Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Learning Fractions

The urge to unite – beyond the biological,
beyond the congress that continues the species –
can be explained: there’s shelter and comfort
and good cooking and conversation.
Division is difficult, though, never mind
the cold feet. The becoming one-half of
what was one, the undoing what was done.
Parceling out the goods and goodness
fifty/fifty, or drawing and quartering
the bookshelves’ perfect order. The music –
my Unchained Melody, Your Cheatin’ Heart
no, that was mine, this yours.
An old copy of Que Sera, Sera.
Now close and lock the doors.

~ Ralph Murre

Thursday, August 18, 2011

and now, a story

The Language

So this medium-sized black bear walks into a bar (Lyle’s Dugout, just behind the ballpark, on 17th) and the bartender asks, “What’ll you have?”, and the bear, Lucien, orders a shot of blackberry brandy and a Hamm’s beer chaser. They get to talking, the bear and Rod, the bartender. Small talk at first, sports mostly. It depresses Lucien, who is upset about teams named for animals, particularly The Bears. The Cubs. He hates Chicago anyway, especially since a cop once roused him when he was trying to hibernate in an underground parking garage down near the Art Institute. “You’ll never catch me in that town again,” says the bear, “at least not in autumn.”

Rod sympathizes, being a Packer fan, but warns under his breath that his boss was born and raised in the Big Windy, and will tolerate no talk against it, no matter your species. “He threw out a lion just the other day for a remark about Mayor Daley. Hmmm . . . I dunno which Mayor Daley.”

“Well, I’d better drink up and get out then,” says Lucien, but Rod explains that Lyle’s in the back room, doing his books, and couldn’t hear over the music anyway (a polka, In Heaven There is No Beer, by Frankie Yankovic). He returns to polishing a few glasses and the bear moodily nurses what remains of his draft. Eventually, he asks for another round and says, “Tell me Rod, your people came from where? Poland maybe, Germany, the Czech Republic?”

“Oh, ya. Danzig, or Gdansk, or whatever the latest bunch in power decides to call it.”

“And you can speak the language?”

“No. Hell no. A dozen words, maybe. My grampa and gramma, they came over and they could speak a coupla languages, but no English. And then my pa, he wanted nothing to do with the old ways. The war and all. Nope – of course, I can cuss and ask for a few kindsa food – but that’s about it.”

“Yes. And you’ve got kids?”

“Five; mostly grown. And two grandkids already. Here, I got pictures.”

“Any of the kids know the language at all?”

“Just my daughter, Katrin. She learned in college, and then went to the old country for a semester. Looked up some family. There’s a lotta books . . .”

“That’s just it,” Lucien sighs deeply, as bears will, “there are a lot of books. Yours is a written language, rich in literature. You can skip a couple of generations and your kids can just go back to it any time they want. Learn it in college. Get credit, even.

“A bear, on the other hand, has only an oral tradition with which to connect. In this part of the world, we too felt the pressure to fit in. A lot of us chose not to be jailed in game preserves. Eventually, we stopped telling the old stories in the old language, and now there’s almost no one left who can teach our children, and many want to learn, want to say ‘I Am a Bear!’, but haven’t the words. A sad thing, and like you and your father, I am partly to blame. For too long, I tried to deny my Ursine nature, my very Bearness.

“Ah, but I gotta go,” says Lucien, standing to leave after a long pause, “baamaa pii.”

“Ya, later,” answers Rod, wiping another glass, “do widzenia.”

~ Ralph Murre

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Quixote at Sea

photo by S. Auberle

So, after too many years off the water, but still thinking of myself as a sailor while riding my faithful motorcycle, Rozinante, I find a boat with the name Dulcinea emblazoned on her shapely stern. She's for sale. I buy her cheap. Last few nickels; a fixer-upper. I fix her up. All as it should be.

Together At Last
(a tale of quixotic satisfaction)

The moments are all around us
Momentous moments monuments of moments
In the water on the water of the water
My Dulcinea and I through the thick of the thinning moments
Sailing white on dark days and shadowy in sun
Ahhh the beauty and richness of our poverty
The wealth of our watery soup
The flavor of it in my little tarnished spoon

~ Ralph Murre

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Sour Grapes?


And at times in my heart there is a music that plays for me.
~ J.P. Donleavy

Yes, you too? You’ve heard it? Sometime snare of drum, penny-whistle, nickel-plate, quarter-note? Hum a few bars of a new tune; bring in a viola d’amore to this baroque adagio – unbroken, unbeaten, to play a song for a new season. It may be as well not to enter a poetry contest, a dance contest, a salon d’art.

clean-shaven young man
harsh light of the arena
the expectant crowd

Is it treason to suggest that in his condition blind ambition is deafening the inner ear? Competition is not improving the species, but robbing it of its art? Is it wrong to think that if he listens, if he hears that music deep within he can begin, at last, to write the score, to pen a few notes on a clean page? Is it outrage to suppose that not everyone has heard this rhythm, not everyone goes dancing to the same beat? Wooden hearts clicking like castanets for clay feet?

climbing the stairs alone
an oddly-dressed man speaking
another language

~ Ralph Murre
Sure, it's just a case of sour grapes, isn't it? After all, three pieces of my short fiction just went without notice in a competition. Yet, I'm not sure . . . earlier this year, I served as a preliminary judge for a prestigious poetry contest, and realized that someone with something truly original to say - or with a truly original way of saying it - would have a very difficult time. However, I put such a piece forward and it wound up winning the contest. So, am I putting down the idea of arts contests? No, I simply don't think they do much to engender the creation of anything new, and I think that's largely because most of the entrants don't want to take risks. Someday, we'll get into the discussion of the NEED for anything new, the NEED to take risks.