Memorial Day, 2017

Once again, we remember. For Sgt. James Michial Moore, USA, KIA, Vietnam, and those before and after.

Archibald MacLeish was an ambulance driver and artilleryman in World War I, and his brother, a naval aviator, was killed in 1918. This poem appeared in MacLeish’s collection Streets in the Moon, published 1926. The version that appears in his Collected Poems omits the final eight lines.

Memorial Rain

Ambassador Puser the ambassador
Reminds himself in French, felicitous tongue,
What these (young men no longer) lie here for
In rows that once, and somewhere else, were young
. . .

All night in Brussels the wind had tugged at my door:
I had heard the wind at my door and the trees strung
Taut, and to me who had never been before
In that country it was a strange wind, blowing
Steadily, stiffening the walls, the floor,
The roof of my room. I had not slept for knowing
He too, dead, was a stranger in that land
And felt beneath the earth in the wind’s flowing
A tightening of roots and would not understand,
Remembering lake winds in Illinois,
That Strange wind. I had felt his bones in the sand
Listening.

Reflects that these enjoy
Their country’s gratitude, that deep repose,
That peace no pain can break, no hurt destroy,
That rest, that sleep. .
 .

At Ghent the wind rose.
There was a smell of rain and a heavy drag
Of wind in the hedges but not as the wind blows
Over fresh water when the waves lag
Foaming and the willows huddle and it will rain;
I felt him waiting.

. . Indicates the flag
Which (may he say) nestles in Flanders plain
This little field these happy, happy dead
Have made America. . .

In the ripe grain
The wind coiled glistening, darted, fled,
Dragging its heavy body: at Waereghem
The wind coiled in the grass above his head:
Waiting–listening. . .

. . .Dedicates to them
This earth their bones have hallowed, this last gift
A grateful country. . .

Under the dry grass stem
The words are blurred, are thickened, the words sift
Confused by the rasp of the wind, by the thin grating
Of ants under the grass, the minute shift
And tumble of dusty sand separating
From dusty sand. The roots of the grass strain,
Tighten, the earth is rigid, waits — he is waiting –
And suddenly, and all at once, the rain!
The living scatter, they run into houses, the wind
Is trampled under the rain, shakes free, is again
Trampled. The rain gathers, running in thinned
Spurts of water that ravel in the dry sand,
Seeping in the sand under the grass roots, seeping
Between cracked boards of the bones of a clenched hand:
The earth relaxes, loosens; he is sleeping,
He rests, he is quiet, he sleeps in a strange land.

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In Which the Spawn Enters Dungeons with Diplomacy

A month or two ago, the Spawn and some of her online friends decided to start playing Dungeons and Dragons, using real-time phone and data links as the various participants are scattered around the continent. Her party is composed entirely of young women, and all of them are playing female characters — the Spawn, for example, is playing some sort of magic-using High Elf (Possibly a Warlock? I’m not really hip to the present-day character classes, having done my gaming 30+ years ago).

The woman who is acting as DM informed the group that they are “squishy”, lacking anything like a damage-absorbing melee specialist, or “tank.” Apparently the closest thing they have to such a character is a Half-Orc cleric. But they’ve had several adventures on the present campaign, and thus far have taken no casualties.

The Spawn tells me about the adventures the next day, and I noticed today that there was something… unusual about the business. Their first adventure was to recover some jewels that a local merchant had lost. Turns out they had been stolen by chickens, and well, one of the party now has a pet chicken. The party’s task last night was to gather some various materials for some sort of magic-users’ component dealership. One of the items they had to find was a kobold scale. So off they went to the nearest colony of the critters, and —

“So how was the fight?” I asked.

“Oh, we didn’t fight. We made up a friendship ritual, exchanging locks of our hair for some of their scales. They were really impressed — apparently most adventurers aren’t interested in trading, and our not wanting to slaughter everyone really made an impression.”

“You made friends with the kobolds?”

“Yeah. In fact, well… we kind of got adopted into their tribe.”

“But they’re evil.”

“Usually. But they’re so cute! They’re only about two feet tall, and they have big eyes! So anyway, they like us, and now they want us to help integrate them into the larger society.”

“You didn’t fight anyone?”

No, Dad. We usually rely on diplomacy — why fight if you can avoid it? The monsters are just trying to live their lives too! One time we were in an adventurers’ tavern with all these stuffed, mounted monsters, and I was like, ‘Those were sentient creatures, you know!'”

“How’d that go over?”

“We’re not really welcome in that tavern anymore.”

“Yeah, okay. That’s not how it usually went when I played. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not how it ever went when I played.”

“What did you do?”

“Well, my parties were usually 90% male or more. We’d enter dungeons, fight almost anything we encountered, and stack gold pieces and magic items.”

“But why do it that way?”

“Are you sure you weren’t playing Undertale?”

“Da-ad.”

Apparently we have different approaches. But her 18 Charisma probably helps.

Posted in Culture, Family, Medievalia | 1 Comment

Back to Work Potpourri

My post-Commencement break is wrapping up, and on Tuesday I’ll start teaching a course or two for our first summer term. At this point, course #2 has no enrollees, but we’ll see if anyone signs up by or on Tuesday. In the meantime…

***

Mrs. M and I made a rare appearance on the Mondoville social scene, as we went to the town’s newest watering hole, Bar Figaro, to see one of her coworkers do some lounge singing. I’ll admit that I was also checking it out as a potential venue for the Berries, but that didn’t take long — it’s far too classy for my snarly 60s-style band.

The place is gorgeous, occupying one of the older buildings in our historic downtown, and they’ve done a lovely job of refurbishing it — lots of wood and exposed brick, with a dark-stained ceiling. There are two rooms; the barroom proper and the performance space, which has a stage that could easily accommodate a largish jazz combo (Medium Band?), and a lovely grand piano at the room’s opposite end. The room’s centerpiece (literally and figuratively), however, is an enormous stained-glass dome — imagine an 18-ft. Tiffany lampshade — that hangs from the ceiling, directly above where we sat with some other of Mrs. M’s coworkers at a large table. The dome also turns that space into something of a whispering gallery, with voices across the table occasionally popping into my right ear.

Bar Figaro

Mondo under glass. Part of Mrs. M’s head next to me, left. (Photo: J. Roberts)

I thought the performance itself was interesting and professional; Mrs. M’s friend alternated sets with an older gentleman whose name snuck past me, but who was an almost archetypal lounge singer — silver hair, off-white dinner jacket with red carnation, black tie and vest, creamy baritone. In the first of his sets, he was working the Sinatra chapter of the Great American Songbook, doing “That’s Life” and “My Way”, among others. The “band” was a computer, run through the P.A., and the singers were able to dial up the songs from an iPad. In a sense, it struck me as almost like karaoke, but the singers were pro-quality and performed with assurance. Then it was Tracy (Mrs. Moore’s friend) ‘s turn on stage. She told me later that she hadn’t done a gig like this in a few years, but apparently it was like riding a bike. She has a lovely, warm alto, which served her well on numbers like Adele’s “Someone Like You.” Also to her credit, Tracy eschewed the sort of diva cadenzas and melismatic fireworks that so many singers deploy in lieu of understanding the song; no American Idol blight here.

She did a fine job, and then it was back to the guy, who “loosened things up” a bit, doing “My Girl”, “Under the Boardwalk”, and “Sweet Caroline”, even working the crowd to sing along on the choruses. I nursed my bottle of Coca-Cola (imported from Mexico, with real sugar), and then Tracy came back up, opening the set with a respectful take on Janis’s version of “Me and Bobby McGee.” I told her later that I’d love to hear her try Janis’s arrangement of “Summertime” — maybe next time. There was another Adele tune — the theme to Skyfall —  and a few other numbers (including “Whiter Shade of Pale”! — I kept hearing Barrie Wilson’s fills in my head, though not on the track.) and then the guy came onstage and they did a couple of duets before he took over again. At that point it was near midnight, and as we didn’t want to risk turning into pumpkins, Mrs. M and I called it a night after telling Tracy what a nice job she had done. A pleasant evening, even if the place was a little more posh than I’m used to.

***

Thanks to a large band-aid, I got back on the treadmill yesterday after a week’s worth of healing and did a couple of miles. I had been getting kind of antsy, so it was nice to do it again. We’ll see how I fit it with my teaching sked, but I managed last summer, so here’s hoping.

***

Meanwhile, Heather O’Brien — a former student I’ve mentioned before, who now works in the college library with the Spawn — is in the process of having a baby as I type, and we expect to welcome baby Dean to the world in fairly short order. Good luck to Heather, Jimmy, and Dean!

***

And as it turns out, if matters proceed on schedule, young Dean will share a birthday with Vincent Price, who was born 106 years ago today. Therefore, since I like to wrap these things up with music, here’s a little reminder that Mr. Price did rock and roll before his appearance on “Thriller.”

Enjoy your weekend!

Posted in Alternating Feet, Culture, Education, Family, Music | Leave a comment

QotD: Warts and All Edition

Over at NRO, Jim Geraghty has a piece that is in some ways about historiography, both collective and personal. He quotes a former SUNY-Stony Brook prof named Noah Smith:

You can look at American history and find tons of atrocities. Slavery. Native American ethnic cleansing. Jim Crow. Chinese Exclusion Act. But you can also find plenty of the opposite. Abolitionism. Civil Rights. Reparations for Japanese-American internment victims. Which of these is the “real America”? Which strand of American history represents the true, essential character of the nation? That is a matter of interpretation, and narrative. To a certain extent, we choose in the present which of these narratives to embrace.

But while that’s an interesting and worthwhile topic, that’s not my QotD. That comes later:

The very nature of love is that we look beyond the flaws. This is how we love everything else in life — our spouses, our parents, our children, our friends, and our community. Nothing human in this world is perfect; so love means accepting human frailty and fallibility.

These days, we live in a culture where we’re (on the right and left) too eager to shun, boycott, pillory, or otherwise ostracize people for what we see as their flaws. That makes now a particularly apt time to keep Geraghty’s words in mind, but it seems like something worth remembering in general.

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Unsettled; Underground

I ran a couple of errands this afternoon, stopping by WalMart and the college, where I carried some copies of the annual litmag to the library (sparing the Spawn a bit of exertion) and handed the new shipment of Berries CDs to Justin. It had begun to rain when I left the store, and dampened me fairly well at the college. I made it into the house and down to the den, and had just let the Hound of the Basketballs out when my phone had a conniption.

I received a text that Mondoville was under a tornado warning so TAKE COVER RIGHT NOW DAMMIT! About a second later, the sirens downtown (approx. half a mile from here) went off, and not quite simultaneously, the Spawn calls me from the special collections vault at the college library.

“Dad, there’s a tornado warning!”

“Yeah, I know — I got a text and I hear the sirens.”

“Are you in the laundry room?”

Actually, I was standing half in the den, half on the patio, trying to get the dog to come back in, but I didn’t really think explaining that would be productive, so I said “I’m about to be,” and then the phone chirped again, this time from Mrs. M. The dog, meanwhile, is ambling away from me, toward the end of the patio. I’m calling the dog as I mash virtual buttons on the phone: “Jasmine, damn it — hello?”

MRS. M: “There’s a torna–”

ME: “I know. I got a text, [Spawn] called, and I hear the sirens. I’m trying to get the dog.”

MRS. M: “Are you in the laundry room?”

ME: “Not yet, but maybe once I get off the phone I can work on that.”

MRS. M: “OK — bye.”

After applying some harsh language to the Hound, she comes into the house, and wanders into a different section of the downstairs. After a brief chase and a few scattered treats, I scoop her up and we make it through the laundry room, which has a window, and to the adjoining furnace room (or as I call it, “the deceased hobo storage facility and curing room”, but that’s not important right now), which is below grade and windowless, with cinder-block walls and a concrete floor. I closed us both in there, grabbed a folding chair, sat down, and wondered if anything interesting was going to happen.

I’m not making fun of any of this, mind you. But I didn’t feel especially frightened, either; I had done what I could do, gone to the safest spot in the house, and even brought the dog with me. I knew the girls were in equivalently secure positions. While Dr. Johnson is almost certainly right that the prospect of being hanged in two weeks concentrates one’s mind powerfully, I found a certain serenity in knowing that little I might do in the next few minutes would matter. There were larger forces at work.

I saw a mousetrap had been set off, but there was no evidence that anything had been caught, and I wished whatever critter had triggered it well. The Hound stood next to me — she didn’t seem particularly troubled, but she didn’t lie down, either. I couldn’t blame her; the concrete floor didn’t seem terribly inviting. Honestly, the folding metal chair wasn’t exactly the Ritz-Carlton either, but I still had power. I could hear the AC unit, but not the sirens.

My phone beeped; Mrs. M wanted everyone to check in. The Spawn said she was fine. I said I was dead, but the upside was that they didn’t have to worry about feeding the Hound, as she would feast on my entrails. And so we texted back and forth like that until the college emergency message system announced an all clear. The Spawn came home from work a few minutes later, pleased that she got paid to lie on a comfortable sofa in the library basement for an hour. Mrs. M arrived a few minutes later. She said “We were told that [an official] had ‘released the teachers,’ so I came on home.”

“That’s good,” I said, “but I hadn’t even known you were being held hostage.” The dog offered no comment.

And how was your afternoon?

Posted in Education, Faith, Family | 2 Comments

A Gray or Grey Morning

Madeleine L’Engle once commented that while gray and grey are the same word (with the former being the U.S. spelling and the latter being British), they evoked very different colors (colours?) for her. They do for me as well, which is probably why I remember the comment. I think of gray as pale and silvery — like my hair, which went from the auburn of my youth to its present state, where I’m occasionally mistaken for blond. Grey is darker, like the slate tiles of my downstairs floor. Iron, storm clouds, the sea as those clouds approach? Definitely grey.

As our unsettled weather continues here in Mondoville, the sky is gray, and may darken later. But I’m having a grey day. My foot isn’t ready for purposeful walking yet, and although it’s healing, I’m getting antsy. I have an eye exam this afternoon, but while I tend to be a little photophobic anyway, flinching or squinting against the exam light, I know they’re going to do dilations today, which take things from unpleasant to painful.

But these are minor points. Today would have been my father’s 74th birthday. As I said at the trial, a son is supposed to admire his father, and I was fortunate in having a dad who made that easy. And even now, I admire Dad greatly — he did his best under difficult circumstances, rising from an adolescence in the Nashville projects with a dying father and drug-addicted mother to a successful career and the respect of his community. He supported the family through my mom’s illness, and through three bouts of cancer, the first of which he was told would likely be fatal. He wrote well; he painted well. And although he struggled with the bouts of depression that I have seen in many bright, creative people, he fought for his life literally to the end — his body revealed that, and his killer acknowledged that, if indirectly.

I miss him, and there are times each day when I wish I could share a joke with him, or talk about what we’re reading, or show him the work I’m doing. It leaves me grey. And this morning, as I hear and read about the horror in Manchester, I ache for the people that I know are hearing the Big Noise, and who have seen the color drain from their worlds. It makes me think of Tennyson:

That loss is common would not make
My own less bitter, rather more:
Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.

(In Memoriam A.H.H., 6. 5-8)

So it’s a grey day in Mondoville today. They say there will be sun for the weekend. I hope so.

Posted in Alternating Feet, Culture, Faith, Family, Literature, Why I Do What I Do | 5 Comments

Downpour

I was upstairs having lunch a little while ago when we got a shot of the “unsettled weather” the forecaster has predicted for Mondoville over the next few days. It took the form of one of the sudden downpours we tend to get in mid-to-late summer — heavy for a few minutes, and then abruptly stopping, as if regathering strength for the next time. When they happen in midsummer, they can hit blindingly hard, to where I’m hard pressed to see the mailbox.

This wasn’t one of those — it’s not that hot yet, although it’ll get close to 90. But it was impressive in its own way, and it reminded me of my early teens. After we moved to Kentucky, my maternal grandparents would come up from Nashville for visits, until my grandmother became too ill to travel. My grandfather was one of those people who was fascinated by weather forecasts — possibly the combination of his age and his early years in a farming community. In any case, he always enjoyed the weather report, whether it was on TV or radio.

One morning we were listening to the morning show on Cincinnati’s main AM station, and the weather reporter concluded, “Currently it’s 68 degrees with rain falling from the sky at the Cincinnati airport, and –”

My grandfather interrupted. “Where else is it going to fall from? That’s the stupidest damn thing I’ve ever heard.” It became a running joke in the family, and he’d ask about it even during weekly phone calls.

As I watched the rain over lunch, I called the Spawn in and told her the story, concluding it with “… and now you know something about your great-grandfather.”

She nodded, and said, “But Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“What if the weather guy knew something we don’t?”

This is what happens when there are writers in the family.

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