Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Reading Matter

Over the past few weeks we've been in the midst of major preparations for an upcoming relocation, but a few days ago I realized that I had gotten a bit ahead of things and packed up almost our entire library, leaving only a handful of books, all of which I'd read before, with two weeks still to go. Fortunately, our local library just had a book sale (partially with our donations), and at this point they're giving away what's left. I stopped by, took a look around, and saw more than I expected. Any other time I might have loaded up, but I had to focus on immediate needs only. I passed, therefore, on two volumes of Chekhov stories, Charlotte Brontë's The Professor, a Mary Braddon novel I knew nothing about, Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea, a Dickens novel I don't own, and several other tempting volumes, and settled on three. The first two were obligatory; Seamus Heaney and Mark Strand have long been two of my favorite poets, and the books I found were slender, which is definitely a plus right now. I've read parts of Sweeney Astray in other Heaney collections, but was only vaguely aware that Strand had written a brief prose work on Edward Hopper.
The real find for me, though, was an apparently unread copy of the Bantam edition (c. 1970) of Herman Hesse's last novel, which has been on and off my "to read" list for years. I've actually never read much Hesse, but I'm old enough to remember the time in the 1960s when no sensitive young person's backpack would be complete without a couple of Noonday Press editions of his work. Why this one in particular? Because the premise ("a chronicle of the future about Castalia, an élitist group formed after the chaos of the 20th-century wars") seemed promising, because Gide, Mann, and T. S. Eliot all admired it, and maybe most of all because how can one resist a title as sonorous as Magister Ludi (The Glass Bead Game) (or in German, Das Glasperlenspiel)?
I left a couple of bucks for a donation to the library. It's a no-lose proposition. If Magister Ludi turns out to be a snooze, at least it will help me fall asleep at night.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023


It's morning
Nobody's up but the crows
Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy
are singing "Can I Do It For You?"
as if they were here in the room
not as if they were dead and buried
these fifty years

As if every breath and every smile
and every finger's touch on the strings of a guitar
hadn't risen up
wrapped in wisps of smoke
and disappeared long ago
into the bustle of a forgotten morning
a thousand miles from here

The sun's just a yellow gash
on the cusp of the horizon
but already the day is opening out
pale and wide and unforgiving
but the worst of winter is done
and somebody somewhere is making coffee
or falling in love

Or anyway falling into their clothes
and Memphis Minnie and Joe McCoy
are playing "North Memphis Blues"
because that's what you do
on some cold morning
when nobody's watching
the smoke rise into the air