Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Thu Feb 03, 2011 8:26 pm 
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Ogdan Nash's

Baltimore

[This poem was originally published in the March, 1957 issue of Hoiliday magazine,
with black and white photographs by Slim Aarons. These are not Aaron's original photos.]

I stammer when I attempt to speak
Of Baltimore on the Chesapeake
For twenty years a Baltimorean,
I'm like a tightrope terpsichorean;
I fear for my footing as I waltz
Between its virtues and its faults.
Uncertain of the course I'm steering,
Since most of its faults are so endearing.
You might call Baltimore akin
To the genuine diamondback terrapin.
It knows, like a hard-shelled conservative,
That its way is the only way to live.
Deliberate, stubborn, sedate, ingrown,
It walks slowly and walks alone,
And it has the terrapin's unique flavor
That only those raised on it can savor.

Travelers passing through the town
Have a way of getting the citizens down,
They arouse irritation deep inside of them,
A burning resentment under the hide of them,
They halt the flow of the citizens' pepsin,
They can't talk without getting the little white steps in,
They may roam from the home of the Star-Spangled Banner
To the rolling fields of My Lady's Manor,
But somehow, no matter where they have been,
Those little white steps are all they have seen.
Even Baltimore's patience wears thin in time,
This cliché is today a local crime,
And friend, if you mention little white steps
You're considered criminis particeps.

It might be worth while to compile a list
Of sights the little white stepophiles missed.
Tradition cannot withstand expansion,
The parking lot swallows the fine old mansion,
Progress is prowling everywhere,
But hasn't set foot in Mount Vernon Square,
Where the sweetly proportioned houses stand,
Patrician and proud as their builders planned.
You should see in that afternoon in May
When the snarling traffic is held at bay,
And the square becomes an island apart,
And the town turns out for the Flower Mart.
Even manholes open astonished lids
At the riotous rainbow of blossoms and kids.

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Mount Vernon Square

You don't need a calendar when you're living
In Baltimore city to know it's Thanksgiving.
Any native son would arouse from a coma
At a whiff of the holiday aroma
Which Thanksgiving is not Thanksgiving without,
The fragrance of turkey and saurkraut.
Out in the country the riders rally
At St. John's Church in the Worthington Valley,
The hunting crowd in their coats of pink
(Why so called when they're red I cannot think)
To seek, on religious and sporting bounds,
A blessing on them and on their hounds.
For the fox there is no equivalent service,
The fox is justifiably nervous,
As he sharpens his wits for the ultimate test,
Spontaneous, unrehearsed, unblessed.

April produces the Maryland Huint,
A bruising chase with no fox in front,
Four miles over murderous timber fence
Where the gentlemen riders forget they are gents;
No quarter asked, no quarter given,
As bones and fences alike are riven,
No one helps anybody up
In the heeadlong race for the storied cup.

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Some people succeed in avoiding horses
In spite of Baltimore's three racecourses.
There's a sporting event that for true uniqueness
Easily tops the glamorous Preakness,
Or Menuhin racing against Iturbi;
It's the great Johns Hopkins turtle Derby.
Young doctors as well as medical students
Are condemned perforce to financial prudence,
So the mutuels do not operate
As their entries crawl to the starting gate;
They preserve the aplomb of Roman Consuls,
And instead of money, they bet their tonsils.

Even crabbed misogynistic churls
Succumb to the ravishing Baltimore girls.
I believe in the city's population
Are the fewest bachelors in the nation.
A stroll on Charles Street on Easter Day,
Or when the lindens flower in May,
Or after church on a Sunday morn
Will weaken the hardiest bachelor born.
The homeliest men, near Chesapeake waters,
Have the knack of fathering lovely daughters.
This is specially easy to remember
Come the first Monday in December.
Though bachelors be but one in a million
There remains the Bachelors' Cotillon,
An institution immemorial,
Imposing, yet delicately pictorial,
Where the debutantes like fresh gardenias
Are presented formally to their seniors.
You could write an endless panegyric
On the spectacle in the ancient Lyric.
The boxes and state are mixed displays
Of elderly kinfolk and bright bouquets,
While the floor below is a dazzling sight
With the gay young girls in sheerest white,
Whose partners, stately and stiff as starch,
Escort them through the intricate march.
It's white and black and regal as ermine
The promenade at the Monday German.

Now a few other Baltimore characteristics
Not found in Government statistics.
The tip of the South and the toe of the North,
It constantly teeters back and forth.
Despite industry's inroads on its leisure,
It can always find the time for pleasure.
Alien habits are here reversed,
People read the Sunpapers back page first,
Since the local items are there unfurled,
While the front page just prints news of the world.

The wealthy run up large bills at Hutzler's,
In their homes they have maids and footmen and butzlers,
Yet unostentation is their choice;
In all of the town there's but one Rolls-Royce.
The Symphony dies each spring as expected,
And every fall is resurrected.
In the Midwest basketball is a menace,
In California the kids play tennis,
In China I'm told they are mad for joss sticks,
But here the boys are born to lacrosse sticks,
And here are the crab and here the juleps,
And the Sherwood Gardens ablaze with tulips.

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One puzzle neglected in all the books
Is the shopping bags of the daily cooks.
At eve in Guilford and Roland Park
They wait for the bus in the growing dark,
Each with a bag she never brought,
Stuffed with items she never bought,
And yet through Roland Park and Guilford
Nothing is missing, nothing pilfered.
I confess my imagination lags
At the mystery of the shopping bags.

Three years have died since circumstance
..................removed me from my residence,
So I recount my memories with diffidence
..................and hesitance.
For errors and omissions your forgiveness
..................I implore;
I could not love New York so much loved
..................I not Baltimore.

_________________
©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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