Archive for June, 2016

Wrestling The Dark

At dusk, the birds fold back
their wings and the silence absorbs
and absolves.

But we wrestle with the dark,
cast off its confinements and refuse
to be consumed.

Stumbling in the glare
of artificial light and other stimulants,
how blind we are

until sleep finally restores our sight.

Weekend Chores

The deep-dive cleaning
that chases bunnies from their
dens beneath the bed.
A lively two-step, this dance of
left coordinating with
the right when folding laundry.
The kneeling that allows
an unfettered soul to roam free
as weeds are plucked.
Dishes, errands, and cooking,
a soothing mantra
sure to be repeated tomorrow.
Let us not call it work,
the term chores will suffice in
this holy matrimony
between one’s heart and home.
A weekly paycheck
merely compensates; a labor
of love is its own reward.

Discipline’s Rule Book

The best way to put an end to mischief
is to stop it before it starts.

Unless punctured, wrongdoing will surely
swell into a blister.

The back of the hand, too, has a purpose.

Thrashing has always been used to
separate wheat from the chaff.

Engage in positive parenting, remind them
obedience earns respect.

Don’t forget, honey can be used to entrap.

Never commit commandments to tablet;
they work best when left implicit.

Once spoiled, it takes more than perfume
to remove the smell of rot.

Practice will teach them, just as it did you,
a minefield must be tiptoed through.

And yes, silence can also fold into a fist,
leaving no obvious scars.

Your anger will replicate perfect clones.

Blind Date

Plopped in the grass, alone on date night,
you wait to see what
chance might waft your way on this Friday.
Practicing its penmanship,
the breeze rearranges wisps of clouds,
a charcoal gray alphabet,
then erasing the slate, traces a rough map
of Ireland in its place.
On this magical midsummer’s evening,
you are not surprised
to discover, dark as any thunderhead,
a flock of swallows
rise and engage in an intricate dance,
nor alarmed by the hiss
from a Snoopy-shaped balloon trying
to sneak past overhead.
Beyond amazement, you half-expect
a heavenly choir of
archangels to appear as a grand finale.
After all, it is not
every dusk that wears its sunset like
a string of pearls.
A blind date can unexpectedly delight.

Shepherded Clouds

On a one-way street
Thin as a summer sheet
No two meet
Corralled by a sea of blue
It’s a marching zoo
Cockatoos and kangaroos
Bears and hares
A tiny calf and a tall giraffe
Caged individually
Herded aerially
With the wind steadfast
They hurry past
Stepping to its drumbeat
In the absence of feet

Plainsong / Kent Haruf

Set in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado, Haruf presents the interlocking stories of a handful of its inhabitants. There is Tom Guthrie, a history teacher whose wife has moved to Denver to live with her sister after suffering a mental breakdown. Ike and Bobby, Tom’s young sons, are struggling with the absence of their mother and the possibility that she will not be returning home. Victoria Roubideaux is a junior in high school who, upon getting pregnant, is locked out of her home by her alcoholic mother. Maggie Jones is also a teacher at the high school, and it is she to whom Victoria turns for help after being forced out on the street. There is also the growing attraction between Maggie and Tom that drives the plot forward.

Each of them is a wonderful character the reader is eager to get to know. But for me, two other colorful characters steal the show. Raymond and Harold McPheron are old bachelor farmers who ultimately give Victoria a home. Gruff men of few words, and ill at ease in their encounters with the modern world, both possess hearts of gold. The budding relationship between the bachelor brothers and the young girl is wonderful to behold.

The book’s title come from a type of unadorned music sung in some Christian churches, but it references, in general, Holt’s rural lifestyle and landscape. It is the perfect description of what Haruf achieves in this novel. Having grown up in a small midwestern town, I can attest to his truthful presentation of the rhythms and patterns of life in such an environment.

Shortly after starting Plainsong, I realized I had already read the book a decade before. But by that time Haruf’s engaging prose had already drawn me in and I knew it was worth the time to read it all over again. It is a book that I believe will feel like “home” to a good many readers. Its characters are people one will care about and want to get to know.

So Big / Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber grew up in Wisconsin and her midwestern roots are evident in this novel. So Big tells the story of Selina Peake DeJong from her teenage years to marriage, widowhood, and finally her later success as a truck farmer living in a Dutch community just outside of Chicago. The author captures the rhythm of life in this rural environment in well-crafted prose, portraying its conservatism, poverty, and sexism in stark detail.

Published in 1924, So Big won the Pulitzer Prize the next year. Ferber was an early feminist, and in Selina she created a strong woman character representing what women could achieve, if only they were allowed to use their intelligence and talents. While subjected to desperate poverty, back-breaking labor, and the loss of her husband, Selina stands tall throughout.

Unfortunately, Selina’s presence dominates only the first half of the story. The focus in the second half shifts to her son Dirk, a young stock broker living in the bustling world of high finance in Chicago. Selina sacrificed many of her dreams to give him the education needed to succeed in life. To her disappointment, he gives up his early ambition of becoming an architect, choosing instead a profession where he could quickly make a fortune and move into the ranks of high society.

While he does rise to become a member of the upper class, Ferber shows what a shallow life he leads in a world where all that matters is becoming rich. This is contrasted with Selina’s simpler world where, despite the daily grind of hard labor, she finds true joy and contentment as her endeavors blossom into a profitable venture. It is a central point of the novel, and yet the shift of focus away from Selina weakens the overall story. She is the one this reader was most interested in, not the son.

Still, it is a book I will recommend to others. Her well-crafted story effortlessly captures the details and vernacular of both Chicago and its surrounding rural environment in the early part of the Twentieth Century. She does not let the feminist themes get in the way of creating truthful characters at a time when the focus in America was shifting away from farming to an urban setting. It is worth the effort to hunt down a copy of the novel in one’s local public library.

Empty Church

I have not stepped inside to meditate,
in hopes of salvation,
or to escape the heat of a summer day.
Nor is it for the spice
of lingering incense that still peppers
the cloistered air.
Despite its emptiness, I have not come
to partake in the silence.
I know better than to think I might be
the only one present.
No, approaching the nave I expect to
greet familiar faces.
A stern Saint Paul, the Virgin Mary
tucked into her niche,
the fourteen stations lining the walls.
And front and center,
forever garbling his Latin responses,
that young altar boy,
a ghost my soul has not forgotten.
Even in faith’s absence,
here inside, sanctified awe persists.

The Lost City Of Z : A Tale Of Deadly Obsession In The Amazon / David Grann

David Grann, a longtime staff writer at The New Yorker, capitalizes on his journalist skills to solve one of the greatest mysteries in the exploration of the Amazon jungle: what happened to the legendary British explorer Percy Harrison Fawcett. In 1925, along with his son and another English companion, he set off into this South American jungle to locate a fabled civilization he felt had once existed in the region. The three disappeared without a trace, and for decades the press pondered the fate of these adventurers.

Since that time, hundreds of other explorers have attempted to discover what happened on Fawcett’s ill-fated expedition. Many of those people also disappeared, swallowed by the vastness of the inhospitable jungle. None came close to solving the mystery. In the early 2000s, Grann, too, caught the fever to be the one to uncover the truth. This ultimately led a confessed couch potato to follow Fawcett’s tracks into the Amazon.

The book combines the history of Fawcett’s life with the author’s own quest to find the fabled lost city of Z. The first half presents an account of Fawcett’s earlier exploits of mapping the Amazon region and chronicles his growing belief that somewhere in its tangled vegetation a civilization once existed in a city that surpassed all others in the world at the time. Fawcett based his belief on the evidence of pottery remains he found and on the roadways he discovered cutting through the jungle. Armed with the facts of the case, Grann is finally led from the safety of his home in New York City to follow Fawcett’s last reported route.

A biography, a detective story, and a great piece of travel writing, this book, bit by bit, reconstructs a vanished age of exploration when obsession drove scientists to venture into the Amazon equipped with only willpower to survive the challenges of its hostile environment. Grann’s vivid prose sketches the dangers they faced in such an unforgiving landscape. It makes for a riveting tale from the first page to the last.

The key to solving the mystery of the lost city of Z proves to be Grann’s chance meeting with Michael Heckenberger, an archeologist who at the time was unearthing the ruins of an ancient civilization in the region where Fawcett disappeared. Ultimately though, what makes this book interesting is not the answer to what happened to Fawcett’s expedition. Rather, it is the daring of the men who, like him, ventured off the grid despite the fact that it often cost them their lives. The book highlights the capacity of our earliest ancestors to populate the entire globe, even when faced with an inhospitable landscape that still thwarts modern day explorers.

Ornery as hell

Ornery as hell, they have yet to meet a wind chill that
can bully them. After all, they are the town’s ruffians.
While the rest of us huddle indoors with chilblains,
there they are—out in parking lots, on the ice,
navigating through a gale, insulated against the cold
by their meanness alone. Raucous partiers in warmer
weather, dominating whatever playground they find
themselves on, we find them disreputable, a nuisance
that should be dealt with. But come bitter January,
defiance of the laws of nature is applauded. Although
their cacophony offends, we appreciate the song
when silence dominates the dawn. A black stain
that winter’s wind cannot erase from its white blouse,
the crows’ insolent comportment wins our respect.