Sunday, November 30, 2008
I was walking around the lake near to my home. In July. Just noticing. Typically my poems are seeded in transit. I’ve often been queried about my peculiar habits. I just say that I’m a naturalist taking notes. Then they leave me alone.
It was a really hot day. And things that were in full bloom were wilting on the vine.
No poems today
The white cat sleeps
It’s simply too hot
fights or philosophy
Strawberry to full buck
shanghai express matte,
from last night’s imperative volley
This could be Biloxi
All drawl and wisteria
A caravan of lawn chairs
redefine the coast
Fluorescent algae bloom
Think they can improve on death
Green looks brown
At the heart of it all
At the heart
And the liver
And the tired pancreas
Brown in the middle
This is the way death will come
Not as Genghis Khan or Columbus
But as an insider, a familiar, a friend.
‘Two rye-and-water,” the man said.
The bartender went on puddling an Old-Fashioned that he was working on, but he was obviously turning over the request in his mind.
“You want a double?” he asked, after a bit.
“No, “said the man. “ Two rye-and –water, please.”
Page 49, 5th sentence +, The Second tree from the Corner by E.B. White. First published in 1954, this is a delightful collection of E.B. White’s early work, including stories, poems, essays, parodies, and social commentary. Most of the pieces in the book were originally published in the New Yorker. The volume has two forwards, one written in 1954, the next one in 1984. At the age of 54, the author, quite convinced that he had outlived his productive years, was “neatening ups his affairs” and saying good bye to his audience. In his next forward, written 30 years later, he admits that this might have been a little premature. The wonderful thing is that the pieces are timeless. 24 years later, I find myself gliding through the book with immense pleasure. In his updated preface, EB White still feels good enough about the contents to chide his readers. “I am not one to pamper readers, and don’t want them daydreaming their way through this book like drivers on a superhighway.” Well that was enough to make me take up the challenge!!!
I first listened to the book’s namesake story being read on a local radio program while I was shuttling my daughter to and from dance class. Wednesday’s Spoken Word with Beryl Greenberg and Charles Brin. They are a wonderful pair. It is obvious that the cohosts have been lifelong readers. They each select a story and read with a dramatic flair and an obvious love of the language. Occasionally, one has a momentary lapse and the other seamlessly picks up where the other left off.
I don’t feel comfortable in tagging anyone. If you would like to join, these are the guidelines:
Rules: Pass it on to five other bloggers, and tell them to open the nearest book to page 46. Write out the fifth sentence on that page, and also the next two to five sentences. The closest book, not the coolest.
Friday, November 28, 2008
I would like to dedicate these stories to Raven, prolific and inspired writer and instigator of the infamous weekly wordzzle. Also my deepest gratitude to Diane, gifted and wise master of levity, who daily reminds me of the medicinal application of whimsy. All stories are unavoidably autobiographical, but some are weightless. I could not have taken this adventure without these extraordinary mentors and muses.
Mini Challenge: sugar-coated, thermometer, tractor pull, evangelical, masquerade
The diet of augsberg is the only diet that works.
We have an ongoing fundamental disagreement with Aaron’s family. The tacit rules of the game dictate that we refrain from verbally wrangling over religion. So when the Feast of St Felix of Thynissa rolls around, we cast all care to the winds. Try as we may, it is impossible to sugar coat our message. Aaron, Clarise and our poodle Tootsie masquerade as evangelicals in tie dyed Apocalypse Now tee shirts. We promote the end times by bringing thermometers to gauge the fervor of the pilgrims. And there are gigantic tractor pulls enlisted for the rapture.
Next Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: posthumous,flagrant, seven days a week, cheese and crackers, pyramid, civil war, clarinet, microwave, absent without leave, blue jeans
Harold sat in the plexiglass pyramid he had constructed in the back yard of the lavish Tudor home on Edgemore Lane. His new domicile was pitched at just the right angle to negate the noxious microwaves emanating from the main house. Seven days a week, 18 hours a day, he had immersed himself in the posthumous ruminations of Madame Blatavsky and G.I. Gurdjieff. During this time, he subsisted on velveta cheese, ritz crackers and red bull. In an inspired moment, Harold sported his blue jeans jauntily over his head and sat in a lotus position playing clarinet etudes with a unique fingering chart inspired by the works of Sir Edward Cayce. Instead of soaking his reeds, he insisted on microwaving them. His erratic jaunts into the kitchen had incited a veritable civil war in the family. His father interpreted Harold’s flagrant behavior as growing pains, while his mother considered her only son absent without leave and actively endorsed seeking professional help. Pretty soon they would have to do something because the shrill squeals emanating from the pyramid were starting to attract attention in the sleepy suburb.
Next Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: posthumous, flagrant, seven days a week, cheese and crackers, pyramid, civil war, clarinet, microwave, absent without leave, blue jeans
Mini Challenge: sugar-coated, thermometer, tractor pull, evangelical, masquerade
The Blue and the Grey
Earnest Gladwell began as a line cook at the chic Crocus Hill Room when it opened to rave reviews 18 years ago. Perched on the bluffs of the charming river town of Alma with enviable views of the Mississippi, the Inn had become a weekend destination for weary urban dwellers and a favorite spot for romantic trysts. Earnest was the most senior of the kitchen staff. He had watched chefs cut their teeth at Crocus Hill and move on to garner the spotlight in San Francisco, Seattle and New York.
Earnest was not an ambitious man. He was content to manage his prep station, mincing shallots and herbs, julienning roasted beets and ginger and zesting limes for the pastes and marinades they were destined to season. Earnest was conscientious, proficient and even tempered. A quick study, he had on more than one occasion jovially filled in for a coworker who casually missed a shift. It was for all of these reasons: his work ethic, his temperament and his versatility, that Earnest was highly valued in a trade where transience and instability are the norm.
Understandably, the first time it happened, his coworkers were quite concerned for his safety and wellbeing. One drizzly Thursday in April, 4 years into his tenure, Earnest simply went absent without leave. He was not a joiner. He did not attend church or tractor pulls. And aside from his passion for history, he was considered to be asexual. Perhaps the person who knew him best was the local librarian. A history buff, he had an unrelenting curiosity about the American civil war.
This April would be no different from the past 14 years. His employers were very tolerant of Mr. Gladwell’s annual rite and staffed up in anticipation of his absence.
In preparation for the approaching event, Earnest had checked out scores of books from the Brookstone Memorial library. The classic, A Beckoning Hellfire, sat precariously, on a veritable pyramid of volumes by this bedside. Seven days a week over a heated span of 4 months, he had immersed himself in reading the posthumous letters and diaries of soldiers, sutlers and civilians. On those evenings when he worked the dinner shift, Earnest scrambled back to his bungalow, foregoing the delicacies that were a fringe benefit of his job. Flushed with excitement and zeal, he hastily changed into his blue jeans and settled down to a modest snack. Absorbed in the 2nd chapter of The Boys of Kalamazoo, Earnest absentmindly placed the cheese and crackers into the microwave. He stilled the rude oven’s beeping and inserted a meat thermometer into the heart of the gummy concoction. “Medium rare”, he proclaimed authoritatively.
Each reenactment had been singular. But what was about to happen was so wonderful that he could barely sleep. Over the weekend of April 21, Earnest would participate in the Battle of Shiloh. Honor of honors, his petition to give a historical impression of General PGT Beauregard had been accepted!!!
Now Earnest is what is known as a threadcounter in the realm of civil war reenactment. What this means is that he pays meticulous attention to the accurate replication of historical detail, down to fabric and buttonholes having the same threadcount typical of the era. But the care he took did not stop with wardrobe. Once he entered Marion field, Earnest was no longer masquerading. He embodied the General in much the same way as Olivier had Lear, and Burton, Hamlet. As Beauregard, there was no sugar coating his flagrant defense of the Confederate cause.
Andrea Sarkov at the library pondered how a mild mannered man like Earnest Gladwell could display such evangelical fervor. Perhaps it all began when he played the clarinet in the Linstrom High School marching band. Maybe this is where he acquired his taste for pomp and pageantry, uniforms and belonging.
It was true. At the reenactments, Earnest felt a sense of comradery that he rarely experienced in his everyday life. He knew that he was a part of something bigger than himself. History was coming alive. And these men would not be forgotten.
The Battle of Shiloh was splendid and Earnest’s first person rendition of General Beauregard was nothing short of stunning. The offensive he led at Pittsburgh Landing was heroic, his retreat to Corinth a tragic setback.
The following Tuesday, Earnest showed up at his work station at the Crocus Hill Room in his cook’s uniform with his set of Wusthof at the ready.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Ten words: pipe organ, ravages of time, lottery tickets, angelic music,
five x five, boxes of books, flattery will get you nowhere, yodelling, pig
tails, knitting needles
Mini challenge: canary yellow, grizzly bear, out of the frying pan into the fire,
simpleton, Ministry of Crazy Walks
Return to Sender
Angelica lived in a five by five cardboard box. On a whim, she had painted her new abode a bright canary yellow to distinguish it from the other makeshift apartments burgeoning on the Upper East Side. It hadn’t always been this way. Just 2 weeks ago, she had inhabited a smart condo in Newark overlooking the Hudson. Three days a week she commuted to her basement office on Houston Street where she dedicated herself to her students and to her craft. The remainder of her time was spent in delirious walks along river pathways, clandestine matinees at the Film Forum and delicious trysts with Sarah Vowell and Mary Oliver. There was a hypnotic rhythm to her life.
It had all happened in the blink of an eye. On Friday she was chair of the English dept at E. Dickenson U. The following Monday, she was arranging for her treasured boxes of books to be put into storage.
While in the giddy thrall of a Madmen episode, Angelica had absently answered the phone. “Angelica, is that you?” An agitated voice rattled the evening’s diversion . “Yes mom. It’s me.” Angelica was determined to maintain an even timbre. “ Oh thank goodness!!! Where in tarnation have you
been? “ Before Angelica could respond, Dolores was tauntingly yodeling her daughter’s name. Aaaaaaaa. Ngelica Aaaaaangelica. She could hear the knitting needles manically clicking their litany in the background. Unnoticed, a shadow crept into the room. Angelica felt queasy. She watched as she moved away from herself. Her throat tightened, her hands felt icy and she was losing track of things she knew. There was a fleeting sense of self reproach for having neglected to screen the call. Even in her estranged state, Angelica was aware that things were swiftly veering off course. With all the aplomb she could muster, she said “Mom, how are you?” It was a heroic attempt at salvaging something that had long ago been broken. “Flattery will get you nowhere. I am knitting you a sweater but I don’t know your size.”The censure came like a bellclap. She felt the sting of her mother’s backhand and knew she was lost.
The last time Angela had come undone, she had fled into the wilderness. Here she stripped herself of everything familiar and lived as a simpleton. Naked. Literally. Loping through the veldt. Foraging for sustenance. An exile from the ravages of time and the indifference of fate. Her burnished hair grown long and splintered. She plaited the feral mass into regressive pigtails, not so much as an effort at grooming but to make herself more aerodynamic in her environment. One day, she hiked into town for provisions. Prodded by a Korean merchant who harbored best wishes for her fortune to improve, she bought 5 lottery tickets. #897501257 paid off handily and helped her to pave the way back to a more relaxed existence. With the cushion of the prize money, she began to write. She listened to the voices of her ancestors and let the angelic music of the ages flow through her. She felt as if she were a lute being strummed. Her friend Andrea submitted the poems from this period of awakening to the New Yorker. Three of them were published immediately. Angelica continued to write because it made her happy. At first she chronicled her journey to madness and back. It was comforting to retrace her steps and to note that she remembered the way home. Following breadcrumbs before they were devoured. A grimm mastery.
In the still of early morning while the city slept, Angelica sat trancelike at her kitchen table. She scrawled fragments of dreams and splinters of vision feverishly in long hand onto yellow college ruled pads. She continued to listen to the voices of her ancestors. In a year’s time, Angelica was granted the coveted Plath award for her book Ministry of Crazy Walks which ultimately catapulted her into her academic career.
Now, she found herself once again out of the frying pan and into the fire. She chortled at the irony. This was a veritable upgrade. At least she didn’t have to defend her food and her existence against the elemental needs hunger of lumbering grizzly bears and wily raccoons. And any time her heart desired, she could wrap herself in the warmth of the sacred music of Bach on the pipe organ at St Francis Parish. Angelica started collecting cards of saints. She wasn’t a religious person, but she had always had a fascination with mysticism. She peered at the serene visage of St Theresa of Avila. And read the words,
Love once said to me, "I know a
would you like to hear it?"
And laughter came from every brick
in the street
and from every pore
in the sky.
Friday, November 14, 2008
There was more good news. The corporate behemoth, Exxon Mobile had passed into public ownership. Evangelicals were opening the doors of their mega churches to Iraqi refugees. And progress was being made towards reversing global warming and resolving the economy’s woes.
However, upon closer scrutiny, some conspicuous details surface. Readers notice that the paper is dated July 4, 2009 and the motto is “all the news we hope to print”. The euphoria fades but the dream takes root.
It turns out that hundreds of independent writers, artists, and activists have been collaborating on this massive project for 6 months. The people behind the undertaking represent a diverse range of groups, including The Yes Men, the Anti-Advertising Agency, CODEPINK, United for Peace and Justice, Not An Alternative, May First/People Link, Improv Everywhere, Evil Twin, and Cultures of Resistance.
The special 14 page edition was distributed gratis In NY, LA, Chicago, SF, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC by thousands of volunteers.
"The idea behind it was to get people to exercise their imaginations. We have just elected a new president, and we have for the first time in eight years a chance to see real change happen,” spokesperson Wilfred Sassoon explained.
"It's all about how at this point, we need to push harder than ever,"
said contributer Bertha Suttner."We've got to make
sure Obama and all the other Democrats do what we elected them to do.
After eight, or maybe twenty-eight years of hell, we need to start
In addition to arousing our visionary instincts, this endeavor clearly has another target. It is a searing indictment of main stream media’s complicity in crafting a cynical paradigm of our world. The editorial page articulates an apology for the paper’s “botched reporting” of the run-up to the Iraq invasion and features a column in which Thomas Friedman renounces his journalistic career and promises never to write for any newspaper again.
There is a long and time honored tradition for this kind of grand scale theatrical inspiration. Here’s a toast to those who have led before. Humanitarian, songwriter, antiwar activist Phil Ochs was the creative force behind spontaneous protests against the Vietnam occupation. Marches snaked across the streets of America declaring the war was over. A sea of placards heralded, "Thank you President Johnson" "Johnson, our Peace President"
And Phil sang his prescient anthem: The War is Over.
So do your duty, boys, and join with pride
Serve your country in her suicide
Find a flag so you can wave goodbye
But just before the end even treason might be worth a try
This country is too young to die.
I declare the war is over
It's over, it's over.
If you didn’t receive your complimentary copy, you can read the special edition of the New York Times on line here and let yourself dream again.
Monday, November 10, 2008
President elect Obama and Michele Obama arrived 11 minutes early for their meeting with the George and Laura Bush.
As per tradition, the Obamas met with the Bushes today at the White House, ushering in the transition of the Presidency.
Choose any or all of the participants and let us know what they are thinking.
Friday, November 7, 2008
Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: France, cold weather,
backhoe, light and shadow, Humane society, ambivalent, “Happy Birthday, Sarah Jane,”
Martians, Thanksgiving Day Parade, green eyes
Mini Challenge: she’ll be comin' round the mountain when she comes, pumpkin pie,
yellow jacket, short-changed, life after 50
Charlie maneuvered the backhoe skillfully, tunneling into the obdurate November clay. He had always been able to muscle his way through tough times. This was his 10th straight shift with Century Granite. And he had signed up to work on Thanksgiving. Of course this meant that he would forgo the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the chestnut stuffing and the homemade pumpkin pie.
But that was just nostalgic claptrap as far as he was concerned. Sarah Jane was gone. And there was no way he could bring her back or punch his way through
She might as well have been abducted by Martians. In fact, that was a comforting thought since he had lost all faith now and was ambivalent about the whole afterlife deal.
She’ll be comin’ round the mountain when she comes. Oh what a vision she was to behold. Green eyes, the color of young apples. He called her Pippin.
Her pet name for him had been Yellow Jacket because of his bumbling ways and because with his widening girth, he was fast becoming a John Belushi double. She teased him mercilessly.” Too many jelly bellies, I guess.”
It had all happened in an instant. Like a flash of lightning crackling across the sky. She was driving home from graveyard shift at Ebeneezer as she had a thousand times before. The old Dodge rambler should have known its way home. Yet the car willfully skidded through the sleety intersection at Oak and 1st. There wasn’t enough time for Mrs. Diaz to hit her breaks.
Charlie felt short-changed. Life after 50. What did it matter now? He could shutter himself in with a bottle of Smirnoff or numb his grief with work. Whatever it took to slog through the empty days. He was dancing between light and shadow.
The cold weather was coming. This had always signaled celebration. Long mittened walks in the brindled dusk. Hot cider at Dee’s. Yanking off flannelled layers as if it were their first time. Happy birthday, Sarah Jane.
The air was crisp and tangy like a pippin apple. He could taste it.
Sarah Jane had dreamt of going to France. He had never understood it, this yearning to leave home. She loved Rousseau, Gide and Proust. Here, she explained, was a modern day humane society where the social contract was still alive. She had joked about having a brood of little yellow jackets in the 16th arrondisement.
Charlie worked unflinchingly through Thanksgiving shift, earning triple time while everyone he knew was sitting around a table with folks they saw once a year stuffing themselves blind. He felt lucky.
A week later, he cashed his check and bought a one way ticket to Paris. He would go to Notre Dame, climb the 387 steps and show Sarah Jane the roof tops that only the gargoyles see. He didn’t know much French, but he did know that notre dame means “our lady.”
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Next Week's Ten Word Challenge will be: squeaky toy, perpendicular, olives, shanty, howling at the moon, soul, bow and arrow, uniform, statistics, praying mantis
Mini Challenge: glamour, rocking chair, cormorant, objective, symbolism
Amanda Trillium leaned back in the heirloom rocking chair on the veranda as she leafed through a dog-eared issue of National Geographic. She was drawn to a glossy photo of a Carolina praying mantis clinging to a mulberry leaf in a gravity defying perpendicular position. Absentmindedly , she swizzled the olive in her cocktail. True, it was only noon, but she was desperately in need of some respite.
As the least senior member in the English department at Emerson U, Amanda was the obvious candidate to inherit the freshman class on American Romanticism. She had spent many tedious hours reviewing her students’ midterm essays on Melville’s symbolism .The papers were so bland and pedestrian. Not a fresh idea anywhere. Even Evan had disappointed by adopting a rather uninspired interpretation of the work as a contemporary political parable. Her head was swimming.
How could she be objective when she had developed such an aversion to the classic? A savage’s obsession with retribution against a majestic white whale. Although many scholars construed the work as an exploration of good and evil-- with a ship at sea being a metaphor for the soul -- Amanda had begun to look at the story quite differently. To her it had become an allegory of man’s domination of the natural world. Howling at the moon with his bow and arrow, he follows a misguided urge to conquer rather than to coexit/ merge. Amanda shook her head sadly. We have lost sight of our place in the world. It was because of this delusion that we are all hanging by a slender ecological thread, she mused ruefully.
Amanda could pinpoint the precise point in time that her views had taken a sharp left turn. Something transformative had happened during her retreat at the shanty in her ancestral village in the Scottish lowlands. Hiking along the shore at dusk, she watched a cormorant gracefully dive into the water. A moment later, it was spreading its wings in the last rays of waning sunlight. She approached the bird softly and it met her glance. In that moment, she had the uncanny sense that she was looking into the cormorant’s soul.
Melville, Hemingway, Richard.
Ahab and the whale, the old man and the sea, Amanda’s marriage. Even in their most intimate moments, Richard had regarded her as something to be possessed/colonized. She had always felt as though she was the slippery fish on the line to be reeled in. Shuddering with the memory, Amanda tossed the squeaky toy across the back yard for Spreckles to retrieve. She teased the briny olive off the tooth pick and took another sip of her cool drink.
Amanda abandoned herself to reverie. She recalled watching a late night interview with that voluptuous icon of glamour, Isabel Rossellini. It seems that she too had taken a sharp left turn along the way. In an outrageous green uniform, the former supermodel reenacted the mating ritual of the praying mantis. It is an absurdly violent scene. It turns out that the female devours the male during the act, while the decapitated male continues to copulate. So, in fact, Isabella loses her head (there’s a pun in there somewhere) while her green mantis abdomen continues to thrust. Statistically, there is a quantifiable increase in mounting duration among males who have been cannibalized, giving the species an evolutionary advantage.
Watch an episode of the green porno series here.
Still troubled about man’s tragic separation from his natural state and his inexorable drive to dominate, Amanda returned to the stack of papers.