Sunday, July 31, 2011

Pure Michigan

We're baaaaaack. We spent a week with family wamily in Pure Michigan, as it says on the state sign at the border. Ever since we gathered as a large family wamily 8 years ago, to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary, we've been re-gathering for a week in various locations, in recent years, Michigan.

This year we were in a lake house in the woods with wooden steps down to a private beach, which meant that I sometimes went down in my jammies. Mostly in swimsuit & sunscreen, though.

Great time talking, swimming, reading, sunning, drinking, floating, eating, drinking, boogie boarding...and just being together.

Sympathique is the Pink Martini album that Sarah Jane likes. (You can buy it here or here! Or in vinyl here!) It's got a wonderfully eerie version of "Que Sera Sera" and that title song, partly about smoking, based on a poem by Apollinaire!

So, yes, next year, we will either be roller skating under the Eiffel Tower in Paris...or return to the Michigan lake house!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hang On Little Tomato

I love Pink Martini! I first found out about this wonderful band from my Aunt Martha! 

She called my attention to “Hey, Eugene,” a crazy wonderful funny song with its own album, and I was hooked. 

So hooked that I also now have the solo album by lead singer China Forbes.

Another favorite is “Hang On Little Tomato,” which also has its own album. On this one I hum along to “Clementine,” “Lilly” (dog or woman, that’s what I want to know!), and “The gardens of sampson & beasley.”

I love this band for 1) China’s voice 2) wonderfully various instrumentals 3) charming tunes 4) lyrics in multiple languages and 5) Eugene. (Hm, where is Eugene?)

Anyway, this is a prelude to asking you to “hang on, little tomato,” in case 1) I don’t post your comment right away and/or 2) I don’t post a new blog entry for a while.

It will be a weird, possibly incommunicado time with intermittent internet, but I will be reading 1) more Philip K. Dick and 2) other stuff. And still writing.

Also there will be a family wamily poetry reading + a big Escape Into Life party to celebrate the brief and shining life of founding editor Chris Al-Aswad.

Meanwhile the big and little tomatoes are hanging on (as on the cover of this book by Terra Brockman, The Seasons on Henry’s Farm) or falling off and being eaten, sliced or in sandwiches, as in my folks’ garden.

Possibly I will find recipes for 1) Filipino-style Chinese donuts and 2) pink martinis. If so, I will share them, so hang on!

P.S.  I finished The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, by Michael Chabon, and read the glossary! So I know that shtekeleh means “a little stick” and is indeed based on bicho bicho!

P.P.S. There are blogs about everything! Here is the Hang On Little Tomato blog. And here is a joyful blog with a Pink Martini in it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Owls & Goals

The past couple of days, while swimming laps in the early morning, the water the same temperature as the air, I have been musing on small goals. Lately, the lap swim lanes at the pool have been crowded--no doubt partly because of the heat, but also, perhaps, because of small personal goals.

People who planned to lap swim regularly but suddenly realized the summer is already slipping away. People who are participating in triathlons, now in training for the swimming part.

Except for post-biopsy week and a couple travel days, I have been there every day the pool was open (that is, not on theft day and not when there was lightning). I realize I'm like those runners who run in all weathers! I've been there when the air was in the 60s, shivering when I got out, shivering on the ride home, but swimming anyway!

I am steady and regular, swim at a constant pace, and this is basically how I live my life. It's like the patience and persistence with which I pursue poetry, or anything else.

And it lacks small goals. So did my other "careers." There weren't milestones, there weren't specific things I wanted to achieve. I just wanted, simply, to do what I love doing and make a living at it. Sigh....

I stumbled upon some major achievements! Became part of the Steppenwolf Theatre's Second Company and  did mainstage shows there when I was a "struggling actress" as they say. Co-edited a literary magazine for a decade! And I'm glad of that. But none of this helped me "make a living," as in support myself financially, at what I love doing. And I haven't been able to turn my head around, like a wise old owl (?), to any other way of looking at it.

I still think my head's on straight, though. I'm OK in spirit. This is what I am, and I am still going along swimmingly.

Three things have reinforced me in this, in wildly different ways, yesterday and today--making me laugh, wince, and nod in assent. Take a look at this wonderful article by David Graham on Emily Dickinson's "barefoot rank," this funny poster on misery at Book of Kells, and this wonderful poem by Hannah Stephenson, called "After After." Read the poem, and then click on the small title under the poem's title to see the image. Sigh...

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I am reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon! On p. 172 I fell in love with a fictional food, shtekeleh, the Filipino-style Chinese donut. Believe me, I Googled it, just in case it wasn't fictional.

Here is my request:

If you are a fabulous cook, will you please create this thing? I have not finished this book, so if there is pertinent plot info related to the shtekeleh--a word I cannot spell--please don't post a spoiler! I will get there. In the meantime, I am hoping for shtekeleh to one day be a real thing in the world.

I direct my request to all, but in particular:

1) My book group, which contains some fabulous cooks!
2) Chef Ashley Simone, of Foodgasm (or her mother, who can tell her!)
3) Carmelita, of CookItaly (even though this is not even fictionally Italian)
4) Bacon and Chocolate (because, why not?)
5) Market to Menu (because we could use some healthy, locally grown Filipino-style Chinese donuts, warm in the early mornings, at the Farmers Market, right?)

Anyhoo, this has been a presentation of Fat Tuesday, brought to you on a Thor's Day in the blog.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stealing Dust, Shining Lives

In the past few days I’ve read Stealing Dust, a book of poems by Karen J. Weyant, and These Shining Lives, a play by Melanie Marnich.  Both are about working people, factory life, and the families of people who work hard for a living, and both focus on working women.

Stealing Dust is set in the steel and paper mills, factories, and coal mines of small town Pennsylvania. These Shining Lives are the lives of women working at the Radium Dial company in Ottawa, Illinois, who literally glowed, alas, and got sick from radium poisoning and cancer.

I have seen Radium City, a documentary by Carole Langer, so I know that particular story is sad and gets worse.  The play by Melanie Marnich tells the truth in a creative-nonfiction-docudrama kind of way, and is poignant with an uplift connected to the bravery of women standing up to the company with a lawsuit.

Weyant’s poems tell the truth about small town life, its joys and disappointments, yearnings and mistakes. And factory dust! While the canaries-in-the-mines are here, and open-eyed awareness of the ill effects of industrial pollution, I get the strong feeling that most of these people will make it through their hardworking lives, while the “radium girls” mostly did not.

Radium girls used to put the paintbrush in their mouths to make it come to a fine point for painting the numbers on Westclox alarm clocks and wristwatches that would glow in the dark.

Sometimes the radium girls painted their nails with this radioactive paint.

In Stealing Dust, it’s useless to put on red lipstick (in “Makeup at Midnight”) because nobody cares, nobody notices. The men in the factory are concentrated on the machines, the quotas, the end of the shift. In “Beauty Tips from the Girls on 3rd Shift,” we learn that “Brillo pads will get rid of most of the dirt on your hands.”  And…

Wear red polish. The color hides dark stains and dirt,
especially grime that gets pushed back where hard nail
meets soft skin, that place a metal file can’t find.

These Shining Lives specifies in the cast list that “everyone is in their mid- to late twenties,” because so many of the radium girls died young.  Ottawa is still troubled by radioactivity, affecting kids, grownups, pets, and wildlife.

Stealing Dust concerns itself with mill towns people want to leave and livelihoods people must keep.  (The need to making a living is also what kept people in Ottawa, still working with radium-based paint when the plant re-opened as Luminous Processes.) “The Youngest Girl on 3rd Shift” is a na├»ve 18-year-old who has to work on “press number 69” and doesn’t get the sex joke. “The Oldest Woman on 3rd Shift” has arthritis in her hands “and her legs are bent, like a child with rickets,” but she “can still load three furnaces at once…[and] still flirts with Mike, / the head machinist, by stealing his cigarettes.”

I praise works of literature like these that help me know about and care about the people, working hard, often in good faith, trying hard to make a living. Both Weyant and Marnich give us gritty truths about luminous women, and we always need this kind of wake up call.

For new poems by Karen J. Weyant, see her feature up today at Escape Into Life! With images by Pennsylvania photographer Mark Cohen, who says his photos are “not easy pictures. But I guess that’s why they’re mine.”

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Air, Conditioning, & Air Conditioning

For his 60th birthday, I gave my husband some air conditioning. That is, I spoke to the repairman and paid him, and learned about the leak, the new kind of (safer) "freon" in the pink canister, the kind that is less harmful to the ozone layer than the old Freon-12, and that fits our new energy-saving unit, and so on. I also baked him that lemon & chocolate cake and cupcakes, right before the heat wave, the one we are having now, with the "feels like 110" temps. 

This is the one week a year we will use the AC, so I had to get it going! 

He gave himself a new doorknob, having removed the existing one on the door between kitchen and garage, leaving a fine round hole, which actually worked better than the previous doorknob. This was a longstanding problem with cheap door & mickey mouse doorknob, exacerbated each summer by heat and humidity. 

Now it is fixed until the poor fit of the cheap door causes the next set of problems and/or until the fabulous husband finds the perfect new door at Menards.

Meanwhile, my daughter continues her volleyball conditioning--summer weight lifting, running, etc.--after last night's league game in a hot warehouse. She's grown up so much since being afraid of everything except the air, the wild claim I made in this poem, first published in Drought, an online magazine that no longer exists.  

Oddly enough, I wrote it before our house fire, and she did know where to meet, the big pine tree in front of the house, near the sidewalk.

The Air

 My daughter is afraid
of everything

except the air.
At night she cannot sleep

unless she clutches
my fingers through the bars

of her bed.  When the siren
wails its warning

we go down
to the basement, bring

blankets and zebra
or the red velveteen bear.

In kindergarten
she learns to crawl along the floor

and reach up
to feel if the doorknob is hot.

She knows where
we will meet

when the house burns down,
when there is nothing left

but the air.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sewn In

Cool use of needle & thread by Agustina Woodgate in this little video and article, posted by a fellow Facebooker. Makes me want to write 1) a line worthy of sewing in and/or 2) a poem short enough to be a clothing label!

Speaking of short poems, here is another cool writing thing to close out the long, hot summer! A postcard-length poem a day in August, really sending the poems on postcards! Like the old fashioned chain letter, but not 1) illegal or 2) involving money, except you need stamps and postcards!

Not so cool here in muggy central Illinois today, but so far the cloud cover is keeping it not as hot as yesterday. Good thing, as when we turned on our AC last night--usually we only use the air conditioner one week a year, the hot, muggy week, and this is it!--it did nothing. I think this happens every year the first day we try it, but the AC repairman is coming today to do whatever he does.

Meanwhile, my husband is celebrating his 60th birthday by replacing his anti-sway bar link. That's a car part.

Spool of thread, courtesy Jonathan Koch!


Ah, it's raining! That'll cool things off!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Balsam Blooming

The balsam has begun blooming in its bed in my yard. It started with the palest of pink blooms, and now a Pepto-Bismal peppermint pink has also opened. Hot pink is next, still tightly curled in its buds, but soon to unfurl.

This is a flower from Victorian gardens, from Emily Dickinson's garden. It is sensitive of seed pod, known as touch-me-not in some circles because the seeds will explode from the pod if touched. It is generous of frilly bloom. Its edges are like the ruffles on some lingerie sold in Victoria's Secret catalogs.

You will want to read or listen to Billy Collins's poem "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes," perhaps, on this Sunday morning. If so, here it is at the Writer's Almanac.

To get the book it's in, you can go here, or find it also in Picnic, Lightning. To purchase the lingerie, go here. I don't know about those shoes. They scare me.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Put a Hedgehog In It

Or a frigate bird.

Truly, if you want hits on your blog, happen to write about hedgehogs. Better yet, put in a hedgehog image. Later, check your stats.

It's Saturday, or as I like to say here in the blog, Slattern Day. I try to be untidy if not downright lazy.

But my neighbor came over, engaged my husband in trimming the dead branches of another neighbor's tree (she's in a nursing home), and so I dragged a lot of branches to the front for city pickup.

There were those moments of concentration like prayer in which I willed the power saw to stay in the branch and away from my husband's fingers, and this worked.

It's possible I will be untidy in the kitchen soon, before the great predicted heat descends on us, baking chocolate and lemon cupcakes and cake layers for some kind of creative checkerboard of celebration. My husband turns 60, with all his fingers, on Monday. But we will celebrate whenever the cake gets baked.

Hmm, maybe I should put a hedgehog in it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Town for the Trees

I've been reading Town for the Trees, poems by Justin Evans, with a gorgeous photograph of his own--trees in a graveyard--as the cover art. It's a lovely book, primarily "poems of place," as they say, mainly Springville, Utah, where the poet grew up, but also Nevada, where he lives now.

I like the talking quality of these poems, as if the poem's voice is speaking directly to me, straight on, trusting me with his observations, interpretations, evaluations, and, yes, personal history. He names the girls of his past--Emily Jensen, drowned. Kathy Greene, Cindy Peterson.

Here's the opening stanza of the opening poem, "In Twilight":

I will go, walking down the dark canyon road
softened beneath a malleable sun.  Once more,
one final descent into the valley of my home.

I hear other voices, other men, poets, who have spoken to me this straightforwardly, in light or somber, measured tones.  William Butler Yeats--"I will arise and go now..."  Robert Frost, William Stafford.

Here's a favorite stanza from a favorite poem, "Dawn Psalm, Salt Flats":

A man might walk into the morning
a thousand times and still not see
this same color or know the pleasure
of learning its name.

These poems of place also capture the community truths, as in "Singing Back the River"--"With farmers / it's either too much rain or not enough"--so the diction of the book as a whole can easily sustain the ready-phrase alongside a more personal lyricism--"The past is a thief / escaping on the wings of blackbirds" (from "Nevada Wildlife.")

You can see more samples and excerpts at Justin Evans's page at Foothills Publishing and at his blog, One Man's Trash. Or read other readers' reactions in these blog posts by Sandy Longhorn and Kristin Berkey-Abbott. And Evans edits an online journal of poetry and place, Hobble Creek Review.

If you really, really love towns, I have more for you! Here's a mini-review at Fiddler Crab (the "featured short review" on righthand side of page) of Eros Among the Americans, by Christopher Cessac, a fun romp through American towns with great names like Eros, Romance, and Amor.

Yes, it's a woolly mammoth, in a painting titled Lincoln, Illinois--10 acres per head by Michael Roch, and I stuck my arm up inside the ancient tusk of a woolly mammoth discovered in a creek in Lincoln, Illinois! Really! A couple years ago. (My life is hard to explain.)

You can buy this book and read samples on Cessac's page at Main Street Rag!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Charley Horse

When I was girl in Kearney, Nebraska, my dad played on a summer softball league. One day he got a charley horse! "What's a charley horse?" I asked, and he tried to explain to me the injury that was a cramp in his hamstring.  "What's a hamstring?"

Today, in the beautiful 74-degree cool perfect blue-sky summer day outdoors, I finished reading Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball, and the Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had, by Edward Achorn, who recently came to town and threw out the first pitch for a Cornbelters game.

I so enjoyed this book and reading it during baseball season. Learning how the game was played in the 1880s, finding out about the scanty rules and equipment, and coming to admire the somewhat sullen and eccentric but dedicated baseball player known as "Old Hoss" who retired to Bloomington, Illinois and is buried here in Evergreen Cemetery.

Achorn handles the history so well! Whatever is confirmed fact is confirmed in the book by stats, quotations, appendix, etc., and whatever is likely but not certain is gently acknowledged as such. And I like the way he handles baseball legends, as in the case of the "charley horse."  Achorn in his Epilogue:

As Old Hoss became a mythic figure, legends formed around his name. In 1907, an oft-told tale appeared in print about an incident during one of the famous Boston-Providence battles. Radbourn, running the bases, had sped around third when his leg cramped up and he had to limp home. Sandy Nava, "a Spaniard, who spoke broken English," piped up: "What's a malla you, Charley Hoss?" That's how the term "charley horse" entered sports lingo, supposedly. 


You can get this book at Amazon, of course, and also in the gift shop of the McLean County Museum of History!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Glass Menagerie

When I was a little girl, I started a glass collection, just like Laura's in The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams. I still have it, but, at the moment it is wrapped in tissue and tucked away in boxes. This is a glass menagerie that survived a house fire even though it was in the room where the fire started and the room that sustained the most damage.

It also survived the lifting, by a fire fighter, of the curio cabinet in which it was kept, when he moved it away from the fireplace wall and the brunt of the hoses. Not a piece was broken!

I mention this because of yesterday's mention of a building collapse, which has had numerous follow-up stories in the newspaper, including this one about a glassblower being spared his life, if not his glass or equipment, because it was just too hot to work that day! Whew!

Meanwhile, in water news, we were able to swim our laps this morning, in a calm pool, the area lawns and gardens also benefiting from a good soaking rain last night. The break-in at the pool was likely to have been young people, as "there was candy everywhere." They broke into the concession stand, stole cash, and tampered with but did not actually take the rescue equipment. Whew!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cherries for Breakfast

Well, it's an odd Fat Tuesday in the blog. We've had some hot days here and a heat advisory, and the local pools are a popular place, but, alas, will the Fairview Aquatic Center open this afternoon? We lap swimmers arrived to two police cars this morning, and stressed staff dealing with a break-in and theft of the pool's emergency and rescue equipment. No laps for the not yet weary.

So I came home and had cherries for breakfast, outside, before the return of abundant heat. In celebration, here is a new painting from Jonathan Koch, who allows me to illustrate my blog with his wonderful paintings. Go buy one here!

Sometimes people collapse in the heat, but you don't expect a building to fall over. Yesterday, though, one did, in downtown Bloomington. A woman was trapped inside a neighboring building but rescued, and the Illinois Department of Transportation came in to inspect the bridge that also received some of the rubble. It's a comfort to know our twin cities have such good emergency and rescue operations in place, ready to go. Thanks to all who helped, and best wishes for full recovery for those injured and stressed by this unexpected event.

Reminds me of when my kids fell over when small and, to help them not get too scared if they were clearly OK, I'd just say, "Fell over!" And we got back on our feet and on with our fun.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Watch This Space

Yet another wonderful morning of lap swim, space program, and NPR, including a "parking lot moment" (just like a "driveway moment") to listen to another story on the last flight of the Atlantis, and last flight altogether of the space shuttle.

It was nice to hear clarified in this interview that the public still thinks of the astronauts as heroes and the space program as being about "space exploration," even if the realities include more benefits re: pure science, military/industrial complex, Cold War (now done), and if some consider the current phase of the program a "disappointment" since it did not reduce the costs of space travel. "How could it?" one wonders, given 1) the technology involved 2) the economy 3) the dangers of any kind of cost-cutting re: safety of astronauts.

Again today the coverage made clear that no one really knows what's next in the space program. As the interview cleverly put it, "Watch this space."

I watched a colorful rubber-band ball bounce toward me off my windowsill this morning when I finally came inside once a brief rain blew in--very brief, but the breeze was lovely. Then the rain stopped, and I went out to hose-shower the impatiens, columbine, violets, sweet william, and yellow poppy that had not got anything through the leaves of the trees and overhang of the roof...

...and watched this space on my front stoop fill with Magnolia: A Journal of Women's Literature, with my poem "Lazy Heart" in it! Yes, "Lazy Heart" is, in part, about the space program! And, more overtly, about civil rights and the walk from Selma to Birmingham.

"Lazy heart" is a condition suffered by astronauts, and in the poem I also apply it to the bishop who advised people to stay home rather than join in the march, despite the plea from his fellow clergyman, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Amazingly, this was all happening at the same time, in a kind of Random Coinciday in our U.S. history.

I am so moved that editor Gayle Brandeis quotes the end of my poem saying these lines could be "the theme song" of this collection. Wow! "Mother Muriel would be so proud," she goes on, about the writers in this book. To be linked to Muriel Rukeyser is a real honor; she's the one who said, "What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open."

You can hear writers read work from this volume here, at Her Circle Ezine, and order the book here, at Amazon.  You can read about Gus Grissom, the "Molly Brown" Gemini flight, and his other accomplishments and tragic death here. Poor Gus.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Habiliments of Angels

There's something about scary...poetry! If you want to read some, here's "Friar Laurence's Last Confession" by Donna Vorreyer in the new issue of Borderline (which is really on the borderline!). Since I just saw Romeo and Juliet again, at the outdoor Illinois Shakespeare Festival, specific images were in my mind of Juliet in the tomb...and then knocked loose by Donna's poem!

Also just up is the new issue of Right Hand Pointing, the Habiliments of Angels issue #42, taking its subtitle this time from Corey Mesler's poem, "Max's Sleep," a lovely, scary elegy.  At RHP, you can always see more by clicking "Next," via the little pointing hand, or finding your way to various starting points.

I have two poems in this issue, too: "Paperless Cuts," about having to be a witness who cannot help except through empathy and moral support (as angels sometimes are, as in the film Wings of Desire) and "Happens to the Best of Us," which also has some helpless empathy in it.

Now that RHP editor Dale Wisely has put it in the Habiliments of Angels issue, this poem has turned around for me, and I see the good woman as an accidental angel for the city, after all!

Angel via Art Propelled, wonderful artist blog!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Hudson 175

The little town of Hudson, Illinois is celebrating the 175th year of its founding, and I was there!

I love a parade!

Families sat by the side of the road to receive candy tossed from people walking and others riding on various vehicles, including tractors, tractor-pulled wagons, mule-drawn wagons, fire trucks, emergency vehicles, police cars, old cars, and two gigantic tubular trucks with hoses for septic removal followed by a walking skunk!

A large winking Dalmatian waved from a firetruck.

I shook hands with various local politicians, and one was being driven by a retired judge I swim with. (Small lap swimming world!)

Swing dancing by the Infamous Backsteppers! A bagpipe band, the Prairie Thistle, in kilts and knee socks! An elephant! (Not a live one, a Republican one.)  Boy scouts, Cub scouts, and 4-H'ers!

What a thrill.  And residents 90 and up were driven by in classic cars, so we got to wave to our neighbor Gus Ziebarth, local farmer, who is 94!

There were horses and ponies in glitter shoes. They pooped in the road!

Plus, Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln waved to us from their horse-drawn carriage.

I met a descendant of Dr. Silas Hubbard, who had donated oldtime medical instruments to the library, along with some medications made from herb, lead, and ergot in little tubes, the kind of thing that might have exacerbated President Lincoln's I hope he gave them a good talking to after the parade.

I will head back this afternoon to see my mom in the cemetery. She'll be alive there, playing the role of Juliana Read Hubbard, wife of Dr. Hubbard, in the Hudson 175 Cemetery Walk.

These Hubbards are indeed related to Elbert Hubbard of A Message to Garcia and the Roycroft Press.

Instead of resting in between these historic events, I went to the Sugar Creek Arts Festival in beautiful Uptown Normal, and it's a beautiful hot, sunny, lovely day for that, too.  The arts festival continues tomorrow.  More info here. far I haven't been much of a slattern on this Slattern Day in the blog! I'll try to make up for it later, lounging in the back yard.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mission Control

Today is the scheduled last flight of the space shuttle, depending on the weather. Beautiful here, so I send good weather wishes along with my safe travel wishes to the astronauts and NASA.

It's also a Random Coinciday in the blog, a day to pre-order Sex on the Moon, by Ben Mezrich, from Amazon. Ben Mezrich is the guy who wrote The Accidental Billionaires, on which the movie The Social Network is based.

Hmm, maybe I should accidentally read that!

Meanwhile, the Yiddish Policemen have landed at my house, for free, thanks to Amazon Prime, which I announce to my book group gals whose books I ordered.

Sex on the Moon might be a little about sex on the moon, but it's mainly about stealing moon rocks and going to prison for it.

NPR was covering the last space shuttle flight as I drove to and from lap swimming, and one fellow spoke about what we had hoped to learn from our space program, which he summed up as rather little. Then he spoke about what we might do next, mentioning space tourism, etc. Later, another guy, speaking of safety and rescue issues, explained that only 4 astronauts are going as only 4 can be safely brought back to earth after maybe hanging out at the space station for a while.

All this 1) reminded me of the science fiction I have been reading lately, and in my youth 2) made me urgently sad all over again about the Challenger and other losses 3) gave me a lingering poignant feeling about the space program and its purposes.

I recall the competitive aspect, to compete with Russia and Sputnik, and the military knowledge aspect, and the business aspect (jobs, money). But I also recall the awe, the desire for knowledge for what's out there! And how the science fiction of my youth truly captured that! I still want to know what's out there.

In random coincidii mode:

"Sputnik is up there, I think--", a poem by Richard Fox at Escape Into Life

"The Rocket Man" by Ray Bradbury, in The Illustrated Man

Background music: "Rocket Man" by Elton John and "Space Oddity" by David Bowie

Sometimes I swim in a lane by the pipe surging water into the pool, so when I am doing breast stroke toward the wall, I am suspended, going nowhere, till I break through that artificial current.

I feel like a rocket man, lost in space....

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Swagger & Remorse

I've been re-reading Swagger & Remorse, a book of poems by Richard Fox that I read a few weeks ago while preparing his poetry feature at Escape Into Life, up now with fabulous photographs by Katinka Matson (that are actual flowers reproduced by scanner!). This one is called Spiders.

And pondering (sometimes while lap swimming) the phrase "swagger & remorse," which has a terrible perfection to it.

I hate "swagger" in myself and am uncomfortable around it in others, and so often, yes, it is accompanied by remorse. Or followed by it, often quickly, as in the shaking of salt & pepper onto one's food.


Am having Coke & meatloaf:

everything is too salty--
there is such salt

to make everything
taste like something:

does taste like something:
tastes like salt


I remember some of the poems in this book from their appearance first in journals: "Medusa/Superman" in Court Green, "There were multiple things we did in all the wrong order" (a line that might describe my own life!) in Diagram, and "Cinderella" which we took when I was at RHINO, so I probably also recognize others from that particular submission, too.

In fact, I wonder if that was a moment of "swagger & remorse," as "Cinderella" is here titled by its first line, "The dead shall know the dead by their shoes," as are many in this book, and sometimes, when there was disagreement in the group during our decision-by-committee process, we'd ask a poet to re-title a poem, etc. Well, it's done now, and no doubt Richard Fox has a way of accepting it, as in this (otherwise untitled) poem:

If your house is on a hill, it's because someone decided it would be.

If your body feels tense, then it is.

You leaned for so long against your hall locker that your grade school principal said

       You holding that wall up

You wanted to talk to me, but could not find the time;

looked for the vanishing point & saw none.

I am getting ready now to age.

Everything is fearless in the wind.

Thanks to you, I have never walked into the same room twice.

This is a gorgeous book, melancholy, precise, and wise. It feels like a sustained elegy, and is indeed a book-length series of meditations and observations, some titled and some simply beginning. The table of contents is a poem in itself, therefore.

I might quote anything from the book to show you its beauty and melancholy, but I will quote one last poem in  full, choosing it because I once wrote a poem to my son with the phrase "Choose happiness" in it, so this resonates in that personal way with me and, I hope, in a personal-that-is-universal way with you.

So, another by Richard Fox, from Swagger & Remorse, a Tebot Bach book:

Happiness is in the smallest hands.

Where could you be when the air smells of boxwood;
the new-mown lawn of watermelon.

What could it be when sweat bands your shirt
before clouds genuflect in front of the sun.

What turns happily large & luminous, suffers the little ones
to touch the skin of others,

rises & falls in the happy atmosphere.


You can't.
You won't.
You will.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Maze of Daisies

I'm not giving up on Dick! Having just read UBIK, I'm now reading A Maze of Death, by Philip K. Dick, who seems like a really great guy. Though dead, and surely now really discovering what that's like.

In A Maze of Death, people go as a small group to another planet--also part of the plot in UBIK--but now they are getting picked off one by one, as in a murder thriller.

Will a detective arrive in a noser (small spaceship with only enough fuel for a one-way trip) to sort it all out?! Or is it all a metaphor for death? (That seems likely, given the title. Don't tell me, though!)

In both books, it's important to stick together. People die when they go off by themselves....

It's interesting to note the parallels and to discover Dick's obsessions. I see why people like him, and how these novels can turn out as really cool movies. I know (from Wikipedia) that a film version of UBIK is in the works! It's great that the age of special effects can handle Dick's ideas about perception and alternate versions of reality. What is reality?

Answering a comment from Kim, I tried to clarify something about my preference for realistic fiction, as it's true I have complained before about 1) easy happy endings in feel-good or genre fiction and 2) fiction that is really disguised autobiography. She is reading Widow for One Year, by John Irving, in which characters discuss writing and particularly fiction based on real people and real events...

I think science fiction writers, just like realistic fiction writers, might easily base characters on real people they've observed, or people similar to themselves or versions/aspects of self, or composite characters drawn from real life.

Write what's at hand, so to speak.

What I admire and desire, then, I guess, is the transcendence of self through art. That might sound uppity! I mean that I find it disappointing to learn that such and such a novel is a roman a clef, unless it was a really, really funny satire. If it's a personal vendetta, or an achingly sensitive self exposure, then, pfft! I still sound uppity. Well, pfft! on me then.

Meanwhile, 1) my flowerbeds are a maze of Gloriosa daisies and 2) I am still reading the baseball book (but it's hardcover and signed, so not poolside or lakeside). And soon, for book group, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer on Speed-dial

As soon as July hits, summer starts speeding by, each day calling up the next, or the last, as if on speed-dial.

I'll think I have all the time in the world, and suddenly I'll be taking my daughter in for her sports physical and registering her for fall semester. Big housecleaning plans fall through. Summer writing deadlines come up too fast, like road signs. I almost miss the turn! And so on.

I almost titled this Summer on Speed, as I've begun the summer reading of Philip K. Dick, planned since a great boxful of books arrived from college friend Doug, and Dick apparently sometimes wrote on speed, or so says Wikipedia.

I read Ubik with a faint feeling of familiarity, as if indeed I'd read it some previous summer. Since it folds back in time and suspends reality, I couldn't be sure and I couldn't remember what might happen next, but I expected to be left hanging...and was.

That's often my reaction to metaphysical science fiction, a feeling of vague disappointment. You've got a good story going in a realm of utter fantasy, where you can make it all work out, Mr. Author. Why don't you? I know that's not quite fair. And I hate when it works out just to be parallel to an existing religion, usually Christianity.

What seems to me to be the greater challenge, to read or to write, is realistic literary fiction. At least when things don't quite work out there, I am affirmed in my own experience of life, and might have picked up a few pointers on how or how not to cope with that. Again, I read to learn how to live. In this world, in this life.

So that's my bias.

Nonetheless, I am now reading A Maze of Death, also by Philip K. Dick, and will take the VALIS trilogy with me, to share, on a beach week later this summer. I think my dad might like Dick, too, especially this A Maze, where the Author's Foreword states, "The theology in this novel is not an analog of any known religion. It stems from an develop an abstract, logical system of religious thought, based on the arbitrary postulate that God exists."

We'll see.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Resurrection on the 4th of July

Red, white, & blue Monday in the blog.

Lovely weekend with family wamily. Swimming, talking, eating, go-carts in the rain.

Plus City Museum of St. Louis.  A total wow experience!  I climbed higher (on ladders and spokes) and lower (down tunnels of rock) than I ever imagined I would with these old bones!

But we were insulated from the bad news about the Exxon oil spill in the Yellowstone River and came home to that awareness. Sigh...

So here is a poem from Living on the Earth. For some reason coming-back-to-life after a period of distance and numbness hits home with a number of readers/hearers. It may capture the mixed mood I feel right now, with the actual fireworks audible in the hometown distance as I type.

Resurrection on the 4th of July

I can't reach anyone anymore,
bound hand and foot by graveclothes.

On the deck under the grapevines
a tall thin man who makes flowerboxes
from fallen tree branches
offers me half a Weiss beer
with a slice of lemon in a paper cup.

I avoid my husband, my old friends.
They don't see the miracle,
they only recoil from the stench
of what's over.
                         I sit on the cooler
till someone needs another beer,
then plunge my dead fingers into the ice
for a stranger.

My face is bound about by a napkin
to keep my jaw from hanging open

in perpetual awe.

The man who writes about jazz
gives me a plate of blackberries.
One by one they dissolve on my tongue.
My belly still functions, my womb lunges for a child
running down the wooden steps.

Fireworks begin in the alley,
a great spoked wheel of flame
between the fence boards.

No one notices the light.
Maybe I've come too far from the stone.

Friday, July 1, 2011

I'm Outside

Here comes the holiday weekend! Swimming and fun and eating and probable cupcakes! I hope you USA celebrants of the Independence Day weekend have lots of fun and safe travels.

Lately, I spend most of each day outdoors. I take books, journal, pens, paper outside and write at the picnic table on the patio until the sun takes it over, then move a chair under a tree and continue.

I get up, water flower beds, pull weeds.

Hang the wet swimsuit, dry my hair in the breeze.

Polish the dagger and white holster. (Oh, wait, that's Halle Berry.)

Go in and out the house for ongoing chores, bring the laundry basket outside to fold the clothes in the sun.

Run errands, visit the sick.

It's summer. I cannot make myself stay indoors!

This is my usual rhythm since childhood. School year, indoors. Summer, outdoors. As a grown-up, during the teaching years, this academic schedule still worked, and I am still in it...until the next rhythmic change.

So, anyway, if you don't hear from me, I'm outdoors, and I don't have a laptoppy thingey of whatever G would Grab the internet out there. (3G and 4G are powers of "Grab," right?)

Grab the day! (And, yes, it's a Fat Tuesday on a holiday Friday!)