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Remember their daring performances on the bars or balance beam, in the vault or on the floor. All championship accomplishments. But their Olympic gold medal-winning performances are nothing compared to the bravery shown by Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, and Maggie Nichols testifying in graphic detail before the Senate Judiciary Committee about sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Again and again, hundreds of young girls were sexually assaulted by this depraved predator, who will now spend the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary in Florida.
But the often-disabling PTSD these survivors suffer will not begin to diminish until the system that let them down is reformed and those who turned their backs on these elite athletes’ complaints are held accountable. Those bad actors include the FBI (multiple agents in multiple offices), the US Olympics Committee, US Gymnastics and others who, through their silence, dismissiveness and, in some cases, criminal behavior, became Nassar’s enablers. Six years later, the young women are still waiting for individual accountability and top-to-bottom systemic reforms.
It was gut-wrenching to learn how the FBI mishandled complaints, dragged their feet on action, never officially opened investigations or documented allegations, failed to do adequate interviews, never held hearings, doctored and destroyed documents, lied to the Inspector General, and never informed the workplace supervisors so that Nassar was left to abuse scores of other athletes. One agent charged with investigating the allegations was actually trying to find employment opportunities with the Olympics Committee. This level of sustained and serial corruption is painful and appalling.
Male leadership at the top of the Olympic and Paralympic Committees are now gone, and one FBI agent was fired. But where is the claw-back of pensions and bonus payouts of the miscreants who quietly “retired?” Where are the additional criminal actions again those who failed their duties in child exploitation cases and surely did not fulfill their Constitutional duties to preserve and protect? Where are the systemic reforms to protect those who give their all to represent the United States in the global arena? How many predators at all levels of amateur sports are taking advantage of vulnerable young people whose safety has been entrusted to them?
To listen to the Olympic gymnasts, the U.S. Center for SafeSport is more a symbolic fig-leaf than a protective shield. It’s up to Congress now to act. The first step should be the appointment of an independent investigator with broad subpoena powers to bring all the facts into the open. Step two is to deliver individual accountability and serious systemic reform.
Last week’s hearings seem to present the outrage as bipartisan. Let’s hope that politics (remember Donald Trump and Congressman Jim Jordan on this issue) don’t get in the way of speedy action to hold all the perps and their enablers accountable.
All Over America
By David Daniel
Was it the recent summer Olympics that put it in my mind? Or, somehow, the TV footage of the chaotic evacuation of Afghanistan? I’m not sure, but . . . does anyone remember the great high-jumping mania that once gripped the nation?
All over America, people were doing it. Jeez, you couldn’t go anywhere outdoors—and in many cases, indoors—without seeing high jumpers. There was a tall young athlete at Boston University named John Thomas, who was the first person to jump over seven feet. He was the poster boy, I guess, but there sure were plenty of folks jumping.
People would set up a bar in their backyard or in a city park and spend hours together, with family and friends, practicing their form. It became the rage. Even the outgoing President Eisenhower, that confirmed golfer, couldn’t get enough. He set up a standard on the White House lawn, and he and his wife—Ike 70, Mamie in her 60s—took turns jumping.
The Kennedys maintained the tradition, giving it a gloss of haute couture. There’s that famous photograph of Jackie Kennedy wearing a Valentino Garavani gown and a leopard skin pillbox hat, going over the bar, that made the cover of Look magazine.
My family was no exception. I recall my dad devoting one Saturday morning to erecting a pair of 2×4 uprights in the yard, measuring precise calibrations with a slide rule, and then setting a thin bamboo pole across. We’d pass hours of family fun scissoring over the bar. The competition among us was keen. Mom would mix up a frosty pitcher of Kool-Aid, set out plastic tumblers, and sit at the picnic table cheering us on. Pregnant with my youngest brother, she had only reluctantly given up high jumping when she reached the third trimester.
Our neighbors, the Normans, took up jumping, too. They didn’t have kids and weren’t very friendly, but you could see them there beyond their hedge. Eleanor Norman, self-conscious about her weight, wouldn’t go much over three feet, but Joe would. Wearing a strappy T-shirt and plaid Bermuda shorts that bulged over his little potbelly, he’d manage about four feet with a kind of flopping motion, like a fish escaping over the side of a rowboat. Then, a smile softening the flushed and crabby folds of his face, he’d light a Herbert Tareyton and sit with his wife drinking highballs.
Even our local bully, “Teabags” Teevin (who took particular delight in menacing me with his switchblade) wasn’t immune. He gave up the knife, traded in his motorcycle boots for Jack Purcells, and we’d go head-to-head at the high jump bar.
At school, all kids wanted to talk about was their jumping. Girls would hold jump ropes up and see what heights they could reach. The school even held a jumping-themed 8th grade dance, called “High Jumping Hijinx!” Unfortunately, an energetic name doesn’t necessarily make dancers, and most of us stood timidly along the walls, boys on one side, girls on the other.
Clergy sermonized on the craze from pulpits where it was variously used as metaphor for heavenward high striving or, in a few cases, as an exemplar of Man’s sinful overreach and ultimate fall. Walter Kronkite, Morton Dean, and their news colleagues editorialized on the salubrious benefits the sport offered. And no one had to extol the affordability of high jumping as compared with more costly pastimes such as golf and midget auto racing.
There were humorous dimensions to the infatuation, as well. At Concord State Prison, two inmates nearly escaped when they high jumped over a ten-foot fence; but corrections officers were right behind them, and the pair were foiled by the outer wall and gave up without further incident. They all got their pictures in the newspaper, inmates and guards, shaking hands.
Gee whiz, those were fine days in America. Healthy, mostly happy days, with millions upon millions of citizens high jumping. That’s not to say there weren’t occasional injuries. Every other week or so someone would wind up with a sprained ankle or, in some instances, totally paralyzed. These unfortunates only served to inspire the American ingenuity for finding solutions, and before long people were laying down air mattresses or old auto inner tubes for softer landings, which reduced the number of injuries sharply, allowing folks to go on enjoying this wholesome activity without threat of paraplegia.
And people got quite adept at high jumping, as people will at anything they put their minds to. John Thomas went on to the Olympics, favored to win a Gold Medal. Astonishingly, he was beaten not by one, but by two commie athletes from the USSR (who were no doubt using drugs, as Reds were known cheaters).
The heights that professional American jumpers attained were under-reported in the media but were believed to be in excess of fifteen feet. Some commentators justify this mis-reporting as intended to not discourage everyday Americans from endeavoring to better themselves. And there were young athletes reaching impressive new heights. In my town, a high-schooler named Danny Trask was routinely clearing eleven feet.
Those were swell days, when time seemed to move syrup-slow, and all over America, under clear blue skies, people were high jumping, content with the simplicity of striving for no more reward than the lofty floating feeling of getting over.
But time is a river. Almost as quickly as it rose, the high jumping vogue began to ebb. After Dallas and Dealey Plaza, few spoke about it anymore. After Medgar Evers, MLK, and Bobby Kennedy it was history. After the blood-dimmed tides of Selma and Hue, Kent State and Khe Sanh . . . after the death dance of 9/11, a global pandemic, wildfires and floods, the annihilation of innocence was so complete, I have to ask myself . . . did I make it all up?
On January 7, 2014, we posted a story by Mehmed Ali and Beth Brassel about Moody Gardens, a Lowell bar of the 1950s and 60s located at 294 Moody Street. The story (which can be read in full here) tells how the bar struggled until one night in 1957 when the bar’s manager invited an all-women Country & Western band that was playing at another bar to perform at Moody Gardens. According to Ali and Brassel, “Along with the band came lesbians from not only Lowell, but also from Lawrence, Wilmington, Chelmsford, Dracut, and even Worcester. The women began staking out a place for themselves in Lowell and, ultimately, a presence in the larger society.” For the rest of the time it remained open, the Moody Gardens formed a welcoming community for lesbians across the region notwithstanding harassment by the police and licensing authorities.
Fast forward to earlier this month. I received an email from a woman from Florida who had found the Ali-Brassell article on this website while searching for information about the Moody Gardens for her mother – who was a member of that all-female Country & Western Band. I invited my correspondent to write something about her mom and her experience playing music in Lowell. Here is what she sent:
Moody Gardens: The View from the Stage
By Dale Theresa Howard
My mother is in a nursing home. Her name is Lorraine Bergeron and she’s 88. Some days she’s a bit foggy, but there are moments of clarity when she remembers special times of her life. These memories are often punctuated by music – country music. When she tries to yodel with her aging voice, the light comes back in her eyes and she becomes more animated.
I was trying to find photos of places that had special significance for her when she was in her 20s back in the 50s in Lowell. One such place was the Moody Gardens, another the Silver Star. These bars held such joy for her as she truly came alive when she was on stage and singing country & western. And could she yodel!
I found the article on Lowell history about the Moody Street Gardens. When I found the article, I was thrilled. Mom talked about the Moody Garden days often and had wonderful times there. She was part of an all-girl country & western band at the Silver Star, known as the 4 Starettes. Mom played the bass after a neighbor taught her some basic chords to play, and the owner of the Silver Star bought her a white bass of her own – she paid him back, $2 a week. It was like a floodgate opened when I read her this story – yes, the all-girl band that she was part of was hired by Gene Berube to perform at the Moody Gardens, and that’s where she went.
From her perspective, she didn’t really see how having the band there, playing for gays and all who came to hear them was so important. I explained how it provided a place to go to spend an evening singing and dancing, making friends, and just being. My mother loved the warmth and reception of the crowd when she would sing and yodel such popular tunes as “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”, and “He taught me to yodel”. Not one to accept that she had any real talent, it felt wonderful to her that they shouted requests to yodel, and the crowd reaction would warm her. She was accepted. They were accepted. It was cathartic.
The Starettes featured Jean Burbine on guitar who had a wonderful singing voice, Emma Gallant on the violin, who would take out her tiny violin from when she played as a child wowing the crowd. The accordion was played by bandmate Lorraine (Mom can’t recall her last name).
My Mom’s legacy is two musical sons and a daughter that appreciates their talents.
Back from its extended summer break, Trasna is please to present the latest publication from poet Maeve O’Sullivan, Wasp on the Prayer Flag. This is Maeve’s fifth collection with Alba Publishing. It chronicles the years from 2018-2021 in haiku and senryu. Rooted in Ireland and its varied landscapes, with some ‘postcards’ from the UK and Europe, this collection celebrates the inspiration and consolation of nature and the durability of human connections. In this volume, O’Sullivan has been praised for her keen eye, lightness of touch, and depth of feeling.
While the subject of O’Sullivan’s previous volume, Elsewhere, centered on an extensive trip to 13 countries, much of her current volume explores her native Ireland. At a time when travel plans have remained curtailed for many, O’Sullivan’s collection stirs and satisfies our wanderlust to travel “on the monk’s trail,” the “old bog road,” or an Inishbofin “island pub crawl.” While O’Sullivan’s writings have brought armchair travelers to far-off places, in Wasp on the Prayer Flag, readers will experience the place she calls “Home Sweet Home.”
Selections of Haiku Sequences from Wasp on the Prayer Flag
by Maeve O’Sullivan
Haiga from “Summer Jaunts”
Haiga from “Autumn haiku”
Autumn haiku (from Section I of Wasp on the Prayer Flag by Maeve O’Sullivan)
trains lie idle in the sidings –
* * *
first autumn storm
my balcony flags
still releasing prayers
* * *
yesterday’s rain glinting
on this grassy drumlin
* * *
in the convent garden
robins trade evensong
* * *
I sneak a blackberry
with each lap of the path —
* * *
lunch break a wasp strolls across her lifeline
* * *
low tide the blind dog follows us to the island
* * *
after the deluge
a buzzard flies over
the river floodplain
* * *
stiller today a coppice of silver beeches swaying slowly
* * *
tree pose autumn colours outside
* * *
cold snap a spider arrives in my sink
* * *
in my friend’s window a trio of frost moons
“Midland Lakes” read by Maeve O’Sullivan
Midland Lakes (a haiku sequence by Maeve O’Sullivan)
early summer light
tricks me into seeing
a lone swan as a pair
* * *
reeds piercing blue & white
on the far shore
a field of rapeseed
* * *
midland lake inlet
raindrops falling lightly —
no, mayflies dancing!
* * *
she wades into the lake
wearing little red wellies
empties them slowly
* * *
its old trunk twisting
away from the bluebells —
horse chestnut tree
* * *
a pot of roses
for her heart companion’s grave –
Haiga from “Midland Lakes”
A Year and a Day, a haiku sequence by Maeve O’Sullivan
(i.m. Jean O’Sullivan, 1954-2017)
the family archive-keeper
now part of it
* * *
barista art the heart slowly disintegrates
* * *
siblings’ reunion six chairs for five
* * *
my niece gives me
a birthday hug —
* * *
grief attack I buy a scoop of her favourite ice-cream
* * *
her first birthday after a robin alights on the willow
* * *
off my sister’s grave —
* * *
a year and a day:
the motet’s final chord
settles like a bedsheet
Maeve O’Sullivan’s poetry and haikai have been widely published, anthologised, awarded and translated during the last 25 years. She is the author of five collections from Alba Publishing, the latest of which is Wasp on the Prayer Flag (June 2021).
Maeve is a founder of the Hibernian Poetry Workshop, and a member of the Irish Writers’ Centre and the British Haiku Society. She also leads workshops and mentors individuals in haiku and related forms, and reviews for various journals including Blithe Spirit and the Dublin Review of Books.
For more on O’Sullivan and her work, she can be followed on Twitter at @writefromwithin and her website at www.maeveosullivan.com
In the past year and a half there has been a surge of interest in poetry. It has provided many with hope and courage during this time of crisis. With her latest volume, O’Sullivan and her publisher Kim Richardson of Alba are also hoping that her poetry may make a difference in the lives of Mongolians. Ulaanbaatar is the world’s coldest capital, with temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees. One in every three Mongolians struggles to survive, and most of them are children. The nonprofit Asral Mongolia provides assistance to Mongolian families. Thirty percent of all profits from the sale of Wasp on the Prayer Flag will be donated to Asral Mongolia.
Copies of Wasp on the Prayer Flag, as well as Elsewhere are available to buy in Ireland at Books Upstairs in Dublin, Charlie Byrnes in Galway, the Kerry Writers’ Museum in Listowel and the Tearmann Retreat Centre in Glendalough, Co. Wicklow. Signed copies can also be ordered on www.maeveosullivan.com and posted worldwide.
All photos are by O’Sullivan.