Sunday, February 23, 2014

Mr. Lapin Grades Some Papers

Linseed Lapin, They Called Him

So Brandon in my office was telling us one day (as we in educational publishing talked about evaluation and assessment) that one of his teachers, Mr. Lapin (“Linseed Lapin, we called him,” because that’s how he smelled, and he was oily, I don’t recall if Brandon said) used to toss all the term papers down the basement steps. The ones that landed on the top step got A’s, the next step, B’s, etc., “a perfect bell curve” down to the F’s. “It probably wasn’t far off the mark,” was his justification. Ol’ Linseed may have a point, and if I had the energy I’d create an elegant segue and move into a rant about standardized testing and how it’s ruining kids and education and the world, making us further in the debt and thrall of corporate control, but angels, Miss O’ just isn’t up to it.

AC iron basket snow claw of doom, Queens, LO'H

Text Wranglin’

Losing my mind…depression. Emerged on Saturday morning, yesterday, as from the aftermath of a big, violent storm, a week since bottoming out and clawing through my emotional debris. So I spent said bottom day, last President’s Day holiday, with the blessed, blessed app, Text Wrangler, which resurrected old poems and plays from yonder days so I might transfer them to updated Word docs.

We interrupt this reverie about poems and plays of yore to beat ourselves in the head for even LOOKING at Facebook today.

Very right-wing former student posted THIS gem on Facebook:

Student: Anytime I watch a documentary on the Third Reich I still get flabbergasted at how an entire nation can be turned into such a cult of personality.

For starters, “Anytime I watch a documentary on the Third Reich…”? Jesus. That’s quite a hobby. And then I waited for the Reaganites to hypocritically weigh in by accusing Obama of being Hitler. And…it took about twenty seconds.

Responder 1: When you have a leader that spends years selling you a ticket to the promised land, it's understandable. Sounds somewhat familiar

And there it is. To which I had to say:

Miss O’: Um…Jesus? Mohammed? Buddha?

And...waiting for the predictably “reasonable” voice to point out that religious leaders are not “political” leaders…in three, two, one:

Responder 1: I understand what you're saying Lisa and good point, however they were all religious leaders not leaders of countries where laws were mandated for you to follow or else.....

And I go in for the kill:

Miss O’: Tell it to Iran. And the GOP.

And…scene. They make it so easy. Miss O’s work of saving the world today? Done. I’d go back to read about how Obama’s health care initiatives for all citizens are the equivalent of the Anschluss (all the while marveling as Responder 1 forgets those abortion restrictions and the anti-gay platform points based on “Jesus”), but who has that kind of time for morons who deny climate change while watching Third Reich television shows for their porn?

Possibly that sounds unfair.

[Insert sitcom laugh track.]

I’m feeling cranky.  And I need a rest from politics, for once.

Here’s the list of stuff I accomplished this week, in addition to wranglin’ all that text and aside from my job.

Letter to Cullen
Letter to M’Liz
Take out of the freezer the compost and take to Library for community pick-up
Go to the store—eggs and half and half…maybe pasta, chicken, feta…
Fruit…vegetables…apples…maybe cider and oranges? Why not?
No drinking for two months: Detox to save me from my depressive state, and in memory of ones I’ve lost to the disease that is alcoholism.
Go to Rebecca Behrens's book launch for "When Audrey Met Alice" at Books of Wonder
Brunch with Luthien and Ryan, Saturday
See "Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me"
Love my boyfriend
Breakfast with Jodi at Alpha Donuts, Sunday
Mama is tired.

Overheard in my office, a colleague on the phone:

“So do you wanna put her down?” Sounds of choked-back tears. 
(Note: Sophie, the subject, had been his late mother’s cat. -ed.)

Kids, it’s been a goddamned long winter, and yet, globally, one of the top warmest in recorded history. Things are not exactly looking UP is what I’m saying, and I felt I needed to RESCUE something.

Adventures in Text Wranglin’: Thanks, Free Mac App

Here are a few of the texts I rescued, because I know you were just HOPING for a treasure trove of Miss O's creative writing. Maybe one of the pieces will speak to you. (Ha, ha. So I offer you delightful reading alternatives in several photos.) Most of the pieces are in a form called haibun, which has a title, a paragraph story, and a short poem (usually haiku) to close.  I learned about this form in a workshop with my friend, poet Jean LeBlanc, about whose work I have blogged before, should you care to read more about her: Are You There When You’re There.
And you SHOULD care.

Herewith some of Miss O’s writing. Be kind.

Here's a haibun:

“At least one person is dead.”

At the top of the morning hour from the all-news AM radio station, this declaration begins my day. What time is it? 7:00 AM. By this time, I think to myself, I believe it is safe to say that indeed at least one person is, in fact, dead. Probably more than one, given the size of the population of the world today. As I scramble my eggs in a dab of bacon grease, butter the crisp pumpernickel toast, and sip my hot French roast coffee, and later rock gently in my old wooden rocking chair against the cold tile kitchen floor, I try to count up the possible dead since, say, 5:01 AM, and marvel that someone got paid to write that best-guess copy.   “No word yet on why they were killed.” I guess not.       
beside the gritty stoop
flopping greens clumped in black dirt
so suddenly, daffodils


Here’s my first tanka (a five-line poem), and my only tanka, discovered in my head on a spring walk to work in NYC after the workshop in short form I took with Jean LeBlanc at Sussex County Community College in the spring of (I think) 2008. (You can find a book of her teachings on Amazon: The Haiku Aesthetic: Short Form Poetry as a Study in Craft. )

A Tanka
Tulip with bulb attached,
tossed onto Seventh Avenue;
I replant it.
“Make it live!” the crazy man says,
“you’re beautiful.”
                                                ~LO’H, 2008

A few more haibun:


In the too-small suburban kitchen Dad bends over the open oven door, a hand reaching across to the wooden cabinet for a hot pad. Mom’s rear end unavoidably bumps his as she sloshes out a pot in the sink, signaling the start of the duet, “My God, honey, why can’t you get out of my way?” Their marriage, from our angle, is a fast dance about feeding up. “Have I told you lately how much I hate this refrigerator?” Mom says to no one in particular, reaching low into the back for a relish tray/container of potato salad/head of lettuce. Dad says, “Look out, it’s hot,” as he brings into the too-tiny dining room the large round casserole filled with buttered sweet corn/corned beef and cabbage/green beans and ham. “Go ahead and start, guys, I’ll be right in,” Mom says, shutting off the timer and reaching for a pad to pull out the tray of biscuits. And we bow our heads.
Bless us, oh Lord,
and these thy gifts—
how does one not smile during grace?

Bernie and Lynne, Miss O's parents, ca. 1994

This next one was an accident. My friend George was driving out to visit our Bread Loaf School of English teacher and friend Ed, and his wife, Deborah, who was in the last stages of Alzheimer's. George asked me, "Do you have anything for Ed?" And I sent this.

ARRIVAL for Deborah and Ed

Walking into the inn from the porch, her peeking face is a balm of undisguised wonder and terror, a mirror of my own feelings as I stand in the lobby of Bread Loaf, my new graduate school. Behind her is a lean, tall man with a mane of roguish white hair; sun-weathered crags surround amused eyes that wink meeting mine. His long arms would enfold her even as his hand merely touches her arm. He must be a professor, I think, and she his wife, though somehow their love seems sweetly young. Strangers to me, their faces include me in a conspiracy of embarkation and in a rush I love them.

only a screen door
separates them from the path
into green mountains


[In the anthology Voices from Here: The Paulinskill Poetry Project, Andover, NJ]

P.S. Here’s Ed today:

Deborah Keniston with Ed Lueders, The Barn at Bread Loaf, ca. 1991, LO'H


Another one. My "friend" in this is Jean.


We both have a penchant for photographs, the old ones where the subjects pose stiffly in sepia, wearing big bows, impossible collars, vacant stares against ornate furniture. In this shop a framed tintype catches my eye, unpeopled, hand-tinted in gold and blue, a chair by a kind of fireplace, with the words “Scotch stove” etched into it. I almost buy it. The price, though, $22.00, seems steep. I don’t know how I arrive at what makes a price too high for someone’s lost memory. My friend stares at other photos on the wall—a few girls in a garden, two women in their Sunday best—and she says in a kind of low moan, “I’m so afraid that one of these days, I’ll look up and see my family.”
on the green peg board
grandmother’s embroidered words
in a guilt frame


[Also in the anthology Voices from Here: The Paulinskill Poetry Project, Andover, NJ]

NOTE: When I sent the above poems to Jean LeBlanc, who is the editor of Voices from Here, and she asked to publish them, she also asked that I include a biography. In the Text Wrangling on Monday, I ran across these options, which I’d forgotten about.

Originally from Virginia, Lisa O’Hara lived briefly in Sussex County before settling in New York City to work as an editor. She remains a regular visitor to Sussex County and its environs via the Lakeland Bus Line. If it’s 6:00 PM, this must be Byram!

A pitbull without the lipstick, Lisa O’Hara kicks serious corporate ass for the McGraw-Hill Companies in New York City. Her connection to Sussex County is tenuous at best: suffice to say, free alcohol, good drugs at great prices, and the allure of bus fumes along county roads never fail to entice.

“I write my poems doggy-style,” says self-made New York City poet Lisa O’Hara. “I learned my craft in the backwoods of New Jersey, and still call Sussex County home, because that’s what it says on my tax returns.”

“Holy mother-fucking-christ-almighty, live in Sussex County and die free, slaves!” So sayeth poet and editor Lisa O’Hara, who is middle-aged, female, loveless, childless, godless, and middle-aged. And alone. Oh so alone...

(Might be a fun assignment for you English teachers out there.)

And now for something completely different. And I have absolutely no memory of writing this:

A Fitting Ode to Pants

Of course I had to size up to eighteen—
Catastrophe against my womanhood:
Slim hips, toned gut, and nubile ass unseen
For years and years; it’s sure they’re gone for good.
I once dropped forty, size fourteen returned.
Two years slipped by, the waist became too tight;
My vanity of female size unlearned
When button popped and belly flab took flight!
Then, sixteen was admission of defeat—
The winter that I caved is but a blur.
Gone was denial along with my conceit,
The vain thing that I’d been, I knew not her.
Now eighteen pants: contain these robust thighs—
My beauty liberated in your size!

11/21/09 NYC

Or this:

Why I Hung Up

Brenda couldn’t stand my telephone. The white plastic lozenge—with earpiece, voice box, and green-illuminated push-button dial all in one cradle against my face—not merely perplexed her. It annoyed and vexed and exasperated her. She tried to cajole me out of it, while on the phone. “You know, Lisa, there is such a thing as a cordless phone—it’s the latest invention” and “I can’t stand picturing you walking around the house pulling that ridiculous cord” were regular downbeats. How to explain this touchstone, my phone? When our friendship ended one day, appropriately, over that same phone, I was surprised by my lightness, the comfort of that click.

                                                      Patty washing the greens,
                                   phone cord stretched taut to the kitchen sink,
                                                                      telling her mother the news

[P.S. I still use this phone in New York City. Yes, I do. (I also keep a paper card taped below it with handwritten phone numbers in case of emergency. And shouldn't YOU?)]

I do remember writing this next one, and shared it with my play lab, whose members were indifferent to it, probably because I began weeping copiously, and unexpectedly, about the loss of my house on Spriggs Road in Virginia, the real subject of the poem.

Ode on an Envelope
A Poem for Louise and Don Cleveland

First of all I wonder if I ever wrote you back.
And second, as I can’t find one metaphorical bone
in my clich├ęd body, I can only apologize for
getting your hopes up for a fine poetic tribute:
Still I want to thank you for the opportunity of your envelope.
So timely, to be lying as it must have done
on my kitchen table,
within handy reach of the telephone
and a nearby pen, unfazed
by the tangle of white phone cord—
outdated aspect of an old contraption—so
that I might record the ruminations of friends,
and reminders to myself,
of who I was and what was doing
among phone friends
some short time after June 5, 2003,
which is what the postmark indicates
across the impressive likeness of Duke Kahanamoku.

And here I must apologize, Don and Louise,
for not knowing who in the world you might be.
The envelope’s contents no longer inside,
I can only conjecture: a bridal shower, perhaps?
Maybe a graduation party. Louise,
did you send me an invitation, maybe on behalf of a kid I taught?
No matter. You sent me this envelope,
and whatever was in it, for there it is—
my name, handwritten by you, and your gold
and black return address label.
Then flung against the crisp, white folds came a wild
collective scrawl of blue ink, mine:
here is Rumi, for one, flowing: “Jars of spring water
are not enough for me
anymore. Take me to the river.”
This wisdom abuts an all-caps reminder,
“DMV—DRIVER’S LICENCE,” for, I guess, change of address
before the move to New York City.

But let’s get some order, if we can.
On the front: Under my zip code  (as was)
is John Stephens’s idea for our school
modeled on Gandhi and the Sermon
on the Mount; left of the house number:
“logos—science -> adapts us to outer;
vs mythos -> beyond reality, adapts
us to inner” was surely Jeanne Clabough,
keeping me apprised of the big stuff, for perspective.

Here in the corner of the back by the flap,
now torn, some RSVPs—to the Wake
for My House, it must have been,
a house which was no longer
to be mine but the state’s
in twenty-seven short dates
from the postmark. (Of those few
early respondents from the list, Clevelands,
I recall that Jay, who had just turned forty,
kept remarking, “I’m a geezer”;
Susan Kats came but couldn’t bring the Band.
Chris, no surprise, never showed up.
And Terri is dead
now; Angelito moved to Bali.)

“Awaken pert and nimble spirit of mirth,”
I quote from Oberon, Midsummer, that spring;
“I’m sitting on my life and not
living it,” and who was that?
Along the ragged opening:
“If I ever have one of those Mormon celestial marriages”:
Was this Debbie? The right corner’s
“Steve is my UPS man” is surely Patty,
for she likes to have a man who does for her.
Then, turning over once more, I catch,
“It’s Hillsides.” Is this the school again?

Louise, and possibly also Don, how to express my gratitude
for this morning’s visitation,
seven years and a life change later, flipping
through a fat, loose-paper-packed
address book, where one
of the papers, an envelope, slipped loose,
and memory with it?
“Gentle and revolutionary”
I scribbled;
“practical and light”
I threw down;
“The Sacred and the Profane”
I was supposed to read.

Today I read this envelope instead.
And here is the return, unmailed
to your years-ago address,
truly yours.
I hope it finds you
well and happy,
whatever became of you.
~LO’H, 2010, NYC

My little grey house by the side of the road…that became road, 2003.

And finally, I came across this last poem, and on Saturday, February 22, 2014, which was the fifth anniversary of the death discussed in this poem. Such a loss. (I just spent an hour and a half catching up on the phone with her older son, Rick, who is 27 now and about to buy his first house—which he knows she would have loved to decorate for him.)

Art for Our Sake

“I scrapbooked by dad’s heart attack,” Jen said. “I scrapbooked my mother’s funeral. It’s what I do.” Jen is assembling the scrapbook pages for our friend Terri’s funeral, “for her boys.” I hand her my eulogy, printed on the second try, on decorative paper with bold streaks of Terri’s colors. Jen’s art of the scrapbook even in the grimmest of occasions had struck me at first as odd, and then I remembered that student years ago who, upon my reading an Anne Sexton poem aloud, said that poems should only be about birds and butterflies. I watch as Jen tenderly takes my pages, imagining how she will arrange her design of grief.

leafless, blackened birch
lichen-covered, stiff-twigged,
newly greened in maple’s arms

Doorway detail, W. 26th St., NYC, LO'H

Terri took and framed the photos of the Spriggs Road house (up by the other poem) as a parting gift to me in my New York City adventure, 10 years and counting. I miss her so. Life is loss.

And life is renewal. After a weekend of false spring, big melting, and blue skies, may I urge you to try your own hand at some poetry? Or try dipping into past writings? Like Mr. Linseed Lapin up there, I sort of tossed all these wrangled writings down the steps to see where they'd land. No grades, though. What the hell?

Spring tease, Queens, LO'H

Here’s to the wrangling of the texts of your own life,
With love as always,

Miss O’

P.S. Here's a wonderful book of poems by a fellow Bread Loafer, Peter Newton, and if you liked the haibun form, his are vastly superior and more beautiful than Miss O's (I promise). Treat yourself to Welcome to the Joy Ride. For spring. For poetry.