Category Archives: On Wisconsin

Allure

Before the play I watched her sit, posed, on a rock,
one knee bent up, near her chin. She was covered just so
modestly with what can only be called a frock,
one bright red shoe dangling from a pedicured toe.
Let me say more about her fabulous dress
which I got to observe going down the hill after
the play. Sheer and sleeveless, white, a mess
of summer flowers painted on the skirt.
Everything looked expensive and just exactly right.
I haven’t mentioned yet how old she was.
Seventy-something I’m guessing, which is why
it wasn’t a surprise to see her favoring her knees
as we made our way to the parking lot and why
I can’t get the way I saw her first out of my mind.

______

 

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These are my red shoes. Not hers. Still.

 

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I saw her before and after seeing The Unexpected Man at the Touchstone @ American Players Theatre (which is wonderful and which you should go see and which I will write about more if I can think of anything to say other than “perfect”) so of course I couldn’t possibly say anything to this woman about any of this.

Stay

When it’s cold and dark next winter, I will wish
for summer, crave it more than sugar, more
than sleep. When I start to feel bone-chilled, I’ll push
my memory buttons hard, hunting for
a night just like last night. Until the sun
went down, it was truly hot, still 90 at six
on our way to the park, sunglasses on,
multiple water bottles filled to the max.
When the sun finally hid behind a barn,
it was suddenly cool. My son’s team lost again
(they often do). It’s hard when you’re 12 to lose
and learn from it, to lose and not feel blue
all night. But he spent the ride home cheering for heat
lightning along the horizon, big and fast and pink.

______
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The Drawn Line

Excitement at breakfast: a house centipede
dropped from the ceiling (the ceiling fan?)
onto the kitchen table and skittered
(that is their word; almost nothing else
so purely skitters as they) through the clutter
on the table and onto the floor.
My husband rushed in responding
to the hollering and the laughing.
We don’t kill house centipedes at our house.
We gather them up and move them outside.
All of us do that, but this time my husband did
because my son and I were still laughing
and hollering. I kept saying how
I thought it was a mouse. I must have said
“corner of my eye” a dozen times.

The gentle gathering and removing is the mode
for spiders too, for my husband and son. It isn’t mine.
I blithely kill spiders inside. I don’t even apologize.
We all smush ants, every spring
in the seasonal onslaught of ants
which recedes by the middle of June
whether or not we clean obsessively
or put out syrupy poisons, so lately
we do nothing but annihilate them on sight.

And once again I’m fascinated by that line
we draw and where we draw it,
what we kill and what we eat
and what all we’re willing to tolerate.

What makes us say “oh well,”
what makes us say “enough,”
what makes us say nothing at all
because we didn’t see it skittering,
not even from the corner of our eye.

_____

Here’s a great blog post about house centipedes, which advocates for not killing them. I concur. But I’m less open to any blog about live and let live modes for spiders. Or ants.

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If I Loved You Before the Election, I Probably Still Do

If I loved you before the election, I probably still do.
Even more than how you voted, I’m thinking about
what’s good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true.

I’m worried who the bad things are happening to.
Our list of bad things might be different, but
if I loved you before the election, I probably still do.

It isn’t like I thought we lived in a commune,
but Jesus, how can we be so far apart
on what’s good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true?

Do you feel this frightened when my side wins and you lose?
I’m sorry if you do. I didn’t know that.
If I liked you before the election, I probably still do,

unless I can only be your friend if I voted like you.
It makes me anxious when we’re asking what
is good and bad, what scares us most, what’s true

because we can’t even manage to watch the same news.
It looks like a storm cloud to me. What’s it look like to you?
If I loved you before the election, I probably still do.
What’s good? What’s bad? What scares us most? What’s true?

_____

Don’t get me wrong–I have really firm opinions about the election. My side lost in the primary and the general. I’m trying to figure out how to process it, how to understand it, what to do. But one of the things that freaks me out the most is how far apart we are as a country, as a state. It feels to me like we could bust out into our own version of the Troubles any moment. (Some violence is already here.) I honestly don’t know what to do.  I decided to start re-learning Spanish.  And I did buy, but haven’t started reading yet, Katherine Cramer’s book, The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.

And speaking of Scott Walker, here are some thoughts I had on similar matters five years ago. I just read the Cadfael books again and they still seem to have so much to say about disagreeing and either empathizing or not with the people you’re disagreeing with. There are two parts,  Grief for the Uncousinly Chasm. And then Grief for the Uncousinsly Chasm, Part II. There’s a part III I haven’t had the nerve to write yet, on the chasm between what I believed when I was actively Baptist and what I believe now as what I call a Zen Baptist–the chasm between what some of my friends and family believe and what I do.

You can take this line from the villanelle as either taking the Lord’s name in vain or a prayer (or both–I mean it as both):

Jesus, how can we be so far apart?

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It looks like bleak November to me. What’s it look like to you?

Consolation for the Coming Dark

1
Call it what you want–global weirding,
climate change–it’s just flat-out wrong
to hit 80 degrees in mid-October, in Wisconsin,
mosquitoes swarming like it’s June.
Humid muck and sweat, it makes me long for snow,
reconciles me to the dimming of the light.

2
The third trimester has to be ungodly
uncomfortable, the backaches, the chafing,
the raw, red stretch marks. The pain
that’s coming seems at that point,
if not nothing, then at least something
bearable, something, anything, better
than lumbering around. Just get it out.

3
The love that died,
the job that changed,
the tree that lost its leaves.
Rusted muffler,
curdled milk,
worn out shoes.
The show that jumped the shark,
the friend who wouldn’t go home,
the skirt that fell out of style.
Insufficient postage
on the Star Wars stamp
you found in your desk.

4
What’s next and what’s enough and when
will all of this seem clear and would a funeral help?
To signal things are different now,
I know it’s different now,
the past is done, I know it’s done,
I’m ready to move on?
Tomorrow’s wonderful and awful
and so’s today and is tomorrow’s sunrise,
possibly orange and pink and lovely,
any kind of consolation for the coming dark?
__________

I’ve been enjoying Rob Bell’s podcast lately. He had Peter Rollins on a couple times (always blows my mind) and then a great one on Seasons, which made me think maybe we should have a funeral at my workplace, for the way things used to be.

See, budget cuts have made this a very different place to work. In the classroom it’s much the same (wonderful as always, I tell people, and it’s true), but outside class–really different. We’re functioning, for the most part, doing our best, but it’s really, really different.

Then I decided, no, we shouldn’t have a funeral, because there are already enough people worried my sweet little campus will close.  I don’t think it will close, and having a funeral wouldn’t have meant that I was thinking it would close, but I could imagine someone seeing it that way.

Having a funeral would have meant I understand the past is gone.   Whatever was, isn’t now.  Having a funeral would have meant I could feel what I’m feeling, really give it full vent, and then move on.  Look around and see things with clearer eyes.

So, no funeral.  But I might write down a couple things I particularly miss, and light them on fire in my backyard, and tell them goodbye.  I might sing a little song.  I might read this out loud, from Ecclesiastes 3:

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.”

And then just because the changes at work come from budget cuts of which I don’t approve, I might also read this one from Ecclesiastes 9:11:

“the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to those with understanding, nor yet favour to those with skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

And then I think I might feel better. Or maybe not.

 

 

 

Where is the Wisconsin Idea?

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The Wisconsin Idea is pretty simple. It means that whatever wonderful stuff goes on in a UW classroom, or lab, or program—that wonderful stuff should be shared. It has to leave campus. Almost everyone who talks about the Wisconsin Idea quotes an early UW president, Charles Van Hise, who said “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the University reaches every home in the state.” (I misquote that in my head as the “beneficent arm” and I kind of picture a weird cartoon in my head of a giant arm reaching in through someone’s kitchen window.  Now that I think about it, not really what I’m going for here. Nevermind about the arm.)

The Wisconsin Idea is the basis for the UW Extension, and all kinds of community service, all over the state. It’s a huge part of what makes the UW and Wisconsin wonderful.

Sometimes people talk about “sifting and winnowing” as the Wisconsin Idea, but technically, that’s from a plaque from the Board of Regents, or at least some of them, in 1894, and I think it’s the UW System mission statement (or maybe just UW Madison?), and it’s a part of state law. (Changing that is what a certain so-and-so called a “drafting error,” but which is actually a totally different category of error.)

So that’s what it is.  I was wondering how cool it would be if we could talk to each other not so much about WHAT it is, but WHERE it is.

I asked for help from these youngsters, who found the Wisconsin Idea in Arena.

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What I’m hoping is that more people will find the Wisconsin Idea, and make videos, and challenge other people to find it. People can use the hashtag #wefoundtheWisconsinIdea and tag me @MarnieDresser and post on Where is the Wisconsin Idea?.

The format I’m imagining for the videos is pretty short & simple:

We found the Wisconsin Idea in _____________.

(Explain how something from the UW helped some way, any way, OUTSIDE the UW.)

We challenge _______ and __________ and __________ to find the Wisconsin Idea!

(Merriment and confetti entirely appropriate.  Youngsters and community members and current students and former students most definitely appropriate.)

**I’m especially hoping 4-Hers will do videos because 1) 4H is awesome, 2)4H can be VERY creative, and  3)4H just simply IS the Wisconsin Idea.

Who’s the audience for this?  The people who make the videos–it’s a way for them to articulate for themselves what the Wisconsin Idea really does for them, right where they are.  Also for faculty and staff–there are a lot of negative messages out there about the work we do, and these should all be positive.

Beyond that, if there are people who don’t know what the idea is, or don’t understand why it’s important, well–these videos should make that clearer.

Will this spread like I want it to?  Will my one little raindrop be joined by others and turn into a rainshower? A downpour? A gullywasher?

Will other voices join my voice, or will it just be this one little voice? (Can’t help thinking of Barry Manilow.  Love that song, actually.  But I won’t post a video because the work he’s had done just makes me miss his 1970s nose.)

Maybe it’ll only ever be this one little video.  Even so–the Wisconsin Idea is out there. I know it is.  Want to help me show where?

 

 

Somewhere in Eastern Montana on a Train

The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,
vast droppings from the great mad God above.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

I might be lost. I might have been kidnapped.
The train’s so cold I’m wearing gloves.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat,

but they’re not visible on my little map.
The lounge car is the only home I have
because the train won’t stop. Where I’m at

is a deeply pleasing dizzy place, perhaps
because I’m reading The Sheltering Sky, which I love.
The rocks rise up just like Jehovah scat

on these Great Plains! Foothills! The snow, like sand,
obscures the tracks. How do we even move?
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I am

with all my wonder wander wonder shit.
I’ll be home for Christmas soon enough.
The rocks rise up like Jehovah scat.
The train won’t stop. I don’t know where I’m at.

____________

Christmas 1989  I rode the Empire Builder train from Whitefish, Montana to Chicago and then the train they call the City of New Orleans on down into Southern Illinois. It was a miserable trip. There was a lot of snow and it was very cold (in North Dakota? Who could have expected that?) and the bathrooms kept freezing up. We stopped at every station, trashed the bathrooms, and by the time I got to St. Louis, the train was more than 24 hours late. You can keep your romantic train travel visions to yourself, thank you very much.

Unless you’re Laura Gibson, in which case I feel so lucky to have caught your show at The Shitty Barn.  (Sometimes I can’t stand how lucky I am to live in Spring Green.  The barn’s just a short walk from my house.)

Her new album is called Empire Builder, and as she sang the title track, I was reminded that I’d tried and tried to write a poem that captured the weirdness of that train trip.  Given my track record of poems about that trip (#27yearsoftrying), I may still not have done it.  But I got inspired whilst Laura was singing and wrote it all, there (almost all–revised some when I got home).

So thanks to the Shitty Barn & thanks to Laura Gibson for a great night and a little fit of inspiration. Have a listen to her song “The Cause”  and see if you get inspired your own self.

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Oh, how I love thee, Shitty Barn.