Thursday, June 30, 2022

My Favorite Sister

It's my favorite sister's birthday today.


Well, OK, Sue is my only sister, but I'm pretty sure she'd be my favorite if I had 100 sisters.

Even though we live separate lives in separate states, I've been able to visit her this week.

My younger sister and I spent the day together yesterday, a rainy Wednesday. With outdoor plans scuttled, we went to see the new "Top Gun" movie. Sue had already seen it, but she wanted to see it again, and she thought I'd like it.

I loved it.

I was almost moved to tears during a few scenes. Silly me. I managed to keep my emotions in check.

I rationalized that I was so sentimental because it was my first visit to an actual movie theater (with a big, live audience to boot) since before the pandemic.

Also, it was my first visit to a movie theater with Sue since we were kids.

We saw "Jaws" alone together during a family vacation at the Jersey Shore. The MPAA had generously rated "Jaws" as PG, but my parents probably only allowed us to go because underage Sue would be there to chaperone me.

Sue doesn't remember this long-ago outing with her "big brother," probably because it pales in comparison to her many teenage adventures as one of the cool kids.

Throughout our young lives, Sue was popular and confident, while I was awkward and shy. Yet she always defended me. She has always had my back.

Even today, Sue's loyalty is unfailing, and we're still different people. I don’t think many others, meeting us for the first time, would peg us as brother and sister.

More to the point: Although I'll always be physically bigger and grayer, she's the bigger person.

Yesterday, as Sue's husband drove us back home after we had watched "Top Gun," he turned to her and asked, "You didn't cry again in the theater, did you?"

If I'm ever going to be as caring and as loving as my little sister, I'm gonna need a bigger heart.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Showing a Little Faith, Friday Night in Hoboken

St. Matthew Trinity Lutheran Church, Friday night in Hoboken.

"Church buildings never pass judgment. They simply remind us of transcendence amid ordinary life."

The quote above is from my reading Friday night at the Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken.

Now that Google is sentient (and litigious), I should be careful with this post. According to a publishing agreement, I can't repost chapters of the new anthology, "New Jersey Fan Club."

But, in response to friends, I can say I greatly enjoyed reading from my photo essay, "Finding Religion in New Jersey." The people with me in the photo below are especially wonderful and talented, especially editor Kerri Sullivan. Not pictured is Hoboken's mayor, Ravi Bhalla, who was especially gracious to us all on Friday:

You should follow these accounts on Instagram!

Since the theme of my reading involved religion -- or, more accurately, faith -- it was a bit bittersweet to bring up the topic on the evening of the Supreme Court's overturning of Roe vs. Wade. So many friends on social media were expressing heartfelt feelings of disillusionment with institutional religion.

With all this in mind, below is an excerpt from what I read -- about my hobby of taking photos of New Jersey churches. In the anthology, this passage is prefaced with the note that churches have "graveyards," while "cemeteries" are burial sites not on church grounds: 

Churches connect us with past generations, and nowhere more so than at a church with an adjoining graveyard. 
In New Jersey, the dead outnumber us. Over 96,000 people are buried in Totowa, where I grew up, a borough with a population of only 11,000. 
Recently I took Mom to visit Dad's gravestone there. "I'm getting tired, Bob," she said to the ground, not to me, for both our names are the same. "I want to go home." 
Everything dies, and our graveyards are haunted with memories.  
Meanwhile, their churches testify that there’s more to life than this, and they affirm our innate belief that love lasts forever.


"New Jersey Fan Club" -- which includes contributions from dozens of writers, photographers, poets and artists -- can be purchased online at Rutgers University Press and elsewhere, or in real life at local bookstores across the state.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Finding Religion in New Jersey

On Friday, June 24, I'll be reading from my chapter in the anthology, "New Jersey Fan Club," published this month by Rutgers University Press.

I'll be joined by several of the authors and editor Kerri Sullivan at Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken, beginning 6 p.m. You can reserve a free ticket here, and find more information about the book here.

My chapter is a photo essay called "Finding Religion in New Jersey," and below are the photos I use to tell my story.

Stop by to say hi. Or email me at varettoni@gmail.com with any questions.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Happy Birthday, Allen Ginsberg

Today would have been the 96th birthday of the poet who saw the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness.

I have a great affinity for Allen Ginsberg. Although we are polar opposites in terms of personality and poetic ability, we at least share a complicated love of both New Jersey and New York.

Ginsberg was born in Newark and grew up in Paterson. His father was a local New Jersey poet and high school teacher, and Ginsberg went to Columbia University. He intended to study law until he met up with Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassaday and William S. Burroughs in New York.

His words and legacy still have vitality in the Garden State, especially at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson. Yearly, this great organization sponsors the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and yearly I enter poems for this competition every January only to learn that nothing I've submitted merits even honorable mention in May.

The 2022 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award Winners were announced last week and, sigh, I'll try again in January 2023. Meanwhile, on what would have been Allen Ginsberg's 96th birthday in June 2022, I can easily publish some of these entries without anyone's permission.

As Ginsberg once observed, "Whoever controls the media, the images, controls the culture." He also urged others to follow their "inner moonlight" and "not hide the madness."

With that in mind, and apologies to Allen, following are four examples of a few of my previous submissions, illustrated with my photos 🙂

---------


Scenic Overlook

This is a dangerous place to stand:
Cliffside in Paterson, in the descending dusk.

Past the highway below,
in the horizon of the city skyline at my feet,
I see a house fly alight on your thigh.

It's 40 years ago, and you are languidly napping in our room.
The road signs pointing here didn’t warn me of this.
I find it a dizzying view.

The fly rubs its hands, obsessed, plotting its next move,
until shooed in a flash by a dismissive twitch of your flesh.
Decades disappear, just as fast, as cars on Route 80 flee to the west.

I look to the east.
Facing this vanished breast of a new world,
I hold my breath on the precipice… these wounds, dark and deep.

40 years later,
I still watch you as you sleep.

---------



My Last Words to Vincent

 

In a cornfield in the middle of a dream,

I recognize the countryside.

This must be Arles.

 

I’ve never been to France in real life,

but I know what I know.

Cue the murder of crows.

 

In the distance, a man reimagines the scene on canvas.

It's a matter of hours before he shoots himself

and takes three days to die.

 

He works as if possessed.

I want to run to him, tell him his work will endure,

but the crows won't let me near.

 

I shout, "It's not too late!"

He turns his head; I take his photo.

It captures the long view of both of us:

 

Imaginary proof of all our useless dreams.


---------

 


100 Words (Exactly) About Writing

 

On a blank page,

I can do I anything.

 

I am bold.

The way you always wanted me to be.

And I can make you love me.

And you would never leave.

 

You would never leave,

And I would never wonder.

Because I create new worlds,

And conjure you at will.

 

Here we are at dusk in New York:

 

We are ghosts,

Playing chess in a vest-pocket park.

Phantom dogs roam at our feet.

Occasional cars form shooting stars

Along the FDR.

 

On a blank page,

I wait forever for your next move.

On a blank page,

I never lose.


---------



How I Imagine Santa’s Workshop

 

I can drive there,

our old car warning of a baby on board.

The valets are penguins, of course.

 

And, once inside,

I am surrounded by pets

who have died:

 

the dogs, just as gullible;

all the ageless hamsters

I replaced on the sly.

 

The one and only Spy Cat,

hero of our made-up stories,

eyes me coldly, inscrutable to the last.

 

I tell them all,

“I have come to take you home.”

Ted, the talking bear, awaits our return.

 

In your bedroom, alone.


---------

See you (I hope) at the 2022 Ginsberg Award Winners’ Reading, February 4, 2023. It will be at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in The Hamilton Club Building, 32 Church Street, 2nd Floor, Paterson, NJ.