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NJ LINE NORTHEAST CORRIDOR BY COOPER SY BLUMENTHAL 34THPARALLEL MAGAZINE ISSUE 68
Trenton NJ at 11.50pm dark, abstract fragments through gray
train windows of what was and now is post-mortem America.
Slabs and more slabs of weighty concrete sections of highway piled next
to dry grass and corrugated metal walls of abandoned buildings, stores,
houses, farms, factories, telephone poles, and baseball fields remote
as my desire to be the first 11-year-old girl on a team of 12-year-old boys.
Behind rusted wire fences vermicular wood stadium seats are weapons.
Splintered sharp edges flay bare flesh under cotton short-shorts and
halter tops the terminus quo of womanhood. My team is waiting
in position on a diamond etched into green somewhere close,
not quite close enough.
A young batter hovers over the plate two outs at the bottom of the ninth.
Sweat beads roll down his forehead cheeks and dark creases in his neck.
The guy hugging third inches forward. Bruised cowhide smacks wood.
The batter rides a gust of wind SAFE on first. The crowd echoes
the wind. High tops on third slide home in time to score. The
batter poised for flight spots his old man nursing a beer,
“Wow,” he says inhaling the honey-scent of victory.
Riding along the Northeast Corridor the vibration of rusty wheels roll
across the once-upon-a-time of America. Painted black against
white on wood names of NJ stops hung from steel beams
good for a lifetime of weather: Chilly, chilly ice, swirling
flakes of snow turned day into holy night. Warm hot,
hot-humid, wet-heavy, gray-black clouds,
cannon-balls of thunder cracked open
the sky. Rain-rocks pounded steel
roof tops. Bugs whipped by
splattering against glass.
Billboards from my train window no longer hide
what sunlight turns into sexless porn
A factory without a roof
A factory without an entrance
A factory with machines lying in grass
Like dead cattle or straw-hard crops of corn.
Linden and North Elizabeth, pit stops blacker than coal.
No one enters or exits. Wind blows through trucks without
windows or wheels waiting for a crane to carry their remains
to a grave without a name.
Not long ago colorful and new humming-birds sawed wood
bees drilled holes through rosebuds.
COOPER SY BLUMENTHAL
I was visiting my sister in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, returning to New York before taking a plane home to Los Angeles. I’m not sure why I was compelled to look at life passing outside the window of a train rather than work on my computer or answer emails.
In the last hours of daylight, I saw ruins as reminders of a working mill, steel plant, foundry, landscape of farms, the green hills and valleys of mid-summer.
As we slowed down at suburban stops like Princeton Junction there were no freshly painted storefronts, tidy lawns with the cast shadows of Victorian porches, or in the distance a sand-lot baseball field. No, the America of my childhood was an unattended graveyard of broken windows temporarily held in place by the brick façade of a factory surrounded by cannibalized parts of trucks, cars, machinery without wheels or engines.
I was dumbstruck by the images and wondered why decades had passed before I could accept, even after the infiltration of corporate greed into academe changing higher education and my own role as a college professor, such a formidable reality.
My father was a manufacturer from the end of World War Two until the beginning of the 1960s. He bid on military contracts during the Korean war. There were a few years of prosperity before Goodrich, RCA, General Electric, Westinghouse, Emerson Radio Corp, Lockheed, Chrysler, General Motors, etcetera, forced him to declare bankruptcy.
The Military Industrial Complex vs the individual creator, manufacturer, inventor, scientist, artist, manifests our current political and economic woes.
My poem is personal and political, inspired by a reckoning with unadorned truth.
Like other people I fight to stay optimistic about democracy. I try to have faith that the freedoms guaranteed to citizens in the US Constitution will survive the impact of so many solid hits from a powerful corporate elite who have marshaled an army of followers without the benefits of wealth or understanding of what’s at stake.
I studied poetry with Rachel Blau Du Plessis and thought that I would continue as a poet and Chaucerian scholar in graduate school. But I was seduced by the excitement and frenetic activity in Temple University’s Film Department. I was accepted as an MFA candidate with a specialty in documentary filmmaking.
I was also a single mother of a seven-year old son which made working as a graduate assistant and learning the aesthetic and technical aspects of the medium, well…let’s just say it was a little more than a piece-of-cake.
By the end of three years I was close to bankruptcy but was rescued at the 11th hour by ABC TV who hired me as an editor of a mini-documentary series, Prime Time. I edited, wrote narration, shot film, and occasionally produced mini-doc segments.
Then I was accepted as a Directing Fellow at the American Film Institute. In nine months at the Institute I wrote and directed three short student films.
Surviving the criticism of the Director (the school’s head honcho) was a rite-of-passage into the overcrowded Hollywood job market which provided me with continual opportunities for rejection.
It was also the beginning of a new life and school in Hollywood for my son.
I needed a regular income and when I saw a job opening in the Daily Variety for a professor of film at San Diego State University I applied and was hired, once again at the 11th hour.
After two years I transferred to Cal State University Long Beach, much closer to the Industry, and my son’s education and passion for flying airplanes.
I wrote and directed movies including The Poet’s Wife and Walking to Waldheim. My first indie feature, Take Two, premiered at The American Film Institute and was distributed internationally.
I wrote and directed three films for a Showtime Anthology series: As Always Madelaine, The Photographer, and Woman on a Train.
More recently I directed and co-wrote a two-act play with Kathy Jones, Acts of Faith, based on short stories by Grace Paley. The play had its first three-week run at the 10th Street Theater in San Diego, California.
The Leonard and Susan Nimoy Family Foundation funded my feature-length documentary, The Phoenix Effect, about the lives of second and third generation holocaust survivors.
So I studied, taught, and made films, theater, and TV programs, but my first love and ultimate goal is to be recognized as a writer of poetry, short stories, and a novel or two.
My poetry and short stories have been published in Battered Suitcase, Love Notes, an anthology of poetry published by Vagabondage Press, Montreal Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ray’s River Review, Steel House Review, Petrichor Review, and 34thParallel Magazine.
Although I have a film waiting to be edited, I’m enveloped in the characters in two novels close to completion. Every day I ride my bike along the Pacific Ocean to a special café where I enter the lives of my flawed, complicated, troubled, mysterious, weathered, and wholly real men and women who I can count on to show up as soon as I’m sitting at a table with a cup of coffee, and turn on my computer.
My son became a pilot and eventually a Captain at Frontier Airlines, and he’s living in Paris, France, of course.