The Universal Teat

If you have not read “Grapes of Wrath” and for some reason plan on doing so, stop reading this. If, on the other hand, you would like to be spared the load but are curious about its classical buzz, read on.

“Grapes of Wrath” is like a fat Oreo: delicious chocolate crunch on each end, white sappy soap mush in the middle. The last paragraph of the book, after four hundred pages of soapy sap, may be the best thing that’s happened to me in book form. In it, Rose of Sharon, once prodigal daughter, later pregnant abandoned wife, nurses a half-starved man. She has milk to give because hours before she gives birth to a stillborn during a devastating flood.

I would say that the image of this wrecked woman, who was probably hot, bringing a doomed man back from the brink of death by the power of her breasts is why the book endures the test of time. Also why they made a movie about it right away.

In all seriousness, I am glad I read it. The first hundred pages are breathtaking. The last fifty are sweepingly cinematic. The ending over-the-top — as was my joy at realizing I’d finally put it to bed.

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Landfall

I realize the picture above is bad. It was taken on a flight at the exact moment the pilot warned of turbulence from Hurricane Harvey, passengers and plane already shaking. The storm about to hit Texas at a place called Corpus Christi, which is the name of a real town in the physical world.

So I kept the bad picture I took of the good poem I was reading to show you. The words legible, no matter the storm.

The poem is by Tim Seibles and is called “Delores Epps.” It was presented by the skinniest member of my MFA program at Florida International University during our first class.

I remembered it on the plane after watching “Girls” and made my row get up so I could grab it from the overhead compartment where it lay, unread, neighbored by other people’s back packed belongings. I found a forgotten banana in my carry on, which I ate while I read my poem, wanting to feel the sorrow of being young and not knowing anything but also knowing the exact same amount I still don’t know now. But, it is better not to know at fifteen, better not to know at twenty three, better not to know at thirty three, than now at thirty six. The not knowing of each year always circling, gasping to lift off, but making landfall in a watery mess somewhere by a place the map calls Corpus Christi.

The Atom World

There is a street in LA that has everything, at least, everything that my world needs. Juice, coffee, books, yoga, independent shopping, wine, cheese, parking. On this street, each of these are each well done, particularly the book store, where on the cashier’s counter I encountered Ray Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man.”

I was on the market for short stories, I realized, particularly those of the semi-science fiction variety offered by Bradbury. His “Life on Mars” is often in my top ten modular list of all-time favorite books.

So far “The Illustrated Man” has kept the Bradbury promise: render human defects alien, gruesome by kicking them out of context. The childhood aggression, racism, panic, violence in his eerily futuristic tales are incongruous in their cruelty. No one would could ever possible do that, could they?  This can never possibly happen, can it? Or, has it, is it already happening?

The excerpt above is from a story titled “The Highway.” What drew me in was the use of the word “atom” vs. “atomic” in describing a war that could end the world. In many ways a war that could end the world is an atom war, a war of the minuscule, a war started by a few pissy men. Case in point: the past two world wars.

Who knows if the decision to use “atom” vs. “atomic” is due to language evolution or intention. It does not matter. The effect is there. It is harder to get around the meaning of the word in its noun form. An “atom” is the limit of a thing, just as a human is the limit of what can be called a “world.” An atom war that will end the world. A petty war that will end my perception.

Thus, the character in Bradbury’s story, who lives by a road in the middle of nowhere, suddenly overrun with folk escaping the “end of the world,” can only ask his donkey:

“What do they mean, ‘the world’?”