Things you might need to know.
In response to the previous post, and in continuing honor of Jerome Kern's birthday, here are four versions (three video, one audio) of the remarkable song, "Ol' Man River," written with Oscar Hammerstein for the 1927 Broadway production of "Show Boat." It is a seminal song in American music for many reasons. For one thing, it was meant to be sung as a bass solo by the character Joe. For another, the song expresses - without caricature and with deep sympathy - the interior lives of the black characters in the play. It acts as a leitfmotif throughout "Show Boat," which, despite its "happy" ending, is perhaps one of the most melancholy pieces in 20th century American musical theater: the two major characters are a woman abandoned for five years by her gambler husband and a woman ruined by the exposure of her true racial identity, drawn against a backdrop of the racism of the deep South in the late 19th century.
Kern and Hammerstein knew what they were doing with the song, and they were very nervous about how it would go over. There is a story of both of them sneaking out of the theater during the premier, lurking in the lobby because they were too jumpy about the audience's response. (It was originally sung by Jules Bledsoe [right], although the song is most associated with Paul Robeson's performance in the 1936 movie version.) As the song ended, there was a deep, unnerving quiet. Kern and Hammerstein looked at each other in alarm and finally worked up enough courage to take a peek. The audience was sitting in stunned silence, many of them quietly weeping, too moved to applaud, too moved to move.
Paul Robeson (left) is actually known for two versions of the song - the version sung in the 1936 James Whale movie, and a later version which is in a way a defiant response to the song's sentiment of resignation. In earlier productions, the character of Joe is a comic figure, resonant of minstrelsy and typical stereotypes of the time. Robeson changed the lyric - slightly but in important ways - in later perfomances to reflect his commitment to civil rights and his own sense of personal dignity.
Interestingly, the lyric had already been changed in each major production, indicative of what was acceptable language during each era. In the 1927 version, the lyric went: "Niggers all work on de Mississippi/Niggers all work while de white folks play." In the 1936, this was changed to "darkies;" in the 1946 revival (and in the 1951 movie), it became "colored folks." Finally, in the 1946 movie, "Till the Clouds Roll By," a biopic of Kern's life, it morphed into "Here we all work on the Mississippi," sung by Frank Sinatra (above right) in a white tux against a white background, accompanied by a white orchestra and about a thousand white dancers all dressed in white. Apparently, no one got the irony.
This was going to be a post about the sanitization of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but the events in Arizona have altered its focus. Saturday's tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others, six fatally, has precipitated a heated and passionate discussion about the kind of rhetoric that has come to characterize American political discourse in recent years. In the weird way of the universe, the Huck Finn controversy and the shooting in Tuscon both serve to emphasize the power of language, the shaping force of words.
The touchstone of the American psyche is and has always been the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers recognized its importance - there's a reason it's the First Amendment to the Constitution. Thanks to them, we have the freedom, unprecedented in history, to say what we want, pretty much how we want to say it, when we feel like saying it. Criticism of the powers-that-be is, in a way, the pulse and energy of American government; we do not hesitate to remind our leaders that they work for us. Artistically, we can create work that offends some, exhilarates others, and leaves still others indifferent. We can plaster our cars with bumper stickers, send letters to the editor, and makes gross jokes about the high and mighty. We can say "fuck" in church and "Mr. President, you are an idiot" without legal reprecussions. Free speech is a great and empowering thing.
But free speech is not the same thing as speech without consequence. Mark Twain recognized this when he said, in another context, "The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug." Which is why the excision of the n-bomb from Huck Finn is offensive on so many levels. Twain chose the word because it was how white people in the South spoke during the time of the novel; it also served to emphasize his theme (see Chapter 31 if you don't know what that theme is). The editing assumes readers are too stupid to recognize historical context and narrative voice - which is kind of a horrible attitude in a college professor.
It also serves to remind us that, in America, who says something is frequently as important as what is said. The professor who initiated the bowdlerization of Twain because the word made him uncomfortable did not suggest taking it out of all the literature his students read. Would anyone suggest taking the n-word out of Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, or Notes of a Native Son, or The Autobiography of Malcolm X? (See Mark Bauerlein's excellent New York Times op-ed on this here. ) This is all part of the complicated, tangled history of race in our country and our squirming inability to discuss it thoughtfully.
The New Year is coming. We take stock of the last 365 days, weigh up the disappointments - always so many, both personal and communal - and relish the triumphs - thankfully, always one or two. We resolve to do better, so that next December, the scales tip less toward sorrow and more toward joy.
Of course, this is hard. It is hard to lose that last ten pounds or quit smoking, to organize the bills or keep the house neater, much less make the world a better, kinder place. But it is important to keep trying.
Probably many of you have seen this photograph before. It's more than twenty years old. But as the year winds down, it might be helpful to take another look, to be reminded of our smallness in the scope of the universe, our fragility, and our consequent responsibility to take care of each other.
This picture was taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. It shows the Earth as it appears from 4 billion miles away.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." - Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
Read more about this photograph here.
Here's a delightful clip from 1963. Hope your holiday is filled with blessings, joy, and goodies, with no coal in your stocking.
A couple of years ago, I posted a Christmas piece called "Ebenezer Scrooge and the Movies." Today, thanks to the British Film Institute, I am posting what the BFI describes as the "earliest surviving film adaptation of Dickens' work." This short clip, all that is left of this version of "A Christmas Carol," was created in 1901.
This next clip, also from the BFI site, is a short Yuletide message from 1925. I don't understand it at all. But the camels are cute.
Happy Holidays to all, no matter how many humps you have!
Hi, everyone. It's been a while since I posted anything. An update - I'm doing fine. I finished up chemotherapy on October 12, and except for the fact that I tire easily, I'm feeling better every day. My hair is coming back, too - it's straighter than it was, and the color is salt-and-pepper. Actually, more salt than pepper, but I've been coloring it for twenty years, so who knows how long it's really been that way. While I'm still under the care of my oncologist and will be for a while, my prognosis is excellent.
I weathered chemo pretty well, but it wasn't fun. One of the more annoying and depressing side-effects was how my mouth went wonky. Chemo attacks fast-growing cells, which is why it used on cancer, but it can't differentiate between good fast-growing cells and bad fast-growing cells. Which is why your hair falls out and your fingernails get weird-looking, and the inside of your mouth turns into a horrible petri dish of inflammation and strange tastes.
Nothing tasted right. And food texture was really effed up. Vegetables tasted like wads of wet newspaper, chocolate like ashes. All I ate for five and a half months was vanilla ice cream, grilled cheese sandwiches (the only way I could manage bread), mashed potatoes, mac-and-cheese, the occasional hamburger with no bun, and spaghetti with lots of marinara sauce - for some reason, the sharpness of the tomato went down fairly well. Since I love to eat, it was pretty miserable.
So one of the joys of coming off chemo is the return of my mouth to working order. After about a month, I suddenly noticed things were starting to taste the way they were supposed to. The first piece of chocolate I ate that tasted like chocolate was a cause for celebration. And each day, things got more and more tasty. You can't imagine how good a salad can be, especially if it's been months since anything green passed your lips. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around, I was almost back to normal. I could eat. And boy, did I. I won't tell you how many plates of turkey and trimmings I had - it's embarrassing.
Now, all I do is shove stuff in my face. It's glorious. Although my clothes are getting tighter and tighter, and soon I will have to be rolled wherever I go, I don't care. Do you know how heavenly a bagel with lox cream cheese is? And sausage and mushroom stuffing with gravy? And a tuna fish sandwich? And a whole bag of Hershey's kisses with almonds? Ohhh, baby.
Getting better is great.
from "On Being Ill" by Virginia Woolf:
We need the poets to imagine for us...Illness makes us disinclined for the long campaigns that prose exacts.We cannot command all our faculties and keep our reason and our judgement and our memory at attention while chapter swings on top of chapter, and, as one settles into place, we must be on the watch for the coming of the next, until the whole structure - arches, towers, and battlements, stands firm on its foundations...On the other hand, with responsibility shelved and reason in the abeyance - for who is going to exact criticism from an invalid or sound sense from the bed-ridden? - other tastes assert themselves; sudden, fitful, intense. We rifle the poets of their flowers. We break off a line or two and let them open in the depths of the mind...
...In illness, words seem to possess a mystic quality. We grasp what is beyond their surface meaning, gathering instinctively this, that, and the other - a sound, a colour, here a stress, there a pause - which the poet, knowing words to be meagre in comparison with ideas, has strewn about his page to evoke, when collected, a state of mind that neither words can express nor the reason explain. Incomprehensibility has enormous power over us in illness, more legitimately perhaps than the upright will allow. In health meaning has encroached upon sound. Our intelligence domineers over our senses. But in illness, with the police off duty, we creep beneath some obscure poems of Mallarme or Donne, some phrase in Latin or Greek, and the words give out their scent and distil their flavor, and then, if at last we grasp the meaning, it is all the richer for having come to us sensually first, by way of the palate and the nostrils, like some queer odour.
A foxfire scattering of stars
and a lone planet hang low
over the northeast, where the wind
comes from, down like a coyote,
nose down, its warm tongue licking
a chill out of the earth, the dawn’s
chill of stiff awakenings after
the night’s dancers, their supple sweat,
the way it loves the body, then sinks
into salt rest. The Earth last
night sank so, its blush and rose
twilight giving up the light so well
that those in their houses walked out
into the roads and yards, arms folded,
their skins flushed with an excitement
drawn of this pink light, and discussed
it – not the coyote’s old trail
they stood on, but the huge,
evanescent cathedral of light
that reared before them like a great
dancer, his headdress streaming
its eagle wildness, while they talked
their awe of its wordless beauty.
The subtle dawn, strewn with foxfire,
now reclaims. It licks the wounds
that words have made in us, that we
in that first step down made of ourselves.
Jim Beall is an astrophysicist, a poet, and an author on issues related to public policy and national defense. He is on the faculty at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, and a senior consultant to the U.S. government. His first book of poetry, Hickey, the Days, was published in 1981.
You can purchase Republic here.
So that’s the scoop. I don’t want to become Laura, the Cancer Writer - it’s weaseled its way into the rest of my life; I don’t want to give it any more purchase. On the other had, not writing about it would be kind of ridiculous. I mean, I can’t pretend it hasn’t happened. But being in the middle of the experience makes it tricky, too. What I do not want to write is a “cancer journal.” I’d like to think there is still some craft involved. But I’ll post things now and again as I am able, and we’ll see how it goes.
From the great TV genius, Ernie Kovacs. People are hot or cold about him: either you find this hysterical or you don't. It makes me ROFLMAO, as the kids say in cyber.
Trivia: Kovacs is the one getting beaned. Edie Adams, Ernie's wife, is playing the piano. Who is the one with the mallets? No fair looking it up.
Here is the first harvest from my garden. I probably picked things a bit early (although the funky skinny small peppers are supposed to look funky and skinny and small), but I got excited. The size of the cucumbers is courtesy of Black Jack and his magical manure.
The purple peppers are white inside - they have a mild, sweet taste. They also cost a bundle at the supermarket - like $5.99 a pound. I think I paid $2.00 for the plant. By the time I add up the cost for everything in setting up the garden, I spent less than $120. Some of that was fencing, which I can use over and over. The plants and seeds were about $80 total, which you can spend easily in one trip to the store, or two trips to the farmer's market. (I mostly started from plants, since I'm too lazy to do the seeds in trays thing.) And you don't have to spend that much - I have a 10x20 plot, but you can do a little one or even work with containers. Look at what Jennifer Michael Hecht can grow in the middle of Brooklyn! The main thing you need is sunshine. The great thing is that, while putting in a garden is labor-intensive at the beginning, once it's in, you can sit back and just let it do its thing, with an occasional watering if it doesn't rain and maybe weeding once in a while (you can cut way back on this, too, by putting down weed-blocking material or mulching heavily at the beginning). I'd like to claim that I have a magical green thumb, but really, it's all mother nature's doing. I just stuck things in the ground.
More garden pictures. Of course, this is nothing compared to my neighbor's 2-acre plot, but I'm starting to get excited.
The Amazing Atomic Zucchini Plant
More sweet peppers. I planted seven different kinds. I like peppers.
The big picture:
Okay, here's the first installment of a season-long look at my vegetable garden. After a week of solid work (thank God for my nice neighbor with his tractor, who plowed up the sod for me), this is what I've got. Doesn't look like much, does it? But things are happening underground - I hope so, anyway. I've planted tomatoes (five varieties), sweet peppers (seven varieties), eggplant (two varieties), zucchini, yellow summer squash, string beans, cucumbers, cilantro, basil, rosemary, parsley, oregano, and dill. Also, sunflowers (the ginormous kind), zinnias, and snapdragons for a cutting garden. As things progress, I'll post more pictures.
On another note of country living, we were putting up a ceiling fan in my office, a little room off the living room that used to be a porch. Rick poked his head up into the ceiling and saw this in the rafters. It's about 20 inches around. Fortunately, it appears to be unoccupied.
My mother was very pretty and funny and outgoing and smart and kind. She loved TV mysteries and card games and having fun. She had a voice like chalk on a blackboard, but she sang while she vacuumed or cooked dinner, "Moonlight Becomes You" and "I'm in the Mood for Love" and an 1890s tune called "My Sweetheart's the Man in the Moon" that she'd learned from her father who'd spent part of his lost youth in vaudeville. She was a doer, not a dreamer, and she learned to drive in her 40s and took up golf when she was 50 and was interested in everything. Everyone who met her loved her.
She was also the bravest person I ever knew. Her mother died of tuberculosis when she was six, and she and her sister were raised by her happy-go-lucky and mostly-unemployed father, who was a failure as a house painter but a rousing success as a parent (after he died, my mother asked her sister, "Did it ever bother you that I was Dad's favorite?" Her sister looked at her in astonishment and said, "What are you talking about? I was his favorite!"). This was the 1930s, and they were desperately poor and often homeless, camping out on various relatives' couches. In later years, my mother would speak of being so hungry when she came home from school that she'd mix up baking cocoa with water into a paste and eat that. She did very well in school, well enough to graduate early, and wanted to become a nurse, but she couldn't afford college and had to go to work instead. Which she did, on the assembly line at the Bulova Watch Company. Bitterness had no place in her psyche; she was a champion lemonade-maker.
When she was about 20, she was diagnosed with TB herself. At the time, it was inactive, and she and my father were married in 1943. The disease stayed dormant throughout the war and the birth of her first child, my brother, but in 1950 it came back with a vengeance. She was told she had a choice: she could admit herself to the hospital for treatment - which meant quarantine for an undetermined amount of time - or the state would take her son as a matter of public health. She went to the hospital, and my brother, age three, went to live with her sister. My father worked all day and visited her on Sundays, when the TB patients were allowed visitors. The TB ward was on an upper floor - a locked floor, like a prison - and my brother was too young to be allowed up to see her. Someone would stay with him down below and she would wave to him from a window. She was there for two and a half years.
They thought she was going to die. Her prognosis was "poor," but she would have none of it. "I thought it was ridiculous," she once said to me. She was lucky on two counts:one was the invention of streptomycin, the first antibiotic that was effective against TB, and the other was encountering a British doctor, whose name I do not know, who had developed a new surgery that allowed TB patients to have damaged lung material removed without disfigurement (his procedure "tented" the diaphragm so that the patient could stand upright after surgery, which involved removing ribs). She lost half of one lung and a quarter of the other, and it took 900 stitches to close up the incisions, but she survived.Eight years later, at the age of 40 and long before it was fashionable, she had me. I do not remember her not being a bit frail physically - she had asthma and later severe osteoporosis - but she was always upbeat and game and joyous. My father died in 1982, but she lived to see her grandchildren, and until her health really began to fail, she kept her sunny spirit. But as she got sicker and sicker, she got angry and unhappy - understandable in a woman who had always overwhelmed her own bad health with sheer will and grit. When she died, after several years of increasing dependence, weakening vision, and a bad fall, she was ready to go. The night before she died, the doctor said, "I'll see you in the morning." She said, "I won't be here" and she wasn't. She had had enough.
I tell people that, while from my father I got poetry, from my mother I got whatever steel I have in my spine. She was terrific. I miss her.
What did you do last Wednesday? I helped to shear 69 alpacas.
Rick and I have been talking about getting a couple of alpacas for several years. Alpacas, in case you didn't know, are a "domesticated species of South American camelid" (from Wikipedia - so it must be true). In other words, they are smaller and less stroppy cousins of llamas. Originally from the Andes region of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile, they were domesticated thousands of years ago by the indigenous South American people for their fiber. In recent years, they have been imported to North America and are now bred throughout America and Canada.
Rick getting a smooch from Vader.
Alpacas are charming. On top of lovely silky fiber that makes great yarn, they have big dark eyes with long lashes, sinuous necks, and soft noses. They are inquisitive and friendly, and they also hum - an almost continuous, low, musical noise that, like a cat's purring, is soothing and sweet. (Fun fact - alpaca babies are called crias.) There are two breeds: huacayas, who have fluffy fiber sort of like a sheep; and suris, who have long silky dreadlocks and look like the Bob Marleys of the camelid world. We are in the process of adding two suris to our menagerie.
Huacaya alpaca Suri alpaca
We have been very fortunate in meeting Alan and Patti Anderson, owners of Wild Rose Suri Ranch in Havre de Grace, MD. They raise some of the finest alpacas in the country. Anything you want to know about alpacas, ask them. In our on-going quest to learn more, we helped out with shearing day at the ranch. Well, I helped out; Rick had to work and only showed up later in the afternoon. By then, I was Alpaca Woman, with the aching muscles to prove it.
Hanging out at Wild Rose Suri Ranch
Shearing alpacas is more complicated than shearing sheep, who basically get knocked down and sat on for the few minutes it takes to give them a haircut. Alpacas are not about to cooperate with this kind of nonsense; plus, they can kick and, as everyone knows, they can spit (although they mostly just spit at each other and will only spit at people when they are scared). They also can scream. Not bray, baa, neigh, or moo - shriek as if they are being stabbed with hot knives. Imagine a five-year-old throwing a tantrum combined with a cat getting its tail stepped on and toss in a little howler monkey, and you'll get the idea. So they need to be roped, tied, stretched out, and rolled. This doesn't hurt the alpaca, and it makes everything much easier on everyone. Here's the process below:
First, soft ropes are tied around all of the animal's legs.
Then, the ropes are pulled taut - this doesn't hurt the animal, and it keeps him from kicking.
Next, the alpaca is sheared with electric clippers.
All finished! (Note the sock on this guy's nose. Bad spitters had to wear an athletic sock for the duration.)
The head shearer this day was a man named Paul from New Zealand. When he wasn't singing at the top of his lungs to Rod Stewart and Creedence on the CD player, he was announcing to all and sundry how much he hated his job. But hate it or not, he and his assistant Tom were very very good at it. The fleece is collected in three bags: one holds the blanket, which is the finest fleece from the animal's back; another holds the neck fleece; and the rest goes into a "thirds" bag - still usable, but not the prime stuff that wins prizes. The whole process, from the time the animal is led into the shearing area until it walks out with a new hairdo, takes less than five minutes.
Patti Anderson collecting a blanket for show judging.
We worked from 9:00am until about 6:00pm, with about a hour break for lunch.Sixty-nine alpacas. No joke. I could hardly walk the next day, but it was worth it in the knowledge I gained and the amount of bragging I can do now.
Whaddya mean, "Only 40 more to go!"????
I'll let you know when our alpacas are in residence. Now that I've helped shear a herd of 'em, shearing two isn't even going to make me bat an eyelash.
Alpacas, post- and pre-haircut.
Crias, checking out the visitors.
Sequoia has dinner.
Lena did not appreciate her day at the salon.
First off, let me say right now that I know next to nothing about cars. I do know how to drive (both automatic and manual, I'm proud to say); I know where to put the gas in; and I know not to leave the headlights on when I turn the car off. Other than that, I'm pretty much clueless. I can stay clueless, too, because both my husband and my son Micah are total gearheads, and I refer all things automotive to them. Despite this -- or maybe because of this -- I am completely addicted to the BBC car program (or programme, as they spell it), Top Gear.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it is a combination talk show/automobile review/stunt extravaganza/three-ring-circus. It is co-hosted by three presenters: Jeremy Clarkson, a very large (six foot six inches, I believe) car expert, journalist, and hater of all things green; James May, a shaggy, highly intelligent and exceptionally well-read journalist, whose nickname is "Captain Slow" and whose rumply, absent-minded professor mien I confess I find quite appealing; and Richard Hammond, a Davy Jones (of the Monkees, not the ocean) lookalike who nearly lost his life five years ago when an Indy-style racecar he was testing for the show flipped and speared him headfirst into the ground.
There is also the Stig, Top Gear''s "tame racing driver," who tests the featured cars and whose identity is ever-secret, although we do know he is a professional driver and that he is fond of listening to self-improvement tapes in foreign languages while hurtling around the test track at very high speeds.
The talk-show element of Top Gear consists of short interviews with celebrities, usually from British television and most of whom Americans have never heard of, then the celebrities do their own laps around the test-track in cars which most Americans have also never heard of (the steering wheels are all on the wrong side, too). The celebrities' lap times are then posted with much ceremony - for a long time, the fastest celebrity driver was Simon Cowell, whom, though British, I have heard of.
Top Gear also does serious reviews of cars, and, according to Micah, the reviews are thorough and honest; I wouldn't know, and as I said, I am completely unfamiliar with most of the cars, anyway (what the hell is a Panda?).
For me, the best part of the show are the challenges. Every other week or so, the three hosts are given a task by the producers, usually something that is well nigh impossible, like driving from Germany to northern England on one tank of gas. Each man chooses his own vehicle, and the winner gets bragging rights. Did I mention that they are each given a (very) limited budget with which to purchase a vehicle? So the cars in question tend to be very vintage and very decrepit (no brakes, for example), and sometimes the challenges are really insane, such as driving across the Kalahari Desert or over a 17,000ft Bolivian volcano (this last challenge almost killed both the presenters and the vehicles from lack of oxygen - they had to turn back and go around the volcano before they all died of altitude sickness). In most of the challenges, Clarkson provides the most bluster and bravado; Hammond is the pluckiest; and like the tortoise, May is slow but steady, as his nickname implies. They spend a lot of time arguing and getting lost and so on; they also accidentally set things on fire a lot, and it really is very funny.
The best and funniest challenges are when they have to modify their clunkers, as in the following clip. In this episode, they are tasked with creating cars that will also function as boats; the finish line is on the far side of reservoir.
In this second clip, we find out what a trio of gearheads would do with an Olympic ski jump, a team of rocket scientists, and a Mini Cooper. What indeed?
So that's my confession. Ridiculous as it is, I love Top Gear.
Busy. Very busy. Grading. Grant-writing to study bears this summer. Hoof-picking and currying. Laundry - no clean underwear. You get it, yes?
Also - much weeding to do, but it's raining today. Here's a rain poem instead. Enjoy. More next week.
"A Line-storm Song"
by Robert Frost
The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift,
The road is forlorn all day,
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift,
And the hoof-prints vanish away.
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
Expend their bloom in vain.
Come over the hills and far with me,
And be my love in the rain.
The birds have less to say for themselves
In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves,
Although they are no less there:
All song of the woods is crushed like some
Wild, easily shattered rose.
Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
Where the boughs rain when it blows.
There is the gale to urge behind
And bruit our singing down,
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind
From which to gather your gown.
What matter if we go clear to the west,
And come not through dry-shod?
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast
The rain-fresh goldenrod.
Oh, never this whelming east wind swells
But it seems like the sea’s return
To the ancient lands where it left the shells
Before the age of the fern;
And it seems like the time when after doubt
Our love came back amain.
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout
And be my love in the rain.
A quick post this morning, then I'm out to the garden for some serious weeding and bulb planting. Daffodils and jonquils are running riot, and green things are poking up everywhere - not all of them welcome, but that's part of spring. There are a couple things I'm not sure of; I'll have to wait awhile to see what they are.
Here's a lovely poem to get your springtime Jones on. And if anyone is free today, I've got an extra shovel.
By Amy Clampitt
In memory of Father Flye, 1884-1985
The strange and wonderful
are too much with us.
The protea of the antipodes--a great,
globed, blazing honeybee of a bloom--
for sale in the supermarket! We are in
our decadence, we are not entitled.
What have we done to deserve
all the produce of the tropics--
this fiery trove, the largesse of it
heaped up like cannonballs, these pineapples, bossed
and crested, standing like troops at attention,
these tiers, these balconies of green, festoons
grown sumptuous with stoop labor?
The exotic is everywhere,
it comes to us
before there is a yen or a need for it. The green-
grocers, uptown and down, are from South Korea.
Orchids, opulence by the pailful, just slightly
fatigued by the plane trip from Hawaii, are
disposed on the sidewalks; alstroemerias, freesias
fattened a bit in translation from overseas; gladioli
likewise estranged from their piercing ancestral crimson;
as well as, less altered from the original blue cornflower
of the roadsides and railway embankments of Europe, these
bachelor's buttons. But it isn't the railway embankments
their featherweight wheels of cobalt remind me of, it's
a row of them among prim
colonnades of cosmos,
snapdragon, nasturtium, bloodsilk red poppies,
in my grandmother's garden: a prairie childhood,
the grassland shorn, overlaid with a grid,
unsealed, furrowed, harrowed and sown with immigrant grasses,
their massive corduroy, their wavering feltings embroidered
here and there by the scarlet shoulder patch of cannas
on a courthouse lawn, by a love knot, a cross stitch
of living matter, sown and tended by women,
nurturers everywhere of the strange and wonderful,
beneath whose hands what had been alien begins,
as it alters, to grow as though it were indigenous.
But at this remove what I
think of as
strange and wonderful, strolling the side streets of Manhattan
on an April afternoon, seeing hybrid pear trees in blossom,
a tossing, vertiginous colonnade of foam, up above--
is the white petalfall, the warm snowdrift
of the indigenous wild plum of my childhood.
Nothing stays put. The world is a wheel.
All that we know, that we're
made of, is motion.
Here's a cool way to spend a Wednesday evening: attend a poetry reading by our own Jill Alexander Essbaum! Last night, I drove out to West Chester to hear Jill and poet Ernest Hilbert give a reading at the West Chester University Poetry Center's Poetry House. They read to a standing-room only audience from their latest work, and a gala time was had by all.
JAE has the audience in the palm of her hand.
Ernie Hilbert reading from Sixty Sonnets and his upcoming (2012) book.
Buy these books!
Brilliant AND beautiful - poets who multitask!
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.