Amanda Gates
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A Musings - April 2009

As Poetry Month comes to a close, I thought I'd share a couple more poems I got in my inbox by signing up for Poem A Day. Most were actually pretty heavy and I didn't really "get" them. But I'm glad I was exposed to them nonetheless. After you read these, do me a favor and head over to Willikat. She shared a couple of her personal poems here, and they're fabulous.

Death Barged In
by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me

Terezin *
by Taije Silverman

* a transfer [concentration] camp in the Czech Republic

We rode the bus out, past fields of sunflowers
that sloped for miles, hill after hill of them blooming.

The bus was filled with old people.
On their laps women held loaves of freshly baked bread.
Men slept in their seats wearing work clothes.

You stared out the window beside me. Your eyes
were so hard that you might have been watching the glass.

Fields and fields of sunflowers.

Arriving we slowed on the cobblestone walkway.
Graves looked like boxes, or houses from high up.

On a bench teenage lovers slouched in toward each other.
Their backs formed a shape like a seashell.
You didn't want to go inside.

But the rooms sang. Song like breath, blown
through spaces in skin.

The beds were wide boards stacked up high on the walls.
The glass on the door to the toilet was broken.
I imagined nothing.

You wore your black sweater and those dark sunglasses.
You didn't look at me.

The rooms were empty, and the courtyard was empty,
and the sunlight on cobblestone could have been water,
and I think even when we are here we are not here.

The courtyard was flooded with absence.
The tunnel was crowded with light.
Like a throat. Like a—

In a book I read how at its mouth they played music,
some last piece by Wagner or Mozart or Strauss.

I don't know why. I don't know
who walked through the tunnel or who played or what finally
they could have wanted. I don't know where the soul goes.

Your hair looked like wheat. It was gleaming.

Nearby on the hillside a gallows leaned slightly.
What has time asked of it? Nights. Windstorms.

Your hair looked like fire, or honey.
You didn't look at me.

Grass twisted up wild, lit gold all around us.
We could have been lost somewhere, in those funny hills.

And the ride back—I don't remember.
Why was I alone? It was night, then. It was still morning.

But the fields were filled with dead sunflowers.
Blooms darkened to brown, the stalks bowed.
And the tips dried to husks that for miles kept reaching.
Those dreamless sloped fields of traveling husks.

Posted: Wed, 04/29/2009 - 08:35 | Comments: 2

My good friend Willikat pointed out to me that the Minnesota Book Awards took place over the weekend. We were both excited to see that Kao Kalia Yang won the award for best Memoir & Creative Nonfiction. I read Yang's book last year, and really enjoyed it. Congrats to her and all the winners!

The Twin Cities is a hotbed for literature (all art, really), and this is just another example of the talent among us.

Posted: Mon, 04/27/2009 - 10:36 |

I'm reading a book right now - Lionel Shriver's The Post-Birthday World - and I'm just not sure I like it. I'm about 75 pages in and it's taken me all week to get there. I force myself to read on the bus, to see if the further I get the more interesting it'll become, but it's not happening. The thing is, the reviews are excellent. Entertainment Weekly called it the Novel of the Year (2007), other reviews call it engaging, imaginative, provocative...

I'll give it "imaginative," as it's kind of a dual-plot book. At the end of the first (never-ending) chapter, the main character must decide if she'll cheat on her boyfriend with another man. Then the chapters alternate: the first "Chapter 2" explores what happens if she does cheat, while the second "Chapter 2" explores what happens if she doesn't - and so on. I like the the concept, but the descriptions, the language, the weird humor and the very-little dialogue has me mostly skimming, trying to get to the good parts. Sometimes I find some nuggets that interest me, but most often I'm dreaming of reading something else.

Question (as Dwight would say): When do you give up on a book? I never used to, but as I get older, I realize life's too short to waste time on something uninteresting. Right?

Posted: Fri, 04/24/2009 - 10:27 | Comments: 6

New Moon. We already know how I feel about Twilight, so I will be in the theater for this one. Here are the werewolves.

The Time Traveler's Wife. I enjoyed this book very much, and I do love Rachel McAdams, so I'm interested in the movie version.

My Sister's Keeper. This was my first Jodi Picoult book and I loved it. I'm not really a Cameron Diaz fan, but will probably put this movie on the rental list once it comes out. (And just watching the trailer, the tears come again. Plus, Jason Patric and Thomas Dekker are in it - I enjoy them both very much.)


Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Patricia Cornwell's medical examiner, will be most likely played by Angelina Jolie. I read so many Scarpetta novels when I was in high school that I might actually be interested in this series of movies. And surprisingly, I can see Jolie as the character.

What books-turned-movies are you looking forward to?

Posted: Thu, 04/23/2009 - 02:15 | Comments: 6

Now, this is a trailer! It shows all the intensity and scariness of the sixth book. I'm so excited for this movie to come out, but after watching this trailer, it makes me want to break out books six and seven again. I feel like I forgot what happened!

(The night we saw Harry Potter two summers ago, this happened, and I left the theater with a cell phone filled with messages. Let's hope for a much calmer day this summer; it's hard for me not to associate the two experiences.)


Posted: Mon, 04/20/2009 - 10:27 |

This week I read The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Pausch was a computer science/virtual reality professor who, at a very early age, learned he was dying from pancreatic cancer. He was offered the opportunity to give "a last lecture" at the college where he worked, Carnegie Mellon. Usually this is an opportunity for professors to tell their students what they would if they knew they were dying. Well, in Pausch's case, it was true.

He used this experience to give a talk on "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams." And, this lecture turned into the book. Through a series of short pieces, or vignettes, Pausch describes his childhood, his role models, his experiences with science, his marriage and fatherhood. He uses the lecture and the book to send forth ideas and lessons he's learned, and to talk about what's really important in life.

As I was reading about his life, I thought about how much Pausch had done. He had FUN. He stuck his neck out for what he believed in. He fought for what he wanted, and in many cases he won. He led the kind of fulfilling life every day that we all want to lead.

Obviously, the book is also heartbreaking. He has three young children who will live life without their father. He has a very loving, understanding wife. It was very interesting to read about how they related to each other once they knew he was terminal. How she would still get mad at him if he didn't put his dishes away. Wouldn't that be a weird feeling to have? Just because you're dying doesn't mean you don't have to help around the house... Or, wait, no nevermind, you're dying so you shouldn't have to put the dishes away... I can't imagine the difficulty.

The book is fast to read. It'll make you laugh, cry and really think about life. And I know we all tend to say, "I'm going to live every day to its fullest," and then we go to work, go home, go to sleep... But, "to the fullest" doesn't have to mean excitement every day. Maybe it just means appreciating every day, and those important people who come with it.

"Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer." -- Randy Pausch (He passed away on July 25, 2008.)

Posted: Fri, 04/17/2009 - 02:53 | Comments: 2

Since it's National Poetry Month, I did sign up for A Poem A Day. After some of the comments left on my poetry post from earlier this month, I had to blog this poem I received last week. A couple comments were made in reference to feeling dumb when reading poetry. I admitted too, that sometimes I don't know what I'm reading about when it comes to poetry. This poem is a perfect response - and I totally understood it. :)

How to Read a Poem: Beginner's Manual
by Pamela Spiro Wagner

First, forget everything you have learned,
that poetry is difficult,
that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,
with your high school equivalency diploma,
your steel-tipped boots,
or your white-collar misunderstandings.

Do not assume meanings hidden from you:
the best poems mean what they say and say it.

To read poetry requires only courage
enough to leap from the edge
and trust.

Treat a poem like dirt,
humus rich and heavy from the garden.
Later it will become the fat tomatoes
and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.

Poetry demands surrender,
language saying what is true,
doing holy things to the ordinary.

Read just one poem a day.
Someday a book of poems may open in your hands
like a daffodil offering its cup
to the sun.

When you can name five poets
without including Bob Dylan,
when you exceed your quota
and don't even notice,
close this manual.

Posted: Tue, 04/14/2009 - 10:24 | Comments: 5

I read Dooce every day. Many people do, and she has one of the most, if not the most, popular personal blogs on the Internet. That's huge. I've been reading her for about 18 months, but I've also perused her archives. If you read Dooce enough, you know that when she had her daughter Leta five years ago, she suffered from postpartum depression, and she had to commit herself into a mental institution. And she shared that experience with the Internet. Very brave, in my mind, and also very wonderful. Imagine the number of women out there who have suffered, or were suffering from the same situation at the time, and now they knew they weren't alone. She doesn't feel shame for needing help. She did it to save her life.

So, when Heather's book came out a couple weeks ago, I snatched it up. Not because I have plans to be a mother anytime soon, but just because I'm a huge fan of her writing. She's candid, hilarious, natural and honest.

(Note: If you don't read Dooce regularly, and you're not a mother or an expectant mother, then the book probably isn't for you. I think you either have to be a fan of the writer like me or else in the same life stage as she was to really appreciate it. And actually, with all her honesty, she could probably scare crapless a first-time pregnant mom. But actually, when I think about it, the whole book is a fascinating look at pregnancy, female hormones, depression, marriage, motherhood and just real life, that maybe it would appeal to more people than I think.)

The book is a quick read. It starts with Heather's pregnancy, then details the labor and then the trying, trying months that follow. I love how she describes her love for her new daughter, as well as for her husband. These two people really love each other - they had to, to be able to deal with some of the stuff that went down due to her depression. Her husband Jon seems like a big bear of a man, who was completely helpful and understanding. And Heather knows that about him and holds him in high esteem. You get to learn a little more about the Dooce family and extended family, as well as their past before they were Dooce. I really enjoyed this book. It made me laugh out loud several times, cringe some times, gasp at others. The book does repeat a few phrases over and over, and Heather does love her ALL CAPS, but again, I think an editor should catch these things and tighten them up - that's their job! (I'm biased though.)

Why is it that we have such a fascination with other people's lives? Why is memoir so popular? Why are personal blogs so popular? I don't want to share my whole world with the Internet, but I love reading other people who do.

Posted: Wed, 04/08/2009 - 10:33 | Comments: 1

April is National Poetry Month (sign up to receive a poem a day in your e-mail), so I thought I'd take this post to honor poetry. I like poems, haikus, rhymes. Sometimes I may not get the deeper meaning, but I enjoy them nonetheless. I used to write little poems when I was younger, but they were teenage poems - nothing to really write home about.

So, I pulled out the Bible of poetry, at least in my opinion, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. I've read these poems so many times since my childhood; the pages are dogeared to mark my favorites. So I share with you the title poem:

Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow.
And we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.

And from the hubby who is a huge Smashing Pumpkins fan, a poem by Billy Corgan, from Blinking with Fists:

The Follies of Summer

Quicksand, ocean sky
Wondering, don't ask me why or how we got here
We just did
The most eternal sun-drenched kiss is locked in my mind as something I won't miss
Or even try to remember
Summer has come and gone so many times I've lost count
Endless, nameless, marked by time as nothing special
But the warmth is here, you see
In darling soliloquy
Hidden in the costume and fine-boned prose
Under canopies of sheltered light and life
Summer is here and it is all mine

Do you like poetry? Do you have a favorite poet or poem?

Posted: Tue, 04/07/2009 - 15:15 | Comments: 5

Last week I read Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas. Tallgrass is about a farming family living in Colorado during World War II. The oldest son is off fighting the war, the oldest daughter just moved to Denver, which leaves 13-year-old Rennie home with her mother and father, helping them farm their beets. In 1942, the government opens a Japanese internment camp near Rennie's small town. The town is now divided by those who symphathize with the Japanese and those who think they're the enemy. Hate fills the town, with Rennie's dad and a few others remaining the voices of fairness. When a girl is murdered, nearly everyone blames the town's newest residents and things start to escalate.

I enjoyed this book very much. It's a quick read, you get a bit of history and there's also a bit of mystery in it. I loved Rennie as a character. She was mature for her age, respected her parents (who respected her back) and seemed to be of great morals for a 13-year-old. The story is told from her point of view, which Dallas writes very well. (My only criticism is that she seems to repeat a few things throughout the book; and that's really something a good editor should catch.)

In college I read a memoir by a man who lived an a Japanese internment camp when he was younger. I don't remember the book all that well, but the basic themes stayed with me. It's really too bad that the U.S. government stooped so low during the war to imprison fellow Americans. People who were born here and had nothing to do with Pearl Harbor. But our history is our history, and I think it's important to remember it all, the good and the bad.
Posted: Sun, 04/05/2009 - 01:45 | Comments: 1