Friday, October 26, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012

"Fairchild Tropical Garden"

My fifth-grade teacher took our class on a tour of a potato-chip factory. Her uncle was a manager there and made sure we got the best treatment - a free bag of Red Dot Chips for each of us, along with a red Red Dot baseball cap, a red Red Dot balloon, and a red round Red Dot plastic change purse you squeezed to open and close. We saw crates of potatoes poured into machines that washed, peeled, sliced, and sent the glistening discs on conveyor belts to boiling vats of oil. We saw fried chips draining and drying. The men and women who worked there were so covered with grease - it misted the air - that they seemed ready for frying themselves. Not doing what they had dreamed of doing as children, they took no pleasure in being observed by us. They understood that we kids were hoping we would never be them. Our teacher had arranged the tour to get herself out of the classroom in which her own dream was dying. She had always wanted to be beloved by her students. But none of us did love her - her gestures were stiff, her voice failed in the afternoons, her eyes wandered out the windows as often as ours did. Now, in the chip factory, as our cheeks swelled and reddened from humidity and oil, she nibbled at a new strategy, displaying the consequences of indifference to teachers and their lessons. You grew up and took readings on grease vats while kids watched.

- Lawrence Sutin
A Postcard Memoir

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Hardcastle Crags

Flintlike, her feet struck
Such a racket of echoes from the steely street,
Tacking in moon-blued crooks from the black
Stone-built town, that she heard the quick air ignite
Its tinder and shake

A firework of echoes from wall
To wall of the dark, dwarfed cottages.
But the echoes died at her back as the walls
Gave way to fields and the incessant seethe of grasses
Riding in the full

Of the moon, manes to the wind,
Tireless, tied, as a moon-bound sea
Moves on its root. Though a mist-wraith wound
Up from the fissured valley and hung shoulder-high
Ahead, it fattened

To no family-featured ghost,
Nor did any word body with a name
The blank mood she walked in. Once past
The dream-peopled village, her eyes entertained no dream,
And the sandman's dust

Lost lustre under her footsoles.
The long wind, paring her person down
To a pinch of flame, blew its burdened whistle
In the whorl of her ear, and like a scooped-out pumpkin crown
Her head cupped the babel.

All the night gave her, in return
For the paltry gift of her bulk and the beat
Of her heart, was the humped indifferent iron
Of its hills, and its pastures bordered by black stone set
On black stone. Barns

Guarded broods and litters
Behind shut doors; the dairy herds
Knelt in the meadow mute as boulders;
Sheep drowsed stoneward in their tussocks of wool, and birds,
Twig-sleeping, wore

Granite ruffs, their shadows
The guise of leaves. The whole landscape
Loomed absolute as the antique world was
Once, in its earliest sway of lymph and sap,
Unaltered by eyes,

Enough to snuff the quick
Of her small heat out, but before the weight
Of stones and hills of stones could break
Her down to mere quartz grit in the stony light
She turned back.

- Sylvia Plath

Sunday, October 7, 2012

   Dwayne's only companion at night was a Labrador retriever named Sparky. Sparky could not wag his tail - because of an automobile accident many years ago, so he had no way of telling other dogs how friendly he was. He had to fight all the time. His ears were in tatters. He was lumpy with scars.

- Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions

Friday, October 5, 2012

     Trout asked himself out loud what the people did for amusement, and the driver told him a queer story about a night he spent in West Virginia, in the cab of his truck, near a windowless building which droned monotonously.
     "I'd see folks go in, and I'd see folks come out," he said, "but I couldn't figure out what kind of a machine it was that made the drone. The building was a cheap old frame thing set up on cement blocks, and it was out in the middle of nowhere. Cars came and went, and the folks sure seemed to like whatever was doing the droning," he said.
     So he had a look inside. "It was full of folks on rollerskates," he said. "They just went around and around. Nobody smiled. They just went around and around."

- Kurt Vonnegut
Breakfast of Champions

Thursday, October 4, 2012


The apartment on Francis Avenue
We lived in for three years in graduate school
In the nicest - or maybe second nicest - part of Cambridge,
On the third floor of Joe and Annie's house

Just up the street from the Divinity School.
John Kenneth Galbraith lived next door;
Julia Child's Kitchen was across a backyard fence
I'd hang around trying to look hungry,

And emulating her we rented a meat locker at Savanor's,
Where I'd stop to pick up a pot roast or a steak
Before coming home to Jeepers waiting for me in the window.
Everything happened then, in two or three years

That seemed a lifetime at the time:
The War and SDS and music; the confusion in the streets
And Nixon; poetry and art and science, philosophy and immunology,
The dinners at Bill and Willy's loft in Soho -

Yet what still stays with me is the summer of 1973,
The summer before we moved to Milwaukee, with my dissertation done
And time to kill, suspended on the brink of real life.
I would read the first draft of "Self-Portrait"

John had let me copy, and Gravity's Rainbow,
And every afternoon I'd ride my bike to Bob's house
Where I'd watch the hearings on TV. And on a Saturday in June,
With the living room awash in the late yellow light

That filtered through the western dormer window,
We watched, just out of curiosity, this horse I'd read about
- And what I knew about the Sport of Kings was nil -
Turn what till then had been an ordinary day

Into one as permanent as anything in sports or art or life,
As Secretariat came flying through the turn with the announcer crying
"He's all alone - he's moving like a tremendous machine,"
And Susan shouting "Look at that horse! Look at that horse!"

The summer sort of dribbled away. We took a last trip to New York,
John and Rebecca stopped over on their way to somewhere,
James and Lisa too, whom I hadn't seen in years,
And then we packed our stuff and took the cat and drove away.

Nixon hung on for a while, and then - but that's history,
Real history, not this private kind that monitors the unimportant
For what changes, for what doesn't change. Here I am,
Living in Milwaukee twenty-nine years later.

Susan lives about a mile away, and just last Saturday
The latest wonder horse, War Emblem, stumbled in the Belmont Stakes.
What makes a life, if not the places and the things that make it up?
I know that I exist, but what about that place we lived? Is it still real?

- Of course it is. It just gets harder to see
As time goes by, but it's still all there. Last month in Rome
The first thing Lisa said was that I looked just like myself, but with
    white hair.
And there it is: look at the tiny strawberries and the

Flowers blooming in the garden of the house next door.
Look at John Dean, still testifying on that little screen, and Rogers,
Who died in May, still talking in our small blue dining room.
Look at Savanor's, the unkempt lawn, the mailbox by the back porch,

Jeepers waiting for me in the window. Look at that horse!

- John Koethe