Friday, February 25, 2011

Warehouse Cafe, SE Portland

Consider this an experiment. While blogging is in some ways a very public activity, I always blog alone. But now I'm seated in a bustling cafe in Portland, resembling what I've heard of the television show, Portlandia, in its emphasis on the organic, the mellow, the friendly, the enthusiastic, the unironic, where overheard conversations are about healing, zen and healthy dance options for one's daughter. The last time I was in here, a musician was singing to children about the need to floss, lest they acquire gingivitis. As I write this I feel an odd tension between my own tendencies toward irony and an equal sense that this earnestness can be a very good thing. The woman who served me coffee told me about a pro-Wisconsin protester rally downtown today and about the phone banking she's doing for women's health issues.

Speaking of irony, last night Donald Rumsfeld was on the Daily Show. Jules Boykoff & Kaia Sand, my wonderful hosts, get the show on itunes, so we saw the whole 45 gory minutes of the show, nearly all of which were devoted to Stewart's attempts to get Rumsfeld to admit that evidence had been cooked up and propaganda waged in the effort to get the USA into war in Iraq. Rumsfeld, while looking older, was a cool customer, alternately admitting to the truth of Stewart's critiques and "nuancing" them into neutrality. Rumsfeld is good with words--I once wrote an essay on him and contemporary American poetry, and two song cycles have used his "lyrics"--in ways that the governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, is not. It's as if the ability to snow the public requires less and less snow. It's like a blizzard in Portland, in other words, during which one takes a long walk in the sunshine, while looking for tiny patches of the white stuff, already blackened with dirt. And so we require "pranksters" to suss out the truth, the spoken truth, not the stuff you can simply see for your own eyes. Why we require hearing it is fascinating; why hearing itself sometimes fails to persuade us is more troubling. As Bryant said this morning on the phone, "Rumsfeld is a war criminal who admits it and is on a tour selling books about it." If anyone has a free copy of the book to send me, I'd appreciate it. I haven't wanted to read a book this much in years. At least not one that's called "non-fiction."

This morning's Star-Advertiser relays the information that the National Parks may preserve internment sites in Hawaii. I remember writing an essay on internment poets from Hawaii and having an editor call me on it. His friend had told him that Japanese Americans in Hawaii were NOT interned, so why was I writing about it? I recently started a memory card sequence based on lines from Albert Saijo's work; he was interned as a child, although he only came to Hawaii later. And, as these synchronicities go, I went on Kaia Sand's walk yesterday with her and her daughter Jessica, the walk that is featured in her Tinfish Press book, Remember to Wave. We drove to North Portland, then walked to the old Expo Center, just beyond some amazing installations by a local artist, torii held up by posts covered in old newspaper articles about the absence of "Nippos" and other slurs. This Center is where Japanese Americans were warehoused (why am I in the Warehouse Cafe?) before being sent inland to Wyoming and other remote locations. We walked to the Columbia River, than in a circle back past the PODS she writes about. She stopped to talk to a POD truck driver, then we continued to the marshlands that were Vanport, where the flood wiped out an entire community of mostly African American workers. (The revisions on the Kaiser Permanente sponsored sign are astonishing, though I don't know that I can access my photos of it yet. There's a happy narrative to this unethical placement of workers in a flood plain, believe me.) By a pond we saw the signs contained in Kaia's book about how deadly the water is to the unborn; silhouettes of pregnant women are there to alert them of the water's toxicity. The ducks paddle on. Canada geese fly in formation overhead, honking. "This place is not bucolic," Kaia says and I see how history transforms the natural world into a more complicated stage. But still, it's gorgeous, this marsh, the dogs running from a large dog park, the clouds, the geese, the little girl in pink roller skates who goes with us.

Earlier in the week I read for Kaia's students and others at Pacific University in Forest Grove. The student body is 30% Hawaii residents and the town comes to seem a cold extra island that has moved inland from the Pacific. When I first began to talk about dementia and Alzheimer's with audiences, I assumed it would be older people who would know from experience what having a loved one with the illness is like. But no, about a third to a half of the students have relatives with Alzheimer's. The next day, Kaia and I went to a Psychology class--it was Kaia's brave idea to create interdisciplinarity out of her reading series--taught by Prof. Erica Kleinknecht. She is teaching an entire course on Mind and Memory, a course I wish I could take. She introduced a section of the course on episodic memory, and then asked me to read and talk about my work. She also requested that I read the lovers' dialogue from my more recent blogging. I also read a couple of memory cards and talked about their link to episodic memory, the way they weave back and forth between present and past, drawing up, or improvising from memories that emerge and then disappear again during the day. Prof. Kleinknecht's students were bright and curious, though I had to call out the young women, who were letting the men ask all the questions at first. One young man perked up when I started to talk about George Oppen, and wanted to know more about where I was going in my thinking about Oppen's Alzheimer's. Stay tuned.

In Portland I have also met a radical economist Cardinals' fan, a scholar of German film, a former U of Portland soccer player, a fellow poet who is a scholar of British history and his son, spent time with my sister-in-law and her family, and met other good folks. Tonight is the reading at the Spare Room, with Donald Dunbar, about whom much good is said, organized in part by Endi Hartigan, who hails from Kailua. Tomorrow I head to Seattle by train. Just wish I had the Webster Schultzes all in tow. Love you much, Radhika, Sangha, Bryant. (Tortilla.)

1 comment:

Miriam Lewin said...

Thanks for the equal measures this morning of irony and...(what's the opposite of irony?).