A Question of “You”

[Video: opening of Qui êtes vous, Polly Maggoo? (Who Are You, Polly Magoo?) — as Wikipedia says, “a 1966 French film directed by William Klein… a satirical art house movie spoofing the fashion world and its excesses.” The fashion show in this scene reminded me of the one in David Byrne’s True Stories.]

From whiskey river:

A New Poet

Finding a new poet
is like finding a new wildflower
out in the woods. You don’t see

its name in the flower books, and
nobody you tell believes
in its odd color or the way

its leaves grow in splayed rows
down the whole length of the page. In fact
the very page smells of spilled

red wine and the mustiness of the sea
on a foggy day — the odor of truth
and of lying.

And the words are so familiar,
so strangely new, words
you almost wrote yourself, if only

in your dreams there had been a pencil
or a pen or even a paintbrush,
if only there had been a flower.

(Linda Pastan [source])


The Continuous Life

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost — a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don’t really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

(Mark Strand, New & Selected Poems)

Not from whiskey river:

Writing a Resume

What needs to be done?
Fill out the application
and enclose the resume.

Regardless of the length of life,
a resume is best kept short.

Concise, well-chosen facts are de rigueur.
Landscapes are replaced by addresses,
shaky memories give way to unshakable dates.

Of all your loves, mention only the marriage;
of all your children, only those who were born.

Who knows you matters more than whom you know.
Trips only if taken abroad.
Memberships in what but without why.
Honors, but not how they were earned.

Write as if you’d never talked to yourself
and always kept yourself at arm’s length.

Pass over in silence your dogs, cats, birds,
dusty keepsakes, friends, and dreams.

Price, not worth,
and title, not what’s inside.
His shoe size, not where he’s off too,
that one you pass off as yourself.
In addition, a photograph with one ear showing.
What matters is its shape, not what it hears.
What is there to hear, anyway?
The clatter of paper shredders.

(Wislawa Szymborska [source])


…the American wishes to be liked as a person, an implied distinction which makes perfect sense to him, and none whatever to the European. What the American means is that he does not want to be confused with the Marshall Plan, Hollywood, the Yankee dollar, television, or Senator McCarthy. What the European, in a thoroughly expasperating innocence, assumes is that the American cannot, of course, be diversed from the so diverse phenomena which make up his country, and that he is willing, and able, to clarify the American conundrum. If the American cannot do this, his despairing aspect seems to say, who, under heaven, can? This moment, which instinctive ingenuity delays as long as possible, nevertheless arrives, and punctuates the Paris honeymoon… At this point, too, it may be suggested, the legend of Paris has done its deadly work, which is, perhaps, so to stun the traveler with freedom that he begins to long for the prison of home — home then becoming the place where questions are not asked.

(James Baldwin [source])

…and (excerpt):

King John’s Christmas

King John was not a good man —
He had his little ways.
And sometimes no one spoke to him
For days and days and days.
And men who came across him,
When walking in the town,
Gave him a supercilious stare,
Or passed with noses in the air —
And bad King John stood dumbly there,
Blushing beneath his crown.

King John was not a good man,
And no good friends had he.
He stayed in every afternoon…
But no one came to tea.
And, round about December,
The cards upon his shelf
Which wished him lots of Christmas cheer,
And fortune for the coming year,
Were never from his near and dear,
But only from himself.

(A.A. Milne)

The latest RAMH-neighborhood blogger to move along down the road is Jayne, of the Suburban Soliloquy blog. She’s not said flat-out good-bye to blogging, but she’s taking advantage — as who wouldn’t? — of a great creative opportunity at Bennington, which will consume her time and attention for a couple of years. In the meantime, in her sign-off post the other day, she reminded me about the music of an Americana singing trio she’d previously featured, and recently saw in performance: Red Molly.*

Here’s a number from their 2008 album, Love and Other Tragedies. It’s an oldie — the folk/spiritual, “Wayfaring Stranger,” as they interpret it a gently swinging, slightly melancholic stroll down a dusty street — but it seems (both lyrically and, well, sonically) to fit my mood of this moment in 2012.

[Below, click Play button to begin Wayfaring Stranger. While audio is playing, volume control appears at left — a row of little vertical bars. This clip is 5:41 long.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


* The group’s name comes from a character in a Richard Thompson story-song, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Here’s the first verse:

Said Red Molly to James that’s a fine motorbike
A girl could feel special on any such like
Said James to Red Molly, well my hat’s off to you
It’s a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952
And I’ve seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favorite color scheme
And he pulled her on behind
And down to Box Hill they did ride

(You can find the complete lyrics, and a video of Thompson performing it, at the American Songwriter site.)

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  1. Okay, these are all great, but “Writing a Resume” is some extra-good stuff.

  2. A friend of mine is writing her resume this weekend. I wonder how she’d take this poem.


    Question. How has doing these poetry and more posts affected you? Changed anything about your writing, your point-of-view, your thinking? Anything?

    • What an… interesting question. Normally I think of how my writing, POV, thinking, etc.-from-offline might have affected my blogging, not the other way around!

      (I’m reading a book called (hold your breath) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Boat of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente. Without getting into the plot or other details, I’d like to just say that your question is like a question that someone would ask in Fairyland. And I don’t mean to imply that that’s a bad thing!)

      Let me see…

      I’m pretty sure you know my day job is as a technical sort — a database analyst — with a municipal government. When I’m not in work, I’m usually (shopping and other excursions aside) at home with The Missus and The Pooch. We don’t have a lot of friends and family living nearby. All of which means (among other things) that my somewhat restless mind doesn’t have a lot of elbow room. I think about things quite a lot, and I tend to wonder about things I haven’t thought much (if anything) about. My list of Google Reader RSS feeds is all over the place; it’s like the subscription list of multiple people instead of just one. (My music playlist is something like that, now that I think of it.)

      So anyway, long story short: doing these Friday posts serves a couple of purposes.

      First, it simply ensures that I keep blogging SOMETHING every week. (I can’t remember missing a Friday in four years, although I don’t doubt that I have.)

      More importantly, it forces me to read and think and write about wide-ranging material that I don’t have to read/think/write about, especially that I might not choose on my own — sometimes that I don’t even know existed. A couple of weeks ago, one of these posts quoted something by a writer named Lia Purpura; I’d never even heard of her, but the brief passage swept me away. Within a few days I’d (a) found out some very interesting stuff about her on the Web, (b) read some of her work (essays and poems) in online publications, (c) downloaded a free Kindle sample of one of her books, and (d) bought the book I’d sampled. This isn’t that uncommon an occurrence. The fact is that I’m not familiar with a LOT of the material — specific works, or even author X or Y in general — I quote on Fridays. The research for these posts tends to be very open-ended and free-flowing. I never (well, seldom) know what I’ll come across.

      (And incidentally, the non-verbal portion of each Friday post provides me with much of the intellectual stimulation.)

      All of which is a looooong way of answering what was probably a completely misunderstood, very simple question. :)

  3. Nothing quite like a black and white French art film. There was a time, too, when I may actually have considered spending my hard-earned dollars on haute couture sheet metal, but, well, those days, thankfully are long past.

    Bourdain was in Paris last night (well, my last night), encouraging tourists to relax, read a book, eat and drink–at lot (but of course)–and, in general, stay away from all things touristy. Now that is no conundrum.

    And Red Molly. Aren’t they wonderful? Incidentally, I featured Richard Thompson (singing 1952 Vincent Black Lightning in one of my very early and very anemic FNF posts. And later, for a semester-long fiction workshop, wrote a short story in which Thompson was the object of a certain delusional woman’s desire. (Ok, I’ll just admit it, I had a minor crush on him for a time.)

    So your “You”, in a way, makes me feel that I’ve sort of gone full circle here in the blogging world. Hmm… and while the whole King John business has me a little concerned about, well, solitary pursuits, I’m going to try to get beyond that and focus on the flowers.

    Bon mots, John. ;)

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