Monday, May 31, 2010

More from Washington Square Park

A flame that burns constantly -


(But where there might have been another powerful quote or passage on that little plaque, there are instead some exasperating words of caution - a reminder of some people's diminished common sense and how litigious our society is.)


A procession with flags marks the start of a memorial ceremony.


Those assembled recite the Pledge of Allegiance, sing the National Anthem, and talk about never forgetting the sacrifices of those who serve in the military.


And during other times in the afternoon -


People seem to be gathered to hear Washington speak. And some of his words are on the memorial wall:

"The independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint councils and joint efforts of common dangers, suffering and success" (Washington Farewell Address, Sept. 17, 1796)



Some observe the monument intently.

Others warn their toddlers away from the flames.


Or they're off to the side, on their laptops.


The day is clear, burning and bright.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

"Day is done, gone the sun..."

A photo of Washington Square Park in Philadelphia, the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier: Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness.

We remember and honor the men and women of our military.

Audio of SGM Woody English, U.S. Army Band, playing Taps.

Here's an interesting site on the history of the bugle call, Taps, played at military funerals and memorial events.

And some of the verses often set to the twenty-four notes:

Day is done, gone the sun,
From the lake, from the hills,
From the sky.
All is well, safely rest,
God is nigh.

Fades the light; And afar
Goeth day, And the stars
Shineth bright,
Fare thee well; Day has gone,
Night is on.

Thanks and praise, For our days,
'Neath the sun, Neath the stars,
'Neath the sky,
As we go, This we know,
God is nigh.

Week in Seven Words #17

For the second time in as many weeks, I watch a film that holds my attention and afterwards leaves me feeling inspired and content that I spent time on it. I also watch it with someone who has seen it before, and I like catching his reactions as he anticipates or rediscovers the little moments and details that delight him.

During the talk he gives at the public library, his body sometimes seems to seize up with the force of his words.

A young child's birthday party. Wrapping paper, fragments of cardboard, and colorful plastic figurines litter the floor and slip between sofa cushions. There's pin the nose on the clown (almost every child peeks), and turns taken at a seemingly indestructible pinata (the bat swings wildly, narrowly misses windows and faces). There are water gun fights, mouths and fingers messy with chocolate cake and pizza grease, laughter and smiles, the occasional sulk in the corner, and adventures into the far corners of the yard.

At a bridal shower we eat off paper plates decorated with purple flowers. Lavender candles float in a bowl at the center of the table. There are colorful salads to start with, and then a decadent descent into cheesecake, brownies, and ice cream. Two of the guests fashion an impromptu hat out of wrapping paper, ribbons, and silver bows; the bride-to-be wears it at a becoming angle on her head.

I buy her a birthday gift, and as it turns out, it's the exact same gift she bought for her boyfriend on his birthday last year. It's not a popular gift either, like a best-selling book, but something obscure (it seemed).

Our walk takes us across an open bridge, a row of lampposts on our right, traffic hurtling along on our left, the river dark and speckled with light. Lightning flares across large swaths of sky; we walk more quickly, thinking that no, this is not the best time to find ourselves on a bridge, but that we might as well take the opportunity to be dazzled.

Chiseling the text and graphs so that they all fit on a single page; I'm not there yet, there are still some lines spilling onto page 2, so I need to play around with space, plucking out a word here and there, and slowly it will assume its final compact shape.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Week in Seven Words #16

Shoeboxes, straws, stickers, yarn and strings, the earnest work of crayons and markers and some glue, and what she has is a kingdom - with a main hall, a throne room, and more rooms beside - and the inhabitants are some of her favorite creatures.

She sets events to different melodies; she sings the words and melodies she knows, or fits new words to familiar tunes, or makes up the words and music on the fly, her favorite stuffed dog snuggled at her elbow.

"No I can do it." And for extra emphasis - "By myself."

I settle on the ends of sofas, curling up with a book or for some conversation or television. There's also the corner chair at the table, the seat tucked against the wall; I'm nestled against the table-edge and next to the poster with the woman and child walking through the poppy fields.

The fun of spelling out words with sticker letters. He places the 'o' too low relative to the other letters; it looks like the word is spilling down. So I tell him that now, when the word arrives at that 'o', he'll need to make his voice swoop down to a deep pitch ('ohhhhhh'). When he places an 'r' too high, I tell him that now the 'r' will sound like a high-pitched shivering bumblebee ('eeeerrrr').

She describes the delight of a cookie, a glass of milk, and a book. How she'll lay the cookie carefully on a napkin, slowly pour the milk, set them side by side on the table and spread the book open in front of them. And if there's an interruption - the phone ringing or someone calling her name - she doesn't mind so much, because she knows that the book, the cookie, and the milk will still be waiting on the table.

I wake up in a softly bright room, with a vase of sunflowers at the foot of my bed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bodies can tell such strange sad tales

This afternoon I visited the Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

It's a fascinating and disturbing place, containing collections of preserved skeletons, tissues and organs (including a large number of diseased ones), a woman's adipoceric corpse (where the decomposing flesh had changed into a soap-like waxy substance, adipocere, that has kept the body intact), and also a number of fetuses in jars.

The fetuses were particularly poignant and wrenching to look at. Many of them had serious physiological defects of some kind. The first one I encountered was a fetus with anencephaly - absence of a forebrain (which includes the cerebral cortex), and with it a flat skull. It was inexplicably placed in a jar apart from the other fetuses - in a bottom corner next to a section of intestine. Its tongue was protruding slightly. I didn't find this horrifying, just very sad. Other fetuses included triplets, all sharing a jar. Others were conjoined twins. There were others, tiny and embedded in tissue, who had arisen from ectopic pregnancies, which develop outside of the uterus and the amniotic sac in places like the fallopian tubes. What I kept thinking was that all of these fetuses were displaced from a uterus; they were in fluid-filled jars instead, locked inside of cabinets. Unclaimed and nameless and lost along the way.

This statue is from the adjacent herb garden. It was refreshing to go there afterwards. Butterflies, birds, flowers and herbs, along with a circle of benches:

I jotted down some of the other things I saw:
- an exhibit on Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth (including thoracic tissue taken from Booth's body during his autopsy), and also a parallel exhibit of James Garfield and his assassin, Charles Guiteau, (and some preserved skin from Garfield, who with better medical care probably would have survived instead of experiencing a lingering painful descent into death).
- Dr. Politzer, the "father of otology", a man who did groundbreaking work on the ear
- suspended skeletons, some of them with obvious blunt trauma to their skulls or horrible curvature to the spine (as seen in Pott's Disease)
- various brains, from fish to human
- an enormous colon
- a small collection of body-related art, including one piece ("Hide" by Christina West), which is a sculpture of a nude woman, bent over, her hands against the wall (to see the sculpture's face you have to squat - if it even occurs to you to seek out her face).

There's a story for everyone and everything (down to the slightest bit of deviant tissue - it came from someone, under some set of circumstances).

Displayed in the museum, a quote by Thomas Hardy:

Why should a man's mind have been thrown into such close, sad, sensational, inexplicable relations with such a precarious object as his body?

We're frail. We know horror. We settle down and make our music anyway.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Week in Seven Words #15

The sky is orange and gray, with a gleam of lightning now and then from behind the cloud cover. The wind is panting, and the trees tremble. The storm won't contain itself much longer.

The difference between a lowercase and uppercase B stalls the programming code, though I hardly know this as I comb through the lines attempting to make sense of an ambiguous error message. It takes a friendly human, with friendly human eyes, to look through it twice and spot the difference.

I've grown used to a certain way of walking to this place; I don't think much about the turns I need to make, the landmarks and houses I walk past. That changes twice. Once at night, when a friend suggests making a shortcut through an alley and a side street, and I find my steps faltering a little, as if I'm in a foreign neighborhood. And the second time is during the day, so even the accustomed route looks a little strange - in the sunshine details leap out that have lain hidden in the dark, and I need to stop and stare and remind myself that yes, this is the street.

I make recurring efforts to neaten the room. But as my attention turns elsewhere the tidiness dissolves, and the next time I stop at the doorway and take a hard assessing look I find that the books have leapfrogged over one another, the papers have waltzed around the floor, and the shirts have turned somersaults off their shelves and onto the chairs.

The man has stretched his arms along the back of the bench; his legs are eased out in front of him, crossed at the ankles, and his spine is curved in a lazy C. His head is tipped back, his eyes probably full of sun and clouds, and I figure he's singing or maybe even talking softly to himself. I'm not prepared, when drawing within earshot, to hear the growls and foul words grinding out of his mouth.

The nightmare is both ridiculous and revealing; as I think about it afterwards, I realize how much weight I've placed on what seems to be a trivial detail, but is actually only one small part of a larger problem.

At least the day is long, and the hours don't seem to hurry. We have lunch in a breezy room and talk there for a good while after. I savor the time without consciously forcing myself to do so. There's a lot I've learned from this small group of people, and many days I've had great fun being with them. I don't think it's sunk in yet, how I'll miss the frequency of our meetings.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Week in Seven Words #14

His voice over the phone feels like a close hug.

The daffodils had passed the weeks partying, chattering brightly, but they're worn out now; they droop over each other and hang brown and queasy over the borders of their plot.

The week starts out with a strong assertion of summer - blasts of dry heat, insistent sunshine. On the last couple of days though the heat collapses, and the wind and coolness of early spring ease back in, as if to soothe a fever.

It's as if I'm on a rock-strewn slope; my feet keep slipping and my hands scramble for a stable hold.

Into the muddle of the everyday comes music from centuries ago, aching and solemn.

Halfway to the second floor I pause by the window. Out of a tangle of branches a bird swoops out and seems to hang for a few moments motionless, before finally pushing against the wind and continuing on its course.

I wish to tiptoe along on the lightness of the evening. Cool air and cautious joy mingle.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"Is hung with bloom along the bough"

Photos from 4/1/10.

The pinks disappeared in a blink.

And the whites reminded me of winter.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Week in Seven Words #13

Flecked with silver rain.

One approach to studying trees is to go out after a heavy rain and look down. The manhole cover has become a mirror; the unruffled puddle shows me sprays of green, a knit of branches, and gray-white skies beyond.

The oboe scampers from one note to another. It slips between the piano's crushing chords.

To be dealt with despairingly or, I hope, determinedly.

She settles here for a day, finding some rest for herself, and when she leaves I realize once again that she's helped make my home feel more like home.

At lunch there's Pygmalion, post-modern art, and Prussia.

A band of pressure throughout the week, beneath the heart.