Tuesday, March 31, 2015

365 True Things: 3/Poetry

I do not consider myself a poet, but I enjoy reading poetry (more and more), and I have dabbled in writing it. Several years ago I took a couple of wonderful online workshops with a poet in Washington State, Sarah Zale. One assignment involved writing a poem from a visual prompt. The prompt I chose was a postcard in my collection, a black-and-white photo by Mario Giacomelli (1925–2000), a self-taught Italian photographer whose work coincided, in time and emotion, with the gritty Neo-Realism of cinema directors Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini. He did a wonderful series of landscapes—high contrast, minimalist, almost abstract—which occupied him from 1954 until his death, as well as a series documenting the everyday life of seminary priests, I Prestini (Little Priests, 1961–63). The photo I chose was in the latter series.

I recently reencountered the poem. It has promise. I think I'll continue to work on it. 

Gratia plena

We see them down here in the village from time to time,
in twos and threes,
cassocked ravens in shiny black shoes.
One carries a spiky armload of baguettes,
the second flagons of Chianti, encased in humble straw,
the third—if there is a third—
a scarred brown leather satchel,
out of which kraft-papered parcels peek, tied snug with twine.

They waft in from another world

through ours

dark angels.

My father grunts and hurries us to the opposite curb,
mutters about dogs and babies and hypocrites.
The cloth bag holding onions, tomatoes, and meat for polpette
knocks against my leg; I try to slow my pace,
to walk more evenly across the cobblestones,
so as not to bruise our meal.

I have ridden my bike up the hill, to the edge of their universe,
peered through the fence and seen them walking,
slowly, heads bent into their books.
As they walk, they speak:
Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam—
To God, the joy of my youth.
Deus, tu conversus vivificabis nos—
Turn to us, oh God, and bring us life.
Oramus te . . . Kyrie eleison—
We implore you . . . Lord, have mercy on us.

To my ears
the Latin words
are lead prunes
hollow walnuts
falling hard and coursing a path through the dust.

One steel November day as I cycle down the hill,
snow begins to fall—
flowing out of the sky
cloaking the land in sudden white.
When I reach their fence, I hear shouts.
And there, in the swirling flakes:
whirling black dancers, arms flung to the sky,
shiny black feet slipping and sliding,
out of control,
carving joyous patterns.
They embrace one another,
link arms, kick up cassocked legs.
Snowballs fly.
Alleluia! they cheer.
One stops, and a voice lofts upward, jasmine tenor:
Ave Maria, gratia plena . . .
The others stop too, turn their faces to the sky,
pink tongues thrust out of wide-open mouths.

I tilt my face up also, open my mouth.
Snowflakes whirl and spin,
                                                   full of grace.

Monday, March 30, 2015

365 True Things: 2/Language

These are the languages I'm conversant with, in descending order of fluency:

German : because I attended tenth grade in Bavaria—and 15 is still a good age to acquire a second language
Dutch : because I lived a summer in Holland during graduate school, and English is halfway between German and Dutch—with a lot of Latin thrown in
French : because I've spent quite a bit of time with francophone Belgians
Spanish : because junior high, plus it's all around
Norwegian : because I seem to go to Norway with some frequency
Italian : because I love Italy and the sound of Italian
Russian : because mushrooms and the Soviet Union and a trip in August 1990 that combined the two (and a short-lived Monterey Peninsula College Russian class)
Japanese : because I lived in Japan when I was ten and went back for a three-month honeymoon, not to mention a summer-session fast-track course in Japanese—three quarters in one
Hebrew : because for a semester in college I thought I wanted to become an archeologist and dig up potsherds in the Negev 
Arabic : because if I was going to go to Israel . . .

I can speak German, more or less. The others, through Italian, I can read with varying degrees of ease (or dis-ease). Russian, Japanese, Hebrew, and Arabic are pretty much lost to me now, though I still have some of my old textbooks and dictionaries. Hard to let them go completely.

I also have tiny pocket dictionaries for Finnish and Turkish, and teach yourself Irish, Greek, and Danish books.

I love languages. I love funny alphabets. I love grammar with all its rules. I love verb tenses, aspects, and modalities. I love word order, and how changing it can change meaning. I love beautiful words. I love the different musics of spoken languages. (Most of them. I do not consider Chinese lovely to listen to.)

At the moment, I have five books in other languages on my stack: Flaggermusmannen by Jo Nesbø, or The Bat (Norwegian); Het Diner by Herman Koch, or The Dinner (Dutch); In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts by Eugen Ruge, or In Times of Fading Light (German);  Sulla sponda del fiume Piedra mi sono seduta e ho pianto by Paulo Coelho, or By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept (Italian); and El inocente by Michael Connelly, or The Lincoln Lawyer (Spanish). I wouldn't say I'm actively reading any of them at present. Not so as to follow a story, at any rate. But sometimes I'll pick one up—along with a dictionary, and for when I'm really stuck, the English translation—and read a page or two or three. I figure it's good for my brain. It's like solving a puzzle.

And every Wednesday I sit down and do what I call Norwegian language torture with a friend. It's good to share the suffering! And the fun. And slowly by slowly, we agree that we're getting somewhere.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

365 True Things: 1/The Start

I've been wondering all day if I really want to do this 365 nonsense. Well, what the hell—I'll give it a shot. No one but me will know if I follow through.

And who knows, maybe I'll learn something about myself. Or something about the world, generally. And who knows too, maybe after sufficient time has passed, I'll decide to publicize this blog. If I think I'm doing it right. By which I mean . . . something about packaging, concision, organization—insight maybe; wisdom; thoughtfulness at the very least.

By way of preparation—this being a new start—I looked up the day I was born to see if anything happened. Besides me. And I found one thing: The first Burger King was opened in Miami.

I also found an issue of the New Yorker from that momentous day, weighing in at 244 pages: the Christmas issue (lots of ads for Scotch; no table of contents). The two movies given short write-ups were The Last Time I Saw Paris, starring Van Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor, and An Inspector Calls, starring Alistair Sim, both of which the reviewer, John McCarten, panned. (Pauline Kael did not start writing for the New Yorker until 1968, when she was 49—though she'd been writing film reviews for other magazines since 1953.) The 12/4 issue is delightfully punctuated by those short takes that have since disappeared—making sport of published faux pas or oddities, often categorized and with caustic comments appended. Such as:

[Adv. in the North Japan American News,
Sendai, Japan]
You shall be sear ched for the Japa-
nese splendid presents surely. Then to the
rare commodities are too many.

*     *     *     *     *

So: something true about me . . . Although I have subscribed to the New Yorker most of my life, I rarely sit down and read the feature articles or short stories. But I always check the movie reviews. I suspect I would have opted not to see The Last Time I Saw Paris or An Inspector Calls.

I recently renewed our lapsed New Yorker subscription. I would like to resolve to sit down and read the short stories and feature articles, at least one per issue. I'm not going to lay any bets, though.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Project 365 in Words?

What if I revived this blog—which I haven't used in almost five years—to write "something true" about myself (or about the world, my choice), every day for a year. "Truth," of course, being a matter of interpretation. An acquaintance of mine is doing that, and her post for today puzzled me so much that I was reminded that I, too, have a blog, and the few times I used it, I'm pretty sure it made sense.

Thus far—in the nine posts I made between Easter Sunday (April 12) 2009 and May 7, 2010—I've always included a photo. Because that year, I was pursuing a Project 365 on Flickr: a photo a day for a year. I eventually completed four Projects, the last one on December 22, 2013. I enjoyed the consistency, the daily focus; the slight anxiety that tingled in my fingers each day until the shutter was pressed and, after usually minimal processing, the photo posted. (Since that time, I've gotten into iPhoneography, and processing can run wild.) I don't take a photo every day, or even every week, anymore. But I do miss the constancy. The discipline. The practice.

So what if I revived this blog and posted something—even if it's just a sentence, or possibly a photo?—each day. Something about me. Or simply something true.

No one need ever see it. This can be my secret face in a public place.

So, okay. Is this day one? No. Let's start tomorrow. But I will share a photo I took today, while out geocaching in Marina. The spike is the cache.