Sunday, July 19, 2009

Poem for Sunday

Madonna and Child, Perryton, Texas, 1967
By B.H. Fairchild

A litter of pickups nose into Sancho's Market
south of town late Friday night rinsed in waves
of pink neon and samba music from some station
in Del Rio spilling out across the highway.
Sancho's wife dances alone behind the cash box
while her daughter, Rosa, tries to quiet her baby
whose squalls rip through the store like a weed cutter
shredding the souls of the carnal, the appetitious,
indeed the truly depraved as we in our grievous
late-night stupor and post-marijuana hunger
curse the cookie selection and all its brethren
and Al yells at Leno lost among the chips,
beef jerky, string cheese, bananas for chrissakes,
that if he doesn't stop now and forever telling
Okie jokes he will shoot his dog who can't hunt
anyway so what the hell, but the kid is unreal,
a cry ascending to a shriek, then a kind
of rasping roar, the harangue of the gods,
sirens cleaving the air, gangs of crazed locusts
or gigantic wasps that whine and ding our ears
until the air begins to throb around us
and a six-pack of longnecks rattles like snakes
in my hand. And then poor Rosa is kissing
its forehead, baby riding her knee like a little boat
lost at sea, and old Sancho can't take it either,
hands over his ears, Dios mio, ya basta! Dios mio,
so Rosa opens her blouse, though we don't look,
and then we do, the baby sucking away, plump cheeks
pumping, billowing sails of the Santa Maria
in a high wind, the great suck of the infinite
making that little nick, nick sound, Rosa
smiling down, then Sancho turns off the radio
and we all just stand there in the light and shadow
of a flickering flourescent bulb, holding
our sad little plastic baskets full of crap,
speechless and dying a little inside as Rosa
whispers no llores, no llores, mija, mijita,
no llores
, and the child falls asleep, lips
on breast, drops of milk trickling down,
we can even hear it breathing, hear ourselves
breathing, the hush all around and that hammer
in our chests so that forty years later
this scene still hangs in my mind, a later work,
unfinished, from the workshop of Zurbaran.


"This poem was triggered by a visit to the Renaissance and Baroque rooms at the Metropolitan Art Museum, and in particular by my response to the paintings of Francisco de Zurbarán," writes Fairchild in Poet's Choice. "It is not unusual for the composition of a poem to have its own rewards, and in this one I was interested to watch a rather detailed nativity scene take shape at the close of the poem, although in this case we have, instead of the three wise men, the three idiots." The poem is from Usher: Poems, released this year.

We got up insanely early this morning to go to Breakfast with the Penguins at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, but it was very worth it. The past few years, it's been very hot and there have been a lot of people, but this year the weather was gorgeous -- 70s when we arrived, 80s when we left at midday -- and although there were not gourmet bagels this time, there were excellent hash browns, plus the usual eggs, muffins, fruit, French toast, etc. We got to visit with Tux and Tails, two penguins who have come to the breakfast in previous years, and we got to toss capelin to the penguins on Rock Island, though the cormorants came over and grabbed many of them (the penguins got their preferred food, herring, later from one of the keepers). This year as a special treat we got to watch an engagement: one of the men had asked that he and his girlfriend be chosen as the two people to demonstrate how the bonded penguins were banded with matching bracelets, and when the keeper told him to band her, he got down on one knee and pulled out a ring. She said yes and there was much kissing and applause.

Since we were at the zoo, we also visited the baby elephant, the giraffes and chimpanzees, most of the animals in the Africa exhibit, the Maryland wilderness exhibit, the kids' farm and petting zoo, the arctic region, and the new prairie dogs. Since we were there relatively early and it was relatively cool, a lot of the animals who are often asleep were active: the otters were swimming, the warthog was eating, the leopard was pacing and letting out little "feed me" growls that sounded a lot like a big cat. When we left the zoo in the early afternoon, we drove to the Maryland State Fairground in Timonium, where there was free admission to the Baltimore County 4-H Fair, so we got to see lots of award-winning chickens, cows, goats, sheep, alpacas, and even a few cats. By then we were all pretty fried from getting up so early, so we came home so the kids could swim for a bit before dinner.

Adam, Tux and Tails at Breakfast with the Penguins.

This year we were allowed to pet the penguins, although one at a time and very gently.

The zoo had 22 baby penguins this year. Many of them will not stay in the colony of about 50 adults, but will be sent to breed at other zoos.

We had breakfast at big covered tables, then went down to Rock Island to toss fish to the penguins.

Later, the keepers hand-fed the birds to make sure everyone ate enough fish.

This is the couple who got engaged after receiving matching penguin bands. (We all got little stuffed penguins like the ones she's holding.)

After a while, Tux and Tails got tired of people petting them and were put in their pack-and-play, where they made the honking noises for which jackass penguins are named.

And eventually we got tired and took the tram back to the zoo entrance!

Fannish 5: Name your five favorite geniuses - evil or otherwise - from any fandom. I'm going for evil.
1. Morgan le Fay, Le Morte D'Arthur.
2. Khan, The Wrath of Khan.
3. The Marquise de Merteuil, Les Liaisons Dangereuses.
4. The Mice Hyper-intelligent Pan-dimensional Beings, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
5. Dr. Evil, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Our evening entertainment was Mamma Mia, which I have discovered from Twitter and Facebook can cause bouts of rage if criticized, so let me just say that I enjoyed singing along with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan and for once I was pleased that the producers chose to cast singers who perform with exactly my own level of skill. *g* (Please note: I love ABBA and I love the London cast album, I am certainly not a snob who demands a more intellectual or sophisticated musical...I just have an odd expectation that in a cast with a half-dozen big names, at least one might be able to carry a tune.) I will promise to be enthusiastic about everything Meryl Streep ever does, though, if it will encourage the Hollywood powers that be to greenlight Russell Crowe in a Master and Commander sequel (I am hard-pressed to choose a favorite among the O'Brian novels, but The Reverse of the Medal is certainly in my top three).

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