Friday, December 12, 2008

Kilmer 2008: Winner

by Stephen Blair, CC '11

The girl who sits in front of me
In Intro to Anatomy
Is lovely as the laurel tree
And with a glance could shatter me.

When first my sight did chance to light
Upon her curves so ample,
I threw away that book by Gray
To study her example.

For Beauty is the spark of knowledge
(Plato says nothing lesser),
And in Beauty's prestigious college,
She is full professor.

So close your books, collegiate youth!
Forget Fermat's equation!
Her beauty is the only truth:
One glance, an education.

Close up your books! Forget your Euler's
Constant! Smash your lyre!
Unlearn your Latin! Snap your rulers!
Throw into the fire

Historians inveterate
And poets tragicomical:
For in her form hath Nature writ
Perfection anatomical.

One day I chanced to come to class
A minute or two early;
I found her there upon a chair,
Her hands entwined demurely,

Her hair pinned up (Ah, she could look
No lovelier than that to me!);
Her nose was buried in a book:
It was her Gray's Anatomy.

No one was nigh save she and I,
Nor student nor professor;
In loving wise she raised her eyes,
And thus did I address her:

"O gentle lady, tell me: art
Thou god or art thou mortal?
For, ah! - my every aching part
Thy beauty sets achortle,

And fain would I conclude, thou art
A heaven-dwelling goddess.
But if a tender human heart
Doth beat within thy bodice,

Have pity on a lovelorn youth,
Love-maddened by your figure,
Beauty's own image! (Though, in truth,
Your pelvis could be bigger,

But we'll let that alone.) Oh, I
Could spend a lifetime gazing
On thee; how thy calcanei
Do set my marrow blazing!

How graceful thy navicula!
How lissome is thy femur!
How sweet is thy clavicula,
As sleep to the dreamer,

And how I've dreamt, with tearful eye,
That cradled in my lap you lay,
Whilst I did ply my humeri
About your snow-white scapulae!

O let me drape my radii
Across thy smooth patella
And plant a trembling kiss on thy
Superior maxilla,

And press your os frontale fast
Against my lovestruck sternum,
Send shivers running through my filum
Terminale internium!

In vain I vaunt your beauty, for
I have not words to tell it in;
But ne'er did I - nor shall I more
Behold so fine a skeleton.

For skin and hair may rip and tear
And Time our flesh may sever;
All mortal clay will soon decay,
But bones endure forever."

Thus spake I - and she blushed! - but not
The blushing of a lover:
She seemed, with bubbling rage red-hot,
About to boil over.

Alas, how women change their moods,
And how their temper ranges!
For with a shriek she smote my cheek
With her distal phalanges.

A yellow bruise did straight suffuse
My cheek, where she had hit it,
And with an oath (which I am loth
T'repeat, so I omit it),

She said, "All men are of a par:
A lewd, lascivious lot,
As pesky as mosquitoes are,
And worthier to swat.

Hence from my sight! No closer come,"
She said, "by Saint Cecilia!
If men could use their cerebrum
Like their membra virilia!"

1st Runner-Up
2nd Runner-Up
3rd Runner-Up
Three Dishonorable Mentions

Kilmer 2008: First Runner-Up

Trees 2008
by Edward A. Rueda, CC '05

(Sung to the tune of Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl")

This poem's not the way I planned —
I wanted quaint pastoral
But then those drinks went to my head,
My written words turned oral.
It's not what good poets do
I lost all discretion,
That nest of robins in your hair
Caught my pen's attention.

I kissed a tree and I liked it —
The taste of sap's excitin'
I think I shall never see
Anything quite as sexy.
It felt so wrong
It felt so right
I loved my vegetables tonight!
I kissed a tree and I liked it —
I liked it.

Don't know your scientific name
It doesn't matter
You intimately live with rain
Guess it's your nature.
You look at God all day
You lift your leafy arms to pray,
My head gets so confused
I want to roll in the hay.

I kissed a tree and I liked it —
The taste of photosynthesis
I think I shall never see
Anything quite as sexy.
Your mouth is pressed
'Gainst the earth's breast
You know it makes me jealous!
I kissed a tree and I liked it —
I liked it.

Yes, trees are all so sensuous —
Tall, thin with leaves deciduous
Or seeds in cones coniferous
Too good to deny it
That tiny carbon footprint!

I kissed a tree and I liked it —
The taste of snow on your tit
I think I shall never see
Anything quite as sexy.
Poems are made
By fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
I kissed a tree and I liked it —
I liked it!

Video courtesy of Abbey Warner, BC '11.

2nd Runner-Up
3rd Runner-Up
Three Dishonorable Mentions

Kilmer 2008: Second Runner-Up

by Jacob Rice, CC '12

"The plays the thing," he said with glee
"Wherein I'll catch some royalty."
But no revenge would have been had
If his play had been half this bad.

The verse is old and quite outdated.
And the language is all antiquated.
And, if that wasn't bad enough,
He crams it full of poetic stuff.

And it isn't just the way he writes,
Or that his actors dress in tights.
What cuts me deeper than a lance
Are plot holes the size of elephants.

I just don't get it, what's the point
Of saying the times are out of joint?
We already noticed that little fact
When hamlet aged ten years in a single act.

Or the traveler's bourn from whence none returns.
Which really gives my stomache turns.
Since just before this speech was done
The ghost came back to tell his son.

He takes Polonius for the king,
Who he just passed whilst praying.
Doesn't think the queen might have escort
Just assumes the king can teleport.

And then the poet lies to us
And the dramatic end is a big old bust.
The rest is silence, so you say.
Then why don't you just end this play?

But all the problems with verse and plot
Fail to measure up a dot.
For the thing that truly makes me itch
Is that our poor Hamlet is a punk ass bitch.

I'm sorry that your daddy's dead
And for all the tears that you have shed.
But I have just one small critqe
Have you ever had a thought that you didn't speak?

He finds out that his fathers dead
So he pretends to be crazy in the head.
Somehow this is supposed to bring
Some terrible vengeance upon the king?

And then there's the beautiful blushing maid,
Ophelia, who he's already laid.
And this innocent thing with whom he lied
He drives to committing suicide.

To be or maybe not to be.
Why that's a question I cannot see?
Oh what a rogue and peasant slave are you
So kill yourself without this todo.

And despite all of these major flaws,
As if it were written in the laws,
We're all expected to know this story
In every little bit of glory.

The book has lasted four hundred years
For the sole purpose of bringing me to tears
But now I've finally conquered my fears
So I'm ending it now, alight the biers.

1st Runner-Up
3rd Runner-Up
Three Dishonorable Mentions

Kilmer 2008: Third Runner-Up

by Peter Day, CC '12

Oh Bulbasaur
With your giant head
and hunched back legs
you look like a turquoise frog
with skin cancer
and an enormous tumor
like a moldy Hershey kiss on your back

You whip people with vines
which creepy fanboy writers
make good use of
in their S and M
and tentacle rape inspired
slash fiction.

Oh Squirtle,
with your tiny T-rex hands
you're more like a dinosaur than Bulbasaur
that was just bad designing.

You wiggle your tail
this next part's in parentheses
(that looks like what happened
when I rolled my silly puddy
into a spiral
and pretended it was a cinnamon roll
and pulled the end away
so it got all stretched in the middle)
end parentheses
and so the appendage trembles
and it looks so pathetic
that your opponents relax their guard
creating an opening
so you can throw up on them
a stream of clear cool vomit
like a geyser
or something else that's phallic.

Oh Charmander
your tail was on fire
so I rushed for a watering can
to save you from the flames.

I doused you with water as pure
as a mountain stream full of pure water
killing you instantly.

This next part is a haiku.
How do I pick one?
I'll be a dick about it.
Gary, you chose first.

1st Runner-Up
2nd Runner-Up
Three Dishonorable Mentions

Kilmer 2008: Dishonorable Mention

Rhapsody on the Name Saxby Chambliss
by Adam Katz, CC '08

Ancient though it be and distant the hour
In which a man, by name Saxby Chambliss
Didst of the cup of victory's chablis
Drink; yet we must to it, so high does it tower.

And as we recall, do our deep brows lower
Bearing witness to the noxious shambles
Of the scruples of him we hope to be jobless,
Public opinion of this man to sour.

Lax be the moral compass of that state
Where the triple-amputee soldier
Could be marketed as degenerate
By him who risked naught worse than a debate
Facts be my witness: ere the state gets moldier,
It and Florida we should detonate.

Additionally by Mr. Katz:

Short Reviews

Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats: or, Review on an English Ode on a Grecian Urn:

Quaint, at times, and better than Merton's parody.

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce:

Wait, come again?

The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser:

This vast book of learned but twisted verse
Germane to a knight who pricks o'er a plain
And other figures equally perverse
Doth seem to travel much the longer lane
Than wouldst the common reader, would he fain.
And yet, ywys his pen be sharp eno'
And quickly runs his overactive brain,
And tho' it amuse to watch his tales grow
Yet his work and glossary be too great and slow.

And lastly, The Jungle by Upton Sinclair:

Dude: Total sausage-fest.

1st Runner-Up
2nd Runner-Up
3rd Runner-Up
Other Dishonorable Mentions

Kilmer 2008: Dishonorable Mention

Tay-Sacks Fifth Avenue
by Robyn Schneider, BC '08.5

Sarah Cohen was thirty-four, single, and ovulating,
As she strolled Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, her mind debating:
Surely there was a genetically perfect man out there, resigned to masturbating
Whom she could lure to her Pottery Barn boudoir for some copulating.

All the babies in strollers whispered siren songs to her loins--
She wished to shoot out a baby like a coin machine shoots out coins
Or a woman from New Jersey wished to dress to the "Noines"
Or a person driving to Des Moines wished to arrive in Des Moines.

There, across the street, walking a stately pommaschnoodle
A man with whose penis she might possible canoodle,
Cleft chin, detached earlobes, the whole kit and caboodle
In her mind's eye, their future child's face she began to doodle.

Her brain mulled over his possible recessive traits
Like a dishwasher's hands turn over dirty plates
Or a taxi passenger's eyes track meter rates
Or a guy who hates people obsesses over the people he hates.

Finally, she concluded their genes would react favorably
So she approached him and bent over his dog lovingly
As her pendulous breasts swayed and bobbed tantalizingly
And at last his phone number she entered into her Blackberry triumphantly.

They met up for drinks and she asked after his dog
And said all the right things because she'd Googled his blog
And it turned out they went to the same synagogue.
And she pondered the size of his circumsized log.

Once they were both sufficiently tipsy
She innocently inquired if he found her sexy
And assured him she was both adventurous and flexy
So off they went to her apartment on Sixty-third and Lex-y.

And just as they were getting down to do the deed
And her eyes gleamed gleamingly with the neediest of need,
Mr. Genetically Perfect got protective of his seed
When he saw how many baby name books she'd stacked on her bedside table to read.

"I know, Let's take it slow," he strategized.
"I'll make a pair of headphones from your inner thighs"
And this new development left Sarah surprised,
For she knew that precious egg would not be fertilized.

Instead of mother's milk, despair filled her breast.
There was no need for her to squat over a pregnancy test
Like a mother bird over an egg-filled nest.
Or a really weird person over a tube of crest.

Convincing herself that Mr. Genetically Perfect was probably gay,
And that his trip to the forest had been an unexciting foray
And that he hadn't been tall enough anyway,
She paid a visit to the sperm bank the following day.

But the visit left her solemnly bereaven,
Like a person who bet odd on Roulette when they should have bet even
For the Sperm bank, like its brothers Wachovia and Lehman
Had filed for bankruptcy and lack of semen.

So Sarah hung her head in concession
Her desire for a baby thwarted by the recession.
And thus followed a period of manic depression
Since adoption was clearly out of the question.

And now Sarah's ovulation has ceased
Her womb an apartment that can't be leased
No matter how much the rent is decreased
Well, she didn't have to abort a tay-sachs kid, at least.

1st Runner-Up
2nd Runner-Up
3rd Runner-Up
Other Dishonorable Mentions

Kilmer 2008: Dishonorable Mention

Recently Uncovered Draft Manuscript of Ascrapius, a lesser poet of Athens
by Amitai Schlair, GS '09

Sing, O Muse, of the varied and sundry accumulated experiences of Herodoklodophopilus, though they be difficult to translate in an elegant fashion, what with the language features of Greek grammar unavailable in English, not to mention the other limitations inherent to the work of translation, plus I don't actually know Greek at all. So sing, O Muse, loudly and clearly and in a way we over here can understand, if you get my drift. And don't worry about this little audio-recording doodad. Just pretend it's not there. Okay I'll turn it off.

[pretend to turn it off]

[clear throat]

Sing, O Muse, of the mild, persistent disappointment
That plagued our somewhat interesting protagonist
In manner nonetheless not unmanageable
Or even memorable. The strong-greaved, rarely-greaved
Herodoklodophopilus himself forgot
Though it be him what at this tale is all up on.

So when you have put away your desire for eating and drinking,
Put away in your minds this other thing I tell you.
Many poets could have been chosen for the recounting.
The muse chose me. What can I say, I gave her some good shit.
Behold! Of all most honorable poets, this is Ascrapius you'll get.

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for already.
Stay your poisonous, venomous, poisonous darts.
No Aias-crapius to block them am I, with
That big ol' shield. That you would harm, it hurts me right here [gesture to heart]
It's okay. I'm good. Story time, motherfuckers.

There once was a man called Herodoklodophopilus
Who liked to stand on top of the Acropolis.
But the Greeks all wore onesies,
Which made it less funsies,
Because noone ever walked around topilus.

1st Runner-Up
2nd Runner-Up
3rd Runner-Up
Other Dishonorable Mentions

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Drug Wars

No explanation necessary.  Some of you will recognize this, and if you came late or not at all, then you can read it now.

The music makes the coffee table vibrate it’s so loud. We learned about this in Physics—it’s called resonance. That’s when one object is so powerful that it causes other objects to be sucked into its frequency. Jimmy has resonance—he approached us at school, gave us a taste of his attitude, and sucked us in. We resonate at whatever frequency he sets. Tonight it’s soft rock and a bit of country, which I think is supposed to be ironic. I can’t tell because I’m not thinking so clearly right now.

“Jimmy JimmĂ­”, I say with a Portuguese accent (not that I speak Portuguese), “What was in those brownies?” Jimmy smiles and his teeth gleam in the dimmed lights.

“It’s our new product,” he sells. “What do you think?”

There is only one answer: “I love it! But what is it?”

Jimmy starts to answer (or evade the question) but Zweig interrupts. Zweig’s a big guy from Southwest D.C., with the number 14 tattooed on the small of his neck. His real name’s Sheldon. I suspect he calls himself ‘Zweig’ because he thinks it sounds more German. I don’t know where Jimmy met him, and I understand even less why Jimmy lets him hang around. We’re interested in one thing only, and that thing is not neo-Nazi supremacy.

“Hey, man! Can I get you anything?” Jimmy offers. “I just got a new shipment in from Mexicali, it’s supposed to be really pure—” The word ‘pure’ does something to Zweig, and Jimmy, seeing Zweig’s interest, continues his advertising campaign. “Yeah, a bunch of Nicaraguans brought it up from Colombia in swallowed condoms. We lost two grams when one of the rubbers broke. Yeah, I know, isn’t that horrible?” Jimmy asks, misreading the revulsion creasing Zweig’s forehead. I pet Jimmy’s arm—I don’t think Zweig wants any. If it doesn’t involve a heil Hitler, Zweig’s probably not interested. Jimmy may act dense when he’s high, but he’s a genius. We all say he could have paid his way through junior college and gone on to a career in advertising or marketing. Instead he fell in love with chemistry and recruited a group of us to test out his experiments. It’s probably not a smart idea to ingest something invented in a chem lab, but Jimmy’s really smart and I’m sure he wouldn’t get any of us hurt.

“Someone’s at the door,” Zweig reports. Jimmy shrugs.

“So let them in.”

“They knocked funny,” Zweig argues. He stares Jimmy in the face, communicating in a way I can’t understand. Jimmy’s eyes get big, and he nods. He starts weaving his way through the crowd, passing people sprawled on lovesaks, fondling on the couch, swaying to the music. I follow him, unhappy to be left alone with Zweig.

“What’s going on, Jimmy?” I know he’ll tell me—our gang trusts each other unconditionally.

“Just something I may have to take care of,” he says casually, but his lips tighten. He opens a drawer and adds a round into a sleek, polished handgun. His thumb and fingers grip the trigger tenderly. The temperature in the room rises fifteen degrees and I’m perspiring, wetting my disco shirt. It was ridiculously expensive, vintage, and now I’m staining the silk. I don’t want to be here anymore but I don’t want to leave Jimmy. He turns to me with his hand on the doorknob, “Mike, do me a favor and grab those eye drops, will you? Damn dry eyes—“

BAM. BAM. The door is open and Jimmy’s down and he’s got one in the leg, one in the stomach. Screeching tires leave black streaks in the driveway and I see five purple bandanas in a Honda halfway to the intersection. My reflexes are slow, thanks to Jimmy’s brownies, and everything seems to go down faster than in reality. I put my arms out to catch Jimmy but he’s already bleeding over the carpet, fallen in a contorted position, quiet.

“Freeze! Everybody freeze where you are, nobody move!” Zweig’s knees are bent and he’s waving a gun in one hand and a badge in the other. I freeze. Jimmy lets out a little moan. I moan with him. I sink to the floor and mop up some of Jimmy’s blood with my disco shirt.

“Zweig…Zweig, we gotta take him to the hospital, we gotta get him fixed up or he’s gonna die!” Zweig looks me in the eye, his bald head reflecting all the light in the room, and slowly and deliberately he calls 9-1-1 on his cellphone. Then he puts his cellphone and badge in his back pocket and we wait.

Moral of my story: Don’t do drugs if there’s a chance in hell your best friend might get shot by a rival drug gang. Because you’ll want to be lucid so you can save his life, and not the neo-Nazi undercover cop.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

American Politics: Unfair to Men

I recognize that black men have only voted for the past 140 years; that women have only voted for the past 90 years; and that it was the same 90 years ago that saw the first women politicians compete on a federal level for seats in congress; and I recognize that it is a miscarriage of justice on the most fundamental level that there are fewer than 10 black representatives and senators currently serving. I'm not saying that American politics are fair to women or minorities; I'm saying that they're unfair to everybody because they are bound up in a cult of appearance, and that, while it may be disingenuous to say "American politics are unfair to white men," it is a truth from which we would do well to learn.

In a world where people would vote for or against candidates like Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama based on their gender or apparent race (and I say apparent because Obama has white ancestors as well as black; but in America, half a century after the supposed death of Jim Crow, one drop of african ancestry is still all it takes to brand you with a black brand) it's easy to miss another way in which issues get side-tracked by appearances: When, in this century, except in the case of Dwight D. Eisenhower, have we elected a president who did not have a full head of hair? [keep in mind that Ford, who, to a lesser extent than Eisenhower, distinguished himself during WWII, was not elected]. That precedent alone is enough to call the election in favor of Obama.

Which is another means of side-tracking. This century, only one president has died of what can, even at a stretch, be called old age: Franklin Roosevelt. And that was only because he had an unofficial lifetime appointment. Two others--Wilson and Reagen--have been seen as too old or infirm to govern effectively--but only into their second terms. Strictly speaking, McCain isn't too old to run for president once, whatever a democrat may tell you. And since Ford and Eisenhower were also war heroes, he isn't too bald to run either. But that doesn't mean he would make a good president.

McCain the soldier and McCain the senator have fairly good records of which they should both be reasonably proud. But McCain the candidate has (I hope) doomed public opinion of his judgment irrevocably by choosing a bimbo to be his successor as leader of the free world, should he fall severely ill while serving. Say what you will, but I hold firm to this: baseball wasn't integrated by Jackie Robinson; it was integrated by the mediocre players who came after them and who make up the rank-and-file of times today, as once it was the privilege only of white players to do; and politics will not be integrated until an ugly but intelligent woman can run successfully for president, and a bald man with no military career can run successfully for president.

Thoughts like these make watching presidential and vice-presidential debates shameful to me as an American. But I would rather have these thoughts than be a proud American. So I won't watch them anymore. But I will vote, and I will read about politics in the newspaper--the latter only because the Yankees and Mets are out of the playoffs.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Update from a phoreign blog

Recently, I opened a thread on my blog Message in a City in a Bottle calling for submissions of 6-word novels in the tradition of Hemingway's masterpiece "For sale baby's shoes never worn." I'm pleased to announce that Samantha Kuperberg offered one up that I find particularly good:

Being three thousand miles away helps.

I thought this an interesting enough project to merit discussion here, in the central repository for all things creative in the world, but I wouldn't reprint all of them here because my blog has paid advertisement (which yours should get...seriously). But don't take it from me--come see the others, including work of phellow filos and geezers alike.


Sunday, May 11, 2008


(With no apologies whatsoever to Alfred Joyce Kilmer.)

I think that I shall never see
A beast so ruthless as a tree;

Whose majestic blooming buds
Have filled my sinuses with crud.

A cheery harbinger of spring,
Oblivious to my suffering;

A tree who pollinates all day,
Plotting 'gainst my nasal spray.

Whose blossoms blow their gentle sighs
Directly in my swollen eyes.

A nest of tissues in my pocket rests
(An extra tucked between my breasts);

Seasons announce themselves with roses
My fanfare comes in blowing noses.

My head fees like a sewer drain,
Who intimately lives with pain.

Anyone can plant a tree,
But only God would do this to me.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Through the Congo (still working on the title)

Heart of Darkness anyone?
In this piece Marlowe (our narrator) encounters Sir Henry Morton Stanley's last expedition through Africa. The fiction written below - including cannibalism - is based on what actually occurred during Sir Stanley's last expedition.

Rivets, rivets, anything for some bloody rivets! But once again, it seemed the universe was against me, and every foolish gorilla in the Congo knew nothing and had nothing. By then, of course, Kurtz was no more and we had no urgency to progress downstream, but we were madly exhausted and even the shabby outer station seemed like Buckingham Palace. A bed, a bed, oh anything for a bed! Alas, our steamer had not taken well to my previous repairs – as I had been forced to use parts that did not quite fit – and we were stranded in the banks of that blasted river. We waited for weeks, depending on wild animals to eat, which thankfully pacified the cannibals and their desire for fresh meat.

Finally a passing expedition stopped nearby, providing us with all the materials necessary for the repairs. I shall admit it was one of my oddest encounters in the heart of darkness. Their captain was the renowned Sir Henry Morton Stanley, whose fame, especially in those parts of the world, I need not recount. The man lived up to my very last expectations; he had a hard black gaze, stood proud, and knew exactly what he was doing and how he would go about it.

“Sir Stanley, I presume!” He answered with a hearty laugh.
“Indeed sir! I see you lads are in a bit of rut here, no? We can help with your repairs; you need not worry, my boy.”
“Thank you, sir! I must say this is quite a surprise. Are you exploring past Stanley Falls?”
“We will be passing through those lands. You see, I’ve been hired to rescue a man by the name of Emin Pasha, and my regular contractor, King Leopold of Belgium, has ordered me to pass through these lands. My true concern is over my European companions. I doubt very many will endure the journey.”

Only madmen would travel the Congo, but there is a certain kind of madness that few possess that allows you to survive - the release of your inner savage.

“You should be careful, sir. We’ve just come back from the innermost station along the river, and the head there, Mr. Kurtz, who kept the natives sedated has just died.”
“I’ve fared worse, my boy. I’m just glad finally to meet another Englishman out here. Seems as though the Queen has you lot tied up in India, eh? … Never mind, not to worry, not to worry, I’ve had a fair share of experience here if I may say so myself. Now, would you care for some fine Irish whisky? One of my companions, an Irishman, owns the brand and he’s been quite generous.”

That night we gathered on their ship’s deck enjoying a few rounds of whisky. The Irishman, James Jameson, seemed like a neat sort of fellow, quite self-satisfied, polite, and very jovial – something I suspect had more to do with his flask and less with his personality. I was surprised to hear that such a rich man had never traveled beyond the British Isles, which explained his curiosity about that place. Jameson was fascinated with the savages; in fact, he spent the next couple of days chatting up the cannibals on board our steamer. Had we known his real intentions, I would not have permitted this. Naturally, he was quite interested in Kurtz and his relationship with the tribes, hoping I could tell him more about their behavior and how Kurtz had achieved his status. How had I come to recruit cannibals on our expedition? Why hadn’t they eaten us yet? Despite my hesitance to answer, every word I spoke was registered in his little white journal – strange how he could keep it so clean – where he would record our conversations.

Our fourth day into repairs, he returned with a small native girl, perhaps ten years old, whom he had purchased. Even at her young age she stood proud and unafraid, surrounded by strange looking people she couldn’t understand, but she held her head high. We believed Jameson had depraved intentions with the poor child, which Sir Stanley would not allow on his ship.

“Whatever your intentions might be with an eleven-year old slave-child, I will not allow it on my ship. This is a rescue expedition and there is no room for children!”
“But Sir! I think she would make an excellent house-maid for my wife, and she could surely help with chores on the ship.”
“Codswallop! She’s a savage, man! Do you think I’ll believe that ridiculous excuse? You’ve bought her for something else and I shall have nothing to do with it. Have her gone by tomorrow, and that’s the end of it.”

The next day, the little girl had vanished. The scandal had been prevented and the pilgrims onboard my ship resumed conversing with Jameson; we gathered on the deck of Stanley’s ship that very night. Something was different that night, James Jameson was solemn, and he drank more than I thought possible for a man, even an Irishman. Soon enough he began to drivel about savages and England and other drunken poppycock; the man began to cry. I looked away, for his sake rather than mine. I couldn’t imagine the shame he’d feel after this display. Sir Stanley, a no-nonsense man, took the liberty of reading the little white journal to discover what was wrong with the bloke.

“Good God, man! What has this brute done?”
Reading over his shoulder we learned of Jameson’s true intentions with the girl.

Cannibals ate her.

My cannibals.

The last ten pages of his journal were filled with notes and sketches of the process, of how the cannibals cooked and ate her. Jameson killed her and then offered her body to them ‘in the name of science,’ after the first two pages I had to look away.

“What a repulsive man!”
“How could anyone? … So cold-bloodedly …”
“What am I to do with the cannibals? They didn’t kill her, and I had known they defiled human bodies before I hired them. Should we continue on? Should our crews hear of this?”
“This expedition has been a bloody disaster since we left England! Sometimes I feel these Englishmen are greater brutes than the savages themselves. I can’t continue my journey with that man on board.”
“The men at the Outer Station will simply let him go. Their only interest is ivory, not justice.”
“You are two days’ journey from the Outer Station. Do you think you can manage without the cannibals?”
“I believe so. What is your plan, Sir?”
“I say we leave Jameson stranded out here with the cannibals, and let them do each other justice.”

When the repairs to our steamer were completed a day later, the Irishman and my cannibals were left behind; in effect, we left Jameson to experience cannibalism first-hand. Regardless of the incident with the child, I still felt sympathy for the cannibals, perhaps was because they refrained from eating us during the journey; perhaps they were simply efficient workers I appreciated, but having the pilgrims shoot at them filled me with rage.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley continued in his journey, but the atrocities that occurred during that expedition, even beyond the incident with the Irishman, tarnished the man’s reputation.
That was to be his last, and most grievous, expedition.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Metro Diner review

This has nothing to do with the food at Metro Diner; it is an analysis for my Greek class about the presence (or lack thereof) of Greek culture in New York diners nowadays.

Metro Diner, located on 100th St. and Broadway, is a Greek-owned establishment, like most diners in New York City. However, the rambunctious atmosphere typical of Greek-owned diners is missing; it lacks the homey feeling of diners such as Tom’s Restaurant (112th St. and Broadway), which is owned and managed by an immigrant from Greece. The fact that the manager of Metro Diner is an “American with Greek ancestry” rather than a “Greek” and that the feel of this establishment is much different from that of places like Tom’s Restaurant is hardly a coincidence.

Metro Diner’s appearance attempts to reproduce the iconic “all-American” diners from the 1950s. Flashy neon lights, typical American food fare on a bubbly-font menu (with Greek food selections like Chicken souvlaki conveniently camouflaged between cheeseburgers and tuna salads), and a reserved atmosphere complete the picture of Metro Diner. Unlike some Greek peers, Metro Diner is much too businesslike – it is a no-nonsense, eat and leave, place – it does not stand out from other places in New York, where anonymous customers come and go. The famed Greek hospitality appears to be thrown to the wayside, a cultural tradition lost after generations in America.

Metro Diner also represents the cultural Diaspora of New York City. Here Greek-American owners work with a mostly Latin workforce, and have thus learned to speak Spanish. The Latin American waiters themselves not limited to speaking English, but Greek as well. One such person was an Argentinean waiter, Mario, who speaks English, Spanish, and has been learning Greek for two years. Commenting – as Mr. Nikos would during our interview – that learning either Spanish or Greek is relatively easy if the person speaks one of the two languages already. Sadly, the opportunity to interview this fascinating man was lost. In essence, this diner is in many ways a microcosm of New York, it has been evolving like the city and its inhabitants have evolved; Greeks are now Americanized and a new wave of immigrants has arrived to replace them.

The manager at this location, Mr. Nikos, was very helpful, but nonetheless serious. He explained the dwindling presence of Greek-owned and operated diners – the difficulties of the job, which he does not wish on his children if they can avoid it. Mr. Nikos was very proud of his Greek heritage, speaking fluent Greek and having his children learn the language themselves, but he identified as American. It seem as if he was most proud of his immigrant family, who fought for a better life for their children by undertaking the hard working life of running diners, a legacy he has undertaken as well. His American identity overshadowing his Greek identity could be a result of him viewing his family’s struggles and successes as more of an American trait (chasing the American dream) than a Greek one. Despite this, Mr. Nikos is proud of his Greek heritage and actively fights to preserve its presence in America, either through his children or through anyone willing to learn the language and culture of Greeks. During the interview, Mr. Nikos did not hesitate to correct his interviewer (me) when she continually made grammar mistakes or confused tenses when asking a question. This is indicative of the Greek culture as well – a warm, intimating culture where it is normal to address strangers with the same confidence as old friends – despite their approach to business, the owners and managers of Metro Diner still retain the Greek spirit, which they choose to keep from customers in an attempt to appeal to a more widely American consumer base (used to being treated in a sterile manner). When it comes down to it, it is all business, and Metro Diner cannot fall back on a large student consumer base (one distanced from home and that would be more likely to appreciate friendliness) like Tom’s Restaurant can; Metro Diner targets a different audience.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Socks that Don't Match

Annabelle trips down the street
In a dress that don't fit her so neat
Her feet and her pulse keep continuous beat
She's running away

Running away from the too-thin walls,
Through which she can hear her parents brawls
That echo throughout her mind's crooked halls
She's running away

With her socks that don't match
And her dress made of thatch
And her eyes: shiny from crying
And her head full of visions
Of how this decision
Will go
When she's lying low.

Annabelle who lived in the garden
Whose stubble as the frost comes continues to harden
Bumps into a stranger and begs him his pardon
She's wasting away.

As the snow comes down in the winnowing light
She traps flakes on her tongue and shrieks with delight
But where will she spend the night?
She's wasting away.

With her socks that don't match
And her dress made of thatch
And her eyes shiny from laughing
And her head full of visions
Of how this decision
Will go
When she's lying in snow.

Annabele trips up the street
In a dress that don't fit her so neat
her feet and her pulse keep continuous beat
She's fading away

Running again to the too-thin walls
Through which she can hear her parents' brawls
That echo through her mind's crooked halls
She's fading away
She's fading away


Through the sea that is always waiting,

Passing over, and fading out from, the shore

The sailor comes home along the road.

He goes away up the hill and back down.

He opens once more the gate to his wife's house.

He opens once more the gate to his wife's house

And goes away up the hill and back down.

The sailor comes home along the road,

Passing over, and fading out from, the shore

Through the sea that is always waiting.

Friday, April 18, 2008

a conclusion to my thesis probably too poetry-like for a real academic paper

Though my thesis was written in the Bible and Ancient Semitic department at the Jewish Theological Seminary, I do not see this essay as truly a study of the Bible itself. And though, in applying to colleges, I chose schools based on the rubric of their faculty in the study of the Hebrew Bible, my main interest has never been the text itself. In my course of study at JTS, I came to realize that I gravitated most towards methods of studying the Bible that partake interdisciplinarily in the realm of literary and critical theory. My revelation helped me understand that my true interest in Bible study is not the book itself, but rather how it is read. To me, this appears to be a proper focus when one is engaged in learning Judaica, studying the books of the People of the Book. One cannot separate the books from the people who read them, and vice versa. With every (holy) text, there comes a reading community who interprets its meaning and apply it to their lives.

Thus, my interest in the relation between magic and the Hebrew Bible was really an interest in how the Bible, often seen as a metonymy for proper monotheistic religion, has been used to construct the meaning of magic, and how the projected illicit nature of magic has been utilized as the negation of religion’s virtues. Simply put, the traditional scholarly work on magic, predominantly influenced by Sir James Frazer, has seen it as intrinsically and essentially opposed to religion. In my research, I discovered that this binary was coded with various accreted associations. Magic was identified with irrationalism, emotion, manipulation and coercion, automatic results, mechanistic behavior, and ritual. Religion, on the other hand, was understood as characterized by reason, petition, requests, relying on the Divine Will, spontaneity, prayer, and sacrifice. In addition, magic, in its association with ritual behavior and with emotion, was associated with the body while religion, seen as a locus of reason, was identified with faith and spirit. This trend in thinking is in great debt to Protestant theology, picking up a trend found in Paul’s epistles, which declared that the true path to salvation with sola fide, by faith alone. The works of the Catholic Church were irrelevant and even harmful to one’s spiritual life. The anti-ritual and anti-priestly bias was read into the Bible, seeing the high, noble, and spiritual prophetic religion of the First Commonwealth devolve and degenerate into the baroque ritualism of the priests.

On one hand, many scholars have sought to characterize the religion of the priests as quasi-magical, given its emphasis on (sometimes bizarre) ritual actions. Others, often religious thinkers as well as scholars such as Yehezkel Kaufman, have sought to completely dissociate the Bible from magic, focusing on its polemical passages that condemn magical practice. I differ. In granting some credence to the view depicted above, I saw the rituals of the priests as containing a distinct magical element. However, running counter to their discrimination in favor of prophets, I saw prophetic symbolic actions as another outstanding locus of Biblical magic. However, even this approach granted succor and support to the entrenched biases described above. Still, the critical focus, the eye that seeks out the magic, remains trained on Biblical ritual, seeing it as aberrant and not properly spiritual.

The binary opposition between magic and religion still remains in strength, and focusing on the behavioral elements of the Bible alone reinforces its ingrained logocentrism. That is to say, central to the binary coding noted above, is the notion that reason, as embodied in language, which has its home in the mind, has a distinct and privileged position, over and against emotion and action, both situated in and on the body. Language, which is seen as the purest vehicle for rational thought, must be understood as absolutely different than the event. This notion is immediately and irrevocably problematized when one recognizes that speech (and writing) is an embodied act. One speaks with one’s throat, tongue, teeth, as well as one’s hands and “body language.” Austinian speech-act theory bears this fact out, when he asserts that there are some types of speech whose truth is not judged by their factual or descriptive accuracy. Rather, their value is based on their effectiveness. In fact, all speech is an act, for all speakers engage in the act of speaking, or yelling, or condemning, or exulting, or complimenting. Thus, to establish an inviolable distinction between speech and act is incorrect and misleading.

Thus, to peer only into the ritual elements of the Bible reproduces this distorted view of human experience. The Bible, along with the Ancient Near East in general, did not themselves see a substantive difference between a word and the thing to which it referred. Thus, in the Bible, we are given an account of cosmogony in which the Divine speaks the world into being. God does not describe a previously existent universe; through the utilization of language, God constitutes reality as we have it. Speech, here, is an irruption into the status quo, changing events irrevocably. Humanity is created in the image of God that is to say with God’s nature. Humans are unique amongst all creatures because of their ability to use language and thus partake in the divine creative power, one that can affect the world around them. This belief is especially borne out in the power granted to the name. By knowing or manipulating the name of a person or thing, one can have great influence upon it. The “name theology” of Deuteronomy provides for Israel an immanent hypostatic presence, an aspect of YHWH’s transcendent reality, the aspect with which one can interact.

The effective and eventful power that we discover in words in the Bible does not peter out in the modern period. Today, many philosophers understand our very reality as constituted through language. We are beings who speak, and that is how we interact with and even construct the world around us. Butler notes that we are still vulnerable to the power of the name. Words have great power to hurt us, to cheer us, and to define the way we are seen. Just as the Biblical shem is one’s public persona, the name remains the nexus with which we connect with the external world. As Tambiah writes, “There is a sense in which it is true to say that language is outside us… at the same time, language is within us, it moves us and we generate it as active agents. Since words exist and are in a sense agents in themselves which establish connexions and relations between both man and man, and man and the world, and are capable of 'acting' upon them, they are one of the most realistic representations we have of the concept of force which is either not directly observable or is a metaphysical notion which we find necessary to use."

Language, much like God’s name in Deuteronomic name theology, is for us an immanent transcendence, that which is external to us but has great impact within us. We partake of the transcendent power of language and partake of the creative and irruptive power of God’s originary speech. The words we speak have such power to them, the power to create the reality we inhabit; the words that act on us shape our persons and our world. Our speaking selves both speak and are spoken for; we name and are named in turn. Our vulnerability to the power of the word is a means by which we experience and share in transcendence, a force beyond us in the world around us. What can be a greater magic than that?

thoughts on passover and immigration reform

Passover is a truly unique holiday. Unlike the usually cold and rainy Sukkot, the Jewish spring time holiday is actually occurring in a beautiful spring! Also, of course, there's the whole no bread thing.

For me, the uniqueness of the hoiday truly plays out in the command to remember the Exodus from Egypt as if we were the ones who had left.

Now, what does it mean to remember? One type of remembering is passive. You hear a song and remember the love you once had in your halcyon days of youth. I believe that the type of memory stressed by the Pesach is of a more active variety. We hold the seder in our home, and we do not merely allow the story of our liberation wash over us and cause us to "remember" the Exodus. No! We are instructed to drash out the tale of our oppression and freedom. We must raise the matzah and maror and explain their meaning.

The remembering of Passover is a consciousness we are told to take up as our own. An intimacy with and inherent compassion for the reality of oppression and the deep human thirst for justice and freedom is the gift God has given us through this chag.

In my internship at the Jewish FundS for Justice, my main task has been to develop educational materials so that Jewish communities can engage with the issue of immigration. To my mind, ignoring this issue runs directly counter to the type of remembering we are supposed to be taking up on Passover. Our experience of slavery is one of the first struggles of the displaced in human history! It took our crying to God to have God remember the promise made to us in times past. There are more voices crying out all around us, and ignoring them negates the holy task this holiday has given us.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

i've missed you ::weeps silently in corner::

vigilant phlog readers, i am sure you exist, are noticing that i have been conspicuously absent from these digital pages.
the sad facts are that my thesis has kidnapped me, stuffed me in the basement of JTS and has been anally raping me daily.
not fun.
well, mostly not fun.

so, as proof of my still being alive, and of my self-worth, here is a snippet of my far-too-long paper (it's gonna be like 100 pp)

Chapter 1: Do You Believe in Magic?
A Theoretical Introduction to Magic and Its Relation to Religion

“That's the thing with magic.
You've got to know it's still here,
all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.”
~Charles de Lint

“One man's ‘magic’ is another man's engineering.”
~Robert A. Heinlein

“Some call it magic
And I don't know how
But I know that I have it
And it all works out”
~Iris Park

If there is any topic of scholarly inquiry that ignites the imaginations of both academics and the general populace, it is the inquiry into the nature of magic. A glut of articles, monographs and book-length studies available to the interested student, as well as the prominence of a certain boy wizard, give credence to this fact. When presented in popular culture, magic typically takes on an immediately recognizable form. The practitioner wears a long robe; he brandishes a wand or staff, and he completes his ensemble with an impressive white beard. His demeanor is similar to the absent-minded professor, though there is an ineffable wisdom secreted behind his half-moon spectacles. The portrait of magic in our minds today is clear indeed. However, the state of magic in the realm of scholarly research shares none of that enviable, simple lucidity.
There has, perhaps, never really been, among scholars, a consensus on a theory of magic. It’s arguable whether any academic or expert has ever truly produced a real, coherent theory at all, on the topic. It has become apparent to the past generation of critical studies that this confusion is has its roots in the field of inquiry itself and its relation to the study of religion. Scholars have been caught on both sides of this controversial and very difficult issue, with some arguing for its irrelevance in today’s scholarship , while others have presented it as being in direct and irreconcilable opposition to proper religion. The entire project of comparison is fraught with danger, as J. Z. Smith warns us, “Comparison provides the means by which we ‘revision’ phenomena as our data in order to solve our theoretical problems.” The question of whether we can ever truly escape the confines of our historical and cultural conditioning is absolutely essential for one to maintain in the back of one’s mind when engaging in such a study.
I intend to sketch out a brief and (sadly, but necessarily) incomplete history of the scholarly study of magic, focusing on how each writer’s theory of magic relates with his or her ideas concerning religion. The end result of this overview will frame the rest of part 1 of this paper, while part 2 will have its own theoretical introduction."

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Items for Sale in Skymall

I had tons of sarcastic comments to add to this list, but I think it’s much better to let the items speak for themselves.

-- The Best Electronic Pants Presser

-- The Marshmallow Shooter

--Jumpin Jammerz (“Until now Footed Pajamas have been almost impossible to find in adult sizes. Well, your search is over!!!”)

-- The Classic Ball-Shooting “Burp” Gun

-- The Remote Controlled Beverage Buggy

-- Solar Powered Mole Repeller (“drives ‘em out with safe, effective, annoying vibrations!”)

-- Floatin’ Bumper Boats

-- Personalized Branding Iron (for your barbeque)

-- Solar Powered Personalized Talking Bible

Thursday, March 13, 2008

fragments of poetry cited in a facebook wall war

"the babies in the tomatoes."
~allen ginsburg, "a supermarket in california"

"babies in the tomatoes? what about wives in the avocados! hubba hubba!
here's the real question: what would you buy in a neon supermarket?"
~josh schwartz, adapting from allen ginsburg

"Fortune plango vulnera
stillantibus ocellis
quod sua michi munera
subtrahit rebellis!"
~carl orff, "carmina burana"

"If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say -
Like this."

"but we were dark:
a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers."

"The hero there,
diverting his gaze
from mine,
in shame and awe
his eyes cast down.
Tell me, how does he strike you?"
~richard wagner, "tristan & isolde"

"If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don't try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to die for love, point
~more rumi

"I have torn speech like a tattered robe and let words go;
you who are still dressed in your clothes, sleep on."
~even more rumi

"If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori."
~wilfred owen

"It is now refound!
What? eternity.
It is the sea commingled
With the sun."

"Poetry leads to the same place as all forms of eroticism — to the blending and fusion of separate objects. It leads us to eternity, it leads us to death, and through death to continuity. Poetry is eternity; the sun matched with the sea."

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Geezer Geyser, Part 2

Animadversions of a Geezer-in-training

Neil Gaiman's Lucifer is a debonnaire who, en route to quitting the "Lord of Hell" gig and becoming a lounge-pianist, quotes himself, as depicted in John Milton's Paradise Lost: "Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven."

Phillip Pullman wrote a trilogy of novels in which dark matter, known to the main character, Lyra, as dust, is the stuff of consciousness and reacts to human moods. He calls the trilogy His Dark Materials out of a line from Milton's Paradise Lost.

William Styron, in writing a tale of the private hell that is living with, and, in some sense, dying of, depression, chose the title Darkness Visible, which phrase Milton coined to describe the environment of Hell, lacking the light of the Sun (i.e. Jesus and pals), but in which sight was still possible.

The first of these examples is a comic book; the second is a set of children's novels; the third is a memoir. Two are from the 90s, one is from the 50s. Two are from Englishmen, one, an American. What do these disparate episodes in the chronicles of literature have in common? They all refer to the first twenty percent of Milton's supposedly indispensable literary cornerstone.

Some books are meant to be read; others are meant to be cited in some convoluted process of literary belt-notching. Samuel Johnson, who wrote the first English dictionary (so we know he could read relentlessly dull tracts of data for long periods of time) famously said Paradise Lost is too long. What chance do the rest of us have?

Art for art's sake is a wonderful concept. It yielded us Kafka's Metamorphosis; it yielded us Picasso's cubist period (or maybe that was unrelated--a simpler explanation is that his demanding social life led him naturally to see women with their legs above their heads). Art for art's sake has brought us wonders; but it can get you killed. Ulysses by the inimitable James Joyce (incidentally, how many Irish can win the Nobel Prize, really? It's a tiny island! More Irish have won than exist!) is considered the greatest novel of the 20th century. How do we know that? The only two people who've read it are Joseph Campbell and Vladimir Nabokov--both capricious assholes who shouldn't be trusted. Joyce's own wife Nora didn't read either of his two enormous novels. I'm surprised even the Nobel committee managed to do so--unless they didn't award him the Nobel prize, but surrendered it to him while they were still on page 350.

The only tract I've ever read making reference to sections of Paradise Lost past book 3 was by David Scott Kastan--who edited the edition of which I read the first three books.

I know tenure is important...but it seems to me that a great amount of what writers write is written expressly for the game of Pong, whereby critics and writers endlessly bounce the same obtuse, white ball, and death to him who allows that ball out of sight--what if an illiterate read it?!

Arnold Schoenberg (whose music--fuck you--I like) said something to the effect (and I'm quoting a glanced-at source from memory, so bear with my inaccuracy) that no art is universally appreciated. This artwork appeals to this group, that artwork appeals to that group. We call it pandering to write a book "for the masses," i.e., a book designed to appeal to all groups. But shouldn't it be pandering, shouldn't it be recognized for the shameless attempt to build one's reputation we know it to be, to write a book intended for no group at all?

The Tale of Tight-Roping Bill

As delivered to the AJU Underground last week. Though each line has 10 syllables, I made no attempt at iambic pentameter...

The Tale of Tight-Roping Bill
by Matt Rutta

Under the big top, where the lions roar,
Where tumblers tumble, trapeze artists soar,
Where three giant rings span expansive floor,
Fan expectation of so much in store.

Clowns a’plenty emerge from their auto.
From whence do they come? Where is their grotto?
The kids have balloons, parents are blotto.
All hush up as revealed is the motto:

“The greatest show on earth”, it has been billed.
They’re performing stunts that can get them killed.
Beyond capacity the tent is filled,
Sitting on bleachers where beer has been spilled.

The jugglers juggle torches of flame,
But for the patrons it’s more of the same,
For only one man has truly earned fame:
They want tight-roping Bill, that is his name!

For they all come to see the tightrope walker,
Famous, legendary, badass rocker,
Puts on quite a show for every gawker;
None of them know they’re in for a shocker…

From up high on the wire King Bill does reign,
Over the red tent which is his domain.
Going way up there is clearly insane,
But none of them know how suffers he pain.

He shows off, betwixt his teeth clenched a knife.
Recently found out, unfaithful his wife.
Rather than live with this tension and strife,
Tight-roping Bill has despaired of his life.

He couldn’t exist, seeing her with him,
Wife, bearded lady, with Cannonball Jim.
Oh, how could she do this and be so dim‽
Could she see the outcome would be so grim‽

Quite a surprise that this short man in tights
Who conquered rafters, who basks in spotlights
Defied gravity to many delights
Was deathly, mortally, afraid of heights.

Ascending the ladder, climbs resolute,
He conquered his fear, he gave it the boot.
The only thing on his mind is acute:
The time has arrived to settle dispute.

Then Bill takes on his nefarious role,
To accomplish now his sinister goal.
He must pull it off, no matter the toll:
The adulterer shall pay with his soul!

Early that day, rigs with no abandon,
Calibrates human cannonball’s cannon,
Directed toward the lion’s den, slammin’;
The giant cat will eat Jim like salmon!

The scum of the earth and the tasteless swill,
All stand in awe of our villain named Bill.
Unbeknownst to them, oh, indeed he will
Be on the verge of dramatic self-kill.

He leapt from his platform to the trapeze.
He kicked the acrobat right in the knees.
Hijacking the bar, the criminal flees,
Swooping downward with the greatest of ease.

Removes knife from his mouth, he cuts the string
Causing elements of his trap to spring,
Releasing the lock of the caged being,
The cannon’s fuse pulled, toward jungle’s king.

All could be said, he descended with grace.
No look of horror emoted his face.
Frozen in time, he transcends time and space
By scarring the lives of all in this place.

Intentionally, he misses the mat.
Tightrope Bill hits the floor with a loud splat.
Cannonball Jim is launched in seconds flat
And proceeds to be devoured by the big cat.

As Hobo Murray gets hit with a pie,
His painted-on clown smile seems quite awry
For he needs to wipe off each tear-filled eye
As, watching dumbfounded, his best friends die.

It’s far bigger than the bloodiest mess,
Mem’ry of this psychological stress
Of hubby and paramour deaths transgress
On Mrs. Bill, Bearded Lady’s distress.

Even years later, it makes us fall ill,
Those present that night still feel quite a chill
But never forget, for there is a thrill
Telling the tale of tight-roping Bill.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

the jewish vote

"The Jewish Vote"
by: Joshua Schwartz

There is a humorous maxim that states that Jews earn like Episcopalians but vote like Puerto Ricans. This quip is made all the more poignant as a report just recently was published declaring Jewish Americans to be the most successful minority in the nation. And yet, with all the monetary success and the siren song of lucre, the Jewish people has yet been able to retain a reputation for passionate idealism that translates into political action.

However, this image appears to be tarnishing as the days go by. When folks speak of the "Jewish vote," more and more they refer to how a political candidate sees America's relationship with Israel. In the infamous 2000 election, our current president received a large spike in Jewish voters, longing for a candidate with a laissez-faire attitude towards Israel, an understandable reaction to the Clintonian collapse of the late 90's.

Before I continue, it is incumbent upon me to assert that to care deeply about a candidate's middle-east policy and position on Israel is right, considering the precarious position in which Israel finds herself today. In addition, a sincere concern for Israel's future is not tied to any political party, but is rather tied to the wellbeing of amcha, the Jewish people the world over.

As a twenty-one year old college student, one who has voted in but one presidential election in previous years but has had preferences and passions for the political process going all the way back to fifth grade, I must admit that it is this election which has gotten me the most excited, the most active, and the most engaged. As a nation, we find ourselves at a critical juncture in history. We are embroiled in a war with seemingly no endgame, in economic conditions becoming more and more worrying, situated a rapidly shifting and increasingly unsure world. 1% of the citizenry are imprisoned in the Land of the Free. The winds of change, they say, are blowing, with all candidates from both parties seeking to take the mantle of change and the future upon their shoulders.

It is not the purpose of this meditation to advocate for any specific candidate or policy positions (though I would be glad to do that, rest assured). Rather, it is a declaration of intent; a manifesto of sorts. I am deeply engaged in this election not merely due to my American citizenship, but as a deeply committed Jew as well. It is my Jewish neshamah (soul) that calls out to me to face the nation in which I live with critical analysis and with appreciation. With heartbreak over our mistakes and erring. With love that yearns for only the best for our great nation.

It is my Jewish soul that turns my eyes towards the plight of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, and it is my common sense that no matter how many times I staff the Ansche Chesed homeless shelter through the wonderful Va'ad Gemilut Hasadim, these issues must be confronted on a larger scale. It is what I learn from my daily Torah study that simply will not allow me to ignore the voice of the oppressed, in this land, in all lands the world over. This is the voice that called out to God from Hebrew throats parched by Egyptian sands, yearning to be free. This is the voice that protests when his or her garment is unduly retained over night. This is a voice that must be as pressing as that which created the world. Let there be light that brings to light the sufferings of the innocent, the light that warms our hearts and will not allow them to freeze or harden. Let this be the Jewish vote the candidates will court, one which will be a voice, a light to the nations.


Sunday, March 02, 2008

Something that makes me happy

I am working the front desk of my dorm. A couple of girls come in, ostensibly anticipating the arrival of some friends. They sit down tiredly in the lobby and wait. About a half hour later, the friends finally arrive. I do not hear what the friend has asked. All I hear is the response from one of the seated girls: “Oh… only a couple of minutes.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

new poem!

I can out Kissinger Kissinger!
Yes - I can only speak in secret rumblings,
an esoteric mystical code understood by
the monastic brotherhood of Realpolitik.
My brows are furrowed always,
even in sex, even in the act
of making fierce love while
screaming “do me do me do me fuck my face and eyes
with your hands and desperate need to feel my hands ravage your skin
raze your arm hair and freckles to the ground!”
My glasses can only be thick, and I mean both lenses
and frames, all to keep out your searching eyes.
And when I think of nations, people, persons,
children running wild-eyed, their expressions
reminding me of water boiling over, ovens left on,
bread left in toasters… Yes, when I think of bombing nations,
I can only dream of secret missiles falling - my fingers
steepled as the planes make their soundless runs.
(How can somethings so silent; somethings so unobtrusive,
be so lacking in tenderness?)
Cambodia, a mass imagination ruined in silence.
Somethings that happen to somebodies, becoming nobodies.

Kissinger, with his scheming, was above it all: the only
one not bound up in the unfortunate shambles of Watergate.
But I can only stand next to Richard Nixon,
feeling most comfortable smelling his morning breath
of bad coffee and a bowl of cheerios.
His cool flop sweat soothes my nervous eyebrows.
I feel most at home beside liars,
for I know them better than I have loved tellers of truth.
His fingers are flung into the air, splaying like legs mid-coitus,
and his peace is one I can believe in.
I too believe “power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.”
Nothing makes me sexier than the fact
that I meet regularly with Mao Zedong. His face
is on posters and t-shirts, but I sit shrouded in mystery.
We walk through doors and enter back rooms together,
and no one may know I was there.
I can slip in and out of your world, and
you won’t know, but I can change it forever.
I stand over you and hold you on the bed,
muffling your mouth with my comforter; I
think of faraway lands and smile.

~jss, 2/28/08
*Thanks go out to Adam Katz, Samantha Kuperberg and Jeana Poindexter.

(x/p to cellular theology)

Monday, February 25, 2008

In my Anthropology class, we were discussing the key factors for separating the hominin line from which we have descended from the Last Common Ancestor, who was essentially a chimp-human hybrid of sorts. Essentially, we were trying to figure out where humans broke away from the pack. Often, paleoanthropologists try to hone in on this line using dentition and bipedalism as indexes. To spark our discussion, our teacher asked us “What factors are key for you? What do you look for in a hominin?”

Which got me thinking…

SWF looking for S?Hominin. Let’s have fun! Height not an issue. Thin tooth enamel a plus. Obligate bipedals preferred.

Geezer Geyser, Part 1

Fulminations of a Geezer in training:

I just read a post on a blog (that's what I do for fun because the world is my luscious oyster) that quoted at length the first page of Robert Penn Warren's fantastipiece All the King's Men. One problem, though: it edited out the word "nigger." Twice, if memory serves.

This, I think, is as good a time as any (it's the most egregious example of editing, because of the acknowledged strength of the work, and the most forgivable example of editing because of the history of the word being edited) to lay down some law--but first I should note, to be fair: at least he mentioned that the selection had been edited for content.

Now--the law to be laid down is this: it's perfectly ok, by the rules that govern our society, for the citer of a work to change the words of a novel if he SAYS he's doing so--heck, in some cases, it's ok to appropriate them as his own even if he doesn't say he's doing so. After all--good poets borrow; great poets steal. BUT CAVEAT EMPTOR: your version has to be better. If your version (as this was) is just a spineless, fearful, little scratching-out of something you're terrified might hurt someone's feelings (because a symptom of the racist in you clawing its way to the surface is that you jerk your knees against apparent instances of racism in others) then you, sir, madam, or both, are a tool and should be put back on your nail in the shed, where you belong, and the light turned out around you. Censorship, even of something you perceive as ignorant, is itself a manifestation of ignorance; and ignorance is prejudice; and prejudice, while often unavoidable, is not a worthy characteristic of published material, even dinky online publishing.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Proud of My Poetry

No no and no

I don’t write like you

I can’t compile the files within my head into

Something long with

Allusions and illusions to

Keep it strong

Swimming through words with a snorkel on

So I can pretend I’m not drowning

And so what if my poetry

Is hooked up into rhyme?

That’s how words come to me.

In rhyme.

I think in rhyme.


And sometimes I make it

Out of four simple lines

Not anything crazy

Bound to burst open your mind

I used to be proud

Of the webs I did mangle

(Now in my mind I suppress the urge to use the word “tangle”)

And the visions I created

And the beat underneath

Like a symphony of sheets—

No no and no.

I can’t even do this.

Because it’s true—this

Urge to write in my own way.

I can’t write like you.

In this poem I have tried

(Again, I resist the urge to use the word “lied”)

But it does nothing for me.

And it honestly bores me.

So I’ll stick to my stanzas

Of ABCB rhyme

And keep them tucked away until that late later time

When I can take them out and not be ashamed

Of something beautiful which this heart has made

Friday, February 22, 2008

Apocalyptic Talking #4

here is my new essay, cross-posted on the commentariat and adapted from an essay i composed for university writing in freshman year.

Celebs Galore! (or: how i learned to stop being nervous and love amy winehouse smoking crack)

What is it about the celebrity that tickles the imagination so? So many more human minds are flung into fever over what a certain starlet wore (or didn’t wear! zing!) to dinner than whatever big social cause is supposed to be important to the youth. In absence of cultic holidays, used in ancient times to unify a nation behind a structure presented by the spectacle, our society has substituted events such as the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards. In the aforementioned shows, faces and dresses to which we can all assign our loyalty parade about, like gods from the mass media machine. Declaring one’s allegiance to a specific celebrity is akin to joining the ranks of a deity’s elite devotees. Thereafter, one is quickly able to discover common ground in social interaction by simply turning the conversation to one’s celebrity of choice. Said exchange becomes a sort of social springboard. One gains the knowledge required to move fluidly through society; one acquires cultural capital (the ability to maneuver with ease through society). Social bonds are seemingly immediately formed merely by common knowledge of celebrities. Since, through media, the cult of celebrity is inherently tied to mass appeal, and nearly all members of society seem to utilize it, the idea of fame has widespread social ramifications. The question yet remains: what is the reason behind our society’s eternal obsession with the celebrity? Aficionados of celebrities speak of them as if they are in possession of intimate knowledge only fellow fans may know. They are the initiated. However, in truth, they have no personal knowledge of their icon at all. What possesses us to take hold of these stars and squeeze them for all their radiance is worth?

It seems as though nothing differentiates the celebrity from the average individual with identity issues. After all as Warhol once said, one day everyone will have his fifteen minutes of fame. There are innumerable opportunities to become known in today’s world, that it is difficult to determine why celebrities are special anymore. Celebrities are only special inasmuch as they are special to society, a rare and therefore valued commodity. Their special status in our culture lies less with qualities we attribute to the celebrities that meet certain norms as determined by pop culture and even less with the unique achievements of the stars. Rather, the controlling will is, most paradoxically, held by those supposedly left most powerless in the panoptic schema. In fact, the entire institution of celebrity is born from the desperation of this position of “powerlessness.” This interpretation is hinted at in the discussion regarding the apotheosis and lionizing of convicted murderers. We create gods out of monsters because we need to feel as though we are retaining our sense of self, even as it gradually is eroded away, a sand castle at high tide. The desperation we feel as our veridical self disappears births a similar desire to create a new frame of reference. After all, if we can only exist as we are seen, then it is more than possible to be seen from a new angle, a new perspective. Thus, we create celebrities, the epitome of a public persona lacking even the slightest shred of personal life. When viewing one’s own life in comparison to that of a star, it seems almost private. We moan our “oohs” and our “ahhs” to perhaps drown out the clicking and whirring of the shutters recording our own lives. With our heads buried in People Magazine, we can easily ignore the ubiquitous presence of surveillance equipment. The celebrity is the one entity until now not mentioned in the panoptic schema: the one in power. Or so they believe. For surely, in terms of cultural capital, the celebrity is simply spoiled with wealth and fame. He can easily obtain anything his heart may desire. He sits in the tower, at the heart of the menagerie. Like the Aristotelian god, he is an unmoved mover. He sees himself in a position of incorruptible strength, as he sits above the rest of the world. He is untouchable… until… he leans into the light, and as the grass naturally follows the direction of the wind, all heads turn to him. He has become spectacle, a cross-section of the panopticon, and the people have their revenge.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Book Titles That Almost Made It

Fuckleberry Finn

Celcius 0 (The Temperature at Which Water Freezes)

The So-So Gatsby

Viscount of the Flies

The Scarlet Sweater

Homework Assignment #3

Fill in the blanks after these lines. The finished poem should have 10 lines and any number of spaces in between.

Wax and Filigree

A cantankerous old shit

In an effort

Afterlife, afterlife

But were never even born

Thursday, February 14, 2008

cheeseball lover

You're a great driver,
you have beautiful eyes,
your fingers look good on the neck of a guitar,
you serenade me with adorably off-key improvisations.

You use too many emoticons,
your text messages are full of !!!
you still love R.E.M.,
you're serious about badminton.

You sleep with a toy sheep,
you're hopeful and romantic,
your cheesiness makes me cringe
with love.

this is cheating a little

Ok, so this poem isn't actually one of my own creation. It's one of my favorite childhood poems regarding love (from the book Sing a Song of Popcorn). I memorized it a while back, and it's stuck with me since.

There's someone I know
Whom I simply can't stand
I wish he would bury
His head in the sand

Or move to the moon
Or deep outer space
Whenever I see him
I make a weird face

Then one day during recess
Outside in the yard
He suddenly gave me
A Valentine's card

I wish that he hadn't
It made me upset
It's the prettiest one
I could possibly get

another for ariela

spectres of love past...

“the day begins at nightfall”

do You remember how I looked at dawn?
You thought I was young and beautiful
but i lay weary in my bed.
You looked at my face like a child gazing into windows
i just stared into the new sun and smiled to be near You.
You dodged in between the spots in my eyes
and You kissed me
You wrapped me up in dawn.
and You loved like i was young,
moving to the beating of my nervous heart,
a terrified tattoo while my eyes tracked
the swaying of Your hips.
the brush of Your hand and hair.
You thought me to be young
but i am already old.
how could You see me at dawn
when the day begins at nightfall?
the sun, like a teardrop, fell.
i dreamed a softer dream that night . . .
A softer dream
that night.


the best quote about love by an anarchist feminist that i have ever read

"Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all his armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fettered the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless before love. High on a throne, with all the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color. Thus love has the magic power to make of a beggar a king. Yes, love is free; it can dwell in no other atmosphere."

~emma goldman

oh the valentines!

i wrote this a million years ago, for this kid in high school. oh high school.



texas, hold me.

the cards are all down
the bets have been collected
and i am off the table.
i'd be hard pressed to say
just when my fate was in the river
and all the cards that were showing
it seemed i would be won
by someone just completely wrong.
but those hidden hearts
the royal flush - that won me.
the sly way you showed your hand
and swept me off the table.
that was from me
I was counting the cards all along.

one of my favorite love poems

perhaps a less conventional love poem than most...


Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
"Nonsense." "Please!" "HA!!" -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote "Don't be a ninny"
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls "Metaphor" next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of "Irony"
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
"Absolutely," they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
"Yes." "Bull's-eye." "My man!"
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written "Man vs. Nature"
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird signing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
"Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love."

~Billy Collins

a call for love poetry

in honor of pagan festival hallmark-a-thon day, a love poem from when i was a better person.

for ariela

Each morning has within
a region nestled between evening and day,
between dream and wake
and each morning, I awake,
trembling with the sole intention of meeting you there.
To see your face clear as the day about to come,
to sense your pulse through your skin.

In dreams, my intentions are laid bare,
and they burn with a fire found
when my thoughts are turned to you.

My Only Desire is to Awake in You Desire.
To feel reciprocation flow through your body
like breath,
and follow its path from deep within you
out to me.
For love to stem from your fingertips and
trace secret messages, in dream speak,
on my skin.
In dreams, our hands join to become
something greater that flies
away with the dawn.


Each morning I will find you again
in dreams, in love,
I will find you in the inbetweens.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

love in this day and age

Do I want to kiss you because I'm drunk, or am I drunk because I want to kiss you?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Homework Assignment #2

1. Take a poem, any poem, so long as it's not yours but is published.

2. Turn it into a madlib (i.e. write it out, but skip all nouns and write 'noun' all verbs, adjectives, and adverbs).

3. Make the poem better.

4. Post both.

**Homework assignments come from Advanced Poetry Writing Workshop with Mark Strand but are not endorsed by him.

Highlights from a World Tour

Brother Lemonik 2.0 of the Order Philolexian is currently reconnoitering the world, drumming up support in case our war with Whig-Clio ever heats up again. Here are some notes from his travelogue, brought to us in the form of a recent email from India:

-I'm telling time with salamis - I can only buy veg food so i brought three dried salamis from Israel for meat and i eat a fifth of a salami every other day... i can tell what day it is by looking at my salami.
-the Taj Mahal is one of the better mahals you will see

May we have a moment of hushed conversation in memory of one who is no longer among us--because he's, like, 10,000 miles away.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

101 Ways to Manage Stress

For about a year now, I’ve had a little bookmark taped onto my desk with a supposedly helpful list of “101 Ways to Manage Stress.” Why I’ve kept it on my desk for so long is a mystery, because it seems the only time I ever really look at it is when I have time to read it, aka when I’m not stressed. Furthermore, I have some doubts as to its actual utility as a stress-reducer. The following are some suggestions it has been kind enough to share with me:

--Learn to say “no”

--Look at a magazine (apparently, you don’t have to read it—staring is enough).

--Believe in yourself (I enjoy this as an imperative. It seems if you are looking to a 2 x 7 piece of paper for help managing your life, you probably have some difficulty trusting in your own ability to ward off stress.)

--Watch a movie. (Soothing? Yes. But my guess would be that if you don’t have time to actually go to a therapy session and manage your stress, you probably don’t have time for 21 Jump Street.)

--Take a brisk walk. (Brisk, mind you.)

--Put your feet up. (With something underneath them, I assume.)

--Laugh at yourself. (But not too cruelly…)

--Walk away (But how will I read the other stress management tips???)

--Play with kids (dangerously close to the “Get a massage” tip).

--See problems as challenges. (Um… thanks?)

--Be faithful. (I don’t know. If you’re managing two exclusive relationships and still have time to read this list, you’re probably doing fine.)

--Don’t procrastinate. (Says the 101-item list I am reading instead of working.)

--Be flexible. (I’m going to assume they don’t mean this literally)

--Celebrate life (Ambiguous suggestions are usually the most helpful.)

--Plant a garden. (This one may be my favorite. I can just see the poor soul digging up the quad and laying down some fresh gardenias… while their bio homework remains untouched.)

--Get up earlier. (No, no, and no.)

--Punch a pillow. (Finally… something useful.)

--Go out to lunch. (Regardless of what time of day it is).

--Soak in the tub. (Or, if a tub is not available, a puddle.)

--Take off your clothes. (No comment necessary).

--Make someone smile. (By showing them this list.)