Paris Moderne by Jessica Slote

Paris Moderne  by Jessica Slote

For a split second—a body somersaults above the bridge—then drops, vanishes below. Spectators gasp. A fall would be lethal. Others take turns traversing the steel struts. One guy does pull-ups on a crossbar over the river. This ain’t the F train, y’all.

Roll over Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. This is Paris moderne, the 13ieme arrondisement, the New Left Bank—and this is the Simone de Beauvoir Passerelle (pedestrian bridge) that soars over the Seine, arching from bank to bank without touching the water. (The 304m long and 12m wide lenticular truss bridge opened in 2006, Feichtinger Architects.)

The double-helix structure undulates to the eye, and the lower deck is the scene for extreme sports practitioners/urban daredevils who balance, walk, leap, and somersault above the river from one exposed steel span to another.

Not far off, below, along the river’s left bank, there’s the Piscine Josephine Baker (city swimming pool). Well, Ms. Baker, there may not be a God, but there is such a thing as naming public works after cultural figures (not corporate entities or czars), and you got the civic pool—how cool is that?

Just above this scene, rising directly from the bank of the Seine, a monumental pyramid of stairs takes the pedestrian up to a platform high above the city.

A vast platform (made of specially treated wood of uniform grey, a monumental boardwalk) stretches North, South, East, and West. At the center of this platform dwells a forest. Literally. A forest has been planted down below, at the level of subterranean lecture halls, and the pedestrian on the platform above observes the tops of the trees.

Each corner of this flying platform is anchored by a dual-lithic structure; highrise glass towers (four of them), each one an ‘open book’, reflecting in its right-angle the ‘opposite page’—glass reflecting glass.

Within these towers of glass, within the rectangular windows, panels of wood (like pages of a book) open and close from within.

This is the Bibliothèque Nationale de France or Francois Mitterand Library, built in 1997 by the architectural firm of Dominique Perrault. The four towers are named  Tours des Temps, Tour des Lois, Tour des Nombres, and Tour des Lettres, (Tower of Time, Tower of Laws, Tower of Numbers, and Tower of Letters) housing more than ten million volumes—presumably including all forms of knowledge….. Borges’ Library of Babel, Blanchot’s ‘last word’.

Adding to this impression of vastness are the skies of Paris extending above—North, South, East, and West, an exhilarating firmament of blue bearing monumental white clouds (architect unknown).

The impression changes at night, however, when, the gigantic platform is utterly deserted, lit by odd double-pronged prison lights. As for the towers, only the stairwells are lit, recalling the Brooklyn House of Detention (times four).

At this hour, the forest in the center appears dark and deep.



The Id of the City: De-Gentrifying New York by Tracie Morris, Sarah Schulman

The Id of the City: De-Gentrifying New York

(for Steve Cannon)



Performers: Tracie Morris, Sarah Schulman


Writer: Tracie Morris Vocalizes composed by: Tracie Morris

Preamble in two scenes:


Scene One


That is Fucked Up.                                                                 What?


That shit is really fucked up.                                                  What.

I mean look at that shit –                                                       What? What’s fucked up about it?

Well look at that shit. It don’t even go                                   Just ‘cause it ain’t been there before, don’t mean it don’t go.


It don’t fucking go. They always come around–                   You know what your problem is? –

Fucking shit up…this shit is going to fuck even

More shit up.  – No.                                                               Your problem is, you never like new shit. Your shit is the same o, same o. Your shit is fuckin’ tyid.


My shit is not tyid. I keep shit real. That’s my shit.

I don’t need no fake motherfuckers around here.                   You know, you think your shit don’t stank. Fuck you…I think it’s nice.


Why can’t we have anything nice around here?


‘Cause motherfuckers fuck shit up.


[expirates exasperatedly]                                                        [sucks teeth]


Continue reading

Assyria to Iberia at the Met by Sihame Bouhout

Assyria to Iberia at the Met

Perhaps only the Metropolitan Museum of Art has the resources to gather together the most unique works of art from all over the world and invite you to explore the art of the near east.

You enter the exhibit and are amazed by its beauty: delicately-carved ivories, sumptuous jewelry, sculptures, bronzes and far more that defy you to understand how they were made, and by whom, and why. Each is an invitation to travel through time.

In one of the main rooms of the show, in the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery you will be seated in the middle of what was the main audience hall of the ninth-century B.C. Assyrian palace of Ashurnasirpal II at Nimrud. The reliefs that line the walls come from different rooms in the palace; guarded by a colossal winged, human-headed lion and bull, wearing the horns of divinity, the reliefs evoke the king performing a ritual, surrounded by attendants and supernatural creatures. The Inscription of Ashurnasirpal, which records his achievements, runs across each relief panel. Continue reading

Among the Boat People by Nhi Chung

Nhi Chung

Among the Boat People


To sleep, to take a risk.

So I used to think in those days, in 1978.

There was only one stairway leading up from the hold of the boat where I was sleeping. The space was huge, spreading out beyond my bed as if I were a mite in a giant shoebox floating on the waves. It contained about 2,000 people, refugees. We lay on big sacks of flour, except for a few people who had cadged straw ticking.

If the boat capsized or became flooded, most everyone would drown trying to get up the stairs.

Our ship was anchored about one mile out from Manila. There had already been one typhoon as we waited in that ship. Before the storm, we were transferred from the freighter to a Philippine naval cruiser. That had kept us safe. But I wondered whether another storm might appear out of nowhere and swamp us before we could get help.

Nowadays, Cantonese friends have called me “pa say,” that is, “afraid to die.” Not complementary and not to be taken literally. It means worrying too much about little things. I confess I am guilty of that, but my worries are not that deep. Not now. Back on the ship, my fear of drowning was wrenching and arresting.

It seemed like every night I dreamed of drowning, then woke up, then drowsed off. My sleep was a chain of nightmares.

Also I worried about my persistent cough. Right now, we refugees had been applying to be accepted for admittance to any country that would have us. Some went to France, others to Canada, Denmark, Greece, Egypt or the U.S. France only wanted families, while Canada was taking single people. Once you were tentatively accepted, you were taken from the ship and placed in a camp on shore. You had to undergo a medical inspection to see if you were fit. If, for example, a person was found to have lung disease, the individual was kept in the camp till it was cured, up to two or three years, or until he or she died.

I was being processed to go to Canada, though it wasn’t my first choice. I had written to my stepbrother, the child of my father’s second wife – in Vietnam polygamy was legal – who lived in New York City. His family had moved to America before I was born. I assumed he never knew about me. Before we left Saigon, my mother made me memorize his address so I could try to contact him. I wrote,

“I’m in a boat in the Manila harbor. You may not know me because we never met. I am your stepsister and my mother told me to contact you. I heard about you living in America. I lost my mother, brother and sister on the sea so I am the only one left. If you don’t want to accept me as a sister, just ignore this letter. I will not blame you. If you want to sponsor me as a sister,please contact me.”

He never wrote back for three months so I felt he wasn’t interested.

I was approached by Denmark. I heard it was a very rich country. When Denmark accepted a you, they sent people to measure your size to give you big, thick clothes for winter over there. But then someone told me that when a man goes out in the street in Denmark, he would be approached by a woman for free sex. I was thinking that if I lived there, my husband would not be faithful because he could get free sex.

Then I heard Canada wanted 500 single young people. I was 24. I registered and was accepted right away. I was waiting patiently to be processed into the camp in Manila, hoping my cough would go away. I got my cold when I had been dumped in the water. The captain who had been contracted to secretly take refugees from Vietnam to Indonesia was too greedy for gold. To get on board you had to pay 12 pieces of gold. The boat was overloaded with 600 passengers. All the ingots were put into the bottom of the vessel. Within an hour of sneaking off the coast, we began to founder. The ship sank and we all ended up in the water. Another ship was close by and a few of us managed to get pulled onto that ship. 200 survived. Some families lost everyone. Young, old, anything.

I’m one like that. Only one left. Some people got crazy when that happened. Can’t sleep, can’t eat, become crazy.

My uncle had arranged for four families to come out on this ship. One family was just a single man. He drowned. A second was parents and two daughters, very religious people. All day as we waited to board, they chanted to Buddha, fingering their beads. They all died. Then there was Ho Jie. I knew her. She was a quiet, shy, 35 year old, who still had no boyfriend. She wasn’t athletic and couldn’t swim. But she survived. She told me she jumped into the water and when she came up, there was a life preserver right in front of her.

My family had four people. My mother and younger brother couldn’t swim so when we went down, I knew they were lost. However, my younger sister was a strong swimmer. She didn’t make it either. Months later, I heard they found her body washed ashore with a crushed skull.

Later, on the boat where we were living, I met a Vietnamese woman who was something of a celebrity. She was on a small boat, one with about 30 people. It sank and everyone but her died. One person. For ten days, she floated on a piece of wood, eating seagulls and drinking rain water. She was 16 years old. They put her on TV and we all talked to her. Everyone wanted to get her to their country.

If you think about it, things happen so fast. Only one night, everything changed. One night you don’t have any friends left. You sit with a lot of friends and relatives. In a few seconds, everybody is gone. Then all the faces you see are strangers. All soaked with water, sitting there, crying. And no belongings either. All the belongings sunk in the water. All you have left is the gold ring on your finger. Everybody was wearing some gold. That’s the only money you can bring out. Everybody was allowed three pieces of clothes, one gold ring and one gold chain.

Before we got on the boat, they checked it. Months after it happened, I kept dreaming of it. It’s really a terrible thing to be swimming in a heavy sea at night, choking on dirty water, with people screaming all around you, screaming like hungry ghosts coming out of hell, all around you and below you.

When people pulled my leg, I kicked them down. Later, I thought, maybe that was my mother. I didn’t want to think about it.

People later asked me how I dealt with the trauma. One woman cried all the time. She lost more family than I did. Her husband, son, parents and husband’s parents all drowned. But I didn’t cry that much. I had made friends on the boat, people who were a similar age, in their twenties, who slept around me. They also lost their family but nobody lost like me. Tiem, my classmate, lost her parents but still had a sister. Another man had lost his wife. Another man lost his children.

We spent all our time together. We slept next to each other, talked and would go up ondeck together where we could watch the waves and the seagulls flying.

I guess when big things happen you either get crazy and kill yourself or become strong. The Cantonese put it like this, “Jurng bey oi been sing lick lern.” (Move your sadness into strength.)

To return to my story, one morning after I opened my eyes, I found a lot of people moving around. The electric lights had been switched on, so it was already 5:30 or 6 am. At 8, we would get breakfast. Our team leaders would go up on deck to get closed pots of congee (“jook”). We each got five spoonfuls.

For the first month, that had been our only food for the day. That was our time at sea, traveling from port to port, looking for a harbor. We first got to Indonesia, but they wouldn’t let us land. In every country, we were either towed back out to sea or approached by a fire boat, which sprayed us with water until we backed away. They said they were afraid to let us disembark because we might have Communists concealed on our ship. Finally, when we were allowed to anchor off Manila and transfer to a bigger vessel, we were given a second meal: a piece of bread for lunch.

I remember the first meal we made off that bread. We were given moldy buns, three or four days old. People complained about the taste and smell, but they ate them anyway. Then we all got diarrhea.

That afternoon, it was embarrassing to see the people lined up in two aisles on the listing ship, waiting to use the toilets, which were simply a portion of the deck closed off with semi-opaque plastic, open on the outside. Once inside, you squatted, pushed your ass between the railings. Having to crouch under that clammy plastic was uncomfortable, but I stood in line with the rest. I was thinking that when I eliminated the bad food from my stomach I would also be eliminating the good jook I had eaten earlier today. And I worried about the men seeing my body profile through leaden-colored draperies. Queasily pushing greasy hair from my eyes, I watched the sea birds slung out against the deeply acquaed sky.

This morning, waking in all the hubbub, my stomach was as tightly balled as a little kitten. I wiped my face with a snot rag. Shaking my head, I began to make my way past the malnourished children and their bedeviled, emaciated mothers.

Starvation is a kind of passion. Like love, it discolors what is visible. My mouth alwayshad a leathery taste, sometimes salty; so that everything I ate was acrid, flavored more by my own stomach’s juices than by the food’s original taste. I found eating stirred entirely new feelings in me. What I ate had no taste, no savor, but it limited the pain in my belly. Eating had a different purpose for me then. Life.

I went upstairs that morning to get a place on the rail. This was a favorite hour of mine, just past dawn, with the sun right on the water’s horizon, its rays lancing out egg-yellowishly, throwing into the upper sky all kinds of purples and grays.

I also liked the rail at night. Not at sunset but later when the sky was fudge colored, not yet pitch black. Then you could see the lights of Manila. In the day, it was too far away but at night the city’s lights were as shiny as red buttons on the beach.

In the mornings, my thoughts would be empty. Guided by the rhythmical v’s breaking against the prow where I leaned, I grew forgetful. Nothing in mind, hearing only, coming distantly from the ship’s bridge, a Chinese opera song as if a theater troupe were passing beyond a hill.

As I walked to the rail that morning I was stopped by one of the Taiwanese sailors that I knew. “Manh Nhi, jaw ten twon jawn jawn lee.” (Nhi, the captain was looking for you.)

“Gee ma?” (What for?), I said.

“Nee gaw gaw gee ye fong ceen ga li.” (You have a letter from your brother.)

In the letter, he invited me to America. It turns out he had bought a new house and changed his address so it took a long time for my letter to reach him.

After I read the letter, I felt a terrible weight descend on me, a weight of possibility and future. And I knew the tremendous joy that comes only once in your life.

I knew, and it was true, when I came to New York City, I would have to fight to survive.

I had gone from one big family to nothing, from never worrying about money to always thinking about money. You cannot look back, though, I said to myself. I must enter the new world. In my heart, I said plainly, “This is your life. You can only succeed, you cannot fail.”

In the Tradition of Ai WeiWei poem by Steve Cannon

In the Tradition of Ai Weiwei by Steve Cannon 9.25.14

In the tradition of Ai Weiwei


And the tragedy that bestowed the town of Ferguson

Shall I name the names

And draw pictures of those who found themselves dead

At the hands of the authorities

Trigger-happy cops

Or better yet shall I like Ai Weiwei

Write the names of those who lost their lives

When the shabby buildings

Collapsed in china during the earthquake

Or when flight 17 exploded over Ukraine

Took the lives of 268 people who have yet to be named

Let alone those up in Canada among the aborigines,

The women who have been murdered over the last 10 years.

Lets not forget those who lost their lives

During the earthquake in Haiti

Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans

Sandy in New York

Ebola Crisis in Africa

Then what good is all this suffering

What’s the use

What does it mean to name the names

When in our hearts of hearts we all know that something should be done.

The Sleepers (Before the Deluge) by Jessica SLOTE

Jessica SLOTE

The Sleepers (Before the Deluge)

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: Warm, Humid, Stormy Conditions Continue  

(8:00 AM Tuesday EDT). As with yesterday, widespread cloud cover is expected to limit instability with CAPE of at least 1500 J/kg, although the region will be placed near the right entrance quadrant of an upper level jet streak, while an approaching 500 hPa jet streak will lead to 0-6km shear increasing to at least 40-45 knots in the western half of the area. …discrete thunderstorm cells may develop in the immediate NYC area and northern New Jersey towards 2-4pm this afternoon, some which may become strong or locally severe with strong wind gusts and downpours producing localized flash flooding.

Front Terrace of the Main Branch of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street, July 15—When you step outside the building, you have the impression of entering a murky fish tank—like a deep-sea diver wearing heavy equipment that weighs you down so you can walk along the bottom of the sea. It feels difficult to breathe. The air pressure must be low. The sky is low and grey melding with the color of the buildings, the street, and the stone portico. The scene includes individuals (not throngs) sitting at the various tables scattered on the library’s front plaza. At this moment, most are solitary figures engaged in solitary occupations: listening to music (presumably) on headphones, writing in a notebook, reading a book. There’s also a man videotaping the conversation of a couple, a stylish woman and well-dressed man, who are talking about something animatedly. In between takes, they slump. In fact, they are the most animated figures in the scene.

However, scattered among the animated or, shall we say, the conscious, are the unconscious, the sleepers. There are four of them and they anchor the scene. Slumped over, each in their own distinctive way, they have succumbed completely as it were to the appalling torpor of the day.

One is a young black man, perhaps about 20. He sits at a long table, his head in the crook of his arm— propped up on a black backpack, his face a beautiful mask: a sleeping Adonis. Big peach eyelids cover those eyes, and whatever they are seeing in his abandon. He wears a baseball cap, lid flipped up, with a C logo. He’s all in black, t-shirt, pants with cuffs rolled up, black socks with those sports slippers: Nike logo. He’s deep in slumber. Circling around him you get to the message on the back of his t-shirt: “I WAS THERE.”

A second sleeper has chosen a different pose. Flung out on his back, his face to the heavens, his head propped up on his elbow, he lies prostrate on a stone bench. He could be a model for a stone sarcophagus. One leg bent at the knee, pointing skyward, the other sprawled to the side. He sports electric blue reflector shades, which conceal the facts about his eyes sleeping and awake. Next moment, he sits up. Older guy, hard to say age, he’s white, short spiky hair of indiscriminate color like the day, he’s also dressed all in black. Now, turns out, he’s got a cup of coffee by his sarcophagus. He sips it, smokes a cigarette, returning to the world of the animate.

A third, woman, Asian, has collapsed onto a newspaper that lies on a small round café table. She’s also all in black (study for a painting, The Sleepers) (hoodie, pants, socks, and electric green sports shoes). Even though her hat covers part of her face, and there’s just one strand of black hair curving over her cheek, you can see that she is Asian. Beside her, adding a stroke of color, is the ubiquitous Victoria’s Secret pink-striped shopping bag. Face down, pressed against the newsprint, veiled to the observer’s eye by cap and hair, she’s punched out—for unknown reasons, for an unknown amount of time— on the time clock of the conscious.

There was another, a fourth, but I’ve forgotten her now. The four of them together, in their weighted sleep, tethered the scene like four buoys, floating on the surface, anchored by weights. Perhaps the entire portico would float up and drift away—in this torpid turpitude—but for the four sleepers, the unconscious ones among the barely conscious.


NYC July 2014

An Easy Guide To Being Politically Correct by Cynthia Andrews


             Sitting here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where I grew up I realize that Thomas Wolfe  had it right, you “can’t go home again.”  It pains me to say that although Greenpoint has retained its beauty and grace, it has nonetheless been maligned with a scary (full-scale) gentrification which unfortunately, has besieged even the most humble of neighborhoods in this 21st century.  That is why it is extremely important  (nay vital!) to equip one’s self with a most careful “armor” in your defense against the elites (and, for that matter, anyone with a similar mentality).  I have therefore taken the liberty of supplying the reader with a “Ten Step Program” for getting you over the rough spots (especially with anyone under fifty), and here they are:

  1. Whether you’re right or wrong, always say you’re sorry,( and for God sake do it with an appropriately humble smile).


  1. If by chance you should accidentally bump into anyone blocking a doorway while standing trance-like gazing at a cellphone, or perhaps, standing trance-like in the middle of a sidewalk while gazing at a cellphone, refer to No. 1 of this list.  (In the end, you’ll have to apologize anyway).


  1. Agree with anyone and everyone on everything, especially politics. Without malice, have some hope and remember – California went bankrupt!


  1. Stay away from expensive cafes.


  1. I would again refer you to No. 1 of this list if you are first on line, but the cashier says you’re third.


  1. When asked if you need anything else in the way of additional work (for them), at all times and without hesitation -  JUST SAY NO!


  1. When dealing with people who do not really have to work unless they want to, always have enough money when you’re buying a bagel.  That last two cents you left in your other wallet might prove a disasterous “domino effect” to the long line behind you. (They’ll be checking their pockets for hours!)


  1. Never ever have a glass of wine in any social gathering whatsoever, lest you be assaulted by that guy who’s had ten and shouts in your face, “Alcoholic!”  just for the hell of it!


  1. Always give them their own way and never let them see you sweat. In the end, they might even think you’re one of them!!


  1. NEVER LET THEM SEE YOU SWEAT. (Worth repeating).

It has been suggested that the Baby Boomers have contributed greatly to this desecration of American ideals and the decay of our culture. While their motto of “Dress for Success” gave them millions in the end and proved to be the key to the “American Dream,” it had also proven to keep their kids in Michael Kors and Ivy League schools.  While it is true there is great power in money, I now look around my hometown with a church on every corner and realize with a great sense of relief, that at least once a week I can have a good 30 to 40 minutes of complete and indefensible and unadulterated peace while everybody (who’s Anybody!)  is nursing a hangover.




Article on Ferguson via the New Republic

You can’t really understand Ferguson—the now-famous St. Louis suburb with a long history of white people sometimes maliciously, sometimes not, imposing their will on black people’s lives—unless you understand Kinloch.

Kinloch, the oldest black town in Missouri, is now essentially a ghost town, but it wasn’t always that way. In fact, it thrived for nearly a century after its founding in the 1890s. Back then, restrictive housing covenants prohibited the direct sale of property to blacks, so a white real estate firm purchased parcels of land, marked them up over 100 percent, and resold them to blacks.” One advertisement noted, “The good colored people of South Kinloch Park have built themselves a little city of which they have a right to be proud. More than a hundred homes, three churches and a splendid public school have been built in a few years.”

The turn of the century was a heady time for the bustling little town. The Wright Brothers visited Kinloch Airfield in one of their earliest tours, and the airfield hosted an event at which Theodore Roosevelt took the maiden presidential airplane flight, which lasted approximately three minutes. Kinloch Airfield was home to the first control tower, the first aerial photo, and the first airmail shipped by a young pilot named Charles Lindbergh. A streetcar line ran through Ferguson, helping Kinloch residents travel to jobs throughout the region, and perhaps more importantly, exposing many whites to Kinloch as they passed through. Despite the region’s decidedly Southern folkways and segregated housing arrangements, blacks and whites rode the streetcars as equals. Kinloch itself was also notable for its relative enlightenment; despite school segregation, it became the first Missouri community to elect a black man to its school board.

All that began to change in 1938. A second black man sought election to the school board in the district which had a narrow black majority—whites inhabited the north and blacks the south—and whites responded by attempting to split the school district. It failed: 415 blacks in the south voted unanimously against the effort, while 215 whites in the north all supported it. So to get around the small problem of losing democratically, whites in the northern half of Kinloch immediately formed a new municipality called Berkeley, and a rare Missouri effort at integrated governance ended. Kinloch continued to thrive for the next several decades as a small nearly all-black town of churches, shops, community centers, and tidy homes.

In the 1980s, the airport—long since been renamed Lambert International Airport—began snatching up property to build an additional runway. From 1990 to 2000, Kinloch shed over 80 percent of its population, and as the community fabric frayed, it was increasingly plagued by crime and disorder.

Construction on airport expansion, which cost well over a billion dollars and involved 550 companies, began in 2001. Unfortunately, two other things happened that year: American Airlines bought TWA, and 9/11. Which means that the airport is dramatically underutilized now; a senior airport official told me Lambert could easily handle twice the traffic it currently gets.

Meanwhile, many of the residents displaced by this wasteful construction project have ended up in Ferguson—specifically, in Canfield Green, the apartment complex on whose grounds Michael Brown tragically die

You can’t really understand Ferguson unless you understand J.D. Shelley. He was a middle-class black man from north St. Louis who in 1945 bought a home in a neighborhood just a few minutes east of Ferguson, unaware of the restrictive covenant that barred its sale to “people of the Negro or Asian Race.” Alas, this move inflamed Louis Kraemer, who lived ten blocks away and was well aware of the covenant. Kraemer was temporarily vindicated when the Missouri Supreme court backed his lawsuit to enforce the covenant, but the United States Supreme Court overturned the Missouri ruling and forbade the state from enforcing such private agreements. In the wake of the Shelley v. Kraemer decision, blacks began to move out of crowded north St. Louis City, where many had been packed into high-rise projects such as the infamous Pruitt-Igoe, to north St. Louis County.

This exodus created massive tension between increasingly black suburban electorates and white leaders whose stranglehold on municipal political power was total. The North County white power structure’s supplying of jobs in public safety departments, and of lucrative construction and service contracts, to white allies cemented their status as political and economic elites—and the status of blacks as disempowered outsiders.


And you can’t really understand Ferguson unless you understand Bellerive, a small community of a few hundred people separated from Ferguson by Highway 170. It was once the site of Bellerive Country Club, the region’s most affluent club, home to the 1992 PGA Championship and future host of the hundreth PGA Championship in 2018. In 1957—as black migration to St. Louis began in earnest—Bellerive Country Club decided to move to the posh West St. Louis County suburb of Town and Country, home to multi-million dollar homes and gleaming corporate office parks. But the subdivision that originally surrounded the club remains a leafy enclave of affluence with a median family income around 100 thousand. Its residents today pride themselves on their enlightened progressivism; after all, they stayed and suffered as property values eroded while others moved west and accumulated great wealth in the land underneath them. Regardless, their presence is a daily reminder to their poorer neighbors of the stark divides that so many politicians promised to close, and so many invisible forces seem to buttress. It is a reminder of the privilege that so many whites enjoy while they are pulled over by cops, fined, arrested, and imprisoned at astronomical rates, crippling their ability to enter the region’s economic mainstream.


My own understanding of what’s happening in Ferguson, though, comes not so much through history as through experience accumulated during my childhood and my years campaigning in north St. Louis City. My understanding, if it may generously be called that, was hard-earned—mostly from my many unintentional mistakes.

North St. Louis is struggling. It’s about 95 percent black, and unemployment among men in their twenties approaches 50 percent in many neighborhoods. It’s a community fighting to regain its lost glory, the days when black doctors, lawyers, teachers, principals, and morticians lived among the laborers and housekeepers, in larger homes but in close proximity. This area was approximately 60 percent of the state senate district I represented from 2006-2009.

The Annie Malone Parade was Missouri’s largest, attended by approximately a quarter million African-Americans from throughout the region. During my first campaign, in 2004, I arrived to find myself badly unprepared. Candidates for alderman, seeking to serve 12,000 people instead of the 750,000 I aspired to represent, had far more impressive operations than I did. They had fleets of SUVs or pickup trucks with pulsing sound systems and oversized banners, their flat beds overflowing with supporters. My entourage consisted of two sixty-year-old volunteers. We raised a small, tattered campaign banner, but we had no stickers, no car, no megaphone. Also, I was in the only white person in sight, and my paltry cheering section didn’t exactly suggest a groundswell of grassroots support. It was an advance man’s nightmare.

Desperately seeking a way to avoid embarrassment, I approached a group of kids tossing a basketball around. “Yo, lemme borrow that ball for an hour,” I said. “I’ll give you five bucks.”


“Ten bucks,” I said.

“Bet,” said one of the kids. He tossed me the ball in exchange for a $10 bill. Dressed in a blue shirt and tie, I started dribbling the ball as the parade began.

Some context: My dad dreamed that I’d play in the NBA. That he was 5’6” and my mom 5’2” did not deter him. Starting when I was about nine, he would take me to gyms or playgrounds in dilapidated parts of the city where dusk heralded the sounds of gunfire, and tell my mom that he took me to play golf. By my senior year of high school, I became a pretty good point guard and, at 5’3”, was the only white starter on a team of mostly inner-city kids bused out via a special inter-district program. My senior year, we were ranked number one in the region, and my teammates became my closest friends. Basketball was my lingua franca, my bridge to their world, and I decided to major in Black Studies in college.

About a mile into the parade, a teenager hollered at me, ribbing me about my ball handling skills. “Yo white-bread, you ain’t got no handles. You ain’t shit.”

“Wanna come out here and see?” I asked.

He jogged out of the crowd and crouched in a defensive position. I quickly dribbled the ball through my legs, behind my back in the opposite direction, feigned a forward movement, rocked back on my heels and performed a crossover dribble that left him lunging in the wrong direction. The crowd howled. Kids of all ages started streaming out from the crowd to play “one-on-one” with me. By the end of the parade, there were dozens of kids jogging along with me, dribbling balls. My dress shirt was soaked through with sweat, but it was worth it.

Weeks later, I was out shaking hands in a busy shopping district, when a young black woman approached me. “You’re Jeff Smith, right?”

“I am. Great to meet you. What’s your name? Appreciate your support!”

“Oh, I’m not supporting you,” she said tartly. “In fact, I plan to spend every day between now and Election Day telling everyone I know not to vote for you.”

“Can I ask why?”

“Because you think I’m a monkey.”

I was perplexed. “What are you talking about?”

“Yeah, you think we’re just a bunch of stupid monkeys who will vote for you because you dribble a basketball fancy in our parades. Yeah, I saw you. It was the most insulting, offensive thing I’ve ever seen a politician do.”

I flashed back to that day. I’d been so caught up in the cheering I never even considered how others might have perceived me.

“But—it was a parade!” I told the woman. “I couldn’t give a speech! I was just trying to communicate in the only way I knew how, in the moment…”

“Well, I got the message. And you need to hear my message: I couldn’t care less who wins, as long as you lose.”

This week, that sentiment seems to describe the feelings of many of those massed in Ferguson. They want white St. Louis to quit it with the knee-jerk paternalism and actually hear their message. They want white St. Louis to finally make an effort to grapple with its shameful racial history, a history in which a complex alchemy of private decisions and public policies conspired to leave north St. Louis County divided by race and class. They want to win some agency of their own lives instead of being at the mercy of forces that have so often let them down—or actively impeded them.

But will white St. Louis listen?

“Here and Elsewhere” by Molly Oringer

Molly Oringer

Review, “Here and Elsewhere”

The New Museum 7/16/14-9/28/14

Given a tendency to categorize the contemporary Arab world as monolith, thoughtfully curating an immense exhibition of over forty-five artists without inserting a determinist perspective is a formidable challenge. The region’s recent events—not to be recounted here yet the subject of widespread speculation and curiosity—are ever-present in the multitude of frameworks employed to portray, explore, and understand the Middle East. Often reflections of past events, an image’s location in a museum conjures a sense of mortality: the viewer sees the piece of art as a relic rather than continually resonant. Rather than succumbing to a precious retrospection of the Arab world’s recent uprisings as valiant shortcomings, “Here and Elsewhere,” organized by curator Massimiliano Gioni and encompassing the entire five floors the New Museum, ambles in terms of subject matter and medium, unhindered by subject-specific curation.Taking its name from a 1976 film by Jean-Luc Goddard and Anne-Marie Miéville, whose intentions to serve as a pro-Palestinian essay but expands to explore the consciousness and conducts of political representation, “Here and Elsewhere” consists of a myriad of artists differing widely in mediums but united loosely through their connection to the Arab world and, in some cases, its diaspora, and their varied and intersecting portrayals of Arab identities, places, and representations.

In its subtle disavowal of the totalities plaguing analyses of the Arab world—geographic generalizations and heavy exotification, to name a few—Here and Elsewhere does not insist on either overt political provocations or personal narratives. Instead, each artist’s work speaks in its own tenor, allowing for exploration from the mundane to the elaborate. Resulting is an expansion of the Arab world to encompass its porous diaspora, malleable borders, and numerous interactions with permeable identities. Musings on the fate of the Arab world—and, too, how to best cope with its past and present—are left to the devise of each artist, and remain unanswered on the scale of the exhibition as a whole.

The visitor becomes present in the exhibition immediately upon entering the lobby of the museum; it is not simply a viewing but an act of participation. Designed by the GCC “delegation” composed of nine artists, including some residing in London and New York, have transformed the space into a simulacrum of what one might imagine to be an Abu Dhabi hotel, complete with portraits of the delegation members in the style of Gulf royalty hanging above the main desk. The installation asks the visitor, encompassed in a physical representation, to consider connections between grandiose architectural and artistic state projects—in this case, Gulf political power and the construction of capitalist-nationalist symbols and their role as internationally broadcasted representations of the region. As in the posh hotels of Dubai, those responsible for, rather than an image of, the life of these symbolic spaces are absent: foreign laborers, domestic workers, and non-national residents remain deliberately invisible. By contrast, South Asian workers capture their own images by cell phone in artist Ahmed Mater’s videos, which turn to the stark juxtaposition of such symbols of Gulf nations and their often ignored underbellies: a portion of his film “Leaves Fall in All Seasons” shows a worker clinging to an enormous, gold-encrusted crescent as it is hoisted by cranes to the top of a minaret.  The Arab world is thus rendered, whether explicitly or not, as inclusive of those who make its representations possible, as anonymous as they often are.

The concept of an expandable Arab world is furthered in Bouchra Khalili’s video installation, in which each screen maps a journey taken by migrants, many whose sojourns originate in South Asia and Africa, as they traverse clandestinely to Europe. The viewer is shown only the narrator’s hand as they outline their travels on a map, including harsh layovers and mistreatment in parts of the Middle East ranging from the UAE to Morocco. The subjects of Khalili’s videos narrate the ways in which the geography of the Arab world seeps into the lived realities of those seeking refuge and work in other parts of the world, placing it in the scope of greater transnationalism and migration.

The theme of polished nationalism is revisited in Wafa Hourani’s sculptural interpretation of a futuristic refugee camp entitled Qalandia 2087 Sprawling at eye-level, the viewer is invited to walk amongst labyrinthine, dollhouse-like models. Situated adjacent to the largest Israeli checkpoint dividing Jerusalem from Ramallah, the current refugee camp sits near the site of the former Qalandia airport—closed by Israeli forces—and is surrounded by the Israeli separation wall. Hourani’s sculpture does not seem to assume any de-occupation of Palestine: the wall, rather than absent, is replaced by a mirrored, disco-ball façade. Though spaces for socializing and commerce abound in the model, it is unclear if the futuristic take on the landscape is a whimsical dream for a Palestinian future or a critique of the polished, glitzy attempts by the heavy presence of international NGOs and a defunct Palestinian government to normalize the occupation. Rather than abandoning the camp for a return to their villages and cities, the residents of Qalandia 2087 are left with cars lining spiffed-up streets and neon satellites stemming from concrete rooftops. Hourani leaves undecided whether the museumification of a distant Palestine is rendered alive through its futuristic additions or deemed dead through its permanence and glitter.

“Here and Elsewhere” stretches the viewer’s concept of the confines of the Arab world both geographically and temporally, reaching into both the archives and the future in its inquiries. Running until September 28th, it provides visitors with ample opportunity to consider the region as composed of active, layered social and political multitudes.

Colaterales=Collateral by Dinapiera Di Donata reviewed by Lourdes Vazquez

Colaterales=Collateral by Dinapiera Di Donato. NY: Akashic, 2013.

IBSN: 9781617751912. Winner of the Paz Prize for Poetry.

Translation by Ricardo Alberto Maldonado.


Reviewed by Lourdes Vázquez

The residue. What was left after the battle with the body, with the soul. All seasoned with an intimate knowledge of the distant. With good reason these poems are surrounded with medieval walls and dunes, where we are hanging “on the greenest branches” while listening to the diverse voices of old Spain, the Mediterranean and the Middle East. All embedded in our great poetic tradition. The narrator is a light sleep erudite, with so much knowledge that she is willing to share with us the secrets of Medieval Castillian voices as well as Jewish and Moorish Spain. This philosopher breathes history and transforms it into poetry without mirrors or tricks, with the tranquility of the water that floats “back and recedes in time”. We are just sitting on a flying carpet seduced by the charm of the stories and fairy tales, while Scheherazade is enlisting our curls to your hair “oh black girl”, “Desiccated wound”; without noticing that Angelico, the blessed, is waiting in the shadows to scalp the threadlike strands. For a second it came to my mind William Carlos Williams when it binds a thread among the pregnant women of his practice in the poem “Woman”, “Oh Black Persian Cat…” We are also skillfully inserted as speakers in paintings, scrolls, and pictures as “a glorious lion” dancing the dance of don’t ever forget me, without sentimentalism or offenses. Close by are those less fortunate locked up in tidy monasteries describing pieces of the sick body “I would give you my third eye / my kidneys ill filter you out” or writing about ill spirits, seduced soldiers, letters of love in ruins, which is what causes you to feel when you are facing this deep beautiful poetry.

Fall 2014 Workshops at the Poetry Project



Tuesday, 7-9 pm: 10 sessions begin September 30, Abrons Art Center

Every poet has a body which they write through and with. In this workshop we will focus on how individual impairment and the somatic experience affect poetics. We will read, discuss, and write poems based on the work of Robert Duncan, Larry Eigner, Robert Grenier, Norma Cole, CA Conrad, Bernadette Mayer, and Ellen McGrath Smith. Everyone will get a free copy of Beauty is a Verb; The New Poetry of Disability.

Jennifer Bartlett is author of Derivative of the Moving Image and (a) lullaby without any music. She is co-editor of Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability. Individual poems are forthcoming in Aufgabe and Poetry. She is the biographer of Larry Eigner.

BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! : experiments with time, or, how to have more fun being a living poet in the
digital age – DIA FELIX
Thursday, 7-9 pm: 10 sessions begin October 9, Abrons Art Center

Dia Felix is a writer and filmmaker who’s screened films at independent festivals (Frameline, Outfest, San Francisco Film Festival), and performed literary work a lot too (Segue Series, Radar, Dixon Place). She is the author of the novel Nochita

Saturday, 2-4 pm: 10 sessions begin October 4, Dixon Place

Learn to trust & stretch your performance skills. Bring out your poetry with more confidence & ease. Prepare & enhance your readings. Never fear the podium again. Explore, experiment, practice & take your performative skills to new heights. Connect with your voice as the instrument it is. Through breathing techniques, voice warm-up, light stretches learn to develop & expand your creative & delivery powers.

Bring your own writing &/or poetry you like to read /perform.

Nicole Peyrafitte is a pluridisciplinary artist. Her latest project, “Bi- Valve: Vulvic Space / Vulvic Knowledge,” was published by StockportFlats. more info: