By Stephen Dobyns
Stiff as a fireman's spray, his urine smacks
into the toilet bowl to spatter against
the two-inch remnant of a cigarette, either
a Camel or Lucky Strike both of which
his parents smoke. Perhaps he is eight.
A chaste delight in this pre-filter era
before Freudian notions could for him
ruin the simplest of pleasures. The butt's
lipstick-reddened tip bleeds into the murk --
Take that, Mom! -- till the paper splits apart
and tobacco bits skitter off like peewee
lifeboats. The boy zips his pants as his mother
shouts, What's taking you so long? Just
washing up, he calls back, before flushing
the tiny survivors of the stricken liner down,
down to the alligator dark beneath the streets.
From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World, a poem so royally appropriate to fic I have posted that it made me screech when I saw it. "Poetry gives us the rages, transformations and rapes of Ovid and the scornful, engaging melancholies of Baudelaire," writes Pinsky. "Because it is free to use our strangest dreams as well as our most humdrum doings, our noblest yearnings as well our meanest fantasies, poetry is also free to combine them. It shows us how the weird and the ordinary are often not distinct but inseparably braided together...one kind of poetry lives in that borderland between the ordinary and the dreamy, the banal and the mysterious, the grandiose and the squalid." Pinsky calls Dobyns a master at that genre, adding, "The myth or urban legend of alligators living in the sewers is like the boy's idle, momentary but beautifully elaborate and realized myth of the cigarette butt as a stricken ocean liner. And is there aggression in the child's fantasy? Of course. And is such aggression part of love? Absolutely, as centuries of poetry affirm. Art's reassurance is not in being nice, but in accepting what is not so nice in us.
We spent a lovely day in Baltimore with all four of my childrens' grandparents, visiting the new Australia exhibit at the National Aquarium and then going out for dinner at Harborplace. The exhibit isn't as big as I was expecting -- I thought one would be able to walk to the upper level, closer to where the birds are, the way one can in the rainforest, though maybe that will be possible after they have retrained the flying foxes which were off exhibit because they kept flying into windows and food dishes -- there are many lizards and snakes in smaller exhibits, and a great many birds in the big walk-through room with the landscaping but most of the animals are at quite a distance. The place is beautifully designed, with waterfalls and big pools, and I am sure it is better for the animals to be at a greater distance from people.
We went through that part of the aquarium first, then to the dolphin show, which was 1) mobbed and 2) lower-key than usual because one of the dolphins, Nani, has a calf that was born in July (and, although they didn't talk about this, the aquarium lost a young dolphin just before the calf was born to a debilitating illness). The trainers demonstrated veterinary care and some of the behaviors they work on with the dolphins and there was video on the big screens of the calf's birth. The purpose of the "dolphin show" there is to educate the public about the dolphins frequently encountered by humans just off shore in the Atlantic, and they argue that the seven dolphins born in captivity there may be helping to save hundreds, which I buy -- maybe people will stop littering on the beaches after seeing the films.
From the dolphin auditorium, we went quickly through the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic exhibits in the oldest part of the aquarium on the way to the rainforest, where we saw the pygmy marmosets AND the sloth, so it must be considered a very successful day! However, our favorite Harborplace restaurant, City Lights, is gone! We all walked around the harbor as the sun was setting, in the gorgeous near-60 degree weather, only to find that the restaurant had closed...even its lovely fish tank was empty. So we settled for J. Paul's, where I had salmon which was quite good and younger son had a shrimp salad that he liked but where everyone who had crab cakes found them disappointing. Hmmph! I need a new favorite restaurant with great crab soup; Phillips doesn't count, it's way too expensive for the quality of the food which has declined a lot from my youth. Still, we enjoyed dinner and then wandered into the Discovery Channel Store and around Harborplace a bit before driving home.
I had forgotten that it was the anniversary of the Challenger disaster until we turned the news on, so now I am sad...I remember that day vividly, I was working at my college newspaper and when the news came over the AP wire we all assumed it was a sick joke at first because there was no television in the offices. Then I went home and watched. It's weird, because I was aware of the Apollo 1 anniversary the other day, but not of this one.
Sunday the kids have Hebrew school and then one has a synagogue youth event while the other has plans with a friend, so until late afternoon when we might take a ride over to a Chinese New Year celebration at a local mall, I will be child-free! Hee!