Hayden’s “Monet’s Waterlilies”

As I noted earlier, violence is a constant theme of Hayden’s poetry, but the later half of Collected Poems contains a few poems that seem to counterbalance this view with the narrator finding personal escape, even enjoyment in the arts and in natural beauty, or, more often, in the combination of the two.

My favorite of these is probably: MONET’S WATERLILIES

Today as the news from Selma and Saigon
poisons the air like fallout,
I come again to see
the serene, great picture that I love.

Here space and time exist in light
the eye like the eye of faith believes.
The seen, the known
dissolve in iridescence, become
illusive flesh of light
that was not, was, forever is.

O light beheld as through refracting tears.
Here is the aura of that world
each of us has lost.
Here is the shadow of its joy.

I’m definitely a child of the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam, particularly Vietnam since I fought there. It did poison my life, just as much as the constant threat of nuclear war and radioactive fallout clouded my childhood. Looking back, it almost seems a miracle that the greatest love of my life turned out to be poetry and art.

As I’ve mentioned before, art and literature have often reinforced my spiritual beliefs, substituting for religious practices largely lacking in my life. Long before I was drawn to poetry, I loved art, and, though I’ve seldom seen their paintings, I’ve been particularly drawn to the Impressionists, perhaps not too surprising considering my love of photography. I imagine I’ll still be trying to capture the elusive “iridescence” that makes life worth living until I die.

The final stanza, with its sense of loss reminds me a lot of Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, one of my favorite Romantic Poems.

Robert Hayden’s “The Whipping”

Today’s near-record heat gave me a chance to finally finish Robert Hayden’s Collected Poems, a book I started on my recent trip up the Columbia River. I wish I could remember which blogger featured Hayden’s poetry and inspired me to buy it so I could thank them, but I can’t so I’ll just thank all the poetry sites I visit regularly for constantly inspiring me to read poets I haven’t read before, even though I think I’ve encountered a few of Hayden’s poems in anthologies before. I quickly discovered that the poem I’m discussing today is widely distributed and discussed on the internet.

As Arnold Rampersand notes about Hayden’s poetry in the introduction, “Violence is everywhere, but Hayden’s sense of the uses of violence evolved over his lifetime.” As you might expect from a black poet, much of the violence centers on white society’s mistreatment of blacks. But the violence he portrays goes well beyond that, stretching from Aztecs to Nazis.

However, it seems to me that

The old woman across the way
     is whipping the boy again
and shouting to the neighborhood
     her goodness and his wrongs.

Wildly he crashes through elephant ears,
     pleads in dusty zinnias,
while she in spite of crippling fat
     pursues and corners him.

She strikes and strikes the shrilly circling
     boy till the stick breaks
in her hand. His tears are rainy weather
     to woundlike memories:

My head gripped in bony vise
     of knees, the writhing struggle
to wrench free, the blows, the fear
     worse than blows that hateful

Words could bring, the face that I
     no longer knew or loved . . .
Well, it is over now, it is over,
     and the boy sobs in his room,

And the woman leans muttering against
     a tree, exhausted, purged–
avenged in part for lifelong hidings
     she has had to bear.

succinctly captures the roots, the very essence, of violence as well as any poem I’ve ever read.

Today, the old woman would probably be turned into welfare authorities, but such incidents were not uncommon in my childhood neighborhood, though seldom as public as portrayed here. Even in these enlightened times, it’s not uncommon to hear parents bemoan their children’s transgressions despite the parent’s all-encompassing “goodness.”

The scene of the boy scurrying around the garden like a cornered animal while the huge woman pursues him, hitting and hitting until until the stick breaks is reminiscent of the pig scene in Lord of the Flies in its very savagery.

Still, the fourth stanza seems to me to be the most moving because the narrator, obviously remembering his own beatings, becomes the boy remembering “the fear/ worse than blows that hateful/
Words could bring, the face that I/ no longer knew or loved.” Strangely, it is this empathy and the sorrow it produces that offers the only real hope for the human race.

Otherwise we end up like the old woman, “avenged in part for lifelong hidings/ she has had to bear,” continuing the cycle of violence that threatens us all.

Brave New World

No wonder we’re in the middle of a Recession tottering on a Depression. Do you know how hard it is to spend more money than you should? After years of trying to decide whether I wanted to spend an obscene amount of monety to move up to a bigger lens, I decided Sunday it was time to do so and pray I don’t fall victim to Swine/Avian flu this year.

I spent much of the day trying to finally decide whether a 500mm or 600mm lens would be the best fit for me as opinions are wildly split on this. Considering the $2000 difference in price, I ended up settling for the 500 mm lens. Of course, I also had to find the right tripod, the right tripod head, and the right pack to carry said lens. In other words, beyond the hours and hours I’ve spent in the past few years browsing the topic, I spent most of Sunday refining my order.

After many hours of research, I finally had my online basket full and simply had to pull the trigger on the deal. It was then I realized that the relatively low limit on my credit card wasn’t high enough unless I paid off last month’s charges first. I balanced my checkbook, transferred some funds from savings and paid off last month’s VISA debt. The stress was building, as it always does when I spend money I think I shouldn’t, but I thought I was finally ready to place my order.

I double checked everything and started the check-out process. Everything seemed to go smoothly — as well it should since I’ve shopped there regularly—until I got to the final window. The site took me outside their site to a VISA window where I had to prove I was who I was, including trying to remember a previous password that demanded a combination of numbers and letters I’ve never used before. Finally, I thought I’d gotten everything right and watched the screen as little orange squares flashed on and off across the screen.

Unfortunately, when the pretty squares faded out, I was returned to the main screen and notified my credit card had been rejected and I should try to use another card or call my bank. Since I’ve used the same card several times before at this very online store, I assumed I must have entered something incorrectly and proceeded to go through the checkout process again, only to end up in the same place afterwards. No luck. The card wasn’t going to work this time.

I couldn’t call my bank at 10:30 PM on a Sunday night, so I fussed and fumed for awhile before turning in on a night that was reminiscent of a scene from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Finally, as it, and I, cooled down, I drifted off to sleep. Only to awaken as the sun rose in the East, say 4:30, still pissed the order hadn’t gone through.

By 8:05 when I called the bank, I was told that the problem was that since I never made large purchases on my credit account there was a $5,000 limit on what could be charged. I had to call the credit union to pre-authorize such purchases. The young lady asked me how much the charge was and I gave an approximate amount since I hadn’t memorized the exact charge. She told me to wait about a half hour and try again.

And try again I did, with exactly the same result. When I called back, I was told that the date on the card had been incorrectly entered and that’s why the charge was rejected. That sounded possible, especially considering my growing frustration. So I tried it again, with the same result!

Finally, I called in my order and the company representative got exactly the same rejection. While he was on the line I called my CU one more time. So there I sat, with a company rep on the landline and a CU rep on the iPhone. We went through the whole thing at least twice more, and it turned out that the CU had put in the amount I’d suggested at the beginning, even though I said it was “about” that much. Everyone knows that there’s going to be additional charges like shipping and taxes that are tacked on at the end, don’t they?

I’m still amazed at how easy it is to get advice on lenses, or anything else, for that matter, how easy it is to shop anywhere in the nation for the best price, how easy it is to move money from account to account in the bank, how easy it is to buy a product in New York City and have it delivered to your door in two days, and, most of all, how easy it is to take all this for granted until something goes wrong with the system and you spend hours listening to elevator music waiting for someone to help you find your way through this electronic labyrinth we’ve created.