Sunday, March 05, 2006


TF: In Between Earth and Sky (Marsh Hawk Press, 2002), your second most recent book of poems, the third of four sections is entitled “Misprision.” According to Harold Bloom’s theory of influence, misprision is an “ephebe” poet’s misreading of his/her masterful precursor, which is an important part of a swerve designed to overcome the latter’s dominance of the former. For Bloom, as for his Yale deconstructionist colleague Paul de Man, there is no true, accurate reading, only misreading. Even if New York School and Language poets don’t necessarily chime in with the same kind of rhetoric, they build discouragement of “univocal” readings into their texts. Your misprision poems—such as “The Operation,” “Blind Date,” and “Reputations”—are decidedly narrative, but are you sympathetic to de Man and Bloom’s view? If so, why? If not, what is your thinking about the nature and function of misprision? What caused you place a bunch of poems in the context of misprision?

SM: I learned about misprision enthusiastically reading Bloom's A Map of Misreading, so I'm sympathetic to his idea. But I don't confine it, as he might, to literature. A great idea like that should be a handy lens for examining vagaries in everyday social behavior. The poems in "Misprision" have this in common: each is a narrative about people in a relationship who,
in the end, discover that they've creatively misread each other--the nature of their intimacy--according to their own solipsistic lights.

For example: In "The Operation" the woman laments: 'But do you know something/ that's always bothered me?'/ 'What?' I asked. /'"I was so wrapped up in myself, / I never even asked your name.'/ 'Ah,' I replied, nodding my understanding,/ my tolerance and indulgence./ Of course, I'd never bothered to ask hers, either" (44-45). And in "Blind Date" the narrator concludes: "It was a relief to turn from her,/ the morning sky pink and empty,/ and the reassuring weight of books about to carry me far away,/ as if on a familiar raft" (49).

I admit that in thinking about Bloom's idea I may have misread him. Well, so be it! I am the "ephebe" poet who has misread his masterful precursor, Harold Bloom.

TF: By the time the people in the poems discover their own solipsistic, albeit creative misreading, the poem is ending. But the possibilities may not be exhausted; this result might take us elsewhere. David Ignatow, as anyone reading the second section of your latest book, The After-Death History of My Mother (Marsh Hawk Press, 2005) finds out, was an important mentor of yours, and Michael Heller in his essay on Ignatow speaks of his poems as embodying anti-parable parables that demystify harmful certainties about experience. Like Ignatow, you are never a ponderously didactic poet, but would you say that the twists ending poems like “The Operation” and “Blind Date” clear a space for a reader to absorb misprision as a moral lesson so that they can seek a more adequate, less solipsistically driven representation of an other, of others?

SM: It's great if it happens, but I really can't speak to that. Clearing a space for a moral lesson has never been my concern. Ignatow wrote some poems that are consciously didactic. Yet these are not his strongest. From him I learned to pay attention to the craft of poetry and to worry about a reader's response only in terms of whether the poem communicates or not. He once told me how surprised he'd been with the reaction to his poem "The Bagel" when he debut it at the 92nd St. Y. This is the poem in which the narrator drops a bagel into the street, and then chases it as it rolls away. Soon he finds himself actually somersaulting down the street "like a bagel/ and strangely happy with myself." He told me: "When I finished reading they all laughed and applauded. I was very surprised. All I was doing when I wrote the thing was feeling sorry for myself. I assumed everyone would feel sorry for me." I'd like to believe that I'm more aware of that aspect of my poetry than David was, at least in this case. But I cannot help but follow his lead, or misread it, because I knew him for many years. When I was in the MFA program at Columbia, James Tate told me that my work embodied a rare and odd thing: I actually seemed to be the WASP version of David Ignatow.

TF: Well, I don’t know about WASP: you’re half Hungarian, and the other part isn’t exactly Anglo-Saxon. Maybe Tate meant the non-Jewish version of Ignatow, whose work didn’t always seem that Jewish.

I’ve often heard you say that you’ve trained yourself, while waking up in the morning, to write down enough elements from a dream to form the basis for a narrative poem. On the other hand, you’ve written many story-poems that, to a significant extent, come from your lived experience as much as from your invention. The title-section of The After-Death History of My Mother mostly features the latter kind of poems, such as “Dancing Across the Atlantic” and “Private,” the first two, but the last three, “Variations,” “Scotland,” and the title-poem are all either dreams or consciously invented fantasies. What do you find are the main similarities and differences in the experience of writing a dream-narrative and a quasi-personal-experience poem and in your sense of them after you’ve finished them?

SM: My approach is the same to both kinds of composition. In order to attract my attention, a dream or waking-life happening has to perplex me, has to be filled with tension. In both situations I'm interested in getting the relationships right: that is, the associations between people, things, colors, light and darkness. I mean this literally. I'm not so interested in understanding what these arrangements imply psychologically, ethically or morally.

Most dreams are nebulous, at least our memories of them. The parts that attract us may already have evolved when we begin to pay attention, but we forget from what they evolved. And their ends may extend beyond our memories. But some dreams are compact. They tell their story with clarity. Like the advice Alice receives in one of the Lewis Carroll books, these dreams begin at the beginning, continue through the middle, and when they get to the end, stop. Over the years I've pushed myself to be watchful and to capture them. I've gotten to the point where I can arrange the sequence of the possible poem while I'm still dreaming, or just waking but still half-asleep.

The poem, "Variations" that you mention originated in a dream. While I was assembling my poems for The After-Death History of My Mother, I found two with the same structure and subject matter. I'd remembered writing the one, but not the other. In the first, I see my dead brother walking away from me carrying what he tells me is a backpack, but what I recognize as his own corpse. "I'd remembered it from his coffin." In the second, the corpse on his shoulder is our mother's. In both cases, my brother walks away, "fading from memory."

The key to making dreams or imaginative takes on real experiences interesting to the reader is to be faithful to the imaginative sequence. That is, not to fill in narrative gaps, and not to create gaps where there were none. Rendered this way, a dream or "quasi-personal-experience poem" as you've called it, makes a kind of sense to the reader, since all of us dream, and all of use understand intuitively the logic of dreams.

A typical example of what you've called a "quasi-personal-experience poem" might be a new poem, "Escape From the Fat Farm." Anyone who's ever struggled to lose weight on a rigorous diet is familiar with the cravings that, after a while, may turn bizarre. In this chronology of fourteen days at a weight-loss spa, the conversation of the dieters moves from thoughts about the present meal and hopes about the next one, through discussions of
how best to capture and prepare the native fauna (pigs and alligators), and ends with a contemplation upon the virtues of cannibalism. In the meantime, hunger creates hallucinations: the dining hall becomes a slave ship, and a great flood washes everyone and everything over board, where little packets of mayonnaise and crackers float by, but always out of reach. Finally, out of this cataclysm in which many are maimed, the last day is reached, and everyone is invited to the scales to weigh in. They find that they have indeed lost weight, "but it’s mostly arms and legs."

TF: My sense from what you’re saying is that, not only while the poem is being written but even after the poem is done, you are not particularly hunting for psychological or ethical significance; the aesthetic effectiveness is quite enough, and others can do the interpreting.

You and I have both practiced Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism for more than three decades—in your case, at least three and a half. At times, people ask me about how my daily practice of (the invocation of) Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo has affected the subject matter of my poetry. I never quite know how to answer, because I don’t feel that I’m qualified to “expound” Nichiren Shoshu doctrine in my work, and don’t feel compelled to do so, at least consciously. But it’s still an interesting question, which I’ll modify slightly for you (by taking out the term “subject matter”): how has your daily practice of Nichiren Shoshu influenced your writing of poetry?

SM: I've never felt the inclination to include anything overtly Buddhist in my work. This may be because, after more than thirty-five years of continuous Buddhist practice, my life and practice are inseparable, isomorphic, really. Or it may be because I suspect bringing in Buddhist terms would be forced and awkward. I've known poets who practice Tibetan or
Zen, and some of them reference Buddhist terms in their work. I suspect that some may include esoteric material more to demonstrate that they are among the select that possess sacred knowledge. (Some of my late friend Armand Schwerner's poetry seems to reflect this.) To use Buddhism as a cudgel, I believe, is misguided.

The Buddhism we practice is meant to change one's negative karma. To that extent, I might say that the positive changes in a practitioner's life are reflected in the evolving clarity of the practitioner's work. In any case, this would be a subtle change over time and difficult to trace.

TF: You have written a good deal of non-fiction, including opinion pieces for The New York Times, Newsday and a Chinese cookbook. You’ve also co-written a book called Firing Back, which is about how to get the best possible settlement after termination. Are the muscles used in writing a cookbook or a book like Firing Back relevant to writing poetry, are those used in poetry helpful in composing non-fiction, or is their a fundamental antagonism between the two activities?

SM: The delight of imaginative literature should be an inherent awareness that we've taken a mundane activity, everyday writing-laundry lists, notes on the refrigerator, and etc.-and exposed the special nature of writing itself. In Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea we're told in the first paragraph that describes the unlucky fisherman, that the tattered
sail of his boat "looked like the flag of permanent defeat." We see exactly what Hemingway wants us to see, despite the fact that there never has been such a thing as "a flag of permanent defeat."

Composing non-fiction exercises at least some of the muscles used in making poetry. After all, it isn't possible, as the Royal Society once enjoined us, to write things exactly as they are without resorting to tropes, to metaphors. Even so, good non-fiction, in order to be easily understood, must rely on formal rhetorical practices of organization and language. Daily we
have to read and understand non-fiction: newspapers, road signs, and so on. Reading poetry is an elective, despite what Williams cautions about people dying every day from the lack of it. We can afford to read poetry with an open mind, enjoying our immersion in the warm, flowing waters of metaphor and ambiguity.

My job as a non-fiction writer is to use language responsibly, according to the demands of each form. Writing or speech that uses techniques of poetry surreptitiously, such as propaganda, is consciously dishonest, while writing or speech that mixes poetic techniques ignorantly, such as the hallucinatory ramblings of George Bush, is irresponsible and perhaps more dangerous than out-and-out propaganda untruths. In that sense, writing good non-fiction requires the same mastery of craft as writing good poetry.

TF: I take it that you have just indicated an aspect of your view of the social responsibility of writers—poets included. In Endless Staircase (Street Press, 1991), you include a prose-poem called “The Social Function of Poetry,” citing T.S. Eliot’s sententious essay of that name. The character, who had been “teaching poetry to children in the public schools” with the aim of convincing “them that poetry offered something powerful for their lives” (23), was distracted from that goal by a “public relations” project where he was supposed to use Irish poetry to promote tourism in Dublin. Irony dominates the rest of the poem. So what were you telling us about “the social function of poetry” here? And what did your experience as a “poet in the schools” teach you?

SM: I was asked to find original poetry to be recited by the narrator in a film documentary about some colleges in Ireland. The assignment was to unearth verses that answered three of the filmmakers' demands: they most talk about the beauty of the land, the vitality of the people, and the rapid growth of industrial production. As I relate in the poem, I looked over
reference material, including the Oxford Book of Irish Verse, and, as you'd expect, found nothing that came close to meeting the requirements. In fact, the only poem that spoke in any way happily of the country begins: "Thank God I've left Ireland forever." Eventually, I made up some Irish-sounding lyrics that satisfied the documentary's demands. In fact, the film won a
silver medal in an international film festival. The exercise served to push something poetic (if not actually poetry) into a prosaic film, to get me a paycheck and a share in an award. But otherwise, it left me wondering about the social function of poetry.

Teaching poetry in the schools, while initially satisfying also ended with that question unanswered. I began teaching in the program in the late 1970s. Many of my fellow writers, me included, saw us as some kind of revolutionary force invading public school classrooms. Our objective was to demonstrate to students that poetry and the nature of language offered possibilities far beyond what they'd previously been asked to consider. We demonstrated
through imaginative writing exercises that poetry was not just something to be rote memorized or taken apart laboriously for mysterious educational outcomes. However, in my experience-and I presented programs in more than forty New York public schools-it was a minority of classroom teachers who were willing to support our visits and to follow-up on them after we'd left. Time constraints and pressure by school officials, as well as program
administrators, for us to produce measurable outcomes often forced us to fall back on the patent writing strategies of Kenneth Koch, embodied in his Wishes, Lies and Dreams. His ideas are terrific and usually produce wonderful results fit for posting on the classroom bulletin board. But what were we actually doing there? What would the kids take away from our having been there? I did part of my doctoral work looking for answers. Surprisingly, I discovered that many poets actually changed something about their own poetry because of their classroom experience. As one colleague wrote, "If you want eighth graders to pay attention to your work, it can't be something that can only be read silently for meaning, but must also work when read out loud." But what was our lasting impact on the kids? This is
another instance questioning the poetry's social function. By now I've forgotten the argument of Eliot's essay. And having participated in a practical testing of it, I'm no longer interested.

TF: The prose-poem ”Beach Plums in Late September,” which appears in Endless Staircase, is revised in The After-Death History of My Mother; it becomes a substantial part of “With Ignatow.” I don’t think this is the only case of a poem from one of your books ending up in a later one. What impelled you to do that revision and others? Does the impulse to revise have a lot to do with the quality of language, of aesthetic form, with a sense that an experience has or has not been conveyed accurately, or with something else?

SM: Endless Staircase, published in 1991 and containing poems of the 1970’s and ‘80's, is a transitional book. Although I had had two books published in the 1970s, and a chapbook in 1980, I experienced a long fallow period. During that time I was either in teaching or publishing, and most of my writing was prose, including, as you've mentioned, a Chinese cookbook, newspaper Op-Ed work, and also the computer program Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing!, among other projects. It wasn't until I hit on the narratives of Endless Staircase that
I began to find a poetic direction. I was, thus, an early and a late bloomer. In any case, with my late-blooming eyes, I've looked back on some earlier poems and have seen how they should have been written in the first place. Gore Vidal, in Palimpsest, recalls a visit from Tennessee Williams, who, Vidal reports, wrote every morning. On one occasion, Vidal noticed that Williams was rewriting a short story that had already been published. Asked
why Williams should be working on something that was de facto finished, he replied, "Well, I guess it really isn't finished." The poem "Beach Plums in Late September" is a good example of something I thought I could do better in a later, more definitive context.

TF: In your last two books, your mother has been a major character, as the title of your 2005 book, which is the title of the first section, indicates. You and your wife took care of her assiduously for around four years, and you witnessed the growing presence of her Alzheimer’s. It must be an intensely pressured situation.

SM: It's odd that with such a ubiquitous disease there are so few books outlining its stages. The one we found most helpful was The 36-Hour Day. I mention this because taking care of an Alzheimer's patient requires a caregiver's attention that is probably the equivalent of thirty-six hours for every twenty-four served. It is, as you suggest, intense pressure, the kind that geologically produces diamonds, and in my case, poems.

They began to appear as dreams after the last argument I was to have with her, with me in the role of the child and she the parent. Her responses were so confused and her anger so irrational that I surmised a transformation was about to happen: I now became the parent and she the child-and that changed everything. Year's ago, in the New York Review of Books, I saw a personal ad written by a woman who, after enumerating the qualities of the man she was looking for, cautioned: "Must have gotten over mother." For the most intractable it may take something like Alzheimer's to make that happen.

The change in our relationship allowed me to think about our time together and to see it without teenage or middle age bile. The poems about her came about through dreams and mundane waking experiences, such as going to the audiologist's:

My mother at the audiologist’s
insisting she doesn’t need a hearing aid.
”OKAY,” I order.
Directly behind her I shout, "NOW IS THE TIME
She doesn’t respond.
"Of course I heard what you said," she answers testily.
"You said, 'The old lady is stone deaf.'" (Between Earth and Sky 76)

Some of the poems about my mother, unlike most of my other work, invite the reader to participate. In the audiologist poem, which is a verbatim record of what was said (or shouted), I need the reader's compassion or understanding that I am not bullying my mother, that I am, in fact, answering a crucial question for her. It is the nature of the circumstance. In other, non-mother-related poems I'm concerned with the reader's response, but I couldn't care less about the reader's absolution.

TF: Well, there are a lot of poems about your mother when she was playing her original role of parent and you were actually a child—“Private” and “Pastry” in The After-Death History of My Mother being the most egregious—and, in these cases, many readers would pity you and withhold absolution from her. If a reader came away from one such poem furious at your mother, would you pat the reader on the back or give him/her another way of looking at the situation?

SM: Pity is appropriate when confronting new, raw and tragic situations. The poems you've cited were written long after their autobiographical facts. And they were written from a different perspective, in which the parent had become the child and the child the parent. Switching places like that allows hidden things in the child's experience to reveal themselves in the adult’s. It is like having a chiropractor crack your neck: a shocking instant, but your perspective changes profoundly. If I've done my job right, the triumph of insight in the creation of those poems will resonate with the reader, rather than some imagined call for pity and forgiveness.

TF: The fourth section of The After-Death History of My Mother includes your longest, most experimental, and most scholarly poem, "Obsessional." One of its parallel narratives is set in the early Renaissance in England, and the other in the late seventies or early eighties in the U.S. A grad student, who could be you at that time, is obsessed with the possibility that an unscrupulous editor transformed the poems in Tottel's Miscellany and thus altered the course of English poetry for hundreds of years, and not necessarily for the better. Could you talk a little about this hypothesis, its implications, and whether you believe it or not?

SM: I'd come into my doctoral program having only discovered the possibilities of poetry a decade earlier. I'd spent my adolescence in military school confinement, and you can imagine how poetry was regarded there. "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," "Invictus" and other rhyming guff were the staples. So, in college, when I began to read poetry that actually spoke to my intimate self I became curious about why these poems were obscured behind a kind of Official Poetry, that it was obvious even my English teachers disdained. (Well, we all distained it. But we had to memorize and recite it, anyway for unexplained-or unexplainable-pedagogical reasons.) This seemed to me to indicate confusion of just what poetry was
or could be.

In any case, I spent my graduate school time trying to refine this surmise. I became involved in research on the history of English poetry. I discovered a question that I thought was worth looking at, an historical fact that might answer my confusion about the origins of poetry in English—that is, how could what seems to be an already homogeneous and polished oeuvre of poetry appear all at once in the late 16th century, seemingly out of nowhere? The answer, I considered, might lie in the origins of Tottel's Miscellany in 1557.

Tottel's was the first comprehensive printed anthology of poetry to appear in England. The contents, mainly the poems of Wyatt and Surrey, had a definite formality of metre, line and language. The lesser contributors' work seemed to be in formal agreement with that of the stars of the anthology. The publication of Tottel's and its fame and success in the marketplace inspired the publication of many competitive, influential anthologies, most based on Tottel's organizational scheme. Because of this, Renaissance and subsequent poetry in English seems to occupy a kind of inverted pyramid, with Tottel's at the starting point.

Understanding this basic situation got me closer to an answer, I thought. After all, it was understandable that the technology needed to produce the first widely published collection of modern English poetry should only be possible after the invention of moveable type a century before. However, more research led me to 20th century scholars of Tottel's who had gone back to Wyatt and Surrey's pre-Tottel manuscripts and discovered that in metre, line and language they differed greatly from the versions published in Tottel's. There was evidence that Richard Tottel, publisher of the Miscellany, had had the majority of its contents edited to bring it into conformity with the standards of the day. But, I wanted to know, why? Certainly, it is an editor's job to publish the best work possible, but was this merely editing, or thorough rewriting? I confess, by this time, and certainly after I'd studied the life of Tottel's chief editor, Nicholas Grimald, I was obsessed with the pursuit of an answer, as only a quack or graduate student can be.

I chased this during graduate school, to mixed results. In my class was another poet, whom, in "Obsessional," I've called Max. He already had a reputation as a writer and as a teacher of creative writing in the public schools. He was extraordinarily articulate, charming and won his arguments because he did his homework. He also displayed a ruthless edge that fascinated me, and I watched him carefully. After my first presentation of my project, Max, who had supported me until then, abruptly turned and dismissed the work. After that, I was determined to prove him wrong. Thus, there were two vectors of action directing me in graduate school, the research and Max. Max was flamboyant, a real showman, and his antics parallel those I was discovering in the biography of Nicholas Grimald, although I didn't realize it at the time. In the end, in "Obsessional" Max and Grimald merge, crossing centuries. This happening surprised me in the writing of it, but it came about after twenty years of stewing over my grad
school experience.

Based on what I know of Grimald's duplicitous history, I believe that he had plenty of motivation to leave his imprint on the new English poetry. Though he was the author of poems and plays (his Christus Redivivus is the ancestor of what was once and probably still is the anti-Semitic Passion Play performed each decade in Oberammergau, Germany), nobody liked him much, so he seized on the opportunity to edit Tottel's in order to influence
contemporary poetry, and, as it happens, literary history, as his own poetry couldn't.

Historically, I haven't found anything conclusive about Grimald's intentions and actions concerning his editing. No one was in the room with him; no one kept notes. However, in my poem, I'm persuaded of my thesis, based solely on the inevitability of the poem's logic.

Since I no longer practice scholarship, I'm going to stick with the poem.

TF: I noted in my last question that this is your most experimental work. Could you talk about the formal experimentation in “Obsessional”?

SM: The difficulty of a long narrative poem, especially one that crosses centuries and diverse poetics, as well as one that has verse abutting prose-including academic citations-is to maintain an overarching poetic scheme. I was mindful of Longfellow and his ilk: take away their end rhymes and you're left with mediocre prose.

The model for the verse sections took shape in the composition of the third part, in which Max gives our fellow students a poetry reading. ("This is how I get the girls," says Max.) When I write narratives, my lines tend to be long. In "Obsessional" I purposely truncated them, moving them around to produce accidental rhythms and ambiguities. I also adopted a more lyrical, more-or-less-than-variable-foot:

When he's done, the girls collect around,
some teary eyed with wistful
smiles, but all with pens
for him to sign
the books he's thoughtfully brought
to sell. ("Always carry your books,"
he sotto voce instructs. "You never know when
your market will get hot.") (61-2)

By keeping to this scheme, the prose parts (including the use of citations, which I cribbed from Stephen Paul Miller) are sufficiently contrasted with the obvious lyric parts so that the poem can be seen to be made up of black and white, yin and yang not in conflict, but holding hands.

Toward the end I had to devise another lyric method. I was then moving back and forth between 16th Century England and 20th Century America. I solved this by using language typical of both centuries. I even had Grimald perform a lyric from Hip-Hop artist Ludicris: "Get out the way, bitch. Get out the way," before resuming his customary Elizabethan. That may seem opportunistic, but it is an important and ironic component of the final drama that takes place between the narrator and Max/Grimald.

TF: I’m interested in your concept of the “more-or-less-than-variable-foot.” Early and middle Williams (pre-variable-foot) and Creeley, especially in the first two decades of his career, used enjambment to put a lot of pressure on the last word and/or first word of a line when it wasn’t an expected rise or drop in the voice, and you’re doing that too in “Obsessional.” But there’s also a substantial difference: you are consciously varying line-length (including short, medium, and longish), whereas they tended to do this in consistently short lines. You could say that Williams used powerful enjambment while sticking to an accentual norm (i.e. one to three accents in an average line), but you don’t have an accentual norm because the average range of accents in a line is much broader.

The future is a good place to end this interview. A few weeks ago, when I attended a poetry reading you gave not far from my town, I was struck by the post-After-Death History poems that you read: they sounded like your work, but there seemed to be a new direction that I couldn’t articulate. What might you want to achieve in poetry in the near or far future, thematically and/or formally, that you haven’t done yet?

SM: Because I used so much historical prose in "Obsessional" I needed a way to keep the reader's attention on the language, the sounds of the words and sentences. Had I used the flat-spoken American diction of Williams or Creeley I think the reader would have fallen asleep after the initial prose assault. Also, despite the visual signs, such as sections of alternating indented lines and such, I planned the poem to serve as a dramatic performance piece, as well. Read aloud, it is the rhythm and occasional rhyme that holds the ear, without calling attention to the line breaks or other visual signals. I remember once hearing a recording of e.e. cummings reading his later poems-those with one or two words in each line-and being disappointed that he read them straight out, like a conventional poem, or like a piece of prose. I was trying to go one better and create something that had enough in it for both silent reading and for performing in front of an audience.

What you caught in the new poems, I think, is a sense of summation and transition. Having buried my parents, others of their' generation, as well as my mentors David Ignatow, H.R. Hays and their wives, I've survived the people with whom I spent my early life and with whom I shared a governing aesthetic. With the new poems I'm mining that territory, relishing the loneliness of a robust private vision. It has taken me a lifetime to get to this place, so I plan to stay awhile.

The narrator of "At the Funeral Home Bar" reflects this mood:

Once off the barstool and onto the floor, I realize that everyone here is
extremely tall. Even I seem to be taller than when I came in. "Mourning will
do that to you," says the gentleman next to me. "Sadness does it. Let me
show you," and he makes a sweeping gesture with his hand. The scene is
transformed. We're no longer affable people at a funeral home bar but tall
pine trees in a forest. It is winter. The air is clear, cold. And though we
stand together, each of us is somber and alone.

TF: Thank you, Sandy.