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The Road
By Muriel Rukeyser


These are roads to take when you think of your country
and interested bring down the maps again,
phoning the statistician, asking the dear friend,

reading the papers with morning inquiry.
Or when you sit at the wheel and your small light
chooses gas gauge and clock; and the headlights

indicate future of road, your wish pursuing
past the junction, the fork, the suburban station,
well-travelled six-lane highway planned for safety.

Past your tall central city's influence,
outside its body: traffic, penumbral crowds,
are centers removed and strong, fighting for good reason.

These roads will take you into your own country.
Select the mountains, follow rivers back,
travel the passes. Touch West Virginia where

the Midland Trail leaves the Virginia furnace,
iron Clifton Forge, Covington iron, goes down
into the wealthy valley, resorts, the chalk hotel.

Pillars and fairway; spa; White Sulphur Springs.
Airport. Gay blank rich faces wishing to add
history to ballrooms, tradition to the first tee.

The simple mountains, sheer, dark-graded with pine
in the sudden weather, wet outbreak of spring,
crosscut by snow, wind at the hill’s shoulder.

The land is fierce here, steep, braced against snow,
rivers and spring. KING COAL HOTEL, Lookout,
and swinging the vicious bend, New River Gorge.

Now the photographer unpacks camera and case,
surveying the deep country, follows discovery
viewing on groundglass an inverted image.

John Marshall named the rock (steep pines, a drop
he reckoned in 1812, called) Marshall's Pillar,
but later, Hawk's Nest. Here is your road, tying

you to its meanings: gorge, boulder, precipice.
Telescoped down, the hard and stone-green river
cutting fast and direct into the town.

--------

Inspired by "She, Too, Sang America", a review by Joshua Weiner of The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser from Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "'Breathe-in experience, breathe-out poetry,' Rukeyser wrote. For her, the poem was not a verbal artifact to be consumed so much as the record of an imaginative and psychological process that would inspire readers to initiate their own similar processes. This sense of exchange constitutes a vision of poetic community and a belief in the power of poetry to transform lives; it was her lifelong argument against the notion of art for art's sake, of poetry's sublime uselessness, of Auden's eventual pessimism that poetry 'makes nothing happen.' Hers was a Romantic notion, yet it was anything but frivolous; rather, it was a sustaining commitment against an all too familiar modernist irony and spiritual exhaustion."

Weiner notes that many of Rukeyser's titles allude to renewal and movement: "Theory of Flight," "Eccentric Motion," "The Speed of Darkness," etc. "The Road" is the first poem in The Book of the Dead (1938), "a sequence of 'documentary' poems that draws on actual legal testimony from the investigation into one of America's worst industrial tragedies -- the death of hundreds of migrant mine workers, many of them African Americans, from silicosis poisoning in the drilling of the Hawk's Nest Tunnel in West Virginia in the early 1930s. As the first full-fledged documentary poem in America, it expresses a modernist interest in what Rukeyser called 'verifiable' fact. At the same time, it takes an ethical stand while evoking the more subjective 'facts' of feeling, intuition and dream that ground her shorter lyrics. The poem belongs with other works of social conscience...anticipating William Carlos Williams's long poem 'Paterson' (1946), also based on historical documents, as well as Allen Ginsberg's intrepid 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' (1966), transcribed from audiotapes Ginsberg made during a drive across the United States."

We had a family-focused Fourth of July, with everyone managing to sleep late (again) as we are not completely used to East Coast time, so that by the time we had brunch (eggs, pancakes, turkey sausage, etc.) it was really lunchtime and my parents were itching to come up with some group bonding activity, as we had nixed going downtown in the late afternoon for the fireworks upon learning that DC was planning to test its emergency evacuation routes after the show which we were certain would lead to chaos worse than the usual exodus. Instead we went to Batman Begins with my mother, though my father bailed at the last minute as he had someone coming out to try to fix his cable which had been down for a week since a short during a thunderstorm. I give it two thumbs way up on the acting -- even Katie Holmes wasn't bad -- and I liked the storyline, particularly the details on Bruce Wayne's childhood and all the added ninja training. But the action sequences near the end all dragged on a bit long for my taste, which is a criticism I have had of pretty much every major film I have seen this summer.

I know there is a myth that audiences must have explosions, flashing lights, new camera angles, stop-motion swordfights and car chases every three minutes or they become bored, but I hit a point where I no longer can tell or care who's who and what's happening -- we all know the hero is going to survive and the bad guy is going to fall, one way or another, whether it's Star Wars or Batman or Kingdom of Heaven or Cinderella Man. Last night I was up till all hours folding laundry and put on Close My Eyes, the Alan Rickman sibling incest movie (he is not one of the people committing incest unfortunately), which like so many non-mainstream movies has a choppy beginning, no pat resolution and no clear moralizing in the interim -- it wasn't even entirely clear that we were supposed to like any of the characters, nor dislike any of them, no matter what they said or did -- and it was so damn refreshing! It is also possible that I was distracted by a garrulous, self-absorbed Rickman and a fully frontally naked, very young Clive Owen, but Batman Begins had just as many attractive men (Christian Bale Liam Neeson Gary Oldman Rutger Hauer <3) and I managed to be bored during parts anyway.

Anyway, my father came out to meet us after the movie and we walked around the lake to the new restaurant with the fire pit and the wood grill. I was originally going to get seafood, but the smoke smelled so good that I ended up having wood-fired rotisserie chicken which was very good -- in fact everyone liked everything they got, from my son's salmon caesar salad to my husband's crab cakes to my father's burger. After dinner we needed to stretch our legs, so we went out to watch the geese -- the adolescents of a few weeks ago now have the full markings of adult Canadian geese, while among my favorite gaggle of eight, half are looking distinctly like Canadian geese as well while the other half are losing their yellow down and growing the white feathers of the very small group of domestic geese that lives in the lake. There were people paddle-boating and the fountains were on so it was a lovely walk.

Fireworks are not the same on television, but the advantage of watching them there was that we could switch from the pretty good DC show to the absolutely spectacular New York show just by turning from PBS to NBC -- this is a time when my father's plasma screen, great stereo and HDTV really made a difference. So we watched fireworks together, just not live ones! I wish I had been feeling more patriotic...every time I started to, they cut to a shot of the White House and there went that. The DC show had some good music from the National Symphony (though I could have done without the big Gloria Estefan celebration, but hey, Jimmy Smits -- hopefully our next president, at least on television, introduced her). The New York show felt more all-American for all its not trying so hard and despite the presence of Donald Trump.

Tomorrow [livejournal.com profile] apaulled goes back to work, older son's best friend returns from Canada and I must catch up on a hundred things. In that spirit, here are some photos of delays we encountered besides those having to do with United Airlines, most of which amused us at the time!


A mountain goat in the middle of the road from Sol Duc Resort leading toward Rialto Beach.


A tree down in the road on the way back from Madison Falls (it wasn't there when we arrived at the visitor's center). Five vehicles stopped and people got out to push but we were all stuck until a camper came along with an axe.


Along Hurricane Ridge, the road kept disappearing into the clouds. Younger son was very nervous driving without being able to see in front of us, was convinced that we were going to fall off the mountain and begged us to go down.


Little birds and mice thought nothing of running under moving vehicles and, in the case of the former, flying into them -- twice our hood was hit by a diving swallow.


Also, the rivers had very little respect for the creations of man. In several places the roads were reduced to one lane because the other lane had been eroded away and fallen into the river.


And, of course, when one visits a peninsula crossed in so many places by water, one must cross the water on bridges or ferries in several spots. Here a drawbridge stops cars at the Hoquiam River to let a boat through.


Even stuck in airports there are some consolations. In Denver it was the view, and in Chicago and Seattle there were these internet kiosks promising "peace, quiet and a T-1 line." One wonders exactly what the Laptop Lane people expect people to be doing with their laptops that requires such privacy. *g* In the Denver airport the kiosks were right out in the open...and considerably cheaper to use!

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