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Caroline Leavitt interviews Harriet Levin Millan...



Harriet Levin Millan talks about her profound novel-based-on-a-true-story, How Fast Can You Run, about a South Sudan refuge searching for the mother he was separated from when he was five.

“The best war novel told from a young boy’s perspective since Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted Bird.”

—Nyoul Lueth Tong, author of There is a Country: New Writing from the New Country of South Sudan

Prepare to be amazed. When One Book, One Philadelphia asked author and Drexel University professor Harriet Levin Millan to choose ten of her undergraduate creative writing students to interview ten South Sudanese refugees for a special One Book writing project, she met Michael Majok Kuch, who became the subject of her novel. . Kuch survived the torching of his village in South Sudan, and was separated from his mother when he was only five. His quest to be reunited with her, and the plight of the refuge is both profound and moving. Thank you so much Harriet, for being here.

I always say every book starts with a yearning. What was yours?

My yearning was for Michael Majok Kuch, the S. Sudanese national, I based my novel on, to see his mother. They had been separated since Michael was five-years-old and their village was attacked in the middle of the night and they got separated. So by the time I met him, when he was a senior in college, he hadn’t seen her for nearly 22 years. [more…]

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  • The Vale of Cashmere

  • by Sean Elder

    green forest

    This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.


    Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

    “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

    “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

    “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

    “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

    He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

    Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

    She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

    Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

    She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

    “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

    “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

    “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

    The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

    “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

    “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

    The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

    “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

    “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

    Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

    “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

    “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

    “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

    “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

    “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

    “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

    There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

    They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

    “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

    “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

    He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

    “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

    “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

    “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

    Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

    Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

    Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

    Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

    “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

    The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

    “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

    “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

    “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

    “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

    Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

    “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

    “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

    “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

    Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

    Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

    Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

    “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

    All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

    “Here you go, ma’am.”

    Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

    “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

    Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

    “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

    She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

    “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

    “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

    “Yes, ma’am.”

    Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

    “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

    “Now isn’t that something?”

    She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

    “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

    Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

    Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

    She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

    The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

    “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

    “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

    He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

    Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

    And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

    She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

    “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

    That’s when Floyd said no more.

    “What numbers are you playing today?”

    She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

    “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

    “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

    And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

    Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

    “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

    That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

    “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

    “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

    And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

    “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

    But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

    “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

    “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

    The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

    “Does she have a cell phone?”

    “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

    They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

    “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

    Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

    By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

    “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

    “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

    He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

    Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

    Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

    “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

    He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

    Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

    “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.


    “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

    “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

    “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

    “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

    “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

    Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

    “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

    “I know that.”

    “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

    Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

    When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

    “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

    Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

    “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

    They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

    “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

    “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

    “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

    “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

    Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

    “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

    “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

    “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

    “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

    “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

    “Can you do it?”

    “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

    “How do you mean?”

    “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

    He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

    “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

    “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

    “Is it important?”

    “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

    “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

    He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.


    voice from the planet

    ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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  • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

  • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

    aao cover

    My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

    Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

    The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

    Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

    There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

    An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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(for Sam Dunn)
They know who
they are
they who
break the bar
they who
lust for war

they who never
they who
light the fire
they who
stoke the ire

they who’ve
been around
neither lost
nor found
seeking yet
more ground
they who never
ready ever
to test
that they’re
the very best

the rulers of
this earth
crafters of
its dearth
almost since
their birth

their peoples
cant be blamed
their peoples
cant be shamed
their peoples cant
be named

some inner curse
rush from
bad to worse
deep hubris that
they nurse

souls in
dire ferment
spirits in
dark descent
in rage

in fury
born and bred
in gluttony
wildly fed
in greedful
passion led
a wonder
to behold
they who
never grow old
they whose
blood runs cold

masters of
land and sea
but not their
with no inner

though blest
with brain and brawn
from alien fount
be drawn
where wisdom
will not dawn
whence we’re
wily nilly led
to this baneful
where soon we’ll
all be _____

the skies may
rage and fume
yet we can safe
they will deliver
us to doom

Yes we can
safe assume
frightful dangers
they will this
globe entomb
and ferry us
all to doom
this tale
of blood, of gore
writ by the
hollow at the core

albeit human
in every pore
have wrought
it twice before

and yearn for
yet one more
one full blooded
just to up
the score
what force has
so possessed them
what force can now
arrest them
what force is there
to test them
who there be
to best them?

it needs spring
from within
some voice
above the din
so the healing
can begin

and then
perhaps one day
like Asoka*
turn away
from the fray

in raw remorse
and rue
pride melting
like dew
in wan contrition

covenants renew

* lore/legend has it that, in 260 BCE, Emperor Asoka conquered the kingdom of Kalinga in a terrible war: and was so moved that he renounced war and , eventually, embraced Buddhism

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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Delusion and Reality*

(for John Lodewijks)

My last post ( https://litvote.com/pipedream-2/ ) shared a pipedream.
It was little more than a thought experiment.
Why not?
Even Einstein hinted that reality may be an illusion (anticipated by the Vedic notion of Maya).
In fact, a Nobel was awarded in Physics demonstrating that the local
world is illusory.

If so, why not, in all self-awareness, dream within a dream?
Leaving that conundrum aside, what is the real, anyway?
A working definition: anything that has space-time co-ordinates, and/or exercises a determinate effect upon its environs (not perfect, but it will do)?
That would cover Gravity and Buddhism.
I have argued that EM (European Modernism) is the (Eurocentric) ethos within which we all (barring a few native peoples) co-exist, all but unconsciously.
It is the (problem) child of the European Enlightenment.
I have also suggested that it is demonstrably false in its assumptions, as to who we are as an anthropic species.
Just as you need an accurate physics to unIt isderstand chemistry and biology, you need a realist anthropology to understand our economic, societal, and political relations.
EM got the latter wrong, categorically.
Whence, ALL of its social theory is concocted, otiose, and far worse, misleading.
Left, Right, and Centre, of the EM spectrum, we have all been living under systemic delusion(s) in the E-Modernist world.
We breathe the same, unhealthy, ether.
It is the social ontology we exist in, and its dominant epistemes have
captured not merely our modes of thinking, but also our very imaginations.

The greatest sin of EM lies in its original, baseline, alienation.
We have been alienated from our own, innate, species-being.
Most mainstream EM thought, specially in its ‘economics’ avatar, has presumed us to be characterised by one or other of these attributes: rationalist (not to be confused with being reasonable) , competitive, calculating, adversarial, covetous, acquisitive, etc.
In other words, EM (mis)took its own E-Modernist prescriptive credo of codes of conduct to be universal (rather than being imposed, and required, by its own agenda).
Au contraire, stated simply, we humans are emotive, cooperative, mutualist, convivial, and familial.
That, incontestably, is our ‘human nature’(oxymoron notwithstanding).
We are moral entities first, and materialist beings afterward.
And that moral sensibility is derived from natural reciprocities that arise within family and kinship bonds.
Mother and child, for example, is the first moral relationship, stemming wholly from natural instincts.
So the denial of our organic, instinctual, natures is axiomatic with EM discourse: only then it could ‘mold’ us willy nilly into whatever policy needs might require.
Whence needs disappear, from its lexicon, to be replaced by manipulable wants.
Similarly, it sees society(like Dame Thatcher) as a mechanical entity, merely the stage upon which ‘free’ individuals conduct their life-or-death struggles.
The principle of ‘substitution’ dear to it says it all: Solow is attributed to holding that ‘we can do without nature’.
I need hardly say more (nor would I, I dare say, want to).
As an aside, try to pass a Micro Econ exam with ideas drawn from the foregoing set of anthropic premises!
Now you know why it reaps a Nobel : yes, it is the crown jewel of the hegemonic ideology of EM.
An artificial, make-believe, pseudo-anthropology undergirds all economics prognostications which have NO application outside of the self-inflated EM bubble , despite the high pretence of universality.
Whence the canny resort to ‘models’ that deliver only the assumptions carefully fed into them.
What a perfect policy tool(and that’s all Economics ever was, from its very inception)!
As I have written elsewhere, (EM) Economics is all, and only, about Economics, i.e. Micro-Econ is a wholly self-referential language game , and has nothing particularly useful to say about any other real domain.
The serious , even ominous, implications of the above must be understood.
EM breaks the social tie between humans as no other episteme in human history.
The key instrument here is Asocial Individualism (AI) that is virtually a Western, and EM, monopoly.
Even Non-European societies (btw, much of Eastern Europe and the tribalist Scandies also remain impervious to it) , albeit won over to EM , could not quite stomach that egregious innovation, to this day.
It is that one vital marker that separates European EM from all its clones in the non-European world.
The most important historical agency responsible for this historic rupture is Martin Luther and his ‘Reformation’.
AI gainsays our ‘natural’ inclinations to mutualism and association.
Instead, each of us lives within an inflated ego-bubble, in dubious rivalry and competition, distrusting one another, rather than a system which breeds endless , irreconcilable, dissension.
As one of the Chicago Seven (google that) put it , when charged with conspiracy: heck, we couldn’t even agree on lunch.
We still can’t.
Further, EM decreed the confining corral of the ‘nation-state’ (after the Treaty of Westphalia, 1648) for us all, as a desideratum (creating total chaos, e.g., in tribal Africa).
As humans, we cannot relate to abstract norms of ‘citizenship’, required by (Gesellschaft) states.
Our anthropic needs are simple and concrete: more micro, more narrow, more local (as with Gemeinschaft entities).
Human integrity is best expressed in face-to-face relations, not in large macrocosms, run through with anonymity.
Everywhere, the Modernist State (subsisting in uneasy, unstable equilibrium with other such constructs) is an imposed entity.
And nowhere was Modernism itself, happily, ‘voted in’.
In other words, were one to deploy one of its own tendentious tools, such as ‘majority vote’, it would not be here today.
Consider that.

EM also enshrined the now accepted notion that ‘social engineering’ can produce designer societies, of our choice, like designer jeans.
Such ‘designs’ can only hold, for a bit, via force and/or propaganda.
Human societies arise spontaneously, just like nature itself is self-organizing.
We human build societies, naturally, like ants and bees, instinctually.
And the building blocks are drawn directly from kinship(real and ersatz).
The template of the simple tribe is our original, seeding, matrix.

It is one big, extended, family.
Importantly, within that primal matrix, we may glean our REAL human nature, which gainsays the facile concoctions of EM ‘social science”.
When that original form dissolves, as it does (often, but not always), we follow the routine history of what I have termed Human Devolution.

In broad, metaphorical, terms, this devolution, discernible since the dissolution of the primal tribal form ,involves the (col)lapse of a Moral economy into a Material one.
In a Social Economy of Affections succumbing to a Political Economy of Interests.
In a realm of ‘feminine’ hospitalities ceding to the reign of ‘masculinist
In a convivial society mutating into a restless, fractious, competitive, one.
In fact, to digress a little, a great achievement of simple tribal society was to enchain male violence – the very bane of civilisation – within the (intra-tribal) bonds of familial affections.
Women, as the first peacemakers, had to build, and maintain, such a cordon sanitaire, if children were to be reared with any modicum of safety.
That formula has never been bettered, to this day.
However male adventurism , at some point, if not always, breaks away from such restraints, and we get the transition, eventually, to empire.
At any rate, all EM utopias, embodying high ideals, are really dystopias, in the making.
No wonder stellar examples of ‘engineered’ 20th century EM formations, Of Left and the Right, are at the very least, both dubious and daunting.
An engineered entity, idealists may need to note, is ever subject to the whims of the engineers.
To survive as humans, true to our natures, we may need to abandon such false trails.
All (E)Modernist paths are the same: they lead nowhere (other than to predictable tragedy).
In sum, force and fraud keep us tied to The Wheel, within the EM world.
There is NO EXIT from that dismal fate, within the grid.
Class, race, and gender redemption will provide no solace.
Perfect equality, perfect democracy, perfect liberty will also ring hollow.
Full employment, zero inflation, ‘sustainable’ growth, are also utter dead ends.
They will not, they cannot, heal the breach.

And yet the EM world, especially its intelligentsia, lives, daily, on those desperate, if barren, hopes.
Perhaps, they/we all need to wake up?
As Ben Franklin said: those that live on hope usually die of starvation.
The moment we opt out of that frame, ontically and/or epistemically, we are ‘free’, if in a real(ist) sense: to lead real, human, lives, and bask in its healing contentment(s).
Genuine human communities arise spontaneously, if given but a chance.
Those who would govern us and exploit/monetize our abilities/capabilities will try and block all such exits.
But it can be, and needs be, done.
We may not live by bread alone: neither can we subsist by dread alone.
To skeptics of the foregoing, I advocate a tourist trip to tribal Africa, or indeed tribal anywhere, just to sample, to glimpse, what simple conviviality is, and can be.
Or , perhaps. just watch pre-school kids (before EM schooling eats up their joys and morphs them into beings like us) play.
It may stir the distal memory of what we have tragically forfeited, in succumbing to the daily, EM, grind : worse, in the dissimulating name of ‘progress’.
You will get my point, unless hopelessly benumbed by EM nostrums.
There is nothing more to the ‘meaning of life’ than that: it is not a Rubik’s cube to be examined by a self-ordained caste of navel-gazers.
And it’s a far cry from enduring, as most of us do, in mortal insecurity, deep in debt, always running behind and playing catch-up, overcome with fear, angst, and anomie, in a life bound over to mortifying, even stultifying, servitude.
They will, of course, tell you There is No Alternative (TINA) , to struggle, strife, and adversarialism, much like Hobbes’ fantasy of societal life in the putative ‘state of nature’.
That’s high travesty, no less.
Have a look: https://www.ineteconomics.org/perspectives/blog/kanth-a-400-year-program-of-modernist-thinking-is-exploding
So, one can safely put away all the ponderous platitudes and apothegms evolving from the likes of the canonical philosophers, old or new.
What a waste of scarce, precious, time!
They can do next to nothing to soften the rigors of human existence, nor add one whit of joy to it.
Let alone ‘happy’, how many contented people do you know in putatively (self-styled) ‘First World’, ‘Advanced, and ‘Developed’ societies ?
In fact, let me make this personal: are you, possibly, one of those few lucky ones in EM societies (to escape the unremitting ennui and/or drudgery) ?
Is that Panglossian seventh heaven all yours?

You don’t need to spend/squander years in school, and plough through learned tomes, to grasp this (in fact, most of those life-draining pursuits, in so-called ‘higher’ education, only obstruct clear vision, even as they gobble up the very best years of your life in but a garner of credentials).
What could be more obvious?
We fail to see what’s playing right before us every day.
So much for our stolid hebetude.
EM ideology, daily, mocks our very inner, lived, experience.
And yet are we far better beings than the system requires us to be.
You know you are.
The philosophers have only interpreted the world, complained Marx, in a famous statement – to which I add, Yes, True.
The point, however, is to live a fulfilling life within it.
This, as so many wasted lives attest- though it is no less than our birthright- is virtually impossible on the EM treadmill.
‘Climb every mountain, ford every stream’, they exhort you, instead, incessantly.
Ask yourself: pourquoi?
Cui Bono?
* A (skeletal) Primer on EuroModernism
N.B. An important caveat: I uphold/advocate/impute no idylls, no utopias, in the foregoing. Anthropic life , or any life, in any context, is, in the last analysis, ineffably, tragic – not idyllic. All I suggest is that we have, under EM tutelage, lost sight of the fact that we are natural beings, and so deny/defy some foundational inclinations, to our serious detriment ( EM has always denied us our instinctual underpinnings). Its disregard for the powerful grip (and need) of family and kinship is a signal case in point, and its substitution of artificial communities in their stead will always be a foredoomed project. I do proffer the suggestion- though based on knowledge of real anthropic societies that have been dismissed as ‘primitive’ – that to live in conformity with our innate natures( as simple tribal formations do) may not only be fitting, but is also , quite likely, a state that we ‘naturally’ gravitate to. In comparison, and contrast, Modernist solidarities of class, gender, nation, and ideology, are all too ephemeral and evanescent. Certainly, no primal society is run through with our normal modus of restive contention, dissension, discontent, and self-immolating division. This is not mere rhetoric: look where the EM world stands now , poised on the verge of annihilation. You might ask what forces propelled us to this fateful climacteric – and then , perhaps, a bit of what I have sketched in the imperfect passages above might appear plausible and relevant?

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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We are boxed in.
The Crisis runs too deep.
No real options left to climb out.
Save One.
Universal Amnesty.
Let all of us : the bad, the ugly, and the horrible (let’s pretend we are All no good) decide to forgive, forfeit, and forget.
And start over.
I am not saying love one another.
That’s for another time, maybe, if ever.
Right now, let us just agree we All failed.
No Us, no Them.
No blame. No shame.
Instead, share, and share alike, our great big granary of Guilt.
North, South, East, West.
Rich, poor, high, low.
Pink ,brown, male , female.
Have done with Recriminations.
Everyone steps back.
Clear the air.
No hubris, no drama.
Erase the last 4 centuries (at least) of history.
Who did what and to whom and why.
Let us exonerate ourselves.
Eschew Adversarialism.
Rise above.
Nay, soar above.
Instead of being hapless hostages of history, be its conjoint Architects.
Let’s have weeks of celebration of this Great Redaction.
Weeks and weeks.
Maybe more.
Around a huge bonfire of our (carefully stoked) profanities: carpings, cavillings,cruelties, and caprices.
A Universal Reconciliation.
No less.
What say you?
I’m ready.
Think it puerile and trite?
Before curling up with scorn, Think Again.
What’s the Alternative?
Calamity: war, nuclear winter, human extinction, planetary destruction (I’ll ignore climate chaos).
That makes trite seem almost sacral?
Look at it this way: Where status quo is nightmare, pipe dreams are Reprieve?
So, go on: share it.
Spread the Word.
Give up pet peeves.
Call off personal beefs.
Calm those querulous passions.
We are One, Now.
And how!
Game Over.

ps perhaps, as per the above, we might finally, at long last, discover, that, underneath it all, we are all, inescapably, ineffably, ineluctably- and ever so briefly! – human. Whence, we might, again at long last!, unite around the pledge of No More – hot or cold, big or small – War. We might wonder, as we tred this charmed muskrose path: what took us long? As has been said, there is (or might be?) hidden value to daydreaming.

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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(For my Daughters)
He stood alone
brave strode ahead
though likes of Churchill
dear wished him dead

Nor did he seek
the philosopher’s stone
no thrones to covet
humble flesh and bone

True to his Values
ached for The Good
doomed as is often
to be misunderstood

He was his very own
a rare feat today
where paradigm-bound
we enter the fray

Ready risked his skin
to prove his platitude(s)
though some saw him stark
rustic and rude

Did not much matter
Be it right or wrong
bespoke his own truth
and a world went along

Sought no royal road
high Idylls to save
paths of such hubris
but bend to the grave

Some did adorn him
others heaped scorn
was unmoved by either
to placid manner born

Mild against Evil
cleft bold to the Right
of the human in All
nor once losing sight

To dwell but in Peace
to succor the Weak
to protest the Tyrant
of such did he speak

They slew him swift then
they’d do it yet again
Love hath no respite
Where(ever) Hate rules Men

I know little of gods
still less of paradise
but crave more his kind
meek gentle and wise

Lived as he died
as simple as plain
now he’s owned by history
even legerdemain

* Birth Anniversary October 02 (1869)

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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On Modernist Democracy


(For Roslyn Fuller)


Einstein is credited with saying there are only 2 known Infinities.
Human stupidity, and the the likely size of the universe.
Only about the latter , he added, was there any doubt.
And so our rulers are aching to lurch us on to War, again.
And most of us buy the puerile media and policy spin.
Even those those! – especially those – who think themselves extra smart and savvy.
For many , it is anything but stupidity.
it is canny avarice, as with the dozens of constituencies that profit directly from war.
It is the most profitable and the largest industry going.
They dominate the media, and most of the government.
And they game the game, and spin the spin.
It may be time to question the parameters?
* * * * * * * * *
Question: How did the governors gain such inordinate power?
Well, they never gave it up, for starters.
Medieval ruling elites turned over, in time, to Modern ruling elites.
Once power has been monopolised, i.e., usurped, by a sect , a clan, or a stratum – as is ever the case once simple tribal forms suffer dissolution – it is scarcely ceded : except perforce.
We are not speaking of some idyll of ‘democracy’ drawn from political fantasy(I offer no critique of the idyll – it is just that).
But Modernist democracy.
Or, even more accurately, EuroModernist Democracy.
A bit like when you study ‘economics’ it is not some universal template, as is the official pose.
It is Modernist economics.
Or, more specifically, EuroModernist economics.
Even our ‘Nobel Laureates’ (what a joke!) are wholly unaware of that simple axiom.

Let me state the axial point: EM democracy is a tool (means) of legitimation of power.
It should not be mistaken for the ‘real thing’.
That gainsays, instantly, all the vapid distortions that informs discussions of the subject.
As Napoleon, canny political scientist, said it : you can do anything with bayonets except sit on them.
You get the point.

Today, the Oligarchy has state power virtually sealed.
As Santayana had it: democracy is the paradise that unscrupulous financiers dream of.
And that our 1% have achieved, in abundance: we have the best ‘democracy’ money can buy.
The 2 Party system (wherever practised) is little more than a quasi Duopoly.
And they play good cop, bad cop, every 2/4 yrs, depending on the electoral cycle.
And we lap it up, like dutiful little kitties.
As someone very bright put it, if elections were effective they’d be illegal.
Ponder that.
Keep the masses poor, insecure, and in irrevocable debt: and they won’t question a thing.
As the old adage goes: family (wo)men, facing the above, can’t be heroes.’
And so, we don’t have any.
Except those that strut in cartoons.
Additionally, use media and a galaxy of ‘think-tanks’ ( professional spin doctors) to endlessly purvey disinformation, and the citizenry is kept in hapless, infantile, irredeemable, even stupefying ignorance.
And , to clinch it, as and when needed, put out bright-eyed/bushy-tailed gatekeepers who keep the faith lit.
Recall the ‘yes, we can’ interlude?
All of the above is no more than the prosaic Art of Governance,, so it should occasion no surprise, except in those that live in ineradicable delusion.
It reveals not the shrewdness of the rulers, but the naivete of the ruled.
How/when can that spell break?
When supermarket shelves are empty: and/or the body count of victims becomes palpably intolerable.
Those are the limits within which the governors operate.
Those are the limits of EuroModernist hegemony.

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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Gandhi and Orwell


Our greatest ability as humans is not to change the world; but to change ourselves.

Mahatma Gandhi


If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have
any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.

George Orwell


October 02 was Gandhi’s birth anniversary.
The usual tributes ensued: sincere, phony, and outright disingenuous.
My point here is simply to point, en passant, to a unique side to him that is not oft noted.
In a moment.
Gandhi and Orwell.
What could they have in common?
Both were born in India, both were deeply distrustful of Euromodernism (EM), both were passed over for appropriate Nobels, and both made imperishable contributions to universal human welfare.
One showed how awful EM could get (left, or right variants) for politics and civil society.
The other showed how this could be, effectively, resisted.

Orwell had no self-consciousness about EM, but provided its most trenchant critique (pointing to its immanent Dystopian tendency, in both its Left and Right incarnations).
Gandhi consciously chose non-Modernist forms of protest( practised , incidentally, by women , within the private household, for aeons) and, to the shrill indignation of All variants of EM (Left and Right) , went on to see his Project prevail.
With the taint of subjectivity (is that a taint?) I affirm that these two are, possibly, the most outstanding Public Citizens of the 20th century.
Happily, the two also symbolize East and West, North and South, to give it global relevance.
EM agendas (left or right) have brought us today to ( the brink of) extinction.
As Einstein said we cannot hope to solve problems using the same tools that created those problems.
It is not too late, possibly, to reconsider its inherent misanthropy, as understood by Orwell , and as resisted by Gandhi.
Else their efforts would have been, utterly , and tragically for all of us , in vain.

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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World War 3?


What if they throw WW3, without announcing it?
What if?
Well, guess what?
That’s exactly what’s going on.
WW3 is ON.
This is it.
It is different from the prior 2 Global Conflagrations.
It is the 21st century.
It is going to be different.

It will be in many little pieces.
Here and there.
Bit by bit.
Much of it, below the radar.
That’s War.
Where’s the mystery?

Who applied the sanctions?
Where’s the mystery?
Using Media to whip up daily, incessant, hysteria.
That’s war.
Where’s the mystery?
Even the Pope knows what’s on, and has spoken.
That’s a first, btw.
Where’s the mystery?
It’s not a whodunit.
It’s the Usual Suspects.
Whence, a bit monotonous?
Where’s the mystery?
Sure, we can (and will) all take sides.
But it will not alter a thing.
So, which side of the Facts are you on?
And where do you get your facts from?
It’s on.
I know, its hard to believe.
But it is.
Are the Players self-aware?
We hoi polloi don’t know (we never do).
There’s a thing called momentum.
It takes over.
Not much we can do about it.
It’s a Great Power Thing.
Where’s the mystery?
One curiosum.
Most, but not all, peoples have made wars.
But only European rulers have made Global wars.
Could be cause they ‘think Big’, in all things?

PS Ok, so you know, now: but don’t tell the kids.
Why ruin their hour in the sun?
Leave them be with their crayons, cornflakes, and cartoons.
Leave them their Halloweens, and holidays, to come.
They don’t need to know that, IF we get past Covid, there’s war, nuclear annihilation, and climate catastrophe.

As the bard has writ: where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be…
Besides, if they get lucky, and get to grow up at all, maybe they won’t grow up to be like us?
There’s a thought.
And so it goes.
It’s the Human Drama.
So, I ask you: where’s the mystery?

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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Her Majesty?


The passing of a fellow human is always a grim
Ask not for whom the bell tolls!
Is it any different with a so-called ‘queen’?
What is a queen, anyhow?
It beats me.

Let’s call her Liz, and it makes far more sense.
Excise the mystique.
And one can then mourn her passing, like any other amongst us.
I am sorry Liz is no more.
Her family must be in some distress.

The irony is that such institutions yet thrive, even today, squarely in the heartland of the various Western empires, despite the tendentious, high artifice of ‘democracy’.
Not to mention a hereditary peerage!

Per capita, these so-called royals must rake in a regal chunk of the public purse, even as 1 out of every 3 Brit children struggles in poverty.
Do they possess a conscience?, one wonders.
Modernism never quite displaced the medieval!
O the governors of the Brutish* Isles: how they still game the game, and spin the spin.

No matter.
Present times have made much of all this near obsolete.
It would be meet if all these glorified parasites , the world over, were to yield up their thrones and titles.
Unfortunately their latter day replacements, the new rentier billionaires, would be no improvement.
Therein, the tragedy of our times?
* I mean no disrespect to the populace of the nation in using this epithet: only its wretched power elites , who have looted the world, willy nilly, with wholesale impunity, for centuries.
[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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The Lost Minstrel


I sing no

lucent hue

The heart is

with rue

Near and

Left are

Yet I
warble on


Sing not
for me

But for


not then
of mice
and men

And maybe
talk again?

And rave
of Michaelangelo

Once far away
long ago?


The icons come
the icons

What’s left
is but
a maudlin show

Where daisies
and wild weeds


Sing not
of sacral

Towers the
looks down
on (wo)men

that quick

The winter
the summer


Life will

As we
boldly chart
the human

Until stupor
does the
spirit seal


Quo vadis

No more
than wilful

Rushed to
an empty



Hither you

you lie

Beneath a
ogling sky

That but
waits for you
to do
and ___



For want
of wisdom
for want
of a nail

And you
who bluster
you who

You who
seek that holy

Where will
you splendor
you fail?


but a

told tale

No, you

Though you

Though you
be hale

lusty cheer

arms flail

Your ship of

Has long
set sail

Caught in

Lost in

As wizards



You rush
in frenzy
to quail

You rush
in frenzy
to no avail

[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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Let lifeblood
let life spirit
We have been
learnt not
to feel

Whence the world
grows dimmer
and we know not
how to heal
The love force
still rises
in wan mute
As life force
gone past
its weal
‘Tis a farewell
to hope
the spirit
now must seal
Even the gods
will not relent
though I bow
scrape and kneel
So summer flags
to fall
and I must take
to heel
[© R.Kanth 2022]


Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda (Novel) , A Day in the Life (Novel), and Expiations (Verse)

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Yan Huang, Author of LIVING TREASURES:

From Bill McKibben

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Erika Raskin, Author of CLOSE:

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    • Meet the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35

    • s-li

      Excerpted from the LA Times, September 29, 2016

      The National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards, launched its 5 Under 35 program in 2006 to highlight the work of young literary talents; this year each writer gets a $1,000 cash prize and will be invited to participate in public readings.

      Many past 5 Under 35 honorees have gone on to further acclaim. Nam Le’s short story collection “The Boat” won the international Dylan Thomas Prize; Tea Obreht’s novel “The Tiger’s Wife” took the Orange Prize for fiction; and two honorees, Dinaw Mengestu and Karen Russell, were each later awarded MacArthur Fellowships….9781941861301-JacketGray.indd

      One of those writers this year is S. Li, who took up creative writing as a hobby when he was in medical school. The 31-year-old neurologist’s debut novel, “Transoceanic Lights,” was published by Harvard Square Editions, a small independent press.

      “I had sent the book to the National Book Foundation for consideration for the National Book Awards, fully knowing that my chances were zero,” Li said from his home in Burlington, Mass. When he received the email informing him he’d been chosen as an honoree, “I thought it was a scam. And then I realized it wasn’t. I had no idea this was even in the cards.”

      Li’s novel, about a Chinese immigrant family, is based on his own childhood. He was 5 years old when his family moved from Guangzhou, China, to Boston.

      img-41“I was sort of teaching myself the craft of writing,” Li said of his years writing fiction while also learning medicine. “And so it just made natural sense to go with material that comes easiest to you, and that’s your childhood.”

      Li is one of two immigrants honored in this year’s program. Yaa Gyasi, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Homegoing,” was born in Ghana and moved with her family to the United States when she was 2. [more]



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    • What are the best eco books for children and teens?

    • @EmilyDrabs, excerpted from The Guardian,


      Authors including David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Katherine Rundell plus teen site members share the books that made them think more deeply about climate change and environmental themes. Now share yours!

      This week we’re celebrating the positive power of stories, all kinds of stories, to bring home what we risk losing on our beautiful planet – and what we can do about it. Here authors and children’s books site members share the books that made them think. We’ll be feeding this blog with more recommendations all week, so please share yours – and keep checking back.

      Frank Cottrell Boyce (whose latest book is the remarkably green The Astounding Broccoli Boy)

      First book of Saints

      The book that made me realise that I was part of the environment was The Ladybird Book of Saints. On the cover was this brilliant image of St Francis releasing the caged birds he had he had bought in the market. For ages afterwards I would go into pet shops and zoos and itch to unlock the doors. In fact there are “freeing the animals” scenes in at least two of my books. There are so many environmental messages about how horrible humans are wrecking the planet – that’s obviously true in a way but this image made me feel that I belonged in the World too and that I could cherish and love it.

      David Almond, author of Skellig

      The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin. It’s beautifully written, beautifully illustrated picture book. It shows a troubled darkened world being recreated by the human need for greenery, life and colour.

      Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours

      Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction novel that is very much concerned with the damage humans are inflicting upon the environment and the possible catastrophic results that could have. Written in 2003, many plot points now seem eerily prescient and it makes for a disturbing, powerful read. Highly recommended for older teenagers.

      Site member, Patrick

      Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot is true to its name in that it’s a supremely funny YA novel, and one that tends to be overlooked. There’s a real environmental streak running through all of Hiaasen’s works and Hoot is no exception, it deals with a Florida teen who bands together with a couple of new friends to stop the destruction of a burrowing owl colony. It’s a lot of fun with a solid conservationist message at its core and an abundance of charm to boot.”

      Candy Gourlay, author of Shine

      Long ago I wrote a short story called How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle for Under the Weather, the climate change anthology edited by Tony Bradman. About a white sand beach losing its sand because the sea is heating up … the same hot oceans that later whipped up the murderous monster that was Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

      Perhaps the all too real climate change disaster in the Philippines has made me partial to flood stories. My favorite is Not the End of the World, the lyrical resetting of Noah’s Ark as a Tsunami survival story by Geraldine McCaughrean.

      Lottie Longshanks, site member

      The wild series by Piers Torday. So far I have read The Last Wild and The Dark Wild. Kester has the unusual gift of communicating with animals and it is his mission to save the animals from red eye the disease that is slowly killing them. It is a really exciting story and you soon guess who the villains are Selwyn Stone and his lackeys who want to dictate the way that everyone lives. The amazing rubbish dump in the second book in the series really makes you think about the damage that we are doing to our planet. I can’t wait to read the third book in the series,The Wild Beyond.

      White Dolphin by Gill Lewis Set in the south West of England the exciting story tells of children who take on the might of a powerful fishing business to stop dredging in the harbour because of the damage it does to marine life. I also love Moon Bear by Gill Lewis. This incredibly moving story shows how deforestation leads to misery for the animals whose habitat was the forest. And finally here is a recommendation for small children I read it to my cousin who lives in Oman when he comes to visit us. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. Emily writes to Greenpeace to find out how to care for the whale that she thinks she has seen in her pond. Emily’s letters and the lovely replies she receives from Greenpeace will give little children a lot of information about whales. (Also see Lottie Longshank’s poem Our Precious world)

      SF Said, author of Varjak Paw

      I recommend Exodus by Julie Bertagna: a brilliantly prescient YA novel about climate change, set in a drowned future world. It’s full of unforgettable visions and characters, and it will stay with you forever!

      ItWasLovelyReadingYou, site member

      My book would be Breathe by Sarah Crossan. It made me think about how we take so many things for granted, such as oxygen. You can’t see it, we use it every day, without it we would not survive; yet many people do not really sit down and feel a sense of gratitude for these types of things, becuase we assume we deserve them, we see them as something that will never go away, we just accept it without question. Breathe really made me feel a sense of ‘imagine if we didn’t have oxygen, or we had limited supplies of it-”, it made me question my unconscious detachment from what keeps us alive, and really feel privelidged to have all of these necessities.

      Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers

      Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cosmic is a book that makes the world look like something worth protecting. It’s hilariously funny, and also wise – it makes its readers want desperately to go into space, but also to take care of the world while we’re on it. The Earth is, as one of the astronauts says, “some kind of lovely.” The Last Wild series by Piers Torday – these three spectacular books are about a world decimated by humans, and the possibility of that loss feels very real and urgent and frightening – and they’re also fantastic adventure stories, about bravery and animals and human capacity to do huge good as well as harm. And there’s a bossy talking cockroach.

      Site Brahmachari, author of Kite Spirit and Artichoke Hearts

      For me it has to be The Ring of Bright Water Trilogy by Gavin Maxwell. I fell in love with these books as a child because they are set on the West coast of Scotland – a place I love – where wildlife and nature are the biggest characters. It;s a humbling landscape. If you have a love of the outdoors and really want to study the nature of beautiful, playful otters… and can stand to have your heart broken …. you should read these stories. Although they were written 50 years ago they are as timeless as the shingle beaches they are set on. The author lived and breathed the paradise he went to live in… and so will you when you read these books… and afterwards you can watch the film (tissues at the ready!)

      OrliTheBookWorm, site member

      Breathe by Sarah Crossan is probably the book that’s impacted me the most in terms of the environment – it’s a dystopian novel, with people living in domes due to a lack of oxygen – the raw descriptions and harsh realities were wonderfully done and uttery thought provoking, and made me take a step away from my laptop and have a look outside my window…. It’s a brilliant book, which I guarantee will change your perspective on the environment around us.

      Piers Torday, author of The Dark Wild trilogy

      The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann – the original classic tale of a group of British animals seeking refuge when their precious Farthing Wood is threatened by human development. They overcome incredible obstacles and danger to make it to a wildlife sanctuary. But reading it today there is an extra poignancy – some of the animals in the story, like the red-backed shrike, are now extinct, and others – like the adder, hare and voles – are all under threat.

      BritishBiblioholic, site member

      Watership Down by Richard Adams – When the rabbits in Watership Down are forced to leave their home, it is due to its impending destruction by humans. This potentially can be seen as an allegory for the ongoing destruction for the environment in general – and unlike the rabbits, if we don’t save our environment, we won’t be able to find somewhere else to live.


      Mary, curator, eco-fiction.com

      Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta: The novel takes place in the future after climate change has ravished economies and ecologies, and made fresh water scarce. The main character, Noria, is a young woman learning the traditional, sacred tea master art from her father. Yet, water is rationed and scarce in her future world. Her family has a secret spring of water, and, as tea masters, she and her father act as the water’s guards, even though what they are doing is a crime according to their future world’s government, a crime strongly disciplined by the military.


      NC front DR TinyNature’s Confession by JL Morin: The eco-novel is wonderful and reminds me of classic science fiction I watched or read as a kid. It was a genre that fascinated me then, and this book has joined that memory. The novel is epic in that it doesn’t just tell a story (which it does do too), but it puts our very survival into question while romping through the universe or discovering new quantum physics that are both scientific and spiritual in nature. In the meantime, universal symbols are unearthed, codes are investigated, fat corporations are dominating, a romance is blossoming, computers come alive, and native tribes and Nature on another planet bring our own treasured past into the future.


      Tito intiro Chavaropana by Jessica Groenendijk: Tito intiro Chavaropana means ‘Tito and the Giant Otter’ in Matsigenka. The author, a biologist who has studied giant otters, is now working on a sequel, in which Tito sets off into the forest to hunt a spider monkey and meets a harpy eagle on the way. They become friends but not without a misunderstanding or two!
      61cwBitpcAL._AA160_Spirit Bear by Jennifer Harrington: Spirit Bear celebrates a rare and iconic black bear that is born with a recessive gene that makes its coat creamy or white. Also called the Kermode bear, the spirit bear lives in the delicate, rich, and threatened ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Jennifer’s story is about the journey of a spirit bear cub that gets lost from his mother and has to find his way back.

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    • Publisher Guidelines

    • Publisher Harvard Square Editions is looking for literary fiction of environmental or social significance.

      Its mission is to publish fiction that transcends national boundaries, especially manuscripts that are international, political, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, utopia and distopia. Send submissions of aesthetic value and constructive social or political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change, deforestation, and conservation.

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    • A Moral Atmosphere: Hypocrisy redefined for the age of warming

    • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

      This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


      THE LIST OF REASONS for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen… (more)
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    • Cambridge divest from fossil fuel

    • We call on the City of Cambridge Retirement System to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuelcompanies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years (more)

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    Around Harvard

    Brain Pickings

    by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

      Like all romantic entanglements, the reasons for their tensions—tensions, which eventually led the invisible rubber band between them to snap—weren't quite clear.  Or maybe they were entirely too clear.  Telling me about it, Shane struggled for the right words, but his meaning rang with the clarity of breaking glass. "For a while, she was planning on moving up here to be with me, to be able to help out with all my stuff," he [...]

    by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

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  • Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) – Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen


    TylerJamesComicTyler James
    All of a sudden, though, you start stacking ComixTribe, Image, Boom, Action Lab, Valiant, etc... books against Big Two books...
    96 months ago
    we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
    96 months ago
    aidanr1022Aidan Ryan
    When Dad has to hit the books in the middle of the day so he can support the fam @emrson11webster http://t.co/igjSlYR8cB
    96 months ago
    forgot my books ?
    96 months ago

    Sabrina Fedel, Author of KENT STATE

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    Andrew Binks, Author in VOICE FROM THE PLANET

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  • Charity Shumway, Author in ABOVE GROUND

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