Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sky’s the Limit


The best argument has a firm foundation, strong pillars, and no roof.


Sierra Nevada foothills near Orange Cove, California,
several miles east of where I was born

December 2008
Courtesy of Richard Hachigian
(click to enlarge)


Update:
In the Forum: moody and blue.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Barbaric Yawp, October 2008


Recently Received:
Barbaric Yawp
October 2008
Volume 12, Number 4
BoneWorld Publishing
John & Nancy Berbrich, Editors

Contributors:
John Berbrich, Randall Brown, Sarah Certa, David Church1, Murphy Edwards, Gary Every, Martha Garretson, Arthur Gottlieb, Andrew Hale, Bill Hart, George Held, Beth Konkoski, Michael Kriesel, Peter Layton, William Michaelian, Chip O’Brien, Adam Ortiz, Elizabeth Petrocco, Cathy Porter, Charles Rammelkamp, Brian Reickert, Andy Roberts, Sarah Stapleton, Elizabeth Swados, David L. Tickel, Richard Vaughn.

1 At press time, it was learned that Dave Church had died on Thanksgiving Day 2008 of apparent heart failure at the age of sixty-one.

Note: A review of the April 2008 issue of Barbaric Yawp is posted here.

Recently linked:
My thanks to Scott Allen for his kind mention in this entry of his blog, Scorched Amalgamation.

Thanks also go to Chrees for linking to Recently Banned Literature from his blog, A Common Reader. Currently under discussion: William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

Updates:
A new haiku, “Rural Route,” added to Songs and Letters.

Forum: In search of the lost cord.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sorry I Missed You


Sorry I missed you. I had disguised myself as a spoon and was in the silverware drawer. Had you opened the drawer instead of calling my name ... but, of course, how were you to know.

It reminds me of the time you were a piano. Do you remember? If you hadn’t been ticklish that day, and if I hadn’t been a piece of sheet music ... well, I think we were both surprised when we found out the burglar was a musician.

(first publication)


Update:
“Sorry I Missed You” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

At the Poem Museum


The other day, I went to the poem museum. There were poems of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Some were made of words and others were physical objects, or word-extensions that very closely resembled physical objects — I couldn’t always tell.

One that I really liked was a small piece of wood that had been carved into the shape of a poem. The sign beneath it said, “Poems of this type were often used in ancient rituals.” I tried hard to imagine a ritual that would require the use of a wooden poem. Had I been able to touch it and hold it in my hands, I might have had better luck. But at the bottom of the sign it said, “Do not touch.”

In the next room, I saw a clay figure of a man sitting beside a fire under the stars. I couldn’t see the fire or the stars, but I knew they were there because of the way the man was sitting. I thought it was a very nice poem indeed.

Awhile later, I overheard two people talking about language. “That doesn’t prove anything,” one of them said. They were standing in front of a very large, beautifully wrought word-poem, arguing. After they had moved on, a custodian quietly swept their argument into his dustpan.

For a brief time, a poem that looked exactly like a fly buzzed around me.

Another display was called “Common Poems for the Common Man.” It was a real live family sitting around a table, eating soup and bread. But I must have gotten a little too close, because their dog bit me. Very effective.

(first publication)


Update:
“At the Poem Museum” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Folk Art


A beautiful new book has come my way: Folk Art, a collection of photographs and descriptions of Aboriginal art, Pacific art, North American art, Central and South American art, and art from other world cultures. Paging through, I see masks, figures, weavings, rock sculptures, rattles, baskets, door panels, cloaks, armlets, bark paintings, hair ornaments ... and here is a Maori toboggan from the late 1800s ... a canoe house figure from the Solomon Islands ... a Sioux pipe bowl — in all, the book contains 384 glossy, informative pages.

What I think I will do is thoroughly examine one of these each day. Removed in time, removed in culture, experienced through words and photography which are art objects in and of themselves, perceived by a mind in rapid decay — well, who knows where it will lead.

Folk Art
By Susann Linn-Williams
Foreword by Stephen Wehmeyer
Star Fire, London (2006)

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Gift


             To write a poem
             so fragile

             it crumbles
             in your hands

“No, it’s not your fault. Here ... let’s try again.”

From Songs and Letters, originally published December 25, 2008.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Wish


My sincere thanks to June Austin, a writer in Surrey, England, for reprinting my poem, “A Christmas Wish,” in her blog, Podding Along Nicely, and for including a link to my main website.

Written many years ago and first published in a community newspaper here in Salem, this simple poem really took on a life of its own when it became the twelfth poem in my online Collected Poems, popping up in forums and blogs in various formats each year during the holiday season. Last year, it also became part of my book, Winter Poems.

When I first introduced the poem I said, “While it might not be suitable for framing, I think it is good enough to wind up on a few refrigerators, tacked down at the corners by grimy magnets covered with advertising. I say this because its timely message transcends the holiday season and speaks clearly about the things that are truly important in life.”

This theme is graciously echoed by June after the poem, as she writes about her own situation and of the people around her.

I don’t know if “A Christmas Wish” has ended up on anyone’s refrigerator. I do know it’s much different than anything I would write now — not in message, necessarily, but definitely in language and form. And of course I could say that about a great many other things I’ve written — just as someday I will likely say about the things I’m writing now. As it should be. As it must be.

Christmas Dream


By the time we had finished unwrapping
my father, we were all very old

and yet for all that he still
blinked and smiled
and said,

                   “We need more wood on the fire.”

From Songs and Letters, originally published December 24, 2008.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Triptych: For a Melting Snowman


To his right
the deaf

the blind
to his left

and Christ with
a lamb in his arms.

              We regret to inform you that your son

To his right
the dead

blind
to the red

              letter edition.

To his right
the dread

left
unsaid

Christ with
a pained expression.

              And there appeared a bright star

To his right

              The shepherds kept their watch

To his left

              And Billy and Tommy and Prissy and Jen

could not put
poor Jesus

together                       again.

(first publication)


Update:
“Triptych: For a Melting Snowman” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Cold Days


Yes, if I were an artist,
I would paint you

exactly like that,
with snow in your hair.

And the poor statue
tried to answer, but could not.


From Songs and Letters, originally published December 23, 2008.


Updates:

Also added to Songs and Letters: “Snowflakes.”
Forum: The frizz is in.

Dreams:
Another added to the Annandale Dream Gazette (part of Dec. 23 entry).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Zen the Hard Way: A Drama in One Act


Master, I have swept
last night’s snow from the step.
It is now safe for you
to pass.

           And the snow in the road?
           Will you sweep that as well?

                      Rises. Starts toward door.

           Master! Surely, you are not going out.

Oh? It seems you’ve given me little choice.
Our coats. We’ve a rough journey ahead.

                      I only meant ...

           I know what you meant.
           Hence, our journey.

                      And if we should die along the way?

If? Is that not the reason for our going?

                      Well, I, for one ...

           You, for one — such impertinence
           from a tiny snowflake! Can you imagine
           what would happen if all the snowflakes
           rebelled?

                      Yes. A blizzard.
                      Here is your coat, then.

           Opens door.

Brrr! I’ve reconsidered. I’m old, not crazy.

                      But what of our journey?

           Patience, my son. You see,
           at least we’ve made a beginning.

                      Resumes his seat. Falls asleep.

Student also sits, begins writing in journal.

           “Today, I tricked him again.”

Looks up, smiles, unaware he is melting.

(first publication)


Updates:
“Zen the Hard Way: A Drama in One Act” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

A new haiku, “Solstice,” added to Songs and Letters.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Sorrow (ΛΥΠΗ)


“Sorrow,” from Another Song I Know, is the fourth of my short poems1 translated into Greek by Vassilis Zambaras. The other three, “Thin Ice,” “Seeds,” and “Love,” can be found here, here, and here.

This time, I’ve decided to do something a little different and present the poem without the English original. Some of you, I know, already have the book2 and can compare the English and Greek versions. But my hope here is that readers will take a moment to really look at the Greek letters, and study them as you might have studied bird tracks when you were a child, snowflakes, or the palm of your hand. Let your mind wander through them as if they were symbols in a dream. Then, turn to the transliteration that follows, and, with the help of the pronunciation guide, see if you can’t actually “hear” what Vassilis has done.

If you feel you don’t have the patience for such a thing, or that it’s silly or a waste of time, you might ask yourself why.

If one doesn’t read or understand a particular alphabet or language, it doesn’t necessarily mean there are not things about them that can still be understood. Conversely, if one is fluent, there is the distinct possibility, perhaps even likelihood, that the alphabet and language in question are taken for granted, and therefore not fully noticed or appreciated.


ΛΥΠΗ

Το τραγούδι του ανέμου
καθώς σκορπίζει
κρύα, χλωμή στάχτη.


To traghoύdhi tou anέmou
κathόs skorpίzi
κrίa, hlomί stάhti.

1 Available from Cosmopsis Books, San Francisco (2007).
2 For those who don’t, the publisher’s price and service is still the best available.

Greek translation and transliteration © 2008 by Vassilis Zambaras. Published here with the poet’s kind permission.

Vowel pronunciation guide: i as in letter “e”; e as in “eh” — without “h” sound; a as in “ma”; o as in “OK”; ou as in “balloon”.


Update:
In the Forum: Blind Intellect, an educated band that plays no instruments.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Bones


That which remains after the flesh of words has died; or, in the case of genocide, the murder of an entire language; likewise, anything similarly denied.

Words


If the sticks inside sticks and the stones inside stones did not contain other sticks and stones ad infinitum, what would sticks and stones be? Words?

Sticks and Stones


If the words inside words did not contain other words ad infinitum, what would words be? Sticks and stones?

The Soap Monitor


Yesterday morning, as I was unwrapping a new bar of soap for use in the shower, I was struck once again by the importance of my job as Family Soap Monitor. Over the years, there’s no telling how much soap I’ve saved by salvaging the shards of used bars and gluing them to the new bar — welding the pieces together, matching the cracks and seams, fitting them together like a puzzle, centering them on the new bar so they don’t slide off, making sure there are no stray hairs between the old and the new — by now, even by a modest, conservative estimate, I’ve probably saved three or four bars.

Lest you think I’m just a frugal nut, I’m equally devoted to the artistic presentation of the finished piece. It’s important to me that subsequent bathers have a hand-fashioned soap-sculpture they can admire, and which, on lucky days, sparks the imagination.

There’s nothing worse than stepping into a shower, only to find pieces of soap on the floor, melting, in various stages of decay. I admit, though, that even after all these years, there are certain family members who think, “It’s just soap.” And to them I always say, “You didn’t live through the Great Depression.” I didn’t either, of course. But I was raised on vivid family Depression stories, and I know the value of things. And with the very real possibility of another Depression hanging over us, saving soap is an heroic act. It’s also an act of awareness, responsibility, and joy not unlike that of reading to a child, writing a poem, or baking a loaf of bread.

Then again, maybe I am just a frugal nut.


Recently linked: Appropriately, Cassandra LaMothe, whose cheerful comments I always enjoy, has linked to Recently Banned Literature from her blog, A Bit of Silliness. Visitors will also find a link to her main poetry blog, Caught in the Dawning, in the left column under “Reading Room.” Thanks, Cassie!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Adrift


Late last night, I had been in bed no more than half a minute when I suddenly felt as if I were being gently lifted by a current of water. My body rocked, my arms and legs were afloat. It’s spring, I thought. How nice. The river is rising, and I’m a piece of driftwood on the bank. Soon we’ll all be free.

An owl rushed by, low upon the water.

I awoke at three. I had been playing a carved wooden instrument a little larger than a mandolin, but with a dark smooth round belly. Then a stranger appeared and told me I didn’t really know how to play, and that I would never be able to learn. So I played some more.

Except for his attitude, the stranger was right: I didn’t know how to play. I just played. And the sound was sweet.

If he were here now — and I’m not quite sure he isn’t — I would tell him that there are a great many wonderful things in this world that don’t need to be learned, because we already know them, and are born with the knowledge.

From Songs and Letters, originally published April 25, 2007.


Update:
In the Forum: recorded live at Crudstock.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Crows


Crows
December 19, 2008
Index Card, #2 Pencil


December Notes


Starlings in our pine trees,
singing while it snows.

A lifetime later, I’m as
white as the fields beyond.

From Songs and Letters, originally published December 18, 2008.


Update:
As the Conversation continues, it is determined, after careful consideration, in-depth research, and study, that King Mixer would be a good name for an arena-rock band that performs in a landfill.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Philemon and Baucis


I still enjoy rummaging through my old copy of The Reader’s Encylopedia. Yesterday morning, while taking a break from the arduous labor of feigned intelligence, I came upon and then added the following entry to You Don’t Say, my so-called “compendium of odd words and literary references”:

Philemon and Baucis. Poor cottagers of Phrygia, husband and wife, who, in Ovid’s story (Metamorphoses, iii. 631), entertained Jupiter so hospitably that he promised to grant them whatever request they made. They asked that both might die together, and it was so. Philemon became an oak, Baucis a linden tree, and their branches intertwined at the top.

In the second part of Goethe’s Faust, Philemon and Baucis are an old couple who refuse to sell their home at any price. Because theirs is a part of of the land that he is redeeming from the sea, Faust, with the aid of Mephistopheles, dispossesses them, and they die of the shock.

For a more complete rundown, see this Wikipedia article.

Image: Jupiter and Mercury in the house of Philemon and Baucis, by Adam Elsheimer, c. 1608, Dresden. (Click to enlarge.)


Update:
In the Forum: recording in a junkyard, otherwise known as Studio A.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Dictionary Leaf


I found this very thin, very old leaf in my dictionary, at the beginning of the N section, between Pages 1,432 and 1,433.

When you’re looking for a word and that word turns out to be a leaf, you know anything is possible.

(click to enlarge)


Update:
A new entry on stewed prunes and raisins, with or without dried apricots or dried figs, added to Let’s Eat.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winter Postcard


Passion melts snow
as surely as flame.

Our breath ascends
through the trees.

On the other side
a place to write something.

From Songs and Letters, originally published January 28, 2008.


Update:
My ordeal with a terrible cup of tea is detailed in a new Notebook entry.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Writer’s Responsibility


“The writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”

William Faulkner, from The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction, No. 12 (1956).

Note: For a nice batch of Faulkner links, see this entry on As I Lay Dying at A Common Reader, where other books recently examined and discussed include Homer’s Iliad, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, and The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. More of Chrees’s observations on Faulkner can be found in the comments following Library After Air Raid, London, 1940.


Update:
As the Conversation continues, we venture into a noir sound collage.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

It’s a Wonderful Life


By the time he’d analyzed his feelings for her, they were gone, and so was she. The distance between the bridge and the water that morning was particularly tempting: he passed through it on his way to better understanding. A police diver fished him out. She identified him at the morgue. Remembered their last night together. Their last dull argument. A short time later, in their apartment, she found a note in his handwriting on the kitchen counter. It said, “Are we out of eggs?” She thought a moment, then turned it over and wrote out this response: “Why don’t you stay home today?” He looked up from his newspaper. “I was thinking the same thing,” he said. “I’ll call the office, then I’ll get out of these wet clothes and mop the floor.” Soon, she heard him call out from down the hall: “Elizabeth? This is amazing. Did you know we have children?”

(first publication)


Updates:
“It’s a Wonderful Life” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: extra pulp.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Library After Air Raid, London, 1940




Paul L. Martin shared this photo the other day as part of the hundredth post to his blog, The Teacher’s View. I’ve been pondering it ever since — the debris, the walls of books, the strangely calm bearing of the three men facing them — calm, or perhaps shocked. Oddly enough, to me, this looks a lot like a painting of a dream I had a few weeks ago.


Update:
As the Conversation continues, we briefly explore the Doc Savage supersagas and other Dented merchandise.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Love (ΑΓΑΠΗ)


“Love” is the third of three of my short poems* translated into Greek by Vassilis Zambaras. It occurs to me now that its words also echo his fine work as translator and poet. His translations of the first and second poems, “Thin Ice” and “Seeds,” are posted here and here.


Love

A gentle hand
that remembers
where it’s been.



          Ένα τρυφερό χέρι
          που θυμάται
          πού έχει πάει.



Έna triferό hέri
pou theemάte
pou έhee pάee.

* From Another Song I Know, Cosmopsis Books (2007).

Greek translation and transliteration © 2008 by Vassilis Zambaras. Published here with the poet’s kind permission.

Vowel pronunciation guide: i as in letter “e”; e as in “eh” — without “h” sound; a as in “ma”; o as in “OK”; ou as in “balloon”.


Update:
Definition of the word fustigation added to You Don’t Say.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

One


While chewing an apple, the sound of a wind chime
could not be heard separately from the sound of the apple
being chewed, and vice-versa, and so the two sounds were,
for a brief, exhilarating time, one: a chiming apple —
or, as he put it later to a friend,

                                     “Finally, I know why I’m here.”


From Songs and Letters, originally published December 10, 2008.


Update:
In the Forum: To Your Scattered Bodies Go.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Left Behind


Left Behind
December 9, 2008



Newly sown: My poem, “Seeds,” and its Greek translation and transliteration by Vassilis Zambaras, have just become the first English-Greek entry in the Armenian Poetry Project. My thanks to Lola Koundakjian and Vassilis for making it possible.

Updates:
A new haiku, “Early December, Before a Storm,” added to Songs and Letters.

In the Forum: In an afterlife where all the typewriter ribbons need changing, suicide becomes the only option.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Pitchfork Poem


About halfway through a ream of paper,
a perfect page of overlapping impressions
shows the poet’s vigor and control,
a braille constellation many
stars beyond its time,
distance bound
by restless
minds.

(first publication)

Note: Since I’m the one who brought it up, I thought I should at least take a stab at it.


Updates:
“Pitchfork Poem” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: chained to an old typewriter throughout all eternity, typing up news releases of no celestial importance.

Notice of pending server relocation and expected site outages added to News and Reviews.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Clouds


Early the other evening, on the way home from buying apples, oranges, pears, and honey with my wife and our little grandson, heading west from the country back toward town and into a painted sky of new clouds from a rise in the road, I thought, how beautiful if it were all to end here — but of course I kept that to myself, because voicing such things at a time like that is selfish and inexcusable — besides, although I do still remember it now, the feeling departed within a few blissful seconds of its arrival — and then I pointed and said, “Those clouds are really something.”


Clouds

Sometimes I find them
drifting through the house.

They linger in the hall,
obscure a high shelf or valance.

When they part, I half expect
a goat to come bounding down,
or a wayfarer begging alms.

Here and there a village,
warm bricks, a familiar hearth,
old women carding wool
and making bread.

Wheels turning under clouds,
trees and wet green fields,
solemn roads that lead away,
a stranger who somehow
knows my name.

From Songs and Letters, originally published May 24, 2006.


Dreams: another added to the Annandale Dream Gazette (see Dec. 7 entry).

Update:
As the Conversation continues, we try to make sense of the aforementioned dream.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Seeds (ΣΠΟΡΙΑ)


“Seeds” is the second of three of my short poems* translated into Greek by poet Vassilis Zambaras, whose insightful miniatures I heartily recommend. To read his translation of the first poem, “Thin Ice,” go here.


Seeds

While my mother
drinks her tea,
I eat a tangerine.

My dish is full
of pale-hard seeds.

She tells me
I should plant them.

I see her in a garden
on her knees,
waiting, looking down.



          Καθώς η μάνα μου
          πίνει το τσάι της,
          τρώω ένα μανταρίνι.

          Το πιάτο μου γεμάτο
          χλωμά σκληρά σπόρια.

          Μου λέει
          πρέπει να τα σπείρω.

          Την βλέπω σ’ ένα κήπο
          γονατισμένη,
          να περιμένει, και να κοιτάζει
          κάτω.



Kathόs e mάnna mou
pinei to tsάee tis,
trόο έna mandarίni.

To piάτο mou gemάto
hlomά sklirά spόria.

Mou lέi
prέpei na ta spίro.

Tin vlέpo sέna kίpo
gonatίmeni,
Na perimέni, ke na kitάzi
kάto.

* From Another Song I Know, Cosmopsis Books (2007).

Greek translation and transliteration © 2008 by Vassilis Zambaras. Published here with the poet’s kind permission.

Vowel pronunciation guide: i as in letter “e”; e as in “eh” — without “h” sound; a as in “ma”; o as in “OK”; ou as in “balloon”.


Dreams: Lynn Behrendt has graciously added another of my dreams — this time around, a short, rather disturbing episode — to the Annandale Dream Gazette. The twenty-five dreams of mine that she’s posted so far are gathered here.

Update:
In the Forum: after talking ourselves into a corner, we escape to a new page.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Scissors, Paper, Rock


Since posting A Preliminary Sketch, I’ve been thinking about the different kinds of poems I might produce if I wrote them with tools not usually associated with writing, and about the challenging, liberating experience writing those poems could be. Most of us are so accustomed to conventional means — pen, paper, typewriter, computer — that we forget how those tools influence the results. And then, sometimes, when we do take notice, it sets us off in new directions, leads us to experiment, and makes us wonder how different our work might have been if we had lived in the time of chisels and stone tablets.

What kind of poem could I write with a stick? A spoon, a rock, a plumber’s friend. A clothes iron, spark plugs, ice tongs. Broom. Eraser. Magic wand. Porcupine quill. Divining rod. Wooden match. Baton. Scalpel. Pruning shears. Cookie cutter. Mortar and pestle.

I suppose to a certain degree it would be like composing on a different musical instrument, or like writing in a different place. I wrote somewhere once about the possible effects different windows have had on my writing and thinking — which way they faced, their size, their position in the room, how they were framed, the scene beyond.

Or no window. No tools at all. Is the mind a tool? Is the wind and rain?

Light, as Mr. Salchert related in his comment after the entry, is present even in dark matter.

On the other hand, some of us are able to find darkness in anything.

No medium, no means to record. Gray matter. Any way, shape, manner, or form. Are your Christmas cards done? Among others, my parents used to exchange them every year with Cotton and Polly — friends from the war. Not once did they ask each other questions like these. Can you write with a pitchfork? A doughnut? A piece of tape?

Note: Thanks to everyone who commented on A Preliminary Sketch.


Updates:
A new poem, “Discovery,” added to Songs and Letters.

A short note about Vassilis Zambaras’s Greek translations added to News and Reviews.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Thin Ice (ΛΕΠΤΟΣ ΠΑΓΟΣ)


“Thin Ice” is the first of three of my short poems translated into Greek by gifted poet and friend, Vassilis Zambaras. All are taken from my book, Another Song I Know, published in 2007 by Cosmopsis Books. I feel honored, and very fortunate, to present them here.


Thin Ice

Ah! Now I’ve done it.
But please, don’t save me yet.
I want to feel this way
a little longer.



          Ωχ! Τώρα τη πάτησα.
          Μα παρακαλώ, μη με σώζεις ακόμα.
          Να νιώθω έτσι θέλω
          λίγο ακόμα.



Oh! Tόra tee pάtisa.
Ma parakalό, mee me sόzis akόma.
Na niόtho έtsi thέlo
lίgho akόma.

Greek translation and transliteration © 2008 by Vassilis Zambaras. Published here with the poet’s kind permission.

Vowel pronunciation guide: i as in letter “e”; e as in “eh” — without “h” sound; a as in “ma”; o as in “OK”; ou as in “balloon”.


Recently linked: My thanks to Scott Allen for linking to Recently Banned Literature from his new blog, Scorched Amalgamation, and for adding his profile link under “Followers.” It’s greatly appreciated.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Mind Over Matter


If each sense is a window,
what about those birds
singing madly in the attic?

(first publication)


Updates:
“Mind Over Matter” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Preliminary Sketch


A Preliminary Sketch
December 1, 2008


Note: Sometimes it helps to sketch out a poem in advance. When you find it staring back at you, it’s time for the writing to begin. There are cities like that, too, where the imagined streets and buildings are so familiar that it would be a shame not to go ahead and build them. And after you do, you meet some crazy, wonderful, amazing people there.

Recently linked:
Beginning with Djibril’s newly added profile image under “Followers,” a few clicks led me to the home page of The Future Fire, a publication of “Social, Political & Speculative Cyber-fiction” and its new companion review blog, The Future Fire Reviews. Thank you, Djibril.

Updates:
Changed outdated links to Heyday Books under “Artwork” at left, on the Main Page, and in News and Reviews.

In the Forum, Winston doles out the pills.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

In Confidence


The same dream
over and over

a crazy woman
giving me a candle

then one night
I realize

I’m not dreaming
it’s the crazy woman

who’s dreaming
and she’s given me

her last candle
and she says now

what will I do
will you help me

and then she turns
into a candle

and that explains
these burns

on my face
on my hands

on my arms

(first publication)


Update:
“In Confidence” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Greek Myths, Volume Two


Recently Acquired:
The Greek Myths, Volume Two
by Robert Graves
Penguin Books
Baltimore (1955)

412 pages
Price: ninety-nine cents

I found this gem my second time through the tiny Literature section at Goodwill. It’s fifty-three years old, yellowed to perfection, and still in sound condition. There’s even a map “showing sites mentioned in text” inside the back cover that folds out to a size equivalent to eight pages. On the back cover is a short biography of the prolific poet, translator, and novelist Robert Graves, who “lives in Majorca, Spain, except in times of war” and “has eight children, one of whom was killed in his old regiment in Burma in 1943; another is Jenny Nicholson, the well-known foreign correspondent.”

From inside the front cover: Not for over a century, since Smith’s Dictionary of Classical Mythology first appeared, has the attempt been made to provide for the English reader a complete ‘mythology’, in the sense of a retelling in modern terms of the Greek tales of Gods and heroes. In the two volumes of this book Robert Graves, whose combination of classical scholarship and anthropological competence has already been so brilliantly demonstrated in The White Goddess and Hercules, My Shipmate, and the other novels, supplies the need. In nearly two hundred sections, it covers the Creation myths, the legends of the birth and lives of the great Olympians, the Theseus, Oedipus, and Heracles cycles, the Argonaut voyage, the tale of Troy, and much else.

All the scattered elements of each myth have been assembled into a harmonious narrative, and many variants are recorded which may help to determine its ritual and historical meaning. Full references to the classical sources, and copious indices, make the book as valuable to the scholar as to the general reader; and a full commentary to each myth explains and interprets the classical version in the light of to-day’s archaeological and anthropological knowledge.



Elsewhere: My thanks to Lola Koundakjian, founder and curator of the Armenian Poetry Project, for sharing news of my recent publication in Artasahmanyan Grakanutyun.


Updates:
This entry, minus the image, added to And I Quote.

As the Conversation continues, Winston takes a rather harsh tone with his grandmother, then offers to clean her glasses.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Give Us This Day


The house on the hill
has a song behind its door

each morning someone
lets it out out of kindness

the song flaps up to the roof
and looks demented

and ruffled and it hasn’t
tried to fly away

for a long long time
neither has the poor soul

who lives there
who opens the door

and says pshh
what are wings for

just as I’m coming their way
our father who art in

heaven give us this day
and then they go back again

and I dream on
furiously waving my arms

From Songs and Letters, Volume 19, originally published May 27, 2008.


Update:
A new poem, “Self Portrait,” added to Songs and Letters.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Artasahmanyan Grakanutyun


Recently Received:
Artasahmanyan Grakanutyun
World Literature in Armenian
1-2 (14-15) 2008, January-June
Writers Union of Armenia
Yerevan, Armenia

Editor: Samvel Mkrtchian
Design: S & H Project
Cover: Samvel Mkrtchian

144 pages
Includes one drawing

Writers translated for this issue:
Georg Trakl, Emil Cioran, Stephen Leacock, William Michaelian, Dino Buzzati, Robert Musil, Ahmad Shamlou, Romain Rolland. Also contains one review by Ashot Aleksanyan.

Note: My thanks to editor Samvel Mkrtchian for his fine translations of fourteen poems from Winter Poems and Another Song I Know. In recent years, he has translated a number of my stories and poems, and has been instrumental in their publication.


Updates:
A short note about Artasahmanyan Grakanutyun added to News and Reviews.

In the Forum: Winston, the ungrateful wretch.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Foiled Again


The murder of the imagination was seen as great progress. “Now,” they said, “if we could just do something about these children — you know, nip it in the bud.” But then, before anything was decided, the bud grew, and it opened, and its cloud-sized petals nearly smothered them all. It was a symphony, out on the town. “We’ve failed somehow.” And there was laughter from one mountaintop to another, and the rattling of tin cans tied to the bumper of an old Cadillac — not another wedding! The driver had plans of his own. “Call me on Tuesday.” Tuesday arrived: a card shoved under the door. “The baby’s eating something he shouldn’t.” An éclair? A worm? “No, far worse. Sorry, sir. We’ll pay for your leg.” The imagination: ah! — what a curse.

(first publication)


Updates:
“Foiled Again” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: The Muffin Affair.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

My Old Black Sport Coat


Although references to the old black wool sport coat I bought for $12.99 at Goodwill seven years ago to wear to a wedding are scattered here and there around the site, I haven’t written a poem about it until now. I still wear the coat for months at a stretch during the colder part of the year. In fact, I do more than wear it. I rely on it. I have only one other sport coat — a pointlessly speckled light-gray affair that I wore only a few times several years ago. A bit on the flimsy side, that one cost $7.99, and it never did fit that well. I don’t remember just why I bought it. Restless, probably. The black one fits perfectly and is quite warm. It was made in Hungary. I love it. It’s a faithful friend.


My Old Black Sport Coat

Someday I think I’d like to wear it in Ireland,
And maybe even be buried in it there.
I could fall asleep while leaning on its sturdy
Unfaded elbows, surrounded by strangers in a pub,
And then simply not wake up — as if I’d lost
My train of thought, or managed to forget
The most important thing. Perdóneme,
What did you say again? Ah. He’s dead.
But what a fine sport coat.

That same train is calling in the wilderness.
Now it’s moving slowly past the docks.
Men look up: the beast sniffs along the track,
But knows not where to stop.

Six years ago, when I helped lay my dear Basque
Mother-in-law to rest, I was wearing this coat.
Her grave is beside her husband’s
In a cemetery adjacent to an onion field.
Earlier, in the church,
The man who rented her vineyard
Looked at me as if I were strange.
Jealous of the coat, I thought,
Or puzzled by my hair and beard.
And now, he is dead.

His tractor is calling in the wilderness.
Now it’s moving slowly past the docks.
Men look up: the beast sniffs along the furrow,
But knows not where to stop.

I taught three sons how to drive
While wearing this old black coat:
Country roads, parking lots, residential streets.
I taught them how to use their mirrors
And to back up along a curb.
Hills were easier, they learned,
In first or second gear.

Frequently, along the way, I remembered
When my father had taught me.

After our youngest son got his license,
I was wearing this coat when the two of us
Stopped at a tobacco shop after buying his insurance.
I bought a cigar and smoked it in this coat,
To celebrate what he’d done, but also in memory
Of my old man,

Who somehow became lost in the wilderness.
Now he’s walking slowly past the docks.
Men look up: maybe they know him.
But if they did, wouldn’t they call out?

When I held my grandson for the first time,
I was wearing this coat. Outside, rain.
Along a scented, night-black street,
I walked away from the hospital in this coat,
Pleased and wondering what it meant.

You never know who you’ll meet in the wilderness.

Introduction and poem from Collected Poems, written November 26, 2007. “My Old Black Sport Coat” also appeared in the Armenian Poetry Project.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Jung and Easily Freudened


Specimen 1

The patient didn’t know
he was the patient

the doctor didn’t know
he was the doctor

I didn’t know
either of them

so I turned away
from the mirror —

yes I said I turned away,
turned away from the mirror.


Specimen 2

Imagine an ordinary pincushion full of pins, and that this pincushion has been left undisturbed for quite some time, and that microscopic beings of great intelligence have built an advanced harmonious civilization among the pins, and that an old woman on her way through the room happens to notice the pincushion and decides for a vague sentimental reason that she needs a pin, and that with her thumb and index finger she destroys the civilization’s archives, killing the director and his leading scholars, and also topples several buildings, trapping thousands of microscopic beings in silent transparent elevators while ruining a major portion of their solar-powered transportation system, causing also a cataclysmic dust storm, and that one brave, intrepid member of this microscopic race manages to record the entire event though it brings about his own death, and that the few surviving beings flee to a wool cap hanging on a doorknob several light years from the pincushion. Then imagine hearing the woman say, “My goodness. What on earth did I come in here for?”

(first publication)

Note: The two “specimens” that comprise “Jung and Easily Freudened” were written simultaneously on the same word processor page — which is to say, I alternated between them, advancing and refining (defining? undermining?) each as I went along. Total play time: less than an hour, during which I also washed a few dishes.

Image: Jung and Easily Freudened (click to enlarge).


Updates:
“Jung and Easily Freudened” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: a defining moment deferred.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Redefined


The dictionary as word-hive: collect the honey at your own risk.


Update:
As the Conversation continues, we discuss a grand painting on a miniature scale, or a miniature painting on a grand scale.

Monday, November 24, 2008

James K. Baxter: Wild Bees


In a pleasant exchange of letters on the subject of The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, by Nikos Kazantzakis, a reader in Atlanta told me that the poet’s multiple references to honey reminded him of “Wild Bees” by New Zealand poet James K. Baxter (1926-1972). That poem in turn reminded me of a strange little story I wrote in 1997, and later included in a Notebook entry. Here is Baxter’s poem, as harvested from this forum page, which also includes several more of his poems:


Wild Bees

Often in summer, on a tarred bridge plank standing,
Or downstream between willows, a safe Ophelia drifting
In a rented boat — I had seen them comes and go,
Those wild bees, swift as tigers, their gauze wings a-glitter
In passionless industry, clustering black at the crevice
Of a rotten cabbage tree, where their hive was hidden low

But never strolled too near. Till one half-cloudy evening
Of ripe January, my friends and I
Came, gloved and masked to the eyes like plundering desperadoes,
To smoke them out. Quiet beside the stagnant river
We trod wet grasses down, hearing the crickets chitter
And waiting for light to drain from the wounded sky.

Before we reached the hive their sentries saw us
And sprang invisible through the darkening air.
Stabbed, and died in stinging. The hive woke. Poisonous fuming
Of sulphur filled the hollow trunk, and crawling
Blue flames sputtered — yet still their suicidal
Live raiders dived and clung to our hands and hair.

O it was Carthage under the Roman torches,
Or loud with flames and falling timber, Troy!
A job well botched. Half of the honey melted
And half the rest young grubs. Through earth-black smouldering ashes
And maimed bee groaning, we drew our plunder.
Little enough their gold, and slight our joy.

Fallen then the city of instinctive wisdom.
Tragedy is written distinct and small:
A hive burned on a cool night in summer.
But loss is a precious stone to me, a nectar
Distilled in time, preaching the truth of winter
To the fallen heart that does not cease to fall.



Updates:
A new haiku, “Page One,” added to Songs and Letters. Also: a short poem, “Traveler,” added November 16, 2008, but overlooked.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Varieties of Religious Experience


are butterflies
in a crayon dream
before they seem
what we think
they mean
to be.

From Songs and Letters, Volume 19, originally published May 26, 2008.


Update:
In the Forum: ambulatory sausages.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Frogs


In my mother’s old copy of Andersonville, which she has never read and doesn’t remember buying, receiving, or bringing home, I found a bookmark that consists of a laminated eucalyptus leaf with a tiny yellowish-green frog perched near the stem. The frog is about a quarter-inch thick, with dark eyes slightly larger than the head of a pin. When I showed it to her, my mother didn’t remember the bookmark either.

The fact is, it might not be a bookmark at all. For one thing, the frog is too thick to allow the book to close properly. And when the leaf is adjusted to avoid the problem, a disproportionate amount of it is visible outside the book. It seems to me that the frog and the leaf would look much better in a terrarium, or perhaps in a decorative dish near the sink in a bathroom reserved for guests.

What would a frog be doing on a eucalyptus leaf anyway? I suppose if the tree the leaf had fallen from were near water, the leaf might be discovered by a frog and maybe even used for a time as a barge. Imagine a frog hauling rare insects in tiny cages down a narrow stream, and other frogs meeting him at landings along the way to purchase his exotic wares. Imagine muscular frogs working along the shore, laughing, singing, and calling out to one another as they drag the cages onto creaky platforms.


Frogs

Like any frog,
at the end
of a hard day
I tie one on
at the nearest
sand bar.

I stay until
my wife croaks,
then I hop
on home.

To celebrate
our love,
I give her
eucalyptus perfume.

Ribbit on, she says. Ribbit on.

Introduction and poem from Collected Poems, written and first published “about two and a half years ago.”

Image: Frogs (click to enlarge).


Update:
In the Forum: The Three Princes of Serendip.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Now and Then


In our old public library, a patron died reading in her chair. I was there. As gently as she could, the librarian removed the book from the widow’s hand, closed it, and set it on the table. Then she wrote a number on her cooling palm, nodded for my help, and together we shelved her in the reference section. She’s been there ever since. And when I hunger for the knowledge she possessed, I carefully take her down — a volume mute, but never dumb, her faded skirt and blouse, her rigid spine, her yellowed teeth and bones.

(first publication)

Note: Around ten years ago, I wrote a story about an old woman who died in a library. Had I taken this approach, maybe it wouldn’t have been rejected so many times — not that this piece is necessarily any better, but one never knows. Of course, ten years ago this approach would never have occurred to me, as back then I was still struggling with occasional bouts of sanity.

Here is the “tiny bit of pertinent information” that accompanies the story’s link on the title page of my Early Short Stories:

One thing I take pride in is being able to write any kind of story, according to the demands of the story itself. I don’t tell a story what to do. It tells me. If a story wants to be simple, I don’t try to make it complicated. If it decides to be crazy, I am crazy right along with it. To impose myself on a story, or to decide ahead of time how it should sound or what it should accomplish would be like denying the individuality of my own children. The approach leads to frustration, resentment, and uniformity. This brings to mind an interesting question: Is it possible for a story to resent its author? Judging by some of the stories out there, I’d say it would be impossible for them not to. Do any of my stories resent me? Undoubtedly — but for reasons they have thus far been unwilling to explain. “Miss Martin” has been rejected by editors all over the country. Finally, we had tea together one day, and she convinced me she wasn’t really the traveling type.


Updates:
“Now and Then” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: unforeseen positive consequences.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Between a Rock and a Hard Place


Looking forward to your visit.
Stay as long as you like.

P.S. Bring dynamite.

From Songs and Letters, Volume 18, originally published January 20, 2008.


Update:
The following note added to You Don’t Say: Odrovir or Odhrevir. The “poet’s mead” of the Scandinavian gods. It was made of Kvasir’s blood mixed with honey, and all who partook of it became poets. Kvasir was the wisest of all men, and could answer any question put to him. He was fashioned out of the saliva spat into a jar by the Aesir and Vanir on their conclusion of peace, and was slain by the dwarfs Fjalar and Galar.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Art of Loneliness


Serious
practitioners
know how
to make
it new.

(first publication)

Note: This poem was inspired by the brief exchange of comments following my November Postcard entry. I like the idea of there being an Artist of the Lonely — a person whose exploration takes him deep into the heart of loneliness and far from its mundane practical applications, thereby shattering the wretched assumptions and negative connotations by which it is so commonly maligned.


Dreams: Another added to the Annandale Dream Gazette (part of 11-18-08 entry).

Update:
“The Art of Loneliness” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Night Sky


Night Sky
November 16, 2008


Note: My thanks to Lynn Behrendt for adding another of my dreams to the Annandale Dream Gazette. The twenty-three she’s posted so far are collected here.

Update:
Faced with the possibility of real work, we consider conducting parallel interviews as the Conversation continues.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Keep What I Give You, Part 2


A note of thanks to Vassilis Zambaras
for sharing selections from Winter Poems
in his blog, and for his kind introduction
to my two books published last year
by Cosmopsis Books.

Lara’s Theme


My mother, Laura,

                           listening, frowning,

             no longer recalls

that tune.

                                      “I should, I know.”


(first publication)

Note: “Lara’s Theme,” from Doctor Zhivago, along with the film and its entire score, has long been one of my mother’s favorites, and mine. Another is “Danny Boy.” In fact, late in my unpublished second novel, The Smiling Eyes of Children, the main character, a sixty-year-old-writer named Ross Freeman, sings “Danny Boy” to a young journalist-friend and his wife in their apartment shortly before they must part company. Damn it — I really should publish that book. It’s a good one, and unusual in that it’s written almost entirely as dialogue. That took a bit of work, and I loved every minute of it.


Updates:
“Lara’s Theme” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: a game that requires a bone-dry dirt course, blistering heat, the deep shade of walnut and ash trees, ten thousand sparrows, and a vineyard nearby.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November Postcard


          This bright frosty morning,
          the world smells like
          a million lonely breakfasts.

Haiku from Songs and Letters, originally published November 15, 2008.

Note: I almost dedicated this poem to Richard Brautigan, then I thought, “What the heck, he’s dead.”

Strangely related link: Library of Unwritten Books

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Rumors


A scenic sky journey at dusk becomes a free-fall when I’m separated from my traveling companions. At first, when they’re still in sight, I yell to them that it’s windy, and that I won’t land where they expect. They yell back and wave from their drifting balloon-less basket — they think I’m joking. Then I’m swept into darkness over the ocean. Falling through miles of dense clouds, my face wet, I wonder how far underwater my momentum will take me, if I’ll be able to make it back to the surface, or be killed on impact. Should I try to land on my feet, or go in head first, arms extended? I try turning every which way, but nothing seems right. And then, from the front window of my childhood home, I see a small group of friends and relatives in the graveled driveway. I go out to greet them. They ask me about my ordeal. I laugh and tell them it was nothing. Their expressions are sympathetic; they are there for my funeral.

Added yesterday to the Annandale Dream Gazette.

Friday, November 14, 2008

When I Consider How My Light Is Spent


          “I have been all the way around this mountain.
                    I tell you, it has no other side.”

The possibly meaningful conclusion of a brief new Notebook entry, in which I borrow Milton’s line, When I consider how my light is spent, in the vain hope of sounding intelligent.


Recently linked: Yesterday’s Donne to Dryden entry has elicited a nice book recommendation from halfway around the globe.

Thanks, meanwhile, to Doug P. Baker for his comments on Donne to Dryden and Religion is a Funny Thing. His blog, Triocentric, where sonnets have held sway for some time now, certainly does not lack enthusiasm.


Update:
As the Conversation continues, we find a good use for empty tomato sauce cans.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Donne to Dryden


Recently Acquired:
The Centuries’ Poetry
Vol. 2, Donne to Dryden

Edited by Denys Kilham Roberts
Penguin Books
Melbourne, London, Baltimore
(1949, reprinted 1952)

This stately fifty-six-year-old paperback smells exactly like the little used bookstore it came from, where minds diverge and each volume is a tiny tempest of dust. It contains the dignified remains of thirty-seven poets, orderly, proper, and in many cases dull, and of course I love them dearly.

I’m particularly moved by this opening line from John Milton’s sonnet on his blindness, which has been going around in my head for several days now:

When I consider how my light is spent, . . .

Lo these centuries later, I can’t help thinking of light in other terms — as one’s talent, perhaps, or love, or quickly passing time on earth.

I love the little biographies in back, too, in which we learn that William Cartwright (1611-43) was the son of an innkeeper at Cirencester, and that Richard Corbet (1582-1635) was the son of a gardener, and that after a dissipated youth, Charles Sackville (1638-1706) became sixth Earl of Dorset and developed a sense of responsibility in public and private affairs.

I plan to read each and every one of them, and to try to imagine the lives they so succinctly betray.

Poets included: John Donne, John Webster, Sir Henry Wotton, Edmund Bolton, Ben Jonson, Thomas Dekker, Richard Corbet, Thomas Heywood, George Herbert, Phineas Fletcher, Thomas Carew, William Browne, William Drummond of Hawthornden, Francis Quarles, Robert Burton, Thomas Randolph, Sir John Suckling, William Cartwright, George Wither, William Habington, James Shirley, Richard Crashaw, Robert Herrick, John Cleveland, Sir Richard Fanshawe, Richard Lovelace, John Milton, Abraham Cowley, Edmund Waller, Andrew Marvell, Thomas Stanley, Thomas Traherne, Thomas Shipman, Henry Vaughan, Charles Cotton, Charles Sackville, John Dryden, and “Anonymous.”


Update:
This entry, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, added to And I Quote, “A random selection of books and authors, some famous, some forgotten.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revised, Expanded Edition


A quick note of thanks to Joseph Hutchison
for expanding on the comment he made
following my recent entry, Maps.
His writing is thoughtful
and informative,
as always.

The Early Years


Use this word in a sentence, the teacher said, and I was incredibly torn, because I loved to write but hated being told what to do — yes, even then — and yet I felt it my sacred duty to give the word a good home, to give it a place of honor on the rough blank gray sheet of paper, and so I began to write, and after writing for what felt like the whole joyous first day of summer vacation, I looked up and the teacher was standing beside another student’s desk saying That’s very good in a fraudulent meaningless tone, That’s very good in a way that proved I knew her better than she knew herself, That’s very good with no clue as to how or why — and then it was my turn, and before she could speak I said That’s very good, and was immediately sent to the principal’s office, a man with hair on his fingers who said That’s very bad in the same fraudulent meaningless tone, and I wondered if he and the teacher were married, and what words they used in sentences when they were home and their tasteless supper was cold, and if they ever, ever listened to themselves.

(first publication)


Update:
“The Early Years” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

In the Forum: Dylan’s Balzacian tendencies.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Waiters (Long Live the Revolution)


Someday, my friend, we’ll have a table in the sun.
                                 (There will be tables in abundance, I assure you.)
We’ll sit for hours, drinking, smoking, and talking about
Crazy street-side performers and newly minted books,
The balloon-man’s enormous mustache, and children’s eyes,
How they reflect musicians, poets, and colorful signs.

We’ll loudly discuss the uprising and other hysterical events,
The rapidly falling price of apple pies, cooking oil,
And a pound of éclairs, solé non broubon fondueliz, the girl on the stairs,
The uniformed men marching on Boomblatz Strasse,
All of them late for the train, brightly Phoooooooooo! sounds the whistle
Heedless of their solé fon armament, stomp, stomp, stomping
In their leather-gouted, maniacal shoes.

Have faith, I tell you, for the day will surely come:
Perhaps later, perhaps never, but certainly soon.
Be prepared: there will be more to say than there is to know.

See those men there? The arrogant ones with blood on their hands?
You can tell by their eyes they’ve lied on a thousand occasions.
Labor is beneath them: they thrive by deceit alone.
And the serfs at their elbows? We are here to chew their food.

How easy it would be to set fire to their hair! How paltry, yet grand!
My friend, these criminals are but a gust away from flames.
And you and I, by a lucky twist of parfait, are here to watch them burn.


From Songs and Letters, Volume 4, originally published February 4, 2006.

Note: “The Waiters (Long Live the Revolution)” was also published in 2008 in The Modern Story, an online magazine that came and went within a few short months.


Update:
Still tuning on Desolation Row.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Maps


               One held up a leaf,
the other his bare white hand.

“The asylum is that way,
                                                        friends.”


(first publication)

Note: The letter “s” in “friends” makes all the difference. Without it, there would be only two people in the poem. Add the “s” and there are three. It’s a miracle, I tell you.


Update:
“Maps” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Religion is a Funny Thing


Religion is a funny thing
at five o’clock in the morning

before it’s had its coffee
and put on its robe

it looks like any other
working stiff

too broke
to call in sick

one piece of toast
away from insanity

one hollow-futile scrape
of blackened crust

away from shrugging
its responsibility

for good.

From Songs and Letters, originally published April 28, 2008.

Note: “Religion is a Funny Thing” is part of the thirty-two-poem cycle of “religious” and “philosophical” poems that make up Volume 19 of Songs and Letters.


Update:
More on Bob Dylan and Chronicles as the Conversation continues.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fire


For Vassilis Zambaras

When I was very young
I thought, why not try
rubbing two words together?

(first publication)

Inspired by this entry at Vazambam.


Update:
“Fire” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Supper at the Asylum


This room is like a great cathedral
when the people have gone
and the tired priest
takes off his robe
and eats alone

haunted by symbols.

From Songs and Letters, originally published November 7, 2007.

Note: “Supper at the Asylum” is part of the twenty-poem cycle of “asylum poems” that make up Volume 15 of Songs and Letters.


Update:
In the Forum: Bob Dylan’s Chronicles.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Coplas


On Page 238, in the Spanish and Portuguese section of Adventures in World Literature, a book I’ve mentioned here and here, is this note on coplas:

“The reputation of Spain as a land of song is justified by the tremendous number of little four-line songs called coplas, which have sprung up like field flowers, without literary cultivation or known authorship.”

The note is followed by twenty examples. Here are two, translated by S. de Madariaga:


      3

When I saw you coming,
I said to my heart;
What a pretty little stone
To stumble on!


      7

I dreamt last night
That the Moors were killing me,
And it was your beautiful eyes
Looking at me angrily.


Update:
“Philosophers,” a haiku inspired by pumpkins, added to Songs and Letters.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pain


He always answers
when you knock,
and is glad to let you in.

His house is strange,
with many halls
and rooms.

Each contains a mirror
that shows you
where you’ve been.

Each contains a door
that leads you
back again.

To gain your freedom,
your host
must show the way.

Before he can, or will,
you must almost
want to stay.

From Songs and Letters, originally published May 17, 2006.

Note: On the second day of February back in 2007, I received a short e-mail from someone in Canada asking my permission to make copies of “Pain” to hand out at the end of a one-hour “psycho-education session” for sufferers of psychological trauma and chronic pain. I readily consented. He didn’t reply.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Reckoning


It’s a rocking chair universe,
isn’t it, and it’s about
to come down
on a cat’s
tail.

From Songs and Letters, originally published November 2, 2008.

Note: This poem and the one in Sunday’s entry were written within the space of a few hours, with a very bad sinus headache, cough, and runny nose, between errands and cups of jasmine tea. It’s a rather strange form of record-keeping, I suppose.


Update:
In the Forum, we discover the dark side of the mud pie business.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Keep What I Give You


I recently received four beautiful gifts from poet Vassilis Zambaras: a copy of his book, Sentences, published in 1976 by Querencia Books in Seattle and printed in a limited keepsake edition of 300 copies in Athens, Greece; his book, Aural, published in 1984 by Singing Horse Press in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, in a small hand-sewn limited edition; his simple four-page Triptych, published in London in 2005 as part of the Kater Murr’s Press Piraeus Series; and finally the following incredibly beautiful poem from his unpublished third collection, The Intricate Evasions of As, released by Kater Murr’s Press in a plain white card edition (1998) of 200 copies.

          Keep what I give you
          a covenant

          we shall inherit
          the unimaginable

          immaculate loneliness
          of galaxies.


As I told Vassilis when I wrote to thank him, these books and printings are real treasures — especially for the musically profound yet simple poems they contain, but also as carefully designed objects that serve as proud, tangible evidence of an artist’s brief time here on earth. Books like this bring me hope and inspiration. They take me back to the beginning of my own dream and desire to make something real and of lasting value. They remind me how lucky I am to be a writer and a poet, and that as poets, we must be givers and bringers of light:

          Poetry Lesson

          And yet, we know something of bitterness —
          this draining out of love in syllables
          teaches us, among other things, silence
          and how to talk our way around it.

                                                  — From Sentences


Image: Aural, by Vassilis Zambaras; cover by Binney and Ronaldson (click to enlarge).

Note: Sentences cover design by Robyn Tarbet; Triptych artwork by Leslie Buchanan.

The poet’s blog: Vazambam.


Update:
In the Forum: non-violent cookbooks.