Archive for February, 2018

Recumbent Moon

In predawn’s first blush
the lake remains dark as midnight.
A few tattered clouds,
remnants from a storm slept through,
will soon be swept aside
by an awakened breeze as it attends
to its morning to-do list.
A cardinal is the first to question why
no one is up yet.
With silence’s invulnerability broken,
the airwaves come alive.
Broadcasting songbirds compete to
be heard above the din.
Something plump, hungering for
a taste of breakfast,
breaks the surface, then vanishes.
No longer alarmed by
the clumsy sound of my trespass,
frogs again add their
rumbling bass to the ensemble.
Not yet transparent,
an unruffled lake gingerly cradles
the night’s residue.
Still resplendent on its surface,
a recumbent moon.

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Manhattan

With two maraschino
cherries nestled at the bottom of my glass,
I’m an arctic hunter
peering through the ice calved from our
refrigerator’s North Pole.
Pungent with bitters evoking a memory
of ancient plant life,
this frigid sea of whiskey and vermouth
resembles a late
winter afternoon barely tasted by daylight.
How indistinct those
targets appear, each juice-infused from a
rumored southern sun.
Calculating angles with an unsteady hand,
as I wield this straw
to harpoon through alcohol’s murky depths,
I’m disappointed but
not surprised when its tip emerges bare of
a sweetened treasure.
Yet determined, I know with enough sips
my odds will improve.

Nostromo / Joseph Conrad

While most readers are familiar with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the book that many critics consider his magnum opus is Nostromo. It was published two years after Heart of Darkness, in 1904. The story takes place in the fictitious nation of Costaguana, loosely based on Colombia. It is a nation where political chaos is the norm. New governments rise and fall due to rampant corruption and military coups. As a result, poverty is rife and a discontented peasant class is ready to support any new dictator promising change. There is a remote section of the country, however, whose central city (Sulaco) has grown prosperous because of a rich vein of silver in a nearby mine.

Conrad’s presentation of the story is not linear. And its protagonist is not properly introduced until midway through. Nostromo is an Italian expatriate who has gained respect in the community for his bravery and daring exploits. While well thought of by the wealthy Europeans living in the city, he is considered too crass to be admitted into upper-class society. They simply view him as a tool they can bend to their wishes.

The book wrestles with important issues: capitalism, imperialism, environmental destruction, populism vs. business interests. While set in an era much different than our own, the situations described are ones that still dominate our headlines today. There is much to appreciate about this novel, yet I found its negatives outweighed the positives. One wonders where his editor was. It features a huge cast of characters, many who come and go in a blur without seeming to be of benefit to the story. And Conrad is very wordy which makes the book a chore to plow through. Worse still, its disparate storylines often do not fit together.

For those interested in reading post-colonial literature, Nostromo stands as an ambitious early example. However, for the average reader, it is probably not worth the effort it takes to make one’s way through this 600+ page tome.

Lucky Jim / Kingsley Amis

Lucky Jim, published in 1954, was Kingsley Amis’ first novel. It was hugely successful in Britain and won a Somerset Maugham Award. The protagonist is Jim Dixon, a junior lecturer in medieval history at a British provincial university. Hapless, he is the kind of person who seems to do all the wrong things for the right reason. Throughout the story, he is forced to contend with a surrounding cast of bores, crackpots, frauds, and an inept superior. Satirical and at times farcical, I found the novel amusingly engaging.

Amis’ targets in this book are the regimented college life as well as the stuffy British upper class attitudes of the time. While Jim hates his job, dirt poor, he is desperate to cling to his academic perch through hell or high water. After all, if he loses the position, he will be “reduced” to finding work as a school teacher. His desperation leads him into foolish acts where he is his own worst enemy. Though he is no angel and often commits petty acts of rebellion, Jim wins the reader’s sympathy because his suffering seems genuine, even if it is often self-inflicted.

In reading this book I was reminded of another novel I loved, Richard Russo’s Straight Man. Its protagonist is a reluctant chairman of an English department at a badly underfunded college in Pennsylvania. Although much older than Dixon, he too is a rebel who is continually getting himself in and out of trouble. I cannot help but wonder if Russo’s inspiration might have been sparked by Lucky Jim.

Lucky Jim deserves to be better known in this country. While set in a much different time period, its humor remains fresh, and the sorts of characters encountered along the way are still alive and well in academia today. This satire of irritants large and small will have readers cheering Jim Dixon on as he tilts against every windmill. And once they have finished reading the book, I would advis them to check out Straight Man as well.

Today’s Forecast

In this rainy dark
only the birds awaken
to celebrate dawn

Not sated after
breakfasting on clouds, puddles
are the sun’s dessert

Noon’s simmering heat
finds the mailman the only
fool out on the street

Postponing twilight,
the sun’s bloodshot eye is
clueless to the time

A computer’s blue-
green hue cannot compete with
the moon’s yellow view

Winter’s memory
debunked by humidity’s
smothering embrace

Abdication

Warmed by tea
and fueled by buttered toast,
I grip the shovel
with mittened fingers tingling
from winter’s sting.
Glasses fogged by the effort,
I rhythmically
continue to stoop and scoop.

In moonlight,
snow-laden pines swayed by
wind’s awakening.
The sidewalks unmarred by
a single footprint.
To the east, the sky blushes
even before the sun
can be properly introduced.

Usually by now,
Monday’s early commuters
are hurrying past.
But snowbound and absent,
they have yet to
override this perfect calm.
A revved heart
merely amplifies the quiet.

Finishing the task,
I’m enveloped by activity.
Around me, frost-
encrusted windows are lit,
a car door slams,
fresh shovels now chime in.
Smugly, I abdicate
dawn’s loud blare to them.

Father And Son

In his first decade
when he’d badger, “Let’s race,”
self-esteem and
dominance never factored into
the outcome.

In those contests,
how effortless it was to remain
a step ahead,
only to lose with a stumble
at the very end.

Now, challenged
to match a son’s stride, fueled
by pride’s urgency,
desperation strains to delay
Time’s victory.

When forced to
concede, he will watch a Son
don the crown
as if it truly belonged to him
all the while.