Friday, August 31, 2007

What Did You Say?

Two girls invited me their Jerry Lewis backyard carnival in the 1970s. I was told I needed my "parrots' permission." I'm sure the spokesperson girl said "parents," and I knew that's what she meant, but what I heard was "parrots."

Are my parents "parrots?" Have they repeated to me what their parents repeated to them and so on back to Middle and Old English?

I regret that my parents and I sometimes speak like parrots who have been in the custody of pirates. But what I hope repeats is the flash of feathers and fathers and mother tongue with its beaked hardness and picky, pecky precision.


Straw for the Fire

--Theodore Roethke

When starting a bonfire for a Cub Scout pack meeting, I tried shopping ads, but they burned out too quickly. In those days I was a poetry editor and had some submissions that weren't accepted. They made very fine fire starters. Naturally they worked better than the newsprint because they were printed on office paper--it had more to do with the medium than the words--but it reminded me that even "failed" poetry has in it potential energy to kindle the intense.

Evil Queen

I had a budget version of Snow White as a child, given me, I believe, by one of my bibliophilic uncles. The last page of the book was ripped--this is the first evidence of myself as literary critic.

The last page was the evil queen receiving the last judgment from her mirror that Snow White was alive and fair. I believe it was the anger in the queen's face that disturbed me and the ripping was a response.

What I didn't realize then was that there is a difference between a bad book and a book that critiques bad things.

What I overlooked, if my memory serves me correctly, was that the other side of the page was Snow White united with her prince. In ripping at the violent I ripped at the peaceful.

And now I want to write Snow White so that the queen can see and redeem herself. It would take more than the willing suspension of disbelief. It would take crafting and compassion that out fairy-tales a fairy-tale.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Infinity, Angst

Bounded in a nutshell, who can count herself queen of infinite space when infinite faces call to responsibility?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Cliche Most Foul

Of all overused, inarticulate, ready-made phrases, swear words must be the worst. It's not prudery that should steer us from them in daily speech, but a respect for all they injure, including language itself.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Gossip and the Face of the Other

Gossip is also destructive because it puts the absent other ahead of the present other and self; it suggests that what is before us and within us is less in need of our present attention than what is not.

Thin Layer of Stone

the world is charged with the grandeur of God

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
--E.B. Browning

While all ground is holy, some feels holy even to the distracted, such as I was one week ago when I visited Pipestone National Monument.

In discussing the feeling of Pipestone with my sister (who also took this picture), we decided that because the site was made public, it has lost some of its sacredness. What remains, though, is palpable.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Beatrice had five children. What became of the daughter's schooling? The oldest son's work at a steel mill helped him finance a civil engineering degree. The three younger boys had muscular dystrophy. Theirs was the era of upright school buildings: massive sandstone things that came out of the ground with hardened perpendicularity. Steps to get in, steps to go up, steps to keep out. Beatrice's story (forgive me for not remembering it perfectly; I last heard it in the late 1980s or early 1990s--why am I so long in recording it adequately? I hope to tell the truth) is that she took one of her sons to the school and when he saw the steps, he cried. His physical challenge kept him out of school. Beatrice was angry; she spoke of genius, of being as smart as Einstein.

Remainders of these three sons' lives included paintings, a red wheel chair in the garage, and books. Many, many books. Were all the books for the boys or just one of them, or were some/most for the family? Don K. Richardson's return address label serves as a bookplate in one I recently opened--he lived the longest of the three. I believe the books were a compensation for the school. Books about Genghis Kahn, the Borgia family, Churchill, Truman. Books with titles like Mormon Country and Beyond the Ural Mountains. Books about plants, books of poetry, Joyce's Ulysses and The Brothers Karamazov.

Who of Beatrice's boys read these books? What did they think of them? How did these books shape their vision of living? Would they appreciate me applying Emily Dickinson's poetry to their situation, or would they accuse me of perky platitude?

He ate and drank the precious words,
His spirit grew robust;
He knew no more that he was poor,
Nor that his frame was dust.
He danced along the dingy days,

And this bequest of wings
Was but a book. What liberty
A loosened spirit brings!

I inherited many of the books from Beatrice's house. I have thought of living a life for those who did not or could not complete their own, but living my own is task enough.

I write this on the third floor of Beadle Hall in Madison, South Dakota. Beadle Hall is one of those erect school buildings (1886) whose spine is steps.

Photo by S. Richardson