Thursday, September 30, 2010

Canvases 96 and 97


September 29 and September 30.




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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Canvas 95



“Canvas 95”
September 29, 2010

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Update:
In the Forum: Heaven’s Deadly Curse.

9.29.2010 #2
9.29.2010 #1 (drawing)

After a Dream



After a Dream
September 29, 2010

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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Supplies


My mother’s name on twelve new socks.
Eighty-eight years old, one eye weak and a mind to match,
she’ll neither see nor recognize my hand.

A new pair of slippers, wide enough for wayward toes,
black-block letters on gray soles.
If I’m at home, is she away at camp?

Lotion for dry skin. Toothpaste for what remains
of Stonehenge. An old, familiar brand.

Tissue for a sneeze that rarely comes — but when it does,
oh, lord. The rest for Sunday-singing should warm tears arise,
or moonlight find her room through unclosed blinds.

In a hat beneath gray skies, beside chrysanthemums
and trees that sigh, reckoning geese in fog and the smoke
of ties that bind, strikes deep the hour never really done,
tolls the sound of father, son, and gone.


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


9.28.2010 #2
9.28.2010 #1 (drawing)

Canvas 94



“Canvas 94”
September 27, 2010

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Update:
In the Forum: Spiked, pierced, pimped-up elves, looking for kicks, bumping into the mindless shoppers from Human Heaven. Not a pretty meeting.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Blue



Blue
September 26, 2010

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Update:
In the Forum: elevator music, harps and angelic choruses.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Piled Higher and Deeper




The five books in the center of this photo are part of a limited edition set of Harvard Classics published by P.F. Collier & Son Company in New York in 1909 and 1910. The set number is 4266. The volumes, each of which cost five dollars, are from the library of one David Williams Lattimer.

Volume 7: The Confessions of St. Augustine, translated by Edward B. Pusey; The Imitation of Christ, by Thomas A Kempis, translated by William Benham. 379 pages.

Volume 8: French and English Philosophers, Descartes, Rousseau, Voltaire, Hobbes. 434 pages.

Volume 24: On Taste; On the Sublime and Beautiful; Reflections on the French Revolution; A Letter to a Noble Lord, by Edmund Burke. 442 pages.

Volume 29: The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin. 547 pages.

Volume 48: Blaise Pascal. Thoughts, translated by W.F. Trotter. Letters, translated by M.L. Booth. Minor Works, translated by O.W. Wight.


The other two books were part of a two-for-one fiction sale.

At left: The Valley of Decision, by Edith Wharton. Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York (1902). 656 pages. $1.50.

At right: The Edwardians, by V. Sackville-West. Doubleday, Doran & Company, New York (1930). 314 pages. $2.00.


Update:
In the Forum: counseling, paranoia, and a good stiff drink.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

She



She
September 24, 2010

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Update:
In the Forum: “The Library of Babel,” typewriters, monkeys, and hell.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Finding Solace in the Wind



Finding Solace in the Wind
by Stephanie Hiteshew

Cover Artist, Sarah Walroth

MuscleHead Press
BoneWorld Publishing

July 2010

Poetry. Chapbook. 39 pages. $5.00.




The past
rips
my mind
to shreds
and builds
a temple
in her honor.


A beautiful poem, “Temple.” I begin with it because, in fourteen words, it captures the spirit of this wonderful collection of more than a hundred short poems written by a young woman who, like the one depicted on the cover, is falling through life with her eyes wide open, surprised and frightened, yet glad she has finally let go. I’ve roughed up the cover a bit in the process of getting a picture, but that too is what this book is about: finding inspiration in life’s scars and ragged edges.

“Stephanie,” it says in a short note about the poet on the book’s last page, “began writing poetry to cope with the symptoms of her Tourette’s syndrome at age eight. Later, it became a crutch when she was diagnosed with tardive dystonia in 2004.” Crutch though it may be, we can search these pages high and low and find no trace of hand-wringing or complaint. What could have been a self-pitying diary is instead a collection of universal moments and truths, directly understood and lived.

Finding Solace in the Wind is divided into three sections. The first, Muse, is just that — tiny works of wonder which seem to arrive from nowhere:

The Chase

The canyon,
busy,
chasing down
echoes.



Midnight Moon

An old, giant,
cratered eye
surrounded by
a black sea
of dragons.



Shadows

A mass
of clouds

freed shadows
from their people

for one, glorious
moment.



Sit and Wonder

Each exhale
I won’t get back.
One step closer
to my passing.
While in between
still living.
Oh, how some
sit and wonder.



The second section, Hobo, is a Basho-under-bridges look at the world, with days of grit and exposure followed by nights of silence cracked by birds:

Sound

I listen to silence
opening up
to morning’s sound.
A crisp envelope
tearing—
the flap of an
opened letter.



Shivering

Shivering
lets you know
you’re still
alive.
Sleeping
leaves it
to the angels.



All Things Found

Of all things
found,

the world
before me
waiting,

was the least
expected.



Each of the poems in the third section, Sextets, are six lines in length, and some have the familiar, quotable ring of proverbs:

Boulder

He heaves
a brick
at the world.
The world
heaves
a boulder back.



Flaming Candle

The flaming
candle,
desperate,
commits suicide
with one,
fatal tear.



Others are stark and self-knowing:

Daughter You Know

Every time I leave
the world takes on
new meaning.
Never do I come back
the daughter
that you know.



What I like about all of the poems is their urgency, simplicity, and lack of guile. Stephanie is full of imagination, but she has no need for posing or pretending. There are people in this world who are embarrassed to say this much, and poets ashamed to write this well. And yet Stephanie’s solace, if they’d try it, could also be their own, Humble / as the / naked / cold / wicked to / the bone.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Canvas 93




“Canvas 93”
September 22, 2010

[click to enlarge]



Update:
In the Forum: remembering forgotten authors.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Other Room





A fair portion of the books Gerry Boyd sent me have now been shelved. Some are here in my parlor and workspace, and quite a few others are in the spare room where I worked each morning while my mother was still here. I wrote whole books in that room, and other things that have since scattered to the wind as pixel or print. I used to keep a careful record of such things, but in recent years I’ve wearied of the process. Which story was published when and where has gradually become more an archaeological concern, a matter of sediment, tides, and tree rings. Occasionally an old stump will appear after wind and drought have ravaged a particular corner of closet or mind, a shot-riddled road sign, or bleached, gaping skull. On my websites, though, I’m much better organized.

The other room, in fact, now that the books are there and the fall light is spilling in, has gained in appeal and seems to be taking on new life. I go in much more often, and, despite the presence of a bed, it isn’t hard to imagine it as a second workroom. I hesitate to use the word “studio,” and yet what better place to experiment with art in other forms — painting, perhaps, or music. I can also see closing the door behind me and not emerging again until I’ve written a new novel — or until I’m hungry, or needed by someone on the telephone — which, come to think of it, I probably won’t hear ringing.

My current workspace is entirely open. It has a large window and it faces the street. The nearest door is the front door. Anyone can walk in and see what I’m up to. Our grandson is free to roam. By instinct and gentle reminder, he has learned what not to touch. He touches it anyway, of course, but only in fun, and besides, I want him to know the feeling of old books and furniture, typewriter keys, hats, and the knick-knacks my mother collected over the years, including the heavy flat iron her mother once used, and the old Victrola salvaged from the house of a crazy old relative. I’ve seen him in wordless conversation with old photographs — one in particular, of my father and one of his brothers when they were little boys, but others as well, going as far back as his great-great-great grandparents. And as far as I know, they could be in touch somehow.

What makes this room a parlor is that it’s also a place to sit and read and talk. More often than not, though, I am a salon of one, which explains the mumbling.


Update:
In the Forum: black and white and read all over.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I Think of Bones


I think of bones and the way they heal
in the ground — except for that multitude
of empty hands, which we mistake
for fallen leaves beside
the road.

(first publication)


Updates:
“I Think of Bones” added to Poems, Slightly Used.

Monday, September 20, 2010

One, two, buckle my shoe


Canvases 91 and 92. I did the second immediately after finishing the first.




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9.20.2010 #2
9.20.2010 #1 (drawing)


Canvas 90




“Canvas 90”
September 17, 2010

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Update:
In the Forum: nine down and three across.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Salt for the Wound


If I had the time and inclination, I would be tempted to chart how my life and work are influenced by the seasons. While both do gradually change as I age, I also feel in myself recurring cycles and moods that are tied to the earth’s journey around the sun, the rising tides and waning moons, the subtle changes in atmosphere, temperature, and light. It isn’t just a case of writing autumn poems in autumn, at least not merely on the surface. The seasons, it seems, awaken different facets of my personality and areas in my brain. I remember different kinds of things at different times of year. I can feel a sense of joy or loss and longing at any time during the year, but the qualities of that feeling change with the seasons, and one of those qualities is quite physical — a matter of breath and pain and bones. To inhale the smoke of burning leaves is to inhale life itself and the treasure of memories it has stored. The touch of winter fog on my face and hands makes calm granite of my wishes. The fire in a cave is a fire in a room I have made with my own thoughts, which are just as apt to burn. Spring is mud time, when falling blossoms wake the dead. I am the seasons. I’ve known so since childhood, when I expressed it by jumping in the water, wagging my tail, and losing my leaves like every other living thing — and then, all at once, in the lucky experience of my death to meet and taste the soil, to have written on my brow the nameless loam where rivers used to run, and oceans, and ships, and sails, was born the childish man of words before you now, his palms open, a curse on his lips, salt for the wound that seeks his own. I can but weep, this time of year, through the bright-gray mask that has become my smile. The leaves, now beginning to change and fall, are like voices from graves I have to tend. I love them, love them all. And that is where it stands today, even as it breaks and changes, even as I laugh and dance and fail.


Recently Linked: inni in vani.

Update:
In the Forum: She was an anagramaton, holding a flower.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Historical Red and Black Household Edition, Yes




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I really do plan to read them all, or at least parts of them. But if I don’t, there’s still inspiration and comfort in having them near. And their lives, certainly, won’t stop with mine. I like that. The thought alone is enough to keep me writing and semi-sane another day.

The Complete Poetical Works of John Greenleaf Whittier. Household Edition, with illustrations. Houghton, Mifflin and Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1892). 547 pages. $2.00.

The People, Yes, by Carl Sandburg. Harcourt, Brace and Company, New York (1936), second printing. 186 pages. $1.50.

The Red and the Black, by Stendhal. Translated by Joan Charles. Illustrated by Frede Vidar. The Literary Guild of America, New York (1949). 328 pages. $2.00.

Marion County History, Vol. 3, June 1957. Marion County Historical Society, Salem, Oregon. Periodical. 72 pages. $.50.


Note: The People Yes and The Red and the Black were part of a two-for-one sale, so I paid only $4.50 for this batch.

Another Note: If the blog follower who wrote to me privately will please get in touch again, it will be appreciated. When your message arrived it was automatically filed under Spam and it was accidentally deleted.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sunrise




Sunrise
September 15, 2010

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9.17.2010 #2
9.17.2010 #1 (dream)


Memorial


My day began in the middle of the night when, after emerging from a tall building that consisted only of stairs, landings, windows, and walls, I met a friend in an open grassy area that might have been a cemetery had there been any graves. The friend, a poet with whom I have corresponded for several years but have not yet met in person, was much taller than I have imagined him. We walked together until we came to a rectangular marble slab about three feet wide and five feet long. About two-thirds of the slab was covered by an inset rectangle of the same relative dimensions and composed of a duller blackish-grayish material on which appeared the faded letters of some kind of message or text. I tried, but it was impossible to read. The letters were like willow wisps, curling and descending toward a dark stream. In a high voice, half recitation, half singing, my friend told me he had placed the memorial there himself, and that the work had taken him only a few hours. With his head held high and his eyes gazing off into the distance, he explained that the government would never have acted as quickly, that the matter had been discussed in Congress before and would be countless times again, despite the fact that the issue was already resolved. From this I understood that it was a war memorial — not for any war in particular, but for the ancient destructive fact of war itself. Then, in my mind’s eye, there rose up a cry in script on a recently excavated scroll of thin flexible stone flecked with bits of fossilized dung and straw, a song of grief long since turned to dust and stars and unearthed bones. I looked up. I saw in my friend’s skull the place where his skin and eyes used to be.

Note: My thanks to Lynn Behrendt for posting this dream in the Annandale Dream Gazette.


Update:
In the Forum: let’s make anagrams.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Canvas 89




“Canvas 89”
September 15, 2010

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Updates:
A note about recent publications of my work online and the amazing gifts that have been sent my way added to News and Reviews.

In the Forum: today the world.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Antique Children: A Mischievous Literary Arts Journal


We have our fun, we go a little crazy, we wind up in the gutter and find it isn’t that bad down here amongst the wrappers, rainbows, and broken bottles of despair; in fact, as miserable as we are and as hopeless as we’ve become, we rather like it, and pity those whose sterility and tidiness serve as unmarked graves. Success is a leash. Disgrace is in the eye of the beholder. Bukowski said, “The shortest distance between two points is often unbearable.” Change points to pints, though, and things suddenly improve.

Well, sort of. At least they do when, thanks to Jim Lopez, editor of the print and online journal Antique Children, an old story of mine makes a rare Web appearance.

“Today the World” is part of Among the Living and Other Stories, my chapbook released by MuscleHead Press in 2000. I haven’t written another story quite like it, or like any of the others in that collection. And now, with no electrical outlet in the gutter and an old typewriter that needs a new ribbon, it seems almost foolish to try.

Jim also saw fit to display four of my drawings in the section devoted to illustrations. I’m honored. They came out quite well, I think.


Update:
In the Forum: citation needed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Two Drawings


Canvases 87 and 88. As if the mind, upon entering, were a cave.




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Recently Linked: My thanks to Trent Aitken-Smith for the nice biography he posted in the Fringe Magazine blog. A link to his article can also be found in the “Reference Section.”

My thanks also to Robert for linking to my recent entry, Long Enough to Know, from his blog all ways 11 o’clock.

Update:
In the Forum: Progress is a comfortable disease.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Nine Paperbacks


From the first chapter of Alberto Manguel’s The Library at Night:

During the day, I write, browse, rearrange books, put away my new acquisitions, reshuffle sections for the sake of space. Newcomers are made welcome after a period of inspection. If the book is second-hand, I leave all its markings intact, the spoor of previous readers, fellow-travellers who have recorded their passage by means of scribbled comments, a name on the fly-leaf, a bus ticket to mark a certain page. Old or new, the only sign I always try to rid my books of (usually with little success) is the price-sticker that malignant booksellers attach to the backs. These evil white scabs rip off with difficulty, leaving leprous wounds and traces of slime to which adhere the dust and fluff of ages, making me wish for a special gummy hell to which the inventor of these stickers would be condemned.



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I told my son the other day that it wasn’t my intention to visit Goodwill, that I arrived there by accident, and awakened from a blacked-out condition in the used book section, only to find these nine paperbacks clutched in my hands. Seven of them — the five Penguin-Pelicans and the two from St. Martin’s Library on the Savoy Operas, were published in 1956 and 1957. They’re beautiful books, flexible but sturdy, and the aroma of their pages is heavenly. The former were ninety-five cents when they were new, the later a dollar and a quarter. I paid ninety-nine cents for each of them. By that time I was fully awake, and alert because the young man waiting in line behind me had called out, somewhat mournfully, “Pop!” to a man picking absentmindedly through a rack of shirts. In fact, he was still waiting for his father outside when I left the store, and made a point of thanking me for suggesting that he take advantage of a new checkout line that had just opened. He was quite serious, as if he would not rest until his duty had been discharged. Something about him in the fall sunlight reminded me of the young Alyosha in one of Dostoevsky’s masterworks, The Brothers Karamazov. And yet if I had to guess, I would say he hailed from Oklahoma — such is the magic of people, and so are our impressions of them shaped by things of which, often, they have not even heard. There was sorrow in his face, a definite familiarity with disappointment, loss, and hunger. His face was intelligent, with only the slightest trace of self-pity, brought to the surface by weariness and travel, and on its way to becoming, possibly, a kind of puzzled acceptance.

I do not apologize for imagining the lives of people. I know mine is imagined in the same way by those I meet. This story we live survives through our need and ability to invent it.

The other two books are self-explanatory. Quite Early One Morning, by Dylan Thomas, was published soon after his death by New Directions in 1954, released as a paperback in 1960, and reset in 1968. This copy is from the twenty-first printing. Oh, yes — and the dictionaries-as-bookends: those, too, are recent purchases, an accidental investment in words of four dollars.

So far, I’ve succeeded in removing two of Goodwill’s blasted price stickers. They are every bit as evil as Mr. Manguel contends.


Update:
In the Forum: Moncrieff and Blossom.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Long Enough to Know


If our purpose is to communicate, if what we wish most is to touch and be touched and by our touching to learn and grow, that wish demands we set aside our pose. If I am a poet, I must first be human. If I write and draw to make my presence known, if I offer my work as proof of what I think I know, it is as a human that I reach out, and as a human that I succeed and fail.

The longer we hide behind who we’ve contrived to be ourselves, the greater the distance between us. If we worship ourselves in the dim light of our own egos, the incense we burn will choke us all.

I’ve been here long enough to know I can’t go on; and yet the joy of setting out, the astonishment of each new hope, drives me to seek in others what in others is yearning for itself: that bright moment we die freely into life through sorrow shared and health, through breath and word and smile.

If I seem poor, it’s because, as a human, I am.

If wealth is the impression I give, it’s because, as a human, so many riches have come my way.

My life is a waterfall. It knows its seasons, and seizes and thaws in its own good time.

If I seem famous or well known, it’s because, as a human, you long to know yourself.

If I am no one, and I am, it’s because my voice sings the anonymity of ashes and graves.

If I am everyone, and we are, it’s because we’ve inhaled the cosmos.

If I am not enough, what, then, of my dearth? What will you do or say to raise me up?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Finished




Finished

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This drawing was finished twice. I finished it the first time in the evening a couple of days ago. I finished it the second time yesterday morning after awakening from a nightmare in which a stranger was coming at me with a knife. There were multiple doorways. I thought I’d be able, at the last second, to escape. I was wrong. He was upon me in a flash, and then I froze. He raised his hand. I called out with a strangled tongue. The sound of my voice made me sad. Only now does it occur to me that the drawing itself might have caused the dream, or have been the beginning of one that is still not finished.






Update:
In the Forum: not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Poem My Piano Teacher Wrote


Crazy. I spent ten cents the other day on a selection from the Etude Musical Booklet Library — a short biography of Johann Sebastian Bach by James Francis Cooke. Copyright is 1928 by the Theodore Presser Co., then located at 1712-1714 Chestnut Street in Philadelphia.

The booklet is beautiful to me most because it reminds me of Mrs. Crawford, the piano teacher who loved my mother and who so patiently sat with me through lessons I had practiced only once or twice during the week. This is not to say I didn’t play during the week; I did; I simply focused on other things, rummaging through my lesson books at will and exploring the simplified bits of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart that struck my fancy. I loved music, and this was something my teacher recognized and understood, especially early on in our relationship, since instinctively I sang along with whatever I was playing, which led her on more than one occasion to remark to my mother, who was reading or crocheting nearby, that I had perfect pitch.

Mrs. Crawford was from Texas. I loved the way she talked. She is remembered, among other places, in a short poem I wrote which became, on December 24, 2007, part of my Songs and Letters:


The Poem My Piano Teacher Wrote

The poem my piano teacher wrote
brought flowers all the way from San Antonio
to California, just to give to me.



Through her voice and grace and charm, that’s the way she made me feel. If not for her, I would not have kept at my lessons so long — five years in all, if memory serves, the first two at her grand piano in the downstairs living room adjacent to a tall window looking west out over her dead husband’s vineyard, the rest at an upright in a small bedroom across from the kitchen and behind the stairs. I remember being disappointed about the change at first, but what was lost in ambiance was gained in intimacy, which was made all the more real by the potpourri fragrance emanating from my dear teacher. I also remember the light fabric of her dress and its old-fashioned, soft floral pattern; she was a lady.

I saw her once many years later, during a visit to our hometown after I’d moved with my family to Oregon. We met in the post office. Despite the changes in my appearance, she recognized me as soon as I greeted her; we spoke briefly — long enough to thank her for all she had done, and say that I wished she could have taught my children as well. But, of course, she was retired now, and — that was the last time I saw her.

Until Mrs. Crawford died in her upper eighties, she and my mother remained friends. At one of their meetings, she passed along a book to give me as a remembrance: Modern Music and Musicians, Vol. V, Normal Study, published in 1918 by the University Society in New York. Mechanically speaking, a lot of the music in it is beyond my ability. But I can still understand the phrasing and read the notes, and I can listen to the melodies in my head. Some come to me more clearly than others. They sing like birds on a wire. Others spiral, then blur into blackness.



[click to enlarge]



Update:
In the Forum: vulgar, popular, personal.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Desert Road




Desert Road

[click to enlarge]



This beautiful little painting, which measures just three and a half by one and a half inches, is a gift from my friend Janice. Imagine wandering, being lost in a place that somehow fits in the palm of your hand.


Update:
In the Forum: the bard of suburban disconnectedness.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Library at Night


On the telephone recently with my friend Paul Martin, I mentioned I was reading and enjoying Alberto Manguel’s A History of Reading. Not surprisingly, Paul was familiar with Manguel, and said he thought I’d enjoy another book of his, The Library at Night. Then, yesterday afternoon, only five days later, a package arrived and I found this book inside — the volume generously inscribed by Paul the day after we’d talked.



The Library at Night
by Alberto Manguel

Yale University Press
New Haven & London

First published in Canada in 2006
First published in the United States in 2008

373 pages

[click to enlarge]



Chapter Titles

The Library as Myth
The Library as Order
The Library as Space
The Library as Power
The Library as Shadow
The Library as Shape
The Library as Chance
The Library as Workshop
The Library as Mind
The Library as Island
The Library as Survival
The Library as Oblivion
The Library as Imagination
The Library as Identity
The Library as Home


And now this book is home, in a room defined by these very same terms. Thank you, Paul.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Another Kind of Palm




“Canvas 86”
September 5, 2010

[click to enlarge]



The human face is another kind of palm. It’s a dream, subtly and intricately transformed. No two are alike, even when they seem most the same. Reading them is an art — as is seeing, accepting, understanding one’s own.





Recently Linked: Raven has started a new blog called Books From My Personal Library. Her first two entries, here and here, show her impeccable taste. Thank you, Raven!

Update:
In the Forum: the Benét boys and the Barthelmes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Bob Arnold: A Possible Eden


“I don’t want to imagine Vermont without apples.”



A Possible Eden
by Bob Arnold

Cover paintings by the author

Modern fables
limited to 50 hand-sewn copies
40 pages



Longhouse
Publishers & Booksellers
Green River, Vermont

www.longhousepoetry.com

Image: front cover (click to enlarge)




I’ve half a mind to plant this book and watch it root and grow. Then again, that’s just what reading is. And I did. And it did. And it is.


Update:
In the Forum: Yeats, Keats, Katz, and then some.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Summer Service


a fly on the eucharist —

                shsh, shsh

little children sound asleep
on the cool stones

on the cool stones
sound asleep

on the sanctuary floor.

From Songs and Letters, originally published May 7, 2008.


Update:
In the Forum: Jack and Bill went up the hill.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Canvas 85




“Canvas 85”
September 4, 2010

[click to enlarge]



Update:
In the Forum: ’twixt beauty and Irishmen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

An exceptional sphere of activity


As luck would have it, not long after publishing yesterday’s entry, “To Set Sail and Bleed the Lamb,” Facebook friend Trent Aitken-Smith read and then re-posted the piece on his new blog, UniqueScene. It’s a lovely presentation.

UniqueScene, a new arts publication just making its way in the world, is the work of three people primed for a revolution: Trent, Martyn Clayton, and Amy McKie. You can read more about them here. You might also take them up on their offer to become involved by suggesting work that will “light a fire under their tails.”


Update:
In the Forum: Under Milk Wood.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

To Set Sail and Bleed the Lamb


While talking life and books on the phone with a friend early yesterday evening, I noticed that several things seemed to be happening at the same time, as if streams and roads and lives were running parallel and then crossing, whispering to each other, absorbing each other, exchanging past and future identities.

My wife and I were babysitting our grandson, and I had just come in from doing some work in the yard. Sweating, I had removed my shirt to cool off, and was shirtless when I listened to Paul’s message and returned his call. The entire hour we were on the phone, I was in one bedroom or the other and moving up and down the hall, as our little one was anxious, as always, to participate in the call. He was also delighted to find my navel exposed, to poke it again and again and compare it to his.

These are hard times, in so many dimensions. We are questioning and jobless and proud; we are embarrassed and ashamed about finding ourselves working at jobs that crush the spirits of all but a few. Every crack in the sidewalk, every bottle cap, gutter, and weed seems fortune to tell — an affront to some, and as familiar, to others, as an old aunt’s palm.

At one point, I asked Paul — and I don’t know why it came to me — if ever, when he read, he was aware of a separate line of thought in his head, running, as it were, alongside the text, divorced from it and yet perhaps caused by it, or arising from a source unknown. He said yes. I knew he would. And at the same time, as we were talking, I saw myself as I once was, as an apparition in grade school and beyond, as a boy on the farm walking, alone, and listening — as I was listening now, in the present, every bit as pleased in the moment as my grandson, as if we were both pleasure-ghosts who cycle and nod and wander this world, these rooms, this life, these sounds.

Time and again, while I’m reading, these other lines of thought suddenly well up in the form of a certain word or phrase that demands my complete attention. The next thing I know, I am here at my keyboard. I might as well be on a forest path or standing in a waterfall — such is the feeling of shiver and solitude, when the sun on my window shatters the glass and the ice on the floor is real. There might be shoes, there might be nails, a cobbler’s workbench, a poor man’s wedding for his dear and only daughter, a bible, a well, my great-grandfather all in black standing by his carriage, rows of melons and plums, dust on the horizon, or smoke.

I call it — as if such moments needed a name — writing a poem. But the likeness is shallow at best. The poem as much thinks me, lives me, and discovers its own purpose — then only to be informed and defined, like me, by other versions of itself, other phases, other nuances, other tales, other imaginings.

To live, these days, as in all the days of our kind, we must set sail and bleed the lamb. The gods are waiting. They must be challenged and entertained.

Systems are walls of bricks: in time, they come tumbling down. Useless are the concepts of righteous indignity and blame. Suffer all we who drag ourselves down, believing, to the end, that the world we have made somehow doesn’t apply to us, that it isn’t proof of the selfish vacuum of our thoughts. Suffer all we who forget we are kings, here, and now, in our daily lives — not with decrepit power or wealth, but in having such suffering and beauty at our fingertips.


Updates:
“To Set Sail and Bleed the Lamb” is my newest Notebook entry. Old notes are archived here.

In the Forum: Dylan Thomas in America.