Inscription on Helicon

I have seen her now: seasoned with eternity,
simmers in her sky-cold sylvan pool, hard and white
as the waning moon and quartzite banks, the last softening
membrane of youth seared away in the slow forge of forever;
breast peppered with translucent constellations
when the sun breaks through the leaves.

No fleshy delicacy—even of the slightest young brides,
but the taut, radiant hide of an ageless queen,
Immortal virgin, so say they, but naught of docile innocence;
her purity: homicidal violence.

She it is who haunts the dread hinterland,
    forbidden interior, wildland of man;
        No love for the society of Olympus,
and no Earth Mother, more terrible
    than any Aphrodite.

I have etched here these scars on this stone, scraped
    as I hide, catching my breath, wrapping my wounds,
        year over year, binding my bones,
        to report that I have run this long,
    even to the sacred springs on Helicon.
Not pious nor merciful, she makes sport of me still.
    The hounds come.
        Acteon

© 2015–16 Kaweah

Hotel Jericho

Lowcountry, maybe twenty
upstream miles from the Battery
and a few feet above the sea;
the gators and the blackwater
patiently flow, and you can just about
hear the ghost-song of the ivory bill
echo off the cypress knees.

On the south bank, the land
swells forty or so feet
to lanky yellow pine stands
and narrow Old Jacksonboro Road,
holding to the rim till a finger
of the Caw Caw points to where
the road meets the Savannah Highway
and the tracks at Adams Run.

Continue reading

Itinerant Healer

Chiropractic was unlicensed in New York State, so at age 31, Dad decided to move his practice elsewhere. He first hopped on a bus to Miami, slept on the beach there, and decided Miami wasn’t for him. He tried Denver next, and ran into another chiropractor who needed help with his practice. Dad joined the practice, and his parents soon followed him there. Things looked promising until Dad found out that the other chiropractor was tainting patient samples with food coloring. Now broke, Dad decided to give California a try.

Grandma and Grandpa followed along, landing in Venice Beach where Grandpa, going blind from diabetes, sold flowers on the street. Grandma also worked. Dad had to go back to college to pick up some credits for licensing. He enrolled in a small chiropractic college in Hollywood while he lived in a rooming house and subsisted on peanut butter sandwiches. He met another chiropractor named Hansen there and they started a practice together on Hawthorne Blvd, across from the Hawthorne Grill (of Pulp Fiction fame). At that point Dad was 33. Hansen was handy as a sighted partner, but he wasn’t around much, and he eventually left the practice entirely.

Grandma and Grandpa got an apartment 6 or 8 blocks away in Lawndale. Grandma would dress in white and help out as a receptionist, or in whatever way she could. Dad was pulling in $400 per week, and he felt rich. He was also an active member of the Los Angeles Bahá’í community, one of the largest and most distinguished Bahá’í communities in the world. With the death of the Guardian, it was a dark time for Bahá’ís, but they would soon recover.

The Voice of God

Though Dad’s mother had been excommunicated, he had been raised Catholic in some marginal sense. He was Catholic enough to be classified as such in his school records, and Catholic enough to be told by a priest that he was going to Hell. Once out on his own, he took a sharp turn away from religion to become something of a “freethinker,” but that turned out to be only a transition.

Dad first encountered the Bahá’í Faith during the time he lived in New Rochelle. He was not approached by a Bahá’í as one would expect, but by a curious non-Bahá’í friend, a fellow chiropractor named Gene Marcus. Gene was a faithful friend. Whenever Dad needed help as a blind man starting a new business, he could count on help from Gene, even if he didn’t particularly want help. One time, Gene bought Dad two suits out of the blue.

It happened one day that Gene got curious about a Persian religion called the Bahá’í Faith, so he invited Dad to join him in attending a public Bahá’í function, probably a “fireside.” Now it doesn’t appear that Gene ever became a Bahá’í (though his brother Leslie did), but Dad became interested, and attended several firesides. [1] A particularly effective speaker presented at one of these functions, and Dad asked for reading materials.

They first suggested that he read “Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era,” an entry-level introduction to “the Faith,” which contained at least one passage that would likely appeal to a chiropractor:

He who is filled with love of Bahá, and forgets all things, the Holy Spirit will be heard from his lips and the spirit of life will fill his heart. … Words will issue from his lips in strands of pearls, and all sickness and disease will be healed by the laying on of the hands.

Baha’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 112

There are other references to natural healing throughout the Bahá’í scriptures. The scriptures, for instance, discourage the use of medicine “when health is good”:

Refrain from the use of drugs . . . Abstain from drugs when health is good, but administer them when necessary.

Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, 1980 ed., p. 106

The Bahá’í scriptures predict that in the future healing will be performed through nutrition:

The science of medicine is still in a condition of infancy; it has not reached maturity. But when it has reached this point, cures will be performed by things which are not repulsive to the smell and taste of man — that is to say, by aliments, fruits and vegetables which are agreeable to the taste and have an agreeable smell.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 256

The majority of the diseases which overtake man also overtake the animal, but the animal is not cured by drugs. In the mountains, as in the wilderness, the animal’s physician is the power of taste and smell. The sick animal smells the plants that grow in the wilderness; he eats those that are sweet and fragrant to his smell and taste, and is cured.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 257

This must have piqued Dad’s interest, but he wanted to go straight to the source—the scripture, so he asked that someone read “the Ketáb-e-íqán” to him. He was instantly convinced. “No man could write this,” he declared. He was sure the book was the “Word of God.”

Dad became a Bahá’í during the time the Bahá’í community was under the leadership of Shoghi Effendi, AKA “the Guardian,” the last of the Bahá’í patriarchal bloodline. Shoghi, unlike his predecessors, had a western education—an Oxford education, and it showed. He lacked personal charm, but he possessed a remarkable mastery of the English language, particularly for a non-native speaker. Dad could reel off Shakespeare from memory and had a pronounced affection for eloquent language. I’m inclined to believe that Shoghi’s lofty language and purposeful voice, which embodied both the works he authored and those he translated, was one of the greatest factors in my father’s conversion.

New York City had one of the older, established Bahá’í communities in the western world. Bahá’ís had lived there since 1897. One of the most influential leaders of the Bahá’í Faith, Abbas Effendi, AKA “the Master,” Shoghi’s grandfather and direct predecessor, had famously lectured throughout New York City for a couple months in 1912.

Dad lived and worked in New Rochelle at the time of his introduction to the Bahá’í Faith. New Rochelle, being in the New York City metro area, had a strong Bahá’í history and presence. Dad even had the honor of visiting Juliet Thompson—a rather well-known Báhá’í artist—at her home, which I believe was in New Rochelle (she was buried there). Dad’s experience as a Bahá’í in the New York of the mid-1950s must have been distinct from what he would experience once he left New York, and he would experience quite a variety of Bahá’í communities over his lifetime.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] Fred Tarrant attended one or two firesides as well, surely at Dad’s invitation. Fred would later visit the Chicago temple at Dad’s invitation, but he was unmoved. Fred, like Dad, had been raised by a Catholic mother, but Fred has never been drawn to religion, though he respects Dad’s strong moral drive.

From Masseur to Chiropractor

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

JohnJensenMassageClassAfter graduating from the New York Institute, Dad moved to Bedford Hills and then Katonah (both within several miles of home), and studied massage therapy at the Swedish Institute in Manhattan for 9 months.

At age 22, Dad followed his parents to Bernardsville, New Jersey, where his father was a caretaker on another property, apparently the exquisite Blairsden Estate[1]

At age 23 (1947/48), Dad enrolled at the Chiropractic Institute of New York [2]. He helped to pay his way by working as a masseur. Though chiropractic was surely Dad’s choice, that choice may have been influenced by his father’s dream that his son would become a doctor some day. [3] Continue reading

Glaucoma

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

At age 19, John Jensen was injured while wrestling, and the injury led to glaucoma, which took away what little of his vision remained, caused him a great deal of discomfort, and robbed him of the balance, agility, and speed that made him a remarkable wrestler.

In the summer before his senior year, J.J. was to get a cornea transplant to save his remaining eye. The night before his appointment, he awoke to find everything dark. He felt a lamp, and it was hot. The next day, the doctor determined there was too much pressure on the eye to perform the transplant. This traumatic episode set John back as a wrestler, though he continued to wrestle competitively. He attended an Olympic trial in San Francisco [1], but the glaucoma degraded his performance, as it would throughout the year to come. He tried to rehabilitate but he couldn’t get it all back. John’s days as “the Bull” were over.

John had been almost entirely blind since he was three, when diphtheria nearly killed him, took one of his eyes, and nearly took the other. As a boy, he could see very fuzzy shapes within a couple feet of his face. It was only good for detecting the presence of light. Now a man, his blindness was complete, though he could still “see” large objects by using passive echolocation (he didn’t ping for echo).

© 2015 Kaweah

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[1] Probably in spring 1944. Fred Tarrant confirms that the trials were in San Francisco. There were no Olympic games in 1944, but it appears that trials were held. Fred was too ill to compete. John managed to make the trip, but he was ill and did poorly. Fred says the illness in this case was John’s glaucoma.

Bronx Batman: Gene Manfrini

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Manfrini_1951aAnother blind wrestler who attended New York Institute and competed for McBurney YMCA was 145-pound Gene Manfrini, who won several NY Metropolitan AAU titles, competed at the 1947 National AAU wrestling championships in San Francisco, and was a standout at Columbia University where he is featured here in Life Magazine (April 16, 1951). Manfrini was four years younger than Dad.

These photos are from a spread in the April 16, 1951 issue of LIFE. Note Manfrini’s passive, relaxed starting pose. Also note the remark about his excellent sense of balance.

Manfrini may have been a bit of a late bloomer. Though he competed in the AAU nationals at age 18 and later shined while studying at Columbia, the records that I’ve found from when he was probably a sophomore at the NY Institute show him losing matches in the 125-pound class. Continue reading

Bronx Batman: Jacob Twersky

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Jacob Twersky, another remarkable graduate of NY Institute for the Blind, wrestled successfully for the City College of New York, and went on to a PhD and worked as a writer and a history professor. He was also a leading advocate for the blind, often arguing that blind people could achieve remarkable things and should not be discouraged from trying. Twersky preceded my father at the Institute by several years. He lived to age 93, finally passing away on 23 July, 2014.

© 2015 Kaweah

Bronx Batman: Anthony Mattei

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

Another very accomplished wrestler from the Institute was Anthony Mattei. Wrestling in Tarrant’s weight class, Mattei blossomed as a wrestler when Jensen’s and Tarrant’s fortunes faded, winning the senior Metropolitan title in 1946, and losing in the national semifinals to the wrestler who would go on to win the final (as Tarrant had done).

… The valedictorian was Anthony Mattei, 17 years old, of Springfield, Queens, who will attend New York University in the fall. In addition to winning the honors, the youth has the distinction of being the first blind wrestler to have won the senior metropolitan 155-pound championship. … [1]

Not merely a fine wrestler, Mattei was an excellent student and went on to teach math for a living. Though he was not allowed to drive, he thoroughly enjoyed riding shotgun in his Cadillac with his wife at the wheel. [2]

© 2015 Kaweah

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

[1] “Blind Get Diplomas,” New York Times, 22 June 1946

[2] Pelham Progress, 23 June 1967.

Bronx Batman: Fred Tarrant

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Fred Tarrant was particularly close to Dad. They were teammates, sparring partners, weight-training partners, friends, and conspirators. I exchange correspondence with Fred, as well as an occasional phone call. Fred and Dad first met when Fred first enrolled at the Institute, when “J.J.” had just turned 15. Tarrant was a couple years younger than Jensen but bigger by a weight class. He placed 2nd in the junior Metropolitan AAU tournament at age 16 and went on to place third in the National AAU title the following March at Baltimore in 1944 [1]. After that, he returned home to place 2nd in the Metropolitan AAU tournament. Tragically, Fred’s brain had taken too much abuse from his lifestyle on the one hand and dehydration from his attempts to drop pounds before his last tournament. He underwent brain surgery; he was hospitalized for the better part of year, and he lost a year of school. Because of this, Fred didn’t graduate until 1946. He tried to get back into wrestling form, but he could never recapture his former fire. His wrestling days were over.

As good as Fred was, he says that he could never beat Dad. He describes Dad as an “explosive force.” Perhaps he’s being gracious.

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