Question 1 of 2 50.0 Points
Cathy Song’s “Picture Bride” and Sandra Cisnero’s “Woman Hollering Creek” both address culture and gender. Choose one of the works and discuss what you consider to be the dominant idea? Why? Your response should be at least 200 words
Cathy Song “Picture Bride”
“She was a year younger
twenty-three when she left Korea.
Did she simply close
the door of her father’s house
and walk away. And
was it a long way
through the tailor shops of Pusan
to the wharf where the boat
waited to take her to an island
whose name she had only recently learned,
on whose shore
a man waited, turning her photograph
to the light when the lanterns
in the camp outside Waialua Sugar Mill were lit
and the inside of his room
from the wings of moths migrating out of the cane stalks?
What things did my grandmother
take with her? And when
she arrived to look
into the face of the stranger
who was her husband,
thirteen years older than she,
did she politely untie
the silk bow of her jacket,
her tent-shaped dress
filling with the dry wind
that blew from the surrounding fields
where the men were burning the cane?”
Choose one of the literary pieces found in the “Other Perspectives” section of your text. Discuss the groups represented there. To use an example from a prior week, we looked at Jackson Jackson’s status as Native American, but he is also a part of the homeless community. He is an alcoholic, a father, a former husband, a man, and a college dropout. Each of these contributes to his position as an American. When you choose your piece, discuss how all the characteristics fit together to form the person you read about. Your response should be at least 200 words.
Choose either story, but not both.
“Somewhere for Everyone”
In the small southern towns of my childhood no one talked about the homeless. In fact, the word “homeless” as a description for very poor people was never used. They were called hungry or needy, or they were winos or hobos, but never home- less. They, whoever and wherever they were, were rarely seen, and it was always assumed that someone else, probably a relative, would eventually take care of them.
Years later, during one of my first visits to New York City, I was accosted by an angry panhandler. Like the rest of the crowd, I tried to ignore him. But for some reason he chose to follow me. We exchanged insults for a block as my pace quickened, and I half expected him to produce a weapon of some sort. I escaped in the crowd, and he was left to torment someone else. The incident did nothing to arouse my concern for the homeless, but it did make me notice and avoid street beggars. And since nearly everyone else avoided them, too, I was certain the problem would simply go away.
For a brief period back in the ’80s, homelessness was the chic issue of the pretty people. It was worthy of galas and fund-raisers and cover stories. Now, as a cause, it has fallen on hard times, and the glamour crusades have moved to new fronts. But homelessness is a problem that is not going away. There are more homeless this year than last, and the number keeps growing. The new welfare overhaul our politicians are so proud of is sending more poor people into the streets. Many homeless people actually work, but not where they prefer. They are relegated to minimum-wage jobs with few hours and no benefits. The cost of housing is high, so they have a choice: sleep under a bridge or fight for a spot in a shelter.
About 40 percent of the homeless are substance abusers, and this number is expected to increase as rehab programs dwindle. (Don’t be so quick to pass judgment and say, “Serves them right. If they’re gonna abuse drugs and alcohol, they belong on the streets.” Let’s not kid ourselves. If teenagers from good families and executives with big jobs can succumb to alcohol and drugs, what can we expect from people who live on the streets?) Many of the homeless are mothers with children, and shelters are not always equipped to handle them. Tonight many thou- sands of children will find a place to sleep without a decent bed, shelter or roof. They will sleep in the trunks of old cars, and in parks I wouldn’t walk through in daylight, and in abandoned buildings in inner-city combat zones.
There is now a new and growing threat. Some cities are in the midst of an effort to criminalize homelessness. Attempts have been made to outlaw panhandling, sleeping on park benches and sidewalks, eating near fountains and leaving personal property on public property. Some of these ill-advised ordinances have been struck down, so the cities selectively enforce existing laws. A panhandler may be charged with blocking pedestrian traffic or loitering. A wino sleeping in a park may be charged with public drunkenness. A homeless man relieves himself in an alley and he’s charged with public exposure.
Sweeps have become routine in some cities. The police target certain areas of a city. They remove those who are begging or otherwise appear unsightly and simply deposit them into another, less fashionable section of town. Or they arrest them and grind them through the overworked criminal justice system.
Everyone has to be somewhere. The problem of homelessness is not solved by removing the victims from our view. The issue borders on the brink of hopelessness.
I didn’t know this a year ago. I had other causes and concerns and supported other charities. Then inspiration hit. Ideas for novels often fall from the sky, strik- ing like lightning and causing sleep loss. (Others take years to piece together.) I thought of a story about a young lawyer who has a violent encounter with a street person, and who survives, and for the first time in his busy young life stops and notices the less fortunate. In short order he becomes a street lawyer, a public- interest advocate for the poor. Adding a few of the usual twists and turns, I could make the story work. Problem was, I knew nothing about street law.
In the spring of ’97 my research took me into the world of the homeless. I made the two-hour drive from my comfortable home in the Virginia countryside to the streets of D.C., and there I met real poverty lawyers. I went to shelters where people lived packed together, their meager assets locked away in small trunks. I met women whose children had been taken away because they couldn’t feed and clothe them. I met young mothers still clinging to their kids, terrified they would lose their shelter space and land in the streets. In a church basement I chatted with street people happy to be eating a warm meal, most of them uncertain where they would sleep in a few hours. I almost froze on a park bench one night as I tried to strike up a conversation with a homeless man who suspected I was from the IRS. I talked politics with a panhandler near the Capitol. He finally asked me to leave because I was hurting his business. I listened to hymns being sung at a women’s center as it closed for the day. The ladies said their goodbyes and drifted away, half of them headed for shelters, the rest destined for alleys and parks. I interviewed volunteers and social workers, and I’m still amazed at their compassion.
I cried only once. I was in a soup kitchen one night, trying but failing to appear inconspicuous, when a young mother rushed in with three children, an infant and twin boys. She was running from something, but no one seemed to care. Her boys were about 4 dressed in rags and bone thin, and they attacked a tray of peanut butter sandwiches as if they hadn’t seen food in a month. A volunteer fixed them a plate with cookies, an apple, a cup of vegetable soup and more sandwiches. They ate furiously, their eyes darting in all directions as if someone might stop them. They stuffed themselves because they knew the uncertainties of tomorrow.
Little street soldiers, preparing for the coming battles. Is this the Third World, I asked myself? Or is this America?”
“From Going after Cacciato
The platoon of thirty-two soldiers moved slowly in the dark, single file, not talk- ing. One by one, like sheep in a dream, they passed through the hedgerow, crossed quietly over a meadow and came down to the paddy. There they stopped. Lieu- tenant Sidney Martin knelt down, motioning with his hand, and one by one the others squatted or knelt or sat in the shadows. For a long time they did not move. Except for the sounds of their breathing, and, once, a soft fluid trickle as one of them urinated, the thirty-two men were silent: some of them excited by the adven- ture, some afraid, some exhausted by the long march, some of them looking for- ward to reaching the sea where they would be safe. There was no talking now. No more jokes. At the rear of the column, Private First Class Paul Berlin lay quietly with his forehead resting on the black plastic stock of his rifle. His eyes were closed. He was pretending he was not in the war. Pretending he had not watched Billy Boy Watkins die of fright on the field of battle. He was pretending he was a boy again, camping with his father in the midnight summer along the Des Moines River. “Be calm,” his father said. “Ignore the bad stuff, look for the good.” In the dark, eyes closed, he pretended. He pretended that when he opened his eyes his fa- ther would be there by the campfire and, father and son, they would begin to talk softly about whatever came to mind, minor things, trivial things, and then roll into their sleeping bags. And later, he pretended, it would be morning and there would not be a war.
In the morning, when they reached the sea, it would be better. He would bathe in the sea. He would shave. Clean his nails, work out the scum. In the morning he would wash himself and brush his teeth. He would forget the first day, and the second day would not be so bad. He would learn.
There was a sound beside him, a movement, then, “Hey,” then louder, “Hey!” He opened his eyes. “Hey, we’re movin’. Get up.” “Okay.”
“No, I was resting. Thinking.” He could see only part of the soldier’s face. It was a plump, round, child’s face. The child was smiling.
“No problem,” the soldier whispered. “Up an’ at ’em.”
And he followed the boy’s shadow into the paddy, stumbling once, almost dropping his rifle, cutting his knee, but he followed the shadow and did not stop.”
“The night was clear. Before him, strung out across the paddy, he could make out the black forms of the other soldiers, their silhouettes hard against the sky. Al- ready the Southern Cross was out. And other stars he could not yet name. Soon, he thought, he would learn the names. And puffy night clouds. And a peculiar glow to the west. There was not yet a moon.
Wading through the paddy, listening to the lullaby sounds of his boots, and many other boots, he tried hard not to think. Dead of a heart attack, that was what Doc Peret had said. Only he did not know Doc Peret’s name. All he knew was what Doc said, dead of a heart attack, but he tried hard not to think of this, and instead he thought about not thinking. The fear wasn’t so bad now. Now, as he stepped out of the paddy and onto a narrow dirt path, now the fear was mostly the fear of being so dumbly afraid ever again.
So he tried not to think.
There were tricks to keep from thinking. Counting. He counted his steps along the dirt path, concentrating on the numbers, pretending that the steps were dollar bills and that each step through the night made him richer and richer, so that soon he would become a wealthy man, and he kept counting, considering the ways he might spend the wealth, what he would buy and do and acquire and own. He would look his father in the eye and shrug and say, “It was pretty bad at first, sure, but I learned a lot and I got used to it. I never joined them—not them—but I learned their names and I got along, I got used to it.” Then he would tell his father the story of Billy Boy Watkins, only a story, just a story, and he would never let on about the fear. “Not so bad,” he would say instead, making his father proud.
And songs, another trick to stop the thinking—Where have you gone, Billy Boy, Billy Boy, oh, where have you gone, charming Billy? and other songs, I got a girl, her name is Jill, she won’t do it but her sister will, and Sound Off! and other songs that he sang in his head as he marched toward the sea. And when he reached the sea he would dig a hole in the sand and he would sleep like the high clouds, he would swim and dive into the breakers and hunt crayfish and smell the salt, and he would laugh when the others made jokes about Billy Boy, and he would not be afraid ever again.
He walked, and counted, and later the moon came out. Pale, shrunken to the size of a dime.
The helmet was heavy on his head. In the morning he would adjust the leather binding. In the morning, at the end of the long march, his boots would have lost their shiny black stiffness, turning red and clay-colored like all the other boots, and he would have a start on a beard, his clothes would begin to smell of the coun- try, the mud and algae and cow manure and chlorophyll, decay, mosquitoes like mice, all this: He would begin to smell like the others, even look like them, but, by God, he would not join them. He would adjust. He would play the part. But he would not join them. He would shave, he would clean himself, he would clean his weapon and keep it clean. He would clean the breech and trigger assembly and muzzle and magazines, and later, next time, he would not be afraid to use it. In the morning, when he reached the sea, he would learn the soldiers’ names and maybe laugh at their jokes. When they joked about Billy Boy he would laugh, pretending it was funny, and he would not let on.
Walking, counting in his walking, and pretending, he felt better. He watched the moon come higher.”
“The trick was not to take it personally. Stay aloof. Follow the herd but don’t join it. That would be the real trick. The trick would be to keep himself separate. To watch things. “Keep an eye out for the good stuff,” his father had said by the river. “Keep your eyes open and your ass low, that’s my only advice.” And he would do it. A low profile. Look for the beauties: the moon sliding higher now, the feeling of the march, all the ironies and truths, and don’t take any of it seri- ously. That would be the trick.
Once, very late in the night, they skirted a sleeping village. The smells again— straw, cattle, mildew. The men were quiet. On the far side of the village, coming like light from the dark, a dog barked. The barking was fierce. Then, nearby, an- other dog took up the bark. The column stopped. They waited there until the bark- ing died out, then, fast, they marched away from the village, through a graveyard with conical burial mounds and miniature stone altars. The place had a perfumy smell. His mother’s dresser, rows of expensive lotions and colognes, eau de bain:2 She used to hide booze in the larger bottles, but his father found out and carried the whole load out back, started a fire, and, one by one, threw the bottles into the incinerator, where they made sharp exploding sounds like gunfire; a perfumy smell, yes; a nice spot to spend the night, to sleep in the perfumery, the burial mounds making fine strong battlements, the great quiet of the place.
But they went on, passing through a hedgerow and across another paddy and east toward the sea.
He walked carefully. He remembered what he’d been taught. Billy Boy hadn’t remembered. And so Billy died of fright, his face going pale and the veins in his arms and neck popping out, the crazy look in his eyes.
He walked carefully.
Stretching ahead of him in the night was the string of shadow-soldiers whose names he did not yet know. He knew some of the faces. And he knew their shapes, their heights and weights and builds, the way they carried themselves on the march. But he could not tell them apart. All alike in the night, a piece, all of them moving with the same sturdy silence and calm and steadiness.
So he walked carefully, counting his steps. And when he had counted to eight thousand and sixty, the column suddenly stopped. One by one the soldiers knelt or squatted down.
The grass along the path was wet. Private First Class Paul Berlin lay back and turned his head so he could lick at the dew with his eyes closed, another trick, closing his eyes. He might have slept. Eyes closed, pretending came easy . . . When he opened his eyes, the same child-faced soldier was sitting beside him, quietly chewing gum. The smell of Doublemint was clean in the night.
“Sleepin’ again?” the boy said. “No. Hell, no.” The boy laughed a little, very quietly, chewing on his gum. Then he twisted
the cap off a canteen and took a swallow and handed it through the dark. “Take some,” he said. He didn’t whisper. The voice was high, a child’s voice,
and there was no fear in it. A big blue baby. A genie’s voice. Paul Berlin drank and handed back the canteen. The boy pressed a stick of
gum into his fingers. “Chew it quiet, okay? Don’t blow no bubbles or nothing.”
“It was impossible to make out the soldier’s face. It was a huge face, almost perfectly round.
They sat still. Private First Class Paul Berlin chewed the gum until all the sug- ars were gone. Then in the dark beside him the boy began to whistle. There was no melody.
“You have to do that?” “Do what?” “Whistle like that.” “Geez, was I whistling?” “Sort of.”
The boy laughed. His teeth were big and even and white. “Sometimes I forget. Kinda dumb, isn’t it?” “Forget it.”
“Whistling! Sometimes I just forget where I’m at. The guys, they get pissed at me, but I just forget. You’re new here, right?”
“I guess I am.” “Weird.” “What’s weird?” “Weird,” the boy said, “that’s all. The way I forget. Whistling! Was I whistling?” “If you call it that.”
They were quiet awhile. And the night was quiet, no crickets or birds, and it was hard to imagine it was truly a war. He searched again for the soldier’s face, but there was just a soft fullness under the helmet. The white teeth: chewing, smil- ing. But it did not matter. Even if he saw the kid’s face, he would not know the name; and if he knew the name, it would still not matter.
“Haven’t got the time?” “No.” “Rats.” The boy popped the gum on his teeth, a sharp smacking sound.
“Don’t matter.” “How about—”
“Time goes faster when you don’t know the time. That’s why I never bought no watch. Oscar’s got one, an’ Billy . . . Billy, he’s got two of ’em. Two watches, you believe that? I never bought none, though. Goes fast when you don’t know the time.”
And again they were quiet. They lay side by side in the grass. The moon was very high now, and very bright, and they were waiting for cloud cover. After a time there was the crinkling of tinfoil, then the sound of heavy chewing. A moist, loud sound.
“I hate it when the sugar’s gone,” the boy said. “You want more?” “I’m okay.” “Just ask. I got about a zillion packs. Pretty weird, wasn’t it?” “What?”
“Today . . . it was pretty weird what Doc said. About Billy Boy.” “Yes, pretty weird.” The boy smiled his big smile. “You like that gum? I got other kinds if you
don’t like it. I got—” “I like it.”
“I got Black Jack here. You like Black Jack? Geez, I love it! Juicy Fruit’s sec- ond, but Black Jack’s first. I save it up for rainy days, so to speak. Know what I mean? What you got there is Doublemint.””
““I like it.”
“Sure,” the round soldier said, the child, “except for Black Jack and Juicy Fruit it’s my favorite. You like Black Jack gum?”
Paul Berlin said he’d never tried it. It scared him, the way the boy kept talk- ing, too loud. He sat up and looked behind him. Everything was dark.
“Weird,” the boy said. “I guess so. Why don’t we be a little quiet?” “Weird. You never even tried it?” “What?” “Black Jack. You never even chewed it once?” Someone up the trail hissed at them to shut up. The boy shook his head, put a
finger to his lips, smiled, and lay back. Then a long blank silence. It lasted for per- haps an hour, maybe more, and then the boy was whistling again, softly at first but then louder, and Paul Berlin nudged him.
“Really weird,” the soldier whispered. “About Billy Boy. What Doc said, wasn’t that the weirdest thing you ever heard? You ever hear of such a thing?”
“What?” “What Doc said.” “No, I never did.” “Me neither.” The boy was chewing again, and the smell now was licorice.
The moon was a bit lower. “Me neither. I never heard once of no such thing. But Doc, he’s a pretty smart cookie. Pretty darned smart.”
“You bet he is. When he says something, man, you know he’s tellin’ the truth. You know it.” The soldier turned, rolling onto his stomach, and began to whistle, drumming with his fingers. Then he caught himself. “Dang it!” He gave his cheek a sharp whack. “Whistling again! I got to stop that dang whistling.” He smiled and thumped his mouth. “But, sure enough, Doc’s a smart one. He knows stuff. You wouldn’t believe the stuff Doc knows. A lot. He knows a lot.”
Paul Berlin nodded. The boy was talking too loud again.
“Well, you’ll find out yourself. Doc knows his stuff.” Sitting up, the boy shook his head. “A heart attack!” He made a funny face, filling his cheeks like balloons, then letting them deflate. “A heart attack! You hear Doc say that? A heart attack on the field of battle, isn’t that what Doc said?”
“Yes,” Paul Berlin whispered. He couldn’t help giggling. “Can you believe it? Billy Boy getting heart attacked? Scared to death?” Paul Berlin giggled, he couldn’t help it. “Can you imagine it?” “Yes,” Paul Berlin whispered, and he imagined it clearly. He couldn’t stop
He giggled. He couldn’t stop it, so he giggled, and he imagined it clearly. He imagined the medic’s report. He imagined Billy’s surprise. He giggled, imagining Billy’s father opening the telegram: SORRY TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR SON BILLY BOY WAS YESTERDAY SCARED TO DEATH IN ACTION IN THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM. Yes, he could imagine it clearly.
He giggled. He rolled onto his belly and pressed his face in the wet grass and giggled, he couldn’t help it.”
““Not so loud,” the boy said. But Paul Berlin was shaking with the giggles: scared to death on the field of battle, and he couldn’t help it.
“Not so loud.”
But he was coughing with the giggles, he couldn’t stop. Giggling and remember- ing the hot afternoon, and poor Billy, how they’d been drinking Coke from bright aluminum cans, and how the men lined the cans up in a row and shot them full of practice holes, how funny it was and how dumb and how hot the day, and how they’d started on the march and how the war hadn’t seemed so bad, and how a little while later Billy tripped the mine, and how it made a tinny little sound, unimpor- tant, poof, that was all, just poof, and how Billy Boy stood there with his mouth open and grinning, sort of embarrassed and dumb-looking, how he just stood and stood there, looking down at where his foot had been, and then how he finally sat down, still grinning, not saying a word, his boot lying there with his foot still in it, just poof, nothing big or dramatic, and how hot and fine and clear the day had been.
“Hey,” he heard the boy saying in the dark, “not so loud, okay?” But he kept giggling. He put his nose in the wet grass and he giggled, then he bit his arm, try- ing to stifle it, but remembering—“War’s over, Billy,” Doc Peret said, “that’s a mil- lion-dollar wound.”
“Hey, not so loud.”
But Billy was holding the boot now. Unlacing it, trying to force it back on, ex- cept it was already on, and he kept trying to tie the boot and foot on, working with the laces, but it wouldn’t go, and how everyone kept saying, “The war’s over, man, be cool.” And Billy couldn’t get the boot on, because it was already on: He kept trying but it wouldn’t go. Then he got scared. “Fuckin boot won’t go on,” he said. And he got scared. His face went pale and the veins in his arms and neck popped out, and he was yanking at the boot to get it on, and then he was crying. “Bullshit,” the medic said, Doc Peret, but Billy Boy kept bawling, tightening up, saying he was going to die, but the medic said, “Bullshit, that’s a million-dollar wound you got there,” but Billy went crazy, pulling at the boot with his foot still in it, crying, saying he was going to die. And even when Doc Peret stuck him with morphine, even then Billy kept crying and working at the boot.
“Shut up!” the soldier hissed, or seemed to, and the smell of licorice was all over him, and the smell made Paul Berlin giggle harder. His eyes stung. Giggling in the wet grass in the dark, he couldn’t help it.
“Come on, man, be quiet.”
But he couldn’t stop. He heard the giggles in his stomach and tried to keep them there, but they were hard and hurting and he couldn’t stop them, and he couldn’t stop remembering how it was when Billy Boy Watkins died of fright on the field of battle.
Billy tugging away at the boot, rocking, and Doc Peret and two others hold- ing him. “You’re okay, man,” Doc Peret said, but Billy wasn’t hearing it, and he kept getting tighter, making fists, squeezing his eyes shut and teeth scraping, every- thing tight and squeezing.
Afterward Doc Peret explained that Billy Boy really died of a heart attack, scared to death. “No lie,” Doc said, “I seen it before. The wound wasn’t what killed him, it was the heart attack. No lie.” So they wrapped Billy in a plastic pon- cho, his eyes still squeezed shut to make wrinkles in his cheeks, and they carried him over the meadow to a dried-up paddy, and they set out yellow smoke for the chopper, and they put him aboard, and then Doc wrapped the boot in a towel and placed it next to Billy, and that was how it happened. The chopper took Billy away.”
“Later, Eddie Lazzutti, who loved to sing, remembered the song, and the jokes started, and Eddie sang where have you gone, Billy Boy, Billy Boy, oh, where have you gone, charming Billy? They sang until dark, marching to the sea.
Giggling, lying now on his back, Paul Berlin saw the moon move. He could not stop. Was it the moon? Or the clouds moving, making the moon seem to move? Or the boy’s round face, pressing him, forcing out the giggles. “It wasn’t so bad,” he would tell his father. “I was a man. I saw it the first day, the very first day at the war, I saw all of it from the start, I learned it, and it wasn’t so bad, and later on, later on it got better, later on, once I learned the tricks, later on it wasn’t so bad.” He couldn’t stop.
The soldier was on top of him. “Okay, man, okay.” He saw the face then, clearly, for the first time. “It’s okay.” The face of the moon, and later the moon went under clouds, and the column
was moving. The boy helped him up. “Okay?” “Sure, okay.” The boy gave him a stick of gum. It was Black Jack, the precious stuff. “You’ll
do fine,” Cacciato said. “You will. You got a terrific sense of humor.””