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Maple Will Break: The Complete Story Behind Baseball’s Broken Bat Dilemma

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Wood Bat Origins

For over 100 years, the lumber of bats has been crafted from Northern White Ash, a wood that is durable, flexible, and instantly recognizable; but in the 21st Century, the advent of maple bats has quite literally altered the playing field. The recurrence of injuries resulting from broken bats in 2008 culminated in a controversy that changed the game of baseball through the modification of its rulebook’s bat specifications. These new regulations forced the production of higher quality bats that break less often, but, in 2013, the problem of broken bat related injuries persists.

Today there are about 30 licensed companies providing bats for Major League Baseball players. Ballplayers are granted an unlimited supply of bats made from the finest wood these companies have to offer. Although top-grade maple and ash wood populates ball fields today, before 1900, bats were crude, heavy, and cut by the players themselves from almost any type of tree they could find, including cherry, walnut, and willow. Ash baseball bats took precedence in the late nineteenth century with the rise of the Louisville Slugger company, but for the first 60-odd years of their existence they contended with hickory for dominance of the batter’s box.

“Old” Hickory and Early Ash Bats

In baseball’s early days, hickory established itself as the wood of choice due to its availability, strength, weight, and durability. Not only did the ball rocket off of hickory bats, but their large weight and density meant that players, who were often poor farmers on a budget, rarely worried about breaking them. Hitters then believed more weight would add to the strength of their swings. Babe Ruth swung hickory for the duration of his career, and evidence shows that up until his final years in the majors, his bat never weighed below 40 ounces, a full 10 ounces heavier than most modern ash bats (Taube and Malta). But as the skill and dominance of pitchers increased, players gravitated toward lighter, faster bats, and hickory was eventually deemed too heavy to swing.

After the demise of hickory, and up until maple bats saw the light of day in the 1990s, ash bats were the only bats used in the major leagues for 50 years. Although the original ash bats were made in the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until the 1930s and 40s that they fully began to resemble the bats we see today. The great Ted Williams was largely responsible for this shift to lighter-weight wood. In 1938 he requested a 33 ounce bat from Louisville Slugger, permanently switching to lighter bats and spearheading a trend that helped shape the baseball bat into its current form (Walker).

Modern Ash

In addition to their light weight that allows batters to swing the barrel faster through the strike zone, there are several reasons why ash bats have stood the test of time in Major League Baseball. Ash can be characterized as durable, flexible, and inexpensive compared to other types of wood, averaging at least twenty dollars less per bat than maple wood. Many hitters prefer ash because, due the wood’s flexible nature, it produces a small but perceivable “trampoline effect” on the ball. This means that when the ball strikes the wood, the bat bends to compensate for the impact, leaving the ball in contact with the surface area of the bat for a comparatively long time, much like the effect of a tennis ball on a racket.

Another important characteristic of ash wood is the way it breaks. Northern White Ash is a ring-porous wood. This means that the vessels in the wood grow in inconsistent patterns throughout the course of a year, creating identifiable weak portions in the growth ring of the wood. This phenomenon is responsible for the “flaking” and separation of ash bats when they break; rather than split into two pieces, ring-porous species are more likely to have relatively small sections splinter off of the wood. Players will often notice this flaking or splintering, and before the bat breaks more dramatically, they will switch to a new one.

Maple Bat Beginnings

Although ash bats have proven their worth through years of home run hits and World Series wins, there are aspects of this type of wood that some players dislike. For instance, the flexible, vibrating nature of ash means that a ball hit outside of the sweet spot will shake the bat, stinging and wearing on the batter’s hands. In the mid 1990s, the first new alternative to ash wood was introduced when Bill MacKenzie, a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, asked carpenter Chuck Holman to make a maple bat for his team. In 1997, Joe Carter, longtime right fielder for Toronto, employed the first maple bat ever in a Major League game (Nelson). By the next year, Louisville Slugger had begun production on maple bats.

Although Joe Carter was the first man to wield maple, Barry Bonds would be the one to determine the new direction of wood bats. Like Ted Williams before him, Bonds would enact a heavy influence upon other players through his association with a lumber said to enhance hitting ability. Using only maple bats in 2001, he blasted an unprecedented 73 home runs in a single season, setting the stage for what was to be a league-wide push for greater numbers of maple bats. Coincidentally, reports surfaced a year later that a beetle known as the emerald ash borer was destroying large portions of ash tree forestation in northern states. In 2007, it arrived in Pennsylvania, severely damaging the premier source for ash wood production supplies. Following the events of the last decade, half the bats in Major League Baseball are now maple, as are 65% of Louisville Slugger bats produced for the majors, with names like Albert Pujols, Chris Davis, and Dustin Pedroia all swinging them.

Characteristics of Maple Bats

Maple wood has a number of traits that appeal to ball players. The surface hardness of maple is 20% greater than that of ash, a property which players claim gives the ball more “pop” when struck. Theoretically, this increases toughness, allowing the bat to last longer. Maple is also denser than ash, largely due to its tendency to absorb moisture. In fact, until technological advancements were made to kiln drying methods in the early 90s, maple was not a feasible choice for baseball bats due to the sheer weight caused by moisture.

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Contemporary Theories in Art and Aesthetics

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CONTEMPORARY THEORIES IN ART AND AESTHETICS

Click the link above to download all of the materials for this class.

This is a six-week online course in Art and Aesthetics taught through blog posts and created by Christopher Costabile. The six classes are set up as follows:

Week 1: Noise and Visual Noise: Futurism, Dada, and the continuing tendency to make art un-beautiful
Week 2: Art “Stripped Bare”: The reduction of art in the postmodern age to each medium’s most basic aesthetic principles
Week 3: The Expansion of Possibilities: The effect of technology and globalization on Western art aesthetics
Week 4: Mysticism and More: General methods for transcending postmodernism in the arts
Week 5: The Modern Masterpiece and the Function of Art
Week 6: A summary of various artistic movements in each of the different media

A few general things about CTAA:
-Only the “fine arts” will be covered (no literature), and it will be split up roughly as 40% music, 30% visual art, 30% film.
-In just about all cases, the readings will be essays/expositions/manifestos/etc. by the artists themselves.
-There will be one or two instances in which I cannot provide some of the readings/materials for a certain week (probably not til the later weeks), and whether or not you choose to seek them out and experience them is up to you.
-A basic knowledge of the general tenets of Modernism and Postmodernism is presumed, and for the purposes of this class we’ll say those two time periods took place from 1900-1945, and 1945-present, respectively.
-The weeks are split up so that they roughly represent a progression from Modernism, to Postmodernism, and beyond Postmodernism. The final week will be a general survey of different movements, some of which will have been covered, others not. It will be a means of leaving you with plenty of other things to explore.
-I’m not an authority nor a professional teacher. I’m simply going to show you things and spur discussion through comments and questions. I’m going to learn just as much from this process as you are.

With that, I’m going to leave you with this essay by one of my personal favorites: producer, ambient music pioneer, and self-proclaimed “non-musician,” Brian Eno. It’s a short, general essay about the way art works, and it represents a simple, open-minded perspective on art which I find highly embraceable, and which might be helpful when encountering some of the items in the coming weeks.

BRIAN ENO ESSAY

A few questions about the Eno essay:

Do you agree with any aspects of Eno’s argument on art and how it affects us? Which aspects? Why, why not?

Eno mentions three stories, which we can refer to as “Taking the Waters,” “The Shaman,” and “The Test Tone.” What do you think of each of these? What do they represent?

Does Eno’s perspective apply to any of your own personal experiences with art? How?

Installation Art

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Naive_Astronomy_Installation

NAIVE ASTRONOMY

The musical content in Naive Astronomy consists of what the artist refers to as a “planned improvisation.”  Certain short, basic melodic themes are composed, and the overall mood of the work is predetermined, but the length, time-structure, as well as the melodic and harmonic content were improvised.

Each of the separate parts in this piece were performed by the artist on electric guitar.  They were effect-manipulated in real time, recorded onto a Boss RC-50 Loop Station, then transferred to compact disc.  Each disc contains a single guitar track of unique duration, and each stereo has been set to its “repeat” function so that all of the discs will cycle at random.  Thus, a single disc will almost never start or stop in sync with another, but will instead generate new combinations of musical content with each successive rotation.

These out-of-phase revolutions bear a striking similarity to a wide variety of astronomical phenomena, such as galaxy formation and planetary motion.  It could be said that Naive Astronomy, with its cosmic tones and evolutionary nature, is a metaphorical investigation into the essence of celestial events.

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WIPED AWAY HOME

Wiped Away Home is an installation for a digital photo frame.  A self-portrait of the artist sitting at the piano was taken with a digital camera.  This photograph was digitally manipulated numerous times in order to make 245 separate frames of the original photograph, each one slightly different from the next.  All of these 245 files were then uploaded into a digital photo frame, which cycles through the 245 alterations of the original photograph one by one in order to create the illusion of a single photograph slowly evolving.

In addition, the photo frame used for the installation features built-in speakers and MP3 compatibility.  The artist wrote, performed, and recorded a solo piano piece which plays and loops as the image evolves.

Is it possible for a static, two-dimensional image to change over time?  To what degree does our memory alter a two-dimensional image which is otherwise incapable of changing in physical reality?  Does time as a facet of human experience necessitate that all forms of art are essentially time-based, including those which we don’t normally categorize as such, like painting and photography?  Wiped Away Home, whose content attempts to comment on the ephemeral nature of existence, is an investigation into these ideas.

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THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE, or A Protest Against Sight and Sound by Three Angry Senses

Marshall McLuhan asserted, through his infamous quote, “the medium is the message,” that the nature of the medium by which a person experiences content has more of a lasting effect on that person than the content itself.  For example, he claimed that the advent of the printing press caused Western culture to become a print and text-based culture, which thereby accentuated the importance placed in the West on visual stimulation and learning, regardless of the nature of the content actually being conveyed in the text.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that our visual sense is the primary sense through which we choose to experience art.  Sight and sound are by far the most common senses used by artists to convey artistic content.  In fact, our other three senses are almost never acknowledged in artistic media, despite the fact that they can inspire real, complex emotions and ideas.  This installation is an attempt to convey feelings to the audience through the three most neglected senses: touch, taste, and smell.

The Medium is the Message consists of three stands, each featuring two different representations of each of these senses.  Without lending any visual or auditory cues (all of the containers are wrapped in black electrical tape), each sensory experience is meant to convey just that: a unique experience through sensory perception which will leave an impression on the experiencer, but without any concrete content to stimulate an intended cognition.

There are represented here: two displeasing feelings, two rancid tastes, and two offensive odors.  These sensory experiences are negative in tone because this installation is intended to be a protest against the centuries-long neglect of these three senses to convey artistic expression.  In addition, each sense is represented in two different ways in order to protest the two exalted senses: sight and sound.

Touch, taste, and smell are altogether incensed; with “The Medium is the Message” as their starting point, they are intent on reclaiming their rightful importance in the world of art and media.

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AN IMAGE CANNOT BE STATIC

An Image Cannot Be Static is a collaborative installation for three television sets and one stereo.  Corey DeLise was filmed and audio recorded by Jason Kushner and Christopher Costabile, respectively, during the process of painting the five canvases located above the installation.  The footage was edited by Kushner into three separate videos.  The video on the center screen consists of a series of still frame detail images of DeLise’s final paintings.  This video is flanked by footage of DeLise during the act of painting.  The left and right videos are nearly identical, with slight alterations in length so that they will loop out of sync with each other.  In addition, Kushner included several segments of television static into these two videos, the placement of which is unique within each one.

The sounds produced by DeLise and the objects around him during the process of painting were compiled and edited by Costabile into a sound collage soundtrack.  This musical piece loops on a separate stereo, independent of the three videos.

An Image Cannot Be Static is an investigation into a viewer’s experience and interpretation of a singular two-dimensional image.  How do human perspective and memory change the perception of an image over time?  Is it possible to see the same exact image twice?  What are the importance of Movement and Stasis within a work of art and the process of its creation, and how do the two concepts interact with each other?  These are some questions which An Image Cannot Be Static hopes to address.

Music

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One Single Wish Logo

ONE SINGLE WISH

Recorded, produced, and co-written by Christopher Costabile, One Single Wish is a collaborative Christmas album of all original music. If you love Christmas music, but grow tired of listening to the same songs year after year, then One Single Wish is the essential Christmas album of the season. It features all new Christmas songs by Tampa Bay Area artists, who drew their inspiration from old holiday standards by artists like Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, and Joni Mitchell. One Single Wish has something for everyone; from classic rock to folk, indie pop to rockabilly, One Single Wish showcases a diverse spectrum of sounds and genres, encompassing themes like love, loss, presents, snow (or lack thereof), and of course, Old Saint Nick. Packed with sleigh bells, church bells, strings, and other holiday sounds, One Single Wish provides refreshing, original tunes that will warm your heart every cold December night for years to come.

This is a Christmas charity album. 100% of proceeds from this album will go toward a new Crohn’s Disease benefit organization every year.

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THE UNSTRUCK SOUND

Released March 4th, 2010

THE UNSTRUCK SOUND is largely composed of short film and installation soundtracks. More varied in style than Christopher Costabile’s last album, which was essentially an album of all ambient generative music, THE UNSTRUCK SOUND displays influences of ambient, world, pop, and classical music.

ALBUM COVER

THE GRAND HOTEL ABYSS

Released 2010 on the Earth Mantra Netlabel, earman #114

From Earth Mantra

“Earth Mantra is proud to welcome another artist to our netlabel, this time Florida-based experimental artist Christopher Costabile and his intriguing new album The Grand Hotel Abyss.

One of the things we love about ambient music is its breadth, the sheer variety of musical forms that can be created when the artist is given a completely blank canvas, an unlimited palette of colors, and an explicit lack of formal rules. Ambient music can be light, ethereal, dark, powerful, minimal, mysterious, electronic, acoustic, challenging, contemplative … the list goes on forever, for indeed this is a genre for which the only rule is ‘follow no rules’. With this in mind, we are particularly excited to unveil Christopher’s album to our listeners, because we feel the music on this album might just represent a new form of ambient music, an ingenious fusion of experimentalism, electroacoustics, electronics, and ambience unlike anything we’ve heard before.

The pieces on this album are directly inspired by the works of Terry Riley and Brian Eno, and especially Eno’s work with guitarist Robert Fripp. Christopher was inspired by Riley’s aesthetic of solo performance using digital delay, as achieved on the album Shri Camel, and wanted to do his own real time live performances in a similar way. Although the performances on this album are not live, many of the parts were improvised in real-time using a looping device and other digital effects. The Eno influence is in the generative nature of each piece, as short phrases or segments are looped out of sync with other segments in order to create new combinations of sound. All of the sounds on the album were made with guitar, keyboard, percussion, and effects.

Earth Mantra is very happy to be bringing the music of this creative and trailblazing artist to our listeners, and hopes to hear much more from Christopher in the future.”

Vocal Album Cover

TOO MANY HOURS UNTOUCHED: A COLLECTION OF WORKS WITH VOCALS

Released March 15th, 2011

TOO MANY HOURS UNTOUCHED is an collection of experimental music featuring vocals, created by Christopher Costabile during the years from 2004 to 2011. From samples to interviews to ekphrastic poetry, TOO MANY HOURS UNTOUCHED showcases the spoken word in ways few albums have before.

Greatest Films and Music Lists

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50 Greatest Films

One glance at this list and you’ll probably be able to tell that all it really takes to get my 35mm in a twist is a cerebral foreign film with some picturesque cinematography, poetic narration over the top of it, and no plot whatsoever.  That being said, here are my top films of all time.  These are not in any sort of ranking or preferred order.  Bear in mind that this is not in any way supposed to be a definitive list of the best films ever, but simply my own personal top 50.

Battle of Algiers – Gillo Pontecorvo

Ikiru – Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai – Akira Kurosawa

Andrei Rublev – Andrei Tarkovsky

Mirror – Andrei Tarkovsky

Ghosts Before Breakfast – Hans Richter

A Trip to the Moon – Georges Melies

Cries and Whispers – Ingmar Bergman

Fanny and Alexander – Ingmar Bergman

2001: A Space Odyssey – Stanley Kubrick

A Clockwork Orange – Stanley Kubrick

The Tree of Life – Terrence Malick

The Power of Nightmares – Adam Curtis

La Jetee – Chris Marker

Un Chien Andalou – Luis Bunuel

The Conversation – Francis Ford Coppola

Woman in the Dunes – Hiroshi Teshigahara

Hara Kiri – Masaki Kobayashi

8 ½ – Federico Fellini

The Aviator – Martin Scorsese

Taxi Driver – Martin Scorsese

Autumn Sonata – Ingmar Bergman

On the Waterfront – Elia Kazan

Casablanca – Michael Curtiz

Once Upon a Time in the West – Sergio Leone

A Zed and Two Noughts – Peter Greenaway

Wings of Desire – Wim Wenders

In the Mood for Love – Wong Kar-wai

M – Fritz Lang

Metropolis – Fritz Lang

The Bridge on the River Kwai – David Lean

Amadeus – Milos Forman

Blood of a Poet – Jean Cocteau

Nostalghia – Andrei Tarkovsky

Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring – Ki-duk Kim

Our Hitler: A Film from Germany – Hans-Jurgen Syberberg

Mothlight – Stan Brakhage

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Robert Wiene

The Grapes of Wrath – John Ford

Koyaanisqatsi – Godfrey Reggio

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – Milos Forman

Last Year at Marienbad – Alain Resnais

L’Avventura – Michaelangeo Antonioni

Equus – Sidney Lumet

The Usual Suspects – Bryan Singer

Breaking the Waves – Lars von Trier

Do the Right Thing – Spike Lee

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford – Andrew Dominik

The Godfather Part 2 – Francis Ford Coppola

Children of Men – Alfonso Cuaron

100 (and 5) Greatest Albums

A few notes on this list:

-The list is inclusive of all genres. Therefore, unlike most lists it’s not 99 rock albums plus “Kind of Blue.”

-There is no ranking – I wrote them down as they came to me and that’s that.

-There are never more than two entries by a single artist, unless that artist collaborated with some other artist or group.

-In regard to several classical entries, I included the performers (or label) in addition to the composer only in cases where I felt a certain performance or collection (that I know of) stands above the rest. Read the rest of this entry

Reviews

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Tree of Life (Film)

Tree of Life was everything I needed it to be.

In terms of aesthetics, it was certainly a flawed film – the evolution sequence could have been edited down, certain lines of the script could be construed as cliche or pretentious – however, I think this film will be seen as one of the great masterpieces of our time.

In the opening section of Andrei Tarkovsky’s book, SCULPTING IN TIME, he discusses the audience reaction of his fellow Russians to his serpentine, narrative-less film, Mirror. Although many were confounded, he mentions that a significant number of people had sent him letters thanking him for making the film, and that they required no logical explanation about the events in the film for, as they told him, they “had lived it.” I believe that if we approach it with open minds and hearts, without any reservations about the unique language of Malick’s storytelling, Tree of Life will have the same impact on 21st Century Americans that Tarkovsky’s Mirror had on Russians in the 1970s. In both the most cosmic and the most intimately personal ways possible, Tree of Life represents the unfolding of our very lives before our eyes.

It’s no coincidence that Malick portrays the morose, disturbed Sean Penn character as a vaguely corrupt, high-profile corporate businessman with childhood roots (quite literally, given all the shots of foliage) in the late 50′s and early 60′s, America’s most naive epoch. He’s allowing the intricate mysticism of his film to act as a catharsis and rebirth for contemporary viewers who feel that our condition amidst this world economic crisis is one which was doomed from the start; one doomed by the sins, failures, and greed of generations past, and that we’re left with no power to prevent that history from penetrating and governing our will to forge ourselves a better future.

But he does so not only by way of a traditional storyline in which some of the main characters evolve through personal experience and reflection, but also by tracing back our existence to the very beginnings of the earth (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey), as well as attempting a conjecture on where we might be headed. Thus, the logic of the film demonstrates, as primordially as possible, that while no one moment in the history of time carries more value or meaning than another, they all add up to something more valuable and meaningful than any one of us could possibly imagine. In this way, Tree of Life acknowledges and accepts the fundamental tenets of nihilism and postmodernism, all while turning them on their head and daring the audience to submit to some vague metaphysical CHANCE which may ultimately lead us to the very essence of value and meaning.

The fact that Terrence Malick has one of the most visually stunning directing styles of anyone in the history of cinema certainly aids us in our acceptance of the vast risks this film takes. One of the most jarring shots in the film for me was the image of the mother carrying one of her sons away from a seizure victim writhing in the middle of the road, concerned about the developmental effect that witnessing such an event might have on her child. We never learn who the seizure victim was, why he was in that state, or what significance he played in any of their lives, and the shot only lasts a few seconds in a long sequence of equally-paced shots – the event never returned to again. We only know that this brief instant had enough bearing on the characters’ lives to be shown in the film, and this is all we need to know to accept it and treat it no differently from any other moment. In Malick’s universe, where every branch in the “tree of life” is equally valuable or valueless, we learn that we must treat all of them as precious, striving to fill them with love, kindness, acceptance, forgiveness, and understanding, for all life forms and for all eras of our lives – past, present, and future.

If you allow yourself to accept the complexities of its style and the jarring, seemingly contradictory elements of its story, you won’t be bothered by what you may perceive as weaknesses in the script, the editing, the performances or perhaps even the directing – you will simply allow Tree of Life into the core of your being, and it may well turn out to be everything you need it to be. It was for me.

Go see this film.

Listen To This (Book)

From the first chapter of his second book, LISTEN TO THIS, in which he recounts how Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony inspired a lifelong love of music in him – to the last in which he details the pathos lingering throughout the work of Johannes Brahms – Alex Ross cements his reputation as perhaps the most dynamic writer on music today. His first outing, THE REST IS NOISE, has become an international bestseller and established itself as THE premiere survey on twentieth century classical music – an obtuse subject effortlessly broken down and made accessible by Ross’s seamless prose and clear narrative structure. Read the rest of this entry

Poems, part 2

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Pangaea

When laughter is the chorus we desire,
we are granted wailing angel voices
united for a requiem. When sand is thrust
on top of sand, we learn the movement
of these continents: slow solvency of shore.
It’s difficult—this lounging at the throne of science,
yet so noble just to think—to bear the jilted blade
that soars then crashes upright in a hollow stone,
becomes indifferent to the tug of man,
the Strain of Reason. We pluck and pluck,
like gardeners, unfettered by dusk’s dimming
of the steel’s prismatic edge.

Though who can claim to see more
when given more to see? Do we long to study
rocky plumes of landscapes, or Turner’s studies
with a plume, rocked gently into landscapes?

Today, I saw graffiti on a power plant;
a cameraman designed the helmet of a future
astronaut. The dilettantes of every art
are waking first—
typecast as attendants
to the knight, these pages crinkling their faces
—bound to the book—are better world-prepared
than their employers. Like points of stars
unfolding from a black eclipse, they blink, then stare
and promise morning to us.
In their presence,
we must ask are we rehearsed enough in life
to blend two histories inside a tender flask
that might erupt into an island
on the Tethys Sea?
Would we then resign ourselves
to make another map?

So much remains elusive or impossible,
but I digress—

my pen is wet from vain attempts

at sketching details on a silhouette….

Satie

The woodgrain patterns swirling through his music
—keenly measured—kept him wryly twirling
like an umbrella ferrule whose prongs unlatched
into sealed hands, swiping dust from the Old Art.

Some say he composed each moment: routine walks
from Paris to Montmartre, then round and round
the piano, rigid limbs engaged in counterpoint,
as if a mad clown steering stilts through a Parade.

This notorious man (without companion)
would wake now and then at the phoneme of
his own snore, then transcribe that slow rumble
to extract the embryo of a score. Satie

shied from dazzling stories—chose instead to leave us
these lingering notes; the unused velvet suits.

Juan’s Childhood

He wandered the playground
of El Asilo Invisible
forgetting phrases of English,
embracing a rusty hammer
he had rescued from the hedges.
His mother the Counselor called him Juan, Read the rest of this entry

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