Friday, October 30, 2015

The Mournful Season

I decided to stay home this morning and catch up on quotidian tasks (like the dishes––which, since I neglect them, are hardly quotidian)––which, now I've said I'll blog every day in November, includes blogging. 

It's not quite November yet, but it feels like it: 
a soft sadness has slipped in, like a black cat onto a lap. 

And look, I sewed a black-cat–like stuffed animal last night:

A day of Thomas Jefferson had crowded out thoughts of stuffed animals, so I had not brought one to Sew-n-Snack-n-Chat, and then I missed having one to work on. But Julia gave me some material, from a sweater she'd felted for mitten-making; bink drew me a pattern; and I made my own.

Hm. Turned out quite cheery, actually.
 Tales from the Thrift

What am I up to lately?
Thrift herding at the thrift store, as usual.

It was raining the other day, and a young man asked me if we had any umbrellas. I knew we did, among the donations stored in the basement, so I went and got them for him.

He opened and examined each one, and said, with a slight accent, "I am checking their joints."

 "Ah, yes, their ribs," I said. "Where are you from?"

"Can you guess?" he said.

I couldn't. "Say something more, please."

"I am from a country where Europe meets Asia."

"Oh!" I said. "Turkey!"

"Your geography is very good," he said.

"Not really," I said, "but I was in Istanbul in 1998--it was wonderful; I loved it!'

He nodded. "Yes. . . Happier days."


"our dead—... ours all" 

Mostly I've been thinking about US history. 
The topic was so boring when I was a kid (can I blame the way it was taught? I think so), it never caught my attention until one day when I was forty, when I read in a manuscript I was proofreading that 618,222 soldiers had died in the US Civil War. 

Americans killed six hundred and eighteen thousand, two hundred and twenty-two other Americans?
That was at least 2% of the population. In the USA today, that would be more than 6 million people.
[A historian has since recalculated the death toll to closer to 750,000, and that's just military deaths.] 

I feel with Walt Whitman:
"the dead, the dead, the dead—our dead—... ours all...."

--"The Million Dead, Too, Summ'd Up":
—the numberless battles, camps, hospitals everywhere—the crop reap’d by the mighty reapers, typhoid, dysentery, inflammations—and blackest and loathesomest of all, the dead and living burial-pits, the prison-pens of Andersonville, Salisbury, Belle-Isle, &c., (not Dante’s pictured hell and all its woes, its degradations, filthy torments, excell’d those prisons)—the dead, the dead, the dead—our dead—or South or North, ours all, (all, all, all, finally dear to me) . . .—somewhere they crawl’d to die, alone, in bushes, low gullies, or on the sides of hills—(there, in secluded spots, their skeletons, bleach’d bones, tufts of hair, buttons, fragments of clothing, are occasionally found yet)—our young men once so handsome and so joyous, taken from us...
You know Whitman nursed soldiers during the war, like Clara Barton.
From Barton's notebook [scroll down here: Library of Congress Treasures]:

"The surgeons do all they can  but no provision had been made for such a wholesale slaughter on the part of any one, and I believe it would be impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the necessity without witnessing it."
to see entire, scroll the the right >>> 

And I finally understand Robert Lowell's poem "For the Union Dead", because I wrote about black soldiers in the Civil War, which famously includes the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment (subject of the film Glory).
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead....

 Lowell is writing about Augustus Saint-Gaudens's bronze memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, dedicated in Boston in 1897.

Grandsons of both Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass served in this doomed regiment. Saint-Gaudens's soldiers look like real people...
"at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe."  
 Boys and old men...  

 and "young men once so handsome"

Lowell's poem concludes:  
. . . Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.


Zhoen said...

One of D's friends knitted a little black cat for Moby.

I have always wanted to visit Constantinople, or Istanbul, but I suspect it will not be a good idea again in my lifetime.

That monument to the 54th is very familiar, walked by it every week for three years. Always impressed me. D's last name is on there, which makes him squirm a bit, since they are likely not exactly, or at least not acknowledged, kin. Not that he doesn't admit it, but I'm sure he'd prefer to be a descendent of slaves rather than slave owners.

Fresca said...

I've been to Boston many times---could I possibly have walked past this and not noticed it;
out of the corner of my eye could it have seemed like just another boring war memorial?

As for our ancestors---everyone in history is guilty of something, sometime. :)

Zhoen said...

It's at the top of Boston Common. The eastern corner along where the Cheers bar is. I walked by it from Park Street T station through Beacon Hill, across the street from the State House, toward Government Center. Found a spoon there once. Took a photo. I'll send it to you.