Ode For the Ocean: My Shedd Aquarium Adventure

posted in: Art, Chicago, Day In The Life, Poetry 0
Residents of the deep ocean. Photo: Wikipedia
Residents of the deep ocean. Photo: Wikipedia

There were fish, sharks, fish, strange plants, and 1.5 millions of gallons of water at the aquarium. In response to the Shedd, I’d like to post a poem I worked out this summer. It’s longer than most of my poems, but I hope you will read through it today and when someone asks you, “Did you read any poetry this week?” You can say, “Yes, I did.”


 

Ode for the Ocean

by Mary Fons
© 2015

I’ve never thought it beautiful.

I much prefer a mountain range, which
                         strikes me as more traversable;
The ocean just strikes you with waves.

The “treasures of the sea,” to me,
Are going silver
             (such foolish gold)
Not proof of some grand, courageous adventure,
Just wet and old.

We are to find an endless blue
              (or anything endless) a reflecting pool?
This is madness
           and all madness should frighten you.

For lurking under sunset fire, just beyond the lovers’ sighs
Are beasts with coal black eyes
                          blind with only one own-only mind:
                                                                                                        survive

And longer than you, laughs the whale;
Killer, indeed, and with a tail to crush you,
As you clap and wave and save your photo.

All combers,
Mind the suck down —
                                    that human-sized sucking sound;
So much chum and lunchmeat now,
First for the mighty maw that spied you
                           (what’s red and white and red rolled over?)
Blood becomes you
               ‘till you’re dispersed in that vast, mast-hungry pool
                                                                   adrift on the waves that lulled you
Back when Cabo was not the site of your grisly end;
The fishes catch the tissue last
                                          and any flecks of left eye that’s left —
Are you finally out of the office

Further below, in depths we cannot fathom deep —
                           translucents sleep
Why they wake at all
A question we ne’er allow to ask;
Preferring such questions as:
                         “Shall we take the pink umbrella, dear?”
                         “Is Carol bringing Jake?”

The sea does not care
The sea does not love Carol

But for heaven’s sake!” the swimmers scream,
“Death’s not all the ocean! Think of schools and dolphin,
Think of shells and oyster feasts!”

Please

A grinning manatee emerging from misty black is a heart attack —
You’d mess your pants and your electric fan;

And if walls of undulating weeds or tangerine clowns are cool to you
Fix them in your mind for
                         five minutes down the line these lives, too, are over;

Such is the lifespan of sea color
And what a drag!

The cleverest trick the ocean ever played
Was convincing us of her placidity

There’s chaos in the drink —
A jungle reversed,

                           inverted earth
Primeval monster bedlam,
Time and zero memory locked in loggerheaded war;
What in heaven’s name 
                           are you out there for

 

The sea does not love you

The sea married herself a long, long time ago
                           and she’s kept a tight ship ever since

See how she takes out the garbage

See how she freezes her food
See how she sweeps the floor

See how she claps herself on the back,
                                        see how she races herself at the shore, one more touch,
                                        one more touch, one more touch, one more

She doesn’t love you
She doesn’t even warn you

You: land creature
Get out

 

 

Pick Your Beauty.

posted in: Tips 2
Me, looking at mountain. Photo: Claus; adjustments by me.
Me, looking at mountain, somewhere in the American West. Photo: Claus.

 

You don’t have to be devastated by the beauty a grand, famous, “so-amazing-you-will-freak-out” landscape. Your heart may not burst out of your chest at Observation Point X, you may not burst into song when you see a big wave. You may hate Grand Canyon. You might think it’s sort of monotonous. I’m not looking to defend a person who looks at the sea lions at Ano Nuevo and says, “Whatever. Can we go to Burger King?” I am looking to defend people who respect the Titans but feel guilty when they’re not devastated by the “raw, eternal power” of them.

There were times on the road trip when we’d be driving, leave a mountain pass and bam! some HD vista would open up before us. We’d stop mid-sentence and just gape. The basin before we got to Grand Canyon was like that for me. The rolling hills, the endless blue of the sky, the ghosts of all those buffalo… That swath of earth touched me so much — felt so familiar to me — I couldn’t stop crying. It was weird.

But Yosemite? I don’t know. It was cool. But the camping, camaraderie, and cookstove, well, that was what was great about Yosemite for me. Yosemite is brushy pine trees and a lot of grey-white rock. Not my thing, really. The tour guides (we had three to choose from, all very useful) are full of words like “breathtaking” and “stunning” and “awe-inspiring,” but this is dangerous. One reads these things and hears about places that are “must-sees” and it creates great pressure to feel something when we get to Yosemite, or when we gaze out into Grand Canyon.

But you don’t have to be awe-inspired. You might be more inspired walking through your neighborhood at dusk on your way to the store for milk. The light might be just right, the nice lady who lives on the corner might wave from her porch. This can be more beautiful to you than a big mountain.

I say it because it took me a long time to learn that. I saw the Mona Lisa once and I just didn’t get it. I felt terrible, thought for sure there was something wrong with me. But I like so many paintings so much more, and it’s okay. I liked Zion way better than Grand Canyon. Anyhow, the unsolicited advice tonight is to not let People tell you what’s Beautiful. You decide. No pressure.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: The woman in the image above finds the landscape she’s looking at to be very, very beautiful.]

“She Money”: A Trifle

posted in: Poetry 0
Diamond ring. Photo: Wikipedia.
Diamond ring. Photo: Wikipedia.

Some time ago I found an image of a children’s book from the 1930’s that began, “A is for Anchor, B is for Boat.” It was so cool the way it went through the whole alphabet, telling a story in rhyme about a child’s ocean voyage. It was a deceptively simple structure; when I messed around with it a little I found it challenging to find an appropriate word to come out to the right number of syllables and rhyme with the next line and keep it all relating to one theme.

So I really wanted to seriously try my hand at something like it but had to put the project aside for awhile. I’ve also been wanting to write on the subject of money. Now that I have a chair to sit in, I picked it up again in my morning writing time. It’s been so fun and as tough as I thought it would be. But I’m finally happy with it after a week of work and I think you’ll like it, too. Read it out loud to a friend — it’s great fun.

A few quick notes:

1. “Regan” is pronounced “REE-gan,” referring to rich King Lear’s daughter.
2. For the letter “P,” you need to use your prurient imagination. I’ve censored the word here but the truth is, the word I chose is the perfect word for that letter and it has to stand. I apologize if you’re scandalized, but in a poem, every word is important.
3. For those uninitiated, “yayo” is cocaine.

Now you really wanna read it, right?? Have fun. I sure did.

She Money
© Mary Fons
2015

A’s for Acquire
B is for Bentley
C is for Champagne corks that pop gently
D is for Driver
E is for Ever
F’s for a Futures trading endeavor

G is for Gucci
H is for Heirs
I is for Interviewing au pairs
J is for Joneses
K is for Keeps
L is for Laurels for Triple Crown leaps

M is for Money
N is for Now
O’s the Odd Reference on the ship’s lacquered prow
P is for P—y
Q is for Quarrels
R is for Regan in this season’s florals

S is for Scotch
T is for Tsar
U is for Uncle’s Cuban cigar
V is for Victor
W for Win
(X is for nothing and never has been)

Y is for Yayo lines on the yacht
Z is for Zelda Fitzgerald you’re not

“Tis Better To Have Loved” — Quickfire Poetry Analysis

posted in: Poetry 1
This is a silk brocade from France, made just after the start of the 19th century, when Tennyson was born. He wasn't French but I love this thing. Photo: Wikipedia
This is a silk brocade from France, made just after the start of the 19th century, when Tennyson was born. He wasn’t French but it seems appropriate here. Photo: Wikipedia

Today, a poetry lesson. I promise you will like it and when you are done reading this, you will be smarter and as you roll the poem around in your head, you might even cry the tears you cry when great art pokes you in the eye. I get misty every time I recite this poem at hand; I can’t be the only one.

Here is our text, which is a stand-alone part of a much larger poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. I hesitate to give you the title because it’s terrifying, but here you go:

In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 27

I envy not in any moods
       The captive void of noble rage,
       The linnet born within the cage
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
       His license in the field of time;
       Unfetter’d by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
       The heart that never plighted troth
       But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;
       I feel it, when I sorrow most;
       ‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

By the end there, you surely smiled and thought, “Ah, yes!” or “That’s where that comes from, then!”

Okay, now let’s take a look at this thing. This is my personal analysis, born of reading and re-reading this for the past month as I worked on memorizing it.

In the first stanza, Ten-Ten ask us to consider the prisoner who doesn’t care he’s in prison, or the bird (linnet = bird) who is in a birdcage but doesn’t really mind because she’s never been outside. The man and the bird are like, “Whatever, this is fine.” Tennyson says he’d rather be a captive psychotically enraged that he’s in jail because he misses his wife or his family; he’d rather be a bird devastated that she’s been trapped, aching for the beauty she knew outside.

In the next stanza, the poet tells us he’d rather be a psycho axe-murderer who has a conscience. To be a psychopath axe-murderer who has no sense of his crimes would be somehow more horrible. As a criminal, it would be far more painful to understand all the horrible things you’ve done, but at least you’d be more human.

And in the third stanza, Ol’ Tenny says that the people who say, “Love! Who needs it! I’d rather be alone and not cry than put myself out there and get stomped. No, no love for me. I’ll just stay inside and have my cheese and crumpets, son.” Well, the poet doesn’t think much of these people. He doesn’t want to be like them because they suck.

No, in the fourth stanza, our narrator tells us just what he wants — and he second line is the one that makes my chest ache every time because it’s this aside. He’s making his point and he pauses to say, “And look, I feel this way even when I’m in it, even when the breakup is happening, even when she says she doesn’t love me anymore, even when I miss her, even when I sorrow most — even then…”

You don’t need me to analyze the last two lines. You understand him, don’t you.

Wordy.

posted in: Poetry 0
"Don't talk to me. I just spilled an entire bottle of India ink on the letter I just wrote and now I have to start over. Please go away."  (Illustration: Charles Dana Gibson, 1905.)
“Don’t talk to me. I just spilled an entire bottle of India ink on the letter I just wrote and now I have to start over. Please go away.” (Illustration: Charles Dana Gibson, 1905.)

My intention is to post on the ol’ PG at least six times a week and usually do. The past couple weeks have been a little thin, though I think I’m back in the saddle. The trouble is not that I haven’t had anything to say: I have too much.

I’m soaked with words lately. Work is going along, I’ve been traveling, etc., but my nose has been poked into a book at every opportunity. The 250-page journal I began two months ago is nearly out of pages. Poetry has been coursing through my veins. I’ve re-memorized Eliot’s Prufrock and have been reciting it as I tidy up the house or wheel my luggage to the train. I brushed up all my Parker. I’m planning to pull out my favorite Philip Larkin pieces and make sure I’ve got them down pat and I’m 90% on my favorite James Dickey poem, The Sheep Child. (Read that instead of the paper tomorrow morning. You’ll weep into your Cheerios and it will be totally worth it.)

I could be satisfied by the presence of these gems in my head. But those words have company, however shabby; I’m turning out new poems at a clip I haven’t seen for years. I don’t believe in writer’s block, and the concept of some hot muse coming to see you (or not) is for entertainment purposes only. But I’m the first to admit that sometimes the poetry is with thee, sometimeseth iteth noteth. Trying to force poetry is like trying to force yourself to paint a beautiful portrait. You can only do the best you can do: it’s either there that day or it isn’t, and even a lifetime of technique may not save you. So you wait and hope you have a few more portraits in you.

If I were a full-time writer, I think I’d go absolutely nuts. If the full-time living in my head didn’t kill me, the poverty would. But I think about Scottish poet William Soutar a lot. He was going about his life, doing his thing, making big plans. He loved poetry so much and wrote it when he could. Well, when he was around thirty, he was diagnosed with spondylitis, a disease that would paralyze him and render him bedridden for the rest of his life.

When he got the diagnosis, Soutar stood a moment and then said, “Now I can be a poet.” He didn’t have any excuses anymore. He was free to do what he needed to do.

There Is No Time For Poetry.

posted in: Poetry 0
Something like this, maybe. Photo: Kofler Jurgen, 2003.
Something like this, maybe. Photo: Kofler Jurgen, 2003.

Eternally true statements are hard to properly credit. Time is one big VitaMix, chopping, sluicing, pureeing all the words. The phrase, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” for example, has been attributed to Pablo Picasso, T.S. Eliot, Stravinsky, Faulkner, and many others. Does it matter who said it? Not really — unless you’re a guy named Joe Smith and you said it and never got credit. That would be kinda sad.

There’s a statement I love that I thought belonged to Mark Twain. He wrote a letter to a friend, the story goes, and said, essentially, “I apologize for the length of this letter; if I had had more time, it would’ve been shorter.” What he meant, of course, is that it takes longer to write tighter, better sentences than loosey-goosey, long, unfocused ones. It takes far more time to put all one’s thoughts onto a single handwritten page than it does to type half those thoughts in a small novel. As it turns out, it may not have been Twain at all who said that; I looked it up and the “shorter letter more time” concept might have come to us by way of our man Blaise Pascal or George Bernard Shaw. Whoever said it, however they did, they were right.

This post is proof. Here’s why.

I rode in a taxi this morning for about thirty-five minutes. The sky in D.C. is grey; it’s a blustery February day, a Monday. In my cab, I craned my neck all around to look at what we were driving past; I’m still soaking in all the places and sights and streets of this town and riding in a taxi is great for sightseeing, for bearing-finding. We drove east on Constitution, and that meant we went right by the Washington Monument, right by the Museum of Natural History, and then we passed the National Gallery, and so many more Beaux-Arts buildings standing white and pristine in the dull, sunless sky.

There was a lot of traffic, so we stopped a lot and for many minutes at a time. Right before the Washington Monument, I looked out the window and saw an extraordinary sight. There was a park on our right, many hundreds of yards from the street. The trees in the park were tall, tall, tall, and spindly — and leafless, of course. They were all skinny and went so high up; they were needles. And deep in the tree line (is that right? the tree line?) was a woman in a well-cut, fine red coat. The shade of the coat was not tomato, nor cherry, nor brick, but cardinal red, so precisely cardinal red that she looked as natural as could be in the trees there, as though she were the bird itself.

I saw her and thought, “She must have a dog.” Because this woman was standing there in the trees and looking up; it would have made sense for her to be waiting for her dog to finish doing its business. But I squinted and saw she had no pet. She was just standing amongst the trees, looking up at the sky, I guess, regarding it. Considering it, all by herself, on Monday morning, near the tallest structure in this entire city. Black birds flew. A car horn sounded. I watched her as long as I could, waiting to see if I could discern what she was doing, standing so still and alone in that park. The cab began to pull forward and I began to lose sight of the woman. Then, the car we got behind was playing a Bob Dylan song loud enough it was like the taxi driver had turned on the radio in our car.

What this post should be is a poem. I should go write a poem about female cardinal, the needle trees, and Bob Dylan; I should work on a poem about the white of the stones in the monuments against the pewter sky in a city I’m falling in love with. But I don’t have time. It would take a long time to write that poem properly. But I can’t do nothing. I can’t forget it. I can’t put it out of my mind. So loosey-goosey it is, PaperGirl is the clearinghouse for my experience this morning.

What were you looking at?

Poetic Interlude: The Sandpiper by Elisabeth Bishop

posted in: Art, Poetry 0
A sandpiper at the water.
A sandpiper at the water.

On this Monday, let us pause for poetry. Have you ever read Elisabeth Bishop’s poems? I’m only now discovering them. Have you ever seen a sandpiper hopping around on a beach? I hadn’t until I read this poem written by Bishop in 1956.

The Sandpiper

The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focused; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

Differently Abled.

posted in: Day In The Life 1
The Gallaudet Cheerleaders, 2013. Photo: Gallaudet University.
The Gallaudet Cheerleaders, 2013. Photo: Gallaudet University.

 

I’ve returned to my Bikram yoga practice and it feels great, except that the first time I walked into the Capitol Hill studio on New Year’s Eve day, a real cruddy memory came flooding back.

In 2009, I was here in D.C. with the Neo-Futurists, performing for a month at Woolly Mammoth theater — which is just a few blocks from my new home, incidentally. It was that trip that caused me to fall in love with D.C. At the time, I was extremely committed to my yoga practice and would get up at five in the morning to walk to the Capitol Hill studio to take the six a.m. class so that I could be showered, fed, watered and at the theater by nine o’clock rehearsal. I kinda can’t believe I did that.

I had an ostomy bag for many years. I had my first bag for about a year and then the surgeons poked my intestine back into my body. I got sick again right away, so I had to get an ostomy again. The second time, I had it about two years. When I was well enough during both periods, I kept practicing yoga. Bikram yoga is 90 minutes inside a room heated to 105 degrees. An ostomy bag is attached to the body with a wax seal and a sticker. Before every class over those years, I would have to tape up my bag with athletic tape so it wouldn’t fall off, then empty it, and then explain to the teacher before class that in between the standing series and the floor series, I would probably have to go empty it again. I usually did; the second half of a Bikram class is done largely on your belly. A bag full of… Well, you can imagine. Typically, it’s not cool to leave a Bikram class at all, so it was my responsibility to apprise teachers of my special case.

The only time any Bikram teacher ever made me feel bad about my ostomy bag was at the Capitol Hill studio, and I’ve practiced in Bikram studios coast to coast.

“Hey, hi,” I said to the teacher with a smile. “I just wanted to let you know, I have an ostomy bag, and I usually have to go to the bathroom between the standing and floor series, so if that’s cool with y—”

The teacher looked at me like there was a bug crawling across my face. “Oh. Well… Is it…visible?” she asked me, her lip kind of up by her nose.

I blinked. No one had ever asked me that before.

“Uh… No, not… No. I mean, you can see a little bit of the appliance and the tape, I guess, poking up over my shorts…” I trailed off. I felt so lousy. It’s amazing how the differences we have become our “normal” until someone makes them bizarre and therefore wrong.

The other day in the changing room, I heard some very unusual sounds. Two girls were making the sounds, which were kind of breathless squeaks. I turned to see two young ladies smiling and jumping up and down and signing to each other like crazy. Either they hadn’t seen each other in awhile or one of the girls was having a really great day and telling the other about it. One of the girls had a Gallaudet sweatshirt on and I remembered that the prestigious college for the deaf, Gallaudet University, is here in D.C.

Bikram yoga is a class that is taught by one teacher who has a 90-minute “dialogue” that he or she recites. It’s the same every class. You listen to the words, you do the poses. Those girls come to yoga, but they can’t hear the words the teacher is saying. But Bikram yoga is also — and always — taught in a room with a floor-to-ceiling mirror in the front of the room. So you don’t really have to hear the dialogue, I realized; you can just watch what the class is doing and keep perfect pace.

I understand why “disabled” is a term that a lot of people don’t like. “Differently abled” is a far better choice of words.

Maps The Clock Puts There.

posted in: Day In The Life 0
Bed illustration, 1869. Photo: Ward, Lock, & Tyler of London, via Wikicommons.
Bed illustration, 1869. Photo: Ward, Lock, & Tyler of London, via Wikicommons.

Dangerous things include:

Alligator hunting
Necking in the 1950s
Taking a job as a logger
Quoting your own poetry

The last thing could be the most dangerous of them all, but I’m going to do it, as I feel a kind of heady, delirious courage at the moment. I have been packing and moving boxes since dawn — right about when it began to snow. All the possessions have been transferred. I am in a new home. I no longer have keys to my little Capitol Hill treehouse.

Here’s the quote, from a poem called “A Cake/For The Fall”:

“The lines on our faces are maps the clock puts there/the forehead shows that path of the first worry/the cheek charts the hardest years/laugh lines are easy landmarks/but beware fatigue at the corner of the eye, my son/it belies the optimist’s gaze/I can spot a broken heart in a happy man a mile away”

The poem was written many years ago and when I wrote it I thought I was writing about a boy, but now I think I was writing about time. Days like these — periods of time like these — put lines on our faces. Today I picked up the third? fourth? duffel bag of fabric (Pendennis tucked into one of them for safe keeping) and I fumbled for the new set of keys for the apartment that is ugly and cramped compared to my darling little rat-infested house. I stomped snow off my shoes. I looked out at the view that I have; I saw not the grand dome of the Capitol Building but square, squat buildings that look like boxes, and a highway, and an empty lot. The apartment itself is a box inside a building that looks just like the others out there. Only the snowfall was familiar as I pressed my nose to the glass.

It’s not so bad. It has its charms. But oh, I cried.

And I thought about my poem because I remember when I was a kid and I’d look up at adults and think, “They look so weird and different from me.” It’s the lines. Adults have lines in our faces, and even if they’re not wrinkles yet, kids do not have even a whisper of these. They don’t have lines because they haven’t moved twice in a month, in winter, after love faltered in a different apartment in Manhattan. They haven’t forwarded their mail. Again. Of course, I don’t want any of that to happen to any kid, but it will. It’s the law of nature, little dude, little miss, and you, too, will grow up (and grow old) under the law. But it gets better after it sucks for awhile. That’s a law, too.

Tomorrow, my sister and her fiance are returning home from their 10-day trip to India. What stopped me blubbering on like a dweeb today was remembering that I want so many, many things, but most of all, I want them home safe and sound.

I’m Having My Tattoo Removed: A Poem in 10 Verses

posted in: Poetry 0
It's a tattoo. Get it?
It’s a tattoo. Get it?

There once was a girl with a wrist, and desire she couldn’t resist,
To ink a tattoo
In an inky black hue
Right there, so it wouldn’t be missed.

To the needle she’d been twice before;
She’d walked in the head shop front door;
The tattoo artiste was a bit of a beast,
But he’d do just what you asked for.

“Tonight, I want an airplane,”
Said the girl (who we will call “Jane”);
“Make it real big,” and she took a large swig
From a bottle of decent champagne.

The burly man started the gun;
And no, it wasn’t much fun —
To have something placed that can’t be erased;
It stings and it burns as it’s done.

Once over, the girl floated out;
She felt, without a doubt,
Her stunning new ink was the long-missing link,
Announcing what she was about.

For months, she often admired,
That which she had so desired;
But her inked up forearm was losing its charm;
The girl had become mostly mired.

“I’m afraid I have some concern,”
Said the girl, who began to burn
With chagrined regret; she went on and let
Herself the tattoo to spurn.

“Would you please give me some info?”
Said Jane Elizabeth Doe;
“Your ad says that you w-will remove a tattoo”;
“Yes,” the man said, and “Hello.”

So she booked three sessions with John,
Who removed what the needle had drawn;
The prick of the laser never did faze her —
She said, “I’m just happy it’s gone.”

To every young laddie and dame,
I say to you both just the same:
Skip that tattoo and then maybe you
Can avoid the ink made of shame!

A Poem For Chicago.

posted in: Chicago, Poetry 1
Aerial view of Chicago, close to the lake.
Aerial view of Chicago, close to the lake.

At Heather’s house, I’ve been reading from a Dorothy Parker anthology and a book of Emily Dickinson poems. I don’t have much time before we have to leave for the second day of the Quilty shoot (which is going well) but I made a poem in the time I had.

Being in Chicago is hard. I miss this place very much. New York is not taking, I’m afraid. More on that later. For now, a poem about the day I left.

June 1st, 2014
by Mary Fons

We sped down Lakeshore Drive that day —
The train giving way to a taxi drive —
Me and my luggage were whisked away,
Around a quarter to five.

Through grimy windows my eyes did see
Steel and glass buildings standing so sure;
Chicago’s a hard and imposing city,
But its heart is pure.

What have I done to my favoritest lover;
Leaving like this, my purse grabbed in haste;
Off to new visions and a new city’s cover,
What a waste.

For mercy and grace, I shall grovel and beg,
Come June, when weather is fair;
Chicago, lash at at the back of my leg
It proves you care.

Poets Rejoice: Let’s All Vape

posted in: Poetry, Tips 1
Poets Rejoice: Vape!
E-cigarette by London manufacturer Vaepen.

For most of my life, I have had a relationship with poetry — the good, the bad, and most levels in between. In betwixt. Betwither? Anyway.

When we were little, my sisters and I memorized the Shel Silverstein catalogue. In junior high, I was unpopular; many days were spent alone, writing lyrics to Debbie Gibson songs. You might be thinking, “That’s not poetry!” and you are correct. But I was rhyming about love, so I’m counting it.

By high school I was writing angsty poems in study hall with titles like “ripped” and “truth”, always in lowercase everything because capitalization was “establishment.” I’d shove those poems deep into my jeans pockets with my pain. I read Nikki Giovanni and Dorothy Parker and listened to Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell and Tori Amos, so my poetic education, such as it was, continued apace. Plus, my sister and our friends would take Honky, my grandmother’s white station wagon (I named it) into Des Moines and a few of us would read at open mic nights at Java Joe’s, the only coffeehouse in a 200-mile radius. I had guts, I’ll give myself that much. My picture was even in the Des Moines Register once for sharing poems at the local Barnes & Noble open mic; this is probably because I had a full mouth of braces and a shirt that said “Marlboro” on it. Sorry, Mom.

Speed up. College. I made theater for four years, but isn’t theater just one big open mic? Also, my boyfriend Dan moved to New York City and got deep into the poetry slam scene. I saw him perform at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe and thought, “I could do that.”

After college, I moved to Chicago and tried to keep being an actress but the bottom had dropped out. I didn’t actually like pretending to be someone else; I wanted to write and perform my own stuff. As it happens, Chicago is the birthplace of the poetry slam and the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge was the premier place for it, the place where it all started. For the next several years, I was there every Sunday night, listening, gagging, applauding, performing, laughing, crying, and above all, learning as much as I could about poetry. I also learned about gin and tonic.

Now that I’ve outlined this history, you’ll have context for what I consider to be the most significant moments in my poetical life thus far. And now, The Most Significant Moments In My Poetical Life Thus Far:

1. Getting a perfect score at the Mill (10-10-10)
2. Seeing my first poem published in a literary magazine that no one reads
3. Discovering Philip Larkin
4. The birth of the word “vape”

Let’s look at this most recent development. Poets — and I’m talking mostly to the slammers out there, but this works for everyone — do you realize what has happened? Do you understand what you’ve been given? The word “vape” has entered the lexicon! Earth’s metering, rhyme-scheming citizens will never be the same! Not only do poets have a new word to rhyme, we have a word that happens to rhyme with some of the most often used words in poetry: escape, agape, rape (and possibly crepe.) Just think of the possibilities:

Black hair like velvet
Her face: a heart shape
Her voice, my song: 
“You wanna vape?”

or

We stood in the rain
Emotions escaping
Under the awning
Quietly vaping

This is big. Huge. Seismic. I’m just wondering if I’m the last to figure this out. It (almost) makes me want to go to a poetry slam and see what people are doing with the brand new word. It also makes me want to visit that hilariously named vape shop across from my sister and Jack’s condo in Chicago. It’s actually called “Let’s All Vape.” That’s the name of the store. I’d like to start any store and name it like that. “Let’s All Have Tacos” or “Let’s All Buy Shoes” or “Let’s All Get An MRI” — these are all viable shop names. Don’t wait for me, by any means — this is my gift to you. I fully support anyone who wants to name their shop “Let’s All [Insert Thing Here].” I will be your first customer, that’s how much I love that idea.**

New words, a basketful of retail possibilities — all of this, and I still have no desire to vape. Tough customer, I guess.

**I can’t stop: Let’s All Have Our Engines Examined, Let’s All At Least Have a Look at The Buffet, Let’s All Copy Something, Let’s All Get Gas, Let’s All Buy Things We Don’t Need, Let’s All Get Uncomfortable (sex shop), Let’s All Get a Headache (bath and body shop)

Chill + Sky

Harvesting grapes, from a book created in the 14th century. People like wine!
Harvesting grapes, from a book created in the 14th century. These people have never heard of a pumpkin spice latte.

Q: What do autumn and a New York City fashion model have in common?

A: They real chilly.

Today feels like fall has arrived and also like my first day in one place in about a month; this is probably because fall has arrived and it is my first day in one place in about a month. My September saw Georgia, Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida; if you count the layovers, throw in Michigan and Tennessee, too.

My friend Bari said something the other day that made me laugh out loud. She said, “Your life seems kind of glamorous, Mar, jetting off here and there.” But glamour has something to do with someone carrying your luggage, I think, and cooking (or at least fetching) your food. As it happens, I am very much in charge of my own suitcase(es) and am the only person making myself almond meal cookies and broiled fish. But perception is everything and I love the idea that while I’m hauling my quilt-laden suitcase around the country, someone out there thinks I’m special enough to have “people” to do it for me.

Of course, the month contained disaster, too. “The Atlanta Incident,” as we might call it, didn’t just bring me low physically; it shook my confidence down, too. I don’t much like looking into the future and seeing it obscured by shadowy shapes of emergency rooms in faraway towns; I don’t like seeing blood in places it ought not to be (and I’ll let you figure that one out on your own.) Should I have cancelled September and come home? Should I have cancelled even my New York Adventure and gone home home, to Chicago, in the name of equilibrium? As my condo is presently rented, that would be difficult. No, stopping everything would be far more disruptive than just continuing; besides, my Midwestern work ethic is as stubborn as the cows so it’s no use to tell me to call in sick unless I’m half dead. Which is always possible.

I’m off to the Seattle area next week to lecture with Mom, then it’s back to Florida again. Yuri is peeved that I’m leaving again so soon, but I keep telling him that these trips are planned at least a year in advance, in most cases, and that there’s very little I can do. When I come back, I will commence the tests that my Chicago doctor recommended I have and Yuri will hold my hand through those. The only thing good about hospital tests is that I have to actually be in town for them.

Today it rained and the ground was soaked;
In autumn, chill and sky are yoked
And fall complaints of average kind: 
Ailing body, troubled mind.

“Epitaph In Bookish Style,” by Benjamin Franklin, Poet.

posted in: Paean, Poetry 1
"When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris, he was wearing a little fur cap to keep his bald head warm. To the French, the hat was the embodiment of the rugged American frontiersman and proof that Franklin was a true "natural man." In fact, Franklin sent back to America for a large supply of the caps, which he wore everywhere around Paris."
Portrait of Ben Franklin, c. 1776, Paris. I can’t locate the artist’s name. I have read that in this picture, he is supposedly wearing a coonskin cap to communicate his rugged Americanness. 

In observance of Independence Day, I will share a poem written by Benjamin Franklin. Of all the founding fathers, I know the least about him. I did know he wrote poems, though, and so I found and read a few of them today.

Epitaph In Bookish Style
by Benjamin Franklin

The Body of Benjamin Franklin (Printer)
(Like the cover of an old book
Its contents torn out
And stript of its lettering and gilding)
Lies here, food for worms.
But the work shall not be lost
For it will (as he believed) appear once more
In a new and more elegant edition
Revised and corrected
by
The Author. 

Happy Birthday, America. Please, please do not blow your — or anyone else’s — face off with a firecracker.

5 Haiku for NYC.

posted in: Art, New York City, Poetry 2
Taken at the 25th Annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 2006. From NYC.com.
Taken at the 25th Annual Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, 2006. From NYC.com.

I made up a haiku the other day to amuse Yuri and boy, did it work. He is an almost frighteningly intelligent fellow, but he looked at me and said,

“How did you do that?”

Here now, a few haiku for New York City. They keep coming to me. I’m not saying they’re any good, but they keep coming to me.

The laundry service
Shrunk everything. So begins
The New York diet.

That man is sleeping
On a bottle of urine.
Hey, it’s a pillow.

The Lower East Side
Is a crowded crackerbox.
See what I did there?

I’m back in yoga.
Sweaty togs hang in shower.
(Yuri still loves me.)

Manhattan lemmings:
You are all completely nuts.
Now I am, too. Balls!

 

Thomas Hood’s Real Downer: “Song of the Shirt”

posted in: Poetry 1
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.
Quilted coverlet by Ann West, 1820.

There was a tugging in my heart today and a longing I couldn’t place.

Oh, it was probably just nostalgia brought on by spring weather. The sweet, chilled spring air came in and I pulled out last year’s jacket. What was in the pocket but a pack of now-soggy gum and a book of matches from a fancy night out last spring. When these sorts of things happen, I need to read poetry. 

After slogging through an afternoon’s worth of paper on my desk, I went to one of my favorite poetry anthologies to find something expansive. I was hoping I might find a poem on moving or relocation: I arrived in Chicago this morning at dawn and I have one week to wrap up all the ends here before trundling off to Manhattan for the summer. (Or longer. Probably longer.) When you crush up your arm, you need surgery. When you realize you’re about to say goodbye to the view from your bedroom, you need poetry.

I did not find a poem about relocation. What I did find was really good, though, especially if any part of what you do for a living involves sewing. And I know you’re out there.

“Song of the Shirt” is a poem by poet, writer, and humorist Thomas Hood, written in the 1820s in England. It’s about the suffering of the factory drudge, told from her perspective. It’s pretty bleak; it also pretty damn relevant. The refrain, “Work–work–work,” is as imbedded in our discourse as ever. I read it and cackled like a crazy person; she’s got that right. The poem was especially interesting/fitting because she speaks of spring.

I hope you enjoy the poem, as much as it can be enjoyed. In its admonishing way, it’s a little like being forced to take a dose of nasty medicine. But I said I needed help from a poem and that is exactly what I got.

Song of the Shirt
by Thomas Hood

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch
She sang the “Song of the Shirt.”

“Work! work! work!
While the cock is crowing aloof!
And work—work—work,
Till the stars shine through the roof!
It’s O! to be a slave
Along with the barbarous Turk,
Where woman has never a soul to save,
If this is Christian work!

“Work—work—work,
Till the brain begins to swim;
Work—work—work,
Till the eyes are heavy and dim!
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Till over the buttons I fall asleep,
And sew them on in a dream!

“O, men, with sisters dear!
O, men, with mothers and wives!
It is not linen you’re wearing out,
But human creatures’ lives!
Stitch—stitch—stitch,
In poverty, hunger and dirt,
Sewing at once, with a double thread,
A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

“But why do I talk of death?
That phantom of grisly bone,
I hardly fear his terrible shape,
It seems so like my own—
It seems so like my own,
Because of the fasts I keep;
Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.
And flesh and blood so cheap!

“Work—work—work!
My labour never flags;
And what are its wages? A bed of straw,
A crust of bread—and rags.
That shattered roof—this naked floor—
A table—a broken chair—
And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank
For sometimes falling there!

“Work—work—work!
From weary chime to chime,
Work—work—work,
As prisoners work for crime!
Band, and gusset, and seam,
Seam, and gusset, and band,
Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,
As well as the weary hand.

“Work—work—work,
In the dull December light,
And work—work—work,
When the weather is warm and bright—
While underneath the eaves
The brooding swallows cling
As if to show me their sunny backs
And twit me with the spring.

“O! but to breathe the breath
Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—
With the sky above my head,
And the grass beneath my feet;
For only one short hour
To feel as I used to feel,
Before I knew the woes of want
And the walk that costs a meal!

“O! but for one short hour!
A respite however brief!
No blessed leisure for Love or hope,
But only time for grief!
A little weeping would ease my heart,
But in their briny bed
My tears must stop, for every drop
Hinders needle and thread!”

With fingers weary and worn,
With eyelids heavy and red,
A woman sat in unwomanly rags,
Plying her needle and thread—
Stitch! stitch! stitch!
In poverty, hunger, and dirt,
And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—
Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—
She sang this “Song of the Shirt!”

I’ll Be Back Next Spring: A Graduate School Limerick

I'll be back.
I’ll be back.

There once was a woman named Fons,
Who longed to stroll green, lushy lawns
And seek brain diversity
At some university
(She was desperate for book liaisons!!)

“To grad school!” she said with a grin,
(For she applied and quickly got in
To a fancy-pants school*
Where brainiacs rule)
“I can’t wait!” cried Fons, “Let’s begin!”

A team of the wildest horses
Couldn’t have dragged her from taking those courses;
Her desire was burning
To slurp up the learning,
…But there were brewing unfortunate forces.

Work travel had always excited
The Fons; she was most delighted
To travel in planes
And meet Dicks and Janes
And see all the things that she sighted,

But suitcases don’t mix with classes,
And soon, our hero in glasses
Was forced to admit,
(Though it gave her a fit!)
Work demanded she leave the school’s grasses.

“I’ll be back and studying soon!”
She said, and whistled a tune;
There was no use in crying —
You know I ain’t lying:
E’vry moment spent learning’s a boon.

*University of Chicago, boo-yah

From the PaperGirl Archives: “Mary Fons, Freshman,” January 30, 2012

Dutch magazine illustration. I love those dresses so much!
Dutch magazine illustration circa 1880; artist unknown. Lord, I love those dresses!

Yuri is tending to a bit of business while he’s in town. This means I have an hour to spend with you. You look lovely this morning.

Trying to write anything right now that is not a frothy, gooey paean to the strapping young man in my life/house is useless: he’s all I can think about and our reunion has been most happy, but because I refuse to be gross, I’ve rifled through the big red binder and have a little something for you today from the PaperGirl Archive. I promise you’ll be entertained, and there’s no risk of me TMI’ing about Yuri’s perfect, uh, everything.

The entry, titled “Mary Fons, Freshman,” is dated January 30, 2012, and I chose it because it makes this post a post-within-a-post that also digs into the past for old writing. It’s so meta, I’m practically metallic. Bon-apetit!

PaperGirl, January 30, 2012 — “Mary Fons, Freshman”

And now, a report I found amongst my the boxes of things my mother delivered to me in her quest to rid the house in Iowa of questionably saved childhood artifacts.

This essay (?) was written my freshman year of high school, which means I was writing at the tender age of fourteen. I am more than a little scandalized by my flip, bratty attitude — and more than a little proud, friends. As I type this up for you, I remain indignant over the indelicate circumstances that compelled my math teacher to give the assignment. I’ve copied and formatted exactly, word-for-word, from the document itself.

Let’s do this.

“Under normal circumstances, I couldn’t give a damn about the history of mathematics, but since the students in my math class can’t seem to control their gastrol [sic] intestines, I am forced to write this report. Having encyclopedias from 1962, it makes it difficult to find an abundance of information on anything other than Lincoln, so my one and only source will be my math textbook, Transition Mathematics, (Scott, Foresman, 1992, All rights reserved.)

THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM

Do you recognize these numbers? 

0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9

You ought to, you’re a math teacher. We use numbers every day. But have you ever wondered how they came about? Well, I haven’t either, but I’ll tell you anyway. 

Long ago, the Greeks and Romans had a number system. It’s wasn’t like ours — they used the letters of their alphabet to represent numbers. The Greeks used more letters than the Romans, which is a totally pointless bit of info but is has to be a page report and I have absolutely no material at all. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if I am one of the only ones in my class who actually completes this assignment! Anyhow, the Romans used L for fifty, C for one-hundred, D for five-hundred, and T for two. Europeans used this system from 100 B.C. to 1400 A.D.

During this time, the Hindus were hard at work on their own number system, which is the system we use today. It was called the DECIMAL SYSTEM! This system is the one that has made my life a living hell ever since preschool. I have never been good at math. If I was, I wouldn’t be having to deal with high schoolers who can’t stop farting. (Excuse the term, it’s so blue-collar.) But I digress.

The Europeans didn’t figure out the decimal system until 1202 A.D. A guy named Leonardo of Pisa, an Italian mathematician also known as Fibonacci, translated the Arabic manuscript into Latin, and that was the only reason the Europeans ever began using this system. Thus ends my report on THE DEVELOPMENT OF OUR NUMBER SYSTEM. Thank you.

Now, because I still have a half a page left, I will express my opinion on this situation. It saddens to me know that my fellow classmates cannot grasp the fact that they are in high school. Maybe farting was funny in second grade, but not anymore; at least not to me, or anyone else with an I.Q. over ten. Frankly, I’m scared. Are these the leaders of tomorrow? If so, for God’s sake, kill me now.”

[end of post]

My teacher put a red X through the words damn and “living hell” and docked me 10 points. It may not surprise you that I was considered fairly nerdy in high school, though socially-speaking, I was a floater: I had nerd friends, chorus friends, partying friends, and my older sister’s supercool friends, so I wasn’t terminally nerdy. But the general consensus was that I was a good at English, nice enough, and in no way serious girlfriend material.

Today, I absolutely think farts are funny and I am one happy girlfriend. Things do change.

 

Lobster? You Brought ‘Er!

posted in: Food, Tips 1
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.
Me, too! Image: Wikipedia.

 

I have just made a lobster bisque.

Here’s what’s happening: Yuri and I have been apart since…too long. He’s in New York. I’ve been crisscrossing the Midwest, flinging fabric around, leaving thread and gum wrappers everywhere. Unable to stand being separated a moment longer, we’ve hatched a logistically-challenged plan to spend about 36 hours with each other in Chicago before Monday comes around and spoils everything. I left Iowa this morning before the sunrise and arrived in Chicago just after it; he’ll begin his trek from the east coast within a few hours. I cannot wait till he gets here. I’m slightly freaking out.

“Yuri,” I texted him, “I’d like to make you something marvelous to eat. It’ll be all ready when you get here. What would you like, darling? Pick anything your heart desires — absolutely anything!”

I watched the little talk-bubble ellipsis shimmer on my iPhone. Then the text popped up:

“Can you make lobster bisque?”

Yikes!

“Absolutely,” I texted back, because though I’ve never made lobster bisque, it’s just soup, right?

Cooking is fun because it’s the closest I get to doing — and enjoying — science experiments. You take a beaker of this, a cup of that, you boil this, you mix that, and blam! stuff changes color, there’s oxidation, titration, solids, and who knows what else, but you can eat everything and people go, “Wow!” and there are no grades.

Here’s what I have very recently learned about making lobster bisque:

  • It’s expensive. I purchased four lobster tails (roughly 4oz. each) from the fishmonger at Whole Foods, and that came to a little over $35. Then I had to fetch the cream and the stock and so forth. Not cheap — and those little lobster butts don’t yield much. This some fancy soup. 
  • It’s time-consuming. I recommend catching up on emails between steps. You’ll get a lot done. 
  • It’s sorta gross. Have you made lobster bisque? If not, let me tell you a little secret: you puree the shells. The shells are cooked with the soup, y’all, at least in the recipe I used. Lobster bisque is basically a way to drink essence o’ lobster and that means you need to puree, pummel, extract, soak, simmer, reduce, and otherwise distill every morsel of that thing to git all you can git. When I was reading through the process I had to read twice that you use a food processor to puree the dang shells and then return them to the pot. You don’t eat the shells — that orangey muck is pushed through a sieve later — but you’re kind of eating the shells because, well…Cuisinart. 

As I was going briskly about my bisque business, I thought about Maine, where “lobstahs” are to Maine folk as deep dish pizza is to Chicagoans: plentiful and fiercely protected.

In the summer of 2007 and 2009, I stayed a month on Maine’s picturesque Little Cranberry Island (known to the locals as “Little Cran”.) My artistic mentor and friend Sonja, along with her husband Bill, founded The Islesford Theater Project (ITP) on Little Cran and they asked me to be involved. Making theater with those people in the summer was a true gift and we made a lot of people happy, I think; whenever the ITP has a show, people from all over the Cranberry Isles get in their boats and skim across the water to come see.

And when you’re in the cast, you get to stay in Sonja and Bill’s house and eat Sonja’s home cooking every night. This is a very, very good thing. Blueberry crisps, tacos, Indian food — that woman can and does cook everything. Well, Sonja can get fresh lobstahs straight from the lobstahmen working about 500 yards from her back porch. She made lobstah mac n’ cheese once, which was transcendental. Once, everyone at the table got a fresh lobstah on a plate. Bam, lobstah on a plate. Dinner was served. There was a dish of melted butter for each of us, shell-crackin’ implements, and a whole lotta napkins. The flavor was incredible, but if I’m honest, I must confess: Whole lobsters kind of gross me out. The whole “sea bug” thing does not inspire hunger in me. And after making this soup, I’m not that excited to eat it. I’m excited for other things.

Just hurry, Yuri.

For [REDACTED]

posted in: Day In The Life 1
To "redact" is to omit text for publication. It's usually synonymous with censorship, but sometimes it's because the author (ahem) would like to a) be classy and not use names in situations like this for heaven's sakes; and b) bad words.
To “redact” is to omit text for publication. 

Poetry is in my head a lot lately; love may be responsible for this. Loss can do it, too, and I’ve had doses of both over the past few months. Nothing but nothing is better than poetry for unsolvable situations like love and loss.

And now, a poem I recalled while walking through the Midway airport earlier today. I’m home in Chicago for 48-hours before leaving for California. I wrote this piece in my head while gazing at a roaring fire in a fireplace in early 2012. I was up at our place in Door County where it was almost as cold as it is tonight. The poem took about two hours to write, which is either not any time at all or a very long time, depending on how much poetry you write. Because I composed it in my head, I had to repeat the lines over and over so I wouldn’t forget them; as I edited, those lines had to be re-memorized and then put with the other phrases. As soon as I had it just right, I fetched some paper and wrote it down.

I enjoy writing poems in this way. It’s challenging for sure, and there’s a lyricism that happens naturally when you don’t have the paper to tack you down. This piece is pointedly in the style of Dorothy Parker; I felt a kinship with her vis a vis the subject matter.

I hope you enjoy the piece. Do not give it to your lover if he/she snores. I am beyond grateful I don’t have that problem these days. If I did, this poem would not see the light of day. Poetry is dangerous!

For [REDACTED]
by Mary Fons (c) 2012

I shall not see you anymore;
You snore.

I cannot sleep!
Besides, you weep
(Pray tell, what can a man be for?)

Your kiss lacks the ability
To prime my parts most womanly,
And if they did but once or twice,
Well, that was me just being nice,
I feel nothing for you, dear,
I’ll repeat, while I’m still here:

Don’t bother with text messaging –
This is me, exiting,
And where I’m going I’ll have no cell –
Best to find the next fresh hell
Than stay with such a wretched bore, Oh, I am certain to my core:

[REDACTED] you,
I shall,
nevermore.

Oh, dear, my dear:
You snore.
 

 

Fremd High Writer’s Week 2014: Part I

posted in: Day In The Life 2
That's the door I usually take to go inside. By year four, I actually remembered that.
That’s not the door I need to use. By year four, I actually remembered that and went to the other door.

Every year for (oh my) nine years? ten? something ridiculous like that, I have served as a presenter at Fremd High School’s Writer’s Week. Writer’s Week XIX kicks off on Monday, and I just happen to be headed to Chicago on Tuesday, so on Wednesday morning, bright and early, I’m taking a Metra train to Palatine and to try and kick up a little writer-y magic for my Fremd homies.

Here’s an abbreviated description of what Writer’s Week is, taken from the Fremd website:

“Writers Week began in 1995 when we featured students, faculty, and professional writers during lunch hours for a week in April. Since then, about a thousand Fremd students have taken the stage to share their writing. Faculty members from every department have related their stories through writing. More than two hundred professional writers from around the world have visited the Fremd campus during Writers Week to help us better understand writing and authors.”

Good idea, right? Lots of folks agree, including the likes of Gwendolyn Brooks, who presented at Fremd years ago. Billy Collins. Marc Smith. These are writers of consequence, authors whose work has shaped (still shapes) the American literary conversation. And because people on that little patch of land in Illinois believe in the power of and the need for good writers writing, high school students get to walk into an auditorium in their very own high school and receive the lessons, the joy, the discomfiting feelings — the blessed thought — good writing can bring. The amount of work involved in putting on Writer’s Week is head-spinning. Scheduling, booking, fundraising, booster-ing, coordinating — it’s nothing any of the teachers get paid extra to do and they do it all anyway, year after dedicated year.

I’m slightly famous at Fremd because I usually end up kissing people. There’s a piece in my lil’ repertoire that involves kissing an audience member. You want to make an impression on an auditorium full of 500+ high school students? Try kissing one of them. I’m not making out with anyone; it’s just a kiss on the cheek. But it’s a kiss on the cheek with commitment, and I’m nothing if not committed. That usually causes a stir, but I might be famous at Fremd because I write a poem on the spot for a student every year, or because I had a breakdancer kick it onstage (he was up there anyway getting a poem!), or because I presented a Lady Gaga song as verse once time — anything can happen and I think we all like it that way. Whatever the material might be, I give 100% of myself (my attention, my focus, my passion for words, my passion for having fun with them for heaven’s sake) to the Fremdians.

I seriously love that entire high school. It’s like we’re dating long-distance. I don’t see you very often, darling, but when I do, when I do.

I’ll dress up for you, darling. And I’ll bring you a gift from New York. Wait for me.

 

 

Meet The Chastushka

posted in: Art, Poetry, Word Nerd 5
And pretty maids all in a row.
And pretty maids all in a row.

We’re going to talk about a Russian quatrain, but first we have to go to France. Stéphane Mallarmé was a French poet and critic who lived from 1842-1898. You know how poems sometimes do this on the page?

poems     sometimes
do
this                                    on the
page?

Yeah, it’s super annoying unless it’s gorgeous and it usually isn’t — sorry, aspiring poets but hey: I can’t make it gorgeous, either. Mallarmé was among the first to do that sort of thing and his influence on 20th century art was huge. I read a quote from Mallarmé a couple months ago that I loved so much, that rang so true, I melted into weepiness. I set about memorizing it and now when I’m falling asleep at night, I turn it over and over in my head because, well:

“Poetry is the expression, in human language restored to its essential rhythm, of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence: in this way it confers authenticity on our time on earth and constitutes the only spiritual task there is.”

I know, right? It’s not just a definition but a reason for poetry. Gah! Flutter, sputter, perish by art. And so it was with Mallarmé’s wisdom on repeat in my head that I set about researching a poem discovery: the chastushka.

The chastushka is a Russian form of poetry whose closest cousin in English is the limerick. “Chastushka” means “to speak fast.” Like the limerick, the chastushka rhymes, though with just four lines to the limerick’s five, it’s a straight ABAB or AABB rhyme scheme. The poem’s subject matter covers the breadth of human experience, but you won’t find a ton of chastushki about the beauty of the sunset; these poems usually focus on sex, politics, or your mother. Also, Chastushki are written in something called trochaic tetrameter, which sounds horrible but is simply the rhythm, or meter, of the form. It’s set. And here’s what it sounds like:

Peter, Peter, pumpkin-eater
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her

…or look at these two lines from William Blake’s “Tyger, Tyger”:

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forest of the night;

See? You totally know what trochaic tetrameter is! And that’s a chastushka’s meter. Fun, right? Totally, and I wanted to try writing a few. And now, I present some chastushki for you on this wintry night. You should write a few. You’re not going anywhere. I will not post any chastushki about politics or your mother. That’s for the other blog. Just kidding — there is no other blog. Yet.

Fluffy goose-down pillow fight,
In the morning or at night,
I whup you upside your head,
We laugh and then go back to bed.

When Swanky Squirrel goes into town,
He dresses up and never down,
His suits are crafted by the best,
You should see his bespoke vest!

 

 

“Nightingales (Chicago)”

posted in: Chicago, Poetry 2
Nightingale & Rose I, etching, 20 cm x 22 cm, [8 cm x 8 cm], Edition of 50.
Nightingale & Rose I, etching, 20 cm x 22 cm, [8 cm x 8 cm], Edition of 50.
It’s been some time since I had a new poem to share. It’s a lucky thing, starting a new year with a poem I’m happy with. I hope you enjoy it.

Nightingales (Chicago)
by Mary Fons
(c) 2014

Say “cоловей поют в городе именно для тебя.”
Say it again/say “cоловей поют в городе именно для тебя.”
Say “городе”
Say “именно”
Say “nightingale”

This is not god’s country/it is ours/code summons and watermarks/pills and the bus/the hustle and run till two crashes under a nightlight light/our city is this country/and the books could all burn/and the rock stars claim that they were here first/but the nightingales are singing in the city just for you/and I know those birds/and I sing, too/this is not god’s country/there is no jungle in the Bible.

We shall remain nameless.

And I swear by my palms my сердце is dear for I did sweat and loot to be here/for this era to the swamp I stole to steal my brain back/filthy as it was/so that I could rest in the cloud with you and our palms might kiss as holy palmers do/if time is money and money is you/you are time, too/go slowly if you have to hie/stay in bed awhile; thou need’st not be gone.

You’re my trade/perfect спальное место/and you have gotten in.

Trilling, trilling/the birds go up/killing, killing/the boys blow up
Fix my wing/Nolandia king
There’s treasure in this city.

Flyer Man.

Coulda been worse, right?
As a rule, street flyers are to be avoided. Especially this one.

If you’re in Chicago in the early evening, any time of year, walking south on State Street just past Monroe, you will be offered a flyer by a tall black man. This is not an omen: it will absolutely happen, I can almost guarantee it.

This is because there is a dude that stands there at State and Monroe and hands out flyers. He’s always there. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night* keeps this guy from hanging out at his spot. I have passed him countless times in the past two years and said, “Nah, not today,” when he tried to give me his handbill. But in a city filled with hysterical street preachers, insane/vocal itinerants, and the jingling cups of a thousand beggars, here’s what’s interesting about this guy:

– he’s well-dressed
– he can’t be over 30
– he never says anything
– I’ve gotten tiny glimpses of the content on his flyers and have never detected hate speech, “Repent Now!!!” stuff, etc., which is typically the only content covered in such tracts.

Still, I never took what he offered — until tonight. My choice of evening was not great. I was walking with way too much stuff to carry by myself. It was eight degrees. I was hoping I could make it to the bus stop before the bus did, but it didn’t look good. I passed the dude and said “No thanks, man,” as usual, but I noticed he was offering a thick, perfect-bound book, not just the usual 8×10 photocopy. Hm. I walked a few paces, stopped, turned around, and went back.

“Hey, man. You know, I’ve been passing you for like two years, now, and never taken your stuff.” The plastic bag in my hand was about to rip open and was full of bedding that surely weighed twenty-five pounds if it weighed an ounce. The dude started to speak but I interrupted him. It had to be done. Remember, it was eight degrees.

“Wait, wait. The book. Is it full of religious stuff? Like, a lot of God stuff? I really wouldn’t be into that, so just tell me now.”

Up close, the guy did not in fact appear insane. He said, “Okay, well, there is God in there, I mean, but I write about all kinds of things.”

“Okay, cool. How much?”

Here was the pitch, which was to be expected. “The original price is $19.95,” he said, “But I’m selling it for ten right now.”

I hauled my bag over the other shoulder and dug into my purse. I opened my pocket book. I had exactly seven dollars. I showed him. “I got seven bucks, man. That cleans me out. Will you take seven?” He gave me dirty look but acquiesced. I gave him the dough, he gave me his book, that was it.

It’s pretty bad. For example, in the appendix (?) he talks about his process and says the following (all sic):

“The time inbetwee epipanies and lyrics will represent concentrated thought…absorbed by the reader and can be extracted or deduced or deconsentrated. For example, they would wonder what made you go from this idea to the next…This is how I write some of my literature.”

You see what I mean. But there’s heart, and in the dedication the guy thanks his elementary school teachers, saying that they, “did the best they could with whatever resources they had, to give us a quality education.” He also thanks his mother for her “constant home school lessons” and ends with a solemn and sincere, “This book wouldn’t exist without you all.”

Keep writing, man. I will if you will. And stay warm out there.

*Some may recognize this language; I’ve annexed the gorgeous U.S. Postal Service creed, which goes: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” Stunning.

Comic Relief: The Cantaloupe Poem

posted in: Art, Food, Poetry, Word Nerd 1
Well played! Courtesy DailyDoseOfCute.net -- no artist name was given.
Well played! Courtesy DailyDoseOfCute.net — no artist name was given.

Man! All the empathy and the bummed out fourth graders around here are starting to get to me. Today, a diversion. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you The Cantaloupe Poem, a little ditty I wrote awhile back and the first in my series of fruit poems.

Enjoy, and read aloud if you’re able. The meter is entertaining and you can do voices if you want.

The Cantaloupe Poem
by Mary Fons

Say, friend! Could you spare some time,
For the timid cantaloupe?
That humble fruit whose name don’t rhyme,
‘Cept with “antelope.”

Not fit for tarts, no good for pie,
Pale melon sits, dejected.
“I’m tasty!” you can hear it cry —
But to whom’s the call directed?

The lady ne’er looks its way,
While enjoying her fruit salad,
“I’m sure the flavor’s swell,” she’ll say,
“But the color’s rather pallid.”

The men all pass it up and shout,
Cantaloupe’s for fairies!”
(Yet they’re always ready to flip out,
For oranges and strawberries.)

The fruit tends to befuddle
Those coarse and less refined,
The pastel melon’s flavor’s subtle —
Not counting, ‘course, the rind.

 Do enjoy some, like with ham!
Wrapped ‘round a slender slice!
You’ll quickly say, “Well, damn!”
“Now that tastes really nice!”

Or smooth it in a blender
On a hot midsummer’s day,
Then sit back and surrender
To a cantaloupe sorbet.

Oh, friends! Do reassess
Any anti-melon feeling;
Say not “no” but “Yes, yes, yes!”
And soon I’ll hear you squealing:

“Cantaloupe, I love you!
How firm and how delicious!
There’s now no fruit above you!
You’re yummy and nutritious!”

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