Poem for the Thirty-seventh Ithaca Festival




Poem for the Thirty-seventh Ithaca Festival


In Seventeen-Hundred and Sixty-‘Leven,
Ebenezer Ithaca and a party of seven
Set out from West Danby on a journey to the north
(There was nobody there but the natives, of course),
And he came to a lake, near a whole bunch of creeks,
And he envisioned a town, full of restaurants and boutiques,
And he named it for himself (’cause that was clearly God’s will),
And likewise Ithaca College, up there on the hill.
At least, that’s the way I’ve been told the story goes.
Maybe somebody up at Cornell really knows?
I don’t know. But I know that in Ithaca, I’ll never be alone,
And I’m comin’ on home, and I’m comin’ on home.
13, 34, 96B,
Runnin’ all together through the center of the city.
79, 89, 13A,
Spokes on a wheel, wheels on the highway,
I drove all night to get here from Ithaca, Michigan
But you know that other Ithaca was named after this one.
It was late in December, and every Ithacan
Was watching the sky play that long, slow, gray riff again,
When up from the lake came a terrible sound,
Like the songs of the lost, and the dead, and the drowned.
From that twilight zone came the voice of Rod Serling
Providing narration for Rutabaga Curling!
And then what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a man in a sleigh, pulled by billions and billions and billions of tiny reindeer!
He tossed his tuber with a startling precocity
With just the right spin, and the perfect velocity;
And watching in wonder this sprightly Rutabagan,
I knew in a moment it must be Carl Sagan.
Then he sprang to his sleigh, where his team was a-prancing
And flew off in the general direction of Lansing.
And he cried, as he coursed through the night sky above,
“Happy solstice to all! We are all made of star-stuff!”
You have to feel bad for the good Dr. Sagan:
This rational guy, in the land of the pagans;
But you know he liked to do the nasty after smoking some pot—
Maybe that’s why the Commons has so many head shops?
So don’t—push—me, ’cause I’m close—to—the—edge,
Of a bridge, over a gorge, where I might lay my head
But it’s OK—if I jumped, in some manic attack,
There’s a net there, to catch me, and bounce me right back!
And I’d brush myself off, thank Cornell for my luck
And go get a pizza from the Hot Pizza Truck,
Or maybe cruise on downtown, ’cause you know nothing is finer
Than the blue-plate special at the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior Street Diner.
And when the Finger Lakes are flinging flakes
Of snow, from off their fingertips
That blow through your soul on a lake-effect breeze,
Remember: the lake’s so deep that the the lake don’t freeze!
And maybe Ithaca Falls turns into Ithaca Icicle,
But hey! There goes Faye, on her radical bicycle!
And look! It’s the Mayor, with his sweet baby face—
He’s made a park out of his parking space!
And summer comes, and the students go
And you can’t believe it could ever snow.
And who cares if the inlet’s got hydrilla—
You can swim in the gorge of the Cascadilla!
(That’s Casca-dill-a, not Casca-dee-ya,
Where you been eatin’ at? Viva Taqueria?)
Now if your friends won’t let you shop at Wal-mart or Target,
There’s the Ithaca Commons, and the Farmers’ Market!
And no, that’s not the Dalai Lama in his motorcade—
It’s the Volvo Ballet, in the Ithaca Parade!
All those Volvos, they seem to run forever,
‘Til there’s nothing but stickers holding their bumpers together.
But even they are outnumbered of bumpers of Priuses
Proclaiming the coexistence of Buddha and Jesus!
We have never been bound by the norms of normality,
We are right near Varna in the Cosmic Totality,
We are ten square miles surrounded by reality!
And we need no leaders to enlightenedly lead us,
(or that’s how the Utne Reader’s readers see us),
We dance in the streets, play music from our porches,
And we swim under waterfalls, ’cause Ithaca is Gorges!
So go north of the South Hill, and east of the West Hill,
Right downtown to the Ithaca Festival.
Wonderful, waterfull, magical, mythical,
We’re making a Festival of all things Ithacal.
For rhymes irresistible, and rhythms infectual,
Artists political, and artists conceptual,
And baubles and bangles and tasty comestibles,
You gotta get down to the Ithaca Festival
Where the music is sweet, and the beat is insistent
Like the last time you danced, and the first time you kissed
And the roots and rhythm will always remain
And you’ll do it all over again and again
And you know that in Ithaca you’ll never be alone,
Because you’re comin’ on home. You’re comin’ on home.
(To Ithaca.   Thank you very much, and enjoy the festival!)



For Carl, Faye, Svante, Danielle, and Ithacans everywhere,

 —Steve Paisley


Obama Confirms American Unexceptionalism

Pesident Obama confirmed American unexceptionalism. as well as his own, in his statement on Syria last week—by claiming the opposite.  And it’s nothing new—witness this quote from the campaign trail:

“It’s worth noting that I first arrived on the national stage with a speech at the Democratic Convention that was entirely about American exceptionalism and that my entire career has been a testimony to American exceptionalism,” Obama said at an afternoon Rose Garden press conference.

This, from the brightest and potentially most exceptional president we’ve had in a very long time.  The third rail of American politics is no longer Social Security; it is the mere mention of  anything that even hints at American culpability or fallibility.  Is any wonder the rest of the world (of course, see even Vladimir Putin’s recent NY Times op-ed) sees us as arrogant idiots?

2012 Winter Games: Rutabaga Curling

This photograph, taken by an amateur photographer at the 2012 Winter Games in Sarver, PA, seems more than any other to encapsulate the glory and grandeur of the sport of Rutabaga Curling.  Featured in the same week on the covers of both Time and Sports Illustrated, it remains the single most downloaded image in the history of the internet, with more than 4 billion worldwide hits in the first 24 hours of its release alone.




With the 2012 curling target as backdrop, a young competitor strolls confidently down the courseway before her first curl.




Norwegian entrant Astrid Egeland carefully weighs the merits of the various rutabagas.  Scandinavian tradition holds that the length of the taproot is an important indicator of the tumbling properties of the vegetable:  a long-rooted tuber is said to roll as if it had “a weasel at its tail, and three donkeys on either side”.




The Amish, or Pennsylvania Dutch as they are sometimes known, have been masters of the various tuber sports for centuries.  While today’s “plain folk” have made some concessions to modernity (as in the nylon athletic trousers seen here), the traditional methods of curling they have practiced for centuries are still very much in evidence.  Note the delicate way this Amish curler holds his vegetable—as if it were a newborn baby, or one of the large dumplings favored by his people and known to them as “Möpsenpummelknödeln”.




The light Amish touch with the ‘baga is very much in evidence, as is the pleasure they take in the sport.  Contrary to the popular conception, they are not by nature a sober people, and will eagerly seize any opportunity for some light-hearted, good-natured jollity.




The Poles have long been noted for their serious approach to the game.  The khaki slacks, black-and-gold hat, and lime green blazer are typical of the colorful Polish sporting attire, and identify this athlete as coming from the vicinity of Bydgoszcz, a region with a long, proud tradition of producing champion curlers.  Here, a member of the Wisconsin team carefully studies the form of Polish Team Captain Wydzslaw Vorczynevich.




The Polish Captain performs the traditional pirczna, or “tuber dance”, inviting Wyrczynek, the patron saint of root vegetables, to begin his annual descent from the heavens.   A bountiful harvest in the following year is said to result if the dance is successful.




The French approach the sport of rutabaga curling with an almost instinctual Gallic flair.  Here, note the exuberant toe kick in the trailing foot of curler Michel Laframboise, and the irrepressible joie de vivre evident in his expression.




In stark contrast to his Gallic predecessor, the style of this American curler is honest, straightforward, and almost painfully direct.  He approaches the curl as he does the rest of his life:  there is a job to be done, and he means to set about doing it with a minimum of fuss.  The cap he wears, of a type favored by his countrymen, is his only apparent concession to style or grace, and even this is simple and unadorned.




Rutabaga Curling has held a place of honor in English sport ever since it was introduced by their Norman conquerers in the 11th century.  The British version of the game differs from its continental forebear only in the size of the vegetables used (a 1.5 kilo limit is strictly enforced in the U.K.!) and in the number of “faults” permitted before a curler is considered to have “niggled the line” and is therefore required to leave the field of play.




Diverse tubers seeking the same goal, the vegetables seen here clustered around the target betray no evidence of the national origins of their tossers.




Ambassadors of International Goodwill, the 2012 medalists smile for the cameras as they proudly display their winning rutabagas from the victory stand.  From l. to r.:  Michel Laframboise, Silver;  Levi Bockenstrecker, Gold;  Astrid Egeland, Bronze.




For more information on the illustrious sport of Rutabaga Curling, and its origins at the Ithaca, NY, Farmers Market, go to www.rutabagacurl.com.  Also see my other rutabaga curling posts: Rutabaga Madness and The Man with the Huge Oblong Rutabaga, which document the 2009 and 2o11 Ithaca tournaments.

15 Things You Can Do to Help Fight Global Warming

15 Things You Can Do to Help Fight Global Warming


(A poster in a bookstore–$16.95.  If I put it up in my kitchen, is that another one?)


Heads too large, and eyes too wide,
they crowd the fringes of a smiling sun.
A woman hangs her clothes on the line to dry,
and groups of children bicycle happily to nowhere.
Grandma helps Grandpa plant a tree,
while a man of some vague kind of color
is enthusiastically checking his tire pressure.
And everywhere, people are replacing light bulbs…

Thirteen: Try to think of as many novel ways to sequester carbon as possible. For example, old cereal boxes filled with wood chips can make an attractive and colorful display on an unused shelf. What if instead of taking your grass clippings to the curb, you just put them in your basement? Does the shredded tissue paper in the bottom of your pocket or purse REALLY need to be cleaned out? Don’t be afraid to be creative!

Fourteen: Invite your friends to a climate-change party, and offer a prize to the guest who can can catch the most methane molecules between their fingers. Collect the methane in carefully sealed bags, then mail it to the moon.


In 2007,
The former Junior Senator from the State of Illinois said
We can’t
solve global warming
because I fucking changed
the light bulbs in my house
It’s because of
something collective.

Now this was not
widely reported,
because the news media
did not want
to offend their audience
by repeating the word

but say what you will
about the man
who while forty-thousand people
marched their cardboard hearts
around the White House,
was golfing
in Florida
with a couple of oil and gas executives,
he was right about this:

In These Benighted States of America
we ain’t doin’ no fifteen things.
As long as half of the people
and half of the Congress
believe the lie
that it’s all a hoax
created by a conspiracy
involving Al Gore, and every scientist on the planet,
and Barack Obama’s Muslim Terrorist Socialist Kenyan grandmother
to take away their cars and their guns and their light bulbs—

we’re not going anywhere
but down.

So let me offer you one thing,
just one:

We can stop.

We can breathe.

We can listen,
if not to the Great Father in Washington
then to the One Mother
of us all.

We can walk that path
along the river;
down into the old woods,
to where the big basswood
blew over in that storm.
Collect the inner bark
like the Senecas did
and twist it into strands
like fine dark  hair;
plait the strands into braids,
then the braids to a rope,
strong and soft and supple,
then go find a man
named murdoch or koch
and use it to string him up
by his balls

—Steve Paisley, 2013


Note:  the Barack Obama quote is as reported in the Newsweek 2008 Special Election Project (link).

The thick black line

A thick black line goes right through my house
a darkness eating chairs, table, floor.
It splits the roof in two.
Looking out the window, I can see it running off, over the hills
heading straight for Buffalo,
across Lake Erie
and beyond.
a vast shadow
in the shape of a woman
covers the Western plains

Another interpretation here.