Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sibling molds

 Overnight, in France

What comes forth without making a sound

Pleases some part of us, rain at dawn
The perspiculum worm curling and uncurling

Pleases us, and the ice melt
Running blue from the glacier's tongue.

The peony - rose and pink - opens in the dawn

And only the moon sailing alone sees it.

Ivan Terestchenko
Photography and sculpture

Robert Bly
Hidden Things
Estero, A West Marin Quarterly
 Vol I, Nr 2, Fall/Winter, 1992
Point Reyes Station, California

Awe, remembrance, hope

native shepherds
  of the heart

Valéry Lorenzo, i
Ivan Terestchenko, ii
Tassos Paschalis, iii

Michael Praetorius, 1571-1621
Quem pastores laudavere
David Hill
Westminster Cathedral Choir
The Parley of Instruments
Hyperion, 2001©

Saturday commute x

for the choristers

I think, in every household that observes Christmas Day, there comes a moment when a guy's urge to get out and play, inflamed as it has been by importunings to linger in itchy pants, praise the nitrate breakfast, reciprocate the claustrophobic hugs of elders - in short, to look to the feelings of others - comes face to face with ferocious pressure to erupt into the nearest wave, snow bank, or romantic embrace, without the slightest regard for decorum in velocity or vector. 

I'm afraid that if we continue to approach this ancient crisis in holiday circulation from the point of view of denial, we are going to raise a generation much like ourselves. That's a job for rabbits.

There's nothing like a houseful of slow farts, clashing parfums, and endless fussing to hurl a fellow out the door. Nor is the torrent of annual good advice especially well calibrated for the intimacy it flaunts, or the orgy of connois-seurship much conducive to pleasure. [image subject to query of copyright]

It isn't natural to suffer so much coddling by Dickens' kitchen fumes, Thackeray's treacles, O'Neill's tipples. Good cheer is dross to good fun, and if guys were allowed to storyboard our Christmas daytimes, there would be a great deal more mirth at dinner. Don't stay home without it.

There's a fresh roll of monochrome in the Leica, and a world compressed to the bursting point. Whit and I intend to be there when it happens, and we know we aren't the only ones.

It isn't so hard. Christmas ignites energy, ebullience. Tchaikovsky's ballet and our own Recessional told us so. As we lay aside our choris-ter's bright crucifix, and fold away its black and silken cord, it can even be amazing.

Friday, December 24, 2010

My watch

To me, a brother was
the most obvious thing.
Not to him.
He'd never had one before.

The experience I've had least,
though he's been gone 10 times
that long, is not having him.

He was called, David.
He was rotten at tying his shoes.

Why wait for another day?
You know this one is happening
and will be the same after it has happened.

Nothing will come to take its place
and that will be fine, good.

Though not inhuman, we can play
at what it would be like to be God,
and God will not take us away.

Another time I was at your house.
It was suddenly dark inside.

A wind swept past the bark
of some trees. It was overdue,
they said. All storms are inept.

It was time to find the mind-crystal,

pore over what we still had,
the huge resource we owed.

John Ashbery
Hungry Again
  A Worldly Country
Harper Collins, 2007©

In San Marino with our mother
At his pool at school
College favoured on our mother's side
Navy tradition, junior officer's
  first crossing of the Date Line
Last hours
He and I

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Walking with Whit before a lunar eclipse

Walking with Whit this evening, which is chilly and bright, I looked up to the east to examine the moon, a natural habit in crystalline country air. The dog knew no such concern; the moon was where it was supposed to be, and behaving itself as one would expect. I was bemused by my first thought - It doesn't even know what is going to happen to it. 

I'm glad I did not con-fide this consideration to Whit. He needs to be able to believe that he can enjoy his evening constitutional without distraction, much less having to nanny his companion through some impertinent twinge. But then, unfailingly, his taciturnity brought me up short, and was clarify-ing.

Our holiday now follows this protocol. For a time, you won't see us; but it will not be so for us.

Thomas Gainesborough
Wooded Landscape with Herdsman ..
  Rustic Lovers, and Ruined Castle
Pencil on paper, ca 1780
The Huntington Library
San Marino

Easier seen than done

When last we visited the friable, if fertile structures of Frank Lloyd Wright, at the urging of Philip Johnson, we ran into the Lally column in the living room, against the drooping cantilever. Satan in construction's curious canon, gravity. Impromptu perpendiculars play hell with circula-tion, though glossy they are bossy in their upright concentration.

But now the maintenance of life's materials lands squarely on our desk, to test our own commitment to their conservation. Our beloved Guggenheim is patched and spiffy once again, and various other charities flock to spackle what's left of the Master's crumbling legacy. Yet who can say he hasn't had to make choices in his own priorities of repair, as the taste for things of elegant projection lays claim upon the highest maintenance? The builder's work seems never to be done - and just when one thought one might cash out one's chips, somewhat ahead for the night, there's dawn to light a crumbling cornice, a buckling buttress needing bolstering . .

Yet still the thirst for the heroic is not strained, computer-assisted design going only so far to nourish its requirements. The imagination can tell you only what you want, it can't deliver it on a plate. This tiresome lesson leads many into compromise, and others into trade, but at the end of the day, a thing meets specifica-tions or it does not. 
For a few, the great, unbending arc of time inspires the diligentest use of it; the romance of the thrilling edifice is engineer enough. And we find them, coiled as if a chord to spring a tangent from its center. But even they depend on a solid footing, and that does look like a bother.

Frank Lloyd Wright
Edgar J. Kaufmann House, 1935-39
Bear Run, Pennsylvania

Monday's gruel

The last succour of the weekend's warmth wraps some comfort this morning as the ditz blonde right-wing nut-case singsongs Murdoch's "news" to you, laced with lively Falwelled taunts against your soul, Liberty Universitied and zealot think-tanked hireling that she is, to chirp another warning to guard all infants and beasts against your naughty glance. It's Monday, and it's time to know your workplace, little fella. Smile, when you finish your oatmeal. Smile when you've stripped your last strokes in the shaving mirror. Practice the face of Monday, don't let them get you down. You're American.

Besides, remember: there will be lunch. Let them kick themselves to find out how you do it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Sense and uncertainty

Two writers one reads, whose sites are referenced in Context, are confiding of impairments in their senses, writing with candour and eloquence on attendant uncertainty. It's a tricky season for candour, there being suddenly so much of it, particularly about loss; but I'm not suggesting this custom is suspect, for occupying a window of permission. On the contrary, Andrew Jefford and Mark Doty resort to language for framing uncertainty, despite acute pressure in the first person. Every incongruity, unless willed to the contrary, seeks reconciliation in form, and for these writers the instinct must be expected, even if the result is stunning.

People who don't know Andrew Jefford's writing will now see in an absolute sense, what his readers saw initially by comparison and then ultimately by complete trust. Jefford is read by producers and consumers alike, as a passionately scrupulous and incomparably sophisticated investigator of winegrowing and wines. He knows the physics and he knows the metaphysics of this flux, and he knows the content and the dignity of thirst. Like Valéry Lorenzo, he also likes the keyboard performances of Glenn Gould. Now he is experiencing sudden and permanent loss of hearing, in one ear.

The unexpected, the life-changing and frightening are central to the vision of Mark Doty, who writes now of severe danger and invasive remedies in one of his eyes. A necessary poet if ever there were one, Doty carries the visceral gratitude of all single men over 30, as a mediator and advocate in time of horror and pain, and is important to all readers of English over the age of 12 who may be discovering poetry. His report on this predicament continues at his own blog.

These are two men who have compelled one to think about that state of holding someone in esteem. This holding, not this stature, is the state, it is a condition; although it may be arbitrary, for the sake of plucking some word for it from the roster of likely candidates - respect, &c - esteem pops into mind because it is appropriately less commonplace, nowadays, as a verb or a noun. You can be great and not earn it; you can be simple and never lose it. 

It's not a ranking of skills; it's closer to gratitude for guiding one to an achievement of mental pleasure, the pleasure of arriving at understanding. I know: many people don't believe in the existence of understanding, but I reject that posture. Belief hasn't anything to do with it, except in a shared respect for the task. I know many deny any understanding that isn't belief. We suffer for their fanaticism. But it is human to desire understanding, proper to seek it, and humane to share it. I may not know these guys, but to paraphrase Leon Trotsky on war, they are interested in knowing me. 

I wish them well.

They're right, of course

for Bruce

It's going to change their army.
They were just never entitled to 
their army.

Now it's the other shoe
that needs to drop. And
I don't mean the DoMA.
I mean their waging wars
with a cult and not a draft.
So easy.

But sometimes they get, you know, confused,
and change their vows or the ground rules
that sustain all of us. It's cheery, then, to reflect on the past
and what it brought us. To take stone books down

from the shelf. It is good, in fact,
to let the present pass without commentary
for what it says about the future.
There was nothing carnal in the way omens became portents.

John Ashbery
Are you ticklish?
  A Worldly Country
Harper Collins, 2007©

ROFL & Probable Cause: a crash course for prosecutors

a curiously alimentary anomaly

a cherry bomb goes off
in the household septic system

Egbert is in charge
of chambers again

Aunt Hortense orders
tea from Eric Blore

The Ale & Quail
convenes in the Club Car

Clovis Sangrail is
coming for lunch

Laurent Chevalier's brothers
teach him spinach tennis

Your best friend believes your
"kumquat juice" is not Tabasco

Mme Arcati is in the
kitchen at Firefly

Your exam in Rabelais
is a take-home

Dorothy Parker speaks
at a Yale Commencement

Your English Cocker
avenges his tummy rub

A Yule Log is served
in the Senate cafeteria