Sunday, January 31, 2010

Poem for Sunday and January Snowstorm

In a Beautiful Country
By Kevin Prufer

A good way to fall in love
is to turn off the headlights
and drive very fast down dark roads.

Another way to fall in love
is to say they are only mints
and swallow them with a strong drink.

Then it is autumn in the body.
Your hands are cold.
Then it is winter and we are still at war.

The gold-haired girl is singing into your ear
about how we live in a beautiful country.
Snow sifts from the clouds

into your drink. It doesn't matter about the war.
A good way to fall in love
is to close up the garage and turn the engine on,

then down you'll fall through lovely mists
as a body might fall early one morning
from a high window into love. Love,

the broken glass. Love, the scissors
and the water basin. A good way to fall
is with a rope to catch you.

A good way is with something to drink
to help you march forward.
The gold-haired girl says, Don't worry

about the armies
, says, We live in a time
full of love
. You're thinking about this too much.
Slow down. Nothing bad will happen.


"Several times a day, a B-2 bomber flies above my classroom, rumbling, beautiful and terrifying," writes Prufer in Poet's Choice. "During the run-up to the Iraq War, I felt a palpable sort of tension in the local restaurants, the coffee shop, the Wal-Mart down the highway. On the one hand, we were quick to express patriotic feelings, nationalistic pride and a desire for revenge after 9/11. On the other hand, our military adventures, recounted endlessly on TV, would have very real, measurable impacts on our lives. [This poem] was born out of this anxiety and tension. In retrospect, those feelings of pride, ably manipulated by our own government and media, seem sinister. I suppose the 'gold-haired girl' in the poem represents to me not the 'beautiful country' of the poem's title, but an impostor version of that country we came to trust, a lovely voice distracting us from the truth of war, death and political incompetence."

The weather reports Friday night said that we'd get a couple of inches of snow on Saturday. "A couple" turned out to be about, oh, six. It started in the morning just as Adam was heading for Hebrew school to volunteer and Daniel was heading for robotics; both were dismissed early, and the county closed all school buildings for the rest of Saturday and all day Sunday because there was so much ice on the roads. I never even left the house, letting Paul pick up the kids while I did laundry, coded and uploaded a bunch of stuff, and made sure the cats stayed off the heating vents. Here's what things looked like from our doorways:

In the evening Paul made lentil and couscous pilaf with yellow and green squash for dinner, then admitted he'd been in the mood to watch Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone since we got back from the exhibition in Boston. I never say no to Harry Potter, though I liked the first two movies less than the next four, and I haven't seen the first one all the way through in several years -- certainly not since I read the seventh book. I still love the adults in it but it completely creeps me out seeing pre-teen Ginny talking to pre-teen Harry, and Hermione is totally Ron's mother; I knew Harry married the popular red-haired girl with the big family for obvious reasons, but I never thought before about Ron's mother issues, which I think are more pathological than Harry's even though Harry's the one with the huge family trauma in his past. Draco is somehow much less unnerving as a little boy than the trio.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Poem for Saturday and Museum of Science

Visiting Paris
By Vijay Seshadri

They were in the scullery talking.
The meadow had to be sold to pay their riotous expenses;
then the woods by the river,
with its tangled banks and snags elbowing out of the water,
had to go; and then the summer house where they talked—
all that was left of an estate once so big
a man riding fast on a fast horse
couldn't cross it in a day. Genevieve. Hortense. Mémé.
The family's last born, whose pale name is inscribed on the rolls
of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. As in the fresco of the Virgin,
where the copper in the pigment oxidizes to trace a thin green cicatrix
along a seam of Her red tunic,
a suspicion of one another furrowed their
consanguine, averted faces.
Why go anywhere at all when it rains like this,
when the trees are sloppy and hooded
and the foot sinks to the ankle in the muddy lane?
I didn't stay for the end of the conversation.
I was wanted in Paris. Paris, astounded by my splendor
and charmed by my excitable manner,
waited to open its arms to me.


From this week's New Yorker.

Not an eventful Friday since I feel like I'm coming down with a cold and deliberately took it easy. Slept late since I had cats snuggled against me on both sides so it was nice and warm. Did some reading. Made tuna with peanut sauce for lunch and had very helpful cats underfoot. Watched coverage of the conviction of the murderer of Dr. George Tiller. Wrote a review of "Relics", the Next Gen episode with Scotty -- definitely not my best review since I am fond of the episode but still think it could (well, should) have been so much better, using brilliant writing rather than viewer nostalgia to drive it, and I didn't want to tear it down but I did want to consider all the reasons I didn't actually like it all that much when it first aired.

The Friday Five: What would the theme song be if your life was depicted as a...
1. sitcom?
"These Are Days," 10,000 Maniacs
2. prime time drama? "Closer To Fine," The Indigo Girls
3. reality TV show? "Waiting For My Real Life To Begin," Colin Hay
4. sketch comedy show? "Feelin' Groovy," Simon & Garfunkel
5. Saturday morning cartoon? "Sea of No Cares," Great Big Sea

Fannish5: List five characters you'd want on your side in any kind of trouble. In real trouble, I want girls backing me up.
1. Xena, Xena: Warrior Princess
2. Kira Nerys, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
3. Ellen Ripley, Alien
4. Martha Jones, Doctor Who
5. Buffy Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

A model of a T-Rex at Boston's Museum of Science.

The Foucault pendulum knocks down blocks representing the hours on a carved basalt wheel depicting the Aztec sun god Tonatiuh.

A model of the Mayflower. A full-scale reproduction can be visited in nearby Plymouth.

A Tamarin monkey in the evolution exhibit.

A snake skeleton in one of the natural history galleries.

A model of a Navajo snake dance.

An octopus collection in an exhibit on collections that included someone's collection, in plastic bottles, of air from various places he'd visited.

In the Van de Graaf generator exhibit, a representation of Benjamin Franklin's hand getting shocked by the electricity transmitted from the key attached to his kite in a lightning storm.

We had dinner at my parents' -- seafood for most of us, tofu and a veggie burger for Adam whom I think ate more than the rest of us combined -- then came home for the return of Smallville, which I enjoyed a lot now that there's a Lois & Clark. Plus it was an Oliver-centered episode, and you know what that means -- excuses for Justin Hartley to take his shirt off! I wasn't crazy about the storyline with the evil Celtic archery cult, though I loved their logo and that fabulous hedge maze trimmed in its image, and I'm bummed that yet again Lois was knocked out of the action for most of the episode, which I guess is inevitable a lot of the time given that she isn't supposed to know about Clark's powers, but sheesh, Chloe recovered so quickly while Lois was in the hospital getting stalked by Zod. Now we are watching the weather, which is warning us about piles of snow on Saturday.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Poem for Friday and Boston Aquarium

Consumed in Grace
By Hafiz
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.
The cheeks of the sun were pale before Him,
and the earth acted as a shy
girl, like me.

Divine light entered my heart from His love
that did never fully wane,

though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person's
faith can at times flicker,

for what is the mind to do
with something that becomes the mind's ruin:
a God that consumes us
in His grace.

I have seen what you want;
it is there,

a Beloved of infinite


The major event of my day was picking up Adam early from school to take him to the dentist for the filling of a cavity right under the band for his braces, undoubtedly caused by the braces -- it was originally supposed to be filled last week when he had his orthodontist checkup, but I had to move the time because of his math midterm, and they needed him in on a day when the ortho techs could remove and replace the band around the dentist's work. Since I had already concluded that I was going to accomplish nothing important in the morning, I got SPP spa plushies for myself and Adam (the penguins with cucumbers over their eyes are too adorable to resist -- it's so Denny Crane and Alan Shore!), made a bunch of appointments for the kids (their pediatrician is the sister-in-law of their eye doctor and I had to call both), and did some reading. I'm in a trashy historical fiction phase if you're wondering why I never even mention book titles. Have some New England Aquarium photos:

RIP Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger. Paul made zucchini, sweet onion and pepper tart for dinner, which was awesome (well, except the onion part but I pick those out of almost everything), then we all watched Next Gen's "Relics" -- the Scotty episode. I remember I thought it was somewhat overwrought despite the nostalgia factor the first time I saw it, but I really enjoyed it this time -- that moment when Scotty goes onto the empty bridge of the NCC-1701 on the holodeck is just so well played. I miss the days when I accepted all of Trek canon as, well, canon, even obvious inconsistencies like Scotty thinking Kirk must have come looking for him when the first Next Gen movie made that I have entire series finales and entire movies that I just don't count.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Poem for Thursday and Shopping Stuff

By Cynthia Cruz

Awkward, and almost always the idiot
Savant, mutant, retard, I

Travel my own effervescent weather,
In my underwater

Vessel, my sweet
Mars, and soundless

Daydream, magical sweep of Rimbaudian
Reverie. Always

Clumsy, and guileless, mind-
Blind, and deathly shy,

Winning every spelling bee,
Every math contest,

Done before the rest, finishing
First in science test.

Hiding the quarterly honor-roll awards
I won beneath the bed.

The shame of being
Seen consumes me.

And I fight it back,
A landowner warding off

Leagues of feral thieves,
With fire, handheld torch, burning back

The onslaught. In grade school,
Listening to the same Blondie song in my bedroom, over

And over for hours, days,
For years. No friends

But the one: silent, and sitting
In my head. Running laps around

The house for five, ten, fifteen
Miles, counting

Calories of everything put
Into my mouth—desperate to ward the onslaught

Off. Until I am nothing
But a body.

Burn the body down
And, with it, out goes the pilot

Blue light of the mind.
Everyone said

I was pretty back then.
Maybe, way back then,

Before I began.


From this week's New Yorker.

I had a very nice Wednesday that turned out more self-indulgent than I had intended. I went to Kentlands in Gaithersburg because it has several craft stores right near each other, including a bigger Michael's than the one nearer my house, a high-end bead store with gorgeous semi-precious beads that I wouldn't trust myself with, and the bead store where Dementordelta and I get our little glass animal beads that also has knock-off Pandora charms 3 for $1. There is a nice vintage/consignment shop in Kentlands too, where I found a pretty Brighton purse for $25 and a Lilly Pulitzer sweater for $30, but the purse had a fraying strap and the sweater was stained under one arm, so it was easy for me to resist because I got this shirt with tigers playing in cherry blossoms in the mail today, having paid $9 for it from an Etsy seller -- whoo! (I also have a bag made from Tiger Lilly fabric like this, only larger and with fabric straps, for which I paid $15...I love Etsy.)

I took this photo with my phone and I like the prismatic effect from the sun just over the buildings.

I also like this arrangement of benches and the pavilion on Main Street (the movie theaters are all the way at the other end; Whole Foods is just to the west).

This was supposed to be a photo of the dollhouse inside the window, but the reflections of the real houses overwhelmed it, which I also think looks kind of cool. I really need a phone with a better camera, though!

I have nothing profound to say about the State of the Union, which I watched with my (understandably) cynical children who were disappointed we didn't have a drinking game going for each standing ovation so they could watch us keel over during the first 15 minutes. I am delighted that Obama renewed his pledge to overturn Don't Ask, Don't Tell, but I don't understand why he is waiting for Congress -- Truman knew better, he used an executive order to integrate the armed forces, and while it's true that technically a successor could have overturned that, in practice it would be really difficult. I'm utterly skeptical of any promises concerning the economy at this point, particularly since the Republicans refused to applaud even for things that were at one time their own proposals, like tax breaks for corporations that keep jobs in the U.S. And although I appreciated the balanced look at the problems of the past year, I've seen whining already that Obama didn't give us a pat line about how the state of our union is what hope is there for bipartisanship or even grownup discussion, really?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Poem for Wednesday and Maryland Science Center

Sonnet - To Science
By Edgar Allan Poe

Science! true daughter of Old Time thou art!
Who alterest all things with thy peering eyes.
Why preyest thou thus upon the poet's heart,
Vulture, whose wings are dull realities?
How should he love thee? or how deem thee wise,
Who wouldst not leave him in his wandering
To seek for treasure in the jewelled skies
Albeit he soared with an undaunted wing?
Hast thou not dragged Diana from her car?
And driven the Hamadryad from the wood
To seek a shelter in some happier star?
Hast thou not torn the Naiad from her flood,
The Elfin from the green grass, and from me
The summer dream beneath the tamarind tree?


I spent a wonderful afternoon in Baltimore with Dementordelta and Rubyrosered, whom we met at her new house and from whom we received the grand tour before we headed into the city. We met Delta's friend Sam for lunch at Harborplace (where I got an order of fish and chips -- well, mashed potatoes -- big enough for three people). Then we went to the Maryland Science Center, since this is the last week of the terrific Da Vinci: The Genius exhibit; we had the place practically to ourselves, so we could go through slowly and read all about the mechanical devices and art on display. (The detailed study of the Mona Lisa remains my favorite, though I also love the hands-on machines and the long film about Da Vinci's life.) Afterward we visited the Chesapeake Bay and dinosaur exhibits and saw the planetarium show on dark matter.

Delta and Ruby with the USS Constellation in the background from a balcony at Harborplace.

No photos are permitted in the Da Vinci exhibit, but here are the aerial screw and flying machine outside the display entrance.

And here is the Mona Delta.

What is a visit to a natural history museum without seeing dinosaurs?

A blue crab in the Chesapeake Bay gallery overlooking the harbor below.

We are all looking forward to Alice in IMAX!

I had a request for a photo of this gift shop remote control snakey.

Federal Hill was still decorated in honor of the Ravens' playoff bid.

After leaving Ruby at her house with her boyfriend, family, cats, and envy-inducing computer setup, Dementordelta brought me home and Paul fed us sweet and sour tofu. Then we watched John Barrowman and Barry Manilow singing "I Made It Through the Rain" together in this YouTube clip before she had to go home. My family watched two episodes of How The Earth Was Made -- "The Rockies" and "Death Valley" -- on the History Channel, but hearing about all the insect eggs in our food grossed us out sufficiently that we turned off Life After People.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Poem for Tuesday and Potomac Crest

Address to the Toothache
By Robert Burns

My curse upon your venom'd stang,
That shoots my tortur'd gums alang,
An' thro' my lug gies mony a twang,
Wi' gnawing vengeance;
Tearing my nerves wi' bitter pang,
Like racking engines!

When fevers burn, or argues freezes,
Rheumatics gnaw, or colics squeezes,
Our neibor's sympathy can ease us,
Wi' pitying moan;
But thee-thou hell o' a' diseases,
Aye mocks our groan.

A'down my beard the slavers trickle
I cast the wee stools o'er the meikle,
While round the fire the giglets keckle,
To see me loup,
While, raving mad, I wish a heckle
Were in their doup!

O' a' the numerous human dools,
Ill hairsts, daft bargains, cutty stools,
Or worthy frien's rak'd i' the mools,
Sad sight to see!
The tricks o' knaves, or fash o' fools,
Thou bear'st the gree!

Where'er that place be priests ca' hell,
Where a' the tones o' misery yell,
An' ranked plagues their numbers tell,
In dreadfu' raw,
Thou, Toothache, surely bear'st the bell,

Amang them a'!
O thou grim mischief-making chiel,
That gars the notes o' discord squeel,
Till daft mankind aft dance a reel
In gore, a shoe-thick,
Gie a' the faes o' Scotland's weal
A townmond's toothache!


Sorry to be a day late for Burns' birthday!

Nothing major happened to me on Monday -- the kids had no school for the end of the semester, Daniel went anyway for an all-day robotics build session, Adam came to Bagel City with me to get bagels and spreads both for lunch and the rest of the week, I stopped at the mall with him to exchange something I've never worn, and that was all the excitement other than the weather, which included periods of torrential rain alternating with periods of clear skies and sunshine. My county has a flood warning for areas bordering the Potomac River, which is expected to be at or above flood stage by Wednesday morning, so here are some more photos of Great Falls from Saturday when the water was high but not jumping its banks:

Water droplets creating spray off the rocks in the Potomac River at Great Falls.

The river thundered quite loudly as it went over the rocks.

Some of the forks that usually have little water in them had heavy streams this weekend.

Adam climbed to the rocks over this area where driftwood has collected at the bottom of the largest waterfall.

The water in the C&O Canal by contrast was very low by the inn and packet boat.

There was more water where this heron was fishing...

...and where these ducks were feeding off the bottom.

I had to fold laundry in the late afternoon so I put on Peter Pan, which I've been meaning to rewatch since we went to the Maxfield Parrish exhibit a few weeks ago -- Parrish was obviously an influence on the art direction, which is spectacular -- plus it has Jason Isaacs as incredibly hot sexy shirtless Captain Hook, and adorable Mr. Darling who suffers humiliation at the hands of bankers, kids and dog alike, culminating with his declaration of belief in fairies in front of his business superiors. We watched Heroes, but the seesaw has me completely numb -- I no longer care whether Sylar wants to be good or evil, I no longer care whether Samuel is a psychopath or just an average guy with anger management issues and superpowers, I don't care whether Peter is off his rocker or just full of himself, I don't care whether Matt is naive or a total idiot. I'm really hoping this is the last season so I can say I saw it through to the end.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Poem for Monday, Football and Petco

What is Broken Is What God Blesses
By Jimmy Santiago Baca
Translated by Tomas H. Lucero and Liz Fania Werner

         The lover's footprint in the sand
         the ten-year-old kid's bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
                                                               and in those roots
                                                               do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
                  not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
                  paraphrased from textbooks,
                                    not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
                                    nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
                           the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
                           and on the dust will again be the people's broken
What is broken God blesses,
                           not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
                           but the shattered wall
                           that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
                           the human complaint is what God blesses,
                           our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
                           the irreverent disbeliever,
                           the addict's arm seamed with needle marks
                                    is a thread line of a blanket
                           frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
                                    glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
                                    foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
                                             broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
                                             we embrace
                                             we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
                                    we work, we worry, we love
                                    but always with compassion
                                    reflecting our blessings—
                                             in our brokenness
                                             thrives life, thrives light, thrives
                                             the essence of our strength,
                                                      each of us a warm fragment,
                                                      broken off from the greater
                                                      ornament of the unseen,
                                                      then rejoined as dust,
                                                      to all this is.


Daniel once again had robotics -- expect the same report for the next several weekends, until the build season is over -- so Adam got to sleep late, I got up and read and puttered on the computer, and none of us bothered getting dressed for outdoors till after lunch. We needed to visit Trader Joe's for butternut squash soup, hummus, and other necessities, and I wanted to go to Michael's to get split rings, so we made a couple of stops on the Pike and a gratuitous visit to Petco since it was right nearby:

A baby corn snake at Petco on Sunday.

Adam bonds with a water dragon.

These are Russian tortoises; there were local red-eared sliders for sale as well.

An aquarium full of geckos.

Petco sells exotic birds as well as parakeets.

And there are many rodents, including these adorable rats...

...and this shy guinea pig...

...and this happy pile of sleepy mice, whose cage was ten times the size of what's visible here yet who all wanted to sleep on top of one another.

We thought about watching the Emma miniseries, but decided to record it instead so we don't have conflicts with the Grammys and the Super Bowl. This left us free to watch the nail-biter of a Vikings-Saints game. I will root for either of these teams over the Colts -- I'd have had more of a dilemma if the Jets had won, particularly since the host of the Super Bowl party we attend every year is a passionate Jets fan -- but we only half-watched their game around dinner, whereas we all watched Brett Favre play his heart out. The Superdome deserved a happy event after Katrina and the city of New Orleans did too, so I don't have any complaints; the fact that neither the Cowboys nor Eagles was in the NFC championship pleased me enough that I didn't mind if the Ravens weren't in the AFC championship!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Poem for Sunday and Great Falls

By Aimé Césaire
Translated by Paul Muldoon

such great stretches of dreamscape
such lines of all too familiar lines
                                         staved in
caved in so the filthy wake resounds with the notion
of the pair of us? What of the pair of us?
Pretty much the tale of the family surviving disaster:
"In the ancient serpent stink of our blood we got clear
of the valley; the village loosed stone lions roaring at our heels."
Sleep, troubled sleep, the troubled waking of the heart
yours on top of mine chipped dishes stacked in the pitching sink
of noontides.
What then of words? Grinding them together to summon up the void
as night insects grind their crazed wing cases?
Caught caught caught unequivocally caught
caught caught caught
                     head over heels into the abyss
                     for no good reason
except for the sudden faint steadfastness
of our own true names, our own amazing names
that had hitherto been consigned to a realm of forgetfulness
itself quite tumbledown.


From this week's New Yorker. Not my favorite but then I'm not a big fan of Muldoon's own poetry -- I'd love to read the French original. Surely someone has written a truly unforgettable poem about an earthquake -- has anyone seen one in the past week or so?

Adam volunteered at Hebrew school this morning and Daniel went to robotics, so we had a quiet morning and I got some reading done -- not to mention some book arranging, since I still haven't put my birthday and Chanukah books on shelves, though I also haven't read half of them. When Adam got home, we had lunch, then went to Great Falls, where we figured the Potomac River would be cresting after all the snowmelt -- and indeed it looked spectacular, completely covering the rocks that we could see when we were there in the late fall, though we had to trudge through quite a bit of mud to get to the bridges. There wasn't ice melting on the C&O Canal because the canal has been almost completely drained in that area, probably to avoid further damage to the walls and towpath, but a bit past the turnoff for Olmsted Island, the canal had water and there were ducks and a heron enjoying the warm-ish afternoon:

A rainbow in one fork of the Potomac River at Great Falls.

The river was quite high between Maryland and Virginia...

...and making lovely fountains of spray where it struck underwater rocks.

Vultures were circling high above the spray.

The canal had been drained where the packet boat Mercer was docked near the old inn...

...but there was plenty of water where this heron was fishing.

There were ducks feeding off the bottom as well.

In the evening, after vegetarian chili for dinner and confusion about Daniel's date plans that turned out to be for naught since the date is actually Sunday night, I spent Saturday night in important intellectual pursuits...oh, who am I kidding? I watched Twilight on Showtime. The dialogue is as bad as I remembered from my one theatrical viewing, the Pacific Northwest still looks beautiful -- I'm not sure why they replaced Catherine Hardwicke as director, I think New Moon is a much less beautiful movie, though the pacing is better -- and there's still nothing in it that grabs me enough to make me want to try the book again, since everything I really like about it is visual or screen chemistry (I groove on Robsten, and Carlisle can play doctor with me whenever he wants). After the movie, we watched the U.S. women's figure skating championships, but it was obvious from the time we turned it on that Sasha Cohen wasn't going to make the Olympic team, and I haven't really been able to make myself care about skating since all the rule changes and judging scandals of the past many years. Didn't watch the SAG Awards -- I only wanted to see Betty White!