Wednesday, August 31, 2011

To tell you the truth, there are times when I know why I do what I do, by which I mean, work as a barman, pour wine, chat a bit with those who might feel like a chat over a bar, basically keep an efficient system up and running, day in, day out, tonight, the organization of bottles for inventory. I come home, and walk around my magic street with my little cat. We lived at one address when she was a kitten, and then up the street, which is how we met Madam Korbonsky, who had love for both Tadzio and little Miss Kitty. There is lots to do on that first night, at the end of the week. I'll get in a bike ride, I'll have a glass of wine and later sing and play songs from a band from London with an Irish tradition brought up to present efforts of banging and shouting. I'll do some dishes, and begin the process of laundry maybe.

But I think I know sometimes why I do it, and it's this. One needs, as a man, to be able to feel that he can deal with people. This is the reassuring thing with bartending. They can throw at you what they want. They can show up in any number, and they can make you very busy. But ultimately, as you know, even as you are quite the peaceable side, that you will stand long, do what it takes, and that you will outlast them, or that, if worse comes to worse, that you have friends who are on your side.

Like Bono said, of a rock n roll band, basically, 'a street gang.' Politics at a gut level.

And when you've done that, then you go home, back to intellectual and cultural pursuit, and know, that you grew into something, that you expanded to be host to a larger band of people than you previously had, and maybe, in that sense, you wish to live forever, to keep growing.

Mon Santo TV

The ads they show late at night,
when you are watching a favorite television show,
or one you'll watch, and can,
identify with,
if that's what it is,
about a restaurant, let's say,
or what you, exhausted at end of day,
can stomach anyway,
peg who, what, they take you to be.
Damaged, by anti-depressant pills,
birth defects. Or any other lawsuit,
the specious firms that cover life's
bitter things, taxation, injury,
cancer, bad credit, car accidents.
And all the other things
the pharmaceutical company,
with its patents,

To say nothing of the infomercials,
get rich in real estate,
perfect skin, weight loss,
home gym of
Charles Atlas.

They look through the television out at you,
count how many times you turn the station.
One day they'll add up all this information.
marketing research. ratings for a bank.

Turn the tube on, they peg you for a sucker.
And that's the mindless business world,
its uninspired obtrusive magnifying eye,
taking us back to the world of the insect.
And so you avoid them sucking your blood
whenever you can.

Back in my dad's day,
a long time ago,
they had land grant colleges,
to do studies,
common knowledge, information,
farmer's seeds,
intelligent property for all.
Before the company owned it,
all, with all their lawyers,
and grim cynicism.

It's the same thing, as TV.
Mindless hokester profiteers
want you to belong,
and they'll pay you
to acquiesce,
willingly mess with your chemistry,
numbing your mind
with glittery doll.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The heart, I suppose, is like a muscle. When there is an ache in the shoulder, the neck, behind the shoulder blade, running downward, a headstand does the trick, even if it might seem that rest would be the best thing. And so the heart, to align itself and work properly, requires of us to be the city of light, the candle, to turn the other cheek and all the things the Sermon, or Buddha, lays out for us. "Oh, shit, really?" Yes, the pain is only the point halfway.

Friday, August 26, 2011

I stand there at the door, at the top of the stairs really,
and greet them. I stand on one leg, a foot upon a knee, a hand upon a spear.
I am not the tribal chief, but a capable ambassador of tribal hospitality.
And because they know and love me, it's as if I am the maitre d'.

But as people go, this tribe of mine is under stress,
being encroached upon my modern things and rented space.
Jolly as I am with these White Diners, my lands open to them,
alone one feels a bit of trouble, and not so happy, actually.

Writers are creatures of defeat. Chekhov was marked for death,
but that didn't stop him.
They tried to get something right, but, like Moby Dick,
they didn't quite get it, or rather it got more of them,
then they got of it to bring back,
though they kept at it awhile.

In the floating wreckage,
the coffin of a friend,
an unlikely compatriot,
a book to hold on to
for salvation.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wake up at two, go back to bed, wake up at four,
Beat off to German grandma taking it in the a,
the highlight of my day.
Who gives a f...,
I'm sorry to say,
It's exercise of a sort,
good for prostate,
eyesight, Mother Nature says,
good for health, for longevity.

Such are costs of jobs, the late nights and the wine.
The last customers leave, the staff is gone,
I'll walk home in silence and do the laundry,
shirts, for work,
up 'til it's light out.
What shall I do,
now that I've had my tea and breakfast?
Chicken curry heated in a microwave,
hits the spot.

Hurricane season.
Get it out of your system
and relax a bit.
Clean tee-shirts over a chair, as not to wrinkle.
Too lazy to fold right now,
or for the commitment of putting away
folded things
into a drawer.

There's nothing I want to do tonight
no one I want to see.
I'll lay off the wine, not provoked by anyone.
I'll get in a bike ride somehow,
maybe go down to the Lincoln Memorial
and read some words etched in granite,
The Gettysburg Address, the Second Inaugural.
The pinnacle of a man's achievement,
plain old

It's true: 'The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here,
but it can never forget what they did here.'
They should have made him a saint for that.
He got reality and suffering and the meaning
behind daily life and existence itself.

Rest proud in your stately chair, Mr. Lincoln,
Presidential, gently grave and dignified,
lit from above and behind,
on your pedestal,
alone as we all are.
You worked hard enough in life.
You read books.
You wrote your secret poetry.
You were in life
a man of flesh and blood,
like me.
You deserve the veneration, no matter
what lesser men might see.
For what you did.
No worthless lines there.

It's asked of us in life that we do something,
as a service for the rest, to continue on
with 'the unfinished work.'
The terrible struggle of the every day,
just so, dishes, boredom, listless lonesomeness,
the lack of sense of being any use at all to anyone,
the bayonets of memory, the guns of feeling off,
the enemy hill of pasts to march against,
never to climb to well-defended tops,
a soldier's stew of choices made
unawares, building one by one,
like the grocery list.

But sweet to remember, or think, in its midst,
that on certain better days you were once
an instrument in the hands of God
bringing forth peace and justice,
even though it cost. Dim memories though they be.
'The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here
have consecrated it for above our poor power to add or detract,'
one can say of places he has been.

Lincoln, man enough to not give a damn
about anything
but doing
that which is, was, right,
and, be decent at the same time.
He never seems to have raised his voice,
it seems,
at those who gave him shit.

Avoid the news, and all the clap-trap talk,
The Titanic on TV,
and get down to say,
what's on your honest mind.

One can see why epic poetry is written.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

It doesn't surprise me that the world no longer cares about a book. Larkin anticipated it as he saw England disappearing, no more hedge rows, no more fields, no more countryside and old churches and churchyard to escape to when one grew weary of "cement and tyres," his summation of what we have left. We have too many other pressing concerns. The creature is left to sit at a desk all day, low level irritations he can never surmount. We've mistreated ourselves. Work is a stranger that deprives us of the earth and earthly things.

So no one rings you up and says, 'fine book you wrote.' Silence. These days its a review on Amazon one hopes for, but whole years go by. Who cares about the forest? Who cares about a book? My old father, who understood everything, in the way a Buddha might, he got it, and had praise for the effort, saw, in fact, deep meaning in the story of a college kid, 'a budding theosophist,' as he put it.

And so, my literary efforts given what they are, happy in obscurity, are the unknown, the unseen I carry about when I regard my true profession. I only fear that I have, essentially, become a traitor to my class, for not being a teacher of some sort, but just a barman. It would be self-glory to allude to Chekhov's Grasshopper, the woman who flits away and spends her time with worthless artist types, that boring man, her husband, actually a great man, a doctor deeply respected by his colleagues.

I am kind to people, who come in for wine and dinner. I guess it's in my blood. And it is late when I go home at night to a silent house, the hungry cat, the entertainments in a computer screen to masturbate.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

That crazy liberal rag, The New York Times... my god. All the things it covers. It's not simple huntin' and fishin' and simple politicks that god feerin' constitution loving people can really benefit from... but

But here is "Born, and Evolved, to Run," a conversation with Daniel Lieberman, professor of Evolutionary Biology at some place called Harvard. Here are some really sound answers as to why, maybe, it's not so good to sit at a desk all the time for the rest of our adult lives. The foot likes to land a certain way. The head, the human skull, which does, so much, floats happily when we run this way, and the rest of our physical system is happy as a clam.

And another sweet article. Finally, someone reminding us, Maria Callas, her gravitas, her presence, her 'charisma.' And there she was at the Met back in the year 1965, a year I happen to like for reasons of being born (in January, that year) as...

Finally! Someone got it. It is the charisma that makes a performance. And that is why one should honor Shane MacGowan, because he is built completely of atoms that have charisma, God Love hIm. It's not some fake guy singing... it's him. And that is where real stuff comes from.

The charisma, which comes of having experienced life, often the life one writes about, one way or another, applies to writers too, of course.

Let's hear it for mankind, for the natural biological creature, that two legged being that is not as genetically sophisticated as a botanical specimen, but, somehow through being a rude and clever animal, gets stuff done. (Maybe too much stuff.)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Well, what would you expect of someone born in 1809. The technology of audio recording missed the voice of Abraham Lincoln by more than a few years. And so we'll always be left with projected thoughts as to how he might have sounded. It is known that he had a fairly high pitched voice. His Kentucky/Indiana/Illinois accent, as Gore Vidal says somewhere, would have rang with its own idiosyncratic vowels. "Mr. Chairman," would have come out a bit like "Mr. Cheyrrman" (drawn out.)

Sam Waterston has done a noble job bringing to life the voice, the demeanor, of that voice so part of the grain of the American soul. YouTube shows him at the Library of Congress preparing for his role, the items of Lincoln's pockets from the night of his assassination before him. And there are a lot of corny recordings of grand voices stentorious rendering Lincoln, pronouncing words like 'endure' more like FDR would have in one of his national pep talks. Early movies, Walt Disney dioramas, they all seem to bring him the same injustice. Raymond Massey, even Gregory Peck, all suggesting a big man with a voice none other than big and deep, a bass, not a tenor-baritone, as if to 'strong man' it across the plate, when Lincoln's devices were much finer, much more subtle and intelligent than a dictatorial fast ball or tank brigade. And no trace of any bitterness at the duty, but rather the sense that he was the perfect man, maybe eerily so, for the job. What he said that day, he would have said gently. (Herndon, his law partner and semi-historian, is clear on the point; Lincoln was a tenor.)

We'll never know exactly, but somehow we are able to imagine his voice best on our own. Children, somehow, love to play him.

Was Sandburg's (a noble free American citizen if there ever was one) poetic three-quarter hagiography the worst injustice of biography? Probably not.

With all he went through--'If there is a worse place in Hell, I am in it,'--he would have automatically sounded very fine that day. (The best voice of Lincoln to appear lately seems to be that of David Grubin's PBS "House Divided," the story of Abraham and Mary Lincoln. Whoever it is gets a lot right, a folksy voice without being a caricature. No, I'll even say, without researching who did the voice, --okay, David Morse--that, you can feel it, he got it exactly right. And likewise, it's not for no reason that John Chancellor's voice is such a fine part of the Ken Burns series. The former newscaster's voice--this writer grew up listening to him--does not have any local color, but brings about the right subconscious.) It is a human inability of physical time and space that the witnesses of The Gettsyburg Address cannot render the sound of the voice well for us, and it almost seems odd for the visitor at Gettysburg National Military Park to find so much real and tangible and to be left with that final piece of history vanished.

I myself, driving back from parts north in New York State helping my mother move out of her office and then visiting my father's house to sort through things after his passing, encountered Gettysburg and its battlefield on an August evening underneath a gibbous moon, an auto tour that started in light and ended finally in pitch darkness as I finally entered the cemetery looking for where he had spoke. A Police car, just as I came in the gates to read the first placard, pulled near and the officer came out, just as I was tantalizingly close. Politely, I did as asked at this hushed and venerable place.

Researching later on-line, it seems there is some contention as to where the platform was where Lincoln spoke that day in November, cloudy we are told. It seems there would be something to indicate the spot, but the historical marker, placed just so, reveals that the actual place was three hundred yards away, up at the crest of a hill, not in the military cemetery but in Evergreen Cemetery. It was dark out, and I drove back to Washington.

But still, his voice. What would he have sounded like that day? His words, so careful, I cannot imagine him speaking them quickly and without some sort of muffled soul behind them. Dealing with broad issues, rather than small nit-picking legal argument or issue where each side jockeys in miniscule finely detailed spaces a normal person would quickly become tired and confused in, he would not have been treading carefully and lightly. The issue, it seems, was finally clear, or at least he figured he might as well make it so now, about it being, really, about government, as we all know, 'of the people, for the people, and by the people.' The two sides of the matter were clear, and there had been a great amount of bloodshed and enemy fighting since Kansas.

He would have sounded sad, sensitive, firm, and not namby pamby, and to say so is to fall far short of description. Lots of people, and he famous for being revealed as a fellow who cried over a single fallen bird, sympathetic enough a character to literally pull a pig out of mud a pig was stuck in, had died by that point. He did not cry as he spoke, nor is there any word that he filled up, or faltered anywhere, such was his constant immersion in it all. He did not stop anywhere as he spoke. He just said the beautiful composition that he himself had come up with.

It was, suddenly, a terribly modern moment. And those who have tried to speak it, trying to sound like him, seem to fall far behind in time, as if stuck in some cartoon past of the past itself, that imagines great utterances without the flesh of the day and the spirit of living people who found themselves not in some position to make a grand speech full of pronouncements but in actual real life, in real time, at a real and scary place with lots of clear probably horrifying physical evidence as to what had happened less than five months before. To say nothing of the great smudge of lasting horror that Civil War would have had, holding on to every living person in the country at the time, more or less, memories within that could not be erased. The country was still all in the very middle of it, and each day must have been hard for everyone, let alone Lincoln.

The modern moment, and somehow, appropriately, not even caught on film, the only picture of him sitting down, next to Lamon, having just, or about to, utter something about 'that won't scour.'

One of those beginnings of modernity, like Kennedy, like The Beatles, and yet, we don't have it recorded, except what he wrote on paper, in pencil and in ink from his own pen, and from newspaper accounts of the time. I'd say it must have been a pretty good show.

So say it to yourself sometime. Read it aloud. Imagine you are him, the man who wrote it and who said it. Think of all the distance he travelled, what he might have felt like that day, but even if he didn't feel so well, he handled it fine.

His best qualities were attributes of all of us, all of sharing and capable of employing, and so, The Gettysburg Address, as symbol and as form, and in its very delivery, lives on in us.

Sex sells.

Coca Cola, with fresh enthusiasm. This is a job for a hand, at the base of the Coke, a punster might say.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It is a necessary skill, in this modern life, and I must be very bad at it, the skill of negotiating. By nature or by nurture it feels foreign to me. Is it the mode of restaurant work, of waiting on people with limitless patience, my 'professional life' bleeding over on to me and my days off? I cannot negotiate a text, or comfortably handle email or Facebook, and barely the dishes. Particularly not until I have sat down and tried, in my misery, to write something. And each day it is random thoughts, and how can a random thought have much overall value, except if you manage to catch them one small one at a time and manage to bring it back.

Smarter people talk about choices, and certainly there are choices. Smarter people know that you have to make choices if you want a decent life, and they are right.

The lonely voice--the title of a lovely book by Frank O'Connor on the short story form--of the pen across the blank page, remembering, creating hypothetical people and circumstances, or stuck with his own pasts seems a comfortable space away from all, from the poker game of seeking out what one wants, from the lies of thinking one deserves a particular, from all the signing on the dotted line.

Life, it always seemed to me, was an endurance effort of being a decent person, kind to strangers and acquaintances, that this ultimately would get you recognized and rewarded, instead of cast out, removed for not being able to keep up with the competition. This passive life.

I gather my voice was too small and quiet, too vague, too selfless, even when I knew what I wanted. My words, my actions were too symbolic, too much something in need of being interpreted, not coming out clearly enough. I wanted my answers to life's questions to be meaningful and true but could never get the explicit stuff right, except in remaining personally true. And one gets overlooked for that sin or error, misunderstood. He's taken to be someone who is 'acting out,' and maybe, to an extent, he is, that portion of it being uncontrollable.

I work in a restaurant not because I love wine, but because I wanted to be a writer, which the job does indeed sometimes allow. But you get sucked in to the misinterpretation. People don't see a writer, they just see a barman, a fellow who's made odd choices in life, painted into a corner. My time to drink wine, anyway, would be at the end of the night, when all the people have gone, and then wine is a substitute, a picture of a woman as opposed to an actual presence, the pretense of a crowd to perform to when there is no one watching or listening, the pretense of a happy feeling when one is not happy. And the next day the wine is just another thing the body rises up to fight away, producing a low feeling.

One keeps at it, in secret. There is something lastingly and organically satisfying for the creature, the task of getting something vague and in the air down on paper, even if it shameful things, of then being able to look back at the expression and feel some achievement of honest recollection about a time, a place, a feeling, a personal moment. It can, after all, hurt to do such, in the sense that it is work and labor and often not pleasant, a strain of endurance, a realization that one must carry on with the task every day for the rest of his life in order for it to have some meaning and reach a proper end.

Oh, the poor creature, humanity, his unenviable place, the problems he creates, the pain he endures alone...

Behind everyone there is a story. As Fitzgerald put it, show me a hero and I'll show you a tragedy. Behind the picture of JFK, who was after all a magnificent specimen of humanity, there was for all the good health, some less than perfect health. Behind the barman who has so many loyal friends where he works, there is someone who goes home alone, who is unable to socialize, for one reason or another, as the world does. The trick is, I would guess, to be open about it all, that a picture of the true riches which are within and given to humanity and the human form would shine forth. Like the dark nights of Abraham Lincoln, the troubled psyche, that nevertheless led a nation in a difficult highly contentious time, the tender side of a man compelled to order bloodshed. Maybe another expression of our scarily sensual sides. (Perfect people we naturally find hard to trust. Be wary of claims of perfect empathy, perfect wisdom...) These days, the News of the World would get the goods on anyone. The best of us are that much farther from being perfect as the rest; anyone can be revealed with internet speed. Maybe not being perfect is something of a last refuge for the honest, even, to the point of being a Faulknerian idiot.

Behind any clean line a writer makes, like those of a Donne or a Shakespeare or a Dickinson or a Yeats, there lies a soul seeking the light out of clouds of trouble, finding footing along a stony pass, a satisfaction for words, words saying something, putting something well so that a matter may bear some better examination, even as confusion and troubles continue to stir and swell and circle. And so will the life of Lincoln during his wartime presidency, and in particular his address at Gettysburg, keep as a quintessential model of the writer's life and works. He had problems to work through, and he said what he wanted, what he thought appropriate without letting anything get in the way.

Time to take the corpus out for a walk in the woods, as one walks a loyal patient dog. And I hope no one will take it personally if I, curmudgeon-like, avoid people and interactions, wine and restaurants and, god forbid, bars... The last six nights straight at the bistrot have taken it out of the jolly barman, bearing the lies and truths that are commensurate to the job.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Johnny Appleseed

"The American public has been lied to and not told the full story so often that now they'll buy anything people tell them. They want information that they feel that they are not getting," a bar customer says. Thus, the popularity of Palin, the Tea Party, the assortment of crazies. And people (those who have been trained from an early age not to read The New York Times) will buy what you sell them, whether or not there is anything good in what you are selling them.

Indeed, what happened to the personal dream of the white picket fence, the family, the healthy environment, the good schools, the prospect of retirement, peace between the basic wisdom of the world's seemingly divergent cultural groups? War, oil, billionaires, erosion of employment, economic disparity, ecological disaster...

Big food interests keep on selling the sugary baked goods and corn syrup laden sodas and fried foods, and Americans get fat, diabetic and inflamed to the point of being unable to move. Pharmaceutical companies, profit oriented, create and define maladies in order to sell us, the organic being, magic pills, where natural herbal medicines and proper diet and exercise exist quite beyond and before the chemical laboratory. Where does it all end?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Full moons.

Women are wild animals. You have to be careful what you say around them.

ancient Chinese proverb

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Ernest Hemingway and Ted Hughes were Leos. Sun signs. Heroic individuals for bringing the intensely private world of the individual and personal life out into the light of day. They were introverts who saw a value in introversion. And in turns out, shyness and introversion, if not exactly in style, has recently been in health news. It turns out, introversion is not so bad, and in fact, it seems to be the engine behind empathy. The quality of introversion is something that, if perhaps not quite accounting for survival of the species, turns out to be quite important. (Republicans take heed. Oh, I forgot, Republicans aren't very capable at being shy and introspective, self-confident dynamos of job-creators and fiscal responsibility that they tend to be, too busy enjoying life and organizing to thwart different-minded folk, for the good of the country. To be a good Republican leader, you have to be perfectly incapable of admitting any sort of mistake or crime or spiritual wrong-doing or any number of wrong-headed ways; you're always, always in the right, and in fact, never make any mistakes or misjudgments, but of course!)

Anyway, within the rubric of the writer's shy habits, writing in a notebook almost as if talking to himself about matters deeply personal while the rest of the crowd laughs and shouts on a Friday night, is the ability to observe, and also the ability to admit things about personal life. There is a pay-off. A broader deeper understanding of reality, even as it comes out of one's own life the good stuff, the messes, the in between.

The line of Hemingway sticks with me. One story, sent out in the mail, survived of a collection his wife had put into a valise, along with the carbon copies, that was stolen in a Paris train station. Regarding that one story was, as he puts it, like showing off the still-booted foot that had been severed in an accident. His first book is built around the unhappy and uncomfortable, to say the least, misfortune of a man whose penis has been blown off in the war. Painful admissions, dragged out into the light, as always, a necessary part of the human ability to process. And sometimes, one wonders, how the reader is able even to read such without running away in anxious discomfort as one who is afraid of heights avoids tall open observations decks as are found on the Gettysburg Battlefield.