Thursday, January 31, 2008

Consummatus sum

My Latin, as much as I love it, has suffered a bit of oxidation during the last two years of studying Japanese, so if Consummatus sum does not lead exactly to I am finished, I hope you will not hold it against me.

I finished my first chapbook of poems yesterday, and sent it off, with a check for $15.00, to the Frank O'Hara Chapbook Contest. It is only 16 pages long, but it has taken me forever, plus Tuesday, to go through the manuscript line by line, syllable by syllable, image by image and edit everything so A is tied to B, and C, and D, for more than just alphabetical reasons. There is nothing drearier than writing sometimes. I will not even begin to discuss my whimsical way of spelling, some of which has probably seeped through into this blog.

It is the first time in a long time I have sent anything out for publication--at least since I had a few poems printed in this book, in 2004. Most of the poems here are really quite wonderful, and I have no idea why any of mine were eventually selected for inclusion. They are hardly Minshara Class, in terms of Life.


So, today, it is back to work. Back to the Moon, the Stars, Comets, and Mars. Back to blogging. Back to being librarial. Back to reading the news. I understand it isn't good. It hardly ever is.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Good News and Bad

I will begin with the Bad News.

It seems that our new friend on Mars, Mr. Dan Haggerty, better known to viewers of a certain age as Grizzly Adams, has ceased to exist. While I am happy to report he hasn't fallen into a ravine or been mauled by a bear, it saddens me to say that investigators at JPL have revealed that Mr. Haggerty is just an interesting outcropping of rock: an optical illusion.

I suppose, like Santa Claus, or Senator Fred Thompson, he was always too good to be true. Ever since learning that the Man in the Red Suit was a fiction, I held out the greatest hopes for Life on the Red Planet. I suppose the story of Percival Lowell should have served as a warning, or at least modified the initial rush of rapture we all felt when we saw his picture.

I cannot help it if I am a naturally optimistic person at heart. Fortunately, I am not easily discouraged by disappointment.
Although, I have to admit, it is becoming harder and harder to hold out hope for intelligent life on Earth, especially when it seems to be in such short supply down here, especially in Hollywood, the press, and at our major universities.

This is why, each night, before I lay me down to sleep, I thank Heaven for you. For the good sense you show in reading my blog. And for the patient, diligent efforts of fishermen everywhere. And for fish.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

IFAQ: Infrequently Asked Questions

Last night's Japanese class was a little difficult (Kino no ban kurasu wa chutto muzukashi deshita), but I survived. I shall be adding another revolution to my list of New Year's Revolutions: 1 hour of Japanese verb conjugation everyday. God only knows where that hour is going to come from though. I may need to borrow against my future earnings.

I am not sure you noticed this bit of news yesterday, but it certainly took me by surprise. Just when we were getting used to being alone in the Cosmos, and Grizzly Adams turns up on Mars. How do you like that? If there is anything which convinces me of the existence of a higher celestial power (with a more sophisticated sense of humor) in the great chain of being, it is odd little snapshots of our psychology like this. It takes a talented eye to pick a bearded man out of a bunch of rocks.

One thing I am not often asked is: Why do you blog? What is the meaning of all of this drivel you have been posting lately? Especially the poems. Gorblimey! What are you, some kind of sadist. What gives?

I think George Orwell probably had the final word on why a writer writes, in general, but everybody's motivations differ slightly. I do not expect to earn money from blogging, or publishing poems, nor do I really feel that I have anything new to say that has not been said already, or will be said more eloquently by others.

I guess the reason I am here, typing, is more or less selfish. Writing helps me untangle my thoughts. The software at Blogger just makes it easier to embarrass myself.

The addition of rhyme and rhythm to ideas helps me to remember what I am thinking, or was thinking, at a particular juncture in time: allowing me to coordinate the decisions I make in the present with the past, and with the future.

I am not sure I have a particular destination in mind right now. I am just in it for the ride, as it were. But where one is going, after all, depends an awful lot upon where one has been.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Per Aspera

Today I return to my Japanese class, which has been in recess since Christmas, as Sensei has been visiting her family in Japan. Naturally, since I have wasted the last four weeks blogging, writing poems, and watching Star Trek, I have to catch up on homework today. But I am unwilling to abandon the celestial thread I started following yesterday. So, I will leave you with two Astronomical items.

Item 1.

Item 2.

I hope you enjoy them!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ad Astra

Since it has been miserably cold here in New England, I spent much of this weekend sitting in front of the fireplace, sipping sake, and watching season 1 of Star Trek: Enterprise downloaded from iTunes. Hence the little hiatus from blogging.

I watched some of the series when it originally premiered on UPN. I found it more likable than Voyager or the Next Generation, neither of which I enjoyed all that much, since I found them a bit too preoccupied by the preachiness that seems to infect the future.
(I plead ignorance to Deep Space Nine, having only see a handful of episodes of that series). But my schedule being divided precariously between work, the Y, and home to die (rinse and repeat) I was never able to keep up with Enterprise in its original broadcast run.

Being a child of the 20th Century, I have been and always shall be a fan of The Original Series, but it is nice to make some new friends.
Watching Star Trek with my dad on our old brown Zenith color console (see above) was one of the seminal memories of my childhood. That TV was a wonderful, solid machine. It must have weighed 9 tons. But like many electronic organisms, it was somewhat fragile on the inside. It had tubes that would glow orange, and occasionally pop, with a fizz of ozone and insualtion, and need to be extracted and tested on the tube tester at Radio Shack, on Payne Avenue. My father liked to fix things for himself: cars, TVs, toasters, even watches. His father, my grandfather, was a jeweler, and he repaired watches for a living, in a little shop on Main Street, in downtown Buffalo, in the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s. I think this must explain my obsession with prosody--time.


And how does any of this relate to poetry? Only tangentially. In one of the episodes of Enterprise, Captain Jonathan Archer shows his Vulcan science officer an astronomy book he read as a child. I had many such books myself, thanks to my Aunt Janet, my father's sister, who always took an interest in my scientific education, and who did something mysterious, related to music, at Moog. Every now and then a microscope, a package of books, or a geology set would appear from Aunt Janet in the mail.

As I was drifting off to sleep on Sunday night, I thought about Johnny Archer's book, and I tried to recall all of the poems about astronomy I had ever read-- but I really couldn't come up with very many. There is this one, this one, this one, and this one. That's all I could think of, off the top of my head.

My favorite astronomical poem is the one called "Mayflies." The last few lines of the piece are a bit clunky, I think, but that word quadrillions in stanza 1 is worth the price of admission--absolutely breathtaking, isn't it?

Before encountering this poem, I had never heard such a number ever mentioned in a poem before, or in a science class, where large numbers (for the sake of convenience) are usually expressed in abstract scientific notation. It is nice to learn that in an advanced, technical society, such as our own, words have not entirely lost their powers of enchantment.

The truly wonderful thing about the word quadrillion, for instance, in the conext of Mr. Wilbur's poem, is that within that word another word, and a whole other world, dances. And this only becomes apparent through the poetry.

Kind of cool, huh?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Nos Morituri

It has been a fairly busy and productive Friday thus far: not only did I remember to pack a pear (in my gym bag) for my 5:00pm snack, but I spent my morning commute comfortably ensconced in an uncrowded train, close to the lavatory, reading the Wikipedia entry on Sir Flinders Petrie.

I am not sure where I first heard the name Flinders Petrie, but it is a name which I have never forgotten. Until this morning, I thought he was the microbiologist the eponymous dish was named after, but it turns out that he really was an Egyptologist of some accomplishment. He seems to be one of the first archaeologists to insist on photographs of his excavations, instead of engravings, or sketches. He is less famous for this:

Upon his death in Jerusalem in 1942, influenced by his interest in science, races and different civilisations, Petrie donated his head to the Royal College of Surgeons of London, so that it could be studied for its high intellectual capacity. His body was interred separately in the Protestant Cemetery on Mt. Zion. However, due to the wartime conditions in the area (then still under threat from Rommel's attacks in the North African campaign, which were not repelled until the Second Battle of El Alamein later that year), his head was delayed in transit from Jerusalem to London. It was thought to have been lost, but according to the comprehensive biography of Petrie by Margaret Drower, it has now been located in London. (Wiki)

I suppose I started thinking about Sir Flinders because I ripped a CD of Flanders and Swann songs to my computer while I was sitting on the chaise lounge in my golden kimono this morning, having my second morning coffee. My mind easily bounces from one sonority to another, especially when stimulated by caffeine, and I always like to see where these little lines of inquiry lead.

Though they rarely lead to getting laid, I never wind up at a dead end, nodding off, and waking up disoriented in New Haven. I try to limit my day dreaming to sunny mornings, since Grand Central is my ultimate destination, and it is the last stop on the train.


Speaking of stopping, here is a poem I started working on on the N-Train, to Brooklyn, one crisp, caerulean Sunday afternoon in November of 1998, not long after I moved to New York. I wrote all 5 stanzas between 8th Street and DeKalb, but I only solved the problem of the last two lines when I was on the treadmill at the gym last night.

I am not sure if the N-train stops at DeKalb anymore though. There is a note on the MTA NYC Subway map which says it doesn't. This may be an old map, so I can't verify how the N-Train behaves in Brooklyn these days from my own experience. I hardly ever go to Brooklyn anymore. Only to visit my friend Maria. Or to go to BAM.

Next month I am going to see Patrick Stewart in Macbeth at BAM. With Maria.

Life is good.

Nos Morituri
Or, Surprise!

Beset with beasts on every side
The child flourishes with pride
Short sword, trident, leaded nets—
Any toy the Emperor lets
Him choose to prove himself before
The crowd—from slave to senator:
Winning is the only thing
Which matters in the circus ring.

But as the day grinds slowly on—
Away from optimistic dawn
Into the humid afternoon
(Where Ovid made the ladies swoon)
The slaughter comes to a stand still:
No animals are left to kill.
And out of breath, but inclined to jest,
A cocky teenager smirks, Next!

Alas, the Next which now appears,
Only the Vestal Virgin cheers.
An exit opens, like a mouth,
In the Arena, to the South:
Upon the savage sands now stand
Fresh adversaries, with fresh hands,
Holding something—no, not swords—
Exchanging strange, Germanic words.

Failing to keep a grip on his wits,
Our hero hacks, and bites, and kicks
Opponents in the groin and head,
Lamenting that he left his bed
With Daisy for this—Destiny—
Who left him, like an amputee,
To hemorrhage from a tourniquet,
Or turn of phrase, like, Seize the day!

Well, by this time (let’s call it dusk)
Booed abroad, and caked in dust,
His arms about to fall clean off,
The soldier sighs, “I’ve had enough.”
He salutes Caesar, quits the field,
And leaves the audience to yield
Their lives should some barbarian,

Grown bored with games, pick up a gun.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Terrible Twos

I hope I may be forgiven my two minutes worth of Hate the other day. But when you are fed a daily diet of lies, terror and intellectual capitulation in the face of terror, it is hard not to want to, occasionally, blow off steam.

I usually try to do this creatively, in the manner of a controlled demolition we know as a sonnet. Or I go to the gym and add a few extra plates to my squats. Sometimes I compose sonnets while I squat. These efforts I would rather not publish, however, as they are full of the most unprintable, fraudulent, flatulent noise.


Today is a much better day than Tuesday, I am happy to report. We are two steps closer to the weekend, after all. And even though I left my hat at home this morning, and I nearly froze my head off waiting for the 8:39 in Stamford, I have been trying to keep my spirits up: I am avoiding the news and reading a little poetry online.

It is true that, during lunch, I will be forced to brave the cold and run over to the little stall on 45th and 2nd where they sell hats. I also need to run to CVS. So I will try to look at the hat buying today as an adventure--a slight detour into the world of whimsy. I try to look at Life as an adventure, but when I am tired my imagination is not always up to the task.

Anyhow, if you have nothing else to do this afternoon, why don't you tag along? Everyone should visit New York once in their lives. We can cross 3rd Avenue, into the Crimea. The UN is just down the street. And when we come back to the Chrysler Building, foot cream in hand, clad uniformly in our new Balaclava Helmets, ladies will be leaning out of windows, scattering panties on our heads, like laurels, for conquering heroes.

As a footnote, I should like to add that at 5:08pm today, I actually discovered my old hat, the one I thought I had left at home, in my gym bag. I was rummaging around for a pear. Apparently, I remembered the hat, but forgot the fruit.

How damned irritating. I am hungry. And, at 5:00pm, I always look forward to a little fruit.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


I am not sure what to say about this poem, except that this morning I got up on the wrong side of the bed. And then I read this. I am sick of these creatures. Men who do not appear in uniforms are not Gentlemen.

Nor am I quite convinced they should enjoy the rights to fair and decent treatment which law abiding Gentlemen enjoy.

Fortunately, I am not in charge of our rules of engagement.

Big Brother

At last, his day of liberation came:
Each true believer wept, as he rejoiced;
The doubts the dead consistently had voiced
Disappeared in silence. All the same,

The eyes take time adjusting to the light:
While irises instinctively comply,
Expanding at the thought that one might die,
Other muscles may not be so bright.

You look so naked without uniforms.
I find your informality a relief:
If you young men are chilly, I believe
I might be able to locate some arms

Willing to embrace you. Though, I fear,
The price of that embrace may be severe.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Terra Incognita

Today is one of those days of...

I am not sure what. You run the vacuum, you mop the floor, you fold the laundry, perhaps you boil seven large eggs, and three of them burst, frothing the pot all over the stove, but you never quite get to making the egg salad for your sandwiches for the week.

Perhaps you try hanging the new calendar you got for Christmas, and in some fashion acknowledge the passage of time. It looks lovely. Ancient maps of the world. You flip through it: months and months, pregnant with interesting possibilities. June 9th, for instance. That's a Monday, in 2008. Who knows what will happen then? Perhaps it is the day your lottery numbers come up. Perhaps it will just be warm and beautiful.

And, look here, closer to home: your trip to Houston on February 1st. You have never been to Houston. Nice. Something new. Barbecue. And yet...

The light doesn't seem quite right. The sun is too orange today. The angle is wrong. It is still setting too early. And then there is work tomorrow. The train. Emerging at 1:30 for luncheon. You will have the poached salmon, for a change. Emerging at 5:30 to exercise. 2 hours, and 1000 calories later, you spend 10 minutes in the steam room. The 8:07 home.

All of the elements of satisfaction are there. All arranged neatly into rows, and columns: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.. And yet, looking out over the kitchen sink, into the back yard, how gray and neglected the bowl of the birdbath looks this afternoon. Even that cardinal in the dogwood, cocking his head querelously at you, looks gray in this light!


'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Lady in the Sky, Part II

The poem I posted yesterday, I began writing 4 years ago. I am not sure if it is finished, but I will keep tinkering with it until I feel comfortable with it. I hope this doesn't bother you. It is a bad habit I have.

For me, there is always a period of crystallization, where an initial idea, a slender black thread seeded with some image, or feeling--a first line--is dipped into a concentrated of solution of confusion, and abandoned. Depending on the neuro-chemicals in suspension in my brain, and the weather, I can get results immediately, or I can wait for years before things properly precipitate out into a finished poem.

Which is not so bad, I guess.

When you never finish anything, you can start each day afresh.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Lady in Sky

After having wasted my entire morning trying to write something new, I suddenly remembered something...

Mrs. Russell

Her head encased in braids and hats of tin—
Her cheeks—the cliffs of Dover, chalky white—
She swells enormously—becomes all chin—
My big Brunnhilde—though she died last night.

She might just be the first Canadian
To be invited by the Valkyries
For beer and pretzels at that shady inn
Lusty ladies lounge at in the skies.

I heard her first when I was seventeen.
I’m not sure if she sang it at the Met,
I picture her in Tosca—in that scene
Where Tosca
jumps down off the parapet—

Surrounded by a fluttering nightgown,
Beating passionately at her breast,
Until the house, until creation crashes down.
In Heaven she will be a huge success.


I really did meet
Anna Russell, back in 1991. It was at a library function at Boston University. She shook my hand and complimented me on my collection of Gilbert and Sullivan memorabilia. She seemed a very kind and friendly person. I had no idea she would show up in a poem 17 years later. I hope she doesn't take it amiss...

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Getting Ready

Today I am finishing up the final edits on a chapbook of poems I am entering in a contest later on this month, and I am having a metrical nightmare. I am up to my eyeballs in iambs.

I wish I knew how I got into this poetry writing habit. It is very annoying--an illness of the ear--to borrow a phrase from Auden. I think my own particular malady may have had something to do with my mother reading me Dr. Seuss. Or
Riki-tikki-tavi. Or Wilfred Owen. No, I think I read Wilfred Owen on my own.

No, I think that the whole poetry obsession is a result of spending 10 years walking to work in and around Boston, first to Boston University, then to MIT, listening to my footsteps, counting Smoots, trying to remember incidental things I never wanted to forget.


Incidentally, it usually took me 47 minutes to walk from my apartment on Peterborough Street, in the Fenway, to my desk in Cambridge, at MIT, on a typical summer day. That is, if I did not stop on the MIT bridge to watch the rowers dipping their oars in the Charles.
I have lost track of the number of footsteps it took me to remember that.

Monday, January 7, 2008


This has to be the first January I have looked back over the preceding year without feeling overwhelmed with regrets. Mainly, I think this is because in 2007, after 20 years, I finally quit smoking. I woke up one morning in April and simply stopped. I am not quite sure why, except that I was, at the time, sort of seeing a pulmonologist (about a non-pulmonary matter) and I thought that if things were ever to get serious, it would probably be necessary to stop smoking. So, I exchanged one Freudian fixation for another. And while the relationship with my pulmonologist friend didn't last, the quitting smoking did.

Soon after this, other things started happening: I stopped having insomnia, which has plagued me on and off for 20 years--ever since I started smoking. My mind started clearing a bit, not totally, but enough to permit me to find my pen and start writing poems again. I am not sure I could even pick up a pen without my head surrounded by a fertile nimbus of fog: it would be too deliberate and too desperate an act.

I chose the phrase Ohayo for the title of this post, not because it is Morning in America, but because Ohayo (Japanese for 'Good Morning') is the title of a film (1959) by Yasujiro Ozu that I happened to watch last night. It is the story of two young boys, brothers, Minoru (Koji Shidara) and Isamu (Masahiko Shimazu), who are obsessed with televised Sumo and with being able to fart upon command. The boys decide to stop talking to adults entirely until their parents breakdown and buy them a television set.

Ozu (1903-63) directed over 50 movies, mostly domestic dramas, about Japanese family life. His are quiet films, characterized by stationary camera work; often the dialogue consists of formal Japanese delivered formally--in kimono, suit and tie, adults kneeling on tatami, in exquisitely framed shots--spartan interiors shot through doorways, down corridors, between houses--communities where the most poignant and profound feelings of longing, hope, disappointment, resolution, and love lie scarcely concealed beneath the surface of everyday manners.

What I enjoy so much about Ohayo is that I saw for the first time what Ozu is trying to get at beneath the banality of Good Morning, Hello, Goodbye. Even the numinous phrase, "I love you," can lose its meaning over time. In this movie, however, Love never becomes stale: the younger of the two brothers, Isamu, has the habit of the blurting out, "I love you," to closed doors, peoples' backs, and other inattentive objects at the most peculiar times. It is a phrase, I think, that does not appear in the movie anywhere in Japanese.

Perhaps it is pure linguistic coincidence that fart and art happen to rhyme in English, but how the boys labor to control their gaseous emissions (even going so far as to eat pumice shavings) forms a nice, light counterpoint to the surrounding adults tightly controlled lips and lives: those feelings too deep to acknowledge, or too awkward to express, but which inexorably leak out, sneak out, or burst out at the most inconvenient times.

These children, and their soft, dry, squeaks of joy (their farts sound more like new leather shoes than flabby ass-shatterers) are nicely and discretely distributed throughout the movie: they never distract from the whiff of scandal (involving missing social club dues) or fragrance of romance (between the boys' English tutor and their young, live-in aunt) swirling around the suburban development where everyone lives--and where the most popular topic of conversation is the weather.

The same cannot be said of the efforts of Minoru and Isamu's young friend and neighbor, whose name escapes me at the moment. He presents the viewer with a cautionary tale: the lad whose incontinent attempts at being one of the boys tends to end with a mournful walk home to mother and a change of pants.

Not everyone, you know, can be a fartist.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Knock, knock.

It seems to me that all I do on this blog is apologize for my long absences.

Each time I come back, I feel like a traveling salesman returning to his wife after a long business trip. Please accept this vegetable brush and this bouquet of roses, by way of consolation. And while you are finding forgiveness in your big brunette heart, and an appropriate vase in the kitchen, I will be removing my coat and hat, and a long blonde hair from my cheaply tailored shoulder.


The hair would probably belong to the younger Auden, with whom I have been boozing it up alot lately--along with Ovid, Pope, and to a lesser extent Virgil. None of these lads is exactly the party animal he once was, but then none of us really is, or ever was.

After 40 years, I take a kind of comfort in the fact that the person I am and the person I think I would like to be are maybe not so far apart as they once appeared. While I doubt that I will ever meet the mysterious fellow behind my dreams (except, where all things meet, mathematically speaking, at infinity) every now I catch sight of him in the window of the 9:07pm Express: weary, but not worn out.

Life is hard. It is always much harder in the winter--especially when, resting your head against a cool window pane on a crowded train, you try to wring something warm and human out of an icy and dejected looking New England landscape.

But I always like to set aside one or two things for the Future--to look forward to when I get home: a Kurosawa movie waiting from Amazon, Mahler, grilled sausages, Auden, you. A slightly used winter kimono I almost passed on purchasing in Asakusa, for 9,000 yen, two years ago.