Wednesday, May 17, 2017

On Alcohol • Poetry Wednesday

On Alcohol

my first drink was in my mother
my next, my bris. doctor spread red
wine across my lips. took my foreskin

every time i drink     i lose something

no one knows the origins of alcohol. tho surely an accident
before sacrament. agricultural apocrypha. enough grain stored up
for it to get weird in the cistern. rot gospel. god water

brandy was used to treat everything
from colds to pneumonia
frostbite to snake bites

tb patients were placed on ethanol drips
tonics & cough medicines
spooned into the crying mouths of children

each friday in synagogue a prayer for red
at dinner, the cemetery, the kitchen

how many times have i woke
strange in an unfamiliar bed?
my head neolithic

my grandfather died with a bottle in one hand
& flowers in the other. he called his drink his medicine
he called his woman
    she locked the door

i can only half blame alcohol for my overdose
the other half is my own hand
that poured the codeine    that lifted the red plastic again & again &

i’m trying to understand pleasure     it comes back
in flashes    every jean button thumbed open to reveal
a different man     every slurred & furious permission

i was sober a year before [          ] died

every time i drink     i lose someone

if you look close at the process of fermentation
you’ll see tiny animals destroying the living body
until it’s transformed into something more volatile

the wino outside the liquor store
mistakes me for his son

by Sam Sax

Monday, May 15, 2017

Nightstand Reading; Or, Taking My Time and Restarting, Often

As I was dusting my nightstand, I found myself rather impressed by my stack of books to be read.

I think I need to have my head examined because I haven't finished Hamilton: The Revolution. I even have it on Audible. And yet. Unlike any other Hamilton-related experience, I am savoring the book. Plus, I just finished the chapter about Christopher Jackson, my Washington, and I want to spend an extra moment with him. I think I'll make it a summer read.

Interestingly, the book I am reading on my Kindle I also own in print — the latest translation of Anna Karenina, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I hadn't really pondered translations until recently, when Oprah Winfrey's embrace of the new translation was chosen for her book club, and I heard a podcast featuring a strongly praised audiobook version of Don Quixote.

I have another translation on my Kindle, and whenever I read a delicious line in the newer book, I pull up the other translation to compare. So far, I have always, always preferred Pevear/Volokhonsky's translation. I may download the recorded book of the older translation that was so well-received last year, just to compare the page to the ear.

I actually read the first 300+ pages in January, but chose to start over this month so the entire book is fresh in my mind for my discussions next month with Carole. (This is our current Weighty Read.)

I have taken a bit of a break from Anna to read another book with Carole, The Persuasion of Mr. Cave. We read The Humans a couple of years ago, and it was one of the best books I had read in a while — so we decided to give this modest little tome a try. The foreshadowing is intense.

Of this list, I'm surprised that I have read some of every volume, except for one. I have started, put down, started another, put down, and re-started more than usual.

I must blame it on Elizabeth Kostova.

Her latest, The Shadow Lands, was not the book I expected. It's a love letter to Bulgaria, which isn't a bad thing, but the book jacket focused on what I consider the weakest storyline of the book. Had it been more aptly characterized, I would have liked it better; instead, I have to adjust my notions now the book is finished. I would have read it, anyway, mind you. I just prefer when the jacket blurb relates to the story more directly.

To be fair, she used her tools wisely, weaving between media and characters, which has served her well in the past, so the novel wasn't a disappointment. It was, however, a surprise (and not in the more pleasant way).

I am a huge fan of Cat Winters, but I don't think Yesternight is her strongest novel, either. Post-WWI America, West Coast, supernatural (but maybe not), women nearly thwarted, and trusting your own instincts — they're all interesting, but it doesn't get to where it should quickly enough, and there seems to be a stronger story not being told in the novel. (It's another I've put aside, just for a while.)

I started The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu a few times, but my mind wanders during the history portion of the book. I've tried the print and electronic books, so I think I'll give the audio a try next. (The library will come through soon, so I'll keep you apprised.)

Finally, I am working on two series: Johannes Cabal and Flavia de Luce. (Ne'er the twain shall meet, thank heavens, except on my nightstand.)

What are your reading challenges? Are you stopping and starting books? Or are you plowing through everything immediately, no holds barred? Let me know!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Get Excited About Summer Reading in 2017!

Memorial Day is right around the corner, which means...

 ...summer reading!

If you're anything like me, you've been perusing your own bookshelves, reviewing your library wish list, pondering the bookstore inventory, and just thinking about books.

I also am pondering summer reading lists of the past. Every year, I come up with a list, and every year I veer off-course almost immediately. (I mean, 2016. And 2015!)

Want to join the fun? Join the Summer Reading Club! (You may even win a new book.)

The "rule" of the Summer Reading Club, if any summer fun can have real rules, is this: read as much as you wish from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, September 24. If you are the club member who's read the most book, you will win a book of your own. 

To join the club, just send me an e-mail or leave a message below. Then, at the end of the summer reading period, send me a message or include your reading list in a blog message. If you read the most, congratulations! If not, you still are a winner because you spent your summer reading.

I've already had a few e-mails from eager readers, and I can't wait to read your list! I will publish mine this month.

I make sure summer reading is beneficial to my community. As I have done in years past, I will  donate $5 per book I read to Main Street Child Development Center (minimum $150) (I know, no sweat, right?), and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List

Hopefully, reading club members also will find a way to help their communities through their reading, or to help share the love of reading with their communities. It's not a requirement, of course, but it certainly is a worthy effort. It doesn't have to be financial support, either — think of what the community wants and needs. Every reader can determine what is within her or his power to bestow. 

Even if you don't join the reading club, I still would love to know: what's on your summer reading list? Tell me!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I am Waiting • Poetry Wednesday

I Am Waiting

I am waiting for my case to come up   
and I am waiting 
for a rebirth of wonder 
and I am waiting for someone 
to really discover America 
and wail 
and I am waiting   
for the discovery 
of a new symbolic western frontier   
and I am waiting   
for the American Eagle 
to really spread its wings 
and straighten up and fly right 
and I am waiting 
for the Age of Anxiety 
to drop dead 
and I am waiting 
for the war to be fought 
which will make the world safe 
for anarchy 
and I am waiting 
for the final withering away 
of all governments 
and I am perpetually awaiting 
a rebirth of wonder 

I am waiting for the Second Coming   
and I am waiting 
for a religious revival 
to sweep thru the state of Arizona   
and I am waiting 
for the Grapes of Wrath to be stored   
and I am waiting 
for them to prove 
that God is really American 
and I am waiting 
to see God on television 
piped onto church altars 
if only they can find   
the right channel   
to tune in on 
and I am waiting 
for the Last Supper to be served again 
with a strange new appetizer 
and I am perpetually awaiting 
a rebirth of wonder 

I am waiting for my number to be called 
and I am waiting 
for the Salvation Army to take over 
and I am waiting 
for the meek to be blessed 
and inherit the earth   
without taxes 
and I am waiting 
for forests and animals 
to reclaim the earth as theirs 
and I am waiting 
for a way to be devised 
to destroy all nationalisms 
without killing anybody 
and I am waiting 
for linnets and planets to fall like rain 
and I am waiting for lovers and weepers 
to lie down together again 
in a new rebirth of wonder 

I am waiting for the Great Divide to be crossed   
and I am anxiously waiting 
for the secret of eternal life to be discovered   
by an obscure general practitioner 
and I am waiting 
for the storms of life 
to be over 
and I am waiting 
to set sail for happiness 
and I am waiting 
for a reconstructed Mayflower 
to reach America 
with its picture story and tv rights 
sold in advance to the natives 
and I am waiting 
for the lost music to sound again 
in the Lost Continent 
in a new rebirth of wonder 

I am waiting for the day 
that maketh all things clear 
and I am awaiting retribution 
for what America did   
to Tom Sawyer   
and I am waiting 
for Alice in Wonderland 
to retransmit to me 
her total dream of innocence 
and I am waiting 
for Childe Roland to come 
to the final darkest tower 
and I am waiting   
for Aphrodite 
to grow live arms 
at a final disarmament conference 
in a new rebirth of wonder 

I am waiting 
to get some intimations 
of immortality 
by recollecting my early childhood 
and I am waiting 
for the green mornings to come again   
youth’s dumb green fields come back again 
and I am waiting 
for some strains of unpremeditated art 
to shake my typewriter 
and I am waiting to write 
the great indelible poem 
and I am waiting 
for the last long careless rapture 
and I am perpetually waiting 
for the fleeing lovers on the Grecian Urn   
to catch each other up at last 
and embrace 
and I am awaiting   
perpetually and forever 
a renaissance of wonder

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti
from These Are My Rivers: New and Selected Poems

Monday, May 1, 2017

Captain Hook • National Poetry Month (Close Enough)

I told you we wouldn't quit poetry cold turkey. Enjoy this delightful bit by Shel Silverstein, courtesy of my friend Pete. (While you're at it, check out his blog, A Very Sneaky 2017.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

3 am, outside Tonopah • National Poetry Month

I hope you liked this year's selection of poems for National Poetry Month. Don't worry, we won't just stop cold turkey — so be sure to check back and perhaps discover a new gem on this blog. If you find a poem you like, send it to me, and I'll share it with the rest of the class.

3 am, outside Tonopah

All I can see on the black ribbon
of Highway 10 is the fine mist
of sand in my headlights.
There used to be mountains
on the horizon. Dawn will return
them in time.
                          The light
in the empty parking lot of Joe
and Tonopah Sue’s shuts off
as I pass. The radio plays
only soft static, but it’s more pleasant
than the thoughts in my head.
When the static becomes tedious, I sing
“Maybe Later.” If you were
here, you would hum the bass
line and — Stop. I will not play
this game. Oh, god, this is when I wish
I listened to myself.
                                     In the dark, no one can see
me let go. My sobs come out
of the place in my chest
you used to be. This is not

the poem I wanted to write you.

by Chris Fow Cohen
Shared with the author's permission

Saturday, April 29, 2017

At the Station • National Poetry Month

At the Station

When the girl got off the train at the college town,
she leapt up and wrapped her legs around the waist
of the boy she’d come to visit, and they spun
around, embracing and shrieking with joy.
Their love set off a piccolo’s vibration.
Those years are gone for us—I see you every day,
we eat meals together from decades-old plates.
But when we lie in bed at night, you take my hand,
and I feel the orb that’s formed around us tighten,
while you and I, like knitting needles in a ball
of yarn, lie beside each other, fingers touching.

by Anya Krugovoy Silver 
from from nothing.
courtesy The Writer's Almanac