Thursday, November 18, 2010

George and Henry: Parallel Lives

by H.C. Klingman

Born on separate continents,
fate’s magnet drew
us to common destiny,
to share rich experience,
and sublime discoveries
in old world cultures.
Mundanities scuttled,
we enjoyed new lives
assayed for existential gold.

In immigrant alleys we,
big city smart-alecs,
ripened to a strong America
that took us, still striplings,
to combat alien evil.
And we, almost-warriors,
lived near-death horrors,
smarting wounds suffered
for tin medals soon
put aside to prepare
for postwar dreams;
jobs, family, success.

But first, GI Bill creds
gave keen wannabees,
a trampoline bounce
to higher rungs
of career ladders.
Climbing nimbly, we left
for new contests abroad,
this time as Praetorians
of American commerce;
to Europe where our stars met
in Zurich’s Alpine City.

Allemanic and Hibernian
gestalts are different forms
but ours touched
and became fellowship,
bonding warmly
over shared interests
and stimulating talk,
probing, revealing,
challenging, never dull.
Outgrowing heritage,
we cracked the
old ancestral molds
and lived America’s dream. Abroad.

We reigned as Princes
of merit, not of blood,
with emoluments
and perks unknown
to stateside guys
who thought we toiled
in hardship’s garden, while
they thrived on native soil.
(Fools! We were in Paradise.)

We two. Friends.
Bulls of the same herd
tossing our horns
to show our stuff… let
‘em see all’s well
with us on guard.
Sleek and proud,
we snorted warnings
when envious poachers
eyed our turf.

Men of equal mind
and power will compete,
and we two (lefties),
jousting in mock combat,
played games with
verve and gusto,
hailing victories
and life’s milestones
with memorable vintages,
rare elixirs consecrated
by Gallic sun,
our souls in communion
with holy Cortons,
or Chambertins, still
lingering on palate’s memory
as a shameless symbol
of opulence past..

Partners in expatriate civics
and community causes.
We jogged, golfed,
played chess and cards,
with intensity, bonding
with pride and delight.
Much still remains
of those days and months,
even as the glorious tapestry
of our prime years fades.

Back then, fine soirees,
sparkling nights with
you and Doris hosting,
creating pleasure
at your hillside villa,
seducing us with epicurean
secrets of food and drink.
Convivial times as
we vacationed together
in laughter and ease
living the high station
of imported royalty.

Our ups and downs
a male thing
from perceived challenges;
proud egos magnifying
faint threats.
even those, just echoes
of pawing hooves,
virile reflexes
marking territory;
the struggle for
the strong “I” of youth.
That came and went,
but so much survived;
affection, admiration,

So, with good will abounding,
we converge again as two ships,
retired from long voyages abroad.
riding calmy in safe anchorage.
Our rites of passage, though
indelibly logged in our minds, fade slowly
in history. We were at the helm during rough seas and smooth sailing, and
surrendered command, and its privileges
with much regret, to begin life anew.

We navigated to our home port,
enriched by journeys into other worlds.
Now, in common space, no longer urged
to exalt our deeds, carrying the old mantle,
renewed friendship is celebrated
by honoring shared ideas,
and thoughts annealed
by worldly wisdom,
recalling lives finely lived
in the best of times.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


H.C. Klingman

Before my face began breaking out I was just a kid, putting on whatever clothes Mom set out for me in the morning. After a breakfast of cocoa and pastry, feeling slightly nauseous, eyes not entirely clear of sleep, I stumbled along to PS 82 in my sneakers, lunch and books slung over my shoulder. Sometimes I smuggled my peashooter or a comic book to class. I had no master plan. Life was mostly random, all about me.
There was a general awareness of having to be on time, but there was sightseeing along the way. At Sturm’s Candy Shop I ogled sweets that I had no pennies for. There was a pond en-route, where you could cut a willow switch to snap at cats or girls legs to make them jump. You could make a whistle from a willow branch.
Sometimes you could catch a small frog there, and take it to class, but mostly they died in the pocket of your jacket. Throwing stones or blowing dandelion parachutes were other diversions. In the autumn we picked cattails that you could soak in gasoline to make torches. I stuffed my pockets full of horse chestnuts.
I barely paid attention in class, absent-mindedly doing whatever the teacher asked, awaiting the school bell to release me to the playground. The swings and teeter-totters were for kids from the lower grades. Eighth graders like me played ball games.
Sometimes I walked home with other boys who told me of weird goings on at home, secrets about their sisters, or what they ate for dinner. Everybody was different. One guy’s mother visited a medium, another went to daily Mass.
There were music lessons, but I was thinking about outside games as I read notes and practiced finger exercises. It seems wherever I was or whatever I was doing, I always wanted to be somewhere else.
I didn’t even have peach fuzz on my cheeks in the 8th grade. I was only twelve. Some of the other boys were already shaving; you could see how hairy they were in the showers after gym. But my face was still unblemished, and I was invited to a round of graduation parties. The girls at those parties were a little more advanced than me, and when they suggested playing “post office,” I opted out. No smooching for me.
Those days of innocence ended in high school. Hormones raged, girls suddenly seemed different, and a plague of pimples appeared out of nowhere, speckling my face. My voice became a cracked yodel and strange pains were felt in armpits and groin. “Growing pains” said Mom. There was adolescent insecurity. Only later did I learn that puberty presaged biological destiny, programmed into us by evolution.
Nature’s timing couldn’t be worse. Just about the time you cultivate interest in the world, you become disfigured with all kinds of skin eruptions. People look away. You suffer the taunts of your little brother, and your parents scold you for picking at your face. Plucking and squeezing become spasmodic. You feel unclean, and no amount of scrubbing or salves brings relief. When company comes you want to hide.
It seems to go on for ages, but eventually skin clears and the shame lifts. Facial hair flourishes and the voice stabilizes. Secondary sex characteristics announce your new role. You become a bold performer in early fertility rituals where girls are to be pleased, no longer teased. A threshold is reached as a freshfaced teenager emerges from his cocoon searching for identity, confronted by gender questions. He becomes aware of uncertainties involved in the mating process. Randomness gives way to purpose. Choices have to be made.
That is when the real problems begin.


by H.C. Klingman

I stand at the bars of my cell, awaiting my special dinner. It is to be the Last Supper before my execution. In a splendid display of compassion, the warden said he absolutely guaranteed that my choice of food would be fulfilled. Then, and only then, will he strap me into “Old Sparky,” and pull the switch. I thought about it for a long time before selecting.
Now I may be excitable, but I’m not as bad as they said at the trial. And I know my food. There are some things you don’t mess with, like traditional recipes that have been unchanged for centuries. But in America, any unpardonable adulteration of food that violates gastronomic tradition is allowed because they believe in free speech.
Sure I bopped that chef at the Ucelli Pazzo. That stronzo deserved it for serving me a Saltimbocca a la Romana with spinach between the Prosciutto and the Scallopine. What a sacrilegious outrage. Even the lowliest kitchen goomba in Italy knows that it is Salvia that goes in there. Sage, sage, sage! But before you judge me, consider the details of my case honestly.
The Ucelli is not my favorite restaurant but I drop in every once in awhile. I know they get good veal, seldom found in America, where the natives are hooked on beef. So I ask the waiter if they can do me a nice Saltimbocca. He is Italian and says, “ Certo, ma shu.” Which means, “Certainly, why sure.” Basically you trust an Italian on food because eating is a rite more sacrosanct than prayer in church; a matter of personal pride and national integrity.
I forgot that Italians never say no, and that waiters are basically paid to sell food. (The tips are for delivering it.) My delight in the dish that is called “somersault in the mouth” was dashed with the first bite. “What the hell is this,” I thundered, pointing to spinach where the sage should be. The waiter knew danger when he saw it and took off for the kitchen with me in hot pursuit. I was stopped by the big chef, a stand-in for Primo Carnera. I called him a gugguzzo and accused him of high treason, of being Un-Italian, and told him he was even too fricken dumb to boil noodles, and his veal could go do somersaults up his culo. “Go back to being a bus-boy,” I jeered, and gave him both horns, the sign of the cornuto.
Then that maladetto went crazy. He swung at me with a meat cleaver so I picked up this pan of spinach and threw it in his face. Primo stumbled and fell backward hitting his head and he goes down for the full count. But it wasn’t the blow that did him in. The jerk died of a heart attack.
Greenbaum, my lawyer, pleaded self-defense, and accidental death. Judge O’Leary ruled homicide. Justice O’Malley confirmed on appeal. Sensitivity to the nuances of food culture cannot be expected from Irish judges. They struck down the Italian defense; that anyone who screws around with a Saltimbocca has committed a grave provocation, which permits a certain amount of agitated response. “Murder first,” they said, and Greenbaum went to the Governor for clemency. There was still no answer from the State House.
In the prison library I looked up the Law, and it says a 36 hour humanitarian stay of execution can be granted at the warden’s request. I had to play for extra time, so I told him my menu choice was Saltimbocca, made with sage, the real Italian way. I figure that would send him on a wild goose chase. The hot seat would stay cool a few hours more.
Now, down Death Row, they are coming. The 36 hours are about up. The Warden, and Greenbaum are approaching with a trustee wheeling a food cart toward my cell. Uh-Oh, time’s up.
The warden beams. “We tried to fill your request over at the Ucelli restaurant but they still didn’t have sage. But have a look at this. With a flourish, he removes a lid, and there before my eyes is a masterpiece of La Cucina Italiana, an incredibly beautiful sauteed Saltimbocca, with genuine sage in the middle. I am confused. Nobody in this town can make anything like it.
Greenberg says, “Before you eat, read the card.” I pick it up. It is on heavy stock, crested with the State Seal. It says simply, “From my personal kitchen. Buon Appetito. You were right. It was indeed justifiable homicide. Enjoy. Go home.” The signature was “Anthony Giorgio Cosimano, Governor.”
I said, “The uncondemned will now eat a hearty meal. ” Everybody smiled. But I didn’t let them have a single bite.

MARTHA by H.C. Klingman

Martha was the last Passenger Pigeon on earth.
Ectopistes migratorius.
Martha’s line is extinct. Dead as a Dodo.

She died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo on Sept. 1, 1914, and was sent to the Smithsonian in an iceblock to be skinned and mounted. A statue in her memory stands on the grounds of her last home.

There were billions of Passenger Pigeons in the sky to greet the white settler. Audobon saw them darkening the sky in enormous flocks of up to 300 miles in length that took hours to fly by. He estimated the flock to be over 2 billion birds.

They were cheap food for slaves, and easy to hunt. There were no restrictions. In 1857 the Ohio Legislature ruled that the Passenger Pigeon needed no protection, and that they were numerous enough. 57 years later they were extinct. A $3000 prize was desperately offered, too late, for a nesting pair.

Whole boxcars full of this pigeon’s meat went East from Michigan and Wisconsin. There were efficient commercial hunters who knowingly wiped out the last great flock of 250,000 birds. They may have celebrated. It is doubtful they cared. Resource exploiters seldom do.

How paradoxical that Martha, the last survivor of her race was given the last rites in Ohio. Her statue can be seen as a decent gesture, but not quite repentance.
Mine is the sad voice of creatures past, with tales of extinction, of killing animals that once lived. They were the victims of greed and human destruction. You have a misnomer for it: “harvesting.”
If you listen carefully in the still of night, in the time of the Dream-moon when the wind is still you may hear it. Sometimes it is a howl, but it can be a yelp, or a hiss, a bleat, croak or cheep, screaming thinly, unheeded. Listen! They are gloomy calls, perhaps for mercy, cries that have passed down through the ages, unable to convey meaning. Scarcely heard, they cannot penetrate the advanced brain of the superior order of Man.
It can be a mew or bray, a snarl or wail, any or all of these, faintly echoing through the veil of former being; ghostly voices that cannot reach Homo Sapiens, where deafness filters out the mournful sounds of animal agony telling of beings that once enjoyed a birthright but were stamped out of existence.
There is not even a word in your language for wiping out an animal race. “Zoocide” would come close, but has not yet been invented because no word for this human action is thought necessary. Only human life is dignified enough for precise nomenclature.[1] Words need thoughts before they are invented. You have them when you kill or murder each other, but when you kill us the act becomes permissible because you say it is. Your egos make it impossible to conceive of any relationship to animals or any other aspect of nature except one that exploits.
Zoos are not there to perpetuate or warn but to confirm your superiority, and satisfy your curiosity. Your solution to preserving the species is taxidermy. In the march toward human destiny there is no place for us except that we have utility to yourselves. Homo Sap forever, tops on the food chain; consumer of all, efficient destroyer of other species though inhabiting the same world.
Why are you unable to understand that all living creatures have their own imperatives for survival. The struggles of the largest whale against an exploding harpoon are the same as the shudders of a netted bird. The fight to continue life is the same in us all, you included.
Nature’s plan once allowed you to take the beasts of the Garden, but you plundered this patrimony taking far, far more than can ever be replaced. This crime is against all nature.
Fauna disappeared in whole flocks, herds or swarms: vertebrates, quadrapeds, mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, mollusks, worms and insects. They were shot, speared, hooked, netted, smothered, drowned, asphyxiated, stabbed, stoned, trapped or poisoned. Human ingenuity has always found ways to make the hunt lethal enough to kill huge populations of us, without restraint.
Where once Cod ran so thick you could walk ashore on them, there are only sporadic individuals. They once fed Europe, but that fishery is now dead, hunted beyond its capacity to maintain the biomass within the last few decades.
There are certain whales and Tigers whose numbers you have reduced into the few hundreds or less. The American Bison is like the Indian, thinned out and reduced to living on welfare in reservations. Buffalo Bill Cody, who killed both, lives on as a frontier hero.
The Great Auk’s exit in 1850 was a shame because he was useful for fishbait or feathered cloaks. Australian hunters eliminated the Tasmanian Tiger by 1936, because he liked chickens and sheep. The Dodo became food for Australians only until 1681, a scant century since being spotted by the first white man. There was the Quagga, a Zebra/Horse. The last one died in an Amsterdam Zoo in 1883. Stellar’s Sea Cow, 35 feet of meat and leather was eliminated within 30 years of its discovery. The black Rhino went in 2006, its horn needed for dagger handles by macho Arabs, while the last remaining Caspian Tiger was shot in 1957.
Can you imagine the pride of that hunter…the distinction in having bagged the ultimate specimen, closing out the race with one well-aimed shot? There is no greater thrill on earth.
You have sacrificed us on the altar of your own Moloch destroying a part of yourself in the process. In your little world, effects of mismanagement as trustee will be surely felt. In the dynamic universe it will scarcely be noticed, even as you too become extinct. You are the most dangerous animal of them all. I, Martha, and five billion like me know.
Sic transit Gloria!

[1] regicide, parricide, fratricide, homicide, infanticide, aborticide, genocide, and suicide,


The boy was already old enough to be suspicious of Santa Claus, and some of the other stuff. But he was confused about doctors and angels.
On the one hand there was kindly old Doc Fisher in the white jacket who tried to fool him by making meowing sounds and letting him look around his office to find the little kitty-cat. But he soon saw through that trick, losing a bit of his awe and trust in the process.
And then there were the evil “night doctors” that the neighbor lady warned him about. They were to be feared because they did awful things to you, things he didn’t understand. She said once you got into their clutches only the angels could save you.
He was terrified of the night doctors fearing what they would do if they caught him. So he asked his mother, “Is old Doc Fisher a night doctor, too?”
She replied, “Don’t be silly, there are no night doctors. Don’t listen to those people next door, they’re Catholic, and they’re just trying to scare you because you’re Lutheran. But he was unconvinced and remained fearful.
The next time his Mom took him to Doc Fisher she explained about how the meow and the kitty are only for little boys, and that he was growing up. In the leathery office he climbed up onto a table by himself where the doctor blinded him with a light and told him to open wide. There was a bitter taste of dry wood as his tongue was pressed down hard. He gagged. Twice. The tongue depressor went chunk into the metal wastebasket leaving him with a terrible pain in his throat.
His mother looked tearful, a little worried as Doctor Fisher sat down at a large desk and began writing with a fat pen. He made a phone call, speaking with authority.
Then he turned and gently said, “Louise, bring the little man in next Wednesday ten a.m. at the Deaconess Hospital, and we’ll fix him up. We want him with an empty stomach. No breakfast.”
To the lad he was fatherly. “We’re going to get rid of that nasty hurt in your throat, but you will have to be very brave. You are a big boy now. No crying.” That brings nods from his mother, so he did the same. He told himself he will not cry, and that he will trust kindly old Doc Fisher.
At home, Mom answered Pa’s questions. “It’s a very good hospital, run by a Protestant nursing order. They’re German. But I’ve got to buy him some new brown shoes. He can’t go to the hospital with those scuffed up old ones.”


Wednesday. Summer heat blazes and the boy’s woolen Sunday suit feels like Shredded Wheat. There is torture in his new leather oxfords, his mouth is lined with spiderwebs of a nagging thirst while his stomach feebly protests. He is totally miserable. The walk to the hospital gives him blisters. His mother keeps tugging at him whenever he slows down to stop the stinging. He comes close to tears, trying not to be frightened about what lay ahead, but remembers what the doctor said.
The hospital is large and confusing, and his mother’s hand leads him up stairs and down long corridors to a room where a starchy nurse tells him to take off his clothes. There are strangers around and he is bashful, but he lets his mom remove the prickly suit reducing him first to his BVD’s, then to nudity. Half modesty comes with a flimsy nightgown, open in the back, letting in air and glances at his naked bottom.
Then he is carted, lying flat, down a long aisle to another room, where Doctor Fisher waits, capped and gowned. Competent. His glasses glint and he is wearing a mask. His comforts the boy in a muffled voice, “You are a very good boy; it’ll all be over very quickly and you won’t feel a thing.”
Looking up into the brightness he is aware of something put onto his face. Doctor Fisher tells him to breathe deeply and begin counting. As he does, the numbers melt into a dark heaven, a night so black that he feared...but suddenly there are brilliant shooting stars and colored exploding fireballs, the most thrilling he has ever seen. He is almost sure there were no night doctors in that place.
Then he is again in the bed with the iron rungs, woozily aware of his parents, and a pain in his head. His mom says, “They took out your tonsils, and the adenoids too.” Those were words he didn’t want to understand just yet. He tries to tell them that he was hungry, and wanted something to drink. But there is something missing in his voice.
Finally, they give him a cup of water, and as he drinks it dribbles out through both nostrils. Kindly old Doc Fisher appears in his shirtsleeves and says, “You did just fine, and we are all proud of you. When you get home you can have all the ice cream and ginger ale you want. It will make the pain disappear. Here young man, I have a reward for you. Open it.”
In the box there is a green toy with black dots that has the face of a cat. There is a plunger to press and as it whirls it makes sparks that shoot out of the cat’s eyes and mouth. He has never seen a toy like that before, and, forgetting his pain, he plays with it in total fascination until they arrive at home.
True to kindly old Doc Fisher’s word, there is plenty of ice cream for him, but for a while the ginger ale keeps dripping out of his nose. His Mom says, “That will only last for a couple of days until you learn to swallow differently.”
As he heals he energetically pumps the toy cat to shoot out those splendid sparks, so much like his dream in the operating room. Gradually, it wears out. By then he can drink and eat normally, the new shoes are broken in, and he outgrows the itchy pants and jacket. Other matters began to occupy him though he frequently thinks about the night of streaking planets and spinning constellations. Later, when he is sick with measles, mumps, or whooping cough, kindly old Doc Fisher comes to the house. He was always glad to see him.
But it took a little longer for the night doctors to disappear from their neighborhood.