Boston. June, 2014.
William Joiner Institute for the Study of War & Social Consequences
I’ve lead writing workshops at the Joiner Institute (formerly the ‘Joiner Center’) off and on since 2008. If you’re a veteran and a writer, from any era, the Joiner Institute offers a great place to develop your work with a wide variety of veterans, socially and politically engaged writers, as well as writers brought in from outside of the US (and usually from places where the US has engaged in conflict). During my first experience at the Joiner, I remember crashing on a couch in a two-bedroom flat with a Palestinian documentary filmmaker and another filmmaker from South Korea. Our upstairs neighbor, an Israeli filmmaker, often shared the kitchen table with us, arguing issues both current and historical. And, more than anything, I remember laughter, carrying over from one day to the next.
This year, as Ilyse and I wheeled our luggage up to our flat in the Copley neighborhood, police tape blocked our way. Apparently, a man in a surgical mask had just robbed a nearby bank (in the Prudential Center) and then crashed his car in front of our place on St. Botolph Street. We looked down the tree-lined street, echoed in brick brownstone walk-ups, to see an officer donning plastic gloves transport paper bags full of bank cash from the crashed getaway car and into a waiting cruiser. We rolled our bags to the far side of the scene, ducked under the yellow tape while the officers focused on their task, and settled into our digs.
We met up with a couple of veterans and writers, Colin & Lauren Halloran, for breakfast at the Forum on Boylston Street. We were tucked away in a booth at the back of the place, and I had a view of the bright light streaming in through the front. I ordered ‘duck confit sweet potato hash’ from the menu and tried not to think of the bomb that exploded just outside this restaurant during the Boston Marathon. In my workshops at the Joiner, one of my students told me that she’d been in the grandstands that day. Her husband wore the iconic cowboy hat Bostonians and many around the world remember so well from the aftermath of the bombings; he’d gone into the pain and wreckage to save any who needed help. Outside the restaurant, as we talked about art and stories and rambled our way into the bright morning, mothers pushed carriages with young children who marveled at the birds winging their way through the blue spaces between buildings anchored in the sky above.
In Cambridge, I took part in a reading celebrating the latest anthology out from Warrior Writers (http://www.warriorwriters.org/home.html). The sun sank in the west as each veteran recited poems and shared some of their stories.
I wondered, as another veteran and leader in the community of Warrior Writers (Michael Spinnato) wondered, what General Washington would have thought of this moment. During the Revolutionary War, this home served as Washington’s headquarters. I imagined tents between the broad-limbed trees, stacked muskets, camp fires, and riders approaching by horseback. Washington stood on the porch and feigned to listen to the soldiers giving their reports as he watched smoke drifting through the branches and dissipating among the wide green leaves.
And I imagined Longfellow standing in the same place, then slowly beginning to pace back and forth along the length of the porch as he worked over a line of verse in his head.
The late afternoon ended with Bruce Weigl reading poems from The Abundance of Nothing. If you haven’t yet read these poems, I encourage you to pick up a copy. It’s a beautiful book.
On the way to the Dojo (where the Warrior Writers lived and worked on their craft over the course of a week), I discovered this monument just outside of a subway station:
The Peace Stone. (http://www.stonewalk.org/)
One of the writer-participants at this year’s Joiner, Dot Walsh, has begun an astonishing ritual called “Stonewalk.” Basically, she’s created a memorial stone honoring unknown civilians killed in war that is, as it says on her website, “pulled on a specially made caisson through towns and cities” by those who lay hands on the stone and help guide it along. I believe these stones weigh 2 tons apiece. Once each stone reaches its destination, it becomes a permanent installation for all who might visit it and consider the losses of war.