Archive for November, 2014

Skeletal Remains

November, eschewing
colorful finery,
has draped the mornings
with a gauzy shroud,
somberly swathing
autumn’s skeletal remains
in funeral attire.

Not that the water is
any deeper, but
sobering to a murky hue,
November’s lakes
in slanted sunlight,
without a shade of blue,
seem unfathomable.

Twilight briefly flares
and turns the trees
into smoldering charcoal,
November’s skyline
a dying lantern,
guiding the hunters home
come the supper hour.

Claire Of The Sea Life / Edwidge Danticat

In this compact novel, Danticat introduces the reader to Villa Rosa, a settlement within greater Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The story centers around Claire Limyé Lanmé—Claire of the Sea Light, a child celebrating her seventh birthday. Claire is a “revenan”, a child who has entered the world just her mother was leaving it. Her father, Nozias, is a fisherman who has struggled to provide for his child as a single parent. For some time, in the hope of bettering her life, Nozias has considered offering his daughter to Gaëlle, a local shopkeeper. Three years previously, the shopkeeper’s only daughter was killed in a traffic accident. When Nozias made such a proposal on Claire’s sixth birthday, the shopkeeper refused to take the girl. But one year later, Gaëlle decides to go ahead and accept the child. This novel centers on the night this decision is made, and the back-story leading up to it. But Danticat also weaves into the mix individual stories of people connected to either Claire or her parents. By doing so, the author paints a broader portrait of the community itself. It is a place where poverty runs deep and gang violence is a constant threat. Even so, neighbors support neighbors, and share what little they have whenever tragedy strikes. Told without a wasted word, the author has created a lyrical modern day folk tale set beside the sea in Villa Rosa, presenting the joy and heartbreak of ordinary life there.

Crow Lake / Mary Lawson

A friend recommended this novel to me, and I’m grateful for the introduction. Mary Lawson is a Canadian author and this book, published in 2002, was her first. Set in the wilderness of northern Ontario, it captures both the hardship and beauty to be found in a remote farming community. At center stage is the Morrison family; its four children orphaned when their parents are killed in a traffic accident. The story tells of the decision of the two sons, Luke (age 18) and Matt (age 17), to sacrifice their own dreams in order to keep the family intact. Their sisters are Kate, ten years younger than her brothers, and Bo, just two at the time of the parents’ deaths. Kate relates the story from her later perspective as an adult, working as a zoologist, who feels both guilt and anger that her highly intelligent brother Matt gave up his education for her sake. She is the only one of the family who has managed to get a university education and move to a larger city. Lawson does a marvelous job of capturing the awe and harshness of Crow Lake’s landscape. She also shows the necessary interconnectedness of its inhabitants in such a remote outpost. The story is slowly spun out and perfectly pieced together. I was quickly captivated by the tale and its setting. It is a study of family dynamics, sibling rivalry, and the ties that bind. Heartfelt and conveying deep emotions, it presents a picture of the Morrison’s ability to rise above loss and regret, and succeed despite having to make compromises. It is a terrific debut and I’m eager to check out the two other novels that Lawson has published since.

Breakfast of champions, or Goodbye blue Monday / Kurt Vonnegut

Reading this 1973 novel by Kurt Vonnegut is like revisiting the Sixties in a time machine. It vividly brought to mind my teenage years. Vonnegut in his usual playful manner tackles the big issues from that time period. Pollution, capitalism, greed, poverty, racism, and the Vietnam War, all are woven into the book’s tapestry. He also discusses a personal battle with depression, his mother’s suicide, and dealing a with mid-life crisis. While this might lead one to think the story to be a major downer, the opposite is true. Indeed, the book’s message is a serious one, but it is delivered through the use of black humor. In the telling, the author continually addresses the reader and also inserts himself in the story; he even occasionally interacts with his befuddled cast. The book’s main character, Kilgore Trout, will be familiar to those who have read other works by the author. A failed science fiction writer, Trout has played a part in other stories by Vonnegut. After a lifetime of having his work published mostly in porn magazines as filler, in this novel he finds himself unexpectedly being acknowledged as one of the world’s best living authors. Also providing “laugh out loud” humor to the story are Vonnegut’s own whimsical drawings that provide commentary throughout the story. It is the kind of book that is so easy to read that one might think that anyone could write such a work. But that is not the case. Vonnegut’s blend of black humor and satire, while often emulated, has rarely been matched. His body of work has guaranteed him a place in the pantheon of notable authors of the past century. For the curious, this book makes for a good introduction to his unique writing style.

Approach of Weather

Before bed, on the ten o’clock news,
they warned it was coming,
so I set my alarm an hour early to
deal with the mess of it.
All night long, restless, I wandered
through a dreamscape
attempting to outrace the weather.
But a cloud’s silver lining
overtook me before I could wake,
and its sticky gauze soon
rendered street lamps ineffective.
Softened by sifting snow,
the sky was carpeted wall-to-wall.
No longer trying to escape,
caught up in the storm’s intensity,
my footsteps zigzagged
across a perfectly blank landscape,
a white page unimpressed
by the attempts of such scribbling.
When dragged awake by
the alarm, I thought I’d discover
my winter dreamscape
triumphantly recreated outdoors.
But going to the window,
the snow’s accumulated absence
announced its presence.
Not even a cloud could be found.
Only that moon in the sky
had bothered to dust the ground.

House Key

It still jingles on my keychain.
I use it to open and let myself inside.
Not that it fits the lock;
but when called on, with a mental twist,
the tumblers always click.
While the years and furnishings change,
my parents remain the same.
Indoors, it’s always summer or school,
and a lingering sawdust smell
continues to permeate the basement air.
Untroubled by nostalgia or
a sense of loss, the kitchen clock tocks.
As the cramped rooms
enlarge to accommodate my memories,
I shrink to a perfect fit
in an afternoon’s timeless harmony.
A jangling accompaniment,
carried for decades, that master key
still unlocks what’s inside.

Anniversary

The doctor was young enough to be
his grandchild
and barely able to raise a beard.
Consulting a chart,
that fledgling dared to proclaim,
given the odds,
he had at best six months to live.

It was not heart disease or death
that drew his
ire in response; rather, it was
the prediction
being delivered with such surety.
No child had
the right to pronounce his fate.

And so now it is not a birthday
or marriage date
that he chooses to commemorate,
it’s the erroneous
anniversary of his own demise.
Every half-year,
that baby-faced doctor he defies.