Sunday, October 31, 2010

Photo of the Week 10/31/10

Sagebrush Along a Fenceline
Whiteman Lane
Indian Valley, Idaho
Tuesday, October 26th

Please check out today's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's the final poem collection, & as such, will be the last poem posted to the blog. There will be one final "wrap up" post next week.

More poetry? Be sure to check in on The Spring Ghazals! There have been some exciting new posts there recently, including one about another book review which you can read here on the Soulless Machine blog—big thanks to writer Aaron Wilson!  

There won't be a Monday post on Alcools. The next translation isn't completed yet (again).

& tomorrow on Robert Frost's Banjo? The Monday Morning Blues! Something new & different.

Stay tuned....

Friday, October 29, 2010

Homegrown Radio 10/29/10

Wow, October really is zooming past us! Here we are with the final Homegrown Radio segment for the month, which also means it’s the last installment from Joel Murach. Joel sure has done a fine job by Homegrown Radio this month. But not to worry: the series will return in November with Bernie Jungle, who is perhaps the best guitar player it’s my pleasure to know—also a very good songwriter, singer & a truly good guy. Bernie has performed not only as a soloist, but also in bands such as Warm Wires, Thunderbleed & the Great Auk—the latter, a duo with Carrie Bradley, is one of my all-time favorite bands.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s hear what Joel has to say about “Ghost in the river,” this week’s song:

First, thanks to John for having me here at Homegrown Radio. And thanks to everyone who commented on the songs. It has been a lot of fun for me to be here.

I first thought of this song, "Ghost in the river", when I was camping out by a river. I had awoken in the middle of the night, and as I stood outside my tent in the moonlight, there was a fine white mist coming off the river. To me, it looked like a ghost. And it got me to thinking about ghosts and rivers...two recurring themes in my songwriting. A couple years later, I wrote this song, which combines those two themes.

For those musicologists out there, this song is in 5/4, which is a time signature that isn't used much these days. I hope you like it!

Thank you Joel for bringing such quality offerings to the Homegrown Radio table! & don’t forget, folks: you can purchase Joel’s cds on his website here. Enjoy the song.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow (part 5)

[Here's the conclusion of B.N.'s story]

May G-d Bless And Keep You Always
Inez stood for an instant in the kitchen door, dressed only in Julian’s black silk robe.  Claude was already up drinking coffee and there was someone named Patrick involved in preparing a very elaborate—something

“Nutmeg?” he said cheerfully over his shoulder.

“In the cabinet over the stove.” Claude said not looking up from the paper.  Claude cleared a place for Inez. 

“He believes breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” Claude said to Inez. 

“It is.”  Patrick responded brightly, as he spun around cradling a bowl while whisking away the contents.  He looked just like Tin Tin in the cartoon.   Claude had moved into middle age somewhat gracefully she thought—perhaps not as gracefully as Julian but he seemed less strident, calmer.  For years he had often struck her as facile and easily stirred—reading some new pop psych idea and applying it all over the room—the chairs, the door, the sink—everything would have a ridiculous reason something he read and just applied freely—this was honest, that was not—Robert Bly—beating a drum, half naked, or buck, inner children, howling men, sweat lodges, howling at the moon, nursing old wounds—facile—as useless as applying a band aid to the spurting jagged stump of the torn off limb.  The question that pushed to the front of Inez' mind was why was he still here, living in the back of the house.  But by all rights why not ask her why she was still in Flatbush, living over Mrs. Mermelstein.
At the exact moment Inez poured her mug full of coffee, Patrick started listing all the violations he had endured; immediately it was proving to be very tedious.  With singsong authority he was explaining his issues in the work place; Inez doubted he had the need to work, or even a particular aptitude for anything.  He may well have been merely showing up everyday to attend to the issues.  The right to marry whom he chose, which Inez thought a remote possibility given what she was seeing—but she was not a morning person.  He talked with strain, like he was pitching words over a fence.   Long story short, he struggled, at a summer camp in the Berkshires and again at boarding school in Vermont.  “It was painful very painful.”  Oh God, Inez thought.  Where’s Patrick, weren’t you watching him?   Was the gate up?  He just toddled out to stand out in the wide dangerous world—a four-lane highway.  Had he never even seen a photograph of let’s say Babi Yar, Rwanda?  Did he not also jump out of his skin when a jet passed overhead? 

Her head was shot through with painful hoofs stamping—wild beasts.  He looked at Inez for a response—which she had none, save to turn to Claude. “Tylenol?” she said flatly.  “Hall medicine cabinet. I’ll get it,” he said. 

Patrick kept talking.  Enough, she thought, please, little one—shut the fuck up.   Had she just said that, or just thought it.  She was not sure.  She looked at him to try to read a response—his eyes radiated the self-importance of a nocturnal creature that had just stepped into the night and had the whole jungle to himself—aroused glandular eyes—black and gold—shining. 

He’s high. Inez thought.
She gulped the pills, chasing them with coffee.  As they were standing side by side next to the kitchen counter Inez could not help but assess the age difference between Patrick and Claude.  It was vast, decades.  It made her feel grim and sad.  In the never ending conversation that her mother had about this country, the city, and all the flaws of the American people, the goyim mostly, the neighbors sometimes, she had once turned to Inez when they were out walking and a man who had been feeding pigeons approached them.  At that moment as he passed them on the sidewalk her mother added an item to the list: In America nobody seemed to notice that there was nothing in this life sadder than an old faygale.   Her mother always used age as the great equalizer.  Actually, Inez could think of a few things but for the first time in her life Inez had reason to recall the statement.

“So where’s Julian already?” Patrick asked smoothing the pocket of his light green pants.  “Breakfast is done and I need to be pushing off.  Tell him I left the shirt in the closet—it didn’t work for me.  I’ll call him—have fun, gotta give her credit she keeps trying.” 

When the door closed behind him, Claude turned to Inez and said,  “You can tell Julian the coast is clear he can come out now.  I am sorry.  I better go check on Miranda.”  He made “the reefer” sign with his fingers to his lips.

Her face went hot with hurt.  No, Nathan was not the last blow. 

In her room Miranda played on email

Ya ya sistas & bros—made it to Dad’s. Bored crazy.  Aunt’s wedding—love my dress, shows da girls in their best light—ha ha.  Gotta find something/somebody to do here.  Hpe there are gr8 guys at the wedding—for real
I’m hot you’re not
Lov ya all.

She hit send.  The machine made a whoosh sound. 

Claude knocked at the door holding a sleeve of cookies two paper cups and a jug of milk.  He sat at the bottom of the unmade bed. “Cookies for Breakfast?” Miranda flopped back against the bed.  “They’re your favorite,” he says twinkling a cookie between his fingers.  She felt for an instant outside herself—like she was outside her window and not actually in the room.  She noticed she gets this feeling whenever she smokes that stuff that Emily bought from that guy on West 86th.  It made her watch herself at a distance.  Then, she feels like she is in an old TV sitcom, canned laughter, applause— Claude wanted her to just start pouring her heart out and then they’ll hug.  Yup the whole tedious story right there on the tip of her tongue—like her mother wasn’t on the phone to her father, like her father just happened to forget to tell Claude—Miranda here forever.  Mom is getting treatments so she may not die.  She burst out laughing—“where’s the remote.”  Laughter filled the room—like fistfuls of gold confetti.

“Oh by the way, I will play private chauffer to your SAT.” Claude said as he playfully tossed a stuffed toy rabbit from the dresser to Miranda.

The wedding was in the gardens of a former estate, a gray stone mansion up on a hill that overlooked the water.  Julian walked Cleo down the aisles.  At the reception the settings were ludicrous when they only meant to be witty.  There was a long white tent stretched out on a lush green lawn.  The reception felt subdued and dreamy—women gliding by with pastel pink and green drinks.  Handsome waiters bearing trays of champagne.   The tablecloths were trimmed in gold trim to match the guests.  Miranda bounced and skipped on the sweeping lawn next to the elegant white tent.   She was holding a glass of champagne and laughing a loud dirty laugh.  Each time Inez looked she was gripping her father’s elbow and then reaching for a greedy grab at trays as they passed.  When Inez stood next to them, Miranda leaned over and hugged Inez across the chest and placed her hard candy mouth right next to Inez’s ear.

Inside the tent Julian sipped the wine and watched dust sparkle in a diminishing patch of sunlight on the lawn.  Maybe it was the wine.  These small sips gave him time to reflect—sometimes he could catch a glimpse of himself, as he was, as he thought he was—either way they were nothing like who he had expected to become—all the photographs in his mind—untaken.  Great art and artifacts had passed through his hands.  Relics surely people had died for and some that had rescued others.  Once he held in his hand a tiny Ruben, its sale saved a whole Jewish Family.  Another time, he found behind the frame of minor Flemish painter a stash of letters—yes, lives were lived in his “transactions”

He was older this night, last week and a year ago, than his father had been when he died.  What had this age given him anyway?  Not new worlds—Not love, even that was a bawdy, freakish parade float of money or politics.  He refilled the glass and his thoughts loosened a bit more—what we believe today we may not believe tomorrow or the day after.  Surely, somewhere, he thought someone is on the brink of a very large truth, a new reality.  In the bright light of the future a new truth will be spoken —one without hurts or wounds.  He could hear sounds falling out of the darkness—the rustling of some beast crouching at the door.  Pointless.  Nobody knows. What makes anyone love her and not her, or him and not him?  The truth for now is that we don’t want to know either.

With relief he thought that soon Claude would be stepping off the ferry onto the little island where the trees were knotted and stunted by the sea air.  Tonight there would be parties with sangria and bluefish salad.  Miranda would come crashing through the door—all that spun confection. He would let her into the world, just not yet.  Cleo and her new husband would rise and fall to each other. 

He listened to the music.  Horses horses, imagined hoofs on the cobblestones—Fear?  No, just footfalls.

In the back of the imposing gray Mansion there was a large bluestone terrace looking out over the water.  Inez rounded a corner and went through an archway of pink fairy roses, a bower with the last bits of daylight breaking through.  It stretched like a hallway and lush flowers hung like strings of beads, bits of costume jewelry.

What had the child said to her?

“You’re all up in the Kool-Aid and don’t even know the flavor. Don’t think my father is going to sleep with you.  You’re not his type.” That’s what she said, leaking irony from both corners of her red mouth.  All the coarse bravado, the carnal insight slashed Inez across her face like a straight razor.   

Yet in this moment there were still the tender night noises, and the vista.  Actually the view was maybe the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.  The water so wide and dark, she knows she can’t cross over.  The boats, sails waving like the banners of ancient tribes.  Inez loosened her shoes and freed her feet to rub her toes out and hung the green silk scarf over the back of a chair.  She waited, for the sea change, a hundred little crayon colored sailboats drifting past.  How the boys gravitated toward her now, held in that orbit.  Would there be many or few?  Who could know?  Which would stay, if any?  Poor girl, little mouse, will be all alone.  Inez waited; soon night would darken the world into an unrecognizable form.  Tonight meteors, not planes streaking past would hiss and sputter as they hit the water.

© 2010

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interview on “everything feeds process”

Happy Wednesday afternoon, everybody. I’m once again intruding on B.N.’s story to bring you more news about my book, The Spring Ghazals. You can read my interview about the book right here on Jessica Fox-Wilson’s blog everything feeds process. Jessica has been so generous with her support of The Spring Ghazals, & I’m very grateful for all her efforts.

I know of one more review that’s slated to appear next week, but I do want to remind everybody that I’d be happy to have more reviews or interviews. It’s not always easy trying to market a self-published book of poetry—actually, if you asked publishers, I think they might say the same for poetry that’s published traditionally—& it sure is great to have help in the process.

You can hear a couple more of the ghazals in the ongoing virtual reading over on The Spring Ghazals blog—just follow this link. Also, I’m happy to announce that you can get the book at a 15% discount (all absorbed by Lulu in case you’re curious) from now thru November 15th—simply by entering coupon code LEAF305 when you checkout—you can read all the details here. Once again, The Spring Ghazals is available on Lulu right here.

Now we return to our regularly scheduled programming….

All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow (part 4)

[Here's part 4 of B.N.'s story]
If You Lick My Heart You Would Die Of Poison
The house was on tree lined well-tended quiet street in Cambridge.  It was narrow and creamily quaint in the last moments of daylight.  The wooded twin doors were huge,  heavy.  Inez blinked in the entranceway.  On the table was a half a glass of ice tea with mostly melted ice—she looked around for the owner.  A shirt was draped over a chair with a tie.  There were fruit bowls the color of mercury—fluid shapes filled with bright citrus.  There was a note on the side table under the gilt mirror—Call Adelstein back.

Julian stood in the doorway of the bedroom and when Inez turned around he was unbuttoning his shirt.  It wasn’t unexpected, hadn’t it been hoped for, in part why she came.  With his finger her traced her collarbone and laid his head on her shoulder.

“Its been a long time, I’m sorry you’re unhappy,” she thought he said.

“Do you remember the first time, at my parents house, my mothers bed?” he asked.

She remembered her apartment, a day at the lake, in the stacks late at night in the library.  His mother’s house? 

“We were alone, nobody home,” Julian said.

“Put on the dress, leave your underwear off, that dress is so lovely on you.” He sighed and said softly.  Julian slides his hands over the dress and then under.  “Lie back” he whispered.

“Don’t forget you need to call Adelstein,” she said before they were too far along.  Then he pulled her down to the bottom of the bed and positioned her legs on his shoulders.  His forearms looked sculpted and elegant.  She was grateful he wanted the dress, such a kindness for him to not expect her now after so long to stand or even lie naked.

She must have drifted off to sleep.  For an instant she could not remember where she was.  The cocoon-like softness of unfamiliar sheets against her skin.  She dreamt of the Rabbi, several in fact bearded in black hats and frock coats.  They were shouting at her to jump.  She was standing on a ledge with granite angels on either side of her.   What had awakened her?  The fear of falling.  Voices?   From where, the kitchen?   The hall outside her room?

“Just go if you said you were going.” She was sure she heard that.   The voice was rubbery and bounced in her range of awareness.  Like when she was a child tugged out of bed in the middle of the night holding the frayed end of her parents' hushed voices behind the closed door.  Out in the hall standing only in a robe she found hanging in the closet. 

“Does it mean anything?  Why? You always do this.” 

“Can’t it wait?” she heard Julian’s voice trail off.    She heard the rush of tap water.

“Patrick is going to be here any minute.”  

“So just go”

Then. “Hallo—anybody home?  Come out come out wherever you are.”

She heard a door close at the front of the house. Inez went back into the room and sat on the bed and then quickly, blessedly fell back asleep.  Again she was on a ledge of the very high building.  So high that now she could see into the windows of planes as they flew past.  She could see the confused terrified expressions on the passengers’ faces, mouthing words to her.  She was trying to read their lips, but could not make out what they were saying.  The granite angels were crying, tear stained, and a lone tiny Rabbi very far below was gesturing at her to jump.

In the morning she awoke early to the sound of water moaning through the pipes.  Julian stepped out into the hall wrapped in a towel and shook his mane like a lion emerging onto a riverbank.  In the small guestroom Inez took the dress from the closet and held it against her body—letting it fall, just so against her shins. She closed her eyes, in gratitude, in prayer, in fear. After all these years there was still possibility.  Julian had insisted, insisted that she get that dress.

Light from the bay window was just starting to seep into the living room. She picked up a framed photograph from the piano.  Julian and somebody blurry in sun glasses, the Taj Mahal in the background.  “Oh India last Fall, that flesh color spot— Claude.  Julian startled her— had he been sitting in the chair all night?

“What a nightmare, a hell hole, animals in the street, huge crowds, heat, smells, I got so uncomfortable that I just left the whole continent and went to sit in rainy Amsterdam to medicate and attend my stomach cramps with modern plumbing.  Claude stuck it out—All that local color—he even went trekking.  The Sherpa would have had to carry me to base camp and back.  He clamed to have a good time.” 

Over the years Inez constructed Claude in her mind in several ways.  Claude, poor old, good old, hope-against-hope Claude.  He had been an adjunct since their first week of school freshman year.  She remembered how he appeared in the dorm hallway holding an imported beer and wearing a mock colligate outfit—a blue and gold University sweat shirt, chinos, right down to the brown deck moccasins with no socks.

How was it Claude ended up there, now it seemed he had always been there, or nearby, waiting in the hall, on the library steps, in front of restaurants?— she had to force herself back to the chronology—there was law school at Columbia, then the opportunity at the Kennedy School, like his father and brother, also clerking for a judge—something had happened, was it a scandal or a heartbreak?  Then a job at firm in a high glass tower—paper in, paper out. 

Julian had the house, huge.  Suddenly, the crazy Vera left him with baby Miranda, gone so fast there was not even a vapor trail.   She recalled that in New York, nightly Claude would fold himself like an origami swan into the small jeweled, velvet lined lacquered box that was his apartment.

“Move to Brooklyn” she would tell him.  Brooklyn is the new Manhattan—No, he wanted to see himself reflected in the dilated pupils of so many men like himself.  Then poof—Vera was gone—like a gate opened wide.  He saw it as a sign—so mistaken, it was a sign—that Vera was very very unstable. No, he wasn’t crazy.  At times Julian seemed responsive— sure there were women too of course but everybody had those, well almost everybody.  Claude thought with time Julian would settle the matter and Claude would be the settlement.  Oh god how absurd his imaginings must have been in retrospect, coupling, partnership, Julian—whatever it would have looked like or been called.  How long did it take him to realize that Julian was, let’s say, limited in his partnership potential and abilities in human interaction?  Well, once he was there not that long, but longer than it should.  Julian was content, more than content with a good fuck every so often but even those become sad, torn down often drunk exchanges.  Oh the mornings, pure hell.  What did she remember?  Claude had told her years ago that when he had called, Julian’s voice was etched with something dark—shock maybe. 

So earnestly Claude had said “I’m worried” and with that took her into his confidence in her at a dinner in Queens, “really he can’t handle an infant alone” then Claude pulled out of his brief case a copy of Your Infant, Your Toddler, Your Child—“good stuff in here” he said.  She said not a word.

In truth, Claude at twenty seven did not need to be offered twice— As far as she knew what Julian had said was, “Yes a large back room, just till you get your own place—I have room, 15 to be exact—know how to change a diaper.”

Nothing ever happened—well of course some things happened sometimes but it never became the blossoming flower Claude had hoped for and neither did it crawl away to die.   After time Claude was forced to think that maybe Julian was content to fill his clients lives with articles confiscated from people with inner lives. Maybe Julian was his own best client.  Sometime, rarely, Claude still imagined that there was a chamber of Julian’s heart filled with shadows like photographic negatives—the image is in the absence of the image—a perfect celadon bowl, a mortar and pestle, two young men.  Then for many years there was Miranda sucking her thumb—“ducky ducky,” Claude would quack as he toweled her freshly washed hair.  Julian off someplace buying something to place on someone’s shelf or wall.  Still some hope.  But there were the photos of little Miranda—a bobble head infant all tipsy and fat.  She looked so much like her mother Vera in dark complexion and the black eyes, but had Julian’s bone structure.  No Claude there.

Little Miranda pranced like a trained pony in and out of rooms.    Her manicured nails clicking out everything she wanted and all her parents’ failings on some invisible table.   Her forearms stacked with thin bangles that clicked and clanked with every wave of her hand.

No doubt it was a bad time, maybe the worst for Claude to just bow out.  He could smell the smoke on Miranda’s hair and clothes see her bloodshot eyes.  He knew she was tearing it up with sullen neck tattooed boys that hunched waiting across the street or in the park.  What he wanted to do or say was not even possible.  He had watched Julian turn into more of hoax each year.  “Julian, you are a fraudulent honking goose, a condensing puff of bad breath.”   The silent pantomime of waiting first for Vera to return to sanity, then for the right woman and then filling in the gaps.   Now, it was rare that Claude remembered what it had been like when it seemed to be close to perfect.  What he understood is that perfect leads to nothing.

Nobody would have called it innocent at Julian's parents large white house while they were away.  They were just twenty and had been drinking.  Music was blasting Van Morrison from a stereo downstairs and they were in of all places Julian’s mother’s bedroom.  Claude had maneuvered the whole weekend into being like a master strategist.  By Saturday afternoon Julian came all over his mother’s bedspread and again on the green velvet settee and against Claude’s neck.  Then, not a word was spoken about his mother’s bedroom, or Claude’s apartment or the motel rooms.  No more strategies were ever needed.   Ah be careful what you wish for. 

Claude let go his expectations like a kite string.  The back of the house was enough for him. As for Miranda, she could not remember her parents “together” nor even imagine it.  Summer visits, airports, tickets, that whole rigmarole.   All those times her father was away on buying trips.  Claude had read her Madeline, privately she used to imagine getting sick in the middle of the night and being rushed, wrapped in a blanket, to the hospital.  And then walking after a very dangerous surgery to her parents—worried, smiling, loving.  Real parents, not these misshapen creatures that try to reach out towards her like lurching ghouls in some old movie.  Her parents were both such hypocrites—sad, really.  Her mother running around with a pack of Euro trash half her age—all claiming to be political.  Whatever.  Then she stopped taking care of herself—poof, she would walk around in sweatpants and gray tee shirts, 3 to a pack, that were so long they fell mid thigh. Her hair hung in thin strings around her yellowing face.  Her mother seemed to be shrinking.  Miranda almost pleaded with her at times, to wear something else.  All the hair on her legs and armpits.   It got to the point that she could never bring a friend home.  Her father with his good straight American teeth— who was he kidding, did he think she was an idiot?
The curtain lifts and the play begins. 

Her father bringing a different woman to every possible occasion, and some not so possible occasions.  All so hopeful, with their cute ears pitched forward like little forest bunnies—pick me, pick me, they cried silently and in unison.

The way she saw it after smoking some of her new stash of loud, and what she told her friend Rena when they were hanging out in her bedroom last week was that her parents were like her hamsters—sniffing and scratching rodents.  They did ridiculous things, anybody could see that.  For example that guy Alex that her mother brought home, OMG he was half her age and wanted to “protect,” “save” whom? From what?  Seals, snowy owls.  What he really wanted was to stand naked in his black ankle socks while her mother held him and stroked his hair.   For real, that’s what he wanted—all he wanted.  Next time mom you may want to shut the door.  The sad thing is her mother did not even . . . not an idea, not a clue.  Oh that’s her mother.  She cooked and preened for him until one day in the market she saw him—acting normal, laughing and juggling lemons for a young blonde girl.

When Julian opened the front door that morning of the wedding there was Adelstein lying on the matt.   All over the morning paper—a lawsuit brought by his sisters, a pair of Gonerils with hair sculpted into king cobras’ mantles.  Julian had been stocking their homes with expensive, rare and above all special objects, that if hadn’t been for how much they paid would have been more appreciated and better understood at the bottom of a well.  The sisters were quoted as saying—it's not the money, but the principle—they looked like eels flashing the muddy bottom.   Julian noted that some people, more that you would think, just don’t embarrass—as he read over the paper he wondered if they were so obtuse as to imagine anybody could ever mistake them as “principled” by any definition of the word. What was it Adelstein wanted?— or wanted more of, and how much would he pay?  Julian left the paper on the kitchen table and went into his study.  He picked up the black cordless phone, no, bad idea, he realized, still too early, could get touchy—he opted to email 

Adelstein had undergone a recent religious awakening and wanted Judiaca.  18th century German and Holy Land antiquities.  Did this correspond in any or all ways with his current “troubles”?  The man could no doubt afford the Sarajevo Haggadah and he wanted menorahs—Kiddush cups that held a quart adorned with tumorous clusters of grapes, clay oil jars.  It was better when he just wanted a floral still life by Degas or worse, cubist dancers—you know he said—those ballerinas.  Are you fricken kidding me, Julian had thought.  Julian ran his hand over the smooth cool of his own bent wood chair—so simple and perfect in design.

© 2010

[Please check back for the story's conclusion tomorrow]

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow (part 3)

 [B.N.'s story continues]

Yonder Stands Your Orphan With His Gun
Bob Dylan

Julian was waiting at the gate holding a loose bouquet of blue lace cap hydrangeas and white delphinium.  She spotted him leaning against a pillar, cell phone wedged between his ear and shoulder. “Miranda,” he mouthed nodding and eyeing the phone.   Ah, Miranda, little baby girl, that they all fussed and cooed over like some rare species of exotic bird—who was what—now sixteen?  The only child of Julian’s brief marriage to some Persian queen.   “She’s in for the wedding, well for the shopping too, maybe the whole summer. Things with her mother are rough right now.  Who knew—that was still up in the air.  It was a real illness this time, no postpartum nada—cells splitting wildly. We have to talk about that,” Julian said. 

Well, her aunt certainly provided her with ample wedding and shopping opportunities.  What was this for Cleo now, wedding number three, maybe four— did Inez miss one?  Had she married that Brazilian or did they just run a ranch together in some backwater place in the Amazon?  Julian— his face now edged in the silver of a close trimmed beard— the years just revealed more perfect bone structure.  He reached out fondly, warmly and kissed her cheek.

Flight okay?

“Up for some shopping?” he said, leading her by the elbow. He certainly was.

“My friend Elly has a shop with some of the most fantastic stuff in the city, in North America.  She is waiting for us and will get you something “fabulous” for the wedding.

“She used the word “fabulous'?”  Inez asked, “Are you serious?”

At the shop Inez sat on a tufted teal ottoman as Elly and Julian surveyed and gathered arms full of possibilities and things to enhance those possibilities.  It seemed here that nothing stood on its own merit and there was nothing that the correct accessory could not shore up.   There was a blue shawl as fine as gossamer—looked like it had been spun out directly from the underbelly of some large but benevolent insect—glossy iridescent sheen.  Then a black jacket with grosgrain ribbon trim that was so perfect in the cut and cuffs.  Inez imagined the clothes blooming on her like jungle flowers, a flock multi-colored birds aloft —a wild impressionist woman, barefoot and biting into exotic fruits.

“A wedding, I am sure they will have a long happy life together.” Elly chimed as she put the clothes into a garment bag that signaled how very special and costly the shop was.  Inez thought it a bit late for long life together and maybe for happy also. 

Inez has noted that so many people she knew could talk about their lives with all the polished surface of a fable.  All her friends, and her friends' friends placed themselves squarely in the center of everything that came their way.  Improving whatever corner of the world they occupied.  They sat not just dutifully, but with a real sense of commitment on committees to improve their children’s schools, their communities.  Just convinced that somehow they made the world a better place, by just being there and doing the things that benefited them—their challenges were universally, primordially simple—the child that failed to form sentences or to make eye contact, the wife stealing small items from the drug store, the man that drove one hundred miles to expose himself in a public park. Not human failing, not frailty, never lapses in judgment, but rather some larger code like a moral tale—how was it that they were perpetually the ant and not the grasshopper?

Miranda, of course, was late meeting them at the restaurant and Inez thought she could have sat a bit longer on the ottoman.  They were seated at a small table under old photographs of men’s sports teams—the crew team 1922, the football team 1910, baseball 1870.  Julian took the menu and ordered—limited and familiar.  The restaurant was a mix of academic and business diners—all subdued and eating and speaking studiously.  They sat hunched over plates if they were officiously completing a task while a supervisor observed with a stopwatch.

No doubt about it, the atmosphere in Boston was different—the air and mood not as fraught and complex.  The cobbled streets of the neighborhood seemed indifferent—the winds were gentle, not tainted with the scent of burring flesh and cinders—dust was dust, not human remains.  In the few brief blocks from the shop she noticed the darker skinned residents were all but absent.  Holed up behind heavy oaken doors in the ivy towers, she thought, in fear of fellowships disappearing, thanking gods that they were not driving cabs in Manhattan.  The few academic types in haute couture she saw did not seem to wear the same countenance of fear and shame as they had to adopt in New York to just get from point A to point B.    In New York their new country had turned on them like an abused dog growls and snaps back at a benevolent owner.  

Part of the year the city had put on a happy face—a bright yellow smiley face as creepy as a harlequin or weeping clown paintings— a “nothing is going to stop New York” kind of stance—yet every time she rode the subway she could not help thinking gas attack, bomb, something.  The papers made hash of the situation every morning—words were flying—justice, enemy, freedom.  What did those men feel when they boarded the plane?  They were after the all the most elite and privileged of their countries.  Did they also taste injustice bitter in their mouths, where did it come from? Were words flying in their countries also?  Did their mother tongue swell with hurt and rage?  Does a sense of entitlement gone haywire burn with the same indignation reserved for oppression?  These questions confused Inez because on a very fundamental level she could not always make out the difference between us and them.

The slender waiter in a white waist apron brought out a pretty glass pitcher of water with lemon slices and then placed a basket of bread and a white ramekin with butter. 

When Miranda arrived she looked like she has been caught in a sudden rain shower, the ends of her hair wet and limp, her bangs plastered to one side of her forehead.  She had on the heavy “look at me” eyeliner that girls her age start with until they get tired and realize that getting looked at was not really what they had wanted or expected.  Almost every finger flashes a ring.  She collapsed into a chair, pulled out a phone and started to text.  

“Oh I am so hungry,” she said, eyeing Julian’s salad.

“Here take this,” he said and pushed his salad in front of her

“Ranch? Right?” she said.  Julian nodded and looked over his shoulder for the waiter.

Julian raised his glass of water and tipped his head graciously in Miranda’s direction. “Here’s to a great summer, a good tan, and the SAT prep class I signed you up for.”  For an instant she looked crestfallen but then her eyes flickered with indignation.

“But me and Claude were going to . . .” She said.

“Well it is only three weeks long, I’m sure he can rearrange his schedule.” Julian said

“Does this make you feel like a parent or something?  I mean, why do have to try to ruin my summer?”

Miranda pushed the plate to the side and leaned into the table with both elbows.  Inez touched her arm.  Miranda turned to Inez and gave her a withering look

“I need shoes.” She said flatly.  Julian looked down at her feet and again he saw the same hard candy red coating that was her lips.  True enough, the child was there in a pair of flat straw sandals. Inez forced a thin smile.  How could Miranda be expected to know, that in some parts of the world girls this age at the very moment were screaming with labor pains, or carrying on their heads jugs of water back from the river to the red-earthed village?   Not possible.  This girl sitting, just sitting next to her father; was somehow under the table rubbing the world against her thigh.
“Let’s see what you bought” Julian said.

© 2010

[Please check back tomorrow for part 4 of All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow]

Monday, October 25, 2010

All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow (part 2)

[Here's the second part of B.N.'s story]

Looks Like Freedom But Feels Like Death Must Be Something In-between 
Leonard Cohen

Twenty five years ago light poured through the leaded glass panes of the patrician tower, collected in pools around them and reflected back off the polished stone floors, their radiance, their blessing, potential, and of course money.  How they seemed to float just inches above marble floors, holding sweating glasses of wine—chalices really.  Nobody bothered to notice, or were too polite to say that in contrast Inez ground her way, flint to stone, through college and then graduate school, as grim as Jane Eyre at Lockwood.  She worked hard, unencumbered by the curses of imagination, talent or family money.  She borrowed their light briefly.  And what did she see illuminated?  Her own plainness, as plain as freckles on the fat girls’ arms.  Then the light was gone, the music silent, the room empty.   

What remained?  That constant nagging feeling of her parents’ immigration in her stomach—heavy, like cabbage and root vegetables.  Her father locking the chain link fence behind him as he closed his salvage yards as she watched for the sidewalk.  The feral cats that would scatter nightly when he closed the lid on the dumpster.   Her parents were unwashed field potatoes.  Oh, how Tante Raizel had pleaded their case—family lore had it that she, already in America for a few years, practically an American, went from office to office pleading, begging and flirting when necessary for their rescue.  She sought out the Red Cross, the Jewish agency, every congressman she could corner.  Years later, they lacked the warm deep golden polish of having been in America for generations.  How had they repaid her?  Scorpions, they stung Tante Raizel by never accepting their adopted homeland.  They huddled in Brooklyn like they were hunkered down in a bunker waiting for the occupying troops to leave the city.  When she died in New Jersey, the whole aging community of Yiddishist Bolsheviks mourned—the funeral was a pageant of old men with violins.  After the cemetery her father loaded the borrowed station wagon with all the art from her house, (take the GW Bridge—cousin Louis directed,) and he drove it into Manhattan right to the address on the card of the auction house and dropped it all off.  Cocking his head and squinting at the gilt ornate framed contents for one last time. 

Were her parents arriving on the Saturnia as it sailed into New York harbor the same day as Julian’s mother walked through Central Park in tiny white gloves with faux pearl buttons eating ice cream and holding a pink balloon?  The first time Inez met Julian’s mother she felt almost like she should have curtsied.  She looked like she had stepped out from a Sargent portrait.  Tall and regal in a sea blue dress with a sweep of graying auburn hair clipped effortlessly by combs.  She remembered his mother’s well-established garden, spikes of pink foxglove, visited by bumblebees.  Her own mother had some clay pots out on the fire escape.   In that other life the garden moved with precisions.  The early spring jonquils and hyacinths gave way to lilies that gave way to the mid and late summer anemone; and then bellflowers with the precise blue of Wedgwood—not the burdock of empty lots, not pots of mere marigolds.   The grass formed the perfect cushion under foot.  She was just another friend from college, they all pretended to have come from the same pool— glistening water. 

They had all had the same control over their lives and outcomes.  It followed then, that they proceeded in their chosen direction—ever upward.  But that was not completely true.  Outcomes for Inez were a sidewalk game with shells—the marble was under the other shell—not the one she picked.  What was this mystery of life?   In other countries and at other times they called it by name.  Class.  Unbelievably, it took Inez years to figure it out.   All the people around her shied away from ever speaking in real terms about what would decide their futures.  Nobody spoke the more common truth, in America you either inherited money, married it, or stole it.  Plain and simple.  Tra la la la, Inez is studying folklore—little fairies houses made from cookies and cake.  Well, her parents were not singing.  Go for teaching, her mother, suggested, accounting, nursing. She had a shaky position as an instructor at a City College— So, Julian again. 

She put aside the article she was working on.  She canceled her Friday class, office hours, and poured out enough food and water to keep the cats alive until she came back.  The blue and white sashed dresses of girlhood were gone.   What could she offer up?   This morning she wore a linen suit, already wrinkled.  The whole flight she gave herself to easy thoughts— It would be nice to catch up with people.  Nice to get away.

Did Julian he have an eye for art or a head for business? She could never quite know, having neither herself.  There was a period when he had either built galleries from raw industrial spaces or stepped in to save them from the brink of ruin.   Then he hit the mother lode.  A large, obscenely rich, oblivious family in the Midwest.  To prove to her his transformation he even learned the phrase “the shmatah business.”  Now he built private collections, collected collections for these clients that had all started collections.  They would pay pay pay for something to hang on their wall that would make their friends go slack jawed when they heard the price and then stare in disbelief at the wall.  They practically had price tags on the wall next to the frames. 

© 2010

[Please check back tomorrow for part three of this five-part story]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Spring Ghazals Reviewed

Sorry for barging in on the middle of B.N.’s great story, but I did want to take a moment to note that poet/artist Jessica Fox-Wilson has written a wonderful review of my book, The Spring Ghazals on her blog, everything feeds process.  You can read her review, for which I’m truly grateful, right here.

Ms. Fox-Wilson’s blog is always worth reading—I subscribe & look forward to new posts, which can be anything from poetry to insightful discussions on the creative process to photos taken during a commuter bus ride.  Jessica Fox-Wilson is currently working on her own poetry manuscript, which she intends to publish in the near future.  When she does, I assure you it will be reviewed here!

You also can read some of Jessica’s poetry on our own satellite blog, Writers Talk, right here;  you also can read her interview at this link.

Thanks so much, Jessica!  & by the bye: to those of you who doubt Twitter—this review & much of the book’s publicity wouldn’t have happened without it. 

All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow (part 1)

[Here's the first of five installments of B.N.'s powerful new story.  The story will run thru Thursday 10/28]

All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow
Alainu Prayer/Issia 45.23

Voices rolled over the vast white and glass terminal, pinged into columns and were then cut short by utilitarian architecture and human bulk, boarding calls, squalling infants, announcements and safety instructions.  From where she was standing next to a magazine rack Inez watched shows of easy emotions—oh my god I am so glad to see you—kind gestures of reaching down to lift another’s bags.   As she moved deeper into the terminal past the gift and souvenir shops stocked with mugs and tee shirts what she saw were whole fat families in shorts and T-shirts, boisterous, mean-spirited and spiteful towards each other, slouching in flip-flops and shorts.  How worn down everything felt, everyone looked.
That whole autumn and well into winter, she feared every cloud would let loose an acid rain that could melt bone.  Images kept popping up like a jack in the box . . . the monkey thought it all was in fun—.  Just when the merry music called you closer, lulled you:  Boom.   Suddenly somewhere the herd startled, changed direction and stampeded the fields where the women and their children tended the crop of sorghum. Upriver the villagers had taken sick—mysterious fevers that turn innards to gore soup. Someplace at every moment great suffering was occurring—horrible injustice fanned out like a deck of cards.  She remembered her own mother’s moods and how she watched her face as she pushed back the images of jackbooted thugs goose-stepping in the town square; how she feared it would no doubt in time be right down 13th Avenue.  “Mom, it is America” she would tell her.  “All that was a long time ago, we are so safe that we’re bored stupid.”  She knew her mother fought back the specters with small realities of meat on sale, upcoming weddings. Like a machete cutting back the jungle undergrowth, she wielded an imaginary blade and whacked back the python of her moods of their past.

Don’t even ask the question. What was the future?  Snarling hellhounds moving in packs at the edge of the city. 

Each day the newspapers and the military experts on television assured the jittery public that guilty parties would be found.   The axis of evil was pushpins in maps.  Reports said he had been sighted on a mountain trail; the best intelligence said he was holding up in a cave—dangerous mysterious terrain.  He was a shape-shifter—video images were authenticated or dismissed—sinister forces at work with daggers, or box cutters.  Detention centers were set up.  Weapons grade plutonium moved by pack mule over borders that only existed on maps.  Land mines were disguised as children’s toys.

Yes, lately the whole mood of things was different. Every time she left her apartment, she told herself, just a run to the corner market—2 peaches a croissant and home.  Now, she repeats just a weekend, only a weekend.
She slid into the molded plastic chair and waited for her boarding call.  Her fellow passengers began to move downstream to collect at the gate.  She clutched two forms of photo id, and she arrived four hours prior to scheduled departure.  

One of the first things she noticed was that a new breed of people had evolved and left the primordial broth.   “Homeland Security” had recruited the entire population of the indifferent and the brutish to strip all the others down to their stocking feet, to confiscate, knitting needles from old ladies and plastic nunchucks from small children. She watched people trudge doggedly toward the boarding gate door, heavy with an invisible burden, some talking into cell phones or wearing headphones— Airline representatives on cue moved in from behind counters with walkie-talkies.  She was still trying to gather her things back into her purse from the final security check.  It had all felt like a gust of wind and she was bits of paper that went flying.   Just last week she drove past what the future was supposed to be—the 1964 World’s Fair Globe—one world—futuristic, easy and benign as moving sidewalks that transported the weary.  Her stomach was in a roil of twists.  How complicated was the new millennium?  On a personal level barely indistinguishable from the old, except for the heightened sense of sheer terror she now has at flying.  How different is a plane from a missile anyway?  Cargo. Human. 

That day she was in the 40’s near 5th Ave and the morning sky had the perfect pitch of blue, autumnal and very warm.  It was a beautiful day.   First, she noticed people packed into bars and restaurants watching televisions— Why was she even in midtown? The latch on her bracelet had broken and she was just going to have it repaired.  Then she heard the talk, saw the confused and quiet faces.  She could see all the way up 5th—that was how clear and perfect the day was.  And she saw the tower just collapse.

That first week she went with Mrs. Mermelstien to a Shiva house—the pile still burning.  Those on the upper floors above the impact used their cell phones to call out. The few Orthodox men working that day in the towers called the Rabbi in Brooklyn, the main possek—he answered the most difficult questions concerning the laws of life and death.  How had they formed the question—did they even need to speak the words?  “Jump,”  the Rabbi said, what else did he say to them?  Well, he never spoke about those final conversations.  They called their wives—those last details—where she could find the keys to the safety deposit box, the ethical will for the children.

The whole winter was bitter and complicated.  People were sifting through toxic ash looking for bits of bone and teeth.   Spring brought a little relief.   A few weeks ago, when Julian had called, he had to leave a message.  When she called him back the person that answered the phone said he was “out on the Island” for the weekend.   It was not until the middle of the week that she actually spoke to him.   At which point she was already worn thin, and after the train home from teaching her class; looking at her small white cartons of oily Chinese take out, she was sure she had no past and certainly no future. But then his voice—a warm velvet curtain of invitation. Did she leap up at the chance?  No, she imagined graceful back flips of her body agile, supple.

“Sure I’d love to,” she said.  She was so absorbed in the possibility of stepping out of own life even briefly that it hardly registered that Julian’s sister Cleo was getting married again.  All Inez felt was the world once again had potential and would welcome her, if not with roaring cheers then with polite applause.  The passage of decades was erased.

In graduate school when they were all still living in the area, Julian used to coax her out of her dreary basement apartment, the card table buried under a half finished, thesis on—what was it?  Folk-tales, Gypsy melodies, Child Ballads.   She drank frothy cups of cappuccino, ate flan with just a hint of amaretto—here kitty, kitty, come sweet pussycat, and she would stretch and rub against him.  Did she purr?  God she hoped not.  Now it was so nice of him to invite her and of course it was all right if he brought a guest—his sister’s wedding, okay not his sister’s first time to the fair.

Last summer she felt finally, after ten years a life about to begin she and Nathan were looking for a house together.  Not too late.  She imagined strollers.  Then he came home from a weeklong conference in Scotland, bitter and distant and covered with a strange rash. “Did your paper not go well,” she asked?   “Maybe you need to see a Doctor.”

How did he put it?  What had Nathan said, scratching his arm, that he was attracted to women, to some men, and just not to her?  Uhm, attraction, a notion she turned over in mind as quickly as one turns her head to avert her eyes from a horrific car crash—a severed head rolling in the gutter.  Two decades of therapy, ten of her life and he did not even feign contrition.  He left to live with a 24-year-old graduate student, who had stayed after he presented his paper to ask some questions.  Inez helped him pack— except for one photograph of Nathan together with his mother.  That, she cut up and placed in bits into an ice tray filled with water, now pushed into the back of her freezer.  Her mother had once implied that she was merely a courtesan or was it a cover?

Almost a year after Nathan decamped Julian called her out of the blue.  He was in New York on some business and he wanted to “do” lunch.  When she first told Julian that Nathan had left to move in with a 24-year-old, Julian reached over and touched the top of her hand.  It was after all Julian who introduced her to Nathan.  She remembered, Julian said that Nathan seemed to want the same things in life as she did.  Even that day having lunch in a place that Julian picked because of its reputation for Vietnamese noodles, she saw people gravitated toward Julian; how many times was he given refills on a hardly sipped drink.  Okay, she was teary and ragged, relating the whole story, and not looking like anyone to just strike up a conversation with, but was she invisible?  Over the years she had heard that professionally, he was sought after.   His intuition and knowledge on art and artifacts mattered, his keen eye had in fact made him almost rich, which he was to start with; but he did not lose any ground.  Her own vision had gone blurry after Nathan left, maybe it had been dimming slowly all along. She had the mind numbing relentless repetition, work getting home to the shoebox apartment that was “only temporary” what was that, twenty years ago?  

She could not even sum it up any more.  And nobody ever asked her to.  Food tasted like ash, colors drained out of objects.  Exchanges became fraught, defensive.  Was this age? Was Nathan the final blow?  Her life, a dowager’s hump— weekends at home watching old movies. With friends and colleagues there were still parties, but they grew increasingly more infrequent and more detailed, everything stood for something else— orchid centerpieces, and complex seating arrangements—things needed to addressed, redressed, divorces, affairs, plain old bad feelings.  She thought she would have it too in her hand.  It no longer seemed to matter how graciously she had pressed through the period of baby showers and then Bar Mitzvahs, graduation parties.  In place of the smoky illicit parties of college students trying to be badass, there were the occasional twenty-fifth anniversaries—white tablecloths with canvas umbrellas waving in the breeze. 
Julian—they had tried—something.   What was that about?  Everybody was trying something with everybody else.  Who knew?  Back then things did not require explanations as they do now.  All that clumsily fumbling in the dark or the light.  Had they crossed a boundary that should have not been crossed?  Had they taken it too far because they could?  Or was it that she felt that just her proximity to him added a dimension to her that she did not have on her own, that she could never have on her own, that made her better, made her more?  Briefly, even Julian’s petulant artsy crowd dressed in combat boots and go-go skirts treated her better.  Then they tried it again.  Another decade, tried it again.

Inez bought three magazines at the kiosk, breath mints, and a granola bar—she did not know if they even gave peanuts anymore on short flights.  She wondered whether or not these would be taken from her at the final security.   Her fellow travelers began to collect at the boarding door. For the most part they seemed ill-tempered, frazzled, a man in a navy blue business suit and a red tie sticking out from a side pocket elbowed his way to the front of the snaking line, a baby in an outfit with a large yellow sunflower bawled and sweated in his mothers arms.   Why hadn’t she taken the train? 

© 2010

[Please check back tomorrow for part 2!]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Photo of the Week 10/23/10

Apples in Our Backyard
Indian Valley, Idaho
Friday, October 22nd

Please check out tomorrow's post at The Days of Wine & Roses; it's the final poem in the Heaven sequence ("Heaven #6), & is the penultimate poem in the collection.  Counting tomorrow, there will only 3 more posts on The Days of Wine & Roses before the blog is retired.

More poetry?  Be sure to check in on The Spring Ghazals!  There will be a new post there within the next day or so, & at least one more during the course of the week.

There won't be a Monday post on Alcools.  The next translation isn't completed yet.

& tomorrow on Robert Frost's Banjo?  We begin B.N.'s story All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow.  This story is about 911, & about privilege.  It's a powerhouse, & while B.N. & I don't agree about some of the points-of-view that come up during the narrative, I give it a high recommendation as a piece of fiction.  The story is divided into five parts, & it will be posted serially, Sunday thru Thursday.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Homegrown Radio 10/22/10

Observant fans of Homegrown Radio may have noticed that I mistakenly included this week’s song in last week’s embedded playlist.  Sorry about that!  Now that it’s the official new song of the week, let’s hear what Joel Murach has to say about “And the World Was On Fire:”

It was a scorching hot summer and there were wildfires burning everywhere in California. I was driving from Fresno to Santa Cruz. I was in the middle of the worst breakup of my life. To top it all off, I rented a documentary about 9/11 that Earl Butter recommended to me. It was devastating. And it all blended together into this song.

I started by recording a voice and a guitar, but it didn't sound so great, so I added more guitars and voices. I hope it sounds better now. I will probably keep working on it because I think this song is worth it.

Don’t forget: Joel has three albums available, & they can be purchased right here thru his website.  Hope you have a happy Friday & enjoy the song!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writers Talk with L.E. Leone

I am so happy to introduce today’s Writers Talk interviewee, my dear friend L.E. Leone.  & I’m especially happy to introduce her, because it appeared for awhile that it wouldn’t happen—I  thought I had misplaced L.E. & her ukulele, not to mention her interview responses, somewhere in the California wilderness.  She herself, as is so often the case, didn’t realize she’d been misplaced.

Any hoot: L.E. Leone, in addition to being my very good friend & one of the regular contributors on the Robert Frost Banjo blog, is a successful writer & musician.  She has published two volumes of short stories: The Meaning of Lunch & Big Bend, as well as a collection of restaurant reviews titled Eat This, San Francisco.  L.E. is also the regular Cheap Eats restaurant reviewer for the weekly San Francisco Bay Guardian.  Musically, she was a founding member of the band Ed’s Redeeming Qualities, & has also performed with the Buckets & Lipsey Mountain Spring Band.  L.E. currently has a solo music thing going under her nom de guerre of Sister Exister.  You can check out her album Scratch on CDBaby here.

You can also check out her poem, “Licking Knives”, on the Writers Talk blog.  I should perhaps point out that the poem is "NFSW."

Most importantly to me, L.E. has been a tried & true friend since the early 90s.  She has always been supportive of my creative endeavors, be they writerly or musical—& I must say, whatever musical endeavors I have these days were greatly inspired by L.E.’s own serious “can do” musical attitude. 

& so: here’s L.E.!

When did you first realize your identity as a writer?

I think I was six. I was walking on the playground behind Immaculate Conception school in Youngstown, Ohio, looking at my little shoes moving across the asphalt, hearing grasshoppers jumping in the dry weeds around the perimeter, and thinking that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I was Agent 99 from Get Smart. It was my first exercise in point-of-view, and as soon as I realized that I was one (a point of view), and that that was about all I was … it was over.

Around maybe fourth grade I started making poems, which I self-published on scraps of paper and passed to the kid I had a crush on. He passed them to his cousin, and they made the rounds. And I made my reputation—which I still have—as a kind-of literary clown. These poems were usually two simple, rhyming lines about something predictable (such as snow or tree frogs) designed to lull my little classmates into a stupor, and then a third line which—by design—had nothing to do with anything (such as Miles Standish). The goal was to get them to laugh out loud in the classroom. Really, I’m still doing almost exactly that.

Describe the creative process involved in any one piece you’ve written—this could be book, a story, a poem, an essay, etc.
My short story “Spinach,” for example, started with a line from a song that a friend of mine wrote: “I have a photo / from the first day we met / it helps me remember / but I usually forget / I keep it in my shoe / in case I get lost” … Six lines, I guess, which I thought were brilliant, and which sprung me into one of the longest stories I ever told. For no good reason, really, I told it in a kind of a made-up dialect. Something southern-ish. And I set it in Alma, Arkansas, and Tucson, Arizona, really because those were two of the places I had just played on tour with my old band, and they kind of stuck in my head. Because the shows went pretty well, or something.

So happens, there was also a point, during that tour, where I got in a huge fight with one of my bandmates while we were driving through the Sonoran desert, and I fantasized about leaving him behind when he got out of the car. The story “Spinach” has nothing to do, really, with any of these things. Yet they’re all there, in the story. It’s a twisted, three-way love story that’s sad and funny. After that tour, my bandmates, with whom I lived, dispersed for the holidays, and I stayed behind in San Francisco and stayed up late, and wrote, and wrote and wrote.

A couple of editors at the Paris Review really helped and encouraged me with the dialect. I remember them saying: “Go all the way. Take it to an extreme. Really get inside of this character.” And I did, through several rewrites, until it eventually worked. I came to love the way that particular narrator spoke, so much so that I have adopted some of his made up words and malaprops for my own. Years later, when the story was published in my book, another editor, my friend Mike DeCapite, had the bright idea of adding a couple of wigs onto this desert-days shopping list, and now that is my favorite thing about the story. I laugh every time I think of it, and it wasn’t even my idea, or words.

So, this all probably sounds pretty patchwork-y by now, but I think it’s one of the most cohesive and complete things I ever wrote. And all I’d wanted to do, initially, was try to imagine a reason for a guy keeping a photograph for years and years in his shoe.

Could you describe your relationship to the publishing process (this can be publishing in any form, from traditional book publishing to blogging, etc)?

I do well with deadlines. Stop laughing, John. Really, though, I wrote a regular column for my high school paper. I was the editor of my college paper, and had to crank out editorials twice a week. And ever since graduate school, where I focused on fiction-writing, I have had to produce a weekly column under deadline pressure. I love being in a newspaper, because people read it. It’s local, immediate, and in my experience butters more bagels than books do. But really the bottom line is that more people read newspapers than books. Right? I might be wrong, and in any case it is of course changing. I’m told print media will all but disappear. It’s been pretty good to me, but I’m not going to dig in my heels. Wherever people are reading what they read, that’s where I’ll go because that’s what it’s about for me: my words, and your eyeballs. Or ears. I have loved writing (and recording) for this blog. It gives me a deadline (which I missed this week, that’s why John was laughing) … and a voice. The truth is, I don’t eat a lot of bagels.

How has being a writer affected your relationships?

That’s a really good question. I can tell because I don’t have any idea how to answer it. I have fucked up and lost friends because of something I wrote. It hasn’t happened often, but it has and I hate that and would love a do-over. My weekly column is tricky because I write about my life, and my life includes—in fact, features—my relationships.

Most of my friends seem to get a kick out of being in my column, even though I use nicknames and often make things up about them, say they said things they didn’t say, and in some cases tease them. One of my closest friends, and perhaps my favorite person to write about, has put a restraining order on me, writingwise. But I sneak things in, like this, because I love to say her name: Crawdad de la Cooter.

As for romantic relationships, hmm, I do wonder sometimes if publishing poems and restaurant reviews about bad dates might not be counterproductive to getting good ones. Honestly, if I met me in a bar (for example) and knew who I was and what I wrote, I would be afraid to date me.

On the other hand my writing is what gives me confidence in myself, and therefore (I assume) makes me at all attractive. It is how I flirt. I don’t mean in love letters. I mean in restaurant reviews—and, to a lesser degree, in short stories, songs, and poetry.

So another way of looking at it is: If I weren’t a writer I would never have had any romantic relationships … to be negatively affected by the fact that I am a writer.

How would you describe the community of writers you belong to—if any?  This may be a “real” or “virtual” (in more than one sense) community.

I would describe my community of writers as Nancy Krygowski. She’s one of my oldest, dearest friends, and a great poet from Pittsburgh, PA. Every Friday, before the end of the day, her time, she has to send me a new poem, or else. And in return, by the end of my work week (which is three hour later, ha ha) I have to send her three pages of fiction. In this way, we force each other to produce. It’s a great arrangement, because I love Nancy, and absolutely adore her poetry, so when I crank out my three pages, I feel I am earning something way more precious than paychecks, or even accolades: I am earning the existence of one more poem of hers in this underpoetic world. So my inspiration to write, these days, comes from my desire for someone else to write. And this is working, for both of us.

In a broader sense, my community includes writers with whom I have become, through the years, great friends and even soulmates
even if our friendships no longer revolve around writing, as they once did. There are a handful of these special friends scattered around the country at this point—New York, Ohio, Idaho, upstairs—and at one time or another, in one way or another, they have all saved my life.

What are your future goals in terms of writing?
I’m glad you asked. Because, for the first time since fourth grade, I have one. I have a goal! What I want to do is change the world. How? By doing something no one has ever done, to my knowledge: writing a series of stories, each with at least one positive male character who is competent, kind, cool as hell, lucky as fuck, on fire, and (it so happens) in love—madly, openly, and entirely coincidentally—with a transgender woman. Do you see why this is vital? The biggest social, political, or for that matter socio-political issue of our time, as far as I can make out, is that not a lot of people want to go out with trans women, and those that do, tend to be secretive about it, and ashamed. I would like to do something about this.

Bonus Question: If your writing were a musical instrument, what would it be?

Easy. The tissue-comb harmonica.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Banjos, Ghazals, Buses & More

Happy Wednesday afternoon, all. It’s yours truly checking in with news & highlights & coming distractions!

Speaking of which, & as illustration of the titular “more,” check this out: tomorrow on Robert Frost’s Banjo: a Writers Talk interview with our own regular contributor & fan favorite, L.E. Leone! In addition to her interview, L.E. will also have a new poem for us tomorrow on the Writers Talk blog.

But there’s more: regular contributor, B.N.—who is now officially in the market for a different nom de plume—will have a 5-part story running in this space Sunday thru Thursday of next week. The story is titled All Knees Shall Bend And Every Tongue Shall Vow, & it’s a powerhouse. To accommodate the story, the Photo of the Week feature will move to Saturday.

Not to mention: 2 more installments of Homegrown Radio with Joel Murach, both this Friday & again on October 29th!

Ghazals? Yes, folks, The Spring Ghazals is on & is awaiting all you kind potential buyers! Is it ill-advised to self-publish a book of poetry during an “economic crisis?”
Perhaps, but there you have it—the book is published. I can honestly say that The Spring Ghazals is a good book, one that I’m proud to have written, & one that stands up to comparison to other books of contemporary poetry, whether self-published or not. I also can honestly say that I’m not a natural marketer or self-promoter. If I were those things, it’s safe to say my life experiences would have been quite different. But having said that, I do hope you’ll consider purchasing the book, & that in addition, you’d consider writing a review on your blogs &/or giving yours truly a “writerly” interview. These things would be much appreciated & would I believe win you much good karma in the long run.

Speaking of poetry (& more): how about The Poetry Bus? I have my copy, I’m happy to say, & it’s wonderful. Lots of good writing in this issue, & yours truly has a poem in there (page 32!)

You can get The Poetry Bus for approximately the cost of a movie ticket, & you can get The
Spring Ghazals for less than the cost of your average cd (per CDBaby, the average cd is $12.85)! Just saying.

Banjos: Well, Eberle & I had a music show on Friday. First, let me say that Eberle played great. In retrospect, I wish she’d played on more songs. Yours truly? Well, my guitar playing was fine—I felt a bit off, I think largely due to a small turn-out, but I do have a margin on the guitar. But the feedback I’ve gotten so far is that there was just too much intense blues stuff & that my singing style (at least my delta blues singing style) is too “talky” for a full-length stage show. This feedback has been the source of much soul-searching over the past few days. Right now, I’m leaning toward spending the winter working on some instrumental material, both on the guitar & on the banjo—so for a bit at least, future Monday Morning Blues segments may be instrumentals. I’m also considering expanding my repertoire to involve what’s typically referred to as “old-timey” music these days. Can I mix “I Wish I was a Mole in the Ground” with “Banty Rooster Blues” or “Gonna Wear That Starry Crown” with “Levee Camp Moan?” We shall see!

Have a great rest of Wednesday, folks, & hope to see you early & often around Robert Frost’s Banjo for the great upcoming features.

Adams County Makes the News - Council Leader #22

World War I
[The World War I section  of the Adams County Makes the News series continues]


On the first of the week, the publisher of this paper received a personal letter from Dr. R.T. Whiteman, who enlisted in the service early last year and is now in charge of a field hospital on the French front.  The letter is characteristic of the big, good-natured "Doc" and contains many things of interest.  Although the regulations forbid an officer to write for publication, a fact to which Dr. Whiteman has called our attention, we assume that to quote portions of the letter is permissible.  This we do on our own responsibility and without permission from the writer.  Among other things he says:

"You will no doubt understand from previous experience that information on the very matters that will interest you most is strictly "taboo," so I will have to keep within the stipulated limitations.  We have seen lots of territory, and our experiences have been many and varied—some pleasant, some otherwise; but most of them new and therefore interesting and of such nature as to be beneficial in more ways than one.  These experiences have enabled us to get the other fellow's, the Frenchman's, viewpoint more completely than would otherwise be possible.

“As for our impressions of France and its people, I cannot say enough in its favor.  It is a beautiful county, much like parts of Idaho, and the people have exerted themselves at every opportunity to make life pleasant for us—nothing is too good for the American boys, and the sole aim of the French as well ourselves is to win the war.  Their economy and the completeness with which everything is utilized has taught us lessons that will go far toward making an impression when we get back home.

"We are all impressed with the natural politeness and gentle manners of the French people.  This applies even among the commonest of them.  Their natural courtesy is quite striking and we have been made to realize that in our ordinary life at home we have been negligent in the little courtesies that are observed here as a matter of habit.  After becoming acquainted with these kindly, home-loving French people it is also easy for one to understand how it is they have fought so courageously to protect their homes from invasion by the Hun.

"Several of our boys are getting clippings from their home papers, which, I must say, are a source of more or less irritation.  The subject of such clippings seems to be an arraignment of the American soldier abroad and, according to these papers, drunkenness, venereal diseases and debauchery in every form is about to prove the ruination of the U.S. Army.  Since these assertions are very unfair to our army as a whole it is but fair that I mention in a general way that—as a doctor who is in a position to know these things—during my entire stay in France, in constant contact with large bodies of men, my observation has been that these evils are NOT as MUCH in evidence HERE as they were in camps of similar character at home and it is not too much to say that the American boy is SAFER right HERE than he is under similar circumstance in his own country.  I do not infer that with our boys all is perfection, but they are a fine, manly lot and that criticism comes with poor grace from people at home, some of whom lack the backbone required to "get into the game", but who are extremely solicitous and critical on the sidelines—far removed from danger.

"Well, Mr. Mike, you are no doubt wondering as to the outcome, etc., and we can dispose of that in few words by saying that we are not READY to come home yet, and by saying that we do not like the idea of the folks at home talking about it so much.  ACTION and PEACE talk will not mix, Mike, and any time taken up with peace prattle is time taken from the business at hand." 

October 4, 1918 

In accordance with instructions from Red Cross Headquarters, this week has been set apart as "Linen Shower Week" throughout America.  Word from the Allied battle front states that hospitals are in urgent need of millions of bath towels, sheets, and other similar material.  Instead of purchasing these products through commercial channels, which would necessitate delay, it has been planned to ask each family to contribute one article or a set of articles of household linen form their reserve stock. 

Those in charge of the work say that the allotment for the Adams county chapter is not large and should be filled without difficulty.  The call for this chapter is as follows:
50 bath towels, 19 x 38.
100 hand towels, 18 x 30.
70 handkerchiefs, 18 x 18.
5 napkins, 14 x 14.
30 sheets, 64 x 102.
The Junior Red Cross has charge of collecting the materials.

October 4, 1918 

We are requested to again call attention to the fact that the Government asks that all fruit pits—peach, plum, apricots, etc., be saved.  That pits are old will not interfere with their value.  They may be left at the Criss store.

October 4, 1918 
Feeding wheat to livestock has been prohibited by the U.S. Food Administration for a year or more, but now, in view of the big 1918 wheat crop in the country, farmers may feed wheat to livestock under certain conditions.  The food administration ruling recites that no wheat within hauling distance of market may be used for feeding, except on permit issued by the county food administrator.  To obtain the permit, the man who wishes to feed the wheat to livestock must submit to the county food administrator a 2-pound sample of the grain in a cloth bag, and state the number of bushels needed for feeding, and to what animals it will be fed.  If the wheat grades less than No. 3, a feeding permit may be issued.

October 25, 1918

The Food Administration has issued a new set of rules for the serving of meals in all public eating places, the same having become effective on Monday of this week.  These general orders prohibit the serving of any bread that does not contain at least twenty percent of flour substitutes, and of this Victory bread, no more than two ounces may be served to a patron at one meal; if no Victory bread is served, four ounces of other breads, such as corn bread, muffins, Boston brown bread etc. may be served.

No bread is to be served until after the first course is on the table, and no bread or toast may be served as a garniture.  Bacon is also barred as a garniture, and only one meat may be served to one person at a meal.  “Double” cream is banned.  No sugar bowls will be allowed on the tables; a teaspoonful is the limit for a meal, and then only when asked for.  No waste food may be burned, but all must be saved to feed animals or reduced to obtain fat.

compiled by Eberle Umbach