Monday, November 30, 2015

sound and fury

In Act V, Scene V, of Shakespeare's "Macbeth," the title character waxes philosophical about life. These days the metaphor strikes me as an apt description of U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump.

                                       ...a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Lord of Barmbeck

I got Johannes Brahms in the earbuds. 

I am listening to Ein Deutsches Requiem in honor of the passing of another famous son of Brahms’ own Hansa City Hamburg, former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who died at his home there yesterday.

Schmidt, who graduated from the University of Hamburg, where I studied in 1975, will be laid to rest at his family grave in Ohlsdorf Friedhof, a sprawling cemetery in a northern burb of that great city, steps from the college dorm where I lived for one semester, and where the little girls would periodically accost strangers on the sidewalks in front of those great cemetery gates shaking tin coffers and requesting donations for the upkeep of soldiers’ graves therein. 

Each side has its veterans. As a young man, it struck me as grotesque that such cute, innocent blonde children should be begging in the name of dead Nazis. I was a Germanophile who harbored a deep hatred of nazism. I had no qualms in refusing to donate, even waxing chauvinistic. 

Of course, Schmidt fought in WWII on the side of the Nazis. Late in life he minced no words, describing the war as shit – Scheisse – conceding only that the experience taught one not to panic.

Schmidt turned to Social Democracy postwar and came to West German national prominence when, as a senator in the Hamburg government, he coped efficiently with the disastrous flooding of that Elbe River city-state 1962.

Schmidt led West Germany during much of the era when I lived  in Europe. Generously, he used to tutor our President Ford in economics. 

In the 1980s, Schmidt joined Die Zeit as a co-publisher, the great weekly intellectual newspaper published in Hamburg. For a brief moment in the mid-80s – a cup of coffee, in MLB terms – I struggled to contribute journalism to that publication. It made me exceedingly proud to have even the most tenuous common cause with Schmidt.

I may just light up a cigarette in honor of Helmut Schmidt today. Hummel Hummel!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Your Head is Full of Clay

Elegy for an angry old  woman

Your hatred’s source, Mary Lee,
is, of course, a mystery to me.
You demand the champ's given name
 forever remain the same.
In your hate-filled world,
is it the racist flag you unfurl?
“Cassius Clay,” you say,
must forever stay.
You would strip “Ali” of all validity.
Or is it Islam you would deny,
when Mohammed you decry?

I say a person has the right to name their name.
Deny this, and you deny the freedom to become.
You would enslave, according to your lights.
But men and women will always fight those fights.
Anyway your lights are dim.

Since you cannot enslave, you choose to ooze hatred,
and ultimately must be frustrated.
Across the bar, perhaps in your cups,
you shout at me rapid-fire,
“fuck you fuck you fuck you fuck you.”
Your rationality has reached its premature end.

Know this, mean Miss Mary Lee,
denier of Mohammed Ali,
that Louisville slugger is a real champeen,
Finally, a koan for thee:
By what name would you call
his daughter, Laila Ali?