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Script for audio journal Volume 4 Harlequin's Poles

SQ 41 Rose

convict-stainEntry 41: Rose- Family secrets: everyone knows one or more about their own family and one or more about other families, if only through the media. What one generation may hang its head in shame over the next, more likely than not, just shrugs and says, so what! The convict stain in Australian society became a badge of honour in the space of a generation or two.

Distance in time lends enchantment to a roguish ancestor or two in the family tree. People who seek information about their family-treeforbears are more likely to advertise relationship to a pirate than an accountant. Note also, that privacy for individuals becomes an increasingly rare commodity in inverse proportion to the growing obfuscation surrounding the activities of transnational corporations and governments. The contradictory signals make reading the signs of the times about as reliable as the practice of palmistry.

I am reliably informed the Buddha once said “Three things cannot long stay hidden: the sun, the moon and the truth”. Much as I admire the ancient sage, smog covers the sunbuddha and coal-fired power station emissions deal with the moon for a lot of people a lot of the time. And the truth? The Roman procurator of Judea sometime around the end of the third decade of the first century asked what that was and the question has reverberated down the millennia since.

 When someone begins a sentence with the phrase, the fact is, chances are- it isn’t. Now, as usual, I don’t go to politicians or economists for answers, but poets. Denise Levertov wrote a poem entitled The Secret back in the 60s that is as thought-provoking now as then,

 deniseTwo girls discover/the secret of life /in a sudden line of/poetry./I who don’t know the/secret wrote/the line.

 Of course, the girls don’t reveal the line to Levertov’s informant and the poet knows that, now a week later, the line has been forgotten…

I love them/for finding what/I can’t find,/and for loving me/for the line I wrote,/and for forgetting it/so that/a thousand times, till death/finds them, they may/discover it again in other/lines/ …or/assuming there is/such a secret, yes,/for that/most of all.

 That is the sort of secret I can relate to. Unlike the secret that excludes everyone but theceiling-rose chosen few. Such as the rosy cross of the Rosicrucians. Roman banquet halls had roses painted on them so that matters discussed there under the influence of wine (sub vino) would also remain sub rosa or secret.

The Victorians loved floriography- the language of flowers and would exchange nosegays, charmingly known as tussie-mussies, and parade around with these small bouquets trying flowersto decipher what, if any, meaning lay hidden in the arrangements held by friends they might encounter in their perambulations.

So, if anyone presents you with an arrangement featuring aconite, aloe and lobelia, my advice would be for you to run a mile because, if my reading of the wreath is accurate, they represent misanthropy, grief and malevolence.

What’s in a name? as Shakespeare asked so memorably in Romeo and Juliet.  I wonder what was in the minds of my paternal great-grandparents when they christened their daughter Rose. As I write this, I am listening togerry The Grateful Dead’s version of the Dylan classic, Visions of Johanna, sung by Jerry Garcia before a crowd at the Delta Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah in February 1995: it’s a fitting close to the 2015 release of 30 Trips Around the Sun: The Definitive Live Story.

The crowd sing along, they know the words, they know the secret the same way the two girls knew the secret in the Denise Levertov poem which was written around the same time Dylan was writing this. The song’s on repeat as I drink doubles of Scotch and Cola out of a Rolling Stones’ tall glass and get torn up all over again over the fate of my father’s mother.

a-silhouetteI first  knew her as a photograph of an elegant Edwardian lady in an oval frame hanging in the reception room of my childhood home in Cushendall, Northern Ireland. My enquiries were deflected, brushed off with the bare bones info that this was my father’s mother but not the one who raised him.

My nephew later did a little delving into family history and rattled some skeletons in the closet. My grandmother had taken a trip to Germany on a ship captained by her husband in 1914 and had been interned because war had broken out. She was returned to Ireland without her husband and, driven out of her mind with worry, was confined to an insane asylum where she died before the end of the war.

Mental illness was a shameful thing for that generation so the only thing I heard was, she was delicate, highly strung, and other euphemisms of the kind. My nephew, a journalist,angel gained access to her medical records through FOI legislation and I was hurt to read about her pain, set down in clinical prose by the treating physician.

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Script for audio journal Volume 9 Autumn Road

SQ 103 Manolito

Entry 103: Manolito– Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua festered in the heata-central-american-map of Central America during the 70s and 80s. Belize was insulated from the conflicts endemic to the region by the British presence and Panama, as a strategic asset of the US, thanks to its canal, also escaped the worst of the killings increasingly creating headlines in international newspapers.

Costa Rica was a relatively peaceful anomaly; without a standing army and possessing robust democratic institutions, it was spared the horrors of civil conflict and destabilisation by shadowy American forces. Indeed, because of the moral authority bestowed by a country that puts public welfare in the place of military spending, its President was able to address the US congress in in 1987 in these terms,

a-costa-rican-presidentI belong to a small country, that was not afraid to abolish its army in order to increase its strength. In my homeland you will not find a single tank, a single artillery piece, a single warship or a single military helicopter…. Today we threaten no one, neither our own people nor our neighbours. Such threats are absent not because we lack tanks but because there are few of us who are hungry, illiterate or unemployed.

 He was awarded the Nobel Peace prize two months after this address. This, was a slap ina-contras-image the face to Ronald Reagan, who had attempted to strong-arm the country into re-militarising and joining in the fight with the right-wing Contras, which he continued to fund covertly in the face of congressional blocks in 1985 to further financial assistance, against the legitimate Sandinista government of Nicaragua.

To all who glorify armed conflict as the art of war, a-denise-imageas a righteous response to ideological threats, I would refer them to Denise Levertov’s poem Misnomer, which refutes this appellation, They speak of the art of war,/ but the arts/ draw their light from the soul’s well,/ and warfare/ dries up the soul and draws its power/ from a dark and burning wasteland.

The darkness, to this day, blankets much of Central America, and the burning wasteland that is the lived experience of millions as we speak, is a screaming indictment of the corruption and violence which drives desperate people to seek refuge across the Rio Grande. As Jude Webber writes in his FT review dated April 6, 2016, of A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez,a-c-a-refugee-imagejpg

 …every day, in an endless stream, more than 1,000 people flee Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras staking everything on a perilous journey north to escape a peacetime now proving more deadly than civil wars that ended two decades ago. The book is a series of extended essays based on his reporting for El Faro, an award-winning Salvadoran online newspaper, and the unflinching cameos it paints offer a chilling portrait of corruption, unimaginable brutality and impunity.

a-killing-imageThe cameos include heart-wrenching stories of sex slavery and merciless retribution when victims who sought help from officials were handed back to the gangs. And this testament to the bravery of an individual who cannot look away,

For Israel Ticas, El Salvador’s only forensic investigator, the quest to dig murder victims out of a well turns into an 805-day nightmare. He has dived into its murky depths and discovers bones and body parts, corroborating testimonies from two turncoat gang members that at least four (but probably many more) victims they had, in gang slang, “taken for a walk”, had been thrown in. It is a race against time: not only must he get the bodies out before rains flood his tunnel, he also needs to do so before the maximum pre-trial detention is up for 43 gang members arrested in connection with the four known bodies. The government lends digging equipment, but swiftly takes it back. The excavation is doomed.

Meanwhile Donald Trump, front-runner for the Republican Party in the US, promises toa-trump-image expel 11 million undocumented migrants and then build a wall to keep them out. I can’t believe we’re living in the 21st Century!

 The song, Manolito, emerges from the shock I experienced at witnessing, on the TV news, in late June of 1979, the brutal slaying of American journalist Bill Stewart. I watched as he was a-killing2-imagemade to lie down on the roadway; then a member of Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza’s, National Guard kicked him in the side and shot him in the head killing him instantly.

The outrage following this atrocity led to the fall of the corrupt regime and Somoza’s flight to Paraguay after, of course, he had looted the Guatemalan treasury. There, a Sandinista commando squad assassinated him. The song, written during July, 1979, shows that burning wasteland from the point of view of a young wife speaking to her husband who is visiting his village home for a short while before resuming the guerrilla campaign.