Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category

Mermaid Who’d Lost Her Way

May 21, 2010


  I’ve been driving from the same office to the same house for thirty plus years and have always enjoyed the opportunity to unwind a bit and look forward to getting home.  I do though like variety and thus frequently change my route.

  It’s long enough (+/- ten miles) that many alternatives present themselves and by now I’ve tried most.  Attendant cerebrations are the typical jumble of present past and future unless I take one certain very short industrial stretch connecting two busy streets with windowless rusty buildings on either side.         

  I first got the sense of the place years ago when a vehicle slowed down in front of me, passenger door opened, woman jumped out, and car sped away before door was properly shut.  Suspicions aroused I began to notice the demeanor and countenance of the disheveled females standing there all alone.

  Yep, sometimes, there stands a prostitute with her hook in the water and I’m forced to review my narrow take on reality.  None of them have ever reminded me of Julia Roberts (Pretty Woman) or Xaviera Hollander (“The Happy Hooker”) or even Ashley Dupre (Eliot Spitzer). They’re unkempt, furtive, wary, and certainly don’t evince a high level of job satisfaction.  In all of these years I have never seen one smile.

  What could have happened to these poor souls?  They had to have been once sweet and innocent.  What terrible journey led them to solicit all manner of horror here, in a small town, not far from a bend in the river?   

 Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks

by Pablo Neruda

 All these fellows were there inside
when she entered utterly naked.
they had been drinking, and began to spit at her.
recently come from the river, she understood nothing.
she was a mermaid who had lost her way.
the taunts flowed over her glistening flesh.
obscenities drenched her golden breasts.
a stranger to tears, she did not weep.
a stranger to clothes, she did not dress.
the pocked her with cigarette ends and with burnt corks,
and rolled on the tavern floor in raucous laughter.
she did not speak since speech was unknown to her
her eyes were the colour of faraway love,
her arms were matching topazes.
her lips moved soundlessly in coral light,
and ultimately, she left by that door.
hardly had she entered the river than she was cleansed,
gleaming once more like a whitel stone in the rain;
and without a backward look, she swam once more,
swam toward nothingness, swam to her dying.

 Fabula de la Sirena Y los Borrachos

 Todos estos senores estaben dentro
cuandoella entro comletamente desnuda
ellos habian bebido y comenzaron a escupirla
ella no entendia nada reciensalia del rio
era una sirena que se habia extraviado
los insultos corrian sobre su carne lisa
la inmundicia cubrio sus pechos de oro
ella no sabial llorar pore so no llorba
no sabia vestirse pore so no se vestia
la tatuaron con cigarillos y con corchos quemados
y reian hasta caer al suelo de la taberna
ella no hablaba porque no sabia hablar
sus ojos eran color de amor distante
sus brazos construidos de topacios gemelos
sus labios se cortaron en la luz del coral
y de pronto salio por esa puerta
apenas entro al rio quedo limpia
relucio como una piedra Blanca en la lluvia
y sin mirar atras nado de Nuevo
nado hacia nunca mas hacio morir.

 *The image above is of a print from a series by Eric Avery.  An artist MD with a social conscience.  “His social content prints explore such issues as human rights abuses and social responses to disease, death, sexuality, and the body”.  Check out his stuff at His work can be found in the collections of (among others) The Fogg, The Library of Congress, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, and The Boston Museum of Art.

The Tyrant Next Door

April 23, 2010


 I don’t get lawns.  I mean, I’m glad I have one and I revel in its revivification each spring.  I’m just not particularly particular about its constitution.  Green is great, but green alone lacks drama and verve.  What is up with the incredible close cropped homogeneity that pervades most of suburbia? 

  Well (you read it here) it’s the outer manifestation of a sequestered  concern that there might not be order in our universe – which of course there is not.  At the beginning, for a moment, it was indeed highly organized.  Since, however, we’ve been hurtling toward ever greater disorder.  Entropy.  The universe is a mess, getting messier by the moment, and there’ll be no turning back the arrow of time.  Too bad, so sad.

  The more assiduous the lawn care, the more every blade in a lawn is identical and oriented just so, the more bottled up inner turmoil can logically be assumed to inhabit the owner determined to beat his little part of the planet into submission.  Just watch the reaction after a kid cuts a path and you’ll see what I mean.  Jeers and tears all out of proportion and to no good end.

  Makes me think of Thomas Hobbes.  His Leviathan, published in 1651, is perhaps the most important work of modern political theory.  In it Hobbes asserts the necessity of an iron fisted central authority strong enough to preclude civil disorder as well as to enable a credible defense. 

  It made certain sense back then, especially given the provenance of his thinking.  Told that the approach of the Spanish Armada jolted his mother into labor, he later said that “I was born the twin of fear.”  His point of perspective though didn’t allow him to foresee twentieth century totalitarianism and the associated agony and horror left in its wake.

  Sure, civil society must most certainly be.  But not to the point of heartlessness and cruelty.  As the Dalai Lama says, “The purpose of our lives is to be happy” and dandelions can help.  They are bits of beauty that arrive on their own, unannounced. If allowed, they can provide emotional counterpoint to Hobbes’ famous dictum that “life is nasty, brutish, and short”. 

  Walt Whitman, among others, would agree.  From Leaves of Grass:

Give me the splendid silent sun with all his beams full-dazzling,
Give me juicy autumnal fruit ripe and red from the orchard,
Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows,
Give me an arbor, give me the trellis’d grape,
Give me fresh corn and wheat, give me serene-moving animals
  teaching content,
Give me nights perfectly quiet as on high plateaus west of
   the Mississippi, and I looking up at the stars,
Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers where I
  can walk undisturbed.
Give me for marriage a sweet-breath’d woman of whom I should
  never tire,
Give me a perfect child, give me away aside from the noise of the
  world a rural domestic life,
Give me to warble spontaneous songs recluse by myself, for my own
  ears only,
Give me solitude, give me Nature, give me again O nature your
  primal sanities!

*Finally, I’m ecstatic to report that the January 2, 2010 Economist (what else?) tells us that dandelions “may yet make the big time”.  They might supplement or even replace Hevea brasiliensis which is the scientific name for the traditional rubber tree.  Can you imagine what a field of them would look like?

But Still…

February 26, 2010

  Now, toward the end of a particularly long and drawn out winter, the thought of spring has entered my mind.  Not because I’m tired of winter really.  I’m not.  I enjoy running in the dark cold icy early am.  There are elements of isolation and adventure that dissipate under the sun. 

  I like all of the seasons and especially look forward to the points of transitions in between.  As one approaches, unformed ideas for new adventure well up in profusion.  As the nature of the new season manifests itself so do new plans.

  In the spring of 1689 Japanese poet Basho set out on a five month journey across north central Honshu to visit to visit landmarks of nature and civilization as well as to spread the form of verse that he transformed from an antiphonal game into something more sophisticated.

  His recording of that journey in prose and poetry is regarded as among the most important in Japanese literature.  The Narrow Road to the Interior begins: “The sun and the moon are eternal travelers.  Even the years wander on.  A lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey and the journey itself is home.”

  The travel narrative is articulated by a form of linked verse called renga.  There are three syllabic units: 5-7-5; 7-7; 5-7-5.  Two of the units must relate to each other in sequence, but three cannot – thus regular shifts in flow. 

  The opening unit is called a hokku and sets the tone and place usually invoking some aspect of nature denoting the season.  (Stand alone hokku came to be called haiku.)

  This is probably Basho’s best known haiku:

Into the old pond
A frog suddenly plunges
The sound of water. 

  What really interests me in all this is that some think that Basho was a ninja.  From a low samurai family, he was raised in an area where ninja were recruited and trained.  The funding of the journey remains a mystery and he traveled the considerable distance of this journey so efficiently that secret techniques were suspected.  Finally, at the time of his travels, there was turmoil in the shogunate and such discreet services would likely have been procured.

  The powers of observation and perspicacity of a great poet might have served a spy well.  An artist’s personality would have allowed him to move through a populace with syncopation and quietly productive conviviality.  As opposed to Karate and a Walther PPK.

  Probably this is all fantasy.  Basho had become a Zen monk and the title of the work would have one consider the interinextricability of his inner and outer journeys.  But still…

Know how stupid the average guy is?

January 15, 2010


  In the highly esteemed journal Nature this week was a report of recent research indicating that men have evolved more rapidly than women*.  The study compared the Y chromosomes (the bit that makes a man male, (you know XY instead of XX) of chimps and humans. 

  Chimps are our nearest living relatives and over the last six million years our genetic codes have only diverged about two percent.  Except the Y chromosome which is some thirty percent different.  That’s a big change in a relatively short period of time.

  There are several possible explanations for the Y being “such an evolutionary powerhouse”.  One is that since the Y is a loner and not part of a pair like all of the rest and thus can mutate more easily.  Another has to do with the randy attitude of female chimps in heat.  Since they seek out many partners, there is huge evolutionary pressure on the males to produce the most and best sperm…

  I probably should support my own team and heckle the laggard other, but while reading the piece a George Carlin routine came to mind.  “Know how stupid the average guy is?  Just think – half of them are stupider!”  For proof, just check out the Darwin awards which are given annually to the nuttiest manner by which people have removed themselves from the gene pool during the previous twelve months.

  A woman has only won first prize once.  A random perusal of the site** turned up the story of a drunk twenty year old Californian dude who caught a rattlesnake.  Snake slithered its tongue to whiff the environment and get its bearings. (Snakes’ tongues are involved in their olfactory process)  Genius stuck out his tongue in response into which snake sunk its fangs.  Tongue swelled up choking the poor dumb guy to death***.

  Or take the first words the masterpiece of the great French poet Charles Baudelaire: Les Fleurs du Mal (Flowers of Evil):

Stupidity, delusion, selfishness, and lust
torment our bodies and possess our minds,
and we sustain our affable remorse
the way a beggar nourishes his lice

  Now, I certainly don’t feel that way all of the time and am dang glad I don’t have to go to hen parties, but will admit that I am an easy and logical target for regular self deprecation.  Wife agrees.



***If this reminds you of anything you’ve previously read in this space, please don’t tell anyone.  (7/7/09)

****cf post of October 9, 2009

Hi Yo

January 2, 2010

Make sure your sound is on and press this:

Isn’t that a beautiful song?  After the near blasphemy of my last post, I figured that today, at the end of one year and the start of the next, I’d better do something with, well, feeling.  The song is “This must by the Place” by the Talking Heads 

You don’t even have to be able to make out all of the lyrics to get a lift and indeed songwriter and lead singer David Byrne wrote: “The less we say about it the better, Make it up as we go along”.  Perfect.  I obviously overthink most shit.  And an overwrought exegesis can wither the wonder out of fine prose, poetry, or lyrics.

Nonetheless (here I go) I gotta write something.  The music by itself would be sort of catchy and the words alone ok free verse, buthe combination is far more than the sum of the parts.  Together they convey a glimpse of interpersonal joy.

The line “I love the passing of time” made me think of “the power of standing still” in Frost’s Masterspeed.*  The simple enjoyment of the company of another.  If one couldn’t enjoy “the power of standing still” with another, he or she would never come to say “Out of all those kinds of people, you got a face with a view”.

Isn’t that beautiful?  A face with a view.  Jeesh.  Byrne’s obviously not thinking about physical beauty, but about the initial allure of a radient depth and later the rich mindstream procured by a look into the eyes of a loved one.  All of the memories, good and bad, coalesce into a sense of wonderment.

And oh yes, time goes by so quickly: “share the same space for a minute or two”.  But it is delicious: “And you love me till my heart stops”.  Even though he’s far from perfect she has “Eyes that light up, eyes that look through you, Cover up the blank spots”.   Blank spots?  Heh, heh, what about the warts and bad habits?

“Hi yo I”ve got plenty of time
Hi yo, you got light in your eyes”

Damn.  Home is where I want to be.

Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb – burn with a weak heart
(so I) guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It’s ok, I know nothing’s wrong… nothing
Hi yo I’ve got plenty of time
Hi yo, you got light in your eyes
And you’re standing here beside me
I love the passing of time
Never for money
Always for love
Cover up and say good night … say goodnight
Home is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home – she lifted up her wings
Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from another
Did I find you or you find me?
There was a time before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be … where I’ll be
Hi Yo we drift in and out
Hi Yo sing into my mouth
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
I’m just an animal looking for a home
Share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead
Eyes that light up, eyes look through you
Cover up the blank spots
Hit me on the head ah ooh.

*cf post of September 4, 2009.

** The song was recorded in 1982, the year son was born who turned me onto it…and courtesy of whose genius you just listened to it!

***The song also has a parenthetical name: Naïve Melody due to an apparent simplicity which I don’t really understand, but it sure works and I’m workin’ to understand.

Wing to Wing

September 4, 2009

 Much the same as a bird convincing its brood that their wings will indeed lift them, in his poem The Master Speed, Robert Frost describes the incipient power of their union to a young couple.  “No speed of wind or water rushing by” though, this is something far beyond the physical realm.

  At the heart of the “master speed” is “the power of standing still” – the ability to simply be fully present and find the mundane extraordinary. Ironic the difficulty that pace presents to assume, especially in these harried days.  But only thus can a way begun to be found to live lives “wing to wing and oar to oar”.

  Frost spent a few years at the same college from which I graduated and that thought took me to my freshman year roommate.  He’s now an artist and in 2003 produced a series which comprised his Monogamy Project. 

  In the catalogue he wrote “ Painting and monogamy are dated practices oversteeped in tradition and held in suspicion.  Having thus been marginalized they become, surprisingly, areas that are ripe again for truly liberative activity.  It is my intention to celebrate these options.”

  There are six paintings in the series: Was a boy; Was adolescent; Am a man; Is a woman; Is a cellist; Am a father.

  Here’s Am a Man:

Stockwell Am a Man

  At first it surprised me that therewith my artist friend discussed the philandering of poet William Carlos Williams.  He includes Williams’ poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower in which a tortured regret and plea for forgiveness are conveyed.  “Having your love, I was rich…”

I get it now.

  Here’s Is A Woman:

Stockwell Is a Woman

  Here he allows himself to “make this a beautiful painting… Follow all of my desires that call for full color and ripe shapes… To desire is to be alive… Desire gets us off the couch…”  Being my father’s son, and even though he wasn’t much into poetry, I get this part right away.

  The catalogue, in its entirety, comprises a provocative “love poem” and at the end of a recent reading I reconsidered Frost’s beautiful metaphor of wings and oars.  The visual images of the generative rhythms pop up right away, but what gives it its power is thought of the epic voyage that follows. 

*Craig Stockwell is the erstwhile roommate.

Do You Know Where You Are?

July 17, 2009

  birds foot 6 001

    No, alas, this is not in my yard.  Not yet anyway.  It’s called Bird’s Foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus to a botanist) and is a member of the huge Pea or Bean (Fabaceae or Leguminosae) family.  The photo was taken along the interstate at the end of our ravine.

  The name Trefoil comes from Latin via Old French meaning three leaves -like the clover to which it is related.*  It has just come into bloom now and will remain so for most of the summer. This bright delight is not native to North America having been imported from Europe for forage.

  According to Iowa State University Extension, it was only first planted in 1938 but now covers more than 500,000 acres in Iowa alone.  Farmers like it because it is hardy once established; will withstand close grazing; is highly nutritious; and non-bloating.  It has provided daily weight gains in cattle exceeding a 30% premium over fertilized grass.

birds foot 4

  Laterly the plant became popular with road crews whose mission was/is to stabilize roadside growth.  It creates a dense low mat, will crowd out plants with a yearn to grow tall, blooms low and so can be cropped close.  If you live around here and are not agoraphobic, it will doubtless and frequently play a role in your field of view.

  Not surprisingly, citing almost exactly the same factors listed above, the philistines about consider it invasive, a weed, and incredibly difficult to control. “An ecological threat”  Control by conflagration not only doesn’t work, but instead increases seed germination!  Ha!

birds foot 6 002

  There is a new book out** that explores the chasm between us and our setting – the green movement notwithstanding.  The author writes of the seafarers of Puluwat in the South Pacific who can navigate by means of subtle swell patterns.  And of the Inuit who do the same with wind.  The Bedouin the stars.  Here in suburbia some use a GPS to cross town.  What’s up with the disconnect?  Is there a cost?

   The Trefoil’s beautiful, isn’t it?  Shades of yellow pea-like flowers with clover-like leaves.  The seed pod arrangement sort of resembles a bird’s foot hence the name. birds foot seed pod Doesn’t the fact that a lowly weed can be so gorgeous and have such a wonderful back-story give you pause?  Makes me think of Blake: 

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour. 

*The word also serves as a term in Gothic architecture referring to a manner of ornamentation by foliation or cusping. Look for it in church window-lights. 


**The book is You Are Here Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon but Get Lost in the Mall, by Collin Ellard.  It was reviewed in the NYTBR Sunday July 12 by Jonah Lehrer.


May 29, 2009


  Approximately 70% of the earth’s surface is water.  Our bodies are about 60% water.  Brains 70%.  Blood 80%.  H20 is us.  Why is it then that many if not most of us consider a rainy day gloomy?

  Truth be told, most of my customers work outside and thus (this is another thing not to tell my wife and kids) I prefer that it rains on weekends.  (Added benefit: my dandelions and ground ivy don’t get thirsty and I don’t have to disturb them…) 

  Interestingly, raindrops do not form in the familiar teardrop shape.  Shape depends on size.  Small ones are nearly spherical.  Medium drops are flat on the bottom.  As they fall, large ones become concave on the bottom like a mushroom cap.

  Obviously, gardens and crops need rain to grow.  Farm belts – breadbasket areas are used to receiving amounts adequate and appropriate for cultivation.  Annual variations can cause moderate to disastrous problems.  Wars have been fought over water.  It is predicted that related disputes will only increase with the growth of the planet’s population and the turbulence in our climate.

  Inhabitants of arid regions probably prize the resource most highly as evidenced by the following two cultural examples.  The movie Chinatown was about the political machinations behind the irrigation of the San Joaquin Valley in California.  The currency in Botswana is called “pula” which is the Setswana word for rain.

  Not surprisingly then, one who could call forth a deluge was considered to have special powers long before we took up the plow and hoe.  Prehistorically, a rainmaker was a shaman or medicine man who through ritual and/or incantation was thought to be able to make the heavens weep.  More lately it’s more like a man, a plane, and silver iodide.  (Or pollutants – in urban areas rainfall is 20%+ more likely on Saturdays than Mondays)

  Metaphorically, it is also a positive term.  In the business world a rainmaker is one with a particular facility to recognize incipient financial opportunity, instinctually know how best to fertilize it, and finally to coax out liquidity in torrents.  In the movie “Rainmaker” Dustin Hoffman plays a savant who, possessed of a special mathematical aptitude, was enable to “count cards” and make his brother, played by Tom Cruise, a lot of money in Vegas.

  My kids always yawn when I remark about how great it smells as rain finally comes at the end of a long dry spell.  It is great isn’t it?  The scent is caused by the fact that clay soils and rocks absorb and accumulate an oil produced by some plants, petrichor (means blood of the gods), which is released by contact with moisture.

  I love rainy days.  All sorts.  To be in the lightest of rains is like walking in a cloud.  Standing still you don’t notice or hear the fall of drops, but move forward and you begin to push through a curtain of mist.

  In a hard rain, it’s neat to run down along the river by the large arrangement of water lilies near my home.  Before dawn for the best effect.  Even though drenched and being sharply pelted, one’s attention is drawn inexorably forward toward the incredibly resonant sound up which is newly mysterious and intriguing every time.  

  As you approach, you naturally begin to parse the theretofore blended sounds of rain on water and on the uplifted broad thick leaves.  Close by, the emerging new sound becomes almost ominous until alongside they’re separate. Oh ya wow.  There’s a moment of perfect antiphony just before they begin to blend together again as you move on by.

  Torrential thunderous downpours let you know you’re alive by the fear they strike.  (I love that they’re called “tormentas” in Spanish. Perfect!)  The level of instilled terror is directly related to the precarity of one’s position.  Top of a mountain or middle of the ocean will be found to be pretty scary in a big storm.  Basement of NORAD in the mountain in Colorado less so.

  Lighteningless rain sounds wonderful under a thin roof or in a tent.  Pull up the covers and relax.  Can’t do anything outside anyway.  Once, at scout camp, I was laying upon my back on cot under a simple canvas fly in a hard rain.  It was late afternoon and nearly lulled to sleep I turned over to watch mother mouse drag five fuzzie young pups out of a puddle to safety beneath me.  I had forgotten about the rescue until several years ago I saw them again dry, older, and more accomplished singing “Blue Moon” and “That’s Amore” as the Chorus in the movie Babe…  (Another unbelievably great flic)

  Before he died, my brother (who took the above short clip about three months before his death) gave my kids a rain stick.  You know, those things that when up-ended imitate the sound of rain on a thin roof with great virtuosity.  Thought to have originated in Chile they are made out of dried cacti with the thorns removed and then forced back in.  They are neat and never cease to amaze this simple mind.  Here’s what Seamus Heaney has to say: 

The Rain Stick 

Up-end the rain stick and what happens next
Is a music that you never would have known
To listen for.  In a cactus stalk
Downpour, sluice-rash, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through.  You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water, you shake it again lightly
And diminuendo runs through all its scales
Like a gutter stopping trickling.  And now here comes
a sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,
Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
Then glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
Up-end the stick again.  What happens next
Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand time before.
Who care if all the music that transpires
Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop.  Listen now again.

Please Don’t Let My Wife See This Either

April 16, 2009

  A while back* I described the joy I take in the gorgeous array of dandelions that presents itself every year at about this time.  More subtle (at least visually) as well as more interesting is the ground ivy which is just beginning its ephemeral (again visually) resplendency.


  To all but those who take pride in their bluegrass and fescue, the lavender blanket is a welcome sign of spring.  That the color lasts but a week or so makes it worthy of a Basho haiku.  He’s long no longer with us so: 

Lush thick lavender.
Funeral blanket for the
Mouse the hawk swooped up? 

  It’s scientific name is Glechoma hederacea and is found just about everywhere.  When in flower, it stands only a bit taller than the newly awakened and as yet uncut lawn.  It is a member of the mint family and spreads even more aggressively than the Derby Julep eponymous component.

  I find it interesting on account of its provenance.  Settlers from Europe brought it to the new world to help in the brew of their beer.  Its use predates hops and was called Alehoof and employed widely by Saxons for the flavoring, clarification, and preservation of their favorite beverage.

  There should be no surprise that it found its way to these parts given the large scale nineteenth century emigration of people from that region of Germany to our area.  Some of my own ancestors, even.  Prost!

  Most of the time when we hear about mankind abetting the migration of some species or other from here to there it is with a more or less negative tone.  Like zebra mussels across the inland waterways, or rabbits to Australia, or (believe it or not) everything not winged or finned to New Zealand.

  Diets of the developed world would be far less kaleidoscopic had it not been for, say, potatoes coming north from Peru, tomatoes and corn to Europe, and ground ivy from our Teutonic ancestors.  And the sun in my every breakfast, oranges.


  Columbus himself brought them to these shores (well close), but they are thought to have originated in China near the South China Sea.  From there they made their way down the Malay Peninsula and then probably with the Indian Ocean current to the east coast of Africa.

  Caravan north to the Mediterranean and thence throughout Europe. In Paris Louis XIV thought so highly of his 3000 orange trees that 1n 1617 he built the Orangerie in the gardens of the Louvre to house them.  In that pre-Versailles palace is no longer a citrus arbor, but rather a display of Monet’s water lilies of incredibly ineffable beauty.  It’s a 360 degree experience and imbues even the most stolid with a wonderful spiritual tumescence.


  Funny how stuff works out.  Just think of all that would be lost if we were alone in this universe and collided with an asteroid.  Poof.  Remember, In Heaven there ain’t no beer. 

*5/9/08: Please don’t let my wife see this.

**If you like oranges read John McPhee’s Oranges  It’s fascinating.

My Kind Of Town

March 27, 2009


  Next time you stay overnight in Chicago and get up for your morning run, make sure to go south along the lake a bit, past the Shedd Aquarium, and then east out the Solidarity Drive peninsula to the Adler Planetarium.  Then turn around and look back. 

  You will see why the Economist called it “…architecturally the most interesting city in America”.  And a better point of vantage could not be had.  If done just as I described you’ll already be on an endorphin high and with your first look, your breath will be taken away as it was just after first hearing the major movement of some great piece of music.  You will agree with (Chicagoan) Frank Lloyd Wright that “architecture is nothing more than frozen music”.

  With each repeat of this experience, I get the feeling that the final reverberation ended just the second before I turned.  Instruments are at rest.  Orchestra standing about to bow.  Remember – this is far removed from the sounds of the city.  In the early AM there is near silence out there.

  When I noticed a nearby statue I figured it must be of a great composer, seated, listening to a performance of his finest work.  Upon closer inspection however, it turned out to be of Copernicus which in a sense is just as appropriate.

  Chicago’s architecture would not be nearly so moving and dramatic had it not been for the great fire of 1871 which burned a wide swath to the ground.  From the ashes arose what is there now there to be seen.  A big bang of sorts.  It thus makes sense to have that important early cosmologist looking upon what hath been wrought.

KC-GULL-3C-830PM_MET 0624 C03 KOZ24

  It is especially fulfilling to consider this particular measure of the built environment as of a whole rather than of its pieces.  It is a nearly perfect oeuvre of quite large scale and, in comforting contrast to the terror and turmoil about these days, shows what can be achieved through harmonious collaboration. 

  Iris Murdoch wrote: “Good art, whatever its style, has qualities of hardness, firmness, realism, clarity, detachment, justice, truth.  It is the work of a free, unfettered, uncorrupted imagination.  Whereas bad art is the soft, messy self-indulgent work of an enslaved fantasy.  Pornography is at one end of that scale, great art at the other end.”*   Hardness, firmness, realism; doesn’t that sound like Chicago?

  It is incredible to learn that the city was built upon a swamp; that its name relates to the onions found therein by Native Americans; and that the land from Michigan Avenue to the lake was reclaimed and filled with the conflagration’s remains;

  As Carl Sandburg wrote in his Chicago Poems:

Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning


By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars
and has a soul

  My kind of town.