contravention, defeat, foiling, the old one-two — all words my trusty Roget’s Thesaurus offers up for what I’m feeling today, which is frustration. But at least it’s good old work frustration, which usually means, quite frankly, that it’s not my fault. Does that sound, um, egotistical? (narcissistic? pompous? self-loving? VAINGLORIOUS?) I’m writing a report for work, a 250 page scientific report, to be exact, and the chapter I’ve spent most of today working on, well, it looks like I was supplied with old information. Oblah-die, Oblah da, life goes on. Do you ever wish certain words meant something else? Today I wish the word chimera (a dream, a fantasy, or, for my purposes, single organisms composed of two genetically different types of tissue) meant frustrated, so I could say, “I feel so, you know, chimera, today. Katie has a lovely post on her site about her favorite words and it has me running through some of my favorites – chimera, indigo, facet, fawn, indefatigable. Sometimes its lovely to strip things down bare, to begin again with the building blocks of language, to remember that all the literary devices we talk so much about are nothing more than one word put after another put after another, at least, to begin with.
Several months ago Harper’s Magazine published a remarkable review of Cormac McCarthy’s newest novel. The reviewer had read every single novel McCarthy had ever written, read a wide variety of criticism and what biography on McCarthy was available, and it was the most astonishing review of a writer AND a novel that I’ve ever read – it’s depth left me astounded that one man could ever know so much about one writer. And, I admit, it left me feeling somewhat insufficient – I never thought I could master a subject the way this reviewer had obviously mastered McCarthy. And I sort of went on feeling that way, until Bloglily posted about the 100 best poems list, and I decided to participate, and since then I’ve realized, I know a tremendous amount about poetry. Certainly my knowledge isn’t as focused as the reviewer’s was with McCarthy, but I realized as I played around and around with ideas for this project that I KNOW poetry. And I KNOW poets, and I feel I can talk intelligently and at length about many of them. Unfortunately, in my current career and with my current acquaintences, it doesn’t come up often. But still, I find myself encouraged by the fact that I’ve somehow emassed this kind of information, and I tried to think about other subjects I might consider myself quite knowledgable, and this is what I came up with:
Pat Conroy, and all of his books EXCEPT his cookbook, which irritated me. I feel when his next book comes out I could give perhaps not such an eloquent review as the one in Harper’s (I’d share the reviewers name but my dad took the magazine with him), but an equally knowledgable one.
Antioxidants, my job, in conjunction with my near-obsession with optimal health, both mean I am very familiar with the kind of foods that offer the best protection for your health. Well, as much as anyone can know this kind of information. I often drive S. to distraction with irritability by proudly pointing out the different ways the dinner I prepared is protecting his health. Now if only I could eat LESS of such foods…
John Hiatt, and all of his music.
So, there you go. At least three areas beyond poetry in which I believe I possess a substantial amount of knowledge. I could fill bluebooks on any one of the above – in another thirty years I should be up to a solid ten, I think.
Last night I read the short story “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. I don’t know if it was the story or my late night sushi, but I had horrible dreams all night long, one where I actually awoke out of fear with the whole cliched sitting up in bed, clutching the sheets, sweating routine. It’s a remarkable story, though. Structurally it follows a similar pattern to those I wrote about earlier – Jimmy Cross witnesses one of his men killed and it changes him. Obviously this is the most simplistic analysis for this short story – but that’s what I’m looking for out of my reading right now…why short stories? what do they accomplish? What do they do? How do characters function? It’s hard for me to read realistic accounts of Vietnam because I always subsitute the young soldier’s with my father, imagine him as the character. I did go through a phase where I read a lot of paranormal Vietnam, unreliable narrator work…Peter Straub, Stephen King, etc…the marine returns home only to find something dark and terrible followed him home from the war…that kind of stuff. But with the Vietnam War as a living, breathing fifth entity in my home growing up, it’s always been difficult for me to separate the fiction and nonfiction that have come from it, from myself. From my father. When O’Brien writes “The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition. Lieutenant Cross carried his good-luck pebble. Dave Jensen carried a rabbit’s foot. Normal Bowker, otherwise a very gentle person, carried a thumb that had been presented to him s a gift by Mitchell Sanders. The thumb was dark brown, rubbery to thet ouch, and weighted four ounces at most..” well, all of those characters are my dad, after his sophhomore year of college and before two tours of duty, and it still makes me ache for him, and then it makes me ache for all the boys and girls over in Iraq, and its just a downard spiral, really, after that.
But on a ligher note, how about those Tigers? In honor of the BEST BASEBALL TEAM ON EARTH, EVER, the second in my list of “Best Poems” –
Casey at the Bat
by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, “If only Casey could but get a whack at that—
We’d put up even money now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despisèd, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It pounded on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile lit Casey’s face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat.
Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt;
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,
Defiance flashed in Casey’s eye, a sneer curled Casey’s lip.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
“That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one!” the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar, Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore;
“Kill him! Kill the umpire!” shouted someone on the stand;
And it’s likely they’d have killed him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew;
But Casey still ignored it and the umpire said, “Strike two!”
“Fraud!” cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered “Fraud!”
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn’t let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey’s lip, his teeth are clenched in hate,
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate;
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.