Archive for June, 2016

On the Gyre

June 26, 2016

The new title of my blog was inspired by the story of the Endurance expedition, led by the famous Ernest Shackleton. The Endurance was lost in the antarctic, in an attempt to sail through pack ice. The ice soon surrounded and ultimately crushed the ship, stranding her crew neither on land or at sea, but on a shifting surface of packed together ice floes that was slowly describing the circular motion of the currents in the Weddell Sea.

Navigating the ice on foot and dragging their life boats with them, they eventually found open water and sailed for Elephant Island, a barren outcrop from which the crew could be rescued after the sturdiest lifeboat traveled a further eight hundred miles to contact whalers on the island of South Georgia. What makes the story so special isn’t necessarily the level of adversity they faced as the astonishing fact that every crew member survived.

Today I decided to write a poem with the same name, this time in free verse.  This one is dedicated to a friend.

The noumenal gyrations of the ice
that packs in memories
and serves them up with little explosions
like leopard seals at blow holes,
expected but unexpected,
mistrusted but accepted,
the after-the-fact recognition
of predictions fulfilled, the déjà vu
and the unfulfilled –
what remains to be done about it
amidst the everyday that crowds out all ambition
with its timeless mundane grind
the need of a long-delayed understanding
a long-awaited explanation
the retreat into imaginary conversations
the waiting around
all retains the rhythms of sea ice.

A yellow horse on a blue field is a wish
and the field is peopled with wishes
and one of them is red
and the blue grass is new and bending
the way grass should always be
and I see them in the courtyard
but none of them are mine.
If I give them names
they will still have their own names
unknown to me and real,
more real than wanting makes things so.

stormy_sky

 
I write in little circles,
pacing the ambit of the vanishing
here and now
and I wonder about my reader.
My turn to know has finally come
and if I don’t tell you know, I will
as soon as the weather breaks.
I grow impatient with a project barely begun
and how have you been?
You must have retired by now.
Maybe not. But I remember
how you talked about falling in love
so I know you must have fallen in love.
I like to think you have a daughter
and a good book to read and a dog.
Maybe not a dog. But a snug home
and a full household set of habits,
as good as retired if not as bored.

When I picture you sitting down with the paper,
I imagine you look very tall,
but that’s perspective for you.
I can’t imagine anyone being patient enough
to follow along on the adventures
of an iceberg
but I like to make-believe you do.
I wish I remembered our conversations
better, but maybe I will soon.

Stained Glass Synaesthesia

June 24, 2016

This week I’ve been especially self-indulgent, writing poetry for the first time in over a year. I’ve been playing around with colors a lot in my spare time, so I decided to rewrite a poem I’d written years ago that is entirely about color. For the first time, I’ve accomplished a long-standing goal of pilfering gemstones from the Book of Revelations for their exotic colors.

The result is an unfinished poem in ballad meter – seven feet (in most, but not all of the lines) for  the seven colors of the spectrum and the seven notes of the scale. Unfortunately, the missing word that makes it an unfinished poem is probably the most important word in the poem. I guess you’ll have to use your imagination.

The poem calls for a fictitious adjective, one syllable long, that aptly modifies what Daniil Kharms called verses that “have become a thing, and one can take them off the page and throw them at a window, and the window would break.”

Rotated_custom_pallette_2

A __ projectile word destroyed the great Cathedral window’s glass;
and scattering, the shattering of colors stirred the winds and brass.
The players wake, first tuning on a prism’s white palette,
then finding out a melody, beginning with garnet.
A hyacinthine accidental note – the curtains rise –
and with the strings bright symphonies of lights materialize.
The ancient world, its sea green bays, appear upon the stage,
a city’s honey-colored walls, besieged, a husband’s rage:
a minor third beats rose gold into Priam’s tempered bronze –
then from the sixth, upon diffuse white scales the cellos pause.
Venetian blue the bannered sky, saffron the grit below,
For pity’s sake no lover dies – a duel is overthrown;
The purple blood of Menelaus stains ivory thighs pale red.
The rose quartz arms of lovers touch again in languid dread.
An opaline caesura lifts the scene to other shores:
the brassy pink of twilit ponds disturbed by insect oars.
The sphinx moth mauve of bruises left by Leda’s magic swan
disturbs the lozenge blue of summer skies at break of dawn.
The ground is painted evenly in Cleopatra’s green –
Swinburne’s red rose blooms, glistening, the dew aquamarine.
The black green of a peacock’s breast arrives with much fanfare,
a jockey’s wood duck orange sport coat, a gleaming chestnut mare,
chrysanthemum gold sleeves, parrot blue flags – the gates fly up,
and pangolin gold fillies chase a Scythian gold cup.
Easter egg pink ladies’ hats turn, giddy, in the stands;
the winner’s burgundy shirt speaks of knightly caravans.
The indigo of iris blooms then shutters up the sky,
and all’s obscured but lightning bolts that dazzle low and high.
The silvered grey of Spanish moss emerges from the gloom –
the mist gives way to Mandarin red poppy fields in bloom.
There Aztec orange crowds oriole’s breast golds and Monarchs’ wings
confuse the ocher panoply of bright like-colored things.
The scarlets of Florence, a cantaloupe pink –
but again the scene vanishes. Dogwood stars wink.
A kite blue field – the redbud cheeks of saints now reappear,
their violet cloaks, gilt haloes and a halcyon blue tear.
The bearded purple of an orchid’s tongue describes the throne –
upon it, in a turquoise light, the son of God is shown.
A watermelon carpet is laid out beneath his feet,
and bottlenose blue bishops bow before him on their knees.
Beside him, in a lion’s bed of elm spring green, there lies
a lamb, beluga white, with nodding umber colored eyes.
Then first and last there blazons forth the trumpets’ call to war:
a city made of gems takes shape as prophesied before
with brecciated jasper walls of blood red heart shaped stones
and sapphires brimming with light. Inside each, white stars shone –
beyond them spread a chalcedony edifice of clouds
and emerald gates that burned from inside scarab green glass shrouds.
A banded black sardonyx arch rose past them, deep and wide,
with honeyed red sardius stones towering alongside.
A chrysolyte watchtower glowed like white wine, set within
a golden beryl curtain wall with steep and polished plinths.
Then smoky columns of topaz burned, striated with light,
and past them chrysoprasus ramparts rose, green facets bright.
At last the tangerine red jacinth buttresses were met
with amethysts, their glassy purple lattices uncut.
The strange twelve-sided citadel is gone before the sound
of trumpets fades into the bells that peal, cascading down
a silvery arpeggio that rings with Christmas cheer.
A grace note like a swallow’s tail trips toward the crystal clear
high octave’s ruby crowning note – the flutes then light upon
a major fifth cut from the fourth with mallard green élan.
The particolored planets dance with stars to harpists’ chords
and candlelight processions come upon the ocean’s shores
to twinkle at the cusp of glassy breakers and white foam,
anticipating twilight’s warmth, a reddish or blue roan.
The darkness just before the dawn then overtakes the scene;
no light transfixes what remains of the rose window’s green
and indigo and violet shards of glass – the orange and blue
lie darkling over red and yellow fragments, drained of hue.

Habit and habitat

June 21, 2016

On Monday morning I met the repairman who left a note in my apartment last Friday, and saw my mistake in berating the asshole who had taken a bad situation and made it worse, on top of inconveniencing me with a request to reschedule the rest of his work. I had already unplugged a slow-draining bath tub with liquid drain cleaner before he arrived, but after he finished “fixing” the drain, it was even more severely plugged than before. A second helping of drain cleaner just sat on top of the drain, bubbling ineffectually all day long.

They sent a courteous teenager who probably hasn’t even finished high school to caulk my tub and fix a leaking faucet. And I’m supposed to make sure the tub is clean and dry for him when he arrives to caulk it.

I work with high school kids and high school drop outs every day, so I have very modest expectations of them. He managed to pull down half my shower curtain while exacerbating the drain problem, probably by sitting on it.

But it’s impossible to stay angry with a kid who hasn’t learned to spell. The trouble is, I want to keep him from noticing the damage he’s done, so that he doesn’t do it again. I renegotiated the caulking date for Wednesday.

My apartment complex is going through renovations right now – my door has been repainted bright red and some new turf has been laid along the sidewalk leading to it. Mostly though, I only notice the noise of the work crews. I don’t spend much time outside my apartment looking in. A highway embankment blocks the view of Mount Rainier from my living room window, though if I step out onto the enclosed courtyard I can see the landmark clearly on a sunny day.

MountRainier

Mostly I only peer out the blinds to decide what to wear. On sunny days, a short sleeved manager shirt that shows off a colorful handmade belt from Peru that I found in the same catalogue as the horse prints. If it’s going to be cold, I have a Dairy Queen sweatshirt and don’t need the belt. Since night shift usually means walking to work in the afternoon heat and coming home again after midnight, I usually also take a lined oilskin jacket that keeps me comfortable even in the rain.

The belt has become almost a security blanket for me at work, because of how frequently customers who would otherwise only want to talk to me about their complaints stop to compliment me about it. It’s a nice belt, and so many people remark on it that I’m no longer surprised and gratified each time – sometimes I even get irritated with them for distracting me while I’m trying to count change and take the next person’s order at the same time (we only have one window).

I’ve gotten very used to being at the drive thru window, and to the clipped conversation style it demands. In Tacoma, the thing to say is “have a good one,” and I say it every time, unless the customer beats me to it (often we say it in unison). The routinization of what would otherwise be an intense level of interpersonal interaction for me makes the time fly, and gradually I’ve gotten to know a handful of regulars with whom I don’t mind chatting a little further.

Even with my coworkers there are a lot of formulas at work in our conversation – usually the last thing I say to someone is “you’re good to go.” After the last one leaves, I finish cleaning and entering drive times and sales into an accounting spreadsheet, and then head home thinking about anything but work. Often at night I see the same baby rabbit dash into the blackberry thicket alongside the power station I pass on my way home from work, always from almost the same spot in the grass.

The one thing that has impressed me most about Tacoma culture since I moved here is the ubiquity of smoking. Often someone rolls down their window and lets a cloud of marijuana fumes into the store that hangs in the air, permeating the lobby, for hours. But most striking of all is how entirely unselfconscious our clientele is about blowing cigarette smoke into our faces while we do business with them.

Ironically, my education was paid for by a casino industry settlement with workers in Southern Nevada for the second-hand smoke they were exposed to before smoking became illegal in gaming establishments. Not that you can’t still find ash trays among the slot machines there.

I’m beginning to think second-hand smoke is addictive. I’ve never been a smoker, but since moving to drive thru I’ve started having mild but distinctive cigarette cravings.

I suppose we’ll probably never know. Hill’s Causal Criteria were developed during the exhaustive and contentious scientific process of establishing for a fact that cigarettes are harmful to your health, as though it were not an empirical but an epistemological question. And in spite of the expert testimony of Jeffrey Wigand (depicted memorably in the movie The Insider) about the cigarette industry’s characterization of their product as a “nicotine delivery device”, the CDC has not – to this day – officially recognized that cigarettes are addictive.

Retrenching

June 12, 2016

This blog has been dormant for almost a year, and has been without much conversation for even longer. In picking up the thread again, it’s impossible to tell whether the one-sided activity of blogging will engender more response if I refurbish things here and try a new tack in my writing style and choice of content. In any event, my old writing habits will probably take over again if I stick with this for very long at all. But having changed the title of my blog and set aside some time for writing today, I’d like to start by writing more autobiographically than I usually do, focusing on how my life has changed since the last writing.

In terms of budgeting for creature comforts, I’m in much better shape than I was last year. I’ve started going into overtime at my full-time job and my secondary sources of income have also been robust. I’ve established sensible spending habits that keep my savings rate on the increase, and at the same time, I’ve relaxed my budgetary restrictions on groceries to enjoy more fresh foods and to do more cooking from scratch. I’ve progressed from relying on prepackaged foods to innovating (cautiously) in the art of vegan cooking, and I’ve switched from eating almost the exact same thing every day to trying a new recipe every week. One major culinary achievement is that I’ve learned how to approximate a peasant curry.

In terms of recreation, I’ve started spending a lot less time watching movies and a lot more time reading books. I now try to set aside two hours every day for reading, more on weekends, and I always bring a book to work for my half hour break. I’ve also established a much more stable social routine, visiting Badget nearly every Sunday. She knows when to expect me, and I know exactly where she wants to be scratched at the end of our walk. So far, this summer has been kinder to the dogs than last summer was – hardly any fleas!

Badget_march

I’ve finally finished two books on bureaucracy that I’d been wanting to read for a couple of years now, one of which I’ll probably review for my blog sometime soon. Now I’m reading a good book on body language and the mass market paperback classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.

I’m also making a project of familiarizing myself with Russian literature. I started The Brothers Karamazov, then stopped to read The Robbers first, which I haven’t yet. I’ll probably go back to the beginning once I have. I’ve finished a verse translation of Eugene Onegin and begun a collection of Chekov’s short stories. On my wish list for next year are Master and Margarita, The Bronze Horseman and Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s autobiography (funny how MS Word’s Spell Check recognizes his last name but not his first).

Major regrets for this year include not setting aside time to volunteer in the primary election campaign, not finding time to meet people outside of work, and not finding any accessible avenues for horseback riding in the Tacoma area. But I do have an endearing horse print hanging in my bedroom, showing a mare peering over a fence to ask, “where’s dinner?” and I’ve picked out a new one for my living room.

Peering through my library notes in search of material for my blog, I came across a Bagehot quote that I found in a book by Joseph Stiglitz. I actually had the opportunity to hear Stiglitz give a talk about the idea for which he won a Nobel prize – information asymmetry – at a university in Boise more than ten years ago. Here he was digressing about the disincentives to laying bare one’s aims or reasoning to the world of discussion:

“‘Democracy,’ it has been said in modern times, ‘is like the grave: it takes, but it does not give’.  The same is true of ‘discussion’. Once effectually submit a subject to that ordeal and you can never withdraw it again; you can never again clothe it with mystery, or fence it by consecration; it remains for ever open to free choice, and exposed to profane deliberation.”

I suppose this quote sums up my superficial reasons for renaming my blog to mark a transition from fandom orientation to more mainstream blogging habits. I’ve enjoyed trying to foist my film tastes on a reading audience, but my tastes have moved away from film lately, and a fandom idiom doesn’t really feel appropriate any more.

Stiglitz ends his paper by contrasting the dynamics of information hoarding with the democratic ideal Wilson described as “open covenants openly arrived at”, observing:

“The incentives of secrecy are simply too great, and the scope for discretionary actions is too wide. I have therefore stressed the importance of creating a culture of openness, a task where organizations like Amnesty International have an essential role to play. ..  In  more technical terms, the practice of secrecy leads to an inefficient Nash equilibrium.”

His description of a world in which secrecy is increasingly out of control rings true in the context of the rollback of campaign finance reforms and the irregularities being reported at the polls this election year.