The Review of Arts, Literature,
Philosophy and the Humanities

www.ralphmag.org

  Number 232

Early Winter 2012

Did You Say
Eighteen Years?

When The Review first appeared that froggy winter of 1994 - 1995,
we had no idea that it would continue muddle along for so long
nor that it would become so all-consuming for all involved.
But here we are, still, almost two decades after the fact.

In celebration, we republish twenty-one
reviews, articles, readings and poems
that for these graybeard editors bring up
so many fond memories from back then.


    In Flanders Fields
    In certain places there is no topsoil at all; these clay fields, called clyttes, exist at their worst north of Ypres in the vicinity of the Houthulst Forest. Because of the impervious clay, the rain cannot escape and tends to stagnate over large areas. Unable to soak through, it forms swamps and ponds, and sluggishly spreads toward one of the already swollen rivers or canals. The ground remains perpetually saturated. Water is reached at an average depth of eighteen inches and only the shallowest of puddly trenches can be dug by the troops, reinforced by sandbag parapets. When the topsoil dries during fair weather, it cracks open. The next rain floods the fissures. Then the clay blocks slide upon themselves, causing little landslides.

    To A Former Mistress, Now Dead
    Dear X, you wouldn't believe how curious
    my eyebrows have become --- jagged gray wands
    have intermixed with the reddish-brown, and poke
    up toward the sun and down into my eye.
    It hurts, a self-caress that brings tears
    and blurred vision. Aches and pains!

    Wind & Sand
    We were telling one of our friends that the reason we liked Orville and Wilbur Wright so much was because when they weren't repairing bicycles and flying around the dunes, they were sleeping with each other --- and we ain't talking about keeping cold bodies warm on a winter's eve on Kitty Hawk. Outside of that juicy fact (nowhere mentioned in this most respectful guide to their lives and works), they were drudges of the old school --- painfully, oh so painfully reworking plans, planes, and parts.

    Rats, Lice, and History
    The louse shares with us the misfortune of being prey to the typhus virus. If lice can dread, the nightmare of their lives is the fear of someday inhabiting an infected rat or human being. For the host may survive; but the ill-starred louse that sticks his haustellum through an infected skin, and imbibes the loathsome virus with his nourishment, is doomed beyond succor. In eight days, he sickens, in ten days he is in extremis, on the eleventh or twelfth his tiny body turns red with blood extravasated from his bowel, and he gives up his little ghost.

    The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter
    At fifteen I stopped scowling,
    I desired my dust to be mingled with yours
    For ever and for ever and for ever.
    Why should I climb the look out?
    At sixteen you departed,
    You went into far Ku-to-yen, by the river of swirling eddies,
    And you have been gone five months.
    The monkeys make sorrowful noises overhead.

    A Piece of Meat on a Yellow Tray
    Brain: Devoid of its ambiguity, it was also devoid of mystery. You'd touch it and smell it, waiting for cracks in your perception, some seizure of fear or flash of intuition, but nothing came. It was just a smelly piece of brown and white meat, a bit like a veal cutlet, with a texture like foam rubber and the shape (really beautiful) of a butterfly. It made a lot more sense to speak of it aesthetically than to consider it as the organ that might once have made aesthetics possible.

    The Lamed-Vovnik
    Thousands of popular stories take note of them. Their presence is attested to everywhere. A very old text of the Haggadah tells us that the most pitiable are the Lamed-Vov who remain unknown to themselves. For those the spectacle of the world is an unspeakable hell.

    Another Stinky Dog Story
    "Jack," the Boss said, "get the hairy bastard up here and make him look like he was glad to see me." I was supposed to do a lot of different things, and one of them was to lift up fifteen-year-old, hundred-and-twenty-five-pound hairy white dogs on summer afternoons and paint an expression of unutterable bliss upon their faithful features as they gaze deep, deep into the Boss's eyes. I got hold of Buck's forelegs, as though I were girding myself to shove a wheelbarrow, and heaved. It didn't work. I got his front end up for a second, but just as I got him up, he breathed out and I breathed in. One gust of Buck was enough. It was like a gust from a buzzard's nest. I was paralyzed. Buck hit the porch boards and lay there like the old polar-bear rug he resembled.

    The Notebooks
    "The mistake," said M., "Is in thinking that you must choose, that you must do what you want and that there are conditions for happiness. Happiness either is or it isn't. It's the will to happiness which matters, a kind of vast, ever present awareness. Everything else --- women, art, worldly triumphs --- are just so many pretexts. An empty canvas for us to decorate."

    The Meaning of Life
    VOICE: What is your opposite?
    YUDHISHTHIRA: Myself.
    VOICE: What is madness?
    YUDHISHTHIRA:
    A forgotten way.

    Death Fugue
    Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
    we drink you at noon in the morning we drink you at sundown
    we drink and we drink you
    a man lives in the house your golden hair Margarete
    your ashen hair Shulamith he plays with the serpents

    Don't Tread on Me
    At Tucumcari, New Mexico, we had a room in the Randle, a matchboard hotel with people clearing their throats all night and peeing into the cuspidors. The worst horror was the Beale in Kingman, Arizona, which had a coating of fine gray fur over everything as thick as Gurke's [the dog's] coat. Men walked up and down an alley contiguous to our room and three women in the next room came in about four and tried very hard to vomit up their drinks without much success.

    The Odor of Death
    While they debate, I picture Sir William Withering, the discoverer of digitalis, holding foxglove in his hand and wondering if it really cured dropsy, as his patients claimed, or merely created that illusion. Secretly, I believe it was the word, foxglove. Listen to it: fox and glove. What incongruous images: how impossible not to smile. I would like to think that it was the sight of those long tubular flowers spilling from his fingers, purplish and vibrant, that made him pursue his investigations.

    The Ghost Writer
    I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch.

    Hurricanes, Slaves, and Gold
    Columbus tried to counter the complaints brought back by his men to the Spanish king and queen with gifts of as much gold as he could squeeze out of the islands, but this was not enough to satisfy Their Majesties. So he also brought back thirty natives to convince his sponsors of another source of riches: slavery.

    Mother Tongue
    This tendency to compress and mangle words was first formally noted in a 1949 New Yorker article by one John Davenport who gave it the happy name of Slurvian. In American English, Slurvian perhaps reaches its pinnacle in Baltimore, a city whose citizens have long had a particular gift for chewing up the most important vowels, consonants, and even syllables of most words and converting them into a kind of verbal compost, to put it in the most charitable terms possible.

    The Battle At Little Bull Run
    My family laughs before the fire
    Serves distress from the carcass
    Of smoked duck Mandarin sauce.
    They dissolve all wounds in demitasse
    And leaded decanters of Southern Comfort
    Served neat, with brandied berries.

    Glaucoma
    At first the drops sting.
    The nurse holds my pulse and offers me gum.
    This is the third test
    in a month, various lenses.
    I watch the doctor's forehead underwater:
    G P X R. I have to correct myself twice.
    Glaucoma, pressure on the retina's
    subtle nerves; some,
    like my grandmother, go crazy from it,
    more than blind.

    Kicking Doors
    She walked out of the kitchen, kicking the door open before her as she went. Aunt Addie had a habit of kicking doors; she always paused before a partly opened door and kicked it open; if the door swung in, she flung it back with her foot; or, if the door was shut, she opened it with her hand for an inch or two, then opened it the rest of the way with her foot; she acted as though she wanted to get a glimpse into the room beyond before she entered it, perhaps to see if it contained anything dreadful or unholy.

    Ambivalent Zen
    One of the constraints of Zen and other spiritual practices is that few people can take seven days off from work without at least giving up vacation time, and fewer still would choose to spend their vacations staring at a wall. Since family life is another constraint, the preponderance of students are single, widowed or divorced, and most of the couples are childless or old enough that their children have left home. Given the fact that loneliness and psychological desperation are two of the best catalysts for practice, one of the largest contingents around Zen or other spiritual centers will often be drawn from the recently divorced.

    His Father Rebukes Him Again
    And Also Pleads a Little
    Listen carefully. This is your father speaking. A simple man,
    a rather grey man, and so on and so forth, but still your father. The only one
    you have, and that's something your irony can't change.
    That cheap woman you're with may let off
    fireworks in bed, I'm not an expert in such matters
    and I'm sorry to mention it, but fireworks
    go out and time is drying up and the summer is over and you are
    not back. The summer is over the autumn is gone and what about you,
    where are you? Shrouded in fog in limbo in the arms
    of a whore. It's lucky your mother --- well, never mind. Don't hang up.
    Just a minute. Listen to me...


    NEW REVIEWS
    Most of Me
    "As Robyn prepares to leave,
    she asks Marg, 'I'm in the honeymoon
    phase of this disease, aren't I?'
    Staring blankly at me, she slurs,
    'Yeah. Honeymoon phase.'"

    The Lighthouse Road
    "Can you imagine
    running away with your
    demi-mother ---
    she's 41 he's 26 ---
    to Duluth, Minnesota in
    the mid-winter of 1920.
    When you could have gone off to
    Chicago or San Francisco or
    bustling New Orleans?"

    Dog Eat Dog
    "His sole accomplishment
    was his ability to con the head of his department
    into believing that the reason he missed
    his final exam was because of the death of a fake cousin."

    Great Reviews of the Past
    My Last Sigh
    "I can't stand Guernica
    (which I nevertheless helped to hang.)
    Everything about it makes me uncomfortable ---
    the grandiloquent technique as well as the way it politicizes art.
    Both Alberti and José Bergamín share my aversion;
     in fact, all three of us would be
    delighted to blow up the painting.."

    A DIVINE BOOK FOR
    ALL THE AGES

    We now have on hand our new book,
    a doubleboxed set (over 900 pages in all) with the name
    The Noisiest Book Review in the Known World.
    It contains dozens and dozens of articles, poems,
    readings, and reviews from our years here at RALPH.
    If you want to order it, or merely
    know more about it, please click here:
    and you will find more than enough information
    about our latest escapade.


    LETTERS
    More About Carol Ann Duffy

    MORE LETTERS
    Deborah M. Gordon and Ants


    ARTICLES
    Acres & Pains
    "Had West and I had
    any such therapeutic experience,
    we too might have been cured of our obsession.
    But the poison was circulating in our veins,
    and a fortnight afterward,
    in a simple ceremony at the county courthouse,
    two blushing innocents were married
    to four score and seven acres."


    THE OFFICIAL RALPH
    Paradox-of-the-Month


    GENERAL INDEX
    All the back-issues of RALPH,
    including titles of books under review,
    along with author, subject, and publisher,
    plus links to readings, articles, and poems
    that have appeared on-line
    since 1994.


    A PITHY SAMPLE
    of our most notorious reviews
    as collected in the hard-copy
    "FOLIO"


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    History
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         We've been around (in different guises) for over thirty years.     
    The Fessenden Fund
    Describing the good works of RALPH's official godparent
    Behind the Scenes

    The Faces of Those Who Make Up the Face of RALPH
    Copyright Notice
    The Reginald A. Fessenden Educational Fund, Inc.
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    [The next issue of RALPH will be posted on or about 25 December 2012]