Sunday, March 01, 2009

Today's walk and a Chilean poet in translation

The work of the Chilean Nicanor Parra can seem too entertaining to be poetry. His currency is irony and outright laughter. He mocks received opinion as vivaciously as his fellow Hispanophone Luis Buñuel. Often he works by disorienting his reader's expectations... Here's a sample.


I'm Not a Sentimental Old Man

a baby leaves me absolutely cold
I wouldn't take a baby in my arms
even if the world were caving in
every man scratches his own itch
I can't stand a family get-together
I'd rather be stuck in the eye with a sharp stick
than play with my nephews
my grandchildren don't move me very much either
what I mean is they set my nerves on edge
the second they see me come back from the coast
they come running at me with open arms
as if I were Santa Claus
little sons of bitches!
who the hell do they imagine I am

(Emergency Poems, translated by Miller Williams, published by New Directions, 1972)

Today the Pink House walk: up through the steepest part of Hendricks Park on the path that angles up from the south side of Summit Avenue under the big Douglas Firs, reading as I walk, a dangerous habit I'm told. The light rain is not doing so much damage to my New Yorker as to dissolve the pages; the clay which I've recently learned is the basis for the shininess of the pages of many of the slicks holds up well.

I pass the side trail that's been cut off for park work, but now is open. The city and a private group are restoring the formerly common and now rare white oak woodland at the top of the ridge, by cutting down the Doug Firs. I'm planning to catch this trail from the street side on my descent and see what's different.

The Pink House, a stucco multistory mission-style dwelling with substantial land and a carriage house, sits at the high point. Walking downhill on Capital Drive and turning right on the first intersection, at Cresta de Ruta Street. Walking steeply downhill now onto Madrona Drive and finding where the side trail, just previously anticipated, briefly touches the street. A pile of slash, neater than most logging operations to be sure, as if they're piling it for some future use. City yellow tape marks the slash area's perimeter but the Oak Knoll Trail that my wife's brother Michael built is open, so I take it. Here my reading stops.

A narrow trail, paralleling the long-closed park street below. Perhaps someday there will be a path down to that abandoned road but for now what look like trails down are perhaps only the marks left by trees felled as part of the restoration: straight, a foot or so wide, and ending abruptly amidst the tangle of ferns and shrubs that survived the crash of timber. All along as I go, there are many white oaks on the ridgeline above, more visible than I'd remembered, and also more numerous than in my recollection. They are so many, they are obvious.

At the beginning of the knoll loop, where the trail passes above the property of people known to have dumped their garden cuttings in the park, is an attractive result of this pernicious practice, a group of hellebores, magenta and white, in spring bloom. Lenten hellebores? It is March 1st, after all.

On the knoll itself where the trail traces an outer circle, more white oaks and also the multitudinous green shoots of Camas, reminding me of the later spring, or perhaps just "spring" since March 1st is still winter, when this place will be replete with the heavy blue of a mass of Camas blossoms.

The unmaintained trail, which I first discovered while wishing that such access to lower streets would be along here somewhere, leads steeply down, dangerously so in such wet weather where I can't tell if the rock step below will give me some traction or the slip. So I hold on to what I suspect to be a cherry sapling leafing out, just another weed as far as the oak knoll program goes, and get over the rock steps to a more continuous trail. This continues down almost into a backyard where it turns sharply left and out onto the dead end of Malabar Drive.

Then along Malabar Drive to the fenced yard where there appears to be an easement between properties, perhaps where some civic-minded individual will some day build a staircase. In the meantime, it's bark mulch down to Spring Boulevard, directly across from its intersection with Oak Grove Drive which itself dead-ends shortly into Mission Park. But that's for a drier time, later in the year. Well, now I can finish my New Yorker as I walk home on the Spring Boulevard, waving prophylatically at each of the few cars that could easily run a pedestrian off the road through inattention or malice. Not that I've noticed malice on Spring Boulevard and environs.