Friday poem: To Waiting

29 01 2010

Bit behind in bloggin’, but Friday bails me out: poetry!

Who this week?

It turned out to be less about the who than the what; subject, not author (although I do like this author).

So: I have been unsettled all week. Ending one job, starting another, looking ahead to starting yet another. I’m pleased to have the ‘yet another’, but uneasy as to how it will go, how will I adapt to a FT 9-5 position. And, given that it is only temporary (tho’ long-term), uneasy as to what I will do, after.

It’s good to be able to pay the rent, but, as always when I’m not writing, I think Is this what I came to New York for?

Unsettlement, unease, and restless, always restless.

Thus, this poem by WS Merwin:

To Waiting

You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
someone else
always someone
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you

meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
lights changing
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself

with whom as you
recall you were
never happy
to be left alone for long





Sic ’em. Wait! No biting!

26 01 2010

Shocked—shocked!—that an group which prides itself on its unruliness is. . . unruly.

Tea Party Disputes Take Toll on Convention

From a report by Kate Zernike  in today’s NY Times:

A Tea Party convention billed as the coming together of the grass-roots groups that began sprouting up around the country a year ago is unraveling as sponsors and participants pull out to protest its expense and express concerns about “profiteering.”

The convention’s difficulties highlight the fractiousness of the Tea Party groups, and the considerable suspicions among their members of anything that suggests the establishment.

. . .

Philip Glass, the national director of the National Precinct Alliance, announced late Sunday that “amid growing controversy” around the convention, his organization would no longer participate. His group seeks to take over the Republican Party from the bottom by filling the ranks of local and state parties with grass-roots conservatives, and Mr. Glass had been scheduled to lead workshops on its strategy.

“We are very concerned about the appearance of T.P.N. [Tea Party Nation] profiteering and exploitation of the grass-roots movement,” he said in a statement. “We were under the impression that T.P.N. was a nonprofit organization like N.P.A., interested only in uniting and educating Tea Party activists on how to make a real difference in the political arena.”

Mr. Glass said he was also concerned about the role in the convention of groups like Tea Party Express, which has held rallies across the country through two bus tours, and FreedomWorks, a Tea Party umbrella. He called them  “Republican National Committee-related groups,” and added, “At best, it creates the appearance of an R.N.C. hijacking; at worst, it is one.”

Ha. Emphasis added.





Pat-pat, good dog

26 01 2010

So as not merely to pick on the religious folk:

France Should Ban Muslim Face Veils – Panel

From today’s NY Times:

By Tom Heneghan, Religion Editor

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s National Assembly should pass a resolution denouncing full Muslim face veils and then vote the strictest law possible to ban women from wearing them, a parliamentary commission proposed on Tuesday.

Presenting conclusions after six months of hearings, the panel also suggested barring foreign women from obtaining French visas or citizenship if they insisted on veiling their faces.

But it could not agree whether to opt for an absolute ban on the veils, known here as burqas or niqabs, or one restricted to public buildings because some members thought a total ban would be unconstitutional.

“The full veil represents in an extraordinary way everything that France spontaneously rejects,” National Assembly President Bernard Accoyer said as the commission delivered its report.

“It’s a symbol of the subjugation of women and the banner of extremist fundamentalism.”

Okay, so let’s look at those commission members: Andre Guerin, communist deputy, headed the commission; Eric Raoult, conservative deputy, was vice chair. Socialist members of the commission, protesting the entanglement of this issue with a debate on national identity, boycotted the final vote.

Jean-Francois Cope, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s  conservative Union for a Popular Movement party, has introduced a bill banning full covering (i.e., the burka and the niqab) in public; it’s been signed by 180 members of the 315-member body.

Supporters of a ban say civil servants need a law to allow them to turn away fully veiled women who cannot be identified when they seek municipal services such as medical care, child support or public transport. (NY Times)

Now, I haven’t been able to find out who exactly sat on this commission, but does anyone else notice who is championing efforts to restrict the movement of liberate the estimated 1900 Muslim women who cover themselves fully?

I assume they’ll get right on regulating the bodies of men legislation to ban facial hair from men.

In the name of freedom. Of course.





Women: You sly dogs, you!

26 01 2010

Came across this nifty quote in Uta-Ranke Heinemann’s Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven:

Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison with his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she herself cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. . . . Woman is strictly speaking not cleverer but slyer (more cunning) than man. Cleverness sounds like something good, slyness sounds like something evil. Thus, in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.

Of course, this was written by some 13th century hack, right? Not St. Albert Magnus, a.k.a., Albert the Great, forerunner to St. Thomas Aquinas? Not someone who, ‘more than any one of the great scholastics preceding St. Thomas, gave to Christian philosophy and theology the form and method which, substantially, they retain to this day.’ (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Because I’d hate to pull quotes out of context—so unfair.

Especially in a ‘no comment’ post. Almost no comment.





One foot in front of the other

23 01 2010

I’ve become such a lard ass.

It’s not (just) that my diet has gone to hell, but that I’ve basically stopped moving.

Oh, I get up to get my coffee and I walk to the train and I take the stairs, but beyond that and some basic weight-lifting, nada.

I’ve been physically active my entire life. The 1970s were a time of mothers shoving their kids out the door and saying ‘Go play!’, as in, Get out my hair for awhile.

The adults did what they had to do, and we did what we had to do—which involved a combination of innocent exploring and things best not revealed to the adults.

Both sides preferred it that way.

So we went off roaming around backyards and alleys and streets, racing our bikes and clambering up trees and over fences, and trying to scrape off any excess mud and blood before making our ways through the back doors at dinner- or bed-time.

We didn’t call it exercise, of course. We called it play.

I did start ‘exercising’, I guess, in high school, where I ran cross-country and track and played basketball, but even then, it more about ‘going out for sports.’

College was running and biking and ‘staying in shape.’

Only in grad school did I really start ‘exercising,’ as in, joining a gym, lifting weights, swimming laps, and running or biking in place.

It  was fine, really, especially once I fell into a routine: hit the gym in the late morning, then head over to the poli sci department for the rest of my day.

There was, of course, down time in grad school and after, but it was rare that exercise lapsed for more than half a year.

Until I moved to New York. I biked a lot my first summer here, but after that, not so much. There was also some running, but I never managed to keep at it long enough to stick. My job at the bookstore at least required that I move around a fair bit, and when working three jobs there was lots of veryfastwalking to and from the trains.

But it’s been awhile since I worked at the bookstore, and I spend a laaaaahhhhht of time online.

Hence: lard ass.

I’m not fat, although I have gained weight, but I don’t feel right. I’m used to feeling fit, that I can take care of myself, and lately I’ve just felt bogged down. I’ve also had a few issues with my gut, which was well-behaved before I, well, stopped moving.

As mentioned in early January, I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, but it did occur to me that if I were dissatisfied with my degeneration into an indigestion-ridden blob, I might just consider doing something about it.

So many excuses not to: I can’t afford a gym. I need to find a job. I don’t have time. Later, I promise.

Well, I did find another job, and while I still can’t afford a gym, it’s not truly necessary. [*Update: There’s a gym in DT Brooklyn which is mighty cheap, so perhaps. . . .] Furthermore, instead of thinking I need to give 90 minutes every day over to sweating, maybe I could start small, by, say, walking. Briskly.

I do prefer to run, but starting a running routine from too far in out-of-shape-land is a recipe for failure. Nope, I need to trim myself up a bit, remind myself of what it’s like to propel myself along, and then, once it’s light enough long enough after work, I can start running or biking again. Hell, I’m less than a 15-minute walk to the southern end of Prospect Park, which is a lovely place in which to breathe deeply.

So, I’ve begun taking those walks. I’ll be working an office job M-F and teaching Th & F nights, but I figure I can simply get off the train at my usual transfer point and walk the remaining leg at least the nights I’m not teaching and, depending upon my mood, the trains, and the weather, perhaps even those nights as well. And then on the weekends, longer walks in the park.

If I manage to keep to the highly-manageable schedule of 5 days of walking a week, I figure I can graduate to running and biking by the time the light lasts into the night.

That’s the plan, at least.

I miss those days in which I didn’t even have to think about my body, when I could simply jump off the back stoop and tear off to the nearest trouble.

C’est la vie. My jumping and tearing off days may be over, but I can still move.

Oh yeah, for an old broad, I can still get around.





Friday poem: Wakefulness

22 01 2010

I am wary of John Ashbery.

I used to distrust him entirely, consigning him to the word-babblers entirely too self-pleased with their speech. Watch me play this game! Watch! Are you looking?

Paugh. You’re a grown man, and you’re trying to impress with how pretty you can be?

But then he changed or I changed or he and I changed and I was willing to see or could finally see the meaning behind the theatre.

I’m still hawkish when I read his poems, ever on the lookout for mere cleverness, but now I notice how he keeps his conditionals under control, moves things along with hard verbs and nouns.

I used a few of the ending lines from the following poem to open a chapter of my dissertation. It wasn’t bad, the dissertation, but not great, either, stuffed as it was with Arendt and Foucault and Heidegger, and charged with pleasing the committee with my speech.

Still, it had its moments, as does Ashbery. This is one to remember.

Wakefulness

An immodest little white wine, some scattered seraphs,
recollections of the Fall—tell me,
has anyone made a spongier representation, chased
fewer demons out of the parking lot
where we all held hands?

Little by little the idea of the true way returned to me.
I was touched by your care,
reduced to fawning excuses.
Everything was spotless in the little house of our desire,
the clock ticked on and on, happy about
being apprenticed to eternity. A gavotte of dust motes
came to replace my seeing. Everything was as though
it had happened long ago
in ancient peach-colored funny papers
wherein the law of true opposites was ordained
casually. Then the book opened by itself
and read to us: “You pack of liars,
of course tempted by the crossroads, but I like each
and every one of you with a peculiar sapphire intensity.
Look, here is where I failed at first.
The client leaves. History natters on,
rolling distractedly on these shores. Each day, dawn
condenses like a very large star, bakes no bread,
shoes the faithless. How convenient if it’s a dream.”

In the next sleep car was madness.
An urgent languor installed itself
as far as the cabbage-hemmed horizons. And if I put a little
bit of myself in this time, stoppered the liquor that is our selves’
truant exchanges, brandished my intentions
for once? But only I get
something out of this memory.
A kindly gnome
of fear perched on my dashboard once, but we had all
been instructed
to ignore the conditions of the chase. Here, it
seems to grow lighter with each passing century. No matter
how you twist it,
life stays frozen in the headlights.
Funny, none of us heard the roar.





Your Captain says: Put your head in your hands.

20 01 2010

There are days—many days, actually—when it sucks to be a student of politics.

This is one of them.

Not because Martha Coakley lost in Massachusetts to a nice head of hair (although that’s not really helping my mood), but because the crappiness of political analysis in this country has gone critical.

That’s called  a shitstorm, my friends, and we’ve been livin’ in it for too many years.

Given the constant effluvia, you’d think I’d be used to it by now, hunkered down in a cave of indifference and/or utterly uncaring of the stench of politics.

But no, if you care about politics, ain’t no way to plug oneself up against the raining—or shall I say reigning?—of nonsense.

Please note that this is not strictly or even mainly about partisan politics. I’m a pinko, so I know I’m always going to lose. Sometimes I get to vote for people who are within shouting (really loud!) distance of my agenda, and that’s nice, but, really, socialists don’t have much goin’ on in this country.

Nor is this (directly) about nasty language, gossip, hypocrisy, and the hypercompetitiveness of candidates.

Nooo, this is more about the structure of politics in the US, how we—left, right, and otherwise—do politics.

First: the nastiness. Well, duh. I may hold and Arendtian/Aristotelian understanding of politics as the sphere of the good life, but neither of them had much of a theory of actual governance. And actual governance is hard, performed by people with strong and conflicting opinions, people who had to scratch and spit and shed blood to get into the position to govern.

I don’t know that this is in every way the best way to find politicians, but if you want responsive government, then there’s election by lot, election through competition, and . . . what else?

Thus, given that competition is built into our system, you’d think that journalists and pundits and the politicians themselves would not be surprised when candidates compete! And that they would be similarly phlegmatic when those in the throes of competition get angry, trash talk, and otherwise behave as if they want and expect to win.

No. Instead of sobriety or stoicism, we get titillation, as seen most recently in Game Change, by the alleged journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. Oo! Hillary said a bad word! Or famously temperamental Senator McCain yelled bad words at his wife! Or the other candidates really didn’t like Mitt Romney!

Over three hundred interviews with over two hundred witnesses/participants/soreheads on ‘deep background’ and we get Gossip Pols?

But the omnipresent irritation of the presence of pundits is not, however, the main target of this rant.

Nope, I’m just going to go ahead and smack all of us as lousy citizens.

Not because each of us individually is a lousy citizen, but because we have created a system in which it is very difficult to be a good citizen.

Politicians who know better say we can cut the deficit without raising taxes or reducing or eliminating popular programs or entitlements.

Pundits who know better ponder the re-election chances of a president three years ahead of the election.

Citizens who know better say we want lower taxes and less government and clean streets and good schools and safe cities.

We want one-hundred-percent protection against terrorism and cheap flights with easy check-in procedures.

We want excellent teachers and low property taxes.

We want cheap water and few regulations.

You see how this could continue; you could probably add your own 2 or 3 or twenty.

It’s not that Americans are more stupid than anyone else, or even more covetous. It’s that we’ve gotten so used to thinking of our wants as rights that we’ve neglected to do the hard work of accounting for our wants; instead, we demand, and castigate any negotiations over those demands.

(Oh, and when there’s any kind of inequality, we err in the other direction by confusing want and need, and punish those who are attempt to translate those needs into rights.)

Politicians respond to this, we respond to the politicians, and the pundits keep smug score.

The problem is systemic. Individual citizens may understand that if you wanna get, you gotta give, and adjust their expectations accordingly. I don’t like taxes, but am willing to pay them in order to create a more generous social-welfare net; libertarians might like some government services, but are willing to forgo them in order to lower their tax burden; social conservatives might be willing to trade liberty for authority. At that individual or local level, some of us, perhaps many or most of us, get it.

But since we are treated as a mass or series of masses by politicians and pundits, and are sometimes too eager to associate ourselves with some mass or another, we get a politics based on the ebbs and flows of the mass, and the reaction cycle between mass, politician, and pundit.

And that’s exactly what our system has become: reactionary. No thinking, no leading, no acting—only re-acting to the latest outrage du jour.

Irresponsibility, all around.

What does this mean? Not much, really. We can probably chug along in our politically-irresponsibly ways for years, if not decades, which means that it’s possible that something could happen in the meantime to break us out of this cycle.

But even a slo-mo degradation is still degradation.

Which helps to explain the occasional rants by those of us who do care about our politics.





En garde!

19 01 2010

That old bastard Remy had a good death.

Surrounded by friends, at the lake he loved, nourished by old arguments, a last good-bye, and then a heroin slip into the after.

The Barbarian Invasions lacked the cruelty of The Decline of the American Empire, but given that the end was death, not disclosure, the wistfulness was appropriate.

It’s to be said that Remy truly was a rotter: He slept his way through Montreal, allowing his wife to believe he only indulged when travelling. She was true, believing in the best of him, even as he bedded her confidantes.

That’s pretty much the plot, such as it is, of The Decline: friends eating and drinking and divulging and screening their sexual lives.

And Invasions? Twenty years later, and the reprobate is dying in a seedy Montreal hospital, his hostile son spreading money over the layers of bureaucracy in order to procure his father some peace.

And heroin. I mentioned the heroin, didn’t I? It gave Remy peace in his last days of life, then carried him into death.

Not a bad way to go.

I no longer steady myself in plans of my death, but I do, nonetheless, wonder how it will be. Yes, we all die alone, blah blah, but before that last blip, how will it be?

Will there be friends? Wine? Arguments and laughter? Perhaps I’ll die in my sleep, in an apartment or hospital room or on a beach.

Come the apocalypse, well, I live in New York City: if it’s man-made, I’ll burst in the flash or fall choking from the bad air or waste away, abandoned to a pathogen.

But while I may think about this more often than others—and I don’t know if I do, given that American can-do spirit that says we can live forever, so best not to speak of death—I don’t think very long about it.

Not because it’s morbid or sad, but because it’s, mmm, boring. Death’ll come when it comes, and any control I’ll have over it’s arrival will likely be small.

And as for my worries about living my last days alone, the way to guard against that is not to live the rest of my life alone.

So wine and friends and arguments and laughter, now. If I take care of that, the rest will take care of itself.





Sugar boy, whatcha tryin’ to do

17 01 2010

Jasper is an odd cat.

When I pour my cereal in the morning, he hops on to the table and rubs himself all over the boxes and me in a kind of ecstasy. He then closely inspects the poured cereal.

He seems particularly to like Grape Nuts.

(For all of you non-critter owning folk who are now gagging at the thought of a cat on a table or a whisker in a bowl of cereal, hell, you’re probably right: it is unsanitary. I also think it’s funny.)

(This may be among the reasons that you don’t have critters and I do.)

And no, excepting the just-poured  pre-milk cereal, I don’t let him stick his face in my food. As I tell him, that’s just rude.

He does generally like to lounge on the table—which I wash off before I prep any food. My tolerance for kitty dirt does have its limits.

Whaddya mean this isn't a kitty bed?

He also has this thing with the litter box: He climbs halfway inside and pushes the litter around with some vigor.

He then perches on the edge of the box to do his business.

Then, back inside for more vigorous litter-shovelling. Which leads to litter all over the floor.

Which explains the broom in the bathroom.

C. wondered if he doesn’t like the lid. Possible, but given that he has no problem crawling all the way inside to scratch at every last bit on the box—minutes, he does this, honest to pete—I think it’s more about Jasper than the box.

Oh, and have I mentioned how well he’s training me? In addition to lulling me into thinking the breakfast routine in endearing, he’s also learned how to sucker me into comforting him—even when I don’t think he’s really all that upset:

The steam pipe in the bathroom knocks like hell, which makes Jasper squeak out a pathetic little cry, which leads me to say ‘C’mere Jasper. It’s okay. C’mere. . . .’ So he’ll squeak a little more, then jump into my lap for a round of head scratching. (And if I stop before he’s done, he’ll shove his head under my hand and wriggle it a bit.)

I gotta admit, I doubt he cries when I’m not home. I bet he just rolls over on whatever surface he’s snoozing and dreams of new ways of manipulating me.

That is, unless he falls off. Boy has no edge-sense whatsoever.

Well. Given that this is his first winter, I thought I’d introduce him to snow. It started promisingly:

But any attempt to lure him on to the fire escape ended at the sash:

Jasper was not impressed with snow.

Bean, of course, is still unimpressed with Jasper.

She’s tolerant enough of his presence, but I have seen them lying next to one another—briefly, it must be said—only twice.

He’s very interested in her, but he can’t seem to figure out that her unwillingness to hang out with him might just be related to his penchant to pouncing on her back or swiping at her with his paw or chomping on her neck.

Bean don’t like it.

In any case, as successful as he’s been in charming me, he’s not yet achieved that Zen state in which he can simply claim any space as his own.

Such as the middle of my bed.

Yes, Jasper may be the Odd Prince of Prospect-Lefferts Garden, but Bean remains Queen.





Friday poem: Not All, Only A Few Return

15 01 2010

Yes, another ghazal.

I had great difficulty finding a poem for this Friday. I pulled out Kay Ryan, WS Merwin, Robert Pinsky, John Ashbery—but, again, returned to Ali.

Haiti on my mind, I guess, although wrongly so: I was thinking of water, not earth; flood, not quake.

Still, the notion that these sorrows will repeat pulled me to the ghazal and its repetitions. Again, however, it is not strictly the same: each moment demands its own attention.

And so it is this time, with this people.

*Note:  Mirza Ghalib was a 19th-century Sufi, and ghazal poet; his poems remain popular among Urdu readers today.

Not All, Only A Few Return
(after Ghalib)

Just a few return from dust, disguised as roses.
What hopes the earth forever covers, what faces?

I too could recall moonlit roofs, those nights of wine—
But Time has shelved them now in Memory’s dimmed places.

She has left forever, let blood flow from my eyes
til my eyes are lamps lit for love’s darkest places.

All of his—Sleep, Peace, Night—when on his arm your hair
shines to make him the god whom nothing effaces.

With wine, the palm’s lines, believe me, rush to Life’s stream—
Look, here’s my hand, and here the red glass it raises.

See me! Beaten by sorrow, man is numbed to pain.
Grief has become the pain only pain erases.

World, should Ghalib keep weeping you will see a flood
drown your terraced cities, your marble palaces.