Saturday, November 30, 2013

Poets that Dance

I visited the Milk and Honey House in Meligalas today.  Virtually, via YouTube.   I suspect Greece is a tad warmer now than here in Quebec.  I felt like going to Greece this morning for some reason, but not as a tourist.  So I looked up a poet who lives there because we share something in common.  We both love poetry, we both blog, and I remembered this little living room dance video he once posted way back when.  Vassilis was one of my first blogger friends when I'd just discovered 'blogging'.

Some poems "After Vassilis Zambaras's "Traces, inspired by this video:

[meaning, I ingested some of his original poems but re-poemed them here into an imagined scene where I'm sitting with friends at some public venue, I hear Greek music in the background, and just feel like getting up and dancing. . . but don't.  Not all situations welcome such unabashed gleeful spontaneity. So it's saved for alone times, in one's own living room or kitchen, with nobody but the cats to witness.  Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, I tried but am not on the same level as Vassilis. But I love the way he so carefully chooses each and every word in his poems, weighing their precise placement, which sometimes elicits multiple meanings that make you go back and re-see them.  I learn from this. So with apologies in advance, for re-"aftering" some of your formerly blogged  poems, Vassilis, here're some dance-scene-inspired interpretations, or "word re-choreographing" of some Trace poem excerpts.

No Stage Directions

Sitting in place

all stay.
Enter the muse.

None go, listening
but only his limbs
leap to.

One's enough -
group participation

Reel life

Take Two

No director here
just two legs starting to move
to a sudden rhythm.

The scene calls for
a dance.


looking over
across the room


Each dances alone,
all together


the dance was always there when
I needed it

until I forgot the steps.

Some things are just so in you -

you automatically


Σας ευχαριστώ για τα ποιήματά σας, Βασσίλης

Friday, November 29, 2013

Value and the 'Firsts' of . . .

A copy of the first book to be printed in America, sold for $14.2 million on Tuesday.

It was printed in 1640 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Boston's Old South Church sold the Bay Psalm Book from its collection to cover the cost of building repairs and to fund its ministry.

Its value lies not in who its author was, or its content, but the fact that it was "the first" of something, and that it still exists.

Anybody remember the first mobile phone? 

Motorola was the first company to produce a handheld mobile phone, tested in 1973.  The prototype weighed 1.1 kg and measured 23 cm long, 13 cm deep and 4.45 cm wide, offering a  talk time of just 30 minutes and took 10 hours to re-charge.[1]  
How about an original Vought Berger Company wall phone from 1903-1906, complete with insides and original key, that may still work, for sale recently on EBay as "a museum piece"?  Only $1,200 as a Buy Now item.

Historical objects we preserve as valued mementos, or toss out or donate to Goodwill, depending.  Value assigned for being "the first" depends on the what.   Ever notice that firstborns are generally  more prolifically  photographed  during the first months than say, the fifth born?   It's not that non-firsts are any less  loved  but there's something about documenting that 'first' one, because you've never experienced this  before.  It's all new and unfamiliar and you're overattentive,  no burp or drool from this new little creature goes unnoticed; whereas with succeeding births, while you delight in all the same infant milestones reached, you don't feel the need to register Every, Single, Little. Thing. or  photograph every gesture, facial expression or outfit worn.  Eventually, quantity gets trumped by quality--you continue to highlight the special moments, and while the experiences differ raising each child, you know a bit more than when you did when the first one came.  (Mothers also tend to compare all subsequent pregnancies with the first.  It may get easier or be harder but you never forget what it was like the first time.
Just like . . .

you never forget your first love.  Your child's first word.  Your first car, your first job, your first poem, even if you now cringe in embarrassment at the latter.  So, 'firsts' are special. 

Books signed by the author are more valuable than unsigned ones.  Used anythings are usually less valuable than new anythings, unless it's an antique, original, or 'first of".

Been thinking about 'value' lately, vis-a-vis books as objects.  Some we tend to  keep, no matter what the age or condition, even though replacements are easy to find and their content now available digitally.   So it's not just the words, it's the type of container that houses them, and our relation to that type container, born of habit or preference, that determines its perceived value.  For many, a newer, more 'advanced', more accessible, more convenient something will always be 'better'.  A decades' old paperback with crumbling, yellowed pages and broken spine, with favorite passages highlighted in the gentlest of faint pencil markings,  coffee ring stain or turned-down page corners--well, yes you can replace the book with a crisp new copy, but you'll still consider that first copy the more 'valued' one.  No one, of course, will pay you anything like a million dollars for it, no matter what the contents--unless it happens to be the first ever of something.. Which it likely isn't.  But . . .

I find it interesting that the decision to sell that valuable first-book-ever-published-in-America was   ... the need for money.    A  church in my neighborhood here can no longer afford its heating bills and was forced to close down, ready to be scooped up by developers to tear down and replace it with new condos.  One could salvage a brick or hunk of stone or piece of wood as a memento but all its parishioners have left is a remembered experience of that particular building, and while they can read its history, or retain photos of it, for them it's just not the same.  The object they remember will soon no longer exist.

I've  kept an old rag doll my son played with as a child, heaven knows why.  His name was Bobo and he was a clown.  My son took him everywhere. Somewhere along the years we lost his clown costume; Bobo got tossed into the washing machine with something dark red and came out orange.  He once had a beautiful, full head of hair.  An arm has disappeared, chewed off by Harry the dog, perhaps.  The poor thing's literally in tatters now  And yet I can't bring myself to throw him out.
So he perches on the wall above a stack of books next to a piece of driftwood from Lake Champlain in Vermont.  Sea stones from a beach in Greece, lake driftwood, my child's first 'friend'--valued objects of no value to anyone but me.  None of them exactly 'firsts', but by museuming them in my book room, they've become singularly cherished archived 'things'.

As for that first poem, all I remember now is that it was an ode to a bicycle spoke, and that I'd probably die of embarrasment to read its words again.  So some firsts can be let go of, and probably also should.

Bobo the Hobo/Book Guy

He sold half his books
so he could pay the rent
then sold the other half
to heat his rooms
but unable to stand the emptiness
he bartered an old, too-large pair of slippers
for the well-loved book of poems he'd sold to a friend,
bought back  because
selling that one had been a
Big Mistake.

Fast forward thirty years, his house
houses two other houses
you're going to ask about that book now
aren't you?
Well . . .

A poem even worse than the Ode to a Bicycle Spoke, open ending into question marks, ha ha.    But it might make a good short story someday.  Things that mean something, and things that .... don't anymore.  Stay tuned, smiles Bobo from the wall.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Handpainted wordcard for Moogie the cat

He's actually a lot heavier than depicted here.  I slimmed him down a bit.

Friday, November 15, 2013


sometimes you have to go away
just so that when you come back you
can finish the things you couldn't
because you needed to get

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Be spoofin'

 Thoughts after stumbling on a chakra energy consultant's advice on 'How to Program Your Crystal':

We're told  to "Create your own reality".
That  repetition of verbal affirmations will manifest the reality I desire.  
What if my reality clashes with your reality?  
Get real.  All is illusion.  Listen up:

-You are what you Eat.
        -Be careful what you wish for.
             -As a man thinketh, so he goeth.
                   -What you fear comes to you.
                          -Do what you love and the money will follow.
                                -Money is an illusion.
                                       -Think Success.  Think Thin.  Think Rich.  Think SNOW!
                                              -So you think you can dance.
                                                   -Don't think.  FEEL!!
                                                             -You are one in a million.
                                                                     -We are ALL ONE.
                                                                              -The answer lies out there, in service to others.
                                                                                        -The answer is WITHIN you.
                                                                                                -You do not need to know the answer.
                                                                                                        -Just BE.


My favorite quote from Hesse's Steppenwolf --

(Mozart to Harry Haller, in the Magic Theater ("For Madmen Only - Price of Admission: Your Mind")

"You are to listen to the cursed radio music of life
and to reverence the spirit behind it
and to laugh at its distortions."

Monday, November 11, 2013

Day of Remembrance


I was young and childless at the time and had decided to "adopt" a little 7-year-old Vietnamese girl.  Not a real adoption but the kind where you send money every month to a charitable agency and about once a year they send you  a little note from the child thanking you for your support.

On the news:  War planes!, Evacuation!, photoed bodies of screaming civilians Agent Oranged, Chaos, Crisis.

I get a letter from the charitable agency telling me they have lost track of "my child".  So do you want to adopt another in another country, they ask.  Here are the forms.  Pick one.  But all I could think was, "What happened to 'my' child?"    As if these kids were interchangeable, like when your pet dies and people tell you to go out right away and get another one. Never mind a substitute, I wanted to know what happened to that child.  That one with the shy, thin, unsmiling face, the one who wrote that squiggly note the agency forwarded, my first and only personal communication with her.   The one I wasn't allowed to send packages to, or get to know except through generic, periodic agency reports.

I kept her picture for the longest time, on my desk, afterwards.  I don't remember what happened to the photo, nor even now, her first name, except that it started with an "L".   She disappeared from my life, without ever having really been in it, a casualty of war, an adoption that  wasn't a real adoption, where I got to play Pretend Mother while I dreamt of someday being a real one.  Maybe she got a bit more to eat because of my little monthly donations.  Where did that old photograph go?  Why can't I remember her name?  Whatever happened to her?

Veteran's Day, where you remember the men and women who "served" -- who fought and got sent home physically and mentally damaged, or lifeless,  flag-draped in a box.  War Memorials should also honor the victims of war, whose lives were also forever shattered, or ended entirely.

Did you survive? I want to ask her. For one brief year I thought of you as my child--"my" child--and I hate that they lost track of you.  That I will never know what happened to you.

I sympathize with the families who remain in the dark.  It's the Not-Knowing that's hardest, for those who've  'lost' someone in a war. The ones that never come back, the ones whose whereabouts you don't ever learn.  Your brother, your husband, your son.  Your pseudo-adopted foreign stranger child.  You honor their memory.

Today,  I was reminded by the calendar, Oh, it's November 11th -- Veteran's Day--and though I know some who've fought in several different wars, still suffering the consequences, they are not just in my thoughts only on  Veteran's Day.

But this little girl, for some reason,  today she revisited, leaping into my memory, now so faded as to have 'lost track of' certain important details.  Like her first name. My little perpetually aged 7-year old,  missing 'adopted'  child, who are you now?  Where did you go?  Did you survive?

Why can't I see your face anymore?

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Dubious Meatball, and the prison that you know

I hesitated posting today because, what started out as a single topic has suddenly morphed into a vast melange of whatever, and I fear it may prove of little interest to anyone popping by just looking for a quick read, on the way to other else's.  If this sounds a bit strange, it's because I'm under the weather, so to speak, not fully functioning, even minor habitudes needing to be readjusted.

I seem to have come down with an inner ear infection, causing extreme vertigo, nausea and imbalance.  I've only ever felt this horrible before once, years ago at sea on a freighter bound for France where I and a few others were rendered incapacitated by waves of seasickness and twice, after coming out of surgery as a reaction to the anesthesia.  So the feeling was familiar but initially not knowing the cause, I headed for the clinic.

I went prepared for the long wait, equipped with a book,  pencil, sketchpad, bottle of water and a granola bar.  When I arrived at 8:30 a.m. there were already around 40 people in Waiting Room "A" and an equal number in Waiting Room "B".  Several others had brought books, lunch bags, crossword puzzles, things to occupy their time, but most just sat there, patients patiently waiting their turn.  We all know the drill.

Much is made, sometimes, of the shortage of doctors here in Quebec, of whole days spent waiting in the waiting room, of the long waits for appointments for certain medical procedures for elective surgery, etc., and while there are definitely problems, my experience here has been, on the whole, positive.  The staff at our clinic is competent, professional and caring,  and of course, it's all free.  I got prescribed some medicine and was given a number of exercises to get things back to normal, though one of the side effects of the medicine mimics the condition it's supposed to alleviate and the exercises cause you, at first,  to re-experience the vertigo and  nausea in strong bouts until things get regulated again.  In short, it's gonna take time, getting back to what for me is 'normal'..

What has all this got to do with dubious meatballs or prisons, known and otherwise?

Well, it came from  the book I took with me to the clinic--an old paperback from the '70s that I'd grabbed from the bookcase as I left the house.  I love Graham Greene's writing   Later, sitting on the black plastic chair in Waiting Room A, along with now only 37 other fellow 'waiters', I settled into the story of Maurice Castle, and the dubious meatball reference made me smile, took my mind off, completely,  the scene at hand, the dizziness and nausea.

Greene's protagonist, a 62-year-old government employee (er, spy), in conversation with a bachelor colleague, is commenting on the benefits of marriage, one being the halving of the cost of living.

"Ah, but those awful leftovers," his friend replies, "the joint remade into shepherd's pie, the dubious meatball.  Is it worth it?"

The hours pass, the granola bar long finished, the water bottle empty, I'd now already read through a hundred pages.  I no longer noticed the time.  Words or phrases jumped out at me, peaking my interest, because they always lead to reflections, where I want to suddenly jot something down as a reminder but actually don't, then later wish I'd had.  Greene's novels are full of such little verbal attention grabbers. 

The days of the guerrilla had returned, daydreams had become realities.  Living thus with the long familiar, he felt the security that an old lag feels when he goes back to the prison he knows.

Re: a mother, rearranging her sick child who's sprawled out on the bed ,so as not to wake him:  She handled his body with the carelessness of an expert.

". . . blue, serene, unshockable eyes."

"Flippancy was like a secret code, of which he didn't possess the book."

"He felt like a man who was departing into a long exile, and who looks back from the deck of a ship at the faint coastline of his country as it sinks below the horizon."

"Scruples of cleanliness grew with loneliness like the hairs on a corpse."

And random bits of information, like the fact that aflatoxin, a mold produced when peanuts go bad, is a highly toxic substance that can kill liver cells.  A discussion ensues where one fictional character describes the reactions in animals and humans, hinting of its potential use for eliminating a suspected mole, ending with the less determined of the two voicing an uncomfortable:   "Sometimes, Emmanuel, you give me the creeps."

I'm thoroughly enjoying a re-read of an old, barely-held-together paperback from a stack of former reads I can't seem to part with.  So different from that other, recently published action-packed, overdialogued, predictably formulaic novel I devoured a few weeks ago trying to make long hours on several buses pass more quickly.

An aside (and example of the morphed 'whatever' melange)--I was noticing on EBay this morning  that within the same price range, original artworks that were especially accomplished, technically proficient and aesthetically appealing, often had no bidders (none!), while some silly comical avatar or hasty squiggle that could have been done by a four year old, of say, a purple fish with a gigantic mis-shaped eyeball, had 7 people bidding for it.  Go figure.  No accounting for taste, in art or reading, what's popular and what's "real" this or that, everything an individualized  'Perceived'.'  Which grammatically you're not supposed to do--make verbs into nouns.  But if you can say "That's a given" or "That's a go", why can't one say, "That's a Perceived?"

"I'm more of a cod," one character says in The Human Factor.     "Don't talk to me about cod," says his conversation partner, who prefers trout.  I tried to imagine what characteristics one must possess (or not possess) in order to view oneself as a cod.  Anyway, I will end with another little passage that chased the sickness away while in the clinic's waiting room, in the seventh hour before they finally called my name: 

The protagonist is at the bookseller's, to whom he turns to have books recommended for reading.

"Recommend me something to read that isn't about war," he says.

"There's always Trollope," says the bookseller.   (Another small smile escapes.  I was soooooooooo into the story at this point, ha ha.)

According to Wiki, this novel focuses 'on the psychological burdens of the pawns in the game, doubt and paranoia bred by a culture of secrecy, the sophisticated amorality of the men at the top, and above all, loyalties'.

Pawns in the game.  Doubt.  He was being played, this aging bureaucrat.  As perhaps we all are, questioning being the first sign of awakening.