Tuesday Poem

After Lunch

And after noon the well-dressed creatures come
To sniff among the dead
And have their lunch

And all the many well-dressed creatures pluck
The swollen avocados from the dust
And stir the minestrone with stray bones

And after lunch
They loll and lounge about
Decanting claret in convenient skulls

by Harold Pinter
from Harold Pinter.org

A Permissive Circle: World Literature and Zumba Dance

by Claire Chambers

Beto Perez and ZumbaIf you've read any of my blog posts for 3 Quarks Daily or columns for Dawn's Books & Authors section, you may know me for my criticism of world literature. But as it's the holidays, I want to write about something more frivolous.

I have a confession to make: as well as being a lecturer in global literature, for the last five years I have also moonlighted as a

Zumba, if you're unfamiliar with this high art form, is a dance fitness programme. Like all self-respecting cults, it has its own creation myth. Godhead and co-founder, Colombian Alberto 'Beto' Perez, began his career as an aerobics teacher in Florida. One day, the story goes, he arrived at his class only to realize he had forgotten his aerobics cassettes (yes, it was the 1990s…). He improvised a class based on the Latin music tapes he had in the car, and the punters loved it. He then teamed up with two more pragmatic and business-minded Albertos — Alberto Perlman and Alberto Aghion — and Zumba Fitness was born.

A typical Zumba class is built around four main dance styles. Most people are familiar with Cuba's elegant, sexy Salsa. (Less well-known is its offshoot Salsa Choke, which originates in Beto's native Colombia and intermixes Cuban panache with the rhythms of Zumba's next core dance, Reggaeton.)

Perhaps best described as Latin hip-hop, Reggaeton hails from Puerto Rico. Its edgy, urban lyrics and beats have made their way across South America. Some of Reggaeton's most famous musicians, such as Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, and Pitbull, have an even wider following across the globe.

Merengue is the third style, which most people have heard of but may not be aware that this is a fast march from the Dominican Republic and other parts of the Caribbean. It has an even beat but can become very frenetic, with moves that have names like double hesitations, pretzels, and cradles.

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“This can’t be me,” Mother says,
leaning forward in a wheelchair,
“Must be some shriveled woman,”

“with parched skin, frayed hair,”
she adds, “Not me. I’m only 30.”
Mother gives me my Smartphone

with which I clicked her photo
during a commercial break,
watching “Kismet,”

Hollywood film
made in 1955
when Mother was in fact 30

with six children in Kashmir.
Her skin then was pure,
hibiscus bloomed in her hair.

Now, in The Bronx
Hebrew Home at Riverdale,
63 years later

in Mother’s sparse room,
a harem girl on TV, decked
in baubles, bangles, & beads,

starts revolving
in the courtyard of a Caliph
in Old Baghdad,

her pantaloons blooming
her turban glittering:
I’m gritting my teeth, glaring

at a fantasy Orient, thinking
of the grim reality today
in Iraq. Mother is transfixed

as the harem girl twirls
to stage front where her
flawless face fills the full screen.

Suddenly, Mother starts to sigh.
“What happened,” I ask gently
massaging her stiff fingers

with Aspercreme. Mother
nods at the TV, whispers,
“I want my skin like hers.”

by Rafiq Kathwari / @brownpundit / rafiqkathwari.com

Love, Harmony and Beauty: A Message For Our Time

by Humera Afridi

Img_5706 (1)

Nekbakht Foundation Archive

“Mommy it's Christmas, you have to put away your work!” urged my nine-year old. And so I began clearing the dining table which had turned into an expansive workspace over the early winter weeks. As I gathered up my books, a sheet of paper slid out from a binder. I stared at it absently. A photocopy of an archival newspaper cutting from 1923, with publication title missing. The headline announced: “Indian Mystic Here to Show America Path of Tolerance and Brotherhood.”

I marveled at the headline. Kinship and the “Path of Tolerance”—what better salve for our fraught present? I sensed a confluence of eras and histories, of time collapsing. A ‘Father Christmas' message, if ever there was one, I mused, sitting back down at the table to study the article from 1923. And, indeed, as if conspiring to corroborate my thesis, a striking Christ-like image of Hazrat Inayat Khan floated off the page—commanding features and a magnetic expression; tapering beard; mystical gaze piercing the distance. A strand of beads with a heart-and-wings pendant adorned his neck. The article's sub-headings revealed the contours of the story— “Inaya (sic) Khan, Hindu Poet and Philosopher, Bars Politics from Consideration”; “Humanitarianism is His Study”; “Says Greatest Need of America and of Whole World is Understanding”— a gift-giving message to be sure, emanating a spirt apropos of Christmas; an antidote to the climate of war and divisiveness in which we find ourselves.

I squinted my eyes to decipher the tiny newsprint, faded in parts, and stopped dead after the first half of the sentence. “Inaya Khan, Hindu poet, philosopher and mystic, has entered America after a few days detention at Ellis Island…” A few days detention? I started over and reread the sentence. Yes, a few days' detention at Ellis Island. I'd read it correctly. More alarming than the shock of this initial piece of information is that the article carries on without the slightest reflection on the egregious incident and, undoubtedly, racist attitude that Hazrat Inayat Khan had endured at the hands of immigration at Ellis Island.

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Where Is Home Now?

by Elise Hempel

ScreenHunter_2475 Dec. 26 10.41I live in central Illinois, but I've been in Minnesota for over a month now, having fled an urgent situation at home, leaving most of my belongings temporarily behind. I'm a refugee, of sorts, an indefinite guest, sleeping in a guest bedroom of my sister's suburban Minneapolis house, surrounded by my still-not-unpacked suitcases. My “office,” which used to be a whole real room, is now a section of my sister's cluttered basement, my “lamp” a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling, my “desk” a dusted-off air-hockey table. Surrounding my confusion and disorientation within the house itself – which includes conforming to a daily routine not my own, a lack of choice about what gets served for dinner and what gets watched on TV, etc. – is the larger loss of home. In place of a discernable town – the familiar cornfields, a university, the quaint town square – are highways and traffic and seemingly endless strip-malls, one nondescript suburb merging into the next.

And surrounding this is an even larger uncertainty of where home is now, with the election of Donald Trump as president. In the first few days after arriving here in Minnesota, I wasn't sure where I was when I woke up in the morning – in Illinois or Minnesota, what house, which bed, whose pillow. It took several moments to figure it out. I had almost the same feeling when I woke the morning after election day, and now, after knowing for sure that Trump will indeed be our next president, that feeling is here again – that feeling of waking to a country I don't recognize. Except that it's not dissipating, not fading as I sit up and wipe my eyes and look around, not giving way to the thought Oh, yeah – I know where I am.

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If You Had One Wish, What Would It Be?

by Max Sirak

IMG_0614Money? Power? Sex? Revenge? Or would you be more altruistic? Would you wish for peace? Harmony? Unity? What if you had two wishes? Would you go one and one? Something for you and something for everyone else?

The only reason I ask is Steve Martin.

He has a list. In fact, he shared it with the whole world on Saturday Night Live. In case you missed it, you can watch it here. It's a short sketch. It's worth your time. It starts with a wish for all children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace. But don't worry – it quickly devolves from there.

Christmas was yesterday. This means I missed my chance to sit by a tree and deliver my own list. And, while it is the third crazy night of Chanukah, I wanted a broader appeal. So, this month, for my last column of the year, I'm stealing Martin's schtick.

We're about six days away from wrapping up 2016. For a lot of us, maybe even all of us, this means a chance at a fresh start. A round of clean slates for all, barkeep! Stepping into '17, many of us will be looking toward change. We will re-solve old problems and test our re-solutions. It is in this spirit, with tremendous honor, tons of gratitude, and the teensiest bit of humility, I give you…

My 2017 Wish List: Three Thoughts I'd Like For Everyone To Carry With Them Into The New Year.


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Tough Tenor: On the Waterfront

by Christopher Bacas

ImageThe last place I saw Mike was a joint facing the water in Fell's Point. Taking up first floor of a Civil War-era structure, you enter to a rectangular bar opposite a raised stage with chest-high sides. Tall stools scatter from front windows and along the wooden bar to the back room. Tagged, splintery walls surround everything.

In the 70's, a minor, flush with inheritance, bought the building. Unable to manage it legally, he asked a former teacher to act as surrogate.The two tough guys ran a drinking establishment on a stagnant waterfront in blue-collar Baltimore. It attracted men who didn't fear a closing time stagger to their vehicle through dim streets.

The younger guy, once he could actively manage his establishment, encouraged members of a local motorcycle club to hangout. They policed the space and kept order, until a back-room stomping brought the enterprise to the brink. The new liquor license expressly forbade the club's colors. Not chastened, the junior partner grew into his responsibilities and made alliances with the IRA. Their agents used the building as safe house. His barkeeps kept secrets under the kegs.

H, a New Orleans Jew, Navy medic in Vietnam. Possibly the most fearless man I have ever seen. A bit over five feet and pudgy, he stood up to drunken, belligerent giants. Waiting for their swing, then dropping them with a single upward jolt of his thick hand. We'd help him drag the bums outside afterwards.

T, a scrawny jabberwocky, nose powdered to oblivion, blithely ignored new customers while he gabbed inanely at regulars. In deep to dealers and bookies, he took cash advances from the register until the boss banished him, keeping cops out of it while expecting timely repayments.

J, an erudite lush, who, when he heard patrons discuss philosophy, profanely offered free drinks as long as they agreed to eschew weighty topics. After hours, he held mobile Bacchanals; his battle cry: “Vodka tonic, no fruit!” After an early demise, neighbors inaugurated a festival in his name and wore shirts with VTNF printed on the back.

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The World Can Have Peace and Prosperity, If It Wants

Stephen M. Walt in Foreign Policy:

ScreenHunter_2472 Dec. 25 19.34Peace on Earth, good will toward men.” One hears this phrase in the United States this time of year, but prospects for peace and goodwill abroad, not to mention at home, appear to be evaporating before our eyes. Staving off a gradual downward spiral of foreign and domestic politics into violence and rancor requires some serious reflection on what’s gone wrong, and a willingness to rethink our present approach.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a column explaining why international peace was in the U.S. national interest. Yet none of the presidential candidates — not even Bernie Sanders — made it a key theme of their campaign. We heard a lot about strength and resolve and “greatness” and leadership, along with repeated warnings about alleged threats and “enemies,” but hardly a word was said about the virtues of peace or the policies that the United States should follow in order to preserve it. Indeed, one of the candidates kept making bizarre and bellicose statements of various kinds, including not-so-veiled threats of violence against his political opponents. And guess what? That guy eventually won.

Looking beyond the recent U.S. election offers little reason for optimism. There are a few bright spots — such as the renewal of the peace deal in Colombia — but encouraging episodes like that are few and far between. The European Union used to be a shining symbol of its member states’ commitment to transcend their conflict-ridden history; today the EU seems to be in a slow-motion process of disintegration. Syria is a demolished wasteland, and Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, and Libya remained mired in violence with no end in sight. The political landscape in Asia is beginning to shift as well, and the U.S. president-elect has already questioned the “One China” policy and repudiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A neat trick: He’s managed to provoke China and undermine the U.S. position in Asia simultaneously, and he’s not even in office yet. Fasten your seatbelts, folks, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

More here.

Christmas Poem

Half a Christmas Tree
by Brooks Riley
I go
I go there
I go there now
I go there now and
I go there now and see
I go there now and see trees
I go there now and see trees swaying
I go there now and see trees swaying slightly
I go there now and see trees swaying slightly, unaware
I go there now and see trees swaying slightly, unaware they
I go there now and see trees swaying slightly, unaware they might
I go there now and see trees swaying slightly, unaware they might somehow
Be uprooted
By the wind
Or Santa Claus.

Lewis Lapham Reads “Christmas Carol”

From Lapham's Quaterly:

In a December 1995 Harper’s Magazine essay, Lewis Lapham wrote that Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale had become obsolete: “The plot line of A Christmas Carol didn’t fit the bracing spirit of the times, and neither did its irresponsible moral lesson. Here was old Scrooge, an exemplary Republican, troubled in his sleep by ghostly dreams of human kindness, changed into a gibbering liberal at the sight of a crippled child. Hardly an inspiring tale of triumphant profit taking.” He proposes an update to the story. Listen to him read his essay:

More here.

Jesus Christ: Jewish radical or bathrobe Republican? The “reason for the season” remains an enigma after 2,000 years

Andrew O'Hehir in Salon:

Jesus-paintings-620x412We know very little about the real Jesus — although most historians are inclined to agree there was such a person — and virtually all of it is open to interpretation. No one is likely to agree in total with anyone else’s take on Jesus, who has been variously depicted as an egalitarian Jewish radical, an apocalyptic cult leader, a puritanical scold and a proto-Republican who left the house in his bathrobe. (Plenty of modern-day Christians will tell you Jesus didn’t really mean to say that a rich man couldn’t easily enter the Kingdom of Heaven; surely Donald Trump could find a way to get that camel through that needle.)

…It’s outrageous that Donald Trump is permitted to depict himself, in some nominal way, as a follower of Jesus Christ without provoking widespread howling and vomiting. It’s an outrage that a majority of white Americans who consider themselves followers of Jesus Christ twisted themselves into voting for a man who has promised to persecute the powerless, shun the strangers, drive away the hungry and the vulnerable. None of this is anything new, of course. Ever since the real Jesus, whoever he was, disappeared behind his symbolic death, his messianic promise of the Kingdom of Heaven has been used to build kingdoms here on earth. Christmas is barely even an allusion to Jesus Christ. It’s a pagan celebration of the winter solstice, presided over by a red-suited elf-god. At some point it got reverse-engineered into a birthday party for a half-mythological baby whose more important accomplishment was his death. If the church asks us to keep Christ in Christmas, we might respond that he was never there in the first place. But as I stood looking at the empty cradle in the St. Patrick’s crèche, I reflected that the incoherent innocence of the Christmas story — the way it gives us Jesus as an infant, stripped of history and his tangled and contradictory afterlife — is the source of its power.

In the Christmas season we seek reassurance, repetition and ritual; we watch movies we’ve seen dozens of times before, and football teams we don’t care about. We embrace that strange sense of “Christmas Carol” suspended time that makes childhood and adulthood, past and future, seem to merge. If Christmas has nothing to do with the real Jesus, it allows us to connect, briefly and vaguely, to the idea of Jesus and to the possibility of human redemption he seemed to embody. It’s only a moment, a shared shimmering dream, and then it’s gone. But it’s a gift.

More here.

‘Against Everything’ by Mark Greif

9781101871157Karl Whitney at The Guardian:

The unflinching intelligence of his writing can be exhilarating, but intimidating. Yet there are many moments of levity: a doctor is described as “a mechanic who wears the white robe of an angel and is as arrogant as a boss”. Of the hipster movement he writes: “It did not yield a great literature, but made good use of fonts”.

As the book progresses, the style becomes looser and more expansive. The cool, stern tone of the earlier essays gives way to a more playful approach, typified by the essay “Learning to Rap”, in which, yes, Greif decides to teach himself how to rap along to hip-hop records. His rationale is that, as a music fan in the early 90s, he chose to devote himself to American post-punk, such as Sonic Youth and Fugazi, rather than hip-hop. This was a mistake, he now thinks, as hip-hop was the birth of a “new world-historical form” while rock “had been basically exhausted by 1972”.

It’s quite the essay. By wrestling with the specifics of learning to rap, Grief plays on the white liberal’s guilt at cultural appropriation while demonstrating the complexity, difficulty and brilliance of the form. He discusses the practical challenges: trying to decipher the lyrics of Nas, Snoop Dogg and the Notorious BIG; rapping along in a low voice with the music on his headphones as he waits for the next subway.

more here.

on ‘The Moravian Night’ By Peter Handke

Moravian-night-199x300Scott Abbott at Open Letters Monthly:

The disintegration of Yugoslavia (as Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks pursued their nationalist interests in what had been a multicultural country) was a turning point. In a series of long essays Handke argued that Serbia was being portrayed as the sole aggressor in the civil wars and that the language of journalism was itself a tool of aggression. He traveled in Serbia and described it in language he thought more conducive to peace. (A Journey to the Rivers orJustice for Serbia is the only one of these essays in English translation; the German title, Eine winterliche Reise zu den Flüssen Donau, Sava, Morawa, und Drina, suggests a geographical connection with The Moravian Night.) Critics were merciless, attacking him with the same either/or language he was determined to replace with thinking marked by the conjunction “and.” Literary prizes were withdrawn and when a French writer published an essay interpreting Handke’s Yugoslavia work (and his attendance at the funeral of Slobodan Milosevic) in the worst possible light, Handke’s The Play of Questioning was withdrawn from a planned production in Paris. Defenders of Handke, of which I was one, pointed out that the critics were inventing the supposed transgressions and that a reading of the essays revealed a thoughtful dialectic rather than a single-minded denial of Serbian guilt.

When Handke received the Norwegian International Ibsen Prize for Drama in 2014, there were protests. Karl Ove Knausgaard responded to the protests in an essay called “Handke and Singularity”, arguing that Handke’s Yugoslavia works are “another form of history-writing, about what goes on outside of public attention, the entire political-historical and generalizing system of concepts that has filled ‘Serbia’ with a whole bunch of fixed notions, unalterable and unshakable.” As it meanders through possibilities of narration beyond fixed notions and forms, The Moravian Night continues to call the unalterable and unshakable into question.

more here.