Monday, September 30, 2013

Never let people make you an outsider.  That's one of the lessons you learn.   People who want to be insiders, because of ego, treat you, make you out to be, like an outsider.  And if you're not careful it can make you depressed.  Then it becomes easier for other people to hop on the bandwagon, making you out to be a deviant.  But being who you are,  your self a creature of yoga, you never were an outsider, but just rather at the center, one of the kind people, non-judgmental, probably one of the quieter types rather than the loud ones.  So, in that state, is one always able to recover, enduring the depressing situations of life, rising again, to a night shift, to a lack of a retirement plan, to your own lack of happiness or sense of career purpose.  And you go about your day as best as you can, a quiet insider, doing what is natural, enduring.

I feel the serotonin kick in when I write.  It's something similar to watching Walter White fixing the guys of Aryan Brotherhood meth lab in Breaking Bad's final episode, or Gary Cooper in High Noon, or in reading the fresh words of a fresh Pope.  Writing is just good for an aching brain that woke up feeling not much reason to get up earlier than one has to.  This might be something more important if you have Type O blood, but I wouldn't doubt if it's fairly universal.

We are a judgmental lot, let's face.  Judgment is a large part of our economic system, after all, socioeconomic reality.  So it is a religious teaching that we 'practice generosity,' 'give alms,' 'embrace the poor,' not simple to give money to poor people, hand outs for people down on their luck, but to correct our learned tendency to so judgmental, and perhaps it works as well to realize that those we might judge to be happy and well-off and living beautiful lives are basically just as unhappy as our own selves.  The additional problem is one of becoming more judgmental out of social standing and perceived identity, as if such came out of discriminating tastes for the finer things and people.  And that might take the brightness out of one's soul, and dampen the natural connection with other beings, transform real relationships with overblown false hyped political ones differing from democratic equality.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

I've never needed the tension, the narrative arch taught in 'writing classes' as a mainstream value of story telling quality.  I see the point, sure.  But for me,  I value a story which is a journal, not considering that as dismissive.  Writing can be as a great nature poem, a meditation on reality.  A moment reveals itself, standing alone, does not need hype.  There's enough in the world to be meaningful with a sketch.  To arrange things into story with all the necessities of conflict and psychological 'through lines,' seems almost a violation of the true things a story is supposed to bring forth.

It takes quiet, it takes observation.  Tell the basic truth, and the point will come out.  This is the accuracy of Chekhov, knowing so many real people, so many circumstances, so that all he had to do, almost, was change the names, not to belittle his imagination.  Chekhov can be ambitious, in the right way, with his laid back approach as an observer of reality.  "The Black Monk" is a stretch in some ways, but it works, it is believable, it is cut from real inner landscapes.  "The Lady with the Pet Dog," too, seems constructed from within by someone who has been there.  He has a great memory, a whale's sieve, for the ever-changing moments, the constant flux of conscious thoughts narrating life.  His taste, his choices bring focus.  He didn't bother to tack on endings beyond the logic of nature and reality would render itself.  He was a journalist of the human condition, his works nature journals documenting  variety.  His fiction, timed, never overwrought.

And this, perhaps, speak to the purpose here, as Chekhov started out with bits and pieces, sketches of actors drunk in cemeteries, to write something that doesn't need to be in short story form, the gloom of a Monday morning written about in the same ballpark as Chekhov's story of the waiter who slips, injures himself, goes back to the village to live in poverty.  Goethe, the poet, was also a scientist, and his poetic imagination helped his science.  Lucretius put into poetic form that which can not be divided an smaller, the atom.

"How long can you keep it up?"  The landlord's question from over a glass of wine the night before rings in my head as I get ready for work.

Thursday, September 26, 2013


Then finally it's me keeping me up, after all the conversations of the week, after that strange realization as I clean the bar up after a Wednesday night jazz, everyone in the restaurant gone, that my work week is over, and the 'then what?' in the mind, but thankful.  I put the cushions up, so the itinerant mice won't chew them, do the paper work, pack up my things in my courier bag, throw in a bottle of wine, get my bicycle, turn the lights off, check the doors, and go, following the titled half moon nestled in a line of clouds.  Then I get home, with the usual aches, turn on the television for company, soak some black eyed peas, go out in the backyard with a camper's headlamp to pluck some basil, make a pesto, take soaked dishes out of the tub and move them to the dishwasher, all the while drinking wine, settling in to a run of past episodes of Breaking Bad.  The wine tastes very good, and indeed it is soothing to the lonely hour, when commercial breaks become infomercials and Sesame Street and yoga shows come on.  I might have thought about strumming the guitar, or doing something else creative, or read, but at this point, reading is hard.  There are a lot of decent books here, or ones I might learn a few things from, of course, but the labors have dragged me down, and the next day I sleep in, very late, a dry feeling in the throat, vaguely hearing trucks in the background, a motorcade's sirens and Harley rumble, the body just wanting sleep.  Breaking Bad, mirroring my own strange secret life of trying to make a living serving up a drug to support an illness, that of writing, beyond the boundaries of normal society.

Do I even write anymore?  Or do I just like the time alone, not knowing what to productively do with it, writing down some lazy half confession of being too much around a weakness for wine.  The duck confit was realized to be salty, but I never seem to drink enough water anyway, and it's not til four in the afternoon that I really manage to get some green tea going.  The week had bright moments, an excellent conversation about artistic matters, just me and one guy, a painter's son, Sunday night.  Monday night, too late, the Viking of 'the brotherhood' arriving at 5:30, even before I finish brushing my teeth, and staying on seven hours.  Tuesday, the dentist, then wine tasting, Peter, the rep, always an education, and then finally, when the other half of 'the brotherhood' comes in, to talk over everything, each song playing on Pandora, the tie of my tie, admittedly off, love lives, girls, a trip to New Orleans we all must come on...  "I think I'm wearing out my welcome here," he says, early in his visit.  And at one point, I even say, "off my back," such that he turns, of course, to his female companion, a sharp cookie, somehow too along for the ride, and of course asks, "did he just say, 'off my back?'"  But it all leaves me talking to myself in my apartment.

Life, I know, is a matter of hard work.  I applaud my friends, some of them real honest Republicans, who are excellent with such values.  And I like working hard myself.  It's satisfying.  It takes the mind off confusing itself.  But I've never known, really, what to do with myself.  I've never known anything of a calling, but to write.  So, at the things of adult life, work, I've faked it, gone along sportingly, I suppose, with the need for a job, gone along with the restaurant work that became, de facto, my career, my resumé, my reason to be.  And the day off, the day of not being engaged with anything is indeed hard, taxing, even if you have no energy to do anything.  From its own perspective it makes work indeed feel like being kidnapped, diverted from a true occupation.  Being middle-aged, funny-looking, awkward, a poor renter, what do you do?  You keep on going, as strange as that is, even as your own contribution is laughable, minuscule, as if it weren't even an attempt to contribute and rather utter selfishness, navel staring, a not getting on with it kind of a life.  "Shame upon you for all you were given, and doing nothing with it," the voice of the day off can also seem to say.

And yet, somehow, out there, ethereally, nebulously, hidden, there is poetry.  It may be largely thwarted, still-born out of your own cowardice, unachieved by your lackings, not being the poet scientist religious person that Da Vinci drew you as, understanding all things, Vitruvian, bold and strong.  A poor beast slouches unknown back and forth to a job, to a niche in society based on rent, but his inner fire is a separate matter.

It's like the world woke up knowing what to do with itself, each a profession, knowing what to compete for, knowing what to sell, and then there's you, stupid, not knowing, confused, hardly enough energy to walk slowly around the block and look at the sunset from in between street lamps from a hill on a day off.  Don't begrudge myself the job, for keeping myself in groceries and green tea, some wine at night, a phone.

I write these things, amateurish, penny for your thoughts type unreadable, not as they can ever be a direct take on the truth, but because they are things that speak of writing and its process, things from an archeological dig, left for later to see what might be of worth or interest, a piece, a shard, an object.  And if I do write, about work, it's only because work is perfect for what it is.

A Mercedes ad comes on.  That's what writing is, will always be, an innovation of form, a new form of vehicle.  There have been, of course, many great forms.  Chekhov's "My Life," Dostoevsky's "I am a sick man.."

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

And Da Vinci observed, from studying bodies in the winter hospitals, drawing anatomy from the dead, to the effect that if the body is made so finely, how great the soul must be and of how we must protect that finer thing within sinew and bone and the creature of flesh.

The spirit feels weary, and the psyche down, as we face the second night of jazz of the week.  The mind draws images of customers to whom one has been friendly with, who wish stay late and play music and dance after the staff's ordeal of service in the chaos of live music.  The mind traces back to the first expression of the bad habits and decisions that led one here, presiding over the ADD crowd.  It's one's own fault.  An inner being wants to push off, push away the drinking toasty crowd enjoying themselves.

A roast beef sandwich to break the fast, but the body feels hungrier afterward, along with the trepidation.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"Two for drinks," the boss says as he seats an African couple two tables away from the band's set-up in the corner as a crowd of Frenchies who are dining down stairs, a large party split into three long tables, has scattered around the bar as if trying to block us.  Several minutes later, the waiter tells me they, African couple, have strange indecipherable questions about drinks, and when I approach, cutting through the chaos, the gentleman, in a suit, wants to move to a table in the back, away from the band.  This will take some jee-hawing.  Coming back from pulling a four top apart, headed back to the bar, I'm flagged down by one of the old hens of a six top table.  "Uhm, we'd like to order," she tells me, aggressively, looking at me like I'm an idiot.  Okay, lady.  I pull out my little pad, write one through five on it, "what would you like."  In the process, finding out that two aren't ready to order, have to think about it, make a quick decision, "the trout."  The large one stares at me when I nod to her, recognizing her, as we dealt with her ex quite a lot, before he finally disappeared.  As if his behavior was my fault.  At one point the boss had to take him aside and explain to the guy something about the young women who come here to have a glass of wine:  they are not on a job interview.  I get the order, African couple sits, later still causing confusion as to their cocktails, including one mind change after the drink is brought forth.

In addition to the crowd of regulars, asking to save a seat for Kyle, back at the bar a Frenchman, a hair stylist celebrating a birthday, is asking for three to four seats himself.  By the time the Satin Doll Trio has spelled out the first chords of "Don't Get Around  Much Anymore," a three top is sat, needing a Bordeaux recommendation, Kyle has arrived, it's unclear where to put the Frenchies, table or bar, and here we go again.

By the time the night will end, Kyle will take it upon himself to play a Nancy Sinatra song, plugging his iPhone into the power amp there in the closet by the bar mouth, as busboy and waiter and bartender attempt to clean up things neatly, be offended when I unplug him, putting back on the Pandora station the waiter put on, Jill Scott, 'jazzy and funky,' like the boss likes, bemoan that we are listening to Prince cover a slow song...  Kyle wants to play Bonnie and Clyde for his friends over in the corner, order two more glasses of wine, is headed down the stairs when I tell him he has a check for it...

Sunday, September 22, 2013

I heard tonight of the cheetah, most domesticable of the big cats, and most like the house cat.  It helps if you raise one with a dog, a retriever, a setter, a calm domesticated dog, less wild than others, easy going.  Even in nature, it is the presence of the human being, who in time will, one moment, suddenly, be accepted, become a friend, even protected, by the big cats, as part of the landscape.

Elvis Costello playing with The Roots--I just don't find him as good as the Shane MacGowan he once engineered into an album.  In the studio he does the same Frankenstein method, cutting a vocal performance into clips, one word, one word.  I don't find the song writing more.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

My co-worker downloads the new iPhone operating system during the shift, opening the closet door right at the opening of the bar.  Look at the icons, she tells me, as I open bottles, pour glasses of wine, clear plates, serve plates, maintain conversation at the bar.  Jazz Night with Jeremy the Musicador launching into opera tones as he goes through his set, "One Love," "Roxanne," clinking through my head with keyboard samples.  "I need another glass of Cotes du Rhone of the week," she half yells at me, as if there is no debate about it.  "Vanessa, we've been out of that wine for a month."  It no longer exists.  She is ordering a glass of wine for the table of a server, along with her date, from a Four Seasons restaurant with a good wine program, their sommelier, a mutual friend.  The wine I've poured them already, the last of a Chilean organic cabernet.  I told her at the beginning of the shift just which wines we actually have of 'wines of the week.'  She looks around, her chin up.  Later, at one point, as I'm telling her I can't do what she just asked me to do, deliver the musician his curried chicken, because she's standing right in my way, again at the bar mouth, such that I put the plate of food down along with the bread basket right there where we put clean glasses wiped off from the washer, as she likes to especially at the end of the night when she wants to go home, obstructionist, she says to me, as if it were simple, "take it easy."

The night is saved by interesting conversation and also by being busy.  Moving is a good thing.  Something fun and a good adrenal run being thrown into a blender.  Good conversations with a professor originally from Cornwall.  I tell him my JFK at Amherst 50th business, of what to do with a fine speech that has the line "where power corrupts, poetry cleanses," and as I come back around the bar after pouring a decanted Clos de Savignac, a savage mourvedre blend like a juniper bush with bees around it in sunlight, to go with his cassoulet, he tells me another take, that of Pierre Trudeau, who once deemed it necessary to impose martial law in parts of Canada, tossing four hundred into jail, albeit one with clean sheets.  The Canadian leader's touch, "lack of power corrupts;  absolute lack of power corrupts absolutely."  And we agree, that a little PR about an anniversary might be a good thing.  And, then, to round out the story, brass tacks, I'm told how the Trudeau story played out, two sons, one dying in avalanche, the old man dying, but finally the other son going into politics.

And then the evening is dragged out again, by a late entry, who is puzzled by how his night had ended here Monday with a young woman he found here, took out to one of those scene roof-top places where they serve horrid wine, brought back, but finding her not wanting to have anything to do with him, as the rest of his stared at him, or avoided his account, and even how he had called Uber, at the end of the busy Monday jazz night, the band knowing how to get to me like mosquitos, such that I now hand them the bottle, pour it for your fucking self.  (I write this in jest, as musicians are exempt from selfishness, and I greatly respect and celebrate their small needs for the glass of wine and dinner that is part of their pay and birthright.)  Why does everything accelerate and grow with gravity, I'd like to ask the physicist, who now by the way is old and cathetered, not much wish of life from reports.  He peers at me with bright eyes, perfectly calm, as I make an espresso, having allowed the busboy to go home, and wonders at the chill of his reception, this at, oh, about 10:30, which makes him all the more inquisitive.  A fault of my own ego, even as I try not to react, not to react. "Tell it to me straight," he says.  "I think you talked to much about yourself," I mutter.  "I think she said something like that."  This is the third time he's been in this week.  "Don't throw me under the bus, man."  The corner three top, who's had two bottles of Red Sancerre, has ordered a third or fourth round of tawny port, and I'm looking for glassware for it.  "We smoked a cigar..." I hear him in the background.  The bright person's running commentary one ultimately gets sick of as if it were dirty dishwasher.  And he's even your friend by now, along with you, a voice in your miserable lifeboat ride.

The night before, wine tasting night, the Bourgueil, the whole case of red, from what may be surmised from opening four bottles, is off.  Vegetal, green, no fruit, closed, muddy.  The Chinon rosé is quite good.  Damien, the wine guy, is a good entertainer, leaves at Eight PM.  I like his line about the rosé, 'fruit, but with a savory element, a great food wine.'  And here comes a large man, looking vaguely like Mickey Rourke,  comes up and sits down between two women, one from Argentina who is celebrating a birthday on her own--she likes Chateaux Neuf du Pape, which I am entirely aware of--and one who fits into the category of blond and attractive who has long been coming to wine tasting night, often telling me how she feels she needs a shower after certain (male) customers leave.  She has returned after a long absence, years away.  And here we go again.  I pour the newcomer a taste of three wines, a Mandela gesture of good will, and he takes the Bordeaux.

Big guy likes Bordeaux.  Big guy, while affable, explains his Irish background as birthday girl turns to him, as she eats bread, telling me from time to time that she's a bit drunk, tells of how he was a professional soccer player, has five degrees in black belt martial arts, is some sort of negotiator between insurance companies and, say, teacher's unions.  His mother passed away a year ago, suddenly, so treasure your parents.  And all the while he's getting closer and closer, standing above blondie Becky, focussing on her.  And for me, having had two long late nights anyway, at this point, I'm tired, and helping with the business of service out in the dining room, serving the older couple who come in and sit in the corner many a Tuesday wine tasting night, always getting one of the discounted bottles.  Slowly, the engaging Irish quality of the gentleman descends, and out comes the reptile part of the human brain.   He runs off a list of bands he's seen back in the day, The Ramones, the Sex Pistols, as his attention drifts away from his interlocution with the girls, blondie joined by a truly kind person who happens to be a principal at an at risk school.  He repeats himself.  I saw the Ramones, I saw the Sex Pistols.  A lot of music in New York for a guy who grew up in Ireland.  I should have never changed the music on the sound system, a desperate act that I realize now has backfired.

Earlier on, Becky goes through her list of the old regulars who might drop by.  The boss's wife drops in, wearing a new pair of chic eye glasses.  She greets my coworker, and then I screw up some enthusiasm I'm not feeling.  "I said hello to you and you didn't say anything..." she says when I come to the bar mouth, slipping past the wine rep and an incoming busboy, to say my hello how are you.  French women speak slower when speaking American English, as if now playing a cello, dragging long notes out where before they had violins and a whole symphony.  The faces at the bar do seem moping early on, as if vaguely unsatisfied, but mute, eyes, headpiece filled with straw.  And I for, my part, would like to ask them, what the fuck do you want from me anyway.  No, don't invite your friends.  This night isn't special, it's not magical, it's the same old, in the same old barroom you came in to years ago, except now it's acquired cosmic dust. aging through being lived in, and so it doesn't suddenly respond, like a watered plant cannot suddenly respond. The fewer people to witness my downfall, my Dante journey down into Hell, the better.  Some nights just are like that, the night before the moon will be full, waiting, for Hell to open, then feeling the agonizing slow descent, everyone even getting in the way of the requisite tasks, the uncontrollable quality of people rising above you, looking on down as you grip whatever you can.  Go from the bar, escape by talking to the older regulars about Billy Martin's hamburger.  Earlier, a moment of escape looking for a Chablis for the make-out couple over at one of the tables, both of them handsome and abundant and in love, so why not an austere wine.

Big Irish, who's not really that big, but thick, and topped with a handsome head of dark full slicked back hair, after buying several rounds for the ladies, and after it being explained to him that maybe he isn't the perfect match for Becky, whilst she hides in the back hallway by the bathroom, by our shoot-from-the-hip educator, after paying his check, finally he goes down the stairs smoothly like on an escalator, placing his glass of wine down on a shelf by the door, and disappears off into the night, still with blazer and his neat slacks, and no longer prepared to thrust into the person in the barstool next to him.  Putting on the Leonard Cohen Pandora station seems to have worked, though now my coworker Jay comes and says, 'what, this music is good for slashing your wrists.'  'Jay,' I say, kneeling, trying to sort things out, at least put the juice away amidst the wine and mineral water bottles, 'that's about exactly what I feel like doing right now.'

The two nights before have been busy, and fairly long.  No wonder I was spent, as my coworker observed when I finally plunked down on a barstool to eat a small bowl of risotto with one lousy grilled shrimp on it, should have gotten two, aware of my lackings as far as regulating the flow of wine.  I still have an amount of cleaning up to do.

A night later I'm at home staring at a bottle of Ventoux, listening with Dr. Dre headphones to The Pogues play "Rainy Night in Soho," back in 1988 in Japan on YouTube.  A wise writer has been kind enough to email me that everyone in DC seems "competent and dedicated" but that he needs the vice of New York.  I've lost the aerator of the kitchen faucet, it seems, and so I can't hook up the dishwashing machine to run it through.  I could look again at the Frost poem about being 'acquainted with the night,' but it seems to hurt, as true as it is.  Fortunately another masterpiece, also neglected, is playing with all its sound.   And in Shane MacGowan's voice, is somehow like crossing down into the underworld and hearing again the voice of your father in the midst of your ride down a portent river.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

She told me once,
me who rode the bus
to school over hills with
affable farm boys
while thinking on life,
that she was selfish.
She'd gone trick or treating
with another girl in her building
and taken all the candy,
and years later a punch on the arm.
Reading the newspaper headlines first thing does not do it for the mind.
You had weird dreams at night, teeth falling out, troubles and irresponsibility.
You had thoughts as you woke, observations about passivity,
Jesus, egoless, in balance with a feminine side.  Vulnerability allows intimacy, so of course there's the tendency to go about it the wrong way, as if aggression and conquering led to the same.
Yes, one must be patient with such ideas, not embarrassed by them.
Waiting on people, of course, is largely passive.  Is there poetry in tending bar somehow?  There would be if it were a pub on some West Coast, or no, maybe not.  Is there nature in it, like farming?
Start the day with strange thoughts, the mind grasping for words.

The person who earned money for reviewing my book for Kirkus made some observation, related to a sneer, that my character thinks idly about these great writers and poets but that nothing comes of it, ha ha ha.  There's even a line in the book, about the college kid who conceives of himself as the town's unknown poet, eventually laughed down by said critic to leave it a rather miserable and naked statement about a human being, whom we actually might have some sympathy for, come to think of it.  (Nothing is simple, at least in good writing.)  My thoughts on the matter, as always, is that poetry is, first and foremost, a mode of thought.  Get into that mode, sensitively enough, and the words will work themselves out, at least if you entertain reading them in a certain way.  (Maybe it helps if you are told first, by an authority, 'this is a poem.')  Poetry is, after all, what a lot of the Old and New Testament fall into, the mode, as seen in Psalms, for instance.  It's there if you look for it;  it sets the text free.

It takes the poet, or the artist, to see into corners missed, or to noticed what is deprived of us for being the way we are, to finely notice something about an individual we do not know as well as we might think we do.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Poetry is divinity, and school.

It's the passive burning center.

Poetry comes from gloom.   It comes when you find no reason to get up out of bed, when your despair is like Job's, I suppose.  It doesn't come, necessarily, directly, from reading another poem, unless by reading that poem you allow yourself to get into that mode with mind and brain.  Other poems have to be digested into deeper levels of consciousness.

And this is Shakespeare and what he does.  His brain is poetry mode twenty-four seven, through entire plays.  Iambic pentameter to render the news.

It's poetry, I suppose, that bothers me, keeps me up at night, makes me dissatisfied.  It's essential to write, to get it out.  Poetry helps me see what the inner mind sees that consciousness has difficulty articulating (except through practice, and faith.)  But a poem has a life of its own, an identity of its own.  What we write is an approximation.  Its lines could always be moved around, or tinkered with, or adjusted, cooked another way, but the poem itself is the ideal, like Plato's chair, that remains behind the mortal attempt.  It gives supporting structure.
It is what people make of it, I suppose.
He came and spoke of poetry here
in the town of poets.  Not bad
for a sitting President.
Subtle fellow of exc'llent wit
and humor
to understand the true purpose
and the point.  To act
in terms of poetry
is to act in accordance
with the nature of things
and nature itself.
Those of us who share a gene within
of him, melancholy, Irish, grim--
we all do, for being
made of dust and
cut out of little stars--
wish his memory to pass on
with more than what the institution,
officered and official can politely
under its own strains, say
in its own band of the spectrum,
not to be too weird,
not to have to answer,
'what did you mean by that,
poetry as policy?'
Maybe you could get away with it,
back in Nineteen Sixty Three.

Leave the poet to say it:
He came here, to Amherst,
three weeks before his death,
and spoke of what he'd learned,
as if to sum it all up.
Ask what you can do for your country
and for poetry,
as we are all dying anyway, even as we live,
and so I am symbol, or teacher
of what you might be
as you walk upon the Earth,
your own days as grass.
Or sleep in the meaningless of life,
thinking that none of it
has inner poetry or
power of metaphor,
as did those who took him
from us.

Each village to an island grows,
John Clare's lines of rainy seasons,
"Winter in the Fens,"
No man's an island,
And our town's work,
its bread,
its offer to the world,
is done in poem,
Terras Irradiant.
Poetry is
in our bones.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

By the end of the week, rising late on the first day off
I have forgotten how to write or why.
What's the purpose?  Got to do something with your life, chap.
Three women, old friends of mine
come in right as I struggle with a barrage of cocktail orders
for the waitress's tables,
plant themselves and tell me they need
"something strong."
And here come two more people, to join the guy
I've known for twenty years
who's just come in.

"What fairy tale do they remind you of,"
the waitress asks me, aside,
as wipe the glasses clean from the washer
and I make two more cocktails
and put in a food order.
They discuss how hard it is
to find guys in this town.
"You're lucky.  It's three to one for you," one says.
"I don't know about that.
That's not the experience I'm having,"
I reply, and go about my business,
more removed, professional,
and terse with my words
as I age.
"You're bored with us."
The talk is heavy, and loud
at the end of the week.

The lives of others,
they seem so real,
a weakness of mine
to feel obliged to humor them.
They puff up and put on shows
with little meaning.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dear Professor,

Allow me to tell you a story.  Once there was a kid, a sophomore, taking a class in Elizabethan poetry.  The first paper was on a Donne poem, which began with the lines, 'some man, unworthy to be possessor,/ of old or new love,' which has a fine moment 'whoe'er rigged fair ships to lie in harbors,' enticing a lover.  He got his paper in late, but the professor gave him an A minus and wrote, by lines comparing the poet to a fine carpenter showing his skill, a generous and humorous comment that simply said, 'touché!'   The final paper, after the student had enjoyed a season of poetry with avid thirst, was on a particular passage from Paradise Lost, wherein Adam and Eve are expelled from the Garden of Eden for their transgression, and the 'Levant and Ponent Winds did blow...' and Adam is left standing there dumb.  The school year ended, and most everyone but the seniors had gone home, and the young student still couldn't get the paper written, as he might have seen something in his mind's eye, something serious, solving the problem of analysis, but as of yet unarticulated for its vastness, its mute obviousness, the plainness of it being right there in front of you.  The kid went home, and promised to, and knew he would, write that paper, even if it had gone too long and there was a matter of an incomplete being factored into his grade.  And finally, probably in July, the answer came to him, in a moment of epiphany.  It was words, words themselves.  That was what Adam turns to when he gets kicked out.  For that was what the student himself had turned to that summer, as a house was getting readied to be packed up.  And so, because of that event, in its totality, which included a poor grade, an adjustment of attitude on his own part about how he would be scholarly if ever allowed to be again, dawning now as different from the accepted mainstream which would of course write papers and hand them in on time and not go into such poetic explorations, contributed to a divergence from a path.  It would largely represent a fall from academic grace, which resulted in depression and confusion, confidence affected.

Unfinished:  how do you teach?  what do you teach, and where?  what is the credential, the qualification?  what, or how to be useful to other minds?

That small part of me up in the pineal gland asks how to approach poetry from the inside as a poet rather than a scholar?

Then there was the whole bringing flowers to the beautiful girl incident.  Inside, I cried and I cried about that.  Women are more egoless then men, and if they frown upon you, means you're a jerk.

But I suppose the solution is finally obvious, after one tries a lot of other things.  The answer is to write poetry, poetry as you know it, and in that way build up a haven, a sanctuary, protection for yourself, so you won't get confused.
I find myself placing
a plastic wrapped package
of Bounty quilted napkins
on the radiator by the back window.
Like a tiny version of the hay bales
I used to enjoy watching being made
out in the field by a contraption
then chucked out
flying through the air onto a wagon,
A release of something
that happened in golden light,
the accomplishment of a season
attended to by a team of excited
sometimes shouting men
and a certain kind of dust
in late afternoon
at the end of summer
and the smell of fall.
I think of my cat, Miss Kitty,
who would climb up
hopefully and full
of calculated wonder,
and real joy,
upon the radiator
to the window sill
by the Norfolk Monkey Puzzle
and the Buddha statue.
She would, from there,
make tiny cooing birdlike sounds
if she saw birds out there,
calling to them
on wintry mornings.
She would stand proudly
and inspect the world
carefully sometimes
lightly swaying,
her two eyes bright and even planed.
She would sit
and read,
as if before a newspaper
or the news hour.
At other times she would place herself
on her side of the screen
and hiss and taunt and growl
at the neighbor's cat,
also female, with just a touch
of calico in her grey fur,
far larger than my cat,
both with raised fur.
The napkins, inert,
pulpy vestige of a wooded hillside.
I do the dishes.
The image of her
looking out,
reminds me of my wise old
Polish lady neighbor
in her immaculate clothes
and a scarf about her shoulders,
about to say something
or suddenly laugh.

Poetry just is.
Something people do
while off on a slight lark
in their day,
while suffering a moment lacking
sternly regarded and
carefully upheld seriousness
of the stuffy kind,
or a moment as if from a dream.
It should be demystified,
harvested like solar energy,
something that happened in the mind,
freely, a gift, like a cherry tomato
plucked from a backyard garden.

My dad had great creative gifts.
He was always nonchalant about them.
They included his treatment of plants and flowers,
his gentle way of letting them grow as they would
both out in nature and with his own provided nourishment.
It's in his spirit that I contemplate the terroir of a wine,
as if I were a child discovering a new hillside of wild strawberries,
or the stones of a stream in the shaded hardwood forest
below a farmer's fields with cows up on them,
a patch of Sprengeri tulips sown from seed.

Never lose your belief in poetry.

Monday, September 9, 2013

One has to sketch.  One has to respond.  One has to write on things like cocktail napkins.

The sketch, a careful response, things said that you can't say in a quick hand shake.

Fictitious situation:

There will be pictures in the library, a small commemoration of President Kennedy's visit to Amherst, on its 50th.  That's all good.  What more could one want.

And yet, that President, of the United States, somehow captured the very essence of the place, of the education, of, even, the town.  He, in his speech, captured, not only the value of Robert Frost, but of the idea behind the education that is offered.  Poetry.  The ability to think.  The ability of symbolic language to express, to express even scientific truths.  The very essence of Amherst, the very essence of Amherst College.  Poetry, as a way of thinking, as a way of considering, as a way of saving human patterns from arrogance, as a way of saving that which is useful and traditional and worthy in a grand way.

One President, Plimpton, had a duty, which was to speak to a student body three weeks after the President of the United States had visited, about that President's death.  Plimpton made a very great speech, in fact, and one that should go down as a timely memory, with intimate reach, of the man, President Kennedy.

Poetry.  The gift of education.  The confidence, the understanding of an educated worldly person, who, by way of family wealth and pressure was able to exhibit and be a polished well-read educated traveled person.

And what can the present President of Amherst College do but acknowledge, say some nice words, point to a collection in the library, all well and good.

But to any poet, let's say, or maybe a politician, it would all seem very insufficient.  The town has to do something.   The town has to say, has to bring speakers.   The public has to do something.

Have Amherst High kids read what JFK said there, taking turns?  Have Amherst grads?
Something to stand up.  A volunteer effort.  Faculty comment.

The trite response, no one can blame.  That's how official people do their business, must do, and no more to expect from them but pleasantry.  President Plimpton's remarks on the evening of 11/22/1963 are something to be read.

Who am I to comment, but that in the true academy all are created equal, all opinions and offerings valued.  The leader of the free world, who has recently averted a nuclear catastrophe (over the Cuban Missile Crisis) comes to speak at a small college town in New England about the importance and necessity of thinking and decision-making in poetic terms, it strikes one as something worthy of some recognition, along with the thoughtful intellect behind such a speech, that itself really nails the academic town of Amherst, a very special place, acknowledging that which sets it apart, a poetry that leads back to spirituality and the desire to educate and inform in a liberal way.  I know, in terms of where we have come to now, no one would want to risk making any statement that might sound potentially as 'too weird,' or possibly inviting bad decisions, impractical ones as far as economic realities unwelcome in the eyes of possible corporate sponsorship as inciting chaos by evoking values deeper than market ones.  A college president must act like a CEO, mindful of the money.

Or, do we extend that cynicism to attribute the crafty politics behind every statement to include John F. Kennedy's speech at Amherst itself, as if it served to give a little pat on the head, make a polite recognition of an old poet passed away.  Therefore it's okay to say a few polite words about it, make a little exhibit in the library, because, well, it didn't mean that much anyway, and it was just something he had his intellectual team come up with to help him with his branding.

But, on the other hand, if you were to say, well, maybe JFK really thought that, that maybe you should read a line of poetry before letting LeMay send his bombers out to barbecue every inch of Commie lands, then you are tiptoeing up to the question of other powers that be who, in one way or another, may have such a poetic leader silenced, which then causes you to sound like your inviting an open door to conspiracy theorists.  Make a big deal of a speech, in short, and you'll end up sounding like a crank, therefore of insignificance as far as public discourse goes.  Then you'd have to go back and read, or listen to, other speeches of his, and find the intelligence of a well-read historically informed man in the prime of life.
I'm convinced more and more
about what I never see, that the bartender
and the bar allow something
that truly is like
the shrink, the priest,
the music man.

People share.
My friend is dying.
Or, I held a daughter in my hands.
Music is played.
Wine, and then some more.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

It's nice to have a somewhere to go
rather than nowhere
the weekend's end
not that it matters to a bachelor
who reloads the larder,
cleans a bit,
maybe gets a haircut,
gets in some exercise.
Better to go somewhere
without having to pay to belong.

The school year's started,
the kids, the strivers,
the competitive, the ambitious,
are back
walking purposefully through the town.
Summer vacations are gone.
They played Casablanca
on an outdoor screen in Dupont Circle,
and I ended up,
breaking my rule,
having pizza
then dragging home
while everybody else who wanted to
made love however they wished.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Labor Day.

I'd left the stone bee-hive on the Western coast
gone to do my Sunday duties
at the pub, closing the place after they all left
like finely herded cats,
some of them in a morose mood
with the coming of a new school year.

Then, having made the transition,
I was off.  The birthday of a friend
to save me after my period of exercise,
an adventure in a new part of town,
the glitter of the new,
shiny restaurants through big bright windows.

And so the next day I wake
feeling like a fake.
I've cheated at too many things,
not done the suggested number
of push-ups and squat thrusts
in sixth grade gym class before
the laps around the hardwood court.
I took the easy way out, too,
of reading Candide.
I let myself get distracted
from time to time.
And what did I do
with my college degree?
You're supposed to go and teach others,
but I never did.

Shower hot and tea of green,
Chinese Skullcap, Astragalus,
and I've got the armagnac digestif
and the two tried wines on the way
out of the system, a lazy start
upon the day.
Where did we go wrong,
what can we do to right it?
Clean up your act.

All this stuff goes through the head,
and I fold a shirt, wedge it neatly in a notepad,
fill a water bottle and get ready for work again.
Back to the tin soldiers,
armies of bottles,
parade of plates
and tabled firing range,
ice bucket platoons at the ready.

Monday, September 2, 2013

It's as if it's left to some of us to explain,
to make a few insightful remarks before we go
that will tell of the history of humanity,
a few incapsulating words.
To my ear, it's often Irishmen, poets,
those with the oldest blood type
good for the rest,
a Universal donor, not that it necessarily
does them any good beyond
a natural cold nose.
They have a need for explaining things.
And the lines of those who've come before them,
stick with them,
an example of a sensed observation,
'too long a sacrifice
can make a stone of the heart,'
almost like math.

Their minds work in a certain manner,
leading them to be caught up
in the way events play themselves out.
It was left to John F. Kennedy
to explain what could usefully be said
after the chiefs put him up to The Bay of Pigs,
as if they wanted him left holding the bag,
to play into the wishes of LeMay,
barbecue the entire island.
So he stood at that old lectern
in the State Department
the responsible officer of the government
to explain what he could of the matter
without going into it.
They'd told him it would all go smoothly,
and was it just bad luck?
His arm he put out on the side of the lectern
and looked down as he spoke.

There's explaining to do, truths to be told,
if you're an honest man,
involved with life and other people's wills,
not that you always get the chance.
You'd admit, like he did,
first of all, your own faults in the matter.
But matters are always complex.
They leave the need to explain,
when time allows, somewhere
down the line.  Less your own fault,
the whole picture, when it's seen.

So it is against our will
that we become poets.
We wish things were somehow cleaner
easier to explain, that outcomes sometimes were
vastly different than they turned out to be.
It all works out to bring a understanding
greater of the species.

To the dead we owe that in life
we did not understand them enough,
had an image, were too busy to follow up
not reading them as they lived
like we should have done.
And this too,
it takes some explaining.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

A wet, or a moist sound outside the window,
the same found by a walk by the forest,
like rain, the rhythm of crickets
sawing away in blades of grass
shot through by a bolt from a higher bug,
up  in trees, like an overseeing wind,
and the echo of the fall of rain continues
in the blank quiet of night,
now not as heartily as before
in the height of August.
They are thinking of something,
or constructing, and care little
to expand their empire
while all's in balance.
Nighttime is theirs.
I've played guitar at night out in the garden
and their symphonic layers,
the arrangement of their orchestra
coincided with my small attempt at music,
or was that the birds in early spring accommodating a tune
as the light approached on a first warm day.
The idiot, alone,
merges with nature, appreciates it
as a Saturday night ticks to Sunday morn.
I'll sleep as people go off to church,
wake, and go to work as
folk relax and think of Sunday dinner.

"You always look so sad," she said to me,
once, as we sat at the War Memorial,
our dungaree jackets not quite warm enough
for just past Easter,
and I shrugged, I don't know,
dooming myself to years
wearing not the jacket of the three piece
suit of my father's for the interview
but the jacket of a workman,
a toiler, not a scholar,
distracted by some
piece of work,
dragging on.

But it comes, I should have said,
maybe I did, that it comes
with the poet's territory,
and who cares about his ability
as long as he has that gift,
of being sad, or pensive, or
thoughtful, identifying.
That's the first thing,
the thing he must accomplish.
For then he'll understand the world.
and all its people.
The words will come later,
if he has his time.
I didn't know
I'd get blamed for it
(and handed
I was
too gentle,
I suppose,
confident with poems.

So I get sad, or thankful,
to have a wake,
when a poet dies, when they put him up,
when they show his lectures
and quote his lines.
And you see how good
this poet was,
or how life is hard, so hard
to can't go on, without
poetry.  He was a scholar,
but he had in mind
an unschooled uncle
who spoke with dignity.
Who would acknowledge you
as a poet, but another one?
gentlemanly and generous;
who would cut you out of your
febrile virile dust,
make you into a man.
He spoke with life,
and now he's gone,
the life having gone from him,
no more lines,
not about peaty bogs
and a grandfather's spade.