By Andrea Scarpino
After watching the US women’s soccer team battle Japan through 90 minutes of World Cup finals play; after watching 30 minutes of tense overtime; after watching the US lose in penalty kicks; after their disappointment; after Japan’s jubilation; finally, I remembered Title IX.
Title IX, which amended the earlier Civil Rights Act of 1964, was enacted in 1972. While it has broader implications for education than sports participation, it’s often associated with women’s sports and the advancement of women in sporting arenas. All of the US players in this World Cup grew up with Title IX protection, meaning that their access to and participation in sports was, in theory at least, guaranteed by US Law.
And all of the women in this World Cup were fiercely athletic. They ran for hours on end, strategized with one another, pushed and shoved and tripped opponents when they needed to. They jumped crazy high, moved their bodies in crazy shapes. They got injured. They cried. They showed that all that is a part of the game, of pushing a woman’s body harder and longer than people would have thought possible even fifty years ago. Even twenty years ago, when the first Women’s World Cup was played.
Take Abby Wambach. Broad shouldered. Inches taller than most other players. Intense. She runs at the ball with her head, runs full-speed at other players. She looks fearless. Take Hope Solo. Stunningly attractive, long-haired—in many ways, stereotypically feminine. And tall. Muscular. Stunningly tough. I’ve read that she suffers from near-constant shoulder pain, and yet, she throws the ball over her head like it’s no big deal. Dives to the ground without flinching. She looks fearless.
I’m not an athlete in any sense of the word. When my friends were playing sports growing up, I was medically exempt from gym class, a person with disabilities struggling to walk without pain. But in my early 30s, I realized that I could push my body to run for hours, do incredibly hard yoga, weight lift. I realized that exercise made me feel good, physically and mentally, realized that “You’re strong” is an incredible compliment.
And my participation in athletics, while trivial compared to most, is also a product of Title IX. Because of Title IX’s success, it’s more societally acceptable for women to be athletic and strong, to get sweaty and grass-stained, fall to the ground. To be muscular. To scream across a field at one another. Because of Title IX’s success, I can choose from a plethora of sports bras and sports tanks, a plethora of shoes in my size. I can enter myself in marathons officially (only 40 years ago, women were denied entry in the famous Boston Marathon). I can be vocal about exercise. I can watch a group of women unabashedly announce their desire to win. Unabashedly play to win. And even when they come in second place, I can stand amazed at their accomplishment.
Poet and essayist Andrea Scarpino is a frequent contributor to POTB. You can visit her at:
A friend calls, says, “Bartleby the Scrivener” is a “one trick pony”--and this is a compliment. I throw a log on the fire: “Heart of Darkness” is also a one trick pony. Then I tell my pal a dirty joke having to do with the tricks a lawyer’s dog can do. Just two old friends on the phone, both laughing at the sheer improbability of being sentient, upright beings when the evolutionary numbers are against us. We suspect we won’t come back in these forms. We talk about a man who drowned this week while trying to save his buddy who couldn’t swim--this man saved his friend and died in the process. There is such sweetness behind each unassuming human gesture. One trick pony. I felt like weeping in the middle of the afternoon. Took my dog for a walk in the New Hampshire woods. A single Phoebe was calling from a stand of birches.
The pony comes out of the trees, his single trick? He wants to be one of us.
Well I am in New Hampshire, my "home state" as we like to say in North America as if by saying so the effects of deracination will be ameliorated. I've lived in Helsinki, Finland, New York, Ohio, and twice in Iowa with a brief sojourn to North Carolina all of which is to say that I have no proper place that "feels" like home unless its New Hampshire where I lived as a boy until I was nearly old enough to shave and where I own a summer cabin or "camp" as they call these places hereabouts.
My house is currently undergoing sonstruction and lots of it. The contractor is building two new decks that wrap around the house. In turn the house sits high on a hillside on the north slope of Rattlesnake Island on Lake Winniepasaukee. It is a treacherous place for a house and a helluva spot to dig and pour footings. So my house is currently not a place of rest. Lucky for me my sister is here and she lives on an adjacent island and I was able to escape to her house. Now, two hot water heters and a toilet repiar later I'm back at my computer.
These summer houses decay like Miss Havisham's wedding cake. They are quietly infested with spiders and the pipes and electrical wires and associated fitings go bad after several winters and consequently you arrive to discover that things are not wht they seem. And you spend two or three days on shore at Lowes getting to know the difference between a Moen shower fixture and a Symmons Temptrol and of course you learn that the parts for either one ae rare. Oh so rare! Then you go back to the island only to dscover that the toilet and the hot water heaters have blown. So you're back to Lowes. "Soon I shall relax," you say, as if magical thinking can take the place of rational suspicion--you will spend your precious time making flanges and flaps and pissant, Little Bo Beep Gizmos work or by God you will gnaw a pine tree clear through.
I wave my plumber's helper skyward. I talk to myself. Picture me as Klaus Kinski on that raft with all the monkeys. There are no monkeys here. But there are spiders. And loons. And the loons are very beautiful when you're not repaiing the pipes.
The Dalia Lama once said that if he had to come back again he's like to be an American house cat. I should prefer to be a loon.
I am, among other things, a pagan-Episcopalian which means I'm really Lutheran and of Finnish heritage--so I like my religious life to be polite and yet, in secret I have these rituals that I can't disclose in general company but heck, this is a blog and hardly anyone reads it anyway so here goes:
Every year I return to a lake in New Hampshire and kiss a certain rock that lives under water. I swear there's nothing lurid about this. The rock and I are composed of the same things and we are stolid in our affection for this lake, this sky, planet, universe--and my rock and I find each other though I can't really see because my skin and bones know how to find the place.
& I dive down and kiss the rock, my legs kicking madly to hold me at depth.
The lake is nowadays being "taken over" by the wealthy. My little cabin is a hold out among the neuveau trophy lodges of the Marriottsand the Romneys and the like.
"Well," I tell myself, "MItt Romney doesn't have a rock like this. My rock speaks old Finnish and knows the sorcerer poet Vainamoinen personally."
There are, after all, other kinds of wealth.
Hei, Kivi! Sinut poika tulee!
(Hey Rock! Your boy is coming!)
I was imagining what it would be like to have entirely new teeth because I received an e-mail from the local dental school announcing free dentistry if you’re willing to let dental students work on you. I have crooked teeth because when I was 11 or 12 years old I pitched a fit and refused to return to the orthodontist who was essentially preparing me for braces. I suffered from excruciating headaches owing to my blindness and nervous tension and my mother, sensing that I was already feeling overwhelmed by life decided that I should have my wish and live with crooked teeth.
So I was pondering what it would be like to have a Hollywood, big league American smile and then I started to think about all the other middle aged miseries: the tennis elbow; the gravitational effects of aging flesh; flat feet; creeping double chin; hammer toes; cholesterol; evident hearing loss; political cynicism; nostalgia for nickel candy—I was suddenly awash in the physical and psychological spindrift of middle age and there wasn’t any Diet Coke in the refrigerator.
I was right to choose crooked teeth. I will not invest a dime in the Normalcy Industrial Complex.
Man, am I glad I got that out of the way.
It’s good to be restored to a semblance of sanity. I think that instead of getting my teeth fixed I will go inside a stone like the poet Charles Simic. I will admire the Brailled star charts on the stone’s inner walls.
He’s running for president of the afterlife
& so the dead press corps follows him. ,
Someone asks: "If elected, what will you do about Karma?"
He says that he understands Karma has always been a problem
& the goal of course is to put everybody on the same playing field, etc.,
But the government of the dead shouldn’t get involved with these entitlements,
It’s more a market based matter, skinny souls squeezing through the portals
Of rebirth, like floating lilies pushed by wind. Etc.
"But aren't you worried, sir," asks a particuarly dead reporter,
That perceived inaction on Karma
Will negatively impact dead Viking land values?"
Before I was a sentient being I was the sentient rain. I won’t kid you: the intelligence of water falling is the pearl of consciousness and there’s no proper wording for this. You can go ahead and talk to yourself: whisper "Hermes Trismegistus" under your breath, throw Latin around—"spiritus mundi" or "illud tempus" (your lips moving as you push the grocery cart past a display of household cleansers). You can be assured that the man behind you with the cart filled with charcoal and lighter fluid is not aware of your misfit mysticism in aisle five at Sam’s Club.
I was the sentient rain and then the sentient stone and today I will carry home the ashes of our beloved black Labrador Roscoe and I will place them beside the ashes of my guide dog Corky and the ashes of my wife Connie’s beloved dog Tasha and I will share, privately, lips moving, some shy, unadulterated heart to heart doggy gibberish with my friends who are falling forever through the pearl of consciousness impelled by the forces of love.
The spindrift syllables of rain are in the ashes and flesh. Try to get out of that. The unconscious and the carbon molecule are all the same. Try to get out of that? It can't be done.
Essay: Painting Flowers
On a clear, October morning in 1960 I was hammering scraps of wood because I believed with sufficient attention I might actually build a lobster trap. That’s the kind of child I was. Seeing only colors I knew myself to be altogether impractical.
The idea of practicality is antithetical to the actions of the soul. "Take this in remembrance of me," said Jesus, handing his disciples nothing more than torn bread. No wonder the New England Puritans ran away from this Anglican-Catholic rite.
If you worship practicality you will not get fed sufficiently. You will make sturdy furniture and you will vigorously elaborate a culture that despises young people.
Young people are always trying to taste things they don’t properly understand. That’s a fact.
"This is my blood, drink this in remembrance of me."
Belief is impractical if you allow it to remain so.
This is a fragment from one of my notebooks--of a poem, left unfinished, written in 1982.
I was living alone in Finland at the time. I woke early one morning and in my blindness and delirium thought I was seeing a corpse hanging from a tree.
I make out the thin figure of a corpse in the upper limbs, "the color of horn." I’m alone, gritty with sleep, I make him out. The frozen Shape of a man/who has a thirst for leaves. He flourishes as I wake. Given that – "we tread bounds in a region of frost, viewing the frost." The "we" is what I am. And still, the frost (??)
I make out the thin figure
of a corpse in the upper limbs,
"the color of horn."
I’m alone, gritty with sleep,
I make him out. The frozen
Shape of a man/who has a thirst
for leaves. He flourishes
as I wake.
Given that –
"we tread bounds in a region of frost,
viewing the frost."
The "we" is what I am. And still, the frost
I was thinking of Wallace Stevens. I was lonely and seeing things incorrectly.
I was also impractical: seeing that man as the tree itself and not as a figure of betrayal.
That is the essence of faith whether you have the vocabulary for it or not.
The aesthetic economy is no small thing. A true story: someone introduced cats to a French village where formerly there were no cats and those cats ate the mice. In turn the bees flourished. (Mice eat bees, particularly in winter.)
The bees pollinated in greater numbers.
The flowers were beyond description.
Then Monet painted them.
Monet, who could scarcely see…
Not very long ago I heard a boy jumping on discarded bedsprings on a Chicago sidewalk. He was making a stripped down music from solitude and trash. It was the song of a woodcutter’s axe in the empty woods. He saw me listening. He noticed my guide dog. He sensed an audience. He threw everything he had into making rare music with ruined steel coils and shoes. He was releasing invisible spirits into the morning air of Wabash. Avenue. The music grew out of his blood. I’m guessing that if you’re a sighted person you’d have driven right on by. Or maybe you’d have crossed to the other side of the street if you had been walking there. But I heard the maddened dancing for five full minutes before moving on.
At first I thought the effect was obscene. He was simply calling out the furtive and metallic protests of forgotten trysts. I thought of a bordello in the wild west. I laughed at the salty bravado of the performance. Then I saw flashes of light. The coils were rising and compressing in timed measures. My blind eyes could just make out the glint of his instruments. In turn I began to listen to what this dancer was really doing.
The broken springs flashed like the undersides of leaves.
I was like a sailor on a distant ship. I could see the maritime flash of his lantern.
In turn I saw that his bed springs were tuned in harmony with the sky and the local trees.
The dancer was saying all kinds of things.
His feet were rattling and whistling.
I’d never heard anything like this before.
The dancer was offering his ragged memories to the damp air of the street.
The dancer was offering his ragged memories to the damp air of the street.
I saw the sparks and heard the 16th notes; the 8th notes; the sparks of his dance dropped like stones from a bridge…
I was feeling lucky just then, alone with my guide dog, the two of us having been on an ordinary walk.
A gold leaf was spinning down. A red maple leaf was floating on water. Flashes of sun ran across the June river.
The dancer’s shoulders and hips dipped and high notes leapt all around him.
He was dancing at the epicenter of the early light—that overcast sun that always hangs in the mornings above Lake Michigan
Then he was in an island of trees. Low notes came suddenly, the notes were signifying a bent path. The way forward was harder for some reason. The dance had taken a darker turn. I could tell this was now a steep narrative. Somehow he’d figured out how to make the springs sound like a tuba. Then he made the metal groan like a cello.
And then hammers were flying. Again there were sparks of light from the bed. The high notes came like whale songs from some migratory coast.
For a moment I thought about Marsilio Ficino, the Renaissance man of letters who remarked that “beauty is just shapes and sounds”. Hearing the Chicago
Johnny Nolan has a patch on his ass
Kids chase him
O I had that thing—
Patch on the ass,
Guaze-y S.O.S. dangling
Like a fig,
Stain on the world--
& the kids who ate dirt
Dog in the manger;
Patch on the ass;
& God have mercy—
Running for your life
Just that once
To cut out
Into stray eternity;
Morse code in your head;
Patch on the ass;
Patch on the ass;
& street lights coming on.