Friday, December 9, 2016

Random Comment Against A Poetic Manifesto

Wallace Stevens said reality exerts a pressure against which the imagination pushes and to which it must adhere. Stevens's aesthetic anxieties warned that poetry became flighty and lost energy the less it referred to reality. His historical anxieties, fueled by a world at war and a society encumbered by an inordinate practicality, warned of a climate in which reality easily crushes the life out of poetic imagination. Today we face a world of fake news and demagogues  that seem to threaten the very pressure of reality, the communal space we live in, through the spontaneous creation of lies. In other words, political discourse has ceased to adhere to reality and has become reckless. In such a moment it's tempting for poets to resort to a new realism in an attempt to render poetry's necessary fictions harmless within a larger public discourse of lies. One is tempted to create a manifesto of such a new realism to which poets could subscribe and continue work safely, thereby turning up the pressure of reality in fear that its adversarial power is in danger of slacking. Then we would somehow renew the energy of imagination in poetic contention with reality. But the poet's reality is never really threatened, and such a manifesto is redundant to the poet's task, which remains the seeking of and agonistic grappling with whatever is real.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bohemian Rhapsody

Love or power, darling,
I was never sure which,
but it saved me from dreadful
piano bars Saturday nights
trying to forget my respectable
week in a solicitor's office.
No, rock put me on streets
selling rags for salt pennies
and worshipping Liza
and Hendrix from down
in that dungeon of struggle,
but also wailing blues
and outrageous faery metal
by night, love. That's what saved me.
The bad contracts, too, and friends
on drum, guitar and bass to back me.
There simply wasn't time to stop trying,
not with need at two-four time
in our blood, not even after
Bohemian Rhapsody broke out its six minutes
at number one for weeks, no,
my ass was too hot to plant
on laurels, darling.
Don't tell me it was an act of will
touring American until I was hoarse
and sometimes meant the contempt,
a sweaty shoulder turned to the black
beyond the hard light of the stage.
It happens to us all: not getting enough.

Montreux's lovely cold spaces
gave us breaks to record hits,
to throw tantrums, too, I'm afraid,
but there's only one right way
to do things after all, dear.
And then there were all those naughty
boys in the clubs of Munich
just wanting to knock down a star--
and forget you if you think I regret
those discos, the jilted girls
and my millions. Then we played
Sun City--I'm African after all--
and the world tried to come down on us.
Rolling Stone called us fascist,
and that got on my tits for a while.
I told you, there was never time to stop,
not even when the sores appeared
and nodules grew to shut my throat.
Sometimes I stopped,
but there were always wine and my cats
and a carton of ciggies at hand,
sending presents to friends I'd pissed off
too badly, singing along with "Cabaret".
I said forget you if I have regrets.
There was a tight little office in London
waiting for me. Think of it: thrown
from Zanzibar to boarding school in India
then reading the law in Britain to become
some drab with a job and broken dreams.
You go ahead and wear that life. I am
the phoenix always rising. That's why
Geldof called us back for Live Aid.
Elton said we stole the show. Slump, my derriere!
If it all kills me I can still sit at my piano
and sing arias until my larynx cracks.
I only regret looking back too much,
but who can blame me? There'll always be
Wembley, that deep surge in the stadium,
the crowd gaga, their hands raised in the beat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

San Cristóbal, Cuba, October, 1962*

A good place for the end of a road
and the last work to begin:
packed dirt turns to dual ruts
bulldozers have scarred through the grass.
All around this clearing ragged heads
of palms toss in slow motion as if
something terrible took place
that needed minute recording. Brightness
of the clouds cuts shadows on the ground
of wild weeds, shadows of a truck, that
trailer and a tent too long for any purpose
than here, five hours from the bunker at Bejucal.

I grip the jeeps's wheel whiter
when a pelican overflies the site,
and I brake and park by a generator
that runs roughly on a patch of mud.
Too much sky here, as if already
there was nowhere left to hide and heat
rose from the open earth back to the sun,
and this place so carefully planned
is already unravelled to the stratosphere.

In this meantime I check my list slowly.
Here sit the prime movers on clogged tracks;
here the pulled tanks of fuel; here the formula
that makes it burn; here the winch to pull
the nosecone skyward so it may fall to earth
once more as a star breaking days
apart in one simple flash. I check
them all off and it finally occurs to me
that everything is present right here
at the end of a road, all of it precisely
ordered beyond anyone's wishes,
even the lost smoke of diesel engines.

*One of the missile launching sites discovered by U-2 flights over Cuba at the beginning of the crisis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Driving Through Hobart, Indiana, 5 A.M., November 9, 2016

When I was young every shadow
had meaning and the houses of the morning
stretched into darkness.

In the flat light of the sun
I could dissect dandelions'
gray conductive tissue–
miracle without magic–
and see the future's compromises.

But this morning the tiny lights
of kitchens roll by where parents
nervously pour the cereal,
and dogs' nails skitter on the tiles.

In my heart a lovely terror
blooms for all the houses
falling into the past. I don't call it
compassion. This morning
I know it is true I've lost nothing.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Random Comment On A Trump Victory

A few days after Barack Obama won the presidential election in 2008, I spotted an SUV in my hometown's traffic with this enigmatic warning scrawled on its smoked back window: "America: Don't be led like lambs to the slaughter." A few weeks later I overheard the owner of a local store loudly telling an Obama joke to a customer. Before the end of Obama's first term I spotted an anti-Obama protest on one of the thoroughfares entering the town. Sometime in his second term a coworker sent me an email featuring Obama with a face morphed to look like a chimpanzee. Later yet the same coworker said to me, "You voted for Obama? That's good to know. I've never met anyone who had the guts to admit he voted for Obama. I hate the fucker. Thanks for telling me."

I no longer live in that town or have that job, but it must be because of my years of conditioning there that I'm possessed of an inner Trump voter. When Donald Trump infamously quipped that he could shoot someone in Times Square and not lose votes, I immediately understood what he said. Through his words he flaunted a license given to him by a living public rage underwritten by racism, nationalism and a conservatism American politics had jilted as it had been once silently appeased through dog whistle signaling. Trump threw out the dog whistle. My inner Trump voter smiled at being directly and openly addressed by his campaign.

Needless to say, it was not the inner Trump voter who cast the vote for Hillary Clinton this week but what I'd like to think is the better angel of my nature. Yet I find myself in a dark place, not unlike the driver of that SUV in 2008, hardly able to accept the reality of the president-elect. I've long understood Trump's popularity. Now some knowledge of the opposition to Obama comes, though I hope it does not come with the same level of hate.

The question is how to oppose the regime that this week swept into power without resorting to unpatriotic acts such as congressional Republican obstructionism or high school hooliganism, though it's an open question at the  time of this post which option does more damage. The day calls for civic order, but its a day of factions who view one another across an abyss. Yesterday Obama gracefully met with Trump in the White House to begin the orderly transfer of power and to provide an example of the civility of a functioning nation. That civility and that nation and its functionality happen ephemerally through countless small efforts to bridge the differences between people every day, and the efforts work more or less or fail. The question at hand is how to oppose without dissolving the bonds of a nation. Film maker Michael Moore has said we've elected the last American president.

All I know to do right now is hope he is wrong.

Monday, September 26, 2016

New Poems For Publication

I plan to continue posting new poems on this blog, but I've started a new poetry project I intend to submit to others for publication. The poems in this project about the Cuban Missile Crisis will not appear on this blog unless I've given up hope of publishing one or more of them. This plan may lead to a few parts of the project appearing here and other parts elsewhere depending on editorial interest and how the project develops.

If any parts appear elsewhere, I will post the news here. I don't expect to publish anything from the project here for at least a year.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Random Comment About Fake Bacon

Vegetarianism comes with the possibility of better health, a sense of ethical activity and a menu that sometimes includes fake meat.

If fake meat had a bone, it would be one to throw to the reluctant vegetarian who misses meat very much and resents a diet of rabbit food. Presumably a thorough vegetarian or vegan would find it nauseating to simulate and eat a food that is, after all, a carcass. I'm reminded of a reform Buddhists made to human sacrifice rituals when they altered the culture of Tibet. Instead of a real human body, compassionate monks substituted a fake one made of dough and other substances that not only simulated the body's outward form but also internal organs. Celebrants ate the ersatz corpse, the ritual was preserved and no one was harmed in the process. Was this the advent of fake meat? Probably not, but the product keenly reminds us of artificial meat's function.

These days presumably no one goes to the supermarket hoping to ward off urges of cannibalism by buying fake human corpses, but there are fake chicken patties, pork cutlets, barbecued backs, link sausages and the like for conventional meat lovers to choose from. When I was a boy my mother introduced me to these products out of a concern for my family's health. I really hated the stuff then, and even though I still dislike fake meat I can today say with an almost living historical perspective that the products have improved a bit since then. A perusal of a vegetarian cookbook from the late 19th century obsessed with mock meats fashioned from egg bases shows just how far the simulated meat business has progressed in a little over a hundred years.

I'm just enough of a vegetarian that no matter how good the simulation I suffer from a revulsion to the uncanny resemblance to flesh. Besides this, there's still a sneaking chemical flavor that builds up as one nibbles away at most fake meats. In the 70s this chemical taste was at the forefront. Now, not as much. Anyway, I dislike the stuff and have found that a vegetable product such as tempeh, which does not pretend to be meat, stands very nicely in the place of meat without reminding me of it or making me think of chemical compounds.

But there is one glowing exception I find in the fake meat world, and that would be Morningstar's artificial bacon. Eating this fake bacon I'm not constantly comparing it to real bacon and thinking it falls short. It stands so far apart from real bacon that it does not remind of meat in any unsettling way, but, like tempeh, it occupies the space of the meat serving very nicely. The product is smoky and light and goes well with eggs--if you still eat those. This evaluation comes from someone who is not enough of a vegetarian to quit enjoying real bacon now and then.

Yet this fake bacon turns out to be an exception that proves a rule for me. I don't think of Morningstar's product as a bacon substitute so much as a vegetarian food that is okay. My wish for vegetarian cuisine is not that it try to emulate meat in its more protein rich options, but that it create new products that are high in complete protein and owe nothing to the texture and taste of meat.  Tofu, tempeh and seitan (with less success in the protein department) have so far led the way as processed vegetarian entrees. Why not more such products?

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Pieces of a Key West Album

That flash was a wave,
   and the green palm blade...
these separate images sealed
   in high gloss paper,
if we could bring them together,
   what might we rescue?

In memory and in thin light
   you stand. The shadows of an afternoon
run across a dry gray deck.
There's a half smile and your long,
   black hair. That's our first meeting.
There's another image at the end--
   I no longer know how often I return to it--
where your eyes narrow with decision,
and your body half turns away.
You realize. Your foot already begins
   its first step back into the light you emerged from,
back to the place where you will vanish.
I offer no words, no touch. What do you offer
   to someone who is right?

Why do I bother to say the wave and the palm frond
   will not hold together?
They only ever made an island that's gone
no matter how much of it I assemble now,
no matter how many window frames,
no matter the fired brick flags that pave
   the back door to the gate you walked through.
I can carefully join it all into a perfect world
neither of us live in today.

I have watched us too, wandering
among the memorials of the island's citizens,
their names that stones recall
   though a mile out to sea the light flares
a thousand times on water
   and on iron fences of these graves
a frond will rasp.
The palm and the wave
   are together just as you vanish again
   and again I offer nothing to your parting.
I drop the hand that would have touched you.
I stop the lips that would have said the same tired word again.

We no longer have a place to rest,
not even among a grave of palms
with their small red flowers,
nor among the waves.
There's a boat out there
in the brilliance
and among the countless.
How it appears and disappears!
It falls between swells and rises
among waves that have gone on running,
among them where we can no longer be found.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Relief of Day

The day will be over with soon.
First the sun lets go of the green
and then the shapes of leaves.
It even lets go of the trees.
They edge back from the light.
See the last thing now,
the smokestack, how it slits
the sky to let night slip through.

Maybe some day we will ask
who we were, what part of your face
vanished when I knew you'd leave.
We let history take over everything
that seemed livable, let it
forget the fabric of you slipping
from my hands, now,
when the night starts to cool
from a day of fire
into a meteor's quick gesture.

Maybe tomorrow's new heat
will color everything
like a memory.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

An Interrupted Day

For two whole hours it rained
so hard cars failed in the washes,
and drivers waded out clinging
to tiny, smart phones
that still called out over waves.
Clouds hung on to the city's
rising heat and ruined plans
for a mass gathering in the park,
where children would light fifteen hundred
sparklers to set some record,
to hold them up for judges to  count:
a kind of offering to a storm
that arrived early.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Nephrite Jade

Mountain Travelers, nephrite,
Qing Dynasty at the Indianapolis Museum of Art
inspired this poem. (Photo from IMA)
after Yeats

The sky is white because it burns.
The sea rises, and business carries on.
Who would keep making this dust
that clings to us and is so easily tracked?

All things fall, including clouds
that descend with chaos and flood.
Who would rebuild a broken chimney
or the slightest wonder when the need's
a boatwright or a steady hammer
joining a vast and desolate wall?

I've looked around and failed
to find the depth of lapis lazuli,
but here's cheap nephrite jade
bleached in centuries of oxygen,
a tiny cliff upon which
stout, carved shrubs survive
the sun's constant radiation.
Balanced on a chiseled path
three mounted figures pass
across an unforgiving incline.
I imagine across the mountain
they'll trade what's in their packs.

In the heat of that slope
one rider fingers and fingers an abacus.
In the center one nods
so dangerously with sleep.
Last of all a driver watches
the atmosphere and his friends.

He lightly taps his donkey's shoulders
with bamboo cut from the valley.
He rests knowing his work
does what needs to be done,
and will be done as long
as there's light.
Let it be a hard day
with harder days to come;
he sits tall in the task,
and his eyes, his wakeful,
glistening eyes discern
it all and smile.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Arrrrrgh! And Stay Tuned Indefinitely to The Cage

The guy on the right along with Longfellow have beaten me. I will no longer attempt erasure poems from the translation of Inferno. I've discovered that erasure itself probably isn't my strong suit, and the peculiarities of terza rima translated into English along with the lexicon in a poem about Hell make erasure especially difficult.

That's STILL not the end of the Dante matter, however. I plan and look forward to a revision of the 20 cantos so far erased, a revision liberated from the straitening form of Longfellow's text. With luck the individual cantos will smooth out and clarify. A couple might escape change, but I doubt it. The revised result will appear as a tab along with my old haiku project.

An earlier post said that The Cage would end once the Dante project ended, but I no longer plan to launch a new blog. The Cage will go on under its current name. After all, I have three or four loyal readers and I don't want to lose them due to any confusion from rebranding. Also, I can change the mission of this blog and keep its title. The work that has appeared here lately has been less driven by form and more by sense, or, to lean on the blog's metaphor, the bird has taken precedence over the cage.

Publishing here has been fun, but I'm planning to restart a campaign into the dark forest of magazine publishing. My last mag pub was a couple of years ago, and it has been over a decade since I've pestered editors in a determined way. Asking others to publish you is a dreary activity, but self publishing does not provide all the satisfactions. I doubt there's much of a market for my poetry, but I know it can find print.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Meditation Morass

A truism for meditators says that practice has peaks and valleys, times when one eagerly sits on the
cushion and when just about any activity seems preferable to sitting quietly doing nothing. Most certainly l have wandered for the last six months in a contemplative valley, one containing cattails and pesky mosquitoes.

This doldrum is no minor dip in the road. I've meditated regularly for about sixteen years and have seen many times when the routine ran ragged, but could always count on smooth sessions of meditation. Even if concentration frequently gave way to daydreaming, rumination or sleepiness,--those mild bugbears of the meditator--I could count on sessions of Zen that proceeded calmly and systematically. That's not so today.

Paying attention to the senses itself is like listening to someone claw a rusted nail out of rotten wood. Counting breaths is like hearing "1000 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" sung on a grade school bus. Each bead counted on the rosary makes me think of tooth extraction. Daydreaming, instead of being an incidental distraction is a vast oasis of relief l run to in my mind, and I virtually sigh upon arrival at its shimmering vision of anywhere but where and when I am.

The good news is that my meditation schedule remains the same, though stolen moments of mindfulness while waiting or walking somewhere no longer happen. This morning meditation started so roughly it brought on feelings of grief for a lost sense of peace.

Inevitably the question comes as to why this happens. My first inclination, which just happens to be the Zen response, is not to think about it and plow ahead attempting to meditate. Simply continuing is the first and most practical action to take, after all. And yet, such a profound change in my contemplative life calls out for reflection. Might there be some subtle cause of all this difficulty?

There are several responsibilities and conflicts unresolved in my life right now, and though thoughts of these don't intrude on my meditation, that unfinished business might be the hidden cause of my discomfort. Time spent tidying my life may get me out of this contemplative marshland, and the sooner the better for myself and others.

What keeps me buoyed, what keeps me on schedule, is a long and varied experience with meditation. l already Know valleys come with peaks from traversing them. Things change. Tomorrow is another day. A host of bromides come to mind. But the most useful thing may be to take mundane, responsible actions and to keep this old, prophetic, verse in mind:

Nine-hundred ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall,
Nine-hundred ninety-nine bottles of beer ...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Winter Landscape, Oil on Canvas, Rockwell Kent, 1909

On the other side of the ridge,
where it's still daylight
and tense, stratus clouds travel
to the Great Salt Lake.
Who wouldn't ask them
to stay a little long so we
could keep watching thin snow
on the slope and that lost
caravan of trees upon it?
We'll cross that rise too but not
before dark. We'll pitch tents
and start cook fires on this plain
and sleep well tonight.

link to the painting

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Vase With Loop Handles, Sui Dynasty

Not a glaze but a stain
covers from the neck to the expansion,
what rings if rapped,
to the equator where it unfurls
in even, wide runs
from a darker to a lighter taupe.
The thin base sits most noble,
that raw, fired clay almost the same
color as the crown.

The handles, well, they seem a joke.
No hand or thumb could grip them.
This jug, like a world, owns
its place and will move
but slowly.

If I had to be anything so simple
I would be this vase in two coats of glaze
standing on any shelf as my own....
Except at a closer look, see how centuries
have crazed this patina
like waves rippled in crosswind.

link to the exhibit

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Continued and Dark Career of a Writer: A Tale of Revenge

l can hear them from far away in my cell at St. M_______'s, can almost chill to the cacophony of whippoorwills a hundred miles off in ____ville. Soon all their tremulous autumnal screeches will end in concerted silence and engrave that town's fate into the unreviseable but completely forgettable tablet of time.

Long ago I had ended my apprenticeship in writing under the tutelage of certain nameless societies in Bloomington to resume residence in ____ville, where I had grown up as as a thin shadow haunting the paper-smelling grocery stores, the dog-patrolled alleys and the schools dank with the unending sweat of students ambitious, moronic and perverse.  I took up residence in the garret apartment of a turreted house where I glued black card to the solitary window's panes and slept days. I plied my abhorred trade by night, reliving my childhood by darting between lightless spaces in the old neighborhoods, sometimes visiting sleepy coffee shops--those happy inventions that commonly cropped up since my boyhood--but I usually remained holed up with my books and retorts, my inks and alkaloids that aided me in writing.

The first years brought their challenges. There were other nocturnal wanderers, lowlifes, peepers, burglars who crossed my path. l remember particularly an inebriate who stank up an alleyway near the piled stone ledges and sills of the courthouse, one who turned out to be a delicious fellow. In his cups could sing the Egyptian Book of the Dead. But it was the gendarmerie that proved the most troublesome, discovering my shade behind abandoned churches, questioning me in the fields next to the library, shining spotlights as I jumped spiked fences, my grey duffel weighted with crowbar and mallet. But any writer can dispense quickly enough with the constabulary--a story's all police really need and they're back asleep in their cruisers--then it's again to the writer's unholy struggle to author that first masterpiece.

| had mine on a night of much like this in 1992. I could hear the rattle of maple leaves on my apartment's slate and conical roof. The whippoorwills frantically called from the black shrubs below. l applied the appropriate salts and drew the proper sigils in powders of base metals. In my meagre dwelling I performed the master stroke on my hideous masterpiece--silencing the infernal birds at once--by breathing life into my namesake's milk-eyed corpse recently disinterred from Crownview. I had at long last become an artist in my own right. Do I regret meddling with my own dead cousin? We all have our undoing.

One might lead such a lugubrious and clandestine existence for two, maybe three years in a small city without discovery, but eventually one is shown to be a writer. From then on survival depends upon the aura of fear the writer can conjure. Without it one is the object of pity, considered no better than those other denizens of the witching hours who normally wind up incarcerated. How often an author shares their fate! However a writer survives it is a dreary existence of cloudy nights and sidelong glances from respected members of the community. That existence suited me just fine, especially in _____ville, where I had even greater works planned than my inaugural masterpiece. No, I might have lived much longer there--though not, in this mortal world forever--had it not been for my local graverobbing... and for The Hand.

The Hand was a monster that took up residence in my favorite coffee shop, a dreary, shambling bit of would-be satire that barely rose to the level of grotesque farce. Once, I was entertaining an old friend, when Bertha, one of _____ville's multi-chinned common scolds, shoved The Hand over to me stiffly by his shoulders, and she scowled, "Are you responsible for this, this thing?" Why I would necessarily be responsible, I'll never know; after all, I wasn't the only writer in town. And the insult! This contemptible insinuation that I authored such a hackneyed figure: potbellied, in denim bib overalls and a straw sombrero, teeth stained by Mail Pouch, and expression of stupidity that was an idiot's impression of stupidity! As if any ill will I had for my small town roots would be wasted in this trite conceit! And couldn't Bertha tell I was seated with none other than Tennessee Williams, whom I had just reanimated? Didn't she at least find it remarkable that my ice-cream-suited companion drank a large tumbler of gin and not Brazilian bayberry or whatever the hell was that night's grind?

"No," l rejoined, "and I don't know who made this," though I had immediately suspected that R_____ was the culprit: R_____, a poseur, a mere illusionist, a plagiarist, a pretender at things stygian. Once a high school simpleton but now a braggart about town, I had some vague memory of offending him during our junior year. Who keeps track of such things? I could prove nothing of R_____'s culpability though, and gossip pasted me with responsibility for this ridiculous spectre from that moment on. Even Tennessee slowly shook his head in sloshed admonishment. From then on my aura of fear, my very means of survival as a writer lay in jeopardy.

Insults, no stranger to any writer, heaped upon me more frequently. There were the raps at my apartment door at odd ours of the day that discovered only the hurried escape of footsteps. Then came the hangup calls. One day, after a knocking at my door, I discovered a crudely-wrapped package on my welcome mat: within it something unspeakable.

The Hand persisted for years in its oafish existence, and the pathetic rumor my authorship spread from high school to graveyard. At this sad chapter of my career | might have been well advised to leave town, but I had more work to do and the internet provided easier access to salts, shavings and various organic fixings I needed to continue my writing, even under the glare of the moral indignity and between the laughter of cretins. No, popular disgust could not bar me from completion of my crowning masterpiece.

It is never what we see that undoes us, but the invisible strikes its blow. The Hand drew extra suspicion and hatred toward me, but it was my first true work that set in motion my final departure from _____ville. Certain citizens, the ubiquitous Bertha and the eternally inept R______ among them, snooped around and found the grave of one John Melvin disturbed and put two and two clumsily together. Their evidence caused even the sleepy police to wake up when they remembered my nighttime visits to the cemetery, and at last I was afoul of the local law. Writing is a moral offense. Creating bad satire is a disgrace. Reanimating the famous is incomprehensible to the uncultured. But digging up a town ancestor causes offense requiring legal action.

I heard them stumbling up the stairs, the police and the inflamed citizenry. I'm shocked they didn't arrive with torches and pitchforks. In any event they gave me time. No sooner than you can yell "POLICE! SEARCH WARRANT!" I had smashed a vial of metal tinctures into the center of a chalked circle of summoning just etched on my garret floor. The door burst in under the blow of a battering ram. It was more than a rising mephitic cloud of gas they found upon intruding that night. The remains of literary experiments stashed in my apartment, some fresh, some preserved, most unknown to anyone, were enough to put their author away for a quarter century.

The staff at St. M_______'s are very congenial. They let me dabble in literature. They even smile sweet smiles and let me mix Epsom and table salts together, though they would probably frown at the mummified hand of a playwright I keep under my bed, if they ever thought to look.

Tonight is Halloween, and the work of art set in motion on the night of my arrest a year ago is about to come to fruition. Tonight, amid the ululation of whippoorwills, a door will open between this world and another, one full of great and malevolent beings older than the Milky Way. The whippoorwills will cease chiming at that final opening when the old ones return and set to work on _____ville. They will destroy everything and dispense with all life there.

Here, in my cozy little cell, the screams of the guilty and the innocent will reach my ears--and the screams of R_____ and the screams of Bertha--and, oh, I will hear all their terror, and I will fly, fly, fly!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Success Stories

I hate
success stories,
especially the part
where success happens,
that sweet, sweet
golden blob
that sits atop

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Viewing the Horizon from the Cage

This blog now serves a limited purpose, and that is to finish the Dante erasure poems and to publish incidental work in the meantime. Once the Dante project is finished, including a separate page that will contain the revised results (yes, I know, you don't revise erasure poems), this blog will be finished.

There will be a new blog. Working on the cage has been a long project for me, longer than this blog has been online. I've usually wanted to cheat the muse by working from form toward content in the creation of poems. That's no longer the way I'd like to work. The method is too haphazard for someone who sees time passing more quickly each growing season. The new blog will feature work originating from another place. The word "heart" comes to mind, but I'd rather call it "mood" and possibly, sometimes, "argument".

The new blog will be much like this one, though I hope it will be more readable, more interesting and more frequent. This blog will remain online as an archive, a memoir and a mild embarrassment. It will continue to publish for a few more months I'm sure, because if I haven't said it elsewhere....

THE DANTE PROJECT IS WAY HARDER THAN I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE! It was another effort to cheat the muse with a magic mechanism to write poetry and was intended to make the blog more frequent. The opposite effect ensued. Not the least reason for the sluggishness is that I'd prefer to jump other sharks than ones of arbitrary form these days.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to finishing Dante's Inferno translated by Longfellow and getting totally into a new way of writing. I will take care making its name. The name of this blog seems to melt into the background of information noise on search engines, and it's clunky anyway. I'm open to suggestions. There is now offer of compensation, I'm afraid.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Portrait of the Artist at Age 24, Iowa City

It was one thing, all the deadlines on green screens....
But this? No shores, no mooring, not even a job!
And just a Gideon Bible in his back pocket and a pride
to gaze from one end of Ioway to the other and make
of it a heaven. Soon enough he cast even vision away
for the rippled heat above a switchyard that reminded him
how hard he carried home. For all he knew he'd lug it
past Montana to the Pacific where he'd sing whales
out of their own song-filled deep. Okay. He never ditched
the pride. And as for his songs, well, screw you
if they didn't make sense. Yes, there was patient Jennifer
with her ancient violin and her bathrobe at breakfast.
And Haley later that July 4th. He stared into a web of sparks.
Who knows when he stopped? But if he left his loves cold,
it was as Haley told him: He was trying to eff the ineffible.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Cable of Last Resort

This is the cable of last resort.
This is the word that will set itself straight.
This is the axe of motion and strife.
This is the blow that will reboot your life.
This is the ring. Was it tossed too late?
This is the cable of last resort.

This is how to tie a shoe.
No, this is the way. Try harder next time.
This is a matter of life and death.
This is the cable that snaps out your breath.
Be careful. Put your foot in. You'll swing just fine.
This is how to tie a shoe.

Broken and crippled, that's how it all seems.
Like magic you think things might get going again!
But rock in the corner. But ice in the shadow.
Footsteps quicken like jumps in the snow.
This is the cable that's graced you again though
broken and crippled, that's how it all seems.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

In Praise of Optimism

It was buoyancy, after all, saved Ishmael--
call him so--popping up without question
from a whirlpool that really sucked
Ahab down along with Hell's heart
and Satan's hoof and, let's face it,
a whole lot of partying.

Call it a coffin as lifesaver,
and there's your lemons to sweet beverage.
But don't forget the rocking hours
our boy spent alone in the sun unknowing
sweeter Rachel sailed in search of lost children,
that the ending of such a novel disaster
would so be plucked from its ample jaws,
from hours that to little Pip ticked all eternity
sharing madness with the skipper
like a sun fixed once and for all
in a barren sky they called heaven.

And Queequeg in his melancholy,
praise him how he ordered it sealed up
in tar. Praise him how he ordered
the proud chief's feather etched upon it.
Praise his melancholy at last grasped
by that praiseworthy remnant,
Ishmael and his optimism.
It's all that's left.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Inferno XX: Against Waste

New material is disposed
Into the depth,
And people descended.
Each one seemed
To look unmoistened.
“Pity! Compassion! Doom!”
they all cried.

Tiresias changed from male.
Female he once more wandered
And bathed in a river.
Naked she stayed and lived
And left her empty body
In that place
Made strong only by touches
From time to time.

Inferno: Canto XX

Of a new pain behoves me to make verses And give material to the twentieth canto Of the first song, which is of the submerged.  I was already thoroughly disposed To peer down into the uncovered depth, Which bathed itself with tears of agony;  And people saw I through the circular valley, Silent and weeping, coming at the pace Which in this world the Litanies assume.  As lower down my sight descended on them, Wondrously each one seemed to be distorted From chin to the beginning of the chest;  For tow'rds the reins the countenance was turned, And backward it behoved them to advance, As to look forward had been taken from them.  Perchance indeed by violence of palsy Some one has been thus wholly turned awry; But I ne'er saw it, nor believe it can be.  As God may let thee, Reader, gather fruit From this thy reading, think now for thyself How I could ever keep my face unmoistened,  When our own image near me I beheld Distorted so, the weeping of the eyes Along the fissure bathed the hinder parts.  Truly I wept, leaning upon a peak Of the hard crag, so that my Escort said To me: "Art thou, too, of the other fools?  Here pity lives when it is wholly dead; Who is a greater reprobate than he Who feels compassion at the doom divine?  Lift up, lift up thy head, and see for whom Opened the earth before the Thebans' eyes; Wherefore they all cried: 'Whither rushest thou,  Amphiaraus?  Why dost leave the war?' And downward ceased he not to fall amain As far as Minos, who lays hold on all.  See, he has made a bosom of his shoulders! Because he wished to see too far before him Behind he looks, and backward goes his way:  Behold Tiresias, who his semblance changed, When from a male a female he became, His members being all of them transformed;  And afterwards was forced to strike once more The two entangled serpents with his rod, Ere he could have again his manly plumes.  That Aruns is, who backs the other's belly, Who in the hills of Luni, there where grubs The Carrarese who houses underneath,  Among the marbles white a cavern had For his abode; whence to behold the stars And sea, the view was not cut off from him.  And she there, who is covering up her breasts, Which thou beholdest not, with loosened tresses, And on that side has all the hairy skin,  Was Manto, who made quest through many lands, Afterwards tarried there where I was born; Whereof I would thou list to me a little.  After her father had from life departed, And the city of Bacchus had become enslaved, She a long season wandered through the world.  Above in beauteous Italy lies a lake At the Alp's foot that shuts in Germany Over Tyrol, and has the name Benaco.  By a thousand springs, I think, and more, is bathed, 'Twixt Garda and Val Camonica, Pennino, With water that grows stagnant in that lake.  Midway a place is where the Trentine Pastor, And he of Brescia, and the Veronese Might give his blessing, if he passed that way.  Sitteth Peschiera, fortress fair and strong, To front the Brescians and the Bergamasks, Where round about the bank descendeth lowest.  There of necessity must fall whatever In bosom of Benaco cannot stay, And grows a river down through verdant pastures.  Soon as the water doth begin to run, No more Benaco is it called, but Mincio, Far as Governo, where it falls in Po.  Not far it runs before it finds a plain In which it spreads itself, and makes it marshy, And oft 'tis wont in summer to be sickly.  Passing that way the virgin pitiless Land in the middle of the fen descried, Untilled and naked of inhabitants;  There to escape all human intercourse, She with her servants stayed, her arts to practise And lived, and left her empty body there.  The men, thereafter, who were scattered round, Collected in that place, which was made strong By the lagoon it had on every side;  They built their city over those dead bones, And, after her who first the place selected, Mantua named it, without other omen.  Its people once within more crowded were, Ere the stupidity of Casalodi From Pinamonte had received deceit.  Therefore I caution thee, if e'er thou hearest Originate my city otherwise, No falsehood may the verity defraud."  And I: "My Master, thy discourses are To me so certain, and so take my faith, That unto me the rest would be spent coals.  But tell me of the people who are passing, If any one note-worthy thou beholdest, For only unto that my mind reverts."  Then said he to me: "He who from the cheek Thrusts out his beard upon his swarthy shoulders Was, at the time when Greece was void of males,  So that there scarce remained one in the cradle, An augur, and with Calchas gave the moment, In Aulis, when to sever the first cable.  Eryphylus his name was, and so sings My lofty Tragedy in some part or other; That knowest thou well, who knowest the whole of it.  The next, who is so slender in the flanks, Was Michael Scott, who of a verity Of magical illusions knew the game.  Behold Guido Bonatti, behold Asdente, Who now unto his leather and his thread Would fain have stuck, but he too late repents.  Behold the wretched ones, who left the needle, The spool and rock, and made them fortune-tellers; They wrought their magic spells with herb and image.  But come now, for already holds the confines Of both the hemispheres, and under Seville Touches the ocean-wave, Cain and the thorns,  And yesternight the moon was round already; Thou shouldst remember well it did not harm thee From time to time within the forest deep."  Thus spake he to me, and we walked the while.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


If the sun kept it up
so loud all the time,
a major lifestyle change
would manifest, a high
altitude  affair requiring
more oxygen and horsepower,
less sensitivity to g forces
plus the instinct that sees
each living thing as one
more opportunity
that needs to be plucked,
here as it sits unknowing
in all this bright grass
never knowing
what hit it or why.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Trump Opinion Piece

Now that Donald Trump has cinched the Republican presidential nomination, my unscientific observation is that more opinion writers are willing to drop the F-bomb on him. This New Yorker piece nukes Trump with language strong enough for the historical moment. If nothing else, it does that.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rosemary Seasalt

Rosemary Seasalt,
salting by the sea.

Rosemary Seasalt,
say hello to me.

The cherry blossom's burning,
and the irises are turning.

Rosemary Seasalt,
say hello to me.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Another Hamilton Quote And A Link

“It seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.”

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Channel of Gravelines, Petite Fort Philippe, Georges Seurat, 1890

(link to painting)

No one would guess how long someone would wait to walk
by this flat water and its few derelict boats.
Some change has taken place. Always some change
like the rumble of engines through these few still masts.
Almost no one ties to these polished moorings.
No one else comes to walk here. But the one bright boat,
the one just pushed off, a father busy at ropes
and cursing the children I only hear squealing,
this one cheers me only because it is alive.

What brought it here and where might it go in this calm?
Where might it go in this surface without a ripple,
by this quay without litter that curves back toward land,
an invisible city of closed gardens and
more questions, and doors leading to yellow ledgers
and double columns of answers, answers, answers?

The boat seeks some remaining wind to pull a tight
triangle against, one stark as that lighthouse
just over the hill, that one that says there's somewhere
just out of sight where all the buildings have moved away.
That family has whole sea to go to today.
There is the whole sea to go to. Empty. Empty. Empty.