The election


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I thought I was resigned to the inevitable outcome. I thought I was sufficiently detached.

And I was.

In my mind, the worst had happened in 2014. If people could elect this man after he presided over a bloodbath in 2002, it said everything one needed to know.

Still, I expected at least some acknowledgement of the lack of the promised development, of disastrous policies like demonetisation.

Why, I don’t know. I have always maintained that 2014 was an anti-Muslim mandate.

Now it is clear as day. The economy is irrelevant.

I was fine till the end of the day when a colleague from another team came to talk to the Indian colleague on my desk. I could hear murmurs about corruption, about how everybody is celebrating.

I realised that I don’t know a single person who would celebrate this, and for that I am I grateful. But I also realised that these people are just one degree of separation away from me and that to these people, to the majority of the country, the likes of me are not just dispensable to their vision of India Shining, but an impediment to it.


Hell is other people

And I’m probably one of them.

After a Saturday that started well – I went down to play football with Nene – but quickly deteriorated – a terrible woman insisted we stop playing lest we hurt someone, then called security on us even when we moved to somewhere where there were no people, and the apologetic security was forced to back her because of the rules, then when we go home V who backs me up in general starts nitpicking on the finer points – I decided I had finally had it with people near or far.

I have been finding my interactions with people, even the nice ones, increasingly anxiety-producing of late. I am convinced I am rubbing people the wrong way. I get into a discussion with someone, and then I end up rehashing it in my head and wondering whether I went too far.

Recently, I replied to an email from a long-lost friend who I actually like, trying to be lighthearted, and it apparently came across the wrong way because she never wrote back, even to my apology.

I am over-sensitive, not just about what other people say to me, but to my effect on other people. If anything, I am more sensitive to how my words affect other people, than to their on me, unless its V.

I have no idea what caused this, but I have finally had enough. Since I cannot control my feelings (enough, I have tried), I can only try to step back from other people.

I find that I cannot really control what I say, I am resolved not to say anything. Or at least minimise the saying. As extreme as this sounds, I think this is a good policy.

Think before you speak as it were, and speak less overall.

In the meantime, I cut myself off Facebook as a preliminary step. At the risk of sounding like one of those people who performatively declares they’re off Facebook, I feel the need to say this. Since my Facebook interactions are a source of anxiety that are quite easily remedied by not engaging in them, I decided to delete the app off my phone. Obviously, I miss it, and instinctively reach for it. But I’m making myself refrain for a week.

The thing is that Facebook has also become one of my sources of world news, so it’s not entirely practical to be off it, but I’m exploring Twitter, which is much more easy to be detached and anonymous on. Instagram, with its limited personal interactions, is allowed.

Fed up of my husband’s painful reactions to anything I tell him, I’ve decided I’m not going to tell him anything sensitive. For reals.

And I’m going to stop engaging so much in office discussions. This is a tried and tested means of keeping calm and carrying on.

I don’t see friends in Hong Kong that often, so not much to remedy there. I have resolved to listen more and talk less though when I do see them though. Unfortunately, alcohol doesn’t help.

Basically, I’m putting myself in an isolation tank.

Flaneurie – 9


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One morning I noticed the woman seated opposite me in the train was wearing one of my favourite black sweaters from H&M. (I am a fan of H&M for producing affordable clothes. The hoopla around fast fashion strikes me as elitist. I see a lot of domestic helpers in H&M and I doubt they are throwing away their clothes after one wash. There are a couple of H&M harem pants that I’ve been using for years. Admittedly their quality is not as great as some other more expensive brands but I’ve seen some high fashion stuff up close and it doesn’t look hardy either).

This lady had paired her sweater with a red and black knee length skirt and black Converse sneakers. She looked middle aged; the penchant for people across the age spectrum in Hong Kong to surprise me with their clothing choices is always a pleasure.

Glancing down the line of seated people I realised that every one of them was wearing black. The woman at the very end seemed to have broken the trend with a white and beige dress and a beige jacket. Then I looked closely and her undershirt was black.

The weather has been warming up and I expected more summer colours. However, that day, the sky was grey.

The train reached its destination and they fluttered away like crows

Flânerie – 8



I ate lunch sandwiched between two tables of teenagers.

On my left, two thin white girls sharing a pizza. On my right, two Chinese girls, who were then joined by two Chinese boys.

International school kids.

“We’ve been waiting here for 10 minutes,” one girl said.

The boys didn’t react. One of them took out his phone and started looking at it, barely contributing to the conversation. I recognized this rudeness as the awkwardness of youth.

I considered myself stuffing an entire pizza into my plump self with only a second of embarrassment.

And I pitied these waifs.

Lovely Langkawi – a perfect spring break



We went to Malaysia for a minibreak last month. I was determined to do a beach vacay because, while my entire holidaying philosophy is that flying somewhere to lie on a beach is theoretically heaven, but  would always been my second choice over “seeing stuff”, preferably of cultural/historical value, I have had to eat humble pie in the face of my new identity as a parent.

The kids enjoy beach holidays best –  I have seen this both times we were near a beach. The going to places to see stuff tends to stress them out, and they are not old enough to really retain clear memories of the things they say anyway.

So, since we had only a few days, I plummed for something in Southeast Asia – started off with Cebu, moved to Phuket and finally settled on Langkawi.

I’ve only done a short stay in Kuala Lumpur (sans kids) and while it is a nice enough city, it’s not somewhere I would necessarily want to revist (except for the Vincii shoe store). This time, I really felt Malaysia more.


We flew Malaysian Airlines, with a stopover in KL. When I told colleagues my choice of airline, they gasped. I had totally forgotten the two Malaysian Airlines accidents in recent years.

That said, I was impressed by the down-to-earth but competent service the last time (or is it times?) I flew the airline (we were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class on one leg that time, my one and only business class experience), and this time was no exception. I would say the service on this airline is the best I have ever experienced. The crew are warm, slightly chatty and get things done. Singapore Airlines is supposed to have the best service but I find the air hostesses there a bit stuck up, possibly because of their Singapore Airlines girl fame.

The flights were short – only an hour on the domestic leg – but the in flight entertainment system worked from the time we sat down to when we reached the gate. On the shorter flight, they didn’t distribute headphones, but if you had your own, you were set. There was no pressure to give up your headphones if you were using them towards the end of the longer flights. I don’t know why airlines don’t get that if they only let people keep watching TV, there would be less folk jumping up while the plane is taxiing only because they are restless.

I was not a fan of the food though, which is a shame because Malaysian cuisine is so delicious. I remember my foodie colleague complaining about exactly this aspect, so it’s something they need to improve on. Incidentally, the best in-flight meal I’ve ever had was a Peranakan special on a Singapore Airlines flight; some Jet Airways meals in the early days were also lipsmacking good.


We picked Holiday Villas mainly for the excellent location right on the beach at its price point. I was disappointed with the overall decor of the hotel and the obviously old furnishings.

However, the room was spotlessly maintained by housekeeping, the hotel restaurants were reasonably priced and the beach access and pool were excellent.


Day 1: We landed in the early evening so just hung out at the pool. We had dinner at a shack called Cactus opposite the hotel (another advantage of the hotel was that there were these cheaper options outside), which is quite highly recommended online. The food was ok, we thought.

Day 2: We did a morning at the stunning beach. White sand, super clear water, little fish zipping around, perfect temperature. Everything you could ask of a beach.

That afternoon we took ourselves to the cable car and sky bridge. Neither was something I was particularly keen on doing, but V seemed to want to (his idea of a holiday is not hanging out at the beach ad infinitum). It turned out to be worth it though.

The cable car is actually quite a steep climb and drop (Mimi claimed to be scared. We tend to brush off her fears as drama, which they often are, but I think she is slightly scared of heights, or at least overthinks them to the point of scaring herself). One can pay extra to take an elevator down to the sky bridge, or do a rather steep walk. Mimi insisted she wanted to walk so yours truly was forced to accompany her, and while it was pleasant and calmed Mimi down, I began to dread the climb back up. If you’re someone with any kind of mobility issue (V can’t take steep downward climbs, for example), take the lift. Luckily, Mimi agreed to go up by lift, which honestly is quite stuffy given that they cram quite a few people in, but it gets the job done.

The sky bridge was short but quite beautiful. They really should clean the patches you can freak yourself out by standing on though – one can barely see below, thus defeating the purpose.

The ticket is good value for money, because it includes a visit to the 3D art exhibition (basically a lot of 3D murals you can take photos in front off, where Mimi proved she is a model in the making and I proved that I still don’t know how to pose attractively), and a really awesome 4D movie at the cable car lower station. There is also a rabbit petting area, lots of souvenir shops, restaurants and a few other attractions that you can pay separately for, so the whole attraction combined is worth a visit.

Day 3: Rather bizarrely, I had not been keen on snorkeling on this trip, partly because my only experience of snorkeling (in Phuket) had not been positive and partly because I felt Mimi might not take to it.

However, given how beautiful the water was when we got there, I began to feel it might be silly to miss out on snorkeling, even though the cost of the trip was expensive because only two to three companies are allowed to take visitors into the marine park.

Our tour was much better than the Phuket one though (even though we had booked that one through the Marriot, thus proving that price or brand is not necessarily a guarantee of quality). This time the boat was a large full sized one, the number of people manageable, and I had forewarned V that he was not to just wade off in his excitement, leaving us to figure out how to work the equipment.

This excursion was another lesson to me on not underestimated one’s children because Mimi took to snorkeling fairly easily, while Nene struggled (possibly his mask did not fit properly; he was probably experiencing what I did in my first experience so I could sympathise). We didn’t go out too deep but even near the shore there were so many beautiful colourful fish. We even saw a baby shark.

On the negative side, the fish kept nipping us if we stopped moving (thankfully not the shark), probably mistaking our dangling legs for coral. And the lunch was strictly so-so while the toilets were pretty dire.

Day 4: Our last day we decided to just dedicate to chilling on the beach and at the hotel. I had planned to take the kids to a wildlife centre, but they showed little interest and in principle I am against animals in captivity unless the zoo is particularly large and well reputed.

We spent hours at the beach in the morning, so long that V who had gone back to shower, got worried and came down to check that we hadn’t drowned. Nene was obsessed with catching things – crabs successfully, fish not so much (though a lady who borrowed our bucket succeeded). They also did the usual sand castle building and digging holes. Mimi got the hang of floating on her back.

The most exciting event was when a guy who had been fishing just a bit ahead of us caught a baby shark and a puffer fish in his net. He kept the shark and let the puffer fish go.

V and I got massages in the afternoon (and the very lovely Yuan Spa, if you’re interested) and then I did another stint at the pool with the kids in the evening.

One of the interesting things about Malaysia – or at least Langkawi – is that the tourist crowd is quite mixed. There were a number of Indians, locals, Westerners but also Arabs. So at the pool, there’d be people in bikinis to ladies in long kaftaans. And noone was giving anyone the side-eye which is how I think the world should be.


The food is obviously awesome. Because of Malaysia’s ethnic composition, there was Chinese food for the kids and more spicy Malay and Indian food for V and I. In fact, we had mutton curry and naan from an Indian restaurant down the road two nights in a row.

General comments

Like the service on Malaysian Airlines, I found people in Malaysia generally friendly and laidback. It helps that many people we encountered spoke English. As an Indian, one does not also feel racially out of place.

The above are exactly the things that are lacking in Hong Kong, and made me think about how pleasant it would be to live in a place where people do not shy away from other people.

Given the price, the beauty, the food and our overall experience, I would definitely go back.

Met Gala – the most fabulous of the fabulous


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I don’t usually cover the Met Gala but there was so much breathtaking fabulosity this year plus I have been seeing some fairly ignorant memes on social media so I figured, why not?

The Met Gala is organized by the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It’s a fundraising event that was turned into social marquee extravaganza by Anna Wintour of Vogue. Every year, there is a theme, based on the institute’s new exhibition.

Further reading here.

This year the theme was “Notes on Camp”, taking off on Susan Sontag’s essay.

What is camp? Sontag says to talk of camp “to betray it”. Nevertheless, she persisted and so will I.

Sontag insists that camp is a sensibility and in that sense ineffable. It is hard to pin down its meaning, but we will try. The best illustration of camp, of course, is in its doing.

She cites Oscar Wilde:
“One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.” Camp is a mode of aestheticisation, that prioritizes form (in this case style) over content. It is not about beauty, but artifice.

Camp has a kitschy quality, so bad it’s good. It is by nature over the top. “Exaggerated”, “outlandish” are words that come to mind.

“The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers.”

This will explain the profusion of feathers on the Met Gala red carpet.

“One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naive. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying”

Thus the irony in people – especially people with a truckload of money and fashion designers at their beck and call – being asked the do camp. Yet, surprisingly, they mostly succeeded.

Further reading: Hamish Bowles musings on the theme. A Jezebel piece on why the theme sets celebrities up to fail.

And with no further ado, here are the ones I enjoyed the most:

Janelle Monae

Tom and Lorenzo pointed out that it is debatable whether Surrealism counts as camp – Sontag explicitly names Dali as not camp – but conclude that the eye that blinks clinched it in favour.

See how the eye just takes it into the “too much” territory that is definitely camp?

I heart this ensemble blinking eye camp or not.

Lady Gaga

Gaga has been doing camp for all long as she’s been on the international radar at least bit of late she had gotten kind of staid.

Here she reclaims her throne as Our Lady of Camp with three costume changes and a thousand bolts of theatricality.

Further reading: TLo on Gaga and camp.

Kacey Musgraves

Channeling Barbie. Nuff said.

“Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a ‘lamp’; not a woman, but a ‘woman.'”

Hailee Steinfeld

Dua Lipa

“In naïve, or pure, Camp, the essential element is seriousness, a seriousness that fails. Of course, not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp. Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated, the fantastic, the passionate, and the naïve.”

Camp is not trying to be ironic, but sometimes ends up being unwittingly so.

Cardi B

“Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste”

Jared Leto

“Camp is the answer to the problem: how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture.”

Androgyny is a strain of camp, as is drag as is the conversion of person to thing.

Michael Urie

Love that so many dudes brought their A-game.

Ezra Miller

“Where the dandy would be continually offended or bored, the connoisseur of Camp is continually amused, delighted”

The Kardashians

These ladies epitomize camp on the red carpet on a regular day but they did their best to outdo themselves.

Kylie won this round.

Honorable mentions

Best model

Best couple

Who did you love?


Flaneurie – 7


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A cheeky little boy, hugging his grandfather in the train and saying: I love you, ye ye.

Then patting his tummy and saying: “3 babies in there” (in Cantonese)? while grandpa indulgently goes “shhhh”.

Apart from the awwww, it’s also gratifying to know that Chinese kids also say embarrassing stuff.


Then a boy sleeping upright in a train seat and his grandma next to him holding a hand on his chest to make sure he doesn’t fall forward.

Hong Kong’s ageing society is much discussed as a demographic crisis but what I see every day are children who are so lucky to be around their grandparents.

April reading list


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Feminism is for Everyone, bell hooks

A great intro to feminist positions now as well as how they got here.

A little boring for me as I know most of this.

Still useful to see things clarified so clearly – for example, she is adamant that there is a place for men in feminism and the early feminist movement erred in not envisioning men’s place . How feminism is not about equality but about ending sexism.

How having a domestic helper is not implicitly wrong but that feminism must grapple with how to make the employer-employee relationship more fair.

How feminisms retreat into the academy meant that popularizing the feminist message through feminist television, feminist schools etc failed. I dunno though there seems to be plenty of popular feminism around, some crap and some pretty good, thanks to the advent of blogging. So maybe feminism did not get popularised in the institutional way she envisioned but we’re getting there.

Leave the Grave Green, Deborah Crombie

Why do I keep reading these? The mystery itself was better this time.

However, just when I thought liked Kincaid better, he goes and sleeps with a suspect and I’m like really? Then, the ending with Gemma. Again, whatevs.

Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World, Hans Rosling

Confirmed my view that we present things too simplistically: our misplaced nostalgia for the past (things are getting better, not worse), the idea that India and China are the world’s biggest polluters and the threat of climate change rests on the them, that income inequality is worsening.

He stresses the importance of data, of comparing numbers sensibly not just throwing one big number out there, of not going for the big, sexy, simplistic narrative.

And finally how the media is rarely a good source. As someone who works in news, who tries my best to counter the worst excesses and to fact check, my biggest professional takeaway from this: do your best but lower your expectations.

Eligible, Curtis Sittenfeld

My thoughts on my chick lit blog here.

Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel

I really needed to read this book right now. The central question: can the death of sex in marriage be avoided?

Some insights: stop trying to quantify sex (the number of times, the number of orgasms), (too much) intimacy can (sometimes) kill sex, the danger of monogamy sliding into celibacy, the tension between fear of abandonment and fear of being engulfed that we bring to sex.

She also has a podcast which is very interesting. Her insights are great. I feel like I have never had a therapist in her league.

A Man called Ove, Fredrick Backman

This is like a male version of the Eleanor Oliphant and I didn’t love it as much. It’s a more than decent read but I weirdly didn’t take to Ove. He was so … manly. And even though he overcame his prejudices, or that they were just a smokescreen to begin with, I never really forgave him them? Like we are always supposed to congratulate these white dudes for befriending foreigners of learning that women are not stupid (admittedly Ove thinks everyone is stupid) and I’m like whatevs.

But read it yourself and see what you think.

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch

Don’t usually like fantasy but quite liked this one. Maybe because it weaves modern-day London and policing quite convincingly with wizardry. Though I was not particularly into the more ghoulish parts of the mystery, I liked the mythology of the rivers and how they were personified.

I will probably go on to book 2.

Scoop, Evelyn Waugh

I have been wanting to read this forever, given that it’s supposed to be a classic and the premise is journalism.

But seriously so much gratuitous racism. Okay, maybe, this was the prevailing attitude and not Waugh’s attitude but so much description of blackness and pink hands and very white teeth and natives, who are either slovenly or sinister. Admittedly the white dudes are hardly paragons but I just found the whole thing pretty unbearable.

I googled after to see if this book had fallen out of favour, but nope, people are still falling over themselves to praise it with just the odd mention of the racism.

Brief Gaudy Hour, Margaret Campbell Black

Not the best but maybe because it’s Anne Boleyn and her story is overdone. Still, some of the transitions in the novel were abrupt. The end was moving – Why do all these women die?

Their unhappy endings notwithstanding, their fascination as strong and ambitious women is the draw. Each new telling offers new facets to their minds, new takes on the same broad events – in this one Anne is clear eyed about her own flaws (unlike Henry). Percy is presented as her one true love and her disappointment in that explains her motivation for what followed.

Nick of Time, Elizabeth Grosz

I loved Grosz’s work when I came across her in a French Feminism class. Here, she reads and attempts to redeem three thinkers who have fallen out of feminist favour (Darwin, Nietzsche and Bergson – or at least she tries to rescue the first two, I am not familiar with Bergson and haven’t got to his part of the book yet).

Her interest is their treatment of time, but in the Darwin section that I will talk about here, I was more interested in sexual difference. One of the many splits in feminist theory for some time has been between those that insist on difference (i.e. what Grosz terms the “irreducible” difference between the sexes), a position I associate with Luce Irigaray, and those, in the Judith Butler school of thought, who argue that sex/gender is a  construction. The latter group is not saying that there are no differences in genitalia and reproductive organs, just that these differences are not as significant as they are made out to be by all the meaning that is layered onto them.

Intellectually, I am of the Butlerian school. Butler advocates making “gender trouble” and I am attracted to her vision of disruption and blurring of binaries. Emotionally, however, I find myself in the Irigarayan mode, instinctively feeling feminine difference. (This instinct should not be overstated, because instinctively one also feels that the earth is flat). However, I am one of those women who is mainly interested in and attracted to women, and I do find myself falling (out of convenience) into essentialised statements about women, even though I know and accept that “woman” is a construction, but the people I am speaking to often do not. I also love Irigaray’s writing, and I see some sense in her argument that trying to erase sexual difference is not going to benefit the feminist cause. Grosz follows on from Irigaray (while Butler explicitly breaks with her).

Darwin has been roundly critiqued for presenting a deterministic universe in which what happens is apparently inevitable, and in some sense, the best possible outcome (the survival of the fittest). Grosz’s reading of Darwin makes him much more contingent. He does not argue for only one possible outcome, she points out. He also explicitly states that the lines between variations, species, etc is blurred.

She also finds useful his explanation of sexual difference. Darwin proposes, and Grosz concurs, that the sexes split into two for evolutionary reasons – to allow further cross-hatching of the gene pool. Once reproduction involved two sets of genes – X and Y – to be swapped and mixed, and the sexes existed, sex selection further came into being, whereby each sex in each species developed secondary sexual characteristics that would attract a mate. Thus, the differences between the sexes in each species became pronounced for evolutionary reasons.

Fine, but I don’t understand why these differences should be “irreducible” even in the 21st century. Grosz notes that Darwin says evolution never reverses itself, so presumably, now that we have two sexes they are bound to stay. But, I’m not convinced. What is to prevent a further split in the future? What is to prevent a fading of differences due to sexual selection?

When I was a teacher, I found it quite difficult to distinguish male from female when students did not particularly dress to highlight their sex. There are definitely people that conform to the feminine or masculine side of the spectrum, but most people do not. Their reproductive organs account for less of their behaviour than their upbringing and experiences.

I did find Grosz’s reading of Darwin interesting. She made a good case for how he is less conservative than he is made out to be – even if he did see himself as a descendant of the thinkers of his time, Malthus, Smith, Ricardo et al.

Jane Seymour, The Haunted Queen – Alison Weir

Clearly I gave into my Tudor craving in April.

Alison Weir is my favourite prolific Tudor writer because she is a historian so I find her takes more believable, but also because her writing style is less la di da than say Philippa Gregory. My absolute favourite in terms of style is Hilary Mantel, but she has only a trilogy unfortunately.

I am hardpressed to choose between Henry’s wives – I even read a really good novel on Anne of Cleves and Katherine Parr – they all sound like exceptional women in their own way, but Jane Seymour is provably by least favorite after Katherine Howard (and I have some respect for the latter’s daring).

Given that Jane was such a mousy and devout soul, it’s hard to imagine her inspiring passion in the king, who tended towards strong women. However, that she was the opposite of Anne is sometimes put forward as her attraction. The other possibly more interesting question is how she felt about Henry. Was she essentially strung along by events or was she a woman in love?

In this telling, Jane comes across as deeply conflicted – she disliked Anne because she was faithful to the old queen and religion, but she also knew that Anne was essentially not unfaithful and that she was doing to Anne the very thing she condemned Anne for. Apparently in some twisted religious way, she convinced herself that Anne was not really Henry’s wife. Also as someone who has very little attention from men she couldn’t help being flattered by this attention from the highest quarters.

Still overall she struck me as such a milk toast towards the end – a woman who could see injustice taking place but who wanted to convince herself that what she wanted was right.


Flaneurie – 6


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I saw a girl with blue hair. On her cheek was a smattering of blue under her eye on her cheek.

It wasn’t make-up. It was a birthmark.

This is the kind of thing that people tend to view as a blemish. That parents are anxious about. Defects.

I have come to see them as beautiful.

It reminds me of when my colleagues were trying to get a Chinese Medicine doctor at the university to be interviewed on how to prevent freckles.

“But why? Your freckles are beautiful!” I exclaimed.

They were surprised. I’ve always thought freckles beautiful.

I did my Master’s thesis on the late Victorian poet Gerald Manley Hopkins. I focussed on how he elevated difference in nature, his attention to “freckled things”. Here is his poem Pied Beauty:

Glory be to God for dappled things – 
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings; 
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough; 
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 
All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: 
                                Praise him.
PS: while looking for this poem, I came across this one by e.e. cummings that suggest the opposite. Boo.