Through glass window pane
Up a modern office block
I saw, two floors below, on wide-jutting
Concrete canopy a mango seedling newly sprouted
Purple, two-leafed, standing on its burst
Black yolk. It waved brightly to sun and wind
Between rains—daily regaling itself
On seed-yams, prodigally.
For how long?
How long the happy waving
From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus?
How long the feast on remnant flour
At pot bottom?
Perhaps like the widow
Of infinite faith it stood in wait
For the holy man of the forest, shaggy-haired
Powered for eternal replenishment.
Or else it hoped for Old Tortoise’s miraculous feast
On one ever recurring dot of cocoyam
Set in a large bowl of green vegetables—
These days beyond fable, beyond faith?
Then I saw it
Poised in courageous impartiality
Between the primordial quarrel of Earth
And Sky striving bravely to sink roots
Into objectivity, mid-air in stone.
“We wanted a book review worthy of its subject, in which writers we admired—and who agreed with us that books were the ongoing critique, the sine qua non of civilization— would have a place to write at adequate length for readers like themselves and us.”—Jason Epstein on the founding of The New York Review
“These arbitrary cuts are exactly the opposite of what the economy needs both in the short run, and—if the promised $1 trillion in further cuts over ten years is made—in the long term.”—Jeff Madrick, The Sequester’s Hidden Danger
“The strangest experience of my early tenure at The New York Review involved one of our most widely read pieces of that time. Mark Danner had gotten hold of the confidential Red Cross report on torture of detainees by the CIA, and we were scrambling to go to press with the first of his pieces describing its contents. No one knew that we had this, and there was genuine worry that our phones and e-mails would be monitored and that we’d all be hauled in for treason. Bob wanted to give an advance version of the story to The New York Times, but didn’t want to send it over e-mail. What to do? Of course: send the intern! I was given cab money and a folder containing the article in a paper bag. I met the Times editorial page editor on a street corner in Union Square, where he’d been waiting in the rain, as directed, under a black umbrella. “I feel like Deep Throat,” he said. It was an exciting piece of spycraft, whether it was necessary or not. A few months at The New York Review and there I was, leaking torture memos. Somehow, this scene didn’t make it into Zero Dark Thirty.”—Andrew Martin on his time as an intern at the Review.
“We value great art most fundamentally not because the art as product enhances our lives but because it embodies a performance, a rising to artistic challenge. We value human lives well lived not for the completed narrative, as if fiction would do as well, but because they too embody a performance: a rising to the challenge of having a life to lead. The final value of our lives is adverbial, not adjectival—a matter of how we actually lived, not of a label applied to the final result. It is the value of the performance, not anything that is left when the performance is subtracted. It is the value of a brilliant dance or dive when the memories have faded and the ripples died away.”—From “What Is a Good Life?” by philosopher and longtime New York Review contributor Ronald Dworkin, who died on February 14 at the age of 81
“The world is so big, so complicated, so replete with marvels and surprises that it takes years for most people to begin to notice that it is, also, irretrievably broken. We call this period of research ‘childhood.’”—Michael Chabon, on Wes Anderson’s Worlds
“No one needs better health care more than the South, but it fights it off so long as Obama is offering it, its governors turning down funds for Medicaid. This is a region that rejects sex education, though its rate of teenage pregnancies is double and in places triple that of New England. It fights federal help with education, preferring to inoculate its children against science by denying evolution. No part of the country will suffer the effects of global warming earlier or with more devastation than the South, yet its politicians resist measures to curb carbon emissions and deny the very existence of climate change.… The South has decided to be defeated and dumb.”—Garry Wills, Dumb America
“Great writers are either husbands or lovers. Some writers supply the solid virtues of a husband: reliability, intelligibility, generosity, decency. There are other writers in whom one prizes the gifts of a lover, gifts of temperament rather than of moral goodness.”—Susan Sontag, The Ideal Husband, 1963.
Martin Gardner had this to say of the legendary physicist back in 1988: “He is already a legend, not just because of his brilliant contributions to theoretical physics, but also for his courage, optimism, and humor in the face of a crippling illness. Lou Gehrig’s disease may be gnawing away at his body, but it has left his mind intact.”
“It’s hard to explain to people who don’t live here what further escalation means to the people of Sderot, and the surrounding region, what it means to live in a war zone constantly. It’s easier to endure three weeks of war than to survive a never-ending conflict. It’s the continuum, the passing years, the cumulative experience, the resurfacing anxieties, the trauma with no post-trauma.”—Nomika Zion, in a letter to Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu she wrote during the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip in November. She is the founder of Migvan and member of a grassroots organization of citizens from Sderot who call for a nonviolent solution to the ongoing conflict.
“One measure of how complicated Egyptian politics has become is that hardly anyone was surprised by the outcome of the constitutional referendum in late December. Amid the largest anti-government protests since the 2011 revolution, and following defections from his own cabinet and supporters, President Mohamed Morsi orchestrated a 64 percent approval vote for a new constitution. It had been hastily drawn up by his political allies and subjected to withering criticism; and there was low voter turnout and widespread indications of tampering. Nonetheless, the result seemed to show that, for all the millions of Egyptians who have lost patience with the new leadership, there are many others who continue to crave stability, even if the price is another authoritarian government.”—Yasmine El Rashidi, Egypt: Whose Constitution?
“The strenuous debate between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner over how to stave off the $700 billion or so of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled for 2013 is obscuring a larger and far more disturbing issue: whichever way the negotiations go, the result will be slow economic growth next year at best, and possibly outright recession.”—Jeff Madrick, Either Way We’re Going Over the Cliff
“It might be useful to distinguish between pleasure and joy. But maybe everybody does this very easily, all the time, and only I am confused. A lot of people seem to feel that joy is only the most intense version of pleasure, arrived at by the same road—you simply have to go a little further down the track. That has not been my experience.”—Zadie Smith on joy
“The horror of Newtown cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch.”—Garry Wills, Our Moloch
“In days like ours when help can still mean ruin and saving mean slaying, when evil and horrible acts can be given wrong names—”redevelopment” for people losing their homes, “defoliation” for forests and fields blasted with poison—a book which sharpens a sense of words, their power and proper meaning, is to be praised. For all the excesses of the Tolkien cult, there could be many a worse one.”—Janet Adam Smith explains the enduring appeal of J.R.R. Tolkien’s fictional world, from our December 14, 1972 issue.
“Furniture lay on the street in soggy, reeking heaps—the pathetically intimate sight of defiled mattresses and stuffed chairs mixed with mounds of foam, roof shingles, Halloween decorations, and soaked, grease-streaked insulation. Groups of people waited in ankle-high puddles for buses that seemed never to arrive. Here was a drowned cat, there a pit bull with flaming eyes chained to a wrinkled Ford. ‘We Shoot Looters’ read the sign on a house protected by a barricade of storm-mangled cars.”—Michael Greenberg returns to the Rockaways, where he grew up, a week after Hurricane Sandy hit.