Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Songs and Poems

“Sing as wayfarers do – sing but continue your journey.”  Henry Farag, evoking St. Augustine in “The Signal: A Doo Wop Rhapsody”
Henry Farag (left) singing "Blue Moon" with the Marcels

Peg Schoon reported that a large crowd was on hand last Saturday at Munster Theater for the Performing Arts and enjoyed Henry Farag’s musical “The Signal: A Doo Wop Rhapsody.”  On the Playbill my name was listed as “Editor,” and there was mention that the play was adopted from Henry’s autobiography, published as an IUN Steel Shavings.  In that classical American story Farag, one of 11 kids born to an Egyptian steelworker and Parisian native, vowed, “I will keep going, singing all the way.”  Henry’s voice evokes Region soul, and hearing him harmonize with fellow Stormy Weather members is a pure delight.

United Steelworkers president Leo W. Gerard wrote a column in the Huffington Post entitled “Hoosier Hostility: Not the American Way.” Admitting that his union “has failed at times to meet the standards to which it aspires,” Gerard added:

But last summer, at the USW convention, the membership voted to make it an offense under the union constitution to harass a member on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The USW will not tolerate any form of discrimination against anyone in its ranks for any reason. It has no place in our union.
Like the USW, the United States is a union. It is a collection of diverse states and diverse people. Standing together, they are stronger.
Republicans who supported codifying intolerance need to experience a conversion. Such hostility has no place in the land of Hoosiers. It should find no home in the land of the free. 

Anne Balay’s “Steel Closets” and Calumet Region steelworker locals played a major role in convincing Gerard to give this issue top priority.

Believing my last blogwas too tough on Jane Fonda for disputing her claim that American POWs in the “Hanoi Hilton” were not mistreated, Ron Cohen wrote:

In fact she was pretty accurate.  Folks wondered why when the POW's returned shortly after [Fonda's visit], they walked off the planes and looked pretty healthy. In fact they basically were, since the North Vietnamese had stopped torturing them a while back. Of course being in a jail is torture, but we have people in this country who are locked up 23 hours a day in prisons, but we don't consider it torture, apparently, and even those who have more freedom in the prisons are still in prison.  I would say that by 1972 the POW's were in better shape than many in prison in the US today, who are losing their minds. I don't think that Jane, or the other war protestors, have anything to be sorry for. What about Staughton Lynd, who went to North Vietnam?

As Ron knows, I greatly admire Staughton Lynd, both for his contributions to labor history from the bottom up and for his political activism on behalf of prisoners, Palestinians, and other mistreated people. In fact, in 1969, the year before Ron and I started teaching at IUN, administrators prevented the History Department from hiring Lynd as an adjunct because of his antiwar activities even though he had a national reputation.

Jeff Manes dropped by my Archives cage after interviewing poet William Buckley for a forthcoming Salt column.  He appreciated the fact that Buckley wrote about steelworkers and their loved ones, including “The Bone of Running Down in the Region”:

Under our yellow, sulphurous clouds,
  scratching at the back of our throats,
I drive to the cold beaches of Lake Michigan
  where iron barges ache in the docks,

To this lifting light in its motion of flame curls
  from our gasworks licking heavenward
  to the love I feel for a milltown girl,
Who waits on our hard beaches
  by the slag and fill.

I drive on the landscape of our scrub,
  speed to the hardness of her kiss,
To her turbined palms and spin of steeled tongue
  in the time clock bone of her own life.

I drive with a Region foot,
  down heavy on my pedal
And swing around diesel trucks
  with steel tonnage on their beds,
To her hurt,
  whose husband was killed in the pits.

And in those truck engines on I 80-90 to the mills,
I heard the turbine of my own blood,
  My cankpinned muscle waiting
If she would lock her ankles around mine.

This, the bone of running down, in the Region,
  where we dance on its arctic rim,
  like Giotto figures:

Lovers – tin-plated in time,
  where graciousness, and unions
  don’t work.
above, William Buckley; below, Giotto's Lamentations

Bill Buckley, like Anne Balay, used to be a mechanic; a flywheel cankpin is a nut that goes with a lock tab washer.  Giotto figures are mourners lamenting the crucifixion of Jesus in a work by Florentine painter Giotto Di Bondone (1262-1337).  Buckley also composed the love poem “Dark Europe in Lake County”:

You cook in a kitchen with the wallpaper of horse,
keep high kicked in your gene.
You open your mouth in the weight of your heritage
to the steam from potatoes,
and tell of the time your grandfather
put you in yodel-clothes from the Alps,
put you in line like the Von Trapps,
until you sang the songs of Bavaria.

You were held by the arms of your aunts,
who kept calling for beefy white babies,
those big pleasant arms that held those reins
of the horse and swept down to Rome –
to learn the exactitude of order,
the tough Christian way of tannenbaum.

You will dream your way back to the blood of your Prussia,
to the burying grounds, to the mothers with infants
in clean village markets.  To the men in their uniforms
for Thor.  And at stoplights you will dream
of your cottage smoke in the Black Forest,
and the sounds of a language you no longer speak
will trigger the call of dark Europe in Gary.

Suppose I told you that in the pound of our mills
is the breaking down of Berlin walls,
the precision of lathes in the factories of Krupp,
that the French national anthem means more to the soul.
Would you take up arms in the kitchen?
Would you quote Werner Von Braun?
Would you wrap your legs around an Irishman?
Would you feed me pancakes and beer?
Would you let us honeymoon in Paris?
Get tangled in history and bring back souvenirs?
You in a pith helmet, and the breastplate of Brunehilda.
Me with my silly Eiffel Tower, a paperweight for bills.

The Gothic cathedrals of Europe
are mimicked in Iowa and New York.
So let’s cook in a kitchen with Wilhelm,
sit in a café with Sartre.
If you laugh with the ghost of Bismarck,
I’ll spit in the eye of de Gaulle!

So long as Buckley keeps writing about the Calumet Region, I’ll keep publishing my venerable magazine.  Deal?  He wants Anne Balay to contribute to his online Sylvia Plath journal if she has the time and inclination.  Maybe I’ll read “The Bell Jar,” her semi-autobiographical novel, and contribute something myself

The Engineers took one game (by 3 pins) against a far superior team anchored by Tony Miller, who carries a 235 average, by bowling them even in the tenth frame.  After Bob Robinson doubled for a 186, the rest of us marked, including John Uylocki, who picked up a ten-pin, the highlight for him of an otherwise nightmarish night. Opponents included sportswriter Steve Gorches, a young guy with a leg tattoo named Micah, Marv (he with the Tuskegee Airmen jacket), and curly-haired Sam Hill.  Like last time we bowled them, I found an excuse to exclaim, “What the Sam Hill?”  I finished 30 pins over average without many strikes.  When praised for picking up a 1-5 spare, I told teammates, “I’m not surprised, my first ball has been going straight into the headpin all night.”

At the Master Opens Par-3 tournament 75 year-old Jack Nicklaus had a hole in one.  A relaxed Tiger Woods hit a shot within six inches of the pin and then let 7 year-old daughter Sam tap it in the cup.  He’s mellowed now that he is an underdog rather than a decade ago when he was the prohibitive favorite threatening Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 wins in the four majors.

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