Sunday, June 30, 2013

Are you serious? En popgrupp från Skellefteå i Västerbotten?

I remember reading in the early seventies -- and I hasten to add that I’m talking about the early seventies, people, not my early seventies -- a novel by Ira Levin called This Perfect Day. The always-nearly-reliable Wikipedia calls it “a heroic science fiction novel of a technocratic dystopia” and adds that it is “often compared to Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World.”

I would just like to point out here that the title of George Orwell’s book isn’t Nineteen Eighty-Four, it’s 1984. I’m just sayin’.

The Swedish-language Wikipedia, however, says that “This Perfect Day är en popgrupp från Skellefteå i Västerbotten, bildad 1987. Gruppnamnet är lånat från Ira Levin’s science fiction-roman En vacker dag från 1970” which according to Google Translate means “This Perfect Day is a pop group from Skellefteå in northern Sweden, formed in 1987. The group name is borrowed from Ira Levin’s science fiction novel A beautiful day from 1970.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to understand why achieving world peace is such an elusive goal.

A few years earlier, Ira Levin had written Rosemary’s Baby and a few years hence he would go on to write The Boys From Brazil as well. All three of those books kept me turning the pages.

In many ways, This Perfect Day is similar to Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, published in 1967. I remember seeing Michael York as Logan in the 1976 movie version and having a feeling of déjà vu. To be fair, I suppose if I had read Logan’s Run when it first came out, the feeling of déjà vu would have occurred when I read This Perfect Day. That’s life.

On the first page of This Perfect Day the following poem is printed, along with an explanation that it is chanted by children bouncing a ball on a playground:

Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei,
Led us to this perfect day.
Marx, Wood, Wei and Christ,
All but Wei were sacrificed.
Wood, Wei, Christ and Marx,
Gave us lovely schools and parks.
Wei, Christ, Marx and Wood,
Made us humble, made us good.

I could just see those children bouncing that ball and chanting this poem. I was hooked. I had to find out what it meant and why they would do such a thing. I also was intrigued by the face in the book jacket illustration: it had one green eye and one brown eye.



I’m not going to tell you what happens in the book; you’ll have to find out for yourself.

Anyway, when the poem popped into my consciousness this morning out of nowhere (well, okay, out of my dim, distant past and my incredible brain’s long-term storage), my next impulse was to compose a little poem of my own using four names chosen completely at random.

Here it is:

Frances, Ian, Neil, and Shirley,
Stayed up late and rose up early.
Ian, Neil, Shirley, and Frances,
All but Neil wore underpantses.
Neil, Shirley, Frances, and Ian,
Couldn’t believe what their eyes were seein’.
Shirley, Frances, Ian, and Neil,
If anyone could ever deserve the harsh punishment
that one day will be meted out to Neil at the Old Bailey, he’ll.



Now if I can come up with a book to go along with the poem, I just know I will make a fortune.

Especially if I also form a popgrupp.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Blue skyin’

Call me crazy, but I think it might be fun to write a story in which Sol Invictus, the town’s local banker, and Morris Dancer, the town’s local saloonkeeper, vie for the affections of the lovely Marian Haste, the town’s virginal schoolmarm. Marian fends off the constant advances of her would-be suitors, however, to spend time in the arms of her secret love, Wayne E. Weedy, owner and editor of the local newspaper, The Wayne E. Weedy Weekly. The story takes place in Scotland, and the town (actually a collection of...a collection of...villages) is called Blackbird. Because Blackbird is located along the banks of the River Manny, Marian’s and Wayne’s trysting place is the Firth of Manny.

I had considered a subplot in which Marian’s childhood friend, Bringtua Boyle, local middle-aged spinster and church soloist, bids Blackbird bye-bye to enter a nationwide talent contest, wins second place, and subsequently enjoys an extremely successful singing and recording career, but I abandoned it as too fanciful.

I also want to bring in Kaye Surrah but have not yet determined her role.

Help me think of other characters and locations with which to expand this story.

[Update No. 1. A reader named Elizabeth has suggested the addition of a dentist named I. Pullem. The town definitely needs a dentist. I have decided to make him an expatriate American, the great-grandson of Fitzhugh Lee (photograph below), who himself was the 40th governor of the state of Virginia and the nephew of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. My dentist will double as the local gossip and town gadfly, showing up uninvited at parties and seemingly able to be everywhere at once. I have decided not to call him Dr. I. Pullem, however. Instead, he will be Dr. Hugh Biquitous Lee. --RWP]


[Update No. 2. Another reader, Yorkshire Pudding of Pudding Towers, Sheffield, suggests that our story should include a scene where a heartbroken widow falls to her death from the church tower. Her name? Eileen Dover. --RWP]

Monday, June 24, 2013

Mrs. Sundberg makes a lot of sense

[Editor’s note. Blogger’s Overview page tells me that this is my 1200th post. Blogger’s Posts page, however, tells me that this is my 1199th post. Both cannot be true, and perhaps neither is true. In this uncertain world in which we live, one cannot know for sure whether to celebrate or keep plodding on. Some do both. Some do neither. It has been ever thus. --RWP]

I have been a fan of Garrison Keillor for a long, long time -- years and years and years -- and there’s not much about his Saturday evening radio program that I don’t like except hearing him try to harmonize with his guests who are singers. I can do without that. I like the “Guy Noir, Private Eye” skits and the “The Lives of the Cowboys” skits and the “News from Lake Wobegon” segment. I like the sound effects guy and some of Garrison’s occasional guests like Paula Poundstone (whom, if you don’t know, you should) and Meryl Streep (whom, if you don’t know, you must have been living on another planet for the past several decades). I could go on and on, but I won’t, unless I already did. I don’t know why Garrison Keillor came to mind because I haven’t listened to his program much lately. The only time I ever listen to the radio any more is when I’m in the car and I haven’t happened to have been in the car on Saturdays from 6pm until 8pm Eastern Daylight time in quite a while. I do have a clock-radio on the table beside my bed, but the only time I use it is to set the alarm on Saturday night for Sunday morning so I won’t be late for church. And I sure wouldn’t go sit in our bedroom just to listen to a radio program. That would be silly.

Anyway, I feed my A Prairie Home Companion addiction (that’s what the name of Garrison Keillor’s program is, A Prairie Home Companion) via the show’s website on the computer. The website includes a few things that aren’t even on the radio program, like Russ Ringsak’s columns and Mrs. Sundberg’s. Russ Ringsak is real (he’s the driver of the big 18-wheeler that carries the program’s sets and equipment from city to city) but Mrs. Sundberg, a housewife from Minnesota, is fictional, a figment of Garrison Keillor’s imagination, created out of whole cloth. Her part of the website is called “The View from Mrs. Sundberg’s Window” which is nothing at all like “The View” on TV with Barbara Walters, Joy Behar, Whoopi Goldberg, Elizabeth Hasselbeck (née Filarski), and Sherri Shepherd. Thank God for small favors.

Anyway, Mrs. Sundberg always starts out the same way: “Listened to the show Saturday and it was not bad.” which I suppose is a little self-deprecating joke of Garrison’s to try to mask his enormous pride and then she launches into whatever is on her mind and usually ends with a recipe. I thought I would share a few of her columns with you and then, if you like, you can search through her archives for more on your own.

Here’s one called “Life is Meaningful Because It Stops” that includes Tolkien, Franz Kafka, and a recipe for Rhubarbecued Ribs and Hot ’n Spicy Tortilla Dip. Here’s one called “I'm not put off by the thought of my own funeral” and another one called “A Monumental Act” that tells about the time she buried her Grandma’s ashes in Wisconsin. Here’s one more called “An Exercise in Forgiveness” that probably we all could benefit from.

Anyway, Mrs. Sundberg, a fictional character, a housewife from Minnesota who is naive and provincial and dumb and smart and sweet all at the same time, is worth a look.

And if you find that you don't care for her, you can always read
Russ Ringsak.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The song is ended but the malady lingers on

Snowbrush out in Oregon has asked for an update on my shingles. Okay. Not all of them are on the roof of my house.

That was a feeble attempt at a little joke.

If memory serves, I first noticed the shingle marks on my body on February 24th or 25th. The very next day I went to our family doctor, who confirmed that, yup, sure enough, I had shingles. He gave me a prescription for ten days worth of Valtrex (valcyclovir) along with instructions to return in ten days. Ten days later, after the V-drugs had supposedly done their stuff (although I didn’t look any different or feel any different), the doctor switched me to gabapentin (the generic equivalent of neurontin) to deal with the ongoing pain caused by shingles.

He prescribed 300 milligrams a day of gabapentin -- one 100-mg pill in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one at bedtime. After two weeks, when it wasn’t helping the pain all that much, the doctor increased the dosage to 400 milligrams a day -- one pill in the morning, one in the afternoon, and two at bedtime. He mentioned that the pills came as large as 900 milligrams and that some people took as much as 3,600 milligrams a day. I said that I didn’t want to take any more than I needed to alleviate the pain.

March came and went. April came and went. May came and went.

The only thing that didn’t go away was the pain of shingles.

Our primary care physician has been in Marietta for over twenty years, but about ten years ago we moved 25 miles away to Cherokee County. Recently, we decided to get a doctor closer to home to save money and time; we made the change in mid-May. The marks from the shingles have now begun to fade, but there is scarring and the pain has remained.

My new doctor has come up with a new diagnosis: postherpetic neuralgia (PHN).

As far as I can tell, the only difference between shingles and postherpetic neuralgia is the color of the marks left by the eruptions on your body. Mine are now pink instead of red. The pain has lessened somewhat, but it has not gone away. I still have to sleep on my right side because it is still too uncomfortable to sleep on my left side or on my back.

Three guesses what the doctor prescribed for the pain of postherpetic neuralgia and the first two guesses don’t count.

Gabapentin, that’s what. Only the dosage is different and the pills are larger.

Now I’m taking 600 milligrams a day -- a 300-milligram pill in the morning and a 300-milligram pill at night, and there are five (count ’em, FIVE) refills on the prescription.

This is what is known, I suppose, as progress.

Thank you for asking.

Friday, June 21, 2013

As Susan Boyle said on more than one occasion...

I (rhymeswithplague, not Susan Boyle -- we’ll get to her in a minute) began this blog in September 2007 and subsequently posted about the summer solstice on, would you believe, the summer solstices in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Inexplicably (today’s five-syllable word), I did not post a single word about the summer solstice on the summer solstices in 2011 or 2012.

Here are those three posts from 2008, 2009, and 2010:

1. Get ready to party, people! (2008)

2. The long, hot summer approaches (2009)

3. What? Summer solstice already? (2010)

On the summer solstice in 2011, however, I posted Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar in which Mrs. RWP and I wished her brother a happy 80th birthday and I also mentioned the National Hollerin’ Contest in Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina.

And last year, on the summer solstice in 2012, I posted The vibrations of deathless music which included a video of Junior Brown singing “You’re Wanted by the PO-lice and My Wife Thinks You’re Dead” (3:36). Yes, it did.

These posts, taken as a whole, prove one and only one thing:
It is not just mad dogs and Englishmen who go out in the midday sun.

If you don’t get that cultural reference, let me enlighten you. Here is Noel Coward singing his own composition, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun” (2:30), which includes the line -- I do hope Yorkshire Pudding is in the house today -- “In Bangkok, at twelve o'clock, they foam at the mouth and run.”

I do wish you a happy solstice or a merry solstice or a safe and sane solstice or whatever it is that you want to be wished. This year the summer solstice occurred earlier today (June 21, 2013) at exactly 1:04 am EDT (5:04 UTC), when Earth’s Northern Hemisphere reached its point of greatest inclination to the Sun. [Editor’s note. In Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, today is the first day of winter. --RWP]

Warning: Do not try to balance an egg on its end today. That is possible only on an equinox.

Finally, as Susan Boyle said on more than one occasion, “Thank you for your support.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Remembering Jethro (2004 - 2013)

If you don’t absolutely love dogs beyond anything that makes rational sense, it might be better if you left this post right now.

Today, June 19, 2013, would have been Jethro’s ninth birthday. Unfortunately, we lost him on May 31st. He had congestive heart failure, fluid in his lungs and abdomen, and his breathing had become shallow and very labored. With heavy hearts we decided to do what was best for him, although it certainly was not best for us. Our mantel is still full of condolence cards from caring friends.

As a remembrance on his birthday, here is every post I ever wrote that mentioned Jethro:

1. One handsome dog! (November 29, 2007)

2. Jethro is 4, plus a footnote to history (June 19, 2008)

3. But enough about me (October 27, 2008)

4. Happy birthday to Jethro! (June 19, 2009)

5. Life outside the blog (September 30, 2009)

6. Every dog has his day (October 1, 2009)

7. Jethro, you may qualify for a government grant (Novem-
..... ber 19, 2010)

8. My memory may be a bit fuzzy (April 17, 2011)

9. Early morning thoughts (July 9, 2011)

10. The newest thing in doggie olympics (September 17, 2012)

11. Man’s best friend (April 12, 2013)

12. Jethro -- R.I.P. (June 1, 2013)

I have just re-read every one of these posts, including every last comment from you wonderful people out there in Blogland, and I am comforted.

Putting this post together has left me sitting here weeping. I know I will recover and life will move on, but some things take more time than others.



Monday, June 17, 2013

Hot raisins, anyone? No? Well, then, how about some nice burning brandy?

Trivia for a warm June day:

1. Shooting Parrots (Ian in Lancashire) has written a very interesting post about an obscure French scoundrel in V is for Eugène François Vidocq (approximate pronunciation: yew- ZHEN fran-SWAH vee-DOKE).

2. After a bit of silliness up front concerning two people on the Today show, Rush Limbaugh explains that whether you think the “Plan B” morning-after pill does or does not cause an abortion depends entirely on your definition of pregnancy.

3. The word “Lilith” (Hebrew: לילית) occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible, in Isaiah 34:14, and thus qualifies as a hapax legomenon. It is not translated as “Adam’s first wife” as some of the more well-read among you might think. It is translated as “screech owl” in the King James Version (KJV), “night monster” in the New American Standard Version (NASV), “night hag” in the Revised Standard Version (RSV), and “night creature” in several other versions. Make of it what you will.

4. The word “honorificabilitudinitatibus” is also a hapax legomenon (q.v., plural: hapax legomena) in Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V, Scene 1. According to Wikipedia,
it is used after an absurdly pretentious dialogue between the pedantic school- master Holofernes and his friend Sir Nathaniel. The two pedants converse in a mixture of Latin and florid English. When Moth, a witty young servant, enters, Costard says of the pedants, “O, they have lived long on the alms-basket of words. I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon.”

5. FYI, I mean FTIOANUKR (For the information of all non-U.K. readers), flap-dragon was (or is) a game which involved (or involves) trying to eat hot raisins from a bowl of burning brandy. That certainly explains why our U.K. friends talk so funny.

In the comments section of this post, send your own fascinating trivia factoid or factoids to me for possible use on another warm day. If I like it/them, I may use it/them. Whether I do or don’t is in no way related to whether I like you.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

A word, make that several paragraphs, of explanation

A little flurry of concern flared up in the comments section yesterday over whether my story (or essay or whatever it is) Silver (q.v.) was autobiographical.

I suppose I started it myself, because after Yorkshire Pudding said, “How cruel of your father to get rid of Silver out of spite when you loved that horse so much and how wonderful you remember your mother’s laughter so vividly,” a sort of twinkle came into my eye and I replied, “[D]o you always assume that my writing is autobiographical? This piece is, of course, except for names that have been changed, but still I wonder, do you always assume it?” which caused no little consternation over at Hilltophomesteader’s house. She wrote, “I assumed you were talking about your own childhood. You will tell us if you’re making something up...won’t you?”

Let me put all fears to rest. Silver was autobiographical, but I did change some people’s names. Furthermore, I also hasten to assure Lord Pudding that I am real, Ellie is real, Jethro was real, and Canton, Georgia -- God help us all -- is real.

I do like what Thomas Wolfe said at the beginning of Look Homeward, Angel (which you can read in full online over at Project Gutenberg Australia):

TO THE READER

This is a first book, and in it the author has written of experience which is now far and lost, but which was once part of the fabric of his life. If any reader, therefore, should say that the book is “autobiographical” the writer has no answer for him: it seems to him that all serious work in fiction is autobiographical--that, for instance, a more autobiographical work than “Gulliver’s Travels”cannot easily be imagined.

This note, however, is addressed principally to those persons whom the writer may have known in the period covered by these pages. To these persons, he would say what he believes they understand already: that this book was written in innocence and nakedness of spirit, and that the writer’s main concern was to give fulness, life, and intensity to the actions and people in the book he was creating. Now that it is to be published, he would insist that this book is a fiction, and that he meditated no man’s portrait here.

But we are the sum of all the moments of our lives--all that is ours is in them: we cannot escape or conceal it. If the writer has used the clay of life to make his book, he has only used what all men must, what none can keep from using. Fiction is not fact, but fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged and charged with purpose. Dr. Johnson remarked that a man would turn over half a library to make a single book: in the same way, a novelist may turn over half the people in a town to make a single figure in his novel. This is not the whole method but the writer believes it illustrates the whole method in a book that is written from a middle distance and is without rancour or bitter intention.

(end of excerpt from Look Homeward, Angel)

I trust that all hearts and minds are now clear and that we can continue as if nothing had happened.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Silver

In the spring of my fourteenth year, my parents decided to give me a horse for my birthday, and after some searching my father eventually brought home a gentle fourteen-year-old mare that I named Silver after the Lone Ranger’s big white stallion even though she looked nothing like her famous namesake. She was a Pinto, a painted pony with big splotches of brown and white, and we kept her in a dilapidated structure that might have been red once, a multipurpose building that was part garage, part barn, part pigpen, and part henhouse. She shared it with a small, similarly splotched flock of chickens that included White Leghorns, Buff Orphingtons, Rhode Island Reds, and Black Dominicks; and she also shared it with Lady Henrietta, the pig I was raising to meet the personal project requirement in Mr. Ben Barber’s ninth grade vocational agriculture class and who later provided us with a delicious supply of ham, sausage, bacon, and pork chops, Lady Henrietta I mean, not Mr. Ben Barber.

All summer long I rode Silver around our pasture bareback, using only a bridle because my parents couldn’t afford to buy a saddle and stirrups, and I loved that horse more than any dog or cat that ever lived. She had about two acres in which to roam and graze; a third acre held a vegetable garden and all sorts of trees that old Mrs. Mason, the former owner, had planted: apple trees, pear trees, peach trees, cherry trees, plum trees, persimmon trees, mulberry trees, and there were also fig bushes, blackberry bushes, a grape arbor, two big oaks, two big elms, and another dilapidated and unpainted structure that housed Mama, Daddy, and me in its four small rooms. Between the house and the barn-garage-pigpen-henhouse sat an old Dodge pickup that had seen better days, rusting, with grass and weeds growing up all around it and, thanks to holes in the floorboard, into it as well. We didn’t have indoor plumbing; whenever Nature called, we had to walk down a well-worn path about fifty yards to an outhouse. Every drop of water for drinking, cooking, and bathing was obtained by lowering a bucket on a rope over a pulley into a well next to the back door and drawing it out by hand, every drop except what we gathered in pots and pans and jars and basins whenever an occasional rainstorm pounded on our corrugated tin roof and demanded to be let through. On the kitchen counter sat a bucket we drank out of using a long-handled ladle. There was no sink. On the counter next to the bucket sat two basins, a round metal one, white with a red rim, where Mama put soapy water for washing dishes, and a square one made of red plastic where she put clear water for rinsing. When the dishwashing was finished, we simply opened the screen door and threw the water into the back yard. We bathed in a number three tin tub that my father would set in the middle of the kitchen, spreading newspapers around on the floor to absorb any water that might slosh over the edge of the tub onto the ancient, cracked, nondescript linoleum. The water for the tub and also for the dishwashing had to be heated on an equally ancient wood-burning stove. We had a wooden icebox instead of an electric refrigerator like everybody else, and supplying it with blocks of ice every week and emptying the drain pan every day were a regular part of our routine. Even allowing for it being Texas in the nineteen fifties, it was a pretty primitive existence; I was the only kid I knew who lived this way.

Eventually we acquired a real refrigerator and an electric stove from the local Western Auto store, but Daddy never did put in plumbing. The shallow well went not dry but bad when a film of oil developed on the water, so it became my job two or three times each week to go through Silver’s pasture carrying a five-gallon bucket in each hand or sometimes pulling my old Red Flyer wagon with a large metal garbage can balanced on top, to a neighbor’s house about a quarter of a mile away, where my parents had been given permission by Florabelle Oxley, Jimmy Wayne’s mother, to get our water supply from a hose hooked to an outdoor spigot on the side of their house. Sometimes I would call to Silver, “Hey, girl,” whereupon she would stop grazing, look up, and neigh softly as if to say she understood completely the humiliation I felt, having to depend on others and living in substandard housing herself. Today, all these years later, when I turn on the sprinklers to water my azaleas I still think about pulling that red wagon across Silver’s pasture to the Oxleys’ house to get water; it’s hard to forget that Florabelle Oxley’s Poland China hogs lived better than we did.

In late autumn, when the “blue norther” cold fronts for which Texas is famous came roaring down the plains from the Panhandle and the weather turned wintry, Silver stayed in the barn most of the time eating hay. By the time spring arrived, when Mrs. Mason’s jonquils and violets and irises and God’s bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes splattered our yard with their colors, my father thought Silver might be a bit skittish since she hadn’t been ridden all winter. “I’m going to ride the damn horse first,” he said. Mama didn’t think it was a good idea, but Daddy was adamant, and since he wore the pants in the family, the decision was made. Whether it was Silver’s skittishness or the fact that my father was twice my weight I’ll never know, but as he swung himself up onto her back she bolted out of the barn door and began galloping across the pasture with my father holding on for dear life. At the far fence line she made a turn and headed back straight toward the plum tree where Mama and I were standing and staring in disbelief. Daddy was yelling “Whoa! Whoa!” and doing his best to get the horse to stop, but Silver, who apparently wore the pants in her family, kept running toward us. When she reached her destination, she deftly scraped my father off her back under a low-hanging branch of the plum tree, then stopped and began grazing calmly as though nothing had happened. Daddy lay on the ground, conscious but stunned, trying to comprehend what had just occurred. By this time Mama was laughing hysterically. “What the hell are you laughing at?” Daddy demanded, but Mama just kept on laughing. Picking himself up off the ground, Daddy dusted himself off, said, “You damn fool,” and slowly made his way back to the house. The doctor said Daddy had three cracked ribs and taped his chest up for a month, Daddy’s chest I mean, not the doctor’s. Before the tape came off, Silver had been sold, and even though I cried buckets the day they took her away, my father never bought another horse.

[Editor’s note. This post first appeared online as a reader-contributed short story at Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” website in 2006. In 2009 it became Chapter 3
of my online book and other blog, “Billy Ray Barnwell Here.”
The voice and writing style are Billy Ray Barnwell’s. --RWP]

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

We spare no expense to bring you...

...the finest entertainment available in show-biz today (2:36).

You’re welcome.

Those Russian words under the video, “Танец, ломающий мозги” mean “Dance, breaking brains” according to Google Translate.

I’m not sure, but perhaps a better translation would have been “a mind-boggling dance”....

Because it certainly is.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

When The New York Times and Rush Limbaugh more or less agree...

...then we are in a heap of trouble. I believe the technical term is “Deep doo-doo.”

If you don’t believe me, read this and then read this and even this.

The first link is to a June 6th New York Times editorial entitled “President Obama’s Dragnet” and the second link is to a transcript of a portion of Rush Limbaugh’s June 7th radio program entitled “America in the midst of a coup d’etat” in which he referred to the Times editorial. The third link is to a portion of Rush Limbaugh’s program on June 10th (after whistleblower Edward Snowden surfaced in Hong Kong) called “The Question is Not Whether the Obama Regime Will Survive, But Will America as Founded Survive the Obama Regime?”.

Admittedly, Rush’s programs are a bit more strident than the staid old New York Times. Rush’s programs might even be called extreme by some (although he seems to me to be right on the money).

But I’ll tell you just how bad things are:

Even Yorkshire Pudding has stopped genuflecting.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Divertissement

We will now take a little break from listening to the world’s best-known Tuvan throat-singer and turn to something a little less startling more familiar.

My French blogger-friend, Vagabonde, who lives just a few miles away from me in Marietta, Georgia, has put together a lovely post of scenes from her travels on three continents. It includes a sunset in Alaska and glimpses into a few of the cities she has visited, like Oslo and Vienna and Paris and Cairo and Tunis and Atlanta and New York and Los Angeles. She ended her post with a poem by Andree Chedid (1920-2011) called “Le Chant des Villes” (The Song of Cities), including an English translation if you need one, and a wonderful painting called Paris seen from the roof tops by Robert Ricart (1948- ).

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Vagabonde’s post.

I know those roof tops are in Paris, not London, but somehow that painting reminded me of this (2:57).

A little karaoke never hurt anybody.

Enjoy this little divertissement while you can.

The Tuvan throat-singing may resume at any moment.

Friday, June 7, 2013

If you just can’t get enough of Kongar-ol Ondar...

...and I'm thinking there are thousands of you out there who can’t, here he is in 2007 on David Letterman’s television program (2:58).

Kondar-ol’s name in Tuvan is Ондар Коңгар-оол. I’m given to understand that the name Kondar-ol translates to “loud boy” and, boy, is he ever.

If you still can’t get enough of Kondar-ol, just keep clicking on the link in this post over and over again. Eventually you will get enough.

I guarantee it.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

From the archives (July 17, 2012): As William Shakespeare once said...

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.”

It happens to be the opening line of Sonnet 116, but that is irrelevant for purposes of this post. Only English literature majors care.

As you are surely aware if you have read this blog for any length of time, I am always looking for interesting and unusual things to bring to your attention.

This time I just may have outdone myself.


Page 1 -- Thesis

There’s this guy named Béla Fleck (well, his full name is Béla Anton Leoš Fleck and according to Wikipedia he is named after Hungarian composer Béla Bartók and Czech composers Anton Dvorak and Leoš Janáček, which proves that anything is possible). He was born in 1958 and grew up to be, of all things,
a banjo player. Strangest of all, he was born not in Alabama but in New York City.

He formed a group called Béla Fleck and the Flecktones that has won Grammy awards for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and Best Pop Instrumental Album.

This is Béla:

(Photo by tom m., 2007, on Flickr and used here in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)


Page 2 -- Antithesis

Then there’s this other guy named Kongar-ol Ondar, a Tuvan throat singer who was born in 1962.

He is considered a living treasure by the Republic of Tuva and has appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman (2:59).

I bet you didn’t even know there was a Republic of Tuva, and yes, I just split an infinitive. (Again, only English majors care.)

This is Kongar-ol:

(Photo by Bill Loewy, 1993, used here in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.)


Page 3 -- Synthesis

Apparently, banjo players and pseudo-banjo players, whatever their singing style, seek their own level. In the fulness of time and as luck would have it, Kongar-ol Ondar appeared with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones on albums called Outbound, Live at the Quick, and Jingle All the Way. He has also released an album of his own called Back Tuva Future.

Curiouser and curiouser.

You do know what’s coming next.

For your listening and viewing pleasure, here’s “Ah Sho Dekio” featuring Kongar-ol Ondar with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones (3:14). I urge you to watch it, as you may never see anything like it ever again.


Page 4

Finally, here’s every Alabaman’s idea of a dream date:

(Photo by Julianne Macie, 2010, used here in accordance with Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

The girl is Abigail Washburn and Béla ended up marrying her. As Shakespeare also once said, “All’s well that ends well.”

And as Shakespeare never once said, Ah sho hope you liked this post.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Take me out to the ball game, especially if my grandson is playing

The following photographs were taken with my iPhone (yes, Virginia, I have an iPhone) on June 4, 2013, at American Legion Field in Canton, Georgia, USA. My oldest grandson, who is 17, plays first base.

My grandson warms up:



Here he is at the plate:



My grandson swings:



This game was painful, not just because American Legion Field is located along the banks of the Etowah River where the entire local population of mosquitoes and ants had chosen the evening of June 4, 2013, to go out strolling with their girlie where the dew is pearly early in the morning but also because my grandson’s team was playing against a much bigger and stronger team.

The other team scored 3 runs in the first inning, 8 runs in the second inning, and 3 more runs in the third inning. At the top of the fourth inning, the score was 14-0.

The good news is that my grandson was credited with an RBI on his team’s first run in the bottom of the sixth inning. The bad news is that my grandson’s team eventually lost the game by the very lopsided score of 18-2.

It goes without saying, of course, that he played first base magnificently throughout.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

News Flash: The IRS and President Obama are not your friends

It’s true.

You probably already suspected that the IRS (Internal Revenue Service, the tax collecting arm of the federal government) is not your friend.

Well, neither is President Obama’s healthcare plan, famously dubbed Obamacare by its detractors (real name: The Affordable Care Act).

The Affordable Care Act. HA! And again I say, HA!

Here is a link to a very interesting article at cnsnews.com by Matt Cover.

I hope you were sitting down.

The gist of the article, for those of you who didn’t read it, is that in a final regulation issued this past Wednesday, the Internal Revenus Service (IRS) assumes that the cheapest health insurance plan for a family of four in 2016 will cost $20,000 for the year.

Yes, you read that right.

There will be four tiers of coverage possible under the Affordable Care Act -- Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Bronze is the lowest level.

The figure $20,000 represents the annual premium for Bronze-level coverage.

But wait (as they say in infomercials). You don’t have to buy the coverage. You can choose instead to pay the “penalty” for not having coverage.

The “penalty” for a family of four will be $2,400 payable as part of your income tax for the year.

Yet President Obama continues to insist that he does not want to raise taxes on anyone except the very rich (you know, those nasty millionaires and billionaires whose success just has to have been at your expense). He wouldn’t raise taxes on you.
Not little old you. He’s protecting you, just as he always has done and always will do, is now and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.

Balderdash, poppycock, and other expressions of outright disbelief.

To help illustrate the new rules, the IRS has presented examples of different situations families might find themselves in. In the examples, the IRS assumes that families of five who are not insured would need to pay an average of $20,000 per year to purchase a Bronze plan in 2016.

Using the conditions laid out in the regulations, the IRS calculates that a family earning $120,000 per year that did not buy insurance would need to pay a “penalty” (a word the IRS still uses despite the Supreme Court ruling that it is in fact a “tax”) of $2,400 in 2016.

For those wondering how clear the IRS’s clarifications of this new “penalty” rule are, here is one of the actual examples the IRS gives:

“Example 3. Family without minimum essential coverage.

“(i) In 2016, Taxpayers H and J are married and file a joint return. H and J have three children: K, age 21, L, age 15, and M, age 10. No member of the family has minimum essential coverage for any month in 2016. H and J’s household income is $120,000. H and J’s applicable filing threshold is $24,000. The annual national average bronze plan premium for a family of 5 (2 adults, 3 children) is $20,000.

“(ii) For each month in 2016, under paragraphs (b)(2)(ii) and (b)(2)(iii) of this section, the applicable dollar amount is $2,780 (($695 x 3 adults) + (($695/2) x 2 children)). Under paragraph (b)(2)(i) of this section, the flat dollar amount is $2,085 (the lesser of $2,780 and $2,085 ($695 x 3)). Under paragraph (b)(3) of this section, the excess income amount is $2,400 (($120,000 - $24,000) x 0.025). Therefore, under paragraph (b)(1) of this section, the monthly penalty amount is $200 (the greater of $173.75 ($2,085/12) or $200 ($2,400/12)).

“(iii) The sum of the monthly penalty amounts is $2,400 ($200 x 12). The sum of the monthly national average bronze plan premiums is $20,000 ($20,000/12 x 12). Therefore, under paragraph (a) of this section, the shared responsibility payment imposed on H and J for 2016 is $2,400 (the lesser of $2,400 or $20,000).”

On a side note, I’m glad the IRS cleared up the fact that they arrived at their figure of $20,000 by dividing $20,000 by 12 and then multiplying by 12. I don’t think I could have lived another second without knowing that information.

The last I heard, H and J were considering taking K, L, and M and moving to the Cayman Islands.

Until you decide to read my poems, you will continue getting posts like this one.

Monday, June 3, 2013

She had to go and ask.

In a comment left on my May 23rd post -- the one that contained my poem “The Rather Odd Story of Iris McGee” -- fairly new blogreader Hilltophomesteader asked, “Have you more delightful poetry to offer?”

Well, I don't know how delightful it is, but I allowed as how I did and referred her to Chapter 33 of the Billy Ray Barnwell Here blog. However, since (a) hardly anyone ever reads the Billy Ray Barnwell Here blog and (b) when someone actually does read the Billy Ray Barnwell Here Blog he or she rarely makes it as far as Chapter 33, I have taken the bold step of bringing the poems from Chapter 33 of the Billy Ray Barnwell Here blog here to you at rhymeswithplague.

You may thank me later.

First you have to read every last poem. (If you have been reading rhymeswithplague for a long time, it is possible that you may have read a few of them before.)

And only after that may you plot any sort of revenge against Hilltophomesteader.

(Editor’s note. There are 36 poems in all (or 40, if you count “Sonnets for the Space Age” as five instead of one). Knowing how many there are in no way exempts you from the requirement of reading every last one. If you think you will need sustenance in the form of food and drink during the ordeal, have them at the ready. I’m just sayin’.--RWP)



The People In Belle Glade

Oh, Burt Reynolds has a ranch in Palm Beach County,
And Jack Nicklaus sells new cars in Delray Beach,
Cubans migrate north from Dade, but the people in Belle Glade
Know that livin’ in the fast lane’s out of reach.

Perry Como owns a mansion in Tequesta,
And Rose Kennedy’s forgotten how to die,
Lots of money down in Boca is derived from leaves of coca,
But the people in Belle Glade go home and cry.

For the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that Daddy won’t get fired,
And they pray that God will keep their Mama strong.

Oh, the snowbirds come and go each spring and autumn,
And Rose Kennedy just turned one hundred five;
And they call their banks from condos while the symphony
....plays rondos,
But in Belle Glade people fight to stay alive.

All the fishing boats go out on Okeechobee,
And the tourists all complain about the heat,
And some citizens of Broward say their congressman’s a coward,
But in Belle Glade there is not enough to eat.

And the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that Daddy won’t get fired,
And they pray that God will keep their Mama strong.

Oh, the honky-tonks are full on Dixie Highway,
And Rose Kennedy’s one hundred seventeen;
Tourists sail on the Atlantic, but in Belle Glade things are frantic,
And it looks like one more year in old blue jeans.

Burt and Loni raise their child in Palm Beach County,
And the Kennedys throw parties all year long,
And the rumor mill is juicy with affairs in Port St. Lucie,
But in Belle Glade people know there’s something wrong.

For the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children cry ‘cause Daddy just got fired,
And they pray that God will make their Mama strong.

On the coast they drive fast cars and chase loose women,
They water ski, play golf, and just have fun;
While the folks on A-1-A just grow richer every day,
Out in Belle Glade seems like work is never done.

So the tourists come and go, Rose lives forever,
And the coca down in Boca is high grade,
But the people that God sees are the ones down on their knees,
And God hears the people praying in Belle Glade.

Yes, the people in Belle Glade get mighty tired
Of workin’ in the cane fields all day long,
And the children pray that one day they’ll be hired,
And they thank the Lord their Mama was so strong.




Sonnets for the Space Age, circa 1976

..............................I

Technology has shrunk our modern world;
No room today for the miraculous.
In space a big blue marble has been hurled,
And astronauts report the marble's us.
Computers speed man's progress on its way
Without regard to race or sex or creed;
The federal grant's the order of the day
Without regard to truth or cost or need.
So equal opportunities abound
(Minorities don't ever fall from grace);
And new solutions, almost daily found,
Are rushed to cure the ills of Adam's race.
But seldom now does prayer storm Heaven's gates:
Inside, the Lord sits patiently and waits.


..............................II

There was a time when life was slower-paced
And one could get to know his neighbor well.
Today each moment's precious, none to waste.
Man's much too busy hurrying toward Hell.
And like a lemming, jostled by the crowd,
He thrashes wildly with the drowning men;
He downs his drink and laughs a bit too loud,
And dashes out into the night again.
So helter-skelter, racing madly on,
He wears a mask to try to hide the lies;
His painted smile denies that time is gone,
But something doth betray him 'round the eyes.
Exhausted, spent, he plunges past the goal
To gain the world and lose his sacred soul.


..............................III

Polaris is a missile and a star,
The one deployed on restless submarine,
The other keeping vigil from afar
While nebulae and comets roam between.
Much nearer Earth, the evanescent moon
Maintains her distance from our planet's face.
Perhaps she senses conflict coming soon,
The Armageddon of the human race.
So warily she orbits overhead.
A quarter-million miles into the void,
She too keeps guard. We talk of peace instead,
Let our guard down. With warheads unemployed,
While newsmen speak of cabinets and kings,
Calamity is waiting in the wings.


..............................IV

Three heavens stretch above Earth's little pond:,
The daylight blue; the midnight's starry host;
Incalculable distances beyond
These two, the one that modern men fear most.
(For if there is a Heaven they should gain,
A Hell to shun the day they pause to die,
Then all their science simply can't explain
How in the merest twinkling of an eye…)
So, flippantly declaring it absurd,
Men laugh until their laughter turns to tears;
But Saul of Tarsus visited that third
And dared not speak of it for fourteen years.
If not till set of sun come out the stars,
Why balk at glories waiting behind Mars?


..............................V

No sooner had the missiles disappeared
Than waves of bombers rose up in their stead.
When all debris and rubble had been cleared,
We found almost a hundred million dead.
And some who lived were maimed, and some were charred,
And some no longer see, or hear, or walk;
And many, although outwardly unmarred,
No longer smile, no longer even talk.
For laughter is a thing of bygone days
When children played at imitation war.
Today most people stare with hollow gaze
Rememb'ring times, once real, that are no more.
When men cried, "Peace and safety," all was lost.
We were not ready for the holocaust.




An Amplified Catharsis

Uncontrollably (ungoverned, not hindered),
.....unbidden (unplanned, spontaneously),
.....rivulets of salty tears ran down her cheeks
.....in trenches (gullies, arroyos, canyons)
of pain.

Later (subsequently, eventually, after a time),
.....when the tears had subsided (lessened, abated, returned
.....to their banks), she emerged from the dark cavern of
.....herself to find (perceive, discover, learn) in the
sunlight

that although her inner wound (injury, hurt, pain, agony),
.....which she tried (attempted, endeavored) to hide (conceal,
.....suppress) from her companion (partner, significant other),
.....had been lessened (diminished, shrunken, made smaller,
reduced),

her soul (mind, intellect, ego, inner self) was enlarged
.....(increased, expanded, made greater than before)
.....by the experience, but not necessarily cleansed;
.....a truly surprising (unforeseen, unexpected, serendipitous)
event.




An Afternoon Encounter

The winter sun is tangled in an oak
And, white with rage, she struggles to break free.
His icy boughs clutch tightly, try to choke
This one who strayed too near, this enemy.
How fortunate the oak to trap this prize!
What luck just now to catch so rare a prey!
How unexpectedly his victim lies
Imprisoned in his snare at close of day!
But blushing now, embarrassed at her plight,
And fighting on, the sun at last is freed.
Disheveled, she limps homeward for the night
To nurse her wounds. One wound begins to bleed.
The sun, retreating, leaves a crimson stain
And wraps herself in clouds to ease the pain.




And All The While The Far Hyena Laughter

And all the while the far hyena laughter
...Reverberates against the unturned sod
......As senseless, faceless hordes of men come after
.........To plough the earth and shake their fists at God.

All serpentine, the river rages southward
...And bears the silt of ages to the sea;
......All ravenous, with morsels lifted mouthward,
.........Rebellious sons refuse to bow the knee.

For few men seem to sense that day approaching
...When all shall bow, confess with mortal tongue;
......The world, the flesh, the devil, now encroaching,
.........Till then will glorify a heap of dung.

But here and there, amid the hollow laughter,
...The sneers, the rotting flesh, the empty mirth,
......Expectant souls await One coming after,
.........And so preserve a faith upon the earth.

Beyond the hills, the far hyena laughter;
...Beyond the stars, the seraphim rejoice;
......Beyond the whirlwind, earthquakes soon come after;
.........Beyond the fire, a sudden still small voice.




Be Still And Know

Somebody told him, or maybe
he read it in a book,
“God speaks in silences,”
but he, a creature of noise
living in a land of achievement,
filled his days and nights
with meaningless activities
because he had no time
for silence.

He rushed to obtain
the prize that dangled before him,
he pushed every obstacle out of the path,
he devoted his energy to running the race;
he was nearly trampled in the stampede.

He sought the spotlights and the applause,
public acclaim and celebrity,
but the gods he worshiped were fickle deities
who soon tired of him and
turned their attention
to other contestants.

Shaken, abandoned,
brushing the dust from his clothes,
he left the arena unnoticed
with the voice of the ringmaster,
the one who had urged him on,
ringing in his ears.

He turned to curse the ringmaster,
the one responsible for
all of his miseries,
but the curse died in his throat
as he saw with a shock
that the ringmaster’s face
was his own.

After a very long time,
after the unmistakable
laughter of demons
finally stopped,

there came
a silence,

an
almost
unbearable
silence.

He tried to convince himself
that the silence was empty,
that nothing was there,
but after another very long time
he realized with
another shock
that something
indeed was there,
something,
no, Someone
was most definitely there

waiting.

Finally he admitted
to the deep, penetrating sky
that he needed help,
that he could not do it on his own,
that he did not even know
what it was he was supposed to be doing,
and most important of all,
that he was not in charge.

At last,
he begin to hear,
though not with ears,
faint at first
but growing stronger,
the undeniable
singing of angels,
and
the irresistible
voice of God.




Canute (994?-1035)

I, King of all the Britons, and Denmark mine as well!
My star approaches zenith! In Caesar’s train I dwell!
More kingdoms to be conquered! And all shall be laid low!
And feudal lords shall bear me liege wherever I may go!

And shall I stop at kingdoms? Nay, tarry here and see!
The winds and waves shall hearken, and both bow down to me!
No more shall raging ocean erode this harried shore!
But it shall do my bidding, as Christ’s in days of yore!

No more shall sea advance upon the gray and shifting sand!
Now cease your endless churning! Subside at my command!
It is Divinely ordered! You must obey my will!
In God’s name I command you! Hear and hearken: “Peace!
....Be still!”

But can I be mistaken? And can I be denied?
My words have no effect! Still onward comes the tide!
The swirling eddy rises! The tide attacks my knees!
It hears commands more regal than this lowly creature’s pleas!

God’s kingdom is eternal, mine but of measured span!
What foolishness emerges from the haughty heart of man!
I am but mortal monarch! O, hear my fool’s heart cry!
‘Tis chastened by the deafness of a greater king than I!




Deathwatch

Gloom, hanging heavy
like a drapery of velvet,
separates the sunlight
.....from the soul.

Despair, entering quietly
with the lengthening shadows,
darkens the windows
.....of the mind.

Foul odors rise
from hidden places; the room,
growing quiet, gathers
.....momentum.

Grief, moving
into striking position,
creeps in stealthily,
.....like vermin.

The sinister moon, hoping
to bathe the scene in a ghastly glow,
waits patiently in the
.....afternoon sky.

At the window,
a light breeze moans softly;
beyond it, the willow
.....is still.

In a distant place,
an angel choir rehearses;
the director calls out suddenly,
.....“Places, everybody.”




December, 1972

Peace on earth, good will toward men.
They’re bombing North Vietnam again --
B-52’s lost this week total ten --
Peace on earth, good will toward men.

It came upon a midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
Yellow-skinned children huddle in fear
Against the wind and the cold
And wonder what new horror
Will the midnight blackness bring,
And the whole earth gives back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Has Johnny talked to Santa Claus?
They’re talking about a bombing pause.
Inaugural plans are proceeding well;
Pat will wear yellow. War is hell.
Do you think man has an immortal soul?
Do you think they’ll blackout the Super Bowl?

Silent night, holy night,
Napalm gives a lovely light;
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
How does it feel to destroy a child?

Peace on earth, good will toward men.
They’re bombing North Vietnam again --
B-52’s lost this week total ten --
Peace on earth, good will toward men.




Delirium

No Byron, I, and yet the thought still lingers,
Will-o’-the-wisp, upon my fevered brow;
Elephantine, its moving, grasping fingers;
Lady Macbeth, and do you haunt me now?

Ramifications swell in deep contrition;
Oceans recede, but in their sunset glow,
Farther away than ever life’s ambition;
Kennedy-like, the newly fallen snow.

Brandishing swords, the ballerina tiptoes;
Duchess of Windsor, grieving at her loss;
Scalpel in hand, the purple eucalyptus;
Garden of Eden; Christ upon the cross.

Mountains volcanic, carousels spinning brightly;
Feeding the turtles, innocent, childlike, pure;
Mother of God, why do you visit nightly?
Pity my state, and pray they find a cure.




Eyewitness

We was standin’ on the corner with a couple of the guys,
Sizin’ up the passin’ girls and tradin’ baldfaced lies;
One liar in particular, a fellow name of Pete,
Hitched up his pants and rubbed his hands and spit into the
....street.
This glassy look come in his eyes, beat all I’d ever saw,
Then he commenced to tremblin’ and a-quiverin’ in the jaw.
He all at once throwed back his head and let out one long
....scream;
He started in to talkin’, but he gurgled like a stream.
The voice a-comin’ outa Pete, it weren’t like him at all,
More like a dozen voices bouncin’ round some empty hall.
And some of us begun to laugh, and one begun to cuss,
But I begun to fear for what was happenin’ to us.
He said he was a prophet and a prophet’s son as well;
He said our destination was the outer banks of Hell
Where men like us are shipwrecked in the mists that never clear,
Said we’d be always haunted by a dark and nameless fear.
He called hisself Ezekiel and smiled the queerest smile;
He ranted on some more like that, but then, after a while,
He kinda come back to hisself and fell limp on the ground.
We looked at one another, but nobody made no sound.
We took him to the doctor, and we told him how Pete did,
Excep’ about the things he said; that part alone we hid.
They’d think we all was crazy if we told a thing like that,
So we agreed amongst ourselves to keep it ‘neath our hat.
Now Pete don’t ‘member nothin’ ‘bout that eerie afternoon,
And sure ain’t none of us’ll be a-tellin’ no time soon.
Doc said Pete’s eptilectic, said we shouldn’t be afraid,
But now and then I get a chill like tombstones bein’ laid.




Glossolalia, or The Gift of Tongues

Not like a finely crafted poem of old
with much attention paid to rhythm and rhyme,
precision sought within a rigid frame,
and fourteen lines to do the will of God;
.....No.

More like an explosion of heat that whooshes into the room
so quickly that it takes your breath away,
shattering the cold silence of December,
a sudden Presence where none was before;
.....Yes.

More like a young girl bursting into the house
with news of great importance, unexpected and unplanned,
but completely welcome,
.....Yes
because she is
.....Yes Yes

Alive.




In Crowded Elevators, Silent Men

In crowded elevators, silent men
Are crushed together in the daily race
For wealth and fame. Like lions in a den,
They wait to stalk their prey, resume the chase.

In silent elevators, busy men
Avert their eyes from one another’s face
And no one speaks. Doors open now and then
To let them disappear without a trace.

In busy elevators, weary men
Preparing to pursue the killing pace
Deceive themselves, deny what might have been,
Embrace a world of works, devoid of grace.

In weary elevators, empty men
Appraise the riders sharing the cramped space;
They judge them fools, then leave the cattle pen
And march with pride into the slaughter place.

In empty elevators, phantom men
Wait patiently for flesh to take their place;
Descending to their own abode again,
They shine their ruler’s scepter, orb, and mace.




Intrusions

Sitting in bleachers at the high school gymnasium,
.....surrounded by parents and other fanatics,
suddenly
.....emptiness,
.....anguish,
.....despair.

Standing at curbside with other mute strangers,
.....waiting obediently in wind-battered silence
.....to resume separate journeys
.....as soon as the traffic light
.....grants its permission,
suddenly
.....loneliness,
.....bitterness,
.....oss.

Lying on blankets of uncertain vintage
(the color of armies) near the brook in the park,
.....watching the desperate joggers
.....race incessantly in cool autumn sunshine
.....only to be passed
.....by their afternoon shadows,
suddenly
.....hatred,
.....self-loathing,
.....contempt.

Circling in airplanes over night-fondled cities
(pinpricks of light, reflection of stars),
.....emerging unscathed from
.....mazes of concourses strangely familiar,
.....detained once again
.....by reluctant luggage,
suddenly
.....rage
.....at a world
.....going mad.




Lament

What has become of my darling –
(She of the flaxen hair
Who climbed in my lap of an evening
And beamed with a radiance fair)?

What has become of my daughter –
(She of the ruby lips
Who smothered my cheeks with wet kisses,
My cheeks and my fingertips)?

..........She has gone, gone away for a season
..........Like the last faded October leaf;
..........But no one can give me a reason,
..........And none can assuage my grief.

What has become of my sweetheart –
(She of the green-gold eyes
Who melted my heart with her glances
And made each new day a surprise)?

What has become of my baby –
(She of the velvet skin
Who conquered so quickly with laughter
And toppled my whole world in)?

..........And autumn has now turned to winter,
..........And after the winter, what then?
..........Do I dare trust in God to send springtime?
..........Will I see my dead daughter again?




Matins

The white gulls fly out seaward
.....To greet the golden dawn;
The naked earth, arising,
.....Puts robes of morning on;
The sun, leaving her chambers
.....To start another day,
Now pauses for a moment
.....And kneels at sea to pray.

The white gulls hang suspended,
.....The east wind holds her breath,
And men in warm beds waken
.....From dreams of love and death;
The sun now turns from praying,
.....Her intercession done;
The white gulls circle softly:
.....A new day has begun.




Meditation for Christmas Eve

“Though Christ a thousand times in Bethlehem be born, it will avail thee naught, save He be born in thee.”
................................... -–Bernard of Clairvaux, 12th century

The wise men came to Bethlehem and worshiped you,
Before a newborn king they knelt in awe.
The shepherds came and knelt in adoration too,
Still wond’ring at the things they heard and saw.
The virgin mother smiled and kissed her baby’s face,
Rememb’ring words an angel came to tell;
Jehovah God would come to save the human race,
And here You are, with us, Immanuel.

And the night was filled with angel song, heralding Your birth.
Still their message echoes loud and strong of joy and peace on
....earth!
Your star still shines, a beacon burning bright!
Jesus, I worship You, be born in me this night.
You are sinless, holy, worthy of all praise;
Lord, I love You, adore You, I’ll serve You all my days!
You changed my life, I’ll never be the same.
Jesus, I worship You and magnify your name.

I worship You, Creator of all time and space;
I worship You, Redeemer of my soul.
You spoke in pow’r and all the stars were hung in place,
You spoke in peace and made my spirit whole.
I worship You, O Holy One of Israel;
I worship You, Who’ll die upon a tree.
By Your own blood You’ll break the pow’r of Satan’s spell!
You’ll conquer death and set this captive free!

You are Savior, Healer, You’ll cause blind eyes to see;
You are mighty, holy, merciful to me!
You changed my life, I’ll never be the same!
Jesus, I worship You and magnify Your name!
On a rugged hill called Calvary, You’ll give your life for me,
From the grave You’ll rise on Easter morn, from sin and death
....I’m free!
You changed my life, I’ll never be the same!
Jesus, I worship You and magnify Your name,
Your precious Name,
Your holy,
matchless
Name!




Nebuchadnezzar To His Astrologers

Last night, in dream or vision (I know not which),
I saw a splendor rise before me.
Awe filled my soul, and beholding, I grew dumb,
Wondering at its meaning.
Resplendent it was, and marvelous,
Too wonderful to view.

This morning is my soul stirred,
And I desire from you
What the gods conveyed to me,
For the dream has left me.
The vision has fled with the
Warming rays of the sun.

I know not what I saw,
Nor what now troubles me.
But work your work, ply your craft,
Can you not divine it?
Surely I would tell you,
Could I but recall it.

Answer now,
Your king is
Waiting.




On Being Shown a Photograph of an Ancestor

Those things speak most that never say a word,
Like eyes that meet on streets when strangers pass;
The loudest cries so often go unheard,
Like silent prayers reflected in a glass.
Though never have we spoken, there’s a bond
That shatters my veneer, my thin disguise;
You look beneath the surface and beyond,
And all of time is frozen in your eyes.
Departed generations in between,
Like links of chain from viewer to the viewed,
Peer over Heaven’s edge, survey the scene,
Hold their collective breaths, and don’t intrude.
While thoughts of love, and death, and DNA
Swirl through my brain, they bow their heads and pray.




On Viewing a Medieval Bridal Chamber

Half a morning’s measure,
.....Stripped of veil and train,
Here, in languid leisure,
.....Maids with men have lain,
Off’ring up their treasure,
.....Off’ring sweat and stain,
Little gasps of pleasure,
.....Little cries of pain.

In their sweet uncladness,
.....Still all lovers cling,
Thinking, in their madness,
.....Lusty flesh is king;
What now gives them gladness
.....All too soon shall bring
Little sighs of sadness,
.....Little tears that sting.




October 25, 2004

Our friend Carolyn came over for lunch
And as we finished at the table
Someone said, “Let’s go for a ride!”
So into the car we piled,
Like children giddy with anticipation,
Not knowing where we were headed
But eager to be having an adventure;
And someone said, “Where shall we go?”
And we said, “We don’t know!”
And someone else said, “Name a direction!”
And because the fall thus far at home
Had been drab and disappointing,
We headed north toward the mountains, laughing.

Five hours later we returned,
Tired but invigorated,
Having been to Helen and Unicoi Gap
And Hiawassee and Lake Chatuge,
Making all of the hairpin turns
And ascending, always ascending, until
We crested and began to descend
Through another set of hairpin turns,
And all the while we oohed and ahhed
And said how glad we were that we had come,
Drinking in the brilliant reds, the dazzling yellows,
The shocking oranges of autumn, the mountains ablaze
Against a clear blue sky.




The Entrepreneurial Spirit In The Twenty-first Century

Take a good idea involving
two sets of neighbors,
two days,
a thousand dollars,
put it on television,

change production companies
after the first season,
fire the doe-eyed host,
get a perky one,
a simple girl
with Broadway experience,

add new designers,
take some away,
have them put
feathers on walls,
put moss and rust
and cardboard,
put hay,

spice it up
with giggling jiggling blondes
and guys in leather pants,
call yellow by
a thousand different names,

run it into the ground
with versions for kids,
families, paying off
somebody’s mortgage,

make your millions,
and laugh all the way
to the bank.




Poem, Untitled

The page is blank, like my life.
All sorts of subjects flit through my mind
On the way to somewhere else
But not one settles down, makes itself
Comfortable, takes root, or starts to grow
Upward toward the light that arches
High above, beckoning all things to
Itself, not a single one.

The page is empty, like my brain.
I want to write a poem
But nothing comes to mind,
Only a formless maelstrom,
Swirling like one of the
Hundred million galaxies
Out there in the cosmos,
Moving toward the light.




Revelation

An anguish I could not explain
.....Awakened me at dawn;
A heavy sigh escaped me as I
.....Pulled my trousers on;
Unbidden tears coursed down my cheeks
.....And later in the day
I found myself, astonished,
.....Kneeling in a church to pray.

I cannot name what troubled me,
.....What filled me with such dread;
I can’t identify the fears
.....That raised me from my bed;
I cannot place the sudden chill
.....Enveloping me now,
Nor do I know the reason
.....That this sweat pours down my brow.

I hesitate to speak these things
.....(You may think me deranged),
But this I know: I’m different;
.....I’ve been profoundly changed.
I move ahead with confidence
.....Into the growing night;
While others walk in darkness,
.....All I see is brilliant light.




Table Grace With Musings Afterward

“God is great, God is good;
Let us thank Him for our food.
By His hands we all are fed.
Thank you, Lord for daily bread. Amen.”
Okay, everybody, dig in!

.....God is deaf, God is blind
.....To the ills of humankind;
.....While we struggle here below,
.....Seraphim fly to and fro before his throne
.....Crying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.
.....Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.
.....Glory be to Thee, O Lord, Most High.”

.....Hogwash.

.....Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
.....Secula seculorum,
.....World without end,
.....Amen.


Please pass the butter.

.....And the angel said, “Hail, Mary, full of grace,
.....The Lord is with thee.”
.....(Closer than your next breath,
.....Nearer than a heartbeat.
.....With thee With thee WITH thee WITH thee...)


More coffee, anyone?

.....How is it
.....That a God so pure, so holy that He
.....Cannot look upon sin,
.....A God so high, so lifted up that His train alone
.....Filled an ancient temple,
.....Has turned from His headlong march in the opposite
......... direction
.....And looked upon me?
..........(I believe in the Holy Spirit…)

.....How is it
.....That His single gaze pierced through
.....My carefully constructed armor?
..........(The holy catholic Church…)

.....And how, finally, is it
.....That His eyes, aflame like
.....Hot coals from an altar, yet filled with
.....Indescribable tenderness,
.....Can see everything and still, in the seeing,
.....Forgive?
..........(The communion of saints…)


Cream and sugar?

.....It is not for us to know the times and seasons…
..........(The forgiveness of sins…)
...............Credo in unum Deum.

.....Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face…
..........(The resurrection of the body…)
...............Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine.

.....Then we shall know even as we are known…
..........(And the life everlasting.)
...............Deum verum de Deo vero.

.....Neither do I condemn thee: Go and sin no more...
..........He knows. He loves. He forgives.
...............It is enough to know for the present.


Does anyone want dessert?




The Thing About His Poetry Is

The thing about his poetry is
it just lies there, flat as the proverbial
pancake, it doesn’t lift off the page
like a rocket bound for some distant
world, it doesn’t make your brain want to
soar into the blue. The herons are

never flying in his poetry and no stars
are ever mentioned; he wouldn’t recognize
a constellation if one hit him square
in the face. Your heart with rapture
never fills, there are no fields of
daffodils with which it can dance, in fact

dancing itself is pretty much
frowned upon in his economy,
it’s all business with him, cut and dried.
If his poetry were the financial section
of the newspaper there would always be
a bear market without the slightest hint

of hope, and in spite of all this
the public can’t get enough of him,
his books are all best sellers and
he’s making money hand over fist
even though the thing about his poetry is
it just lies there, flat as the proverbial

pancake.




Nancy Reagan

When Spring comes, I shall walk the fields again
And watch the earth take on a greener hue.
Your heart and mine will be united then,
Though this time I shall walk them without you.
And I shall miss your love, your soft caress,
The sweetness of your kiss, your gentle breath,
Your quiet touch, your looks of tenderness,
With me atop the earth and you beneath.
Despite the awful absence of your hand,
Despite the empty aching in my loins,
This truth shall journey with me o’er the land:
“What Death divides, it once again rejoins.”
And in my heart, truth’s promise I shall keep;
When Spring comes, I shall walk and you shall sleep.




Oz Redux

Somewhere over someone’s pretty rainbow
Pterodactyls lick their chops and hover,
Judy Garland’s dead, O.D.’d, we miss her,
Toto, rabid stray, has run for cover.
Rusting tin men fall apart in junkyards,
Scarecrows never have the urge to talk,
Broomsticks are for sweeping, not for flying,
Wicked witches take a bus or walk.
Child molesters prey on little munchkins,
Auntie Em was in her youth a whore,
One thing, though, is constant, one thing certain:
Folks, we’re not in Kansas any more.




Six Six Six

A mark in the forehead or one in the hand –-
A great tribulation is stalking the land.
If no one is selling, then no one can buy;
Though many have vanished, I can’t seem to die.

If no one is buying, then no one can sell;
If none can earn Heaven, we’ve surely found Hell.
But who can find answers when no one explains?
And peace now is passing, but torment remains.




Byzantine Christ

Naught else consumes me, naught but the prize,
Naught but the flicker of love in your eyes.
All else I flee from, all else abhor,
All else excoriate, all else deplore.

This is my one goal, this is my quest,
This my one hope, and away with the rest.
All else is vanity, all I despise;
Say me a silent Well done with your eyes.




Thy Brother’s Blood

A poet (I forget his name) spoke
at the second inauguration
of little Billy Blythe of Hope, Arkansas,
whom the world knows as William Jefferson Clinton,
and let me just state here for the record
in this year of our Lord two thousand four
that many people would like to forget
the name William Jefferson Clinton,
many people wish his smiling face
would disappear from our national consciousness
or, to be more accurate,
that it had never appeared there in the first place,
but thanks to the wonders of modern technology
and the incessant, arrogant media,
the relentless, pontificating media,
who know with perfect knowledge
what products we should buy
and what entertainments we should enjoy
and whom we should admire
and what thoughts we should think
and do not hesitate to tell us at every opportunity,
we cannot, we are stuck with him
and his power-hungry wife,
but I digress.

I remember the poet’s name: Miller Williams.
He mentioned “the anonymous dead”
and I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling,
I did not get all cheery and hopeful,
I did not feel the way I felt when Maya Angelou,
the unforgettable Maya Angelou, urged us all
four years earlier to say, with hope,
“Good morning,”
I did not feel that way at all.

I have seen the skulls and skeletons
beneath the subways of Paris,
there in the catacombs, piles and piles
of anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous),
photographed in living color
and published in Smithsonian magazine;

I have read of the mass graves
in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia;
I have read of Sudan and Rwanda,
where they didn’t even bother to dig graves;
I have read of the Mekong Delta and the Hanoi Hilton;
I have read of Chosin Reservoir and Pork Chop Hill;
I have seen old newsreel footage,
black and white and grainy,
of soldiers standing before the opened oven doors
at Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Treblinka;
I have seen the charred and broken remains
of what once were human bodies
(and they are not anonymous);
I have read of the Bulge and the beaches of Normandy,
Utah and Omaha and Pointe-du-Hoc,
I have read of Okinawa and Guadalcanal;
I have read of Iwo Jima and the death march on Bataan;
I have read of the Marne and the Argonne Forest;
I have read of Gettysburg and Antietam,
of Shiloh and Chickamauga;
I have read of Valley Forge;
I have walked through rows and rows of graves
at Arlington National Cemetery;
and one sunny September morning
in the year of our Lord two thousand one
I watched with my own eyes
on live television
as the second plane
hit the second tower;
I watched both buildings fall.

Make no mistake,
these common, ordinary people,
these so-called anonymous dead
(though they are not anonymous)
who have come to include
office workers in lower Manhattan
and commuters on trains in Madrid
and schoolchildren in Chechnya,
and millions upon millions
of aborted American babies,
they are not anonymous,
and they are not silent.




To Lukewarm In Laodicea

Were every bush a burning bush
.....And every leaf a clue,
You’d see the cleansing hand of God
.....In every fiery hue;
You’d know the strong Refiner’s touch
.....Can pierce a soul clean through,
Were every bush a burning bush
.....Then any bush would do.

Were every tongue an unknown tongue
.....And every sigh a psalm,
You’d speak the oracles of God
.....To those in need of balm;
You’d tell of healing virtue and
.....Of saving power too;
Were every tongue an unknown tongue
.....Then even yours would do.

Were every tomb an empty tomb
.....Like that near Calv’ry’s hill
And every boulder rolled away
.....That keeps you from God’s will,
You’d know the Lord as risen Lord
.....Whose pow’r makes all things new;
Were every tomb an empty tomb
.....Then yours might empty too.




A Hummingbird Came To Our Patio

A hummingbird came to our patio
to sample the pink blossoms
that glistened with dew
in the strawberry pots
.....by the wrought iron chair.

She darted and hovered, darted and hovered,
and we held our breaths, transfixed,
and dared not look at one another,
and we listened as our beating hearts
.....tried to match the flutter of her wings.

She was gone as quickly as she came,
and we exhaled in a kind of thanksgiving
and looked into each other’s eyes
with no little disappointment
.....that the shared moment, so perfect, was so brief.

Two hours later, eight miles away,
we saw another hummingbird,
ruby-throated,
outside the kitchen window of a friend,
.....twice in one day, a very special gift.




Visitation

Near the mill, in the mist of a morning,
Where the dew was an emerald sea,
There was brilliance aplenty adorning
When angels came walking to me.

For they came with a glorious splendor;
They approached with a jubilant psalm;
And the song that they sang did engender
Magnificent, infinite calm.

Oh, I cannot remember their faces
(Though the music was jubilant psalm),
But a Light filled my hiddenmost places
And healed them with Gilead’s balm.

They passed by without seeming to see me
As they joyously went on their way,
But their jubilant singing did free me
As the Light turned gross darkness to day.

And the glory that shone was resplendent,
And the triumphant sound of their song
That had made one brief moment transcendent
Shall stay with me all my life long.

For the mill was in mist on that morning,
And the dew was an emerald sea
When, with brilliance aplenty adorning,
The angels came walking to me.




Florabelle Oxley (1918-2007)

Born Florabelle Stillwater, part
Choctaw Indian, or maybe it was Cherokee,
in a little town in Central Texas;
she married Bud Oxley, a nice enough guy
who owned his own plumbing business
in another little town
and who also drank
maybe a little too much
a little too often;
she had two sisters, one in
North Las Vegas, Nevada,
and one in Tulare, California.

Florabelle raised Poland China hogs on
a forty-acre farm she and Bud owned
two miles north of town;
she also raised a
son named Jimmy Wayne who
didn’t do well in school
but loved to hunt squirrels, loved
to drive a tractor, loved to
swim in the pond where the hogs
and a small herd of cattle
came often to drink,
loved most of all to fish
in the selfsame pond,
and after leaving home
he became a fishing guide
somewhere down in
East Texas.

We could hear Florabelle
calling her hogs
every afternoon at four-thirty,
regular as clockwork,
sooooooey, sooooooey,
suey, suey, suey,
sooooooey, sooooooey,
a siren beckoning to Ulysses,
or Circe wooing Ulysses’ men
in from the fields to be
slopped and penned up for the night,
fattening them up for the kill
but not before winning prizes at
the annual Livestock Exposition and
Fat Stock Show in Fort Worth.

Florabelle had a heart of gold,
telling my parents, “So sorry
about your well,
of course you can get water
from the spigot and hose on the
side of my house,” which we did
for three long years,
or rather I did,
I, carrying drinking water
in buckets across the pasture
between our houses every other day,
I, pulling an old Red Flyer wagon
with a large aluminum garbage can,
shiny and new
and filled with water,
balanced on top
across the same pasture
twice a week,
I, hauling water so we could
bathe and wash dishes
and have clean pots and pans,
I, whose mother had earned
a teaching certificate from
West Chester State College in
Pennsylvania but
died of cancer anyway
in October of my senior year,
I, whose father never finished
high school and didn’t intend
to part with good money
just to dig a new well or
install indoor plumbing
for a sick wife,
I, who did quite well at school
and became valedictorian
of my class,
dependent on a country woman
with little education
who raised hogs
and had a son who
didn’t do well in school
didn’t do well
at all.

After fifty-three years of
living with Bud, Florabelle
became a widow and lived
thirteen more years
to the ripe old age of
eighty-eight; she was
confined to a wheelchair
for the last three years of her life,
but that didn’t slow her down much
because Bud’s niece, Jolene,
his sister Gaye’s youngest daughter
whose father had been mayor of the town,
Jolene, who as a teenager thought
dancing was a sin and told us all
she was going to become a
Southern Baptist missionary,
Jolene, who instead became
a registered nurse and
a three-time divorcee,
and decided to learn how to
square dance when she was
in her fifties,
Jolene, who fell in love
for a fourth time with
David, a Mormon guy from Utah,
and told him, “If you agree
to learn to square dance for me,
I’ll become a Mormon for you,”
and he did, and she did,
and they lived happily ever after,
that Jolene, at the age of sixty-three
assumed full responsibility
for Florabelle who was eighty-five
and confined to a wheelchair and
needed help getting dressed
and into and out of bed and couldn’t even
go to the bathroom by herself
and had a touch of the
Alzheimer’s
to boot,
assumed responsibility for her aunt
because Jimmy Wayne was still
somewhere down in East Texas
helping all those city people
catch fish on weekends;
she and David, her fourth husband,
toted Florabelle all around the country,
driving all the way to North
Las Vegas, Nevada, and Tulare, California,
and back east to North Carolina
to visit Jolene’s sister, Bernice,
and all the way up to Washington state
where they flew kites on a beach
by the Pacific Ocean and took
photographs to prove it,
and out to Kaysville, Utah,
several times each year
to visit David’s children
and Jolene still found time
to produce and distribute
a quarterly newsletter complete with
scanned photographs
on her laptop computer
for her old classmates.

On the night all forty-six members
of the class of 1958
marched across the football field
and sang “Moments To Remember”
as sung by The Four Lads to the crowd
assembled in the stadium seats
and I gave my valedictory address
and we graduated from high school,
Jolene was my date, although date
is the wrong word because I
didn’t know how to drive yet
so we sat in the back seat
of my Dad’s car while he and
my soon-to-be-stepmother
took us somewhere to eat
and drove us around for a
couple of hours, pretending to
have a good time
when they probably wanted to
be somewhere else;
it was Florabelle who had quietly
suggested one afternoon
that it would be nice
if I asked her niece
to go out
after graduation.

A couple of years ago
Florabelle, Jolene, and David
spent a Saturday night with us
in North Georgia
on their way back to Texas
from North Carolina;
Florabelle didn’t know
who we were or where she was
but she did remember
Ruth, Ted, and Billy,
her old neighbors from
fifty-some years ago, and she
flirted shamelessly with David
at the dinner table,
and they all attended Easter service
with us the next day because
Jolene wanted to hear me
play the piano once again,
and Jolene seemed to enjoy our church
even though Florabelle said
the service was too long
and David said it was
more exuberant than he was used to,
and before they left
to get back on the road
Jolene snapped some pictures
and scanned some photographs
to use in a future newsletter.

Last week Florabelle died. I sent
flowers to the funeral home and
signed the online guest book
that was provided by the
obituary department of the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram;
I left a note saying what a
good neighbor she had been,
always ready with a laugh or a tear,
whichever fit the occasion,
and that Mama and Florabelle
were neighbors once again;
the next evening
one of the class officers
called and said “I went
to a funeral today and
your name came up; it was
mentioned from the pulpit.”

According to the Bible,
love covers a multitude of sins;
I would simply add that
love lets your neighbors have water
when they have none,
love makes you more than happy to
rearrange your life
to care for an elderly relative
who can no longer care for herself;
love doesn’t mind all the equipment
you have to lug around or
all the trouble it is
to produce a quarterly newsletter
for your classmates.

Dancing is not a sin;
being divorced three times is not a sin;
drinking maybe a little too much
is not a sin;
wanting to be a fishing guide
is not a sin;
not having enough money to be able to
afford to have a new well dug
is not a sin.

Sin is that which causes you,
upon receiving a brand new
telephone directory, to look at
your own name and address first;
it is loving yourself
to the exclusion of others,
it is concentrating on your own needs
and ignoring anyone else’s;
it is the complete self-centeredness
that makes you secretly pleased
to hear that your name
was mentioned from the pulpit;
it is trying to write a poem
to honor a neighbor or a friend
and ending up making it about yourself;
it is the missing of the mark altogether,
the coming short of the glory of God,
the glory in which, I hasten to add,
Mama and Florabelle now reside.




..................................The Writer

....................With words alone, he paints
....................from the palette of his mind,
.........................mixing,
.........................blending,
.........................combining
.........................hues and tints
....................until he sees the exact shade
....................he wants.

....................With words alone, she chips away
....................rough edges of meaning,
.........................chiseling,
.........................hewing,
.........................gouging
..............................the solid rock
....................until the long-sought shape
....................emerges.

....................With words alone, she pins and drapes
....................original ideas
....................over the naked manikin page,
.........................tucking in a bit of material
.....................................................................................here,
....................snipping off
....................a dangling thread
there,
....................dropping thoughts
....................as easily as hemlines.

....................With words alone, he composes
....................irresistible music,
.........................charming,
.........................seducing the ear,
.........................searching for a particular chord,
....................the one right sound his words must make
....................for echoes
.........................to linger.