Honoring Paul

I got up at 3:30 AM on Friday morning last week. Seriously, no exaggeration, no lying.

It worked out fine, and I didn’t even feel bad, surprisingly. The reason? My brother Paul was slated to receive the Charles. Martin Award for Association Leadership — the highest award of the Iowa State Education Association.

It is an honor he richly deserves. Like me he has been a member of the Association throughout his entire teaching career, but unlike me he rapidly moved into leadership positions, including long-time presidency of his local Association, chief negotiator for about thirty years as well as serving as head of grievance and negotiations for the same amount of time. He’s also been prominent and important at the state level — representative to the Delegate Assembly for nearly twenty years, many roles for the Unit Nine Board, and the ISEA Executive Board. The presentation of the award especially acknowledged his mentoring role for younger teachers in Oskaloosa and around the state, which is, as they said, “perhaps, his greatest legacy.”

The ISEA Delegate Assembly was last Thursday and Friday, and I wanted to be president to see him receive the award, as did my sister Margaret, Paul’s superintendent and many, many friends. My brother David would have been there, too, except he used his personal time to attend the recent state math conference.

Anyway, I set the alarm or 3:30, and when it let off I actually got up easily, having fallen asleep deliberately at 9:00 PM on Thursday evening. Showering, shaving, dressing, packing some beverages for the trip, and wolfing down a half a grapefruit and some milk in the dark consumed not quite an hour. Janet had recommended I buy a convenience-store cappuccino for the drive and warm it up in the microwave just before I left, it’s was a good idea except I let it cook too long and wasted some time cleaning up boiled-over cappuccino before hopping in the truck and heading out into the dark, just about an hour earlier than I might have headed out for a morning run.

Why is this ISU picture of Hilton Coliseum mostly sky?

I drove east out of Maquoketa to Anamosa, picking up 151 to Cedar Rapids, and then it was all Highway 30 across the state to Ames. Dawn light started to appear in the rearview mirror somewhere between Cedar Rapids and Tama. Predictably there were not many cars on the road at that unusual hour, but there were more than I expected, and the route around the Cedar Rapids was plentifully hectic, thinning, as one might expect, as I drove west beyond the city. Although Google Maps had predicted a three hour and forty minute drive and even directed me within a news into a neighborhood east of where I wanted to go, the middle of nowhere, basically, and I had to seek out the Hilton Coliseum using my own wits, just like it was the 20th century, I had parked the truck right near the south entrance by 7:40.

If you ever want to plant a bomb or otherwise terrorize a large gathering in a public place like that, my recommendation (not serious, of course) is to arrive early, dressed like everyone else and ask to go to the bathroom. In truth, I think the guards like me had no reason to suspect that anyone, not even the state Association of school boards, would have any desire to bomb the ISEA Delegate Assembly. I killed a little time writing on my Sepharad story and then hiked around the oval outside the basketball court about three times before spotting my relatives — Margaret and sister-in-law Nancy — waiting for me to arrive. Paul’s honor occurred about fifteen minutes later than predicted, but that’s large meetings for you. He gave a splendid speech, far better than I would have done, lasting about 12 minutes, filled with nostalgic memories, wit, personal acknowledgments, genuine insight and truth. Afterward we hung about until the end of the morning session, not really attending to matters of the redistribution of Uniserve regions or the recommendation to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and Iraq in order to provide more money for education, and chatted as Paul received well-wishers and old friends at the rear of the assembly.

Eat here only if you enjoy this kind of joint

For lunch the family and some of his friends drove over to Hickory Park, a restaurant with which the rest seem to be familiar but which I fear will probably not receive my business again, just not my kind of place — too loud, too folksy and with far too hard benches for seating at the tables. Our waitress young was excellent, and I really enjoyed my spinach salad (except for the excessive amount of bacon bits). I took a note to tell Janet that if you crossed a Cracker Barrel with Thunder Bay Grille (on the north end of Davenport and part of a small chain owned by a rich Republican businessman) with a hint of TGI Friday’s (something about looking down the hall by a long row of booths), and hung a powerful stench of smoked meat in the air, you’d have something like Hickory Park. Intriguingly for such a place, their portions — except for the salads, of which Paul and I were the only partakers — were curiously small.

Anyway we all chatted amiably, and I was heading home, having switched from a dress shirt and jacket into a hoodie Guinness sweatshirt, about 2:00 PM. I preferred to drive out in the dark to drive home, although it was a beautiful cloudless afternoon, and I really had good luck not getting behind semis or pokey drivers, usually. I had planned to stop at the Mesquakie reservation for gas (and desperately needed to urinate at that point and therefore did stop), where the price was listed about three cents less than elsewhere in the state, but apparently every other driver on Highway 30 had the same plan — there were at least twenty cars waiting to go through the pumps.

So that was my Friday. I’d intended to make this honor Paul (who is retiring this June, as I and his wife did a year ago — but he is becoming a Methodist minister as a second career, one he has been accomplishing already for at least a decade, even founding two Hispanic parishes in Oskaloosa and in Ottumwa), but the post degenerated more into a tedious trip summary. Oh well. Let’s see what you get for tomorrow.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

the other villanelle

Just a short one for today.

I said when I posted what is possibly my favorite of my own poems, “Busy Music,” that I had written another villanelle. In the interest of artistic fairness and balance, I am posting the second effort at this difficult and exhausting verse form. I don’t think it’s as good, but in typing it up I found myself caught up in something about it.

A villanelle, originally invented in Italian, nowadays requires a sternly rigid form: six stanzas of three lines each (except the last, which is four lines)—so 19 lines, and the first and last lines of the initial stanza alternate as the last lines of the following stanzas, with both lines used to end the poem, which is why the last stanza is longer. It also rhymes in an ABA pattern, leaving the poet only two rhyming sounds. It’s quite hard to make sense with such limited resources (and I am not quite sure I do here). In this poem I wanted to play grammatically, altering the repeated lines by breaking them up differently in the repetitions. Well, at least one of them.

“Busy Music” was the fruit of the unsought end of my first big romance, written in 1974 originally (I’ve labored on it since). This one popped out in the fall four years later.

As with the other villanelle, I wanted the repetition to be an element of the meaning (since as I note elsewhere:  form is meaning is form), and as with the other one, the speaker is trapped, caught up in his inability to escape a former, ended romance, although he would like to…

Waking Up

Sunslippered musics name our afternoon
at morning too often for me nowadays.
When simple magic spoke, your silent tune

…reminds me more of our own kitchen now rather than the seedy rental house in which I lived in 1978

shaped quiet pleasure in a sleepy June;
honeyed, dew-hearted, you in a thousand ways
sunslippered music’s name. Our afternoon

blessed us in a drowsily amorous swoon,
as craftily I plotted two-edged to praise
when simple magic spoke your silent tune,

and invented night―and none too soon―
icesharp (because starlit nothing stays
sunslippered). Musics name our afternoon,

though memory states cruel darkness’ rune,
and between, pointless existence strays
when simple magic spoke your silent tune.

Morninglight smears yellowed coffeespoon
todays, and no perky-pot rhythm awakes

sunslippered musics:  Name our afternoon
when simple. Magic spoke your silent tune.

29 September 1978

Sound effects were large in my mind while writing and revising this poem. I can still recall reading it aloud to myself repeatedly to savor the vowels and consonants in their proper orders. This poem is also from the same period (early Maquoketa) as “Freya’s Steel.” Although I originally composed that one during my two-year residence in Ft. Madison for my first two years of teaching, I kept working on it for about five or six years, eventually breaking the original sonnets into the free-verse lines now. You might notice the shared images, especially in the fourth and fifth stanzas.

For what it’s worth, there it is, actually completed on the day noted (which I had to search out in my poetry file). Although I recall exactly what romantic implosion created “Busy Music,” I don’t think I had any particular personal issue in mind writing this poem—just general mid-twenties romantic angst, I guess.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.