Poem for the Thirty-seventh Ithaca Festival




Poem for the Thirty-seventh Ithaca Festival


In Seventeen-Hundred and Sixty-‘Leven,
Ebenezer Ithaca and a party of seven
Set out from West Danby on a journey to the north
(There was nobody there but the natives, of course),
And he came to a lake, near a whole bunch of creeks,
And he envisioned a town, full of restaurants and boutiques,
And he named it for himself (’cause that was clearly God’s will),
And likewise Ithaca College, up there on the hill.
At least, that’s the way I’ve been told the story goes.
Maybe somebody up at Cornell really knows?
I don’t know. But I know that in Ithaca, I’ll never be alone,
And I’m comin’ on home, and I’m comin’ on home.
13, 34, 96B,
Runnin’ all together through the center of the city.
79, 89, 13A,
Spokes on a wheel, wheels on the highway,
I drove all night to get here from Ithaca, Michigan
But you know that other Ithaca was named after this one.
It was late in December, and every Ithacan
Was watching the sky play that long, slow, gray riff again,
When up from the lake came a terrible sound,
Like the songs of the lost, and the dead, and the drowned.
From that twilight zone came the voice of Rod Serling
Providing narration for Rutabaga Curling!
And then what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a man in a sleigh, pulled by billions and billions and billions of tiny reindeer!
He tossed his tuber with a startling precocity
With just the right spin, and the perfect velocity;
And watching in wonder this sprightly Rutabagan,
I knew in a moment it must be Carl Sagan.
Then he sprang to his sleigh, where his team was a-prancing
And flew off in the general direction of Lansing.
And he cried, as he coursed through the night sky above,
“Happy solstice to all! We are all made of star-stuff!”
You have to feel bad for the good Dr. Sagan:
This rational guy, in the land of the pagans;
But you know he liked to do the nasty after smoking some pot—
Maybe that’s why the Commons has so many head shops?
So don’t—push—me, ’cause I’m close—to—the—edge,
Of a bridge, over a gorge, where I might lay my head
But it’s OK—if I jumped, in some manic attack,
There’s a net there, to catch me, and bounce me right back!
And I’d brush myself off, thank Cornell for my luck
And go get a pizza from the Hot Pizza Truck,
Or maybe cruise on downtown, ’cause you know nothing is finer
Than the blue-plate special at the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior Street Diner.
And when the Finger Lakes are flinging flakes
Of snow, from off their fingertips
That blow through your soul on a lake-effect breeze,
Remember: the lake’s so deep that the the lake don’t freeze!
And maybe Ithaca Falls turns into Ithaca Icicle,
But hey! There goes Faye, on her radical bicycle!
And look! It’s the Mayor, with his sweet baby face—
He’s made a park out of his parking space!
And summer comes, and the students go
And you can’t believe it could ever snow.
And who cares if the inlet’s got hydrilla—
You can swim in the gorge of the Cascadilla!
(That’s Casca-dill-a, not Casca-dee-ya,
Where you been eatin’ at? Viva Taqueria?)
Now if your friends won’t let you shop at Wal-mart or Target,
There’s the Ithaca Commons, and the Farmers’ Market!
And no, that’s not the Dalai Lama in his motorcade—
It’s the Volvo Ballet, in the Ithaca Parade!
All those Volvos, they seem to run forever,
‘Til there’s nothing but stickers holding their bumpers together.
But even they are outnumbered of bumpers of Priuses
Proclaiming the coexistence of Buddha and Jesus!
We have never been bound by the norms of normality,
We are right near Varna in the Cosmic Totality,
We are ten square miles surrounded by reality!
And we need no leaders to enlightenedly lead us,
(or that’s how the Utne Reader’s readers see us),
We dance in the streets, play music from our porches,
And we swim under waterfalls, ’cause Ithaca is Gorges!
So go north of the South Hill, and east of the West Hill,
Right downtown to the Ithaca Festival.
Wonderful, waterfull, magical, mythical,
We’re making a Festival of all things Ithacal.
For rhymes irresistible, and rhythms infectual,
Artists political, and artists conceptual,
And baubles and bangles and tasty comestibles,
You gotta get down to the Ithaca Festival
Where the music is sweet, and the beat is insistent
Like the last time you danced, and the first time you kissed
And the roots and rhythm will always remain
And you’ll do it all over again and again
And you know that in Ithaca you’ll never be alone,
Because you’re comin’ on home. You’re comin’ on home.
(To Ithaca.   Thank you very much, and enjoy the festival!)



For Carl, Faye, Svante, Danielle, and Ithacans everywhere,

 —Steve Paisley


Obama Confirms American Unexceptionalism

Pesident Obama confirmed American unexceptionalism. as well as his own, in his statement on Syria last week—by claiming the opposite.  And it’s nothing new—witness this quote from the campaign trail:

“It’s worth noting that I first arrived on the national stage with a speech at the Democratic Convention that was entirely about American exceptionalism and that my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism,” Obama said at an afternoon Rose Garden press conference.

This, from the brightest and potentially most exceptional president we’ve had in a very long time.  The third rail of American politics is no longer Social Security; it is the mere mention of  anything that even hints at American culpability or fallibility.  Is any wonder the rest of the world (of course, see even Vladimir Putin’s recent NY Times op-ed) sees us as arrogant idiots?

The thick black line

A thick black line goes right through my house
a darkness eating chairs, table, floor.
It splits the roof in two.
Looking out the window, I can see it running off, over the hills
heading straight for Buffalo,
across Lake Erie
and beyond.
a vast shadow
in the shape of a woman
covers the Western plains

Another interpretation here.

“Just like Solzhenitsyn, I believe that in the end the word will break cement.”

–Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, in her closing statement at the Pussy Riot trial

Pussy Riot members Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Maria Alekhina and Yekaterina Samutsevich sit in a glass cage at a court room in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

To understand what Pussy Riot is all about, it is not enough to watch the video of their performance.  You need to read the word—in this case, the translated transcripts of their closing statements at the trial, available here.  This is how Katherine Holt, one of the translators, describes it:

“…they delivered impassioned, philosophically rigorous, and coherent statements about the Russian media landscape, about the co-opting of the Christ the Savior Cathedral as a political stage, about the manipulation of the Christian value of humility, about the need for individuals to think of themselves as citizens, about the role of contemporary art, about the dangers of conformity. And all this was coming on top of all the questions they had already raised (globally) about feminism, punk rock, the limits of public space, the role of cultural forces in political change.

These statements are inspiring to me as a Russia-watcher; they prove that the last nine months of protesting have not been for naught. But I should also add that to me as a person, as a woman, as someone who believes in critical thought and the power of ideas, these statements are acts of heroism.”
I couldn’t agree more.  And as a follow-up, I would remind Americans that it is not just Moscow that takes political prisoners—think of Tim DeChristopher, Bradley Manning,  or Julian Assange. (Assange is in essence being held captive in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London by the United States Government—against whom Assange’s address from the balcony there was (tellingly) very much directed.)


“…an insanely good reason to rise….”, AKA, The Patriarchy is Alive and Well

I really do believe that, at some level, we are all as blameless and innocent as the stars.  And I believe in hell not at all.  But right now, all I can think of is how much I really, really want this impossibly ignorant man to roast there.   Thank you, Eve Ensler, for so powerfully voicing the outrage (WARNING–this could be triggering for some people):

“Dear Mr. Akin, I want you to imagine…”