Monthly Archives: December 2008

Samuel Eliot Morison

America was discovered accidentally by a great seaman who was looking for something else; when discovered it was not wanted; and most of the exploration for the next fifty years was done in the hope of getting through or around it. America was named after a man who discovered no part of the New World. History is like that, very chancy.
The Oxford History of the American People, 1965, Chapter 2.

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Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Lest we forget–lest we forget! (Rudyard Kipling, “Recessional”)

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nomenclature / nomenklatura

1. a set or system of names or terms, as those used in a particular science or art, by an individual or community, etc.;
2. the names or terms comprising a set or system.
a select list or class of people from which appointees for top-level government positions are drawn, esp. from a Communist Party.

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Jonathan Aaron

Acting Like a Tree
by Jonathan Aaron

When I got to the party and saw everybody
walking around in Christmas costumes,
I remembered I was supposed to be wearing one, too.
Bending slightly, I held out my hands
and waved them a little, wiggling my fingers.
I narrowed my eyes and pursed my lips, making
a tree face, and started slowly hopping on one foot,
then the other, the way I imagine trees do
in the forest when they’re not being watched.
Maybe people would take me for a hemlock,
or a tamarack. A little girl disguised as an elf
looked at me skeptically. Oh, come on!
her expression said. You call that acting like a tree?
Behind her I could see a guy in a reindeer suit
sitting down at the piano. As he hit the opening
chords of “Joy to the World” I closed my eyes
and tried again. This time I could feel the wind
struggling to lift my boughs, which were heavy
with snow. I was clinging to a mountain crag
and could see over the tops of other trees a few late-
afternoon clouds and the thin red ribbon of a river.
I smelled more snow in the air. A gust or two whispered
around my neck and face, but by now
all I could hear was the meditative creaking
of this neighbor or that—and a moment later, farther off,
the faint but eager call of a wolf.

Appears in the New Yorker, December 15, 2008

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Bob Hicok

As I Was Saying
by Bob Hicok

Long, thin clouds as if the sky were smoking.
I tell it to stop or share, it doesn’t stop or share,
this is what happens to my requests: they rise.
When I was a kid, a neighbor man
had a few and tied a cherry bomb to a pigeon,
it flew furiously until kaboom. Feathers
and bits of what made the pigeon go
landed on the Smitky twins playing hopscotch,
they looked up, I looked at them looking up,
two of everything the same, as if their parents
knew the odds of needing a spare. My wife
wants to fly in a hot-air balloon. I say to her,
I’ll wait here with the turtles. I try to save them
from getting squished when they cross the road.
They don’t know it’s a road or what a road
is for, getting away is what a road is for,
then coming back, then wondering why you came back
is what a road is for. My wife’s people
are Ukrainian, beets are important to them.
I tried to arm-wrestle her father once, he said,
Why would I do that: if I beat your arm,
the rest of you will want revenge.
I never looked at it that way. Forty-two years now
I’ve tried to look at it that way. The other day,
some kids knocked a ball through our window,
one of them asked for it back, I said, Sure,
if you give me the bat. He did, then asked
for the bat, I said, If you give me the ball,
he started to hand it over when I saw understanding
bloom in his face. That never happened for me:
understanding blooming in my face. Not the way
I wanted it to. So I’ll die and someone
will have to deal with what’s left, the body,
the shoes, the socks. The last person on Earth
will just be dead: not buried or mourned
or missed. As with kites, I cut the string
when they’re way up, because who’d want to come back.
So somewhere are all these kites, as somewhere
are all the picture frames from the camps,
and the bows from hair, and the hair itself
I saw once in a museum, some of it, in a room
all its own, as if one day the heads
would come back and think, That’s where I put you,
as I do with keys when I find them in my hand.

The New Yorker, December 8, 2008

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Stanley Kunitz

Halley’s Comet
by Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006)

Miss Murphy in first grade
wrote its name in chalk
across the board and told us
it was roaring down the storm tracks
of the Milky Way at frightful speed
and if it wandered off its course
and smashed into the earth
there’d be no school tomorrow.
A red-bearded preacher from the hills
with a wild look in his eyes
stood in the public square
at the playground’s edge
proclaiming he was sent by God
to save every one of us,
even the little children.
“Repent, ye sinners!” he shouted,
waving his hand-lettered sign.
At supper I felt sad to think
that it was probably
the last meal I’d share
with my mother and my sisters;
but I felt excited too
and scarcely touched my plate.
So mother scolded me
and sent me early to my room.
The whole family’s asleep now
except for me. They never heard me steal
into the stairwell hall and climb
the ladder to the fresh night air.

Look for me, Father, on the roof
of the red brick building
at the foot of Green Street —
that’s where we live, you know, on the top floor.
I’m the boy in the white flannel gown
sprawled on this coarse gravel bed
searching the starry sky,
waiting for the world to end.

Appears in the New Yorker, May 29, 2006.

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Edward Hirsch

Self Portrait
by Edward Hirsch

I lived between my heart and my head,
like a married couple who can’t get along.

I lived between my left arm, which is swift
and sinister, and my right, which is righteous.

I lived between a laugh and a scowl,
and voted against myself, a two-party system.

My left leg dawdled or danced along,
my right cleaved to the straight and narrow.

My left shoulder was like a stripper on vacation,
my right stood upright as a Roman soldier.

Let’s just say that my left side was the organ
donor and leave my private parts alone,

but as for my eyes, which are two shades
of brown, well, Dionysus, meet Apollo.

Look at Eve raising her left eyebrow
while Adam puts his right foot down.

No one expected it to survive,
but divorce seemed out of the question.

I suppose my left hand and my right hand
will be clasped over my chest in the coffin

and I’ll be reconciled at last,
I’ll be whole again.

Special Orders: Poems (Knopf 2008)

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Edward Hirsch

A New Theology
by Edward Hirsch

God couldn’t bear their happiness
when He heard them laughing together in the garden.
He caught them kneeling down in the dirt
(or worse) and letting pomegranate juice
run down their faces. He found them
breaking open a fig with fresh delight
as if something crucial had dawned upon them.
I think the whole shebang—the serpent, the apple
with knowledge of good and evil—was a setup
because God couldn’t stand being alone
with His own creation, while Adam and Eve celebrated
as a man and a woman together in Paradise,
exactly like us, love, exactly like us.

Special Orders: Poems (Knopf 2008)

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Edward Hirsch

Special Orders
by Edward Hirsch

Give me back my father walking the halls
of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company
with sawdust clinging to his shoes.

Give me back his tape measure and his keys,
his drafting pencil and his order forms;
give me his daydreams on lined paper.

I don’t understand this uncontainable grief.
Whatever you had that never fit,
whatever else you needed, believe me,

my father, who wanted your business,
would squat down at your side
and sketch you a container for it.

Appears in The New York Review of Books, February 9, 2006. Editorial: Would seem to work for the living as well as the dead.

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William Matthews

The Four Subjects of Poetry
by William Matthews

1. I went out into the woods today, and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.
2. We’re not getting any younger.
3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.
4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on what we know not what.

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1. The valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, where propitiatory sacrifices were made to Moloch. [II Kings 23:10];
2. Hell;
3. Any place of extreme torment or suffering.

Gehenna (also gehenom or gehinom) is the Jewish equivalant to the Christian Purgatory. The name derived from the burning garbage dump near Jerusalem (the Valley of Hinnom), metaphorically identified with the entrance to the underworld. Gehenna is cited in the New Testament and in early Christian writing to represent the place where evil will be destroyed. It lends its name to Islam’s hell, Jahannam. In both Rabbinical Jewish and Christian writing, Gehenna as a destination of the wicked is different from Sheol, the abode of all the dead.

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encomium / Huguenot / cozen

Warm praise, especially a formal expression of such praise; a tribute (plural: encomiums or encomia).
A member of the Protestant Reformed Church of France during the 16th and 17th century.
To cheat; to defraud; to beguile; to deceive, usually by small arts, or in a pitiful way.

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1. To draw or paint; delineate.
2. To describe.

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