Thursday, July 31, 2008

Poem for Thursday

Lament Fragment
By Allen Grossman

Go down

(Forsaking the lagoons of bridged Atlantis)

To the mid-Atlantic ridge

where are the crazed
Magnetic fields and roped sheets, and stains
(The disordered fabric of the volcanic
Bed chamber) and the gigantic vermicular

and stare upon the great
Principle of the solid world—the original
Torment trace.

Go down, for down is the way,
And grapple one stone syllable
Of all that frozen love's discourse
Onto an iron dredge

and on it rise
(Borne on the enormous weight of its desire
For light and the air)

until it explodes
Upon the deck amid the astonished crew.

Then empty out the nets disposed about
Your person, and fill them with the pieces
Of that one vast syllable

and carry them
To Cahokia in East Saint Louis, where
My father was born who is dying now
(He was an honest man—mute as stone)

Place them on the top of Monk's Mound

(Go you. I am his son. I have no words.)

and let
Them off like a siren.


My children were not happy about getting up this morning to go to the orthodontist, but they recovered when we walked through the mall in which the dental office is located and learned that the GameStop had just received a new shipment of the Wii Fit. More than $100 poorer (because I'm told you have to get the balance board cover, the battery charger, etc.), we came home with it and two happy kids, though I insisted that they eat lunch and go to the pool before playing it because a thunderstorm was forecast for the afternoon and swimming counts more to me as "real exercise" than Wii Fit, though now that I have tried the aerobics for two minutes I may revise that opinion. The good news is that I have a Wii age of 33; the bad news is that the Wii says I need to lose 30 pounds to get my BMI to where it should be. Not that this is news to me.

While the kids were at the pool, I stopped at CVS to get a DVD case, then came home and recorded a whole bunch of movies to send with my parents to my uncle who is going to be in rehab for several months. Most of them I burned without watching beyond the first few seconds, but I sat down and watched Eastern Promises, which yet again reminded me that I hate David Cronenberg films with a passion. Maybe I shouldn't call him a misogynist, since his men are at least as screwed up as his women and never idealized virgin-whore figures (unless Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers counts because both of him fits the mold better than monstrous female Genevieve Bujold). But I really don't think it's any more possible to criticize the glorification of violence against women by fetishizing it than it is to mock a character for homosexual tendencies because that character wants to watch Viggo Mortensen have sex when Cronenberg's camera wants to do exactly the same thing.

I felt like I needed a shower after Eastern Promises, so instead I put on pretty, inoffensive Becoming Jane, which I thought my uncle would like since he generally enjoys Austen adaptations more than I do and which proved to be the perfect antidote...lots of actors I like including a long list of women (Anne Hathaway, Julie Walters, Maggie Smith, Anna Maxwell Martin, Lucy Cohu whom I only discovered because of Ballet Shoes), James McAvoy playing a cross between his Atonement and Last King of Scotland characters but appealing, a dramatic mix of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility with more pleasant parental figures, family loyalty that doesn't make your skin crawl, Ireland doubling for the English countryside, and sheep. I can't say Becoming Jane was brilliant, but I enjoyed it a lot!

Any bad news for Karl Rove tends to make me happy, so although it's largely token at this point, thank you, House Judiciary Committee, for finding him contemptible...that is, in contempt. I also wave a fond *cough* farewell to Ted Stevens -- another pro-life politician down on corruption charges, darn. As for Ehud Olmert, I don't know enough about the charges against him to have an opinion on their validity but I hope his successor intends to put a stop to new settlements in the West Bank.

Twilight at Devil's Tower from in front of our cabin at the end of June. The RVs are northeast in the campground, but people in tents can stay right at the base of the tower.

Here's our cabin a bit earlier when the sun was up, with my laptop in the shade created by the minivan.

This was the view around the back of the cabin of the Belle Fourche River.

The base of the tower itself is surrounded by evergreens, boulders, fire-damaged tree stumps...

...thick grasses, thistles, and other wildflowers...

...climbers preparing to ascend above the treeline, which requires a permit from the park office...

...and prairie dogs, who live on both sides of the road approaching the visitor center from the entrance to the park.

But nothing really steals the show from the main attraction.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Poem for Wednesday

Tales of Odysseus
By Allen Grossman

The hallucination of good weather
Can deceive only the young. Others
It maddens, when hair becomes
A crop of crocuses and terrible forsythia
Forks from fragile fingers. To be dead
Is easy and passes into habit,
But to live
Surpasses understanding. The outraged
Senses mourn when flesh unfolds
Like an unreachable conception
Suddenly achieved.

Wrapped in a stinking skin I lay all night
Rehearsing lies, until at dawn he crawled out
Blinking the bright windows of his eyes,
Foul, impotent, sinewy, and old.
I gripped him savagely, and he became
Bright water flowing to the sea:
Then a cold serpent, then a flowering tree.
At last he was a glorious woman. With a knife
I came upon the order of my life.

Conceive a coast shuddering and sublime,
And then a ship utterly cast away,
Its people poured like pollen on the waters—
Think then of rocks gigantic
And the unwatered deserts of the deep they guard,
And marvel how I came ashore
(Being neither wholly god nor wholly man)
My knotted beard wrapped around me like the veil
That Ino gave to one who could not love Calypso
Wholly beautiful. And know from this
That in the infinite patience of Poseidon
All our impatient imaginings
Are sealed at least,
As by an unimagined consummation.


After being rudely dragged out of bed by the gas company, which decided it needed to check our meter TODAY even though we had an appointment for a couple of weeks from now, I mostly spent my day taking things out of bags, cleaning, sorting, putting things back into different bags, and transferring things between one computer and the other, with breaks to take the kids places. We went to Bagel City for lunch because we had neither bagels nor lox spread and were missing both. Then I took the kids to the pool, along with Adam's best friend, and went to work updating Picasa and burning photos to disc (and burning Doctor Who's "The Invasion" arc, while I was feeling industrious, since we all liked "The Mind Robber" so much). Also, I spent a lot of time with a cat kneading my thighs and demanding attention. I suppose I will get back into her good graces just in time to leave for the beach!

The Dolphin Discovery show at SeaWorld in San Diego.

As part of the same exhibition, a woman rides on a pilot whale.

SeaWorld's most famous star, Shamu, peforms a mid-air twist in his show Believe...

...and glides onto a platform with one of the trainers on his back.

At the Pets Rule show, adopted dogs, cats, birds, rodents and a pig demonstrate tricks and cooperation.

Sea Lions Tonite parodies all of the park's other shows, with sea lions playing the dolphins...

...a walrus playing Shamu...

...and ...even a sea lion parodying its own rescue show!

Paul made bacon cheeseburgers for dinner while I was out chatting with Adam's best friend's mother, then Paul made cookies because apparently he's missed baking or something that never happens to me. *g* After the kids' showers, we all watched Robot Chicken which makes me laugh far more than it should, even though they say "douchebag" far more often than I can forgive. I mean, the mythical animals missing Noah's Ark! And the CHiPs guys getting beheaded in a race! ...yes, I am twelve. Our other evening excitement was a little tiny adorable mouse on the deck that got Daisy very distressed, which alerted us!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Poem for Tuesday

The Work
By Allen Grossman

A great light is the man who knows the woman he loves

A great light is the woman who knows the man she loves

And carries the light into room after room arousing
The sleepers and looking hard into the face of each
And then sends them asleep again with a kiss
Or a whole night of love

                          and goes on and on until
The man and woman who carry the great lights of the
Knowledge of the one lover enter the room

                                           toward which
Their light is sent and fit the one and the other torch
In a high candelabrum and there is such light
That children leap up

                      unless the sea swallow them
In the crossing or hatred or war against which do not
Pray only but be vigilant and set your hand to the work.


Another from Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "In 'The Work' Grossman sets out his purpose on the planet: to love, which for Grossman also involves writing," notes Mary Karr. "Grossman's lighting of the candelabrum is meant to arouse the sleepers, inciting us to awaken into love. Amid the sweetness of children leaping up, he cautions us to be vigilant against evil, not only to pray but to act. I'd like to crown him one of our great Low Moderns; he's Wallace Stevens with stronger stories to anchor lame minds such as my own; he's Eliot without footnotes. Like all great poets, he faithfully serves both word and world -- and us." The poem can be found in The Ether Dome and Other Poems: New and Selected.

Most of my day consisted of laundry and more laundry. I am pleased to say that, six loads later, I have everything washed, dried, sorted and folded but the towels and sheets, plus a few random items used for camping. I consoled myself from the mountain of clothes by watching Kiss of the Spider Woman, which arrived from along with the Robot Chicken Star Wars DVD for the kids, which made everyone happy. I bought Spider Woman on VHS the week it came out in 1986 for something like $79, so getting the two-disc set was pure pleasure; I haven't even watched the documentary yet. That movie never fails to make me cry and holds up better than just about anything I've ever seen. Otherwise, I did lots of unpacking and putting away of small items while stacking others in corners to be repacked for the beach at the end of next week. Here, have some festive holiday spirit from the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg several months back, plus a gratuitous photo of a happy deer shamelessly eating a neighbor's ornamental plants.

We had dinner with my parents, who had a birthday cake for Adam since they didn't get to see him on his actual birthday. My father had gotten himself a Wii Fit but needed Daniel to demonstrate its setup. My kids want one of those too, and I told them that if they call around or search the web to find one in stock, I'd go pick it up for them -- they have the money for it -- but I wasn't about to spend my morning tracking one down. So thus far, we remain Wii Fit free, though the kids did have friends over playing games after a few hours at the pool while I did chores. I suspect that tomorrow there will be more aggressive campaigning for the Wii stuff!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Poem for Monday

The Piano Player Explains Himself
By Allen Grossman

When the corpse revived at the funeral,
The outraged mourners killed it; and the soul
Of the revenant passed into the body
Of the poet because it had more to say.
He sat down at the piano no one could play
Called Messiah, or The Regulator of the World,
Which had stood for fifty years, to my knowledge,
Beneath a painting of a red-haired woman
In a loose gown with one bared breast, and played
A posthumous work of the composer S—
About the impotence of God (I believe)
Who has no power not to create everything.
It was the Autumn of the year and wet,
When the music started. The musician was
Skilful but the Messiah was out of tune
And bent the time and the tone. For a long hour
The poet played The Regulator of the World
As the spirit prompted, and entered upon
The pathways of His power—while the mourners
Stood with slow blood on their hands
Astonished by the weird processional
And the undertaker figured his bill.
—We have in mind an unplayed instrument
Which stands apart in a memorial air
Where the room darkens toward its inmost wall
And a lady hangs in her autumnal hair
At evening of the November rains; and winds
Sublime out of the North, and North by West,
Are sowing from the death-sack of the seed
The burden of her cloudy hip. Behold,
I send the demon I know to relieve your need,
An imperfect player at the perfect instrument
Who takes in hand The Regulator of the World
To keep the splendor from destroying us.
Lady! The last virtuoso of the composer S—
Darkens your parlor with the music of the Law.
When I was green and blossomed in the Spring
I was mute wood. Now I am dead I sing.


"Allen Grossman's poetry is tethered to an antiquity that he both honors and subverts," writes Mary Karr in Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "Grossman's grand and bardic style echoes the High Modernist capital-T Tradition that bred both Yeats and Eliot (about whom Grossman has written). He leavens his work with the hilarity of honky tonk and the Borscht Belt. "The Piano Player Explains Himself" is an ars poetica, in which the piano is an actual Messiah -- as poetry is, I think, when it's played right. Grossman's lyric strategies sometimes involve repeating themes with the biblical-sounding circularity of Eliot's 'Four Quartets' (themselves inspired by Beethoven's late quartets): 'We shall not cease from exploration/And the end of all our exploring/Will be to arrive where we started/And know the place for the first time.'"

We are home! Somewhat blearily, as we had to drive more than 500 miles on this last leg, which required getting up very early this morning in case we hit traffic, which for the most part we did not -- we were incredibly lucky this trip both in terms of the driving conditions and in terms of the weather -- we're now seeing news about both the fires near Yosemite and the flooding in Missouri where we were earlier in the month. We had thought about stopping in Columbus for lunch, but we got such an early start and made such good time that we were long past it by the time we found a Quizno's further on in Ohio. We took I-70 to I-79 to I-68, which took us through a bit of Pennsylvania and a longer stretch of West Virginia. Once we got into Maryland, we made two stops: Noah's Ark in Frostburg, which is very obviously the inspiration for the ark in Evan Almighty, and Sideling Hill, a vertical cut to make way for a road that reveals the geological history of the Appalachian Mountains.

Like everywhere else in the US, there are two competing schools of thought on how the state of Maryland's geology and biology came into existence.

The pastor who started work on this project dreamed for three straight months about an ark on a hillside and God telling him that people from all over the world would come to see it.

The illustration on the ark web site is a dead ringer for the ark from Evan Almighty that Steve Carell built in Virginia.

The pastor says the ark symbolizes the imminent return of Jesus. It has been under construction since 1974.

This is Sideling Hill, blasted apart to make way for Interstate 68 and cutting many miles off a journey through this part of Maryland.

A walkway over the interstate leads to a museum about the compressed sedimentary rock strata and the fossils found on the site...

...tracing evolution in the region from a swamp to a sea to a mountain range.

And the rest stop is surrounded by Black-Eyed Susans, the Maryland state flower.

We got home around 5 p.m., took half an hour to unload the van and I immediately started the first of what will probably end up being eight laundries. PerkyPaduan took excellent care of our house and pets! The cats appear to have taken our absence in stride, as they tried to get us to feed them, then promptly decided that our plastic bags were more exciting than we were, We took a break to go out for deli with my parents, then came back to sort and hang clean clothes, go through piles of souvenirs bought for ourselves and others, shift files from the laptops to the desktops, and start going through a month's worth of mail. Rosie is helpfully lying on top of the pile of bills, while Cinnamon is upstairs trying to get someone to turn on a sink so she can drink from it and Daisy is getting into every plastic bag, pillowcase or clothes pile she can find. Life as usual!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Poem for Sunday

In Italy
By Derek Walcott

Roads shouldered by enclosing walls with narrow
cobbled tracks for streets, those hill towns with their
stamp-sized squares and a sea pinned by the arrow
of a quivering horizon, with names that never wither
for centuries and shadows that are the dial of time. Light
older than wine and a cloud like a tablecloth
spread for lunch under the leaves. I have come this late
to Italy, but better now, perhaps, than in youth
that is never satisfied, whose joys are treacherous,
while my hair rhymes with those far crests, and the bells
of the hilltop towers number my errors,
because we are never where we are, but somewhere else,
even in Italy. This is the bearable truth
of old age; but count your benedictions—those fields
of sunflowers, the torn light on the hills, the haze
of the unheard Adriatic—while the day still hopes
for possibility, cloud shadows racing the slopes.

The blue windows, the lemon-colored counterpane,
the knowing that the sea is behind the avenue
with balconies and bicycles, that the gelid traffic
mixes its fumes with coffee—transient interiors,
transient bedsheets, and the transient view
of sea-salted hotels with spiky palms,
in spite of which summer is serious,
since there is inevitably a farewell to arms,
to the storm-haired beauty who will disappear.
The shifted absence of your axis, love
wobbles on your body's pivot, to the carriage's
shudder as it glides past the roofs and beaches
of the Ligurian coast. Things lose their balance
and totter from the small blows of memory.
You wait for revelations, for leaping dolphins,
for nightingales to loosen their knotted throats,
for the bell in the tower to absolve your sins
like the furled sails of the homecoming boats.


Saturday morning we got up early to go to the St Louis Zoo when it opened at 8. On a nearly 100-degree day, this was the perfect time to arrive, before it got beastly hot and the animals started drooping -- we had the bird house and flight cage pretty much to ourselves and many of the birds were singing, and in the herpetarium, the snakes and lizards were wriggling in their enclosures. We had been told that this was a must-visit zoo for the penguin habitat, and it did not disappoint: Humboldts outside in a rocky enclosure with stone tunnels for nesting, where they swam and brayed and paraded around for us, plus Kings, Gentoos, and Rockhoppers inside in 45-degree air conditioning with an open enclosure above the waterline, meaning there was no condensation-heavy glass between us and the birds!

The St. Louis Zoo is free and large enough that it's impossible to cover in half a day, but we managed to see a lot: the amphibians and insects (including a butterfly garden); the big African mammals like elephants, hippos, giraffes (who had a baby), and zebras (who were expecting); the bears and great cats; the sea lions, prairie dogs and warthogs; and the 1904 World's Fair flight cage, as well as the puffins and polar bear housed near the penguins. We had lunch at one of the zoo's air conditioned sandwich shops and left around 2 p.m. when it was getting beastly hot!

A Gentoo and a Rockhopper penguin at feeding time in the St. Louis Zoo's refrigerated penguin habitat.

The Humboldt penguins, which can tolerate heat, were fed outside in their enclosure...

...which made them so happy that they honked for the zookeeper.

Inside, the King penguins waited for the Gentoos before getting their fish.

Elsewhere, the animals had different strategies for coping with the heat. The sea lion tipped himself into the water...

...while the tiger paced back and forth in his pool...

...and the adult giraffes tried to coax their baby into the shade.

Meanwhile, in the herpetarium, the spectacled caimans, whose range extends nearly to the equator, seemed not at all bothered by the weather.

After several hours of driving and an hour lost crossing the timeline, we had dinner in Terre Haute, Indiana with Mama Dracula at an Applebee's where we all got the three-course meal deals so we could have dessert. Then we drove another few hours to Richmond, Indiana so the final leg of our trip would be less than ten hours. There's a Model T 100th anniversary festival going on at the fairgrounds here this week, so the hotel parking lot is full of magnificent old cars. Hopefully I'll be home by this time Sunday night!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Poem for Saturday

Home to Roost
By Kay Ryan

The chickens
are circling and
blotting out the
day. The sun is
bright, but the
chickens are in
the way. Yes,
the sky is dark
with chickens,
dense with them.
They turn and
then they turn
again. These
are the chickens
you let loose
one at a time
and small—
various breeds.
Now they have
come home
to roost—all
the same kind
at the same speed.


One more by Ryan, who married her partner Carol Adair during the brief period in 2004 when San Francisco was issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, then did it again this month now that it's legal all over California. They met teaching classes at San Quentin State Prison, and Adair helped raise the money to publish Ryan's first book of poetry. "Still shying away from difficult themes 'like heart,' Ryan assigned herself a task: She would get out a pack of tarot cards, turn one card over every day and write a poem from it," Ryan told The Washington Post's Bob Thompson in "Verse of the Turtle". "'So I had to start dealing with these abstractions like love, death, the wheel of fortune.'"

Friday morning our car decided it did not like our plans for the rest of the trip. First it turned on the "maintenance required" light, which as it turns out means that it had been more than 500 miles since we had the oil changed; we had it changed two days before we left on this trip, but apparently Toyota has the onboard computer programmed to instill fear into the hearts of drivers nonetheless. So we stopped to check that out, then got back on the road, only to get a flat tire while driving through terrible traffic around Columbia, Missouri. By the time AAA arrived, helped put the spare onto our very heavy van with all our traveling stuff, and directed us to the next town where the first tire place we came to was out of business and the downtown looked like it had been in a recession for several years, we knew there was no way we would get to both the St. Louis Zoo and the City Museum that day.

So we went to Dairy Queen for lunch while our ripped tire was being replaced, called to change our hotel reservations for the night, and finally drove to St. Louis's awesome City Museum, which is both brilliant and somewhat indescribable -- the museum doesn't have a map, just sets people loose on its massive climbing structures that go several stories up both inside and outside the museum, leading to caves, a hall of mirrors, a collection of architectural decorations, an arcade, a pair of small airplanes, an aquarium with more than a dozen touch tanks and open cages to allow petting of rabbits, parrots and tortoises, a model train display of the city with tunnels that people can climb in, an artistic seascape with ship ropes and live fish and turtles, and a nice little sandwich shop where we had dinner before finally heading to the hotel to let the kids swim a bit before bedtime. I cannot recommend this museum highly enough, especially if you have kids.

Part of the massive climbing structure outside the City Museum, with two small airplanes and a castle. The school bus cannot be reached from the outside but instead anchors one of the arches.

The indoor climbing structures lead between the floors of the museum... well as down to the cave section, where stalactites alternate with the shapes of fantastic creatures.

The kids declared this their favorite museum ever.

There is also an aquarium with numerous turtles in touch tanks, like this albino red-eared slider...

...dozens of tanks with rare fish, lizards, snakes, and small mammals, all donated pets whose owners couldn't take care of them...

...and larger open tanks with sharks, rays, sea turtles, Mississippi catfish, and Amazon river fish among others. There are also otters, rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, parrots and other kid-friendly animals to pet.

Part of the train display with a boy popping up under one of the domes.

We will go to the St. Louis zoo early in the morning since we skipped it today, meaning that we won't go to the Indianapolis zoo this trip, though we have been told by our friends from Indianapolis that this is definitely the right choice (and I am still planning to meet Mama Dracula for dinner somewhere in Indiana, whoo!). I am just hoping for slightly less chaos!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Poem for Friday

By Kay Ryan

Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time's fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn't be
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.


Yet another by new poet laureate Ryan, who told The Washington Post's Bob Thompson in "Verse of the Turtle", Bob Thompson that she doesn't worry about the shortness of her poems -- "'I just go till I've got it done'" -- and as for her brief lines, "'I like a lot of exposure. A word on either end of a line has exposure. I like the danger of that.' She also loves to bury rhyme, rather than stick to end rhymes and notes that 'short lines cause the rhyme to bounce around.' She tries to achieve 'the quality of lightness' in her poems. She is aiming for 'substance that evaporates,' poetry not as a burden but as something 'rising, entering the air. I want it to make us feel like we're taking in more oxygen when we breathe.'"

We spent all of Thursday not devoted to travel at the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, a terrific facility with an aquarium, a desert dome, an indoor jungle, a great cat complex, and the most amazing area of all of which I don't even have photos: Kingdoms of the Night, the world's largest nocturnal habitat, with a canyon region, an Africa region, an Australia region, a cave combining bats from around the world, and a massive underground swamp with alligators, beavers, nutria and other animals swimming and roaming free under the boardwalks.

We were at the zoo from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and didn't cover the whole thing -- we skipped the petting zoo, parts of the great ape enclosure, the new butterfly exhibit, and the elephants, plus the Wild Kingdom pavilion. Nor did we take the tram or steam train ride. We did see the bears, monkeys, and aviary, plus the giraffes and ostriches who share an exhibit with the African penguins. The zoo also has Little Blue penguins in an outdoor exhibit near the seating area where we ate lunch, plus Gentoo, King, Rockhopper and Macaroni penguins in the refrigerated section of the aquarium indoors. It's a much bigger zoo than we had guessed from the map and absolutely terrific for kids -- I highly recommend it.

A little blue penguin stretches in the wet grass near the end of a rainstorm at Henry Doorly Zoo.

Inside the aquarium, Gentoo and King penguins await their morning feeding.

The Rockhoppers were more shy (and harder to photograph, as they kept to the back behind the condensation-covered viewing glass).

The African penguins, here lined up waiting for a feeding, share space with other African animals.

I love how cats are cats no matter how big. Look at this tiger's protective paw on the rock.

The zoo has both a dairy farm where kids can interact with goats and cows, and a parakeet landing where visitors can feed the birds.

The giant pacific octopus in the aquarium was not nearly as shy as others we have seen.

And undersea tunnels with sharks and rays are always popular!

The rest of our day was spent driving past Kansas City -- which is currently under a tornado watch -- to Blue Springs, Missouri, from which we will head tomorrow to St. Louis for the zoo and city museum. We had an unexciting dinner of sandwiches in the hotel room and the kids went swimming in the hotel's indoor pool. Now I must go collapse!