Sunday, October 31, 2010
A special thanks to Jasmin for translating and illustrating my dream, “Few are chosen.” She has graciously posted her work here, along with the original.
In the Forum: reading Beckett in a waiting room.
Saturday, October 30, 2010
And there was another book, yesterday, that I left behind: a little gift volume called Shakespeare on Love, containing artwork along with snippets of his verse. The edition was a little tacky for my taste, all glitz and gold; but the inscription, signed by “Mom,” was as genuine as they come. She’d bought the book in Stratford-on-Avon for her daughter and son-in-law, or son and daughter-in-law, in memory of their wedding, and in giving it expressed the hope that the three of them would attend the theater there someday. She ended by wishing them the same happiness that had been so much in evidence on their wedding day in January 1999. Eleven years, almost. And a book that could easily outlast us all.
In the Forum: reading lists for the last three months.
Friday, October 29, 2010
Having already four treasured copies* of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet, I didn’t need another — until I found this one at Goodwill. Behold its brief, but heartbreaking inscription:
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The book itself is from Alfred A. Knopf’s ninety-first printing, released in January 1973. It’s without marks, in fair but sturdy condition, and the back cover is ever-so-slightly bowed. I paid ninety-nine cents for it. In fact, if someone would like to have it, I will happily send it along to the first person who asks, with a note in my hand recording the date and place of purchase, and whatever else leaps into my head at the moment. I will even include something else in the package — my little chapbook of dreams, let us say: The Thing About Strawberries.
And if no one wants the book — you guessed it — I’ll keep it here, where it will become my fifth treasured copy....
* my mother’s, my grandmother’s, the one my mother bought in Canada many years ago and gave to me, and a slipcase edition I brought home a few months ago.
10.29.2010 #1 (recently acquired)
“As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”
— Josh Billings
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The Complete Works of Josh Billings (Henry W. Shaw). With One Hundred Illustrations by Thomas Nast and Others, and a Biographical Introduction. Revised Edition. New York: G.W. Dillingham Co., Publishers. Copyright, 1876, by G.W. Carleton & Co. 504 pages. $3.00.
The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton. “Now for the first time with the Latin completely given in translation and embodied in an All-English text.” Edited by Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith, B.A., B.D., (Sometime Fellow in the University of California). Tudor Publishing Company, New York (1941). 1,036 pages. $3.00.
Pericles, Prince of Tyre, by William Shakespeare. Edited by Alfred R. Bellinger. Yale University Press (1925). Contains facsimile reproduction of the title page of the Elizabethan Club copy of the first edition (1609). 139 pages. $.50.
Recently Linked: My thanks to Lynn Behrendt for including yesterday’s dream, “Few are chosen,” in the Annandale Dream Gazette.
In the Forum: random acts of reading.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
A child’s doll has died. At his request, I ask his mother for permission to conduct a funeral service in a language no one understands. This she grants. The doll is in a shoe box, beneath a fastened lid. Sunlight finds us in the street outside. A lone trumpet: inside the box, the doll begins to sing.
Recently Linked: My thanks to a dear friend, who is as close to perfect as they come.
In the Forum: everything is growing dim.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I am wise when I see a fallen bird,
or a leaf that dies,
or the changing of the seasons.
I am wise when the morning light
steals in and warms
my tired eyes and limbs.
I am wise before the dead,
and the soft brown
earth that covers them.
I am wise when I press my ear
against the stone and listen.
I am wise when I remember
faces, tears, and hands.
I am wise when I dream of roads,
fields, and places I have been.
I am wise when I call out to them
and am reassured by silence.
I am wise when I am blind,
as I have always been
when I dare to understand.
I am wise alone, but I am a fool
in your calm presence.
I am as wise as you are willing to pretend.
From Songs and Letters, originally published September 14, 2006.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Robert, the moment crumbles to dust almost as quickly as I can imagine it and write it. But you, in an instant, brand its essence onto my mind, as if my own flesh and hide were being burned. What is a reflection? Does it, as science suggests, die when its medium or source is removed? Or is it another form of memory, with a life of its own? There need not be an answer. But I’m grateful for the questions you have posed.
10.25.2010 #1 (poem)
Sunday, October 24, 2010
An apple pie is in the oven; my mother’s wind chime is alive in our first fall storm; the maples are one step closer to the door. These are the gifts of the day I wear. I look now at my hands: they too are strangers; they too are friends.
10.24.2010 #2 (used books)
10.24.2010 #1 (used books)
Saturday, October 23, 2010
I must have been about nine when my father’s aunt and I became pen pals. Our exchange of letters began after one of her visits to our house and lasted a year or so. One of our subjects, as I recall, was my piano lessons, of interest to her because she loved music and taught piano in her home. We also wrote about a little blue bird — something that she had either made or bought while she was visiting. The image is vague now. I want to say it was made of felt, or that it was embroidered on her purse; but even as I do, it seems the memory is about to come alive in my hands, with the warm beating of wings. And so it always is when I say I can’t remember, or can’t fully remember, that I imagine something new to carry forward and pass on. At such times, accuracy seems less important than the joy of recalling what might have been, and which probably was in some dimension and to some degree — for what child, what growing girl or boy would not naturally imagine to life a doll or toy?
Many years later, when my wife and I had young children of our own, this same aunt and I resumed our exchange. Our letters were short; she loved the kids, and was amused when I told her how often it was necessary for me to “thrash the children,” to which she responded, “Well, don’t thrash them too hard,” as if the thrashing were inevitable, and she were as concerned with my piano-playing hands as with the kids’ bottoms and psyches.
What an amazing woman. When my great-grandmother had the stroke that kept her in bed for eight long years, she dropped everything and moved in with her parents that very day to take care of them. She also, at the age of seventy-six, helped my grandparents — her brother was my grandfather — in their home. Finally, when she died at the age of ninety-seven, I thought, who will take care of us now? I thought the same when another of my father’s aunts, this one on his mother’s side, passed away at only a slightly younger age.
Further along into my thrashing years, as part of our correspondence, I began to send miscellaneous publications containing my meager literary efforts. This, too, pleased her. I have no idea what’s happened to them by now; she saved everything, so I suspect her daughter has them — her daughter, who is now about seventy-six. And so a pattern emerges....
What started me on this line of thinking is my own private correspondence with visitors of this blog. Years ago, when I first began to contemplate writing as a way of life, one thing I knew was that I wanted to exchange letters with people — almost as if my published writing were to serve as an excuse to carry on correspondence. Now, to a fair degree, I see that is has, both in the form of the comments we exchange here, and the correspondence I carry on privately. It isn’t a huge amount in the scheme of things, but what there is of it is very important to me. In each and every case, crossing borders and time zones, these conversations are with people I haven’t, and might never, meet in person. This makes them that much more special. And again, imagination plays a big role. While many of the details are likely amiss, they do arise from what we glean from each other, which means some of them must be accurate as well.
At the same time, it distresses me that there are letters I can’t answer — messages born of innocent hope and misunderstanding, of loneliness, loss, or despair; or perhaps I should say I don’t know how to answer them. I want their authors to be happy, but the happiness sought, to be of lasting value, must really come from within. On the other hand, maybe that is all I need to say.
Until finally, everything I write becomes a letter: to myself not least of all, and which, when opened, has its own joy to reveal and sorrow to bear: We are here for such a short time; how can we not love and want to help one another for that very reason alone?
Friday, October 22, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
I have, Paul, as recently as this morning, while passing through Salem’s old downtown section on my way to the library, felt quite strongly that we are ghosts in our daily lives, and that there is no proof, nor need there be, that this world we inhabit is the real, concrete one we ascribe it to be — that in the present moment, seeking and struggling, we are already adrift in, if not an afterlife, an immense dream that has grown familiar partly because it is shared, and partly because of our frequent passage through it. How closely related are we, in this transient human form, to each other; how closely related to all else that we can, cannot, or do not yet perceive? Very closely, it seems to me. As part and parcel of this universe, we have been here before, we linger, and we return, charged particles of the whole. In my mind, this makes the existence of ghosts and spirits and much else inevitable. Things and beings are fluid; they overlap; it is thought, even, that universes do the same. These feelings we have, these visions and intimations, these dreams, these things we can see and yet put our hands through — who’s to say where and when it is all taking place? Who’s to say that our very own activities are not disturbing someone on another plane, in another time?
Thanks for your beautiful piece. Thanks, too, for your inspiration, demanding me to think and write.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Unaware I had made the trip, I found myself in Meligalas, in my friend’s kitchen. The oven door was open, and Vassilis was tending to some chicken. As if it were an outdoor barbecue, there were live flames in the oven. It was time to turn the chicken. Vassilis did so by hand, unaffected by the flames as they licked his fingers. After he’d closed the door, we were joined by his daughter and son, and then his wife, all three of whom looked at me with curiosity as they passed through the room. I followed them to a long table. Soon we were joined by what must have been a dozen or more people. Greek voices, Greek conversation — except for one gray-haired man with a wide head, gray stubble on his face, and a large, dark, almost black mustache. He greeted me in broken English. I don’t remember what he said. The dream ended there. I looked at the clock. It was 2:42 a.m.
In the Forum: What liberty a loosened spirit brings!
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Monday, October 18, 2010
Sunday, October 17, 2010
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Maurine and Other Poems, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. W.B. Conkey Company, Chicago (1888). 235 pages. $1.00.
Fritz Reuters Werke. Undated with title page inscription from 1907. 968 pages. $1.00.
Ray’s Algebra, by Joseph Ray, M.D., Professor of Mathematics in Woodward College. Stereotype Edition. Cincinnati: Sargent, Wilson & Hinkle. New York: Clark & Maynard. “Entered according to act of Congress, in the year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-Two, by Winthrop B. Smith, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States, for the District of Ohio.” Book signed by four students and dated by three in 1873 and 1874. 396 pages. $5.00.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Saturday, October 16, 2010
Friday, October 15, 2010
Thursday, October 14, 2010
There is no reason to buy my books. Really. I have made such a large quantity of my work available online that books containing it have no real value except to a handful of souls who see a relationship between books as objects and the imagination that gives them spirit and life. Also, I am alive — both in the electronic sense of the Web, and as breath and flesh and blood. It’s all so easy: as long as the disease of existence is gnawing at my body and mind, I will seek a cure through my work, and part of that cure is sharing what I do. Bury me, though, or reduce my sinews and bones to a nickel’s worth of ash — cure me, in other words — and suddenly the system breaks down: no more William, no more work, nothing new to share — no hunger, no revelation, no failure, no despair. Maybe the books will have some value then. Maybe I need to die, so that my spirit, or imagination, or whatever it is, can more fully inhabit their pages. Many times, in fact, I have asked myself if my death would not be a good thing for my work, if it would not, in a very real sense, set it free; for it is true, and not necessarily a contradiction, that the same force that brings it about also weighs it down, like a parent who is unable, or who refuses, or who is afraid to see that his child must be free to stand on his own. I want or expect more of it, perhaps, than it is able to give. I place on it unreasonable demands. I expect it to save me from myself, to lift me up, and give me a sense of worth that I have possibly yet to earn, when all it needs is to live its own life and die naturally of its own accord, today, tomorrow, or several hundred years from now.
And yes, I know this assumes a value in my work that might simply not be there. Its relative unimportance is a possibility I recognize, a likelihood that embarrasses me, and something I live with every day. And all that proves, really, is what an egotistical wretch I am.
Ironically, while I’ve been writing this, I’ve received several messages from people who have no desire to know me, telling me that I should buy or promote their work. This happens every day. And so I ask: if an artist has no interest in communicating, if he doesn’t want to understand, listen to, and walk as far as possible in the shoes of those to whom he wants to sell his work, why on earth is he here? Is he an artist at all, or only one more self-centered, greedy, failed human being?
This Web we are participating in, this grand electronic experiment, will not outlast the stars. It will not put an end to myth or legend, or to our needs and fears. I don’t know what it will mean for the future of publishing, or the future of books. All I know is that it allows us the chance to meet and converse. The technology is new, but the model is old. We cannot be other than ourselves, forever hungry and in need of shelter, clinging to what little we know. There was a time when books didn’t exist. Maybe that time will come again. And as for “progress,” we have, over time, forgotten how to do a great many wonderful things, proudly and foolishly unlearning ancient crafts in favor of convenience, so that we might be more easily entertained.
Between the lines, I carve my epitaph. I scratch my name in stone to show that I was here, even as the stone itself erodes. Wireless signals whiz past my ear; I hear my fingers on lettered keys, imitating the birds outside.
The first facsimile reproduction
(full size) of a page of the
manuscript of “Paradise Lost,”
published by permission from
the original in the library of
J. Pierpont Morgan, Esq.
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The Complete Poems of John Milton. The Harvard Classics. P.F. Collier & Son Company, New York (1909). 463 pages. $5.00.
Folk-Lore and Fable: Aesop, Grimm, Andersen. The Harvard Classics. P.F. Collier & Son Company, New York (1909). 383 pages. $5.00.
Note: These volumes are part of the set I mentioned here and here. The pages in the photo fold out of the Milton volume between Pages 96 and 97. The text beneath is printed on an onion-skin overlay.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Monday, October 11, 2010
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Letters and Miscellanies of Robert Louis Stevenson, I. Letters to his family and friends, selected and edited with notes and introduction by Sidney Colvin. Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. XXIII. Published In New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons (1905). 443 pages. $2.00.
Letters and Miscellanies of Robert Louis Stevenson, II. Letters to his family and friends, selected and edited with notes and introduction by Sidney Colvin. Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. XXIV. Published In New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons (1905). 465 pages. $2.00.
New Letters. New letters, selected and edited by Sidney Colvin. Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. XXVII. Published In New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons (1912). 338 pages. $2.00.
The Travels and Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson. Virginibus Puerisque. Memories and Portraits. Robert Louis Stevenson, Vol. XIII. Published In New York by Charles Scribner’s Sons (1909). 358 pages. $2.00.
10.11.2010 #1 (poem)
Sunday, October 10, 2010
A beggar with a wide flat back, bent to tie
what’s left of his shoes, laces foul, nails gone,
smelling for all the world like human rust,
and I, a lamp post anchored to this spot,
painted like a song to resemble steel,
desperately in need of hands.
“Street Scene” added to Poems, Slightly Used.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
Friday, October 8, 2010
I need to brush a coat of smelly protective sealant onto our side of the cedar fence the neighbor installed at one end of our backyard several months ago. But a few weeks back, shortly after she furnished the material and asked me to do it, the weather changed to an on-again off-again rain cycle. There have been sunny days when I thought the wood might still be too damp for the job. And there have been cloudy days when I thought the sealant, if I brushed it on, wouldn’t have sufficient time to dry. The rest of the time, I’ve been too busy. As inclined as I am to help, family and work come first. I’m not about to get involved in a job like that, for instance, when our little grandson is here. And I’m not about to tackle it when I could be sitting here making a bigger mess of my life by adding material to the wobbly archive that has come to symbolize and define my existence. The very thing that has brought me here, to this state of joyful melancholy, anger, and pride, this state in which I mumble, wear hats indoors, and chew on my uncle’s empty, unlit pipe, is something I will continue to embrace. I know when I have a good thing going, even when it threatens to destroy me and ruin the lives of the ones I love.
In any case, cedar has its own natural preservative qualities — not to the extent of redwood, certainly, but if I don’t get to the job until next summer (I could be dead by then!), I’m sure the fence will still be standing and be none the worse for wear.
To compound matters, about three weeks ago, the neighbors behind us left a note on our door (because I didn’t answer the bell when they rang) saying they want to replace the fence between us, and that they want to have my “thoughts on the idea,” which of course means, among other things, that they wonder if I’ll be willing to pay half the expenses. I have yet to answer. The fence has long since eroded to the point that it’s being held up by ivy, but the thought of removing it and preparing the area for a new fence while our yards and windows remain exposed for days or weeks is almost more than I can bear.
It’s economical in the long run, of course, to maintain one’s property by making improvements and repairs. But I am comforted by a certain amount of physical decay. And, as if proof were needed, just as I typed that period, I was startled by a spider dangling from the edge of the desk, about six inches from my left hand. With a pencil, I set it free on the rug. Now it’s gone. Peace, friend.
Meanwhile, mental decay, which is what this session is really about, I also find comforting. I do not ponder a universe without regrets, any more than I do a life of obscene order. Sane is a four-letter word. When the door slams shut, it doesn’t matter which side I’m on. What matters is that there’s a door, which implies a room, which further assumes a need for that room, when a cave will do just as well. I might even, while I’m here, draw stars on the walls.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?
— William Blake
This reality we imagine — what is it? We humans, with our surface differences, our arts, cultures, religions, and philosophies, have made, and daily remake, through our faculties, organs, and senses, a world upon which we generally agree, a life we see as governed by immutable laws, a predictable pattern with established variables that occur within a visible spectrum, as if existence is not sufficient unto itself, but a mirror.
But what happens if we accept the possibility that everything is imagined, and that reality, as we assume and propose it, does not exist outside ourselves? What if life is a veil, which, though seductive and alluring, keeps us from seeing the face it serves to hide?
“Mom, can I go play at Billy’s house?”
“No. I told you to stay away from him.”
“Because he has an overactive imagination, that’s why. He’s not healthy to be around.”
“You mean he’s sick? He doesn’t look sick.”
Recently Linked: A special thanks to Trent Aitken-Smith for sharing yesterday’s entry, “I ask myself,” in UniqueScene. You can read more about Trent and his publication here.
In the Forum: the Legolas matter.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I ask myself every day what this grand adventure in communication means, where it leads, what its potential is, how it affects me and the work I do, whether I’m a leader, a follower, a witness, or simply being swept along. I am probably all of the above. I don’t seek dire certainty, though, just a better understanding, a more revealing glimpse of myself in the mirror.
I live for the chance, or the illusion of a chance, of accomplishing better, more meaningful work — work that reaches out, communicates, and makes demands, especially of myself. Each day I stay alive, each hour, I preserve that chance and illusion.
I wonder, too, if I do anything by choice. I must, because I feel responsible for my actions. If I’ve made a mess of my life, which in some ways I have, if I’ve caused heartache through my selfishness, it’s because I’ve chosen to do so. I can’t count the times I’ve deliberately turned my back on an obvious, practical solution. We call it “burning bridges.”
And what of those areas in which I’ve succeeded — my devotion to family, the work and joy of a long marriage, doing what I’m cut out for, and recognizing what’s poison to my system? Are these the result of choice? I think not. I think, instead, that I’ve been blessed, and that I’ve been cursed, and that what feels like a choice is but a surface phenomenon, and that my wiring — our wiring — is so complex, that while the subject of why we do things is fun and even instructive to pursue, we really don’t know what we’re talking about. And that we call “being born.”
I can imagine a life in which everything is known, and what a nightmare it would be. I also think it’s possible that we know everything we need to know at birth, and that we learn to suppress it through fear. But most of all, I view knowledge as a living, breathing, changing thing, an entity that feeds and fuels itself, a restless spirit, because the only constant in life is change, and we are of this life.
Hammer it any way we like, describe it, archive it, and break it into a million tiny pieces, curse it or give thanks, place it in a chalice or under a microscope, call it life, the universe, or God, it was here before us and will remain after we leave, poignantly, partly, and inaccurately defined, and painfully present in the tiniest exquisite detail. And that we call “joy.”
“I ask myself” is the newest addition to my Notebook. Old notes are archived here.
Monday, October 4, 2010
What greater illusion than life itself, other than the absence of it? Kicking through the leaves, a god, grown weary, might wonder the same thing. In the void, defined as sleep by some, and as emptiness by others — as if emptiness were a song comprised of one infinite black note and sleep were a place to which we might safely, predictably
return — or likened to oblivion, or death, oblivion a form of grief too vast and deep to discern, an ocean in an eye, death one last confession between hand and glove — there is nothing yet ordained, no word spoken or left unsaid, not the ghost of a syllable or haunted breath, and this too is illusion, a fist or palm unwilling to exist, the wars of entire histories neither waged nor imagined, antiquity, Babel, virtue, sound, legions of unborn slaves and scribes, until a sigh, arriving like wind through a frozen sky, born of direction henceforth circumscribed, a ripple in the mind of time, an urge to name that justifies cause, face against glass proclaiming self to self, effusion of stars to sudden stone, laughter down to the last good oar, down to the weight around your neck, contrives to remind you that you are here.
“What greater illusion” added to Poems, Slightly Used.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
After a cooler-than-usual summer, our small, late tomato crop has finally ripened and become the heart and soul of what, for me, is the perfect salad: cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, salt, a touch of pepper, a generous scattering of dried purple basil, olive oil, and vinegar. Made in the morning and chilled, this is ideal with the evening meal, and what’s left over is even better the next day.
On the first day of the month, I had a few errands to run, one of which required a trip downtown. Since I was near the library and had change for the meter, I stopped there long enough to visit the little Friends bookstore I’m so fond of. I came away with another five volumes. As luck would have it, the books are part of the same set I chanced upon during my last visit — poetry from the English beginning with Chaucer, a volume of Dante, and one of Robert Burns.
Upon returning home, I was greeted by an immense starling celebration underway high up in the neighbors’ fir trees. Not a single bird was visible. The air was cool, the sky was a soft, coastal gray, and there was only a slight breeze. No one else was out. I stood there immersed in the sound, my new stack of hundred-year-old books in hand, feeling like the luckiest person in the world.
In the Forum: suave urbanity, burnt elves, and dogs with diplomas.
Saturday, October 2, 2010
October 2, 2010
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To confront death and embrace darkness and light at every turn, to know and cherish defeat, to bless the sorrow I have endured and will surely seek again, to feel blindly through the veil of knowledge, to wonder at this earth and watch as it claims limb after limb, to be grief and ash, to be dangerously, deliciously alone, to be scorned and ignored, to be driven out, hated, and hung, to be innocent and at the same time a thief, to be counted, to help, to need, and to love, to dwell in myth and bring forth as fable, to say for others what they cannot or have not yet learned to say for themselves, to be dreadfully mistaken and woefully unaware, to be instructed by the wise and the insane, perfectly designed for all of these things, this ship, this sea, these hands, these bellows and chambers that could fail at any moment leaving the mind to grab at straws, to linger as words like the sweet smoke of one last idea, to suddenly know flight, to grow as mist and be as determined as a handful of soil — here lies, and I had only just begun.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Early each morning, well before sunrise, in a harbor of yellow light created by a small lamp my mother brought home years ago, I have been reading Proust. Progress is slow, about ten or twelve pages per sitting; still, I am 803 pages into the first volume and I’m enjoying the book immensely. There’s an obsessive, neurotic quality in Proust’s writing that I like, and it’s not without its own subtle humor.
I have also been reading Stephen Vincent Benét’s long Civil War poem, John Brown’s Body. That reading, though, takes place much later in the day, generally in the waning hours of the afternoon. A beautiful book.
Yesterday, my wife and I escaped to the ocean. To see the sea we need travel less than sixty miles, a trip that takes a little over an hour. The weather there was remarkably warm, calm, and clear. A thin veil of mist hugged the cliffs along the beach. With school back in session, few people were about. The midday sunlight was blinding. Across the tide and wet sand was a sheen of purples, pinks, and blues. Gulls in flight skimmed the sand with the tips of their wings. We stopped at a restaurant for clam chowder.
In the Forum: Heaven’s deadly elbow patches.