Monday, October 18, 2010

Ruins Visible and In- : Mid-October's Situational Rhymes

The television is my witness to the Yankees and the Rangers, Andy Pettite versus Cliff Lee; I'm only half watching, especially since Lee's perfect game was lost with two outs in the 5th. But lately I've not been thinking of Texas Rangers but of Washington Senators, a team I watched at RFK Stadium several times with my father when I was a child. That was before they moved away from the Arlington, Virginia area to Arlington, Texas, and long before they were owned by George W. Bush, even longer before they acquired Vlad Guerrero and his much dented, blackened helmet. Long before I ended up in Hawai`i, a Cardinals fan in exile.

Oddly, my memory of one of those baseball games is pretty acute. We watched Vida Blue in his phenom season, when he and his A's beat the Senators, I think, 8-2. When I look the game up on the internet, I find that it was actually 8-1. When I post my memory onto my Facebook page, Dave Taylor in Washington, D.C. reports that he was at that game, too. The box score is here. I remember more of the Oakland players than the home town Senators, though Toby Harrah is a name I recall fondly, if only because I liked his name. Later, Laurence Sterne would remind me of him. Were it not for Wikipedia and the internet, Harrah would be a blank page to me now.

Two details astonish me. The opposing pitcher was Denny McClain, whose 31 victories in 1968 I remember a bit less than Mickey Lolich's defeat of Bob Gibson's Cardinals in the 7th game of that year's World Series. Marianne Moore, I found out in another context, had called the Series for the Cards due to Gibson's prowess. (That was the year before they lowered the mound to prevent other pitchers from ERAs verging on 1.) The other detail, which I find now as I return to the page that contains the box score, is that the rookie Vida Blue was paid just over $12,750 dollars that year. The minimum rookie salary is now $390,000.

A 40 year old memory. Over $370,000 in would-be Vida Blue wages, were he now 21, instead of the man in his early 60s that he now is. I'm now 52; I was then 12 or 13. There were 40,246 fans at the game, as it was a Children's Hospital benefit game (something I did not remember). We sat in the corner of left field, and I think I remember wearing my glove on my right hand, hoping. Zero foul ball snags. My father died November 4, 1992 at age 78, and I'm inhabiting again that space just before he died. It's been 18 years. There are many scores to box, settle, account for, enumerate.

I share something of this memory with Dave Taylor in DC. I share something of it with Nick Smith of Luray, Virginia, who cared enough about the game to ask the folks at Baseball Digest to print the box score. The numbers carry affect. They make an equation that is not mathematical but emotive. They remind me that words themselves have no affect; it's the layers we place upon them, or (conversely) the layers we peel off (the first is P.B. Shelley, Hart Crane, the Kumu Lipo the second William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, Wing Tek Lum). Word genealogies are like resonant waves, the waves Kaia Sand talked about in my classes, where moments in history touch in unexpected ways. This is not to force them together, like memories of tectonic plates before they split. It is to trust a momentary hunch that they might. A hunch requires trust. It's an equation that has a right answer, but one you have to find accidentally.

If I were a freshman in my own English 100A class, Kaia Sand would have taught me one important thing. That is that we operate on our hunches--our hypotheses about how the world is connected--but that these hunches do not always come true. She talked about her walk poem by taking us on a pre-walk, the one that got her to the place she started the poem, not the place where we start it. That her hunches led to to immerse herself in details; that if the details did not pan out, neither did her prospective argument. As a freshman, I often helicoptered in from the idea I wanted to be true, parachuting into details that hardly mattered, but existed for purposes of "proving" my point. Kaia stays on the ground, though her leaps are real, between internment centers to PODS, between what we see and what is now invisible to us. "Do we need our ruins visible?" she asks in Remember to Wave. Whoever sets up memorials, or maintains ruins, believes we do. By bringing forth the documents that made possible or recorded what we no longer see before us she makes the invisible seeable again, if not in the place it was, then in the text. It is not a book, the designer Bao Nguyen insists, but an experience. (I'm confused, as I thought I published and paid for a book to be made!) The book is what is visible; the walk that we contemplate making, is an invisible analogue to it. Hunch confirmed.

[Jules & Kaia]

The affect in Kaia Sand's work arrives in the sound. Her voice (on the page and in the air) is lyrical, melodic. She and Jules Boykoff and I and Alex Dorcean read at the MIA series this past Wednesday in Chinatown. She got us to her walk by way of Honolulu International Airport, Portland's airport and several public transportation stops. Behind her, on the wall across the alley from the Mercury Bar, images flickered as she read "Uptick," also from her Tinfish volume. What is ghostly is also lyrical, though hers was not nostalgia but intervention in its possibilities.
Jules Boykoff, whose concerns are very like hers (economics, politics, history) read poems whose tone was utterly other. They reminded me of Charles Bernstein poems sent through a laser machine; they did not wander, but they playfully inhabited very structured spaces. Das Greenspan became a machine of late-capitalism; Reagan and other 1980s politicians met reggae singers and sang odd lyrics. It was postmodernism as stern ethics, but it was damn funny. Alex Dorcean's work was about his Haitian mother, her language. It too was hilarious seriousness.

The launch of Tinfish 20 occurred yesterday at Revolution Books. It's our first perfect bound journal issue, paradoxically more expensive to buy than the others because of the prestige of its cover. It did not take weeks to put together, like the last issue, which was made of recycled covers. It did not take months of gathering materials. It simply took a pdf to Bookmobile in Minnesota. Vida Blue might understand the odd monetary differential, albeit at a ratio much more extreme. As per ritual, we had guest readers for writers not from Hawai`i, and we had real live readers, the ones who got the lei. Gizelle Gajelonia, who turns 25 in a couple of weeks, read Cheryl Quimba's "Self-Portrait at 25," and Craig Howes, of Toronto, read Steve Collis, of Vancouver's poem, "Stroke." Those were the opposite ends of the age spectrum that the issue contains; I had asked for poems about aging, thinking I would get poems about OLD age, but got instead quite a range. Jaimie Gusman read her "Anyjar Elegy" about her Aunt Rose; Joe Tsujimoto read a poem to Toge Sankihi (1917-1953), using my favorite word, "gimlet"; Kai Gaspar read an allegorical rendering of Le`ahi (Diamond Head) as a homeless woman in Kapiolani Park; Jade Sunouchi read about old Mexican women and their dolls for sale; Amalia Bueno celebrated Filipino writers' texts by making a cento of them; Lynn Young read for Janna Plant; Eric Butler for Xi Xi by way of Jennifer Feeley; Lyz Soto for Lehua Taitano; current Distinguished Visiting Writer, Adam Aitken, for future visiting writer, Craig Santos Perez. Fifty people came to hear.

The Senators/Rangers just defeated the Yankees in New York, 8-0 on a two hitter. It's autumn on the east coast. I went to see my dad for the last time 18 years ago this week or next. The leaves were yellow and orange; they were on the trees and on the ground, too many to count. He had helped me with my "new math," and my later, so much more difficult, math. He had led me marching down apartment building corridors while calling out the steps, in military style. "Hut two three four! Hut two three four!" (That was before we moved to the proper suburbs in Virginia!) He'd read my dissertation, all umpteen pages of it. We're joined by the numbers.

In two days I leave for Vancouver, where I'll read at Simon Fraser University and the Kootenay School, with David Buuck. A few days later I'll head to Boise, where I'll read for Janet Holmes's students and talk Tinfish. I hope to report from the road.


David Wolach said...

Susan--thank you for this beautiful post. and for again shining a light on Remember to Wave.


ps: enjoy the readings, bests to db

a.k.a. "Joe" said...

Wow, you write good posts. Remind me and I'll send you a photo of my Dad at Griffith stadium in the 50s (at an All-Star game, I think), in the outfield beer garden, looking very much the spo'tin' man.

Do non-baseball-fans feel the affect of numbers? I think of the number "1974" - which is not only when my mom died, but when breast cancer research, treatment, and activism really started to take off. And on the cusp of the hospice movement, no?

Looking forward to that issue - wish I coulda been in Honolulu the last couple of weeks!

Enjoy western Canada and US mainland!

ida! said...

hey susan: re kaia sand and the western binary of generalized theory (common sense, hunches) vs. factual moment-by-moment reality, check it out--

susan said...

Thanks, Ida. Do you know this book, which I found through your links?
aloha, sms

susan said...

Also Ida--I'm not sure what the import of your comment is, but I would also add that a lot of grounded research has to be done before the hunches come in . . . I think you'd really like the book, too. aloha, sms