Monthly Archives: December 2021

The Missing

The Missing showcases a side of Ron Howard I never expected to see, and brings a wealth of stunning performance moments from an all-star cast in an epic adventure about family, race, and survivorship. Starring Cate Blanchett, Tommy Lee Jones, Evan Rachel Wood, Eric Schweig, Val Kilmer, Aaron Eckhart, and Jenna Boyd, the story follows the long journey home of a homesteading family in New Mexico after a renegade Apache brujo and his men attack in search of girls to sell in Mexico. Along the way, the white women of this family learn the hard way that their ignorance of Apache values and Apache claims to the land where they live cannot continue to go unchallenged.

My favorite scene in this movie is still the very first one, but I won’t give that away if you haven’t seen it yet. This poem, based on the 79th Psalm, is in Lilly’s voice (Evan Rachel Wood), ruminating in captivity about her odds of being rescued by white soldiers.

What has become of my mother? Strangers
have fouled our ranch with monstrosities,
nothing is sacred to these traffickers.
Our homestead reeks of violation.
the men of our household are carrion,
unburied and impossible to mourn;
their witch cooked Brake alive to feed wild crows.
The land we called our own soaked up their blood
through leaves and snow, as naturally as rain,
and no one left behind to dig their graves.
Before we were the butt of townsfolks’ jokes,
but what we’ve been reduced to – I’ve no words.
How can this have happened to me? How long
will my life be dragged through the mud, how long?
Why don’t these catastrophes strike people
more deserving of contempt, know-nothings,
people with no curiosity,
those who would’ve amounted to less?
Are there not enough fools and laggards
to surfeit their dens of iniquity?
Am I to suffer for my father’s crime?
surely the army will come for us,
for without their help, we are done for.
Someone is bound to attempt to save us,
for we have been stolen from Christian homes,
and no one dare blame us for going along,
so long as we fight in our hearts for grace.
These outlaws and drunks mock our hopes and prayers.
But when cavalry troops come, they’ll turn tail,
eager to outrun avenging lawmen.
When the officers see us bound and gagged,
they’ll be quick to cut our ropes and help us.
They’ll show these shameless bottom-feeders scorn,
and drive home their regard with bayonets.
We here are all that remains of our homesteads.
what we pray for is the barest minimum.
In our mothers’ names we cry for revenge.

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Harriet

The conversation about critical race theory has gotten so overtly racist and fascist these days that I have to suspect that in the years to come, lobbyists will be trying to prevent gradeschool and even college students from learning anything about Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad. When this movie came out, it broke a lot of glass ceilings in the film industry. And like the message of Martin Luther King, I think it frightened and angered a lot of people who weren’t prepared to grapple with the history of their own country and region.

When I was a kid, visiting Savannah, Georgia, I smiled to see so many statues of horsemen in the parks, merely because their horses were handsome and the bronze was nicely done. In hindsight, I am shocked at how oblivious I was at that age about the use of symbolism to prop up myths about Southern heritage that are totally out of touch with the reality of American history and the Civil War.

One of my favorite children’s authors, Richard Adams, wrote a book glamorizing the life of General Robert E. Lee’s horse Traveller, and I remember getting in trouble for bringing that book to school because it showed a confederate flag on the cover. I reacted defensively, because I saw it as a neutral horse story, and I saw the civil war as an uncontroversial backdrop to that horse story. I didn’t appreciate how distorted Richard Adams’s description of the civil war was at that age. He gave all the standard excuses for the insurrection – none of them were valid, but I bought the story hook, line and sinker. I didn’t believe that slavery was the root cause of the war.

Now that I know more about American history, I can see why people are fighting to suppress the truth. It may have been true all along, but to a lot of Americans, the fact that the Civil War was about slavery is news – and unwelcome news. It challenges what they learned in school. It challenges a lot of their assumptions about themselves and their heritage. And it raises a lot of questions about why that information was suppressed for so long after the war was won.

This poem, based on the 78th Psalm, is about the parable of the Exodus as a story told both among slaves and among freedmen and women, before and after the Civil War, to give context and inspiration to slaves and the children and descendents of slaves. For those who don’t know the movie Harriet or the story of the underground railroad, Harriet Tubman used the name and the legend of Moses when she traveled to the south to free slaves by stealth and by force, both before and during the Civil War.

Come near to your teachers, children, listen.
Open up your minds to history.
What I have to tell you has been passed down,
generation after generation,
and those who learn this story come to know
what our parents, and theirs, and theirs, went through.
We would not have you live in ignorance,
or raise your children without having known,
what wonders our own people worked for God.
They fought so you and I could be born free!
We, too, are descended of Moses;
his teaching was passed down to slaves,
and our ancestors raised up their children,
in secret they taught the commandments,
so that, in their hearts, they would uphold real laws,
for the sake of you children, their yet unborn,
that you might teach your sons and daughters
to place their trust in justice, truth and love,
and not forsake the miracle of freedom,
abiding by the righteous laws of God.
That they not join the lost generations,
rudderless and headstrong motherless boys,
as listless and as feckless as the damned,
and stripped of all religion – naked bones.
Such courage as they had in petty crimes
availed them little in the bitter south,
for they had no higher laws to live by,
and never thought to fight against Jim Crow.
And they forgot the war their parents fought,
and never looked on Moses as their own.
Before their ancestors were taken slaves,
another Moses led the way to freedom.
To part the sea that held his people back,
God held the waters fast – the waves stood still.
Beyond the land of Egypt, by a wisp
of cloud by day, a flame by night, He guided them.
This Moses showed them where to find cool springs,
when they believed themselves undone by thirst.
He shattered a great stone deep in the waste,
and water gushed free, clear as mountain streams.
And even then, his people challenged him,
unable to believe in a just God.
They mocked his gratitude for miracles,
demanding whether next, it would rain bread?
Among themselves, they bantered about God.
They joked, “Can He lay a feast in this desert?
If indeed we should thank him for this drink,
and He alone gave us this gushing spring,
why does He not serve bread at our table?
Where is the meat He has roasted for us?”
And God heard them well, and He answered them,
His people felt the heat of His wrath,
and their children, and theirs, paid a price.
For without belief and trust in providence,
they placed no value on their own salvation.
As easily as clouds scoot through the sky,
God brought to earth the bounty of the blessed,
a grain as fine as coriander seed,
for bread as white as hoarfrost, just for them.
This was a feast fit for Pharaohs and kings,
and it covered the desert surrounding their camp.
He drove the flocks of wild birds forth on storms,
the wind whipped from the east and from the south,
and pheasants and wild geese collapsed, exhausted,
and feathered feasts spread everywhere among them,
all the camp was littered with fresh meat,
and Moses and his people dwelt in plenty.
That day, they stuffed themselves without scruples,
for God had gratified their appetites.
They hiccupped, bellies strained against their belts,
when, even as they chewed the last morsels,
the force of God’s reproof struck in their midst,
and strong men in their prime were robbed of breath,
the flower of their youth snuffed out as one.
Yet even then, they heckled bitterly
against the thought of miracles and fate.
Thus in exile, without lands or laws, they went
their ways, remorselessly cynical, lost.
At times, at the point of the sword, they prayed
for help and looked to this God of old.
In these moments, they remembered their roots
and the works of Moses and Abraham.
These things tripped easily from their tongues
and they they spoke not true – although they prayed,
They made other pacts on the side, spread their bets,
and paid short shrift to the covenant.
Even so, the Lord had mercy for them,
curbed His anger toward them easily,
And sought no retribution in the end.
for He did not forget man’s frailty,
a creature born to die unrecompensed.
For men who have been slaves know only hate,
and cast into the wilderness, they doubt.
Of God they knew but little, trusted less,
and seizing freedom, cast aside all yokes.
What did your forebears know of miracles,
of holy intervention in men’s crimes,
of wonders done in Egypt, or on Sinai,
of water churning with slaveholders’ blood,
and poisoning the Pharaoh’s great estates?
Their Moses stole through riverbanks by night,
the cries of frogs and crickets masked her calls.
She led her people north, and left their crops
to feed the birds and wither in the fields.
If God had struck their cotton down with hail,
and sickened their moss oaks with mistletoe,
had robbed them of their livestock with a plague,
and bled their wealth, he could not have done more.
She roused freed slaves to fight the southern states,
to burn with the indignities they’d borne,
and raised and army to confront the whites.
Was Egypt’s Moses more war-like than theirs,
who called the wrath of God down on his foes,
and watched the seven plagues denude their wealth?
The Civil War, too, claimed the slavers’ sons,
a generation died on those bleak fields.
and Harriet, their Moses, led the way,
shepherding her flock to Canada.
She listened to God’s signs and quelled their doubts,
and led them where no enemy would find them.
And she delivered them up to freedom,
far from the slave-holding southern states.
And when they went south again in arms,
they fought for the right to their own land,
and won the right to see their kin again.
Yet the whites would not be reconciled,
and the terms of the peace they rebuked.
They went back to their old ways at once,
like a rifle that always misfires.
Their fiery crosses offended God,
these men who idolized whiteness and hate.
And the God of Moses reacted swiftly,
cutting off the Jim Crow whites from grace.
God withdrew from their homes and their hearts,
the spirit no longer shared their travails.
He turned His back while demagogues and crooks
assumed the reins of power in the south.
Even those He had freed felt him absence,
for his wroth no longer made distinctions.
The youth of their cities burned out, took drugs,
children had children, unmarried, alone.
The statesmen who fought for justice were slain,
and their legacies died with them, unmourned.
Now you must stir yourselves from this stupor,
like magicians freed from an evil spell.
You must fight the corrupt, pandering shills,
bring the ignorant poor out of their thrall.
The old ways will not serve you in your task,
the hesitancy of the middle path won’t work.
You must take new vows, invent new values,
true to the past, but not bound by its errors.
You must retake the commanding heights for love,
before the earth and all that’s in it burns.
Be able to lead those who only follow,
a shepherd to the lost, not the lucky few.
For if you cannot lead manind, the rest
will go to ruin from their ignorance,
and the elect will go without in turn.
Do not silence your conscience in this task,
but do it well, with statecraft and with nerve.

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Filed under Acting, Corruption, Directing, Dream Ensemble, False controversies, Poetry, Roll Credits

Fathers and Daughters

I know coming on the heels of a fan poem for The Phantom of the Opera, the first line of this fan poem for Fathers and Daughters comes off as a little distracted, but it’s such a good line, I had to steal it. The performances of Kylie Rogers, Amanda Seyfried and Russell Crowe are unforgettable in this film – the story of a girl who needs her father back, to feel brave enough to let herself love again. This poem, based on the 77th Psalm, is especially close to my heart, and is dedicated to those who have lost loved ones too soon, too suddenly, too young.

My father promised me – just let me stand here, please.
My father sang to me – just let me answer, please.
In the panics of childhood, I reached for him.
My eyes stiffen with salt by night, it won’t stop.
I don’t want to be told that’s ok.
I dwell on his absence, strain against the loss.
I have nothing to say for myself, no pride.
You forced me to feel with my whole heart again.
I recoiled from the pain, I had no words.
I could lose myself in his memory,
the world we made maps onto the world entire.
This is the song I pull to myself in the cold.
Let it speak to my heart, for I ask myself,
will the love that was real never touch me again,
can no one bear to hold me through the night?
Is the warmth of my childhood erased from life,
are the promises kept by the dead unmade?
Can my father still leave me, in memory, too,
would he blame me for running from hope and fear?
In my heart I believe I have let him down,
and he hid his face from my gaze in shame.
I try to bring him back before my mind’s eye,
when I hear his works held up as an example.
I recite the smallest things he said to me,
and read aloud from his last masterpiece.
He taught me how to see and feel and do.
Where else can his daughter turn for faith and truth?
My father’s joys, to me, were miracles.
The wider world acclaimed him, too, in time.
He came back, when he seemed lost to me forever,
he never changed to me, never gave up.
The way my body needs the touch of water,
the way the senses tremble at the thought,
my whole heart thrilled when we both sang this song.
The way the sky withholds and then pours down.
The way round thunderclaps reverberate.
That was how his laughter filled my soul up.
The clattering ignition launching satellites –
that was how he typed his book about us.
His readers shared our triumphs, laughed and wept.
He wrote the way a navigator writes,
and sought uncharted places in the heart,
where things so near we miss them can be found.
My father led me here – somehow he knew,
this song was sent to bring me back to you.

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Filed under Acting, Dream Ensemble, Fathers and Daughters, Music, Poetry

boundaries

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December 17, 2021 · 12:30 am

Body of Lies

In Hollywood, the CIA is always the villain, even if the protagonist is a CIA agent, and Ridley Scott’s action adventure Body of Lies is no exception. Starring Russell Crowe as the cynical CIA careerist Ed Hoffman, Leonardo DiCaprio as the much-abused human intelligence specialist Roger Ferris, and Mark Strong as the skeptical Jordanian intelligence czar Hani, this cloak-and-dagger thriller is a bit dark for a popcorn movie, but for a dust-filter genre Middle East spy flick it does the job, without belittling the million+ deaths the U.S. war on terrorism has caused.

This poem, inspired by the 76th Psalm, is in Hoffman’s voice browbeating Ferris about priorities.

Uncle Sam is well known in Basra,
in Baghdad he left his mark.
In Jordan he knows his friends,
in Gaza he has his narcs.
There, in a shower of missile strikes,
he laid waste Saddam’s war machine:
vengeful light shows in electric green
battered the backbone of industry.
The palace guard were put to shame,
retreating in a bitter daze,
and unopposed, the air force bombed Iraq.
The credit was the C.I.A.’s,
for manufacturing consent.
Langley has never been more feared,
for who can outrun a drone?
Satellites decide whose homes
will be reduced to rubble,
when Langley has a score to settle,
defending freedom, as they say.
Jihadists go to ground like rabbits
knowing we will draw up kill lists.
Make what promises you may, you’re with us;
our allies are your friends because of aid.
The wages of oil wealth are paid in blood.
My Pentagon outranks your king’s right hand.

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Phantom of the Opera

Though I’m not normally one for musicals, I thoroughly enjoyed Joel Schumacher’s adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s masterpiece, The Phantom of the Opera, starring Gerard Butler and Emmy Rossum. I cringe at Gerard Butler’s signature move in shoot-em-up’s of shooting his adversaries dead when they’re already down, but this role won me over to his fandom. Emmy’s turn as Christine is angelic, and I would definitely go to see another musical adaptation if she were in it – fans should check out her YouTube channel for original music videos, including Christmas music!

This poem, inspired by the 75th Psalm, is in Madame Giry’s voice, an almost omniscient narrator of the story of the cursed Parisian opera house and its melodramatic demise.

We sing for you, the Phantom – we take heed,
and know your voice, who summoned us, comes near.
The people are enthralled, and doubt you not.
“The point of no return is now at hand,
and I shall cast the lots – who lives, who dies.
This Opera house would fade from memory,
if I had not raised up its brightest star.
I warned the circus dancers, brutes and clowns,
and their inflated diva, not to sing.
Seek not to rob my prottégé of rank.
Your blithe disdain for art does not daunt me.
For nowhere else will you obtain the means
to move the soul – my music is the key.
The Phantom you abhor will have his due,
for only he can make or mar on cue.
At his fingertips the music sheaves,
mute with possibility – his dreams.
He will break his silence, and in song,
unwind his fell designs for the pompous throng,
and all will come to ruin at one blow.”
And I, though I keep faith, will always know
whose music moved the firmament that night.
“And all the fools who hunted me recoiled.
Christine alone held fast, and met my eyes.”

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