By Campbell McGrath
Beneath a ten-foot-tall apparition of Frosty the Snowman
with his corncob pipe and jovial, over-eager, button-black eyes,
holding, in my palm, the leathery, wine-colored purse
of a pomegranate, I realize, yet again, that America is a country
about which I understand everything and nothing at all,
that this is life, this ungovernable air
in which the trees rearrange their branches, season after season,
never certain which configuration will bear the optimal yield
of sunlight and water, the enabling balm of nutrients,
that so, too, do Wal-Mart's ferocious sales managers
relentlessly analyze their end-cap placement, product mix,
and shopper demographics, that this is the culture
in all its earnestness and absurdity, that it never rests,
that each day is an eternity and every night is New Year's Eve,
a cavalcade of B-list has-beens entirely unknown to me,
needy comedians and country singers in handsome Stetsons,
sitcom stars of every social trope and ethnic denomination,
pugilists and oligarchs, femmes fatales and anointed virgins
throat-slit in offering to the cannibal throng of Times Square.
Who are these people? I grow old. I lie unsleeping
as confetti falls, ash-girdled, robed in sweat and melancholy,
click-shifting from QVC to reality TV, strings of commercials
for breath freshener, debt reconsolidation, a new car
lacking any whisper of style or grace, like a final fetid gasp
from the lips of a dying Henry Ford, potato-faced actors
impersonating real people with real opinions
offered forth with idiot grins in the yellow, herniated studio light,
actual human beings, actual souls bought too cheaply.
That it never ends, O Lord, that it never ends!
That it is relentless, remorseless, and it is on right now.
That one sees it and sees it but sometimes it sees you, too,
cowering in a corner, transfixed by the crawler for the storm alert,
home videos of faces left dazed by the twister, the car bomb,
the war always beginning or already begun, always
the special report, the inside scoop, the hidden camera
revealing the mechanical lives of the sad, inarticulate people
we have come to know as "celebrities."
Who assigns such value, who chose these craven avatars
if not the miraculous hand of the marketplace,
whose torn cuticles and gaudily painted fingernails resemble nothing
so much as our own? Where does the oracle reveal our truths
more vividly than upon that pixillated spirit glass
unless it is here, in this tabernacle of homely merchandise,
a Copernican model of a money-driven universe
revolving around its golden omphalos, each of us summed
and subtotalled, integers in an equation of need and consumption,
desire and consummation, because Hollywood had it right all along,
the years are a montage of calendar pages and autumn leaves,
sheet music for a nostalgic symphony of which our lives comprise
but single trumpet blasts, single notes in the hullabaloo,
or even less—we are but motes of dust in that atmosphere
shaken by the vibrations of time's imperious crescendo.
That it never ends, O Lord. That it goes on,
without pause or cessation, without pity or remorse.
That we have willed it into existence, dreamed it into being.
That it is our divine monster, our factotum, our scourge.
That I can imagine nothing more beautiful
than to propitiate such a god upon the seeds of my own heart.
From this week's New Yorker.
I saw my doctor this morning, where I got both my H1N1 and seasonal flu shots (was told the former would be more uncomfortable but right now it's the arm where I got the latter that's sore). It was a good appointment, though, because my blood pressure was 123/65 (it's been between 115-130/60-85 pretty consistently, mostly on the lower end), my blood tests were all in the normal range (including both liver function and homoglobin, meaning no iron pills, yay), and she had no complaint about the rate at which I've lost weight (which was not the best in December, since I had my birthday, Chanukah, Christmas, and various other events with which to contend). Afterward, I met my dad in the mall that's right near the doctor's office and he took me to Legal Seafood for lunch -- their Louisiana Gumbo is the best I've had outside New Orleans (and I'm sure it was more sodium than I should have had, but I brought half of it home for Adam and drank lots of water, heh).
Photos above from the Seneca Creek Winter Lights show. Paul made fabulous vegetarian samosas for dinner (a low-sodium variety adapted from Vegetarian Times go us), then in honor of the date we watched the Toby Stephens/Imogen Stubbs/Helena Bonham Carter Twelfth Night directed by Trevor Nunn. I know I saw it years ago, but I barely remembered it, and really enjoyed it; there are places where the editing isn't terrific, but the performances are all wonderful and the Cornish coast and Lanhydrock look gorgeous. I'm not sure the kids were paying full attention, but I figure that any Shakespeare we get them to absorb as teenagers may be appreciated later.