Sunday, January 10, 2010

Poem for Sunday and Botanic Garden Trains

Thirty Illegal Moves in the Cloud-Shape Game
By Aaron Belz

A Rorschach blot
A dragon head
A puddle
A swab
Crumpled up paper
A blob
A piñata
A fist


"A child sees language itself as a novelty; beyond that, a child must begin to understand the rules that govern its relationships with other people, from the most intimate and developed, to the official and institutional, to hundreds of casual encounters with strangers," writes Belz in Poet's Choice. "Children soon discover that the system is complex and sometimes inconsistent. After about 25 years, a normal, well-adjusted adult has the rules by rote, and language has long ago become mundane. So there's a problem on both ends. While for children the world is disorienting and full of wonder, for adults it's too familiar and predictable, full of groceries, cable bills and therapists. Writing poetry helps me bridge the gap...a couple of years ago my youngest daughter and I were playing the 'Cloud Shape Game,' and she pointed to one rather amorphous cloud and said it looked like a cloud. Obviously, she was right. Just as obviously, to a veteran player of the game, she was breaking one of the unwritten rules. But my mind was racing: Do some clouds look more like clouds than others? Is there an ideal kind of "cloudness"? If so, maybe she was onto something."

Daniel left bright and early for the first day of the robotics build season -- FIRST broadcast via NASA's web and TV channels the plan for this year's competition, a soccer-type game with robots introduced by Dean Kamen. He was there almost all day and ate so much pizza that he ended up sick; meanwhile, Adam volunteered at Hebrew school, then we took him downtown to the last weekend of the U.S. Botanic Garden's Holiday Magic train display and recreation of the National Mall, both made with plant-based natural materials, and the Folger Shakespeare Library's Exhibit Imagining China, an exhibit of maps and manuscripts plus some porcelain and decorative objects collected to reflect European admiration for and concerns about China from the 1550s through the end of the 1600s. The latter had some crazy attempts at Biblical translation by non-Chinese speakers incorporating Chinese flood and miraculous birth stories, and Chinese editions of Shakespeare (first translated from children's versions of the stories and not complete until the 1960s). Here are some photos of the train exhibit at the former:

A train passes by Santa's Village in the Holiday Magic train display at the US Botanic Garden.

The Owl and the Pussycat's boat over the homes of the Three Little Pigs.

A bookworm and a caterpillar train.

American Gothic by the railroad tracks.

A miniature plant-made pipe organ with mushroom stool.

The dream cottage of Yosemite Valley defender and Sierra Club founder John Muir.

Here is the home of the Seven Dwarfs as a train passes behind it.

And here is a train pulling an observatory car and a car with Olympic salmon spawning, with a bee-colored train circling below it.

We picked up Daniel on the way back from downtown, tried to cram some dinner in him, and took him to meet his date to see Avatar, but the movie sold out before they got there. So they went out to dinner instead, though Daniel wasn't feeling well after eating too much pizza at the FIRST presentation. He came home and crashed, so I don't know any other details except that they were playing video games together on her phone when Paul arrived to pick him up. The rest of us half-watched the Dallas game; it became easier to root against the Eagles after Michael Vick threw a touchdown pass, but this is the last time this year that I'll want Dallas to win anything! We took a break to watch Demons, then when we discovered that Dallas was winning by a big margin, we left BBC America on for Graham Norton's show with Robert Downey, Jr. and Ed Byrne, which was hilarious.

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