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“Beware, O wanderer, the road is walking too.”

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Bits ‘n Pieces: Finding Bottom


Old pilots say:
“There are more airplanes in the ocean
than submarines in the sky.”
The sea hides everything forever,
The wind strokes her face.

Everything finds the bottom in time.

Every other expectation is

Self deception, no matter how pleasant.

Bits ‘n Pieces: Waiting In The Dark


Just after sundown,
past the North Carolina border,
our passenger train stops to let
a freight whiz by in the dark.
We’re not as profitable per pound,
and complain when the ride’s too rough.
And, really, just look at us; so flabby and soft.
So we must wait.
It’s good to know your value in
Man’s world.

But the delay has already been factored in, and
for the first time in my life I’m
comfortable waiting, in the dark.

#1 Reason Readers Hate Indie Books: Poor Editing


Passing this along from BookDaily.com. A good editor is critical for a writer who wants to improve, and to give readers their best effort.

by Tracy Lawson

Poor Editing 

We all need an editor from time to time. It’s not something we outgrow. One very intelligent and literate adult I know had to be convinced that it was “together” not “togather.” I married him anyway.

Another acquaintance, also a writer, regularly puts out blog posts that say she’s “suppose to” or “use to.” Where did those d’s disappear to? Gah.

We split our infinitives and misplace our modifiers. We can’t get it through our heads that we only use the superlative “my oldest son” when there are more than two sons in the picture.

Writers often tell ourselves, hey, we’re artists. We can’t be bothered with the mundane when we’re crafting an exciting story. But it matters.

That’s why we all need an editor from time to time.

As the founding member of the GES, I embrace my own grammarly shortcomings and put my trust in my editor.

Susan is awesome. She makes me correct my mistakes. She’s like a human thesaurus when I just can’t come up with the right word. She reels me in when I fall in love with the sound of my own voice and a scene starts to drag.  I consider her an objective critic and I take her opinion seriously.

This morning, she referred a prospective client to me for an endorsement.

Gladly!

My editor has made me a better writer.

End of story.

Check her out! Susan Hughes at www.myindependenteditor.com

WANT TO SHARE THIS TIP? TWEET THIS:

🐦CLICK TO TWEET🐦 #Authortip from @BookDailycom: The #1 Reason Why Readers Hate Indie Books @tommyandcareen http://www.bookdaily.com/authorresource/blog/post/1936866 #amwriting #editing

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tracy Lawson has wanted to be a writer ever since she learned to read. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Communication from Ohio University, and though she embarked on a career in the performing arts as a dance instructor and choreographer, never lost her desire to write, and thus far has to her credit a coming-of-age dystopian thriller and an historical nonfiction. Her interest in writing for teens is sparked by all the wonderful young people in her life, including her daughter, Keri, a college sophomore.

You can find out more about her on her website www.counteractbook.com and on Twitter

Innocence


Everyone but God, if you believe, is
Innocent of tomorrow.
Caesar, full of swagger, innocent of the daggers of friends,
Mary innocent she’d see a son murdered, slowly, while she watched.
Me, innocent about everything, including
whether a satellite will fall on me, or
I’ll get a certified letter that
immortality, six virgins and a chocolate cake
will be delivered on Saturday by 10 a.m..
I struggle to reconcile ignorance and innocence.
Do I care about what I can’t, don’t know?
Do I need more than this one, infinite moment?
Meanwhile, they say the snow will stop soon.
In a world of white, quiet and cold,
finches empty the bird feeder
and wait for more.
I am still innocent of Spring.

That Time of Year


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.

The snow won’t last long. I watch the gusts clear the branches of it puff by puff, and I start to wonder if the robin who hatched last spring in the lilac bush outside our kitchen door will come around again soon, just for old time’s sake.

Half a lifetime ago there was once an orphaned robin chick. The kids named him Geek because of the sound he made when hungry and they begged us to keep him. We dug up worms for him–well, I did, after a couple of days. He studied us, head cocked to the side, eyes bright,  as we showed him where the best bugs hid in the tall grass. Smart bird. He figured out what that was about, and soon was feeding himself.

He came back to visit the rest of that summer. Just came by and said hello. Talked to us, like he missed us. The next spring he was back once again, with a lady friend. The nest they built produced three young ones,  who left for California on the Fall Express, and didn’t look back.

It’s just that time of year when the weather kicks sideways, the nesting robins haven’t shown up yet and I am wishing the gusts would blow the rest of the snow off of my branches, too. My spirit is itching to take off with the first warm breezes.

As Sun Sets


sitar

(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)

Packing For The Trip


dc855071-4f05-4358-b9ce-f09f08c73baa_04_5_caters_invisible_bodies_artwork_08

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.”

Ghazal*: The Water


In Mystery

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.

Hometown Heroes


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All around town, on lampposts, hang
banners memorializing
hometown heroes.

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.

Burke on Writing


James Lee Burke
James Lee Burke

“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

So What Comes Next?


Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway

“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 Nobel Committee tries to reach me. 🙂

New Poetry Work Published


 

For sale now on Amazon http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL
For sale now on Amazon
http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

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.

http://amzn.to/2lQnNoL

Early Spring


Crocus Snow Nature Spring Wallpaper Flower New

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.

And then we will all say
how much we miss
the peaches this year.

Time and Mountains


russians-climb-pyramids

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 Was A Horse


cropped-the-leap-into-the-unknown.jpgI 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.

Time and Memories


image

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.
Things change.
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.

Soul


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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. 

8 Rules of Writing


It’s good to have goals.

writer

How To Spot A Tyrant


Aristotle
Aristotle

“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)

Meditations on Evil


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.

Heinrich Himmler with daughter Gudrun
Heinrich Himmler with daughter Gudrun

“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?”
-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Continue reading “Meditations on Evil”

Revelations


Yes, this:

Kerouac
Kerouac

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.

Only One Story


Steinbeck
Steinbeck

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

Vacation


Republishing with rewrite and reading audio added. 

IMG_2251

After 60 years of work, more or less,
I’ve decided to take a working vacation.
I’m booking a cruise and extended
train travels for the next 60 years
To go exploring along the coasts,
Poking my canoe up the inlets and rivers,
Probing the veins and wires and memories of
Some unfamiliar parts of me, and some
I’ve been missing for a while, to
See whether there’s anything
Worth saving, or maybe just toss it all out.

Continue reading “Vacation”

Song of the Hidden Moon


night-sky-moon-cloud-sea-ocean
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


atomic_bomb_explosion

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.

Anthology Published


16265206_10211443479138934_5056738108910122519_nGot a little bit of good news this week. One of the editors of the 25th Anniversary Anthology Edition of the Austin TX. Poetry Festival reached out to me a few months ago after seeing some pieces I published here and invited me to submit some work for inclusion. In the end, they included six poems, starting on page 111.

“When Time and Space Conspire” is the title. Charles wrote this morning to let me know that the first printing is in his office and he’s starting to send out copies. I’m hoping to get my own chapbook published this year, but this is nice as a first print appearance of my verse. The anthology is available on Amazon@

http://amzn.to/2kkeeeF if you would like to support the work of the 85 poets and the Festival.


jobs-quote

Solid Things


Working hands-1509

I need the grace of solid things
some days—wood, glass, stone;
I need to see below the surface,
with my other, equally blind eyes.
I need to feel for each unique song composed
and locked away long ago by water, earth and fire.
What I can conjure, sometimes,
free-floating and insubstantial as air
from the squishy gelatin
of this fragile and yielding flesh,
needs the balance of solid things
that give up their compositions
only on their own terms.
Solid things that come alive
when plucked by a humble hand.

Helen and the Swan*


Photo by Richard Calmes
Photo by Richard Calme

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.

Continue reading “Helen and the Swan*”

Six Six-word Stories*


“Two bullets. Two heads. Two dead.”

“House for sale: Divorced, discouraged, deleted.”

“Damn! Why are the walls moving?”

Captain: “Y’all ever flown upside down?”

“One sunrise left.”
“Looks like rain.”

“No Trespassing, and no warning shots.”

_______________________________

*These are in response to a prompt using Hemingway’s supposed “shortest short story ever.” As the story goes, he wrote this on a napkin in a bar in response to a friend’s challenge: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

Give it a try!

 

Sanctuary


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The poet Rumi advises us to find a place

high in a nearby tree to hide our spirit.

It is so easily bruised and, when hurt,

we cannot hear what it says.

I read this and had a question–

why did I wait so long to do the work?

I didn’t know how to protect my spirit yet,

to shelter it in that old Hemlock tree there,

massive, dark, unmoving, quiet,

and happy to give my spirit sanctuary,

as though it grew all those years for

no other purpose but this.

Impossibles


Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Life presents so many impossibles
that some days I lose my ‘can-do’ spirit
and adopt a “can’t do it, won’t do it” sneer.
I’m then like one of those people who
Drives 53 MPH in the fast lane and
refuses to move over,
wrapped in stubborn, brittle virtue.
There’s a bird feeder outside the window,
itself a can-do attempt to
thwart the thieving squirrels.
Continue reading “Impossibles”

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: A calendar with tricky bits.
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. …
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.
Then I would fold a map of earth upon itself
again and again, touch this place with Nebraska,
with California, or Istanbul, Melbourne–wherever you are.
Just touch two dots together and be there— no jet-lag.
Or I would take my super-power-star-chart and fold
this place with one halfway across the
galaxy, or another galaxy, or Jupiter
or a planet with an atmosphere of pure joy.
I’d pause to take in the light show
of the Pillars of Creation, 7,000 light years away,
birthplace of stars, then fold again,
take a left at the first star and go on
until morning, maybe to
Never-Never Land, find the Lost Boys,
buzz Captain Hook, share a joint with
Tinker Bell and pray I find my way back.

 

Come Out To The Edge


great-escapes-small-wcth23

I may look normal, but I’m not normal, whatever that means. On the outside, my life looks conventional. But this is the kind of place I live in my head.  It’s a constant battle between doing stuff I’m afraid of and running away. Out on the edge….

“You think I’m insane?” said Finnerty. Apparently he wanted more of a reaction than Paul had given him.
“You’re still in touch. I guess that’s the test.”
“Barely — barely.”
“A psychiatrist could help. There’s a good man in Albany.”
Finnerty shook his head.

“He’d pull me back into the center, and I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” He nodded, “Big, undreamed-of things — the people on the edge see them first.”

Come Here, Young Man


by-igor-morskiKeys To The Kingdom Photo by: Igor Morski

Young man, I wish someone had
told me these things.
An older woman would
have been perfect
When I was your age.
But no such luck.

So here’s the thing.
Your chest hurts when you see her,
Continue reading “Come Here, Young Man”

Talismans In The Wind


 

daro-darosyndy
Photo by DARO @darosyndy

We spend our lives
collecting things our kids
will sell in the auction.

In drawers and closets,
in dusty attics with
useless tax returns from 1992
and unused but sentimental
Christmas ornaments.
We store bits of their lives, too:

Talismans. Medicine bags. Memories
Of age 8, of high school.
It is we who can’t let go.
That rock collection,
the medals and ribbons and
papers with grades on them
high on a closet shelf
in a spare bedroom,
where we turn the heat off
in the winter because
no child sleeps there any more.
Talismans of our lives.
Little flames to light
our way for a time,
to remember,
and hold back the darkness.

“Spirit” For New Year’s Day


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.

Vows


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I was 21 when I took the official vows,
but had really taken the important ones
some months earlier. When I proposed
on April Fools Day and she said ‘yes.’
And like two fools,
we thought that was just fine.
Turns out, nearly 50 years later, it was.

But vows are merciless things, and they don’t
tell you the whole story. You can’t listen, anyway,
with your eyes full of hunger for each other’s bodies
and your ears full of music and laughter and dreams.

It’s easy to make promises when you
don’t know all that will be asked of you,
the blood and the bone and the griefs.
You find out the truth bit by bit,
day by day. You find out
where you’re weak and where strong,
and whether you’re someone people
can count on.

But you never learn these things unless
you have solemnly vowed, and keep the promises
made in hope and ignorance.

You learn the lessons that come
only with walking a long road,
until your feet are worn as thin as paper
and the dust of the road is your new skin.
And, if you’re lucky, keeping promises
has, with much practice, become second nature.

I found all this out the hard way,
and not until I listened to a still, small voice
and started writing again.
I was asleep for 50 years, more or less,
but when I awoke, it was
to shorter days and cool nights.
And I wasn’t sure
if I was fully awake or not.

What It Is Not


dance_portrait_photography_alexander_yakovlev_09

Let’s talk “Poetry” for a moment, if you will.
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.

Continue reading “What It Is Not”

A Ballad of Love and Death About Elsa


Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison

by Jim Harrison

The ambulance driver told me in a bar
about the car accident–Elsa’s head torn off
and her eyes stayed open.
I went to the site with a bouquet of flowers.
The road’s shoulder was short green grass and along
the fence there were primroses and California
poppies. In the field a brown-and-white cow
watched me wander around. I wondered
how long Elsa could see, and what.
I found a patch of blood-crisp grass
where her head must have rested
surrounded by shards of windshield.
She was a fine gardener with a sweet,
warm voice.

Published in “Dead Man’s Float,” Copper Canyon Press, © 2016
Triggered this piece this morning. 

A Small Death in the Afternoon


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From memory triggered back to life by this poem by Jim Harrison.

The newsroom’s police scanner squawked around 3:30 one afternoon and my editor sent me out with camera and notebook.

It was a cloudy day in early Spring, the roadside grass was fresh and green, the
baby wheat plants covered the fields on either side in a fuzzy carpet.

The scene was very ordinary-looking at first, and it confused me. This was my first fatal accident as a reporter and I didn’t know what to expect.

A sheriff’s department cruiser was off the road with lights flashing behind a family wagon, Continue reading “A Small Death in the Afternoon”


neologism

Hitting the High Notes


the_odeon_of_herodes_atticus

I write younger than I am,
but my voice cracks on the high notes now,
imagesand 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’m encountering many me’s, from many times,
in various stages of becoming.
It’s as though I walk into a Greek amphitheater
in Corinth, and my many selves are sitting
on the old blocks
of stone, twitching, and I point to one and say
“OK, come on down.Today’s your turn
to whine about your life.”
And we all lean in, ready to pounce,
evaluating the honesty, the growth,
knowing that one of us
will be judged next
and found wanting.

Things Before The New Year 2


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.

And In A Mystery To Be


ee cummings
ee cummings

 

by ee cummings

in time of daffodils (who know
the goal of living is to grow)
forgetting why, remember how

in time of lilacs who proclaim
the aim of waking is to dream,
remember so (forgetting seem)

in time of roses (who amaze
our now and here with paradise)
forgetting if, remember yes

in time of all sweet things beyond
whatever mind may comprehend,
remember seek (forgetting find)

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

e.e. cummings

Dreams


tiantanbuddha

 

I dreamt once I traveled to the little village
in Ohio where I was born, this time.
Everyone was glad to see me, and I them.
I went from house to house and visited people
who had been dead for 50 years. I was a happy 85,
and realized I could only see them because I must be dead, too.
It dawned on me just before I woke that I had been given
a glimpse of something and I should pay attention,
that my span of years on this earth this time is to be
eight and one-half decades, no more, no less.
And it made me smile. I could live with that.

I also dreamt once of a place very distant in years and geography,
and surprised to see I was a young girl
just at the threshold of adulthood, bare-breasted,
racing many others through an Indian jungle.
And I realized when I awoke that
I had been given a glimpse of something
I should pay attention to, so I wrote it down.

But in the dream I ran and ran, heart thrilling to the race.
I ran until I came to a plateau, trees stretching high above,
and there was a massive statue of the Buddha looming.
I lay a hand on the ancient, cool, damp, moss-covered base as I passed, and
felt an energy flowing through it, slow and deep and with the ache of eternity.
A strange monk sat with me later, while I ate a bowl of rice, and told me
the only things that mattered in life were effort and simplicity.

Then there was another dream
of a life I’d lived in the 1890s as a sod-buster on the
Nebraska prairie. Fought the land and the weather,
had children, buried some there,
and it came to me that my bones still lie in the
black earth, deep under the grasses on a little rise
above where my earthen home once stood, but of which
there is no longer any trace, except in
that one, fleeting dream, like most of us.

Then last night I dreamt I was in Montana,
in the middle of a group of men arguing about
whether to drill for oil in a particular spot.
On one hand were serious dangers, on the other vast wealth,
the two main things, other than a woman, that men will kill for.
I remember feeling in a moment of absolute clarity
That I had the perfect solution, and knew it
would prevent the bloodshed that was coming.
But I woke up, breathing hard, unable to go back.
I wonder if I could have made a difference?

These messages seemed different than the
run-of-the-mill dances of the mind in sleep.
These carried some sense of import and meaning.
So after each I lay staring at the ceiling
as dawn slowly restores the room to sight,
and I ponder them and try to pay attention.

After IKKYU: Number 30


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by Jim Harrison

It’s difficult to imagine the conversations
between Jesus and Buddha this very moment
These androgynous blood brothers demand our imagination.
They could ask Shakespeare and Mozart to write words
and music, and perhaps a dozen others, but they’ve done so.
The vast asteroid on its way toward LA goes unmentioned.

____________

in “The Shape of the Journey,” 1998. Copper Canyon Press

Life in Our Bubbles


soap bubble
Turbulent and temporary

Bubbles in the bathtub, bubbles in the news,
Bubbles blown from fantasies, others made of blues.

The farmer’s bubble in the field
The bubble of the boy, forgotten
by the girl he can’t forget.
The doctor’s hero bubble that pays for that Corvette.
The bubble of the  longhaul trucker, and
The Mercedes, passing, teasing with a flash of thigh.

The angry white guy’s bubble,
And the angry black guy’s too.
The bubble of a poor girl who wonders which must do.

And over at the Pentagon:
the soldier’s bubble marches, the sailor’s, the Marine’s.
The small-town bubbles of porches and shady streets,
And bubbling battles brewing over things like flu vaccines.
The tribal identity bubbles fought with high school games.
Bubbles of teenagers sleeping rough in the park,
A generation on mental benches, living in the dark.

The city’s bubble, the country’s, the village’s and the farm’s.
Gender’s bubbles mix it up: the myths, desires, the charms
Being sexy’s another bubble, yet you’re never quite sure you are.

The bubble of the man-boys, costumed in beards and plaid,
The laughing girl-herd bubble, strategically underclad.
Pastors in pulpits, Bible bubbles fired into the air,
Sinners in their secret guilt just recite the old Lord’s Prayer.

And all the rich folk’s bubbles… where should I begin?
They keep their teeth past old age,
With gold-plated dental plans.
Then  new cars every year, parked in heated garages.
And vacation cruises in the islands, on floating casino barages.
They hire pricey doctors who lounge in those Corvettes,
And look in every mirror for new bulges in silhouettes.

Of course, all are in the bigger bubble, the one we call delusion,
Which only brings on worser woes, and more confused conclusions.
So look ye to the birds above, who neither reap nor sow,
Who– nearly as any ear can tell–
Choose song and freedom,
not a fake and freakish game show.

Skidding By A Woods On A Snowy Evening*


 

car-overturned-in-snow-583648880-57e9c59d5f9b586c35079f79

 

Whose tracks those are I think I know
His auto’s by trees yonder, though;
He cannot see me skidding past
(His windows buried deep in snow.) 

My Subaru must think it queer
To try to stop in any gear
Trapped ‘tween ditch and looming truck
Whee! First ice storm in this crappy year!

Safety brakes cause wheels to shake
Miss the truck? ‘Tis a grim sweepstake
The only other sound the squeals
Of a useless scream and semi’s brakes.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
And I now wish I’d picked the Jeep,
But tears’ll freeze if now I weep,
But tears’ll freeze if now I weep.

*With apologies to Robert Frost

On Writing


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“The first eight drafts are terrible.”
–Malcom Gladwell.

And I’m only on number four.

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