Archive for April, 2013

The Prospect Of Andy

His house was in a maze
of tangled streets,
none running straight
or for long.
Whenever I came to visit,
I’d complain about
getting lost on the way.
Each time he’d
tell me the same thing
as a helpful tip:
“The Prospect of Andy,”
naming a street
that ran right into his.
But even then,
finding it in a labyrinth
was a chore.
Just a year before his
cancer diagnosis
proved to be terminal,
a new bike path
made the trip simpler.
There it is,
its intersection clearly
marked for me,
the Prospect of Andy
leading to his
house just blocks away.
An avenue that
now commemorates
his passing and
the reason I do not turn.

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Red Window

A mirror held up to the glow,
what masterpieces
this inviting red window
has showcased.
Prancing white elephants.
Islands unmoored.
The sun and its absence too.
Inquisitive wasps.
A tranquil sea’s deep blue.
Night’s dark ways.
Gossamer dappled in dew.
An entire gallery
of moods and varied views.
And now this,
as the morning debuts:
A bird preening
like some painted trollop,
never minding
dust’s smudged makeup.

Enrique’s Journey / Sonia Nazario

In Enrique’s Journey, journalist Sonia Nazario traces the true journey of a teenage Honduran boy who travels from his home country to find his mother in the United States.  Eleven years before, as a single mother, she had left her two children in the care of her family and gone to find work in North America.  At the time, it was the only thing she could do to ensure that her children would be fed and receive an education.  When Enrique turns seventeen, desiring to be reunited with his mother, he decides to join her in the United States.  Leaving Tegucigalpa in Honduras, he crosses Guatemala and all of Mexico, and finally finds a way to cross the border into Texas.  This involves travel by train, not as a paying passenger, but by clinging to the sides and tops of freight cars.   The dangers are numerous:  many who make the trip lose legs or their lives in falls under the wheels.  Also waiting along the way are corrupt police officials and gang members seeking to beat or rob the travelers.  After failing in his first few attempts, Enrique finally succeeds.  But not before he is severely beaten and nearly dies.  Although he does locate his mother, the years apart have made them strangers.  This book was published in 2006, at the height of the wave of illegal immigrants entering the United States.  Since that time, the number of people attempting such a perilous journey has dropped considerably.  Nonetheless, the dangers of making such a trip from Central America remain.  While Nazario succeeds in conveying the risks an immigrant faces, she does not address what it will take to keep families together in their home countries.  What goes unstated is the need to deal with poverty on a local level.  The risks Enrique faced are too great for any teenager to have to brave.

Last Respects

They came to pay their last respects,
those boyhood friends,
the men who’d grown up by his side.
Each shuffled forward
to shake my hand, looking ill at ease
in their baggy suits.
Not overly sweetened by eloquence
or misty with tears,
the eulogies were gruff and simple.
Having survived drought,
hard times, and the battles of war,
reticence was the norm
for Father’s forbearing generation.
A pat on my shoulder was
the most overt feeling expressed.
I stood, the oldest son,
with my back to that open casket,
and gratefully accepted
their implied hugs, as I had his own.

Everything Is Illuminated ; Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close / Jonathan Safran Foer

This edition combines two works from Foer, his first novel, Everything Is Illuminated, and its follow-up, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.  Physically, it is a lovely book, with a gorgeous cover and marvelous photographs sprinkled throughout.

Everything Is Illuminated tells the story of a young Jewish American (Jonathan Safran Foer, character) who travels to the Ukraine in search of Augustine, the woman he believes saved his grandfather from the Nazis.  His Ukrainian guide and translator, Alex Perchov is Jonathan’s age.  He is infatuated with American culture and comically mangles the English language in his interactions despite claiming to be proficient.  The story is presented in a seriocomic manner, with a liberal dose of magical-realism as the author recounts the life and time of his ancestors in the fictional city of Trachimbrod.  Rather than recount the quest from Foer’s perspective, the bulk of the story is relayed through a series of letters that Alex sends to Foer.  As the plot unfolds, the family histories of both young men are braided together as each confronts the legacy of Nazi atrocities in the Ukraine.  The novel is an exploration of betrayal and guilt and the difficulty of illuminating the closeted secrets that haunt all families.

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close introduces the reader to ten-year-old Oskar Schnell.  Oskar is an odd mixture of precociousness and innocence.  After his father is killed in the World Trade Center on September 11th, Oskar discovers a vase in his parents’ closet containing a key inside an envelope with the word “black” written on it.  Believing it is a clue left behind by his father, he sets out on a quest to find the lock this key was meant to open.  To do so, he begins to contact everyone in the Manhattan phone book with the surname of “Black.”  Foer intercuts Oskar’s odyssey with the story of his parental grandparents.  He weaves their troubled history to coincide with (and echo) with Oskar’s search.  The author uses photographs, word images, and even blank pages to enhance the text.  This book stands out as one of the best books written about the personal aftermath of that tragic September day.  Oskar is a character the reader will not soon forget.

A Passage To India / E. M. Forster

Published in 1924 and set in British controlled India, E. M. Forster’s classic novel explores the clash of two cultures in personal terms.  It takes place in the early 1920s when the Indian independence movement is beginning to gain strength.  Rather than present the bigger political issues of the time, the author focuses on the intricacy of personal relations between the British colonists and indigenous Indians.  It shows how ordinary misunderstandings can quickly bring out racial tensions and prejudices.  The story centers around two key characters:  Dr. Aziz, an Indian Muslim physician who is accused of an attempted assault on a British schoolmistress, and Cyril Fielding, the headmaster of a government-run college for Indians.  Fielding believes the accusation to be a false one, and he comes to the defense of Dr. Aziz.  The story builds in a slow arc as Forster takes the time to fully develop the key character involved.  Both sides, British and Indian, are allowed to present their case in a nonjudgmental manner.  In his beautiful prose, the author captures the complexity of Indian culture, and shows the difficulty of friendship when politics and racial differences are involved.  While the focus is on the clash of British and Indians, it also touches upon the divide between Muslim and Hindu.  He does a masterful job of conveying the nuances of a complex situation as it unfolds.  This novel is ranked as one of the best novels of the twentieth century, and for good reason.  It quickly captivates as it reveals the growing menace that lurks just beneath the surface of everyday life in India during this time period.  By exploring the preconceptions regarding race, religion, and friendship on such personal terms, Forster puts a human face to the bigger picture.  Many books have been written on the topic of British rule in India.  Almost a century later, this novel still ranks as an essential read on the topic.

Declarative Sentence

He looks like
an exclamation point
the way he stands
there proudly displaying
the new arrival,
up high enough for
everyone to see
his declarative sentence,
freshly diapered.