Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poet. Published. Paid

I just got a little check in the mail from Runner Triathlete News. They published a poem of mine in their May magazine. So today's a big day, even though the check's not going to put either of the boys through college. I'm stoked that somebody thought it was good enough to put in their magazine and back it up with a little financial love, too.

I took a poetry class in my department about a year and a half ago. I didn't really like poetry that much because I always thought I had to understand it. But I knew this prof was a really good teacher so I took his class. Well, it opened up a whole new world for me. I have a few classmates who are published poets, too, and I mean books of poetry, not one or two poems. I asked one of them, Murat Rodríguez, what made him write a poem. He said when you have a personal experience that's so powerful you can't really explain it with a story, but you still want to memorialize it, you try to capture it poetically.

So one of the first things I thought about as a theme for poetry was endurance sports: triathlon, cycling, running. You're out there on the road or in the pool for hours and hours with little snippets of fear, motivation, pain, doubt, prayer, jubilation, you name it- sloshing around in your endorphin-soaked conscience. These are experiences that, it seems to me, just beg to be framed poetically. So that's what I try to do as a Poeta deportista (Sports poet).

Here's my published poem. I have several others in case Simon and Schuster call.

Sprint Triathlon Odyssey

It’s a triathlon yard sale enclosed by a plastic fence
Shoes yawn open – helmet perched on handlebars

I look back at the bike rack like Mom’s last glance at day-care
Responsible adults don’t do these things

My doubts and a full bladder bother me like the pink-eye
Nausea surfs a wave of Port-a-potty smell

Clutching my cap and goggles I steal a last good-luck kiss
Take baby steps with soft bare feet on asphalt

Countdown, airhorn, run and plunge into boiling elbow soup
Face to face another face sucking air

I’ll see your kick to the head and raise you a face shot
frantic arms settle to easy rhythm

The prehistoric language of splashing water subsides
I am born ashore on wobbly frog legs

A clumsy amphibian I struggle to tame the bike
as the lake’s birth fluid burns in my eyes

A hot wind whips past my ears black rubber hums on chip seal
My bare thighs were born to turn these pedals

Adrenaline, then dull pain invades the heart / lung motor
and sears the drive train of quads and hamstrings

I loosen shoes and dismount with more asphalt baby steps
I rack my bike over a wobbly pipe

The hamstrings are spoiled kids who would rather eat ice cream
I promise them a trip to Disneyworld

The taste of sweat is replaced by plastic flavored water
and my 5K stride and breathing smooth out

Some runner dude bounds past me A pox on all relay guys
Don’t tell people you did a triathlon

Math and Logic collude to figure a finish time
while the Flesh screams at me to stop running

Lead legs burn, lungs vacuumed out I’ve got nothing in the tank
Promised land of a balloon arch and noise

My name through a loudspeaker is like a Red Bull I.V.
and I fake a fast, effortless finish

(C) 2009 Mark McGraw

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Upside Bill Maher's Head

I watched the Chilean mine rescue on TV until the first miner came out. It was a tremendous “feel good story” that made for a compelling drama, but I think I was less surprised than most that the Chileans were able to pull it off so smoothly (I know they had help from specialists from a lot of countries including ours). I’m also not at all surprised that the 33 miners got through their ordeal and came out in such good mental and physical condition (see attached NYT link):

When we moved to Chile in 2000 for a two-year assignment, the lessons came fast and early. My first month there I went on a mission with my Chilean Marine unit to the south of the country where we reconnoitered an isthmus next to an icy lake and a huge glacier. We disembarked over the side of the ship into rubber boats WWII – style and started motoring to the rocky beach where we bivouacked. During the boat ride I saw some amazing things; including floating chunks of ice the size of Volkswagens, but another stunner was when a Chilean Marine busted out a bar of chocolate, unwrapped it in front of us, and started breaking off pieces and handing them out to everybody in the boat. The conscript got one, the Captain got one, the Sergeant got one, the Private got one, I got one, etc., until there was one piece left for the original owner of the chocolate bar. Now this was not some organizational chocolate bar. He had bought it with his money at the store back in Viña before we got on the ship. I saw that process repeated many times my first week in the field with bread, peanuts, coffee, etc. Nobody saw the stuff they brought as just their stuff. It was shared with everybody.

That was not what we typically did in the U.S. Marines (or maybe it’s just not what I did).

So I’m not surprised to see the Chileans did well on this, the world’s trickiest mine rescue, both above and below ground.

In my two years in Chile I saw some things that made me very glad and proud to be from the U.S., but I also saw some traits (like their social cohesion) that made me wish we were actually a little more like them. And that’s the great thing about getting a chance to live overseas, you can incorporate the things you like from another culture into your own actions and attitudes and reject the things you don’t like.

But you have to be open to the possibility that somebody else may do some things better. Or you at least have to be open to the possibility that a different way to do something is just as good as your way to do something.

That’s why this Bill Maher clip bothers me a little:

Here’s a guy who slaughters about 8 Spanish surnames in the process of celebrating his own cultural ignorance. He gleefully claims to not have heard of this year’s Nobel Prizewinner for Literature, Mario Vargas Llosa, (a writer from Perú who now lectures at a university in the U.S.) or any of the other Nobel winners from Spain or Latin America. It bothers me that somebody this willfully ignorant can be on TV without it being confined to the Jerry Springer show. It bothers me that a lifetime of achievement can become a punchline for a joke because Bill Maher seems to think the only things worth knowing about take place in English within the borders of the U.S.

Bill Maher should get out more, read more, and think more.

Or he should just shut his pie hole.