Saturday, May 15, 2010

James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles

by Carole Rose Livingston
illustrated by

1. James and the Twenty-Seven Bicycles

2. copyright, etc.

3. To G.

4. James had twenty-seven bicycles.
They were all stored in the garage.

5. Some were missing a pedal or two.
Some had flat tires.
Some were rather rusty.
Still, taken all in all, there were twenty-seven bicycles cluttering up the garage.

6. How, you may ask, had James collected twenty-seven bicycles?

At yard sales, of course.

James was always going to yard sales to look for bicycles, and also to look for spare parts for bicycles.

7. "Aha!" he would say, rummaging through boxes of old hardware, "a tire iron!"

8. And he would carry it home in triumph, and add it to the twenty-seven bicycles and all the bits and pieces of bicycles that were cluttering up the garage.

9. The family car sat outside, parked at the curb in sun and rain and snow. There was no room for it in the garage.

10. James' wife Gemma was a patient woman.
Everyone, however, has a limit.

One day, when James brought home an especially bent rear wheel, Gemma said, "Right! That's it! I've had enough. We are going to have a yard sale."

And they did.

11. But first, Gemma took all her tools and spent a whole weekend working in the garage.

Here's what she did.

12. She removed the shiniest handlebars and frame from one old bicycle.

13. She added the best front wheel from another, and the best rear wheel from another.

14. She added the best pedals and seat from another, and a good loud bell and other bits and pieces from others.

15. After she had put all the pieces together, she painted and she oiled and she polished.

16. When she was finished, she presented James with one perfectly beautiful bicycle.

17. It was a bicycle that James could actually ride. he loved it!

18. Then they had a giant yard sale. All the neighbors attended.

19. Some people found old bicycles that were just the right size for them.

Some people found the right spare parts for mending their own bicycles.

All the neighbors found just what they needed.

20. When the yard sale was over, James swept out the garage.

21. Then Gemma drove the car into it.

22. Inside the garage, there was just enough room left for James' beautiful bicycle.

23. Next week, though, James wnet to another yard sale....

24. Probably not the end....

A Hyacinth for the Departed Soul

Marion Wade, who was an active member of Pinewoods Folk Music Club and a founding member of People's Voice Cafe, was a fine and feisty woman. After several careers, paid and unpaid--as a journalist, a bookseller, a left-wing activist and the mother of Don--Marion became a folk singer at an age when most people retire. Singing unaccompanied, Marion performed around the country, at cafes and union halls, festivals and conferences, schools and libraries. She sang traditional songs and contemporary political songs that others had written. She did little songwriting herself, but--good atheist that she was--she did write rousing new political lyrics for the Protestant hymn "What a Day of Victory," and that became her signature tune, and the title of her tape.

In her final ilness, Marion had surgery at Roosevelt Hospital. To cheer her, nine of her friends decided to visit Marion in the hospital and sing her version of "What a Day of Victory" to her. One of us was a minister, who could pull the right strings to get us all into Marion's hospital room together.

On the appointed afternoon, we gathered outside the hospital, and one thoughtful person, handed out xeroxed copies of Marion's song. While the minister went inside to arrange our visit, the rest of us rehearsed on the street.

A few minutes later, the minister rejoined us. "Mariion died an hour ago," she said. "Her body has just been removed to the hospital morgue. I will not feel right until I go to visit her. Does anyone wish to go with me?" Two of us joined her.

In the morgue, an attendant pulled open a green metal drawer, and there, swathed in a sheet, with only her face visible, was Marion. We had come to the hospital to sing to Marion--so there in the morgue, the three of us sang her song to her. After her well-lived life, and her gallant struggle with cancer, it was indeed her day of victory.

(This is not an account of all the events of that afternoon. Each of the people who assembled at the hospital probably has a different, deeply felt key memory. This is mine.)

Carole Rose Livingston

Friday, May 14, 2010

A Hyacinth for the Urban Soul

Did you know that the subway, contrary to its reputation, is actually the safest place in New York City? According to a TV news program a while back, the subway is seven times safer than your own home, and thirteen times safer than the streets.

I ride the subway all over, at all hours. At night, I prefer to wait for my train in the designated area near the token booth, but this is not always possible to do. And what of entering and leaving the station, standing on lonely platforms, and walking through pedestrian tunnels? What of the surrounding streets at night? Here's a safety tip that's better than a bulletproof vest. I sing folk songs, loudly. It's great fun, and any would-be perpetrators who might be lurking in the vicinity scurry away, dismayed and confounded.

Some years ago, after a party on Christmas Eve, I found myself waiting for the A train at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station in Brooklyn, at 2 AM. Around me on the platform were about a dozen large men of varied hue. None of them seemed very sober, and all of them seemed to be leering in my direction. So I burst into song. Foreign languages are best for such occasions, so, in keeping with the seasaon and the apparent condition of my companions, I began with "Al Voll," a medieval German drinking song:

Al voll (6x).
Bist du voll?
So lege dich nieder,
Shteh auf fruh
Und esse dich wieder,
Das ganze jahr,
Den abend und
Den morgen

(Dringers: All full.
Barmaids: Are you full?
So go to sleep,
Wake up early
And eat some more,
The whole year long,
In the evening and
In the morning.)

As I was modulating into my next number, The French drinking song "Chevaliers de la Table Ronde," I looked around and discovered that I had half the platform to myself. All those men who a moment before had appeared so menacing were now backing further and further away from me, and looking distinctly uneasy, even anxious. This is not the response that I yearn for when I perform in cafes, but on subway platforms and dark streets it suits me fine.

I realize that what I'm doing at such times is exactly what the small birds do: I'm marking out my territory, my turf. Some animals do it with scents or bodily fluids. Many Americans think they need guns to do it. They're wrong. Like the little birds, I create my personal safety zone not with guns but with songs.

Carole Rose Livingston


I've climbed the high mountain,
And I've crossed the great sea,
In search of the man
Who can truly love me.

But if I don't find him,
Content I'll still be,
For I've climbed the high mountain,
And I've crossed the great sea.

Mr. Right

Oh Mr. Right, I love you so,
Though where you dwell I do not know.
I hold you safely in my heart,
For ne'er to meet is ne'er to part.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

My Cherished Friend: The Charming Stranger

(Dedicated to Trudy Katzer)

You are my rock. He is my rainbow.
You are granite. He is gold.
You are the north star, strong and steady.
He, the wind, blows hot and cold.

You are my harbor. He is the tide.
You are my anchor. He is the sea.
You are my touchstone; you keep me sane and real.
But he is a song; he sings to me.

And oh my friend, I need you both:
For he is the murmuring sky,
My father, a lover, a poem;
And you are the solid ground,
My mother, my friend, my home.

To Carry `Haiku'

Because it can't be moved by the morning sun,
Or quickened
By the curling aroma of coffee
And the first hot swallow,
Or ever feel your smile
As an intimate caress,
A computer,
However clever,
Can never
Translate a poem.

Neither can your dog,
Because he cannot sympathize beyond his nose,
Or shed a tear for those he'll never see
Crouching in crossfire on a Beirut street
Or pressed against a wall in a Belfast alley.
No, neither can your dog,
Although he sometimes has long thoughts
And bays at the moon.

It is left to you and me, my dear,
To carry haiku
Over the seas
And down through the years,
Past barriers
Of language and culture and taste,
Of history and class and caste;
Like smugglers,
To steer round the rocks,
Find the inlet at night,
And bring
The lightest of cargoes,
Delicate as camellias,
Mysterious as stars,
Into the dark harbor,
To the shore
Where the listeners