The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy and the Humanities
The Best of
[Issues 205 - 210]
Late Summer 2011Soviet CarsIn the USSR, the messianic project of creating a whole new society did not lack a place for automobiles. Stalin admired the American car industry, and he engaged the Ford Motor Company to build a massive automobile factory for him in Nizhni Novgorod in the 1930s. While construction of the New Soviet Man went on briskly from the 30s through the 70s, with results that turned out to be perhaps less than dazzling, they never even attempted to create a New Soviet Car. The USSR's auto industry made a variety of models after WWII, but they all were closely based on one western brand or another, from Fiat, Opel, and Simca to Buick and Packard.
Now that the former USSR is becoming the object of a sort of ironic nostalgia, a minor cult of Soviet cars has developed here and there in Western Europe and in Canada. Nobody seems much interested in the pretentious ZIS, ZIM, ZIL, and Chaika limousines favored by the secret police of Soviet times, but there is now a Western market for old Ladas, Moskviches, Volgas, and, the cheapest of them all, the Zaporozhets.
This vehicle, you no doubt remember, was the low-price Soviet car that was planned as the Socialist answer to the VW Beetle. It began as a stripped-down version of the Moskvich, redesigned in a labor camp by two prisoners with engineering degrees who had once taken apart a Hillman-Minx. With its rear-mounted, snow-cooled engine and high pan, the Zaporozhets was well suited to run on snow and mud, although it was rather less successful on roads. It was unusually safe, for a Soviet vehicle, and several of the test drivers actually survived the crash-tests.
The "Zaporka," as it was affectionately called, had a lightweight chassis made of plywood and potato peels, and was powered by a simple engine of three 2-stroke cylinders, or in an alternative model by two 3-stroke cylinders. In line with Socialist principles, its transmission worked with three forward gears that were all the same, and it would not go into reverse without a direct order from the Politbureau of the Central Committee. Its top speed was 17 mph.
The Soviet driving public was passionately fond of the little Zaporka, and learned to cope with its many handling eccentricities. When the vehicle swerved sharply to the left, the driver's side door tended to fall off, and the driver risked falling out of the car unless his seat-belt was fastened, although of course the Zaporozhets was not equipped with seat-belts. And when the car was driven up a steep incline, the back seat sometimes filled with gasoline.
At one stage, directors of Soviet industry attempted to develop an export market in Western Europe. They had Zaporozhetses driven to east Germany, where they were permitted to escape to the west and sell themselves disguised as products of the German firm DKW or "Das Kleine Wunder!" Unfortunately, the masquerade was discovered, and the relevant German court, the Reichsoberhandelsbeförderungsmittelgericht, found the Russian cars guilty of ex proprio in omnibus or worse, and ordered them all converted to skate-boards.
After the Soviet Union closed its doors, the ZAZ company which produced the Zaporozhets was privatized, upon which it immediately filed for bankruptcy. Its large plant in Zaporizhia, in the Ukraine, has been abandoned for a decade and a half, with Zaporozhetses in various stages of completion still lying scattered about the long-silent production line. For a time, an enterprising German firm began to purchase them for resale in the west as garden gnomes.
Recently, however, the American Disney company has begun negotiations to acquire the entire town, with the plant, the half-finished cars, and the slightly radioactive surrounding countryside, in order to develop a theme park of Soviet nostalgia. It will be called OctoberRevolutionLand, and its corporate logo will be the hammer and sickle superimposed on the Disney Magic Kingdom castle. The displays will emphasize Soviet technological achievements such as the Zaporozhets, the White Sea Canal, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, the underwater assault rifle, the Theremin, the pelmeni dumpling mold, and the powdered form of chicken Kotletky Pojarskie designed to be eaten in outer space.--- Dr. Phage
Tina Fey in New York
What is your greatest extravagance?
Living in New York City.
What do you most value in your friends?
A willingness to come uptown.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Catherine the Great's horse.--- Vanity Fair Online
25 April 2011warty bliggins the toad[archy is the name of a cockroach who wrote his poems by falling head down on the keys on a typewriter. He left them for Don Marquis, a New York newspaper columnist, to find in the morning. Since archy couldn't reach the capital letter bar, everything was in lower case. archy and mehitabel is the name of the collected works, and is published by Doubleday.]i met a toad
the other day by the name
of warty bliggens
he was sitting under
he explained that when the cosmos
that toadstool was especially
planned for his personal
shelter from sun and rain
thought out and prepared
do not tell me
said warty bliggens
that there is not a purpose
in the universe
the thought is blasphemy
a little more
that warty bliggens
considers himself to be
the center of the same
the earth exists
to grow toadstools for him
to sit under
the sun to give him light
by day and the moon
and wheeling constellations
to make beautiful
the night for the sake of
to what act of yours
do you impute
this interest on the part
of the creator
of the universe
i asked him
why is it that you
are so greatly favored
said warty bliggens
what the universe
has done to deserve me
if i were a
human being i would
at poor warty bliggens
have only too often
lodged in the crinkles
of the human cerebrumStairway to HeavenThere are chartreuse grasshoppers everywhere as I make the long and winding hike up the great tower. They are flying and hopping and flopping and sometimes smashing into me, and dying on the concrete steps that spiral up the inside of the minaret which reaches high into the air above the Gadhafi National Mosque in Kampala.
It was completed in 2006 and financed, as you can guess, by Col. Muammar Gadhafi, the leader of Libya. It is the third largest mosque in Africa (numbers 1 and 2 are in Egypt and Morocco). I'd been told I wouldn't be able to go inside, but upon arrival in the parking lot I am enthusiastically greeted by rifle-hugging, camouflage-wearing police, given a guest book to sign, and directed to climb the steps to the mosque's massive front doors. On the way up the staircase, someone gently asks me to remove my sandals, which I do. Once inside, I ask the guard if it is okay to take photographs. He seems surprised at the question. "Of course," he says, "take all the pictures you like."
The vast white room is empty except for a small boy who wanders around some, gazes up at the chandeliers that were made in Egypt, and then kneels down to pray. Later he joins me, taking my hand for a while and laughing when I show him each photo after I take it.
At one point, the boy leads me over to the large Quran that Gadhafi gave to the mosque and stands next to it. I take his picture with the huge book then hold the camera out for him to see. He giggles loudly enough to make an echo. The guard scowls at us from across the room, and walks briskly to where we're standing.
I think he's going to scold us, but instead he affectionately rubs the boy on the head and takes his hand. "Let me show you the ladies' gallery," he says.
"Is he your son?" I ask as we walk.
"No, he's my brother's son, my nephew."
We go up to a mezzanine overlooking the main floor. The guard flips a wall switch and the chandeliers light up throughout the entire mosque.
"Wow," I say.
"Wow," the boy says.
"This place was designed by a very young man, a boy, really, a Libyan," the guard tells me. "He was paid much money by Gadhafi."
We walk down from the mezzanine and outside. I lean back and take a photo looking up at the tower.
"Can we go up in it?" I ask.
"No," the guard says. "It is much money to go up in."
"Ten thousand," he says solemnly. (That's about $5.)
"I'd pay ten thousand to go to the top." I hand him the purple shillings note.
"Fine," he says. "Webale, ssebo." He pulls a key from his pocket, walks to the door at the base of the tower, opens a padlock and we enter what resembles the interior of a chambered nautilus. And up we climb. And climb. And climb some more. I'm trudging and sweating; he's nearly galloping, not a bead of sweat on him.
He stops to wait for me on a landing and when I reach him he points at the floor littered with small light green cadavers. "Do you see the grasshoppers? They are going to heaven."
At the top, the reward is immediate: I step out onto the terrace and there, in every direction, is a view of Kampala that's even better than Google Earth. Straight ahead, the old and new bus parks. To the right, the Kabaka's palace.
And far, far below, in his new silver Toyota Ipsum, is my driver, Farouk. I wave for a long time but get no response.
When I get back to the Toyota, I tell Farouk I waved to him from the top of the tower. "I would have seen you, my brother," he says, "but I was napping. And I would have taken a picture -- if I'd had a camera."
"Webale, ssebo," I say.--- Douglas Cruickshank
Whales and Other
Marine Mammals of
California and Baja
(Lone Pine)Sperm whales can descend to 10,000 feet under the surface of the sea. One blue whale measured in at 110 feet, and another weighed 200 tons. There are eighty-one known species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and the gray whale migrates (round trip, one year) 12,400 miles. And if you thought your last pregnancy took too long, try the killer whale's: a little more than a year and three months.
All these facts are to be found in Tamara Eder's highly competent and excellently designed book on the whales of California and Baja. The pages are color coded, so that if you are looking for baleens, you can go to the gray whale, or one of the six rorquals, or the two right whales, in a trice.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, whale oil waxes used for "lamps, lipsticks, soaps, shampoos, cooking goods, ice creams, crayons, glycerin, lotions, machinery lubricants, candles, leather processing, varnishes, and adhesives." There was also baleen for "umbrella ribs, corsets, whips, window shutters, fishing rods, dress hoops, hairbrushes, and shoehorns."
The great times of depredation of the whale were not wholly in past centuries. Slow whales like the right whale and the bowhead were done in during that period, but starting in 1925, with the invention of "the explosive harpoons, high-speed whaling vessels and floating whale-processing factories" faster whales like the fin, blue, humpback, and minkes began to disappear.
It's all a scandal of course, the usual greed of a few men to feed off what was thought to be the endless cornucopia of the sea. Fortunately, we tree-huggers have made some progress, and whale-watchers flock to places like Fort Bragg, Monterey, Balboa, Guerrero Negro and Magdalena Bay to see these strange creatures breach, lob-tail, spy-hop, fluke, rub and blow their minds.
Speaking of blowing minds, once when I had become entangled in the arms of strong drink, I made up a fine canard about the wily Japanese, who --- I assured my flaky friends --- through clever manipulation of genes, had bred the gray whale down to aquarium size. For a couple of hundred dollars, I claimed, you and I could purchase a pair of these miniature whales, each about six inches long, who, in our very living rooms, would blow their little spouts and, once properly trained, breach as much as a foot in the air.
Because of my convincing air, my guests, besotted with excessive drink or other mind-altering poisons, believed, entire, the whole long line I played out for them, had visions of aquariums filled with tiny grays, playing on and about the seas of our expansive if colorful minds.--- I. G. Schwartz
Re: Advertising in RALPH
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§ § §Hi, Sean sean:
And thanks for your enticing email.
Unfortunately for us (and for you), the majority of the readers of --- and writers for --- the Review are what some call "seniors," others refer to as "golden-agers" ... and the sensible name "old fuddy-duddies."
Thus, although your link and $$$ are of some interest to our needy reviewers, to accept it might be somewhat gauche. If we did so, you and I and our somewhat graybeard readers would certainly be barking up the wrong tree.
God knows what this all has to do with Sybille Bedford's poignant memory of her first love told so ably in that ingratiating book, Jigsaw. Personally, I scarcely think this fling with Tempo-Bello ("he was one of the dullest and dumbest men I've ever met") would evoke anyone's lust or, much less, interest in what you so archly call "enhancements."
Thanks for trying, anyway. Those of us here at Duffer Acres appreciate your interest, not to say your apparent belief in the continuing lust of all us anciens.---L. Lark
Ed.Our review of Jigsaw can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/BF/bedford1.htmlA Gift of Angels
The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac
Bernard L. Fontana
Edward McCain, Photographer
(University of Arizona Press)Mission San Xavier was one of twenty-five missions cooked up at the end of the 17th Century in present-day Arizona and northern Mexico by the indefatigable Father Eusebio Kino. "Cooked up" may be the correct phrase, because it lives in the Sonoran Desert, one of the hottest spots on earth, comparing favorably with the Atacama in Chile, the Patagonian in South America, or the Kalahari Desert in Africa. Wikipedia warns us not to confuse "desert" with "dessert" so we won't.
Mission San Xavier was first constructed of mud and cow manure in 1756, and we are wondering if it was allowed to melt away in the winter rainstorms that sweep this region because it smelled so bad, especially when wet. However, the larger mission appeared in its final (and less noisome) form more or less complete at the end of the 18th Century.
It was designed to care for the spiritual needs of the O'odham Indians, since Spanish Catholic missionaries were convinced that all Indians were heathens and needed special spiritual guidance and huge churches so they could get into heaven. We have no record of what the O'odham --- a very tolerant people --- thought of the mission, although it is said that when the Jesuits were kicked out by Charles III, the O'odham kept the church from falling apart entirely.
According to the author, Mission San Xavier is what they call a "cruciform" church in the Reformation Baroque style. The present edifice rises like a ghost out of the desert nine miles south of that ghastly Tucson, Arizona. It --- the Mission, not Tucson --- is peopled with 53 statues of saints, 171 angels, hordes of pilgrims ... and two golden smiling lions.
The entryway features snakes for door handles, along with furtive cats and mice. If anything, the designers had a sly wit, and the whole is, as Fontana suggests, a "joyous" edifice. In fact, some of the angels come complete with fiddles, holding up the squinches. The angels are so charming that you want to slip them in your back-pocket and take them home with you. One nut-case did just that: he was so charmed by the original smiling lions that he stole them, took them home and set them on fire. The present ones were conceived and built two decades ago by a company that specializes in carrousels.
And that word "squinches." I didn't make it up, although I wish I had. It refers to the corners that hold up the dome as conceived by the builder, a "maestro albañil" by the name of Ignacio Gaona. He and his craftsmen, mostly Pima Indians, thought up all those angels, rats, cats, and lions and the statues of the saints.
This volume, The Art of Mission San Xavier del Bac is not only heavy on detail, it is heavy, weighing in on my scale at 350 pages and several tons. That's O.K. by me, though: A Gift of Angels is crawling with facts and figures and more than 175 photographs --- and is gorgeous to boot.
Each part of the Church --- from Façade to Nave, Drum and Crossing, is described in minute detail, each detail drawing on such obscure facts as the history of Spanish Church architecture in the Americas, the original colors, and how the pigments were fabricated: "red ocher, yellow ocher, burnt ocher, carbon black and copper resonate." (The blue is called "smalt," which now is another of my favorite words from this book, along with "narthex," "pendentive," and "squinch.")
The author knows his stuff. As an example, take the particulars of the Visitation which is pictured on two of the walls in San Xavier. In 1670, a nun, Mother María Jesús de Agreda, wrote her version of it in a book Mística Ciudad de Dios, inspired, it is said, by direct communication by the divine. Pope Innocent XI, in keeping with the sourpuss tradition of all Popes named Innocent --- viz, the Crusades --- condemned innocent María's version of heavenly conjoining ... and she was forced to burn all her writings on the subject, if not herself.
It was too late, The Mystical City of God became the Danielle Steele hit of the 17th Century, and the good mother nun's take on the Visitation inspired the artists at San Xavier del Bac to paint a scene of Joseph appearing with a fedora on head and a run-away-from-home stick-&-sack on his back --- along with Mary, their Cousin Elizabeth, two plump angels, a merry burro and a sagaro cactus ... as befits a hot Visitation in the hot Sonoran Desert. The whole is supported by a bediapered angel hovering there in the sanctuary, smiling at us all at his or her sacred mission to keep the Visitation floating merrily before our very eyes, perhaps forever.--- Carlos AmanteaMark Twain's Own Autobiography
The Chapters from the North American Review
Michael J. Kiskis, Editor
(University of Wisconsin)Like most good writers, Mark Twain grew to have a strong distaste for the act of writing. By the time he was seventy years old, he discovered a pleasant alternative. He sat in a rocking-chair and chewed the fat ... with himself: he began dictating his memoirs.
Since he was a natural raconteur, the words came easily, and in the Autobiography, they form a natural story-line, stretching our belief system ... but only so far. Because he was, as we all know, a river-boat captain; and, as with lawyers and fundamentalist preachers, we know that the truth is not to be found in (or anywhere about) river-boat captains.
Twain's facility with the spoken word gives us many prime passages, reaching, at times, high art --- such as this on the "common garter snake:"
We carried them home and put them in Aunt Patsy's work-basket for a surprise, for she was prejudiced against snakes, and always when she took the basket in her lap and they began to climb out of it disordered her mind. She never seem to get used to them.
Or this, on falling off a 19th Century bicycle --- one of those six-foot-tall monsters they used in the early days:
I didn't always go over the front way; I had other ways, and practiced them all; but no matter which way was chosen for me there was always one monotonous result --- the bicycle skinned my leg and leaped up into the air and came down on top of me.
"After a day's practice," he wrote, "I arrived at home with my skin hanging in ribbons, from my knees down."
It was always a surprise to me that I had so much skin, and that it held out so well. There was always plenty, and I soon came to understand that the supply was going to remain sufficient for all my needs.
Then there is this, on the star boozer of Hannibal, Missouri:
Frank's father was at one time Town Drunkard, an exceedingly well-defined and unofficial office of those days. He succeeded "General" Gaines, and for a time he was sole and only incumbent of the office; but afterward Jimmy Finn proved competency and disputed the place with him, so we had two town drunkards at one time --- and it made as much trouble in that village as Christendom experienced in the fourteenth century when there were two Popes at the same time.
Here we have, in a writerly sense, two trains, beating down the rails with a vengeance, at which time the tracks suddenly merge, to the disadvantage of both the Catholic Church and The Drinking Class.
§ § §
Twain's style is so strong that it allows him to show off his wit and literary gaiety --- in the traditional sense --- along with a ravishing touch of tragedy, in this case, the sorrow brought on by the loss of his beloved daughter Suzy. As with the comic, the woe is offered with an edge of magic, avoiding an overburdened prose, avoiding the grave of most writers: sentimentality.
He is helped by the fact that Suzy kept a journal for much of her youth; and she turns out to have been a felicitous writer. She is thus co-author of this Autobiography, for Twain quotes generously --- misspellings and all --- from her notebook. Her entries constitute a mirror lovingly turned on papa:
His complexion is very fair, and he doesn't ware a beard. He is a very good man and a very funny one. He has got a temper, but we all of us have in the family. He is the loveliest man I ever saw or hope to see --- and oh, so absent-minded. He does tell perfectly delightful stories. Clara and I used to sit on each arm of his chair and listen while he told us stories about the pictures on the wall.
In one of his 1907 dictations, he presents a picture of the two of them, from long before her death at age twenty-four, Suzy and father, arms around waist, striding back and forth, there in the study, talking about everything in the world together, laughing, back and forth, confiding: the perfect picture of a loving father and a loving daughter ... soon to be gone.
§ § §
If you are looking for the new Autobiography of Mark Twain, this isn't it. The New York Times and others tell us that the first volume of the University of California edition contains about ninety-five percent of Twain's previously published pieces about his life and times. This earlier edition from the University of Wisconsin was arranged and edited by Michael J. Kiskis from material that appeared in the early days of the twentieth century in the North American Review, a popular magazine. The real scandalous stuff, they say, will appear further on down the line from California when Volume III appears. You may pick up this present edition by mistake, thinking it is the one that is said to be "flying off the shelf," but don't be dismayed, go ahead and buy it anyway.
It's much of the same material for half the price. We'd go for it in any form whatsoever, for it includes a very funny letter addressed to Grover Cleveland or, better, to his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter, being an impassioned plea on the behalf of Twain's friend Frank Mason.
"I detailed to her Mr. Mason's high and honorable record and suggested that she take the matter in her own hands and do a patriotic work which I felt some delicacy about venturing upon myself."
I asked her to forget that her father was only President of the United States, and her subject and servant; I asked her not to put her application in the form of a command, but to modify it, and give it the fictitious and pleasanter form of a mere request --- that it would be no harm to let him gratify himself with the superstition that he was independent and could do as he pleased on the matter.--- Richard SaturdayThe Sound of MusicToo loud a sound and/or unwanted noise is not good for people, otherwise it wouldn't have been used by the military and police as a form of torture. The Branch Davidians in Texas were bombarded with "the recorded shrieks of dying rabbits during the 1993 siege" --- strangely, as Keizer points out, "for the purpose of liberating allegedly abused children." In 1989, the Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was chased from his sanctuary in the Vatican Embassy with 24-hour loudspeakers playing heavy metal music and hard rock songs such as "We're not Gonna Take It" by Twisted Sister.
Also, using heavy metal music (you can see a sort of military logic), the 361st PsyOps company of the US army "prepared the battlefield" during the siege of Fallujah in 2004. And Binyam Mohamed recalls that his interrogators hung him up in a "pitch black room" where there was "loud music, 'Slim Shady' and Dr Dre, for 20 days." Other songs reportedly used to break prisoners down include Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and, less heavy and metal but perhaps even more terrible, Barney the Purple Dinosaur's "I Love You."
Keizer adds: "When a country appropriates its most popular art forms in the service of torturing its enemies, it is not admitting repulsion at its own culture? ... Were I a suspected Muslim terrorist undergoing torture, I would hang on to that thought to steel my resolve."--- Jenny Diski, in a review of
The Unwanted Sound of Everything
The London Review of Books
19 August 2010
[GREAT REVIEWS OF THE PAST]Confucius in 90 Minutes
(Ivan R. Dee)Someone at the Dee publishing house, maybe Ivan himself, had the bright idea of hiring Paul Strathern to write a brief, comic essay about Confucius, his history, and the history of his ideas. "Keep it short," they told him, "below 10,000 words. We don't want to strain our readers. And for christssakes Paul --- keep it light!"
Well, he did and they printed it in large type for those of us who don't especially like reading big words, unless they are 18 point. Then they printed it on the worst paper they could come up with, probably recycled stock from the Federal Register. Finally, they plastered a slick white cover on it, and called it You Name It in 90 Minutes. (They've done Descartes, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Aristotle, Plato, and ten or twelve more of The Greats; they also have about a dozen more in the oven.)
Great marketing strategy. You and I don't want to bother our brains too much slogging through the real thing, like Stadoer paa Livets or Die Phänomenologie des Geistes or Principia philosophia when we can pick up 90 Minutes and then go down and tell our friends at the It'll Do Tavern, "You know, that reminds me of something that Hume said." Pause. Disbelief. We had been good on conversations about O. J., the Spice Girls, and The Lakers and the Knicks, but Hume!
"He said, and I quote, Errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous." And everyone sits back, and blows out a little smoke, and nibbles on their beers a while, and thinks, "Why this guy certainly knows his philosophy, don't he?"
The astonishing works of Confucius, and his equally astonishing effect on the entire set of an entire culture for 2,500 years is rendered to a few dozen pages, with such insights as
Confucius was an earnest young man who believed in sharing his vast learning with the world: not a great technique for job interviews,
Or, this on the I Ching (which is thought by millions to be a fairly profound system of dealing with the world):
Even philosophers must have their hobbies, and throwing little sticks in the air to find out who's going to win the 21:30 race at Shanghai seems harmless enough to me.
Then this on Buddhism and its 2500 year history of pacifism, its astounding insight into the human heart (and suffering), and its gentle view of humanity:
The parallels with Christian thought are again all too evident, with the difference that in such times of difficulty Buddhists prefer to set fire to themselves rather than each other.
9,000 words in 90 minutes means a reading speed of 100 words a minute. Seems rather excessive for the hoped-for audience, doesn't it?--- Mark C. StrangeLife on a Chicken Ranch
Betty MacDonaldThursday was scrub day. Window washing, table leg washing, woodwork washing, cupboard cleaning in addition to the regular floor scrubbing. I indulged, somewhat unwillingly, in all of these because Bob, whom I accused of having been sired by a vacuum cleaner, was of that delightful old school of husbands who lift up the mattresses to see if the little woman has dusted the springs. I didn't dare write this to my Grandmother. She would have demanded that I get an immediate divorce.
I didn't really object too strenuously to Bob's standards of cleanliness as he set them for himself as well, and you could drop a piece of bread and butter on his premises, except the chicken houses, and I defy you to tell which side had been face down. There was just one little task which brought violent discord into our happy home. Floor scrubbing.
By the end of that first winter I vowed that my next house would have dirt floors covered with sand. In the first place Bob had chosen and laid, with great precision and care, white pine floors. Another type of floor which might possibly get as dirty as white pine, or more quickly, would be one of white velvet. Bob was very thoughtful about wiping his feet but he might as well have hiked right through the manure pile and on into the kitchen. I scrubbed the floors daily with everything but my toothbrush, yet they always looked as if we had been butchering in the house for the past four years. Advice from neighbors had been to use lye, but as many of these lye prescribers were missing an eye or portion of cheek --- which tiny scratch they laughingly said they got from falling in or over the lye bucket --- I filed it away as a last resort.
I heartily resented having to scrub my floors every day. I thought it a waste of valuable time and energy --- and accomplished nothing for posterity. I didn't see why beginning with the rainy season we didn't just let the floors go or cover them with cheap linoleum. But no, mountain farm tradition and Bob's vacuum cleaner heritage had it that I should scrub the floors every day --- it was a badge of fine housekeeping, a labor of love, a woman's duty to her husband. The more I was shown that side of the life of a farmer's good wife, the more I saw in the life of an old-fashioned mistress. "Just don't let anyone tempt me on a linoleum floor," I would growl balefully at Bob.
§ § §
Friday. Clean lamps and lamp chimneys. I have heard a number of inexperienced romantics say that they prefer candle and lamp light. That they purposely didn't have electricity put into their summer houses. That (archly) candle and lamp light make women look beautiful. Personally I despised lamp and candle light. My idea of heaven would have been a ten million watt globe, hung from a cord in the middle of my kitchen. I wouldn't have cared if it made me look like something helped from her coffin. I could see then, And candles could go back to birthday cakes and jack-o'-lanterns and lamps to the attic.
In the first place you need a set of precision instruments and a hair level to trim a lamp wick. Even then it burns straight across for only a moment, then flares up in one corner and blackens the chimney. It's a draw whether you want to use half your light one way or the other --- either with the wick turned up and one side of the chimney black or the wick turned below the light line. According to Sears, Roebuck the finest kerosene lamp only gives off about 40 watts of light so you're a dead cinch to go blind according to Mazda.
Candle and lamp light are supposed to make your eyelashes look long and sweeping. What eyelashes? Most of the time my eyelids were as hairless as marbles from bending over the lamps to see why in hell those clouds of black smoke.
Saturday --- Market Day. In winter Bob left for "Town" while it was still dark, to sell the eggs, buy feed and groceries, and get the mail, cigarettes and some new magazines. In spring and summer I joyfully accompanied him, but in the winter driving for miles and miles in a Ford truck in the rain was not a thing of pure joy and anyway, in view of the many ordinary delays such as flat tires, broken spring, plugged gas lines, ad infinitum, I had to stay home to put the lights in the chicken house at the first sign of dusk.
Some Saturday mornings as soon as the mountains had blotted up the last cheerful sound of Bob and the truck, I, feeling like a cross between a boll weevil and a slut took a large cup of hot coffee, a hot water bottle, a cigarette and a magazine and went back to bed. Then, from six-thirty until nine or so, I luxuriated in breaking the old mountain tradition that a decent woman is in bed only between the hours of 7 P.M. and 4 A.M. unless she is in labor or dead.The Menudo of a
Cuchifrito Love Affairla ruca
juanita rosita esposita
they called her mexicana rose
con piel de canela
pelo darker than bustelo café
eyes big like rellenos
color of a ripe avocado
her lips tasted like seasoned mangos
and her body was sweet as coconut milk
this menudo of beauty
made my taco nights
burn like jalapeños
sí señor ...
my heart was a tortilla
then one riceless beanless night
after a heated chilly pepper tequila fight
left me like a burnt pork chop
for a chitlin' hamhock buckwheat eatin' man
who wore a watermelon wallet &
a collard green conversation
disturbing my macho machete pride
so that la mancha de plátano
reminded me that I was a weak mondongo
my love ... my life ... my pride was a burnt chicharrón
a cold mofongo
a melted piragua
I turned into a hot tamale
state of rage
an alcapurria gone insane
when I saw these two enchiladas
in a pastelillo embrace
so in my pasteles envy
my tostón jealousy
that my salchicha eyes spied
the chorizo the mad morcilla drive
así fue que fueron
traspasados los dos bacalaos
and now with my burrito strike
displaying my quenepa pride
in my tamarindo smile
I remember the pegao and the uncooked taste
of the frijol menudo of my cuchifrito
love affair--- Outlaw: The Collected
Works of Miguel Piñero
©2010 Arte Publico Press
The Daring Spectacle
Adventures in Deviant Journalism
(Rapture Machine)Morford must be one of the most bellicose, vainglorious, perfervid, dogmatic, cantankerous, splenetic if not scandalous journalists working today. His writings come on like a hundred enraged letters to the editor.
His chosen topics in Daring Spectacle include suicide, meditation, overpopulation, the Bible, toilet scrubbers, auto parts stores, illegal drugs, the Burning Man Festival, shaving body parts, Karl Rove's thighs, "sex lotteries," "Christian virgins," "101 Reasons Why Men Cheat," "designer vaginas," weird dating services, and Dick Cheney's ability to shoot 400 pre-potted birds in a single afternoon.
After reading a few chapters, if you want to send him an email telling him that he appears to be a "fruit, fairy or fag," that his column will go at the very bottom of the kitty litter box, that he is "an utter tool buddy," even "a sissy tree hugger," or --- worse --- that he "smells like a Hummer:" forget it. Too many such charges have already been laid on his head ... and many are reproduced here.
Morford's secret is not that he is willing to write the scariest truths about us and the world and our fears and our (failing) morals and mortals ... but that he has the ability to pull you right on his wavelength so that you know immediately not only what he is getting at, but whether you should sob, or laugh ... or do both at the same time.
He uses every trick in the English language to stretch our mother tongue so that you find yourself stuck in his diabolical pickle sandwich: one word paragraphs, long funny lists, endless variations on repeating and clauses, and sentences crammed with so many adjectives that the reader might go balmy trying to separate the thickets of them.
Example: a Kansas State Court decided to send a young man to jail for twenty years for consensual but illegal sex, so Morford quotes the decision --- the act was "offensive to traditional Kansas sexual morality" --- and concludes: "therefore such sex cannot be tolerated under any circumstances and yadda yadda hate hate gargle spit angry old white men ptooey." Conclusion:
It's enough to make you gag on your leather whips.
§ § §
It reminds me of the palmy journalistic days of Westbrook Pegler, Walter Winchell, and most of all, H. L. Mencken. When we read Mencken's collected columns, (a) we wonder at his astounding vocabulary, his multifaceted literary tricks, and his wry wit; then, (b) we wonder where in hell he was able to find a newspaper who would present to the general public his elegant, bile-filled columns. In Baltimore, no less.
The same with Morford. Who would dare print him? The San Francisco Chronicle, that's who. He went from being a mere blogger to going on-line at SFGate, even appearing for a while there in the Datebook section of the Chronicle itself. (Some of the articles deemed by his editors to be just a bit too edgy are included in this volume).
§ § §
One of Morford's more endearing stylistic plays is the ever-expanding connective clause. For instance, he outlines "the gay agenda." He opines that it "contrasts with the famed and beloved Christian neoconservative heterosexual agenda, the one that instructs that you please keep your mouth shut and blindly believe in the same bitter God as everyone else,"
and by the way please bury your true sexuality and get married at 23 and pop out six kids and become quickly and quietly miserable and gain 30 pounds and stop having sex entirely and get divorced at 50 and wake up just in time to watch yourself die.
Or this, about killing seals in the Arctic, which starts out: "Let us all agree right now. Baby harp seals --- those doe-eyed sausagelike bundles of puffy white blubber --- are just so phenomenally, face-meltingly cute."
So adorable and so helpless and so sweet-looking it's like God took Bambi and sawed off all his legs and put him in a white fluffy parka and crossbred him with a puppy and a Marshmallow Peep and tossed him out onto the Arctic ice to pose for Polar Baby Gap.
And the swooping twister at the end: "I mean cute."
Morford, need we point out, is the real patootie: flat-out, full-throttle, skid-across-the-asphalt pop-'em-in-the-eye club-'em-in-the-brains knee-'em-in-the-gut journalism. At its most fragrant.
§ § §
It might be considered pure Mencken, blended with a touch of Shaw, Swift and Alexander Pope. Thus, you'll find here the grand staple of English-language satire ... a triad of extended parallelisms, coupled with a slipped-disc right-angle turn near the end. Thus, on a pill rumored to negate the effects of nicotine: "It will prove to be a bigger and more lucrative drug than Viagra and Prozac and Ambien combined and shaken and stirred and pumped straight into your eyeball."
And then there are the easy, beguiling throw-aways. In a clinical test of hallucinogenic drugs, the participants were "licked by angels."
Or this on a report on the adverse effect of tanning-clinics, with "my skin turning a bizarre shade of orange and that weird tingling in my brainstem and my genitalia melting like bubblegum in the sun."
Cheerleaders at a Catholic girls' school are, he reports, "a veritable sampler platter of semi-virginal fans-devout cloying repressed spazzed-out supermaidens, a perky fleshy Sizzler salad bar of savage hypercompetitive girldom."
If Morford were just a rap-style in-your-face journalist, it would be good enough. But when he chooses to write on something as unlikely as a retreat to India (he is a student of meditation and teaches Yoga), he can be truly affecting, offering up a peek into the east as worthy as anything written by, for example, Geoff Dyer. He also shows a commendable willingness to expose himself --- and what he believes in --- despite those ghastly, sometimes scary, emails.
This is India. Garbage is inescapable. Pollution is merely part of the landscape. These various heaps and piles have been here forever and will be here forever and you have to accept the fact that the concept of "cleanliness" and "waste" are very relative, fluxive things indeed, and spiffy Western notions of having your crap hauled far, far away by professional crap-haulers and then buried deep in a hole so you never have to think about it are as quaint and ridiculous here as thinking you're making much of a dent in planetary evolution by recycling your toothbrush.
Because really, all you have to do is raise your head from where you're standing like a dumb-founded Westerner and look up into the sparse, beautiful jungle from whence you just came, and you can almost see the banyan tree and the ash-cooked monks, right up there, as you sighingly note how you have, in your humble precious sacred meditative karma yoga, simply moved a small bit of garbage from one part of the beach to another.
Praise Shiva.--- Lolita Lark[PRESS RELEASE OF THE MONTH]Where Is Gogol
Now that We Need Him?An exhibition will take place during Frieze week called Whose Coat is that Jacket You're Wearing?
After 10 years of stealing coats from London pubs, guerrilla artist Mike Ballard will seek redemption by displaying and returning the hijacked items.
Just after his move to London in the late 1990s, Ballard's favourite 55DSL coat was stolen from a crowded pub ---- a loss he took quite hard.
In retaliation, Ballard began stealing other coats he found unattended and over the past ten years he has amassed a collection of over 200.
Each coat's contents have been meticulously catalogued and stored (never stolen from).
Having come to terms with his loss, Ballard is now relinquishing his collection and the coats will be returned to their rightful owners --- but only if claimants can identify the date and place of loss or the contents of the pockets.
This exhibition is the culmination of 10 years of thievery and meticulous cataloguing and I very much hope that you will consider including the show in your Frieze week round ups, or perhaps in interviewing Mike to discuss his decade long obsession.
Although light-hearted, Whose Coat is that Jacket You're Wearing? deals with themes of loss, revenge, redemption and the ever present art world debate around appropriation.
I have attached the press release for you. Please let me know if you would like any more information or images.--- University of the Arts London
[READING]Mental Health in MaineSurprisingly, no one in the family died that year, not that they didn't try. Will dove headfirst into the empty indoor pool in Maine one night, and it was a big fat wake-up call. As in, time to get sober. At the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, my brother bunked down with the kind of die-hard alcoholics and addicts that only a state with Siberian winters could produce.
I drove up for the requisite family confessional-slash-shaming session near the end, where those who were wronged get to publicly voice off at the recovering patient, who is now deemed strong enough to take it. It was the first time I'd been Downeast in the winter, and I really got a feel for why Maine has the highest rate of alcoholism and child pornography in the country. At the hospital, my mother and younger brother and I sat with a bunch of raggle-taggle, very local families, in an increasingly odorous room that had speckled blue industrial carpeting and bulletproof plastic seating lined along its perimeters.
In the center of the room a single chair faced a small row of others. Each patient took a turn in it and was confronted by his or her family, who blasted the patient with their declarations of pain. How the guilty ones (now costing the state thousands of dollars to eat four meals a day, sleep in clean sheets, and spend the bulk of their time doing what others merely dreamed of --- talking about themselves endlessly to professional listeners) had hurt them with their drug-ery, or thievery, or drunken fits of rage. The stories revealed in that circle, told by people dressed in an assortment of stretchy clothes and lumber jackets, had a harsh, native reality that contrasted sharply with my brother's entitled misdemeanors.
A seventeen-year-old mother told her husband that she could forgive him for not coming home every night, or even for beating her up, but when he got drunk and set fire to their trailer, well that was bad because now they didn't have any place to sleep. But what really pissed her off was that he had traded the food stamps for drugs and now there was no money to feed the two babies.
When it was our turn, our nervous little group took our seats across from my brother, who bowed his head and seemed to excitedly await abuse as a monk awaits flagellation. There was an awkward silence, because no one could come even close to respectably matching the previous litanies. After a long interval, during which several of the audience members hawked and spat, I managed to timidly say, "Well I guess it was sort of irresponsible that you left your BMW where it could get stolen, and that you spent the insurance money on cocaine ... um" --- I looked around at the slack jaws of the audience, and, even though I knew I sounded like the worst spoiled princess on the planet, I forged ahead anyway --- "and you really scared us when you dove into the indoor pool!" Mouths were dropping. "Yeah. And I can't believe you slept with your girlfriend in front of the living room fireplace last summer, and that the butler walked in on you doing it."
There might have been a round of very sarcastic applause but I couldn't swear to it.
The following year Will was at the Johnson Institute, trading Hallmark cards and crying buckets and hugging big black football players and anorexic girls, and I did not go to family weekend; nor did I go to the one at Sierra Tucson. Or was that Hazelden? Maybe that was Edward --- Lord knows he has a few treatment programs under his belt too. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Anyway, throughout his long, but ultimately successful, recovery process, Will found God --- in the form of an Indian guru with a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation --- and married his four-hundred-pound therapist.
Edward scraped through a series of high schools, at one point living in a foster situation in Boston and, when that didn't work out, in Marblehead with my mother and the contractor (nightmare), and eventually coming to rest at the apartment on Fifth Avenue and living with our grandparents, where he was pretty much --- no, make that absolutely --- left to his own devices. Those included an unlocked wine cellar and a readily available supply of heavy-duty prescription drugs.
Edward had been smoking pot for years, but in New York he was turned on to coke, and then heroin. He claimed he didn't have a habit because he snorted his drugs instead of mainlining them. His VanderBurden nose was perpetually scarlet and his hair was greasy and he hung out with people much older than he was. He was particularly close to a family that had a house near us in Maine. So close, in fact, that he was sleeping with the chatelaine, a wonderfully effusive and insouciant fifty-something-year-old free spirit who claimed to be a white witch.
When I found out about it, it absolutely enraged me, and I felt guilty that I hadn't been looking out for my very wayward baby brother. It was summer, and I was in Maine, so I marched next door to lambaste the cradle-robbing, pot-dealing sex maniac; but within five minutes, she got me to forget what I was there for. She had me drinking white wine with her (which her adorable husband brought us) and laughing cozily away in her hippie, crystal-strung bedroom that looked out past pine trees and flapping Tibetan prayer flags to the brilliantly blue ocean, and I swear if I had it in me to do it with women, I would have slept with her too. I was glad in a perverse way that my little brother had found someone to mother him, even if it wasn't the generally accepted notion of mothering. In fact, I was jealous.--- From Dead End Gene Pool
© 2010 Gotham Books
Prof of Prof--- For Allison Hogge
In memory of Brian WilkieI was a math major --- fond of all things rational.
It was the first day of my first poetry class.
The prof, with the air of a priest at Latin mass,
told us that we could "make great poetry personal,"
could own it, since poetry we memorize sings
inside us always. By way of illustration
he began reciting Shelley with real passion,
but stopped at "Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!" ---
because, with that last plosive, his top denture
popped from his mouth and bounced off an empty chair.
He blinked, then offered, as postscript to his lecture,
a promise so splendid it made me give up math:
"More thingth like that will happen in thith clath."--- From Weighing Light
©2005 Geoffrey BrockDead Neon
Tales of Near-Future Las Vegas
Todd James Pierce
Jarret Keene, Editors
(University of Nevada)Dead Neon is notable for the fact that the first few pages --- "Preface" and "Acknowledgments" --- may be more interesting than the main body of the stories. For instance, in "Acknowledgments," the editors give thanks to Sutured Esophagus, Righteous Pigs, Curl Up and Die, Drainage X, Dreaming of Lions and Mother McKenzie among others. (Pancho Villa appears in this list, although it seems unlikely that he contributed all that much to the anthology, at least if he is the Pancho Villa I recall from yore.)
There are fourteen stories, most of them way beyond this observer --- but I found two of them are over the top, worth the price of the whole collection.
Jaq Greenspon's "Mirrors and Infinity" tells of Steve who has been taken in by two men named Sarge. Steve is, apparently, from another planet, and thus is garbed and masked so that he won't scare the bejesus out of normal humans.
Sarge I and II, obviously working for a secret government agency, take him to Las Vegas, and when they are killed in an accident, Steve has to work his way out of the hotel and into the unearthly world of Las Vegas.
Think of that: you arrive from outer space on a mission of peace ... and they set you down in Circus-Circus. How long would you or I survive in such a predicament, much less be able to convince the information lady at the airport that you were not here to destroy (or to terrorize) them: especially, as you speak, your face is drooling down your chest.
Since Steve doesn't know how to get back to his hotel room, and as he is melting in the sun, the reader comes to feel an eerie empathy. It would be like, for instance, you are talking to someone important ... someone who could change your life; and later, when you look in the mirror, you smile, see a huge gob of spinach splayed over one of your front teeth.
§ § §
Then there is the lead story, Chris Niles's "Sin's Last Stand." Melissa reveals that the forgods are taking over the United States. "To be good it's necessary to have a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ," is their motto. They avail themselves of plastic surgery for those "who wanted to look like their favorite biblical character."
The last of the nongods end up in Las Vegas, but "the third repeal of the Clean Air, Water, and Mind Act" makes it legal "for a forgod to kill a nongod if they thought their faith was being threatened." Melissa's mother, a dedicated free spirit nongod is shot down there in the Bellagio.
Melissa was to be shunted off to "the Suffer the Children Home for the Ungodly," but she ends up in a fancy house where Judy and Brian live (his father is the supreme forgod leader Pastor John). She is to be inseminated by Brian, then murdered. The only other person in the fancy house the house servant Iglesias, "who was very sweet,"
but because the homosexual aversion electrotherapy had been experimental, he was not very good with words.
§ § §
One of the best stories in the book is called "Preface." It's at the very beginning of the book, presumably from the pen of the two editors. They acknowledge that Las Vegas is a very noisy city, but "if you listen closely, there is another sound in the mix: the quiet hum of technology, electricity whispering through circuits, and the murmur of neon illuminating the night."
They recall the Atomic Age, where "guests could enjoy drinks on their hotel balconies and watch as a mushroom cloud billowed just beyond the valley."
Even though science and futurism are no longer part of the overt public-relations message of the city, hints of the apocalypse remain a part of the city's existence, like a bad memory or a bloodstain that simply won't go away.--- R. W. McKinsey
Your Presence is Requested at Suvanto
(Graywolf Press)Suvanto is what we used to call a "nursing home" and now refer to as an ALF --- "assisted living facility." After I go dotty and wet, when they have to cart me off, please let it be to this station in Finland. Clean rooms with poignant vistas of the snow, the pine trees, the bay. Quiet paths through the woods. Rocks and steam down below: a sauna for all.
Then there's piirakka for breakfast, hot, "shining with butter across the dimpled surface" --- a thick wheat shell filled with rice of potato. Or
buttered brown bread so dense and dark it's nearly black, nearly sweet, nearly bitter, nearly as if there were bits of unsweetened chocolate baked in, although there aren't.
If this is dotage, let me at it. Still, outside of a caring staff, great food, and wondrous surroundings in this particular ALF, I can't think of anything more unlikely than a murder mystery set in a nursing home in Finland.
Yet somehow, Chapman brings it off, and the ladies on the top floor conspire with sweet Sunny Taylor --- their charge nurse --- to do in Dr. Peter, the medical chief who wants to get rid of the "up-patients," to bring in the more financially rewarding OB/GYN cases, with all their squeaky babies.
Suvanto starts off as a novel about these semi-dotty ladies in a gorgeous hospital; but then it turns into a charged tale of the Weird Sisters who refuse to take anything sitting down ... especially threats to their eminent domain. So, they come together one icy night outside the building, in a fraught Shakespearean pas-de-deux, among the shadows ... "like two empty suns in the sky," complete with comet overhead, "that horned head of cold ice shining in a halo of vapor, hanging without moving." Oh the foolish Dr. Peter:
While he is rising they are on him, and that their combined weight simply conspires to snap his neck with an audible, regretful sound.
A regretful sound!
§ § §
Chapman is an agile writer; a good one too: sometimes too good for her own good. Her sketch of mad Julia's years of syphilis, or Pearl's gonorrhea (or is it tuberculosis of the joints?) is graphic enough to make one want to lay aside Suvanto for a time ... but one is always drawn back in. What is it about the Fates and their nurses --- Nurse Death, nee Todd --- that continues to pull the reader in?
All the men come off the losers, purveyors of arrogance, death and disease. The women? They are bewitching (or bewitched) ... unwilling to die, or to let any of their number succumb to the ministrations of any mere man with a license to kill. Suvanto turns out to be good medicine for any and all in the medical profession who think they know more than they ought to.--- Lolita Lark
[READING]Frying the Flag"I confess I look back on the old Central Balkan Herald with something like nostalgia."
"Good heavens," said Antrobus, and blew out his cheeks. We were enjoying a stirrup-cup at his club before taking a turn in the park. Our conversation, turning as it always did upon our common experiences abroad in the Foreign Service, had led us with a sort of ghastly inevitability to the sisters Grope; Bessie and Enid Grope, joint editor-proprietors of the Central Balkan Herald (circulation 500).
They had spent all their lives in Serbia, for their father had once been Embassy chaplain and on retirement had elected to settle in the dusty Serbian plains. Where, however, they had inherited the old flat-bed press and the stock of battered Victorian faces, I cannot tell, but the fact remains that they had produced between them an extraordinary daily newspaper which remains without parallel in my mind after a comparison with newspapers in more than a dozen countries --- "THE BALKAN HERALD KEEPS THE BRITISH FLAG FRYING" --- that was the headline that greeted me on the morning of my first appearance in the Press Department. It was typical.
The reason for a marked disposition towards misprints was not far to seek; the composition room, where the paper was hand-set daily, was staffed by half a dozen hirsute Serbian peasants with greasy elf-locks and hands like shovels. Bowed and drooling and uttering weird eldrich-cries from time to time they went up and down the type-boxes with the air of half-emancipated baboons hunting for fleas. The master printer was called Icic (pronounced Itchitch) and he sat forlornly in one corner living up to his name by scratching himself from time to time. Owing to such laborious methods of composition the editors were hardly ever able to call for extra proofs; even as it was the struggle to get the paper out on the streets was grandiose to watch. Some time in the early thirties it had come out a day late and that day had never been made up. With admirable single-mindedness the sisters decided, so as not to leave gaps in their files, to keep the date twenty-four hours behind reality until such times as, by a superhuman effort, they could produce two newspapers in one day and thus catch up.
Bessie and Enid Grope sat in the editorial room which was known as the "den." They were both tabby in colouring and wore rusty black. They sat facing one another pecking at two ancient typewriters which looked as if they had been obtained from the Science Museum of the Victoria and Albert.
Bessie was News, Leaders, and Gossip; Enid was Features, Make-up and general Sub. Whenever they were at a loss for copy they would mercilessly pillage ancient copies of Punch or Home Chat. An occasional hole in the copy was filled with a ghoulish smudge --- local block-making clearly indicated that somewhere a poker-work fanatic had gone quietly out of his mind. In this way the Central Balkan Herald was made up every morning and then delivered to the composition room where the chain-gang rapidly reduced it to gibberish.
MINISTER FINED FOR KISSING IN PUBIC.In the thirties this did not matter so much but with the war and the growth of interest in propaganda both the Foreign Office and the British Council felt that an English newspaper was worth keeping alive in the Balkans if only to keep the flag flying. A modest subsidy and a free news service went a long way to help the sisters, though of course there was nothing to be done with the crew down in the composition room:
WEDDING BULLS RING OUT FOR PRINCESS.
QUEEN OF HOLLAND GIVES PANTY FOR EX-SERVICE MEN.
MORE DOGS HAVE BABIES THIS SUMMER IN BELGRADE.
BRITAINS NEW FLYING-GOAT.
Mrs. Schwartkopf has cast off clothes of every description and invites inspection.
In a last desperate spurt the Cambridge crew, urged on by their pox, overtook Oxford.Every morning I could hear the whistles and groans and sighs as each of the secretaries unfolded his copy and addressed himself to his morning torture. On the floor above, Polk-Mowbray kept drawing his breath sharply at every misprint like someone who has run a splinter into his finger. At this time the editorial staff was increased by the addition of Mr. Tope, an elderly catarrhal man who made up the news page, thus leaving Bessie free to follow her bent in paragraphs on gardening (How to Plant Wild Bubs) and other extravagances.
It was understood that at some time in the remotest past Mr. Tope had been in love with Bessie but he "had never Spoken;" perhaps he had fallen in love with both sisters simultaneously and had been unable to decide which to marry. At all events he sat in the "den" busy with the world news; every morning he called on me for advice. "We want the Herald to play its full part in the war effort," he never failed to assure me gravely. "We are all in this together." There was little I could do for him.
At times I could not help feeling that the Herald was more trouble than it was worth. References, for example, to Hitler's nauseating inversion --- the rocket-bomb, brought an immediate visit of protest from Herr Schpünk the German chargé, dictionary in hand, while the early stages of the war were greeted with
BRITAIN DROPS BIGGEST EVER BOOB ON BERLIN.
This caused mild speculation as to whom this personage might be. Attempts, moreover, to provide serious and authoritative articles for the Herald written by members of the Embassy shared the same fate.
Spalding, the commercial attaché who was trying to negotiate on behalf of the British Mining Industry, wrote a painstaking survey of the wood resources of Serbia which appeared under the startling banner
BRITAIN TO BUY SERBIAN TIT-PROPS,
while the military attaché who was rash enough to contribute a short strategic survey of Suez found that the phrase "Canal Zone" was printed without a "C" throughout. There was nothing one could do. "One feels so desperately ashamed," said Polk-Mowbray, "with all the resources of culture and so on that we have --- that a British newspaper abroad should put out such disgusting gibberish. After all it's semi-official, the Council has subsidized it specially to spread the British Way of Life....It's not good enough."But there was nothing much we could do. The Herald lurched from one extravagance to the next. Finally in the columns of Theatre Gossip there occurred a series of what Antrobus called Utter Disasters. The reader may be left to imagine what the Serbian compositors would be capable of doing to a witty urbane and deeply considered review of the 100,000 performance of Charley's Aunt.
The Herald expired with the invasion of Yugoslavia and the sisters were evacuated to Egypt where they performed prodigies of valour in nursing refugees. With the return to Belgrade, however, they found a suspicious Communist régime in power which ignored all their requests for permission to refloat the Herald. They brought their sorrows to the Embassy, where Polk-Mowbray received them with a stagey but absent-minded sympathy. He agreed to plead with Tito, but of course he never did. "If they start that paper up again," he told his Chancery darkly, "I shall resign."
"They'd make a laughing stork out of you, sir," said Spalding. (The pre-war mission had been returned almost unchanged.)
Mr. Tope also returned and to everyone's surprise had Spoken and had been accepted by Bessie; he was now comparatively affluent and was holding the post which in the old days used to be known as Neuter's Correspondent --- aptly or not who can say?
"Well, I think the issue was very well compounded by getting the old girls an M.B.E. each for distinguished services to the British Way of Life. I'll never forget the investiture with Bessie and Enid in tears and Mr. Tope swallowing like a toad. And all the headlines Spalding wrote for some future issue of the Herald:
SISTER ROASTED IN PUNK CHAMPAGNE
AFTER SOLEMN INVESTITURE.
"It's all very well to laugh," said Antrobus severely, "but a whole generation of Serbs have had their English gouged and mauled by the Herald. Believe me, old man, only yesterday I had a letter from young Babic, you remember him?"
"For him England is peppered with fantastic place-names which he can only have got from the Herald. He says he enjoyed visiting Henleg Regatta and Wetminster Abbey; furthermore, he was present at the drooping of the colour; he further adds that the noise of Big Bun striking filled him with emotion; and that he saw a film about Florence Nightingale called The Lade With the Lump. No, no, old man, say what you will the Herald has much to answer for. It is due to sinister influences like the Gropes and Topes of this world that the British Council's struggle is such an uphill one. Care for another?"--- Esprit de Corps
©1957 Faber & Faber
[READING]At Broadcasting HouseShe sees herself entering the panelled recording studio in the basement at the BBC, the younger actors half turning and collegially smiling, a pretty secretary distributing annotations. The microphone like a little maypole around which they will gather in a circle, four minutes before transmission commences. Tongue-twisters quickly whispered to loosen the mouth. Red lorry yellow lorry red lorry yellow lorry. The bootblack bought the black boot back. Oh the exhilaration, the thrilling anxiety of those evaporating seconds. Mr Hartnett will be in his booth; the arc light will be dimmed, someone will whisper a compliment on her appearance. What a lovely blouse, Molly. Is it a Worth? Ah, I thought so. It is so wonderful to see you again. Mr Hartnett will shush the studio and remind the newcomers, the ingenues, of the importance of regarding every microphone as live.
They will cluster towards it. Two minutes. The test-tone will be sounded. India is listening now. Australia. New Zealand. Places where it is night-time or sweltering noon. Storm-beaten islands. Ships. And some will never have heard a play in the whole of their lives. Houseboys in Rhodesia, sweating farmhands in the outback, shopkeepers in frazzled Shanghai. And if millions will turn the dial, uninterested, seeking elsewhere, through the crackling susurration and interplanetary shrillings, perhaps somewhere a child will not. Awesome, the power. You could not afford to think of it. She will touch a colleague's wrist as the countdown to the five pips commences. "Be calm," will say her smile. "Trust your lines. That is all." This is the BBC World Service broadcasting from London. Greenwich Mean Time is eighteen hundred hours. Welcome to the Monday Play. And someone will start to speak. And another. And another. And the words will come out of the air.
Beamed by Hilversum, Lille, Luxembourg, Allouis, Athlone, Droitwich, Warsaw, Moscow. And perhaps there is an otherworld only radio waves can attain, where the dead are listening quietly together. Her son, her two husbands, the man in the photograph on the mantelshelf, her brothers, her mother, Yeats, her sister. The brave, broken boys who died in the war. The murdered of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Memory is their oxygen, megahertz their rain. Their country has no currency or flag. The aurora borealis is their national anthem, for they are able to hear colours, touch sounds. Their flicker-lit eyes see no blitzes, no firestorms. Their language needs no word for torture. A foolish idea, maybe; but perhaps it is true. We believe in Wuthering Heights despite knowing it is fictional. Heathcliff and Lazarus and Ophelia and the Snow Queen feature equally in whatever scripture she holds precious. And if some play only a bit-part, they also serve. To all things, a season. Nobody is nothing.--- From Ghost Light
© 2010 Farrar, Straus & GirouxA review of the book
from which this reading is taken
can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/GH/ghost-light.htmlstar warssummer's end at eight it's getting dark already
dogs communicate by telephone barks
at night the connection is better distant neighbors
bark to each other about women and bones about drunken misha
staggering along garden borders
omnitel gives discounts at full moon
it really is cheaper out in the country I roll a cigarette
and sit on the threshold
father churned butter today in a mason jar
polja brought fatback
also for dinner I ate cucumbers tomatoes
and red peppers with onions from the garden
it really is cheaper out in the country it costs nearly nothing
neighbors meditations of smelling mown grass
erratic thoughts such as are hardly thoughts
just comic mixes remixes of another life
overhead a bat swoops
supersonic connection technology
allows them to trespass unpunished
in my territory of silence to wage undeclared
war to intercept the landing of mosquitoes
life in the full moon is a flood seas of blood mountains of chocolate
adrenaline agraphia amnesia
thinking like this I understand the vacation nears its end
I close out my account of summer when I get my interest
I'll call you from another life
by braille telephone--- from unwritten histories
©2011 Host PublicationsA review of the book
from which this poem is taken
can be found at
www.ralphmag.org/GO/unwritten-histories.htmlPlease Take Me
Off the Guest List
(Akashic Books)This is one of those odd objets d'art that may not be a book at all. Most books, the ones I have read anyhow, have only a few dimensions. This one stretches somewhat beyond that.
There are five prose folios slotted between larger coated pages complete with photos that manage to have nothing to do with the text: plump women, toilet bowls (complete with roses), dim street lamps, people blotted out by a blaze of glare. Most of the pictures have titles --- "Hamburg, 2009," "Panama City, 2008," "Dire Dawa, 2010." The one titled "Ethiopia, 2010" shows the wing of an airplane and a drab and hazy distant landscape.
One is hard-pressed to figure what it is all about, although, I must say, since I am an old short-wave enthusiast, I do like the black-and-white shots of low-frequency towers just before page 93. No venue given.
According to the back cover which is more or less traditional (no zebras), the book design originates with one Stacy Wakefield. Nick Zinner took the fuzzy pictures. Writer Zachary Lipez tells us he has been "a bartender, drug abuser, bookstore clerk, miserable adolescent and connoisseur of difficult women."
We can give him a star for one essay, proclaiming his retirement as a bookstore clerk: "When management told me to stop drinking on the job, a part of my childhood was stripped away."
My father worked in construction or finance or was a tenured professor and all I've ever wanted was a job I could be drunk at.
"And for the record, I NEVER drank on the job. I was, in fact, always still drunk from the night before."
He also explains in "You Can Always Do Better" that he has a friend who is seeing a therapist "because he was tired of waking up angry."
I accepted this, but still thought, at the time, that if it weren't for waking up angry, I wouldn't wake up at all.--- Mark Sanchez
The Poets Laureate Anthology
Elizabeth Hun Schmidt, Editor
(Norton)This "Poet Laureate" business is a bit of a humbug, suggesting that the U. S. government would subsidize somebody as flaky as a poet, subsidize the writing (and publishing) of poetry. It's downright silly to suppose such. For poets should be eternally, as they say in the Bible, "kicking against the pricks."
That someone as disreputable as a Real Poet (vide Charles Bukowski, Alan Ginsburg, Pete Winslow) should have an office in the Jefferson Building in Washington, D. C., along with $35,000 a year is not unlike --- as Mark Morford has it --- putting feta cheese in the freezer: "it gets crumbly, stinky, goes bad."
This anthology is, then, more a rectal thermometer. It tells you about the fevers and pains lurking in the brains of the run-of-the-mill poetasters of America ... the condition of national aesthetics dictated by those who run the show. One of our better poets, William Carlos Williams, was duly appointed to serve as Poet Laureate in 1952, and was subsequently pilloried for his rather mild political views. He was dying of heart disease. The godzillas in United States Senate stabbed him so cruelly that he was not able to serve, and he up and died. As Williams wrote, appropriately, "For verse to be alive, it must have infused in it ... some tincture of disestablishment, something in the nature of an impalpable revolution, an ethereal reversal."
§ § §One of the pleasures in this volume is finding the usual poetic ninnies (Maxine Kumin, Penn Warren, Reed Whittemore), but, additionally, discovering new ninnies: Robert Fitzgerald, Gwendolyn Brooks, William Jay Smith and --- saints preserve us! --- Mona Van Duyn. In a poem written in 1992 , while she was serving as our national poetic treasure, she published a poem comparing William Clinton, "President Elect" to Michelangelo's David, "Raised on a marble platform, he pure white,
naked, marble beauty glows in bright light..."
He towers and shines before us, perfect in body
fair of face --- perfect in spirit too...
Time cannot smudge his form nor erase his story.
Still, there are a few jewels here. We get to revisit some better poets: Rita Dove, Elizabeth Bishop, Howard Nemerov, Conrad Aiken, and James Dickie. The last not only writes verse on making love in a '34 Ford, people dying in the war ("Of a brain killed early that morning,") adultery ("you who have sealed your womb / With a ring of convulsive rubber,") --- but in "The Sheep Child," contemplates the saving graces of rural bestiality:
Farm boys wild to couple
With anything with soft-wooded trees
With mounds of earth mounds
Of pinestraw will keep themselves off
animals by legends of their own:...
in a museum in Atlanta
Way back in a corner somewhere
There's this thing that's only half
Sheep like a wooly baby
Pickled in alcohol
In brief introductions, this volume reviews the lives of all forty-three laureates, and offers a dozen or so examples of their best (or in some cases, their worst). It also give us a chance to discover some poets we may have forgotten, like the cheerfully sardonic Karl Shapiro and his "Fly,"
O hideous little bat, the size of snot,
With polyhedral eye and shabby clothes,
To populate the stinking car you walk
The promontory of the dead man's nose,
Climb with the fine leg of a Duncan-Phyfe
The smoking mountains of my food
And in a comic mood
In mid-air take to bed a wife.
§ § §It is cliché to rattle off the names of those who should have made it but who didn't in the bureaucratic poetic politic sweepstakes: Gertrude Stein, James Purdy, David Wagoner, P. J. Mierly, Elinor Wylie, Richard Brautigan, T. S. Eliot, Sylvia Plath, Alan Ginsburg, May Swenson and Charles Bukowski. P>At the same time, we should be grateful that the likes of Conrad Aiken and Howard Nemerov made it here, with the latter commenting cunningly in his time in office,
Oh, you want praise and recognition and above all money. But if that was your true motive, you would have done something else. All this fame and honor is a very nice thing, as long as you don't believe it.--- Jeremy ColonLife Along the
A Naturalist's Guide to the
Sounds, Inlets, Rivers
and Intracoastal Waterway
from Norfolk to Key West
Robert and Alice J. Lippson
(University of North Carolina Press)The Lippsons have divided the more than 1,200 miles of the Intracoastal Waterway into five sections, beginning in Virginia --- and ending up in Key West. It includes the city of Norfolk down to Beaufort, Wilmington to Charleston, a section for Savannah-Jacksonville and the Indian River Lagoon, and finally, the Miami complex.
This oversized book is crawling with more than 600 drawings, charts and photographs of birds, fish, hard and softshell creatures, plants, nuts and trees. Many are beautiful, exotic, strange ... some quite weird. Like the West Indian Worm Snail: "Their bodies are greatly elongated, but unlike typical worms, their heads bear molluskan tentacles, eyes, and radulæ." Or Hermodice carunculata, called the fireworm, with parts that "inflict a painful, burning irritation on your skin when their bristles break off and deliver a dose of venom."
There's the Florida sea cucumber, "which can grow to the length of two feet." Once I made the mistake of eating a foot or so of this fat lupina. The flavor had little to do with cucumber and much to do with sand, in which they like to wallow around.
Unlike sea cucumbers, the book is a treat, especially for those of us who grew up in this area. I lived less than a mile from the Intracoastal Waterday, and like most of its jaundiced neighbors, never went by boat up and down its 1500 miles.
A casual reader can dote on the elegant and whimsical names of the creatures to be found here: the "blackcheek tonguefish," the "lookdown," the "longwrist hermit crab," the "eastern pipistrelle," the "fluff-headed seaweed," the "yaupon holly," as well as the "interrupted trunicate" ... better known as the "Bermuda sea squirt."
After a few hours with Life along the Inner Coast, one could want to be there, especially when coming face-to-face with the "Atlantic Croaker." I recall it with great fondness. I pulled them alive from the waters, using only bamboo pole, kitestring, fishhook and a wriggly, somewhat uncoöperative worm ... I so content there in the sun, listening to them lying about me, croaking out their little lives on the worn and sun-fried decking.
In Life along the Inner Coast we can study the lives and habits of the common pigfish, the beaded periwinkle, Doubleday's bluet, and the simple fiddler crab --- Uca minax --- which, when I was a tad, used to entertain me mightily --- the males waving their enormous purplish claws at me while I watched them there at the edge of Seymour's Creek in North Florida.
The female fiddler, says author Lippson, fares well. They eat algae and other floating bits and pieces. She has two normal sized claws and thus has it over the male because she doesn't have to show off. As the author puts it, "The large claw of the male is virtually useless for feeding. [This] gives the female the advantage in processing the stew of algae, bacteria, and detritus."--- Richard SaturdayThe Lady MissionaryI shall arrive in Africa
in gauze cloth
and smelling of honey.
I shall have sightings
of large hills and a far star
which I shall name.
I shall come and go as a man
and bag a tiger
on a mid-week afternoon.
I shall plant
a dahlia (or other foreign
flower) in tinderbox scrub
and wait for burst skies
petals from its thigh.
I shall awake
in blue days
unlaced by hornbills
safe and naked
under solid slabs of sky.
I shall teach
that women should not be sold,
blood is not for drinking,
a chicken's entrails
bring good rain,
and that beads
All day I shall fill the world
and infinite mercy.
See how my kind,
in this place
I now fully comprehend,
but where I cannot pray.--- From The Lady Missionary
©2007 Kwela Books/SnailpressSPIRITUAL HAPPINESS"I have now reigned about 50 years in victory or peace, beloved by my subjects, dreaded by my enemies, and respected by my allies. Riches and honors, power and pleasure, have waited on my call, nor does any earthly blessing appear to have been wanting to my felicity. In this situation, I have diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness which have fallen to my lot.
"They amount to fourteen."--- Abd Er-Rahman III, Sultan of Spain, 10th Century
As quoted in Secrets of Spiritual Happiness by Sharon Janis
(Cold Spring Press)--- Pamela Wylie