour.

“When can you come to see me?”
She asked when last we spoke.
My mind was gladly willing,
My heart was full of hope.

Through all my years of struggle
While striving for a name,
I’d never found a resting place
Or joy that I could claim            

Until she graced the morning
With bountiful delight.
Her eyes spoke only welcome
To set my world aright.

So when we sat together
And spoke of days to come,
Our careful hearts were learning
We’d found our lasting home.

                                                     ~ CK

Image: Still Life with Pineapples (courtesy of WikiArt)
Artist: Henri Matisse (1869-1954)
Medium: Oil on canvass

Date: 1925

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Monday Music: Ripple (Playing for Change)

"Ripple," by The Grateful Dead has been featured before on Monday Music. This version was snatched from Open Culture's website which posted in on July 5, 2015 as The Grateful Dead were preparing for their last performance. The website states, "Playing for Change has released a lovely video featuring an international cast of musicians — some well-known, some not — playing “Ripple” (studio version here), a tune from the great 1970 album American Beauty. The new clip features appearances by Bill Kreutzmann, Jimmy Buffett, David Crosby, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos. Enjoy…."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

His Name Was Michael -- One Year Later

[One year ago today, the tragic shooting of Michael Brown In Ferguson, Missouri launched the Black Lives Matter movement. I am re-posting my essay from last year, written in the pain of the moment, acknowledging a wound that we have not been able to heal. I also call for taking the time to listen to what some African American voices have to say about that wound.  -- CK]

Open Wounds and Soul Distress


Police in riot gear watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014.
Photo by Jeff Roberson--AP
  (Featured in Time Magazine)

When events unravel, such as we have witnessed over the past week in Ferguson, Missouri, some of us wish that such sorrowful events were not our present reality. My first reaction to the police response was that we do not need such military styled police forces in this country. The move toward the military outfitting of local police came after 9/11 with certain provisions of the Homeland Security Act. In essence, out of fear we sold our freedom and headed toward a police state. Is it too late now to turn back? I hope not.

The crux of the unrest, however, in Ferguson and across America goes deeper than oversized military-styled police responses. It runs through our history as a wound that we have not been able to heal thus far. I cannot pretend to offer any solutions. I cannot even pretend to claim understanding. I have been trying, however, to listen. The only recommendation I can offer is that we stop and listen.

His Name was Michael

Here are two voices, past and present that we can listen to: Ralph Ellison and Michael Twitty. I will let these two gentlemen offer a perspective that I cannot give. Michael Twitty calls himselfa food writer, independent scholar, culinary historian” who preserves the food ways of his antebellum slave ancestors and who is an interpreter of how America’s history with slavery affects us all. Ralph Ellison was an African American writer who lived from 1914 to 1994. He wrote The Invisible Man, from which I will share an excerpt, but first I would like to share Michael Twitty’s commentary from his blog, Afroculinaria. It is raw and from the heart, and it is something that so many of us need to hear.

I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion.  I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements.  This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy. (Please continue reading here)

His Name was Clifton

I spent some time last summer with Ralph Ellison’s, The Invisible Man. Near the end of that existential 1952 novel there was a passage that I was particularly struck by. The passage is the protagonist's eulogy for a fellow member of “The Brotherhood” who was shot in the street by a policeman:

“...His name was Clifton and they shot him, and I was there to see him fall. So I know it as I know it.

 "Here are the facts. He was standing and he fell. He fell and he kneeled. He kneeled and he bled. He bled and he died. He tell in a heap like any man and his blood spilled out like any blood; red as any blood, wet as any blood and reflecting the sky and the buildings and birds and trees, or your face if you'd looked into its dulling mirror -- and it dried in the sun as blood dries. That's all.They spilled his blood and he bled. They cut him down and he died; the blood flowed on the walk in a pool, gleamed a while, and, after awhile, became dull then dusty, then dried. That's the story and that's how it ended. It's an old story and there's been too much blood to excite you. Besides, it's only important when it fills the veins of a living man. Aren't you tired of such stories? Aren't you sick of the blood? Then why listen, why don't you go? It's hot out here. There's the odor of embalming fluid. The beer is cold in the taverns, the saxophones will be mellow at the Savoy; plenty good-laughing-lies will be told in the barber shops and beauty parlors; and there'll be sermons in two hundred churches in the cool of the evening, and plenty of laughs at the movies. Go listen to 'Amos and Andy' and forget it.Here you have only the same old story. There's not even a young wife up here in red to mourn him. There's nothing here to pity, no one to break down and shout. Nothing to give you that good old frightened feeling. The story's too short and too simple. His name was Clifton, Tod Clifton, he was unarmed and his death was as senseless as his life was futile. He had struggled for Brotherhood on a hundred street corners and he though it would make him more human, but he died like any dog in a road.

"All right, all right," I called out, feeling desperate. It wasn't the way I wanted it to go, it wasn't political. Brother Jack probably wouldn't approve of it at all, but I had to keep going as I could go.

"Listen to me standing up on this so-called mountain!" I shouted. "Let me tell it as it truly was! His name was Tod Clifton and he was full of illusions. He thought he was a man when he was only Tod Clifton. He was shot for a simple mistake of judgment and he bled and his blood dried and shortly the crowd trampled out the stains. It was a normal mistake of which many are guilty: He thought he was a man and that men were not meant to be pushed around. But it was hot downtown and he forgot his history, he forgot the time and the place. He lost his hold on reality. There was a cop and a waiting audience but he was Tod Clifton and cops are everywhere. The cop? What about him? He was a cop. A good citizen. But this cop had an itching finger and an eager ear for a word that rhymed with 'trigger,' and when Clifton fell he had found it. The Police Special spoke its lines and the rhyme was completed.Just look around you. Look at what he made, look inside you and feel his awful power. It was perfectly natural. The blood ran like blood in a comic-book killing, on a comic-book street in a comic-book town on a comic-book day in a comic-book world.

"Tod Clifton's one with the ages. But what's that to do with you in this heat under this veiled sun? Now he's part of history, and he has received his true freedom. Didn't they scribble his name on a standardized pad?His Race: colored! Religion: unknown, probably born Baptist. Place of birth: U.S.Some southern town. Next of kin: unknown. Address: unknown. Occupation: unemployed.Cause of death (be specific): resisting reality in the form of a .38 caliber revolver in the hands of the arresting officer, on Forty-second between the library and the subway in the heat of the afternoon, of gunshot wounds received from three bullets, fired at three paces, one bullet entering the right ventricle of the heart, and lodging there, the other severing the spinal ganglia traveling downward to lodge in the pelvis,the other breaking through the back and traveling God knows where.

"Such was the short bitter life of Brother Tod Clifton.Now he's in this box with the bolts tightened down. He's in the box and we're in there with him, and when I've told you this you can go. It's dark in this box and it's crowded. It has a cracked ceiling and a clogged-up toilet in the hall. It has rats and roaches, and it's far, far too expensive a dwelling.The air is bad and it'll be cold this winter. Tod Clifton is crowded and he needs the room.

'Tell them to get out of the box,' that's what he would say if you could hear him. 'Tell them to get out of the box and go teach the cops to forget that rhyme. Tell them to teach them that when they call you nigger to make a rhyme with trigger it makes the gun backfire.'

"So there you have it. In a few hours Tod Clifton will be cold bones in the ground. And don't be fooled, for these bones shall not rise again. You and I will still be in the box. I don't know if Tod Clifton had a soul. I only know the ache that I feel in my heart, my sense of loss. I don't know if you have a soul. I only know you are men of flesh and blood; and that blood will spill and flesh grow cold. I do not know if all cops are poets, but I know that all cops carry guns with triggers. And I know too how we are labeled. So in the name of Brother Clifton beware of the triggers;go home, keep cool, stay safe away from the sun. Forget him. When he was alive he was our hope, but why worry over a hope that's dead? So there's only one thing left to tell and I've already told it. His name was Tod Clifton, he believed in Brotherhood, he aroused our hopes and he died."


* Please also see my latest post on the subject, "A Southern White Boy Takes a Look at Ferguson  Again."


Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday Haiku: Morning Light

quietly the sun
brings rays of morning light
stillness on the bay

Image: "Impression: Sunrise"
Artist: Claude Monet
Date: 1873
Medium: Oil on Canvas


Thursday, August 6, 2015

Hiroshima Day and the Feast of the Transfiguration

[A Re-post from 2010 on this Hiroshima Day]

The iconic Torii Gate of Itsukushima Shrine,
Hiroshima Prefecture

On the liturgical calendar, August 6 marks the Feast of the Transfiguration, celebrating the event witnessed by Peter, James and John of Jesus' transformation into a being of light. Since WWII, it has also been Hiroshima Day. It was the juxtaposition of these two commemorations on the same day that inspired the following poem.

Jerusalem and Hiroshima:
Legacies of Concentrated Effort

We are told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem,
But the peace of Jerusalem
I would wish upon no one.
Centuries of placing our noblest causes
and highest callings
In one geographical area
Has produced, not the heavenly city,
But rather a wasteland of unending struggle.

In Hiroshima, they do not just pray for peace.
They demand it.
It was there that our greatest minds with our human nature
Brought hell on earth in our fight for freedom.

Let us keep Jerusalem,
And let us embrace Hiroshima
To remind us not to try such things again.

                                                                                                                                     ~ CK


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