Archive for May, 2012

Fractal Fern

Self-similarity
from left to right
and pushing
bottom upwards
each rung
a duplicate but
miniaturized

In the chaotic
geometry of nature
mathematically
correct from biggest
to smallest
a contented example
of monotony

Ask yourself
is it self-centered
or convinced
that ad infinitum
imitation is
the sincerest form
of flattery

Flowers Nearly Bought

I had the best intentions;
money was earmarked in a pocket.
I’d already pictured
your pleasure in my mind’s eye.

Best of all, it wasn’t
your birthday or our anniversary.
The rewarding hug
I’d receive was my motivation.

The shop was open,
no other customer stood inside.
What to buy wasn’t
a concern; any color would do.

In my own defense,
I meant to stop until I didn’t.
No one was surprised
but me when I sailed right by.

If only you knew
the lasting splendor of my gift.
Flowers nearly bought
remain perpetually in bloom.

The Forever War / Dexter Filkins

Filkins is a New York Times correspondent and this collection of reports follows the rise of the Taliban in the 1990s, touches upon the 9/11 attack in New York City, and then moves on to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The bulk of these stories feature reports he wrote while stationed in Baghdad from 2003 through 2005.  In the early sections, the stories are not presented chronologically, jumping from one conflict to another in no particular order.  The pieces are interesting but the lack of continuity is disorienting.  Once he turns his attention to the chaos of the civil war that erupted after the American invasion of Iraq, this style of presentation is quite effective.  His focus for the most part is not on the battlefield; rather, he concentrates on the people caught in the war’s crossfire, combatants and innocents alike.  Filkins is clearly fearless, and compassionate too, better still he is brutally honest in reporting the ongoing conflict.  He does not shy away from the evil and disregard of human life that he observes in the unfolding civil war.  Even so, he highlights the kindness and compassion that occurs despite the bloody campaign of terror turning neighbor against neighbor.  A thoughtful observer, Filkins takes the reader outside the Green Zone into the homes of locals simply trying to stay alive during a time of chaos.  More often than not, even as bombs exploded all around them, they offer him a cup of tea as an act of hospitality.  These stories present the human side of the Iraq war in a heartbreaking fashion.

The Other / David Guterson

The Other centers around two unlikely friends coming of age in Seattle: John William Barry, born into wealth, and Neil Countryman, from the blue-collar side of the tracks.  The bond that joins them when they meet in 1972 at a track meet is their competiveness and a love of the great outdoors.  This leads them to explore Washington’s remote backcountry.  It is there they learn how to survive harsh conditions, relying on their wits and each other.  After getting lost and suffering near starvation on one such outing, they become blood brothers, swearing to always be there for each other.  But during their college years, Neil sets out on a path that leads him toward a life as a teacher and devoted family man, while John William drops out of school and society itself, moving deep into the woods where he shuns all the trappings of the modern world.  As his best, and only friend, Neil is enlisted in helping John Williams “disappear.”  This act, which will later lead to tragedy, entangles him in a web of secrets he must keep as his friend slowly goes “mad” living for years as a hermit.  This novel is a story of youthful idealism and the compromises that adulthood brings.  How a shared vision can lead to different ends, influenced by upbringing and brain chemistry.  Guterson is the author of Snow Falling on Cedar and East Of The Mountains, both excellent works of fiction.  He does not disappoint in this though provoking novel of friendship and what it means to live an honest life.

Cottage By The Sea

The sea breeze
Carries an endless loop of ambient
Seagull chatter

A faint sound
And the only one to register above
This breathing

The noise
Of an ocean’s vast lungs exhaling
Salty air

Day and night
Its steady respiration seems to
Replace her own

Along the shore
In a din that erases all concerns
She’s resuscitated

Delicate Edible Birds And Other Stories / Lauren Groff

The nine stories in this collection deal with twentieth century women attempting to master the complexities of life.  While a few of the stories focus on a specific moment in time, most follow a character across generations or an entire lifetime.  This allows the reader to have a better understanding of what motivates and drives the women portrayed.  None of the stories disappoint but Delicate Edible Birds truly stands out.  Among a group of war correspondents fleeing Hitler’s advancing army in 1940 France, a lone, high-spirited woman reporter learns the high price she must pay for trying to be “one of the boys.”  The theme that runs throughout is on woman’s struggle to achieve inner strength or personal freedom.  Groff is an excellent writer and these stories will resonate with many.  My problem with collections such as this is the stories tend to blend together, so few stick in one’s memory.  But at least in the case of this book, the stories are captivating while being read.

Traffic : Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us) / Tom Vanderbilt

Driving is something most of us do on a daily basis without giving it much thought.  The automobile has long played a major part in American life; we define ourselves by what we drive and how we do so.  But there is more going on behind the wheel than even the most experienced driver knows.  In this well-researched book, Vanderbilt is not just writing about road safety, he is showing how our minds work and how we interact with each other while hurtling down the roadway.  It is a complex subject where physical, psychological, and technical factors intersect.  The conclusions presented here are based on numerous studies and will surprise many.  He shows why most of us are worse drivers than we care to admit.  Safety protections often cause people to be less attentive (and thus less safe).  While roundabouts feel dangerous and chaotic to the average American, they are much safer than intersections and help to reduce congestion to boot.  Speed and fatigue are the two biggest contributing factors to fatal crashes, but the inherent risks of human nature also play a big part.  As Vanderbilt points out, since the 1960s less than 5,000 people have been killed by terrorism in this country. In contrast, each year the number of people killed in car crashes in the United States tops 40,000.  Although we find it acceptable to sacrifice civil liberties to curtail the threat of terrorism, there is strong resistance to traffic measures designed to reduce traffic fatalities.  This book should be required reading for anyone who drives a car.  Even the most seasoned driver will benefit for taking it out for a spin.  Thankfully, while educational, Vanderbilt makes sure it is also an entertaining ride.