Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To my unknown Muslim community

While I am not a christian, I was raised in the christian cultural camp. I know its vocabulary and imagery and have lived intimately with christians my whole life. Therefore I know for a fact, and need not take it on faith, that the great majority of christians are good people leading peaceful constructive lives. I can read their collective face, and what evil I can see there I can isolate from the good.

It is in my personal nature to consider by extention that the great majority of muslim people are good, and leading peaceful and constructive lives also, despite the fact that in the 9/11 era virtually all terrorists have emerged from islamic belief and culture. But, because I am not a muslim and have had no intimacy with its culture, I do have to take my cherished assumption on faith. Your collective face is veiled to my eyes, I have no personal tool for isolating the evil from the good.

I can't be alone in my limitation. How common is this, here in my home in the U.S.A, in northern Delaware, or anywhere? I keep wondering, why are all the good muslims so quiet? They seem to be. Those wishing to build a muslim religious center blocks from ground zero in NYC can't not know the hurtful sensibility of the situation. Are they seeking to seed a healing glasnost in the heart of the west, or simply and cynically to keep their enemies closer? Or is it really just the luck of the real estate draw? I know that where I live the last decade has witnessed a ballooning muslim presence. They have a large community center just 2 miles from my front door. Them. Them is the problem. Not "they are," but "them is." Sometimes you can wind up alone in a limitation even if there are millions of you-- if you wind up being them.

Or, maybe the limitation is mine? The muslim community is talking, only I don't know how to hear it? Is a profound failure in the American media to blame? All too often good news isn't good enough to feed its appetite for sensationalism. If I could interview my hypothetical "you" on the street, here would be my question:

You are in my country by choice-- do you like us? Do you like what we are? Or do we disgust you and you just stay for the education and the work? Hey, if that's so, I understand. My italian immigrant grandparents didn't like it either, but back home in Italy, where society was decent, they couldn't find jobs. But their feelings never turned into hostility. Have yours? Or, are you like our own historical Pilgrims, who came to America to escape religious intolerance only to turn around and become intolerant of others at every turn? So, what will your contribution be to any future american greatness, good deeds despite all? Or yet one more growth-provoking lesson in hypocrisy?

Why do I talk to you as if you're a giant monolith? Because I can't see your face, whether that be my fault, my culture's, or yours. It's not fair to either of us, because the face is that unique part of the human body that shows the soul. And, politically speaking, you can see mine. Treasure any modesty you wish except that of your face.

I favor building the religious center near ground zero, granting transparency, simply because the rightness of doing so is the law of the land, constitutionally and morally. And even if we don't look moral to you on our surface, just below it most of us come out of a sense of justice in which we invest a profound faith. We allow ourselves-- and you-- to run wild because we trust ourselves to behave well when it counts, and because, as our Benjamin Franklin expressed, those who would give up liberty for the sake of security deserve neither. I deserve your face in return for mine.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remembering Robert Reynolds

For those of us in our local literary community, among the most tragic of losses was the death of poet Robert Reynolds. In an environment where we tend to forget those poets and authors who have gone before us, I often think about Robert Reynolds. The first thing we remember about his poetry were those long lyrical lines containing a bit more meter than is usual, but Robert turned those lines into a lyrical music rarely conveyed by mere words. When I first met Robert back in the early to mid 1980s, he had evidently found a typewriter with a wide carriage that could accommodate a piece of paper fed into it sideways. In this way he could type out those long lines across the length of the page. He quickly found voice for those long lines, pulling the listeners into his images.

Robert’s poems were meant to be heard. Whenever he showed up during our Second Saturday Readings in Wilmington, whether during the open segment or during those times when he was the feature, his reading of his own work had the capacity to nearly enchant the listener, not with just the music of his words and his delivery of them but with the vivid quality of images they provoked. One could see in one’s mind’s eye the scenes he portrayed in his poems better than that found in many other good poems.

I don’t know the full circumstances of Robert’s death, nor do I really want to. I know he died long before he should have left us. This much I do know, and it’s relevant. With many poets, the force that compels the composition of poetry comes from a mixture of love and haunting. Most poets are haunted by those demons that compel us to strike out against them with words, and strangely enough words seem to be the most affective weapon against them. Robert was no different in those regards. Yet, sometimes life’s situations exacerbate those inner struggles with those demons. I do know that Robert’s apartment building, which was administered through public housing, had sustained a fire that was serious enough to rehouse the building’s residents. Knowing Robert as I had caused me to suspect the event sent him into an emotional tailspin. I’d been told that Robert’s death was at his own hand and that he had evidently destroyed all his poems along with his mortal coil.

Of his published work, the only examples known to have survived appeared in the local literary periodical Palengenesis. In the mid 1980s I had the occasion to record Robert reading a couple of his poems for the Dreamstreets radio program. To my knowledge this was the only recordings of him reading his work and can be found among the Dreamstreets archive linked from this site. During a memorial event held for Robert I made copies of this recording for those who wished to have them. The recording was played for those at this memorial event. Some in attendance wept while declaring they thought they’d never hear his voice again. It warmed my heart to know I had provided this small token.

But the story doesn’t end here.

Some weeks later a mutual friend of Robert’s and mine informed me that some months before Robert had given our friend an envelope full of his poems. Initially the announcement provided the prospect that his work had survived. However, this disclosure was made to me by our mutual friend after he had also been subjected to another inner city housing shuffle, this time by a mortgage predator who had forced our friend to make a frenzied move to another living arrangement. Articles in his house were divided among newer accommodations in his extended family. Other things were allowed to dribble into places unknown. In his new accommodations my friend looked for that envelope containing Robert’s poems in great earnest. After all, Robert was his friend as well. But the envelope could not be found. Maybe it’s around somewhere and will turn up, but as time goes by the chance of that becomes less likely. Perhaps in another frantic act of a being forced to forsake comfort and security, a more real demon than the ones with which many poets and artists struggle had had a role to play, a demon real enough to hasten the destruction of a poet and his work as well as a demon real enough to lull us into forgetting.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Bottom of the Fox

A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder
by Shaun D. Mullen
Fishy Business Press

In The Bottom of the Fox, local author and blogger Shaun Mullen (Kiko's House) has captured the ambivalent ambiance of the storied Poconos bioregion that just shoulders the piedmont where we Delawareans reside. What we learn from Mullen is that behind the tony resorts and meandering roads that grace those gentle green mountains is a world of in-bred isolation, territoriality, and violence. In the late seventies, Eddie Joubert wandered in. He was an entrepreneurial hippy and former Teamster who sought to bring the freewheeling spirit of the sixties to the Poconos by running a bar called The Bottom of the Fox and helping to organize The Delaware Water Gap Festival of the Arts. On November 28, 1981, while retrieving some beer from the Fox basement, he was brutally murdered with an axe.

Mullen does a great job tracing both the geologic and the social evolution of the Poconos as one of America’s earliest resorts. We learn about the various confrontations among the settlers who drove out the Indians, the politicians who sought to sell out the region’s beauty, and the subsequent waves of immigrants, including a bunch of hippy squatters who tried to take over some condemned properties.

Mullen also captures the spirit of a drop out culture that did not cop out. While Eddie Joubert had his vices, he was a warm-hearted soul who bonded with everyone from the local minister to the homeless veteran, and he boosted the economic and cultural well being of the society of his adopted home. Apparently, according to Mullen, as Joubert ranged easily among all the odd human fauna of the Gap, he came to know too much. The real powers in that community had too much to lose if Edie’s murder was investigated scrupulously, so the cops just chalked it up to some hippy getting himself killed in a drug deal involving outsiders.

Mullen has a strong suspicion about who killed Eddie, and I must confess I am not totally convinced about his conclusions. But solving the specifics of the crime is not the main point. It’s about young folks who were re-inventing the American Dream in the sixties and seventies. It’s about the underside of a smug establishment that marginalizes its visionaries as low-class bohemians. It’s a story we in Delaware know well.

Buy a copy from his site at

One dollar from the sale of each book goes to the Delaware Water Gap Festival of the Arts.