Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Garden of History: From Boston to Italy, and From 1927 to 1977 to 2018: Remembering Sacco and Vanzetti

            A brilliant program by the Sacco Vanzetti Commemoration Society took place last night (Wednesday) in remembrance of the wrongful execution of the two Italian immigrants on this date in 1927. The event at the Dante Alighieri Society hall in Cambridge included moving film footage of the funeral march as tens of thousands of mourners accompanied the caskets from Hanover Street in the North End of Boston to Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

            Former Governor Michael Dukakis, who issued a proclamation in 1977 condemning their trial's injustice and removing all guilt from the names of Nicolo Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, recounted memories of his own family's immigration experiences and of the contributions of other immigrant families to America's 20th century growth and prosperity. 

            He also recalled picking up work for a local business from a printing shop in Boston's North End run by Aldino Felicani.

            Felicani was the founder, and treasurer, of the Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee, which raised funds to fight for the defendants through the seven years between their arrest and execution. Those kinds of connections run through local history. The degrees of separation between Boston area families and the infamous, international affair of the Sacco-Vanzetti case are fewer than we realize.
            It's because of Felicani's efforts that so many materials and physical artifacts from the case, and the lives of the two victims of a state conspiracy and the widespread prejudice that existed in the early decades of the 20th century against Italian immigrants. 

            He also preserved film footage of that famous funeral march. Generally regarded as the largest public gathering in Boston in 20th century, the march's numbers were estimated by the police at 20,000 and ten times that many by the city's newspapers. Felicani's film is the only record of that day, because the federal government successfully pressured Hollywood's newsreel  companies to destroy all their coverage related to Sacco and Vanzetti.

            It was government censorship. And of course we're not supposed to do that in America.
            Why is it, Dukakis asked at the commemoration (I'm paraphrasing here), that human beings can believe such terrible things about people who are another color or have a different religion, or are simply from a different country?
            That question of course has a terrible relevance today.
            In the 19th century, Dukakis pointed out, the prejudice against outsiders was directed against the Irish. The Chinese were the banned by the exclusion act of 1882. Today, it's the Muslim travel ban.
            But in the early 20th century the anti-immigrant bias was directed toward the flow of immigrants from "Southern Europe," he said. "Italians, Greeks, and Portuguese."

           Building on the Felicani collection and other sources, Professor Michele Fazio of the University of North Carolina at Pembroke also spoke at the commemoration, sharing slides and stories of her research into the lives of the principals and the impact of their case on their Italian birthplace communities, in a talk entitled "Mining the Archives: In the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti."

           She traveled to each man's birthplace, Sacco's in the town of Torremaggiore in the south of Italy; Vanzetti's in Villafalletto in the northwest region of the Piemonte. She pointed out that the case and its victims are well remembered in Italy, while they are largely forgotten by the American public. In fact, family memories of both men evoke strong emotions.
            A traditional memorial plaque in the cemetery at Villfaletto preserves the memory of a famous native son whose death symbolized the continuing oppression of the poor and the working class. In Torremaggiore, a memorial executed in a modern looking vertical column remembers Sacco's life. Locals in both communities extended a remarkable degree of hospitality on her visit, Fazio said. "You have to eat first, and then you can talk.
           She also showed slides of newspaper coverage of the ongoing story in America, including frequent depictions of Rosa Sacco, the defendant's wife and mother of his children, to illustrate the personal side and family impact of the case. Later the newspapers ran photos of Vanzetti's sister, Luigia, who arrived for a last meeting with her brother just days before his execution.

          Professor Fazio is writing a book on the family, class and gender issues highlighted by the Sacco-Vanzetti case. She told me her book will include a discussion of "Suosso's Lane," my novel on the Plymouth, Mass. roots of the famous case in a chapter on the literature of the Sacco and Vanzetti case.  

            Vanzetti lived on Suosso's Lane, a quiet street in North Plymouth for four years before his arrest. My depiction of the character of the idealistic Bartolomeo Vanzetti is based on the oral history recollections of those who knew him well in those days, including the Brini family of Suosso's Lane.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: August Lights, from Anemone to Fairy Candles, Plus a Brief Royal Visit

Faulkner titled one of his grim novels "Light in August."
       There is something special about the light in the month of August, the last full month of summer -- and it's not at all grim -- but I have to report not seeing much of it lately. We had a record hot first week this August, accompanied by that special dog-day humidity that made the air-conditioner, so popular in this over-heated decade, work overtime.
      And then we got the current repeating pattern of rainy, sticky, cloud, on-and-off rain, some thunderstorms, followed by beautifully clear spells of brilliant sunshine lasting whole hours or two, then back to the clouds and scattered storm predictions. Does that sound about right? 
         August is late summer. One of the flower garden's annual treats is the arrival of the fall-blooming anemones (top photo). Which, I am informed by the website Gardenia are also known as Japanese anemones and "windflower." Actually I recall the latter name from the garden centers where I purchased a few. These August-flowering plants are native to China, and have been cultivated by the Japanese for centuries. A special benefit is their long blooming season, six to eight weeks. The meter on our first bloomers has been running for about three weeks.  
         We grow three different cultivars. The light pink, dark-centered one, blooming now. An all-white flowering plant. And some plants with a darker pink flower, that generally carry us into October.
           The second photo down shows the Rose of Sharon, which began blooming at the end of July. This tall-growing shrub spends most of its blooms on the higher branches where the light is best. It's also been forced to grow high to escape the clutches of its very close neighbor, a Korean lilac whose steady expansion is leaning into taller plant's personal space. I like watching how the plants adapt to one another.
          The third photo down pictures a low-growing dogwood with two-toned leaves. The bloomers in this photo are the dark pink tall phlox, the Black-Eyed Susan, and the light pink cone flowers. All of these started blooming in July and continue through this month.
      One of this season's most regal visitors is the Monarch butterfly, lord of all he sees, at least in my opinion. We saw him for weeks darting through the neighborhood's backyards. Our neighbor across the street has a row of marvelous butterfly bushes (Buddliea). He also darted, at great speed and in constant motion, through our gardens, front and back of the house, and I lay in wait with the camera, hoping to catch him napping. Basically, as I discovered, butterflies don't nap. I finally caught him catching a breather on the Dogwood.  
          The last photo depicts woodland plant called Fairy Candles. The species name is Actaea racemosa. This is a shade plant whose long white blossoms peak in late July and early August. Like the others shown here, it brings color in a season when most perennials have quieted down. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

'The Country' Garden: Please Take a Look at My Novel "The Country/The Country." First Chapters Posted Online

       I'm going live with my latest book, rather than waiting around for a traditional publisher to take a chance on me. I'm putting it online, in weekly segments, like an old-fashioned serial novel. 
           Called "The Country/The Country," the novel is a speculative fiction inspired by the catastrophically divisive Presidential election of 2016. The story takes place in a fictional country much like our own, in which a "strong man" candidate seeks to take power using fraud and intimidation.
           Here's the short plot summary that publishers call the "blurb."

            A retired teacher, Keel is an Everyman in "The Commonhope of Uz," content to be a good citizen in a country founded on the rule of law and the guidance of reason. But after a long period of prosperity under a widely admired chief executive, fears of economic stagnation and social change are driving the candidacy of a new kind of leader. Called "Pig" by his supporters, who pack rallies to show their eagerness for vague, sweeping concentrations of power, businessman Karol Pegasso dominates the country's complicated election system. Chance, or something larger, drives Keel to join an opposition formed by young radicals and old-fashioned idealists, and led by an aging psychic who calls herself a witch. Together they summon forces beyond the old understandings of reason and law to build a wall of flesh and stop Pig's march to power. But in the end the country's safety relies on waking the slumbering giants of compassion and care, known as the Ancient Ones, "the bodies," and the Angels of Light. 

          I will be enormously grateful to any and all willing to take a look at the book's first five chapters. I've posted them at 

      The chapters are short. 
       Please leave a comment at the end; even a word or two helps. 
       I'll be posting new chapters every week.  
       It's been fun for me to write. I hope you find it fun to read.  


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Garden of Verse: Trees for Me, Wearing Well for All Seasons

    I'm still celebrating trees this month. I don't know how long this fixation will last, but the way I'm feeling these days I may ride it a some considerable time. As the dominant species on the planet Earth -- so dominant that even though we're still newcomers we now have a whole geological period named after us: the Anthropocene -- human beings have to figure out a way to live on earth without living off it to the destructive extent that we are currently indulging in. 
            We have already destroyed most of the world's old forests. Yet all terrestrial life, animals and other plants, depend on climate regulatory and other functions provided by trees. 
             This said, two of my poems in the August 2018 issue of are celebratory -- at least that's the intent. Gloom and doom in abeyance. The third is something else altogether  
              The poem "This Tree" begins with a quote from an ancient source: 

"For you have five trees in paradise
which do not change,
either in summer or in winter
and their lives do not fall
He who knows them
shall not taste of death."
-- the Gnostic gospel of Thomas

            My poem continues:

This tree
From Adam's garden grew

And fed a world of green plant
eaters, tiny shrews that one day grew
into a race of limber primates,
a hungry crew
that ate green earth down to the bones

Five trees grew in Adam's garden
that do not change their clothes for winter
And their tribe lives on forever...
I would have them in my garden
Would they keep me in their world?

.... Please read the rest of this poem, and find many others, at

 The second poem in the August issue, titled "Influence of Earth," also begins with a quote, this one from Thoreau. Then, nothing shy, I jump right in:

Influence of Earth
 "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink,
  taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth."                                                                                                                                                                                              --Thoreau

Build yourself a cathedral in the trees
Hear bluebells ring in "Campanula"
Hear the birds play in the mulberries
            (knowing that it's work for them)
Drink down the shade from roofs of leaf-warp
weaving ceilings for the sky...  

          The third poem, "Hair: The Reunion," is a salute to the 'salon' that trims my personal growth.

           You can find all the poems here:

See this poem, and many others, at