Friday, May 8, 2009

Day 6: Fortune rota volvitur

The phrase, 'Fortune rota volvitur,' which occurs in today's interation of the infamous Pushkin poem, is imported from the famous Carmina Burana, a series of Medieval drinking songs set to music by the composer Carl Orff in 1936. As I have been working on my marathon training, I have been listening to Carmina Burana every few days at the gym. For those of you who keep track of these things, it is ordinarily good for about six miles on the treadmill, five miles on the road, depending on the weather. So, prepare your iPods accordingly.

The entire stanza unto which 'Fortune rota volvitur' belongs is:

Fortune rota volvitur;
descendo minoratus;
alter in altum tollitur;
nimis exaltatus
rex sedet in vertice
caveat ruinam!
nam sub axe legimus
Hecubam reginam.

Which translates as:

The wheel of Fortune turns;
I go down, demeaned;
another is raised up;
far too high up
sits the king at the summit -
let him fear ruin!
for under the axis is written
Queen Hecuba.

Lord only know where Hecuba, the former Queen of Troy, fits into the Fate of New York or this poem. I just like the image of the Wheel of Fortune and the Wheel of Fate being transformed into a salsa band.

Part I

I'd love a pair of bold anfractous rocks
Set somewhere in Cyclades—a spot
Totally removed from Time. No clocks.
I’ll take an afternoon in August, hot
Enough to melt an erlenmeyer flask;
We could emerge from a cool underpass
And catch a guitar weeping, an old song,
A crowd of children shrieking, a Great Lawn,
Surrounded by suits with someplace to be
Hurrying to different destinations.
“Who comes to Central Park on their vacations?”
I would implore, a poor demented bee
Circling a can of garbage going sour.
Surely, God would not begrudge an hour

Of timelessness unto Humanity—
His representatives on Earth. He must
Have made us and forgotten us. Maybe.
How else would you explain the missing bus,
The leaky awning, and the pouring rain,
This longing to be elsewhere? Hence, the plane
Landing on a distant isle in Greece—
Ahead of schedule—the Cyclades—
Bathed in Hellenic blue. And far below—
Almost invisible on the white beach—
There is a tempting red umbrella which
I am convinced belongs to me; although,
It could be a reflection from the ad
For Travelers Insurance, which is bad-

Ly flirting with me from across the street.
A fault in one of its florescent lights—
Flutter. Flicker. Blackout. And repeat:
Ad infinitum. How I hate these nights!
These buses! Cold rainwater in my shoe!
To say I hate New York would not be true.
We have a strange relationship, I’d say,
We need each other, sort of, in the way
A sad, sadistic cop requires a good,
But slightly stupid, buddy on the force
To buy Budwiesers for him, post-divorce,
And hear how he has wrecked his life. It would
Make a fine, redemptive movie script,
Down to the last, cheesy tortilla chip.

For now, a cone of pink chrysanthemums—
To match the dozen frosted donuts I
Picked up from Dunkin’ for dessert—some
Blocks back, before Zeus unzipped the sky—
Will join our little shopping list. “How
Much are these flowers,” I ask the fellow
Sweeping up the petals, thorns and leaves
He has been pruning. “Not the roses—these,”
I point sharply at the mums again.
The chalkboard with the prices on it had
Suffered, like my patience, from the mad
Downpour. Slowly the young Mexican
Lifts five green fingers in front of his face—
His exhausted face. What a place

To hide such beauty. “Yes, I’ll take those, thanks,”
I mutter softly, with embarrassment,
Pulling out a wet ten, with two yanks,
Sending a quarter rolling down the pavement,
Directly to the gutter—not the drain.
It sits on the grate, shining in the rain,
Atop a flattened cup—a blue pancake—
Supporting crooked lettering I make
Out to read, ‘Happy To Serve You.’
Precisely who is happy to be serving
Lies beyond my powers of observing
Because of how the cup is crushed. In lieu
Of other parties with a claim to it
I give the fingers a five-dollar tip

And go retrieve my quarter from the cup,
Before somebody else does. In this town,
Some things are too precious to give up.
A lucky coin can turn your life around
Like that: Fortune rota volvitur,
Rolling toward the sewer, your last quarter,
While on “The Wheel of Fortune” someone spins
Above a pyramid of oranges. Who wins?
Who cares? I have my quarter and I’m glad.
The best ten dollars that was ever spent
By any man beneath the Firmament.
Do I exaggerate? Perhaps a tad.
But just a tad. The boy with the green hand
Has turned “The Wheel” into a salsa band

Just by switching channels—with his wrist…

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