Vulture, by Robinson Jeffers

In Igneous Range, the vulture is the firebird, a symbol of ancient Iran, and a symbol of transcendence.

To be eaten by that beak and become part of him, to share those wings and those eyes …

Published posthumously in 1963.
Jeffers Literary Properties
Stanford University Press
Reading © 2017 Kaweah

For more discussion on this and other Jeffers poems, see Robinson Jeffers: Fire from Stone.

The Summit Redwood, by Robinson Jeffers

There is an outlaw thread in Igneous Range, so one of the Robinson Jeffers poems that it reminds me of is the Summit Redwood:

First published in 1928
Reading by Kaweah

A companion lyric to Cawdor and a splendid fire-poem in its own right, The Summit Redwood has never been selected for any anthology, possibly because it appears to put “people of color” in a bad light, or perhaps because its style appears to be inconsistent. I happen to see it as a marvelous portrait of kindred defiants: a red tree and a red man.
Redwoods don’t often grow on summits, particularly on the coast, but often enough for the purposes of this poem. They are shaken by lightning commonly enough. Continue reading

To the Story-Tellers, by Robinson Jeffers

I wrote most of Igneous Range before I had any idea I was writing a Jeffers novel, thematically anyway: violence, vultures, redwoods, defiance, and above all fire. A repeating theme is the dominance of the subconscious, and there is also a sense of insanity.

Oh, and there’s genocide as well.

Toward the end of the story, Armen encounters a crazy old man in a cave who preaches the insanity of man. He does not mean that man is evil; only that man is not rational:

There are lots of intelligent animals, but there is only one mad animal.

Dip Room Blues

Read more about this in Men Without Fear, available at Amazon.

After missing a year of high school to a life-threatening illness, Fred Tarrant would need an extra year to earn his high school diploma. Not a great student to begin with, he found himself falling just short of the credits he needed to graduate. Unwilling to trade discrete favors with one of his teachers, he returned home in 1946, sans diploma, to Saratoga Springs to work at Tarrant Manufacturing. He started in the factory dip room, alone, hooking machine frames onto an electric lift and lowering them into huge vats of paint and thinner, afterward sliding each frame over a thirty-foot drip pan. He did this over and over while, unbeknownst to him, the lift threw sparks here and there, trying its best to set the place on fire.

Continue reading

Mr. Wrestling

Read more about this in Men Without Fear, available at Amazon.

For many boys at the New York Institute, the man that made self-respect achievable was one Clyde L. Downs of Downsville, Maryland.

When Clyde Downs first came to the Institute in 1929 at age 21, the Institute did not have a wrestling program, and Downs did not come as a wrestling coach. He appears to have been a general physical education coach, engaging students in a variety of activities.

Overbrook School in Philadelphia has been credited with the first wrestling program for blind kids, started in 1929,[3] the very same year that NYI hired Clyde Downs. The Institute would sometimes compete against Overbrook. The Philadelphia-based program was an all-white program, while the New York Institute was integrated. When the two teams met, the Institute’s non-white players were not able to participate, so the Institute was subjected to a handicap. But it seems that in the early years Overbrook had a genuinely superior program. A February 1937 story in Time Magazine describes a 22–5 beating handed to the Institute by Overbrook. By 1942, however, New York Institute students and graduates began to appear at or near the top of regional and national tournaments to a degree that Overbrook never had.

Continue reading

The Strike of ’43

Read more about this in Men Without Fear, available at Amazon.

When it came to John Jensen’s character, his failures could be as telling as his successes. Fred Tarrant recalls a night when his buddy John was heading out on a big date. Fred, though blind, could see better than John, so John had him inspect his outfit. Fred was impressed with John’s stunning white suit and red boutonnière, and sent John off into the New York night with his full approval. John returned later that night with his white suit splattered with grease, soil, and blood. He had fallen off a train platform en route to his date!

Continue reading

Blind Guide: Father Sutcliffe

Read more about this in Men Without Fear, available at Amazon.

Father Harry Sutcliffe

Father Harry Sutcliffe

Harry J. Sutcliffe was born in Brooklyn, New York on 10 August 1925. He was delivered premature and lost his sight soon thereafter to an incubator mishap.

The “age of radio” was a special time to be a blind kid. Amateur radio was also a fascination of many blind hobbyists, one of whom was young Harry Sutcliffe. Anthony Mannino describes Sutcliffe’s career as a “ham” operator in his April 1963 Blind American article:

At the age of thirteen the young student became interested in amateur radio, and by the time he was sixteen was a confirmed “ham” operator. He did a great deal of reading of technical material on the subject and studied under the expert teaching of Bob Gunderson, well-known teacher of the blind. During World War II there were fifteen or twenty amateur radio operators at the school, who worked for the Radio Intelligence Division of the Federal Communications Commission, engaged in recording propaganda broadcasts. Young Sutcliffe also worked for the War Emergencies Radio Services of the Office of Civilian Defense of New York, covering telephone failures resulting from attack or other emergencies. For his participation in this important work he was awarded a citation by the late Fiorello LaGuardia, then Mayor of New York City.[1]

Continue reading

The Wreck of the Farallon

Under the grey deep, the plains, canyons, peaks,
the flooded floor of the world rolls on to Laurentia,
pressing on the Farallon, plank, mast, and sail
out ahead on a black stone wave,
driving her under the buoyant earth,
caught in the undertow of her
sunken bow, sinking deeper,
ever deeper under the world,
compressed and cooked, her wet soul bleeds out,
hot and convecting, boils stone,
hollows out Pluto’s chambers,
mothers strata of generations
of volcanic boils, dead, young, and dying,
trembling in the California sun.

When the great sea-world strikes the land,
the submarine ridge is crushed,
her mid-seam ripped ajar,
her bow pulled into the earth,
stern slammed into the continent’s edge;
all the wreckage tangled in a heap.

Here and there, the demolition done,
the old world digested, the continental belly
heaves up; Pacifica, Laurentia knock and shear
in their tectonic intercourse; mountain roots
severed and sucked off in the wake,
the subterranean bone of dead volcanoes floats up,
breaks through the surface; and seaward, bits of bone
shattered and blended with the sea-bottom
sediments of eons, and mother’s clotted blood.

© 2016 Kaweah

Personality Disorders

Sam Barber, sitting in the redwood parlor playing Adagio
for Strings on the Steinway, and Una’s in the bathtub
running the cold tap with a pistol in her hand and a bullet
in her breast, her black broth bleeding out, making warm
curlicues all around her, an arm reaching out
for more sleeping pills.

Behind the piano, the door to the guest room is closed
for J.R. and his guest, romping on the deathbed
and I’m seasick on the heaving edge, looking out
the west window—the reaper in the surf.

Yeats, J.R.’s comrade is fog-white with age
and madness and running naked through the poppies
singing for the tatters in his coat and brandishing
Una’s best cleaver at the star-eyed tourists.

© 2016 Kaweah