I Came From A Place of Fireflies


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I came from a place of fireflies,
where men were reasonable and tall,
Where people knew me by who my grandfather was, and his, and his.
Where farmers didn’t block views with trees,
To see at a glance from the kitchen window
How the corn was doing, the soybeans.

Where cemeteries were so old they had no one living who cared
and the raspberry bushes
And groundhogs had taken over;
Where being a child meant living outdoors, year-’round.
Where you waved at a passing car
Because they probably knew your parents:
And you didn’t want to hear at church on Sunday about being rude.

I came from a place where my nearest playmate was a cousin, a mile away;
Where going to hang out meant
Riding the old fat-tired-hand-me-down bike,
With one gear, but was great for
Popping the tar bubbles on hot summer days;
And watching the big grasshoppers and flies whiz by,
the birds calling from the trees,
And watching my dog chase another rabbit.

I came from a place of spirits, haunted by the land,
by deep roots down five generations;
Where uncles and aunts would come over
for summer dinners after the milking,
And sit outside after dark in our yard talking,
And how those adult voices murmering made things
Safe somehow as
My cousins and I would chase each other
through the darkness, making up games
Hiding in the bushes and the darkness
on the edge of safety,
Thrilling in the freedom to roam, to be children;
In awe when the fields and grass would
Erupt in a billion fireflies, and we would put
dozens in quart canning jars
For study, and marveling at  yet another mystery.

I came from a place, a very common place, that had an order
Of season and harvest, planting and animals, birth, death, renewal;
A place where the farm animals taught
about sex very early, but also about stewardship,
pragmatism, kindness and death;

There were the late nights wading through
snowdrifts to the barn in February’s lambing season,
Fields draped deeply asleep in white under hard,
cold moonlight and wicked winds;
Of helping with the births—which only seemed
to come in bitterest cold—
cleaning newborn lambs off with
old burlap feed sacks
Holding the newborns under heat lamps
until their mothers licked them clean,
Made sure they found the teat and began to nurse,
coats still steaming, tails wiggling.
It was there I learned about birth, and
the miracle of it.

I came from a place that has slowly died since then.
I feel an ache of loss of a place
that gave me my sense of who I was,
Where the places I roamed with my dog
are  now owned by Arab sheiks,
where even bigness did not guarantee survival.

It is a place where the invisible glue that once
nurtured communities evaporated from
change and neglect and globalism and meth and, now, heroin,
Where people stay inside and hide from themselves,
Surfing the web for porn, and never once see the
Fireflies rising up in the June nights,
calling children to mystery but with
fewer there to hear the answers.

For Posterity
Origin Story
Memory

Childhood

Testament


by Carl Sandburg (1878  1967)

I give the undertakers permission to haul my body
to the graveyard and to lay away all, the head, the 
feet, the hands, all:

I know there is something left over they can not put away.


Let the nanny goats and the billy goats of the shanty
people
eat the clover over my grave
and if any yellow 
hair
or any blue smoke of flowers
is good enough to grow 
over me
let the dirty-fisted children
of the shanty people pick these flowers.


I have had my chance to live with the people who have
too much and the people who have
too little and I chose one of the two and I have told no man why.

Save


“I think everyone must love life more than anything else in the world.’

‘Love life more than the meaning of it?’

‘Yes, certainly. Love it regardless of logic, as you say. Yes, most certainly regardless of logic, for only then will I grasp its meaning. That’s what I’ve been vaguely aware of for a long time. Half your work is done, Ivan: you love life. Now you must try to do the second half and you are saved.”

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Some Work of Noble Note, May Yet Be Done


 

Quotes from better writers

Ulysses

BY ALFRED, LORD TENNYSON

“…I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought….”
“…’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

August’s Book Note


Please consider picking up a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes…” at Amazon or Barnes & Noble online. The links are below. It’s not a beach book, I’m afraid. But that’s not all bad this time of year.

But don’t take my word for it. From one of the reviews.

August 9, 2018

“A work of a lifetime, in a way.The story of being human, loving, hurting and healing. It will move you. Read this only if you are passionate about your journey and all that comes to you along the way.”

B&N: http://tinyurl.com/yay5mhaa

Secrets


When the sands
of our deeper selves
shift, slide, scald
at 3 a.m.,
when buried grief
slithers out again,
the night holds its
breath a moment,
exhales and the Eastern
sky brightens.
Safe again, we wake.

Strange things stir,
unknowns,
mazes, links, leaps
of magic and yearning,
primitive emotions,
undisguised by
convention, rise.
There is no passion so pure
as when it springs
uncensored,
from the loins of
an ancient earth, from the night.

Secrets lurk between
every second on the clock,
there, then gone, then back…
neither light nor shadow,
but mere potential.
Hiding in plain sight.
shifting with the sand,
teasing us to pull
them into the light,
poisoning us until
we do.

Summons


The six dogs I’ve known over the years

all thought me better than I was,

lived with no regret or second thought…

protected my children, kept me company

when fevers curled

me up on the floor.

They expected food on time and little else,

thought a run in the woods

was the best thing in the history of the world,

every time,;

kept marauding

squirrels up in trees where they belonged.

And with such sensitive noses,

not once did they judge morning breath.

(Beyond a sneeze.)

When the short years passed,

they were stoic, trusting

Even in pain, even then.

They trusted with great hearts,

comforted by a last touch,

Even as the needle slipped in, eyes

searched ours as they relaxed and were

Summoned home to wait for us,

Curled up and resting by the fire.

On the Muse


By Elizabeth Hardwick

Those with the least gift are the most anxious to receive a commission. It seems to them that there lies waiting a topic, a new book, a performance, and that this is known as material. The true prose writer knows there is nothing given, no idea, no text or play seen last evening, until an assault has taken place, the forced domination that we call ”putting it in your own words.” Talking about, thinking about a project bears little relation to the composition; enthusiasm boils down with distressing speed to a paragraph, often one of mischievous banality. To proceed from musing to writing is to feel a robbery has taken place. And certainly there has been a loss; the loss of the smiles and ramblings and discussions so much friendlier to ambition than the cold hardship of writing.

–from “Its Only Defense: Intelligence and Sparkle,” in The New York Times in 1986

The Purpose of Poetry


 

Robert Frost held a special place in President Kennedy’s intellectual pantheon. Frost died in January 1963, at age 88. The following October, Amherst College held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Robert Frost Library. Kennedy traveled to Massachusetts to deliver this speech; a month later, he, too, was dead.

(Did the headline catch your eye? Maybe pissed you off? Sorry. This is a political post, not really about poetry. But it is about poetry’s relationship to power, and how one president used to be. And how that compares to today.)

“Our national strength matters; but the spirit which informs and controls our strength matters just as much. This was the special significance of Robert Frost.

“He brought an unsparing instinct for reality to bear on the platitudes and pieties of society. His sense of the human tragedy fortified him against self-deception and easy consolation. Continue reading “The Purpose of Poetry”

A Request


A gentle reminder for July’s sales (going gangbusters!.. probably): if you meant to get a copy of “Snowflakes & Ashes….” and haven’t yet, it’s available through several channels, including  Barnes and Noble.

(It’s in stock at the State College (PA) B&N store near the mall, by the way. Or, you may order from B&N online and pickup at a store near you instead of home delivery.)

It’s also on Amazon, both paperback and e-Book. It is helpful if you leave a review and rating, as they use that for the algorithm to determine how visible it is. Thanks in advance. Now I can tell my marketing department I did my bit. 😉

Bulk orders for book clubs are available. Just email me with quantities and location so I can get you the discount price with shipping.

Oh, and I mentioned other channels. Your local small bookshop or library can order this one if you ask them to: ISBN: 978-1-64237-194-9

A Slender Thread


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Different time zones

different continents

different days,

some days….

Different morn and night

hard to tell sometimes…

Might as well be different centuries

different lives

different air

different seasons

connected by a silver

thread so so fine

it’s hardly there

except on clear nights

when the moon is full

on the mountains, dark,

at ha’passed nine,

when the moonlight catches it just so

.and, for a minute, it hums with

a brilliant light.

Snowflakes and Ashes


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I’m happy to announce that I’ve just published (via Gatekeeper Press), “Snowflakes and Ashes: Meditations on the Temporary.” It’s still being propagated through the internet, but Amazon (paperback and Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (Nook) have it up already. Distribution will also be through independent bookstores, libraries and academic users.

For now, you can take a peek at https://amzn.to/2kpYDLC

Steve Jobs said once that we can’t connect the dots of our lives looking forward. It’s only later, after the journey has a few miles on it, that one can look back and draw some conclusions and see the patterns that are usually invisible at the time. Some things we know, but some things are surprises. I wrote this out of the jumble of my own life, but have the conceit that my experiences and accidental insights are probably similar to some of yours. I hope so. (Solitary journeys can be lonely. Glad to have some company.) I’ll be posting some promo codes as soon as I get them if you can’t handle buying a book at the moment. I am gladly welcoming reviews, however.

Prayer for Good Humor


 

by St. Thomas More

Grant me, O Lord, good digestion,
and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body,
and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not
boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to
take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.

One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World


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I’ve held this inside for more than 40 years. I think you’ll see why.

It was a hot summer Saturday afternoon. The humidity was heavy, and it was like breathing through wet gauze. The leaves of the oaks that shaded the grounds moved with a discouraged droop from air that provided no relief.

I have no witnesses to what happened, but it was something that to this day, more than 45 years later, I cannot explain. Or deny. I’ve tried both. Now it just has to be.

All I know is that I walked into that room alone, my mind on something completely different and ordinary and mundane. (I was checking supplies for the evening meeting.) I was walking through a typical Midwestern summer afternoon in Indiana one moment, and the next walked into another world.

Continue reading “One Day, I Stepped Off The Edge of the World”

The Exposed Nest


Robert Frost

By Robert Frost

You were forever finding some new play.
So when I saw you down on hands and knees
In the meadow, busy with the new-cut hay,
Trying, I thought, to set it up on end,
I went to show you how to make it stay,
If that was your idea, against the breeze,
And, if you asked me, even help pretend
To make it root again and grow afresh.
But ‘twas no make-believe with you to-day,
Nor was the grass itself your real concern,
Though I found your hand full of wilted fern,
Steel-bright June-grass, and blackening heads of clover.
‘Twas a nest full of young birds on the ground
The cutter-bar had just gone champing over
(Miraculously without tasting flesh)
And left defenseless to the heat and light.
You wanted to restore them to their right
Of something interposed between their sight
And too much world at once—could means be found.
The way the nest-full every time we stirred
Stood up to us as to a mother-bird
Whose coming home has been too long deferred,
Made me ask would the mother-bird return
And care for them in such a change of scene
And might our meddling make her more afraid.
That was a thing we could not wait to learn.
We saw the risk we took in doing good,
But dared not spare to do the best we could
Though harm should come of it; so built the screen
You had begun, and gave them back their shade.
All this to prove we cared. Why is there then
No more to tell? We turned to other things.
I haven’t any memory—have you?—
Of ever coming to the place again
To see if the birds lived the first night through,
And so at last to learn to use their wings.

Umwelt


I feel like a blind man living inside a kaleidoscope;
A glutton with but one taste bud left;
A monk who’s forgotten what he knew of God;
A tin-eared drunk waking up just as angels
burst across the heavens in song.
I’m a coma patient wrapped in wool,
strapped in a closet in a blackened room
in the back of the basement.

The blind tick only cares for butyric acid’s smell,
and the exact temperature of blood.
Then it falls into blackness, hoping
it will land on the fur,
feed on the blood of a passing deer.
It can smell butyric on mammals’ fur,
and sense just the temperature of blood,
which is exactly 37 degrees Celsius.

The small part of the world it senses
is its umwelt. Nothing else is real to it.
Nothing else needs to be.

For the black ghost knifefish, it’s electrical fields.
For the echolocating bat, it’s air-compression waves.

For us, it’s a narrow band of the electromagnetic spectrum
our eyes are adapted to see, the wavelengths
that have the highest energy in sunlight.
The colors of ripening fruit and food, as it happens.

Our other senses are just good enough to get by.
We can’t compete with a bloodhound’s
olfactory genius; we’re pitiful in that department.
Such is our umwelt. We sense a tiny sliver of the world.
We don’t know anything beyond our reality,
Our umwelt, out of which we construct everything
like a sacred myth, what we think we know, but do not.

 

Doubts


Doubt is my most trusted traveling partner, that “curious questioner” who comes in the night,  that voice that says what I’ve done is not what it should be, that I’m not what I should be. And it is then—out of a last-ditch, almost reluctant refusal to betray myself— that everything comes of which I am most proud.

Doubt is my friend and lover. Doubt need not be fear’d, but endured and embraced as a means to an end. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the way I became strong enough. Strong enough…. If I can, you can, too.

Walt Whitman

I too have—
Have—have—
I too have—felt the curious questioning come upon me.
In the day they came.
In the silence of the night came [they] upon me

—Walt Whitman

It is not upon you alone the dark patches fall, 
The dark threw its patches down upon me also, 
The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious, 
My great thoughts as I supposed them, were they not in reality meagre? 
Nor is it you alone ho know what it is to be evil, 
I am he who knew what it was to be evil, 
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety, 
blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudged, 
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I cared not speak, 
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant, 
The world, the snake, the hog not wanting in me, 
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting, 
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting, 
Was one with the rest, the days and haps of the rest. …”
—”Leaves of Grass, ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry’ briefs, p. 219.

Personal Note


I’ve been reluctant to post some personal news here, but because just disappearing without an explanation seems odd, at the least, here goes.

Starting in November, my wife started coughing, and kept coughing. A blood test and then some scans detected a tumor in her lung, and some additional spots on her spine and pelvis. Biopsies confirmed these were Stage IV lung cancer, metastasized to 5-7 spots on vertebrae, the lungs, and pelvis.

She had radiation therapy to knock back the bone pain in her back, then had one chemotherapy infusion. Within 36 hours of that, we both came down with the flu that everyone’s getting. But it hit her very hard because her immune system is severely compromised. She ended up in the hospital for the flu as one very, very sick girl, and then for the pneumonia that followed. She recovered, although unable to eat much, was at home for nine days, then pneumonia returned and then she spent another week in the hospital. She’s on a feeding tube now and is regaining her strength.

I’ve been well occupied with all of this, obviously, and thought that a few of you would appreciate knowing what’s been happening. I’ll probably be absent a lot over the next months, as what’s ahead is going to be rough. I miss writing and reading your creations, and hope to be back. Until then….

Doug

Grit


December 11, 1937 – March 26, 2016

“I like grit, I like love and death, I’m tired of irony. … A lot of good fiction is sentimental. … The novelist who refuses sentiment refuses the full spectrum of human behavior, and then he just dries up. … I would rather give full vent to all human loves and disappointments, and take a chance on being corny, than die a smartass.”
Jim Harrison

Folding Power


Pillars of Creation: interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born
“Pillars of Creation”: Hubble photo of interstellar gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, some 6,500-7,000 light years from Earth where stars are born

I asked for the superpower of “Folding” for my birthday.
It cuts out the middle man:
Gimme a calendar with tricky bits, I said.
I’d fold weeks, months, years, centuries together,
jump to any time, past or future.

The first would be hanging with
the first human band to walk out of Africa .
I’d wait in the shade of a date palm, by the Nile,
bounce rocks off crocodiles, watch the south trail.
I’d cook hot dogs and hamburgers,
and have beer chilling on ice.
History’s first tailgate.
I would show them an iPhone, photos, movies.
Order something from Amazon—
Wouldn’t that be a good trick!…
Maybe a slinky, some bows and arrows and knives.
A chemistry set. Aspirin. Cargo pants,
broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Trail mix. Snickers.
It’s in our interest that they survive the trip.
I’d tell them to be kind to one another,
Let them think I was the Great Spirit, then disappear.

Continue reading “Folding Power”

Blue Nights


A pall has settled in over the two of us in Chez Hemmingplay, and on our sons and others, a pall that may turn out to be nothing at all. I’ll have more to say if it seems things have gone sideways. But by accident, a writer friend mentioned some words Joan Didion wrote in “Blue Nights.” We can share these for now.

In ‘Blue Nights’

By Joan Didion

“Do not whine…Do not complain. Work harder. Spend more time alone.”

“In theory momentos serve to bring back the moment. In fact they serve only to make clear how inadequately I appreciated the moment when it was here.”

“During the blue nights you think the end of day will never come. As the blue nights draw to a close (and they will, and they do) you experience an actual chill, an apprehension of illness, at the moment you first notice: the blue light is going, the days are already shortening, the summer is gone…Blue nights are the opposite of the dying of the brightness, but they are also its warning.”

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night


Dylan Thomas

by Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Continue reading “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night”

Shirt


Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967

I remember once I ran after you and tagged the fluttering
shirt of you in the wind.
Once many days ago I drank a glassful of something and
the picture of you shivered and slid on top of the stuff.
And again it was nobody else but you I heard in the
singing voice of a careless humming woman.
One night when I sat with chums telling stories at a
bonfire flickering red embers, in a language its own
talking to a spread of white stars:
It was you that slunk laughing
in the clumsy staggering shadows.
Broken answers of remembrance let me know you are
alive with a peering phantom face behind a doorway
somewhere in the city’s push and fury.
Or under a pack of moss and leaves waiting in silence
under a twist of oaken arms ready as ever to run<
away again when I tag the fluttering shirt of you.

What Gives You Peace of Mind?


For a little change of pace, I’m sharing an essay I wrote for “Storyworth”, a family history/memoir project brought to me by my two sons. When I run out of gas, or they run out of questions–or both– we’ll end up with a bound hard-copy book for each of us that will be, essentially, my memoir, driven by their questions, and done one week at a time. The following is this week’s essay. 

______________________________________________________

What Gives You Peace of Mind? you ask… 

Well… I have to take exception to the premise of this question. At least a little. I’m not against peace of mind in general, but just that I’m not sure that ought to be the goal. Or my goal, anyway.

And I think there’s a difference between being “happy” and having “peace of mind”. And there’s also a time element on both, and on unhappiness, too: nothing seems to be permanent, good or bad.

Lemme see if I can untangle that.

Continue reading “What Gives You Peace of Mind?”

It Is Something To Have Been


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“Karma,” New Orleans, Louisiana, USA. An impressive sculpture is located in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is found at the New Orleans Museum of Art. It is made by Korean artist Do Ho Suh.

I am well past my 20s,
that golden time
when I only saw a little—and even that
with optimistic eyes.

I’m past the days of cheap
apartments with friends and wine and roaches,
lentils and rice for breakfast,
or leftover cold pizza.

I’m beyond learning of
war and death and pestilence.
The visitations of grief
have marked me, too.

Gone is the luxury of
happy, uninformed innocence,
the blind and smug assurance
that comes with youth.

Continue reading “It Is Something To Have Been”

I Want


I wanted to be Steve Jobs
I wanted to be Joni Mitchell
I wanted to be Leonard Cohen
I wanted to be Carl Sagan,
Bobby Kennedy.
I wanted to be that person, they’ll say,
“yeah, whatever happened to him?”
The way people do, about certain
Rare, shining talents, like Joni, or Steve,
Or Carl.
Mysteries that can’t be explained.

Continue reading “I Want”

A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness


I’m racing the inevitable,
my only weapon an
optimistic fantasy
of permanent youthfulness.

The 1970s are to blame.
My generation is to blame.
We started this crap,
pretending we could play
where, before,
only teenagers and children could.

In my head, I’m still about 32,
on a stone patio of
a casino in Saint Tropez, in sandals,
skimpy swimming trunks,
Continue reading “A Fantasy of Permanent Youthfulness”

‘Tu Le Ton Son Ton’ *


A little reminiscing. Reposting this just because I love this song. It makes me feel good. Time to head back to NOLA soon. … 

“My ex grew up on da Rue Royale, and she had a way of making the word ‘water’ sound SO good. More like ‘Wahrter.’ I love y’all’s town. And the world’s FINEST women come from New Orleans. You may quote me.”
–Carl Huffman

Trying to recapture a feeling…but what do I know? I’m just a white, white boy with too many miles on the transmission who dropped in for a few days of pretend.  Nah, I’m just being coo-yonThat place can get under your skin quick. I’ll be going back.  Ça c’est bon Continue reading “‘Tu Le Ton Son Ton’ *”

Why Won’t They?


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“Why won’t the saints look at us?”

“Even saints need a break sometimes, Honey.”

“Is it that bad?”

“Yeah. It is. But try a long walk. They’re saints. They’ll be back.”

“I hope so. I’m not sure I would.”

“Me, neither. There’s always a first time, I suppose. Try not to think about that. ….

That path through the woods to the lake is your best shot. You’d better take your time.”

–From Aug. 2016, revised

Mileposts on This Journey


There is no knowledge without sacrifice

In order to gain anything, you must first lose everything.

Before I can hope for solutions,

I must first identify the problems.

As an ancient voice cried out

in another time of great upheaval,

much like our own:

“The oceans have dried up
The mountains crumble
The pole star is shaken
The gods perish.
I am a frog in a dry well. “

There are no solutions

The problems remain.

I pay attention to this place, this time.

Late Ripeness


by Czeslaw Milosz

Not soon, as late as the approach of my ninetieth year,
I felt a door opening in me and I entered
the clarity of early morning.

One after another my former lives were departing,
like ships, together with their sorrow.

And the countries, cities, gardens, the bays of seas
assigned to my brush came closer,
ready now to be described better than they were before.

I was not separated from people,
grief and pity joined us.
We forget – I kept saying – that we are all children of the King.

For where we come from there is no division
into Yes and No, into is, was, and will be.

We were miserable, we used no more than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot, a caravel
staving its hull against a reef – they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the same time,
whether they are aware of it or not.

The Unfaithful Earl


IMG_1723

For Halloween….

With one exception, no one in the pub that night had heard the story of the unfaithful earl with a spear in his guts…. At least, not since they were children.

It was a quiet evening. Truth be told, most evenings in the little village were quiet. Deadly quiet. It made the people a little odd.

This night was running down in the same way. Nothing moved outside, or inside, except for calls for refills by the few villagers who remained.

But just before closing time, Robert Mordrum, a local farmer, burst into the low-beamed gathering place just before closing, white-faced and speechless.

Continue reading “The Unfaithful Earl”

What It Means to Be Alive


From “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder

“..Yes, now you know. Now you know! That’s what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those … of those about you.
To spend and waste time as though you had a million years.
To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another.
Now you know that’s the happy existence you wanted to go back to.
Ignorance and blindness ….

Dear Ladies


This is one of the least explicit photos I could find. I think it’s Scarlett Johansen, the actress, but it wasn’t labeled.

Look, I’m not getting much sleep lately,
so chalk this up to grumpiness, if you want.
Or the back spasms…
And I’m no prude, believe me.
But I am a man who’s old, so most
of you would’t notice me on the street.
I’m a tad bitter about that, you might say,
but have learned what’s important.

Maybe, you could just listen.

I get it: Sex sells,
fantasy sex sells cars and everything else..
All those selfies of you on FB, Instagram,
You posed coyly just to show your good side,
your amazing boobs or butt, the come-hither look.
(And yes, I notice. ) Continue reading “Dear Ladies”

Traveling Light


 

by Leonard Cohen

I’m traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do

Good night, good night, my fallen star
I guess you’re right, you always are
I know you’re right about the blues
You live some life you’d never choose
I’m just a fool, a dreamer who forgot to dream of the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do

Traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright, my fallen star
I’m running late, they’ll close the bar
I used to play one mean guitar
I guess I’m just somebody who
Has given up on the me and you
I’m not alone, I’ve met a few
Traveling light like we used to do

But if the road leads back to you
Must I forget the things I knew
When I was friends with one or two
Traveling light like we used to do
I’m traveling light

Lenny


This is about a guy named Lenny. Lenny Kravitz. But not the famous one born in 1964. (No relation, actually. That name has been a burden.)

This Lenny was in a British rock band in the late 70’s. The drummer. The band had one monster hit and then sank without  trace. The hit was played occasionally on oldies stations after a decade, then less and less. While the craziest part of fame lasted (from the spring of 1973 through the next summer) they lived the rock-star life on the road, tearing up hotels left and right.

It was the 70s, when the national nervous breakdown began in earnest. Lenny was known for dressing up in a giant pink cloth penis outfit and dancing around the stage, the uncircumcised head flopping back and forth, the girls screaming in the audience, Continue reading “Lenny”

A Song on the End of the World


CZESLAW MILOSZ

BY CZESLAW MILOSZ

TRANSLATED BY ANTHONY MILOSZ

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.

And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

“Encounter”


Czeslaw Milosz, 1911–2004

A new (to me) poet:

by Czeslaw Milosz

We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn
A red wing rose in the darkness
And suddenly a hare ran across the road
One of us pointed to it with his hand.
That was long ago
Today neither of them is alive
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.
O my love, where are they, where are they going?
the flash of hand, streak of movement,
rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.

Darkness


“Darkness” is a poem written by Lord Byron in July 1816. That year was
known as the Year Without a Summer, because Mount Tamborahad erupted in
the “Dutch East Indies” (the highest peak on the island of Sumbawa in
Indonesia), casting enough sulphur into the atmosphere to reduce global temperatures and cause abnormal weather across much of north-east America and northern Europe. This pall of darkness inspired Byron to write his poem.

 

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguish’d, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went—and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chill’d into a selfish prayer for light:
And they did live by watchfires—and the thrones,

Continue reading “Darkness”

Touching Glass in the Crowd


The Earth rises and roils the seas,
smashing warnings of
end times
against the land, afflicting
sticky-tacky
neighborhoods, with
houses all the same,
interrupting complacency.
But we misread the moment.
As usual. Like Pharaoh,
we are stiff-necked and proud,
and must lose our children
before we can be humbled.
The skies are not filled with clouds and rain
but signs and portents,
locusts and frogs,
crocodiles and snakes…a
growing rage of non-human things
too long abused.

Confused, soulless like
selfish children,
we cannot see what
does not please us,
and so wander alone,
merely touching magic
glass in a crowd.

She doesn’t need saving


Worry about me later, for barbarians are coming over the hills, carrying long pikes and angry words, searching for reasoning they do not possess. My sleepless nights are a gene inside me, melatonin leached from my skin, my fascination with the moon, my dark monarch taking flight to greet the lamps lighted.

via Wet Feet Are Part Of Life — Poet’s Corner

“We must know so very much to know we know nothing”


Learning is, almost always, amongst the holliest and purest of time allocations. We must know so very much to know we know nothing. Though schools can harm this at times, it is worth reminding ourselves of this. The same way a puppy is reminded of the horrors of nature when a lightning strikes. No matter […]

via The Inviting Sea — The Right Act

Publishing Scam?


Publishing Scam?

This is a bit thick to read, but if you’re publishing books, this is a look inside the seamier side.

“…Nowadays, you can make the bestseller list with about 5,000 sales. That’s not the heights of publishing’s heyday but it’s still harder to get than you’d think. Some publishers spend thousands of dollars on advertising and blogger outreach to get that number. Everyone’s looking for the next big thing and that costs a lot of cash. For the past 25 weeks, that big book in the YA world has been The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, a searing politically charged drama about a young black girl who sees a police officer kill her friend, and the fallout it causes in her community.

Through publisher buzz and exceedingly strong word of mouth, the novel has stormed to the forefront of the YA world and found thousands of fans, with a film on the way. Knocking that from the top of the NYT YA list would be a major deal, and this week it’s going to happen. But something’s not right….”

“Sketch” By the Master


Carl Sandburg

by Carl Sandburg

The shadows of the ships
Rock on the crest
In the low blue lustre
Of the tardy and the soft inrolling tide.

A long brown bar at the dip of the sky
Puts an arm of sand in the span of salt.

The lucid and endless wrinkles
Draw in, lapse and withdraw.
Wavelets crumble and white spent bubbles
Wash on the floor of the beach.

Rocking on the crest
In the low blue lustre
Are the shadows of the ships.

Racing the Sun to Kankakee


Dawn just south of Kankakee, ILL. On the City of New Orleans, headed north to Chicago.
Dawn just south of Kankakee, ILL. On the City of New Orleans, headed north to Chicago.

Missing NOLA, so a rerun

The City of New Orleans pulls out of downtown,
setting the ground rumbling, gaining speed,
steel nose pointed hard north,
toward the coming night.

Like a thousand times before,
she finds the scent of the line away from the party,
leaving street-corner musicians,
Heavenly beignets and chicory coffee….And joy.

Leaving Joy, behind—despite misery under freeway overpasses;
Falling away in the rear window down parallel bands of steel
The party goes on, the music getting
fainter, but stuck in my skin like a vaccination scar,
in my ear like an old love song playing soft.
Despite the worst that could happen, the People endure.
God bless the People.
The train rolls north, but carries the place with it.
The passengers carry the place with us.

Old Bourbon St., Canal St. with it’s clackety trolleys;
flood-stained Poydras, Gravier,  Decatur streets.
The bars and the shops and the throngs of
sun worshipers on Jackson Square
who lounge and dance to a saxophone player
and drop coins and bills in his open case on the sidewalk.

Or listen to the tolling of the cathedral bells.
The steamboat down at the dock breathes
a hot, breathy calliope tune, luring passengers to the
Big Muddy to taste something old, something new
Something borrowed, and some Blues.
The blond woman, on her cast iron balcony above
The traffic and crowds, waters her flowers, looks
Down at me and smiles. It’s OK, Honey, she seems to say,
Life is good. Isn’t this a great place?
It’s New Orleans: Laissez les bon temps roulez, after all.
Let the good times roll…

So we roll. The horn blasts again and silent
steel wheels start to turn, gathering speed.
Number 58 follows an old steel line up, up,
slowing now and then but
Always up, up, up, past
Metairie, Kenner, New Iberia, the old names.
Hugging the shore of vast
Lake Ponchartrain, goddess destroyer,

Up, up the steel magic carpet ride
In dusk’s gathering, into the
dark memories of Delta country,
Past fields greening with winter wheat,
into the Mississippi night,
A stop at McComb, then Jackson,
then all the way up, up to Memphis by midnight.

And as we sleep, the car rocks unevenly,
the engine horn blows warnings
Into the darkness, the stars move slowly past.

The conductor’s voice comes over the speaker, tinny,
An hour and a half to Chicago.
“Get your things ready. Breakfast is served.”

Dawn comes early in places like this,
A mist covers the fields and coats them out of focus.
At breakfast, a retired doctor traveling with his daughter
Back home to Chicago
Tells about strawberries
(they’re on the menu this morning)
And remembers tending strawberries
on his father’s farm in
New Orleans, and how sweet
they were, and how he hated
Working in the beds, but loved
eating the sweetest berries in the world.
The sweetest in the world… his voice trails off.

Watching him, his eyes gone soft with old memories,
I wondered if their sweetness was more than rich soil,
But rather some small consolation to the People for
Enduring the swamps and fevers and mosquitos and the hurricanes.
The old doctor remembers the flavors
of strawberries on his father’s farm
In the French Quarter, 70 years, a lifetime ago.
He can taste the past again, and smiles.

The miles evaporate under the clicking wheels
as we talk, and eat
And the car rocks and rolls.
The waiter flies up and down the aisle,
Used to the way the car bucks and pitches on rough spots,
Never spilling the coffee.

The eastern horizon begins to glow.
Through fallow fields and past naked trees we fly.
And like the Resurrection, the sun is up and claims the day,
Keeping pace, rising in the east, burning bright, banishing darkness again.

And out the window,
over the frosty stubble
of an Illinois cornfield,
the old promise rises,
runs alongside, keeping pace.

We race the sun to Kankakee,
yet the faint music still plays,
far behind.

South
#
Amtrak

 

Ancient Sunlight


Amy King

by Amy King

Shame on you for dating a museum:
Everything is dead there and nothing is alive.
Not everyone who lives to be old embraces
the publicity of it all. I mean, you get up and folks
want to know, How did you get here? What makes you
go? What is the secret? And there is no secret except
there are many things that build the years out.
They are not vegetables every day and working out
but a faith that all of these things add up
and lead us to some sum total happiness
we can cash in for forever love in the face
of never lasting. That people along the way
keep disappearing in a variety show of deathbed ways
is also the sheer terror that it may not hold for us too.
That we may outlast everything and be left
alone to keep going, never Icarus with wax melting,
never the one whose smoke & drink undid
the lungs that pull our wings in then out and the liver
that keeps chugging the heft of Elizabeth Cotten’s
“Freight Train” with her upside down left hand guitar still
playing in videos past her presence. I have become a person since
I reorganized my face in the mirror and the world is my inflation.
But this testament offers no sound or silence since
nothing is proven yet and you are still here,
the dead stars’ light landing on your rods and cones
in a vitrine of cameos building—blink.

A Perfect Kennedy Moment


Somehow, I seem to have

awakened a couple of decades late.

OK, OK. It’s been longer than that… 

The point is,

I missed my perfect Kennedy moment,

That one where we get

to die when we still look fantastic

and are always remembered that way,

while the rest of the gang

gets old and wrinkly and smells bad.

So long, Camelot.

I hardly knew ye.

Milestone



It’s just a number: 1,000. But it is fellow-bloggers and for that reason is especially nice. Thank you all.

My path has taken a couple of side trails, and I’ve dialed back on poetry lately because I’m researching another book, and that’s taking up a lot of time. I don’t have a working title yet, and am still letting the research guide the setting and plot a little, but I know the general outlines.

It is in the “cli-fi” genre, set 50-100 years in the future and will be a character-based story about the world after the first big “impacts” of climate change have hit. After some cities have flooded from rising sea levels, other places are too hot to live in and grow crops most years, and other places are hit with monster storms or torrential rains and winds. I’m probably going to give New Orleans a starring role, since I have fallen in love with her and she’s going to be one of the early casualties as things now stand.

It’s a big story, and I’m basically going back to school. I’m learning that what is coming is both much worse than I thought, but also that the future is not totally hopeless. It’s a tossup now whether our grandchildren will spit on our graves or not.

I’m hoping this project doesn’t swamp me. (Pun intended)

My poetry book is still for sale, of course. 🙂 ( http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL ) and a second manuscript is making the rounds of some small presses.

Thanks again to all of you, and all the best as you live this crazy writer’s life with me. Here’s to your stories adding to the world.

The Second Coming


<

W. B. Yeats

audio: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/play/77066

BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Continue reading “The Second Coming”

Gratefulness


Indian parable:

A famous writer was in his study. He picked up his pen and started writing :

1. Last year, I had a surgery and my gall bladder was removed. I had to stay stuck to the bed due to this surgery for a long time.

2. The same year I reached the age of 60 years and had to give up my favourite job. I had spent 30 years of my life in this publishing company.

3. The same year I experienced the sorrow of the death of my father.

4. And in the same year my son failed in his medical exam because he had a car accident. He had to stay in bed at hospital with the cast on for several days. The destruction of car was another loss.

At the end he wrote: Alas! It was such a bad year !!

When the writer’s wife entered the room, she found her husband looking sad & lost in his thoughts. From behind his back she read what was written on the paper. She left the room silently and came back with another paper and placed it on side of her husband’s writing.

When the writer saw this paper, he found his name written on it with the following lines :

1. Last year I finally got rid of my gall bladder due to which I had spent years in pain….

2. I turned 60 with sound health and retired from my job. Now I can utilise my time to write something better with more focus and peace…..

3. The same year my father, at the age of 95, without depending on anyone or without any critical condition met his Creator….

4. The same year, God blessed my son with a new life. My car was destroyed but my son stayed alive without getting any disability.

At the end she wrote:

This year was an immense blessing of God and it passed well !!!

The writer was indeed happy and amazed at such beautiful and encouraging interpretation of the happenings in his life in that year !!!

Moral : It’s not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy.

Think positive…..
Be happy…
Stay Blessed….

Perspectives


We see what was under our noses

only when death’s diamond fingernail

scratches the window pane, asking….

Today?

Not today?

Ok, then. Not today.

But he’s ruined it;

nothing is the same.

We had an orchard when I was a kid,

Macintosh, Granny Smith, pear, peaches.

I hated mowing under the trees.

The fallen fruit was full of hornets,

and the air swarmed with bees.

The air was full of the sweet rottenness

and squadrons of hostile aliens.

We picked the good ones, and

Dad would hand one to me.

I was in my squeamish phase, sure

I’d bite into a worm.

He ate, though, showing me how, eyes closed.

I wish I’d seen this for the gift this was

and taken it more to heart.

I wish he was still around

so I could

apologize.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since,

it is how to eat around the wormholes.

Most of the time .

 

In Translation



Is it just me?
My life
Was difficult at times,
like everyone’s, but
I wonder if that is because these lives
are really like bad translations,
From our original existence?

Sometimes comical, like
Boris muttering
Thick fake Russian at Moose and Squirrel.

Sometimes just disastrous,
like thinking I was asking for
directions to the library and
instead calling his mother a
working girl, and ugly, too,
and having to run for my life.

It is an argument for reincarnation.
And… it makes sense if you think about it.
Not only do we struggle
to train a new, helpless body,
and then navigate the teenage years,
but it was doubly hard,
because a previous stop in this world
I must have been
a clerk in the Ming Dynasty
Ministry of Jade, in 1376,
taking a lunch break
and gossiping in Mandarin
over steamed dumplings.
about who the supervisor
was sleeping with this week.
And… English is hard, man.

What Our Children Don’t See


This is what parents mean when we say “you’ll understand when you have kids,” and your son or daughter looks at you with that angry blank, frustrated look teenagers reserve for the stupidest people they know.

“You’ll find out. I live in constant terror for you. And you can’t understand. I’ve seen things, and you haven’t. So you don’t know what I mean.

“But you will. If you survive all the dangers of the world. If you do. I would die to make sure you do. “

After Our Daughter’s Wedding
by Ellen Bass

While the remnants of cake
and half-empty champagne glasses
lay on the lawn like sunbathers lingering
in the slanting light, we left the house guests
and drove to Antonelli’s pond.
On a log by the bank I sat in my flowered dress and cried.
A lone fisherman drifted by, casting his ribbon of light.
“Do you feel like you’ve given her away?” you asked.
But no, it was that she made it
to here, that she didn’t
drown in a well or die
of pneumonia or take the pills.
She wasn’t crushed
under the mammoth wheels of a semi
on highway 17, wasn’t found
lying in the alley
that night after rehearsal
when I got the time wrong.
It’s animal. The egg
not eaten by a weasel. Turtles
crossing the beach, exposed
in the moonlight. And we
have so few to start with.
And that long gestation—
like carrying your soul out in front of you.
All those years of feeding
and watching. The vulnerable hollow
at the back of the neck. Never knowing
what could pick them off—a seagull
swooping down for a clam.
Our most basic imperative:
for them to survive.
And there’s never been a moment
we could count on it.
“After Our Daughter’s Wedding” from Mules of Love. © 2002 by Ellen Bass.  BOA Editions Ltd. (buy now)

Blood


The needle slips in,

my body’s alarmed.

Vital fluid oozes

through a tube

fills a vial, then

another, another.

I am lighter by a

few molecules, but

more than that, too.

A bit of spirit has left .

The vials move

in a carrier,

down a hall, on a cart,

free of my veins and

glad for the adventure.

They spread their knees

on command,

wantonly surrender

all the secret pleasures

of a life plagued by

carbohydrates.

Betrayed, I say nothing.

My doctor ignores

the most interesting

mystery of the blood, too.

How my nose comes from

a man who’s grandfather

was a Viking. How

he wrote poetry

after every battle.

How he fought with

no thought to the future,

his blood, and others’

dripped on the grass,

on the page there,

in the shade.

And he felt lighter.

 

Borrowed Dust*


This body’s nothing but
borrowed dust
Animated—somehow.

Flitting from who knows
what to who
knows where.

I like how we
guess about our
destination, though.
It shows optimism.
We’re nothing if not plucky.

My own guess
is that the truths
are greater than anything
we’ve dreamt
from fear and need.
I could be wrong.

But we’re here.
That’s all we know
for sure.
Until Nature washes us away.
Or not.
Wait with me,
be brave…
we’ll find out.