Archive for July, 2010

Sheet Music

July 30, 2010

Me too. I too switched to
the trumpet in fifth grade.
It made a lot of sense.
I rode a bike to school.
The trumpet case fit on the handlebars.
I could learn to play things like
The Flight of the Bumblebee and
When the Saints come Marching In.
My mother’s fave was Harry James
(and not Mr. Armstrong. Strange.)
Just listen to the sound a trumpet makes!
And so I left the sousaphone behind.

Too bad.

How could I know its acoustic world
echoed so deep—in waters that
went so far beyond the lake?
So far into the sea the whales could hear?

It could be like the wind Vermont stirs up,
come November, but in July, like an
old sheet blown off a clothes line, and then
the clothes line snaps, as both tensions
leave earth. Things do disappear, you know.
Both rot away, both are left behind.

I set a music stand up on the dock.
I serenade the lake all summer long.
I play the balls off Harry James.

But whales don’t come up through the rivers.
And come the end of August, Uncle Bill comes back
to close the camp and we go home,

that last sheet still flapping in the breeze,
the one I will never take down.

Birthday Boy

July 25, 2010

Curiously, I thought of Frank O’Hara
the day after the day I did not get
run over by a truck on Franklin Avenue.
I guess it’s just that story—how he did
get run over and did die. Out on Fire Island.
How he wrote, You just go on your nerve…
You don’t turn around and shout,
‘Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.’
Or maybe it’s because Frank and my father were
the same age, and today is the day my father died
five years ago. Imagine if you could go through life
celebrating the day you were born and the day
you were going to die, that you knew.
I’m sixty-three today.
Happy Birthday!
And I’m going to live X more years.
Happy Deathday!
(No, I’m not going to
fill in the blank on that X.
We don’t tempt those gods.)
Poor Carol. I’m going to her funeral today.
I can’t even say I let her down. She was my neighbor.
I can say this, though.
If someone’s chasing you down the block,
you just run, Carol. Just run.
That would be Frank’s advice anyway,
if he was still alive.

Statue, Goodbye

July 25, 2010

Then who are these people who claim to live
by living perched above her head?

They seem to live as voices in amazing stories, with
amazed voices, and when they speak,

they seem to speak her name like she was in
a hard-of-hearing shell or  something.

Her name is to be Liberty,
it seems. What a pain in the neck.

They craw, they crow. They peck
into the air. They learn to fly. My God! Liberty!

(Go ahead, make those special sounds only a crow can make.)
(Sure, a crow can give articulation to the wind.)

It was like life was pouring syrup down
her throat. It was too sweet, too much to taste.

They name her first. They claim her name—
as every sentence must.  Liberty.

Yes. I heard you the first time… Imagine
the amazing voices

amid the baby’s breath, along with her
belongings. They claim a blackbird and a crow,

two birds inside her skinny self. It’s amazing.
In the brains of the cosmos.

‘Say it,’ they say. Say, ‘Liberty.’

Long and Hard

July 17, 2010

Start with a few titles: Albert Einstein’s The Meaning of Relativity, Paul Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis, Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition, Nathan Glazer and Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s Beyond the Melting Pot, John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice, Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory. Have you read all these?    How about this group? Donald Mackenzie’s An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets, John Seeley Brown and Paul Duguid’s The Social Life of Information, Henry Petroski’s Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design, James R. Beniger’s The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society. Okay, then these: Noam Chomsky’s Language and Mind, Walter Jackson Bate’s Criticism: The Major Texts, Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren’s Modern Rhetoric, Lewis A. Coser’s Masters of Sociological Thought, and Peter Brown’s The World of Late Antiquity…

So, raise your hands, who’s read them all? Seventy-five percent? Fifty percent? Come on, anybody read one? Good, thank you. Me too—but I read it a long time ago, and well, I didn’t do it justice, which is seems fitting because I’m talking about the Rawls’ book. Lately, I’ve fingered it a few times in the book store—did you know there’re actually two editions, the one published in 1971 and a later edition—so it’s daunting, a long hard read and not immediately relevant to anything I’m doing right now, and, you know, do you have to read both volumes? Did John change his mind on some key points? Turns out, reading Rawls is just a start; as a citizen I should be reading at least some if not all of the above. Democracy demands it.

A book matches perfectly the ideal of reflection. The tougher the text, the more reflective we must be in absorbing it. This suggests the importance of reading books that are difficult. Long books. Hard books. Books with which we have to struggle. The hard work of serious reading mirrors the hard work of serious governing—and, in a democracy, governing is a responsibility all citizens share. And if we are willing to work our way through difficult texts, we are far more likely to be willing to work our way through our opponents’ difficult ideas. An important lesson of serious reading is that ideas need not be correct to be important.

This quote comes from Stephen Carter and the above list of books comes from Peter J. Dougherty and, to be fair, his reading list is only suggested reading. You can choose your own hard book to take to the beach this summer—just so long as it’s hard and it’s a book.

Kierkegaard has a passage somewhere in the Concluding Unscientific Postscript (no, I’m not going to try and find it) where he’s sitting in a café smoking a cigar and thinking about his particular place in the world. Everyone is busy explaining things, everyone is making things comprehensible, everyone is making things easy.  What was he to do with himself? He lights a second cigar (Sören, this is not good for you) and thinks that there is danger here: The danger of making things too easy, the danger of making things too readily comprehensible, of eliding past real difficulties and not dealing with the hard, harsh complex reality of things. Perhaps, he thinks, it is necessary to make things difficult again. Make things hard. Like Socrates.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pillow of Words

July 11, 2010

A person must suffer to breathe the air—
which she did not.

I still remember wrinkled, rosy skin—
a life at its most sacred.

I was ten when she was born as if in clouds of words,
too high to touch  the earth,
trans-planet tied to

this planet, not her earth, my mother.

The words were ours; my un-named sister died,
as if in a half-spoon, as if I could
have too many sisters.

We found the words
EL SAVIOR bleached into the bottom of
the basin where they’d baptized her; where she
had ‘cleansed her tears’;
where the baby’s blood had run.

She had slept on a pillow of words…

I still think of her wrinkled, rosy skin.


—Sister Rose Theresa, in the year of our Lord, 2010

A Heat Wave, the Drought

July 6, 2010

where the cicada crawl the grass and where

the remnant sounds they scratch
are something to be kept preserved
and un-shouted, and yet

must last the summer’s eerie evening air—

this rigorous and grandiose
that has educated the spirit,

which is Nietzsche’s idea, if not his words…

for far too much of the world’s illusions
are now confused by ancient hay,
by corn stalks blown too dry to form a seed.

The mystery must be what lightning bugs

must do each day when hidden in
the earth, so they can make
the grass come back to life. Just as

their photoluminescence

can be another site for the release
of heat, as when the lightning lights
the summer sky

and brings no rain, nor a god power, one

who can hurl electrons
from cloud to ground far
too fast for us to dodge

much less to see. Even his breath has ceased.

The Qualia

July 3, 2010

It was like a breeze blew through the neighborhood and left a house,
(poetry here, but this
is how it felt)
pristine pure, but it left
no people visible inside,

it left curtains, chintzy curtains.

It was like the world will bear no reflection.
Suppose the brain is like
an old house, with some shrubbery put in,
the front lawn all reseeded overnight,
and one day a hand-carved sign
that reads, ‘The Qualia Family’ is hung
next to the door out front.

Inside everything is all white, stark white,
the furniture, as such, is white. White lights
are left on all night, so it made you think of ghosts.
Suppose mail was delivered…
to Frank and May Qualia.

My son—he’s eight years old, in third grade—starts a story:
He asked me how to spell ‘putrid’; ‘oster’ we’ll leave for now.
He wants to call the story, THE QUALIA.
(Full disclosure: the first word was ‘MY’. I suggested ‘THE’—so much more menacing.)
(Full disclosure: he meant to write PERIOD, not PUTRID.)

Maybe we’ll write this story together.  The Qualia.
Maybe invisible creatures will invade the brain.
Something like that.
Something Stephen King would write.
Something set in Maine.

But with pictures of The Qualia.
My son still thinks he can draw them.
We’ll see.

You might know this joke…

July 3, 2010

Joe goes into a bar and orders a Namath Cocktail.
The bartender’s never heard of it.
Equal parts scotch, rye, gin, mixed with a little port wine.
Fill the rest of the glass with vodka, Joe says.
Man, the bartender says. That’s one strong drink.
Tell me about it, says Joe.
One glass of this stuff and you don’t know what your Namath.