Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gift of Watermelon Pickle

When I was younger my father enjoyed the poem, "Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity" by John Tobias. The title alone is so atypical of starchy English and early American poets that I found it immediately appealing.

This is not only the title of the poem but also the title of a poetry book in which the poem is contained. The verses included in this book are more modern poems which steer away from the usual themes of war and love and contain poems on less weighty although not necessarily less interesting subjects. "Apartment House" (Gerald Raftery), "The Toaster" (William Jay Smith), "The Garden Hose" (Beatrice Janosco), and "Steam Shovel" (Charles Malam) to name a few. This is one of my favorite poetry books.

Because the weather of this endless winter interfered with my spending Christmas with my extended family, I received Christmas gifts via UPS from my parents yesterday. My father, who often has a unique sense of sentimentality, included a jar of spiced watermelon pickle found at The Vermont Country Store. My dad was wise enough to include a copy of the poem with the preserve (although I immediately located the book). I know why he likes it and upon reading it after so many years of forgetting it, I am very touched by this present. Each child has extra special links with a parent, and I believe one link between my father and me is literature. I have many books that were gifts from him, and he always signed and dated them. While he did not technically gift the "Watermelon Pickle" book to me (I think I 'borrowed' it when I was teaching poetry and didn't return it), his name is stamped on the inside cover. While my father and I might not always understand each other, when reading the poem I felt a connection with him and an understanding that, much like the poem, I had forgotten. Thank you, Dad. I love you much!

Reflections on a Gift of Watermelon Pickle Received from a Friend Called Felicity

During that summer
When unicorns were still possible;
When the purpose of knees
Was to be skinned;
When shiny horse chestnuts
(Hollowed out
fitted with straws
Crammed with tobacco
Stolen from butts
In family ashtrays)
Were puffed in green lizard silence
While straddling thick branches
Far above and away
From the softening effects
Of civilization;

During that summer--
Which may never have been at all;
But which has become more real
That the one that was--
Watermelons ruled.

Thick imperial slices
Melting frigidly on sun-parched tongues
Dribbling from chins;
Leaving the best part,
The black bullet seeds,
To be spit out in rapid fire
Against the wall
Against the wind
Against each other;
And when the ammunition was spent,
There was always another bite;
It was a summer of limitless bites,
Of hungers quickly felt
And quickly forgotten
With the next careless gorging.

The bites are fewer now.
Each one is savored lingeringly,
Swallowed reluctantly.

But in a jar put up by Felicity,
The summer which maybe never was
Has been captured and preserved.
And when we unscrew the lid
And slice off a piece
And let it linger on our tongue:
Unicorns become possible again.

John Tobias

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Shallow Observations

Yesterday's blog was serious. Today's will focus on the inconsequential things I liked about the Inauguration.

1. I loved Malia and Sasha's J.Crew outfits. Colorful, age appropriate, and probably fitting of each girl's personality. They seemed to be outwardly unaffected by the drama, and I have a feeling these two girls will keep their parents grounded.
2. Rick Warren's invocation did little for me. Maybe because I'm not all that into such things, and because I was bothered by his Christian only focus. (Fortunately, President Obama was more inclusive in his speech) I also found his pronunciation of the Obama girls' names creepy. As Jon Stewert pointed out on "The Daily Show" it was almost like he found them and their names to be . . . delicious.

3. Joe Biden. I just like Joe Biden and that ever present smile, his loquaciousness, his enthusiasm saying his oath. He has cut back on his candidness, which I understand, but hope he isn't shuttled to an office and kept out of sight.

4. The Reverand Joseph Lowery's benediction beat out the Inaugural poem. No, I don't believe poety has to rhyme and personally prefer poems that don't rhyme. But his benediction's conclusion was just fun and won't be forgotten. "Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."

5. Yo Yo Ma seemed to be enjoying himself when playing John Williams' arrangement of "Tis a Gift to Be Simple" (an appropriate choice for the times). He smiled often and if a cellist can have a "skipping down the street" attitude, he had it. Itzhak Perlman looked serious but clarinetist Anthony McGill appeared to share Yo Yo Ma's fun.

6. Aretha Franklin's hat was stunning! She pulled it off and it was just one more small piece of the day that made me grin. The lady knows how to make a statement. Other memorable hats didn't have Ms. Franklin's panache but still showed the wearers' confidence. Both Spike Lee and President Bush 41 wore mad bomber hats; Not just everyone can pull off an inaugural mad bomber hat.

7. Rahm Emmanuel was caught on camera with his thumb on his nose and fingers wagging at someone, a grin on his face. I have read that he has quite a hardnose, bulldog personality but this moment showed a sense of humor. One probably has to have a sense of humor to survive his job.

8. Michelle Obama clearly wasn't listening to what Barack was saying when he said to the Neighborhood Inaugural Ball audience, "Doesn't my wife look great?" She started to applaud and then realized just what he had said and gave him a hand wave and look that we all have given when embarrassed at such public comments. It had been a long day which was only going to get longer and I'm pretty sure Ms. Obama only wanted to be home with her children on their first night in a new home. So, to tune out the man who had been talking all day was understandable, but the moment was so everyday-marraige-moment charming.

9. The look on Michelle and Barack Obama's faces when dancing their first inaugural dance showed the essance of their relationship. Smiling, looking into one another's eyes, they still love and respect each other. Kudos to them for being true to themselves in this and the aforementioned moments.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Many of the feelings I had on election night are the feelings I have today. I had tears in my eyes and was awed at the inaugural events. There is a sense of exhileration about the change that has arrived with Barack Obama. While it has been fascinating to watch this man win the election, it will be even more interesting to watch him lead the United States.

Barack Obama represents a new generation, an openmindedness, a focus, and a positive nature not seen often enough in Washington. He inspires the hope that we can actually wade through the bogged down bureaucracy and make vital changes. In his Inauguration Speech Obama rarely said "I" but often said "we." The success of this country depends on all of us, not just those in Washington, and our new President put forth that expectation immediately. This is the man who energized his campaign via the Internet and has continued to access all those who kept tabs on his campaign on that electronic highway. He has empowered us to share in his success; any shortfalls will be ours also.

In his speech Obama brought forth several thoughts we must all bear in mind as the next four years transpire: "the time has come to set aside childish things. . .our country's greatness must be earned....For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies.. .What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task." How clear the message that the tasks ahead are not just the responsibility of the President or Congress but responsibilities all citizens of the United States bear. If we are complacent, how can we expect any less from our leaders? Obama has set the tone and made it clear that only hard work, focus, and tenacity will turn around the direction of our nation.

But, this man is inspiring, and if we pay attention, stay involved, and own the work needed to make these changes, we all will live in a better world knowing we were a part of the change. Obabama is the kind of leader we have been missing for so long --one who looks to us to better ourselves, one who inspires and uplifts the country, one who wants to show us how to get where we need to go.

When there are tough times and mistakes made we must all refuse to sink to cynicism, negativity, and apathy. We must all take a breath, look for a new avenue to take, and forge ahead. FDR realized that if an idea doesn't work it is time to try something new; our 43rd President wouldn't admit to mistakes. The United States' dire circumstances will not change quickly or easily, so the American public is in for some tough times. The typical whining, self pity, and pessamism need not raise their ugly heads.

Let's all hang on for the ride because its going to be a bumpy one. For me,though, a few words from this new leader, and a flash of that infectious smile will be the encouragement to keep going and working for the country's best.