Sunday, August 26, 2012

Poem: Open Water

Open Water

In the open water between kelp beds
just below the bluffs, where the green ocean
usually rolls calmly with the tide,
a thousand sea gulls and pelicans
kamikaze into a bait fish ball
roiling just beneath the surface,
a feeding frenzy both antic and fierce,
as if saved from the brink of starvation.
Then, like a giant mushroom
emerging from loamy soil,
the enormous head of a humpback whale
rises in the midst of the turmoil,
its gaping mouth filled with water and fish,
the birds attacking its wake for leftovers
as it silently recedes and disappears.
I scan for another sighting
rewarded first by the long rolling back and flukes
and then again, in a new location,
the vertical rise of head and mouth.
Further out, a lone humpback
surges north like a locomotive
mist from its spout
lingering above the whitecaps,
elusive like a dream.
Spellbound, I can’t avert my eyes.
It’s like looking at photos
of galaxies and nebulae in deep space,
like hearing the message in great music.
It’s to know without knowing,
to ask questions and lean into the mystery
without expecting an answer
and not really wanting one

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Poem: Cutting Lettuce

Cutting Lettuce: June 27, 2012

Today is my wife’s and son’s birthday.
Twenty-three years ago, when my wife was thirty-three,
the doctor lifted him from her and proclaimed,
“What a little porker!” “Hey,” I objected,
“that’s my son you’re talkin’ about!”
“George!” the other doctor scolded.
My wife left for work at ten this morning.
My son at eleven to go surfing with a friend.
Me, a year removed from locking my office door
for the last time, wrote, practiced saxophone,
cut lettuce on the garden terrace
in our compact backyard.
Doves drank from the birdbath
and pecked seeds from the feeder.
Our gray yard cat, Otis, flowed
down the terrace levels like water.
All the while, a perfect blue sky
and warm sun lovingly bathed
my creaky bones and achy joints.
Later we will eat cake and celebrate.
What will the next year bring?
I don’t need or want to know.
I think I’ll be here for now.

Olympic Moment

Recently published at the story telling website BOBB:

What was your Olympic moment? I don’t mean the day you went for the gold, although you may have had one of those, but the day you watched an Olympic event, either in person or on TV, and it changed your life?
Mine happened as a twelve-year-old watching the Rome Olympics on TV in 1960. Imperial Bodyguard Abebe Bikila, a last minute addition to the Ethiopian Olympic team, won the marathon in record time…in his bare feet.  It was the first Olympic Gold Medal ever won by a Sub-Saharan athlete.  I watched the race on my parents’ newly purchased Zenith color console at our home in Philadelphia.
The 1960 marathon started and ended at the Arch of Constantine, next to the Colosseum. In a spectacular and mesmerizing display of romance and artistry, the last few miles of the race were run in the dark with only occasional spotlights to illuminate the course. Bikila, tall and graceful in red shorts and green singlet, the Ethiopian colors, out sprinted his lone challenger to the finish line and through the Arch, the lights of the Colosseum behind him.  Bikila became my hero and I vowed to someday run a marathon and win a medal of my own.
Bikila won the marathon again at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.  In 1969 he was paralyzed in an accident while driving the Volkswagen Bug given to him by Haile Selassie for his Olympic conquests.  The accident occurred when he swerved to avoid student protesters on the streets of Addis Ababa. He died of complications in 1973. He was only 41.
On December 18, 1983, three days before the birth of my son Willie, I ran my first marathon, finishing in three hours and twenty-six minutes.  I dedicated my training and race to my wife, my unborn son, and my inspiration, the great Olympian, Abebe Bikila. A few months later I was fortunate to be in the Los Angeles Colosseum when Joan Benoit won the first women’s Olympic Marathon. The temperature was in the 90’s but I remember getting the chills as she entered the stadium and circled the track to the finish line, tens of thousands of fans on their feet cheering as she passed.
What was your Olympic moment? BOBB and I would love to know.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Movie Review: The Intouchables

Any movie with a soundtrack that includes Vivaldi, Nina Simone, and Earth, Wind and Fire can't be all bad. "The Intouchables," starring Fracois Cluzet and Omar Cy, lurches dangerously close to cloying sentimentality and racial sterotyping, but thanks to performances by Cluzet and Cy that transcend the cliches, it survives as a first rank, life affirming, feel good movie. Philippe, played by Cluzet (a Dustin Hoffman lookalike) is a rich quadriplegic Frenchman who needs round-the-clock care and has the money to pay for it. Driss, played by Cy, is an African immigrant recently released from jail after serving six months for robbery. Driss is applying for jobs, knowing he'll be rejected, but it's the only way he can apply for public assistance. Philippe, impressed by Driss's energy, honesty and political incorrectness, hires him and thus begins a beautiful relationship in which each learns from the other (hence Vivaldi vs. Earth, Wind and Fire). Cy is luminous from start to finish, like Usain Bolt in a starring film roll, and Cluzet is amazing with only his head, eyes and smile to work with. There are some wonderful set pieces that work perfectly, including a hilarious trip to the opera, and the usual complications that attempt to give some depth to the characters, but in the end it's a "buddy picture" starring unlikely buddies from opposite ends of the cultural spectrum who find common humanity somewhere in the middle. When I saw it, everyone applauded when the credits rolled. Check it out.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Poem: There is No Comparing

There is no comparing

There is no comparing
A gunman who unleashes deadly fury
in a crowded movie theater
killing many people
and injuring many more
A revered coach who covers up
repulsive crimes against children
and after his death has his bronze statue
removed from public view
A golfer who blows a big lead
on the final holes of the British Open
while millions watch on TV
and pity his stunned disappointment
A friend who turns to face the sea
just as two dolphins leap
and describe a perfect arc
as they pass each other in mid-air
Physicists who rejoice at the discovery
of the God particle that explains mass
and reminds us once again
that the gunmen, coach,
golfer, friend, dolphin
are all just the same:
Protons, neutrons, electrons
and empty space.
There is no comparing

Movie Review: Beasts of the Southern Wild

I used to tell my students that one way to determine one's quality of life is to receive a stimulus (song, painting, poem, film, etc.) and then see how many references it activates as it bounces around one's brain. Many references, high quality. While watching "Beasts of the Southern Wild," and thinking about it later, the references were numerous. I thought of Max from "Where the Wild Things Are," the denizens of Cannery Row from Steinbeck's famous work, Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County, James Lee Burke's Robicheaux novels, Delta blues and more. In other words, "Beasts" was a rich experience for me, a gumbo made of ferocity, love, longing, extreme poverty, fantasy and hope. Hushpuppy, played by the unknown and astoundingly vital child actor, Quvenzhan√© Wallis, lives with her alcoholic, terminally ill father in the "Bathtub," a group of small impoverished Gulf of Mexico islands on the wrong side of the levee. Every action in Hushpuppy's life requires extreme physical exertion and confrontations with danger just to survive, but she is driven by an intuitive understanding that everything is connected and that reconnecting those driven apart by poverty, sickness, environment and loss is the only way to survive the chaos waiting to be unleashed at any given moment. Determined to find her mother and save her father, Hushpuppy battles overwhelming odds and we silently cheer for her at every minute. This is a courageous movie made on a small budget that deserves to be seen by anyone who admires honest film making, and it doesn't hurt that it comes along when so much is in doubt in these fragile times.