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.

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