Do you ever remember a story your parents told and look for it years later, only to wonder if they made it up?
There's a story my father used to tell me when I was sick. Now I can't find anywhere . . . A kind of fairytale about a bird man. If I asked him, he would take a pen and draw a picture of the bird man in the story.
The bird man had this problem. You see, he plucked his feathers out. Why? Nobody knew for sure.
But there were three possible answers.
One, he was an artist. It was only by pulling out his feathers that he could weave them into a beautiful tapestry that told the story of his life.
Two, he was a scientist. It was only by taking out his feathers and examining their structure that he could understand how he flew.
Three, he was man. It was his nature to tear himself apart one feather at a time so he would never soar too high and would always live close to the ground.
In any case, according to the story, we descended from the bird man. That's why we still dream of flight and angels.
Okay, so I was telling my husband and friends at dinner that a woman found a python in her toilet, and they started teasing me. I thought maybe I was nuts, but it's true. At least if you believe the news.
I've been thinking about what that would be like. To find yourself seated over a python . . .
Preciosa Dumlao - AHN News Writer Brooklyn, NY (AHN) - A 38-year-old restaurateur found a 7-foot-long python in her toilet while she was washing her hands early Monday. She said most of the venomous python's body was hidden in the pipes and was trying to come out of her bathroom.
The New Yorker Nadege Brunacci said, "I turned on the light and screamed. It still makes my heart race."
According to Brunacci, when she saw the snake, she yelled for help.
Her landlord came to see what happened and plumbers had to tear down the pipes to trap down the snake.
She said it is questionable how the snake got into her bathroom pipes.
Last night I did a radio reading. I could hear myself echo back into my ear, as if my words were making fun of me. I think they were. I felt as if I were talking to the air, and only I was listening. An eerie feeling. As soon as it was over, I wanted to fix it, make it better. So much of conversation is like that. So many words get sent out into the air, wishing they had a second chance . . .
At night I dreamt I was back in first grade. I had a solo, and I started singing all the wrong words. I woke up in a sweat, remembering the concert exactly. It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I was all dressed up in black velvet with silky red ribbons in my hair. I felt like a movie star, and I wanted to be sure everyone heard me. So I sang as loud as I could: I had grits and eggs for breakfast. My cow, Mildred, died last week. She got the bloat.
I think I was supposed to be singing Deck the Halls . . .
That night my mother told me it's eggs, not aay-eggs. My father phoned Mrs. Wallace, my first grade teacher, and asked her never to give me a solo again.
The Spartans have always fascinated me. My mother used to read me tales about the Spartans, esp. the one about the boy-warrior who had a pet fox who ate his entrails . . . But I'll save that for another time.
In today's encore excerpt from Delancey Place, the rigors and rituals of Spartans, the fiercest warriors of the ancient world, circa 560 B.C.:
"Even the newest-born baby was subjected to the proddings of old men. Should an infant be judged too sickly or deformed to make a future contribution to the city, then the elders would order its immediate termination. ... A cleft beside the road which wound over the mountains to Messenia, the Apothetae, or 'Dumping Ground,' provided the setting for the infanticide. There, where they might no longer shame the city that had bred them, the weak and deformed would be slung into the depths of the chasm ...
"[I]t was the goal of instructors not merely to crush a boy's individuality, but to push him to startling extremes of endurance, discipline and impassivity, so that he might prove himself, supremely, as a being reforged of iron. ... Denied adequate rations, the young Spartan would be encouraged to forage from the farms of neighboring Lacedaemonians, stalking and stealing like a fox, refining his talent for stealth. Whether in the heat of summer or in the cold of winter, he would wear only one style of tunic, identical to that worn by his fellows, and nothing else, not even shoes. ...
"[A]t the age of twelve, he became legal game for cruising. Pederasty was widely practised elsewhere in Greece, but only in Sparta was it institutionalized-- even, it is said, with fines for boys who refused to take a lover.
"Just as boys were trained for warfare, so girls had to be reared for their future as breeders. The result--to foreign eyes, at any rate--was an inversion of just about every accepted norm. In Sparta, girls were fed at the expense of their brothers. To the bemusement of other Greeks, they were also taught to read, and to express themselves not modestly, as was becoming for women, but in an aggressively sententious manner, so that they might better instruct their own children in what it meant to be a Spartan. They exercised in public: running, throwing the javelin, even wrestling."
Tom Holland, Persian Fire, Abacus, 2005, pp. 81-85. From delanceyplace.com
Last night Suzanne called to tell of a friend in El Salvador, a high school girl, who was beaten by her dad so badly she had to go to the doctors and to the police. Of course the police did nada. She is such a great kid, Suzanne said. Never in trouble. Always trying to be helpful.
The kind who always does whatever her daddy says because, after all, he brought her up right, right? Didn't I bring you up right? he shouts sometimes late at night. The neighbors hear him (don't they?) though no one ever complains. Maybe they hear the wife saying, stop now, stop. But he keeps shouting . . . And don't you make a fool of me . . . Don't you ever run around in the streets with boys like those other girls . . .. But she's a smart girl, this girl. She knows if the boys don't abuse her, her daddy will . . .
I always hate the Q and A part of a reading. It takes all my mental energy to stand up and read, and there isn't any left to answer questions. A well-meaning aspiring poet might ask those seemingly simple questions. For example, why is a prose poem a prose poem, esp. the one you read that sounds like it has an internal rhyme scheme? Is it just a question of line breaks?
Instead of answering I wish I could ask my own questions.
1. Tell me, Darling, what is your relationship with structure and meaning, form and message? Does your body and face tell who you are? Are you sure, or are you lying even now? Where is your soul, and does it fly?
2. Can you explain to me the magic of your favorite lines of poetry? Do you know what a satori is? Or what meaning means? Is this just this?
3. Can you define the relationship between the divine and silky mauve shirts? Or tiramisu, sepia photos of the dead, and fountain pens, the kind with just the right ink flow. Not too much, not too little. Only black ink will do . . . And the right kind of porous stationary . . . .
4. Do you have a favorite wish? Lust? Lie? If so, do you know you should never say it aloud? And what will happen if you do? And why?
I love female athletes. I get such a high from watching women compete. Somewhere in the back of my head, I can still hear Dad's voice . . . "Back in my days men wouldn't care for a woman with legs like yours. Too many muscles . . . It just doesn't look right." But listening to Marion Jones weep and confess after all of her bold claims of innocence was so depressing. Those performance enhancing drugs, I believe, are here to stay. Sad.
Also sad to see are the number of anorexic runners, like the girl on Suzanne's team who couldn't believe that Suzanne didn't mind being "fat." Her coach told me once that he couldn't allow some of his faster runners to compete in the steeple chase or the longer track races because they didn't eat enough, over-trained and generally didn't take care of their bodies. Female runners, he said, have a higher injury rate than football players.
Lately I've been walking the dogs past the football field, seeing the boys ram into each other, the girls cheer, the parents on the side, shouting and cheering. I've never been a football fan, never cared for cheerleaders, but I spent years and years track side. I never really thought I'd miss it, but now sometimes I get a little ache for that thrill of watching a kid put all of his or her energy into a competition. I remember a coach sobbing one day when my daughter, Suzanne, broke a college record. He came over and shook me. There's nothing like it, he shouted. Nothing like it. Watching it all happen and in a matter of a few minutes.
There is something amazing about it. But it's not just in sports. Watching people I love succeed makes me feel so proud, so high, I sometimes feel I as if I'll burst open. Watching my life-long friend, Anne Marie Slaughter, on the Colbert report was one such high. (She was awesome!) Reading my friend, Mary Beth's, first published poem was another. And watching my son graduate made me cry even if I thought the ceremony would never end. I sometimes think it's easier to be really happy for someone else than for oneself . . .
I have to add one more Kelli poem to my blog, a poem about death and birds. I've always wondered about the link between birds and death in our minds. Of course I understand the wings, the angels, death and so forth. But the beliefs are so strong. A few years ago when we were having our house worked on, I came home to find two burly carpenters outside, afraid to re-enter the house. Why? Because there was a bird inside. Evidently, they'd left the door open, and a robin had flown in. The poor robin was beating against the windows, trying to escape. The men warned me that death would soon follow the bird.
When Women Die, Waxwings Appear
By evening, the tips of their wings are dusty from footsteps of men who don't know what to do with themselves,
from children jumping rope in an abandoned lot unaware that anything has changed.
Waxwings appear in the madrona. Someone has died and they try to carry sadness to a bed of twigs, search for string and straw, small branches to weave into edges.
By nightfall, the tips of their wings are arrows for the men who don't know where to go, for children looking for their way home.
At times, a bird will steal tissue from the hand of a mourner, cover its nest to keep grief from slipping back into families living below.
These days every limb contains a nest; there are never enough wings to hold the men who try to comfort their children who linger with hope of finding a new home.
Just when I was beginning to think, don't worry, be happy, Bill sent me an article from Patagonia to remind me of the bad news about plastics . . . How it's everywhere and in everything, esp. in our bodies.
Add to that, today I was at the hair salon, and the woman next to me started telling me how she was sure her daughter's breast cancer came from plastics. An elderly woman, she said her daughter was from the microwave generation. So she never cooked anything because it took too long. Instead she microwaved it. The plastic on the top of the frozen foods she microwaved melted into the food and into her body. And all that microwave cookware, you know that stuff isn't natural. Whatever it's made of shouldn't be near food . . . If she's just learned to cook rather than to microwave, she might still have her breasts.
She reminded me of the article:
" . . . bisphenol A seeps out of polycarbonate plastic when it's heated or exposed to acids and also as it ages. Sometimes labeled , Recycler Image 7, polycarbonate is used in baby bottles, transparent reusable water bottles (but not the bottles water is sold in), food packaging and utensils, coffeemakers, kitchen appliances, and numerous other products. Bisphenol A also forms the epoxy resins used to line food cans and is in dental sealants. It mimics the effects of estrogen and has been linked to prostate cancer and precancerous breast tissue in animal studies."
The article said a lot more too. I'm too depressed to post more of it here today. I can rest assured that corporate America doesn't want me to worry about this. I can hear it singing, don't worry. Be happy.
from Practical Values: Hard to Break By Elizabeth Grossman
I just started Small Knots, this beautiful book of poems by Kelli Russell Agadon. I am totally in heaven, just where I want to be with a book, any book . . . I who always want to leave this world and find another. This is just one of my favorite poems so far:
A Mermaid Questions God
As a girl she hated the grain of anything on her fins. Now she is part fire ant, part centipede. Where the dunes stretch into pathways, arteries appear. Her blood pressure is temperature plus wind speed.
Where religion is a thousand miles of coastline, she is familiar with moon size, with tide changes. She wears the cream of waves like a vestment, knows undertow is imaginary, not something to pray to.
Now her questions involve fairytales, begin in a garden and lead to hands painted on a chapel's ceiling. She wants to hold the ribbon grass, the shadow of angles across the shore. She steals a Bible from the Seashore Inn;
Nin Andrews is the author of 5 full collections of poetry and 6 chapbooks. She is also the editor of a book of translations of the Belgian poet, Henri Michaux. She keeps a literary blog and a blog of environmental comics.