From an American poet: Cat

 

by Cantinker Moss

 

Inspired by Robert Burns: To a Mouse and To a Louse

 

 

Oh little cat

Sitting on my lady’s hat

Can you see well

From where you’re at?

Oh little cat

Itty bitty ditty thing

So witty of a thing

A mime performing.

Oh little cat

These things, which you can see

May not particularly please

You—but if you speak?

cm

From an American poet: Rendezvous #73 Revised

 

by Cantinker Moss

Written while in the U.S. Coast Guard in Southeast Alaska, aboard a buoy tender, USCGC Clover WLB 292, this poem reveals the mindset of a nineteen year-old thrown into the conflict of a youthful idealism as a result of the 1960’s with the cruel cynicism, complexity, and reality of daily life among shipmates.  Structured like a dream, it allows us to see the young man’s embrace of senseless hedonism, history, fear, disillusionment, and even genuine love but his rejection of it.  However, the poem ends with a strong memory of the powerfully irresistability of this true meaning of love embodied in Christianity.  Finally, the poem/dream takes you back, the same way you came in, to the airport and out of Alaska.  It is a “rendezvous” with the characters, or “identities” in something of a play.  In fact, and to the best of my recollection, I landed at Japonski Island Airport with overcast skies, and left in similar weather.  But perhaps a little poetic license never hurt anyone.

 

One clouded airport in the heat of the winter

As the airplanes duck closer to catch the right moment

And hoping they don’t ransack the runway

Only to land with a prayer on the table

And the people who recognize the crew and the pilot

Who crawl in thanksgiving to coffee-strewn offices

Of vending machines, tickets, and a few extra dollars

They gather

Themselves and their identities.

 

Driving with another who knows of the history

Of Tlingits and lumbermen and Russian-Americans

Who remember the winter in the first days of statehood

At the west rim of mountains that resemble the Cascades

And now all that matters is the whim of each tourist

Who hopes for less rain and the tourship good landing

With Britons and jet set in their first real adventure

They gather

Themselves and their identities.

 

The sailors who mingle in the bars and the pool joints

With gin and tequila and the hope of a good time

Who wonder if they really have come here for reason

Because the cost of living might be that much higher

And the money will help when their children get older

Who don’t drink fresh milk and get their food shipped from Oregon

And never ask questions because their fathers are trying

To gather

Themselves and their identities.

 

The spruce and the pine trees really add to the scenery

And spring doesn’t change much, it’s part of the winter

Although everybody around has calendars

And knows that Christmas comes after Labor Day

And October might just be twenty degrees colder

But you’re thankful you’re not living in Fairbanks

Where they don’t close the schools because of foul weather

Then no one would ever get an education

And the cost of living doesn’t have to be higher

Because the living up there is a matter of existence

And that’s probably why there’s a state university there

To gather

Ideas and identities.

 

The lovely family that took in my affections

They gave me a reason for living the living

With their talk of salvation and the blessing of the hereafter

But they don’t have to talk; you can see it in their faces

And you don’t have to take; you’re receiving without handouts

And you want to be loved, but it’s way above your head

And they show you some truth, and you go and live a falsehood

With your gin and tequila and hope of a good time

And you wonder if you’ve come here for any type of reason

Near the north side of a place called Japonski Island

By the banks of a channel across from the city

Which holds some secrets that not even your own mind

Will ever figure out on account of some reason

That you might have come here, and there might be a good time

But it all turned so bad that nothing’s reconcilable

And all you can do is go to the airport

Pick up a ticket for seventy odd dollars

On one of two flights that will take you to Seattle

Where you’ll land on a runway with a prayer on the table

Near a place with pool joints and gin and tequila

And the crew and the pilot will crawl in thanksgiving

To coffee-strewn offices and a few extra dollars…

cm

 

 

 

 

I Almost Didn’t Know America

by Cantinker Moss

 

One of the first things I think about in the beginning of a new year, is prompted by a traditional American folk song.  The title of it is “The Eighth of January.”  Now whether the tune by itself was inspired by events of January 8, 1815, or inspiration came later when country-western singer Johnny Horton sang the Jimmy Driftwood tune with lyrics known as the “Battle of New Orleans” in the early 1960’s,  I always did wonder what happened on that date more than 200 years ago.

During elementary school, I read a book-length account of the battle that was of course, titled The Battle of New Orleans.  Later, I saw the DeMille motion picture, The Buccaneer, complete with its larger-than-life characters, Jean Lafitte and Andrew Jackson, and the equally larger-than-life actors who portrayed them respectively, Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston.  I presently own the VHS tape and still get goosebumps at the sights and sounds of the fog and drums and pipes of the battle.  Why, over 40 years ago, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band produced an album featuring a sequence that ranged from tolling bells (I would often imagine the bells were from St. Louis Cathedral) to an Appalachian reel to a highly produced version of the Driftwood tune to upbeat Zydeco and finally to a flourish of “Sally Goodin” (with an alternate title).  And then I think of the times we vacationed in the Big Easy, and I was amazed how many different sites made up the historical park, like “which one should we visit first?”  Trouble is, we didn’t visit any of them, having only enough time to get some food in the French Quarter and then get on the road.

But then out of the blue comes Fox News host, Brian Kilmeade, with a bestseller known as Andrew Jackson and the Miracle of New Orleans, the Battle that Shaped America’s Destiny, and I think to myself, “Haven’t I seen this story before?”  Oh, by the way Mr. Kilmeade, I do want to put your book on my reading list.*

Now it wasn’t my intention to write only about January 8, 1815 and its place in New Orleans history.  Remember when I said there’s something about the beginning of the year and the battle?  But then there is Kilmeade’s book and subtitle …the Battle that Shaped America’s Destiny?  Destiny.  Now there is a word.

Destiny

1something to which a person or thing is destined fortune 

  • wants to control his own destiny

2a predetermined course of events often held to be an irresistible power or agency 

  • felt that destiny would determine their future¹

Because I haven’t read the book, I speculate.  It probably goes without saying that January 8, 1815 is an important date in U.S. history.  However, by the sound of the title and subtitle, Kilmeade may be more than suggesting that it is not just a significant date, but that”the eighth of January” could be significant enough to influence history.  History has its moments like April 14, 1865 and November 22, 1963, when Lincoln and Kennedy were assassinated respectively; or July 4, 1776, when a number of men staked their lives on a signed document; or more recently, September 11, 2001, when 2 airliners flew into the World Trade Center in New York City.  All four of these dates led to significant events that in turn led to destiny, whether it be Reconstruction, the escalation of the Vietnam War, the birth of a nation, or currently the War on Terror.

Let me bring up this date:  December 7, 1941.

Most of us schooled in the last half-century understand that on that date…”a date which will live in infamy…”² air forces of Imperial Japan maliciously attacked the American air base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  And with a war declaration the next day, the United States entered World War II.  Successive events affected nearly the whole world, whether as a result of violent warfare, social oppression, or unprecedented changes in lifestyle.  Between my wife and me, we had no less than 12 male relatives see action in both theaters of that war.  You could say that so many things in that war had to do with destiny—the least not being the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ushered us into the Atomic Age.

But let me introduce another perspective of December 7, 1941.

You see, my father was a sailor on the USS Colorado (BB45) a battleship with “sister ships” USS Maryland (BB46) and West Virginia (BB48).  The USS Washington (BB47) was sunk as a gunnery target on November 26, 1924 by the battleships New York and Texas.

 

West Virginia (BB-48)Maryland (BB-46) and the Colorado (BB-45) (in the rear) at Pearl Harbor, circa 1939-40

USN photo by Albert Weigandt & submitted by James D. Card, QMCS (SW/AW) (courtesy of NavSource Online:  Battleship Photo Archive)

(http://www.navsource.org/archives/01/45a.htm

 

On December 7, 1941, the USS Colorado was sitting in the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Washington, beholding the news of the attack some 2,600 miles away.  Still, it couldn’t have been too settling for the men assigned to the ship, knowing that much of the American fleet was destroyed or incapacitated, and they could be in line for the same possibility in the future.  But still, glory be, my father had escaped Pearl Harbor for the time being, and life could go on.  In fact, even after my father was wounded during the Marianas Campaign of 1944, he was shipped to Chelsea Naval Hospital for 18 months to recover from major injuries and sit out the rest of the war.  Eerily, this meant that he escaped worse from the Kamikazes who began their missions in October 1944.

Now not only did my father’s life go on, but after the war on New Year’s Eve 1945, my father and mother married, my sister was born a few months later, and I was born in 1952.  Yes, life could go on for my father, but life also went on for his 4 children.  And then for his grandchildren and so far, for his great-grandchildren.

And what would have become of me and my father’s DNA in me if the Colorado hadn’t been ordered for repairs in Washington State?  What if his ship had been sitting next to the West Virginia, or the Oklahoma?  Possibly he would have become a casualty not unlike each of the sailors on the USS Arizona—all hands to the bottom of Pearl Harbor.  And after the war?  Maybe another man would have married my mother, and a son could have been born.  However, it wouldn’t have been me.  And though people may discuss fate and kismet, and argue that it wouldn’t have made any difference—only someone else would have been born, I do believe that God, who is Creator, may have had other plans instead.  And like the Empire of Japan in World War II, who are we to determine, or predetermine recklessly who should live or who should die.  Frankly, I am glad my dad lived, and I was born with perhaps a little divine intervention.

But let’s look at the flip side, and I don’t intend to bring guilt upon people who have made mistakes in the past.  God is a forgiving God and can deal aptly with past mistakes.  But how much should we behave appropriately so not to incur missteps?  And how do we do that?  Probably an investigation into one’s belief system or ethics might help.  And if we only depend on what we’ve come up with alone, hit or miss, we might end up with more crashes than we expected.  That’s why we study history—I don’t think Hitler’s national socialism or Mussolini’s fascism has improved the world since each one’s inception.  And for that matter, I’m not so sure we don’t have another problem with certain radical factions around the world; especially those who espouse violence and death.

And speaking of history, how many future marriages and births of children were lost on account of the multitude of deaths that day at Pearl Harbor?  And then there is the matter of about 3000 souls who went to their death in New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Not to mention the emotional toll it took on families and relatives of the deceased.  Some might say it was fate, or even (perish the thought!) that those deaths were meant to be.  Even a hard lesson about war can give pause to “Why did these soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen have to die?”  Well at least to give the World War II generation the benefit of the doubt, I would say how many more would have died if the war had continued?

The issues of death, destruction, war, genocide, ethnic cleansing and others subject to debate are unfortunately all around us.  For many of us, if we think about them long enough, sadness or even a mild headache might set in.  Others may not be so fortunate.  They may be subject to PTSD, depression, addiction and more.  Again, I believe each person should evaluate one’s ethical system, or even one they observe in another, and determine whether it might work or not.  I’m not saying look at others and judge them (and perhaps pass sentence on them).  That is where the trouble usually has its root: “us against them.”  Perhaps Jesus had it right:  “Watch and pray.”

As for me, I am grateful that I was born and had a chance to live several decades.  I hope others may also have that chance.  I also hope that these who come into the world, and those who are already here may have more than that.  I hope that they who would be welcomed would have those who care about them and care for them any way they can with whatever resources are available.

I am glad I know America today.

 

¹Destiny.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 29 Jan. 2018.

²Freeman, Elsie, Wynell Burroughs Schamel and Jean West. “‘A Date Which Will Live in Infamy'”: The First Typed Draft of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s War Address.” Social Education 55, 7 (November/December 1991): 467-470.

*I am presently reading Kilmeade’s book.

cm

The America I Know (Do You Know It Too?)

Hi, my name is Cantinker Moss, and I want to celebrate America!  I am not necessarily an exceptionalist, but as someone who was born in the United States, I figure I know it better than any other country on earth.  And I like it!  Do you like America too?  Well, beginning today and onward, come read and share my experiences with this great nation of ours.

cm