Archive for January, 2019

Work Keys

For decades,
his full key ring jangled with
the weight
of every door he was entitled
to unlock.

Clocking out,
dispossessed of a key’s fit,
such barriers
will now remain impervious to
his scrutiny.

Doffed, no
longer heard upon approach,
that musical
reverberation against his hip
is missed.

The jingle
that accompanies his steps
suddenly dulled
to what will only open house
and car.

In retirement,
he’ll continually lean to a once
heavier side,
forever haunted by the tug of
absent keys.

Advertisements

Indulgence

Radio silence…
Devices deep-sixed for the day.
Those peeled
slices of a mandarin orange on
your plate
broadcasting sweet temptation.
Bright sunshine
the only invited guest on this
cold afternoon.
Silence has wrestled loneliness
into submission.
Contemplation takes its place.
There’s no
need to calculate your worth in
others’ eyes.
Aging, after all, has its benefits.
Disconnected,
time’s preciousness is a gift.
So, indulge.

Emma / Jane Austen

Emma was published just two years before Jane Austen’s death.  It was her fourth novel, following Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park.  While those first three novels have many admirers, I felt that each followed the same predictable plot.  When I picked up Emma to read, I expected a work that followed her same tried and true formula.  To my surprise and delight, I found it to possess a more intricate storyline, one featuring a wider cast of characters, colorfully portrayed.

True, the book’s setting treads familiar ground.  The focus is once again on provincial life, highlighting a handful of upper class families in a country village outside of London.  But this time the characters seem more varied, featuring both the gentry and middle class.  There is also a subtle use of humor throughout.  Where Austen truly succeeds is in her presentation of the story’s protagonist, Emma Woodhouse.  Emma is an opinionated young woman, and a bit of a snob.  While not wanting, herself, to marry, she is always trying to act as a matchmaker for her friends, with disastrous results.

While headstrong, Emma is a likable character.  For this reader, it was interesting to see her overcome her own prejudices and grow as a person as the story progressed.  Coupled with Austen’s ability to lovingly portray the foibles of Emma, her neighbors, and acquaintances, the story has a depth I found missing in her earlier novels.  Austen’s work is famed for its romanticism, and Emma will not disappoint in that department.  But this time the devil is in the details as Austen digs deeper into the emotions and delusions of romantic relationships.

Boy, Hunting

The collision of
muddy imprints is duly noted,
a lone deer
and coyote pack, intermixed.
Evidence so fresh
that the echo of attack seems
to reverberate.
Shards of bone are counted
in what Father
informs him is owl droppings.
Plucked from
a collection of turkey feathers,
one’s iridescence
is plundered to adorn his hair.

Eyes downcast,
hunting still, he knows better
than to believe his
mother’s exclamation about
nature’s serenity.

Lincoln In The Bardo / George Saunders

It is February 1862, and while Abraham Lincoln and his wife host a large dinner party in the White House, their son Willie is gravely ill in an upstairs bedroom.  The President has been reassured that his son is likely to recover.  However, he does not, and several days later Willie is buried.  Shortly after, in newspaper reports, mention is made of a grief-stricken Lincoln returning after-hours to visit his son’s crypt.  George Saunders launches from this factual historical incident to create a truly fascinating and unique novel.  

While the story opens in the White House, the remainder of it takes place over the course of one night in the Georgetown cemetery where Willie is buried and Lincoln mourns.  There, spinning off into the supernatural realm, the reader is introduced to a strange purgatory populated by ghosts who refuse to accept that they are dead.  Rising from their “sick beds” every evening in their disembodied shapes, they argue and talk about their past lives, desperately trying to keep boredom at bay.  

The book is filled with a cacophony of voices; some alive, most dead, both historical and invented.  Bardo is a term taken from the Tibetan tradition, referring to a transitional state between life and death.  Using Lincoln’s familial loss as a touchstone, Saunders addresses what it means to be human, and the need to come to terms with and accept one’s failures, sorrows, and regrets.  It is a modern day reworking of The Divine Comedy: profound, often hilarious, and deeply moving.

Long respected for his short stories and essays, Lincoln in the Bardo is George Saunders’ first novel.  It rightly won the Man Booker Prize in 2017.  It has already won the right to be ranked among the best novels published in this century.

The Tsar Of Love And Techno / Anthony Marra

The Tsar of Love and Techno is a collection of stories from the pen of Anthony Marra.  The stories are Interconnected, featuring a cast of characters who are known to each other, giving it the feel of a novel.  What unites them is their home town, Kirovsk, in Siberia.  It is an environmental wasteland, long polluted by the nickel smelting plants in the area.  As portrayed by Marra, it is a place where hope for a better life is in short supply.

Each story’s main character is trying to find a way to escape the confines of an unforgiving landscape where illness, alcoholism, and poverty are the norm.  Some achieve fame because of their beauty, only to be driven back home when dreams fail to come true.  Others enlist to fight as paid mercenaries in Chechnya, losing their souls in a war where they remain pawns to a greater authority who cares not if they live or die.

The opening tale, set in the 1930s, tells of a failed portrait artist who is tasked by Soviet censors to erase people who have run afoul of the government from official images and artworks.  His act of rebellion is to add to every image the face of his brother, a dissident killed earlier by communist authorities.  In the following stories, the reverberation of his action is traced through the decades, threading the pieces into a seamless whole.

Marra is a gifted storyteller, and his book features a multitude of distinctive narrators.  The bulk of the book focuses on post-Soviet Russian life, capturing a period in the 1990s in which the middle class found itself reduced to poverty following the collapse of communism.  The tales he presents are both comic and tragic.  While by no means a masterpiece, The Tsar of Love and Techno is always an engaging read that occasionally dazzles.

Busker

Busker: weather-beaten, grizzled
Improvising a concert
for a party of one, a few, or none
Guitar, vocals
a one-man band topping the bill
there on the corner
of mostly pedestrian disinterest
at 14th and Vine
Spotlighted beneath a street lamp
appearing nightly
this lost soul braves the elements
with tattooed wrinkles
a reminder of hard roads taken
Unplugged, but intent
he labors to sonically conjure
a retirement fund
with the intermittent percussion
of loose change
thrown in a gaping guitar case

His bank account
as yet unlined by folding cash