Monday, December 29, 2008

Plowing right along

Penelopedia and other local bloggers have noted the unusual amount of snow we've had hereabouts so far this winter. At the same time, local governments are scrambling to find ways to spend less in the face of dire economic news. The Governor -- he's so charming, with that cute grin of his -- has 'unallotted' about six months worth of state aid payments to local governments, and that's just the first of many such cuts to come.

Here's my idea: stop plowing snow. Seriously. I wonder why snow removal is assumed to be the responsibility of the government. The quickest way to privatize this function is for government to simply stop doing it. And our Governor, not without justification, believes that the private sector is more efficient than government at most things, so relying on the private sector would presumably improve snow removal, right? I would happily join my neighbors in contracting with a private vendor who would plow our street. I'd even pay a small premium if that vendor would promise in writing not to leave heaps of snow at the bottom of my driveway.

Maybe the private company that hauls garbage could equip its trucks with plows. Maybe all those grain trucks that sit idle during winter could become snow plowing and snow hauling trucks. In any case, I trust that the market -- that great engine of innovation and opportunism -- would quickly meet the demand. You live in Northfield and it snows, you either remove the snow yourself (from the place where you live or work and from the portion of the public right-of-way that abuts it) or hire somebody to do it.

What say you, Timmy? Mayor Mary?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Too Cold for Baseball?

Everybody's talking about the cold. Y'know, it does get cold in the winter in these parts, but I understand why it's still newsworthy. It got really cold really fast (see the graph on Rob Hardy's blog, it's...umm...chilling). And it's the first nasty cold snap this season, which, though inevitable, still takes one by suprise.

Here are a couple of poems by Gail Mazur that I think are apropos.

Gail Mazur

In the warming house, children lace their skates,
bending, choked, over their thick jackets.

A Franklin stove keeps the place so cozy
it’s hard to imagine why anyone would leave,

clumping across the frozen beach to the river.
December’s always the same at Ware’s Cove,

the first sheer ice, black, then white
and deep until the city sends trucks of men

with wooden barriers to put up the boys’
hockey rink. An hour of skating after school,

of trying wobbly figure-8’s, an hour
of distances moved backwards without falling,

then—twilight, the warming house steamy
with girls pulling on boots, their chafed legs

aching. Outside, the hockey players keep
playing, slamming the round black puck

until it’s dark, until supper. At night,
a shy girl comes to the cove with her father.

Although there isn’t music, they glide
arm in arm onto the blurred surface together,

braced like dancers. She thinks she’ll never
be so happy, for who else will find her graceful,

find her perfect, skate with her
in circles outside the emptied rink forever?

Gail Mazur, “Ice” from Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Copyright © 1995 by Gail Mazur.

Gail Mazur (for John Limon)

The game of baseball is not a metaphor
and I know it’s not really life.
The chalky green diamond, the lovely
dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
multiplying around the cities
are only neat playing fields.
Their structure is not the frame
of history carved out of forest,
that is not what I see on my ascent.

And down in the stadium,
the veteran catcher guiding the young
pitcher through the innings, the line
of concentration between them,
that delicate filament is not
like the way you are helping me,
only it reminds me when I strain
for analogies, the way a rookie strains
for perfection, and the veteran,
in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
it glows from his upheld glove,

and the man in front of me
in the grandstand, drinking banana
daiquiris from a thermos,
continuing through a whole dinner

and the young wife trying to understand
what a full count could be
to please her husband happy in
his old dreams, or the little boy
in the Yankees cap already nodding
off to sleep against his father,
program and popcorn memories

to the aromatic cigar even as our team
is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
not like the farmer that Auden speaks
of in Breughel’s Icarus,
or the four inevitable woman-hating
drunkards, yelling, hugging
each other and moving up and down
continuously for more beer

sliding into the future,
and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine,
screaming at the Yankee slugger
with wounded knees to break his leg

this is not a microcosm,
not even a slice of life

and the terrible slumps,
when the greatest hitter mysteriously
goes hitless for weeks, or
the pitcher’s stuff is all junk
who threw like a magician all last month,
or the days when our guys look
like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping

each other, then suddenly, the play
that wasn’t humanly possible, the Kid
we know isn’t ready for the big leagues,
leaps into the air to catch a ball
that should have gone downtown,
and coming off the field is hugged
and bottom-slapped by the sudden
sorcerers, the winning team

the question of what makes a man
slump when his form, his eye,
his power aren’t to blame, this isn’t
like the bad luck that hounds us,
and his frustration in the games
not like our deep rage
for disappointing ourselves

the ball park is an artifact,
manicured, safe, “scene in an Easter egg”,
and the order of the ball game,
the firm structure with the mystery
of accidents always contained,
not the wild field we wander in,
where I’m trying to recite the rules,
to repeat the statistics of the game,
and the wind keeps carrying my words away

Gail Mazur, “Baseball” from Zeppo's First Wife: New & Selected Poems (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2005). Copyright 1978 by Gail Mazur.

"...the mystery/of accidents always contained..." Sweet music.

Enjoy the cold!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Offseason Acquisitions

Major league Baseball, Inc. is having its annual winter meeting in Las Vegas. Sometimes teams make player trades during these meetings, but there are always more rumored trades than actual trades, especially for the Twins. It’s something for baseball writers and baseball fans to talk about during the long winter months.

In the Star-Tribune, one story from the winter meetings said that the Twins are looking for “a shortstop who can play defense and hit a little.” Read that phrase again. It raises a couple of questions, one of which might be: As opposed to what?

Some other useful things a shortstop can do if the shortstop can’t play defense and hit a little:

Help the umpires rub mud on the baseballs before each game.
Hang plastic sheets over the lockers to prepare for the victory celebration.*
Make sure there are plenty of paper cups in the bullpen so the relievers can play flippy-cup.
Make up elaborate and funny rules for bullpen flippy-cup.
Learn calligraphy and put really fancy numbers on the knobs of the bats and on batting helmets and batting gloves, giving the dugout some class.
Be a manager on the field.
Play with grit and hustle.
Make a festive centerpiece for the post-game buffet out of broken bats, dugout spittoons, an Ace bandage, and the rosin bag.
Start a blog.

* If the shortstop truly can't play defense and hit a little, he will pobably have to hang the plastic in the visitor's locker room.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Show Time!

Two gallery exhibits at the Northfield Arts Guild will include some of my work. The first is the annual members' show. It opens Thursday, December 11, 2008. I will have one, maybe two, pots in that show.

The next will be my very first ever solo! Yowks! On February 11, 2009, I will have the small gallery (known as The Other Room, though I dislike the Biblical allusion*) all to myself. The show runs through the end of February, I think. As soon as that show is mounted, I will bore you with some photos (Pictures From an Exhibition?). The challenge will be to make a dozen or so gallery-worthy pieces between now and then using some new glazes and a rebuilt kiln that won't be test-fired until this weekend. Those sounds you hear are my creative gears grinding and my artistic steering mechanism locking up and my visual esthetic fluttering away like a frightened sparrow. **

Some day, I may write about the bizarre and embarrassing tale of buying and repairing that kiln. Imagine a home improvement project involving many trips to the hardware store and many calls to tech support and many "oh, shit" moments. Then multiply that by a factor of three. Add a couple zeros to the initial cost estimate, too.

It wasn't pretty, though I certainly hope the results will be.

* The Last Supper was in The Upper Room, which of course is different, but to my ears they just sound too much alike.

** Also, this simile gun seems to be misfiring.

Thursday, December 4, 2008


The blogger who calls himself Bleeet posted a list expanding on the Biblical 'inherit the earth' theme. You can read it here.

This little blog has had frequent posts about beer.

In a rather forced attempt to bring these disparate references together, here is one of Richard Brautigan's first published poems.

The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth's Beer Bottles

When we were children after the war
we lived for a year in a house next
to a large highway. There were many
sawmills and log ponds on the other side
of the highway. The sound of the saws could
be heard most of the time and when there
was darkness trash burners glowed red
against the sky. We did not have a father
and our mother had to work very hard.
My sister and I got our spending money
by gathering beer bottles that had been
thrown along the highway or left around
the sawmills. At first we carried the
bottles in gunny sacks and cardboard boxes
but later we found an old baby buggy
and we used that to carry our bottles in.
We took the bottles to a grocery store
and were paid a penny for small beer bottles
and two cents for large ones. On almost
any day we could be seen pushing our baby
buggy along the highway looking
for beer bottles.

from Four New Poets. Ed. Leslie Woolf Hedley.
San Francisco: Inferno Press, 1957.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poetry Crush

Lisa Olstein is my new favorite poet. I hope I get a bunch of her books* for Christmas this year. And if I don't I'll buy 'em my own self.

Here's a sample.

That Magnificent Part the Chorus Does about Tragedy
--- Lisa Olstein

There is a theory of crying that tears are the body’s way of
releasing excess elements from the brain. There is a theory of
dreaming that each one serves to mend something torn, like
cells of new skin lining up to cover a hole. I’m not one to have
dreams about flying, but last week we were thirty feet above the
bay—this was where we went to discuss things, so that no matter
what we decided it was only we two out there, and we’d have
to fly back together. I’m not one to have dreams where animals
can speak, but last night a weeping mare I’d been told to bridle
wanted me to save her. We discussed what was left of her ability
to take children for rides—how much trot, how much canter—
but I wasn't sure I could do it, having already bridled her and
all. I was once very brave. Once I was very brave. I was very
brave once. I boarded a plane before dawn. I carried all those
heavy bags. I stayed up the whole night before folding the house
into duffel bags. I took a curl from the base of your skull and
opened the door to the rusty orange wagon and weighed those
heavy duffel bags and smiled at the airport official. I boarded
a tiny propeller plane and from a tiny window I watched you walk
back to the rusty orange station wagon. They say the whole world
is warming by imperceptible degrees. I watched the rusty orange
wagon go whizzing by.

Lisa Olstein, "That Magnificent Part the Chorus Does about Tragedy" from Radio Crackling, Radio Gone (Copper Canyon Press, 2006).

I think her re-phrasing of the sentence about being brave is brilliant. This is one to be savored.

* So she has just one published collection. That doesn't change my wish.