The Painted Poem Giveaway: Five Finalists (In Verse)

There were so many good suggestions made here in response to the prior Giveaway Post that I decided to pick my five favorite responses, write poems for all five of them, and then work with Paige to pick which one of these most inspires her artistically, before she puts paint to canvas. I did it this way because it’s hard for me to know where a poem might end, even if I know where it starts, so I wouldn’t want to tackle just one, without giving other ideas a chance to blossom from their core kernels. There’s some whimsy here, and perhaps a little bit of bittersweet (both strong Southern emotions), and some things might not have gone in the direction that the suggesters actually had in mind (“Navigator” most especially), but, then, that’s probably what makes it all fun. Thanks to everybody who made a suggestion, and a special thanks to our finalists, noted below, for coming up with the things that actually made it easy for the words to flow out of me. Paige and I will make the final decision over the weekend, and announce the winner of the painting on Monday, chosen from one of the five poems below.

1. PIFFLE AND TRIPE (suggested by Ellen)

“Piffle and tripe and balderdash!”
roared Lord MacCormack, his purple sash
rucked up beneath his ample chin,
as he pounded his desk again and again.
“Codswollop, blarney and twaddlerot!”
the good Lord raged, his temper hot,
his anger roused by news reports
of politics and sex and sports.
“Bosh, bunk, claptrap, bull and fudge!”
MacCormack the day’s events soundly judged,
while flinging his papers across the room,
and gesturing angrily into the gloom.
(His manservant, Roger, knew this was the cue
to roll in the cart, with the buns and the stew).

2. NAVIGATOR (suggested by Roxy C.)

navigator, take us home again
past equator, prime meridian
course creator, plotter of the wind
arbitrator of the journey’s end

navigator, take another fix
skilled translator of the heavens’ tricks
maybe later, trim the candle wicks
as our freighter plies the mouths of Styx

navigator, take us home again,
sailing traders, hauling souls of men

3. FORGIVENESS (Suggested by Christine)

Can I remember? Well, I don’t really know,
it was a very long time ago.
(God, I was just a child,
so careless and reckless and wild).

It felt important at the time, I recall,
though on looking back now, it seems small.
(God, I was just so young,
I didn’t know what I had done).

The details flicker, there’s some pleasure and pain,
none of which I would go through again.
(God, I was just a boy,
in search of some comfort and joy).

Can I remember? Well, I probably could,
but forgetting it seems just as good.
(God, I was just a kid,
forgive me for the things I did).

4. SPREADSHEETS (Suggested by Jam)

I think that I shall never see
a program grand as 1-2-3
(from Lotus), on a floppy disc,
‘fore Excel was ubiquitous.
On DOS it ran, upon a screen
of eyeball-burning black and green,
its simple set of slash commands
accommodated my demands.
It did its job, and did it well,
with half the features of Excel,
though all those things I now can do,
I never find a reason to.
So happy, yes, I’d truly be
if my PC ran 1-2-3.

5. IN THE KITCHEN WITH ALMA (Suggested by Katie)

Alma rose at dawn to make the biscuits,
kneading lard into the baker’s flour,
rolling sheets and cutting discs for baking;
it took her just a bit more than an hour.

At which point, Alma turned to make the stuffing:
sausage, cornbread, broth and butter, nuts.
She pulled the neck and gizzard from the turkey,
(which, with the heart, she thought the sweetest cuts).

She filled the bird and stitched it tight for roasting,
then with a jar of cloves, she dressed the ham,
and pressed the honey from the comb she’d purchased,
to sweeten up her famous candied yams.

While collards stewed in bacon fat and bullion,
Alma snapped the beans and okra too,
then shucked the corn, (the Silver Queen she favored),
which, paired with shrimp, went in her Frogmore Stew.

By sunset, Alma’s work had been completed,
the family blessed their meal on bended knees.
An awkward silence followed, ‘til her son said
“How come there ain’t no Stouffer’s Mac an’ Cheese?”

(All poems Copyright 2010, J. Eric Smith.)

Clean Living

I have something of a masochistic streak about me, which means that I often do ostensibly healthy things in the most unhealthy fashions possible. Haven’t run for a long time? No problem, I’ll just go tackle a 5K run without even bothering to stretch first! Haven’t been on my bike all summer? No worries, I’ll just pump up the tires and go ride for 60 miles or so around Dutchess County! Feeling a little puffy around the middle? What the heck, I’ll just starve myself and lose 30 pounds in 30 days! (I’m not making any of these things up, just for the record). The worse it feels now, the better it will feel when it stops. That’s a credo to live by.

As I age, though, I find that I’m a bit less willing to torture myself just for the sake of doing so, but would generally rather find healthy ways to do healthy things instead. Because of my growing ability to be reasonable about such matters, the rest of my family are more willing to go along with my little exercises in self-denial. For example, starting tomorrow, the whole family has decided to embark upon a two-week cleansing diet before we head up to Iceland for our summer vacation. We’re giving up red meat, pork, gluten, shellfish, dairy (except for yogurt), fried foods, yeast, sugar, processed/packaged foods, coffee and wheat, and planning to get by on legumes, nuts, rice, soy, green tea, free-range/organic poultry and fish, fruits and vegetables instead, while also limiting alcohol intake to small daily portions of red wine.

There’s no disgusting cabbage soup or anything like that involved, nor any intention to starve ourselves, but rather just an interest in having what we eat be a bit healthier for us, with just a small edge of denial involved in the process. I spent much of this weekend cooking a number of dishes that we could pack up and store in the refrigerator accordingly, since none of us are much inclined to cook when we get home at the end of a long work day. I’ll be interested to see how we all feel at the end of two weeks: will we be excited to continue our new-found restraint and healthy living on vacation, or will it make vacation all that much sweeter because we’ll be able to have a big orgy of unhealthy eating without guilt?

Stay tuned . . . .

Falling Through A Time Portal

Like most folks in Latham, I live under the flight path into Albany International Airport used by planes landing from the east to the west, which typically occurs when the wind is up or the weather is stormy. Having an interest in airplanes, and having lived here for 17 years, I’ve reached the point where I actually recognize the sounds of the common airplanes flying into Albany (Boeing 737 variants, Canadair Regional Jets, Bombardier Dash-8’s, etc.), so when I hear something out of the ordinary, I generally go to a window or out to my porch and look up. Sometimes I’ll see a KC-10 Refueler doing “touch and goes” at the airport, or an Air National Guard C-130 heading for Scotia, or even a private P-180 Avanti II carrying some filthy rich person to our green and pleasant land.Those aren’t frequent visitors to our airport, but they land here often enough that it’s not too unusual to see them flying over our house.

This afternoon, though, something different happened. I was washing dishes in the kitchen after broiling four chicken breasts that I’d gently rubbed with olive oil and freshly crushed Himalayan salt and white pepper (yummy!), when I heard an unfamiliar hum above me, so I walked over to the window, looked up, and, Holy Crap!, I saw a World War II-vintage B-17 Flying Fortress roar by low above my house! Now, being something of an aviation buff, I know that the last operational flights made by B-17 variants occurred in the mid- to late-1950s. I concluded, therefore, after clearly seeing one above my house in Latham today, that the only viable explanation for such an experience was that I had inadvertently and unknowingly fallen through a time portal that had carried me back to the days when B-17’s routinely patrolled the skies. Huh! Who would have imagined, right?!

Taking a “When in Rome” approach to this most unexpected of situations, I quickly hired myself a buxom secretary with strong typing skills, had her make me a pot of coffee, and then sent her out to the market to buy me a carton of unfiltered Pall Malls. While she was away, I put some Enoch Light on the record player, shook myself up a batch of three martinis, and wondered why in the world I was cooking and washing dishes, given that I am a man, after all!!! When my secretary returned, I had her clean up the kitchen, then I dictated some memos, and then I carried my fourth martini back to my desk and looked at the pile of paper spilling out of the Telex Machine to see what was going on in the greater world around me.

Wait a minute . . . what’s this here? B-17 Liberty Belle Tour Comes to Albany??? Hmmm . . . well, I guess I didn’t fall through a time portal, after all. So, uh, what am I supposed to do with all these cigarettes, not to mention my buxom new secretary? Maybe another martini will help me figure it all out . . . pass me the cocktail onions there, will you, dear?

Boognish Power

On something of a whim (which is quite unlike me), I took a day off from work today, thinking I’d go for a long bike ride or something. Of course, it was such a whim decision that I didn’t bother to check the weather, which, obviously, turned today into an indoor activities one instead. Additionally, I had to have some blood work done this morning, which meant that I had to fast for 12 hours and skip the morning cup of coffee, so the day started on a bit of an irritated off-note even before the rain began to fall. So after digging through the comment pool on my sensitive last post, and replying where I thought necessary, I was feeling a bit sour by mid-morning. But then, my iPod Shuffle reminded me of one very important point: that the quality and happiness of one’s day have a direct correlation to the number of Ween songs that intrude upon one’s life during said day. Here, let me show you: click here to hear Ween’s “Fiesta”, and keep it playing in the background as you read or do whatever it is you’re reading or doing. I guarantee that its absurdly over-processed fake mariachi horns, infectious melody, and delicious drum break will lighten your spirits, no matter what ails you. So thanks, Deaner and Gener. That was mighty brown reminder.

Hold the “Salt,” Please

Let me introduce this post by noting that I’ve been a resident of New York’s Capital Region for 17 years, and I love, love, love it here. I especially love Albany: its incredible history, its extraordinary architecture, its exceptional University, its rich musical and artistic cultures. I wouldn’t have chosen to move here in 1993, but once my Federal employer forced me to do so, I fell in love with the region and decided that it was more important for me to stay around Albany than it was for me to stay with the Federal government. And, so, this is home now.

Now, having said that, I will note that there is one thing about Albany that absolutely makes me crazy: the seemingly deep-set, City-wide inferiority complex that comes from incessantly comparing ourselves to the various megalopoli that sit mere hours from us, along pretty much whichever compass point you choose to travel. No, we’re not Manhattan. No, we’re not Boston. No, we’re not Montreal, nor even (shudder) Syracuse. But, boy oh boy, do a lot of us seem to wish that we were, to the point where we will often sacrifice our City’s dignity to be perceived as “big league.” Because of this, we often come across like the urban version of a nervous little Shih Tzu puppy that rolls over on its back and pees on the carpet whenever anybody “important” notices us, so thrilled are we by the attention.

The most recently obvious example of this has been the gush-gush-enthuse coverage of the filming and release of the new Angelina Jolie movie, Salt, for which major portions of Albany’s Downtown were shut down, inconveniencing countless local residents and employees, so that Jolie’s stunt double would have a nice place to jump off of a truck, or something equally banal and jejune, in a movie that will be pretty much like every other one of Jolie’s cookie-cutter action movies, only with Albany as wallpaper, because we’re cheaper than CGI. And, of course, Jolie herself came to town for a couple of hours to film! Wow! Angie in Albany! Yay, Albany! Oh! Let’s roll over and pee on the carpet again! Wiggle wiggle wiggle! Yay!

Come on, Albany. Show some dignity, will you? I mean, the great Jack Nicholson and the immensely-talented Meryl Streep coming to Albany to film our own William Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Ironweed, which is set in Albany, and is about Albany, and is a great work of art in both its literary and filmed versions? Now, that was worth getting excited about! But Salt? I don’t even need to see it to know that it will be lost and forgotten in a couple of weeks, an expensive summer trifle, backed by investors who could have better spent their money, from a societal standpoint, on, oh, pretty much anything.

Wait, what’s that you say? Angelina Jolie is an Academy Award winner? Yeah, well, so are Cuba Gooding Jr. and Sandra Bullock and Kevin Costner, so you can see how much that means. (Although I hate to ponder it, Albany, but I know you’d also roll over and pee on the carpet if Cuba Gooding Jr. was in town filming the straight-to-DVD Larry McSquire, Baby Cop III: Show Me The Bunny, wouldn’t you?) While I won’t argue that she did some fine work in her younger years, when I watch Angelina Jolie in films these days, I just have a hard time getting past the nagging, worrying sense that her tiny, tiny neck is going to snap like a pretzel stick under the weight of her larger than life head and hair, so whatever nuances might exist in her performances are generally lost on me, as I sit and dread the terrible Joe Theismann-like moment that I fear is coming, sooner or later.

So, let’s show a little pride and self-restraint, Albany, and stop soiling our collective carpet about this unimportant piece of film fluff. And just to be clear, let me put this in terms that you’ll understand and remember: NO! NO! BAD ALBANY!!! BAD!!!! NO NO NO!!! YOU ARE A BAD BAD BAD ALBANY!!!! [insert sound of rubbing Albany’s nose into Salt here]! BAD, BAD, BAD ALBANY!!! NO!!!!!!