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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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Human Devolution


Come have done with sanities
those antique inanities
those pettifogging vanities
that marked our antic lot
Behold, ’tis a Brash New Age
where profane is all the rage
all hail the tow’ring iron cage!
wherein we rail and rot
A touch of sleaze is O so fine
a tad of slime, simply divine
bowed are we to that higher sign
of grime, grease, and grot
All troth now be scoffed away
all gods bare but feet of clay
all norms perforce must give way
to this saturnalian plot
There’s none left to question why
so (cha)grin and Live the Lie
stifle must the wordless cry
watching the lifespirit clot
No hanker left for any peace
craving luxury and ease
ever ready to appease
the tsars of shell and shot
There can be no turning back
for the courage that we so lack
sliding on to ruin and rack
as a world goes straight to pot
So, yes, have done with sanities
those ludicrous inanities
revel in vile profanities
where spirit is sold and bought
No scope for hoary charities
rarer than the rareties
good/evil now are parities
all idylls amount to naught
Did It fall upon us unaware?
or did we see and did not care?
or did we care but did not dare :
to stanch what we had wrought?
What a dispiriting thought!
[© R.Kanth 2021]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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The Fall

Dr Strangelove
at the helm
Darth Vader
by his side

skulking in the wings
O the Gods do
but arride!

Gluttony long
Their Holy Grail
Greed, living
by the Sword

Goliaths bow
To Davids when
the Mighty Mouse
hath Roared
Time has come
the Augurs say
To sing of

Exit Brigands
And  Privateers
With other such
Caligula’s at the helm
Dracula by his side
In Free Fall
and Deep Decline:

Empire  ships out
with the Tide


[© R.Kanth 2018] 

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Hark, hark

Tis evenfall

vanished fog,

lifted pall


Light departs

The Lamp is set

the vale is flushed

its hour is met

Bees are flown

owl’s awake

glade in simper

willows quake

Lilies fold

twilight bathes

in red and


Dark is spread

ploughs retrench

fields drowsy

steep in stench

Cowbells tinkle

high on a hill

dusky romance

of rood and rill

Only the Mind

is not at rest

sweeps the sky

East to West

The world sleeps

in Circadian Dream

as lovers wrought

in silence scream

Nature knows

just when to rest

alas MAN* is not

so equal blest


Still gads about

seeking the grail

tilting at mills

chasing his tail

When will HE rest?

O it’s easy

guessed !

None too soon

no time to swoon

so much to do

from noon to noon

Drill on Mars

dream of wars

And , sacre bleu!,

mine the maudlin moon

*Gender intended
[© R.Kanth 2021]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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I recall at least Three.
Only Connect! (E.M. Forster)
Be True to one Another (Mathew Arnold)
Love one Another (The Bible)
So much for homilies.
I sometimes say that Madonna might be ranked as one of the world’s great philosophers.
Because she said: Life is a Mystery.
Who could improve on that?
Even the Buddha admitted as much.
Alas, the mystery of life is not resolved via homilies.
Nor is its pain, fear, and uncertainty.
But they do help make everyday living slightly more bearable.
It is this mystery that allows religion an entre.
It caters to a felt-need.
In areas where neither science nor philosophy can provide certainty, it is perfectly understandable that people turn to faith.
What else is there?
Where religions overstep (and thereby undermine themselves) is when they claim certainty for their beliefs, as if they were science.
They are not.
And they would be foolish to compete with science.
The Church of Rome is remarkable in how adaptive it has been to science, across the centuries, whilst still remaining true to its ideas.
Other faiths subsist with really severe cognitive dissonance.
My own definition of humans is that we are mythmaking animals.
In fact, we excel in it.
Most of our ideological struggles are clashes between our myths and theirs.
Of course, we see our own myths as rational.
Consider the consecrated myths of EuroModernism, such as democracy, and equality.
Are they, in terms of realism, any different from sightings of the Loch Ness monster (a comment by H.L.Mencken).
Bears thinking.
They are idylls , at best.
In fact, they have a darker meaning.
They are means of legitimation of extant power.
Even Max Weber knew that.

I started out by listing 3 well known homilies.
I’d like to end by providing a synthesis of those 3.
In Two Words: Be Kind.
It may lack belletristic style: but it has ample meaning.
Besides, I feel quite sure that the Buddha probably said that, already.
I need also credit E M Forster (who follows up ‘Only Connect’ with” Live in fragments no longer”):we, in the Modern world, do live in fragments.
Another baneful gift of Euromodernism!

[© R.Kanth 2022]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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The Last Huzzah

They that
the world
Made War
nay second nature
women toilers
native peoples
the weak
the impuissant
And passions
yet Unfed
ravished All
Even Nature

And in
these latter
Still hungry
seek more worlds
to raze
Now did they
Too Far
So is this
Last Huzzah

The Poet* has
The gory glories
of blood and
are ephemera

Be not dismayed

The Levellers
sceptre and
To rest with
the humble
scythe and
Justice and Time
Old Comrades
meet in tryst
to tame tyranny
They may
But art
like Fate

Set your clock
watch it
And let The
be ever told
A New World
bids farvel
to the Old

*James Shirley (1596-1666)
[© R.Kanth 2022]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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The Human Condition and Spontaneous Order


Continuing Arguments Against EuroModernism

For some three decades, now, I have written/spoken against the ruling ethos of the EM EuroModernist – Paradigm that dominates the Modernist spectrum, Left or Right, East or West, today (I have detailed this phenomenon in several Works, the most recent of which is my Farewell to Modernism, 2017. Suffice it to say here that ‘EM’ is the highly specific form of Modernism that Europe first invented, imposed on itself, and then ‘gifted’ it, under duress, to the rest of the world).
Other than the late Immanuel Wallerstein – from whom nothing was hid !– I doubt if readers really fully understood its meaning or import.
That is just one measure of the insularity of academe, which is a self-serving enterprise well-funded by the powers that shouldn’t be, and charged with ‘managing’ acceptable discourse.
Whilst this malaise is near universal in the modern world , the US academy possibly takes the cake, in this regard, since it operates also within a broader societal milieu of near-barbarism in intellectual matters ( a critical intelligentsia, other than academe-based ,being virtually non-existent).
One might say, where there is uneven opulence, there is its inevitable concomitant – corruption.
I am not the only one who has noticed this: a long time ago, Oscar Wilde noted it with the comment that the US had gone straight from barbarism to decadence, bypassing the stage of civilization.
I doubt he was merely joking.
A century later, Henry Miller devoted passionate pages to the exposition of what he called ‘the air-conditioned nightmare’ (also the title of his book).
The underlying motif of EM is the notion of societal engineering.
Via its prophets and seers, it virtually rewrote the human condition – to suit its corrupt ends.
The ‘Hobbesian world’, which Hobbes understood to be exemplifying the state of nature, it visualised as the normal social condition.
It projected society as atomized, individualized, fragmented, and driven by distrust, competition, and one-upmanship: and most of all by Greed Unbound.
Not merely ‘projected’, ideologically, but institutionalized, concretely.
As the centuries unfolded , from the marker of the so-called ‘enlightenment’ , it turned into a composite, inchoate, mix of often contradictory ideas: from a relatively benign laissez-faire stance (Adam Smith) to virulent Social Darwinism (Malthus, Spencer).
Gone was the antic, mutualist, social compact: in its stead, it posited a bare, cold, social ‘contract’, with all institutions taking on an acquisitive, calculating, bargaining modus as with today’s Neo-Cons, Neo-Libs, and the Nash genre of Game Theorists (tending , eventually, toward the Transhumanist , misanthropic, terminus that looms ahead, in these misguided visions).
Modern ‘Economics’, the crown jewel of this mutant ideology, carries/exhibits all of its scars – to a t.
In sum, it produced a mind-set well captured in J.P. Sartre’s ‘Hell is other people’ epigram.
Under its auspices, we are required to envision and enter a ‘society’ that is a minefield of misanthropy , in dubious struggle against one another : for the reward of a mess of pottage for some, and for virtually nothing at all for the many.
This view of human nature, as I have written elsewhere, is little short of a noxious libel upon the human race.
This was no ‘enlightenment’.
It was a descent into a hellish abyss of a fondly carved dystopia – of which western society , especially its Anglo-Norman hegemons, is now , fatefully, emblematic.
Little wonder the UK has , apparently, created a Minister for ‘loneliness’, echoing both Orwell and Huxley in that one tragic trope.
Life is short – and EM votaries have rendered the life of the planet itself even shorter: serious scientists, like, Guy McPherson , now give us but a decade, or so, before the commencement of human extinction.
So, I will spare us the details, and get to the nub – before doom do us part.
Contra the concoctions of EM pronouncements, we humans of the primate family ( I will drop the self-glorifying ‘homo sapiens’ apothegm) have some rather striking features.
We are primarily convivial, co-operative, and communal creatures, bound to each other by what I have termed a ‘balance of affections’ (not the negatively charged, jaded, ‘balance of interests’ idea of the Contract Theorists).
In that one line, above, we bury all the axioms of the putative discipline of ‘economics’, as it arose , historically, within the ‘brutish isles’ (no exaggeration to this designation: since the history of the elite policy makers, not the people, of that society lives up to that characterization amply).
However, the above sketch is complicated by our instinctual endowments.
Put baldly: Men appear endowed with the immanent instinct for violence, Women with the instinct of nurturance.
Being instincts, they may not be wholly erased, but culture can either accentuate them or abate them, in its dictates, to an extent (nurture can and does ‘control’ behavior, if within limits: as learnt by Skinner and Pavlov).
I term the first ‘cluster of traits’ the POM : paradigm of masculinity.
The second set, I call the POF: paradigm of femininity.
In the first instance, therefore, civilization is no more than a ‘taming’ of the predatory urges of men.
If Civilisation is understood as the pacification of the conditions of human existence , both social and natural, then we can understand where/how that first step fits in.
In effect, women are the very first peacemakers: since they need to build and secure a functioning ‘cordon sanitaire’, in order to raise the infant child, safe from the unpredictable predations of men.
Mother and child , together, constitute the very first social unit: and their relationship, is also the structural provenance of human morality.
Thus, humans have always had two permanent sources of dread: the violence of nature , and the violence of men (both, of course , belonging to ‘nature’).
It is to antic tribal society’s credit that it shackled the second threat, localizing it, and limiting it, within the tribal family, by means of the binding restraints of ties of kinship (‘affections’).
This is still the only workable model we know.

EM society was far better at taming external nature: but found male violence highly serviceable to its predatory ends, using it to suppress revolt, keeping the classes divided, and keeping workers and women under effective domination.
One could call this strategy ‘management by fear’: who says (wo)man does not live by dread alone?
Contemporary US, the most violent society in earth, may well be the text-book model of this EM configuration..
EM organised us to accept a state of permanent war, economic and political, as the rulers accumulated wealth , by dint of various extortions : ( leastways, today) one billionaire at a time.
Most of us take this imposed reality as ‘life’: and concoct rationalising philosophies to endure it, as may be inevitable.
Is there no way out of this matrix?
Yes, there is: and has always been.
This is where this idea of ‘spontaneous order’ fits in.
We are communal beings, led in the first instance, to create sustainable kindred with one other.
Far from being ‘light seeking’, we are, as mammals, ‘heat seeking’: and our greatest ‘need’ is simply : to huddle.
This is how original human societies were formed, universally.
That is how they can be re-formed, again, any time, any where.
So, we needn’t agonise over the ‘how’ of it, via pedantic debate and discussion: it takes care of itself.
Norms arise spontaneously in the crucible of shared human affections, and then ‘evolve’.
This ‘evolution’ is nothing other than an extension of the kinship paradigm, but within Gemeinschaft limits.
Gemeinschaft societies are the original, ‘natural’ societies.
Gessellschaft entities, most common in – but not unique to – EM formations, are , always, contrived, artificial, imposed entities, wherein our real, anthropic endowments are permanently crippled and thwarted.
‘Paradise Lost’ (with a degree of obvious hyperbole) is when/where the former give way to the latter, generally under the impulse of the adventurist drives inherent in the POM (paradigm of masculinity), no longer containable within the ‘balance of affections’ of simple domesticity.
It is how tribal societies, often, break up into empires.
So, it is as simple as that.
There is no way of ‘reforming’ the adversarial society as legitimised by EM: it is, inherently, irreconcilable.
Which is why all well-meaning efforts to manufacture a ‘socialist’ society ( as invented in radical EM theorising) fail – and will fail.
In fact, such structures can only be built on affections: not charters, rules, and regulations.
Goodwill, charity, care, and compassion , may not be legislated to form the bonding cement of society, in some ‘rational-legal’ sense.
It would be akin to King Canute ordering the ocean waves to halt.
Instead, it is love that binds: not self-interest , nor even a disinterested fealty to an abstract altruism.
The human family , embodying the values I am referencing, is both a natural and social entity simultaneously.
It stands in all societies and cultures, and at all times , a reminder of our real, instinctual roots (which, owing to operative EM norms we have all but forgotten.
In fact, instincts, were not permitted to rule ‘humans’, under the strictures of Biblical ideas, where humans were presumed carved in the ‘image of god’.
So, despite Darwin, en generale, we deploy instincts in the study of animal behavior, but not in analysing human , social , behavior.
Even more importantly, nurture had to be assumed as trumping nature: since the entire thrust of the EM Project is societal engineering, which would be quite impossible otherwise).
Impressively, and instructively, the human family obeys not one single EM Diktat from the Holy Catechism that we have all internalised: equality, democracy, individualism, ‘freedom’, et. al.
It is a moral, not a political, nor economic, entity.
Bears thinking.
Order is spontaneous, both in nature and society.
Why we don’t see evidence of that in EM societies – and more so in this Late Modernist stage of human devolution – is because these are profoundly “unnatural” entities, from their very inception.
They are a house of cards, in one sense: castles in the air, in another, held together by force and fraud in the main.
Even more , are they existential traps in which the human spirit chokes and suffocates.
In fact, the West, to the extent it ‘lives’ by such pernicious EM norms, is no more than a dying cantonment of a decaying citizenry : of masses of robotized, idiotised, individuals poised on the brink of a post-human, transhuman, disfigurement.
Indeed, the Lead Anglo-Norman formation has already crossed a red line: it is the world’s first Amoral Society (an obvious oxymoron), with – the usual exceptions apart- a populace desensitized to the point of accepting war, violence , struggle, deceit, and conflict, as routine , incorrigible , aspects of social existence.
The astonishing passivity in the face of the continuing spate of mass shootings domestically, and murderous wars abroad, are a telling index of this remarkable Devolution.
But none of this is inevitable, nor necessary.
A human society can be re-created, via detachment, delinking, opting-out , from the dominant EM Project.
No charter is needed, nor manifestos, nor constitutions; no ’pre-requisites’, no ‘resources’.
Any set of humans can found it, any where, anytime , in near-endless replication.
It is limited only by our inventiveness, the cultural genius inherent in our species-given creativity.
Its permanent locus will always be the family unit – real or ersatz- based on caring, love, warmth, and affection: transcendent human values virtually debased, distorted , and /or destroyed, by EM postures and stances.
In its essence, it embodies , within itself, that very overarching transvaluation of values that stands as eloquent , if humble, critique and rebuke to the pernicious, toxic, nostrums of EuroModernism.
So what is/was the secret of tribal empathy?
The rearing of children in common.
In essence, the tribe is merely an extended family, and the ‘familial’ principle relates all adults to all children , really or virtually, as potential or actual care-givers.
This unyielding bond of kinship is stronger than galvanized steel: enabling tribal formation, like Australian Aboriginals , to exist and thrive for millenia, undaunted by altering environs.
Can we recreate that bonding?
I think so.
By focusing, ever, on the domain of affective ties and relationships, and minimizing contact with, and participation in, the alien, ‘public’, Gessellschaft world , organised from above, for their own purposes, by the ruling/governing elites.
Ideals, idylls, and utopias have nothing to do with such a reconstitution of societal life.
Indeed, constructs, of that nature, are no more than specious EM snares, enticing us into a permanent hallucinatory state that , like much of organised religion, promise a shining tomorrow (that never comes) as canny bait to accept (whilst struggling against it permanently) present-day oppressions with a degree of equanimity.
Life is not a matter of realization of ideals: it is about living within the bounteous promise of our species-being.
As animals, we have all manner of traits that are far from congenial and foolhardy to ignore: yet , even within our mammalian cast, lie hidden salves that can yet make life on earth more bearable.
EM ideology, on the other hand, is unmistakably reptilian in its geist, and leads inexorably only to irreparable angst and inconsolable despair.
It can offer, in this late era of impending doom, only more such sordid ‘Ministeries of Loneliness’ to repair the mortal blow it has delivered to the very possibility of human existence.
And this is, perforce, the Age of Reparation.
The invading EM adventurers, e.g., on the North American continent, annihilated, without the slightest compunction, thousands of native tribes: it were only fitting if, in late expiation, thousands of novel ‘tribal’ entities could be commenced, to re-seed/re-generate that ill-fated land, much as the world at large, and restore antic balances rudely ruptured by the accumulationist ravages of these reckless ‘civilisation-mongers’ that have brought the entire planet crumbling, today, to the very brink of a wholly gratuitous , self-inflicted, and entirely avoidable, extinction.
We have strayed far from our roots, whose redemptive rediscovery is on the cards, now, in these tumultous times.
It is no more than our birthright.

Kanth, R. Breaking with the Enlightenment, NJ: Humanities Press, 1997
_______ Farewell to Modernism, NY: Peter Lang, 2017
[©R.Kanth 2018]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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I too have dwelt in Arcady
’twas but a vagrancy of mind
adrift in parched algid space
nor cohort close behind
Iron distemp’ring fractured steel
ingresses the sojourning soul
what yearning heart can quenched beat
rent, racked, Unwhole?
There’s alchemy that muteth guilt
conjury that absterseth pain
but where the cloying anodyne
quells rue’s self-contusing train?
Lifeblood beads up like burgundy
eructing gore from the gashed vein
grievous gutted, love’s ardency
exsiccates its hallowed drain
I too have dwelt in Arcady
in phantasms of the doting mind
immured in its artless travesty
in the glut of my decline

© R.Kanth 2022

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Negative Ecstasy*

(for Genevieve)
It wakes us cold at midnight
jolted from a fitful sleep
Perchance , again, late in day
whilst wan woodpeckers weep
And oft, at times, at twilight
when the grim reapers reap
It’s a tete a tete with who you are
moving waters , too, run deep
Lush promises bestrew the path,
but how many do we keep?
Under a blessed sanguine sky
dark dolor starts to seep
Misgivings quake,as you lie awake
fretful, counting sheep
Remorse burns, doubt returns
the climb is much too steep
It’s all a Futile Game of Chance
O look before you leap
Face your fears, endure the jeers
contrition cleanses , in its sweep
* a concept of JP Sartre
© R.Kanth 2022

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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The Secret

What is one of the more outstanding historical facts of the past 4 centuries?
I’ll take some guesses.
No: life is too short.
Let me simply state it.
The mass murder of Non-Europeans by Europeans.
btw, note , I didn’t use the terms ‘white’ and ‘non-white’.
Because ‘White’ and ‘Black’ are ideological constructions.
It took the ill-fated , but brilliant, Stephen Biko to point that out, decades ago in a speech to his South African Inquisitors.
Most so-called ‘whites’ are various shades of pink, he said: and most so-called ‘blacks’ are but shades of brown.
So , why then , the altogether common usage of ‘black’ and ‘white’?
Because the very language itself is already bigoted in favor of that artful binary as ‘bad’ and ‘good’.
It is never stated so baldly, for obvious reasons.
Most who write ‘official’ histories, used the world over , are Europeans (as conquerors); and when they happen to be Non-Europeans, are well within the former’s ideological cast (usually, as dutiful ex-colonials) .
So, we get euphemistic, anaemic, theories of ‘imperialism’ and ‘colonialism’ (albeit plim with important economic/political factors) which almost neutralise, if not actually sanitize, the unmentioned reality beneath.
In effect they play Othello, without the Moor.
But these are revelatory times.
It is time to call a spade a shovel.
Euro-Supremacism has been the bane of the Modern World.
That “outstanding fact’ is still on-going,
In the continuing , wanton, depredations of the West in Africa and West Asia that, largely, go unreported.
The data are available to any who care to research it.
European governors are, in this frame, amongst the world’s most ferocious , putting to shame the suitably demonised exploits of the ‘also rans’ such as Attila, Genghiz, Timur, etc.
In North America alone ,to cite but one example, around 2000, or so , living Native nations vanished off the face of the earth, under their governance.
What makes this modern-day barbarism even more horrific, and macabre, is that it is/was all done whilst loudly pronouncing the high gibber of justice and rights, a hypocrisy that quite escaped the latter ilk of fiends (i.e., Messrs. Attila, and Co.).
Could be They could not bring themselves to be quite so supernally disingenuous?
So, for the world, at large, the true , more accurate, slogan needs to be: Non-European Lives (cultures, traditions, and sovereignties) Matter.
Bears thinking?
* I refer , in the use of this term, as ever, to the Power Elites amongst the Euros, Not their hoi polloi.
[© R.Kanth 2022]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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World War Three?

Birds fly low
they seem to know
that The End is nigh
The seed is sown
the harvest known
no need to question why
The tide is near
the time is here
this no one can deny
None too soon
earth and moon
tumble into sky
The deadly breach
is now in reach
we have lived a lie
A planet fair
we now forswear
she must watch us die
Does not matter
how we scatter
none to heed our cry
We who dare
with conscience bare
have rent the sacred tie
There is reason
to every season
but this no one can descry
Sheer hubris driven
all unforgiven
doom stares us in the eye
No dreams to sell
no wishing well
there’s no one left to buy
When in the heart
the fires start
’tis time to say goodbye
They who Twice Before
and still want more
in hubris are wrung high
Know who They are
who love Endless War
and very heavens do defy
Yes know who They are
who worship war
for they have no alibi

When questioned why
by the genii
what will they reply?

[© R.Kanth 2022]

Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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Yan Huang, Author of LIVING TREASURES:

From Bill McKibben

Linda Greenhouse has written more (wise and cogent) words about the Supreme Court than anyone else in American history.
Today she explains that it has fatally undermined its legitimacy.
This great essay had to be as painful to write as it is to read

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Erika Raskin, Author of CLOSE:

  • Take Me to the River
    I don't know why but the other day rather than turning to CNN to catch up on the latest installment in the ongoing freak show, I asked...
  • Zebras
    Four friends from summer camp have gathered nearly fifty years later at the beach condo where one has semi-retired. (What?) At a fast...
  • Signs, Signs, Everywhere are Signs
    Which is good because I collect long-lasting pleas for editorial interventions. Like the one above which illustrates both the proper use...
  • 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...
    85 months ago
    we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
    85 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
    85 months ago
    forgot my books ?
    85 months ago

    Sabrina Fedel, Author of KENT STATE

    🚨Fire alert from #Spain! A devastating #wildfire has burned 25,000 hectares of Sierra de la Culebra, a unique biodiversity hotspot and home to one of Europe’s largest wolf populations.

    Read the news👇

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    Andrew Binks, Author in VOICE FROM THE PLANET

    Charity Shumway, Author in ABOVE GROUND

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