Saturday, February 01, 2003

Driving home from my girlfriend's house I turned on the radio and heard the unusually somber tones of Scott Simon on NPR. The Space Shuttle broke up over Texas, all seven crew members lost. My first reaction was disbelief and my second reaction is to think, "We really are reliving the Reagan administration." Not only do we have a war-mongering cowboy in the White House but another shuttle disaster, over Texas yet. The presence of an Israeli astronaut on board makes me fear terrorism, though they say that's unlikely given the shuttle exploded about 200,000 feet above the earth's surface. I find myself wondering what to make of this tragedy now that we have a more recent "scale" by which to measure American tragedies—September 11. (The ongoing and horrific tragedies in places like Ethiopia of course rarely impinge upon our consciousness.) Seven people and dreams of space travel that have lost all the futuristic gleam, rather having the buffed aura of nostalgia (witness the film of another near-disaster, Apollo 13) have been lost; but our sense of invulnerability (inexplicably restored by increments since 9/11) has not been affected. An old-fashioned disaster, in other words, in spite of all the science-fiction trappings: an act of God, not politics.

Strange to feel so somber and yet be filled with anticipation: my friend Brian Teare, who was a Stegner Fellow with me and is now Philip Roth Writer in Residence at Bucknell, is coming up for a visit today. It's the first time I've seen him in nearly two years, though we talk regularly. He's a scarifyingly good poet and especially good with elegies, which seems appropriate this morning. I hope he won't mind if I post this piece of a poem of his from a longer poem entitled "Two Elegies Containing Fear":

Coast woken to
unknown. To think

is verge, surf, shelf
edge. Interior

ocean, mind
a bright cry beached.

Worn porcelain eggshell
ivory and dry, in dilation,

porous, forged
open, the skull’s shell

hell in which the sea kneels

and serenade—, curls
its pearls’ horde

of whorls. Words
work their grains,

breed an irritant

bed in purulent
worth. Listen—waves

turn on their spit
and burn surf, sizzling,

stirring the haphazard fat
foam. Listen—it is certain

emergency. The waves unravel
burning skeins of skin.
Seems all too appropriate this morning. Brian generally does much more with the page as field in his poetry, but replicating that in HTML is challenging, to say the least.

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