Taking Stock

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October 24th is an inauspicious day for stock market trading.

In 1929 Thursday Oct 24th was called “Black Thursday”.  It saw the market shed 11% of its value at the opening bell.  A panic meeting on the trading floor saw the big banks pour money into the exchange to buy back 5% and avert a panic.  Their strategy was ultimately futile.  Investors spent the weekend scouring the newspapers and thinking about what was happening and the following week saw Black Monday and Black Tuesday and a crash in the value of the DOW.

In 2008 Friday Oct 24th was labelled Bloody Friday.  The US stock market had already been gutted in early October.  The 24th saw record losses posted on stock exchanges all across the globe.  Banks were collapsing like dominoes and we all learned about securitization of “sub-prime mortgages”.  I remember reading “Liars Poker” by Michael Lewis and learning that these had been created in the 1980’s.

In Ireland we were comforted by the Government which under Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan, had decided to give a blanket guarantee to Ireland’s banks.  Still, people were spreading their money around from bank to bank, to keep within the guaranteed amount.  I should take this opportunity to thank the two Brians for saving the Irish banks and for plunging the country into five years of recession marked by misery and austerity.  You taught me a valuable lesson guys!  Politicians haven’t got a clue, and they make it up as they go along.

Of course, every cloud has a silver lining.  If you have the cash, a crash is a great time to buy bargains.  I just wish I had the cash!

Lorca, the Spanish poet murdered by the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, was in New York during the Wall Street Crash.  He captured the emotions of that time in his poem, Dance of Death.

Dance of Death; by Federico García Lorca

The mask. Look how the mask
comes from Africa to New York.

They are gone, the pepper trees,
the tiny buds of phosphorus.
They are gone, the camels with torn flesh,
and the valleys of light the swan lifted in its beak.

It was the time of parched things,
the wheat spear in the eye, the laminated cat,
the time of great rusting bridges
and the deathly silence of cork.

It was the great gathering of dead animals
pierced by the swords of light.
The endless joy of the hippopotamus with cloven feet of ash
and of the gazelle with an immortelle in its throat.

In the withered, waveless solitude,
the dented mask was dancing.
Half of the world was sand,
the other half mercury and dormant sunlight.

The mask. Look at the mask!
Sand, crocodile, and fear above New York.

Canyons of lime imprisoned an empty sky,
where the voices of those who die under the guano were heard.
A pure, naked sky, identical with itself,
with the down and the keen-edged iris of its invisible mountains.
It finished off the slenderest stems of song
and was swept away toward channels of sap,
through the stillness of the last parades,
lifting pieces of mirror with its tail.

While the Chinaman wept on the roof,
not finding the nude of his wife,
and the bank director was watching the gauge
that measures the cruel silence of money,
the mask arrived on Wall Street.

It isn’t a strange place for the dance,
these cemetery niches that turn the eyes yellow.
Between the sphinx and the bank vault, there is a taut thread
that pierces the heart of all poor children.
The primitive impetus dances with the mechanical one,
unaware, in their frenzy, of the original light.
Because if the wheel forgets its formula,
it will sing nude with herds of horses;
and if a flame burns the frozen blueprints,
the sky will have to flee before the tumult of windows.

This isn’t a strange place for the dance, I tell you.
The mask will dance among columns of blood and numbers,
among hurricanes of gold and groans of the unemployed,
who will howl, in the dead of night, for your dark time.
Oh, savage, shameless North America!
Stretched out on the frontier of snow.

The mask. Look at the mask!
Such a wave of mire and fireflies above New York!

I was on the terrace, wrestling with the moon.
Swarms of windows riddled one of the night’s thighs.
The sweet sky-cattle drank from my eyes
and breezes on long oars
struck the ashen store windows on Broadway.

The drop of blood looked for light in the star’s yolk
so as to seem a dead apple seed.
The prairie air, driven by the shepherds,
trembled in fear like a mollusk without its shell.

But I’m sure there are no dancers
among the dead.
The dead are absorbed in devouring their own hands.
It’s the others who dance with the mask and its vihuela.
Others, drunk on silver, cold men,
who sleep where thighs and hard flames intersect,
who seek the earthworm in the landscape of fire escapes,
who drink a dead girl’s tears at the bank
or eat tiny pyramids of dawn on the street corners.

But don’t let the Pope dance!
don’t let the Pope dance!
Nor the kind,
nor the millionaires with blue teeth,
nor the barren dances of the cathedrals,
nor builders, nor emeralds, nor madmen, nor sodomites.
Only this mask.
This mask of ancient scarlet fever.
Only this mask!

Cobras shall hiss on the top floors.
Nettles shall shake courtyards and terraces.
The Stock Exchange shall become a pyramid of moss.
Jungle vines shall come in behind the rifles
and all so quickly, so very, very quickly.
Ay, Wall Street!

The mask. Look at the mask!
And how it spits its forest poison
through New York’s imperfect anguish!


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