And here's Robert Walker, who played Kern in the movie "Till the Clouds Roll By"
"A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn't think he'd remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn't see me at all, but I'll bet a month hasn't gone by since that I haven't thought of that girl. "
-- Bernstein (Everett Sloane), Citizen Kane, 1941
Summers fall into two categories for investors: tough sledding and clear sailing. Clear sailing is when things are as they should be: light blue sky, nice little sailboat on Buzzard's Bay, with breeze enough for going out and coming back, the Red Sox are in first place but looking over their shoulders at the Yankees, and you sit back and feel pretty good about your GE, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, and Pepsi.
Unfortunately this summer looks like it's the other kind: tough sledding, when despite the summer heat (92 in New York City today) every step feels like your dragging a sled up a snow-filled slope for the thrill of chuting down later as fast as stock prices tumbled last Friday.
Oil prices per barrel and gasoline prices per gallon are still going up, unemployment is up, airlines are up in the air about how to deal with a whole Sunday Times of bad news, the Dow goes down four hundred points and NASDAQ sheds about fifty, and even GM is thinking twice about the wisdom of mass producing the Hummer.
In such a climate it makes sense to own rails, which run on coal and therefore benefit from the travails of the trucking industry. Warren Buffett has bought a bunch of rails including Burlington Northern and Norfolk Southern. Makes sense to me.
Our China correspondents say that KFC way outsells Big Macs in China, and China is booming like you wouldn't believe. If you have a few thousand spare dollars you could do worse than buying a few shares of Yum Brands, which owns KFC.
A tip of the old fedora to Bill Gross, billionaire bond fund manager and fellow philatelist, who sold the Scandinavian part of his stamp collection for a cool million, donating the proceeds to a Columbia University project for improving the health, welfare, and education of poor peeople in a wide swath of land encompassing ten African countries.
Here are some stamps not from Scandinavia but from the artist Donald Evans, who specialized in creating the postage stamps of imaginary countries.
What do women want?
(a) what they have
(b) what they don't have
(c) a cigar
(e) next question
What do men want?
(d) food, sex, and watching football drinking beer
(e) a power car
After the Disaster
The stars never rise
but I see the eyes are white.
Nights are black,
but hearts are bright.
The disaster destroyed where we live
but not what we believe.
Stop shedding tears about the stars,
or you will miss the sun.
You will see if you open your eyes:
The sun also rises!
By Xinxin (Daisy) Liang
Lian"梁"(Liang) is her family name, and "歆歆"(Xinxin) is her given name."歆" is an ancient Chinese character, seldom used nowadays, meaning "to admire, to be happy." Daisy is her Western name, and her full Chinee name is 梁歆歆
The time: the Monday following the catastrophic earthquake in China.
Daisy's choice: "The stars never rise but I see the bright eyes" from Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee."
The assignment: to write a poem using as a first line a line of your choice from "The Oxford Cento of American Poetry," a poem you, an English major in China, are hearing for the first time. "The Oxford Cento" was published in the New York Times Book Review on the April 2, 2006.
You have fifteen minutes.
Although I live in a geography, a Los Angeles, much of my thinking life happens across a different kind of geography—the skewed mirror of my reading. Anne Carson's 1999 book, The Economy of the Unlost has left me melancholy this morning. In this book-length exploration of Paul Celan and Simonides of Keos (the Greek lyric poet famous as the first Westerner to take money for poetic composition), Carson writes
I have chosen to talk about two men at once. They keep each other from settling….each is placed like a surface on which the other may come into focus.
And in four brief pages, Carson brought me into focus too. Carson's Prologue traces the history of the False Sail in myth—introducing us to Celan's poem, "Matiere in Betagne", in which Tristan, misinterpreting the sail-color on the ship of Isolte, dies of grief:
hands, in the gorselight, the
is heading for you.
Earlier, Carson reminds us of the Greek myth of Theseus, whose father, Aegeus, reputedly threw himself into the sea when Theseus forgot to hoist the white flag on his return from slaying the minotaur.
Broadened, the concept of the false sail, the "fear" sail, seems to me to be any sign or symbol whose interpretive act, or whose misinterpretation proves an unequivocal and unremediable hinge to the plot's tragic resolution: Madama Butterfly at dawn, the pathos at the end of Romeo and Juliet, even Ionesco's crossed couple in the Bald Soprano, or the letter that arrives too late. These moments of story remind us that the world is often a giant wood chest closed along the hinge of one or another misunderstanding. Or thrown perilously and anxiously open.
How many of my most important decisions have been based on False Sails? Must I always read symbols, read anything, with eyes hopelessly locked in their own self-ness?
Reader, sail on.
Regime de Vivre
I rise at eleven, I dine about two,
I get drunk before seven; and the next thing I do,
I send for my whore, when for fear of a clap,
I spend in her hand, and I spew in her lap.
Then we quarrel and scold, 'till I fall fast asleep,
When the bitch, growing bold, to my pocket does creep;
Then slyly she leaves me, and, to revenge the affront,
At once she bereaves me of money and cunt.
If by chance then I wake, hot-headed and drunk,
What a coil do I make for the loss of my punk!
I storm and I roar, and I fall in a rage,
And missing my whore, I bugger my page.
Then, crop-sick all morning, I rail at my men,
And in bed I lie yawning 'till eleven again.
-- John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester
Samuel Johnson on Rochester: He "blazed out his youth and health in lavish voluptuousness."
This girl is the world's worst forecaster! Couldn't tell a cumulus from a nimbus if her life depended on it. A waste of valuable broadcast time. Why do they put someone like this on the air? Let's see an interview with Salman Rushdie --
SESTINA FEATURING SIX WORDS COMMONLY USED ON THIS BLOG
I certainly wouldn't claim to be the best
though I suppose no one could quibble with "American"...
Either way, I'm here to share adventures
from the Berkshires, post by post,
happy to be blogging here, a guest
of our esteemed editors, recently abroad.
In just three weeks, I too will be abroad,
combing the streets of Jerusalem to find the best
coffee and tabouli, staying as a guest
in the apartment of an extpatriate American.
I hope for easy wifi in order to post
about Hebrew, psalms, syntax, adventures.
Rabbinic school, it turns out, contains adventures
on many levels. Sometimes I go abroad
without ever leaving this familiar post
at my piano-shaped desk, the best
place I know for spotting common American
fauna: wild turkeys, the woodchuck that's a guest
beneath our yew. Old Norse gestr is the root of "guest,"
akin to "stranger, enemy" -- what adventures
in vernacular! Our hilltop house sprawls, American
style. Where I grew up, the skies were a broad
canvas for thunderclouds, but here what's best
is how the mountains cradle us, a post-
pastoral fantasy. In this post
I aim to be the picture of a grateful guest.
Can I entertain y'all? I'll do my best,
I want to own both sides: adventures
and roots, the binary collapsed. The broad
brushstrokes that describe "American."
I ponder the implications of this American
life. Writing poems (be they modern or post-)
roots me whether I'm home or abroad.
Who would have guessed
that temporary blogs, these ad ventures,
would yield so much worth reading? Here the best
American poets gather, host and guest,
stringing lights between the posts of our adventures.
Whether home or abroad, I wish you all the best!
-- Rachel Barenblat
David's poem "Sexism" was on his play list during our travels in China and Mongolia and aroused the same reactions there as he's gotten in the States. Here's Deggie (short for Delgermaa) reading the poem to university students in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia:
The students love "Sexism" and tend to take sides: Is it an accurate depiction of male and female behavior? One young man in the classroom shown in the video came to the defense of his brethren, saying that not all men are so quick to leave the conjugal bed.
You can read and/or hear the poem in English here.
During our visit to the Zanabazar museum in Ulaanbataar, the poet Mend-Ooyo made sure we saw "One Day in Mongolia," the country's most famous painting, by B Sharav (1869-1939). The painting is Bosch-like in its detail and amid scenes of felt-making, sheep butchering, and other activities of daily nomad life, there's a good deal of robust fucking going on. "Sexism," said Mend-Ooyo, pointing to one such depiction.
So many evenings in the early 80s I made my way along Bennett Avenue, past Yeshiva Samson Raphael Hirsch (familiarly known for some reason as "Breuer's," with D. Lehman a proud alum) to 181st Street and the Hilltop Restaurant, pictured above.
I must digress for a moment. I once watched a television interview of former Chicago Bears player and coach Abe Gibron. The question was asked, "What makes a great restaurant?" and I will always remember Coach Gibron's reply.
He said, "A great restaurant is a place where they take care of you. I call them up and say, 'I'm coming over. I like to eat and I'm not afraid to pay for it.' When I get there, they've cooked a goat." Excellent advice! Try it yourself. Just be sure to use Coach Gibron's exact words: "I'm coming over. I like to eat and I'm not afraid to pay for it."
For me, however, a great restaurant is a place of wonderful memories. That's why I feel so strongly about the Hilltop. The food was certainly good, although not exceptional. I always ordered either the soup of the day, spaghetti with meat sauce, or the chicken club sandwich. But it was the conversation that really made an impression. Sometimes the whole restaurant would take part, as when the following joke was passed around:
One night a flying saucer landed in front of a farm house. The farmer and his wife came out and were greeted by two space aliens. The aliens asked if the farmer and his wife would like to have sex, and they agreed.
While fucking the wife, the first alien asked if she would like his penis to be longer. When she said she would like that, he told her to pull on his left ear. Then he asked if she would like his penis to be thicker. When she said she would like that, he told her to pull on his right ear.
Later, when the flying saucer had departed, the farmer asked his wife how she had liked having sex with the space alien. She said, "It was great! How was it for you?" The farmer replied, "It was okay, but she kept pulling on my ears."
Another memorable conversation at the Hilltop Restaurant was a discussion of whether New York was the greatest city in the world. The consensus: No, but it used to be.
Finally, there was the time I overheard an angry argument between two young men about an age old question: "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" The argument went something like this: "The chicken came first because you can't have an egg without a chicken!" "No, the egg came first because you can't have a chicken without an egg!" "Chicken!" "Egg!" "Chicken!" "Egg!" "Listen fuckface, the chicken came first because in the Bible it says God made the chicken! It don't say He made the egg! So shut the fuck up!"
Hillary Jones declared her intention to register as a Republican today. "She did it at breakfast, " said her sister Paula. "It was like awesome. She announced that she was just plain fed up with being an Independent because, like, even though she is an independent-minded individual, this status prevents her from voting in the primaries of either party except in certain crossover states like, I think, Texas." Paula Jones (not to be confused with the woman of the same name who hurled allegedly baseless accusations of sexual misconduct at then-Precedent Clinton) said she tried to discourage her sister. "Now that all the primaries are over, is this really the time for a change?"
-- Giacomo Joyce
Scene: Hillary Clinton's vice-presidential office
When: late January, 2009
Hillary: Come in, come in! I barely heard you knock. You need some oatmeal or something.
Barack: Thanks. Hi, Bill. No, don't get up. I'll lean against the desk.
Hillary: Would you like some coffee? Or is that too blue-collar for you? I might have some chicory or something.
Barack: I'm fine. Actually, I wanted to talk to you about--hey, what are all these votive candles for?
Hillary: You're for Change. I'm for Hope. I married a man from Hope.
Barack: Yes, the first black president, right?
Hillary: I never give up Hope.
Barack: Hillary, the campaign's over. I won.
Hillary: Who's talking about the campaign? There's a precedent for not giving up Hope.
Barack: What do you mean?
Hillary: Everyone knows Jack Kennedy was assassinated before he even got his first thousand days in. Right, Honey? Wasn't it right before he got his first thousand days in?
Bill: Just after, I think, Smoochy-Poo.
Hillary: You know my husband, the historian!
Bill: Oh, Smoochy-Poo ...
Barack: I've got Secret Service in the hall, guys. All I have to do is yell.
Hillary: But can you trust them?
Louise Story in today's Times reports that "a rabble-rousing hedge-fund manager has pilloried Lehman" and is selling his shares short. According to Story's story,"The battle over Lehman has captivated Wall Street."
"Just look at all the things Lehman has done wrong," said John Doody, a spokesman for the hedge-fund manager in question, David Greenhorn. "Just because he didn't want to falsify history Lehman didn't devote an individual chapter to Barbara Guest equal in length to those accorded Ashbery, Koch, O'Hara, and Schuyler in his supposedly definitive study of the New York School of poets.
"And that's not all. Think of the aid and comfort he gave to academic knuckleheads by deriding Derrida and denouncing Paul de Man for his pro-Nazi journalism and his forgetfulness of his own past, which he raised into a theory of confession as a bankrupt rhetorical form -- surely a brilliant maneuver even if he was a Nazi sympathizer, which was a long time ago."
Lehman declined to comment beyond a statement saying that Greenhorn "cherry picks" and misconstrues information and that Doody is an utter fake. But an analyst for Leonard, Bernstein, Henry, James, Merrill and Jones noted that Lehman's price has already declined from a high of nearly $80 in July 2007 to a recent close just above $30. "We are underweight financials, but Lehman is Lehman, an indefatigable fighter with dozens of projects to raise capital, and I wouldn't bet against the stock today."
See "Making Trouble for Lehman: Bank Fights an Investor Trying to Drive Down Its Stock" by Louise Story in The New York Times, Wednesday, June 4, 2008 p. C1.
"So Jenny, where have you been?" asked my mother, who is kind enough to read my posts.
"Here in Pasadena, Mom."
"No really, Jen. There haven't been any blogs from you...."
Nailed. Darnit. My mother, of course, was right. I haven't been to Mongolia, nor have I ridden a camel, nor engaged in a Dalian-ce about poetry with any number of English translators. No collages of word or art. No clever sestinas under leaf. I simply--without better excuse--stopped posting when I lost my computer hard drive. Computer Kaput put a crimp (and that, Word Wonks, is litotes, a.k.a. "understatement") in both my will and my ability to blog!
Luckily, I can always make use of extra time, so I dragged my family to Casual Fridays at Walt Disney Concert Hall, for the West Coast premiere of Los Angeles Philharmonic Music Director Esa Pekka Salonen's own First Piano Concerto.
The Casual Fridays series is a brilliant invention for writers who like their music with a heavy dose of words. After the concert, you can either meet the musicians for a drink at the bar or sit down closer to the stage where the conductor and soloist hang around to answer audience questions. Heaven!
This past Friday, Israeli pianist Yefim Bronfman and composer/conductor Salonen fielded questions on their friendship, composing, and the difference between music and language. Here, slighly-paraphrased, is Salonen's own personal myth on the origin of music....
The Origin of Music
This may or may not be true, but I like to imagine it is, because it could be. In Prehistoric Times, even before early humans, music and language were the same thing. Then in hunter-gatherer times, in the tribes, words became more precise depictions and they separated. So music has remained the Language of Things We Can't Speak About.
Is poetry then, I wonder, our way of rejoining what was set asunder?
Thank you, Esa Pekka.
The following Tune of “affection and sorrow” was written by the Song dynasty poet Yan Jidao:
Tune: Ruan Lang Gui, affection and sorrow
By Yan Jidao
My fragrance the same
as we first met
Not so your love
fading since the day you left
few lines in spring
fewer words in fall.
Phoenix blanket cold
Pair pillows gone
And I alone with my sorrow and whiskey
keep hoping to find you in a vision
or a dream
though I dream less
these sleepless nights.
-- translated by Qihui Gong and David Lehman
Yan Jidao's dates are c. 1038-1110 (very approximate).
Professor Hsu Ping of San Jose University helped with these translations.
"Ruan Lang Gui" literally means "return of the lover" (or in Eileen's inspired rendering "back of the lover"). But she she wriotes, "the content of the tune doesn't necessarily correspond to the exact meaning of the title," and we have opted for "Affection and Sorrow" rather than "The Return of the Lover" in translating "Ruan Lang Gui" into English.
A Letter from David Shapiro
It's three o’clock. The Mongolians should be asleep.
Mayakovsky sleeps and Josef Brodsky
used my book as a door stop
a few minutes after I gave it to him.
The Inner and Outer Mongolia sleep.
And David sleeps with Stacey in Mongolia
and David's eyes rapid as a sparrow
or a starling in snow sees something
in the bookshelf: an old book sleeps
like bats in the rafters like bats out of mind.
I will try to find some poems in the snow
Or little lashed poets all in a row.
It is late now, later than a monkey.
I look in the mirror and am just like a gibbon.
Same voicebox, same genitalia, same pride.
Who has placed us in this zoo of worlds?
He who has a strong bell and shepherd's arrows.
Let us take as they say arrows of our enemy
And use them in our fight as if they were our own.
O photo of myself I hope to find you
the one that doesn't cause disgust in Baudelaire
the one I saw on the island of love in mistranslation
Never knowing whether we had landed or
were taking off. The island had little snow.
The loudest sound was some flirtation.
I sent you my virtual collage. You sent me Mongolia.
-- May 28 2008
Tune: everlasting longing
by Li Yu
translated from the Chinese by Qihui Gong with David Lehman
Distant mountains lie, row after row,
Between the high sky and the far away hills.
The cold river water flows.
The chill mist is still.
My longing for you has turned the maple leaves red.
The chrysanthemums of autumn soon wither.
The high flying geese return.
Yet you do not return from the border.
Clear moonlight and gentle breeze
do their best to console me;
in vain: my loneliness goes on and on.
Qihui Gong, a senior at Tsinghua University, who has chosen Eileen as her Western name, served as my interpreter on a recent Friday morning in Beijing. She writes:
"I love Chinese traditional poems, especially the 'Tune' in Song dynasty. And I've tried to put several into English last winter holiday." Li Yu, whose "everlasting longing" is among her favorites, was an emperor during the Song dynasty.
To Mrs. Lasso
Nicole S. of Johnson City please stop selling drugs to my daughter.
— Mrs. Lasso, classified ad, Press and Sun Bulletin; Binghamton, NY (1997).
First of all your daughter is a crack head and I sold her baking soda and rabbit food!
Second of all you're a drunk and you want to have sex with me!
Third, selling fake drugs to your daughter is like fucking you a little,
yeah, a little fucking is good! I take your daughter's money, which is really yours! April took it from your purse when you were drunk!
Your husband raped you; he rubbed his penis on your face when you were passed out on the couch!
For fifteen dollars you got a dick in the face! For fifteen more dollars
you put an ad in the paper and announced that I sell drugs!
What you really paid for is a bad marriage, saggy tits, homosexual fantasies, and the realization you want to fuck me! You are a prostitute Mrs. Lasso! You buy sex! I masturbate like all drug dealers do! I wet myself to the thought of your puckered lips and sell the real drugs to mommas like you!
-- Nicole Santalucia
For the events leading up to this spectacular photo of our man in Mongolia, watch this video:
We took a ride last Thursday night to the country outside Ulaanbaatar. Along the way, we encountered this camel. The voices you hear in the background are of the young Mongolian man trying to negotiate the terms of a ride; U.S. Ambassador Mark Minton; Kevin Nolan, an intern in the Embassy (whose speech moves fluently from English to Mongolian); David; me ("I don't want to get on") and the compliant camel.
Frank Yuan Zhu of the School of Applied English, Dalian University of Foreign Languages, sends this picture of the Lehmans and Joseph Kruzich, US Consulate General of Shenyang Province, China. "From left to the right, my colleagues are: Li Wenping (Irene), Yu Li (from US Consulate), Liu Yanrong, Zhu Yuan (It's me.), Sun Chengfang."
Here is the epigraph John O’Hara chose for his novel Appointment in Samarra
There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture, now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me. The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.
-- W. Somerset Maugham
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.