Portraits by Harry Confusio

While I was AWOL and not posting these last several weeks, the 94 year-old Harry Confusio (HC) continued sending me his portraits. The last one from March is of  Robert Stephenson (1803-59).



Stephenson’s dad, George, was known as the “father of railroads” partly because his railroad gauge, at 4’8”, is the standard, conventional one around the world. It is sometimes referred to as Stephenson gauge.

George’s son carried on the the family tradition of excellent engineering by building some of England’s most important bridges of the 19th Century.  His earliest bridge is the High Level Bridge in Newcastle, England. Watchers of the BBC crime detective tv series Vera can sometimes see the High Level Bridge in the background. Here’s a 19th century depiction of it.



Stephenson’s Royal Border Bridge is misnamed since it does not cross from England into Scotland; it ends about 15,000 feet short of reaching the border. It has 28 arches, and I believe it is a fine example of human stamina in the face of bewildering tediousness. Those poor stone workers! But a view from the Tweed River makes it an example of architectural tranquility and fortitude.



Stephenson completed many other projects, and he is often called the greatest engineer of the 19th century. That judgment is premature. But that is another story.


My Ride in an Ambulance

On Friday last, at about 4:30 p.m., I was riding my lawnmower, cutting the grass for the first time this season. I drive a Toro Time Cutter Z4200, which looks like this:

lawn mower

Note the two handles: they control all movement. Push the two forward, and the mower goes forward. The further forward, the faster the mower. Push one forward and the mower turns. Pull both backward, and the mower backs up. I’m told that army tanks use these same bars for navigation.

This driving design affords a lot of fun for  the driver.  As lawn mowers go, this mower  is fast, so fast that sometimes I lose my hat in the rush of oncoming wind; and it turns on a dime, a perfect 180. The term for this maneuver, I believe, is a zero turn.

Zero-turn mowers give me the illusion that I am riding a horse–even though I have never sat on a horse except when I was five and my native city, Hoboken NJ, sponsored pony rides for five-year-olds. On the Toro, I feel like I’m on a horse because I can ride toward something and then quickly turn to see what’s behind me while I let the mower modulate between angles, the way Silver does when the Lone Ranger stops and looks backward on a hill.

So, I’m speeding through my task, racing through the flat parts of my acreage. Then I move to the side of the house, under the great firs. Here I go more slowly. There are high weeds and steep inclines, but after 30 minutes or so, I’m done.

While I’m having all this fun on my gas-driven horse, my wife is cutting grass in front of the house with a push mower. Her task is far greater than mine because she is cutting grass on the same steep incline. It’s all about the legs, and it’s difficult.  In this spot, beside the road way, the rider mower is too risky. The spot has to be done by push mower. But I decide that I will ease her burden by going to a spot directly behind the house.

We have a back porch, and between that porch and the flat area I have already mowed, there is what we call ‘the shelf’. This is a space about 15′ by 40′. And it stands above the flat area about four feet, with a very sharp decline. This is the area I decide to cut so that she doesn’t have to, and it’s already been cut once this season. The edge is tall with weeds and high grass, so after I get the lawn part managed, I attack the edge, going along it sideways, with my left front and back wheels at the edge.

When I realized the front wheels were dangerously perched, I tried to back up. On a zero-turn mower, however, backing up is often  like doing a circle in reverse. The back wheel became dangerous. With both wheels too far over, the edge of dirt gave way,  and the entire mower went down.

Not simply down, but down and over. It all occurred in slow motion. Although I knew I wasn’t about to die, I feared for a normal life. But I was never in very much danger since the blades had an automatic cut-off. And, besides, the blades were well above me.  My hands were holding on to the tank bars; thus, my face was the first thing to hit the ground. The mower, perhaps 300 lbs, landed on top of me. I was down, and I could hardly think straight. My eyes were a little foggy.

My wife, who btw is a saint for loving such an one as I for 35 years (!), told me later something very funny. Pushing the hand mower, she saw me on the shelf. She pushed another few feet, looked for me again. and I had vanished. She thought the worst possible scenario (a habit she developed raising our five children) and she was almost right.

I was under the mower, blood was pouring out of my forehead and nose, and I was moaning. Two of our sons happened to be home and she called to one of them to summon 911. The other son came running, and with the adrenaline one hears about in stories about collapsed houses and accidents during a car tire change, my son managed to lift the mower off of me and on to its four wheels. The other son, having completed his emergency call, came with a wet towel to wipe my face.

The boys helped me climb to the shelf and walk to the porch, and we awaited the ambulance with cold compresses on my forehead.

I did not have a concussion; the foggy eyes after the fall, I now attribute to the change of what I was viewing. I went from a long distant view of the yard to a close up of blades of grass.

The ambulance arrived and looked something like this generic ambulance:


It may have been a bit more silvery, but the emergency guys wore an insignia celebrating my small town.



Police arrived. Altogether there may have been seven persons in the rescue team, which I don’t think a plurality. The cops–county sheriffs, I think–were there to make sure a crime hadn’t been committed. And the medical emergency folks were there to give aid.

They went through the necessary questions about pain and dizziness. The one leader must have asked me my date of birth ten times. (I joked with my sons by imitating an ad that often appeared on televised Packer games. The concussed qb asks someone, “You wanna take a ride on my Batmobile?”)

One thing I was amused by was the latex gloves. I have watched enough CSIs and NCISs to expect that the medical gloves would be blue or white. Somers’ people used gloves that were Halloween orange. Orange! How cool is that?

In any case, my blood pressure, taken three times between when the medics arrived at my house and when I arrived at the hospital, varied significantly from first to third. My blood sugar was poked several times (I am a diabetic). It altered a little bit between departure and arrival.

The ride in the ambulance was strange. My caretaker was very solicitous and kept me occupied and awake, and I was intrigued by all the gadgets and medical aids. But what really surprised me about the ambulance ride was the counter-intuitive feeling of regression that one has. I was being carried forward by the ambulance, but I was looking out the back window. My wife was directly behind us, but I felt strange and dislocated by the roads we passed, all of which I was keenly aware of. I had never seen those houses and stores and gas stations from this angle before. It was unnerving.

The sheriff’s men and the medics were, in the final analysis, wonderful, caring, professionals.

At the hospital, the emergency workers dealt with me with aplomb. My GP happened to be on call (Dr. Neil Shepler, a man with an enormous sense of humor), and he came to the ER and gave me his prescription, which I reproduce here: prescription

Except for some bruises and a few scrapes, I’m doing fine.

Like a kid and a fire-engine, I feel delighted that I had an ambulance ride without any major debilitations or repercussions.

A Poem I Like

If male poets expect women and trangenders to appreciate the male voice, the least men can do is read women poets and transgender poets even at their most intimate. This poem that I chose to snip from POETRY magazine (I plead fair usage) is by  Gioconda Belli, a Nicaraguan poet with an enormous sense of humor. Her work includes novels and memoirs, but I like her poems best.




So far,

all over the world,

women have survived it.

Perhaps it was that our grandmothers were stoic

or, that back then, they weren’t entitled to complain,

still they reached old age

wilting bodies

but strong souls.

Now, instead,

dissertations are written on the subject.

As early as thirty agony sets in,

Foretelling the catastrophe.


A body is much more than the sum of its hormones.

Menopausal or not

a woman remains a woman,

beyond the production of secretions or eggs.

To miss a period does not imply the loss of syntax

or coherence;

it shouldn’t lead to hiding

as a snail in a shell,

nor provoke endless brooding.

If  depression sets in

it won’t be a new occurrence,

each menstrual cycle has come to us with tears

and its load of irrational anger.

There is no reason, then,

to feel devalued:

Get rid of  tampons

and sanitary napkins!

Use them to light a bonfire in your garden!

Be naked

Dance the ritual of aging

And survive

Like so many

Before you.


Tuesdays are for Soup

Chicken and Bean Soup


2 tbs olive oil

1 large onion, diced

3 cups diced chicken breast

4 carrots, thin round slices

6 cups broth

1 can navy beans, rinsed

1 cup brown rice

1 tbs minced garlic

2 tbs ground sage


Sauté onion in olive oil for ten mins. or so, stirring regularly. (Best in a Dutch oven.)

Add chicken. If raw, brown all sides.

Add carrots. Stir several times.

Add broth and bring to boil.

Lower to simmer. Then add beans. Stir.

After five mins., add rice. bring to a boil.

Lower. Add garlic and sage. Stir.

Cover pot and place in the oven at 290 degrees.




A Picture I Like

Still Life (1975) by Fairfield Porter

One of the things I like best about the work of Fairfield Porter is his sense of everydayness. Stuff on a table  after a meal is as fine a subject for  a masterpiece as face of a 16th century princess.

Porter was part of a New York crowd that included a number of poets who devoted their work to the everydayness of life: Jimmy Schuyler, Frank O’Hara and John Ashbery among others less known. O’Hara’s most famous poem places a compellingly sad moment in the context of the humdrum pleasures of N.Y. C. It’s about the death of Billie Holiday.


The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
                                                        I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing.

Porter’s New York crowd included many New York avant garde painters such as  Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.

Elaine de Kooning painted a marvelous portrait of Porter:

Fairfield Porter (1957) by Elaine de Kooning

Bruce MacEvoy has a wonderful essay on Porter right here.

Final Jeopardy: The Last Joke (for the weak!)

The parish priest stops Brian on the street and asks how he managed to get so drunk the night before.

“Well, Father,” says Brian. “I won a bottle of whiskey in a raffle, and then I fell in with some bad company.”

“Bad company? Weren’t you with Jim Murphy, Aedan Clark, and Sean Joyce?”

“Yes, father. Bad company.”

“Brian, not one of those men drinks.”

“Yes, father. That’s what I mean. Bad company.”