The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

Old Dominion
By Robert Hass

The shadows of late afternoon and the odors
of honeysuckle are a congruent sadness.
Everything is easy but wrong. I am walking
across thick lawns under maples in borrowed tennis whites.
It is like the photographs of Randall Jarrell
I stared at on the backs of books in college.
He looked so sad and relaxed in the pictures.
He was translating Chekhov and wore tennis whites.
It puzzled me that in his art, like Chekhov's,
everyone was lost, that the main chance was never seized
because it is only there as a thing to be dreamed of
or because someone somewhere had set the old words
to the new tune: we live by habit and it doesn't hurt.
Now the thwack . . . thwack of tennis balls being hit
reaches me and it is the first sound of an ax
in the cherry orchard or the sound of machine guns
where the young terrorists are exploding
among poor people on the streets of Los Angeles.
I begin making resolutions: to take risks, not to stay
in the south, to somehow do honor to Randall Jarrell,
never to kill myself. Through the oaks I see the courts,
the nets, the painted boundaries, and the people in tennis
whites who look so graceful from this distance.


From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World, a poem by the column's first writer analyzed by its newest - his onetime protegee. "Hass taught me that dialogue with one's historical betters is more privilege than threat," writes Mary Karr. "In this poem, young Hass crosses that campus near where his hero Randall Jarrell had translated his own patriarch, Chekhov. Jarrell -- a tennis player famous for charm -- captured the misery of housewifery in the effortless '50s...he later shocked everyone with his suicide. By cross-dressing in Jarrell's angelic tennis garb, Hass questions the faux ease of academic life and the perils of inherited habits. Even Los Angeles -- city of cool -- sounds like lost angels, and the Californian Hass vows to honor his ancestors with a distrust for any false charm or inherited boundaries."

After Daniel got back from working at Hebrew school, we had tuna sandwiches and went to see The Other Boleyn Girl -- our kids can generally be interested in pseudo-Tudor history, having seen everything from Anne of the Thousand Days to A Man For All Seasons to the Elizabeths (Blanchett's and Mirren's) to The Tudors, so we figured they'd be attentive. It's written as pure soap opera; I did not read the novel upon which the movie is based, but I read a couple of reviews, so did not have terribly high expectations, and am surprised to report that Natalie Portman is the first Anne Boleyn who ever brought me to tears -- Genevieve Bujold never has. That PG-13 rating is a bit deceptive, though, if you have kids you're thinking about taking: there's an onscreen rape scene, fully clothed yet leaving little to the imagination, and Anne is completely willing to have sex with her brother until he freaks out (this is kind of hot in an entirely wrong and ahistorical way -- that incest charge was almost certainly trumped up as an excuse to execute both Boleyns -- but NOT the kind of thing one wants to be watching with one's young teens).

I'd read one review that said Anne was a scheming bitch and Mary a passive, submissive girl, so I was afraid the movie made the women look really bad in a good-girl bad-girl way, and I was happy that it wasn't at all that simple and Anne was quite sympathetic even when being awful to her own sister. They're each what their family has made them -- George too -- while Henry comes off as a monumental jerk, far more so than Jonathan Rhys-Meyers' Henry in The Tudors whose terror of failing to produce a male heir and whose hatred of Catholic meddling in his politics go much deeper than Eric Bana's tantrum-throwing and thinking with his prick. Because Henry is so disengaged from the larger political and religious picture, we don't get the thoughtful Anne of The Tudors who is deeply engaged with the need for Church reform, but because everyone is pretty shallow and selfish in their ambitions, Anne doesn't come off as particularly conniving in comparison to the others, either. Plus it's fun to see Johansson as the sort-of-shy sister rather than the vixen for a change. Norfolk and their father are the real villains. And the location filming is beautiful.

After the movie we went for a walk around the lake in Kentlands, since we'd gone to the theater there. We used to live across Route 28 from Kentlands when Daniel was a baby and I used to walk there with him in a stroller, so this is kind of a nostalgia trip. We didn't see any herons or turtles as we used to, but there were a few varieties of ducks and geese and a woodpecker, and it wasn't too cold in the late afternoon sun:

Canada geese and mallards in the lake at Kentlands.

We were there as sunset was approaching, the sun already behind the trees, and only a few waterfowl in the lake.

The geese were none too happy to see us...

...and went waddling into the water as we approached.

These wood ducks were already swimming when we arrived.

As were the mallards. For the most part, the birds seemed to be paired off already.

It's supposed to be much warmer on Sunday so we may try again to go see the orchids at Brookside and walk around the gardens there, or we may go somewhere more local and get haircuts and do exciting things like that, depending on our timing after Hebrew school!

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