Wednesday, August 31, 2011

George


In real life, it was just like George to see potential in an empty auditorium. What disappointed and hurt him was when no one else saw it. What disappoints me is that I see it, but I am unable to do anything about it. What frightens me is how much my life is like an empty auditorium.

[From Chapter 9, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Friends


It wasn’t long before our food arrived. That helped. Some. Not enough. While we were eating, I went through my usual song and dance, doing my best to lighten the atmosphere. We talked about the old days, and I asked him about his parents, and about his younger sister, Kelly, who was pretty without knowing it, and whom I danced with once in the high school gym. I didn’t ask her. She asked me. It was wonderful. We held each other close, and it meant something — what, I don’t know. I don’t even remember the song.

[From Chapter 8, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Monday, August 29, 2011

Miracles


I sat on a rock in the shade, not far from the water’s edge. Three small boats were out, each carrying but one person. Two were floating with the current. The other, by means of an uneven-sounding outboard motor, was traveling slowly upstream. The captain of this boat was an older man, wearing a long-sleeved green work shirt and a simple gray cap. Being closer than the others, he saw me and waved. I waved back.

Coming when it did, his simple gesture seemed nothing short of a miracle. More so, I think, than if he’d stopped his motor, stood up, and, with outstretched arms, walked toward me across the water. The man waving was a private miracle — a small accident entirely unsuitable for grand or religious purposes, and therefore something to be treasured. The kind of miracle that rarely happens, because so many unrelated elements must be receptively aligned. The kind of miracle that proves there are no unrelated elements, and that all things are subtly and delicately intertwined. The kind of miracle that in fact does happen all the time, but goes unnoticed and unappreciated. Weeds, soil, ash, roads, insects, buildings, sky, young women with cell phones, old men with cigars, waterfalls, hands reaching out, the sun, peaches hanging ripe on a tree, a first kiss, the hush of mortality, mothers expecting their first child, sorrow and joy, the thrill of discovery, the mysterious past wound as tightly as a ball of string, fresh-baked bread, confetti, a dead man’s shoes, leaves found in a park, a child’s first birthday. The kind of miracle that makes life what it is — a painful, sweet, maddening, befuddling journey. The kind of miracle that says, Listen.

[From Chapter 7, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Parts


The part of me that hates life said, “What a fool. Throw in the towel, already.”

The part of me that loves life said, “Whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel. Things will get better. It’s worth it, so just hang on.”

The part of me that thinks life is a joke said, “Enjoy yourself. It’s just a game.”

The part of me that takes life seriously said, “What a terrible waste of the precious, hidden, undiscovered talent that everyone has. If only there were a way to bring it out.”

All the while, the part of me that recognizes the folly of the other parts smiled and said nothing.

[From Chapter 6, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.


Another Note: A special thanks to Gabriella Mirollo for including A Listening Thing among her beautiful thoughts and images on reading. My thanks also to another friend and fellow blogger, Jan, for featuring the book in her blog, From My Park Bench.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

After


The room was full of overturned memories.

[From Chapter 5, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Friday, August 26, 2011

Ernie


What makes Ernie a renegade? To begin with, he has little use for society’s standard conventions. He abhors the herd mentality, despises materialism, and thinks all politicians should be shot — including the small-time wannabes serving on our own city council, who are, by and large, businessmen and land developers looking out for their own interests. Ernie is not pure by any means, but he has a big heart and a sincere desire to help the underdog. And who is the underdog? Those of us who are trampled on by society, or made to look awkward by people who, despite their wealth and influence, contribute nothing — those of us who are shoved into corners and under bridges because we were born at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, or to the wrong family — those of us who refuse to conform, and who have paid a tremendous price for our freedom, and who will never give it up — those of us who try and fail, then try again — those of us who laugh in the face of ridicule. Beyond that, the underdog is anyone who cares about what happens — to us, to the planet — and is willing to admit it, even if only to himself.

[From Chapter 4, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you, and thanks to everyone
who has ordered thus far....



Thursday, August 25, 2011

Strangers


The coffee going, I thought of slipping quietly into the bathroom, taking off my clothes, and joining Mary in the shower. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. As nice as it would have been. To surrender, without saying a word. To give in completely. To scrub each other’s cares away, and let them run down the drain. To this day, I wonder what Mary would have done. She might have slapped me, or scorned me, or drowned us both in tears. Or I might have opened the shower door and found someone else, a stranger shocked by the invasion of her privacy. And while I felt guilty for thinking of it, the childish man in me seemed to be saying, “Go ahead. This is where it all begins. This is how we are healed.”

[From Chapter 3, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Imbalance


Maybe Mary is right. Maybe I do suffer a chemical imbalance. It would help explain a lot of things. It would explain the brief periods of elation and joy followed by days of emptiness so debilitating that I’m sure there is no point in going on. Not that I have the courage to commit suicide. I don’t. Which makes me wonder. If I’m sure life is a sham, then why don’t I do away with myself? If I’m so useless to myself and to everyone I love, what am I hanging around for? Unless the mood swings are just another game I play in order to keep from facing the truth about myself, whatever that is. That I’m lazy, I suppose. That I’m unable to put others’ cares before my own. I just don’t know. When I feel good, when my mind is clear, when I’ve accidentally had a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling eager, it’s as if I am a boy again and the world waiting outside is perfect and new. And I’m always amazed when it happens, and pleased. It’s like standing in a thick fog, and then suddenly the fog lifts to reveal a shimmering ocean. And then I remember I’m alive, and I start to notice things. I notice the breeze moving the hair on my arms. I notice the courtship of insects. And I remember that this is why I am here. To be alive. To recognize the possibility in things. To believe. To understand my place. Then, all too soon, the fog returns. It’s like living in a lighthouse. Parts of the coastline are blotted out. Then the world withdraws. Into the roar of emptiness.

[From Chapter 2, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Compassion


I thought about eating, but decided against it. My hunger had lost its validity. Temporarily, of course. You know how it is. Something you’ve seen or experienced touches you deeply and moves you to a nobler plane, but then later on you get really hungry and your concern for humanity loses focus. You care, God knows you do, but the thought of biting into a pickle plows like a hippopotamus into the clear pool of your compassion. The next thing you know, you’re warming up some three-day-old enchiladas.

[From Chapter 1, A Listening Thing]


Note: Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel,
A Listening Thing, at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order this tenth anniversary print edition
from anywhere in the world, click here.

Thank you!


Monday, August 22, 2011

Without further ado, I give you

 

The White Mountain woman and her homemade ice cream.
The hummingbirds in Uncle Leo’s mustache.
The wise old oaks at Shepherd’s Point.
Apples, crows, and pancakes.
A dream about George.
A man and his son.
A life undone.
And Mary.

All

in




A Listening Thing

Tenth Anniversary
Authorized Print Edition


Paperback Original
232 pages, $18.00

[Front cover: click to enlarge]



Through September 22, Cosmopsis Books is offering my novel, A Listening Thing,
in this beautiful new release at the special price of $14.00, plus shipping.

The first printing is limited to 150 numbered copies.

To order from anywhere in the world, click here
or on one of the Cosmopsis Books links in this entry.
For more about the book, click on the back cover image below.





A Listening Thing

Tenth Anniversary
Authorized Print Edition


Paperback Original
232 pages, $18.00

[Back cover: click to enlarge]



~


Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Progressive Speaker



“Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace to silence envious strangers.”

W.S.







[click on images for a larger view]




Saturday, August 20, 2011

Summer



The symphony of an unseen hive.



“Canvas 283”
August 20, 2011

[click to enlarge]



Earlier today: Canvas 282




Canvas 282



“Canvas 282”
August 19, 2011

[click to enlarge]


Friday, August 19, 2011

Between Us


Yes, my love, this would be all, if it were anything,
if we were somehow more than fading light.

Still, there are those old gray ships in the harbor,
and the way they dream in the palms of your hands.

In such sweet passing we can easily believe,
even if we don’t exist.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Specimen Days


Yesterday afternoon I was so tired and happy that I drove all the way downtown to one of the used bookstores, didn’t park, didn’t stop, and didn’t go in, then turned around and went home by another route, quite pleased with what I had done. This morning, I already feel the urge to go back. But I won’t, because we’ll be looking after the grandchildren.

I also thought of a poem. It takes place in a pasture. The calves have all been taken away, and their mothers are under a tree in the shade. What are they thinking? Small white butterflies flutter through the weeds. They could be dancers, spirit flags, or me. The stream downslope is lazy now. The horses beyond the bridge know full well they can be wild if and when they want to be. Along the roadside, fallen angels are walking single file, legs, necks, and arms naked to the sun.

I reached out. The poem was done.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Morning Mail


In my hometown, another family friend has died. I could go through my mother’s letters to read their last exchange, but I won’t, at least not now. And I can’t pass the news along. Mom’s mind is gone, and so the loss must abide in me. That’s where it belongs. And in that I’m pleased. Eva was the first to visit us, casserole in hand, when my father died. Her husband, John, still alive, smokes his pipe somewhere in my 1960s mind, he and Dad wearing balloons under dresses in a holiday skit. So says the family album. This is where I sit.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mobile


She holds it in her hand
like an injured
baby bird,

preaching
solace to the poor
the rich don’t understand.

On the other end her lover
hangs on every
word

               (as I imagine her or him)

And when I hear

                              her laugh,


               I exchange my breath

     for wings.



Saturday, August 13, 2011

Poet Laureate


They gave him a notebook and a bus stop
and said, “Alright, now, get to work.”

But then the dew came on,
the bottle caps and cigarette butts,
and there was grit right up
to his old blue
jeans.

They gave him a telephone,
black with rotary dial,

the one his mother used before,
then after, she lost her mind.

                “I like you better in that tie.”

        “Ma.”

                        “No. Really.”

His father, was dead — so dead,
no one had ever been that dead before;

every time he turned on the light in the garage
he felt just how damn dead he was.

He was scared to look in the freezer.

The years passed, as years do;
finally, one day, the telephone rang.

                “I need you, son. Come home.”

These kids with their energy drinks:
how many would even know how to shine
an apple or an orange, or to sweep the sidewalk
to the street by old man Seltzer’s clock?

Bah. Bah to the diesel fumes. Bah
to the howling brakes.

Make something out of nothing.
That’s what it takes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Canvas 280



“I remember everything I’ve learned about survival.”



“Canvas 280”
August 12, 2011





Sunflower Dream


How yellow? Sunflower-yellow?
Brother bumble, you’ve such a pollen-load.
From my window I hear a papa say:

                “That’s what our sunflower is going to look like.”

        To which his little girl replies:

                        “It is?”

Big round eyes and skinny knees,
little flies and busy bees,

                may the right one someday see

        your pretty yellow shoes.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

In spite of everything


Reading to my grandson,
I sniff his hair and say

         “You smell good. You smell like the fig tree.”

He doesn’t know it,
but his fingers are tangled
in my beard.

         “No, Isaac not smell good.”

                           Gather not your gold on earth

Three times the declaration,
and as many his reply.

         “Grampa...”

And in spite of everything, good fortune came to find me.



from “Apology,” by Gordon Lightfoot


Legends of the Fall


The neighbor’s new fence,
naked to our ivy:

At night, I hear you whispering.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

An hour from now


The days are about survival. A man out early,
wishing not to be seen, peddles off with my zucchini
in hand. It’s all for a good cause: to quiet his hunger.

Shall I rush after him? Shall I pretend I can feed him
with the hollow fruit of my imagination? Shall I explain
to him that he has himself been imagined

                                                     in these very lines?

Or has he imagined me? No one knows,
no one tells. But it almost looks like rain.

I watch him peddle off — again,
and again, and again.

In seeing him, I am fed
by what I imagine.

Just as I imagine that I am fed.

It takes time to grow a field of grain;
but despair will devour anything,
right down to the last
acidic polyp.

Try with all your might. Lay yourself down,
cover yourself with peat and bracken.

Life comes from nowhere, yet it happens;
or it forgets where it started, and so begins again,
like every song worth singing.

An hour from now, there could be sun
on his spokes. Who will be hungry then?


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In the Pudding


Three days ago, I received a proof copy of my novel from the publisher. Finally, after a harrowing ten-year journey, A Listening Thing will see print later this month. In fact, I know the planned date, but I won’t divulge it just yet. First things first: I have to live that long. To me, that, not waiting, is the real challenge. If I survive, there’s a lot of living and writing and dreaming to do between now and then. Waiting is almost a form of arrogance. It assumes my cares and concerns are more important than yours, which is simply not the case. It can also blind me to daily miracles readily at hand: family, butterflies, freshly picked produce, the light in the eyes of everyone I meet — love; memory; even death. I refuse to die waiting. I would rather die living. And when I do die, whenever it is, I want to live dying.

That said, I’m very excited about this book. In reviewing the proof, I’m pleased to say that so many things about it have been done right that I know it will be a delight to hold in one’s hands and heart and mind. There is nothing glitzy or glamorous about it; it’s an elegant yet sensible volume, presented with a warmth and style perfectly in keeping with the story and the ideas it conveys. It will hold your attention while remaining a generous, accessible friend.

Now, please keep in mind that I’m the world’s worst salesperson. A Listening Thing has no real budget. I won’t be giving readings or going out on tour. Instead, I’ll be sitting here doing what I always do, with the added charge of making this release a special, memorable occasion, much as if it were a child’s birthday party, and the childhood it celebrates is one we hope might last forever. So consider this your invitation.

A funny story: The first proof was mistakenly sent by the printer to Vermont. The second proof was correctly addressed, but the shipping conglomerate again sent it to Vermont. I was about to move to Vermont when the third proof finally landed in my mailbox.

And of course there are other possibilities. For instance, the world might declare bankruptcy on our publication date, ushering in an even Greater Depression. I’m smiling at the thought already. Because I know A Listening Thing is tougher and more resilient than any Depression, even my own. Let come what may. In the meantime, even this must be an effective piece of writing. If it isn’t, then I’ve broken our trust and must work to make amends.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Canvas 279



I didn’t really draw him. He appeared before my eyes.
My tiny skill is useless if I’m not open to surprise.



Canvas 279”
August 7, 2011

[click to enlarge]





Sunday, August 7, 2011

Moving


Far away a friend is moving
sends me a photo of a box of books

one of mine among them
looking up

a child waiting
to be fed

while outside even cucumbers
have names

August is the way
I explain it

and if I had a hat with a wide black brim
I would look like him†

old man aside a wagon wheel
dust that never settles

restless
as the spirit wind


my great-grandfather, Lars August



Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Fox and Mount St. Helens


A fox looked at his shadow at sunrise and said, “I will have a camel for lunch today.” And all morning he went about looking for camels. But at noon he saw his shadow again — and he said, “A mouse will do.”

From The Madman: His Parables and Poems, by Kahlil Gibran.





It was windy at Mount St. Helens — so much so, in fact,
that had I not consumed rocks for lunch, my fate could have been quite different.






Meanwhile, I had to laugh. Outside at the observatory, a group had assembled
and a guide was screeching at the top of her lungs about the devastation
that had taken place there when the volcano erupted in 1980 —
as if what had happened weren’t readily apparent.






As we made our escape and got out on the open trail, I told my wife and son,
“I’m not here to learn. I’m here to use my imagination.”
They’re used to such statements, of course.
They know, too, that I mean them with all my heart.






The scent from these wildflowers was incredibly strong.
No wonder the bees were drunk.




Photos by Vahan Michaelian

[click to enlarge]


Friday, August 5, 2011

Hasbrouck Revisited


Owing to the wonders of “social media,” this old entry has been making the rounds lately. Phelps Putnam’s “Hasbrouck and the Rose” is a delightful poem.

And I repeat: For artificial flowers, there must be artificial hummingbirds.

In other news, early yesterday morning, an unknown bicycle rider was seen riding
off with what he thought was our newspaper, but which turned out to be the cheap advertiser that’s dumped on our sidewalk once a week. Not that there’s much difference.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

Goethe

 
Like so many other things, I come to the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe later in life, having read him over the years only in snippets and dribs and drabs. But maybe that’s about to change.





Then again, maybe it isn’t. What prevented it before, namely my ignorance and preoccupation with little things like trying to survive, might well go on preventing it — not to mention the inordinate amount of time I spend scratching out proof that this struggle of mine is as much poetry as it is accident, and that my presence here is no greater, smaller, or more meaningful than yours.

It’s also comical. I’m quite happy with the mess I’ve made, and I defend it with a certain childish pride.

I can easily point to contemporaries who are more knowledgeable than I am in literary matters, and who can write far more effectively about the nuances of fiction, poetry, and everything in between — even if I do feel on occasion that in their erudite analysis they miss the point. It’s so easy to get carried away with ourselves and what we know that in expressing it we come to believe we’re holding some kind of weapon or advantage. The fact remains that my illiterate forebears knew more about living than I do, and, quite possibly, all of these other folks combined. What matters most, I think, is that we learn to make our own music.

I remain devoted to books and the printed word. I am equally devoted to serendipity, contradiction, and spontaneity in the life I lead. I love listening to my contemporaries, and I’m never too proud to absorb what I can of their learning. And when I feel I have something more important to do, I love ignoring them as well. Naturally, what goes around comes around. I accept the consequences — and I love them as well, even as I rail against the night. I love laughing at myself.



Works of Goethe
Bigelow, Brown & Co., Inc.
New York

(1901-1902)



Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August Strindberg, August Days


The books in the center of this photo were the first three I chose, or which chose me, during our recent visit to Powell’s. They were published in 1913.





They were in the Swedish area of the foreign language section. The author, August Strindberg, was born in Sweden in 1849. My great-grandfather, Lars August Claus, was born in Sweden that same year. My great-grandmother, Amanda, was born there ten years later. They settled in Illinois, and their first son, my grandfather Carl August, was born in Woodhull in 1878, not far from where Carl Sandburg was born earlier that same year. My aunt insisted we were related to the Sandburgs, but that appears to have been wishful thinking.





In any case, after Lars moved the family West in 1888 to Kingsburg, California, he started the band that played in the city park on summer Sunday afternoons. He was a trumpet player. Here are Lars and Amanda in their later years in front of their house on the farm.





As you can see, Lars also had his jolly side, and he and Amanda were quite comfortable with each other and their life together sweating and farming and growing peaches. Lars died in 1920, two years before my mother was born. Amanda lived on until 1946.

I do wish the framed pictures looked better, but I just snapped them off the wall in poor light.







Here are the cover, title page, and two random pages of one of the Strindberg volumes. I don’t read Swedish. But when I saw these books and looked inside, I knew I had to bring them home.
















And since it is August, and since in this entry Augusts abound, I will close with a poem from Songs and Letters which can also be found in my book, The Painting ofYou. It’s called “August Days,” and it goes like this:


August days
are a recipe for longing:
they bring scented dust
and dew, the first
nocturnal kiss
upon veined leaves
that are beginning
to resemble
my mother’s hands.

Though much
of summer lies ahead,
autumn is creeping in,
feigning patience
with vineyard rows,
gently coaxing
the fruiting bough,

Soft the yellows,
purples, reds,
soft the folds upon
her unmade bed,
soft the light
on her faded gown,

My mother holds
them in her hands,
until they wither
and die upon
the ground,

Then wonders
where August days
have gone, and forgets
the ones she’s found.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Chard Powers Smith: Prelude to Man



I spotted this over-sized treasure lying flat in its dusty case
on a high shelf at Powell’s Books.
A stool was needed for my son to bring it down.






It was published in 1936 by Peter Pauper Press
and dedicated to Edwin Arlington Robinson.











Much to my surprise, there are uncut pages scattered throughout.
Seventy-five years, and the book has yet to be read.






It was even signed by the poet.






“This edition of Prelude to Man, set in Janson type,
and printed on specially-made paper,
consists of three hundred seventy-five copies for sale,
of which this is number 104.”








Prelude to Man

Decorations by Valenti Angelo

Peter Pauper Press

(1936)


[click on images to enlarge]