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BOOKS & THE CULTURE Travels through Britannica On my way to insanity, I stop off in India, visit its ornithology, the mynah, a member of the starling family, which “lives contentedly in a cage and talks well.” Now there’s a metaphor for some folks I know. Walking its streets at night, turning a dark corner, I run into the Inquisition, its mucus strictus or deepest dungeon, where the heretics were fed bread and water, a death sentence. Did some time there myself in the late sixties. Insanity just pages away. I am trying to learn all I can about dementia which put my mother in Holiday Care, where she eats little more than bread and water, hot tea with lemon, when they remember to bring the lemon. How the Moon Is Made Take the skulls of the Civil War dead, your Johnny Reb and your Yankee. Mix in what was left after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pick up the German skulls outside Stalingrad and the Russian inside Leningrad. Don’t forget the two million Vietnamese skulls whose flesh went up in napalm, in clusters of cluster bombs, and the Iraqi children who go screaming into their skulls, starving for morphine. This is the montage we call the Man in the Moon. This is the dark side. This is the matriarch of our tides. Empty Boxes My mother’s collection of empty boxes offends my sister. None of my sister’s boxes made it into my mother’s collection. Boxes that contained robes, blouses, sweaters, pajamas, all tossed, thrown out, rejected. Boxes that contained cheap candies, sweet perfumes and powders, soaps and shampoos, all saved, all from her daughter-in-law. In these, my mother stored her love, her deepest sorrows, her sense of betrayal in the farthest corners of her closets that my sister now cleans out. Hidden from View Behind the moon, Saturn is hidden from view, occulted. Strain as you might, you cannot see the Saturn of your own life, those beautiful rings, sapphire, ruby, diamond, blocked by lunacy, craters, dust. RONALD F. SMITS Ronald F. Smits teaches English at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and lives in Ford City, Pennsylvania. His work has appeared in Poetry East, Radical Teacher, The Southern Review, and Wilderness. I was struck, reading his four compact poems, by how immediately and powerfully a poem may transport us to another place entirely. One feels a wide and thoughtful sensibility at work here nothing extra, no frills or clutter. How much dust gets in the way of such sharp sight every single day? Naomi Shihab Nye The Observer’s poetry page is partially funded through a grant from the Austin Writers’ League, in cooperation with the Texas Commission on the Arts. FEBRUARY 19, 1999 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER