I will never tire of the quixotic journeys of Poe Ballantine. In his essay “Nomads” [January 2019], one sentence in particular leapt out: “The U.S. is about competition and achievement and acquisition, all of which are antithetical to happiness.” This sentiment flies in the face of everything we’ve been taught to believe, and it’s what makes him so refreshing.
Only Ballantine would see an “ostentatious display of wealth” like his friend’s daughter’s million-dollar home — complete with statues, fountains, and expensive tequila — and find it all so tiring that he looks for a couch to take a nap on. You’ve got to love a guy who thinks the way he does.
I was struck by Robert Alexander’s poignant photo of a clown on the cover of your January 2019 issue. I worked with several circuses in the last days of the traveling tent shows, and the image brought back many memories. But I was disappointed that the subject was not identified. The man in the photograph had a name. And the character he created also had a name. The precision of his makeup, as well as the careful curation of his costume, hint at some training in traditional clown craft. He was a performer and entertainer, but alas, we don’t get to know who he was.
Robert Alexander responds:
I have always considered the circus fascinating, mysterious, and a little sad. Years ago, when a small traveling circus passed through southwest Virginia, where I lived, I slipped between the tents and soaked up the strange atmosphere until I was told to leave. Since I was trespassing, there was not time to strike up conversations or ask questions.
I was moved by the dinner party scene in Krista Bremer’s essay “Notes on Surrender,” in which the host toasted his daughter’s decision to become a drone pilot in the Air Force [December 2018]. Almost everyone in the U.S. knows so little about the reality of war.
I was a platoon medic in the Vietnam War, which the Vietnamese call the American War. My platoon took heavy losses. It quickly became obvious, however, that Vietnamese civilians bore the brunt of the losses. The landscape that sustained them was often destroyed. The Vietnamese continue to suffer from the effects of Agent Orange. And farmers tending crops and children playing in fields still lose lives and limbs to forgotten explosives.
In 2008 I gave my Purple Heart to a Vietnamese woman who suffered from Agent Orange–induced thyroid cancer, and I gave my Combat Medical Badge to a young woman born without legs due to her mother’s exposure to that same chemical.
The dinner party chatter Bremer describes is sadly realistic. Maybe her husband, Ismail — commenting that his Libyan family had been directly affected by U.S. foreign policy — planted a seed or two in the minds of other guests.
My transformation into a cat was progressing nicely when I was reading Emily Mitchell’s “On Becoming a Cat” [December 2018]. I was enjoying the luxury of being totally indifferent, but I was unable to control my admiration for her story.
Your November 2018 issue struck a chord. That last line of Frances Lefkowitz’s essay “Survivor” — “I still say no when I mean yes” — broke me open. And Tracy Frisch’s interview with Stacy Mitchell about the drawbacks of shopping with online retailer Amazon [“Unfair Advantage”] had me cheering.
I grew up on a family-owned dairy farm with parents who believed in the cooperative business model. I recognize the power of co-ops to help create a more equitable world. (I now work at one.) This issue showed me that there are many of us who feel the pull toward a healthier, more connected world. The time is ripe, the tools are available, and we are all we need to move things forward.
Frances Lefkowitz’s “Survivor” eloquently describes what many who love animals feel but can’t verbalize. I’m glad we have her to speak for us.
When I saw that Bertrand Russell’s “Capitalism and the Wage System” [Dog-Eared Page, November 2018] was written in 1917, I thought it would have little correlation to today’s world. Boy, was I mistaken!
Russell appears to be talking about the current day when he speaks of discrimination and the exploitation of the poor and our natural resources. He explains how socialism, where the state would control everything, would not be productive, and how capitalism, which caters to the 1 percent, does not benefit the world. He understands that people need to be retrained for jobs that would better serve our planet and themselves. He sees how those who do good work should be rewarded instead of made to fear unemployment. And he rationalizes that not every job can pay the same — since some require more expense and training — but that every worker should be given a living wage.
And to think he recognized all this in 1917. We need his wisdom today.
My ninety-six-year-old father passed away last year, and Cindy King’s poem “Clickbait Elegy” [October 2018] touched me deeply. Then I came to Michael Mark’s poem “What Are the Odds” and relived many moments with my mother, who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s. These poets have put into words some of my strongest and saddest feelings.
When I read Tony Hoagland’s “The Cure for Racism Is Cancer” [September 2018] it was as if he were speaking aloud things I had only dared to share with my closest loved ones.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate, which means it’s a great equalizer in ways we can’t imagine. To me, cancer is so much more than a cure for racism or other isms. It can be a cure for our suffering.
I may not be healthy, and my future is not what I hoped it would be, but cancer has helped me understand the meaning of this Thich Nhat Hanh prayer: “Waking up this morning, I smile. I have twenty-four hours to live. I vow to live them deeply and to look at the beings around me with eyes of compassion.”
I would never have read the work of Tony Hoagland had it not been for The Sun. Thank you for introducing me to his creativity and imagination. I have made a donation to The Sun in his memory, to support the next poet to come along whose work will move me to tears.
Now that my children are mostly grown, I have given myself the gift of renewing my subscription to The Sun, after spending years away from it. I have fallen in love all over again.
I’ve also been rereading old issues, including June 2002, in which Jean Fay Harmon from Neskowin, Oregon, writes in your Correspondence section about how she reads Readers Write: backwards from the last entry, trying to figure out what the topic is. What a great idea! I guessed fairly quickly on my first attempt (the topic was “Storms”) but I trust I will have more difficulty with future issues, given The Sun’s choice of “intentionally broad” topics.
On a whim I purchased a two-year subscription to The Sun. Then, after a few months, I asked for a refund because the content was too melancholy for me. I’m embarrassed to admit I was too fragile to take the realism of the writing in your magazine. I work in service to the poor and am no stranger to the tragedies caused by capitalism.
You quickly refunded my money, and the magazines stopped coming. No fuss. No “Are you sure?” Thank you for your quiet kindness, which is consistent with the ethos that permeates your magazine.
In our January 2019 issue, we listed photographer JaMarcus Bullock’s home as Hendersonville, North Carolina. It’s actually Henderson.
The Sun regrets the error.