nothing special about the 58th

12 October 2021

Dear Everyone:

As some of you know already, I’ve been working in a kind of triage mode this past week — and will be for a bit longer yet — as I’m in the midst of attending to some family matters; I’m so sorry to have missed the portfolio showcase on Friday and hope those who were able to make it enjoyed the occasion to learn with and from some of our terrific crew. Thank you again to Olivia Wood, and to the panelists –Travis Bartley, T.K. Dalton, Eva Gordon Ryali, and Sandra Goldstein Lehnert — for organizing and sharing, and to Lily Iserson for lending admin support!

This coming Friday, we’ll be conducting program business in the 4p slot (current faculty and students, please look for the message from Nancy Silverman regarding the seminar scheduled for this week!); looking ahead, please plan to join us for the lecture by Karla Cornejo Villavicencio, “Playing It By Ear: Translating Literary Non-fiction” on 22 October!

Finally for now, and by way of explaining this message’s subject line, this coming weekend marks my parents 58th wedding anniversary. Out of curiosity more than anything, I googled to see if there’s a specific thing one is supposed to give (on whose authority, I dunno) for a 58th, and it turns out that beyond the first, only the anniversaries that  are the fives get to be celebrated in that way. In the associative ways that such factoids do, this got me thinking about a friend of mine who sends holiday greetings for Arbor Day and not any other; and of the fact that the 14th of every month and not just February is (albeit unevenly and mostly as a marketing strategy for bakeries, it seems) celebrated as a kind of valentine’s day in Korea. I suppose I’m in a more than usually reflective mood these days, but it got me thinking about specificity and specialness, and more generally about the ordinary, which then brought to mind Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks” (the poem is below — I may well have shared that before because it’s a regular go-to for me, but no harm in re-citation, I think). My parents will celebrate their 58th anniversary, which is specific but not apparently special enough to have a thing assigned to it. Not at all a lament! But I was thinking that in the room that the nothing-assigned provides, everything is possible and anything can be treasured — like socks in winter.

Find a thing and a being to treasure in whatever is your ordinary today; the magical transformation of the specific to the special — my wish for you and us for this week.

abundant well wishes, as ever —


Ode to My Socks, Pablo Neruda

Maru Mori brought me
a pair
of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft
as rabbits.
I slipped my feet
into them
as though into
with threads of
and goatskin.
Violent socks,
my feet were
two fish made
of wool,
two long sharks
sea-blue, shot
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
two cannons:
my feet
were honored
in this way
They were
so handsome
for the first time
my feet seemed to me
like two decrepit
firemen, firemen
of that woven
of those glowing

I resisted
the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere
as schoolboys
as learned men
sacred texts,
I resisted
the mad impulse
to put them
into a golden
and each day give them
and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers
in the jungle who hand
over the very rare
green deer
to the spit
and eat it
with remorse,
I stretched out
my feet
and pulled on
the magnificent
and then my shoes.

The moral
of my ode is this:
beauty is twice
and what is good is doubly
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool
in winter.

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