Archive for March, 2011

The displays in this post are from the National Button Society. The society divides buttons into classes that include: celluloid, ceramics, china, enamels, fabrics, black glass, clear and colored glass, metal, horn, shell, synthetic, vegetable ivory, wood, animals, objects, plants, pictorials and realistics.

Double click on the images to see the buttons.

Vegetable Ivory

Vegetable Ivory

Vegetable Ivory

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for the anniversary of my mother’s death

When I was a child, my mother gave me
a miniature dollhouse about three-feet high,
with miniature furniture and people.
I would lie on the floor and look through the windows,
imagining I was small enough to fit in the rooms.

The house had real lights, and sometimes at night
I would turn off the lights in my bedroom
and turn on the lamps in the small house
to see how the light from its windows
would fall across the floor of my room.

From my place in the bed,
I was the dark universe,
the stars above
the yellow roof,
or one of the neighbors passing by.

The small family lay in their miniature beds,
in the same clothes they’d worn that day,
their mouths about to speak
their eyes amazed
their hands still open,

and I was there to protect them.
Over a small wine glass on a living room table
a lamp would shine in a circle on the floor.
The lace from the curtains
would form patterns on the wall.

The small things we allow ourselves,
to burn out light bulbs in miniature rooms.

I wonder now as I write this
what conversations the family had,
what I told myself they would say to each other,
and if those dialogues begin again in real rooms now.
There are always more rooms,

another inside,
all the furniture and little plates.
From our beds as we fall asleep,
we map the space we can trace
with our fingers.

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In Response to Cesare Pavese’s Poem The Cats Will Know

Ci saranno altri giorni, altre voci e risvegli.

Earth flows away from me,
the cats will know.

Earth flows away from me
and the sun is waving in the sky
and the people see me
standing alone
and they are worn out from waiting.

I am worn out from waiting for the earth.
I am worn out waiting for flowers
you and I plant in a yard together.

I am worn out on this earth,
waiting for the hours of morning to pass,
waiting to hear the rain on the pavement
or the sharp call of red-winged blackbirds on the stalks.

If there were three of me,
one of grain
one of sleep
and one of darkness,

the grain would wait
quietly in the soil
for the sun to bring it
from beneath the earth.

The darkness would move
through the clouds
in the forest
and wait for the sun.

And the one made of sleep
would listen for
the pine needles and cones
you lay on my back step,

to say perhaps,
the world will be green again
and you will feel love again,
and I am nothing but the wind
that leaves these branches here.

I fall asleep not knowing
when you come
or when you leave,
and listen to the purr of the city
on the highway overpass.

But those two cats
circling on the sidewalk
and among the seeded heads
of the cattails
watch you,

they watch you fall away from this place
like flame.

Those two cats,
the one with the dangling leg
and the one with the black face
with whiskers so white
they seem bleached

stand in the grain in the field
overwintered and cold
and flag-like as flowers

they crouch behind
the boxed hedges
of this building
and bow to the night.

There is nothing between them and you.

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My knee’s instantly lock up as I feel the shrilling goose bumps tingle down my spine. Suddenly I lose my breath, and for a moment I feel like this must be a dream. I clench my fists as I start to feel my heart pounding through my shirt. We just met, and I can’t believe that he has managed to make me feel absolutely crazy inside. I almost feel as if I should just jump before I let something bad happen, but I can’t move. I find myself completely numb.

It is a warm summer day, and I hear the birds conversing outside my window. I stretch and have a feeling of adventurous ambition. I go to wake my sleeping roommate, Alisa, and know she will help me think of something exciting to do. We sit and ponder for awhile before deciding to go out into the sparkling sunshine. Being cooped up in the house just doesn’t seem logical. We grab a fresh cup of coffee from our favorite shop and start heading over to the ponds.

As we arrive, I immediately notice that the atmosphere is everything I hope for. So much life fills the crisp air, fishermen, joggers and laughing children. We snatch our cameras out from the backseat and start to take pictures of the dazzling lake and the geese that mingle over the ripples. Then much to our surprise, we see two very good looking guys smiling at us from across the water. When they notice us looking back, they don’t hesitate to jog over in our direction. It doesn’t take long before we feel a strange connection. Kyle is 23 and he is wearing a hat on his head. As he approaches me, I catch the drift of an amazing smell that is on his loose t-shirt. Tony, 25, is dressed in similar attire; it’s quite simple to see that they are close friends. Butterflies instantly crowd my stomach as I smile from ear to ear. We can’t wait to learn more about them.

We begin walking around and making small conversation with one another and before we know it, the sun starts to slip behind the purple mountains. We want to spend a little more time with these new acquaintances, so they suggest going to a beautiful location in the Front Range to watch the sunset. As we walk to the fairly empty parking lot, we approach two shiny crotch rocket motorcycles. Kyle glances over in my direction and suggests that I go with him. The weather is ideal for a ride. I hesitate for a moment before remember my desire for adventure that morning. This really would be adventurous, and it sounds like a lot of fun. Tony doesn’t wait much longer before asking Alisa to hop on the back of his bike, and soon enough, we are riding off into the evening.

Even though Alisa and I are wearing nothing but small tank tops and a pair of jean capri pants, we manage to keep warm. As we arrive at the mountain, the scenery takes my breath away. Pink and orange cotton balls fill the pale blue skies, and the twinkle of the stars is just becoming apparent. We sit in the soft green grass for a short amount of time as we enjoy each other’s company for a little while longer. I stand up to thank the boys for spending the day with us, and I tell them that we need to get home before it gets too late. They agree and suggest that we swap phone numbers so we can get together again sometime. We take one last look over the city and the lights that are beginning to take over, then we start to progress back down the mountain.

The ride back starts with a different look and feel from the enjoyable ride in the beginning. There is now a faint chill in the air, and the two boys want to make a lasting impression. The highway is full of bright headlights and the sky is dark. I wish I had a jacket. I turn my head and see Alisa and Tony speed passed us. I know she wouldn’t be comfortable driving at high pace, so I begin to worry. Thankfully, it’s not long before I see their bike coasting next to ours again. Before I can finish my breath, they quickly become a part of the past. I know Kyle is trying to show off.

Our speed begins to increase at an excessive rate, and I think to myself that it will only be a moment before he starts to slow down, that he’s made his point. Weaving in and out of traffic quickly becomes very uncomfortable. The faint chill turns into a brutal cold as I tightly hold the little piece of cloth that separated us. I can see our speed reach 90 mph, and I dig my nails into his chest in hopes that he will realize I want him to stop. My gut tells me that I should look back to make sure Alisa is not close behind, but my body becomes paralyzed. I glance over his shoulder wanting the speedometer to read less, but we are now over 100 mph. I start to think that this can’t be happening to me but am interrupted by the flashing of blue and red lights in the mirror. Just as I start to feel incredibly relieved that we are being pulled over, he continues to speed up.

For a moment I try to tell him to stop, but my voice is carried away with the wind. As I hold on tighter and attempt to look back once more, my glasses are thrown from my face. Our speed has now reached 120 mph, and I realize there is no stopping him. My heart starts to pound harder and harder with every second, and my thoughts become incredibly unpleasant. I want to scream, but it takes everything I have to keep myself breathing calmly. I bury my head in his back and become completely lifeless. I don’t know what he is trying to do. Has he forgotten that I am on the back of his bike? Even though it seems like an eternity, we quickly arrive back into town. With the cop still on our tail, we approach the first red light coming off the highway. I am now wishing that this might finally put an end to the crazy race, but once again, he doesn’t slow down. Without looking left or right he flies through the bright red and starts gaining speed down the busy city street. I start to lose all hope. We are either going to lose the cop or end up in a terrible crash. My life rapidly starts to flash before my eyes. I’ll be leaving so many people I love with no answers and such sorrow. I question myself over and over, how I could let something like this happen, I don’t even know him.

We are on a straight path to the other end of town when he takes a sudden right turn, and I feel the bike’s tire start to slip from under us. I hold my breath and get ready for the impact, but by some miracle we keep going. The cop is never more than a couple of feet behind us, and I become more terrified. As if the situation isn’t bad enough, he manages to find another unusual path to pursue the chase on. We begin launching over speed bumps and soon we are riding through a deserted grassy park. I begin to lose track of our location and start begging him to let me jump off. He shakes his head no as he repeatedly promises me that everything will be okay. Just as I begin to think that the ride will never end, I find myself flying through the air. I become abruptly shaken up as my body slams to the ground. When I jump up, my adrenaline is flowing harder than ever before. I start screaming at him as he tries to embrace me with comfort. I had never experienced so many emotions all at one time.

Watching him being carted away in handcuffs is a huge relief. His new bike is still on the ground lifeless and bashed up. I take a deep breath and can’t believe I somehow escaped with my life. With only a few scratches present on my body, I drop to my knees and begin to cry. I scramble to find my phone and call Alisa to make sure she is okay. She is back at her car and hurries to come find me. As she arrives, I can see she is more shaken up then I am. She has found alcohol hidden in his bag. I hug her and we promise each other that we will never be so irresponsible again. Having that single experience makes me appreciate everything  I have and all the friends and family. Anything can happen in an instant and take you out of this world. Even though I will always be looking for a fun adventure, I won’t proceed again without more caution.

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Krishna, Arjuna, Kurukshetra in a 18-19th century  
painting, depicting a scene from the Bhagavad Gita,
a book of Hindu scripture.

O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.Bhagavad Gita

I lived in India for 11 years and had the chance to observe the practices of the people. The two prominent religions are Hinduism and Islam. Muslims always tended to have a certain image about them, with the beards and the long shirts. Hindus had a tendency to wear a certain type of long garment called dhotis below their waists. Followers of both had their own type of names, their separate type of foodstuffs and practices, and their particular festivals. Though completely distinguishable, neither religion tended to be more dominant or less accepting of the other. With a constant sense of discipline and submissiveness to their faith, they lived their lives accordingly. In addition, with a general mindset of simplicity, which was not so simple. They strived to live a colorful yet rewarding lifestyle.

Hinduism and Islam are two of three world’s largest religions. Religion has been widely accepted as part of a person’s lifestyle. It can be seen as a cultural system with organized behaviors and values. Hinduism and Islam are both classified as two leading religious groups in the world and are practiced by 2.5 billion people. They both have foundations that help define truth and value. Both have specific traditions, symbols and ancient texts intended to explain the history and origin of life and the universe. They also have similar gods, festivals and ethics. In addition, both have lifestyles based on traditions of art and public service.

Ganga Puja festival.

Beliefs About God

Islam rests on the belief of a single God and that this one God is incomparable and has no equal. It is stressed that God is a one single truth predominant over all, who is unique and independent of the universe. God is said to generate both good and evil. Evil originates from God’s power to create anything. It is not believed that God was created, but that people are. Belief of divinity in an individual is an unpardonable sin. Commonly speaking, the intellectual history of Islam can be regarded as the unfolding of the increased understanding of God’s oneness.

Hindu mass offering of lamps or deepas.

Hinduism is more accepting in choosing or classifying a god. God is generally accepted as a single entity, however, unlike Islam, people can worship more than one god. There is complete freedom concerning belief due to this diversity. In fact, the faith of Hinduism consists of an extensive variety of gods, generating from a single god, each serving a separate function or symbol depending on the sect. These gods are classified by the personalities they possess. For example, the primary belief of Hinduism is that Vishnu or Krishna is the principal god, however, Dharma, an entity who symbolizes justice, is worshiped in regards to prosperity. In fact, there are separate festivals revolving around various gods and their pastimes. Festivals of note are Durga Puja where the goddess of war is worshiped and Ganga Puja where the goddess of the river is worshiped as a sign of thanks for providing water.

While there is such a diverse system of thought in regard to the gods, there is a general belief factor in the soul as one’s true self. This soul is believed to be eternal and the same as the creator’s. The ultimate goal for most Hindus is to understand their true self and their relation or connection with their creator.

Islamic worshiper prays facing Mecca by bowing on the floor.

Practices and Rituals

The Islamic faith has five obligatory acts followers practice as a sign of faith or commitment. These include a prayer which is recited five times a day, involving a connection with God. To the general eye, this tends to happen randomly but in general they believe that prayer is mandatory at any given time. The individual bows down facing Mecca and recites a prayer. In addition, a month of fasting is included as well as giving of alms to the needy. A pilgrimage or Hajj to the Saudi Arabian city of Mecca is also encouraged.

With Hinduism, religious practices are included, however, it is done so on a more broad and somewhat less strict scale. Practices are carried out to enforce the individuals connection with God, which can be at any given time. For example, a Hindu will typically worship and offer foodstuffs to a deity or icon in the beginning of the day. This offering to an idol is known traditionally as puja. Music can be included as vedic hymns are chanted to invoke spirituality. Hymns or mantras that are chanted center around pastimes of different gods, and their importance in an everyday lifestyle. A mantra can be sung as a song, with a large community of devotees gathered playing an array of instruments to play along.

Mantra singing in the community.

In Hinduism, there are spiritual shrines or temples constructed to accommodate idols or deities, where devotees visit on major festivals. These festivals tend to feature foodstuffs and celebration based on the theme. For example, to commemorate the childhood pastime of God, a certain song is sung at nightfall, accompanied by a mass offering of lamps or deepas. Another festival includes the celebration of the return of a Hindu god back to his hometown. Mass amounts of candles are lit on the balconies and doorsteps of households as well as in the streets, illuminating entire cities in lights. This repeats the action played out by devotees for hundreds of years.

Prasadam, offered in the Hindu ritual of Puja.

Meditation is a practice highly encouraged by Hindus. However, the process does not involve the conventional form of meditation. It is specific and involves repetition of a mantra. It is presumed to be a spiritual discipline where the repetition develops a focus of mind and body.

Overall, Hindu practices are generally geared towards assisting the individual in the awareness of a presence of divinity in everyday life.

The foodstuffs consumed by devotees are particularly different in both sects. Hindus tend to be strictly vegetarian, and their diet revolves around vegetables and fruits. However, even though they are restricted to vegetarian meals, their recipes are elaborate and extensive, giving a new meaning to the term vegetarianism.

Muslims, on the other hand, eat meat. In fact, Muslims tend to keep flocks of chicken or packs of goats. On specific holidays, these animals are sacrificed and consumed in celebration of the occasion.

Taj Mahal in Agra, India, built between 1632 and 1653.

Beliefs About Marriage And Art

Hinduism and Islam are similar in the respect to family life. They both highly encourage arranged marriages, which consists of a bride or groom proposal from one party to the other. The proposition is then decided when both families and witnesses are present. A bridal gift is usually donated by the family of the groom.

Islam has an extensive artistic history involving a vast magnitude of art forms and styles. The representation of God as an entity is prohibited, which results in a greater focus on architecture and abstract forms of art rather than human forms. A significant example illustrating the Islamic style of art and its ingenuity, is the monument of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is a tomb built by an Islamic ruler for his deceased lover. The architecture applied is symbolic of Islamic art with the rounded domes and columns lining the perimeter.

Child incarnation of Vishnu, known as Krishna in Hinduism.

Hindu art forms, on the other hand, encourage depictions of god in different forms and expose the works as visible productions. Due to the lenient belief in a vast number of gods, there is a wide variety of artistic interpretations. Hinduism is known to consist of vast histories of personalities and pastimes and most of these are expressed artistically. These are done in an extensive variety of representations depending on the region from where it is created. For example, in India, Hindu art in Orissa tends to focus around the God Jagannath, who is believed to have manifested there. In northern India, art forms center around the child incarnation of Vishnu known as Krishna.

Both religions are similar in various ways, particularly regarding the constant awareness of the presence of a god or divinity in everyday life. However, there is a considerable measure of differences between the two. These range from festivals to significant prayers and foodstuffs. While Islam is very particular on how God is expressed and how its religion is practiced, Hinduism is more at ease with how a follower abides to its beliefs.

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William Henley (1849-1903) wrote this poem
in his hospital bed at age 25,
after having a leg amputated
from tuberculosis of the bone.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
by William Ernest Henley

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The Natural

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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

“Virginia Woolf wrote, ‘Across the broad continent of a woman’s life falls the shadow of a sword. On one side of that sword,’ she said, ‘there lies convention and tradition and order, where all is correct.’ But on the other side of that sword, if you’re crazy enough to cross it and choose a life that does not follow convention, ‘all is confusion. Nothing follows a regular course.’ Her argument was that the crossing of the shadow of that sword may bring a far more interesting existence to a woman, but you can bet it will also be more perilous …. The Bhagavad Gita — that ancient Indian Yogic text — says that it is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection. So now I have started living my own life. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly.” from Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Marilyn Krysl


Looking back now, I see
I was dispassionate too often,
dismissing the robin as common,
and now can’t remember what
robin song sounds like. I hoarded
my days, as though to keep them
safe from depletion, and meantime
I kept busy being lonely. This
took up the bulk of my time,
and I did not speak to strangers
because they might be boring,
and there were those I feared

would ask me for money. I was
clumsy around the confident,
and the well bred, standing on
their parapets, enthralled me,
but when one approached, I
fled. I also feared the street’s
down and outs, anxious lest
they look at me closely, and
afraid I would see their misery.

I feared my father who feared
me and did not touch me,
which made me more afraid.
My mother feared him too,
and as I grew to be like him,
she became afraid of me also.
I kept busy avoiding dangers
of many colors, fleeing from
those with whom I had much

in common. Now afternoon,
one chair in the garden. Late
low light, the lilies still open,
sky beyond them preparing
to close for the night. I’d
made money, but had I kissed

a single lily? On the chair’s
arm my empty cup. Its curved
lip struck, bright in late light.
I watch that last light going,
leaving behind its brief burning
which will come to nothing.

The lilies still open, waiting.

Let me be that last sliver of light.
Let me be that last gleaming sliver of silver,
there for an instant on the lily’s petal,

light speaking in tongues, tongues of flame.
by Marilyn Krysl

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This semester, we were encouraged to use Greg Mortenson’s book Stones Into Schools, published in 2009, in classroom writing assignments. Several Arts & Letters events have been planned to promote the book to students and faculty and to share history, culture and pressing political issues in Afghanistan addressed in it. Here are some excerpts from chapter one:

The People at the End of the Road

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. — Albert Schweitzer

The good people who inhabit the frontiers of civilization do not, as a rule, tend to be the world’s most sophisticated and cosmopolitan human beings. Often, they aren’t especially well educated or refined, nor all that conversant with cutting-edge trends in areas like, say, fashion and current events. Sometimes, they’re not even all that friendly. But the folks who live at the end of the road are among the most resilient and most resourceful human beings you will ever meet. They possess a combination of courage, tenacity, hospitality, and grace that leaves me in awe.

What I have discovered over the years is that with just a little bit of help, such people are capable of pulling off astonishing things — and in doing so, they sometimes establish a benchmark for the rest of us. When ordinary human beings perform extraordinary acts of generosity, endurance, or compassion, we are all made richer by their example. Like the rivers that flow out of the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush, the inspiration they generate washes down to the rest of us. It waters everyone’s fields….

The Pashtun elders say that when Allah was finished creating the world, he cobbled together all the leftover bits and pieces, and it was from this pile of rubble that he fashioned Afghanistan. The impression of a landscape that has been pieced together from discarded debris is evident in every part of this country, but nowhere is this sense of brokenness more acute than inside the panhandle of northeastern Afghanistan, which thrusts between Pakistan and Tajikistan for nearly 120 miles until it touches the border of the People’s Republic of China. Some of the loftiest mountain ranges on earth — the Kunlun, the Tien Shan, the Parmis, the Karakoram, and the Hindu Kush — converge inside or near this region. The highest of their summits soars more than twenty thousand feet, and the inhabitants of the forbidding, desolate, bitterly cold alpine plateaus that stretch beneath those peaks refer to this place a Bam-I-Dunya, the “Rooftop of the World.”

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