Thursday, September 23, 2010

Horace at your back

Though you're built of the best pine
from the most noble forest, upon a plank
of which your famous name is lettered - 
and so beautifully - who can trust paint?

You make a sailor nervous. Be careful
or you'll become a toy of the storm.
You who, not that long ago, were just
my headache, my pain in the neck,

but who have now my heart aboard,
steer clear of those narrow seas
that cut past the bright lights
marking the rocks of the Cyclades.


Horace, The Odes, I - 14, 
translation Debora Greger, 
JD McClatchy, editor,
Princeton, 2002 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the last day: give us the resort of summer

... This  
drizzle that falls now is American rain,
stitching stars in the sand.

My own corpuscles are changing as fast.
I fear what the migrant envies:

the starry pattern they make -
the flag on the post office

the quality of the dirt,
the fealty changing under my foot.

Derek Walcott
XXVII, Midsummer, 1984

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


On the present date, the occasion of another unanimous Republican triumph against civil rights in the Senate of the United States, it occurs to the natural mind that the question is not whether to ask, but what the excuse can be for not telling the simple truth of what this nation intends for the young men it so exuberantly wastes on every project of depravity in uniform it can pursue, to protect them from the peril of taking a shower in the real world.

Captain, United States Marine Corps
Killed, Iraq, March 20, 2003

On any single day of the week, you may verify that the pages of this daily are laden with dilettante speculations on which "trouble spot" the power of the United States needs to erase next. The young man shown above never drew one breath in a nation which was not constantly poised to yield to an utterly ungovernable addiction to war. Every American President in his lifetime pursued the destruction of other peoples in the tragically unexamined dynamic of this compulsion.

He never stood a chance. 
And all they ask, is for nobody
to tell what they did to him.

Mask, Giacometti, You Have Been Here Sometime

Pierre swept up in the retreat from Moscow

Bella vita militar . . 

Il fragor di trombe e pifferi,

Lo sparar di schioppi e bombe

Forza accresce al braccio e all'anima

Vaga sol di trionfar . .

Bella vita militar !

Photography David Roemer
Text Lorenzo da Ponte

Monday, September 20, 2010

Precedence and its pitfalls

Amawalk Runagate Robbie
Being rusty in one’s Maupassant may well be a reason, but no excuse, for panic in recalling the protocol in any given promenade, for greeting someone with an offspring of another species. As a sometime “walker” of a dog, I accept that the question doesn’t arise, given that a gorilla or a giraffe may accompany a dog, and blur into oblivion for all the notice he achieves.

You’ll remember, the problem was finessed in Bringing Up Baby, more than once, where the principals were always so separated from Baby that the they could be addressed separately - with one trend-setting exception:

In the present case, however, the question achieves a refinement, through just that intimacy and emphasis of differentness we were spared by Howard Hawks, which shows how excruciatingly urgent the problem of precedence can be.

We know, the crisis of species-mixing is looming fast upon us, according to that organ embodying it - Fox News - as a crime wave against Nature it has found, erupting from the Equal Protection clause. Now is not the time to forget our Romance Lit - much less our Screwball Comedy. The problem calls for the candour of a Robert Benchley and the fast thinking of a Dorothy Parker, and comes down to this:

Does the welcome, “Who’s your baby, Tiger,” follow or does it precede, “Who’s your tiger, Baby?” Moreover (and the peril gathers as we speak) on the odd chance that the antecedent of the address is so equally distributed as to elevate confusion to catatonia, what is to be done?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

An extremely kind reader wrote in

The other day, I received a very sweet note from a loyal reader, to the effect that the space had been absorbed too much by images of "perfect" physical representations. Of course one cringed at the very suggestion that such a concept could exist, but it was even more frightening to contemplate how much any message would be diminished, if that were true. For the present, then, I adopt an alteration in scale, if diminution can mollify where judgment must fail. 

We are all exceedingly pre-occupied just now - in the northern hemisphere, that is - with the gathering of physical specimens of our passion from vines we do our very best not to take for granted. Inevitably we too idly trust that it's understood, we mean well, in this probably vain pursuit. Perfection has really nothing to do with our intentions, which are driven by a concept of husbanding addressed in this space before, a conservator's anxiousness to convey a grace he cannot endure imbibing only for himself, whose extinguishment would be to him, unthinkable.

Excoriate our concentration, the fault is ours.