Archive for November, 2012

The Dinner Hour

It’s the usual silent treatment.
I wish he would yell.
Point his anger at something.
Instead, he says nothing.
Communication sputters out.
Silence turns infectious.
How loud the quiet becomes.
With clanking forks.
A clock’s laborious ticking.
He is a distant planet.
We are helpless satellites.
Circling the dark side.
If only his face would melt.
That mask disintegrate.
Expose a cauldron beneath.
I would gladly confess.
Admit to any transgression.
If this were about me.
But his eyes refuse to say.
No one is excused.
Not during the dinner hour.

Common Cloth

Our married life
Might be woven from common cloth
No different than
The fabric joining any other couple
Yet when close
Like this on a cold winter’s evening
Curled for sleep
With crumpled garments discarded
Snug under covers
I cannot help but think we wear it
Uncommonly well

City of Thieves / David Benioff

Benioff is a successful screenwriter and this story with its gripping plot twists would make a fantastic movie.  It has all the elements to be a crowd pleaser: it focuses on male bonding and friendship, has quirky characters, humor, great action scenes, with clearly defined bad guys, and of course romance.  He has created a tale that has surprising depth while remaining highly readable.  Set during the Nazi siege of Leningrad, in the opening chapter the reader is introduced to Lev Beniov, a teenager who is arrested for looting and thrown into prison.  There he shares a cell with “Kolya,” Nikolai Alexandrovich Vlasov, a handsome army deserter and quite the ladies man.  Rather than being shot, they are offered the opportunity to save their lives.  All they have to do is secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake.  This is during the height of the siege when it is almost certain that not a single egg can found in the city.  And so their quest begins, and from that point it is goes from funny, to thrilling, and ending with suspenseful.  Throw in cannibals, Soviet partisans, and a sadistic German officer and it becomes a book difficult to put down.  My only complaint of this coming-of-age story is the ending, while satisfying, felt a bit too “Hollywoodish” to me.  Ah, but that should make it all the more likely it will be made into a movie.  In the right hands, City of Thieves will look great up on the golden screen.

The Window

Pushing back the curtain,
my sister remarks, “Given a choice,
I’d prefer her to die
on a bright sunshiny day.”
But the sun is already beginning
to disappear behind
a bank of low-strung clouds.
Turning away from the bed, I am
momentarily disoriented,
amazed to find it’s almost dusk.
Outside, a conclave of
sparrows has gathered in a shrub.
Gowned somber monks
attending to October’s slow demise,
how alive they seem,
darting from branch to branch.
But fragile, too, against
winter’s cold, tightening grip.
Still, they seem unafraid
in the face of such uncertainty.
Although they go unheard,
their defiant song of persistence
somehow fills the room
as I continue to focus on Mother’s
stuttered breathing.

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter / Carson McCullers

When this, her first novel, was published in 1940, McCullers was just twenty-three years old.  It is set in a small southern mill town in the 1930s during the dark days of the Depression.  The poverty and desperation of the times is presented in vivid detail.  One of her main characters is John Singer, a deaf-mute who can read lips but who has no one he can communicate with using sign language.  He has a kind and understanding nature and many are drawn to share their hopes and dreams with him.   But none of them understand that in his silent isolation he is a lonely man.  Instead, each believes he alone truly understands  them.  This includes Biff Brannon, the proprietor of the New York Café, a middle aged man who spends each and every night behind the cash register, observing his customers as he ponders the meaning of life.  Then there is Mick Kelly, a thirteen-year-old tomboy who can hold her own against any bully.  Her dream is to compose classical music even though her parents are too poor to pay for music lessons or buy her a piano.  Jake Blount is an alcoholic and a drifter new to town.  An educated man fired by the books of Karl Marx and Thorstein Veblen, he wants to rouse the common man to revolt against the slavery of capitalism.  From the other side of the tracks there is Benedict Mady Copeland, a Negro doctor and radical who is also well read.  His passion is to see his race earn equality and respect.  McCullers’ prose is masterful and she possesses amazing powers of observation into the inner lives of her characters.  As a white writer, she treats the Negroes with the same compassion and understanding as those of her own race.  It is an astonishing accomplishment to have written this insightful novel at such a young age.  Clearly, she possessed an “old soul” to be able to tackle the mature topics presented here.  The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter is a classic that resonates as much today as when it was first written.  It packs an emotional punch and has a depth that few books today can equal.

The World Without Us / Carson Weisman

In his narrative, The World Without Us, Weisman considers what would happen to our infrastructure should humans cease to exit here on planet Earth.  The answer is quite simple, very little of what we have built will last long once we are not present to maintain it.  Even a place as massive and impressive as New York City will completely vanish in a few centuries’ time.  Our most lasting imprint will not be the skyscrapers, bridges, or monuments we have constructed; it will be the piles of plastic trash that has been rapidly accumulating since World War II.  Worse still, our poisonous chemicals and nuclear waste will create lifeless “hotspots” well after all other traces of our presence have vanished.  Weisman also speculates about what the landscape will look like and which plants and animals might thrive without us.  In the different examples he presents, he not only gazes into the future, he recreates what the area was like before our arrival and how a growing human population has changed it.  To back his descriptions, he draws on the expertise of engineers, scientists, zoologists, biologists, and paleontologists.  While the book is certainly fact-filled and usually fascinating, it is also a major “downer” to read.  The drumbeat throughout is what a better place the world would be if we were not here polluting it.  Suggestions of what we can do to co-exist with Mother Earth are not presented.  But then Weisman’s purpose is not to sugarcoat the problem, it is to scare the reader into acknowledging the situation is becoming dire.  Unfortunately, this negative approach might turn off many who decide the author is just another “nut” who wants humankind to give up all modern conveniences.

Tinnitus

A doorbell that continues
to spark and buzz
long after it’s been pressed

A tape loop that repeats
the same syllable
in lieu of conversation

A dead telephone ringing
its faint echo
pinged off silent canyons

A loose, irreparable wire
this jangling nerve
buried amid the circuitry