From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I a Woman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer?
"Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

White Mother Musings

       This is a painful week of Thanksgiving. The proudly American holiday of counting our blessings and of enjoying and sharing our abundance, occurring at the same time as all of the ugly truths and falsehoods in Ferguson remind us, yet again, of all that we have not accomplished as a nation. An ugly old legacy we just can't seem to process.
      I don't want to add to the divisiveness, which is so severe, that maybe, just maybe, some good can come from it. So I'm not blogging on the subject to engage in debate, simply as a bit of reflection.
      I just keep thinking of the Mom. Michael Brown's mother, Mrs. Lesley McSpadden.
      I have a son who is 6.4 and 250 lbs. too. I've had some fears for him since he achieved that size. My son, too, did some stupid things when he was a teenager. Mine too had several "brushes with the law", (though his were for marijuana and nothing violent). And the law where I live always allowed, even encouraged me, to throw wads of cash at them as a resolution. Which I always did. I have never had to worry, or even contemplate, that he would be shot six times. Shot dead.
      Sadly, I know many people will annihilate my analogy to justify the death, saying it was necessary and/or deserved. I have heard the arguments. They have accepted the old-as-our-hills self-defense testimony of a white man of equal size calling the suspect a hulk and a demon. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that that were true (though I don't find it all credible or even remotely believable), we should still ask, we should still care, why? Why would any of that behavior have occurred? If the suspects were white youth what would have been different?
      What if he were your son?
      I'm going to share again the poem I wrote after the Zimmerman verdict, and am so sorry for the Brown's. I wish them peace and comfort this week and always. What I know for sure is that while I can sympathize I can not know their sorrow. I simply can not know it. I can imagine it is unbearable, but I will never know.

      Lastly, since my blog is supposed to be about writing, I leave you with this excerpt from a 1960 American masterpiece of literature;

“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box. As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it - whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”
                                                                                       ~ from To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

For the Other Parents

Since the year 1863
there has been a talk many American parents
have to have with their American sons
at just about the time that their son’s
voices begin to change, and their muscles
harden into impending manhood,
at just about the time that referring
to the boy as boy becomes something else.
They say things like these,
things I have never had to say to my son,
nor have any of my ancestors
since the year 1863.

***

There will be times, from now on
when people will be afraid of you.
You have to be aware of this at all times,
to develop a sense for it, to feel it
before it turns bad, because
very bad things can happen to you
when people are afraid of you.
You can’t play with toy guns anymore,
or swords, or pick up pipes, or even sticks.
Always be aware of your surroundings.
Try not to go anywhere alone,
especially at night.
If you’re being followed try to find someone
so you’re not alone.
Cooperate with authorities even when
your dignity makes that hard.
Don’t do anything with your hands but put them up.
Don’t worry about winning or losing.
Your goal is to survive.
Let them stand their hallowed ground
that they’re afraid of you taking.
You just stay alive.
And always - remember
there is nothing wrong with you,
nothing wrong with the way you look.
You are who you have always been
and that is the ground that
you have to stand.

by Tammi J Truax
all right reserved

Friday, November 21, 2014

Speaking of Strangers

       Yesterday when I heard that the major television networks were not going to air the President's address to the public, on the public airwaves, as they have always done, I felt my proverbial camel's back snapping, breaking sharply but completely. The attacks on our rightfully elected (twice) chief, attacks both overt and covert, are so shameful that I barely recognize my own nation. And no doubt, President Obama will be blamed for that too. 

       He wanted to talk to us about immigration. A strangely volatile subject. Strange, because if you are living here and are not an immigrant, that is because you have quite literally been grandfathered in. We are a nation of strangers, yet our fear of "the stranger" is intense.

      The gravest stranger now, it seems to me, is the democracy that we are supposed to be. The founding fathers, I am sure, would be appalled at the way the "POTUS" has been maligned. The man who in their day they called "His Excellency" has my complete support to restore the great experiment, and he has my support based on philosophy and politics, as well as honor and tradition. 

     I share a multimedia poem I recently exhibited at a local art gallery, on the subject of immigration, and I share a quote from the President's speech last night. Words that are far more poetic than my own. 



Assimilation

I dreamed of coming
to America, Land of the Free.

Longed, needed to come,
yearning to breathe free.

Tired, poor, and wretched
I left the home I knew well,

where the land I was one with
flowed familiar, never to trip,

where the words I was one with
flowed familiar, never to trick.

I came to these teeming shores,
arms held out to the Mother of Exhiles.

Gathering with others like me, yet
strangers to me, we huddled in masses.


We too cried with silent lips
but we changed …



our clothes,
             our speech,
                        our names.

Tossed our differences into the
pot to melt into cultural compost,

until at long last
we became one with America

calling those that come
strange.


by Tammi J Truax 
reprint with permission only


      "... Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger –- we were strangers once, too.
My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal -– that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will.
That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.
Thank you. God bless you. And God bless this country we love."






















Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NHWP

     Today I'd like to give a shout-out to one of the several writing organizations that I maintain membership in. Even though I have recently moved to a neighboring state I am unwilling to relinquish my membership in The New Hampshire Writers Project. The professional support I have found from this group, the personal connections that I have made at their events, and the lessons I have learned from their speakers and workshops are just too important to me to leave behind. If you live in New Hampshire, or even if you don't, check them out. I know you will find it worthwhile too.



Thursday, November 13, 2014

Vertical Answers

       In August of 2013 I was honored to be chosen as one of the women writers who were invited to gather at Ghost Ranch in the northern hills of New Mexico by the wonderful women of A Room of Her Own Foundation. We created many things while we were there; written and visual works of art, both solitary and collaborative, visions of ourselves and our projects, and perhaps more importantly, we created bonds of encouragement that continue long after we left the desert. And that has fed the fire in each of us that continues to burn from places all over the planet. It is a beautiful thing.

      Here is a link to one of the very first gifts that we created together.


www.aroomofherownfoundation.org/vertical-answers



Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Radbrief

Manifest Destiny
(For my AROHO sisters)

I need to go west …
To bathe in bold colors;
turquoise and topaz 
orange and amethyst.
To warm my marrow,
chilled and chafed
in darkened places.
To lie in the sun, feigning death,
lizardlike, surrendering to stillness,
surrounded by space to run and roll
should the mood strike me.
To let my hair go white.
To let my words go wild.
To let my voice echo in canyons,
ad infinitum.

#Radbrief entry from Tammi Truax (2013 Retreat: http://bit.ly/1u7z4OR
)

Submit your own "Radically Brief" lit here: http://bit.ly/1t0xKxu
 and receive a copy of The Los Angeles Review and a chance to win the last GO-Retreat Pass to the 2015 AROHO Retreat! (Drawing in April 2015 at AWP.)

aroomofherownfoundation.submittable.com

Thursday, October 30, 2014

NYC Reading

      It was a thrill to be invited to participate at a recent reading at Book Culture in Manhattan, a book shop known to be very poetry friendly.

                                      book-culture1.jpg (3264×2448)


     The reading was for The Widows' Handbook: Poetic Reflections on Grief and Survival, edited by Jacqueline Lapidus and Lise Menn (Kent State University Press, 2014). While I have met many of the other poets included in the anthology who are from New England, the opportunity to meet several others from the greater NYC area was a privilege. The book is doing fairly well, and has gone into a second printing. As you prepare for holiday shopping, consider buying a copy for someone on your gift list who is dealing with loss. It really is a special collection.

      More info can be found here: http://www.widowshandbookanthology.com/

      Here I am taking my turn at the podium, with the panel of contributing poets seated behind me.




       I knew that I would find some great books to assist in my novel research at Book Culure, and I was right. Here they are, and they made the long bus ride home enjoyable.






Sunday, October 26, 2014

     I wrote this article for The Portsmouth Herald's publication called Seacoast Seniors, which is not available online so I am posting it here for those who did not see the hard copy published earlier this week. It is reprinted with a few minor changes, and including a quote that didn't get into the magazine.


Liberty Trees Must Always Exist

By Tammi J Truax


     If you have been to Portsmouth, New Hampshire you've seen the massive tree that towers over the relatively massive Moffatt-Ladd Mansion. Her real name is Aesculus hippocastanum, commonly known as a horse-chestnut tree, and sometimes, a conker tree. There are several theories about why the horse-chestnut is so-named, too many to list here, and many of them sound plausible. While grown all over the temperate world for centuries the horse-chestnut seems to have been native to a small area in the Balkan forests of Eastern Europe. The motivation to carry the tree to other parts of the world was to spread beauty. The horse-chestnut is primarily an ornamental tree, and if you've seen ours even once, this you understand. It grows large, providing a gorgeous canopy, which in spring blooms in copious candle-like flowers. Other uses have been fully explored and are not significant. The wood isn't desirable for building, and the fruit (the conker which is not really a chestnut) is not edible (to some species it is toxic) unless processed, though that was done during the Great War in Europe. At times the conker has been used as an insect repellent in the home, and it is thought to have some medicinal properties that are still being studied today. The bark was used to make a yellow dye. Mostly though, the conker has been used for child’s play, the game of conkers having been very popular in the UK, did come to the US, and was taken so seriously that world championships were established.

                 conkers_797226c.jpg (460×288)


       The tree was most desired throughout time for the same reason that General Whipple brought it to Portsmouth; it looks lovely when mature, and lining an avenue. During the colonial years it seems to have been popular for stately men to plant stately trees outside their stately homes. Fancy trees were another way of displaying status. While often called a legend, and it is so amazing that it sounds like one, the story that museum docents tell at The Moffatt-Ladd House about the majestic horse-chestnut in the side yard is credible. It goes something like this;
      Whipple and his enslaved manservant, Prince, were in Philadelphia for the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While there they may have collected a handful of horse-chestnuts, the fruit of a tree new to Philadelphia. More likely William acquired seeds, or even saplings, from John Bartram’s Garden. Bartram was a Quaker and a botanist and the garden he started in 1728 is the oldest surviving botanical garden on this continent, where three significant historical trees still grow. By the time of the revolution it had become a thriving nursery business that the founding father/farmers would have sought out.
      Descendants recorded that Whipple planted the horse-chestnuts along the front of the house to commemorate the signing. It is more likely that one of the enslaved men living there did the dirty work. Quite possibly, Prince. Stolen as a boy from the gold coast of Africa, Prince was purchased by William Whipple upon his arrival at one of our eastern seaports. While still a teenager, Prince served beside his master in two battles in the American Revolution, and did ride with him to Philadelphia in 1776. In 1779 Prince would sign a petition of independence of his own, though it would not result in his freedom. There is no question when reading it that he had embraced the cause for which he had fought. Somewhere along the way the last surviving horse-chestnut was named The Liberty Tree. Arborists, who come to the Moffatt-Ladd House regularly to provide care and guidance, have verified her age, and she is on the National Register of Historic Trees.    

     photo by T Truax

      Until four years ago our Liberty Tree had a sister tree 3000 miles away in Amsterdam. She was known as the Anne Frank Tree and grew outside the secret annex. Anne mentions the horse-chestnut tree three times in her diary. By 1944 it was full grown, though considerably younger than ours having been planted around 1840. Having suffered fungal and insect damage, she was condemned to death. In an outcry familiar to many locals the townspeople flipped out, and a judge granted their tree a stay of execution. Of course, she couldn't really be saved and storm winds toppled her in 2010. Her offspring though, were sent off around the world. Eleven of her babies came to the US and, after a three year quarantine, have recently been planted. The closest to us was ceremoniously set into the Boston Common at the request of another teenage girl who thought the site most appropriate and somewhat coincidentally named it The Liberty Tree.
      The devoted Moffatt-Ladd gardeners ensure the continuance of our Liberty Tree too, and as many saplings as they can establish each year are sold to visitors as a fundraiser, but we seldom know where they end up. I propose that the city of Portsmouth plant one on public land where it can be watched over by all, perhaps near the Liberty Pole in the park. It would be a good way to prepare for her demise. It is nothing short of remarkable that she has survived this long. The day cannot be far off when, like the Anne Frank Tree, our old horse-chestnut will no longer grace the waterfront.
      Until then, come and see her. Appreciate her. Touch her if you’d like. You won’t regret it. I will always be grateful that I got to see both of these trees in the glory of their golden years, and that they let me feel a connection to Anne and Prince. I think of them … looking out at a tree that meant something to both of them, something that we can never know. ... Looking out at a tree heralding the passing of one season after another, of time being lost. .... Looking out from the confines of their attic prisons where they could only dream of the liberty we enjoy each day.

     photo by T Truax




"From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be."  ~  Anne Frank, February 23, 1944