“To describe externals, you become a scientist. To describe experience, you become an artist.”
“To describe externals, you become a scientist. To describe experience, you become an artist.”
pile of poems,
a scattering of short stories,
a minor mess of manuscripts,
all in a state of perpetual preparation.
I wait to see
what will happen today.
These things, bits of a lonely soul,
Hopeful of attention float into
New Orleans, on a random Saturday morning.
Jock and Michelle
play a mix of the classics
in the next patch of shade.
Lovely, dark Michelle on the violin,
Jock, recently of Columbus,
sits in on the keyboard.
Buffalo, the veteran, hair strapped
by a black cloth band, plucks
a soulful strain from Mozart
on a battered guitar.
Its case is open on the dirty concrete,
a few coins and bills
coaxed from a family from Iowa,
will buy one or two meals,
a share of a dump on
Decatur Street, when he’s
not enjoying the wonders
between a girlfriend’s thighs in
a ratty old apartment in the Tremé.
His trio, assembled for the day,
seem barely out of
high school, or some music program
up north. Each wandered to NOLA
to live the mythical life of music,
for the joy of it, happy
with friends, happy to live
rough, running from gig to gig,
earning a street corner on Thursdays
to seduce tips from tourists,
getting thinner and gradually
realizing that love alone will
not feed the bulldog.
But oh, there are times, just
like this morning, as tourists
walk by and glance at my books
thick air moving into
the square from the river,
the magnolias in bloom,
the smell of overflowing
dumpsters, junkies sliding
along the alleys, looking to score.
And then Michelle,
long black hair gathered in a bun, bare
arms in a small black dress and almond-eyed,
raises the violin her father
bought her for her
promise, for respectable concert halls,
far from the dirty streets
of New Orleans. She
closes her eyes and summons
The voices of angels
to earth to move
among we the lost, but crying to heaven.
The ache and purity of the sound freezes
everyone nearby, even the junkies,
by something holy,
just for a minute.
And my heart remembers what it hungers for.
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”
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.
I squinted through previews of blind old age,
a hop and skip from life in a cage–
So I put into port, my vacation on hold.
I miss aspects of the younger me.
That mixture of brass and anxiety.
One minute riding with Aldrin and Glenn,
The next falling into bland misery.
What shall I encourage?
The naive fancies of youth?
The cautions of age?
The search for the truth?
Do I have to decide?
Can’t I take the easy way out,
hop the freak train, savor the ride?
Smiling eyes of absinthe green,
make me mush, a stuttering sixteen.
Not to complain; I like this just fine.
The heart never tires of love’s blush divine.
(I just read about someone doing yoga on a ferris wheel.
Two good things don’t necessarily work well together.
But I’ll admit, she looks good in Spandex,
And sex does sell, as we know too well. .
Still, this just proves that any good thing can be
ruined by the venal machinations of marketers–
the modern source of most human misery
now that we’ve killed off all the wolves and smallpox.)
And right there we have it, our abnormality.
Instead of reveling in that sublime unsanity–
that carries its victims away happily,
the passions that make life worth living, in actuality–
someone, somewhere, somewhen, without fail,
gives into the low-rent impulse’s to ruin simple things like love and luck,
with the smarmy impulse to make a quick buck.
More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com
You can’t learn to write in college. It’s a very bad place for writers because the teachers always
think they know more than you do—and they don’t. They have prejudices. They may like Henry James, but what if you don’t want to write like Henry James? They may like John Irving, for instance, who’s the bore of all time. A lot of the people whose work they’ve taught in the schools for the last thirty years, I can’t understand why people read them and why they are taught.
Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
You must read everything, and you must let it all the way into your life, all the way into the part of you that makes writing, and you must let every good thing in — none of this reading a few lines of so-and-so with the hope that you might write something that sounds like it.
The old one-eyed poet said it is harder to
dismantle your life than to build it, but
I think it is just as difficult both ways.
I’m putting the finishing touches on the house of me.
Bolting the copper trout wind vane on the chimney,
mounting the mailbox by the road,
putting in the shrubbery and sod, laying out the welcome mat.
And doing it all never knowing if today
might be the last, or whether I have
6,000 more sunrises to enjoy, as I saw once in a dream.
It’s all just vanity, after all. I’ll pile my collection of rocks
beside the trail and someone will come along and
knock them over, not realizing what they are,
then steal a few to build their own pile.
These are not unusual worries and really
only concern me and a distressingly small circle of people.
The Nile River doesn’t care either way, Miami and
San Francisco and Shanghai are still going to flood,
people will always believe flim-flam artists,
the dinosaurs are still dead.
This life-sorting–patching and filtering—
feels like falling asleep on a muggy
afternoon and waking up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.
The Work, though, goes on.
It means to remember things, to patch torn screens,
To oil squeaky hinges of faintly remembered doors,
To somehow put a name to things and to see
What actually matters and which bits were bullshit.
(There has been a lot of the latter.)
The woman behind me on the train is coughing, reminding me
that most of us die of suffocation,
Choking on our own accumulated miseries.
I can think of better ways to go.
This makes me start coughing, too.
And so I write it down.
(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)
“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
“For this, that now was coming, he had very little curiosity. For years it had obseessed him; but now it meant nothing in itself. It was strange how easy being tired enough made it.
Now he would never write the things he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well. Well, he would not have to fail at trying to write them, either.”
–– 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’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.
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.
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”
I need to find the grace of solid things,
wood, glass, stone;
to go below the surface,
for a unique song
locked away long ago by
water, earth or fire.
What the mind conjures,
free-floating and insubstantial,
needs balanced by solid things
that share their compositions
only when seduced by humility.
The night of the full moon
calls her to the water,
this daughter of Leda and Zeus.
She feels it in her neck and belly,
and in the prickles on her back
where the wings hide
under her skin.
Long ago, her mother
sheltered a swan fleeing an eagle.
It was that lecherous old liar, Zeus,
In disguise and guile.
He devised a ruse to
Force himself on her.
by Jim Harrison
Rumi advised me to keep my spirit
up in the branches of a tree and not peek
out too far, so I keep mine in the very tall
willows along the irrigation ditch out back,
a safe place to remain unspoiled by the filthy
culture of greed and murder of the spirit.
People forget their spirits easily suffocate
so they must keep them far up in tree
branches where they can be summoned any moment.
It’s better if you’re outside as it’s hard for spirits
to get into houses or buildings or airplanes.
In New York City I used to reach my spirit in front
of the gorilla cage in the children’s zoo in Central Park.
It wouldn’t come in the Carlyle Hotel, which
was too expensive for its last. In Chicago
it won’t come in the Drake though I can see it
out the window hovering over the surface
of Lake Michigan. The spirit above anything
else is attracted to humility. If I slept
in the streets it would be under the cardboard with me.
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment…
I’ve been reading some of yours…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Conflations of attraction and connection,
So many confusions of sex and love
So many dear diary’s, soulful sobs, self-pity,
So many anguished tears on so many pillows.
So many tearful gazes over the waters,
Like so many before, like your great-great-grandparents,
As though tears alone justify, define poetry.
As though that’s enough.
So many odes to aimlessness,
So much self-indulgence,
So much teenager-like angst,
So many assumptions that
The most common feelings in the
History of the planet… the galaxy, maybe…
Are at all insightful, fresh, helpful.
I’m sorry for your pain.
I am. It’s real.
But you’ll also have more. Lots more.
And you will survive.
Because you’re tougher than you know.
Welcome it. Use it.
Grow from it.
My right leg hurts. Nothing new there.
I need coffee, soulful kisses, and more…so much more….
I’m getting old and that pisses me off.
I’ve loved deeply and lost, have known death,
You will do both, maybe already have.
I’ve held my babies, watched them grow,
I’ve seen mothers lose theirs.
We win and we lose, sometimes more loss than gain.
I’ve been around the track more than once, but in the end
It, writing, boils down to answering this question:
That’s the question I put to us all.
So fucking what? Everyone has a sad story.
Answer “so what” and make me care. That’s the job. That’s what I want.
That’s the reason for poetry.
I want more than the lazy, the easy;
more than the ordinary,
more than common oatmeal,
(With or without raisins and sprinkles).
I want to know how those oats grew, and where,
What they felt when they were harvested,
I want to know if they screamed, or just magically
Floated into your bowl, mere reflections of your sadness.
I want to see why I should care about your oatmeal.
It isn’t all about you, you see, but about all of us,
And I’d like to know whether you can see beyond–
I want you to show what’s beyond the
Rustling of your jimmies, beyond being sexy,
Beyond, beyond, beyond.
Jesus H.! I want you to stop settling for less.
Less than you can do. Less than you will do.
I want you to get knocked down,
get up, and get to work
Over and over and over.
To show what it meant. Show me the answer: So what?
There’s no time to waste, you know,
Less than you think; no one knows the future.
Youth is wasted on the young,
Which I know now, and pass it along.
Maybe you’ll listen, but if you’re like I was,
You won’t get it and will go on
Thinking the world is here just for you,
Thinking that mere deep feeling is enough.
I have a newsflash from the other side, y’all:
It’s not enough. Not by a country mile.
(And stop rolling your eyes).
I want to feel you turning lead into gold,
I want you to show me– not tell me about– a growing soul,
I want to taste, to see, to feel what you do,
I want you to hunger for something always out of reach
I want you to tap the universal, to move us forward,
I want us all to connect the dots, do the hard work of humanity.
For our own precious humanity,
do the hard work.
do the heavy lifting.
I want you to read the best, then emulate them.
Then be better than them.
Sweat the details, then shine a new light.
Do hard and holy things.
Hard and holy things.
That’s what we signed up for, you know.
Not the ordinary. Fuck the ordinary.
But most of all, right now,
I want coffee.
So much more.
I write younger than I am, but my voice
cracks on the high notes now.
I don’t know how much longer I can fake it.
I wish I had a daughter, who would sit and
listen, and forgive me in the
way only daughters can.
Instead, I sit with my laptop
facing a bank of windows with a
view of a mountain,
snow flurries in the sun.
I encounter many me’s
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I enter
a Greek amphitheater
in ancient Corinth,
my many selves sit on the old
blocks of stone, twitching.
I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.
Today’s your turn to whine about your life.”
We all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.
Ah. What to make of the coming year? War, pestilence, famine, chaos, Donald Trump, uncertainty.
But it’s not all gloom and doom, either. A macabre old joke has it that at a certain age, any day you wake up on the top side of the dirt is a good one. Or, when someone asks how you are, you are supposed to wink and say, slyly, “Well, considering the alternative, I’m great!”
Too dark? I’m sorry. That’s not my intent and I really don’t think this way very often. But keeping it real is the real point of doing these little exercises. It keeps one focused. Pauper or king, the final destination is the same, and there’s the end of it. If you are young, you probably don’t think this way, nor should you. There’s plenty of time. Just make each day count and the final amount will be taken care of.
So why worry? We can’t see the future anyway. Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Prepare for what you can.
Feel free to ignore these: Don’t take easy paths, or indulge in cheap diversions. You’ll just end up growing donkey ears. Hone your inner steel and crave the edge, but also keep your heart open, childlike and reachable. Find things that matter, find your passion, don’t mope when things go wrong (and they will) but get up and live each day out loud.
It’s simple, really. It just takes all you have, and that’s the joy of it. 🙂
That’s a way to live, and considering the alternatives, it’s not too bad. Let the pale, creeping dampness of depression, doubt and insecurity go down the drain with the next shower. Any day can be a turning point. As Picard would say, “make it so.”
Show the way to others, love deeply and truely and never miss an opportunity to be kind.
“I just want to see how long the string is. This never gets old. It gets more interesting, actually.” — Keith Richards, Rolling Stones
Each day is here then gone, a brief chance to
roll the salt and savor of it on the tongue, to enjoy
each passing smile and twinkling eye and lovely curve,
reminding me I am still alive.
Teaching me why, in the now.
Each sunset red on the world,
a hint at what becomes of us all.
Each day at 5 a.m. when the birds
wake and start yapping at each other
about territory and nests, about the
thrill of rising air under their wings,
the taste of freedom in the climb closer to God.
Each dawn when the sun
comes up like thunder
to set the edge of the
world on fire, and my mind,.
Each night, the deep comfort from my love’s hand,
slid under my clothes to rest warm on my waist,
and the times she does more,
or I do (which is none of your business).
It is so common to hear someone say,
“live like this is your last day”.
That’s harder than it sounds,
especially when you’re young.
And when you’re old, it’s all too real,
but it is still hard to
change the dumb habits
of a lifetime of mostly mindless routines,
of buying into the herd’s opinion
and preference for bland ignorance,
and migrating out of habit toward
a dreamlike future, always
scheming, fearing, guessing,
hoping you don’t die
in the swift waters of the rivers
the dumb herd seems to feel it
Then, after years of this,
you must pretend you’re not surprised
when everything turns out differently,
when few things actually work as planned.
When you get to a certain point, this happens.
At first, you make up stories about
a life of heroic triumphs, never
talking about more numerous failures.
Then, you will look around, and back, and
laugh at the absurdity of
a young fool who had it
all figured out.
That’s when it’s good to
pull a love close and
fall asleep under the comfort
of the touch of someone who
knows you, and likes the feel
of your skin.
by Pablo Naruda
I want you to know
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you. Continue reading “I Want You To Know One Thing”
by Jim Harrison
I’m hoping to be astonished tomorrow
by I don’t know what:
not the usual undiscovered bird in the cold
snowy willows, garishly green and yellow,
and not my usual death, which I’ve done
before with Borodin’s music
used in Kismet, and angels singing
“Stranger in Paradise,” that sort of thing,
and not the thousand naked women
running a marathon in circles around me
while I swivel on a writerly chair
keeping an eye on my favorites.
What could it be, this astonishment,
but falling into a liquid mirror
to finally understand that the purpose
of earth is earth? It’s plain as night.
She’s willing to sleep with us a little while.
[from IN SEARCH OF SMALL GODS, Copper Canyon Press, 2010, $16, pb. ]
It has just struck me that I have left my old house
But have forgotten where the new one is.
Let me stand here for a moment,
Have a drink and pet the dog. Maybe
It would do me some good to
Listen to the sound of the big creek,
Scraping patiently along the banks
In November when the land is bare,
Not caring where it goes, or why,
Just going along according to it’s nature
Carrying secrets and dreams we toss in
Whispering its own deep ones back at us
Washing the fish and mud and secrets from here to somewhere else.
Maybe, if I listen hard enough, it will tell me
Where–or how– it is I need to be, to be more fully myself.
“There is the image of the man who imagines himself to be a prisoner in a cell. He stands at one end of this small, dark, barren room, on his toes, with arms stretched upward, hands grasping for support onto a small, barred window, the room’s only apparent source of light. If he holds on tight, straining toward the window, turning his head just so, he can see a bit of bright sunlight barely visible between the uppermost bars. This light is his only hope. He will not risk losing it. And so he continues to staring toward that bit of light, holding tightly to the bars. So committed is his effort not to lose sight of that glimmer of life-giving light, that it never occurs to him to let go and explore the darkness of the rest of the cell. So it is that he never discovers that the door at the other end of the cell is open, that he is free. He has always been free to walk out into the brightness of the day, if only he would let go. (192)”
― Sheldon B. Kopp, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him: The Pilgrimage Of Psychotherapy Patients
I am very gratified that Spillwords.com has published the feature above this morning, and hope you forgive me sharing it like this. I’m not the only WP blogger here who has been lucky enough to get some additional exposure on the excellent literary site ( @Spill_words ), and hope you’ll all give it a try. We all get paid mostly in compliments, but it’s motivation for us poor pedestrian poets to keep plugging away.
Q&A at the link below.
I’ve traveled back to the invention of trees, not water. It is too far in the blind past. Trees have eyes to see their penetration of earth.
Bless this boy, born with the strong face
of my older brother, the one I loved most,
who jumped with me from the roof
of the playhouse, my hand in his hand.
On Friday nights we watched Twilight Zone
and he let me hold the bowl of popcorn,
a blanket draped over our shoulders,
saying, Don’t be afraid. I was never afraid
when I was with my big brother
who let me touch the baseball-size muscles
living in his arms, who carried me on his back
through the lonely neighborhood,
held tight to the fender of my bike
until I made him let go.
The year he was fourteen
he looked just like Ray, and when he died
at twenty-two on a roadside in Germany
I thought he was gone forever.
But Ray runs into the kitchen: dirty T-shirt,
torn jeans, pushes back his sleeve.
He says, Feel my muscle, and I do.
“Ray at 14” by Dorianne Laux from Smoke. © Dorianne Laux, 2000.
www.boaeditions.org. (buy now)
It’s a rant. A rant about poetry. But I guess it hit a nerve. @Spillwords made it a featured post this morning…AND put a trigger warning on it. 🙂 That made me smile. But be warned: it might bruise your peaches.
I think you can handle it, though. (Photo: Pat Mansell)
Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Some things have been bugging me. I’ve been reading…
So many lost lusts,
So many ‘why doesn’t he love me’s’
So many sacrifices of dignity,
Continue reading “Spillwords: “What It Is Not””
“American men are allotted just as many tears as American women. But because we are
forbidden to shed them, we die long before women do, with our hearts exploding or our blood pressure rising or our livers eaten away by alcohol because that lake of grief inside us has no outlet. We, men, die because our faces were not watered enough.”
― Pat Conroy, Beach Music
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long stem rose
I used to be your favorite drunk
Good for one more laugh
Then we both ran out of luck
Luck was all we ever had
You put on a uniform
To fight the Civil War
You looked so good I didn’t care
What side you’re fighting for
It wasn’t all that easy
When you up and walked away
But I’ll save that little story
For another rainy day
I know the burden’s heavy
As you wheel it through the night
Some people say it’s empty
But that don’t mean it’s light
You left me with the dishes
And a baby in the bath
You’re tight with the militias
You wear their camouflage
You always said we’re equal
So let me march with you
Just an extra in the sequel
To the old red white and blue
Baby don’t ignore me
We were smokers we were friends
Forget that tired story
Of betrayal and revenge
I see the Ghost of Culture
With numbers on his wrist
Salute some new conclusion
Which all of us have missed
I cried for you this morning
And I’ll cry for you again
But I’m not in charge of sorrow
So please don’t ask me when
There may be wine and roses
And magnums of champagne
But we’ll never no we’ll never
Ever be that drunk again
The party’s over
But I’ve landed on my feet
I’ll be standing on this corner
Where there used to be a street
by William Notter
Most of the traffic is pickup trucks
caked in bentonite from the methane roads,
or one-ton flatbeds with dually axles
and blue heelers balancing on the back.
But the blacktop slicing through rabbit brush flats
and weather the color of heated steel is perfect
for opening up a highway-geared American car
from the days of cubic inches and metal.
You could wind that Detroit iron up
to a sweet spot well above the posted limit,
where torque will casually pull the grades.
The car would rock on the springs, and growl
from deep in the carburetor throat
yanked wide open, gobbling down pure light.
“Wyoming Highways” by William Notter from Holding Everything Down. © Southern Illinois University Press, 2009. (buy now)
Shared because I’ve spent time in Wyoming, and this is good description, and because I love the lines
“But the blacktop slicing through rabbit brush flats
and weather the color of heated steel is perfect
for opening up a highway-geared American car
from the days of cubic inches and metal….”
“We dye our hairs under many colors to disguise our gray souls. My girl, we don’t mature by merely growing old, but by the damage time causes in our lives. When there are holes in our hearts, scars on our souls, and patches on our wings, then we know we have grown.
I just happened on this quote this morning, and thought it summed up the sometimes-aimless nature of my writing the past couple of years, wherein I fail to hit what I’m aiming at more often than not. But this defines my goals:
–to pare the words down to the minimum
–to find the balance point in any thought or situation
–to make my peace with the nature of things.
“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
― Laozi, Tao Te Ching
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
The signs are all around me,
The storm is raging still.
The wind brings sounds of battle,
From that far distant hill.
I thought this all was over,
I thought my race was run.
But just as I was resting,
My peaceful life’s undone.
Now one final trial:
My guts recoil in fear.
He’s coming soon, despite me,
I feel him drawing near.
Comes weary resignation,
And anger pushing blood,
Determined to leave honor,
Where once foul evil stood.
I’ve been having some enjoyable conversations-via-blog-comments this morning with a couple of people I assume are young-ish. One is in the UK (although it’s sometimes hard to be certain), and the other is in India.
Both are wrestling with the oh-so-common problem all writers and creatives encounter, namely the existential pain of doubt and self-criticism, and the frustration and procrastination that infests us all. Welcome to the big-leagues, fellow-sufferers. If you turn pro, this is a daily battle. Stop worrying about that, and get busy.
I’m putting on my grizzled veteran hat on for a moment.
I’m kind of ancient now, but I know the struggle when you’re young to apply the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
And when you’re older.
And when you’re ancient, like me.
I wish I could say it gets easier. It doesn’t. But if you keep at it, kiddos, you do learn to do the work anyway. That’s the difference between an amateur’s “dear diary” narcissism and a pro’s calculation and skill. I’d like to slap high school English teachers who lie to prospective writers and tell them that they’re wonderful, that they will take the world by storm. I know it takes something to motivate students, but lies don’t really help them face the real world. The real world is a cold place. Sorry.
It takes practice to be so goddamned compelling that people will read what we write. Because the ugly truth is THEY REALLY DON’T WANT TO READ WHAT WE WRITE, because they’re busy and are already inundated by oceans of mediocre crap. They assume our deathless poetry/prose/Facebook update is just more of the same. Admit it, we all do the same thing. It’s not fair, but it is certainly quite rational. We have to earn trust. It’s like walking on broken glass some days, but that’s the only way. Keep walking.
One of my favorite authors on the subject is Steven Pressfield. He wrote “The War of Art” a couple of years ago, which single-handedly got my butt back onto the chair. He’s got a new one out, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t”, which I’ve downloaded and am reading. (hurry. It’s free for just a short time.) This piece is an ad for his work. I get no royalty, but hope that you find out how to deal with the only real problem you have, which is your own brain’s resistance game.
And just realize that you’re not going to change the world. No one wants to read your shit. Once your accept that, you can actually do the work necessary to get good enough to change the world. Just be prepared for that to take a long time.
Sometimes young writers acquire the idea from their years in school that the world is waiting to read what they’ve written. They get this idea because their teachers had to read their essays or term papers or dissertations. In the real world, no one is waiting to read what you’ve written. Sight unseen, they hate what you’ve written. Why? Because they might have to actually read it.
Nobody wants to read anything. Let me repeat that. Nobody— not even your dog or your mother— has the slightest interest in your commercial for Rice Krispies or Delco batteries or Preparation H. Nor does anybody care about your one-act play, your Facebook page or your new sesame chicken joint at Canal and Tchoupitoulas. It isn’t that people are mean or cruel. They’re just busy. Nobody wants to read your shit. What’s the answer?
1) Streamline your message. Focus it and pare it down to its simplest, clearest, easiest-to-understand form.
2) Make its expression fun. Or sexy or interesting or scary or informative. Make it so compelling that a person would have to be crazy NOT to read it.
3) Apply that to all forms of writing or art or commerce.
The dry times they predicted are here,
The clouds are scarce and carry no water.
In drought out West, the red cliffs turn black in the moonlight
the way blood does when cooling under reflected light.
You won’t understand, of course, but I’m empty today.
empty of the thing I need,
empty … and likely to stay that way.
‘I have heard, but not believed, the spirits o’ the dead walk again.’
Just when enough time has passed, or should have,
a memory will wake the misery spirit to scour around my ribs
in sticky places where the emptiness still hides
like black blood in the cool, blue light of the moon.
So, after all, there was not one kind of Strife alone, but all over the earth there are two.
As for the one, a man would
praise her when he came to understand her;
but the other is blameworthy:
and they are wholly different in nature.
For one fosters evil war and battle, being cruel:
her no man loves; but perforce,
through the will of the deathless gods,
men pay harsh Strife her honor due.
But the other is the elder daughter
of dark Night, and the son of Cronos
who sits above and dwells in the aether,
set her in the roots of the earth:
and she is far kinder to men.
She stirs up even the shiftless to toil;
for a man grows eager to work when
he considers his neighbor,
a rich man who hastens to plough and
plant and put his house in good order;
and neighbor vies with his neighbor
as he hurries after wealth.
This Strife is wholesome for men.
And potter is angry with potter, and
craftsman with craftsman,
and beggar is jealous of beggar,
and minstrel of minstrel.
Perses, lay up these things in your heart,
and do not let that Strife who delights
in mischief hold your heart back from work,
while you peep and peer and listen
to the wrangles of the court-house.
seems to need us
–Rainer Maria Rilke
I can hardly imagine it
as I walk to the lighthouse, feeling the ancient
prayer of my arms swinging
in counterpoint to my feet.
Here I am, suspended
between the sidewalk and twilight,
the sky dimming so fast it seems alive.
What if you felt the invisible
tug between you and everything?
A boy on a bicycle rides by,
his white shirt open, flaring
behind him like wings.
by Jim Harrison, in “In Search of Small Gods”
Out in the nighttime in the caliche-gravel driveway
doing a shuffle dance to the music of the lunar eclipse,
a dark gray and reddish smear blocking the moon.
I’m embarrassed by my dance steps learned
from the Ojibwa over fifty years ago,
but then who’s watching but a few startled birds,
especially a canyon wren nesting in a crack of the huge
rock face? Without the moon’s white light the sky
is suddenly overpopulated with stars like China and India
with people. The stars cast the longest of shadows.
I dance until I’m a breathless old fool thinking
that the spirit of their blinded moon is as real
as that enormous toad that used to bury itself
between the house and the barn of our farm
in Lake Leelanau. One evening I watched him slowly
erupt from the ground. Now the moon’s white light
begins to show itself, shining off looming Red Mountain
where years ago I’m told a Mexican boy climbed
to the top to play a song more closely to his dead sister.
Luna, luna, luna, we must sing to praise living and dead.
“The only things that matter in this life are effort and simplicity,” the monk told me. We sat a short distance apart on an ancient wall made of massive, moss-covered hand-shaped block of stone as big as coffee tables.
At least, I seemed to be me.
I was different. Completely different, but still me. Dreams are like that. Dreams from another lifetime. I didn’t seem to care. I knew. And I gladly sank into the world of long ago.
I was eating the only meal I’d had that day. There was a deep pool of clear water beside the wall. I could see to the bottom, where, a foot or two under the still surface, two hand tools someone had lost, or discarded lay. I reached down with water up to my shoulder and retrieved one and set it dripping on the flat top of the wall. It seemed important to pull it out and let it dry. Someone might need it. That’s when he came to sit beside me.
I was exhausted, but exhilarated more. Whatever rice and sauce I was eating was hot and good. I shoveled it into my mouth with my fingers.
The day had begun far away, hours earlier. I had been in a race of a sort, with what seemed like hundreds —certainly many dozens— of people. That part seemed kind of changeable. Some looked like Westerners, Continue reading “Effort, Simplicity”
Your beauty, nude
not naked on the bed,
is far more a gift
than I ever expected.
I watch languor recline
1n your wise grey eyes
while slate hummingbirds
carved as earrings
dangle from golden hooks.
I quiver in your breath
and the ceiling fan halts
in that instant.
We look at one another
with both eyes open and close.
An intimate wind,
the cause of auroras,
moves north and south,
east and west,
then we swim
into one another.
“Not Naked on the Bed” by Timothy Young from Building in Deeper Water. © The Thousands Press, 2003. (buy now)
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
I think it’s good to be astonished by at least one thing a day. My favorite line from this is “do not look for sparks in ashes long buried”.
by Gündüz Vassaf
“They say I am between the East and the West.
An identity crisis! Whose? Mine or theirs?
Enough of this nonsense.
Take the labels off and look at me. Just look
You won’t need a guidebook. Like all cities, I have my own sense of time.
I am a labyrinth of layers that only makes sense without a compass.
Trust me. Let yourself be, let yourself go.
But be careful what you go away with.
When you leave, all my empires, my religions, and passions
will be your fertile soil wherever you go.
Praised that I am, I am not proud. Much has been written about me.
To those who have found me melancholic
I say, “do not look for sparks in ashes long buried”.
To those who seek, amusement, I do not exhibit my past as
decorations for a perpetual carnival.
I am a home, I am a home without owners.
If you’re hesitant, not sure which way to go as you walk about, follow one of my cats. They will lead you to places, introduce you to people,
point out secrets they keep even from me. They, more than anyone, are the longest continuing residents of the city
A challenge to those who see the future in my past,
I am an obstacle for those who see only the future.
I see change with the patience of centuries.
Some want only to change the past and shout opportunity.
Look at my silhouette from the bridge on the Golden Horn.
Time has not passed me by, it has protected me.
I ask you, the same”.
The moment this happens… The moment
Something you’ve never seen emerges
Something new, different in every way,
Something a little threatening,
Something that wasn’t there a second ago.
Something that doesn’t fit.
Something that might make you change.
Something that might eat you!
Something more terrifying than you can know.
Something unknown that pulls on you.
A divine spark of …otherness…now here,
Something that cannot be, was not, but is.
We look around and say
“Hey, something amazing just happened. Did you see that?
But others often shrug and hurry past, irritated,
Or change the subject,
Afraid that we’re going to ask them for money,
Or tell a boring story about some problem of ours,
Anything that’s not about them?
“Can’t you see I’m busy?”
Busy people, busy, busy, busy.
Tuned to the wrong frequency, maybe.
The one with a lot of static.
But there it is, hanging shyly in the air, brand new,
As though a puff of divine breath on a closed fist
Pushed invisible fingers apart to release
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player”
Darlin’, doesn’t it seem we’re just divine losers
“That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. “
who will ultimately fail…at something,
but that doesn’t matter?
Then trying again, knowing we’ll fail: that matters.
God is in that, in us. We keep getting up.
The world, society,
will just move on right over us
in any case
and brush us aside.
It’s really the natural way of things, to come and go.
Everything has its time to be,
To bloom, to rut and to spread itself
And soak up the sun … for a while.
But it all becomes loam
on the forest floor eventually
Food for next year’s bloom.
And every special snowflake
Melts in the sun.
It took a while, a long while for me to see.
I used to think of goals,
But found they were but mileposts,
incentives to keep going.
To where, exactly, I didn’t really know….
little accomplishments that marked
the turning of pages of chapters
in a book that will
probably be forgotten.
No. It will be forgotten.
And now? Like The Dear Departed Harrison,
I have found that I like grit in myself, in others
taking a punch and moving anyway.
That’s what endures. Endurance.
I prefer to think on love and death,
dealing with real things, big things,
not simulated sex and violence on TV.
And more, I find I and drawn to sentiment,
because real people are sentimental
and they like to tell their stories, and hear others’.
That’s part of the sweep of things, too,
so why the hell not?
So Darlin’, I believe we divine losers, you and me…we know the score,
And we sure as hell don’t need hipster irony any more.
Sing a song of beginnings,
Of times beyond knowing…
Float me up to the mouth of the void and kiss me, gently;
Cut the bonds of convention, set me loose
‘Til sunrise paints the world again in fire and life
And my true spirit is called forth by awe and wonder.
The dead need light,
(If they need anything at all, that is…)
As much as the living need music.
They crave the kind of light
That brings babies’ faces to mind again, and
Spring blooms, and waves dancing on a beach they once knew.
Eternity is a long, long time.
But still… they remember
The way the stars swept across
the sky on a clear night,
the way a bumblebee looks as it
lumbers around, amazingly.
They need the lights of Paris,
twinkling with promise
drawing a halo of innocence around
young lovers by the river.
The dead crave to see, again,
those two eyes, open,
moist with tears, catching the light
of a streetlight in
breathtaking flecks of gold and green.
They remember, with a hopeless ache, the way
moonlight played on a lover’s
hip as she slept, a fleeting memory
burned forever in light,
a hand lightly stroking
just to make sure she was real.
by David Shumate
Here the highways cross. One heads north. One heads east
and west. On the comer of the square adjacent to the
courthouse a bronze plaque marks the place where two Civil
War generals faced one another and the weaker surrendered.
A few pedestrians pass. A beauty parlor sign blinks. As I tum
to head west, I become the schoolteacher living above the
barber shop. Polishing my shoes each evening. Gazing at the
square below. In time I befriend the waitress at the cafe and
she winks as she pours my coffee. Soon people begin to
talk. And for good reason. I become so distracted I teach my
students that Cleopatra lost her head during the French
Revolution and that Leonardo perfected the railroad at the
height of the Renaissance. One day her former lover returns
from the army and creates a scene at the school. That evening
she confesses she cannot decide between us. But still we spend
one last night together. By the time I pass the grain elevators
on the edge of town I am myself again. The deep scars of love
already beginning to heal.
“Passing Through a Small Town” by David Shumate from High Water Mark. © University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004. (buy now)
I remember the summers of tall corn, and Princess,
Running, face slapped and cut by green leaves while she
Dashed in and out of the alien-looking bases of the stalks
laughing, daring me to follow.
I remember feeling the darkness close in, alone in the tall corn, stalks closing over me, afraid.
Closing out the sun, closing off a sense of direction,
By a laughing dog who found me, asked-why-I-was-standing-still…
Running away, free among the stalks
Until I followed, redeemed, pulled into the unknown, laughing, too.
Summer days among the tall corn, lost, found, redeemed,
Long rows curving into mystery, terror, fear and salvation,
A friend who never left me, always came back, refused to let me shrink from the unknown,
A dog who kept me anchored in the now, in experience, in friendship.
A dog and a boy. A dog is a savior for a young boy, too frightened to know where to turn.
The land, the island wilderness, the endless rows of corn eight feet tall,
Twisting, curving, full of weedy vines, rocks and in a burst of fur and dust,
a laughing dog who
Never let me lose myself, always called me back, mocked my adolescent timidity,
Made me follow, explore and, eventually, to laugh with her.
The land, the land…. way more than just a summer’s day
In the tall corn with Princess. My puny fears, yes, but my foundation.
A link to a thousand ancestors. In my insignificance, still stronger by connections.
The land…. a family memory, stretching into antiquity,
The land… a sense of place, of time, of belonging, of self.
The land.. passed along now, my connection cut, but not quite.
The land… a sense of place ended, but not quite.
The land… a place to put my face into, my fingers digging deep, holding onto… but not any more.
The land…. a place that birthed me, shaped me with a laughing dog, long ago,
The land… a place that infused me, called to me, supported me, made me, set me free.
The land, the land… always the Land.
This brightened my afternoon. On my campus, this sort of nonsense is all too common, so I guess I’m just jaded.
“Yes, the statue of a hyper-realistic sleepwalking man on the Wellesley College campus is truly creepy. His outstretched arms and lolling mouth make him look like a pasty, middle-aged zombie. His flaccid penis sagging in his graying briefs will haunt your dreams forever, like the ghost of your future sex life….”
I suppose I’m missing something profound, but I found myself agreeing with this paragraph in the story:
But the problem with Awareness Culture is the expectation that once offended – or, in most cases, once a hypothetical offensiveness has been identified– the world must immediately act to make the “bad thing” disappear. There’s something spoiled about our knee-jerk reaction to abolish anything that could be considered even remotely insensitive. The message is, “it’s possible that someone somewhere might feel momentarily bad because of this, so get rid of it right this second! And by the way, you’re an asshole if you don’t agree.”
Read more: Wellesley College Sleepwalker: Tony Matelli’s Statue Is A Boogeyman | TIME.com http://ideas.time.com/2014/02/06/wellesleys-boogeyman-wears-tighty-whities/#ixzz2sahRekU1
Read more: Wellesley College Sleepwalker: Tony Matelli’s Statue Is A Boogeyman | TIME.com http://ideas.time.com/2014/02/06/wellesleys-boogeyman-wears-tighty-whities/#ixzz2saZkNcEA
This suggests some science-fictiony story possibilities. Anyone want to take a shot?
Artist Lucy Glendinning’s “Feather Child” series explores “the allure and dangers of artificially propelling human evolution”:
Inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus, she imagines future humans treating our DNA as a medium of expression and wish-fulfillment; in the poem accompanying the sculpture, she envisions feathers like “A decoration applied with / a gene, not a needle.”
The Art Circus Review adds:
Covered from head to toe, the feathers may act as a camouflage, keeping the children hidden or they may enable them with a unique ability to survive whatever landscape they now populate They may also just be tired freaks, taking refuge in art galleries. Glendinning’s tactile sculptures are beautifully crafted, showing a very sensitive and vulnerable side to her bizarre subjects, leaving the viewer uncertain whether to take the mutant child into their care or throw them into the fire.
More photographs of Glendinning’s sculptures here.
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“The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne." --Chaucer
Poetry, Photography, haiku, Life, word play, puns, free verse
In happiness my words I lack, in grief they overflow.
Creative Nonfiction & Poetry
by Kelly L
THE DRIVELLINGS OF TWATTERSLEY FROMAGE
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