Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Fear Is An Ember

Here you are,
seared in place,
throwing light forward so dim
it is a kind of shadow.
Prophets used you
to purify their tongues,
but my nation is discarded.
I have no vision.
The grasshopper and coyote
are memories,
their footprints and songs.
I am no prrophet.
I only know in spite of you
I have held this hand
or that.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

A Gar For Uncle Nello

[Here is an old first draft.]

You knew right where to go:
into a muddy pool with a net,
and you raised the catch: brown minnows
and crawdads colored with algae.
And when you opened the sieved bait can
to break their green tails down
to their white meat and folded the minnows
over it onto the hook, we saw
how already the crustaceans had cut
the fish with their short claws.

Under a bridge at the fork of the Eel
and Wabash, me on the bank,
you out in waders, not a large man
but able to walk those currents:
today I know how they felt on your legs,
the cold that anted to pull you down.

My first catch came skipping
like a stone until you grabbed
the beaked thing. "A gar. No good."
And you threw it back. I caught
later a small bass and ate it
that evening, fried with meal
and full of butter.

I've never fished again, but
years later, at the end
of grandpa's garden, you cut
the tissue between belly and gill,
drew out the rest.
All the fish moaned at us but one,
stiff. "Swallowed the hook," you said.

Never, never can I square
you with all that killing of fish,
you a veteran who never fought
but nearly choked to tell how
a friend in France used his foot
to free a bayonet from a man's breast.
You, a man who carried letters
and kept china wrapped in newspapers.

They say don't dwell on the bad,
but your wife and nearly every kid
stole your money, and then the cancer
began to surface through your ribs.
I saw you last in a December,
showing off a bourbon bottle shaped
like a deluxe bass boat,
one that could keep you above the cold.
And then you fell asleep in a chair,
the television too loud.

Of all the fish I caught,
I ate one,
and it was a good meal.
The other belongs to us,
the gar whose kind swam up
from a geologic age
to your hand. No good or not,
you pulled out the hook with ease
and the fish vanished in the cold.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

I Can Live With You

As sure as oceans rise
I can live with you.
I say I take your hand
under the hardening sky by which
I do not swear but only see
the last yellow leaf.

Our world becomes geometrical
with time. We can see where
the functions lead, the paths
that go on without us into
a faceless expanse of squares.

Tell me what you saw when you
said no. I think it must have been
beautiful as yourself and larger
than any prediction, any spreadsheet
that tells the fortunes
of industry that turns the air
into something no longer meant for us,
even as that sky casts our shadows
on concrete where only the hardiest
weeds grow to inherit the earth.

I do not swear by limits.
I just know where we breathe,
and to live with you would be
a cool breeze at last.
I'll never claim you. All claims
lie sealed at last. Don't think
of us like them; just know that within
the fire I turned to you and said hello.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Random Comments About Terror, American Childhood and Publishing

During World War II my young father was afraid of German paratroopers landing in his Indiana back yard. "Life was tough for nervous children during World War II," my father quips. The apple not falling too far from the tree, I remember the 1970s and 1980s as a time expecting the Big One to go off without warning, ripping the weather away from the sky in a great flash of megatons. The attitude of my teachers at the time was one of laughing dismissal, that such a thing could never happen. Why worry? And of course you can't just go worrying at all hours without losing your sanity, though you might develop an ice-cold sense of humor,--along with its peculiar insanities--in order to deal with the threat. Whatever my fears or humorous burial of them, I remember being mostly alone and feeling neurotic in their shadows.

The American child has for the most part been spared the actual terrors of war, as has the American adult. In their place we have put an act of imagination more or less indulged. The more nervous of American children, such as myself, have endeavored to make art out of this imagined terror. It is a luxury we can afford and that we somehow hope has a kind of value stacked next to the accounts of real survivors of physically present terror. Such an act of imagination informs my account of the Cuban Missile Crisis and other works.

This is an unusually fertile time for my writing, but I'm increasingly wary of publishing on the blog. At least one journal I've looked into will publish nothing that has appeared online anywhere in any form. So I hold out blogging in hopes of publishing elsewhere while I have little optimism of success. My rate of acceptance in journals was about one a year in my heyday using what methods I knew. Extrapolating, I could expect to publish about a score more poems in my life. Should I just go ahead and publish it all here given the stark probabilities?

It's almost a rhetorical question.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Stevenson At The UN*

[Enter U.S. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, Soviet Ambassador V.A. Zorin, other ambassadors, translators and officials.]

I have with me ample evidence.
It is incontrovertible and it's clear.
Soviet missiles now lie in Cuba.
Let me say something else: those weapons must
not remain on that neighboring island.
You, the Soviet Union, placed missiles
in Cuba. You, the Soviet Union
conjured this danger, not the United States.
Finally, Mr. Zorin, remember
that the other day you did not deny
the existence of these dreadful weapons.
Today, if I heard you right, you deny
these missiles exist... and our evidence.
  Alright, sir, let me ask you one question.
Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny
that the Soviet Union is placing
medium- and intermediate- range
nuclear missiles and sites in Cuba?
Don't wait for the translation. Yes or no?

[Laughter in the assembly.]

I am not an American on trial,
sir, and I will not answer questions
put to me from a prosecutor.
In due course, sir, you will have your answer.

You stand in the court of world opinion,
so answer yes or now as if on oath.
You have denied that the missiles exist.
Have I got your testimony correct?

Go on. In due course the answer will come.

I am prepared to wait for my answer
until hell freezes over if you will.
I can also present my evidence.

[Reveals photos of missiles. Assembly stirs.]

This short piece won't make the cut for the final "Cuban" project, but it demonstrates the form for what I'm calling the dramatic parts of the final product. Other parts will appear as fairly normal contemporary lyric poetry. This terse portrayal of a famous exchange during the Cuban Missile Crisis relies a little too much on direct quote, but it also provides a taste of the artificial flavor it will have, being written mostly in ten-count syllabics.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

There Was Hair All Over The Place (part 3 of 3)

On television was "Dagon Live!" the Saturday night show from the Philistine Temple of Dagon, whose location in the desert was a closely kept secret even from the show's contestants. There, in the ancient, subterranean temple of fertility, ordinary Philistine citizens competed for cash prizes by fighting political prisoners in boxing matches. The prisoners were always drugged or otherwise handicapped, so no Philistine ever lost an individual match. The challenge for the contestants was to knock out as many prisoners as they could in a limited number of rounds. The more prisoners felled, the more money for the contestant.

The opening shot of the show framed a beautiful spokes model who stood before two closely erected and ornate columns, each carved in the image of Dagon: a half-goat-half-fish entity. "Good evening and welcome to 'Dagon Live!'" the spokes model piped.

Delilah mouthed the word "bitch." She knew the spokes model. She had beat Delilah in an audition for the part on the popular show.

"Here," the spokes model continued, twisting in her sparkling dress," in the super-secret temple of our Lord God and Benefactor, Dagon the Bountiful, Philistines will compete for cash and the glory of God!" The emcee took over and introduced the first contestant, who entered between the supporting columns of the temple. Afterward he motioned the contestant to the side as a file of slouching prisoners marched in, also between the pillars.

Delilah closed her eyes. She felt like she was closing her eyes on her own life.

The door the the motel room opened. "You like mushrooms? Hope so." Even the powerful Samson appeared burdened as he balanced pizza boxes and liquor bottles in his mighty arms.

"Yeah," Delilah muttered.

"You watching that show?" Samson said. "Ain't no show for a girl like you to watch." He set down the food and undid her bonds. "'Course, I watch it pretty regular myself."

"I auditioned for it once," Delilah said.

"What? You were going to fight? Were they going to let you use your whip? You've got the fighting spirit, honey-lion."

"No, I wasn't going to be a contestant. I was going to be a spokes model."

"Well, you're pretty enough, too."

"I'm really not hungry," Delilah said.

Samson sat on the springs,opened a pizza and a bottle. "How can you watch this? All them people getting hurt."

Delilah laughed nervously.

"What? That tickle you a little?" he growled.

"It's just that after all the people you hurt, after today, you worry about people getting hurt?" Then she felt the anger coming back. "I guess if the dead are Philistine, it doesn't matter."

"You shut up!" Samson said. "How do you turn this damned TV off? Give me the control." He turned off the TV and downed a third of a bottle. "You ain't got no idea what I've seen."

"What have you seen?" Delilah asked as a sarcastic challenge. Would the man ever stop talking about his homicidal self? She tugged at her leather corset, aware that her skin stank beneath it.

"What have I seen?" He chuckled then drank deeply again. "Well, I defeated an entire army of your kind. Had some help from the Lord and a few of my good buddies, though." He shook his head and smiled. "And all throughout that battle I had the jaw bone of an ass in my fist. I shit you not. I busted their heads left and right with that bone." He paused and said as if uttering something profound and mocking it at the same time, "With the jawbone of an ass, I whooped their asses!"

"Yeah," Delilah groaned. Then she discovered that sometime during this repartee Samson had untied her. She rose to a standing position for the first time in hours, wobbling. "I guess you've seen some big stuff, alright."

"Oh," Samson said, "I guess you've seen stuff too, huh? Impress me with your life."

Delilah walked to the window and peeked through the curtain. She was too tired to be startled at the sight of a SWAT team member just outside glaring back at her. She knew that she would never subdue Samson. No one could. "I'm dead," she whispered.

"What are you talking about, hun? This'll all work out. The Lord closes one motel room door, and then he opens another motel room door. Now why don't you come over here and tell me what you're worried about."

She sat again next to him. "Are you going to kill me?"

"Shut up. I just wanted some fun."

Delilah suppressed a spasm that was a sob and a laugh at once.

"Yeah, baby. Why don't you tie me up once again? For old time's sake?"

"I hate to tell you this, Samson, but tying you up is a waste of your time and mine. Besides, all I've got to tie you with that's long enough is the laces of my corset. You'd break them if you sneezed."

"Just do it," Samson said. "You're right that nothing can hold me. And it's true I got the strength of the Lord upon me that will never, ever let me be harmed or taken prisoner. But I know how to make it work. I promise."

"You promised before." She tied him down even though the laces were barely long enough to knot around his massive chest.

"Do stuff to me."

"I can't."

Samson sighed. "It's okay, I suppose." He stared off toward the blank TV. "You know where that Dagon temple is? I'd like to get there between them pillars and mess the place up some, maybe bring down the roof. You know, it'd be a good feather in God's cap and all."

"No," she sniffed. "I've never been there.I auditioned somewhere else. The only way someone like you could get there is if you were a prisoner for one of their shows."

"Delilah, you'd be surprised what can happen."

"Samson," Delilah said, thinking of the new attack the police were preparing, "I have to tell you...."

"You know, hon, I seen lots of shit. Lot's of it. I'm a real strong guy, but I got this, you know, tired streak growing in me. I'm real tired from what I done and what I seen."

"Yeah. I think I understand."

"You know what they done to my girlfriend, these Philistines?"


"They burned her."

"My God."

"I busted them back real good. I took my revenge, but it wasn't enough. Never will be."

"I'm sorry."

"Nah. You was right. I'm just trailer trash. My folks wasn't even sure who my father was. Some guy who wondered into town. An angel? Who knows?"

"What are you talking about?"

Samson said dreamily," That guy who came through town. He said I would be a judge of Judah, a Nazarite, and that no razor should touch my head."

"What?" Delilah said, and then, feeling a sudden concern for him, "No!" She stood up. A tear ran down Samson's cheek and got lost in his long, long hair.

"Ask me, honey-cat. Ask me how I can be restrained."

"No, I won't." She looked nervously toward the window and the broken door.

"It's the only way, Delilah. It's the only way for both of us. You'll hand me over to the police. No fuss, no muss. You'll be a hero. Me, I'll be a prisoner who can bring down the house of Dagon."

"Be quiet, you piece of shit." Now she cried.

"Ask me."

"How... oh, God... how do I make you powerless, Samson?"

A few minutes later she held the straight razor Samson had provided her. She held it loosely having completed an awful task. They both cried, and a single knot in a single lace held the strongman down. There was hair all over the place.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Random Breezy Comment on the Freddie Mercury Biopic

It looks like the Freddie Mercury biopic really will come out next year, and Rami Malek will play Mercury. Rami Malek may seem to be a sad choice of an actor after Sacha Baron Cohen was originally set to play the part, since Baron Cohen bares more resemblance to Mercury. But Martin Sheen played Robert E. Lee okay in the Gettysburg movie. You'd hardly think of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Truman Capote in the same moment if it weren't for the fact that Hoffman played Capote very well in the eponymous film. I would have voted for Baron Cohen myself, but I look forward to this movie even if it's a dud. If it is, it shouldn't be the fault of the talented Rami Malek, whom I've enjoyed in Mr. Robot and The Pacific.

Baron Cohen

There Was Hair All Over The Place (part 2 of 3)

It was night. Samson, now dressed in jeans and with his locks combed straight down his back, moved a dresser up against the broken door. "Ain't the first time I dealt with broken hinges," he said. Delilah shook as she found an electric terror being replaced by a milder, despondent terror that came with the realization she was Samson's hostage.

"Hey, honey, cheer up," Samson chided, then took a slam of whiskey from a bottle. "I been in worse jams than this. Here. Have some."

Delilah took the bottle and drank. "What are you going to do to me?"

Samson looked incredulous. "Do to you? Baby, I ain't going to DO nothing to you. I'm full of the love of the Lord. I just want to have some fun like we was going before we was so rudely interrupted."

Delilah began to cry. "How can you say that? God, how could this be happening? Why did I get into this mess?"

"I know, honey," Samson said as he inspected the action of a pistol. He let the slide click shut. "I know. A class act like you ought to at some Dead Sea resort soaking up rays, not a care in the world. Here you are with some poor boy from down home who don't know caviar from sardines." He turned to look at her with his close-set, piercing eyes atop a mountain of muscle and framed by that long, black hair. He smiled and lay the pistol on the nightstand. "Honey, I ain't got nothing but love, and that's all the class anyone needs."

"But you... killed those men. And I'm... I'm a Philistine, too."

Samson rose and moved next to her on the floor where she had sat since the violence. Her body curled in fear. Samson put a hefty arm gently around her. "Honey, my first girlfriend was a Philistine," he said in a soft tone. "She's dead now." Delilah's body spasmed tighter. "But," Samson continued wistfully, "it was all part of the Lord's big plan. And," he whispered, "it wasn't me who killed her. It was her own kin."

The last words turned in her mind. What would police do with her if she got out of this room alive? Would they thank her for her work, even if it was a botch, or would they brand her as a conspirator with this outlaw? Was there really a way for her to leave this stinking pit with a life worth living?

Samson abruptly rose and fetched a book from the nightstand. "You ever read this?" he said holding the thin book up so she could read the cover.

"It's a Bible. I read a little bit," she said, some annoyance piquing through the fear.

"Look at the last page. Go on. Just open the back cover and see what it says there."

She had to force herself to concentrate on the words printed on the last page. She read out loud from it, shaking. "Coming soon is the next installment of this biblical epic: The Book of Judges." She looked up from the book to her captor, not knowing what she was supposed to make of this publishing teaser. He grinned. His eyebrows arched in pulses. "I don't understand," she said.

"The Book of Judges. It ain't in the Bible yet cause it's happening now. I'm Samson the Nazarite. Hero of Judah. Judge of Israel. King of Rock'n'Roll, baby! It's all coming to pass and being written in God's living history. I'm part of it. You're part of it. Course, they'll cut out the really fun stuff for the final version, but they'll leave enough in so you can get the gist."

Delilah felt the terror in her ebb, felt the dominatrix in her come back a little. She managed to object, "But this book, it's all just stories. It's rebel propaganda. It isn't real."

"Oh, honey," Samson said sadly, "It's real. Yes, ma'am, it's the real low-down. And I'm God's judge on this earth." He sniffed and scratched himself. "Yeah, well, I gotta get me some pizza and something to drink." He picked up some of the broken thongs from earlier in the day and began to bind Delilah with them. "I don't appreciate this reversal of roles any more than you do," he apologized, "but the situation calls for it. You need anything when I go out?"

"You're going? Aren't you afraid?" Delilah asked, surprised to feel some concern for the ruffian.

"I don't expect any more trouble for a while. Philistines always act all high and mighty, but they never got their shit together. No offense, hun. But even if they''re out there, I can handle them. I've got the strength of the Lord upon me, and ain't no one going to touch me as long as that's true. Here. Take the remote. Watch some TV. Won't be long. And don't try to mess none with the guns if you get loose. They're dangerous."

He slipped the pistol in his pants and then a wad of cash. He moved the dresser from the door as if it were a toy. When he left, Delilah realized that anyone could come through the wrecked door now that it wasn't blocked. What if police came for her as a traitor and not as their agent? Samson the mad rebel would not be there to fight them off. Then she wondered just how many kinds of bad she could learn about in one day.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Haunting Ending Of A Poem By Frost

In Robert Frost's poem "The Bonfire," an adult with decidedly creepy tendencies tries to talk some children into starting a dangerous fire in the woods near a town in order to "scare ourselves." The children ask why they should scare themselves, and the firebrand suggest it would be good preparation for war. Children, they object, don't go to war. Then the creepy incendiary says:

                      Haven't you heard, though,
About the ships where war has found them out
At sea, about the towns where war has come
Through opening clouds at night with droning speed
Further o'erhead than all but stars and angels, --
And children in the ships and in the towns?
Haven't you heard what we have lived to learn?
Nothing so new--something we had forgotten:
War is for everyone, for children too.I wasn't going to tell you and I mustn't.
The best way is to come up hill with me
And have our fire and laugh and be afraid!

The italics are in the original.