Friday, October 26, 2012

flabbergasted

This week I took a day off from kindergarten and went to do some poetry work with 8th graders at Daisy's school.  They had (if you can believe it) recently spent five whole days in New York City, visiting Ellis Island, the Empire State Building, the African American Cemetery and other famous sites as well as attending two (count 'em, 2!) Broadway shows.  They also drafted poems from their experiences which they shared at a poetry jam on Thursday night. 

By that time I'm sure they were all standing only due to that particular Manhattan adrenalin that I  realized I had steeped in for five years only AFTER I moved away to London (which has its own proprietary blend of adrenaline, quite different from New York's). 

In a future post I hope to share some of the poems the kids worked when I visited Mrs. Cantergiani's class, but for now here's my own New York poem, written about my experience of first moving there in 1986.  I had finished college and even spent 6 months in Munich as an au pair, speaking German and traveling to Italy, but even so, my arrival in New York City was a bigger deal.  After all, until then, New York had been a mythical, fictional place, the place that Claudia and Jamie ran away to in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and where Harriet had spied from a dumbwaiter on the Upper East Side (two of my most favorite books ever). 

Moving for a strange month into a sub-sublet in Red Hook, Brooklyn, I found myself commuting by subway to Bank Street College of Education on West 110th Street and eventually LIVING on East 84th right in the middle of Harriet's stomping grounds, and standing now and then before the same fountain at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that provided "income, Claudia, income!" for meals from the machines at the Horn & Hardart Automat. (That was one thing I was sad to be too late for.)  The whole experience was somewhat...well, here's the poem.  As usual I can't get blogger to respect my indents; hence the leading points.


New York Vertigo, 1986

What I am I’m huge I’m high.
Arrive in Red Hook subdeep July
..I alight. afire and mighty
..queen of the borough.
Suspended

Arrive and then descend.
I go vertical. I dive.
..upside under bricks and bridges.
Submarining blind.

Where periscope disturbed. ascending
..to this island state. a nation
..of buildings crushing up and looming.
I’m flattened. I’m pinioned
  to Manhattan’s curbed and canyoned floor.

Who ballooned deflated.
..barely standing five feet high. I
..glimpse sky between scaffolds.
This vertigo is not from heights
..Brooklyn. or otherwise

~Heidi Mordhorst


Head to TeacherDance with Linda for today's Poetry Friday roundup!

Friday, October 12, 2012

perusing

This week Daisy entered a writing contest at figment.com for which she had to provide an alibi absolving her of the murder of an unbeloved fiction editor named Herman Q. Mildew. To our surprise and delight Miss Google-It asked from her seat in the library-lounge of our new home, “Do we have a dictionary?"

Ha! Do we have a dictionary?! We ARGUED about how many of them to pack and move to the new house! Not only that, Fiona knew where to find one. Daisy proceeded to make rather good use of the Collins English Dictionary (inscribed FG Oct '85). You can heart her submission here if you register for a figment account, and then she might win dinner in New York with Jon Scieszka.

Now, trawling through my poetry files in a place with no internet connection, my wish comes true and I find a poem I forgot I had ever archived. How timely, how tasty, how fine to find myself

“in the candy store of language,…sweet compendium
of candy bars—Butterfingers, Mounds, and M&Ms—
packed next to the tripe and gizzards, trim and tackle
of butchers and bakers, the painter's brush and spackle,
quarks and black holes of physicists' theory.”
Do step in…
******************************

Ode on Dictionaries | Barbara Hamby


A-bomb is how it begins with a big bang on page
__one, a calculator of sorts whose centrifuge
begets bedouin, bamboozle, breakdance, and berserk,
__one of my mother's favorite words, hard knock
clerk of clich├ęs that she is, at the moment going ape
__the current rave in the fundamentalist landscape
disguised as her brain, a rococo lexicon
__of Deuteronomy, Job, gossip, spritz, and neocon
ephemera all wrapped up in a pop burrito
__of movie star shenanigans, like a stray Cheeto
found in your pocket the day after you finish the bag,
__tastier than any oyster and champagne fueled fugue
gastronomique you have been pursuing in France
__for the past four months. This 82-year-old's rants
have taken their place with the dictionary I bought
__in the fourth grade, with so many gorgeous words I thought
I'd never plumb its depths. Right the first time, little girl,
__yet here I am still at it, trolling for pearls,
Japanese words vying with Bantu in a goulash
__I eat daily, sometimes gagging, sometimes with relish,
kleptomaniac in the candy store of language,
__slipping words in my pockets like a non-smudge
lipstick that smears with the first kiss. I'm the demented
__lady with sixteen cats. Sure, the house stinks, but those damned
mice have skedaddled, though I kind of miss them, their cute
__little faces, the whiskers, those adorable gray suits.
No, all beasts are welcome in my menagerie, ark
__of inconsolable barks and meows, sharp-toothed shark,
OED of the deep ocean, sweet compendium
__of candy bars—Butterfingers, Mounds, and M&Ms—
packed next to the tripe and gizzards, trim and tackle
__of butchers and bakers, the painter's brush and spackle,
quarks and black holes of physicists' theory. I'm building
__my own book as a mason makes a wall or a gelding
runs round the track—brick by brick, step by step, word by word,
__jonquil by gerrymander, syllabub by greensward,
swordplay by snapdragon, a never-ending parade
__with clowns and funambulists in my own mouth, homemade
treasure chest of tongue and teeth, the brain's roustabout, rough
__unfurler of tents and trapezes, off-the-cuff
unruly troublemaker in the high church museum
__of the world. O mouth—boondoggle, auditorium,
viper, gulag, gumbo pot on a steamy August
__afternoon—what have you not given me? How I must
wear on you, my Samuel Johnson in a frock coat,
__lexicographer of silly thoughts, billy goat,
X-rated pornographic smut factory, scarfer
__of snacks, prissy smirker, late-night barfly,
you are the megaphone by which I bewitch the world
__or don't as the case may be. O chittering squirrel,
ziplock sandwich bag, sound off, shut up, gather your words
__into bouquets, folios, flocks of black and flaming birds.



Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is with Betsy at Teaching Young Writers. Oh PF friends, please know that I have tried to find time to visit you and comment over the last week with no success. Wish me a couple of free hours this weekend!


Friday, October 5, 2012

fairly major life events set into the context of current political affairs with geological metaphor and sensory detail

Tying the Knot

The knot was already tied, in truth,
and not so much tied as woven--
no, not so much woven
as lastingly accumulated,
like the layers and layers of
deeply hued sediment
you see at the Grand Canyon,
interrupted by an occasional colorful,
cataclysmic event.  This was one:

We registered for glasses


and a total of one hundred and eight expensive new Polish-made glasses

arrived at our little house with its Ikea folding furniture & cat-tattered sofa.

Each box was greeted at the door by a toddler who knows how to

clink her sippy-cup and say “Cheers!”


They are indeed beautiful: fine, well-balanced

and perfectly clear, they chime when the ice goes in,

unlike the rustic, bubbled chunks we bought 
made from recycled Coke bottles.


It wasn’t a wedding; not exactly a “commitment ceremony” either,

since we’ve been together ten years and had the baby already.

We shouldn’t have registered at all, really, for a mere anniversary,

except we wanted glasses.


And now we have them: juices and coolers, highballs, flutes,

red wines, white wines, pilsners and cordials,

and all-purpose goblets. It wouldn’t be unfair to say

we do a lot of drinking.


We chipped three in the first week. Now we remind each other to carry

them carefully; when loading them into the dishwasher, they each get

a little more space. The ones with stems we wash by hand,

and of course we have to supervise the baby closely:


Taking bites out of glasses runs in the family. It takes time and attention,

keeping so many glasses in one piece.

The knot was already tied, in truth,
by transatlantic travel and
daily faxes when a rented fax machine
was cheaper than telephone,
by the acceptance and denial of
family, by wanders through Camden Market
and internationally resourced bed linens.
The knot was already tied
by complicated legal arrangements,
risky career moves and repeated packing
of cardboard boxes, by adventure chronicled
in memorable sunburns (intangible) and
small crockeries (tangible), but mostly by paper,
layers and layers of
brightly hued paper
lastingly accumulated into a rock-solid,
basement-scented granularity that
now we have to move.

There's been mining going on,
digging through, panning for gold,
sifting out the gems:
this sheep made of salt dough, this
giant silly cow from we don't even know
which carnival midway, this posterboard
calendar which held one new earring
for each of 42 days, not to mention
donor forms headed "Forklift Vegetarian"
and "Coffee Ice Cream Saint Bernard."
Heavy work indeed, lending new meaning
to the combination exquisitely + painful,
and no amount of cellphone camera data
relieves the ache of dragging so much
shared earth out to the curb.

The knot was already tied, in truth,
before the "real" wedding, before the mining
and ditching and rescuing began, and
sometime soon the crafting will begin. 
We got it all here, tied up in knots
of packing tape, and sometime soon
all those layers, topped off by a marriage
license from a place we don't call home,
will be hewn by hand into a monument
to our knot, perfect for that
interesting corner of the new parlor,
crowned by the silly cow.
May she be granted the right she is due.


~Heidi Mordhorst 2012


I'm glad to be back, friends.  The Poetry Friday roundup today is with Laura at Writing the World for Kids