Pablo Neruda wanted to. At least that's what he wrote in a poem, that he wanted to have a talk with a spider. As for me? I don't want one. But if I were forced to talk with a spider I'd prefer to do an interview rather than have an informal back-and-forth. Perhaps it would be something like this:

Q: Where did you learn everything you know?

A: From my mother. My father died before I was born.

Q: How do you come up with your ideas for webs? Do you wait for inspiration? Or do you simply begin and see what happens? Or maybe you make a plan before you begin?

A: You can't wait for inspiration, it comes while you are working. Henri Matisse said the same thing.

Q: Have you ever spun a web and had the feeling that you would never be able to match that web? That all your future webs would be inferior?

A: No. I have to believe that whatever I'm spinning now is the best. Otherwise I'd be depressed because it would seem I'm going downhill.

Q: Are individual lines or strands more important to you than the entire web?

A: No. It all must work together, all the individual lines, the intersections, angles, spaces, shapes, the density of my silken strands, all the elements must be right by themselves and also must create something complete that never existed before I traveled out into the air to create it.

Q: Would you ever work with another spider on a web? In other words, how do you feel about collaboration?

A: I couldn't work with another spider. The creative act involves a delicate inner balancing. There are a hundred little decisions and balancing acts involved in every inch of web. Plus, I feel different from day to day and my webs don't satisfy me unless they are in harmony with my body. For example, if even one of my legs is stiff then I create a totally different web than, say, if one of my eyes is swollen shut.

Q: Are there any of your webs that you regret creating?

A: No. What I do regret is talking to you rather than working on my latest web. You may ask one more question.

Q: How do you react to the criticism that you are a control freak?

A: Freak? Sure, I love
control. But freak? Who doesn't seek control?


Does it matter what color the sand is? Did you see an hourglass shape when you saw the title up there, above the blocky paragraphs of words? And was the sand you pictured at the top of the hourglass? Mine was, that's how it comes to mind for me. Grains of sand moving down because of gravity. Falling grains, falling and landing until there are no more to fall. On the moon they'd fall so much more slowly. In outer space an hourglass wouldn't mark passing time. If they took an hourglass into outer space it could function as a piece of abstract art rather than a time-telling device.

The word obconical is curiously pleasing. It so rarely makes any vocabulary list. It means obversely conical, of the form of a cone with the base upward or outward.

One of the stories I've always remembered about one of my uncles features an obconical shape. This uncle was in Italy, in a gelato shop. He ordered what he thought was chocolate, paid for it, and the moment he tasted it he realized it was some other flavor, perhaps coffee. He asked the person behind the counter to exchange it for the chocolate he wanted. The person refused. My uncle politely explained the mistake, thinking that the person in control back there, the one with the scoop and the access to the goods, simply hadn't understood that he had not gotten what he wanted. But the person had understood and refused again. My uncle then said something like OK, lifted the ice cream cone treat he had paid for up above his head and slammed it down on the counter. Now, having told the story, I realize the unlikelihood that the fragile cone became obconical for more than a few nanoseconds because the impact would have shattered it. The fragments, mixed in with the dark gelato, would have been such a variety of geometrical shapes that it would have been difficult to catalog them. (I suspect it was my aunt who liked to recount this story, rather than my uncle. Anyway, my memory is vague, but I am fairly sure I heard this story from either my mother or father rather than this particular uncle or aunt.)

That happened so many years ago in Italy. Stories like that are contained within a narrative hourglass, one story at a time going through the opening. Memories and stories, all related to this uncle, now start to flow in my mind but soon they will run out and there will be nothing left to move from one place in my mind (some small neural tubular passageway?) to another very nearby place also enclosed by my skull. Grains in an hourglass don't fall far, that isn't the point, going long distances.

In the Old English Dictionary the first usage of the word hourglass is from 1515. As I write this it is 2009. So the word has been traveling for about 500 years, at least. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that in 2015, on some given day, there be a moment set aside to commemorate the 500 years we know the word has been with us? Any moment, it doesn't matter which, similar to how it doesn't matter which grain of sand from all those grains is the one that falls first or in the middle or second-to-last. Each person could chose his or her own moment to think about how long 500 years really is, how many uncles and great uncles and great-great-great-great uncles have lived in 500 years, how many happy hours and hours of frustration, inspired hours and dreaming hours, hours under skies and hours under roofs. All I request is that the moment not be celebrated in a classroom. Then so many of the students would be watching the clock rather than thinking about an hourglass.


Who was it who said that free verse is like playing tennis without a net? Whoever it was is dead and that was many years ago he (I know it was a guy, not a gal) said it anyway. We need some new analogies or metaphors. Why bother ourselves thinking of games now? It's like playing ping-pong without a table. It's like playing basketball naked. It's like picking up a handful of mud, quickly shaping it into a ball, and throwing it against a backboard in an attempt to bank in as much of it as possible. No, we need to completely ignore games and gamesmanship and find new ways to speak of the inadequacy of free verse.
You, there, in the t-shirt with the Philip Guston painting on it. I'll call on you first. What's your suggestion?
It's like drinking single malt scotch that is so watered down that it tastes like tap water.
Not bad, but not appropriate for grade school. Frank, don't write that one on the chalkboard. Sorry, sir. You there, in the yellow low-cut blouse. I meant to call on you first, to tell you the truth. What's your suggestion?
It's like putting your hand over a camera lens and taking a photo of nothing.
That's a good idea. Frank, write that one down on the chalkboard and label it number one. You there, in the back, with the red beard.
It's like having an election for office in which there are ten thousand candidates and no one can finish reading the ballot before the polls close.
Hey, not bad. Frank, do your work. You, with the black ribbon around your neck, in the red velvet dress?
It was Robert Frost.
It was Robert Frost who said writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down. Not, by the way, without a net,
but with the net down.
I stand corrected. And you're completely right, hitting a ball back and forth over a net uselessly laying on the courtŠ
Not laying
. Lying.
Yeah, I'm sorry. Um, where was I? Uh, yeah, hitting a tennis ball, let's say it's one of those yellow ones, over a net lying on the court would be very different than hitting it over the court itself with no piece of netting dividing. . .Wait, wait, please, please. Don't leave. The session isn't over. Frank, hold up Curious George. Look, folks, I was going to save this for later, but I'll tell you now that we are going to vote, once we get five new analogies up on the chalkboard, and the person who all of you believe came up with the best analogy will get that six-foot Curious George as a prize. See how we've glued a toy tennis racket into one of his hands? I guarantee you, this will be a conversation piece in your classroom or living room for the rest of your life. Another suggestion? Please, please, if you insist on leaving don't shove through the crowd already gathering at the door, wait your turn to exit in an orderly fashion. Mom, thank you for remaining seated. Do you have a suggestion?

     © John Levy 2009