Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reporting from America's Dairyland

The other night, when I couldn't sleep, I spent over an hour just reading old posts on this blog. I reached two conclusions: 1) I'm a pretty funny lady. There were things I had written and totally forgotten about that made me LOL.  2) I really should try to blog more - as in, once a week, minimum. So in that spirit, here's a post I started writing six months ago and abandoned -- a rumination on my new life in the upper Midwest. Now it's finished (and updated to reflect that I have now been here - gasp! - a year).

This is the state flag of Wisconsin. Seeing as I have now been a resident of Wisconsin for over a year, I thought I should take a look at the flag. According to Wikipedia, it is not highly regarded in terms of design when compared with other state flags (oh snap!). Our motto is "Forward" -- simple, direct. The state seal pictured on the flag "emphasizes mining and shipping." And yes, that's a little badger on top of the coat of arms. Cute!

It still seems incredibly bizarre that I live in Wisconsin, to both me and my non-Wisconsin friends and family. But here are five things I have figured out in the one year I have lived here:

1. "Wisconsin nice"

People here are really nice. Like, crazy nice. They always give you the benefit of the the doubt. Total strangers will offer you a ride at a bar if you're too drunk to drive (I have witnessed this, not been the drunk person, Mom). People will help you dig your car out of a snow bank. The locals take great pride in their kindness, especially in comparison to their neighbors to the west, Minnesotans, whom they claim are fake nice. I don't know a lot of Minnesotans, so I can't really comment.

2.The unofficial state condiment is Ranch.

Where I come from, Ranch is just a salad dressing. But lo, people dip everything in Ranch here! French fries, sandwiches, chips, their children (well, okay, maybe not that last one). Pretty much anything can be a vehicle for Ranch delivery. Cheese curds dipped in Ranch are especially tasty. Fried cheese dipped in Ranch: It doesn't get much more Wisconsin than that. 

3. The water here is delicious!

I have no idea why this is, but the tap water here is sooooo good. It doesn't have any weird flavors, no metal/mineral/chemical notes. It's crisp and cold (well, probably because the pipes are super cold) and tastes really pure.

4. Beware the Hodag

Wisconsin has its very own cryptid: the Hodag, a mythical (?) lizard beast that lives in Rhinelander. Here is a statue of the menacing creature:

The Hodag is now my second favorite folkloric creature, second of course to the chupacabra. Apparently the Hodag is not so much vicious as mischievous, presumed responsible for golf balls that are never recovered, interfering with local fishermen, and other mild recreational annoyances. See, even the state's monster is Wisconsin nice!

5. The summers are as lovely as the winters are brutal

When it finally began to warm up and all the inches upon inches of snow began to melt, I truly felt that I had survived something epic and terrible. This summer, in terms of weather, has been as intensely wonderful as the winter was intensely horrid. Glorious, sunny high-70s days, enough rain to keep everything verdant and some exciting thunderstorms, very mild humidity. Temps dropping low enough at night to turn off the A/C and just open the windows. Now that I know what's coming winter-wise, I understand why people try to soak up every last drop of summer. I'm in serious denial about Labor Day weekend, otherwise known as this weekend, otherwise known as the end of summer. 

As I embark on Year Two in Eau Claire, it feels both familiar and strange. Sort of like home, but also, due to some recent major life ruptures, a foreign and potentially scary place. But I still love my job, I've made some solid friends, and hey, I just joined a semi-professional choir, so I'll be singing again and meeting some new folks. I'm not in the same place I was when I rhapsodized last December, but hopefully I'll get to that state of relative contentment again soon. As my homegirl Florence says, it's always darkest before the dawn.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Another poem

I know it's unusual for me to have back-to-back posts with poems, but I am too emotionally spent to write/reflect, so I must use Dean Young's words instead. It's been a doozy of a summer -- I had major surgery and my heart broken all within a month. The healing from both events has been complicated -- allergic reactions and one incision that refuses to close up, and my heart, well, it continues to beat for the one who destroyed it. 

I am teaching Introduction to Creative Writing this fall and the task of selecting poems for my students to read has proved daunting only in that there are SO MANY I want to share with them. Some, like this one, I don't think fledgling writers would necessarily be able to really "get" - it breaks a lot of rules (which is why it's great) and it's hard to get away with some of the things Young gets away with here unless you really know what you're doing. From a craft perspective, the takeaways might be inscrutable for beginning creative writers.

Some of this poem, I would argue, is filler, is clutter -- but very intentionally so. The effect is that the astonishing lines and images (and there are a lot of them) seem to burst out from the din he creates with the frantic rhythm of his very free verse. And those moments in the poem become all the more transcendent because of how they explode out from the white noise. They are, literally, arresting. Read it and I think you'll see what I mean. Is every idea in this poem "essential"? I don't think so -- except in how the non-essentials make the drama of the jaw-dropping lines all the more impactful. This poem has the power to stop you in your tracks. Enjoy.

Whale Watch

Sometimes you may feel alone and crushed 
by what you cannot accomplish 
but the thought of failure is a fuzz 
we cannot rid ourselves of 
anymore than the clouds can their moisture. 
Why would they want to anyway? 
It is their identity and purpose 
above the radish and radicchio fields. 
Just because a thing can never be finished 
doesn't mean it can't be done. 
The most vibrant forms are emergent forms. 
In winter, walk across the frozen lake 
and listen to it boom and you will know 
something of what i mean. 
It may be necessary to go to Mexico. 
Do not steal tombstones but if you do, 
do not return them as it is sentimental 
and the sentimental is a larval feeling 
that bloats and bloats but never pupates. 
Learn what you can of the coyote and shark. 
Do not encourage small children 
to play the trombone as the shortness 
of their arms may prove quite frustrating, 
imprinting a lifelong aversion to music 
although in rare cases a sense of unreachability 
may inspire operas of delicate auras. 
If you hook, try to slice. 
I have not the time to fully address 
Spinoza but put Spinoza on your list. 
Do not eat algae. 
When someone across the table has a grain of rice 
affixed to his nostril, instead of shouting, 
Hey, you got rice hanging off your face! 
thereby perturbing the mood 
as he speaks of his mother one day in the basement, 
brush your nose as he watches 
and hidden receptors in the brain 
will cause him to brush his own nose 
ergo freeing the stupid-looking-making rice. 
There is so much to say and shut up about. 
As regards the ever-present advice-dispensing susurration 
of the dead, ignore it; they think everyone's 
going to die. I have seen books with pink slips 
marking vital passages 
but this I do not recommend 
as it makes the book appear foolish 
like a dog in a sweater. 
Do not confuse size with scale: 
the cathedral may be very small, 
the eyelash monumental. 
Know yourself to be made mostly of water 
with a trace of aluminum, a metal 
commonly used in fuselages. 
For flying, hollow bones are best or 
no bones at all as in the honeybee. 
Do not kill yourself. 
Do not put the hammer in the crystal carafe 
except as a performance piece. 
When you are ready to marry, 
you will know but if you don't, 
don't worry. The bullfrog never marries, 
ditto the space shuttle 
yet each is able to deliver its payload: 
i.e. baby bullfrogs and satellites, respectively. 
When young, fall in and out of love like a window 
that is open and only about a foot off the ground. 
Occasionally land in lilacs 
or roses if you must 
but remember, the roses 
have been landed in many times. 
If you do not surprise yourself, 
you won't surprise anyone else. 
When the yo-yo "sleeps", give a little tug 
and it will return unless it has "slept" too long. 
Haiku should not be stored with sestinas 
just as one should never randomly mix 
the liquids and powders beneath the kitchen sink. 
Sand is both the problem and the solution for the beach. 
To impress his teacher, Pan-Shan lopped off 
his own hand, but to the western mind, 
this seems rather extreme. 
Neatly typed, on-time themes 
strongly spelled are generally enough. 
Some suggest concentrating on one thing 
for a whole life but narrowing down 
seems less alluring than opening up 
except in the case of the blue pencil 
with which to make lines on one side 
of the triangle so it appears to speed through the firmament. 
Still, someone should read everything 
Galsworthy wrote. Everyone knows 
it's a race but no one's sure of the finish line. 
You may want to fall to your knees 
and beg for forgiveness without knowing precisely 
for what. You may have a hole in your heart. 
You may solve the equation but behind it 
lurks another equation. You may never get 
what you want and feel like you're already a ghost 
and a failed ghost at that, unable to walk through walls. 
There will be a purple hat. Ice cream. 
You may almost ruin the wedding. 
You may try to hang yourself but be saved 
by a kid come home early from school 
or you may be that kid who'll always remember 
his mother that day in the basement, 
how she seemed to know he'd done something wrong 
before he even knew 
and already forgave him, 
the way she hugged him and cried. 
Nothing escapes damage for long, 
not the mountain or the sky. 
You may be unable to say why 
a certain song makes you cry until 
it joins the other songs, 
even the one that's always going on 
and is never heard, the one that sings us into being. 
On the phone, the doctor may tell you to come in. 
It may rain for three days straight. 
Already you've been forgiven, 
given permission. Each week, cryptograms 
come with the funny papers. 
You're not alone. 
You may see a whale.