The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Poem for Sunday


Pumpkin-Envy
By Charles Harper Webb


How many hours did I lie in bed, thought stapling
my sixteen-year-old arms to the sheets,
thought's curare, when I finally did dial Tami Jamison,
numbing my lips too much to speak?

How often did I think, "I'm dead," feeling
my strength leak away, phlegm drown my lungs,
sarcomas thrust like red toads up out of my skin
in the three days between the blood-drawing

and the doctor's benediction: "Negative."
Thought is a rope that pulls the kite out of the sky --
a cramp that locks the boxer's chin as fists hiss
toward his head. "What sharks?" my friend demands,

launching the sea-kayak that gives him so much fun.
How many odes would Keats have traded for one
night with Fanny Brawne? What did understanding do
for Nietzsche, but make him more insane?

Thought is more deadly than crack or heroin.
Its pipe to my lips, its needle in my vein,
I loll in my dark room, and envy pumpkin vines.
Whatever's in their way, they overrun. Unafraid

of blight, birds, drought, or humans' being,
they stretch out in the heat, let their roots drink deep
and -- never giving a thought to anything --
make a million copies of the sun.

--------

"A problem with self-deprecating comedy is that it is often a flimsy disguise for complacency," writes Robert Pinsky in Poet's Choice. "Webb is sometimes funny in his poems, which often present the author's defects, but he rises above the kind of modesty -- often described as 'wry' -- that asks to be admired. The ordinary, quotidian dread that is the subject of Webb's poem 'Pumpkin-Envy' [from his book Amplified Dog] feels real to me: a set of fears that seem barely contained by his four-line stanzas, an artful effect of those four-square units nearly overflowed altogether by uneasy questions." Pinsky feels that "the rhetorical questions about Fanny Brawne, Nietzsche, sharks and the over-the-top, hyperbolic imagery of staples, curare, red toads, heroin needles are comic and heartfelt: Their energy expresses authentic, intelligent neurosis. The way 'Unafraid' hangs pointedly above the final stanza is as expressive in its way as Gilbert's rhymes. And the effortless creativity of the pumpkins, making their 'million copies' is a fitting close for this poem that touches in its central stanza on John Keats and the subject of writing itself. An ambition to find the right words begins the poem, with that failed phone call; it is the ambition that touchingly, as well as amusingly, haunts every line."

Had a weird morning feeling like maybe I was supposed to be at con.txt but feeling so decidedly unfannish that I think it's a very good thing I wasn't, even though it's right near me. I was trying to post two Star Trek articles, and TrekToday's database was refusing to let me, and it was very frustrating even though neither of them was remotely earthshattering (Frakes to direct Ellison episode of Masters of Science Fiction, G4 successful with Star Trek 2.0), and I was thinking about all the ways in which being a professional Trekkie has killed not just Star Trek fandom but maybe all large-scale fandom for me and being kind of bummed.

Then in the afternoon, I went with vertigo66 -- who is, in fact, my oldest fannish friend -- to a Litha ritual and celebration, and even though beeej, who introduced me to the group, was not there (and I remembered her Dawson's Creek DVD with Joe Flanigan, dammit!) and even though the woman who leads the group's fannish inclinations are more Highlander and Gerard Butler than my long-term interests, we ended up talking lots about both geeky things that interest me and the things that interest me on a much deeper level and over a much longer time like Tarot and solar cycles (the guided meditation involved floating in the ocean beneath the sun, one of my absolute favorite things to do), and then there was cake involving apricots and raspberries and lots of cheese and brownie pie and pineapple slices, and I left feeling really good as I always do. The contrast between Jewish holiday rituals and Pagan holiday rituals for me is so remarkable that I may have to try to form my own local Tel Shemesh branch or something, because I'm not going to find what I want in any shul I know of anywhere nearby. The woman who runs this circle has another circle, so I know I'm not the only one celebrating in two places.

We had to get some stuff for our trip in the evening, so I went out with the monsters boys and apaulled (who is a saint, having taken our kids and vertigo66's to see the new Garfield movie so we could go to Litha -- and he rather liked it, since most of it is set at Castle Howard!) We started at Target, which was completely out of boys' underwear in size 12 -- is there not a federal law that states they must always have boys' underwear in stock?! -- and Bath & Body Works which has lots of stuff on sale for $4, then we needed to stop at Circuit City to get a Father's Day present for my father-in-law and ended up at Cici's Pizza since it was right there. We didn't get home till late and Saturday's laundries did not get done and Sunday we will be in Baltimore most of the day with in-laws, but hey, sooner or later we will either manage to get packed or have to stop in a Target somewhere in Kentucky looking for underwear, right? I am pretty sure I have issued fair warning that there will be lots of zoo, aviary and aquarium photos in the next couple of weeks while I am traveling, so here, some more National Zoo shots before the Maryland Zoo tomorrow!


The new young sea lions, rescued from separate beaches in California after losing their mothers and brought to the National Zoo...


...as company for the female sea lion who has been at the zoo since the 1970s, rescued after being caught in a net that broke her jaw.


Beavers! The one in front is the mother and the other three are her children.


And again, because their big flat tails are so cute.


The hippo! ...what do you mean you can't see it?


Oh, fine, have a pygmy hippo instead! (The one above is probably the same one that's on the right in this picture!)
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Regarding the reports that Billie Piper is leaving the Doctor at the end of this season: I heard rumors that Piper wanted to leave when Eccleston left and the BBC gave her a very sweet deal to stay, but I always figured her time was limited, and really, this is a show on its Tenth Doctor, the Ninth didn't even air here until he was already gone from UK production, so I always knew not to get attached. And now I am really glad I haven't tried to keep up with season two or get invested in the fandom and its apparently voluminous flame wars. apaulled has been burning Fourth Doctor episodes off our ancient videotapes, made off public television in the early 1990s, so we can watch them on this trip!

Part of me is bummed I am not getting more Rose episodes, and part of me thinks, yes, write her out now while things are still good. I watched so many shows for longer than I should have...am trying to decide whether I am making that mistake with Smallville now, except I have little invested there emotionally at this point so it's not like I'll be really cranky later. But shows I loved that have had a great big definitive ending? Voyager, ugh. X-Files, blaargh. La Femme Nikita, I don't want to talk about it. I have often complained about the way Fox TV left VR.5 hanging, but in a way that's the perfect ending: Sydney in VR, where anything can happen, and the possibility of picking up again days or years or decades later.

Happy Father's Day, everyone who is being honored or celebrating with someone!
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