The Exemplary Sentence

I read about Bette Howland and her memoir/novel Blue in Chicago in the NY Times obituaries last month. She was a a protege (and perhaps lover) of Saul Bellow and had a troubled life.

 

 

 

 

 

I got her book out of the library, and Blue in Chicago is an extraordinary work, giving a rich portrait of Chicago and the complexities of Jewish family life. Here is an excerpt:

Words of Yiddish passed over the table like the Angel of Death. It was the language of bad news; bodily functions; the parts of dead chickens.

And this, about her grandmother’s funeral:

“It seemed strange to me that my grandmother was at one and the same time carrion–garbage–that had to be got rid of, shoveled quickly out of sight; and something precious and tender, of infinite value, being laid away for safekeeping–sunk in a vault. These things seemed opposed, bu the weren’t; they couldn’t be; because both were true. It was necessary to hold them both in your mind at once. That’s all we were trying to do, standing over the open grave… Continue reading

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From Tony Hoagland’s new book

There is nothing to say about this poem–just buy the book.

The Age of Iron

When I see an ironing board
folded in the closet of a motel room,
and the iron resting like a sledgehammer on the shelf above,

I think of the Age of Iron
and my mother standing in the kitchen,
folding clothes on the green table,
a bottle if spray starch at her elbow, not even the radio on—

Continue reading

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Of resolutions and poetry

I have a system for New Year’s resolutions that works well for me: Aim small and succeed. I’ve discussed this before.  But to update the list, I’ve since added: drive courteously (three years ago), no movie theater popcorn (two years ago), and better socks (last year). I’m still working on last year’s resolution, slowly replacing my ragtag collection with better socks, so I don’t need a new resolution this year.

The point is that these resolutions seem to last, not just for a year, but integrated into my life–unlike the grand, doomed resolutions I used to make. Of course, I have many projects and activities planned for 2018, both personal and political, but these are not resolutions, but practice.

I am also pleased that most Mondays for over six years, I’ve found and posted a poem I like. I almost always post poems that are contemporary, or at least 20th century. But last week Larry received a packet of broadsides that included one of my favorite poems by John Donne. So here is your New Year’s vitamin. It is the opening of the second stanza that I love most:

The Good-Morrow

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Continue reading

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About angels

It’s that season–all the old cliches brought out with music and glitter. On that note, there are very few poems that contain angels that are not overwrought, too fanciful or just plain schmaltz. But this, by B. H. Fairchild, avoids all that:

Angels

Elliot Ray Neiderland, home from college
one winter, hauling a load of Herefords
from Hogtown to Guymon with a pint of
Ezra Brooks and a copy of Rilke’s Duineser   
Elegien on the seat beside him, saw the ass-end
of his semi gliding around in the side mirror
as he hit ice and knew he would never live
to see graduation or the castle at Duino. Continue reading

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Larry’s amendment to the tax post

“The only difference between death and taxes is that death doesn’t get worse every time Congress meets.”  Will Rogers

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The new tax plan

Of course, it’s a nightmare.  No need to go into that–but here’s a refreshing take on it from our wonderful accountant, Glen Thomas, a fine man and an excellent accountant:

“This is absolutely the best time for CPAs in my 35 year working career. I was in my 4th year when the 1986 tax act was passed. It presented many less opportunities – mostly due to a thoughtful, bi-partisan, nearly 13 month effort that ultimately passed 93-6 in the senate. Continue reading

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From Berkeley’s Lunch Poems

I went to hear Rita Dove, a former US Poet Laureate, read at the UC Berkeley Lunch poems series this week.  Here is one of her poems:

Exit

Just when hope withers, the visa is granted.
The door opens to a street like in the movies,
clean of people, of cats; except it is your street
you are leaving. A visa has been granted,
“provisionally”-a fretful word.
The windows you have closed behind
you are turning pink, doing what they do
every dawn. Here it’s gray. The door Continue reading

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Two quotes

In case you didn’t happen to use Google today, they are honoring Gertrude Jekyll, famous British gardener of the late 19th, early 20th century.  She is very quotable; here’s an example:

‘There is a lovable quality about the actual tools. One feels so kindly to the thing that enables the hand to obey the brain. Moreover, one feels a good deal of respect for it; without it the brain and the hand would be helpless. ”

On a less earthy path to enlightenment, I have been reading Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish religious leader born in Germany, who famously met and marched with Martin Luther King. This quote seems particularly apposite today: Continue reading

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Rainy Monday

Rain seems so appropriate at the end of a holiday weekend, but this Monday poem is not about rain, but a selection from a new anthology I just finished reviewing for ZYZZYVA, In the Shape of a Human Body I Am Visiting the Earth: Poems Far and Wide, published jointly by McSweeney’s and Poetry International. The review will appear soon on their blog. In the meantime, here is the title poem:

In the shape of a human body I am visiting the earth

In the shape of a human body
I am visiting the earth;
the trees visit
in the shapes of trees.
Standing between the onions
and the dandelions
near the ailanthus and the bus stop,
I don’t live more thoroughly
inside the mucilage of my own skull
than outside of it
and not more behind my eyes
than in what I can see with them. Continue reading

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Your morning economics lesson

This morning, Larry was reading Greg Mankiw’s NY Times editorial on 45’s tax plan. Mankiw is an economics professor at Harvard.  To familiarize me with Mankiw, Larry played a country western economics song, Dual Mandate for me. I guess he was directed to this from reading Mankiw, and I incorrectly reported it as Greg. An alert reader (thanks, Dan) caught the error, but the video is still worth watching.

And Mankiw’s editorial in the Times is worth reading.

I don’t know any good poems on economics or business. As Dana Gioia has pointed out, business is the last taboo subject for poetry. I have one poem about money, and so you don’t miss a Monday poem, here it is.

Meditation on Money

I am thinking about a day forty years ago
when we were down to our last fifty cents,
and our friends drove up
with a month’s rent and groceries,
and after we ate and talked, we sat together
on the edge of the dock, saying nothing,
and watched the barnacles
slowly open their feathery lips,
slowly close them.

Meryl Natchez

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