Friday, April 27, 2012

Variations on a Theme by Kenneth Koch Who Was Variating on a Theme By William Carlos Williams

You know the originals.

And you may have encountered Kenneth Koch's great joke (of which I love every character except that last exclamation point. Seriously. It's bugged me for years).

I was doing a few yesterday, just for fun for Poem in Your Pocket Day. Hope they cause a giggle somewhere. Leave me some of yours if you feel like it!


While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
"'Tis some visitor," I muttered, "tapping at my chamber door;
only this, and nothing more."
            Then came the muffled voice: "Housekeeping!"


Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the road less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.
Especially once the GPS broke down and we started hearing that banjo music.


I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
Not after last time, when I whipped out my lighter and yelled requests for "Freebird!"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Dear Ira Flatow: Thanks for Depressing the Crap Out of Me

And for making me think about Barbie. And the apocalypse. But we'll get to that.

Like every other warm-blooded liberal, I spend a good part of my spare time in the car, listening to NPR and feeling guilty about driving. I sometimes have the fortune to catch a bit of Science Friday, which is usually a pleasantly fascinating geekfest and occasionally depressing enough to induce thoughts of ejecting oneself into space where it's nice and cool and people haven't messed everything up yet.

Last Friday's was just such a show, as host Ira Flatow and his oceanographer guests, along with filmmaker James Cameron (recently back from his trip to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, and apparently he did not find Jack Dawson down there), did their best to remind people of how amazing the ocean is, how utterly dependent upon it we are, and how we're basically screwed because we've pretty much sucked the life out of it.

Top among the depressing moments of this show: John McCosker's discussion of the fact that after decades on the ocean, he hardly ever sees sharks anymore. He noted that people went into a killing frenzy after Jaws came out. (Steven Spielberg has some stuff to answer for. He should probably be receiving a lot of candygrams--though in truth, people were killing sharks for their fins long before the movie came out.) It was enough to make me envision a movie called Hands, which would be scary enough to become the shark makeout movie of the decade, and -- given that people kill literally millions of sharks for every single human a shark chomps -- could become one of those cross-genre films, in that it would be both a horror movie and a documentary.

(The most darkly funny part of the show, by the way, came during the discussion of the shark-to-human killing ratio, when Mission Blue oceanographer Sylvia Earle implied she thought sharks should aim to up their numbers.)

Beyond the shark issue, though, was the discussion of the increasing numbers of garbage islands in the oceans. Calling them garbage "islands" is apparently not quite accurate (yet). Mostly these are areas where the currents have brought together massive amounts of plastics, but since the plastics are largely in tiny fragments they don't typically appear as large floating trash barges. In fact, some barely appear at all, and therefore go unnoticed by humans, who already are unmatched by other species in our great capacity to avoid noticing important things. They get noticed by other animals, though, who unfortunately often mistake these plastic particles for food, and end up eating them.

For reasons that are likely apparent, this made me think about Barbie. Specifically, about the future, and about where she and her pals may end up, and how it could be the basis for another Pixar classic -- but one that will likely never get made, and which few will be around to see.

Toy Story 12

Long after they drifted onto the island,
dozing in the hammock of a takeout bag,
wearing at her throat the pale blue bread clip
Ken had given her, Barbie had a vision.

It came suddenly:
They were watching the low sun
bob gently through the amber of a prescription vial
and the golden-green of a Mountain Dew
when it struck. A single sparkle formed within her eye.

It was the thin ridges
at the mouth of the soda bottle—they were so like
the one that marked the top of Ken’s waist
that slanted toward his muscled legs
to indicate his permanent underpants.

After the little girl had left her in the dream house,
leaning against the pink fridge for years,
Ken slumped on the pink toilet above,
her only visitor was the cat,
who sometimes chewed her toes
in a way that made her feel feminine.

She had dreamed abstractly of a baby
whose eyes would close
gently on reclining, but knew
from the little girl’s ferocious experiments

her body against Ken’s merely clattered, stymied
by the smooth incapacities between their perfect legs.
So often, she had thought
they would die alone.

Now she saw the truth: time
had no meaning for them. Here
among the six-pack holders,
the wave-battered lawn furniture,
deflated basketballs,
the rising and falling swells of bottles,
the swaths of netting beaded with dead birds:

they were among their brothers and sisters.
They had found their home. She rotated
her delicate hand down upon Ken’s and told him
with her eyes: they had come to stay, and unlike
those they had been made to replicate—

whose bending knees did not make crunchy sounds;
who made children and had seemed to know
no end to hunger, no end to desire—their love
would last for eons. Through sludge.
Through ice. Through fire.