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Altered States

Ohio. I’m sitting inside an I-80 rest stop, not far from Kent. A headline in this morning’s USA Today: “A Teachable Moment at Kent State, 40 Years Later.” Does “teachable moment” capture the tragedy? It seems light and jargony, especially when paired with that photo of Mary Ann Vecchio — kneeling, with arms outstretched — beside Jeff Miller’s bleeding body. From the same article: “Gov. James Rhodes, a Republican, called out the Ohio National Guard. He called the protesters ‘the worst type of people that we harbor in America,’ and said: ‘We are going to eradicate the problem. We are not going to treat the symptoms.'” Disgusting. Rhodes should be remembered and vilified. Again, from USA Today: “In 2000, a year before he died, Rhodes told The Columbus Dispatch that Kent State ‘was a terrible thing. . . . But no one plans a train wreck, either. It just happened. And life goes on.'” Except of course when it doesn’t.

But Kent State also has a wonderful Poetry Center and press. And the university just hired one of the best young poets in America, Catherine Wing. And Mary Ann Vecchio is back on campus today, talking to students and taking in the daffodils. Does any of this help? It’s a real question.

Pennsylvania. Yesterday I lingered in front of Marianne Moore’s row-house in Carlisle, snapping pictures and, well, musing. I thought of the mind that thought of “The Pangolin”; I thought of my students who, just three weeks ago, were introduced to this larger-than-life small white-haired woman, this proponent of difficulty, this running mate of Muhammad Ali. I don’t remember where I read the following exchange, but I’ve included it in every poetry course packet I’ve put together for the past decade or so:

Reader: Miss Moore, your poetry is very difficult to read.
Marianne Moore: It is very difficult to write.

Though Moore lived in Carlisle for over twenty years, she’s more strongly associated with Greenwich Village and Brooklyn. Her manuscripts, figurines, and furniture now reside, quite wonderfully, in Philadelphia’s Rosenbach Museum & Library. That’s just a two-hour drive from Carlisle.

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Maryland. The occasion that prompted this week’s travels was my 125th high school reunion (give or take a century). I had great fun catching up with old friends, and bouncing around Baltimore, and playing hockey with bright-eyed kids, and listening to Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn on unabridged CD. At the reunion, we were all given badges that featured our yearbook photos; we discussed how much we would pay to get our 1985 hair back. ($5,000? $10,000?) Twenty-five years collapsed into, say, a semester. But then, but then: 1985! While we were busy figuring out who we wanted to be, millions of others (Keira Knightley, Dwight Howard, the Ford Taurus, New Coke, Windows 1.0, Calvin and Hobbes) were busy being born.

Arizona. What the etcetera?! Are we really going to legalize and promote racial profiling — by which I mean (because it means) racism? One of my favorite summers was spent in Tucson: I swam mini-laps at Casa Libre, I borrowed books from the U of A Poetry Center. At the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, I made lists of flora and fauna: “hognose bluff,” “whirligig beetle,” “predaceous diving beetle,” “curve-billed thrasher,” “elf owl,” “scarlet monkeyflower,” “Sonora chub,” “beautiful shiner,” “lesser long-nosed bat,” “bonker hedgehog,” “Baja fairy duster,” “serpent’s tooth vine,” “brittlebush.” I ate fry-bread; I photographed ocotillos and javelinas. And now Arizona has become almost a code word for intolerance. Some civil rights leaders and politicians are calling for baseball commissioner Bud Selig to pull the 2011 All-Star Game out of the state. Seth Meyers, in a bracing SNL piece, tracked the implications of the new immigration bill: “Heads up, Arizona; that’s fascism. I know, I know, it’s a dry fascism, but it’s still fascism.” Let’s hope this isn’t all a precursor to more hatred. Here’s a poem:

Arizona Trooper, Calling In

We got him lassoed by squad cars —
he’s headlight-caught.
He looks a little less white than he might ought.