Sunday, October 24, 2010

Poem for Sunday and Johns Hopkins

The Verification of Vulnerability: Bog Turtle
By Pattiann Rogers

Guarded by horned beak and nails, surrounded
By mahogany carapace molded in tiles
Like beveled wood, hidden within the hingeless
Plastron, beneath twelve, yellow-splotched
Black scutes, buried below the inner lungs
And breast, harbored in the far reaches
Of the living heart, there it exists,
As it must, that particle of vulnerability,
As definite in its place as if it were a brief glint
Of steel, buried inside the body of the bog turtle.

And it is carried in that body daily, like a pinpoint
Of diamond in a dark pouch, through marshy fields
And sunlit seepages, and it is borne in that body,
Like a crystal of salt-light locked in a case
Of night, borne through snail-ridden reeds and pungent
Cow pastures in spring. It is cushioned and bound
By folds of velvet, by flesh and the muscle
Of dreams, during sleep on a weedy tussock all afternoon.
It is divided and bequeathed again in June, protected
By thick sap, by yolk meal and forage inside its egg
Encompassed by the walls of shell and nest.

Maybe I can imagine the sole intention present
In the steady movement of turtle breath filled
With the odor of worms this morning, stirring
Clover moisture at the roots. Maybe I can understand
How the body has taken form solely
Around the possibility of its own death,
How the entire body of the bog turtle
Cherishes and maintains and verifies the existence
Of its own crucial point of vulnerability exactly
As if that point were the only distinct,
Dimensionless instant of eternity ever realized.
And maybe I can guess what it is we own,
If, in fact, it is true: the proof of possession
Is the possibility of loss.


Rogers' Firekeeper is my favorite collection of contemporary poetry by a single author.

We got up very early on Saturday and drove to Baltimore for the most enjoyable by far of our college visits, at Johns Hopkins University, which served us both breakfast and lunch in between brief talks, tours, demonstrations, and views of a lovely campus made even prettier by perfect fall weather that went from cool and clear to sunny and crisp. The day was geared toward science and engineering students, so after bagels, muffins, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and a brief greeting by the dean, they sent everyone off to a choice of more than a dozen departments for an introduction to how the majors work at Johns Hopkins (Daniel is particularly interested because they allow interdisciplinary double majors and all students work directly with professors -- there are no classes taught by graduate students, and most of them are quite small). We went to the mechanical engineering and computer science departments -- both of which had Halloween candy on offer as well as demonstrations ranging from solar panels to radio design -- then went to lunch, which was a sandwich buffet including vegan wraps, before taking the campus tour. This is the only campus visit where we actually met as many faculty members as students and administrators, and both the campus and the program were really impressive.

If Johns Hopkins University looks familiar to you, that may be because it stood in for Harvard in The Social Network.

We saw the campus at its best, with autumn color everywhere

There was a big crowd at the introductory breakfast and greetings from the Dean of Admissions -- they gave all prospective students bags, pens, and information about the school -- though the tours and meetings with engineering professors were small groups of less than 50 people.

The lunch buffet was spread over two hours so it was never too crowded.

Two undergraduates demonstrated a student project involving gears powered by light energy.

This newly renovated building will house the newly established archaeology major. The art installation is modeled on artifacts in the school's collection, and soon a mummy will be on display on the lower level.

This area near the dorms is known as "the beach." Though the school is right in the city, it has lots of trees and a garden walk.

Some students were enjoying the beautiful fall weather with a Quidditch match.

Since it was still mid-afternoon when we left Johns Hopkins despite some time spent watching competitive Quidditch, we drove to the nearby Maryland Zoo, where we looked at some of the changing leaves in Druid Hill Park and walked through the Africa region -- since it was cool out, most of the animals were awake, so we got to see a playful baby elephant, rhinos rolling in the mud, warthogs chasing each other, cheetahs pacing, a mother and baby chimp snuggling, and seagulls trying to mooch food from the penguins and cormorants. We also went to the Arctic zone to see the snowy owls and polar bears, plus the Baltimore Ravens (named Rise and Conquer) who serve as the zoo's team mascots. It was a fabulous afternoon but we were tired when we got home, so between the early and late innings of the Phillies-Giants game, we watched Blazing Saddles, my all-time favorite completely politically incorrect movie. ("Why do I always get a warped one?") Maryland and Navy both won against Boston College and Notre Dame respectively so it was a good sports day in that regard -- if only the NL pennant race had ended differently!

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