- by Linn Barnes
A Winter Prayer
On a cold morning in late December,
windows frosted, breath freezing before my eyes,
tears streaming down my burning cheek,
I slipped into the shadow of a sliver of the elusive past,
looking everywhere for the glamor that
once seemed to grace me,
which I finally found shining brightly
in the new and glittering snow,
which careened me into the now,
the now of this Christmastide,
celebrating the sweet charm,
the enduring grace of warmth and fellowship,
simmered now to a fine and potent stew,
which may not be burned or damaged by
the sad travails of a troubled world.
The light of hope, at this time, call it holy, if you will,
shines for all who shine from within, for all the world
to be illuminated and finally bathed in the purest
and most powerful fire of hope and redemption.
- by Linn Barnes
About our large and yellow leader,
One thing’s plain and sloppy:
He’s as drumpled as he’s trumpled,
Lost in a whirligig of sputtering rages.
And when it comes to being a man,
Of nature sweet and kind,
He’s as clouty and galooty,
The worst of the demon’s seed,
Grim and sans souci, bletched,
Bedraggled and de-noosed,
Carnavoréd and repulséd.
And, as we squirm and watch what we must see,
We are shuddered with the saddest flow of tears,
Forced to hear his savage and repulsive jokes and jeers
That fall upon the eyes and ears of his despairing victims,
Whose beloved have been untimely blasted from the earth,
The undisputed clear result of his manic and demonic chatter.
This must not endure.
- by Linn Barnes
There is crashing and breaking slightly off to our left, upwind,
coming with a fierce will toward us through the fog and dark,
antlers hanging up on low hanging branches, as he burrows his scent
deep in the wood, scraping clean the bark to the wet wood, his signature raw,
clear and powerful, coming to claim his hard won prize, the doe in season
he senses, but cannot yet scent. But, he must pass us first, and he will,
since we never take the large trophy bucks in spite of their great beauty.
The truth for us is simple and self serving: The finest venison is from the younger,
smaller creatures, male or female. We have always hunted for the wild and perfect
meat which we cherish, leaving the mature antlered bucks to their rightful domain,
and never taking the alpha breeding males, upon which the life and myth of the herd depends.
We witness and are cowed by their great beauty, ferocity and elegance as they rule
their antique kingdom, this perfect and holy forest once made sacred
for all time in an ancient and now mostly lost world.
These eternal creatures are the true, rightful and anointed
Lords of the Woods.
- by Linn Barnes
This morning, very early, and way too warm we went to our stands for the first time this year. We jumped five deer going in, four does and a large buck. They stood on full alert while we, as quietly as possible, unloaded the crossbows and began our carefully watched trek up the hill to the stands. They held for a surprisingly long time, finally, tails flashing high white flags , vanishing into the deep cover of the woods, not to be seen again. The trick is to get there first, obviously, but it's never a sure bet. They won this round, but the show was well worth it. We had plenty of fog over very high grass at the edges, since the farmer can't make hay in the wet, and wet it has been. It all had a mysterious and primitive quality, the deer appearing and vanishing without a sound to break the ethereal silence of this much too warm morning. After two hours of being entertained by a horde of mosquitos and gnats, we called it a morning. A final salute from a gaggle of Canada geese flying overhead, on a mission between the ponds, as they piped us back to the car. Win or lose, it's never dull. We'll be out again tonight at another spot where we will have the south wind in our favor. This is crepuscular work, the bulk of the day is slow and silent. Although, when the weather is right with a temperature in the 40s or low 50s you can bring lunch, take a nap and stay all day...
- by Linn Barnes
After all we've seen and heard these past days,
tomorrow we will sound the autumnal horn,
we will flee to the sanctuary of the deep woods,
where only the here and now rings true and clear,
where the light is sharp, where the wind cuts clean,
straight to the 'deep heart's core',
where hope takes a long happy breath,
flooding life to the wounded soul.
- by Linn Barnes
Pure, radiant, seething, glowering, demonic,
autocratic, narcissistic, ruthless Evil
has gained another foothold in the land.
Another chip has been hacked from
the torn fabric of justice and reason.
Listen to the rant: ‘The Mob’, he screams,
‘the mob is upon the land, beware, save your
sons, husbands and fathers from the marauding
lying women and rabid democrat anarchists
disguised as innocent protestors!’
An ancient trick, well worn and slicked up,
hoping to stop what’s coming in November,
meat to the vicious right wing goons, clumsy,
lumbering, laughing cadres of sycophants,
in step, proud and victorious, gleefully
celebrating their insane wish for the end of the
holy experiment that was once called
- by Linn Barnes
What are the possible solutions in light of what has transpired? I'm beginning to think it is going to require something akin to well conceived long term operations against the 'problem', activity that is inclusive of the many like minded, somehow organized for effectiveness... Am I describing a fully functional political party? i think so. The 'knack' for focused and dedicated political operations against what has become a malignancy in the country (we should stop using 'our': it's such a sop) is imperative and will require the collective strong will of a large percentage of individuals with fire in their guts. November could be a birthing. I have a sense that by then the outrage will have flourished and found direction and will. Of course, this is what the right has been up to for a very long and effective time. Learn from them, and turn on them the fury of the righteous! The Kavanaugh debacle is fully beyond the pale and should be met with power and determination.
- by Linn Barnes
I was raised Catholic, and although I am no longer actively part of the church, the basic dogma has never left me. People joke about 'Catholic Guilt' and rightly so, but it is real. What it means, or, implies, is not complicated or esoteric. When you are raised 'Catholic', as in most of the world's great religions, you are instilled with a 'working moral compass', a ground-in set of do's and don't's that stays with you for life. At least that's the idea. Of course, the Church (God) provides sanctions and housing for the most egregious of sinners in someplace called 'hell', but also relief for repentant sinners and a means to seek forgiveness called 'confession', which, if you really mean it, can get you back on the straight and narrow with a clean slate. Sins are categorized from 'venial'. everyday smaller transgressions, to the much more serious 'mortal' sins, like rape, murder, etc.. With all this in mind, Brett Kavanaugh is a conundrum. How could he have led the life he describes and still maintain his profound devotion? All I can assume is that he must have kept the confessional seat plenty warm for a very long time. And, in particular, 'thou shalt not lie', and if you do, you must confess and redeem yourself, or, you will suffer dire 'consequences.' He lied openly and repeatedly in front of the entire known universe. He has made no attempt to atone for what we all witnessed. The assault on Dr Ford in their teen years is, in spite of her eloquent testimony, unfortunately, more difficult to 'prove'. I choose to believe her, but I cannot prove it. Whether I need to prove it is another question altogether. The other accusations are equally difficult, so I suppose only his Father Confessor will know, maybe, since there is every reason to believe he is a 'selective confessor'. I met Chief Justice Roberts, a devout Catholic, after a concert Allison and I gave some years ago. While our politics may differ, he is a calm and brilliant man. He has demonstrated this all of his life. Brett Kavanaugh is not this man. His path is in every way suspect. That should be enough to disqualify him, but, apparently for the Republican majority he gets a pass. Where are the sins at this point? I think they are certainly heaped in spades on Kavanaugh, but they also must be counted among the cynicism and hypocrisy of the ruling majority. Can sins be collective? Yes, I think we can say there have been historical instances of 'collective sinning' by certain nation states for instance. However, I think the culpability, in this case, rests with the individuals who must choose to endorse Kavanaugh's appointment or reject it, the supposedly responsible members of our Congress. Where shall they go to atone for this appointment and upon whose ears shall their confessions fall, if at all...
- by Linn Barnes
Birthing the Blues
The way to figure out what any group is doing is by watching them when they’re not paying attention to your watching them. Simple. It figures the next question would be something like, and where might that be? Well, at the beach, if you were sixteen or seventeen, that would be the cocktail party, the cocktail party of the late 50s, that unique gathering of loosened up adults who under normal circumstances would shy away from certain subjects, like sex, state of any x’s or y’s marriage, religion, politics and certainly anything to do with race and race relations. This was a world where colored people were not much more than an abstraction, and certainly nothing that could in any way have anything to do with your life, except perhaps the maid or entertainers like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, etc… Kids, young people, are more open to assaulting the taboos and at that point me and my guitar playing pals were moving on from the commercial style of folk music, the Kingston Trio and the like, to something a lot more profound and frankly intimidating, even dangerous, to the parental order: The blues. Me, Johnny Kerkam, Toby Thompson, Cotton Havell, Jake Mills and Randy Mason and others were all blues nuts. Why? Well, it’s not hard to understand. The black players we all admired were really great guitar players and singers, impassioned guitar players and singers. We had given up listening to or imitating the commercial stuff in favor of literally the darker side of things. The blues songs were dangerous and unusual with titles like, ‘Please See That My Grave Is Kept Clean’, ‘Hootchie Kootchie Man’, ‘I’m a Back Door Man’, ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’, ‘Cocaine Blues’, ‘You Got To Bottle Up And Go’, ‘Keep on Truckin’ Mama’, stuff like that. They’re were no more ‘I Gave My Love A Cherry’, or, ‘The Fox’ type tunes in sight. Furthermore, the more we played this music and the better we got at it, the more curious and drawn into black culture we became. Now, this was alright with the parental minions, but where could it go, they must have been asking themselves, although I really don’t think any of them thought very much about it at all. Blues was, in a word, about as hip a form of guitar playing and singing you could ever find, anywhere. And we were eating it up, practicing like crazy, competing with each other and, miracle of miracles, it was a great way to impress the girls, which probably was at the heart of the matter. Isn’t it always?
Well, at one of these cocktail parties, while exercising my developing tradecraft, I overheard something that really fired me up. A small group of adults were quietly talking about how they would sneak their cabin cruisers up on a negro resort on the of back of Indian River Inlet bay behind Bethany, called Rosedale, anchor off shore and listen to some of the most incredible music they had ever heard. I mean, they described going with many friends, in many boats, bringing tons of drink, food, the works. Oh, it was a grand and safe party from a grand and safe perch to observe the ‘natives’ at play…I guess it was a little like ‘going up to Harlem’ back in the 20s and 30s. Great names were there, but they apparently had no idea what they were hearing, just that it was very good, and, perhaps, even better, very outlandish and daring. If they had tried to go ashore, things might not have gone well for them. They almost certainly would not have been welcomed by a society of people they had not welcomed for hundreds of years. At least they seemed to know that. I began to seriously think about this mysterious place they were describing. Wasn’t there a line in an old blues, ‘going down to Rosedale, where I can have some fun.. drink white lightnin’, gamble, ‘till my baby come..’ Well, once I had told the guitar gang about this fortuitous glimmer of intel, we all became determined to find a way to get to this mythical place.
There was this other guy, a real character, about as wild and free spirited as they get. His name was Billy Farnsworth and he and his family lived on the same street as Ned and Nancy Chaucer. His family, like the Chaucer’s, were also very wealthy, and they, like the Chaucer’s, were ‘old money’, the charm of being charmed by it long gotten used to and now pretty much ignored. Billy was not a guitar player, but he liked all of us who worked at it, and he recognized that by hanging around with us he could cash in on the girl thing we were attracting with this risky new music we were playing. He understood correctly that he could be part of this new thing called ‘hip’. And, Billy was really a very cool and funny character who managed to keep us fairly drunk on his ‘BF Specials’, a nasty devil of a drink he conjured up which was three parts rum to one part vodka, maybe more, and a dash of lemonade to sooth your conscience, all of which he would make by the gallon and bring to the beach, beach parties, house parties, he always seemed to have a stash of the stuff. And, he was funny as hell, with apparently not a care in the world. The Farnsworth place was one of the great houses at the beach. They had a large yard to manage and, it seems now, many automobiles to tend to. They also had a full time chauffeur, grounds keeper, butler, I guess, who managed the whole deal for them. This was very old school, but nobody gave it a second thought. It just was. This man’s name was Parker, just Parker. I never heard anybody refer to him any other way. Anyway, Parker was an elegant black man, obviously educated and very well spoken, who took a shinning to all the young white kids, and, especially we guitar players, we blues buffs. He was friendly and often drew us into discussions about this music we were playing so enthusiastically. We noticed right away that he had a tremendous amount of information about the players we were trying to imitate and the songs themselves. So, Parker became a kind of mentor to all of us. It took a long time for him to finally let us know that at one time he had been a major figure in the production and management of important black entertainers and that to this day he was highly respected in the black music world. This man was simply amazing, and, of course, the Farnsworth's, mom and dad, had not the faintest glimmer of an idea who he really was, which I think was just fine with him. But, he recognized and perhaps was amused that we young white kids had a real interest in black music and, therefore, black culture, which in 1959, was just about unheard of… When we finally got up the nerve to ask him about Rosedale, he was very straightforward and forth coming explaining to all of us what an amazing place for black people it was. He told us it was part of a network of black clubs and resorts jokingly referred to as the ‘Chitlin Circuit’, and that some of the greatest names in music often played there. People like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Sam Cooke, and many other luminaries among the black and white audiences. He told us many of the younger black performers on the national stage also came to Rosedale, but for some reason he refused to identify them, and he did so with an obviously sly grin, which we were unable to decipher at the time. But he did very carefully explain why Rosedale existed, and that, of course, was the pervasive segregation of the races throughout the country. He embarrassed all of us with his clear articulation of a social problem so profoundly ugly and sad that our parents never even brought the subject up. Our parents were not racists per se, at least most of them weren’t, but they were more than a little guilty of ducking the issue, thinking, I suppose, that it would somehow take care of itself. Progress was being made, my father would often say, referring to the Brown vs Board of Education decision of 1954. When I countered with how could lynching still be occurring in the south, and that southern prisons were no better than Nazi concentration camps, things tended to get ugly, not because he disagreed with me, but because he felt the same way, and just couldn’t see any quick solution. He would usually say something like ‘well, it will take time…’. Parker, and most of the intellectual black world had other ideas, and they were on the way, he frequently hinted to us… Change was indeed in the air and a lot of it had to do with popular culture, and, especially, music. The roots of change were intimately bound up in the changes in attitudes brought in part by popular music. Things were in flux in the white world. The beatniks were beginning to be taken seriously, and it looked like music, especially the blues, was going to have a profound effect at many levels of popular white music and culture. For example, it was finally becoming common knowledge that Elvis Presley had found fame and fortune playing black music. Parker was able to hint obliquely at many of these ideas without alarming anyone, but the seeds were sown in our bunch, and, I think he was enormously influential on my own education about the tragic state of race relations in the United States.
One day in August of ’59 Neddie Chaucer and I were hanging out at Billy Farnsworth’s place. We were clowning around as usual, more or less on our way to the beach to meet our pal, Patty Noble, a really cute and fun girl about a year younger than me and Neddie. Everyone was in love with Patty at various degrees, but pretty much to no avail, except maybe for Johnny Kerkam, who we all suspected she really loved, but all the girls, it seemed, were in love with Johnny. Johnny, apart from being an incredible athlete, was a great guitar and harmonica player in the tradition of Sonny Terry, the great black blues harp player. He was also a great singer and showman and knew an incredible batch of songs, really weird and little known stuff. He was a couple of years older than me, Neddie and Toby, but we were all on the same blues boat. Anyway, Parker was working on one of the cars in the garage, when he came over to chat with us for a minute, as he always did. But, then he proposed something that stopped us in our tracks. He said he knew of a great musician who was coming to Rosedale that coming weekend, and, would we like to go as his guests? He wouldn’t tell us who the musician was, but assured us we would know who he was, and we would not be disappointed. I think we collectively said something like ‘wow’ and ‘yes’ and ‘thank you Parker’, all bundled up together… Saturday was two days away, and all we had to do was convince our parents that this adventure under the ‘protection’ of Parker was safe and sane. Surprisingly, our parents thought it was a ‘grand’ idea, but with the usual warnings attached. Parker told us to put together a group of our friends we thought would enjoy some really great music and fun in a very different world. He told us he would drive and we would take the limousine, and that he had already cleared everything with Billy’s dad. Well, we raced up to the beach and told Patty, who was wildly up for it. Next we told Neddie’s sister Nancy and her friend Joannie Heron, a really sharp girl and friend to all of us and another of our guitar gang, Cotton Havell. I called Toby Thompson and Johnny Kerkam and told them about it and they all jumped at the chance. We all did, and we couldn’t believe our luck and Parker’s incredible generosity.
Of course, Saturday took forever getting there, but finally we were on our way, about a forty-five minute drive inland and back down to the bay and the Rosedale resort. Billy had a jug of BF specials and we were all getting oiled but, but cautiously, and, carefully watched by Parker, who was all of a sudden a very different man, totally in control of us and the situation in general. We arrived at Rosedale at about four in the afternoon. Things were in full swing on a beautiful sunny day and everyone seemed intent on the entertainment that was scheduled, although nobody would tell any of us who it was. Parker had been busy… He introduced us to several people we all assumed were the management and things were going very well. Parker then took us into the concert hall and we were shown to a backstage area and nearly fell flat on our faces. Sitting at a piano warming up was none other than Ray Charles, the great Ray Charles. Parker introduced all of us and we meekly shook hands with him and tried to overcome the shock of being in his basically royal presence. Ray got up from the piano and asked us if we could give him a hand. We all said sure, anything. He said some of his regular crew were off chasing the ladies and certainly far into the booze and he needed some help getting the piano out on the stage, and would we give him a hand. Well, I can’t tell you how fast we shouted out a ringing something like god, yes, but was probably more of a yes, sir, Mr Charles. Parker was all grins and we all took up positions on the grand piano and wrestled it out onto the stage. The hall was beginning to fill up and many of the patrons, all black, not a white face among them, laughed at what they saw and gave us all a rousing and friendly cheer. Once we had the piano in place we fled backstage again, while Ray was getting tuned up for the show. Pretty soon the hall was jammed and Ray’s lead man took him out to the piano and the wildly applauding full house. Without a nod or a blink, he broke into ‘Tell me What I Say’, and things went crazy. Never had I imagined the full impact of huge talent and stardom. It was magic, hypnotic and surreal. Ray Charles, in front of his own people, kicked out all the jams and practically levitated the entire building. The audience was deafening when he finished and dead quiet on the slower and introspective numbers. God, what a showman. I think for all of us, players and non players, things were forever changed. To describe it as a religious experience is close but really not good enough. This was a man doing exactly what he was born to do for an enormous group of people born to see and hear him do just that.
The concert was amazing and after a while many people were out of their seats and dancing anyplace they could. Some of the young black guys came over to us and asked ‘our’ girls to dance, which was all very polite, fun and not in the least bit threatening. It was really fun, the whole deal, but, by the end of the show everybody was pretty near plastered, and Parker decided, quite correctly, I’m sure, to pull the plug, load us all up in the limo and head back to Bethany. It had been a day like no other, one I will never forget and always cherish. The whole experience actually gave me a new, powerful and optimistic vision for the future of race relations in very troubled times. As for the blues and black music…
- by Linn Barnes
There is confusion on the beach.
The birds are marching in close formation.
I strain the sand for sight or sound
and read the waves for the drowning man.
I am upended in the roaring surf,
dragged into the fleeing tide,
swept to the edge of the deep blue,
lashed to the fins of a bottle nosed giant:
Where I am flashed the horror of some past life
colliding with the unimaginable, now at speed,
dragged rudely to twenty fathoms, scraping the bottom,
finally surfaced and marooned on an unknown shore.