[May] 3rd. Drank my morning draft in good chocolate, and slabbering my band sent home for another, and so to Mr. Coventry's chamber where I endeavoured to shew the folly and punish it as much as I could of Mr. Povy; for of all the men in the world, I never knew any man of his degree so great a coxcomb, . . . and, I doubt, not over honest, by some things which I see; and yet, for all his folly, he hath the good lucke, now and then, to speak his follies in as good words, and with as good a show, as if it were reason, and to the purpose, which is really one of the wonders of my life.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
[Small digression into the memory of last night's excellent meal: swordfish steaks marinated in lime juice, garlic, hot pepper, and marjoram. Served with couscous salad. Followed by pitted cherries with whipped cream.]
[Small digression into a small rant: Who the hell are these women? Do they really exist? Or am I living on the Planet of the Apes? To the best of my knowledge, I don't know anyone--anyone--who deals with aging like this. I think this is sick . . . and I speak as a woman who does wear a minor amount of makeup and does shave her legs and does worry about her looks to a certain degree. I don't color my hair, though I occasionally consider it. I don't wear nail polish because I hate the way it makes my nails feel heavy. I do feel melancholy about growing older. But perhaps I've been under the delusion that melancholy is an essential element of the human experience.][Small digression into poetry: As my friend Baron Wormser writes in his poem "Mulroney," these are the women who are "groomed to run the show."As his character Mulroney remarks in reply, "How sad."]
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Let us discuss why poetry has lost the power of making men brave.
--E. M. Forster
In front of every third house is a for-sale lineup
not of corn but of flat-bellied pumpkins and warty
hubbards tinted that improbable robin’s-egg blue,
also butternuts, tediously beige, and turk’s-heads
that look like Turk’s heads, though the sales clincher
among these hopeful come-hithers is surely the “PUM
PKINS” sign, a squat two-line exhortation spray-painted
onto a square board and stabbed into a scruff of weeds.
But Jill’s son won’t let her stop the car, not even for pum
pkins; he claims this cheerful roadside merchandise
“might not be good enough,” though he refuses to elaborate
because he’s concentrating on Joe Castiglione, Voice
of the Boston Red Sox, who’s executing a thrilling on-air
play-by-play fit over the alacritous mouse careening
across his shoes in the Tropicana Field press box;
yet even in mid-fluster the intrepid Voice manages
to recount a few pertinent clubhouse-mouse anecdotes,
for who can forget (intones the Voice) the great Phil Rizzuto,
whose severe mouse hate occasionally tempted a bored
Yankee to park a dead rodent in his fielder’s glove?
Her son, alert and unamazed, sucks up this radio tumult
like oxygen; and if he’s more exercised by Rizzuto’s
shortstop stats than by the image of a long-suffering
Trop Field janitor stowing a poised and baited trap
between the Voice’s jittery feet, it’s merely a symptom
of his ascetic attention, the rich curiosities of discipline
he’s imposed on his brain, where details of mouse fear
are mere decorative flourishes in the noble history
of baseball—this unfurling seasonal pageant of power
and beauty and earnest fidelity among a pack of heroes
who can’t possibly blow their seven-game lead,
can they? Another pumpkin stage-set flashes past Jill
on this Cornville road where, come to think of it,
there was corn once, and not so many days ago either:
acres of it, bobbing green and ostrich-like over these mild foothills,
but now shaved close, row upon row of dun-colored stubble
fading to dirt, the harvest’s backward march to blankness,
an oracular patriarch reverting to beardless boy—
mouse heaven, no doubt, but not a modern paradise
the like of Tropicana Field, vast echoing hall of crumbs,
home of Cracker Jack galore and brisk secret scrambles
among an eternity of folding chairs. That poor radio
adventurer scampering over the Voice’s shiny feet:
he’s a goner, no question about it, bound to be trap-snapped,
maybe this at-bat or the next, for the Voice will not forebear,
no extra innings for rodents, and Jill herself cannot abide mice,
those Sisyphean wretches shoving rocks back and forth, back
and forth, all night above her bedroom ceiling; she lies awake,
rigid and furious, wishing them dead. The roadside unrolls
like a backdrop; Jill’s car swallows tarmac, smoothly, greedily;
yes, Cinderella’s godmother magicked pumpkins into coaches,
mice into footmen; but can a princess trust a mouse-man
not to steal her shiny slippers and stuff them under a garret
floorboard? Or does she lie in bed, night after night,
listening to the Voice chatter and complain on the prince’s
kitchen radio, to the mouse-man scuffle and creak
above her head? Is she wishing him dead?
Jill’s son, like any prince, is indifferent to the mouse,
though also magnanimous, though also ruthless.
The mouse doesn’t gnaw at him. A princess
is different—touchier, guiltier. Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
had a wife but couldn’t keep her, and no wonder—
they fret so, these wives and princesses, not like the Voice,
who takes a break from his mouse to sell a few Volvo safety tips
and discuss the fine backyard sheds available for purchase
at Home Depot. In the backseat Jill’s son chortles lustily
alongside a Kubota jingle . . . Put her in a pumpkin shell
and there he kept her very well, and what on earth
is that supposed to mean? These nursery rhymes:
they’re like the Good Book—nothing but hint, trickery, or truth.
Jill glances up at the Harley swelling into rear mirror view
and thinks about ire and anti-Peter feminists and pulpit-pounding
preachers and screaming Big Papi fans, and sighs,
not because she’s necessarily immune to energetic belief, or even
energetic hope: but it’s tiresome, this inability to gracefully
tolerate a riddle. We forget the Sphinx and gape at Oedipus;
nothing consoles our lost honor. If the Red Sox
blow the series, her son will weep noisily into his banner,
betrayed, aghast—not exactly implying that Beowulf
died in battle so why shouldn’t Manny Ramirez
brain himself with a bat instead of shrugging “Better luck
next time,” but really: what does brave require?
Not falling on your sword after losing to the Devil Rays
but maybe not “if a bully bothers you on the playground,
just walk on by,” even if the second version comforts
those son-loving mothers who aren’t Grendel’s:
though it would be easy enough to be Grendel’s mother,
Jill thinks suddenly, grieving and vengeful, loping savagely
from her hole in the fens, wretched, livid, desperately hungry
for Danes; and she’s startled at the vision, for it can be strangely
tonic to picture oneself as a monster, especially at moments
of maternal docility, child strapped safely in the backseat
of a well-airbagged automobile, robust squash glinting in the autumn
sunlight, sky as clean and blue as a morning-glory, a sedate
Harley-with-sidecar tooling up behind her. Properly blinking,
the bike passes her; and as it rumbles by her window,
she catches sight of the oversized Rottweiler
wedged into the sidecar. He looks like Stonehenge
on the run, head thick as a brick, little ears aflutter,
yawp gaping with delight and solidly drooling
into the wind. He looks, come to think of it,
like Big Papi heading home for lobster after a cheerful
ball-chasing afternoon, a man who (according to her son)
named his kid after a sub shop, surely a Rottweiler
token of happiness, for there’s a certain plain bravery in joy;
and imagine those golden-haired Geats, shields glinting,
splashing up the stony beach—late-day sun, a sea of spears
and shadows; even a mouse owns the courage
of his enchantments; and how the Voice loves his voice,
the quick syllables, the straining verbs, the fervor of the tale—
“He crushed that pitch,” exclaims the Voice; and meanwhile,
a mouse considers a peanut-laced trap; meanwhile, Jill’s car
trails a disappearing fat dog down a twisting Cornville avenue;
meanwhile, her son suddenly falls asleep against his window,
his mind blossoming with heroes, except that all of them
are himself, everything, yes, everything, depends on his quick
and powerful blow, and how these bright standards
fly in the wind as the men gather in the broad meadow,
a host of warriors, raising their heavy goblets
to salute the king.[from How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)]
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Friday, May 27, 2011
I'm going to do something here that I very rarely do: I'm going to publish a piece of writing on my blog that I have not previously published elsewhere. This particular essay is a stand-alone version of the final chapter of The Vagabond's Bookshelf, my languishing-in-publisher-limbo collection of of memoir-essays about books I've obsessively reread over the course of my life. Nearly every other chapter has already been published or contracted for publication in major literary journals such as the Sewanee Review, the Threepenny Review, and the Southern Review.
I'm mentioning this history not for the pleasure of braggadocio but because I think there is a peculiar disconnect among the various tentacles of the publishing industry. Why is it so difficult to convince press editors to consider a nonfiction project that has already garnered a readership? Meanwhile, poetry journals reject poems that a publisher has already accepted as part of a book manuscript. I just think this is so strange. Something is going on, and it's not strictly an economic mystery.
Please don't think I'm complaining. I am immensely grateful for the good luck I've had, especially considering my invisibility in the academic writing network. Merely I'm puzzled.
Anyway, here's that essay--more of a conclusion than a full-length chapter. If you're interested in seeing anything else from the book, let me know.
"Quarreling with Nabokov" from The Vagabond's Bookshelf
For two or three years, I was working on a memoir about obsessively rereading a handful of novels, most of them nineteenth-century classics that I’ve revisited dozens of times over the course of my life without any intention of ever teaching a class about them. The project was going well: I was publishing chapters in journals, and I had high hopes for the final product. But just as I was finishing up the book, I learned—or thought I learned—that someone else had already written it.
Unfortunately for me, that someone else was Vladimir Nabokov. The book in question was his Lectures on Literature, a collection of posthumously published university lectures about famous novels. And to my dismay, one of those icons was Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, whose modest, somewhat ambiguous heroine, Fanny Price, is a major topic of my memoir.
As soon as I began to imagine what Nabokov might have to say about Fanny, I was seized with a fear that was also well salted with embarrassment. I doubt I would have dared to write about Mansfield Park myself if I’d known beforehand that he was a specialist on it, for Nabokov is one of those writers who intimidates me even at the level of his adjectives. Whatever he might have to say about Fanny would surely render my observations moot.
Oddly, at the moment I stumbled into Lectures, I was already enmeshed in Nabokov’s toils; for I’d just finished my tenth or so rereading of Lolita. I’d first encountered this book as a young teenager, when my mother, who was working on her master's degree, was assigned it in a course. The novel appalled her, for reasons she declined to explicate. I gathered, however, that sex had something to do with her creased brow, so I promptly read the book as soon as she wasn't looking. But the tale was less prurient than I’d hoped it would be, even for a girl with such modest expectations of prurience, mostly because . . . I mean, really, come on: when the chief seducer’s name is Humbert Humbert, the X-rated factor instantly assumes an entirely new algebraic significance.
Over the years, as I’ve returned to Lolita, my sympathies have shifted back and forth among the central comedic tragedies: poor stupid awkward romantic H.H.; poor grubby rude shallow Lo; poor boring infatuated Charlotte. Clare Quilty is really the only character I can wholeheartedly dislike at every reading. If anyone deserves to be murdered by a gun named Chum, it’s him.
But during this season’s pass through the book, I found myself, for the first time, almost entirely distracted by Nabokov’s idiosyncratic control of the English language, especially as he superimposes it onto the 1940s American landscape of movie magazines, midwestern motels, suburban home decor, and educational philistinism. He writes in English, certainly, and beautifully grammatical English to boot, but it’s a strange, comic, terrible version of the language. When Humbert says, “I stopped [my car] in the shelter of the trees and abolished my lights to ponder the next move quietly,” the verb abolished is both absolutely accurate and absolutely wrong. This is why I find it so difficult to come to any settled conclusion about right and wrong, love and lust in Lolita: because the sentences themselves reinforce their ambiguities with such exactness.
Thus, with the rhythms of Lolita pounding in my grammatical synapses, I opened Lectures on Literature, burdened by my overcharged awe, pop-eyed and prepared for illumination. And what happened (at first) was more gratifying than I’d expected: I was flattered. “Curiously enough,” declared Nabokov, “one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.”
But despite this delightful opening gambit, my star turned out to be a meteor, and fell. “This is the worst thing a reader can do,” announced N: “he identifies himself with a character in the book.”
Well. What can I say? What can anyone possibly say? Either I decide to agree with him, or I don’t. There is nothing, at this stage of my life, that I can do. For far too long, I’ve identified myself with Fanny Price and David Copperfield, with Natasha Rostov and Pierre Bezukhov. I can’t read like Nabokov: unlike him, I don’t have the slightest interest in drawing maps of the settings in Mansfield Park, nor do I revel in his plot-summary descriptions of the novel’s structural elements. Possibly such approaches would be invaluable for a fiction writer . . . but I am merely a fiction rereader, and I don’t want to change my ways.
My friend Thomas Rayfiel, who is himself a novelist, reminds me that Nabokov’s lectures were never meant for publication and that his teaching gigs were mostly a way to pay the bills. As soon as Lolita hit the big time, he quit his job. It’s also true that these lectures can be very funny, often inadvertently. As Tom remarks, Nabokov talks about Mansfield Park “as if he’d never heard of Jane Austen before.” Consider, for instance, comments such as this one:
We had to find an approach to Jane Austen and her Mansfield Park. I think we did find it and did have some degree of fun with her delicate patterns, with her collection of eggshells in cotton wool. But the fun was forced. We had to slip into a certain mood; we had to focus our eyes in a certain way. Personally I dislike porcelain and the minor arts. . . . However, I have tried to be very objective.
The dingbat jocularity of this passage is so funny and touching that I suppose I can forgive the writer for lambasting my brain. Really, the very idea that I have just used the word dingbat to describe a writer as skilled as Vladimir Nabokov is enough to make me forgive him almost anything.
And this is the essence of my point. When Nabokov claims, “It is clear that [Austen] disapproves of” the family’s play-acting venture in Mansfield Park, I can shout, “No, no! It’s only clear that Fanny disapproves.” And when he blunders on to aver that “there is no reason to suppose that Jane Austen’s sentiments do not parallel Fanny’s,” I can snap his book shut in disgust and go outside to hang laundry. But I can’t deny my lurking pleasure in his humanity. Yes, he was a real reader, and though he was tone-deaf to Austen, he considered her earnestly and with a cogitating joy in his own discoveries.
So what if he’s wrong? So what, for that matter, if I’m wrong? As writer and editor Wendy Lesser remarks, “nothing demonstrates how personal reading is more clearly than rereading does.” We rereaders go back, and back again, to the books we love because they challenge us—not as students, but as human beings splashing boisterously in the shallows of our own brilliance . . . and our own blinkered ignorance.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
1. From Max Hastings, "War by Fops and Fools," in the New York Review of Books (9 June 2011): "I must renew my oft-made plea that clever academics concede a higher priority to accessibility and not consider it essential to their intellectual reputations that their prose plow a flight path through cumulonimbus clouds."2. From Solon J. Buck and Elizabeth Hawthorn Buck, The Planting of Civilization in Western Pennsylvania (U. of Pittsburgh Press, 1939): "The Scotch-Irish were not the patient, painstaking people that the Germans were. They did not keep up their farms so well, partly because they were naturally slipshod."
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Harriet, tempted by everything and swayed by half a word, was always very long at a purchase; and while she was still hanging over the muslins and changing her mind, Emma went to the door for amusement.--Much could not be hoped for the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury;--Mr. Perry walking hastily by, Mr. William Cox letting himself in at the office door, Mr. Cole's carriage horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from the shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough; quite enough still to stand at the door. A mind lively and at ease, can do with seeing nothing, and can see nothing that does not answer.
Monday, May 23, 2011
DovedaleMilly JourdainThere comes to me remembrance like a song,Of slopes and rocks covered with thin brown grass,And starred with scabious; there with eager handsGrasping the slippery tufts of weeds, I climbedTo pick the bright red leaves of fading sorrel:Then down I lay upon a sun-warmed rock,And heard the shadowed river sing below.From a RoadMilly JourdainAcross the green valley the great hill raises its worn head through the pattern of fields which lie on its warm sides, brown in the summer sun.Above the line of dark green hedges, beech copses straggle to the top: rooks fly over it and little white clouds.The short grass is warm and the air is very clear.For a moment I think I am walking on the hill, stooping and touching the ground with my hands.But the trailing smell of honeysuckle from the hedge is blown to me, and I know that I cannot stir from the road.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Saturday, May 21, 2011
sitting here at my kitchen table in the green morning light, listening to the endless downpour, drinking French roast with milk, thinking about the persona-poem session I have to lead this morning, smelling the sopping wet grass outside the open window, trying not to think about how long the grass is and how hard it will be to mow if the storm clouds ever do blow out to sea and the sun ever does shine in the Disconsolate North
sitting here at my kitchen table in the green morning light, listening to the endless downpour, drinking french roast with milk, thinking about the persona-poem session i have to lead this morning, smelling the sopping wet grass outside the open window, trying not to think about how long the grass is and how hard it will be to mow if the storm clouds ever do blow out to sea and the sun ever does shine in the disconsolate north
Sitting here at my Kitchen tableIn the green morning Light, listening to the Endless--Downpour, drinking French roast with milk, ThinkingAbout the persona-poem session I have to Lead this Morning--Smelling the sopping wet grass--outside the Open Window,Trying not to think about how Long the grass IsAnd how hard it will be to mow if the Storm-cloudEver do--Blow out to sea and the sun Ever doesShine in the Disconsolate North--
Table: green morning light: a downpourA downpourFrench roast with milkWet grass, open windowStorm cloudsAnd a Disconsolate North
Friday, May 20, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The reading was rigorous, made for poets, strong well muscled lines, phenomenal leaps of imagination. Hearing the poem, "Peter Walsh," out loud was like entering someone else's dream written in a modern echo of Virginia Woolf's musings (yes, at 20, I was a addict of Virginia's prose). We were transported, the audience breathing out at the end at the same time. It was a powerful rare moment of shared dream traveling. It was also a delight to see a such a close mentor and student, now colleagues, who have written and read each other so long, that there are echoes of each other in the work.
Monday, May 16, 2011
One might make a start today, this day, to tell the story of a life.
For a life must begin somewhere. Peter Walsh was his name;
and someone had written that name in thick white ink
beneath the image of a child in short pants who looked down
at his cupped hands, and in his hands sat an egg;
a goose egg, was it? or perhaps the egg of a large duck,
or perhaps simply a hen’s egg in a small boy’s hands?
And behind him, was the sea rolling? or was it a field of ripe
hay? And why had someone dropped a spotted scarf at his feet?
In the doorway, his mother tormented herself with dust and disarray:
yes, look at these photographs, waxy with dirt; piano filthy
as coal. And yet there was Peter. And yet there was herself.
A mother brings forth a child and calls him by name;
but what, in the story of his life, does her travail signify?
Merely nothing, perhaps. A signpost to wander away from.
Curtains spoke to wind; a fly complained. The parlor was empty
now but not silent. The kitchen intruded: click of china, rattle of steel.
Voices. On the pianoforte the snapshots smiled, or did not,
each fenced in its solitary room: once he was this age; then
he was that tall. His mother had scattered them with no particular intent.
She rarely saw them, for she saw her child every day as he was.
He rarely saw them, for as documents they had no meaning.
They were objects only, settled on the piano as dust also
settled there. Sometimes they shivered, gently, when Peter
struck the keys. But he did not watch them tremble.
One might make a start today, this day, to tell the story of a life.
For a life must begin somewhere, birth or otherwise,
and Peter’s life (as much as he thought of it) might thus far
have never begun at all, except as explained by its regalia
of framed smiles and comic punch lines, the shabby
trousers and terse adventures trapped in the snapshots
lining the dusty pianoforte (the soft-loud, he named it in his mind,
and sometimes he struck out the words, soft-loud-soft-loud
on the stained keys, like a password or an incantation,
for no one else seemed to notice them at all, these sounds
distracting him, sucking him away from the nothingness
of childhood: of chewing rhubarb and running haywire
across a stubbled field, of pissing against a tree and watching
his own hot stain leak down the bark runnels, quenching the dirt).
One might call life a tale of noticing: a span of intensities,
moments when we suddenly attend to eye or hand or ear;
more, they exact our attention, like an internal command:
Now you are alive. On the pianoforte Peter struck out the words
soft-loud-soft-loud in a sort of dream idleness,
fingertips against keys, muscles contracting, each pitch,
each duration, a subtle, unintended chant, and all the while
bees shimmered in the bright air outside the pocked
window, motes danced in the streaks of sunlight resting
like calm hands on the chairs and carpets, and Peter
lived it all, lived everything: in the parlor, in the unseen
rooms beyond, in the long, low gardens stretching
toward field and forest; and yet he lived none of it:
for life, the richness of earth, sought him out,
claimed his open eye, his voluntary ear, as he lingered
at the piano, striking soft-loud-soft-loud on the stained keys,
idle and untutored, shirttail thrust into his frayed
belt, a smear of green willow on the seat of his shorts.
In the kitchen his mother half-heard his plink-plonk-
plink-plonk; more, she felt it, like a tremor, an emanation,
safe and dull as a drip down a drainpipe:
a comfort, in truth; for now and then she faced
the facts of tedium with a sort of satisfaction,
a release from this ever-lasting hunt for bliss
that seemed, to her surprise, to have been her task
all these years of her life: chasing down the next
thing and the next, and was it squalor or success,
her plans for dinner and the garden and the fruits
of her own mind? She half-heard Peter’s plink-plonk
and half-felt the chimes of her own future clang
in step, then out of step with his idle fingers, uneven
as a ticking clock on a crooked shelf. On the porch
rail two jays sparred; new potatoes bubbled on the stove;
she was making salad, her hands tore lettuce; her hands
were red and worn; they were her grandmother’s hands.
How strange! She watched her grandmother’s hands tear
lettuce, the jays quarreled on the railing; a sparrow
cried, Oh, Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody; Peter played
two notes on the piano, and would he ever stop, would
they ride on and on forever, two notes clanging in the summer
air? It was unbearable, and she cried out, Stop it! If you’re
going to play the piano, play a song, for God’s sake!
and at the sound of her voice, the notes crumpled up
on themselves and vanished, as if they had never lived at all,
as if there were no such notes in the history of the world.
Somewhere a screen door snapped open, and shut.
Peter never thought to love his mother less because she
interrupted these small commas, these accidental
obsessions, which were not knowledge but merely time
stopped in its tracks, no more vital than sleep. His bicycle lay
on its flank in the dooryard, dead as a shot horse; he scooped it up,
he shook it back to life; he mounted and cantered down
the ragged lawn: sedate robins burst into flight, horrified;
he drove the bicycle harder, grinding into mole-holes, through humps
of weed; wind snatched at his hair; the bicycle lurched and galloped
under his hands and the forest rose up from the distance
and became tangles and trunks and shadow, and with a flourish
of tire, Peter pulled up his horse and threw it to the ground
and threw himself onto his back beside it and stared at the clouds,
which leapt in the air like starlings and swallows, until his eyes
shut of their own accord and he stared at the magic swirls
behind his eyelids that also leapt like birds, and it was not sleep,
not at all like sleep, but like gangster movies, in a way; and also
like getting sick on the merry-go-round; but it didn’t matter,
nothing mattered: there was not one thing more important
in this world than another, unless it was his knife, which had
three dull blades and a fold-out spoon. One might make a start
today, this day, to tell the story of a life; yet a life is the story
of nothing, the story of Peter on his back in the grass,
squirming a hand into the right hip pocket of his shorts,
curling his hand around the hidden lump of knife
that his mother had given him for his tenth birthday;
and nothing ever happened because of it: he never
killed anything with this knife; he never even cut himself;
and when he was sixteen, riding a wooden roller coaster
with his cousin, it fell out of his pocket, vanished into the salty
mud, and he never missed it, not once, for the rest of his life;
but a life is also the story of noticing just now, just at this moment,
what we never notice again: and just now the knife lay curled
in Peter’s palm and he caressed it blindly, with thumb and palm
and fingertip; he lay with his eyes closed and leaf-speckled sunlight
stippling his cheeks. A life is the story of nothing, yet once a watcher
believed a moment meant something more than nothing,
believed in the story of a child named Peter Walsh. It began,
that story, and ended, and no one ever knew what became of him,
the child who carried an egg in his hands, beside the sea.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
The Fiend’s Soliloquy
The truth is I leaked tears
the instant I laid eyes on you, my idle pair
of babes, plump as pomegranates,
sporting with your lions and tigers and such:
Only clay and water, I’m sure, but so realistic!—
all those wanton ringlets and kissable folds . . .
Well, any fool might mistake you for angels,
and I, though unfoolish,
admit a penchant for pretty faces
and a miracle. How ever does He do it?
Always, my thoughts pursue that wonder,
and you, mirror of my wonder,
you also they chase:
Why conceal it?
I could love you.
So shall I say
I’m sorry the wind has shifted
and grim winter lurks in the east?
Let me be frank, my doves:
Shall I, unpitied, pity you—
gathering your melons and rosebuds,
licking up your milky dregs of delight?
Call it love, if you prefer, but I will have you.
Does it cheer you to know
that likewise you will have me?
In the evening by the fire,
how we will argue, our shabby children
scampering amok among the ashes!
Poor chucks, should I,
at your silly sweetness, melt?
Well, I do. But too bad.
[from How the Crimes Happened
(CavanKerry Press, 2010)]
Saturday, May 14, 2011
To those who learned in school the definition of a plateau as "an elevated table-land" and who consequently visualize a plateau with a top like an immensely enlarged dining-table top and with steep sides up which one would have to climb to the smooth unbroken expanse of damask, it might be difficult to think of western Pennsylvania as a part of what geographers call "the Appalachian Plateau."
Friday, May 13, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
From "Tired Mothers" by May Riley (Mrs. Albert) Smith [1842-1927]I wonder so that mothers ever fretAt little children clinging to their gown;Or that the footprints, when the days are wet,Are ever black enough to make them frown.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Friday, May 6, 2011
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
To John ClareJohn ClareWell, honest John, how fare you now at home?The spring is come and birds are building nests,The old cock robin to the sty is comeWith olive feathers and its ruddy breast,And the old cock with wattles and red combStruts with the hens and seems to like some best,Then crows and looks about for little crumbsSwept out by little folks an hour ago;The pigs sleep in the sty, the book man comes,The little boy lets home-close nesting goAnd pockets tops and taws where daisies bloomTo look at the new number just laid downWith lots of pictures and good stories tooAnd Jack-the-giant-killer's high renown.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Sunday, May 1, 2011
So wild it was when we first settled here.
Spruce roots invaded the cellar like thieves.
Skunks bred on the doorstep, cluster flies jeered.
Ice-melt dripped shingles and screws from the eaves.
We slept by the stove, we ate meals with our hands.
At dusk we heard gunshots, and wind and guitars.
We imagined a house with a faucet that ran
From a well that held water. We canvassed the stars.
If love is an island, what map was our hovel?
Dogs howled on the mainland, our cliff washed away.
We hunted for clues with a broken-backed shovel.
We drank all the wine, night dwindled to grey.
When we left, a flat sunrise was threatening snow,
But the frost heaves were deep. We had to drive slow.
[first published in roger (2009); forthcoming in Same Old Story (CavanKerry Press)]