Sunday, May 16, 2010

Poem for Sunday and Great Falls

The Trap
By Nicanor Parra
Translated by Liz Werner

During that time I kept out of circumstances that were too full of mystery
As people with stomach ailments avoid heavy meals,
I preferred to stay at home inquiring into certain questions
Concerning the propagation of spiders,
To which end I would shut myself up in the garden
And not show myself in public until late at night;
Or else, in shirt-sleeves, defiant,
I would hurl angry glances at the moon,
Trying to get rid of those bilious fancies
That cling like polyps to the human soul.
When I was alone I was completely self-possessed,
I went back and forth fully conscious of my actions
Or I would stretch out among the planks of the cellar
And dream, think up ways and means, resolve little emergency problems.
It was at that moment that i put into practice my famous method for interpreting dreams
Which consists in doing violence to oneself and then imagining what one would like,
Conjuring up scenes that I had worked our beforehand with the help of powers from other worlds.
In this manner I was able to obtain priceless information
Concerning a string of anxieties that afflict our being:
Foreign travel, erotic disorders, religious complexes.
But all precautions were inadequate,
Because, for reasons hard to set forth,
I began sliding automatically down a sort of inclined plane.
My soul lost altitude like a punctured balloon,
The instinct of self-preservation stopped functioning
And, deprived of my most essential prejudices,
I fell unavoidably into the telephone trap
Which sucks in everything around it, like a vacuum,
And with trembling hands I dialed that accursed number
Which even now I repeat automatically in my sleep.
Uncertainty and misery filled the seconds that followed,
While I, like a skeleton standing before that table from hell
Covered with yellow cretonne,
Waited for an answer from the other end of the world,
The other half of my being, imprisoned in a pit.
Those intermittent telephone noises
Worked on me like a dentist's drill,
They sank into my soul like needles shot from the sky
Until, when the moment itself arrived,
I started to sweat and to stammer feverishly,
My tongue like a veal steak
Obtruded between my being and her who was listening,
Like those black curtains that separate us from the dead.
I never wanted to conduct those over-intimate conversations
Which I myself provoked, just the same, in my stupid way,
My voice thick with desire, and electrically charged.
Hearing myself called by my first name
In that tone of forced familiarity
Filled me with a vague discomfort,
With anguished localized disturbances which I contrived to keep in check
With a hurried system of questions and answers
Which roused in her a state of pseudo-erotic effervescence
That eventually affected me as well
With a feeling of doom.
Then I'd make myself laugh and as a result fall into a state of mental prostration.
These ridiculous little chats went on for hours
Until the lady who ran the pension appeared behind the screen
Brusquely breaking off our stupid idyll.
Those contortions of a petitioner at the gates of heaven
And those catastrophes which so wore down my spirit
Did not stop altogether when I hung up
For usually we had agreed
To meet next day in a soda fountain
Or at the door of a church whose name I prefer to forget.


Our intention for several weeks had been to be in Boston on Saturday night, so we had no plans set for the day once we realized that there was no way we could drive to Massachusetts and have Daniel back in time for his class presentation on Monday. In the morning, we went to the Hebrew school where my mother has taught for 18 years and where she was being honored -- there was supposed to be a ceremony at the synagogue on Friday night, but my mother missed it to come hear Daniel sing at the choir concert, so they had a blessing at the Hebrew school Shabbat service and a cake with the other teachers and one of the rabbis afterward. Adam has been her aide all year, so he was recognized as well. This was the last Saturday on which there will be Hebrew school at this synagogue, since next year the upper and lower schools will both meet on Sunday, so it was a bit of a nostalgic event for everyone.

After lunch, we talked about taking both kids to Great Falls, but Adam was invited by a friend to go see Iron Man 2 so we ended up going just with Daniel and took a nice walk, first out to the island, where we saw herons fishing in the Potomac River, then down the C&O Canal towpath for a mile or so, where we saw lots of turtles and geese and more herons. It smelled like honeysuckle everywhere and it was beautiful and cool in the shade. As we left, a bunch of emergency vehicles went past us and spread out near the Billy Goat Trail, but we never heard what had happened. We did get to see the canal boat heading up toward the lock -- mules pull it through and costumed interpreters tell passengers about life on the canal two hundred years ago. Plus there were more than a dozen goslings.

A park employee in period costume prepares to help guide the boat through the lock of the C&O Canal.

One of the mules that pull the boat (shown here behind the inn) was retiring today, while another was making her debut.

Several herons were fishing in the Potomac River...

...and a few ducks were sunning themselves above the falls.

A couple of people were wading as well below the falls, though this is strongly frowned upon by the park police -- I believe it may be illegal.

The rules are different for turtles, however.

And we saw this goose family with older goslings than the ones we saw in Gaithersburg a couple of weeks ago...

...we counted 19 children with these two adults, though there may actually have been even more!

In the evening after Paul made dinner to celebrate the Preakness, which I did not watch, partly because horse racing revolts me and partly because there was a horse named after Todd Palin who was favored to place -- veggie "crab cakes" made from zucchini and Old Bay seasoning, barbecued black-eyed peas -- we caught up on Doctor Who. The previews and early press on "Amy's Choice" made me think I really would not like the episode, but I actually did, though it also really made me miss Martha Jones -- spoilers! I want a companion who wants to be a doctor, not the wife of a doctor, whose only apparent interest in a fantasy future is having a baby in a nice peaceful town. Sure, traveling with the Doctor is an impossible act to follow -- I love that he paraphrased Sarah Jane about how hard it is to see all that glory and then come back -- but surely Amy knows she's good at something other than kissing! Or even if she doesn't realize by now, surely she dreams of doing other things, at least! I'd be the first person to argue that a woman can be quite happy at home raising young children and working on creative projects or things that don't pay like charity volunteering, but so far as we can tell, Amy's alternative to danger with the Doctor was to sit in a park with a child and listen to the birds tweeting -- oh, come on!

That said, though, I'd love to visit Skenfrith, which looked beautiful and reminded me a bit of both Chepstow and Caerphilly with the enormous castle ruins plunked in the middle of the town. the nasty dream version of the Doctor had some terrific lines, my favorite of which was "Your friends never see you again once they've grown're a man who prefers the company of the young." Though we also loved "Ask me what happens if you die in die, stupid! That's why it's called reality!" I liked that neither reality was real but I wish Amy rather than the Doctor had been the one to reject both. She came off more strongly in "The Vampires of Venice" doing her own investigative research and kicking alien butt, though I thought Helen McCrory stole the show there; I did keep hearing Narcissa Malfoy and I enjoyed her attempt to seduce the Doctor, though the story itself seemed implausible to the point of ridiculousness (they could get to Earth and convert human girls to their kind, but they didn't have a plan for either assimilating or hiding from everyone?). Still worth everything to see the Doc with a blue lightsaber. And I really thought Rory was going to kill the one male vampire with his wooden stake, which would have been nice.

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