The Moon

 

It is round
It arrives
It shines
It reflects
It is the sun’s stepchild,
It comes out
It stares without blinking
It draws us to it
It approves.

It hangs out in cemeteries
It sometimes sleeps in a cradle
It watches without judgment
It hides
It is silent
It is still
It waits for brides to stop dancing,
It wonders

It is the desert’s flashlight
It is the night’s open eye
It sleeps.
It whispers to werewolves
and drunks
It blushes
It caresses schizophrenics

It permits
It reveals
It sings the same song to all
first-time lovers
It cannot hear politicians
It stays when relatives leave
It holds the gun to your head,
Makes incisions that don’t hurt.

It grieves like an old man
It cries for limping dogs
It is never jealous your friends,
It won’t say goodbye.

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“Maudie,” a Review

Maudie is a tour de force of acting by Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke.

Hawkins plays the quirky Novia Scotia self taught artist, Maud Lewis. Hawke plays her social isolationist employer, her Benedict-like rival, and her eventual lover and husband, Everett Lewis.

I loved the intimacy of the film, which at times, becomes almost claustrophobic inside a small rural house with a one room kitchen/dining/ art space room, and a miniature bedroom in the attic (the claustrophobic feel of the film is relieved by the beautiful coastal waters, the icy winter scenes, the open landscapes, and the village homes in the small town).

Maud is hired by Everett as a live-in housekeeper. After a volatile beginning in their relationship, they settle into a kind of uneasy routine as Maud begins to take on the traditional duties of a wife and to gradually change the home’s physical environment with her painted images on the walls.

Over time, one of the locals, a wealthy New Yorker, recognizes Maud’s talent as a painter. Maud’s reputation begins to spread and Everett struggles to accept the public spotlight that her talent brings

Two things struck me about this intimate film.

For one, Maud’s severe rheumatoid arthritis makes her a physical oddity in the village. Her own angular, shy, downcast facial mannerisms and her under-the-breath sarcasm, however, begin to take on a force of their own. She never loses those idiosyncrasies as a character. In fact, they are what make her such a draw as a screen presence.

Maud’s persona, initially, poses a threat to Everett, who, from the beginning, resents what he sees as her invasion of his territory, both physical and emotional. He sees himself as a life-long bachelor and patriarch. Over time, she wins him over.

The tension between Maud and Everett could easily be described as a kind of Beatrice-and-Benedict “battle of the sexes” prototype. But Maud’s gentle quirkiness and Everett’s persona as a hard-edged social misanthrope give this film a much different, even more modern feel than Shakespeare’s classic sexual rivalry.

Secondly, I also loved the small-world intimacy of the film. The setting is in a small Novia Scotia village (I understand, for whatever reason the film was shot in Newfoundland and Labrador). It becomes smaller inside Everett’s home. The initial conflict between Maud and Everett is kept within a very small physical range (It seldom moves outside the home).

And the main love-story’s development is held within a very tight circle of activity —-eating soup together, killing a chicken, initiating sex, putting in a screen door, small-framed shots of Maud painting, the close-ups of Everett’s emotional reactions (fear, rage, hurt, grief, confusion). Not to mention, of course, the fact that Maud and Everett, themselves, have their own kind of psychological insularity as social rebels, (even “misfits,” by the town’s standards).

I would add, by the way, that Maud’s paintings add to the small cosmos of the characters’ worlds. They are either miniature post-card sized prints or on small wood frames.

The environment in the cramped spaces of the home may have been the determining factor here for the kinds of paintings she produced. And I would not call any of the images she painted on the walls of the small home, by any stretch of the imagination, frescoes—-a more traditional venue for large, epic-like images on urban or industrial walls.

To avoid any “spoiler alert,” I’ll skip over any hints about the ending.

Check it out. It’s a refreshing antidote to the prototypical Hollywood romance.

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Moksha

Moksha is a Hindu word meaning “liberation” or “release.” I thought it appropriate for a poem about an older woman looking for a job. I don’t know about your town, but in my town, ageism is alive and well.  

Moksha

Looking out the bedroom window
At the breeze exhaling
Its frantic breath
Through backyard trees,
Leaves, like nervous
Bristles on a paint brush,
In a mad rush to finish
Another clumsy scene,
A cradle’s fast rocking
To the aching pulse of
Of Irene’s second month
Without work,
The restlessness of
Nothing to do,
Her mind rambling
Through stammering resentments
Of being too old,
Age arriving without warning
Or a reservation,
Legs hesitant to finish a stride,
Release denied, payments overdue,
The sun descending into
A crying child’s surrender
To reluctant dreams.

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“Dunkirk,” a Review

Epic and Intimate Film

So, my friends, movie ads promoting Dunkirk claim that it’s both epic and intimate.

Ok, I get the epic sweep of the movie with the horrific bombing scenes, the spine-tingling rescues, the vast lines of soldiers on Dunkirk beach completely defenseless against German planes, the claustrophobic scenes of soldiers trapped inside flooding gun-boats and sinking rescue ships.

The movie as an “intimate” portrayal of war? I am hazarding a guess here: maybe the intimacy of the movie was the existential fear an audience felt for the six or seven characters who were, literally, given more characterization time than anyone else in the film.

In a sense we befriend them, on a somewhat personal level, certainly more than just seeing the epic, detached shots of soldiers on the beach.

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The Unexamined Life

It was Socrates who said, “the unexamined is not worth living.”

I suppose it was my religious upbringing that instilled in me the importance of self reflection, even though that religious heritage had limited objectives by encouraging children, at an early age, to reflect, almost exclusively, on their sins.

The objective was to make sure that all children become aware of just how inclined to evil we all were, no matter how much it preached the pollyanic, but contradictory message that we were all made in the image and likeness of God.

Self-knowledge (the “unexamined life”), then, was more like self-flagellation than it was about any deep soul searching. A cathartic walk through our faults was seen, by the church, as the only way to heal our, essentially, sinful selves.

Nevertheless, I did learn something about interiority. I did learn that it was permissible, if not encouraged, to be silent with myself, to circle back into my psyche.

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Opioid Man

Was he about to learn,
Leaning over the rail,
The rush of dead leaves in his head,
A robin’s feathered chest
Dropped from the jaws
Of an eagle looking into
The dull mass of his eyes
Turnstyling what was yet left
To be lived.
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The Last Word

She had nothing more to say to him,
Or, so she thought.

A final soliloquy to decorate
The last exit?

A tired spring blossoming,
Ripped of its energy
By a fierce, aging winter
With its suffocating folds of snow
Matched the weakness of her resolve
To say one last goodbye.

Departures, she finally decided,
Better left to silence,
Avoiding the ache of closure
That never arrives
With the last word.

 

 

 

 

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An Aging God

Grace, a gift the unworthy
From an unknown lover,
Bartering as young gods always do
For more than respect,
Rejecting the cordiality
Of statesmen and underpaid doormen.

Who is this gift-giver, this once bronze god
Fermented into an old man’s unsteadiness,
Weak ankles, aching knee-caps, a lazy mouth?

Generosity cannot shuttle out of the arms
Of aging gods smoking cigars, one unsteady hand
Guiding a wheeled walker through the halls
Of the soundless stalks of the unrepentant.

 

 

 

 

 

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Manchester by the Sea, a review

I used to believe that I was emotionally resilient. After experiencing Kenneth Lonergan’s film, “Manchester By The Sea,” I’m not so sure.

We first meet the central character, Lee Chandler, as a brooding, angry maintenance worker who manages to piss off or frustrate some of the tenants in one of the apartment buildings where he works. In the next scene, he starts a barroom brawl.

We don’t find out anything else about Lee’s life until one flashback reveals his alcoholic carelessness when he runs out of beer one night and walks to the store, forgetting to put the protective screen in front of the fire in the home fireplace. As he returns from the store, he hears fire sirens and runs up to see his home in flames and his distraught wife being gurneyed into the ambulance. His two children are lifted out of the rubble in black plastic bags.

From that traumatic moment, his psyche is frozen in emotional withdrawal and rage, two reactions he can little afford when he receives a phone call informing him that his brother has just died from a massive heart attack. 

In a moment he is totally unprepared for, a lawyer informs him that his brother appointed him legal guardian of his teen-age nephew.

The rest of the film chronicles the uneven relationship with the nephew in moments of dark humor, raw honesty and the nephew’s casual and often comic sexual experiences.

One of the more poignant scenes happens when the nephew has a short-lived emotional break down when frozen meat keeps falling out of the freezer, reminding him that his father’s body has to stay in a morgue freezer because the cemetery ground in the winter is too hard to dig through for his father’s grave.

The nephew, the film is clear in telling us, is far more emotionally vulnerable and open than his uncle, who finally admits he can’t “beat” the darkness of his own personal trauma in being responsible for his children’s deaths. In addition to trying to adapt to his role as guardian, he makes at least one attempt at emotional expansiveness when he sells his brother’s guns to pay for a new motor for the nephew’s inherited boat.

Many of the town’s residents still hold him responsible for his family tragedy. His ex-wife is one of the exceptions when she makes a vain attempt to have him admit he still loves her, after she makes her own admission. In a typical dark Lonergan moment, she reveals her feelings even though she’s remarried and is out strolling her newly born infant when the chance meeting with Lee happens.

Lee is presented with a series of vulnerability and compassion moments from other people, cumulative examples that life still has worth—from the medical staff in the hospital where his brother dies to his nephew’s open moments of vulnerability to his own memories of his brother’s deep affection for him and his ex-wife’s fragile and risky admission that she still loves him.

In the final scene, Lee and his nephew are out on the family boat fishing. He has forfeited his guardianship and plans to return to Boston. He has chosen, in the end, not to move out of his soul’s bleak darkness. As the Romans would say, “Noli Me Tangere” (a loose translation—“let nothing touch me”)

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Moonlight, A Review

“Moonlight,” won “best picture” award at this year’s Oscar’s after a traumatic envelope mixup. It is a one-of-a-kind film about a coming of age black young man who discovers, early in his fragile life, that he is gay.

As a pre-teenager, Chiron’s gay identity comes down on him like a falling meteor when his alcoholic-drug addicted mother, in a fit of self-loathing, screams “faggot” at him.

In high school, Chiron is bullied, taunted, and beaten but has a spontaneous, first-kiss and consummated sexual experience on the beach with one of his classmates.

Many years later, he ends up being a drug dealer mirroring the behavior of an older man who became a kind of surrogate father to the younger Chiron teaching him to swim and who, with his girlfriend, occasionally offered the young boy a place to hang out, eat, and escape from his cocaine-addicted mother.

Unexpectedly, Chiron receives a night phone call from his high school buddy with whom he had his first and only sexual experience. He eventually decides to take the road trip to make a surprise visit. After his friend makes him dinner, Chiron awkwardly admits he has never been touched by anyone else, as his friend cradles him in his arms in a final tender scene.

What I loved about this film is that it is not rushed. Each scene is given its moment, sometimes painfully, sometimes tenderly, without stealing or overshadowing the other. Although the central character’s life choice to sell drugs gives the film an ominous tone of fatalism, the restrained optimism of the narrative has more than its day in court—-Chiron eventually forgives his mother after she ends up in a rehab and at least two sets of characters are on Chiron’s side: the young couple who offer him refuge from his addicted mother and the high school friend who, even after his own marriage and separation, is still emotionally attached to Chiron.

Chiron’s character has heavy layers of loneliness, isolation, introversion, and painful shyness. But, in the end, the movie gives us an emphatic sense that he’s a survivor. And, viewers leave the film feeling Chiron has at least one moment of psychological relief in his friend’s obvious emotional and physical affection.


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