Boss Birthday


Happy Birthday Bruce Springsteen.  Every year some idiot politician rolls out his best known song to giddy up the crowd, singing along to those uplifting words “Born in the USA”, and you know they never, ever listened to the words!

Born down in a dead man’s town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
End up like a dog that’s been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up

Got in a little hometown jam
So they put a rifle in my hand
Sent me off to a foreign land
To go and kill the yellow man

Come back home to the refinery
Hiring man said “son if it was up to me”
Went down to see my V.A. man
He said “son, don’t you understand”

I had a brother at Khe Sahn
Fighting off the Viet Cong
They’re still there, he’s all gone
He had a woman he loved in Saigon
I got a picture of him in her arms now

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
I’m ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run ain’t got nowhere to go


There and back again!


On this day in 1937 the Hobbit was published.  Without the Hobbit we would not have Lord of the Rings, and without LOTR what would the world be?  Would we have the Wheel of Time, the Song of Ice and Fire, Tigana, Shannara, The Chronicles of Thomas Convenant, Raymond E. Feist’s Midkemia?

How many worlds, how many lives, how many adventures were given permission because in 1937 a publisher took a flyer on a silly book about a very short chap with hairy feet?

Well done to George Allen and Unwin, publishers with imagination.


Bath-Song; by J.R.R. Tolkien

Sing hey! For the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away
A loon is he that will not sing
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed
but better is beer if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!

Work? You don’t know work.


I worked some pretty bad jobs in my time.  Weeks serving food on grotty ferries.  Long days stacking shop shelves and sweeping grubby floors.  Disgusting days lifting coughing patients in a chest ward, or turning geriatrics with turgid pee bags and soiled pads and all for pretty low wages, but I never complained at that.

I worked some pretty great jobs, running hard from morning to night, days gone in a blink, boxes ticked, tasks completed, a blur of achievement richly rewarded. I certainly never complained at that.

I worked a well paid job in a comfortable office with little or nothing to do.  I watched the hands of the clock march slowly around the dial praying for the end of the hour, the end of the day, the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the year, the end of my life.  I literally wished my life away.  I complained about everything.  I longed for a geriatric to be turned, or a floor to be swept.

That’s not work.  That’s prison.

Fear and Fame; by Philip Levine

Half an hour to dress, wide rubber hip boots,
gauntlets to the elbow, a plastic helmet
like a knight’s but with a little glass window
that kept steaming over, and a respirator
to save my smoke-stained lungs. I would descend
step by slow step into the dim world
of the pickling tank and there prepare
the new solutions from the great carboys
of acids lowered to me on ropes — all from a recipe
I shared with nobody and learned from Frank O’Mera
before he went off to the bars on Vernor Highway
to drink himself to death. A gallon of hydrochloric
steaming from the wide glass mouth, a dash
of pale nitric to bubble up, sulphuric to calm,
metals for sweeteners, cleansers for salts,
until I knew the burning stew was done.
Then to climb back, step by stately step, the adventurer
returned to the ordinary blinking lights
of the swingshift at Feinberg and Breslin’s
First-Rate Plumbing and Plating with a message
from the kingdom of fire. Oddly enough
no one welcomed me back, and I’d stand
fully armored as the downpour of cold water
rained down on me and the smoking traces puddled
at my feet like so much milk and melting snow.
Then to disrobe down to my work pants and shirt,
my black street shoes and white cotton socks,
to reassume my nickname, strap on my Bulova,
screw back my wedding ring, and with tap water
gargle away the bitterness as best I could.
For fifteen minutes or more I’d sit quietly
off to the side of the world as the women
polished the tubes and fixtures to a burnished purity
hung like Christmas ornaments on the racks
pulled steadily toward the tanks I’d cooked.
Ahead lay the second cigarette, held in a shaking hand,
as I took into myself the sickening heat to quell heat,
a lunch of two Genoa salami sandwiches and Swiss cheese
on heavy peasant bread baked by my Aunt Tsipie,
and a third cigarette to kill the taste of the others.
Then to arise and dress again in the costume
of my trade for the second time that night, stiffened
by the knowledge that to descend and rise up
from the other world merely once in eight hours is half
what it takes to be known among women and men.


Deliverance is a movie directed by John Boorman, based on the novel by James Dickey.  Dickey is also a poet and when you get to the end of this post I have included a poem from his pen.

Different people will have different immediate reactions to the film Deliverance.  Ask people who have seen it what is their enduring memory.


Some will immediately go to the duelling banjos scene.

Yesterday we heard Burt Reynolds passed away.  When the film was made in 1972 Reynolds was the epitome of American masculinity.  The role turned him from a TV star to a Movie star in an age when that was an enormous difference.  He famously went on to turn down roles as James Bond and Han Solo.  He starred in Smokey and the Bandit, and in Cannonball Run, specialising in roles that involved muscle cars and beautiful women,  He went on to become a director.  Later in his career he won an Oscar playing a porn movie director in Boogie Nights.

In 1972 male masculinity looked like this:

deliverance 2

A lot of guys who saw the movie identified with Jon Voight.  He wants to be confident, strong, macho and shallow like Reynolds character.  But he is afflicted with human emotions, conscience, doubt.  But in the end Voight summons up his reserves of masculinity and kills the guy he thinks is the bad guy.  And then has these doubts about if that was really the bad guy after all.

Deliverance 4

For me the real hero, the real man of the movie, was Ned Beatty.  Ned played the victim of the seminal male rape scene that made the movie a significant milestone in world cinema.  The movie opened the door to male vulnerability and allowed men to open discussions about abuse.  The movie shattered the Burt Reynolds image of what a man should be and gave us the Ned Beatty truth of what a man is.

Ned Beatty allowed himself to be stripped naked, slapped, abused, insulted and raped, all on celluloid for the consumption of a world audience.  That took guts.  That took bravery.  Bur Reynolds played the easy role, Beatty did the hard stuff.

Deliverance 3

So ask me what is my enduring memory of the film.  The characters kill the guy they think is the rapist.  They bury the body in a valley that is being flooded by the construction of a dam.  At the end of the film they realise they may have killed the wrong guy.  Voight dreams of that lake behind the dam, he dreams of the serene water at dusk, no breeze, not a ripple.  And then…………

Deliverance 1

Cherrylog Road; by James Dickey

Off Highway 106
at Cherrylog Road I entered
the ’34 Ford without wheels,
smothered in kudzu,
with a seat pulled out to run
corn whiskey down from the hills,

and then from the other side
crept into an Essex
with a rumble seat of red leather
and then out again, aboard
a blue Chevrolet, releasing
the rust from its other color,

reared up on three building blocks.
None had the same body heat;
I changed with them inward, toward
the weedy heart of the junkyard,
for I knew that Doris Holbrook
would escape from her father at noon

and would come from the farm
to seek parts owned by the sun
among the abandoned chassis,
sitting in each in turn
as I did, leaning forward
as in a wild stock-car race

in the parking lot of the dead.
Time after time, I climbed in
and out the other side, like
an envoy or movie star
met at the station by crickets.
A radiator cap raised its head,

become a real toad or a kingsnake
as I neared the hub of the yard,
passing through many states,
many lives, to reach
some grandmother’s long Pierce-Arrow
sending platters of blindness forth

from its nickel hubcaps
and spilling its tender upholstery
on sleepy roaches,
the glass panel in between
Lady and colored driver
not all the way broken out,

the back-seat phone
still on its hook.
I got in as though to exclaim,
“Let us go to the orphan asylum,
John; I have some old toys
for children who say their prayers.”

I popped with sweat as I thought
I heard Doris Holbrook scrape
like a mouse in the southern-state sun
that was eating the paint in blisters
from a hundred car tops and hoods.
She was tapping like code,

loosening the screws,
carrying off headlights,
sparkplugs, bumpers,
cracked mirrors and gear-knobs,
getting ready, already,
to go back with something to show

other than her lips’ new trembling
I would hold to me soon, soon,
where I sat in the ripped back seat
talking over the interphone,
praying for Doris Holbrook
to come from her father’s farm

and to get back there
with no trace of me on her face
to be seen by her red-haired father
who would change, in the squalling barn,
her back’s pale skin with a strop,
then lay for me

in a bootlegger’s roasting car
with a string-triggered 12-gauge shotgun
to blast the breath from the air.
Not cut by the jagged windshields,
through the acres of wrecks she came
with a wrench in her hand,

through dust where the blacksnake dies
of boredom, and the beetle knows
the compost has no more life.
Someone outside would have seen
the oldest car’s door inexplicably
close from within:

I held her and held her and held her,
convoyed at terrific speed
by the stalled, dreaming traffic around us,
so the blacksnake, stiff
with inaction, curved back
into life, and hunted the mouse

with deadly overexcitement,
the beetles reclaimed their field
as we clung, glued together,
with the hooks of the seat springs
working through to catch us red-handed
amidst the gray breathless batting

that burst from the seat at our backs.
We left by separate doors
into the changed, other bodies
of cars, she down Cherrylog Road
and I to my motorcycle
parked like the soul of the junkyard

restored, a bicycle fleshed
with power, and tore off
up Highway 106, continually
drunk on the wind in my mouth,
wringing the handlebar for speed,
wild to be wreckage forever.

Toy Story

Toy Story

Born this day in 1850 Eugene Field, if he lived today, could probably sue Pixar for stealing his idea in the poem “Little Boy Blue” and turning it into the Toy Story Movie Franchise.  Although Field’s poem has a darker side.  Instead of being about growing up it is about the death of a child.


Little boy blue; by Eugene Field

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
but sturdy and stanch he stands;
and the little toy soldier is red with rust,
and his musket molds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new
and the soldier was passing fair,
and that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
kissed them and put them there.

“Now, don’t you go till I come,” he said,
“and don’t you make any noise!”
So toddling off to his trundle-bed
he dreamed of the pretty toys.
And as he was dreaming, an angel song
awakened our Little Boy Blue,
oh, the years are many, the years are long,
but the little toy friends are true.

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
each in the same old place,
awaiting the touch of a little hand,
the smile of a little face.
And they wonder, as waiting these long years through,
in the dust of that little chair,
what has become of our Little Boy Blue
since he kissed them and put them there.

The missing Menorah


On this day in AD 70 the siege of Jerusalem ended with the destruction of the Second Temple by Titus, son of Vespasian, at the head of a Roman army.

According to the historian Josephus the Menorah of the temple was taken as spoils of war and brought back to Rome.  It was carried in the Triumphal Procession of Vespasian and Titus and is recorded on the Arch of Titus.

Using the spoils taken from Jerusalem Vespasian constructed the Templum Pacis, the temple of peace in the Forum of Vespasian.  The Menorah was stored in the temple for hundreds of years until the sack of Rome by the Vandals in 455 AD.

The Vandals brought the Menorah back with them to their capital in Carthage, in the Roman African province, modern day Tunisia.

One hundred years later the Vandals had become soft from living on the fat of the land.  Their armies were no longer the terror of the western Mediterranean.  Emperor Justinian of the Eastern Roman Empire sent his favourite general, Belisarius, to retake Africa for Rome.  In 533 AD Belisarius defeated the armies of King Gelimer and his brothers.

According to the historian Procopius the Menorah was found amongst the treasures of the Vandals and was taken to Constantinople.  It was displayed in the Ovation given by Justinian to his victorious general.  Gelimer was prostrated before the Emperor, and was allowed to live out his life on a Roman estate.

According to Procopius Justinian gave the Menorah back to the Jews in Jerusalem.  On the one hand it is hard to believe that such an ardent Christian emperor would have given this treasure to people he regarded as little short of heretics.  On the other hand he may have looked at the fate of the Second Temple, Rome and Carthage and wondered if he really wanted to keep the Menorah in his capital.

Whatever the truth this is the end of the tale for the Menorah.  It is never seen again.  Some say it is hidden in the Vatican City and the Vandals never found it.  Others say it was looted from Jerusalem when the Persians sacked the city in 614 AD.  Some think it was in a ship that sank in the Tibur when the Vandals were leaving Rome and that it lies at the bottom of the sea outside Ostia.  Others think it was still in Jerusalem during the Crusades and was taken by the Knights Templar.  Whatever the truth it is a tempting theme for a “Da Vinci Code” style adventure, or a new quest for Indiana Jones.

Psalm III : by Allen Ginsberg
To God: to illuminate all men. Beginning with Skid Road.
Let Occidental and Washington be transformed into a higher place, the plaza of eternity.
Illuminate the welders in shipyards with the brilliance of their torches.
Let the crane operator lift up his arm for joy.
Let elevators creak and speak, ascending and descending in awe.
Let the mercy of the flower’s direction beckon in the eye.
Let the straight flower bespeak its purpose in straightness — to seek the light.
Let the crooked flower bespeak its purpose in crookedness — to seek the light.
Let the crookedness and straightness bespeak the light.
Let Puget Sound be a blast of light.
I feed on your Name like a cockroach on a crumb — this cockroach is holy.


At Verona 2


St. Iago Matamoros, before he got into brewing stout.

Wilde thing; by Donal Clancy

No Verona, nor Reading this Gaol.
Not of my body, but of my soul
this bleak house a prison makes,
and echoes with my futile pleas.

How steep the stairs within this house are
for unwanted feet as mine to tread,
and oh how silent and bitter is the bread
which is broken on this marital table, better far
that I remained on flat greens,
or bare my head to St. James’s gate
than to live thus, ignored by all but those
that seek the freedom of my soul to mar.

‘Curse love and leave: what better hope than this?
She has forgotten me in all the focus
of her self-pity, and faded looks’–
Nay peace: behind my prison’s blinded bars
I do possess what none can take away,
My love, and all the memories of how we were.