Monday, November 29, 2004

Sometimes the postman comes twice. Dawn Davis (editorial director) at HarperCollins sent me a copy of Ellease Southerland's LET THE LION EAT STRAW. This novel printed in 1979 was out of print. Davis just helped to release the 25th anniversary edition. For additional info go to:
Amistad is an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Construction workers are still filling my workspace at Howard with dust. I have no idea what I'm breathing. I just know they have masks and I don't have one. Maybe some folks are ready for anthrax and I missed the memo.

I went down into the stacks and pulled some poetry books for research. The HU library has an excellent collection of poetry books.

I gave a talk/reading to senior citizens over in Georgetown at the St. John's Episcopal Church located at 3240 O St, NW. I invited my friend Melissa Tuckey to join me. She is a student enrolled in the George Mason creative writing program. We both read our own work as well as poems by Linda Hogan, James Tate and Stanley Kunitz. We had a nice discussion afterwards.

On the way back across town I ran into the writer Richard McCann. He has a new book out next year. McCann has been a cornerstone of the creative writing program at American University for the last several years.

In the mail was a large pile of material for a writer up for promotion at his college. I have to review the package and write a critical evaluation. I have about two months to do it. I guess I do about 3 - 4 of these things a year. Sometimes it feels like jury duty. It's important- so I push myself to do it. It's a good opportunity to keep up with what folks are writing.

Also in the mail was Gretchen Roberts-Shorter's new novel CAN'T REMEMBER PLAYING.
The book was published by the Washington Writers' Publishing House. The novel is set in the 1780s. You get the Revolutionary War, slavery and more. The book sells for $14.95 and can be obtain by writing to:
Washington Writers' Publishing House, P.O.Box 15271, Washington, DC 20003

Gretchen is one of those writers I wish I could have helped more. Sometimes there is just too much on my desk.

I'm back to listening to Etta James tonight: Blue Gardenia.

Oh...while in Georgetown I saw some nice sweatshirts for our new baseball team - The Nationals. Now if we can just drop those funny looking W caps. I hate wonder the Senators couldn't win with those things on their heads.
DC City Council should just vote for having the team in DC. Was the City Council folks talking about improving our schools and having a new library before baseball was heading this way? I don't think so. 50 people walking around with protest posters is not a Boston Tea Party. It's a small poetry reading.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Another comment from Charles Johnson from his book of interviews edited by Jim McWilliams:

"Most writers write totally off the top of their heads. They don't know how their work fits within the tradition of literature, they don't know really what their objectives are. But art, like science, has rules, objectives. It's only on the basis of having a sense of tradition that you can say that something fits within the continuum and advances it."
I didn't do much today. I watched the Washington/Steeler game on television. Tonight neighbors outside fighting over a parking space. Silly except it started getting racial. I went outside and got between them. The black man started talking about how a black man has nothing. I looked over my shoulder at the parking didn't remind me of Africa.
The Latino woman had a couple of kids. They didn't need to listen to all the foul language. The black man said he was 52 and didn't have to be pushed around in front of his own home. I told him I was older and he should listen to an elder. ;-)
I'm also getting too old for this type of stuff.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Back home after a long trip to Hagerstown MD. My son's team lost to St.Maria Goretti H.S. I can see some problems ahead for his team.
Bert knows what Bo didn't know.

A very productive day. I spent a couple of hours cleaning the basement. I discovered a box of correspondence. Letters from Arthur P. Davis, Ahmos Zu-Bolton, Ai, Afaa Michael Weaver, Abraham Chapman, Marilyn Hacker,Alvin Aubert, Alexis DeVeaux and others.
A number of letters from the literary critic Karla Hammond. Whatever happened to her? She was living in CT.

Ahmos just moved back to DC. His letters are filled with so much literary history of the 1970s and 1980s. Maybe we should sit down and look at what we were doing back then. If we're not careful magazines like Callaloo will just skip over folks like Thulani Davis, Ahmos Zu-Bolton, Primus St. John and others. This is what happened to folks who were writing in the 1950s and early 1960s. Their careers were overshadowed by the advocates of the Black Arts Movement.
Folks will think poetry started again when Saul Williams was born. That's a slam. Well hush my mouth but keep my eyes open.

Friday, November 26, 2004

"As I said before, writers should be able to write everything, anything. You should be able to write novels, radio plays, operas, short fiction, gas, manifestoes; you should be able to write philosophy, epic poesm, screenplays, and charms to raise the dead, blight your enemies, and kill rats, everything."
- Charles Johnson
edited by Jim McWilliams
University of Washington Press, 2004.
"Not only is there a God, but also what is worse, He has a sense of humor."
- Allen Hoffman in his essay "From the Herring to the Leviathan" published in the first issue of Maggid: A Journal of Jewish Literature.

Checkout the essay on Charlie Brown by Jonathan Franzen in The New Yorker (November 29, 2004). It's good.

Early morning work: Letters mailed. A short jog. One letter of recommendation completed. One more letter of recommendation to do.

I'll hopefully complete all my Bennington work this afternoon. Maybe I'll have a moment to go down to the basement and pack 2 boxes of books for the Booker T. Washington Charter School.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Sad news. Novelist Larry Brown is dead at 53. He was the author of DIRTY WORK, JOE, FATHER AND SON and FAY. Many years ago I was invited to judge the best books by Mississippi writers. I selected Brown's work. I only met him once. He was sitting on the floor at a book fair that might have been held in DC. The fifth inning and it's over so quickly for so many of us.

Edwidge Danticat had an OP-ED article on Haiti in the New York Times on November 24th. E's uncle recently died while seeking asylum in the US.
Here are E' s words:

"When he left Port-au-Prince, my uncle joined a long list of desperate, ill-fated Haitians who are fleeing a country that is plagued not only by gang warfare, rebel attacks, summary arrests and other human rights violations, but also ecological disasters: in September, flash floods caused by Tropical Storm Jeanne killed 1,900 people and left 200,000 more homeless."

In the Washington Post today there was an article about how Kodak will no longer be making slide projectors. Can you believe that? Do you remember how the slides always got stuck?

MOMA just reopened. The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
I won't get to visit until April of next year.

Yesterday I received the latest issue of The Bloomsbury Review. There is a review of all the new Neruda books, as well as an article on Hayden Carruth.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Happy Thanksgiving!
Jody Bolz gave me a copy of her new book last night. Checkout --A LESSON IN NARRATIVE TIME just published by Gihon Books. They are located in Vermont: P.O.Box 613B, Johnson, Vermont 05656. The book sells for $14.00.
Carl Phillips writes : Bolz persuasively argues for a narrative in which time no longer figures as it used to: anything - to our delight and terror, equally- is possible.
Jody is a fellow editor of Poet Lore and teaches creative writing at George Washington University.

Another pointer from the new Marsalis book:

"You should go practice, then think about saving the world."

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

I purchased my ticket for Bennington today. Albany here I come. While downtown I went into Borders and picked up a nice small book by Wynton Marsalis. Checkout -TO A YOUNG JAZZ MUSICIAN. It's a good gift for a young artist. In the second chapter Marsalis talks about the 3 P words that are important for the creative folks. They are patience, persistence and productivity. Amen.
I like this Zen sentence in his book:
"It's important to realize that in order to be different, you have to do something different."

I went to the big poetry committee meeting held at the King Library. We are planning the next TAKING POETRY TO THE STREET. It's a celebration of National Poetry Month sponsored by the DC Public Library. The date is April 23rd, from Noon to 3PM. Last April it was a nice affair...

Talking about the library...have you seen the lovely renovations taking place in the King building? New carpet, etc.
I think Richard L. Jackson is doing a good job down there. Can we keep the guy in the director's position? Down the street the good Wizards keep leaving town. We already lost Hamilton...let's keep the other Richard at the library.

Poet Lore meeting this evening.

Talking about poetry, the new Callaloo magazine is out. The focus is on "the new wave" of contemporary African American Poetry. Thomas Ellis, A. Van Jordan, Honoree Jeffers are included.

I'm waiting for the writer to emerge who will have that June Jordan walk and talk. Right now I see Suheir doing it and she's not African American. Hmmmm.
If African American poetry keeps coming out of workshops while a war is going on some of this stuff is going to be nothing but wallpaper in an academic's basement. Good for an MLA meeting and wine or beer at the bar.

Still some of the best writers at work today are in this latest issue of Callaloo. Get your copy...Vol. 27. No.4.
I'm glad Charles Rowell (editor) included interviews with the new wave. How many are perms?
This morning I completed my final Fulbright report for the trip to Israel. I sent in reimbursement forms.

I need to make travel arrangements( today) for my January trip to Bennington.

No other major trips being planned for 2005 right now.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Maurice Jackson came by around 9AM and took me over to Georgetown University. I gave a talk on the Black Arts Movement in his Black History and Black Culture class. I think the students enjoyed my presentation.

On my way over to Howard I shared a cab with Kirsten a nice woman who had recently started working at the Norwegian Embassy. Our female cabdriver wrote poetry and recited a long piece that was actually very good. It did take me longer than usual to get across town.

At the HU post office I mailed my son's basketball tapes to the schools he is interested in playing for next year. I dropped one of his videos over at Howard's athletic office.

Folks are doing construction in the Resource Center. :-( My computer is not working...
Like Ali in Zaire I roll with the punches.

"What Am I to You? I'm listening to Norah Jones. Sunday was a day of rest. I spent the day watching football games. Ravens are looking good. Poets have to support teams named for Poe's work. Football seems safer than the NBA these days. Should players knockout fans? Artest should be given Jackie Robinson's autobiography to read during his off season- which just started.

I'm slowly writing new poems for my next collection. Here's what's coming:

(for Mikki)

We sit in a Hard Rock Cafe
with our two drinks in front of us.
The woman behind you stares at
your gray hair. I look into your eyes
and try to find the address to our
old apartment. We've been holding
hands all night as if we wanted to
touch tomorrow. When you talk
about the sad things in your life I can
smell the burning of a tear.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

I spent almost the entire day watching my son play basketball in Potomac, Maryland. Next week his season begins. My daughter just dropped it looks like birthday cake for everyone this evening. We're waiting for Buddy Bev to come back from Boston and perhaps join us. Then it's back to work. Is that a Bennington packet I see?
On Sunday (November 21st) the New York Times Book Review section will be their poetry issue. Don't miss it.

Coming in future E-Notes will be short book reviews. Changes are being made to my website. Comments and feedback are always helpful.
Early BertDay for me. How old would Robert Kennedy be today? Let's not forget. Yesterday Barbara and I picked Denise up from the hospital. I spent the morning making sure she was comfortable and adjusting to life after surgery. She should be back to her old self in a few days.

At Howard it was a day of talking to folks and helping them with research. One person who came by my office to visit was the writer and scholar John McCluskey, Jr from Indiana University in Bloomington. We had a wonderful time talking and laughing. It made the day.

Mikki picked me up from Howard after work and we went down to Chinatown for dinner. Afterwards we drove over to 10th Street and went to the Octavia Butler and Samuel Delany program at the Smithsonian. It was good to see so many people out for the event. Both of the writers are loved. They have fans. They were both gracious and seemed moved by the evening.
Mikki and I sat in the auditorium holding hands like we were back in college. We were married back in 1972. After the program we walked over to the Hard Rock Cafe and had a drink. We looked at each other's gray hair and wondered where the time went. I'm glad our friendship is still special...

Before going to bed I looked at the mail. Two new books arrived:

Destiny's Gift by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley. Illustrated by Adjoa Burrowes.
I remember when Natasha came from Harvard to Howard. Adjoa was a Fine Arts Student at Howard back in the day. She did a couple of my Ascension reading flyers. The first one was after the death of our friend Janet Gaillard. The film Juice by E. Dickerson is dedicated to Janet.

Little, Brown and Company sent me Martha Cooley's new novel. The title is Thirty-Three Swoons. Martha is the author of The Archivist and is teaching at Bennington. I look forward to giving her a hug during our January residency.

OK...let me go get my birthday cake. I saw Denise sneaking it into the house the other day.

Friday, November 19, 2004

So the cab driver (from Sierra Leone) last night says "Getting married lasts an hour, divorce six months..." Hmmm.

Ken Burns will release his documentary on the boxer Jack Johnson on PBS in January. The title is UNFORGIVEABLE BLACKNESS: THE RISE AND FALL OF JACK JOHNSON.
I wonder if football player Terrell Owens will be watching.

Irshad Manji had an interesting article on Islam in yesterday's New York Times.
Manji is the author of THE TROUBLE WITH ISLAM: A MUSLIM'S CALL FOR REFORM IN HER FAITH. Manji is a young Canadian Muslim.

I just got a newsletter and note from my buddies at the Blue Mountain Center located in upstate New York. They wanted to know if I knew some "hot" poets interested in coming to their retreat. For more info contact:
Blue Mountain is where I wrote many of the poems included in WHERE ARE THE LOVE POEMS FOR DICTATORS?

Folks in Detroit are trying to raise money for a bust that will honor poet Naomi Madgett in Detroit. Madgett is also the founder of Lotus Press. That's a company that's responsible for many African American poets having books. Include me on the list. Madgett published my collection SEASON OF HUNGER/CRY OF RAIN. Lotus Press Inc is trying to raise $20,000 fo r the project honoring Madgett. If you want to make a gift contact Diane Reeder, Chair, Lotus Press, Inc. They can be reached at:
Website is:

Google just started a new search engine. It will help you with academic research:
One can locate theses, abstracts and technical reports.

Yesterday I read a number of packet submissions for Poet Lore. It's amazing how much work is needed to keep a poetry magazine going. The latest issue is out. Poet Lore was established in 1889. It's the oldest continuously published literary magazine in the nation. For info go to the Writer's Center website:

My son had another basketball scrimmage. He was looking good last night.
It was nice to eat dinner together at Union Station and then take a cab back home. In a few months he will be on his own and playing college ball. He has a box of highlight tapes going out to schools next week.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

It often takes me 3-4 days after a trip to sort my mail. That's what I did at Howard yesterday. I also spent some time talking with AJ. He works for one of DC's council members. I met him when he was a high school student several years ago. He's the type of young guy you enjoy talking to. He's a future leader.

New book arrivals:

Where Monsoons Cry by Lalita Noronha.
It's a collection of short stories published by Kwame Alexander. Noronha writes about Indian culture within America. I started reading the first story "This Is America" and found her words tasty.
Bart Schneider's new novel also arrived in the mail. The title is Beautiful Inez. The character Inez Roseman is a violinist with the San Francisco Symphony. The story takes place in the 1960s.
I met Bart when I was in the Twin Cities several months ago. He is the founding editor of the Hungry Mind Review and Speakeasy magazine.

2 New Yorker magazine articles I have on my desk to read:

Article on Richard Wilbur in the November 22nd issue
Profile of Amos Oz in the November 8th issue

Last night I was out in PG County watching my son's first preseason game. It's going to take a few games before his team starts to play well. It's early. Another game this evening at Gonzaga.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

I'm getting back in the groove. I needed two days to clean the desk and move into new projects.
While I was in Israel I was elected the new chair of the Institute for Policy Studies. Checkout website:

I have a couple of meetings at Howard today. I'm in the middle of returning Bennington packets.

Yesterday I had a lunch and a fun conversation with my buddy Bev at Borders in Silver Spring.

Today is my son's first preseason basketball game. Two other games will be played on Thursday and Saturday. This is his senior year in high school. Coaches are still calling the house. I have no idea what college he plans to attend. I'm beginning to see the pressure some of these young kids are under.

I'm reading Stanley Crouch's new book: THE ARTIFICIAL WHITE MAN. I missed his book party at P& P a few weeks ago. Crouch was on one of my early Ascension readings. We held it at Howard and only a few people came. I wonder what would happen today.

SF Friday with Octavia Butler and Samuel Delaney on November 19th at 7PM. The program will be at the National Museum of Natural History (Baird Auditorium, 12th Street and Constitution Ave). This event is part of the exhibit I curated back in June - ALL THE STORIES ARE TRUE. The exhibit will be up until the end of December. Be sure to see it...tell friends.
The exhibit is at the Anacostia Museum located at 1901 Fort Pl, SE. Call 202 610-3290 for details.

Well it's "BERT DAY" on Saturday. I'll be 54. Celebrate by reading a poem to a friend. :-)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why I love Black people...
On the front page of the New York Times today is a picture of Colin Powell and Condo Rice. They look like father and daughter. Rice is passing a note. We all know what it says:

"Should I take this job?"

" Can we meet after this? "

Powell has the look of a father who is accepting a daughter's explanation or maybe she is seeking forgiveness.

White people frame the back of the picture. Over Powell's shoulder is the head of a white woman. The white man between Powell and Rice is wearing glasses. He is looking in another direction but you can still notice the top of his ear. Who is this guy? We know he's that's why Condo is passing the note. He He. Oh do you remember those old slavery days? Even the "good" ones ran away. He He

An early Thursday morning in November. I turn on the news (CNN) and learn about Yasser Arafat's death. I was measuring his last breaths against the number of days left in my trip. If I had concerns about safety before I left the States it just unpacked and decided to take a shower. I watch the news and wonder what's going on outside. Folks are talking about Arafat being buried at Temple Mount. Well, that's just a few minutes from my hotel. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest Muslim places in Jerusalem. Somewhere near it is the final resting place of the Ark of the Covenant. On the news an Israeli spokesperson says Arafat will never be buried in Jerusalem. It's a place for kings to rest.

This city is a crossroads for religion and politics. It's never going to end. I think about how what I know about the Palestinian movement started with Arafat. During these times of symbols this man became one. Think of South Africa without Mandela or the Bulls without Jordan.
But right now I'm on the otherside of the street. Everyone has a wise crack about Arafat. It's understandable. How many Jews have died from terrorism? I'm a visitor and I don't even want to ride a bus. How do you go about your daily life without thinking about the people you love.

CNN and The Jerusalem Post focus on the Middle East after Arafat. Is this a window that will open for peace? If it is a window we should look down and see how far up we are. No jumping and let's not push someone. Where can Mahmoud Abbas really go? The radical Palestinians - the Al-Aqua Martyrs Bridgade are changing their name to the Yasser Arafat Martyrs Bridgade. Is that a step up or down?

Just yesterday afternoon I was sitting in my hotel lobby talking about poetry with Channa Magori. She is completing her thesis at Bar Ilan University. It's Channa that will suggest I read Michael Oren's " Arafat Without Tears" when I get back to Washington. It was published in the Washington Post on Sunday, November14th.

Today is my day to go to The Mount of Olives and visit the Dome of the Ascension and the Garden of Gethsemane. Judy Labenshohm will be my guide. We exchanged emails before I came to Israel. Judy graduated from Goucher. We are 1 minute in our cab when the driver suggests we not go. The Mount of Olives is located in East Jerusalem. After a long exchange between Judy and the cabdriver we decide to make the trip. The cabdriver says he will wait for us. I like this guy and he doesn't have a meter either. Judy and I are off. As soon as we reach our destination the climate changes. People are already posting pictures of Arafat on walls.
Outside Gethesemane a guy tricks me into getting on a camel. It's a very bad experience for me.
It's like the bad ride I had as a child while visiting Coney Island. I'm outside Gethesmane and I feel betrayed. The guy who owns the camel has taken my Minnesota Twins cap. He wants me to pose on his camel like I'm in a desert. There's no sand in my eyes but I'm angry.

So Judy and I continue on our journey to Via Dolorosa. I'm feeling very much like Jesus today.
We stop at several of the stations on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I get an idea for a poem.

On Friday, Mark Joseph an MA poetry student at BIU meets me outside the hotel around 10:30AM. I like Mark. He has a nice gentleness and exudes a quiet warmth. We walk over to Linda Zisquit's home where she is having an art opening. It's a nice time to be having a gathering. I catch a glimpse of the local art community.

I have another free afternoon until the poet Steve Stern and his girlfriend drop by around 5:00 PM. We are going to the Wailing Wall where we will meet the writer Allen Hoffman. It's time for
Shabbat. Allen has been kind enough to invite me to dinner. One of the things I really love about Jewish culture are the Friday gatherings around the dinner table. What a beautiful way to keep tradition and community alive. While eating I hear small explosions in the distance. Allen jokes about what's going on outside. It's the end of Ramadan so many Muslims are celebrating their own holidays. Allen is a funny guy but The Jerusalem Post will mention the following on Sunday the 14th:

"While the prayer service at the Temple Mount passed without incident, hundreds of Palestinian teens scuffled with police at several locations in east Jerusalem throughout the morning and late afternoon after police barred them from entering the site. Several hundred Arab teens who repeatedly tried to force their way into the Temple Mount via the Lion's Gate were forcibly dispersed by the police on the scene."

During the day there were rumors of people snatching Arafat's coffin and bringing it here for burial. Later when I watch CNN and see what happened in Ramallah I understand the concern.
However it's not chaos. This is what Vivian Gornick once wrote in her memoir FIERCE ATTACHMENTS:

"Twenty years later when I was living as a journalist in the Middle East, I witnessed Arab funerals almost weekly- hundreds of men and women rushing through the streets, tearing at their clothes, uttering cries of an animal-like nature at a terrifying pitch of noise, people fainting, being trampled, while the crowd whirled screeching on. Westerners who might be standing beside me in the street would shake their heads in amazement at a sight so foreign it confirmed them in their secret conviction that these people were indeed not like themselves."

Steve and his girlfriend walk me back to the Dan Panorama Jerusalem after dinner with Allen and his family. It's about 9:30 PM. All is quiet on the western front.

Saturday, November 13th is my last day in Israel. I have a morning flight back to the States on Sunday. If you have a last day anywhere then spend it with a person like Noga Tarnopolsky.
Noga is a journalist and the type of woman that men spin around for. We spend a couple of hours just going from one cafe to another. We talk. We laugh. I ask her about why so many women are walking around with their "middles" showing and reminding me of what happens when you drink too much beer. It's suppose to be sexy she tells me. I tell her that might only be the case when a woman is wearing jewelry or belly dancing. Noga looks down at her clothes...she's the only woman in the cafe with that old Jane Fonda look.

Noga and I drop by the Bookshop at the American Colony Hotel. The owner Munther loves his Noga as does many of the men who are sitting around the hotel. It's Noga's world so I spend time looking at the books. Munther is running an excellent small bookshop. I purchase a anthology of Gibran's work for my son, as well as SOMEONE TO RUN WITH by David Grossman and UNFORTUNATELY, IT WAS PARADISE by Mahmoud Darwish.

When I say good-bye to Noga outside my hotel I feel I'm in Casablanca. It's me that has to get on that plane tomorrow.

Monday, November 15, 2004

November 10th.

I'm in the lobby of the Dan Panorama Jerusalem waiting for Sharon Friedman. She is one of my many new friends that will take me around the city. Sharon is a literary agent. She represented a book that includes my work - TALES FROM THE COUCH: WRITERS ON THERAPY edited by Jason Shinder. This book was published by William Morrow back in 2000.

The hotel is filled with American tourists here to see the holy city. This could be Waco, Texas but the Jews outnumber the Christians. I thank God and say a small prayer to myself.

Thanks to Sharon I visit almost the entire Old City. We go from the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter to the Muslim Quarter. The end of Ramadan is coming and the Muslim Quarter is filled with too many people. Sharon and I are soon trapped in a bad movie. It's as bad as the Old Human Kindness Days that were once held in DC. The last one might have been a tribute to Nina Simone before the chaos descended. I'm caught in a sea of humanity or maybe it's one big hungry ocean. A young man's wagon turns over and the noise is a small explosion. This is a bad experience I tell myself but I can't hear.
November 10th.

Yesterday I spent the morning with Risa Lichtman. She's a creative writing student at Bar Ilan University (BIU). We had a nice morning just walking around Tel Aviv. We stopped at an outdoor market and I purchased a silver ring for myself. I wanted to take back something that would forever remind me of this trip. Risa and I soon discover a small cafe. We sat and talked about her poetry and the writing life. I had a lemonade drink with large pieces of mint. I would become addicted to this stuff before the end of the week. The owner of the cafe spent time acting in New York. When I told him I was a writer he immediately invited me to a poetry reading taking place the next day at the cafe. When Risa stepped outside for a few minutes I pushed for her to be booked. Before heading back to the Kfar Maccabiah (where I'm staying) Risa took me down to the beach. We stood there enjoying the sun dancing on the Mediterranean. I could see Jaffa to our left. A young couple from Brooklyn requested that I take their picture. Who's looking at who?

With my three bags I check out of the Kfar Maccabiah around 3:30 PM. I take a cab to BIU.
I meet Shaindy Rudoff at the gate. Allen Hoffman (fiction writer) soon joins us. What a fun guy. He needs a television show. I love being in his company and he loves baseball. An old Cardinal fan. He is still mourning the lost of the Cardinals to the Red Sox. I mention the name of Curt Flood and we talk about visiting the Wailing Wall together.

My last lecture as a Fulbright scholar is about the Black Arts Movement. It's Shaindy's Jewish Arts Seminar. I begin by talking about Larry Neal and then I become Lou Brock taking a big lead off first...I'm having fun. After my talk Allen and I take a cab to the Lilit restaurant on Mazeh Street 42. We have dinner with Donald and Linda Zisquit. Linda is a poet and the author of RITUAL BATH (Broken Moon Press in Seattle). A few minutes into the conversation she tells me that she is going to Pittsburgh and will be spending time with poets Terrance Hayes and Yona Harvey. How small can the world be? I wrote an Omar poem about Yona.

After food and good conversation it's off to Jerusalem. Entering this city at night is like slipping into a history book and having it close on you.
The road out would be treacherous, and I didn't know where it would lead but I followed it anyway. It was a strange world ahead that would unfold, a thunderhead of a world with jagged lightning edges. Many got it wrong and never did get it right. I went straight into it. It was wide open. One thing for sure, not only was it not run by God, but it wasn't run by the devil either.

- Bob Dylan from his memoir CHRONICLES, VOLUME 1.

I finish reading Dylan's memoir while in Jerusalem. "I head full of ideas that are driving me insane."

"Do you renounce Satan?" This is what the priest asks Pacino at the end of the movie THE GODFATHER. During the last two days of my stay in Israel I watch THE GODFATHER on television. I'm staying at the Dan Panorama Jerusalem hotel. How funny to watch this movie after spending the last few days walking around the The Old City. I love Brando and Pacino. The photographer Sharon Farmer gave me the nickname of "godfather" many years ago. How long ago was that? Sharon was recently Kerry's staff photographer. She once worked for the White House when Sen. Clinton was our First Lady. On my desk at home I keep a picture of Brando as Godfather. Hmmm.

I got back home around 1:30 AM. I departed from Israel around 11:15AM after being asked many questions at the airport. Despite all the security why does Continental airlines still serve all their meals with knifes? I sat next to an attractive young woman who coughed without covering her mouth the entire trip. Even when she fell asleep her mouth was still open. Somewhere over the Atlantic I started coughing too. I had an aisle seat and a book. I ate my meals quickly. It was funny to find her standing behind me at the baggage claim area being friendly, talkative, and still coughing. I asked her what her luggage looked like. She didn't know.
I left her there and walked through the airport doors into my sister's embrace. It was good to see the Marie from FATHERING WORDS. We drove over to New York and paid a short visit to our Mom. I gave both of them small gifts. I gave my sister a nice rock from Jerusalem to place on my brother's grave.

Around 7 PM (Sunday) my sister took me to the 34th street station. The train I wanted to catch was soldout. I did talk to two people I hadn't seen in many years. Both worked at Howard University when there were Democrats in theWhite House.

So it's Monday and I just had breakfast with Naomi and also got my haircut. I'm wearing a beard I have a Middle Eastern look? How did this happen? Let's go back and look at my last few days in Israel.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

David and I were taken to the city of Acco for most of the day. We had our own guide. Acco or Acre is an ancient Canaanite and Phoenician port. You walk around thinking about the Crusades.
So much history, so may wars.


I spent the entire day visiting Bet She'arim with Israel Leshem. This was the highlight of the trip so far. It was a chance to see another part of the country outside of Haifa.
I've been thinking about writing a few poems.
More later...


I sat this morning on campus looking down on the city of Haifa. 10AM I attended a lecture demonstration by David Pleasant. David is African American and the other Fulbright scholar from the States. He is a musician from the Gullah area of the States.

Around Noon I was taken to lunch at the IBM building located next to the campus. There are so many cats walking around here. A good omen. At lunch are Yaron Shukrun and Liby Obadial of the American Embassy.

I gave two talks today. One on Langston Hughes and the other on the Black Arts Movement.
They were both very well received.

In the evening I spent time answering email. Folks were upset with the recent elections. I spent the night in my room watching CNN. It was the same news.

It was fun meeting Dr. M. Sobel. She's my host here. I'm a guest of the Center for the Study of The United States. Dr. Sobel reminds me of an old friend. We immediately begin to enjoy each other's company. She's an expert on African American culture. We sit in one of the campus cafe's and discuss school politics. She provides me with a good insight into recent trends and developments at the university.
My first talk is about being a literary activist. I think I selected the right topic.

2:48 AM. I can still get the time on my cell phone. I'm staying in one of the Univerity of Haifa's guest rooms. Nice accommodations. Excellent lighting. I arrrived around 11 PM last night. Continental Flight 96 from Newark. It was the 5th plane to land at the new airport (Terminal #3) in Tel Aviv. What a beautiful place. Whew. It's like being in a museum. There is a long walk from the airplane to customs and the baggage claim area but who cares. I departed from the plan with Ben. He is a young Israeli who has returned from his grandfather's funeral in Baltimore. We sat next to each other on the plane but didn't actually talk until the last 2 hours of what was a 10 1/2 hour trip. I spent much of the time on the plane sleeping and reading Bob Dylan's memoir. I chuckled when I came to the page about him in Jerusalem:

"I went to Jerusalem, got myself photographed at the Western Wall wearing a skullcap. The image was transmitted worldwide instantly and quickly all the great rags changed me overnight into a Zionist."

Ben and I talked about National Service in Israel, the settlement issue, housing and about 10 other topics including the US elections. Ben had been traveling around South America with his girl friend. They had went to Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. I told him about the movie THE MOTORCYCLE DIARIES. I looked at Ben sitting next to me. He was a young man with a beard wearing a t-shirt. He looked very much like Che.

Did I have a problem exiting the US and entering Israel? I was pulled aside in Newark and Tel Aviv. I expected it since my passport had been stamped back in the 1990s when I made trips to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Yemen.

At the airport I was met by my driver Asi. A funny guy who immediately grabbed my bag and we took off. It was about an hour trip to Haifa. When you see the city for the first time at night it reminds you of a necklace. I'll see what she's wearing in the morning.

I wake with my back hurting from sleeping on my Mom's couch. I know this feeling. It's like Larry Bird's last days on the court. I should stretch out on the floor before I get dressed. I turn the television on and catch the Sunday football scores. The Steelers defeated the Patriots. That leaves only the Eagles as an undefeated team. The headlines this morning is about a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. That's where I'm going in a few hours. Why? It's difficult not to think about the purpose of life. Be safe is what people tell me. I call a few friends and our conversations have a dark cloud above them. One friend starts to cry and you understand where the love comes from when a soldier makes it back from a war. The desire to return must be stronger than the desire to leave. Maybe that's the problem I'm facing right now. I'm closing doors and trying to open new ones. I've spent the last few months discarding things, cataloging stuff and donating books to schools and prisons. Much of my personal items and papers are boxed and ready for shipment to Emory & Henry College in Virginia. I'll complete things by January. So I watch the television footage on Fox of the recent bombing in Israel. Will there be others while I'm visiting?
A country with no safe place. It's like living in New Jersey after 9/11. You try to convince yourself that nothing is going to happen to you. But what about the people who have been killed in Tel Aviv? How do I mourn? Is this my loss too? The biblical question question again. Am I my brother's keeper? To say yes is to affirm life and to struggle for peace. Election Day is tomorrow and I think about the importance of every vote. We should think about each life the same way. It's the only way to make sense out of the slogan "vote or die."
Let me take a few minutes and update the E-Notes.

I'm off to the Holy Land. Every trip I've taken in my life has come at what is a turning point. I know this is a major one. Another transition as I move toward becoming an elder. I'll be 55 next year. I know this trip is different because it's the first one in which my son is driving me to Union Station. It's 7A.M. The clock changed last night so folks are still getting that extra hour of sleep. I look at my son driving into manhood. Yesterday we went to the bank. We parked the car in front of the playground where I taught him how to play basketball. An old neighbor recognized us. She laughed as she noticed my son was wearing his varsity jacket. I guess all those early morning practices placed him on the right path. I get out of the car, lift my three bags and say good-bye. I tell my son I love him because there is nothing else to say. He returns home to his father's house.

What becomes of the father? I read the New York Times for much of the ride to New York. There is a story about people from Somalia trying to live in Italy. I tear out the review of Derek Walcott's new collection of poems. PRODIGAL. I read a few pages of Dylan's CHRONICLES. I'm saving the book for the plane ride. Sipping a page now and then. I look out the window at Delaware and New Jersey.

When I reach my Mom's apartment on Harrison street, she greets me at the door. I place my Minnesota Twins cap on her head. She keeps it there and walks around the house with it on. It's a sign that she's happy to have company. My Mom has no idea where I'm going or what I'll be doing in Israel. I show her a map and trace the route from Tel Aviv to Haifa. Where is the map between the two of us?

While I'm at my Mom's house my cell phone rings a few times and I talk to three dear friends. Don Mee in Seattle back from a translation conference in California where she met Ngugi, Julia in Indiana working on a paper on Stephen Henderson, and my buddy Bev in DC. After talking on the phone I make a trip to Bazzini and bring back sandwiches for lunch. My Mom asks me four times if I need napkins.

I watch some television. My Mom is the only person in New York with bad reception. It's like looking at early television when folks used hangers for rabbit ears. It's impossible to watch any type of sport. How many guys on a team? Who's playing? Why are all the colors of the uniforms green?

I fall asleep on my Mom's living room couch. This furniture is like an outside womb. It seems I can never get away from it. The couch must be as old as Jerusalem. I'll be able to tell in a few days.

Halloween in New York. Can anyone tell? Folks are wearing costumes. This has become more of an adult holiday over the years. I'm in Greenwich Village sitting in a cafe waiting to meet Elana a visual artist who has a studio on Bleeker Street. There are times when I love this city and I remember I was born here.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

So I'm here in Haifa. I'm staying at the University of Haifa. I've given several lectures and have been networking with writers and scholars. I've been keeping some longer E-Notes that I might try and post tomorrow. On Monday I'll be going to Tel Aviv. I'll try and spend a few days in Jerusalem before heading back to the States. I've been reading emails from friends who are disappointed in the election. No surprise to me. The Democratic party needs to find candidates that can win national elections. They must look to the South and find someone like Clinton or Carter. Kerry- New England types are only going to win a few blue states. That's just the reality.
We also need to work during the off years. I'm hoping Bush will make major changes in his Adminstration team. There is still a battle taking place within the Republican party. What is the difference between hope and faith?