Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Marfa Photos II

A few more Marfa photos!

At Stellina's on opening night
(among our dinner companions were
Judy Miller and my former classmate
from my senior year poetry class
with Ishmael Reed, Elizabeth Wurtzel)
The front yard 
The giant male turkey, on its way (away!)
Home-baked bread
At the St. George Hotel,
before Timothy Donnelly's reading
Poet Timothy Donnelly, reading
on Sunday afternoon 
Tumbleweed Café at left,
laundromat at right 
A coy bunny rabbit,
almost blending into the gravel 
The Hotel St. George (me at right),
photo © by C
The façade of the Judd Foundation
Sleepy downtown Marfa street

Monday, June 27, 2016

In Marfa (Photos)

Last week C and I headed down to a part of the world I'd never visited before, Marfa, Texas, where I'll be for the next month or so, thanks to a Lannan Foundation residency. (Thank you, Lannan Foundation!) Since the residency does not include family and friends we arrived a few days early to see the town and environs together, before I embarked on my stay. I had only a rough sense of Marfa from various books, films, TV reports, articles, and personal accounts I'd read or heard over the years, but I knew it was small--it is, with roughly a little over 2,000 people--and full of artists--it is the home of several arts foundations, especially the Judd Foundation and Chinati Foundation, as well as numerous galleries--while also being a Southwestern town not far from the Mexican border.

C and I had a wonderful time together, seeing many of the tourist and off-the-grid spots (including a trip to nearby Alpine, home of Sul Ross State University); sampling the restaurants; enjoying cocktails at the famous Hotel Paisano, where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean lodged during the filming of Giant (1956); and encountering all kinds of interesting people (see below). He has since flown home, and I am settling in, reading, writing, battling giant male turkeys (I won, without any physical violence), observing unflappable bunny rabbits, and, when I need breaks, watching the finals of the Copa América, which Chile won via penalty kicks, 4-2, over Argentina.

If you happen to be in or near Marfa, I'll be on the air with KTRS 93.5 Marfa Public Radio this Friday, July 1, at 6:30, and reading this upcoming Sunday, July 3, 2016, at 4 pm at the Hotel St. George, home of the Marfa Book Company. Even if you aren't passing through, consider a visit. It's worth seeing!

A few photos (I'll post a second set) tomorrow!

Desert flora, at Chinati Foundation
(there's a lizard hiding in there somewhere)
Heading to Marfa from El Paso 
At Chuy's Restaurant in Van Horn, Texas
Some of the mountains near Marfa
US Border Patrol station, on the
way to Marfa (inside Texas's borders)
C at the famous Prada Marfa
installation, created by Berlin-based
artists Elmgren & Dragset,
35 miles outside town
Vandals had cracked the Marfa Prada
installation's glass! (Why?)
A weather plane/dirigible/drone,
in the high desert outside Marfa
At the Hotel St. George, Marfa 
The Marfa arch, downtown 
Desert flora, with a lizard
hidden somewhere in there
One the peaks on the way
from Alpine, Texas
Eagles band artist
Boyd Elder (at left), with friend
outside the Hotel St. George
C photographing some of the wild beans,
at the Chinati Foundation
Judd's 15 works in concrete
(it was blazing out there!) 
Me standing between the sculptures
Me sketching at the Chinati Foundation,
among Donald Judd's giant sculptures
A selfie with C at the Chinati Foundation

A fur-lined car outside
Food Shark, a great truck restaurant
Former New York Times report
Judy Miller, asking C a question
about a Marfa location

Sunday, June 26, 2016

New York Fashion's Bill Cunningham: RIP

Yesterday the news broke that longtime New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham had passed away, at age 87. Cunningham's fashion posts and videos were a staple of the Times' fashion pages for several decades, and one of my weekly online destinations for years. Rather than a long tribute I'll direct readers to the sparkling 2010 documentary about Cunningham's life and work, Bill Cunningham New York, which Richard Press directed and cajoled Cunningham, thankfully for viewers, to participate in. It was streaming on Netflix a while ago, but should be available on DVD via that service and others, and at libraries. Its portrait of this simultaneous complex and bare-bones man, who elevated street fashion photography to an art, is poignant, perhaps even more so as the diverse, sometimes chaotic New York he chronicled through the lens of its fashions is being hypergentrified out of existence.

Below is a great clip of the animated Boston-native Cunningham speaking about what he considered the greatest fashion show of all time, 1973's "The Battle of Versailles," the "competition" pitting five  French haute couture designers (Yves Saint Laurent, Hubert de Givenchy, Emanuel Ungaro, Pierre Cardin, and Christian Dior) against the US's ready to wear stars; one of them, the then-young African American designer Stephen Burrows, and his spectacular  models, stole the show and electrified the French elites and the fashion world, as Cunningham relates, so moved at one point by the revolution he and everyone was witnessing on the catwalk that he cannot speak. So far we've come, so far we've gone backwards, so far we still have to go.  But we will have Bill Cunningham's New York (and Paris and Milan) fashion photographs as guideposts from the past, and templates for the future.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Mourning the Orlando Massacre Victims

Several days have passed and I find myself still heartbroken, reeling really, in the wake of the horrific mass murder this past Sunday, June 12, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Not long after 2 AM EST, gunman Omar Seddique Mateen slaughtered 49 people, and wounded 53, on the club's Latin Night, before police finally killed him several hours later. Nearly 90% of those slain were Latino, with the rest being Black American or both, and nearly 50 percent had familial links to Puerto Rico. The youngest victim was 18, and the oldest was 50. One of the murdered, 49-year-old Brooklyn native Brenda Marquez McCool, is said to have shielded her son from death by urging her son to flee rather than come back to get her, and thus also be killed in cold blood. (I should note that I cannot type this sentence, let alone think about or read it, without tearing up.) The Pulse Nightclub shooting was one of the deadliest mass shootings in the US since the 19th century Civil War and massacres of Native peoples, and the early 20th century anti-black riots.

Here, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinelis the full list of the murder victims, with brief stories about their lives. Every single one is poignant and worth reading. Please let's not ever forget them. If you are interested in helping out the families of the deceased and wounded, you can do so here.

Out for a night of fun and joy, in a space they thought was safe--multiply so, in that they could be themselves as Latinx and Black queer people where their sexual orientations, gender identities, and intersectional presentations of self would be affirmed; where they could be themselves as working-class queer people in a society and larger culture that regularly demeans, marginalizes and dehumanizes them; and where they could be themselves in a space where their race and ethnicity would not subject them to the erasures of the mainstream white LGBTIQ community--the 300+ people at Pulse instead found themselves in a killing field. How many of us brown and black queer people have been in these very spaces, carefree, shedding the burdens of the day, of everything, for music, dancing, companionship, laughter, the possibilities and enjoyment of friendship and love?

Instead, by early Monday morning, the news was of so many lives cut down, so many at the beginning of adulthood and in their prime, once again by homophobia, and common to so many instances of recent mass murder in the US, gun violence.

There currently are conflicting reports about the terrorist Omar Mateen's background and actions on the night of the massacre, but what is clear is that he is a native of New York City, and moved to Florida as a child. His parents are immigrants from Afghanistan, and the day after the murder, Mateen's father claimed that his son's response to witnessing two men kissing publicly might have been a factor in his decision to launch his rampage. Mateen was twice married, and has one child; his first wife, who now lives in Colorado, alleges that he beat her and was often angry, and that she had to be rescued from him by her parents. The FBI twice investigated Mateen, but supposedly dropped its investigation for lack of evidence. Despite this background he was still able to buy semi-automtic weaponry and deadly ammunition with relative ease. His second wife appears to have known about Mateen's plans, and allegedly even cased the bar with him and tried to dissuade him, though whether this is true has yet to be established. Whether she will be charged an accessory and conspirator is unknown. During a lull in the rampage, Mateen is alleged to have pledged allegiance to ISIS, and reports suggest that he had previously avowed support for the Taliban and Hezbollah.

Within a day of the massacre, witnesses came forward to say that Omar Mateen had frequented the bar and had repeatedly gotten so drunk he had to be carried out. A former classmate at the police academy told a reporter that Mateen had asked him out, and because the classmate was closeted he did not accept Mateen's overtures. Alongside this, there have been accounts that Mateen cruised people on gay male dating and sex apps, like Jack'd, and his first wife's Brazilian fiancé told a Brazilian news program that she told him Mateen was gay and that his father had called him an anti-gay slur. At least one account I've read, however, states that the FBI quashed all of these facts, but I find it hard to believe that so many people could have misidentified the wrong person. Whatever the case, and no matter to which religious or political group Mateen had affiliated himself, homophobia, cis-heterosexism, and a toxic form of macho masculinity, coupled with easy access to guns, appear to have fueled this terrible tragedy.

Once upon a time I would have said that a horrific event of this kind would occasion real change in our politics, towards a saner approach to the proliferation of guns, to hysteria about Muslims and immigrants, towards a shift against racism and homophobia. As we have seen time and again, however, over the last decade and a half, the opposite seems to be the result. Both parties appear to be in the thrall of the National Rifle Association. The GOP, which controls Congress, and its tribune, presidential candidate Donald Trump, are using Daesh and Islamophobia to gain votes and stir up fear. And although we have experience a sea change since the end of the 20th century on LGBTIQ rights, and have an African American president, we are neither post-racial nor post-gay, with racism, homophobia and misogyny still serving as potent toxins in the US body politic.

Where do we go from here? How do we heal? One step must be to be remember the names of those who were murdered in Orlando, to read up on their lives, and to vow to transform this society for the better, with one step being to vote, and urge others to, in November.


A few years ago, I wrote a series of poems recalling various gay/LGBTIQ bars in Boston. Here's one of them I've never published, but am doing so here, in tribute to the victims in Orlando.


Navy sky, white moon, red brick,
door and bell:  discretion was the precondition
for elegance.  Inside, gray hair peers

from every other head and open-collared chest.
There’s currency here in being the youngest.
I pass my dollars across the bar—no beer

for me though it’s butcher. A gin-and-tonic.
I sip and see how far my smile and wit and calves
sculpted in high school sprints can get me.

Nearby, men hover around a sleek black
grand piano, singing "My Funny Valentine"
in unison because it’s February, "Somewhere

Over the Rainbow" because it’s Judy.
On the dance floor beats tap gently
between the spinning bodies.  I ignore

the first two guys who ignore me, approach
a third brother, debonaire in his military-cut suit
and patent leather loafers, stout as a general,

ageless as a vampire.  To Duran Duran,
Gloria Gaynor we twirl out a sweat, mouthing
the lyrics to songs we recall without effort

into each other’s grins, glide closer, kiss,
return to bopping.  We agree that rhythm’s
a bridge to the soul and we'll cross it, grab

our overcoats, trot out into the Boston dark, fingers
popping to steps as hot as the groove in our hips, melting
night snow on the tips of our tongues: "Ain't no stopping us…."

Copyright © John Keene, 2000, 2016.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Copa América Centenário Soccer Tournament

US defender Deandre Yedlin
UPDATE: The US team, perhaps embarrassed by its sluggish opening game, showed up tonight with a completely different game plan. Playing with passion for 90 minutes, minimizing mistakes, and taking advantage of multiple opportunities, the US squad won by the astonishing score of 4-0 over Costa Rica, putting it in second place in Group A. 

The team secured goals by Clint Dempsey, who scored on a penalty kick; Jermaine Jones, who scored on a pass from Dempsey; Bobby Wood, on a set up by Michael Bradley; and substitute Graham Zusi, scored the fourth and final US goal. In defense, Brooks was particularly superb. The US's main weak point this game was Gyasi Zardes, who missed several key shots and passed a bit sloppily. But he did no real harm, and the US showed it could play superlative soccer. Now if only they can play even 3/4ths as well in their next three games, they could go deep into the tournament!


As Brazil staggers towards hosting its first Olympic Games, the first ever in South America, the USA is currently playing international athletics host itself, to national teams from across the Americas, for the Copa América Centenario. Established in 1916, the Copa América brings together the 10 teams from the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL), along with roughly 6 teams from other confederations, includingThe Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF), to which the US and Mexico both belong.

The tournament has been played on an irregular basis since its founding, with a four-year gap between the 2011 and 2015 meetings. Although the US has hosted the Summer and Winter Olympics many times and the World Cup just once, in 1994, this is its first time hosting the Copa América. Games have been scheduled for stadiums in Chicago, East Rutherford (NJ), Foxborough (MA), Glendale (AZ), Houston, Orlando, Pasadena (CA), Philadelphia, Santa Clara (CA), and Seattle. The Rose Bowl in Pasadena has the largest capacity, at 92, 542, while the smallest stadium is Orlando's Camping World Stadium at 60,219.

The sixteen competing squads are: Group A: Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, and USA; Group B: Brazil, EcuadorHaiti, and Peru; Group C: Jamaica, Mexico, Uruguay, and Venezuela; and Group D: Argentina, Panama, Chile, and Bolivia.  Going into the tournament, the US automatically qualified as the host and Mexico did so as CONCACAF champion. Additionally, Costa Rica quaified by winning 2014 Copa Centroamericana; Jamaica by winning the 2014 Caribbean Cup; and Haiti and Panama by winning playoffs in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Argentina entered as the highest ranked team, while Venezuela was the lowest.

Brazil's Hulk
The games began last Friday, June 3, at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara with the US facing off against Colombia. The Americans mostly played scattered, strategy-less soccer, with zero set-piece success, losing 0-2, though the American midfield Clint Dempsey did manage several shots that were near-misses, and goalie Brad Guzan played sharply enough to prevent a rout. In general, though, the US team, coached by the legendary Jürgen Klinsmann, was lucky not to have lost much worse. The Americans will need to stay vertical and stop hoping for penalty calls, pass much more precisely, make the most of every set play, and attack more, or barring a miracle they will go winless.

The following day saw Costa Rica and Paraguay play to a scoreless tie in Orlando. Both teams looked strong, with an emphasis on defense. Perhaps Costa Rica will find more pop going forward, but Paraguay did itself a huge favor by keeping the game 0-0. In the second game of the day, Haiti faced Peru in Seattle, and lost 0-1, on a superb header by Peru's Paolo Guerrero, who caught an open hole in the defense and struck. The Haitians, playing in their first Copa América, looked decent, and nearly equalized the game several times, but couldn't pull out a tie, let alone a victory.

In the third game Saturday, Brazil faced off against Ecuador. The Brazilians were more highly ranked and thus favored, and put on a one-touch passing clinic early on, but unlike in prior major tournaments, were unable to punch through a goal, finishing 0-0. Unlike in prior international tournaments whether they won or lost, they appear to lack a superstar scorer or playmaker of the kind (Pelé, Romário, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, etc.) that has often defined Brazil's national teams. Ecuador played solid soccer, and helped themselves tremendously as they'll face Peru in their next match.

Ecuadorian defender Gabriel Achillier
Sunday's matches began with Jamaica facing off against Venezuela. Though starting without their star Wes Morgan, who was exhausted from European play, the Jamaicans could have won the game given how well they were moving the ball, but Venezuela managed to score early on, in the 15th minute, when Josef Martínez snuck a goal past Jamaica's defenders and goalie, and that sealed things. The Venezuelans have given themselves a huge boost, and enter their next game Uruguay with a huge advantage.

Haiti's goalie Johny Placide
As for Uruguay's game against Mexico, Sunday proved a disaster. Things got off to a bad start when someone at Glendale's University of Phoenix Stadium played Chile's national anthem instead of the Uruguayan one. Then, 4 minutes into the game, Uruguay's Álvaro Pereira accidentally knocked the ball into his own goal, giving Mexico a 1-0 lead. Things only got worse. Uruguay's Diego Godín scored in the 74th minute to tie things up, but less than 10 minutes later, Mexico put together two devastating strikes, with Rafael Márquez scoring in the 85th minute to effectively win the game, and Héctor Herrera shutting things down with a goal in the 90th minute plus 2 of stoppage time.

The last set of first-round games occurred yesterday. Panama defeated Bolivia 2-1 on goals by Blas Pérez, who scored in the 11th minute to give Panama the lead, and then again in the 87th minute to put Bolivia away. In the matchup between Argentina, which features the spectacular Lionel Messi, one of the greatest living players and a star for Barcelona FC, versus a very strong Chile squad, neither team could break through in the first half, but Argentina gained the lead in the 51st minute on a goal by Ángel di Maria, and then Éver Banega put things away 8 minutes later. Chile did manage a goal in the 90th minute + 3 of stoppage when José Pedro Fuenzalida scored, but that was it.

Thus far, the top teams based on play appear to be Argentina, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, and Costa Rica. We'll know after the next set of match-ups which of these teams are likely to advance, and whether Brazil can emerge as more than a talented but middling participant. Tonight the US faces Costa Rica and Colombia will go up against Paraguay. Tomorrow, Brazil will challenge Haiti, and Ecuador will go after Peru; Thursday, Uruguay meets Venezuela and Mexico battles Jamaica; and Friday, Chile will aim to shut down Bolivia to stay in the tourney, while Argentina will try show it's the team to beat as it faces Panama. If the US can avoid a debacle tonight at Soldier Field in Chicago, it'll be a highlight of the tournament.

Brazil's Willian

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Losing Muhammad Ali

One of the final photos taken of
Muhammad Ali (Copyright © Zenon Texeira)
One of the greatest champions has left us. After a long struggle with Parkinson's disease, Muhammad Ali (January 17, 1942 – June 3, 2016), has passed in a Phoenix hospital yesterday. I won't attempt a full eulogy, but I want to praise and honor his courage, vision, outspokenness, artistry, and humanitarianism.

The three-time (1964, 1974, 1978) heavyweight boxing champion and Louisville, Kentucky native was a man of great self-conviction, with a razor wit and gift for self-promotion that struck some as arrogance. Yet he knew what he could do, and when still young he predicted that he would be the greatest boxer ever, eventually living up to that prediction, with one of his early triumphs coming in the form of a gold medal in the light heavyweight category at the 1960 Olympics in Melbourne.

With his victories on a steady roll, in 1963, at age 22, he defeated Sonny Liston, and became the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Shortly thereafter Ali joined the Nation of Islam, changed his name from Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., and became not just a devout Muslim, but a powerful advocacy for Black equality and liberation at a time when many of his peers would not speak out.

One of his bravest acts came when he chose not to go to Vietnam to fight in one America's many misguided imperial wars, stating, "I ain't got nothing against no Viet Cong; no Viet Cong never called me nigger." He was barred from boxing in nearly every state, lost his passport, and was eventually convicted of refusing to report for the draft, receiving a fire-year prison sentence and fine. Despite harsh criticism from his enemies and attempts by fellow black athletes to get him to play along, he refused. As a result att the height of his powers he lost vital years from his career, but he never looked back. 

When he returned to boxing, he showed not just the skill he had been known for, but grit and determination, as well as a gift for drama that made watching his matches thrilling. In the process he and his peers helped to elevate boxing once again to the world stage. I vividly recall the excitement surrounding the 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle," in Kinshasa, Zaire ("Ali, Ali boma ye"!), in which Ali knocked out the undefeated heavyweight George Foreman, and "The Thrilla in Manila" in 1975, the latter of which marked the beginning of the end of his remarkable career in the ring. 

Ali's post-boxing years included global outreach with the aim of connecting people across the globe; devotion to his faith, friends, family, and fans; and service as an international spokesperson for the very best that athletic competition might represent. Though despised by some in his youth, he was in the last portion of his life widely admired and loved.  I, like so many, will miss his presence, and I am glad he is no longer suffering. His model and spirit will long live on.
Muhammad Ali, then Cassius Clay (left), and his brother Rahman
Ali, then Rudy Clay (right), walk with their great-grandmother
Betsy Jane Greathouse (center), who was 99
when this picture was taken in 1963
in Louisville. (Credit: Charles Fentress Jr., 
The Courier-Journal, USA TODAY Sports)
Muhammad Ali, world heavyweight boxing champion,
stands with Malcolm X (left) outside
the Trans-Lux Newsreel Theater in New York in 1964.                          
Muhammad Ali, after his 1965 knockout
of Sonny Liston (Wikipedia)
Ali's skyline punch, New York City
Rumble in the Jungle poster,
1974 (Wikipedia)
Muhammad Ali lighting the flame at the opening
ceremony of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics
(Photo by Fairfax photographer Vince Caligiuri)
Muhammad Ali with Michael Manley,
the Prime Minister of Jamaica, and
an unidentified child in 1974
(Michael Manley Foundation)

Muhammad Ali and his beloved fourth
wife, Lonnie