By Heather McHugh
Whatever I am taught,
let me remember it.
When the big fish comes out of the water
we can see the bottom of the pond.
When the big toad comes out of the water
we can see the bottom of the well.
When the kingfisher dives into the water
his brain becomes clear.
When the cheek of the pregnant antelope was marked
her child was also marked.
If there is one piece of meat left in the pot
it will surely be taken by the spoon.
Everything the landlord does
is known to the swallow.
Everything that is in your brain,
let it be known to me.
In Yoruba villages, "a poet or singer could rank with a great hunter," writes Mary Karr in Poet's Choice in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "Yoruba artists fed the people's spirits and kept channels to the capricious gods flowing. The Yoruba's chain of 'talking drums' carried news vast distances." McHugh was inspired by Ulli Beier's translations of ancient Yoruba songs, and Karr says the poem above "lucidly capture[s] both the nature of consciousness and how the stories we inherit shape us," beginning with a longing for permanence, then leaving to gain experience, "but it's only in returning to the water of experience, plunging back through memory -- as the kingfisher does -- that the mind clears. In a single instant of recall, the poem argues, we can experience all our time, all our tribe's time. From this transcendental instant, the poem shifts to very practical concerns: how much meat is in the pot and the dishonesty of one's landlord. But it closes with plaintive longing for permanence and connection."
Saturday we took our annual trip to the Maryland Zoo's Breakfast With the Penguins, for which we had to get up very early and at which we got a bit sunburnt but it was worth it as always! This year there was a lot more food...in addition to all the breakfast meats and eggs and pastries, they had about eight varieties of bagels from a local place with several different flavored cream cheeses, plus fresh fruit and fruit juices as well as coffee for the adults and penguin squeeze bottles for the kids. (The penguins get smelly cold fish, so it's just as well there was no lox. *g*) There were two penguin ambassadors waddling on the grass and most of the zoo's 45 African penguins swimming around the penguin enclosure, along with some greedy gulls and a cormorant. This year, instead of bidding on a penguin painting, we bid on a private tour of the penguin enclosure to be held at a later date, and even though someone outbid us at the last minute, they offered to let us do it too for our bid price so we will be going back to see the inside of the enclosure soon!
Only the zoo staff were allowed to hold the birds...
...but the penguins were happier on the ground anyway, waddling around pecking at dandelion stems.
When they got agitated, the zookeepers picked them up and calmed them down.
The penguin with the light blue band has caught the fish I threw in, which it promptly threw back and gobbled down.
The cormorant swam over and grabbed several of the fish!
But most of the penguins were content to wait their turn, or to stand around waiting to be hand-fed inside after the crowd had gone.
We walked around the zoo a bit because there is a baby African elephant, Samson, who only just began appearing in public this week, as well as a young giraffe and lions, cheetahs, cranes, a porcupine, chimpanzees, rhinos and lots of other animals in the Africa section. We stopped by the Arctic zone, but we didn't see much of the rest of the zoo because we had plans to meet my in-laws at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. I had never been before, and was expecting a bunch of local sheep and a couple of craft tents -- I had no idea of the size of it, and it's entirely free, even parking! We walked through four enormous barns of sheep, alpacas and llamas, several of which were being sheared and primped for judging, as well as dozens of craft displays and at least three musical stages, on one of which Maggie Sansone was playing. My in-laws are just back from three weeks in the UK and brought us Cadbury, Scottish souvenirs and a bunch of little Vikings in honor of their Swedish heritage.
On the way home we stopped at Ikea to get a bookcase -- now that we know where it is in College Park, we can't seem to stay away -- and had an early dinner there since the food is so inexpensive and we'd skipped lunch due to the size of our breakfast. It would have been a perfect day except that against my better judgment I watched the Kentucky Derby when Paul put it on, though I'd said after Barbaro that I was through with horses racing, but I didn't stick to it after we visited Churchill Downs two summers ago. Now once again we have had to watch an animal die for a big-money race, this time on the track after coming in second -- "It's not supposed to happen," the trainer said, but it happens far too often and I'm done watching the sport and supporting that kind of treatment even passively from my living room. Older son ended up with an upset stomach from our crazy eating and hectic hours today, so it was a quiet evening at home with the kids.