Poem for October: Praise Song for the Day

Praise Song for the Day
Elizabeth Alexander

Each day we go about our business,
walking past each other, catching each other’s
eyes or not, about to speak or speaking.

All about us is noise. All about us is
noise and bramble, thorn and din, each
one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning
a hole in a uniform, patching a tire,
repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere,
with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum,
with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.
A farmer considers the changing sky.
A teacher says, Take out your pencils. Begin.

We encounter each other in words, words
spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed,
words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark
the will of some one and then others, who said
I need to see what’s on the other side.

I know there’s something better down the road.
We need to find a place where we are safe.
We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain: that many have died for this day.
Sing the names of the dead who brought us here,
who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges,

picked the cotton and the lettuce, built
brick by brick the glittering edifices
they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Love beyond marital, filial, national,
love that casts a widening pool of light,
love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,

praise song for walking forward in that light.

I chose this poem for October because it was the poem read at Barack Obama’s inauguration. I wasn’t enchanted when the poet read it that day, but when I read it on my own I really liked it. In a political season with words more declaimed than whispered and more spiny than smooth, I felt like this was a poem to commit to memory.

The past two political years haven’t turned out as I would have chosen. I would like to see more compromise–and not just by Democrats sliding ever close to the Republicans‘ positions while the Republicans refuse to move. I would like to see elections that cannot be bought by a few and I would like to see a political process that finds commonalities in our population, instead of pitting us against one another. This election cycle I saw a lot of “you have something that I don’t have (pension, decent health care, etc.) and because I don’t have it, you shouldn’t either.” I would like us to work towards, “how can we get everyone to have something good?” I know there is a lot more figuring it out at the kitchen tables and it makes me tired. This poem, celebrating a “sharp sparkle” and the idea that “any thing can be made” is a bit of a buoy in this acrimonious, bought and paid for, rude and grabby time.

Books read in October

Yep. School (and schoolwork) are in full force right now. Only five books read this month.


Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters
Seymour, an Introduction
J. D. Salinger
This is the October Library Book Group selection and a J.D. Salinger creation I have not read. Reading the first story I was delighted to remember how much I love J. D. Salinger. Something about his prose leaves me just on the edge of a delighted hoot. Seymour, an Introduction, I did not love. I felt it was in need of a firm editor, and I ended up skimming most of it. Before Salinger’s death, I would imagine, now and then, that when he died we would get to read all the things I assumed he had been writing for forty years. There was talk that he was continuing the story of the Glass family. I imagined that, posthumously, we reading public would see thick novels published, that were as much fun to read as the Catcher in the Rye. Reading Seymour, an Introduction, I think that perhaps if there are more novels, they probably will lean in the Seymour direction, rather than the Catcher one.

The New Frugality
Chris Farrell
In some ways a run-of-the-mill financial planning book. Its main difference is that the advice comes from the “consume less” angle rather than the “budget and hope for the best” angle. There was a very good chapter about home ownership and how to figure out what the author calls your P/R ratio, the “Price to Rent” ratio. This chapter might be good to read for people who are currently renting and frustrated with it.

There is also a lot of talk about living long and prospering, a subject that I believe we who read a lot of financial planning books will see more of in the next ten years. The author points out that we all will probably not have the retirement our grandparents have and will keep working and working, at least part time until at least our 70s. He points out that our “retirement jobs” can be half time work and contain the best parts of our “career” jobs without all the baggage. Farrell gives the good advice to start to volunteer with organizations you care about in your forties, so that when you retire they know you, your strengths and you can work together.

The Time Traveler’s Wife
Audrey Nifflenegger
Achilles heel alert! Anyone wanting to distract me from whatever task is at hand only need hand me a Nifflenegger novel I have not yet read. The woman’s story lines are addictive and I have trouble getting anything else done until I reach the final page. Having now read both her books, I can say that her strength seems to be writing complex novels–this one skips around in time–and building enough tension through the book so doing anything other than reading seems uninteresting. Her books are also very long so getting to the end, and back to life, takes a substantial investment of my life. This is not the worst thing in the world.

The Aeneid for Boys and Girls
retold by Alfred J. Church.
This was written in 1962 and so its prose was old enough that I had to pay much more attention than I wanted to. However, I probably paid much less attention then if I had been reading Virgil’s masterpiece. To tell the truth, I was looking for an Action Comics version of the tale, but this was as easy as the library got.

I read this as a comparison to Livina, which I read last month for the library book club. I found some striking differences between the two, namely that in LeGuin’s telling of the story the gods are not involved at all. This makes sense as the book was from the main character’s perspective and most of us don’t have sense of the string pulling various gods do on a daily basis. It would have been fun if LeGuin and I could sit down and discuss her choices as to what to include in the book, but I think I would want to wade through an official version first. Given LeGuin’s lamentation of the death of Latin and how we are as a culture seeing the actual death of the great “dead language”–statements I agree with and feel sad about–I can’t imagine the withering look I would get if it came out I couldn’t be bothered to read even a translation.

Interesting differences between books written “for boys and girls” in 1962 and today: there was a forward and an afterward. When was the last time you have seen that in a children’s book? The scattering of drawings almost never matched with the text on the page, something that I think has to do with printing layouts. Also, I’m pretty sure when the publisher says, “boys and girls” they were aiming the book at the 11-14 age group. Today the title would be The Aeneid for Tweens and Teens.

*Note. I just published my review on Goodreads and I’m the only one to review this book! So exciting!

The End of Overeating
David A. Kessler
Fabulous book! In the first section Kessler accurately describes my–and apparently many Americans– interactions with food, (“I want a cookie. No I shouldn’t. Well, it’s been awhile. But I would be better off without one. But it’s been a hard day. I’ll just have one. Well but one will be one too many. and on and on and on”) as well as traces the brain chemical response that leads us to overeating. In the second portion, he looks at how food manufacturers have capitalized on our tendency to want more to increase their profits. In the third section, he describes steps people can take to retrain our brain chemicals and habits to stop overeating.

Kessler sometimes has a tendency to bring up a point and wander off from it, but overall the book is worth reading.

Started and did not finish

I finished all I started this month.

Did it!

Nearing the end of the month, I replenished my vegetable stores and bought some salmon. I spent just under ten dollars at New Seasons and just over ten dollars at Fred Meyer.

New Seasons: -9.75
Fred Meyer: -10.20

Remaining balance for the month: 10.85.

Net growth in my checking account: +20.85

Good job me. I fell down on my vegetable production, so I would have been better off to only be +10.00 at the end of the month, but I’d rather be up than down.

White beans

The white beans in the container on the right are the ones I soaked and cooked to make white bean, sausage and cabbage soup. After I cooked them, I put them in the refrigerator until I had time to make the soup. Time passed, and they went bad.

Not to worry. I unearthed the white beans in the center from the freezer. I had soaked and cooked a batch some time ago and put extra in the freezer for quick use in the future. I put them in the refrigerator to defrost and once again time passed and they went bad.

The white beans on the left I happily discovered on the pantry shelf. They made it into the soup, which was delicious.

I’m contemplating a resolution for next year to use all my food up and not let any go bad. There are some staggering statistics about how much food people in the United States throw out. I, unfortunately am part of that statistic. It’s such a waste. The food had been created and transported, I pay money to buy it, in some cases I invest time to cook it and then, into the compost or trash it goes.

You might hear more on this topic later.

The drawback of not cooking enough vegetables.

My goal is to cook vegetables five times per week. This week I have not even come close to meeting that goal. The drawback is that when I don’t have a bank of veggies to draw upon, it is difficult to feel full. Today I had red beans and potatoes for lunch with some leftover squash. By 4:00, I was very hungry, a state in which I don’t really like to spend much time. I ended up standing at the PSU Bookstore before my class started debating between the overly large package of saltines, the overly large package of potato chips, the even bigger bag of Cheetos. I rejected the various nuts because they were either hideously flavored, or had shells. I ended up with a package of frosted animal crackers to go with my apple.

Not surprisingly, I was ravenous by the time my class ended. I stopped by Cafe Yumm! before getting on the train and had a Yumm Bowl with Greens. It set me back $6.95 which leaves me with $30.80 for the month. I’m about to go out in the dark and find some diakon radish greens to steam. I’ve got to have more food for tomorrow.

Sometimes this being an adult is no fun.

A case for not having too many clothes

It was a very social weekend and unfortunately, I stayed home from work today to finish my homework. The boyfriend was also social and didn’t do his laundry, which is usually a weekend task for him. Instead, because I was home, I did it. I got points. I sorted the piles (there were many) and eventually washed ten loads of laundry. Our washer is small, but ten loads is a lot of laundry and that is one week of clothing.
Here we witness the tyranny of labor saving devices. Back when everything had to be hand cranked–or, god forbid, boiled–no one would have this much clothing. But now that washing is so “simple” we just buy more clothing. We then need more time to do our “simple” task and, whoosh, the purported free time is gone.

What’s the minimum amount of clothing you could get away with?

More chocolate and major donor

I’ve been trying to get a US Savings Bond for a bat mitzvah present all week long. It took five trips, three to one bank, two to another, and I succeeded. In the middle of all that, I bought a brownie at whole foods. So my remaining money for the month is $37.75.

Often I will cook or bake things for presents and I had promised to bring a cheesecake to the bat mitzvah for the Sunday brunch. However, the ingredients for said cheesecake are expensive and I knew that they would eat up the majority of my remaining funds. What to do? I did what all poor artists do: find a patron.

“Sweetheart, if I make a cheesecake for Peri’s bat mitzvah, will you pay for the ingredients as your part of the present?”

“Uh, I guess. How much would it be?”

“Probably eighteen or twenty dollars.”

He agreed. It turned out that I low-balled the estimate a bit, though I didn’t do that intentionally. The ingredients for the Chocolate Zebra Cheesecake cost $25.50 at my local Fred Meyer. And that was with the chocolate on sale for $1.99 per bar, down from $2.79. Expensive? Yes. But incredibly rich and worth it? Indeed.

Rankles me.

If you don’t want a yard, move into a condominium. Don’t cover all your existing yard with black tar paper and ugly rock, which will eventually sprout weeds anyway. There are a million ways to have a low-maintenance yard and this is perhaps one of the worst. There are two tiny fat dogs who live at this house. I see them on the porch sometimes. They probably wouldn’t be so fat if they had a place to run.

The siren song of chocolate.

I heard it today and ended up buying a bar of fancy chocolate at Whole Foods. It was $2.79 which brings me to $39.74 remaining for the month. “Less than forty dollars,” seems much less than “More than forty dollars.” I think I’ll be alright because I have enough vegetables from the garden to get through the week. That gives me $20.00 each week to spend on vegetables for the following two weeks. Assuming I don’t hear the call of chocolate again.

Three sentence movie reviews: The Invention of Lying

Funny, and in a thinking way. Unlike most Ricky Gervais sad sack characters, Mark Bellison was incredibly fun to watch and the large amount of cameos in this movie also made for great entertainment. Jennifer Garner was great, though I spend a lot of time wondering if she had cheekbone implants and deciding her lips must be pumped full of collagen, no?*

*She seems like such a nice person I don’t mind so much, but it is distracting.

poster from: http://www.impawards.com/2009/invention_of_lying_ver2.html