Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas Story

“Hello Mayor Mayer,” Tom said, shaking hands with the Mayor. “I’m Tom Builder and I’ve come to your town to build houses.”
Mayor Mayer pushed his glasses up on his big, red nose, put his hands on his big, fat hips, and said in his little squeaky voice, “We have plenty of houses already, mister… what did you say your name was?”
“Builder, Tom Builder. Are you sure you don’t need a few more houses, Mr. Mayor?”
Mayor Mayer leaned forward and looked Tom Builder right in the eye and said, “Look Mr. Builder, we have houses of every description here in Eltopia. We have big houses, we have little houses, we have wood houses, and we have brick houses, we have one story houses, and we have two story houses, why, heck, we even have a three story house. That’s my house,” said the mayor, with a satisfied smile.
When Tom Builder got back to the hotel he told his wife, Hilder, what the mayor had said. “Gosh, Hilder, I don’t know what to do. There’s no work for me building houses here in Eltopia. How will I make enough money to take care of you, and little Milder and Gilder?”
“Don’t you worry, Tom Builder,” said Hilder. “You’ll think of something.” But Hilder was worried, too. Christmas was coming. Would she and Tom be able to buy the children presents? It’s not important, she thought. As long as we have a place to live and can put food on the table, we’ll be all right.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Mesmerized, by Gayle Lynds

High-powered attorney Beth Convey gets a heart transplant, becomes enmeshed in a dastardly plot to assassinate the new Russian President, Vladimir Putin (the novel was published in 2001) -- right in the White House Rose Garden -- and finds herself endowed with a whole new set of skills and abilities as she fights to prevent the plot from succeeding.

Her adventures quickly team her up with Washington Post investigative reporter, undercover FBI operative, and undeniable hunk, Jeffrey Hammond. Together they battle US-embedded rogue KGB agents, anti-government American militia members, a mole in the FBI working for the Russians, and the various National Security agencies of the United States, who, as usual in these thrillers, get it all wrong.

If nothing else, Lynds manages a lively pace, but for what is basically a romance novel, there is only one sexual encounter between Beth and Jeff and it is painful to read. "He pressed his lips into her belly and tasted her, savory as buttermilk." Could be a yeast infection.

I'd been looking forward to the scene for most of the novel, because Beth's heart donor turned out to be a male Russian agent skilled in karate and general hand-to-hand combat, firearms, and high-speed driving, among other things, and Beth had "inherited" (I'll spare you the pseudo-science) his skills, his thought processes, many of his memories (which she relived through dreams), and apparently, something of his sensitivities. How would this manifest itself when, "panting," she kicked off her "thong" and opened her legs to Hammond?

First, she's wearing a thong through all this action?! Second, why aren't the two fighting for the top position? Third... well, I don't want to go there.

I admit I skimmed a lot of the book. I just wasn't that mesmerized.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

Read this wonderful, amazing, lyrical, sad, funny, fateful book. 

Let The Great World Spin – An Excerpt, © Colum McCann 2009
(Random House, 2009)

Those who saw him hushed. On Church Street. Liberty.  Cortlandt. West Street. Fulton. Vesey. It was a silence that heard itself, awful and beautiful. Some thought at first that it must have been a trick of the light, something to do with the weather, an accident of shadowfall. 

Others figured it might be the perfect city joke—stand around and point upward, until people gathered, tilted their heads, nodded, affirmed, until all were staring
upward at nothing at all, like waiting for the end of a Lenny Bruce gag. But the longer they watched, the surer they were. He stood at the very edge of the building, shaped dark against the gray of the morning. A window washer maybe. Or a construction worker.

Or a jumper.

Up there, at the height of a hundred and ten stories, utterly still, a dark toy against the cloudy sky.

He could only be seen at certain angles so that the watchers had to pause at street corners, find a gap between buildings, or meander from the shadows to get a view unobstructed by cornicework, gargoyles, balustrades, roof edges. None of them had yet made sense of the line strung at his feet from one tower to the other. Rather, it was the manshape that held them there, their necks craned, torn between the promise of doom and the disappointment of the ordinary.  It was the dilemma of the watchers: they didn’t want to wait around for nothing at all, some idiot standing on the precipice of the towers, but they didn’t want to miss the moment either, if he slipped, or got arrested, or dove, arms stretched.

Around the watchers, the city still made its everyday noises. Car horns. Garbage trucks. Ferry whistles. The thrum of the subway. The M22 bus pulled in against the sidewalk, braked, sighed down into a pothole.  A flying chocolate wrapper touched against a fire hydrant. Taxi doors slammed. Bits of trash sparred in the darkest reaches of the alleyways.  Sneakers found their sweetspots. The leather of briefcases rubbed against trouserlegs. A few umbrella tips clinked against the pavement.  Revolving doors pushed quarters of conversation out into the street.  But the watchers could have taken all the sounds and smashed them down into a single noise and still they wouldn’t have heard much at all: even when they cursed, it was done quietly, reverently.

They found themselves in small groups together beside the traffic lights on the corner of Church and Dey; gathered under the awning of Sam’s barbershop; in the doorway of Charlie’s Audio; a tight little theater of men and women against the railings of St. Paul’s Chapel; elbowing for space at the windows of the Woolworth Building. Lawyers. Elevator operators.  Doctors. Cleaners. Prep chefs. Diamond merchants. Fish sellers. Sad- jeaned whores. All of them reassured by the presence of one another.

Stenographers. Traders. Deliveryboys. Sandwichboard men. Cardsharks.  Con Ed. Ma Bell. Wall Street. A locksmith in his van on the corner of Dey and Broadway. A bike messenger lounging against a lamppost on West.  A red- faced rummy out looking for an early- morning pour.  From the Staten Island Ferry they glimpsed him. From the meatpacking warehouses on the West Side. From the new high- rises in Battery Park. From the breakfast carts down on Broadway.

From the plaza below. From the towers themselves.

Sure, there were some who ignored the fuss, who didn’t want to be bothered. It was seven forty- seven in the morning and they were too jacked up for anything but a desk, a pen, a telephone. Up they came from the subway stations, from limousines, off city buses, crossing the street at a clip, refusing the prospect of a gawk. Another day, another dolor. But as they passed the little clumps of commotion they began to slow down.

Some stopped altogether, shrugged, turned nonchalantly, walked to the corner, bumped up against the watchers, went to the tips of their toes, gazed over the crowd, and then introduced themselves with a Wow or a Gee- whiz or a Jesus H. Christ.

The man above remained rigid, and yet his mystery was mobile. He stood beyond the railing of the observation deck of the south tower—at any moment he might just take off. Below him, a single pigeon swooped down from the top floor of the Federal Office Building, as if anticipating the fall. The movement caught the eyes of some watchers and they followed the gray flap against the small of the standing man. The bird shot from one eave to another, and it was then the watchers noticed that they had been joined by others at the windows of offices, where blinds were being lifted and a few glass panes labored upward. All that could be seen was a pair of elbows or the end of a shirtsleeve, or an arm garter, but then it was joined by a head, or an odd- looking pair of hands above it, lifting the frame even higher. In the windows of nearby skyscrapers, figures came to look out—men in shirtsleeves and women in bright blouses, wavering in the glass like funhouse apparitions.

Higher still, a weather helicopter executed a dipping turn over the Hudson—a curtsy to the fact that the summer day was going to be cloudy and cool anyway—and the rotors beat a rhythm over the warehouses of the West Side. At first the helicopter looked lopsided in its advance, and a small side window was slid open as if the machine were looking for air. A lens appeared in the open window. It caught a brief flash of light. After a moment the helicopter corrected beautifully and spun across the expanse.  Some cops on the West Side Highway switched on their misery lights, swerved fast off the exit ramps, making the morning all the more magnetic.

A charge entered the air all around the watchers and—now that the day had been made official by sirens—there was a chatter among them, their balance set on edge, their calm fading, and they turned to one another and began to speculate, would he jump, would he fall, would he tiptoe along the ledge, did he work there, was he solitary, was he a decoy, was he wearing a uniform, did anyone have binoculars?

Perfect strangers touched one another on the elbows. Swearwords went between them, and whispers that there’d been a botched robbery, that he was some sort of cat burglar, that he’d taken hostages, he was an Arab, a Jew, a Cypriot, an IRA man, that he was really just a publicity stunt, a corporate scam, Drink more Coca- Cola, Eat more Fritos, Smoke more Parliaments, Spray more Lysol, Love more Jesus.

Or that he was a protester and he was going to hang a slogan, he would slide it from the tower ledge, leave it there to flutter in the breeze, like some giant piece of sky laundry—nixon out now!  remember ’nam, sam! independence for indochina!—and then someone said that maybe he was a hang glider or a parachutist, and all the others laughed, but they were perplexed by the cable at his feet, and the rumors began again, a collision of curse and whisper, augmented by an increase in sirens, which got their hearts pumping even more, and the helicopter found a purchase near the west side of the towers, while down in the foyer of the World Trade Center the cops were sprinting across the marble floor, and the undercovers were whipping out badges from beneath their shirts, and the fire trucks were pulling into the plaza, and the redblue dazzled the glass, and a flatbed truck arrived with a cherry picker, its fat wheels bouncing over the curb, and someone laughed as the picker kiltered sideways, the driver looking up, as if the basket might reach all that sad huge way, and the security guards were shouting into their walkie- talkies, and the whole August morning was blown wide open, and the watchers stood rooted, there was no going anywhere for a while, the voices rose to a crescendo, all sorts of accents, a babel, until a small redheaded man in the Home Title Guarantee Company on Church Street lifted the sash of his office window, placed his elbows on the sill, took a deep breath, leaned out, and roared into the distance: Do it, asshole!

There was a dip before the laughter, a second before it sank in among the watchers, a reverence for the man’s irreverence, because secretly that’s what so many of them felt—Do it, for chrissake! Do it!—and then a torrent of chatter was released, a call- and- response, and it seemed to ripple all the way from the windowsill down to the sidewalk and along the cracked pavement to the corner of Fulton, down the block along Broadway, where it zigzagged down John, hooked around to Nassau, and went on, a domino of laughter, but with an edge to it, a longing, an awe, and many of the watchers realized with a shiver that no matter what they said, they really wanted to witness a great fall, see someone arc downward all that distance, to disappear from the sight line, flail, smash to the ground, and give the Wednesday an electricity, a meaning, that all they needed to become a family was one millisecond of slippage, while the others—those who wanted him to stay, to hold the line, to become the brink, but no farther—felt viable now with disgust for the shouters: they wanted the man to save himself, step backward into the arms of the cops instead of the sky.  They were jazzed now.
The lines were drawn.
Do it, asshole!
Don’t do it!

Way above there was a movement. In the dark clothing his every twitch counted. He folded over, a half- thing, bent, as if examining his shoes, like a pencil mark, most of which had been erased. The posture of a diver. And then they saw it. The watchers stood, silent. Even those who had wanted the man to jump felt the air knocked out. They drew back and moaned.

A body was sailing out into the middle of the air.  He was gone. He’d done it. Some blessed themselves. Closed their eyes. Waited for the thump. The body twirled and caught and flipped, thrown around by the wind.

Then a shout sounded across the watchers, a woman’s voice: God, oh God, it’s a shirt, it’s just a shirt.

It was falling, falling, falling, yes, a sweatshirt, fluttering, and then their eyes left the clothing in midair, because high above the man had unfolded upward from his crouch, and a new hush settled over the cops above and the watchers below, a rush of emotion rippling among them, because the man had arisen from the bend holding a long thin bar in his hands, jiggling it, testing its weight, bobbing it up and down in the air, a long black bar, so pliable that the ends swayed, and his gaze was fixed on the far tower, still wrapped in scaffolding, like a wounded thing waiting to be reached, and now the cable at his feet made sense to everyone, and whatever else it was there would be no chance they could pull away now, no morning coffee, no conference room cigarette, no nonchalant carpet shuffle; the waiting had been made magical, and they watched as he lifted one dark- slippered foot, like a man about to enter warm gray water.  The watchers below pulled in their breath all at once. The air felt suddenly shared. The man above was a word they seemed to know, though they had not heard it before.

Out he went.

Colum McCann

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx

Barkskins, by Annie Proulx, "a tale of long-term, shortsighted greed whose subject could not be more important: the destruction of America's forests."

Annie Proulx's multi-generational story begins in 1693 with the colonization of "New France," the vast tract of north America and Canada colonized by the French between the 16th and 18th centuries. René Sel and Charles Duquet arrive in the new country as indentured servants to a harsh if not entirely brutal property owner and taskmaster, Monsieur Trépagny.

René and Charles, awestruck by the imposing, often impenetrable and seemingly limitless extent of the forest, react to it in strikingly different ways. René cleaves to his inner woodsman, shaping himself to the land, puzzled by the drive to cut further into the forest than necessary. Eventually, he marries Mari, a Mi’kmaq woman skilled in the therapeutic use of plants, enfolding her existing children with the couple’s own, and setting in train one of the novel’s key strands: the constant tension that their descendants feel as they negotiate their dual heritage.

The next 650 pages trace the bloodlines of these two men in an often grisly chronicle of deforestation, cultural erasure and international commerce. We sit in on vomit-strewn ocean crossings, shady business deals in Dutch coffee houses and fatal feuds between rival logging crews razing land wrested from the native population. The rags-to-riches rise of Duquet (always referred to by his surname) and the fortunes of his in-fighting heirs contrast with the fate of René’s mixed-race descendants, expropriated, exploited and scattered from New England to New Zealand in search of a livelihood.

As the book moves from generation to generation, a general thesis reveals itself: The concept of personal property, facilitated by technology and propelled by the Christian mandate for dominion, is largely to blame for the genocide of indigenous people and the impending ecological collapse.
This review is drawn from several reviews, including by Rich Smith, The Stranger, William T Vollman, the New York Times, and Alex Clark and Anthony Cummins, The Guardian.

Friday, November 4, 2016

About Grace

by Andrew Doerr

In his first novel, "About Grace," Anthony Doerr drags his protagonist, David Winkler, over a fair few hot coals: 25 years of exile as a dogsbody in a new hotel in St. Vincent in the Caribbean, a near-drowning experience, malnutrition, a clinically debilitating journey in a clapped-out Datsun across the vastness of America, an Alaskan winter in an unheated shed, gradual loss of eyesight, an alienated daughter he abandoned when she was a few months old. The comparisons with Lear are flickering and fugitive but inevitable. As Winkler himself thinks: "I have already been reduced. Leave me be." Why does Doerr inflict so much on this quiet, retreating hydrologist, a man obsessed with water and snow?

Winkler is no ordinary man. He sometimes dreams of things that, in his waking life, come true. As a boy, he dreams of a man coming out of a shop with a hatbox who will shortly be run over by a bus. In a few days, it happens. This life of prolepsis, with frequent illuminations of déjà vu, of "the vertigo of future aligning with the present," becomes his unraveling. He dreams of the woman with whom he is going to fall in love and the exactness of the circumstances as well. Before long, he is locked in an intense relationship with Sandy Sheeler, married to Herman Sheeler for more than 15 years. Sandy gets pregnant, leaves her husband and Anchorage with Winkler and sets up a new life with him in Cleveland. A few months after their daughter, Grace, is born, Winkler dreams of an imminent flood in which she will drown while he is trying to save her from the rising waters.

To avoid this fate, he escapes to St. Vincent, where he is rescued by a Chilean cook, Felix, and his wife, Soma, both exiles themselves from Chile's political violence and repression. For 25 years, which Doerr oddly manages to telescope so that it feels like a tenth of that time, Winkler lives on the island in a dilapidated shed, working as general factotum in an offshore restaurant. It is his friendship with Felix and Soma's little girl, Naaliyah, to whom he is friend, father figure, mentor (even academic referee when she decides to go to graduate school in the United States), that holds out the hope of salvation for him. In an act of redemption that allows Winkler to reorder the patterns of a past he has been expiating, he is released from the paralytic torpor afflicting his life. He returns to the United States to search for the wife and daughter he had abandoned.

Doerr traverses again the territory he had marked out in the stories of his lucent first book, the short-story collection "The Shell Collector" (2002): a rapture with nature expressed in prose that sings off the page; an infinitely subtle algebra of resonance and sympathy between minds, lives, objects, light, senses, weather; the majestic indifference of nature; the proper measure of man against natural forces. Doerr has a compulsion for observation and a passion for nature that borders on the religious.

But in "About Grace," this very strength snakes in on itself and becomes its perilous opposite; what was pitched so perfectly in the circumscribed space of a short story can appear overwrought, extended now over 400 pages -- a hothouse product, at times so swooningly in love with itself that it cannot resist yet another perfectly turned sentence (or four) on the miracle of the hexagonal structure of snow when more important action is pressing. Doerr's interest in nature is so obsessive that the whole equation of man in nature becomes heavily skewed in favor of the latter, producing fiction of rapturous beauty but of an oddly cold, uninvolving nature, as if it were embalmed in its own lustrous style.

A passage about Winkler seems to hold the key both to Doerr's philosophy and to the central weakness of the book. "All day . . . a sensitivity had been building within him: the slightest shift in light or air touched the backs of his eyes, reached membranes inside his nose. It was as if, like a human divining rod, he had been attuning to vapor as it gathered in the atmosphere, sensing it -- water rising in the xylem of trees, leaching out of stones, even the last unfrozen volumes, gargling deep beneath the forest in tangled, rocky aquifers -- all these waters rising through the air, accumulating in the clouds, stretching and binding, condensing and precipitating -- falling." This encapsulates the whole problem of a style that can sometimes stray into the self-consciously hypersensitive and precious as well as the problem of balance, the way the human is compulsively stunted in favor of the natural.

The human action and human interests, characterization, dialogue, all appear oddly attenuated when set within the frame of this overdeveloped poetic realism. Faced with the occasionally thin credibility of the characters, the exquisite avenues of light and cloud formations and ice crystals down which Doerr leads us prove disappointingly to be cul-de-sacs when we reach the inevitable destination.

Doerr reaches heroically toward the humanization of his novel with Winkler's return to the United States and his attempts to reinscribe himself into the notion and experience of family by tracing his daughter, Grace, now a young woman with a child of 6, Christopher.
Just as his relationship with Naaliyah, a proxy daughter, set him on the path to finding his real one, this time, too, Winkler is given hope, absolution and grace by Herman Sheeler and Christopher, in two relationships combining atonement and a rewriting of the past, a relearning of responsibility.

These are definitely the most moving sections of the book, but too much brightness dazzles and distracts, and the wall of luminous prose almost fences off the reader's heart, something Doerr clearly wants to sway. A writer as dizzyingly talented and as generous as Doerr should be confident enough to do away with some of the more blinding fireworks.

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Photograph by Andy Porter: Sunset at Copper Ridge
I reached the crest of Goat Ridge just as twilight was seeping through the forested slopes and valleys of the Goat Rocks Wilderness. I let the pack slip from my back to the ground and stood watching the sky going gold.

Gray-black cloud hanging there refusing to take on the pink hue that more distant clouds accepted gracefully. Darkness was now inking the sky.

I need to start a fire. Heat the dinner that I bought with my REI dividend.

If she were here we'd be eating by now, despite my vote for watching the sunset. "They'll be plenty of time for that."

But there wasn't. In the end, there wasn't time for exploring the world, traveling to exotic places, or even Epcot, or starting a family.

There was no time for other sunsets.

I forget about dinner and sit on a rock outcropping watching darkness descend. Taking time for regret.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Black Opal -- Part One

Mosquitoes covered his arms like fur
and he slapped at them with a vehemence
that seemed born of a fear that from the mists
the beast this living fur bespoke
would materialize and devour him
The beast's shrill screaming
Cut through the fetid air
Like a warped saw blade

 He burst from the mangroves
Eyes wild
Nostrils flared
Lip curled
Foaming at the mouth
and hurled himself ahead
Seeking higher ground

At the crest of Burbidge Hill
an easterly wind caressed his face 
the mosquitoes fell away
and the screaming stopped

He stood there hunched over
His hands on his face
and when he took them away
They held a soup of
His blood and dead mosquitoes

It took him three hours
to hike to the hut
and by the time he reached it
the sky was a reddish-purple
The jackals that made their den
near an occasional creek in the east field
were yipping and chattering
and collared doves
Perched in tree limbs overhead
craning their necks
stared down at them
with disdain

He threw his pack down
on the split log that served
as a bench at the door
and tearing off what remained
of his tattered shirt
went to the pump

After he washed his arms and chest
and rinsed black bits of mosquito
from his mouth
He went to his pack
and removed a small bundle
Wrapped in dirty rags

He carefully unwound the rags
and pulled from the bloody nest
an irregular stone
covered in dark mud

He washed the stone
rubbing the mud from it
with his thumbs

and then he washed
Bunji's blood from the stone
as if from a shroud
the Black Opal emerged


Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Girl With All the Gifts

by M. R. Carey

I finished this last night, and then tried to sleep -- Ambien helped. This book is very hard to put down, and very hard to stop thinking about. Read it before you see the movie.

The Girl With All the Gifts, by M.R. Carey
The book is now being made into a movie. I think it will be good. Here's the trailer for The Girl With All The Gifts, directed by Colm McCarthy and starring Sennia Nanua, Gemma Arterton, Glenn Close and Paddy Considine. Coming soon.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The Second Life of Nick Mason, by Steve Hamilton

This crime drama by Steve Hamilton received a lot of very good reviews, so I got it out of my local library and started reading it. I needed a break from the more serious reading of Kevin Gutzman's, James Madison and the Making of America. I'm half way through Nick Mason's second life. I have the distinct impression I've read this before. Not this particular book, but other stories like it. The anti-hero, hero. Troubled past, troubled guy, in over his head. Trying to be a better person. Fates conspire. You know what I mean.

I'll let you know what I think when I'm finished.


I'm finished. Thank goodness. My take?

Laughably implausible plot.

Clichéd characters up and down the cast ladder, but especially the main character, "Nick." I can't tell you too much without revealing the plot line and outcome, but let me say this, "Jack Reacher" does it better, without all the whining, and with a more satisfying, if similar outcome.

I've read and enjoyed Steve Hamilton before -- A Cold Day in Paradise, The Lock Artist (which I particularly liked) -- his writing is straight forward, crisp, and he has an outstanding ability to put the reader in the action's locale.

I'll try another book by Hamilton. I know he can do better.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Hugo & Nebula Award Winning novel by the author of Water Knife.


"Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko.

One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe."

Friday, June 24, 2016


Donaucity-Kirche, Vienna International Center, architect Heinz Tesar. 
Photo: R. Badalamente, June 26, 2010

Saturday, June 4, 2016

All the Birds, Singing, by Evie Wyld

WYLD: Oh, yeah. It could be any number of sick pranks. There's a lot of sort of mystery around whether or not it's a person taking some kind of revenge trying to scare her off or whether it's actually a large mythical cat or something else or even herself.

This is a revealing response from the author, Evie Wyld, to a question from NPR interviewer, Scott Simon. Read the complete interview here.

I like this review of the novel by Jeff VanderMeer.

I liked the novel quite a lot, but it isn't for the faint of heart. Especially if you're living alone on a gloomy, wind-swept island someonewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Living in Greater Harmony with Nature

Throughout human history man has battled nature to survive and thrive on this earth. Modern man ultimately learned to harness the forces of nature and put them to work in the service of mankind. But all along, man’s ability to gain dominion over nature exceeded his understanding of his place in the natural world. Unless mankind learns to live in greater harmony with nature there will inevitably come a time when the world can no longer meet man’s physical needs, let alone those essential spiritual needs met by the natural beauty – the shear majesty -- of our remarkable planet.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Mists

There were
In the forest
In the twilight
Curling like snakes
Along the damp ground
And up and through the gnarled limbs
Of ancient Oaks

The mist
Wraps around my neck
As I gaze up through the leaves
Through the mists
Curling up into the starless sky
I try to scream
But the mists fill my open mouth
Choking me

And so I lie here silently screaming
While ghosts in white
Curl like snakes
Around me
About white matter
And centimeters
And incisions

The sky above me is bright with stars
Blindingly painfully bright
I squeeze my eyes shut
But the pain comes still
Just behind the eyes

In the twilight
In the mists
Curling like snakes
Along the damp ground
And up and through the gnarled limbs
Of ancient Oaks
Under which I lie
Shrouded in mist

Sunday, May 15, 2016

This Rose

I kissed this rose
Drawn to it
As if it were your mouth
I withdrew bleeding

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Partitions, by Amit Majmudar

This first-time novelist has helped us to travel that brief but crucial distance, from words on the page to dreams in our minds and hearts, and made this bitter, brutal time somehow reachable.
Growing up in both India and the U.S., Amit Majmudar wasn't entirely sure where he belonged — until he found the library. "I became a citizen of the library," he tells NPR's Renee Montagne. "And to this day, I feel at ease only in a crowd of books. In some ways, I feel like I am a book, to be honest with you." Majmudar straddles professional worlds as well — in addition to being Ohio's first ever Poet Laureate, he's also a radiologist. [From NPR's Morning Edition]

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq, by Rory Stewart

This excellent review by William Grimes in the New York Times captures well my thoughts on the book by Rory Stewart describing his brief but eventful time in post-invasion Iraq from 2003 to 2004. In his book, Stewart describes his experiences as Coalition Provisional Authority Deputy Governor of the Iraqi province of Maysan and Senior Advisor in the province of Dhi Qar for one year starting in August 2003.

Stewart was 30 years old. Like so many other members of the CPA, he was too young, too inexperienced, and too temporary to be effective. The whole CPA idea -- the whole post invasion cluster fuck -- was illustrative of how the United States of America under George W. Bush blundered into the greatest strategic mistake in the history of U.S. military affairs.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Unraveling, by Emma Sky

I completed this book in January 2016. I felt the book was less an analysis than a personal memoir and as such was shallow in its treatment of the factors and faults leading to the disintegration of stability post-invasion.

Emma Sky admits she is "unqualified" for the role she's given, but according to her own account, she becomes indispensable, although it's never clear exactly what her role is. But she was well enough thought of that General Odierno requested that she become his political advisor in 2006.

Sky is critical of the withdrawal of U.S. troops in 2011 under the Obama Administration, but at his August 2015 retirement ceremony, General Odierno said,

"It is frustrating to look at what has happened inside of Iraq," he said. "I believe that a couple years ago in 2010-11, we had it in a place that was really headed in the right direction. Violence was down, the economy was growing, the politics were OK."

However, "the political factions just simply weren't able to work together, and based on that, people became frustrated. When people become frustrated, they tend to turn to violence if there is no other way for them to get their point," he said.

Odierno said it was impossible to gauge whether the Obama administration could have tried harder to negotiate a deal with the Baghdad government to have U.S. troops stay after 2011.

"I don't think it's black and white. I think it is gray," he said. "I think the military options we conducted provided an opportunity for us to be successful" but "I remind everybody that us leaving at the end of 2011 was negotiated in 2008 by the Bush administration."

"And that was always the plan," he added. "We had promised that we would respect their sovereignty, and so I think based on that, that was always our plan."
Sky's book was reviewed by Christopher Dickey in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. A less flattering review was written by Anakana Schofield in The Irish Times. I tend to agree with this review, especially when it comes to Sky's writing.

A excellent short synopsis of the "Second Iraq War" can be found in the Enclyclopaedia Britannia.