Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two days

I was so devastated about missing another Thanksgiving I had to take two days off. Well, I was only a little devastated, but devastated enough. Actually I took a two-day collage workshop over the weekend and couldn't bear going to work right afterwards, so I took two days off. Also to savor the disappointment of failing collage. There are a lot of reasons to take two days off. I'm behind in reading Moby Dick, for example. At my current pace I'm reading about 6.3 pages a day. With a little effort I could turn two days off into eight days worth of reading. At first I just took Monday off, but then with my class Tuesday night I knew that Tuesday would make me crazy, so I added that. I have one more day free this year and I was tempted to make the two days three. But that would have been going overboard. The trick to taking two days off is not to tell your family about it until the last minute. Otherwise free takes on new meaning. Like I've done all the dog-walking for two days, which is totally not my job, which is why I go back to my job tomorrow.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

the oracle at work

It’s when I try to take a nap that everyone seems to seek my counsel.
Questions come up like “if someone wants toast but there’s no bread, then what?”
Or this one – “are you sleeping?”
Sometimes observations need to be shared, like “the TV won’t go on.”
Or someone simply opens the door and gazes at me, as if that were of great support to them.
Then my mother calls. After congratulating me for taking a nap, there’s just one question – “do you remember where I put the dumpling recipe?”

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


on nov 22 it rained the night before
but everything cleared by the next morning
so if you were looking at various photographs
of the motorcade route and the crowd gathered there
you will have noticed
nobody is wearing a raincoat

nobody has an open umbrella
why, because it's a beautiful day
and then I noticed in all of Dallas
there appears to be exactly one person
standing under an open black umbrella

and that person is standing where
the shots begin to rain into the limosine
let us call him the umbrella man

you can see him in certain frames from the zapruder film
standing right there by the stemmons freeway sign
there are other still photographs taken
from other locations in dealey plaza
which show the whole man

standing under an open black umbrella
the only person under any umbrella
in all of dallas

(this is a found poem transcribed from a video concerning the Kennedy assassination 48 years ago today.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Burden

When I was in graduate school I had a boyfriend from Berlin. We lived together in an apartment near the university.

Götz had habits that took getting used to. He made a sharp intake of breath, for instance, when answering a question in the affirmative. I took this for a personal tic, until years later when I met other northern Germans.

Whenever there was some major handiwork to do, like renovating or painting a room, Götz wore zip-up coveralls rather like a mechanic. I found the outfit overdone. He also considered it normal to put on his swimsuit on the beach, discreetly or under a towel, while I found this embarrassing if not illegal. Disrobing was something to be done privately before arriving, or in a toilet stall.

Most awkward of all, home at night Götz walked about half-dressed or naked with the shades up and the lights on. Though I thought he ought to practice more caution and modesty, Götz didn’t feel that burden. He said it was up to the people outside not to look in.

Photo by Gary Heller

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mr. Paradise

We live in a rowhouse lined up behind an identical row of identical houses. Our gardens are also the same size - small. Our homes are all the same. In back, there are five large windows.

The neighbor directly before us, whose garden we look out on, we’ve nicknamed Mr. Paradise because he has planted every inch of his garden with low-growing, pale purple flowers. It is pretty if a bit monotonous, and would be impossible to navigate without damage if it weren’t for a few stepping stones.

Almost every weekend Mr. Paradise hosts another ladyfriend for Sunday brunch. Over time, the rotation has been whittled down to three.

The tall blonde one.
The thin one with the bob haircut.
The bespectacled brunette with the small son.

It is difficult to discern what his relationship is with these women, who vaguely resemble each other – lanky and slow-moving, laconic. They could be girlfriends, or sisters, or friends from work. I’ve never seen him touch one.

It’s really none of my business.

It’s none of anybody’s business, and I don’t go out of my way to watch, but Mr. Paradise has a low fence, and even if he had a high fence I’d still see his patio from my upstairs window where I am standing behind the curtain firmly on the side of the brunette.

(repost for the voyeurs)
*painting by Sarah Boyle

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Inside-Out Voyeurs

In the house across the street the husband and wife are both smokers. Like sentries, they take turns at the big kitchen window, smoking whether it’s cold or hot, morning or night. They have two small daughters. The elderly grandmother, who used to live there alone, has been moved upstairs. Someone is always home.

It is a house of much abruptness. Curt words, and sudden gestures that just as quickly end.

One can’t help but want to get a longer glimpse into the kitchen, but the man and woman have turned tables on the curious; their constant watch prevents it. When I walk past on my daily sojourn with the dog, I must discipline myself not to turn to the window, where one of them blows a thin rope of smoke into the street, daring anyone to look.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Atlantic City

This week I'll be doing a post each day that touches on watching or voyeurism. Let's start with a movie ...

Atlantic City

One of the most memorable opening scenes from the early 80s was in Louis Malle’s movie Atlantic City. It zooms in on a kitchen window, apparently from an opposite building. A woman stands at the sink slicing lemons. Because it’s dark out, the sink light, though dim, illuminates and isolates her, rinsing her face and hair. She takes off her blouse and rolls her camisole down to expose her breasts and shoulders.

This could easily turn into a cliché male fantasy – the standard payoff for a voyeur violating a woman’s supposed solitude. But instead of deteriorating into something cheap, she starts to rub her arms and upper body with the lemons. She is practiced at it, as if it were a daily ritual. She is rough with herself, as if she didn’t inhabit her own skin. Yet she takes the time to perform this strange cleansing, she takes this care, however perfunctory.

In addition to the unbidden intimacy, for some time the audience must suffer the mystery of why the woman washes herself with lemons. We – the audience – later learn she works at a clam bar, and the trenchant smell of fish compels her. We – the audience – are an old man observing her from an apartment window across the street.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

the constant midnight

The most important thing going on these days is my reading of Moby Dick. All other political and economic escapades pale in its shadow; all thoughts of sleep and hygiene ease into the backseat. Now I let the boat-owning Quakers Bildad and Peleg determine the worth of things; I let Ishmael do the sleeping, in bed with Queequeg.

I read much of Melville in a college seminar, but somehow the professor skipped Moby Dick. And for the most part I’d been resolved to never reading it. It was right up there with Finnegan’s Wake and a lot of vampire novels. I didn’t need to go there. But it has kind of nagged at me, so this summer I said why not (with a nudge from my reading friend Ken).

Funny enough around the time we sank our teeth in, Moby Dick seemed to experience a mini-revival. A whale nearly swallowed a surfer on YouTube! Nathaniel Philbrick published his book “Why Read Moby Dick,” which I’m skipping for the real deal. And an artist named Matt Kish published a book in which he creates a drawing or painting “for every page” of Moby Dick (he used the 552-page Signet. I have the $3.99 Penguin with 536 pp).

For my birthday, at the end of the month, I bought myself the artwork you see above for p. 513: "As the unsetting polar star, which through the livelong, arctic, six months' night sustains its piercing, steady, central gaze; so Ahab's purpose now fixedly gleamed down upon the constant midnight of the gloomy crew." I also got the bargain page 347: "At the instant of the dart an ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound..."

I love literature. It’s inspiring. Get it while it’s hot.

Saturday, November 05, 2011


Dogs understand everything. This is why they are often found playing dead, or maniacally flinging dirt from the ground into the air.

When not sleeping or doing tricks for reward, dogs devote much of life to meditation. Lying on the couch while you are out, or sitting outside the market waiting on Saturday mornings, dogs are filing it all away in their minds.

With experience, dogs interpret everything correctly. You could fill book after book with the thoughts of dogs, if there were a language suited to them. Their concentrated stares swell with insights they can’t articulate.

Instead the corners and stairs fill with fur, enough to build five new dogs for each existing one, which increases crowdedness and creates static, but enlightens no one, and often serves to make them irksome.
Related Posts with Thumbnails