Friday, June 26, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States

When he was young and easy!*
by Charlie Leck

Let me begin by giving you the reference links for this blog:
New York Times feature article: When He was Barry!
M+B Gallery in Los Angles:
Exhibition of Lisa Mack Photos of Barry Obama
My wife just finished reading (actually listening to) The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama. I read it a couple of years ago. She was very impressed with it and went on about it for a long time a few evenings ago. I realized from her enthusiasm that I had already forgotten some of the significant “stuff” in the book. I think I’ll need to reread this one. I think, too, that I must reread Dreams of My Father.

It’s pretty exciting to have someone in office who is capable of literary achievement – even of stringing several words together in a coherent manner. It’s been quite a long time.

Dreams of My Father was quite a revealing book. On first blush you would never dream that the author would ever become President of the United States. I mean, this Obama character really can write – with great clarity and an easy-reading, smooth style. Sample an early paragraph from Dreams of My Father.

“I remember there was an old man living next door who seemed to share my disposition. He lived alone, a gaunt, stooped figure who wore a heavy black overcoat and a misshapen fedora on those rare occasions when he left his apartment. Once in a while I’d run into him on his way back from the store, and I would offer to carry his groceries up the long flight of stairs. He would look at me and shrug, and we would begin our ascent, stopping at each landing so that he could catch his breath. When we finally arrived at his apartment, I’d carefully set the bags down on the floor and he would offer a courtly nod of acknowledgment before shuffling inside and closing the latch. Not a single word would pass between us, and not once did he ever thank me for my efforts.

“The old man’s silence impressed me; I thought him a kindred spirit. Later, my roommate would find him crumpled up on the third-floor landing, his eyes wide open, his limbs stiff and curled up like a baby’s. A crowd gathered; a few of the women crossed themselves and the smaller children whispered with excitement. Eventually the paramedics arrived to take away the body and the police let themselves into the old man’s apartment. It was neat, almost empty – a chair, a desk, the faded portrait of a woman with heavy eyebrows and a gentle smile set atop the mantelpiece. Somebody opened the refrigerator and found close to a thousand dollars in small bills rolled up inside wads of old newspaper and carefully arranged behind mayonnaise and pickle jars.

“The loneliness of the scene affected me, and for the briefest moment I wished that I had learned the old man’s name. Then, almost immediately, I regretted my desire, along with its companion grief. I felt as if an understanding had been broken between us – as if, in that barren room, the old man was whispering an untold history, telling me things I preferred not to hear.”

Let me tell you. I feel a delicious comfort in having as President a man who can feel and express such thoughts and emotions. This is a man who cares about us – all of us – and who would gladly help us carry our groceries up the stairs if it would ease our discomfort.

Go look at the photos in the Lisa Mack exhibit as cited above. You’ll find a real, living, loving and involved human being staring into the camera lens. There appeared, even then, to be great promise in that face – in those eyes – and I enjoyed looking at this boy who was to grow into an exciting man.
*This sub-title is taken from FERN HILL, a poem by Dylan Thomas (if he will kindly excuse me). Thomas is one of my very favorite poets and this one of my all-time favorite poems.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

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