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A Labor Day Tale Of Three Cities: Pittsburgh, Birmingham and New Orleans

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The present era of weightless perception serves to obscure the crushing consequences of the short-sighted cupidity of both the economic elite and underclasses alike. Reflecting this, wealth now exists as constellations of electrons; money is no longer the vaulted riches of miserly plutocrats nor payday cash of the laboring class burning in the pockets of worn work clothes.

Currency exists in precincts of pixels--a fever dream of appliances--the effluvia of the schemes of the elitist illusionists of high finance whose machinations have wrought an age of electronic razzle-dazzle and devastating real world consequences"whereby the solid architecture and durable accoutrement of the Machine Age, manifested as the sturdy structures of Industrial Era cities, such as Pittsburgh and Birmingham, has been transmuted into the manic, evanescent imagery of the mass media hologram.

In the years since Katrina, I've been known to rage at the indifferent sky, why the Hell (or, at least, its earthly exurb -- Houston) did nature's impersonal fury have to descend on New Orleans, about the last outposts within this corporate simulacrum of a country where an individual pulse and collective heart beat could be found -- where the primordial songs of bone, heart and flesh -- of the arias rising from steam-caressed sidewalks and the riffing currents of rivers -- have not been forced into the Clear Channel/Disney/Time-Warner uberculture blandification machine?

In order for the U.S. -- a nation whose populace possesses the collective capacity for cognitive depth and emotional resonance of a Louisiana gnat flurry in high summer -- to rise from its destructive swoon of insularity-engendered anomie, the embrace of a view of the world imbued by anima mundi, embodied in the living architecture of a city like New Orleans, is essential.

In New Orleans, interred corpses will not remain buried in the earth"the water sodden ground causes the dead to rise to the surface. Axiomatically, we must not deep-six our grief and rage. In the name of Katrina's dead and walking wounded, we must not allow the casuistry-shattering verities of the human heart to be buried and forgotten nor allow mass media schlock to drown out the lamentations of the city's restless dead from memory.

To honor her dead, displaced and deeply scarred, we must remember the mortifying sights and heart-shaking sounds of both the natural disaster that was Katrina and the official sh*t storm of human negligence, flat-out deceit and malevolence that rendered the Crescent City a corpse-choked drowning pool. Instead, we must gaze down into the dark water of memory, remembering the water-deluged streets of the city"awash with bloated bodies, raw sewage, industrial sludge and the floating debris and submerge detritus of peoples' lives.

Yet, to properly mourn what was lost to the storm (in the tradition of the city itself) one must allow one's grieving heart to be seduced by the soul of the world. Personally, as is the case with many who knew the city, pre-Katrina -- beautiful, disloyal, capricious creature she was (and remains) -- I retain a lover's ardor for her.

For: Being enveloped by the redolence of orange blossom and jasmine, held on her humid, late afternoon air, as I sat, swigging a Turbo Dog, on the banks of the Mississippi, as evening tilted over the Lower Ninth. For: The exquisite indifference of starlight above the Bywater, and the manner those distant, celestial bodies would stand in stark contrast to the redemptive immediacy of the sweat-soaked bodies near me, as we would lie on our backs, upon the sidewalk, watching steam (borne of the mass of humanity within) rise from the roof of Vaughan's Lounge"listening, as inside, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers wailed into the early morning hours.

I suspect my years in New Orleans saved/cursed me from being agenda-prone. I'm not of the reductionist school. I'm drawn to swamps"not so much the muck -- but the mindfulness needed to negotiate the terrain. Of course, swamps will bog one down; yet, I'm drawn to the cacophony and filtered light, to its minute gradations of green upon green " One is forced to slow down in order to take in the revealed beauty and hidden dangers therein.

Moreover, the swamp exists for its own sake and feels no obligation to explain its mystery. It can be known, but its mystery is just that " ever growing, always dying.

One must not, and this is a habitual misstep of the contemporary left, approach politics, personality and place as a strictly intellectual exercise -- as a thought experiment that will yield to logic. If the swamp of the human psyche were that simple to negotiate, then life would be a dry, blood-bereft trudge indeed.

And yet, how the world wounds us; at times, delivering an aching sorrow that one will always carry. But rejoice in your wounded condition"for the open wound harbors a mouth to kiss"a womb from which to be perennially reborn. As Octavio Paz testifies, "Love is a wound, an injury"Yes, love is a flower of blood."

As far as the struggle to be included in the present political narrative, we, on the left, remain marginalized to the point of near invisibility. But don't lose heart: The problem is the solution. Apropos, empire carries the seeds of its own demise. Therefore, in the shadow of the house of cards economy, now tottering over the ruins and detritus of the nation's shuttered factories, foreclosed upon farms, and abandoned mills, one should go about the business of working on what will replace the hollow and decayed system when it collapses from within.

Accordingly, Rainer Maria Rilke averred (paraphrasing) everyone has a letter written within and if you refuse the life your heart wants to live, you don't get to read this letter before you die. An individual must risk the world, with all its attendant woundings, or he risks having a dead letter office piling up lost correspondence from his neglected heart.

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Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/phil.rockstroh

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