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Oath and Abundance

visitationFor Elizabeth, on her birthday

Elisheba, young Aaron’s wife, saw
The scorching sun and torrid sand
On Israel’s treck avow no shadow
Nor soothe the azure sky – such land
Where all the colors drained from Eden
And drowns a rainbow’s hope for heaven…
The voided desert shades refuse,
In justice, spectrum’s seven hues.

Elizabeth, though, aging wife to
Old Zachariah, sits and rests
And waits to see her promised guests
Descend the everlasting hills now
From heaven’s blue – her mantled earth,
An advocate for mercy’s birth.

Three Sonnets

I. Word House
Where Amherst’s hermitess had bitten
The Puritan tongue with reproof,
Spokane now speaks such song, begotten
As rain, pronounced as raftered roof,
Refined as wine in cooling cellars.
What whirrs there through the threshold’s pillars?
It sounds to be a potter’s lathe
That spits out earthen sparks to bathe
The night with reason: words are shelter
For faith which palates reach with speech
Like star to planet, wave to beach.
The mystery of diction’s altar:
In stormy house, a world of calm –
In sonnet’s hovel, castled psalm.

II. Beard Nest
A formal nudity is shameless
Because the body knows what lust
Denies to serve: the many nameless
Conspiracies of love that nest
Like birds within the beard of Jesus.
Will darkened theaters cease to please us
(More known than knowing) just because
The plight of Job excites applause
For pleasure’s picture show? With Satan,
The naked frame reveals; but beer
Is found as near to elbow’s cheer
As language brewing roots in Latin –
And here, a man and woman found
A common tongue on common ground.

III. Water Board
The sifting surf is sorting shingles
Upon the beach. The clashing sounds
Of armies, ignorant as angels,
Is drowned as holy rage compounds
The wave that builds. But you know, fuck it.
A man can throw up in a bucket –
So justice gains what mercy lost –
A man can take his licks on a post –
So blood and history are bonded
As Adam waxes up his board
Now bounden where he lay, a lord
At play. Sea-savaged and up-ended,
He’s framed by grace – and tries to name
Its aspect ratio to fame.

“Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it …”

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It’s the birthday of the man who asked, “What does a sane man do in an insane society?”: American novelist, short-story writer, and playwright Joseph Heller (books by this author), born in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn. He didn’t begin any story until he had the first and last lines in his head, and the idea for Catch-22 came about after he thought of an opening: “It was love at first sight. The first time he saw the chaplain, ‘Someone’ fell madly in love with him.” He didn’t have the character’s name — Yossarian — yet, but the story began to unspool from that first line. “It got me so excited,” Heller wrote in the Paris Review, “that I did what the cliché says you’re supposed to do: I jumped out of bed and paced the floor. That morning I went to my job at the advertising agency and wrote out the first chapter in longhand. … One year later, after much planning, I began chapter two.”

His agent started sending Catch-22 — called Catch-18 at the time — to publishers in 1953, when Heller was about a third of the way through with it. Simon and Schuster paid him $750 up front, with another $750 to be paid upon completion. Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it in 1961. They changed Catch-18 to Catch-22 to avoid confusion with Leon Uris’s new book Mila 18, and the title has entered the lexicon as a description of an unsolvable logical dilemma, a vicious circle.

Heller published six other novels, three plays, a collection of short stories, and three screen adaptations. He died in 1999, shortly after finishing his last novel, Portrait of the Artist, as an Old Man.

From today’s Writer’s Almanac.

Fun fact: Catch-22 was a finalist for the 1962 National Book Award—along with The Moviegoer, which won it.

(“Heller missed their deadline by four or five years, but eventually delivered it….” Rally Korrektiv, rally!)

See also

Join the fray…

USA. New York. 1950.

Where they discuss the not-so-usual suspects – including you and you and you and you and and you and you and…!

 

Happy Belated Birthday Dear Pushkin

publication delayed

The Yesler – Leary Building

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Fire Chief Collins hoped to stop
the fire at the Yesler-Leary
building on Front Street, tall atop
what is now Pioneer Square. Weary
with fear and exhaustion, townsmen
gathered close to watch a column
of hot air carry showers of sparks
and burning boards, like fireworks.
The holocaust was slow winning
new territory, but debris
rained down upon roofs as a tree
drops its cones—a new beginning
for more fires, and an explosion
in the sky like a second sun.

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On the Beach

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Cinders and smoke churned through mist
as the brothers dragged heavy, yet eager
steps through the shallows. Abner kissed
the first log he saw on the beach. “I’ll wager
the missus won’t mind too much,” said
the mill man, brushing a strand of seaweed
from the maiden’s face. “Dot’s the forgiving
kind,” agreed Albert. “But after living
through fire, I’m not about to risk the wrath
of Mabel.” Abner, solemn, nodded, “Don’t press
your luck. You’re already in a fine mess
over that pump organ.” “Don’t think our path
leads south. We’ll rebuild, with God’s will.”
Then they climbed home, up Denny Hill.

Safe Distance

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By this time, flames blocked every exit
from the mill, so Albert and Abner followed
the machinery into the drink. Abner checked it
by swimming deeper. Albert swallowed
brine and dogpaddled on the surface,
the wharf burning above him like a furnace.
Abner popped up again, and motioned toward
the open water. Albert grabbed a charred board,
and lurched after his brother. Mostly they floated.
Using lumber from the mill, they drifted
north with the current on a makeshift raft. Led
by the tide across an obsidian surface flooded
with stars, they watched the fires burn all night,
until they landed in Belltown, at first light.

Fire at the Stetson and Post Mill

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Keene quickly jumped back onto the pier,
then hurried to the Stetson and Post Mill,
where his brother Abner was a partner. Near
the mill, Albert saw him carrying saws, a drill,
and other tools to safety as the conflagration
began to engulf the quay. At least a ton
of the most expensive machinery remained,
soon to be melted. “Nothing to be gained
by staying with it,” said Abner. “I’ll bargain
we’ll save it yet,” said Albert, right defiant.
Picking up a hot saw, he began cutting a giant
circle in the floorboards—for the pump organ
was on his mind. The gear kept getting hotter,
until Albert just dropped it all in the water.

The Pump Organ

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Albert G. Keene, carpenter, had planned
to move his young family south that very day,
to sunny California, a more prosperous land,
and a lot warmer. He transferred a vast array
of their household belongings from the dock
to the Alameda, within a circle traced in chalk
by the captain, as the boundary of their estate.
The family pump organ was the only freight
left on the wharf. The cautious captain feared
the approaching fire and tarred timber
of the dock like the long fuse of a bomb for
his ship. A window of mere moments appeared,
so Keene began pulling the organ up the plank—
the captain had signaled. The organ fell. Sank.

Captain Edward Quinn

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Most possessions stacked on the docks
were lost to the flames. A few were able
to be loaded onto ships, whose decks
were heaped high with luxuries like rubble.
As if on cue, the ships weighed anchor
and backed into Elliot Bay, passenger
and crew alike crowding the gunnels
to watch buildings turned into funnels
of smoke. Special mention, nay, rhymes
are required for Captain Edward Quinn
of the schooner Teaser, who rescued ten
crates of books owned by The Seattle Times.
As for those belonging to The Post Intelligencer,
Go ask the flames if you want an answer.

Like Rain and Thunder

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On the west side of Front Street, flames
were temporarily retarded by the walls
of the Safe Deposit Building. On James
Street the fire shrinks and then even stalls,
but the pause is short. A pitiless wind
rose. Dancing orange demons grinned
in expectation before licking the glass
windows and fittings made of brass.
They soon leapt over to Gordon Hardware,
where the roar of their maws was punctuated
by tons of cartridges exploding, unabated.
Civilians dove for cover, said a prayer
and more, then waited in awe and wonder
as all the ammunition boomed like thunder.

Adam Connel

A couple of alert young guardsmen apprehended a man clothed in four new suits.

A man named Adam Connel, lurking
Behind the shell of what had been
The tailor’s — where his wife was working
When fire’d come like Adam’s sin —
Peeked in. Against the soot, red dapples
Attracted his attention: apples
His wife had left behind, unburned
Somehow and sweet, so Adam turned
And, seeing no one looking, hastened
Within to have a taste. The juice
Was dribbling down his chin like sluice
When Adam saw the suits. They glistened
Like royal robes of silken thread.
So Adam put them on and fled.

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Sebastian Ness

One man found a large lump of melted gold and the haste with which he shoved it under his coat and made off was astonishing. He was chased several blocks by the police, but was not captured.

Sebastian Ness was kicking through the
Still cooling ash at First and Main
When something solid led him to the
Enticing thought that not in vain
A gloved hand might venture, bending,
To touch some mystery, depending
On fortune’s smile to turn his fate
From lead to gold, to love from hate.
The lump he lifted flamed like foil
Beneath the blue, bird-speckled skies,
And Ness took flight with silent cries
That oozed out from his soul like oil.
His feet were fleet and did not pause
To ponder morals, rights, or laws.

Furth Steps Forth

… when firemen pried up planks from the sidewalk near the north end of the block, intense heat drove them back. The basements of buildings were roaring furnaces …

Jacob Furth, dressed in tails and top hat,
was hastening across Western Avenue
when he saw smoke rising around a slat
near the curb. He hailed a fire crew
busy hauling hoses toward the dock
at Pier Two, then knelt on the boardwalk
to get a closer look. Felt the plank
for heat. As the firemen began to yank
loose the boards, Furth stepped back
to survey the entire block. Up the street
there was a shout, then a blast of heat
as the firemen fell back, their faces black
with smoke. Furth stepped forth … nervous …
the basement itself was a roaring furnace.

The Denny Party Clears a Hill

Seattle was founded by members of the Denny party, most of whom arrived at Alki Beach on November 13, 1851 and then, in April 1852, relocated to the eastern shore of Elliott Bay. With the filing of the first plats on May 23,1853, the “Town of Seattle” became official. – “Seattle: A Brief History of Its Founding”

That settled it. Our hunger beckoned
We cross the bay once winter ate
Our stores; here, clearing trees, we reckoned
To tip the balance back to what
We had in Illinois, what took us
To Alki Point, and there forsook us.
So timber shivers, cedar shakes
And lumber quivers, falls and stakes
Our claim to land. We mean to bear it
When snow and rising winds combine
To needle sighs from match-stick pine.
For future’s fire (Can man endure it?)
Ignites the morning, tree by tree,
And lights our dawning industry…

The Last Coffee

It was our final midday coffee
Before the world had singed our ears –
Then, cupboard doors flew off, and whisky
And tumbler served to douse my fears
With flame – soon shooting horizontal
Across the sky while sacramental
Destruction drapes an ashen pall.
You looked at me – and saw it all
But kept your wits and rose to gather
The full importance: “Smoke, not steam
Is now your business, Rob. The dream
Of Pontius Pilate’s wife would rather
That Rome not face that man, the Jew.
And what’ll Seattle do to you?”

Melissa’s Dream

A naked Mr. Back was courting
My hand behind your back. He slipped
His hand beneath my skirt, and hurting
He pulled it quickly back. He gripped
And held it out – all burnt and throbbing,
A hive of bees. He kept on sobbing,
“My hand! My hand!” The honey dripped
Like molten blood from icy crypt,
Igniting parquet floor and ceiling.
Our bedroom chamber burned to hell –
I called, you came, and silence fell
(With Mr. Back on prie-dieu kneeling).
You pulled at hose along my thigh –
But could you reach a fire that high?

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