Archive for January, 2014

Irreparable

Some want to live fast,
die young, and leave a good-looking
corpse in repose.
I don’t mind plodding
through life, graying in the mirror,
wearing out
every moveable part.
Let me die in the comfortable rut
of dailyness.
Postpone the inevitable until
it is acceptable.
May my death certificate claim
the cause of demise
as an overabundance of dawns,
an excess of seasons,
suffocation due to a surfeit
of generations piled up behind.
I want to reach
the finish line with a tired body
and a cluttered mind.
It matters not if wrinkles crag,
every bone creaks,
that finally, like a worn out shoe,
my body
is irredeemably beyond repair.

Once I shrug it off,
I will not be wearing another.

Pouting

As a child, being sent to
your room was seen as a punishment.
Tonight, I’ve voluntarily
exiled myself behind this closed door.
Don’t you dare trespass;
self-righteous, I’m officially pouting.

Go ahead and speculate
that I’m hogging both sides of the bed,
wearing muddy shoes,
crushing your pillow under my head.
For all you know, I’m
simply recollecting old girlfriends.

Since self-pity appears
indulgent, illogical with the lights on,
I lie in the dark and fume,
wanting my silence to infuriate you.
Don’t bother to call,
the extension has been disconnected.

Resourceful, I might be
counting backwards from a million,
reciting Shakespeare,
mumbling like Brando, or maybe
I’m just lying here
convinced nobody understands me.

Even though this bed
makes the perfect trampoline and
sleep forgives all sins,
my wounded pride is a scared boy.
How long must I wait
before you come to investigate?

Supporting Genesis

In infancy, every sapling requires,
as it reaches out
and gravitates toward the light,
the proper anchor
to stand upright on solid ground.
The majestic oak’s
enduring limbs are the result of
an invisible network.
Without its supporting genesis
interwoven beneath,
the artistry of a budding canopy
would never rise to
be framed by an expansive sky. 

A Partial History Of Lost Causes / Jennifer DuBois

In her debut novel, Jennifer DuBois delivers a story that mesmerizes from beginning to end.  Its two main characters are facing the possibility of a foreshortened future: one from disease, the other from an assassin’s bullet.  Irina Ellison, a thirty-year-old American, has spent more than a decade watching her father disintegrate from Huntington’s disease.  It is a progressive disease that destroys motor skills and steadily erases memory at a young age.  When genetic testing reveals she is likely to meet the same fate, her world is shaken to its core.  After her father’s death, she discovers a letter he had written to a Russian chess champion named Aleksandr Bezetov.  In it, he asks Aleksandr a question: How do you play a game when you know it is lost from the start?  No answer was ever received.  With her own life in need of an answer to that question, Irina decides to fly to Russia and seek out Aleksandr.  His life story is presented in alternating chapters.  A young chess prodigy in Communist Russia, in the 1980s he gets involved in the distribution of a dissident newsletter.  When several of his collaborators are killed in an “accident” staged by the government, Aleksandr decides to sell out and concentrate on his chess career.  Over the next decade, he becomes the world champion.  But success does not bring him the answers he seeks in life.  His career comes to an ignominious end when he is defeated by a super computer in a chess match and sulkily retires.  Bored with his rich life style and feeling guilty about his cooperation with the Communist government, in 2006 Aleksandr decides to challenge Vladimir Putin in a doomed presidential bid.  He does this even though his risk of being killed for daring to take on the authoritarian president is a strong possibility.  Lost causes are a constant theme throughout the novel, be it in chess, politics, marriage, budding relationships, or disease.  DuBois is a gifted storyteller, and she has created characters that the reader can readily identify with.  Surprisingly, the gloomy musings on mortality throughout does not bog the story down in self-pity.  I feared that, when Irina and Aleksandr finally meet and form a friendship, the plot might veer into the territory of a physical attraction between the two.  Never fear, DuBois takes a more satisfying, and interesting trajectory.  This novel is bold enough to present grand themes, delivered in very personal terms.  Without a doubt, this book should be added to your “must read” list.

Escape From Camp 14 : One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea To Freedom In The West / Blaine Harden

Shin Dong-hyuk is the only known person to have been born and raised in a prison camp in North Korea, then escape to the West as a young adult.  His story is captivating because so little is known about life in that country’s repressive prison camps.  However, as the author points out, the reader does need to beware: most parts of Shin’s story could not be independently verified.  Shin does admit that he had not been totally truthful in the accounts he gave when he first came to the West.  But even if he has exaggerated the details, his upbringing was horrific.  According to Shin, in an effort to stave off hunger, children in the camp would eat rats, insects, and the undigested corn kennels in cow dung.  Informers were rewarded with more food, and so not even family members and friends could be trusted.  If camp rules were broken, punishment was swift and often severe.  The most shocking revelation here is that Shin snitched on his mother and brother after they discussed an attempted escape.  This led to both of them being executed.  He did it in hopes of getting more food and better work assignments.  In the brutal world of Camp 14, Shin existed in an environment where joy, love, and kindness were virtually non-existent. Although no longer a prisoner, he remains a troubled person, haunted by guilt and suffering from post-traumatic stress.  Harden is an economical writer, and this slim book focuses primarily on Shin alone.  Little information is provided about the political situation in North Korea.  As portrayed by the author, Shin does not come across as an individual I found trustworthy, making it difficult for me to accept this book at face value.  That said, I appreciate the fact that Shin’s story has increased awareness about North Korea’s repressive regime, the last existing Stalinist state in the world.  Readers most likely will be both horrified and fascinated by this account of life behind North Korea’s iron curtain and Shin’s escape to the West.

Summer’s Ashes

Fully exposed
and hardened into concrete

This beach no longer records
footprints

Where gulls
once abundantly wheeled

Overhead, an empty sky is
on the fly

The wind
has run the clouds ragged

Snow in the forecast has fallen
elsewhere

At my feet
the lake crashes and slaps

December has yet to freeze
its expanse

So before
it thickens into a sealed grave

I gather and scatter a fistful of
summer’s ashes

Crumbled leaves
swirling in the murky water

 

Infectious

Furnace air is steadily inflicted.
Despite the cold, more snow is predicted.
It has been gloomy since noon.
The overnight low has been today’s high.
Alaska is warmer than here.
That news anchor looks like he might cry.

But none of that matters tonight.
Not when she is doing the twist for us.
Dressed in new princess PJs.
Modeling that silk scarf like a baroness.
Accessorized with galoshes.
Her exuberance has proven infectious.