Janky Ohio

Janky OhioIn the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

–Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio by James Wright

The above poem might be my favorite American poem.  It’s often a toss-up between this and 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens.
Wright was a native Ohio son who lived in Martins Ferry amid the disappearing industries of that state.  Steel, paper, rubber, glass. . .all of the things our country used to proudly make, were made in Ohio.

It was a necessary place.  The  manufacturing, beating heart of America.  Ohio was blessed with three rivers much prized for being conduits to the St. Lawrence Seaway and its precious economy.

There was a time when Ohio had it made.  Akron was the rubber and tire capital of the world.  Cleveland a major manufacturing and rail hub. Youngstown was the city of steel; the town that made the cannon-balls that won the Civil War.

The Buckeye State also grew rich on paper mills and the manufacture of glass.
Those businesses have gone away now; the slow leak of a century’s diminishing economies took its unholy toll.  There were cheaper places to do all that Ohio did and most of the manufacturing moved to right-to-work states  or out of the country, away from the rust belt and lousy weather.

Ohio is a physically beautiful state; rolling hills and farmland once you escape the cities. . .the Allegheny plateau in the eastern part of the state, rich with hills and streams and bucolic greenery.

I started this body of work out of a need to tease my pal Stan Klein, who is a native Clevelander  and then the odd mysteries of the state of Ohio took over.  It is our middle and for the last decade or so, the repository for all of our anger as Americans; a battleground state, (politically and  constantly) and a place of eroding hopes and mundane shades of ideological gray.  It is home to some of the finest learning institutions in our country.  Oberlin College, which has produced some of our finest writers and musicians and scientists, Ohio State, Miami of Ohio. . .the list goes on and on.  Yet for all of its erudition, the only representative population of this state we see lately are the John Boehners and Michael Steeles of the world.  The latter of these gents recently bounced from his job for “someone” on his staff blowing two grand on “faux lesbian sex” at a club in Vegas.  Really.  A sharper guy would have realized he was in Vegas and for about half that price, you can get real lesbian sex.  Wise up, Michael Steele!

I’ve been to lots of towns in Ohio–Columbus, Toledo, Sandusky, Dayton–and  they all have the same kind of decent, salt-of-the- earth Midwesterners I’ve known my whole life.  The only unattractive trait being an unfocused bigotry against those they perceive to be doing away with their economic opportunity; foreigners, big government,unions, and the like; the usual suspects torn from the Republican-climate-of-fear playbook.  They never blame each other, nor the local political constructs that succeed in keeping them docile and ignorant–people like Steele and Boehner.  When Obama made the remark about scared and angry people clinging to their religion and their guns, it was about Pennsylvania (which is basically Philadelphia and Pittsburgh separated by Alabama) but it could have been about Ohio.

In recent elections, Ohio is the easiest state to rile up with rhetoric and through the right kind of prism, hey look an awful lot like the entire body-politic of middle-class America.  It’s a political tool of image making that has served the swine who perpetrate it very well.

Truth is, most Americans are better off than Ohio.  The rate of unemployment and disappearing industrial  jobs bears this out.  But do the citizens of this mysterious state ever get angry at the political structure that got them here. . .that let companies outsource their manufacturing and tech jobs?  When do these development-deficient politicians get their feet held to the fire?

The answer is, “never .”  They just sell anger and yell louder and sink this great state even further into the gray.

Published in: on February 4, 2011 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Cleveland Songbird

The Cleveland Song BirdLast year I was quite fond of saying that there were only three magical cities in America–New York, Chicago and New Orleans; the rest of it was fucking Cleveland.  I said this in my effusiveness to rally support for New Orleans and it was a funny, if cheap, laugh at the expense of Cleveland.

I’m going to stop saying that.  A great many of my friends from Cleveland didn’t appreciate it, and have fond memories of that city like I do of Chicago and New Orleans.  And the more I read about the city of Cleveland, the more I realize it is not very different than Chicago.  Dumb luck has made us the sexier city.  Dumb luck, geography and machine politics is what kept Chicago from sharing the fate of Cleveland.  My studio director, Stan Klein, is still a Cleveland Indians fan,which lately is a lot like being a Cubs fan; thankless, joyless exercises in the absence of reciprocal affection.

There is a longing about the city of Cleveland.  Many citizens groups are fighting the banks in the wake of the mortgage crisis, where banks and lenders fucked citizens with mortgages and interest rates that they knew the folks they sold them to could not repay and then getting even richer by selling “reverse mortgages.”   Clevelanders have not taken this lying down.  They’ve pushed back and tried to wrest some of the primacy of their neighborhoods back.

There are beautiful parks in Cleveland.  Cain Park, in Cleveland Heights, on the east side is a place loaded with birds, gardens and hills for sledding, as well as a theater and art studios.  My friends from Cleveland remember this place with great affection.

I wanted to make a metaphorical songbird for Cleveland and some months ago I bought a collage from my friend Alpha Lubicz.  She is my favorite collagist right now and last September she accompanied my crew to Japan.  In almost every flea market, Alpha and I went after the same kind of stuff.   She has an amazing eye for scraps and makes astounding works.  She is the goods.  For those of you reading this on Facebook, look her things up  in my friends list and get one.

For months, I looked at this beautiful bird-woman collage and finally called Alpha and asked her  if she’d mind if I drew it into my new piece.  After getting her blessing, I made this piece.   I changed  it a bit, but make no mistake; it is a case of out and out theft and generosity on behalf  of my friend Alpha.  I’ve learned much from looking at her work and so should you.

I gave her a bluejay’s body  just because  I love the fuckers.  They’re obnoxious and noisy and operate like gangsters; and they are so beautiful.  They, like starlings, often steal their nests by muscling the occupants out of it.   They just kind of show up and chirp, “Fuck You. Leave.”   And the other birds comply.  Bluejays are badasses and don’t take any la-la from other birds.

When I was a kid, I caddied and every once in a while would find a bluejay feather on the golf course and I don’t know why, but these were real treasures to me; simply because of that paralyzing blue. . .somewhere between cobalt and cerulean. . .a blue you saw nowhere else in nature.  A jazz blue.  A story blue.  A midnight kind of blue. . .carved right out of the holy sky.

Published in: on May 7, 2010 at 2:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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