I promise we’ll get to a bit of writing news later in the update, but with news from Ukraine rightfully absorbing the headlines, it seemed appropriate to begin with a few items concerning recent events there.
In the midst of the horror, it is useful to note that some have used humor to help deflect the pain and retain their sanity. A colleague recently sent an email which included a story from a German friend that is currently making the rounds in Berlin.
“Putin goes to a fortune teller and asks her what will happen in the near future. She says, ‘I see you in a limousine driving through a happy crowd. The people laugh and applaud, jump to express their happiness, they all have big smiles on their face.’
“Putin asks her, ‘Do I wave back to the crowd?’
“No,” she says. “The coffin is closed.”
For those who may be interested in lending support to humanitarian activities in Ukraine, two highly recommended organizations are Mercy Corps and World Food Kitchen. Their websites have information on how to donate and where their efforts are focused. An unfortunate aspect of modern life is that there are apparently scams that purport to be collecting money for Ukrainian relief. Mercy Corps and World Food Kitchen, though, have impeccable international reputations for the scope and quality of the service they provide.
One last item about Ukraine: a comment in a recent news broadcast stated that the Russians had withdrawn their troops from Chernobyl. They had occupied it for several days, then pulled their forces out after several soldiers were detected with unsafe radiation levels apparently sustained while they were digging trenches in a forested area near the abandoned reactor.
Our daughter Laura who visited Chernobyl in 2019 reported that the same area was one of the places that she left immediately after her radiation badge dosimeter showed high readings. The other places were near a Ferris wheel and a bumper car ride at an abandoned amusement park.
By coincidence, a book I recently picked up also dealt in part with Ukraine. I ordered it after I saw a former U.S. diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch, interviewed on PBS News Hour. Ms. Yovanovitch has written a book titled Lessons from the Edge: A Memoir. During her diplomatic career she served as our ambassador to Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Ukraine and had also had tours in Somalia, the United Kingdom, Russia, and a previous posting in Ukraine.
Ms. Yovanovitch was in the news during the time that President Trump allegedly made sending U.S. military equipment to Ukraine contingent on the Ukrainian government providing information on Hunter Biden who for a time was a member of the board of directors on a Ukrainian based energy firm. Concurrently, the President’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was described by some figures in and out of government as attempting to restrain the Ukrainian government from anti-corruption actions that might interfere with his attempts to exploit his contacts with some Ukrainian oligarchs. She was recalled from her duties during that time.
I haven’t gotten to those parts of the book yet, so I cannot comment on them. I probably wouldn’t anyway. When it comes to politics, I’m trying to make this a ‘Switzerland’ website – neutral, if that is possible in the present day. What I have found very interesting about the book is the information it provides about the life of a diplomat, their duties, the problems they face, the people they meet, and so forth. Their multiple postings remind me of the military – the moves, the anticipation of new places, new friends, new adventures (and in some instances, new problems). The diplomatic corps seems like an interesting, important, difficult, and -- at times – dangerous life. As a junior diplomat in Somalia, Ms. Yovanovitch and her colleagues barely got out in time when the embassy was overrun by an insurgent group. In Moscow, in October 1993, she was caught in the fighting when Russian President Boris Yeltsin put down an attempted coup.
A smidgeon of writing news: more than a decade ago, I happened to see a small notice in a writer’s magazine with information about a new website entirely devoted to poems about baseball. The site – www.baseballbard.com -- was soon to go on line. The note said they were soliciting submissions. A day or two later, on sort of a whim, I sent them a poem – a whimsical one about the trials and tribulations of a long suffering Cubs fan who had sat through yet another loss (and in his exasperation, had attempted to assault the vender who had sold him some unsalted peanuts). Lo and behold, in February 2012 the poem turned out to be the first one published on the new website. Yes, I know, history (spelled with a very small ‘h’) was made that day. Over the years, the site has foolishly published three or four more.
The growth of the site has been fascinating to observe. From the very small operation years ago it has burgeoned to the point that this summer the operators are going to rent a big league ball park, host fans, poets and writers, and among other things, show some of the poems on the big scoreboards at the ball park.
I suppose what brought that to mind is that it appears that there will be a major league season after all. In celebration of that, what follows is a take-off on the poem Casey at the Bat titled Doubleheader at Mudville. The poem maintains the rhyming pattern, names, and setting of the original Casey. I used it several years ago in an earlier newsletter, also, as I recall, to mark the start of a new season. It was published in the book Touching all the Bases and was one of the poems published on the Baseball Bard website.
DOUBLEHEADER AT MUDVILLE
So momentous was the discovery, other news was swept away:
Mudville had played a doubleheader on that infamous day.
As the blurry microfilm unspooled frame by moldy frame,
No doubt was left in all the world: there was a second, later, game.
Excited beyond endurance, hearts pounding in each chest,
Experts perused the ag-ed documents that described the final test.
Consumed by the moment’s grandeur, too absorbed to chew or chat,
Transfixed in awe at what they read, trembling hands held photostat.
Scholars with redemptive visions hoped for Casey’s sake –
That history in its majesty would correct its cruel mistake.
But through the eighth it went as bright fantasies dulled to matte;
No way, it seemed, would Casey get another time at bat.
It was déjà vu all over again; the narrative cast a pall.
Down two going into the ninth again; no chance remained at all.
Cooney and Barrows were out once more and several curses were heard;
To expect Flynn and Blake to reach again bordered on the absurd.
But Flynn’s roller died in the grass and as he ran from under his hat --
He narrowly beat the throw to first although he was out of shape and fat.
Then Jimmy Blake strolled to the dish, moving at a very slow pace;
He was mired in a terrible slump against a pitcher he’d rather not face.
But Jimmy stepped up and swung at a spot and the pitch happened to hit the bat.
The ball banged off the left field wall and he was on second like a cat.
Flynn managed to make it to third and slid in mostly unhurt,
The umpire was on top of the play and called “Safe!” through dust and dirt.
Now Casey – glorious Casey – came up, his club held in furious grip.
None had seen him so determined; there was a snarl upon his lip.
Second chances are rare in life but brave Casey had no dread,
His only worry was for the pitcher’s health if the ball flew at his head.
The frightened hurler threw the sphere and Casey smashed it with a roar –
Over the fence, across the street, it shattered a factory door.
Alas alas alas alas the ump yelled the ball was foul;
The crowd went mad with rage, but all Casey did was scowl.
Now Casey stood in again, confident in the bellowing throng;
Then suddenly “You’re Out!” was called: it seemed obscenely wrong.
The documents told a story as strange as any you’ve ever heard:
They didn’t pitch to Casey at the plate – but they did pick Flynn off third.
The multitude stood in silence, and some would later claim --
There were tears in Casey’s eyes as the team trudged off in shame.
Overcome with grief and shock, for years fans remembered where --
They had been at the moment when dreams broke past repair.
Forever gone was Casey’s chance to restore his fabled name,
And shadows still haunt the city from that fateful second game.
Next year the team moved to Tanktown, a shift devoid of grace,
And Mudville Stadium was torn down and row houses took its place.
Thus the saga ended, with an outcome unpreferred:
They didn’t pitch to Casey at the plate – but they did pick Flynn off third.
And now, dear friends, it’s time to close with that increasingly less acclaimed feature:
TOTALLY AWFUL PUNS.
My friend doesn’t finish anything he starts.
He has a black belt in partial arts.
Garbage men don’t get any actual training.
They just pick things up as they go along.
Best to all,