New Readers Favorite Reviews
Our server publishes regular reports
on pages called up in any daily, weekly, or monthly period.
We are often intrigued by these historic items suddenly roused
from their deep sleep there in the darkness of interspace,
readings and reviews (and occasional articles and poems)
that we knew so intimately so long ago, but had all but
forgotten despite our being their literary midwife.
Here are almost two dozen
that have popped up in the last week or so,
permitting us to rediscover them too,
with no little pride and with a
great deal of affection.

My Black Cat
My black cat gave birth last night
Four and five make nine-o ...
One of them had deep blue eyes
Eyes as pretty as mine-o.

Mother said that they must go
Drown them in the well-o ...
So I hid the little one in my shoe
The one with eyes like mine-o.

British Wood-Engraved
Book Illustrations 1904 - 1940
A Break with Tradition
Joanna Selborne
(Clarendon Press/Oxford)
Pioneering wood-engravers such as Eric Gill, David Jones, Philip Hagreen are well-represented here: in fact, this 400+ page volume contains over two hundred plates, running from the pioneers to pre-WWII artists such as Agnes Miller Parker, Mary Groom, Dorothea Braby, and Blair Hughes-Stanton.

The text is nicely informed, and the wood-engravings so gloriously presented that we were thinking that fine books like this should be outlawed. You pick it up to leaf through it, to start a review, and two hours later, dazed, you lay it down, regretfully, because you feel guilty at spending yet another minute without writing on a subject as abstruse as this one --- with such stupendous visual rewards.

In fact, the best thing I can think of to do with British Wood-Engraved Book Illustration is to tear the son-of-a-bitch to pieces --- not in rage, but in love. To cut out Robert Gibbings illustration for "Lamia" (man, woman, palm-trees). Or to eviscerate pages 231 - 239 and extract Robert Gill's lovely, lurid representations of "The Song of Songs." Then to gouge out pages 101 - 104 and mount Paul Nash's "Three Carts" on the refrigerator door. Maybe, as well, to brutally excise Plates 82 - 85 --- being illustrations by John Farleigh of Shaw's play, The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God --- to stick them on the wall behind the computer to contemplate again, and again, and yet again.

And, best of all, to amputate the pages containing "The Nuptials of God" (see Fig. 1 above) by Eric Gill such a delicious take-off. We'd haul it down to The Blow-Up Photo Shoppe, turn it into a six- by twelve-foot poster to hang at the top of the bed, so we can see it, in love with it, as we are with love ... every day, and every night.

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Selected Poems of
Robert Penn Warren

John Burt, Editor
(Louisiana State University Press)
The editor of this volume, John Burt, teaches at Brandeis, but certainly is no help in this mystery of this deification of the poetically challenged. He doesn't breathe a word of Warren's greatest narrative poem, All the King's Men, which contains one of the most riveting opening pages in American literature, a rich paean to the hot isolation of back-country southern life and ways from seventy years ago.

No, Burt flails away for a dozen or so pages in his Introduction, treating Warren's poetry as if it were serious, with meaning and import and wit and courage. I don't know --- maybe he's in on the joke too. He quotes some of the biggest howlers of them all, including

    I think of your goldness, of joy, but how empires grind, stars are hurled.
    I smile stiff, saying
    ciao, saying ciao, and think: This is the world.

He also includes Warren's ludicrous rip-off of Gerard Manley Hopkins,

    Lisping in shadow of sound, stone-lipping in languor of darkness,
    Bursting like bubbles into new syllables
    Of what new tongue, the brook
    Moves in the nighttide of cliff overhang --- long later longs
    To wander somewhere in tangled vastness of moonlight,
    Then hide in the prickle-edged shadow where
    No breath of air stirs sedge.

Maybe we should just forward a pop quiz to Burt, add a few questions directed at his quotes, like

  • Explain how one should go about grinding empires.
  • Ciao is pronounced "chow." Is Warren here speaking of (a) army food? (b) little puppy dogs?
  • How can one best "lisp in shadow of sound stone-lipping in langour?"
  • What in god's name can we possibly do with lines like "long later longs / To wander somewhere in tangled vastness of moonlight"?
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Not Rabies, Baby,
But Baby Scabies

I once asked one of my doctors if he would show me the cause of my misery under a microscope. He refused. He said that one time he showed the bug to one of his patients, and the patient was so terrorized he never came back. Since I was such a good customer, he was not about to lose me forever just to satisfy my curiosity.

I've had it so many times, and rubbed so much of the pomade, Elimite, over my body (at $25 a shot), you'd think I'd own half-interest in Burroughs Wellcome Company, the patent holder on one of the more popular of the scabies eradication creams. You'd also think I was an expert on the subject. Thus, when I started itching last spring, I went to see the good Doctor Feelgood --- all names have been changed to protect the guilty --- and said I was itching, and would he look and see if I had scabies again, and if so, could he write out a prescription for Elimite so I could spend some more money making Burrough's Wellcome rich.

Well, Dr. Feelgood said it definitely wasn't scabies, but rather, "a form of eczema." He said it might be a condition of nerves, and that it would stay with me until it damn well decided --- on its own --- to depart. He said he could give me some ointments that would alleviate the itching, but nothing could cure it.

I scratched my way all the way through spring and early summer, and then decided that there must be something more to life imitating the dogs on the streets of Cairo, Bombay, or Mexico City. I went to see a skin specialist over at the University clinic near here. After letting me cool my heels in his waiting room for an hour or so, Dr. Derma's nurse led me into cubicle #J, and after another pleasant 45 minutes or so reading year-old issues of "People" magazine, the good doctor breezed in, looked me over, and told me I had nervous Eczema. He then wrote out a prescription, and was gone within in 60 seconds, leaving me nothing more for my trouble than another useless creme, and a bill for $100.

You may be wondering where I'm getting to with this Seven-Year-Itch Shaggy Dog Story. Have faith: there is a point to this tale.

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Cynthia Berger
Not only are their table-manners deplorable, their accommodations are vomit-inducing. The Screech Owl will typically have a nest filled up with various types of garbage. "The bottom of an owl's nest makes a nice home," says Ms. Berger, although we believe the word "nice" here should be considered relative. "It's a messy mulch of its own feces, coughed up owl pellets, and the remains of prey such as mice and beetles."

Ants and fly maggots move in to feed on this, so it becomes a stinkpot cafeteria. To make it even more vile, some owls bring home Texas blind snakes --- live ones --- who, once in the nest, defecate and release "a noxious, smelly liquid, then writhe so that the slippery mess coats their small bodies."

No one can figure out why owls bring home these disgusting characters to be their roommates. It reminds us of Ms. Downey, down the street, who lives with thirty-five (or thirty-eight, or forty-three) cats: the atmosphere downwind from her house can peel the bark off the very elms.

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The Blue Tattoo
The Life of Olive Oatman
Margot Mifflin
(University of Nebraska)
Shortly after her "rescue," Oatman was put on the American lecture circuit. Her kidnapping and recovery, as well as her tattoo, were a natural draw. Unlike the present, tattooed ladies were not all that common in the United States (the tattoo machine itself was not invented until 1891).

Moreover, an ambitious Methodist minister named Royal Byron Stratton wrote a sensational account of her time with the Indians, told of their "degradation, the barbarity, the superstition, the squalidness, that curse the uncounted thousands who people the caverns and wilds." Thus he not only degraded the very Indians who had saved her, but --- by spicing up Oatman's life among the savages --- was able to turn the book Life Among the Indians into a best-seller.

Stratton, being a Methodist, was a little potty, but, fortunately for all involved, went completely mad in his late years, and had to be salted away. Oatman had been traveling with him and telling her story, but by the time he went bonkers she had become a competent public speaker on her own and stayed on the circuit until she retired to Sherman, Texas, in 1875.

In her later years, it seems that Olive was profoundly depressed, suffering from what they called "neurasthenia." It might have been because of her being kidnapped by the Indians (or away from them), but watching the Yavapais murder her mother, father and brothers and sisters might have contributed to her delicate health.

According to the author, there are no end of "captive" and "marked women outsiders" titles on the shelves. The women are uniformly presumed to be scarred by their experience, either physically or emotionally. Some, like Oatman, also carried physical marks of their captivity.

In an interesting Epilogue, Mifflin cites episodes in the TV series Death Valley Days as well as Oatman-like characters in the writings of Elmore Leonard and Elizabeth Grayson. She even quotes from The Scarlet Letter: Hester Prynne, after all, was marked with the letter "A," carrying it within and without.

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"Look, kid," Eddie's voice becomes lower and nasty, "You're here for the summer. I'm here for life, That nurse thinks it takes an hour and a half to take a stiff to the morgue, and you are not going to tell her any different."

In medical school, the formaldehyde returns, the life blood of my cadaver. I know who my cadaver will be. She has just died, and a great humanitarian like her will almost certainly donate her body to medical science, as they say.

"Thank you Mrs. Roosevelt!" I will exclaim, as I open my box for the first time. "Thank you for affording me the opportunity to help others by tearing you to shreds."

It isn't her. It's a man. The formaldehyde in which he has been soaked has macerated his skin, giving him an ageless look. The cartilage of his nose has dissolved in the pickling juices, making him look as though he has gone one round too many with Archie Moore.

The smell of him will be forever, like the tonsils that have remained in the jar on my bookcase. At first, I wear rubber gloves to dissect, but the smell comes through, wrinkling my fingertips. At the end of the day, I scrub my hands with brushes and green soap, Lava soap, Ajax cleanser, dishwashing detergent, baking soda, lemons. But the smell remains, combing my nostrils as my hand brings the fork to my mouth at dinner. During lovemaking, the smell evokes strange intrusive fantasies.

After a while, it becomes a part of me. Only when I return after a weekend away do I notice it. I stop wearing gloves. I begin to eat lunch at the cadaver box, sometimes laying my sandwich down on his muscles, to get the use of two hands. One day, the project is the removal of the erector spinae muscle that runs along the length of the back, beside the vertebrae. In cattle, it's filet mignon, the instructor informs us. Sure enough, as I tear it from its attachments to the bone, the marinated muscle looks like chunks of rare steak. It is eleven-thirty, and, to my horror, my mouth is watering. I am becoming a doctor.

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The Faces Behind
The Faces at RALPH

Our Average Reader
Our server delivers a daily accounting of reviews, readings, poems, letters and articles that receive the most hits. We also get an accounting of gross totals --- total number of viewings of any and all our files.

RALPH, we find, to our amazement, now gets ten- to twenty-thousand hits a day. Pure page hits amount to over 350,000 a month.***

Typical Daily Editorial Meeting
There are a variety of reasons for a particular item's popularity. A few seem to create interest because of the colorful attention-getting photographs attached to the review. Thus, Paul Krassner's book on Toad-Slime may make the grade not only because he is a funny writer, but because of the poignant shots of amphibians we came up with to add pizzazz to the review.

Our Director of
The numbers racked up on Moko Maori Tattoo may be because of the text, or perhaps because of the heart-stopping photographs of indigenous New Zealanders with wondrous designs all over their faces.

Others may make the grade for less seemly reasons. Our longest-running hit article has to do with the trial of Fatty Arbuckle, showing that Hollywood scandal may attract not only endless but eternal curiosity.

Our Chief of Protocol
And files of ours up at Google with the word "Sex" or "Erotic" or "Nude" (or, in one case, "Onan") in the title always attract inordinate --- and perhaps naïve --- interest.

At the top of the bare bums list is Nude Sculpture: The Last 5,000 Years --- a respectable volume from the very respectable publishing firm of Harry N. Abrams.

Our Editor, Lolita Lark
There is, too, the bitter, funny prison poem, "Song to Onan's Complaining Hand" by 19th-century Dominican Republic poet, Manuel del Cabral.

And a "Letter to the Editor" that continues to excite prurient interest is the one explaining to those looking for RALPH that they may be being waylaid by yet another RALPH --- an excessively noisy beer-and-bust-fondle mag out of the wilds of Australia ... partially owned by, of all people, Bill Gates.

Our Staff Physician

Outside of these exceptions, we figure that most of the reviews, readings, articles, and poems are on the hit list because they are strange, honest, or caustic enough to attract attention from those who have grown tired of the puff-piece world of American book reviewing.

Our Public Relations Director
RALPH, the friendly Australian Fondle magazine, probably picks up a thousand times more hits per moment than RALPH --- The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities. But we like to think that there will always be a place for an on-line magazine that explores the frontiers of ideas with the same enthusiasm as our more provocative peer to the south explores the frontiers of lubricity.

*** This works out to
8,212,500 hits a year,
or, possibly,
93,000,000,000 a century.

The Stories of Paul Bowles
Robert Stone, Editor
(Harper Collins)
Anyone who has read The Sheltering Sky knows the strange magic of Paul Bowles. It's deceptively simple: somewhat unpleasant characters, usually Americans without much in their brains, head out for adventure in North Africa, meet up with some dope-smoking Arabs, and have a startling adventure that ends up destroying them. The message seems to be that innocents who fiddle around in the Muslim world will be surprised, and that surprise will not be pleasant.

We have here some sixty stories by Bowles, the earliest from 1946, the last from 1993. They are arranged (as all such collections should be) by date. I picked it up to give it a hasty scan --- and ended up mesmerized, plowing straight through parts of it, story by story. Few were disappointing; many were harrowing; most were worth it.

Bowles' major theme has to do with the interaction between Arabs and those they call "Nazarenes," outsiders who turn up in Tangiers mildly interested in its reputation; more often there because it is a cheap seaside city, with cheap, expendable labor, and a mild attitude towards westerners' strange ideas of sin.

The gardener in "Madame and Ahmed," for instance, knows her weaknesses: she doesn't trust him, she will let him go when she finds his work at fault, and most of all, she doesn't speak Arabic. The revolutionary aspect is that Bowles appears to have entered the heads of Arabs to such a degree that we would opine that those who are puzzled by recent events in the west might find it useful to study the philosophy of a whole people as revealed in this fiction.

For the Muslims, the "Nazarenes" are as bizarre. We view women as equals, we have an affection for alcohol over the much more sensible kif, we're obsessed with cleanliness, we frown on bribes, we're always in a hurry, with a tarnished view of their culture (one as ancient as our own), and finally, there is the matter of our arrogant innocence. All these make us as exotic to them as they are to us.

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Wide Awake
Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond
Suzanne Lummis, Editor
(Pacific Coast Poetry Series)
There are only few of the poets who are able to capture that too-much/not-enough soul of Los Angeles. One of the best is John Brautingham's poem which manages to find poetry in rhythmic highway numbers, and, at the same time, can play along with the region's dangerous underpinnings:

    My love for you, King Smog,
    is the love of an old woman
    for an old man. I love you with all
    of your faults, even sometimes because
    of your faults. I love your freeways,
    your 5, 405, 605, 105,
    your 10, 210, 110, 710,
    and for your pesticide beaches
    choked with human waste too dangerous
    to bathe in but too beautiful
    not to.

What's more, with so many choices here, we must look for the special, the odd, the brazen, the facetiously charming. Like the report of David Hernandez's seductively bad taco, to be found in his "Dear Professor,"

    Let me explain my lengthy absence ---
    My entire family got food poisoning,
    myself included. We had eaten rotten
    fish tacos, old bad cod, I've never been so
    nauseous, the house wouldn't stop
    spinning, wouldn't stop shuffling
    its windows, I was gushing from
    I'll spare you the details.

Note the elegant line break and apologia after gushing, then we go on to hear of wild rides, flat tires, sparks on the highway --- a true L. A. tribute to the cars of our lives, ending with the same charming brazen trick that those of us who have passed too much time as "adjunct professors" have always had to fend off,

    . . . I want
    to live forever. I want to pass your class
    and graduate, get a gig, marry some hottie,
    see the world, drive until my wheels
    come wobbling off, and keep driving
    but first I need to pass your class.
    No pressure. Honestly. No pressure.

§   §   §

Enough. If you pick up Wide Awake, do not --- repeat --- do not be put off by the lousy cover, with pink words splayed across the dirt brown smoggy ink that makes the title impossible to read. Do not, also, be put off by the pro forma typestyle within, the hum-drum layout, the needlessly crowded pages, and the miserable proofreading (poetry books that contain a fair number of Spanish words and phrases must be prepared to offer appropriate and correct accents, tildes, and diaeresis).

Do, however, look for the likes of Brautingham and Hernandez, and as well, Liz Gonzalez, Kate Gale, Dana Gioia, Gloria Vando ("My 90-Year-Old Father and My Husband Discuss Their Trips to the Moon"), Patty Seyburn, R. H. Fairchild (the longest rave in the book, five pages, titled as it should be, "Rave On,") Cecilia Woloch, Luís Campos, and Candace Pearson's altogether too sad family,

    My brother will be dead in two weeks, I'll be in some other city
    when he overdoses on downers as our parents drink double
    vodka tonics in another room, I'll get a call at 2 am. Someone
    will say,
    This is your mama speaking. And I will answer, Who?

And spend a moment or two with Patty Seyburn, who wants us to know, apropos of nothing, what she dislikes most about the pleistocene era,

    The pastries were awfully dry.
    An absence of hummingbirds ---
    of any humming, and birds' lead
    feathers made it difficult to fly . . .
    Clouds had not yet learned
    to clot, billow, represent.
    Stars unshot, anonymous.
    Moon and sun indifferent . . .
    And I was not yet capital I.
    Still just an eye. No mouth,
    no verb, no AM to carry dark
    from day, dirt or sea from sky . . .

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The Rainmaker
There was a great drought where the missionary Richard Wilhelm lived in China. There had not been a drop of rain and the situation became catastrophic. The Catholics made processions, the Protestants made prayers, and the Chinese burned joss sticks and shot off guns to frighten away the demons of the drought, but with no result. Finally the Chinese said: We will fetch the rain maker. And from another province, a dried up old man appeared. The only thing he asked for was a quiet little house somewhere, and there he locked himself in for three days. On the fourth day clouds gathered and there was a great snowstorm at the time of the year when no snow was expected, an unusual amount, and the town was so full of rumors about the wonderful rain maker that Wilhelm went to ask the man how he did it.

In true European fashion he said: "They call you the rain maker, will you tell me how you made the snow?" And the little Chinaman said: "I did not make the snow, I am not responsible." "But what have you done these three days?" "Oh, I can explain that. I come from another country where things are in order. Here they are out of order, they are not as they should be by the ordnance of heaven. Therefore the whole country is not in Tao, and I am also not in the natural order of things because I am in a disordered country. So I had to wait three days until I was back in Tao, and then naturally the rain came."

--- From The Nature Writings of C. G. Jung
©2002, North Atlantic Books

The Faulkes Chronicle
David Huddle
(Tupelo Press)
The Faulkes Chronicle is a fairy tale, of sorts, and like fairy tales, there's a princess. And a witch. Our princess is named Karen. And the witch is named "Cancer." Unremitting, greedy, always taking, never giving.

Except . . . with yet another side . . . one that we often don't let ourselves learn about. It is called ownership.

There's a passage, one of the patches of gold that turns up as we go down this last road, the one where Karen's sweetest memories lie. At first. there is some doubt about Karen's ability to make it. After all, she's fragile, dying. But Jessica appears on the scene, spends an hour or so with Karen so they can decide what to do; and what Jessica learns is a refreshing view of the body; the body's place as our personal map, what we used to call the Gestalt.

Karen preaches ownership of everything. You have to claim all you have whether you wanted it or not when it came along. She says that her body must be "scary" to her many children because there's so little left of it. "But, you live in your body over time," she says, "and it begins to make sense to you."

During all this time you spend with it --- it's you, after all; you know it in and out, as it were: "You know why it got strong or weak, fat or thin, saggy or tight." And

    If it's your body, you get along with it. Even pain. If it's yours, you don't argue with it.

    Even if it makes you scream, the pain is yours . . . and you understand it.

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Ronald Orenstein
(Firefly Books)
Their names came from the humming sounds made with their wings (the Indians of Northern California called them the "Uhmunums"), beating, in some cases, more than fifty times a minute. Metabolism is a bit of a survival problem for your common hummingbird. They can inhale/exhale 250 times a minute. During the day their little hearts beat up to 1,250 times a minute, though when they fall in love, these wee parts have been known to vibrate at double that rate, make them go into a tailspin, need counseling.

To conserve power, at night, hummingbirds go into what is called "torpor" like my uncle Herb who heads straight there after his nightly bierfest, where he rests up in front of a reality show and snores. "Uncle Herb," we'll ask, "what are you doing?" "Shut up, you ninnies. Can't you see I'm snoozing?"

There are almost 350 species of hummingbirds around (they reside only in the New World, mostly in South America). Some live on as much as five years, but a branded broad-tail hummingbird was found to have survived twelve years . . . getting gray and irritable in the last years of her little life, complaining repeatedly about the cold, please to shut the front door.

And you'll find that male hummingbirds are a tad sexist, to say the least. After coitus (which can last up to three-fifths of a second), he takes off for the nearest bar while the female of the species devotes herself for two to three weeks to build the nest . . . culling ferns, mosses, and spiderwebs . . . and then lay the bitty eggs. She'll then hatch them, and feed the little ones, but if the male tries to take credit, he is scolded with a series of twitterings which tell him what a drunken lout he is. Baby hummingbirds are fed by regurgitation.

Their wings do a figure 8 when flying: the bird gets 25% of the uplift on the down-cycle, 75% on the up-draft. During courtship, when the males show their stuff, their downflights can reach 10g (of gravitational force) which, for a regular fighter pilot, is enough to make one doze off.

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Buddha Da
Anne Donovan
(Carroll & Graf)
If this were just a piece of fiction in funny language, there wouldn't be anything to write home about, would there? But by my troth, Donovan knows how to construct a story, get us in to it so we love (and sometimes hate) these Glaswegians, get it so that their problems become our problems. I am reading this and thinking what it must have been like reading Dickens when he was coming out in the weeklies so that you had to wait seven days before you could see how he was going to resolve Pip's dilemma, or get another funny story out of the Pickwickians.

It isn't easy. While reading Buddha Da, I did, after all, have to do other things with my life, like breathe, eat, and sleep. Donovan knows how to construct a world filled with people from our neighborhood, funny new people we come to know ... and it almost takes away the desire to do anything else rather than go along with them. This is Anne Marie as she is listening to the lamas:

    Ah love singing and maist of the time ah just dae it, never really think aboot it, but sometimes ah feel as if ma voice is comin fae somewhere else, that it's no me singing. Ah mind wan time when ah was rehearsin for the concert and it wis just me and the music teacher in the room. Ah shut ma eyes and it was like ma whole body was vibratin, like ah was a musical instrument and somebody was playin me. As could hear ma voice fae a great distance. When ah finished there was silence in the room. Ma teacher never made any comment, just sat. And listenin tae the lamas ah felt the same way. As thought they were musical instruments and the music was comin through them. And the sounds they made, that at first seemed harsh and discordant tae me, had become the maist beautiful sounds ah'd ever heard. Ah sat there and closed ma eyes.

The author not only knows her language, not only knows love, not only loves her characters --- but, as all good authors writing about Eastern religion must --- she knows her Buddhism, knows how to place it in the context of a normal family, one that is practically destroyed by the supposedly benign world of Tibetan masters.

Thus, Buddhism becomes a counterpoint to the story of Liz and Anna Marie and Jimmy, as fine as counterpoint in a Bach cantata --- the bass line going one way, the tenor another, the alto a third: all put together in a musical whole that can make one shiver with the glory of it.

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if i should sleep with a lady called death
get another man with firmer lips
to take your new mouth in his teeth
(hips pumping pleasure into hips).

Seeing how the limp huddling string
of your smile over his body squirms
kissingly, i will bring you every spring
handfuls of little normal worms.

Dress deftly your flesh in stupid stuffs,
phrase the immense weapon of your hair.
Understanding why his eye laughs,
i will bring you every year

something which is worth the whole,
an inch of nothing for your soul.


     a blue woman with sticking out breasts hanging
clothes.  On the line. not so old
for the mother of twelve undershirts(we are told
by is it Bishop Taylor who needs hanging

that marriage is a sure cure for masturbation).

     A dirty wind,twitches the,clothes which are clean
--- this is twilight,
          a little puppy hopping between
          (It is the consummation
of day,the hour)she says to me you big fool
she says i says to her i says Sally
i says

        mmmoon,begins to,drool

softly,in the hot alley,

a nigger's voice feels curiously cool
(suddenly-Lights go!on,by schedule


when you went away it was morning
(that is, big horses; light feeling up
streets; heels taking derbies (where?) a pup
hurriedly hunched over swill; one butting

trolley imposingly empty; snickering
shop doors unlocked by white-grub
faces) clothes in delicate hubbub

as you stood thinking of anything,

maybe the world . . . . But i have wondered since
isn't it odd of you really to lie
a sharp agreeable flower between my

amused legs
        kissing with little dints

of april, making the obscene shy
breasts tickle, laughing when i wilt and wince


(the phonograph's voice like a keen spider skipping

quickly over patriotic swill.
The,negress,in the,rocker by the,curb,tipping

and tipping,the flocks of pigeons.  And the skil-

ful loneliness,and the rather fat
man in bluishsuspenders half-reading the
Evening Something
       in the normal window.  and a cat.

A cat waiting for god knows makes me

wonder if i'm alive(eye pries,

not open. Tail stirs.) And ---
the night.makes me wonder if,if i am
the face of a baby smeared with beautiful jam


  my invincible Nearness rapes

laughter from your preferable,eyes

--- ©1923, E. E. cummings

World War I:
A New Kind of War

Combat violence, suffered but also inflicted, caused irreparable psychological damage. Psychiatry at that time had at best only primitive explanations of the stresses and traumas of the battlefield. Germans had a quite sophisticated concept of Kriegsneurose, or war neurosis, but the principal interpretative tools among the British and Americans was the simplistic notion of "shell shock," and, among the French, commotion and obusite ("shellitis"), in a context where exacerbated patriotism caused physicians invariably to suspect soldiers of simulating insanity, or at least of engaging in an unconscious psychological and bodily ruse in order to escape duty.

It is now known that soldiers on a battlefield can hope to preserve their psychological equilibrium for only several months at best; the strict selection process notwithstanding, one-tenth of mobilised American men were hospitalised for mental disturbances between 1942 and 1945, and after thirty-five days of uninterrupted combat, 98 per cent of them manifested psychiatric disturbances in varying degrees.

As it happens, the combatants of 1914 - 18, when they were lucky enough to survive, were constantly sent back to the trenches, often in the same areas, even after they had already been wounded several times. This prolonged immersion, unprecedented in duration, constitutes another specific aspect of their experience of violence.

More than half of the 70 million soldiers engaged in the Great War suffered physically from its violence, whether it killed them or "only" wounded them. And, if we are to trust present-day epidemiological studies on the invisible consequences of combat, we should not rule out the possibility that almost half of the survivors sustained more or less serious psychological disturbances. All these factors, as Keegan emphasized, show the extent to which, starting in 1914, the battlefield had become the site of a much more extreme terror than ever before. The greater range of weapons changed the very conception of "battlefield;" the Somme in 1916 --- the site of one of the most costly battles of the century --- was ten times more spread out than Waterloo.

The circumstances and conditions of combat were thus completely transformed. In the big battles of the early twentieth century, commanders could no longer grasp in its entirety the scene of the conflict. A hundred years earlier, soldiers stood shoulder to shoulder, but now they were dispersed over the terrain, isolated, and almost entirely lost when the confusion of battle set in. Sometimes, when the tactical links were broken, they were completely on their own, as in Verdun, where infantrymen were scattered haphazardly wherever there were shell-craters. True, battlefields of the past were always scenes of horrendous terror for the combatants, as shown by the panic that so often gripped the contending parties. And there have also always been sites of massacres, including "pointless" ones perpetrated by victors when, at the sight of their enemies surrendering or turning their backs, they lost control.

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Family Reunion:
Poems about Parenting
Grown Children

<Sondra Zeidenstein, Editor
(Chicory Blue)
If you are planning to have any children in the next twenty-five years ... don't. Unless you are looking forward to fifty years (or more) in which you get to deal with alcoholism, anorexia, sullenness, blame (you!), sickness, lack of appreciation, inability to communicate, self-destructive behavior, late-night telephone calls, crying jags, grandchildren with life-threatening illnesses, and endless money-begs.
    She wants to hang herself from the rafters, she says
    to me at the top of the stairs...

Those are the opening lines of Joan Swift's poem "Ties," while Cortney Davis tells us about being in the airport café:

    How's work? I'll ask my son, trying to catch up.
    He'll concentrate on his plate. I'll pick up the bill.

Raymond Carver reports, "Oh, son, in those days I wanted you dead/a hundred --- no a thousand --- different times." And his daughter?

    You're a beautiful drunk, daughter.
    But you're a drunk. I can't say you're breaking
    my heart. I don't have a heart when it comes
    to this booze thing.

Pearl Garrett Crayton tells us to be very careful, "Please, please, please, please, please/don't step on my daughter's toes!" Why? She'll

    cut you down to size,
    scratch your eyes out,
    pull out your hair,
    go for your jugular vein,
    flay you skinless,
    trample you in the dust.

By comparison: "I've seen cancers cause less misery."

Penelope Scambly Schott tells of the telephone call, and "the spooked nickering of my grown daughter/across three thousand miles of dark,/that iron shoe in my heart," while Sheila Gardiner explains that her daughter's "What will I do with the rest of my life?" ("dissolving my heart") comes "from years of paralysis."

And just so we'll know that this stuff reaches across ages, Judith Arcana interviews Jocasta in hell, asks how come she gave up her son. She says Laius bullied her into doing it, but mostly she was "crying over my loose belly, still soaked in milk." Besides, "He was king." Besides, who was to know, who in god's name could ever know,

    When you look down at them in their baskets, wrapped in soft cloth, when they root for the nipple under your gown, pursing their tiny budlipped mouths toward the smell of you, their eyes still fogged, still changing.

"How could I have recognized him?" she wails, as every mother must wail when she looks into the eyes of her newborn and has no idea, no idea in god's great world that the babe in arms may someday rise up to smite the old man, strike him dead, then bury himself in the arms of the widow, the one who could not, not in a thousand thousand years, guess that this lovely young man, "my mysterious suitor, the supposed savior of my city" is, in truth the soon to be her blind --- blinded by his own hand --- son, that one-time "nuzzling, budlipped babe" of her own womb, now returned to her womb. In another direction, in another guise.

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Friendly Fallout 1953
Ann Ronald
(University of Nevada Press)
We've always been amazed by the way those in power can turn a threat into a thrill through the not-so-subtle use of propaganda, images, and mere words.

For example, up until the middle of the last century, international manslaughter was mostly left in the hands of the United States Department of War. But in 1949, it was decided that it would be better to call it "The United States Department of Defense." Thus, the war in Afghanistan comes under the rubric of "defense."

It's not unlike that new branch of federal government in charge of what used to be called "anarchists," or "reds;" now "terrorists." The agency could have been called "The Department of Terror" but that sounds a little, well, scary ... so "Homeland Security" it became. It has a more friendly ring to it, makes us automatically feel safer, at home.

It might have been a gift of the growing importance of public relations. The New York Times reports that even the Taliban has a PR Department, to give us a more positive view of their beheadings and bombings.

The Atomic Energy Commission from the 1950s and '60s was a veritable goldmine of PRitus. When they decided to start peppering Nevada with the atom bombs, they came up with winsome names for each of the blasts. Instead of "Fireball #5" or "Dustfire" or "Radiation Cookball" or "The Strontium 90 Stir-Fry" ... they announced tests with merry names like "Dixie," "Badger," "Encore," "Grable" (after the movie star Betty Grable) and, hold on, "Climax."

The first of the series, in 1951, was dubbed "Project Faultless." Another series was known as "Tumbler-Snapper." Another, to prove how homey it all was, was named "Operation Teapot."

But all these above-the-ground tests --- exactly a hundred in number --- were no teapots. Some were so massive that their clouds of radiation shot up to 40,000 - 50,000 feet. With the prevailing winds, they effectively sprinkled radiation to the north --- as far as Idaho --- and east, to Boston. If you were alive in the United States at the time --- especially if you were in utero ... you got rads. Courtesy of the Feds.

The catchphrase was "Nuclear Arms for Peace," and there was nothing to worry about. As Ms. Ronald shows, in 1953, while people in the small community of St. George, Utah were being dusted with 100 times the official safe level of radiation from fallout, the Atomic Energy Commission was busy reassuring people that it was "nothing to be concerned about."

In 1957, atmospheric nuclear explosions in Nevada (with the name "Operation Plumbob") were later determined to have released enough radiation to cause up to 212,000 new cases of thyroid cancer amongst U.S. citizens, leading to as many as 21,000 deaths. This from a report issued by the National Cancer Institute in 1999.

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African Sculpture
Warren Robbins
Robbins says that to call this art "primitive" is a result of a "non-African inability to understand it." A better word, he offers, would be "classical" since Africa has a long and honored tradition of putting beliefs and social systems into concrete representations.

The emphasis in traditional African art --- what westerners might think of as exaggeration --- is four-fold: the head (indicating character), the navel (suggesting continuity), the genital (a tribute to generative power), and animal horns and tusks (representing fertility).

All African art is "abstract," says the editor, because purely representational art is neither desired nor valid in the cultures represented. He compares the many masks shown here --- all of ceremonial or authoritative value --- as not being unlike ceremonial wigs or robes of European or American judicial bodies.

Evidently the first Western artists to immerse themselves in African art were the German expressionists --- Nolde, Kirchner, Heckel, Schmidt-Rottluff and the most famous of them all, Erich von Hansenpuklebafentrubenhabenbaben. I concocted this name to be sure you were paying attention to your lessons (we'll have a quiz tomorrow).

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The Louisiana Purchase
Joseph J. Ellis
Given the triumphal tone of most histories of the Purchase, and the somewhat silly scramble to assign credit for the triumph, it is curious that Jefferson himself made a point of not listing it on his tombstone as one of his proudest achievements. Nor did he list his presidency, in which the Purchase was unquestionably his singular accomplishment. As we shall see, there were several reasons for this omission, and modesty was not one of them.

Perhaps the best way to put it is that there is a tragic as well as triumphal version of the story. As one version moved gloriously and inexorably toward the Pacific, the other moved ominously and just as inexorably toward the Civil War, whose immediate cause was the debate over slavery in the territory Jefferson had done so much to acquire. Indeed, the tragedy was double-barreled, since the Louisiana Purchase also proved to be the death knell for any Indian presence east of the Mississippi. And since the failure to end slavery and the failure to preserve and protect the indigenous peoples of North America were the two great stains on the legacy of the founding generation, the fact that the Purchase locked these failures into place was not an achievement Jefferson wished to advertise.

We could begin the story around 15,000 B.C., with the retreat of the glacial ice that formed the Mississippi Valley. But since we are doing history rather than geology, a more appropriate starting line is March 6, 1801, as Jefferson ascended to the presidency after one of the most controversial elections in American history. In his inaugural address, destined to become one of the best in the genre, he outlined the principles that would guide him, which were essentially the same principles that had shaped the agenda of the Republican Party over the past decade: "A wise and frugal government which ... shall not take from the mouth of labour the bread it has earned;" a reduction of the national debt, made possible by a slashing of all federal budgets and a transfer of all domestic policies to the states; an innocuous and almost invisible executive branch, rendered even more inconspicuous by Jefferson's decision to file all presidential correspondence with the relevant cabinet officers in order to eliminate even a presidential paper trail. These were "the ancient Whig principles," the values of "pure republicanism" that the Federalists had betrayed, what Henry Adams called "the strange hymn" that Americans "had learned to chant with their chief." These were the cherished principles Jefferson proclaimed. He was about to violate every one of them.

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The Gifts of the Moon
The moon, which is caprice itself, looked in the window while you were sleeping in your crib, and said to herself: "That child pleases me."

And then she mellowly descended her staircase of clouds and passed noiselessly through the windows. Then she spread herself over you with the supple tenderness of a mother, and she left her colors on your face. Your eyes remained green, and your cheeks extraordinarily pale. It was while contemplating that visitor that your eyes became so bizarrely large; and she so tenderly crushed your throat that you have retained forever the desire to cry.

Meanwhile, in the expansiveness of her joy, the Moon filled all of the room like a phosphoric atmosphere, like a luminous poison; and all of that living light thought and said: "You will be eternally subject to the influence of my kiss. You will be beautiful in my manner. You will love what I love and who loves me: water, the clouds, silence, and the night; the immense, green sea; formless and multiform water; the place where you will not be; the lover you will not know; monstrous flowers; perfumes that make you delirious; cats who swoon on pianos, and who moan like women, with a hoarse, gentle voice!

"And you will be loved by my lovers, courted by my courtiers. You will be the queen of the green-eyed men whose throats I have also pressed with my nocturnal caresses; of those who love the sea, the immense sea, tumultuous and green, formless and multiform water, the place where they are not, the woman they do not know, sinister flowers that resemble the incense burners of an unknown religion, perfumes that trouble the will, and savage and voluptuous animals that are the emblems of their folly."

And it is for that reason, cursed, spoiled, beloved child, that I am now lying at your feet, seeking in all of your person the reflection of the formidable Divinity, of the prophetic god-mother, of the wet-nurse who empoisons all lunatics.

--- From "Les Fleurs du Mal" by Charles Baudelaire
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version of this poem

The Anatomy of Addiction
Sigmund Freud, William Halstead,
And the Miracle Drug Cocaine

Howard Markel
The Anatomy of Addiction focuses on the dopey habits of two contemporaries: Sigmund Freud and William Halstead. Freud we all know about, with his weird ideas about mothers and fathers and sexuality (which may, in retrospect, not be so dopey, if you had to put up with my mother and father). Halstead was the American counterpart of Freud, operating mostly at Johns Hopkins University. Along with three other medical professionals, he practically dragged American medicine into the present precise, ritualized field that we know today.

According to Markel, Halsted invented several medical techniques: operations for goiters, inguinal hernias, and aneurysms, the removal of gallstones, and radical mastectomies (now no longer used, but in the dark ages of medicine, the only hope for a woman with breast cancer).

Most of all, he implemented Lister's demands for a germ-free / bacteria-free operating theatre. In fact, his demands for pre-operating scrub-downs were so ruinous to the hands of his assistants (and his future wife) that he went off to New York and told B. F. Goodrich himself to make a glove that was suitable for doctors to use when cutting people, reminding us of that romantic trochee by the ever-famous Anon:

    There was a man with a hernia
    Who said to his doctor "Goldern-ya,
    When cutting my middle,
    Be sure you don't fiddle
    With matters that do not concern-ya."

During his time at Johns Hopkins, Halsted was, according to Markel, sticking cocaine in his arm. It was known and accepted that he had been an addict during his student days, but Markel's contention here is that Halstead continued to have a lust for both cocaine and morphine until his death in 1922; indeed, that the drugs probably hastened his demise.

William Halsted, Markel claims, "was a remarkably high-performing addict for almost four decades."

    Armed with a controlling personality of epic proportions, more times than not the surgeon restricted satisfying his drug hunger to a precise schedule of furtive morphine injections. He also managed to contain his cocaine cravings to those safe periods when he was far away from the hospital and could afford to binge.

The author's respect for Halsted comes partly from what he did to make American medicine respectable ... indeed, to make it the wonder of the Western world. But Markel seems to think less of Freud. Even though, apparently, the good doctor of Vienna was able to shake off his twelve-year addiction to cocaine and soon went on to shape his astonishing theory of the way the mind works, and in the process, to write one of the great novels of the 19th Century, The Interpretation of Dreams. (Others refer to it as a scientific paper or some such. Forget it. It's as good as that other bleak novel of 19th Century life, Das Kapital.)

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