Thursday, March 04, 2010

Poem for Thursday and Postage Stamps

The Wall
By John Gallagher

A delta of fading coffee colored rivulets trace down my living room wall,
broken capillaries that have rust spread into one corner of the ceiling,
memory of a mishap, years ago, in the upstairs neighbor's apartment.

All along I had assumed it had been a violent unexpected flood
immediate and sudden. But of late it occurs to me that
it was probably the story of a leak, hidden,
causing unseen ruin for years.

All those daily disappointments, the unspoken resentments,
repressed and dismissed, the small betrayals that were
negotiated away, lies really,
so burdened the wall that with the spill of the last secret indiscretion
it reached the point of collapse.

Her best friend. The wall could no longer bear the load.
That's when it was sudden.

The law that draws all things down, brought these long threaded streaks,
running wet, right down the wall of my rented room.
At the time, I suppose I would have shouted at the ceiling,
"What the hell's going on here?" But I would have known
what it was. I just wouldn't have known how to stop it,
not then anyway. Of course, the flood slowed and then stopped.

And the stain now is pretty much dried out and blistered,
leaving only a faint tearing effect. It's retreating
back into the wall from where it came.

I, myself, never give it much thought
but for those times during the long silences
when the children call on holidays.


Cidercupcakes came over and brought the first two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, including the awesome hippie episode "The Cave of Two Lovers" (complete with bad folk music) and "Bitter Earth," in which Sokka gets stuck in a crevasse while hunting a saber-tooth moose-lion cub which then sleeps on his head and brings him an apple. I'm afraid I may be more attached to the bad guys, though, especially Zuko, the Prince of Emo, and his crazy-awesome sister Azula. I miss Zhao but I am sure he's on an island somewhere getting properly disciplined for his transgressions. I wish this series would drop in price on DVD because I would buy it if I could afford it -- it has superb female characters, fabulous chimera animals, lots of humor, and very entertaining guest stars -- I can't imagine the M. Night Shyamalan movie is going to be nearly as much fun. And it is always great to watch over lunch with Cidercupcakes singing along with the cave love song.

Our evening was very nice, beginning with the last episode of Faces of America, in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr. had the DNA of his subjects analyzed to see whether any of them were related to one another. Most of the African-Americans were more European than African -- Elizabeth Alexander turned out to be descended from King John I of England and a mistress of his, which would also make her a descendant of Charlemagne (and if you believe the Holy Blood, Holy Grail/Da Vinci Code conspiracy, Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene as well, hee) -- she said she'd fantasized about being the descendant of an Indian or African princess but never imagined it would be the British royal family. Gates had been particularly interested in seeing how closely Jews and Muslims were related -- whether there might be historical truth to the Isaac and Ishmael stories -- and learned that Ashkenazi Jew Mike Nichols and Turkish Muslim Mehmet Oz have a common ancestor detectable by DNA. The whole show has been terrific, but the best event on TV this evening was Maryland beating Duke -- now the Terps can head into the playoffs on a very high note!

A Mulready envelope from 1840, two days before the official first day of issue for Great Britain's first postage stamps on May 6th, displayed at the National Postal Museum.

The Inverted Jenny stamp, first issued in the US in 1918 with the plane printed upside down, the most famous mistake in American philatelic history. These stamps are worth nearly a million dollars each (and this is a facsimile, since the museum doesn't have an original on display).

Postmaster General James Farley bought ungummed sheets of stamps, then had his friend President Roosevelt sign them and gave them to political cronies and friends. Stamp collectors were furious, and to avoid a scandal, Farley ordered these same ungummed sheets offered for sale to the public.

A commemorative envelope postmarked from a special Railway Mail Service train.

Examples of mail carried by zeppelin post in an exhibit that traces the history of the mail from A to Z.

The wrapper from the package when the Hope Diamond (valued at a mere million dollars in 1958) was shipped by Harry Winston to the Smithsonian.

A letter with a stamp from Poland sent to President Roosevelt, who saved envelopes addressed to him mockingly as the King.

Though housed in a DC post office, the museum has its own post office and cancellation stamp. These oversize stamps are displayed there.

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