Thursday, May 11, 2017
Today was my 11th annual jaunt to one of the local middle schools to judge [School Name] Project presentations. It's one of my favorite days of the year. All the 8th-graders in town have to do a semester-long project on a topic of their choice that culminates in a written paper AND a presentation in front of community members posing as judges. We rate them 1-to-4 on various things (not just the writing, or the actual speaking, but like 10 different specific things: tone of voice, extra 3D/show-and-tell stuff, ability to recover from errors, etc.) It's extraordinarily rare for me to give anyone a 1 for any part of it. Today was a LOT of 4s. And they were actually a pretty good collection of presentations this year. Some years I feel like I've stepped into Lazy Teenage Hell. Not much of that this time, thank God!

So here's the topics they presented today, with commentary as appropriate:
  • Creating video games (a good start; he had some technical difficulties getting started, but he's obviously interested in the subject and juiced about studying for this career, so that always helps a lot)
  • Computer programming (another job-related one; not too many people get excited about writing code, but this kid is one of them!)
  • History of tractors (yes, really, chosen because he's "been driving tractors since I was, like 7, and my grandpa used to have, like, 48 tractors"--and it was actually fun to listen to him gabbling on about John Deere and Allis-Chalmers, etc.)
  • Renewable energy (well done; I wanted to ask her how she feels about the current policies in D.C. but I didn't want to start WWIII in the judges' area....)
  • New Orleans (we should all go, and here are some Voodoo chips and Mardi Gras beads--it's ALWAYS good to feed the judges!)
  • Childhood in Nazi Germany (this was absolutely fascinating--the kid's babysitter/nanny when he was little was a woman who grew up in Germany during WWII; she was 7 when the war ended; he did an absolutely wonderful job integrating her stories with historical research)
  • Jamaica (we should all go to Jamaica, which is a constitutional monarchy without a monarch where their favorite drink is rum; I think this is the first time they were allowed to do vacation destinations as a project, and I got two of them)
  • History of [the city in which she lives] (barely phoned it in, and ended with "it was hard to find information because it's not a very big town"--my first question was "Did you GO to the public library?" Kid: "Oh yeah, I got a book there." Me: "I work there. We have file cabinets FULL of stuff about the city's history." I was pissed. Don't expect me to believe you started this project prior to May 10, dude!)
  • Schizophrenia (nicely done, though she talked so fast I'm not entirely sure what she said--but she had a LOT to say!)
  • Hockey history (first 6 professional teams; surprisingly interesting, despite my overall lack of interest in ice hockey)
  • [state north of us] university sports (fun, and interesting reasons for doing this topic--neither parent went to college at this school--and he's stoked about getting an athletic scholarship there in a few years)
  • How did WW2 start/end (ah the obligatory WW2 talk...yawn--seriously, kids, it's interesting but find a different angle--see above re growing up in Nazi Germany)
  • Large animal veterinarian (another one that gets done often, though usually not specifically large animals--however, she raises pigs and her sister has horses, so she's motivated, and interesting)
  • North Korean human rights (this was a split-personality presentation: the kid had a speech impediment and maybe some other, cognitive, issues, and he pretty much just read his slideshow to us; BUT he knew his stuff, he did research (he's not Korean), and it was topical and I learned a BUNCH of stuff from him. BRAVO!!)
LUNCH (I brought a cheese sandwich and walnuts and almonds and begged a bottle of pop from the teacher's lounge--and I read about books while I ate)
  • History of basketball (another topic about which I have zero interest, but the kid made it fun to listen to)
  • Animal shelters (yet another perennial--she didn't kill herself with research, but it was clearly presented and heartfelt. And there were no pictures of puppy mills, which was a blessing; there are usually horrible photos that go with this subject)
  • Pediatrician (possibly the most professionally-done speech of the day. She kicked ass in terms of speaking and researching, citing sources in the speech itself, and just generally Doing It Right)
  • Volkswagens (who knew there were VW hobbyists? And this kid is specifically into VW buses! He had me hooked--and then he started explaining all the engine specs...yawn...but his enthusiasm was palpable)
  • Airplane piloting (this was one of those kids with the "modern" hairstyle that mimics the kids -I- went to middle school with 40 years ago; he wasn't all that into the whole academic thing, but he wants to be a pilot and has actually co-piloted a plane, so that was cool)
  • Law enforcement (unfortunate: very quiet, pretty much never looked up from reading his notecards, obviously scared out of his mind; and he wants to be a cop)
  • Cosmetology (she wants to do makeup when she grows up, or model; I know what you're picturing, and she's not any of those things, but she definitely has presence and poise)
  • The Holocaust (what a way to end the day: a dispiriting and dispirited talk on genocide; I'll eat my hat if she did more research than opening her history textbook; too bad, really--she has a wonderful speaking voice)
And then we ran for the parking lot to beat the lines of parental cars. On the way home I stopped at Aldi's--where I had to be physically SHOWN where the refried beans are, since I still can't find them on my own because I'm apparently BLIND--and Walgreen's--5 Rxes for Beast.

Oh yeah, because I'd set this day up in March, and last week Beast scheduled his cortisone injection into his lower back for this morning. So I took him over to the office for that, and he'd set up a ride to come home. I'm a horrible wife. But really: he's had something like 10 of these things now, and it's pretty much all show for the insurance company. Maybe it'll help with some of the pain, but it hasn't been much of a winning option yet (since 2011, mind you), so we all know the doctor will see him, post-cortisone, next week and (hopefully) schedule surgery for "soon" which realistically means June sometime. For those keeping score at home, this will be #2 on the lumbar region. The first time was in 2012 where he had a laminectomy, ablation, and other fancy words (the doctor told me immediately post-op that there was "scraping" of the nerve off the vertebrae--hurrah for technical jargon). Then he had similar stuff done inside his neck in December 2015, after the debacle of our vacation in October when he ended up in the ER waiting room for 9 hours in St. Louis.

He's in bed asleep, which isn't shocking at all. He warned me it was likely he would be. I have no idea if I'm supposed to wake him, so I probably will just let him sleep. Maybe the pain level will be such that he can actually rest for a change.

So, yeah. Just another day in the life of.
Sunday, April 30, 2017

Poetry month

ON THE BIRTH OF A SON
by SU TUNG-PO (translated by ARTHUR WALEY)

Families when a child is born
Hope it will turn out intelligent.
I, through intelligence
Having wrecked my whole life,
Only hope that the baby will prove
Ignorant and stupid.
Then he'll be happy all his days
And grow into a cabinet minister.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Poetry Month

A PRIMER OF THE DAILY ROUND
by HOWARD NEMEROV

A peels an apple, while B kneels to God,
C telephones to D, who has a hand
On E's knee, F coughs, G turns up the sod
For H's grave, I do not understand
But J is bringing one clay pigeon down
While K brings down a nightstick on L's head,
And M takes mustard, N drives into town,
O goes to bed with P, and Q drops dead,
R lies to S, but happens to be heard
By T, who tells U not to fire V
For having to give W the word
That X is now deceiving Y with Z,
        Who happens just now to remember A
        Peeling an apple somewhere far away.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Poetry Month

THE RIVER ON OUR FACE
by EMMY PÉREZ

With el río grande~bravo
                                in our face
This river
                                at its mouth
                                at its source
With you at its source
                                its sources
With you at the snow
                                the evergreens
The million earth holes
                                of water emerging
                                emerald
Snakes, Gloria Anzaldúa's
                                grave
With this river
                                on our face

Neon green anole
                                swells its throat
                                pink-white
El río bravo~
                                grande on its face
Ocelots hunt
                                under six
                                foot shrub
                                canopies
With the drive
                                of the Continental Divide
                                with the pull
                                of tributaries
                                in their limbs
Chicharras
                                whining in the shade
                                rivers
                                in their timbals
Females laying eggs
                                in branches

The young border patrol officer
                                flashes sirens daily
                                lifts his gun
                                with the river
                                on his face

Upriver, Chihuahua
                                desert ancestors'
                                adobe bricks stand up
                                crumble down
With el río grande~bravo
                                on our face

You said you loved
                                the river
                                on my face
You said headwaters
                                the source
                                el río grande
                                rises from its source
                                saw the lines around
                                our mouths
                                saw adobe-brick lines
                                exposed

Monsoon season
                                granizo pelting
                                the facades

                                at its source
                                in my mouth
                                adobe mud
                                bricks in my mouth
                                the earth
                                holes, the sources
                                the snow
                                avalanches
                                granizo
                                Río Conchos de México
                                grandmothers'
                                Cueva de la Olla
                                at our face
                                Tarahumara
                                Rarámuri
Tidal confluences
                                i
n our face

Some crossed
                                with nuns during la
                                revolución
el río bravo~grande
                                on their face

Relatives
                                disappear
                                die detained
                                with tributaries
                                of many rivers on their face

In Ciudad Juárez, a mother hoped
                                her missing daughter
                                married a rich American
                                with the river far away

Constant helicopters finding heat
                                with the river as the source

To the west, crossers lift the tortilla
                                curtain
Walk deserts without water
                                on their face

Guanajuato ancestors crossed through Cali
                                with mirages
                                in their face

While
I shower daily
with el valle
river water on my face
Thank you and kiss you daily

Julia de Burgos
with el Río Grande de Loíza
Puerto Rico in your face

Julia
I can now speak of hurricanes
and being a dog at someone's feet

I remember El Paso's Inca doves
                                burrowing owls in the morning
                                barn owls in El Valle's cemeteries
                                great horned owl and mockingbirds
                                Harris hawks and pauraques
vecinos carrying signs
                                two communities
                                "¡No al muro!"
"¡Segundo Barrio no se vende!"
                                with the river on their face

A daughter and mother want their ashes
                                cattered
                                at Boca Chica
                                the river's mouth
                                the end, the start
                                another source
                                crabs collapsing
                                into bullets bursting out of holes
                                carrizo, bugambilia
                                seeds        petals         paper
rose
                                raspas
                                the mouth

                                the eddies
                                the tributaries
                                the flow
                                Río Conchos de México
                                the snow
                                granizo
                                the pelts
                                the sources
                                rising

The confluence
of people and god
                                tortugas
                                ribbon snakes in Roma
                                pigs and piglets jumping
                                from banks
with the river on their face
                                You can hear roosters
                                           crowing across
                                
                       the water in Miguel Alemán

Hurricanes
                                disturb unsettled graves
with the river in our face

You said you don't want archaic chains
                                lowering you loudly with obvious labor six feet in
You want to hear the cool chachalacas
                                with the river on their legs
                                            flapping
                                                       from ébano to ébano
                                el chalán
                                the ropes

                                the pull
                                over green
                                water
                                under
                                blue sky
                                to Díaz Ordaz

I want to hear parrots
                                sabal palms
                                try again
With the river on our face
                                I want no medicine
                                no ambition
                                with the river in my face
I used to love you
                                with the river in my face
I still love you
                                when the river's on my face
I made a foot-deep grave
                                with the river on my face
I loved other rivers
                                with el río grande~bravo on my face

I want to oxbox lake

                                in this place where children stil speak and lose
                                
                                multiple tongues
                                in this place where we still lose and grow
                                
                                forked tongues
                                this place where white herons hunt and drink in the resacas
                                this place with el río grande~bravo
                                
                                in its pipes
                                                                in its lungs
                                                                in our face
Thursday, April 27, 2017

Poetry Month

HOW TO CHANGE A FROG INTO A PRINCE
by ANNA DENISE

Start with the underwear. Sit him down.
Hopping on one leg may stir unpleasant memories.
If he gets his tights on, even backwards, praise him.
Fingers, formerly webbed, struggle over buttons.
Arms and legs, lengthened out of proportion, wait,
as you do, for the rest of him to catch up.
This body, so recently reformed, reclaimed,
still carries the marks of its time as a frog. Be gentle.
Avoid the words awkward and gawky.
Do not use tadpole as a term of endearment.
His body, like his clothing, may seem one size too big.
Relax. There's time enough for crowns. He'll grow into it.
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Poetry Month

BOUNDARY CONDITION
by CAOILINN HUGHES

From the platform, iron iterates way into time.
The tracks are staples intervaled along my father’s spine.

Before me might be somebody’s father, waited for — white
choker of a condor, dry lips of lifelong acolyte.

I barely brush his arm, so as not to make him start.
Who knows how he might play out: cave in, tear apart?

He deeds toward me, wet wood breakable. All in all
of direst bark. This is how it starts, at last, I recall.

“I thought you were someone, otherwise.”
The rail lines rattle like beetle files.

He frowns. Establishes his palms.
“Tell me. Does that happen often, lamb?”

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Poetry Month

IN THE SECULAR NIGHT
by MARGARET ATWOOD

In the secular night you wander around
alone in your house. It’s two-thirty.
Everyone has deserted you,
or this is your story;
you remember it from being sixteen,
when the others were out somewhere, having a good time,
or so you suspected,
and you had to baby-sit.
You took a large scoop of vanilla ice-cream
and filled up the glass with grapejuice
and ginger ale, and put on Glenn Miller
with his big-band sound,
and lit a cigarette and blew the smoke up the chimney,
and cried for a while because you were not dancing,
and then danced, by yourself, your mouth circled with purple.

Now, forty years later, things have changed,
and it’s baby lima beans.
It’s necessary to reserve a secret vice.
This is what comes from forgetting to eat
at the stated mealtimes. You simmer them carefully,
drain, add cream and pepper,
and amble up and down the stairs,
scooping them up with your fingers right out of the bowl,
talking to yourself out loud.
You’d be surprised if you got an answer,
but that part will come later.

There is so much silence between the words,
you say. You say, The sensed absence
of God and the sensed presence
amount to much the same thing,
only in reverse.
You say, I have too much white clothing.
You start to hum.
Several hundred years ago
this could have been mysticism
or heresy. It isn’t now.
Outside there are sirens.
Someone’s been run over.
The century grinds on.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Poetry Month

THE PRINTER'S ERROR
by AARON FOGEL

Fellow compositors
and pressworkers!

I, Chief Printer
Frank Steinman,
having worked fifty-
seven years at my trade,
and served five years
as president
of the Holliston
Printer's Council,
being of sound mind
though near death,
leave this testimonial
concerning the nature
of printers' errors.

First: I hold that all books
and all printed
matter have
errors, obvious or no,
and that these are their
most significant moments,
not to be tampered with
by the vanity and folly
of ignorant, academic
textual editors.
Second: I hold that there are
three types of errors, in ascending
order of importance:
One: chance errors
of the printer's trembling hand
not to be corrected incautiously
by foolish professors
and other such rabble
because trembling is part
of divine creation itself.

Two: silent, cool sabotage
by the printer,
the manual laborer
whose protests
have at times taken this
historical form,
covert interferences
not to be corrected
censoriously by the hand
of the second and far
more ignorant saboteur,
the textual editor.
Three: errors
from the touch of God,
divine and often
obscure corrections
of whole books by
nearly unnoticed changes
of single letters
sometimes meaningful but
about which the less said
by preemptive commentary
the better.
Third: I hold that all three
sorts of error,
errors by chance,
errors by workers' protest,
and errors by
God's touch,
are in practice the
same and indistinguishable.

Therefore I,
Frank Steinman,
typographer
for thirty-seven years,
and cooperative Master
of the Holliston Guild
eight years,
being of sound mind and body
though near death
urge the abolition
of all editorial work
whatsoever
and manumission
from all textual editing
to leave what was
as it was, and
as it became,
except insofar as editing
is itself an error, and

therefore also divine.
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