Saturday, February 28, 2009

Poem for Saturday

All The Immortals Ever Think About Is Sex
By Brooks Haxton

    Nox est perpetua una dormienda.

I'm picturing a whitewashed house, the bedroom
overlooking an olive grove by the sea.
There's wine; there's poetry; there's you, me, eros:
so: what if all this were to end at midnight?
Night, Catullus said, is sleep perpetual.
His fear of death, he thought, would put his mistress
in the mood. But soon she left him, and he died.
When I was small, I dreaded ignorance. Now,
though, all I ask is to be made forgetful
in your arms. When Heraclitus said gods know
all things are good and just, he might have meant by
"gods" eternal knowers of things truly known:
the Good, the Just, the soul's delight enacted
by the flesh. Those waking need not act and speak
as if they were asleep, he said. Though sleepy,
you and I need not be sunk in isolate
stupefaction, but may touch, while in the bay
a little square sail stiffens, and we watch, oars,
though massive to arms of oarsmen, tiny
from our bed. And look! That tiny man on deck,
who paces and shouts orders to the crew, from here
cannot be heard under the soft crush of the waves
borne up invisibly between the sash and sill.


I got up stupidly early because I wanted to get enough coins to buy a Superpoke Pets television before they sold out, an activity that Adam had strongly encouraged the night before. I thought that after that, I was going to have a quiet day getting things done at home, but Gblvr offered to come over and bring bagels, which was a much more appealing option! So my laundry is not put away, but I had a lovely afternoon involving lox spread and Doctor Who -- because she hadn't watched the Sontaran episodes, and I hadn't watched "Midnight" since discovering Colin Morgan on Merlin.

While Gblvr was here, I worked on a review of "Night Terrors", which was difficult because it's really not a great episode. Imagine my surprise to find that tonight's Terminator had a very similar theme -- insomnia and dreams that may not be. I tend to like stories focused heavily on Sarah rather than John, so while it wasn't my very favorite episode, it was one of the better ones.

We put on a Xena episode rather than subject ourselves to Dollhouse again -- Paul was out for part of it anyway picking up Daniel after robotics -- though I saw the first five minutes and part of the last five minutes, and actually chose to watch Sci-Fi's long cluster of pre-BSG commercials rather than more Joss Whedon Exploits Hot Girls! BS-Gee wasn't bad this week, great performances all around, my favorite Starbuck episode in ages and ages, and I am laughing my ass off that a prediction I posted here after the freakin' miniseries was apparently correct. To think I didn't need to watch the show to figure out its secrets! Small spoiler: Does anyone else find it weird and vaguely repulsive that the decomposition of the body of Roslin is being paralleled with the decomposition of the body of Galactica? Oh wait -- they're all machines!

The Friday Five: Chocolate
1. What tastes best covered in chocolate?
Maraschino cherries, coconut, marzipan, almonds, peanuts...pretty much everything.
2. Why do you eat chocolate the way you do (or don't)? Because it is the nectar of the gods.
3. Do you know how chocolate is made? Yes -- I've been on both the Hershey and Wolf Candy factory tours.
4. If you knew you would live 5 years longer if you never ate any chocolate again, would you give it up? That's one of those silly hypotheticals; if I knew I had diabetes, I'd eat sweetened chocolate in very limited amounts, but there is no "if you knew..." with absolutes.
5. Have you ever had carob? Yes. Blecccch.

Fannish5: Name 5 characters you initially found appealing, but eventually came to hate.
I don't know that I'd say I hate any of these characters, but I tend to be much more disappointed when women are written badly than men, and these are the leading contenders for massive disappointment.
1. Seven of Nine, Star Trek: Voyager.
2. Amy Gardner, The West Wing.
3. Lana Lang, Smallville.
4. Nymphadora Tonks, Harry Potter.
5. Jane Gibbons, Sharpe.

Kiwi and Kiwi egg during the Meet a Kiwi demonstration in the bird house.

Golden Lion Tamarins in the small mammal house.

A Northern Treeshrew from Southeast Asia, also in the small mammal house.

A pregnant gorilla.

A Madagascar gecko in the reptile house.

And the awesome green tree python, which has heat sensors on its lips to detect prey, like seeing infrared.

National Zoo farm alpacas Cirrus, Orion and Ziggy.

And goats Iris, Lucky and Ethel.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Poem for Friday

Beast Brutality
By Mary Jo Bang

The caption read,
"He and she standing quietly next to a dog."

The prompt queen sat with her crown on,
The insets between each Gothic arch providing a measure

Of what can be
Done with architecture.

She said, "We built it long ago.
And then we knocked it down."

And then she looked away.
"And then we looked away."


I had a lovely afternoon of California Tortilla chicken soup and Merlin with , who shares my affection for Morgana and agrees that there really should be more "Uther is Giles via time travel/past life" crossover fic involving Buffy and Morgana saving Camelot -- plus she is tolerant of my inability to keep from quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail during "mere flesh wound" moments and other times when it is simply necessary.

A fisher cat on the Asia Trail at the National Zoo last fall.

A colorful squirrel in the Small Mammal House...

...and a curious lemur.

A lilac-breasted roller in the indoor flight room.

An alligator in an exhibit outside the reptile house.

One of the red pandas on the Asia Trail.

Blue-crowned hanging parrots doing what they do best from the ceiling in the bird house.

And this is Lucy, one of the goats in the zoo's farm.

We had dinner with my parents since they can't do it tomorrow, interrupted by retrieving Daniel from the first day of the district robotics competition, where he seemed to have had a great time even though their robot had some mechanical failures. Now we've just watched the second half of Oliver Twist -- I'd forgotten (or blocked out) just how antisemitic the story is, I haven't read it since college, and though this production was very well acted, I can't say I really enjoyed all the ugliness; I can't believe I've learned to appreciate glossy Austen vis a vis gritty Dickens.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Poem for Thursday

Lenten Flowers
By Kathleen Raine

Primrose, anemone, bluebell, moss
Grow in the Kingdom of the Cross

And the ash-tree's purple bud
Dresses the spear that sheds his blood.

With the thorns that pierce his brow
Soft encircling petals grow

For in each flower the secret lies
Of the tree that crucifies.

Garden by the water clear
All must die who enter here!


I had to get up extremely early to listen to drilling and hammering as my front door was put back on its hinges -- the door is in great shape, the wall around it is in crappy shape, and let's not even talk about how the molding looks now. But we can open and shut and lock the door without breaking anything! I had lots of running around to do in the afternoon, the fun part of which was looking at Bar Mitzvah invitations with the friend of my mother's who did the invitations for Daniel's Bar Mitzvah -- we must have gone through 16 books looking for a tasteful and appropriate Jewish-themed card with a penguin on it, which is not an easy thing to find. *g*

The late afternoon was chaos because our local gas station had closed unexpectedly and I had next to nothing in the tank, plus I had to get Adam to his Bar Mitzvah tutor, who was teaching from home since she just had foot surgery. I went looking for a gas station off a side street that had once existed but no longer, then freaked out slightly and managed to get to a Shell station in the next town over before rushing to get Adam back for the lesson (he's way ahead of the timeline even though he missed a lesson last week while she was having the surgery). Fortunately she has two adorable dogs who gave us a big wet greeting once we got there, which calmed me down.

I did not catch the name of either dog, but this one tried to lick my face for several minutes, then as soon as the chanting started, she went to collapse on her bed...

...while this one rubbed my leg and whined to be pet until the chanting started, at which point she lay down right where she was. There must be something about Hebrew chanting that puts dogs to sleep. Either that or they've sat through Yom Kippur services, hee.

These are the Mastoris Mardi Gras cupcakes that my parents brought us yesterday. I had to take a photo because they're adorable.

That photo reminded me for some reason of this photo of flowers at Mount Vernon last fall that I never got around to posting.

As long as I'm posting pictures from Mount Vernon, here is the rebuilt historic barn...

...and, much closer to the mansion, one of the necessaries (no longer in use, sadly for those stuck in the long entrance lines).

The view of the Potomac River through the arch nearest the mansion.

And here is the house itself, seen from across the wide bowling green.

My evening TV (Verdi's Macbeth on PBS, then the Maryland-Duke game whose final minutes shall not be mentioned) was interrupted a lot by older son trying to figure out his schedule downtown for the next few days at the regional robotics competition. Now, however, I am completely in hysterics over Stephen Colbert playing with his nipples over politics and having tarantulas all over him, which has utterly cleared my sinuses. So I feel better than I have in days!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poem for Wednesday

Evening On Calais Beach
By William Wordsworth

It is a beauteous evening, calm and free,
The holy time is quiet as a Nun
Breathless with adoration; the broad sun
Is sinking down in its tranquility;
The gentleness of heaven broods o'er the sea:
Listen! the mighty Being is awake,
And doth with his eternal motion make
A sound like thunder -- everlastingly.
Dear Child! dear Girl! that walkest with me here,
If thou appear untouch'd by solemn thought,
Thy nature is not therefore less divine:
Thou liest in Abraham's bosom all the year;
And worshipp'st at the Temple's inner shrine,
God being with thee when we know it not.


I am cranky because I'm sick, our front door fell off its hinges and is probably going to cost a lot of money to repair/replace, and Lenscrafters (which I visited after lunch hoping for a small crowd, which thankfully I got) has to order the lenses for my new glasses so they're going to take a week. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that my parents brought us fancy animal cupcakes from Mastoris on their way home from New York and Paul decided we needed a proper Mardi Gras dinner so he made jambalaya, bourbon chicken, black beans and rice, and bread pudding.

And after dinner we all watched the first of the Horatio Hornblower movies, The Duel (or The Even Chance depending on which side of the Atlantic you're on), which is always a delightful way to spend an evening (and wow, Ioan Gruffudd and Jamie Bamber look like babies). So I was an irresponsible citizen and just not in the mood to sit through Obama's fact I turned off Twitter updates because other people's swooning got on my nerves. I'm sure it was a wonderful speech, they always are, he talks like a progressive even if he appoints like a moderate, but I could not work up Obama Girl enthusiasm tonight. To make up for my lack of Illinois spirit, here are some photos from Lincoln's birthday celebration in Gettysburg:

The gigantic birthday card for Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday at the Gettysburg train station at which Lincoln arrived to deliver the Gettysburg Address.

The greetings will be part of a larger exhibit at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC later this year.

My father-in-law drew a little Lincoln face...

...while my son, of course, drew a penguin.

The exterior of the station, which is no longer a working train stop but has displays on its appearance in the 1800s and a window to see the original flagstones beneath the ground.

Like many buildings in the city, the train station and this Lutheran church served as field hospitals and morgues as the battle came to the streets of Gettysburg.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Poem for Tuesday

A Street
By Leonard Cohen

I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
And luck was all we had

You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
I tried to join but no one liked
The side I'm fighting for

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
And you're tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage

I guess that makes us equal
But I want to march with you
An extra in the sequel
To the old red-white-and-blue

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

I cried for you this morning
And I'll cry for you again
But I'm not in charge of sorrow
So please don't ask me when

I know the burden's heavy
As you bear it through the night
Some people say it's empty
But that doesn't mean it's light

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street

It's going to be September now
For many years to come
Every heart adjusting
To that strict September drum

I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed

So let's drink to when it's over
And let's drink to when we meet
I'll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street


From this week's New Yorker. I keep wondering how they manage to publish so much interesting poetry while at the same time shoveling out so much utter drivel in the fiction section.

I'm still feeling icky. I had good intentions -- I was going to get up and out early and get my new glasses -- but I was a slug all morning and by the time I was organized, it was practically time for Adam to come home for tennis, which we had to get to early to get his racket grip replaced. And after that I was a slug till dinner. So I have nothing to report besides the stock market plummeting, Ritz Camera filing for bankruptcy, and other charming news like that.

Outside the Birds of North America exhibit at the National Geographic Museum...

...was a bird feeder attracting lots of sparrows, chickadees and finches.

Images of the exotic birds in the museum peeked out at the city birds.

There was lots of happy flapping and munching.

And lots of tweeting and chirping.

Maybe we should invest in this type of bird feeder, because we didn't see any squirrels trying to break in.

I know I said I didn't care who won Best Actor so long as Rourke lost, and I've been unimpressed with Sean Penn sometimes -- he's said and filmed some really sexist things, considering how progressive he's supposed to be -- but if his win gets Milk seen by more people, that's reason enough for me to be delighted he got the Oscar. I also appreciated his shout-out to his scriptwriter, who gave the most moving speech of the night. And speaking of gay rights, Nathan on Heroes keeps making me think of J. Edgar Hoover, on a brutal hunt against one group of people because he's afraid and ashamed of belonging to that group...I'm still really not liking the show.

Spoilers: They've really effectively cut out every female character with agency, haven't they? Claire's back to being just a kid, Angela's dropped out, Nikki/Traci/whoever the hell she is is locked up, Daphne's near is very bad news to be female on this series, even worse than being black. On top of that, the show has no creativity, even with Brian Fuller now working on it instead of the brilliant Pushing's bad enough that they did another flashback "let's try to make sense of our own recent history" episode, but they did flat third-person linear memories, nothing that resembled actual memories, nothing that revealed anything intimate or unexpected the way real memories do. Bah, TV has gotten awful.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Poem for Monday

Never Mind
By Dorothea Tanning

Never mind the pins
And needles I am on.
Let all the other instruments
Of torture have their way.
While air-conditioners
Froze my coffee
I caught the toaster
Eating my toast.
Did I press the right
Buttons on all these
Buttonless surfaces,
Daring me to press them?
Did you gasp on seeing what
The mailman just brought?

Will the fellow I saw pedalling
Across the bridge live long
After losing his left leg,
His penis, and his bike
To fearlessness?
Will his sad wife find
Consolation with the
Computer wizard called in
Last year to deal with glitches?

Did you defuse the boys'
Bomb before your house
Was under water, same
As everything else?
My sister grabbed her
Silver hand mirror

Before floating away.
The dog yelped constantly,
Tipping our canoe.
Silly dog.


I slept terribly and woke up feeling horrible -- this year's flu sucks just as much as everyone has told me, including both my kids, which probably made it inevitable that I would eventually come down with it. So I took it very easy during the snowy morning before we packed up after Hebrew school to go meet my in-laws in Baltimore at the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum, which is free this month for Maryland Zoo members. The site is considered the birthplace of the American railroad -- Charles Carroll said that laying the first stone of the railroad here at age 90 was the second most important act of his life after signing the Declaration of Independence -- and there are dozens of train cars in and out of the roundhouse and shops, plus acres of track. The museum permits photography inside, but not publication of photos on professional internet sites, so rather than risk running afoul of them, I will just post a few family shots:

Adam aboard one of the mail cars in the B&O Railroad Museum's roundhouse.

We first visited this museum when older son was about three and obsessed with trains; the massive turntable was a big thrill for him.

A view across the roundhouse from inside one of the restored cars. The roundhouse had collapsed under the weight of snow in 2003, damaging several trains that will cost more than a million dollars to repair.

The work of restoration takes place in the historic Mt. Clare Shops... this shattered car being rebuilt in the Baltimore & Ohio Passenger Car Works.

The Smithsonian has loaned a collection of model trains formerly on display at the National Museum of American History to the B&O Railroad Museum.

Here are the kids (well-bundled against the weather) in front of one of the trains out front.

And the familiar shape of the roundhouse, now repaired.

I will preface the inevitable Oscar blather by noting that this is the first year since Daniel was a newborn that I hadn't seen a single one of the major nominated films -- not because I didn't want to see a couple of them, but because the price of movies coupled with some big disappointments with movies that had come highly recommended has made me wait more and more for the DVDs and cable broadcasts. I'm not sure what was up with the wedding and bridesmaid dresses this year -- Sarah Jessica Parker and Penelope Cruz looked like dueling brides, Natalie Portman and Miley Cyrus looked like castoffs from wedding parties, and please tell me Reese Witherspoon was not trying to hide a pregnancy under that skirt. As for the awards themselves...

The show was worth price of admission for Frost/Nixon the gay musical, even if Jackman (or rather whoever put together his opening number) cast Anne Hathaway as one of the men. And while there were some neat aspects of having groups of previous winners present the actor and actress awards, this year of all year, when there were really no blockbusters everyone had seen and the crashing economy made showing clips to an audience that hadn't seen most of the films even more important? Please! I was ready to turn the damn thing off when Milk won best screenplay and Dustin Lance Black made me sniffly with his speech.

At least the animated film clips presentation was brilliant, and WALL-E won which was one of only two awards I actually cared who won! The other being best actress, because they owed Kate, so I am delighted she has that Oscar. Heath Ledger should have won an Oscar for Brokeback Mountain and I will always wonder if his life would have been different if he had, but the prize this year was anticlimactic for me because I disliked his role in The Dark Knight so much. I was rooting against Mickey Rourke more than I was rooting for anyone in the Best Actor category; I think it's great that talented bad boy Penn beat one-note bad boy Rourke, though I'd have cheered a great deal for Langella and I wouldn't have minded Pitt given how well his film did overall (I was very pleased the costume designer thanked Keira Knightley because no one would have looked at that movie had she not looked so awesome in the costumes).

I was glad Man on a Wire won the documentary, and though I haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire, I've heard so many raves that I was pleased when it picked up screenplay, then editing, sound, and music awards, and it appeared poised to take the top prize early on. Everyone involved in that film seems to be dedicated and unpretentious, so it was nice to see them all getting rewarded right through Best Picture.

Hugh: thank you for single-handedly bringing the musical back to this stage in respectable fashion, and for singing "You're the One that I Want" with Beyonce (and one line of Evita, too!). Penelope: you're gorgeous, thanks for thanking your nearest and dearest in Spanish, why did you have to date Tom Cruise? Robert Pattinson: do you always look stoned, or is it that you are always stoned? And thank you, producers, for using a clip of Ricardo Montalban as Khan in the dear departed tribute, and for Louise Fletcher signing her Best Actress acceptance speech. So all in all, thumbs up.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Poem for Sunday

Love Song: I and Thou
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 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.