gordon | a poem for veterans day

11 11 2008

victoire

Poetry Dispatch No. 258 | November 11, 2008

A POEM FOR VETERANS DAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2008

A Veterans Day poem Posted by Gordon25 on Thu Nov-10-05 10:45 PM

Though I visit almost daily, I haven’t been posting much since the 2004 election. Been doing battle with my own ptsd demons given new life by the insanity in Iraq and the hopelessness of watching the destruction of a country I once believed in enough to volunteer for wartime service (USMC; Vietnam; ’65-’66). I struggle daily to retain some tiny shred of hope that eventually enough people will learn the “lessons of Vietnam”: i.e., when you send young men to fight and die on the basis of lies, everybody loses. As Veterans Day approaches each year I go back through a lot of my old journals, combing through them for new insights and understandings. This year I pulled out my journal from the time I spent in a VA hospital after I got back, and ran across a poem I thought I might share with you. It contains no great truths or profound significance. But it captured a moment and I pass it on as a tribute to all my brothers and sisters in arms, past, present and future.. Thank you all for being here, and each in your own way, continuing the fight. For make no mistake, you are in a war — a war for America’s soul.

VETERANS

They were old men,
both,
Smitty ninety-six,
Bill eighty-two,
sitting tied in their wheelchairs
in the hospital day-room
sharing
a single shaft of sunshine –

Bill,
staring vacantly out the window
lost in a monologue
with Headquarters Planning Staff –
France, 1917, the mud and rain
and God! the pain when
the shell exploded –
proud because he didn’t quit –

And Smitty,
growling in a voice gone
harsh and near-unintelligible
from too many years
of top sergeant yelling
from San Juan
to Nicaragua,
through France
and Guadalcanal,
growling
“Shut up, goddamnit!
You shut up
when I’m talking!’
I was in the field
while you
were still in diapers,
Shut up, goddammit!”
drooling
over sagging lower lip,
paralyzed –

Persistent in their
disregard for death –

VA Hospital,
Salt Lake City, Utah
1967

Gordon25





miriam makeba | mama afrika

10 11 2008

myri1

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.161 | November 10, 2008

MAMA AFRIKA

Miriam Makeba

1932-2008

“I have to go and say farewell to all the countries that I have been to, if I can. I’m 73 now, it is taxing on me.”

Her ‘activist’ mission was simple: to bring the world together with music. She died today in Italy still determined and engaged in trying to make the world sing. Norbert Blei

“You sing about those things that surround you,” she said. “Our surrounding has always been that of suffering from apartheid and the racism that exists in our country. So our music has to be affected by all that.”

“I believe I can sing anything”

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1.Strophe:

Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat Chor:„Pata Pata”)
Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat …(Chor: Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat…(Chor: „Pata
Sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata

1. Refrain

Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pa …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata

2. Strophe

Aya sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata)
Bridge:
„Pata Pata” is the name of a dance … we do down Johannesburg way.
And everybody … starts to move … as soon as „Pata Pata” starts to play – hoo …

3. Strophe

Aya sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata

2. Refrain

Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)

4. Strophe

Haji-a sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga jo-ho …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si …(Chor: „Pata)
Bridge
Hoo, every Friday and Saturday night … it’s „Pata Pata”-time.
The dance keeps going all night long … till the morning sun begins to shine – hey!
Aya sat wuguga sat – wo-ho-o …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)

5. Strophe

Aya sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor:
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata)
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata

3. Refrain

Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata
Hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pata pat …(Chor:
A-hihi ha mama, hi-a-ma sat si pat …(Chor: „Pata

6. Strophe

Huh- a sat wuguga sat – hit it! …(Chor: „Pata Pata”)
Aah- sat wuguga sat – aim not si – hit it! …(Chor: „
A sat wuguga sat ju benga sat si pata …(Chor: „Pata Pata

strichstrich

miriamMiriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008 was a Grammy Award-winning South African singer, also known as Mama Afrika.

Miriam Zenzi Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma and her father, who died when she was six, was a Xhosa. As a child, she sang at the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, which she attended for eight years.

Makeba first toured with an amateur group. Her professional career began in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers, before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.

In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong alongside Hugh Masekela, her future husband. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to go to the US. Her break came when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959. She went to the premier of the film at the Venice Film Festival.

Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to and fame in the United States. She released many of her most famous hits there including “Pata Pata”, “The Click Song” (“Qongqothwane” in Xhosa), and “Malaika”. In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid.

She discovered that her South African passport was revoked when she tried to return there in 1960 for her mother’s funeral. In 1963, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She has had nine passports, and was granted honorary citizenship of ten countries.

Her marriage to Trinidadian civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. As a result of this, the couple moved to Guinea, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. Makeba separated from Carmichael in 1973, and continued to perform primarily in Africa, South America and Europe. She was one of the African and Afro-American entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre. Makeba also served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986.

After the death of her only daughter Bongi Makeba in 1985, she moved to Brussels. In 1987, she appeared in Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. Shortly thereafter she published her autobiography Makeba: My Story (ISBN 0-453-00561-6).

Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return to South Africa in 1990. In the fall of 1991, she made a guest appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show, entitled “Olivia Comes Out Of The Closet”. In 1992 she starred in the film Sarafina!, about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, as the title character’s mother, “Angelina.” She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the days of apartheid.

In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn was nominated for a Grammy Award in the “Best World Music” category. In 2001 she was awarded the Gold Otto Hahn Peace Medal by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, “for outstanding services to peace and international understanding”. In 2002, she shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life. Her publicist notes that Makeba had suffered “severe arthritis” for some time.

She died in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy, in the evening of 9 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation. In his condolence message, former South African president Nelson Mandela said it was “fitting that Makeba died doing what she did best – singing.”

miriam_makeba

Discography

  • Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie in concert (1991).
  • * Miriam Makeba: 1960
  • * The Many Voices Of Miriam Makeba: 1960
  • * The World Of Miriam Makeba: 1962
  • * Makeba: 1963
  • * Makeba Sings: 1965
  • * An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba (with Harry Belafonte): 1965
  • * The Click Song: 1965
  • * All About Makeba: 1966
  • * Malaisha: 1966
  • * Miriam Makeba In Concert!: 1967
  • * Pata Pata: 1967
  • * Makeba!: 1968
  • * The Promise: 1974
  • * Country Girl: 1975
  • * Pata Pata: 1977
  • * Sangoma: 1988
  • * Welela: 1989
  • * Eyes On Tomorrow: 1991
  • * Sing Me A Song: 1993
  • * A Promise: 1994
  • * Live From Paris & Conakry: 1998
  • * Homeland, 2000
  • * Keep Me In Mind, 2002
  • * Live at Berns Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden, 1966: 2003
  • * Reflections, 2004
  • * Makeba Forever, 2006 (last recording)

Compilations

  • * The Queen Of African Music – 17 Great Songs, 1987
  • * Africa 1960-65 recordings, 1991
  • * Eyes On Tomorrow, 1991
  • * The Best Of Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks: 1956 – 1959 recordings, 1998
  • * Mama Africa: The Very Best Of Miriam Makeba, 2000
  • * The Guinea Years, 2001
  • * The Definitive Collection, 2002
  • * The Best Of The Early Years, 2003

source





hatto fischer | poetry & politics

8 11 2008

castoriadis

Cornelius Castoriadis 1922 – 1997

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 160 | November 8, 2008

THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE

HATTO FISCHER: Poetry & politics

As Americans witnessed in the presidential campaign, first in Berlin, Europe was waiting with open and anxious arms for new leadership in America. In some ways they sensed the voice within Obama well before many in our country finally cast their vote for change last Tuesday.

It was heartening to witness and hear the groundswell of support all over the world as the first Black, against all odds, historical and cultural, was elected the 44th President of the United State and stood humbly before the thousands who gathered in celebration in Chicago only four nights ago.

Among a number of friends from other parts of the world who expressed their congratulations and thoughts with me, Hatto Fischer, in Greece, is one writer, poet, thinker, cultural-ambassador-to-the-world in particular, that I would like to share at this historic moment with all readers of Poetry Dispatch and Notes from the Underground.

I only wish there were a place for him in whatever cultural program Barack creates for the greater good, the greater world at large. —Norbert Blei

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Athens 7.11.2008
Dear Norb,

after Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States, it is time to say something about the connection between poetry and politics.

Certainly you have made your contributions, from spreading local news to encouraging the poetic way. You have done so by enabling writers, poets to find their voices through publications, reviews, recognitions, discussions and just listening to them.

All along, and ever since with Sam Hamill and others ‘the Poets against the War’ came to life after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, I have asked myself what does this say about the American society, its people and especially its poets? In seeing how many engage themselves, poetically speaking, I wondered when will this poetic language enter daily life and daily language? It has to do with not only how to gain dignity in a void of knowledge about existence, so that you end up in some back room in front of an empty sheet of paper, but by learning how to handle the imagination.

As the Bulgarian poetess Dostena Lavergne would say, poetry has to do with something amorphous but it is a binding power of a different order. Many would doubt that connections through poetry have that same quality when compared with hard fought negotiations at the end of which there stands a legal paper called ‘contract’. Yet the poetic commitment to life, the zeal to feel its impulses, is much stronger and more enduring than any contract linking any mortal to a legal system and to the many lawyers who make a living off those who think breaking the law is a way of life.

There are many types of ‘outlaws’ and some may think here of Johnny Cash with his stories about in and out of jail, but he too affirmed to strike back after 9/11 insofar as he said who would be so foolish to do something like that and think to get away with it. Yes, unfortunately revenge exists as a rule all over the world. It is even the highest law in the Islamic religion. It is assumed to be the only way to regain balance out of a position of permanent imbalance. It will be an open question if Barack Obama as President will understand this call: not to define foreign policy on the principle of revenge which is also embodied in the death penalty and meant to deter by being absolute in the negation of life, and which the act of killing spells out plainly for all to see. It is repeatedly shown on the television screen and not only there, for it is backed up by those advocating that by taking literally speaking the law into your own hands, for the state is not to be trusted to do the dirty work, the only way to seek revenge is to do it oneself. But that is an absurd equation of law with own hands, and yet there it is this savage custom to become wild when claiming to be civilized.

And one more thing: if some American writers pride themselves to get the money whenever they want, as if this is the raw law of survival, then in reality this myth ‘of lets go freely on a binge but care only for yourself’, that goes at the expense of those willing to give and who end up being abused by this kind of egoistic drive. Such a drive ends up in loneliness as described by Canetti who sees in it another form of death drive. But that is not the way out of the dilemma insofar as you cannot recognize your own greatness by negating that of all others. If that would be the credo, it would leave America exposed to the kind of vanity fair Palin surely comes close to and which you, Norb, pointed out in that webpage you send around so that we could imagine what would it be like if she sat in the Oval office. The agreement by her to go hunting with the Canadian comedian posing as Skarkozy after he invited her to hunt from a helicopter as he had never done that before, it underlines the seriousness of that joke aimed to expose vanity.

But I want to come back to the poetic language to which you besides Sam Hamill have contributed so much. I think the fact that Americans look at themselves now with respect and take more seriously then their fears their abilities to handle the elusiveness of the imagination to show new ways, it is the result of all this incredible poetic work. So aside from the congratulations which should go directly to Barack Obama and his campaign team, there needs to be given recognition to the poets. Without them it would not have been possible to learn those lessons from the past, including those of the Civil Rights Movement. It explains why the dreams of the past did not shatter even after Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. A powerful emotional base for civic engagement has been created over time and through this election it came to fore. Hence I find it awesome that Barack Obama recognizes this first of all. In Chicago he said to the people ‘you did not elect me’. He meant they elected first of all themselves or rather a more just political system. If hope has a meaning in what Barack Obama says for the future, then it would be important to support him in what he intends, namely to give back or even to give to the people for the first time a political system by which they can govern themselves. All political systems have been abused until now in order to govern against the people. By contrast his style of politics intends to be for the people. Thus he will be a true challenge not only to himself and the American people, but equally to every other government, politicians and ordinary citizens around the world.

We need to think only of the many flawed elections we have witnessed recently in Africa, the countless equally intolerable state of affairs in Zimbabwe with Mugabe clinging on to power by all means but one example, and to which only Gordon Brown has stood up so far in a world wide beset by a permanent art of rationalization. The latter is an outcome of corruption of the mind. It explains why there exists an unwillingness to take serious the need to be honest. So far this has been the type of governance when it comes to viewing what people want. Hence change comes when the imagination enters to further thoughts how best to express good governance through politics by all people. It was the Greek philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis who mentioned that participation involves the imagination, even in what people project upon the White House when they drive by in Washington D.C..

I wish you and all the poets you have encouraged so far to keep on writing as testified in that recent book you published, namely ‘other voices’. They should continue, continue to link daily work with day dreams, so as to free the imagination in order to be able and willing to handle with imagination the problems ahead. But what has been achieved as of now, and I mean this election result of Nov. 4th 2008, there needs to be given a tribute to all poets who have already freed the imagination. That is the prerequisite to stand up against doubt and skepticism, as said by Barack Obama. And no wonder he ends with ‘yes we can’. By achieving that American poetry has already contradicted the statement by that member of the Stockholm Academy for the Nobel Prize, who said nothing much can be expected from American Literature when compared to the European one.

What took place in the United States with the election of Barack Obama, is a historical feat. It seems everyone picked up as well something from Nelson Mandela when voting on November 4th, namely to finally get rid of that fear to be great in daily life. Nelson Mandela said you free the others by not being afraid of your own greatness. By doing that you free the others and that is the best way to reach out to the others around the globe.

Greetings from Athens and congratulations to you for all the work you have done to give others a voice.

hatto fischer

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The book OTHER VOICES is available by clicking here…





walt whitman | election day, november, 1884

6 11 2008

walt_whitman_edit_2

Poetry Dispatch No. 257 | November 6, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Ahead…upon reflection …Whitman always understood the heartbeat of America. Norbert Blei

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Election Day, November, 1884

by Walt Whitman
(1819-1892)

If I should need to name, O Western World, your powerfulest scene and
show,
‘Twould not be you, Niagara–nor you, ye limitless prairies–nor
your huge rifts of canyons, Colorado,
Nor you, Yosemite–nor Yellowstone, with all its spasmic
geyser-loops ascending to the skies, appearing and disappearing,
Nor Oregon’s white cones–nor Huron’s belt of mighty lakes–nor
Mississippi’s stream:
–This seething hemisphere’s humanity, as now, I’d name–the still
small voice vibrating–America’s choosing day,
(The heart of it not in the chosen–the act itself the main, the
quadriennial choosing,)
The stretch of North and South arous’d–sea-board and inland–
Texas to Maine–the Prairie States–Vermont, Virginia, California,
The final ballot-shower from East to West–the paradox and conflict,
The countless snow-flakes falling–(a swordless conflict,
Yet more than all Rome’s wars of old, or modern Napoleon’s:) the
peaceful choice of all,
Or good or ill humanity–welcoming the darker odds, the dross:
–Foams and ferments the wine? it serves to purify–while the heart
pants, life glows:
These stormy gusts and winds waft precious ships,
Swell’d Washington’s, Jefferson’s, Lincoln’s sails.





bob dylan | when the ship comes in

5 11 2008

strichstrich

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No.159 | ELECTION DAY NOVEMBER 4, 2008,

THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE

WHEN THE SHIP COMES IN
ELECTION DAY

When The Ship Comes In
Oh the time will come up
When the winds will stop
And the breeze will cease to be breathin’.

Like the stillness in the wind
‘Fore the hurricane begins,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Oh the seas will split
And the ship will hit
And the sands on the shoreline will be shaking.
Then the tide will sound
And the wind will pound
And the morning will be breaking.

Oh the fishes will laugh
As they swim out of the path
And the seagulls they’ll be smiling.
And the rocks on the sand
Will proudly stand,
The hour that the ship comes in.

And the words that are used
For to get the ship confused
Will not be understood as they’re spoken.
For the chains of the sea
Will have busted in the night
And will be buried at the bottom of the ocean.

A song will lift
As the mainsail shifts
And the boat drifts on to the shoreline.
And the sun will respect
Every face on the deck,
The hour that the ship comes in.

Then the sands will roll
Out a carpet of gold
For your weary toes to be a-touchin’.
And the ship’s wise men
Will remind you once again
That the whole wide world is watchin’.

Oh the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’.
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real,
The hour when the ship comes in.

Then they’ll raise their hands,
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands,
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered.
And like Pharaoh’s tribe,
They’ll be drownded in the tide,
And like Goliath, they’ll be conquered.


“When the Ship Comes In”

is a song by Bob Dylan, released on his 3rd studio album The Times They Are a-Changin’ in 1964. Joan Baez stated in the documentary film No Direction Home that “When the Ship Comes In” was, more or less, inspired by a hotel clerk that refused to allow Dylan a room due to his “unwashed” appearance (he was not famous outside of the folk movement at this time). The song then grew into a sprawling epic allegory about vanquishing the oppressive “powers that be”. Another inspiration was the Bertold Brecht/Kurt Weil song, “Jenny the pirate’s bride”.





david sedaris | undecided

30 10 2008

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 158 | October 29, 2008

THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE

THE NEW YORKER/
HUMOR/
DAVID SEDARIS

One of the many pleasures of being a longtime subscriber to The New Yorker each week, is the surprise factor of each issue, beginning with the cover illustration and ending with the cartoon caption contest on the last page. I want to do a complete essay on The New Yorker one of these days…but for present purposes (politics/literature/the upcoming election) let me put in a few good words about writing humor—almost a lost art in most American publications these days.

The New Yorker has a long tradition of fostering this form of writing, developing some of the most humorous writers in our culture. If you think Woody Allen is only funny in film…you should have read some of the first pieces he published in The New Yorker. And just when you think we’ve lost a great American humorist of literary distinction (New Yorker writer James Thurber, for example), before too long another writer enters (with laughter), and within a few years you begin recognizing him or her as a ‘New Yorker’ regular. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that David Sedaris is the James Thurber of our time (yet)…but I’m more than comfortable, overjoyed in fact, to pick up a current issue of the magazine and find another piece by Sedaris–which always speaks to our times. Norbert Blei

UNDECIDED

by
David Sedaris

I don’t know that it was always this way, but, for as long as I can remember, just as we move into the final weeks of the Presidential campaign the focus shifts to the undecided voters. “Who are they?” the news anchors ask. “And how might they determine the outcome of this election?”

Then you’ll see this man or woman— someone, I always think, who looks very happy to be on TV. “Well, Charlie,” they say, “I’ve gone back and forth on the issues and whatnot, but I just can’t seem to make up my mind!” Some insist that there’s very little difference between candidate A and candidate B. Others claim that they’re with A on defense and health care but are leaning toward B when it comes to the economy.

I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they profes¬sional actors? I wonder. Or are they sim¬ply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.
I mean, really, what’s to be confused about?

When doubting that anyone could not know whom they’re voting for, I inevita¬bly think back to November, 1968. Hu¬bert Humphrey was running against Richard Nixon, and when my mother couldn’t choose between them she had me do it for her. It was crazy. One minute I was eating potato chips in front of the TV, and the next I was at the fire station, waiting with people whose kids I went to school with. When it was our turn, we were led by a woman wearing a sash to one of a half-dozen booths, the curtain of which dosed after we entered.

“Go ahead,” my mother said. “Flick a switch, any switch.”

I looked at the panel in front of me.

“Start on the judges or whatever and we’ll be here all day, so just pick a Pres¬ident and make it fast. We’ve wasted enough time already.”

“Which one do you think is best?” I asked.

“I don’t have an opinion,” she told me. “That’s why I’m letting you do it. Come on, now, vote.”
I put my finger on Hubert Humphrey and then on Richard Nixon, neither of whom meant anything to me. What I most liked about democracy, at least so far, was the booth—its quiet civility, its atmosphere of importance. “Hmm,” I said, wondering how long we could stay before someone came and kicked us out.

Ideally, my mother would have waited outside, but, as she said, there was no way an unescorted eleven-year-old would be allowed to vote, or even hang out, seeing as the lines were long and the polls were open for only one day. “Will you please hurry it up?” she hissed.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have some¬thing like this in our living room?” I asked. “Maybe we could use the same curtains we have on the windows.”

“All right, that’s it.” My mother reached for Humphrey but I beat her to it, and cast our vote for Richard Nixon, who had the same last name as a man at our church. I assumed that the two were related, and only discovered afterward that I was wrong. Richard Nixon had always been Nixon, while the man at my church had shortened his name from something fun¬nier but considerably less poster-friendly— Nickapopapopolis, maybe.

“Oh, well,” I said.

We drove back home, and when asked by my father whom she had voted for, my mother said that it was none of his business.

“What do you mean, ‘none of my business’?” he said. “I told you to vote Republican.”

“Well, maybe I did and maybe I didn’t.”

‘You’re not telling me you voted for Humphrey” He said this as if she had marched through the streets with a pan on her head.

“No,” she said. I’m not telling you that. I’m not telling you anything. It’s pri¬vate—all right? My political opinions are none of your concern.”

“What political opinions?” he said. I’m the one who took you down to reg¬ister. You didn’t even know there was an election until I told you.”

“Well, thanks for telling me.”

She turned to open a can of mushroom soup. This would be poured over pork chops and noodles and served as our din¬ner, casserole style. Once we’d taken our seats at the table, my parents would stop fighting directly, and continue their argument through my sisters and me. Lisa might tell a story about her day at school and, if my father said it was interesting my mother would laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he’d say.

“Nothing. It’s just that, well, I suppose everyone has a different standard. That’s all.”

When told by my father that I holding my fork wrong, my mother would say that I was holding it right, or right in “certain circles.”

“We don’t know how people eat the world over,” she’d say, not to him but to the buffet or the picture window, as if the statement had nothing to do with any of us.

I wasn’t looking forward to that kind of evening, and so I told my father that I had voted. “She let me,” I said. “And I picked Nixon.”

“Well, at least someone in the family has some brains.” He patted me on shoulder and as my mother turned away I understood that I had chosen the wrong person.

I didn’t vote again until 1976, when I was nineteen and legally registered. Because I was at college out of state, I sent my ballot through the mail. The choice that year was between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. Most of my friends were going for Carter, but, as an art major, I identified myself as a maverick. “That means an original,” I told my roommate. “Someone who lets the chips fall where they may.” Because I made my own rules and didn’t give a damn what anyone else thought of them, I decided to write for the name of Jerry Brown, who, it was rumored, liked to smoke pot. This was an issue very close to my heart—too close, obviously, as it amounted to a complete waste. Still, though, it taught me a valuable lesson: calling yourself a maverick is a sure sign that you’re not one.

I wonder if, in the end, the undecideds aren’t the biggest pessimists of all. Here they could order the airline chicken, but, then again, hmm. “Isn’t that adding an extra step?” they ask themselves. “If it’s a going to be chewed up and swallowed, why not cut to the chase, and go with the platter of shit?”

Ah, though, that’s where the broken glass comes in.

from THE NEW YORKER, October 27, 2008

David Sedaris

contributes frequently to The New Yorker. He is the author of “Barrel Fever,” (1994) and “Holidays on Ice,” (1997), as well as three collections of personal essays: “Naked,” (1997), “Me Talk Pretty One Day,” (2000), and “Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,” (2004). In 2005, he edited an anthology of stories, “Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules.” He has also regularly contributed personal essays to Esquire. Sedaris and his sister, Amy Sedaris, have collaborated under the name The Talent Family and have written several plays, including “Stump the Host”; “Stitches”; “One Woman Shoe,” which received an Obie Award; “Incident at Cobbler’s Knob”; and “The Book of Liz,” which was published in book form by the Dramatists Play Service.

Sedaris made his comic début on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, reading “SantaLand Diaries,” which recounted his strange but true experiences of his job as a Macy’s elf clad in green tights. His original radio pieces can often be heard on the show “This American Life.” In 2001, Sedaris became the third recipient of the Thurber Prize for American Humor. He was named by Time magazine as “Humorist of the Year” in 2001. In 2005, he was nominated for two Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album (“Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim,”) and Best Comedy Album (“David Sedaris: Live at Carnegie Hall,”).