May 7, 2002


by C. G. Hanzlicek

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Poem: "Dimensions," by C.G. Hanzlicek from The Cave-New Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press).


Three horrific shrieks,
Pure terror,
And I look up,
And it's a sharp-shinned hawk
Chased from its eucalyptus perch
By a mockingbird.
You've seen something similar:
A Chihuahua barks its walnut-sized
Brain out at a 125-pound rottweiler,
And the rottweiler looks twice
Its stupid self and slobbers;
A hummingbird works
The whir of its wings to a roar
Until the cat abandons
Its shade under the trumpet vine.
These creatures of the other world,
I must now conclude,
Have no idea of the size
Of their own bodies.
We, on the other hand,
Have seen ourselves in mirrors
And in the eyes of others.
We've been sized up,
Downsized, and sometimes resized-
The gym, the spa, the diet-
But each day we've known
Our exact size,
Our exact threat.
When I was a boy,
I once pulled a switchblade on another boy
In the parking lot of the swimming pool.
He was smaller than I,
And I wanted to torment him,
Because I was living in a James Dean movie
That seemed like it was never going to end,
And because he wore his crewcut
Like a geek badge of honor,
And because, as mountain climbers say,
He was there,
And also because I wanted to look larger
In front of my friends.
It came to nothing: a lifeguard
Strolled up and took my knife
And stepped on the blade
And broke it from the haft.
My friends and I wandered off to our car,
And they slapped me on the back
And punched my upper arms.
I didn't exactly feel
As though I'd done something wrong,
But I felt somehow reduced,
Pared a little thinner,
And mindless as a rottweiler.

It's the birthday of the novelist Peter Carey, born in Bacchus Marsh, Victoria in Australia (1943). He has won every major Australian literary prize, and in 2001 he won the Booker Prize for the second time, for his novel The True History of the Kelly Gang. He had been at work on a novel about New York City-"which I love," he said, "but know nothing about, really"-when his wife persuaded him to abandon it and write about the outlaw gang instead.

It's the birthday of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, born in Votkinsk (1840). He took piano lessons from the time he was five years old, and his first composition was a song entitled, "Mama's in St. Petersburg." He got a law degree and served in the Ministry of Justice, but quit after four years to study music at the conservatory in St. Petersburg.

It's the birthday of Johannes Brahms, born in Hamburg (1833). He grew up in the slums of the city and earned money when he was young playing the piano in brothels and taverns. Even after he became a celebrity, he lived simply, and preferred the foods he had eaten as a child. He liked Hungarian goulash, and he loved herring salad.

It's the birthday of poet Robert Browning, born in London (1812).

It's the birthday of David Hume, born near Edinburgh, Scotland (1711). His family wanted him to become a lawyer, but he preferred literature and philosophy, and he ignored their pleading. After finishing his studies he moved to France, where he wrote what is considered his most significant work, the Treatise on Human Nature. In it, Hume said that reasoning-even apparently watertight reasoning, like cause-and-effect deduction-was merely the habit of the mind as it attempted to make sense of random events, and that reason would never be adequate to arrive at the ultimate cause of anything.

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