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James Polk

Up until this morning, all I knew was that he was a 19th-century president. Now I know all sorts of scintillating tidbits:
* NC-born, TN-raised James Knox Polk was elected to the U.S. Congress at 29, where he served for 14 years, including two terms as Speaker of the House.
* He was the Democrats' dark horse candidate in 1844, when more well-known candidates Martin Van Buren, John C. Calhoun, Lewis Cass, James Buchanan and Thomas Hart Benton couldn't muster enough support. He beat out the Whig candidate Henry Clay by promising to encourage westward expansion. He favored Texas statehood and the acquisition of the Oregon Territory. "Although critics expressed concern that aggressive expansionism might lead to a war with Great Britain or Mexico and might destroy the tenuous balance between  Read More 
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The New Museum

Sheesh, it's 3 blocks away but we only went there for the first time today. (Insert obligatory apologia about New York's embarrassment of cultural riches.)

Roof first (always!): cool view: no chairs or I might have stayed up there all day.

We saw:
* Ragnar Kjartansson's Me, My Mother, My Father, and I. His mother spits at him in a video & a bunch of kids lay around on mattresses playing kumbaya guitar
* Camille Henrot, The Restless Earth. Flowers! And complicated videos.
* A secret installation in the back stairs by David Horvitz, bells + he melts & re-blows seaglass.
* Roberto Cuoghi's ancient Assyrian lament (composed by him and played on handmade instruments), called Šuillakku Corral Read More 
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Romona Youngquist

Johnny's off to MoMa, while I'm drinking in Romona Youngquist. She's an Oregon-based artist who probably isn't as popular as she should be, at least not in the high-art world. That might well change, though. Weren't Chandler and Hammett, for example, (considered) hacks until they became (considered) great? It's certainly true that in the 1860s, the French Classicist painter and sculptor Ernest Meissonier outranked and outsold the likes of Manet, Monet and half a dozen other artists whose names we know far better now than  Read More 
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Forever 21

Derek & me, 2000
My heartthrob Derek Jeter turns 40 today. People you don't actually know don't need to actually age.

My friend Pat reminded me that I'd have to pick a new favorite Yankee after this season. She's decided on Jacoby Ellsbury, "sticking with the 2s and the youthful cuteness."

I had better get through the 5 stages first: disbelief, resentment, self-pity, lust, Mark Teixiera. Or maybe—  Read More 
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A friend was recently in Wales, which reminded me to look at the wedding shelf above our kitchen table. My Auntie May (1902-92) gave us the Welsh love spoon on the left, & someone else gave us the less ornate one. Grapes and leaves mean "love will grow."

Traditionally, the love spoon was made from a single piece of wood by a young man to show both his intentions and his practical skills. The earliest surviving example is from the late 17th century, although they are probably much older. That one can be seen at St Fagans, an open-air museum of Welsh life (Urdd Gobaith Cymru) in Cardiff. It might be my favorite museum in the world.

I don't know why people go to England and Scotland but not Wales. I don't know why people go to the Rockies but not the Black Hills.  Read More 
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Vote early, vote often II

Jerry Nadler when there was more of him to love
I suppose I should have been suspicious when I got a ton of email about Charles Rangel but no robo-calls, flyers or email about Carolyn Maloney or Jerry Nadler (they gerrymandered him away from us but he's still ours!). Turns out there are primaries today in only 10 of New York’s 27 congressional districts. I don't get it. What if I wanted to write in Donald Duck? Is democracy dead?

And speaking of gerrymandering, my favorite U.S. history quote comes from Elbridge Gerry. The Constitutional Convention was discussing whether to maintain a permanent militia. He said, A standing army is like an erect member*: an excellent assurance of domestic tranquility, but a dangerous temptation to foreign adventure.
* I have heard it as "penis," but I think he was more subtle.

I'll probably write in Nadler when it comes time to vote for Maloney. Read More 
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New music

I have been stocking up on music via the NY Public Library's Freegal service. I get 3 free songs a week, which I've used to choose musicians that I don't often know much about. That's how I got turned on to Elizabeth Cook, for example, who's now one of my favorites.

This weekend I also shelled out cold cash for:
* Rosanne Cash's latest, The River and the Thread. The deluxe edition, at that, since I love that Jesse Winchester song "Biloxi."

* A compilation called Hard Times Come Again No More: Early American Rural Songs of Hard Times and Hardships. I love the eponymous Stephen Foster song & every once in a while I check if there's a version of that song that I don't have. That's how I found this album. It has a bunch of people I already knew, like  Read More 
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Conversation with Ace

"What should I write my blog about today?"

"The effect of summer solstice on the psyche. The contradictory notion that the days are now getting shorter and the weather is now getting warmer."

"And why is it called MIDsummer's night, when it's the FIRST night?"

"And then you can extrapolate that into 1 million different philosophical and rabbinic teachings."


"Okay, just checking how much you are hanging out with that synagogue crowd." Read More 
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Still life
I had never heard of this Japanese store until a wonderful Facebook thread. The poet Joseph Massey asked what notebooks people write in, & being writers, we had our opinions. Several mentioned Muji, & one branch turned out to be just a couple of blocks away, on Cooper Square near the Carl Fischer music store (that is something else now). I went over this afternoon.

Didn't love the notebooks, mostly because I prefer lines, but I did buy a pocket one ($2.25). I sat on a bench & inaugurated it with a little poem. The best things I got were a key ring/notebook (99c) and a bookmark/pen holder ($4.75).

Update: I went back a couple of days later & bought more of everything plus pens. Lost the little key ring notebook, however.  Read More 
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Hug Life

I wish.

The other day I (selfishly, I know) said it was someone else's turn.

It was.

But it's still mine.

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Stocking the library of the mind

I've memorized a lot of poems. It makes me appreciate their music & meaning, keeps their rhythm in my nerves, and—not least—because I want to be sure that I have something to do in prison. You know, just in case. My dad escaped Nazi Germany & it's never far from my mind that Something Could Happen.

I don't talk about this a lot, but it came up in a casual conversation with a friend. "That's how you're preparing for prison, memorizing poems?" he asked. "Not by learning how to turn a toothbrush into a shiv? Anyway, they  Read More 
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Young women

Had dinner a few nights ago with several lovely young women, roughly ages 30 to 35.

* Jen just had a baby.
* Lisa just opened her own pilates studio in Brooklyn.
* Christine is headed in the fall to the U of Michigan to get a combined MBA and master's in public health.
* Adrienne is off to Hong Kong  Read More 
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"i am a deaf mute"

I recognize this as being my handwriting from decades ago. I recognize the addresses as being from either Denver or Boulder (Harney & Saddle Creek are most definitely Colorado streets), where I lived in 1972.

But I don't remember what was behind this note, nor can I imagine how it managed to surface this week on my kitchen table.  Read More 
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Father's Day

Even after close to three decades, I still have a hard time with this (OK! pseudo-)holiday.

Because I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that my dad isn't around.

Not a day goes by that he isn't in my thoughts.
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Cousins rock IV

Our family isn't a matriarchy or (god forbid) a patriarchy: it's a cousin-archy, and the First Cousin was Sue—elegant Sue, with Elspeth's sweet-gravel voice, California by way of Wales—who loved us all so much and with such grace, beauty, wonder & interest. Now she moves from our outside life to inside (to quote Ted Berrigan), where we will always hold her close.

Margit wrote: "A tribe of cousins....a big tribe and we've lost the chief." She's so right. Our cousins are a tribe, a welcoming & inclusive club. This—Sue's death—is so wrong. No one wants to leave. No one is supposed to leave.  Read More 
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Many a slip

I woke up so happy to have reconnected with one of my friends from the House after many years (decades!). In my head I had half a meditation written on old friends, formative years, another stab at trying to explain just what was so important about that time & place, how fantastically great it is to talk to Mike  Read More 
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Where I live

My block, photo-illustration by Robert Jay Kaufman; note the Gringer's sign (Gringer's is my landlord)
The reason I won't let the young folks carry my packages up the stairs (OK, one offered, once) is because I need to stay in shape to be a 90-year-old who goes up & down 4 flights.

I love where I live, on First Avenue between First & Second Streets. For its variety of buildings, people, & trees, Robert Jay Kaufman, author of Blockology: An Offbeat Walking Guide to Lower Manhattan, called my block his favorite—after walking all 1,544 of them below 14th Street.

I moved here, in 1977, because my apartment was cheap ($115/month). I had come to New York for the first time a few months earlier & was hit by a bolt of lightning-love: I knew that I was going to move here as soon as possible, live here for the rest of my life, & always feel the same way as I did in that first minute. It was the first time in my life that I knew something about myself that clearly.

I've always felt lucky that I found my place. Perhaps not surprising: my parents were both from large European cities (Berlin & Liverpool), even if they did live in South Dakota for 40 years & raise their family there. Don't get me wrong: I love South Dakota, I ache for South Dakota, the air smells better & more right there than anywhere else in the world. South Dakota is profoundly my home, but New York is where they let this "hick from the sticks" (something an old boyfriend called me) make a life.  Read More 
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Laundry dilemma

Johnny believes I have been 86ed from every laundromat in Manhattan & must be doing my laundry in Brooklyn. It's not quite true. There's a few I haven't been to yet.

The one on 1st Ave & 2nd St is disgustingly dirty & the ladies there are crabby, plus they never open on time. The only good  Read More 
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Good for the farmers

South Dakota gal that I am, or was, whenever it rains I can't help but murmur: Good for the farmers. I'm homesick all the time for the prairie, but also for New York City, even though I live here & appreciate it every day. I sometimes feel like there are several me's, who are full-tilt into poetry, karate, Judaism, this friend & that one, this place & that. Wherever I am, there I am—and there I am not. Read More 
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Sunday, Sunday

Did a little work (mostly putting source material in folders), did a lot of to-dos (mostly sending emails), then hung out in Tompkins Square Park with my family: Johnny (husband), Tara (daughter), Celeste (granddaughter) & her boyfriend Bryce. We had ice cream at Mikey Likes It Ice Cream on Avenue A,  Read More 
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South Dakota Tyre & Auto

He was waiting to cross at Third Ave & 10th St.

"Hey! Where'd you get that shirt?" I demanded.

"In London." He was English, a student at NYU.

"I'm from there!"

He looked at his shirt, not sure what "there" I meant. "I just liked it." Was it from a rack full of "Tyre & Auto" t-shirts? Mongolia Tyre & Auto. Austin Tyre & Auto. Managua Tyre & Auto.

"Can I take your picture?"  Read More 
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Kipling & Orwell

I have second-generation Englishness, the way that so many Irish-Americans have Irish longing. Hence (in part) my love for Kipling, & Orwell's distaste for him. He's not a fascist, Orwell says, but he did not understand the economics underlying empire, thus didn't get why, after the "greatest victory she had ever known, Britain was a lesser world power than before."

There's an aside, in this 1942 essay, criticizing "left-wing parties in the highly industrialized countries," which are, he says, "at bottom a sham" because they have "internationalist aims, and at the same time they struggle to keep a standard of life with which those aims are incompatible. We all live by robbing Asiatic  Read More 
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Days of discard

It looks nicer in person. Really.
I am getting a late start this year, but will make up for it. Today threw out a nice pair of Smith & Hawken gardening shoes (put them outside for the gleaners, in actual fact), a large stack of books (most of which are going to Mike Topp), a chess set, some cherry tomatoes (down the hatch) & 2 business cards. I met Smith (or was it Hawken) once up in the Adirondacks, a willowy blonde from Australia (as I recall), with the vague look people have when they know you know who they are but are in a social setting where you can't gawk.

Well! It seems  Read More 
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What I'm reading

Lorine Niedecker's Collected Works. I can't stay with a poet I don't love, & a hundred pages in, I'm already reluctant to get to the end.

A selection of A. R. Ammons' North Carolina poems, an irresistible book I bought at City Lights books in Sylva, NC. Call me if you want me to read "Alligator Holes Down Along about Old Dock" to you.

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray, which I found in the Okefenokee  Read More 
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