Archive for May, 2014

Love Song Of The Ancients

In our dotage
when skin turns permeable
to the slightest chill
and sleeping in
means not rising until seven
we will take
our arthritic bones
for after-breakfast walks
and shuffle
from Sears to Penney’s
with a pause
midway to catch our breath
at a fountain
glistening with spare change
then proceed again
after I’ve helped you up
from a seat
uncomfortably engineered to
prevent loitering
our arms linked for support
as we wobble past
blurry neon storefronts
crotchety with similar aches
and befuddled by
what the future’s wrought
but together still
harmoniously resolute in
moving forward

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The Whistling Season / Ivan Doig

The voice of this novel is Paul Milliron, a native of Montana who has risen from a humble beginning to become its state superintendent of education. The year is 1957 and political pressure is calling for him to consolidate the state’s one-room schools. This is a personal matter with Paul as he received his education in a one-room school in the rural community of Marias Coulee. He knows, better than most, that such schools are the lifeblood of their remote communities. Confronted with this issue, his memory is swept back to 1910, a year when his school acquired a new teacher and Halley’s comet passed overhead. Both events were to play a big role in his life and that of his family. Thirteen years old at the time, Paul is living on his father’s farm with an older brother and a younger one. Their mother had died a short while before, leaving their grieving father to raise his sons alone, while working full-time as a farmer. In the Fall of 1909, Oliver, his father, decides he needs help dealing with house chores and assisting in his parenting duties. In the want ads of the Westwater Gazette, he comes across an ad from a woman in Minneapolis seeking a housekeeping position and is intrigued by its opening line, “Can’t cook but doesn’t bite.” Negotiations follow, and a short time later Rose Llywellyn and her brother, Morris Morgan, step off the train in Marias Coulee and into their lives. The story of the next year makes up the bulk of this novel. With the arrival of Rose and Morris, life on the family farm and in the community’s one-room school is forever changed. This novel has an old-fashioned feel to it, and I mean that as a compliment. Doig’s vivid prose truthfully captures the perspective of events as seen through an adolescent’s eyes, and brings to life the time period and the splendor of Montana’s landscape. Portraying everyday life, Doig is a master of teasing out the secrets beneath its surface. I found myself completely drawn into the lives of the story’s likable characters and charmed by the tale that unfolds. For the discriminating reader, this novel, from beginning to end, will prove to be a true delight.

Selectric II

If plugged in again, it might still hum,
warm to life with a steady purr.
Perhaps its “golf ball” will swirl, too,
resuming an orbit preordained
by the alphabet’s gravitational pull.
Should a reserve of ink remain,
backspacing, past mistakes could be
erased and simply replaced.
Self-corrected at the strike of a key,
my hastily written term papers
upgraded to the status of exceptional.
But should its keyboard respond
yet to the fingers’ familiar tap dance,
the great American novel once
dreamt of in youth will not emerge.
Encasing that steel planet,
the alphabet’s soupy atmosphere,
though shocked by electricity
remains unbreathable on the page.

The Talented Mr. Ripley; Ripley Under Ground; Ripley’s Game / Patricia Highsmith

This book gathers Patricia Highsmith’s three Tom Ripley novels. A young American in search of achieving the opulent life he was denied as a child, the series follows his exploits toward achieving this goal by hook or by crook. A master at manipulation and a brilliant psychopath, Ripley will stop at nothing, including murder, first to become rich and then to protect his good fortune. The best of the novels is The Talented Mr. Ripley, the first in the series. Sent to Italy to coax a wealthy son to return to his parents in the United States, Ripley worms his way into the son’s life, eventually killing him and impersonating him. The author cleverly tells the story from Ripley’s point of view. He might be a psychopath, but clearly Highsmith takes great delight in his exploits, and so too will the reader. He is a disturbingly sympathetic individual, and I found myself rooting for him despite his dark deeds. The tone of the second novel, Ripley Under Ground, is not as chilling as the first. Ripley is now living in France and married to a wealthy woman. While still involved in low level crime, mostly he is enjoying a life of elegance and ease. Where The Talented Mr. Ripley exudes a chilly sense of menace, the second reads like a cheerful romp. The bodies begin to pile up in this story, too, but it all seems to be done in good fun. Ripley’s Game is the weakest of the three novels. It makes for an easy read, yet seems to be more a retread than to provide anything new to the series. Tom Ripley, while amoral, makes for a fascinating hero, and Highsmith delves deeply into the mesmerizing tangle of his psyche. All three novels will keep the reader entertained, but it is The Talented Mr. Ripley that shows Highsmith at her best as an author.

Patricia Highsmith : Selected Novels and Short Stories / Patricia Highsmith

This collection includes Patricia Highsmith’s first two novels and a number of her most representative short stories. Highsmith’s work is often dark, centering on love, murder, and the macabre. She achieved her reputation as a practitioner of the murder mystery genre with the publication of her first novel, Strangers On A Train in 1950. The story captured the interest of Alfred Hitchcock who turned it into a well-received movie. Its plot is a simple one, two strangers meet on a train and one of them suggests that they exchange murders, and since they are not connected with each other, the crimes will be unsolvable. One of the men is an architect involved in a messy divorce and he has no idea the other is serious about the proposition. The other man, Charles Bruno, is an alcoholic and a true psychopath who does indeed kill the architect’s wife. As a result, the architect finds himself in a tangled web from which he cannot extract himself without looking as though he had a hand in the murder. The second novel included here, The Price Of Salt (1952) is much different than the first. It centers on a lesbian relationship between a young woman and an older married woman who is going through a divorce. It is a sympathetic portrayal of homosexuality and quite a daring topic for an author at the time to tackle. Highsmith had a difficult time finding anyone to publish it despite the success of her first novel. This collection serves as an excellent introduction for anyone unfamiliar with her work. These two novels and the accompanying thirteen short stories showcase her range as an author. While much of her output was murder mysteries, this compilation is proof that Highsmith deserves to be recognized as a serious author who transcended that genre, creating serious works of fiction that have stood the test of time.

Tattoo Parlor

Every night I pass this storefront window,
glimpse an empty chair and table.
Early or late, its “open” sign is blinking.
If business is being transacted,
it is behind a door that remains closed.
Still, I always stop and look,
half-expecting to find someone there,
exposing a bare arm
as the owner practices his painful craft
with studied indifference.
Yet empty as the street, and as spooky,
all I see is dim lamplight.
Decades ago it would have been home
to drunken sailors and
the lovelorn, but the only face staring
back is my own reflection.
I try to picture myself on the other side,
choosing an indelible design.
A fire-spitting dragon or flaming sword,
what dark secret will emerge?
As I hurry away, a nagging fear whispers
that the next time I pass,
I might find my brash alter ego seated,
perfectly at ease inside.
His grin mocking me as the practitioner
sculpts a permanence that
contrite second thoughts can never erase.