RT has been resolutely ignoring his creative impulses (such as they were) in the face of the many tasks (not the least of which is grieving) that have followed on his mother’s death. Resolutely ignoring, that is, until a spontaneous visit to his local bookstore brought him face-to-face with an alluring poem by Kameda Bosai, a Japanese poet (or rather, scholar and literati painter) that RT had never heard of before. Well, the temptation proved too much for the sterner angels of RT’s nature, and he offers the results of his latest foray into translation below. He knows that mom would approve.
old trees crimson at spring’s glance;
waterfalls icy, smash and echo.
imagine a mountain hermit swaying,
collapsing into laughter. water-stars, wind.
(Dedicated to Andy and Janet)
RT has bursitis in his left hip. It’s an occupational hazard for those over 50, and he is treating it with ice and exercise. Unfortunately, he hasn’t found a chair that doesn’t contribute to the problem, but the long-delayed trip to Lowe’s should take care of things.
And in the meantime, he is beginning to work on a new collection of poetry, Naming the Spirit. RT had thought that this would be a relatively straightforward affair, but realities such as grief and a larger and more diverse collection of written materials than he had realized are complicating matters. And maybe they should. Additional materials may be forthcoming, if only to balance out the book’s rather somber tone. Grief after all is a kind of healing.
Here are a trio of short poems, the first two fairly old, and brighter in tone than not.
Should I take a shower?
Dirt under my fingernails,
and I feel alive.
not many places allow
a man to be beautiful
shoe laces undone.
deep mud—slipping, left leg splayed…
undamaged at 56.
Illustration: Shoelace Knot; AnonMoos. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Glanum? Ambrussum? Vaison-la-Romaine? Somewhere in Provence, in any case. RT has a distant but distinct memory of seeing an ancient Greek city while on vacation back in the mid-1970s. The site was small and gorgeous, oval-shaped ruins of marble sited among pine trees, not far from the sea. What made the experience especially memorable was the guide’s report of the city’s population, as high as one or two thousand people, if RT recalls correctly. And all of them sheltered in a space about half the size of a football field.
Now, RT, car-less as he often has been in his life, is doing a great deal of walking these days. It takes him about 45 minutes to walk into town by the legal but indirect route. He is actually fairly lucky, since a bike path constitutes part of the trek. At least on this section, he doesn’t have to worry about getting hit by a car. Still, there is something distinctly humbling about walking along the path, which lacks shade trees, park benches, and water fountains, while cars zoom past on the other side of the grass border. His almost daily excursions make him wonder what life would be like if we still lived in pre-industrial communities. Or, to put it another way, could we get rid of cars?
Here are some facts: ancient Rome at its height (population 1 million) occupied about 5 and ½ sq. miles; Manhattan could hold six cities that size. Nearly all Romans lived in concrete and brick apartment buildings (called insulae), some of them nine stories high; apartments of 1,000 sq. ft. (about the size of a modern 1-bedroom apartment) housed families of five or six people. Most of these apartments offered running water. Romans went to great lengths (pardon the pun) via their aqueducts to ensure water quality—and their diet in many ways appears superior to ours. Those who survived into their teens (infant and child mortality were very high), often lived to be 60.
So far, things sound pretty good. Now back to walking: horses were expensive, and carriages for the rich. Though vehicles could be hired for transport (some featuring primitive odometers), nearly everyone walked everywhere.
RT will let readers draw their own conclusions. What remains with him is the memory of a beautiful city in Provence, built to human scale; human-powered; and healthy, communal, and intimate in a way hard to imagine in our own lives. It’s a beautiful day; let’s walk to the store.
In the midst of a serious life transition, RT takes time out for a bit of beautiful whimsy from Madagascar…
Photo: Sifakas are especially adapted to… Neal Strickland. WikiCmns. CC BY 2.0.
It is with deep sadness that Tony, Eric, and Larry Quinn announce the death of their mother, Nancy Quinn, on May 21st from lung cancer. She was 87.
Nancy Proctor Quinn was born on March 10, 1929 in Pasadena, California. She was the daughter of Stewart E. Wilson, an actor on the legitimate stage, and Leone Muriel Simpson, the daughter of a successful building contractor. As an infant, she was adopted by Margaret Proctor and grew up in Los Angeles and New York City. Her family owned a cabin on Lake Tahoe where she spent many happy summers. She received her elementary and high school education at the Horace Mann School and Marlborough School. While a student at the University of Southern California’s School of International Relations, she met and married Harry Alan Quinn, a WWII veteran who subsequently became a Foreign Service Officer. During a 30-year career, they were posted to the Azores, Brazil, Trinidad, Costa Rica, and France. After returning from overseas, she ran a bed-and-breakfast in Arlington, Virginia. She also worked as a secretary at George Washington University in the 1980s. Her retirement was spent in Shepherdstown and Martinsburg, West Virginia.
Mrs. Quinn was known for her keen wit, her stylish interior decorating, and her entertaining cocktail parties. She had a fine contralto voice and when young wanted to be a jazz singer. She loved dogs and for several years bred her German Shepherds Tippy and Schultz. A gifted storyteller, she wrote a memoir of her childhood, A Daughter’s Song and Dance. She had a green thumb.
Mrs. Quinn believed deeply in the right of adopted children to know the identity of their birth parents, and after a search of many years was able to discover the identity of her own. As a result of her search, she met and became close friends with her half-brother, Kenneth Simpson.
She is survived by her three sons, Lynne Quinn, her daughter-in-law, and Abigail and Alan Quinn, her grandchildren. Her family holds her in loving memory.
We love you, Mama Bear!
Photo: High School Graduation Portrait; family collection; all rights reserved.
This poem, by Du Fu, China’s greatest poet, continues to haunt RT. The version below isn’t his first attempt at bringing the poem over into English, and certainly the poem’s reputation (its opening lines are generally considered to be the greatest ever written in Chinese poetry) has something to do with his interest. Or it may simply be that the poem is being given to RT slowly, line by line. An improvement over his previous attempt? RT will let his readers judge …
The Great Palace lies in ruins;
mountains reflect, rivers pass on.
In cities, weeds like silk pile up,
and rain slaps the flower’s cheek.
But enough of this!
Birdsong astonishes my heart.
Three months have passed
and still the beacon fires burn.
I’d pay pure gold for a letter.
Raking my head, exasperated,
I pull loose my scholar’s knot.
The hairpin dangles.
Painting: Emperor Xuanzong of Tang fleeing to Sichuan province from Chang’an; painter unknown. 11th century. WikiCmns. Public Domain.
Status Update: RT’s mom is doing fairly well as she continues to struggle with lung disease. Living in a nursing home is always difficult, but his mom has more or a less adjusted to the challenges. During his most recent visit with her, she told him, “Write another book!”
RT is of course struggling with his own issues as the drama of his mother’s health plays out. Recently, he was looking over the Wikipedia entry on the five stages of grief and was struck by how much they resemble the emotions we experience as we fall in love. RT has been vouchsafed few moments of insight over the last several months, so he felt he should share his flash in the pan:
The Five Stages of Falling in Love
Denial: “Are you kidding me? I’m not in love with them! I don’t know their name. We’ve never met. They’re not even a blip on the radar.”
Anger: “Who are you? How can you tell me we’re in love? I don’t like anything about you. In fact, I can’t stand the way you look, the way you smell, your personal habits. Go away! Get out!”
Bargaining: “I know we shouldn’t have kissed. It’s my fault. I smiled and made small talk and then, well, we got romantic for a moment. Look, the whole thing is a mistake, so let’s forget about it. We’ll wipe the slate clean and start over as friends.”
Depression: “Oh my god, we just slept together. We’re really in love. We can’t get out of it. We’re stuck!”
Acceptance: “OK, so we’re in love. Now what do we do?”
Love is like gravity; it is universal and its action continuous. People are always falling in love. There’s no way to stop it. When I recently shared my insight with a friend, they suggested that it applies only to inappropriate relationships. But all love relationships are inappropriate at some level. Nobody is ever really prepared for love or its consequences. At the same time, love is the force that makes us get out of bed in the morning. But now RT is waxing philosophical…
Photo: Tala Birell-Edmund Lowe in Let’s Fall in Love. Publicity still, 1933. WikiCmns; Dr. Macro. Public Domain.