Saturday, June 29, 2013

Broadway : Poem In Your Post

Under Grand Central's tattered vault
  --maybe half a dozen electric stars still lit--
    one saxophone blew, and a sheer black scrim

billowed over some minor constellation
  under repair. Then, on Broadway, red wings
    in a storefront tableau, lustrous, the live macaws

preening, beaks opening and closing
  like those animated knives that unfold all night
    in jewelers' windows. For sale,

glass eyes turned outward toward the rain,
  the birds lined up like the endless flowers
    and cheap gems, the makeshift tables

of secondhand magazines
  and shoes the hawkers eye
    while they shelter in the doorways of banks.

So many pockets and paper cups
  and hands reeled over the weight
    of that glittered pavement, and at 103rd

a woman reached to me across the wet roof
  of a stranger's car and said, I'm Carlotta,
    I'm hungry. She was only asking for change,

so I don't know why I took her hand.
  The rooftops were glowing above us,
    enormous, crystalline, a second city

lit from within. That night
  a man on the downtown local stood up
    and said, My name is Ezekiel,

I am a poet, and my poem this evening is called
  fall. He stood up straight
    to recite, a child reminded of his posture

by the gravity of his text, his hands
  hidden in the pockets of his coat.
    Love is protected, he said,

the way leaves are packed in snow,
   the rubies of fall. God is protecting
    the jewel of love for us.

He didn't ask for anything, but I gave him
  all the change left in my pocket,
    and the man beside me, impulsive, moved,

gave Ezekiel his watch.
  It wasn't an expensive watch,
    I don't even know if it worked,

but the poet started, then walked away
  as if so much good fortune
    must be hurried away from,

before anyone realizes it's a mistake.
  Carlotta, her stocking cap glazed
    like feathers in the rain,

under the radiant towers, the floodlit ramparts,
  must have wondered at my impulse to touch her,
    which was like touching myself,

the way your own hand feels when you hold it
  because you want to feel contained.
    She said, You get home safe now, you hear?

In the same way Ezekiel turned back
  to the benevolent stranger.
    I will write a poem for you tomorrow,

he said. The poem I will write will go like this:
  Our ancestors are replenishing
    the jewel of love for us.

                                        - Mark Doty

Dreaming of NYC on this sunnily near-perfect summer day, I too can imagine that "Our ancestors are replenishing/ the jewel of love for us".   A poem of connection to all that is past or passing or to come.

Mark Doty is a gem of a poet, essayist, and memoirist, so go seek more of his work.  You might begin at his page on the wonderful site for the Academy of American Poets,


Saturday, June 22, 2013

What To Remember When Waking : Poem In Your Post

In that first
hardly noticed
to which you wake,
coming back
to this life
from the other
more secret,
and frighteningly
where everything
there is a small
into the new day
which closes
the moment
you begin
your plans.

What you can plan
is too small
for you to live.

What you can live
will make plans
for the vitality
hidden in your sleep.

To be human
is to become visible
while carrying
what is hidden
as a gift to others.

To remember
the other world
in this world
is to live in your
true inheritance.

You are not
a troubled guest
on this earth,
you are not
an accident
amidst other accidents
you were invited
from another and greater
than the one
from which
you have just emerged.

Now, looking through
the slanting light
of the morning
window toward
the mountain
of everything
that can be,
what urgency
calls you to your
one love?  What shape
waits in the seed
of you to grow
and spread
its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting
in the fertile sea?
In the trees
beyond the house?
In the life
you can imagine
for yourself?
In the open
and lovely
white page
on the waiting desk?

                  - David Whyte

This week, I have found solace in David Whyte's fascinating exploration of "What to Remember When Waking".   If you admire this poem, you might want to take a look at his entire workshop/course, in which he explores psychological and spiritual truths about personal development via both his experience and poetry.  


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Top Ten Summer TBR's : Top Ten Tuesday

It's been a long time since I hopped into this meme, and I miss it.  So now, with the school year's end firmly in my sights, I give you my Top 10 summer to-be-reads. 

Expect reviews in July and/or August, and do steer me away from any that you've found lacking or push me toward those high on your own best-reads list!

1.  Every Day by David Levithan.  Amazing YA author, first-class editor, and fellow Brown alum.  Plus it's a book group book:  score!

2.  11/22/63 by Stephen King.  Potboiler meets JFK alt-reality novel.  And it's my first Stephen King in a decade, at least!  Excited!!!  Another book group book, for August.

3.  Wildwood by Colin Meloy.  One of my frosh recommended this YA fantasy highly, and I admire Colin's sister Maile Meloy's short fiction, so it's my first "no other reason but desire" summer TBR.  Plus it takes place in Portland, through which I'll pass while reading it, so locale works too.

4.  A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam.  My obsession with great apes continues, and this new novel is this year's fodder for cogitation.  It promises a fresh spin on the humans-adopt-a-chimp trope to be found with increasing frequency in documentaries and novels alike. 

5 and 6.  This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila and  Late Lights by Kara Weiss indulge my short story appetite.  The former promises Hawaiian settings and themes while the latter may hit all too close to home with tales of dysfunctional high school students.  Both have readers buzzing, so bring 'em on!

7.  The Illustion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy.  Back to WWII fiction with a debut novel getting raves.

8.  Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.  You know this novel, but I don't.  Yet. 

9.  Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris.  It's summer: You gotta get some funny.  And this one's a download from with Sedaris reading his own work: It doesn't get any better than that.

10.  The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  Another recommendation from many of my students.  I'm looking forward to reading this one as I ease back into thoughts of September...

MFB, and please join me in conversation about any and all of these books!

p.s.  What's your top pick for a summer 2013 read?  What do you think of my list?  

So many thanks to the women of The Broke and the Bookish who keep this community-building meme going month after month.

Monday, June 17, 2013

And When She Was Good : Mom & Me Review

Sample Ms. Lippman's practiced prose.

Twisted minds and survival of the fittest come to mind as I think over Laura Lippman’s latest novel And When She Was Good. Madam Heloise/Helen Lewis lives on the brink, never being sure she’s safe, never being totally sure she’s a good mother, never being sure she can trust her employees, never knowing whether her life decisions have been wise.

Heloise runs several cover businesses, most prominent of them being as a Washington lobbyist for Women’s Full Employment Network.  She lunches with her favorite legislator, Paul, and is seen in the right places. She has an insider friend, Tom, in the police department. Always she is under tension talking with them--what to say, how to say it, how to convey her intended meaning. Always planning ahead for important conversations in order to get what she wants.
She seems to be a survivor. Her mentor and father of her son, Val, is a murderer in prison for life and Heloise knows too much. His ability to manipulate her even from his prison cell lends tension to the plot and keeps Heloise in suspense about her future. Each of them rationalizes their decisions in a way that many might call twisted.

Heloise has built her philosophy of life based on a difficult growing up time—her father was a ne’er-do-well; her men were takers; her mother was a victim. All in all, not the background for wise decision making as an adult. It’s not hard to understand when, midway through the book, Heloise visits her mother, who has a serious disease. Her mother says: “You have to have hope.”  Heloise responds: “Why?”  She tries but simply can't see such hope as a possibility for herself.   Instead, “She wants [her son Scott] to wake up every day knowing he is loved and safe. Heloise can’t remember the last time she felt those two things.” (187) 
If cleverness, intrigue and a distinctly different setting are your reading interests, then Laura Lippman’s new book is work looking at.
And When She Was Good is prolific and oft-honored crime novelist Laura Lippman's eighteenth (let me reiterate: eighteenth) fiction.   And let me add:  It was not what I was expecting.
A crime novel about a suburban madam murdered and living in fear for her life: yes.
An in depth exploration of the life of said (latter) suburban madam, with all the mundane as well as the spicy details of business and home laid bare: not so much.

If you've ever wondered what such a business venture might entail, this book - although fictional - will plausibly illuminate as much as you could wish, stopping just shy of actually stepping you through a financial audit and/or a graphic sex scene.  In a way, that's a rather unusual triumph for Ms. Lippman:  she manages to write a solidly paced novel with a well-defined protagonist who's a lifelong prostitute and seasoned madam without resorting to a single "shades of gray" moment.
So here's what stumped me:  Based on the cover blurb and the genre identification, I thought this novel would focus on solving a crime, on legal and criminal matters, on mystery.  But it really didn't.  It was more of an evenly unfolding slice-o-suburban-madam-life story.  We explore Heloise's childhood at the hands of her abusive father, then her "escape" into the arms of a different-but-equally-abusive beau, and her later slide into prostitution as she attempts to pay for said beau's drug habit.  And (surprise!) she then gets pregnant by her pimp.  The rest would pile spoiler upon spoiler, so I'll simply say that via flashbacks we eventually catch up to the present moment in which Heloise and her perfectly soccer-playing-and-sensitive-chef-to-be, twelve-year-old son Scott reside in a McMansion in suburban Baltimore, with Scott entirely unaware that mom Hel is doing a plausible impersonation of a womens' rights lobbyist/soccer mom while actually running a 21st century version of the world's oldest biz.
If these possibilities intrigue you, go get the new paperback version of And When She Was Good at your local bookseller.  Check out Ms. Lippman's website too.
L & Mom
p.s.  I kept waiting for the title to resonate, but I still don't get it.

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), cooking shows, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.

Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Rich Quarto : Poem In Your Post

June 8, 2009

Call me Sebastian, arrows sticking all over
The map of my battlefields. Marathon.
Wounded Knee. Vicksburg. Jericho.
Battle of the Overpass.
Victories turned inside out
But no surrender
Cemeteries of remorse
The beaten champion sobbing
Ghosts move in to shield his tears

No one writes lyric on a battlefield
On a map stuck with arrows
But I think I can do it if I just lurk
In my tent pretending to
Refeather my arrows
I'll be right there! I yell
When they come with their crossbows and white phosphorus
To recruit me
Crouching over my drafts
lest they find me out
and shoot me

Press your cheek against my medals, listen through them to my heart
Doctor, can you see me if I'm naked?
Spent longer in this place than in the war
No one comes but rarely and I don't know what for
Went to that desert as many did before
Farewell and believing and hope not to die
Hope not to die and what was the life
Did we think was awaiting after
Lay down your stethoscope back off on your skills
Doctor can you see me when I'm naked?

I'll tell you about the mermaid
Sheds swimmable tail Gets legs for dancing
Sings like the sea with a choked throat
Knives straight up her spine
Lancing every step
There is a price
There is a price
For every gift
And all advice 

                    - Adrienne Rich
Possibly the last installment in my brief, Rich interval.  So much of the mythic meets the modern here; I hope it leaves you in wonder, as it did me.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed : Book Group Books

I so hate to gush over anything that Oprah gushes over.  Which makes me so mad that I like - no: admire, respect, and feel grateful for - Cheryl Strayed's Wild.

You don't need me to give you the details; because of Oprah, you already know them by now.

All you need to know is this:
a.  You should read this book.  It's carefully and skillfully written, and it tells a story that most of us won't ever experience but can see ourselves in.
b.  You will be glad that you invested your precious time reading this book.  You get plenty of prose for your investment too, and many minutes of profitable diversion.
c.  Your book group will find much to talk about in this book.

The Verdict:  Absolutely.  A great Book Group Book.

'nuf said.


p.s.  For book group enrichment, or if you are one of the few who hasn't been introduced to the basics of the book, you can find photos and more information about Wild at Strayed's website.

p.p.s. In other words, from my Goodreads review:

Impressive. If you're studying memoir, read this.

Gripping, earnest, and fast paced. And if you've ever (or never) travelled the West Coast of the US, Strayed's hike up the PCT will goad you into sampling at least a small stretch of it sometime in the near future. Summer plans just shifted, y'all.

I'm not one to come around easily to anything that gets the gushy press that this book did and that sports an impossible-to-remove Oprah sticker on the cover to boot, but I got over my skepticism by the second chapter and never turned back.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

At Willard Brook : Poem In Your Post

November 18, 1961

Spirit like water
moulded by unseen stone
and sandbar, pleats and funnels
according to its own
submerged necessity —
to the indolent eye
pure willfulness, to the stray
pine-needle boiling
in that cascade-bent pool
a random fury: Law,
if that's what's wanted, lies
asking to be read
in the dried brook-bed.

                     - Adrienne Rich
Here's my next installment of the Adrienne Rich fest for this month's poetry feature.  Busy week, so 'nuf said.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Our Love Could Light The World : What She Read Review

Sample it at Amazon and Parrish's blog.
I seem to be on a roll this month:  superior book after superior book has graced my pile.

Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish keeps my winning streak alive. 

The genre is short fiction - my admitted favorite - in this case, a series of stories linked to form the vividly dimensional portrait of a working class family from upstate New York.

Realistic, sure-handed, darkly humorous, and perfectly spare, Parrish's prose illuminates the lives of divorced and upwardly grasping manufactured-home-saleswoman Lavinia, her layabout ex-husband Potter Dugan, their in-laws, their neighbors, and their children.  As the lives of the immediate Dugan family unfold, each family member becomes the protagonist and perspective-bearer of a separate story, creating a richly rounded and realistically evolving vision of the inevitable emotional complexities of everyday lives. 

As I inhaled these stories, I recalled notes of Flannery O'Connor particularly - there's the spectre of her Southern Gothic about the perspectives and darkly comic plots of some of these tales - as well as Alice Munroe, Charles Baxter and even James Joyce.  You'll find others to which this stellar collection might be compared, I'm sure, whether Parrish intended such comparisons or no.

One wish:  That Ms. Parrish had chosen a title for this collection that better captures the tone of these stories.  My students smirked when they noted this title, incorrectly assuming that I was uncharacteristically indulging in some sort of 'inspirational' fiction.  I wouldn't be surprised if others smirked as well, and skipped an otherwise worthy collection.

Truly, you must disregard all such incorrect assumptions and sample these stories, appropriate for older (or emotionally mature) teens and up, and sure to be savored by all.


Many thanks, as is often the case, to the folks at TLC Book Tours, for recalling my taste for great short fiction and offering this for my perusal.  The link above will take you to additional tour stops so you can sample other bloggers' reviews of Our Love Could Light the World.

Bonus Action Possibility:  Parrish resides just an hour or two south of me, in Seattle.  Mayhaps she'll consent to an interview over coffee or a walk in the park one day this summer. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

For Example : Poem In Your Post

For Example

Sometimes you meet an old man
whose fist isn't clenched blue-white.
Someone like that old poet

whose grained palm once travelled
the bodies of sick children.
Back in the typed line

was room for everything: the blue
grape hyacinth patch,
the voluntary touch

of cheek on breast, the ear
alert for a changed heartbeat
and for other sounds too

that live in a typed line:
the breath of animals, stopping
and starting up of busses,

trashfires in empty lots.
Attention once given
returned again as power.

An old man's last few evenings
might be inhabited
not by a public—

fountains of applause off
auditorium benches,
tributes read at hotel banquets—

but by reverberations
the ear had long desired,
accepted and absorbed.

The late poem might be written
in a night suddenly awake
with quiet new sounds

as when a searchlight plays
against the dark bush-tangle
and birds speak in reply.

                        - Adrienne Rich
Isn't it stunning?
Wonderings:  I wonder if the poet she's alluding to is William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor as well, and why she decided to group this poem's lines into triplet stanzas.  What else do you wonder about this poem?
Why this poem, today?  I just finished Cheryl Strayed's Wild, in which the one book she hauls along for her entire trek from Tehachapi, CA to Bridge of the Gods, OR along the Pacific Crest Trail is Adrienne Rich's The Dream of A Common Language.  Admiring this all-too-often-gushed-over memoir more than I would like to admit, I waxed curious about Strayed's literary inspirations and took to trolling through Rich poems on the interwebs and on my bookshelves.  There, I was reminded of just how astonishing her work is. 
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