Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Train : Poem In Your Post

I've been trying, my darling, to explain
to myself how it is that some freight train
loaded with ballast so a track may rest
easier in its bed should be what's roused

us both from ours, tonight as every night,
despite its being miles off and despite
our custom of putting to the very
back of the mind all that's customary

and then, since it takes forever to pass
with its car after car of coal and gas
and salt and wheat and rails and railway ties,

how it seems determined to give the lie
to the notion, my darling,
that we, not it, might be the constant thing.

                            - Paul Muldoon

Last night, as most nights, I stepped onto the front stoop as my dog tore out into the yard for her bedtime unburdening, and I heard the familiar yet strangely amplified thundering of a coal train's horn as it barreled down a track five or more miles away.  Our house, on the far side of the bowl-like system of hills that lifts such sounds to our doorstep, receives these haunting hoots five or ten times a day and thrice or more at night.  So I wondered if there might be a poem to capture that rumbling - now barely noticed, it's so routine - and its attendant sense of heft and speed and inexorability.  Apparently there was.

Thanks to Irish poet Paul Muldoon, and to Bill Moyers' book-length transcript of interviews with poets called Fooling with Words, who brought it to me.


Friday, February 21, 2014

House of Miracles : What She Read Review

Find it at your neighborhood bookstore
via indiebound, Ms. Hume's website,
 or Amazon.
House of Miracles, Ulrica Hume's new collection of inter-related short stories, shepherds readers on the life journeys of two women - generations apart - whose paths intersect when they choose to inhabit two flats in the same San Francisco house. Each woman is, in her own way, perplexed by the everyday emptiness of her life and by her own inability to create meaning and satisfaction within her circumstances.  Each experiences moments of fleeting happiness, as when the elder, German-born Mrs.Van Meurs meets Albert Einstein at a hotel in Palm Springs or when the young executive Janet MacDonald shares a subtle gesture of conspiratorial condescension with her boyfriend Jack. And each dreams dreams of true love.

While most of the short stories are told from Janet's perspective or Mrs. Van Meurs', Janet's boyfriend Jack commands a few, as does her sexually abusive and reliably reckless father Jerry.  Through these characters, we readers explore the quotidian cruelties and failures of love that occur behind the closed doors of  neighbors and friends.

These stories are written in a realistic vein, but Hume punctuates her tales with surprising images that conjure a bittersweet, dreamily lyrical beauty.

Recommended for those wishing to explore the fleeting bliss and regular disappointment born of profoundly flawed "love"; to face the realities of old age, dementia, and death from within another person's perspective; or to muse upon how proximity and habit impact the formation of our friendships, familial relationships, and even our romantic partnerships.

MFB, with gratitude to Ms. Hume for sharing her stories with me,

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Three Lovely Ones For You, Friends : Poem In Your Post

For You, Friend

this Valentine's Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock,
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;
so that the weak, mid-February sun
(whose chill I will feel from the face
of the clock) cannot in any way
lessen the lights in your hair, and the wind
(whose subtle insistence I will feel
in the minute hand) cannot tighten
the corners of your smile. People
drearily walking the winter streets
will long remember this day:
how they glanced up to see you
there in a storefront window, glorious,
strolling along on the outside of time.

                               - Ted Kooser
The Illiterate

Touching your goodness, I am like a man
Who turns a letter over in his hand
And you might think that this was because the hand
Was unfamiliar but, truth is, the man
Has never had a letter from anyone;
And now he is both afraid of what it means
And ashamed because he has no other means
To find out what it says than to ask someone.
His uncle could have left the farm to him,
Or his parents died before he sent them word,
Or the dark girl changed and want him for beloved.
Afraid and letter-proud, he keeps it with him.
What would you call his feeling for the words
that keep him rich and orphaned and beloved?
                                    - William Meredith

Wild Geese 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
       love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

                                  - Mary Oliver

The first: a true love poem.
The second: a sonnet to send shivers down your spine.
The third: a popular reminder that romantic love is by no means the most important sort.

MFB on the road,

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Almost Spring, Driving Home, Reciting Hopkins : Poem In Your Post

                                                                                                                                                                  First, a glorious poem that both the late, great Maxine Kumin and I learned by heart:

Pied Beauty 

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

                                            - Gerard Manley Hopkins

Now, her lovely, modern experience and expression of it, "Almost Spring, Driving Home, Reciting Hopkins":

“A devout but highly imaginative Jesuit,”
Untermeyer says in my yellowed
college omnibus of modern poets,
perhaps intending an oxymoron, but is it?
Shook foil, sharp rivers start to flow.
Landscape plotted and pieced, gray-blue, snow-pocked
begins to show its margins. Speeding back
down the interstate into my own hills
I see them fickle, freckled, mounded fully
and softened by millennia into pillows.
The priest’s sprung metronome tick-tocks,
repeating how old winter is. It asks
each mile, snow fog battening the valleys,
what is all this juice and all this joy?

We lost a fine, fine poet yesterday, one whose craft appeared effortless and whose keen-eyed response to daily life helps us honor and even transcend it.

May all be well for you always, wherever you are, Ms. Maxine,

p.s.  To learn more about her and her work try: her website, her thorough and respectful NY Times obituary, and her page on the Poetry Foundation's website.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

My Mother's Funeral : A Mom and Me Review

Get it at Amazon (only $6 for Kindle, but
also available in the lovely print edition)
or order it from your local bookseller.
This month, "Mom and Me" enjoyed the chance to read Adriana Páramo's memoir, My Mother's Funeral, published with a fine eye for aesthetic elements by not-for-profit CavanKerry Press.

My Take:
Adriana Páramo's memoir tracing the history of her mother's life and their relationship is not for the faint of heart.  If you are a person who frequently quips "TMI!" and means it, this is not your cup of tea.  However, if you favor gritty realism and no-subject-too-private confessional memoirs written as poetic and lyrical creative non-fiction, then you won't soon forget My Mother's Funeral.  

Set in Colombia with occasional scenes in the U.S., the memoir chronicles Páramo's relationship with her feisty, doggedly diligent, and often irascible mother Carmen, regularly dipping back into Carmen's personal history, from her 1940's childhood in the tiny village of Mariquita to her whirlwind romance and marriage to "Mr. B" through her adult life as a tough-as-nails single mom to five girls and a boy in urban Medellín and Bogotá.  Páramo's father, a remorseless philanderer who deserts their family after one too many girls is born, commands Carmen's enduring love despite the hardships she and her children must endure.  Along the way, we see how Colombia's geography, culture, socioeconomic structures, and politics influence Carmen's life and shape her children's psyches.

So, if you are feeling brave and seeking a fiercely frank memoir, My Mother's Funeral would make a strong choice for you.

Mom's Thoughts:
This was a book that took me to a family and experience very unlike my own, either as a daughter or as a mother, since both of these were two-parent situations. It gave me a clear view of how a one-parent family might survive, in this case with a single mother who is also poor.  For me, the funeral issue was author Páramo's way to relate the rest of the story of Adriana and her mother, Carmen. In a way, the funeral itself, though deftly integrated, could have been unnecessary to what was the real essence of the book, which I see as the relationship of this youngest daughter with her mother. 

Páramo does a good job of helping us get into the mind of a family living in Colombia in our time. She also is able to convey the real, underlying love of her mother, despite the many ways she contradicts and defies her. Another issue well put here is distance, both physically (in Alaska) and emotionally, and how this plays on emotions when events at home (Colombia) occur. Regret is evident. Resolution does happen. 

I felt a strong relationship to the following paragraph, near the end of the book. It did take me back, in a way, to the experience of my own mother’s funeral. “Now no one knows me around here. It’s been almost twenty years since I left this place, and nearly everyone I knew is gone. The few who stayed remember the girl I once was; they don’t recognize the woman I have become. This is a place where I now get lost, where I have been forgotten. This is a place that will never be home again.”

FYI:  Both Mom & Me were reminded of Isabel Allende's work in terms of intensely emotional and conflicted female familial relationships and some aspects of culture, economics, and politics that Chile shares with Colombia.

Looking for a third opinion?  Try hopping by the other blog stops on the TLC Virtual Book Tour.

MFB, with gratitude to Ms. Páramo and her publishers as well as to the fine folks at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to sample this one-of-a-kind memoir,

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Superbowl 2014 : Poem In Your Post

A trio for tomorrow.


I take the snap from the center, fake to the right, fade back...
I've got protection. I've got a receiver open downfield...
What the hell is this? This isn't a football, it's a shoe, a man's
brown leather oxford. A cousin to a football maybe, the same
skin, but not the same, a thing made for the earth, not the air.
I realize that this is a world where anything is possible and I
understand, also, that one often has to make do with what one
has. I have eaten pancakes, for instance, with that clear corn
syrup on them because there was no maple syrup and they
weren't very good. Well, anyway, this is different. (My man
downfield is waving his arms.) One has certain responsibilities,
one has to make choices. This isn't right and I'm not going
to throw it.

                                                   -  Louis Jenkins


The last time I saw my high school football coach
He had cancer stenciled into his face
Like pencil marks from the sun, like intricate
Drawings on the chalkboard, small x's and o's
That he copied down in a neat numerical hand
Before practice in the morning. By day's end
The board was a spiderweb of options and counters, 
Blasts and sweeps, a constellation of players
Shining under his favorite word, Execution,
Underlined in the upper right-hand corner of things.
He believed in football like a new religion
And had perfect unquestioning faith in the fundamentals 
Of blocking and tackling, the idea of warfare
Without suffering or death, the concept of teammates 
Moving in harmony like the planets — and yet
Our awkward adolescent bodies were always canceling
The flawless beauty of Saturday afternoons in September, 
Falling away from the particular grace of autumn,
The clear weather, the ideal game he imagined.
And so he drove us through punishing drills 
On weekday afternoons, and doubled our practice time,
And challenged us to hammer him with forearms,
And devised elaborate, last-second plays — a flea-
Flicker, a triple reverse — to save us from defeat. 
Almost always they worked. He despised losing 
And loved winning more than his own body, maybe even
More than himself. But the last time I saw him
He looked wobbly and stunned by illness,
And I remembered the game in my senior year
When we met a downstate team who loved hitting
More than we did, who battered us all afternoon
With a vengeance, who destroyed us with timing
And power, with deadly, impersonal authority,
Machine-like fury, perfect execution. 

                                                          - Edward Hirsch


Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
                             - Langston Hughes

MFB, Denver, because the Hawks will take home the trophy!!

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