Monday, January 19

First Night in the White House

The Potomac's sunset was wonderful
and the new President
after a long festive day
falls asleep on Lincoln's bed

He dreams jackdaws
And no matter how soft he nears
and his hand
no matter what the offering
--away they fly

-- Gregory Corso

fr. Long Live Man
[New York: New Directions, 1962]

Saturday, January 17

On Purple Prose

Oh, yes, we love it so. The French doors open to a breeze that flutters the brocaded tassels of the curtains, the long table gorgeously set for a dinner for two, as yet untouched, although a carelessly brushed over goblet has spilled its cabernet sauvignon out over the expansive whiteness of the linen tablecloth. All three servants, off for the night, probably in town, laughing and carousing in some public house. We love the long view of the path along the top of the seaside cliff, the white-capped sea beyond—below. We love the wild foot chase, one of them hurrying after the other. One shoe left behind in the dust of the path. Their tear along the clifftop, the struggle that, from a distance, could be taken for one long last embrace. Hard to say which comes first—the shout or the scream, diminuendoing its way down to the wave-lapped rocks at the base of the basalt cliff, echoing the cries of seabirds rising up to greet its downward plunge. We love the mad rush back to the Gothic enormity of the house, the bags already packed, the car in the drive, driven this time, not by the grumbly chauffeur, but by another. The drive to the airport—not too fast, not too slow. The ticket and passport in someone else’s name. And then the long flight, three martinis in a row, the trembling hand, the uneasy sleep. The arrival at last at an airport in some distant Spanish-speaking land, a tattered city, with mountains nearby to hide in. The anxious searching for a newspaper in some language one can read, something that tells the tale. We love the dusty bus ride to the hills and the mountains beyond. And then the little house, the quiet nights, the long wait.

A Hypothetical Dialogue

Interrogator: In the first line of your sonnet which reads, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day", would not "a spring day" do as well or better?

Witness: It wouldn't scan.

Interrogator: How about "a winter's day"? That would scan all right.

Witness: Yes, but nobody wants to be compared to a winter's day.

Interrogator: Would you say Mr. Pickwick reminded you of Christmas?

Witness: In a way.

Interrogator: Yet Christmas is a winter's day, and I do not think Mr. Pickwick would mind the comparison.

Witness: I don't think you're serious. By a winter's day one means a typical winter's day, rather than a special one like Christmas.

--Alan M. Turing, "Computing Machinery and Intelligence"
[Mind, Vol. LIX, No. 236 (1950)]

Monday, January 12

On Movies

If you blink very fast when you’re watching a movie you will notice that nothing is really moving, that all you’re seeing is a succession of photos speeding by so quickly that people, things, objects seem to be moving. Movies favor characters who seem to be running, leaping, plunging (think of Run, Lola, Run or any of the Bourne series) over those who (as in that rare film My Dinner with AndrĂ©) just sit in a restaurant and chat about this, about that, whatever comes to mind, and rarely even bother to lift a forkful of food to their mouths. (I won’t even mention Warhol’s Sleep or Empire.) Cars seem to hurtle through the streets, crash through plate-glass windows into restaurants crowded with elderly diners realizing—all too late, many of them—that they’ll never finish those early-bird specials spread out on the tables before them. They even terrify rush-hour commuters on the expressway by seeming to drive contrary to traffic, weaving in and out of lanes, leaving a trail of burning and smoldering wreckage—dented, mangled and blown-up cars and buses and trucks that stretch for miles behind them in the gathering darkness, as the camera slowly zooms in on a sign saying “Report Aggressive Driving.” Most movies are full of people pretending to be other people. They say their lines as though, more quick-witted than most of us, they’d just made them up, all by themselves. No wonder we admire them so—their words, their wit, their good looks. We’re money in the bank for them. And yet . . . and yet, if we had their courage, their nerve, we’d get out of our seats, walk down the aisle to the stage, climb up to the screen, and discover that they’re nothing but reflected light, not even skin-deep, so to speak.


[in The Bloomsbury Review, July-August, 2008]

Saturday, January 10

Poems from the Book of Nanoseconds, #46

At the far end of candles
came a nun, flickering at her devotions
this early in the morning.