Archive for February, 2016

News, Weather and Sports

It is a question
of whether tomorrow an umbrella
will be needed.
Did the home team finally squeak
out a victory.
Answers ahead, but first: a word
from our sponsor.
That crazed dealer almost giving
his product away.
Tonight’s lead not yet forgotten
by commercial’s end.
Guilty by association, the victim
and perpetrator.
Discovered in a dirty parking lot
across the tracks.
Smiling, the weatherman warns
of midnight showers.
But will they be heavy enough to
obliterate dreams
of those two chalk-circled stains.
Waiting for sports,
the outcome matters even more.

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Blushing Wallflower

A blushing wallflower has just arrived
in the corner of tonight’s sky.
On its immense dance floor, how jealous
and diminished the stars seem.

Enamored, torn to threads, wispy clouds
recompose into a silk carpet.
Adorned in this spring night’s scents,
the wind has woven her a song.

To the fortunate few, she is the perfect
antidote to sleep’s murky drug.
An absorbent sponge of yesterday’s sun,
her glow silhouettes every tree.

Wasted electricity, hazy streetlights are
no longer part of the equation.
Humbled to become a shadow of itself,
the dark folds into her embrace.

Egg Candling, 1957

Now that the children have grown,
afternoons are long;
going against her husband’s wishes­,
in the pleasant
solitude of a four-hour shift, she is
gainfully employed.

Delicate, like babies once cradled,
these thin shells,
porous to a probing beam of light,
whisper inner secrets,
murky seas revealing a shadow life
for her to decipher.

Her Grade A eye separating whole
yolks from seeping,
the blood mottled from the clear;
a St. Peter tasked
with responsibility, she judiciously
condemns the rotten.

Mr. Bridge / Evan S. Connell

Evan Connell wrote the companion piece to this book, Mrs. Bridge, in 1959. Mr. Bridge followed a decade later. While the world had greatly changed by the time this second book was published, Mr. Bridge represents an accurate depiction of many of the men I knew from my father’s generation. The book is set chronologically from the late 1920s to the beginning of World War II. While world events are mentioned, the story focuses mostly on Mr. Bridge’s thoughts in regards to his family, social events, and work life.

In a diary-like format, the book chronicles fragments of the life of this successful Kansas City lawyer. To call Mr. Bridge uptight would be an understatement. He views the world only in black and white, with a blunt sensibility. Clearly, he is an example of the WASPish America of the time.

Mr. Bridge inhabits a world where he expects his wife and children to obey him without question. As a white male, the rules that govern the separation of the races must be followed to the letter. While he claims to have Jewish friends, his anti-Semitism is evident as well. In other words, he is a conservative with a capital C. Relying on his brain rather than his heart, he often reacts to events without a sense of kindness or sensitivity. A disciplined, orderly life is what he most cherishes.

And yet, though he believes he is the one in charge of his family’s destiny, the world around him is rapidly changing without his consent. This is shown in his three children as they grow into young adulthood. A workaholic, he has substituted material goods as his expression of affection for them. When, as teenagers, they begin to question his beliefs, he is taken by surprise. I do not mean to imply that Mr. Bridge is a man without feelings. He loves his family dearly; he is doing what he thinks is proper and best for all concerned. And there are occasions when he shows unexpected acts of compassion and moments of introspection. I often found myself identifying with Mr. Bridge, seeing in him glimpses of my own father, as well as of myself.

A great piece of social realism, the novel encapsulates the period between two World Wars in a marvelous fashion. It reveals the void in Mr. Bridge’s life, despite his material assets. And yet, he is not presented as a pitiful figure. His failings are similar to ones we all share. Connell might have meant Mr. Bridge to be a caricature, but the picture is not a mean-spirited one. Ultimately, he carries both the everyday good and bad found in all of us.

Near And Distant Neighbors : A New History Of Soviet Intelligence / Jonathan Haslam

There is no doubt that Haslam’s Near and Distant Neighbors is a comprehensive account of the Soviet Intelligence services. Not only does he examine the activities of the KGB, he broadens the scope to include military intelligence and the agency that worked on codes and ciphers. His focus is on the period from the October Revolution in 1917 through the Cold War years. In charting the labyrinth of Russia’s undercover intelligence world, the wealth of information he provides is impressive. It also at times left me feeling overwhelmed.

In the early days of the Soviet state, the government relied upon dedicated Communist agents in other countries to be their eyes and ears. But after the truths of Stalin’s regime became better known throughout the world, the Communist government was forced to rely on blackmail and bribery, rather than on ideological recruitment of its foreign spies. There is much of interest to be found in this well-researched book. For instance, I had no idea that Nikita Khrushev was functionally illiterate. It was also news to me that there is strong evidence the Russians were behind the failed attempt to assassinate Pope John Paul II in 1981.

No matter how obscure or minor, the book discusses every aspect of the Soviets’ undercover intelligence gathering. And that is my primary complaint about Haslam’s writing. He has forgotten that sometimes less is more. On each page, there seem to be several new Russian names to master. Many of the people mentioned disappear within a few paragraphs. This is a shame because by doing so, he sacrifices expanding upon stories that beg for more in-depth information. Because Haslam is trying to cram so much information into a compact sized book, it proves difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

For the patient and persistent reader, Near and Distant Neighbors reveals some wonderful nuggets on the history of intelligence gathering during the Twentieth Century. Unfortunately, Haslam’s presentation is far too academic and dry. In a better writer’s hands, this could have been a truly memorable book on a topic that deserves to be better understood.

There But For The / Ali Smith

This novel was my first introduction to Ali Smith, but after reading it, I intend to get to know her better. The story, while engaging, takes second place to the fireworks Smith produces with her prose. She takes delight in making the English language sparkle and delight. It is a virtuoso piece of writing.

The plot centers around a dinner guest named Miles who locks himself in an upstairs room and refuses to come out. His act ignites a media frenzy as his decision to remain speechless and isolated resonates with many others in the community. He ends up representing humankind’s paradoxical need for both privacy and the need to connect to the greater whole.

Miles’ scenario, while important, is only a tiny slice of the story. The book has four chapters, There, But, For, and The, each featuring a person whose life has been touched by the shut-in. The two I found the most entertaining were May Young, an elderly woman with dementia, and Brooke Beyoude, a precocious nine-year-old. At times it feels as though the author has lost the story’s thread entirely, but to her credit, in the end she creates whole cloth from disparate pieces.

With clever and whimsical wordplay found on almost every page, There But For The makes for an exhilarating read. But the story is subtly poignant as well. Ali Smith is a British author with eight previous works of fiction to her credit. I look forward to diving deeper into this treasure trove.

Gardening In March

Above-stairs, a sullen winter day;
downstairs, we garden.

A bag of soil, dry and inert, waits
for heat’s abracadabra.

Packeted diamonds in the rough,
seeds personify prayers.

A single kernel is tucked into each
black plastic bassinet.

Then, dampened soil is allowed
to percolate under light.

Tonight, the same tired silence
will drag us off to sleep.

Yet with dirt beneath our nails,
how our dreams blossom.