Vulgar Fractions

Distorted Circles, Jim Wilcox, 1982

Lord Tennyson, the poet, once received a letter and a fraction of shade from Charles Babbage, the mathematician, which read:

In your otherwise beautiful poem, Vision of Sin, there is a verse that reads:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment one is born.

It must be manifest that were this true, the population of the world would be at a standstill. In truth the rate of birth is slightly in excess of death. I would suggest that the next edition of your poem you have it read:

Every moment dies a man,
Every moment 1 ⅙ is born.

Strictly speaking this is not correct. The actual figure is a decimal so long that I cannot get it in on one line, but I believe 1 ⅙ will be sufficiently accurate for poetry…

Vulgar fractions is a term used to designate common fractions. Unicode that!

Poetry in Motion

Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.
– Carl Sandburg

Jillian Tamaki has created several graphic novels. A self-proclaimed feminist, Tamaki’s work aims to include diverse characters who represent her readers. This subway car card, “Platform”, was commissioned by MTA Arts and Design and installed in subway cars in 2016. It is the first of these posters to use the comic strip formant. This work was included in the New York Transit Museum’s show, Underground Heroes, which features NYC transit in comics. For better formatting, I have broken her strip into two parts. Artwork like this is designed to be seen in the soffit corners of subway cars and is representative of art that the MTA sponsors, which in addition to visual art also features poetry.

Sometimes a crumb falls
From the table of joy,
Sometime a bone
Is flung.

To some people
Love is given,
To others
Only heaven.
– Langston Hughes

As part of a program dubbed Poetry in Motion, these car cards are interspersed among advertisements and announcements. Mostly short and pithy, sometimes subway relevant, sometimes famously authored, but frequently not, these poems give the train riders a moments escape. Something to think about besides the train’s clamor, your life’s problems, the people around you and the daily grind.

Albert J. Bell
Forty years of friendship
with my grandfather,
and still Uncle Al cannot eat
with chopsticks

Forty years of friendship
with Uncle Al,
and still my grandfather forgets
to offer him a fork.
– Janet S. Wong

Trumpty Dumpty

Trumpty Dumpty – NYC Mural

Trumpty Dumpty wanted a wall,
Trumpty Dumpty made a great fall.
All the Republicans
and all his Neocon-men,
Couldn’t put Trumpty together again.

Trumpty Dumpty sat on the ground,
Trumpty Dumpty put on a frown.
Gone was Paul Manafort
and so were the Russians,
All he did see were Yuge repercussions.

Trumpty Dumpty was locked in the pen,
Trumpty Dumpty got five to ten.
All the Republicans
and all his Neocon-men,
Were happy Trumpty’s no longer with them.


Dan Riding the Subway

As you fly swiftly underground
with a song in your ears
or lost in the maze of a book,

remember the ones who descended here
into the mire of bedrock
to bore a hole through this granite,

to clear a passage for you
where there was only darkness and stone.
Remember as you come up into the light.

Subway, Billy Collins, b. 1941

What Is A Weekend?

Down-bound Freighter at Sunset

Down-bound Freighter at Sunset

In the first season of Downton Abby, Dame Maggie Smith famously asks, “What is a weekend?” Believe me dear folks, I haven’t slipped so far, so fast that that is a question I would really ask, but last weekend, when Jane was up here, it became a meme in response to my assertion that every day is Saturday that was last Saturday and guess what, today is really Saturday again. It was another beautiful day here on the shores of Gitche Gumee (from Longfellow’s epic poem Hiawatha). Unlike yesterday’s early rise, for some reason today I overslept and then rushed to town to do the shopping, i.e. Walmart. There is not much else up here. Every time I leave that place, I leave it with a sense of dread that Trump may win in November. It epitomizes his arguments against trade and I can see the demographic that he most appeals to shopping there. The irony of it all is not lost on me and I hope not them either. I can see their pain, even as the people of Walmart push their ever filling shopping carts up and down Walmart’s aisles. I’m reminded by their toils of the punishment of Sisyphus, condemned to push a rock uphill, in this case up each aisle, for eternity and all to no avail. Alright Mark, enough of all of this negativity, my two sons sit before me, I’m in the bosom of my family. I guess that I feel grateful for this life that I’ve been dealt and guilt too. Such is the source of my melancholy, too much good life. Well, life’s a beach and I’m headed down to mine now.

The Raven or Cabin Living

Mayfly on the Window Screen

Mayfly on the Window Screen

Once upon a morning dreary, while I slumbered, weak and weary, enjoying a many quaint and curious dream from long forgotten yore— While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door. “’Tis a woodpecker,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door— only this and nothing more.” Back in my chamber tossing and turning, all my soul within me burning, soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before. “Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my door; let me see then, what it is, and this mystery soon explore— ‘Tis the wind I’m sure and nothing more!” Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer, “Sir,” said I, “truly your forgiveness I implore, but the fact is I was napping, when you first came rapping, and then so steadily tapping, tapping at my chamber door that I was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door and there stood Harry at 7:30 and I hope, never more.