Sunday, April 27, 2008

"A Dandelion for My Mother" by Jean Nordhaus

It is dandelion season, which means a never ending battle on my hands and knees in my yard, a forked metal tongue in my hand. I never had a problem with dandelions before I owned my own house and had my own yard to cut. In fact, I used to think they were pretty. And they are, kind of, from afar when they are still yellow. It's when they change into that snow-globe cotton ball hat that they become a problem. My mower can't cut them. I have a reel mower - yes, an olden-days push kind - and I love it for its simplicity and quiet and earth-friendliness. But it's no match for some of the more tenacious weeds that make up the majority of what I call my lawn. (Is it any surprise that I don't fertilize or use weed killer? When I weigh the importance of a lush green lawn over clean groundwater, the choice is pretty simple to me.) So I've become a bit obsessed with pulling them out by hand. I actually find it quite relaxing. And all the uprooted dandelions go in the compost bin, not in a plastic trash bag, so I'm recycling them, really.

In any case, here's a poem about dandelions. It celebrates the weed a little too much, I think, but is a good poem regardless.

A Dandelion for My Mother

How I loved those spiky suns,
rooted stubborn as childhood
in the grass, tough as the farmer’s
big-headed children—the mats
of yellow hair, the bowl-cut fringe.
How sturdy they were and how
slowly they turned themselves
into galaxies, domes of ghost stars
barely visible by day, pale
cerebrums clinging to life
on tough green stems. Like you.
Like you, in the end. If you were here,
I’d pluck this trembling globe to show
how beautiful a thing can be
a breath will tear away.

(Jean Nordhaus, from Innocence, Ohio State University Press, 2006)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Theme Park" by Laura Kasischke

I just finished reading Housekeeping in a Dream, Laura Kasischke's second collection of poems. It is one of her best, I think. Sadly, it is out of print. It was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 1995. The following poem will likely resonate with anyone who has ever been to Cedar Pointe in Sandusky, Ohio, a prime after-prom excursion in these parts. Note that I've amended the third line to correct what I believe to be a typo in the printed text.
Theme Park

We drove all day in his father's
olive Ford to find it.
What else was there [to] do? We were
so bored of our bodies by then. Here

our bodies are
my boyfriend said and gestured
to a spray
of bullet-holes in paper, folded

map of inertia in which
Ohio was only the size
of an envelope
of scrub-brush, the highway choking down its long
motorcades the way

a snake swallows a model plane, the way
our mothers back in Michigan were shaking
pepper on our fathers' scrambled eggs. Drive

careful now
they'd cried
when we waved good-bye, and smiled, though

they'd never understand this need to drive
three hundred some-odd miles
for a roller-coaster ride. We

laughed when we finally saw the sign WELCOME

TO OHIO, and we pulled
over on the highway for a snapshot
of the rest-stop. I
circled my tongue for a moment
in my boyfriend's shellfish ear. It was

a husk, a pod, a catcher's mitt
and with it he could hear
our hometown rattle its teenage
padlocks like
the Great Houdini to get out. How long

until we get there?
I asked him, like a fool. My
boyfriend's lip was prickly
and stiff by afternoon. Oh

I knew he didn't want
to marry me, but would. He wanted
a huge contraption
to toss him into space, screaming

for his life, to hover over Ohio
for a while before he died -- to fly, fly, puke
in the sky. Instead

We never found that field
of sweet Milk-
duds and themes. We drove

straight through that day
in which all familiar landmarks
have been permanently shelved, mis-

placed or rearranged, until
the sun set oozing
on the warm brown fields, like

flapjacks on a platter

and we turned back.
The radio

played nothing
but an old man's coma-breath along the flatline of its dial. It
grew darker, and the rest-stop
appeared to be on fire. A wheel

of fortune in the sky. A small
dropped pamphlet
fluttered about god, and

my boyfriend agreed to marry me
whether I was pregnant or not. We
grew older

and more tired, and when we crossed the dotted line
to Michigan again the state-
trooper waved at us
and smiled. And now I know that failure

can also be amazing -- bright
whirligig of pulleys glint
and snap above our lives. Oh

small lost cars that trundle and careen
through the whole contrived sky
: I

knew he was only a boy.

(Laura Kasischke, from Housekeeping in a Dream, 1995 Carnegie Mellon University Press)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Eco Libris

There are an awful lot of books printed every year and many of them end up in the garbage. Granted, they should be recycled, but not every community offers that option. They should also, perhaps, be donated to the library, but my guess is that Small Town Library USA isn't clamoring for the tattered copy of The Happy Hooker you found while cleaning out your great uncle's house for an estate sale or that Windows 95 For Dummies book you still have in your basement.

And still, even books you love, books you'd never dream of parting with were once trees. And the world could certainly use more of those.

So what's a reader to do?

Planet-conscious book reader, meet Eco Libris, shrinking your environmental footprint one book at a time.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008

John Ashbery (and it feels so good)

What do John Ashbery and Peaches and Herb have in common? Well, Ashbery wrote his poem "The Songs We Know Best" to go with the melody of Peaches and Herb's big hit "Reunited." I learned this bit of poetry trivia in Rob Sheffield's Love Is A Mix Tape, which I am currently reading and loving. I had never read "The Songs We Know Best" before so I Googled it and, low and behold, it's a featured poem on the mtvU site as Ashbery is the mtvU Poet Laureate. Go figure. Sure enough, you can read the poem along with "Reunited," turning Ashbery's poem into a smokin' R&B slo' jam. It's tantamount to learning that many of Emily Dickinson's poems can be read to the tune of the Gilligan's Island theme song.

Here's the first stanza of "The Songs We Know Best" so you can judge for yourself.
Just like a shadow in an empty room
Like a breeze that's pointed from beyond the tomb
Just like a project of which no one tells—
Or didja really think that I was somebody else?

Read the rest at the mtvU site.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Passing Through" by Stanley Kunitz

Yesterday I turned 30, which is not old contrary to my brother's email, text message and Facebook post that it is.

Passing Through
—on my seventy-ninth birthday

Nobody in the widow’s household
ever celebrated anniversaries.
In the secrecy of my room
I would not admit I cared
that my friends were given parties.
Before I left town for school
my birthday went up in smoke
in a fire at City Hall that gutted
the Department of Vital Statistics.
If it weren’t for a census report
of a five-year-old White Male
sharing my mother’s address
at the Green Street tenement in Worcester
I’d have no documentary proof
that I exist. You are the first,
my dear, to bully me
into these festive occasions.

Sometimes, you say, I wear
an abstracted look that drives you
up the wall, as though it signified
distress or disaffection.
Don’t take it so to heart.
Maybe I enjoy not-being as much
as being who I am. Maybe
it’s time for me to practice
growing old. The way I look
at it, I’m passing through a phase:
gradually I’m changing to a word.
Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours;
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.

(Stanley Kunitz, from Passing Through: The Later Poems, New and Selected 1995 W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

"To my Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship" by Katherine Philips

Alana, a friend of mine, is writing an essay on Katherine Philips, "seventeenth-century lady poet," who may or may not have been a lesbian. She wrote a lot of love poems to women, though wether or not she was gay with them is not known. In any case, if you want an academic and intelligent look at the subject, it's Alana you want to talk to. But here's a poem by Philips I found online.

To my Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship

I did not live until this time
Crowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.

This carcase breathed and walked and slept,
So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept,
But they were all deceived.

For as a watch by art is wound
To motion, such was mine;
But never had Orinda found
A soul till she found thine;

Which now inspires, cures, and supplies,
And guides my darkened breast;
For thou art all that I can prize,
My joy, my life, my rest.

No bridegroom's nor crown-conqueror's mirth
To mine compared can be;
They have but pieces of this earth,
I've all the world in thee.

Then let our flames still light and shine,
And no false fear control,
As innocent as our design,
Immortal as our soul.

(Katherine Philips, from Elizabethan and Seventeenth-Century Lyrics, Matthew W. Black, Ed. J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1938. 375-376.)

Make a Play-Doh monkey

A good rainy day activity. Who wouldn't love a Play-Doh monkey?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

PBF's "Monkey Photographer"

The Perry Bible Fellowship, a comic by Nicholas Gurewitch that appears in the Metro Times as well as online, is rather hit or miss for me. Sometimes it's extremely disturbing, but most often in brilliant ways. In any case, here is one about monkeys. Since so many of my monkey related news has to do with the negative impact humans have on primates, I thought this was fitting.

Gorilla hearts gone bad

"Gorillas in zoos around the nation, particularly males and those in their 20s and 30s, have been falling ill — and sometimes dying suddenly — from progressive heart ailments ranging from aneurisms to valvular disease to cardiomyopathy."
Read the full story.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Donkey Kong cage match

Just got finished watching King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, a documentary about two guys competing to be the world champions of Donkey Kong. Yes, the old school video game where Mario jumps over barrels thrown by a giant gorilla in the quest to save his lady friend. The documentary was really good and I highly recommend it. Check it out at
"The average Donkey Kong game doesn't last a minute. It's absolutely brutal."
- Billy Mitchell, reigning Donkey Kong World Champ.
Here's a good article to read after you watch the movie.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Raymond McDaniel on

The poem of the day, according to Poets. org, is Raymond McDaniel's "Assault to Abjury" from his new book Saltwater Empire. I couldn't have picked a better poem myself. :) Check it out.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

This American Life's chimp retirement segment

Thank you to my friend Meghan for bringing this particular episode of This American Life to my attention. It is a program I love and often listen to but I had not yet heard act three of Episide 350: Almost Human Resources:

"Reporter Charles Siebert talks with Ira about retirement homes for Chimpanzees. Yes, retirement homes for Chimpanzees. There are thousands of aging chimps in the US: retired chimp actors, ex-research subjects, abandoned pets. They can't be put back in the wild since they don't know how to survive there. Charles Siebert visited many of the facilities where they're housed, often in rooms, with TV's and 3 meals a day. He's writing a book about his experiences called Humanzee."
Check it out.

In related news, while I was looking for a picture of a chimp to use with this post I stumbled upon another monkey related blog called I Just Love Monkeys. I'm not endorsing it as I haven't looked at it very closely, but there are plenty of photos and videos worth checking out should you need more of a monkey fix than Touched By A Monkey provides you. :)

"The Trees" by Philip Larkin

I thought a poem about Spring might be appropriate considering it is supposed to be Spring even though I had to use my ice scraper to remove frost from my car windows this morning.

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

(Philip Larkin, from High Windows, 1974 Faber and Faber)

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

National Poetry Month!

It's April, and you know what that means: NATIONAL POETRY MONTH! The month where the nation would pretend to care about poetry if enough people even cared enough to pretend. So, really, it's a month of poets psyching themselves out. But still. It's a nice gesture. And what poet doesn't appreciate a nice gesture?

I think of National Poetry Month kind of like National Coming Out Day (October 11, y'all). Do gays across the country really make that call to Mom? Put a picture of their ladyfriend on their desk at work? Tie a rainbow scarf on their dog? Probably not. And with coming out, it's really not the thought that counts.

But National Coming Out day, just like National Poetry Month, is a month for two marginalized groups to say, "Hey, we exist. Look at us. Notice us." In other words: We're here, we're queer and/or poets, get used to it.

So, as Madonna would say, "Celebrate. "It would be so nice."