Sunday, 28 February 2021

Arts & Life

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

This week’s column is by Ladan Osman, who is originally from Somalia but who now lives in Chicago. I like “Tonight” for the way it looks with clear eyes at one of the rough edges of American life, then greets us with a hopeful wave.

Editor’s Note: This column (336) is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

Tonight

Tonight is a drunk man,
his dirty shirt.

There is no couple chatting by the recycling bins,
offering to help me unload my plastics.

There is not even the black and white cat
that balances elegantly on the lip of the dumpster.

There is only the smell of sour breath. Sweat on the collar of my shirt.
A water bottle rolling under a car.
Me in my too-small pajama pants stacking juice jugs on neighbors’ juice jugs.

I look to see if there is someone drinking on their balcony.

I tell myself I will wave.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Ladan Osman, and reprinted by permission of the poet. Introduction copyright @2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Arizonan Alberto Rios probably observed this shamel ash often, its year-round green leaves never changing.

On this particular day, however, he recognizes a difference—a yellow leaf. In doing so he offers us a glimpse of how something small yet unexpected may stay with us, perhaps even become a secret pleasure.

Editor’s Note: This column is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

A Yellow Leaf

A yellow leaf in the branches
Of a shamel ash
In the front yard;
I see it, a yellow leaf
Among so many.
Nothing distinguishes it,
Nothing striking, striped, stripped,
Strident, nothing
More than its yellow
On this day,
Which is enough, which makes me
Think of it later in the day,
Remember it in conversation
With a friend,
Though I do not mention it—
A yellow leaf on a shamel ash
On a clear day
In an Arizona winter,
A January like so many.

American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Reprinted from The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body, Copper Canyon Press, 2002, by permission of the author. Introduction copyright @2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.

Ted Kooser. Photo credit: UNL Publications and Photography.

Here, poet Yusef Komunyakaa, who teaches at New York University, shows us a fine portrait of the hard life of a worker—in this case, a horse—and, through metaphor, the terrible, clumsy beauty of his final moments.

Editor’s Note: This column (154) is a reprint from the American Life in Poetry archive as we bid farewell to Ted Kooser, and work to finalize the new website and forthcoming columns curated by Kwame Dawes.

Yellowjackets

When the plowblade struck
An old stump hiding under
The soil like a beggar’s
Rotten tooth, they swarmed up
& Mister Jackson left the plow
Wedged like a whaler’s harpoon.
The horse was midnight
Against dusk, tethered to somebody’s
Pocketwatch. He shivered, but not
The way women shook their heads
Before mirrors at the five
& dime—a deeper connection
To the low field’s evening star.
He stood there, in tracechains,
Lathered in froth, just
Stopped by a great, goofy
Calmness. He whinnied
Once, & then the whole
Beautiful, blue-black sky
Fell on his back.


American Life in Poetry does not accept unsolicited manuscripts. It is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2001 by Yusef Komunyakaa, reprinted from “Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999,” Wesleyan Univ. Press, 2001, by permission. Introduction copyright @2021 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.



‘WALKER’ ON THE CW

The CW network, skewing to a younger demographic than CBS, has decided that it would be a good idea to reboot “Walker, Texas Ranger” of Chuck Norris fame into simply “Walker” with Jared Padalecki, who is unlikely to remind anybody of the original lawman.

With his chiseled looks and scruffy face, only the cowboy hat and the shiny badge worn by this new Cordell Walker would suggest that someone who looks more like a Calvin Klein jeans model would actually be the tough guy Texas Ranger of yore.

Judging from the first episode, the new Walker is less about action than dealing with family drama, but that has much to do with the initial storyline of the lawman grieving over the violent death of his wife Emily (Genevieve Padalecki).

Walker’s coping mechanism with sorrow sent him away on an undercover mission for nearly a year, during which time his teenage kids Stella (Violet Brinson) and August (Kale Culley) were left behind in the care of grandparents Bonham (Mitch Pileggi) and Abeline Walker (Molly Hagan).

To say that Walker’s children were resentful of their father’s prolonged absence would be an understatement, but that’s why this new series, at least from the outset, spends time on resolving family issues that even draw Walker’s brother (Keegan Allen) into the picture.

Meanwhile, the workplace changes in a few dramatic ways for Walker when he learns that his old Ranger partner Larry James (Coby Bell) is now a captain and his new boss, while he acquires a female partner in Micki Ramirez (Lindsey Morgan).

“Walker” makes a few nods to political correctness that probably never would have happened in the original. For one, having a Latina Texas Ranger for a partner is definitely a departure on both gender and ethnic grounds, and Ranger Ramirez makes for a resilient colleague.

On more familiar ground in terms of what would be expected in the old days, Walker proves so aggressive when a punk suspect takes a swing at him that his partner steps in so he won’t cross the line into unnecessary brutality.

One has to wonder how Walker’s penchant for bending the rules is going to play out over time with a partner who represents a generational difference more tuned into restraint and going by the book.

During the network’s virtual press tour, the best question posed to showrunner Anne Fricke was why this series would use the name Walker as opposed to something brand new that doesn’t recall the memory of Chuck Norris.

We already know that the latest Cordell Walker is no longer the Texas Ranger skilled in the martial arts. Fricke noted that “Walker” is about “the life of this character and the family and friends around him.”

Using the name “Walker” allows this new series, as Fricke observed, “to keep the familiarity” that comes from inheriting a legacy while also forging a path that aside from classic Stetson hats and the Texas twang feels so divergent from the original.

This revamped version of “Walker” may find itself on solid footing since the network reports that the series debut rustled up the largest audience for a new series premiere on The CW in the last five years.



‘SILENCE & DARKNESS’ NOT RATED

An unnerving family dynamic emerges in the idyllic Vermont countryside where an ostensibly loving father cares for two daughters with different disabilities that don’t impede their living relatively normal lives.

Beth (Joan Glackin) is deaf, while Anna (Mina Walker) is blind. The inseparable girls communicate with sign language conducted by touch, and they dance, cook and even prep for a talent show as a guitar-playing duo.

Their father (Jordan Lage) is a doctor practicing in a small town, who has a fetish for dental hygiene and flossing that becomes creepy when it affects his strange affair with a married woman (Ariel Zevon).

We don’t know much about the devoted sisters other than the symbiotic nature of their reliance on each other, melded together to act as one whole human being. But we do realize they have their own coded messages they tap on each other’s arms and hands.

Acting in a seemingly sterile, clerical manner, the father monitors and records their behavior on cassette tapes as if parenting has become a clinical experiment of child psychology. Or is this something more sinister?

The happy equilibrium of the household starts to crack on the day that their neighbor Mrs. Bishop (Sandra Gartner) pounds hysterically on their front door, claiming her dog has found a human bone in the woods near the house.

Father dismisses the frenzied rant, letting his daughters know that he thinks “Mrs. Bishop may be off her meds.” This leads the girls to ask about their mother’s death, which causes the father to react violently.

From this point forward, a sense of dread creeps into the picture, and life becomes more uncomfortable for the girls as they realize something is not right. “Silence & Darkness” takes a turn to eerie menace.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.



‘CALL YOUR MOTHER’ ON ABC

The new ABC sitcom “Call Your Mother” stars Kyra Sedgwick as an overbearing mom so concerned about not hearing from her adult son for four days that if she were piloting a helicopter from Iowa to Los Angeles to drop in on her child it would have seemed fitting.

As a widowed single mother who raised two millennial children, Jean wonders how she ended-up alone while Freddie (Joey Bragg) and his older sister Jackie (Rachel Sennott) moved to the carefree paradise of California.

Fretting that an endless stream of phone calls to her son go answered, Jean jumps on a plane to Los Angeles and barges in on Freddie at his apartment just at the moment he’s cuddling with vacuous social media influencer Celia (Emma Caymares).

That mom’s unannounced visit is not greeted with enthusiasm is an understatement, even if she came bearing gifts of socks and Freddie’s favorite toilet paper. If there’s a joke with these presents, it fails to connect, much like misfiring punchlines.

Then there’s Jackie, who not only is aghast at mom’s arrival but has not been on speaking terms with her brother for reasons not immediately clear but may be related to a mother’s meddling contributing to a dysfunctional family dynamic.

However, both Jackie and Freddie, though maybe not equal in the eyes of their mother, are relatively excitable persons not able to appreciate Jean’s “we are a village” speech when gathered at mom’s place.

As one who says her sex life has been nonexistent for years, Jean may soon find romantic comfort with her landlord Danny (Patrick Brammall), a newly-divorced therapist who may need counseling for his oversharing about his wife’s infidelity.

That the lovable golden retriever Ripper, belonging to the owner of the guest house rented by Jean, proves to be the most winning character in the series does not bode well for the future of the formulaic “Call Your Mother.”

After all, the cute canine does not have any lines of dialogue to spice up the mostly flat humor delivered by the two-legged actors. Maybe it’s time to call in new writers if there is a chance to salvage a series that sputters right out of the gate.

To be fair, only one episode of “Call Your Mother” was available to review, but the characters need to be more than one-dimensional, though Austin Crute, as Jackie’s gay roommate Lane, shines with his off-beat demeanor.

‘THE CHASE’ ON ABC

Watching an episode of the new, at least on network television, game show “The Chase” was purely accidental, and then it dawned on me that I had already seen this TV series in a foreign land.

While on the treadmill at a London hotel in 2019, I became engrossed with “The Chase,” where the host was some guy they called “The Beast,” and not just for his physical size but for the fact he was a quiz genius that relished pummeling the contestants.

For the episode I watched on ABC, “Jeopardy” champion Ken Jennings, the all-time greatest winner now serving in the position of the Chaser that three contestants must outperform in answering trivia questions, comes off like the irritating brainy kid in school.

Not only is Jennings going to match his British cousin as a trivia bully, two other “Jeopardy” champions, namely Brad Rutter and James Holzhauer, will alternate as Chasers.
Meanwhile, the Chasers-in-waiting sit in a lounge and occasionally lob a few snarky remarks.

The game show is gimmicky in that each contestant participates in a one-minute lightning round to bank money for their team before being positioned at the bottom of a huge angled game board where the Chaser looms above in a most intimidating manner.

The money earned in the lightning round is placed on the game board and each contestant must answer multiple-choice questions correctly to move the money down into the bank while trying to stay ahead of the Chaser who has to answer the same questions.

If the Chaser overtakes a contestant, that player is out of the game and the only chance for the other players to have a shot of winning any money is, as expected, to beat the Chaser to the bank during their turn.

But that’s not the end of the line. There’s the “Final Chase” where the surviving players now act as a team to beat the Chaser in a more convoluted round that does up the ante for tension and excitement.

The fun part of game shows that test trivia knowledge was never more evident than during the reign of Alex Trebek as the genial host of “Jeopardy.” Viewers at home could blurt out their own responses in the form of a question and feel like actual contestants.

Attempting to answer questions in “The Chase” offers vicarious thrills when you get something right that the host failed to do, especially if you best the smug Ken Jennings who will never be as likable as Alex Trebek, at least in my opinion.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.




‘MR. MAYOR’ ON NBC

The tag line for the new NBC comedy series “Mr. Mayor” is “L.A. called. Neil answered.”

Neil would be Ted Danson’s Neil Bremer, a retired billboard mogul who runs for mayor of Los Angeles to prove he’s “still got it.”

Back in 1993, voters in the city of Los Angeles did, in fact, elect businessman Richard Riordan as its leader, though it seems he did not have much to prove with a successful career that included a partnership in a top law firm and ownership of a popular downtown eatery.

As things stand right now in California’s largest city, it seems incomprehensible that anyone would want the task of being mayor. For one thing, the current occupant of the post is under attack for a homeless population that was growing exponentially even before the pandemic.

The NBC press notes describes Los Angeles as America’s “second weirdest city.” That may be true but it begs the question of what city is the weirdest. Could it be Portland, Oregon, where the designation seems most likely appropriate? Or is San Francisco in the running?

All that matters is whether “Mr. Mayor” might be worth watching. There’s potential for optimism for a sitcom that has been shaped by the same creative forces of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock that brought the surreal humor of “30 Rock” to prominence on the NBC schedule.

Voter turnout in city elections is already low, so when the current mayor announces his resignation because he was broken by the year 2020 due to the pandemic and supposedly murder hornets, among other things, a special election draws Bremer into the race.

A mayoral aide lets it be known that Bremer is not qualified for the office and yet won 68 percent of the vote of the 8 percent of voters who bothered to show up when the competition consisted of a libertarian porn star and Gary Coleman’s ghost.

That Bremer’s opponents were gadflies is a bit of humor that jogs one’s memory of candidates during the 2003 Grey Davis gubernatorial recall election in which Arnold Schwarzenegger emerged victorious. How many people will remember or catch that particular joke?

What propelled Bremer into the political arena was no high-minded purpose of crafting public policy and solutions, but rather to prove his worth to his politically engaged teenage daughter Orly (Kyla Kennedy).

Within moments of taking office, Bremer bumbles his way through advocating a ban on plastic straws to the chagrin of his daughter only because she’s running for sophomore class president on the same issue and feels co-opted by her father’s action.

A television screen captures a clip from the mayor’s press conference which notes his openness to the idea of a robot police force. Apparently, potential initiatives will be randomly tossed out and almost immediately forgotten.

Bremer’s campaign manager and social influencer Mikaela Shaw (Vella Lovell) comes on board as the “first woman of color without a master’s degree to be chief of staff,” and yet wonders how she can work for a politician who thinks Santa Monica is part of the City of Los Angeles.

A more eccentric member of the mayor’s staff is the awkward Jayden Kwapis (Bobby Moynihan), the holdover communications director who wears prescription flip-flops for his “podiatric claustrophobia” condition.

Meanwhile, Mikaela and the mayor’s strategist Tommy Tomas (Mike Cabellon), more of a bureaucratic functionary whose role remains mostly undefined, think it best to keep the oddball Jayden on staff as the person to throw under the bus when it becomes convenient.

Bremer’s primary nemesis is veteran council member Arpi Meskimen (Holly Hunter), a caricature of an agenda-driven progressive, who quickly attacks the mayor’s straw ban as an attack on disabled persons.

In a Machiavellian move, Bremer, who at first eschewed having any deputy mayors, brings Arpi into his inner circle in that position on the timeworn concept of “keep your enemies closer.”

Will this arrangement work? Arpi is definitely out in left field. She takes the stance that it is cultural appropriation to call coyotes anything other than “mini wolves” who should also get government funded birth control.

As Bremer gets dragged around town by his staff, the mayor soon realizes that his job is “90% photo ops and animal funerals” and he proves clueless and widely inept even in ceremonial situations.

After visiting a weed dispensary where he ingests proffered edible products, the mayor becomes so increasingly loopy on his city tour that he knocks out the beloved mascot for the Los Angeles Kings hockey team.

With only two episodes offered for critical judgment, “Mr. Mayor” is congenial and amusing enough as a conventional sitcom with its political issues tending so far to innocuous topics and that may be a good thing after a contentious election year.

Tim Riley writes film and television reviews for Lake County News.

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