Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who Put the Swine in Swine Flu?

There are two parts to the answer:

First, the prosaic: apparently, the current near-pandemic Swine Flu crossed to the human population at a pig farm owned by an American corporation in Mexico. So if anybody asks, it was American agribusiness, probably cutting corners on health and safety issues, that put the swine in Swine Flu.

Next, the metaphorical: The current wave of Swine Flu, having caused hundreds of deaths in Mexico and at least one in the United States, has caused a number of Americans in public life to behave like swine. These range from those who wonder aloud (and incorrectly) why swine flu outbreaks seems to happen under Democratic presidents to those whose instinct is to blame illegal immigrants for the dispersion of the disease.

The Swine Flu, to which the nation of Mexico has responded quickly and forthrightly, is being used by hatemongers across the United States to vilify, diminish and bear false witness against Mexicans as if there were some connection between the source of the influenza and the national character of the citizenry of our troubled neighbor to the south.

Tonight, President Obama had a news conference in which he actually began by telling Americans to wash their hands in order to keep from getting sick. I would add that we must wash our hands of xenophobia, jingoism and racism during the course of this wave of Swine Flu in order to keep from getting sick at heart.



Yesterday I hosted a screening of a documentary on my Newark-based college campus, REVOLUTION 67, a chronicle of what philistines and right-wingers would call 'the Newark Riots' and the more nuanced thinkers might consider an uprising. In any case, the filmmmakers Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno were present and engaged in a provocatice, vital conversation with the audience, mostly NJIT undergraduates. It was delightful to witness the political realizations and aesthetic deliberations gestating in their heads. I think an activist or two might be in the making locally.

If you have a chance to see REVOLUTION 67-- it runs on PBS every so often-- do so.

And remember, somewhere in the land it's time for happy hour...and molotov cockstails. Cheers! J/C

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

After the marathon

I will burn these sneakers, which have panged me
and pained me step after step,
over hills that had no names
but the ones I cursed them with,
down cobbled and crowded streets,
for mile after counted mile.

I had hoped this would allow me
to be alone with my thoughts.
Then I learned my only thoughts were:
I hate to run I’m kookoo for CoCo Puffs.
I hate to run I’m kookoo for CoCo Puffs.

I will sacrifice these $120 sneakers;
laces, tread and trademarked material,
the name of which is changed each season
by advertising types (from Hydro-this
to That-max) bent on making them obsolete.

Ever found bloody toenails in your sock?
It’s like those dreams in which
you lose your teeth. Then you might know
why I have to destroy these socks, too,
sodden evidence of my human frailty.

The smoke from my pyre
will be displeasing even unto
the Lord Himself, who has seen fit
to afflict me with everything but a plague of locusts –
stitches, shin splints, blisters,
cramps, voices in the head.
I would have welcomed the locusts.
On those twenty-mile days
I could have used the company.

After the marathon, I will never run again.
Not for subway doors closing, nor for taxis,
not from murderers, nor from ex-girlfriends.
I will stop my ears against the silence calling
from the vaulted cathedral inside my chest,
the thin threnodies my muscles sing,
the lost echo that falls down the cisterns of the mind,
the lure of that void, where there is nothing
but the temple gong of my heart,
and all thought and desire end.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Summer Pays a Visit

We are not done yet with April and Summer has snuck up behind us. It has snuck up so fast it has confused the summer creatures--the katydids, crickets, fireflies, mosquitoes, wasps--they make no sound in the April night. They are still cocooned perhaps in their nests, perhaps even roasting like so many croissants in tiny overheated ovens.

Today was in the high eighties and the trees, which have barely begun to blossom, took on a wilted August look. Tomorrow is supposed to break all records with something over 90 degrees. Once, I was in the Hudson Valley in July and it was the hottest place on earth at 106--hotter that day than Riyadh. The stunt fliers at the aerodrome wouldn't take the biplanes up--air too thin to support the spindly frames and fabric of the aeroplanes.

We are thinking of staying longer upstate--I am reading something in the Times about Swine Flu in New York City? Many schools in Mexico have closed and maybe we are next?

Not sure. I only know there is something wonderful and relaxing about blogging outdoors at night.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Into History's Dustbin

Obama's first hundred days have been notable for the passage of major economic legislation, the closing of Guantanamo, and a star-turn in Europe. But what has stood out most for me is the way Republican outrage continues unabated despite its overwhelming ineffectiveness.

Some may say it's generational, and it may well be. I say the voters meant business in November when they gave the hook to the old Navy pilot and his daffy pugilist in heels. And so the old arguments don't work anymore: the right-wing scare-tactic that used to tag the Democrat as some drug-crazed last remnant of the Manson-family from the 1960s, seems to have lost its magic.

Obama just seems to be unconcerned with any of it. He meant it when he said he was taking a new approach--to the economy, to the wars, to foreign policy, to health care, to human rights. He jokes with Hugo Chavez--confident he's not going to be tricked into some disadvantageous deal with the oil-bloated dictator. He welcomes an apparent new openness from Castro the Younger even as the Elder seeks to retract it all--but who looks like the grump? Not Obama.

Now it is the Republican who begins to sense he (or she) must fear being tagged as the torture-besotten, yellow-cake hallucinating last remnant of the Cheney-family from the Bush years, even as Cheney croaks, Manson-like from his tomb on Hannity-hill.

And freshly beginning to gather dust--just a thin coating right now but ever thickening--is the stiff carcass of old-fashioned Republicanism. It has at last joined Communism atop History's Dustbin.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Dear Tempest Trawlers,

Tomorrow night is a gathering of the poetry tribe
and you are encouraged to attend what will be a
splendid event. I am forwarding the invitation from
Ed Foster, the editor and wunderkind behind Talisman House.

See you there... J/C

* * * * *

Talisman House, Publishers, requests
the honor of your presence
at a celebration
for new, wonderful books

Donna de la Perrière, True Crime
Joseph Donahue, Terra Lucida
Carmen Firan, Words and Flesh
Michael Heller, Eschaton
Timothy Liu, Bending the Mind
Around the Dream’s Blown Fuse
Simon Pettet, Hearth
Andrew Zawacki, Petals of Zero Petals of One

Readings and book signings by the authors
Good food and book joy

Wednesday, 22 April 2009, 6-9 pm

Ceres Gallery
547 West 27th Street, Suite 201
New York, NY 10001

Monday, April 20, 2009

Picasso's inspiration?

Pictured above is an illustration inside a Mozarabic Bible of the 10th century which is housed in the León Cathedral in León, Spain. It was created by Deacon John in 920 and written in parchment with Visigothic letters.

Many experts in the art world believe this Bible inspired Picasso's Guernica. Not only are there similarities between the horse and bull in the medieval illustration and the painting, but both images depict people on the left and right sides of the two animals. There's also an illustration inside the Bible of a lion with its tongue sticking out like a knife, which is very similar to the horse's tongue in Guernica.

This is an interesting discovery because the Bible was exhibited in Barcelona in 1929 and in Paris in 1937, thus making it possible that Picasso would have seen it and been inspired by it.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

The David Wright Mythology

For those who follow the Mets, accepted wisdom has been that third baseman David Wright is, and deserves to be, the face of a successful franchise such as that now ensconced in its new ballpark out at Willet's Point.

I like David Wright--seems like a fine citizen. But I am not really a fan. In fact, I think he is among the most overrated good hitters in baseball.

Taking nothing away from his consistency, his .300 plus average, his 100 plus runs batted in, his 30 homers and his fine fielding, I am trying to remember the last time I saw him come up big in a big situation--or even a sort of big situation. I would have to go back to June 2006 when he drove a ball over Yankee center-fielder Johnny Damon's head to complete a wonderful comeback for the Mets. Since then, he has been a specialist at the tack-on run, the home run in a losing cause, the double with nobody on, the walk that should have been a big hit. . .and on and on (for instance, had he contributed like a gamer down the stretch in either 2007 or 2008, the Mets would have been in the playoffs both times).

I think it all changed for him when he was in the All-Star Game home-run derby back in 06 (at least I think it was that year). After that, something in his character changed. He seemed to think he was "the big star that had to produce" and put mental pressure on himself in such a way as to make him fail in those very situations where he most needed to hit. Before then, he was a really talented, focused kid having a great time. Now he just seems like a guy trying to do the right thing. It's not a character flaw, exactly, but it isn't helping the team win games.

My opinion is that the Mets should trade him. They will probably be able to get anybody they can think of naming, because most people don't know David's little secret. And I think the person they get will be more relaxed, and more clutch than our wonderfully nice but ultimately non-championship third baseman.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Warmth, flowers and bird songs

Today, though I spent it at the office, was the first real day of spring in beautiful NYC. Below, an image of the sun setting on my way home from work, and George Harrison singing "Here Comes the Sun". After a long, cold and uninspiring winter, it's here! Spring is finally here...


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Other Night at the Ballpark

If a ballpark can be defined by the type of game played on its inaugural night, then the Mets' new Citi Field is going to be a comedy of errors for a long time to come. Can it be that the busted-down, bailed-out nature of its namesake bank has something to do with the rather silly doings on the field, and the unsightly loss the Mets were handed by the Padres?

Here are some of the odd, inauspicious things that happened:

-on the third pitch of the game, the opposing team hit a home run (never has happened before to inaugurate a park)

-shortly thereafter, the Met pitcher tripped and fell off the mound; then gave up four runs.

-after the Mets tied it up, a dropped ball in the outfield put a Padre on third; then an almost imperceptible balk brought home the go-ahead run

-a cat ran on the field

-a foul ball went through the screen and landed in the Mayor's lap

-the opposing catcher nearly tore a fan's head off trying to catch a ball in the stands (again, that flimsy screen)

-Duaner Sanchez, having been released by the Mets as useless, pitched an inning of scoreless relief against them.

-Heath Bell, having been traded by the Mets as useless, got the save against them.

The first day at Citi was not quite as bad as the last day at Shea (where they crumpled and lost a chance at the playoffs), but it gave it a run for its money.

Personally, I don't care how many Shake Shack burgers I can eat at the new ballpark--if the Mets don't show some spirit this year (they are 3 and 4), I am going to be looking for new things to do in the summer.

Also, not to be a terrible spoil-sport, but Jackie Robinson, while I totally respect his legacy, never played for the Mets so I am struggling to understand why they dedicated the rotunda to him. It somehow seems grafted on to the team in a wannabe kind of way. His history is as a Dodger. Why did the Mets decide to "adopt" him and I wonder what the Dodgers think of that.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Yesterday marked the (birth) day of two eminent Irish writers. Samuel Beckett was born on April 13th in 1906. Cambridge University Press just published his selected letters, 1929-1940. If I had the money, I would buy the book as Sam's gift to me. Alas, at $50 retail (and $31.50 on Amazon) it's still a bit dear for this tattered scribe.

Poet Seamus Heaney turned seventy on the 13th. Happy birthday, Seamus! A Dublin correspondent reports that a gala event in his fair city for Heaney went off like roman candles last night, with all stalwart bards and heads-of-state in attendance. Not only a terrific poet but a warm and generous person, he exemplifies the best qualities of an artist. Many years ago he did me a fond, fine favor.

So happy birthday, Sam and Seamus: I raise a glass and pen in your names! J/C

Monday, April 13, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009


On a Sunday this sundrunk, so easy to believe -
that the daffodils in your neighbors' beds
are gossiping about you,
that no longer are there hungry men
pushing carts along the banks of gray rivers,
that the only cares are of seed, and lime,
and mulch, that the whole sodden world
is waiting for you to do all its hard work.

Mark Aiello

Friday, April 10, 2009


This Good Friday leaves me with little breathing space
and the echoes of errands issuing from the end-of-the-week
bag o' tricks. I will post more tomorrow. Be well, dear Reader(s).
Pace nobis...J/C

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The two deserts there

I just got back from Las Vegas from a 3 day work-related conference. On my way there, I saw miles and miles of gorgeous desert.

Then landed on a human desert that extended eons deep into non-soul, comfortably cushioned on exploitation of every sort, from thousands of images of naked women advertising services that carpet the streets for the delirious crowds - many accompanied by their children - to the sorry hopeful getting robbed at slot machines everywhere.

However, on the plane ride back to NY, I read most of a 100 page article by Robert Storr on Gerhard Richter (MoMA). I wasn't able to put it down once I started it and highly recommend it.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009


I was reading a review today earlier in THE LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS.
The commentary about Immaculate Mother, Mary, contained
a medieval message of hope which I will quote here, being as it's
a nourishing bit for all comers, religious or otherwise:

"The dew of Averil, id est gracia et bonitas Spiritus Sancti;
Haveth y-maked the grene lef to spryng, id est Beatam Virginem
...My sorrow is gon...My joye is comen...Ich herde a soul synge,
id est angelum...Ave Maria."

Happy Passover, happy Easter, happy days to enliven all of YOU,
regardless of affiliation. Read a book and be well. J/C

Monday, April 06, 2009


Apologies, Tempest Titans, for a week's absence from this column, post, whatever designation for this form seems apt: I have been quietly dynamiting mountains of undergraduate essays and now that the mountains are gone, I can once again look out onto the tempests at sea.

I teach a Contemporary Literature class at my college and this morning we had an extraordinary guest, author Leni Zumas. Her debut collection, FAREWELL NAVIGATOR (Open City) is an exhilarating romp through the psychic and physical landscapes of delinquents, witches, and troubled souls, at times painful, sometimes comic, and always beautiful and poignant. I am all for old time religious rituals and to see a class of technology and engineering students being converted en masse to storytelling has me shouting "Amen." Zumas is a young writer who is already critically established and whose reputation for creating experimentally daring, wondrous fables will continue to ascend. Read her. Please. Take her words for it and take mine too. J/C

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Those places between other places

Three hours out from the bridge
with the broken toll basket and just
one hour after every song on the radio
became wrong, and there is nothing to do
but busy ourselves with the calculus of travel –
the speed that will get us there fastest
without a ticket, or how many miles
before we definitely, without question
will need to stop for gas, or how it is
that mile markers can decrement so steadily
without ever seeming to become any lesser.

The fringe of the far woods, out there
just over your left shoulder might be beautiful,
touched here and there by the pink and slanted sun
of a summer evening. It could all be lovely –
the broad lawns where rabbits stand tall
with their shadows running away from them
as far as the next exit, the barns and silver ponds
where no one at all is fishing from boat or shore.
It might be perfect, if only we could afford the seconds
to turn and look as we blaze past at 80.

This far out, the names of all the towns
seem to be made from Scrabble tiles
or possibly Finnish, and the low stores
waiting at the end of each off-ramp
look like they carry only strange brands,
and we ask each other what it must be like
to come home here each night from God knows where,
pulling up in front of one of those new houses
on a street with a blandly pretty name,
to dinner with a pretty enough wife.

Look up from your magazine, now and again
and allow your eye to trick over all the work done
just so our passage would have a backdrop –
the distant aqueduct of the interstate,
where the signs decree that East and West each begin,
and 105, somehow, becomes 287, too,
the impossibly intricate refineries, all latticed walks
and bristling stacks, raised just so we had something to see
in the void between exits 62 and 65.

Does it seem extravagant that all this was done
just so our bright car, our earnest faces
both looking ahead would seem even more beautiful
set against the little mountains and tiny trestles?
I’m sure that someone in each car that’s passed
all day long thought the exact same thing.

Mark Aiello


Saturday, April 04, 2009

Much too Close for Comfort

I have a son in college. He happens to go to SUNY Binghamton, which I am told is a pretty good school--maybe the best in the SUNY system.

The City of Binghamton is nothing much. It has all the appearance of a town that once upon a time, like so many towns in America, showed promise and gave hope to its citizens. Today it probably does no such thing--going to downtown Binghamton is a little bit like visiting the sick ward, where the healthiest denizen has just one tube up his nose and manages to walk on crutches.

Yesterday the news got worse. My son is safe. But some terrible person armed with terrible (and quite legal) weapons barricaded an immigrant assistance center in downtown Binghamton and methodically shot and killed about fourteen people. The perpetrator was apparently himself an immigrant, recently laid off.

When I first saw the news item on a web-site sidebar, it only said "several shot in Binghamton" and I dropped what I was doing and called my son. I had seen enough of these campus-shootings on TV to imagine the incident might have taken place at his school. Fortunately I woke him out of an early afternoon slumber. The murders had taken place downtown. By the time I checked the news again, the lone gunman was dead and my son was on a bus headed back home for spring break.

We keep hearing about how we're "being kept safe" from terrorists and how "there haven't been any terrorists strikes since 9/11". I say this is a naked falsehood.

On several campuses, in several community centers, in churches, in offices--at wedding celebrations--terrorists with powerful weapons have invaded peaceful gatherings and created havoc. The victims are many. We're not safe. We live in a gun-saturated nation in which life is not held nearly as dear as piety would want us to believe.

Proud to be an American? Or disgusted with the pall of multiple-death gun-violence that never seems to lift.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

La Didone at St. Anne's Warehouse

Smash together an opera about a transformational love affair starring Queen Dido of Carthage, together with an unspeakably bad sci-fi flick about yet another race that wants to colonize earth because its own planet is dying, video jiggery-pokery, outlandish not to say obscene costuming, live musicians, wonderful singers and madcap direction, and what do you get?

An astonishing and fun evening with the Wooster Group doing "La Didone" at St. Anne's Warehouse in Dumbo. Even a Yoda-like troll makes a brief appearance.

The two plots interweave, having nothing and everything to do with one another, the characters sometimes talk to one another from one play to the next, there is rambunctious hilarity, there is impassioned singing, there is often absolute mayhem. And yet it all comes together in some kind of post-Carthaginian, post-Twentieth Century time warp where cupids and alien vampires are equally mythical and equally effective.

The audience finds itself drawn up in the action, hardly knowing where to look, usually knowing where to laugh, and knowing it is watching one of the best and most exciting acting troupes on the planet right now, at the top of its game.

Go see it if you can: Wooster Group presents La Didone at St. Anne's Warehouse.