Corrupted Lyrics – To All The Grads I’ve Flunked Before

-after Willie Nelson & Julio Iglesias

Willie / N. Jones:
To all the grads I’ve flunked before
Who traveled in and out my door
I’m glad they came along
I dedicate this song
To all the grads I’ve flunked before

Julio / M. Stevick:
To all the grads I once assessed
And may I say I’ve failed the best
So much they didn’t know
Their GPAs were low
Yes, all the grads I’ve flunked before

-chorus-
The Gordon grads are always failing
Though they begged me for an A
Gordon grads continue failing
The failing grade is going to stay

-Willie/Jones:
To all the grads who skipped my class
Then said they simply had to pass
To them my ears were deaf
I handed them an F
To all the grads I’ve flunked before

-Julio/Stevick:
To all the grads who loved to cheat
Or begged me for an incomplete
Although they weren’t smart
They live within my heart
Oh, all the grads I’ve flunked before

-chorus-
The Gordon grads are always failing
Though they begged me for an A
Gordon grads continue failing
The failing grade is going to stay

BOTH: To all the grads we’ve flunked before
Willie/Jones: The freshman and the sophomore
BOTH: We marked their answers wrong
And dedicate this song
To all the grads we’ve flunked before

BOTH: To all the grads we’ve flunked before
Julio/Stevick: And hopefully the sen-i-or
BOTH: We know them all by heart
We’ll always be a part
Of all the grads we’ve flunked
Before

-sung in the manner of Willie and Julio at the Nodrog or the Black & Blue Review, with Graeme Bird on piano. Pic from The Nodrog.

Tribute – Loyatorio (for Donna & Barry)

LOYATORIO (link here to a video of the event)

MARK: One score and seven years ago, plus two, our Father brought forth on this incontinent a new administration guy—who was dedicated.

Today we are met in a great oversized New England church. We have come to celebrate a portion of that guy’s work—and make fun of his mistakes.

Is it altogether proper that we do this? Who cares?

But when you get down to it, how do we celebrate—how do we consternate—how do we harass this man?

Perhaps, in the manner of these things, the animated Disney musical will do.

Let’s try a few.

How about CindereLoy: ♫
“CindereLoy, CindereLoy,
Night and day it’s CindereLoy
We can keep him wicked busy,
He’s not relaxing, is he?”

♫ Or, make him the Barry Godmother:
“…doing things you should not do.
One poor decision, and what have you got?—
Barry and Terry and you.”

Nah. How about The Loyin King— ♫ Timon and PumBarry:
“I cook empanadas, for the best R.A.s—
And with my R.D.s, make daiquiris—
I cook empanadas.”

That’s inappropriate, Barry. “Daiquiris”?

Perhaps The Loyttle Mermaid— ♫ Sebastian and Bariel:
“…zooming around on those—what do you call them?—long boards…
Finally free – from Gordon C,
And digging for pottery”—

What?—


“At Gordon C, at Gordon C,
Darling, it’s better when you’re a debtor
Financially.”

…I just got fired.
No, in the end Disney is too limiting, there are just so many facets to Barry—so many Barrys… So many Barrys—that’s it. Songs by many Barrys – about Barry.
Yes. Let us begin, then, our strange celebration – with Barry Gibb & the Bee Gees’ tribute to our man’s distinctive sense of humor…

How Deep Is Our Loy
Barry Gibb / the Bee Gees

I see you try out another pun
I hear your listeners recoil in pain,
later on you horrify the faculty
when you go dragging out that pun again;
but I’ve come to see
awkward jokes like these
are your strategy to put us all at ease
and that’s one more way to show:
How deep is our Loy!–is our Loy
how deep is our Loy,
it took me years to learn:
when you’re living in a world of rules
Loy can abound;
he’s an awesome referee
who belongs to CSD.

MARK: Falsetto is manly.
Next, a classic by Peter, Paul & Barry—a ballad about our deep dean’s – dire need for hip replacement surgery…

Half the Man is Draggin’
Peter, Paul & Barry (the ballad of Barry’s hip)

Half the man is draggin’
limps violently
And falling for robotic hips
he’s intent on surgery.
Gimpy Barry prayed for
a lovely crutch or staff,
Then bought a Stephen Spielberg watch
and strapped it to his calf.
O, half the man is draggin’
limps violently
And falling for robotic hips
he’s intent on surgery.

MARK: Strange AND true.
Now bring on Barry White, and let him groove soulfully about our man’s unslakeable, unmistakable presence…

Can’t Get Enough of You Loy, Barry
Barry White

[spoken] I’ve heard people say that…
too much of anything
is not good for you, Barry…
but I don’t know about that…
as many times
as I’ve met Loy…
and I’ve greeted Loy…
on the quad…
or down in Gillies purchasing a tasty beverage…
it’s just…
it doesn’t seem to me like it’s enough…
it’s just not enough, Barry…
it’s just not enough…

[sung] Oh my colleague, I…
Can’t get enough of you Loy, Barry
Oh, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know why
Can’t get enough of you Loy, Baa-rrry

MARK: Selah.
Then there’s Freddie MercBarry (and Queen), a rhapsody addressed to Barry’s most powerful facet – his wife, Donna…

Loyhemian Rhapsody
Freddy MercBarry / Queen

Donna,
just failed exam,
spent a ton of class in bed,
pulled all-nighter
but I’m dead;
Donna,
strife has just begun
’cause now I’m academic probaaa—
(tion)
Donna, youuu
you can help me bribe
the one guy here who’s never been bribed at all—
Barry Loy, Barry Loy:
Now’s when family matters.

MARK: When we put our hands to our ears like this it’s to compensate for sounding bad.

And then Earth, Wind & Fire & Barry—with a chorus deeply steeped in that keen pain you feel – after the Loy is gone…

After the Loy is Gone
Earth, Wind & Fire & Barry

Something happened along the way—
Did Britt Carlson go mad?
Something happened along the way—
Is Terry Charek breaking bad?
and O
After the Loy is gone
All I can do is yawn
Without all that fun around
O-O-O

MARK: Yes, these five Barrys celebrate our man with pun and panache.
But, another Barry remains, the sunum Barryum, whose melodies made up the musical-leisure-suit of a certain generation.

Manilow. And it’s to him we turn for a song sung by our Barry ManiLoy – about his long tenure as Gordon’s behavioral cop.
This is “I Right the Wrongs.”

NORM JONES – I RIGHT THE WRONGS
1. I’ve been around forever
I wrote up that very first wrong;
I bring good judgment and good humor together
I’m amusing
but I right the wrongs
(he’s a hoot but he still rights the wrongs)

-chorus-
I right the wrongs, I’m Gordon’s holy dean
I right the wrongs of love—don’t ask what I mean
I right the wrongs and make those youngsters cry
I right the wrongs, I right their wrongs

2. My wisdom flows like honey
and sweet justice drips from my tongue
how can my rulings be so fair yet so funny?
well I’m elderly
but inside I’m wicked young
(he’s still hip, and his right hip is young)

-chorus-
I right the wrongs, I’m Gordon’s older dean
I right the wrongs of love—stop asking what I mean
I right the wrongs that made those sophomores lie
I right the wrongs, I right their wrongs

-bridge-
When our students perpetrate
then I excommunicate—
though I showed some mercy once to Dorothy Boorse

And when they share their sins
then the gossiping begins:
they tell me, I tell you
you tell them, they tell we—
it’s a world of un-secrecy

-chorus-
I right the wrongs, I’m going rogue as Dean
[when] I right the wrongs of love I’m especially mean
I write their wrongs down in my dia-ry
I write their wrongs, I right their wrongs

-key change-
I right their wrongs, I’m Gordon’s CSDean
I write their wrongs—a one-man Mujahideen
I right their wrongs so you can turn blind eye
I right their wrongs, I write their wrongs:

I am Barry—and I right the wrongs.
__

MARK: Further, now, in our ManiLoy-atorio, we welcome someone pointedly absent from a fiesta like this: the student Barry expelled. Here he is, wealthy, wounded, and sick with regret, singing an anthem entitled “O, Barry.”

STEVE HUNT – O, BARRY
1. I remember student life
Staying up till four or five
Breaking into Frost
With force through a window
Stealing an exam
The light means it’s a
Boring just another day
World of Warcraft game to play
Boy was I surprised
When you came for me
I never realized
That you would J-Board me
Oh Barry

Well you flayed me and fried me like bacon
And you sent me away
Oh Barry
Did you dis me and were you mistaken?
I still need you today
Oh Barry

2. I’m standing in some airport line
Hoping just to pass the time
Nobody is here to rule or reproach me
What I wouldn’t give for you to life-coach me
Oh Barry

Can I pay you to fry me like bacon
Can I rent you today
Oh Barry
Help me bathe and to shave when I waken
Be my Jeeves for a day
Oh Barry

-bridge-
Yes, student dean, I’ve wasted money
Crime cannot appease
To pay this college
Oh Barry

Can I fly you to flay me like bacon
I’ll expense you today
Oh Barry
Will you dress me and stop me from drankin’
Intervene me today—
Oh Barry

Did you make all those rules I was breakin’
I repent me today
Oh Barry
When you speak seems a prophet hath spaken
And I’ll heed you.
__

MARK: So we’ve heard from our Loyjahideen; we’ve heard from the Barry-banished.
But whence cometh this long preponderance of Loys? How did a Carolinian and a Canadian – become the groovy duo of the behind-the-scenes set?
Attend, and learn the history of Loy…

NORM – GORDOCABAMPUS (the story of the Loys & Gordon)

1. Her name was Donna – she was a snow girl
She loved the caribou and trees
and those Canada geese;
When she flew southward – she spied a Barry
A creature famous for its wits
And a hankering for grits
(which she would overlook
’cause he could fix her truck)
they got hitched and they started hiking
up the path they took
To the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus (ca-bampus)
Near the highway you’ll find (off the ramp) us
(here) at the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus:
Goose poop and ocean
affect your emotion at the Gordo:
They had heard of— (Gordo—Gordo-cabampus)

STEVE
2. His name was Barry – he wore a shy grin
And he and Donna settled in
him in Lane and her in Winn
She greeted patrons – he started dean-ing
And, yeah, he seemed so meek and mild
But every student crime got filed
into his attaché
till there was Loy to pay
CSD is a slight misnomer
he’s a CIA
At the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus (ca-bampus)
No place for your grandmas or grandpas (here)
At the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus:
Who’s in a prison
is someone who isn’t at the Gordo—
Push came to shove… (Gordo—Gordo-cabampus)

MARK [during bridge]: Barry and I once hosted a talent show on this very spot.
Mid-show, backstage, he says to me, “Hey, I have something good for the next transition.”

We come back out, Barry turns to me—and then his mouth says, “Mark, why don’t more faculty attend chapel?”

*Here’s a picture of Barry asking me that question.
…With no warning, in front of thousands.

*Here’s Barry just after he asked it. “Heh heh heh…”

MARK
3. Their name is “Donry” – or maybe “Bare-na”
For thirty years minus one
they’ve made academic fun
Now they’re migrating – to Carolina
Or so they want us to believe
—they’ve got someplace up their sleeve
where the sand’s pure white
and you cha-cha all night:
but there isn’t a Dunka-caDonuts
so we hope they might
Visit Gordo—Gordo-cabampus (ca-bampus)
The South ain’t as cold and as damp as (here)
At the Gordo—Gordo-cabampus:
Boy I’ve
enjoyed my
employed time
with Loy I’m
at the Gordo—
We’ve felt in love. We fell in love.
__

MARK: We have fallen in love, each with the other.

And now what? After they’ve gone, what do we do?
We carry on. We brighten as they have.

It is for us to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is consecrated—it is hallowed—it is Kingdom work—
to be carried on toward completion.

Yes, it’ll be hard without them.
But we can.
We can.

DAVE ROX – I CAN SMILE WITHOUT YOU

You know I can smile without you
I can smile without you
I can laugh – and I can sing
I’m sure that I’ll find – I can do everything

You know I feel glad, so glad
for fine years that we’ve had
but I never knew
I’d be someone who
would have to smile without you

-verse 1 (Dave)-
You came along, rightening [sic] our wrongs
and brightening RAs
who couldn’t see that you’re the heart of a team
so highly esteemed
we wish you could stay

-chorus (everyone)-
But still we can smile without you
we can smile without you
we can laugh – and we can sing
I’m sure that we’ll find – we can do everything

I know we’ll feel glad when you’re glad
for fine years that we’ve had
but here’s what is true
you’re the one who
taught us to smile without you

-bridge (Dave solo)-
Some folks might say
et tu, Barr-ay?
but they are not our kind
when you leave here you’re not
leaving our love behind – you – and you know

-chorus (everyone)-
you can smile without us
you can smile without us
you can golf – and you can swim
play racquetball – and climb on a limb

and yeah we’ll feel glad when you’re glad
we’ll feel glad – but we’ll add
this feeling is new –
it’s not easy to –
but we can smile without you.

Letter – In Praise of Andrew Logemann

I’ll begin with the obvious and true: Andrew Logemann is a lovely, optimistic, intelligent, thoughtful and affirming person—someone we’re all pleased to know and work with.

These several (of many) attractive traits mattered significantly when Andrew arrived at Gordon as a new hire: at the time our English Department was (how to phrase this?) in the final moments of what had been a fairly prolonged period of stormy weather, and Andrew’s new presence helped usher in the brighter day we now enjoy. I pay tribute here to the delicate and diplomatic work done by Janis Flint-Ferguson and then Andrea Frankwitz as department chair—work that kept our craft right and directioned under difficulty. I might even say “under duress,” because in the first year or two of Andrew’s appointment our department meetings were enough to cause a fellow two migraines—one before and one after. I feared at the time that Andrew might abandon our shaky ship, and though I couldn’t blame him if he did, I kept murmuring to him some version of “I hope we keep you.”

This is all well and good, but why did I murmur this to him over the years? I murmured because Andrew’s commitments and excellences became quickly apparent—his competence as a teacher, his commitment to scholarship, his gyroscopic impact on our English department, his engagement with the ethos of the college and of a liberal arts education, and his discernible commitment to improving as a teacher and scholar, a colleague and a Christian.

The previous wordy sentence only headlines a few of my reasons for my murmurings, and now I despair at being able to trace in fine detail the wide-ranging and salutary impact Andrew has had on our people and programs. Fortunately for me, Andrew’s achievements are well known.

Still, let some specifics here insinuate the pattern.

Andrew’s leadership in our department has been capable from the get-go, and it’s been a pleasure to see him grow in confidence as chair. This is right and good: he has obvious administrative gifts and interpersonal savvy. He can think broadly and in detail equally well, and he gracefully directs our conversations, soliciting and heeding comments while keeping us on task. This is no small feat, gentle reader. Despite certain perennial stressors , morale among the literati is quite high—higher than I’ve ever known it to be. (And I’ve been around for 30 years—since 1983.) Andrew is in large part the reason for this: it’s quite remarkable how his can-do attitude has altered the atmosphere, and this in turn has made possible other small blossomings. (“It’s a new day!” Borgman barked at me, cheerfully, over the salad bar one day, and he meant because of Andrew.) Andrew’s influence is working through our whole batch.

I’ve appreciated Andrew’s clear, consistent communication with our students and our department members. This has involved Andrew’s collating and making available information about the major and its relationship to GEO and JAF and the Elijah Project—relationships that have needed clarifying. I think more than ever both students and faculty can grasp the specifics and the nuances of our major. All of this is done for our students’ benefit, of course, and Andrew has consistently looked for authentic ways to improve the English major’s experience at Gordon. His careful communiqués to our majors demonstrate in substance, syntax and tone that we care for them.

As a teacher Andrew has been a pace-setter in his use of technology in his courses. Students mention this to me (as if I didn’t already know it). Several times I’ve attended presentations Andrew has made to students, and he’s superbly competent with Blackboard and PowerPoint. He even blogs, and is touted as one of the two or three blogging profs that students should follow. I’ll say more: he tweets as well, and here, too, he directs students and colleagues to essays on the humanities, the liberal arts, the challenges facing higher education, and on what you can do with a degree in English. I’ve enjoyed reading some of these essays, and enjoyed as well the conversations among colleagues that have ensued as a result. Thus Andrew enlivens our discourse even through blogs and tweets, gentle reader. I know students give him high marks for such things, and well they should, at this stage of the game.

And, what matters more, they give him high marks for his teaching—and specifically for his efforts to find ways to reach more students, to reach them better. I’m humbled, awed, in fact, by how good Andrew is at designing a course and laying it out in a syllabus. What a gift to our students! I’ll note here what you must already know: Andrew is clear about his expectations; his expectations are high; this is appreciated. There’s admirable, useful sequencing in his assignments, and there’s a deliberate attentiveness to learning styles. Andrew is conscientious about the proper use of class time and about returning student work on time. And he attends carefully to his course evaluations, making adjustments consistently to enhance the students’ experience. In these things he is faithful in the small so as to be faithful in the large, and students know this. Students crave to be in a classroom taught by someone who asks much of them, more perhaps than they think they can deliver, and who at the same time communicates by his demeanor, his attentiveness, his organization, his stewardship of their time that he values their minds and expects them to grow.

This is not so common a thing, methinks. In fact, I regard the blending of skills and domains that Andrew represents as quite rare.

What haven’t I mentioned much here?—Andrew’s willingness to assume leadership positions (on difficult sub-committees), his creating of new courses (in response to curricular needs), his broader contributions to his discipline (again, in positions of leadership). I’ve also not much mentioned his Christian faith: I will now, by saying merely that I believe it to be active, alive, real—all the adjectives that seem so unsuited to characterizing what is mysterious but manifest, and trusted. We have already come to rely on him for this real faith. Thank God for Andrew’s leadership in this, too.

We need him here in Wenham; the times were never so good in our precincts, say I. And should he manage to campaign us a new faculty member*, then our joy would be complete.

If anyone can, it’s Andrew.

*He did “campaign us” a new faculty member: Chad Stutz. And then another: Kerilyn Harkaway-Krieger. Next we hope will be Jennifer West.

Letter – In Praise of Chad Stutz

It’s a pleasure to mention in these paragraphs some of Chad’s qualities, habits and achievements which are doubtlessly already well known to colleagues and administrators. I’ll try to include a few less-well-known snapshots of Chad in action to justify our mutual high regard for our man.

Starting with his tryout lecture when he was a candidate. His aim was to convey a sense of the shifts in English literature through the 19th-century, and he did this ably—astonishingly, even—by bookending his lecture with two bird poems (poems about birds), composed at either ends of the century. Not only were students shown how to read a poem alertly, but they were then invited to compare formal, topical and tonal elements in the poems with Chad as he took them from the bucolic odes of the Romantics to the more brutal lyrics of the Industrial Revolution.

It was a tour de force, so good, in fact, that Paul Borgman was flummoxed. (Borgman, gentle reader, is not big on lecturers: he prefers a more Socratic mode of teaching.) After the class, at lunch in the Pendragon, Paul gave Chad his assessment: “It was such a good lecture that I’m going to vote against your candidacy.” He went on to explain that, in his view, Chad’s dazzling presentation had left no room for students to develop and insert their own readings.

We know, of course, that Chad won the day, and here is why this anecdote has further relevance: Chad’s good nature, his gentle spirit, his receptive attitude and good humor were evident in that exchange and have been reliably so in the years he’s been in our English department. If he took umbrage at Paul’s eyebrow-raising remark, he never gave a hint. And in fact, he has worked warmly, gracefully, effectively with Paul (and the rest of us), and we are better for him.

This warm demeanor he also brings to the classroom and the sidewalk. My advisees speak affectionately and admiringly of his approachability, and I have been present for several quad-side encounters with Chad, and have observed my students brighten at his approach and relish a lively chat. He is clearly held in high regard for his willingness to engage.

And also for his intellect and his teaching. Unbidden, during advising sessions, my students will effuse about Chad’s teaching. They appreciate his expertise in the literature and his skill in unpacking it (both of which I witnessed firsthand); they appreciate the larger and smaller motions of his courses, and they give particular praise for his ability to orchestrate conversations during class. (What a delightful irony in light of Paul’s objection.) My advisee Will Martin has signed up for several of Chad’s courses and declares that Chad is great at this: he manages to include many voices but somehow keeps everyone on point, keeps the discussion moving forward productively. He does this even in courses with lots of students in lots of desks.

Let me preach to the choir: this is good news for our classrooms, our major, our college. When a prof who knows his stuff can engage students thus, and entice them into owning the material for themselves, and direct them deftly toward what is difficult and what matters, then we have graduates who can think, and who can transfer that ability to any setting.

But we know this about Chad. We know he can be relied on to lead in a quiet, effective way. We’ve seen him do this at English department convocations and prayer sessions. We’ve seen him appointed to committees (like the Governance Committee) where his gifts and affect are in need and in evidence. We watch him in meetings with prospective students and their families, and are grateful for his winsomeness and credibility as he champions the major and the college. I want to credit and thank him here for regularly volunteering to be our ambassador at more than his share of these meetings, and to appreciate how he receives all comers—warmly, alertly—even those who bring bristling questions like, “You don’t read books like Catcher in the Rye, do you?”

This is a service, and it is a mark of his character, his faith, his commitments.

Chad enriches our community and elevates our conversations. His scholarship and teaching are leavening our English major, and will continue to do so as he settles into his courses and continues to add exciting, challenging, important new ones. His service and spirit are leavening our committees and considerations. We will turn to him increasingly, as we do in large and small groups, to pray aloud for us, to offer a wise, concurring or countering view, to carry and shape the ethos of a place we love together.

We need him. Let’s let him know.

-Chad was on a sabbatical leave this semester.

Captain White – “May your first child…”

“And may your first child be a masculine child.”

Brilliant Friends, I’m trying to sell 30 tickets to my play, Goodnight, Captain White, at the Hawthorne Hotel—end of this month. This is a benefit for Saltonstall School, where many small people I love attend. The show will feature the school principal, Mr. G, and several teachers and parents, as The Deputy.

The dates for this run are March 31, April 1 & 2 at 7:30 p.m.
(Buy tickets here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2503042 )

If you can, please attend on April 1 or 2, and save March 31 for Bryan Parys’s event and book release at the Cabot Theatre.
https://www.facebook.com/events/473350742864445/

Here’s a further diversion:

The Goodnight, Captain White script pilfers lines from films, plays, TV shows, and short stories. For the next week or so, I’ll post one of those lines here each day. If you recognize its source, be the first to identify the title. The big brain (“on Brett”) who first identifies the most titles gets a free ticket to one of the April shows, courtesy of my very deep pockets. (No company or cast members allowed—and I’m sure you all won’t cheat… Right, Crowninshield?)

We’ll start with the “masculine child” quote above. Where’s it from?

Love and thanks.

-photo by Social Pilates Photography. Featuring Lauren Feeney, Arielle Kaplan, Zack Reardon, Matt PerusseChris Martel, and Will Martin

 

Family Drama

Our family, on a Saturday morning in PJs, recorded the opening 90 seconds of Goodnight, Captain White. (Click and chuckle.)

Using a program like Audacity, you can record everyone all together, or you can, like I did that morning, record in little chunks. The latter works well when your actors can’t read. And with fewer overlaps in the recording you’re freer to move lines around and make rhythms your ear wants.

After recording, we downloaded some music for the start and for background, and we made the sound effect of footsteps using their wood blocks.

This was lemon squeezy.

Here’s a script. Read along as it plays.

CAPTAIN WHITE SCRIPT

FRANK. Well. The Captain looks in perfect health tonight, wouldn’t you say?

ABIGAIL. Yes, I would, perfect.

FRANK. Yes.

RICHARD. Would you.

FRANK. Sorry?

RICHARD. I would say he looks like a trout.

ABIGAIL. Lovely.

FRANK. A trout?

ABIGAIL Frank, dear, some of the guests are leaving, let’s see them out, shall we?—since Uncle’s gone upstairs.

FRANK. By all means. Please excuse us. And, do help yourselves to the uh, oh, I see you have, yes. Well. Mr. Crowninshield. Miss Muchmore. [leaving] A trout? (FRANK and ABIGAIL exit, murmuring)

PENNY. What kind of trout?

RICHARD. Doesn’t matter.

PENNY. No? I think it does. Makes it more interesting. Details. Give me the gory details.

RICHARD. The only detail that matters here is the belly.

PENNY. The belly?

RICHARD. Yes, the soft, pliable white underbelly of the fish.

PENNY. Ah.

RICHARD. The trout is floating—belly-up.

PENNY. Yes, I see. [Noises off, ABIGAIL and FRANK bidding goodbye]
Oh!

RICHARD. Have I frightened you?

PENNY. No—well, yes of course Richard, but I’ve cut myself on this little clasp, I think.

RICHARD. Bleeding, are you?

PENNY. Well I can’t tell yet. Perhaps. Will it need a bandage?

RICHARD. Let me see. [Goes to examine her hand] I don’t see a cut.

PENNY. You’re right of course. It’s nothing. Tell me, why did you come here?

RICHARD. Because I wasn’t invited.

PENNY. But you were–there was a note in the Gazette. You do read, don’t you, Richard?

RICHARD. Only obituaries. Of men I’ve killed.

PENNY. Oh!

RICHARD. Shocked?

PENNY. Have you?

RICHARD. Killed?

PENNY. Yes.

RICHARD. No.

PENNY. Oh.

__

-cast-

Frank Knapp: Me

Abigail Knapp: Yelena

Richard Crowninshield: Wyn

Penelope Muchmore: herself

__

History Alive, Inc., is seeking comedic actors for all six roles in the play, which will be directed by Sarah J. Mann.
AUDITIONS will be at Salem’s Old Town Hall on February 19th & 20th at 6pm, and February 21st at noon, with call backs (if needed) that evening.
As this is a stylized whodunit comedy, all ages (18+) and genders are considered for all roles. The play is interactive and relies frequently on improvisation; actors should be comfortable with physical comedy and improv.
The production dates are 3/31, 4/1 & 4/2 at The Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, with an additional weekend TBD over the spring in Marblehead, MA. Additional performances could follow if desired. Actors will be paid a stipend for rehearsal and performances.
For the audition, please prepare a 1-2 minute comedic monologue (preferably classical, but not required), and be ready for cold-reading from the script.
To schedule an audition please e-mail s.jplaywright@gmail.com with your name and preferred audition time.

Poem – After Shunning

AFTER SHUNNING

                                     -for the Treuherzigen

i. Out of the Dark

The footprints I follow to my door
are mine, and the clutter on the table.

This poem is wrong, because I
have been straightening up for months.

Today when I woke, the air held
the packed silence of snow.

If you came tonight, out of the dark,
snow would slide from my roof.

ii. Just This

Pines on a February afternoon.
Is this enough?—the salt–white road, the half-
hearted walls piled with cinders, a few leaves
leaping up. No one has been kissed, nothing

written. Between towns, an ocean glimpse
is aqua-marine, extravagant. Leaves
leap up. There is water, and sky, then just this
wide light on the needles beneath the pines.

iii. Past Places

These roads again, empty, winding past places
I have known: the frozen shipyard;
the fish house, shuttered up;
the burial ground, still swallowing itself.

Downtown, February snow dozes on doorsteps,
but the avenues here are salt-dry, and rows
of whitewashed houses are remembering the sun.
Every sunlit clapboard is a pang.

iv. What if Bass

In the wood duck’s wake the cypress dimples;
red-winged blackbirds are thrilling the cattails;
wind or water striders ripple the doubled shore.

So what if bass make their unfathomed rounds
or if the moth scribbles his erratic map?
The beaver’s tail is the mad slap of hope.

v. Who Would Not

This October woman crossing a stubbled field,
her hair black and her daughter blowing,
her hair blacker far than the stripped limbs;

who, when she looks up in that field to ask,
(her hair black as crow, blacker yet) who would not
furnish her from his breast one fire-tipped cigarette?

vi. This Birch

Civility rises as this birch
lifts its face, and stretches.

There is remembrance in these limbs,
of wind, and rain, and mute kisses.

All the gestures of the branches say
the gifts I bring must be refused.

Let this tree be dressed as light allows;
let it be white amid dark boughs.

-The poem entire. Winner of The Shine Journal Poetry Contest.

Poem – Just This

ii. Just This

Pines on a February afternoon.
Is this enough?—the salt-white road, the half-
hearted walls piled with cinders, a few leaves
leaping up. No one has been kissed, nothing

written. Between towns, an ocean glimpse
is aqua-marine, extravagant. Leaves
leap up. There is water, and sky, then just this
wide light on the needles beneath the pines.

-Published in The Lyric.

 

Goodnight, Captain White

Audition for GOODNIGHT, CAPTAIN WHITE

Goodnight, Captain White is a comic whodunit that reimagines the infamous 1830 murder of wealthy Salem sea captain Joseph White. Guests to the Captain’s party are served up the long-brewed grudges and brazen schemes that led to the Captain’s untimely death. Six of the historic characters conspire during the play’s first act until the murder is committed. During act two, audience members may reconstruct the suspects’ movements and grill them on their motives. Then the guests help Sen. Daniel Webster ferret out each evening’s killers. Which of the play’s five endings is performed depends on the vicissitudes of its audience.

History Alive, Inc., is seeking comedic actors for all six roles in the play, which will be directed by Sarah J. Mann.

AUDITIONS will be at Salem’s Old Town Hall on February 19th & 20th at 6pm, and February 21st at noon, with call backs (if needed) that evening.

As this is a stylized whodunit comedy, all ages (18+) and genders are considered for all roles. The play is interactive and relies frequently on improvisation; actors should be comfortable with physical comedy and improv.

The following roles are open:
Lavinnia Beckford, the Captain’s excessive and exacting housekeeper
Abigail Knapp, Lavinnia’s daughter, the Captain’s capable grand niece
Frank Knapp, Abigail’s hapless husband, the Captain’s former employee
Richard Crowninshield, a dangerous outlaw type
Penelope Muchmore, an amorous harlot type
Daniel Webster, under cover as hired help. During the play he is mistaken for the manservant, and is wrongly thought to be deaf (doubles as Captain White).

The production dates are 3/31, 4/1 & 4/2 at The Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, with an additional weekend TBD over the spring in Marblehead, MA. Additional performances could follow if desired. Actors will be paid a stipend for rehearsal and performances.

For the audition, please prepare a 1-2 minute comedic monologue (preferably classical, but not required), and be ready for cold-reading from the script.

To schedule an audition please e-mail s.jplaywright@gmail.com with your name and preferred audition time.

__

Some reviews of Goodnight, Captain White: “An ideal production for a dinner theatre” (Essex County Newspapers); “a provocative script…dialogue with the tone of a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta” (Lowell Sun); “A hysterical whodunit…both comical and personal” (Salem News); “Quick-witted, playful…a brilliant script” (Weekender); “a spritely murder mystery…dashedly clever” (Georgetown Record); “A zany who-done-it…it captivates you” (Eagle Tribune); “a tour de force…a fun worthwhile evening out” (Daily News of Newburyport); “Rich with innuendo…relies on a talented cast for improv and audience interaction…a night of good fun” (Destination Salem).

 

More Updike Remarks, More Updike Poems

Like John Updike, I grew up in Pennsylvania (in my case Lancaster County instead of Berks) and then came to New England for college; and until 2009 we lived here in Essex County together in view of Great Misery Island and Bowditch’s Ledge.

Of course, there the similarities between us end.

Or do they? No winner of Pulitzers or other laurels, I nevertheless find in John Updike’s poetry moments that I recognize as certifiably me. Here’s an instance:

 

Thoughts While Driving Home

Was I clever enough? Was I charming?
Did I make ay least one good pun?
Was I disconcerting? Disarming?
Was I wise? Was I wan? Was I fun?

Did I answer that girl with white shoulders
Correctly, or should I have said
(Engagingly), “Kierkegaard smolders,
But Eliot’s ashes are dead?”

And did I, while being a smarty,
Yet some wry reserve slyly keep,
So they murmured, when I’d left the party,
“He’s deep. He’s deep. He’s deep”?

-Collected in Telephone Poles and Other Poems, Knopf, 1963.

This piece of light verse from the ‘50s is obviously me, just better turned out, more winningly and memorably voiced. (You’ll know already that John Updike considered the publication in The New Yorker of such light verse, first in 1954, as launching his professional writing life.)

Thirty years later, reading these poems on the beaches of Manchester and Beverly Farms, I repeatedly, reliably felt a “triumphant sense of capture”—which is how he described the shudder he felt after writing a good poem. A splendid man!, I thought, to feel these things, as he himself wrote about James Joyce, in “Wife-Wooing”: “A splendid man, to feel that. Splendid also to feel the curious and potent, inexplicable and irrefutably magical life language leads within itself.”

Exactly.

Here is another light poem, gamely led by language’s life.

 

I Missed His Book but Read His Name

“The Silver Pilgrimage,” by M. Anantanarayanan . . .
160 pages. Criterion. $3.95.
– The New York Times

Though authors are a dreadful clan,
To be avoided if you can,
I’d like to meet the Indian,
M. Anantanarayanan.

I picture him as short and tan,
We’d meet, perhaps, in Hindustan,
I’d say, with admirable élan,
“Ah, Anantanarayanan,

I’ve heard of you. The Times once ran
A notice on your novel, an
Unusual tale of God and Man.”
And Anantanarayanan

Would seat me on a lush divan
And read his name—that sumptuous span
Of “a”s and “n”s more lovely than
“In Xanadu did Kubla Khan”—

Aloud to me all day. I plan
Henceforth to be an ardent fan
Of Anantanarayanan,
M. Anantanarayanan.

-Also found in Telephone Poles and Other Poems. He later learned he’d been mispronouncing the name and therefore stopped reading the poem aloud.

In the first poem, it’s the word “smarty” (“and did I, while being a smarty”) that’s spot-on, while not merely rhyming with “party.”

In the second, I enjoy (and I think he did) the flat, deliberate inexactness of the word “tan” (“I think of him as short and tan.”)

As a college student tossing and turning through the pages of Midpoint and Facing Nature and Telephone Poles, it was hard not to want to be John Updike. Still, “I had the timid sense to see that you do not will to be John Updike; you fall into it at birth, ripe from the beginning” (to appropriate The Centaur).

I’ll finish now with a poem set in a place many of you know well, Cape Ann Golf Course. I expect John Updike and I played Cape Ann at the same time on occasion, though I never bumped into him. There I never fail to say “the ball wobbles up and with a glottal rattle bobbles in”—or, on that peerless fourth hole, to recite the paragraph that contains the equally peerless “A divot the size of an undershirt was taken…”

Here’s the poem: “The Great Scarf of Birds,” written in 1962.

 

The Great Scarf of Birds

Playing golf on Cape Ann in October,
I saw something to remember.

Ripe apples were caught like red fish in the nets
of their branches. The maples
were colored like apples,
part orange and red, part green.
The elms, already transparent trees,
seemed swaying vases full of sky. The sky
was dramatic with great straggling V’s
of geese streaming south, mare’s-tails above them.
Their trumpeting made us look up and around.
The course sloped into salt marshes,
and this seemed to cause the abundance of birds.

As if out of the Bible
or science fiction,
a cloud appeared, a cloud of dots
like iron fillings which a magnet
underneath the paper undulates.
It dartingly darkened in spots,
paled, pulsed, compressed, distended, yet
held an identity firm: a flock
of starlings, as much one thing as a rock.
One will moved above the tress
the liquid and hesitant drift.

Come nearer, it became less marvellous,
more legible, and merely huge.
“I never saw so many birds!” my friend exclaimed.
We returned our eyes to the game.
Later, as Lot’s wife must have done,
in a pause of walking, not thinking
of calling down a consequence,
I lazily looked around.

The rise of the fairway above was tinted,
so evenly tinted I might not have noticed
but that at the rim of the delicate shadow
the starlings were thicker and outlined the flock
as an inkstain in drying pronounces its edges.
The gradual rise of green was vastly covered;
I had thought nothing in nature could be so broad but grass.

And as
I watched, one bird,
prompted by accident or will to lead,
ceased resting; and, lifting in a casual billow,
the flock ascended as a lady’s scarf,
transparent, of gray, might be twitched
by one corner, drawn upward and then,
decided against, negligently tossed toward a chair:
the southward cloud withdrew into the air.

Long had it been since my heart
Had been lifted as it was by the lifting of that great scarf.

-Collected in Telephone Poles(The title poem also lodged itself in me permanently.) In his Collected PoemsUpdike cut the first and last stanzas from this poem, which I chastised him for at a church fair in Beverly Farms.
These remarks were delivered at the Congregational Church in Ipswich, with Updike family members also speaking.
Today is the anniversary of his passing, on January 27, 2009.

Tribute – to Peter W. Stine

What won’t Stine say?

-The chicken, though adequately cooked, is sadly under-seasoned. Is there any lasagna, instead? I don’t sanction miniature corncobs.
-Not a bad speech, but let’s try to lose the accent, Mr. Mandela.
-In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, right, Mr. Bocelli?
-Speak up, Mr. Hawking!—Carve your words and spit them out, like me when I shout this command!
-Hats off in the classroom, your Holiness.
-Mr. Devito, stand and deliver! Stand and—oh… Well, then: stand on a chair.
-The short hair doesn’t really favor you, Ms. Degenerous. Something fuller, softer, more feminine, perhaps.
-I would have thought you could have turned out a larger audience for our turtleneck reading of Murder in the Cathedral here at the First Baptist Church of Harpswell, Maine.

 

Something like that last one most likely got said on a Princemere Readers trip into the depths of the Bert-and-I State.

When won’t Stine begin a prayer on just such a trip?

Me: Hi, I’m Mark Stevick from Lancaster—

Stine: FOR THESE GIFTS, AND ALL THY MUNIFICENCE—for these seven residents of the hamlet of Harpswell, Maine, who will host and feed our twelve Princemere Readers—and their servant leader in a separate home because sharing a bed is unseemly in my considerable book… Lord, we thank you—♫ PRAISE GOD FROM—am I the only one spontaneously pray-singing?—♫ BLESSINGS FLOW—next song-prayer: ♫ THE LORD IS MY LIFE, AND—I can’t hear the women—♫ SALVATION!—have you got any more of those cupcakes, I’m a diabetic, but I could use cupcakes, diabetes, lots of jimmies, find my insulin bag, with frosting, if you’d be so kind… No? We’re out of diabetes-cakes? More’s the pity. That’s an expression that means “too bad.” You lobstermen don’t “readie muchie” do you? It’s all right—that’s why we’ve come to your small wooden church with our 3-hour rendition of The Scarlet Pimpernel. No need to feel embarrassed. There was a time in my life when I couldn’t read—AUSTIN?—are we saving some crabcakes for others? Fine.

[continuing] Breakfast tomorrow at half five—that’s 5:30 for you “Mainuhs”—and I know you’re already up then, trimming the mizzenmast, as I myself also constantly am—for the Men’s Matins Meal, or the Clerical Collar Choir practice—♫ WHOM THEN SHALL I FEAR?—or Racquetball for the Recovering—mm?—what’s that? No: I don’t drink coffee, especially not in Harpswell, Maine, ho-ho! I’ll have some tea if it’s English Breakfast, with milk first, not cream, otherwise just sea water in a small conch, I’m not hard to please. No, it’s “conk” actually, not “conch”—thank you very much, you’ve been malapropping it for centuries. If it’s worth correcting, it’s worth correcting loudly. Why compound ignorance with inaudibility?

__

Here at this retirement dinner, I hear you asking: How many such Stineian sayings have occurred on similar Princemere trips? 525 thousand 600 vignettes—no; let me do some accounting: since 1976 when PWS founded the Princemere Readers, two dozen productions have been uttered by a hundred-and-a-half voices for an audience in toto pushing 20k—in nearly half our states (22), and eight countries—thrice in England, (nearly) twice in Kenya, plus Korea, the Philippines, China and Japan.

Begun with a $500 budget, which had increased to $900 when all was read and done in 1999, Princemere was a blue chip investment, certainly. With a few hats and a good script, the Princemeres could perform in slippy black stockingfeet anywhere; and the scene, in the audience’s mind, could look like the Mississippi, or Hell, or Hester’s scaffold in the Puritan marketplace. And because Stine & Co had brought these settings & stories to their front stoops, a goodly number of high school seniors signed on for a Wenham address—and then paid their 6 or 12 or 21 thousand dollars a year for four-or-more years to its only-and-frugal college.

Princemere paid dividends for the Troupe, too. We were, most of us, sow’s ears, being measured and stretched against great literature: the hypotaxis of Hawthorne, and the figures of C.S. Lewis, the phonemes of Dylan Thomas, and Mark Twain’s metallic twang. We were buffeted by the texts, and by the tyrant director, too. What did he teach us but how mark with our voice and breath, as he did, every flick of punctuation, every emotive vowel, every, every minute?

And, watching him, we learned, too, in talk-backs after the shows, that one may engage an entire room with bluster and finesse, teasing its members into a different kind of play, a tautened alertness, a finely suspended joy. He was at his best, burned cleanest, I think, in those give-and-take afterglows.

And he, he himself, the Stine carved the—no, he himself adapted all but one of those two dozen productions. Is it too much to say that those 23 publications (for the first public performance of a script is, in the writs of copyright law, a publication)—too much to say that they mattered more to kingdom and college than the several squat volumes on minor Victorian poets that might have borne his name on their infrequently-handled spines? It’s not too much to say that. (Though it was wordy, I lost my grip on the sentence.) Those 300 productions, 300 play-full, literary interludes, were his scholarship, and his reasonable service.

In 1979, Peter was given the Faculty Award by the student body for, among other things, his work with Princemere. In 1999, after missing two consecutive spring tours with foot sores and sickness, he retired from his adapting-of-lit and his troupe-of-readers. I know he would love for the shows to go on; and he had hoped that I could take up the van keys, but, alas, I couldn’t manage it all; maybe if I’d been married, with 4 kids and a pastorate to boot, I’d have had the time.

How valuable, for me, Patrick Gray, Carol Smith Austin and her man Philip, for Dawn Jenks Sarrouf, and Mark Frederick and Jennifer Hevelone Harper to have started out with Princemere; a troupe founded to “make great literature the handmaiden of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Thanks to Stine I feel like I wrote The Great Divorce and The Scarlet Letter—books I quote often, and impressively, in my classes. Which returns me to my theme. What won’t Stine say. With the slightest of provokings, Stine will deliver a brief, hortatory essay on the value of such literature—and of the amiable word, the vigorous sentence, the paragraph “in the trim.” What he says will be imageful, figurative; it will sound like he’s wholly quoting when, in fact, he isn’t, though he will sample from Heaney or Churchill or Achebe to fine effect. It will be vintage Stine, and it will tingle you under the scalp to hear it, so that you’ll think, If only I could say that the next time I’m called on. As if.

What else will Stine say? Given the merest flash of an opening he will remonstrate with us not to abandon the teaching of public speaking at Gordon. “I speak for the trees, my wooden pupils, for the trees have no tongues.” And O, he is agonizingly right. Should you ever require penance, yours shall be to attend a senior breakfast and hear near-grads speaking cudgels when blades are required.

And this else will Stine say: “Here’s $150 for your Chemistry text; here’s $200 for the student emergency fund; here’s $500 to help get Anne aboard the London theatre trip—I know she can’t afford it, and I have some money from Betsy; but I don’t want anyone to know”—to which one says, “OK. No one will know.” Until your retirement dinner.

All those things will Stine say, along with lots of lively expressions that one hears, as a freshman from Lancaster, PA, for the first time, attaching them foreverafter to their ironic and bearded speaker: as it were; not to say; so to speak; memento mori; carpe diem; tempis fugit; carry coals to Newcastle; set the Thames alight; versatility is the hallmark of genius; fast nickels are better than slow dimes; non illigitimi carborundum; I’m not the bastard I seem to be; WELCOME TO COLLEGE. And that last bellowed phrase signaled welcome to new corners of poets, playwrights, novelists from the world’s wide four; and welcome to nutritious sites of historic and literary significance, narrated from Stineian memory; and to his home, and table, there to relish the easy, expert hospitality of his wife and family. And in my case, to England for the first time. Welcome to Dover, Mr. Stevick. I’ve got some things to show you.

At such a time as this, one wonders where to turn for language to help commemorate and reckon with his retirement. One tries to imagine a Gordon without him, and one remembers his important directives: Stevick, go to grad school; get your language requirement done; try radio; teach my oral interp class; apply for the position here; marry her, don’t wait too long; don’t wait too long, children are a blessing. These, too, Stine will say. How to gather the fruit of all that into words at once true and lovely? To quote usefully, “language staggers here”—or stumbles: at least mine does. Plus I’m afraid I’ll blub or do something ridiculous—

—because this spring I find myself toggling between “Stop all the clocks” or “Mark Stevick, are you grieving over Peter Stine soon leaving?” and what that means for us, for me in my 44th year to heaven

—toggling between that and lines by Wordsworth, unveiled by Stine in his class:
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower,
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

Perhaps Peter is finding Wordsworth was right. Through God’s grace and Sue’s kidney I trust he’ll continue to find strength in and among his loves: family, friends and students; reading, writing, performing (from these may there be no severing)—and, next summer, traveling back to England to lead a 10-day literary excursion. The aged eagle’s wings have plenty of spreading left in them.

And though much is taken, much abides at Gordon after Stine. Innumerables. For starters, two essential courses in the English department, Nobel Prize winners and African Literature; a theatre major and a black box theatre with a plaque bearing his name; and most notably, row upon row of alumni, I among them, whose lives have borne out another of his sayings—that with a liberal arts degree, especially in English, you can think and write and speak ably, so you can do anything.

Some would say, about a legacy like that, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

What would Peter Stine say about it?
“Not bad.”

Here’s to my professor, colleague and friend, Peter W. Stine.

-Delivered at Peter Stine’s retirement dinner in 2008. He passed away August 5, 2011. We carry stones, and pile them on his.

Corrupted Lyrics – Registrationville

Registrationville [to the tune “Margaritaville”]

Sign up for classes.
Slow as molasses;
Every semester I cry out to God;
No financial clearance,
No chapel appearance;
This whole registration—it smells like the quad.

Chorus
Wastin’ away again in Registrationville,
Searchin’ for my lost schedule for fall,
Some people claim that my advisor’s to blame—
But I know – it’s my own darn fault.

v2
Academic probation,
Grade point of a crustacean,
How it got there I haven’t a clue;
Pulled twenty all-nighters,
Eating pretzels from Snyders,
When I woke up, my classes were through.

Chorus

v3
I saw Carol Herrick,
I was so hysteric,
She told me the deadline had passed—I’m too late;
You’ll need a petition,
Instructor’s permission,
At this point I’ll have to attend Salem State.

Chorus

v4
I’m inside the chapel,
Drinkin’ my Snapple,
Kenny says my attendance was small;
Called Chaplain Carmer,
And here’s the alarmer—
Those trips to Starbucks didn’t count at all.

Chorus

v5
I tried Web advising,
I’m soon realizing,
I can’t even get Scottie Mail from my dorm.
Computer keeps crashing,
I feel like Mac-bashing,
A message from Jud on the screen says “No Porn.”

Chorus

v6
Filled with elation,
No chapel probation,
My advisor will really be thrilled;
I’m no belly-acher,
But here’s the heartbreaker,
The classes I wanted are already filled.

Chorus
Wastin’ away again in Registrationville,
Searchin’ for my lost schedule for fall,
Some people claim that my advisor’s to blame—
But I know –
It’s my own darn fault.

-The references are dated; the routines persist. In yore years, students were issued losable registration cards.
Sung at 255 Grapevine, or Nodrog, or Black & View Review (or all three) by writers Mark Frederick, Norm Jones, and self–and backed by Eric Convey on drums, Steve Crowe on sax, Little Taylor Jones on basket. Our “band” was known as Communication Breakdown.

Essaying – on Learning from Corrie ten Boom

For symposium this year, my public story class put together a podcast on appearance & reality. (Some of you came and told stories.) We all wrote essays about moments in our lives that touched the theme at different angles.

I got thinking about how sometimes pretending or acting As If can be a way toward truth, a way into feeling it.

Sometimes you don’t feel like praying, or saying thanks, but you do those things anyway and end up feeling grateful. Sometimes you don’t feel like loving your spouse, but you do—and then you do. Sometimes you really don’t want to love your enemy, or pray for them, but when you bring them before the throne they become a person, not just a name–historied and complex as you are, with things you can try to forgive, the way you hope to forgive yourself.

Besides Peter jumping out of the boat acting as if he could walk on water, the best story of this kind that I know is Corrie Ten Boom’s.

She’d been a prisoner in Ravensbruck concentration camp. After the war she traveled the world speaking about God’s forgiveness. At one such event a man approached her whom she recognized as having been one of the cruelest guards in Ravensbruck.

He told her he’d become a Christian—and then he put out his hand and asked her to forgive him for the things he’d done as a guard.

She couldn’t do it. Here’s what she writes:

‘Help, Lord!’ I prayed silently. ‘I’ll lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

 

Here are three of your colleagues, Nate Youndt, Sarah Henkels and Katherine Allison, to read excerpts from their essays—to tell stories from their lives. In Nate’s, he tries something similar to what I’ve been saying, but ends up with more truth than he’s ready for. In Sarah’s, a cousin’s reality is almost too hard for a family to bear. And for Katherine, one chance encounter changes the whole kingdom forever after.

All these stories bear out what we know, which is that truth is better than semblance, even if it’s hard, and hard to get to.

Letter – Thanks for Prayers (last Christmas)

Dear Colleagues,

Many of you took note of the fact that I was in the ER on Friday [last year], ready for emergency surgery. Just before the surgeon got out his strop, he realized my dangerous hernia actually wasn’t so, and that I could safely delay the business until after classes and finals are done. Praises.

Many of you–maybe every single person at Gordon, who knows?–prayed for me Friday, and perhaps God, who is outside time, and whose Son interprets our words and wordless groanings, credits those prayers where and even when they are most needed. Surely I was, I am, the beneficiary of those prayers. I feel I will continue to be. Thank you so much for them.

(I hope I’m not being heretical. I know I’m being grateful.)

I ask God to multiply those prayers of yours as Jesus did with loaves and fish, and to distribute them where they are needed, especially to people we love here at Gordon who need them–and to those of us who suffer any kind of trouble, who await diagnoses with shortened breath.

–and even to change their water to wine, those implorings to thankings, for gifts of life, like newbie Anders Hunt, whose birth I will always associate with my own unexpected, undeserved return to health.

Mark

-gratitude from December, 2014. Beverly Hospital gets my vote.

Remarks – on the poems of John Updike

I discovered John Updike’s poetry before his prose, as a college student, reading The Carpentered Hen and Facing Nature on the rocks of West Beach a few miles north of here.

I wrote him a letter praising his work, quoting lines like

“Hosannas of cotton and hallelujahs of wool,” and
“The elms seemed swaying vases full of sky,” and
                                             “They smile because
They know we know, they know we know.”

And he wrote back saying, “Thanks for your kind words about my poetry, which I’ve been neglecting lately, probably due to a dearth of kind words.”

He wouldn’t neglect it for long, of course.  Poetry comforted him, he said, “with its hope of permanence, its packaging of flux,” its “triumphant sense of capture.”  He called his poems “my oeuvre’s beloved waifs.”

I love the humor and the metaphors in his poems—his eye for resemblances, for connecting dissimilar things to help me see them better, which is a mark of genius, according to Aristotle.

You get his genius (and his humor) in this short poem, one he wrote when he was 21.

Why the Telephone Wires Dip and the Poles are Cracked and Crooked

The old men say
young men in gray
hung this thread across our plains
acres and acres ago.

But we, the enlightened, know
in point of fact it’s what remains
of the flight of a marvelous crow
no one saw:
Each pole, a caw.

collected in The Carpentered Hen, 1958, Harper & Brothers. “I still remember the shudder, the triumphant sense of capture, with which I got these lines down, not long after my twenty-first birthday.” J.U.

 

And again, his metaphor-making, in this poem, the last I’ll read.

Before I read it I’ll say:
I loved living near him, bumping into my absolute my favorite writer in the world, at the post office or Harry’s or KC’s or The Book Store—a shop, I expect, he single-handedly put on firm footing.  That he was living and writing and driving his gray Taurus around here ennobled this shore, and me, in some way—

     “as in some mythologies [to quote him]
     beautiful gods stroll unconcerned
     among our mortal apprehensions.”

Alas, this is not the same place without him.

 

The Melancholy of Storm Windows

We touch them at the raw turns
of the year—November
with its whipped trees and cellar sky,
and April, whose air
promises more than the earth
seems willing to yield.
They are unwieldy, of wood, and their panes
monotonously ask the same question—Am I clean?

No, the answer is.
They fit less well, we feel, each year.
But the weather lowers,
watery and wider than a tide,
and if a seam or leak of light shows, well,
nothing’s perfect under Heaven.
Our mortal shell,
they used to call the body.

In need of paint, they heave
up from the cellar and back down again
like a species of cloud,
shedding a snow of flakes and grime.
They rotate heavy in our hands; the screwdriver
stiffly twirls; the Windex swipes evaporate
in air ominous of coming worse
or, at winter’s end, of Easter entombment,
of cobwebbed storage among belittling ants
while the grasshopper world above basks.

Stacked, they savor of the crypt,
of the unvisitable nook
and the stinking pipe, irreparable.
In place, they merely mitigate
death’s whisper at the margins,
the knifing chill that hisses how
the Great Outer cares not a pin for our skins
and the airtight hearts that tremble therein.

We, too, are warped each fall.
They resemble us, storm windows,
in being gaunt, in losing putty,
in height, transparency, fragility—
weak slabs, poor shields, dull clouds.
Ambiguous, we have no place
where we, once screwed, can say, That’s it.

collected in Tossing and Turning, 1977, Knopf
-remarks delivered at Lynch Park in Beverly, Mass. Some of John’s children were present, including Michael Updike, who is a sculptor. He had not known the “Telephone Wires” poem, he said, and later carved it onto the back of Updike’s gravestone in Plowville.

Sung Toast/Roast – to Kina Mallard

Mamas Don’t Let your Babies Grow Up to be Kinas

-to the Willie & Waylen / Ed Bruce tune

Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em run meetings or searches too much,
Let ‘em be milkmaids and barmaids and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam,
Even from somewhere they love.

v1.
Kinas are easy to love but they’re harder to keep,
They’re sought for their skill at administering cattle and sheep,
They polish their titles and cinch up their Bibles
     and round their department herds in,
But when the weather turns chill and the dollars blow south,
Kinas are gone with the wind.

chorus
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em be leaders like Golda Meir,
Let ‘em be scholars like Brittany Spears .
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam,
Even from somewhere they love.

v2.
Kinas like Tennessee waltzes and Kentucky moonshine,
Mint juleps and tulips and cowlicks and Deputy Dawg;
Them that work with her can’t figure if she’s a
     Saint Joan or an Eva Peron,
‘Cause on one hand she cut faculty workshop by a day,
On the other she still makes you go.

chorus 2
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em bark orders and talk back to Jud,
Let ‘em be shy and compliant as mud.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam,
Even from somewhere they love.

v3.
Kinas are almost as able as Ladybird Johnson,
Kinas are nearly as knowing as Atticus Finch;
But under that southern demeanor resides a
     tactician like Robert E. Lee,
And when she sidles up to you with a shucks and a smile,
You get committeed again.

key change—half step

v4.
Kinas are precious to find but they’re painful to lose,
There’s none better suited for telling the falses from trues;
And maybe you’ll say you won’t miss her and maybe
     you’ll practice forgetting her name;
But whenever someone gets their britches in a bunch about the
     budgets of Irv Levy—
Kina will be here that way.

final chorus
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
Don’t let ‘em run meetings or searches too much,
Let ‘em be ranch hands and farm hands and such.
Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be Kinas,
They’ll never set still, no they always will roam—
Roam from a place where she’s loved.

-sung by The Vocal Band at the completion of Kina‘s five-year tenure as Gordon’s associate provost. Kina was recently appointed president of Reinhart University. Congratulations. No barmaid, she.
Vocal band members are self, Oliver, Norm, Steve and, on the electric ivories, Graeme.