Archive for January, 2011

Theater of One

January 29, 2011

Winnie is speaking. Ah yes, she says, if only I could bear to be alone, I mean prattle away without a soul to hear…Is that not so, Willie? Is that not so, Willie, that even words fail, at times?…Oh no doubt the time will come when before I can utter a word I must make sure you heard the one that went before and then no doubt another time will come another time when I must learn to talk to myself a thing I could never bear to do in such wilderness…Is gravity what it was, Willie, I fancy not…I do hope you caught something of that, Willie, I should be sorry to think you caught nothing of all that, it is not every day that I rise to such heights.

Have you seen Happy Days? I took the kids to see it the other night at the Far Cry Community Theater. Winnie is buried up to her belly button in act one. When the curtain opens for act two, she’ll be in it up to her neck. That happens to people, you know. I had a cousin who was buried up to his pituitary gland.  One time at the beach, I fell asleep and the kids covered me with sand and sculpted an enormous monkey over me. At least they said it was a monkey. Guy took a picture and put it in the Dune Reporter. To me, this was no monkey. More like a marmoset.

You know that old joke about the woman who went to see the Shakespeare play and was less than impressed because it was all made up from quotes? When I told the kids we were going to see a play called Happy Days…okay, I could have told them that The Fonze was not in this production, I could have told them this was the Samuel Beckett play, but then they wouldn’t have come. And they did like it. We had a pretty good discussion coming home in the car.

Guy (from the back seat): Is Willie supposed to be Shakespeare?

Doll (next to me in the front.  Again, I have to remind her about the seat belt): Are we really supposed to be listening? I felt like I was eavesdropping.

A parent should be both preceptor and pedagogue.  Doll’s thought is by far the more interesting, but  Guy may be on to something too. A good conversation brings everybody in.

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That the Wide River Widens

January 26, 2011

Sad, in a way, for her to be saying this
to all her creations: sad, that they are like
a rift of land entranced by all the rivers,
its air protected by all her fears, fears
that tear the morning river’s gown into its evening shreds;

that each one is unique, each one a form
become more formal, a portrait
where skin is portrayed as both egg and shell,
a simple breechcloth left to cloak the escaping air;
that a child can be born; and that she knows she must hide
his face, and then, like a tiny boat, float down

the river, a river that she must imagine all
her children floating in too, as it flows through
all our towns, just as we must imagine our friends
and our children, our lovers and ourselves, afloat,
alone, un-chaperoned, perhaps for the
last time, buoyant at last.


Yes, sad, for her to say goodbye,
for the wide river widens,
and that river…
that river is ever distasteful
in our open mouths.

Mosaic of Souls

January 19, 2011

Suppose they really did come from
Byzantium, suppose they did sail
from some antique shore,
and in a moment’s indiscretion
—a sudden flash, as if a hammer blow—
they did become ancient bits
of tile and city, stone and shell.

For nothing will quite hide that tumescent
organ peeking out below  the swan,
as if amidst a pile of blowing feathers,
nor duplicate the effect that a fractured tile
on facing faces must reveal.
Those stains are stains that the stately robes
should not have in their creases…

A memory of the sun can shine
brighter than the sun itself.
You can’t say that syntax failed them. You can’t
say that it’s a metaphor too obvious
for us to use. The seed is spilled.
The tiles have been both broken and restored.
You can’t even say it is the failure
hope has in store for every living thing.
Trauma follows trauma.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Mosaic souls, awake.

A Poise Between

January 11, 2011

Even the babies are not themselves up there,
just playing in the snow, letting
the mountain peaks disguise them.
The babies laugh at words of loss.
They laugh at thoughts of words.
To think that you can liken ice
to such a delicate liqueur!

Read Yeats on gold.
It’s the not-so-human
we should be focusing on.
All those perfect babies…
to show that absence, loss,
etc. are best survived
with a pinch of salt…

Yet, how they pause, how they pose.
They like the ice down in
their diapers, too, you know—
it’s like pee, only colder.
Concede snow is a poise
between the meadow and the sun,
that essence of absence is
always best served when empty and when cold,
where shapes of babies smile and gurgle—
just a little stream beneath the snow,
just the babble the water makes—
so fragile, so all aglow.

Even the babies, a gentle
central fragrance.

A Crate List

January 5, 2011

I keep my books in milk crates. I do. Some of them are real milk crates that I liberated from their proper function years ago, and some of them are store bought, slightly fashionable, storage crates that have interlocking pegs to facilitate stacking. And if you run a milk delivery service, and are contemplating legal action…come on…I got most of these crates years ago, I was young and foolish, I’ve rehabilitated myself, and besides, there’s a statute of limitations on milk crate liberation.(Isn’t there?) Anyway, as it’s the season for lists—movies to see and to avoid, books to read, music to listen to, websites to sight—all good topics to make up a list about…here’s The Extrasimile Book Crate List.

What is this a list of? The top crate right next to the desk tends to have the books I’m reading now—or am thinking about reading, or just read, am pretending that soon I will start to read, have read a little of, will never get to but won’t/ can’t admit it to myself—those books.

1. Henry Adams. History of the United States of America during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson.
I think Henry Adams is not much read these days. This volume runs to some 1200 pages. I like to dip into it now and again just for the quality of the prose.

Life was quickening within it [Harvard] as within all mankind—the spirit and vivacity of the coming age could not be wholly shut out; but none the less the college resembled a priesthood which had lost the secret of its mysteries, and patiently stood holding the flickering torch before cold alters, until God should vouchsafe a new dispensation of sunlight. Amen, Henry.

2. Bruce Duffy. The World as I Found It.
Who is Bruce Duffy? There’s not a whole lot of information out there, but he wrote The World as I Found It, a novel about G.E. Moore, Bertrand Russell and Ludwig Wittgenstein and it’s a good novel. Surprisingly good. Is this the worst title ever? Yes, but:

If I wrote a book called The World as I Found It, I should have to included a report of my body, and should have to say which parts were subordinate to my will and which were not, etc., this being a method of isolating the subject, or rather of showing that in an important sense, there is no subject; for it alone could not be mentioned in that book.— Quote, the mighty Ludwig, unquote.

And here I am telling you so blithely what this book is about

3. Avital Ronell. Stupidity.
Now, let’s face it, most of us don’t need a book to tell us how to be stupid. Hey, I majored in stupidity in college. Yet, It [stupidity] may be as close as we mortals can come to a plenitude, says Professor Ronell. And even though I have my doubts about the wisdom of reifying ‘plenitude’, this is a remarkably insightful, remarkably un-stupid book. Avital Ronell is a professor at NYU. Check her out on youtube; she’s quite a good lecturer.

4. Henri Cole. Blackbird and Wolf.

This book may have the worse cover design I’ve seen in a long time. But Henri Cole is an excellent poet. Here is his Beach Walk:

I found a baby shark on the beach.
Seagulls had eaten his eyes. His throat was bleeding.
Lying on shell and sand, he looked smaller than he was.
The ocean had scraped his insides clean.
When I poked his stomach, darkness rose up in him,
like black water. Later, I saw a boy,
aroused and elated, beckoning from a dune.
Like me, he was alone. Something tumbled between us—
not quite emotion. I could see the pink
interior flesh of his eyes. “I got lost. Where am I?”
he asked, like a debt owed to death.
I was pressing my face to its spear-hafts.
We fall, we fell, we are falling. Nothing mitigates it.
The dark embryo bares its teeth and we move on.

No, you can’t judge a book by its cover.

5. Anne Carson. Economy of the Unlost.
The subtitle will be more help: (Reading Simonides of Keos with Paul Celan). In addition to being a first rate poet, Anne is a Greek scholar. She gives us the original Greek of Simonides and then translates it; she gives us the original German of Paul Celan and then translates it. Simonides was the smartest person in the fifth century, B.C., she tells us. Or so I have come to believe. He must have been; he actually got rich writing poetry. If you’re going to read one book about poetry this year, make it this one.

6. Robert Duncan. The H.D. Book.

If you’re going to read two books, The H.D. Book might just be a good choice.  This is Robert Duncan’s study of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and, if the first couple of chapters are any indication, his study of himself, and Ezra Pound, and anything else that crosses his mind.

When again in the eighteenth century the Western World would conquer India, the dream of Vishnu returns to infect the West…the synthesizing Romanticism was under way. And it is to this Romantic movement that Pound, H.D., and Lawrence, in the Imagist period, belonged…with its insistence on the ultimate reality of the image itself and of a cadence that corresponded to that image—what Pound called “absolute rhythm”—imagists return to Hellenic purity…

Some 700 pages; I’m working on it.

7. Kenneth Koch. The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch.

What to say about Kenneth Koch? A big fat book, a great deal of which is not worth reading, and then he hits you with—

“What is death in the circus? That depends on if it is spring.
Then if elephants are present,
mon père, we are not completely lost…”

I don’t know, there is something I like about Kenneth Koch…

8. Postmodern American Poetry.

A Norton anthology. From Charles to Charles. We start with Olson and end with Bernstein. It’s a good place to get a taste of a lot of poetry.

9.William Butler Yeats. The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats.

When he gets it right, my friends, there is no one better.

10. Thomas Pynchon. Against the Day.

I’m probably never going to actually finish this book, but I do pick it up and read now and then. I wonder, should one be re-reading Gravity’s Rainbow instead? Fess up, have I really done an adequate job on either? (Oh, and Mason & Dixon…) Still, against the day…?

11. Martha Nussbaum. The Therapy of Desire.

Empty is that philosopher’s argument by which no human suffering is therapeutically treated. Martha Nussbaum’s historical and philosophical treatment of a whole tradition in philosophy that you don’t hear about much. Does love need a cure? There’s a lot material in this book on people like Epicurus (who wrote the above sentence) and Seneca. Philosophy as something you live—all in 500 or so pages. This is quite a book. Martha knows everything.

12. Javier Marias. Your Face Tomorrow. Fever and Spear.

The first volume in a trilogy. I’ve picked it up a few times, I’d like to read it, it looks interesting, but…I just can’t get into it. I promise to try at least one more time.

13. Laura Hillenbrand. Unbroken.

A gift from my sister. I have to read this one; she’s going to give a quiz.

When They Used to Burn Witches

January 3, 2011

Look, off to the lighthouse, east. See it?
First bird. Trace its fire, a spider web
can be a lattice into space, a talisman…
and when it burns, the smoke can be a crazy cloud—
too black and drifting in with all its might,
a swan still extant in last night’s moonlight—
or think when they used to burn witches,
how the air ignited, how the fire reached out
from bird to bird, a thespian of smoke
on the horizon’s shimmering stage—
a spider web performing, 
the embers more charcoal than fire…

That time the dogs cornered the skunk
behind the barn, the stink they brought
back home, how it enters the skin…
It’s like that. Off east, next to the lighthouse
where I first saw that old gull,
how it looked like a swan on fire—
how the smoke looked like a thread
pulled through every hole in space,
how it became one of winter’s worse fires,
like that.