Friday, June 19, 2020

Juneteenth Fireworks

North of here tonight someone is setting off fireworks... from the rock ledge beside the Great Hill in Central Park I could hear the dull sound of small explosions like distant gunshot, with a dampened echo at sunset.  In between was that sax player... so hard to place him geographically-- on a hillside, a rooftop, in a courtyard... I can hear his progress since the beginning of the pandemic.  He is beginning to play.

New York City is becoming accustomed once again to demonstrations-- to noise in general.  The spring was deadly quiet, as though everyone held their breath between sirens.  Now there is anger, and buoyant energy-- the physical passions of the young are manifesting in the activity they repressed so long.  Boxers are working out in the park-- packs of bike and scooter-riders pass like hurricane-winds with enough velocity to blow someone's hat off.

On the streets there is chanting-- pockets of organized marchers in every neighborhood: they walk, they shout-- they sing... they let off energy and coordinate long-brewing discontent in focused choruses.  Something is happening here... the police have taken a step back and decide to pick their battles.  Illegal fireworks, until someone gets burned, is not one of them.  For people like me, with wide open windows and undated imagination, these are the sounds of a quiet war.

I watched the film Selma tonight on television; the scope of my life-- a kind of cyclical deja-vu-- became clear as I watched not the Hollywood version, but the actual vintage footage at the end.  I was young in those days, but old enough to march and protest and learn.  Growing up in New York City, we had plenty of exposure to racial (in)equality and viewed the South as a kind of anachronistic anomaly until our teachers and newsreels made these things clear.  I went to High School with the children of Whitney Young, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee... I served as class Vice President with two black fellow officers and an Asian woman as Treasurer.   I was proud.  This was the 1960's, when segregation and persecution was still the norm in some states.

It occurred to me today that I was racially 'privileged'.  As a teenager I studied Afro-American dance with a man named Rod Rodgers who I now realize treated me with incredible sensitivity and understanding; my choir director was a black man named Norman Brooks who was extraordinarily cultured and knowledgeable, who imparted to me an appreciation and a foundation of music which crossed all boundaries- all ethnicities, all colors and all centuries.  My art teacher Mr. Blackburn showed me how to look at multi-dimensions; this did not come naturally to me.  My mentors in the three passions of my life were not white, and not one of them seemed to resent or punish me for my color.

Today a poet-friend who is a black man from Brooklyn called to make sure I am okay.  He read to me one of his extraordinary poems which could have been preached from a Harlem pulpit.  It resonated; it is easy to make cliches of these things that happen-- the soundbites from the George Floyd murder and all the recent indignities which can become watered down as symbols or catchwords.  But the violence-- the damage-- the terror and the brutality-- these do not abate.

In an election year, we must be careful of the way our politicians 'spin' these things.  Watching Selma I was reminded of the image created by the Presidency at that time-- a southern man with some sophistication and respect, but nowhere near the proper mindset of a perpetrator of true equality.  He cut a deal, as politicians do.  The facts and dates of our history books do not always reflect the truth.  Today we have something of a perfect storm for our leaders-- not for a 'win' or rehashed policy, but an opportunity for progress-- for change, for a step forward.

Coming east along the Pinetum path last night was a group of young black men and women preparing for Juneteenth-- chalking names along the pathways.  Each was responsible for a list of some 40 or 50 names--- there were hundreds-- black men who died in violent crimes, killed unjustly by policemen, prison guards-- those deemed to protect us.  The litany, as I walked and read aloud, was a poem itself-- more killing and penetrating than any of Martin Luther King's memorable speeches from Selma which were long familiar to me.

Across the city in nearly every park and Plaza the asphalt and tile is marked everywhere by colorful messages and memorials and reminders.  Some are well-crafted and masterly; but for the most part, they seem childlike and basic.  Unlike graffiti, they are fragile and will disappear after the first heavy rainfall which will mercifully hold off for another day or two.  On Father's Day, we will remember those who were no longer able to be fathers.

The soft rumble of fireworks continues in these early morning hours-- the temporal 'nest' in which I find myself perched most nights, waiting to hatch-- nurturing old memories, birthing songs and ideas-- and trying to process the devastation of the last few months--- the deaths, the unprecedented paralysis of modern life-- the fear, the lost trust between one another.  Perhaps a kind of war is coming-- an upheaval and a painful sloughing off of all the hatred and misunderstanding.  The masks remind us we cannot tell much from a facade-- they separate us, as they make us look uniformed... We must look deeper; in the end we all bleed, we all march, we have the hidden capacity to heal one another, if only we knew how.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Dave Ace said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

June 20, 2020 at 10:25 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

"North of here tonight someone is setting off fireworks... from the rock ledge beside the Great Hill in Central Park I could hear the dull sound of small explosions like distant gunshot, with a dampened echo at sunset. In between was that sax player... so hard to place him geographically-- on a hillside, a rooftop, in a courtyard... I can hear his progress since the beginning of the pandemic. He is beginning to play."

I love that imagery, probably because I see a tiny bit of myself in it. I play flute. When I play, mostly I suck, but I practice a lot and from time to time it sounds nice, and so that makes me happy and I keep trying.

June 21, 2020 at 10:20 AM  

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