Archive for November, 2013

Cocooning

Neither of us
bothering to properly dress,
fuzzy-eyed
and still undeodorized,
we indulge in
the luxury of calling today’s
first meal
a fashionable brunch,
even if just
honey on cinnamon toast.

The cold has
drained ambition’s battery,
but burrowed
inside this snug cocoon,
crackling
with static electricity,
we idly decide
not to jump-start the day;
chapped lips
resist temptation’s kiss.

Instructions

Once you turn off the Interstate,
drive north on County X
and keep an eye peeled for a motel
on your left.
It is at least twelve miles,
certainly no more than twenty.
The sign will claim it’s
“closed for season”
but it has not been open for years.
Easily missed at dusk,
if you do, double back when you
reach the Conoco station
ten miles up the road
at the intersection of County D.
The road you want is
immediately after the motel
(or just before, if doubling back).
Either way, you’ll only
be able to turn one direction.
Don’t look for a road sign,
a snowplow knocked it down
last winter and
the County has not come ‘round
to put it back up yet.
You will be headed toward
the western sky, and if on time,
into the sunset.
On the right, our mailbox
will be the first you come upon.
Don’t be fooled
by the dense stretch of
forest encountered beforehand.
Keep driving,
even if there does not seem
to be anything but trees
between you
and the Canadian border.
There is, and we’ll be
sure to leave the porch light on.

Waving Goodbye

The girl who was their child,
this woman who is my wife, but who’ll always
be Little Jake to them,
is looking back over her shoulder and
waving goodbye still.
Her parents, despite the ferocious mosquitoes,
remain in the driveway and
reciprocate the gesture, reluctant as
she to see this Sunday visit come to an end.
Not wanting to show my impatience,
barely rolling forward, I give them another
polite toot on the horn.
Jackie does not want to be the first to quit,
and they won’t stop until she does.
My wife reaches out
across the seat back, as if trying somehow
to embrace them again.
As seen in the rearview mirror,
her parents stand silhouetted under the soft
yellow light from a doorway,
hands raised, as if beckoning us to return.
Who will finally break the connection,
turn them back into the kitchen
and snap Jackie safely into her seat belt?
Dutifully, I accelerate,
knowing that is what sons-in-laws are for.

Vapor Trail

This straight chalk streak,
temporary as
a child’s etch-a-sketch,
painted across
the immaculate blue.

Though now drunk on sun
and wind-addled,
flaunting its new design,
a sober sky
won’t regret this tattoo.

Half Past Dawn

You wake to discover
yourself fast asleep in a dream.
And smile.
You sink back into slumber
and find you are now wide-awake,
unable to recapture it.
And frown.
Yet perhaps you’re
only dreaming you are not asleep.
You remind yourself.
Or perhaps are only conjuring
an illusion of
dreaming to mask the fact
you’re fully conscious.
You speculate.
Only to discover, hours later,
or maybe seconds,
as a distant alarm summons you
back to the surface,
just how far removed from
awake you were.

Behind The Beautiful Forevers / Katherine Boo

Boo, a respected reporter and a former editor for The Washington Post, spent over three years observing the residents of Annawadi, a slum in Mumbai, India.  In this award-winning book, she documents in vivid detail the lives of a number of its citizens.  Unlike many other authors of narrative nonfiction, Boo does not insert herself into the story with editorial comments.  Instead, based on extensive interviews, she lets the characters speak for themselves.  While the residents’ stories are frequently heartbreaking, the majority of them refuse to give in to despair.  Even though their houses in the slum are off-kilter, poorly constructed, beset by floods of sewage, and lack indoor plumbing, life in Annawadi is considered a step up from the rural countryside.  The book’s main character is Adbul, a teenager who is enterprising and hard working.  He and his family are involved in recycling garbage.  Things are looking up in their lives, thanks to the economic boom at the time.  His family seems to be inching closer to the possibility of escaping this festering slum.  But then, Adbul is falsely accused of driving a bitter, jealous neighbor to set herself on fire.  In the ensuing drawn-out trial, the family’s resources are drained as the police and other officials demand bribes to insure a favorable outcome to the court case.  The India that Boo presents here is corrupt, brutal, and most of the money being spent to help the poor disappears into the deep pockets of the rich.  Yet despite the harsh conditions of Annawadi, its citizens show a stamina and resiliency that is truly inspiring.  While the book is nonfiction, it reads like a novel, and I found it hard to put down.  Even before its last page is turned, an indelible impression of Annawadi and its residents is sure to be seared into the reader’s memory.

Annie Dunn / Sebastian Barry

This novel is set in the late 1950s and takes the reader to a remote part of County Wicklow.  There, two elderly Irish women, Annie Dunn and her cousin Sarah, are just managing to scratch out a meager existence.  It is a time when a way of life is disappearing as a mechanized world encroaches on ancient traditions.  With summer’s arrival, Annie’s nephew and his wife ask her to care for their two small children, a daughter and son, when they travel to London to find work.   The children’s arrival is not the only change the women are dealing with, as the budding possibility of a romance for Sarah proves an even bigger disruption to the household’s tranquility.  Barry does a marvelous job of recreating the rhythm of daily life in this remote corner of Ireland, and embedding Annie’s past history as an integral part of the story.  Born with a hunched back, Annie has issues with self-esteem and is carrying the weight of a lifetime of unresolved emotional issues.  Barry excels at portraying the bickering that goes on in such a tight-knit community, and yet when needed, how they provide support for each other despite personal grievances.  Set over the course of a single season, it is a summer during which, on the surface, very little happens.  Nonetheless, before its end, an epiphany unfolds for Annie.  It is a story that details her coming to terms with the past’s ghosts and reconciling with the present. Barry’s prose is lyrical and poetic as he imbues this simple tale with unexpected depth.