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Friday, January 13, 2017

Note to my cousin in Brazil


NOTE TO MY COUSIN IN BRAZIL

I detect meaningful and painful excavation in your reflections.  That is good.  At some point, writers benefit from stepping outside of themselves to discover who they are as a result of where they have been.  Prior to undertaking this exercise in THE KATRINA PAPERS, I had sketched it out in the first stanza of  my poem "The Impossible All These Years"---

Sometime before you hit forty,

You must step outside your bones,

Audit the maze your flesh has made.

And be amazed how much consequence

Morality has planted on your feet,

How much ambivalence is the harvest

Of your legs, how much lost potential

Is barned in your gut, how much

Opportunity has leaked from your pores.

Discovering what baggage you carry is important.  So too is knowing how space and time have shaped your attitudes, your values.  It seems right that you now have a special regard for land, for the rural, for the possession of land, because being attached to the soil is an aspect of our family's history.  Your grandfather's grandparents --Jeff and Bertha--were country people (St. James Parish) before they transformed themselves into urban dwellers (New Orleans).  However remote we are from our ancestors, we still have a bit of cultural memory, and that memory, however imprecise, influences our moral compass and how we write.

There are spiritual advantages in being intimate, as you put it, with land and people.  As the world becomes increasingly urbanized, the necessity of having city skills troubles any nostalgia we might have for the rural intimacy we know but have not experienced directly.  We have to be honest about the twilight zone character of our living.  Even in Brazil, I suspect indigenous peoples who live in the Amazon would find the worldview of people who live in Rio to be unnatural and twisted.  Likewise, your living in Brazil gives you a certain luxury to be critical of modern carelessness and excess among African-descended peoples in the USA. Your making peace with that condition of consciousness is an existential responsibility.  It is a long journey. And to  answer your question about the Age of Trump  ----yes, some awakening will occur between now and 2020, but many of us will hasten to sleep again.  Keep excavating.
Your cousin,
Jerry


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