Thursday, April 30, 2009

Poem for Thursday

Forgotten Fountain
By W.S. Merwin

Water dripping year after year
from the green mossed crevice in the east cliff
through my absences and through winter
through the shadows after midday
as they deepened to nightfall
the clear drops arriving through the stone
with no color of their own as they
appear one by one on the threshold
of the world in its full color
and each one pauses for a moment
before starting on its way down
to itself as it has been doing
ever since the cliff rose
from the seafloor and then the bees found it
the badgers the foxes the birds
until the day came with voices
from the village to clear the slope
singing as the tools rose and fell
turning the stiff yellow soil to plant
vineyards and peaches and I stood
by the clear source once listening
to their last singing together
with the mattocks keeping time and I
thought of Édouard and the village
as it had been when he was young
and his name was called with the others
to the colors as they put it
in the language of elsewhere and of
what it felt like in those last days
to be leaving for Verdun with no words
in a moment with no color of its own


A recent poem from The New Yorker by recent Pulitzer Prize winner Merwin.

The temperature dropped nearly 30 degrees and it rained most of Wednesday, so although my monthly migraine did not entirely abate, I felt much better even though I did one of my least favorite things -- went dress shopping. I went with my mother, who agreed with me that Lord & Taylor this year is carrying the most hideous clothes since the pre-disco 1970s; the offerings at Nordstrom, Macy's, and Bloomingdales weren't all that much better. The only thing we bought (besides, in my case, Lush's new Vanillary solid perfume) were frozen yogurt parfaits. Afterward, Grandma twisted Adam's arm into trying on his suit, which no longer fits him, meaning we get the additional pleasure of suit-shopping with a grumpy teenager.

This is the Neutral Buoyancy Research Facility at the University of Maryland, designed to simulate weightlessness without going into space.

We visited on Maryland Day, when a group of students from the award-winning robotics club was testing the Tortuga Autonomous Underwater Vehicle.

Tortuga was raised using a hook lowered from the ceiling...

...and put into the 25-feet-deep tank, which also had divers practicing maneuvers for the Space Systems Laboratory.

Another student monitored the performance of the robot and divers from one of the lab's computers.

The students used a remote control device to propel Tortuga to the center of the tank, which was completed in 1992.

Once Tortuga was in the water, it dove to the depth where the divers were...

...and everyone could follow its movements on the two big screens near the computer controls as it was targeted to tag balloons and things like that.

Because Adam's English class is reading A Midsummer Night's Dream, and because Adam was entirely attentive when Dementordelta and I were watching the Hamlet episode of Slings & Arrows, I showed the family the very first episode (the Midsummer Night's Dream episode). They all liked it, even Daniel who sometimes doesn't like the things I like as a matter of high school principle. I think Adam is sorry he didn't audition for his school's production of the play, considering that he blamed that fact on me and the timing of his tennis lessons, even though he flatly refused even though we both encouraged him to try out.

And the fire trucks that have sat on our cul-de-sac for the past hour have left without incident (or sirens), and Jon Stewart has just killed me with "Your momma's so dumb, she thinks 'Roe v. Wade' means two ways to cross a river," so I think it's bedtime.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Poem for Wednesday

A Line-storm Song
By Robert Frost

The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift,
  The road is forlorn all day,
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift,
  And the hoof-prints vanish away.
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
  Expend their bloom in vain.
Come over the hills and far with me,
  And be my love in the rain.

The birds have less to say for themselves
  In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves,
  Although they are no less there:
All song of the woods is crushed like some
  Wild, easily shattered rose.
Come, be my love in the wet woods; come,
  Where the boughs rain when it blows.

There is the gale to urge behind
  And bruit our singing down,
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind
  From which to gather your gown.
What matter if we go clear to the west,
  And come not through dry-shod?
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast
  The rain-fresh goldenrod.

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells
  But it seems like the sea’s return
To the ancient lands where it left the shells
  Before the age of the fern;
And it seems like the time when after doubt
  Our love came back amain.
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout
  And be my love in the rain.


Between the heat on Tuesday (still nearly 90), the pollen count off the chart, and thunderstorms approaching this evening, my head is exploding. Otherwise, I have had a nice day. Dementordelta came by on her way home from New York and we watched the second half of the first season of Slings & Arrows, which is wonderful -- very funny and touching and clever, and Paul Gross has a better grasp of Ophelia than most actresses I've seen in the role.

In the evening I watched Hornblower: The Duchess and the Devil, which I enjoyed a lot -- the Duchess of Wharfedale is a terrific character even if Pellew et al should have guessed her secret five minutes in, and I love the Archie episodes. And I'm sure I'd have more to say if I could see straight but I can't, so have some Longwood Gardens flowers, which is where my parents went today since their plan to visit Baltimore was ended by a water main break that shut down a lot of the city:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Poem for Tuesday

By Ange Mlinko

It's a little spa for the mind—seeing butterflies
set themselves down by the dozen like easels

on bromeliads, when out on the street the boutiques
are dilapidated, construction can't be told from ruin.

A single taste bud magnified resembles an orchid
but what that one's drinking from is a woman's eye

which must be brineless. I wonder what she consumes
that her tears taste like fructose. For minutes she's all its.

Then the moon rises and the river flows backward.
Composed of millions of tiny north poles, iron's

punched out of the environment, hammered into railways.
Pubs serve shepherd's pies with marcelled mashed-potato crusts

and each tree casts its shade in the form of its summary leaf.
Is a woman's eye a single taste bud magnified?

Yet construction can't be told from ruin.
Out on the street the boutiques are dilapidated

by the dozen like easels. And the mind — it's a little spa.


From this week's New Yorker.

It was marginally cooler on Monday than it was Sunday -- "marginally" in this case meaning only 91, not 94 degrees -- but the pollen count was roughly a hundred and fourteen billion, so I cannot say that it was pleasant to be outside. Fortunately, my major activities for the day were ordering inflatable penguins, researching penguin key chains, trying to figure out whether anyone prints affordable penguin playing cards, and comparing this classy pewter penguin card holder with this adorable squishy penguin card holder (Adam wants the squishy one, which costs $2 less per penguin, so over $150 total; we still haven't made any decisions). I continued this important task while Adam was at tennis -- half the dome was closed because the air conditioning was failing, but it was still much cooler in there than outside, and the octogenarian tennis quartet was having an end-of-season party with lots of food that they shared with the pros but not with us parents in the lounge, harrumph.

The farm at the University of Maryland's agricultural school in College Park.

There were equine events at Maryland Day...

...and farming and veterinary students taking care of cows... we got to see a very clean, robust calf population.

I find it very amusing that the sheep center has a clear view of the Comcast Center.

I wonder if the sheep are basketball fans.

In addition to the inhabitants of the barns, many other animals live at the school...

...from all the insects in the entomology department to the various specimens in the biology divisions, which, naturally, includes terrapins and other turtles.

We watched The Tudors on demand, meaning post-Jane, and it was sort of bizarre; on the one hand, the show wants Henry to be a charismatic mad genius so Cromwell has to be a stuffy jerk by comparison, but having erotic fantasies in between wailing about his loneliness while he's bored determining the future of the Church of England makes Henry seem rather unhinged and at this point everyone is unlikeable again. Whereas on the season finale of Heroes, certain people are marginally more sympathetic than they were during previous weeks, but oh what utter many people do they think they can kill off and bring back and transform and shapeshift and give personality replacements? Spoilers: I did love Angela Petrelli's moment playing Anjelica Huston in The Grifters, and I adored Peter turning from the president into Sylar's attacker, but as for the rest, can we please have more Hiro&Ando and women who don't get killed off only to come back naked?

My evening was almost ruined by the utterly disastrous Nationals -- I don't even root for them, I couldn't care what happens in the NL, but tanking because the Phillies hit a SECOND grand slam in a single game is just plain embarrassing. But then Jon Stewart pointed out that the reason we're all going to die of swine flu is obviously because some idiot f*cked a turkey club sandwich, which put life in perspective and left me snickering.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Poem for Monday

Source Codes: Five
By Susan Wheeler

The thinnest meal on the slightest isle
Sustains but poorly. So: the file
Of men and women, mile and mile,

In consult with the wizened bat.
Plumes and boas’re where it’s at
She won’t remember saying that.

If hunger takes them to the coast,
They find a spectacle to toast.
Or several of their peers to roast.

Those that make it to the south
Are lucky to live thumb to mouth.
They might prefer the Catamount

Where greenish mountains freeze the nuts.
Though scavenging is an art that’s bust
The ravenous can be beauty sluts.

Those lucky few who do adduce
The food that keeps them from the noose
Will crave on, too. Produce, produce.


Sunday was just as hot as Saturday in the DC area, and we were silly enough to spend it much the same way -- partly at a science fair on a local campus, partly seeing animals outdoors. Montgomery College was hosting the annual Rockville Science Day, so after Hebrew school and lunch, we went there with the kids and Adam's friend. This is always a fun event in that there's a range of exhibits from locally built solar cars and college-designed robots, reptiles and birds from local environmental and rescue organizations, space exhibits, nutrition and health displays, and hands-on demonstrations of chemistry, the life cycle of earthworms and things like that. Daniel would probably have been more interested in the robotics if he had not been practicing "I'm too old for this" detachment, but the younger two were excited about all the animals.

From there, we drove to Lake Whetstone in Gaithersburg for our annual search for goslings. We didn't have to search far; after a brief stop at an ice cream truck and a few minutes looking at the great blue heron nests in the trees on the island in the lake, we found a family of geese munching the grass on the lawn of one of the houses that circle the lake beyond the path. We saw several other families with goslings, plus herons, egrets, cormorants, ducks, turtles, fish, songbirds, a red-winged blackbird and a snake. It was very, very hot and we finished all our water before we were three-quarters of the way around the lake, but it was very nice to see all the animals, and cooler by the lake than it had been at College Park on Saturday.

A family of geese swimming in Lake Whetstone in Gaithersburg.

There were several families in the water and taking shelter under the trees, several of which had fences to protect them from beavers.

Other geese were protecting nests with eggs that hadn't hatched yet, and hissed when we got too close.

There were heron nests high in the trees above the rooftops...

...and turtles of several species sunning themselves on the logs in the lake...

...and a snake in the bushes by the water.

Rockville Science Day had some more exotic animals on display, like this iguana... well as these tortoises, which the kids were allowed to pet so long as they cleaned their hands afterward.

In the late afternoon, we drove down to the restaurant where Adam's Bar Mitzvah party will take place to pick up a seating chart and ask a bunch of questions. Then we had pizza with my parents. When we got home, I folded six loads of laundry while watching October Project live at TLA from a decade ago, then we all watched Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder, which was not my favorite of the specials for a variety of reasons, but still had many funny moments and was Daniel's choice after being away for several days.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Poem for Sunday

Song for the Spirit of Natalie Going
By Susan Wheeler

      qui s'est réfugié
      ton futur en moi
      -- Stéphane Mallarmé, 'A Tomb for Anatole'

Small bundle of bones, small bundle of fingers, of plumpness, of heart,

predicate, prescient, standing and wobbling, lit up in the joy,

lachrymose GA, your bundle oh KA, the unfolding begun of the start,

of the toys, of witnessing, silly, the eyes startled and up, re-

énveloped now and fresh with the art, chordate, devoted,

sunk in dreaming of wisps and startled awake -- This is morning.

This is daddy. This is the number eight -- spacey, resplendent,

in seersucker bib, overalled, astonished, in dazzling fix

on the small crawling lights in their spaceship of night and the

plug and the cord and the big one's delight, pausing,

mezzed by mobile HEH HEH and again, stinging the shopkeepers

the monkeyish mouth, knees, child knees -- need to have the child

here -- absence -- knees fall -- and falling, a dream, a final

singsong UH HAH in the starkest of suns, the heat now a blanket

now a song of your soul -- Such a sharp love there is! Such a loud

love there beats! Such a filled hole you leave, in the dusk in the room,

in the wobbling hours of what has refúged here, your future in me.

Natalie Joy Hertel-Voisine, 1994-1995


"The trick in writing an elegy is to resist, as much as is humanly possible, writing about one's own grief," writes poet Wheeler in Poet's Choice. "When friends' infant daughter, Natalie Joy Hertel-Voisine, died suddenly, I knew that a child's death is beyond words...I thought of the extraordinary notes by Stéphane Mallarmé that make up 'A Tomb for Anatole,' which Paul Auster had assembled and translated. Mallarmé's son Anatole, sickly throughout his brief life, died at 8 years old, and the fragments Auster assembled were discontinuous and truncated notes toward a text the French poet had never written. Without full sentences, strung on a line of dashes, 'A Tomb' represented the terrible shattering in losing a child...for me, 'A Tomb for Anatole' provided a scaffolding, a syntax, for something that remains unspeakable."

We spent this very, very hot April day (90+ degrees, I'm told) at the University of Maryland, which was hosting its annual Maryland Day. This is a campus-wide college and community fair with dozens of activities; it's impossible to do everything, and considering the throngs of visitors spreading to every corner of the campus, that's a good thing! In previous years we have seen an anime festival, watched angora rabbits being groomed, learned how to crochet turtle bookmarks, cheered at a football scrimmage, and eaten lunch while watching a belly dancer perform. This year we stroked a tarantula, watched space scientists work with a robot in a 25-foot tank, held pumice and rocks from a volcano, met a local sportscaster, saw cows being groomed, and brought home a ladybug in a little plastic container to help control aphids in the region:

Sheep graze at the agricultural school farm near one of the parking lots for the Comcast Center, where the Maryland Terrapins play basketball.

A cooking demonstration in the Global Village.

Kids gathering plastic duckies to exchange for prizes -- and cooling off from the heat -- in the fountain in the center of campus. (If you saw National Treasure: Book of Secrets, you may recognize McKeldin Library behind the tents.)

Adam holds a grasshopper at the entomology department's insect petting zoo.

Physics students showed off the smoke ring cannon, as well as a "pencil gun," liquid nitrogen ice cream and other fun tools of their trade.

Tim Brant, the main sportscaster at the DC-area ABC affiliate station, played linebacker for the Terps and signed to play with the Redskins before suffering a career-ending injury and becoming a professional analyst.

Another famous Maryland alumnus, Jim Henson, is immortalized on this statue with his most famous creation.

There is even a Kermit Testudo as one of the set of Testudos decorated and placed around campus.

After a brief stop at the student union for a cold drink, we left Maryland Day in the heat of the afternoon to pick up Daniel from his high school, where his three-day trip to Wallops Island ended. He came home sunburnt, happy, and carrying two loads of the dirtiest clothes I have ever seen; I don't think his baseball cap or sweatshirt can be saved even after two cycles in the laundry with colorfast bleach. We watched the first round of the NFL draft and were delighted to see Maryland wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey taken seventh by the Oakland Raiders; a few turns later, the Redskins drafted a defensive end named Brian Orakpo from Texas whom I don't know anything about. We didn't watch anything because both kids had homework. Sunday will involve more laundries in between some Bar Mitzvah chores and hopefully a visit to Lake Whetstone to see if we can find goslings!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Poem for Saturday

Emergency Haying
By Hayden Carruth

Coming home with the last load I ride standing
on the wagon tongue, behind the tractor
in hot exhaust, lank with sweat,

my arms strung
awkwardly along the hayrack, cruciform.
Almost 500 bales we've put up

this afternoon, Marshall and I.
And of course I think of another who hung
like this on another cross. My hands are torn

by baling twine, not nails, and my side is pierced
by my ulcer, not a lance. The acid in my throat
is only hayseed. Yet exhaustion and the way

my body hangs from twisted shoulders, suspended
on two points of pain in the rising
monoxide, recall that greater suffering.

Well, I change grip and the image
fades. It's been an unlucky summer. Heavy rains
brought on the grass tremendously, a monster crop,

but wet, always wet. Haying was long delayed.
Now is our last chance to bring in
the winter's feed, and Marshall needs help.

We mow, rake, bale, and draw the bales
to the barn, these late, half-green,
improperly cured bales; some weigh 150 pounds

or more, yet must be lugged by the twine
across the field, tossed on the load, and then
at the barn unloaded on the conveyor

and distributed in the loft. I help –
I, the desk-servant, word-worker –
and hold up my end pretty well too; but God,

the close of day, how I fall down then. My hands
are sore, they flinch when I light my pipe.
I think of those who have done slave labor,

less able and less well prepared than I.
Rose Marie in the rye fields of Saxony,
her father in the camps of Moldavia

and the Crimea, all clerks and housekeepers
herded to the gaunt fields of torture. Hands
too bloodied cannot bear

even the touch of air, even
the touch of love. I have a friend
whose grandmother cut cane with a machete

and cut and cut, until one day
she snicked her hand off and took it
and threw it grandly at the sky. Now

in September our New England mountains
under a clear sky for which we're thankful at last
begin to glow, maples, beeches, birches

in their first color. I look
beyond our famous hayfields to our famous hills,
to the notch where the sunset is beginning,

then in the other direction, eastward,
where a full new-risen moon like a pale
medallion hangs in a lavender cloud

beyond the barn. My eyes
sting with sweat and loveliness. And who
is the Christ now, who

if not I? It must be so. My strength
is legion. And I stand up high
on the wagon tongue in my whole bones to say

woe to you, watch out
you sons of bitches who would drive men and women
to the fields where they can only die.


I spent a lot of the day with Gblvr, interrupted so I could take Adam to the orthodontist. We met at the mall and did a bit of looking at jewelry, then I left to retrieve Adam, who was getting his twelve-year molars capped as well as his braces adjusted. While he was with the dentist, I looked in Bloomingdale's and Lord & Taylor since those are in that mall, but I found only that Lord & Taylor has the most hideous clothes of any season I can remember, while everything I liked even a little in Bloomingdale's cost five times as much as I wanted to spend so I didn't try any of it on. I wish Holy Clothing made petites. Anyway, Gblvr came over when I got back and we watched Merlin and goofed off on Facebook, and I posted my review of "The Mind's Eye, though TrekToday has a new file system and it isn't even showing up on the main page yet, harrumph. Enjoy some of Longwood Gardens' conservatory orchids:

We had dinner with my parents, then watched Arctic Tale on cable in the evening. Spoilers: It was interesting, but I can see why it didn't do nearly as well as March of the Penguins -- it does the same sort of anthropomorphizing of animals as that movie, even worse since it gives the main "characters" names...and in nature dramas like that, you can always be certain that the unnamed major players are going to die. So it came as no surprise when the young male polar bear collapsed from hunger and froze to death, but I really didn't expect the life of his sister to be dependent on eating the carcass of the "auntie" of the young walrus! Yes, we all know that animals eat one another to survive, but if you expect kids to root for a plucky girl character who eats another character's "auntie" -- that's what the movie called her -- I think you've seriously miscalculated. At least the film had a nice environmental message and beautiful filming of narwhals and murres, and the walruses are adorable even lying around farting together on an island.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Poem for Friday

Sketch for a Novel
By Franz Wright

Chapter minus two hundred and fifty
in which the author pays (and pays for it,
as always) a visit to one of the lost: I

dropped by the dark house with no furniture,
knocked, and was introduced to her mother,
a woman much younger than she was

and for obscure reasons known only to
no one had kept her from childhood on
locked in the oven, &c. At this time

they were living together or, hard to say,
dying, possibly from a mystery
condition which fuelled and quite vivified

their blunt if obsessively honed and
devotedly mutual hatred
and hissing contempt: classic case of

the weapon lying down with the wound?
From the first I had no problem picturing
(and would have preferred to eat decaying

fish and live, rained on, under a bridge)
what would happen if harm came to one of them,
should indeed anything this side of murder

slash suicide occur, although if that did
it was anyone’s guess which event would
come first. In a flash you could see it:

all hostilities concluded, and their own
miniature World War III’s aftermath,
and the all-out final progressive and

uninterrupted commercial-free
stone-cold muttering psychosis awaiting
lone survivor of this conflict, the end.


From this week's New Yorker.

I had lunch with Vertigo at the Corner Bakery, and the weather was so gorgeous that afterward we walked around Washingtonian Lake, where we saw geese and ducks but no goslings -- not sure whether that's because it's early in the season or because the management took away the eggs, as I heard they did last year. Then I went looking for clothes for the Bar Mitzvah weekend -- I need something to wear to services Friday night, something to wear to the Bar Mitzvah itself and the party afterward, and something to wear to visit with out of town company Sunday morning, though I probably have something acceptable for the latter. I bought a blouse I liked when I had it on in the store, but when I got it home and looked at it, I didn't really like the quality for the cost, and then I tried on a pile of stuff in Ann Taylor Loft and Kohl's and various other places and didn't find anything terrific. Woe -- I may have to brave Macy's. Have I mentioned that I despise shopping for dressy clothes and would rather go to the dentist?

Two little girls were playing in the fountain in the middle of the Capitol Columns at the National Arboretum last weekend.

The azaleas were in the early stages of blooming...

...but there were plenty of carpenter bees already hard at work in the Asian gardens, so many that the arboretum put up signs telling people not to panic since they don't sting.

The arboretum's tulips were blooming as well...

...and the camellias and peonies were already past their peak.

A Trident Maple, Japanese Zelkova, and Japanese Premna in the bonsai exhibit.

Also in the Asian collection, Suiseki entitled Bird-Shaped Stone "Nesting" from Saddle Peak Hills, California.

Most of the white azaleas weren't yet blooming, but the hybrids with pink and pink-and-white flowers were beautiful.

I had a great stroke of luck in that I called the videographer who is filming the Bat Mitzvah of the girl who will share the service with Adam, and he said he would produce DVDs for our family as well for half what it would have cost if the person who did our older son's Bar Mitzvah filmed it. Now we just have to work out times and places to work with our still photographers! We all watched Smallville, which I pretty much adored; I loathe the Chloe storyline, but having her distracted and Lana gone means that Lois is finally getting her turn to shine. Spoilers: I thought she was a blast as Stiletto (I especially liked that she despised wearing the heels) and yay, she and Jimmy finally got to save Clark, even though of course he had to save her too. I thought Clark totally dropped the ball with Chloe, who is clearly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, anyway, so it was totally Lois's episode. And we howled when she said, "Can you read my mind?"

Daniel is away till Saturday on his school trip, so I only had Adam to hang out with after school and discuss the economy. He has twice as many coins in Superpoke Pets as I do.