Archives for 2014

The tightrope walker is a very good talker

Advent, the Thirteenth Day: Paul John, Edited


…et magnificate eum omnes populi.

In India, the morning shimmers saffron –
The noon, and after, heats the henna’s hue;
Its evening’s curried sun, a wrinkled chevron,
Evaporates the Raj – and edits blue
From sea and sky. So Sanjay casks his Paul John
In liquid time that magnifies these thirteen
Diurnal turns of tongue – and Advent’s days
Affirm this foreign concept. Flavor plays
With prejudice, and morning, noon and evening
Condense their essence: fluid amber, smooth
And smoked with cinnamon. The air we breathe
Imbibes its ounce of light – much like believing
Will find its birth in humble origin:
For even Shiva cannot hold the sun.



The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America, the Catholic magazine, said he believed that Francis was at least asserting that “God loves and Christ redeems all of creation,” even though conservative theologians have said paradise is not for animals.

“He said paradise is open to all creatures,” Father Martin said. “That sounds pretty clear to me.”

Advent, the Twelfth Day: Monkey Shoulder, Blended Malt


Deus autem spei repleat vos omni gaudio…

To see it happen – malt men shoveling out
The barley mounds with spooning blades, a mouth
Of spit per spade, the rollers leveling out
The grainy graft as hard as God’s own truth –
That’s why the motto for the malters’ guild
Is taken straight from Ovid, undistilled:
My soul would speak the change of forms to shapes
More strange…. The mash-up drained like blood from grapes
In triple batches renders something bolder –
This twelfth-night blend for Advent’s dozen days.
Such labored love, the digging ache repays
In kind to arching arms. Like Monkey Shoulder,
What sorrow was becomes the joy that is –
Through incarnation, metamorphosis.

Advent, the Eleventh Day: Glennfiddich (18 Year Old)


…arundinem vento agitate?

On frigid nights the hinds and harts are hunkered
In curls of fur. So hearing sleet and snow
Regale the air, you shelve your earthen tankard
For Glennfiddich in your Glenncairn. You know
That when that valley swallows hard, its weather
Can swirl for weeks. You sip and lean to bother
The hearth from sparks to flames. The kitchen clock
Now inventories – tick by forceful tick –
Your mind: Eleven days of Advent vessels;
The strength of eighteen years in hand. This storm
Of moments may subside, or form a corm
Of litanies that store the Christmas wassails:
The embryo of every minute’s hoard
Reveals its role as servant first – then lord.

Advent, the Tenth Day: Glen Garioch – 1797 Founders Reserve


Ecce qui mollibus vestiuntur, in dommibus regum sunt.

The bonded trade and the proof of Glen Garioch
Reveal themselves among the skeptic songs
That marked the region, brave yet chary
Of hidden fonts replacing crystal springs.
What’s arid truth but history? Yet Advent
Insists we drink this tenth – another day meant
To stretch Oldmeldrum’s trade of woolen hose
Across the hairy legs of Clio, muse
Of epic fancies. Swirling culminations
Of barley’s virtues, though, discern by nose
And tongue the proper mark – the way the Bruce
Deduced his allies from his dark lustrations.
The lesson learned? A king is known
By crowning deeds, not made by deeded crown.

Advent, the Ninth Day: Auchentoshan – Three Wood


et vita erat lux hominum...

So break your fast (but only by a little)
As all the crows of Glasgow occupy
A corner field. Kilpatrick’s hills will bottle
And Auchentoshan triple verify
This Advent day, the ninth to scare the shadows
Of night from day. Dispersed to snowy meadows,
The rooks and ravens plague the winter’s white
Like cankers in the sunlight – cold delight
For rabble hosts who pilfer gold and sliver
From pillaged villages. In full retreat
Such corvine consensus recalls defeat
At empire’s edge, bravado’s rank palaver
Nonsensical as Caesar’s urge to tax
Expressions of the world in tablet wax.

Birth of a journalist


…or, for that matter, a novelist. Joseph Mitchell, author of Up in the Old Hotel, the book that taught me about listening to other people’s stories, remembers the landscape of his boyhood. Read it and maybe weep a little.

I used to climb a tremendous white oak high up on the hill of the branch, from one of whose topmost limbs, hidden by leaves, I could look out on a wide panorama of small farms on the southern side of the branch mostly owned by Negro farmers and watch people at work in cotton and tobacco fields who were entirely oblivious of course to the fact that they were being watched and being watched secretly and from aloft and from afar, a situation that made me feel Olympian but at the same time curiously lonely and alien and uneasy and cut off from the rest of the human race, the way a spy might feel, or a Peeping Tom.

Christmas Card

Advent, the Eighth Day: Dalmore (15 Year Old)


Quaecumque scripta sunt, ad nostram doctrinam scripta sunt…

Well north of Inverness, the Alness river
Elucidates the ways that sunshine reads
Its rippled, stippled deeps – its sweeter water
Reveals the signature of nestled tides.
More shine than burn, this flowing fire makes the Dalmore
Describe the double candle wicks that flicker
This Advent’s second Sunday, the eighth campaign
To rise and set by spinning clock’s design.
In opposition, strategies of darkness
And tactics nothingness would legislate
Become the tomes of sinfulness and cite
Our sentences of death. But mercy works less
To ratify such pacts of blood deferred:
It cribs our meaning in its cradled word.

Advent, the Seventh Day: Glenfarclas (10 Year Old)

Confitebor tibi in cithara…

Salvation’s army bands together ditties
By winding out its brass and sounding off
A penny tin. Its trumping drum entreaties
The saints in choirs large and loud enough
To tattoo tunes with horn and pipe – like rivers
Of earth that course through heavenly endeavors.
So, running gold, the salmon-studded Spey
Now flows into this Advent’s seventh day
From Glenfarclas – where vernal vales are ringing
The bladed cadences that sound the chant
Like wind that combs the grass: all tongues are bent
To sing, all silent hearts are thronged with longing:
Forever meets with infant flesh and spills
A cry that troops the everlasting hills.

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Advent, Sixth Day: Spirit of Hven – Seven Stars, No. 2 – Merak


Erunt signa in sole, et luna et stellis…

When Tycho Brahe nosed through naked lenses,
What did he see beyond the vaulted vast
Of nightfall? Planet reels and comet dances?
The waltzing stars? Divine penumbra cast
Upon the swirling mash of supernovas?
As winter’s bigger dipper tips to lave us
With more – a sixth – of Advent’s drink,
This Nordic whisky gives us time to think
About Urania, Spirit of Hven in
A boundless astronomical disguise
Betrayed by blazing meteors (her eyes).
So ardor’s nightly thirst, spirit of heaven,
Reveals in Merak, Ursa’s major claim,
A pilgrim march that makes for Bethlehem.

Life Is Good

Advent, the Fifth Day: Bowmore (12 Year Old)


prae confusione sonitus maris, et fluctuum

The sunny stills of Lochindaal, engaging
In darker waters, watched for Nazi wolves
That prowled the ocean’s lanes by camouflaging
Whatever warfare’s japing code involves.
With Hitler dead, Japan lays claim to Bowmore –
To let Suntory Holdings rise and grow more
Indebted by its gift. This Advent day’s
The fifth to sound such depths: we toast Islay’s
Apostle years – a barreled twelve forsaken
To set the charge and detonate the cask
Of smoky fire that, bottled, waits to ask
The corporate world: Does love of gain awaken
What seeks to plant, to build, to buy and sell –
And tender heaven in a fetid stall?

Remember novels?


Over at The New Yorker, novelist Adelle Waldman defends the only form of writing less popular and more antiquated than blogging. Here’s the ending:

There remain subjects aside from storytelling that the novel might continue to pursue profitably—subjects that weren’t exhausted in the 19th century. A few that come to my mind: interpersonal ethics; the varieties of form conscience takes in individual psyches; the difficulty of getting along with others; the qualities of mind that meaningfully distinguish one person from another (i.e., what makes Vronsky so different Oblonsky so different from Levin). Whatever else it’s done, contemporary life hasn’t obviated these kinds of questions any more than it has rendered the novel incapable of addressing them.

Advent, the Fourth Day: Isle of Jura, 16 Year Old (“Diurachs’ Own”)

virtus adiuvaret infirmos.

Along the coast a storm is threading thunder –
Each weaving wave a lunging, ruined spire.
And even God’s forsaken stare to wonder
How Jura Isle, bogged with blanket mire,
Became the staging site for St. Columba –
His target clear as Skye – the peat’s penumbra
Of tonsured moss on lush Iona’s head.
From quartzite paps, this other yields instead
On Advent’s Fourth – a fighting ounce of liquor
To argue bargains such as canny caird
And gumption’s laird could make to heel a horde
That Herod gallops hard against the wicker,
Its thatching straw that tops a harrowed barn
Enough to shield a wee and hallowed bairn.

“This one is six weeks. It’s just lumps of red tissue floating in water.”

foetusnew460Six-week old fetus. Source.

From “The Abortion Ministry of Dr. Willie Parker” in Esquire:

Now we arrive at the heart of the process, the focus of so much controversy and rage. In the surgical room, Dr. Parker softens each woman’s cervix and uses a vacuum extractor to remove her pregnancy. The entire process takes five minutes. After each procedure, he carries the large glass vacuum bottle into an adjoining room. There he pours the fetal tissue from the bottle into an ordinary kitchen strainer and runs tap water over it, then empties the strainer into a clear Pyrex dish and examines the tissue on a light table.

Bending over the glass dish, he stares with the blank expression of a scientist at work. Come closer, he says. Have a look. These are blood clots and this is the decidual tissue, the stuff that looks like feathery coral. That supports the embryo, sloughing off monthly if a pregnancy doesn’t develop.

This one is six weeks. It’s just lumps of red tissue floating in water.

When the triplets arrive, he points out one sac, two sacs, three sacs.

But then he brings in one that’s nine weeks and there’s a fetus. He points out the scattered parts. “There’s the skull, what is going to be the fetal skull. And there are the eye sockets.”

Floating near the top of the dish are two tiny arms with two tiny hands.

Parker continues to examine the tissue. He points to a black spot the size of a pencil tip. “That’s an eye.”

Very few outsiders are invited into this room, and rare is the doctor who would show this to a reporter. But today he made a conscious decision not to hide the truth. “At some point, we have to trust that people can deal with the reality of what this is,” he says. “And keeping it hidden only enhances the stigma.”

Growing reflective, he continues to study the parts. “The reality is we’ve disrupted a life process. There are recognizable fetal parts, right? The capacity for this development is always there. After five weeks, you just have the sac. At six weeks, you have a fetal pole with cardiac activity. At seven to eight weeks, it’s just a larger fetal pole. By nine, it’s differentiated.”

But here’s the vital question: Is it a person? Not by the standards of the law, he says. Is it viable outside the womb? It is not. So this piece of life—and remember, sperm is alive, eggs are alive, it’s all life—is still totally dependent on a woman. And that dependence puts it in the domain of her choice. “That’s what I embrace,” he says.

But it’s hard not to look at those tiny fingers, no bigger than the tip of a toothpick.

Does that ever disturb him?

“When I recognize whole fetal parts? No. Because I’m not deluded about what this whole process is.”

And what does examining this tissue tell him? Does this satisfy another state regulation?

“It tells me her uterus is empty and she is no longer pregnant.”

With that, Dr. Parker goes back into the operating room to give the woman who can now become an Air Force officer the sad good news.