The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Wednesday

The Girl
By Sharon Olds

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don't do it -- she's the wrong woman,
he's the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don't do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.


Only The Washington Post would send out a news alert about this (they didn't about the earthquake in Iran): Joe Gibbs Expected to Return as Redskins' Coach.

Rumor of the morning: Rowan Atkinson as Voldemort. And many people have their panties in a twist already. I think it could be awesome.

But my favorite article of the past two days comes from The Onion: Spaghetti-Os Discontinued As Franco-American Relations Break Down.

Compassion: You are there to share your sympathy
with others. People would consider you
affectionate and caring, and someone to look up to.
Which Characteristic From the Samurai Code Matches You Best?
(You may find out your best trait)

brought to you by Quizilla

And from The New York Times travel section last Sunday, reprinted for people who don't want to sign up at the site, thought this might be of interest, sent on by my uncle:

Master, Commander and Me
By Mary-Lou Weisman
Published January 4, 2004

I'm married to a man who's married to Lord Nelson. Since 1969, when Larry got his hands on Patrick O'Brian's "Master and Commander," first in a series of novels modeled after Nelson's navy, I have had to share my bed and many of my vacations with the Hero of Trafalgar. More and more, Larry travels in Nelson's wake, and I in Larry's.

His passion for Nelson built slowly. At first, it was just a matter of reading all the biographies of the man, and hoovering up all 19 O'Brian sequels. Then Larry began hanging pictures of Nelson's sea battles on the wall of his den. Pretty soon a visit to London wasn't complete unless we stood in Trafalgar Square observing a few moments of silent devotion.

On a walking tour of the Isle of Wight, I realized that Larry's relationship with Nelson, while only one-way, was getting serious. Larry suggested that he'd like to leave the tour early to fit in a quick ferry trip to Portsmouth, where H.M.S. Victory, the ship that Nelson commanded during the decisive battle of Trafalgar in 1805, lies at permanent anchor.

I couldn't begrudge him that. Marital travel, like marriage itself, involves compromise. He had once obliged me by vacationing at a macrobiotic spa in Mexico for an entire week. It was the least I could do. I didn't know it at the time, but this would not be my last pilgrimage to Portsmouth.

Even before he laid eyes on her, Larry knew by heart the features, contours and vital statistics of his beloved Victory. How did he love her? He could count the ways. She was a 2,162-ton beauty built of solid oak. She was outfitted with 37 sails, armed with 104 cannons, provisioned with 45 tons of hardtack and carried a crew of 821, most of whom slept on hammocks rigged 17 inches apart.

While touring the main deck, Larry paused to read a small brass plaque: "Here Nelson fell." Then we climbed down below deck to another plaque: "Here Nelson died." Standing just millimeters from where his hero expired, Larry's voice came close to cracking when he spoke the last words Nelson said before he slipped into delirium: "Thank God I have done my duty." A lot of people, Larry explained, think that Nelson's last words were "Kiss me, Hardy," but they're wrong. Those were his second-to-last words.

Ten years later, in 1999, when I asked Larry how he would like to celebrate his 60th birthday (Paris came to mind, my mind), I was neither pleased nor surprised when he said he'd like to return to Portsmouth. By now, Larry, Nelson and I formed a ménage à trois, much like the one in which Nelson himself thrived with his mistress, Emma Hamilton, and her husband and enthusiastic cuckold, Sir William Hamilton.

But first there was a birthday party, where, in Larry's honor, the 60 guests floated 60 origami frigates, each carrying a tiny birthday candle, in the backyard pool. For an extra treat, I took out a membership for Larry in the Nelson Society, a British group devoted to "advancing the appreciation of the life and character of Admiral Lord Nelson," another unselfish move I would come to regret.

We agreed to spend a couple of days hanging out in London before traveling to Portsmouth for another round of hardtack and hammock. But even in London it was all Nelson, all the time. Larry expressed a special interest in visiting St. Paul's Cathedral. Guess who is buried there, directly under the dome, upstaging the memorial to the Duke of Wellington?

A visit to the National Gallery turned out to be nothing more than a ruse to see a painting by J. M. W. Turner of the Temeraire, a ship that took part in the Battle of Trafalgar. Then we were off to Kenwood House in Hempstead Heath to view a portrait of Emma Hamilton by George Romney.

The next day we took a ferry from Westminster to Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum, where an entire wing is dedicated to Nelson. Included in the displays are portraits, medals, commemorative bric-a-brac and Nelson's voluminous correspondence, written first with his right hand and then, after he lost that arm, with his left. We saw the blood-stained uniform Nelson wore at Trafalgar, and a torn sail from Victory. We stayed so long at the Nelson exhibit that we had no time to visit the Greenwich Observatory, where I was looking forward to some personal mean time. Instead, we had to rush to catch the ferry back to London. The next morning we boarded the train at Waterloo (of all stations) for the 80-minute train trip to Portsmouth.

I suppose it was inevitable that someday we would attend one of the annual meetings of the Nelson Society, which are held on Trafalgar Day weekend in late October, always in a location associated with Nelson.

This year's event was held in Chatham, an economically depressed, visually dismal port town that smells of diesel and damp wool, located on the River Medway in Kent. Chatham was where Nelson started his naval career at the age of 12 years, 11 months; and, it was in the dockyards at Chatham that H.M.S. Victory was built. For real Nelson lovers like Larry and the 100 other self-designated "Nelson nutters" who didn't lift a glass that entire weekend without offering a toast to "the immortal memory," it was enough to justify the choice of locale. For me it was not.

Still, I decided to make the best of it and try to have a good time. All the other Nelson widows seemed to be having fun, although since they were British and therefore publicly cheerful, it was difficult to be sure.

During one of the featured events of that weekend - a historically frigid river trip in a 19th-century paddle steamer - I was driven below deck by the cold wind and choppy water. There I met Kay Lee. We sat huddled together, our cold hands wrapped around mugs of hot tea, and talked about what it was like to share our husbands with Lord Nelson.

Larry's passion, I came to learn, was but a paltry thing compared to the ardor of Clifford Lee, whose home address is Victory Lodge, Nelson Lane, and who has a life-sized bust of Nelson in his garden, a two-and-a-half-ton cannon from Nelson's era on his front lawn, and timbers from Victory in his living room. Kay, either the world's best sport or a closet Nelson-nutter herself, told me about this pre-emption of her husband, her garden and her home-decorating prerogative, without the slightest hint of irony.

It wasn't until the annual meeting of the Nelson Society, held in the sanctuary of the old Dockyard Church, that I learned that next year's Trafalgar Day weekend would take place in Bath.

"Bath?" I whispered to Larry who was sitting beside me in the pew. "Do you mean we could have waited a year and gone instead to Bath?"

"Don't worry," he said, "We can go to Bath if you want to," missing the point entirely, as people who are besotted tend to do.

In fact, I later learned, we could have skipped Chatham in 2003 and Bath in 2004 and gone directly to London and Portsmouth in 2005 to celebrate the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar.

In London, the celebration will feature a re-enactment of Nelson's elaborate funeral procession on the River Thames. In Portsmouth, it was announced, a special honor awaits the loyal members of the Nelson Society and their wives: a banquet in Nelson's private dining cabin on H.M.S. Victory.

"We can go there, too," Larry said.

[Mary-Lou Weisman is the author of the recently published "Traveling While Married" (Algonquin).]

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