Sunday, December 19, 2010

Moral Stamina

A well-developed conscience does not translate, necessarily, into a morally courageous life. Nor do well-developed powers of philosophical thinking and moral analysis necessarily translate into an everyday willingness to face down the various evils of this world. I was once helped in the effort at clarification by a black woman whom I suppose I would have to call illiterate. She pointed out that "there's a lot of people who talk about doing good, and a lot of people who argue about what's good and what's not good." Then she added that "there are a lot of people who always worry about whether they're doing right or doing wrong." Finally, there are some other folks: "They just put their lives on the line for what's right, and they may not be the ones who talk a lot or argue a lot or worry a lot; they just do a lot!"

- Robert Coles

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Korean Lasagne

Chang Rae-Lee on the lasagne his mother made:

"Her lasagna is our favorite of that suite, though to taste it now I fear it might disappoint me, for the factory sauce (which I demand she use, this after noticing jars of Ragu at both the Goldfusses’ and the Stanleys’) and the rubbery, part-skin mozzarella, the cut-rate store-brand pasta, the dried herbs. But, back then, it’s a revelation. Our usual dinners feature salty fish and ginger, garlic and hot pepper; they are delicious in part because you can surgically pick at the table, choose the exact flavor you want. But this is a detonation of a meal: creamy, cheesy, the red sauce contrastingly tangy and a little sweet, the oozing volcanic layer of the pasta a thrilling, messy bed. Maybe I first have it at Ronny Prunesti’s house, or Mrs. Churchill delivers a show model, but all of us are crazy for it once my mother begins to make it. We choose our recipe (was it on the box of macaroni?), our tools. I remember how she carefully picked out a large Pyrex casserole dish at Korvette’s for the job, a new plastic spatula, two checkerboard wooden trivets, so we can place it in the center of the table, and for a few years it becomes a Friday-evening tradition for us. She makes it in the afternoon after dropping me off in town for my junior bowling league, and when she and my sister pick me up I hardly care to recount my form or my scores (I’m quite good for second-grader, good enough that my father decides I should have my own ball, which is, whether intentionally or erroneously, inscribed “Ray”) owing to the wonderful smell on their clothes, clinging to my mother’s thick hair – that baked, garlicky aroma like a pizzeria’s but denser because of the ground beef, the hot Italian sausages she has fried, the herbal lilt of fennel seeds."

Three Persons

That slow person you left behind when, finally,

you mastered the world, and scaled the heights you now command,

where is he while you

walk around the shaved lawn in your plus fours,

organizing with an electric clipboard

your big push to tomorrow?

Oh, I’ve come across him, yes I have, more than once,

coaxing his battered grocery cart down the freeway meridian.

Others see in you sundry mythic types distinguished

not just in themselves but by the stories

we put them in, with beginnings, ends, surprises:

the baby Oedipus on the hillside with his broken feet

or the dog whose barking saves the grandmother

flailing in the millpond beyond the weir,

dragged down by her woolen skirt.

He doesn’t see you as a story, though.

He feels you as his atmosphere. When your sun shines,

he chortles. When your barometric pressure drops

and the thunderheads gather,

he huddles under the overpass and writes me long letters with

the stubby little pencils he steals from the public library.

He asks me to look out for you.

- Vijay Seshadri

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