Archive for April 2010


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Notes on “Tombaugh’s Discovery”

The bakery with the worst coffee (burnt and bitter) and the deadliest pastries (filling ladled out of five-gallon tubs and doughnuts smeared in grainy chocolate), was the meeting spot for a six A.M exclusive klatsch. On Mondays you would find six to eight regulars around the lime green table closest to the bay window, helping each other finish the Sunday Magazine crossword. Everyone would have made progress on it the day before, but Monday would be for helping and solving. Sunday’s crossword isn’t as difficult as those on Friday and Saturday, but it is long, and a long workweek loomed without solace or answers (pre- The ad hoc committee cracking the code consisted of a tax collector, a selectman, a building inspector, a couple of carpenters, and a few retirees. It was community assistance in action.

Years later, while doing a brick path for a woman, she began talking about crossword puzzles. She imagined people who did them regularly passed into a “parallel world.” This world was packed by fairly well-known writers and B-List celebrities whose names contained vowels or double consonants. They lived in a world of classical music and operas, loved art and sculpture, and were familiar with characters in 19th century novels. I was enthralled. It was so easy to picture. This world mirrored New York City with galleries and restaurants, but also Paris with creme brulees and arrondissements. The locals loved slogans and cliches and old songs. Citizens of this world liked to drink, but wouldn’t cheat you: they would defraud. Objects wouldn’t speed up, they’d accelerate. A river in Germany would flow into a Minnesota lake.

Black squares were sometimes stairs. Divas would appear in Versace gowns. Poets would get a line. An apple would fall on Pedro’s head. Missiles would fly by. It was a dangerous world, but a fascinating one.

After reading clues for months and studying puzzles, I began Tombaugh’s Discovery to spend some time in this world.

Tombaugh’s Discovery

Saturday, April 3, 2010

This poem pays tribute to Eugene T. Maleska, the crossword puzzle editor of The New York Times from 1977 – 1993

for Nikki Langer

The train rattles west of New Haven past eglantine
(sweetbrier), deerberry, calla lily, larkspur
to the city I love, amo, amas, hadj destination,
Mecca for I.M. Pei, commedia dell’arte—
the sunken rooms of elegant apartments, Goyas,
Gauguins on permanent loan—Eero Saarinen’s tulip!

We’re here, we’re happy, so clear, clean, saber
of intelligent air: simpatico, Sacra Romana,
sabra, stark symmetry of darkened windows,
three stairs, then hitch your wagon to a star—
Trish Van Devere, Piper Laurie, Annie Potts,
Teri Garr, and the night has a thousand eyes.

Here they speak our language, vox populi,
adagio, slow ballet of inferred inclusion—
they may be red, they may be liberal. When
we arrive, peer through to the oda, harem room,
diaphanous veil of Olivia de Havilland: to be
in Brest, the soft roll of, the mere heave is

majestic as she laughs—it’s nothing to her, all
part of a song, “Love’s Old Sweet . . . all love is sweet.”
Hosannas, glad tidings, light from water and simple
events: each day a tabula rasa, a kind of a graph, looking
for a word, a world east of the Caspian Sea,
where Bremen’s river, Weser, can empty into Erne.

We measure in decimeters, tackle Hamelin’s problem.
The others are deceived, defrauded, defrocked, dreading
arson or arrow poison, a heckler’s missile, larceny,
a fissure, a crack, a rift, a fissure, a parting,
a cleft, a fissure, a break, lesion, a fissure which
we embrace, a division which we treasure.

Somewhere in a pleasant world where Pedro thirsts,
where Pierre protects his noggin, dada, agua, tete,
we sip a perfect martini, find a crème brulee better
than in any arrondissement in Paris. Pekoe tea is
served, Malacca cane, dates, cakes and ale, a nip
at the bar and English cheese, a gin addition.

A North African weight falls in units of acceleration:
gals—Ella, Edna, Edie in Cassini suits dazzle
the assembled: “Youth is a gift of nature, age is
a work of art.” “I could a tale unfold whose
lightest word . . .” Paul Anka in a tribute to Alan Jay
Lerner. Is that Avita or Clara, Fernando or Lorenzo?

Solano through the transoms and slate entrances—
Eris, Goddess of Discord, Irene, Goddess of Peace,
worshipping at the astronomical altar, ara, angel arms,
levels of sacred anagrams—Ino, mystical princess,
Aeneas, son of Aphrodite, by Jove, Juno’s husband,
Jupiter, outermost orb, Pluto, Tombaugh’s discovery.

The sky is like a city at night, the city like a museum,
museum like a party, an opening where Arlo and Oona
show . . . among the impresarios, protagonists, chums,
companions, pals and partners, a boy in Barcelona:
Magic moves across the lane and pulls down a rebound.
We print to fit base hits on the scorecard—Yastrzemski

with two outs in the ninth, pops to third, Graig Nettles,
and we all go home. Home to arias by the soprano,
Erna Berger, the tenor, Leo Slezak, home to the novel
we’re writing mentioning Debussy’s La Mer, Mimi
in La Boheme, writing for the marketplace, agora,
first impression to fourth dimension, ending with a line

from T.S. Eliot, or Maya Angelou, Countee Cullen,
or Pablo Neruda, Andean breezes for the poets:
“I lived on air . . .” Frost. Yes Shubert used Rilke,
but how does anything like Ulysses get written?
And who is more alluring, Actress Ekberg
or Hardy’s Tess, Emma Thompson or Halle Berry?