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Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Christmas 2004


We spent Christmas Eve at my parent's house. I always loved the way the tree looks with Mom's antique dolls around it. More pictures on the photos page. Posted by Hello

Friday, December 10, 2004

Poem - 50th Floor

On the floor
in a closet
on the 50th floor
of that building
I sit alone
with you
in my mind
I feel the walls
falling
around me
and I
just give up
and die.

On a cloud
in the 8th level
of heaven
I sit alone
with you
in my mind
I feel the wind
blowing
around me
and I
let myself
fall from the sky.

On the ground
near you
in Shady Pines
I sit alone
with you
in my mind
I feel the world
falling
around me
so I
just lay down
to die.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004


A friend, who attended our wedding, sent us this picture (and another picture listed on the picture page) of the flowers she grew this last summer with the seeds we gave out at our wedding.  Posted by Hello

Friday, November 12, 2004

Lorine Faith Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker is a poet from the Fort Atkinson area of Wisconsin. My wife and I saw a short filler piece on PBS with one of her poems being read. Beautiful poetry like the one below:

I rose from marsh mud

I rose from marsh mud
algae, equisetum, willows,
sweet green, noisy
birds and frogs

to see her wed in the rich
rich silence of the church,
the little white slave-girl
in her diamond fronds.

In aisle and arch
the stain secret collects.
United for life to serve
silver. Possessed.

this poem is from the Modern American Poetry website

Monday, November 08, 2004

New Job

I am starting to teach a class tomorrow at Mauston High School in their after school "Alternative Learning Academy." It should be a really good experience. The "My Classroom" link on the right side of the page will take you there.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


This snowman was in the front window of the local St. Vincent de Paul store. I added the blood, but I think it was implied anyway. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

First Anniversary


This past weekend was our 1 year anniversary. Colleen and I pose in front of a mural at the Ho-Chunk Casino. More pictures on picture page. Posted by Hello

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Halloween 2004


Colleen and I carved our pumpkins this past Sunday. Mine (left) has C+C (Colleen and Carney) for the eyes and nose. Colleen's (right) is a more traditional design. If I do say so myself, I think they are both cute. And we roasted the seeds so we got something to eat out of them too. Posted by Hello

Saturday, October 23, 2004

Autumn Harvest Fest 2004


Today was Autumn Harvest Fest. This is Mikal trying to pet a black sheep. Lots of crafters displaying their work. Many of them had to leave early because of strong winds though. All in all a nice day. More pictures in photos page. Posted by Hello

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Lots of Changes

Tomorrow I will work my last shift at Cracker Barrel because I have gone back to substitute teaching. The reality is that I can earn more by working fewer hours doing subbing.

I am also working on getting involved in an after school program that Mauston offers. It would be some steady money every week and it would give me some good experience for the resume.

Lots of changes...and this time most of them are good.

Thursday, September 30, 2004

The Last Few Weeks

Haven't had time to sit down and record what is happening. And, well, there isn't much happening.

I went through my training at Cracker Barrel and then found out that they weren't going to give me the hours they promised. So I am job hunting again.

Today I have an interview at Kalahari for a reservations job. And I plan on going to a few other places and putting in applications. Fingers and toes crossed.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Wo Zha Wa 2004


The Mauston High School marching band was one of many at the 2004 Wo Zha Wa festival parade. The MHS band is the "Official Cheesehead Band." More pictures of the Wo Zha Ha parade here. Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Carney Wanna Cracker?

Today was orientation at Cracker Barrel. Wow, lots of stuff to learn in one day. But I think the job will be okay. Nothing too stressful or strange. I am supposed to start on Monday with the actual training but if I don't find a shirt by then that will be delayed.

On another note this is Wo-Zha-Wa weekend. Time to get ready for the freak parade.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

What A Bunch of Shirt

So now I have this job starting tomorrow and I don't have the uniform for it yet. We ordered two shirts thinking they would get here on time but as usually when you want a package to be shipped quickly it isn't going to get to us in time. So now I am calling all over looking for an Oxford shirt with button down collar in a 22tall. Needle in a hay stack time.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

September 2004 Trip


Colleen and I got home last night after taking an extended weekend trip. Friday we went to the Milwaukee County Zoo. I had only been to that zoo once before and that was on a cold, rainy, November day several years ago. It was an awesome time. I was even able to ride the zoo train. The painting pictured above is located in the Peck Welcome Center.

Friday and Saturday night we stayed in the Embassy Suites in Brookfield.

Saturday we went to the Indian Summer Festival. This was great. Lots of good food, great vendors, and amazing cultural exhibits.

Sunday we drove to Sturgeon Bay in Door County. We spent the night there because I had an interview on Monday in Algoma at the high school.

Monday before the interview we went to the Door County Maritime Museum. Lots of neat info and artifacts there. I have more pictures here (under September 2004 in archives).

Cracker Barrel

I finally got a job. I will be starting at the Cracker Barrel in town this Thursday. I also interviewed at one last school. More on that in a bit.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Poet For Hire

So I've been running around town applying at hotels and stores all over. Tomorrow I have two interviews. One at the Cracker Barrel in town for a job in their gift shop and the other in Portage for a job at as a bank teller. I also just got a call from a school (Algoma) to interview there on Monday. That would be a tough one, to start mid-stream teaching a full time schedule. But I think after the first few weeks it wouldn't be bad. So confused. I guess time will tell where I'm supposed to be.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Flea Marketeering?

Today Colleen and I set up a table at the Oxford flea market. We did pretty good. I even sold some of the jewelry and dream catchers I made. We did get a little too much sun though. We both are a litte sunburned now. Oh well, it was a great day spent with my wife.

You always get to see such a mixture of people at events like a flea market. Colleen and I are both people watchers so that was fun too.

And we even got to see some nature. Across the street from where we set up there was a woman with a sprinkler set up. The birds were playing in the water and dropping down to the ground to get drinks.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Unemployed

Today is the last day of work at the visitor's bureau. And I am still looking for something new. This really is discouraging.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

More Staples

Ugh...interview went well. However, at the end of the interview she told me that they only hire part time and they could only guarantee 12 hours a week. Doesn't sound good.

Staples

In about an hour I have an interview at Staples in Portage, WI. I have fingers and toes crossed. Colleen even helped me yesterday by asking me some interview type questions. Really need this job.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Will Work For...

It is getting to crunch time for finding a job. I applied today at Staples in Portage and the local grocery store (Zinke's). Since teaching seems to be out of the question for the near future I want to find a job that offers a variety of different activities and/or steady work. I also prefer customer service type jobs, jobs that let me talk to/meet different people on a daily basis.

But with time growing short those preferences might have to go out the window. I have a few more days left at the visitor's bureau; hopefully, something good appears before that.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Blog Title

I finally got around to putting the poem here that is the source of the title of my blog. My poem "At A Time Of Having Too Much" has the following lines in it:
     And there was a lot of chaff.

     Children playing in the leaves of fall

     We scattered it around us and over all the fields

     With the help of the wind.

The poem was inspired by my student teaching experiences but the ideas apply to many different aspects of life.  All that we create is ultimately temporary, just like our time on earth. We have to admit that we are imperfect and rather unimportant in the world before we can truly begin to make a difference in this world. It is one of the defining human characteristics.

Poem - At A Time Of Having Too Much

The gray dust has settled in front
of the black wall,
in our hair,
in our eyes,
in our lungs;

And we have now completed the harvest
The grain and the chaff have all been separated.
We wear the dust of separation.
The full baskets sat before us
in the cool dawn and
when we picked them up to
toss the contents into the air
you showed me
just how high to throw them.
And there was a lot of chaff.

Children playing in the leaves of fall
We scattered it around us and over all the fields
With the help of the wind.
And this chaff was a lot of waste;
It concerned us.

But you gave me the most important lesson:
There will be a few sprouts here and there
in the fields next spring
and we will be timid around them
as we plow to plant a new crop.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

PSA Chapbook Submission - A Lot of Chaff

The Story Teller
The stories father told while
touching the pages of books
proved to Chris,
as a child, that the gray, lumpy
eyes could really see. And he
wondered about father’s charade.

Over many years of telling his son
the stories of great kings, great
deeds, great evil, and great
good it seemed even to father as
though he had never told
the same story twice.

Chris as a young man went
back to those books for comfort.
The words had been
rubbed off. So he boxed all the
books and put his leather bound
father on the shelf in their place.

In this Together

The circle scratched
into the dirt was to
show her who I am.

She bent down and
added eyes and
a smile--I misunderstood.

Playing in the dirt
we were forming
a new language, a new
religion, new lives.

Soon there was a real
little person: real eyes, real smile,
real frown, real tears.

I trace a circle in
the flour where you
are kneading the dough
and you scrape away half of
it, leaving the rest for
me.

Uncle

One day in the
park by the mighty river
my long dead uncle
sat down next to
me on the bench
where I was enjoying
the view of the small
ducks floating fearlessly
on the wide river.

He had a beer can in his hand,
alcohol on his
breath and stories about
just getting out of the military.
Blood, body parts, pain
violence and rainy nights
wrapped in cheap
woolen blankets.

Said he had just got into town,
off the train, was curious about
my life and my future career.

He got weepy talking about the
past and he said he knew what
the line about rockets red glare
meant now. He talked about the
mistakes of a life time as he looked
at his almost empty beer can. He cried
and leaned on my shoulder. I felt dirty.
Contaminated.

I left him with a non-excuse, sipping
his beer, contemplating
the attraction of the water.
Perhaps he would leave that way this time.
Anonymous in the wide river.

Predictions

Ann sits with her hands
on her eyes, and her elbows
resting on the table
in the way she usually
does at night when
she cries.

But she doesn’t cry.
She has dreamt herself dry.
Her shoulders heave and
jerk with sobs of
laughter which ring
against her breakfast
bowl – still streaked red
from her morning meal.

Today
day and night
will slip into each other
making life gray.
The smiling AMS man
on TV told Ann so.

We Were Wrong

We sat there and
got fat together
and I find it amazing
that we didn't notice
it all then:

the sins
of the family
and of sugar
in our blood.

The red and white bakery box
sat between us on the red bench
seat, sliding back and forth.
We tossed the sticky
deli wrap into the box in turns.

You would rage and
yell at the radio, beating
your hard hands against
the defenseless wheel, over
the pains of others:
the unborn, the persecuted
believers, the misunderstood
protester.

Stretched out and sleeping
off the glucose high
on that warm, red bench
seat my quiet contentment
was a dangerous consent.

Bountiful

I sell myself
a pound of flesh at a time
to whoever happens to
come along with a sad story.

My shop is a
bench on Park Street, the
only one for miles
sturdy enough to handle the load.

I sit with my knife and cut
away. Each buyer gets a plastic fork
from my white cardboard box. Sometime
I do get hungry myself.
But I save the best cuts for the customers.

At the end of every day I close up
shop. Count the tills. Weigh the lot
that is left. And I find that the stock is just as
bountiful or more so.

I go home thankful for the bounty
and the dreams of retiring.

Flying Away in Pieces

Cardinal red feet with
White gray claws
Click, click on the pavement.
Black-hole feathers hide
Dark blue eyes and
Gray white beak.

A man who doesn’t belong
On that bird filled fountain
Watches the antics of
Black feathers and
Red Feet around his legs
And the smaller
Twittering, flittering birds
Of all the dusty, dirty
Shades in a smog tinted rainbow,
Mostly gray white or
White gray. But spots of red, orange,
Yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet
Peek through
In momentarily soot free zones.

The man, amused with the
Twittering flittering and
Click clicking rips bread
Off the full roll he
Would have thrown away.

Little beak and little
Wing are barely able to
Snap the bread
Off the table.
Slightly air born the bird
Wobbles under the weight of
The bread. Other twitters
Dive at the lucky one;
They all hope to win the prize.
A full stomach is a full life.

The man watches intently as the
Bread is knocked to the ground.
Here the black feathers own
The bread. The man laughs
Deeply and satisfyingly.
As the chuckle leaves
His throat a
Snow white sea bird
With pink toes and
Pink beak swoops
Down while cawing
In almost human tones.
The gull tips his wing to
Scrape the back of the black feathers as
One last snub.

Arcing into the air
The bread bobs down
The inside of the bird’s neck.
The black feathers and
The twittering flittering
Learned long ago not
To look up and
Wish for what is gone.

No longer amused
The man tries to shoo away
A twit peddling peace
Of mind through charity,
Hope through a handout.
Unable to dispatch the twit
And unwilling to endure
Beady stares, the man rises to leave it all behind.

One lands on his nose.
The man snuffs and puffs
To try to blow the little thing away
But the bird pecks purposefully at his eye.
Blind and in pain the man drops to the ground and is
Instantly dumped upon by the flocks of birds.

The birds quickly do their
Work and fly away.
The cleaned bones clatter
To the ground.
The only witness is the
White sea bird.
He already has a full stomach,
Full life. So he leaves, content.

At A Time Of Having Too Much

The gray dust has settled in front
of the black wall,
in our hair,
in our eyes,
in our lungs.

And we have now completed the harvest
The grain and the chaff have all been separated.
We wear the dust of separation.

The full baskets sat before us
in the cool dawn and
when we picked them up to
toss the contents into the air
you showed me
just how high to throw them.

And there was a lot of chaff.
Children playing in the leaves of fall
We scattered it around us and over all the fields
With the help of the wind.

And this chaff was a lot of waste;
It concerned us.
But you gave me the most important lesson:
There will be a few sprouts here and there
in the fields next spring
and we will be timid around them
as we plow to plant a new crop.

Escape

One hour before dusk
the lot of the local market
becomes the staging area
for the pseudo-military
operation of going home.

The long holiday weekend
together didn’t make these
troops any more synchronized.
The family members divide
haphazardly among the two vans,
three rusty trucks, and two woefully
small imports.

Some cradle pillows that will be
stuffed into the space between their
head and the window. What wonderful
dreams they will have of going home
only to have them become true.

Plastic Jesus

One year I was
a cloud...
well a lamb but
the costume didn't fit right.

I was a cloud
looking in on the birth.
As the plastic Jesus was
delivered to the manger
I began to laugh.

In the sky I was closer
to the angels and I did
not hear them signing.
The wise men couldn't
pronounce the names of their
gifts--from restrained laughter
I had a tough time standing.

The animals started to
horse around and I took
the cue; I
rained on the plastic Jesus and
then softly I heard
him cry.

On a Pedestal

We sat together in
back of the class
and we both had
our eyes
on the same girl.

short sandy blonde hair,
a pretty smiling face,
shiny blue bell bottoms
made from some sort of plastic,
pink coat over the red plastic chair,
and heavy dark blue sweater

You sketched her in your notepad.
Ink on paper,
her form and her
draping pink coat. A big pocket
and some buttons visible.

And you focused on her back. That is
what you could see.

I wrote a few notes about her,
lines of poetry.
Ink on paper,
words and ideas and emotions
and images that capture that moment and
all of us in it.

A Band With No Rhythm

Six year olds on the verge of
turning sixteen,
so much about the world they
will not know,
so much about themselves they
should never know.

Humans who live so close to the
ideal that it
is impossible to spend the day
with them
without finding the truth in our
old desires
to never grow up. Peter Pan
and Jeffery the giraffe.

Yet anger at the creative powers
of the universe
are also mixed in with this awe.
Care free lives
are minimal compensation for
being made
to stand so close to the truth
that it leaves timeless scars.

Black Magic

Glance at your picture
and the magician begins
tugging a silk kerchief
from the black pocket
of memory.

Little soft squares of
the past knotted together
at the corners; one after the other
they keep appearing.

But I have seen this trick
too many times to believe
that it will last forever or
have a happy outcome.

And it isn't long before the
rainbow display of silk
is bleached salty white.

And the last square is black,
untied it flies toward the sky
and through it no sun, moon
or stars can bee seen.

Tomorrow

I do not want to wake up
tomorrow confronted with
reminders of the past that
sits just through the windows:
the panes in the wall; tubes on
the table; frames in the hall; and
flesh shades held open in mortal
fear, fear of mortality.

The clock approaches the witching
hour and my brain, a dog on a long
leash circling the pole it is anchored
to, finally has spiraled close enough
to the center so it can lay down and rest.
Sleep. The windows are shut, the TV is off
the pictures are quiet and my eyes are
peacefully shut. Tomorrow is here
without confrontation.

Too Much Info

It is important
to sleep past morning news shows
or I’ll have no nerve.

Formerly Fat

I.
I rise effortlessly
out of the chair
after the bell has rung.

I have powerful legs
from carrying the weight
of it all—
all these years:
your snorting laughter,
the unexamined pain in your eyes,
future hope/past regret,
the fun we never had.

I could not grow up
and leave it behind
so I grew out
became bigger than
all of us put together.
a bigger container to
store the pain.

It was a germ,
growing exponentially;
fed poison,
it prospered.

II.
Now
I can rise effortlessly
out of the chair
and run without
sucking wind

I have power;
no one looks
at me with pity.
I miss the
attention; miss the anonymity.

Only the smallest
piece of you hasn’t
been given away.
My burden is less,
yet is more.
In the cycle, guilt
follows pain.

I rise out of the chair
and I run up the stairs
pausing only to lock the
door behind me; the bell
has rung.

Starry Night
I live in the place between the twin hills
where the grass is green ocean waves on a gentle sea
and cosmos and chaos have a battle of wills.

Some people, foolish, weary and ill
stand and ask me how can it be
I live in the place between the twin hills?

"Simple," I say, "we all can have our fill
if we can remember that we are still free
as cosmos and chaos have their battle of wills."

The orange star light keeps me still.
And yet it is lonely for me;
I do live in the place between the twin hills.

Most come and go over those hills.
But, why climb every day to see
cosmos and chaos have a battle of wills.

Stay here one night, and let the light give you your fill.
Then tomorrow you, and she and he
and I will live in the place between the twin hills
where cosmos and chaos have their battle of wills.

I See The Green, But Where Are You?

Miles of wrinkled denim shirt,
Acres of cold hard ground
And immeasurable expanses of time
Put too much in between us to bear.

When I was younger, you were my world.
Now you are a distant star. Seen seldom,
Never heard from, moving even farther away
And I cannot even see the red shift.

Let me build a telescope;
I’ll construct my own Enterprise
To see you shine on me

Your picture, it causes tears-
Not because of memories-
Because the one in my mind had faded

I followed you, you followed me
Then our time together ended.
You went where I couldn’t go.
I didn’t even hear your "I do."

Miles of wrinkled denim shirt,
Acres of cold hard ground,
The clouds up in the sky
Start rumbling down.

Drug Store Receipt

1:15 pm

"I’m Kim. I’m here to serve
you with our
‘7 service basics.’"

2121 S Push Str

Cash 10.00
Call in your prescription
Total 8.96
24 hours in advance
Fuji Film 8.49
For faster Service
Change 1.04
Tax .47
Taxed, taxing
Taking
Changing

"I’m service Kim
I’m here to serve you
7 Basics with

Cash
Thank You
Cash

Faster Service
June 12, 2002

24 Hours in Advance

I’m here. I serve you. I thank you
I’m Kim. I thank you for faster
Service.

A taxing 5.5%
Change in Advance
I’m here to tax you with faster service
Store Phone # (555) 555-0452
Call in, call me
I’m Kim, here to thank you, serve you

Kim, I’m here to change you with basic prescriptions
Of change.

Thank You

1:15 am

Gray

Of white or black
I do not see
I only see
gray.

When some say "yes"
and others say "no"
I say maybe.

Right and wrong are
small concerns when we
grow ears and eyes and open
minds.

Under Escher’s Sky

The clouds,
in columns,
and rows
repeat to the
infinity point.
The water
in the creek,
a mirror.
The fish
Swim in lines
too. The birds
fly under the
clouds
floating
along the line of
the wind are birds.

M.C. must be
in charge today.
Though the clouds
Refuse to
to change
into birds
or fish.

My mind,
disconcerted,
repeats the observation
for an infinity.
And I make the
connections;
I understand that
this is the normal way
in which a cloud becomes
a fish and a fish becomes
a bird.

We, The Snowmen

Find the spot in
yourself where the
flakes pile up and
blow around---form
drifts and banks to
block your windows
and doors, keep you
buttressed against the world.

Make a snowman--make
it the person you want to be--
grab a handful of snow, make
a ball and throw it at him
Repeat
until satisfied.
Lay down and become
an angel. Stand up and
be a devil—destroy it.

Meditate in the snow
feel the ice in you,
shake it and hear the
icicles tinkle as they fall.

Revel in the cold,
find the sled you had
or wished you had as
a child, ride it down the hill,
ride it down again--over and
over until you go too far
and crack into the creek,
only lightly frozen over.

I’m Sorry I Didn’t Reach The Sun

The wind blows.

I reached for my goal;
It was the sun.
The light pulls me up.

I get so close to it.
Then someone cuts off my hands,
And

The wind blows be away.

Life

The heart beat of trees is a
signaling drum music
even in the white of winter.

The breathing of the waters is a
calming rush and whoosh of
the planet's respiration.

The angels sing to me
wisdom even when I
am deaf.

Yet the swaying arms of the
tree cannot reach and touch
no matter the life in them.

Angels perched in high
choir stalls cannot hit
the notes and form the words
my heart desires.

I tell myself that bad
company is not better than
none. Alone leaves no
unfulfilled expectations.
Rubbernecking

I blocked an ambulance
trying to turn left;
it didn't have the siren on
only the lights.

It was one of those movies:
the world became still as I rolled
past the car wreck and the music
suspended to painful silence.

I doubt our relationship now
I think I'm drawn to
you like a car wreck--and
vice-versa, we do this
naturally--it is easier.

We rubberneck at each other
throughout life and I keep a
collection of twisted pieces from
the automobiles.

Shiny metal pieces on the mantle
on the wall, embedded in
me.

Mountain of a Man

Grandpa you sit, nearly deaf, in your chair
and ramble about stupid politicians
or stupid people from the past
and I know you never see me.

He has been here much longer
than you but he never complains.
He lets me look through
his eyes on the past.

I see naked or animal-skinned men
running along sandy beaches and I
hear the sticks of their game clacking
as they run back and forth.

You never told me about the
games you played as a child.
I believe that you never were
childish; though I know that is false.

In the fall when his greenness is
gone he shows his true age with
white whiskers mixed in with the
black. But he has played.

He was born with great effort too. We
know your mother nearly died giving
birth it was 1919. His mother labored
what must have been milieu.

He would recline on the beach when younger
with the river waters at his feet.
The sun gleaned off his granite chin.
He still reclines
but he has moved farther from the water
and the angle of his cheek bones have dulled.
A blanket that changes colors with
the seasons keeps him warm in old age.

Would you understand and finally be
able to explain the significance of
life if I took you up with me and
sat with you on the hand that he
keeps clutched close to his chest,
where the lives and loves of
generations are written?

Waiting for the End

Time stutters if you
sit with your fingers in its
nose, pulling along.

"Starry Night" and Other Poems

Starry Night

I live in the place between the twin hills
where the grass is green ocean waves on a gentle sea
and cosmos and chaos have a battle of wills.

Some people, foolish, weary and ill
stand and ask me how can it be
I live in the place between the twin hills?

"Simple," I say, "We all can have our fill;
a place on the human tree
as cosmos and chaos have their battle of wills."

Clear as the orange star light, still
it is no less difficult for me;
I do live in the place between the twin hills.

Most come and go over these hills.
But, why climb every day to see
cosmos and chaos have a battle of wills.

Stay here one night, and I'll bet you bills
that by tomorrow you, and she and he
and I will live in the place between the twin hills
where cosmos and chaos have their battle of wills.

Talking in Circles

Out the door and
down the hall a phone rings:
To answer, another
rings at the other end of the hall.

Maybe they aren't really
ringing at the same time.
The time distortion could be spreading.

I sit with rippling sound
in cinder block room and
light bending;
time jumps
and skips like a
record player on loose
floor boards, a
CD player with no
digital memory,
a child on
chalk marked
sidewalk.

Or the dual ringing could
be caused by two people
trying to call each other
from somewhere else.

What We Know Today

Those Greeks didn't know
anything about the world.
He wouldn't have fallen
because the wax melted
that held the feathers. No,
it gets colder in the upper
atmosphere the air gets
thinner, the
molecules
spread
out.

But they were so
tied to the earth
with sheep bleating
around them and
horses in
front of
them, helping them
turn
the
earth
it was
only natural for them
to be afraid of what
they couldn't do.
Much easier to
say they shouldn't.

It is natural they would
think he was burned.
They looked at the sun
and felt it burn the backs of their eyes
and the backs of their bodies
that stared stupidly at it.

You Are Still Wrong

We sat there and
got fat together
and I find it amazing
that we didn't notice
it all then:

the sins
of the family
and of sugar
in our blood.

The red and white chicken box
sat between us on the red bench
seat, sliding back and forth.
We tossed the clean
bones into the box in turns.
Sometimes you even broke
them open and sucked out
the brown juice. I wouldn't

You would rage and
yell at the radio, beating
your hard hands against
the defenseless wheel, over
the pains of others:
the unborn, the "persecuted"
believers, the "misunderstood"
protester.

Stretched out and sleeping
on that warm, red bench
my quiet contentment
was a dangerous consent.

But I don't eat chicken skin
anymore. I have grown up now.
I must be much older than
you ever were. The world isn't
as simple as it seemed in the
word of the white
Bible, with the burnt cover,
that you claimed had all
the answers.

Flying Away in Pieces
Cardinal red feet hold
White gray claws that
Click on the pavement.
Black-hole black feathers hide
Dark blue eyes and
Gray white beak.

A man
On that bird filled fountain
Watches the antics of
Black feathers and
Red Feet around his legs.
Smaller
Twittering, flittering birds
Of all the dusty, dirty
Shades in a smog tinted rainbow,
Mostly gray white or
White gray. But spots of red, orange,
Yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet
Peek through
In momentarily soot free zones.

The man, amused with the
Twittering flittering and
Click clicking rips bread
Off the still full roll he
Would have thrown away.

Little beak and little
Wing are barely able to
Snap the bread
Off the table.
Slightly airborne the bird
Wobbles under the weight of
The bread. Other twitters
Dive at the lucky one;
They all hope to win the prize.
A full stomach is a full life.

The man watches intently as the
Bread is knocked to the ground.
Here the black feathers and
Red Feet are able to peck
Quickly at the bread.
The man laughs at such
Selfishness; the bread is theirs now.

As that thought
Clears the man’s mind
And the chuckle leaves
His throat a
Snow white sea bird
With pink toes and
Pink beak swoops
Down while cawing
"It was mine all the time."
On the upward turn
The gull tips his wing to
Scrape the back of the black feathers as
One last snub.

Arcing into the air
The bread bobs down
The inside of the bird’s neck.
The black feathers and
The twittering flittering
Peck here and perch there:
They learned long ago not
To look up and
Wish for what is gone.

Flailing his arms
Against the injustice.
The man tries to shoo away
A twit peddling peace
Of mind through charity,
Hope through a handout.
Unable to dispatch the twit
And unwilling to endure
Beady stares, the man rises to leave it all behind.

At this the birds take offense
And one lands on his nose.
The man snuffs and puffs
To try to blow the little thing away;
He looks like he is trying to
Blow out a candle on his nose.
The bird pecks purposefully at his eyes.
Blind and in pain the man drops to the ground and is
Instantly dived upon by flocks of birds.
He is covered with dirty wings.

The birds quickly do their work and fly
Away. The smooth white bones clatter
To the ground. The only witness the
Snow white sea bird, has a full stomach.
So, he leaves the scene content.

Too Much Info

It is important
to sleep beyond
the morning news shows
or I will be unconsciously

troubled.

They jump cut from people hit by a bus in Israel to a recipe for a rich chocolate drink.

At night, however,
I seek out all the
gory details
in bloody, rotten

sites.

There is a man there with no face just blood running where mouth and nose and cheeks should be.

He didn't wear a
helmet when he sped
down the road on his
cycle. So he is now a red

puddle.

Even in our safety worshipping, life preserving, pain preventing culture the consequences seem excessive.

Boys will be boys.
Some even find it
cool to leave behind
some of themselves,

blood.

Self Loathing Is Useless
(a 3-D poem)

Looking down upon the earth from silver winged flight
at the sweet young women I decide to stay in
air. For I cannot begin to love myself. They
won't appreciate me feel my pain, won't hurt me.

On a Pedestal

We sat together in
back of the class
and we both had
our pens, our eyes
and our arts
on the
same
one.

short sandy blonde hair,
a pretty smiling face,
shiny blue bell bottoms
made from some sort of plastic,
her pink coat over the red plastic chair,
and heavy dark blue sweater hanging
loosely from her shoulders

You sketched her in your notepad.
Ink on paper,
lines that defined her form and her
draping pink coat. A big pocket
like a pink kangaroo skin
and some big, blue buttons visible.

And you focused on her back. That is
what you could see.

I wrote a few notes down about her, and
you, and us and now I sit and transcribe
them into lines of poetry.
Ink on paper,
it creates words and ideas and emotions
and images that capture that moment and
all of us in it.

The only difference is that I can show that the coat was
pink.
Even with black
ink.

A Romantic Stalking

The sidewalks are oddly
marbleized today.
And our foot prints (well,
not really our footprints; no
one goes bare foot any more,
especially in the winter)
from yesterday are recorded
on the concrete in the same
thin, white color as the lines.

And I see yours and mine
and hers and his and all of
theirs (I know they always
travel in a pack). Which is odd, too,
because I sat there, on that
bench all day waiting for
you to pass and maybe I
would say, "Hello."

I knew you wouldn't.

So, you avoided me again, yesterday.
Or maybe fate did it. And
here I sit today, a different bench,
but close, and I stare at one of your
salty footprints interlaced with one of mine,
a white weaving on the walk,
as you pass by.

The Rape of Venice

Like a snow capped peak, it approached.
Reluctantly, the black sharp keel, a knife,
Gliding toward the brick and mortar
Connection between two worlds.

The bulk of the ship being thrust between
The narrow, unpeopled canal topples building,
Bricks and narrow balconies slip into the watery way
Filling in the gap from both sides like zipper teeth closing.

Grunting and straining; spewing forth
Sweet black smoke. Willing reverse,
Ebbing forward. Drawn deeper and deeper downtown;
Causing pain and scars every inch of the way.

The keel grinds against the man-made bridge.
Chunks of rock and cement drop into the water;
The bridge collapses into the canal.
A sigh of passions destroying creations.

Forward progress now is checked; destruction
Done, the force pulling it onward is gone.
Broken paving stones lie in the middle of the canal.
The ship is lodged in the bread basket of the city.

Meat Market

"I want your penis.
No, I really want your penis."

This might be your colloquial
reference to intercourse
but I can't get the picture
of a penis, in a jar, on your
shelf out of my mind.
Peter Piper picked
a peck of pickled peckers?

He doesn't say anything
that I can hear but maybe
he whispers, "I want
your cunt."

On the TV there was
a porn star, who had her
labia trimmed; the little
pieces of flesh were encased
in clear acrylic like worms
in amber. She was
selling it for $100,000/obo.
"Check QVC for a
better bargain."

I think he'll give you what
you want for free,
happily;
consider yourself lucky.

Waiting for the End

Time stutters if you
walk with your fingers in its
nose, pulling it with.
Time sputters if you
sit in front of it tapping
on its head and nose.
Time snickers if you
tickle it with feathers and
beg it to move on.
Time stiffens if you
pull its ears till they are red
and no longer hears.
Time swaggers if you
hold it close as you live and
never let it go.
Time struggles if you
turn away from it to
live in the now.

The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower: An Explication

The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower 1
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever. 5

The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks. 10

The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How of my clay is made the hangman’s lime. 15

The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars. 20

And I am dumb to tell the lover’s tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm. 22

1933- Dylan Thomas

"The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" is a poem about the cycle of life. Creation naturally flows into destruction and back to creation again. Everything that is alive must eventually die and something will be born to take its place. This poem is made up of four five-line stanzas with a rhyme scheme of ababa. The meter for this poem is iambic decasyllabic. The construction of the poem is easy to understand but some of the imagery is far more difficult to interpret. "[Thomas's] early poems deploy a strange fusion of archetypal Christian symbolism with biological or bodily and sometimes industrial imagery" (Christie). These combinations of imagery make the poetry open to many interpretations. That fact will be acknowledged many times in this explication.

Line one introduces us to the focus of the poem. "The force" is explained no further than by detailing what it does. And in this line the force is presented in its role as creator. It "drives" the flower; or, it makes the flower grow and bloom. Also contained within this first line is the first instance of another very important element of the poem; unusual or unlikely word combinations are abundant in this poem (and many of Thomas's works). The "green fuse" is just the first; it is made up of "green" that usually symbolizes life, spring and renewal as well as "fuse," which is a timing device for a bomb, an item of mass destruction. The "green fuse" most likely refers to the stem of the flower.

Line two of this poem also contains an interesting word pairing. "Green age": green with its connotations described above and age with its implied meaning of being old. If Thomas had used years instead of age this word mismatch would not exist. These word mismatchings are part of Thomas’s unique and sometimes confusing imagery. This line also introduces the destructive nature of "the force." Not only does the force drive the flower and the poet but it also "blasts the roots of trees." Here is the first instance of the underlying circle of life theme in this poem. Here "the force" that caused he flowers to bloom in line one now kills the trees; this completes the cycle of life and death.

Because line three breaks away from the decasyllabic structure of the other lines it has special emphasis. Each stanza’s third line displays this characteristic. Line three is used to tie the poet’s fate to that of the tree. The speaker will die just like the tree. This is another instance of the circle of life theme.

Every stanza contains some variation of line four. "And I am dumb to" opens every fourth line in each of the five line stanzas as well as the first line of the couplet. "Dumb" could be interpreted two ways; it could mean unable to speak (for physical or emotional reasons) or it could mean that the speaker was lacking in intelligence to explain what he feels. Crooked rose is another interesting combination of words. A rose, a thing of beauty, is described as crooked. This description seems to destroy the beauty of the rose. One of the possible interpretations of this is that a "crooked rose" is one that is fully in bloom. Fully opened roses tend to bend just below the flower from the weight of the full bloom. This could also be a reference to rose bushes, which are far more scraggly and bent than long-stemmed roses; they also have many more thorns.

The final line of the first stanza is the poets attempt to tell the crooked rose what the poet felt unable to tell in the fourth line. Here the unlikely pairing of "wintry" and "fever" could be interpreted many ways. A broad reading would be that "wintry fever" is a reference to the force. Since both "the force" and "wintry fever" seem to be alluding to the control of nature/time this seems to be the most fitting explanation. Because the speaker "is bent by the same wintry fever" it is as if he is saying that he has fully bloomed; his flower is fully opened. The sexual implication here is that the speaker is now ready to develop a relationship to produce offspring like the fully opened flower.

The second stanza follows the same pattern as the first. But now "the focus changes from the relationship between man and the biological world to man and the geological world" (Gale). This is evident in the imagery used. Stanza one has "the flower," "the roots of trees," and " the crooked rose" while the second stanza has "the rocks," "the mouthing stream," and "the mountain spring." The sixth and seventh lines once again demonstrate the creative and destructive nature of the force. Here the force is driving water through a rock; this image is a very strong Old Testament reference to Moses drawing water from a rock in the desert. The drying of the mouthing stream is the destructive element of this stanza. The "mouthing" stream is not easily interpreted. The probable meaning is one obtained by using "mouthing" as a gerund. If that is done, there is a babbling brook image. Leon Malinofsky has another interpretation of these lines in his paraphrasing of "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower." He interprets the lines as, "The same divine force, that erodes the rocks away/Is in me and in my blood; that force that dries the generative streams/Dries my blood, ages me." Malinofsky sees the "mouthing streams" as the "generative" or creative energy.

"Turns mine to wax" in the eighth line is emphasized because of its lack of the decasyllabic format. Here again the poet is saying that he will suffer the same fate as nature. The "mine" is most likely the poet’s blood and it being turned to wax is implying the embalmer’s handiwork.
Lines nine and ten follow the same pattern set in the first stanza. The poet is unable for emotional reasons to tell his veins that he gets his life from the same place as nature. "Mouth in [line 10] takes on an almost vampirish quality, as it sucks life away, the water from the stream, the blood from the speaker’s veins" (Gale). The speaker could also be talking about himself sucking the water from the mountain spring. "Yet I cannot convince myself viscerally that this is so./That my reason and energy are those of nature, on the mountain spring" (Malinofsky). One picture that could be taken form this line is one of a man suckling from the breast of mother earth or from the highly religious symbol of the rock that Moses struck.

While the first three lines of the third stanza follow the same pattern as the first two stanzas’ the remaining two lines of this stanza stray from the established pattern. The rhyme scheme also shifts to ababc. In line 11 it is no longer an arbitrary force that is causing the action it is now embodied in "the hand that whirls the pool." This use of hand seems to indicate the hand of God as it is used in many Bible passages. This could also be a reference to the angle who stirs the water of the pool of Bethesda to make it curative in John 5:1-4 (Abrams 2279). This religious reference fits with the type of imagery Thomas employed and was probably his intent.

If lines 12 and 13 were strictly following the pattern established in the earlier stanzas, they would showcase the destructive nature of the hand. And, if "hauls my shroud sail" is seen in a destructive way--symbolizing the death of the speaker--then this stanza does follow the creation-destruction pattern. Another way to interpret "hauls my shroud sail" is as a reference to death. Another way to see this line is to remember the wonder felt when a strong gust of wind hits you and makes your clothes flutter and fly around you. This is a possible interpretation because so much of the is stanza breaks the pattern it is likely that the non-decasyllabic line will not be the destructive force affecting the speaker like the pattern set in the other stanzas.
Lines 14 and 15 stray drastically from the established pattern. The hanging man is brought in and there was no previous reference to a hanging man earlier in the stanza. The significance of the lime being made from the speaker’s clay is unclear. The lime pit is where the bodies from a hanging execution were disposed but there is no immediate relationship to the themes of the poem. It is even unclear whether the "hanging man" is the executioner, the executed or both.

The fourth stanza also strays dramatically from the pattern set in the first two stanzas. No longer happy to talk about the effects of time or "the force" the speaker now talks about time itself. Line 16 presents a grotesque image of time as a leech. But "leech is an archaic term for doctors, and a loss of blood may be beneficial" (Maud 175). This use of "leech" is another example of Thomas’s imagery. "Much of this stanza is more easily felt than defined" (Gale). The imagery becomes so unclear that interpretation becomes difficult if not impossible.

In lines 17 and 18 it is very difficult to find one interpretation. It is unclear who the "her" is. It is also unclear as to whether the blood is from birth, death or a sexual encounter. The ambiguities of these images make it difficult to pin down a meaning. Lines 19 and 20 are very similar in their use of non-specific images and multiple interpretations. The images are so open to interpretation that to address all the possibilities would take time and space beyond the bounds of this paper. One possible interpretation is that these lines are another reference to the circle of life. Time has "ticked" or measured/counted a heaven, a permanent fixture, around he stars that will eventually die and are born.

The closing couplet is intended to complete the cycle of creation and destruction. The speaker is unable to tell "the lover’s tomb" in this couplet. The lover’s tomb could be an allusion to the final scene of Romeo and Juliet. It could also be a reference to Thomas's lover’s tomb (although there is no historical support for this). The sheet is either a death shroud or a sail on a ship. The crooked worm could be the worm that is supposed to eat a corpse or it could be a phallic symbol. Either way it fits into the cycle of life, death and birth.

"The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower" is a wonderful poem. Although some of the intended meaning of the imagery is lost because of the intensely personal nature of the writing, it actually makes the poem appeal to a wider audience who can interpret the personal images personally. "Thomas fully intended his images to be understood. Unfortunately for the reader, the intensely personal nature of many of his metaphors makes this difficult" (Gale). I don't know if it is that unfortunate. For instance, if there was a definite interpretation that said line 13 ("Hauls my shroud sail") represented death, this poem would be a lot less hopeful.

Works Cited

Abrams, M.H., et al, Eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2. 6th
ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993.

Christie, William. "Dylan Thomas, Poet." 30 Oct. 1998. www.pcug.org.au/~wwhatman/dtpoet.html, 19 April 1999.

Gale Research, 1997; Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition: Merriam-
Webster Inc. 1994 http://www.galenet.com (13 Apr. 1998).

Malinofsky, Leon. "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower:
Paraphrased." 15 Oct. 1995. www.crocker.com/~lwm/theforce.html, 18 April 1999.

Maud, Ralph. Entrances to Dylan Thomas’s Poetry. University of Pittsburgh Press:
1963.

Thomas Dylan. "The Force that Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower." The Norton
Anthology of English Literature: Volume 2. 6th ed. Eds. Abrams, M.H., et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1993. 2279-2280.

Surviving in the Kitchen: Food Images and Chinese Culture in The Joy Luck Club

For the record, I don’t write to dig a hole and fill it with symbols. I don’t write stories as ethnic themes. I don’t write to represent life in general. And I certainly don’t write because I have answers. If I knew everything there is to know about mothers and daughters, Chinese and Americans, I wouldn’t have any stories left to imagine. If I had to write about only positive role models, I wouldn’t have enough imagination left to finish the first story.
--Amy Tan, from "In the Canon, For All the Wrong Reasons"

About a year ago I took a survey class in multicultural literature. The class covered various ethnic-American authors such as Bernard Malamud (Jewish-American), Toni Morrison (African-American), and Amy Tan (Chinese-American). I noticed in many of these works an importance placed on food that isn’t present very often in non-ethnic American literature. This notion was reinforced by a sociology class I was taking. As part of this class we took a trip to various ethnic communities in Chicago. It was stressed that we should sample some of the food in the various neighborhoods to get a better sense for the culture. The question I had is why isn’t "American" food in a place of prominence in "American" literature.

It is difficult to categorize how the food items actually function in these stories (other than creating an "ethnic" atmosphere). So, the fact that Amy Tan has many clear instances that demonstrate the importance of food in her stories made The Joy Luck Club a logical novel for the study of this topic. There were many was of approaching this topic but I found that cultural feminism provides some clear explanations of and contradictions to Tan’s world. Josephine Donovan explains that "instead of focusing on political change, feminists holding these ideas look for a broader cultural transformation ... they also stress the role of the non-rational, the intuitive and often the collective side of life" (31). For this paper these ideas will define "cultural feminism" the true range of cultural feminism is not necessarily represented in this definition but it provides a functional definition to use while examining the way Chinese and American culture interact in The Joy Luck Club. Donovan’s writing on culture also serves as a good resource on cultural feminism because it summarizes many of the main contributors to that field.

Another major reason I selected Tan’s The Joy Luck Club to focus on is that it represents eastern philosophy. I’m very interested in this type of life-philosophy. The research I’ve done for this paper has helped me to understand the traditions of Confucianism and Taoism a little better. There is also an part of the Chinese culture that is strongly influenced by the need to survive (Xu 5). These eastern philosophies also helps to answer some of questions created when various aspects of cultural feminism are applied to Tan’s writing. This topic is, ultimately, a very large. So limiting the discussion to food and food imagery puts a limit on it. Food items and food imagery function in important ways in The Joy Luck Club. First, the repeated inclusion of food and language related to food act as an indication of the heightened importance of food in the story due to the importance of survival in Chinese culture. Secondly, the preparation of food, done mainly by the women, is accepted as part of the woman’s role in Chinese culture; it is even demanded by Confucian tradition. And once these women get to America they are still responsible for the preparation of the food; the cultural context remains constant for the mothers but their daughters, presented with situations that would be approved of by cultural feminists are unable to draw power from their role in the kitchen because their role fails to fulfill their role as prescribed by traditional Chinese beliefs.

It might aid understanding to begin with an overview of the book. The book is set up as a series of short stories narrated by the mothers and daughters of four Chinese-American families: the Woo’s, the Hsu’s, the Jong’s and the St. Clair’s. The mothers are Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair. And their respective daughters are Jing-mei "June" Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong and Lena St. Clair. The book is also divided into four sections and there are four stories in each section. Each section is also introduced by a page length story. Two stories by each mother, and two stories by each daughter except for Jing-mei; she narrates four stories all together because her mother has recently died. Much of the criticism about The Joy Luck Club focuses on the relationship between the mothers and daughters who are story tellers. But there are also the grandmothers in the book. They are probably over looked because they do not have a voice of their own. Their stories are taken as less significant because their daughters are narrating them. But even if the daughters are distorting these stories they are still valuable as representations of cultural beliefs as a form of folklore. And many times they demonstrate the important role that food played in the lives of Chinese women during WWII.
Suyuan Woo started the original Joy Luck Club in China during the war. Suyuan included three other women and their families in her club. They took turns hosting the meetings each week. And the hostess would provide a banquet. But since the city was in such a poor state the people in this club were looked down upon:

People thought we were wrong to serve banquets every week while many people in the city were starving, eating rats and, later, the garbage the poorest rats used to feed on. Others thought we were possessed by demons -- to celebrate when even within our own families we had lost generations (Tan 11)

But her mother explained away these criticisms by saying that they did see the pain and they could sit and be sad or they could "choose our own happiness" (Tan 12). And an important part of their "happiness" was a full stomach. They feasted on, not the best quality food, but the best food in the city (10). Having food meant survival. In time dominated by the fears of war and the famine of war not wanting for food was one less worry. "The disposition for many first generation Chinese immigrants in America to see life as a constant test of survival, to the extent that it almost becomes ethnic symbolism, is a complex mentality. It is deeply rooted in China’s past of hardship and numerous famines and wars" (Xu 5). And when Suyuan forms a new Joy Luck Club in America the feast as a sign of good fortune/survival is just as important as it was in China.

By looking at the preparation for the meal that is part of the first story it is possible to see just how much feasting goes on at the meetings of the Joy Luck Club. An-mei is making wontons, a dumpling stuffed with various ingredients; she already has enough for each person to eat ten but she makes more so that each person could eat 20 (Tan 18). That is a large amount of food and it is only one dish served at the meal. And Jing-mei’s (who is at the meeting to fill her mother’s spot) description of the meal supports this idea. "Eating is not a gracious event here. It’s as though everybody had been starving" (Tan 20). Even though they have little fear over not being able to obtain food for survival they act as though they do.

An-mei informs Jing-mei that the women no longer play mah jong for money; they now invest in the stock market and the winner at mah jong gets a few dollars while the loser gets to take home the left over food (Tan 18) "The change in the mah jong game may appear insignificant. But it reflects the Club Aunties’s view of the loser as a victim who fails to survive" (Xu 7). So, it is clear that the tradition of the Joy Luck Club is intertwined with the survival mentality. Another example of this survival mentality comes in the "Best Quality" story narrated by Jing-mei. In this story Jing-mei describes a Chinese New Year meal that her mother prepares. As they are buying the crabs one of them loses a leg and her mother tries to put it back but the store keeper makes her take it (225). This crab is seen as worst quality, least likely to survive. When the platter of crabs is passed around the table every one in turn picks the best quality crab on the platter until it gets to Jing-mei (227). She tries to give her mother the better crab; her mother later says: "Only you pick that crab. Nobody else take it. I already know this. Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different" (234). Jing-mei think that this is another one of her mother’s sayings "that sounded both good and bad at the same time" (234). It was good of Jing-mei to try to take the bad crab because she doesn’t really like crab and she also would have been making a sacrifice for her mother. Everyone else took the best quality crab available so that they could, in some small way, help to ensure their survival. So, the tradition of survival is a solid part of the text. But where does the tradition that follows the mah jong feast come from?

When the people at the meeting are done eating the men quickly get up and leave the room. "The women peck at last morsels and then carry plates and bowls to the kitchen and dump them in the sink. The women take turns washing their hands, scrubbing vigorously" (Tan 21). Jing-mei even goes on to ask: "Who started this ritual?" Throughout the novel we see the mothers being ultimately responsible for the domestic life of their respective house hold. In the Western tradition a woman’s life is defined by long standing Biblical beliefs. Donovan, in her chapter on cultural feminism, uses Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s The Woman’s Bible as a source for this argument. The truly restricting idea that man was made before woman and that woman was made to serve man comes from The Bible (Donovan 37). Therefore, the Bible prescribes the home as women’s sphere. But the homes of the mothers are not dominated by Biblical theory or Christianity. These women are relegated to the kitchen by the philosophies of Chinese Culture.

The two dominant philosophies in China are Confucianism and Taoism. "Confucianism is intrinsically patriarchal and hierarchical" (Tavernise). And the teachings of Confucius are not without similarities to Western culture. In this tradition one receives virtue (Te) from heaven and then that Te is displayed in ritual or Li (Tavernise). This is very similar to the notion in Christianity that righteous people will act righteously. But ritual is not seen the way we see it. Ritual can be as something as simple as the way one prepares a soup or the spices included in a dish. Taoism presents a different idea that is also related to Western tradition. Tao, the One produced the Two (Yin and Yang), which produced the Three (heaven, earth and humans), which produced the Five (elements, directions). "The Yin and Yang are the symbol of the interaction and conjoining of polar opposites, the positive and negative, the male and female" (Tavernise). As in the Western view of the world, a sense of a duality to the world is very important in the form of Yin and Yang. This basic similarity to Western ideas aids us in understanding the Chinese culture. But we are not completely comprehend. However, the language of the Taoist part of Chinese philosophy is clearly more feminine; the Two, Three, and Five are produced by their numeric predecessor, it is not a system of rules that came from (a) man. And the underlying belief is more feminine as well. People more in line with Taoism believe that they can only be themselves; "Taoism stresses passivity, the water elements, strength of the feminine or yielding qualities" (Tavernise). It isn’t a perfect analogy but Confucianism could be viewed as similar to the Old Testament religions, while Taoism is similar to the New Testament religions. Even though both emerged about 500 BCE (Tavernise).

It would be easy to attack this system as sexist, anti-feminine, and anti-woman. And indeed it probably is. But there are many instances in this novel where this very system gives the women power. "The mothers inherited from their families a centuries-old spiritual framework, which, combined with rigid social constraints regarding class and gender, made the world into an ordered place for them" (Hamilton 125). And this power and order comes out of the kitchen; doing something pleasing in the domestic realm helps these women mentally survive. In Lindo Jong’s narrative in the first section of the book we find out about how she was married away from her family in China. In her "new" family she takes on the role of maid and cook.

After a while I didn’t think it was a terrible life, no, not really. After a while, I hurt so much I didn’t feel any difference. What was happier than seeing everybody gobble down the shiny mushrooms and bamboo shoots I had helped to prepare that day ... It’s like those ladies you see on American TV these days, the ones who are so happy they have washed out a stain so the clothes look better than new. (Tan 51)

Lindo goes on to liberate herself from the marriage by using her knowledge of the Confucian system to prove that the marriage was invalid. And the reference to "American TV" will become important when we look at the lives of the daughters. But there is another example of woman’s power flowing from the kitchen in An-mei’s story.

An-mei’s mother has lost face so she is raised by her grandmother, Popo. This "loss of face" is very significant in Confucianism. "Loss of face, in Confucian terms, means a loss of social standing. Since one’s social standing defines the self in the Confucian context, the mother is, for all intents and purposes, ‘dead’ to her family" (Tavernise). An-mei’s mother failed to correctly follow the traditions of honor when her husband died, she became a rich man’s concubine; this is why she has lost social standing. But she comes back when Popo is on her death bed. And she has come back to make a special soup, that only a mother can make for a daughter:

And then my mother cut a piece of meat from her arm. Tears poured from her face and blood spilled to the floor.
My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time. (Tan 41).

This soup is part of the Taoist tradition and it represents a high level of filial respect (Tavernise). And it also directly relates to an earlier part of this narrative in which the commotion over An-mei’s mother’s presence causes a pot of soup to be knocked over and it causes sever burns to An-mei. Mother and daughter are connected by scars caused by soup. And An-mei’s mother finds a way to give her daughter what she couldn’t have; social standing.
And again it is the woman’s knowledge of the system and her ability to manipulate it that brings about these good things.

Three days before the lunar new year, she had eaten ywansyau, the sticky sweet dumpling that everybody eats to celebrate. She ate one after the other. And I remember her strange remark. ‘You see how this life is. You cannot eat enough of this bitterness.’ And what she had done was eat ywansyau filled with a kind of bitter poison, not candied seeds or the dull happiness of opium (Tan 271)

She died; she committed suicide. But she did so to give her daughter a better life. Her mother couldn’t make her life any better but she could make sure her daughter survived. It is a Chinese belief that the soul of the dead person comes back three days after death. In An-mei’s mother’s case this would be the lunar new year, a day on which "all debts must be paid, or disaster and misfortune will follow" (Tan 271). The man that had taken her as a concubine swore to raise An-mei and her brother as his "honored children" and to "revere her as if she had been First Wife, his only wife" because he was afraid of her spirit (Tan 271). So, the mothers and grandmothers were able to find the strength to survive and/or to help their children survive by using the Taoist/Confucian system. But the American born daughters live outside this system.

The most significant aspect of this cultural difference is the conflicts that occur between the mothers and daughters. "Incomplete cultural knowledge impedes understanding on both sides, but it particularly inhibits the daughters from appreciating the delicate negotiations their mothers have performed to sustain their identities across two cultures" (Hamilton 125). But there is really an air of uncertainty around the rest of the daughters’ lives. And once again this important element shows up in the kitchen.

Lena St. Clair is in a marriage that for all outward appearances is perfectly balanced. They divide the costs of living and they even keep a weekly accounting of the things they purchase as individuals that they "share." There is also a scene in which they "work as a team" to prepare a meal.

he starts the charcoal. I unload the groceries, marinate the steaks, cook the rice and set the table ... [they eat and converse] And then he clears the table and starts taking the plates in the dishwasher. (Tan 177)

This scene plays out very nicely. It seems that they work in perfect harmony in their kitchen as well as in their lives. But looking at the scene again it is scene that all Lena has really done is cook the rice and set the table. And we learned earlier that they wouldn’t have even had the rice if Lena’s mother wasn’t there (Tan174). Lena is effectively kicked out of the kitchen. She has no role in the preparation of the meal except the preparation of the cultural token, rice. This creates tension in her. She later confronts her husband over her unhappiness but she cannot come out and say what she is feeling because she doesn’t know (Tan 179). And when she thinks about it she puts her thumb on the problem. "Maybe Harold is a bad man. Maybe I’ve made him this way" (Tan 180). "Bad" is not evil. It is merely not living up to one’s role. By letting him take over what should be her role in the kitchen according to Confucianism (or even Christianity) Lena has let things get out of balance and it is doubtful that her marriage will survive.

This is in immediate opposition to what some cultural feminists support. One example is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s view of marriage. She equates marriage with prostitution. Because "in both cases the female gets her food from the male by virtue of their sex relationship to him" (Donovan 45). In this relationship Lena and her husband, Harold, share the costs and responsibilities of the home equally. So they do not have a traditional marriage, which is what Gilman’s comments are about. Gilman goes on to say that "in the home is neither freedom nor equality. There is ownership throughout; the dominant father, the ... subservient mother, the utterly dependent child" (Donovan 49). In fact, Lena and Harold’s marriage would seem an ideal arrangement in Gilman’s view. The woman is not owned by the man because she has her own job and supports herself; she pays her own way. But the relationship still doesn’t work. That is because in this relationship (as with most of them in this book) the deciding factor for survival is adherence to traditional Chinese beliefs.

And their is one person in this text who seems to grow throughout. And she grows as she learns to accept the truth in what her mother said and did that she had formerly brushed away as mumbo jumbo. Of course this is Jing-mei. Her story ends with her traveling to China to meet her sisters. But she begins to connect with her mother before that, while cooking in her kitchen.
My father hasn’t eaten well since my mother died. So I am here, in the kitchen, to cook him dinner. I’m slicing tofu. I’ve decided to make him a spicy bean-curd dish. My mother used to tell me how hot things restore the spirit and health. (Tan 235)

By preparing food for her father that uses her mother’s magic (the belief that spicy dishes restore the spirit) she is accepting the things that her mother tried to teach her. "Once she finds herself performing the same kitchen-rituals that her mother did, Jing-mei begins to understand and honor her" (Tavernise). But she is also living up to her obligation as a daughter. According to Tavernise, the woman’s duty according to the Confucian system was to raise sons, care for the aged, and maintain the family burial ground. Here she is caring for her aged father. And she is also learning to survive by using what her mother taught her.

There are many more examples of how Chinese culture and cultural feminism interact in The Joy Luck Club simply within the context of food. But the examination of the instances presented clearly show how important Confucian and Taoist beliefs are to the lives of the women in this novel. The mothers came to America because that was the only way to survive. And with them they brought their beliefs and practices. But the American culture lures their daughters away from these beliefs. And it isn’t until they reconcile their role in the Confucian system, and in the kitchen, that they will find peace and power.

Bibliography
Brown, Gillian. Domestic Individualism. Berkeley: University of California P, 1990.
Cott, Nancy F. The Bonds of Womanhood. New Haven: Yale University P, 1977.
Donovan, Josephine. Feminist Theory. New York: Continuum, 1985.
Hamilton, Patricia L. "Feng Shui, Astrology, and the Five Elements: Traditional Chinese Belief in
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club." MELUS. 24.2: 125-145.
Shear, Walter. "Generational Differences and the Diaspora in The Joy Luck Club." Critique. 34.3: 193-199.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ivy Books, 1989.
_____ "In the Canon, For All the Wrong Reasons." Harper’s Magazine. 293.1759: 27-30.
Tavernise, Peter. "Fasting of the Heart: Mother-Tradition and Sacred Systems in Amy Tan’s
The Joy Luck Club." 12 Feb. 1992. (28 Nov. 2000).
Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction 1790-1860. New York: Oxford University P, 1985.
Xu, Ben. "Memory and the Ethnic Self: Reading Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club." MELUS. 19.1 (1994): 3-18.

Teaching Shakespeare

High school English teachers must teach many demanding texts. For most teachers the most difficult texts to teach are those of William Shakespeare. Most English teachers truly love the world of Shakespeare and the language used in it. But it is not an easy world to enter. It is even more difficult to help another person enter this world. English teachers must develop ways of showing meaning and methods of encouraging understanding. Following is a summary and synthesis of three articles, written by or about English teachers in the trenches, that deal with some of the problems encountered when teaching Shakespeare.

John S. O’Connor wrote an article titled "Playing with Subtext: Using Groucho to Teach Shakespeare." "Using Groucho Marx to explore Shakespeare’s plays may seem iconoclastic" (O’Connor 100). Indeed it is a little bit of a stretch to place Groucho Marx next to Shakespeare but then remember the line from Mr. Holland’s Opus where Mr. Holland says that he will use any thing from rock and roll to Beethoven to get through to his students. What O’Connor did in his class was to present a scene from a Groucho Marx movie in which the subtext is very obvious. He then related the element of subtext present in the movie to the subtext present in Shakespeare. When practicing the extraction of context O’Connor gives his students four points to consider: one, the social context of the scene; two, the goal of the character; three, the desires of the character; and four, the obstacles that are keeping the character from those goals and desires. Once the students have considered these questions about a scene he has volunteers act out the scene. The students insert asides that reflect the subtext, and after getting a couple different sub-textual readings, he has the students act out the scene without the asides to encourage the students to think like actors. He finds that this approach makes the students able to extract subtext while reading and it also makes the students more aware of the sub-textual elements of a performance. Problems, however, do arise when students develop an understanding of subtext. The biggest problem is that much of the subtext in Shakespeare’s plays would be deemed "inappropriate."

According to Vicky Greenbaum appropriateness is just a myth. Her article, "Censorship and the Myth of Appropriateness: Reflections on Teaching Reading in High School," attempts to quell the concerns of English teachers over appropriateness. Greenbaum cites a study by David Perkins which questions the Piaget theory that there are levels of appropriateness that develop at their own pace. This study proved that by implementing various teaching methods a child could be moved through the stages faster. Greenbaum’s stand is that it is the duty of English teachers to present difficult texts even though it may bring up questionable topics; moreover, she says that any text read with a trained eye will find such topics. Greenbaum also supports the teaching of critical thinking skills as opposed to simply enforcing reading comprehension skills. Teachers must connect what is being read with the outside world but also allow the student to decide how much of the text to actually take in; if a text is too painful for a student, the student can pull back from the text by exploring all the different readings of a text. These concerns might be true of the reader with normal reading skills who reads Shakespeare but what about the student who struggles with less than normal reading skills.

Kathryn King Johnson, in "Teaching Shakespeare to Learning Disabled Students," describes a year long class taught to learning disabled students that focused on not only reading Shakespeare but performing it as well. The makeup of the class was entirely learning disabled students. To help the students learn the lines a special approach was used to help each individual student. The visual learners were given various visual aids, the auditory learners were given audio tapes of the lines to listen to, kinesthetic learners practiced lines in association with the movements of the play so the movements and words became linked and mnemonics were taught to all students. The real challenge came in having the words create meaning for the students. To help students determine the meaning of words, etymologies, Latin roots, and prefixes and suffixes were taught to the students. A dyslexic student in the class was able to improve her reading scores by four grade levels. The real basis for learning and teaching was collaborative efforts and experiential elements. Students were involved in what ever aspect of the production that they wished. The roles they chose were based on their strengths. The students were also working toward the practical goal of performing the play. But what is the relationship of these three articles.

The most obvious relationship is that they all relate to the teaching of William Shakespeare. O’Connor's article deals with helping students read for sub-textual dialog, Greenbaum’s article deals with the "Myth of Appropriateness," and Johnson’s article is about teaching Shakespeare to learning disabled students. There is really no agreement or disagreement between the articles but there is a building up of ideas if they are read in the order presented (even though this is out of chronological order). By reading the articles in this order, there is first a question of how to teach subtext. O’Connor gives a solution to that problem and then Greenbaum questions the appropriateness of Shakespearean subtext and then refutes appropriateness as a myth. Finally, Johnson asks a more practical question of how to teach Shakespeare to learning disabled students and then presents one teacher’s solution to the problem. How will all this affect my teaching?

The most important article for answering my practical questions was O’Connor’s article about how to teach subtext. I think that it is a very good idea to present a simplified version of a concept before addressing the concept in a more difficult incarnation. This method can be used to help students understand many concepts. What was even more impressive about this technique was that it got the students physically and mentally involved. Asking the students to consider the four points (the social context of the scene, the goal of the character, the desires of the character, and the obstacles that are keeping the character from those goals and desires) would break the problem down into pieces the students could manage and consider. I can easily see using those four points while teaching Shakespeare.

Greenbaum’s article touched on a topic of much concern for me. I’m certain one of my categories in my portfolio will be on this topic. That is the idea of censorship. It has long been my belief that censorship is not only stifling ideas but growth. This article seems to support my long held belief. I also plan on advising the school newspaper or teaching a newspaper class where ever I wind up teaching and censorship must be addressed when teaching newspaper. But more importantly it must be decided how much censorship will be done. I do not believe that I could work with a student newspaper that was subject to unreasonable censorship. Of course there are some restrictions on what a student can write and publish (libel laws) but I don’t know how I would deal with an administrator who told my students that they couldn’t do a story on teen pregnancy (for example). I read a story last year that told about a teacher who was removed from her post as newspaper advisor because she allowed just such a story to run in her paper. Her position was that she was letting the students decide what they wanted to include in the paper while giving them guidance on the consequences of their actions. This is a difficult issue that I have not entirely figured out yet.

The final article does not really address a situation that I am likely to face. I’m certain that I will have students with learning disabilities but I do not think that I will ever be in a position to teach an entire class of learning disabled students. But something important to glean from this article is the practice of teaching to a student’s strength while still challenging the students. One criticism I have of this article is that the fact that there was a large number of outside professionals brought in to assist was played down. There are very few teachers who would be able to pull together the amount of assistance that the teacher presented was able to pull together. I guess that this is a vote for the importance of "networking."

While doing this assignment I was at first astonished by the lack of materials in our library. I printed off six abstracts that indicated an article of use to me. I expected to find four or five and have to exclude material. But instead our library only had three of the articles I was looking for (all of which came from English Journal which is published by the National Council for the Teaching of English). But the articles I found were useful and informative. The teaching of Shakespeare is a very real concern of mine. After observing a teacher with an acting background tackle the subject with such ease I feel that it will be difficult for me to get the reaction he did. This assignment helped me to calm some of those fears. As O’Connor said in his article, "Equally important when studying a play, we had fun" (100). I need to remember that when teaching any piece of literature.

Bibliography

[The bold items are the articles used in this paper.]

Batho, Rob. "Shakespeare in Secondary Schools." Educational Review 50 (1998): 163-72.

Gibson, Rex. "Owning Shakespeare: Teaching His Plays by Performance." International Schools Journal 18.1 (1998): 9-21.

Greenbaum, Vicky. "Censorship and the Myth of Appropriateness: Reflections on Teaching Reading in High School." English Journal 86.2 (1997): 16-20.

Johnson, Kathryn King. "Teaching Shakespeare to Learning Disabled Students." English Journal 87.3 (1998): 45-49.

Newlin, Louisa Foulke. "Nice Guys Finish Dead. Teaching ‘Henry IV, Part I.’" English Journal 17.3 (1996): 22-25.

O’Connor, John S. "Playing with Subtext: Using Groucho to Teach Shakespeare." English Journal 88.1 (1998): 97-100.

"Bartleby, the Scrivener" and ADHD

It may seem odd and even illogical to place Bartleby alongside of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). And really it is a little problematic. Bartleby, if he suffered from anything, it would be more like catatonic schizophrenia or some other mental illness that equates with idleness. And ADHD denotes a person who is impatient and unwilling to sit still. What allows Bartleby to be included in a discussion of ADHD is not the way he acted but the way he was treated because of his actions. Bartleby refused to fit in and so he was sent to an asylum. Kids with ADHD "refuse" to fit in and they are drugged into submission.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health ADHD "can mar the person's relationships with others in addition to disrupting their daily life, consuming energy, and diminishing self-esteem" (Neuwirth). These things are certainly true but what really causes the child to develop a low self-esteem? Isn’t the true source of the child’s low self-esteem from his/her inability to fit into a system that doesn’t work for them? The reality of this situation is that children who have ADHD are put on drugs so they can change to fit into the system. Why can’t the system change to fit them? This brings me to a way of understanding Bartleby that says something to me, the future teacher.

In "Bartleby, the Scrivener," I view the narrator as the teacher and the scriveners as students. This arrangement is enforced by what is done in the office, and it is enforced by the relationship between the characters. The narrator is in charge of the office and yet he seems to have to put up with certain idiosyncrasies in his employees. This is just like a teacher; a teacher will find certain characteristics within the students that are annoying and undesirable. The narrator is able to accept the character flaws of his two older scriveners. But when Bartleby responds to every request with an "I’d prefer not to" the narrator doesn’t know what to do. This is like the teacher who can accept one student’s problem but not another student’s problem. It is interesting to note how the narrator addresses Bartleby upon Bartleby’s "refusal."

The narrator asks, "Why do you refuse?" and Bartleby’s reply is the standard "I would prefer not to" (Melville 2336). The narrator uses the word "refuse" but Bartleby never refuses to do the work. He simply says that he "would prefer not to." He never says "I can’t," "I won’t," "I don’t know how," "I don’t have to," or "I refuse to." His "I prefer not to" can mean so many of these or all of these at the same time. But students in the class room would be more likely to give one of the more specific responses listed above. This, however, doesn’t mean that the student is actually saying what he or she means either. A student with ADHD could say any one of those excuses when the real reason is that they have a condition that won’t allow them to fit in. So, can the system change?

In the story the system actually does change to accommodate Bartleby. The duties and assignments of a scrivener are established by all those present in the office (Melville 2336). And the duties that Bartleby "prefers" not to do are on that list. But exceptions are made that allow Bartleby to be excluded from these established duties (Melville 2340). These exclusions do two things: Bartleby becomes an even greater outsider, and they open the door to further refusals to work. I have encountered many students who are privileged by their "handicap." The basic English 10 student who is allowed to sleep through class, the "emotionally disturbed" student who is allowed to act out in class and the physically "handicapped" student who uses that handicap as a excuse for failure in life are just some of the tragedies that I have seen from labeling kids as "special" or "different." But then teachers all have hearts like the narrator’s.

He is so disturbed by Bartleby’s behavior that he moves his entire office to get away from Bartleby. Teachers have it a little easier. They can (possibly) have the student transferred out of the classroom; the teacher doesn’t have to move. And even though the narrator went to all this trouble he still goes back to check on Bartleby at the old office, and he visits Bartleby at the prison/asylum. Bartleby is upset with the narrator upon the visit to the prison. "‘I know you,’ he said, without looking round,--"and I want nothing to say to you’" (Melville 2353). This would be like a teacher who has "failed" a student checking up on that student. Even more important is the scene in which Bartleby refuses to write. The narrator asks, "And what is the reason," to which Bartleby replies, "Do you not see the reason for yourself" (Melville 2344). The narrator responds by saying that it must be Bartleby’s eyes bothering him. I find this scene, and the many scenes like it I have witnessed in the schools, disturbing. A child who doesn’t know what is wrong tries to get help by reaching out to a teacher only to receive the kind of "understanding" that the narrator gives Bartleby. Since changing the system won’t work in today’s society, it is important to recognize the signs of ADHD so that treatment can be given.

According to the National Institute for Mental Health some signs are:
becoming easily distracted by irrelevant sights and sounds
failing to pay attention to details
making careless mistakes
rarely following instructions carefully
completely losing or forgetting things like toys, or pencils, books, and tools needed for a task
feeling restless, often fidgeting with hands or feet, or squirming running, climbing, or leaving
a seat, in situations where sitting or quiet behavior is expected
blurting out answers before hearing the whole question
and having difficulty waiting in line or for a turn. (Neuwirth)

I believe as this story suggests that in today’s society the system cannot change. I, however, also believe that as a country we will have to learn to accept people for who they are. Forcing people to take drugs to fit in to what is an arbitrary construction seems wrong to me. But that construction is so firmly established it will take years to change it. I strongly believe that when students who suffer from ADHD are put on drugs they gain the ability to fit in at the cost of something we don’t yet understand.

Works Cited

Melville, Herman. "Bartleby, the Scrivener." American Literature: Volume 1, fifth edition. Ed. Baym, Nina. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1998. 2330-2355.

Neuwirth, Sharyn. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. 6 Jan. 1999. (6 Dec. 1999).