Friday, January 14, 2022

New Wine In New Issues of Wine Cellar Press


Happy New Year. 2022 is here. To stay? We'll see. Wine Cellar Press is out with its latest issue: Gressive. It's broken down into different categories, each one named for a different kind of wine. Under the heading for Rossi, is a poem by me. It is titled "Gernika," the Basque name for the town that served as the inspiration for Picasso's Guernica. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Eisenhower on the Beach

Enter through the gift shop

In search of outdoor activities to do in the time of Covid, I came upon the Eisenhower Memorial in DC. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial that is. Yes, I too was surprised it was for him and not his college presidential powerhouse of a brother Milton S. Eisenhower. For years I had heard about it being planned, entailing the usual fights between designers, architects, historians, locals, and the family of the honoree. When I moved to Brooklyn, it seemed to still be in the ether between drawing and argument. Now it is finished, completed and dedicated by America’s real president. That’s right, Joe Manchin.

A bird's eye view. Explains the lack of pigeons.

This is the Lay of Ike. The memorial is located south of the National Mall, near the Air and Space Museum. I suppose it is fitting. The man helped build suburban mall culture and he established NASA. Not that you would learn anything about that from the spread of metal and marble in front of the Department of Education. More on that later. The Memorial has no central point. Its elements are scattered across a plaza without a central point of focus. Instead, there are two bas-relief sculptures and two large columns at either side of the park. Behind them is a sort of mesh fixture elevated above the plaza. At night it is supposed to light up and depict the Normandy Landings (D-Day, not Hastings). 

The recent toppling of Rebel monuments has begun a conversation about the nature of memorialization itself. Not just who is to be honored, but how and to what purpose. Unfortunately, the planning for the Eisenhower Memorial happened before these issues came to the forefront of public debate. Not that those responsible for constructing the site are ignorant of them. Debates about memorials were present in academia before they became prominent in the summer of 2020. Still, one wonders how this memorial would look given the fallout of the George Floyd protests. Not that Eisenhower was a unworthy subject who should have been ignored. Then again, he has been absent on the National Mall for decades and Americans seemed more or less able to go on without pausing to remember him. 

blah, blah, blah tell us about the MIC!

Personal merit, necessity, or legacy aside, there other questions to consider behind the purpose of a memorial. At one time, the idea was to provoke a kind of reverence in a secular temple. Think of the Lincoln Memorial, which brings one up a series of steps to stand under the imposing figure of Lincoln. All white and made of stone, he sits in judgment of the country. After one is done bowing and supplicating below the 16th president, it is time to look elsewhere. Now the view centers on the moving text of the Gettysburg Address. The whole process transforms Lincoln into a holy figure for the nation. He is the martyr who managed to midwife the republic through the birth pangs of a new freedom. 

Gradually this approach fell out of favor. An emphasis on movements, particularly involving Women and People of Color emerged. When the “great men” (and women) of history were so memorialized, their monuments became less about reverence and more about education. This might occur through symbolism, or more often than not, actual text, preferably from the speeches of the person being depicted. The FDR Memorial and the WWII Memorials come out of this development. The experience is not of one central figure or architectural feature, but of many disparate elements.  Gone is the temple or shrine. They have been replaced by open-air museums. This does pose a new set of challenges. How do you convey so much information about a figure or an event without overwhelming the spectator?

Will it get some wind for the sailboat?

The Eisenhower Memorial goes with a minimal approach. It deals little with public perception of Ike, the details of his life, the context of his times, or the effects of his presidency. Eschewing all that, the man’s life is condensed to a couple symbolic vignettes. The approach can be likened to the opera Einstein on the Beach, where snippets of Einstein’s life and work are abstracted to the limits of recognition. Here, Eisenhower is a boy in Abilene. Then, he is a general. Finally, he is a president. Three acts with no drama.

What war did he win? It isn’t clear. Who did we fight? It wasn’t mentioned. Why did we fight? A mystery. According to the available statuary, Eisenhower was simply a general raising a fist at beleaguered troops. The effect is not inspiring. He reminds one of the blowhard officers from Catch-22. His presidency is a foggy recollection in bronze as well. The two decent things he did in office, enforcing desegregation, and condemning the military industrial complex (which, to be fair, he built) go unmentioned. All we see of Eisenhower c. 1953 to 1961 is standing around with people from his administration in the midst of doing something presidential. The firm of Nixon & Dulles & Dulles is nowhere to be seen, presumably off in the distance plotting Operation PBSuccess. 

The site is being worked on and in development. The trees they planted are still growing. I presume there is time for other things to be added to the plaza. Maybe they will figure out a way to be nicer to the people working in the Department of Education. Once they had windows looking out on the Mall, and now the view is blocked by a post-modern Bayeux Tapestry. It displays an event they might deal with teaching, but they didn’t carry out! Meanwhile in Langley, their view isn’t obscured by a steel lattice depicting the Bay of Pigs. 

The littlest toilet

If you do want to learn more about President Eisenhower, there is a gift shop. Inside of it are many books with many words and pictures. There are footnotes and citations galore. Maybe that’s the real purpose of the memorial. Show the inadequacies of stone in order to bring people back to the page. Step one: draw tourists in who recognize the name. Step two: confuse them about the life of Ike. Step three: push people into buying books to explain why people liked him. One of the oldest scams in the…um…book. The site also has restrooms. I don’t know how the ladies’ side of the divide is, but the men’s room has the smallest toilet I’ve ever seen in DC. So it’s got that going for it.

Who cares about the founder of the highways, go look at some model trains instead

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Flying into the Sun


New poem of mine up at the Red Ogre Review. It is titled "Action Packed." Not to be confused with the happiest place on Earth, Action Park, NJ. The origins of this work are peculiar. While I put these lines in order, the individual words were gleaned from an episode of the old Halkias Bros. Art Stream, (NSFW)  especially where they review submissions from their listeners. 

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Don't Be Scared by the Giant Picture of My Head at the Top of the Page


Finding a picture of Cambyses is difficult

Three poems of mine are in Impspired. One of them involves the name of a Persian King. Another involves vegetables. And finally, the last one discusses writer's block. Fun! (The picture in question on the website was taken by Christine S. Stoddard).

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Probing Flies in the Sandy River Review


Where the magic in "La Mosca" happened

Poems in pairs, ladiex and gentlemxn! Where? At the Sandy River Review. One involves Astronomy, the other Etymology. Read on and...learn? 

Monday, November 15, 2021

Give Peeking Cat a Little Peek


Who is the Socrates here? Who is the Plato? A poet asks these questions to themselves in my newest poem, "Dissertation, Defenestration, and Defense." Thanks to the good people at Peeking Cat for posting it. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Time for a Little Variety


Apologies to Variety Pack for not promoting this sooner! They released a mini-issue back at the end of August with work from me in it. Guess it's still in time for Black Friday.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Last Poems of 35

Outing my age, sorry if you thought I was a young hot thang. Anyway, thanks to Jeremy Scott of the Sparrow's Trombone for publishing two funky poems of mine. 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Not an Open Book, but an Open Leaf

A journal in India, sponsored by Open Leaf Press  has published a poem of mine in a journal of theirs, appropriately titled the Open Leaf Review. That's not the title of the poem (though maybe that's a way to get editors' attention in the poems after their magazines) the poem is called Carrot and Writing Stick

Friday, August 6, 2021

Ridin' the Rails, Part II: Sleepy Joe's Revenge


To read part one, click here

After spending the night in New Orleans it was time to take the Sunset Limited in the morning. I wish I could've stayed longer to debauch myself, but at least I had a fairly decadent bed. The New Orleans station is small, but they did have a waiting area for us special sleeping car passengers. While it was no Metropolitan Lounge, they did have a coffee pot and some baked goods, which were mostly still in their packaging.

Guess what's behind the doors? If you said gambling, you were right.

Alas, the roomette was not as interesting as the one I had aboard the Crescent. There was no toilet near my bed, no hidden sink for me to use for my ablutions. The way the bed folded down also meant I could not turn it into an Amtrak-Style folding desk. But there were some differences in my favor. The dining car was open. That meant eating in style, with three course meals while watching the country go by. More importantly, the Sunset Limited has an observation car. It was where I spent most of my time when I was not using my sleeping car for sleep.

Laptop case for scale

Half of the time it was packed with Mennonites speaking Pennsylvania Dutch to one another while filling out coloring books

The observation cars, like the whole train, had no wi-fi (it puts the "limited" in the Sunset Limited) but they had outlets spread through the area. I spent my time at the tables but you can sit in one of the seats and imagine yourself on the deck of a spaceship. One that is hovering very low to the ground for some reason. The tables were a rare commodity. I had to park myself at one early and the day and stay there until lunch, if I wanted any chance of a place to spread out and work. For passengers not using the sleeping cars, they provided an area to eat. Under this level, the Sunset Limited keeps its regular café area. Normally the seating around it would be open too, but because of Covid it was closed off.

As mentioned above, the meals were more elaborate. Unlike my past trip on the Empire Builder, everybody sat by themselves while eating. I can't say if this was a good or bad thing. Last time I did meet some interesting people from North Dakota, but there were also plenty of silent meals. Some people just aren't talkers. Especially if they haven't had their morning coffee or their evening whiskey. The dining cars are only for the sleeper car passengers and while I sat in the observation deck I watched the other riders curiously wander over, only to be turned back time and time again. I imagine it wasn't too bad for them. The staff were friendly while waiting on me. 

Lobster Cake: I thought it was good, a nice amuse bouche in a sense before the main course

The steak was decent, I normally don't eat much of it to be honest let alone in a brown sauce. But it was a nice cut and the vegetables were well done. I enjoyed the polenta it came with as well. 

The desserts were probably the best thing on the menu

The French Toast was good, but then again it's a hard dish to mess up. It didn't taste eggy, which is a plus. Not pictured: a side of breakfast sausage I ordered

A simple lunch, I got a grilled cheese sandwich with bacon. It was advertised as "artisanal" but, anyway, it was bacon. Pictured: wine. The choices are limited, but when the view is great, who cares?

The cheesecake. For some reason I forgot to get a picture of the carrot cake, which was my favorite on the trip.

There were some ethnic options. They had tortellini (which I avoided since I make enough of it in NYC) and a tamale. It was good, and the salsa verde was a nice addition.

The chicken. Yes, it looks like the steak. But notice, no potato! I liked it. The sauce was better than the one that came with the steak.

The Sunset Limited took me past Lake Charles, Houston, and San Antonio. I went over the Mississippi, and saw Cajun Country. Refineries and above-ground graves sat side by side. The swamps and bayous gradually gave way to the plains. Cattle and horses grazed on them. Neither seemed startled by us. Yes, I ate my steak while looking at them. 

The depressingly small Houston train station

I woke up in the big bend of the Rio Grande. Now things were arid and the ground rough and rocky. Cacti and other desert plants dotted the landscape. Compared with my time on the Empire Builder (and at a similar longitude), the scenery was more engaging. 

The titular mountain. The title itself I forget, but it was obviously titular

It was like being in a Western, in part because even the cell service was down now. We went by Marfa, but saw no lights. A couple of hours later, I understood just how big Texas was. Thirty minutes after that, we were in El Paso. 

El Paso, where all the Mennonites on the train got off.

There's a woman who comes by to sell burritos to the passengers. She's got enough renown in these parts to get an announcement from the crew when the train pulls into the station. I wasn't able to get one, but wandered through the station instead. Compared to Houston it's much nicer and spacious. However like Houston there's nothing inside of it. All of the extra levels are occupied by an architectural college. 

We were somewhere near Lordsburg, NM when the wine began to take hold and I took a nap

The Sunset Limited made its way out of Texas and into New Mexico, followed by Arizona. The clouds were just as impressive as the brown rock formations. There were salt flats as well, which seemed to mirror the white of all the nimbuses above us. I had my final meals of the journey near Tucson, entering the heart of the Gadsden Purchase. As I slept, the train rolled on. It took me and the other passengers over the Colorado River and past Yuma, Arizona. I actually woke up at this point because it was so damn hot outside. 93 degrees at 1 in the morning. 

But I fell back asleep and when I woke up, we were on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Palm Springs, then Ontario, and finally Randy Newman's favorite city. We were an hour late, which I was actually thankful for. Usually one wants to be on time. Yet the train normally gets in at 5:30 in the morning. This way I could arrive with more sunlight (despite the name of the route I was on). The Sunset Limited pulled into Union Station and I grabbed my things. it was all off-board now and they like to make quick sweep of things. As a whole, Union Station might be the nicest in the system. Shame that at 7 AM there's no place to eat except a Starbucks, a place hardly known for its food and only somewhat acknowledged for its drinks. 

Monday, August 2, 2021

Ridin' the Rails, Part I

Last week I embarked on another cross-country journey across this country's rails. No, I didn't pack up my bindle and hop on board a cattle car like a hobo in search of adventure and vittles. Instead, I took the Amtrak from New York to Los Angeles, by way of New Orleans. From New to New and LA to LA. The first leg of the journey was on the Crescent. It took me along the first 1,377 miles (2,216 km) of the trip, through Philadelphia, DC, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Meridian, Mississippi. 

It all started at Moynihan Train Hall. This is the new waiting area for Amtrak passengers. Although part of Penn Station, it is housed in the former Post Office building that used to be next to Madison Square Garden. No more huddling in a bunker, waiting for announcements, or wandering with bags in a circle trying to find the Primo Cappuccino you swear is different than the three others in the station. 

As you can see, it is a much more spacious facility. There weren't a ton of options for food and drink set up yet. However, that was not of much particular concern to me because on this trip I was one of Amtrak's very special passengers. part of the elite, the elect, the chosen. Since I was taking a sleeper car, I had the privilege of hanging out in the Metropolitan Lounge. Situated on the second floor, it had space for me to spread out, store my luggage, grab a few complimentary bites to eat, and surf the web.

Amtrak Valhalla, where only the bravest and least claustrophobic travelers go

I recommend the provolone and fig sandwich

Ha! Peasants! Ha! Look up my free bag of chips and despair!

They called my train number and I went down into the bowels of Penn Station. While the entryway where I made my descent was changed, the actual platforms where the trains pull up are the same.

My roomette was interesting. It was a different setup than the one I used on the Empire Builder last time I took the train across this great land of ours. 

Looking at it reminded me of the Skylab exhibit at the Air and Space Museum

You can't say they don't use every available inch of space on the train. One of the steps leading to the top bunk opens up and underneath is a toilet. That's right, folks, you can do your business while watching the country fly right by you. You can do it while going through the woods at night, or as the train passes over a river. You can even do it while looking at people stuck in traffic down below.

The light is not as ominous as the picture makes it out to be

And above it is the sink. Good for washing of hands and drinking of cups of water. There were other watering holes on board as well. But, for sleeper car passengers these are the bathroom facilities, right in the roomette for your convenience and possible slight embarrassment. The showers are outside, shared by the neighborhood. Other amenities in the roomette: a table that pulled out, as a bunk to be pulled down, and another that I formed by sliding out the seats.

The table that folds out isn't big enough for a standard laptop

I found the secret storage rack! 

We pulled out of Penn Station and started to head south and west away from the city. The first stops on the Crescent were all familiar to me since I go between DC and NY on the train quite frequently. There was nothing drastically new to see while this part of the country flew by. I took a leak while looking out at the Meadowlands, so that was a change of pace from usual. It wasn't until the train left Union Station that I got to see a new side of America. Now I got to experience going over the Potomac in a passenger car and the sight of the Alexandria, Virginia station. 

Playing hide-and-go-seek with the Capitol

They do feed you on the train and the food and soft drinks are complimentary. For my first meal I had the shrimp and andouille sausage creole, in honor of my first destination: New Orleans. 

I watched Chinatown in honor of my second destination

I had eggs for breakfast, and for my second lunch I went with the vegan/vegetarian option of enchiladas. I can't speak for the sourcing of the materials (especially the rolls or what was used for the cheese) but they tasted good. 

The salads come with two dressings: ranch and Italian.
Oh, and you get a free alcoholic drink on the train. 

You spend roughly a day and a half on the train and get into New Orleans at night. That meant one more dinner. I went with the chicken marsala. It was fine. Overall I rank the enchiladas first, the marsala second, and the creole last. To accompany it, I bought a glass of white wine.

During my time on the Crescent, I found myself contorting myself in all manner of positions, surprised at how limber I still am. It felt like playing around in jungle gyms, Discovery Zones, and ball pits as a child. One of my projects was to find a way to use my laptop on the train. As my previous picture shows, the table provided is good for playing chess but little else. To that end I developed a standing-desk, Amtrak style. I put the top bunk down, placed my laptop on top of the bunk, and stood on top of the cover for the toilet. 

Metro Card for scale

With a little innovation you too can transform your spaces to help with work and play! From this perch I watched Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi roll on by. Lots of lush landscapes, forests, glens, farms, paddocks, and some cities.

Like Birmingham, Alabama

Then as night fell, the Crescent went across Lake Pontchartrain (putting the "train" in Pontchartrain you can say) It was too bad that it was dark out and I couldn't see any of the water or the city or the other side. It's one of the issues with the long journeys on Amtrak. You can't time things just right so you see things when you want to. The train keeps going and stops when its wants. You're a passenger, along for the ride, surrendering your control, in exchange for the ability to stand on a toilet and write.