Lauren Camp on Time, Illness, and Tomas Tranströmer

One of my friends is wrestling a persistent cancer. I’ve been along the edges for a few years.
Visiting him the other day, I realized how time moves more slowly for certain people. How some people wait more. He told me that his life will be ongoing trips to chemo, then (hopefully) breaks in the chemo.
24 hours passed. I kept busy with a lot of things, and read the poem below. Something about it struck me hard. The stopping to meet whatever’s coming, and the way illness fits into each of our journeys these days, whether we’re on the train, or watching it.
Tomas Tranströmer

2 am: moonlight. The train has stopped

out in the middle of the plain. Far away, points of light in a town,

flickering coldly at the horizon.

To read the rest, go to Lauren’s blog.

Poetry Bombing

Susan Nalder alerted me to this amazing event….read more here.

Tonight London will be hit by a poetry storm — that’s right, it will be raining poetry. Chilean arts collective Casagrande will drop 100,000 poems from a helicopter over the south bank of the Thames river at twilight. The poems double as bookmarks, and Casagrande assures that no poem will be left behind, leaving no remnants of the event — “People who witness the gliding, glinting bookmarks exchange them, turning them into coveted goods for barter rather than litter.”

This is not the first “Rain of Poems” to take place. Most recently, Casagrande dropped poems over Berlin, Germany, in 2010 and over Warsaw, Poland, in 2009. Their first “poetry bombing,” as it’s sometimes referred to, was in 2001 and took place in Chile over “La Moneda”, the government palace that was bombed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet on September 11th, 1973.

Rain of Poems serves as a symbolic reappropriation of the past.

Dead Sparrow by Michele Pizarro Harman

Dead Sparrow
after Bernhard

Doll One and Doll Two lean
over it,
the ruched form

as large
to them,
tiny as they are,

as an infant doll might be
but made of feather,


Their rimpled dirndls
drape them,
those of

no beak-
worn dreams,
the well of sympathy


so deep
for these
who know

no growth,
no death,
no need

for this straw hat
which only blocks
the sun


to remind them
of it
and of each thing

which belongs
to time,
their own hands

by the clock’s
and its

monstrous spin,
their wells of love

for all things,
particularly for those like
their sparrow,


for those
unlucky enough not
to share

their plicatile,
their diastolic

—Michele Pizarro Harman

Covalescence–You Don’t Miss Your Water

Thanks to everyone for your kindness and concern. I’m feeling much better. And that is great. Or is it?
Convalescence is a limbo. In a way, being sick is easier–it is unpleasant, terrifying, passive, and marked by (insert your least favorite symptom here). But it is without choice.
In my twenties, I took a raft trip through the Grand Canyon.For days on end, we could not see the entire sky. I liked that! Even in my youth I knew a certain kind of unlimited choice wasn’t good for me.
So I can stand up without the world spinning. And note that the beautiful thrashers in the cholla cactus have indeed hatched babies who are now fledglings. Was the neighborhood always this fascinating? This funky? Decrepit? No sooner am I standing, than I have an opinion.
Buddhists and seekers pay good money for silent retreats that focus on mindfulness. Actually a recovery from a bad flu or a case of strep throat or vertigo or somesuch will work just as well.The self dissolves, focused in the present of illness. The body recovers, the self kicks and screams, realizes the floor is dirty and that it has not had any COFFEE for an entire week.
And on to the next thing. No longer do I thank God for my legs. No longer does my family seem like angels. Oh no, I want not just coffee but a grant–and probably to get my way in everything.
It does not help to remind myself there are people in much much worse shape. I have a list of those I worry about and a list of those I’ve outlived. I’m not in Darfur (insert your most extreme scenario here.) No, invoking these things does not instill instant gratitude.
This has happened to me before, and I am sure it will happen again.

Do Not Resuscitate–Me

A few days ago, I was hospitalized briefly with some very unpleasant symptoms. Many tests ruled out anything too nasty, and I’m home in a convalescent manner. My memory is uncertain about some bits, but I clearly remember the doctor asking if I wanted to be resuscitated. Now I was conscious, and not facing surgery, but it is the standard question.
Immediately I said, “No.”
Now this may seem irrational. I’m not yet 60, and most of the time I’m walking around and employed full time, busy with family and friends and projects. But I have my own private relationship with the specter of death and extreme disability (As I assume do all of us) and in that vulnerable moment I just said no to extreme measures.
Then I saw my husband Rich’s face. Not only had he taken me to the ER, waited on me hand and foot, worried, and generally been angelic–we did not agree about certain end of life options. I tend to the “Let the undertow take me” school while he is of the “let’s live as long as possible because there might be fun or at least lunch ahead” view.
I may have gained some wisdom in my years. “What would YOU like?” I asked him.
“Resuscitate,” he said.
My friend Hope, as positive as her name, was also keeping us company (and stable) in the hospital. She looked worried, too. I could not disappoint Rich.
“Ok,” I said. “Resuscitation is fine.”
Hope smiled. Rich looked relieved. The doctor regarded me briefly with an eye for emotional instability.
What did I learn? That I do know my own mind. And that what I want just isn’t that important.

SAVED by Marmika Paskiewicz

SAVED                                                -Marmika Paskiewicz
Two Jehovah’s witnesses –
a young woman &
an older man –
stop at my house this morning.
carrying Bibles,
other books,
and an invitation to wake up
thinking happy, positive thoughts.
But when they enter my gate
the man spies the Buddha under the apple tree
with a dead bird on his lap.
I rescued the screaming bird
from the cat last night;
chased the cat with a broom
I must have looked like a nursery rhyme
Like the butcher’s wife
chasing blind mice.
I placed the bird outside in the vinca, where it died,
released from cat torture, but
still uncurable.
I see two more women across the street
knocking on doors.  Part of the same family.
They always wear skirts;
and a cross around the neck, stockings
to bring their message;
I wonder if they come from 1954.
Or maybe they are not Jehovah’s Witnesses at all;
Maybe they are casing the neighborhood
Maybe they are jewel thieves
or collectors of electronics.
Why come on a Tuesday morning when people are at work?
To see who’s in and who’s out?
Who will they find? an old person;
someone who works a night shift and wants to sleep;
a mother at home with a baby?
I see them from my window.
promise I will be nice to them,
though they are invaders.
The man who knocks eyes me suspiciously.
The woman hands me the invitation, sweetly.
They depart, quickly.
This is how rumors begin, I know,
rumors of sin,
of Satanism,
I go outside
pick up the bird,
kneel in the garden
and dig a small grave
not far from a buried cat,
another wild friend.

Cloudy Contrast by Yehudis Fishman


Lying on Colorado manicured lawns,
I follow predictable cloud paths-
born, growing, dying.
Not so boring living here-
Pretty, circus-style scenes on Pearl Street,
touristy voices amplified
echoes from Flatiron Peaks.

Still, I’m so missing Santa Fe mysteries-
mesmerizing colors of a kaleidoscope sky..
heart racing wildness stirred up
by mercurial clouds, shape shifting
through refractions
of billowing sand and sagebrush-
light beams in prisms
of broken glass and shattered dreams.

My New Mexico friend
calls Boulder, ‘wonder bread country.’
Could it be he secretly envies
the trust fund youth cultured confidence
of ubiquitous riders on designer bikes –
polite, pure-bred dogs, properly leashed,
jogging along well groomed wilderness trails,
unwinding at dusk with cans
properly tossed in labeled  recycling bins?

But how can a frat keg at midnight compare
to the dawn’s early beer
before a grueling day’s work
from the Barrio to the plaza?

Oh how I long for somersault tumbleweed..
for suddenly transformed skies-
crystal translucent blue-white on the right,
ominous dark, death eater black on the left-
with myriad shades of gray in between.
No longer do I hear
Morning’s multilingual murmurings
of weary folk whose homes have been
Reclaimed by retired Hollywood émigrés.

In Boulder I never encounter
old cars driven till tires fall off in mid streets,
till paint cracks like wrinkled, red skin.
Still I continue to dream, not of svelte skiers on
snow seeded mountains,
But of drum beats pulsing, primeval,
of peace pipes ascending
in swirls of sacred smoke.

If It Ain’t Baroque…Devon Miller-Duggan on music, taste, and more

If It Ain’t Baroque…

Sorry, the pun was just sitting there on my desk drooling, and clearly wasn’t going to go away with just a pat on the damp head…

I do, in truth, like other kinds of music—folk, a lot of rock, much of jazz, Broadway and Standards, Motown, and a clutch of non-baroque classical composers ranging from Mozart to John Cage but skipping a lot of Romantics and not a few 20th c. greats (12-tone I just don’t grok). But Bach, well, Bach is what I couldn’t do without.

I don’t think of myself as a Baroque sort of person: I don’t like corsets (in practice, anyway) and my favorite architecture and design period is Arts&Crafts through Eames. I am, I will admit, prone to baroque sentences when I write. But I’m not fond of pastels and I don’t much wear lace. So really not a Baroque kind of girl. It was a beautifully, shatteringly lovely experience to listen to Bach in the Frauenkirche in Dresden earlier this year, and the reconstructed church is rapturously beautiful, but it’s not my architecture.

And I don’t LOVE absolutely all of Bach unreservedly. But if I were confined to a desert island with 3 cds (I know, I date myself), they’d be the Brandenbergs, the cello suites, and the Goldberg Variations (Gould), and I’d be happy.

A bunch of years ago I read in a book about how to tell if you’re ADD, that one of the interesting tendencies of folks with ADD is that they tend to prefer Baroque and Folk music because both involve less input (these people had clearly never listened to Vivaldi, but okay), less sheer mass of aural info. I don’t know. I was charmed by the thought, though. It felt right.

I’m aware, very (partially because I am a slave to my own insecurities—aren’t all the best people? They’re not? Oh, shit.) aware that being able to think of oneself as an intellectual or a high-culture mavin in the West (maybe in the East, too, I can’t claim much experience) involves Certain Standards, among which #1 seems to be that one Likes the Canon.

This One doesn’t like the canon. Not the musical canon: I loathe Chopin, for instance. Not the literary canon: I am very not-crazy about Milton. Not the visual arts canon: I mostly loathe Picasso and don’t have much use for Renoir or the Neo-Classicals. I could go on at tedious length.

Part of me cares. Part of me believes what I tell my students: There are good reasons this stuff is important, so you should give it a chance and pay good attention to it, but then you’re allowed to not like it. I think that’s the larger part of my belief.

But it’s remarkable how much the definition of “cultured” that I absorbed when I was younger has stuck. And it’s worth noting how much of academia exists because of and in order to perpetuate that definition. And I am, because I teach at a University, a certified academic. But I must be a lousy one.

That definition, btw, entered my world view when I was 12. There was a quiz in Reader’s Digest that was titled something like “How cultured are you?” I got the same score as the average Harvard senior, or something. I can still feel the thrill I felt then—a combination of blissful justification and affirmation of the weirdness my fellow students had been noting about me for years and a maybe a little bit obnoxious sense of my own entitled superiority. Also, I think it was a true relief to have some sort of context for my loving the Alfred Deller Consort, being able to cite Michelangelo’s birth and death dates, and having made my way through all 4 books of Kristin Lavransdatter. It made me feel a little less weird. It gave me hope that there was a tribe to which I might someday belong.

Maybe the ADD did me in in the end. It certainly made reading textbooks awfully hard, and I can’t memorize. Maybe I’m just not fit material. Maybe I’m not enough of a polymath. But, though I do occasionally give books I’ve loathed a re-try, and though I have learned to love some music I used to hate (some Blues, John Cage) and rejoice in art I used not to be able to “see” (Rothko & co.), some things are just never going to compute. Wagner, for instance. Not ever. Unless Bugs Bunny is involved.

So I think I flunked out of the tribe my 12-year old self wanted so desperately to join. Which, it turns out, is kind of a big relief. I think there’s only allowed to be one fat chick in any of those High Culture pods, and somebody else usually beats me to that slot, anyway.

So whether it’s the ADD or the DNA that makes my cells rejoice at the first notes of most music by Bach doesn’t much matter. Now what does matter is that Pandora keeps playing Vivaldi and Mozart on my German Baroque station, but that’s another matter.

Teacher Movies: Mr. Pryzbylewski

No doubt as a fan of “The Wire” I can take a number–there are millions in front of me, including President Obama who said Omar was his favorite character. Well, mine too.
But what about Roland Pryzbylewski? He starts starts off as a incompetent cop and turns into a terrible one. Fear gets him every time, and he ends up shooting. So, good-bye to an interesting but minor character, I thought. Then, re-enter Mr. P. as a rookie inner school teacher. Unable to shoot anyone and having to get by on his wits.
This isn’t “Stand and Deliver.” Its realism is in that not that much changes. Turns out Mr. Pryzbylewski is a gifted math teacher. The kids learn some math, improve their gambling skills, con him some, turn into junkies or high schoolers. And life goes on. Mr. P. has found his character curve, and his life’s calling, but it is just as hard as being a cop.
At the start of class, Mr. Pryzbylewski says: My name is Mr. Pryzbylewski and you can call me…Mr. Pryzbylewski.
He is stuck with his complicated hard to spell Polish last name. He is stuck with himself, and with the seemingly immovable problems of the class. THe kids soon call him Prezbo and Mr. P.
But I like that moment when a teacher is just who he is.