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On Acatenango


Eruption and snowfall, April, 2017. Acatenango, Guatemala.

Note: republishing one from a couple of years ago. My friend Pete sent a new picture of the mountain where my favorite coffee comes from, the slopes of Acatenango in Guatemala. The volcano is active, and there has been an unusual snow in the tropics.

I awoke early.  Too early.
Before the light came, before the day.
This is happening often these days.
I set the water to bubble, the grinder releases aroma.
My eyes barely see.
I put the open bag to my nose and
Inhale deeply, eyes closed.
The memory of someone washes over me.
I breathe in again, my mind flies  to cool, sunlit slopes
Covered in jungle, the coffee trees planted in rows,
Under the high canopy.
Brilliantly-colored birds call and wheel,
Up there, at 6,000 feet, on Acatenango,
Antigua far, far below.
A family climbed all night from their village,
A winding trail, moving in single file in the dark.
Everything is on their backs, or on the donkeys.
A woman and a girl, a man and two young boys,
All nut-brown skinned, black hair and eyes.
Mayan-built, descendants of those who
Climbed these slopes for 15,000 years.
The crimson coffee seeds are the ripe ones,
Red pearls aching to be plucked.
The rains have been good, the volcanic soil rich
With hot minerals belched
From the ever-churning Earth.
But they must be picked one by one,
The ripe ones only.
Calloused fingers search, pluck,
Return for the next, there
At 6,000 feet on ancient
Acatenango, above the mist,
Near the sky where the birds twirl.
This is where the coffee grows,
Waiting for patient hands,
For legs that climb all night
Up narrow winding paths.
Hands that choose only those whose time has come,
Red with full promise,
Fertile and swollen, eager.
When the donkeys can carry no more,
The man and the woman, the girl and the two young boys,
Put everything on their backs and turn down the winding, stony trail,
Coffee cherries swaying in burlap on the backs
Of donkeys.
Up behind, brightly colored birds wheel and
Call among the tall trees,
There, high on Acatenango, sleeping Acatenango,
Looking down on Antigua far, far below.
The grinder is finished. I inhale the aroma of
Far-away places once more, and think of her
And of Acatenango.

Traveling Alone


by Billy Collins
in “The Trouble With Poetry” 2005

At the hotel coffee shop that morning,
the waitress was wearing a pink uniform
with “Florence” written in script over her heart.

And the man who checked my bag
had a badge that said “Ben.”
Behind him was a long row of royal palms.

On the plane, two women poured drinks
from a cart they rolled down the narrow aisle –
“Debbie” and “Lynn” according to their winged tags.

And such was my company
as I arced from coast to coast,
and so I seldom spoke, and then only
of the coffee, the bag, the tiny bottles of vodka.
I said little more than “Thank you”
and “Can you take this from me, please?”

Yet I began to sense that all of them
were ready to open up,
to get to know me better, perhaps begin a friendship.

Florence looked irritated
as she shuffled from table to table,
but was she just hiding her need
to know about my early years –
the ball I would toss and catch in my hands
the times I hid behind my mother’s dress?

And was I so wrong in catching in Ben’s eyes
a glimmer of interest in my theories
and habits – my view of the Enlightenment,
my love of cards, the hours I tended to keep?

And what about Debbie and Lynn?
Did they not look eager to ask about my writing process,
my way of composing in the morning
by a window, which I would have admitted
if they had just had the courage to ask.

And strangely enough – I would have continued,
as they stopped pouring drinks
and the other passengers turned to listen –
the only emotion I ever feel, Debbie and Lynn,
is what the beaver must feel,
as he bears each stick to his hidden construction,

which creates the tranquil pond
and gives the mallards somewhere to paddle,
the pair of swans a place to conceal their young.

The Days Are Bees


by Pablo Neruda from Still Another Day

The days aren’t discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn’t unweave: there is no net.
They don’t fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn’t divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.”

–I’m recovering from eye surgery, which has meant I am only able to read (and write), less than an hour a day, where before it was more like 8-10. In the meantime, I listen to podcasts and try to pass along things that mean something. The yeast is rising, though. Cheers. 

Writing Advice


More at: http://www.advicetowriters.com

You Can’t Learn To Write in College

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.

RAY BRADBURY

Self-doubt Can Be An Ally

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.

STEVEN PRESSFIELD

 

 

You Must Read Everything

Illustration by Tina Berning
for the New York Times

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.

SARAH MANGUSO

Jam


by Charles Bukowski
1920-94

That Harbor Freeway south
through the downtown
area –

I mean it can simply become
unbelievable.

last Friday evening
I was sitting there motionless
behind a wall of red tail lights
there wasn’t even first gear
movement
as masses of exhaust fumes greyed the
evening air
engines overheated
and there was the smell of a clutch
burning out
somewhere
– it seemed to come from ahead of
me –
from that long
slow rise of
freeway

where the cars were working
from first gear
to neutral
again and again
and from neutral back to first
gear.

on the radio
I heard the news of that day
at least 6
times

I was well versed
in world
affairs.

the remainder of the stations
played a thin sick
music

the classical stations
refused to come in
clearly
and when they did
it was a stale
repetition of
standard and tiresome
works.

I turned the radio
off.
a strange whirling began in my head
– it circled behind the forehead
clock-wise
went past the ears and around to the
back of the head then back
to the forehead
and around
again.

I began to wonder
is this what happens when one goes
mad?
I considered getting out of my car.
I was in the so-called fast lane.
I could see myself out there
out of my car leaning against
the freeway divider
arms folded.
then I would slide down to a sitting
position
putting my head between my
legs.
I stayed in the car
bit my tongue
turned the radio back on
willed the whirling to
stop
as I wondered
if any of the others
had to battle
against their
compulsions as I
did?

then the car ahead of
me
MOVED
a foot
2 feet 3 feet!
I shifted to first gear . . .
there was MOVEMENT!
then I was back in neutral
BUT
we had moved from 7 to ten
feet.

hearing the world news
for the 7th time
it was still all bad
but all of us listening
we could handle that too
because we knew
that there was nothing
worse
than looking at
that same license plate
that same dumb head
sticking up from behind
the headrest
in the car
ahead of you
as time dissolved
as the temperature gauge
leaned more to the right
as the gas gauge
leaned more to the left
as we wondered
whose clutch
was burning out?
we were like some
last
vast
final
dinosaur
crawling feebly home
somewhere
somehow
maybe
to
die.

The Work


© 2014
Pause
©Hemmingplay 2014

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
6,200 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—
On the bright side, someday I’ll get to see
what they’ve been doing the last 65 million years.

This sorting and patching and filtering
feels like when you fall asleep on a hot, muggy
afternoon in a bad mood and wake up sweaty,
disoriented, not sure where – or who—you are.

The Work, though, goes on like a lazy creek.
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
I read once 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.

So I’m putting the finishing touches on my life,
Essentially sewing my shroud. I’m not unhappy about this,
Mind you. I’m luckier than most, and get to do the
Necessary sifting and sorting. I have time for the Great Work.
Then it will be time to dismantle it all, brick by brick,
Board by board, while I have the strength.
I’m not panicking or being morbid, either. Just realistic.
I have the luxury to know what it is I need to do.
I’ll pack it in neatly labeled boxes and files. I’m lucky. I know that.
I get to tell my story, leave these words behind as an affidavit
And testimony in my own very ordinary voice—which will last
About as long as a certain pile of stones, I suppose. But
It’s the effort that counts. The making use of a life
To learn what one can. To leave a small mark behind.
And then to let go, and see where the current goes from here.

Implacable Indifference


I love this one-eyed poet who talks about the
“Implacable indifference of time.” He was
old when he wrote that, and facing a decaying
body and painful surgery.
It made me think.

I was raised to believe in hope,
in the redeeming graces that would make
all suffering worthwhile in the sweet bye and bye;
to seek a moral purpose even in darkness and pain,
to value the hard-won badges and scars of a
life lived with eternity in mind.

Late in my sixth decade now, the path ahead
more and more clear,  I think it’s time I
did myself a favor and distinguished between
wishful thinking and hard truths.
It’s a choice; I still have
the power to choose.
I have my health, for the most part,
but my wife has had cancer 5 times and still
keeps her face to the sun. It won’t get easier for either of us,
and I have promises to keep, somehow.

I’ve learned this much; your mileage may vary:

No matter how bad the news is, someone has it worse.
It’s easy to be discouraged, hard to be hopeful.
Be hopeful, anyway. It’s a way of not giving in.
There’s nothing better than the feeling of a cold beer
hitting the back of your throat on a hot day.

Realize that behind anything you want,
there are multiple reasons.
The majority are selfish, or weird or downright bad.
Wait. Bullshit always has a big mouth.
Wait. Your hair’s not really on fire.
It’s just the hormones whipping you, mostly.
Most desires turn out to be hollow things with time.

Wait and look for whether
there’s something in there that helps someone,
does not hurt someone and
would make your children proud.
Do that one. Out of all the rest.
And do it with everything you’ve got.

Then give someone else the credit for it.

This is especially true of love. We are all capable of
much more of that, but get selfish and fearful of pain.
We must be careful and keep the above rules in mind.
Does it help someone ? Everyone needs it.
Does it hurt anyone? Can you stretch yourself to include more?
Can you give 110% to more than one?
Would it make your children proud?
(When/if you have them, if you don’t now.)
Do that. And another just like it, but with care.
Grow into it.
Tell yourself that, in the end,
You told yourself the truth, most of the time;
You did not harm anyone on purpose;
and that you tasted as much sweetness
along the way
as you could.

Unending Love



by Rabindranath Tagore

I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.

Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, it’s age old pain,
It’s ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star, piercing the darkness of time.
You become an image of what is remembered forever.

You and I have floated here on the stream that springs from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another,
We have played along side millions of lovers,
Shared in the same shy sweetness of meeting,
the distressful tears of farewell,
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.

Today it is heaped at your feet, it has found its end in you
The love of all man’s days both past and forever:
Universal joy, universal sorrow, universal life.
The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours—
And the songs of every poet past and forever.

Bits ‘n Pieces: The Comb


 

 

 

A girl combs her grandmother’s hair, while the old woman
tries, suddenly, desperately, to remember her first kiss. The her mind slips a couple more decades back in time.

“It will be wonderful,” she sighs, in anticipation.

Her spirit surges into the past, pausing just an eye blink with the young girl.

Her granddaughter closes her eyes and shudders. She is headed into her future, but there’s something new in her now. The hand with the comb pauses, confused; continues.

Something is different. She sighs.

#nationalpoetrymonth

#amwriting

 

Ashes and Snowflakes


The challenge, it seems,
is to somehow arrange,
to slow-dance with Familiar,
but awaken with Strange.

To be like a welder
shooting showers of sparks,
birthing hot, fluid joinings,
behind a mask full of stars. Continue reading “Ashes and Snowflakes”

The Stolen Child


W. B. Yeats1865 – 1939

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

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.

  Continue reading “#1 Reason Readers Hate Indie Books: Poor Editing”

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. Continue reading “That Time of Year”

Time


Shameless plug: 

This is a hoot. I just got an email from the Austin International Poetry Foundation that another poem (the one below from last year) was accepted for the “Di-vêrsé-city Anthology” and they invited me to go to the festival in April to read it. (I probably won’t be able to go, unfortunately. Maybe someday.)

But you can still register and make it. Austin in April is nice.
More info: https://www.aipf.org/aipf/default.asp

 

steampunk-hourglass-passing-time-sand-hourglass-d8de33e363e9f38a

I tried skipping in and out of a
stream once
And learned I could not
Touch the same water twice.
Asleep for 50 years,
More or less, and, now awake,
I fear there is not enough time for the work.

We don’t have time to be clever,
Show me what I have missed.
We use the idea of time
To pretend everything
Doesn’t happen at once,
And judge it by our own puny lifespans.
Barely able to cry “I am here”
And we are gone,
Like fireworks shot to the stars
On a cloudy night.

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


572d0d634ccdf-image

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.

Spring


11745316_402395659959922_8109062695143299557_n

Put your ear to the air.

Tune your senses to the long rhythms…

The sun is daily higher,

It knocks harder on grave’s door:

Beneath in the icy ground,

Life warms from near death

Shudders and swells and pushes against

The things that would keep it cold:

Listen….

Tune your senses to the long rhythms,

Close your eyes and see.

Billions of trillions of millions of tiny,

urgent things stir, move,

Grow from nothing to everything.

The shoving and shifting and yearning

Makes a soundless roar we feel through our feet.

The Earth…. She stretches and yawns.

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”

Brittle


shattering-glass-slow-motion-imgur

Hope’s a fragile thing,

Always close to shattering.

World’s good at breaking.

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.

Deadline


c0tazuexcae4r2d

I dreamt of a place, not long ago, and the dream, unusual for me, showed even the most mundane things in vivid, sharp detail. Clothing, clouds, leaves on the ground, birds against the sky, dust motes floating.

But not at first. At first I was in the dark, walking blindly on a long journey through a wood. I only knew that something big was ahead. It was my show. I was expected.

I’m a modern man, raised on science and skepticism. But the longer I’ve lived, my ancient spirit has me lurch against things I cannot understand and I’ve had to make allowances.

Continue reading “Deadline”


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.

 

What Do I Want?


by-dan-stockholm
Sculpture by Dan Stockholm

I came to this gig late in life,
so what do I want out of it?
It’s a fair question.
I’ve just started digging the answers out
of the rock that holds me.

It can’t be money, because there isn’t any.
Continue reading “What Do I Want?”

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.”

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