Book(s) of life…

M_16ed620f72The address is 150 Deasngate, Manchester, fashioned in late Victorian neo-Gothic style by Basil Champneys. It sits north of Quay and Peter Streets, east of River Irwell, and refuses to be ignored. The stone facade has acquired a bronze depth and its donned with the excessive ornamentation of memory and money (Enriqueta Augustina Rylands devoted the building to her late husband, John, but I know nothing more of their relationship or the quality thereof).

As impressive as it stands, I was not prepared for its heavy, dark and rich interior, and the intimidating closeness of this large space. As a graduate student living on bread and Boddingtons, exploring local archives and repositories of centuries lost and justifiably so, I stopped breathing when I stood in Rylands.

3692_largeSo special and so rare its contents, you were only permitted empty-handed admittance. Pencils and cards dotted tables; chairs were perfectly arranged by the patrons out of respect; reading areas were shared as scholars joined in a high religious service.

This is life, I realized; it’s all here. I don’t need anything more; and time no longer matters.

Book of Life

This is a room in which all of life fits,
soaring arches of stone unearthed and shaped,
draped in heavy, old wood, dark with age
from the Garden of Eden but untouched,
with all of everything bound and shelved,
rows and rows in some divine order
not worth arguing over, only to enjoy,
spaces for reading, seats at tables,
paper but only pencils for taking notes,
shafts of light crisscross and dust dances
in the show of rhythmed, unhurried air,
in perfect quiet only small sounds heard,
a turning page with tender respect,
signs of satisfaction or stifled laughs,
but in the shadowy recess of the isle,
before a skewed chair left untidy
rests an open tome, heavy and solemn,
readerless with tear-stained pages,
unturned.

Who’s Who (and other things about baseball)…

1912 - First Edition

1912 – First Edition

It’s out! The 100th Who’s Who in Baseball has been released. All’s right with the world for another year.

It’s quite a boring book, but for some reason they do one every year and, yes, people buy it. Thousands and thousands of people buy it. Well, by people I mean those kind of people. Yes, they buy it. Swear by it. Worship it even.

One reviewer at an online bookseller said, “Finally! Now the baseball season can begin!” Another said, “My husband waits for this every year.” (I wonder what else he waits for?). And another wrote: “I enjoy just randomly flipping through the pages and seeing which player I might look at.” Now that’s a good way to spend an afternoon! Need some of that in your life? Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0910692351/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_X9ldvb1Y6CS6S (you’re welcome).

Of course, I have my own take on it and one of the Who’s Who in Baseball‘s editorial quirks. You see, during the famous (really?) dead-ball era which dates from 1901 (the founding of the American League, of course), to 1920 (when the spit-ball was banned – seriously), something is missing. Guess what they didn’t keep track of in all the statistics of the Who’s Who in Baseball stat-fest? Home runs. That’s what they didn’t have a column for. But guess who started playing in 1914 (through 1935) in the midst of the home-run-less dead-ball ear? Go ahead, guess. Yep, you’re right – George Herman (Babe) Ruth. Mr. 714 home runs himself.

And even after the end of the dead-ball era, and the explosion (pun intended) of long-ball (versus small-ball) baseball, the Who’s Who in Baseball still didn’t include a column for home runs until 1939. As if they didn’t count, or the editorial board decided, for the good of the game, this silly long-ball thing was a just a phase, or even, a perversion of baseball’s purity. Not even Babe Ruth’s 714 long-balls could change their minds. Amazing, just amazing when you think about it.

Who’s Who in Baseball

It’s the one hundredth year of Who’s Who in Baseball
and that makes a very small percentage of people happy,
the standard collection of players’ stats, minor and major
amassed for those who want nothing better to do
than live inside baseball and find meaning missing in life;
but this is not a complaint of escapism, or balk at a game,
no, just a way of seeing what hasn’t or won’t be seen
like the missing column for ‘Home Runs’ during the famous
dead-ball era when Babe Ruth hit his hundreds but the
Who’s Who didn’t track silly things like that because,
well, there weren’t that many to track (except Ruth’s)
as if they didn’t happen, or if they did, weren’t important
and it’s easy to imagine some missing columns in life
where so many shined but without notoriety, loved
without being loved, or just as likely failed famously
and went unnoticed because they were uncared for,
and no one was keeping those statistics, keeping track,
willing to remember, and that might be a mercy.

Mighty Casey and Poetry and War…

James Callahan

mighty-casey-advancingBorn and raised a Chicago Cubs fan was more a way-of-being-in-the-world than just liking a team. We knew what it was like to win and lose, and mostly what it was like to lose. We knew that there was life and there was baseball and that life wasn’t baseball and baseball wasn’t life. They never competed in my young world, they never had to; it was never an either/or and it wasn’t as simple as both/and.

We knew something that didn’t make sense to the people of Mudville; we knew it more, it seemed, than Ernest Thayer, author of Casey at the Bat (1888). Maybe there wasn’t much to life back in 1888 so baseball was all they had; who knows.

The Outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at…

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Because It’s 1888…

Today in history (catchy beginning, right?!), the GREAT BLIZZARD OF 1888 hit New England, took four hundred lives, and forever changed New York (at least for the 400 who died).

Because It’s 1888

In the Great Blizzard of 1888
over four feet of snow covered the world,
one hundred people died for each foot
and because it was 1888 no one
knew it was coming – no forecasts,
alerts, human interest stories
in local convenience stores about
storing up water, canned goods and
always travelling with a blanket in the
car because everyone walked in 1888;
it was unseasonably warm
just two days before the storm
and people did spring-things,
they walked through the park,
children played with sticks and
things and still had fun because
they didn’t know better, while
everyone of the four hundred
who would die in just days was
glad it was finally warm and smiled,
tilted their head toward the bright
sky, squinted in a grin, breathed deeply,
grateful for surviving another winter
which they won’t but it doesn’t
matter because it’s only 1888.

If you’re interested in something that’s actually about THE GREAT BLIZZARD OF 1888, try this link: http://news.yahoo.com/nyc-blizzard-of-1888-132307180.html?elq=145527644ca14fe78c837f7f691e4981&elqCampaignId=11905&elqaid=14142&elqat=1&elqTrackId=d2cab1025dee4cbaa41e448a5e150af0

It’s Spring so let’s think about death…

Daylight-Saving-TimFinally. Daylight Savings Time has arrived (right on schedule), and it has an officially recognized moniker – DST. We’ve all lost an hour of sleep we could ill afford, and so, of course, my thoughts turn to death, dying and all things funereal. (Yes, that’s a word – a very good word used of the mournful and somber character befitting funeral pageantry.)

A friend named Pat – a good Irishman if there ever was one – died one Spring day a few years ago. He was supposed to die three or four times before he actually did, but that doesn’t matter when it finally, finally happens. I visited him like a pastor would (should) visit someone like Pat, until there were no more visits.

He Died Today

It’s been years, too many,
far removed from laughs
and tears of caretaking and
taking care of a flock that
was never mine but minded
me; to hear that he’s gone
after starting his last fight
so long ago and doing it
right by undoing petty things
with gentleness; my friend’s
heart has stopped and
started, fits and fought
but not for naught he
gained a decade of life
he made surviving an art
from that first Eve’s eve
night, fighting off death
with tears of Irish fears;
and today, a message left
that death’s theft took
Pat leaving me wondering
that this is all I have to
say because another part
of me died today.

Have you ever noticed the carpeting at funeral homes? I have. The typical pattern is named Afshan Disperse in the funeral homes I’ve visited.

Afshan Disperse

After the greetings,
hugs and handshakes and embraces;
after the waiting and viewing and that
moment (not too short or too long)
of silent, somber lingering or kneeling,
and turning once again to the living
for that awkward ‘Good to see you’
but not under these circumstances
and gather once again with someone,
anyone you might know or should,
you find your way to a seat to wait
in the quiet. What do you notice?
Well I look down
to the carpeting and take careful note
of the patterns or designs and colors;
because I’ve seen at least a hundred
funeral home carpets and more to come,
either arboreal and muted, turkman calm
arabesque faded, even bushy but mild,
never geometrical and never simple
but if one looks carefully and follows
there is always repetition in some feature;
it’s not plain or textured or bright or bold,
but able to hide blemishes.
Head bowed in sulking
not in prayer or pollyannaish thoughts;
even as an adult I compare all these carpets
with the first I saw in my eleventh summer
when I spent two days in tears and scared
with my dad in the casket, adults weeping;
sick of weak tea and toast and shrugs,
promises of comfort that were never fulfilled;
it was an afshan disperse, blue and ecru
random scatter of motifs unrepeated,
disconnected and I searched for order
and patterns in hope but I found none.
and I searched for order and connections
patterns and hope but I found none.

Robert Frost on Robert Frost…

Robert Frost (1874-1963) lived long enough, and wrote long enough to give critics something to talk about – late Romantic and modern, 19th and 20th century, developing modern idiom but in the voice of nineteenth century, avoids traditional verse and erratic use of rhyme, adopts New England regionalism and avoids provincialism. Oh, Robert Frost, you are so you and only you!

That’s what’s called ‘finding one’s voice’ and so few do it’s worth praising. Unfortunately, it’s also cause for imitation – the irony. How Frost found Frost’s voice is typically a combination of critics’ criticism and poet’s self reflection – both of which bring into question whether the ‘voice’ is genuine or simply a figment of the imagination (both critics’ and poet’s).

Frost said, in true romantic form, “It begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a loneliness. It is never a thought to begin with. It is at its best when it is a tantalizing vagueness” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/robert-frost). For instance, when Frost gave an account of his most famous verse, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”, (published on March 7, 1923 in The New Republic), he called it “My best bid for remembrance” (whatever that means, and what it means is whatever Frost says it means – thus, ‘tantalizing vagueness’).

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow. 

The night before Frost composed “Stopping”, he had stayed up all night to complete a poem he named “New Hampshire” which he was very happy about. It was June, no snow at all, and a pleasant dawn so Frost went out to watch the sun rise; an idea struck him and he (in contrast to his long labors on “New Hampshire”) wrote “Stopping” without pause (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171621).

There’s a horse, a farmhouse, bells, a frozen lake, wind and snow (of course). Frost said “It was as if I’d had a hallucination.”

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep. 

In other accounts Frost’s long struggle with poverty and notoriety (he lacked it, he said), serve as psychological explanations of the “miles to go before I sleep”, while occasionalist critics note the sleepless night working on “New Hampshire” as a more obvious explanation. And others ‘hear’ the voice of death at the heart of life in the “woods are lovely (life), dark and deep (death).” Frost said in still another account that “Stopping” was the kind of work for one page with forty pages of notes on it following. Everything is nothing and everything – that’s Frost’s voice, according to Frost.

Here’s my own Frost-on-Frost version of Frost:

Frost and Boots

I ran across Robert Frost in the woods
and he commented on my boots –
how fine they were for such a day
and the excellent way in which they
carried me about in this snowy way
lacking a horse bedonned with bells
on this darkest night of this year
and I thought it queer if not varied
he noted, with such a simple cheer
they’d be great in which to be buried.

It’s always nice to think in a coffee shop…

It’s always nice to think in a coffee shop. Nothing great has ever occurred to me while thinking in a coffee shop, but that’s not the point.

coffee shopWith everyone else so busy, so important, so serious around me, it seems fitting that I should seem at least as important and think. Sip casually (as if my coffee doesn’t matter as much as much as my thoughts, as if I could be thinking anywhere but stopped among the ordinary coffee drinkers to do my thinking). Look off into the distance, but not at anything or, heaven forbid, anyone. Pause just before setting down my cup; let it hover over the table. Now immediately type something, or if I’m feeling traditional – jot down something in an oddly shaped notebook. Yes, that’s it. Now look off into the distance at nothing in particular again (preferably in the same general direction which preceded that fantastic, world stopping thought from just a moment ago). Yes, this is the way to look like I’m thinking in a coffee shop.

Us, in a Coffee Shop
You make me wonder, as you sit quietly,
considerately across the small table from me
in the midst of our busy, loud and impersonal
coffee shop just around the corner from home;
we don’t speak and only occasionally,
accidently make eye contact interrupting
our reading – mine of a book, yours a newspaper
and you’re gracious with a small smile,
almost embarrassed by our casual connection,
returning to the worlds on our pages as we
escape the crowded space we choose to share;
our coffee’s are the same, right legs crossed over
lefts, comfortable together like we’re not
with every other person around us;
strangers don’t matter in this place right now,
like they don’t matter so many other places,
and I can tell you wish it was different
like I do, as if this place was in a Paris spring
or rainy London or beside a university campus
with smart ideas filling the air around us
like leaves falling in autumn – expected, raked
together and burned for that sweet aroma
which stings the eyes yet doesn’t drive us away;
but we’re in our cold city on this January morning
and everyone else has someplace to go
and they’re only stopping for their coffee
as they run to work because they’re late or
just  have somewhere more important to be,
while we linger together, two perfect strangers
who civilly share a small table together
in an act of pure humanity, anonymously.

Steinbeck and a Pastry
As we talk about others and ourselves and others
until we start back on us again across
the small coffee shop table with the whole world
rushing past us, nibbling on a pastry we share,
what Steinbeck said about having to get all our
autobiographical material out of our system
or it will hound us until we get it said
keeps interrupting my train of thought,
and yours as well as you ask me where my head is,
and am I listening, which, of course I’m not;
but that’s because we’re only pretending
to be the authors of our lives and this dialogue
we try every day – which you’re so much better at –
seems more accurate about others than us;
and I wouldn’t have it any other way
even though it doesn’t always seem so, and,
no, I’m not going to finish the pastry.