Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Poem for Tuesday

Only So Much
By Rachel Hadas

I bend to the open notebook; distracted, turn my head.
Tiny brown ants are climbing up a stalk of goldenrod.

It isn't clear what goal they hope to reach.
I pick up a sharpened pencil, start to sketch.

A passing cloud; the sky goes dull. I shut
the notebook and open it from the back, to write.

There is only so much we can notice all at once.
Now this morning's dream makes an appearance:

packed lecture hall where students overflow
to aisles and floor. What do they want to know?

I have the sense they're gathered here to learn
some kind of surgery. The brain donation

card, wallet-size, arrived in this morning's mail.
I close the notebook. The patient ants still crawl.

A sudden breeze: the grasses toss their tops.
Wild strawberry runners are clambering over this rock,

where, if I sat here long enough, eventually
the tough, lithe tendrils would also crisscross me.

I could climb down from my temporary tower,
go to the house and fill a glass with water,

get out my watercolors, dip my brush,
memorialize this moment with a wash

of color; sketch the runners, trace a border,
as if imitation equalled order.

Or I could take a walk down to the brook
or stretch out in the hammock with a book

or let my thoughts' red runners trace a line
to the null magnet of my husband's brain,

the hospital where he's "undergoing observation,"
the arid wide plateau of the condition—

a battleground to which I will return.
But there is room for only so much attention.


From this week's New Yorker.

I had another lovely vacation day -- Paul has the week off, so since we can't afford to travel anywhere exotic, we're doing a bunch of day trips. This morning I went to the mall briefly because the Brighton Collectibles stores are giving away free bracelets with charm purchases and I've been waiting all weekend to get mine. Then we went to Mount Vernon, where we finally got to take the National Treasure tour we've missed numerous other times -- first because we couldn't make online reservations and they were sold out, then because of weather. We've seen the cellar before from the time the estate opened it right after the film came out, but this time we got a guided tour of the cellar and icehouse (both usually locked to the public), plus a walking tour of both the old and new tombs and the riverfront. I learn something new about Washington every time I visit; this time, since we were near the area where he kept his kennels, I learned that he had dogs named Madam Moose and Sweet Lips, and that the area where the pioneer farm has been developed was a swamp before the engineers built a seawall, so the land was selected for the farm on the theory that there were never any buildings or artifacts in what Washington called "the hellhole."

Mount Vernon in gingerbread, designed by a White House pastry chef.

Christmas camel Aladdin, visiting the estate because one year General Washington paid 18 shillings to have a camel at Mount Vernon to entertain his family.

The rear of the mansion, which overlooks the Potomac River. The cellar (where no photos were allowed) is at left with a low red roof.

My kids holding a replica of the tunnel map from National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets left on the property by one of the prop people. We also got to see photos of filming, including actors in tuxedos huddling under blankets to keep warm between takes. It was bitterly cold in the wind today, too.

This swamp chestnut oak tree overlooked the Potomac when Washington inherited the property from his brother, whose initials appear on the famous cornerstone from the cellar in the film. The movie used a pyrotechnic display for the president's birthday which did not make the grounds staff at Mount Vernon happy at all.

Washington's ice house, where slaves brought ice from the river and kept it year-round. In the movie, the secret slave tunnels lead here. In reality the only "tunnel" on the property is for the sump pump.

In the movie, Nicolas Cage swims ashore, leaps over the driftwood, yanks open his wetsuit and waltzes onto the grounds of Mount Vernon carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. In reality, he'd have had to hike straight up a bramble-covered hill and climb over a wall designed to help pen livestock.

Christmas trees with ornaments celebrating Washington's life and Mount Vernon's development are on display throughout the holiday season in the visitor center.

We watched the Mount Vernon scenes from National Treasure 2 in the evening before putting on My Neighbor Totoro, which we had reserved at the library and waited till the DVD came back into circulation. I didn't like it quite as much as later Miyazaki, though the Cat Bus is one of my favorite creations of all time -- Rosie as transportation -- and Totoro is pretty adorable too. I like that it's a domestic story focused on the lives of girls, but I really love the big epics with their environmental themes and spectacular imagery. We have just watched the Bears beat the Vikings, which I'm ambivalent about -- I like Favre, but it's fine with me if the Saints win the NFC (and the Super Bowl for that matter).

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