Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret
among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture Marly Youmans is a novelist and poet out of sync with the times
but in tune with the ages. --First Things

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Fragile, perishable things--

My most important memories of early childhood are of Gramercy and Baton Rouge, places that seem in memory bright with color, drenched in light, alive with beauty. They are, I believe, memories that have fed me and made me the sort of writer I am. By the age of 13, I had lived in many places--South Carolina, Louisiana, Kansas, Delaware, North Carolina--but somehow those early memories of Louisiana have remained touchstones of the beautiful for me. The levee, the little mud towers under the house, the moonflowers at night, extravagance of blossom by day, the pink-throated lizards dangling helplessly from my ear lobes, the sugar garden in our backyard, the plants that spired up into the trees, the plums and bamboo, the shrimp in the rock pools: all these and more changed me. Did I regret leaving a place that was, to me, magical? Yes.

Back then I did not know that fragile, perishable things--civility, courtesy, respect, truth, goodness, beauty, order, civilization that allows the arts and human beings to flourish--are always at risk in our world. Though small, I knew death, even in the heart of my own family. But I did not yet know that such things as murder, chaos, and moral darkness could be.

And now we all know, over and over again, even on this very day, how fragile and perishable things are swept away. In Baton Rouge and Baghdad, in Dallas and Nice. We know lives lost needlessly to shadow. It is up to us, each one, to stand up for those fragile, perishable things, to praise them, to mourn when they are swept away, to do our very best to keep and protect them.

Father and son. Officer Montrell Jackson,
one of our public servants murdered in Baton Rouge today.
Dormit in pace.

I wrote this post especially for Greg Langley, the former (and the very wonderful) Books Editor of The Baton Rouge Advocate.


  1. We have a challenge. Yes, we can speak up after the deaths. And so many people drop off balloons, candles, messages, and flowers, all the while taking time to do their selfies at the make-shift memorials. But how do we speak up and make a difference in order to stop the deaths? I wish I knew the answer.

    1. Last year I was part of a poetry project that mourned every fallen policeman and every man or woman killed by a policeman. I was given the date of July 4th, but I did not know--of course--what sort of person I would eulogize. In the end, it was a rather unusual one, a Vietnamese man. I have been told that this sort of encounter is rare, but that it is more likely to be deadly for Asian men than for others. Perhaps since fewer have such conflicts, more who do have mental illnesses--that was the case I found.

      Here is the advice of the dead: "Please don't let hate infect your heart." --Montrell Jackson

      What can we do? Well, we can mourn victims who are police and who are shot by police; we can object when it's implied in eulogies or statements that all policemen are all racist or bad or that we don't need such public servants. We can behave positively toward police, yet look to high standards. All that seems small, but maybe it's not. Oh, there are lots of other issues, and maybe we should be writing our senators about them.

      But I'm thinking that robots are in our future for these sorts of incidents. Too bad we're not ready yet. A robot was used in Dallas and another in Baton Rouge.

  2. All the deaths matter. The police, the people shot in their cars or walking down the street, unarmed, the children and older students in schools, everyone.
    All equally notable, all to be mourned.
    Yes, something definitely needs to be done, and now.

    1. "This city MUST and WILL get better. I'm working in these streets so any protestors, officers, friends, family, or whoever, if you see me and need a hug or want to say a prayer, I got you." --Montrell Jackson

    2. Why it used to be very clear that killing wronged not just earth but heaven, and so "all to be mourned," as you say: "The Image of God (Hebrew: צֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים‎, translit. tzelem Elohim‎; Latin: Imago Dei) is a concept and theological doctrine in Judaism,[1] Christianity, and Sufi Islam,[2][3] which asserts that human beings are created in the image and likeness of God" (Wikipedia.)

  3. I am very close and interested in these subjects. It's so difficult to talk about these issues online. They are so complex and include threads that are about more than just all these deaths. I grew up spending a lot of time in Baton Rouge, as I had two uncles who lived there. I spent most my summers in St. Francisville. I can honestly say, we cannot ignore race. But what we need to remember is that Blacks are fighting against injustice.

    For me, poverty is at the root of all this discord. Poverty is a great violence against a human being and it's a fact, studied by psychologists, that those in poverty face obstacles when making good decisions. Also, after Hurricane Katrina, Baton Rouge took in one third of the refugees from that city. It changed the landscape of a city already in poverty. All this aside, I want to say, that, today we live in less violence than any other time in known history. It's difficult to remember that.

    Climate change is probably a more serious, fatal issue than the violence we see. Climate change will be a new form of war, one without borders or religion.

    Great post. Less guns would help on all the murders.

    1. All good comments about race and justice and poverty--and I, too, keep thinking about how the level of violence is actually less. It's hard to process that idea when we are bombarded with the latest news about the Bataclan (tortured as well as murdered?) or see photographs of victims, whether we wish to see them or not.

      The U. S. gun situation is a puzzle to me. You can make legitimate gun owners jump through many more hoops. You can make legitimate gun owners give up guns. (And that might prevent some incidents, but not the bulk.) But how do you make the people who should give them up do so? How do you fix it so we don't have plenty of illegal guns available to those who don't want to go through legitimate procedures? All that muddles my mind!

      I'm glad that I wrote a novel that dealt with race when I was younger. I might not have the courage now.

  4. muttering thunder
    the bottom of the river
    scattered with clams

    Robert Spiess


    1. ‘Just once,
      everything, only for once. Once and no more. And we too,
      once. And never again. But this
      having been once, though only once,
      having been once on earth—can it ever be cancelled?’

      —Rainer Maria Rilke

      (taped to the wall of Bob’s Spiess's study)

    2. i'm impressed! never thought you or anyone else would have heard of him! nice little time thing there by rilke...

    3. Of course, nobody has to know anything anymore because of the internet...

      The Rilke is interesting for a haiku devotee--a fragment, it seems a small whole, and it is shaped by many pauses.

  5. Thank you for writing this post, Marly. Your thoughtfulness and generosity of spirit make your words healing to read, even in this month of horrors, tragedies, and travesties. Am so glad I rediscovered you on FB 6 years ago.

    1. Hi, Mary--

      I'm cutting back on Facebook, I think--tired of seeing people chiding others, tired of seeing people inform others of what they are missing. Oh, well. Maybe it'll be better after November.

      Glad you liked this. And I am glad too.

  6. Replies
    1. I did. Indeed I did. My little Cajun playmate in Gramercy, Maxine, taught me how to pinch their little jaws and hang them up as earrings. Cruel little tots! The poor things could not get away until released.

    2. i had to look it up: my! how could a little girl walk around with an iguana hanging off her earlobe?!!

    3. Hahaha! You can look up "green anole" or "red-throated anole" or "Carolina anole." I think that is the kind that we hung from our ears. I was quite small--wish there was a picture! Evidently I spoke Cajun French with Maxine, who was an old hand (a very young old hand) at lizard earrings!


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.