Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Poem for Wednesday and Cornell University

My Son's Father's Smile
By Sharon Olds

In my sleep, our son, as a child, said,
of his father, he smiled me—as if into
existence, into the family built around the
young lives which had come from the charged
bouquets, the dense oasis. That smile,
those years, well what can a body say, I have
been in the absolute present of a fragrant
ignorance. And to live in those rooms,
where one of his smiles might emerge, like something
almost from another place,
another time, another set
of creatures, was to feel blessed, and to be
held in mysteriousness, and a little
in mourning. The thinness of his lips gave it
a simplicity, like a child's drawing
of a smile—a footbridge, turned over on its back, or seen
under itself, in water—and the archer's
bow gave it a curved unerring
symmetry, a shot to the heart. I look back on that un-
clouded face yet built of cloud,
and that waning crescent moon, that look
of deep, almost sad, contentment, and know myself
lucky, that I had out the whole
night of a half-life in that archaic
hammock, in a sky whose darkness is fading, that
first dream, from which I am now waking.


This is not going to be an exciting week in this journal, recovering from one trip while preparing for another. Again Adam had the calculus symposium, then went running, after which he visited Maddy till late afternoon, came home to walk the neighbor's dogs, and went to cross country practice. Daniel had lunch with my father and played Wii Bowling with him while I was working on various articles and chores and stuff. I had no laundry to fold, so no excuse for watching a midday movie, though I did watch a new Mary Fahl video.

We had a Groupon for BGR that expired tomorrow, so we went there for dinner, minus Adam who was still running so we brought him home a veggie burger. I liked the Pope, worried about the Olympics, watched PBS specials on amusement parks and Diaghilev & the Ballets Russes (plus a bit of the Nationals loss and the Orioles victory), and was proud of Daniel who was chosen to be an undergraduate TA for the Scholars STS colloquium (a paid position) at UMCP next semester. Speaking of colleges, here are some pics of Cornell:

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Poem for Tuesday and Binghamton Zoo

Sea of Stars
By Dick Jones

They will require,
should I return,
that I give name
to all the things I saw.

Even as I feed back
voltage, trickle chemistry
past their electrodes;
even as I share

my heartbeat with their monitors,
my blood with their microscopes,
they will question
in quiet voices,

seeking out new nouns
with which to corner
the ineffable, new verbs
to charge the immaterial.

As now their aerial voices —
filtered through ionosphere,
the shingle-clouds of asteroids,
across these tideless oceans —

whisper insubstantial, needle-thin,
scratching their need to know
the unknowable onto the mighty
silence. I trail interrogation

like a shower of sparks.
But from this eminence
I no longer heed
their eyes that scrutinize,

lidless, unswerving. This dark
accomodates a billion eyes, speculating
my parabola by day, by night, probing
for my tiny skidding light.

Implacable, incurious, I navigate
the brilliant wastes — long black
sargassos drifting, planet wrack
and flotsam, dereliction.

And beyond, always beyond,
the bright flying splinters of the stars.


Apart from a brief trip to the food store with Paul in the late afternoon when we realized we had neither breakfast nor dinner foods in the house, I had a pretty quiet Monday. I had all the trip laundries to fold, so I put on One Day, which I was not expecting to be great but I was hoping I would like because it has Anne Hathaway, Jim Sturgess, and Rafe Spall, plus a few minutes of Romola Garai; I am sorry to report that the script was so bad that not even these actors whom I like could redeem it, in fact not even pretty shots of Britain and France could redeem it.

Adam had a busy day -- this week he has a calculus symposium in the mornings and cross country practice in the evenings, plus he went running and biking to the post office by himself in the early afternoon before walking the neighbor's dogs in the late afternoon. We had an electrician come in the afternoon to fix the light switch in our bedroom, which broke two weeks ago and we haven't been able to turn on the light ever since. I only saw four bunnies while walking today, but I saw the episode of Endeavour that we missed. Here are some photos from the Binghamton Zoo last week:

Leopard Siblings

Ring-Tailed Lemurs

Belgian Rabbits

Monk Parrots


Amur Tiger


Arctic Fox

Monday, July 29, 2013

Poem for Monday and Wolverines

Superheroes as 2004 Volkswagen Passat: A Double Sonnet
By Bruce Covey

The Invisible Woman is the windshield.
Mr. Fantastic is the wiper fluid.
The Thing is the tire.
The Human Torch is the spark plug.
Spiderman is the antenna.
Storm is the ignition coil.
Rogue is the crank shaft.
The Punisher is the exhaust pipe.
Captain America is the hub cap.
Quicksilver is the oil.
Rogue is the gasoline.
Psylocke is the catalytic converter.
The Hulk is the cylinder block.
She Hulk is the mount.

Mantis is the manifold.
Ms. Marvel is the muffler.
The Scarlet Witch is the instrument panel.
Iceman is the cooling system.
Wolverine is the hood.
Colossus is the camshaft.
Banshee is the horn.
Polaris is the voltage regulator.
Silver Surfer is the rearview mirror.
Powerman is the bearing.
Phoenix is the powertrain.
Emma Frost is the hinge pillar.
The Vision is the fuse box.
Black Widow is the brake.


Sunday had rain forecast, and though we only got it on and off, we decided it was probably not the best day to plan outdoor activities, so after sorting trip stuff and eating leftover pizza for lunch, we picked up Maddy and went to see The Wolverine. I am neither a huge X-Men fan nor a martial arts fan, so I am probably not the ideal audience for this film, but I enjoyed it for what it was -- fast action, less gratuitous violence than the other two blockbusters I saw this summer with more substantial female characters, good acting from the leads, a couple of great chase sequences.

The plot is entirely predictable and I'm sure you've heard to stay for the credits, which have the most fun scene, but I'm not sorry I saw it in the theater and I hope a particular character returns in the next outing with Wolverine. We had dinner with my parents so Adam could tell them all about his college visits, then we dropped his girlfriend off at her house and watched the end of this season's Endeavour, which has been great, though we missed last week's episode while traveling. While I'm on a wolverine theme, here are some more photos from the University of Michigan:

Michigan's student union with the scholar and the athlete sculptures to show the founder's priorities for students.

The center banner shows what has happened to Michigan's wolverines, taken right off the logo to highlight the block M...

...even here at the Big House, the largest football stadium in the U.S.

Here I am being a Wolverine in the admissions office.

The outside of the Law Quad.

An old-fashioned all-women's dorm with a curfew and Friday tea parties.

Christopher Columbus's 1493 letter describing his voyage to America is at the Clements Library.

A giant Bo Schembechler bobble head for sale at The M Den.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Poem for Sunday and C&O Canal

My Grandmother's Love Letters
By Hart Crane

There are no stars tonight
But those of memory.
Yet how much room for memory there is
In the loose girdle of soft rain.

There is even room enough
For the letters of my mother’s mother,
That have been pressed so long
Into a corner of the roof
That they are brown and soft,
And liable to melt as snow.

Over the greatness of such space
Steps must be gentle.
It is all hung by an invisible white hair.
It trembles as birch limbs webbing the air.

And I ask myself:

"Are your fingers long enough to play
Old keys that are but echoes:
Is the silence strong enough
To carry back the music to its source
And back to you again
As though to her?"

Yet I would lead my grandmother by the hand
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.


We had several chores to do on Saturday -- the laundry isn't folded yet, but everything is unpacked -- and Adam had plans to go to the pool and to lunch with friends, so before the rain arrived in the afternoon, the rest of us went for a walk along the C&O Canal. There was a surprising amount of water especially at Lock 8 and we saw quite a lot of turtles:

Eventually the rain arrived and we came home to finish getting organized. PBS was showing The Last Emperor, which we hadn't seen since it was in the theaters, so we watched it with Adam. I'd forgotten some of the particulars -- it's almost unremittingly depressing but extremely well acted. I won't even discuss the terrible Orioles game!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Greetings from Home

How I Am
By Jason Shinder

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house.
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle

passing through the tall grasses and ferns
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows.

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.


We are home after a final stop in Pittsburgh at the zoo, which we have not visited in seven years, during our first Penguin Tour of the Northeast. It was delightful for several reasons: it's a great zoo, we got to spend a few hours with Betty and her daughter, the weather was as gorgeous as the rest of the week has been, and there were lots of baby animals at the zoo:

We ate lunch at the zoo, which was closing early for a fundraiser so it's just as well we couldn't stay late. Then we made good time driving home (younger son could not drive in Pennsylvania on a learner's permit but he did most of the driving in Maryland), and now we are busy with unpacking and laundry and all the usual post-travel chaos. Our cats are glad we're back to fill their dishes!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Greetings from Pittsburgh

We spent much of Thursday at the University of Michigan, which Paul and I have visited before but never properly toured. The campus isn't as pretty as Cornell's with its waterfall or Indiana's with its wonderful rule that for every tree that is removed two more must be planted, but I must admit that Michigan is much more my type of school -- it has more of an urban vibe though it has gardens and trees, there's lots of shopping and restaurants mixed in among the academic buildings, there's a wide range of residences, and even in the middle of summer there are people reading in the grass and working in the libraries. Adam and I were both impressed, him especially with the business school's private gym.

Cook Law Quadrangle at the University of Michigan, based on buildings at Oxford...

...and the inside of the law library, which resembles Hogwarts' Great Hall.

The Diag at the center of campus (apparently there are superstitions about failing tests if students walk across the M).

The Endover cube by Bernard Rosenthal, which has a twin in New York that doesn't rotate.

Michigan's Ross School of Business is in a new LEED-certified building.

This fraternity put a beach volleyball net out in front for the summer.

The Michigan squirrels are a darker red than those in Maryland. Sadly, there were no wolverines (not even on the merchandise, since Michigan prefers its big block M to an actual mascot).

But of course we had to see the Big House anyway (Paul and I saw a game there more than 20 years ago, but the stadium has been extensively renovated since then).

Both the admissions officer who did the Powerpoint presentation about the school's statistics and our tour guide were dynamic and fun -- other schools could take lessons -- though I am amused that they both bragged about how the school's logo and football team are recognized internationally even more than the highly ranked academic departments! In the afternoon we drove through Michigan and Ohio into Pennsylvania, where we are staying on the outskirts of Pittsburgh so we can go to the zoo on Friday with before heading home. X-Men: The Last Stand was on TV when we got here with Wolverine previews interspersed, so we watched that while trying to catch up on mail and stuff!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Greetings from Michigan

We have arrived late at a hotel in Ann Arbor after a lovely evening in Chelsea, Michigan. Earlier in the day we went to an information session and took a tour of Indiana University, which is also quite lovely and did one of the better presentations about the campus and the school's alumni though sadly we did not have time to see the Kinsey collection, then we had lunch with Deborah at an Indian buffet which we all liked a lot. (I also heartily approve of the name George for the new prince!)

From Bloomington we drove to Chelsea and spent a few hours with Paul's father's youngest sister and her husband, who took us out to dinner at a wonderful restaurant, the Common Grill, and showed us the town, which is preparing for a big arts festival for the next several days. Paul's uncle is the executive director of the chamber of commerce of Chelsea and seemed to know every single person in the town, which has a college vibe, lots of artsy buildings and a famous library.

Showalter Fountain at Indiana University. Its fish were stolen after a basketball championship and one has never been returned, which is believed to have cursed the team.

The Jordan River flowing through the middle of campus.

One of the gargoyles on one of the older buildings on the campus. (The business school building is under construction and closed for the summer.)

I.M. Pei designed the art gallery.

Here in Chelsea is my family plus Paul's aunt and uncle.

The town is famous for the Jiffy factory...

...and Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose theater.

Adam posing on the tracks by the railroad station.