Conference Recovers Long-Lost Works of Peristalsis


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            One of the less-noticed scholarly conferences this year was at least unusual. For how often does a long-lost major manuscript, particularly that of an idiot, come back to light from the ancient Western world? Now that most of the murder-trials have cleared up over which PhDs would translate it into modern tongues, the half-mad Book of Peristalsis returns with a hemorroidal vengeance, to blow the dust off professors and their classics-shelves alike.

According to the conference host, Doctor and Professor for Life Hans Klammy of The Institute for the Study of Ancient Idiots by Later Ones (ISAILO, Alcatraz), Peristalsis (1000?-950? BCE? Oh, what the hell) is thought to have been the son of an early Greek mother from Crete (there were also many late mothers) and a Philistine father (with some nice habits, too), who plied his wares in the eastern Mediterranean in the early Iron Age. “We’re pretty sure Peristalsis used a boat,” said Klammy. “But this guy was a walking poison-pen. We only knew about his work from idiots of Classical times, so this is a true find. And, it’s mine. On sale in the lobby.”

The work emerged several years ago as Doctor Klammy was unwrapping some fish. Noting a level of stink that could only have a literary origin, he noticed the picture-like signs of an ancient writing system. When he showed the script to fellows at the Institute, every one who could get near it affirmed its authenticity, just to get away from it. So, the Institute’s tech-experts came to the rescue, filling their hot-tub with Chanel #5, bleach and a touch of Guinness to leach the manuscript back into workable shape. Then the wheels of translation and publishing started to turn, and this minion of mockery began to speak again, 3000 years after everyone told him to shut up.

But why was that? We hunted more information around the conference floor, and then spotted Senior Lecturer (there are no Junior ones) Fritz Mazo among the few on their feet. “Ahh, Peristalsis. Peristalsis, ahh. Ahhh,” Mazo intoned through his imitation-sable beard. “What?”

“Peristalsis witnessed the rise of full-blown Western kleptocracy with its kings. As such he was ostracized as a killjoy, a real pill, a pain in the ass of criminal power.  This was a maverick, a horse never broken to the rule of smelly old men,” injected Dean of the Institute Ima Mann, who said she was deeply involved with the font and page-numbers for the publication. “And they didn’t even have saddles back then. Want some more metaphors?”

Scholars said that until now, the best evidence of Peristalsis had been only another legend, one of the direct inheritors of this tradition: a Greek of Classical times called Sotades, who reputedly composed scurrilous verses against the nascent Athenian empire, and saw them all burned before the aristocrats (already no strangers to mass murder for money) threw him also into the fire, in concern for the city’s youth.

“We haven’t been sure if Sotades existed, either,” added Mann, “but it was said that Peristalsis was his master and rhetorical suppository.” Dean Mann then twisted her whole face sideways to demonstrate the infamous sotadic smirk, which made her resemble Dick Cheney with gas.

Ancient linguist and Idiot Emeritus Norm L. Freek delivered the keynote address from a rusty guard-tower, and assured this reporter that he’s only fifty-three. It seems that Peristalsis, as a young boy growing up in Crete, learned that his lineage had included a Minoan princess. This really depressed the youth as he helped his mother hawk seaweed at beach-resorts to Mycenaean tourists, the families of warlords who took their tans between rounds of chariot races, bloodsports, face-stuffing and pillage.

So it was that when Peristalsis’ seagoing father showed up again, he hid himself aboard the boat among a shipment of alimentary medications. There, he started to write, with a stick for his first stylus and, shall we say, unsavory ink. This couplet is accepted as his earliest work:

So long, sword-loving mainland mother-fucks:

Reap what killing teachers sows, you schmucks.

        Once Peristalsis’ father and the crew stopped tossing the boy overboard, they took him under their wing, hoping to suffocate him. But the plucky stowaway took all they could dish out, and at last they spared little Peristalsis, unless they needed a drag-anchor. Times were hard.

Dr. Freek insisted that multiple Aegean, Canaanite and early Hebrew writing-figures used in the manuscript point to Peristalsis’ eclectic school-years as the bung-boy of a hermaphroditic lord in the Near Eastern port of Ascalon. The city was then a bustling seaside entrepot of multinational cultures, trade, and fist-fights, which is altogether weird because Charlton Heston’s Moses is looking off into empty land at the idiotic end of The Ten Commandments. Anyhow—By the time of his manhood, Peristalsis was master of his father’s boat. This worked well as he was kicked out of every port where he opened his mouth. And still the dogged craftsman ploughed on, breaking new ground even at sea. He improvised new patterns in his rhymes:

Our mothers’ lands were households feeding kin:

Your fantasy called profit smashed right in.

You business-pricks who cheat the farm and Earth,

You’ll find out starving what your gold is worth.

        “Peristalsis’ world was changing,” Dr. Klammy noted in his interminable contribution to the conference, “Everybody Duck, Here Come the Kings: or, How to Make a Buck Till We Find the Philippines.”

“’Peri,’ as we fond fellow-idiots style him, had just begun to prosper on the Black Sea trade by way of windy Troy,” Klammy said. “And then his old enemies showed up for their one last big hurrah—the sack of Troy, which of course turned into the Mycenaeans’ own complete exhaustion and bankruptcy, besides Brad Pitt’s most unbearable film.”

Dr. Freek, who by then was drunk on fermented oak-moss, added: “Peristalsis watched with glee while the mainland warlords took each other down. Ahh, but little did he know that this only opened the Greek duh-duh-door for the dimwitted duh-duh-Dorians. Some say Homer himself took up from Peristalsis’ leavings. I have noted, in the index to my revised addendum footnoted in the coda to the afterword of my definitive history, Freek’s Greeks, that Achilles’ first epithet for the ‘great’ thug King Agamemnon was, ‘You wine-sack.’”

Hence the next turn of life for Peristalsis as an omni-exile. For some time after, marked by the rotting of his boat, he became a forest-dwelling nobody, a drop-caste, seeking out wild consolations in the Near Eastern hills beyond the newly-planting Philistines. Up there, he encountered the dyspepsia, cultural wreckage and fermentation left in Pharaoh’s wake—for Egypt’s wars with the Hittites to control this land, which belonged to neither one, had exhausted both of them and everyone between.

So far so good, great kings.

You’ve robbed and killed and now you’re finished too.

Hot poxes on the lords who kiss your rings,

and think us born to build and clean their loo.

        “What Peri means in this insufferable quatrain,” observed the portly imported German scholar Hartmutt Tweedle, “is that in Canaan, the new crop of would-be petty kings wanted all these lumpen-folk hiding in the hills for slave-labor projects, for their own little dim day of glory. Indeed, many of these brigands had personally mooned Ramses The Third. I have slides.”

Thus, among these Canaanites, who chose exile over slavery to an asshole (defined by Professor Klammy as “a failed human being”), Peristalsis immersed himself in the kindred spirits of a real old-time religion—a pantheon of goddesses and gods that made his head spin worse than the music, but in a good way.

After all, the whole universe and Earth and Moon and Sun were still alive and awake spinning all around them through an eternal now of cycling seasons and stars and desires and there were “fertility cults” whose ways added up to making life good for children and from birth to joyous polyamorous ceremonial feasting and fucking with an occasional rumble and beyond death too there was a luminous river running through and shining out of everything so that being alive was, all in all, not bad, if you kept your shorts and burnoose loose, though there wasn’t even a ceiling-fan.

Through its last agonizing day, the conference explored Peristalsis’ late years. He came down into the coastlands again and there were Philistine farms and olive groves and towns well-advanced in their first-generation designs and music as wild as the hills interweaving with Aegean flavors too, and rites and festivals holding every fractious fuck together, girls and boys of all description marrying up and not a king in sight. They liked pork-ribs wine and seafood and being left alone and competing to see who could throw the craziest cosmic party. Perhaps surprisingly, this might have been the end of Peristalsis as the idiotic poet he had been.

For where, now, could he ply his old obsession—indeed, the idiotic tradition he had created—with so few calculating, brutal, parasitic slobs entrenched on thrones, camouflaged in gold and too much Old Spice? Ironically (another first in the Iron Age), Peristalsis had found a measure of content in Palestine, but he might have lost his voice. He’d never so enjoyed a civilization that lacked cruise missiles. The Philistines had settled mostly quietly into lands that old empires had broken, and called themselves lucky to be Pharaoh’s policemen on the East-West trading highways. At least it kept that perennial pompous putz off of everybody’s back.

This was the conference moment that led both people in the audience to the forty-six scholars’ major point—that an idiot, one might say, is one who will not be ruled by a murderous hollow kleptocratic culture, because it isn’t one.

What saved Peristalsis from cosmic harmony came along just in time. Into the vacuum, a rival and very different school of idiots was rising. There had never been anything like them, and that’s a quote. The Canaanites heard, and trembled in their pants.

…This will be the manner of the king who shall reign over you. He will take your sons, appoint them for himself, for chariots and to be his horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint himself captains over thousands, and set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make him his instruments of war.

He will take your daughters to be confectionaries, to be cooks, and bakers. He will take your fields, your vineyards and olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take your men- and maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen.

        In the folks whose supreme abomination was idolatry, Peristalsis the poet found himself more than outmatched. Did he live to wonder why nobody listened to that guy, either? For, you guessed it—Starting with their first king “like kings of other lands,” in two mysterious centuries this new tribe of idiots had ethnically-cleansed away most of the Philistines. Of course they had options: they could be slaves, they could leave, or they could die, and the new folks would be happy to facilitate.

Circles and cycles and dynamic interweaving cultures would henceforth devolve into a worse-than-useless succession of frothing madmen waving flags toward nowhere (Utopia), generating “progress” toward a goal that, today, is still as unspeakable as the name of its volcanic god—who acts like a smelly old man with a burning bush.

And lo, in appreciation of the new management, good old Pharaoh soon came smashing back through the country again, to clear that tribe’s strangle-hold on the highways. The Philistines’ centuries of highway patrol had made Egypt rich, and of course “easy wealth” got by your own or somebody else’s violence becomes an addiction that must be fed, till its spiraling mental illness leads to self-destruction. Same crazy notion, same bloody pattern, same outcome in ashes: incompetent gangsters taking over millennia of life and enduring, themselves, maybe two or three hundred years. Thanks, guys. Heck of a job.

Peristalsis was living through an already-failed experiment that had only gone round and round in a vain death-dance of natural defiance dragging everything with it. What unifies his wretched scribbling (if anything) is that the history-progress scam will go on till everything is dead unless people dig it into the mud with other wattle-waggling reptiles called Rex. We have only one more apocryphal nugget, that Peristalsis passed gently at last in a cheap pension on Mykonos with the first sotadic grin frozen on his face.

But that new Near Eastern school of idiocy was nothing if not tenacious. Its main competition arose only much later in the days of Plato (a.k.a., “Fatso”), when Athens was holding festivals to thank Dionysos (the one demigod for a really good time) for not coming to visit. They had their own imperial “good soldier” reasons tricked out, besides, to banish poets. Having kicked all the angels out of town, they filled the forests with monsters, who soon ran over Massasoit and Tecumseh, then “settled” California.

Peristalsis may yet find new audiences in America, where the heirs of his foes have carried on the story with righteous frackin’ zeal. Coming soon is the 1620-2020 anniversary of Plimoth Plantation, whose dedicated loons called Separatists (i.e., separated from everything in their own psychotic-evangelical brains) and patriarchal Puritans, modeling themselves on schmucks of old, went off the deep end—burning the country’s first English idiotically visionary poet out of house and home, hoisting him off the continent in a cow’s harness, and then launching a mystical flaming fiasco at Native Americans. At living Native Anybodies, all the way through Saigon, Palestine and Kabul, until this plutocracy of putzes came round the planet and dipped its sucking-straws into the last people likely to fight back, as long as they have celebrity cable.

Clearly, if Peristalsis the man teaches anything, it’s that it’s one thing to be an idiot, and another to pioneer new ways to build or stumble into an insane idolatry of fascist selfishness and call it freedom. Perhaps he can speak from the lines of his last leaving:

When lo, you violent creeps, who live to lie

‘gainst human hearts and souls, have done your worst

We’ll heap your graves with fetid offerings high

And dance the living circles we loved first.

         “We’ve honored worse. Thank you, one and all, and remember I take MasterCard,” pronounced Doctor Klammy, and the conference was adjourned into police custody.

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What Martin Luther King, Jr. Might Say to Americans Being Crushed by Profit


Originally posted on jackdempseywriter:

MLK Jr, 'Just Take the First Step'

For Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday (1/20) of 2014, I’m reposting these excerpts from his last book of essays, The Trumpet of Conscience, 1968—written as he planned a people’s occupation of Washington DC.

And I hope you’ll consider how horribly King’s words of FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO have come true. Under this measure of the time in which I lived, I feel ashamed, that human inequality and the suicidal murder of Mother Earth have only intensified under the walking lie called Profit. And “what can you do,” when people have grown so comatose, inward (with their devices) and passive? “Take the first step.”

Consider these 2014 economic stats from “Another Shocking Wealth Grab by the Rich — In Just One Year,” by Paul Buchheit (piece discussing new research data), published at Common Dreams news website Jan. 21 2014:

“The overall calculations reveal that, to the best approximation:
–The richest 400 individuals made…

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The Doors at Boston Arena, 1970—A Fan Remembers


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          This hand shook the hand of The Doors’ keyboard-player, Ray Manzarek, as I met and talked with him at a trade-show appearance south of Boston in the mid-1990s. For me, by proxy, it shook Jim Morrison’s hand.

I hated to have to wash it later, but that afternoon the steamy film star Traci Lord was promoting her book at the table next to Ray.  No matter—My whole body still remembers back to the night when a 15-year-old lapsed catholic, at his first-ever rock ‘n’ roll show, felt that astounding wash of sound and ceremony pouring out of The Doors—live at Boston Arena on Friday night April 17, 1970.

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          This was not long after Jim’s ridiculous arrest in Florida. The Doors, despite the tight rich power and new range of their latest Morrison Hotel album, were already losing most of their booked gigs to America’s morality-circus. The nation busily napalming Vietnamese villages in order to liberate them was concerned about its children’s spiritual health. Was that why The Doors couldn’t get into the best Boston venue back then, the original funky Boston Garden with its 15,000 seats? At least we were sure to get a down-and-closer show at the half-sized Boston Arena, on St. Botolph Street—though it stood in an area of town that my good ol’ Irish Dad, with his urban roots, considered not the best for a youth already gone astray.

Well, he drove me and a first-band-mate George through spring rain into Boston that night to see these “Four Sad Bastards” (his name for The Doors on seeing their first album-cover). So there we were, working our way down to the floor and into a wide potential riot-ring filled with rows of loose folding chairs. The hall was like a great naked gymnasium hung with Beanpot Hockey banners, and while it had the same rotten-circus-peanuts odor as the Garden, the Arena air was full of a smoke sweetly strange to our clueless nostrils.

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          An unmemorable blues trio opened the show. Behind their set, John Densmore’s drum-kit (including a pair of skin-drums across his toms), Ray’s lean keyboard and bass piano, and Robbie’s skeletized Fender Bandmaster guitar-head were enough to upstage anybody, and The Doors’ 10-foot-high blue and silver “wall of sound” amp system kept the main act’s promise on show. People were waiting only for that to come alive.

The same fate met the next act, folk singer Gordon Lowe, whose seated set of songs and acoustic guitar faced waves of chants for Doors, Doors, Doors! and bursts of unkind applause that meant “You’re done, get off the stage!” Poor guy. The high moment of Lowe’s show was when he said he felt “Jim’s presence” close behind him. 45 minutes later there was a growing bustle with cameras flashing out of sight below the rickety stage stairs, and the whole place stood up roaring.

You can hear Jim and the band bursting into the light on the CD of this night’s two shows released in 2012. “Alright!” he howls in his warm-ups to the rowdy welcome. “Alright! Why shouldn’t I feel good?”

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          And off they launched into the lead track of Morrison Hotel, the rolling rhythms of “Roadhouse Blues.” Robbie’s guitar, Ray and John all sounded sharp as a tiger’s tooth, but the only disappointment that night (and on the CD) will ever be the Boston Arena P.A. For Jim sounded most of the time as if he were crooning through a soup-can on a string, except when he really cut loose. Of course, the up-side was that the P.A. was a system separate from their wall of sound, and that was going to crown the second show when The Doors decided to play “all night” and the Boston Police cut the power—to everything except the microphone. It made for a classic cursing Exit-Stage-Whatever for Morrison, whom Ray at last swept into his arms and off the boards as drunk as a boiled Irishman from shooting at least a case of beer through two shows. “Fuck this place!” The lion’s last Boston roar.

Back in that adolescent trance, in the presence of a national-impact band who didn’t give a shit how they looked, who took poetry and sex and art and the Earth and the body and the whole human spirit seriously, I had nothing like a critical eye and ear. Densmore in his tank-top looked lean as a cat and his slash and splash were as electrifying as his studio tracks. The whole building moved with Ray’s big blond lock of hair swaying over the keyboards while his long knuckly fingers bounced and stabbed. Robbie paced, turned and communed with the rafters, slicing his luminescent lines through the songs on his Gibson SG, and Morrison pranced and skittered, jiving along the edge of the stage and giving women’s outstretched hands just enough to hope for one good grab. “Eat me!”

Listening now, it’s clear that Morrison was sloshed getting out of the limo. The CD’s second song “Ship of Fools” shows him forgetting and mumbling half the words while the band turned it into their best moondance of a jam. But it fetched them only mild applause, and things turned musically worse with their next concert standard, a medley built out of “Alabama Song,” “Back Door Man” and “Five to One.”

Jim hardly bothers to sing “Alabama.” In the studio “Back Door Man,” there’s a particular snake’s tongue flicker of Densmore’s high-hat in each measure, which that night flattened into basic blues, and while Robbie’s guitar-leads stood out in this medley (was he the first to play in two-hand-tap style? For I saw him doing it that night), by “Five to One” it seems that the four of them are losing each other, as if nobody wants to solo while Jim dallies far too long with the ladies in the shadows. “Aah wanna love ya, bay-bay”—whether that meant her or ourselves was unclear while Jim riffed into a list of procreative positions (“Wrap yah legs aroun’ mah head….Gotta go out get fucked uhhhp….”)—all of it met with, again, some modest applause.

Well, that was sure to piss off The Doors, and maybe that was why they came back hard in “When the Music’s Over.” The first half alone was about 15 minutes long with the three instruments pouring out fierce fire. The whole thing seemed to totter in the too-long almost-silence that Jim left through the middle—but then, after his plea for the Earth, the climax was altogether shattering. I still haven’t heard a rock’n’roll singer say it better:

What have they done to the Earth?

What have they done to our fair sister?

Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her,

Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn, and

Tied her with fences, and

Dragged her down…

           And when will the next shaman riding a wave of new music and politics dare their people to sing it and say it and live it and breathe it: “We want the world, and we want it—-Now!” I haven’t heard one since.

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You can hear, on the CD, that The Doors were working to hold onto the still-sharpening edge that the music of Morrison Hotel gave to Jim’s sung poetry. I know they considered themselves a blues band, but for this one fan of Doors and blues, their chops only sometimes stood out on blues ground. See if you agree as you hear out the rest of the show, but they didn’t play to the flame of “Love Me Two Times” or their new mattress-pounding “Maggie McGill” (in either show, although the later crowd got their best new blues with “The Spy,” “Build Me A Woman” and “You Make Me Real”). Here instead began a long plateau of shuffle and Eastern-toned dervish improv that more or less fizzled into some of Jim’s new poetry—until he came bursting out of the dark in a single spotlight and shrieked, “Wake up!” Truth to tell, it scared the hell out of me.

The Lizard King had arrived and The Doors ripped and screamed and hammered through the central stretches of his “Celebration,” from Waiting for the Sun. And with one long final howl (“the cool, hissing, snakes of raiiiiin….”) and a snare-shot from Densmore, they took off into “Light My Fire,” hammering the first show closed with a pair of long first-rate solos from Ray and Robbie. Again, I saw Krieger blistering through his finger-picked lead in two-hand-tap style, and I don’t know of an example of the technique earlier than that.

What you don’t see with the CD is Morrison shooting beer after beer (after beer) all this time, his lurching staggers to and from the mike, his fighting off the hands that caught his sweater by the shoulder and almost pulled him off the stage, and again Jim laughing at the edge-biting women who kept jumping volleyball-high to grab his crotch (“What do you want? What would you do with it, baby?”). You don’t see Jim sitting down half-slumped against Densmore’s dais to philosophize when he took the level of “Light My Fire’s” middle down (“Plenty a’room, plenty a-room, y’all just get out there and populate….”) And the boy back then did not likely reflect on how those jokey words from a weary star spoke back to the worsening fate of Jim’s fair sister.

But something lit Jim’s fire in the end. For next we knew, he was up and he stumbled his way to the microphone stand, unscrewed the long shaft from its base, and then began to almost-hurl it like a spear straight into the crowd. He faked this move again and again and in the dark middle audience we saw half-rows of chairs get pushed aside by people trying anything to not get speared. Then, Morrison took the steel shaft by one end and started to smash his way right through the stage floor.

He just kept smashing with the shaft, and it was bent like an archer’s bow when he bent back again to shake it high above his head and faked more throws down into his tribe. Green as I was, I knew his alcohol-loosed rage was his anger come to a head, the anger that darkened his words and their music, born and lost in a Roman wilderness of pain. Morrison tossed his lightning-bolt  away, and found his mike, but only barely managed to finish, with little of the crescendo the song and show deserved. Musically they had long moved on. But Lord only knows how Jim could come back out and blow the roof off the building with the second show.

Looking back now, no less grateful for their music, it seems this was one of those nights when, as Densmore rued, The Doors just never knew which Jim was going to show up, the incompetent drunkard or the practiced poet of Dionysian inspiration.

George and I came out into the melee of Boston’s St. Botolph Street. It was now a clammy night of April rain and, just across the street, there was a serious fire in the huge apartment building opposite the Arena. Fire engines, turned-out residents, ambulances, news report crews, cops and all were now being inundated with rowdy glassy-eyed Doors fans headed for the next whiskey-bar. It was like a scene produced by Jim and/or that music, like a visual coda saying “See?” to the vibrations still with us.

“Where you been? Let’s get the hell out of here!” my father said.

All in all, Boston Arena got both Jim Morrisons that night—with a band giving everything they had. Jim, Ray, Robbie, and John—Thank You.

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Ceremonial Walking: Dikte Cave, Crete


Cretan bell flower

The mountains of Crete and their great caves have drawn every kind of pilgrim since Minoan times. And I hope this link ( http://ancientlights.org/sojourns.html ) will take you to a short film (shot in May 2012) that takes you down into Dikte Cave. By tradition, this is where Minoan human beings first emerged into the world, and as Karl Kerenyi notes, was the place where Minoans, with new-lit fires, music, chant, dance and ceremony, rekindled their cosmos each New Year’s Day with the rebirth of the sun on winter solstice.

Wait, if you have to, until the latest loud and laughing horde of bus-borne tourists have had their turn and gone: still your mind and heart, and Dikte Cave will take you back in time. Short flights of slick stairs zig-zag down into the dark. Overhead, mountain-swallows and fork-tails shriek and dart trading perches among massive limestone crags: you smell the mossy beards of lichen that hang down into caverns of green stone, and feel the chill of icy pools of water in the galleries below. When you can no longer see the entrance, you’re less than half-way to the bottom.

Dikte Cave pillars

Afterward, when you’ve spent time in those depths, you climb back out and take a first green breath of the great plateau of Lasithi, ringed with its mountains far below the mouth of the cave—the living opposite of the dark, wet, cold and oozing walls that just surrounded you. The Minoans felt the powers of these deep and high places to the point that they gave their best architecture features of caves and mountains. But Dikte Cave bestows a gift that every person can take home and remember like medicine: the memory of a sacred silence at the still turning center of the world.

As the cave’s absolutes strip away your senses, the imagination fills in. You can stand still down inside there for awhile, and then turn around to be startled by some figure in molten stone that seems to have crept right up next to you. I wonder if that’s why I see a profoundly strange winged figure in the photo below, looming out of the back wall of this great cave’s deepest gallery. If you can make out a face just above-center in the photo, the outspread arms and belly and the figure’s great stony crown seem visible too. Actually standing there, you wonder if it’s going to turn its gaze your way and start to move.

 Dikte Cave stone 'figure'

This is a passage from People of the Sea (Chapter 2 at Ancientlights.org) that takes a Minoan man, Deucalion, into Dikte’s depths:

          Down, and torchlight showed the ceilings growing fangs of every color, livid like the things inside a body. Down, and in the first grotto, pillars big as oaks, man-shapes, pregnant crones oozing water, mock-faced hunchbacks, guardians to pass: your own sounds loud and louder the deeper you sank in underground. I went past some monstrous multicolor thing growing off the wall like liquid rock, with a thousand labial grooves across its jaw; and tucked in almost every groove, some rusting prayer, a tiny Labrys of green bronze, little animals in votive clay or people’s limbs that needed healing. Sealstones cut with signs of their visions. I turned, and found a being at my side…

            The thing was to breathe as the caverns took you down, one upon the other, and closed dark silence round your crackling torch. There was icy water to wade now, but dittany-incense rising past me for the world. Where the floor rose up again, the walls turned, and beyond was a massive crevice leaking light…

          She was seated at the cross-legged feet of a shape five times her size coming out of the wall: wings outspread but ragged, older than time, and a face of molten rock half-crone, half-insect like a mantis. I froze, like prey…

Karfi, Crete, peak-sanctuary site, stone 'erosion figures'

The Minoans’ caves and their high peak-sanctuaries were places of complementary meanings and powers: their family ancestors were below them in the mountain and above them in the cycles of the sun, moon and stars. In between was their living world and ours. I think they loved these places as threshold-points between the worlds, where their forebears felt closer and more alive. These were families who lovingly tended their ancestral tombs for centuries. It seems they were making the most of our little human time in the sun, between where we came from and where we are going…

 'Kalistamonis' blossoms, Crete 2012

All I know is that every trip to Crete is a rebirth—a new measure of gratitude and value in the place and time where you are.

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He Done It For Duh-mocracy: Tour the G. Dubya Bush Lie-Bury


Dubya---oh, the facts

“Y’all can have yer focus groups!”

As we say in Maine, Howdy Y’All! Hope you enjoy your guided tour of the G. Dubya Bush Memorial Lie-Bury. No refunds.

The Bush Lie-Bury presents a ekkle-lectic collection. You are now passing between replicas of the great grinning skulls of Prescott and George H.W. Bush mounted here in the Hall of Ancestors (Barb still sleeps with the originals to keep warm).

First to greet you among our photos in honey-sepia is a young Barb Bush (old even then, but fresh from the gargoyle-facade of Notre Dame) emparting her beautiful mind to Lil Dubya by teaching him to hate to read. Here with these decorated documents you can admire the future Decider’s “C with Highest Honors” academic records. Laid out here are Dubya’s original silver coke-spoon, and his military service sheet on the head of a golden pin.

Karl Rove and Shit For BrainsThis is some bubble-gum he spat out crossing Harvard Yard for the limo outa fuckin’ Cambridge. Here’s a tiny Texas Rangers jockstrap and (drinking) cup, a gift from all the good fine taxpayers, and a miniature oil-rig clock that stops dead at random but spits gold coins. Here with a film-clip are some of the hanging chads rescued from election-recount by loyal GOP thugs in Florida: watch them smash the place up for Duhmocracy.

Here are the “three Shakespeares” Dubya sort of read, and the crotch-stuffing from his “Mission Accomplished” flight suit. For the right price or a fat donation, historians can browse a priceless trove: the collected memoranda of Dubya conferences to restore chaos in the Middle East. And this mannequin stands bedecked in the original design Dubya chose (shackles, black hood and orange prison-garb) for his Gitmo guests. Pull the figure’s chains to hear his prejudicial preen at a press conference: “They’re vicious killers, and they’ll git a fair trial.” 

fuck all a ya!

Here’s My Pet Goat upside-down on a WTC pedestal (it’s still smoking!). This is a travel-vial of the triple-strength Prozac that sustained years of Laura’s purty vapid grin. As you see from Laura’s own awards, when she wasn’t working tirelessly to stop the revisions of schoolbooks, she was allowed to talk beside the White House Christmas Tree. (Press to hear her annual drool: “Evera year Ah thank it’s the purtiest Christmas Tree, but this year, Ah thank it’s the purtiest Christmas Tree”).

Take a turn on the toilet-seat where Dubya thinkified a plan to privatize Social Security, and wipe with the original memo stained with his tears and spit. Next, recovered from the White House lawn is the red-bank-oyster Dubya spat for the national camera. Watch this looped tape of the 15 times that Poppy Bush smacked Shit-for-Brains upside the head. It’s like home movies on the Internets! In this shot at left, Dubya swears that Osama will be hunted down, and here at right he shrugs it off, while at center is the FBI poster not charging OBL with 9/11.

Here’s the world’s shortest film clip as Dubya visits veterans maimed in his needless wars. Press this button to hear his visionary explanation of “an Iran without Iranian influence. I mean Iraq.” Here’s the spit-up pretzel that almost choked Fearless Leader, with ol’ Barney stuffed on point beside it. This is either Dubya preparing to speak or a deer in Texas headlights. Mounted in a rococo silver frame is Take-Charger hacking down some o’ them ol’ Texas mesquite bushes, spreading civilization as he goes.

Karl Rove salutes America

This is a wax diorama with figures of the entire Bush Administration thanking Dubya for not letting them be “drug into” the World Court. This scrotum-curdling display of lead busts—from right to right, Condi (Vader) Rice, Growlin’ Big Dick Cheney, Don “Ate The Canary” Rumsfeld and Mike “Skeletor” Chertoff—portrays how they taught Dubya their world-capturing smiles.

Here’s a scale model of Dubya pissin’ on a lamp-post marked “Bourbon Street,” but it’s not in New Orleans (caption: “Heckuva Job!”). Don’t miss the bandage from Dubya’s cheek when he fell down on an election-night bender. Here’s the gallery of Dubya’s paintin’s, featuring his everyday Happy Time Tubby, and half a nude self-portrait through bathroom fog. Here’s the fifth of Jack from Dubya’s Oval Office desk, and the golf club he swung while telling terrorized America to go shopping.

Yep—He done us proud. All in all, what you’ve seen is a true national suppository: a gatherin’ to testifah to a mendacious murderin’ moron whose life and consequences prove to the world how much you can mis-accomplish with so little. May it increasify as compost for The U.S. Constitution.

Dubya Bush Library Book Drop, by Mike LuckovichDubya Bush, 'I Paint What I See,' by Steve Sack

Y’All run ‘long, now. Take yer pitchers (we sure will) ‘longside the main entrance Welcome sign:

IT’S ALL TRUE. No laughing. No crying. No reading. No thinking. No questions. No conscience. No problems. Y’all can have yer focus groups! Fool me once, shame on—whatever! Have your money ready.

Is our children learning?

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College Adjunct Professors & Minimum Wage: You Be The Judge


Wall Street soars---How about a living wage job

Is your college or university educating students with less-than-minimum-wage Adjunct Professors? Here is a measure by which to judge, as they are now at least 50% of American college faculty.

By the way, professors paid on the cheap do not equal cheapened education; not at least in the classroom. There certainly are consequences, for students and families who pay ever-higher tuition. But Adjuncts bring doctoral depth to their classes. I for one, with four published books/two documentary-films in my field and awards for articles and teaching, am only typical of Adjuncts with qualifications as good as those of full-time tenured faculty.

But we are not there to teach from our core expertise; rather, it’s to turn the great central wheel of low-level courses that only (ahem) enable college students to function. Even so, knowing how crucial that is, we embrace it with heart con gusto. So excuse this work’s approach to teaching which I myself dislike—reducing this vocation to units of time and money. I have to find a way to see past the people for a moment, and into the skeletal economic structure by which I work. It seems to be a broken system that keeps an Adjunct broke.

One other note of crazy context. I write from the Massachusetts cradle of American learning, in a New England as rife as it gets with college rivalry for reputation and real-world achievement. Graduate schools just keep turning out first-rate teachers (because they just keep wanting to use them in the process). And yet a few years ago, we had a “teacher shortage.” So the Commonwealth somehow imported ambitious young teachers from the Philippines and splashed their pluck all over the media. It was much more quiet when they all went home. They’d found that they couldn’t afford to live here. At the time I was passing through post-grad bankruptcy.

So—You be the judge of the facts of an Adjunct Professor’s circumstances.

What if a school paid an Adjunct Professor the minimum wage of $7.75/hour per student? If you will imagine that rate rounded up to $8.00/hour per student, I’ll forget that each class is actually 1¼ hours. But let’s put every bit of this on the classroom clock: no paid prep-time or student meetings. If I’m not directly teaching a class, I’m not paid.

I teach 40 students in 1-hour classes, twice a week. Let’s say that each student pays me $8.00 for each 1-hour class. Each week of the course, then, each student pays $16.00 for our 2 classes.

A full-semester course totals 15 weeks. So each student pays $240.00 for the course (15 weeks x $16.00). This (40 students x $240) leads to a grand total of $9,600 before taxes.

Now, double that total (because I teach 2 semesters per year), and my annual income before taxes would be $19,200.

Hold those figures. Now the reality check.

In 2012, Bentley University paid me $4600 per course. Double that—as we did with the 2-course total just above—to $9200. And we see that this is $400 less than what I’d make at .25 cents above minimum wage per student.

With the same numbers laid out above in 4 courses per year, my actual last year’s pay totaled $18,400 before taxes. So for last year, I received $800 less than what I’d make at .25 cents above minimum wage per student.

How about one more approach? In 2012 I was paid $4600 per course. Divide that by 20 students per course ($230 per student, before taxes); and then, divide again by 30 classes per course-semester (that is, 29 classes plus the required Exam Period). The result is: just over $7.00 per student per hour, before taxes. So we’re back more or less to the American minimum wage.

None of these figures include course design or class planning; regular detailed student feedback, grading, student meetings or mentoring; course improvements based on semester evaluations; recommendation letters that launch students forward into careers or graduate programs; teaching-skills development, course-related research, or faculty contributions.

Much less do they value my education, training, or experience. My employer and I rightly agree that a professor who does not do all those things shouldn’t last one year. And yet, like the bi-annual contract that on my end is meaningless if they cancel it, those pillars of teaching count for zero, while schools increase tuition and self-promotion every year. The only field of education jobs growing faster than the haggard but profitable hordes of Adjuncts is—administration.

I can’t explain how frustration and anger turn into even more dedication to my students, but they do. If I can’t be on campus every day for them because I have survival-bills to pay, they have my cell-phone number and email. I do hours of meetings before and after classes, and they never wait long for help. The truth is, I’m hooked on pushing them forward to success, but something is picking my pocket and theirs too while we work.

Now this is irony. If our schools paid Adjuncts a living wage, we’d be there on the weekends building with our own hammers and nails.

Bentley University is considered part of the “higher end” of Adjunct compensation. So most Adjunct Professors at American schools are paid and supported in their work far less.

This is why, to me, Adjunct Action—a New England regional effort to create a union, working with the SEIU—means something new is in the air.

We are not our employers’ foes or service-workers’ rivals: we are enabling partners to both, and to full-time faculty alike. Yet, clearly, we cannot hope even for enforcement of existing Labor Relations laws. Resolutions from the MLA and sympathies from AAUP have cut no ice for decades. And it’s Adjunct Professors who are out in the cold on every level of American higher education. Our only choice is to cooperate on a regional, mutually-supportive scale, to re-establish rightful control on the value of our labor.

Our struggle must come to the same realm of hard-ball economics that we have faced. Our strength is a choice for self-respect over the fear of speaking and moving to help ourselves. In that, we’re going to find many allies unlooked-for, and students have come forward as the first.

Just as strong are the demonstrable facts of how much core value we contribute to the schools we want to build. But you can’t build lasting value on short-term poverty and long-term invisible hopelessness.

Enough? The power we truly possess, as more than 50% of college faculty, has got to act. And because it’s real, it can be clearly demonstrated. Maybe we’ve had enough serfdom, and fear. Maybe it’s time for a different kind of Parents Day on every campus. We are our schools, and we can prove it.

Here (from our Adjunct Action/SEIU symposium last weekend) is the activizing question: Do you want things to change or remain the same?

As I add this news on October 8, 2013, we Adjuncts at Bentley are waiting for the National Labor Relations Board to count our votes to form a union with SEIU. (We’ve been told that we “professionals” shouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with unionized janitors, and you know where “they” can stick that.) So, although we’re waiting for Republicans to stop wrecking the house of democracy altogether with their government shutdown against a new law of the land called the ACA, our “exit polls” indicate a strong majority voting YES, just as it happened recently at Tufts University. We are building, we are doing it, and the day of our second-rate status is coming to an end—because together we believe in the value of our labor.

One other note—Bentley currently employs about 185 Adjuncts. At Northeastern University, the school relies on about 1400 of them. So there are very serious profit-margins at stake. And Northeastern has hired the famous union-busting law firm of Jackson Lewis to begin to combat any unionizing movement there.

What does it say that Northeastern chooses to pay lawyers millions of dollars to keep people in their place—rather than simply paying their teachers a living wage? 

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments

Bungled Diplomacy, Murder, & Healing: A New American Day at Wessagussett


Chief One Bear and 'English' speaker at Wessagussett 2004

Chief One Bear and ‘English’ representative at Wessagusset ceremonies 2004

On Saturday, April 6th, 2013, the town of Weymouth—only the second permanent English settlement in Massachusetts, and a founding-place of the public town meeting—held a gathering of Native and other American citizens determined to listen to each other.

This “little salt water cove,” called Wessagussett in Eastern Algonquian, was the place where, 390 years ago in the Spring of 1623, the “Pilgrims” of Plimoth Plantation sent their man at arms Captain Myles Standish, to ambush and kill several outspoken Massachusett leaders under the guise of a diplomatic council and feast.

After centuries of controversy and blame—ironically, over a place thoroughly neglected through those times—in 1999 the site of Wessagussett was cleaned up and re-opened as a Memorial Park and Nature Walk, followed by dedication-ceremonies in 2001. (Take a beautiful walk through in this short video at YouTube:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-EZ5BOQYvPk .)

Then in Spring 2004, here at the meeting of Sea Street and Willow Avenue, came the first ceremonial “Laying Down of Arms” between Native people and representatives of the Pilgrims’ first English neighbors. (You can see more about that day with the Ancient Lights link just below.)

So, this 2013 gathering was a next step forward: a “Day of Recognition” that brought about 100 people of many backgrounds to the site. Quietly a Native man walked circles around the great circle, “smudging” everybody with smoke from sweetgrass burning in a shell. A ceremonial fire burned close by the drum of the Quabbin Lake Singers, and their voices and drumming honored everybody’s ancestors, to open the bright afternoon of open-minded listening and talk.

Before long, a dignified group of about 25 local men came marching down the street opposite, and joined into the gathering as  the presence of the first Wessagussett company. One big burly gentleman in olive overalls with a great gray beard seemed to have stepped from a history book. And through all the Native and other guests’ turns at speaking, there was a powerful meditative silence.

It was Thomas B. Adams who, as President of Massachusetts Historical Society, observed in 1970 that “the world cannot afford to bungle its diplomacy.” Adams spoke back in time to his family forebear, Charles Francis Jr., whose 1892 Three Episodes of Massachusetts History had studied the slaughter at Wessagussett, only to find it merely typical of American frontier necessity. So this day’s recognized Native and academic historians came together determined to follow Thomas, rather than Charles, into the future—with a common ground of new understandings to refute the claim of inevitable violence.

Below is the 20-minute talk I had the privilege to deliver as one of many voices. I had first studied Plimoth (1620) and Wessagussett (1621) as part of graduate studies at Brown University, creating a new edition of New English Canaan (1637/2000) and the biography of its author Thomas Morton—both of which involved Wessagussett history. The link and the contrast was that Morton’s infamous Merrymount (1624) used different older methods to establish successful relations with the same Massachusetts people whose families had been injured at Wessagussett. So I’d gone back into events from 1621-23, whose historiography underwrote the national frontier story, and published Good News from New England and Other Writings on the Killings at Weymouth Colony (2001). You can see a full time-line and web-page about these events at http://ancientlights.org/tl3.html .

Finally—because these “Crazy Pages” are to really speak my mind—I offer these frank observations. The original “Pilgrims” of Plimoth (and the secular “Strangers” with them alike) wished very much that “rude” and “uncouth” Wessagussett would just go away. It was after all an economic rival (like Merrymount), and most of its mainstream-English people made a laughing-stock of Plimoth’s frontier-evangelical fantasies—their dreams of “reforming” New England’s “howling wilderness” and “savages” which, in fact, for a century had carried on a cautious imperfect transatlantic coexistence.

Unfortunately and incomprehensibly likewise, today’s “living museum” of first-rate professional scholars and “interpreters” at Plimoth Plantation continue to ignore the increasing tide of informed dialogue, real understanding and civic recognition at Wessagussett. Take your education-starved family to Plimoth for a day and there’ll be worlds to learn about, from the church and fort and Main Street to the Wampanoag Village.

But you won’t see, on the palisade of Plimoth where “It’s Always 1627,” the piked-up head of the Native spokesman who was “pre-emptively” assassinated, in the midst of both sides’ terrified misunderstandings and mistakes. And you won’t see the linen cloth that Captain Standish dipped in the blood of his victims and posted like a first flag on top of those fortifications. You won’t hear either about the seasoned man who laughed and called them altogether “needless,” or about his 1627 May Day Revels, or his ongoing transatlantic trust and toleration. (Come to Maypole Hill in Quincy on May 11th, and you will!) (NOTE: Due to “rain” forecast, the date of Revels 386 is changed to SATURDAY MAY 18th, 2013, from 12 noon to 3pm.)

Morton invited Plimoth folk along with “all comers” to his feast. If they showed up, they remembered a dancing chorus of decadent furies and fairies too naive to know that their unlikely frontier success had doomed them. Plimoth since and to this day has ignored all like invitations to both plantation-sites, and even the skilled interpreter who handles the role of Myles Standish decided, after all, not to attend this Day of Recognition.

Why? It was Charles Francis Adams Jr. who wrote that “there is something appalling in the consciousness of utter isolation”; and, that in such a needlessly mistaken mental state, “it was impossible that [the 'Pilgrims'] should not exaggerate the danger.” As my local fellow citizen-scholar Chet Austin observes, the news of massive Native attacks on Englishmen in Virginia (1621) must have understandably terrified Plimoth’s people, and only one thing could have saved them from the error of assuming all “savages” alike—authentic  relationships with Native New Englanders.

Back then, it seemed to be Plimoth families at stake. But history, public teaching, and public presentation have to know and go forward on the fact that that danger is over.

What is it, then? We know what it meant for the tame-as-custard Boston Globe when it declared itself “a family newspaper”: is Plimoth Plantation a “family history” site whose profession is to keep everybody smiling? It’s an odd new mission for the neighbors of a Renaissance man who was doing that. Wessagussett seems to be something that not even PBS, not even the BBC, not even The History Channel will touch (all of whom have filmed on location at Plimoth, with full casts of interpreters)—not with more than superficial and “tragically necessary” moments in familiar stories. It’s not as if these putative public teachers don’t love a good safely-dead political intrigue and murder. Maybe they too see something alive at Wessagussett.

Wessagussett was the first to teach, through its exculpatory histories, what became the full-blown Puritan approach to Native America; and that was the ground floor of national policy assumptions. Myles Standish, “Injun Expert,” and the stern bungler of Salem, John Endecott, became the ham-handed teachers of the next English comers’ men-at-arms. (Watch a 1992 interview-excerpt with Myles Standish at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHkM9faOH4w .) Ten years to the month after Morton’s 1627 May Day, those greenhorns made a fiasco of their extermination-war against the Pequots, and you can see this for yourself at http://ancientlights.org/mysticfiasco.html .

Their ministers, governors and gentles were the authors of the histories soon to be read in schools for three centuries after them. So, to see how deeply Wessagussett lives on in our national psyche, make a list of the crucial errors in its story: ignorance of the land, short-sighted priorities, uninformed plans, neglect of Native languages, inability to tell “them” apart, one-sided diplomacy with a tin ear, little idea of Native social structure or warfare, and fear-based actions that kept on needlessly creating new enemies. (All of this in tandem with multi-media reports of “progress” and “success,” and followed by shelf-feet of sad haunted imperial hagiography.)

If you sense familiar contemporary patterns in that list, they are the legacy of 1623. If education can’t or won’t find ways to address the whole story, we will keep on bleeding others and ourselves for the sake of an icon.

It’s silly, because the full facts are out there now: the first shock is that all these people were flawed, and not, in C.F. Adams words, either culture-bearers or “partially developed, savage human beings.” It’s strange, because people where you talk with them are starved for complex history, and what else can feed our genuine growth? It’s needless, because all but a few on any side have already given up their “Saints”: to smoothly sidestep the less-than-ideal is to weaken oneself by weakening one’s inheritance, validating willful ignorance and hypocrisy. And, it’s insulting, to Native and other citizens alike—as if, once again, this is all just too uncomfortable and painful for the children.

2020 is coming—the “Pilgrims’” 400th anniversary. Who’s going to tell it in the round? So far the wall around agents, studios, and accepted insiders (i.e., “ball carriers” who take a project to the right desk) stands impermeable, but maybe we shouldn’t expect this to come from inside anyhow. Want to make it happen? Let’s talk.

Liam (Thomas Morton) Neeson, are you out there? One day years ago, HBO’s Jeremy Sisto called by satellite-via-L.A.-agent from Malta about all this (he sounded cool and wired, filming Julius Caesar), and then he vanished with $200 in books/materials and the Merrymount script that gets it done, from Wessagussett to the Maypole and the Pequot War Fiasco. Tantoo Cardinal, why don’t you answer? Can we get more than a good local burger from Mark Wahlberg? Roger Deakins hails from Morton’s wild Devonshire: end of message. Oliver Stone‘s new American histories could use a foundation. Several years back, questing for a man who values our past, I left some Oscar-seeds at Ben Affleck‘s house in Cambridge, but his mother was busy ironing his super-hero leotards and flags. Howard Zinn (God bless him) told me personally that this story knocked his socks off. I wish he’d told Matt Damon.

Well, this is the kind of thing we do—and we hope, someday, you’ll join us.

Wessagussett Memorial Garden 2

*******

Good afternoon. Weeg-Waman: Welcome. First, it is meet to thank our friend Jodi Purdy Quinlan, who brought this Memorial Garden into being 12 years ago. Welcome back, to those who remember the first memorial gathering here, 9 years ago, with our dear late friend Chief One Bear. We welcome and appreciate, too, the descendants of Massachusetts and other tribes-people who honor this place with their presence. And, Welcome all who come to share this Day Of Recognition.

The end of all our wandering, said the poet T.S. Eliot, is to come home and know the place for the first time. So, in these 20 minutes, let’s open our eyes—to Weechagaskas, Wessaguscus, or Wessagussett, the “little salt water cove” in Algonquian. A good place to live, to sit, to listen and ponder, with fresh water, deep soil, easy access to the blessings of the sea and three rivers: the Fore, the Back, and the Monatiquot.

This day, we look at Wessagussett in time. It’s a beautiful, peaceful garden, set aside for the purpose of remembering where the peoples of two continents met, and began to try to live together. And, this is a garden that has bloomed from a place of murder.

This is the site of a fatal misunderstanding at the root of our story. So, while this day in civic terms goes to recognize all our forebears and ancestors, it is also an act, toward all our elders, very much like what students do in the highest honor of their teachers.

We, like time and life, are going beyond them. We cannot undo the past. We can do better. It is what our best teachers want from us, and for us. It’s part of what makes each one of us American.

The soil of Wessagussett tells about extraordinary people: very different people, on the front line of a human frontier that was new to all of them. They had extraordinary strengths, courage, and freedom, and they were under extraordinary pressures, in the midst of their meeting.

The curtain really rises with a melting Wisconsin Ice Sheet, about 13,000 years ago. We still dredge up mastodon-teeth off Martha’s Vineyard, and Native stories tell of walking to visit relatives in Nantucket. We have finds of artifacts like old family-heirloom-collections, including every period of their life here—the oldest “Paleo” points, the brilliant “Archaic” tools from the Blue Hills to Quincy’s Caddy Park, and the beautiful things created in the “Woodland” days—which brought on the great gardens of Massachusetts Fields, and the times we now call history.

This goes to the long memory behind Massachusetts peoples and their neighbors. By the age of their settled-in villages, most of them called the Great Spirit Kiehtan. They understood the world of nature as a balance of differences, wholly alive: infused, to the waters and stones, with spirit.

They knew their lands and kinsmen through their mothers—including the Massachusetts’ Great Squa of Mystic, who outlived the Sachem Nanepashemet; and her sister of the Neponset band, named Passonagessit. Economically, Native New England lived by a barter system, with local and region-wide trails and waterways. And their family groups appointed Sachems, who spoke for them in matters of diplomacy, justice, trade—and sometimes like the rest of the world, in conflict. We know there were bad-blood rivalries among the Wampanoags, Narragansetts and Massachusetts. But, as in Europe of the time, that was the exception, not the rule, among peoples who were closely intermarried.

By the 1600s, at least 5,000 Massachusetts people were living in 5 main bands from the North to South Shores: the Saugus, the Mystic, the Neponset, the Ponkapoag and the Cohanit. From north to south, this coast is covered with the shell-heaps that mark the places of their seasonal feasts and festivals. And by that time, about 250 European ships were visiting these shores each year to fish and trade for furs where they could.

The Massachusetts’ close connections, though, also carried European diseases, and after 1618 there were only about 1,000 Massachusetts left. It was Plimoth’s great scholar Nanepashemet who compared this to the nightmare-impact of a nuclear weapon. Suddenly, generations were gone, and the region’s tribal relationships were thrown into new imbalance.

Among the survivors was Passonagessit’s son, the many-named Chikatawbak, or “House Afire.” By the 1620s his people had moved down the Neponset River from Unquity to seaside Moswetusett. At his sides were at least two very capable men, called Pecksuot and Wituwamat: they were pneise, or in Winslow’s words, men “of great stature and strength, but discreet, courteous and humane, who scorned theft, lying, and all manner of base dealings.” Their abilities combined the political roles of Sagamore or sub-chief with the healing and visions of the Powah, along with leadership where conflict called for diplomacy.

DeRasieres described such men as “eager and free in speech, fierce in countenance, but tempered with courage and wisdom.” Such was Plimoth’s Wampanoag friend Hobbamok. As will appear, it may have been a status also hoped-for by his fellow Tisquantum. And within those roles was a tactic called brinksmanship—a daring use of language and threat as the left hand of conflict resolution.

Consider that, if men like Pecksuot and Wituwamat reached their 30s by the 1620s, they were shaped by decades that brought more French and English strangers to these shores, along with “plague” and encounters that turned increasingly bad. It seemed that a century of older transatlantic ways—called “fair means” in English, and described by Chikatawbak as reciprocal gifting, socializing, and trade—was breaking down, under European pressures and Native New England’s new imbalances.

The young Pecksuot and Wituwamat could have met Gosnold, and Martin Pring, Champlain and Challons: Captains Argall, and Harlow, and John Smith himself, around 1614, who skirmished and killed people at Cohasset and Patuxet, future Plimoth. When the infamous Captain Hunt kidnapped at least 19 people, including Tisquantum, these two Massachusetts pneise knew about it.

Pecksuot himself, talking with a French crew shipwrecked on Cape Cod, was told by one what his holy book saw: Native peoples soon being driven from their lands. Was that why Pecksuot and others, soon after, attacked and burned another French ship in Boston Bay, upon “some distaste” given them? Now, all-told, we have an idea of why Pecksuot and Wituwamat were so out in front of encounters with the newest strangers. These English made it clear that, this time, they meant to stay.

Good News from New England

The great majority of these colonists were varying degrees of Christian: underground Catholics, mainstream Anglicans, or outright Protestants against their government and church. From sailors to soldiers and gentleman-investors, in their cosmos the Creation had “fallen” into sin, and in consequence, their religion focused around The Bible’s Old Testament, and an ancient Middle Eastern rabbi named Jesus, whom they believed would return one day to separate good from evil forever. In William Bradford’s words, “both reason and nature” excluded women from leadership. Meanwhile, these English family groups, centered around fathers and patriarchs, were going through different kinds of separation: leaving behind the medieval manor-farm with its common dining halls, living on lands and in households increasingly subdivided by social class, by economics, and by political and religious ideologies.

Economically, as Early Modern capitalism emerged from medieval ways, England was closing off more and more common lands for a new class of investors in the wool industry. While many protested, thousands of people roamed the land “penniless, naked and starving.” Thousands of hardened English soldiers were back from the wars against Spain, such as Humphrey Gilbert, John Smith, Myles Standish, and possibly Phinehas Pratt of the first Wessagussett men. Altogether, the stresses on England were making it too easy to run over any Native American rights in their ancient land. After all, they had no cattle. The first corporate ventures’ profits were meager, but the rivaling powers of states, aristocracies, and investments kept finding new means for them. America was already becoming a kind of safety valve for European problems.

At the bottom were the parish boys, youths without other hopes who answered calls from King James’ Council For New England for sailors and settlers, and signed themselves into years of indentured servitude. By Plimoth’s time, more than half these youths were dying each year in the malarial tobacco farms of Virginia.

There were still more distinct English groups: the mostly-secular families like the “Strangers” who came with Mayflower, interested only in a homestead-share of a colonial enterprise. That was also one goal of the evangelicals known as Separatists or Puritans. Such were Plimoth’s William Bradford and Edward Winslow, whose family groups, dedicated to dissent from state and church, left their first exile in The Netherlands to avoid fitting into an insufficiently-Biblical Dutch culture. If they could not endure the Dutch, the choice of a “wilderness,” filled with ideas of “savages,” tells us about their will to isolate themselves, if that was what it took to live their uncorrupted values.

Finally, at the top were the investors—-aristocrats on, or close to, The Council for New England. Their capital interest was profit, even by way of illicit gun-trade, with the best American pelts and furs. Such were the men who scolded the decimated Pilgrims for not returning Mayflower packed with commodities; and “middling” gentlemen like Thomas Weston, who was working for his and the Council’s interests.

And so let’s turn to the key moments on the way to what happened here. It may surprise you, that the most decisive error was at the very start. When Plimoth rose from the ashes to a major agreement with Wampanoag and Massachusett groups in September 1621, what did it stipulate? One thing—that all of them were subjects of King James. For this to have any meaning for Native people, it could only mean they were allies, expected to turn to each other in matters of conflict and justice.

However, the paper bore no Narragansett marks. They did not appreciate their old rival Wampanoags and Massachusetts seeming to have a new upper hand in European trade. It’s a tribute to Tisquantum’s help in all this, that the Narragansetts blamed him. So, they got their cousins at Nemasket to kidnap and shake up Tisquantum. Had they wanted him dead, they’d have killed him. But out marched Captain Standish to the needless rescue, wounding several Native people.

And still, the peace held around that year’s Thanksgiving. Now came the Fortune, with the first 35 of Weston’s men, and “scarce a bisket-cake amongst them.” The central mistake was soon to come, from a no-doubt shaken Tisquantum, and from Captain Standish.

You see, into that winter of 1621, the Narragansetts tried diplomacy again. But the men they entrusted made it a fiasco of bitter words, and in came the famous bundle of arrows wrapped in snakeskin.

bundle of arrows wrapped in snakeskin, by historical artist Michael F. McWade

Read Winslow’s first pages carefully. He says, that warning was for Tisquantum. But he, perhaps to protect himself, turned the warning into a threat to the whole plantation. So, first thing, Plimoth sent out Hobbamock’s wife. She found no bad feeling or intent in local villages. Yet, from late November into February, Plimoth fortified. They built a palisade in fear of the Narragansetts and, we can only suppose, of their local Native kind.

This meant that most manpower would not be planting food, and it forced more desperate encounters in the coming months. Fortification also alienated Plimoth’s own chief ally Wampanoags. “Many insulting speeches” started to hamper the older transatlantic ways of dealing with trouble—which we’ll hear from Chikatawbak himself.

In Charles Francis Adams’ view, it was impossible for Plimoth, in such self-isolation, not to magnify the danger beyond the facts.

Early that Spring 1622, Tisquantum was close again to being killed, when straight in came the Sparrow, full of more Weston men for Wessagussett. Governor Bradford turns his story to the English, for now he had his hands full of more men with no supplies. But he did see, right there, Native men turning away “in a great rage.” To them, it must have seemed clear that there was no real idea of shared justice. Soon, events would unfold to show them this again, and again.

A few weeks of bad blood passed. June 22 brought 60-70 more of Weston’s men on the Charity and Swan. Somehow out of their scant provisions, they did gift Chikatawbak for permission to live on this chosen ground. But by all accounts, they had few applicable skills. They built no storehouse, because they planted no crops. According to the outsider Captain Levett, they spent most of their time building “castles in air.”

Survival meant that they could not help but intrude into Native food sources, from shellfish to ground nuts and game. Now imagine the impact of summer’s news that, far south in Virginia, the Powhatan had risen up against the English, and slain about 400 people. Standish increased Plimoth’s “training days,” with booming shows of arms. And the tinder just kept building in everybody’s midst.

Wessagussett’s first leader Richard Greene died. His successor John Saunders soon sailed for supplies from Maine’s fishermen, but he never came back. The trajectory was more and more desperation in young men all but abandoned by their superiors’ incompetence and negligence.

Some tore into late summer’s Native corn harvest, and more did so through Autumn. Who would deny that most merely wanted some kind of new home and life here? Yet, where they tried to adapt, they were foiled. Some drowned in the salt flats, exhausted by digging shellfish. Some collected firewood for local village food. Three put their boat-wrights’ skills to work, and one found a Massachusett wife. But these men in the middle were scorned by their fellows as quasi-traitors, and by Native people as scapegoats for their ongoing, unanswered grievances.

So began that desperate winter of 1622, as Bradford, Winslow and Standish made astonishing voyages round the region, doing their best to barter food from Native villages. But, in their own reports, at every stop, there were Native people to be heard about wrongs committed, crucial food-stores stolen, and hunger of their own. What we find is Captain Standish threatening violence over a missing string of beads. Englishmen laughing in the face of Native peoples’ best diplomatic gestures.

No surprise that Wituwamat and Pecksuot gave Standish an earful of feedback, more than once. These words, half-understood by ears that were willfully closed, became a “threat.” On both sides, and between, was what the Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole recently called the empathy gap: the failure to imagine how another party might react to something that would drive oneself to rage and maybe violence. 

Could things get worse without exploding? That December, an English ship, half-foundered off Cape Cod, decided to make the best of it by stealing furs, food, and people from the Nausets. If we know this only from minutes of a Council For New England meeting—through a report, relayed from Natives, by a Mass. Bay trader named Leo Peddock—we may be surprised if, by now, there was no “Native conspiracy” to end both colonies altogether. You be the judge, with the last indications we have.

Make a list of the months of rumors and alarms from Tisquantum and Hobbamock, and you can feel every Plimother’s head swimming with worry for their families. A court today would dismiss both players for their obvious failures to keep track of self-serving lies. Then, Tisquantum died suddenly that winter, and Plimoth lost another central help. Every avenue of diplomacy was either closing, cursed by luck, or bungled in anger.

That’s why we need to hear the most grounded and reasonable voice that spoke straight into these troubles. Somebody had to step forward, and try old means, to give resolution its fighting chance. Here came Sachem Chikatawbak, with a skillfully oblique show of strong, armed braves to Wessagussett: angry, but ready to talk.  “Well, Pecksuot—Tell him, if he be angry with us, we are angry with him.”

Not the right response.

“Englishmen,” Chikatawbak said. “When you came into the country, we gave you gifts, and you gave us gifts. We bought and sold with you, and we were friends. And now, tell me, if I, or any of my men, have done you wrong. Some of you steal our corn. And I have sent you word, times without number. And yet, our corn is stolen. I come to see what you will do. All Sachems do justice by their own men. If not, we say, ‘They are all in together.’ And then, we fight. I say, you all steal my corn.”

The English “stirred their arms.” Chikatawbak “went away in a great rage.” And then—Listen. “At this time, we strengthened our watch, until we had no food left.” It was Wessagusett now in the Plimoth boat.

 Honorably, Governor Bradford stopped a desperate Wessagusset proposal to take more food outright from Native families’ stores. Winslow’s diplomacy and doctoring for Massasoit brought a new “conspiracy” charge out of Hobbamock, whose list turned every ally on Plimoth paper into an enemy: including Nemasket, where Winslow stayed pleasantly on his way home.

The final choice—for a “pre-emptive strike” led by Standish, who was boiling in his brain against Wituwamat and Pecksuot—was sealed with the arrival of so-called intelligence from Wessagussett’s Phinehas Pratt. And not one historian, from Bradford to Philbrick, has scrutinized this final spark, even as they cite it.

Pratt was writing decades later to get a kind of “retirement” from Mass Bay, and long after all the other eyewitnesses were gone or dead. He proudly recounts his assault on a merely-saucy Massachusett woman for no apparent reason. When she cursed him out with a threat that braves would repay her bruises, Pratt struck off for Plimoth with her words.

Oh, yes—just before Pratt left, Pecksuot offered Pratt his own son, Nahamit, as a guide; for which, read “hostage.” Pecksuot wanted this naked “lie” of conspiracy exposed. Pratt refused, and slipped away.

Clearly, parlay was still possible, because that was the stated purpose of this Wessagussett meeting. Pratt says that 10 or 11 armed English arrived here with Captain Standish, and Hobbamok: the day was our April 5th. The next day came Wituwamat, with a brother of 18 “following in his steps,” and Pecksuot, with “another” man, maybe his son.

Philbrick at least brings out the assassination-mission on which Standish carried himself. He was determined to kill and terrify as many Massachusetts as possible, at the dawn of the English tradition called “one bloody good lesson.” Tellingly, he was shocked that Wessagussett’s own men seemed to feel no danger around them. But, Wituwamat saw the rage in Standish’s eyes, and told him to “begin whenever he liked.”

Where Standish “liked” was not in the open, toe-to-toe, but seated, at a closed-in feast of pork—offering, perhaps, some soothing liquids. The Captain seized Pecksuot’s own knife hung at his neck, and witnesses found it “incredible how many wounds these two pneises received before they died.” When Wituwamat and his brother were dead at other hands, Standish cut off his capital enemy’s head. Outside, they hanged “another,” and sent orders for killing two more by “another Company.” Then Standish, “to make spoil of them and theirs,” killed one more, and one fellow escaped him. A running skirmish, round a hill near here, came to one man wounded and a torrent of mutual rage. When Standish, back at Plimoth, showed the head around, a number of terrified “confessions” came forth. But it was too late to save the 2 or 3 Wessagussett men who were killed in the villages, where they had tried to do their best.

Pratt, by that summer, took part in more assaults and abductions at Cape Ann and Dorchester. A visiting Captain Emmanuel Altham saw Wituwamat’s head piked on Plimoth’s fortifications. Beside it hung a cloth dipped in his blood as an “ancient,” or flag. And Altham heard people wonder what had happened to their trade. Winslow knew.

“This sudden and unexpected execution…so terrified and amazed them, that they forsook their houses, running to and fro, living like men distracted, living in swamps, and so brought manifold diseases amongst themselves. Very many are dead; as Canacum, the Sachem of Manomet; Aspinet, the Sachem of Nauset; and Ianow, Sachem of Mattakiest. Certainly many of late have died, and still daily die. Nor will it easily cease, because through fear, they set little or no corn.”

Soon, three more Massachusetts people drowned, just trying to bring peace-presents to Plimoth. So the count went to at least 10 Native people dead, and 2 or 3 English.

Together now, we look. What we see is as much as historians can ask for by way of an experiment. First we have an imperfect but working set of methods in the first transatlantic century of contact. Then, the Plimoth approach. But what happened, the very next year, with the same Native people? They met some new English, men with a mind for those old ways. And together they made it work. Better than ever, until Boston arrived.

It wasn’t Utopia. Just mutual respect. Come see for yourself, because you are invited to Maypole Hill in Quincy on Saturday May 11th, 11am to 2, where Merrymount became the most notoriously “wrong” example on the books. True, it only worked for six years—but the cause of its end was not within itself. Maybe this year, the Maypole’s 389th, we’ll get the Plimoth folks to come and let their hair down.

And now, having looked with all our courage, this is a place to be proud of the town that rose from the first. A town whose town meetings built the foundation of democracy. A town that faced the fines and whips and exiles that punished their religious independence. And a town with the strength to comprehend its ambiguities and teach them to the public, rather than hope, as of old, that Wessagussett will go away. We are the unafraid proof that it will not. We want sophisticated children.

Sisters and brothers, here today, where all of us have lost our “saints,” we are come home, with new eyes. This is Recognition Day. The walls are down. See the garden again. This beauty is inside us, and around us. This is what goes on. Not fear. Not the lack of understanding.

What can close this better than the prayer of our great late friend, Chief One Bear, Raymond Tremblay, who grew up in this area, and helped the healing here in 2004: a man whose “merry jests and squibs” sustained his relentless dedication to cultural memory, and new learning.

“Great Spirit, whose voice I hear in the winds, and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me! I am small and weak. I need your strength and wisdom. Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset. Make my hands respect the things you have made, and my ears sharp to hear your voice. Make me wise, so that I may understand the things you have taught my people. Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock. I seek strength—not be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy: myself. Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands, and straight eyes; so that when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.”

This garden blooms from our learning, from this frontier-American place that made us, and makes us. The garden is living the recognition that, together and always, we are in it.

Wessagussett ceremonies Spring 2004

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Head of Myles Standish State Park statue blasted off by lightning, Spring 1923In Spring 1623, the diminutive and fiery Captain Myles Standish piked the severed head of Massachusett spokesman Wituwamat on the palisade at Plimoth. In Spring 1923, a bolt of lightning blasted the head off his statue high atop the “world’s tallest historical monument” (to “Captain Shrimp”) at Myles Standish State Park in Duxbury. Photo courtesy of Weymouth’s most indefatigable native, Jodi Purdy Quinlan.

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