Dont Wish Me That..!

May 27, 2019

Military Cemetary Etaples

Nothing says ignorance like wishing someone a Happy Memorial Day. And yet it happens. It is a day of reflection and sorrow when thousands if not millions of lives are inadequately mourned. Of those lives many died in wars started for almost idiotic reasons. At the risk of scorn I include the first world war, and certainly the Iraq war. It is also salutary to understand how many died on both sides. So today, before we wish anyone happiness give a thought to these incomplete military casualty numbers, which horrific as they are still fail to deter politicians worldwide from making war again and again.

WW1 Casualties (Estimates)

Russia 1.7 – 2.2 Million

France 1.4 Million

UK 800,000

Italy 500,000

Romania 300,000

Serbia 400,000

United States 116,000

Germany 2 Million

Austria-Hungary 1.3 Million

WW11 Casualties (Estimates)

China 3 – 3.5 Million

Germany 5 Million

Russia 8 – 11 Million

Japan 2.2 Million

UK 384,000

France 210,000

United States 407,000

Korean War

China 600,00

North Korea 400,000

South Korea 230,000

United States 54,000

Vietnam War

North Vietnam 250,000

South Vietnam ?

United States 58,000

Iraq War

Iraq up to 480,000 (includes civilians)

United States 4,500

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A songwriter is a poet who can put music to their words. I am only a poet. I see sheet music in much the same way as most people view Egyptian hieroglyphs. Unless you reduce the scales to a series of Herzian frequency steps I will always be mystified. It took my friend Barbara Bridge to put music to the words of my poem ‘Freeway Blues’ which has now become ‘I Remember That We Kissed’ in this recording. It is an arrangement and mix by Peter Duff who did the recording with my wife Anne-Louise on guitar and backup vocals. Like many amateur singers who now and then put on a show I am very sensitive to how people hear my voice. Hearing my voice transformed by modern recording technology was something of a revelation. Here is a LINK to the recording. Let me know how it strikes you.

women (1)I do not doubt that it is possible to make an estimate of the loss to the world’s economy made by our continuing undervaluation of women. I also believe it possible to make an estimate, a very rough estimate, of the improvement in the general sense of well being a society could enjoy if that undervaluation were to diminish or even vanish. I am not clever enough to completely understand why this rather stupid inequity does continue. I have my suspicions, and sadly they all seem to point to men and their fears and greed. Recent events have raised hopes that this inequity may actually be shrinking. Sadly again, this is only true in a few locations. Globally this shrinkage is minor. Even in the United States, a so called advanced civilization, there are many cities and states where undervaluation is blatant. And if one adds the thick layer of racism hope can be very hard to generate and maintain. And so, on a day after International Women’s Day 2019, I offer this link to a  short poem to mark my own dissatisfaction and unease with the loss.

Cover Design 627 (a)It has taken nine months but I am happy to let the world know that my book of poetry, essays and a short story about an unlikely British spy is now published. I have also started a Kickstart program to help underwrite the cost of publishing. Kickstart is a convenient and low risk way to help fund projects you want to support. A goal is set by the creator. If that goal is not met in a fixed period, then no money is collected. If the goal is met the creator gets the support in cash and has to send the supporters or backers the rewards he or she promised. In my case the goal is a mere $550 and the rewards include copies of the book and more. Here’s a LINK to the program. Click on the link, watch the video and if you wish support the book by pledging any sum between $10 and, well, lots more!

Cover Design 627 (a)

There is never a good time to publish another collection of poetry and essays. But then again, there is never a bad time to publish another collection of poems and essays. And so I feel entirely justified and motivated to add my own work to the mountain of words already bending the shelves of bookstores and libraries around the world. In a few weeks I will be publishing a collection of essays, poetry and short stories with the hopefully intriguing title ‘The Bob Sterry School of Burglary’.

 

To make this publication a success I am using a crowdfunding program ‘Kickstarter’ to partially underwrite the effort. I’ll be posting a link to this program my next blog. In the meantime, here is a short video where I explain why I am doing this, and hope that you may be able to help.

And an early review by author Uvi Poznansky…

“This book is a rare combination of poems, short stories and essays that have Bob Sterry’s signature way of looking at the world written all over it. He finds purpose with the most looked-over creatures—as in his poem Cricket: “I am here solely to exist for a brief moment of beauty. I dare you to claim more.”  With a manner of quiet acceptance, he writes in My Personal Fruit Fly: “… is happily perched on the rim of my wine glass / Politely hopping off whenever I reach for a sip / Quietly resuming his place when I set down my glass.”

 Bob Sterry is a lover of words. His poetry is delivered with the inherent knowledge of how it will sound when read aloud, how it will caress the ear of the listener and entice her to experience a new, welcoming view of the world around her in all its wonder. With a great economy of words, the observations he draws are often profound, and always original. In A Tale of Two Picnics, he writes, “He deflowers a bottle of Moselle / Wishing it were her. / Guessing as much she blushes.”

 This is not a book to devour in one sitting. Rather, it lends itself to repeated visits that will suggest to you a different way to reflect on the familiar.”

Uvi Poznansky

Artist, Poet, and bestselling author of ‘The David Chronicles’

I am not capable of explaining exactly why poetry is important. It does not attract a lot of attention in our schools, and announcing that you are choosing to major in Poetry produces anxiety very high on the parental Richter scale. But it seems that poetry has not disappeared and the bookstores and libraries must make room for them.

Not quite so eschewed is the art of essay writing. But how many of us have been introduced to someone who calmly lets you know they are an essayist? Not even the famous journalists who write for the New Yorke, Harpers and the Atlantic will easily admit this. The essay. It was indeed one of the horrors of my own education; the fear of being instructed to write “an essay, three pages, single space, subject is dogs and their owners” to be marked out of ten by a cynical worn out chalk dusted English master.

I did not exactly choose my education and somehow became a chemist almost by default. I did not even start reading poetry until I was in my forties and actually daring to write any until my fifties. It was not until I larded my cabaret style singing show; another story; with poetry and saw the effect it can have on people that I began to read more of it and write more. Not exactly a power trip but a way of connecting perhaps.

The book will be on sale in mid September….stay tuned

 

On a recent writing retreat in the Donegal village of Gelncolumbkille I wrote this short poem in response to the sound of the waves I saw and heard every day. You can listen at this LINK

The Waves Know My name

On some sunny morning

Windless, almost

The sounds of the restless ocean

Reach up to me

Calling

The waves know my name

And call me

Unceasing, relentless

And I do not understand

Or will not

But the waves persist

Whatever message they carry

Never fading

One sunny morning

I may awake

And listen

The Yellow Pole Theater

March 2, 2018

Orange Line MAXRecently I have been using the TriMet MAX (light rail) to take me downtown and elsewhere. Public mass transit brings you face to face with the public you so long avoided by driving everywhere. MAX Interior (2)On the MAX there are yellow bars and poles on which to cling and hang. They make an interesting proscenium for an ever changing theater. Here is is a poem I wrote using some images from recent journeys. I may add more episodes. Listen at this LINK or read below…

Yellow Pole Theater 

Episode One

I smiled at them
And their small child in his stroller
Only the man smiled back
Climbing aboard the southbound MAX
Clinging to the yellow poles
Framed by the yellow poles
In a transit theater.
She did not smile
Wearing the basic scarf of her faith
A blue hijab
She would not smile
And my smile
Meant to acknowledge
Our short common journey,
And something warmer
Appears a threat.
She could not smile
At a stranger.
Only a fixed grimace
Anxiety or fear
Lay on her face
Eyes flicking left and right
And to her child
Obliviously squirming.
Our cultures lay between us
Surely not an impervious barrier

Episode Two

I did not smile at them
Climbing aboard the southbound MAX
Clinging to the yellow poles
Framed by the yellow poles
In a transit theater.
They did not smile at me.
Scruffy, disheveled
Hauling a loaded four-wheel trailer
Presumably their lives
And for ten minutes
I guessed the content of those lives
The sad decline
The erosion of resources
The flight of friends
The flight of hope
But when she
Bulky, purple hair, pushed in face
Pulled out an IPad
And then he
A scarecrow in near rags
Pulled out an IPhone
I had to guess again.
Modern poverty
No less humiliating.
Our economies lay between us
Surely not an impervious barrier.

The Yellow Pole Theater
Never fails to play
Never fails to jolt me out of
My assumptions and my complacency.

When you are a child both the physical appearance of adults and their behavior towards you leave lasting impressions. And the appearance and behavior of several men who lived in the village where I spent ten years as a child and teenager did just that. So deep were these particular impressions that I can recall them without difficulty, even now, decades later. Indeed, more than half a century later, though doubtless some details may have faded without my knowing.Kent, Riverhead, The Square

While these memories are mostly pleasant, there was one that was distinctly unpleasant, and two that I shall call ghosts and who presented more enigmatic examples.

My village in Southern England lay under the flight path of Luftwaffe bombers on their way to destroy London in the Second War. They were escorted there and back by fighter planes. Messerschmitt Bf109s and Focke Wulf 190s. The RAF sent its Supermarine Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes to shoot down both the bombers and their escorts. The RAF succeeded in halting the immediate threat to England in what came to be known as the Battle of Britain. In those years the countryside was littered with the wreckage of that fight. Planes, ordnance live and spent, and bodies of both sides had fallen to earth near my home. One estimate claimed that nearly three thousand Luftwaffe aircraft had been shot down in this short but critical fight. The government actually established an aircraft metal recovery depot a few miles to the west.

I did not witness any of this. I moved there in 1955 aged nine, when England was still attempting to put itself back together again, and much of the debris of war had been cleaned up. But a piece of it, a man, remained very close to my home. My first ghost.

He always wore a tan raincoat, gloves, a brown felt hat, and sunglasses no matter the season. One could only see part of his face. The skin was almost white and stretched tight in a grimace, the lips a strange unnatural shade. It was the reconstructed face of an airman burned in a crash. Reconstructed by Sir Archibald McIndoe, the pioneering plastic surgeon. The story told by ever imaginative village boys was that he was part of the crew of a Luftwaffe bomber that crashed into a local lake, and after being treated for burns chose not to be repatriated at the end of the war, but live out his life in the very place where he had come down. It seems more likely he was RAF Pilot Officer Noble who had parachuted into the lake when his Hurricane was shot down on September 1, 1940, but the Luftwaffe story stuck. I never heard his name then, or knew where he lived, or heard him speak, and seemed always to be far away. But I can always recall the fear his infrequent appearances around a corner would cause me; a small boy. This harmless and sad ghost.riverhead-the-beehive-inn-c1950_r319001

My second ghost was very different, but in measure equally sad. He was a deaf mute. Short and with a twist in his body. He was badly dressed and walked with a stumbling gait. I knew where he lived, and back then may have even known his name. He was often in the village, sent there on errands by his family or caregivers, with a list and cash, to the grocer and the butcher. But I think he wandered and was often lost or gave that appearance. He could not speak but made loud guttural noises. These almost animal sounds frightened me, but on occasion I overcame that fear to hold his arm and lead him across the not so busy street after he had stood waiting for help at the pedestrian crossing in the middle of the village. The noise he made as we reached the other side was I suppose a thank you, but as a nervous child I made my getaway quickly. Now, years later, I wonder what kind of intellect may have been trapped inside that body. Was he another sort of Christie Brown (My Left Foot) or an accident of procreation?

I lived in that village from 1955 to 1965 when I left for my first job and College. Not once in those ten years did I ever see these two ghosts, these sad humans, in the village at the same time. An unconscious partition of haunting duties perhaps. Plainly they are still haunting me but on a more relaxed and distant schedule.

 

 

Breast cancer is the most common form of diagnosed cancer in America, followed by Prostate, Lung, Colo-rectal, Uterine, Bladder, Skin, Thyroid, Kidney and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. While all of them can kill you breast cancer also has the double edge of attacking a woman’s femininity. In recent years, say forty or so, there has been an up swell of resources and support for women, and some men, who are fighting breast cancer. Nevertheless cancer remains a terrifying prospect.

A few days after my wife, Anne-Louise, was diagnosed with the disease, she began to write a song that reflected her own response to the news. She called it ‘No Matter What’. She asked a good friend, composer and cancer survivor, Barbara Bridge to help her with the song. At the end of this week Anne-Louise will also become a survivor after finishing her radiotherapy.

This LINK will play the song for you.

Gold MoonA little while ago, in mid November, I was watching the Pacific Ocean lit by the moon. As often happens in the Pacific NW a bank of rain clouds swept in and obscured our lovely satellite for the rest of the night. “The Moon is leaving”, I commented to my wife, for lack of a more accurate phrase. In a second or two this poem came into my head; not quite complete but certainly on the way. It did not take more than a half hour to edit, and a few days ago I went into my studio to record it. You can listen at this LINK  or read it below…

The Moon is leaving…

She’s had enough of us.

She won’t illuminate our love scenes any more

No more moon in June

A singer to croon

To a saccharine tune

While we fools spoon

We mad apes.

Not so suddenly

She saw our hate

Our lust for power

The scarcity of our compassion

The famine of our love

The gross abundance of our falsity

And will leave us dark, and tide less

For more rewarding and gentler orbits.

Asked to stay

She softly reminds us

Of the millennia in which we failed

Failed over and over

To hear her soft song

Were deaf to love

So deaf, and

Chose the songs of Mars.

Asked to stay

With tears and anguish at our loss

With loudest promises of change

With the loudest promises of change

She softly reminds us of earlier compacts

Broken, over and again,

And sings of her patience

He long soft patience

Now exhausted.

The moon is leaving

She’s had enough of us

She’s had enough

Enough…

Of the mad ape.