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Poem of the Week

Cuenca, Ecuador


a streak of sun wakes us

into wonder. we quietly breathe southern air


I go for a walk



a bowl they call a platter

a cup they call a vase


it's not mine—yet 

the white enclosed feel of the fog


3 pale blue domes of the New Cathedral

every morning a different delicate color


hooped roof tiles in shades of

pink, beige, copper, dusty, rust, khaki, brown


that somehow add up to red

earth tones, they say


but no earth I've ever seen

& small dark perfect people


boys wrapped with boys, girls with girls

a madre says no soda


& her little one snatches

her hand away


without a second joking reach

no tears, no complaint


only European-tinged women have gray hair

pajaros & clouds


an orange on a platter

I sit in a church not mine


in a country & religion not mine

Jesus in a tutu made of light


will Cuenca become mine? 

through food, love or a photo that I belong to


it was neither a noise nor a movement

or it was both! a little earthquake


the clouds the sun my recognizing eyes

change them charge them


our wealth is in time to stroll

we outdo each other in being pleased


the delicious fruit chirimuya

agua de pitimas, drink of a thousand flowers


& it's 3 in the afternoon

or 4 in the afternoon



August 2019

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A good week!

Don't you feel like the mood of the whole country lifted this week? Two excellent Supreme Court decisions, on LGBT rights & DACA; a falling away from the Clown-in-Chief, with critical op-eds & books coming out at a merry & damaging clip; and a chance at substantive police reform.


Boy, did we need some good news.


New York unPause is unsettling, as the virus continues its rampage. An old friend exhibited a heartlessness that made me cry (based on politics she only assumed—I have this idea that all the fire she took might burn up some of her ignorance). Uncertainty is driving everyone crazy. 


But that's always the way of things, right? Some good, some bad, & maybe toast in the middle. If we're lucky.

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Country music

I've been listening to country music all my life.


I have records of black fiddlers. (Violin, Sing the Blues for Me—check it out!)


I have records of white country blues.


At times I have been unable to tell by listening if it was white or black musicians. 


And yet it never occurred to me that COUNTRY MUSIC ITSELF IS BLACK. 


Not just an occasional Charley Pride or Darius Rucker, but black all the way back. 


By which I mean to say, country music has never been a white space that a few blacks snuck into. It's portrayed that way, but that's not the truth. Even the revered A. P. Carter is kind of the Elvis of country, finding (or at least polishing up) his songs & style in black churches & other places. 


Here's a really good article in Rolling Stone on the subject. I love how unsegregated music is at its essence, no matter what stories are told about it to whose benefit (one guess as to that).



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Monday Quote

Closeup on my roof. No connection to quote. 

No thief, however skillful, can rob one of knowledge, and that is why knowledge is the best and safest treasure to acquire. 

~ L. Frank Baum


Still thinking about my dad. He would say they (meaning the Nazis) took away his country, his citizenship, his family, his language. But the one thing they couldn't take was his education. Get a good education! 


And by the way, Baum was a newspaperman in Aberdeen, South Dakota, which was the model for Dorothy's home though he switched it to Kansas because that's where tornadoes came from. Much as I love to point out & claim everything SoDakan, Kansas is welcome to that one! 

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Poem of the Week

Actually, the poem of the week was the noisy laughing beautiful Zoom call this afternoon with my many cousins. So much love. It makes me so happy that everyone is still as enthusiastic for the 3rd one as we were during the first. And I especially love that the younger generation of cousins wants to be there. I love my family! 

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My dad II

Still not sure what I think or what to say. He's been gone so long (Hans Nauen 1906-1986) that any scrap of connection moves me utterly. As my friend Becky said, My eyes hurt all the way to my heart right now. We went to high school together, & when he died, Becky wrote me a note that means so much to me. He treated her like a person, she said. I send notes of codolence because that one held me up so much during my mourning. If there's a heaven Becky believes in, I expect she earned entree on that alone. In Judaism the highest good you can do is to bury/mourn the dead, because they can never return the favor. 


With so much trauma, anger, fear, resolve blooming lately, it gives me strength & hope—& sorrow—to remember & share my father's story. 


Sigh. It's been an emotional week. I'm glad to have my dad by my side again. 

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My dad

Argus Leader, April 30, 1939.

The full headlines:

Europe Still Waits For Hitler To Gobble Danzig

German Refugee Family Finds Refuge in Sioux Falls

Hitler Horror Over; Life Bright

Hans Nauen gets job, works hard to polish his English [he was offended by that - he thought his English was excellent]

Refuses to talk of persecution

Refugees find it continally harder to leave Naziland


My dad, his "vivacious" wife (not my mom), & daughter had arrived in Sioux Falls 6 weeks earlier. He wouldn't talk about Germany because his parents & sister were still there, and "The arm of the Gestapo is long." None of them made it out. 


My wonderful neighbor Louis tracked this down & made a legible copy, so I was able to read this for the first time today. 


More to say but I can't right now....

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In the neighborhood

Another attractively shabby wall, this one south of Delancey. I remember taking a Greyhound from San Antonio to Laredo, & wishing my job was driving back & forth on that scrubby 150-mile stretch. Not sure why I find this sort of landscape so relaxing & also so compelling. Maybe it stems from loving (& missing) the prairies of my childhood, where you had to look closely for the beauty. Anything you pay attention to enough is beautiful, right? 

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Monday Quote

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. 

~ Charles Darwin



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In the neighborhood

There's lots of pretty in this world, but I respond more to plainness & purpose. 

The helicopters are still overhead. 


My guess as to what is going to happen is more cynical than my friends, a reverse from the usual that I can't explain. I'm thinking of a quote attributed to FDR, something he supposedly said to various activists: "You've convinced me. Now make me do it." By that I assume he meant that the bigger the clamor, the more organizations behind the proposals, the more likely that he'll have to give in to the people's will. Demonstrations are important but are only a first step. We have to go home & do community organizing, donate to orgs that are doing work we find important, contact our elected representatives & don't just holler on Facebook.


And that's what I wonder about. Are people in it for the long haul? It's not enough to say it should happen, therefore it will. Go and make them fix the things that are broken. 

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What's going on

Much is terrible, but much isn't. We may be locked down, but we have our spacious roof & houdahs. 

I see many of my Facebook friends (& their friends) saying they're ejecting everyone who hasn't spoken up this week about what's going on with Black Lives & the police & demonstrations. I get that. You want to know who your allies are. (I most definitely have noticed the VERY few times anyone non-Jewish condemned antisemitism in the news.)


Part of me feels that it's not doing a whole lot & that if you don't already know where I stand, are you going to believe me if this is the first time I've made a speech on the subject? And if companies, cops, people aren't going to DO something, CHANGE something, is there any more to it than virtue signaling? Even the most fiery black man among my acquaintances is only now telling some of the harrowing stories from his own life. Would it have made a difference if he had said this before?


I donated to the Equal Justice Initiative. It's what I can DO. Do you also need to know what I think, when whites are being asked to listen? when so many others have been so eloquent, thoughtful, passionate? when I haven't felt that I had anything to add? 

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Poem of the Week

En Garde


He waits, he pounces

like a kitten, serious, fierce,

comic. He explains

my explanation.

This is what they do.

One man runs for a bus & a woman plays

a small accordion on the corner.

Someone calls her by name

but she is dreaming in melody

drowning in tomorrows.

We have enough

to float us to the end.

Death is as competent as a pigeon:

one task.

That's all they have

to watch out for.

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"Yes, we are OPEN"

Moishe's bakery, June 1, 2020. 

Broken glass in (apparently) Jewish businesses—Moishe's & B&H for two—is hitting me hard. I feel Krystallnacht in my guts. 


The quote in the second box is from Elie Wiesel: "I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."


I decided that too, when I once long ago didn't speak up. It was at someone else's family gathering, & I let a racist uncle go on & on. That's when I realized there's always a valid reason to keep quiet: it's his family not mine, he'll never change, did I even hear what I think I heard. I realized those weren't in fact valid reasons, just excuses.


Since then, most of the time, I simply say that I don't want to get into an argument but I do want to go on record that I don't agree, & then I try to change the subject. That usually works, (no one has ever hit me or anything,) & a couple of times people actually heard what they were saying, what they had most likely been repeating without listening to themselves for years. These days, though, it seems way more discouraging, when people I would expect to act better don't, & no one seems to be willing to listen to a different p.o.v. 


And the helicopters, & the curfew, & how broken we are. 

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Monday Quote

Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife. 

~ John Dewey 


Uh-oh, we might be in bigger trouble than I even thought. 

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The city, the country, the world

This was all there was to it on First Ave yesterday at 7, but later, it got violent here as in so many other places. My family in St Paul, like us, heard helicopters & sirens, & they also heard gunshots & smelled the smoke from burning buildings. I'm going at this bassackwards — it's not about riots or destruction, it's about the murder-by-cop of a man in Minneapolis, following thousands of similar killings. It's about the fact that infant mortality is worse for black infants than 125 years ago. It's about so much I can't even start with a personal take: no lamentation, no breastbeating, no vows, no answers.


Right now there's a dozen cops on my corner, protecting the precinct up the block. Where were they when B&H was getting its window broken last night? 


I'm not comparing property damage to loss of life, & I totally get the feeling that if black lives don't matter, why should white property? 

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Chag sameach Shavuot

Shavuot is the best holiday! We celebrate the gift of Torah, chant the book of Ruth, & eat blintzes. No matzoh, no fasting, no primitive ceremonies with branches. I have the day off except to note that I'm feeling exuberant right now. It's been a while since I felt unmixed joy & I'm stopping myself from adding any buts. 

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Art in America

Painting & image © Ron Poznicek 2020. 

Ron Poznicek, a high school friend who lives in San Francisco, is someone I admire a lot. He has painted—& improved—for decades, with his only goal, as far as I know, to do excellent work. This is just one of his many paintings that I love for its beauty & big-heartedness.


He is also a very nice person & has a twin brother. 

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In the neighborhood: Smart Alyk

It's so quiet. Birds that aren't pigeons. Shaggy lawns. Urban life begins to resemble country life. Somehow it's still (& always) New York. 

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Monday Quote

Look homeward, Angel, now, and melt with ruth:

And, O ye dolphins, waft the hapless youth. 

~ John Milton, from Lycidas


Can you find more beautiful lines in the English language? A poem of grief & elegy seems to be just the thing at the moment, doesn't it. 

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"New York City is dead"

"Gem Spa: Thank you for making the Lower East Side great - New York City is dead" 

This is a tough one. Gem Spa was always there, unchanged. Until they stopped selling newspapers & then what was the point. I would go there after a game to run into Ted & he would walk me home, talking. It was the landmark for everything else: "around the corner from Gem Spa," "across the street from Gem Spa." Everything essential disappears & you find out things carry on. But thinner. 

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B&H's back!

That was a long two months without my favorite restaurant. My soups aren't nearly as good as theirs, & I've missed their smiling faces. Go eat there! Help them survive! 

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Poem of the Week

One Day in September 2019


I walked 14,028 steps

I deleted 307 emails

I took 6 pictures of my cat

I ate 4 vegetarian dumplings

I learned 4 sentences of Torah

I slept 7 hours

I had a dream that I forgot

I listened to Johnny laugh

I failed to get my 14-year-old granddaughter to say more than 2 words

I bought a Kindle version of Norse sages for $2.99

I walked to 39th & Lex & back

It was 85°

I bought 10 THC lozenges for $20

I am sucking one now

I racked up 278 points on Duolingo Norsk

I'm #1 in the Emerald League

In 23 hours, 4 minuts, & 14 sconds I will advance to a new overachievers' league

I am 89% happy

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In the neighborhood

I kind of love that the East Village is getting decrepit. This is the Marble Cemetery, which is usually highly groomed. I love that things are getting away from us. It reminds me of how everything was wild & dangerous when I first lived here. I guess I miss that anarchy, before gentrification descended & cleaned everything up. I think of all the people for whom this neighborhood was the bottom—my neighbors Bobby & Lucky who lived on SSI, for instance—and how they could never live here now. I learned so much from their modesty & kindness & miss the days when I met people very much not like me. But very much like me because we were overlooked & for the most part poor. 

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My brother took this picture from the sidewalk.

Here's my 96-year-old mother, still full of beans, though locked down in her nursing home in St. Paul. She's full of marbles too & has a will to live that may well mean I'll be a centenarian with a living mother. I said that to her once & she said, "Oh I don't know..." but she wasn't ruling it out.

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Monday Quote

A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It makes the hand bleed that uses it. 

~ Rabindranath Tagore


This quote needs nothing from me.

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