Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Sunday, November 1, 2020

A Poem for November Third:
Planting Garlic

One never knows quite when. November third,
this time. Forking and rooting one long patch,
white hands belie heart's warming, while they scratch
at living for its clove of grace. I heard

a bitter night comes, soon. So — now to grope
in stiff, chill soil, against the stillness near,
or never. Apple leaves cling late, this year —
dusk-green, blight-mottled, holding dear to hope:

small ears, curled, cupped to hear the Delphic lyre
one last time, before falling off — to sleep
down on this narrow bed, perhaps, with sheep
snow-wool pulled high. Nearby I nurse a fire
of twigs. Hands warmed, I plant, then — and I keep
ears cupped, for dying fall. Flames, too, expire.



November Third:
On the sonnet "Planting Garlic"


I usually prefer not to add notes to a poem, but also usually prefer not to place a poem onto my blog — unless it seems of the moment, particularly the ever-so-quickly changing political moment.

I placed my sonnet "The Winter King" here due to Forty-Five's blusterous insanity about building walls, which I thought might abruptly land him in an asylum. So I rushed it, a bit: the poem appeared on this blog, in consequence, in a version not-quite final. A few words in it remained restless, and changed themselves soon enough. As it turned out, I would have had time aplenty to collect rejections for the effort. Forty-Five, who here in my blog writings runs rampage also as Koom-Posh, hid behind presidential immunity, and successfully maintained the Gipper tradition of mentally incapacitated rule.

The poem I will post after posting this note, however, I am not rushing onto this blog. I wrote its first draft very nearly a year ago. It won its place in my morning recitations to myself, so that I reexamined it daily through the year. (Is "morning recitations to myself" at all unclear? Its nature is simple: I recite poems to myself while making breakfast, feeding birds, or gardening.) Several times, during this, I told myself that the sonnet had reached finality. A restlessness in the words would soon again reappear, however. Then, in recent weeks, in October, the words found their way to a resting place.

The sonnet had seemed odd to me, in one aspect — which I left alone, even so — for its mentioning a specific date. November third was the day last year when, at the last possible opportunity, I was planting garlic. That the date made its way into the poem was an accident of the moment. But throughout the following year I knew, thanks to this accident, the exact date when I had been out in the cold, aware of the oncoming deep freeze while also beset by the discomforting feelings of mortality that had been mine since sometime midsummer.

An autumnal pall of uncertainty had fallen over me, well before the season arrived.

By the time the poem came to its resting state in October, of course, the air here in the States blew thickly with thoughts, admonishments, incantations, and dreads concerning November third.

Until the poem was at rest I saw this as mere coincidence. After the words settled, I saw it still as a coincidence.

But as a meaningful one.

The autumnal pall of uncertainty is here, upon all the land — as it has been for nearly four years. The Winter King arrived in 2016, even though the true winter of his soul will not fully enwrap our world until, or unless, he is given chance to unfold it.

But it is cold, now. We need a fire of twigs to warm our hands.

The only possible place where I might put out my offering, my little twig, in time to meet the moment which is upon us, is on my blog.

However few my readers may be, here, they are ones whom I know to be able to place their humanity near just such a twig, to access such warmth as may be there.

May all fully and truly human beings in this country find their own inner self-assurance, as well as their reassurance, by November third.

Cheers . . .

Toys in the Age of Wonder


My new book has been published.

I am here announcing it . . . about a month late. Am I laggard in my affections? (Where in the world does that line come from?) Actually, I rather like this book. I have lived with it for ten years, and have struggled over its myriad subjects, facts, and ideas for many more. It has its flaws, but sits all the same among my most important efforts, in the arts.

Toys in the Age of Wonder: Science Fiction, Society, and the Symbolism of Play brings together many things. My personally favored title, Wonder Tales, Toys, and the World that Swallowed Itself, I believe does convey some of the book's breadth. In it, I am talking much less about science fiction than the wonder tale; I am thinking about toys whether they were dimestore baubles or Emerson's "toys that infatuate men and which they play for;" and I am exploring the West's efforts to technically envelope the human sphere — a "consolidated civilization scheme," as I recall a character saying, in one story I discuss. I speak about toy history, history of science, novels, poetry, comic strips, lexical changes, and cultural changes. I draw in works by Poe and Verne, in particular, and by many other authors along the way — with "the way" moving mainly along a time-line from 1859 to 1957-8. My method is cultural criticism, on model of Lewis Mumford, with further guidance taken from the writings of Northrup Frye and Van Wyck Brooks — among, again, many others.

The book's illustrations, all in black and white, make it other than the glossy and colorful affairs which some among my earlier ones were. The items pictured, however, show what sorts of things fascinate me: illustrations from both children's and older-reader books; photographs of children with toys; catalog pages; postcards; World's Fair images and memorabilia; and the toys themselves, children's and adult — anything, in other words, that conveys the symbolic reality that prevails, to my point of view, over the concrete, in culture.

I should note that my announcement's delay comes from concern and circumstance. I did and do wonder: should I, indeed, make a quiet noise about this, and act as though the book's publication might rank in any way against the troubles of our time — the pandemic, the criminal political "leadership," the bought-and-sold legislatures, the bestial police actions, the wildfires, the extinctions, the dying of the only economy that truly matters, which is the economy of life on Earth?

The book does rank, in a way, and not only because it happened to become a fact in this particular time. It ranks, in its small way, because, for the patient few who read it, it will help elucidate how it is that we placed ourselves into these times which encompass our lives. Moreover, it discusses the process by which our present conditions came into being.

A circumstance working into this announcement's delay came about from my having an "outdated" computer system which my blog's host decided to stop recognizing or allowing, a few months ago. Having limited means, limited technical savvy, and a will-to-succeed that often ends up absorbed in soup-makings, dishwater, and garden dirt, it took me quite a while to reach that point in which I could not only pencil these words but also publish them electronically here.

My sympathy for those poorer than I am has grown quite keen. So much activity has shifted on-line during the pandemic that ever more individuals are, literally, being virtually excluded from society. While a part of society is reflected off and conducted by the shell of satellites circling Earth, another part goes unreflected.

Now myself enabled, until that point when I am granted obsolescence once again by our technological shell, I propose to make some quiet noise in relation to my book — with the hope that people will understand that if I make myself a nuisance — oh, if only! — I do so not to advance my fortunes, which will grow by little more than nothing from this effort, but to advance my society's, in however microscopic a manner.

Cheers . . .


P.S. The book has a higher price-tag than I might wish. When your nearest library reopens, please make a request for it.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

With the Retardican Party

The Dissociated Press sent me to test the waters at the rally last night for President Koom-Posh, former child-star of the popular Mr. Brain TV show. Allow me to share a few impressions from the event, held at a local airfield.

Hovercraft were circling, dropping confetti and Anti-Responsibility, or Antiree, propaganda thickly everywhere. The concerns of the Antiree movement are so small that they fit on tiny, nearly dust-sized pieces of paper. Numerous older folk who had been brought to the rally by Retardican organizers were choking and reeling over, hacking and feebly begging for handkerchiefs. One sufferer told me that the shuttlebus driver had taken away his mask, because of the cameras. Coverage needed to show Retardican unity, the driver said.

I was wearing my mask, of course. It was my own news coverage, I suppose. I feared it would do me little good, though, given the shouting and screaming around me from those who seemed able to breathe and exhale clouds of Antiree propaganda without distress. When President Koom-Posh appeared, he arrived surrounded by the device Retardican leaders have been using lately. It seems perfectly transparent and efficacious, at least when used among fellow Retardicans. These "Bubbles of Delusion," produced by Devotion Under Infidelity, or DUI, an agency run by the President's uncle's wealthiest nephew, have become synonymous with the President's claim to have won the last election, and to have already won the next one.

A great hoorah following Koom-Posh's revelation that an adulatory mirror had told him he looked extremely handsome that morning. Then he excoriated his opponents for their socialism. "They say I have no plan for my second term but I have one," he said, inserting his trademark screech of understatement. "I will end socialism. I have already knocked over environmental barriers to business and industry because the national parks and wilderness areas, even our very land and water and air, are infected with public ownership! Now I will lay low not only Social Security — you see how cleverly they slipped 'Social' into its name? — but also the U.S. military, which is socialistically owned by the state; the VA hospitals, which are socialized medicine; the police, a socialized security force that must become even more anti-social; and the highways, those socialized routes for travel that insidiously have spread everywhere! Who needs them when I can fly here to see you in Air Force One, which is socialized air transport for my use only and which I personally will privatize!"

During the roar of approval I turned to a nearby woman with a small hat-size and enormous chest who was breathing rapidly.

"I thought last time," I said, "that he accused the opposition of wanting to eliminate the police."

"This isn't eliminating! He will make them all private Homely Securitoids!"

"Make them — what?"

"You aren't a believer, are you?"

"Oh, I suspect Koom-Posh has dug himself a deep enough hole."

"Just you wait! He'll dig himself deeper!"

On stage, Koom-Posh accused the Media of counting how many people were being hospitalized with breathing problems, not to mention Covid, after his rallies. "The Media are creating the situation and need to stop the counting!"

I turned to my companion again.

"He may get his wish. The Media will stop counting votes for him."

"That won't matter!"

"It won't?"

"No! He is above that!"

"He is?"

"Yes! Counting applies to everyone else! But he doesn't count!"

"President Koom-Posh — "

"President Koom-Posh doesn't have to count! So he doesn't count! He doesn't count!"

So loudly vociferous was she that others around her took it up. Soon the area was roaring, as well as wheezing, the chant of President Koom-Posh's not counting.

"Am I not counting on you?" came the responding roar from the stage.

"We don't count! We don't count!" roared back the crowd.

The time had come to leave, I thought. My ears were ringing with emanations from Koom-over's Bubble of Delusion and the none-too-tuneful ululations and chantings thickly swirling about me. The police at the edge, however, were letting no one leave early, unless on a gurney. Someone bumped me from behind. Turning to find a policeman there, I felt my mask being ripped away. A baton propelled me headfirst back into the crowd. I gasped, took in a dusty lungful, and passed out.

The next morning — apparently, since the sky was bright with sunshine — I woke groggily to a piercing headache. I held my hands before my eyes, and saw they were chalk-white.

I had frozen to death!

My hands shook so violently with fear at this insane thought that the thick Antiree dusting fell away. The stuff had nearly persuaded me. I stood up, coughing, and looked around at the field covered with corpses — or whatever they were, abandoned on the runway tarmac and surrounding grass. They looked like those ash-covered bodies at Pompeii.

I went to the cordon at the field's edge, still manned by police.

"Why is this fence here?" I said.

"To keep the Media from counting you all in there," said a policewoman.

"But I'm not one of them. I'm not dead."

She squinted at me. I half expected her to ask about my being a believer or not. Then she opened the gate.

"I guess you don't count," she said.

I believe she meant it as a compliment.

Monday, October 26, 2020

An Open Letter to Senator Ron Johnson

To Ron Johnson, Senator from Wisconsin:

Only four years ago, you thought it fitting for a Supreme Court nomination to be postponed or negated, because it fell "only eight months before an election where the American people are going to decide the direction of the country."

You were lying — perhaps to yourself, but more certainly to the public. You were lying, that is, unless you are a weasel now. Conceivably you are liar and weasel both, since you have accommodated yourself so well to the needs of Forty-Five, the devil whose name had best go unmentioned, who has proven himself so adept at being, at one and the same time, a liar and a weasel.

If you are either or both of these things, you do not represent me, a Wisconsinite and a supposed "constituent" of yours. Wisconsin has its share of liars and two-legged weasels, admittedly; and perhaps you have an obligation to do your honorable best by them.

Many voters here seem unperturbed at your having been put into office by offensively wealthy men; at your being a toady to a bigot who boasts of offensive wealth but who opens a wallet thick only with bluster and bilgewater; or at your helping oversee the violent violation of the rights of innocents through "Homeland" heavy-handedness. You shame Wisconsin, which suggests that your supporters, too, feel no shame.

Yet now in October — only weeks before the Russian government will attempt again to decide the direction of this country — you reveal yourself as a weasel, to all. I hope that your supporters see this through your Badger disguise, and feel pride enough in the fact that they are Badgers themselves to speak out and make you realize that your blush of success in a realm awash in bluster and bilgewater is, instead, the fever-bloom of falsehood — and, I do believe, of your poverty of integrity, and of your deep-seated guilt for doing wrong against your own state and nation.

Most sincerely not yours, Mark Rich, Cashton, Wisconsin

Monday, May 11, 2020

Exit Bloom, Enter Bloom

[Written March third, this year.]

For days, in the mornings when studying Emerson, I looked at the last blooms on the Christmas cactus, and yearned to have pencil and paper at hand to draw what I saw — the fragile, warm-toned, and drooping bloom seen only partially, through the fern that sits nearer at hand — through its dark stems, its leaves capturing in green the northern window's morning light.

And now I see only the spent blossom — still, it is true, fragile, warm-toned, and drooping — there, barely, through rising stems and spreading leaves.

And now, too, with the cactus done, the begonia on the same table blooms.