By Alan Dugan
Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
Oh I spat rage's nails
into the frame-up of my work:
It held. It settled plumb.
level, solid, square and true
for that one great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
but I planned it I sawed it
I nailed it and I
will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
to the left-hand cross-piece but
I can't do everything myself.
I need a hand to nail the right,
a help, a love, a you, a wife.
From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post, which continues online, though the spacing of poems in blockquotes invariably gets messed up so I always have to look the poems up elsewhere if I don't have them in a print books section. Sigh. "For those unlucky in romance, I offer this embittered, anti-love poem by Alan Dugan to relieve the sting of last week's heart-spattered holiday," writes Mary Karr, noting that the poem swipes its title from Martin Buber's "Ich und Du" -- a philosophical tract "which posits that only human relations lend life meaning. By loving others, the great 20th-century thinker contends, we engage with God -- our perpetual spouse, our Thou." Against that backdrop, Dugan's poem opens with a man in a shakily framed house...as his ire cranks up, so does the outrageousness of the building project. By the end, in a side-winding manner, Dugan admits that he's built his own misery. He's in charge of this mess -- aren't we all?"
I didn't sleep well and felt pretty horrible this morning from the cold that I'm the last member of my family to have caught, so I didn't go anywhere till after lunch, though Daniel had to be downtown at the National Building Museum's Discover Engineering Family Day to demonstrate the robot that his school's team built for last year's competition, and Adam volunteered at Hebrew school in the morning. When the latter got home, he explained that Club Penguin was having a Puffle Party and that there were pirate bandanas available if only I would follow him to the cove, and how could I say no to that?
We went downtown in the afternoon to get Daniel, stopping to visit the National Geographic Museum, which had an exhibit on Birds of North America in one building and one on Lions and Leopards in the other -- both with fantastic photography and illustrations, and the latter with several video displays as well. The great cat photos were amazing and the films were fascinating; at one point they watched a young leopard stalk and kill a monkey, only to discover that the monkey had been protecting a baby, and then it tried to take care of the infant and put it back in the tree. I had to get up and leave during the footage where a a pride of lions attacked an elephant, but the footage, shot at night with lenses I can only dream about, must be invaluable to people studying the habits of critically endangered great cats.
The Birds of North America exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, DC. The computer with the cardinal on the screen plays bird calls.
This illustration of bird migration patterns, painted by one of National Geographic's illustrators, includes Magellanic penguins to represent the only birds that migrate by swimming.
These birds are all extinct: clockwise from top left, the Passenger Pigeon, Labrador Duck, Carolina Parakeet, and Great Auk.
In a side exhibit on bird-watching and photography, a photo of Atlantic puffins.
Still photos and a viewscreen with video footage of the work of Dereck and Beverly Joubert, who spent more than 20 years studying lions and leopards in Africa.
Particularly distressing footage like a young leopard mauling a monkey was shown on a screen inside this mock jungle tent.
The photographic images, particularly the night shoots, are amazing.
This is the (post-fair late afternoon) interior of the National Building Museum, where older son spent the day.
After dinner, as has somehow become our Saturday night habit, we watched the original Battlestar Galactica on the Retro Channel. It was a really bad episode about a bunch of kids who want to trade Starbuck to the Cylons to save their father, one which I had blocked out till they started reciting the singsong that told the kids what to do during the rescue. It had Audrey Landers as a guest star in what was probably the first role I ever saw her in, before Fantasy Island and Dallas. I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed this week's Battlestar Galactica on Sci-Fi...and I'm not sure the women's roles were particularly worse, either.