The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Sunday

Men at My Father's Funeral
By William Matthews

The ones his age who shook my hand
on their way out sent fear along
my arm like heroin. These weren't
men mute about their feelings,
or what's a body's language for?

And I, the glib one, who'd stood
with my back to my father's body
and praised the heart that attacked him?
I'd made my stab at elegy,
the flesh made word: the very spit

in my mouth was sour with ruth
and eloquence. What could be worse?
Silence, the anthem of my father's
new country. And thus this babble
like a dial tone, from our bodies.


From Poet's Choice in The Washington Post Book World. "Matthews mocked the tight-lipped stoicism that was his birthright, while elevating it into high style," writes Mary Karr of the Yale-educated poet. "His poem 'Wasps' begins with his father sprinting the golf course, 'trailing a loud plume/of wasps, slapping himself, jockey and horse.' But of course, the game goes on... 'I played to keep my father's company.' That line about keeping his 'father's company' pierces me: a sweet longing injected into a cool description of a cool man. In 'Men at My Father's Funeral,' Matthews opens with the keen fear of death that even the most restrained men exude at funerals." The poems are both from Time & Money, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

We spent an excruciatingly warm but very enjoyable day at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, where we took the behind-the-scenes tour of the penguin facilities that we won in an auction at Breakfast with the Penguins earlier this year. One of the zookeepers led us around the back of the elephant enclosure to the hidden entrance to the tunnel that heads right under Rock Island, where the penguins live. It was blissfully cool down under the artificial moat around the island; we'd arrived at the zoo nearly two hours early and gone to see the baby elephant, the animals of the African savanna and the Maryland ecosystem, then had lunch under one of the big tents the zoo had put up to stop people from melting.

The penguin zookeeper, Bethany, took us into the underground facility where the penguins receive medical care and where their nest boxes are kept. The zoo has 52 penguins at present, including a new one just arrived as a mate for a penguin already living there. We got to see the new couple bonding in isolation, the "hospital" area, the crates that serve as nest boxes for couples with eggs to incubate, the soap bubbles that penguins apparently love to chase and the plastic tubes they're given to use as nesting material because otherwise they bring in twigs from Rock Island that contain a fungus that irritates their respiratory systems.

Here are pairs of penguins in their nest boxes in the main area of the penguin facility, just inside the plastic strips that let the penguins come and go at Rock Island.

Before our tour, Bethany fed fish to the penguins outside. Behind her, you can see two penguins waiting by the plastic strips to go inside out of the heat.

The new penguin and his prospective mate are alone right now in the isolation room that also contains the penguin sickbay, in the back left corner behind the green covering. Fortunately right now all the penguins are well, though one in the colony is suffering from an incomplete molt and has been losing feathers alarmingly.

The female penguin was reluctant to separate from her previously chosen boyfriend, who was deemed genetically inappropriate for her. The Species Survival Program of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums has final say in which animals of which member zoos get to breed with which others, and because Maryland has produced so many penguins, they're related to an awful lot of other captive penguins and are therefore subject to arranged marriages.

But the female is one of the friendliest and most docile at the zoo, and Bethany took her out so we could pet her and examine her flippers, which are very hard and stiff compared to the soft waterproof feathers all over her back. The potential mate was vocally unhappy about having his friend removed, which is probably a good sign!

Female penguins are tagged on their right flippers, males on their left, in matching colors if they're mated. Here the penguins have just been tossed a handful of plastic tubes for nesting and are sorting out who gets which, with some beak-boxing involved.

Bethany told us that paired penguins tend to moult together, and there were at least two couples doing so. (The penguin who painted the painting we bought at Breakfast with the Penguins last year, Honkers, is one of the ones who is moulting, standing in the doorway with her partner because the non-moulting penguins sometimes pick on the moulting ones and peck at them.)

Bethany blew bubbles to give the penguins something to chase and try to lure some of them closer so we could see them, but this particular penguin was more interested in trying to bite the bubble wand!

When we came home, the kids desperately wanted to go to the pool; I just wanted to take a shower, so they did and I did. We had ravioli for dinner and watched Doctor Who's "Forest of the Dead," which I found to be something of a letdown after the sharp intensity of the prequel where I was sure there were bigger secrets involved than there turned out to be. I also found a lot of the dialogue rather pretentious, particularly toward the end, where my favorite lines were pretty much straight rewrites of originals I preferred in "The Doctor Dances."

Some things I did love: that Dr. Moon was a virus checker given a personality to interface with CAL, that Donna dressed up for her fishing date and was frantically attached to her children even after she knew they weren't real, that River was sharp and competent, telling the Doctor to be less emotional until she turned into Gaius Baltar, except I think I prefer my own personal Jesus to the Doctor's -- we all were sure what she whispered was his name, and then spent some of time trying to guess what it could be (Ebenezer, Horatio, Russell T., Doolittle).

And, okay, this leads into the things I disliked so much that they really sour other things I liked, like Evangelista's creepy manufactured return as the kind of philosopher woman who SHOULD give the Doctor a kick in his arse instead of subjecting poor Donna, who never got to put her Dewey Decimal skills to use or even to find out that she hadn't made up her dream man. No, because it's all about the Doctor, that great epic tragic monumental awesome tragic fantastic thrilling did I mention tragic figure, as we have to be reminded in a lecture pretty much every episode. So that women who start out interesting and independent turn into women who'll sacrifice themselves for him before we even know them, because he...takes them to see cool stuff and cries. Or, in the case of his daughter, because he yells radical stuff and smashes terraforming globes.

Oh please, Donna, Martha was right: find your man again and get off the TARDIS, because you really can do better, and have your own life just like Sarah Jane. The Doctor doesn't even appreciate her; that slip where he says her preferring a quiet guy says everything about her instead of nothing is a big clue to how little he really sees her, even though he saw her better than her fiance did in "The Runaway Bride," because all he ever sees are reflections of his own vast monumental tragic experiences. Of course the great love of his life is an academic type who's more maternal than she is passionate, and how much do I hate in terms of serial drama that they have tied him down for pretty much the whole Tennant incarnation to a woman whom we can't possibly see as deserving in the two episodes we've known her? Yeah, I like that she's not as young as Rose and Martha, but she's bought into the whole monumental tragedy shit even more than Rose and Martha did. "Some days nobody dies at all" -- yeah, the Doctor told us that himself back when Christopher Eccleston was playing him with more dimension and less woo-woo. I'm really not feeling the River love.

Oh, but one more thing I totally loved? The little girl, Charlotte Abigail, has a larger version of the same roboraptor that gblvr, sheafrotherdon, beeej and I turned into a Rodneysaurus. Whoo!

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