Spillwords republished “Fireflies…” to tip their hat to the publication of the book by the same name, and added the little experimental audio reading I’d done. The new piece went up this morning.
The weather kicks sideways this time of year. It’s not always as bad as the year we got 39 inches of snow in one night in March and were snowed in for three days, but there’s always something.
It was warm as a sweet late May in the mountains three days ago, the time the redbuds and mountain laurel are in bloom, and sometimes dogwoods. But now we’re just grumping about it, siting under four inches of fluffy snow. It looks pretty resting soft on trees turning the world a shining, heavenly white in the morning sun, but it isn’t really welcome. Continue reading “That Time of Year”
I want to describe my life in hushed tones
like a TV nature program. Dawn in the north.
His nose stalks the air for newborn coffee.
–In “Braided Creek: A conversation in poetry”, Ted Kooser and Jim Harrison. Copper Canyon Press. 2003
This is a hoot. I just got an email from the Austin International Poetry Foundation that another poem (the one below from last year) was accepted for the “Di-vêrsé-city Anthology” and they invited me to go to the festival in April to read it. (I probably won’t be able to go, unfortunately. Maybe someday.)
But you can still register and make it. Austin in April is nice.
More info: https://www.aipf.org/aipf/default.asp
I tried skipping in and out of a
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.
We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.
Sometimes you just don’t know what’s going to come out of that old man’s mouth…In a hospital room he probably wasn’t walking out of…late on a February Sunday afternoon. We waited, though. And then he just started, with no preamble.
“I just like them. I just like women. Well, some. I have preferences. Who doesn’t?
“And I just let them see the admiration and respect. And some, a few of them, like me back, like they’re surprised, you know. Grateful in a way… for the honesty, I guess, although that’s not in my mind, like a tactic. It wouldn’t be honest that way, would it? So, no games. They’re tired of the games and bullshit, too. I had to practice that, though.
But, if there’s not that mutual ‘liking’, no spontaneous shudder, you just back up a step, be polite and move on. Have a little dignity.
“And sometimes they show me some appreciation in tangible ways, too. They look after me for a while, making sure I’m appreciated, and that doesn’t mean sex at all. Just liking and wanting to do for. Boys, there’s no one who can take care of you like a grateful, honest woman. And it’s nice to be treated well.
“There’s some of the other kind of appreciation, of course, and if it happens it happens.
“It’s my favorite thing, but you have to let nature take its course or it’s not as good. That’s what you young guys don’t understand. Too big a hurry so that you miss the main show.
“The best thing is when you have the sudden shudders but also respect. And that means nobody’s a superior person, like a boss to the other. When you are equal in some ways and content to let the other’s talents shine when they need to. No false pride.
“That doesn’t mean everything’s smooth, either. You can be terribly lonely or angry sometimes, when things aren’t working and you know it. That’s when someone else can look good. But with luck, you don’t break the bond between you two who click.It’s so easy to.
“But two people like that? That’s sweet.”
He laughed and coughed a little.
“And however you express that between you–and even if it doesn’t go on forever–nobody gets hurt. Not at all. Just the opposite. It’s a permanent special thing. And some people only have the memory of it to live on, but at least they have that.”
Our father had a coughing fit and lay back in the hospital bed exhausted, but with a slight smile and a distant look at the hazy hill a couple of miles away. We looked at each other.
An electronic chime sounded in the hall. A recorded voice announced the end of visiting hours. We hated to leave, as tomorrow wasn’t a guarantee.
“You know what, though?” he said, turning back to us. “I just realized something. About that second kind of appreciation…
Here it came. We caught each other’s eyes. Raised an eyebrow like Spock.
“It just dawned on me that despite a number of opportunities, I only really found that exact thing with one person. I’m pretty sure I could have found more, but I didn’t see the point. I’m a lazy man, and that sounded like too much work. But in any case… I stopped at the first one. The one that clicked like that…
He suddenly realized the night was closing in. He wanted to see one more dawn with Mom. It showed.
“She’ll be back in a minute. No need to tell your mother what I said about her. OK? She’s stressed enough. And if I say something too nice now, the shock might kill her.
“We like to watch sunrises together.”
There was that thin smile again. A little sad around the corners. Tired from the chemo and the pain. He looked at us, waiting.
We nodded our old conspirator smiles.
We’d heard this routine before, making us promise not to tell mom something.
We would ignore this one, too.
He knows we will.
He’s counting on it.
(Posting again. I think this is the third time….)
“Fair goes the dancing when the Sitar is tuned.
Tune us the Sitar neither high nor low,
And we will dance away the hearts of men.
But the string too tight breaks, and the music dies.
The string too slack has no sound, and the music dies.
There is a middle way.
Tune us the Sitar neither low nor high.
And we will dance away the hearts of men.”
—Sir Edwin Arnold, “The Light of Asia” (often misattributed to a saying of Buddha)
Near a flower shop off boulevard Raspail
a woman in a sundress bending over
I’d guess about 49 years of age
in a particular bloom, just entering
the early Autumn of her life
a thousand-year-old smile on her face
so wide open that I actually shuddered
the same shudder I did in 1989
coming over the lip of a sandbar
and seeing a big bear below me.
It’s a little game of chance with no risk and no obligation. And you might win a Kindle copy of “I Came From A Place of Fireflies”. Really, isn’t that enough?
I’m tied down, again.
Why do I keep doing this to myself, I can’t help thinking. The two men standing over me don’t look pleased. I decide to name them Butch and Larry. They are frowning down at my bare gut, muttering in Russian.
“Can you please tell me what is going on?” I ask Butch.
The men don’t even pause. Larry takes out an I-Phone-looking-thing and presses it to my stomach. He sighs and nods at the other Butch. They both look me in the face, disappointed, yet, resigned. They untie me and hoist me up between them. I’m not a big man, but, neither are they.
As they drag me towards the entry way, the apartment door opens. My roommates walk in. They are talking about Radiohead. They stop and stare. I’m stark naked, crucified between two strangers.
“Hi guys. This is Butch and Larry. Mind giving me…
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Some poems make me an archaeologist.
I roll back the stone from the tomb of some
long-buried memory and analyze artifacts.
It seems more and more important to
look for what I can, to catalogue
it and make sure contexts are in order.
I can clearly see a soft brush
moving in my hand, delicately
clearing the dust from that time I was six or seven,
and we were at recess, in the monkey bars at
an old, old school building now
torn down 20 years ago.
The day was warm and bright,
glowing in that special benign October sun,
the girls squealing and running
—just fast enough to get
caught before everyone got tired—
as the boys chased them around and around.
Learning the rules of the mating game.
The bright yellow maple and bright-red oak
leaves in the sloping park just off the playground
were down in wind-shaped drifts. Farm kids all,
we simply asked a teacher for the rake
which she got for us, and we
made piles, big crunchy soft piles,
and jumped in them while Mrs. Fish looked on,
her arms crossed, sharing the moment,
stretching recess a few minutes because she knew
moments like this would end soon enough
and we would grow up and be gone…
and of course she was right.
When the sun comes up tomorrow,
it still won’t care about our little passions,
but we’ll look up, hopeful as a puppy, and think it does.
Whatever the size of our apartment or tent or mansion,
we fill the available closets like we’re packing
for a long trip and will need that life debris.
I’m just a big ol’ hypocrite, knowing I’ll exit as
naked as the day I arrived, but cling to
my comforts and sense of ownership anyway.
My boys will someday go through what’s left,
hold up broken reading glasses or
socks with no mates, raise an eyebrow:
“Why did that crazy old man keep this?”
“I don’t know,” I’ll say from the ceiling,
already starting to dissolve from the solid world,
“But I thought I might need them someday.
I just never understood what it meant
To have a sun that doesn’t care–and no pockets.”
I was a relentless swimmer as a child, more at home
under water, popping up only for air, wishing for gills.
In the pond’s murky realm a few feet down, the big bass, motionless,
eyes swiveling, waited for someone’s last mistake.
In the muddy shallows, the sun warmed the water most,
small things hatched, safe from mouths in the deep water.
Forests of fronds and grasses stretched toward the light,
and died, becoming the black ooze where biting things lived.
I lost it along the way, that simple way a child observes in wonder,
accepting in wisdom, the heavenly song of the world everywhere.
My job these days is to be the archeologist of my life, diving
over and over and staying down, wishing for gills and more time.
On soft summers’ nights, lovesick bullfrogs boomed at the edges.
A muskrat swam in the moonlight, wake effortlessly symmetrical.
*An attempt…. About the Ghazal form:
The ghazal is composed of a minimum of five couplets—and typically no more than fifteen—that are structurally, thematically, and emotionally autonomous. Each line of the poem must be of the same length, though meter is not imposed in English. The first couplet introduces a scheme, made up of a rhyme followed by a refrain. Subsequent couplets pick up the same scheme in the second line only, repeating the refrain and rhyming the second line with both lines of the first stanza. The final couplet usually includes the poet’s signature, referring to the author in the first or third person, and frequently including the poet’s own name or a derivation of its meaning.
Traditionally invoking melancholy, love, longing, and metaphysical questions, ghazals are often sung by Iranian, Indian, and Pakistani musicians. The form has roots in seventh-century Arabia, and gained prominence in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century thanks to such Persian poets as Rumi and Hafiz. In the eighteenth-century, the ghazal was used by poets writing in Urdu, a mix of the medieval languages of Northern India, including Persian. Among these poets, Ghalib is the recognized master.
Here come our machine masters.
All around town, on lampposts, hang
Boys in uniforms who went to war
in 1941, or ’42 or ’43 or later,
who never came back from that
sunken transport ship, or that
awful night on Iwo,
or who stepped in front of a truck
outside a bar at 1 a.m. in liberated
France, having dodged all the bullets
but not a truck full of supplies.
Maybe it’s that people who live in
mountain towns like this
Just have longer memories than most,
surrounded by the rounded remnants
of a once-great mountain range.
Rocks have long memories.
Or maybe we have a need to hang
onto the deep grief longer than is fashionable
in these throwaway times.
“Writing is like being in love. You never get better at it or learn more about it. The day you think you do is the day you lose it. Robert Frost called his work a lover’s quarrel with the world. It’s ongoing. It has neither a beginning nor an end. You don’t have to worry about learning things. The fire of one’s art burns all the impurities from the vessel that contains it.”
― James Lee Burke
–– Ernest Hemingway, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”
I self-published a book of poetry recently.
(Technically, it’s the second book I have published, but the first was a children’s picture book designed for the iPad. I’m old-fashioned and have this prejudice that it isn’t really a book unless it is printed in ink on a page made of paper.)
Therefore, as far as I’m concerned, I published my first book.
It’s not important to anyone else, but it marks a milestone for me. There can never again be a first one, and I’m letting the feeling settle in slowly and warmly. You never forget your first one, they say.
An itch that I haven’t been able to scratch for more than 60 years has to leave me alone, now. I still feel I can get better, and there is still beauty and meaning to be explored. That is what keeps us young, after all. Always feeling there is more to learn, to do, to feel. Truly young, until we die of old age.
It has only been a couple of days, and a few copies have sold. I don’t have any expectations– oh, maybe to break even on the costs of marketing and buying author copies, perhaps. But that’s about it.
Practice. That was one reason. But for what?
Confidence. That was another. I needed to build my confidence. But again: for what?
I saw the Hemingway quote above, and all of a sudden realized what this book, and all the work over the last two and one-half years was about.
I hope I have not left it for too long. I could have another stroke and be unable to move or write, of course. That’s a thought I carry with me each day. It worries me, but I have had to learn how to move on, and into deeper places in me, in spite of that fear. I found out how to use it for motivation.
I don’t want to be caught short like Harry in “The Snows of Kilamanjaro.” But I also know that anything might happen. And I have to be ready for whatever comes. We all do, whether we like it or not.
(The story: Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.)
So I will press on, take care of myself as best I can. I want to sit under an apple tree in late summer for as many years as I can, and listen to them fall, wasting their sweetness. But I want to make sure I taste as many as I can.
I will keep writing, and write the things I’ve been putting off. “You pays your money and you takes your chances,” as some old friends used to say. There’s no point in waiting any longer. None of it is 2far–until it is.
Besides, I published a book! A little, self-published book of poetry. Just look at me.
Please call if the Pulitzer Committee tries to reach me. 🙂
I Came From a Place of Fireflies is available for your Kindle reader.
I’m happy to announce that Hemmingplay’s alter-ego has published a collection of poems under the title “I Came From A Place of Fireflies.” It is available on Amazon and a Kindle version is at Kindle Link. Buying the paperback version entitles that person to download the Kindle version for free.
It would not have been possible to get this far without the support of everyone here. Even when the pieces weren’t very good, you still gave encouragement. I am grateful for you all.
The ticking of a clock is the
sound our invisible blood makes
as it ducks out the back door of today
and takes the bus out of
town to yesterday.
The clock’s mechanism creates
the illusion that everything
is controlled by
even, orderly forces.
But there is always the
last ‘tick’. Then what?
I counted to ten, and
with each count I dropped a
stone in the stream.
The stones all sank
but the memory of each moved on,
stone became water, cause-
effect, separated by time.
It is 74 F at the moment, and
Still the third week of February.
An early spring is pressing
against things still groggy
and surprised by the heat.
Every stick and bush gives off
the air of anxious confusion,
like the boss has just
popped in for a surprise inspection.
Crocus and daffodils hurry things along,
foolish optimists that they are.
Trees fire up the boilers
to get buds ready early,
happily ignorant of
a Nor’easter that
could be lurking off the coast
in the early days of March.
At least in my mind, all the things that we do not understand can be divided into three categories: science, faith and magic.
“…Science is what we do not understand but understand that someone else does.
Faith is what we do not understand yet understand that we can rely upon it to get us through the things we will never comprehend.
Magic is a short-cut. It is what we use when we refuse to be bothered with the hard-work of science or the hard-trust of faith.
But the scary thing about magic is that we sprinkle it into our science and faith to make them sparkle without realizing that all we have done is add glitter to what should shine by itself.”
You know you have gotten old when your medicine cabinet is full of medicine.
My cabinet, which used to hold no more than a toothbrush and toothpaste, is now home to a bewildering array of orange bottles with white caps and mostly unpronounceable labels.
Some of these bottles I visit regularly. Others are the remnants of some long forgotten illnesses and yet others, I have no idea what they do or how they got there.
Everything in my cabinet is supposed to be good for me yet an uncomfortable number of items lurking in there are rather explicit about the horrors they will visit upon me, dare I use them. These I avoid as much as possible.
The truth is, I am a terrible pill taker.
I always forget.
I have one of those days-of-the-week pill boxes and am currently running at least three days behind. Sometime around Wednesday, I realize that…
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A quick note … I’ve been working for the past week or two on putting the final touches on a slim book of poetry. The first of what I expect will be 3-4.
It’s done! I have published “I Came From A Place of Fireflies” on Amazon as both a paperback and Kindle edition. http://amzn.to/2n6lzj2
All Is Temporary
I’m nearly old, she said… to no one,
Before the mirror,
Tracing a line down her cheek
With a fingertip,
Lost in memory.
A chill; her soul shivers .
This is the face that boys
Longed to kiss, she remembers,
Remembering the power of it.
Yet now the boys are men, although not as many.
The face that felt the chubby caress of
Her children’s hands,
The face she could depend upon.
A breeze ruffles the curtains,
Touches the flower beside the mirror.
Her eye caresses the exquisite
Design of it, built for
Of perfect purpose.
“You are nearly old, too,” she says, tracing the edge of the
Petal with her finger.
She smiles, newly aware…
All things must pass.
All things are temporary.
“Man plans, God laughs.”
“We all play God every day. When a woman buys a new pair of expensive shoes, she could have spent that same money feeding someone who was starving. In a sense, those shoes mean more to her than a life. We all kill to make our lives more comfortable. We don’t put it in those terms. But we do.”
― Harlan Coben, Hold Tight
By the latest estimates, the known universe has about one trillion galaxies, give or take. Each galaxy could have a billion stars, minimum.
I tried multiplying a billion by a trillion and my calculator broke.
But astronomers, using new techniques and telescopes– and much better calculators– have now found approximately 3,000-plus Earth-like planets orbiting other stars. And that’s just so far, with relatively primitive detection abilities.
There are recent estimates that there may be millions more out there, and even that might be a low number.
I’ve been thinking about this, about all the intelligent aliens that are probably out there. That’s more comforting than what’s going on in Washington. Or with climate change. Or with religious fanatics here and in the Middle East who think Armageddon and death on a global scale would be just dandy. Or one of several nuclear-powered dictators with big, swinging dic… well, you know.
I’ve been toying with these ideas for a science fiction novel, set about 50-75 years from now. When several coastal cities around the world are either submerged or living behind dikes. When refugees have flooded inland to live in ghettos around Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Cincinnati, and social upheavals and the breakdowns of services and order have led to martial law across the southern United States. Much worse conditions have hit India, Bangladesh, China, Japan, most Caribbean island nations, most of southern Europe and Africa and Australia and New Zealand and even Hawaii. Disease and famine spread.
When former breadbasket states like Nebraska and Oklahoma and Kansas now register summer temperatures averaging over 100 degrees, and where crop failures have hit the majority of the years for a decade. Hunger is spreading and prices are spiking. People are moving underground or under domes. Animal species who can’t adapt to changing conditions start to die off in noticeable numbers. India and Pakistan have a brief nuclear exchange that kills 5 million people and render the Punjab uninhabitable, and levels most of New Delhi and Karachi and spreads radioactive dust downwind as far as Japan and China.
And then, in the middle of all of this, we get a visitor. Then things get really crazy.
I think it has potential.
But remember what happened to the Indians when Christopher Columbus landed on the east coast of the Americas.
Put your ear to the air.
Tune your senses to the long rhythms…
The sun is daily higher,
It knocks harder on grave’s door:
Beneath in the icy ground,
Life warms from near death
Shudders and swells and pushes against
The things that would keep it cold:
Tune your senses to the long rhythms,
Close your eyes and see.
Billions of trillions of millions of tiny,
urgent things stir, move,
Grow from nothing to everything.
The shoving and shifting and yearning
Makes a soundless roar we feel through our feet.
The Earth…. She stretches and yawns.
Frank died. A bitter cold washed over him. His eyes opened for the first time. “It’s a girl!” someone cried from on-high. Frank heard a high pitched wail. He focused. It stopped. He felt like he was being dragged under a wave as he was passed around the room. He looked up at the faces […]
The time was, we thought we had a handle on time,
but our time here is so short that there’s no
time to really understand what time is–
or even if we ever will.
There just isn’t enough of it for anything.
The pharaohs sat their fat asses
firmly on a people who could not
remember a time before this curious arrangement…
Before there were these arrogant
bastards who thought they knew best,
who thought the world worked best
as a pyramid with them at the top.
In the times of the pharaohs,
time had a different meaning…there
in the dull, slow heat of the desert
in between floods and plagues and
the brief, beautiful springtime.
After a while, the parasites tricked the people,
who were bored and out of work
and likely to cause trouble,
into piling millions of
blocks of rocks in magnificent piles as if
to say to the gods, “See, we can
build mountains, too!”
It also proved the Pharaoh
had the right to be in charge
since no one wanted to go to the trouble
of tearing all those rocks down.
But where are the pharaohs now?
Like real mountains, their piles of rocks will
end up as grains of sand,
blowing across the expanse of eternity
until they drift up against the
base of some other fool’s monument.
I once had an uneasy relationship
with time, in the person of clocks.
I couldn’t wake with the sun, or sleep when
it got dark, and my soul was always
out of sorts, and anxious.
But at least everything didn’t happen
all at the same time…
They say time-keeping changed when
railroad people needed to make things work
across vast distances. For commerce.
Speed made organization and precision necessary.
Then factories needed everyone to begin
making things all at the same…. time.
There’s that word again.
I don’t worry as much about clocks any more.
I let the computers keep track for me
and watch time rush past as if
in a hurry to join its siblings in the distant past
where it can get away from clocks.
There it can sink back into the black
cloud of being, where everything has already happened.
I woke up this morning from a dreamy grey half-sleep
with the February rain dripping off the eaves.
A memory floated by that in a previous life
I was a horse. No question.
A big, brown horse with
soft, knowing eyes. I had been abandoned
out in the high desert by someone,
but didn’t care about them at all.
I knew once how to be free,
and would just do that again. I wondered
about finding water and something to eat,
but horses don’t waste a lot of time worrying.
We’re afraid of things that move,
and afraid of things that don’t.
But we know enough to pick a
direction where it smells more like
water than not, and begin again.
With thanks to A Writer’s Almanac,
“The less conscious one is of being ‘a writer,’ the better the writing. And though reading is the best school of writing, school is the worst place for reading. Writing should … be as spontaneous and urgent as a letter to a lover, or a message to a friend who has just lost a parent … and writing is, in the end, that oddest of anomalies: an intimate letter to a stranger.”
Pico Iyer (books by this author), born to Indian parents in Oxford, England (1957).
Time and memories intertwine
like a ball of earthworms.
It’s hard to know where one starts
and the other ends.
They say we cannot remember things
before a certain age. The wiring is still not right for it.
We may see pictures and know
we were alive earlier, but that’s just
the picture album version of life;
the real switch in us is still not on.
Mine came on when I was two-something years old.
My parents tore down the old chicken house.
It was in the afternoon of a slightly cloudy day.
I had a coat on, so it must have been
still early in the year. Late March, maybe.
The grass was the vivid, exciting green of spring.
Old boards stained with decades of manure
ended in a pile that would be burned.
Dust and old feathers liberated from hiding places.
A fixture in my world changed.
We can change things,
Even old things.
That was my first memory.
It’s funny, but I cannot remember
my parents that day. Just the scene in front of me.
My dog guarded me, stayed by my side until
the demolition exposed a rat’s nest.
She attacked with a speed and ferocity
that was both thrilling and scary.
There was a brief, violent battle
just feet from me, with screaming, then silence.
She came and sat beside me again.
I felt safe with her there.
And knew the difference
between life and death.
The switch was on.
And I knew why the grass was so green.
by Jim Harrison
My spirit is starving.
How can it be fed?
Not by pain in the predictable future
more the pain in the past
but understanding the invisible flower
within the flower that tells it what is,
the soul of the tree that does the same.
I don’t seem to have a true character
to discover, a man slumped on his desk
dozing at midmorning. I’m an old poet.
That’s it. Period. A three-legged goat
in mountain country. It’s easier in the woods
where you have trees to lean on. There at times
I smelled bears right behind the cabin
coming to eat sunflower seeds put out for birds.
This dawn it’s primroses, pension,
the trellis of white roses. On Easter
Jesus is Jesus. When did God enter him or us?
Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, 2016.
It’s good to have goals.
Good to remember this again now…
“Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me. Let my name be the household word that it always was. Let my name be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolutely unbroken continuity. What is this death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight? I am but waiting for you, for an interval somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well. Nothing is past, nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before, only better; infinitely happier and forever.”
“The idea of a king is to be a protector of the rich against unjust treatment and a protector of the people against insult and oppression.”
“Whereas a tyrant, as has often been repeated, has no regard to any public interest, but only to his private ends; his aim is pleasure, the aim of a king, honour. Wherefore also in their desires they differ; the tyrant is desirous of riches, the king, of what brings honour. And the guards of a king are citizens, but of a tyrant mercenaries.”
— (Aristotle, Politics, Chapter 5 10, 1311a)
Thinking that small evils don’t matter only means that, when you finally realize how much they’ve grown– and they will grow–it’s too late.
In contrast, thinking that small kindnesses don’t matter and failing to indulge at every opportunity, means that they eventually wither and fade away.
And as writers, we’re meant to risk looking into the truth of this. To wade into these to make sure others can see clearly what the stakes are. We’re meant to sacrifice for this.
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.
Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.
Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.
A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.
Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.
Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.
Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.
Continue reading “Advice From An Old Farmer”
I sometimes take the laptop and move to the living room to write. My dog comes with me, which is nice. But there are times when I could really do without the critique.
Judge Learned Hand
What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it…
Hope’s a fragile thing,
Always close to shattering.
World’s good at breaking.
I want to work in revelations, not just spin silly tales for money. I want to fish as deep down as possible into my own subconscious in the belief that once that far down, everyone will understand because they are the same that far down.
I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one… . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil… . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?
– John Steinbeck, East of Eden
by Jack Kerouac
A poet is a fellow who
spends his time thinking
about what it is that’s
wrong, and although he
knows he can never quite
find out what this wrong
is, he goes right on
thinking it out
and writing it down.
A poet is a blind optimist.
The world is against him for
many reasons. But the
poet persists. He believes
that he is on the right track,
no matter what any of his
fellow men say. In his
eternal search for truth, the
poet is alone.
He tries to be timeless in a
society built on time.
by W. H. Auden
September 1, 1939
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
Continue reading “Monsters of Poetry”
Revised, edited, with audio recording added. If you’ve seen this and “liked” the old version, I’m interested in knowing whether the audio reading works for you. (I have no voice training, which is probably going to be obvious.) A comment would be appreciated.
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.
Without fail, monthly, the full moon sheds
her inky cloak of night and stars
and slips a leg and then the rest into the lake,
her cool fire subtracted from the sky.
She leaves the nights more lonely, barren.
But her life is not extinguished,
merely hidden, recovering, re-energizing.
She must withdraw from sight,
make herself desirable, let her belly be lush and fertile again
so she may breath passions onto the world, be
drunk with the reckless, raucous, ribald dance of life. Continue reading “Song of the Hidden Moon”
Einstein lit a cigarette
and watched the violet and pastel afterglow
of the first bomb
fade over the desert, inhaled
a bit of radioactive dust,
and wondered if God was
capable of having second thoughts.
I just heard that a piece I wrote for Spillwords in October was named “2016 Publication of the Year,” in the prose category. That’s kind of nice to hear, and I’m honored. Thank’s to everyone who ran the registration gauntlet on their website and voted. I deeply appreciate each and every one of you.
“The Unfaithful Earl”
“The winter was not really winter at all, and therein may lie Key West’s greatest charm. If one does not have to brood upon the coming of winter and the shortening of the days and the fading of the light, then perhaps one does not have to brood upon the coming of death. When the season is gentle and untreatening and seems to renew itself daily, we come to believe that spring and the long days of summer may be eternal after all. When we see the light trapped high in the sky on a summer evening, is it possible we are looking through an aperture at our future rather than at a seasonal phenomenon? Is it possible that the big party is just beginning?”
― James Lee Burke