Saturday, January 29, 2005

Ricky Takes A Nap

There's a low slung, dilapidated, wood-and-black-leather chair that lives in our little, decrepit garage. We've been keeping it for DK's friend M. who moved to Oregon over ten years ago. It's a handsome thing, but beat; our kitties nap there, or wait out rainstorms there. I've put a ratty brown blanket on its sagging seat just for them. I'd like it if I were a kitty.

Last week at work my phone rang, a double ring, meaning an outside call. It was DK. He'd just gotten home from school. Had tried to drive into the garage. But there, fast asleep in M.'s chair, was a big shaggy furry creature -- a raccoon. He'd honked and honked. The raccoon woke, peered at him, and shot up the backwall ladder into the rafters. Where he sat,looking down, laughing at my poor husband. Who was -- his word -- nervous. Too nervous to drive the car into the garage.

After all, hadn't I been ranting at him for years about raccoons and rabies ?

And hadn't he heard somewhere that you could catch the disease if you came within ten feet of a rabid creature ?

Before the late 1970's, raccoon rabies was confined to Florida and Georgia. In 1978 a group of hunters loosed a truckload of raccoons, imported from Florida, into the woods of Virginia. Later they noticed the several dead ones left behind in the truck -- dead, it turns out, from rabies. By then it was too late.

Idiot hunters.

I'm not just being a vegan nutcase here. Hunting to subsist is one thing. Hunting for the sport of the chase and the pleasure of killing is another. And this "bring-your-own-prey" hunting is like shooting fish in a barrel. Remember Mr Cheney and his buddies on their pheasant shoot ? Same thing. Pheasants were trucked in just so Mr Cheney could kill them. Mr Kerry did a bird-killing, gun-toting political photo-op as well. As if there were not enough premature death and suffering in the world.

Thanks to careless, blood-thirsty hunters, these smart, furry scavengers have become transformed into little biological weapons, loaded with one of nature's most deadly viruses. Way to go, careless, bloodthirsty hunters. Spread your icky karma all over the landscape why doncha.

I reassured my husband that, unless he went mano a mano with a rabid raccoon, he wouldn't get rabies. He seemed skeptical. The wildlife authorities recommend gently encouraging such squatters to leave, then securing the area against return. They suggested "ammonia soaked rags," for one thing, placed "beside the door." Or leaving a light on. Or playing a radio continuously. (Have Messrs. Rumsfeld and Gonzalez been doing some consulting for the MSPCA?) The authorities did not specify what genre of music would work best as raccoon repellant. My husband, again, was skeptical. And nervous.

I've always liked raccoons. For one long childhood summer we fed one on the veranda of my Aunt's little pondside summer cottage. He had his own blue-and-white speckled tin bowl on which my Uncle Peter had painted R-I-C-K-Y. We'd heap it with bread and milk, and the creature would shamble up and eat. Now, decades later, raccoons are probably the stuff of childhood nightmares. Move to the rear rattlesnakes, black widow spiders, tarantulas and scorpions. The monster closet runneth over.

Before I left for work the next morning, curious, I peered into the doorless side door of the garage. Sure enough there he was -- brown, fat, the size of two kitties, slumbering in M's chair. I watched the round flank rise and fall, rise and fall; he stirred, rolled over, and, like any peaceful sleeper, sighed and settled down.

Sweet dreams, Ricky. But wouldn't you be happier somewhere else ?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I was listening to -- ausculting, as we say in the biz -- someone's lungs. More precisely, I was listening to breath as it passed in and out of bronchi and alveoli, listening for the whistles and crackles that would signal infection. It's flu season, and hoardes of patients have passed through the clinic with countless variations on the theme of fever chills body aches runny nose sore throat cough. I was tired, bored, peevish and, I must confess, spacing out as I stood behind Ms X. marching the stethoscope down her thorax. In fact, I found myself staring out the window.

The windows of my two exam rooms face a weedy rock ledge. Chain link gates with posted warnings -- FALLING ROCK ZONE -- keep would-be peeping Toms out of the narrow space between the building and the ledge, although, once, I saw a small boy sprint past. It's a pleasant view -- rock, branches, vines, leaves, an occasional bird, plenty of snow of late, and, depending on the time of day, shafts of sunlight pouring down from overhead.

So I was half ausculting and half gazing out the window and suddenly I noticed the speckled beige of empty swallow-wort pods suspended from some intricately coiled vines.

I like swallow-wort. I first encountered it on the chainlink fence in my yard. It was one of the first plants I found in my field guide: I identified it, then swaggered about like a junior botanist. This past spring I was astonished to discover that tiny, stellate brown flowers precede the graceful, tapering pods.

And I also admire the skeletal autumn and winter remains of this ubiquitous vine. As I walk by the river the bright beige speckled pods and the intricately coiled vines unfailingly draw my eye and I experience -- what ? -- pleasure ? Aesthetic pleasure ? I see it and I want to keep looking. It's interesting, engaging -- the contrasting colors, the structural complexity. Something about it attracts me and holds me there. It speaks to me, in a way, and I, looking, speak back. It's a kind of dialogue, conversation. In that moment weed and I form, if not a single organism, at least a single organic system.

But that day, as I listened to Ms. X's breath sounds and stared out the window, I felt nothing of that pleasure. It was a pretty enough specimen of swallow-wort, and yet seeing it I felt indifference, almost revulsion. You'd think I'd be pleased to find a weedy secret companion to my dreary clinic duties. So what was this ? The weed was mute. Sullen. Sequestered behind glass. Like some kind of horrid, alien specimen. Just a dead vine, in the trash slough behind the clinic. I was morose, distracted,in vitro, wanting to be anywhere other than where I was, anyone other than who I was. Poor Ms. X was obediently chugging away, on the verge of hyperventilation, oblivious to the fact that her inattentive internist was having a little pseudo-Sartrean semi-existential confrontation with a dead weed outside the window.

"OK," I said, lowering my stethoscope, "your lungs are clear. Have you by any chance had any nausea ?"

Friday, January 21, 2005



Last week-end tooth #3, fed up with my weeks of ignoring its quiet, reasoned complaints, decided to do the ice-pick-through-the-jaw-ear-and-temple routine that spurned molars sometimes do to get their custodian's attention.

Through assiduously avoiding all but the most tepid foods and consuming nephrocidal and gastropathic handsful of proprietary analgesics, I was able to placate the thing, which I hauled to my dentist on Tuesday.

She peered gravely into my mouth, whacked at #3 with the metal handle of her toothpiculum, stuck some nasty little stingy filaments into unsavory areas she kept indelicately referring to as "pockets," took an xray, and announced I needed a root canal.


All my earliest dentists were men. Gruff, merciless men with large, hairy hands and big needles. Big, long needles which they'd jab deep into the tender mucous membranes of my mouth. Gruff, pitiless men whose drills filled my head with the rank fume of charred tooth until I was burning, burning, burning, burning with the existential nausea of the afflicted body.

One Saturday in 1964 my father and I pulled up to Dr Z's little office for some dreadful assignation or another. I was filled, I presume, with the usual pre-dental leaden despair. There would be pain. There would be helplessness. There would be smells -- chemical, medical, masculine. There was no hope.

The parking lot was oddly empty. Like a shackled prisoner, I shuffled behind my father. We went inside. It was unusually quiet. No drilling sounds or muffled screams issued from the back rooms. No bad music streamed down from overhead. My father conversed in hushed tones with the nurse. Something grave was afoot. Something important and adult. I could hear it in their voices. He nodded, turned and headed toward the door.

Flooded with giddy relief, I followed my father back out to the car. I'd been reprieved. The universe had served up a rare and unexpected clemency. I floated, swollen with delight, weightless as a helium, a nitrous oxide balloon.

"There's been a plane crash," my father explained. "Dr. Z's brother was the pilot. He's dead. Senator Kennedy was in the plane, and he was badly hurt."

I sat, stunned. Deflated. My incredible, unexpected, good fortune had its roots in death and loss and pain.


When I was in my forties I finally got a female dentist. I'd spent decades as a dental outlaw, only rarely going for check-ups, never staying with the same dentist for more than a few visits. My dental luck -- the unmerited and rancid good fortune that had begun in 1964 -- was holding, but just barely.

One day I found myself with dental insurance, so I decided to come in from the cold. I called "Find A Dentist" and made an appointment with Dr. S.

Dr S. is a pleasant, quiet, meticulous woman, friendly but not intrusively so, decades younger than me, whom I liked from the first moment I met her. She was newly in practice, in a handsome, slightly beat brownstone on Beacon Street just outside of Boston. The trolley ran back and forth in the middle of the wide boulevard outside her office. She inspected my aging, neglected choppers, tut tutted over Dr Z's ancient silver fillings, most of which would have to go, and formulated the treatment plan that we're still slogging through to this day. I haven't the heart to tell her I've drawn a categorical line in the sand: no bite guard. No implants.

She won my heart with her first injection of novocaine. Quivering with deeply-rooted angst, I'd opened my mouth, shut my eyes, and steeled myself for pain, for the needle boring straight into the nerve.

But wait ! What was this ? Where was the needle ? Instead, she was twirling two cotton applicators soaked in something aromatic on my gum. I felt a vague fuzzy numbness growing beneath them: topical anaesthesia ! Brilliant ! Was this something new ? Some secret high tech pharmacological anodyne that had eluded the armamentarium of all the hirsute and hamfisted dentists of yesteryear ?

Raise your index finger if you feel any pain she said, as she began the injection. I focused my full attention on my mandible. I felt pressure. Something wiggling . A distant, vague, tinkling brightness, not quite pain.

I did not then, nor have I ever since, needed to raise my index finger.

I relaxed into the chair. I was in good hands.


When I first started seeing Dr. S. I'd just completed my long-postponed medical residency, passed the boards, had found my unobtrusive little medical gig, and was writing a lot of poems. There were, naturally, some dental poems. In defense of the genre I cite Elizabeth Bishop's "In The Waiting Room"

Early in my relationship with Dr S., I found myself undergoing a tedious restoration of a tooth that had outlasted one of Dr Z's ancient fillings. I was to get a crown. I found the whole process mysterious and fascinating. As Dr S. sat beside me on her stool patiently polishing and filing the little porcelain simulacrum, attentive, silent, I imagined a monkish artisan -- a sculptress, a miniaturist -- hired to execute a poet's last wish, and I wrote the following poem:

Last Drill and Testament

It was my last wish, and she eventually obliged me.
I had the cash, of course, but even so it took persuasion.
She said she had her reputation to consider,
and it was all so queer and morbid.
Oh, she was flattered, alright, who wouldn’t be,
and intrigued by the artistic and technical challenge,
but she couldn’t possibly go along with such a thing --
surely it would be unethical, if not outright illegal,
to pervert her conventional skills in such a manner --
but yes, she whispered, it certainly could be done.

Thus I set her dreaming. It was the idea, not I,
that enthralled her, then possessed her.
As it had me, I might add. Who was Fausting whom ?
Does it really matter ? The usual Herr M. from Berlin
via Buenos Aires was in on the financial end,
but the true scrip (as it always is in these transactions)
was immortality. Or at least a respectable posterity.

By the next time I saw her she had already drawn up sketches.
Then the prototypes in porcelain and enamel began to arrive
(when did she sleep ?) one or two a day until soon all twelve
sat in two neat crescents on my desk beneath my lamp.
The details were superb -- folds of drapery fingered by the wind,
a proferred breast, books listing on the corner of a desk,
a sleeping child, a broom, a pen, a tower of feathers framing
an archangelic smile, an ambiguous moon, flames --
all, of course, in miniature, yet rendered with astonishing precision.
And twelve was perfect -- both apostolic and lunar -- six up, six down,
to be exactly staggered in two interdigitating rows
each with its own, and then an interlocking message

as my jaw shuts, free at last of all that nasty gnashing and grinding
that so troubled me during life. During life , you ask ? This, of course,
is to be an opus posthumous, the only one that will outlast me
for any decent time. And even if mandible and maxilla
separate and drift apart (as they are bound to do)
into two simple fables, even the momentary reconciliation
of contradictions will have been well worth the effort and expense.

The surgery’s tomorrow. She thinks it will take two days.
The chance of my surviving anaesthesia is nil, but moot.
Herr M. has made arrangements for the ensuing
dispositions and obliterations -- the laundered cash,
the abandoned car, the eminently plausible note
carefully affixed to the bridge rail, the forest plot
too remote even for the most stumbling hunter.
So, my friends, I’m off to my last supper,
my final brush and floss, a good nights’ rest,
a whiff of nitrous, one last laugh, then my magum opus:
hic jacent poema et poetria -- mordant but dead.



It was midsummer. The August anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb was approaching, and I was writing poems about that approach. I found myself in the dental chair in Dr S's front office waiting for the novocaine to take. The air conditioner hummed; the classical AM station poured out its usual Mozart. Beyond the vine-entangled wrought iron filigree of her bay window, the green line trolleys passed, slow and lumbering as if from the heat. My jaw grew numb. A poem began to take shape


... leaves bow
beyond the glass, the sidewalks sink and darken,
the east- and west-bound trolleys
slip past one another, full and empty
as second and minute hands
passing clock and counterclockwise,

around the point where anaesthesia
begins its pilgrimage along the nerve
and the jaw drops its blackout curtain
for the projectionist’s grainy montage
of a woman, foundering across the face
of a fused compass, her jaw gone, her
tongue trying to ask for water, her throat
a hole in the darkness for the wind
to play like a desolate flute, all
in a heavy, black rain.



Eventually my luck ran out. There were broken teeth. Toothaches. Root canals. Endodontists. Even male endodontists -- surprisingly gentle, grave, professorial men with hands far more delicate than Dr Z's rough paws.

They slipped their strange little files deep into the roots of my perishing teeth, and twirled.

Gutta percha they whispered. Please spit.

Novocaine bathed my brain. A lithograph -- improbably black lemons -- quivered on the wall beside me. Music -- a countertenor, viols -- streamed from the drill. My poems grew more byzantine, more formal, like this logocentric mosaic assembled from little sparkly lozenges chipped from the OED.

Triskaidecodontian Ode

Philodendrons tress the deco étagere
of the grisaille-and-bombazine vestibule
where Mozart, nervous, chitchats, jiggles, taps,
and even the doorknobs harbor designs.

Rhesus lighting ? Ceilings ? But of course.
The accent français is not difficile.
But inside, twin ebony lemons and a lead apron
schadenfreude in Schonbergian dodecaphonics,

and soon all names will be changed to numbers.
Houseplant #3. Doctor sixteen.
Logos to logorithm, a deli count.
This interregnum slurries nostalgia with terror.

No one’s innocent. Gone are the days
when the miller’s daughter walked her dog
under a crescent moon of such well-honed cusps
and incisive light one could think the sky a sonnet,

or at least the sinister of a leggy palindrome
caught to the waist within the floor of heaven.
Today she’d just trip on a root and slide
into the canal’s democratic überbilge.

But I can still wish her an uncolloquial demise !
May she be whisked toward an odalisque of light
upon a wheeled and brightly domed device,
a gilt triskelion-and-soap-box kibitka,

not seen since the days of Vladimir.
All night a triskaidecaskelion has pizza-cut me
from apex to zygoma. Today a taciturn,
kind stranger ministers. Open. Spit.

Oh #13, Judas tooth, I do forgive you.
All thirty two disciples gather in your honor.
I’ve ordered a baker’s dozen honey-dipped.
You have not seen the last of my suppers. Yet.


Dr S. has moved into new digs a few blocks east down Beacon Street. Her office is tastefully decorated, modern, even beautiful, all cheerful yellows and clean beige. She has taken on some partners, and cosmetic dentistry -- invisible orthodonture and whitening systems -- seems, from the displays in her waiting room, to have become a prominent part of the practice. There are iconic smiles on every wall, beautiful smiles that reveal glistening, straight, pure-white teeth.

The operatory windows open out back, now, onto courtyard trees and the brick rear walls of apartment buildings. Squirrels peer in from the branches. A strange, furry cactus lives on one window sill, looking for all the world as if its top had been knit from yellow yarn. It's still an all-woman office, and each year more and more baby pictures appear on the walls.

I am as indifferent to babies as I am to dental cosmetics. I'd simply like to keep some of my teeth for a while longer. Maybe I'll have to move on.

Suddenly I remember how a dentist -- some fellow in Cambridge whom I consulted once in the 1980's -- commented to me that he found the small linear inperfections in teeth "beautiful." Like the welters of cracks in the glaze of certain types of pottery.

Perhaps I should have given him a second chance.

Oh, it's all been so beautifully random, Dr. S.

Later today, reclining below a lithograph of black lemons, I'll have another root canal . I'll think of Hiroshima, trolleys glimpsed through ivy, Nabokovian vocabularies. I'll remember Worcester, Massachusetts, the city of the in Miss Bishop's poem, the city where I went to medical school. And a yellow cactus, like a knit sock.

Someday I hope to vote again for the Senator whose politics I love, and whose terrible misfortune once gave me a moment of pure reprieve, then pure, sickening contingency.

Is Dr Z. still alive ? Taking patients ?

Saturday, January 15, 2005


I read the piece in The Nation with interest and alarm.

The story was about a child psychologist, an excellent one by all reports, who became fascinated with photography. He loved taking pictures of children, even his patients, and children were his main subject. His interest and absorption grew and grew, and he'd take roll after roll of film, shooting ten to twenty rolls a day, sending them off to get developed, and shooting more and more, compulsively accumulating enormous piles of photos (I cast a nervous glance at the 19 binders of photos on my study floor) until his wife felt his hobby had gotten out of hand and he, himself, was thinking of quitting psychology for a career in photography. Unfortunately, amidst the thousand and thousands of candid and sometimes artistically beautiful photos he'd taken of children in his household, children of friends, and children in play therapy in his office, a few, to some minds, were transgressive. Pornographic. A naked bottom. A child peeing. An accidental glipse up a skirt. An employee in a photo lab notified the authorities about a photo he'd taken of a disturbed client of his, a young boy who, in therapy, had removed his pants and was brandishing a knife at his penis.

The doctor, naively explaining to the FBI why he'd taken the photo, blurted out that he'd been "amazed." The FBI transcribed this as "amused" and proceeded to comb through his masses of photos for other possibly transgressive shots, found 100 of them, claimed the Doctor had been "sexually aroused" by them, and the prosecutors proceeded to build a case.

Despite the fact that absolutely no one came forward and called the "has your child been molested by Dr Craft" hotline (compare that to the various molestation and satanic ritual abuse hysterias of the 1980s), that the doctor had never been previously accused of any impropriety, that the children in the photos were prepared to present ringing defenses of the doctor and were evincing great distress that he was in trouble, that their parents similarly defended him, that expert witnesses had concluded he was not sexually aroused by his images, and that employees of several photo labs had stated they'd never been offended by his pictures, the judge conducting his bench trial was so outraged by the images that he convicted him and sentenced him to 20 years in prison for child pornography. (His attorneys apparantly struck some deal to insure his wife could keep their house that excluded all his defenders from testifying. Which seems desperate and odd and tremendously unfair.)

How many lives have been -- are being -- ruined by ignorant, puritanical, religiously-blinded zealots in positions of power ?

But my dismay at his story was not simply ideological. The image of the doctor's house syllogomaniacally filled with toppling piles of photo packets hit close to home.

I thought of my own photos. Could any be deemed transgressive ?

Probably not. Yet.

Then I thought back to Christmas Eve when my father, seeing my camera, ran upstairs and returned with bindersful of slides from his own, as he put it, "photography phase." "There are plenty more where these come from," he assured me, as I pored through sheet upon sheet upon sheet of slides of flowers, sunsets, landscapes, people -- some quite beautiful, some bearing an eerie, almost familial resemblance to my weed pictures.

I did remember something of his "photography phase," especially the work of that summer in the 1970s when he and our neighbor R. hilariously and drunkenly photographed a series of belly buttons and mustaches, then did their famous portraits of the toilet seat they'd placed in the middle of Lincoln Street. But I'd had no idea he was so passionately and completely into it.

He watched me as I paged through his binders, and waxed philosophical, concluding that his -- and, by genetic extension, my -- "photography phase" was a symptom of complusion, a family trait wherein we take up a pursuit with all-consuming fervor, then drop it as completely as we embraced it. To go on to the next obsessional pursuit.

I thought about my life. My avocational "phases" -- quilting, playing the clarinet, writing and submitting poetry, taking pictures. There was some truth to my father's words. And then there are the less savory familial compulsions. Neither of us drink any more. At all. Him for close to thirty, me twenty years. Both of us had applied ourselves with great passion and dedication to that pastime.

Now we're both vegans, although he's vegan in diet only and, on holidays, he cheats. He calls it "feasting," and tucks into the turkey or ham without guilt. I, on the other hand, fret about the stearates in my toothpaste.

Recently he asked me, "Have you ever had soymilk ice cream ? I just discovered it a few weeks ago."

"Omigod ! Funny you should ask !" I enthused, "I am totally strung out on it. I've been eating it every night for months and months, in increasing amounts, I'm up to nearly half a pint a day ! I'm always buying extra because I worry I'll run out, stashing pints of it behind the frozen vegetables... " He nodded vigorously and headed toward the kitchen.

"Why didn't you tell me about it sooner !" he exclaimed in mock dismay, extracting a quart of Soy Dream from the freezer and brandishing it. "I can eat this whole thing in one sitting !"

We laughed. Uneasily.

The next week DK, who'd overheard our exchange, rented The Stuff.

Are you eating it, or is it eating you ? the movie asks.

Well, what is it ?

Sunday, January 09, 2005


What does one "take" when one takes a picture ? An instant of reflected light ? A few photons ? Hardly grand larceny. The image of the bird falls through my lenses, onto my film and retina. The image of me enters its round eye. It's a dialogue, a little nexus of mutual influence. The bird flies off, sooner than it otherwise might have flown, into, let us say, the maw of a passing wolf who would otherwise have passed right on, lunchless. What, then, have I taken ?

Next, now, comes the real corruption. The trafficking. Trafficking in images. Trafficking in all sorts of commodities. Tits and tats. Eyes and teeth. It's a veritable black market, its stalls heaped with contaband. What exchanges hands ? You might well ask.

It's all quite shameless. The moon, the poet said, does not bear a grudge. Neither, of course, does it love me. Or you. Nor would it if it could. Nor should it.

The squirrel has the right idea.

It is offering a profound teaching. Gratis.

Who has ears big enough to hear it with, my dear ?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Quick Someone Bake A Hacksaw Into A Cake And Send It To The USA

I was listening to NPR on the way to work. Nina Totenberg was giving one of her characteristically lucid summations of a quasi-judicial proceeding, the confirmation hearing of Alberto Gonzales.

Her reportage was objective. But the thing, as they say, was speaking for itself. The questions, even from Republicans, betrayed the universal sense of outrage at Gonzales' willingness to grant the President powers that supersede law, and to countenance and codify torture as an appropriate method for the United States to use. Or, rather, avoiding the T-word, methods less than torture, since he'd re-defined torture as "that which causes pain commensurate with death or organ failure." Which opens the door to a host of techniques such as the "finger chopping" that Senator Kennedy posited in his blunt questioning. How could you even attend meetings the Senator asked, incredulous, where these inhuman techniques were discussed ?

I do love Senator Kennedy.

Questioner after questioner pointed out the terrible detention practices -- the shameful, the ghastly abuses -- that have come to light from Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo Bay to prisons in Afghanistan, practices that flowed directly from Gonzales' legal opinions. Opinions that Mr. Bush dearly wanted to hear. Made to order opinions, like the made-to-order intelligence that Bush elicited to support undertaking this catastrophic and criminal war in the first place.

The nominee evaded and wheedled and squirmed and waxed defensive and could not remember. It was classic Bush-administation stuff. The man -- the memory-chellenged, responsibility-evading yes-man -- would fit right in.

It was appalling and heartbreaking. How has the United States come to this, to torture, to indefinite detention without trial, to pre-emptive war, to even considering a man like this to be the country's Attorney General -- the chief enforcer of the law of the land ? A man whose shoddy legal briefs in Texas virtually guaranteed that no one condemned to death would ever get clemency. Who did not think the fact that a defense attorney slept through a trial might have been "ineffective counsel" and a mitigating factor worth mentioning in a clemency brief. And, under questioning, couldn't quite remember the details of that particular case.

One would think that the prissily oleagenous and lunatic John "Let The Eagle Soar" Ashcroft would have represented the absolute nadir of Attorneys General. But, as we've seen time and time again with this administration, there's always a new nadir to be plumbed. Listening, waiting to cross Massachusetts Avenue into Medford, I sighed.

"And if," a senator in her report asked, "the President can over-ride law and approve the use of torture, then what is there to prevent him from approving the use of genocide ?" Ms. Totenberg termed this a bracing and sobering question for "the man who was almost certain to be confirmed" as Attorney General. All the Republicans, she continued, and plenty of Democrats would surely vote for him. The political climate was such that the "newly re-elected" President was certain to get his way.

As in have his way with us . A useful and pertinent euphemism indeed.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Second Person

You don't like New Year's Day. It chafes, like a stiff collar. It wants to exact something from you. Promises. Resolutions. You will abjure this and embrace that. It nudges you and pushes paper and pencil your way. "Write," it demands. So "5 am," you write, "rise." You gnaw the pencil for a moment. "5:10," you continue, all the way to "11:00, sleep." A salubrious day unfolds in graphite -- a day infused with fiats from the 10 Commandments to the 16 Precepts, from Benedict's Rule to the Bodhisattva Vows. A masterpiece of a day that gives equal attention to body, mind and spirit. Billowing with good intentions, you sail into your day.

Come evening, you glance at the clock. 5 PM. You check the crisp list taped to your computer monitor. The dregs of your fifth cup of coffee cool at your elbow. The laundry is undone, the litterboxes unscooped, the books unread, the poems unwritten. You have said "fuck" three times. You have forgotten your vitamins. Your devotions. Your ablutions. You lower your eyes.

The final lines of two famous poems occur to you, lines you still tend to confuse. First, James Wright, lying in the hammock --

I have wasted my life.

then, Ranier Maria Rilke, gazing at the archaic torso of Apollo --

You must change your life.

-- lines that are the heads and tails of the same hazarding coin.

And you laugh, a tad uneasily, as you pull the list down and pencil in an epigraph. "After all," you write, "it's just another day."

You reflect a moment. Your hands and feet are cold. A flock of small distresses rises in you like birds startled out of their thicket. The nights are long. The winter has only begun. The world is wracked by catastrophe and war.

Sobered, you cross out "just."

You even bow.