Archive for September, 2013

Bluster

Mother did not tolerate swearing
and would threaten to
wash out mouths with soap for
using inappropriate words.
Coming from such a gentle soul,
it was mere bluster.
When impatient, she’d exclaim,
“for crying out loud,”
a clear cease and desist order.
Anger provoked a more
profane tongue in her PG world.
“Goot Gott in Himmel”
meant we had been convicted.
Punishment was swift,
“wait until Father gets home.”
Even then, we were safe;
her bark never led to a bite.
Forgiveness would
melt the steel in those eyes
to pardon contrition
before a sentence was served.

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Garage Roof

The name of the game was Brave
and its one-story plunge
aimed for a pile of sand below.

On the grit, tennies crunched,
and mindfully leapt
across smears of gummy tar.

In its separate atmosphere
a wind billowed even
on the stickiest summer day.

That flat flight deck of roof
sped a running start
for our courageous launch.

Urged on by a chanting chorus
of pitiless boys that
mocked the hesitant airborne.

Anticipation

In anticipation
of a storm since early dawn,
we swelter waiting
for the wind to puncture
this gelatinous
balloon of sticky humidity.

Overripe as
unpicked fruit, encased
in this wall of heat,
lethargy remains unstirred
by a swirling
fan’s inefficacious bluster.

Something more,
and sharper, is needed to
rend this bubble;
a blade sharpened by ether,
an electric crackle
priming the rain’s explosion.

 

 

The Gardener

A private maid in chambers,
her introspection
easily mistaken for prayer or
adolescent shyness,
don’t expect constant devotion
to tempt a blush
meant for your eyes alone.
Spy as you will,
while the gown might slip
an inch or two
as you hungrily observe,
be reminded, like
waiting for water to roil,
only when you
inevitably look away will
all be exposed.
A petal refuses to unfold
until prompted by
that greater eye in the sky,
and not yours.
As unrequited love proves,
the beauty beneath
is meant for other suitors,
already drawn
to the scent she exudes.

The Lower River / Paul Theroux

Theroux is a well-known author who has written travel books about his expeditions into the wilds of Africa and other inaccessible areas around the globe.  His novel The Mosquito Coast was later made into a film starring Harrison Ford.  The Lower River is his most recent novel, set in a remote village in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeastern Africa.  The village portrayed, Malabo, is off the grid and mostly untouched by modern civilization.  Ellis Hock, the story’s narrator, had spent four years there with the Peace Corps in the 1960s as a young man.  Now in is early sixties, having long considered this African village he once worked in to be an Eden, he decides to return there.  This is prompted by his disintegrating marriage and failure of his menswear store.  He is a man in search of recapturing the magic of his youth.  What he finds upon his return is a village that seems to have regressed in time since his earlier visit.  The school he helped to start has fallen into ruins and the inhabitants seem even more primitive than forty years before.  While welcoming, it soon becomes evident they are only interested in extracting the money he has brought with him.  Cut off from the modern world, he soon finds himself a prisoner in this remote village.  Theroux’s knowledge of Africa serves him well in recreating Africa’s extreme poverty and the desperation this engenders among its people.  He shows how ancient traditions once again hold sway, having overridden the Christian beliefs he encountered earlier.  Despite this realism, I was not drawn into Hock’s dilemma.  The book’s ending, especially, seemed too “by the numbers” for my taste.  Theroux expertly portrays the misery experienced by the Africans, and shows how hunger explains their greed.  But since the focus remains on Hock, the villagers themselves are never given a voice.  Like the narrator, the reader remains an outsider, unable to identify with the plight of these Africans trapped in subsistence living along the Lower River in Malawi.  

Sweet Tooth / Ian McEwan

The first novel I read by McEwan was Saturday and I was wowed by its simple yet insightful focus.  In the years since, I’ve read two other novels by McEwan, Amsterdam and Atonement.  While I enjoyed both, they did not hold a candle to Saturday.  The first review I read of Sweet Tooth was a negative one, but others that followed were complimentary, with some ranking it among the top novels of 2012.  While there is no denying that the book is a clever take on the Cold War thriller, with an unexpected twist ending, I found the story itself rather pedestrian.  McEwan is an author who knows how to construct interesting plots with true to life characters.  But his prose lacks the spark of poetry that would elevate his storytelling to a master’s level.  Sweet Tooth is set in the early 1970s, and Serena Frome is the story’s narrator.  Fresh out of university, this beautiful daughter of an Anglican bishop is recruited to be an employee of MI5, an arm of the British intelligence service.  It is a troubled time in Britain, which is facing coal miner strikes, IRA terrorist attacks, and the remnants of Cold War paranoia.  Serena eventually becomes involved in an undercover operation code-named Sweet Tooth.  Her assignment is to recruit an up and coming author into accepting a Foundation grant (a front for the MI5) in hopes that he will write a novel critical of Russian communism.  Predictably, she falls hopelessly in love with the targeted author.  What unfolds is a relationship that the reader knows will not end well when her involvement with MI5 finally comes to light.  McEwan is to be praised for creating a highly readable novel with a twist that few readers will see coming.  But the novel itself felt rather thin to me, and its surprise ending a bit too tidy for my taste.  I certainly recommend it, with the caveat that it does not deserve to be ranked among the top novels of 2012.

 

Work Boots

Worn in the heel
and weathered with use
Father’s boots
at repose in the closet

Iron tipped and
rounded as if having
come full circle
at repose in the closet

Sturdy enough to
carry him past eighty
into retirement
at repose in the closet

Having borne him
those countless miles
imbued with dust
at repose in the closet

A size too small
but shoes impossible
for me to fill
at repose in the closet

Empty and unlaced
paired to his memory
now a centerpiece
at repose in the closet