OPW, poetry

OPW: “Snow, Aldo”

Since it’s been warm outside recently (at least where I live), what better time is there for a poem about snow? This fun little poem, “Snow, Aldo,” is by Kate DeCamillo.

Once, I was in New York,
in Central Park, and I saw
an old man in a black overcoat walking
a black dog. This was springtime
and the trees were still
bare and the sky was
gray and low and it began, suddenly,
to snow:
big fat flakes
that twirled and landed on the
black of the man’s overcoat and
the black dog’s fur. The dog
lifted his face and stared
up at the sky. The man looked
up, too. “Snow, Aldo,” he said to the dog,
“snow.” And he laughed.
The dog looked
at him and wagged his tail.

If I was in charge of making
snow globes, this is what I would put inside:
the old man in the black overcoat,
the black dog,
two friends with their faces turned up to the sky
as if they were receiving a blessing,
as if they were being blessed together
by something
as simple as snow
in March.

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OPW, politics

OPW: Mo Udall and John McCain

This story seemed an apt and serendipitous follow-on to my post of yesterday, so here it is in today’s “Other People’s Words.” This is an excerpt recently shared by Slate, which they saw as a rather illustrative portrait of John McCain. It comes from from a decade-old article by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine.

By 7:30 we were on the road, and McCain was reminiscing about his early political career. When he was elected to the House in 1982, he said, he was “a freshman right-wing Nazi.” But his visceral hostility toward Democrats generally was quickly tempered by his tendency to see people as individuals and judge them that way. He was taken in hand by Morris Udall, the Arizona congressman who was the liberal conscience of the Congress and a leading voice for reform. (Most famously—and disastrously for his own career—Udall took aim at the seniority system that kept young talent in its place at the end of the dais. “The longer you’re here, the more you’ll like it,” he used to joke to incoming freshmen.)

“Mo reached out to me in 50 different ways,” McCain recalled. “Right from the start, he’d say: ‘I’m going to hold a press conference out in Phoenix. Why don’t you join me?’ All these journalists would show up to hear what Mo had to say. In the middle of it all, Mo would point to me and say, ‘I’d like to hear John’s views.’ Well, hell, I didn’t have any views. But I got up and learned and was introduced to the state.” Four years later, when McCain ran for and won Barry Goldwater’s Senate seat, he said he felt his greatest debt of gratitude not to Goldwater—who had shunned him—but to Udall. “There’s no way Mo could have been more wonderful,” he says, “and there was no reason for him to be that way.”

For the past few years, Udall has lain ill with Parkinson’s disease in a veterans hospital in Northeast Washington, which is where we were heading. Every few weeks, McCain drives over to pay his respects. These days the trip is a ceremony, like going to church, only less pleasant. Udall is seldom conscious, and even then he shows no sign of recognition. McCain brings with him a stack of newspaper clips on Udall’s favorite subjects: local politics in Arizona, environmental legislation, Native American land disputes, subjects in which McCain initially had no particular interest himself. Now, when the Republican senator from Arizona takes the floor on behalf of Native Americans, or when he writes an op-ed piece arguing that the Republican Party embrace environmentalism, or when the polls show once again that he is Arizona’s most popular politician, he remains aware of his debt to Arizona’s most influential Democrat.

One wall of Udall’s hospital room was cluttered with photos of his family back in Arizona; another bore a single photograph of Udall during his season with the Denver Nuggets, dribbling a basketball. Aside from a congressional seal glued to a door jamb, there was no indication what the man in the bed had done for his living. Beneath a torn gray blanket on a narrow hospital cot, Udall lay twisted and disfigured. No matter how many times McCain tapped him on the shoulder and called his name, his eyes remained shut.

A nurse entered and seemed surprised to find anyone there, and it wasn’t long before I found out why: Almost no one visits anymore. In his time, which was not very long ago, Mo Udall was one of the most-sought-after men in the Democratic Party. Yet as he dies in a veterans hospital a few miles from the Capitol, he is visited regularly only by a single old political friend, John McCain. “He’s not going to wake up this time,” McCain said.

On the way out of the parking lot, McCain recalled what it was like to be a nobody called upon by a somebody. As he did, his voice acquired the same warmth that colored Russell Feingold’s speech when he described the first call from John McCain. “When you called Feingold … ” I started to ask him. But before I could, he interrupted. “Yeah,” he says, “I thought of Mo.” And then, for maybe the third time that morning, McCain spoke of how it affected him when Udall took him in hand. It was a simple act of affection and admiration, and for that reason it meant all the more to McCain. It was one man saying to another, We disagree in politics but not in life. It was one man saying to another, party political differences cut only so deep. Having made that step, they found much to agree upon and many useful ways to work together. This is the reason McCain keeps coming to see Udall even after Udall has lost his last shred of political influence. The politics were never all that important.

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OPW

OPW: Robert Kennedy on the Death Of Martin Luther King

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspired to find the words Robert Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis that night by Ron Klain’s account of the events, I’ve presented them below. Much of the speech is available on YouTube (if you don’t mind Italian subtitles).

I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight.

Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort.

In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it is perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in. For those of you who are black — considering the evidence their evidently is that there were white people who were responsible — you can be filled with bitterness, with hatred, and a desire for revenge. We can move in that direction as a country, in great polarization — black people amongst black, white people amongst white, filled with hatred toward one another.

Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand and to comprehend, and to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand with compassion and love.

For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rathe difficult times.

My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote:

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will, comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God.

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.

So I shall ask you tonight to return home, to say a prayer for the family of Martin Luther King, that’s true, but more importantly to say a prayer for our own country, which all of us love — a prayer for understanding and that compassion of which I spoke.

We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.

But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.

Let us dedicate to ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.

Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

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OPW

OPW: “Far Out on the Uncharted Arm”

And now, the immortal words that began two of the five books in Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quintilogy. In case you were wondering they’re The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.

Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-two million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.

This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.

And so the problem remained; lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches.

Many were increasingly of the opinion that they’d all made a big mistake in coming down from the trees in the first place. And some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no one should ever have left the oceans.

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost for ever.

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OPW, poetry

OPW: “The Aliens”

A slightly different poem than usual. “The Aliens” is from the famously tortured Charles Bukowski, and it wears that fact on it’s sleeve. I suppose that even though I don’t really empathize with the poem, it seemed an apt follow-on to the dissatisfied commentary I presented yesterday.

you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
very little
friction or
distress.
they dress well, eat
well, sleep well.
they are contented with
their family
life.
they have moments of
grief
but all in all
they are undisturbed
and often feel
very good.
and when they die
it is an easy
death, usually in their
sleep.

you may not believe
it
but such people do
exist.

but I am not one of
them.
oh no, I am not one
of them,
I am not even near
to being
one of
them

but they are
there

and I am
here.

If you’re interested in a different style of presentation, try out this rather good animation of the poem.

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OPW, poetry

OPW: What the Uneducated Woman Told Me

Today’s Other People’s Words is a nice–if a little bleak–little poem by Christopher Reid.

That she was glad to sit down.
That her legs hurt in spite of the medicine.
That times were bad.
That her husband had died nearly thirty years before.
That the war had changed things.
That the new priest looked like a schoolboy and you could barely
        hear him in church.
That pigs were better company, generally speaking, than goats.

That no one could fool her.
That both her sons had married stupid women.
That her son-in-law drove a truck.
That he had once delivered something to the President’s palace.
That his flat was on the seventh floor and that it made her dizzy to
        think of it.
That he brought her presents from the black market.
That an alarm clock was of no use to her.
That she could no longer walk to town and back.

That all her friends were dead.
That I should be careful about mushrooms.
That ghosts never came to a house where a sprig of rosemary had
        been hung.
That the cinema was a ridiculous invention.
That the modern dances were no good.
That her husband had a beautiful singing voice, until drink
        ruined it.
That the war had changed things.

That she had seen on a map where the war had been fought.
That Hitler was definitely in Hell right now.
That children were cheekier than ever.
That it was going to be a cold winter, you could tell from the height
        of the birds’ nests.
That even salt was expensive these days.
That she had had a long life and was not afraid of dying.
That times were very bad.

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linkpost, OPW

OPW: THEBLOG WEEMADE

This is an odd installment of “Other People’s Words,” because even though the words are good, they’re not the primary thing I want to draw your attention to. What I want to have a look at this charming site, called “THEBLOG WEEMADE.” As the name suggests, it features drawings by young children. And the reason, as it explains it:

Here at THEBLOG WEEMADE, we find the artwork and creativity of kids inspiring, thought provoking, entertaining, and unpretentious. We think that reminding ourselves how children see the world is a valuable and enlightening process.

THEBLOG WEEMADE is a user-generated showcase. We accept posts from anyone and everyone. Scan and post your children’s artwork or your own artwork from when you were child. Found artwork. Anything!

Brian created THEBLOG WEEMADE in February 2008. The inspiration was a box full of his old schoolwork and drawings that his parents had kept over the years. Poring over all this old papers, Brian and his wife were entertained by how bizarre and imaginative a lot of the work was. He knew that there must be millions of people with similar material to share, so he decided to create a forum in which the artwork and creativity of children everywhere could be showcased.

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OPW, poetry

OPW: “Riveted”

Today’s Other People Words, like much this week, reminded me of “Be Your Own Protagonist.” The poem‘s “Riveted” by Robyn Sarah.

It is possible that things will not get better
than they are now, or have been known to be.
It is possible that we are past the middle now.
It is possible that we have crossed the great water
without knowing it, and stand now on the other side.
Yes: I think that we have crossed it. Now
we are being given tickets, and they are not
tickets to the show we had been thinking of,
but to a different show, clearly inferior.

Check again: it is our own name on the envelope.
The tickets are to that other show.

It is possible that we will walk out of the darkened hall
without waiting for the last act: people do.
Some people do. But it is probable
that we will stay seated in our narrow seats
all through the tedious dénouement
to the unsurprising end — riveted, as it were;
spellbound by our own imperfect lives
because they are lives,
and because they are ours.

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OPW: The Great Gatsby

I mentioned recently that The Great Gatsby has the best first and last lines of any book I know. So on today’s Other People’s Words, those lines.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this wold haven’t had the advantages you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved was and understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me…

And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I though of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green lights at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.

Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then but that’s no matter–tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And then one fine morning–

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

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OPW, poetry

OPW: “All That is Glorius Around Us”

Today’s “Other People Words” is a poem by Barbara Crooker which celebrate the oft-forgotten glories of life.

All That Is Glorious Around Us
(title of an exhibit on The Hudson River School)

is not, for me, these grand vistas, sublime peaks, mist-filled
overlooks, towering clouds, but doing errands on a day
of driving rain, staying dry inside the silver skin of the car,
160,000 miles, still running just fine. Or later,
sitting in a café warmed by the steam
from white chicken chili, two cups of dark coffee,
watching the red and gold leaves race down the street,
confetti from autumn’s bright parade. And I think
of how my mother struggles to breathe, how few good days
she has now, how we never think about the glories
of breath, oxygen cascading down our throats to the lungs,
simple as the journey of water over a rock. It is the nature
of stone / to be satisfied / writes Mary Oliver, It is the nature
of water / to want to be somewhere else, rushing down
a rocky tor or high escarpment, the panoramic landscape
boundless behind it. But everything glorious is around
us already: black and blue graffiti shining in the rain’s
bright glaze, the small rainbows of oil on the pavement,
where the last car to park has left its mark on the glistening
street, this radiant world.

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