Gypsy Camp, Potato Diggers, and Muddy Fields

From Peggy McGivern’s solo show ‘Beyond the Iron Curtain,’ verse by Peter Stravlo, Opening Reception March 20, 6-9pm, Abend Gallery, Colfax and York, Denver, CO. Eastern Folk inspired music by Mark Dudrow and Chipper Thompson

Gypsy Camp
There is a man who thinks he knows everything, because he has everything. Gypsies clean the man’s stables and cook his meals for a pittance. Poor gypsies, he thinks, what were their lives before I came along? The man eats bland food and never indulges in wine, afraid if the gypsies realize the extent of his riches they will demand more for their labor. He convinces himself they cannot see him when, while in their camp a short distance away, singing and dancing and playing their music, bouncing their grandchildren on their knees, gorging on spicy food, drinking wine and making love, the man sneaks away to dig up his lock-box and pray over his money. But the gypsies could have stolen his money a thousand times; in fact they have taken some of it, but only what they need to eat and drink and laugh and sing and play and make love.

The Potato Diggers
It is not a burden
Rising with the sun
Digging forks into the dirt
The glances cousin Aleksandr throws our way

It is not a burden
Hoisting endlessly filled sacks
Old Mare baring her teeth each time we approach the wagon
Sister Mika being promised to the butcher

It is not a burden
Clumps the size of river pebbles clinging to our boots
Whispering where is handsome young Achilles today?
Papa watching us crossly

It is not a burden
Giggling like little girls
Old Mare testing her traces against her burden
Carrying more sacks because Mika was not in her bed this morning

It is not a burden
Grandpa snoring over the last morsel of goulash
Mending socks and sacks
Dreaming we could be so brave

Muddy Fields
He photographs a young boy and his father unhooking their wagon and harnessing a single metal plowshare to their stallion. Their women harvest earth’s precious bounty and the plow turns the soil row after row, season after season. A teenage girl in a thick skirt, her legs warm in wool and rubber boots, heaves a bulging bag onto her back, high-steps over the soft clodded earth, and pieces it into the puzzle of the wagon.
He wonders if she will stay or go. It is one thing to romanticize a way of life, to allow old timers to feel better about the way they’ve lived. But what happens when someone tears a knee ligament? Where does a parent turn when a child is born with a deformity? He struggles to remember seeing anyone in the village with a handicap.
The horse and plowman turn at the end of the row. The sun fails to shine through the clouds. He is certain; this simple, self-sustaining life will soon not be possible. They are all in this together, one big village.
The family re-harnesses the horse and somehow gets the plowshare and everyone onto the wagon. He takes another photo, checks it on the digital screen. In an attempt to capture everything he has zoomed so far away he does not recognize what he is witnessing. Maybe it is one of those scenes that needs to be a painting.
(From Peter’s novel The Age of Certainty)



Alas! My fears of the inevitable demise of maleness allayed. The Y chromosone is not fading away.

A recent study determined the Y chromosone, that bastion of evolution that rendomly determines maleness in the genetic reproductive process, has stablized. Twenty-nine million years ago.

Human knowledge. Design vs Chance. Love. Sex. We’ve got a novel here.

As much as I believe there is no evidence of a giant clock-maker lording over us, even as science explains the workings of the clock in ever-increasing detail, I do not think sceintific method will ever be the vehicle to close the clock-maker down.

X and Y chromosones swap genes before producing sperm and egg in a fantastic example of natural selection. This swapping insures variation and diversity within species, a necessary ingredient for health and survival. So far, so good. In any process involving chance, ‘mistakes’ will occur, mutations leading to dead-ends and hopefully more successful versions. At times when X and Y dropped off chunks of DNA to swap, portions would flip the wrong way when patching back in, such that the X, in this instance, could no longer attach to these portions. Over time, these unusable chunks formed a kind of protective fence around the male-determining genes.

When genes don’t get used, aren’t subject to the process of variation, they are eventually jettisoned. Thus the Y shrank from roughly equivalent in size (1000 or so genes) to the X to… 19, plus another 8 ‘maleness’ genes that leapt on board; 27 total, while X stablized at 790 or so.

Is Y shrinking to irrelevance? Here’s where science and the state of human knowledge apply. The study says Y stabilized 29 million years ago.

My male compatriots and I may be simpler, but we’re not going away. (Sounds familiar, but that’s a political discussion.)

Swapping genes could be the origin of Sex and Love. Natural attraction. The now well documented mechanics of docks and ports, if you will, allowing one gene, enzyme, virus, etc., to attach to another an analogy to male and femal sex organs. Little titillations repeated microscopically millions of times within us all, manifesting chemical and emotional behaviors, cultural responses, taboos, dating rituals, laws, prejudices, silliness; like being transfixed by smooth bronze skin as an accidental effect of skin protection.

Love. X and Y need each other (the possibility of x evolving some other mechanism for aquiring/applying maleness seems plausible, the reverse not so much.) It’s all an accident, chance, natural selection, another nail in the edifice of evolution.

Unless…. I just can’t get completely beyond, when I think about X and Y dropping selected chunks of DNA in cooperation with each other, patching back together, stabilizing (how long’s that gonna last. We’re going away or becoming something else at some point,) my mind thinks as if it’s not random (Kant.) All these mechanics could have evolved per chance, and science insists this is a better explanation than the clock-maker. Science’s method and success of the method insist on it, and I agree that’s the best way to function, recognizing Science’s built-in caveat of incompleteness. But my mind keeps thinking X and Y are behaving for a purpose- to reproduce and survive; the work ethic of nature.

Y do you do what you do?

As aside; there’s something about the inherent contradiction of genes making themselves un-usable for their designed purpose (ah, look at the language,) yet serving a positive function (dropping off, patching incorrectly, forming a fence to protect Y,) and then being jettisoned because they are not being swapped anymore, that mirrors the inherent contradictions that each of us humans are. (Humans are the alien beings. We constantly strive to circumvent living in nature, driven to live artificial lives.)

Love, sex, conflict, natural selection, and the clock-maker, evolving for survival.



Four skiiers die in avalanches. Is the issue freedom? Let’s talk about Hesus, protagonists in my first novel, The Age of Certainty.

Hesus believed each to his own, as long as you’re not hurting someone else, you should be able to do whatever you want. Sounds like classic Libertarianism. But, like all human beings and any good literary character, Hesus is complicated, even if he doesn’t always think in those terms.

Hesus attempts to maintain emotional distance, like a scientist, naively observing his subject(s). Naively, because he acts as if he’s never contemplated the phonomenological effect, most prominent in exactly the situation Hesus puts himself in, whereby the observer influences the behavior of his observed subjects. Hesus comes to understand this as the novel progresses, this lesson spurs him to open up, allowing his love for Emil to manifest itself, allowing, however tragically late, Hesus to become a real person, if you will.

Hesus freely places himself in the path of a possible avalanche, his technical confidence overriding his rational judgement- for a purpose, for meaning, in an attempt to transcend his status as an observer- and he pays the price. The price could have been his life, like the confident adventurers who lost their lives at Stevens Pass and Alpental Ski Resort in Washington state yesterday, but instead it was the price that the survivors of that tragic avalanche suffered: pushed to be human, given the opportunity to feel what makes us all human; empathy, loss, contemplation of one’s place in this vast, complicated world we find ourselves.

This price is a gift, hard one and tragic, and it may be that our bodies try to guard us against it, shock us into forgetting, forgetting being also a useful artifice. But a gift it is. How tragic again it would be if we didn’t use the gift, like a book of Nietzchean aphorisms forgotten in a drawer, some think them horrific ravings, others garnering such understanding.

We are always free, like adventuresome Hesus, like brave young athletes, to libertine choices. Sometimes the price of that freedom, human as it is, is high.

You can read the first chapter of The Age of Certainty in Uncategorized>Writings