Kevin Hughes on Free Verse
Poems of Witness by James K. Zimmerman
Creation - a poem by Gabriel Guerra
Meteor Shower by Anne Whitehouse - a Review
Tribute to Omer Hadžiselimović by MiloradPejić
Protest Series - David H. Rommereim
Opinion Essay by Ryan Ritchie
It took me less than a minute to find a picture of South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace standing behind a dead fish. The shot was posted July 25 on Facebook and shows the recently elected United States Representative smiling as she looks into the camera standing behind what moments earlier was a sentient being.
This photograph matters because it proves Mace is a hypocrite, the kind who bends rules for political gain. We shouldn’t be surprised. She’s a politician.
Mace isn’t alone. The hashtag “ArrestFauci” trended Sunday on Twitter after multiple media outlets reported that Dr. Anthony Fauci’s National Institutes of Health provided a grant to a Tunisian lab where dogs were reportedly tortured and killed — some had their vocal cords removed so they wouldn’t bark during the testing. According to some outlets, the supposed research involved injecting beagles with parasites that cause diseases.
If you are like Mace and the thought of dogs being tortured bothers you — good. It should. But where is Mace’s consistency? Why is she smiling in a picture of a dead fish yet killing dogs is an act that caused her and 23 colleagues to pen a letter to the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases? That fish didn’t want to be pulled from the water to sit for a photograph just like those beagles never volunteered to participate in something posing as scientific experimentation.
The answer to those questions is, of course, money. Specifically, the fact that American taxpayer dollars were spent to fund this supposed “research.”
Mace is correct. No government and no person should ever torture animals. The countless others who made “ArrestFauci” trend are also correct. If the allegations are true, Fauci should face serious consequences if he knew animals would be tortured (and if he didn’t know? That’s an equally serious offense.)
But Mace, her 23 colleagues and anyone else who made “ArrestFauci” trend have some explaining to do. What did Mace, her colleagues and those social media users have for Sunday breakfast? And for lunch? A snack? Dinner?
I’d love to think everyone involved in “ArrestFauci” is vegan, but they’re not. I know this because I’ve been vegan for approximately 18 years (vegetarian since Thanksgiving 1997) and can count on both hands — not including the thumbs — the amount of ethical plant-based eaters I consider close friends. I know plenty of pescatarians, vegetarians and whatever-atarians, but the number of people who intentionally forgo animal products because they know (emphasis on “know”) animal cruelty in all of its heinous forms is wrong is infinitesimal.
For years, research has suggested that one percent of the world’s population is vegan. It’s a start, but imagine would what happen if everyone upset about Fauci’s allegations today woke tomorrow and eschewed all animal products forever. Imagine if those same people tweeted about the well-known brands in their cabinets, dresser drawers and linen closets (do people still have those?) that do the exact horrible thing about which they are tweeting in regard to Fauci.
One good thing about “ArrestFauci” is that the hashtag has created a discussion regarding an often-overlooked part of the animal rights conversation. Last week Los Angeles Times ran eight stories about fake meats and how they are changing what’s on our plates. I’ve yet to find a vegan who doesn’t ethically support these food innovations, but anyone who tweeted “ArrestFauci” should be as upset about Clearasil, Clinique, Clorox and Comet are tested on animals — and that’s just a portion of the “C” category from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ “Beauty Without Bunnies” website — as they are about Fauci.
You want more? Try Kiehl’s, L’Oreál, Listerine, Pine-Sol, Prada, Revlon and Swiffer. And there are, sadly, plenty of other recognizable brands that do what Fauci is accused of doing.
This argument isn’t a what-aboutism. Instead, let’s ask ourselves how some people can get so upset when dogs are tortured yet days later sit in a too-long-for-fast-food In-N-Out Burger drive-thru. If you’re mad about Fauci and the dogs, be mad about all animal suffering. Tweet about the horrific ways in which cows, chickens, fish, pigs and other living creatures are exploited for human consumption, “enjoyment” and science. Look at Mace’s fish photo and stare into the dead eyes. Now look down at your plate and envision the eyes that used to be attached to whatever you’re calling a meal.
If you’re one of those people, it’s time to face a harsh reality — animal cruelty is always wrong. The good news is that you have an opportunity to stop engaging in deadly acts. Animal testing should bother you enough to take to social media and post about the horrors, but don’t be a hypocrite. There is a way to avoid these products. That way?
- Ryan Ritchie is a writer from Lomita, CA. His work has been published in Rolling Stone, Vice and Los Angeles Times. He went vegetarian on Thanksgiving 1997 and has been vegan for approximately 18 years. Follow him at https://twitter.com/RyanLRitchie
Ghosts of America by Caroline Hagood. Hanging Loose Press, 2021. ISBN: 978-1934909713. $18.00. 200 pages
Reviewed by Mitch Levenberg
Caroline Hagood’s Ghosts of America is profound, witty and entertaining. I’d call it a page turner except I never wanted to turn the page. The narrator of the novel is Norman Roth III, Herzog to his friends, great American novelist, masturbator, voyeur, writer of “literary academia, the “overweight ugly balding white guy’s tenured ticket to young tail.” Herzog represents a long line of male writers, writers like the country itself, “formed from the dusk of masculine language, language that has skewered and slighted, misrepresented and misconstrued the role and importance of women since this country’s inception. Who better then to be visited one night, a la Ebenezer Scrooge, by the ghosts of Jackie Kennedy and Valerie Solanas? Herzog himself is a contradiction. He will gladly “jack off” to Marilyn Monroe but at the same time see something greater than the whole, greater than, as Jackie Kennedy later observes, the “blonde-haired breasts that launched American cinematic romance, but also “as complete as the end of something,” someone the “universe might transfigure her at any time.” Herzog can think about “the fluidity of existence” yet, at the same time admit “how solid it can get in the pants region.”
Herzog’s first visitor is Jackie Kennedy, his muse, his “pixie dream girl,” wife of JFK, president, Womanizer Laureate of the U.S., the man who, in his own words, “accompanied Jacquelyn Kennedy to Paris,” and later, of course, to his own assassination. Indeed, it is Jackie’s powerful narration of JFK’s assassination that sticks with me the most, that twists my own gut memory, that is rendered so terrifyingly beautiful, so painful yet poetic. The scene explodes in our minds like JFK’s own glorious mind “exploding onto Jackie’s skin.”
The writing here is truly “blood writing” at its best. According to Herzog, it’s the writer Denis Johnson, who believes that all writers should write in blood and that the more blood you write in, the more you put your life on the line. “What better way to build sentences,” Herzog states earlier, “than with our own “jets of blood,” again not his own idea, but one taken from Sylvia Plath, one of the greatest blood writers ever.
It’s truly amazing how in this gut-wrenching scene, one of the most beautifully gut-wrenching scenes I have ever read, Caroline Hagood becomes Jackie Kennedy, in both mind and body, as if she herself were in that car, as if her own life were on the line, her words, her incredible imagination evoking both the horrible and the exquisite. Here, Jackie Kennedy becomes the poet laureate of the great American Tragedy, the symbol of the blood-soaked American Dream, of Camelot, not only “deconstructed, (see the title of Herzog’s book on the Kennedys) but destroyed. JFK is Lancelot, his brain bleeding out in the back of that “midnight blue” limo, dripping on a pink dress which only a few hours earlier glittered with hope and promise in, of all places, Love Field. As Jackie says, “That part of his head that wasn’t blown away was so exquisite. I tried to hold it all together. If I could just reclaim the bits of him, all would suddenly be whole.”
Herzog’s next visitor is the ghost of Valerie Solanas, famous for shooting Andy Warhol, but not for killing him. “I’m going to teach you,” she says to Herzog, “how to write a woman.” For sure she is the scarier of the two ghosts, the bad one as in good ghost, bad ghost: loud, brash, unapologetic, wild-eyed, sloppy, soiled, hungry, (she raids Herzog’s fridge) a “crazy pants,” a “bimbo psychopath,” and in Norman Mailer’s words (see “Norman” as in Norman Roth III) “The Robespierre of Feminism.” She’s also the author of the SCUM Manifesto and the play “Up Your Ass,” titles that don’t exactly roll off the tongue, but who needs tongues? Solanas tells Herzog Ovid’s story of Philomela, imprisoned, raped and tortured by King Tereus who rips out her tongue so she can never tell her story, yet she does anyway by weaving it with purple yarn into a tapestry. She becomes the artist weaving her words, her actions, her very existence into the world. Tongue or no tongue, she cannot and will not be silenced.
This is not a linear book; it is not plot, but premise. It is a tapestry of plots and subplots, a concentric circle of stories within stories. Valerie Solana telling Herzog her story vis a vis Ovid’s story of Philomela and Tereus so flawlessly weaved by the author into this crazy quilt of a novel, “crazy” in this case meaning parts or isolated fragments of things comprising the whole of something. Indeed, this novel reflects the mind itself broken up into many minds. I often felt as if I were not only experiencing what was happening outside a character’s mind, that is by words and actions, but inside it as well. In Jackie’s mind, I am tormented; my heart breaks, I feel the burden of history, its violence and brutality, its poetry and beauty, its possibilities for redemption. I feel sad and frustrated. I feel beautiful and bloody. I like the feeling of haunting Herzog with dignity and class. I like this mind and want to stay for a while. I want to keep trying, haunted still by childhood memories of Humpty Dumpty, to put JFK’s brain back together again.
Inside Valerie Solanas’ mind, I feel pissed and anxious and vengeful but knowing I’m a bad shot, instead of a bullet, I try out my poor swollen tongue, my against that bastard Herzog. As for Herzog’s mind, I am in it from the very beginning of the novel. At first, I must step over empty whiskey bottles and look lustfully through women’s legs; mirrors are only to look at bodies, to pleasure myself, my mind is only to misconstrue and degrade others, especially women, my heart is to deceive, to hide, to secretly despise myself and others. I enter a room where the floors and walls are sticky, filthy and dark. There is loud, cacophonous music piercing my ear drums. There are shelves lined with decaying books, all containing distorted, misleading words about women. Then, suddenly I turn into another room, clean and bright and filled with blank canvases, with art waiting to be created, with empty shelves waiting to be lined with books dripping with truth and historical accuracy. Finally, and most refreshingly, there are new, blank notebooks waiting to be filled. I feel hopeful. I sense change, redemption.
Herzog’s is the representative mind, the Motherboard where in the end all the other minds will merge to form a new and enlightened mind. We can’t help wonder if he’s willing to take in all these other minds, to change, to experience a metamorphosis. He certainly has a long way to go but he’s willing to do it, to plunge finally into a woman’s mind rather than her body. Now in this new incarnation of his mind he has wild, uncertain dreams. He speeds through women’s bodies turned into tunnels. He goes on a Mecca to Coney Island where he rides the Wonder Wheel and observes a hungry three-legged dog, a final, symbolic descent into the underworld, perhaps before his ultimate transcendence.
For Herzog, this is not just a physical Metamorphosis where he wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect, or a butterfly and still thinks like a man or a caterpillar, but it is a Metamorphosis of the mind and spirit, where Herzog must turn the world upside down, as Jove does in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, where” the Dolphins climb trees, and mermaids stare in wonder at cities now underwater.”
Indeed, Caroline Hagood’s ability to merge the real and the imagined is remarkable. This novel is so well balanced, so flawlessly navigated in what seems to be an unbalanceable, unnavigable world. It is rich in language, in metaphor, it blends, mixes, merges almost everything, the living and the dead, mythology, history, and contemporary culture. At times it can be heavy and dark, but just as often can be funny and satirical. And then there are the ghosts, wonderful, enlightened, beautiful ghosts I can listen to forever. And as for the novel ending in a bang or a whimper, there is neither, but instead there is a “sharp inhale, the heart flutter, then a shot of warmth, then some kind of quiet.”