Devonian Corals

petoskey collection

A friend recommended the poetry of Robert Hass to me, which is why I spent half of a weekend this summer in the library reading his Time and Materials cover to cover. This might not be the best method for poetic appreciation – rather like a boa constrictor swallowing its prey whole for later digestion – but it proves more effective than returning the book unread.

One poem in particular, “State of the Planet,” arrested me mid-read. Composed for a conference of the same name, it meditates on Earth’s history and considers man’s place within it.  The principle focus is certain environmental problems: polluted, overfished, carrying on nonetheless. Hass imagines a Californian schoolgirl, both as an allusion to future generations of stewards, and to ruminate on how one learns about the world. There are friendly textbooks and voices of authority instructing her about the cosmos, as well as the informative delights of experience: raindrops pelting her crimson backpack, copper-colored Japanese plums, leaning into the face of the wind, the possibility of Petoskeys.

That last was what made me pause, the fifth section in:

If she lived in Michigan or the Ukraine,
She’d find, washed up on the beach in a storm like this
Limestone fossils of Devonian coral. She could study
The faint white markings: she might have to lick the stone
To see them if the wind was drying the pale surface
Even as she held it, to bring back the picture of what life
Looked like forty millions years ago: a honeycomb with mouths.

It grabbed me, but oddly: no one ever bothers calling a Petoskey stone a fossil of Devonian coral. Possibly it was his way of including Charlevoix stones, or whatever folks in the Ukraine call their particular coral fossils; theirs wouldn’t be named for Chief Petosogay like ours are.

More than the mention of Michigan, I was caught by she might lick the stone, which squares up so neatly with reality.

Dry petoskeys Wet Petoskeys

However lovely it is to walk a Michigan beach – or swim, or read, or watch a sunset – the rocks are my greatest lure. Peering at them, poring over them, eyes peeled for that particular array of hexagons, those faint lines made distinct by the wash of a wave.

As Hass notes, it’s more difficult when the stones are dry. Licking the stone is the quickest test if you’ve stepped away from the shore.

I love this about them: that they hide, even as you look at them, especially when you take them further from the water. That mute honeycomb cries out, long after the coral has died, to be returned to the sea.

Petoskey stones

The White of the Chart

You probably knew this about me (and even if you didn’t, it’s pretty standard human nature in the 21st century), but:

I am a liiiiiittle obsessed with site stats.

In particular, I am fascinated with the fact that WordPress sees fit to give us a map of the countries in which our blog has been viewed. It is super-pleasing to me that such a thing exists, and even more pleasing to see that somehow in the past year we’ve drawn someone in from Kazakhstan and Mali, and a couple more views from China:

2015-01-20 Stats MapBut mostly I wish it were possible to fill in the blank spots.

Like, how do I lure in the folks from Greenland? Technically they’re owned by Denmark or something, so how come the 68 Denmarkian views don’t fill Greenland in too? Same goes for Norway and Svalbard, and France/French Guiana.

And, despite the fact that I post nothing whatsoever in Arabic nor Korean, I find myself wondering about the fact that we’ve never been visited by anyone from Iran nor North Korea.  It’s impossible to tell whether we’re unappealing to the market, if we’re just plain irrelevant to their interests, if the area in question somehow does not have any internet access whatsoever, or if the complete and utter lack of readership reflects a greater degree of censorship and/or governmental control over the internet.

Or, okay, it’s not completely impossible to tell on that last one, at least not where North Korea is involved.

Anyway, one could characterize this desire to color in the map as juvenile.  But is that desire for completeness a bad thing?  I think it reflects a concern with universality: what I really want to write is something worth reading, no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what years you exist.  A lot of the books we read and ideas we discuss here are universal enough, but our interpretation of them comes from a very specific background.  I want to learn more about these places to determine what I’m missing out on when I lack feedback from them.

So there’s Greenland and Svalbard and North Korea, of course, plus Laos, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Haiti, most of the former-Soviet –stans, Iran, Madagascar, Suriname and French Guiana, Lesotho, Mauritania, Congo, Tanzania, Senegal, the Gambia, Liberia, et cetera, et cetera.

I know pretty much nothing about most of these countries. Sure, I could point to them; I could name the capital, maybe, and perhaps recite a detail or two (especially where Haiti or Iran’s concerned). But what makes Gabon different from anywhere else? What is it that I don’t know about Niger that I really would like to know, and what’s so worth finding out that someone from Niger would bother consulting me about it? What made Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan into different nations when the Soviet Union broke up?

So here’s my plan: this will be a year of those grade-school-type geography projects. You know the sort – you get assigned a country and must figure out how many people it has, what religion(s) those people believe in, how they govern themselves or are governed, their folk traditions, their dress, their crops, their livelihoods. What natural features or edifices are worth looking at if you go there. What animals you want to seek out or avoid. Local news, weather, and traffic.

There is a whole lot of world out there, and while it isn’t necessarily possible to travel to all of it…it’s certainly possible to learn more about it!

(…and then, of course, it’s worth learning more about all the places that HAVE visited us. Silly of me to shun all the other places I don’t know about in favor of their more aloof neighbors, I suppose.)

Speed Poems, or What You Will

Last month, I went to Comic Con.

It was fantastic, in the old, heady, fantasy-based, rather terrifying sense of the word.

It was also exhausting.

No, I did not dress up as an anime character. I went as an exhibitor.

My friend, to be known as The Grackle, (that is even how I have saved his phone number,) runs, organizes, prints, and hand binds a literary magazine. This entertaining and enlightening romp through a vale of modern literature and literary critiques is called the Grub Street Grackle.

This Grackle, being tenacious and persuasive, decided to sell magazines and promote the brand name at Comic Con. And he offered me a free ticket to help him man the booth.

Being of a slightly nerdy persuasion, I agreed.

But there was a catch. The gimmick was to offer FREE bad poetry.

“Free baaaaad poetry! Step right up and get your freeeee bad poetry! Give us three words and five minutes, and we will give you the WORST poetry you have heard all day. Guaranteed or your many back!”

It was exciting, intense, and exhausting. I give you here some glimpses of our efforts. (Some are done my yours truly, and some by The Grackle Himself.)

 

Words: hat, peanut, hero

Bad Poem:

How deep are the depths
of my soul?
They about as deep
as the inside of an overturned
hat, like a really big one,
like, think Abe Lincoln
times a million.
How rich are the contents of my
fertile mind?
As rich as the contents of a very
good peanut.
I am my own hero.

 

 

Words: ancient, dead, Tardis

Bad Poem:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the Tardis is spread out against the sky,
Like a walrus, dead on a table.
Ancient in its magnitude,
Rogue in time and space and fable.

 

Words: guinea pig, insomnia, creepy

Bad Poetry:

Oh, my, oh, me, oh, oh,
oh.
Ah me.
I lost my guinea pig.
Now I live
alone.
Except for my room mate.
And he’s real loud and creepy.
Now I have insomnia.
Oh, ah, me, ah, oh.

Words: daisy, girth, testicular

Bad poem:

I travel the cosmic daisy chain,
Hopping form leaf to leaf,
Flying between elaborate worlds
In my ship, the “Absolute Girth,”
Flying my sails occasionally furled,
And avoiding vestigial, testicular claims.

 

Photo: The challenge words were: testicular, girth, and daisy. What would you write?

 

 

 

 

Words: children, lighthouse, castle

Bad Poem:

We in this world
are all but children,
adrift in a sea of confusion
with no guide,
no lighthouse,
helpless,
sad.
Like kings without a castle,
or something.

Words: chloroplast, amoeba, eggplant (but a the time I could not remember how to spell chloroplast)

Bad Poem:

You are my chloroplast,
My darling chloroplast,
You shake my amoebas,
When I’m on an eggplant fast.
You’ll never know dear,
How wormy my cells are,
Unless you blast light at
a magnified degree
through a microscope
at your eye and see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are many, many more, discovering in varying degrees the cross-section of idiocy and brilliance. The rest, should you wish to pursue them, may be found at the Grackle facebook page. We wrestled with words like Ramadan, cat, Jayne Cobb, regurgitation (that one was given by Captain America himself!) spaghetti, and carcinogenic.

And I know that there is one I wrote about watermelon and love that is actually almost a decent poem, but I cannot find it. If you spot it, let me know!

The rest of Comic Con was fun too. Crazy, obsessive, and bone-wearying, but fun.

Joyrides

I took a different road to choir the other night, since rehearsal was on north campus instead of our usual room in Palmer Commons. Huron River Drive took me through the woods, around the river, away from all the shoppers and students and sidewalks of my normal route down Washtenaw Avenue. The windows were down, the air gently breezy and free from summer’s mugginess. Not too hot, not too cold, no bugs, as my uncle always describes a perfect day.

Zipping about with Carbon Leaf blaring filled me with a quietly piercing sort of contentment, the music underscoring the freedom and possibility inherent in the spring. It all struck me as so appropriate: the alternately intense and mellow music, the car, the weather, the drive. I felt the right age, for once. Not too old to discover new things, not too young to do something of consequence.

The delight spreads out like a vapor to fill the heart it’s in, leaving me ready to face the formidable, ready to rejoice.

*

I took a different road to work yesterday morning, since Ruby was due for her three-month checkup and my father graciously allowed me the use of his vehicle once more. I-96, my typical freeway from Detroit to Plymouth, has been ripped up for replacement, and traffic has been shunted to the parallel roads. So I headed down Fenkell, which was livelier than I’ve seen it quite some time, trying to hit the green lights as ZZ Top sang about cheap sunglasses on 94.7.

I had already forgotten, for the most part, what it’s like to drive a big boat of a Buick: the wide circle of the thin steering wheel, the weight of the car and resulting momentum, the noise of the engine, the raspy speakers. This, too, felt appropriate. Like Fenkell and classic rock and a Buick Century were meant to be together.

The delight rumbles and burns, a Motor City jalopy that keeps on keeping on.

Triumph and Transitions

At long last, the time has come.  Victory is MINE!

Which is to say, a year and a half after I should have done so, I finally bought a new(er) car, and some two weeks after I should have done so, I am blogging about it.  Back on the 8th, my Vati and I made our way to Troy where I drove and examined and, in the end, purchased a 2010 Toyota Corolla.  I’m considering calling her Ruby, cliché though the name be.  She is shiny and red and a whopping 16 years newer than the Buick Century…which means there are some changes to get used to.

Here are some of them:

Gear shift placement.  Back in 1994, the gear shift was attached to the steering column, such that one would reach behind the steering wheel to put it in drive etc.  But if I try that now, the wipers will turn on instead.

Traction control.  This is the most unsettling one: if the car starts to slip, some system …um…interferes?  Tries to take my control away?  Makes the car move funny until I remove my foot from the gas?  It sort of makes sense, but it’s also profoundly strange, and kind of unwelcome; the first few days I drove it were particularly icy, lending another layer of discomfort to learning to navigate the novelty.  Add traction control anxiety to new car anxiety to pothole-of-DOOM anxiety, and you have the most nerve-wracking drive I’ve taken yet.

Car payments.  Welcome to adulthood, kid.  This one shouldn’t be a problem, but there was the moment where I misread my statement – which said the first payment was due on March 25th – such that I thought payment was due a month earlier than that.  So…well, I sure got my payment in on time, even if I had some gut-wrenching moments of panic that prompted me to sign up for online payments.

Radio and dashboard.  This was always going to be a change, I guess, but it’s not too bad.  My hand is already learning where to reach to control the heating vents and radio stations.

Putting my cassettes away.  The Buick had a much beloved Billy Joel tape, Turnstiles, in the deck for months.  Now I’ve got a CD player – which, as CDs are getting phased out, means I am still a bit behind the times.  Ah well.  There’s an auxiliary jack as well.  Such novelty, guys, I’m not sure I’m up for it.

Looking for the right car in the parking lot.  So far this has gone better than expected.  It helps that the remote entry works more remotely than the Century’s did (and beeps cutely.  Hooray!)

HEAT.  It still takes a few minutes for the Corolla to heat up in a winter like this, but it’s so much faster than the Century.  Not to mention, there’s such a thing as being overly warm in the car.  I had no idea.

Speed.  The Century could book it, when needed, but there was no way to go over 65, much less 70 or 75, without it whinging a bit.  A kind of growling and shuddering that made everyone in the car recognize how much the car was working.  Now I can just zip along at 80 without noticing.  Whoops!

All in all, it is a lovely change – though I must admit, Dad may be right.  Once I’d purchased it, he said “I think it’ll take years before you love it as much as you loved the Buick.”  Sounds unlikely, given that the Buick essentially cost me nothing and I just put down a heaping chunk of change on this newer car.  But that was the point: there was an essential carelessness to driving the Century, an attitude unbothered by the prospect of minor damages to something so sturdy and so many years old.  I never really thought of the Buick as rugged, but it turns out I drove it that way.  It was a far more masculine vehicle than the sweet lady I have now.  But she’s rather delightful so far!  I think I’ll keep her.

Roadside Rescues

Last week, I was getting on the entrance ramp to US-23N to head to work when Friday Night came on my radio.  I may have accelerated more than was wise, which resulted in the car spinning about some 270 degrees and coming to a stop off the left side of the ramp, mostly on the shoulder but jutting a bit into the median.

Which, no matter how smooth the aftermath, is alarming.  Fortunately, no one hit me, I didn’t get stuck in the snow, and I hadn’t gone off the right side of the ramp, which slopes down into a clump of trees.  The only casualty was the splash guard, which was partly dislodged from under the front bumper.  And so I thanked God for my safety, resolved not to listen to the radio whilst on entrance ramps henceforth, waited for the adrenaline to stop flowing, and carried on driving to work.

~~~

Yesternight, having decided to get my hair trimmed, I was driving down Sheldon Road when I hit one of those potholes they’ve made such noise about.  Bam!  Immediate flat tire on my front passenger side.

Which was incredibly annoying.  Dang and blast it all, there went my plans for the whole evening: haircut, picture for a new passport, going home to read and clean and generally Take Care Of Business had all been swallowed up by waiting for assistance and the expense of getting a tire fixed.  Fortunately, I was able to get off Sheldon, my phone was charged, there was a spare tire in the trunk, and the plans were more or less etched in Jell-O anyway.  And so I thanked God for that and made some calls.  With my brother Mark’s help, I cancelled the hair appointment, called AAA for roadside assistance, and ordered a personal pizza delivery given the expected 2-hour wait.

Settling down to read Something Wicked This Way Comes, I was heartened when a woman stopped her minivan to ask if I needed help.  “Nah, I’m fine – just waiting for Triple A,” I told her.  I said the same to two teenage boys who stopped their vehicle some minutes later.  When the third minivan stopped, I said “Well, I’m waiting for roadside assistance, but if you want to change a tire, well, go ahead.”  So this fellow parks his car, digs a couple of lug wrenches from my trunk, reveals a secret compartment (!) with another full-sized spare tire in it, and spends some 20 or 30 minutes trying to remove the lug nuts.  He wasn’t successful, but we spent the time chatting about the neighborhood, the schools and churches our families have attended, Michigan’s foster care system, urban beautification efforts in Detroit, his mum’s garage sales, and the startling spending of the wealthier folks in Grand Rapids.  Eventually he gave it up as a bad job and we sat in his car until the AAA guy arrived.  Ten minutes thereafter, I headed home.

~~~

This morning, I got on US-23 ever so carefully, my radio off, since I have the capacity for basic learning (although I suppose that’s up for debate.  Maybe I should be taking a different route?  Different car?  Moving to Panama?).  Everyone was driving around 35-40 mph given the snow, which seemed reasonable enough.  A little over a mile down the expressway, the person in front of me braked.  I also braked – gently, I thought, but evidently not gently enough: the car spun around 180 degrees, until I was facing oncoming traffic.

Which was swift and baffling and even more alarming than last week’s adventure.  Fortunately, I was on the right shoulder, neither hit the guardrail nor rolled down the slope, and no one hit me.  After a couple minutes, there was a wide enough gap that I could drive across and turn the car around; a few minutes after that, a wide enough gap to ease off the left shoulder and back onto the road, hazard lights flashing all the way.

And so I thanked God for my safety, drove the rest of the way as carefully as I could, and prayed we all might be delivered from the snow and ice.

Clearly I’ve been delivered three times already.  This reveals God’s glory to me if to no one else…but I keep wondering if it might not be more glorious for Him to send a thaw?

Cabin Fever: Broken Down Car Edition

I speak for myself, and I think likely for Terpsichore as well. Winter car trouble stinks.

In the Spring, the Summer and the Fall, if your car fritzes, you putter around with it and think philosophical thoughts about how life is strange like that, and that everything’s probably ok, because the birdies are still singing.

Birdies. I scoff at you. There are no birdies. And you are now sitting in an unheated car. Wondering why you looked at the frostbite chart this morning. How many minutes was that? Less than 5?

Well, unless your car just won’t start in the driveway. You put in the key, and the car gives one scoffing huff at your misguided optimism and whirs itself back to sleep. Were you going somewhere? Ha. Walk, human. You’ve got legs. In fact, put me in neutral and walk ME into the nice garage.

In the Upper Midwest, some people prevent freezing cars by having some kind of electric plug installed. I don’t know what it goes to in the engine, but it plugs into an extension cord for several hours or overnight. I googled it. Most people who ask about it live in Alaska, but around here, plugs hang out the front of trucks all year round. I want one.

BECAUSE I’VE BEEN IN HERE FOR A WEEK, AND I’M GOING CRAZY. I’M GOING TO START HOME ALCHEMY PROJECTS AND SEE ABOUT PURCHASING BULK CHICKEN WIRE TOPIARY FORMS FROM INDONESIA AND PIN HALF AN OMELET TO THE CHRISTMAS TREE.

Or else, I’ll drink tea and possess my soul in silence. Of which there is plenty. Silence, that is. Tea is limited.

Belated Acceptance Speech

It has come to our attention that We Have Been Nominated For An Award. Back in June. I humbly beg pardon for focussing on life in the real world for a while.

It is the “prestigiously obscure” Liebster Award, and we have been tagged by David at the Warden’s Walk. Thank you David! Apparently this award serves to raise awareness for the under-read but most deserving of blogs. Specifically, blogs that have under 200 followers and their own brand of awesomeness.

The criteria for fulfilling this nomination (and passing into the final round? receiving the award? who judges this?) are as follows:

  • Talk about ourselves
  • Answer the questions provided by the nominator
  • Nominate and provide questions for other candidates

On behalf of all the egotistical muses here, I appoint myself as the representative.  If my sister muses object, they will have to answer, nominate and query for themselves. Continue reading