I Take My Chances

I’ve been reading Madeline Defrees’ Spectral Waves since finishing Linda Bierds’ book, but the truth is that this poor old brain is no longer up to non-stop reading of poetry, perhaps a good thing because it’s probably a mistake to rush through a book of poetry — if it’s worth reading, it’s worth savoring.

My days in the summer are blissfully fragmented, split up between long walks with Skye, hours working in the garden and shop, hours browsing the web and playing Scrabble on Facebook, and listening to music.

More often than not I’ll play New Age music at low volume while playing Big Bang Brain Games like “Reaction” or “Sudoku,” but it’s not unusual to get side-tracked with something a little more lively. Lately, Mike has gotten me hooked on John Prine and I’ve played John Prine Live over 20 times since buying it about a month ago.

It’s not unusual, though, to end up listening to iTunes “My Top Rated” and rediscover songs I love. I’m always a little surprised when I come back to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s album Come On Come On because it sounds way too country for my taste, but the lyrics often strike a sympathetic chord and the beat is infectious.

Here’s a favorite with a nice set of images accompanying the music:

I got to tell you, uTube has got be the coolest thing Google ever bought.

Linda Bierds’ First Hand

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading Linda Bierds’ First Hand, the third book of her poetry I’ve read. Though I’ll have to admit I would be hard pressed to remember a single poem, each of the volumes has held me spellbound while reading it. And though I’m not sure it’s true of all her books of poetry, the three I’ve read have all focused around a particular theme — though it’s a different theme for each volume. It’s impossible to read her poetry without feeling you’re in the presence of a brilliant mind. Her’s knowledge amazes me. Her poems constantly send me to the net to discover more about the people who appear in her poems.

The book’s “Author Note and Acknowledgments” summarizes the volume in a few paragraphs better than I ever could ever hope to do:

As they trundle through the centuries, swaying this way and that, from wonder to foreboding, the poems in this book rest most frequently at the inscape of science. It is there, in that innermost space lit by the nature of human achievement, that their interest and questions lie, their praise and disquietude.

An inquiry such as this, which moves from third-century-B.C. theories of buoyancy to twenty-first-century biochemistry, must acknowledge what are for many the global and spiritual implications of a science increasingly adept at creating, extending, and annihilating life. To help me with that task, I’ve turned to the character of Gregor Mendel, whose work on the hybridization of peas foreshadowed genetic cloning. Mendel, for years carefully capping in calico his newly impregnated pea blossoms, labored at Saint Thomas Monastery, in Moravia, where he lived as a monk from 1843 until his death in 1884. Augustinian in its habits, the monastery encouraged research, which often included the crossbreeding of plants and animals. This activity, advancing for the monks an understanding of the complexities of Creation, was seen by the monastery to be completely compatible with worship. Others disagreed.

There’s no way I’m going to capture the essence of this volume of poetry in a single entry, but I think this poem:


It began, as it will, in privacy,
Hedy Lamarr, right hand on the ivory keys,
an octave below her, George Antheil, slim
on a leather bench. He was playing a riff.
She followed. Again, then again, impulse
and echo, call and response, and Look,
she whispered, we are talking in code,
our sweet locution seamless, unbreakable.

And just what the nation needed-they knew-
a secret-spun articulation, a ciphered
téte-à-téte. It was 1942,
radio signals simple and jammable.
Here was the answer: a ticking riff,
electric, magnetic, hopping the frequencies,
tapping its glossy fingertips
down a slumped torpedo’s salty flank.

Out through the century its spectrum spread,
battlefield to microchip, a million million
cryptic trysts-while Lamarr with her patent,
her prize, met in darkness her flickering other.
Emulsion and light, she was less than a girl,
onion-skin thin on a waxy screen.

And desire’s perfect complement:
weightless, ageless, a film on the upturned eye.

How innocent her image then, as out through
the century’s cone-lit rooms, a nation sank
into velvet chairs. Then call and response,
synapse and blush, and Look, she whispered,
there is nothing between us-until nothing
stopped her airy touch, and nothing
stirred, and nothing cast its rhythmic clicks
high in the darkness above them.

suggests some of her brilliance, and her esoteric knowledge. I’ll readily admit I wasn’t sure what this poem was about until I read this entry about female inventors. But the fusion of art, music, science, and beauty hints at other poems that await the reader.

For me the real miracle of the poem, and similar poems in the book, is that it leads the reader down the path to hidden secrets. I jumped from site to site while reading this and other poems, gaining new insight not only into science but into the very nature of scientific discovery.

If you’re inspired to learn more about this book, this online review of her book and this Atlantic interview which introduces and even later volume of her poems makes good reading.

Merwin’s “One of the Butterflies”

Considering what I had to say about Merwin’s poetry yesterday, it seemed ironic that



The trouble with pleasure is the timing
it can overtake me without warning
and be gone before I know it is here
it can stand facing me unrecognized
while I am remembering somewhere else
in another age or someone not seen
for years and never to be seen again
in this world and it seems that I cherish
only now a joy I was not aware of
when it was here although it remains
out of reach and will not be caught or named
or called back and if I could make it stay
as I want to it would turn into pain.

is one of my favorite poems in the second half of The Shadow of Sirius. For me, at least, the lines “it can stand facing me unrecognized/ while I am remembering somewhere else” explains why you focus on the present moment rather than getting caught up in the past or worrying about the future.

I’m not a great fan of carpe diem poems and certainly don’t believe in sacrificing the future for immediate gratification, but worrying too much about the future or the past destroys any real chance for joy. Of course, it’s easier to know that then it is to actually live it.

I doubt you can go through life without missing what should have been moments of joy, and like most people I, too, have tried to hang onto a “good thing” too long, only to find it destroyed in the process. But for me, the biggest mistake of all is mourning those things, which simply compounds the misery instead of doing those things that make us happy.