Tuesday, January 31, 2012

 One and All

 to Open House again at 
Salamander Cove


Poems by:

          Philip Quinlan (U.K.)
               Larry Sorkin (U.S.)
                    Philip Rowland (Japan)
                         John Levy (U.S.)
                              Bill Knott (U.S.)
                                    Chen-ou Liu (Canada)                                                                            
                                                         J.S.H. Bjerg (Denmark)
                                                              Grant Hackett (U.S.)
                                                                    Bob Arnold (U.S.)
                                                                            Ifigenija Simonovic (Slovenia)
                                                                                 Peter Greene (Canada)
                                                                                       Irina Moga (Canada)
                                                                                            Kiril Kadiiski (Bulgaria/France)                             
Artwork by:              

                  Janet Brown-Dwehus (Germany)
                                           Lila Lewis Irving (Canada)

Photography by:         John Levy (U.S.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


neighbor's car is stuck in ice
guns the pedal
it won't move

Addapush's all it takes.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Games and Stories: A Possible Vignette

He was eight years old, sitting on the living room floor playing a video war game when he heard his grandfather in the kitchen say the word warriors.  Only his grandfather wasn't taking about men at arms, he was remembering the war years, telling the boy's mother how hard it'd been for his parents, they'd nothing to eat, their small farm had been overrun, destroyed.  They had to go into hiding.  And then of course, came winter and for six months all they had to eat were onions saved from the root cellar.  Onion sandwiches, the boy's mom laughed, wincing.  The mother hated onions.

POW! POW!  the boy's digital soldier snipered the enemy into a spectacular red blotch on the screen (which didn't kill him - it took eight more thumb presses to blast the animation to death), while his mother in the kitchen remarked, "Oh that reminds me of that funny cookbook--the one where the author tells you how to cook in war time"; whereupon she straightened her back, cleared her throat, and began reciting in a faux British accent:  "How to Cook a Wolf" ...  and laughed some more but the grandfather just stared at her.  Its author M.F.K. Fisher was not British and the mother had never read the book, had only heard about it.  Perhaps she confused Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher with Julia Child, who wasn't British either but, no matter, the effect was the same: her comical performance made her sound authoritative.  Or so she pretended.

The grandfather's memories were subsiding; very few remained of his parents.  He kept them alive by repeating their stories - stories to which his American-born children and grandchildren could not relate. Nor could they speak or understand the language he'd been brought up in.  He didn't know who to blame for this.

Meanwhile, his electronic army, having now been decimated, the boy became bored, got up and went into the kitchen where he thought he'd heard somebody say something about Irish potatoes or wolf soup, he couldn't be sure.  His mother was painting her nails, his grandfather biting into a hunk of cheese, watching an imaginary sack of onions in the corner. "How'd your game go?" his big brother asked, coming down from upstairs. "Reach the next level yet?"  The boy squirmed, ducked the question, grabbed a cookie, ran outside.

Me, I hate onions, the mom said.   Me too, said the grandfather.  They had that, at least, in common.  The boy, now sprinting towards his friend's house, wondered what it'd be like to reach that highest game level.  One day he'd make it, he'd kill all the enemy and come out on top, be the best.  He wanted more than anything, to be the best at something.


I had an onion/sardine sandwich for lunch today and it reminded me of something my late, former father-in-law once told me about his war years in Europe--that they then mostly lived on nothing but onions.  One day I decided to try an 'onion-only' sandwich.   (It's better if the bread is toasted, a bit of Dijon mustard added.  You can't kiss anyone afterwards, of course, they will run from you).  Onions (and garlic) in winter do wonders to keep you from getting a cold, so I eat them frequently.  Wolf stew, though--I don't think so!  I love wolves too much.  (The book's wolf referred to in the book above is metaphoric.)  If you can still find a copy around anywhere, M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating is a pure delight to read. The title is misleading.  It's not just about food.  The perfect book to curl up with during the long, cold winter, to take your mind off the long, cold winter.  A definite 'keeper'.

I started out to forge a tiny poem about war time food, which slowly morphed into a story about loss, brought on by my reading this morning of some poems written by a Tibetan man in India, registered there as a refugee, who returned to his parents' former home only to be arrested and kicked out.  His poems spoke of confused and lost identity -  he is a citizen of no country, his parental homeland is no longer a country.  This is a recurrent theme in many of Erich Maria Remarque's novels, as I recall - the stateless man: individuals without 'papers', unable to prove who they are.  A generation later, how memories fade, how stories begin to unravel, get 'lost', the language forgotten.

My father-in-law's "we lived on onions" story stayed with me for some reason.  Present that idea to a child today and he will say "Ewwwwwwwwwwwwww", unable to imagine such a thing. A world in which one has only onion sandwiches to look forward to, all day, every day?  No way!!   A world without games, though -- now that's even scarier!  Ironic ... the 'game' is to survive.  But survival is not a game. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

This Ever Happen to You?

 In the wee hours of the morning, a brilliant idea
emerges from the netherworld of sleep
into your awakening consciousness

The words tumble forth, try to speak to you:

Hurry Up!!  Catch us!! We're important  ....  Hurry Up!!  Catch us!! We're important ... Hurry Up!!  Catch us!! We're important
  Here we come again.  WRITE. US. DOWN ! ... Here we come again.  WRITE. US. DOWN ! ... Here we come again.  WRITE. US. DOWN ! ...

You reach for your pen
rub the sleep from your eye - 
the perfectly crafted poem
now but fragment and blur

(and why is there no ink in this pen, you
filled it just two days ago!!!)

 Too late, we're gone now  ...   Too late, we're gone now ...   Too late, we're gone now...   Too late, we're gone now
 they mock

    the ink starts flowing again, but
the words have all

and you're left with:
 a   gpr   krd  ptuqxs krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu zzzmmm a   gpr   krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu zzzm mml gnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu zzzmmm  a   gpr   krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu zzzmmm a   gpr   krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu zzzmmm    krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu tw iqbxt iskkj mu zzzmmm  a   gpr   krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu a   gpr   krd  ptuqxs lgnvc mmiu  piyzf iqbxt iskkj mu zzzmm

But it was a brilliant poem. 

If only I could remember it.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Let there be dark

Last evening, around 9 p.m., in the process of finalizing a detailed reply to a fellow researcher, the lights suddenly snapped out, all sound disappeared, and everything went completely black. Neighborhood-wide power outage,  not the first time that's happened and rarely at night.  This one was completely disorienting.

First of all I couldn't see anything, not even my hand or the desk or even the contours of the room.  It was complete and total darkness.  I stumbled my way to the kitchen to the cabinet that houses the candles, then felt my way across to the drawer where we keep a box of matches.  Meanwhile my mate somehow located a mini flashlight, which helped because we'd been knocking things over or stepping on cat tails miscalculating which piece of furniture was exactly where.

"Where are you?"
-- "I'm here, where are you?!" 
"Over here."
-- "Where's 'here'?"

ha ha.

Three blocks away I could make out a faint light overhead from a streetlamp over the little baseball field, but apart from the occasional headlights of a passing car there was no light outside Anywhere.  I wondered what'd caused it and how long it would take HydroQuebec to fix it.  We lit a few candles and sat for a while playing a little film trivia game but after an hour it began getting noticeably colder.  No heat, no phone, and if this continued till morning, some stuff in the fridge might have to be thrown out. I put on an extra pair of socks.  We brought an extra blanket out, blew out the candles and decided let's go snuggle up in bed and hope the heat comes back on soon.

It did, eventually, and all was well.  But initially,  more than an hour having passed, the candles having burnt down to half, and nothing having changed, I began thinking how much we take for granted.  That energy can be had and maintained indefinitely (how could it not be?)  Remembering the big ice storm fourteen years ago, when parts of Quebec were without power for as long as a month, people now joke about it, bringing out their "I survived" T-shirts to prove their resilience.

I remember that storm.  It arrived the day I was moving all my belongings, including 25 boxes of books, in a creaky blue van whose driver had a broken foot, from Boston to Vermont.  I especially remember the trees, those beautiful, tall, elegantly simple white birch standing like sentinels along the highway,  encased in ice, horribly twisted and broken.   Every little village in southern Quebec looked like a war zone.  It was devastating.  You can still spot, today, some of those broken trees.

So it occurred to me last night, one of those uninvited little mental what-if's:  What if the national grid should suddenly permanently malfunction, thanks to a Stuxnet attack, and virtually the entire nation--any nation--were, in effect, "shut down".  Hospitals, of course, would have generators.  But imagine, being stuck inside an elevator on the 85th floor in a darkened city somewhere, for days, or without heat in the dead of winter for a week or more,  grocery stores having to throw out tons of spoiled produce, schools/offices/Everything closed, life as we're used to it, come to a standstill.   I think they call this sort of thing Worst Case Scenario:  a possibility, but something we don't think will actually really happen--to us.

It was the sudden, complete disorientation (Darkness. And Silence) that momentarily bolted me out of my complacency, like being zapped into Nothingness, struck momentarily blind and deaf all at once, not knowing where anything IS, every movement  a stumble forward, only to be blocked or thrown off balance.  Pretend this is not temporary.  How would you react?  What would you be thinking of?  It has all the makings of a possible science fiction thriller (or a 2020 survival guide), when we might have already begun running out of water, arable soil, non-polluted  air, sufficient food, available space.

But snap! Just as we're drifting off to sleep wrapped cocoon-like in a layer of blankets, the clock radio starts blinking, forced air begins hissing through the heating vents, a voice from a radio downstairs starts crooning out.  Power!!!!!  We've got Power!!

And today it's all forgotten, a blip in a day's existence.  Except that one little arrested moment that stays lodged in the back of the memory bin:  that tiny little uninvited 'what-if' consideration.  Okay - stock bigger candles. Get a proper flashlight.  Be better prepared  'case  it happens again. You get a whole new appreciation for modern-day conveniences.  I mean, try reading for hours by candle light - that's what our ancestors did.   Squint, squint.  You keep wanting to turn the candle brighter.

Am not saying we should "go back" to those days, just that we maybe get too dependent on certain habits and expectations.  Like that there always will be enough water, food or power at our disposal, etc.

A former acquaintance used to be fond of saying, "Never assume anything", and those words have kind of stuck with me.  Never assume that love will last,  that circumstances can't abruptly change, or that you will find all the answers in the end.  But I tell you, that abrupt jolt into silence and darkness, that sudden loss of real (and perceived) power, brought those thoughts to me again, what we're doing to the earth, how we cope when unexpectedly uprooted, so to speak.

It is snowing.  The weather channel predicts we'll go from zero to -15 C tomorrow.  And then it will snow some more. 

Ah, l'hiver.  :)