Archive for October, 2013

The Prize

Mallo Cups, those round miniature pies:
a crust of chocolate with a marshmallow creme center,
two to a pack, wrapped in black crinkly foil.
My sisters would nibble theirs to prolong the pleasure.
Always the glutton, I’d finish one off in a single bite.
Delicious as they were to an eleven year-old,
what won my devotion and loyalty was something that
had no taste, but fueled my hunger even more.
Each package came with a coin card of
points that could be collected for fabulous prizes.
Unlike most of my friends who simply saved enough
to redeem for additional Mallo Cups,
I wanted something more – to make a fashion statement.
Even if it meant searching the trash bins
outside every candy store for discarded coin cards,
stealing my sisters’ accumulated points,
and risking tooth decay with frequent purchases.
Never mind that it was one of the most expensive ticket
items advertised in the prize catalog,
I planned to save enough cardboard currency and
splurge on what would surely make me
the envy of the neighborhood: a Colonial Tri-Corner Hat.
When my bank account cha-chinged,
impatience soared as I waited the five long weeks
it took for the package to arrive.
When it did, I was the proudest boy on the block.
Donning that hat, I was transformed into
Paul Revere, ready to gallop on his midnight ride.
Perhaps the weather was dry in 1785,
but it rained on my maiden journey, and instantly
that triangular Napoleon disintegrated
like a Mallo Cup vanishing into an open mouth.
Anticipation displaced by disappointment,
I was taught a lesson on how capitalism works.
My sweet tooth was not assuaged.

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Joseph Anton / Salman Rushdie

In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian religious leader and politician, declared a fatwa against the author of The Satanic Verses.  The reason for this “sentence of death” was an allegedly blasphemous statement in the novel against the Prophet Muhammad.  Never mind that Khomeini had not actually read the book.  In this memoir, Salman Rushdie (referring to himself in the third person) recounts the eleven years he spent living under police protection while the fatwa remained a strong possibility.  In the first quarter of the book, he presents a fascinating account of moving from one “secure” home to another, rarely being allowed to appear in a public space.  His alias throughout this time period was Joseph Anton, a name inspired by his two favorite authors, Conrad and Chekhov.  What surprised me was how, after the declaration of a death sentence, a good many people in the West urged him to withdraw The Satanic Verses from circulation and issue a public apology for having caused offense.  After several years of living underground, feeling depressed and crippled with writer’s block, Rushdie decided to go on the offensive against those who wanted him to sacrifice the freedom of self-expression.  He begins to write again, makes public appearances, and attempts to win support through broadcast media.  Much of Rushdie’s memoir focuses on his three failed marriages, as well as name-dropping the politicians, musicians, and celebrities he interacted with throughout the 1990s.  In frank and brutally honest prose, he presents the faults of others, and occasionally his own.  He often comes across as pompous, vain, and a person easily riled if crossed.  This does not, however, detract from the greater story, that Rushdie in a sense was the first high profile victim of Islamic terrorism.  A master storyteller, the author makes his own memoir difficult to put down.  Wisely, he concludes the story shortly after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  After all, that is when the Western world woke up to the fact that the terrorist threat was not just aimed against specific individuals, but Western society as a whole.

Morning Program

The same program
but no repeated episodes,
on this screen porch
for three months running
I’ve breakfasted
with cup of tea in hand
as a rotating cast
of clamorous birds and
flowers in bloom
kept me fully entertained.

Late September
finds dawn blurry eyed
with the sticky
static of autumnal fog
muffling sound
and color indistinct as
an organic scent
of diminishing returns
fills the airways
like some tired rerun.

Camera turned
and summer canceled
when I take my
place before the screen
with darkness
reflected back at me,
come October,
under the stark glare of
a solitary bulb,
I will become the show.

The Secret Scripture / Sebastian Barry

My introduction to Barry’s work was On Canaan’s Side, an enchanting novel that left me impressed with this Irish author.  When I picked up The Secret Scripture, I was anticipating to solidify my appreciation of his canon.  But this earlier novel left me feeling slightly disappointed.  It presents the story of Roseanne McNulty, a young woman coming of age following Ireland’s independence from Great Britain.  She is one of the most beautiful girls in County Sligo, but an outsider of sorts since her family is Protestant rather than Catholic.  As she revisits her past, Rosanne is a patient in a mental hospital and nearing the century mark age-wise.  The hospital she has called home for many decades is about to be closed, and its head, Dr. Grene, has taken an interest in her case as he decides where she will be moved to once the facility is closed.  The story alternates between Roseanne’s account about her troubled life and Grene’s attempt to piece together what brought her as a patient to his hospital in the first place.  I found Grene to be a more interesting character than Roseanne herself.  While the novel is certainly an engaging one, I thought the writing lacked the poetic aspects that made On Canaan’s Side so special.  The book’s twist ending I also found a bit too contrived.  That said, the novel justifies my appreciation of Barry as an author, even though it is not in the same league of his later work.  Nonetheless, his other novels remain on my “to read” list.  Yet, because he set the bar so high with On Canaan’s Side, I could not help being slightly disappointed with this earlier effort.

Convergence

A pungent stew
spiced with an earthy,
rank ripeness
percolating underneath
the crackle
of electricity overhead,
dusk’s broth
simmers, then roils,
as winter’s heft
refuses to budge for
an incoming
bare-knuckled spring,
and whether
dawn’s light reveals
a snowy blanket
or carpet of flowers
matters not;
at long last, the conflict
has commenced.

Sandpaper Face

Father
Had a sandpaper face
And when I
Became too old to kiss
Inhibited
We formally began to
Shake hands
Just as he was taught
All men should
But I never forgot
Being tossed
Swinging like a plane
At jet speed
Crashing back into
A gigantic hug
Dizzy with laughter
As his beard
Raised a lovely rash
That never
Did blossom again
Once a son’s
Baby face scratched
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