Today I read a mere 50 pages in The Folktales of A.N. Afanas’ev Vol. 3, ending on page 400. I plan to get back to the book on Monday at earliest. In the meantime, I wrote out some ideas for a book which will be completed at incremental steps, but not all at once or not immediately. Right now I must focus on Tales of the Land of the Firebird Part I, and then–I hope–a book about Modern Islam and its traditional roots, In Honor of Khashoggi. Then two for myself: Oz Revisited and Jeanie and the Gentlefolk. After that a biography of my beloved Grandma Williams (A History of Francis Westin Williams). Perhaps then I will go back to Tales of the Land of the Firebird Part II. Yet at some point I want to write a book about America beyond what I said in a nonfiction book I wrote of anecdotes from my childhood Back in the Day.
I will not recite the poems here because I want them to be published someday. Yet of the ones I wrote so far, I wrote using material from Earnest Thompson Seton’s Wild Animals I Have Known and a book of Arapaho Indian folk stories. I also wrote about the fair and the prehistoric animals of the United States. I hope to write about Wyatt Earp, Billie the Kid, Jesse James and Calamity Jane… I also want to write about Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. I also want to celebrate native black culture, whether it is Scott Joplin, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday, or whether it is Frederick Douglass, Thurgood Marshall, and Martin Luther King. However, I will not be a regular historian. For one thing, in Earnest Seton’s stories I blended his tale of Lobo with my own fictionalized account–faction. For another thing, rather than giving biographical outlines of say, Lincoln’s life, I will highlight a particular moment, say when Lincoln was at Gettysburg. Or Teddy Roosevelt and his incident which creating the “Teddy Bear.” Or some stories, perhaps apocryphal, that my Grandma Williams told me about the Dust Bowl and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Or the fact–revealed by my name-dropping father–that Louis Armstrong always bought meals for his band after concerts, and the fact that Louis carried a Star of David in his pocket which I learned on a Ken Burns special. For all that I prefer other kinds of music to country, I might write a poem about Johnny Cash’s “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” and his playing at Fulcrum Prison. All of these are going to be poetry…
I hope the generation that would enjoy these poems is not, frankly, dead or dying off. Yet I have to write these poems. I hope they are not dismissed as mere “Americana.” I try to tell myself they are something more. They try to speak of what is great about America… The fact that, as the Amerindians believed, our country was founded on sacred soil. I want to believe that soil will never reject the people who took root here, even as we need to do right by it for the sake of the natural world and our place in it. For all that my views on God are more conventional than his, the writer Robert Morgan is a favorite modern author of mine whose The Mountains Won’t Remember Us And Other Stories I always wish I had time to read.
Anyway, I hope to write Of Buffalo and Men, as a kind of book more sloppily called, “America, the Land and It’s People.”