Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Angel in the Whirlwind

I'm reading Angel in the Whirlwind, a history of the American Revolution, by Benson Bobrick. I particularly liked this sentence about John Adams. “In religion, Adams was a Congregationalist of the Unitarian school and as such lacked an aptitude for paradox.” It's something you could say of many of my countrymen.

“How is it that the loudest yelps for liberty come from the drivers of slaves?” asked Samuel Johnson, in re the American discontents.

Dazzling, dazzling, the white church spires:
across the bay, dark ships fret at their wires.
The smell of a slaver can never be scoured from the plank;
we sanded and scrubbed and still the living wood stank.

(This verse is what got me started writing in rhymed couplets, yesterday. Do other people get railroaded by forms, like that? I just had to write something in rhymed couplets. Fourteeners will take me that way too: when I need to write something in fourteeners it's no use trying to write anything else.)

Private note to historians of the American Revolution: you don't have to tell me which side you're on. It's not really the done thing, among historians; and to tell the truth, it's not that hard to guess.

So I stand by a pile of rubble that used to be my house, and try to imagine building again: but there seem to be no beams left, only clapboard and shingles and broken sheetrock. I pick through the wreckage without much hope. I do turn up keepsakes from time to time, but I don't have anywhere to put them.

I don't know what you call that color, where the pale blue of the dawn sky picks up hints of orange from the the sunrise. The disheveled doug firs are almost black against it. Twenty or thirty crows suddenly scramble up from the shrubbery and flap their way up into the firs. They settle there like perfectly designed accessories, as ragged and unpredictable as the fir boughs. If you don't like crows, you probably don't like doug firs: they're not seemly trees. They're assymmetrical, quirky, and defiant, with long sweeping boughs that are always a little out of true, like cowlicks on a kid who can't stay out of trouble. They don't know how to be orderly, any more than crows do.

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