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More poetry that isn’t pretentious and a waste of time…

———

Mother o’ Mine

By Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

Joseph Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

If I were hanged on the highest hill,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose love would follow me still,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

If I were damned of body and soul,
I know whose prayers would make me whole,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!

———

Angels

By Mary Oliver

Oliver M

Mary Jane Oliver (1935-2019)

You might see an angel anytime
and anywhere. Of course you have
to open your eyes to a kind of
second level, but it’s not really
hard. The whole business of
what’s reality and what isn’t has
never been solved and probably
never will be. So I don’t care to
be too definite about anything.
I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty. For myself, but not
for other people. That’s a place
you just can’t get into, not
entirely anyway, other people’s
heads.

I’ll just leave you with this.

I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.

———

Mother to Son

By Langston Hughes

Hughes-L

James Mercer Langston Hughes (1902-1967)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor –
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So, boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps.
Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now –
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

———

Perhaps

By Vera Brittain

Brittain V

Vera Mary Brittain (1893-1970)

Perhaps some day the sun will shine again,
And I shall see that still the skies are blue,
And feel once more I do not live in vain,
Although bereft of You.

Perhaps the golden meadows at my feet
Will make the sunny hours of spring seem gay,
And I shall find the white May-blossoms sweet,
Though You have passed away.

Perhaps the summer woods will shimmer bright,
And crimson roses once again be fair,
And autumn harvest fields a rich delight,
Although You are not there.

Perhaps some day I shall not shrink in pain
To see the passing of the dying year,
And listen to Christmas songs again,
Although You cannot hear.

But though kind Time may many joys renew,
There is one greatest joy I shall not know
Again, because my heart for loss of You
Was broken, long ago.

– Dedicated to her fiancé Roland Aubrey Leighton, who was killed during WWI.

———

A Poison Tree

By William Blake

Blake W

William Blake (1757-1827)

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.
And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.
And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine,
And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

The taverns are full of gadabouts making merry this eve. And though I may press my face against the window like an urchin at a confectioner’s, I am tempted not by the sweetmeats within. A dram in exchange for the pox is an ill bargain, indeed.

From the diary of Samuel Pepys during the Great Plague, London, 1665

###

If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die, I want to go where they went.

— Will Rogers

###

What good is the warmth of summer without the cold of winter to give it sweetness?

— John Steinbeck

###

Between too early and too late, there is never more than a moment.

— Franz Werfel

Pepys S

Pepys

Franz Werfel

Werfel

 

Viral Behavior

Because of our current and understandable preoccupation with COVID-19, I decided to reread Earth Abides, a post-apocalyptic novel from 1949.

I did so mostly because of the plot, in which a deadly virus wipes out most of the human race in a matter of days, leaving scattered survivors who, for various reasons, were immune to the virus. They are left to cope as earth is reclaimed by nature and the animals.

The novel is interesting, plausible, and reasonably well-written. On a list I found of the 100 best sci-fi novels of all time, it is ranked 43rd. The author, George R. Stewart (1895-1980), was an English professor at Berkeley, a historian, and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction.

The novel takes place in the decades post-virus, and the beginning deftly avoids the gruesome concept of a planet full of dead people. As time passes, the story becomes surprisingly positive and uplifting.

Also, I was struck by this quotation, which Stewart presents in the preface to the book:

If a killing type of virus strain should suddenly arise by mutation… it could, because of the rapid transportation in which we indulge nowadays, be carried to the far corners of the earth and cause the deaths of millions of people.” – W. M. Stanley, in Chemical and Engineering News, December 22, 1947.


The author included that ominous thought in order to set the scene, but I was curious about the ellipsis – the dot-dot-dot that indicates an intentional omission from the passage. So I Googled it.

The quotation is, indeed, genuine. Wendell M. Stanley (1904-1971) was a PhD biochemist, a virologist, and one of Stewart’s colleagues at Berkeley.

The ellipsis, it turned out, skipped nothing important. But in his 1947 article, Dr. Stanley added important information about the behavior of viruses. He wrote this:

If a killing type of virus strain should suddenly arise by mutation among the viruses which attack human beings, it could, because of the rapid transportation in which we indulge nowadays, be carried to the far corners of the earth and cause the deaths of millions of people.

Such a killing type of virus cannot perpetuate itself because it soon destroys susceptible individuals. It would then pass from the earth for lack of susceptible cells in which to reproduce. For survival or for perpetuation of a given virus, it must not kill all susceptible hosts.

Thus most of our most common virus diseases are those which are caused by viruses which live in at least partial harmony with their hosts.

In other words, for a virus, wiping out the host population would be self-defeating. I hesitate to say that virus molecules know this instinctively, but the description seems to fit.

The abridged version in Stewart’s novel is appropriately dramatic, but Stanley’s broader explanation is much more illuminating.

It is, however, small comfort in the middle of an actual pandemic.

Anyway, for a worthwhile story about an abrupt end to human civilization and what might come next, check out Earth Abides.

Earth Abides

 

Waiting

Charles Vincent De Vet (1911-1997) was an author of science fiction short stories and a few novels. He was active from the 1950s to the 1980s and published about 50 works.

Mr. De Vet tended to lean toward the melodramatic. Indeed, the decidedly melodramatic story below caught my attention less for its plot than for its breathless and florid prose.

If I weren’t such a nice guy, I’d say it brings to mind the Bulwer-Lytton  Fiction Contest. But I’m a nice guy.

———

There Is A Reaper…

By Charles V. De Vet
Published in IMAGINATION Stories of Science and Fantasy, August 1953

The amber brown of the liquor disguised the poison it held, and I watched with a smile on my lips as he drank it. There was no pity in my heart for him. He was a jackal in the jungle of life, and I… I was one of the carnivores. It is the lot of the jackals of life to be devoured by the carnivore.

Suddenly the contented look on his face froze into a startled stillness. I knew he was feeling the first savage twinge of the agony that was to come. He turned his head and looked at me, and I saw suddenly that he knew what I had done.

“You murderer!” he cursed me, and then his body arched in the middle and his voice choked off deep in his throat.

For a short minute he sat, tense, his body stiffened by the agony that rode it – unable to move a muscle. I watched the torment in his eyes build up to a crescendo of pain, until the suffering became so great that it filmed his eyes, and I knew that, though he still stared directly at me, he no longer saw me.

Then, as suddenly as the spasm had come, the starch went out of his body and his back slid slowly down the chair edge. He landed heavily with his head resting limply against the seat of the chair. His right leg doubled up in a kind of jerk, before he was still.

I knew the time had come. “Where are you?” I asked.

This moment had cost me sixty thousand dollars.

Three weeks ago the best doctors in the state had given me a month to live. And with seven million dollars in the bank I couldn’t buy a minute more.

I accepted the doctors’ decision philosophically, like the gambler that I am. But I had a plan: one which necessity had never forced me to use until now. Several years before I had read an article about the medicine men of a certain tribe of aborigines living in the jungles at the source of the Amazon River. They had discovered a process in which the juice of a certain bush – known only to them – could be used to poison a man.

Anyone subjected to this poison died, but for a few minutes after the life left his body the medicine men could still converse with him. The subject, though ostensibly and actually dead, answered the medicine men’s every question. This was their primitive, though reportedly effective method of catching glimpses of what lay in the world of death.

I had conceived my idea at the time I read the article, but I had never had the need to use it – until the doctors gave me a month to live. Then I spent my sixty thousand dollars, and three weeks later I held in my hands a small bottle of the witch doctors’ fluid.

The next step was to secure my victim – my collaborator, I preferred to call him.

The man I chose was a nobody. A homeless, friendless non-entity, picked up off the street. He had once been an educated man. But now he was only a bum, and when he died he’d never be missed. A perfect man for my experiment.

I’m a rich man because I have a system. The system is simple: I never make a move until I know exactly where that move will lead me. My field of operations is the stock market. I spend money unstintingly to secure the information I need before I take each step.

I hire the best investigators, bribe employees and persons in position to give me the information I want, and only when I am as certain as humanly possible that I cannot be wrong do I move. And the system never fails. Seven million dollars in the bank is proof of that.

Now, knowing that I could not live, I intended to make the system work for me one last time before I died. I’m a firm believer in the adage that any situation can be whipped, given prior knowledge of its coming – and, of course, its attendant circumstances.

For a moment he did not answer and I began to fear that my experiment had failed. “Where are you?” I repeated, louder and sharper this time.

The small muscles about his eyes puckered with an unnormal tension while the rest of his face held its death frost. Slowly, slowly, unnaturally – as though energized by some hyper-rational power – his lips and tongue moved.

The words he spoke were clear. “I am in a… a… tunnel,” he said. “It is lighted, dimly, but there is nothing for me to see.” Blue veins showed through the flesh of his cheeks like watermarks on translucent paper.

He paused and I urged, “Go on.”

“I am alone,” he said. “The realities I knew no longer exist, and I am damp and cold. All about me is a sense of gloom and dejection. It is an apprehension – an emanation – so deep and real as to be almost a tangible thing. The walls to either side of me seem to be formed, not of substance, but rather of the soundless cries of melancholy of spirits I cannot see.

“I am waiting, waiting in the gloom for something which will come to me. That need to wait is an innate part of my being and I have no thought of questioning it.” His voice died again.

“What are you waiting for?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he said, his voice dreary with the despair of centuries of hopelessness. “I only know that I must wait – that compulsion is greater than my strength to combat.”

The tone of his voice changed slightly. “The tunnel about me is widening and now the walls have receded into invisibility. The tunnel has become a plain, but the plain is as desolate, as forlorn and dreary as was the tunnel, and still I stand and wait. How long must this go on?”

He fell silent again, and I was about to prompt him with another question – I could not afford to let the time run out in long silences – but abruptly the muscles about his eyes tightened and subtly a new aspect replaced their hopeless dejection. Now they expressed a black, bottomless terror. For a moment I marveled that so small a portion of a facial anatomy could express such horror.

“There is something coming toward me,” he said. “A – beast – of brutish foulness! Beast is too inadequate a term to describe it, but I know no words to tell its form. It is an intangible and evasive – thing – but very real. And it is coming closer!

“It has no organs of sight as I know them, but I feel that it can see me. Or rather that it is aware of me with a sense sharper than vision itself. It is very near now. Oh God, the malevolence, the hate – the potentiality of awful, fearsome destructiveness that is its very essence! And still I cannot move!”

The expression of terrified anticipation, centered in his eyes, lessened slightly, and was replaced, instantly, by its former deep, deep despair. “I am no longer afraid,” he said.

“Why?” I interjected. “Why?” I was impatient to learn all that I could before the end came.

“Because…” He paused. “Because it holds no threat for me. Somehow, someday, I understand – I know – that it too is seeking that for which I wait.”

“What is it doing now?” I asked.

“It has stopped beside me and we stand together, gazing across the stark, empty plain. Now a second awful entity, with the same leashed virulence about it, moves up and stands at my other side. We all three wait, myself with a dark fear of this dismal universe, my unnatural companions with patient, malicious menace.

“Bits of…” He faltered. “Of… I can name it only aura, go out from the beasts like an acid stream, and touch me, and the hate, and the venom chill my body like a wave of intense cold.

“Now there are others of the awful breed behind me. We stand, waiting, waiting for that which will come. What it is I do not know.”

I could see the pallor of death creeping steadily into the last corners of his lips, and I knew that the end was not far away. Suddenly a black frustration built up within me. “What are you waiting for?” I screamed, the tenseness, and the importance of this moment forcing me to lose the iron self-control upon which I have always prided myself.

I knew that the answer held the secret of what I must know. If I could learn that, my experiment would not be in vain, and I could make whatever preparations were necessary for my own death. I had to know that answer.

“Think! Think!” I pleaded. “What are you waiting for?”

“I do not know!” The dreary despair in his eyes, sightless as they met mine, chilled me with a coldness that I felt in the marrow of my being. “I do not know,” he repeated. “I… Yes, I do know!”

Abruptly the plasmatic film cleared from his eyes and I knew that for the first time, since the poison struck, he was seeing me, clearly. I sensed that this was the last moment before he left – for good. It had to be now!

“Tell me. I command you,” I cried. “What are you waiting for?”

His voice was quiet as he murmured, softly, implacably, before he was gone.

“We are waiting,” he said, “for you.”

Reaper

Original illustration for Imagination Magazine by W. E. Terry.

 

The Questions…

1. In a traditional deck of playing cards, three of the kings and two of the jacks sport mustaches. Which king and which two jacks are not mustachioed?

2. Which U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents have won Pulitzer and Nobel Prizes?

3. What is a piccolo trumpet?

4. What is cryptozoology?

5. What color is “falu red”?

The Answers…

1. The king of hearts, the jack of clubs, and the jack of diamonds are clean-shaven.

2. John F. Kennedy won a Pulitzer in 1957 for his book Profiles in Courage. Four Presidents have won Nobel Prizes: Theodore Roosevelt in 1906, Woodrow Wilson in 1920, Jimmy Carter in 2002, and Barack Obama in 2009. Vice President Al Gore won a Nobel in 2007.

3. A piccolo is a small trumpet pitched one octave higher than a standard trumpet. A piccolo trumpet was used in Penny Lane by the Beatles.

4. Cryptozoology sounds scientific and serious, but it’s really a pseudoscience that ponders the existence of mythical beings such as Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. No real science here, folks. In this usage, “crypto” means hidden.

5. It’s the shade of red typically known as “barn red,” similar to “brick red.” The color comes from hematite, an iron oxide found in rocks and soil. The pigment that creates the color was discovered in the copper mines of the Falun province of Sweden.

Cards

Falu red

 

Thoughts du Jour

Random observations / recollections / stories...

———

Staredown

For at least a year after I adopted Jake, I didn’t allow him out of the house off-leash. But I slowly began to trust him, and it was obvious he wasn’t going anywhere. Now I allow him to wander freely while I work in the yard, take out the trash, etc. He never strays far, and all is well.

A few days ago, I heard the familiar sound of the mail truck in the cul de sac, and I said, “Hey, dude, wanna go check the mail?” He executed a vigorous happy dance.

So we walked up the driveway, and I got my mail. When I turned to go back to the house, I was surprised to see Jake in full alert mode. He was fixed in a slight crouch, stock still, eyes blazing, staring at something behind me. I turned to look.

It was a cat, a coal black adult cat, sitting next to a car across the street. He was barely 15 yards away, returning Jake’s stare with murderous yellow eyes. Whether he was confidently standing his ground or afraid to run for it, I can’t say.

Jake,” I said calmly, “Don’t do it. Stay.” He remained frozen, staring at the cat.

Forget it. Stay here,” I told him, taking one step toward the house. “That cat would hurt you. Let’s go.” I took another step.

As if a switch were thrown, Jake emerged from his trance and relaxed. He turned and trotted ahead of me back down the driveway.

I was very proud.

Jake-3-20

———

Disappointment

I’ve been good lately about staying home, physical distancing, wearing a mask, etc., but I still take Jake on regular morning walks somewhere around Jefferson. Also, since the restaurants have switched to takeout, I’ll often pick up lunch somewhere and go find an empty picnic table at one of the parks or schools.

Not long ago, the idea of having a couple of Krystal hamburgers popped into my head. The nearest Krystal is 10 miles away, but, hey – my schedule can handle that. So I drove to Commerce and ordered two Krystals and French fries at the drive-through.

Commerce has a large outlet center whose stores are closed, so I decided to go there to enjoy my Krystals.

Five minutes later, I was sitting on a sidewalk bench at the outlet center, looking out at the empty parking lot, enjoying lunch and listening to the silence.

I wasn’t alone for long. I heard footsteps and looked up to see a uniformed sheriff’s deputy walking toward me. He was a white guy in his 40s or 50s. He carried a long silver flashlight, I assumed making security rounds.

When he got within speaking distance, we exchanged greetings. I made a sweeping gesture toward the parking lot. “This is weird,” I said. “I’ve never seen this place empty.”

Me either,” he said. “But it’s nice and quiet.”

For the next several minutes, we chatted about the new normal, the abundance of birds hopping around the pavement, the warm weather, and the puffy spring clouds.

What would you be doing today if this coronavirus thing hadn’t happened?” he asked.

I gestured toward the row of stores on the other side of the parking lot. “I’d probably be here anyway, browsing in Marshall’s,” I said.

Then the conversation went south.

I’ll be honest,” he said, “I don’t trust the news media. I wonder if this virus is being blown out of proportion – if it’s really as bad as they say.”

Oh, crap. A Fox News type. Jerry Falwell, Jr. is probably his source of information about the pandemic. Man, I thought, are the infection rates and the deaths a fiction? Are the videos of patients and doctors and nurses staged?

But, instead of calling him a moron, I just said, Well, viruses can mutate. They can become harmless or become worse. You never know.”

What a disappointment. We were having a nice conversation, and he spoiled it.

Yeah, anything could happen,” he said. “But I think the news media will do anything to hurt the President. I can see them exaggerating this.” I reached into the bag for the other Krystal and didn’t respond.

Well,” he announced, “I’ll let you finish your lunch. Nice talking to you.”

I nodded, and he walked on.

I finished lunch in a funk. What a disappointment.

Tanger

Weird.

———

Green Anoles

At the corner of my house, beside the garage door, is an aluminum downspout that sits flush to the wall. No light shows behind it. The wall itself is covered with overlapped horizontal siding.

This arrangement, I discovered, has created an ecosystem of nooks and crannies behind the downspout. I know this because one day, I noticed a small green lizard peeking out at me.

Specifically, it was a green anole, a common lizard in these parts. When I was a kid, we would catch one of the little guys, tie a piece of thread around its neck, and tie the thread to a buttonhole on your shirt.

The lizard would sit stoically on your shoulder, or sometimes wander around your back, until you got bored and let him go. Typically, anoles don’t bite, but they’re capable of it, and those little jaws are surprisingly strong.

Anyway, it was a green anole peeking out from behind the downspout, and when I got too close, he retreated into a crevice, out of sight.

After that, I regularly looked for him when I passed the downspout. During the warmer months, he always seemed to be there.

Just when I was about to give him a name, I discovered that he wasn’t my only resident lizard. Several times, I saw two of them sunning themselves.

The lifespan of a green anole in the wild, I learned, is about three years. Because my first lizard sighting was several years ago, it’s possible the original fellow is still around.

This year, now that warm weather is back, my lizards are out again.

Anole

 

The British rock band Supertramp was, and still is, a rare group that performs without a front man. They are content to go on stage as musicians who get equal billing.

Actually, Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson wrote all the songs and essentially were in charge over the years, but neither made a big deal of it.

A few years ago, I posted a Tune o’ the Day featuring “The Logical Song” from Supertramp’s best-known album, “Breakfast in America.” The tune below, “Goodbye Stranger, is also from “Breakfast.”

Supertramp is still around, led by Davies and minus Hodgson. Their glory days are over, but their songs have held up well. Memorable stuff.

Supertramp-3

Goodbye Stranger

By Supertramp, 1979
Written by Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson

It was an early morning yesterday.
I was up before the dawn.
And I really have enjoyed my stay,
But I must be moving on.

Like a king without a castle,
Like a queen without a throne,
I’m an early morning lover,
And I must be moving on.

Now I believe in what you say
Is the undisputed truth.
But I have to have things my own way
To keep me in my youth.

Like a ship without an anchor,
Like a slave without a chain,
Just the thought of those sweet ladies
Sends a shiver through my veins.

And I will go on shining,
Shining like brand new.
I’ll never look behind me.
My troubles will be few.

Goodbye stranger, it’s been nice.
Hope you find your paradise.
Tried to see your point of view.
Hope your dreams will all come true.

Goodbye, Mary. Goodbye, Jane.
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame.

Come tomorrow, feel no pain.

Sweet devotion, it’s not for me.
Just give me motion and set me free.
And land and the ocean far away.
The life I’ve chosen every day.

So goodbye, Mary. Goodbye, Jane.
Will we ever meet again?

Now, some they do, and some they don’t,
And some you just can’t tell
.
And some they will
, and some they won’t.
With some it’s just as well
.

You can laugh at my behavior.
That’ll never bother me.
Say the devil is my savior
But I don’t pay no heed.

And I will go on shining,
shining like brand new.
I’ll never look behind me
.
My troubles will be few.

Goodbye stranger, it’s been nice.
Hope you find your paradise.
Tried to see your point of view.
Hope your dreams will all come true.

Goodbye, Mary. Goodbye, Jane.
Will we ever meet again?
Feel no sorrow, feel no shame.
Come tomorrow, feel no pain.

Sweet devotion, it’s not for me.
Just give me motion and set me free
.
And land and the ocean far away
.
The life I’ve chosen
every day.

And now I’m leaving. Got to go.
Hit the road
. I say it once again,
Oh
, yes, I’m leaving. Got to go.
Got to go, I’m sorry I must tell you
.
Goodbye, Mary
. Goodbye, Jane.
Will we ever meet again?