The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

The Gates
By Rachel Hadas

No wonder we so love the dead. The living
are brittle, easily wounded,
petty, distracted by shadows,
ungrateful, obsessive, persistent,
needy, greedy, vain,
impulsive, wrapped in day's opacity.

Better at resisting
wishes, the dead are patient,
peaceable, deliberate.
Having skipped the jaws of appetite
as blithely as the pilot
who slipped the bonds of earth,

they glide across the hours.
But that I see the dead
in peaceful places, in unhurried silence
doesn't mean they're never
desperate presences
hammering at the gates.


From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World. "A poem happens in time: sometimes with an explicit, actual story and sometimes as the more implicit story of a feeling as it unfolds," he writes, citing:

Sonnet 129
By William Shakespeare

Th' expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action lust
Is perjured, murd'rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight,
Past reason hunted, and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait,
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme,
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe,
Before, a joy proposed, behind, a dream.
  All this the world well knows, yet none knows well
  To shun the heav'n that leads men to this hell.

"The feeling begins with a frantic need to control sexual passion and ends with something closer to resignation," Pinsky observes. "The opening words are a strained, memorably over-emphatic assertion. After that assertion comes a list of negative attributes, with somewhat comical anticlimaxes within the list...then the poem presents more controlled-sounding, logical summaries of lust's course....finally, the last two lines are a kind of candid sigh; the poem concedes the undeniable power of what it has tried to denounce and renounce." Similarly, he adds, Hadas' poem very nearly reverses itself by its conclusion, and some of her adjectives echo Shakespeare's. "The hinge of Hadas's plot turns on 'But that I see.' That final hammering transforms the initial, clear distinction between the lovable dead and the problematic living."

I had a lovely long day in Baltimore with my family, capped with informal dinner at my parents' house where my kids and my sister's kids played while my sister and I attempted to catch up in between kids coming in to ask, tell, complain, report, whine, giggle and all those other things kids do when there are five children and only four adults to pay attention to them. We went to the HMS Bounty, in Baltimore for the weekend, a Canadian-built replica of Captain Bligh's vessel that's next headed to New York City in a couple of days for anyone interested in seeing it there. This ship was built in 1960 for the Marlon Brando Mutiny on the Bounty and was acquired by Ted Turner when he bought the MGM film library; he has since donated it to a tall ship organization that uses it for sail training and cruises. (It also appeared as the pirate ship in the Spongebob Squarepants movie, which is of far greater interest to my kids!)

From the pier we walked to the National Aquarium, where we had intended to visit only briefly, to get drinks and walk down from the rainforest through the shark tanks. But the dolphin shows were cancelled because Nani had a calf two weeks ago and needed peace and quiet, and because of this the auditorium was open for people to walk in and watch the dolphins just hanging out and playing with the trainers who were swimming with them, playing ball with them and chatting with visitors in a way that rarely happens in the crowded aquarium when shows are going on. We saw Spirit, who was born at the aquarium in 2001, making chatty noises and rolling around at the front of the pool nearest the stairs, and one of the other dolphins was taking spontaneous runs around the tank and splashing the trainers in the well. It was a lot of fun to watch and we hung out there for awhile. Then we decided to walk through the Chesapeake, Atlantic, polar and jungle exhibits on the way to the rainforest, and because it was less crowded than usual we saw a lot of animals we sometimes can't get close enough to spot -- a caiman, a marmoset, a tree sloth, a viper and numerous birds, for instance.

While I'm thinking about it, since we drove over the Patuxent River Saturday and will do so again Sunday to go to Solomons, I wanted to mention that Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum is having a War of 1812 Reenactment, reenacting the attacks the British made on the shore batteries during the Battle of St. Leonard Creek, on September 24th. Has anyone ever gone to this? How is it? I took about 150 photos today, 20 of which are of the crabs which have replaced fish as the artists' displays in Baltimore (we have pandas in DC, there are cows in Harrisburg and I know there are a variety of other animals in other cities), plus about 40 of the Bounty and 40 in the aquarium. I'll start with the ship since there are likely to be more photos from Calvert's Maritime Museum tomorrow:

The replica HMS Bounty, docked on the far side of the USS Constellation's pier at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore. Built in Nova Scotia, she was sent to Tahiti to film Mutiny on the Bounty for a year, then went to numerous ports in the US and across the Atlantic to London to publicize the movie.

Here is the Bounty's masthead with the National Aquarium visible in the background.

And the Bounty's stern, seen from in front of one of the Harborplace pavilions, with one of many tour groups, a paddleboat and the World Trade Center. (Here is her stern in the movie for which she was named.)

The whole of the World Trade Center, looking down on the Bounty and the Constellation. Baltimore was very festive today, still celebrating Palmiero's 3000th hit, with outdoor Andean music and hip-hop at points around the harbor and lots of cruise ships preparing to sail this evening.

The Bounty's tours teach history as well as sailing. Signs like this one explain the function of the mess (and why elbows on the table was considered bad manners on land), arms chest (whose stolen keys led to the mutiny), great cabin (which on the original Bounty was apparently used as a greenhouse to transport breadfruit plants), etc.

Bounty's wheel, an object likely touched by Marlon Brando though likely not touched by Spongebob. *g*

The USS Chesapeake and the Power Plant from the Bounty. Many of the best views of the harbor are from the decks of ships like this one and the Constellation, though really I think the best view is probably from the tall ships Pride of Baltimore and Clipper City as they cruise in and out.

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