Saturday, August 30, 2008

More Sonny Terry

I can't get enough of that last Sonny Terry clip, so here's another. This is the great man in a slightly more restrained mode.

Originally uploaded by peglegsam at Youtube.

Friday, August 29, 2008

"The fallow fields glitter ..."

by John Clare (1793-1864)

The thistledown's flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.

The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.

Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we're eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.

Text from Poetry Foundation.

Landscape by Nicolas de Largillière (1656-1746) from Web Gallery of Art.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I may not look busy ...

...but actually, I've got a million things to do--which is why I still haven't started the promised perfume series. It's coming next week, I swear. Meanwhile, there's a new post over at Turn Outward.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Welcome to America

There's been a small flurry of stories recently about the detention of illegal immigrants, touched off in part by the death of a long-time New York resident after he was locked up for overstaying his visa years ago. (Democracy Now! also did a story on this case, which you can see here.) As the New York Times piece points out, there have a been a number of other deaths of detainees in recent years, which is not surprising considering the number of people the U.S. government currently has caged simply because they didn't satisfy the bureaucratic requirements for breathing American air.

According to the Detention Watch Network, we are incarcerating over 280,000 people a year at a cost of $1.2 billion as part of the crackdown on illegal immigration. Detainees often wind up in regular jails with the general prison population, and even in dedicated facilities they are sometimes subjected to brutal treatment. (Click here for some of the detainee stories compiled by Detention Watch Network. The Nashville Scene recently did a long piece on a private jailer, Corrections Corporation of America, which operates a notorious detention center for families in Texas. You can read that article here.)

Personally, I'm baffled by the popular outrage over illegal immigration. I just don't understand why people get so bent out of shape over the issue. The supposed threat of terrorism from undocumented or non-compliant aliens is laughable. It's true that the 9/11 hijackers exploited loopholes in the immigration system in order to stay in this country, but they were determined criminals who would have found a way around pretty much any regulations that could be created. It's insane to deny hundreds of thousands of people basic human rights because a tiny handful might be murderous fanatics. This is another example of the state marketing its abuse of power with the "We'll keep you safe" slogan. I'm not buying it. I don't understand why anybody else does.

The argument that immigrants have to be expelled because they're "stealing our jobs" is equally dubious. My friends who farm here in Tennessee would never hire undocumented immigrants, yet they find it almost impossible to hold onto American workers, even at a decent wage. Given the current downturn in the economy, Americans might become more interested in the kinds of jobs immigrants have been doing, but so far that doesn't seem to have happened. If and when it does, the issue should be protecting all workers' rights to decent conditions, not setting U.S. and immigrant workers against each other. All that will do is foster hatred and violence, and leave Americans slaving for the same lousy deal the immigrants currently get.

Regardless of how welcoming you think this country ought to be to immigrants, locking them up for months on end is unjust and expensive--but then again, why should they be treated any better than the natives? The truth is that all those jailed newcomers are getting a real taste of America. As of June 2007, there were about 2.3 million of our people behind bars. That's an enormous chunk of our population--disproportionately poor and minority--removed from the economy and the political process. (Incarcerated felons are denied the right to vote in almost every state. In some cases, they lose voting rights permanently.)

What it boils down to is that a staggering number of people in this country are rendered voiceless and invisible--and the rest of us are supposed to think it's being done for our benefit.

The Captivity is as Barbarous as the Crime, Francisco de Goya y Lucientes, 1810s. Image from Web Gallery of Art.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Promises, promises

I've got an idea (finally) for some serious perfume blogging, appropriate to the season. Hope to get it started tomorrow. Meanwhile, you can find today's post over at Turn Outward.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

"Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone"

Here's a sweet but sad clip of Billie Holiday from February 1959. It's one of her last performances--possibly her last TV appearance, according to the comments at YouTube. She died just a few months later. She's in pretty bad shape here, but she still does an incredible job with the song.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sunday is the day of rest

Illustration by Mihály Zichy (1827-1906). Image from Wikimedia Commons.


Well, that's pretty much the last nail in the coffin of that whole change thing. I can't imagine a more perfectly cynical choice. I'm not particularly opposed to Biden as a politician, though he does have a gift for putting his foot in his mouth. It's just that he is such a Washington animal, and he hasn't shown himself to be any less craven than the rest of the mainstream Democrats. (Yes, he voted for the Iraq war, in case you're wondering.) It seems the Obama camp is taking a page out of the Bush-Cheney playbook, and compensating for Obama's inexperience with a wily codger who has been a round long enough to be thoroughly compromised. Great. I swear I'd almost rather they'd picked Hillary. I'm convinced she'd be worth more votes than Biden, and they could always sequester Bill in a nice brothel somewhere.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dog Days

Yes, they're definitely here. The heat's not so bad, but the air is soggy as a dish rag and leaves me feeling about as limp. It was so humid on the trail this morning that I was ready to lie down and take a nap on the poison ivy. Instead I went to visit a friend and spent a couple of hours sitting on her deck talking with her and her dogs. Then I went home and took a nap. After that I found the energy to spend some time sitting on my porch with my dog.

You might call such behavior lazy. I prefer to think of it as living in harmony with nature.

I couldn't find any good poems about dog days, but here's a lovely sad one you may already know, dedicated to Laika, the first astronaut:

So first the faithful dog will go
and after it a pig or ass
through the black grass will beat a track
along it will the first man steal
who with iron hand will smother
on his glass brow a drop of fear

so first the dog honest mongrel
which has never abandoned us
dreaming of earthly lamps and bones
will fall asleep in its whirling kennel
its warm blood boiling drying away

From "First the Dog," by Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), translated by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott. Text from Poetry Foundation.

Canis Major from the Uranometria atlas by Johann Bayer, 1603. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another good read

Janis Ian's Society's Child, is a top-notch memoir, well-written and very frank. I had no idea Ian's life had been so turbulent. The book is a real survivor's story. My full review is here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Deep is the water and long is the moonlight..."

Deep is the water and long is the moonlight
inscribing addresses in quicksilver ink,
building the staircase a lover forever pauses upon.
Deep is the darkness and long is the night,
solid the water and liquid the light. How strange
that they arrive at all, nights on planet earth.

From "Nights on Planet Earth" by Campbell McGrath. Complete poem at Poetry Foundation.

Nótt Riding Hrimfaxi by Peter Nicolai Arbo (1831-1892). Image from Wikimedia Commons

Norse myth of Nótt at Wikipedia
(Companion post at Turn Outward)

Monday, August 18, 2008

Another book rec

If Marlene Zuk's defense of pathogens didn't appeal to you, try Jeffrey St. Clair's Born Under a Bad Sky: Notes from the Dark Side of the Earth. It's everything environmental writing usually isn't; i.e., funny, passionate and genuinely radical. I've got a review of it up at the Scene's website, which you can see here. (I cannot resist pointing out that my review is the "Website of the Day" at Counterpunch, the online home of tree-huggers, anarchists, leftists, peaceniks, and all manner of other fine folk. I'm honored.)

I'm not sure how likely you are to find this book at your local Barnes & Noble, but it's available from Counterpunch's store and from its publisher, AK Press, as well as

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm sending you elsewhere

First of all, my post for today is at Turn Outward. Click here to read it. (Warning, it's sad.)

More sadness--though it's an exquisite, transcendent sadness--can be found at Mary's lovely blog, in her post on the Rembrandt etching show she recently saw. You'll find it here.

Finally, I stumbled on a very good site for mystical poetry, Poetry Chaikhana, which you can find here. At the top of the home page you'll see links to the poems arranged by poet, theme, tradition, and period. I can't believe I never came across it before, because I realize now it's on several blog rolls I see all the time. Anyway, it won't be to everybody's liking (Bozo, you might not dig it), but I find it a pleasant place to browse.

Happy Monday, or as near as you can get to it.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

"You blind me with flashes of laughter..."

Lest I should know you too easily, you play with me.
You blind me with flashes of laughter to hide your tears.
I know, I know your art;
You never say the word you would.

Rabindranath Tagore

(From "VIII," first published in Poetry, June 1913. Complete text at Poetry Foundation.)
Photo by Wilhelm von Pluschow (1852-1930) from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Mon Idée, Bourbon French Parfums

The imagined scent of an exquisite waxwork carnation, too perfect to be real.

Notes (such as I can discern): carnation, jasmine, green notes, musk. (Click here for the Mon Idée page at Bourbon French.)

Carnation painting by Mary E. Eaton, c. 1917. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A song I cannot resist

Today's post at Turn Outward is a tiny bit sad, so here's a remedy--"Gimme a Pigfoot," a Bessie Smith tune that never fails to make me smile. No video here, just music, but it's more than enough.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Book rec

Seems like ages since I've posted here about a book I didn't review for money, but this one deserves all the readers it can get. Riddled with Life: Friendly Worms, Ladybug Sex, and the Parasites that Make Us Who We Are is the best kind of popular science writing. It's witty, Marlene Zuk's prose is graceful, and it's perfectly accessible without seeming a bit dumbed down.

Zuk's basic message is "Stop worrying and learn to love pathogens." Or at least accept that they are an inescapable fact of our existence. Sometimes they're good, sometimes they're bad, sometimes they're both--kinda like every lover you ever had, right? In fact, you could read this book as a sort of human-microbe relationship manual. Chapter headings include "When Sex Makes You Sick" and "Parasites and Picking the Perfect Partner." There's a danger here of excess drollery, but the science is substantial enough to keep the jokes from getting tiresome. When Zuk lets herself get a little poetic, the book really soars. Here's a great passage from the introduction:

Life is naturally tattered, infested, bitten off, bitten into. The stem with a broken leaf, like an animal with lesions on its internal organs or less-than-glossy feathers, is more normal than its unscarred counterpart. An unblemished animal--or person--is idealized and fictional, like the advertisements showing a solitary traveler at the Eiffel Tower. It doesn't really exist except in our imaginations. Disease is part and parcel of how we are supposed to look, of how we are supposed to live.

Beautiful stuff. The whole book is like that, only funnier, and occasionally creepier--especially when she writes about how pathogens may actually guide our behavior. The book came out last year, but it was just released in paperback this spring. It's well worth the $14 investment. Plus, it may save you a fortune in hand sanitizer.

Riddled with Life at

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One Sentence Perfume Review: Rive Gauche pour Homme, Yves Saint Laurent

A perfume for those days when you're feeling brave, virtuous, and ambiguously gendered.

Notes per Basenotes: Bergamot, Star Anise, Rosemary, Lavender, Geranium Leaves, Cloves, Vetiver, Gaiac Wood, Patchouli.

Joan of Arc on Horseback, manuscript illus. 1505. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, August 8, 2008

"Then would she hold me and never let me go?"

Under yonder beech-tree single on the green-sward,
Couched with her arms behind her golden head,
Knees and tresses folded to slip and ripple idly,
Lies my young love sleeping in the shade.
Had I the heart to slide an arm beneath her,
Press her parting lips as her waist I gather slow,
Waking in amazement she could not but embrace me:
Then would she hold me and never let me go?

From "Love in the Valley" by George Meredith (1828-1909). Complete poem at Poetry Foundation.

Image from Historia del Arte Erotico.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

"Crawlin' King Snake"

Muddy Waters in fine form, doing one of my favorite songs. Today's post at Turn Outward is a variation on the theme--sort of.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A few lines by William Stafford...

in recognition of Obama's promise to send more troops to Afghanistan:

Now is glass and an egg and gossamer in the wind.
Tomorrow is darkness and a bomb ticking.
But peace and yesterday are a still pool.
Peace and yesterday are a shadow quiet on the wall.

And from the sound of peace I heard a voice,
A man who raised before the wind of steel
A wispy tapestry of wondering:

"Why follow half-way saviors, men who kill
Or lie or compromise for distant ends?
Marauders come; but no man dares cry 'Wolf!'
The wolves look too much like our guardians ..."

From "From the Sound of Peace" by William Stafford, 1941. Another World Instead: The Early Poems of William Stafford 1937-1947 (Graywolf Press, 2008) 12-13.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Another Sunday without a sexy picture

Things are getting much too sedate around here. Since I like to put up a lively music post for Monday morning, let's kill 2 birds with one stone. Here's a salacious tune from Sonny Terry, "These Women is Killin' Me." (If you want to start the week with something more meditative, you can read my Sunday post at Turn Outward.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

After the Bath, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1894

The bathers whitely come and stand.
Water diffuses them, their hair
Like seaweed slurs the shoulders, and
Their voices in the moonstrung air

Go plucked of words. ...

From "Five Women Bathing in Moonlight" by Richard Wilbur, 1948. Read the complete poem at Poetry Foundation.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, August 1, 2008


As if we needed a reason to eat, it's time to celebrate the feast of the first harvest. It's too damn hot to cook here, so I'm just going to enjoy some tomatoes from the garden and think grateful thoughts. Given the rising cost of food, I think I'll donate to Second Harvest, too.

Summer, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, 1338-40. Image from Wikipedia.