Thursday, December 7, 2017

Death in Portland


When I die
I want you 
To put me out
On the curb

Put a sign 
On me
Free, and maybe 
Some hipster

Will take me home
Prop me 
In the corner 
And hang their coats 

From my rigor stricken
Hands and place 
Their hats
On my head.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Apple Pie
---Jason Murray


Mother’s kitchen is lit
Only by the glow of
The oven’s feeble light.
Sitting framed by the glass
In the oven door
A pretty little pie
Alone, but not lonely.
Basking in the heat of the oven
Turning form
Pastry pale to a flaky,
Golden brown.


Mother walks in
Changing the light
With a wave of her hand
Across the switch plate.
Glancing at the pie
Through the glass
And at the timer’s
Slow turn of the time
She pulls out a bowl
And starts on the process
Of cooking dinner.


Aunt Daphne walks in
Eager to talk about her day
Potatoes are peeled and eggs boiled for potato salad.
A piece of carrot
Disappears among the little details of Daphne’s day,
People and things
That have little to do with the


Details of dinner.

Apa
Olive Murray
---Jason Murray


Loss weighed heavily
on his mind
the sense that they
all were leaving
first his son
then his mother
now, his wife.

30 years
together
less than a life
but more than
most are together
he left then

left his home
left his work
left his country
and went walking
about the world

across marble plazas
polished by years of
quiet feet
these plazas now ruined
by bombs and civil war
a plaza where terrified
civilians hid from
a snipers rifle

He went to the
home of his people
the quiet pubs
full of men drinking
and talking of the same things
they've talked about
a hundred pints before
He walked quiet
through the graveyards
and thought of the love
he had buried back home.
11/12/2017
Fishing,
By Jason Murray

I’m bored
I said, staring
At nothing in particular
Let’s go fishing
She said
A gleam in her eye
I said
How can we go fishing
We don’t have a boat
Yes we do
She replied
Its behind the garage
In the large lake
Out back
I thought
There was only the
Horse pasture
With an old boat
Tipped upside down
Sitting against the garage
Where the MG sat
Currently
We don’t have any fishing poles
I said
Yes we do and she
Picked up two good sized sticks
From the ground
And so we went fishing
In the lake
Behind the garage
In an old boat that just minutes
Before
Had sat abandoned behind
The garage where the MG
Sat waiting for the day
That it could be an
Airplane.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Jason Murray
May, 2012

At the End, A Single Tear 

On August 18, 1984 a few months after I graduated from high school William Stafford wrote:
“Twenty years ago or so it began to dawn on me how weak and fallible people are, how habits and limited environments had fostered institutionalized smugness and vainglory:  when saber toothed tigers died out bravery began to be possible;  lack of association with superior sensibilities allows the assumption that we apprehend all that is around us;  success at customary activities enables us to assume that we are in control of anything we put our minds to.  This mirror that we admire will shatter if touched by any real rocks around us.” 
Twenty years before Stafford wrote about saber toothed tigers and superior sensibilities my father in law, a marine, left for Vietnam for the first time.  He had already stood on the beach at Guantanamo bay, Cuba and attended a state dinner with Marcos and his famous wife.  Three days after marrying my mother in law Christine in a Quonset hut at Camp Pendleton he shipped out.  Hit in the face with shrapnel he was shipped home and awarded his first Purple Heart.  But Stevenmichael, or Steve as he asked me to call him, was a Marine and he went back to Vietnam.  This time a land mine got him but the field hospital was able to not only save his life but save his leg, putting him back together unlike the egg that fell off the wall.  Again the Marines awarded him a purple heart. 
Steve knew how to be a Marine and went back to work, walking with a limp now.  His duty took him and his family to Philadelphia, where my wife was born, and when he was shipped to Okinawa his wife and two children ended up back in Christine’s home town of Portland.  My wife Lisa was about 5 at the time and she remembers seeing her dad rarely.  Duty in Okinawa drew to a close and Steve came home to a new home to be with his family and was assigned to the Portland, downtown branch of the Marines.  
Little did Steve, or pretty much anyone else for that matter, know but his time in Vietnam had not only cost him his knee, and left him with a limp but during his deployment  to Cambodia on missions kept secret from the American public at the time his exposure to Agent Orange was going to change his life.  
        By the time I met my wife, Steve was already walking on a cane, taking twice daily insulin shots due to his diabetes, and had survived a small battle with a benign form of colon cancer.  As I got to know him I began to see the pain he lived with every day.  His knee caused him great pain, his back bothered him and he was beginning to get neuropathy in his feet.  While the source of some of his pain, the damaged leg, was obvious what he didn’t know at the time was that the diabetes, the neuropathy, the struggle with his blood pressure, and even the benign form of cancer they removed from his colon were all the responsibility of the defoliant, Agent Orange.  
    Vietnam was damned from the very start.  A people’s struggle against an indifferent government dictated by colonial sensibilities and a Catholic agenda supporting a very few wealthy people over the larger masses of undereducated agrarian society across the country.  Elections didn’t go well for the ruling party and civil war broke out with the Northern more agrarian part of the country fighting for a communist, populist solution and the South more urbanized part of the country trying to keep the status quo.
The United States had come out triumphant in World War two and most of its citizens didn’t feel the effects of the conflict in Korea.  Our prosperity led us to believe that the safety and security we had garnered in the middle of the twentieth century was permanent and lasting.  We had firmly defeated the Nazis and now had to turn our attention elsewhere to fill our need for an outward foe.  Communism, a growing spectre since shortly after the end of World War One, had expanded from Russia to China, North Korea, Eastern Europe, and finally to Cuba.  The Cuban Missile Crisis just seemed to confirm the threat and with Vietnam we saw a problem that our “superior sensibilities” convinced us we could deal with.  
Into this picture came people like Steve.  Primarily our poorest citizens, mostly minorities, who joined up and were sent overseas.  Steve had no other future.  When he was only five his mother died of heart failure.  Joe Gastelum, Steve’s father, took him down into Mexico and left him with distant relatives.  While the rest of America was moving to suburban communities with cul de sacs and two car garages, eating wonder bread and American Cheese, Steve was working his way back into the United States, and back to the few members of his family who cared what happened to him.  As a child Steve went to school, worked on a farm, and lived in a dirt floor shed burying his peanut butter so that the other kids wouldn’t steal it.  
    The fifties and the early sixties saw a migration of middle class whites to the suburbs.  Modern communities were born centered around the ranch home.  The modern home came with automatic dishwashers and attached garages.  Fences surrounded perfect yards.  A television went into every living room and the world was brought into our homes.  The sabre toothed tiger was gone and we had the freedom to be brave. As Vietnam grew into a larger and larger war the images began to filter back to us in the United States.  The wall was broken down and many Americans saw, for the first time, the gruesome reality of war.  
    For Steve the fifties wasn’t filled with suburban communities and automatic dishwashers.  There was no television set in Steve’s living room.  Steve spent his youth not watching Howdie Doodie but riding freight trains to rodeos and fighting and getting into trouble. While the rest of America began to see everything as easy and our success as guaranteed, Steve and others like him found in the military an escape from a road with no turns and no choices other than back breaking work or crime.  While most of America watched the first images of Vietnam come through on their televisions Steve saw the war first hand.  As men and women in the suburbs used a finger to turn on the TV and change the channel, Steve used a finger to kill the “enemy.”  An unseen people in “black pajamas” who were shooting at him.  
    The sixties and early seventies were a time of awakening for America.  The rocks around had broken the mirror with which we admired ourselves.  We saw a President shot in the middle of the day sitting next to his wife and waving to the crowd, and thanks to television the terrible moment was seen in every living room. Vietnam was next, appearing on our television sets in all its terrible imagery.  The world had changed for America.  The horrors that oceans had separated us from came home.  We learned that our government lied.  We learned that our President committed crimes.  And Steve came home. Steve came home to a world that didn’t want him.  To the two children born in his absence. To a family he wasn’t taught how to love.  We taught Steve how to march, then we taught him how to fire a gun, then we taught him how to kill.  But no-one ever taught him how to love.  
America had changed during his absence.  Steve had been changed during his absence.  He left for Vietnam young and whole.  He came back with pain and a limp, much older than the thirty years that he had so recently turned.  He eventually retired from the Marines having attained all but one rank that an enlisted man can attain.  His medals were impressive but they went into his foot locker.  His uniforms were immaculate but they were hung in his closet and stored away only to be worn again after he died.  He never found that civilian job he always thought he’d get.  He never finished the schooling he started after he retired.  He worked on his yard, and tried to be a dad and a husband.  
Steve grew sicker throughout his life struggling with his diabetes and never quite managing to stick to his diet.  His heart grew weaker, his knee troubled him more and more, the inch or so in length that leg had lost to the mine made his back hurt and made him walk with a cane.  In 2005, just a few days after his grandson Jack turned two, Steve went to the emergency room at the VA hospital way up on the hill over Portland.  While alone in the room with his daughter Steve had the first of several strokes and suffered two heart attacks.  The doctors again saved him as they had so heroically in Vietnam after he stepped on that land mine but while he remained alive and breathing he wouldn’t regain consciousness for over a week.  He eventually came back but had lost most of the use of his legs and had trouble talking.  The next several months were spent in two nursing homes eventually coming home confined to a wheelchair.  He lived a progressively more disabled life as his sight slipped away and his hands and legs became more and more useless.  He tried to stay in the middle of things but the failure of his kidneys had him at the hospital for exhausting dialysis three days a week eliminating the possibility for travel and for living even a reasonably normal life.  Two years ago we were all informed that he had contracted a form of lung cancer that had already moved to his liver.  His health was already too far gone for any concerted effort to rid him of his cancer and his death sentence was pronounced.
On a rainy spring morning, April seventeenth, 2012, with a single tear running down his face Steve finally passed from this life in another emergency room, surrounded by doctors, his loved ones either in another room or hurrying down to the hospital.   A few days later I visited Steve for the last time.  He was dressed again in his Marine Dress Blues, lying in a fancy box that was draped with the American flag.  As I sat alone with Steve in that tastefully furnished room, just me and the fancy box Steve lay in, I thought; what was he crying about at the end.  



Stafford, William.  Every War Has Two Losers.  Edited by Kim Stafford.  Milkweed Editions.  Minneapolis, Minnesota.  2003. Print.
   

Jason Murray
Musicals assignment

“Oklahoma” the musical, manifest destiny and optimism during World War II.


We are introduced to the character Curly in Oklahoma right at the beginning of the movie in a scene of grand corn fields, wide open vistas and Curly belting out “it’s a beautiful morning.”  With this we get an optimistic greeting to the day and really to the life he is living.  This was an important sentiment at the time this movie was made as we were embroiled in a war larger than any that had occurred up to this time.  America needed to be reminded continually of our national identity; one of manifest destiny, optimism, and good versus evil.  Oklahoma in its song and setting embody that American Spirit.  
Stephen Whitfield points out the “disjunction” of the musical Oklahoma in his book In Search of American Jewish Culture in his chapter simply titled Musical Theater.  Whitfield points out that during the time this musical first appeared on Broadway the Stalingrad battles had ended only shortly before, the Warsaw ghetto uprising was only a month away and the Germans were already exterminating thousands of Jews every day.  “Only in America could Curly’s optimism have seemed remotely credible.” (Whitfield, 66)
“Flowers on the prairie where the Junebugs zoom.  Plenty of air and plenty of room.” (Oklahoma)  Sings Laurey’s aunt after Curly and Laurey are married.  As they exalt that they are beginning at just the right time, and that soon it will be a new state as Manifest destiny takes hold of the country and a wandering cowboy sets roots down to become a farmer.  Again there is great optimism for the future of these two young people as they start out in life, as well as room for them to set down roots and to start a great farm.
America entered World War II grudgingly and only after the Japanese had brought it home to us.  By 1943 we were bogged down in Italy, people started to understand what was happening in Germany, and Britain was under continuous bombing campaigns.  Americans were anxious that the war might come to our shores.  Through this all the spirit of Manifest Destiny and Optimism continued to burn bright.  Rodgers and Hammerstein captured the spirit of this in their portrayal of good versus evil, the optimism of a young man starting a new life in a permanent home, and the bright future of living in a new state.  
Like many in America they looked at their country and saw a country of hope and possible prosperity and wrote it down in song. The good man triumphing over the bad man, with the fight between Jud and Curly as well as their competition for the same girl.  The forgiveness implicit in the song “Poor Jud is Daid.”  The message about sticking together in the song “The Cowman and the Farmer Should be Friends.”  And of course the grandness of the country and the territory in the song “Oklahoma.” Like America they preferred a happy ending.
Finally In Curly we see the American identity, not too young, not too old.  Lived a life free of commitments that was missing a home.  Stepping into the role of a husband Curly is old enough and secure enough to put down roots and become a farmer.  America was stepping up to its responsibility as a world leader.  That Rodgers and Hammerstein were able to put this all in a musical was a statement of their genius and understanding of the American Character; optimism and Manifest destiny, happy endings and good triumphing over evil.  These were the facets of the American Character that these two men found important enough to write songs about.  


Oklahoma.  Dir. Fred Zimmerman. Per. Gordan McRae, Gloria Graham.  20th Century Fox. 1955. Film.

Whitfield, Stephen.  In Search of American Jewish Culture.”   Brandeis University Press. Hanover, MA. 1999. Print.

Jason Murray
February 1,2013


The Rise of Abraham Cahan


        When one looks at pictures of Abraham Cahan in his role as editor of the Forverts you see not a pious son of a Russian Rabbi but an American businessman.  His orthodoxy he was raised with gone Cahan stood between the worlds of the Eastern European orthodox Jewry of his youth, the socialism he always believed in, and the world of the American businessman. In the opening and closing passages of The Rise of David Lavinsky his main character, Lavinsky bemoans the emptiness that his success brought him.
        The novel begins with his statement of his success in a rise from
penniless immigrant to a businessman and leader in his industry and ends with a
statement of loneliness and loss and a desire to trade with someone of
education and learning.  Was Abraham Cahan bemoaning his own feelings of
emptiness that his success brought him to the deprivation of his youth?
Cahan was not writing an autobiography but rather a portrait of his
contemporaries, many of which, like himself, adapted to life in America but
felt a longing and loneliness at the loss of their Jewish identity.
        Abraham Cahan came to this country suddenly, much like his young protagonist, the difference between them being education and politics.  Levinsky doesn’t care for politics much except when they get in the way of making a profit, where Cahan supported the Unions and fought for them Levinsky in his rise to power fought against them.  Cahan fought for his beliefs while the evolved from supporting communism to his realization that communism wasn’t working in his former country and his coming out against it.  Levinsky forgoes his precious education that he dreamed of as a child to go into business for himself, Cahan had received his education in Russia and continued a mostly intellectual pursuit in his early years here on the staff of the Arbeiter Zeitung making a name for himself as a jounalist and reformer “One wrote to change the world, and changed the world by writing.” (MyJewishLearning.com)
        In David Lavinsky, Cahan wrought a character who much like himself was raised in an orthodox world and taught not a trade but to be a scholar, to study the Talmud, to be an intellectual leader.  Lavinsky begins to dream of a world away from the Talmudic world of his daily life.  He begins to dream of love, of women, of replacements for his mother, taken from him at too young an age.  He transfers his loss of motherly affection to dreams of more carnal affection.  This in turn drives his ambition towards America where he can pursue his dreams of an education and still support a wife and the family that comes with such an attachment.  Matilda becomes the focus of his desires, as do older women in America as his loneliness for his mother is confused with his loneliness for female companionship.  
        Lavinsky’s rise to power leads to his sacrifice of his education and the values of his youth.  This is something he has in common with many of his contemporaries in 20th century Jewish American fiction such as the character of the father of “the Swede” in American Pastoral whose success, and the
later success of “the Swede” leave the characters empty of their character.
(Roth)  Lavinsky, like Roth’s Swede can talk about their success but
the bragging is hollow and the reader comes away with the feeling that these
characters don’t feel much beyond their outward success, that this success does
nothing for them inwardly.
        Cahan on the other hand while successful as an American was also true to his feelings and his racial identity.  The Forverts allowed him to stay
connected to his people through articles, the Yiddish language and through his
Bindel brief letters, many of which had to do with orthodoxy, family matters
and relationships.  His character Lavinsky never had any such outlet or
connection to his youth and Cahan shows it through Lavinsky’s use of
prostitutes and his determination to be a successful businessman to the loss of
everything else.  Cahan obviously worried about this loss of identity in
his compatriots of the time, more the loss of identity than the loss of
religion.  With his stories Yekl: A Story of the Jewish Gheto, The Rise of David Levinsky, and some of the other short stories that he wrote during the time Cahan identifies a loss of identity, whether it’s the character that becomes Jake in the movie Hester Street, the movie version of Yekl, or of David Lavinsky the loss of the ability to pray, to connect with your language and your roots, the Americanization of formerly pious Jews, is a theme that Cahan fought against, all while becoming a successful American businessman taking the Forverts to the height of its economic and political power in the early forties.  
        Cahan kept at it until he was 91, neither apparently lonely nor dissatisfied in his position or accomplishments, unlike his characters he seemed at peace with his transformation to an American.  The continued use of Yiddish, and the help he gave other immigrants in finding their way through the morass of America and the seeming obstacles to remaining Jewish, and orthodox while becoming American seems to have kept him occupied and at peace with his world.
        So why did he write so much about Jews who found it difficult to stay true to their heritage?  The aforementioned daily contact he kept with the mass of recent emigrants and their families, not to mention the contacts he made through his support of unions and workers’ rights kept him informed of the daily problems the modern American Jew faced everyday.  To Cahan this was the Jewish American identity.  A group of people who shared religious, cultural, and genetic heritage that were finding it hard to fit in without divesting themselves of their shared identity.  
        For this reason Cahan found it important to continue to write about this in the paper he edited off and on for almost 50 years.  He read and answered letters to these people who were struggling to find a way to remain Jewish yet become American.  The more successful many of these jewish emigrants and second generation American Jews became the harder it was for them to hold onto their roots, the Yiddish of their parents and still fit into a country becoming increasingly suspicious of foreigners and non-Protestant Christians and adjusting its immigration policies to match.  
        Finally, Cahan shows in Lavinsky a summation of his beliefs in the political system of Capitalism and the American dream of financial gain to the detriment of your inner beliefs.  Cahan structured the Forverts as a successful business in a socialistic model.  He believed strongly in appealing to the masses of everyday emigrants in his case primarily Jews.  As such he saw people like his character Lavinsky as missing something in their success.  He saw a basic hunger, as Rosenfeld mentions in his piece “America the land of the sad Millionaire”, (Rosenfeld)  that the Lavinskys of the world could not satisfy.  Cahan wrote about a hunger that no amount of success and riches, no amount of illicit sex with women of ill repute, no amount of triumph over former teachers could ever fill.  Cahan wrote about the sadness of a man that turns his back on his heritage.



MyJewishLearning.com.  “Abraham Cahan Biography”.  Internet. 2013.

       

Rosenfeld, Isaac.  “America, Land of the Sad Millionaire”.    Breakthrough: a treasury of contemporary American-Jewish literature. New York, McGraw Hill 1964. Print.      

Roth, Phillip.  American Pastoral. Boston, Haughton. 1997. Print.