At the hotel breakfast buffet, there is the standard fruit, bread, muffins, croissants, cereal that you would get in the US. But along with these are various types of smoked fish, and an iced pyramid with a bowl of caviar nestled at the top. Of course I had some, no need to ask. Continue reading
We got on BART on a perfect sunny Wednesday afternoon in Berkeley, heading for the San Francisco airport and about 17 hours of flight + layover to get to St. Petersburg. I wondered just why we do this, leave one of the most beautiful, temperate, pleasant spots on earth to spend thousands of dollars to go someplace else for awhile. Part of it must be the atavistic pleasure of exploration–despite the internet and travel tips, heading to a foreign country is an adventure: different assumptions, customs, money.
Just the windows in our hotel are a marvel–wood framed, quadruple-paned, with a large space inbetweem. They really insulate here!
In the case of Russia, just walking around looking at a different alphabet (one I know, but not as well as English) makes me realize how much of reading is word recognition as opposed to reading letter by letter. How slowly and painstakingly I sound out the simplest words until I recognize them. Not to mention trying to decipher prices that are in the hundreds or thousands of roubles. A cup of borscht for 390 roubles?
But it’s also the pleasure of encountering the culture of another country. We spent several hours at the Hermitage Museum, yesterday. The grandeur of the hundreds of ornate rooms, gilding, parquet, mosaic, malachite, lapis, marble staircases, pillars, elaborate moldings and inlaid doors and tables, vaulted ceilings with painted frescos…there’s simply nothing like this on the American continent.
We’re heading to Russia and Eastern Europe in a few days, so I’ve been rereading the wonderful Polish poet, Wisława Szymborska. Here’s a poem of hers that expresses an idea I’ve had about political poetry perfectly. I believe the conference table she’s referring to is the one from the Paris Peace Talks, which were designed to end the Vietnam War in 1968.
Children of Our Age
We are children of our age,
it’s a political age.
All day long, all through the night,
all affairs—yours, ours theirs—
are political affairs.
Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant. Continue reading
If you live in Santa Monica, the city cares whether you are thriving. So they formed the Wellbeing project, and sent out surveys to see how you’re doing. They are compiling a Wellbeing index. Their website can explain it to you: www.smgov.net/Wellbeing. Is it charming or scary?
Here’s a lovely little Billy Collins poem–no smart-ass irony, not much self in it at all, just a lovely image, well rendered:
Elk River Falls
is where the Elk River falls
from a rocky and considerable height,
turning pale with trepidation at the lip
(it seemed from where I stood below)
before it is unbuckled from itself
and plummets, shredded, through the air
into the shadows of a frigid pool,
so calm around the edges, a place
for water to recover from the shock
of falling apart and coming back together
before it picks up its song again,
goes sliding around the massive rocks
and past some islands overgrown with weeds
then flattens out and slips around a bend
and continues on its winding course,
according to this camper’s guide,
then joins the Clearwater at its northern fork,
which must in time find the sea
where this and every other stream
mistakes the monster for itself,
sings its name one final time
then feels the sudden sting of salt.
I was feeling pretty ecologically minded the other day–big garden, compost, chickens, solar panels on the house, and a new-to-me pre-owned (there’s an adjective for you!) electric Nissan Leaf, just purchased. You plug it in. No gas. Zero emissions–a new way to think about driving. I had to get educated.
But then I went to an event and a woman there told me she had decided to have no plastic in her house. Continue reading
Louise Glück is a poet whose works seems to evolve with each new book. This poem is one of my favorites:
Fish bones walked the waves off Hatteras.
And there were other signs
That Death wooed us, by water, wooed us
By land: among the pines
An uncurled cottonmouth that rolled on moss
Reared in the polluted air.
Birth, not death, is the hard loss.
I know. I also left a skin there.
Sorry to be late with your Monday poetry vitamin! I was trying yesterday to find a poem by Larry Levis to publish here, but most of his poems are very long and I couldn’t find one I really loved. So here is an old favorite by Naomi Shihab Nye that you may know. You can hear some of her other poems at the
above link. She says it is her most anthologized poem.
Making a Fist
For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach a melon split wide inside my skin.
“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”
Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.
Naomi Shihab Nye
This week, I decided that the two young Polish roosters had to go. I really can’t have three roosters. Cloud, my Americana rooster is a gentleman and protects his hens. I didn’t feel good about sending him to the stewpot, so the young ones had to go. I waited till evening, then boxed them up to take to my friend who eats them. (I would have no problem killing and eating my chickens except that plucking a chicken is hard, smelly work. My friend’s husband, apparently doesn’t mind.)
But as I put them in the box, I couldn’t help but notice their gorgeous, glossy feathers and entrancing topknots. Especially Dorie One, as my grandson named the now certainly rooster, whose head was laced with gold and red feathers. Continue reading
Denise Levertov’s son went to my high school–he was a year younger than I, and I remember Denise Levertov coming to speak at some event–a graduation? a festival? and being impressed by her air of brooding inaccessibility. This seems to me how she looked then. That’s when I first read O Taste and See, still one of my favorites of her books. It was a revelation to me. I had been reading Hart Crane, Wordsworth, Yeats–poems with a strong sense of rhyme and meter. Levertov’s spare, intense poems were something completely new.
She has said of the line break that it should read as “half a comma.” I love how this poem opens, seems to detour, and resolves. And this may be the only poem I know that includes vomiting and diarrhea and still remains a poem:
At Delphi I prayed
that he maintain me
in the flame of the poem Continue reading