Archive for the ‘The Lost World’ Category

The November Series

June 3, 2008

On Saturday, the search for bodies stopped
behind the smoking barricade of wooden
horses. Rudy Giuliani stood in
shit a little while. The Yankees dropped.

It felt like falling. And I felt like singing
Nessun Dorma, as the rank and file
locked arms and firefighters stormed the pile.
Nothing rose. The clock alarm kept ringing.

“Dallas, Pennsylvania, 1979”

May 22, 2008

From Aquinas Flinched
Cornelia Street Cafe, New York, April 4, 2008

Uncracking a Cryogenic Obit

March 27, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke, 16 December 1917 – 19 March 2008

War Games

February 12, 2008

These thin, gray woods were once a Southeast Asian swamp
Where all the boys on Cutter Drive would re-enact
The news or World War II, the atavistic romp

Of kids with maple sticks and dirt bombs, all the pomp
And circumstance of war. When Cedar Street attacked ,
These thin, gray woods became a Southeast Asian swamp.

It took a half an hour for our troops to stomp
Across the skunkweed, dodging all the dirty flack
They threw in World War II–our fatalistic romp

To claim the hill. We’d charge and dive and belly whomp,
We’d make machine gun sounds, rearming at a stack
Of thin gray wood. We had a Southeast Asian swamp

Behind our houses and you had to play. It’s com-
plicated. Part of growing up a boy. In fact,
The news from Viet Nam, the late ballistic romp,

Conscripted us to fight. Contending with the stamp
Of masculinity, my buddies never lacked
For thin grey wood, a sweaty Southeast Asian swamp,
The news from World War II, the cold sadistic romp.

Lutetia

May 4, 2007

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I might stumble on the flagstone quay
and slip the black embankment to the Seine,
or clutch my coat and amble on my way
envisioning your face. I’d count to ten,

inhale the rain and press my face on yours,
disolving in your scarf, your red embrace.
In either case, I’m lost. The night detours
of Paris take the ghost and leave no trace

but visions and a vignette cast in time–
a kir royale, rouge lipstick on the glass,
a street in Montparnasse, a petit crime
of conscience, call it love and let it pass

for city lights reflected on a wave,
for worms that twist like cables in the grave.

Be Careful Out There

March 15, 2007

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Vincenzo Camuccini, Mort de César, 1798.

Rewriting the Cold War

January 31, 2007

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We saw it at the neighbor’s house next door
when black and white TV had just come out.
As I recall, it ran on channel 4—
the famous Nixon/Khrushchev Kitchen Bout.

Now Khrushchev, he knew how to entertain.
And Nixon? He was kinda funny, too
(Remember when the Rooskie went insane
And smacked the conference table with his shoe?)

Surrounded by appliances and lights,
The guy in the fedora was a bear.
But Nixon took it to the satellites
And left Nikita sucking Frigidaire.

Now, that was when consumers understood.
Yeah, that was when the Weltanschauung was good.

The Firebird

December 22, 2006

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Lydia finally settled down at the high school Holiday Concert last night. She’d done well, in fact, until the interminable shenanigans of a boy’s choral group called The Retro Men, performing right after intermission, took her beyond her capacity to sit still and pay attention. Directed by a Burl-Ives-looking emeritus music teacher, the Retros needed badly to be reined-in as they poured their testosterone into a twenty-minute rendition of Sylvester Stalone’s Eye of the Tiger–their third song of the evening! By the end of it, I, like Lydia, had a very strong urge to climb over the seat and play with a little girl named Erin, also largely unrestrained, behind us.

The following performance by the “White Stage Band,” including my daughter Marguerite in the flute row, featured a Warner Brothers cartoon music medley. It was accompanied by a rather fraught sideshow in the second-to-last row of the audience as I fished around in the aisles for a squiggly, ready-to-bolt seven-year-old. I finally extracting Lydia from the even wilder Erin and seated her on the edge of the up-folded theater seat next to me, high enough so that she could see the performance. By the time the “Blue Stage Band” took the boards, I was thinking that Lyddie and I might have to take one of those little pressure-release walks in the hall. I’m glad we didn’t, because “Blue” was cuing-up Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird.

Yes, Lydia settled down finally—it was about 10 pm—resting her head on my arm as an abridged version of the suite began. I thought she was sleeping, and I closed my eyes.

I listened to The Firebird Suite a lot during the marginally-employed phase of my life that began with Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration. It’s beautiful. It evokes the vivid kind of mythological imagery I associate more with painting than with music. Images with a Russian flourish that translate easily into the more round-edged figures of the Nordic mythbook. In fact, my subsequent encounter with Emil Nolde’s mythological paintings—northern German mysteries—connected immediately with the visions that came to me listening to Stravinsky in my dorm room at the Matheny School, which was then, more precisely, an institution, a kind of cuckoo’s nest in the best sense, for physically disabled children and young adults. I worked there as a care aid.

I imagine that many people, knowing only the name of the piece and familiar primarily with Western mythology, associate Stravinsky’s The Firebird with the phoenix rising from the ashes. And the music more or less supports this. But the Russian myth of the Firebird is a lot more like a leprechaun tale: Prince finds and captures elusive pretty-bird, bird begs for life in exchange for magical support in Prince’s quest, etc. Still, the imagery Stravinsky drew from me spoke neither of the firebird I assumed he was describing, nor of the bird his Russian audience would have been familiar with. I envisioned a monster-centric Night Journey ending with triumph and ascension from a decimated, post-conflict mountain landscape on a big lake.

Lydia was not asleep. She was listening to the music. I opened my eyes. I noticed a kid with a Carrot Top hair style in the percussion section. I listened as the teenagers nailed the emotive parts where the melody is launched from a tentative rest, something I am more familiar with in the music of Louie Armstrong and The Hot Fives (Stravinsky, of course, is the great modern composer). But there is something about an entire orchestra carrying off a seemingly extemporaneous pause during the booming final movement of The Firebird that I find moving. Very “post-conflict triumph.” The Blue Band got all the layers of the softer parts right earlier in the piece as well. Very “Night Journey.” And their tempo shifts emulated a montage of silent era newsreel footage–very modern for 1910.

I also watched the conductor—a twenty-something music teacher with a 19th century Russian idealist’s beard. He spoke of his mentor, his teacher at the same high school years ago, when introducing the final piece for the evening–circus music from what he called the “turn of the century.” He meant the turn of the previous century, of course. He was hunched forward, dynamic, a little tentative, not unlike his orchestra. He gave us none of the Band Room inside jokes and corny humor we’ve gotten from veteran high school music teachers in Holiday performances past. This new man had the right touch.

And the right program. Up and down my blogroll, I have tuned-in to some very sad stories this month. Some having to do with seasonal depression. But much of it is a little more deep-rooted. I’ve got a bit of my own, as I always do, with some new twists—I’ve been advised to structure a little exercise into my cramped day if I want to avoid the chemical path, which may prove unavoidable. There is big picture Weltschmerz in my bogroll. There is some personal sadness and turmoil downing even the most enthusiastic Christmas revelers. There are folks just feeling the miles. And there are at least two cases of the all-too-archetypical death at the holidays—three depending on what you count.

But last night, with little Lyddie’s head on my arm and The Firebird followed by pre-World War One circus fare, music gave me its bittersweet taste of the Big Lake. That sublime taste of happiness and hope.

The Code

December 15, 2006

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I drove to work in tears today. I was thinking of Amy.

She lived across the street from us in Maplewood. She was Maureen’s best friend—they were each other’s daily support in raising our first children, her Sam and our Emily. She died of a brain tumor about 10 years ago.

Amy battled the benign tumor for over a year. Her brother, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins, was able to get her one of the top brain surgeons on the East Coast. Her last operation took the surgeon out for a long time—it went on hours longer than anticipated and he seriously strained his back. Afterward, Amy deteriorated. She went on every kind of life support system imaginable. Finally, she was able only to move one eye and one of her feet—she communicated by rolling her eye up for “yes” as you pointed to letters on an alphabet board (Maureen was the best at doing this with her). Understandably, she finally chose to be taken off all the machinery.

The day before this was scheduled to happen, she asked her husband to bring a board, a maraca, and some rope to the hospital. Amy, who taught math at the Bank Street School in New York, would do things like that—set you up with some kind of confusing information that usually turned out to be a wonderful surprise once “the class” figured things out. It was impossible not to love Amy–I truly think she was a kind of Angel whose love and enthusiasm set her apart. Her request was a flash of her recently-shrouded brilliance, and her husband, Whit, wondered all that terrible night what she was up to.

The next day, Amy’s family and friends lined up at her bed and everyone said goodbye one at a time. You can imagine what that was like. Whit told us all about the paraphernalia Amy had requested–Amy rolled her eye upward as he did so. Then, Maureen, another friend named Amy, and I drove back to Maplewood from the hospital in Manhattan.

The next morning, Whit called and told us everything. Amy had him prop the board up at the foot of the bed and tie the maraca to her foot. For however long she lived once she was unhooked from the technology, she banged the maraca against the board. Banged in anger, banged in love. She insisted on leaving this world in some control, on making her own music above and beyond the whir of hospital contraptions. She sent a percussive code into eternity, a message we would understand after some time. Amy left a husband, a son in second grade, a family changed forever, and a best friend across the street. She left me crying behind the wheel on the Parkway this morning–and now, as I type this–ten years after.

A Matter of Life or Death

December 15, 2006

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On Thursday, I stared up at a 500-pound-per-square-inch centrifugal dryer at a drug company research facility in the middle of New Jersey. The room was clean and odorless, and I thought I heard wheels spinning.

I couldn’t help thinking, looking at this machine after hearing yet another drug company describe its oncology pipeline to a roomful of squinting journalists, that we still live in a world in which Memorial Sloan-Kettering and the Mayo Clinic consider each other institutional arch rivals, sworn enemies. This, despite all the smart people that work at both places who realize they should link their computers together immediately; that they should collaborate on figuring out what they mean by personalized medicine and come up together with a practical means of vetting the data from the genome; that they must focus as one, along with research hubs around the world, on discovering next generation cancer therapies; and that this should all take place in a research world where there are new incentives for scientists, where no idea is hoarded, and where publication in prestigious journals is never a researcher’s goal. The technician that showed us the centrifuge told us he’d been with the company since the plant was designed.

At lunch, I met a writer from the Newark Star Ledger who works with Barry Carter, my old neighbor in Maplewood. Barry’s daughters and mine went to grade school together and our wives were Girl Scout leaders. Barry and I would sometimes discuss journalism at school picnics and dances, though our jobs were quite different–Barry worked for a major daily, covering the neighborhoods of Newark, while I worked for a specialized weekly business magazine in New York. Barry, a big, big man, is all charisma and solid neighborliness, someone you want around. I can still see him dancing with his fourth grade daughter in the gym years ago. He and his wife, Juanita, met at Howard University, probably in the 1970s. Two years ago, Juanita died between Christmas and New Years of a sudden heart attack. The reporter I met today says he played cards with Barry last weekend. That Barry recently finished taking a Latin dance class and writing a heavy duty feature series on the wife of a slain police officer in Newark. It starts on Sunday. “Barry’s OK,” he said. He still lives with his two daughters, now in high school, in the same house in Maplewood.

The day ended with a cancer survivor. A stunningly beautiful woman, standing nearly seven feet tall, her head shaved, she told us from the podium that her rare form of ovarian cancer will be in remission for four years in January, thanks to our hosts for the day. She is appearing in their advertisements. Her battle with cancer, she told us, has been a life affirming experience.