On the Fourth of July

Today has been a busy day in history, and not just for the reason you assume. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on this day in 1804. Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass today in 1855, challenging and changing the face of poetry forever – the “poet of democracy.”

Lou Gehrig retired 80 years ago today, one of the early heroes of America’s pastime. His 278 words of goodbye survive in our collective memory as defining the spirit of American work ethic, although we are more likely to imagine the image of Gary Cooper than Gehrig in our minds.

In 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into his shack on Walden Pond, where his personal introspection found a distinctly American voice that still instills reflection today.

In that spirit of reflection, and not in any way to detract from our rightfull celebrations of today, here is a poem to consider.

Fourth of July

Dripping flags 

sag limply 

in the downpour

Fireworks sputter 

and drown

in the sea

of indifference

that dampens

this day when

 we celebrate

the invention of

Coca-Cola hot dogs

and auto racing

the day the sky 

chose to rain 

on our parade

Perhaps only 

this poem remembers 

the meaning

and the precious

sacrifice spent 

for the freedom

for too many

to forget

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On This Day

On this day in 1980, the video game Pac-Man was introduced to the world. Of course, it came out first in Japan under the name “Puck-Man”, but still the first and possibly greatest time suck in history was born, rivaled only by drive-thru lines and Game of Thrones.

The game began as an arcade game, but most of us from that era played the game first on an Atari console, which had quickly adopted the craze. Ms. Pac-Man, a version with better graphics, followed in 1982. There was apparently even a TV series and a hit song about the game. Ironically, a retro board game was introduced along the way as well.

In our present world with climatic apocalypse at the door and government by Twitter, it seems comforting to look back to simpler times when there were defined paths to follow within a blinking rectangle and enemies you could see and at times escape, all to the perky, machined music that was the inspiration for every pop song since the turn of the century.

I’m sorry to be so brief, but I need to go see if I can beat my highest score.

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Never Say Never

With the end of April, a time dedicated to poetry, but in this year too full of tragedy, perhaps one last poem with a touch of humor is a helpful way to close out the month.

Never Say Never 

            And other lines worthy of Yogi Berra

A chain is only as strong as – its missing link

All that glitters – is a fool and his money

A watched pot is – where the heart is

An ounce of prevention – saves nine

Cleanliness is – the best medicine

A friend in need is – a penny saved

Two wrongs don’t make – a good turn

Birds of a feather – are two in the bush

A miss is as good as – kissing your sister

Leave well enough – where angels fear to tread

Ignorance is the root of all evil – and money is bliss

Good things come to those – who help themselves

Life is short – and the good die young

Rules were made – to flock together

The best things in life – must come down

There’s no fool like – the eye of the beholder

When the cat’s away – the early bird gets the worm 

There’s no time like – having your cake and eating it too 

When the going gets tough – no news is good news

The grass is always greener – on the road to hell

Where there’s a will – it might be Shakespeare

Eat, drink and be merry – is well enough

Better safe – than never

Better late – than sorry

Leave well enough – in one basket 

A little knowledge – also killed the cat

Money doesn’t grow – in love and war

Actions speak louder than – good intentions

Half a loaf is better than – catching the worm

The end justifies – the mother of invention

If it ain’t broke – it’s a bird in the hand

Out of sight is – a dangerous thing

Easy come – soon parted

And great minds – think

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April Fools

Today is April 1, celebrated day for pranks, but it is also the beginning of poetry month. April was chosen perhaps to honor T.S. Eliot, whose line from The Waste Land begins:

“April is the cruelest month”

In honor of both the day and month, here is a poem appropriate for both:

The Funny Thing About a Poem

The funny thing 

about a poem

is how little it takes 

to say simply enough

It is merely a conversation 

with the air

over perhaps nothing

only an observation

alive upon a page

that may leave a knowing smile

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Oil and Water​

Thirty years ago today the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound ultimately releasing ten to thirty-one million gallons of crude oil into the waters and along the shore of the area.

When the Trans-Alaska pipeline was opened to bring oil from its northern reaches near Point Barrow, most of the environmental criticism centered around the dangers of earthquakes that might rupture it and the impact to native caribou and other migratory animals. Pipelines of this complexity were relatively new and had to be constructed to shift during earthquakes. It was deemed nationally important because of the recent Mideast oil crisis, which had created a call for energy independence.

The pipeline itself has performed relatively well, though not perfectly. The worst spill occurred when someone intentionally created a small hole, resulting in 16,000 gallons escaping. It was the old-school tanker transport system that led to this spill.

The cause of the wreck was human error, complicated by the fact that the shi’s radar system was not funtioning. A small environmental awakening followed due to media coverage of the incident and the extensive cleanup that followed. Few of us had ever seen shorebirds completely covered in oil and similar examples of contamination. A summary of the event and its cleanup are contained in Wikipedia.

This oil spill is the second worst in US history, now eclipsed by the Deep Water Horizon disaster of 2010, although there have been many larger incidents elsewhere in the world.

Today, thanks in part to extensive cleanup work and perhaps more to the resiliency of nature, Prince William Sound has something of its prior natural state, with wildlife returning. That fact is a credit to those who helped mitigate the harm of the spill, but is also testimony to the power on nature to overcome. We continue to put it to the test in countless, thoughtless and wasteful ways but so far it carries on despite our worst efforts.

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The Funny Thing…

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I generally don’t use this site to talk about myself, but I’ve recently published a book of poetry entitled, The Funny Thing About a Poem, and I thought it worth mention to my audience here.  If there is a theme, it is in the subtitle, “Poems to Ponder and Amuse.”

Occasionally it is funny and elsewhere thoughtful or perhaps thought-provoking.  It is available on Amazon in two editions.  You can buy the first on paper and for Kindle.  A briefer and more affordable second edition is available on paper, also on Amazon.

Here is a sample:

All the Good Words

Hank Williams said

            The silence of a falling star

If a song can’t be written

            Lights up a purple sky

In fifteen minutes

            A hot-rod Ford and a two-dollar bill

It ain’t worth writing

            Jambalaya crawfish pie a file gumbo

 

If he was even half right

            You’ll walk the floor the way I do

It shouldn’t take five minutes

            Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you

And a teaspoon of talent

            In spring I’ll wait for roses red when fades the lilacs bloom

To write a decent poem

            And in early Fall when brown leaves fall I’ll catch a glimpse of you

 

I mean after all

            Death sent an angel down from above

It’s only words

            Sent for the buds of the flowers we love

Without a tune

            ‘Cause if you mind your business

Or even a backbeat

            Then you won’t be mindin’ mine

 

But all I can do

            The more I learn to care for you, the more we drift apart

Is listen to his songs

            Why can’t I free your doubtful mind and melt your cold cold heart

Because I’ve come to know

            Now I have traded the wrong for the right

All the good words are gone

            Praise the lord I saw the light

 

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Spring Forward

Cassandra

On one Sunday each November, I am granted an extra hour to find all the clocks I lost an hour to in early March, so that I may set them straight.  And each year I uncover one rebellious clock behind a sofa or a watch hiding in the lint of a pocket that refused to give up its precious hour one cold March night.  All of which leaves me to ponder that it knew, all summer long an hour before me, where I left my glasses or that I would slip on the dog’s toy and break my arm, and that it had been mute to help.  But then I recall that persistent alarm from a clock I could never find, and I wonder.  And so each Fall, I put that clock back in its place, hoping I might just listen this time. 

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The Day the Music…

I was four years old when Buddy Holly died, sixty years ago today. As the press will repeat at length, he had chartered a small plane to take him from a improptu show in Clear Lake, Iowa to Minnesota for the next day’s show.

Holly was not the pilot but had learned to fly himself and had also taken up motorcycling. He seemed to embody the sense of immortality that seems to come with being young, though he was farsighted enough to plan a recording studio to make a living when his recording career wound down, as he expected. It seems that he wondered if his music would last.

The weather that night was poor and the pilot was not certified for the conditions. The plane crashed shortly after takeoff, but was not located until the next morning.

There are various stories as to how Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson joined Holly on the ill-fated flight. One involved a coin flip, while another has it that when Waylon Jennings, a then Crickets member, was left out, he told Holly he hoped the plane would crash. Whatever the truth, the new genre of Rock and Roll and its young fans suffered a great loss that night.

Don McLean’s anthem, American Pie, centered on Holly’s death, describing it as “the day the music died.” The irony though is that Holly’s music never died and, in fact, is still fresh and alive after a lifetime. Indeed, it has preserved his memory for a generation and more. Perhaps Rock and Roll will never die.

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The day of his death was a dark cold day.

The Irish hold their poets dear, and today is a day for remembrance in Ireland, for William Butler Yeats died 80 years ago today.

Yeats was many things beyond being a Nobel Laureate for his poetry, which Wikipedia relates in detail.  Still it is for his poems, which remained formal even as others took to other forms that he is best remembered.

He was, although protestant – if agnostic, and an Irish Nationalist, if more concerned with culture than politics. He was indeed a patron of Irish theater and of Irish literature.

To many who do not know his writings well, Yeats is yet known for his unrequited love for Maud Gonne, who rejected his proposals again and again. There is in many of us an admiration for one who has had an unrequited love for a muse, even if something we’ve not experienced. Petrarch, before Yeats, penned his sonnets for his beloved Laura. Poetic in its essence.

W.H. Auden, an admirer of Yeats, wrote his homage to the man, which in its way rivals Whitman’s grieving O Captain! My Captain! elegy for Abraham Lincoln.

I would add here Auden’s closing, but perhaps it is best to read yourself.

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An Historical Footnote

Anthony Trollope, if you don’t know, was a Victorian era novelist who was less than successful in other pursuits, including practising law, because of a somewhat bad temper.  The author of 47 novels and other works, he ironically earned a reputation for a comic bent, which is still appreciated by critics and readers today.  Perhaps fittingly, his best novel, The Way We Live Now, was a satire. It was published in serial form and told of greed that let to financial scandals of the era.

 

Trollope died on this day in 1882 of a stroke after reading the comic novel Vice Versa by a contemporary, F. Antsey.  It was said that the stroke was brought on by a “fit of giggles.”  If there is any truth to the story, then he literally died laughing, a distinguishing footnote that he shares with Cleopatra and a few others.

 

Perhaps there is a joke somewhere in this anecdote, but it might be a stretch to include it here.  Suffice it to say, that if you must die, Trollope chose the best way to go.

 

 

 

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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