The One Minute Writer (see side bar) gives daily prompts. On Friday writers are invited to do a bit of flash fiction from the prompt. Last Friday's prompt as "If ... then..." and I was named the Friday winner with this bit little version of, what else -- yes, you can guess from the picture. (do prefer to visualize my genie with a blue turban).
If I went to the big Saturday flea market and found the perfect little
brass lamp for the hallway table, then a perfect little lamp shade and
came home and polished the lamp ... and when it was beautiful, then --
poof! -- a genie with a blue turban and handlebar moustache was bowing
before me, then he might say, "Your wish is my command."
"Oh, gee," I'd say, "Any wish?" "Within reason." he'd say. "Ten million dollars?" "Why not a hundred, or five hundred million?" I'm not a selfish person so I took a moment to think. "What if I ask you to cure cancer?" He'd
shake his head, (I imagine in this fantasy we have going here.) "What
kind of cancer? There are many and some have different causes and
cures." "I admit that's a bit big," I'd say. "And I suppose you can't stop global warming." He'd laughed. And not a pretty laugh either. I'd
pause and remember once I heard someone say, if she had one wish ...so
I'd asked what she asked, "Could you turn every gun in the world into a
banana and the bombs into bunches of bananas?" He actually staggered
back a couple of steps and just stared at me in utter disbelief.
he said, very softly, "I'm just one genie. Now if you want me to save
the mountain gorillas or the whales, I could try. But I don't know how
I'd do it. I mean it's a complicated, difficult world out there." I
realized there was not point in asking for a stop to global warming,
even if there were an army of genies, it's probably too big a problem
I nodded. Yes, even genies have their limits. 'Okay," I finally said. "Make it five hundred million after taxes." "After
taxes?" he asked weakly. "The genie business isn't what it used to be.
But you've got it." With that he disappeared and I plugged in my sweet
little lamp. I wouldn't be polishing it again for a long, long time.
Often I scan the news and let it roll over me. I add the daily count of deaths in the Middle East, be it Syria, Egypt, Iraq or elsewhere to my cringe-reaction. Everyone of those deaths was a person fighting for what he or she believed ... well, not every one, some were by standers, people simply in the wrong place at the wrong time (as when a bomb went off in a market place), all had mothers, fathers, loved or loving ones who were shocked into grief. It's hard for me to think about it.
I read about trials and verdicts, about police brutality and various kinds of injustice in our country. My cringe reaction works a little harder -- so much of what I think we believe is not what our country does, not how our elected officials and justice system are supposed to work.
While I am cringing, an American woman who I've come to know through the internet, someone with whom I share many interests and values, who lives in Sweden -- a country with a different political attitude -- is aware and not self-defensively cringing. She is feeling and reacting to these same headlines. Arlene Corwin writes poetry like many of us drink coffee -- daily, satisfying a need she has to express herself and to help herself face the world as it is.
A long introduction to a moving poem she has given me permission to print here:
This Is A Terrible Day.
This is a terrible day.
Over thirteen hundred murdered:
Attack in Syria
Whose rulers say “Not us!”
Then there’s Bradley Manning
Military secrets like:
“let’s get ‘em, kill ‘em all” the …
Or words to that effect.
He’ll suffer thirty-five years
In a prison. Here
In Sweden he’d have got
Six months, a cell phone, and a lot
Of loving letters.
Speaking of which,
Swedish citizens are going sick;
Taking billions from the taxes
To recover (or do something)
From the new bipolarist depressions ups and downs;
Poets are a special group at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. Some twenty-five or so enroll in the "So You Want to be a Poet" each semester. They are joined, on an ad hoc basis, by quite a few others who have taken the course over the years and feel they are a part of the group. They also do not stop with the semester's end but have three "rump sessions" during the summer at class members' homes. The poets are among the more senior students at ALL, average age is probably a bit over 70.
The coordinator of the class, Peter Saunders, decided at retirement age (after a life in business) to get a Ph.D. in poetry and then to teach seniors, which he has been doing for 19 years. He is a quiet, gentle soul and well loved by students who are never criticized and always encouraged. He put together an anthology about 6 years ago called Silent No More with poems by thirty or so of his students. It was aptly named. A few of the poets speak of feeling empowered in later years to write about things they only thought about writing before, and writing in verse. The book was published by a press in Provincetown, Cape Cod and took all these years to come to fruition. In the meantime a percentage of those represented have died, and the accompanying photos of those who remain look wonderfully young.
The group met yesterday on the porch of a long time member. 15 people drove 10 to 25 miles to be a part of the group on a very beautiful summer day when they might have chosen any sort of summer activity. All brought poems, read them and shared copies with everyone else. Much catching up with absent members and much concern about those who have in the last several months weathered one or another physical malady. I am not a spring chicken and was feeling a bit creaky myself having pulled something in my back causing stiffness and some pain. (Not serious enough in that crowd to merit mention.) I have rarely felt myself so much surrounded by older people.
These were not stereotypical older people. All are active, all are eager to put their thoughts and feelings in words and pleased to be able to share them with a sympathetic audience. The feeling was one of great warmth and concern but also of the pleasure of not being silent, of having found an outlet for things that they care about, be it a new granddaughter, abundant dogwood trees, the old habit of franks and baked beans for Saturday dinner, a child's dismay at not being allowed to go to a funeral of an uncle, or the fragility of age. For all of us two hours on a porch with friends, gossip, sharing our poetry, looking at the Cape Cod canal at the end of the street was the best way we could spent an August afternoon.
Cate Blanchette is perfect as a very lost woman in Woody Allen's new movie. Critics are talking about her similarity to Tennessee Wiliams' Blanche du Bois of Streetcar Named Desire and there are strong parallels: The emotionlly fragile, suddenly out of money, woman who throws herself on the kindness of her very working class sister with the equally working class boy friend and apartment. This is Woody Allen with a more meaningful story than usual.
We get the back story of Jasmine's past life and recent emotional problems, as we watch her about to ruin, (for the second time) her sister's life. As usual in movies, it is a little too easy to meet eligible men at parties but the story has to move along. The story is more layered than expected, there are emotional and story line bombshells dropped into the story, the final flashback is the most painful. There is no slobby Stanley in this story; the working class people are admirable if sometimes ill mannered. I did not expect the complexity of finding myself sympathizing with Jasmine while abhoring her values and most of her actions -- that's proof of good acting and directing.
I'm reminded that yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the big northeast blackout. Yes, I was in it -- sort of. At that time in my life I spent most weekends in the Catskillls and had arrived in the afternoon as usual. My friend's house was between Saugerites and Woodstock. Weekends were usually very relaxed. We went to a cafe in town for an early dinner and were told by a waiter who was listening to a kitchen radio that New York City had a blackout. The so-called "rolling black out" had not reached upstate to Albany where the radio station was. The restaurant had electricity, air conditioning and light. We were glad to be where we were.
Not long after we got back to the house, however, the electricity went out. Dusk was falling. We sat for a couple hours on the back porch watching night fall. It was hot in NYC but comfortable there. The house did not have air conditioning and didn't need it. We assumed the lights would be back on soon or at least by morning. Of course we couldn't turn on the TV to get news and didn't care enough to think about the car radio -- which, in reality, would not have had a signal either. We knew we were in an interim in our lives -- two older people who had spent time together 25 years ago and had come back together once more. We were comfortable and easy together and old enough and sensible enough not to be particularly vexed by the outage. We made a point of not opening the refrigerator and did not take showers because the water heater would be off. Otherwise we were not greatly inconvenienced.
Little did I know that my friend, Maggie, would, in the following week, relate graphically her ordeal in the city. She was on the subway, going from her midtown job to her apartment in Inwood at the north end of Manhattan. The train stopped just after the Lincoln Center stop. Eventually trainmen lead the passengers out of the train and down the tunnel until they could exit. But how was she to get 110 blocks north? She began walking up Broadway, hoping to get a bus. But as any New Yorker knows, buses become impossibly packed the moment there is a public transportation problem. She managed to squeeze onto something eventually and get to about 115th street. She still had 25 blocks to go. I think I would have started walking and decided to take my chances going through some if-fy sections while watching for a taxi. Although, of course, taxis with any space at all were not to be had. I really can't remember how she traversed her final blocks, I know it was around midnight before she got there.
When there are big public traumas like that, everyone has a story. Except it seemed I had no story at all. I did not exactly "miss" the great power outage but it seems I was in the right place at the right time. I've been doing a lot of pondering because that lovely period of my life ended a couple of years later (sad but not entirely a bad thing for many reasons). The man died this spring and has been on my mind for the last few months. It's not a matter of closure (that selfish new age-y concept). It's a matter of being glad for the times we had that were good and knowing that all the other, much larger parts of our lives, were the meat and that was gravy -- homey metaphor, a finer, more literary one does not come to mind.
One of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, has just been awarded the Dayton Peace Prize. Berry is an septagenarien who has been writng poems and stories for a very long time. He says:
"We are violent in our use of land. ...The most
direct way, which is invariably the most violent way, to get what we
want is the accepted way."
In his writings, he has pointed to strip-mining of mountaintops for
coal, clearing forests for timber and putting chemicals into the soil
for agriculture. He took part in a 2011 sit-in at the Kentucky
governor's office in protest of strip-mining.
"As a poet and fiction writer, my goal was to write a good poem and
tell a good story. That's complex enough. A lot of knowledge, a lot of
study, a lot of work goes into that, I have as a storyteller, and somewhat as a poet, been
stuck with the story of the decline of rural life in all its aspects
during my lifetime" He is a fine writer and a very wise man. He deserves this honor.
Until now I have not experienced being on the water in a powerboat and actually going somewhere for lunch. Saturday I went with two couples I knew two "lives" ago from Cape Cod to Martha's Vineyard in a nice size powerboat. We had a perfect day for the trip: bright sun but not too hot, some breeze (besides the breeze we made), sparkling water, just enough clouds to make the sky interesting. The water was calm.
On such a Saturday the area between the Cape and the island is busy. We saw two sailboat races lining up. Many other pleasure boats of all sizes were out but, of course, there was plenty of room. It took a bit more than an hour; we were lucky to find a slip in which to tie up and then we had about an hour to wander the narrow old streets, dense with old trees and lush plantings, full of white clapboard houses, many with shops and galleries and restaurant and inns in them. Of course we could see only a tiny bit of the town -- and the island is actually fairly sizable with other towns, of course. The Obamas had either come or were about to arrive -- someone said he saw Air Force One in the air but that could have been untrue or meaningless. We figured they would have to land at Otis Air Force Base on the Cape and be helicoptered to the Vineyard.
We found a busy harbor front seafood restaurant for lunch, and an even more convenient ice cream shop almost directly in front of where the boat was. It was a relaxed day. The two couples were long time close friends; I had been especially friendly with one of the women and more an acquaintance with the other (who lives not far from me her--but spends about 7 months of the year in Florida--but whom I almost never see--we share an interest in quilting). It was kind of them to invite me to come and I enjoyed it. I feel I have tucked a somewhat quintessential experience into my memory.
Found an image that is perfect this afternoon's activity. I decided to sort three of several folders/notebooks I have with poems in them. I have never thought of myself as poet, but, my gosh, going back to 1980, I have poems. Lots and lots of them. That I wrote!
I have a very large, messy file that is OPP-- other people's poetry. And, of course I have two, now starting to be three, book shelves of poetry books. Maybe tomorrow I'll sort of straighted the OPPs. Today's job was sorting and finding what I wrote over that long period of time.
I've lately been working with my daughter to learn how to self-publish something the size of a poetry chapbook. After our trip to New Mexico I wrote a lot of narrative poems about what we did. We are combining them with photographs and I hope to make a little booklet just for the three of us (my two daughters and I) Mostly we've got it figured out but there have been some glitches -- like two lost poems and a need for some photos that Leslie has. But she doesn't have her own computer and seems to be allergic to post offices although we beg her to put her photos on a disk and send them to us.
This is relevant because I've been thinking of two sets of poems I wrote a few years ago. One was written when I traveled to northern India and was awed into trying to catch some of the wonder in poetry. The other is a set of poems that I wrote over about 18 months called "7th at 8:00" which was mostly about a two block walk I took on 7th Avenue from 23rd to 21st Street when I was working at a small business on 21st and usually arrived about 8:00 which let me observe the street's local denizens settling in for the day. I thought I'd like to do a small chapbook-ish thing to keep those poems together.
Amid all the papers, I found quite a lot of other NYC poems -- too many, in fact! If I were a deeply serious poet I'd round-file most of them. But they were written over several years when I was moved by specific things -- including my long 9/11 poem. So, just for whatever posterity may be curious about my writing, I think I'll put them all together. Although I'm sure I won't be able to go back to them without making some changes.
And then there are many other poems, a few fit into categories, and many are miscellaneous. I have to admit I've surprised myself at how very much I've had to express myself over the years. All that time I've been writing much, much else. Writing has always been my true mode of expression. I had no one to really talk to growing up, no mentor, no one with similar interests. So writing has always been the way to explore what I'm thinking. I don't really have time to get all these in order. I am writing a lot anyway. But I think I'll chip away at it. As of today I've made a little order out of the chaos of papers. Now, like the woman in the illustration here, I can put my head down and close my eyes. Until tomorrow.
I felt I'd had a good influence when traveling with my daughters and being aware they are as uninterested in TV as I am (in one place we stayed for three nights there were two large screen TVs -bedroom and sitting room -and I was the only one curious enough to see if I could get some news. Otherwise they were not on. Also we are all three very content to spend the last couple of hours at night reading.
BUT I have failed in that my daughters are not interested in opera. They like ballet and they like theatre but not opera. So I took Rachel to see what I think is the best comic opera ever written: The Barber of Seville - a reprise simulcast starting Joyce Dedonato and Juan Diego Flores. (Sorry I don't remember the Figaro's name). It was delightful but I found myself putting myself in her place. Suddenly all the extensions of the arias, repeats, flourishes, seemed excessive and they went on and on -- which those of us who love it actually love.The acting was good (although I think Flores is more concerned with his image than the role). I admit he has a lovely tenor voice and was a well cast swain.
Rachel agreed it had been a fun event, she enjoyed it. But it didn't make an opera fan of her, I suppose nothing will. Ah, well.... what can a mother do? I have in my memory a video I saw with Beverly Sills, in her young career, as Rosina, being utterly charming in a production with the funniest costumes I've ever seen in an opera. This did not live up to that, being in period costumes and with a busy set. However, I still think it's the perfect comic opera and Rossini's masterpiece.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!