She who…

by the Night Writer

I saw the following poem on The Writer’s Almanac the other day and thought it was pretty good.

Naming My Daughter
(In the Uruba tribe of Africa, children are
named not only at birth but throughout their
lives by their characteristics and the events
that befall them.)

The one who took hold in the cold night
The one who kicked loudly
The one who slid down quickly in the ice storm
She who came while the doctor was eating dessert
New one held up by heels in the glare
The river between two brothers
Second pot on the stove
Princess of a hundred dolls
Hair like water falling beneath moonlight
Strides into the day
She who runs away with motorcycle club president
Daughter kicked with a boot
Daughter blizzard in the sky
Daughter night-pocket
She who sells sports club memberships
One who loves over and over
She who wants child but lost one.
She who wants marriage but has none
She who never gives up
Diana (Goddess of the Chase)
Doris (for the carrot-top grandmother
she never knew)
Fargnoli (for the father
who drank and left and died)
Peter Pan, Iron Pumper
Tumbleweed who goes months without calling
Daughter who is a pillar of light
Daughter mirror, Daughter stands alone
Daughter boomerang who always comes back
Daughter who flies forward into the day
where I will be nameless.

“Naming My Daughter” by Patricia Fargnoli, from Necessary Light. © Utah State University Press.

Of course it got me to thinking about how my own daughters might have been named if I were Uruban. Actually, some of these have stuck…

Unexpected Blessing
Miracle-holder, Doctor-confounder
The One Who Shouldn’t Be Here,
Sweet-cheeked Eskimo
Jelly Baby
Bane of Yams
Little Potato
Waltzer with Bears
Namer of Things in the Road
Barefoot bleeder
Arm That Wouldn’t Stay Broken
Room Designer, Cloud By Day
Blue-haired Missionary
The Littlest Bassist
Imelda of the 40 shoes
Bunny Whisperer
Mall Diva
Singer of Songs, Maker of Beauty
Courtship Buddy
Aisle Walker
Mrs. Worley

Late Arriver, Early Walker
Flaming Promise, Morning Giggler
She Who Breaks Boards With Her Feet
Devourer of All Things Chocolate
Ninja Cow Nemesis, Doomsteak Provider
Slayer of Paper Targets
Writer Without Appendix, World Traveler,
Girl On a Mission, Opportoonist
Fire By Night
Peach Louise
Tiger Lilly
Story Teller
One With the Laptop
Smite Queen of the Dual-Daggers
NaNoWriMo Winner
Author, Author.

Try it with your own kids! In fact, I hereby proclaim a Meme! I tag Mr. D, Mitch, KingDavid, Gino, Bubba and anyone else who wants to play. Leave your poem in a comment here or on your blog with a link!

The Alien?

by the Night Writer

Hah. I noticed that the following poem was featured in the Writer’s Almanac on Saturday — the day after the Mall Diva’s ultrasound. The author is no W.B. Picklesworth, but he does have a knack for the subject.

The Alien
by Greg Delanty

I’m back again scrutinizing the Milky Way
of your ultrasound, scanning the dark
matter, the nothingness, that now the heads say
is chockablock with quarks & squarks,
gravitons & gravitini, photons & photinos. Our sprout,

who art there inside the spacecraft
of your ma, the time capsule of this printout,
hurling & whirling towards us, it’s all daft
on this earth. Our alien who art in the heavens,
our Martian, our little green man, we’re anxious

to make contact, to ask questions
about the heavendom you hail from, to discuss
the whole shebang of the beginning & end,
the pre-big bang untime before you forget the why
and lie of thy first place. And, our friend,

to say Welcome, that we mean no harm, we’d die
for you even, that we pray you’re not here
to subdue us, that we’d put away
our ray guns, missiles, attitude and share
our world with you, little big head, if only you stay.

“The Alien” by Greg Delanty, from The Ship of Birth. © Louisiana State University Press, 2007.

Cold enough for ya?

by Night Writer

It went from “cold” to “damn cold” overnight and when I got up this morning it was -12F here in South St. Paul. The “high” today is supposed to brush 0, which reminded me of this poem by George Bilgere:

First it was five above, then two,
then one morning just plain zero.
There was a strange thrill in saying it.
It’s zero,
I said when you got up.

I was pouring your coffee
and suddenly the whole house made sense:
the roof, the walls, the little heat registers
rattling on the floor. Even the mortgage. Zero,
you said, still in your robe.

And you walked to the window and looked out
at the blanket of snow on the garden
where last summer you planted carrots
and radishes, sweet peas and onions,
and a tiny rainforest of tomatoes
in the hot delirium of June.

Yes, I said, with a certain grim finality,
staring at the white cap of snow on the barbecue grill
I’d neglected to put in the garage for winter.
And the radio says it could go lower.

I like that robe, it’s white and shimmery,
and has a habit of falling open
unless you tie it just right.

This wasn’t the barbarians at the gate.
It wasn’t Carthage in flames, or even
the Donner Party. But it was zero, by God,
and the robe fell open.

A Christmas present from the past

Christmas 1963
Because we wanted much that year
and had little. Because the winter phone
for days stayed silent that would call
our father back to work, and he
kept silent too with our mother,
fearfully proud before us.

Because I was young that morning
in gray light untouched on the rug
and our gifts were so few, propped
along the furniture, for a second
my heart fell, then saw how large
they made the spaces between them

to take the place of less. Because
the curtained sun rose brightly
on our discarded paper and the things
themselves, these forty years,
have grown too small to see, the emptiness
measured out remains the gift,

fills the whole room now, that whole year
out across the snowy lawn. Because
a drop of shame burned quietly
in the province of love. Because
we had little that year
and were given much.

“Christmas 1963” by Joseph Enzweiler, from The Man Who Ordered Perch. © Iris Press, 2004.

A Poem for “Choice”

I came across this poem in time for “Blogs for Choice Day” today:


by Pat Schneider

The child you think you don’t want

is the one who will make you laugh.

She will break your heart

when she loses the sight in one eye

and tells the doctor she wants to be

an apple tree when she grows up.

It will be this child who forgives you

again and again

for believing you don’t want her to be born,

for resisting the rising tide of your body,

for wishing for the red flow of her dismissal.

She will even forgive you for all the breakfasts

you failed to make exceptional.

Someday this child will sit beside you.

When you are old and too tired of war

to want to watch the evening news,

she will tell you stories

like the one about her teenaged brother,

your son, and his friends

taking her out in a canoe when she was

five years old. How they left her alone

on an island in the river

while they jumped off the railroad bridge.

“Middle-Age” by Pat Schneider, from Another River: New and Selected Poems. © Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 2005.

Reasons for blogging

I think the poem below pretty well sums up why I write — blogging or otherwise. From The Writer’s Alamanc today:

I would not have been a poet
except that I have been in love
alive in this mortal world,
or an essayist except that I
have been bewildered and afraid,
or a storyteller had I not heard
stories passing to me through the air,
or a writer at all except
I have been wakeful at night
and words have come to me
out of their deep caves
needing to be remembered.
But on the days I am lucky
or blessed, I am silent.
I go into the one body
that two make in making marriage
that for all our trying, all
our deaf-and-dumb of speech,
has no tongue. Or I give myself
to gravity, light, and air
and am carried back
to solitary work in fields
and woods, where my hands
rest upon a world unnamed,
complete, unanswerable, and final
as our daily bread and meat.
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.

“VII” from the poem “1994” by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979–1997. © Counterpoint, 1998.

More 17th century blogging

I was flipping through my copy of The Art of Worldly Wisdom the other day. It’s a collection of the aphorisms of Baltasar Gracian, who I have quoted here before. I rather liked this one:

…For virtue is the bond of all the perfections, and the heart of all life’s satisfactions. It makes a man sensible, alert, far-seeing, understanding, wise, courageous, considerate, upright, joyous, welcomed, truthful and a universal idol. And three are the S’s that make for happiness: saintliness, sanity and sapience. Virtue is the sun of our lesser world, the sky over which is a good conscience. It is so beautiful, that it finds favor with God, and of man. There is nothing lovely without virtue: and nothing hateful without vice: for virtue is the essence of wisdom, and all else is folly: capacity, and greatness must be measured in terms of virtue, and not in those of fortune. Virtue alone is sufficient unto itself: and it, only, makes a man worth loving in life, and in death, worth remembering.

Those old guys sure had some funny ideas.

Oh, to be able to put it Blount-ly

What kind of writer do I want to be? My interests are so varied that I’d hate to limit myself to one niche, and in that Roy Blount, Jr. is another writing idol of mine. In a piece on Saturday noting Blount’s birthday, The Writer’s Almanac included this description:

Roy Blount has been a freelance writer for more than 100 different publications. He has written profiles, essays, sketches, verse, short stories, and reviews. And he’s written about politics, sports, music, food, drink, gender issues, books, comedians, language, travel, science, animals, economics, anatomy, and family life.

Wow – sounds like my blog, except no one’s ever paid me for my profiles, essays, sketches, verse, short stories and reviews. Yet. The Almanac goes on to name Blount’s new book and mention that it comes out this week. The title is 34 words long, with 17 punctuation marks but I’ll call it Alphabet Juice for short.

The new book contains the following excerpt:

To me, letters have always been a robust medium of sublimation. … We’re in the midst of a bunch of letters, and if you’re like me, you feel like a pig in mud. What a great word mud is. And muddle, and muffle, and mumble. … You know the expression “Mum’s the word.” The word mum is a representation of lips pressed together. … The great majority of languages start the word for “mother” with an m sound. The word mammal comes from the mammary gland. Which comes from baby talk: mama. To sound like a grownup, we refine mama into mother; the Romans made it mater, from which: matter. And matrix. Our word for the kind of animal we are, and our word for the stuff that everything is made of, and our word for a big cult movie all derive from baby talk.

What are we saying when we say mmmm? We are saying yummy. In the pronunciation of which we move our lips the way nursing babies move theirs. The fact that we can spell something that fundamental, and connect it however tenuously to mellifluous and manna and milk and me (see M), strikes me as marvelous.

Mmm-hmmm, that’s good stuff.

God save the Yankees

As I mentioned earlier, I’m re-reading Mark Helprin’s most recent collection of short stories, The Pacific. One of the stories is especially apt right now as baseball’s regular season and the history of Yankee Stadium — the House That Ruth Built — come to a close. Entitled “Perfection”, the story is set in 1956 and is about a teenage Hasidic boy, Roger, who is sent by a vision from God to save the season for New York Yankees. Call it the opposite of the classic play, “Damn Yankees.”

Roger, a surviving orphan of the Majdanek concentration camp, knows nothing of baseball, but quite a bit about faith. He goes to Yankee Stadium and finagles his way in on a pre-game summer morning, bringing the following tribute from the pages of the story:

After working for half an hour, Roger was in. Not only had he found the House of Ruth, he had breached its walls without slinging a single stone or slaying a single Boabite. Gliding up a ramp in search of June daylight, he came out on the first tier near left field. Looking east toward the bladder neck of the Bronx and into the vast right-field decks rising unto the crane of his neck and topped by rows of flags and formations of lights like the radars on a cruiser, he realized that although it did not fit Luba’s description exactly — gone were the purple hangings, the maidens, the grapes — it was close. You could fill it with every rabbi in the world and you would still have room for more. He looked at rows and rows of seats as neatly folded as laundry, lacquered hard and beerproof. Remembering the oceanic sounds on Schnaiper’s radio, he filled in the crowd. In his vision of what he heard, he saw whole steppes of people whose faces were like seeds peering from sunflowers, and whose changes of position and sudden cheers were like wind sweeping high grass. Legions disappeared in the shadows, from which a roar echoed like a hurricane. How many places like this, he thought, would it take to hold six million people, and his answer, quickly calculated, was one hundred twenty. Stadiums packed with fifty thousand people could be placed in a line from down both sides of Manhattan from Washington Heights to the Battery, with no space in between, and if the souls within could break their silence, the roar would be unlike anything ever heard.

“One foot at a time,” he said to himself, with no idea why he said it. “One foot at a time.” He sighed. If only his father and mother could see him, standing in Ruth’s house, about to save the Yenkiss. They would not know of either of these things, but if only they could see him.

A young Hasidic boy in black robes and a fur hat on a hot June day had no idea how to save the Yankees, but his moving feet carried him to the rail. At the elliptical center of the field a man in a white suit stood on a barrow of dirt and would periodically throw something at two men who faced him. One of the men was in turtlelike armor, squatting. The other stood, with a weapon.

When the thing that was thrown at the man with the staff would come at him almost faster than the eye could see, he would strike at it, and there would be a crack as in the breaking of a cable, after which the thing that was thrown would fly out into the air, along varying trajectories, and land in the grass. Then someone would throw the man on the dirt a new thing, and the process would continue. Sometimes the man who held the weapon missed, and the thing that was thrown was caught by the turtle, who threw it back. Who knew? But this was baseball.

On the back of the man with the weapon was the number 7. This meant, according to Schnaiper, that he was Mickey Mental. It was a good place to start. If you are going to help the needy, help those in most distress, and those in most distress are those who have fallen the furthest. Roger was sure that it was no accident that the only thing between him and Mickey Mental, the greatest baseball player of any age (according to Schnaiper), was a hundred feet of perfectly clear air through which sound could easily carry.

This was at a time in the morning when the field was most like what a field is supposed to be, swept clocklike by golden legs of sun stilting across it as time progressed, insects busy in flight against the huge foils of black shadow. A white blur that is not mist but a condition of the light, a lost and miscellaneous glare, covered the empty stands and bleachers in which, to Mantle’s delight, virtually no one had yet appeared. And those who had come early kept as respectful a distance as pilgrims in St. Peter’s who have stumbled upon the Pope in the dry runs of investiture. Fragrant breezes from the field alternated pleasingly with cool downdrafts of leftover night air rolling off the second level like a waterfall. It was the perfect time for the great player to concentrate on the attainment of perfection in hitting the ball. To allow his gifts free rein, he needed something like the flow of a river. In the mornings, when Yankee Stadium reminded him most of the field his forebears had farmed, that river flowed best. He was deep in concentration, and doing very well, when he became aware of a distraction.

From behind, from the left-field fence out toward third base, came a kind of squeak. At first he thought it was a bird or a cricket. Then he realized that it was an imploring voice. Once every great while, coarse people got into the stadium before a game and stood at the rail calling out his name, hoping for acknowledgment, a conversation, or an autographed baseball. This he had learned to ignore.

But though he tried, he could not ignore the squeak. He screwed up his face, rested the bat against his shoulder, and held up his left hand as a signal to the pitcher to hold off. What was this squeak? He lifted his head, hand still held out, and squinted, which was what he did when he wanted better to hear something behind him. He heard the calling of his own name, after a fashion. “What?” he said, as if asking why the perfect morning had to include this.

I’ve said how much Helprin’s writing simultaneously inspires and defeats me, and I typed those words out of the book in the way a young fan might fastidiously recreate the boxscore from a great World Series game, trying to make greatness feel familiar to his fingers. As for Roger and Mickey Mental, you’ll need to read the whole story to find out what Roger had to teach “the Yenkiss” (and us) about justice, redemption, miracles and redemption. They are lessons well worth absorbing.

Shifting the son

Shifting the Sun

When your father dies, say the Irish,
you lose your umbrella against bad weather.
May his sun be your light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Welsh,
you sink a foot deeper into the earth.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Canadians,
you run out of excuses. May you inherit
his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the French,
you become your own father.
May you stand up in his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Indians,
he comes back as the thunder.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Russians,
he takes your childhood with him.
May you inherit his light, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the English,
you join his club you vowed you wouldn’t.
May you inherit his sun, say the Armenians.

When your father dies, say the Armenians,
your sun shifts forever,
and you walk in his light.

by Diana Der Hovanessian,
from the book “Selected Shorts”
published by Sheep Meadow Press.

Related posts:
In My Father’s House, Part 1
In My Father’s House, Part 2
In My Father’s House, Part 3
Turning Toward the Mourning
In My Father’s House, Conclusion – yet to be posted.