Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Wood-Weasel

emerges daintily, the skunk -
don't laugh - in sylvan black and white chipmunk
regalia. The inky thing
adaptively whited with glistening
goat-fur, is wood-warden. In his
ermined well-cuttlefish-inked wool, he is
determination's totem. Out-
lawed? His sweet face and powerful feet go about
in chieftain's coat of Chilcat cloth.
He is his own protection from the moth,

noble little warrior. That
otter-skin on it, the living pole-cat,
smothers anything that stings. Well, -
this same weasel's playful and his weasel
associates are too. Only
Wood-weasels shall associate with me.


A Jelly-Fish

Visible, invisible,
   a fluctuating charm
an amber-tinctured amethyst
   inhabits it, your arm
approaches and it opens
   and it closes; you had meant
to catch it and it quivers;
   you abandon your intent.

- Marianne Moore

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Country Fair

If you didn't see the six-legged dog,
It doesn't matter.
We did and he mostly lay in the corner.
As for the extra legs,

One got used to them quickly
And thought of other things.
Like, what a cold, dark night
To be out at the fair.

Then the keeper threw a stick
And the dog went after it
On four legs, the other two flapping behind,
Which made one girl shriek with laughter.

She was drunk and so was the man
Who kept kissing her neck.
The dog got the stick and looked back at us.
And that was the whole show.


Little Unwritten Book

Rocky was a regular guy, a loyal friend.
The trouble was he was only a cat.
Let's practice, he'd say, and he'd pounce
On his shadow on the wall.
I have to admit, I didn't learn a thing.
I often sat watching him sleep.
If the birds tried to have a bit of fun in the yard,
He opened one eye.
I even commended him for good behavior.

He was black except for the white gloves he wore.
He played the piano in the parlor
By walking over its keys back and forth.
With exquisite tact he chewed my ear
If I wouldn't get up from my chair.
Then one day he vanished. I called.
I poked in the bushes.
I walked far into the woods.

The mornings were the hardest. I'd put out
A saucer of milk at the back door.
Peekaboo, a bird called out. She knew.
At one time we had ten farmhands working for us.
I'd make a megaphone with my hands and call.
I still do, though it's been years.
Rocky, I cry!
And now the bird is silent too.


In the Planetarium

Never-yet-equaled, wide-screen blockbuster
That grew more and more muddled
After a spectacular opening shot.
The pace, even for the most patient
Killingly slow despite the promise
Of a show-stopping, eye-popping ending:
The sudden shriveling of the whole
To its teensy starting point, erasing all -
Including this bag of popcorn we are sharing.

Yes, an intriguing but finally irritating
Puzzle with no answer forthcoming tonight
From the large cast of stars and galaxies
In what may be called a prodigious
Expenditure of time, money and talent.
"Let's get the fuck out of here," I said
Just as her upraised eyes grew moist
And she confided to me, much too loudly,
"I have never seen anything so beautiful."

- Charles Simic

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

But a day or two passed and the Major was still at the Majestic. By now he had succeeded in doing something about the most obvious sources of misery (finding sheets, avoiding morning prayers by having breakfast in his room), but there was a sadness hanging in the empty rooms and corridors like an invisible gas which one could not help breathing.
            Angela remained behind a closed door (it was impossible to tell which, there were so many) and was quite certainly ill, though nobody said so. Indeed, nobody made any reference to her at all in his presence. Perhaps they thought he would "understand"; perhaps they thought he had not even noticed that she was not there; perhaps this was the Spencers' method of dealing with unhappiness, by simply failing to mention it, as, in one of Angela's letters, a reference to the dog called Spot (who had presumably been carried off by distemper) had been omitted. At this moment, for all the Major knew, Edward was compiling lists of the living beings at the Majestic which failed to mention his daughter Angela.
            One day, passing through the Palm Court on his way to the Imperial Bar, which he had taken to sharing with the tortoiseshell cat, he heard an elderly lady, a new arrival, asking in a ringing whisper if that was poor Angela's unfortunate young man. Turning involuntarily, he had been met by a battery of pitying, interested glances.
            Once or twice again (in truth, several times), before or after meals, he had met the cook on the stairs carrying the invalid's tray. Whether she was struggling up or down the stairs it seemed to make very little difference, he noticed, to the amount of food on the plate. Only, coming down, the meat and vegetables might be somewhat disarranged, mixed up together, one might suppose, by a listless hand. And a fork might be lying on the plate, though the knife was rarely touched; most often, on the way down, it lay beside the plate, clean and shining as it had been on the way up. Similarly, the apple on the tray usually made the return journey with its skin unflawed; if baked, though, with custard, it might be squashed a little or the meat dug out of the skin and spattered with the yellow, viscous fluid; if stewed and sprinkled with brown sugar as much as half of it might disappear. Apples--after all, there was a mountain of them in the apple house which had to be eaten--played a significant part in the diet of those living at the Majestic. One day, however, he noticed a raw apple travelling upstairs that looked so fresh and shining that it might even have been an early arrival of the new season's crop. On the way down it was still there on the tray but one despairing bite had been taken out of it. He could see the marks of small teeth that had clipped a shallow oval furrow from its side, the exposed white flesh already beginning to oxidize and turn brown, like an old photograph or love-letter. He was extremely moved by this single bite and wanted to say something. He paused and almost spoke, but the cook, as in fear, was already hastening clumsily down the stairs away from him. Every time they met on the stairs now she would nervously avoid his eye and once or twice she even blushed deeply, as if she had caught him doing something indecent. And it was true that he had become fascinated with this tray and often tried to be on the stairs when it was going up or down. Usually, though, he tried to limit himself to one casual, greedy glance that would note everything.

- J.G. Farrell

Monday, August 13, 2012

Futures in Lilacs

"Tender little Buddha," she said
Of my least Buddha-like member.
She was probably quoting Allen Ginsberg,
Who was probably paraphrasing Walt Whitman.
After the Civil War, after the death of Lincoln,
That was a good time to own railroad stocks,
But Whitman was in the Library of Congress,
Researching alternative Americas,
Reading up on the curiosities of Hindoo philosophy,
Studying the etchings of stone carvings
Of strange couplings in a book.

She was taking off a blouse,
Almost transparent, the color of a silky tangerine.
From Capitol Hill Walk Whitman must have been able to see
Willows gathering the river haze
In the cooling and still-humid twilight.
He was in love with a trolley conductor
In the summer of - what was it? - 1867? 1868?

Robert Hass

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Olympic Girl

The sort of girl I like to see
Smiles down from her great height at me.
She stands in strong, athletic pose
And wrinkles her retroussé nose.
Is it distaste that makes her frown,
So furious and freckled, down
On an unhealthy worm like me ?
Or am I what she likes to see ?
I do not know, though much I care.
ειθε γενοιμην . . . would I were
(Forgive me, shade of Rubert Brooke)
An object fit to claim her look.
Oh ! would I were her racket press'd
With hard excitement to her breast
And swished into the sunlit air
Arm-high above her tousled hair,
And banged against the bounding ball
" Oh ! Plung ! " my tauten'd strings would call,
" Oh ! Plung ! my darling, break my strings
For you I will do brilliant things."
And when the match is over, I
Would flop beside you, hear you sigh;
And then, with what supreme caress,
You'ld tuck me up into my press.
Fair tigress of the tennis courts,
So short in sleeve and strong in shorts,
Little, alas, to you I mean,
For I am bald and old and green.

- John Betjeman

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The poet - "one who writes in measure," as Johnson laconically defines him - and poetess ("a she poet") have always had a rough time of it in the Republic. It has ever been their endemic luck to starve, become a Harvard professor, commit suicide, lose their reading glasses before an audience of sophomores, go upon the people à la Barnum, and serve as homework in state universities, where they could in nowise get a position and where their presence usually scatters the English faculty like a truant officer among the Amish. But the very worst has happened to him, and in the last couple of decades. It has been forgotten in high places what he is, and every school child is taught the most godawful rot as to why he writes as he does in measure.
    The things of the world are always at one's doorstep; the miseries of the American poet were nicely defined while I was on my errands this morning deep in Kentucky. At the grocer's, as I was throwing Time into my cart, a lady broke into a motherly smile. "Thar you go," she said, "buyin' th' magerzine book of your choice for the month: ain't it grand to read?" It was at the local paperback emporium that a teen-ager, obviously a time-server in summer school, asked for "a poem book on E.E. Cummings." The lady admirer of literacy is a guitarist and sings "Great Speckled Bird" and "The Murder of James A. Garfield" on the radio. She is, in her way, a poet: and one of the things utterly forgotten about poets is that they come in hierarchies and orders.

- Guy Davenport
"Do You Have a Poem Book on E.E. Cummings?"
from The Geography of the Imagination
    The books of our childhood offer a vivid door to our own pasts, and not necessarily for the stories we read there, but for the memories of where we were and who we were when we were reading them; to remember a book is to remember the child who read that book. My aunt Mimi gave me a child's introduction to archaeology when I was six, and coming upon that book now, I am taken back to my bedroom on Flood Drive in San Jose, reading in bed at night, and the precise moment when I understood that the written word "says" was pronounced "sez" rather than rhyming with the plural of "hay." I can see the brown cowboy bedspread, lariats and corrals rampant, feel the orange-tasseled fringe of it, and know again the child I was. Find an old book from your childhood, take a good whiff, and suddenly you're living Proust.
    There's nothing exceptional in my reading history, and that's why I've chosen to detail it. For those who are afflicted with book lust, those for whom reading is more than information or escape, the road to our passion is quite simple, paved merely by the presence of printed matter.
    It's a common story; fill in your own blanks: I was _____ years old when I happened on a novel called ________, and within six months I had read every other book by the writer known as __________.
   I was fifteen. The Grapes of Wrath. John Steinbeck.

- Lewis Buzbee
The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
    There was a smell of Time in the air tonight. He smiled and turned the fancy in his mind. There was a thought. What did Time smell like? Like dust and clocks and people. And if you wondered what Time sounded like it sounded like water running in a dark cave and voices crying and dirt dropping down upon hollow box lids, and rain. And, going further, what did Time look like? Time looked like snow dropping silently into a black room or it looked like a silent film in an ancient theater, one hundred billion faces falling like those New Year balloons, down and down into nothing. That was how Time smelled and looked and sounded. And tonight - Tomas shoved a hand into the wind outside the truck - tonight you could almost touch Time.

- Ray Bradbury
The Martian Chronicles

Monday, August 6, 2012

    What I'm trying to say is that it was ultimately much more like the evangelist girlfriend with the boots' own experience than I could have ever admitted at the time. Obviously, through just the 2,235-word story of a memory, I could never convince anybody else that the innate, objective quality of the substitute's lecture would also have glued anybody else to their seat and made them forget about their final review in American Political Thought, or of the way that much of what the Catholic father (I thought) said or projected seemed somehow aimed directly at me. I can, though, at least help explain why I was so 'primed' for experiencing it this way, as I'd already had a kind of foretaste or temblor of just this experience shortly before the mistake in final-review classes' rooms occurred, though it was only later, in retrospect, that I understood it - meaning the experience - as such.
   I can clearly remember that a few days earlier - meaning on the Monday of the last week of regular classes for the Fall '78 term - I was sitting there all slumped and unmotivated on the old yellow corduroy couch in our DePaul dorm room in the middle of the afternoon. I was by myself, wearing nylon warm-up pants and a black Pink Floyd tee shirt, trying to spin a soccer ball on my finger, and watching the CBS soap opera As the World Turns on the room's little black-and-white Zenith - not Obetrolling or blowing off anything in particular but essentially still just being an unmotivated lump. There was certainly always reading and studying for finals I could do, but I was being a wastoid. I was slouched way down on my tailbone on the couch, so that everything on the little TV was framed by my knees, and watching As the World Turns while spinning the soccer ball in an idle, undirected way. It was technically the roommate's television, but he was a serious pre-med student and always at the science library, though he had taken the trouble to rig a specially folded wire coat hanger to take the place of the Zenith's missing antenna, which was the only reason it got any reception at all. As the World Turns ran on CBS from 1:00 to 2:00 in the afternoon. This was something I still did too much during that final year, sitting there wasting time in front of the little Zenith, and several times I'd gotten passively sucked into CBS afternoon soap operas, where the shows' characters all spoke and emoted broadly and talked to one another without any hitch or pause in intensity whatsoever, it seemed, so that there was something almost hypnotic about the whole thing, especially as I had no classes on Monday or Friday and it was all too easy to sit there and get sucked in. I can remember that many of the other DePaul students that year were hooked on the ABC soap opera General Hospital, gathering in great avid, hooting packs to watch it - with their hip alibi being that they were actually making fun of the show - but, for reasons that probably had to do with the Zenith's spotty reception, I was more of a CBS habitue that year, particularly As the World Turns and Guiding Light, which followed As the World Turns at 2:00 P.M. on weekdays and was actually in some ways an even more hypnotic show.
   Anyhow, I was sitting there trying to spin the ball on my finger and watching the soap opera, which was also heavily loaded with commercials - especially in the second half, which soap operas tend to load with more commercials, as they figure that you're already sucked in and mesmerized and will sit still for more ads - and at the end of every commercial break, the show's trademark shot of planet earth as seen from space, turning, would appear, and the CBS daytime network announcer's voice would say, 'You're watching As the World Turns,' which he seemed, on this particular day, to say more and more pointedly each time - 'You're watching As the World Turns' - until I was suddenly struck by the bare reality of the statement. I don't mean any sort of humanities-type ironic metaphor, but the literal thing he was saying, the simple surface level. I don't know how many times I'd heard this that year while sitting around watching As the World Turns, but I suddenly realized that the announcer was actually saying over and over what I was literally doing. Not only this, but I also realized that I had been told this fact countless times - as I said, the announcer's statement followed every commercial break after each segment of the show - without ever being even slightly aware of the literal reality of what I was doing. I was not Obetrolling at this moment of awareness, I should add. This was different. It was as if the CBS announcer were speaking directly to me, shaking my shoulder or leg as though trying to arouse someone from sleep - 'You're watching As the World Turns.' It's hard to explain. It was not even the obvious double entendre that struck me. This was more literal, which somehow had made it harder to see. All of this hit me, sitting there. It could not have felt more concrete if the announcer had actually said, 'You are sitting on an old yellow dorm couch, spinning a black-and-white soccer ball, and watching As the World Turns, without ever even acknowledging to yourself this is what you are doing.' This is what struck me. It was beyond being feckless or a wastoid - it's like I wasn't even there. The truth is I was not even aware of the obvious double entendre of 'You're watching As the World Turns' until three days later - the show's almost terrifying pun about the passive waste of time of sitting there watching something whose reception through the hanger didn't even come in very well, while all the while real things in the world were going on and people with direction and initiative were taking care of business in a brisk, no-nonsense way - meaning not until Thursday morning, when this secondary meaning suddenly struck me in the middle of taking a shower, before getting dressed and hurrying to what I intended - consciously, at any rate - to be the final-exam review in American Political Thought. Which may have been one reason why I was so preoccupied and took the wrong building's entrance, I suppose. At the time, though, on Monday afternoon, all that hit home with me was the reiteration of the simple fact of what I was doing, which was, of course, nothing, just slumped there like something without any bones, uninvolved even in the surface reality of watching Victor deny his paternity to Jeanette (even though Jeanette's son has the same extremely rare genetic blood disorder that's kept putting Victor in the hospital throughout much of the semester. Victor may in some sense have actually 'believed' his own denials, I remember thinking, as he essentially seemed like that kind of person) between my knees.

- David Foster Wallace
The Pale King

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"love," or "falling in love," an extra density
textured into the weave of the days, a craziness,
an orchidaceous interdimensional blossoming of the otherwise
linear creatures we were.

-Albert Goldbarth
from "The One Thing"
Marriage, and Other Science Fiction