Michael Rosen

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June 2009 Archives

It's a thought from a horror film, Kafka all over again: the one unqualified, unmitigated, outstanding success of our urban public schools is to teach our children to remain poor. I'm an optimist. It's not our teachers' fault, not the administrations' nor the good folk who run our cities. Yet it is. All of ours. Children come in with the promise of unlimited possibility yet most drop out or fail out, & of the minority who do graduate - only half or so go on to college (many on the remedial course treadmill at community colleges) and at least half of these drop out or fail out. Oddly enough, apparently half or soi who are accepted to college after high school never even venture there.

And the one consistent marker between escaping poverty or being stuck inside is graduating college.

I know all this can change, can be made to go away. Places like Harlem Children's Zone and WHEDCo, in the Bronx, show the strength of human spirit.

I'm not good in front of a camera, yet, but I'm honest. Please look at this Norman Thomas High School video Nick and I made, of the school William, Carlos, Philippe and Juan attended, where Kindu tried to go but didn't quite get there.

This is the script I was reading - you can tell I was reading, rah?

NORMAN THOMAS HIGH SCHOOL:

You know how precious kids are. You want the best for them. To be safe. To succeed.

You want your children to have the best education they can. Because the biggest separator between poverty and breaking free is a college degree.

This is Norman Thomas High School. New York City. 2257 kids go here. Four of the five bigger boys we raised, who became our sons, were students here.

Half the children who start high school in New York drop out. Half of those who stay fail. That's not good. It's nobody's fault. But it's all of ours.

White people, middle class people--because it's really class and not skin color--mostly send their children to private school.

Schools are in crisis.

This is a high school. But it's a warehouse. Thousands line up each morning, swipe their IDs through turnstiles manned by police matching faces to photos embedded in the cards. Kids put their school bags thru X-ray machines and pass through scanners. Hundreds line up male and female for hand searches, belts and shoes off, pants falling down.

I went through security a bunch of times, helping our five bigger boys navigate the maze and graduate from here.

It wasn't easy.

It's not a good way to start a school day. It's not a good way to encourage education, the wonder for learning - not to mention what happens once they get upstairs.

It is a way to tell children we don't really care much about them. But there are no bad guys. The people dedicating their lives to teaching are good people

Things aren't working out. And it can be different. For everyone.

That's what I've written a book about. What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse

A very nice woman wrote to me the other day, "Your book has become 'water cooler conversation'!" I love this sort of good news.

I hope so. Nothing would be better, immediately more warming to me, than the topics of::
poverty, in of all its manifestations
fatherlessness
adoption
fostering
mentoring
community organizing
African-American studies
Latino studies
"race" (I'm never comfortable with that word)
early childhood education
public education
public housing
our judicial system - prison policy and practices
& similar & related topics...

becoming every day focuses for discussion among us around the dinner table, during our rides to work, around the water cooler. At the diner after watching a new movie.

Jewish Week "Literary Summer" Event is pairing me in August with Matthew Aaron Goodman. I don't know the man. He's worked with formerly incarcerated men and women. He helps lead a literacy program. I think he works with young people & baseball? - I'm finding out. He wrote Hold Love Strong. We're having a "conversation" at Congregation Rodeph Sholom on Manhattan's Upper West Side, August 25. This is good. I have to buy Hold Love Strong, I want it autographed. Sandee Brawarsky knows all these people. I don't know how she does it. "Rodeph" is r-d-f,,, "to pursue," yes ? to pursue peace?

The New York Post ran a Father's Day article about me and our family today. They said it was by me, but Ginger Otis, at the Post, really wrote, cut & pasted & did a pretty determined job editing. She was great. The people who write photo captions and headlines at the Post are cruel in their disregard for the feelings of young people. I am sorry to Carlos, William, Juan, Kindu, Phil, Ripton, Morgan and our friend Ricky--who deserve more than silly sensationalism.

& thank you to the Online person at the NY Post who did paste my YouTube Open Letter to the fathers of our bigger boys....

I'm pasting Ginger Otis' piece here, written as if from me. Thank you, Ginger:

ELEVEN years ago, my son Ripton was sitting on a jungle gym in Tompkins Square Park, transfixed by a baseball game happening a few feet away.

All the players were black and Latino, about 11 or 12 years old, scraping and sliding across the concrete field. They were shouting over calls, using words we never would: "N - - - a safe!"

Suddenly, without a word, Ripton walked into the mix. He was the only white kid, but the boys didn't care.

They played all afternoon. When dusk fell, Ripton returned the favor.

"Who wants to come to play Nintendo?" he asked.

That night, about 10 boys came home with us. We served orange juice and milk until we ran out and I went down to a corner grocer for more. We heated frozen macaroni and cheese, bagel bites, chicken fingers and pizza until that disappeared, too. Then we ordered takeout from the Chinese restaurant down the block.

The boys were hungry after a vigorous baseball game. But they all came from nearby projects or subsidized housing. Not all of them had regular meals.

From then on a pattern developed: baseball games every summer afternoon followed by Nintendo at our house.

Soon we grew close to a core group who came every day: William, Juan, Phil and Carlos. Another boy, Kindu, joined us a few months later, and Ricky visited frequently.

In the fall, the boys came over every afternoon after school, calling up from our doorman lobby with the same request, "Yo, Ripton, can we come up and play?"

On weekends they slept over. Our young sons reveled in the company of the 11- and 12-year-olds.

Some of the kids came from very tough homes. They called it the "ghetto." Some had witnessed murders; others had fathers and brothers in prison. Two of their dads were dead.

Carlos' stepdad was killed right in front of him. The two of them were enjoying a picnic on Good Friday when a stranger stabbed him to death with a screwdriver.

And yet the boys had a sweetness to them. Kindu was curious and endearing, with a wide, infectious smile. Juan had a striking resemblance to Kobe Bryant. Phil was tall, round-faced and ebullient, really the jokester of the crew.

Will was exceptionally fast on the baseball field. We called him Posada, because he resembled the Yankees catcher. Carlos was aggressive, fast and competitive with a great swing. The boys jokingly called him "a beast."

Seeing Will and Carlos play baseball every day at such a high level, and not own a glove, was heartbreaking.

I wanted them to have mitts.

"Do you guys want to get baseball gloves this morning?" I asked them.

They looked at each other in shock.

"For real?" Carlos asked.

On the street, I hailed a cab to take us to Paragon Sports. As the yellow car slowed, I suddenly felt like a father taking his sons to get their first baseball gloves.

By now the boys were a daily fixture in our lives. Ground rules were established: half an hour of reading every day, and no boys on the second floor, where our master bedroom was. Their mothers -- mostly single and struggling -- welcomed the arrangement.

But the boys didn't just take from us; they gave a lot, too. They looked out for Ripton and Morgan as they grew up in the changing East Village. When Ripton's bat got stolen, they tore out of the apartment and tracked down the kid who "borrowed" it. They did the same for Morgan when a kid took off with his bike.

One day I watched Ripton get into a fight with another kid on the baseball field and stand up for himself. I never wanted him to have to fight, but I was proud to see that he could defend himself. He learned by example, I think.

In 2002 we took a more permanent step with one of the boys. Carlos, we learned, had gotten into a fight at school some months earlier and had never gone back.


We learned that he had failed ninth grade for the second time and had failed an earlier grade as well. One night, I called Leslie into the TV room and shut the door.

"Carlos is bright and he can barely read," I said. "I don't want to pass him on the streets one day and look away."

Around the same time, we discovered that Kindu, who'd been telling us for months he'd applied to upstate colleges, hadn't sent out any applications or signed up to take his SATs.

We solved both problems by getting Kindu and Carlos to attend the same GED program with SAT-prep classes.

Carlos' classes started at 9 a.m. and we knew he'd never get up, attend school and study if he were still living in his busy, chaotic home.

"You have to move in," I said, and Leslie backed me up. Carlos' mother had asked a number of times before if we could take him in, so I knew it wouldn't be a problem.

Not long after, Kindu moved in, too. His family had encouraged him.

Since then, all the boys at one point or another have moved in with us, some for a brief period to focus on finishing school or applying for colleges. Others, like Kindu, have stayed longer.

People ask me how much we've spent on the boys over the years. The truth is, I don't have a clue. We've given them all countless hours and more financial support than I ever want to think about -- but I never do think about it. They're family, and have transcended the arithmetic of time and money.

Today, Leslie and I continue to support four of the boys as they go to college, and come September, it will be five. They are all either in college, or planning to go back this fall, or taking college classes. Kindu, who's on the dean's list at Farmingdale State College, might get a graduate degree in sports management.

Carlos is still chasing his baseball dream while he takes classes. He had a tryout last week with the Bridgeport Bluefish of the Atlantic League.

I'm convinced they will all finish with at least an associate's degree and -- I hope -- a bachelor's degree.

There's a line in the Talmud that says if you save one life, you save an entire world. It may seem a little strange, but when I picture my funeral what I really hope for is that each of my boys will be there, and they'll have children who will have grown up as middle-class kids somewhere. Maybe even grandkids, too.

And the first step to getting them out of the projects began on a baseball field in Tompkins Square Park in the summer of 1998.

Michael Rosen's memoir, "What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse" (PublicAffairs), will be published in July.

Please take a look. If you like this, if you think it is at all important, please forward it to others.

My book, What Else But Home, is descriptive. The Open Letter is a touch normative. Only a touch.

I'm NOT an actor (dah...), so the TEXT of what I wrote:

Father's Day, June 21, 2009

Dear Fathers of My Sons,

You and I have never met. Eleven years ago, in the summer of 1998, our two sons took my wife and I onto a black top baseball field in Manhattan's Lower East Side. We met and befriended five older boys there--your sons. Each of your sons eventually joined our family, moving into our home. We began and continue to parent them.

Last week, one of the older boys and I went to an Emotions Anonymous meeting. I near forced him there, our first time, but minutes into the meeting he was telling strangers about the day you died. It was his fault, he said, because he'd asked you for money for an ice cream. You were waiting on the corner for your change and he watched you knifed. "Four times in the heart," he says. Everything afterwards was his fault, too; the string of homeless shelters, his mom never putting herself back together. His guilt. The rage that's hobbled him.

I watch each of your boys, hobbled; the trauma, abuse, misery, the emotional death inside prison, the too early death through deterioration that follows, all a too fast generation after generation condemnation to underclass.

Each of the five bigger boys graduated high school, a miracle of hard work and guidance. But four of them have dropped out of college, restarted and dropped out again. They've left courses for a myriad of excuses, taken leaves of absence here, Upstate, out of state so often I've lost track. But we keep encouraging them. They start new plans towards futures and we dream again of their walking across that divide between the college educated and not. But someone insults them at work, asks them to do what they consider beneath their dignity and they refuse, argue, quit or are fired. A White baseball umpire is racist for calling strikes our son knows aren't. He yells at the umpire with profanity, is kicked out of the game, argues with his college coach, is kicked off the team and can no longer handle classes. There's no more baseball and his Minor League possibilities evaporate even while we knew Major League teams had him on their "to watch" lists.

Our sons worlds are full of obstacles.

So how do we, every father touching our sons' lives, help reduce the rage, cool the resentment that smolders and too often combusts and sabotages the brightness of their futures? How do we fill that well of oppression dug deep from their earliest years?
You know the pitfalls our sons face. They were certainly yours. None of this is your fault, and all of it is. None of it is mine and all of it is.

And no one simple thing will stop the poverty, except staying in your sons' lives is crucial, and I beg this of you.

I don't presume that you had so much choice about your ways. Your lives were often lived in misery and deprivation.

But we become adults, and cannot blame everything on the misfortune of circumstance. Explanation and excuse are no longer the same. We must take responsibility if we chose to procreate, or more straightforwardly, chose the acts of procreation.

If you're not going to stay with their mothers, then stay in your sons' lives. Do not put yourselves in those places to be murdered--as two of you were. Do not put yourself in the position to be locked up for so long to miss your sons' lives--as one of you has. Do not lose track of your sons through choice--as two of you have. Live nearby. If you're going to father another handful or more of children with other women, find ways to still hold our sons' hands. Hug them. Teach them to throw, catch and hit a baseball. Take them shopping for their first mitts. Watch them in pick up games in the park, in their first Little League games. Watch them in as many ways after as you can. Read. And read. Then read more, to them as babies, toddlers, first and second graders. Go to parent-teacher nights. Review their homework. Let them know, besides the obvious of baseball, music and girls being paramount, that nothing is more equally important than good grades and graduating from college--before having their own children. If they do have children early, then encourage them to be good fathers and also stay in college; because college graduation, more than most other things, affords the break from poverty.

I'm certain, these eleven years of raising your sons, that the absence of fathering leaves a hole deep in the psyches of children that too much dysfunction festers within. I also know that fathering--the role of raising, not the biology of procreation--is not the solution that will break the crippling rut of poverty. Government and private programs created to help--daycare, better schools, extraordinary teachers, after school opportunities, Big Brother, summer camps--all certainly must. But fathering is a central part of raising sons, fathering is private and personal, fathering is broken, and needs to be repaired. Stay alive. Stay out of prison. Stay involved. I know that's practically impossible, yet absolutely necessary for all our children and all of theirs, if the cycle of poverty and its oppression is to end.

With Love, Michael


At the White House Yesterday, intending to start a national conversation on "responsible fatherhood and healthy families," President Obama said, "When fathers are absent, when they abandon their responsibility to their children, we know the damage that does to our families... I say this as someone who grew up without a father in my life... That's something that leaves a hole in a child's heart that governments can't fill."

Leslie and I know the heartache of that hole - it can't be filled by government, but it can be made shallower by people who care. By good after school & summer programs, by committed mentors. Good mentoring is fathering.

But nothing replaces an absent father. We've spent the last eleven years learning this anew every day.

Kelly Hughes suggested I write a Father's Day piece. I wrote an Open Letter to the father's of our bigger boys--Juan, Philippe, Carlos, William, Kindu. No one wanted to publish or broadcast it. But this is the Internet age; Nick Whitaker filmed my Open Letter as a video & he's uploading it now. I'll post it after synagogue today.

Yes. for the possibilities. m'pnai tikkun olam.

kindu&ripton.jpg

& perhaps MENTORING is blooming in your heart. Okay, maybe you're leaning more towards brunch. You're expecting a big card and a soft pair of slippers.

But touching lives, knowing the kids you commit to stand a better chance than they otherwise ever would of escaping the orbit of poverty, away from its oppressions -- that's nearly as good as a nice bouquet of flowers this coming Sunday June 21st.

That's Kindu and Ripton, back when each was small. Back in the day. Handsome young men, aren't they? Am I a proud dad?

What Else But Home comes out in 44 days. Nick and I are posting a series of short videos centered around part of the book.

Most deal with aspects of growing up poor.

We brought the whole group of us to Ben & Jerry's early on. That was the first time I realized how un-white we all were together. Ben & Jerry's are great folk. I'm from Vermont. Everyone's good. But there is a bad outcome for far too many children in our country.

And it can change. That's what What Else But Home is also about.

Oh oh, we've shot about 5 videos. I'll put on a button down shirt and tie the next time, now that I've seen myself.

I'm sitting outside the press box at the Bridgeport stadium for the Bluefish. Carlos is inside, with Mr. Marlin of the Bluefish. Who has been a gentleman. Bobby Valentine, a gentleman among gentlemen, set up this opportunity. The sun is shining in the midst of a squallish day. My dad is with me, reading The Things They Carried. Really a piece of genius. But this is about baseball... Maybe one day there will be 15,000 people on the tweet I'm going to Twitter, but by then maybe Twitter will be transcended. So here we are, Carlos given another chance to cross that bridge. I'm praying. & Bobby Valentine, if ANYONE deserves to manage a team, I hope the Chiba Lotte Marines embrace the grace and brilliance of Valentine Kantoku.

I'm sitting outside the press box at the Bridgeport stadium for the Bluefish. Carlos is inside, with Mr. Marlin of the Bluefish. Who has been a gentleman. Bobby Valentine, a gentleman among gentlemen, set up this opportunity. The sun is shining in the midst of a squallish day. My dad is with me, reading The Things They Carried. Really a piece of genius. And my parents are fine & healthy. And wise. But this is about baseball... Maybe one day there will be 15,000 people on the tweet I'm going to Twitter, but by then maybe Twitter will be transcended. So here we are, Carlos given another chance to cross that bridge. I'm praying. & Bobby Valentine, if ANYONE deserves to manage a team, I hope the Chiba Lotte Marines embrace the grace and brilliance of Valentine Kantoku.

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Ripton is a blessing. He is a miracle, to us. Starting with the very way he came into our lives, the joy at the end of one sadness, and it continued with the way he saw the world. He has taught us a great deal. He sees people, sees into us all without convention. With a truthfulness born of blunt compassion. He is the one who brought us onto a baseball field, and touched so many lives.

Ripton graduated high school from Brooklyn Friends tonight. We could not be prouder.

He brought us to parenting. That love. And he led us to mentoring.

Mentoring is good. Mentoring is crucial - if poverty is going to be put to an end. Mentoring works best when it's forever. Unconditional. Always.

Nick and I filmed in front of Norman Thomas High School today, then at Ben & Jerry's. People stopped and listened. One man, Latino, middle aged, said he grew up nearby, always walked past and looked inside because he couldn't afford the ice cream. A bus came and I thought he got on. Nick and I went inside, he wanted to get some shots, have me eat some ice cream. That man walked in and asked the young man behind the counter if he could fill out a job application. The young man said Ben & Jerry's didn't have job applications. The older man man should just leave off a resume. He didn't have one on him, so he left. I was wondering, how do middle aged people pay all their expenses working behind the counter of an ice cream shop? Ben & Jerry's is great, no doubt. Great flavors. Community concerned. Poverty is hard and complex.

Eric wants me to be looking at a building. We signed a NDA. How do you look at a building and make 5 videos to build that elusive "author's platform"?

Nick and I are going to make some short videos, starting tomorrow. Norman Thomas High School. Where four of our five bigger boys went. A small place, 2257 students. Half of New York City school kids drop out of school. Half of those who stay end up failing. Education?-- it's just as much warehousing.

Maybe you're a mom? Or a dad? Or you plan on being one. Maybe you're raising children, or mentoring. You know how precious kids are. You want the best for them. To be safe. To succeed.

You want your children to have the best education they can. Because the biggest separator between poverty and breaking free is earning a college degree.

We're going to post this high school video as soon as we can. It can be good. With parents, guardians, mentors who never let go.

Then public housing.

Then night court, the tombs, how black and brown boys too often begin the process towards prison.

Then drug dealing, just to look one hard end of inner city life. Earning a living if you have no other particular skills. And there are many mouths to feed and not much money.

Ben & Jerry's. I love Ben & Jerry's. I grew up in Vermont, where Ben & Jerry's started. They're so liberal, so goodhearted. You don't have too many brown and black skinned kids walking into the Ben & Jerry's down here near us in New York City.

Any mom and dad would love their kids to be able to afford an ice cream on hot city days. But luxury ice cream is mostly too expensive for a kid from the projects.

How would you feel if your child never went inside, because they couldn't much afford that ice cream cone you see those well dressed kids eating? I don't know, I'm just wondering. Because it can be different. Every kid can be there. Every kid should love Ben & Jerry's. I do.

That's what my book is about.

cow pasture.JPG

I flew to Burlington, drove northeast to Enosburg Falls, walked onto the town greeen past the rapture bookseller whose VT license reads "SAVED", past the att&t kiosk, the Yankee and Red Sox cap vendor, the booth selling Confederate & POW/MIA flags, past the sausage and taco sellers. I did buy 4 raffle tickets for Maple Mable, a Holstein Heifer, 4 raffle tickets for Jake the Steak, a fancy steer, and 3 tickets for the Horse Raffle. I checked off "animal" on each ticket instead of the cash prize. I asked where the animals were. Where the yogurt and cheese displays might be. Susanne and Phillip Parent were taking care of cows and a baby bull in a barn behind the Masonic Temple (pancake breakfast this morning), Ben and Jerry's apparently gave away some ice cream yesterday and cups of milk were offered in another place.

Enosburg Falls is a lovely place. It would be a lovely town to host a "DAIRY" festival, too, if they decided to have one here. In place of their Diary Festival. Maybe I'm just too literal. Like, I looked up "dairy" - you can too. Maybe "dairy" now means, well, old time sepia photographs in period costume, wolf and horse fleece blankets. Could be. I'm an optimist. Could be.

Ben & Kelly, Apple & Otto @ the flying disc on Main St make a wonderful coffee, good music, good people.

so the price of milk for a mommy living along Avenue D, the mommies of our bigger boys, is more than DOUBLE the cost of buying her children soda, or a bottle of Two Buck Chuck wine at Trader Joe's for herself. Yes yes. Not that there's anything slightly off with that picture, right ?

and, Enosburg Falls, VT, a few miles south of the Canadian border, is having its annual Dairy Festival THIS WEEKEND. I just found out this morning. Charging the batteries in my camera, laptop and cell phone. On my way up to talk with farmers, who get LESS THAN HALF of the $ now they did for a gallon of milk only a few years ago.

Not that I understand poverty and food policy and maybe Coca Cola and Pepsi and Two Buck Chuck are just as healthy for our poorest children? I don't know, I'm asking, I'm just... wondering.

will take photographs, talk with yak farmers and goat herders, yogurt makers. will post pictures.

Alan Kaufman said something nice: "Michael Rosen's What Else But Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse transcends literary genre: it is a form of existential rescue, mending the torn fabric of human community, extending hope that somewhere out there other hands await ours."

Alan is the author of Jew Boy, a memoir, and editor of The Outlaw Bible of American Literature.

I know Clayton Patterson's back there somewhere. I know it. And he's pretty big to hide. Thank you both; Alan, Clayton - Michael

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so think, THINK about this! The New Yorker 5.18.2009 has an article by Dana Goodyear called "Drink Up", about the California wine genius Fred Franzia, mega vineyard owner, inventor of "Two Buck Chuck" aka Charles Shaw, selling for $1.99 per bottle at Trader Joe's. Cousin to the Gallos. Owner of the 4th largest winery in the US. Driving wine prices down to where "the competition for wine is bottled water" (pg.58).

so I'm thinking, THINKING that soda kinda costs like bottled water... But how much does MILK cost in comparison?

our Bigger Boys, when they first started coming here, were shocked that they could drink a second glass of milk, then a third and a tenth if they wanted. We always had milk, and if they finished off what we had, we'd go down to the greengrocer on the corner for more.

we even had milk the last week of the month, when their mother's welfare checks were running out and their families went from make-do to hungry.

so I biked over to the grocery store on Avenue D, between 5th and 6th Streets, across the street from Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis housing, NYC public housing, where Carlos and Juan lived when we first met.

I bought the soda you see above, Top Pop ORANGE, 3 liters for $1.50. I bought the gallon of milk you see for $3.99.

So how does the price of milk compare to the price of soda? That's $0.50 per liter of soda, and with 3.785 liters to the gallon, 1 gallon of Top Pop costs $1.89.

so I'm Carlos' mom, Kindu's mom, William & Juan & Philippe's, and it's the end of the month, and I don't have much $$$ left to feed my family. The rent is due in a few days. The kids want something to drink. I can buy a gallon of Top Pop for $1.89 OR PAY 210.83% MORE for a gallon of milk.

is that why I see young mothers along our streets giving soda to their young children?

And why should Two Buck Chuck & Top Pop & Pepsi & Coca Cola cost so very much less than MILK? What social policy is involved? What does this pricing mean about how we care for our children--the neediest ones?

I don't know, I'm just asking. I have no idea, I'm just asking.

I'm just, kinda, curious.

Carlos was taking a poetry class last semester, studying with Leslie most evenings at our dining room table (under the mezzanine--we don't have a dining room). "What's a swan?" he asked over William Butler Yeats, Leda and the Swan.
"You don't know what a swan is?" I was at the kitchen table, around the corner. I couldn't keep quiet.
He didn't.
"Swan Lake?"
He didn't know.
"Tchaikovsky?"
He didn't care. "You think we had swans in the projects?"
He and Leslie went back to William Carlos Williams, The Red Wheelbarrow.
"What's a wheel-barrel?" he asked. "YoMike, what's a wheel-barrel?"
I explained. "You've never heard of a wheelbarrow?" I finished.
"We ain't got swans and wheel-barrels in the projects." He thought it ridiculous I'd expect him to.
How do you read fairy tales to your children if you don't know of swans? How do you describe Venice?... okay, maybe I'm reaching, but Venice?
I'm sure there are wheelbarrows in Lillian Wald and Jacob Riis, the New York public housing he lived in before we met. People must push around wheelbarrows.
But maybe William Carlos Williams is right...
so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain
water

beside the white
chickens.

take away the white chickens, take away the rain drops, keep the wheelbarrow. If you don't know what a wheelbarrow is, if you don't know about swans, if you're smart and sharp and capable, a boy raised in the projects (yes, it is different for girls and boys), taking flight to the streets, abandoned by public education, what chance do you have of ending the cycle of poverty? Of truly breaking free? So much depends on a swan and a wheelbarrow.

 

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