Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Garden of the Seasons: Cleaning Up Our Point of View -- Sky, Land, and We Four in the Berkshires

We cleaned up the Berkshires. Not the mountains, of course, which are cleaner than anything human beings get their hands on. And not the County of Berkshire (Massachusetts' comely west end), which gets along well without help or interference from visitors and summer types, who last as long as their cottages stay warm and the water still runs. That day of reckoning, by the way, is hard upon us.
No, I mean our own perspective on life in this autumn wonderland. Since windows are so essential, especially as plummeting temps continue to reduce our time spent outdoors staring at the scenery, we’ve put some hours, money and elbow grease into lightening the view.
         Windows are the eyes of our reading, thinking, eating, talking hours. Since we look at them so much, somebody was bound to notice that the frames needed a serious brightening up. Paint chips were brought to the hardware store. 
          Paint was mixed. Brushes and sandpaper acquired. Along with (note photo) gobs of blue tape. This was scientifically applied according to some geomancer’s notion of the perfect form of the rectangle.
          A thick white liquid was scientifically applied. Artists contemplated their work (same photo).
          Darkness fell. It was hanging around all day, and eventually it arrived. Nothing we did could hold it back.
         The moon rose. (See photo)
         Next day Saul and I visited Tyringham Cobble and found what we wanted, pretty much what everyone wants. Dramatic skies (see photos), bright and various foliage (photo), an enormous rock with the profile of a rabbit (photo of rock with holes), a summit from which to contemplate the idea of immortality in the lasting presence of a village cemetery (ditto), more clouds (more photos). 
          The following day promptly after breakfast, around noon, we walked down a scenic road as clouds rolled once more, leaves turned, and cute little dogs tried to jump on me, but missed. 
          These were some of our adventures. Now the time is drawing near to make like the final images at the end of the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons, bring out the brooms and clean the place up.
Back next year.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Garden of the Tale: Under the Rule of Pig, a City Suffers 'The Shamings'

         Stay with me, people, as the mood grows darker still. Two new segments this week in my serial novel, "The Country/The Country."
             After Pig abruptly takes over the city of Monro and establishes rule by fear, everyman Keel braves a gathering of Pigglies in the hidden basement bunker of the house of his enemy. Surprise! -- Pig is expecting him. He fires a few provocative questions, to find out what this strange little man is made of, and they debate the classic question of whether it is better for a ruler to be loved or feared. Does Keel pass the test? More importantly, does he do what opposition guru Mrs. Nathan wants him to do? Make Pig notice him. Make a connection; however momentary.... Chapters 25-27 in "The Country/The Country."

From chapter 27,  "It's an Honor":
            "So you're Keel, right?" The booming voice of the network-addled rallies scaled itself to basement-bunker dimension. "The phil-os-o-pher."

            He wanted to deny it; shake his head. He shrugged instead.
            Besides, this was his job. His part to play: make him look at you. That appeared to be happening without much effort on his part.
            "So. What do you think of Mac-Veely?"
            Pegasso's voice beckoned with a sort of punishing charm. Not the chanting, stump-thumper's voice of the choreographed rallies, those thinly veiled war-games.
            Keel forced himself to look at the candidate. His features not handsome, but strong. His Adam's apple prominent. His chin narrowly cleft; why, Keel concluded, he was photographed always from a profile dominated by the strong nose. In person he appeared larger, wider, than even the big-shouldered protectors who lurked behind Keel with their hands at their sides.
            "Well?" A voice like a blade.
            "Excuse me." Keel searched for present-mindedness. "You asked about Mac-Veely?"
            "You're this Keel we've been hearing about, right? This man who knows all the old books."
            Hearing of? How?
            "Yes." What more could he say? "I'm Keel."
            "And I am Pegasso. So let's go, Keel. Let me hear from you."

         In a city under the rule of Pig, the Pegasso Campaign takes what it wants. It runs up debts it has no intention of paying. Steals a car. Kidnaps a girl. In a campaign of humiliation of its opponents, Pig's soldiers demonstrate control by public ‘shamings’ of members of the 'leets' through brutal displays of pain and intimidation, turning ordinary citizens into collaborators. 
         Keel finds two large men at his door. Come with me, they say. Is he about to be shamed. Instead they take him to another encounter with Mr. Pig himself, this time in an empty City Hall (or 'City Hell,' as Keel thinks of it). It concludes on an ominous note, as Keel finds himself a prisoner. Chapters 28-30.

        Please share these links on social media.

        If you're just hopping on, here's a brief synopsis of the plot set-up of "The Country/The Country."
        The novel's principal character, who goes by the single name of Keel, is a former college teacher pressed into early retirement by the declining interest in his academic specialty, classical philosophy. The chief antagonist is the wealthy businessman Karol Pegasso, who heads the international cartel Animal Firm and whose political theories involve more frankly brutal tactics than even those currently on display in American politics. After a long period of peace and moderate prosperity in The Commonhope of UZ (a fictional country with resemblances to our own), fears of economic stagnation and social change are driving the candidacy of a new kind of leader. Called "Pig" by his supporters, who pack angry rallies to show their eagerness for vague, sweeping concentrations of power, Pegasso dominates the early rounds of his country's complicated election system and appears a near certainty to be the county's new chief executive. But when citizen Keel discovers the graffiti "Kill Mr. Pig" in his own neighborhood in the middling city of Monro, the desperate call of a potentially violent opposition both frightens him and arouses a deep patriotic urge to make a difference. Chance, or something else, brings him into conflict with local Pig supporters, and into psychic connection with an old woman of unusual powers (Mrs. Nathan). He also encounters a network of mysterious "watchers" monitoring the activities of the Pig campaign in Monro and a local dog officer who has ties to both Pig supporters and opponents. And when Keel travels to the backwoods hideout of Mrs. Nathan, he is told to be ready to play his part in stopping Pig's momentum.   

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Garden of Verse: A Change in the Air in Verse-Virtual's October Poems

           Maybe it's just the end of the warm season in the northern hemisphere, the end of the growing season for summer gardeners -- the end of the beach season, vacation season, and boating season -- but there's a tinge of melancholy in the air.
            Of course there's everything else going on in the world, as well -- but I'm not going into any of that (now).
            Let's stick to the universal questions. Like for instance, the meaning of "a horseradish layer cake."
            That's the image brilliantly concocted by poet Robert Wexelblatt in his poem "The Comedian," which begins this way:

Imagine, he said, a horseradish layer cake.
It took some time to conjure that up, then
a little more to get the point, nearly.
We guessed he meant you can make something
sweet out of what’s bitter, or that looks sweet,
or that the best jokes tend to bite back.

            I love the notion of that last line -- "the best jokes tend to bite back." There's a whole theory of humor in that idea. You can read the rest of poem in the October issue of Verse-Virtual, the online journal that publishes a new issue every month. 
            Wexelblatt's second poem in this issue, "Trois Adieux," bites in many directions. It offers a major seminar in analyzing the vernacular, a lesson book in 'how we speak today' -- especially in emotionally loaded contexts. Three stanzas analyze the meaning of three common expressions: "I'll see you later." "I can't do this any more," and, "This isn't easy For Me." The poem raises questions such as these, looking deeply into the second of these expressions:

And what, one is
left to wonder, is this?  Such a duplicitous
accordion of a pronoun, this. 

            To top it off each stanza ends with a brilliant rhyme. This is a killer of a poem.
             Melancholy isn't the first word I'd associate with Donna Hilbert's poem "Teaching the Fish to Let Go," a poem that begins with a depiction of a fisherman casting flies. It's a relaxing idea, but life doesn't simply do one thing at a time. "Susan calls," the poem tells us, "we talk/ about death." 
          We learn more about Susan's connection to this topic in the next few intensely packed lines, including a visit to the hospital that ends with his diagnosis: "you didn't swallow enough."
          Then we come back to the fisherman, who's had a strike, and are treated to an unexpected and perfect hook-up between these two very different themes.

            A different sort of melancholy, the kind of emotion that used to be called "pleasing" and was associated with 19th century poets, is called to mind by Marilyn Taylor's "Crickets: a Late Chorale." That late season chorale is a favorite end-of-summer sensation for me and, I expect, many of us. Every summer when we first hear the crickets get up on their hind legs and sing, it's a telling seasonal announcement, like the crocuses opening in spring or the first flakes of winter. Except rather than beginning, it's a sign of the ripening climax of another summer -- and summer, for many of us, is a epitomizes much of what we love about life. 
            Taylor's poem is a rhetorical whole in five metered stanzas. We have elegantly descriptive stanzas on the cricket's annual performance, followed by analysis of our response:

Repetitive cacophony
becomes the leitmotif—
they know their time to reproduce
is growing brief.
And we who listen will do one
of several likely things:
deny the deviousness of time,

 or fold our wings       
            Please read these poems in full, and all the others, at Here's the link

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Garden of the Tale: In This Week's Installment of 'The Country/The Country': 'Vikings of the Road'

        In the segment of "The Country/The Country," my political thriller set in a fictional country resembling our own, I posted today, events move to a crisis in the small city of Monro, where Voting Day is about to take place.
         Keel, the novel's principal character, a retired teacher living a largely self-contained existence, has learned that the Leading Candidate in his country's election of a new leader -- a loud-mouthed, rabble-rousing businessman called 'Pig'-- is bringing his frenzied campaign to Keel's city of Monro. 
         In chapters 22 to 24,  (here's the link:

Keel comes face-to-face with the campaign's violent, bullying tendencies, as ordinary citizens cower in their homes. Somehow the nastier details of the Pig gang's takeover of the small cities on the campaign trail never seem to make into the popular news media: cars stolen, drunken parties, confiscations of booze, food and firearms. Plus some short-term disappearances among the female population. 
          To add to his s own anxiety, the opposition has chosen Keel to confront Pig in person.  
           Here's an excerpt from Chapter 24, "Vikings of the Road."
             The Pigglies who traveled with the leading candidate called themselves "Road-Kings." Some special in-group faction of these christened themselves "V-8 Kings," a motorhead term that sounded to Keel like Vee-Kings, raising echoes of an ancient, perhaps legendary wave of invaders called Vikings. So in Keel's thoughts they became Vikings of the Road.

            However named, or nameless, they arrived in force, overwhelmed their opponents, ferreted out opposition leaders, especially those critical of Pig, and hung them in effigy from lampposts. Sometimes, if the opposition did not cave and cower immediately, but stimulated the deeper foul and feral instincts of the attackers, they hung women too, letting their colorfully draped bodies swing in the air as warnings to the locals and stimulants to the sadism of their own followers. A subterranean current of angry rapacity they could tap as needed. If they turned it on, it would flow.
            In his own dream-haunted consciousness he saw the engines left to roar even after the vanguard arrived and secured the Capitol Zone, pulling their machines up onto the grass and staking them on the broad lawns. Tents would be planted there soon and on other nearby green spaces, the few square blocks of city commons where an occasional monument served as a tent pole.
            He saw more; day-dreamed more deeply. He could not turn away.
            The newcomers surged over the landscape, set fires to warm themselves, broke out their canteens and flasks, smashed a few windows when they found doors locked against them, rousted out a mayor's aide and a handful of councilors from City Hall to serve as guides and local reference sources (the mayor himself, a secret Pig ally, having been tipped off and allowed to flee to the city's sub-lands), then began to tamp down some of the engine-roar so long as the local populace remained suitably cowed.
            After which they began looking for stuff. Drink and provisions came first, of course. Then girls, a little later.
            The nearby markets were quickly looted. Employees fled at the sight of the approaching Pigglies, their beards, their bellies, and their girth; and their flesh marked with arcane symbologies... He recalled momentarily the opposing symbols of guerilla graffiti artists; the comparatively harmless 'Kevvens.'

Now he kept off the main roadways, hearing from these wider spaces the aching sound of car alarms, loudspeakers, and the screeching of brakes typically followed by the deeper bang of collision, but on this occasion simply by louder sirens. He did not walk toward these noises.
            He followed the residential streets that looked as if the sirens had done their clearing work, for now nobody was venturing out of doors, even to stand on a porch and crane a neck at the sky.
            Block after empty block. Angry noises in the distance, no one on the sidewalk or the streets. The occasional vehicle pawing slowly up to intersection to take a fearful peek before making a turn. Its driver rigid and anonymous behind the wheel. The corner shop closed, locked down for the night hours before nightfall. Dog owners bade their pets to stay inside and hold it. The cats were in closets, whining.
            By the time he came within blocks of the Capitol Zone -- the distance of a long shout in the street that no one would hear -- the compounding of sirens and amplified PA noise rose to a volume beyond which ordinary conversation could not be attempted. Keel imagined pointing to his ears and shaking his head if anyone else manifested on the street, but no one did.
            Faces appeared at the upper windows of the four and five story apartment blocks, looking dumbstruck, dazed. Beyond the last brick building, the view opened and he spied a few scurrying figures, walking hurriedly away from the center, their bodies hunched forward as if lowering the head to protect the ears. They did not look at Keel or anyone else, but hurried past. Homeward, he supposed -- or hoped. Unless their homes had already proved unviable, commandeered by the intruders or rendered unbearable by the constant noise or foul exhausted air, and they were now hastening to some more distant sanctuary.
            Fugitives from the party: hands shoved deep into pockets, features raw, red-eyed, perhaps from passing through smoky patches.
            Keel thought about trying to stop someone, forcibly, to demand an account.
            What's going on? What are you afraid of?
            But it would be like trying to lay hands on a tempest.
            Then smoke reached his senses, flowed thickly in streams, borne by the wind.
            He ducked into a narrow alley, a final sanctuary between cramped buildings, and studied the prospect of Capitol Plaza between volleys of smoke. He saw the bonfires, wood fires sprinkled with trash, burning on the Plaza lawn and others spread across the old town green like pustules from a raving fever. He saw the brightly colored tents, planted here and there where the green space allowed.
            He saw what he took to be dummies, effigies, hanging from the lamp posts. Some clad in what looked like business suits. He heard the loud pulsing sounds of what he supposed was meant to be music. What did they call it -- Crash Music? Train Wreck? Dead Mental?
            A small knot of men, suited but not wearing overcoats, huddled on the stone portico outside the main entrance to the District Capitol building, the old stone heart of the Capitol Zone. Its carved columns gave little protection from the elements, the stiff late-winter wind, whiffs of smoke blown by a cross-breeze into their faces.
            One of the men, gray-headed (possibly a mayor's aide, Keel thought) began to cough.
            The noise grew, as if amplified by open space. He did not know what he would do if anyone approached him, but no one did.
            He left the alley and walked slowly toward the smoky fires, a jumble of waste wood and garbage at their base, dismembered chairs dispersed among them. Toward the human figures dispersed across the lawns, some edging in or out of tents: the central one of these a big circular, party-looking big-show shelter; the others triangular, monochrome, with tent-pole spines and a revivalist aspect. People gathered, unhurried, looking at home here unlike the fugitives hurrying way. They wore big-shouldered jackets, sports caps, belts with chains; men and women dressed alike. Figures merged, broke away, threw their heads back and laughed, lifted cans or bottles to their mouths. Some strode purposefully away from the plaza lawn to the town green on the other side of a rectangular big-shot parking area, the green's civic monuments now draped with the tent cloths and plastic layers of improvised shelter. Others strode from the green back toward the plaza, pausing to slap hands or greet others, shouting 'hallo!s' to acquaintances. 
            The carnival air of these ambulatory figures contrasted so strongly from the cowed, fugitive aspect of those escaping the city center -- and (he noticed) the huddle of anxious figures planted outside the city hall entrance -- that Keel struggled to understand what he was seeing in this transfiguration of a once familiar setting; to assimilate these new impressions.
            Festival? Or conquest? It took him a moment to convince himself that the people he was now critically regarding were the campaign followers of one Karol Pegasso...
            The Pigglies. Creatures of his dreams, nightmares...
            Their dreamlike aspect changed as a pair drew closer. Noticed him, exchanged a glance, turned his way.
            Large men, two of them.

      For more see:

            "Second-act crisis" implies there's much more to come. There is. I will be posting new segments of my serial novel twice a week from now through the November election.