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New Poem by Chath pierSath, Traveling in Cambodia

One of our occasional contributors, the poet-painter-farmer-social activist Chath pierSath is traveling in his homeland, Cambodia, and sending daily dispatches as poems and paintings on his Facebook page. A refugee from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, Chath came to America as a boy and after various moves settled in Lowell for many years. He earned a master’s degree in community social psychology from UMass Lowell. The author of three books, he lives in Bolton, Mass., when he’s not in France, Cambodia or elsewhere.–PM

Daem Kor, the Kapok Tree

by Chath pierSath

Rooted deepest in the bank of Stung Sangker, your shade taking the sun way high, from where I look I am the tiniest of creatures, admiring you, tree of time, smooth bark of green, shape of light caressing you among bamboos and low canopy trees, you are my witness.

Here, I arrived ignorant of local ways, their love and their hatred, their greed & self-destruction that you have seen during my absence, a son who had gone far and not forgotten your goodness. I return to take refuge in your grandeur and power, to hear and to see the sky.

My arms wide open, kneeling before you, tell me who is out here I can love and trust. Show me to the river, where it begins & ends, what songs, what stories it can share, all ears, all eyes, envisioning in time of peace. May this country return to kindness & community.

I’d like to build a tiny home to put my heart at rest when I am lonely & sad. I can find safety in your protection, my tears for your strength. Give me this chance once, I won’t ask of you anymore.

Take me back home
to die a true son,
never again in horror or in nightmare should I ever have to run.

New Book about Greater Lowell Veterans

Yesterday’s Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day ceremony at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium featured the release of Community and Country: Greater Lowell Veterans Council, 1919-2019. Co-authored by former Veterans Council commander Bob Casper and me, the book tells the story in text and photos of the many organizations that are or have been members of the Council during its first 100 years of existence (see roster of organizations at the end of this post).

The book also features detailed descriptions of the many monuments on the grounds of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium and the many veterans-related artifacts on display within that building’s Hall of Flags (including an explanation of the 43 flags that hang from that room’s ceiling).

Community and Country is published by Loom Press and sells for $15 on the Loom Press website. It will make a fine gift for area veterans or for anyone interested in Lowell history.

Organizations covered in Community and Country

Current member organizations (2019)

  • American Legion Post 87 Lowell
  • American Legion Post 212 Chelmsford
  • American Legion Post 221 Bedford
  • American Legion Post 247 Tyngsborough
  • American Legion Post 259 Tewksbury
  • American Legion Post 313 North Chelmsford
  • American Legion Post 315 Dracut
  • Armenian American Veterans of Lowell
  • Disabled American Veterans Chapter 25 Lowell
  • Disabled American Veterans Chapter 47 Billerica
  • Franco-American War Veterans Post 4
  • Greater Lowell Korean War Veterans
  • Greek American Legion Post 1
  • Heart of the Traveling Soldier
  • Jewish War Veterans Post 28
  • Merrimack Valley Vietnam Veterans
  • Mission Continues Lowell 1st Service Platoon
  • Nam Knights of America Motorcycle Club Merrimack Valley
  • Polish-American Veterans of Lowell
  • Portuguese-American Veterans of Lowell
  • United States Submarine Veterans
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 662 Lowell
  • Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9307 Dracut

Past member organizations

  • Army & Navy Union USA
  • Global War Veterans
  • Grand Army of the Republic
  • Irish-American Veterans of Lowell
  • Military Order of the Purple Heart
  • Patton Memorial Society
  • Pearl Harbor Survivors Association
  • Retired Armed Forces Association
  • South Pacific Buddies
  • United Spanish War Veterans
  • Veterans of St. Louis Parish
  • Veterans of World War I

Associated Organizations (2019)

  • Gold Star Mother & Gold Star Wives of America
  • Lowell Veterans Commission
  • National League of POW/MIA Families
  • Greater Lowell Veterans Council Volunteer Corps
  • Lowell High School Air Force Junior ROTC
  • UMass Lowell Air Force ROTC

Associated Organizations (inactive)

  • Daughters of the American Revolution
  • Lowell High School Girl Officers
  • Lowell High School Regiment
  • Sons of Union Veterans

‘Suppertime at Our House” by Frank Wagner

Frank Wagner is a former news director at KWHI in Brenham, Texas. Born in Corpus Christi, Frank earned degrees in English and Political Science from Southwest Texas/Texas State-San Marcos. He visited Lowell in 2007 to see the exhibition of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” scroll typescript and stays up-to-date with related activities in the city. We hope he visits again. Frank regularly posts his poems on his Facebook page, if readers want to see more. We look forward to recurring appearances of Frank’s work on this blog. William Carlos Williams wrote “It is difficult to get the news from poems, but men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.” Our friend Frank got the news at his family’s supper table and then made a living sharing the news with his listeners.—PM

Suppertime at Our House

by Frank Wagner

The whole block knew it was suppertime at our house.
It wasn’t the aroma from the pots and skillets
that wafted through the kitchen windows
and into the yards and streets
for every nose to detect.
It wasn’t the light on in the dining room
with a clear view for all to see
the big table to be set.
Not even the clock on every wall
or the long shade of the ash trees
let everyone know
it was time for us
to come in and eat.

My mother stood out on the front porch
and with lungs that would
do every opera diva proud
hollered every one of our names
with a fury and passion
that few have ever heard.
This was the end of our day,
at least in public.

Now it was time to sit
at that long table
under the chandelier-like lamp
and listen to my dad
talk about the ways of the world,
what was in the news,
the latest news from the lab
and on everyone in a family
we hardly ever saw and
how sick they all were.
Then we all had our turn to speak
about a day at school
and hoped no one would
say a thing about
how we got into trouble.
I was always quick to note
which big game was coming up
or what was showing at the Woodlawn,
while my sisters talked about
who was going steady with whom
or how hard the science project was going to be.
Then it was time for ice cream.

Books to consider, pt. 3 – more fiction by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. The author of The Underground Railroad has done it again, this time with a story of a prison-like reform school in Florida.  Worse-than-Dickensian abuse occurred throughout this narrative, based on the real-life revelation five years ago about the Dozier School for Boys in the Florida panhandle town of Marianna.  Archeologists examining human remains buried in a secret graveyard at the school determined that nearly 100 boys had been raped, tortured and killed. Whitehead reconstructs Dozier School as a fictional Nickel Academy of Eleanor, Florida.  His protagonist, Elwood  Curtis,  comes from a family whose history recapitulates the wrongs and misfortunes inflicted on blacks in America. Elwood is an honest, hard-working boy, aiming to go to college and better himself, who is arrested when he hitches a ride in a car that turns out to be stolen. Sentenced to the prison of Nickel Academy, he tries to follow the rules so his sentence is not prolonged. When he comes to the defense of someone who is being bullied, he is put in solitary and tortured.   The staffers were brutal and sadistic toward both black and white “students,” but, measure for measure, always worse for the blacks.  The school/prison was not closed until 2011. The story twists at the end. The Nickel Boys is an outstanding read.

The Overstory by Richard Powers is a beautiful and complicated narrative, a Pulitzer Prize-winning paean to trees and the natural world and a call to awareness regarding what humankind is doing to destroy the environment. The underlying theme is that people commoditize trees, destroying them for products to be made, ignoring the nuances of trees as living things, recklessly trammeling their essential role in the environment as generator of oxygen and habitat for living things. Destruction of trees, especially by clear cutting, jeopardizes the well-being of humanity and brings the end of the planet perilously close.  Powers’ imagery is riveting. The narrative can be difficult to follow if you let a few weeks lapse between chapters. The nine major characters emerge in what seems to be a series of short stories, unrelated – until they aren’t.  If you just read the book intermittently, it can be daunting to reconnect with the multiple characters, driven by their passions to be radical environmentalists.  The result is a magnum opus, deeply philosophical but grounded in the harshest realities of our environmental crisis, alluring but depressing, hard to shake off yet optimistic by its very popularity.

The Guest Book by Sarah Blake is a multi-generational family saga, starting with a young couple in Manhattan in the 1930’s.  The family is WASPy, wealthy (old money), smug, uptight, and, constrained by all the ought to’s of a certain class, very much hobbled by things left unsaid. Initially one might see this book as a parody of people for whom one feels contempt but whose lifestyle we might envy.  Yet disaster strikes, a child dies, and we’re hooked on a narrative of unhappiness and tragedies with each succeeding generation. Set on the family-owned island off the coast of Maine where they “summer,” the book explores sense of place as the defining element in the family’s history. Family lore turns out to be more mythology than fact, with secret truths quietly kept from children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren until the granddaughter, not insignificantly an historian, puts it all together.  Anti-Semitism, racism and evolving societal issues test the articulated ethos of what it means to be good.  It leaves us reflecting on the legacy messages we signal from one generation to another, including the values imparted in things we cherish (or at least can’t throw away) and the “ought to’s” we got from our mothers and fathers that we’ve passed on to our children. A really good yarn with lots to think about, including the security of continuity and the challenge of change.

Ulysses by James Joyce. No, I’m not kidding. Got through only part of it 30+ years ago. It’s a bear of a book, and it doesn’t get easier over the years. When we were planning a family trip to Ireland in June, we knew we would be in Dublin on June 16th, celebrated in that storied city as Bloomsday in honor of the book, which covers one day in 1904 in the life of Leopold Bloom, one of three protagonists of Ulysses.  I got through about three chapters and decided that life is too short. But then came Bloomsday, when Dubliners dress in Edwardian costume, and people visit the sites of famous scenes in the book.  Our guide was Dr Conor Linnie, Lecturer & Researcher, School of English at Trinity College. As we went from site to site, he’d read out loud from relevant portions of Joyce’s book, and he brought it to life.  So, when I saw that Brandeis Lifelong Learning Institute (BOLLI) was teaching a course on Ulysses this fall, I declared it was “now or never.”  I learned how to listen to a recording of the book while reading it and making notations in the margins.  Every once in a while, I’d hit the pause button to look up the meaning of some obscure reference in The New Bloomsday Book by Harry Blamires.  Finally, I got through Joyce’s Ulysses, with a real sense of accomplishment.

Here’s the deal. James Joyce, sometimes hailed as the greatest writer of the 20th century, certainly one of the leaders of the modernist movement, innovated in stream-of-consciousness writing.  While covering the movements of Leopold Bloom, his wife, Molly, and poet Stephen Dedalus as well as many other Dublin characters, the more significant travels are their inner journeys, their secret thoughts, disappointments and aspirations, every fleeting notion that went through their minds. There are major themes of Ireland versus England, the authoritarianism of the Catholic Church, and anti-Semitism. All of this is dropped into the framework of Homer’s Odyssey.  The book was ruled obscene in the United States in 1921, and the ban was not lifted until 1934.   The book is written in a variety of styles, and people have been trying to parse it for years. Author Virginia Woolf, master of clear writing, was said to have called it “diffuse” and “pretentious.”   It’s all of that – and more. I’m glad I read it, and you might be too, if you make it your literary challenge for 2020. Kind of like going to the gym.
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