Blizzard ‘grams

Capturing here because there will be no way of seeing these photos all at once ever again. This storm was one of the biggest in Washington’s history and reached blizzard conditions at times. In addition to causing trouble for a lot of people (especially early ice), the snow didn’t arrive at a great time. We weren’t able to join Lori’s parents on a planned trip to West Virginia, and my car couldn’t move for almost a week.

But we made the best of it: the first fires in our fireplace (and successful ones at that), Malaka’s noodle-karaoke birthday party down the street, some of Lori’s biggest days yet at the bookstore, reading and a good shoveling workout for me, some of the world’s best hot chocolate and marshmallows from Rob and Danielle, eating burgers and watching football at Big Board, and empty streets — the best part of any D.C. snow.

Cozy night for our first fire.

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And so it begins.

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I finally understand the song.

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This way! We're almost there.

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Who can resist a pretty snow video? Not us. #bookstagram #capitolhilldc #snowzilla #blizzard2016

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My car, my igloo.

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A whole new ring-losing scenario I’d never considered before

The new issue of the Medill alumni magazine collects memories of the school’s Washington program, in celebration of the program’s 50th anniversary. Of the anecdotes, the best comes from a man named David Dees, MSJ ’81:

The Medill program was located in an old office building, on the
ninth floor (I think). By late spring, the weather was warm and our
office had no air-conditioning so we kept the windows open. I was
the only married student in my group. My wife, Sherri Sandow
Dees, was back in Evanston working on her master’s in music
performance. I got to joking that the only reason I was married
was that I couldn’t remove my wedding ring. To prove my point,
I shook my hand to one side, once, twice, then whoosh, the ring
flew from my sweaty finger, over my neighbor’s desk, against a sill,
and out the window before plummeting to the busy sidewalk.
Bursting onto the sidewalk, I counted up the floors and across
the windows to locate the window. Then I scanned back down the
drab brick wall to the sidewalk. No ring. I ran into the street. I ran
across the street and back again. I looked under parked cars and
moving cars. I looked under pedestrians. Then I looked up the
sidewalk to see a metal grate covering a subterranean labyrinth. I
was sure that my ring had bounced, rolled or been kicked into the

By this time, an elevator load of my classmates had joined the
search. Soon, one of them, a woman whose name I have long
since forgotten, approached me. “Is this it?” she asked calmly,
holding up the ring. I was too astonished to say, “What do you
mean ‘Is this it?’ How many gold bands do you expect to find on
the sidewalk this afternoon?” I don’t think I said anything, but
instead grabbed her and kissed her right on the mouth.

The impact left the ring less than round, and I gradually gained
too much weight to wear it anymore. But fortunately, nearly 35
years later, I still have the same ring–and the same wife.

Recent poems in my life, with which to emerge from winter?

I know we are still in the first days of February. After temperatures were scarf-less early in the week, bone chills re-emerged last night. But I find myself favoriting the warmth in what I read — Jhumpa Lahiri learning Italian, Cord Jefferson writing about his love for his mother, Washingtonian magazine noting (and capturing visually, if briefly) acres open city land and beautiful city-ancient buildings before they’re gone or disfigured, and, as usual, some poems.

A great way to start the day other day was Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day.” She read it at Obama’s first inauguration. People didn’t love it. I loved it was a way to start my day. Italics are Alexander’s:

Praise song for struggle, praise song for the day.
Praise song for every hand-lettered sign,
the figuring-it-out at kitchen tables.

Some live by love thy neighbor as thyself,
others by first do no harm or take no more
than you need. What if the mightiest word is love?

Recently in my feeds as well have been two catch-you-off-guard poems about desire: Mary Jo Bang’s “Definitely” (“What is desire / But the hardwire argument given / To the mind’s unstoppable mouth”) and Heather Christle’s “Pursuits” (“It only gets worse / A girl’s gotta eat”).

And I’ve been catching up on The New Yorker too. Catching up for real. Before the holidays, my backlog had hit three or four months, and the physical stack was so sad. But I began digging over Christmas and have kept the pages turning. I’m now on the current issue. And it’s a double! I’m going to be a week ahead! Maybe. If I finish it today. You can’t count your Remnick chickens before they’re read.

Anyway, here’s the start of Hagit Grossman’s “On Friendship,” a poem of common life and so satisfactorily so, in the latest issue:

If a friend calls out to you late at night from beneath your window
Never send him on his way. And if you’ve sent him away and still
Insist on rigid rules, regain your composure after a moment
And run to the window and shout his name: “Come, Merhav!
Come back! I’ve got some corn cooking! Come eat something.”

Last but not entirely, I’m two issues behind on Poetry (after Conde Zero, so soon, I promise), but two favorites from the December issue were Caroline Bird’s “The Amnesty,” which packed so much metaphor and love in so little space, and Nate Marshall “Harold’s Chicken Shack #86,” which wrings Northwestern, names, race, and poverty from half a quote in a newspaper story.

Marshall also has a good one in the issue about Oregon Trail (“my first venture west was in Windows 98 / or Independence, Missouri…”), and the Poetry Foundation site turns up him penning a “Harold’s Chicken Shack #1.” Maybe the “#86” of the Northwestern poem is poetic license, but I hope there are 84 in between. I’d like to read them.

Related: The Springsteen song “Amnesty” made me think of. No one will put this song on a greatest-hits compilation, or any kind of compilation that comes to mind. But I’ve always found it strange and special, the best song on a not-great album. Heard it playing during a nice dinner at a nice restaurant last fall — Garrison, on Barracks Row — and found it fitting.

Related: It was a nice surprise to find Sally Jenkins writing on the front page of the Washington Post‘s Sports section recently about the friendship between NBA coach Phil Jackson and poet Mary Karr. I blogged about Karr’s “Loony Bin Basketball” poem here two years ago, and the article was a good reason to go back and reread the poem and her interview partly about it.

Related: Edward T. Wheeler writes for Commonweal about his prison ministry. “I was retired, convalescing from a five-month hospital stay, and needed a focus for my free time. … Soon I—a former high-school English teacher and long-ago Jesuit seminarian—was involved in a biweekly writing seminar for GED students, then a book discussion club, and finally a life-skills course sponsored by the state university’s extension division.”

They say Twitter will begin an algorithmically ordered timeline next week. They say it will be optional. I’m glad for the latter.

You can’t know everything, so trust and move downfield

If we were to select any two random football fans in the country, they would likely have vastly different opinions of Tom Brady. He was huge for many of my fantasy teams over the years I did fantasy. But his deletions and lack of transparency in the various investigations of New England leave me wanting. But, going back the other way again, I tend to root for him more than against him. And I’m definitely excited to see Brady and Peyton Manning go head-to-head, again, in the AFC championship game on Sunday.

ESPN has a good long-read on Brady this week. My two favorite grafs are on the key difference in their football leadership styles. “But, ultimately, the human mind is not a computer” is a great line.

What Ryan and others have never seemed to grasp, one of Brady’s former teammates explains, is that Brady has always been smart enough to accept that it’s impossible to know everything. That’s why he’s the best postseason quarterback of all time. (Brady holds the record for most playoff wins, yards and touchdowns.) That’s why he obsesses over the simple fundamentals of playing catch, drilling for hours and hours in the offseason with guys like Edelman and former teammate Wes Welker on stuff as basic as ball position and splits. A player can study film and look at 10,000 formations on an iPad for as many hours as the eyes and the brain will allow. But ultimately, the human mind is not a computer. Overthinking in tense moments, trying to decode a defense like it’s a sudoku puzzle, is the perfect recipe for hesitation and panic.

“You know, Brady probably doesn’t watch as much film as Manning, and that’s OK,” said Brady’s former teammate. “You know why? Because he’s got coaches that are watching just as much film as [Manning] is. What Brady gets is that he’s the only guy who understands exactly what’s going on down on the field. So when Josh McDaniels calls a certain play, Brady is thinking: ‘I know exactly why he called that play. I know exactly what my read is on this.’ Brady’s genius is that he understands delegation. He trusts the people around him.”

‘An ordinary making’ in recent poetry feeds and shares

First, I love the idea of this recipe — and this graf (source).

The careful regulation of sentences, the tunneling into uncomfortable states of mind and feeling, could threaten to asphyxiate, but Boyer has a dark wit and knows when to shift modes. The dramaturgy of the book bestows enormous power on apparently small moments — as when Boyer shares a recipe for “A chocolate cake for when you own only one small round pan.” That recipe is the totem of an alternate ars poetica, an ordinary making, a writing of the shareable, edible ordinary — which on some blessed days tastes good.

That story about poet Anne Boyer comes from the recent New York Times Sunday Book Review, which was all about poetry and which friend David thoughtfully saved for me. Thank you, David! Another great line from the issue comes in a quote from Jennifer L. Knox’s new work, “Whoever tied the Mylar birthday balloon to the dead squirrel on Main Street thinks big.” So bizarre and true.

Also. I was sorry to read the other day about the death of C.D. Wright, whose poems had turned up several times in this blog. The three that appeared are all still very, very good (and dark and passionate and when read aloud will get through to anyone, I have no doubt):

  • Everything Good between Men and Women,” which begins with the first lines continuing the title, “has been written in mud and butter / and barbecue sauce.”
  • Flame,” which needs to be seen to be most appreciated and is basically a series of words but what a series of words.
  • This Couple,” which is so full of yearning it hurts. “Now is when we love to sit before mirrors / with a dark beer or hand out leaflets / at chainlink gates or come together after work/ listening to each other’s day. The engine dies….”

Meanwhile, in my slow, slow New Yorker catch-up — I’ll get there one day, I swear — there’s a good new one from Meghan O’Rourke, “Poem of Regret for an Old Friend.”

She begins, “What you did wasn’t so bad. / You stood in a small room, waiting for the sun. / At least you told yourself that.”  I’ve been on both ends of this one. You too?


My brother got married!

This past weekend. I’m exhausted even after a gloriously full night of sleep last night, but I’m so happy for him and Danielle. Everything went wonderfully, and they even showed up in the Times!

My (taller) little brother gets married today! Very happy for @bankstnyc.

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These two. A good weekend with family and friends, old and new.

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And, not on Instagtam, a few more family shots from my phone:




And a happy, tired, somewhat blurry us at the very end of the night:


Five poems recently

This Inwardness, This Ice” by Christian Wiman. “… this discipline, this glaze, / this cold opacity of days / begins to crack. …”

On Turning 37” by Kareem Tayyar, via Lori. “… Whitman was 37 when he wrote ‘Song of Myself’, / Rousseau was 40 when he first picked up a paintbrush in his Paris apartment….”

Apology” by Joanna Klink. “Lately, too much disturbed, you stay trailing in me / and I believe you. How could I not feel / you were misspent….”

Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “… You are very young to be a poet. I also like how your poems take / up an entire page (it makes our reading assignment go faster). …”

Famous” by Naomi Shihab Nye. “… I want to be famous to shuffling men / who smile while crossing streets, / sticky children in grocery lines, / famous as the one who smiled back. …”