Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Miracle sur la Rue de Vaugirard

Thursday, July 19, 2012 6:00 p.m. Best Western Trianon Rive Gauche, 1 Biz Rue de Vaugirard, Paris

The Best Western Trianon Rive Gauche has a larger lobby than many European hotels, but by American standards, it is Lilliputian. My husband and I stepped up a few stairs at the end of the area into a small room tucked away for special meetings. There was standing room only for the 69 students, faculty, and guests who had all arrived separately that day for the Spalding Master of Fine Arts brief residency in Paris. Most who gathered to meet and greet and go to dinner together at Le Train Bleu were fuzzy with jet lag from various international flights that had arrived earlier at DeGaulle.  Those had a reason to be less than cautious with their belongings; I had no such excuse. My family (husband, daughter, and grandson) and I had been frolicking in Paris for the previous eight days. My husband and daughter would leave Paris the next morning and I would stay on for Spalding’s Creative Nonfiction workshop for the next ten days. My grandson, Nicholas, would stay, too, to make a ten-day round of his favorite boutiques to include Diesel, Le Coq Sportif, and Colette as well as every art museum he could squeeze in. 

Spalding tour leader Katy Yocom welcomed everyone and made some announcements including the logistics of going to dinner that night at Le Train Bleu. I wondered if our tour guides Alexandra and Guilliame knew what the heck they were up against in trying to herd 69 folks through two metro stations, lines 4 and 14. As we exited the small room, I stopped at a round table, took my passport wallet from my decorative black cloth purse over my shoulder and chest, and carefully inserted my metro ticket and my museum passes into one of the credit card slots. I then put the wallet back inside the purse and got pushed along with our enthusiastic crowd. I was getting claustrophobic already and we weren’t even outside yet.

My effervescence and joy of meeting new writers that night, of saying hello to a few alumni I knew, of getting all the instructions for using the metro tickets, of classes that would begin the next day, followed by walking at the pace of the tour guides to keep up left me breathless, but smiling. This was a fast pace for someone who’d had a little over a year recovering from a shattered kneecap and who had turned 70 just three days earlier. Before I would put my head on the pillow very late that night, claustrophobia would be my last worry.

Nicholas and Michelle at the Polidor
Our hotel was in a great location on the left bank near the Odéon Theater, the Pantheon, and Luxembourg Gardens—the oldest part of Paris: just a few blocks away was the Polidor, a bistro frequented by Ernest Hemingway and those of his ilk. Our two cumbersome groups walked first to the Odéon Station to board what we termed the red line, #4.

The Polidor was used in filming “Midnight in Paris.” Pictures in the window were a real clue about tourists, but Nicholas and I tried it later anyway. We could walk from our hotel and that night we were joined by Michelle. A very dramatic and fun playwright, Michelle introduced herself as a New Yorker (or did I imagine that?) although she was living in Kansas. Screenwriter and faculty member, Sam Zalutsky, with his perfectly groomed and upturned mustache joined us a little later. I felt as though we might have been in a play or a movie. Although distinction among the bistro, the cafe, and the brasserie still eludes me, my beef bourguignon was delish, and could have fed at least three.

Boarding the train at Odéon went without incident since the train was not packed. As the train jolted forward, I staggered toward an available seat near Katy who was standing. She mimed for me to keep my little bag in sight. It had drifted to my left side in getting seated. Someone was seated to my left, but in the excitement, I couldn’t tell you whether it was a male or female. I clutched my bag to my belly with both hands. We had to change trains at Chatelet onto line 14 to reach our much-applauded destination at Le Gare Lyon. As the group jumped on, shoved and pushed into the mass already on board, I was only able to hold onto a pole nearest the door. Safe Spalding bodies pressed closely on all sides.

Our meal at Le Train Bleu required the wine glasses and silver flatware necessary to accompany the serving of this feast. There were at least four glasses at each place setting, two forks to the left, a dinner knife and a fish knife to the right, and a knife, fork, and spoon in the dessert slot. One of our written guides to Paris suggests that the best price to quality ratio in gourmet restaurants is the one with the most stars and the fewest forks. Another tip is that if there is an English translation on the menu, it’s probably too touristy. Truly, Le Train Bleu is probably best classified with the Polidor and Procope (where I had my 70th birthday meal) as simply historic although it seemed very gourmet to me.

When I saw the Entre (what we’d term “starter”) Tartare de sauman au citron vert lait de coco, salmon tartar with lemon coco milk—was that coconut? More precisely it said raw salmon. As it was. Shaped ever so beautifully by perhaps a pan the size of a normal muffin tin and topped with salade mesclun a l’huile d’olive. I ate the salad greens with olive oil but was brave enough to take only two bites of the raw salmon. And so it went throughout the extended meal. (No one rushes through a meal in Paris. No one.)  Then came the magret de canard rôti miel et gingembre. Roasted duck. Yuk. Even with honey and ginger. Next course: Brie de Meaux. I hate cheese from anywhere. Ah, dessert arrives: Vacherin Glace “Train Bleu.” This iced meringue filled with sorbets and whipped cream were almost as amazing as the art gracing the ceiling the train station.

I asked for les toilettes and was sent on a long walk through what appeared to be a luxurious dining car with small tables on either side. When I returned and picked up my small black bag for lipstick from the chair where I’d left it, it felt too light. All smiles ceased. My passport wallet was missing.

Tommy had not left the table nor had Chere, my seatmate to the left. Tommy and I searched around our chairs on the floor. Fellow Spalding diners joined in the speculation and search. It was time to leave, and still no wallet. And the fear of what besides my passport was in that wallet began to grow: my driver’s license, two credit cards—one to use, one as backup—an ATM card, my medical cards, some Euros, about seventy dollars, and $1,000.00 in American Express traveler’s checks. We were relieved to share Chere’s taxi rather than taking the metro back to the hotel.

What I felt is hard to describe. First, stupid. Tommy repeatedly warns me to wear the money belt with my passport around my neck or at my waist. And bumfuzzled. When had I last had the wallet out? I never felt anyone touch my bag, and Tommy and Chere were right there while it was on my chair at the table. How was it possible for a pickpocket to steal it? If someone on the train had taken it, I would have noticed how light it was before. 

Back at the hotel I asked the receptionist whether anyone had found my wallet there. Non. I told him the story and asked him to call the metro stations to see if it had been turned in. Oui, Madame. I listened as he chattered away in French. Alexandra and Guilliame both thought this phone call was a waste of time. “Nobody has ever had a lost wallet found and returned,” one said with the other one agreeing. They tried to assure me: “It’s a good thing it happened at the first of your stay and not at the end.” “It happens all the time.” “It has happened to both of us.”  

I heard nothing reassuring. Teresa and Nicholas wanted to go back to the metro stations but our tour guides convinced them it would do no good. Teresa started praying to St. Anthony, the saint of lost items. Tommy was angry at me. I was angrier at myself than he was. All four of us were up several hours canceling credit cards and travelers checks. And, by the way, don’t expect American Express to come running to your aid via bicycle or any other mode of transportation the way their ads depict it.  

The next morning Tommy and Teresa had to be downstairs for their taxi to the airport at seven. I would have to go to the police station, as our guides had said we would have to do (along with a roomful of other tourists who’d been pickpocketed, they said) which might take most of the day and then we’d have to go to the American Embassy on Monday and request a new passport. I did have copies of all our passports, which, they said, would make it easier. And they would go with me. That was somewhat assuring.
Next morning after only about two hours of sleep, Tommy and Teresa crammed their luggage into the tiny elevator to go down for the airport taxi. Nicholas and I slowly walked down the two flights of stairs behind them. As soon as I stepped into the lobby, the receptionist from the previous night called out, “Madame, is this yours?” He held out my burgundy wallet with the word Passport embossed on the leather. Perhaps I was still asleep. Perhaps I was dreaming. He was holding my wallet. No sooner than my heart rate pumped up to a dangerous level, than despair set in. It’s probably empty. I rush to the desk. I open the wallet. My passport. All pages intact. My credit cards and ATM are out of their usual slots and simply stuck back in. The driver’s license is there. The health cards. I was laughing and crying. The receptionist said he’d had a call at 5:00 a.m. from the metro station. The cleaning crew had found it. Someone brought it to the hotel.

“It’s a miracle of St. Anthony,” said Teresa. And I agreed, even though I’m not Catholic.

And then I opened the money enclosure. No Euros. No dollars. No matter. But, hark, the wad of traveler’s checks is intact. Apparently these are worthless, even to a thief. Or so I thought. When I finally counted them to return to my bank back home, one of ten was missing. One from the middle of the stack—another puzzle that has yet to be solved. 

All four of the Thompson family were crying and laughing as Tommy and Teresa left in the taxi. Nicholas hugged me and said, “Don’t worry, Gran. Your ‘little boss’ is here with you.” That epithet was given to him when he was ten. The four of us were traveling in Italy where Tommy was “Boss.” The physical resemblance between the two was striking. A friendly Italian waiter tweeked Nicholas’s cheek and called him, “Little Boss.”

As soon as Alexandra heard about the recovered wallet, she shook her head and repeated what she’d affirmed the night before, “I’ve never heard of this happening.” I think she was ready to believe in St. Anthony, too.

I repeated the story all day to anyone who would listen, the story of my miracle on rue de Vaugirard. Like the Ancient Mariner, I’m still telling it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glace, Sorbet, or Gelato?

Glace, Sorbet, or Gelato?

Ice cream, my dear readers. I know that is what you’re looking for and what I’ve promised. Yesterday our first stop was La Tour Eiffel and I tried Patiche et Citron (Pistachio and Lemon) from a little market on wheels. Sweet, sweet. I may not be able to top that one.

And for our first full day in Paris, it is the Louvre, of course. We must see if Mona Lisa is still smiling and whether “The Wedding at Cana” is still covering the whole wall at the other end of the room and, for the most part, being overlooked. This time we are not astonished by how small the smiling lady is in the grand room. Always before our first visit there in 1981 I had imagined this wonder by Michelangelo to be big, really big. The proportion of painting to wall seems as skewed as my stairwell looked when I only had one family photograph hanging there. What is surprising on this day is that the standing spaces before the woman and the wedding seem equally crowded. It is the day before Bastille Day, so Paris is packed.

We met up with Claire, Nicholas’s friend, at the ticket agency within the metro just outside the door of the Louvre. Claire’s home is in Canada but her mother is working in Hong Kong and her family will soon move there. She and Nicholas met in an architecture summer class at Cornell last summer. The student hostel where she was staying became so rowdy as groups of students came and went that she decided to move into a hotel. Unwittingly, she ended up in the red light district near Montmartre. But she is an amazing girl. She plans simply to “embrace the situation.” I haven’t seen someone with that attitude since my college days. An original flower child, L.L., used to sneak out of Hayden Harris to smoke pot and read poetry on the quadrangle pre-dawn—or so I heard. I was on the goodytwoshoes Judiciary Committee that heard the accusations.

Our group of five arrived early at the Louvre but the waiting lines had already serpentined around the foyer several times. By the time we were ready to enter, Nicholas couldn’t find his ticket. Luckily, a well-dressed man in a suit (who spoke no English or French, it seemed) had found it after, Nicholas surmised, he had pulled it from his back pocket along with his cell phone. Some situations require only hand signals. Before the visit ended, Claire had totally lost her ticket. But she and Nicholas, future architects, both had good excuses. They were preoccupied with what they would do to best use their time inside. Nicholas planned to record his impressions with his cell phone, and Claire carried a sizeable sketch pad and several colored pencils. Juggling equipment can be a bit of problem.

In 2006 when we first brought Nicholas, cameras were still frowned upon. You dared not leave your flash on by mistake. We saw flashes going off rather frequently in the large crowds and no sign of irate docents. A buzzer would go off if you leaned a little too far over into the roped-off area of a painting. It happened to me once this time when I was photographing the info about Roselli’s “Le Triompe de David.” If I had seen this wonderful depiction before of David in his dress holding the giant’s head by his hair, and the persons around David holding musical instruments (cymbal, flute, lute, triangle—that’s my best guess at what they were), I couldn’t remember it. I was so taken with the painting that my daughter Teresa had to point out to me that I had triggered a buzzer.

Planning what you will see in the Louvre is essential before you become so saturated your gray matter becomes goop. Nicholas apprised me at some point during the morning that the ancient sculpture “Victoire,” aka, the “The Winged Victory” might be a good possibility for our ekprastic project, so I added that to my list—a marble sculpture from the 2nd century of Greek goddess Nike. Nike stands atop the prow of a ship; her arms have never been recovered and only one of her outstretched wings. Still it is glorious even to my untrained eye that her flowing garments are exquisitely wrought to suggest the flowing drapery of cloth in the wind. He also wanted me not to miss “Le Pandemonium” by John Martin and “Le Bain Turc” by Jean-Auguste Dominique. The first is based on a scene from John Milton’s Paradise Lost when Satan is cast out of heaven. The second is an intimate look at a harem enjoying a Turkish bath, where the most striking detail for me is not the the nude body, but the luxurious and colorful scarf binding up the woman’s hair.

I’m addicted to the children’s books found in the gift shops of museums, so I always have to end with a shop visit. Here I had the choice of an array of shops. I only bought two books, a Richard Scary with both l’anglais/le francais for my grandson Will and a more sophisticated one for Victoria, 9, about how the eye can be tricked by illusion in art. I must take care not to load my bag over 50 pounds or I’ll end up having to leave the heavies at the airport.

Somehow as we board the metro to go back to our hotel, I become introspective. The slice of humanity getting off and on—the fear, the wonder, the sheer reality of whizzing through the earth as I grip onto a silver pole, aware that a pickpocket may be pressed up against me—all finally dulls the senses. I wonder if this may be my last trip ever to the Louvre. A big, big birthday is looming ahead in a few days. This trip has required a lot of strength—no problem for a young ingénue—but for this old bird, very taxing. Then I hear a French voice announcing: “Le Placide.” It’s our stop. We shoulder our way out.

Shall we look for glace? At a tiny tearoom across from our hotel, one may take a cooking lesson in macaroons, the signature sweet of Paris. As my daughter and I sip our Earl Grey, a fast chatter of French is nonstop in the adjoining kitchen. And then a loud whacking which must be the manual grinding of almonds for almond paste. We inquired about the class. Classes in English? “Oui, Madame.” It is so tempting to forget this writing business and take up making French pastries…

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Where's the feast?

So, you think you’re flying to Paris? I was looking for Hemingway's "Moveable Feast," so I had plans of flying to Paris.

Our flight plan had two legs, Birmingham to Atlanta and Atlanta to Charles DeGaulle. Eazy-peazy, right. We planned to board the plane at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, have dinner during the layover in Atlanta, and arrive in Paris midafternoon Wednesday. We would check into our little Hotel de Sevres St. Germaine in a quiet neighborhood on l’abbe gregoire.

Instead of French baguettes et buerre this morning, and coffee so strong it tastes like espresso, I’ve awakened to a tiny one-cup coffee maker in this dingy hotel room in College Park, Atlanta. Not a Krups coffee pot. Not anywhere close. But after yesterday I was glad to see it. We didn’t get into this hotel room until 1:00 a.m. today, Wednesday, and we left for the airport in Birmingham at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. I didn’t notice the coffee pot at all last night. Who cares at that hour? I turn into a pumpkin at nine nightly, so I could barely turn back the covers.
A storm grounded all flights in Atlanta last night, and we missed not just one but two flights to Paris. As soon as we learned at the Bham terminal that we were going to miss our straight shot to Charles DeGaulle, we re-booked on KLM through Amsterdam. Three planes were trying to leave B.ham for Atlanta and all were stuck without permission to leave. One plane ahead of ours loaded and unloaded twice. You can imagine the sweetness and light surrounding that particular gate, right. Bedlam truly. Somehow our plane got bumped up to first horse out the gate. At about eight o’clock a Delta official who’d been fielding irate and weary and handicapped customers for hours suddenly became animated. He threw the phone down, jerked up the microphone, and announced boarding instructions with an urgency that might suggest the impending savagery of a tornado. “We have a ten-minute window to get boarded…” and continued to bark directions to the gathering crowd. The crowd, too, became alive. They texted, they zipped up bags, closed computers, got up off the floor, trashed fresh drinks, and jockeyed for a position closest to that opening our gate.

Naturally my group of four got waylaid and set to the side. We were different. We had two boarding passes, the old flight we’d missed and the one that we were going to miss if we didn’t get in the air by 8:30. The attendant assured us that it was truly only a twenty-five minute flight to Atlanta and that we should make it.
I’ve never seen such disorder and haste in a boarding process. It was such a small plane that large carry-on’s were simply thrown to the side to be put elsewhere. My carry-on held this laptop and I wasn’t about to part with it, so I just stuck it in front of me—it would not fit up top nor underneath the seat. Attendants usually so persnickety about where that item goes didn’t even blink an eye. They were shoving things and pressing flyers to get seated. By some miracle and more than a little chaos, we had eight minutes left to spare on the runway to get into our “slot.” My party of four relaxed for the first time since we’d heard about the flight delay. Nicholas, my grandson, offered me his personal pillow. Ah…rest…

…until we began to speculate about the large cities of light below us: there aren’t that many big cities between Bham and Atlanta. And then came the fatal announcement. “We are in a holding pattern with several other planes and will be circling Atlanta a bit before we’re able to land.” Clock watching again. Tick tock. Will this plane run out of gas? A plan began forming. “Gran, my jacket is above us. You grab it. I’m going to bolt out the door first, check the board, and start running to the international terminal. You check with the guy outside for directions to the terminal.” I imparted his plan to my husband and daughter seated behind us.
Have you ever raced through Atlanta’s airport? Nicholas at eighteen was way ahead of us as planned. The Delta attendant waiting to greet us with information had to use the board himself. The board said “BOARDING, F-9.” Fortunately the tram and escalators got us there in record time, but my heart rate had not been that high for that long since before I fell and crushed a kneecap over a year ago. At one point my daughter stopped long enough to ask for a ride for me in an empty vehicle not being used, but got fluffed off by some employee trying to make it home herself, no doubt.

When we got off the last escalator under the huge chandelier in Concourse F, my daughter lamented, “There’s Nicholas. We’ve missed our flight.” She had spotted Nicholas and his demeanor told the story.

Now I find that this wretched little coffee maker won’t even work. I was so happy to see it, filled up the paper cup, ignored the dust that had collected, pressed the button and no red light. I changed the plug-in. Still no red light. I restrained myself from screaming and throwing it through the window.

We were sent to this hotel by a disgruntled airline employee. I’m the only one awake here. I’m drinking a Dasani water from the vending machine downstairs that sells sodas and condoms (Nicholas noted as we entered last night they were sold out of condoms!TMI.) and munching on a bag of mini-pretzels from the plane.
I’m wearing my new pink raincoat (as a robe since my luggage was checked in Bham) purchased at Burlington Coat Factory just for this trip since it is expected to be rainy and cooler in Paris.

I’ve had a very unsettling thought: where is our luggage?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A slice of Paris-- à la mode

 A few days ago Sylviane at the Guerlain cosmetic counter reminded me of what I should be about this morning. On July 10 my family and I will be boarding a plane for Paris and my plan was to review what little French I know before then, particularly the polite phrases. (Ignorance is more palatable if spread liberally with grace and humility, I’ve found, in a non-English-speaking country.) So until the particulars of my daily routine went awry, I had been spending 30 minutes a day with Pimsleur’s tapes, about as basic as one can get.

I thought I was doing well. Bonjour. Au revoir. Comment allez vous? Ou est la rue Saint Jacques? You know the drill. Sylviane has been in the states for 35 years, and has lived in the south much of that time, but it has not slowed her Parisian accent one millisecond. I could barely manage to understand her English, and certainly if I had tried my French, she may have doubled over laughing. I simply smiled a lot as I listened to her rapid history of the special orchids grown in China, three strains from which a hybrid was developed... for the delicious-smelling, exquisite-looking, too-pricey face and throat cream called  Orchide Imperial.

This morning, I was still thinking Paris, but I was cutting zinnias for my son’s family from my garden. The bed surrounds a cedar tree transplanted from the woods of my oldest sister, the same one who gave me seeds for the old timey multi-colored zinnias. A certain panic set in: my son is just out of the hospital and needs special care; each day I go by Whole Foods and pick up something nutritious to prepare for his lunch. I haven’t practiced my polite French phrases; but most of all, I haven’t given much thought to the reading I’m supposed to do in preparation for the writing residency I’ll be attending with Spalding University, my alma mater for the MFA in Writing.

As if to intensify my alarm as my husband can sometimes do with his morning pronouncements, he said entering the kitchen for coffee, “Know how many days it is until we leave for Paris?”

Ah, did I ever know. Three weeks, two days until flight time.

Panic and packing will wait. Here’s what I’d like to know. I’ve decided to blog for WELD from Paris if I can determine what readers might like to hear about: architecture; art museums; my workshop in Creative Nonfiction; food; my ekphrastic poetry project with my eighteen year-old grandson, Nicholas, who will be taking this trip before heading off to study architecture at Syracuse this fall, or simply the weather??

That last topic sounds facetious but I’m serious. One of the mentors at Spalding, Ellie Bryant, who incidentally will be leading my CNF workshop, has an exercise for her students much like a diary entry for the day. She calls it the Weather Journal project. One of my good friends Edie Hemingway allowed me to read the journal entries which she kept during a crisis in her family. I was very touched by the simplicity and profundity of her manuscript—all of which emanated from faithfully recording her “weather journal.”

Another avenue of discussion might be books. Preparatory and requisite reading for my workshop includes THE GREATER JOURNEY  Americans in Paris by David McCullough. McCullough contends that not all explorers went west. He writes of the earliest American “explorers” to visit Paris in the 1830s. Another required reading is A MOVEABLE FEAST (the Restored Version) by Hemingway.

Perhaps some readers know these books and have thoughts to share. I’d like to hear if you have a particular interest in what news I send back home during those three weeks.

À bientôt.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Three Reactions to Three Chance Encounters

Three Reactions to Three Chance Encounters
                                     -Kathleen Thompson

Dear Mr. Stafford
in lieu of a fan letter

it begins smoothly enough
for you are dear—Sara agreed
after reading Passwords
and she is never wrong—
but how would it end?

If there were a letter
posted here in Charleston,
it would be laced with ironies:
my stumbling upon your “Bess”
the day after I drafted my “Sharon.”

The letter might rip open a tender spot
sealed up by time’s envelope,
of watching baseball and Buddy’s
signs to the catcher, his fingers
held just so, fingers I had touched
in a thousand young dreams.
That year I mailed a valentine
unsigned. My face flushed hot
as he began to wave
in front of the crowd
until the blonde behind me
stood up, returning his wave,
as smug as a shortstop
who has stolen three bases.

Or the day I stood in a line
longer than the busiest one
at any P.O. in Birmingham
to get Mr. Styron to sign.
To try and lift his darkness
I echoed his very words,
I have felt the winds
of the wings of madness
but he only glanced up
from where he sat,
slammed the book shut
on his pinched name,
silent except for rage—
or was it disdain—
in the hollows
of his eyes.

So, Mr. Stafford,
how will this end?
You might think it queer
for one so new to poetry
to sign sincere or true;
friend might be too bold
and love would surely
make you laugh.

You smile as I leave
from my front row seat.
The risk is too great:

There’s Mrs. Stafford.*
Perhaps she would be kind
enough to pass along
a few lines?

* I handed an earlier version of this poem to Mrs. William Stafford at a writers’ conference in Charleston in the ‘90s. I told her that two women from Savannah were in love with her husband and his work. She laughed with me, and said, “Just two? They’re everywhere.” The next morning Mr. Stafford and I were in the book room at the same time. Across the table he said very gently, “I like your baseball player.”


Close, But No Cigar: What I Would Write If I Were A Billy Collins
on the occasion of dinner with the Charleston poets and Billy Collins before his reading, late 90s

I would not write of calendars
or snow or foul winds that blow
away hats and people, not sonnets or haikus
or villaparadelles but this disease I have,
congenital, foot-in-mouth, faux pas’s, very plural—
those I would write over, make funny if I could.

I would eat my first short story, its green
pastoral setting as bland as the shepherd’s promises,
instead of sending it out to the New Yorker.
I probably could laugh about that blind date;
I would not say to Jane Smith that he kissed
like a cow at the drive-in. I would check
for a recorder under the seat, all around,
everywhere; I would strain harder to think
of something more glib to say to William Styron
than his quote about the wings of madness.

I’d laugh about jotting down a name
for Collins, so sure of myself,
about where Trip taught school, so smug
that I, myself might have been mistaken as the visiting
poet that night, rubbing elbows with writers at Zebo’s,
secure that mine was the tangiest balsamic vinaigrette,
one my lesser could only hope to taste.

I’d double over
at what Collins must have thought
when he fingered inside the left pocket of his jacket,
you know the one, for my card, proclaiming who I am,
to hear him read from its back, in my eloquent hand,
Trip Franklin, teacher, Montgomery Academy,
to see the headmaster’s knitted brow, puzzling
over one whom the librarian guessed might teach
at their near-unspeakable rival, Trinity Presbyterian.
(I try to placate myself. Trip was in the same town.)

Given the chance,
I’d rather run, hell-bent like some hyena,
relentless bloodhound, streaking
through a pasture of fresh cow piles,
then scrape my soles
onto my pristine carpet,
grinding the smell
into its weft and woof—
than to admit tripping again
red-faced, about this teacher
friend of my son’s
and his whereabouts.

Will mistakes matter at all, though, I muse—
by the time the new millennium poem is finished?
I wish a word were dead when it is said
and what it might purport, for such an epic
as life hardly merits a footnote about fools,
and I wish I were going west in a box
with Joe Priskulnick who probably killed himself
(before Eavan Boland* could in the poem)
deeming stupidity of such magnitude,
like mine, truly terminal.

*At the time of this reading noted poets were composing a millennium poem on Amazon. Collins had been invited to submit lines.


What Of Us?
Sentimentally I am disposed to harmony,
but organically, I am incapable of a tune.
                        - Charles Lamb
                        “A Chapter on Ears” Essays of Elia (1823)

written on the occasion of meeting W. S. Merwin
at Spalding University, Friday November 17, 2006

Yes what of us Mr. Merwin
Those who try but have no ear
Or at best appear tone deaf

You’ve implied only singers
Born with the musical gift or
Trained should attempt poetry

Could your verse hit the high notes
Without a cacophony of the inspired
If raucous behind you tuning up?

And what about you now writhing
About your dead black dog wondering
Whether Louis Simpson is sentimental

In the latest Hudson Review
You asked me if it was good
What could I say so I quoted

Frost’s discursion on tears their
Import for both reader and writer
But what I wanted to say is this:

When dogs of death come sniffing
Close enough for us to feel fear
Curling up into our very nostrils

The finer points of any scale
Become moot as we fend off snarls
We sing “Chamber Music” Old Ben
In whatever chord or key we can.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Outtakes: The Romantic Rotarian

"Woman's Wait" was published first in WHEN THE WIND STOPS, a collection of Desert Storm Poems by Laura Sargent, 1991. The windows in this poem are at the Hyatt, River Street Savannah, where Rotary West still meets on Wednesdays.

Emma Kelly was dubbed the Lady of 6,000 songs by Johnny Mercer. She was a beloved pianist/vocalist who was famous even before her inclusion in John Berendt's infamous tale of Savannah, THE BOOK. She regularly performed for Rotary district meetings.

My poetry notebook from sixth grade, 1954-55.
Writing this essay for WELD has dredged up all sorts of things. Here are a few images I've unearthed.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Hope is a thing with feathers...the bird that keeps us warm

Belated new year's greetings to all, and may I say, I'm with Emily Dickinson and Mark Kelly on hope and predictions. (Why bother with despair in predictions?) My predictions were nothing but hope, (except one--a gold star if you can figure out which one) and since they were caught up in cyberspace between here and Orlando where I hurriedly penned them, I thought I'd catch up with the 2012 crowd, and record mine for posterity since my first prediction/hope has already come to fruition.

To wit: Be not faint of heart, oh, my young and foolish readers, for you have come to the source:  heed these wise (or wizened? ) predictions for 2012.

  • The University of Alabama will win the national championship football game in January. My source, my son, is infallible.
  • The whole world will adopt the advice of Mickey Mouse and imagine a world in which they will believe in their dreams.
  • My essays in WELD will be nominated and win a Pulitzer Prize.
  • Disney World will develop a turkey which has four legs before the next Christmas season.
  • My novel will be accepted for publication by a NY publisher and the contract for movie rights will include a stipulation that Meryl Streep star as the protagonist.
  • Disney World will develop a Line Breaker Detector which will eject any such dastardly person the moment his right forefinger prints register as he enters a given theme park.
  • My linked stories will have one story selected for Best Stories of 2012.
  • Disney already has magical (and cost prohibitive) umbrellas and ponchos that *poof* appear on every corner at the first drop of rain, but  in 2012 will introduce the giant instantly inflatable bubble which will shield each theme park from inclement weather. You’ll only be charged on the days it is used. Consult your almanac (or James Spann) prior to planning those vacation days.
  • A small press publisher will offer me an unheard-of (outside of the Canadian queen of stories, Alice Munro) advance to publish my thesis collection of stories.
  • The verities of “it’s a a small world” will be realized by all world leaders, and this year will be the happiest cruise that ever sailed as the orchestra for world peace fills our ears with harmony. 
Hakuna matata.

Message in a Blog

  About twenty Birmingham language arts teachers endured my holding forth yesterday in my current gig as a Road Scholar ...