Passenger Rage

By Songyi Zhang

Americans’ driving behavior has gotten on my nerves.

We were on a road trip for the past four weeks, touring a couple of places including Montreal and the Maine coast. My husband did the driving while I sat in the passenger seat navigating like a co-pilot.

Countless cars sped along on the freeways as if they’re ambulances on a rescue mission. They passed us from the fast lane as well as the inside lane. We weren’t slow either! Our car was often on the fast lane, passing others. Yet, other drivers tailgate and change lanes without a signal. Some drivers turned up the auto stereo so loud that they’re completely deaf to the honks from other cars.

As I peeked quickly through the passenger’s window, I saw that drivers had all sorts of positions. I was infuriated to see drivers chatting or texting on the phone with one hand. The ones who stuck out their arms from the windows were most confusing. Were they giving hand signals or just resting? Even a bad Chinese taxi driver would know how dangerous it is to stretch an arm out of the window as the car moves at high speed. These American drivers practiced all the don’ts for a safe driving. How could they control the wheel with one hand or even no hands?

It is my impression that drivers from Massachusetts and New Jersey are particularly reckless. (I happened to see many of them on the northeastern highways.) Our host from Boston said half-jokingly that they called Maine drivers “Maineiacs” and Massachusetts drivers “Massholes.” What about New Jersey drivers? I would call them “New Jerkers.”

I was extremely nervous when other cars followed so closely to ours or zipped in front of us suddenly within twenty feet. Occasionally, trailer trucks outran sedans, too. If our car ran at speed limit, those cars which passed us must be well over the limit. Why is everyone in such a rush?

Based on my observation, a majority of American drivers are speeders. They rarely obey the speed limit. My American husband is one of them. On average he drove at least ten miles more per hour than speed limit. Perhaps because of my psychological reaction to speed, my heart pounds faster as the four wheels spin faster. When our car passed the others on the road, I could feel the cold sweat in my hand grabbing the door handle. I kept praying for a safe journey. Thank heaven! We managed to get to our destination without incident.

Autos run much faster on the expressways in the US than in China, perhaps more than in Canada, too. A good comparison was when we entered Quebec province. The speed limit was 100 kilometers per hour, approximately 65 miles per hour. Many American cars slowed noticeably. I wondered if the metric system constrained the free-spirited American drivers. An average speed limit for Chinese highways is 120 kph, roughly 80 mph. But autos seldom run that fast. One reason is the increase of autos in China. Also, the road condition isn’t as good.

Anyhow, I still remember what my American driving instructor says: being a good driver yourself is not enough; be cautious of dangerous drivers around you.

She’s darn right. Too many dangerous drivers loom around me even when I’m just a passenger. As a driver, I must be EXTRA careful!

_____

Book review: When She Named Fire

An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry by American Women
edited by Andrea Hollander Budy
Autumn House Press
Pittsburgh, 2008
ISBN: 978-1932870268

reviewed by Mike Walker

Most of us who enjoy poetry—who enjoy reading—know about collections and thematic anthologies mainly from our seminars and other literature courses: most classes that are topical will include an anthology as a text, be it one of Irish poetry, contemporary short fiction, early American poets, or whatever the focus of the course. Most such anthologies are, if seen as such by the student, actually a delight as far as textbooks go: few cost over thirty to fifty dollars making them some of the least expensive of college texts and unlike your biology or organic chem book, these anthologies are often very interesting to read. Moreover, they do what they say on the tin when they’re well-edited: you can read one of these tomes and come away with a fair impression of the diversity of depth and scope of whatever period and genre of literature it covers. Certainly, that beats seeking out the best of Irish poetry (or whatever is the topic at hand) on your own. I will let you in on a nerdy secret: when in college, I often would scan the textbook shelves of the college bookstore for anthologies and readers for courses that interested me but which I didn’t have any real rationale to take, and many times I’d buy one—at fifty dollars or sometimes much less, it sure beat the cost of course tuition.

I cannot know if Autumn House Press planned for When She Named Fire to serve mainly as an anthology for classroom use, but given that many colleges will have both undergrad and graduate courses on female poets—possibly even specific to contemporary American women who write poetry—planning such a volume would seem apt. At just over four hundred pages, the size and heft of a good Bible, and with a light yet sturdy enough paperback cover, the book is perfect for a backpack or reading on the train on your way to class. It is, of course, perfectly at home on a shelf, nightstand, or desk, too, but my first thought when I opened the package holding my review copy was that it would make a fine classroom anthology. Scanning the back cover’s list of included poets only reaffirmed this: while a few of my favorite contemporary American women poets are missing—Jorie Graham and Brenda Shaughnessy come to mind—other favorites such as Linda Pastan and Sharon Olds are thankfully included. There were some names I’d not heard of before, but not as many as I’d hoped but I suppose it is only a good thing that I recognized most of them. I would have loved to have seen some of the younger underdogs whom I feel never get their due yet who are writing mercurial, jaw-dropping, and very humanistic poetry like Autumn McClintock included, but as the list stands it’s a wise and varied selection. Paisley Rekdal probably is my new favorite from all those included whom I’d not read much of before: her poems are sweeping expanses that use up most of the page’s space and throw at you a barrage of ideas all at once. She, like Lorine Niedecker long before her, just takes over and draws you in, to hell with the rest of the world around you. She’s also a black belt according to the short author’s biography provided. You cannot help but to like this woman; I will confess there were a couple poets included who didn’t capture my heart as Rekdal did and I even wished they could have been discarded to allow another five pages or so for more Rekdal poems. That said, in poetry no matter how educated you are in it or what you’ve written yourself, personal taste still accounts for a great deal, so I won’t dare demerit or even name the poets I didn’t fancy as someone else obviously has and obviously will. Overall, the selected poets are strong, worthwhile, and diverse.

The question of inclusion is always a difficult one with any literary anthology and beyond the poets included, there comes the question of whether their work included is the best selection to offer of each poet. In this regard, the editor, Andrea Hollander Budy also seemed overall to do a fine job. I would have liked a few more poems per poet but then you’d easily move the book past the four hundred page mark and wind up with a beast of an anthology which no one would want to cart around nor pay for, either. With a poet like Linda Pastan, narrowing down the included work has to be tough but the task has been done justice as it has with Claudia Emerson, a poet who is both very easy to access in the topical matter of her work—daily affairs rendered with care, calmness, and insight—but at the same time one who deserves a close look and the chance to be understood in all the nuances she provides. Terry Blackhawk is another poet who is very hard to capture in only a few poems, yet the ones selected are fair enough examples, certainly. There are simply some poets who are easier to place in an anthology than others: Victoria Chang, who sadly was not included in this book, would be easy to select from given her overwhelming leitmotif of gloom and sorrow—always knit with the most haunting care, but always a slightly gloomy edge to her. Had I been given the task of putting some of Sharon Olds or Deborah Nystorm’s work in an anthology, I would probably still be debating over the best poems to include a week later. The editor accomplished this task with grace and still with economy, which is often the highest praise one can furnish any editor of an anthology.

Beyond the consideration of who was included and who was not of contemporary American poets—female or not—we have to consider who deserves to be considered such a poet: is it always someone who is plying the MFA and teaching track, publishing in the right journals? Or do we reach out to less-known writers if we can locate them? Do we dare include songwriters, who beyond whatever else, do reach more people with their lyrics than the majority of actual poets? The strongest theme going here seems to be one of what women write about: they write about relationships, about men, about divorce, about having kids, about illness, about injustice, about nature, about careers. If considerations such as topical writing on faith, religion, and womanhood are considered worthwhile in producing such an anthology, I would have liked to have seen the inclusion of the hymnist Twila Paris: yes, she’s best known as a Christian singer-songwriter, but she’s also published books and has the unique position of being one of very few living, accepted, hymnists writing hymns for church use. There were places where her work would have sat very well beside the work included in this anthology. Of course, had that been done, we would have to open the floodgates to a swarm of other female songwriters. It’s a tough call, but the poems—and poets—included do strike me as keenly interesting when taken as a whole because of the spectrum of topical foci of their work. Most are middle-aged or older and most are poets who have established careers as writers and teachers of creative writing and/or English, yet this is where they find the greatest degree of unity and otherwise, there’s ample racial, ethnic, geographic, and other measures of diversity.

How do women write differently than men, if at all? Now, in a time when women lead nations and even command combat forces—Major General Margaret Woodward of the US Air Force commanded the air war in support of Libya’s revolution recently, a domain even ten years ago that was fully the realm of men—do women still, even now, write differently than men? Is there a natural, basic, drive of what topics and approach women take that is something distinct from what approaches and what topics male writers would select? Had this been an anthology of contemporary American poets, could we read the poems without looking at the writers’ names and know in most cases who was of what gender? I mean no disrespect in asking this, and feel it’s a valid question: after all, it’s a core question such feminist theorists as Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray have been asking for years. I have always felt that Pastan, for instance, spoke as a poet, period, and her gender neither mattered nor certainly mitigated her voice as a writer—or even defined her voice as a writer. I can understand how being a woman, being Black, being Native American or of any minority provides a writer with a viewpoint, an experience, and a focus that no matter their greatest empathy a writer outside that specific experience may never conjure. That point allowed, and not detracting at all from the importance of such voices, I did note that the women included here in many examples have focused on topics we could fairly call “women’s issues”. Is this the presentation of a voice that is necessary and desired in women poets and thus providing agency to women as readers? Or, is there a feeling of obligation when you represent any minority group’s writing to focus to an extent on the traditional issues of that minority?

Allow me to explain my concern here in another way: A few years ago I wrote a feature for a regional newspaper on the naval stores industry (that’s turpentine-making and all that goes along with it, for those who live outside the Deep South) and encountered in my research a sociologist named Cassandra Johnson. Dr. Johnson had co-authored a chapter in the anthology entitled To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History. After reading the chapter which was germane to my research for the article, I read through the rest of the book and was amazed at its variety because when you read most any writing by African-American writers in a college or grad school class, much of the focus is on racial issues or specific cultural experiences. Here, due to the somewhat narrow focus of the anthology, was a beautiful array of work by Black Americans on the environment, on nature, on wilderness. So while I understand the imperative to write about—and seek publication of—the core experiences that define a cultural vantage point, I also felt I’d been cheated as a reader, cheated out of the great work by African-Americans on topics I care about deeply. Work that would not make the cut much of the time in an anthology of African-American writing and had to await such a special volume to appear. With anthologies of women writers, you have to wonder about the same issue.

Part of my personal situation here may be that, as a young white male, I struggle to identify with an older, female, poet when she writes about divorce or weight problems (although, Nancy Pagh’s included poem “A Fat Lady Reads a Book” is really awesome and pithy). Perhaps that’s why I would desire to see Autumn McClintock—who is probably just a year or two either under or over thirty years old now— included. One of my poems was published in the same journal as one of hers once, and I could see—or at least dream—of walking into a bar in Boston and seeing her chatting with some friends and asking if we might have known a couple of the same kids at Brown or RISD. Perhaps this is also why I was drawn so to Rekdal, with her relative youth, black belt, and fresh tones. I do not doubt the worth of a woman writing about divorce or childbirth, but I am all the more thankful for those who write about skydiving, about running a bank, about karate or whatever else. The goal of equality I have always understood as to be one of being able, on fully equal terms, to do anything. There are, thankfully ample poems included that reach into topics and issues women of Celia Thaxter or Alice Cary’s time would not have written about and women even fifty years ago probably would never have seen published in the mainstream. There are poems that attest to the triumph of civil rights which allows General Woodward today to command her combat forces and allows women to run seriously for the office of president in these United States. As important as I know a book of poetry by contemporary women is, I also very much like the idea that gender is no longer a fulcrum in determining whether or not something is accomplished. A few years back, a friend who was an architecture student professed that his favorite architect was Zaha Hadid and how much he loved this man’s work: this woman, I had to explain to him, this woman’s work.

The question therefore perhaps is one of, in this day and age, how do women writers represent their unique experience? Some poets here I feel do this better than others: Susan Ludvigson an Rachel Hadas provide poems that are powerfully focused on the entire scope of world around them, delving into the daily affairs of raising a child (Hadas) and furnishing him with both protection and independence but also looking at world expansive that once was mainly, to write about for publication at least, the domain of men. There is the recent scandal of V.S. Naipaul unkindly, unintelligently, suggesting that no female writer—not even the great Jane Austen—could understand or write of the entire spectrum of worldly experience for, as he claims, a woman doesn’t command a household, much less anything grander, as does a man—this incident shines light on the plight women writers still apparently face. Of course, Naipaul was wrong: just as certainly as General Woodward can give orders to her fighters and bombers, a woman today can write about anything. A woman in Austen’s time even could have, and Austen and certainly Emily Brontë very much did, but it is true that publishing constraints were much more limiting. The joke in the end is on Naipaul in any case: most of my friends, even those who are not especially literary, know exactly who Jane Austen is whereas they guess, if pressed to, that Naipaul was a dictator in some far-off land or a celebrity chef. In contrast to his claim that no woman commands even a household as a man does, his own name commands only so much fame while a woman has owned fame beyond his ten times over. Meanwhile, the Rekdals of the world are pushing boundaries and these are not the boundaries of gender but of writing—the boundaries either a Naipaul or an Austen of today must face as a writer.

Overall, this anthology is powerful and provides a great selection of work from essential American female poets. Having seen a number of anthologies of contemporary women writers, I daresay that they are constantly improving insofar as my main concern, which as stated in so many words above, is seeing that a real diversity of topics is represented. I would love to have the poetry about a lady neurosurgeon or helicopter pilot page by page next to poems detailing the experience of the mother or wife. For there are women today who operate on brains, ones who fly aircraft with spinning blades. The present anthology is one of the best to showcase the wealth of diversity women poets in America today present.

_____

Victims of Victims IV

by Elizabeth Kirschner

I waltz over to the black upright piano, the one I played while singing to my mother so she could nap. She never thanked me, but that I could deliver her onto the peace of sleep was the gift God gave me to give to her. 

I touch the keys, start to sing, “Silent Night” like an unrequited lover. I play it slow, almost bluesy to my boozy mother. I hear her sigh and the big heart in the fire of creation begins to breaks. She needs the simple sympathy my simple music brings her and I can’t help but think that my mother, even though she has been a cruel tutor, deserves it. Perhaps I am playing for the child she once was, the one I so lovingly looked at in the photograph album her mother made for her, a woman whose only belief was that we all are the victims of victims. 

In those pages, my mother is dressed in ribbons and bows and her dark, curly hair is in luxurious abundance, curls that I want to bunch in my hands. Even now, I want to hold that child in my arms like a living dolly and kiss her into bliss. How and when did this girl vanish into the hag mother now before me, hacking on her cigarette? Can I rescue this hag mother, let daughter-love redeem her? Surely the god of her understanding has abandoned her, but I cannot, will not, not even decades later when she dies her hag death. Loving her may be an anguish, but it’s the catastrophic miracle that makes me who I am.

_____

veins

by John Samuel Tieman

 

                                                            still it’s strange – autumn

                                                            longing for a crisp winter

                                                            Sunday after church

 

            On my desk is a picture of two Japanese screens I saw last year at the art museum.   On these screens are paintings of poems hung first from a cherry tree in spring, then from a maple tree in autumn.   The petals, the leaves, the poems, each will blow away, I imagine, tomorrow.   The poets are already gone.   The picture is a souvenir. 

            My years have gone like that.   Not that I expected any different.   Still, I’ve always been lucky with my health, so I’ve always denied time and gravity their due.   But just now, at sixty, I don’t see as well as I used to.   I need new glasses.   My physician tells me Friday that I have the curse of my family, that one day I won’t see at all. 

            I step outside.   Each day deepens the color of the linden tree.   My wife looks up from her gardening.   She says, “the veins in the leaves.”   But I don’t get the rest.   Young women drive past laughing, their radio playing something I neither recognize nor like.   Nothing is left of my youth.   Nothing is left of last year.   Nothing but old glasses, old poems, a souvenir, and the leaves which Phoebe sweeps from our porch.

 

                                                            I trust the autumn

                                                            the clarity of dying

                                                            oddly comforts me

                                                            a red leaf lands on my sleeve

                                                            it rests before moving on

_____

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Film Review: The Art of Flight

Brain Farm Digital Cinema/Red Bull Media House
Directed by Curt Morgan; produced by Curt Morgan and Travis Rice
Released in 2011

reviewed by Mike Walker

The Art of Flight, within its home-world of snowboarding, has built up more hype than any other snowboarding film ever and probably also cost more to produce and promote than any other snowboarding film. When its trailer was released, a friend who isn’t even a snowboarder was the first to inform me of the trailer, full of excitement, immediately captivated by the sport and wishing to engage in it himself. Trailers and ads for The Art of Flight have been featured on YouTube’s front-page and during the commercials for this year’s MTV Video Awards. Films of this nature—films that showcase the exploits of the best pro athletes outside the arena of contests—are essential to the sports of snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfing; they are part of how everyday athletes in our sports learn new tricks and seek inspiration and they are the prime connection between the superstars of our sports and the young kids who dream big. No other film in any of the so-called action sports can I recall having the hype and promotional push visited upon The Art of Flight. Clearly, as big as it already is in its own world, it is setting out to make introductions in other worlds.

There was a time when skateboarding was a fringe sport and we didn’t except our skate videos to be sold outside skate shops or attract attention from anyone but fellow skaters. There was a time when snowboarding was the same way and a new film wouldn’t produce much buzz beyond your own cadre of friends unless you happened to live in a place like Truckee or Jackson Hole where snowboarding is a way of life and, increasingly, a leading industry. Surf films fared a little better, but still would not become blockbusters or even attempt to seek out the type of hype reserved for mainstream movies. Nowadays however, the global market for “action sports” films is obviously growing: you have PacSun and Zumeiz in every mall, you have snowboarders, surfers, and skateboarders on contract as sponsored athletes for energy drink companies like Red Bull when less than a decade ago, the only sponsors interested in most of these athletes were internal industry sponsors that made skate shoes, snowboards, and other gear associated with the sports themselves. For that matter, Red Bull’s media division was one of the co-production companies for The Art of Flight and Red Bull’s helicopters were instrumental in getting the cast into remote snowboarding locations and providing the platform for much of the filming. Snowboarding isn’t just for kids who grew up in the mountains anymore. Between the point when photographer Ari Marcopoulos published his ground-breaking book Transitions and Exits in 2000 and Shaun White becoming not only the Tony Hawk—or Micheal Jordan—of snowboarding but also having his own clothing line at Target, we’ve seen snowboarding expand in ways that no one in the 1990s would have probably predicted.

Ari Marcopoulos’ work is also vastly important to snowboarding because this man, with his unique foresight and nuanced skills as an artist, set the standard for how snowboarding is photographed and filmed. While snowboarding, like its sister boarding sports, has always encouraged creativity, Marcopoulos brought to it the imperative for expertly-crafted, fine art-worthy, images and also an introspection into the lives of snowboarders that owes as much to Corrine Day or even Nan Goldin than to typical sports photography. He shot them not only on the slopes in action but in their hotel rooms, on airplanes—all the everyday aspects of getting to and waiting for the crucial action of an action sport. Industry marketing executives for a long time believed that unlike skateboarding and surfing, snowboarding was far too insular, too cloistered, to be marketed outside its core demographic. It lacked the universal presence of skateboarding in urban environments from New York to Paris to Tokyo to those smallest of backwaters in China, Columbia, or Peru that have enough pavement for a little skating. It lacked the allure of warm beaches and everything the Beach Boys and countless movies have made surfing stand for in the American mind. However, Marcopoulos, Jake Burton Carpenter, J.P. Walker and others who have made snowboarding what it is today didn’t fight that insular nature but instead showed it as a tight-knit, essential, and mysterious—but welcoming—world. Marcopoulos especially learned the tricks of representing the cloistered existence of snowboarding as a place where we’d all like to be and an atmosphere literally colder than that of surfing but also deeper. He laid bare and made real a world and its people and he did it early enough to set the tone for visual representations of the sport for years yet to come.

All of this history is important in understanding The Art of Flight and what it means to snowboarding, plus what it will mean to the rest of the world given the tremendous marketing thrust behind this film. Going for grandness, for something larger and always more jaw-dropping than whatever came before is certainly a goal of The Art of Flight but it seems, refreshingly, that just as crucial to the film-makers is the presentation of the poetry of snowboarding and the sheer, unending, awe snowboarders feel for our natural environment. Moreover, director Curt Morgan and the film’s star, snowboarder, and all-around main man of the movie, Travis Rice, chose to use the very finest and newest of camera technology to film this project, including the majestic ArriFlex 235 camera. The same types of technology and skill was employed on The Art of Flight as would have been for the most high-budget of nature documentaries.

If the results had not been of the highest order, if this had turned out to be a showcase of just the latest and greatest in snowboarding, the money spent and hype behind The Art of Flight might have been seen as overblown and ornate, but the results match up to the hype, especially—perhaps surprisingly—in those scenes where no one is even on a snowboard. Some of the nature and scenic vistas on this film, especially those in Alaska and Chile’s unspoiled, unreachable, Patagonia are breath-taking, eye-opening scenes that challenge the best of nature and wildlife documentaries in quality. When Travis Rice and company make the decision to venture into the Cordillera Darwin in Chile’s Tierra del Fuego, their expedition produces not just stunning snowboarding but a powerful introduction to a very remote, rare, geography of the Earth. The snowboarding in this rustic, remote, place is not only challenging but, alas, not as exceptional in quality as the snowboarders had hoped, yet nothing can detract from the sun-glowing, rock-rough, ice-covered, water-crossed beauty of the land itself. When at the onset of the film Travis Rice laments that we live in a digital age and intones that our connection with nature may be less sincere than it was once, he makes good on his promise to push for a more actual, more intense, understanding of nature during his journeys throughout The Art of Flight. There is a danger though in doing such things as going to the Darwin Range—things that even an affluent tourist cannot easily do—in that these adventures will look like issues of either grasping at the tangible side of heaven with the vise of cash or else simply throwing money at a problem: at certain moments in the film I thought to myself, please, you don’t need a Red Bull helicopter and huge bank account to have fun snowboarding. However, the quality of the videography and obvious impact these exotic locales made on the snowboarders justified the extravagance of some of their exploits.

The Art of Flight begins with silence and humility—at least as much humility as can be expected when given a window to an early morning moment with one of the world’s best pro snowboarders. Pro or not, every snowboarder will relate to Travis Rice selecting which board he desires to take with him on safari and then enduring the routine of post-9/11 airport security and waiting for his airline flight to afar. Snowboarder or not, I suspect every viewer will relate to an extent to Travis’ flying off: who doesn’t like an adventure, who doesn’t dream of their next vacation?

Other scenes brought home the gravitas of not only the pristine nature in which snowboarders practice their sport but also the level of injury possible—the very sincere and ever-present danger of serious bodily harm that is inseparable from the sport. Snowboarder Scotty Lago is badly injured in a jump gone wrong at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and while it composes only a few seconds of the film, the scenes of him in the hospital underscore his comment that trauma is a given in the sport; in fact, even as Lago brushes off the decently severe nature of his injuries, the scenes of his lip being stitched up, his doctors taking diagnostic images of his bones, quickly illustrates in no uncertain terms the risks involved. That said, there is a demonic beauty in even snowboarding accidents—I feel wrong in saying such, but it is true. A skateboarding or BMX accident will produce a hard fall and a sudden splatter of red blood on concrete. Surfing accidents are (sometimes very thankfully) obscured by the waves and water. Snowboarding, on the other hand, provides an often all-too-visible crash transitioning into an explosion of white powder. There is something close to animation in the effect of a snowboard trick gone wrong and the resulting implosion of a snowbank, the scattering of soft snow and hard ice breaking like poorly-crafted glass. I won’t downplay or malign the severity of the falls my friends and I have taken by calling them “lovely”, but for as much as they hurt and as tragic and serious as they are at times, they also underscore the fragile, temporal, world of snow we inhabit in the cold terrain we snowboard.

After snowboarding in Alaska, Chile, and Jackson Hole, Rice and company set off for British Columbia and the cinematic introduction to this geography is long on near-barren land save for conifers, black water cold as ice, overcast skies, stalwart architecture of confident bridges and simple, unadorned, buildings. While these images are not perhaps those a tourism commission would choose, they perfectly represent the reality of British Columbia and how, sans snow, we as snowboarders lodge it in our memories. Morgan and Rice do two very different yet connected things via the cinematography of this film: they provide us with dreamscapes of remote snow-covered mountains and vales the vast majority of us will never even witness in person and, they also provide us with quite commonplace scenes—places and instances most snowboarders of any experience will have also encountered. For the remote absurdity of something like snowboarding the Darwin Range—which really, especially in light of its poor snow conditions in the film, is like eating caviar in Greenland on a ship that’s going down—there are also the more everyday spectacles of Jackson Hole or BC.

From Nelson, BC, the crew takes a helicopter up to nearby mountain terrain—near, yet remote, forbidding, and in the deep fog and snow dangerous. The helicopter pilot has barely enough room to set his bird down and then, with a swift and occluding icy fog setting in, he finds the aircraft both blind of sight and covered with ice—unable to fly. The snowboarders have to literally hang on to the aircraft, in reverse of what one sees in action/adventure movies—not for their own safety but to keep the helicopter from tumbling off its uneasy mountaintop roost into the rocky vale below. Using a backcountry snow shovel designed to build kicker ramps and to dig snowboarders out from avalanches, the team breaks the ice off the helicopter’s blades and finally the pilot can lift off, then circle back from the rest of the group. This scene, though brief, is as harrowing as any climax out of a James Bond movie and yet is matter-of-fact in its reality. (It would also probably be enough to give a heart attack to anyone who sells insurance on helicopters.) Everyone involved seems somberly aware of how badly this could have turned out, yet it also an occupational risk. There is no sense of overstated courage or even out-stated excitement in such situations, just resignation at the weather conditions not being as good as hoped.

Soon, the skyline changes on-screen from wilderness to swiftly-groomed park. The chair-lifts, the sweet, perfect curves of human-directed snowscape. The rough-hewn yet civil curves of the rock-crafted ski lodge. We get to see our intrepid crew of pros hit the type of park terrain we know as more everyday snowboarders ourselves and we’ve seen in contests. Despite this, no sense of spectacle is lost in the atmospheric time-lapse sequence of day turing to night, snow turning to stars, that is provided when we transition from wilderness to park. The sense of cold air at your throat, clear skies at night, every star pristine in the chilly sky—this is what every snowboarder gets during good weather in places like British Columbia and it is profoundly captured here. Some snowboarding journalists when reviewing The Art of Flight have dwelled on the “art film” aspect of the production, claiming that Morgan and Rice set out to make an art film about snowboarding. Instead, I see the results—and also probably the latent concept behind the film—as indicative of a sincere effort to portray how snowboarding as an experience feels to the snowboarder fortunate enough to travel so far and wide.

The only part of The Art of Flight that feels uneasy or out of place at points is the soundtrack: instead of the hard-charging hip-hop or rock of most snowboarding films, The Art of Flight opted for an atmospheric blend of vocal trance and other electronica with some rock-inspired touches here and there. In theory, this would promote the artistic, contemplative, feel about their sport that Morgan and Rice seem to desire to convey, however in most instances the music simply seems subdued and slow compared to the action at hand. In places it works, but in others it feels overwrought and, somewhat touchingly, recalls the high days of the west coast rave scene in the later 1990s. There are some slow-motion sequences filmed at Jackson Hole which really capture this feeling between the music selection and slow-motion replay. That said, the scenes at Revelstoke Resort in Canada feature some fast-pace rock that seems more appropriate for the more rapid action sequences.

While The Art of Flight may have the greatest budget, the greatest expanse of locales, the greatest sheer sense of variety and excitement of any snowboarding film to date, will it appeal to viewers beyond snowboarders and curious fans in other action sports? Yes. I feel it will. In fact, it may be the final jump between snowboarding seeming somewhat ancillary to surfing and skateboarding and instead fully composing a robust trifecta with them. Nike, which had placed its snowboarding athletes under the wing of its general 6.0 action sports division up to this year now has established a specific Nike Snowboarding line. The product boxes are shiny black and sea-foam green. The website is loud and slick. There is no sense of cloistered, down-low, quietness here: it’s all writ very large. Nike, say whatever you wish about the company, when it comes to sports trends, most often knows when it’s on to something. Snowboarding is growing and The Art of Flight will be the key visual experience to push that growth forward, and it deserves this honor: the film is steadfast in its love of the sport and the quality of action here is the very highest. Beyond that though, the incidental nature and scenic cinematography is what really conquers in this film: There is a feeling of being overwhelmed here and it’s a most pleasing sensation, too. This is the film that writes out, draws out, spells out, frame by precious frame, a future very large. Yet it’s also the first snowboarding film to really get at the tranquillity of time on the mountain or even time at the lodge, the way snow and cold air come together to begat one of the most special, most silent, most peaceful feelings you can have; in the bustle of all this expensive film-making and the best pro riders on Earth, we get that feeling now and then.

_____

Victims of Victims III

by Elizabeth Kirschner

My father answers the door. “Come in,” he says, like an invitation to a formal dance. “I lead, you follow,” he then commands as we walk across the foyer where slates have been randomly set, like book covers in Storyland. 

What story am I entering? Will there be witches and goblins, or a barroom brawl? It is the night before Christmas and all through the house, the cold seeps through windows and sills. It is the night before Christmas and my dark presentiments are my only presents. 

I enter the kitchen where my mother sits on her stool at the breakfast bar like a pauper, a puppet, or the King’s fool and certainly my father is King of this tawdry kingdom on Tawdry Lane. Mother is smoking, the flare from her butt is a signal in a war zone while she sips booze from an orange juice glass. 

“Hi Mom,” I offer lightly, as if my “hi” could shim her up, but she hunkers down instead in her shrunken monkey body. Her black eyes grow blacker, narrow me into her gun sights. “Have a drink,” she says, then waves to the stand of liquor bottles glinting like idols. 

“You know I don’t drink,” I respond, then go to hug her and bestow a kiss, light as a butterfly’s, upon her leathery cheek. She flinches as if she’s been stung. “Why did you do that?” she asks in the voice of a mouse as it slips in its hole. “It’s Christmas,” I reply, “that’s why. Tis the season of joy and love.”

_____

Restaurant Review: Alma

Reviewed by Noah Gup

One of my most potent memories of South America is the food. Whether it was Carne Asado, Lomo Saltado, or good old Ceviche, the flavors were always distinctive and bold . While I’m still waiting for a Pittsburgh restaurant to offer alpaca, South American food is making an appearance around the city. With a new Peruvian-inspired restaurant in Squirrel Hill, as well as taquerias popping up around the city, Latin American cuisine is expanding throughout Pittsburgh. Alma, a more upscale Pan-Latin restaurant located in Regent Square, goes as far as to cite each item on the menu with the country from which it originated. Even more, it serves an authentic Pisco Sour, Peru’s national drink (although Chile also claims ownership), complete with egg whites.

While Alma is a clearly studied take on Latin-American cuisine, it is not without flair or wit. An order of shrimp ceviche, for example, is served elegantly in a martini glass, with a slice of fried plantain sticking up. The dish itself is not for the light of palate; the intensity of the lemon juice and chiles can be a bit much to take. Only cubes of sweet potatoes mellow its sharpness. An appetizer of Papitas Rellenas (potatoes stuffed with ground beef) is a dish much easier to handle and all the better for it. The outside of the potatoes are golden and crisp, though when cut open, the majestic combination of meat and potatoes turns the dish into a melt-in-mouth savory sensation. The meat is rich and a topping of pickled onions and fresh salsa add color. Alma offers a soup du jour, and their cup of vegetable soup was surprisingly complex. With mushrooms, arugula, and a healthy kick of chiles, the soup tastes exciting.

At Alma, the simplest dishes often pack surprises. Their Vaca Frita, instead of being sautéed until crispy (as is traditionally served in Cuba), is just beef brisket. Served without gravy and on top of rice and pigeon peas, the dish is simply adorned. Yet the meat is so tender that adding a sauce would only compromise its natural flavor. Even more, the brisket juices soak into the rice and peas, complementing its already creamy texture. Alma also offers fish of the day, and an order of scallops, while deviating from traditional South American cuisine, is heavenly. Served with a delicate ginger-mango sauce, the scallops are cooked to perfection. The subtly sweet sauce, with a bite of ginger, only enhances the buttery scallops. Alma also offers several vegetarian dishes. While their black bean burgers are certainly filling and peppery, they could benefit from chutney to add some excitement. A dessert of Molten Lava cake is rich, dark, and not too sweet, while a side of cinnamon ice cream seals the deal. The only real hiccup in an otherwise great meal was a side of fries. While the fries had a pleasant crunch, a topping of chimichurri was far too salty, rendering the fries nearly inedible.

Despite the quality food, Alma’s atmosphere does not appear promising. The tile exterior and cartoony sign suggests a tacky family restaurant. Half the restaurant is floored in linoleum tiles, while the other half in wood. Colorful hanging lights add a sense of playfulness, but the atmosphere still feels cold. Still, the food at Alma effectively makes this lack of ambiance a slight qualm. Wait staff offer solid recommendations and, while not always knowledgeable about the menu, are ready and willing to hunt down answers.

The word “alma” translates to English as “soul,” and Alma certainly provides for the soul. Whether it’s a cup of the stomach-warming soup or even-better-than-your-grandma’s brisket, Alma knows how to provide for simple pleasures. Still, the research in each dish shows, making Alma an authentic door into modern Latin American cuisine. Geography never tasted so good.

(Alma is located on the corner of Forbes and S. Braddock in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Regent Square. Entrees range from $13-$21.)

Notes on 9/11

by Susan Kelly-Dewitt

Visiting My Daughter
In Manhattan, October, 2001

A child’s laugh shatters

the glass we call rue

while a ruckus of sirens jams

the neighborhoods.

Everywhere we walk

the wind frisks us,

the brisk autumn air

pats us down.

-=-

In a cramped noodle shop

a whole roast pig blurs by,

burnt velvet.

The harried waiter wedges past

with plates of boiled fish

and goodwill floats on a broth

of noise — dish clatter, chopstick

clicks, friendly banter.

We nibble each minute

like a rationed sweet.

________________

On 9/11, I board a 6:00 AM flight to San Francisco, where I plan to change planes and fly on to JFK to visit my daughter in Brooklyn.

Not long after liftoff our plane begins to take some serious swoops and dips. Since it’s a small commuter jet, we hang on, breathing hard, assuming the pilot is simply riding out some tenacious gusts. As we land he announces the news: all flights are cancelled indefinitely. Whether en route to Honolulu, Tokyo, L.A. or, like me, NYC, we have all reached the end of our air travel line for that day. We file off the plane in silence, though I’m pretty sure I can hear other hearts pounding as unsteadily as my own.

Inside the terminal we join a tense crowd already gathered around the TV news: the second plane hits. A few people gasp out what seems too logical: World War III. I run to get in a long line at the nearest payphone (still extant back then) hoping I can get through to my daughter before the lines jam, praying she hasn’t already left for her office on 42nd Street in Manhattan.

As it happens I do get through. She’s home; she’s safe; she’s okay. (She had planned to go in to work later than usual that day; they have been watching the burning Towers from the roof of their apartment, along with a deadly plume blowing Brooklyn’s way.) I also manage to reach the rest of my family in Sacramento before the lines go haywire.

In the airport now: chaos — bomb squads, bomb-sniffing dogs, people in long but unusually quiet lines at ticket counters, or in nervous coils at the phones — people trying to figure out how to get back home, whether that means into the City, across to the East Bay, or someplace far away like Jakarta or Minnesota. Rumors are everywhere — no buses, no trains — no anything except for taxis and shuttles already there for the usual workday. They vanish of course, all overflowing with passengers.

I too get lucky though. I find a space on a Super Shuttle and make it to Berkeley before they close the Bay Bridge. The journey (about twenty-five minutes on an ordinary non-rush-hour day) takes 5 1/2 hours. They drop me off at Heyday Books, where I’ll wait for my husband to drive down from Sacramento to pick me up. (The last passenger, a woman next to me, has offered the driver $500 to take her to Modesto, so off they go.)

________________

A month later I try again. I make it this time. My daughter meets me at a changed La Guardia.

In the City, things have quieted down but not that much. Streets and some subway routes are still blocked off. There are bomb threats somewhere every day. (One evening I meet her in midtown Manhattan; we’re strolling a few blocks toward the Empire State Building when dozens of people begin running pell-mell toward us: There’s a bomb in the Empire State Building! We look up and yes it looks like smoke is billowing from the top floor. Sirens scream past. A convoy screeches to a halt down the block. That’s enough — we turn and run with the others. Later we hear the “smoke” was a fast-moving cloudbank).

Everywhere we go, we are stopped, redirected, scanned, searched. At the Met: The Islamic wing is closed. A woman guard pats me down, shines a flashlight into my purse, then waves me into the galleries: a preview of The Ordinary in the years to come. The process repeats at the Public Library.

__________________

We all have our memories of 9/11; those of us lucky enough not to have lost anyone haven’t forgotten how close to the bone it felt as we witnessed so vividly the terrible losses of others. We found out that day what it is like to be born, through no fault of one’s own, into a war-torn country where every day could be some version of 9/11 — a place like Afghanistan is today.

_____

Book Review: The Book of What Stays by James Crews

The Book of What Stays
James Crews
Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press
2011

reviewed by Mike Walker

The Book of What Stays, the winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry, is a slim yet intellectually weighty volume that at once makes apparent how it would claim so serious a prize as it has: from the opening poem, “Palomino”, James Crews makes his case for pithy elegance. Crews embraces and works with the architecture of poetry, the physical word by word structure, with a sense of craft and duty that is as refreshing as it is rare. Crews also understands the speed of words and, that for whatever depth of detail poetry lacks in contrast to fiction, it can make up for in its showcasing of raw speed—even in titles themselves. Take, for instance, the two poems entitled “The Farmer’s Wife Has Not Yet Left Him” and “The Arsonist’s Wife Has Not Yet Left Him”: there’s a grandness yet simplicity here, a sense of resignation even. And there’s speed, the speed Jorie Graham’s realized and applied as the secret weapon of her greatest poems, the speed that G.C. Waldrep used in his book Disclamor. It’s a quickening you don’t at first realize is even speed—or even about time—but it’s acceleration in how the words move you back and forth to other places at light-speed. Without some time machine, some sci-fi starship, only words can conjure us between memories and actual place with such mystery and haste.

In Crews’ poem “Foreshadowing” he gives us both the speed and the quiet stillness that foils it, plus the might of weather, the might of geography—those subtle but essential and sometimes sublime things which formulate our entire world:

Snow clouds fill the sky like a power
you never knew you had. The man next to you
on this rush hour bus has stuffed plastic bags
into the holes of his coat and huddles close
to look out your window as if the sunset
might burst for once with the red of alpenglow,
as if these piles of snow were only beginnings
of mountains trying to rise up.

The living, timeless, forceful environment that churns along with or without us is described perfectly here, but Crews also catches how that environment works as metaphor, how it inspires, how it demands our attention. His poems, even when personal in topic and tenor are removed from his person—and that’s not in any way a bad thing: consider T.S. Eliot, who was the very same way. He writes about nature, and broadly, but he’s not a nature poet per se, and doesn’t cast his lot with the corpus of nature writing and all that entails. Instead, he treats nature and the wild as something that’s always there and cannot be escaped, something that in mighty power invades our lives and directs them and thus writes many of our own, seemingly personal, scripts out in bold. Crew’s poem “A Beginner’s Guide to Ice Fishing” demonstrates the joy we can discover in nature and the human activities that attend it while reminding us also that our own impressions of the natural world are just that: our own. In this he also reminds me of the Swedish songstress, Sally Shapiro, a woman who records under that stage-name and stresses that her stage persona is removed from her own being, her private life—or is it, really? How much can a writer or any artist invent and how much is autobiographical? Crews, like Ms. Shapiro, seems intent on providing nuanced, complex, alluring tales of experience but ones that don’t really allow us an intimate look at the artist’s life. In each of Crews’ poems I feel I’ve been provided something very personal—almost as if it was something crafted custom for me alone—however, I also feel that however telling his words are, they leave so much a mystery. Like a pop lovesong, they must be intimate but there is nothing to make manifest an autobiographical trajectory.

None of this is to suggest Crews is less than honest or he’s sold out for the sake of prize-winning, stunning works that will produce reviews so glowing they could be seen from outer space. He’s an honest man, an adept poet who makes each word count—structure, once again. Like Jorie Graham, not a period or comma out of place, not a single word would be better served by an alternate. Yet like Michel Houellebecq, Crews is in the business of myth-making. Interestingly, on that note, I recently read an essay on the topic of myth in contemporary poetry by Crews in the journal Basalt—clearly, myth is on his mind. Perhaps not for Crews the brand of myth of Houellebecq or his idol Lovecraft—not the type of myth that looks like dime-store penny-dreadfuls dressed up in glitter by a lead graphic designer at Phaidon—but myth nonetheless. He mentions Orpheus, Bacchus, and a lute on these same pages as the ice fishing, the winter snow, and commonplace birds. Yes, Crews is in the myth business as well as the autobiography business of poetry and yet within the arena of neither. The truths he writes are written above his own head, afar from his own experience no matter how much they feed off such experience.

What hubris to believe you could save
this moment or that and tuck it away
for the day the warbler’s morning call
outside the honeymoon cabin that summer
grows finally too garbled to recall, or when
the familiar sound of her bathwater running
now flows backward into the faucet
as if neither she nor it ever even existed.

With these words Crews starts off on his poem “Revision”, and perfectly introduces our sad, incomplete, and scattered ability to capture memories. Things like bathwater, are actual only for the short period when they are there, but unlike your old Ford or a vase your aunt left you in her will, they are things that simply dissolve away. You don’t have to worry about getting rid of them really and yet when the water is in the bathtub it’s what defines the purpose of the tub and the very room around it. When someone leaves, a lover perhaps, and they take away their things it’s such memories which must endure and carry a greater weight than they really can stand. We allow memories of this nature to do so much heavy-lifting so they are the most difficult to forget, the most difficult if not impossible to revise. That same aunt’s perfume or a song your girlfriend in tenth grade loved but you couldn’t stand. You may not recall who wrote The New Organon, but that song by Green Day will forever remain and you’ll remember the maroon Abercrombie sweater she wore the first date nearly down to the thread count, too.

Crews ends “Revision” thus:

come inside and look at her as she
closes her eyes in the bath and does not
notice you, leave her alone. Let her hum
the private song whose words you’ll never know.
Say nothing to disturb this scene—never yours
to begin with—and leave the past in your mind.
Leave her heart for this moment intact
if only to prove, looking back now, you can.

“Never yours to begin with”—that’s it right there. The part of memories we are quick sometimes to overlook, especially in love, especially when the memory is bittersweet. Like the photo of the family farm the farmer moments later came out and said he didn’t want you to take—you’d not asked if you might, just stopped the car by the fence and snapped the shutter—these memories are contested property. “Revision” also makes clear, in an awkward way which would be all the more uncomfortable were it not for Crews’ delicate and exacting use of language, how little we know of even our lovers. If Crews lacked his sense of hand-crafted formal structure in his poems, his emotional knowledge would still allow for very fine poems that touch at universal experience via specific instances, however, he also has that very rare ability to build his thoughts into the most consummate of words. Again, it’s worth repeating: not a word misplaced, not a single comma seems awkward or not doing its best duty in Crews’ poetry. The entire book is of this caliber of attention to detail and it’s Crews’ sense of word-craft that really sets his work apart from other contemporary poets. In Crews’ own essay in Basalt on the concept of myth in contemporary poetry he laments the swarms of young poets with MFAs—himself included—plying their trade in a rather routine fashion yet though he would not make the claim himself, he breaks from that pack: no matter his education, he doesn’t write like your typical MFA graduate. Like Lorine Niedecker or Rebecca McClanahan, he is not afraid taking the verbal words of life and then designing his own architecture of poems, not bound to a certain trajectory or trendy sense of poetic mannerisms. This independence of mode allows for a clearly unique sense of form and word choice.

The second section of this book is devoted to a suite of poems based around installation and other visual artworks by the Cuban artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. As most of Gonzalez-Torres’ work concerns his former lover’s death from AIDS, it’s weighty stuff and the poems properly address this in a manner that never seeks to replace or simply report on Gonzalez-Torres’ own artwork but to consider the relationship between art and artist, art and viewer. The result is exacting: you feel as if you are with Crews as he visits a gallery and examines Gonzalez-Torres’ installations. The subject matter could inspire pity but Crews keeps his tone clearly above this, and the impression is mostly one of sharing Crews’ respect and awe for Gonzalez-Torres’ work instead of the tragic subject matter behind that work. Does Crews make the reader interested in seeing Gonzalez-Torres’ work? Sure, but beyond that, Crews displays how through poetry one can write about art just as one writes about life. There is no disconnect between how Crews addresses this body of artwork in contrast to how he approaches any other subject and this seamless approach is a near-perfect proof of Crews’ abilities as a poet.

The University of Nebraska Press has done a superb job of designing the layout and presentation of Crews’ book: as with their recent volume of poetry by Shane Book, Nebraska has used an economy of space in their layout and gray divider pages between major sections to create a sense of this slim book actually being larger than it is when held in hand. The choice of typography is conservative and reads well, allowing the reader to concentrate on Crews’ words. A short section of notes is provided about poems that warrant such for a quote or dedication. Is it odd I notice the graphic design in such an acute manner and comment on it? Perhaps, but I studied graphic design for a year in college and I guess it stuck with me. Moreover, as a reviewer one spends a good amount of time with a book and it is very refreshing to find one that is compact and pragmatic yet feels as expansive as its words demand, to say nothing of one that’s easy to read in dim light by a laptop on the back porch while writing a review. Plus, I would have been upset had the designers not treated Crews’ sublime words with due care.

Overall, The Book of What Stays is one of the very best original books of poetry I’ve read in the past couple of years—and I read a lot. Could there be criticisms? Well, sure, with any book there always are when we search for them: I’d have liked it to have been a little longer as Crews gets into enough topics that it felt at places compressed and not allowed to show as much depth and scope as perhaps additional poems would have provided. The poems based around the visual art of Felix Gonzalez-Torres are lush in detail, haunted with emotion and could have formulated an even more extensive suite than what Crews presents. I feel that while this book may be the one that stays, there’s a “part two” quickly on the way.

_____

MIKE WALKER is a writer, skateboarder, surfer, and snowboarder who lives in Gainesville, Florida. His original research and other academic work has been published in: AirMed, Goldenseal, EcoFlorida, BrightLights Quarterly, the ATA Chronicle, Translation Journal, Multilingual Computing and Technology and other journals. His journalism in: The Florida Times-Union, The North Florida News Daily, Satellite Magazine, Twisted Ear, and other publications. His poetry in: Meanie, the Church Wellesley Review, Tipton Poetry Journal, and other publications.
_____

Victims of Victims II

by Elizabeth Kirschner

We pull into the bus station and my memory chugs in, too. I decide to walk home, know that my mother and father are too drunk to navigate their boat of a car down the town’s melancholy boulevards. I walk by old factories that are behemoths with shattered windows like punched-out eyes. 

Finally, I come to Sinnissippi Lagoon where I once fed hunks of bread to swans which were pear-colored in the moonlight. I did this whenever I fled from my house, my room in my house in midnight’s blue doom. Led by scent, I longed for the sleeping monster in the lagoon to rear its ugly head so I could slay it because I could not yet slay my own monsters, monsters with many ghastly heads. 

Now I bend to touch beheaded flowers, return to Grandma’s garden where the plants were marionettes pulled tight by light. Somehow they partnered me, helped me grow roots and dart skyward while shawled by Grandma’s green shadow. She taught me how to pluck the copper-backed beetles off her double-blooming dahlias and for her I gathered a strange bouquet which sprayed this way, that way, like a jester’s hat as he tumbled through another bright, yet desperate song. 

Just now I long for a basket to line with has-been flowers that want their hour of beauteous blossom back again to carry to my mother as her face, too, looks like a passed-out bloom. I arrive, knock on the door to the house I fled from, the one I return to smelling of the roughage the woods harvest.

_____

Virginia Earthquake

By Songyi Zhang

On August 23, 2011 a 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Virginia. The quake caught me off guard. I was at home in northern Virginia watching TV. Just after I got comfy with my legs crossed on the coffee table, I felt a sudden horizontal shake as if I were a wobble doll being mishandled by a naughty kid. I thought at first it was a concussion from the construction site nearby. The quake lasted long enough before I realized this was a real quake. The lamp above the dining table trembled fiercely. So was the kitchen light (by then I wasn’t sure if the ceiling was shaking or it was my sight shaking). I immediately ducked under the dining table as I remembered what I learned in elementary school in China about how to react to an earthquake.

My heart pounded fast like an uncontrollable locomotive. Will this earthquake be like the one in Japan? Will I survive? After dozens of seconds, the floor finally stopped vibrating. But in that full minute my mind went crazy, thoughts jumping from fear of death to getting ready for a closure of my life. As I came out from the bottom of the table, I saw a couple of knickknacks on the shelf had fallen onto the floor. What a quake!
This was a second quake I experienced in the States, and it was a stronger one. What are the odds of having an earthquake in Virginia? Our neighbor Winnie told me in her nearly thirty years living in Virginia, this was the only time. The TV news reported the last damaging earthquake in Virginia occurred in 1897. That quake was also magnitude 5.8. I was indeed lucky to encounter a big quake and survived.

For a good one hour after the quake the telephone lines were jammed. My husband and I both tried to make phone calls to report our safety to family and to spread the news of the quake. But all we had was busy signal or operator messages saying “the number you dial is not available at the moment.” Another hour passed, the TV news finally broadcast what happened in the D.C. region as well as in NYC. I then realized the quake was so strong that people lived as far as Toronto could feel it.

For many Americans, particularly the New Yorkers and the D.C. politicians, they first associated the quake with a terrorist attack. Their first reaction was to run out of the buildings. That is a mistake to protect yourself from a quake. You become more vulnerable to the subjects that might fall off in the sky. Trees, flowerpots, windows, you name it. This is what I learned as a pupil in China. But apparently, Americans don’t have the basic knowledge about how to protect themselves from earthquake (at least not for east coast Americans). Perhaps just like the news said, it was rare to have earthquake in America’s east coast. So the Americans on the east coast neglect the quake precaution.

This unexpected natural phenomenon also tells me Americans are still living in fear after 9/11. I’m not surprised the nightmare of a terrorist attack lingers on among the New Yorkers. Fear is our biggest enemy. I remember a surviving couple from the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 told me after the quake they were sleepless for a whole week. They were afraid an aftershock might occur any time. The wife said for a while she even couldn’t sleep on a rocky train ride.

_____

Publius’s 100 Books — For My Students

 by Publius

                A word about my prejudices.   I’m a teacher of history and English; I know little about math and science; therefore, my list is geared toward the humanities.     Many works are chosen as representative of an entire class of literature.   Only one work is given for each author.   For the sake of brevity, these works are entirely Western.   Most I have chosen because they are, quite simply, good to read.   A few I have chosen because they are culturally important.   Mostly I’ve chosen what I like.

  1.  Aeschylus, The Oresteia Trilogy
  2. Sappho, The Poems Of Sappho
  3. Sophocles, Oedipus The King
  4. Thucydides,  History of the Peloponnesian War
  5. Plato, The Republic
  6. Cicero, Philippics
  7. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  8. Martial, The Epigrams
  9. Catullus, Poetry Of Catullus
  10. St. Augustine, Confessions
  11. The Song of Roland
  12. Beowulf
  13. The Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight
  14. Francois Villon, The Poems Of Francois Villon
  15. Marco Polo, The Travels
  16. The Little Flowers Of St. Francis
  17. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
  18. Moses Maimonides, Guide For The Perplexed
  19. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy
  20. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
  21. Abraham Ortelius, The Theater Of The World, the first modern atlas
  22. Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
  23. Desiderius Erasmus: The Praise of Folly
  24. Thomas More, Utopia
  25. Martin Luther, The Ninety-Five Theses
  26. François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel
  27. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
  28. Michel de Montaigne, Essays
  29. Miguel de Cervantes,  Don Quixote
  30. Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene
  31. William Shakespeare, The Tragedy Of MacBeth
  32. Christopher Marlowe, The Tragical History Of Dr. Faustus
  33. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
  34. René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy
  35. John Milton, Paradise Lost
  36. Blaise Pascal, Pensées
  37. John Locke, Of Civil Government
  38. Isaac Newton, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy
  39. Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe
  40. Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels
  41. Alexander Pope, Essay on Man
  42. Voltaire, Candide
  43. Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
  44. Samuel Johnson, Dictionary
  45. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile
  46. Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
  47. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
  48. Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  49. James Boswell, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.
  50. Denis Diderot, The Encyclopedia
  51. Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison, The Federalist Papers
  52. Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration Of Independence
  53. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France
  54. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust
  55. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication Of The Rights Of Woman
  56. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Elements Of The Philosophy of Right
  57. Carl von Clausewitz, On War
  58. Percy Shelley, Collected Poetical Works
  59. Arthur Schopenhauer, Studies in Pessimism
  60. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays
  61. Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter
  62. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  63. John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism
  64. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
  65. Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  66. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto
  67. Herman Melville, Moby-Dick
  68. Walt Whitman, Leaves Of Grass
  69. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
  70. Stendhal, The Red And The Black
  71. Henrik Ibsen, Hedda Gabler
  72. Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  73. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  74. Henry James, The Portrait Of A Lady
  75. Edgar Allen Poe, The Collected Works
  76. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  77. Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams
  78. George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara
  79. John Dewey, Democracy and Education
  80. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  81. Adolf Hitler, My Struggle
  82. Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education and Other Essays
  83. George Orwell, 1984
  84. John Maynard Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
  85. Arthur Rimbaud, The Drunken Boat
  86. Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex
  87. James Joyce, Ulysses
  88. Franz Kafka, The Trial
  89. Allen Ginsberg, Howl And Other Poems
  90. Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther
  91. Samuel Beckett, Waiting For Godot
  92. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, One Day In Life Of Ivan Denisovich
  93. Albert Camus, The Myth Of Sisyphus And Other Essays
  94. Federico Garcia Lorca, The House Of Bernada Alba
  95. Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique
  96. Pablo Neruda, Twenty Love Songs and A Song Of Despair
  97. Thomas Merton, The Seven Story Mountain
  98. William Butler Yeats, Collected Poems
  99. Tennessee Wiliams, A Streetcar Named Desire   
  100. T. S. Eliot, Prufrock And Other Observations

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Victims of Victims

 by Elizabeth Kirschner

A room blooms in memory, in my infernal memory. It leads me to a trip down Tawdry Lane and my consciousness drifts back, in wonder, to a hotel depot where I wait as though I were a nameless figure in a 19th century novel. Snow comes streaming down, howling with the manifest destiny of misery. I am going home, home for the holidays, which already birds in the cupola of my mind like a garish cartoon. I am still under twenty. 

The room is sepia-colored, rich with the antique tones of poverty where lampshades are like old-fashioned hats under which the old light of the diminished barely registers. Here I am among the lame, the defiled, the leprous. Hour after hour goes by and I am terrified. Will my love, fresh, stinging like the blizzard which bleeds openly from the Iowan sky, draw me like a wound within the destitute? These lowlifes, even the sophisticated boys who are miles behind me at school, surround me sublimely—the pitiless in the ranks of hell. 

My blue dress, my cowboy boots, my beauty in a tarnished room—little of it, unlike the storm, will pass. After all, I always take the postal route home, glad to see the bus driver hand out soiled packages at decayed towns, like necessary gifts for the dead.

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