The Mirror in the Entrance

June 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

by CP Cavafy, 1930

In the entrance hallway of that sumptuous home
there was an enormous mirror, very old;
acquired at least eighty years ago.

A strikingly beautiful boy, a tailor’s assistant,
(on Sunday afternoons, an amateur athlete),
was standing with a package. He handed it
to one of the household, who then went back inside
to fetch a receipt. The tailor’s assistant
remained alone, and waited.
He drew near the mirror, and stood gazing at himself,
and straightening his tie. Five minutes later
they brought him the receipt. He took it and left.

But the ancient mirror, which had seen and seen again,
throughout its lifetime of so many years,
thousands of objects and faces—
but the ancient mirror now became elated,
inflated with pride, because it had received upon itself
perfect beauty, for a few minutes.

Late Poem

April 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

” . . . a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern.”

I wish we were Indians and ate foie gras
and drove a gas-guzzler
and never wore seat belts

I’d have a baby, yours, cette fois,
and I’d smoke Parliaments
and we’d drink our way through the winter

in spring the baby would laugh at the moon
who is her father and her mother who is his pool
and we’d walk backwards and forwards

in lizard-skin cowboy boots
and read Gilgamesh and Tintin aloud
I’d wear only leather or feathers

plucked from endangered birds and silk
from exploited silkworms
we’d read The Economist

it would be before and after the internet
I’d send you letters by carrier pigeons
who would only fly from one window

to another in our drafty, gigantic house
with twenty-three uninsulated windows
and the dog would be always be

off his leash and always
find his way home as we will one day
and we’d feed small children

peanut butter and coffee in their milk
and I’d keep my hand glued under your belt
even while driving and cooking

and no one would have our number
except I would have yours where I’ve kept it
carved on the sole of my stiletto

which I would always wear when we walked
in the frozen and dusty wood
and we would keep warm by bickering

and falling into bed perpetually and
entirely unsafely as all the best things are
—your skin and my breath on it.

— Cynthia Zarin, from her new collection The Ada Poems

More notes to myself

June 22, 2008 § Leave a comment

Feel-good story about France’s far-reaching efforts to boost its stork population. Quite a successful program; they’ve gone from 9 breeding pairs in 1983 to 270 pairs today. I especially like the schoolchildren’s efforts to repair nests during the birds’ migration.


The best ratio (so far) for Kung Pao Tofu sauce is:

1 cup vegetable stock
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon habañero sauce (2 t if using Tabasco)
1 soy sauce (only if the peanuts aren’t salted and you’ve forgotten to salt the tofu)

Food blogs worth visiting regularly:
Fine Furious Life
Evolving Tastes

Is this gorgeous-looking rum bundt cake on Design Sponge worth making even though it calls for both cake and pudding mixes? Am I being a snob? Or am I just easily swayed by its sculptural qualities?


You know someone at The Wall Street Journal hates you when this is the photo they use to illustrate a story:



They Feed the Lion
from Philip Levine’s New Selected Poems, Knopf

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of the creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.

Out of the gray hills
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,
Out of the bones’ need to sharpen and the muscles’ to stretch,
They Lion Grow.

Earth is eating trees, fence posts,
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,
“Come home, Come home!” From pig balls,
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness
From the furred ear and the full jowl come
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose
They Lion grow.

From the sweet glues of the trotters
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower
Of the hams the thorax of caves,
From “Bow Down” come “Rise Up,”
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels,
They grained arm that pulls the hands,
They Lion grow.

From my five arms and all my hands,
From all my white sins forgiven, they feed
From my car passing under the stars,
They Lion, from my children inherit,
From the oak turned to a wall, they Lion,
From they sack and they belly opened
And all that was hidden burning on the oil-stained earth
They feed they Lion and he comes.

November 13, 2007 § Leave a comment

On CBC recently I heard an interview with an Iranian poet who was Holding Forth on the galvinizing effect that Ten Nights of Poetry had on the Iranian Revolution in 1978. The poets used variations on “blood” and “red” to prepare and inspire the people for marches, protest, and violence in the name of democracy. Some believed so fierecly in the poetry that when democracy failed them, they blamed the poets.

Of course, in the land of Rumi and Omar Khayyam, and in a language as rich in metaphor as Farsi, it’s natural that poetry is central to culture and identity. So why do we in the West, who speak the planet’s richest language, feel such estrangement from poetry, especially in politics? Why was it fresh and exciting when Kennedy had Frost read at his inaugural address, and a cheap cop-out when Clinton had Angelou read?

With every word is so parsed in our own democracies, every idea so bite-sized, the poetry of our own rich language is washed away.

So here’s a poem by Anthony Hecht, political in its own quiet way.


It builds like unseen fire deep in a mine,
This igneous, molten wrath,
The smelting torture that rises with the decline
Of reason, signifying death.

As when, fueled with suspicion, the coal-black
Othello is wrought forge-hot
Or when pouting Achilles lashes back
At the whole Trojan lot.

For the death of Patroclus: the one prepared to die
In fury, to pit his life
Against a well-armed equal, the other to slay
An innocent young wife;

Both, curiously, heroes. It is like that seething
Pit, pitch-black, as whose lip
A petaled flame spreads crimsonly, bequeathing
One or another sleep.

Oh-so Literary

October 20, 2007 § 2 Comments

I’m going to write a short story about a charming couple who live in a first-floor apartment, whose upstairs neighbors erect a pumpkin-headed scarecrow and move it secretly in the night, arranging it so at first, its flat, unseeing eyes peep through this window, then that one, then another, so the couple never know when they’re being observed by the dread golem— until they suffer psychotic breaks and attack the dread thing with gardening tools.

It will be based on a true story.


This poem by Babbette Deutsch is from the Everyman’s Library collection Pocket Poems collection, The Dance.


Fawns in the winter wood
Who feel their horns, and leap,
Swans whom the bleakening mood
Of evening stirs from sleep,
Tall flowers that unfurl
As a moth, driven, flies,
Flowers with the breasts of a girl
And sea-cold eyes.
The bare bright mirrows glow
For their enchanted shapes.
Each is a flame, and so,
Like flame, escapes.

Happy Birthday to Me

September 17, 2007 § 5 Comments

I stumbled across this meme months ago and squirreled it away just for you, sweet reader.

On this day in history:
1. Charles VI of France expels all Jews from France (1394)
2. United States Constitution signed* (1787)
3. Camp David Accords signed between Israel and Egypt (1978)


I share my birthday with:
1. Sophia Alekseyevna (1657)
2. Billy the Kid (1860)

And it’s the anniversary of the death of:
1. Spiro Agnew (1996)

*I’ve always considered the Constitution to be the true founding document of our fair nation. Sure, it lacks the flash of “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”, but The Preamble is a lovely piece of hopeful, ambitious philosophical writing:
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility….”

We (or, hey, I) tend to think of the Founding Parents as fierce men stomping about in Philadelphia’s streets in their stockings and glorified deck shoes yammering on to each other earnestly about obscure points of law; but really, they were just starry-eyed dreamers like the rest of us. To wit: the “promote the general welfare” bit. I wonder if that would get shoehorned in today.

Anyway, before I get distracted, I thought I’d share some hard-won nuggets of wisdom I’ve accrued, lo these 25 years.

• Regardless of the proverb, it’s very easy to love a poor man instead of a rich one; plus, bonus points for not having to drag a camel through the eye of a needle in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. So that’s handy.

• And speaking of camels, to avoid being spat upon while standing in their presence, it’s best to keep yourself about level with the front legs.

• If you’ve got a sunburn and haven’t got access to aloe vera gel, you can make a soothing paste of water and baking soda to help stop the pain.

• Everyone loves a handwritten thank-you note, plus it gives you a legitimate opportunity to play with sealing wax.

• Never pass up the chance to pee.

• Listening to Car Talk is a great mood-booster, even when your mother calls to say ‘happy birthday, oh, by the way, we almost had your beloved childhood dog put down last Thursday.’ You get to learn the names of a lot of different bits of the combustion engine (which share the names of many human parts: knuckles! joints! shafts!), if not how they fit together or work (suck! squeeze! bang! blow!).

• It’s always a good idea to have a pen and something to scribble on somewhere on your person.

• Old Hollywood classics are usually a let-down, so always get a back-up movie rental.

• When baking, if you measure your oil first, you can used the pre-greased cup to measure sticky substances (molasses, peanut butter) and they’ll slide right out.

• A gift of monogrammed handkerchiefs is a good choice for anyone.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for now. We’re off to celebrate my birthday with our usual Caligulan levels of indulgence. Have another round on me, and a happy birthday to you from me, whenever that may be. See you tonight at the Circus Maximus.

In closing, here’s a poem by Jack Gilbert.

Getting Away with It

We have already lived in the real paradise.
Horses in the empty summer street.
Me eating the hot wurst I couldn’t afford,
in frozen Munich, tears dropping. We can
remember. A child in the outfield waiting
for the last fly ball of the year. So dark
already it was black against heaven.
The voices trailing away to dinner,
calling faintly in the immense distance.
Standing with my hands open, watching it
curve over and start down, turning white
at the last second. Hands down. Flourishing.

The Race

July 4, 2007 § 1 Comment

A poem by Sharon Olds from her book, The Father. Click here to hear Ms. Olds read it to you.

The Race

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors
had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled. A young man
with a dark brown moustache told me
another airline had a nonstop
leaving in seven minutes. See that
elevator over there, well go
down to the first floor, make a right, you’ll
see a yellow bus, get off at the
second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he’d told me, a fish
slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into
in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,
I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then
run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,
and then I took a deep breath, I said
goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the
bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my
long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were
just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle’s eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet
was full, and people’s hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,
in massive relief. We lifted up
gently from one tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the
other edge, I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

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