Archive for September, 2014

Motor Home

Two flat tires
have immobilized it
and chest high
weeds camouflage
a “for sale” sign

Spider webs and
grime have dimmed
the perspective
of every attempt to
peer within

Step inside
but mind your nose
as a pent up
mustiness swirls to
engulf you

Mold creeps
over bathroom walls
and only with
a determined tug do
cupboards open

A son tells us
after retirement just
ten were missed
in the couple’s quest
to visit all fifty

North Dakota
the fortieth flag decal
so optimistically
attached to that now
rusted bumper

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From Pillar To Post

Hurrying to leave for work
in the predawn gloom
I almost walk through it,
that gossamer web,
woven overnight and strung
from pillar to post.

Like a sail unfurled from
the rigging of a ship,
tautly attached, its center
bulges and strains
to engage the breeze in
its billowing weave.

A frantic land-locked sailor
has, by turning bare
poles into magnificent spars,
hoped to escape fall’s
impending frost and follow
the wind southward.

But that vain attempt to
harness the wind
with almost invisible thread
clearly has failed;
all that’s been ensnared is
a leaf going nowhere.

That Song

Walk down any street and there it is,
spilling out from
an open window. That woman holding
her baby on the front stoop
sings along. A shirtless man washing
his car joins in on the chorus.
Dogs have been seen wagging their
tails to it. Children in
kindergarten know the words. Grand-
mothers hum along.
On radios, you will find it being sung
in countless languages all
across the globe. It’s as if stations
have been commanded
to play it hourly. Listening, girls get
all misty eyed while
tough guys discover their softer side.
Once heard, it is there
in your head until bedtime and still
playing when you rise.
Having swept couples off their feet,
it escorts them up the aisle.
Relevant to every mood and season,
there is no escaping it.
The equivalent of the common cold,
and just as infectious,
that song in no time begins to annoy.

Swallowing The Moon

I thought of it
as swallowing the moon
when, paper-thin,
that wafer was placed upon
my extended tongue.

I was reminded
the moon is an arid place
when, going down,
it always stuck to the roof
of my mouth.

I accepted it as
one would a baby aspirin
that, dissolving,
bleached sins bone-white
with moonlight.

And yet I envied
the brightness of others
who, believing
they’d consumed the Son,
glowed eternally.

Lawrence In Arabia : War, Deceit, Imperial Folly And The Making Of The Modern Middle East / Scott Anderson

To most Americans, the political situation in the Middle East defies comprehension. But Lawrence in Arabia succeeds in showing how today’s muddle came to be. Anderson does this by concentrating on four individuals who played key roles in the creation of the modern Middle East. He focuses on the years immediately before, during, and after World War I. While the slaughter in the European trenches is well known, less so is the Middle East theater. And yet the Arab revolt against the Turks played an important role in causing the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and shortly after, Germany’s surrender. The major figure highlighted by the book is T. E. Lawrence, a man who battled both the Turks and his own British government in hope of bringing about an independent Arab-led Greater Syria. The other three men profiled are also Western. Curt Prüfer was Germany’s great spymaster in the Middle East. Aron Aaronsohn was a Jew living in Ottoman controlled Palestine who created a Jewish spy ring, and who also played a role in planting the seed for a Jewish homeland in the region. The fourth person, William Yale, was an American who worked for Standard Oil in the Middle East before the War and, during it, became America’s sole intelligence agent there. None of these men are particularly likable people, but all lived fascinating, action-packed lives. The book examines their intertwined paths—their schemes, the battles they took part in, and the double-crosses they fostered and suffered. Anderson also details how, early in the war, Great Britain and France agreed on the makeup of the territory they would claim as their own once Germany was defeated. This included all of Greater Syria, territory already promised by Britain to the Arabs to bring them into the war against Turkey. Does this sound confusing? Never fear, thanks to Anderson’s in-depth research and a masterful presentation, this complex jigsaw puzzle is assembled to create a clear and captivating reading experience. For anyone wanting to know the history behind the headlines coming out of the Middle East today, this book is good place to start.

The Vagrants / Yiyun Li

“The Vagrants” begins on March 21, 1979—spring equinox—a time of rebirth after a long, cold winter. It introduces the reader to a group of people living in Muddy River, a provincial city in China. As the story opens, posters are being put up announcing the execution of Gu Shan, a young female counterrevolutionary. They inform citizens that for educational purposes, all school and work units are required to attend the pre-execution denunciation ceremony. Meanwhile, her distraught parents are preparing to burn their only child’s clothing to ease her journey into the next world. The father of the dissident, Teacher Gu, retreats into memories after the execution, but his grieving wife is determined to get officials to admit they had made an error in killing her daughter. This is at a time when, in far off Beijing, the Democratic Wall Movement has ignited an anti-government groundswell seeking to open China to a more democratic and just government. Centering on the aftermath of the execution, the novel captures the rebirth of hope in Muddy River following Mao’s death. Student activists in the city, fired by the country’s general unrest, decide to hold a rally to protest the execution of Gu Shan. The government at first is divided on how to react to the public protests sweeping the country. But when the Communist party in Beijing finally moves to crush the Democratic Wall Movement, officials in Muddy River follow suit by arresting any citizen who took part in the rally. In this, her debut novel, Yiyun Li vividly weaves together the stories of a group of characters caught up in events they have little understanding of or control over. By detailing the daily routines of these people, as well as their hopes and dreams, the author puts a human face to the government’s brutal crackdown. Ultimately, it is a story of a false spring that withers on the vine. While the book is often grim and heart rending, the story is a moving one. The families and individuals Li portrays represent a microcosm of not only the citizens living in Muddy River, but China as a whole.

Radiator

I remember the beast,
four-legged, gaunt,
reduced to mostly ribs.
Every summer,
cool and reserved,
it hibernated,
harmless to the touch,
docile enough
to ride cowboy-style.
But in October,
we children learned
to beware its
spiny back as a chair.
Throbbing alive
with a gruff grumble,
how it strained
against its moorings.
Reptile-like,
it would hiss and spit
the noxious
breath of hell itself.
Burns taught
the chastised to avoid
its rusted tail.
A conglomeration of
dinosaur bones
petrified into cast iron,
only the foolish
would dare saddle
that fiery beast
once it began to buck.