Saturday, February 28, 2009

bridge for stranded souls


Believing we’re a bridge to Superman
we focus on our body, while our soul
lies stranded on the side where we began
to cross before we gave up on our goal.

With rawness of our feelings we revive
half-hearted rescue efforts to retrieve
our stranded souls, but since they’re not alive,
we lose with them the power to believe.

Inspired by Roberta Smith’s review of an exhibition at the Neue-Galerie, “Brücke: The Birth of Expressionism in Dresden and Berlin, 1905-1913,” (Guys Who Put Art in Party Animal,” NYT, February 27, 2009):

The original bad boys of 20th-century German art got together in June of 1905. They were nobodies: four young, restless architecture students in Dresden, the jewel of the Elbe. Partly inspired by the city’s many bridges, they called themselves the Brücke, or bridge. They felt it implied movement toward the future and away from the “older, well-established powers,” in the words of their unusually open-ended manifesto. They liked echoing Nietzsche, who described man as “a rope, fastened between animal and Superman.... a bridge and not a goal.” By the time the Brücke disbanded, in 1913, it had revived a rawness of feeling, form and execution that had been largely absent from European art since early medieval times. It had made a place for itself in the Modernist repertory, the creed of Expressionism, an art made directly from, by and for the self, unrestrained by affectations of polish, reason or classical beauty.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/27/09

Friday, February 27, 2009

lesbian nation


In Berkeley there were Gutter Dykes,
and in Seattle there were Gorgons,
in D.C. Furies rode on bikes,
shunning union with male organs.
In San Francisco Loud and Strong
the Separatists would gaily gather,
and for women only long,
blowing with a blast male blather.
Sons and nephews would be banned
by such womyn—spelled like this,
or wimmin—on the land,
longing for their Lesbian bliss.
Some called themselves Van Dykes, wordplay
for Van Dyke, master who was Dutch.
Not only were these women gay,
but most of them were very butch.
Reality they sought was penis-
less, they worshipped cunt, not dick,
virago cunt, the cunt of Venus
not one these womyn liked to lick.

despite these women has survived,
but with stealth informality,
the L-word clearly has arrived
in every home where there is cable,
and of my straight wife I feel proud
that when this funky, femmie fable
is on, I am by her allowed
to watch this program, hardly tit-
illated, but bemused to see
how lesbians often have less wit
than women who are straight as me,
straight man who wonders if the he-
word will become irrelevant,
except for making sperm, and be
endangered as the elephant.

Inspired by an article the female, gay writer Ariel Levy, who studied a community of gay women who called themselves Van Dykes and sought empowerment by separating from men (“Lesbian Nation: When gay women took to the road,” The New Yorker, March 2, 2009):

The lesbian separatists of a generation ago created a shadow society devoted to living in an alternate, penisless reality….Separatists were aiming for complete autonomy…”The template for this idea of separation is black separation,” Todd Gitlin, a sociology professor at Columbia University and the author of “The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage,” said.I learned from the web that Ariel Levy grew up in Larchmont, New York, and attended Wesleyan University where she studied American literature and critical theory. After college she worked briefly for Planned Parenthood, but was fired after just one week because she is an extremely poor typist.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/26/09

Thursday, February 26, 2009

coral lips


He sang the coral cunt, whose lips
moved into burgundy, and fur
surrounding it, moved by her hips,
agile agents provocateurs,
that signaled when she felt most ready
to let him slide inside, and enter
the part that made them both so heady
when he decanted in its center.

After the resistance came
the easeful deepness, while they tossed
around and played the loving game
whose winners are the ones who’re lost
until they find themselves again,
surrounded by, or else within,
the coral lips which told him when
she hoped he would again begin.

Inspired by a statement by Ian McEwan concerning John Updike in an article in TNR, March 12, 2009 (“On John Updike”):

However fleeting or disastrous the coupling, the metaphysical shadows are always on the wall––the same seriousness is in play. “Nature dangles sex to keep us walking towards the cliff,” Piet reflects in Couples. When he makes love outdoors to Georgene–“A lip of resistance, then an easeful deepness, slipping by steps”––he is troubled that he is “under the eye of God.”

The ruthless recording eye made Updike unpopular with some women readers, especially back in the salad days of Theory, when talk of the “male gaze” was the fashion. Piet notes in Foxy’s nakedness “the goosebumped roughness of her buttocks, the gray unpleasantness of her shaved armpits…” But in Updike as in life, bodies are rarely perfect, unlike in the movies; this is fictional realism and goosebumps do not stand in the way of the lovers’ transcendent pleasure. While she fellates him “lazily,” he combs her lovely hair and reflects on her “coral cunt coral into burgundy, with its pansy-shaped M, or W. of fur”; then it comes to him that mouths are noble. “They move in the brain’s court. We set our genitals matting down below like peasants, but when the mouth condescends, mind and body marry.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/25/09

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

the hate that dare not speak its name


The hate that dare not speak its name,
the hate that Muslims feel for Jews,
has now become the very same
that Nazis demonstrated––views
that Christian nations held for ages,
to trash the people that God chose
according to the Bible's pages.
Too many nation states oppose
the peaceful coexistence prophets
promised would occur when swords
would no more generate large profits,
but turned into plowshares. Their words
sometimes disguise their targets whom
they don't call Jews, but they describeas Zionists, preparing doom
for members of the Jewish tribe.

Haman's sons still live, brought back
to life no longer hung on gallows,
and now are ready to attack
all Jews, and roast them like marshmallows,
as they once did in Spain to those
they called New Jews although they had
converted––could not change their nose,
whose length has always proved they're bad,
and many of them would be burned
alive on sacrificial pyres,
as Christian as the priests who turned
against them, claiming they were liars.

The hate that Haman felt towards
the Jews of Shushan had no name,
based on the theory Jews had hoards
of gold. Ahasuerus' dame,
Queen Esther, saved them then, but we
must make sure that the hate that hides
behind deception now will be
exposed. "Beware the Idesof March!"
ignored by Julius, proved
to be correct. We must beware,
lest men by hateful lies are moved
to do what hate makes bad men dare.

Though we’re all forced to live with Haman,
we must not ever compromise
with hate, but make it speak its name, an
attitude that lives on lies,
and kills with its deceptive lyin’,
identifying with hate fury
all Jewish foes as friends of Zion
to justify its hate of Jewry.

Ed Rothstein writes in the NYT about "State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda," a major new exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum ("Nazis' 'Terrible Weapon,' Aimed at Minds and Heart," NYT, February 24, 2009):

The most haunting image in "State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda," a major new exhibition at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum here, may be the first one you see after the introductory videos. At the end of a darkened corridor is a black-and-white photograph on a black background. Underneath, with unornamented simplicity, is a single word: Hitler. It is a campaign poster from 1932, when the Nazi Party was already the second largest in the German Parliament. The mass rallies, the storm troopers, the frenzied rhetoric of this electrifying speaker: all are condensed into this silent face, which is deliberately unsettling, starkly divided into light and shade, mixing comfort with ferocity, transparency with subterranean energies. It is chilling because we know what that face unleashed, and as we make our way through the exhibition, we feel almost physically assailed. A muscular fist smashes into the face of a cringing, sweating Jew (1928). An enormous itler is superimposed on a crowd of ecstatic Germans raising hands in salute as red gothic letters shout, "Ja!" (1934).. The exhibition points out that the Nazis financed anti-Semitic broadcasts by Haj Amin al-Husseini, "an Arab nationalist and prominent Muslim religious leader." Now no sponsorship seems needed. Major Middle East media outlets have asserted that Jews use children's blood to bake matzos. In recent weeks we have heard that Jews are following the nefarious plot outlined in the Protocols to exterminate all gentiles, this from the poet and former member of the Lebanese Parliament Ghassan Matar. An Egyptian cleric, Safwat Higazi, has described Jews being "as smooth as a viper": "Dispatch those son of apes and pigs to the Hellfire." And an Egyptian cleric with strong ties to the West, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi, has described Jews as "a profligate, cunning arrogant band of people": "Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them, down to the very last one." The exent of these visions (chronicled by the Middle East Media Research Institute), the historical distortions they codify and the readiness with which they are taught to children and are secularized into political action suggest that the strongest contemporary analogy to Nazi propaganda may be one the exhibition leaves unmentioned.
© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/24/09

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

desire to dance


Only those who know the steps can dance,
and only if you’ve learned them in your youth
can they bring back the memories of romance
that first confirmed for you the so-called truth
that you’d been taught, but never understood,
which states that love’s existence guarantees,
without God’s help, that life is very good
for those who have a lover whom we please.

The guarantee is only broken when
God’s absence from the guarantee creates
a gap that can’t be filled by dancing. Men
together with their women stand on plates
that separate tectonically sometimes,
while God, on whom men call to make repairs,
acts merely as a witness to the crimes
that cause the damage to His precious wares.

Yet men and women, like these broken dishes,
beg Him Him for reparation so that they
may dance together, and fulfill the wishes
romance inspired in them on the day
they learned o so-called truth, which is a lie,
for life is neither good nor bad, just what
we make of it––we can destroy or be
destroyed. The choice is ours and it's not
based on the steps of God that we can't see.

Inspired by an article by Susan Salter on Elie Wiesel’s 49th book, “A Mad Desire to Dance” (“Embracing memory and madness,” LA Times, February 22, 2009):

Manhattan in a winter storm seems galaxies away from Bonnard's bright interiors. I carry an exhibition catalog from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to Elie Wiesel's office in Midtown. As we talk, the bright yellow cover blinks up from the coffee table, louder than the thousands of books in his office; louder than his voice, which is soft with a strong French accent and something else. Wiesel is 81. He is modestly dressed in a blue blazer, gray pants and black shoes. His manner is a gentle combination of elegance and humility. He is not frail, but I suspect I am not the first to feel the instinct to protect him, to speak quietly, not to move suddenly, to live up to the sophistication and humanity he deserves. Wiesel's 49th book, "A Mad Desire to Dance" (Alfred A. Knopf: 274 pp., $24) is a novel that contains, like all his books, the voice of a madman. "These were the first people to be taken away," he says, thinking back to World War II. "Children, old people, madmen. I give them shelter in my books; there is always a place for them. They haunt my universe and I say, 'Come in.' " In the novel, Doriel, a middle-aged man whose parents lived through the war, believes he may be haunted by a dybbuk -- in Jewish folklore, the dislocated soul of a dead person. He seeks help from a young female therapist. The chapters follow the progress of the therapy, alternating between the therapist's and Doriel's points of view…."A Mad Desire to Dance," the author explains, is a response to his 1964 novel, "The Town Beyond the Wall," in which Michael, a Holocaust survivor, returns to the town in which he was born, is captured by communists, put in prison and tortured. The novel ends with Michael locked in a cell with a madman, a catatonic who is unable to break through his wall of silence. "He knows," Wiesel explains of Michael, "that if he does nothing he will go mad as well, so he tries to cure the madman." In "A Mad Desire to Dance," Doriel is "cured" when his therapist leads him to the realization that his mother, a prominent resistance leader, had an affair during the war. Did the new novel begin with a memory of dancing? "I've never danced in my life," Wiesel says. "I don't know how to dance or swim." Rather, the book "began with a melody. As for the structure, it offers itself from the inside. If I were to begin a novel with a preconceived structure, it would be false." Certainly the structure of "A Mad Desire to Dance" comes from Doriel's therapy: the realization of his mother's affair and his ability to forgive her. "I believe in therapy," Wiesel says, "particularly between friends. If a friend talks to another friend to relieve his suffering, that is therapy. Human beings were not born to be alone. God alone is alone. People are capable of falling in love. Illness is not being able to fall in love."

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/23/09

Monday, February 23, 2009

better, deeper, more intelligent


Better, deeper, more intelligent,
and sensitive than us, Jane Austen
provides a literary environment
in which we all, by getting lost in
admiration for her heroines,
feel so diminished we conclude
whichever of the many heroes wins
their heart is an unlucky dude.

Riding with her, dressed by Abercombie
and Fitch is not the sort of way
I’d like to spend my time. I’m not a zombie.
Perhaps because I am not gay
I can’t relate to all the topics Jane
obsesses on, and in Northanger
Abbey heroines would all complain
I was a crashing bore and wanker.

“Why couldn’t all these heroines go out
and get a job?” was asked by Emma––
not Jane’s, Ms. Thompson’s Emma, without doubt
a heroine who’s not a femi-
nist––oh horrid word––but understands
how prejudice which is their pride
lands nearly all of them in Jane’s badlands
composed of English countryside.

Who needs a woman who is deeper than
themselves, far better, surely, and
far more intelligent? I’m not that man.
Although I think I understand
what all her heroines are saying, I
don’t look for girls who're good or deep.
I’m merely looking for the sort who’ll lie
with me before I fall asleep.

Inspired by two articles. The first was an article by Jennifer Schuessler on “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” by Seth Grahame-Smith (“I Was a Regency Zombie,” NYT, February 22, 2009):

These days, America is menaced by zombie banks and zombie computers. What’s next, a zombie Jane Austen? In fact, yes. Minor pandemonium ensued in the blogosphere this month after Quirk Books announced the publication of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” an edition of Austen’s classic juiced up with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem” by a Los Angeles television writer named Seth Grahame-Smith. (First line: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”)… In fact, “Pride and Prejudice” may already be a zombie novel, contends Brad Pasanek, a specialist in 18th-century literature at the University of Virginia. “The characters other than the protagonist are so often surrounded by people who aren’t fully human, like machines that keep repeating the same things over and over again,” Professor Pasanek said. “All those characters shuffling in and out of scenes, always frustrating the protagonists. It’s a crowded but eerie landscape. What’s wrong with those people? They don’t dance well but move in jerky fits. Oh, they are headed this way!” While the vast industry of Austen sequels and pastiches runs heavily toward the romance-novel end of the literary spectrum - see “The Private Diary of Mr. Darcy” by Maya Slater, to be published in the United States in June - scholars have long emphasized the mean-girl side of Jane’s personality. Professor Pasanek, who has collaborated on a project that uses spam-detection software to analyze Austen fan fiction, cites the psychologist D. W. Harding’s 1940 essay “Regulated Hatred,” which sounds more like a death-metal band than a piece of influential Austen scholarship.“Most people try to ignore the fact that Austen’s novels are sort of acid baths,” Professor Pasanek said. “She’s so much better, deeper, more sensitive and intelligent than everyone around her that she has to regulate her own misanthropy. Her novels re hostile environments.”

The second was an article in the NYT published on the same day by Sarah Lyall (“Get a Griup, You’re British”), contrasting the speeches of British actors when receiving awards like the Oscars with those of Americans:

[D]espite their increasingly American forays into public displays of feeling in the aftermath of the Diana, Princess of Wales, era, many English people still feel repelled by all that capital-E emoting. Instead, said Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, they stick to the old standbys: self-deprecation, false modesty and humor. “While British actors are dying to get those awards as much as anyone else, they are supposed to pretend they don’t really care and that it doesn’t really matter,” he said in an interview.
At the same time, Mr. Furedi added, there is a sense that British actors are meant to be classy and dignified, reflecting the view in the entertainment world here that while Hollywood has the money, Britain has the real actors. In 2005, Gil Cates, the longtime producer of the Oscars, said there was indeed a cultural difference, at least as far as acceptance speeches go. "They are really taught how to frame a sentence," he said, speaking of English actors. "I love it when an English actor wins because their speeches are so classy and precise.” The classic examples of that would be any speech by Judi Dench — her accent certainly helps — or Emma Thompson’s understated, wryly funny acceptance speech at the 1996 Oscars, when she won the award for best adapted screenplay for “Sense and Sensibility.” “Before I came, I went to visit Jane Austen’s grave in Winchester Cathedral to pay my respects, you know, and tell her about the grosses,” she said. She also thanked Sidney Pollack “for asking the right questions, like, ‘Why couldn’t these women go out and get a job?’ ” Ms. Thompson — who accepted another award, at the Golden Globes, with a speech in the style of Jane Austen herself — then did what cool British award winners do: she put the Oscar in her guest bathroom.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/22/09

Sunday, February 22, 2009

falling off the ladder


Of depression now I sing:
hear the bad news that I bring,
falling arms of that great man
who says: “I hope, and therefore can!”

When you’re on the bottom rung
there’s one advantage: being hung––
I should be saying “being hanged,”
but grammar is not sacrosanct.
When you are writing poems, there’s
a license, and, besides, who cares?––
is not an option. In Nevada,
they’re all falling off the ladder,
while condos built Arizona
bring no profit to their owner,
and sunshine now in Florida
is to Floridians even horrider
that that in those in other states.
While they all fall like mortgage rates
that once we thought would never climb
because we bought them when sub-prime,
but turned on us like leaves in autumn,
we’re all now fishing at the bottom,
and soon won’t fish at all––most water
has disappeared. If you went shorter
than friends who said you should go long
you may survive, for you weren’t wrong,
Avant le déluge people ought,
of course, to have gone short,
but very few did this, oy veh,
and now their money’s gone away,
and from high ladders they are falling.
Bu I must bring you more appalling
news than what I’m given you already.
Our houses all like gingerbready
houses are now being eaten,
but, though we may feel we’re beaten,
our dreadful situation will
get worse, and though no blood may spill,
entire neighborhoods will die,
since no one more can falsify
the facts that once kept us afloat.
Old Noah had to build a boat
to save himself with Ham and Shem
and Japheth. We will not, like them,
be saved––we’ve got no ark.
The situation’s looking dark
not just in Arizona and
Nevada, Florida. This land
that stretches proud from sea to sea
now asks “To be or not to be?”
To whom does it belong? Of course
to China, since it’s gone off course,
and everyone is now on trial,
including those who’re in denial,
while they on others put the onus
of guilt, collecting still a bonus.
Securities now all have an edge
of guilt, and soon we’ll have to pledge
allegiance not to flags, but bailiffs
who’ll take our omegas and alephs
while we’ll on porches stand astonished,
prepared, we’ll say, to be admonished,
but really paper cracks we’ve made
with debts, while praying for some aid
to come not from the Lord, but China.
Will the last one on the liner
turn off the lights before the panic
begins, and people say: “Titanic!”?

Inspired by an O-Ed article by Frannk Rich in the NYT, February 22, 2009 (“What We Don’t Know Will Hurt Us”):
AND so on the 29th day of his presidency, Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill. But the earth did not move. The Dow Jones fell almost 300 points. G.M. and Chrysler together asked taxpayers for another $21.6 billion and announced another 50,000 layoffs. The latest alleged mini-Madoff, R. Allen Stanford, was accused of an $8 billion fraud with 50,000 victims. “I don’t want to pretend that today marks the end of our economic problems,” the president said on Tuesday at the signing ceremony in Denver. He added, hopefully: “But today does mark the beginning of the end.” Does it? No one knows, of course, but a bigger question may be whether we really want to know. One of the most persistent cultural tics of the early 21st century is Americans’ reluctance to absorb, let alone prepare for, bad news. We are plugged into more information sources than anyone could have imagined even 15 years ago. The cruel ambush of 9/11 supposedly “changed everything,” slapping us back to reality. Yet we are constantly shocked, shocked by the foreseeable. Obama’s toughest political problem may not be coping with the increasingly marginalized G.O.P. but with an America-in-denial that must hear warning signs repeatedly, for months and sometimes years, before believing the wolf is actually at the door….
For all the gloomy headlines we’ve absorbed since the fall, we still can’t quite accept the full depth of our economic abyss either. Nicole Gelinas, a financial analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, sees denial at play over a wide swath of America, reaching from the loftiest economic strata of Wall Street to the foreclosure-decimated boom developments in the Sun Belt. When we spoke last week, she talked of would-be bankers who, upon graduating, plan “to travel in Asia and teach English for a year” and then pick up where they left off. Such graduates are dreaming, Gelinas says, because the over-the-top Wall Street money culture of the credit bubble isn’t coming back for a very long time, if ever. As she observes, it took decades after the Great Depression — until the 1980s — for Wall Street to fully reclaim its old swagger. Not until then was there “a new group of people without massive psychological scarring” from the 1929 crash. In states like Nevada, Florida and Arizona, Gelinas sees “huge neighborhoods that will become ghettos” as half their populations lose or abandon their homes, with an attendant collapse of public services and social order. “It will be like after Katrina,” she says, “but it’s no longer just the Lower Ninth Ward’s problem.” Writing in the current issue of The Atlantic, the urban theorist Richard Florida suggests we could be seeing “the end of a whole way of life.” The link between the American dream and home ownership, fostered by years of bipartisan public policy, may be irreparably broken.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/22/09

Saturday, February 21, 2009

don't hold the cilantro


Across the country people fume,
repeating fervently this mantra
expressed against a mere legume:
“I do not want to eat cilantro!”
From Southern California to
the lowlands of south England, Surrey,
opponents with disfavor view
its taste to which they cannot curry.
But I don’t think I’ll ever curb
my appetite, I say with candor,
for fresh leaves of this healthy herb.
It’s also known as coriander,
and thus resembles manna which
came down from heaven, feeding Jews
for forty years without a hitch.
Another name some people choose
is Chinese parsley––it was thought
in the dynasty of Han,
two thousand years ago to thwart
mortality of Chinese man,
to make him godlike. Yet its foes
consider it both vile and rotten,
offensive to the tongue and nose,
a vegetable that’s misbegotten,
banned from the salads that foes buy,
and even from their guacamole,
to which it gives an accent I
adore––cilantro savored slowly,
no jalapenos can defy!
For me, perhaps because I’m Jewish,
it is a perfect food; like manna,
it makes me happy when I’m bluish,
and causes me to shout, “Hosanna!”
I’ll always on cilantro count
in guacamole or a salad,
and since for me it’s paramount,
I dedicate to it this ballad.
Sarah Rubenstein writes about cilantro, a vegetable which manna resembled (Num. 11:7), in the WSJ, February 13, 2009 (“Across the Land, People Are Fuming Over an Herb (No, Not That One): Cilantro Haters Boo ‘Fetid Barb of Green’; A Prominent Critic Recants”):
After picking up a vegetable burrito on his way home from work, Mike Racanelli planted himself in front of his television and took a bite. The smell hit him immediately: cilantro. Irate, the 29-year-old Chicago band manager drove 20 miles back to the Mexican restaurant where he'd bought the offending item, threw it on the counter, he recalls, and "raised hell," demanding a cilantro-free replacement "immediately." Later, he decided to vent some more. He recounted his experience on a Facebook networking group called "I HATE CILANTRO." Social-networking Web sites have emerged as a bonding place for the multitudes who share his aversion to the pungent herb. The group has 894 members; there are some 40 other Facebook groups dedicated to cilantro bashing. Cilantro lovers say it has a refreshing, lemony or limelike flavor that complements everything from guacamole to curry. It's a key ingredient in a range of ethnic cuisines, including Mexican, Indian and Chinese. But few foods elicit such heated negative reactions. Many people say it tastes soapy, rotten or just plain vile. Just a whiff of it is enough to make them push away their plates. Cilantro, also known as Chinese parsley, is the leaves of the herb coriander, native to the eastern Mediterranean region. Cultivated for more than 3,000 years, the herb was used by Roman and Greek physicians, including Hippocrates, to make medicines. During the Chinese Han dynasty some 2,000 years ago, it was thought to have the power to make people immortal, according to Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/20/09

Friday, February 20, 2009

take a lump of clay


Take a lump of clay and model
us together, you and me,
on a bed as we both cuddle,
joining and becoming we.

Take both figures then, and squeeze them;
smashing them so you can knead
both in water, and unfreeze them,
warmed, to fill each other’s need.

Lover boy, there’ll always be
in me a part of you as well
as part of me in you, and we
fall under one another’s spell.

Inspired by an article on William Empson by David Hawkes, who was appointed Professor of Chinese in Oxford University in 1961, in the TLS, February 13, 2009 (“Mix them grain by grain”), in which he quotes Empson’s translation of the following Chinese poem from Li Ji, traditionally attributed Lady Guan, the wife of Zhao Mengfu:Silly boy!My lover dear!Knead a lump of play and model us two:Make a model of you
And a model of me.
Make them like as like can be,
Lying together on the same bed.
Then take the two figures and smash them to bits.
Squeeze all together, add water, and knead them---
Model another you,
Model another me,
And in you there’ll be something of me, my love,
And in me there’ll be something of you.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/19/09

Thursday, February 19, 2009

deadly sins


Women tend to be more proud
than men, who are lot more lusty;
the things both sexes aren’t allowed
both do. My memory is rusty
as to the deadly sins that I
prefer to do. Sometimes I flit
around just like a moth and fly
towards them all, and do not quit
until there’s not one I have not
committed. Anger, sloth and pride
are fine: lust always makes me hot,
and gladly acts for me as guide
when I am looking for a sin
to fill the gaps of time I play
just like a precious violin,
like that of envy, in a way,
as well as gluttony and greed,
all deadly sins I can’t resist.
Sometimes I feel that there’s a need
to supplement the classic list
and find new deadly sins for me,
but till I do, in death I trust,
but while from taxmen I may flee
I never ever flee from lust.
To count above the number seven
I’d have to give my math a lick.
Besides, I may not go heaven,
because I’m not a Catholic,
a deadly sin, I am supposing.
My ancestors in droves were killed
for it. I’ll stick to it, proposing
my other appetites be filled.
Let this poem act as my
confession, since I have no priest:
if God’s a Catholic I’ll rely
on it as soon as I’m deceased.

The BBC reports today:

A Catholic survey found that the most common sin for women was pride, while for men, the urge for food was only surpassed by the urge for sex. The report was based on a study of confessions carried out by Fr Roberto Busa, a 95-year-old Jesuit scholar. The Pope's personal theologian backed up the report in the Vatican newspaper. "Men and women sin in different ways," Msgr Wojciech Giertych, theologian to the papal household, wrote in L'Osservatore Romano. "When you look at vices from the point of view of the difficulties they create you find that men experiment in a different way from women." Msgr Giertych said the most difficult sin for men to face was lust, followed by gluttony, sloth, anger, pride, envy and greed. For women, the most dangerous sins were pride, envy, anger, lust, and sloth, he added.

Catholics are supposed to confess their sins to a priest at least once a year. The priest absolves them in God's name. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that "immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into Hell". Traditionally, the seven deadly sins were considered: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. The Apostolic Penitentiary, one of the Vatican's most secretive departments, which fixes the punishments and indulgences handed down to sinners, last year updated its list of deadly sins to include more modern ones. The revised list included seven modern sins it said were becoming prevalent during an era of "unstoppable globalisation". These included: genetic modification, experiments on the person, environmental pollution, taking or selling illegal drugs, social injustice, causing poverty and financial greed. The report came amid Vatican concerns about the declining rate of confessions. A recent survey of Catholics found nearly a third no longer considered confession necessary, while one in 10 considered the process an obstacle to their dialogue with God. Pope Benedict, who reportedly confesses his sins once a week, last year issued his own voice of disquiet on the subject. "We are losing the notion of sin," he said. "If people do not confess regularly, they risk slowing their spiritual rhythm."

Jeremy Rosen pointed out to me an analogy to the seven deady sins in the Babylonian Talmud:
R. Samuel b. Nachmani said in the name of R. Yohanan: Seven things result in leprosy: slander, shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery and envy (bArakhin 16a).

Shelley, my cosmic twin, commented on this poem with the following story:

I used to have a Catholic roommate in Boston who was very frum. She went to confession every Saturday night so that she could take communion on Sunday morning. Her boyfriend, a Protestant orthopedic surgeon, used to rant and rave like a madman on Saturday night because she would not him touch her so that she could continue in her purified state until Sunday morning. Those Saturday night fights got very loud and he was heard on many occasions to leave our apartment screaming "Piss on the Pope". They eventually married and have been quite happy.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/18/09

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

tomorrow morning, early


“Will there be another holocaust?”
they asked the Rebbe of Lubavitch.
For an answer he was never lost.
“Of course there will be. Man is savage.”“When will this happen?” they inquired.
“Morgen in der frih,” he said,
Tomorrow morning, early, has transpired,
and millions are already dead.

It’s happened in Rwanda and Sudan,
as in silence we looked on.
It couldn’t happen here, we say. It can,
and millions more will soon be gone.

Long ago an interviewer asked the Luvavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, if he believed the Holocaust could ever happen in America. “Morgen in der frih,” was his reply, Yiddish words that mean: “Early tomorrow morning.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/17/09

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

supporting cast


A far more lethal weapon than mere raging
is insight. Spare us from its ravages,
because with it we learn while we are aging
that, ape-descended, we are merely savages.
I don’t mean that we’re really cannibals,
but merely that our customs are uncouth,
quite as unwieldy as were Hannibal’s
huge elephants. One we most lack is truth,
which it’s not customary for us to tell,
and which we cannot see because we lack
the insight truth requires. We feel well
so long as this is not used to attack
our preconceptions and our way of life,
but if it is we rage, and must rely
on lies provided by a loving wife
or friends and relatives who certify
that this great lethal weapon has misfired,
and insight is reduced by platitudes
made by the people we have most admired
because they share the very latitudes
that we inhabit, and the longitude,
so we can coexist and throw away
such lethal weapons, since we all collude
with one another in our savage way.
Without the help of this supporting cast
we’d all be recognized for what we are,
misdirected savages miscast
in films of life we color, but still noir.

Inspired by an article by Betsy Sharkey in the LA Times, February 15, 2009 (“A supporting cast that’s unforgettable),” discussing actors, notably Michael Shannon who have been nominated for Oscars for their supporting roles in 2008:

In looking at the Oscar category of best supporting actor and actress, I’m reminded of the sort of delicious dinner party that lingers in your memory years later. Although presumably you accept the invitation because you have some affection for the host, it is the unexpected alchemy of possibilities created by those on the guest list that heighten anticipation of the event. Then the evening arrives. Though it might be subconscious or unfair, we tend to judge a party by the company it keeps with success resting on the narrow or broad shoulders of those around you. And so it is with supporting characters in movies. They may come late and stay just a little while. Penelope Cruz doesn’t show up until nearly 40 minutes into “Vicky Christina Barcelona”; Michael Shannon was a late arrival in “Revolutionary Road,” as was Viola Davis with her single riveting scene in “Doubt,” and Josh Brolin in “Milk.” Or they might be there for the duration, spreading their energy across the evening: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Adams in “Doubt,” Taraji P. Henson in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Marisa Tomei in “The Wrestler,” Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder.” But it matters that they were there. In some fundamental way they season the experience. They each find a way to make the party unforgettable… It’s difficult to watch someone unravel on-screen without a twinge of recognition; that thought, no matter how fleeting, that if you hadn’t found a way to step back from the edge of your own particular dark chasm, you might have become a version of Shannon’s electro-shocked and unhinged John Givings. Once Shannon charges into his scenes with Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, the disintegrating couple at the heart of “Revolutionary Road,” a collective level of discomfort starts vibrating in the air around you; you can feel it intensifying with each exchange. It’s as if Shannon sets loose the insanity, letting it course through Givings’ veins as he wields his intellect like a machete, hacking through the face-saving lies the couple tell themselves, on his way to the utter emotional devastation that comes to rest at his feet. That the slayer is as tragic as those left bleeding in his wake is a tribute to the extraordinary calibration of Shannon’s performance; he reminds us in Givings that there is perhaps no more lethal weapon than rage and insight, and for that searing portrayal, he remains my favorite among the nominated supporting actors.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/16/09

Monday, February 16, 2009

some rings are freudian


Some Rings are Freudian, some are sung
inspired by the work of Jung;
some are Christian and their sparks
have been attributed to Marx.
Wagner, who was hardly modest,
was neither Christian nor a Buddhist,
yet some productions of the Ring
may do the Christ or Buddha thing
with great success, and in my view,
you could sing Wotan as a Jew,
on Wagner such revenge the sweetest
by Semites who are not defeatist,
for even were he Jewish, he might,
like many Jews, be anti-Semite.
One thing is certain, Rings are all
of the above, not one, and call
for an imagination greater
than any craven adulator
of Jung or Freud or Marx or Christ
might think, because to be enticed
by narrow theories when producing
Wagner’s Ring involves traducing
the fact that it is polysemic.
Provided they are not anemic,
productions may be varied as
the riffs on poetry and jazz,
not fixed in stone, but lordly rings
for poets, not pedantic kings.
The bottom line is: don’t be certain
before the cue to raise the curtain,
for you can surely do without
The Ring if you’ve no room for doubt.

Diane Haithman, in the LA Times, February 15, 2009, writes about Achim Freyer, the 74-year old German artist who is the director of LA Oper’s Ring Cycle:

Achim Freyer this bearded, 74-year-old German, sporting black Converse-style sneakers and a swirling meringue of white hair, has become––with all apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien––L.A.'s new Lord of the "Ring." Now you see him, now you don't; he's tweaking the seam of a big-shouldered overcoat or painting red veins on the white of an enormous eyeball. Freyer's daughter Amanda, who serves with her father as costume designer, is also busy in the backroom with a brush. Freyer's mission: to create a timeless world for Wagner's epic that pays homage to its distinguished history yet rejects all previous staging conventions. "We have so many technical things that Wagner did not have," he says….For his part, L.A. Opera music director James Conlon––who counts among his credits nine Wagner-heavy years as chief conductor of the Cologne Opera in Germany––is confident that Freyer is capable of creating the "timeless, placeless place" in which the "Ring," Conlon believes, must exist. "I think the power of myth always goes beyond the mundane," the conductor says. "The biggest cliché of the last few decades has been to reduce the subject to a specific. "I've seen Marxist 'Rings,' Freudian 'Rings,' Jungian 'Rings,' 'Rings' in tuxedos––all the things that in the '50s and '60s were considered rebellious are clichés now," Conlon continues. " 'The Ring' is Freudian and it's Jungian and it's Marxist and it's Keynesian and Buddhist and Christian––it's all of those things, but not one of those things." Another of Conlon's "Ring" requirements: that the visuals not upstage the opera. Although he does not name names, he says that film or stage directors who occasionally drop in to stage an opera often forget that. "In the case of Achim Freyer, he has lived with opera as a part of his culture––he's not someone who's 'dropping in' on 'The Ring,' " Conlon says. "The drama is in the music." Freyer agrees––but among his many dreams is to stage a "Ring" without music, with actors speaking Wagner's text to emphasize its poetry. He'd also like to stage Dante's "Divine Comedy" someday and has his eye on mounting "Les Chants de Maldoror" (The Songs of Maldoror), a poetic French novel about an evil misanthrope consisting of six cantos written between 1868 and 1869 by the Comte de Lautréamont. The work has been cited as an inspiration by Surrealist painters including Salvador Dalí and Marcel Duchamp. "I have only dreams," Freyer says––not a wistful suggestion that there are many things in life he can only dream of but instead an assertion that there's no room for anything less than dream-worthy in his life.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/16/09

Sunday, February 15, 2009

why god disappears


There is a God when joy begins,
but when it ends He disappears;
it isn’t that He hates our sins,
but that He cannot stand our fears.

Our fears cause him to turn away
just like a pretty, coy young wench
when she regards you with dismay
because she thinks you’re speaking French.

Our skepticism makes Him grouch;
made anxious by its elegance,
He does not store it in a pouch
to ruminate, like pelicans.

From paradox to paradigm,
God moves above the primal waters,
but sadly has not learned to rhyme
with sons of man and their fair daughters.

This poem is inspired by four aphorisms by E. M. Cioran mentioned in an article on the notorious anti-Semite by Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, June 19, 2000 (“The Get-Ready Man: The civilizing power of thinking in French”). They are: “There is a God at the outset, if not the end, of every joy,” “It is just possible to imagine God speaking French, but never Christ. His words do not function in a language so ill at ease in the naïve or the sublime,” “Skepticism is the elegance of anxiety” and “A civilization evolves from agriculture to paradox”.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/11/09

Saturday, February 14, 2009

lying eyes


Look with your head for what
you’ve lost, the eyes can’t find
the things that you have not
arranged within your mind.

By eyes don’t be misled,
they take you on wild chases;
rely on what the head
contains behind your faces.

Your head must keep on trying
to find what’s lost, for eyes
deceive, and may be lying,
as Groucho said––so wise!

Inspired by a story my cousin Arie told me concerning a car key that his wife Ruth lost after going shopping. Arie found it only by applying the principle taught to him by his father, my Onkel Bernhard, who told him that whenever he lost something he should look for it with his head, not his eyes. Arie remembered that Ruth had talked on the phone after leaving the car, and thus remembered that before she answered the phone she must have put down her shopping, and found the key under the onions.

Chico Marx, caught in flagrante in a most embarrassing situation in “Duck Soup,” protests his innocence by saying: “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Writing this poem led me to the following major hiddush. Why are dogs better at finding things than humans? Because they use their sense of smell, and this sense is one that follows a time line. Smell is more useful that sight. I sent this poem to Steven Pinker, whose response was:

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/13/09

Thursday, February 12, 2009

hebrew books


They’re selling off a bunch of Hebrew books
From Paris, Leiden, Izmir and Bombay.
Bibliophiles all cast their tenterhooks
into this heritage, but few can pay
the price demanded by the vendor. Did
I mention some of them come from Cremona,
some from Calcutta and Valladolid?
We try to guess who was the owner,
perhaps an old Jew in Jerusalem,
or Alexandria, perhaps Baghdad,
for whom possession of this precious gem
cost so much money that his wife forbade
him ever to buy books like that again.
The miracle Gans called the printing press
made books available to many men
who use their purchases to buy noblesse.

Sometimes these books fell to a gentile hand
and, rudely misinterpreted, were burned,
but many that weren’t criticized or banned
taught gentiles knowledge that the Jews had learned.
Westminster Abbey, for example, owned
a copy of the Talmud Henry used,
divorcing Catherine so she could be dethroned––
of breaking Bible laws falsely accused.
Stored in collections, Hebrew books like these
provide a printed, graphic illustration
of Jewish life, their pages like a frieze
where biblioscribal soldiers of the nation
aren’t athletes, charioteers or fabled fighters
defeating their unfriendly foes in strife;
they are the Jewish readers for whom writers
provide the reading rationale of life.

Ed Rothstein (“A Lifetime’s Collection of Texts in Hebrew,” NYT, February 12, 2009) describes the collection of Jack Lunzer’s books that is to be sold at Sotheby’s on February 19th:

Is bibliophilia a religious impulse? You can’t walk into Sotheby’s exhibition space in Manhattan right now and not sense the devotion or be swept up in its passions and particularities. The 2,400-square-foot opening gallery is lined with shelves — 10 high — reaching to the ceiling, not packed tight, but with occasional books open to view. Each shelf is labeled, not with a subject, but with a city or town of origin: Amsterdam, Paris, Leiden, Izmir, Bombay, Cochin, Cremona, Jerusalem, Ferrara, Calcutta, Mantua, Shanghai, Alexandria, Baghdad and on and on. You can’t read these books or pluck them from the shelves. But you feel their presence as you explore, particularly in adjoining rooms where volumes are open inside cases for closer scrutiny. These 13,000 books and manuscripts were primarily collected by one man, Jack V. Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, lives in London and made his fortune as a merchant of industrial diamonds. The collection’s geographical scale is matched by its temporal breadth, which extends over a millennium. But this endeavor is not just an exercise in bibliophilia. These are all books written in Hebrew or using Hebrew script, many of them rare or even unique. Most come from the earliest centuries of Hebrew printing in their places of origins and thus map out a history of the flourishing of Jewish communities around the world. The collection’s historical gaps and boundaries are also revealing because they often implicitly mark periods of decline, which, we learn elsewhere, often meant public conflagrations of copies of these very books or even exterminations of the communities themselves. The collection, named after the Italian town that Mr. Lunzer’s family has long been associated with, is known as the Valmadonna Trust Library. Sotheby’s has put it on sale as a single collection. Through next Thursday it is being handsomely displayed to the public, while luring the large institutional libraries and collectors who might be prepared to pay at least $40 million for what Sotheby’s, echoing scholars in the field, describes as “the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world.” There are extraordinary items on display here, including a Hebrew Bible handwritten in England in 1189 — the only dated Hebrew text from England before King Edward I expelled the Jews in 1290. In 1190, the Jewish community of York was massacred and its property, including many books and manuscripts, was looted and sold abroad, where this volume was discovered. There is also an exquisitely preserved edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1519-23) made by the Christian printer Daniel Bomberg in Venice, an edition created with the advice of a panel of scholars that codified many aspects of how the Talmud is displayed and printed. This set made its way into the collection of Westminster Abbey, where Mr. Lunzer saw it, covered with dust, perhaps untouched for centuries. He ultimately acquired it in a trade, offering a 900-year-old copy of the Abbey’s original Charter.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/12/09

Wednesday, February 11, 2009



Union had a meaning almost mystical
for Lincoln, based on data not statistical,
but on the proposition all mankind is equal,
emancipation the inevitable sequel.

Written on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s both, and inspired by a comment made by one of the contributors of a PBS program on Abraham Lincoln directed by Henry Louis Gates in PBS program, in which the speaker pointed out that that Lincoln attempted to provide significance to the mass killings in the Civil War by implying that the concept of union was mystical rather than political. Emancipation which was part of the process of the preservation of the Union inevitably emerged from this mystical definition.

Henry Louis Gates's response to this poem was:

This is lovely. Thank you so much for sharing your poem with me. I'm glad you liked the program so much.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/10/09

dead philosophers


“In my life death has no place,”
said Sartre. Bentham, being stuffed,
rests in a glass box where, paleface,
he can’t respond when he’s rebuffed.

Boswell once asked David Hume,
when on his deathbed he was lying:
“Does an atheist find room
for God before he’s finished dying?”

Famously once, Freddie Ayer
died almost, choking on a salmon.
How very strange of God to spare
the man, who might have died of famine.

Descartes, who of pneumonia died
in winter, after a tutorial
with Queen Christina, open-eyed
observed her being cross-sartorial.

Spinoza died in rooms he rented
while his friends were all in church;
God, he said, has been invented,
not found, however hard you search.

By angry Christians once Hypatia
was killed, and then her skin was peeled
with oyster shells: such dysthanasia
is painful, and has been repealed.

Avicenna overdosed
from opium, after heavy sex,
at least that’s what his fans would boast
when paying him their last respects.

Philosophers all die like those
of us who do not think about
such questions, and will decompose,
undisconcerted by great doubt.

Inspired by information about the deaths of great philosophers that I read in Simon Critchley’s book, “The Book of Dead Philosophers,” which also inspired my poem “No Happy Returns”. For those who are unfamiliar with Hypatia, there is a wonderful treatment of her life and death by Maria Dzielska (Author), F. Lyra (Translator), “Hypatia of Alexandria” (Harvard University Press, 1996).

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/11/09

teleologically challenged


For purpose we yearn,
that’s why people spurn
the concept of natural selection.
The thought we may be
telologically free
leaves us, challenged by Charles, with dejection.

Inspired by an article of Charles Darwin by Nicholas Wade in the Science Times, NYT, February 10, 2009 (“Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential”):

How did Darwin come to be so in advance of his time? Why were biologists so slow to understand that Darwin had provided the correct answer on so many central issues? Historians of science have noted several distinctive features of Darwin’s approach to science that, besides genius, help account for his insights. They also point to several nonscientific criteria that stood as mental blocks in the way of biologists’ accepting Darwin’s ideas….It is somewhat remarkable that a man who died in 1882 should still be influencing discussion among biologists. It is perhaps equally strange that so many biologists failed for so many decades to accept ideas that Darwin expressed in clear and beautiful English. The rejection was in part because a substantial amount of science, including the two new fields of Mendelian genetics and population genetics, needed to be developed before other, more enticing mechanisms of selection could be excluded. But there were also a series of nonscientific considerations that affected biologists’ judgment….Darwin is still far from being fully accepted in sciences outside biology. “People say natural selection is O.K. for human bodies but not for brain or behavior,” Dr. [Helena] Cronin says. “But making an exception for one species is to deny Darwin’s tenet of understanding all living things. This includes almost the whole of social studies — that’s quite an influential body that’s still rejecting Darwinism.” The yearning to see purpose in evolution and the doubt that it really applied to people were two nonscientific criteria that led scientists to reject the essence of Darwin’s theory. A third, in terms of group selection, may be people’s tendency to think of themselves as individuals rather than as units of a group. “More and more I’m beginning to think about individualism as our own cultural bias that more or less explains why group selection was rejected so forcefully and why it is still so controversial,” says David Sloan Wilson, a biologist at Binghamton University.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/10/09

Tuesday, February 10, 2009



The door of absolution once again
is opened in the Catholic Church, and I
to its indulgences will say amen.
When the time will come for me to die
I won’t spend, with post-mortem turgor, tre-
decilion days in hell. Though surely I’ve
offended God, must I in Purgatory
do time? I laugh, just as in Saturday Alive,
because although the world has lots of sin,
once more the Catholic Church has found a way
to get me off scot free by turning in
my money to the Church. Now I can pay
my way straight out of Purgatory and hell,
I feel more comfortable when sinning, and
intend to buy whatever priests may sell
to help indulge my tastes in Lalaland.
Hard-time in hell indulgences rescind,
and I intend to buy a lot, exempt
of punishment, eternally upwind
from sinners whom indulgences don’t tempt.
From Purgatory protected I’ll be couther
than I had been before, and who’ll condemn
me now, protesting as once Martin Luther,
protesting the indulgence stratagem,
when he in Wittenberg once catalyzed
the Christian Reformation? On Good Friday
please pray for me, a Jew who’s not surprised
to see the Church now acting mala fide.

Inspired by an article by Paul Vitello describing the announcement that plenary indulgences are once again on sale in some Catholic churches (“or Catholics, a Door to Absolution Is Reopened,” NYT, February 10, 2009):

The announcement in church bulletins and on Web sites has been greeted with enthusiasm by some and wariness by others. But mainly, it has gone over the heads of a vast generation of Roman Catholics who have no idea what it means: “Bishop Announces Plenary Indulgences.” In recent months, dioceses around the world have been offering Catholics a spiritual benefit that fell out of favor decades ago — the indulgence, a sort of amnesty from punishment in the afterlife — and reminding them of the church’s clout in mitigating the wages of sin. The fact that many Catholics under 50 have never sought one, and never heard of indulgences except in high school European history (Martin Luther denounced the selling of them in 1517 while igniting the Protestant Reformation), simply makes their reintroduction more urgent among church leaders bent on restoring fading traditions of penance in what they see as a self-satisfied world. “Why are we bringing it back?” asked Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of Brooklyn, who has embraced the move. “Because there is sin in the world.”

My reference to Good Friday alludes to the prayers on Good Friday that before 1955 stated:

Let us pray also for the faithless Jews: that Almighty God may remove the veil from their hearts [2 Corinthians 3:13-16]; so that they too may acknowledge Jesus Christ our Lord. ('Amen' is not responded, nor is said 'Let us pray', or 'Let us kneel', or 'Arise', but immediately is said:) Almighty and eternal God, who dost not exclude from thy mercy even Jewish faithlessness: hear our prayers, which we offer for the blindness of that people; that acknowledging the light of thy Truth, which is Christ, they may be delivered from their darkness. Through the same Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever. Amen.
At that time the congregants did not kneel during the prayer for the conversion of the Jews (even though moments of kneeling in silent prayer were prescribed for all of the other petitions in the Good Friday rite), because, it was said, the Church did not wish to imitate the Jews who mocked Christ before his crucifixion by kneeling before him and reviling him.
After the Second Vatican Council, the prayer was completely revised for the 1970 edition of the Roman Missal. Because of the possibility of a misinterpretation similar to that of the word "perfidis", the reference to the veil on the hearts of the Jews, which was based on 2 Corinthians 3:14, was removed. On 7 July 2007, the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio entitled, Summorum Pontificum which permitted more widespread celebration of Mass according to the "Missal promulgated by Pope John XXIII in 1962". The Jewish reactions to the motu proprio have underlined their concern that the traditional formulation, felt offensive for Jews, would be more broadly allowed.
On 6 February 2008, the Holy See's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, published a note [3] by the Vatican Secretariat of State, announcing that, with reference to the dispositions of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict XVI had decided to amend the Good Friday prayer for the Jews contained in the Roman Missal of 1962, and decreeing that an amended text "must be used, beginning from the current year, in all celebrations of the Liturgy of Good Friday according to the aforementioned Missale Romanum".
The new prayer reads as follows:
Let us also pray for the Jews: That our God and Lord may illuminate their hearts, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men. (Let us pray. Kneel. Rise.) Almighty and eternal God, who want that all men be saved and come to the recognition of the truth, propitiously grant that even as the fullness of the peoples enters Thy Church, all Israel be saved. Through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/10/09

Monday, February 9, 2009

connecting the continuum


Linking past and present, future,
and attempting to correct
schisms with a timely suture
is the way we can connect
not with ancestors alone,
but with our children whom time tears
apart from us, because we own
in them not even future shares
that they’ll distribute. But if we
explain how we attempt to link
what time connects, posterity
may value ways we choose we think.
All life is a continuum,
conceiving future in the loins
where it conceivably can come
together with the past it joins.

Inspired by an article by Gertrude Himmelfarb in the February 9, 2009 edition of The New Criterion, ‘Reflections on Burke’s “Reflections”’:

In my earlier essay I had casually dismissed, as inconsistent with the pragmatic, political Burke, his much quoted statement declaring the state to be “a partnership in all science, a partnership in all art; a partnership in every virtue, and in all perfection.” In context, that statement may seem less paradoxical. The passage opens with the assertion “society is indeed a contract”—a contract, Burke went on to explain, that contains many subordinate contracts, some of which, like a partnership for the trade of pepper or coffee, are occasional and can be dissolved at will. But the state cannot be so dissolved, because it is a partnership “not only between those who are living but between those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” And beyond that, it is a partnership with nature itself, so to speak—that “great primeval contract of eternal society, linking the lower with the higher natures, connecting the visible and invisible world”:
Every sort of moral, every sort of civil, every sort of politic[al] institution, aiding the rational and natural ties that connect the human understanding and affections to the divine, are … necessary, in order to build up that wonderful structure, Man.
Burke’s state, one might say, like Aristotle’s polis, is rooted in the very nature of man, man being a political, as well as a social, animal.
The key words in this account of the “primeval contract” are “linking” and “connecting.” The lower and the higher natures, the visible and the invisible worlds, the rational and the natural, the human and the divine, the moral, the civil, and the political, the past, the present, and the future—are all linked together, all come together to create man. The dominant image I find here, and throughout the Reflections, is that of a continuum, a relationship among seemingly contrary or disparate elements that somehow converge, making sense of what otherwise would be paradoxical or incongruous.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/9/09

acceptance of the end of life


Acceptance of the end of life when its
container has worn out,
and the awareness it no longer fits
the spirit that’s within it in the drought
that terminates the marvel of the mind
it desiccates with dryness,
subtracting spirit that’s been left behind,
a misanthropic minus
reversing all the pluses that had made
life meaningful and worth
the effort, is the price that must be paid
when we’re returned to earth,
our primal Vorlage, beneath the forest trees
where we evolved, to change
into the beings that attempt to please
a God who’s far more strange
than us, but always seems to get the praise
of those who lay to rest
our bodies that, landlubber castaways,
to earthworms are addressed.

Inspired by a review of “Somewhere Towards the End,” by Diana Athill, reviewed by Erica Jong in the NYT Book Review, February 8, 2009 (“An Adventurous Woman”):

Back in the ’90s, Daphne Merkin, one of our best critics and trend-­watchers, predicted that “if the last decade of the 20th century is to produce any great literature” it will be “around the subject of death.” This has proved true. The literature of death may have begun with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s classic “On Death and Dying” (1969)or with Judith Viorst’s “Necessary Losses” (1986), a book I buy for anyone who is grieving. Or the subject may linger in the air because of global warming and terrorism. How does an atheist prepare for death? This is a theme Diana Athill explores in “Somewhere Towards the End.” Her grapplings are impressive: “My own belief — that we, on our short-lived planet, are part of a universe simultaneously . . . ordinary . . . and incalculably mysterious . . . — does not feel like believing in nothing and would never make me recruit anyone for slaughter. It feels like a state of infinite possibility, stimulating and enjoyable — not exactly comforting, but acceptable because true.”…Her memoir is captivating because of her fearlessness of death, her sense that death is another adventure in her adventurous life. She reminds us that loving life may well mean accepting death as a part of it. The two are not opposites. They only seem to be. “What dies is not a life’s value, but the worn-out (or damaged) container of the self, together with the self’s awareness of itself: . . . The difference between being and nonbeing is both so abrupt and so vast that it remains shocking even though it happens to every living thing that is, was or ever will be. (What Henry James was thinking when he called death ‘distinguished’ . . . I can’t imagine — though the poor old man was at his last gasp when he said it, so one ought not to carp.)” Athill is good at not carping. This gives her memoir a levity that makes it fun to read. She also offers wisdom many of us can use about facing one’s end.

© 209 Gershon Hepner 2/8/09

Sunday, February 8, 2009

eau de new jersey


Mysteriously, there rose a smell
in Bergen County, and it crossed
the Hudson River, where its spell
on Westside people was not lost,
but those puzzled were not able
to find its source. Some wiseguys said:
“This must be syrup made from maple,”
but to pancakes they weren’t led,
because it came not from Vermont,
as you might think, but from the State
that’s called a Garden, and the font
of Mafiosi who seem great
on television, but are less
inspiring in real life––the show
that glamorized New Jersey’s mess
less FBI than HBO.
The smell did not come from Sopranos,
but fenugreek. Next time you cross
the Hudson, and you’ve no catarrh-nose,
and feeling lost, you wonder if
you should have left Manhattanland,
don’t keep the windows closed but sniff
and see if you can understand
why Jersey smells can’t be forgotten,
not even in the Upper West-
side or the Eastside, where what’s rotten
are funds where only fools invest.
When trying to escape the reek
of Madoff madness, try to find,
the pheromone called fenugreek
which can assuage the mapled mind.
It’s in a perfume, naughty, new,
eau de New Jersey, and I’ll sell
you shares I guarantee to you
will make you gelt that doesn’t smell.

Michael Barbaro and Nate Schweber write about a mysterious smell in Manhattan (“To Solve Mystery Smell: Catch It, Send It to a Lab and Sniff Across the Hudson”) in the NYT, February 6, 2009, about a mysterious smell:

Baffled city investigators began calling them “maple syrup events”: mysterious waves of sweet-smelling air that periodically wafted over Manhattan, delighting some, troubling others and vanishing as quickly as they had arrived. After each episode — in 2005, 2006 and again this year — residents flooded the city’s 311 information hot line with calls. The city’s Department of Environmental Protection dispatched air testers. But nobody could pinpoint the smell — or its source. So the aroma was filed away as another vexing urban mystery, never to be solved. Until now. The city revealed on Thursday that the culprit was the seeds of fenugreek, a cloverlike plant, which are used to produce fragrances at a factory across the Hudson River in North Bergen, N.J. It turned out that the city had never given up trying to determine the aroma’s origin. It had quietly created a crack maple-syrup team that remained on the case. The North Bergen factory, owned by a company called Frutarom, used the herbal seeds to manufacture food flavors, releasing a pungent, generally pleasant smell in the process. Under the right weather conditions — high humidity, no rain — the aroma drifts across the Hudson onto the West Side of Manhattan. “I think it’s safe to say that the mystery of the maple syrup mist has been solved,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said at a news conference at City Hall, cautioning that the city was still investigating several leads. Fenugreek produces seeds and leaves that are used in a variety of cuisines, and are believed to have health benefits, like improving milk production in new mothers. Frutarom, which is based is Israel, appeared to be blindsided by the mayor’s announcement. In a statement, the company said its apparent contribution to the recurring odor “came as a surprise to us.” Mr. Bloomberg said the company did not appear to have violated any laws. But Frutarom’s factory has previously been penalized by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. In 2006, it ordered Frutarom to pay a fine of nearly $450,000 for water and air quality violations, an agency spokeswoman said. At the New Jersey factory on Thursday, the air was thick with a candylike scent. A secretary said, “Nobody has ever complained about the smells.”… An analysis of all known maple syrup smell incidents revealed telling trends. Most of the complaints came from the Upper West Side and Morningside Heights. At the time, winds blew at a similar speed, from the west, “indicating that the source of the mysterious odor was Hudson or Bergen Counties in New Jersey,” Mr. Bloomberg said. The city’s Office of Emergency Management compiled a list of a dozen potential factories, three of which produced fragrances or food additives. Working with New Jersey environmental officials, city investigators narrowed the list to one — Frutarom, which had processed the seeds on Jan. 29. Neighbors of the factory were not surprised to hear about the traveling aroma. Chris Jenkins, 34, plant manager at North Bergen Asphalt Products, right next to Frutarom, said he detected the scent all day. “For the most part the smells are actually quite enjoyable,” he said. “Ooh, it makes you hungry.” Depending on the day, he said, the smell resembles pancake syrup, cookies or fruit. None of those who work nearby seemed alarmed by the smell, and several wondered why Manhattanites, who lived considerably farther away, would complain about it. “New Yorkers smell a little smell and they’re getting all paranoid,” said Jay Beqej, 33, who works at the Fairview Public Works warehouse.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/6/09

Saturday, February 7, 2009



Like Florida, I’m in foreclosure.
There’s no one who will buy my dreams,
although once certified as kosher,
they all appear like Ponzi schemes
to have exploited my naïve
intention to acquire lots
of wisdom, which I now believe
has tied me into Gordian knots
that are more hard to cut than it
is hard to sell in condoland,
evacuated lots of land that sit
abandoned like the desert sand,
where people all live hand-to-mouth
like Jonah in the sun. I’m headed
with Ponzi schemes that take me south
of Florida, with zero credit.
To make a short tale even shorter,
I may head east where what was kosher
is deemed no longer fit for slaughter,
and check out Postville’s frum foreclosure.

Inspired by an article on Florida by George Packer in The New Yorker, February 9, 2009 (“The Ponzi State: Florida’s foreclssure disaster”):

ABSTRACT: A REPORTER AT LARGE about Florida’s real-estate market and the economic downturn. Writer visits a number of inland real-estate developments near Tampa, Florida. Developers there dreamed up instant communities, parceled out lots, and built look-alike two-story beige and yellow houses. The houses sold to some of the thousand or so people who moved to Florida every day. Now many are ghost subdivisions. In one community, Twin Lakes, property values dropped by more than a hundred thousand dollars in the past two years. Writer interviews Angie Harris, a Navy veteran and mother of five, who says of her neighbors, “It used to be people would wave. Now they don’t.” In another community, Hamilton Park, the writer interviews a woman named Lee Gaither, whose only income came from Disability payments. She was facing eviction and planned to sell many of her possessions on eBay. Florida is one of the places where the financial crisis began. Gary Mormino, a professor at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, tells the writer that, “Florida, in some ways, resembles a modern Ponzi scheme. Everything is fine for me if a thousand newcomers come tomorrow.” The state depends for revenue on real-estate deals and sales taxes. By 2005, the housing market in Florida was hotter than it had ever been. Flipping houses and condominiums turned into an amateur middle-class pursuit. Writer tells about Floridians with modest incomes who made money buying and selling real estate. Mentions one case in which a house appreciated in value by almost fifty per cent overnight. According to an investigation by the Miami Herald, government oversight of the real-estate market was so negligent that more than ten thousand convicted criminals got jobs in the mortgage industry. Flipping and fraud burst the bubble. But in places like Pasco County, it was the ordinary desire of ordinary people to buy their own home that turned things toxic. Tells about Anita Lux, who moved to Florida from Michigan with her husband, Richard. Gives a brief history of Cape Coral, Florida, which was first developed in the fifties by two businessmen from Baltimore. Writer interviews a number of Florida residents who have lost their jobs or homes. A Fort Myers real-estate agent named Marc Joseph tells the writer, “Greed and easy money. That was the germ.” By last year, the highest foreclosure rate in the country could be found in Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Mentions other indicators of the economic hard times, including the closure of auto dealerships and the theft of copper. Writer visits the office of Tampa’s mayor, Pam Iorio, who is determined to build a light rail system to revive the city’s fortunes. A number of people in Florida told the writer that the state needs a fundamental change in its political culture.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/7/09

Friday, February 6, 2009

saved by a plank


Rabban Gamliel saw a ship that was wrecked
and mourned for Aqiba who’d drowned,
he’s mistakenly thought, feeling very abject,
till he landed and—miracle!—found
that Aqiba was teaching, unharmed and quite well,
and he asked him: “How did you survive?”
He replied: “I hung onto a plank, though the swell
would cover my head, I’m alive.”
If they tell you you’re drowning, grab hold of a plank
hanging on till you land on a shore:
and do not expect a discredited bank
to lend you a hand any more.

Inspired by the current collapse of the banking system and a story that is reported in bYebamot 121a:

Rabban Gamliel said: Once, while traveling on shipboard, I saw another ship wrecked and grieved greatly for a disciple of the wise was on it. (Who was he? Rabbi Akiba) After I landed, there was Rabbi Aqiba, who sat down before me and held forth on decisions in halakhah. I asked him: Who brought you here? He said: A ship's plank came my way and as each wave came toward me I dipped my head under it. (B. Yebamot 121a)
It should be noted that in a different version of the story Rabbi Aqiba sees Rabi Meir drowning. Shamma Friedman discusses the duplication in “A Good Story Deserves retelling—unfolding of the Akiva Legend,” JSIJ 3 (2004): 55-93).

The story in bYebamot 121a suggested to Linda that R. Aqiba had street smarts. “Street smarts on the ocean?” I asked, and Linda responded by suggesting that the ocean was what in Beowulf is called hwæl-weġ, a kenning that means “whale-way.” According to Linda R. Aqiba may have been saved by a dolphin. This applies even more to Jonah. Which inspired another poem, “Saved by a Whale”.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/6/09

Thursday, February 5, 2009

aux barricades!


Aux barricades, cries Maureen Dowd:
it’s time for revolution.
Obama, make the people proud
by finding a solution
to problems caused by spendthrifts who
are profligately selfish,
and rash as a reaction to
an allergen in shellfish.

Mon dieu, it now to us appears
that even the elite
must pay their taxes like their peers
who’re working on Wall Street.
Today a politician’s lot
is being scrutinized
by journalistic sans-culottes,
KGB Putinized.

The problem is not one I feel
that we can cure by storming
the Capitol, like the Bastille––
it’s far too habit-forming.
We should bring back, it must be said,
the guillotine. Aux armes
o citoyens! Write an Op-Ed,
but pitch it underarm.

Inspired by an Op-Ed in the NYT, February 4, 2009, by Maureen Dowd (“Well, That Certainly Didn’t Take Long”):

On 9/11, President Bush learned of disaster while reading “The Pet Goat” to grade-school kids. On Tuesday, President Obama escaped from disaster by reading “The Moon Over Star” to grade-school kids. “We were just tired of being in the White House,” the two-week-old president, with Michelle at his side, explained to students at a public charter school near the White House. Even as he told the children his favorite superheroes were Batman and Spider-Man, his own dream of being the superhero who swoops in to swiftly save America was going SPLAT! It just ain’t that easy. Unlike W. and Dick Cheney, who heroically resisted acknowledging their historically boneheaded mistakes, President Obama summoned a conga line of Anderson, Katie, Brian, Chris and Charlie to the Oval Office to do penance, over and over. “I think I messed up. I screwed up,” he confessed to Couric. He told the anchors that the man who helped make him president, Tom Daschle, had made “a serious mistake” by not paying taxes on a car and driver. (It should have been a harbinger of doom when Daschle began sporting those determined-to-be-hip round red glasses.) Mr. Obama admitted that “ultimately it’s important for this administration to send a message that there aren’t two sets of rules. You know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes.”…
Companies that have gotten bailouts continue to make a mockery of taxpayers. Until it came to light Tuesday, Wells Fargo, which received $25 billion in federal funds, was blithely planning a series of “employee recognition outings” to Las Vegas luxury hotels this month. As ABC reported, Bank of America took its $45 billion in bailout funds and sponsored a five-day carnival outside the Super Bowl stadium, and Morgan Stanley took its $10 billion in bailout money and held a three-day conference at the Breakers in Palm Beach. (Morgan Stanley had also still planned to send top employees to Monte Carlo and the Bahamas, events just canceled.) The New York Post revealed that Sandy Weill, former chief executive of Citigroup, took a company jet to fly his family for a Christmas holiday to a $12,000-a-night luxury resort in San José del Cabo, Mexico. No matter that the company just got a $50 billion federal bailout and laid off 53,000 worldwide. The interior of the 18-seat jet, as described by The Post, is posh, with a full bar, fine-wine selection, $13,000 carpets, Baccarat crystal glasses, Cristofle sterling silver flatware and — my personal favorite — pillows made from Hermès scarves. Aux barricades!

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/4/09

Wednesday, February 4, 2009



Though certain servants in our raj
leave many traces of the past,
a few may loom in our imag-
ination larger than the cast
whose roles seem far more prominent
than those of any faithful servant
to whom we have been dominant.
The greatest, butler, barman, booster,
surely is the servant Jeeves,
always saving Bertie Wooster
from the tangled webs he weaves,
but there are lots of low and lesser
characters called servants whom
we cherish more than a professor,
though most lie buried in a tomb,
because our help now is provided
by those whom we can’t understand,
misunderstood, poor and derided,
strangers from a foreign land
whose language and whose customs we
don’t know. Our ruling role unravels
when we find out they wish to be
in Mecca, where their spirit travels,
for mentally, although they serve
our purpose, they go on a haj,
and we lose what we don’t deserve,
the right to rule them in our raj!
With them relationships unequal
may some day become equalized:
to Jeeves and Wooster there’s a sequel
that may leave all of us surprised,
as Pharaoh and Egyptians were
when servants turned to God to plague
their rulers who could not refer
the plagues to judges in The Hague.

Inspired Mona Simpson’s review of Alison Light’s Mrs. Woolf and the Servants, describing the unequal relationship between Virginia Woolf and her servant, Nellie Boxall (“Imperfect Union,” Mona Simpson, Atlantic, February, 2009):

Like most intense relationships, Woolf’s with Nellie mingled anger and kindness, forgiveness and grievance. The Woolfs “lent” Nellie to Vanessa. When Nellie made jam from seven pounds of hand-picked blackberries (a reversal from her former refusal to make marmalade), Woolf took it as “her way of thanking me for having Lottie—after all, she has no other. And one tends to forget it.” In her diary, Woolf described Nellie as “almost insufferably mean, selfish & spiteful … a human mind wriggling undressed.” But as a postscript to a letter to Leonard, she scrawled, “Love to Nelly.” She named a kitten Boxall after Nellie—“to ingratiate her.” Most of the complaints on Nellie’s part seemed to be about having too much work. She angled for another helper. On Virginia’s side of their eternal fight was an avalanche of hurt feelings. What is this, if not the story of a durable bond between people who form an imperfect fit? Or is it the story of the ways one woman uses another, because she can? The distinction plagues Light and generates the conflicted momentum of her book. The Woolfs obsess about “the question of Nelly.” Light endlessly worries the problem of Virginia Woolf, who left behind beautiful work but required a servant’s help to stay sane enough to do that work. Light’s attempt to understand the contagious sense of shame surrounding service drives her emphasis on sloppers, chamber pots, and the work involved in cleaning up human excrement before the installation of modern plumbing. According to Light, Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, considered American plumbing extravagant and mildly corrupting (one wonders whom he thought would be corrupted! The servants?) and preferred to hire a slopper to empty chamber pots into the water closet and clean the basins. This resistance to modern plumbing turned out to be inherited. Shortly before the Woolfs’ marriage, after weighing the options, Virginia decided to use earth-closets at their country house—which would be cleaned out by an elderly worker—rather than install a drain for a WC.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/3/09

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

unacknowledged rump


Living poets, unacknowledged rump
of long parliaments of legislators,
produce material readers tend to dump
in paper landfills no incinerators
need burn, because their words all go to waste.
Dead poets, on the other hand are for-
tunate, appealing to the timeless taste
of those who yearn for words of yesteryore,
which, even if unmemorized, may feel
no less familiar than the ancient laws
dead poets once inspired: to appeal
against such laws becomes live poets’ cause.
What makes the cornfields happy, when to turn
the soil and train the vine, is what once Virg-
il wrote about, though hardly what you’ll learn
from poets who, alive, have not the urge
to help us understand the world, preferring
us to be confused no less than they
by everything around us, cri de coeuring
in an unintelligible way.

Inspired by a poem written by C. Day Lewis in some dedicatory stanzas he wrote to Stephen Spender in the preface to his translation of “The Georgics of Virgil”. Sarah Izzard kindly lent me a copy of this book which was inscribed by her mother, Molly Crutchley-FitzPatrick (Izzard), on May 4th, 1943:
Poets are not in much demand these days––
We’re read, it seems, or cracked, or bribed, or hearty
And, if invited, apt to spoil the party
With the oblique reproach of emigrés:
We cut no ice, although we’re fancy skaters:
Aiming at art, we only strike the arty.
Poetry now, the kinder tell us, caters
For an elite: still it give the hump
To think that we’re the unacknowledged rump
Of a long parliament of legislators.

Lewis renders the first four lines of Book One of The Georgics thus:
What makes the cornfields happy, under what constellation
It’s best to turn the soil, my friend, and train the vine
On the elm; the care of cattle, the management of flocks,
The knowledge you need for keeping frugal bees: ––all this
I’ll now begin to relate.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/2/09

Monday, February 2, 2009

big love


Though life may sadly be a vale of tears,
love, loyalty, and solidarity
bring to it laughter with three cherished cheers,
restoring to it popularity
that's lost where there is no one else whom you
consider to be likeable and shares
your goals and interests. Life’s a pas de deux
you only dance with somebody who cares
for things you do. You do not dance alone
because you cannot put yourself above
the need for loyalty, a chaperone
to solidarity that leads to love.
Love is the biggest of the three, and when
you’re popular in bed there is no way
you won’t click like computer mice, and men
will know your life is no roman à clef.

This poem is inspired by an article on the NY Times website about one of the shows Linda and I most like to watch, “Big Love”. on the last line of the poem is an oblique allusion to the villain in the show, Roman Grant, played by Harry Dean Stanton. Harold Fish writes in the New York TAimes, February 1, 2009:

Near the end of the first episode of “Big Love”’s new season, Nicki (Chloe Sevigny), the second of Bill Henrickson’s three wives, stands up on the roof of her house in the middle of a block party. She’s been repairing the roof rather than joining the festivities because she feels unwanted in the neighborhood. But when a couple of the neighbor kids make off with her ladder, she can’t take it anymore and she rises up to say her piece: “All I ever wanted was to be off the compound and live a normal life and be truly free.”….
This is an amazing statement. By “normal life” Nicki means a life in a mini-compound (three houses opening up on one backyard) with her husband, her two sister-wives and the eight children Bill has sired. The compound she has fled is led by her patriarch-father, Roman Grant (the great Harry Dean Stanton) and by other male elders who enforce strict obedience to rules they flout and who demand servile fidelity to their every word. (You must be “in harmony with me” is the byword.) The Henricksons, in contrast, practice a kind of participatory democracy (within limits); everyone has a say; everyone has rights; everyone has dreams and at least some space to pursue them. True, the family arrangement is illegal, and a certain amount of subterfuge is required to avoid exposure and arrest, but you can’t have everything. Nicki is truly grateful for the life she now leads and when she finishes her speech the members of the family salute her, bring her down and crowd around her in fellowship. It’s a moment of big love. And then it gets bigger. Suddenly someone says, “O.K., everyone, I’m here on your terms.” It’s Ana, a woman whom Bill (Bill Paxton) has been courting, not for himself, but for the whole family. Ana has been more than willing to have an affair with Bill, but he (in a nice gender reversal) insists that there must be a wedding ring first, which means that she must be willing to marry them all — Bill, Barb, Nicki and Margene, and the eight children. Now she says she is….The heterogeneity of the sprawling cast is reined in and given shape by the core commitment everyone has to the family’s survival and flourishing. External forces are always threatening to break it apart, but they are always repelled and the goodness of life on Walton’s Mountain is always reaffirmed. Each story comes accompanied by a moral lesson, but its didacticism is tempered by a clear-eyed awareness of the travails one cannot avoid in this vale of tears. “Big Love” is the new “Waltons.” It gives more scope to the travails than to the lesson, but the lesson is there, and it is the same one: loyalty, solidarity, love. Indeed, it would be entirely appropriate for the newer series to pay tribute to the older one and end each episode with a round-robin of “good nights.” Good night Bill, good night Barb, good night Nicki, good night Margene, good night Ben, good night Sarah and, maybe (though I doubt it), good night Ana.

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 2/2/09

Sunday, February 1, 2009

no happy returns


“Don’t speak of that man!” he said, unenticed
on his deathbed, not willing to share
his last time with a priest if he talked about Christ,
and he rests now in peace. Vive Voltaire!

The critic of reason that’s pure, Manny Kant,
when the angel of death paid a visit,
said: “My stomach is hurting and that’s why I can’t
have some wine that is watered. Sufficit.”

After his birthday L. Wittgenstein died;
he’d received a warm blanket as present,
presumably since it was electrified,
it killed him, which he thought was pleasant.

No happy returns for Ludwig, course,
and none for Voltaire or for Manny,
but wine without water can make the life force
amusing and sometimes uncanny.

Inspired by an anecdote about Voltaire recounted by Simon Critchley in his book, “The Book of Dead Philosophers,” reviewed by Dinitia Smith (“Dying and Death: When You Sort It Out, What’s It All About, Diogenes?” NYT, January 30, 2009). The book relates anecdotes concerning the deaths of 190 philosophers:

As a result, Mr. Critchley, philosophy chairman at the New School for Social Research, has made a book out of marvelous and funny anecdotes about the deaths of some 190 philosophers, from ancient to modern. Don’t be daunted by the many centuries involved. And you don’t have to read the book all at once, Mr. Critchley advises. You can just dip in and out of it at your pleasure. Fortunately this reviewer was obligated to read it all. And, as the philosopher would say, it was all for the good. Thus, we have Diogenes, who disdained fleshly pleasures and was said by some to have committed suicide by holding his breath; Julien Offray de La Mettrie, atheist and hedonist, who died after eating large amounts of truffled pâté; and Ludwig Wittgenstein, who saw life and death as part of the same timelessness. He died the day after his birthday. A friend had given him an electric blanket as a present. “Many happy returns,” the friend said. “There will be no returns,” Wittgenstein supposedly replied. Mr. Critchley recounts that Voltaire, after decades of denouncing the Roman Catholic Church, announced on his deathbed that he wanted to die a Catholic. But the shocked parish priest kept asking him, “Do you believe in the divinity of Christ?” Voltaire begged, “In the name of God, Monsieur, don’t speak to me any more of that man and let me die in peace.” Hegel, who, as much as any philosopher, Mr. Critchley says, saw philosophy as an abstraction, while he was dying of cholera, moaned, “Only one man ever understood me ... and he didn’t understand me.”

© 2009 Gershon Hepner 1/30/09