I stopped after class for some Chinese food I figured I would just grab a quick bite For sesame chicken is always good and I hadn’t had much to eat that night.
I got my food and I got in the car, and I felt my stomach begin to growl. So before I had gotten very far, I decided to sneak a taste of fowl.
I waited until I’d stopped at a light; I grabbed something tasty without concern. I took one and then another small bite, but soon I felt something hot start to burn.
Alas! on my chin, I now have a scar from eating Chinese food inside my car!
Statistics are an imperfect way to share information. Stats are notoriously unreliable in that they sound factual but are inevitably outdated or biased in some manner in which the data was collected and summarized. So when I share that I read recently that nearly 70% of Chinese restaurants have closed in the United States since the start of the pandemic, you can feel free to object and say the stat is wrong, because from your perspective it is either too big or too small. Yet the statistic is directionally correct. Chinese restaurants have born the brunt, more than any other type of restaurant, during the pandemic not only because of closure of in-restaurant dining reducing income but also because of the blatant anti-Chinese racism that is occurring from the misinformed and small minded who are blaming China and by extension Chinese-Americans and Asian businesses. Despite being ridiculous, the economic downturn has resulted in successful Chinese restaurants that have been institutions for decades, from New York to San Francisco, from small towns to large, to confront the sad reality of bankruptcy and closure. Behind this glaring statistic are family businesses, many passed down through generations, that are having to confront the reality of a change in American dining habits and questioning the opportunity for Chinese food as a profitable venture in or out of traditional urban centers with diverse ethnic populations. If the only Asian food that is going to survive in the United States are chain restaurants, then America will be all the more culturally impoverished in the future for lack of finding ways to help authentic small ethnic restaurants flourish and thrive through the pandemic.
If you haven’t stumbled across the blog – Putasonnetonit – I highly recommend it. Evelyn Curtis set herself the herculean task of writing and sharing a sonnet everyday for a year. I can’t imagine myself writing a limerick every day for a year, let alone a sonnet, so I have huge respect for the undertaking. It would be interesting to ask her what she feels are her top 5 sonnets from that year looking back? I have no idea where this one would rank, but since it is a sonnet about an actual scar she will carry forward for the rest of her life, I thought it might rank up there a bit. Its a great example that sonnet writing doesn’t have to take itself too serious. It can be simply a Polaroid picture of the moment, that might take on more meaning with time, even unexpected meaning. I wonder if the restaurant in which she purchased the food that the sonnet is based still exists?
For many years I had a subscription to The New Yorker and I enjoyed Calvin Trillin’s regular contributions. Trillin shared a view of New York that was illuminating to a Midwesterner. It felt like I had an irascible great Uncle giving me the inside scoop on how the big city works. I was saddened when Trillin was hit with criticism and blow back on his poem below. It wasn’t quite cancel culture, but it was roughing up a veteran journalist who had been sharing his unique perspective for decades with gentle humor and a tinge of grumpiness. I personally don’t think Trillin’s poem rose to the level of the accusations – racism. But since that criticism was invoked, it felt to me that the The New Yorker drifted into blander and blander territory, less interesting while more politically correct. Which is why my subscription eventually lapsed, I ceased to find it compelling. Cancel culture works in both directions and I must admit from the subscription department I am assuming that the editors can’t tell which is the cause; the loss of Trillin like pieces causing subscriptions to dwindle or is it because of “vocal” critics of such work being so outraged they cancel their subscription. In the end the result is the same.
I had a boss many years ago who teased me all the time, teased me in ways that were definitely not always politically correctly and did it in front of the entire group. After several years, I asked a co-worker about it and he said; “You have to realize that he only teases the people he likes. Its when he stops teasing you that you should be worried.” I had never thought about it before in that way. I stopped worrying. I’m not saying that being emotionally inept in your approach to interacting with others is a role model for success as a current business leader, but the truth is the worst insult is to be ignored. Teasing is an acknowledgement that you like the person or institution enough to think about them. Teasing taken too far is bullying and I acknowledge teasing can be racist. But teasing in and of itself is not inherently racist. I consider Trillin’s poem a form of literary teasing, something that has a long history- think Cervantes. In my opinion, its far worse for people to stop supporting Chinese restaurants and see them fail, then to publish a silly poem about all the different kinds of Chinese restaurants and to take the time to make it rhyme. I am guessing that the New York Chinese Restaurant Owners Association, if such a thing exists, would be happy to have Calvin Trillin writing silly poems about the diverse array of thriving Chinese food options in New York in 2021. It would mean that people were walking through those doors and dining. Its far worse that 70% of them have had to close their doors for lack of business.
Have They Run Out of Provinces Yet
by Calvin Trillin
Have they run out of provinces yet? If they haven’t, we’ve reason to fret. Long ago, there was just Cantonese. (Long ago, we were easy to please.) But then food from Szechuan came our way, Making Cantonese strictly passé. Szechuanese was the song that we sung, Though the ma po could burn through your tongue. Then when Shanghainese got in the loop We slurped dumplings whose insides were soup. Then Hunan, the birth province of Mao, Came along with its own style of chow. o we thought we were finished, and then A new province arrived: Fukien. Then respect was a fraction of meagre For those eaters who’d not eaten Uighur. And then Xi’an from Shaanxi gained fame, Plus some others—too many to name. Now, as each brand-new province appears, It brings tension, increasing our fears: Could a place we extolled as a find Be revealed as one province behind? So we sometimes do miss, I confess, Simple days of chow mein but no stress, When we never were faced with the threat Of more provinces we hadn’t met. Is there one tucked away near Tibet? Have they run out of provinces yet?
In the Spring a fuller crimson comes upon the robin’s breast; In the Spring the wanton lapwing gets himself another crest. In the Spring a livelier iris changes on the burnished dove; In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.
Alfred Lord Tennyson
The Wild Iris
by Louise Gluck
At the end of my suffering there was a door.
Hear me out: that which you call death I remember.
Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting. Then nothing. The weak sun flickered over the dry surface.
It is terrible to survive as consciousness buried in the dark earth.
Then it was over: that which you fear, being a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth bending a little. And what I took to be birds darting in low shrubs.
You who do not remember passage from the other world I tell you I could speak again: whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice:
from the center of my life came a great fountain, deep blue shadows on azure seawater.
Iris have a way of waiting until the first week of June in Minnesota before they make a splash in our gardens. The timing of their flowers coincide with peonies filling the air with their unique fragrance, while iris fill our eyes with unparalleled splendor. There is nothing really like the blue/purple color of iris with their yellow beardish highlights. Iris have six petals, not unusual in the flower world, but the way they present themselves is unique at least for Minnesota gardens, a visual treat we wait for anxiously each summer. Sadly this year, we have been hit with an unprecedented early heat wave with temperatures in the high 90’s for 7 days in a row just as the iris started blooming. The iris and peonies are both showing the stress effects of the high temperatures, dropping petals much too quickly. There will be no slow languor of color this year in our iris beds, just a quick visit and then the promise of next year in their foliage the rest of the season.
The origins of the English word iris – with meanings for both the flower and the colored portion of our eyes are the same; Greek for rainbow. Apparently, flattery will get you everywhere, even in the ancient world, with a whispered compliment in your lover’s ear about the beauty of their eyes reminding you of flowers and rainbows the perfect way to set the mood.
I was pleased to find multiple poems in which one form or the other of iris are used as inspiration to paint a verbal picture. I was recently in California at a house with an incredible array of gardens and landscaping. There was a very old pond that was in need of a bit of attention, but still had vestiges of a former gardener’s deft touch. There was a wild iris overhanging its reflecting surface, long and gangly and brilliant green, with a single yellow flower that was utter perfection. As I stared at it silently and took in the broader view of the entire pond, I realized there was a golden hued frog, with only its head and a bit of its back showing above the water line, directly below the embankment on which the iris stood prominently. As I crouched down to get a better look at this fine froggy friend, it jumped and dove beneath the duck weed and lily pads and disappeared. That encounter was a great reminder of how brief beauty can enter and exit our eye in a flash, and the need to let it live on in our memory and in our art to inspire us to keep looking for it to return when we least expect it.
The Sadness Of The Moon
by Charles Baudelaire
THE Moon more indolently dreams to-night Than a fair woman on her couch at rest, Caressing, with a hand distraught and light, Before she sleeps, the contour of her breast.
Upon her silken avalanche of down, Dying she breathes a long and swooning sigh; And watches the white visions past her flown, Which rise like blossoms to the azure sky.
And when, at times, wrapped in her languor deep, Earthward she lets a furtive tear-drop flow, Some pious poet, enemy of sleep,
Takes in his hollow hand the tear of snow, Whence gleams of iris and of opal start, And hides it from the Sun, deep in his heart
Motherhood is priced of God, at price no man may dare to lessen or understand.
Helen Hunt Jackson
Poppies On The Wheat
by Helen Hunt Jackson (1830 – 1885)
Along Ancona’s hills the shimmering heat,
A tropic tide of air with ebb and flow
Bathes all the fields of wheat until they glow
Like flashing seas of green, which toss and beat
Around the vines. The poppies lithe and fleet
Seem running, fiery torchmen, to and fro
To mark the shore.
The farmer does not know
That they are there. He walks with heavy feet,
Counting the bread and wine by autumn’s gain,
But I,—I smile to think that days remain
Perhaps to me in which, though bread be sweet
No more, and red wine warm my blood in vain,
I shall be glad remembering how the fleet,
Lithe poppies ran like torchmen with the wheat.
Helen Hunt Jackson’s poetry is filled with the loss she experienced in her life. By 1865, at age 25, Jackson had lost her first husband and two children to disease and accidents. She moved to Colorado Springs and a sanitarium seeking a cure for tuberculosis. There she met a wealthy banker and married. The final 20 years of her life she became devoted to the cause of improving the rights and conditions of Native Americans, after having met Chief Standing Bear of the Ponca Tribe from Nebraska at a lecture in Boston. Upset about the mistreatment of Native Americans, Jackson became an activist on their behalf, publicizing the government’s misconduct. She began circulating petitions, raising money, and writing letters to The New York Times on behalf of the Ponca. Jackson’s became so focused on this issue she was quoted as saying, “I would wake up in the morning and write 2,000 to 3,000 words, faster than I could write a letter, as if I could do anything else.” She would go on to write A Century Of Dishonor (1881) which describes the mistreatment of Native Americans by the American Government. In 1884 she shrewdly wrote a romance novel to popularize the issue among a broader audience in the novel Romana, which used the backdrop of romance to tell the plight of Native Americans in Southern California after the Mexican-American war for her heroine. The novel was a success and reprinted over 300 times. It attracted a large readership to the issues surrounding Native American rights.
“If I could write a story that would do for the Indian one hundredth part of what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for slaves I would be thankful for the rest of my life.”
Helen Hunt Jackson
Jackson obviously had sufficient wealth to travel, her opening line giving it away with the reference to Ancona. Poppies are not a frequent flower in the wheat fields of North America, but are in Europe and England. The poppies she is referring to come from a picturesque field in Italy to which she must have traveled. Both Jackson’s and Kemble’s poems deal with the brevity of life and use the metaphors of weeds in our own plot of land that we till. In Jackson’s case the poppy is the carefree interloper to remind us of the enjoyment of life’s pleasures, despite her losses, whereas Kemble’s weed is more poisonous, an “evil weed of woe” that casts its shade upon the productive soils of her youth. Both poems are a bit melodramatic and old fashioned for my tastes, but solid reminders of how the sonnet form has inspired writers over hundred of years in expressing their emotions and memories. One of the reasons I think the sonnet lends itself to theme’s of loss, is its relatively short. The sonnet allows the author to release and heal while not wallowing in past. Of the two sonnets, I enjoy Jackson’s more, with the optimism and the beauty of the red poppies a reminder that even in the solidarity of wheat’s goodness, it can’t quench the exuberance and defiance of the poppy to spice up life.
Thou Poisonous Laurel Leaf
by Frances Anne Kemble (1809 – 1893)
Thou poisonous laurel leaf, that in the soil Of life, which I am doomed to till full sore, Spring’st like a noisome weed! I do not toil For thee, and yet thou still com’st darkening o’er My plot of earth with thy unwelcome shade. Thou nightshade of the heart, beneath whose boughs All fair and gentle buds hang withering, Why hast thou wreathed thyself around my brows, Casting from thence the blossoms of my spring, Breathing on youth’s sweet roses till they fade? Alas! thou art an evil weed of woe, Watered with tears and watched with sleepless care, Seldom doth envy thy green glories spare; And yet men covet thee—ah, wherefore do they so!
The Mississippi river is an omnipresent force in the Twin Cities. It snakes its way down from the northern suburbs, through the heart of Minneapolis and then along stunning bluffs through downtown St. Paul and Minneapolis, separating the two cities. The river has a bi-polar personality along its banks on this stretch. Minneapolis and St. Paul are positioned where they are because of the commerce and transportation the river provided from the very founding of these towns. Saint Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis is the only natural water fall along the entire length of the Mississippi of any size and strength, and that power fueled the rise of the milling district and the wealth of Minneapolis, while St. Paul grew up around the barge and steam boat traffic that would help it prosper. There are stretches of the river throughout the Twin Cities that from its banks look industrialized, yet get on any kind of boat and float its waters through the locks and dams of this stretch and you’ll find yourself surrounded more by its natural beauty tucked into this urban environment, than the concrete embodiments of industrialization along its shores.
It is a little more than the one year anniversary of George Floyd’s death from a calendar perspective but it wasn’t until Monday morning of Memorial Day that it felt like the anniversary was upon us. What’s changed in a year? Certainly an openness to understanding of the issues facing people of color past and present, but has there been any real change in terms of racial equity? Change is hard. It doesn’t come as easily or as quickly as we want, but at least it feels like the discussions are more direct and open on paths forward to real change than they once were on these issues and that in itself is a step in the right direction.
Twain as a writer and in particular the Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn as books may not be relevant to today’s discussions on racial justice. Regardless, they certainly had an influence on me as a young person. I was inspired by the idea of floating down the Mississippi, something I still hope to do someday in some type of water craft. I enjoyed the humor and the adventure in Twain’s writing. It was also one my first introductions to understanding America’s history of racism and slavery, made all the more real for myself as told through the eyes of two young white boys befriending a black man and their river journey and adventures together. The books are not a perfect morality play for today’s times, nor a model by which we should measure or teach racial equity, but they deal with human issues of friendship as part of literature in ways that in our efforts to make everything politically correct we may lose sight of; the ability to be imperfect and still genuinely kind to each other. Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn and Jim are imperfect characters. They both assist and betray each other, love and fear each other, and in the end are friends and care about each other as human beings in ways that go beyond their differences and focuses on what they have in common. It’s a bit harder today to relate to the world of Mark Twain. Sometime this summer I will put my kayak into a stretch of the Mississippi for a day trip, and it won’t be that difficult to transport myself back to Twain’s time on the river, to the mystery and adventure that Twain explored in those books; the idea that we all have something waiting for us around the next corner as we float along in our journey called life.
On The Mississippi
by Hamlin Garland (1860 – 1940)
Through wild and tangled forests . broad, unhasting river flows— . Spotted with rain-drops, gray with night; . Upon its curving breast there goes A lonely steamboat’s larboard light, . A blood-red star against the shadowy oaks; Noiseless as a ghost, through greenish gleam Of fire-flies, before the boat’s wild scream— . A heron flaps away . Like silence taking flight.
Now shall I walk or shall I ride? “Ride,” Pleasure said; “Walk” Joy replied.
William Henry Davies
May And The Poets
by Leigh Hunt (1784 – 1859)
There is May in books forever;
May will part from Spenser never;
May’s in Milton, May’s in Prior,
May’s in Chaucer, Thomson, Dyer;
May’s in all the Italian books:—
She has old and modern nooks,
Where she sleeps with nymphs and elves,
In happy places they call shelves,
And will rise and dress your rooms
With a drapery thick with blooms.
Come, ye rains, then if ye will,
May’s at home, and with me still;
But come rather, thou, good weather,
And find us in the fields together.
By William Henry Davies
Yes, I will spend the livelong day With Nature in this month of May; And sit beneath the trees, and share My bread with birds whose homes are there; While cows lie down to eat, and sheep Stand to their necks in grass so deep; While birds do sing with all their might, As though they felt the earth in flight. This is the hour I dreamed of, when I sat surrounded by poor men; And thought of how the Arab sat Alone at evening, gazing at The stars that bubbled in clear skies;
And of young dreamers, when their eyes Enjoyed methought a precious boon In the adventures of the Moon Whose light, behind the Clouds’ dark bars, Searched for her stolen flocks of stars. When I, hemmed in by wrecks of men, Thought of some lonely cottage then Full of sweet books; and miles of sea, With passing ships, in front of me; And having, on the other hand, A flowery, green, bird-singing land.
A SWEET disorder in the dress Kindles in clothes a wantonness : A lawn about the shoulders thrown Into a fine distraction : An erring lace which here and there Enthrals the crimson stomacher : A cuff neglectful, and thereby Ribbons to flow confusedly : A winning wave (deserving note) In the tempestuous petticoat : A careless shoe-string, in whose tie I see a wild civility : Do more bewitch me than when art Is too precise in every part.
By Robert Herrick
Fair Daffodils, we weep to see You haste away so soon; As yet the early-rising sun Has not attain’d his noon. Stay, stay, Until the hasting day Has run But to the even-song; And, having pray’d together, we Will go with you along.
We have short time to stay, as you, We have as short a spring; As quick a growth to meet decay, As you, or anything. We die As your hours do, and dry Away, Like to the summer’s rain; Or as the pearls of morning’s dew, Ne’er to be found again.
There never was a great genius without a touch of madness.
Doing, A Filthy Pleasure Is
by Gaius Petronius Translated by Ben Johnson
Doing, a filthy pleasure is, and short;
And done, we straight repent us of the sport:
Let us not then rush blindly on unto it,
Like lustful beasts, that only know to do it:
For lust will languish, and that heat decay.
But thus, thus, keeping endless holiday,
Let us together closely lie and kiss,
There is no labour, nor no shame in this;
This hath pleased, doth please, and long will please; never
Can this decay, but is beginning ever.
Time has a way of white washing the past. In Ben Johnson’s case what has lived on into the future are his words as a brilliant playwright and poet, not his murderous misdeeds. On September 22nd, 1598, Johnson, a young man of twenty-six, a former bricklayer turned playwright, his play Every Man in his Humour only recently debuted, got in an altercation with a young actor named Gabriel Spencer. Both men had a history of violence and tempers quickly escalated. Spencer had previously publicly threatened to kill a boy who threw a candle stick at him and Johnson boasted among his drinking mates of killing a man when he was younger, which his friends could never discern if the tale was true or whether Johnson used it to polish his reputation. What is not in dispute is that Spencer challenged Johnson to a duel and Johnson promptly ran him through with his sword, killing him instantly. Johnson was arrested a week hence and thrown in Newgate Prison. He was arraigned on October 6th and confessed to the crime of manslaughter for which the court had a reputation for sentencing the lower classes to death by hanging. However, Johnson, who looked like a laborer, made a calculated defense and called upon an obscure legal statute called “neck verse.” It allowed for the trial to be made in front of the clergy as jury rather than a hanging judge. During this alternative trial, the accused would be asked to sight-translate a random passage from the Latin Bible. If the criminal could pass the test it was proof of his religious stature and advanced education. In such cases, the court had the ability to grant clemency during sentencing, considering the crime a reflection of temporary insanity and not an indication of the accused true nature. It worked, Johnson was exonerated. He left Newgate Prison a free man, with only a brand upon his thumb to remind him of the blood he had spilled. The brand was a “T” for Tyburn, the gallows, where he would have met his end. Johnson no longer had to embellish his reputation, he had the mark for life to prove he was a killer.
I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination.
by John Keats (1795 – 1821)
Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art— Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night, And watching, with eternal lids apart, Like Nature’s patient sleepless Eremite, The moving waters at their priestlike task Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores, Or gazing on the new soft fallen mask Of snow upon the mountains and the moors— No—yet still steadfast, still unchangeable, Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast, To feel for ever its soft fall and swell, Awake for ever in a sweet unrest, Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath, And so live ever—or else swoon to death.
The Flower (An Excerpt)
by George Herbert (1593 – 1633)
How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and clean Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring; To which, besides their own demean, The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring. . Grief melts away . Like snow in May, As if there were no such cold thing. Who would have thought my shriveled heart
Could have recovered greenness? It was gone Quite underground; as flowers depart To see their mother-root, when they have blown, . Where they together . All the hard weather, Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
And now in age I bud again, After so many deaths I live and write; I once more smell the dew and rain, And relish versing. Oh, my only light, . It cannot be . That I am he On whom thy tempests fell all night.
And how can poetry stand up against its new conditions? Its position is perfectly precarious.
John Crowe Ransom
I Have Not Lived
by Walter Clyde Curry (1887 – 1967)
Though half my years besiege the aged sun,
I have not lived. My robust preparation
Lags tardily behind fit consummation,
Droops sweatily in courses just begun.
Oh, I have loved and lusted with the best,
Plucked momentary music from the senses;
I’ve kissed a lip or two with fair pretenses
And wept for softness of a woman’s breast.
My mind rebounds to nether joys and pain,
Toying with filth and pharisaic leaven;
I know the lift up sundry peaks to heaven,
And every rockless path to hell again.
I wait the hour when gods have more to give
Than husks and bare insatiate will to live.
Walter Clyde Curry is a member of The Fugitives along with more celebrated founders Donald Davidson, John Ransom, Alan Tate and Robert Penn Warren, among others. Curry was primarily a literary critic over the course of his career and left his mark teaching. A forty year faculty member of Vanderbilt University from 1915 to 1955, Curry produced exactly the kind of books I dislike, extensive academic analysis of Milton, Shakespeare and Chaucer. A self styled medievalist and agrarian, he felt the culture of the medieval past and the south should shape the future of literature. The Fugitives believed they had developed a new way of evaluating literature that provided a bridge from past to present. And in the end they were somewhat right. The future evolved either in part because of their influence or more likely because their ideas were fundamentally rejected by a more diverse artistic and academic community.
Some academic work stands up over time, The Fugitives and in particular Curry’s legacy is a bit more convoluted in my opinion. It’s hard to celebrate a group of coddled affluent white academics that romanticized the deep south’s history of bigotry, slavery and white supremacy when that level of white blindness falls flat on it’s face today, Curry, one of the least talented poets in the group in my opinion, wisely wrote under a pen name, keeping a healthy distance between his playful poetry and his serious refined future as a critic. Curry was by many accounts an excellent professor at least for the tastes of his period and at the Universities he taught. Would Curry garner the level of academic stature and support he received 80 years ago today? Or would he have adapted and still flourished? Good teachers are generally good story tellers, a timeless quality that affords the individual the ability to adapt to his ever changing listening habits of his audience.
In my mind The Fugitives are better known for their legacy of scholarly criticism than for their actual poetry. They were young men, still exploring their bones and figuring out where and how to build their careers. Their poetry is mingled with a touch of vulnerability. They were young men, flawed, but thinkers, who left their mark, some of it good, some of it bad. The same can be said of their poetry.
by John Crowe Ransom
How many godly creatures are there here! Miranda doted on the sight of seamen. The very casual adventures Who took a flood as quickly as a calm, And kept their blue eyes blue to any weather. This was the famous manliness of men: And when she saw it on the dirty strangers, She clapped her pretty hands in sudden joy: O brave new world!