Jun 232018
 

This is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular and the most inexplicable that we may encounter. That mankind has in this sense been cowardly has done life endless harm; the experiences that are called “visions,” the whole so-called “spirit-world,” death, all those things that are so closely akin to us, have by daily parrying been so crowded out of life that the senses with which we could have grasped them are atrophied.

—Rainer Maria Rilke, quoted by Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

Jun 232018
 

The news from South of the Border (yes, that’s you, US of A) now operates exclusively in a rhetorical mode I’d call “the premature superlative.” Each day, an “-est” blares out from the news—the cruelest, the dumbest, the meanest, the rudest, something—and each day’s tomorrow reveals that in fact that day’s news wasn’t the cruelest, the dumbest, the meanest or the rudest, that the new day’s news is in fact worse, that the bottom (if there is a bottom) is deeper than anyone had suspected and that people are worse than anyone feared.

Sitting here north of the border, the horror show is unbearable to watch (but who can look away) and terrifying to think about. When Doug Ford swept the Ontario elections, I felt doomed, felt that the madness was infectious. Where the States goes, so goes the world. Or so it seemed.

It’s tough now to read the bleakness and resignation of my summer 2016 post on Trump’s prospects without wondering if, despite my careful hesitations and hedges, something in me understood my own family enough to know what was going to happen in that Fall’s election. Reading now with hindsight, I sound like a drowning man looking up at the small circle of sky visible through the water’s surface hoping to see a hand reaching down to pull him to safety.

Which brings me to Pride Month and the image sitting at the bottom of this post. I first posted it that same summer. I’m posting it again now because the idea that a presidential candidate—any candidate—actually circulated it seems like something pulled from a utopian fiction. After all, in the time since I first posted it, we’ve learned that I don’t even have the right to order cake anymore. I mean I can order and maybe get one if I’m lucky, but it’s not me who decides.

That’s where the States are today, and it’s sick-making to think about it.

 

 June 23, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 232018
 

Elizabeth Kostova’s novel is a baroque return to and elaborate reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, only this time without any pretense that the women are desperate souls needing protection or that the men can save even themselves. It’s also extremely well written: the narration follows (in every chapter save one) a fixed pattern of frame and flashbacks recounted trough letters, journals or stories told over dinner that, once established, lends real energy to what is a very long book. The complicated reworking of the history of Ottoman Europe is completely fascinating.

I’m a sucker for vampire fictions whether written or filmed, so I often doubt my judgment about stories like these. For this book though, I feel confident recommending it to friends. For my part, as soon as I finished it, I ordered The Swan Thieves.

 June 23, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jun 232018
 

Octavia Butler’s novel tells of a modern black woman, drawn back through time to save a slave owner’s young son from drowning before returning to her own time. Over the course of the novel she will be drawn back to save the boy repeatedly, will watch him as he grows older. Because time moves at different rates in the two narratives, the protagonist is never sure how long she’ll be trapped living as a slave. Sometimes it’s years. And when her white husband travels back with her in the middle section of the novel, he finds himself trapped alone in the past and grows old there while only a few days pass for his wife.

I didn’t know Butler and didn’t know what to expect, but this book is writing of a very high order. I started reading and couldn’t stop, finishing the novel at a breakneck pace over the course of a single evening. It was that powerful.

 June 23, 2018  Book Logs Tagged with: ,
Jun 192018
 

Crawling under
Electric fence
Isn’t easy,
but he’s too short
To step over.

Barbed wire’s better:
He can push it
Down, hold it. Still
It can tear clothes.

 June 19, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 162018
 

The worn trail leading past the cow fence to the pond
Lay between the live oak and the old woman’s door.
To go to the fields or to the pond was to go to her.
To come back from either was to come back to her.

She sat on a lawn chair in the shade on bare dirt.
She talked as she looked out at the blinding light
That seared the grass in the open field beyond
The leaves and the shadow. She watched as cars
beyond the grass slowed at the break where
Paved road yielded to grated clay and sand.

The boy sat in a chair she kept ready by her own
As she told stories. Once he asked about the oak,
Was it alive? “Yes!” she said, “And always talking,
Always swapping tales and gossip with the wind.”
Eyes dancing wildly over a smile, she wondered.
“I wonder what that old tree knows on you?”
Another time she told him the name of god.

The boy and the old woman talked in the long heat,
Listening to the chorus of bugs and frogs calling
For the night as the afternoon stretched the shadows.
Then the live oak took a breath, small and sighing.

Another. Then it reached out and up and swept down
the breeze from the retreating sky. The oak swayed
As it sang softly whispered lullabies of cool nights,
Songs of bright stars. It psalmed dew-soaked grass.
It promised the morning. And then morning again.

 June 16, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 122018
 

The old woman talks her way
around the pond slowly, speaking as
Her eyes and hands jump about.
The boy walks along and listens.

As she walks round the far side,
The old woman spots a young tree
Bound to the glossy black water
By a thin cord. It cuts the bark pulling
Green out from beneath the soft gray.

“That line’ll kill that tree,” she says.
Then she says they ought to save it
And the boy leans out to catch the line.
“Don’t fall in!” she says.
“There might be gators.”

The knot is small and tight.
She pulls at it, then the boy pulls.
They take turns. Between them, working,
They get it loose, coil it up, leave the line
In a pile in the grass beside the tree.

“Is the tree okay now?” he asks.
“That tree will be fine,” she says.

And so the two set out again round the pond.
She says still all that she sees, while he listens
To the sky whispering to the trees and the grass.

 June 12, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 112018
 

The small boy asked to dig a hole.
So they gave him a shovel,
Showed him a place under
The far branches of the live oak,
And let him be.

The dirt was sandy, not clay,
Grey-black and cool to the touch.
When the level ground was to his knees,
He felt he was getting somewhere.
He dug that afternoon, fast and deep.

Minutes or hours later,
He stopped digging, done.

Hot and tired but proud too,
He asked for a camera, took a picture.

Years later pasted in a book the print showed
Brown and broken leaves scattered beneath sun
Falling through the branches of the tree above,
The tall shadow of a boy stretched beyond the frame,
And the dirt that wasn’t there.

 June 11, 2018  Reflections Tagged with:
Jun 092018
 

He remembers everything,
Even the good stuff.
The gray veined wood of the porch.
The bright sun on the summer leaves.

He remembers the pine straw and the stone BBQ
And the old woman in the chair outside her trailer
Sitting under the shadow of the oak saying,
“Slap the skeeters quick if you don’t want the sleepin’ sickness.”
He remembers the sweet bellies, and the ghosts
Dropping into his body, and the dogs in cages
Hosed down before night came.

He remembers less the present,
The years that flow like the clothes pulled
From his father’s back with the bees.
The honeysuckle on the playground fence.
The teachers striking. The slide, the moon,
And his grandfather’s stories,
How he counted the planes leaving in the morning,
Counted the planes coming back at night.

He remembers the moving line described over peanuts.
The feel of the carpet pile, slick against his feet,
And the cruel bite of the loose screw in the floor vent.

He remembers.

 June 9, 2018  Reflections Tagged with: ,