"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, September 14, 2019

When Women Wore Names


I know thee by name. . . .
Exodus 33:17

Fear not . . . I have called thee by thy name. . .
Isaiah 43:1

For more Cartouche Hieroglyphs: Alphabet ~ Generator

A few months ago, my friend Joni
shared this photograph with the caption:
"Ran the sun up to this 'Warrior Song'
by The Red Shadow Singers
and received my new name Running Redbud
Love my shirt feeling grateful ❤️"

Listening to the old Anishinabe Thunderbird Warrior Song reminded me of a favorite essay from teaching days when one of the recurring themes on my syllabus was "you deserve to be called by your name." It took me all summer to track down a copy, but here is an excerpt, just in time for Joni's birthday:
The Names of Women
Louise Erdrich

"Ikwe is the word for woman in the language of the Anishinabe, my mother’s people, whose descendants, mixed with and married to French trappers and farmers, are the Michifs of the Turtle Mountain reservation in North Dakota. Every Anishinabe Ikwe, every mixed-blood descendant like me, who can trace her way back a generation or two, is the daughter of a mystery. The history of the woodland Anishinabe – decimated by disease, fighting Plains Indian tribes to the west and squeezed by European settlers to the east–is much like most other Native American stories, a confusion of loss, a tale of absences, of a culture that was blown apart and changed so radically in such a short time that only the names survive.

"And yet, those names.

"The names of the first women whose existence is recorded on the rolls of the Turtle Mountain Reservation, in 1892, reveal as much as we can ever recapture of their personalities, complex natures and relationships. These names tell stories, or half stories, if only we listen closely.

"There once were women named Standing Strong, Fish Bones, Different Thunder. There once was a girl called Yellow Straps. Imagine what it was like to pick berries with Sky Coming Down, to walk through a storm with Lightning Proof. Surely, she was struck and lived, but what about the person next to her? People always avoided Steps Over Truth, when they wanted a straight answer, and I Hear, when they wanted to keep a secret. Glittering put coal on her face and watched for enemies at night. The woman named Standing Across could see things moving far across the lake. The old ladies gossiped about Playing Around, but no one dared say anything to her face. Ice was good at gambling. Shining One Side loved to sit and talk to Opposite the Sky. They both knew Sounding Feather, Exhausted Wind and Green Cloud, daughter of Seeing Iron. Center of the Sky was a widow. Rabbit, Prairie Chicken and Daylight were all little girls. She Tramp could make great distance in a day of walking. Cross Lightning had a powerful smile. When Setting Wind and Gentle Woman Standing sang together the whole tribe listened. Stop the Day got her name when at her shout the afternoon went still. Log was strong, Cloud Touching Bottom weak and consumptive. Mirage married Wind. Everyone loved Musical Cloud, but children hid from Dressed in Stone. Lying Down Grass had such a gentle voice and touch, but no one dared to cross She Black of Heart.

"We can imagine something of these women from their names. . . ."
Yet, despite their power and beauty, these elegant and naturally descriptive names were slowly, surely, and sadly, overwritten throughout the 20th Century by Christianized, Anglicized and Frenchified replacements: "She Knows the Bear became Marie. Sloping Cloud was christened Jeanne. Taking Care of the Day and Yellow Day Woman turned into Catherines. Identities are altogether lost."

Erdrich explains what happened in her family of origin: "The daughters of my own ancestors, Kwayzancheewin – Acts Like a Boy and Striped Earth Woman – go unrecorded, and no hint or reflection of their individual natures comes to light through the scattershot records of those times, although they must have been genetically tough in order to survive: there were epidemics of typhoid, flu, measles and other diseases that winnowed the tribe each winter. They had to have grown up sensible, hard-working, undeviating in their attention to their tasks. They had to have been lucky. . . . all the mothers going back into the shadows, when women wore names that told us who they were" (emphasis added).

Happy Birthday to Running Redbud!

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, September 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Common Air that Bathes the Globe


Thanks to my brother - in - law Tom Burrows
for his beautiful photograph of this late summer blossom!


With Labor Day Weekend upon us,
who better than our
200 - year - old
American Superhero Walt Whitman
to help us celebrate
"the social and economic achievements of American workers."

As my friend Len once observed:
"Every reminder of Whitman is bracing!"

Whitman is so vast and inclusive, so enthusiastic about life in these United States, that nearly any passage or poem would be appropriate for the occasion of Labor Day. Time after time, he provides comprehensive lists of jobs, professions, States, claiming his identity as "Southerner . . . Northerner . . . Yankee . . . Kentuckian . . . Hoosier . . . Kanadian":

I am . . . A learner with the simplest, a teacher of the thoughtfullest,
A novice beginning yet experient of myriads of seasons,
Of every hue and caste am I, of every rank and religion,
A farmer, mechanic, artist, gentleman, sailor, quaker,
Prisoner, fancy-man, rowdy, lawyer, physician, priest.

I resist any thing better than my own diversity,
Breathe the air but leave plenty after me,
And am not stuck up, and am in my place.


These are really the thoughts of all . . . in all ages and lands,
they are not original with me,
If they are not yours as much as mine they are nothing, or next to nothing,
If they are not the riddle and the untying of the riddle they are nothing,
If they are not just as close as they are distant they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.


This is the meal equally set, this the meat for natural hunger,
It is for the wicked just the same as the righteous, I make appointments with all,
I will not have a single person slighted or left away,
The kept-woman, sponger, thief, are hereby invited,
The heavy-lipp'd slave is invited, the venerealee is invited;
There shall be no difference between them and the rest.

This is the press of a bashful hand, this the float and odor of hair,
This the touch of my lips to yours, this the murmur of yearning,
This the far-off depth and height reflecting my own face,
This the thoughtful merge of myself, and the outlet again.

Do you guess I have some intricate purpose?
Well I have, for the Fourth-month showers have,
and the mica on the side of a rock has.

Do you take it I would astonish?
Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering through the woods?
Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.


No sentimentalist, no stander above men and women or apart from them,
No more modest than immodest.

Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!

Whoever degrades another degrades me,
And whatever is done or said returns at last to me.

Through me the afflatus surging and surging,
through me the cur- rent and index.

I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy,
By God! I will accept nothing which all cannot have
their counterpart of on the same terms.

Through me many long dumb voices,
Voices of the interminable generations of prisoners and slaves,
Voices of the diseas'd and despairing and of thieves and dwarfs,
Voices of cycles of preparation and accretion,
And of the threads that connect the stars . . .

Song of Myself, 16, 17, 19, 24
in Leaves of Grass


"I wear my hat as I please indoors or out."
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
photographed on New Year's Eve 1886
by George Collins Cox (1851–1903)
photo restored in 1979 by Adam Cuerden


"When quoting Whitman," Len advised, "be sure to stand up and read it aloud for the full effect (and for the benefit of others in your vicinity!)."

Len's advice reminded me of a long ago teacher evaluation that I received at Notre Dame, when a student had listed under my "weaknesses": "Likes to read aloud." Haha! But true!

As Len then pointed out, "If people only knew the hilarious comments students often provide on course evaluations, they would want these anthologized. But then the teachers would be tempted to read these aloud."

Whitman was ever one to proclaim, but also one to whisper:

"This hour I tell things in confidence,
I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you
. . .

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you."


Additional examples of Whitman's bracing words:
~ Quotidian ~ Book List ~ Fortnightly ~

Next Fortnightly Post
Saturday, September 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Given Life by an Intimate Sun

Ponta Delgada, Azores

The Sea of Portugal

Oh salt laden sea, how much of your salt
belongs to the tears of Portugal!
By crossing your waters, how many mothers wept,
how many sons and daughters prayed in vain!
How many would be brides denied
for you to be ours, oh sea!

Was it all worth it -- the price that was paid?
All is worth doing, if one is great of soul.
Beyond the Cape of Bojador, for those who dare to sail,
all pain must be renounced, all suffering cast off.
Perils and unfathomable depths to the sea gave God,
for the sky above is mirrored within.

Fernando Pessoa

My preceding Fortnightly concluded with a preview of Pessoa's work, and a promise of more Portuguese poetry to come. Once again dipping into the anthology, I have chosen a selection of poems from the three youngest poets, all of whom lived and wrote, intensely and somewhat sadly, in the early 20th Century: Pessoa (1888 – 1935), his friend and colleague Mario de Sa-Carneiro (1890 – 1916), and Florabela Espanca (1894 - 1930). As you can see from the dates, their lives were not long. Pessoa was plagued by ill health and alcoholism; Sa-Carneiro and Espanca died of suicide.

A little more sunshine -- and I would be an ember.
A little more blue -- and I would take flight.
But I lacked that impulse to get there . . . "

from the poem "Almost"
~ Mario de Sa-Carneiro ~

Fernando Pessoa (with glasses),
Florbela Espanca (mid / left),
Mario de Sa-Carneiro (above her, wearing hat)

The most optimistic of this group is Fernando Pessoa, whose ode to the machine is worthy of Dawn or Doom or Walt Whitman. He grants technology a role in the creation of his poetry and looks to the future as well as the past:
Ode Triumphant

Under the powerful light of the industrial lamps
I possess a fever and through gritted teeth I write.
I write, overcome, drunk with all this beauty,
A beauty entirely unknown to the ancients.

Oh wheels, oh gears, grrrrind eternally!
Mighty spasms constricted by machines enraged!
A thunderous rage both within and without,
pervading all my nerves detached,
all my taste buds, all I feel with!
My lips are dry, oh noise so loud and so modern,
as you I hear with such close intensity,
and my head burns from singing you with excess
in pronouncement of all that I feel,
with an exuberance to match yours, oh machines!

In "Lisbon Revisited (1926)" Pessoa writes of both sea and city, and existential angst:
Nothing connects me to nothing . . .
Once more I see you,
city of my youth so tragically lost . . .
And once more I see you,
my heart at a distance, my soul much less so.
Once more I see you -- Lisbon, my city . . .
Once more I see you,
but alas, myself, I do not!
The magical mirror in which my image reflected, cracked,
and in each fateful shard remains a fragment of me --
a fragment of you and me!
The theme of nothingness appears throughout Pessoa's work, as he wonders about the elusive meaning of life. He wrongly foresees a negated fate for his poetry, though this strain of gloom did not prevent him from writing prolifically and with a great sense of affirmation, under a complicated system of pseudonyms. The following two examples come under the name of Ricardo Reis:
Nothing remains of nothing. We are nothing.
With a little sun and air, we hold back, delay
the stifling darkness that weighs heavy
on the moistened land.
We are all death deferred, and we multiply.

Laws created, statues viewed, odes concluded --
everything has its graves, and if we, who are given life
by an intimate sun,

too must rest, why not everything else?
We tell tales upon tales -- we are nothing.


Yes, I know that
I'll forever be a nobody.
I know very well that
a single work I shall not complete.
And more so that
I'll never know me.
Yes, but now,
whilst this time lasts,
this moonlight, these arms,
this peace that we feel,
permit me to believe
that which I may never be.
The tragic poet, Florabela Espanca (8 December 1894 – 8 December 1930) predicts, again incorrectly, that her work may share a similar fate:

I dream that I'm the Golden Girl of poets,
She who says it all and knows it all,
who finds pure and perfect inspiration,
who gathers the boundless into a single line!

I dream that in just one of my lines is a brightness
enough to fll the whole world! Delighting
even those whose hearts are sore and broken!
Even those with profound and yearning souls!

I dream that I am Somebody here in this world --
She of the vast and profound wisdom,
at whose feet the Earth bows!

And when I'm dreaming skyward at my highest,
and soaring at my loftiest up above,
I wake from my dream -- And I'm nothing!

It is typical of Espanca's sonnets to initially fill the reader with hope, until the introduction of despair in the last few lines. In "To A Young Girl," for example, we join in the poet's encouragement of the young girl to embrace life in every aspect -- yes, do this; yes do that! But "dig yourself a grave"? No, don't do that!
To A Young Girl
For Nice

Open your eyes and face your life! Your fate
has to come true! Fling your horizons wide!
Raise bridges up across the boggy mires
with your precious, young woman's hands.

Along the fascinating highway of your life
keep walking on ahead, on over the mountains!
Bite into fruits as you laugh! Drink from the springs!
Kiss everyone your good luck brings your way!

Wave a hello to the farthest-distant star,
use your own hands to dig yourself a grave,
and then, with a grin, lie down in it!

Then may the earth's hands lovingly
bring up into the light out of your body's grace,
slender and new, the stalk of a flower!

Struggling against both physical and mental illness, it was difficult for Espanca to choose the joyous life that she describes in the opening of nearly every poem. If only she had been able to see that she herself was the "Enchanted Princess of Dreamland," that she, like her contemporary Pessoa, had been "given life by an intimate sun." Well, maybe she did.
What You Are

You're the One every little thing gets down,
rubs wrong and embitters, everything humiliates you;
you're the One Heartache called her daughter,
the One deserving nothing from man or God.

You're the One whom the bright sun darkens,
who doesn't even know what road she's traveling on,
the one without a single gleaming, wondrous love
to dazzle you, and give you light and warmth!

A Dead Sea with no tides or wide waves,
made up entirely of bitter tears,
groveling on the ground like beggar-women do!

You're a year when spring never came --
Ah! If only you could be like other girls,
O Enchanted Princess of Dreamland!
Thanks again to these two enchanted wanderers
for their photos of Portugal and for the book of poetry!

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, August 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Every This and That


Does Ben's view resemble that of Ulysses,
3000 years ago or so?

According to legend, Ulysses / Odysseus was the founder
of Lisbon
, thus the linguistic connection between the hero's
name and city's ancient name of Ulyssippo, Olissipona,
Olisipo [sometimes with double "ss" or double "pp"], or Lissabon

Once again (see preceding post OXB), I'm grateful to Ben and Cathleen, who not only shared their vacation photographs but also picked out this inspirational souvenir for me:

Featuring clockwise from top:
Cesario Verde, Fernando Pessoa (with glasses),
Luis de Camoes (with laurel wreath),
Florbela Espanca, Mario de Sa-Carneiro

First in the anthology comes Luis de Camoes (1524 - June 10, 1580), a poet so important to the language and people of Portugal that the day of his death is observed annually as Portugal's National Day. Camoes is the author of Portugal's national epic poem The Lusiads. This saga recounts the adventues of the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama who sets sail from Lisbon, accompanied by a cast of classical gods, heroes, and muses:
From Canto IV: The Departure
Amidst a noble roar of eager cries
in Lisbon’s harbour – where renowned Ulysses
made berth; where into briny Neptune spills
the Tagus its sweet liquor and white sands –
the ships stand yare at last; and not a fear
bridles from youthful show of zeal the crews,
for these seafaring men with men of Mars
will follow me, across the very globe.

Up from the beaches come the soldiers, clad
in diverse styles and colors, all as much
trimmed in desirousness to brave the world
and seek new regions out. Aloft, calm winds
billow with gentle swells the flags flown high
on our proud carracks, which, as they behold
the seas' expanse, promise one day to rise,
as Argos' ship before, to Olympus, stars.

Camoes was also the author of numerous sonnets. The autobiographical message of this one, for example, captures the introspecitve tone of his lyric poetry:
My own mistakes, cruel fortune, and love's flame
devised a plot together to undo me.
Mistakes and fortune were a surfeit to me;
Love alone would have done for me the same.

I'm past it; yet I still feel the excess
of pain so freshly now from troubles past,
that from their sorry rage I've learned at last
never to take desires for happiness.

The whole tale of my years, I was mistaken,
and with my groundless hopes I did my part
to earn my troubles; Fortune was no cheat.

I've known no love but flashes of deceit.
Oh if some power only would awaken
the vengeance that could sate my hardened heart!

Camoes looks at the passing of time with a similar honesty, concluding in puzzlement rather than nostalgia:
The times change, the desires change, and who
we are, and what we trust, keeps changing with them;
the whole world is composed of change's rhythm,
forever shifting qualities anew.

Constantly we see new things, every this
and that
showing our guess was ill - attuned;
and when they bring us hurt, we keep the wound,
while what was good (if anything), we miss.

Time cloaks the ground in green, where it before
lay covered underneath the snowy cold;
in me, it turns to tears what was sweet song.

And as these daily changings pass along,
another change amazes me still more:
things don't change now the way they changed of old.
Camoes' amazement -- that even change itself is subject to change -- reminds me of the Charles Durning's amusing and bemused Thanksgiving prayer in Home for the Holidays:

" . . . even things we hated
. . . are starting to stop
. . . and they shouldn't."

In any age, it seems, despite our preferences, change is the way of the world. Modernist Lisbon poet Fernando Pessoa (1888 – 1935) repeats the same lament in no uncertain terms:

". . . for change is what I hate,
and something I do not want
. . . ."
~ from "I suffer Lydia" ~


" . . . Provided life does not weary,
I'll let life pass slowly by,
on the condition that I stay the same
. . . ."
~ from "I prefer roses" ~

Photo by Cathleen ~ Ponta Delgada, Azores
[Click for More Tile Art]

Another favorite from Fernando Pessoa:

With one eye on the past
some see which they cannot see,
whilst others in the future see
that which cannot be seen.

Why go so far, look closer!
What is freedom? The day is here!
This is the hour, the moment;
and this moment is who we are and that is that.

Forever flowing, the eternal hour
reveals our insignificance.
In a single gasp we live and die, so seize the day,
for the day is simply who you are.
In the coming weeks, I will look more closely at the work of Camoes and Pessoa, as well as the remaining three poets whose work comprise this enlightening and often heart-breaking volume of verse. Thanks to Cathleen and Ben for opening my eyes to the poetry of Portugal.

Belated Honeymoon

Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, August 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Sunday, July 14, 2019



Cathleen's Favorite Place ~ Bennett Street ~ Kitty Hawk, North Carolina
~ Acrylic Painting by Cathleen Amalia ~

My Talented Daughter - in - Law & My Elder Son!
Cathleen & Ben at the Outer Banks


"In the summer, the days were long,
stretching into each other.
Out of school, everything was on pause
and yet happening at the same time,
this collection of weeks when anything was possible."

~ Sarah Dessen ~ Along for the Ride ~

The Outer Banks


Horizon of islands shifting
Sea-light flame on my voice
burn in me
flows from the water from sands islands of this horizon
The sea comes toward me across the sea. The sand
moves over the sand in waves
between the guardians of this landscape
the great commemorative statue on one hand
—the first flight of man, outside of dream,
seen as stone wing and stainless steel—
and at the other hand
banded black-and-white, climbing
the spiral lighthouse.


Floor over ocean,
avalanche on the flat beach. Pouring.
Indians holding branches up, to
placate the tempest,
the one-legged twisting god that is
a standing wind.
Rays are branching from all things:
great serpent, great plume, constellation:
sands from which colors and light pass,
the lives of plants. Animals. Men.
A man and a woman reach for each other.


Wave of the sea.


Sands have washed, sea has flown over us.
Between the two guardians, spiral, truncated wing,
history and these wild birds
Bird-voiced discoverers : Hariot, Hart Crane,
the brothers who watched gulls.
“No bird soars in a calm,” said Wilbur Wright.
Dragon of the winds forms over me.
Your dance, goddesses in your circle
sea-wreath, whirling of the event
behind me on land as deep in our own lives
we begin to know the movement to come.
Sunken, drowned spirals,


Shifting of islands on this horizon.
The cycle of changes in the Book of Changes.
Two islands making an open female line
That powerful long straight bar a male island.
The building of the surf
constructing immensities
between the pale flat Sound
and ocean ever
birds as before earthquake
winds fly from all origins
the length of this wave goes from the great wing
down coast, the barrier beach in all its miles
road of the sun and the moon to
a spiral lighthouse
to the depth turbulence
lifts up its wave like cities
the ocean in the air
spills down the world.


A man is walking toward me across the water.
From far out, the flat waters of the Sound,
he walks pulling his small boat

In the shoal water.

A man who is white and has been fishing.
Walks steadily upon the light of day
Coming closer to me where I stand
looking into the sun and the blaze inner water.
Clear factual surface over which he pulls
a boat over a closing quarter-mile.


Speak to it, says the light.
Speak to it music,
voices of the sea and human throats.
Origins of spirals,
the ballad and original sweet grape
dark on the vines near Hatteras,
tendrils of those vines, whose spiral tower
now rears its light, accompanying
all my voices.


He walks toward me. A black man in the sun.
He now is a black man speaking to my heart
crisis of darkness in this century
of moments of this speech.
The boat is slowly nearer drawn, this man.

The zigzag power coming straight, in stones,
in arcs, metal, crystal, the spiral
in sacred wet
schematic elements of
cities, music, arrangement
spin these stones of home
under the sea
return to the stations of the stars
and the sea, speaking across its lives.


A man who is bones is close to me
drawing a boat of bones
the sun behind him
is another color of fire,
the sea behind me
rears its flame.

A man whose body flames and tapers in flame
twisted tines of remembrance that dissolve
a pitchfork of the land worn thin
flame up and dissolve again
draw small boat

Nets of the stars at sunset over us.
This draws me home to the home of the wild birds
long-throated birds of this passage.
This is the edge of experience, grenzen der seele
where those on the verge of human understanding
the borderline people stand on the shifting islands
among the drowned stars and the tempest.
“Everyman’s mind, like the dumbest,
claws at his own furthest limits of knowing the world,”
a man in a locked room said.

Open to the sky
I stand before this boat that looks at me.
The man’s flames are arms and legs.
Body, eyes, head, stars, sands look at me.
I walk out into the shoal water
and throw my leg over the wall of the boat.


At one shock, speechlessness.
I am in the bow, on the short thwart.
He is standing before me amidships, rowing forward
like my old northern sea-captain in his dory.
All things have spun.
The words gone,
I facing sternwards, looking at the gate
between the barrier islands. As he rows.
Sand islands shifting and the last of land
a pale and open line horizon

With whose face did he look at me?
What did I say? or did I say?
in speechlessness
mover to the change.
These strokes provide the music,
and the accused boy on land today saying
What did I say? or did I say?
The dream on land last night built this the boat of death
but in the suffering of the light
moving across the sea
do we in our moving
move toward life or death


Hurricane, skullface, the sky’s size
winds streaming through his teeth
doing the madman’s twist

and not a beach not flooded

nevertheless, here
stability of light
my other silence
and at my left hand and at my right hand
no longer wing and lighthouse
no longer the guardians.
They are in me, in my speechless
life of barrier beach.
As it lies open
to the night, out there.

Now seeing my death before me
starting again, among the drowned men,
desperate men, unprotected discoverers,
and the man before me
Stroke by stroke drawing us.
Out there? Father of rhythms,
deep wave, mother.
There is no out there.
All is open.
Open water. Open I.


The wreck of the Tiger, the early pirate, the blood-clam’s
ark, the tern’s acute eye, all buried mathematical
instruments, castaways, pelicans, drowned five-
strand pearl necklaces, hopes of livelihood,
hopes of grace,
walls of houses, sepia sea-fences, the writhen octopus and
those tall masts and sails,
marked hulls of ships and last month’s plane, dipping his salute
to the stone wing of dream,
turbulence, Diamond Shoals, the dark young living people:
“Sing one more song and you are under arrest.”
“Sing another song.”
Women, ships, lost voices.
Whatever has dissolved into our waves.
I a lost voice
moving, calling you
on the edge of the moment that is now the center.
From the open sea.

©Muriel Rukeyser (1913 - 1980)
Originally published in The Speed of Darkness (1968)


More by Muriel Rukeyser:

Icarus, Who Really Fell

Lot's Wife, Who Gave Her Life For a Single Glance

La Cucaracha

When the Iris Blows Blue


The Student Body in the Text

All the Little Animals

The Wrong Answer

Another Good Poem By Muriel Rukeyser

La Cucaracha


More Beautiful Ocean Poems


Cathleen, Carmen, Ben ~ OBX Easter 2016

Next Fortnightly Post
Sunday, July 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

Friday, June 28, 2019

Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jacks

Cracker Jack

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game.

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" ~ 1908
Tin Pan Alley song by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer
~ Unofficial Anthem of North American Baseball ~

The turn - of - the century snack was recently featured
in this tasteful tableau at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum

1881 Drawing of the Samuel M. Nickerson House (completed 1883)
Now the Richard H. Driehaus Museum
40 East Erie Street, Chicago ~ Corner of Wabash & Erie

Although the Cracker Jack Prize has now been replaced by a
mobile app that allows you to play a digital baseball game
on your phone, it is still alluded to in plenty of political cartoons:


"That's a crackerjack!"
"The More You Eat, the More You Want!"

~ Product Slogans from the 1890s ~

Somehow, all these years, I have remained unfamiliar with "Cracker Jack" as a colloquialism meaning "of excellent quality." Thus, when Gerry asked me to proofread a speech he was preparing, I was puzzled by his use of "cracker - jack" as an upbeat, gung - ho adjective and advised him that some Americans (surely not just me?) might not think of "cracker - jack" as a positive modifier. I worried that it might sound a bit too much like "crack - pot" or bring to mind not just the caramel corn concoction but also the cheap plastic trinkets, miniscule toys, and faux jewelry offered inside of each box as a prize. Some prize! Conotations of value-less-ness sprang to mind.

As alternative adjectives, I suggested: "compelling, dynamic, energizing." But Gerry was searching for "an antiquated term of excellence" -- those all sounded too new - age. So perhaps best to leave "cracker - jack" in the sentence. I didn't want to steer him wrong, after all. And, despite the fact that it was news to me, I could plainly see that the dictionary was defining "cracker - jack" as "exceptionally good." I thought maybe it was a British thing -- like the popular kids' television show, familiar to Gerry but unbeknownst to me; but no, the dictionary also said "North American informal."

So maybe I am the only one -- in America or England! -- who never uses it that way. I'm the first to admit that I'd probably get only a 20,000 on that facebook vocab quiz -- not a 30,000 like all of our genius friends. In fact, I can't say that "cracker - jack" is really in my vocabulary at all, except to refer to the movie / baseball snack -- and even then, I don't say "Cracker Jack" -- I say "Cracker Jacks." Not to mention that it is not even my favorite kind of carmel corn -- too sticky for my taste; and to tell the truth the prizes have always been just lame -- okay, nostalgic! Still and all, I like the song, even though I've been singing it wrong all my life.


Photograph by my friend Elaine Nicol

While we're on the topic of time - honored treats, check out the winner and runners - up of Best Biscuit in Britain! Gerry and I had a lot of fun watching the countdown on British television a couple of Christmases ago. He approved of the winner -- the Chocolate Digestive (either dark or milk; though he usually prefers plain -- futher down on the list at #9). But I was rooting for the arch rival Chocolate Hobnob which ended up in second place (again, either dark or milk; as with Digestives, plain Hobnobs -- #19 -- are also delicious).

Not to brag, but I have gained some small fame by
frosting my Chocolate Hobnobs to resemble Christmas Puddings!
December 15, 2012

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