3 Possums in the Woods

Came upon a trio of opossums (why that first o, I’ll never know) digging in the compost pile behind the house yesterday and by the time I got back indoors was rhyming this ditty to myself.

One played dead
one got mad
and the other climbed a tree.

Made me wonder
which of them I’d be?

Would I faint
or would I snarl
or would I try to flee?

Soon enough
the time will come
and then I guess we’ll see.

By the way, here are two of them, the guy on the left played dead, partner bared his teeth, and out of frame, the other (with hilarious slowness) climbed that tree.

Breonna Taylor Poems

By the end of the week, will have posted all 100 Sappho-inspired poems in honor of Ms. Taylor on Twitter. Posting here an especially topical one, with the Chauvin murder trial entering its second week. (To read them all, go to @tony_gentry on Twitter and scroll.)

93.

Yes Breonna, you may be sure
Across the globe the people
Will spread your name.

Tell the life we shared here,
Make of you a goddess incarnate,
The best among us.

Now among newscasters
Floyd in his turn claims the headlines
As the red-fingered moon
Rising at sunset takes
Precedence over the sky’s stars;

Yet your light spreads equally
On the salt sea and fields thick with bloom
Wherever dew pours down to freshen
Roses, bluegrass, and blossoming
Sweet clover.

Your smile encircles the globe
Your gentle face, so our hearts
Hang heavy with mourning.

We shout aloud, SAY HER NAME!
We know it; thousand-eared night marchers
Repeat our cry across the seas
Shining between us.

Breonna Taylor Died Tonight

One year ago, they killed her. Here on this sorrowful anniversary is the foreword to my manuscript of poems in her honor, Breonna: Poems after Sappho.

Parodies can be satires, but not always. They can also be loving tributes, which is my intention here.

Breonna.  If you take a moment to look at that viral photograph of a uniformed Breonna Taylor — proudly smiling before the seal of the City of Louisville, with a bunch of flowers and her award for stellar service as an emergency medical technician in her arms — don’t you feel like you knew her? Don’t you wish you had? She reminds me of some of the best people I’ve known, nurse’s aides and medical assistants, and other allied health providers, who can stanch blood, restart a heart, safely take down a person in the grip of psychosis. Women whose examples of professionalism, dignity and self-effacing humor taught me, in my health care career, the easily overlooked things that matter so much. How to turn a frail patient or sit patiently for a half hour, spooning food and chatting. How to wipe the ass of an elderly man, powder it, and discreetly dispose of the mess briskly and efficiently, while sparing him any shame or embarrassment. These are not little things. They are acts on which a civil society hinges.

Clearly, Breonna understood that life is hard, especially for a Black woman from the working class in a famously racist city. She did not turn away from that knowledge. She chose to help in the most direct way, serving people in emergency. She died at the hands of others paid to “protect and serve,” a tragic irony that we White folk have only begun to appreciate.

Breonna was killed at the very beginning of the pandemic, just weeks after beginning work in the emergency room at a hospital that, as I write this on New Year’s Eve, 2020, is overwhelmed by Covid patients. Think of the lives Breonna might have helped save this year, that she might have yet saved in the coming year, and on down through a long career.

Sappho. The great poet of ancient Greece, acknowledged as such even during her lifetime, her work surviving only in a few allusive, fragmentary verses. What’s left has been translated into English several times. The version I have is Mary Barnard’s from 1958. Succinct, to the point, beautifully spare. Each time you read through its 100 snippets, you learn more. Sometimes I think you could create a whole culture from the collage left us.  At other times, I marvel at Sappho’s delight in small things, her passion and concern for others. A few poems speak of early death, of a young person taken too soon. I think that’s what made the link for me.

The poems. If you care to compare, this book closely follows Barnard’s translation of Sappho. Some of the poems alter only a few words, and a few fragments are not changed at all, because they seem to apply perfectly across the ages. Two of Sappho’s most famous poems resisted my twists and substitutions, so I replaced them with my own, attempting to mimic Barnard’s style. The idea has been to shape an evocative collage of Ms. Taylor’s last day and its aftermath, or what I know of it and can imagine from the news. Awakening at dawn to face the sirens, the rush, and the pain of the emergency room, grabbing a quick lunch with a friend, returning home to her boyfriend Kenneth, to rest her weary bones, so she could do it all over again tomorrow.

Not hard to visualize what happened next.  We’ve seen versions in a hundred cop shows and movies. The assault, the victims on the floor, the grieving families, the rigged justice system. And in Breonna’s case, because enough was enough, the rousing protests around the world. Not hard to imagine at all, but not easy to rest with either. A lot happened in 2020. Breonna’s story sparked some of it.  We owe her so much, but that would be true even if those cruel, heedless detectives had not battered down her door. I wanted to speak to that somehow, and Sappho (please forgive me) came to mind. 

So no, this parody is not a satire. More a eulogy and reflection, at least that is my aim.

The University of California Press, which owns Ms. Barnard’s Sappho translation, has refused the right to publish this manuscript, so I’ve been posting the poems in sequence, two a day, on my Twitter account since mid-February. There are 100 poems in all, and I’ve posted 52 so far, the rest to come. If you care to read them, you can go to @tony_gentry on Twitter, scroll down to the first one, and then scroll up through them all. Or if you like, leave a comment here with your email address and I’ll send you the whole collection as a PDF.

One more thing, if you’re interested, The New York Times has posted an 18-minute video that details what happened at Breonna Taylor’s apartment one year ago today.

February – The Longest Month

Why is it that February, our shortest month, always seems the longest? And this year, as we round toward the first anniversary of the Covid-19 shutdown, wearing doubled masks, teaching and learning via Zoom, scrambling for vaccinations, and this week trying to summon an appropriate mourning for half a million Americans dead (far more than any other country), we slog along in what feels like the longest February ever.

Just now I googled today’s date in 2020.  CNN’s Covid headlines read:

  • Death toll rises to 2,468 in China’s Hubei Province
  • Israel Expands Restrictions on Foreign Nationals as Fears Mount
  • Number of Coronavirus Cases in Italy Rises to 62, 10 Villages Shut Down
  • Number of Global Cases Now Stands at More Than 77,000

Not yet a headline, in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland, a stream of ambulances had been rushing residents of a skilled nursing facility called — ironically — Life Care to the hospital with flu-like symptoms. On this day a year ago, 44 Americans were said to have Covid-19. 

And this guy described as a “top infectious disease doctor”, a white-haired Marcus Welby-type named Anthony Fauci, warned on tv that “We are clearly at the brink of a pandemic.” The President, an orange-haired Mussolini-type, had just returned from a political rally in Las Vegas. His day’s agenda was empty, but he stepped onto the porch of the White House for a few minutes to tout the economy. If any reporter asked him about the virus, it didn’t make the news clip.  In two days, he will tell his fateful and most deadly lie:  “The coronavirus is very much under control in the U.S.”

A year later, watching our gray-haired grandfather President try to lasso the horse so long out of the barn, seeing Dr. Fauci more often than we see our neighbors, having buried loved ones while still waiting for some safe date when we can hold memorials for others, we’re all so exhausted. Half a million dead. Benumbed minds boggle. We shrug, don our masks, and trudge on.

BREONNA: Poems after Sappho

Long backstory here, but amidst the Black Lives Matter protests I found myself fascinated (aghast) at the Breonna Taylor saga and for reasons that remain mysterious to me set about matching her story to a translation of the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s poetry. There are 100 poems and poetic fragments in the translation I followed (a 1958 book with translations by Mary Barnard). Unfortunately, the University of California Press, which owns the rights to this translation, does not approve of any adaptation or reuse of the poems, so my hope of publishing the book seems doomed. Instead, I’m going to throw them up one mashup at a time on Twitter, scattering them to the interweb winds, so to speak. If you’re a Twitter follower (heaven help you), hope you’ll check them out at my Twitter account: @tony_gentry.

As a taste of what I’ve been about, and in hopes of not stirring the wrath of the U of C lawyers, here are a couple of the 100 poems I’ll be putting up on Twitter:

82.

We drink your health
Mr. AG!

Now the grand jury we asked for
Is over.
And your ruling is the ruling
They told you to make.

It’s a lie made up
Of some lawyer words
Slick as snot
On a door knob.

See my sign?  See her face,
That Love had lit
With its own beauty?

Her face on the wall
In Paris, London, Nairobi
And this all you got
For us?

83.

To my editor, in DC:

Some say the National Guard
troops, or the armored cars,
Or even the Proud Boys
In their Hawaiian shirts
And bike helmets are the
Finest sights at the rallies.

But I say that whoever
Marches for love, is.

This is easily proved: 

Do not the marchers,
Volunteers, risking their health,
Some their lives,
For justice not move you
More than all that
Mercenary artillery?

Just posted Poem Number 1 on Twitter, only 99 to go!

January by the Numbers

Last April – seems so long ago now – I posted this rant: https://tonygentry.com/2020/04/24/april-by-the-numbers-a-rant/. Revisiting the numbers game today, when the shock of that horrifying month has long been overcome by the count of those that followed.

On Day 1 New Year’s Day the total:
83.9 million Corona cases/350,000 dead.
Imagine Miami, everyone dead.
Or St. Louis, all dead.
That day, as most days, the US No. 1,
166,113 testing positive, 3,462 dead, and again on this day
as on 307 other days of his term
nearly 1 year of his 4
the President plays 18-holes.

Other numbers:
The golfing President begs 1 state
for 11,780 make-believe votes
2 Democrats win there
on the same day 1000s
sack the Capitol, hunting heads
Q’s and 3-percenters and so-called Proud Boys
5 die.

In 2021‘s 1st month
140,000 more Americans lose their jobs.
Food lines, testing lines, and now lines for
2 vaccines with 95% effectiveness.
But also 3, no 4, new Covid-19 strains.
You need 2 shots spaced 3 weeks apart
if you can find 1.

Then wait 2 weeks, or 3,
but maybe then you can still
be a spreader.
And will they kill the new strains?
Here’s a 1-shot vaccine, too.
What does 65% effective even mean?

73 last minute pardons of cronies and crooks.
The golfing President impeached a 2nd time.
10 months along, somehow still not enough N95’s.
ICUs at 110% capacity.

You’re better off with 2 masks
they tell us now.

On the 31st, a Sunday,
24.4 million Americans have been vaccinated
(just 305 million to go!)
as we continue our run at No. 1:
133,746 new cases, 2641 dead
in 1 day of the worst month yet.

The new old President, just 10 days in,
goes to church and prays,
no doubt, for 3 things:
Unity, mercy, and resolve.

Amen.