Saturday, April 09, 2005

On Keeping Up Appearances

I have to admit, I've never been very skilled in social niceties. I have fallen asleep at parties, at dull, long speeches, at church ceremonies. Am very surprised, in fact, that I've not managed to alienate all my friends because of my 'roughness around the edges.'

Norm posts a couple poems by Sophie Hannah dealing with the very real tension that the need to be polite causes over at his site. I particularly enjoy the one on a royal wedding, as I'm kind of weddinged out at the moment, myself.

Friday, April 08, 2005

A girl's got to look out for herself, yes.

Buying Stock

"...The use of condoms offers substantial protection, but does not
guarantee total protection and that while
there is no evidence that deep kissing has resulted in
transfer of the virus, no one can say that such transmission
would be absolutely impossible."

--The Surgeon General, 1987

I know you won't mind if I ask you to put this on.
It's for your protection as well as mine--Wait.
Wait. Here, before we rush into anything
I've bought a condom for each one of your fingers. And here--
just a minute--Open up.
I'll help you put this one on, over your tongue.
I was thinking:
If we leave these two rolled, you can wear them
as patches over your eyes. Partners have been known to cry,
shed tears, bodily fluids, at all this trust, at even the thought
of this closeness.

-Denise Duhamel
Bob from Birmingham sends along this one which he says is not one of his favorites, but is appropriate for the season. Hey, everyone's entitled to their opinions. I do have to say, though, that the structure is making me crazy (not a sestina...what is it?) and the rhythm's a fair challenge:


To-day we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And to-morrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But to-day,
To-day we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all of the neighbouring gardens,
And to-day we have naming of parts.

This is the lower sling swivel. And this
Is the upper sling swivel, whose use you will see,
When you are given your slings. And this is the piling swivel, Which in your case you have not got. The branches Hold in the gardens their silent, eloquent gestures, Which in our case we have not got.

This is the safety-catch, which is always released
With an easy flick of the thumb. And please do not let me
See anyone using his finger. You can do it quite easy
If you have any strength in your thumb. The blossoms
Are fragile and motionless, never letting anyone see
Any of them using their finger.

And this you can see is the bolt. The purpose of this
Is to open the breech, as you see. We can slide it
Rapidly backwards and forwards: we call this
Easing the spring. And rapidly backwards and forwards
The early bees are assaulting and fumbling the flowers
They call it easing the Spring.

They call it easing the Spring: it is perfectly easy
If you have any strength in your thumb: like the bolt,
And the breech, and the cocking-piece, and the point of balance, Which in our case we have not got; and the almond-blossom Silent in all of the gardens and the bees going backwards and forwards, For to-day we have naming of parts.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Pablo sent in some commentary on Frost's poem:

Yesterday’s poem from Robert Frost reminds me of Mark Twain, who thought that the ice storm was a great American phenomenon that was unaccountably overlooked by great poets and painters:

Here in London the other night I was talking with some Scotch and English friends, and I mentioned the ice-storm, using it as a figure - a figure which failed, for none of them had heard of the ice-storm. One gentleman, who was very familiar with American literature, said he had never seen it mentioned in any book. That is strange. And I, myself, was not able to say that I had seen it mentioned in a book; and yet the autumn foliage, with all other American scenery, has received full and competent attention.The oversight is strange, for in America the ice-storm is an event. And it is not an event which one is careless about. When it comes, the news flies from room to room in the house, there are bangings on the doors, and shoutings, "The ice-storm! the ice-storm!" and even the laziest sleepers throw off the covers and join the rush for the windows.”

Mind, in this speech I have been trying merely to do honor to the New England weather -- no language could do it justice. But, after all, there is at least one or two things about that weather (or, if you please, effects produced by it) which we residents would not like to part with. If we hadn't our bewitching autumn foliage, we should still have to credit the weather with one feature which compensates for all its bullying vagaries -- the ice-storm: when a leafless tree is clothed with ice from the bottom to the top -- ice that is as bright and clear as crystal; when every bough and twig is strung with ice-beads, frozen dew-drops, and the whole tree sparkles cold and white, like the Shah of Persia's diamond plume. Then the wind waves the branches and the sun comes out and turns all those myriads of beads and drops to prisms that glow and burn and flash with all manner of colored fires, which change and change again with inconceivable rapidity from blue to red, from red to green, and green to gold -- the tree becomes a spraying fountain, a very explosion of dazzling jewels; and it stands there the acme, the climax, the supremest possibility in art or nature, of bewildering, intoxicating, intolerable magnificence. One cannot make the words too strong.”

As destructive as these storms can be, they create some of the most delicate, detailed winter beauty I've ever laid eyes on. Branches and leaves are enrobed in crystal. Sometimes the ice dangles like the sparkles on a chandelier if there was a thaw, then refreeze. Snow puddles on fir trees in a way that makes it look like it was painstakingly arranged there.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

One Most Definitely Could Do Worse.

From a swinger-of birches, gourmet extraordinaire, Sox fan and bit of hypertext sunshine in my life:

As a boy, I loved Robert Frost because of how well he described the woods and what it was like to walk in them. He described every single thing he saw and he saw it all. Not unlike a botanist would if taking the same walk in the woods, I imagine. Of course, their accounts would be very different but equally accurate.

As a kid, I didn't think about it nearly as deeply. I identified because I felt like he was describing things that I had seen before, places where I had been. And he was, but the important thing is how he told the story. He spoke my language, as a New Englander and as someone who pays attention.

For a while I lived in Salem, NH and my best friend of all time lived in Derry. The ride to his house was a quick half hour that passed right by Robert Frost's farm. I swear, I could see these trees and I knew the boy who swung on them:


When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-coloured
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground,
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when
Truth broke inWith all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm,
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


Since moving into the world of cubicles and bureacracy, I've heard a lot of new and creative word usage. One of my coworkers likes to verbalize adjectives that derive from perfectly good other verbs ("We must resolute this problem!"..."Why did you nomenclate that account as you did?"). Another is fond of redundancies ("But that department's got no income coming in!") . Still another just makes things up as she goes along ("Maybe we should re examine the pee-ohh lization process in that department. " - pee ohh lization being the process of writing up purchase orders, I believe. Mind you, I'm not certain. This is the first time I've heard it and I can't find it in the dictionary.)

One day, my boss and I were making fun of someone's infliction of the term irregardless on us. Another coworker, remembering how grating this made up term was to us, found this:

2 entries found for irregardless.

adv. Nonstandard
[Probably blend of irrespective, and regardless.]
Usage Note: Irregardless is a word that many mistakenly believe to be correct usage in formal style, when in fact it is used chiefly in nonstandard speech or casual writing. Coined in the United States in the early 20th century, it has met with a blizzard of condemnation for being an improper yoking of irrespective and regardless and for the logical absurdity of combining the negative ir- prefix and -less suffix in a single term. Although one might reasonably argue that it is no different from words with redundant affixes like debone and unravel, it has been considered a blunder for decades and will probably continue to be so.

adv : regardless; a combination of irrespective and regardless sometimes used humorously


I'm no policewoman of the English language; far from it. I just prefer that made-up words be left for humorous purposes and Standard English be used for the workaday world. That's all. To show my good faith, here's one of my favorites:


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wade;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree.
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came wiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

-Lewis Carroll

Monday, April 04, 2005

Adele sent this wonderful lyric by a "a very British poet who is not all that fashionable these days." She mentioned that it comes to mind every time she sees a tree in bloom:

LOVELIEST of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

A. E. Houseman from "A Shropshire Lad." (Hey, didn't Vaughn-Williams set this to music? Why, yes he did...and what do I see but a recording by (sigh) Bryn Terfel. Stop it, B, you're going off on a tangent...)

I appreciate the need to take time out for what is important - and getting out to note the things in bloom is a very high priority for me. It takes some doing in the city, but I manage. It's part of replenishing what's alive, what's human in me.

In thinking on this (to me) idyllic poem, I got to remembering a lyric to a song by Silvio Rodriguez , vanguard of the nueva trova movement, and, to me anyway, a powerful voice in Cuba:

Días y Flores

Si me levanto temprano,
fresco y curado,
claro y feliz,
y te digo: voy al bosque
para aliviarme de tí,
sabe que dentro tengo un tesoro
que me llega a la raíz.
Si luego vuelvo cargado
con muchas flores
(mucho color)
y te las pongo en la risa,
en la ternura, en la voz,
es que he mojado en flor mi camisa para
teñir su sudor.
Pero si un día me demoro, no te impacientes,
yo volveré más tarde.
Será que a la más profunda alegría
me habrá seguido la rabia ese día:

la rabia simple del hombre silvestre,
la rabia bomba —la rabia de muerte—,
la rabia imperio asesino de niños,
la rabia se me ha podrido el cariño,
la rabia madre por dios tengo frío,
la rabia es mío —eso es mío, sólo mío—,
la rabia bebo pero no me mojo,
la rabia miedo a perder el manojo,
la rabia hijo zapato de tierra,
la rabia dame o te hago la guerra,
la rabia todo tiene su momento,
la rabia el grito se lo lleva el viento,
la rabia el oro sobre la conciencia,
la rabia —coño— paciencia paciencia.

La rabia es mi vocación.

Si hay días que vuelvo cansado,
sucio de tiempo,
sin para amor,
es que regreso del mundo,
no del bosque, no del sol.
En esos días,
ponte alma nueva
para mi más bella flor

(Don't worry, I'm working on a translation of this - will have it up very soon. The gist of it is that he's telling his love that when he goes to the woods to get away from the world, to get away from her, to be among the flowers (and to return with some for her) it is because of his need to rage, rage against injustice, rage against rage, rage to cleanse his soul, as rage is his vocation. He may come back filthy from the world, time, whatever, but he asks her to be patient, for he wishes to come back with the most beautiful flower of all: a cleansed and rejeuvenated soul.)

Two strong voices for "national" movements (English Pastoralism I'm thinking with Houseman, Nueva Trova for Rodriguez) going back to nature to rejeuvenate themselves. To remind themselves that they live by surrounding themselves with the spring blooms - how interesting to find similar words spoken with different accents on such a universal theme.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Psalm of Life

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
"Life is but an empty dream!"
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
"Dust thou art, to dust returnest,"
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act to each to-morrow
Finds us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,--act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o'er life's solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing
Learn to labor and to wait.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


Happy Birthday to Pablo, who is a very young 37 today and who has many more years ahead of him to pursue whatever greatness he hasn't yet defined for himself.

Happy Birthday as well to Vince, my Grandpa, who is a very young 91 today, and who I think realizes that all his grandchildren may love him even though some of us live far away and may well not be Yankees fans.

Love, Bev