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Greek Urns Don’t Float in the North Pacific Gyre

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Proposed Land Use Action at Hugo House 9.2015

I just finished Dark Reflections by Samuel R. Delany, a novel about a black gay lyric poet coming of age just before Stonewall named Arnold Hawley. I saw a reading with Delany, and he read from the book and said he wrote it because he wanted some way to concretely explain the choice that young writers were making when they dedicated themselves to writing. To explain what decades of neglect, poverty, and earnest focus (and it’s corresponding blindness) is like to a young person is nearly impossible. In the book some of the affecting moments include Hawley — who is not just a great poet, but a sensitive and picky reader and someone that any writer would recognize I think as the writer they aspire to be — include a dinner scene in which Hawley has been dragged from his book crammed studio apartment to drink wine and listen to much younger editors argue and talk about things they only half know about. Hawley has no way to provide much to the conversation not because he doesn’t know about the subject, but because he knows too much. Anything he added would sound like a correction, or worse a history lesson. They reference strands of thought that Hawley had  deeply read in, participated in, had anticipated before they even developed, as they had happened. Hawley buys donuts in another scene for the warehouse workers who are putting stickers on the hundred books in the print run of his his bestselling title. He has just won a major, although obscure poetry prize, obscure even by the obscure standards of the poetry world. It the only notable prize he will win his lifetime. It results in a modest amount of poetry-world fame and then afterward an even more bitter sort of obscurity since he briefly seemed to be about to rise from oblivion.
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Farmers’ Market by Mark Toby

Farmers' Market

Mark Toby, Farmer’s Market, tempera, 1941, 19 5/8 x 15 5/8, Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection

The air is a brown soup. The market smells of lettuce, spinach, tobacco, and brewed coffee. The odor of fish and ice spills down the hallway. The noise of people talking softly to each other, to their clusters of buddies rattles in the din of vegetable sellers naming the places where their onions and yams have come from: Walla Walla, Yakima, Skagit. I can’t hear what the people are saying to each other. No one smiles. A disoriented man in a raincoats and Nor’easter stands in front of Stall 12 waiting for someone to arrive from across town. He glances at me and says something I can’t hear. No one carries umbrellas because the brown murk is not damp in that way. The moisture collects on surfaces without any visible rain drops. The water drools from the canvas awnings. Mosses and ferns grow where they have not cleared the tarp. A root from tree pierces the fabric. Left untended a forest would sprout in the market and grow toward the sky. In the red murk the only thing that registers is the movement of silhouettes, the reflection of sodium lights on damp slickers, the silver of a white Quaker-style beard. If Seattle men didn’t grow ears, there would be no way to tell them from Seattle women. No one walks briskly in the market. Everyone shuffles from side-to-side, a bovine shuffle; now and then a child says baa baa baa, or makes a barnyard sound. Only this place is part of the city rather than the farm. There are the remains of farm life in the market for sale. But in the market you can tell the truck farms in Auburn exist because of the city. The fishing boats leave their haul even in the 1940s on the docks of Portage Bay, and then trucks filled with ice bring the fish to the market. The city eats the country a root, a leaf, a fish at a time.

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