Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A poem by Jim Wayne Miller

Getting Together

Suddenly old friends are in the house. Laughter.
Separated years back, we've wandered around
lost in the American Funhouse. Together again,
what a crowd we are! The walls are angled
mirrors multiplying us many times over.
Each one of us sees the friend he knew
standing back of the one this friend has become,
and shyly, like an unacknowledged companion,
confused by all this familiarity, unseen by our friends,
stands the person we know we are. Laughter.

Moving through the crowd, I realize
I've gradually got used to walking around
in my life a huge elongated trunk and rippled face,
a bulging wrap-around brow, moving on stumpy legs,
my belt just above my shoetops, my chin
riding level with my fly. I have forgotten parts
of myself, my ears lie curled like lettuce leaves,
my hands grow right out of my shoulders,
no wrists or arms or elbows in between.

Glancing past familiar strangers, I try
to hold out a hand to someone who holds out a hand.
Laughter! We hold back all but the little horrors.

from The Mountains Have Come Closer. Boone: Appalachian Consortium Press, 1980.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Got Any Fries With that Shake?

I was sitting at my computer desk working on some lesson plans for the upcoming school year when I felt a little jittery inside, like I was on an airplane experiencing some turbulence. I turned to the window to see if maybe I just ate some bad barbecue and was feeling a little lightheaded. The Venetian blinds were rocking back and forth. I felt like little hiccups were undulating through my chest. Slightly alarmed, I got up and walked out into the hallway and continued listening. A couple of lockers faintly rattled. Is it going to get worse? Should I vacate the building? A few other teachers were meeting in a classroom when I barged in on them.

"Do you guys feel that?" Two of the teachers gave me funny looks like I was on something, but the third said, "You know I did feel a little tremor."

Little?! I thought. But it turned out he was once stationed in Okinawa, so he was used to earthquakes. Since Facebook is blocked at my school, I couldn't instantly check to see what other folks were saying. The US Geological Survey web site finally confirmed it. A 5.9 earthquake occurred at 37.975°N, 77.969°W, or roughly between Charlottesville, Richmond, and Fredericksburg, Virginia. The television reports so far that there is no major damage, but that people in DC and NYC have been evacuated from some buildings and subways. A little spooky, but I am relieved that no one is hurt.

Update: There has been a buzz for about an hour after Fox News (consider the source) reported that a police officer stated the Washington Monument was leaning after the earthquake. Every social network has gone ape about it, even some people posting pictures, but no one of any authority has confirmed or denied it. Now, it's been a while since I've been to DC, but I do remember that the Washington Monument is tapered, by 1.3 degrees I believe, from the bottom to the top, so from almost any angle one looks it will seem to tilt. Surely some geometry math-type people out there can confirm this and end this shoot-from-the-hip editorial pseudo-journalistic rumor. "Fox News: when there's nothing real to report, make something up (or quote an analyst and make him/her out to be an expert)!"

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Sting

One sunny afternoon last week I sent my two children out on the back deck to play with their toys for a little while while I washed dishes and watched them from the window. It was one of those rare moments when my eight-year-old daughter and four-year-old son were both playing nicely, and I enjoyed watching them. Every now and then they had to run down and grab a toy that had fallen through the rails of the deck. I was scrubbing a pot when I heard a horrendous scream, followed by my daughter yelling, "Daddy!"

Well, I just knew my daughter had done something mean and my son was running in to tattle on her, until I recognized the pitch of my son's crying as a "pain" cry, not "I got my feelings hurt" cry (There's a difference, and parents out there know what I'm talking about!). My daughter said there were a bunch of flies buzzing around under the deck and he started crying and swatting at them. She yanked him away and pushed him to the back door, she said. I looked at his lip and noticed a white spot encircling a small red dot. A bee sting. I hollered for my wife, who immediately gave him a shot of both children's Tylenol and Benadryl while I investigated.

More precisely, it was a Yellow Jacket. The nest, about the size of a softball, was right under the deck where my kids were playing. I tried looking for an angle so I could squirt the little devils with my wasp and hornet spray, but it was under the low end of the deck. It would require me to climb under it to get at them, and I wasn't about to be trapped under there squirting spray and them swarming all around me. I then remembered what my dad once did.

When my sister was four she got stung several times by a hornet's nest that was built under a piece of playground equipment in our neighborhood, one of those old animal rockers on the giant spring. I remember her rocking back and forth and crying as they swarmed around her. My father, being an aficionado and master of fire as a means to solve all pest problems (you should see him work on voles), made a torch out of old dust rags, then doused it in gasoline. He waited until dark when all the hornets returned to the nest and them ambushed them. I was told to stay in the car, but I remember an unknowing neighbor coming out on their front porch and yelling at my dad, wondering if he was an arsonist setting fire to the playground. No, just teaching them "damn bees" not to mess with his little girl.

I made my torch with a bamboo stick and an old towel, then liberally sprayed it with WD40 (less explosive and lower combustion temperature, I thought) and waited until dusk. My wife's chief concern was that I was going to set the wooden deck on fire, so I assured her by stretching the garden hose around and having an extra bucket of water to put out the torch. The kids watched from the kitchen window, my son's upper lip swollen and puffy like one of the cast members of Cats. Boy, those yellow jackets didn't know what was going on! Their little wings were just singeing right off as they dropped to the ground. The few that initially got away tried attacking the torch, flying into it like moths to a flame, literally. When I saw charred wasp paper falling from under the deck, I decided my job was done. I then shot the deck for a few minutes with the water hose.

My son, thank goodness, was not allergic. After a few hours the swelling went down, and we kept asking him to breath deeply for us just in case he had an asthmatic reaction. And just to let you know, I don't normally derive pleasure from torturing animals by setting them on fire. But when it comes to my family, I will avenge!*

* This is where my wife would roll her eyes and give me the "You've got to be kidding" look. I would then have to refer to the time I saved her from the grub-eating skunk, but that's another story.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Television Show's Depiction of Kentucky Un"Justified"

Though I'm not from Eastern Kentucky, I've visited and passed through enough times that I was interested in seeing how FX's new show Justified portrayed the area and its people. I felt like I was watching an episode of The Dukes of Hazzard meets The Rifleman. Though filmed in Western Pennsylvania rather than the scrub hills of southern California, it still has that flavor of Appalachia run through a Hollywood filter: the stubborn, drunken, "aw, shucks" drawling hillbilly vs. the savvy, smug outsiders. You might as well brew a pot of raspberry truffle coffee with Maker's Mark; that's about the taste it left in my mouth.

Does it make for good television? I suppose. The storyline is well-written enough. It's about as accurate to Kentucky, though, as any wild-west trope was for 1950s television. No, you won't see tumbleweeds blowing down Main Street, nor will you see people sitting around a moonshine still listening to bluegrass music and waiting to fill their mason jar (we keep our stills hidden pretty good). So, no offense to fans of the show, but I hope that people aren't watching it and thinking, "Those Appalachians are crazy." Try watching an episode of Jersey Shore and see if you can say the same thing about The Garden State. I would hope not every resident acted like Snooki or The Situation.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Poem by Kevin Young

I took my Poets & Writers Club to Lenoir Rhyne University last month on a field trip to tour the campus and see a poetry reading by Kevin Young. What a lively performance! My high school students were much more engrossed in Young's choice of topic and style than even when we saw W.S. Merwin (the U.S. Poet Laureate) last semester. I now have a new favorite.

"Ode to Chicken"

You are everything
to me. Frog legs,
rattlesnake, almost any
thing I put my mouth to
reminds me of you.
Folks always try
getting you to act
like you someone else --
nuggets, or tenders, fingers
you don't have -- but even
your unmanicured feet
taste sweet. Too loud
in the yard, segregated
dark & light, you are
like a day self-contained --
your sunset skin puckers
like a kiss. Let others
put on airs -- pigs graduate
to pork, bread
become toast, even beef
was once just bull
before it got them degrees --
but, even dead,
you keep your name
& head. You can make
anything of yourself,
you know -- but prefer
to wake me early
in the cold, fix me breakfast
& dinner too, leave me
to fly for you.

from Dear Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Mightier Than the Sword, But Still Dependant on Who Wields It

Quill, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by an ass. This use of the quill is now obsolete, but its modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting Presence.

Ink, n. A villanous compound of tanno-gallate of iron, gum-arabic and water, chiefly used to facilitate the infection of idiocy and promote intellectual crime .... most generally and acceptably employed as a mortar to bind together the stones in an edifice of fame, and as a whitewash to conceal afterward the rascal quality of the material.

from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Toast on a Heel

My wife prides herself in speaking properly, being an elementary school librarian and teacher. I also make it a point to speak clearly and correctly, especially when teaching. However, I am a firm believer in "code-switching," the ability to speak appropriately depending on the social situation. When I'm not at work, or giving a reading or presentation, I allow my speech to relax and fall back on the Southwestern Virginia dialect I grew up on. My wife notices it even more when we drive up to Woodlawn, Virginia, to visit my parents. Though she won't admit it, my wife has a bit of her own Burke County, NC, dialect when she's at home. I thought I caught her the other day using it, but was humorously mistaken.

We were with her parents one weekend, when talk turned to breakfast. I already knew she didn't like eggs, but when she said she didn't like making "toast on a heel," I thought she meant "hill," because she pronounced it more like "heeyuhl."

"What do mean? Do you think it toasts differently at higher elevations? Are you afraid it's going to slide off your plate and roll to the bottom?" I asked. She just gave me that look she normally does when I make completely no sense, which is quite often sometimes. "You said you didn't like making toast on a 'heeyuhl.'"

"No, I said 'heel.'" I then immediately got what she meant, but just to be funny I kept yanking her chain.

"Fill in the blank for me -- 'Jack and Jill went up the _______.'" I swear she said it the same way at first, then corrected herself when she realized I was making fun of her.

To be fair, she always teases me whenever I talk about "strawburries" and "blackburries," or when I say I have a load of clothes in the "warsh," so I can't really tease her too much about it, but the running joke continues.

By the way, I like eating toast on a "heeyuhl," but not on a "heel." Those end pieces always taste like the plastic bag they came in to me.