PANDEMIC & MAY DAY: REMAKING THE WORLD


How America’s first English poet

pulled a vision of compassion & hope

from the ruins of transatlantic “plague”

Canaan cover

          Wishing you and all the best possible May Day 2020! This missive marks the 393rd anniversary of Thomas Morton’s 1627 Maypole Revels at Ma-Re Mount (or, Merrymount), the notorious event which, at its core, looked sympathetically right into the teeth of Native New England’s horrific pandemic of 1616-18. With sympathy and ceremony, poetry, orations, drumming, music and dance, feast, home-brew, trade, intermarriage and “worse practices” (according to “Pilgrim” William Bradford), those days bequeathed us a serious vision for healing and new community.

          Some say the most uncanny thing about “Mine Host of Merrymount” was that, after multiple banishments for his “crimes,” Morton just kept coming back to America, “the land he loveth.” In a like way, his life and writings in New English Canaan (1637) keep coming back to speak to us with his practical common sense, good-humored compassion and hopeful spirit.

coronavirus

        More and more, the global Coronavirus lockdown is a singular opportunity for working people to think about their lives and the changes they’d like to see in the running of the world. In the first place, how often in the norms of yesterday did our own best interest directly intersect with benefiting others? Do we see what a mega-powerful principle that is for accomplishment? So curious: being cut off from each other reveals our connections and invites us to build more.

        As in the American-foundational decades of the 1610s-1620s, pandemic is shattering every norm of what seemed, yesterday, “natural” or at least inevitable. Money, privilege, careless consumption and brutal power stand never more naked in front of the dire need for new arrangements. We can be sure that, when so much confined human energy steps into the world again, we’re either going to slide back into “More Of Same Only Worse,” or step forward into healthier, happier (more just and humane) relations.

        That was the choice facing the all-but-homeless Thomas Morton and his company, facing Native New England, and the future of America alike. What was to be done, and how can their choices and results help us?

        “Give me the right point on which to rest my lever,” said Archimedes, “and I can move the world.”

ship gosnold 

          How did this horror strike Northeastern America, and how did the consequences shape our foundational days?

         In the first century of contact between Old and New England (1500s-1600s), Europe was climbing out of a Dark Age decimated by catastrophic Middle Eastern Crusades and waves of bubonic plague. The Renaissance revival of ancient learning and the Bible-driven Protestant Reformation struggled to define the new human world(s) facing everyone. But the continent’s urban conditions—cities overcrowded by new business-driven economics, and appalling norms of sanitation—kept all kinds of lethal microbes active in waves of circulation.

 transatlantic map

          By the close of that century, a yearly average of 250-350 English ships were taking fishermen, explorers and fur-traders to American shores. These were tiny-vessel voyages only for the rough-and-readiest men. But by and large, they were secular, sensible and seasoned enough chaps to know that, beyond their beach-camps for trade and drying cod, it was tens of thousands of Native Northeast peoples who would arrange or refuse most contacts. In the entire U.S.-Canadian Northeast, the total population was at least 200-300,000 people.

 native village group

          Native Northeast life-ways had always intertwined caution with hospitality, gift-giving with trade, and friendships and alliances with mutual need and respect. As on all multi-ethnic frontiers, not a few Native and English people went further, and saw their affections become transatlantic children.

         In effect this made family of trading-partners, entangling them on common grounds for resolving transatlantic rights and wrongs. At the same time, moving generally south in records and traditions from Beothuk and Miqmaq Nova Scotian shores, and towards Abenaki Maine and the Massachusetts, their intimacies carried waves of European diseases, against which Native Northeast peoples had no defense.

 transatlantic trade scene

          Bubonic plague, smallpox, measles, scarlet fever, diphtheria, chicken-pox, various kinds of flu: in Native New England, these multiple and still-uncertain pandemics were Wesauashauonck, or Wesauash-aumitch. As regional historian Nanepashemet expressed it, the deaths of 9 out of 10 Massachusett and other people (“or some say, 19 out of 20”) from 1616-1618 struck with effects “like a nuclear weapon” on every aspect of Native life: family and intertribal connections, collective memory and tradition, daily and seasonal food-production, and their age-old skills of survival and living well.

          Thus, when Plimoth’s “Pilgrims” arrived in late 1620, they found only the ruined village and bones of the wholly-annihilated Patuxet Wampanoags, of whom Tisquantum or Squanto was the last known survivor: the living had been unable to bury so many dead. Not far to the north near the site of future Boston, there was almost no one left to work the vast rich acreage of “three sisters” agriculture (corn, squash and beans) called Massachusetts Fields.

native crops

         As a small Plimoth boat or shallop hunted trade-connections up the tidal river called Missituc or Mystic, they found more plague-devastation, and heard of a “Great Squa Sachem” struggling to hold their survivors together—facing also opportunistic corn-stealing raids by north-country Miqmaq, who were both traditional enemies and blood-relatives. The 1619 battle-death of Mystic’s Sachem Nanepashemet had made Plimoth’s new friend, Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit, one of the area’s high authorities.

         So it was that, just before Thomas Morton’s 1624 arrival on Massachusetts Bay, the surviving local people called Neponsets moved from old inland homes near the river’s waterfalls to a more “distanced” and defensible land-form on the Bay—the state’s oldest historical site, called Moswetusett Hummock (shown below).

moswetusset hummock

         And there on the beach was/is a 30-foot-high formation of very hard volcanic puddingstone that some called Weeping Rock (or, Squa Rock): the clear uncanny profile of a woman, who probably “wept” when winter-melts and runoff-rain rolled down her face. Ahead, many clues converge on this as a powerful place that shaped the land’s new human relationships. 

 squa rock

          In the Plimothers’ first three American years it seemed that mass-murderous pandemics had burned out at least for a while, and that “God” had done wonders to “clear the land” for their dreams of possessing all of it. Yet, the devastation’s destabilizing consequences kept on hurting everybody’s hopes for some kind of peaceful coexistence.

         Southern New England’s Narragansett (more cousins bound by both feud and intermarriage) wanted at least their share of European trade. They used their only-temporary advantage of healthy numbers to encroach on Wampanoag hunting-grounds and trade-prerogatives. So, the latter’s Sachem Massasoit quickly orchestrated Plimoth’s first treaty for Native amity and trade, a deft stroke making allies of English guns (slow and hazardous, but with a fearsome effect).

         Yet in less than a year, mutual machinations and misunderstandings fed fear among English and Natives alike. Plimoth set most of their manpower to building a fortified wall around themselves. And because this took labor away from farming and food-production—besides offending their “allies”—their second winter found them forced to hunt up supplies among Native villages.

 plimoth fort

         Almost everywhere, they found Native corn-trade to keep them alive—but, with it, both appeals for help as village families kept on dying, and angry reactions to English offenses and their own seeming indifference. Rumors and real mutual threats kept pushing the old New England ways of brinksmanship—and by March 1623, Plimoth resolved on the “preemptive” murder of outspoken Massachusett leaders. (The fine-tooth details are in Good News from New England and Other Writings on the Killings at Weymouth Colony, and in Time Line 3 at Ancientlights.org.)

 snakeskin

         The aftermath of terror that killed or scattered even more Native New Englanders also crippled Plimoth’s crucial trade, as American furs and other goods were still obtainable only with Native consent and help. As that dark year waned at Plimoth, an outsider ship’s captain noted that “by God’s goodness, [Captain Myles Standish had] brought away the head of the chiefest of them. And it is set on the top of our fort, and instead of an ancient [flag], we have a piece of linen cloth dyed in the same Indian’s blood. [It] was hung out upon the fort when Massasoit was here. And now the Indians are most of them fled from us….”

 plimoth march with head

          Such was the bungled situation when outdoorsman, attorney and Renaissance man Thomas Morton arrived on Massachusetts Bay in June 1624, aboard the Unity. His vessel’s name is a first little wink of the uncanny noted in his days by many historians. No one made more of that—as if mere facts were speaking enchanted allegory—than Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose “The Maypole of Merrymount” saw “jollity and gloom…contending” there for the soul of an America to come.

 merrymount bw

          Indeed, something like an experiment played out here. As we saw, the first imperfect transatlantic century had evolved “a mixed language” (Morton) and “cautious coexistence” (Colin Calloway). Then came Plimoth’s “reformist” approach to frontier relations—decidedly evangelical toward an American “New Israel,” with the short-fused “martialist” Myles Standish at the cutting edge. What made this an historical test-case was that now, right in the midst of the same Native people(s) hurt so badly by pandemic and Plimoth, Morton brought back and prospered by those original transatlantic ways. One approach worked imperfectly, and the other brought mutual rancor, damage, division, death, and decline.

          Different choices, different possibilities—that was Morton’s “woke” edenic blasphemy (that people create their destinies). He’d have none of a Biblical fatalism that a “fallen” human nature lacked what it needed to make the world a garden.

canaan sample page

          There’s no doubt that Morton was a front-line colonizer, and wrote in part to call in more Englishmen. But the soul of his actions we’ll see, and the title of his book New English Canaan, went to reject any one-sided notion of America as “New Israel.” Like a lawyer presenting evidence (which he was), he argued that Difference was not divesture of human rights. Like ancient Canaan, America was inhabited, by sophisticated people(s), and well-being with an honorable conscience had to recognize it—even, learn from it.

         If Morton sang loud in his third chapter that because of pandemic, America was thus “made so much the more fit for the English,” he quite uniquely pricked that bubble quick, likening Native people to the innocent Jesus at bone-strewn “Golgotha,” and with a note in his margin: “2.Sam.24.” And there was The Bible’s King David praying that God relieve his people of a plague: “These sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand…be against me, and against my father’s house.”

         Canaan then presented 17 more chapters (the first full third of the book) detailing Native New England’s ancient and civilized life—they were and are “still here”—while the rest of the work bore out his simple and crucial American watchword: “Respect.”

         We are coming to terms as Morton did with complexities which, addressed with compassionate intelligence, could issue in positive new ethics and values.

          Who was this guy?

merrymount today

          When any man seem like to prove an enemy to their church and state, the first precept in their politics is to defame the man at whom they aim. And then, he is an holy Israelite who can spread that fame broadest: like butter upon a loaf, no matter how thin, it will serve. —New English Canaan Book III

         Was Thomas Morton, as legions of patriot-historians hastened to claim, a man with “absolutely nothing to be said in his favor….a lawless, reckless, amoral adventurer…a reckless libertine, without either morals or religion…saturated with revelry and scoffing”? Let’s a look:

          Sensibility—Born about 1576 in England’s wild West Country, he grew up where the land was dotted with ruins of pre-Christian cultures and the social rule was hospitality first, before ideology. While England’s new “financialized” economy bred droves of homeless starving people who “fur-nished the gallows with poor wretches,” Morton’s youth gave him rugged outdoorsman’s skills, Classical readings, exposure to first reports by American explorers, and then training in common law in the midst of London’s boisterous Inns of Court. There, poetry, plays, masques and spectacles kept tongue half-in-cheek against lawless authority, moral hypocrisy, and the self-wrecking stupidity of entitled arrogance.

          Habits of Mind—“I will go the surest way to work first, and see how others are answered in the like kind.” This was a man who, first, observed, and then experimented, processing his results. He came to America prepared to look, listen, compare and learn from peoples already well-along in getting along. Native New Englanders set aside feuds to share and “revel” in nature’s seasonal bounties: pre-Plimoth visitors raised maypoles and danced in funny costumes to fetch fur-traders down to the beach. And they were unafraid to share out “strong waters,” guns, and even themselves for a bargain.

          Adaptability, Innovation—Morton’s first bad examples were two-fold. One involved fellow-Englishmen who’d been told, by their betters, that class (money) would always bind their lives to servitude. On Massachusetts Bay by June 1624, he and “thirty servants” were all but abandoned by so-called backers: soon the youths under indenture-contracts were being sold off as labor in Virginia’s murderous tobacco-fields.

         Morton, knowing both the law and the aristocrats who desperately wanted fur-trading profits, arranged for every willing man to stay and build in place as his “consociates” and equals. This did not please the “betters” at nearby Plimoth, already strapped for labor in their fields and in the wall-building works of their “needless” (Morton) militia. The man, said Plimoth’s Bradford, “would entertain any, how vile so ever, and all the scum of the country would flock to him.” In these early-American contexts, the ancient nature-praising maypole long raised by “common” people was on its way to becoming a liberty-pole.

          Morton’s other early outrage put the true Native masters of this landscape on a best-possible equal footing, by trading guns (with training and supplies) for their permission to plant, and for trade in furs and resources. The so-called soul of the objection from Plimoth and in King James’s edict was that guns “spoiled the trade”: meaning, the sky-high profits snookered from Native peoples by giving them baubles or cheap tools while their furs became choice clothes and hats. Grant the indeed-heroic “Pilgrims” every ounce of pathos: Native New England owed them and England not one thing.

         As we saw, Sachem Chikatawbak’s Neponset and other Massachusett bands had suffered horrific losses. As Morton got to know them in their households and his own (which he called “nine persons, besides dogs”), it seemed no wonder that they wanted post-pandemic power to intimidate other feuding tribes and the decidedly “martialist” English at Plimoth. From contact came confidence and courage—not to mention a more-equal economy and alliance with mutual benefits.

         The complaints from Plimoth received no answer, because Morton’s costly guns were shipped through the wishes and the winks of high-rank aristocrats. He and his consociates went on doing better round “Merry-mount,” smiling perhaps that royal edicts were not (thank God and English lawyers) statutory law—and likely amused at Plimoth’s pleas for help from a king they reviled as tyrant. At last when James died, Morton answered them: “The king is dead, and his displeasure with him.”

          So—Some key qualities driving this frontier’s more-equal prosperity? Cosmopolitan or “renaissance” education, traits of scientific method, love and seasoned respect for Nature and human differences, generosity, fair and tolerant social arrangements, adaptable creativity, earned confidence, courage. Looking today for sound past examples for the future, we must not miss one more trait with positive results.

         (It calls for an inference born from a dozen little Morton clues, but it does have company in comparative reverse. One day, Massachusetts’ future first puritan governor, John “city on a hill” Winthrop, got lost two miles from his house. Unnerved, he holed up in a Native wetu or home that he found by chance. And when a Native woman came knocking, he refused to let her in.)

native female making pot

          Compassion—We’ve seen Morton’s subtle but steadfast defense of Native humanity. Most likely, he too went walking one day up the Bay shore, toward Chikatawbak’s people at Moswetusett. And something, it seems, struck him deep—the likely sight of a Native New England woman weeping, perhaps at Squa Rock, for so many kinsmen and children lost by no fault of their own. Long and loud laments at family graves were an old custom.

          She is the figure Morton inscribes at the heart of what happened next—the 1627 May Day Revels at Merrymount, raised amongst “all comers” to celebrate and promote a well-being earned in just three years. They raised these days as a powerful multi-media message of “medicine” and healing hope to such a grieving woman and her kin.

          While this woman’s grief and predicament are wrapped in Classical myths by Merrymount’s “Poem” (nailed up as a maypole manifesto), she is not ventriloquized into an easy fake welcomer of English intrusion. She is asked to respond to the sweetest proposal that Merrymount’s men (who “wanted wives”) could muster, stuck where they all were—in a little love-story that decides the destiny of whole peoples  (a “little epic” or “epyllion”). Imagine Morton stepping into the sunny center of a great hilltop Unity Circle (Native people often gathered by “significant land-forms” to hear orations), and here is a modern version clarifying what he had to say:

Rise, riddle-readers, and unfold

what means this whirlpool, death, beneath the mould,

when woman, solitary on the ground

sitting and weeping her kinsmen is found?

Now, New World attractions will acquaint

Old England with the tenor of her plaint,

and bring forth heroes, to the sound

of trumpet loud—and so these shores are found

so full of versatile hands, that the bold shore

presents this woman a new paramour,

as strong as Samson, and so patient

as Job himself—guided thus, by Fate,

to comfort her, so fair and unfortunate.

I do profess, by Love’s great mother,

that here’s a wise fool’s choice for her, none other—

although she’s sick with grief, because no sign

till this our Revels heals her race and mine.

Healing masters, come! I know right well

that all our labor’s lost if she should fall.

‘Tis doom no mortal ever can withstand.

Yet, Love’s own equal power points this land

with proclamation that the first of May

at Merrymount shall be kept holiday.

          Here we are, he says, each and all of us and our cultures stricken, grieving. If we want to live, we have to choose new unities, new ways that build on our compassion for each other…

         And if people didn’t get it, now (selected/modernized below) came the hand-holding dances measured out by May Day’s “Song”—laced with enticements to let down one’s guard, join in and become a community. The formula was in the first word of each verse: Make-Nectar-Give-Give. And “Nectar”? Plain drink and the erotic (all-connecting) cosmic ambrosia.

[CHORUS:]  Drink and be merry, merry, merry boys,

let all your delights be in marriage joys.

Yo! to marriage, now the day is come:

around the merry maypole take a room.

*

Make green garlands, bring bottles out

and pour sweet Nectar freely about:

uncover your head, and fear no harm,

for here’s good liquor to keep it warm. 

So drink and be merry, merry, merry boys…

*

Nectar is a thing assigned

by the Deity’s own mind

to cure the heart oppressed with grief,

and of good liquors is the chief.

So drink and be merry…

*

Give to the melancholy man

a cup or two of it now and then:

this physic will soon revive his blood

and make him be of a merrier mood….

So drink and be merry, merry, merry boys…

*

          CLICK HERE to listen to the full original “Song” with modern music.

          The best proof that all this was working, and would grow, was Plimoth’s assault on Morton’s household within a year. So after his May Day peak began the arrests and torments meant to break him, 20 years of hounding by gangs of holy half-wits and military Keystone Cops. Plimoth’s good ol’ Injun Expert, Myles Standish—to Morton, “Captain Shrimp”—just wanted to kill him, but his sage superiors took a less-obvious tack, and marooned him on a rock miles out to sea (off the continent completely). Somehow, he made it back to England.

         Another year and Morton was back (1629) in the Massachusetts, “not so much as rebuked.” Yet as he stood watching on the hill, June 1630 brought waves of new Puritans to the Bay. Sneering at his “unsanctified” offers to find them good water and hunt up meat for the famished, their first order of Boston Business was to burn and scatter Merrymount, hoist Morton “a man they never saw before” out of the country in a cow’s harness (that is, sore-unwilling)—and, to outlaw “cohabitation” and “unsupervised” trade with Native persons. 

          In the next few 1630s years, “plague” returned to kill many more Native New Englanders, including Chikatawbak. Within a decade (10 years to the month of May Day), the Puritan colonies launched (and sorely bungled) a war of extermination against the Pequots. The day that declared their war is now “Connecticut’s Birthday.”

         As someone remarked, Massachusetts Bay made a good lawyer angry and let him live. But that—how Morton won in high English courts and pulled the chartered ground out from under “New England”—is another story and, sooner or later, a feature-film.

         This is ours. Merrymount’s uncanny enchanted allegory of Unity-vs.-Catastrophe is a practical and visionary road-map: our best Archimedean point for the leverage to move, save, and remake the world in the image of our life-loving souls. Merrymount was destroyed because it was working. In the midst of today’s frightened, already-proven scams and dead ends of holy nationalism, it’s Merrymount—not 400-year-old walled-up Plimoth, or Boston’s masters of lawless legalese—that stands as the founding “city on a hill” for “all comers,” whose light can really guide a humane way forward.

         Nothing is more clear than that our founding patriarchs and their pious-imperialist misleaders have betrayed their own people(s) who do the work, for money and the power to control us in a sickening cage. No crime they won’t commit; no lie they won’t tell; no living thing they won’t destroy for a delusionary dollar, leaving most people a handful of dimes.

         The secret of prosperous equality is not Profit (Take More Than You Put In), not the walls and guns holding off the consequences.

         The secret is in plain sight: Make-Nectar-Give-Give. You bring something to the feast, and it comes back to you redoubled.

 wessagusset ceremony

         What we are living, or trying to survive thanks to so many pseudo-saintly “reformers,” is chrematistics, or Profit At Any Cost. Yet, with new understanding of where we have been snookered—from a model that worked into one that doesn’t (without constant lies and delusion-reinforcing violence)—we are going to remember and build the original eko-nomia: “the conduct of a household to the benefit of all.” A dynamic steady-state fit for freedom on a finite planet.

         Native or Indigenous peoples, for whom the whole world is alive, are still here and waiting on the hill—more than waiting. What was done to them first is now done to every citizen far from the top. Yet as Noam Chomsky points out, around the world rushing headlong toward more “growth” and disastrous development, it is Indigenous peoples most urgently warning, organizing and working for another way. This after 5 centuries of decimation, degradation, and on-average status as their nations’ poorest communities.

         The definitions that erase Native peoples, the “reservations” created to crush them with hopeless poverty, go on posing them as supremely “Other”—a symbolic status, to terrorize any nonbeliever inside The Colony. (“A token of what you shall get,” said Morton, “if you be one of them they term, without“).

         This goes on in our own C-19 pandemic. The malignant narcissist currently in the White House posts a portrait of Injun-Killer Andrew “Trail of Tears” Jackson over his desk. Native Northwest peoples request protective equipment for their struggling clinics and receive, “by mistake,” body-bags. About half of American states, in reporting the demographics of infections and deaths, let Native “ethnics” fall into a blank “Other” category, rendering their higher proportional illness and deaths invisible—except to them. (The Guardian April 24, 2020.)

 Merrymount Revels honoring Thomas Morton

         The healthier, more equal, happier way taken from us just keeps coming back. Uncanny: you’d think life and letters are trying to tell us something more than “Believe, Obey, Get Back To Work, Keep Paying and Keep Quiet.”

         The Change that pounds at the door of our crumbling house is in every single person’s interest. My own best interest—in these old/new many-sided lights, what a lackluster reason to live and act in life’s favor! Open the door. Walk out into the garden planted with your own two daily hands.

    May Day workers         

         Meantime, as the planet revs up International Workers Day, Revel-Up your May Day any way you can. Observe, commune with land, sea, creatures and stars, with books and music, listen, talk, meditate, envision—and get ready to act. It’s not so far ahead that our best energies will roar to live more than ever. This time, we cannot let a walled-up, violent, greedy, overstuffed minority stand any longer in the way of our next leap.

         We will join hands again. Time to rise like a renaissance to our own greatest human endowment, power and potential—compassionate creative (r)evolution.

standish head

In March 1923, 300 years to the month when Myles Standish murdered several and beheaded one “recalcitrant” Masssachusetts, a bolt of lightning struck “the world’s tallest historical monument” in honor of the diminutive captain, not far from Plimoth—and blasted its head off.

 

 

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Now & Tomorrow: An Interview with Palestinian Writer Muhammad Jihad Ismael


Palestinian writer Muhammad Jihad Ismael and son Jihad or ‘JoJo’ in Deir el Balah, May 2021

          Muhammad Jihad Ismael is a Palestinian living with his family in Gaza. At 36, he is a popular writer of short stories, scholarly articles and journalism, published so far only in Arabic. He first contacted me early this year about my novel People of the Sea (2017), which details the Late Bronze Age founders of Palestine. 

Muhammad’s grandparents, originally from the multi-ethnic village of Shaphir between coastal Ashdod and Jerusalem, were among many thousands of Palestinians dispossessed from their homes in 1948, and forced to walk to a refugee camp in Deir el Balah (near the middle of the Gaza Strip). Muhammad’s father, Jihad, was born by the side of the road as they walked, and they lived there in a tent for five years until able to build a small house in 1954. 

Muhammad’s wife’s name is Ghada and their 3½-year-old son Jihad bears his paternal grandfather’s name. We have talked many times via Zoom (Skype does not seem to function in Gaza), and this is a transcript of the interview he granted in three parts: his family’s memories, life in Gaza since their arrival, and their hopes and prospects now and for tomorrow. 

While Ghada is now pregnant with twins, she is diagnosed as “anemic” and unable to afford or obtain needed medicines and vitamins (let alone good fresh food). Many times as we spoke, the roars of Israeli jets and bomb-explosions interrupted our discussions. 

PART 1 

MUHAMMAD: Hello again Jack! To answer your first question, I was born in April 1985 in Balah, about 15 kilometers south of Gaza City. [The entire “Gaza Strip” is 5 miles wide/25 miles long, and Balah has been an important community since the days of Egypt’s pharaohs.] 

My father Jihad earned his degree as a geography teacher at university in Alexandria. Our first small house in Balah was only three rooms with a bathroom and kitchen, and grew very crowded with our extended family. So, when I was five years old, we were able to build a better house not far away in Nuseirat, between Balah and Gaza City. We lived there for about twenty years, and when I reached 25 years old, we managed to buy some land back in Balah, and built the house where we all still live today. 

JACK: Can you share some aspects of your family’s story from the 1940s beginnings of Israel? 

MUHAMMAD: My grandmother named Nazira gave birth to my father along the refugee road from Shaphir to the Gaza Strip, without any help from a hospital or doctor. Nazira carried my father in a basket packed with soft stems of wheat—you know, like the infant prophet Moses—which she carried on her head as they walked to Gaza. The people there asked Nazira, “What are you going to call this boy?” And she answered them with the name Jihad, which means “struggling for freedom.” When you are attacked and occupied, you must struggle for your freedom. So when my son was born, we gave him the same name. 

          JACK: As an historian, I knew a Native American colleague who once said, “I am my father, and my father’s father, to the beginning of time; and I am my son, and my son’s son, to the end of time.” What have your grandparents told you about life in their original village Shaphir, before they were forced to leave in 1948? 

MUHAMMAD: My grandfather passed away when I was 10 or 11 years old. But my grandmother Nazira, who is still alive today, is a brilliant storyteller. Since I was a boy, she has told me many stories about Shaphir. The village stood on the main road from Ashdod on the coast to Jerusalem, and it was famous for its plantations—growing wonderful tomatoes, watermelons and sesame. So Nazira and Rajab were farmers, or “peasants” like about 95% of the people there, growing their food and making their living that way, while the other five percent worked in different industries. 

JACK: Of course, with so many terrible Near Eastern events in the decades from World War I to WWII, how did your grandparents remember the life in Shaphir? 

MUHAMMAD: Shaphir was a multicultural village. Muslims, Jews, and some Christians lived there. My grandmother told me that all of them lived with tolerance toward each other—even with love. They felt that they were all family. And she told me that this was mostly how people were living in the villages and towns all over Palestine. And, she told me that the Jewish people used to deny and condemn the doings of the Zionist militias, the Hagganah and other militant groups of their own people, who used to kill Palestinians and expel them from their homes. She told me that a great many native Jews did not agree with these actions, and they used to stand with us, and told the militias “Do not come here, this land is for Palestinians, and we have lived here in love and peace for centuries.” 

That is why both of my grandparents, and my father also, used to tell me not to think that all Jewish people were Zionists. A Jew might be a very good person, but it was the Zionists who expelled or killed us, and made themselves our enemy. 

          JACK: So with this life going on for so long in Shaphir, how did your family’s actual expulsion happen? 

          MUHAMMAD: My grandmother Nazira remembered that it began to happen gradually, with a few Arab and Palestinian families at a time being “warned” by Zionists that they had better leave. But those people of Shaphir used to protest and make some resistance. When the British Army interfered and began to support Hagganah and these Jewish groups, there was no more balance, because of Britain’s great military power. Nazira said it was their force that turned the tide against us. 

          JACK: This agrees very strongly with a recent film produced by journalist Abby Martin called Gaza Fights For Freedom. It documents that Arabs and Palestinians at first used to hide and protect young Jewish men from being forced into Zionist militias. But when British forces turned the tide, those young Jewish men now with the Zionists—compelled to it, or otherwise—could not or did not protect their Palestinian neighbors in the same way. Now there is a popular saying in Israel, that “The coffee was still warm on the table” when they took over Palestinian homes. 

          MUHAMMAD: Yes. My grandmother told me a similar story. She used to bake bread in their household oven, which the family loved to eat with okra, and basil, and tomato. I smile now because I know that flavor, and the best olive oil along with it makes my mouth water! Nazira told me that one day in 1948, the Zionists came to the door, and into the house, and they beat people of the family, and destroyed all the house’s furnishings, and stole many precious things. They told our family, “You are to leave, right now, or very bad things are going to happen: you will be killed.” And so our family’s midday meal was still there on the table when they were forced out.  

          My grandparents said that this how it happened in other villages also, not far from Shaphir. The Hagganah militants told people, “If you do not leave now, we are going to destroy your house with artillery fire,” and in many cases, this happened.  

          JACK: And so the family walked from Shaphir to a refugee camp in Deir al Balah, where you were born in 1985, and moved from there to Nuseirat. Why was that the best thing to do? 

          MUHAMMAD: As I told you, our first house in Balah was very small and crowded. So we moved to Nuseirat, where at least the prices for land were not too expensive. With my father’s income, we built a better home there, and were also able to obtain human services from UNRWA—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.  

          JACK: In the next part of this interview we can talk about your father’s and your family’s life as they began again in the Gaza Strip. 

          MUHAMMAD: Yes. But I want to tell you an important testimony told me by my grandfather, Rajab, before he died. He told me, “Muhammad, you know of the Israeli leader Moshe Dayan. I knew Dayan’s father personally, in the days of the British Mandate, and used to work with him as a laborer. He was a good man.  

“And when his son Moshe began to kill Arabs and Palestinians in 1948, he told his son, ‘Moshe, you are wrong to do these things. Do not kill our friends. They are our neighbors. We all have lived and grown up together. We have lived many years together in love and peace. Do not do this.’ So Moshe Dayan’s father himself used to denounce all of these crimes.” And I have never seen this story told in any other place. 

PART 2 

JACK: Muhammad, please describe your young life—your education, your community, and what you cared and dreamed about, in those days of the First Intifada from 1987 to 1993. 

MUHAMMAD: When I was a little boy, I rode a bus every day from Nuseirat to my primary school about 12 kilometers away in Gaza City. It was a Christian school with a church nearby. I did not yet imagine being a writer, but I loved to watch the world soccer matches with my friends on an old black-and-white television in our house. 

At that time, the Israeli army used to enforce a strict curfew in our Nuseirat neighborhood. Almost all the people living there were refugees from other villages: thrown out of our first homes, now we could not leave the ones we had. One day in 1992, when I was seven, my maternal grandmother Fawziah felt severe pains in her chest. We did not have a telephone, so my mother hurried me to go to our neighbors. They might have some medicine to help her, or could call an ambulance. 

Just a few steps from our house, I ran straight into a group of about seven Israeli soldiers. They caught me as if I were a baseball landing in a fielder’s glove. And without a word, they began to beat me all over my body with their batons and the butts of their rifles, until I was covered with blood and tears and the dust of the street. 

My mother was crying and shouting from the window, “Let him be! He is a child! My mother is dying, and he has to bring help!” But they continued with the beating until an Israeli officer, a good man, came and told them to stop, so I could go to bring the help we needed. My friends and almost all the Palestinians in our area took beatings like that, and there was no possibility of a complaint or justice about it. 

JACK: Yet, somehow, you continued your education. 

MUHAMMAD: Yes. You see, ours is a relatively intellectual family. My father was a teacher, my mother is a brilliant painter, my brother Ahmad very skilled in sculpting. We usually did not get involved with the great protests, the marches and street-fights and throwing stones. Obviously, actions like that against tanks and soldiers in body-armor were mostly symbolic expressions of our desire to be free and equal citizens able to decide our own destinies. 

          As of age 13 in 1998, I went to secondary school in Nuseirat, a school close to our house. The Second Intifada began in 2000—and if the first uprising was an event in our civic life, the second was an outright military war that lasted about five years. Every day there was terrible fear and great danger that could come from almost anywhere—and, most of the time, for no reason you could understand. We were boys. Many I know were injured, harmed in the spirit, or needed my help to escape bad situations. 

Through that time, as of 2003, I began to study comparative literature at Islamic University in Gaza City. The people there were mostly not refugees but original inhabitants, mixed with visitors from all the Palestinian territories, and with some Israeli settlers. It was a very multicultural city, and we students were considered as guests among them. But it was very crowded, and offered little chance to find any kind of work. And there were constant clashes between Israeli soldiers and various Palestinian political groups. 

JACK: So just about every aspect of ordinary life was difficult. 

MUHAMMAD: Yes. For example, in winter 2004, as all this continued, I had to take exams, or lose credit for my studies. So I had to go, although my mother begged me to stay at home. But there were Israeli tanks and soldiers at checkpoints along the main road between our home in Nuseirat and my Gaza City university. They said we were not allowed to pass, even on foot through the cold and heavy rain: “Go back!” So, although I might have been shot dead, I found a way through groves of olive and orange trees to the coastal road along the Mediterranean Sea, somehow reached the university just in time, and completed the exams. 

JACK: I’m sure most people can see you and your family trying to live a normal life. But most do not live among brutalized refugees, surrounded by soldiers—or risk being shot to take their exams. As you began your writing career, how did you meet your wife Ghada? 

MUHAMMAD: When I was 31 (in summer 2016), my mother began in our traditional way to seek out “a good girl” for me among our friends and community. Soon she introduced me to Ghada’s family, whose original home was Ashdod: that appointment was the first time I saw her. She was a student of Arabic Literature, and we were engaged for a year before we married. We liked to go sit beside the sea, where we could feel and taste the free air and the cool refreshing water. These I think are normal things most people do in courtship. But this was about all we could do—for we are two and a half million prisoners here in the Gaza Strip. And half of them are young children who have never known true freedom. 

JACK: There are now multiple human rights reports telling the world that most of your available fresh water is toxic because the recycling plants are destroyed by years of bombing. Hospitals, clinics, marketplaces, even schools are bombed as Israel claims that they help or protect “terrorist” organizations. People with health problems die needlessly because they cannot get official permission for better care. It seems that all this must create terrible psychological problems in such a confined population. 

MUHAMMAD: I am sure that if you conduct psychological tests, more than 90% of our people suffer mental problems created by our conditions. No one can sleep well through a whole night, there is always fear, despair, depression, frustration, hopelessness—everything around us is destroyed, and we cannot bring in concrete for rebuilding. Even those who say they are our leaders have corrupt monopolies on every necessity of life, so prices are double or triple what they should be for everything you need to live.

Israel even controls our diet, our daily caloric intake. If one day you can find a meal, the moment you finish it you start to worry about tomorrow’s. This does not mention the agony of not being able to feed your children. You cannot store food in your kitchen with almost no electricity each day. And there is not enough food coming into Gaza for more than day-by-day survival. We are allowed to import only 200 trucks of food supplies per day, and that is supposed to feed our 2.5 million people. 

          JACK: That means one truck of supplies to feed 12,500 people. 

          MUHAMMAD: It is simply impossible. Here almost everything of normal life is so, either closed down or destroyed. And that is why I must tell you of one of the worst problems we face—constant and increasing acts of suicide. People somehow find a bit of petrol or fuel. They go to a public square, soak their clothing with it, and then use a lighter to burn themselves to death. I must be honest, I must ask the world what else we can expect, when people cannot find a piece of bread to feed their children. Because almost half of our people have no work, they cannot buy a simple medicine when their malnourished children are sick.  

          JACK: And after so much resistance against these conditions, it was the everyday people of Gaza who created the 2018-19 demonstration called The March of Return. We can speak more about this in this interview’s final part. As I ask readers again to see journalist Abby Martin’s film about it, Gaza Fights For Freedom (at YouTube), how would you describe the Palestinian hopes that drove that demonstration? 

          MUHAMMAD: Well, Western media give a mistaken impression of the people of Gaza. Let me tell you honestly—the great majority of us are, so to speak, against politics. The people of Gaza just want to have a life, a secure life, a normal life. Our demands are simple. We are not looking to force Jewish people off the land or into the sea. We want to live beside them, side by side, as neighbors. This is what we tried to show the world, with the courage of our hearts, in The March of Return. 

          JACK: As your grandmother and grandfather did. 

          MUHAMMAD: Yes, yes! But instead, for seven decades, and right now, people here suffer and die needlessly, unable to live or work toward their hopes and dreams. About this I have written a short story published in Arabic called “The Sacred Apple,” so allow me to close this Part 2 by sharing it with our English-speaking readers. 

          There was a young boy living with his parents in Gaza City. His mother, with an illness all her life, lived in a wheelchair. His father’s best chance for work was as a garbage-collector, and they were very poor. In the marketplace, they had to buy their foods carefully, because luxuries like fresh fruits were expensive, even though they grew on farms not far from Gaza’s walls and fences. So one day, the boy saw a TV cartoon in which some silly dancing fruits sang a children’s song. Of all the fruits from figs to bananas and oranges, the boy liked the big fat apple best. 

          He had seen heaps of apples in the marketplace, but his family could not afford them. The boy thought about them more and more. He even began to dream about having an apple, just to hold its perfect goodness in his hands, to smell the aroma of its fresh skin and the juicy meat inside. He knew it would fill him with nourishment and joy. So, he asked his father to buy him such an apple, just one, so he could taste it. And although every bit of their money had to pay for the most basic foods and his mother’s medicine, his father tried to put aside just a little, week by week, to buy an apple for his son. 

          But every day, there was some new emergency, or some more important thing that devoured the father’s secret savings. For six months the boy’s father kept on trying. Yet each day, he had to make some hard and honorable decision for his family, or to help a neighbor who was even more desperate. The boy noticed these things, and he knew how hard his father was trying to help him fulfill this simple dream. To the boy, the apple began to seem as sacred, but as far away, as the holy and happy place that we call Heaven in this life. 

          So, the boy tried to enjoy what he could, locked up like everybody in the crowded and horrible ruins surrounding them. One day he heard his school-friends playing soccer in the street outside. His mother was afraid for him, but she let him join his friends. And that was one of many days when Israeli jets flew over the city, and dropped bombs. The boy was killed. His flesh was flung about in a hundred pieces. And as people of Gaza collected these pieces of the boy and other victims, in buckets or whatever they could find, his mother cried aloud to God in Heaven. “Lord, Oh Lord! His dream was such a small dream—such an ordinary dream!” 

PART 3 

JACK: Muhammad, both of us—myself with the historical novel People of the Sea, and you with your Arabic writings and interviews—want readers to understand that Palestinians are, in fact, people, human beings who yearn and cry out to the world for justice and equality among their neighbors. A cease-fire has ended the latest 11 days of horror in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. And now you and your wife Ghada are expecting twins? 

MUHAMMAD: Yes. The doctors have said they will be born soon, in June or the beginning of July. And this has been such a difficult time for Ghada. She is anemic because it is so hard to get good fresh food, vitamins and medicines. And like everybody, she sleeps only in a fragmentary way. Last night, there was a huge explosion just a few meters from our house. The attacks are always in the nighttime. Ghada woke up suddenly beside me as if she had a horrible nightmare. I always try to comfort her and keep her strong, and she asked me, “Muhammad, do you think I will be alive when the babies’ time comes?” 

I tell her that we must trust in The Lord, that our destiny is the same as two-and-a-half million other people’s here in Gaza. And all I can do is give her some tablets for headache, since an American friend sent us a jar with 500 tablets—but we have in these last few days used up the entire jar. This has been like being in hell. The whole time, all of us stayed in one room, the kitchen, which we thought would be the safest in the house. We could only sit together, perhaps talking, eating something, trying to sleep, or telling stories. Ghada cannot believe that she survived these last two weeks. We had such terrible air-strikes that all of us simply expected death at any time, and to be buried under the rubble of the house. 

JACK: Ghada woke up as if from a nightmare, and the real world had become a nightmare. I read a report in the UK Guardian that at one time there were no less than 52 Israeli attack-aircraft in the air over Gaza. 

MUHAMMAD: Yes. And when they come to attack, they fly at low altitude. You cannot hear them coming, but suddenly they are right on top of you, with a roar of thunder that sounds like it is tearing open the sky. Can you imagine the noise they make? Also, besides the aircraft and missiles, there is bombardment by tanks and artillery—it makes a horrible sound like something coming from hell. 

JACK: And through all this, you continue to work on your writings.  

          MUHAMMAD: Well, I try! One new project is an historical collection of writings about Palestine and Gaza by people who traveled there. One of them was a 16th-century Jewish poet named Israel Moses Najarra. He lived here in Gaza. But publishers say that a writer must pay some of the expenses. So I try to find some cultural association or supporters who can help me to preserve the Palestinian heritage. 

          JACK: As if the writing itself is not difficult enough! Readers will wonder how you live and work at all in these conditions. Looking ahead, do you see hope in the reports by Israel’s B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch, which agree that Israel now truly is an apartheid state? 

          MUHAMMAD: Of course. We must win international support and outside help to improve our situation. But let me tell you something. Back in the 1990s, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published a book called Israel: A Place Between Nations. Make no mistake about this man. He is a very cold smart strategic thinker. He looks far ahead. In the book, he presents a plan to reduce the West Bank Territory which we see in action every day, the burning of olive groves, the removals of people and towns, so that the West Bank can never be a Palestinian state that leaves northern Israel only a narrow strip of land between there and the Mediterranean Sea. Everything in former President Trump’s policies and his “deal of the century,” you will find in this book of Netanyahu’s. 

          JACK: And right in the face of such plans came The March of Return in 2018-19—such a brave and brilliant nonviolent effort to demand Palestinian freedom in the full sight of the world. 

          MUHAMMAD: Yes. Our family did not take part, for different reasons. But we knew Israel would respond with violence, even against peaceful marchers walking to the border. That is the only response they have now. Hundreds of people were deliberately killed, and thousands were crippled too, now needing artificial limbs and wheelchairs, besides everybody grieving for family and neighbors shot by Israeli snipers. 

JACK: Maybe Netanyahu did not realize that actions like The March of Return would move the world to demand real solutions. His plan was for the entire country, but never considered Palestinians except as quiet, obedient laborers. What do you think must come next? 

          MUHAMMAD: That march was truly an action by the Palestinian people. Why? Because we must have new leadership. A Palestinian man or woman with a charismatic presence, with a strong character, and a mind as dedicated as Netanyahu’s. Right now, our leaders are bad lawyers with a good cause. But we have so many young people who are brilliantly talented. They speak like poets about today and our future. We have to protect them, and nourish them, so new ideas and actions can be born. 

JACK: And right now [May 30, 2021], that nourishment is even more difficult. For the cease-fire began about six days ago, but you say that Israel is still not allowing resumption of those 200 daily trucks of food-supplies into Gaza, and the simple act of fishing is now totally prohibited. 

MUHAMMAD: That is correct. We do not even have clean water to drink. I challenge anyone to come and taste the water we have, which is destroying people’s teeth, their stomachs, causing cancers and many problems. Fortunately, there are many small farms and gardens in the Gaza Strip, we are having a good early-summer harvest, and we survive on cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplant, onions, and other produce. There must be pressure from outside our world even to bring us back to the starvation and crisis we faced before. 

JACK: If you could ask Mr. Netanyahu one question face-to-face, what would it be—and what do you think he would answer? 

MUHAMMAD: I would ask him, “Mr. Netanyahu, would you accept this sort of life for your wife and children, for your family and neighbors?” I think he would answer “No” but also say that this situation is our own fault, that Palestinians are the sinners, that we are helping “terrorists” by letting them hide and operate in Gaza. To that I can only reply as before: for the great majority of Palestinian people, that is not true. 

A typical family birthday in Gaza City

Let me tell you what is true, in my own heart and in the hearts of every Palestinian I know. Sometimes I dream that one day, I wake up and find all the guns in the world transformed into guitars. It’s a utopian dream, but it’s a real one: instead of guns and bombs, beautiful melodious sounds. I think The Lord is witnessing the truth of my heart—that I hate the shedding of blood no matter whose blood it may be. That I hate to see my wife and my boy Jihad crying and afraid every day and night. We do not want Jewish people out of the land. We want to live a good life beside our neighbors, and we know this can be—because it has happened before. 

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A New Palestinian-American Partnership Starts to Speak


Muhammad Jihad Ismael, Palestinian writer, with his son Jihad (or “JoJo”) living in Deir el Balah in The Gaza Strip

Back in 2017 I published People of the Sea: A Novel of the Promised Land, about the adventures and historical importance of post-Minoan refugees from ancient Crete—whose tribes including the Pulesati eventually reached the Near Eastern cities of Gaza (whose original name was Minoa), Ashdod, Ascalon and other living-places of old trading-partners, and in a few generations created the new land today known as Palestine.

There were a few good reviews and notices, but the one most important to me came a few months ago from a Palestinian writer living now with his family in Gaza itself, Mr. Muhammad Jihad Ismael. Muhammad, at age 36 already a well-published author in Arabic, was very pleased and excited to see that the pre-Biblical, pre-Israelite half of this history was being told at last, using the latest archaeological fact to show that these Philistines were actual human beings—people.

When Muhammad posted an appreciation of this on his Arabic Facebook page, the public responses were likewise wonderful (translations available there with a click), and we have been talking via Zoom almost weekly since. He is one of the warmest, most forthright and positive-spirited people I’ve ever known, and given the horrific conditions of his family’s and kinfolk’s captivity in the world’s largest prison-camp, this was all the more uplifting and inspiring. In short, since I have known this man, I know better than ever that I have no problems—None that can even begin to compare.

So Muhammad and I have begun working together on articles to help make the world understand that these Palestinian people—of The Gaza Strip, The West Bank, and Jerusalem—could not be more deserving of political action on behalf of their right to remain in or return to their original ancient homes in those places.

Their oppression has no less than three levels. Dispossessed and interminably confined by the Zionist Israeli agenda which denies their human rights and takes their lands by so-called “settlements” (as if these occur in wild uninhabited landscapes), silenced by the once-helpful but now corrupt and thuggish leadership of Hamas (which has jailed Muhammad for his brave criticisms of their dead-end policies), and ignored by the stagnant anti-democratic rule of the Palestinian Authority (which works in fact for Israeli interests and denies their people the right to new elections), the vast majority of millions of Palestinian people want only to live normal lives side-by-side with Jewish and Christian neighbors, as their grandparents actually did before the Zionists’ racist invasions began in 1948.

So here below is a short article we created together, just published at the progressive news-gathering site called Common Dreams. This is our second joint work, the first being an extended interview on Muhammad’s family history including their expulsion from their original village home (soon to appear here).

We hope these make you wonder how you would respond to their obscenely outrageous situation—and, that they move you to contact your representatives in the United States Congress and White House, without whose nods, winks, and murderous weaponry, none of this could continue.

PEACE—and Sincerely yours, Muhammad Jihad Ismael and Jack Dempsey.

GAZA’S PALESTINIAN FAMILIES

FACE ANOTHER SUMMER OF NEEDLESS SUFFERING

          My family and I—my wife, our young son, our elders, and the twin baby girls who will be born to us this week—ask the world to hear the conditions of our lives here in Deir el Balah, after 14 years’ captivity in the world’s largest toxic prison-camp, and since the May waves of Israeli tank shells, artillery shells, rockets and bombs have stopped exploding in our midst.

          In some ways this calm is harder than open war. Right now, war continues in the dispossessions of our cousins from the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Here, most of the Gaza Strip’s assets, infrastructure and services are in catastrophic ruins. So, there is almost no water fit for drinking, washing, or just cooling off in this season’s volcanic record heat, no water that will not rot our teeth and ruin our stomachs, almost no water for the vegetable gardens that keep us barely alive. With luck, we have 8 hours of daily electricity even to pump it into household holding-tanks.

As May began our crucial fishing season, Israel banned our boats altogether from the sea. Now that boats can venture at most 6 miles out (or take fire from gunboats), their catches are as insufficient as the mere 200 daily trucks of other food allowed into the Strip by Israel. (200 trucks divided by 2.5 million people = 12,500 people supposedly fed by a single truck.) Desperate for protein and nourishment, we are forced to buy frozen fish from the trucks. This is often spoiled when it reaches us, and what can a captive do, complain? To whom, with any hope of a hearing?

          We hang on with raw courage and creativity. Palestinian and Egyptian bulldozers labor in the heat, clearing mountains of rubble from streets and crowded neighborhoods, filling in craters from bombs aimed to block crucial roads to our hospitals. We do all we can even as Israel obstructs our funding for rebuilding and materials. Qatar, for example, sent monthly financial help to about 100,000 of our poorest families, but this is now frozen by Israeli financiers. Last week, UNRWA professionals distributed food parcels, but somehow not including powdered milk—which might have replaced the tanker-trucks of milk so needed by our young ones, but now forbidden us (with no explanation) by Israel.

For all this, restrictions on trade and traffic in and out of Gaza are more severe than ever. Marketplace stalls are missing many important items, while other goods pile up unsold because people lack money to buy them. Workers and farmers lose the pittances they could earn, for their employers can scarcely get hold of raw materials or export their products.

14 years of brutal mass confinement, chronic malnutrition, trauma, psychological problems, and thousands of people maimed by weapons from land, sea and air: these go on deepening Gaza’s widespread depression and suicidal despair. Yet, in the face of life itself grinding to a halt, we dream and work for new, full and fair elections. This week we will celebrate the birth of our two daughters. And in both ways, we Palestinians will go on struggling for equality among our neighbors in accord with international law. In the face of so much needless human suffering, we ask the good people all over the world to reach out—to us, and with us—into action for true justice.

Entertainment for some of Gaza’s million+ children: laughter as medicine for the needless daily suffering they endure. Photo by Muhammad Jihad Ismael.

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LOCKDOWN & LIBERATION (?)


poppies & daisies 2019

Mortality is the mother of transcendent vision. When life puts us truly face-to-face with death, the scales of our workaday illusions fall from our eyes, and we realize (too often too late) what was and is truly important.

This is how I want to live! This is how we should have lived every moment!

Does this not cry from the depths of naked being between the lines of every horrid historical account of human suffering—the realization that loving compassionate humanity towards each other is our only hope? That sharing ourselves and giving without reservation gave us back the most powerful moments of our lives? Is this not what we know as never before when we touch and hold the hand of a dying loved one?

The question, then: Why do we keep pretending to forget the core message of life’s most electrifying moments—and return to a mundane million daily ways of life by the rules of a ruthless deadening machine, sworn to devour every living thing for a delusion called Profit?

This and the link below come as one small offering of hope for the future beyond this year of shadow from the C19 virus. For consider what every locked-down person on the planet is experiencing. For once, taking the best care of yourself is also helping others and this suffering planet.

When was the last time every human being had more than a moment to look around, look within—and wonder if More Of Same Only Worse can ever again be enough to sustain what, in fact by every measure, is harming and robbing each of us each day?

How vulnerable we are, in all our might. How arbitrary our God-given rules for meeting our own and others’ needs. How paper-thin the claims that any compassionate intelligence is in control—

Yet the reverse is the real-life empowering point. Look how strong we are in working together against all things that hurt us. Look how brave and inventive we are when we know how our giving gives back. Look how the wheels of goodness turn when we realize that helping others helps ourselves.

My wish to you and the world is that we use this time to come back out into the sun as reborn creatures, braver, more connected and creative than before. 

PEACE!

Female figurines with upraised arms, from pre-Dynastic Egypt c 3500 BCE

Click this image to explore

WOOP:

We the Workers of the World

Walk Out On Profit

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘Epiphany’ of Earth Mother: Sanctity, Well-Being & The Garden


 Epiphany, exhibition

       In desperate and disrespectful days, acts of memory, healing and affirmation can evoke the revolutionary. Where people are demoralized—numbed beyond caring for the present, or the future—a sudden epiphany lands like lightning, showing forth the life yet alive within us. Welcome to the works of visionary Greek artist Kadiani Veligrantakis.

       What would it be to live in a world that conceives of planet Earth as alive, awake, and sacred—as a living Mother to whom we always owe, first, respect and gratitude, because that is the true natural basis of our own well-being?

       We don’t have to look (or, remember) too far back to hear the voices of people(s) who really held and practiced such beliefs:

Goddess Gaia, mother of gods and mortal humans,

who nourishes and gives everything,

who perfects everything and ends the life of everything,

who brings and raises the seeds…

foundation of the immortal world…

          That was how one of the Orphic Anthems or Hymns spoke of Nature—a.k.a. Earth Mother, Mother Earth—even during that most rationalist age of ancient Greece in the Classical era. It was said that such sweet songs could coax rocks and trees to rise and dance: to show themselves, that is, as alive as their Creatrix.

          And that, for us, is the sudden and deep revelation that issues from the works of Kadiani, whose exhibition called Epiphany: Gaia & Gods of Vegetation opens to the public on Monday August 19th (2019) in the east-Cretan city of Sitia. What were its sources, and what are its implications?

Kadiani Sitia event flyer Aug 19 2019

       In Kadiani’s words, these works “wanted to come into the world”: they rose up into her mind from deep, beyond-conscious realms within. As artists will tell you, it’s those insistent and ego-indifferent promptings that bring on most of their best work. They talk of feeling almost unable to keep up with powerful driving half-blind forces working, somehow, through them—and it’s even more astonishing when the results have a substance all at once deeply traditional and revolutionary.

 Divine Mother

       In this cosmos, all things born of Her are identical and one with Her, divine, vibrating with life-spirit. And, like Earth, She bestows every gift and nourishment freely to those who honor Her and carefully cultivate the world. Within those relationships, there’s almost no surprise that the world becomes a garden—The Garden, which was never really lost and is as close as our own loving hands.

          This real-world “miracle” is attested also in the original Canaanite story of “the original garden,” on which the later Bible’s authors based their tale of a “fall” away from “God.” Those first books of The Pentateuch turned the religions and rites of becoming awake into its opposite: humans “must not become as gods,” must not be the knowing agents of their own existence, their own creations, their realities and their evolution.

       Yet, in the Canaanite story, the prototypes of Adam and Eve are immortal happy stewards of this garden, which surrounds the luminous Tree of Life—and we see that Tree again as a consummate image in Kadiani’s collection. The so-called unconscious brings every whit of tradition to new life.

Enlightened Tree

       Such were the powers also of every “green thing” born of Mother Earth. From ages even older than Minoan Crete, peoples of the land found deities in them, and allied their eternal spirits with their natures: they were/are the indestructible survivors rising out of every seeming-calamity from fire to volcanic fury, healing all ravaged lands and proffering again new flowers, medicines and nourishments.

 Potnia

       These webs of connections survived in language too. Minoans deeply identified their own lives with cycles of Earth and green things. This was kalliergeia: cultivation of the land was cultivation of the soul. With this, Minoans left us all kinds of “good work” (kalo ergo).

          These humanizing ideas persisted in later Latin, in the root of the word culture itself. Cultus: Nature and society posed not as opposites, but as complements—a feeling and an idea that fostered a world of “tending, care, and respectful treatment.” To cultivate The Earth like a garden was to live in one, a healthy and worthwhile place, founded in the grateful honoring of powers greater than ourselves.

       No, not Utopia. Yet, the merest hard-nosed summary of our true best original selves reveals, like that language and these paintings, how much we still stand to gain.

          So I write gratefully to Kadiani for bringing these healthy, original human roots back to our consciousness. What can be more important now than to reconnect our souls with what our bodies are doing, each day, toward all that gives us life?

Hermes Cranaios        Artemis

       As the poet Barbara Mor said, Look through a microscope or a telescope: Nature Works. But gaze into the eyes of Kadiani’s “Artemis” and “Dark Mother.” These Earth Mothers know what happens when a culture so deranges itself that it forgets what is greater than itself.

       It was said long ago, Who consents, She guides: who refuses, She drags. We can know Her as Gaia—or, as Nemesis, and Her retributions always come deserved.

       One crucial last point as we commune with these presences. It follows from all these expressions that the “faces of Earth Mother” in Kadiani’s works have human form. In Minoan pictorial art (for example), when a person is seized with the presence of Divinity, the divine being also looks (most often) like a person—they’re practically indistinguishable.

       But these images are nothing like the “personalizations of The Goddess” in narcissistic New Age productions. The message here is that by looking deep into these images, we look into ourselves (and, hopefully, listen, and remember our best). We are not here to make a separate peace in our so-called private selves with a system that exploits every living thing to death. Rather, we, the artist and the images are one—all functions of what Barbara Mor called Nature’s “continuous lust to make art.” And Nature’s message in some of these daunting visages is an urgent, healthily disturbing and inspiring cry: Wake up, for the time is shorter than you think.

 Dark Mother

       We fuse with Nature in communion with Itself. As Mor elaborates, “She [Nature] makes art from Her dreams”: “we are Her [Nature’s] extensions, Her poetic technologies.” Hence, “It’s only when you remember always that the only living god is Earth—then you get serious.” We come to our healthiest senses in these presences, and their eyes ask what, exactly, we intend to do for our Mother in so much pain.

       The faces hold back no patriarchal rage, no threat, no punishment: what Nature brings us next will be simply the natural fruits or the consequences of our own (either blind or awakened) making. In their gaze, we know that The Time Of The Lie that harms Earth Mother grows short and dark. Nobody now can invent a machine or run a business that poisons the world without knowing this is crime, deliberate murder and suicide. The proposition is, Evolve Or Perish.

       In our communion with Gaia through Kadiani’s works, we understand that practices which pretend to control and “develop” Nature with destruction teach only self-destruction. One way or another, Earth Mother will have us remember the wisdom that began our human story.

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58 Seconds of a Giant’s Good-Humored Humility


Noam Chomsky 2011

Not sure who’s done more in our lifetime for every kind of human freedom—So what does Noam Chomsky think he knows?

Always wondered how NC would put his answer to The Question—

WHAT HAVE I LEARNED?

—but felt sure it would go to say this!

What we don’t know about anything can be overwhelming. But his humor seems to say the universe has a laugh of relief in store for anybody who really works on their learning—forget about it, kid, no one can know much, but try again soon!

In grad school Orals I had to choose & discuss 200 “crucial” books. Problem was, just to choose them meant reading the library! Forget about it.

It’s all in the trying. Long live this exemplary man—

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93W8II_R75Y&list=FLgztj7b9tQgYyiX7FBvj6FA&index=2&t=0s&fbclid=IwAR0Gf1VDzoq1CpjQiKFbOS0jxZo7o9o1dlFvSAhs6TWIqi9Ruxp7ldf761k

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Frontier Fool—America’s Priceless ‘Master Bubble’


Merrymount revels bw

Happy May Day—and in Massachusetts, Happy Thomas Morton Day too! Here’s a hope that you’ll raise a rowdy Maypole, join hands with neighbors, kick up your dancing feet and hoist some “excellent beer” to your singing lips, to celebrate 392 years since Thomas Morton’s May 1627 Revels at Merrymount, with Native Americans and “all comers” on Massachusetts Bay.

Your town could do worse than to claim, thus, America’s oldest civic festival, to foster multicultural community and center us afresh in the rhythms of nature—even as the National Idiot Election Machine gears up to sell its latest “lesser evil.”

To the feast this year I offer another first-of-its-kind story out of Morton’s 1637 New English Canaan: as usual for him, a bit of crucial common-sense perspective wrapped in biting comedy and hoots of laughter.

We’ll likely never know who was the real frontier clown dubbed “Master Bubble” in Chapters X and XII of Canaan‘s third book—but his seems a pretty sure case of “You can’t make this stuff up.” For he was “a man endowed with many special gifts” (Canaan 122) that you’re about to see in action, whose self-sanctified blunders remain too much with us on the international frontier.

“This,” Morton writes, “was a man approved by the Brethren” (meaning his neighbors, the evangelical “Saints” of Plimoth Plantation’s Pilgrim fathers), “and at the public charge conveyed to New England” during Morton’s first years there (1624-27). Why is worth knowing. For Plimoth’s congregation had years of trouble replacing their original beloved pastor, John Robinson, who had not been allowed to emigrate with them in 1620: his most famous counsel came in a letter after Plimoth had assassinated multiple Native New England leaders at Wessaguscus or Weymouth in 1623. “Oh, that you had converted some before you had killed any!” Thoughtful fellow! But as you’ll see from just this Canaan excerpt, there were indeed more thoughtful people hereabouts.

Massachusett territory

Before the Plimothers fetched Bubble over, they had tried one other fellow now known only as “Mr. Rogers,” but he proved even to them “crazed in his brain” and was dismissed. What was the problem, their England brimming then with fire-breathing Puritan “reformers”? For Morton, it was their contempt for solid Renaissance and humanistic learning based in anything outside The Bible—which (if we can trust their records) left them floundering in a flood of holy pretenders, charlatans and fools. When Morton says Bubble was brought over “for his zeal and gifts,” he names the two central but tragically-fuzzy Puritan criteria for choosing a spiritual minister, and they were echoed soon after by Boston’s reverend John Cotton: fierce zealotry, and matching “gifts” such as oratorical fireworks and “the exercise of prophecy.” 

“Well,” Morton muses—as if watching the country prepare for Father Coughlin and Billy Graham—“if you mark it, these are special gifts indeed, which the vulgar people are so taken with, that there is no persuading them that it is so ridiculous….This that comes without premeditation [that is, by instant ‘inspiration of the Holy Spirit’], this is the Superlative; and he that does not approve of this, they say, is a very reprobate” (Canaan 186).

Not a good place to be—“without” God’s own congregation—warns the man who found himself “America’s First Rascal” and first political exile, burned and hoisted out the country for practicing the wrong kinds of culture. 

Merrymount bw

And what would take Merrymount’s learned, jovial, flexible and common-sense place? Here’s a quick Canaan gem about another holy candidate who foreshadows Bubble’s misadventures. “There was one who…had been expected to exercise his gifts in an assembly, who stayed his coming. In the middest of his journey, he falls into a fit, which they term a zealous meditation—and was four miles past the place appointed before he came to himself, or did remember whereabouts he went” (182).

Familiar, all too familiar, but these jokers were nothing if not ambitious “to dispense…edification.” Witness Bubble’s own sparkling resume of achievements leading up to his fool’s errand in the (inhabited) wilderness. For himself, Bubble had first intended “to pen the language [of Native New England] down in Stenography” (122). “But there, for want of use, which he rightly understood not, all was loss of labor.”

How indeed could an Englishman acquire Native speech without consenting, like Morton the successful trader, to the land’s already “mixed language” in frontier affairs? (Remember, Plimoth’s William Bradford hoped that America’s tongue would be Hebrew.) Well, Morton quips in so many words, it might have been worth the learning later in Bubble’s story, if he had understood Native language(s); but even after all the trouble, this never dawned upon him. The almost-murderous slapstick results were rooted here, and fast upon us.

Mass Bay map

Dropping the difficult Stenography, Bubble’s next unsurprising choice was ministry itself, trying his hand as “house chaplain” to the rough company of another unruly Morton neighbor: Plimoth’s first outcast John Oldham, living by then near the sea at close-by Hull. “Every night” Bubble began making “use of his gifts”—and his “oratory lulled his auditory as fast asleep as Mercury’s pipes did Argus’ eyes.” Maybe Chaplain Bubble did make a striking start in a speech or two, but “when he was in, they said he could not tell how to get out: nay he would hardly out till he were fired out, his zeal was such.” Losing his theological way, Bubble even then would not shut up, not until they kicked him out of the cabin.

So, Bubble would now “become a great Merchant.” He “removed” and “obtained house-room” among Morton’s own building company (“nine persons, besides dogs”), “because it stood convenient for the beaver trade.” Morton thought this “big-boned man” would be “a good laborer, and to have store of corn.” But Bubble brought no provisions, only “the trophies of his honor: his water tankard and his porter’s basket,” becoming another mouth to feed through Morton’s hunting and trapping skills. Bubble himself had none of those, either—but that didn’t keep him from rushing out to shoot ducks and geese “in haste and single-handed,” paddling out “like a cow in a cage” to wound many and scare off the rest, causing his host “to mutter at him.”

Merrymount picture

And once Morton’s gun had put some meat on the table? “This man and his host at dinner: Bubble begins to say grace, yea and a long one too, till all the meat was cold. He would not give his host [Morton] leave to say grace: belike he thought his host past grace.” And “in the usage of this blind oratory”—that is, Bubble praying with his eyes sanctimoniously closed—Morton “took himself abused, and the whiles fell to [eating]; and had half-done before this man Bubble would open his eyes to see what stood afore him.”

Morton’s years at London’s boisterous law school, The Inns of Court, were the professional crown of his youth. Surely he had mentors and help in seasoned elders there, whose pedagogy consciously curried young talent toward national service. Maybe that’s why we already see Morton’s patient indulgence toward Bubble. On the other hand, when he at last matched Bubble with “a couple of Indians for guides” (127) for an inland journey toward the matchless profits of the beaver trade, maybe Morton was ready to be rid of him. Bubble got ready by filling “a sack…of odd implements” and his head with “a conceit…that he had hatched a new device” or trading-method to obtain those furs, all zeal and gifts as usual.

Their introductions seemed cordial and comfortable enough, and with “both his journeymen glad he was [a] good man,” Bubble and his guides set off westward into central Massachusetts, lands of the Nipmuc people’s Nashaway and Showatuck clans. For Bubble’s sake, remember that they were hiking deep into Old Growth American forest (whose thickets and massive hardwood trees intimidated even the likes of Thoreau)—a greenhorn like Bubble simply had to feel intimidated, vulnerable, and watchfully afraid.

Morton tells the rest of what happened:

Night came on. But, before they were inclined to sleep, this good man Master Bubble had a fantasy creep into his head—by misunderstanding the Salvages’ actions. He must needs be gone in all haste, yea and without his errand. He purposed to do it so cunningly that his flight should not be suspected: he leaves his shoes in the house with all his other implements, and flies.

As he was on his way, he increased his fear, suggesting to himself that he was pursued by a company of Indians, and that their arrows were let fly as thick as hail at him. He puts off his breeches, and puts them on his head, for to save him from the shafts that flew after him so thick that no man could perceive them.

And crying out, “Avoid, Satan! What have ye to do with me?” and thus running on his way without his breeches, he was pitifully scratched with the brush of the underwoods as he wandered up and down in unknown ways.

The Salvages, in the meantime, put up all his implements in the sack he left behind, and brought them to Wessaguscus [Weymouth], where they thought to have found him. But understanding he was not returned, they were fearful what to do; and of what would be conceived by the English to have become of this mazed man; and were in consultation of the matter.

One of the Salvages was of opinion that the English would suppose him to be murdered: fearful, he was, to come in sight. The other, better acquainted with the English, having lived some time in England, was more confident. And he persuaded his fellow that the English would be satisfied with the relation of the truth, having had testimony of his fidelity. So, they boldly adventured what they had brought, and how the matter stood.

The English, when the sack was opened, did take a note in writing of all the particulars in the sack; and heard what was related by the Salvages of the accidents. But when Master Bubble’s shoes were shown, it was thought he would not have departed without his shoes.

And therefore they did conceive that Master Bubble was murdered by some sinister practice of the Salvages’, who unadvisedly had become guilty of a crime which they now sought to excuse. And the English straightly charged the Salvages to find him out again, and bring him dead or alive; else, their wives and children would be destroyed.

The poor Salvages, being in a pitiful perplexity, caused their countrymen to seek out for this mazed man; who, being in short time found, was brought to Wessaguscus, where he made a discourse of his travels and of the perilous passages, which did seem to be no less dangerous than those of that worthy Knight-Errant, Don Quixote; and how miraculously he had been preserved.

And, in conclusion, he lamented the great loss of his goods, whereby he thought himself undone. The particular whereof being demanded, it appeared that the Salvages had not diminished any part of them: no, not so much as one bit of bread. Whereby Master Bubble was overjoyed, and the whole company made themselves merry at his discourse of all his perilous adventures.

And by this you may observe whether the Salvage people are not full of humanity; or whether they are a dangerous people, as Master Bubble and the rest of his tribe would persuade you.

***

Did Bubble’s Native guides encourage a bit of fear in the man, to make him more dependent (or even grateful) for protection and profit? Perhaps, but without Morton’s seasoned confidence, one folly unfolds the next: Bubble misconstrues or misunderstands, decides to run away God-knows-where, and cleverly leaves his shoes behind, thinking this will fool his hosts that he’s still invisibly with them. Now he imagines they are with him, but chasing him, and with arrows; such that he strips off his pants, turns them into a helmet, and is “pitifully scratched” as he wanders “up and down” screaming. This it seems will not end well.

And where do we now find the crucial calm exercise of reason and experience? It speaks for the first time, in this the most extraordinary narrative turn in America’s earliest letters, between Bubble’s two Native guides—who resolve (in spite of wise fear about catching the blame) to report Bubble’s “mazed” running off. And notice how cautious they are about it: first they determine that Bubble has not returned, before they go into the midst of the English at Wessaguscus/Weymouth.

These guides are afraid of English fear—which they know will assume that Bubble has been murdered or killed in their hands. They know they’ll have to present the ridiculous facts on the very ground where, all too recently, “Captain Shrimp” Myles Standish assassinated others of their kind. Still, they go in and report, making their best case with Bubble’s sack of implements. But it’s Bubble’s own most preposterous ploy, his abandoned shoes, that brings on the fresh and very credible English threat to destroy their families, wives and children, if the fool isn’t found.

Terrified, the guides find and return Master Bubble in short order. And here at last, for all Morton has put his readers through, lands a thud of anticlimax. For Bubble tells all of his “perilous passages” with an empty-headed air of the “miraculous.” It was all about him. Not a stab of self-aware sunlight dawns on this “mazed man” for his chief part in this fiasco.

Morton drops it in the lap of those who would build America: all for himself, and virtually empty, Bubble would not listen, look or learn. Yet, through New English Canaan, we have twice the chance.

HAPPY MAY DAY!

PEACE!

Canaan cover

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THOMAS MORTON & the MAYPOLE OF MERRYMOUNT —Now available at YouTube


“Drink and Be Merry”!

New English Canaan by Jack Dempsey

Hope you enjoy my 1992 film Thomas Morton & The Maypole of Merrymount: Disorder in the American Wilderness 1622-1647, which by actual request is now complete (1hr47mins.) at YouTube.

A low-tech production on a shoestring budget via friends and local Public Access cable—damaged in a spot or two. But I think it captures Morton’s sweetness and courage, via many strong contributions from Native American and other scholars and performers who appreciated his achievements and “solemn foolery.”

A foundational American story, born from our first grand frontier party staged “for all comers” living on the land.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2laBeBpt2Q&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2DA1OayW11_CJpV4UbJANCPjKlPzbgtYXxSb4zws2LGiIWA1BdyioVi1k

PEACE!

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What The Freak Was That! 3 UFO Observations


Hubble Deep Field Galaxies a 

Sooner or later, almost everybody sees something in the sky, night or day, that they cannot explain. I have seen three Somethings—and I offer these tellings always to invite explanations or points of view that might show where I’m missing something. To this day I have no remotely-likely idea based in our normal (!) world about what these extraordinary flying objects were—only the clear and absolute certainty that I saw them. Obviously, my long bafflement has outweighed trepidation about sharing them at all; but I have a writer’s itch for moments when hard-nosed looking brings us to sheer wonder.

Three Blinking Discs

The first sighting happened in spring 1963. Setting: my hometown of Stoneham, Massachusetts, a quiet green suburb less than eight miles north of Boston, the home of Logan International Airport. As our house stood that close to Logan, there was almost always a commercial jet airliner (or military aircraft) circling overhead for its turn to land, in the process crossing through bright blue patches of sky above the boughs of maple, oak, chestnut, birch and pine trees that lined our streets and open fields.

Some were no more than contrails at high altitude: others soared slowly southward at about a thousand feet over our house, descending gear-down into Boston with their features, colors and commercial marks clear against the sky. Quite normal, but peppered in those Cold War days with a sudden shattering out-of-nowhere thunderbolt, the sonic boom of some jet-fighter’s scramble-practice. Every one of them struck you like the sure first impact of nuclear war (Boston a target with its port, Navy Yard, and metropolitan surround of new high-tech industries driven by MIT), and then it dissolved in anticlimactic relief. Our protection from socialism was often terrifying.

One sunny spring afternoon in my eighth year, I stepped through our back door onto the small wooden porch and looked out on the day. Eastward to the left was a long patch of bright clear sky, and as usual a commercial airliner was sliding level and quietly through it—its 1000-ft. altitude likely the lowest level for circling the airport, and no more than two miles away on its northward leg. Cockpit and passenger windows, engines, tail-fins and markings were as plain as its colors, the usual silver belly and painted fuselage sharp against the blue.

Directly behind this airliner, moving smoothly along and keeping the same very close distance from its tail, I saw three sharply defined, opalescent, milky-white disks. Each disk, identical in color and shape, was a perfect flat-bottomed upper half of a circle, and each was about twice the size of (say) a military fighter-plane in relation to a large commercial jet. They were not only trailing along in silent, close and steady single file right behind the airliner—they were each taking alternating turns “winking out,” leaving nothing but blue sky in each one’s place until it reappeared in two or three seconds, and another of the three discs took its seemingly-random turn at the trick. Cruising along, their blank but milky-white opalescence had an otherworldly glow. In less than 30 seconds, the aircraft and its triple trail of white winking objects cruised steadily out of sight, and that was that. 

Except that I ran back into the house to find my WWII Air Force veteran father, and told him fully and calmly what I’d seen. He listened, looked amused, and then gave his best theory: military tow-targets? But, attached to a commercial airliner? He shrugged with no better idea. Yet those are the facts of what I saw, and I’m still eager for any credible explanation.

The Flying Ashcan 

Even with a lifetime of enjoyable star-gazing, I saw no such thing again for 55 years until just last spring (2018), where I live now in Crete. Setting: about eight semi-rural miles east of Crete’s largest city Heraklion. The island is roughly rectangular, the place is about dead-center on the north-facing coastline, and out here a spacious valley (Amnisos, once a chief Minoan port) spreads its small town and farming-fields inland, from a straight four-to-five miles of open beach. Homer says Odysseus once dropped by to ask deities directions.

My little house is near the top of a steep hill that forms this valley’s western side, and the view looks east across miles of beach and open sky toward a flat-topped headland (“Bad Mountain”) that closes the valley, with a small fenced-off military base on its summit. Other nearby hilltops also have radar and electronic systems on show. Another military base, for fighters and ground-unit training, stands perhaps two miles behind my hill, and no farther away from here along the north coast is Crete’s busiest airport (Venizelos International). So, this airport’s single runway receives and launches dozens of airliners and military aircraft per week. In approach or departure (depending on the wind), their line of flight is always directly over and parallel to the same beach for miles—hence, right past our house.

The point is that safety makes this area some of the most controlled and secure air-space on the island. Without very official permission, you cannot bring so much as a helicopter or small plane into it (let alone play around here with your new drone) without looking at deserved jail-time. In my first summer stays around here forty years ago, companies could still hire a small plane to drag a commercial tail-banner across the sea-view during crowded tourist seasons, but that was outlawed years ago exactly because of increasing airline and military flights. So except for that traffic, these skies are always officially clear of intrusions.

I often climb my little roof to drink the view, the weather and stars. One quiet April mid-morning last year, I was looking northward out to sea from there. Nothing unusual: a fair-enough bright day although with a ceiling of gray cloud at about two thousand feet. Then, down from beyond the crest of this hill to my upper left (with the mouth of the airport runway and the sea not two miles below), and hardly fifty feet off the ground as it descended that slope toward the ocean, sailed a slow-moving silent object that had no visible aerodynamic reason to be in the sky or moving through it. I actually rubbed my eyes, slapped my cheek, and cursed that my camera was in the house—but determined not to move for as long as I could watch this thing.

 Shape: for lack of a better comparison, it looked like an upright oil-drum or ashcan with no surface features: no wings, props, visible engines, nothing that humans call essential for flight. Size: close as it seemed, but without any good reference in simultaneous sight, I have to guess it was as big as an average school-bus. Color: a deep dull brick-red from top to bottom—and no lights, no windows, no markings or control-features whatsoever. I was plain-sight watching a kind of big flying upright ashcan fly slowly, lazily down the slope toward the sea, and right into the airport’s approach corridor. Normally in this area you can hear a dog bark two miles off (between roaring air-traffic, and there wasn’t any)—and from this thing, not a sound.

 It descended from the hill and sailed out over the near sea, in a kind of tentative wandering way that first made me guess it was moved only by the wind. This is for sure a place to feel winds from mild to wild, but this morning was still, very clear below high clouds, and quiet as they come. Now a second phase began. For as this ungainly thing descended closer to the sea’s surface without disturbing the water at all, it changed form altogether. In a few seconds, this blunt heavy-looking object became a white roundish point of flickering light about the same size, flickering but steadily and distinctly there. It descended, hovered on the water almost right in front of the airport runway’s mouth, moved slightly this way and that, or up and down—but it was there in plain sight for a solid ten minutes. I fought the torment of wanting my camera for the sake of not missing one moment.

 Surely this thing would dissipate into nothing, or fall into the sea like a leaky balloon? It did not. It hovered and flickered and moved at that one spot in plain sight, as just described. “Okay. Now,” I thought—“Just show me some clearly unnatural moves, some kind of apparent controlled flight, so I can make myself a tinfoil hat.”

 A few minutes later, slowly, and with a half-drifting tentative course like before, this flickering white point rose away from the ocean’s surface, right through the airport approach, and started climbing at a slant farther out to sea and toward the gray ceiling of clouds. I watched and squinted and never lost sight of it until, at last, it vanished up into the gray.

 I haven’t crafted the hat yet, but feel free to think that I should.

The Flying White Orb

Setting: Same place as the incident just above, a bright hot August blue-sky day last summer (2018)—except that this time I was down on that same four-mile stretch of Amnisos beach, in my wife’s delightful company. Like that day’s low number of tourists around us, we were swimming and sunning, and as usual, every few minutes another international jet-airliner was gliding down loud and slow, from right (east) to left (west) through our northward view of sea and sky. By this point in final approach, they are always at most about 500 feet above the water and less than a mile away in front of you; so, again, it’s easy to see every aircraft feature.

 The great majority of airliners first come into view far off to the east, flying in close parallel with the coastline as they ease down into Heraklion. I happened to be facing that way and my wife as I knelt on our blanket doing something, and I looked up to watch a particular jet coming in—because it was making a fairly rare approach straight out of the north, and then banking steeply to get on that final, beach-parallel landing corridor almost over our heads. Because this airliner was still in a radically-steep turn as it came in close and audible just beyond the top of Bad Mountain—the plane now not one mile away—I said something like “Look at this cowboy!” to my wife, who turned instantly around and then saw what I saw.

 Imagine something about the size of a jeep following right on the tail of a passenger jet. This thing quite suddenly just appeared in the blue sky, flying along smoothly right behind this common airplane: a flickering but intense white orb or rough sphere of about that comparative size. In the sunshine it seemed as bright as a torch, if not incandescent. It had no other features, no sound we could separate from jet-roar—but there it clearly was in tandem with the tail of the steeply-banking plane. We watched so intently that we did not notice if anybody else was seeing it: we must have frozen, because we did not even raise a pointing hand.

 As soon as the airliner managed to level off toward a normal landing—an outcome that this time, looked not wholly sure—this white flickering orb stopped dead in the air behind it, and let the jet go on its way. The orb hovered still in place in front of the whole beach for three or four seconds, and then from zero miles per hour it shot away at brain-bending speed back into the clear blue eastern distance, flying parallel with the coast of Crete till it was gone. I fixed my eyes on it and know that I saw it receding into spatial distance, rather than blinking out or vanishing all at once.

 “Did you see that?” I asked my wife. “Yes,” she answered. “Did you see that?” “Yes.” “What the freak was that?” We talked over every detail and thoroughly agreed on the description you’ve just read. We saw nobody else apparently aware of any of this. But to this day, neither we nor friends we tell have any idea what it was—not least because nothing that flies subject to human laws (let alone aerodynamic ones) had any business in that sky so close to such a busy airport.

 There you have them—a triplet of discs, a flying ashcan and an orb—and I hope your path too leads to wonder beneath mysterious skies.

M100 galaxy

PEACE!

 

 

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Happy Thomas Morton Day (NOT)!


New English Canaan by Jack Dempsey

Alles In Ordnung! This May Day is the 390th birthday of America’s first English poetry (posted on the Maypole of 1627 on Massachusetts Bay). And as usual there were no remembrances or celebrations in honor of the poet, Thomas Morton of Merrymount—whose brave, good-humored, multi-creative life among cultures on the New England frontier was snuffed by the frightened, dour and brutal Plimoth Pilgrims and Boston Puritans (our “founding fathers'” founding fathers).
 
Morton’s adventurous, cool-headed, jolly, multicultural, sexual and visionary 1627 May Day Revels scared the shit out of his racist Bible-toting neighbors as a bad example in front of the servants—and they still do. A successful place dedicated outright to “Maia, The Lady of Learning” was as un-future-American as it gets. Hence we return to the past’s foolhardy centuries of Morton’s malicious neglect.
The good ol’ Boston Globe failed even to acknowledge receipt of the wisp of an article linked below. After all, the first order of Business from Boston’s first “court of law” was an order to burn down Morton’s thriving trading-post and to hoist him out of the country. No matter what the proposal toward his deserved resurrection, Boston and Quincy find a way of not getting it done. Who needs, after all, new annual Revels that would be America’s oldest civic festival? Why should taxpayers or sponsors foster community, commerce and creativity?
 
The American Poetry Review, The American Poetry Society, and The American Poetry Foundation—like Salem’s “National Poetry Month”—are also annually uninterested in the Renaissance/American roots of their reason for being. Chicago’s spankin’ new multimedia American Writers Museum is already in silent lockstep. And while The Quincy Patriot Ledger cut this linked-below piece in half (why? cyber-“space considerations”?), it shares their page with the annual runner’s marathon called the Dedham Ramble—which its organizers dedicate to “a writer oppressed by government.” Naturally, this means reaching abroad to feature Ireland’s James Joyce.
 
Joyce was “oppressed” not by government, but by Ireland’s crass Christian corpse of a culture. An expat still learning from Morton and Joyce knows how they feel. When you kick all the angels out of town, you fill the woods with monsters.
Hope for today you’ll read aloud and feel a moment of Morton’s extraordinary music—“The more I looked, the more I liked it….”—at http://ancientlights.org/canaan2.html.
Both sides of The Great Waters, the real good guys go on waiting on the hill.
 

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