30 December, 2011

It Breaks the Heart


I talk local politics
over beer at the bar.
Issues so important.
Issues not so important.
Issues that never change.

You, at home.
Living your life
in my absence.
Issues so important.
Issues that never change.

I come home.
You are on the phone,
laughing the way you did –
(do you remember?)
– that way you laughed
once upon a time
                              with me:

spring days by the river,
summers at the spillway.
Kites flying around us
bits of laughter
caught in the wind.

It breaks the heart.
So much silence.
So much lost.

So much.
                Not enough.

You hang up the phone,
and the laughter stops.
I mention my conversation.
You nod out of habit
and ask, nonchalantly,
if I'm drunk.

I can not answer
because all the air
has left my lungs.
I can not breathe
without your air,
filling me.

26 December, 2011

Buk Notes: John Fante


It's not necessary to read John Fante in order to understand what Bukowski was shooting for; one of the nice things about Buk is that even if you don't really get it – and most people don't – there's still something to enjoy. Readers of Bukowski who dream of being writers have tried – without success – to repeat what he did; generally, they begin with the notion, not without reason, that in order to write like Bukowski one has to live like Bukowski. The first mistake comes, however, in thinking that any form of emulation is the same as art. The second mistake is in looking at his body of work and seeing only “a drinker with a writing problem” as a writerly friend of mine once proclaimed him to be.

Although he openly balks at influence in his later work, Charles Bukowski does give one writer credit. And no, it wasn't Hemingway. And no it wasn't any of the Beats, with whom Bukowski is often mistakenly categorized. The writer that he credits the most – beyond the French writer Céline – is John Fante.

Fante is the author of Ask the Dust, Dago Red, West of Rome, The Road to Los Angeles, Brotherhood of the Grape, and others. In the Black Sparrow edition of Ask the Dust, there's a short preface by – you guessed, Charles Bukowski – in which he claims that Fante's work was the only work he found in the library that seemed like it was written for him.  Fante wrote about growing up in a poor blue collar family in Colorado, about being Italian-American, about being Catholic, about being a writer, about being a writer and selling out to write movies, about his troubles at home, about his combative relationship with his children (including the writer Dan Fante), and about his own feelings of inadequacy. Fante was one more in a slew of West Coast writers – that include Nathanael West and John Steinbeck – who had trouble making it in the East Coast / New Yorker style controlled world of literary publishing.

When you read Fante, you begin to hear the echo that drew Bukowski in and that echoed in his work as well. As a matter of fact, you hear the same thing when you read Céline, or Steinbeck, for that matter, though they are as stylistically removed from Fante and Bukowski as Mahler is from Metallica. You see more of Buk's style in Fante – but of course, it's not the same, either, any more than Hemingway wrote like Sherwood Anderson. Fante's sense of hyper-drama is different from Bukowski. With Bukowski, the tone is more acerbic, and even at his raunchiest, more judgmental. Fante's hyper-drama is comically inflated:

So it happened at last: I was about to become a thief, a cheap milk-stealer. Here was your flash-in-the-pan genius, your one-story-writer: a thief. I held my head in my hands and rocked back and forth. Mother of God. Headlines in the papers, promising writer caught stealing milk, famous protégé of J.C. Hackmuth haled into court on petty thief charge, reporters swarming around me, flashlights popping, give us a statement.”

Ask the Dust is about getting published... the hunger, the failure, and even in face of potential success, the inevitable failure. Fante's world is one in which there is always moral balance: something good must be accompanied with something bad. The protagonist, Arturo Bandini, is a young writer living on nothing but good will and stolen oranges in Depression-Era downtown LA. His one credit is a short story, “The Little Dog Laughed” published in a magazine edited by J.C. Hackmuth, his literary hero. He carries copies of the magazine around, passing autographed copies to people who aren't really impressed. And as if the comic hubris and ego-crushing wasn't enough, Bandini then meets Camilla, a waitress, and falls in love with her. But she's in love with the bartender Sam, and Sam despises her. The only way Bandini will win Camilla over, Sam tells him, is to treat her badly.

The book is poignant in it's descriptions day to day living, love and loss and failure, Catholic guilt, and the self-doubt every writer experiences. Camilla is impressed with him at first, but only comes around when he's abusive. She spends time in an asylum, goes back and for the between Arturo and Sam. She ends up throwing Bandini over for Sam, who wants to be a writer – he writes westerns – and who is also dying of cancer. Bandini ends up dedicating a copy of his book – which he finally writes and is finally published by J.C. Hackmuth – to Camilla and throwing into the desert.

In the messy business that fiction writing has become – or maybe, that it's always been – there's always been the question as to whether what a writer writes in fiction bears any resemblance to real life. And with a pop culture that has both hyper-reality television and fantasy laden tomes, both of which serve as escape hatches rather than magnifying glasses of contemporary life, there's even more suspicion of writers who want to write something real. Fante was roundly criticized for this in his non-screenplay work. Bukowski was critisized for it too, though mostly by academic critics who didn't acknowledge anything after the Modernists.

The art in Bukowski is something you have to read with a knowing eye to catch. He had no intention of pointing it out, because he believed (I think correctly) that it wasn't his job to spoon feed infantile readers.

The art in Fante is a lot like that. It's easy to dismiss it as masked autobiography, or – the gods help us all – “creative non-fiction” (the bane of literary trends over the past 20 years). The point isn't whether the story is about a struggling young writer or a struggling young wizard. Literature isn't meant to be an escape... though it often can be. Literature – especially fiction – is a lens that brings life into hyper-focus. Fante accomplishes this in a grand tradition that he picked up from writers like Knut Hamsun, and which can also be seen in Eurpoean writers like French writer Céline, Italian writer Curzio Malaparte, and German writer Günter Grass. For that matter, the mantle was also picked up by writers like Stephen Crane and Nelson Algren. And maybe part of the true art is that while most readers look at Fante and see a Catholic writing about Catholic guilt – and at Bukowski and see a drunk writing about drinking – there's something else happening that you only see if you bother to pay attention.

[This was written, primarily to continue a discussion that Kaplowitz and I have had on Grindbone Radio, as well as off air. I also wrote it because, well, I wanted to add my thoughts to his well written piece here.]

23 December, 2011

Two Short Seasonal Poems and An Unrelated Bit

1.

December early morning sunshine
it fools me into believing
the earth is warm. But one step
outdoors and the cold wind
rippling my bearded cheeks reminds me
the tree limbs aren't bare
for no reason. Christ, I think
why can't they stick to
warm weather holidays?


2.

This season of fat men with a penchant
for breaking and entering leaves me
odd, at the bottom of empty scotch bottle
searching the chair cushions for loose change
to put towards a pack of smokes or a cheap 40
that will help me stay warm. Winter has a way
of seeping into my bones; and it will not depart
no matter what prayers and hymns I sing.

3.


Souls, like old wool socks, wear thin at the points of heaviest wear.
The difference is, you can always buy a new pair of socks.

22 December, 2011

One Man's Hyde / Another Man's Savior


The monster awoke this morning:
broke loose from the cage
and is wandering the streets
of some anonymous small town
in Northwest Illinois.

And I will not chase him down again.
He and I and the world are all better
when he is not knocked out, stowed away,
forgotten in some dark corner of my Id
left to languish in some gray dream.

You cannot starve / what does not survive / on bread alone.

He greeted me in the mirror, wild haired
monstrously bushy eyebrows, deep set unrelenting eyes,
the face of someone who might appear familiar
if anyone has been paying any attention
at all. Have you been paying attention? At all?

You've all gone and done it, he says. / Waited one day too many / and now, and now

and now...

It's the anticipation that makes him pause
because he knows, lumbering the street,
looking oddly like a baboon on the hunt,
he will attract stares, and gasps,
and he will, undoubtedly, offend some
old farmer's wife or another

who does not understand there is more
to man than the collected hours he works
and whittles and the little bit he dies
each and every day. And some farmer
or another will be offended, too – because
they will never know the freedom

of walking through the world
without carrying the fear
that someone, somewhere
has found the secret to happiness
without waiting on god, on grace,
or on some nicely written obituary
outlining the predetermined brevity
of his long laborious days.

It's the anticipation that draws him out
and into the street – coming soon
to a store front, coffee shop, bar, or street corner near you.
He carries doom in one pocket / salvation in another
and you will not know
which he might be inclined to share
until you look him in the eye
and show him the the glimmering seat
of your soul, share the warmth of your heart
and accept without question –

even though you might find his grin
just a tad disconcerting.
One Man's Hyde / Another Man's Savior by Mick Parsons

19 December, 2011

Straight Off The Wire


1stcup of java (early in the A.M):

the city budget's busted
the streets are full of pot holes,
the water tastes like rust and
and insecticide. Everyone blames the mayor.
The state is behind on its bills. But no one
will turn their water off
if they don't pay. Oh yeah, and fuck the poor.
They don't need water anyway.

2ndcup of java / first smoke of the day:

the county's controlled by a dictator
with a bigger Napoleon complex
than Kim Jong Il. God Save the Chairman.
Long Live the Chairman. There's no money
for veterans. Plenty for lowering tax rates
on rich lake side property. Oh yeah, and
fuck the renters. They're just white trash.

3rd cup of java / first shot of bourbon

It's too cold to go fishing. Too hot
to build a snow man. No money
to pay city workers overtime
 if we get a white Christmas.
Fuck Santa Claus. He was laid off
and is now wanted for a string of burglaries.
He should've had the stamina
to make it on his own at the North Pole
rather than illegally crossing the border. And
for all we know, he's a terrorist, since
he never files a flight plan.


Ain't It Grand, These Culture Wars?


There's no subtlety to any of it.
Grand circle jerk symmetry
internet artists (not) extraordinaire.

It's all too easy.

Buy into the myth wholesale.
Pretend, for moment, maybe two,
maybe thirty, that you're running
a pirate radio, pushing out
incendiary prose the way they used to
“back in the day” when
all our giants were still alive.

There are no more 3 AM saints,
standing over mimeograph machines,
living in the basement with
an abandoned AB Dick printing press
typesetting and publishing words
sacred enough to offend your grandmother.

But please. buy into the myth.
It helps pass the days. Days spent
whiling away in some institution
or another... proprietary pretense
awkward hipster princesses
read a few lines of Kerouac
and learn to drink like
(you think) Bukowski did
and a few young girls
will think you're a true original
because they've never seen
anything like you on Jersey Shore.

It's all too easy. / Scratch that.

It's all too hard. And you make it harder.
And not in that good way
you think Bukowski meant
when he wrote about whores.

It's too damn hard.
And you make it harder.
Because you think
drinking the right cheap beer
and wearing the right retro clothes
have anything to do
with anything. Schtick will
get you laid. But it won't
make you into the giant
you tell yourself you are
in your day job
where the boss
never seems to call you
by your real name.


08 December, 2011

Tuesday / Truck Day / Spreading The News


The sun is dead fish's eye buried under a cloudy sky
the color of poisoned water. On a road twisting through
several of several hundred thousand forgettable towns,
I am in awe of the optimism of children waiting for snow
and believing in Santa Claus; they are roaming in groups
along broken up pieces of sidewalk and gravel side streets.
In another life, I imagine I am a lip reader and as I drive by,
I try to find out what they are saying –

it may make a difference later.

The farmers say this winter will be worse than the last two;
but farmers are cynics and have grown used to complaining
about things they have no control over. They will prepare
and they will pray, and they will watch the price of corn
and soy. I have nothing to offer them –
not even the secrets their children discuss
while they're cutting school and imagining for a moment
that they're really getting away with something.

When I step down from the cab of the truck
I can feel the ground freezing through the soles
of my shoes; the next snow will stick,
I think. Walk into a gas station, trying to ignore
the soreness of my feet that give me
preternatural age. There's a line
and the woman behind the counter is busy flirting
with the boy in front her who is clearly trying
to buy cigarettes without identification –

in spite of all the commercials that echo in my head
I hope he succeeds. In the back of the line,
there is a young woman crying. No one is paying attention.
All women look like little girls when they cry
and they all remind me of my daughter.
I can only allow myself to cry when I'm drunk;
at least then, no one will think it's genuine. Leaving town

a black cat crosses my path. And I am a little surprised
that I find it comforting.

03 December, 2011

Untitled 12/1/11*


We are erasing ourselves from the ground up.
Libraries fall into decline (Echoes of Alexandria)
are sold and converted into five star no-tell motels
for the discerning Wall Street executive who wants
to treat his mistress with a touch of class (Clean Sheets!)

Art auctions and book burnings and botox infused architecture
to appease upper echelon donors with deep pockets
and a penchant for self-aggrandizing and culture wide immolation.
The post-modern critics who have been prophesying
culture decay for years from high atop ivory towers

ensconced in institutions long bereft of education,
smiling and satisfied, fat cat content,
not yet acknowledging the first dry panic
lumped in the back of their throats –

any good prophet will tell you being right
only puts you out of a job in the long run.

Meanwhile in the Big Empty,artists hide in small towns,
dawdle in coffee shops, seek companions with above average
vocabularies to trade stories about the high times
when it was still possible to be an artist in America.

Farms feed lazy cows genetically modified grain,
slaughter and cut them into over-priced steaks
for a genetically modified consumer base.
We are out in the world, seeking picturesque back drops
to sit in front of and wait to die –

or for the rapture. Whichever comes first.


*written in response to an article in The Nation about the wholesale desecration of the New York Public Library system

02 December, 2011

[Singularity]


Law of Entropy dictates
in order for something
to be born, some 
other thing, first,
must die.

Process as natural as grass grows.
Process as natural as dying.

Scientists theorize time stops
at the event horizon; that we will hover
at the edge of the super nova suspended
(paradox)
time space but still, in reality
(paradox),
moving.

The universe is not silent
but resonates a song
the effect of gravity
and of time
and of space.

(Paradox)

All things, I am told, end up one thing –
ashes, dust, vacuum, song.
At the center of the galaxy, there is a black hole
and we are dancing on the edge
of the event horizon.

We will never know
if we ever really arrive.

28 November, 2011

From: Three Crow Suite


2.

Three fat crows were sitting in my neighbor's driveway
when I walked out the door this morning to go
to the coffee shop. “Christ,” I thought
“not three. Not again.” Then they hopped,
syncopated, up on a low lying branch,
paying no attention to me
and (just my luck!)
didn't even turn my direction.

It's cold this morning – feels like winter
one week before Thanksgiving.
Even the stalwart gray haired men
who huddle under stoops outside of the coffee shop
to smoke cigarettes and curse the young
rush back inside,
rather than settle in to solve
the problems of the world
between cups of coffee,
and stories of girls they may have known
once, years ago,
before they achieved the wisdom require
to come in from the cold
and seek good company.

Three crows perched
on an dead November tree branch
have as much a chance
as old men sipping coffee
and telling tales, dreaming
of a summer
when the skirts will be shorter
and the lies will be more interesting.

The only difference between their stories
is the point of view.

21 November, 2011

A Salvation Cool as Morning Porcelain [from The Muckraker's Chronicle]


Lord, help me make it through the morning.

Maybe it was the wine. Whenever I drink white wine, I end up with a Class A mind fuck hangover. And that's if I can manage to keep it down. White wine – even the more expensive ones – turn my stomach like sour milk. The only thing I can do to keep from puking up whine wine and stomach acid is to throw some beer on top of it.

I could tell by the way she was talking to me that she knew I felt like shit. There was a time, not so long ago, when she probably would have given me a hard time about it; she would've made some comment about the mandatory Alka Seltzer cocktail , or the fact that even my sweat smells like booze. Or, she would've just given me that look she used to give me – the expression of her deep disappointment in my lack of impulse control. And there was a time, even before that, when she would've tried to exploit my frail condition by trying to say things that would make me throw up. She never did understand why I considered losing my lunch to be a mark against my manhood; and for that matter, I never understood it either, other than the fact that every man's man I ever knew thought of it the same way.

Some might consider her relative acceptance of my condition as something resembling progress, and I know more than a few old drunks who might say I have it good and that I shouldn't bitch about it too much. And if I didn't know better, I'd think that maybe she had achieved some level of enlightenment about the general condition I would prefer to be in.

But then I'd have to forget what she told me. Maude told me last week that she had come to terms with the fact that I was going to end up killing myself.

And the part of it that really fucked with me – as if such a statement in and of itself wasn't enough – was that there was no hint of attempting to guilt me into changing. No manipulative tone. No sidelong glance. No heavy sigh. Not even a qualifying remark about how, if I cared about her at all, I'd try and go more than a day without a drink. There was none of that then. And none of it this morning, when I was clearly hung over and trying to put myself together so I could go cover the monthly county board meeting. I desperately wanted to avoid the meeting – being locked up in a small, inadequately ventilated back room of a dilapidated county courthouse that's built like a goblin's labyrinth with 15 county board members, two other reporters, the County Clerk, and whoever else decided to sit in the peanut gallery. Didn't want to go and listen to the posturing and the pandering. Arliss County is a decidedly conservative county; but like most staunchly conservative corners of the country, there's always that freak underbelly. It's the physics of political karma. For each ass tight narrow-minded stooge there is a direct and opposite version within a three mile radius. Maybe that's how the world keeps from imploding on itself, collapsing like a burned out star. And as it happens, I'm always more comfortable with the freak contingent. I don't know why; I think maybe it just helps me maintain some sense of balance.

There's also always that sense that the uptight crowd is just as fucked in the head as the freaks and lunatics are, except that freaks and lunatics are a bit more at home with themselves and with the world. Total apathy come with a certain freedom; I think of it as something similar to the Buddhist concept of enlightenment. Attachment causes suffering. Complete detachment causes Enlightenment. Beautiful. Simple. Next to impossible.

“Where are you going today?” She was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, checking her hair. She must have to be somewhere, or have to talk to somebody. Did she mention it to me? Was it something I needed to remember?

“County board.”

My stomach turned just a little. Maybe from the wine. Maybe from talking out loud. Maybe from the thought of having to deal with the county board meeting. Sometimes I missed having a bullshit 8-5 straight job... some anonymous cubicle to hide in and nurse my hangover until lunch. It had been so easy. But I had long ago proven to myself that I had neither the prerequisite personality of a domestic abuse victim nor the overwhelming fear drive that kept most people in jobs they hated.

At that moment, I chose to blame the wine.

“What about after that?”

“I don't know. The usual. Probably come back here and work on the story.”

“Okay.”

No indication that I was supposed to remember anything. Anniversary? Nope. Still had a few months. Birthday? Nope. That'll come in the summer. I tried to think of all the dates on the calendar that I was supposed to remember. Nothing stuck out as likely. It was Thursday. Was this Thursday any special day in particular?

Thinking was making my head swim and my stomach swim. “Fucking wine,” I muttered. “That's the last time.”

“What'd you say, Jay?”

“Huh? Nothing.”

“Do you want me to drop you off by the courthouse?”

“Sure. Thanks.”

“I'm going to be ready to go in a second.”

“'Kay.” I looked down to make sure I had all the usual requirements. Shoes, check. Socks, check. Pants, check. T-shirt, button down, sweater, check. All I needed to do was grab my coat. I'd have to walk back, though, so grabbed an extra layer. Old habits die hard. You'd think for as much walking as I do, I'd be a skinny little son of a bitch. Maude says I would be if I drank less. Ah, sweet irony. That karmic balance that keeps all fools in line. My sluggish Germanic blood fighting my Irish liver. Every single time.

I sat down and waited for Maude to finish. She wasn't much of primper, not like other women I'd known. But she did have her morning ritual. I wondered sometimes if she was even aware of how consistent she was. I suppose I'm the same, and I suppose that most people are. My grandfather on my mother's side always took a cup of coffee and the newspaper to the bathroom and didn't leave for a half hour. He drank, he read, he shat, he smoked. And that was the start of his day. He was a carpenter and could work 12 or 15 hours straight with barely a break for lunch as long as he had that uninterrupted half hour in the john.

Nothing happens for me until I have the first sip of coffee. And that, was another part of the problem. My stomach was so turned around that I didn't think I could keep coffee down. And without coffee I'd melt into a puddle of a remanded bridge troll within a 10 minutes of getting to my meeting.

The solution was an easy one. All I had to do was puke. But I didn't dare do it in front of Maude.

For some reason even the shortest ride seems longer when you're trying desperately to hold your stomach in. You start to notice every pothole, crack or uneven space in the street. You begin to notice which side of the street slopes more than the other. You begin to take notice of the excessive number of stop signs and the unreasonable amount of traffic. Everything conspires against you. It's almost like having to take a shit in the worst way but you're nowhere near a bathroom. Pressure builds up in your body; muscles tighten; heart starts pounding; if it's warm enough, or you're in bad enough shape, you begin to sweat profusely. There's a point – right before your guts tell you you're going to be losing what ever passes for the contents of your stomach – that you consider stepping in front of an oncoming car. Avoidance through pain has a long and heralded history. Not familiar? It's the idea that if your head really hurts the solution is to smash your thumb. Then you're not thinking about your head anymore.

Hangovers are your body's way of telling you that sobriety is overrated. It's a built in caution sign of what the world will feel like if you never take another drink. This, in those abominable 12 step programs, is often referred to as a moment of clarity: that moment when you realize that the Buddhists and the Baptists had it right. That life really is about suffering.

Maude stopped at the corner. The jolt made me nearly lose it on the passenger side dash.

“Thanks,” I said, trying to sound genuine. “Have a good day.”

“You, too.”

“I'll try.”

I opened the door and got one foot out the door when she said “I have a board meeting tonight.”

Shit.

“Okay.”

“Do you remember me telling you about it?”

Fuuuck me. “Sure. Of course.”

“So you remember that there's a dinner thing before and that you promised you'd come with me, right?”

No. “Sure, baby sure. No problem.”

“You need to wear something nice.”

“Ok,” I said. “I will.”
I almost made it out of the car. I was reaching a crisis point and wasn't even sure that I'd make it much farther than the sidewalk.

“What are you going to wear?”

Christ!Why did she have to pick that exact moment to micro-manage my wardrobe. “I don't know. Something nice. I promise. I'll try and match and everything.”

“Ok...” She didn't sound convinced. “I'll have to change at the office and then come pick you up.”

Great.“Okay, babe. Gotta go.”

“6 o'clock,” she said.

“Ok. 6 o'clock.”

Both of my feet made it to the side walk. Surprisingly enough, something about being outside settled my stomach. I made it up the steps fine and walked carefully towards the County Court House. I'd be a little early... plenty of time to splash some cold water on my face, settle down. It would give me time to hurl in the downstairs bathroom just inside the door if I needed to. I was starting to feel a little better about my prospects and my day.

That was when I ran into Johnny Franz, the County Board Chairman. We had sized one another up several months before. He thought I was a liberal stooge and I knew he was a Class A Prick. He was one of the richest farmers in the county and he stayed on the county board to make sure it stayed that way. I'd been trying, bit by bit, to eat away at his Napoleonic control. It was probably all but pointless. But it was something to do. And he made it easy. Whenever he opened his mouth and said something stupid – which he did often – I put it in the paper. Last month during the Zoning Appeals Committee report he made a comment about how he dealt with undesirable neighbors. “If I don't like somebody who's living around me,” he said, “I just buy them out and knock down the house.”

We arrived at the door at the same time, briefly made eye contact. Could he tell I was hungover? He always looked slightly stoned anyway, so it was difficult to tell whether he was paying attention or not. He was dressed the way he always dressed – jeans, a button down work shirt, and dirty cowboy boots. I tried to imagine how those worked in a corn field; but then I reminded myself that men like Johnny Franz didn't work in the field; men like Franz underpaid hundreds of other people to do that for him while he fucked the secretary and played the commodities exchange in an attempt to manipulate the price of corn.

“Rafferty,” he said as cordially as I'd ever heard him speak to me.

He reached for the door, maybe to let me walk through first. And I was about to say something... didn't know exactly what... but instead of words, I puked all over his cowboy boots.

And you know, there's never quite an appropriate apology when you need one.

12 November, 2011

Essay on Religion and Profanity (A Poem)


















The room was crowded and most of the chairs
in front of the make shift stage were full.
You'd think after spending so much time
in front of people that I'd be more comfortable;
but I still need my two shots and two beers
(minimum) just to think about reading
in front of any crowd. The musicians, at least
have a guitar to hide behind. I get up there
                                                               I'm naked
and all my inadequacies are hanging out
for the old women and their knitting
to take note of, measure, and judge me on
accordingly.

The old men are worse. Propriety
seems to mean more to them... they'll have
no dangerous dangling in front of their women folk –
though I haven't met a an old farmer's wife yet
who would blush. (Animal husbandry
and male inadequacy have taken
more of their years than they want
to worry about.)

Try to put it all in context, mention
the French root of the word “essay”
hoping they will then forgive
the profanity that is sure to come.
I can't help but cuss in prose;
it's as natural as breathing
and comes twice as fast.
My only hope lies
in tone; will they pick up
the humor, the dry sarcasm
the self-deprecating way
I am always apologizing
for myself?

I stand and read. It's worse
than that naked dream. Remember
not to read too fast but try
not to read too slow. Sometimes I hear
what sounds like light laughter
which makes me feel better
and I push forward
building steam –
until the last three sentences
in which I unveil “... where
there is nothing to do
but drink, get fucked up, and fuck.”

The post coital silence is staggering.

Two old men in the third row glare
shake their heads. Later, they get up
sing five gospel tunes, hoping to erase
the poor sinner
for whom their christ
was supposed to have died
in the first place.

09 November, 2011

Revisions of a Not Very Fairy Tale


1.

The story might go a little something like this:

Once there was man who lived in a little town.
As a young man, he had left that very town,
the town of his birth, because there were
no stories to tell, no songs to sing, and
everyone had fallen into a kind of
forgetful fog. This bothered him –
he saw the lives they weren't living
and the only thing that bothered him more
was the the thought that if he stayed,
the forgetful fog would overtake him, too.

But that had been many, many years ago,
and eventually he felt like he had done
what he had set out to do, traveled and seen
all he wanted to see, learned stories and songs
that he had wanted to learn from places
no one had ever heard of, and he decided
to go home.

                     But by the time he returned,
the stories he had gone off to collect
were no longer needed and he had no one
who would sit and listen.

No one except for one small childe,
a little girl named Matilde
who was very precocious
and who could be seen
talking and laughing to herself
in her mother's flower garden. She
was seven years old. Her favorite color
was purple.

02 November, 2011

Truck Day Blues


Yesterday morning, I was waiting for my wife to get ready so she could drop me off at the newspaper office, one town over. Tuesday is Truck Day. That means I drive the company panel truck to Sterling, where they're printed, load most of the bundles in the box and deliver them to the post offices and news stands. It's not a bad gig 80% of the time. One day a week, I get $10 an hour to drive around and haul newspapers. And for some reason, as annoying as being up early is, one of the moments I enjoy in the day is walking into the warehouse and getting that first whiff of newsprint.

I have no idea why.

But while I was waiting, I decided to turn on the TV. Most of the time, I watch ESPN. Just because. A lot of times I regret having cable... mostly when the bill comes due … but I do like ESPN. There's something about it that just makes me feel … I don't know... connected to the universe in some ball scratching, Al Bundy sort of way. This particular morning, though, they were talking about the World Series, and I could seriously give a shit less since I wasn't invested in either team. I'm against Texas on principle, but I have no geographic love or hate for St. Louis, though I do vaguely remember their bus station. (Please see The Greyhound Quarto for further explanation.) Flipping around trying to find something else, I ran across MSNBC and Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough.

Keep in mind that not only do I not watch Morning Joe, I tend not to watch or listen to news first thing in the morning. And no, it's not because I don't care about what goes on in the world – I do. I find my news from a variety of sources and a variety of perspectives. But I have learned – maybe because I'm in the news business – that watching, listening, or reading news first thing in the morning does nothing but sour my day and my mood. Early morning news is a combination of current event memes for the memory impaired that is often mistaken for hard news (Kim Kardashian's divorce, for example... not only is it fluff, but it shouldn't count as news. After all, does Good Morning America report every time the sun rises?) When I tuned in, though, I found former NBC Nightly News Anchor Tom Brokaw on talking about his new book, and spouting, as Brokaw often does, his thoughts on how things are going in America.

One of the things I like about Brokaw is that he's one of the few left from his business who understands the importance of context. For some reason, the American people have gotten in their heads that the news ought to be objective, without context. And naturally, which ever news outlet most reflects their views (this is true all philosophical and ideological bents) is the one given the prestigious label of “objective.” One of the things about Brokaw is that he spent so much time in the corporate media machine that the context for all of his criticism is a Post World War II 20th Century America. Rather than looking at the whole, trying to wrap his brain around history as more than Manifest Destiny, he ignores the fact that most of what we're dealing with in the Post American Century is the bullshit byproduct that's been left behind to fester since the original 13 signed off on the U.S. Constitution.

The gist of the conversation as I tuned in – as described by the caption at the bottom of the screen – was that Americans need to “re-enlist as citizens.” He went on to explain that real leaders – the people he writes about in his new tome, I guess – are people who led through action, who came up from among the people. He bemoaned the absence of “larger than life” leaders who could capture the minds and imaginations of his fellow Americans.

And I had a few thoughts, which I'll list here:

  1. “Re-enlist”... a militaristic term. Maybe we ought to consider the possibility that being in some army or another is the problem.
  2. People DO need to be directly engaged in and with their community and their country... as individuals coming together for the common good. (This, kids, is the root of all civilization.)
  3. Brokaw's critique regarding the absence or need of “larger than life” leaders is incorrect. The issue is that corporate media empires like NBC and MSNBC (wholly owned subsidiaries of General Electric) ignore them in favor of spouting non-controversial public relations reports they claim are true news reports.
  4. Underlying every argument Brokaw has made since he wrote about World War II is “These kids today... what pussies!” Maybe if he were talking to them instead of a table of talking bobble heads, he might get more of the reaction he's looking for. Or if he was paying any attention at all to current events.

That was before the coffee kicked in... which it did somewhere on Benson Road between Lanark and IL-40 headed towards Milledgeville.

Sketch of The 21st Century Underground Man


Chuck woke up in the morning resolved to do something entirely different and new from the entirely new and previous he had attempted to do on the previous day. It was, perhaps, a miscalculated attempt; not to mention a bit rash. The new thing – which consisted of Chuck trying to push his pinky fingers into electric pencil sharpeners – proved disastrous... though not for any of the reasons that he had anticipated.

The possibility that his pinky fingers would not fit proved to be a useless concern; as he was naturally slim and boney, and his fingers were feminine to the point of looking almost skeletal, his pinky fingers fit snugly, but easily. He had mentally prepared himself (as best he could) for the pain and the loss of blood, which the shock of both would most likely push him into unconsciousness – an unconsciousness that would leave him unable to explain himself. He had even prepared himself for the messy splatter by wearing his least favorite work attire – a baby blue button down with pleated khakis and the ugly tie he'd gotten from his the office Secret Santa two years ago. The shirt was baggy and uncomfortable and the pants made him feel like he was walking inside a mostly deflated balloon. The tie was particularly distasteful and nothing like he would buy himself. It was brash, with race car red and brash yellow stripes. In the middle of the tie there was a smiley face with a bullet hole in its forehead and a small caption underneath that read “Have A Splendid Day!”

He hated the tie, but kept it because it HAD been a present and he might be called upon to prove he still had it. His Secret Santa that year had been Chuck Wassermann. He hated that he had a name in common with someone who's sense of humor could be summed up by such an ugly tie. He'd even tried to get people to call him Charles – but that did absolutely no good. He had been a Chuck his entire life and he would remain a Chuck forever.

Having considered all reasonable possibilities, it was the one problem he hadn't counted on – the one that, in retrospect, seemed the most obvious – that led to his failure.

None of the pencil sharpeners worked. Not a single one.

He checked the plugs; some of them were unplugged, but most were. They just didn't work. No one used pencils anymore, but no one thought to get rid of the pencil sharpeners. It was as if they were there, but they didn't exist.

At the end of the day, still wearing the powder blue shirt, khaki pants and Wassermann's ugly tie, Chuck left at his usual time, making sure to take one of the pencil sharpeners with him. He was not usually a thief; but he also knew that the only thing worse than being useless was to be ignored.

He made sure to hide just how disappointed he was that his plan didn't work out and that his pinky fingers were both intact. In the absence of a grand and ironic (as he saw it) act, Chuck saw no alternative but to walk in front of the 43 bus – a bus, which, if he hurried, he would be able to catch one block south from the office building, right in front of that after work bar where Wassermann drank martinis and flirted with women.

He caught the elevator down, sharing with a woman in Wassermann's department. She was new. Her name was Delores. Chuck had only marginally noticed her since she was too attractive to pay him any attention, and women never liked him anyway. He stood next to her in the elevator, breathing in the scent of her perfume – which was an unusually pleasant experience, since he was allergic to most perfumes. He took notice of her without trying to be obvious. Well kept, conservative looking. Light make-up. Shoulder length red hair. But he didn't speak to her. As the elevator hit the Lobby Floor and the doors wooshed open in mechanical silence, she turned, smiled, and spoke.

“That's a funny tie,” she said. Then she walked out of the elevator and into the Lobby and away.

Chuck was shocked out his plan to step in front of the 43 bus by his interaction. He spent the rest of the evening thinking about her and tinkering with the pencil sharpener.

By morning he knew what he was going to do.

26 October, 2011

Two More From ArtWërks


1.

The streets have been full for centuries.
Even if the buildings were to disappear
tomorrow, these streets would remain
filled end to end and side to side
with memories and with ghosts
and with the specters of memories.
In the dirt between the bricks
there is a memory
locked in stone and pebble
rubble and rabble
memory that filters down
and into the water
and from the water
into the dirt
and from the dirt,
it is rubbed into the soles of our shoes
and we remember again
all the things we didn't know
that we didn't know – comes to us
in dreams and in visions
and in visitations that,
if we're paying attention
will tell us the way
we are to go.

2.

So sit down here
and tell me a story
and make it a good 'un
like the one you told me
yesterday. Tell me
about one of the places
you frequented when you were
young, and fresh the fruit was
and how the women were sweet and ripe 
and how clear and how cool
the water was and what it
felt like to really sleep,
to sleep out in the open
under the stars and what it felt like
to feel safe and to feel free
to feel something different
before all the fences and wires
and wireless was all built up
back before there were gate keepers
and invisible gates
back when you were my age
and the world was something more
beautiful than it seems today.

22 October, 2011

It Goes Without Saying


You're in a meeting
you'd rather not be in
and I am at the bar –
drinking dollar beer,
thinking about the bars
in college when
Thirsty Thursday meant
dime drafts all night.
My friends and I, we'd
each walk in with 2 or 3 bucks,
fill a table with plastic cups of
cheap warm beer,
and watch the frat boys
strike out, stumble out
to the sidewalk to puke,
leaving behind tables
of untouched beer. After
we were sure they were
gone, we'd drink their beer,
and my friends,
who were better with girls
than me, would try
and pick up the girls.
(Drunk sorority girls
will sometimes dumpster fuck
so they can later claim
to be culturally well rounded.)

Trading shots with
two local musicians
and a well-endowed
bartender four years older
than my daughter,
I think about
the night they raised
dime drafts
to a quarter, and how,
we felt like we'd been
robbed and drank anyway.

Somewhere around the third hour
you stopped by the bar
to pick up the car
and everyone was surprised
when you left me there
without giving me a hard time
or seeming to judge me at all
or even the casual
Don't get arrested”
comment that even
tolerant wives will tell
wayward husbands
who still insist
on keeping up
drink for drink
with the crusty old bastards
with the souls of fallen gods
even as the world outside
slips into another winter
from which
it may not return
and from which
we might not
have the will
to save it.




19 October, 2011

“What a world you must live in.”


Here's the thing: people are like cats. I suspect that's why people hate them so much. People that tend not to like cats say it's because they're dog people (I always imagine McGruff The Crime Dog and some Planet of the Apes scenario.) Some people think cats are just too sneaky. Some think cats are to feminine and flighty – including some newly minted feminists who haven't read or thought about what feminism actually is. But As critters go, human beings are incredibly predictable in at least one way: we tend to like things that mirror the attitudes and attributes we'd rather have, instead of those we actually have. And because there is no yin without a yang, no Starsky without a Hutch, no Cagney without a Lacy, it is also true that if we like the people and places and things that represent what we aspire to, then we hate the people and places and things that remind of who (and what) we really are.






Which is why most people don't like cats. They're too much like we are.

Now, don't get me wrong. We should always aspire to be more, to be better. Of course, we're short of heroic icons in these modern times. Two of my heroes, Utah Phillips and J.L. “Red” Rountree – are both dead and have been for some time. I was introduced to the stories and songs of Utah Phillips in my early 20's, and it was through him that I began to learn about the long memory he sang and talked about – the memory of workers, organizers, unions, anarchists, pacifists, agents of change... and those those who believed in and harnessed the positive power of chaos... such as Albert Parsons, Big Bill Heywood, Joe Hill, and Ammon Hennacy. I chose as my heroes those who embody those ideals I believe are important and that I hope to better exemplify and live by in my own life. Red Rountree was maybe the last of the philosophical bank robbers. He didn't hurt people, and believed in having fun. He also had a deep grudge against banks.


But it's difficult to get around that fact that most people are like cats. Cats are moody, territorial, and dislike having their routine interrupted. I have two cats, and if their daily ritual is maligned in anyway, they simply don't know what to do. And people are the same way. We like our rituals, our patterns, our hegemonic convergence that defines each and every day of our lives. We like it so much that even if we become unhappy, we live with it.

And if we're forced to face the idea that something has to change, we look for a way to change as little as possible, lest we upset our all so sacred routine.

Which is, of course, the problem people have with the Occupy Wall Street Movement. At it's core, it represents the idea that something has be done to change the inequities that most of us life under. This means not just adding new rules. It may mean throwing the old rules out and starting from scratch. Because the problem isn't just that the rules aren't fair. The problem is that in America, the Golden Rule – “He who has the Gold makes the Rules” is the only rule that matters. It is upon that rule that Capitalism is built, and it is for that very reason that Capitalism is a wholesale failure as a social, political, and economic model. We have lived under it so long that people have forgotten that Democracy – the idea that all people are equal and deserve and equal voice – has been consumed by Plutarchy and Capitalism.

Keep in mind, not all #occupywallst folks are anti-capitalists. But they do recognize that something's fucked up. And they're willing to do something about it. It's not a revolution, that's true. But maybe... just maybe... it is a kind of evolution.




A Sketch of Division Street


The trailer court was up on the hill and off to the left at the end of Division Street. You have to drive past the cemetery on Bone Hill and the St. Alice Home for the Aged to find it. When it snows bad, sometimes the plows don't make that far up the hill until well after 10 in the morning, which means the kids who live there either have to trudge down the hill to an available bus stop, or – since the drivers on those routes aren't supposed to let kids on the bus who aren't on their regular route – trudge the extra couple of miles across town and out to the highway bypass, where the new high school is. The smaller kids don't have as far to walk, since the intermediate school is in the center of town.

But none of them walk down the hill to go to school when the snow plows haven't cleared the way for the bus. And the parents don't call to complain. And the school doesn't call to ask if something is wrong. And a truant officer never shows up to question why – except in the spring, of course. They do take special care to make sure the wild kids from Barrett’s Trailer Court aren't out enjoying the day when they could be in school being ignored by the teachers and judged by their fellow students.

And although there has been some talk about “what to do” about the trailer park and the unwanted minions who reside there – the basic premise being that trailers are dirty no-good places, and that poor people have poor habits and that because of those two unrelated axioms … unrelated except for the fact that they are both applied to the people who live at the trailer park – there isn't enough consensus to get anything done. Whenever there's a break in or something is stolen, the first thing that Police Chief Dolarhyde does is roust the trailer park kids, since they're the most obvious suspects. That it rarely ever comes to anything doesn't matter; one of the ways the chief is able to keep his job is by sticking to the obvious. When nothing is found, the general assumption is that those white trash sons and daughters of whores simply sold it to someone from out of town for drug money or threw it away. 

The only time the trailer park kids get a break from Chief Dolarhyde's program of perpetual harassment is when the gypsies come through the area. And since the gypsies never stay in town, but find places to camp outside the town limits, they're considered a county problem, not a town one.



10 October, 2011

Random Unlabeled Photos (From Artwërks)


1.

Paint the body electric
hip hop bee bop –
O, let us sing the songs of ourselves
electric slide
run and hide
safe and sound
sunbathing beneath a blue sun
illuminated for the body
and the electric funk
born out of a need to dance
and a desire to stay
a little while longer.

2.

Let us go then, you and I
and wander silent empty streets
like drunkards, lovers, and reprobates.
Let us imagine ourselves ghosts
material immaterial
substance transubstantiated
wandering the bric-a-brac
counting the minutes of the witching hour
when even the cops have the sense
to go home and leave this place
to the rest of us that neither
need their rules nor
care to understand them.

3.

Counting down the hours til dawn
all the midnight shadows are drawn
in, tied up, and stowed away
in anticipation of an approaching day
that most people will not notice
because they're too busy
being respectable, worrying
about what shoes to wear
on Sunday morning and whether
the sermon will go long
making kick off
one more missed opportunity.

4.
The lines are drawing
themselves on my face –
deep lines around
the corners of my eyes
drawn around
the edges of my mouth.
They each tell a tale
geologic in proportion,
private in scale. The old men,
they like to remind me
I am still young. And while
I cannot argue
I cannot acquiesce
to their insistence
that it's all downhill
from here.

5.

This is the other side of night
that place Céline dreamed of
but never found; that steady peace
that comes with the meditation
of one painted line and the poetry
of coffee at 3 AM. Counting down
the hours til dawn and the cats are yowling
or maybe
just another bunch of bums
the cops will later blame 
for various and unrelated petty thefts.


03 October, 2011

RE: Procrastinating the Night Before Deadline


Burned pipe tobacco and spent tea leaves
look amazing similar when combined
in the ash tray. I'm trying to chase a story
and chasing my apathy with scotch
and Earl Grey tea. Maybe if
that voodoo queen was correct, one of them
will tell me the future and the other
will describe the manner of my death.
I'm far less interested in the former
than I am the latter; but I have found
I have no say in the message –
merely the form in which
the message is transmitted.
And either, really would be a welcome

excuse, since writing about politicians
doesn't change the fact that they're just
politicians; small town boys and girls
who grew up and into old men and old women
who fear the future that does not include them
and who want everything to be
exactly as it was the last time they remember being
truly happy. And if I could I'd write one long article,
laying out all of their sins, and all of my sins, as if to say,

in some imperfect but decidedly specific way,
that I am tired of their games, their petty insults,
their petty behavior, and then I would just
turn my back on them let them rot on the vine
and die as the world moves on into a future that will not
include them and into a future that will someday
not include me.

But the tea leaves will not have it;
the pipe tobacco needs replenishing, the scotch bottle is handy
the music makes my mind drift, and I know that even
if I were to quit, if I were to go downstairs
the scribbled notes and the paranoia of news paper
without my byline in it would induce me back
because it is here, and only here,
that I am sure I exist.





29 September, 2011

Thursday Brain Buffett: The Inheritors


My head was swimming with ideas when I rolled out of bed this morning, and I've been trying to keep a handle on them until I could sit down and get them all out. That happens sometimes. I normally try to compose this blog with a certain continuity with an echo of the long lost and rarely read essay.

This morning, though, I want to hit the highlights, keep it simple, and move on.

First of all, I want to thank Grindbone brother Kaplowitz (iamkap.blogspot.com) for bringing me onto the 2nd edition of his blogspot radio broadcast. Although the format is uber-brief, we kept it lively and hit a few high water marks. Among them:

  • I like offensive people – or, at any rate, smart people who try to offend either to educate or make fun of the unenlightened.
  • I would rather be a poor and despised writer than a desperate college instructor.
  • Writing cannot be taught, only encouraged.


It's on this last point that I want to riff first, just a bit.

To all my friends who are still ensconced in higher education, and particularly those who take on the largely thankless quest to teach First Year or Basic Writing:

I am not saying that you are, or that I was, irrelevant. So much of what writing teachers do on a daily basis ends up being a drawn out argument to justify their existence... which is part of the larger problem. A good teacher knows when to get out of the way and let the educational moment run on its own momentum; the bad ones think it somehow has something to do with them.

And since I have laboriously and copiously recorded my issues with higher education, I'll just say this: the problem with education at all levels is two-fold:

  1. There are too many fucking lackeys and weasels (Please consult your Parsons Dictionary of Often Used Words and Phrases, Desk Reference Edition) micro-managing the educational process, and they are being supported by myopic textbook publishers with a Wal-Mart mentality.
  2. The educational process in this country has been derailed by the profit motive – students being corralled into “careers” (aka turning them into trained monkeys who pay taxes so that our corporate overlords don't have to), public schools teaching testing instead of concepts and the foundations of critical thinking, and colleges and universities taking up the for-profit education model pioneered by the University of Phoenix.

The corporate influence on education in this country was unavoidable, however, since our corporate overlords have had their fingers in everything for a very long time. The mistake, often made by people who have been taught a sanitized view of history, is in believing, that the relatively recent incarnation of the multi-national corporation is the culprit.

They aren't. They're merely the inheritors.

Corporate influence on American life and politics reaches much further back. The 1920's, the Robber Barons, and the Wall Street Bankers that brought on the Great Depression? (Hmm....) Sure. But look farther. Post- World War 1 coal companies that used racism divide workers and keep unions from forming? Sure. Look back even further. Railroad Companies? Yep. Keep looking. Civil War munitions manufacturers? Yes. Slavery? Yes.



Get the point? I'm leaving out some important players in the leaching of America, but you're getting the point? I'd be willing to bet that since Adam Smith wrote his Capitalist Treaty, there's been some monger trying to get one over by exploiting the work done by other people.

And before you get all horrified, deified, homogenized, and needlessly terrified, let me point out that large scale Capitalism – the massing of capital by exploiting the labor and resources of others – is not the same thing as someone who owns and operates a business. Entrepreneurs succeed by their own sweat. Capitalists succeed on the sweat of others.

This brings me to recent events – the Occupy Wall Street Movement and it's various echo movements across the country. The problem I have is that I live so far off the beaten track that I have to rely on posted video clips and some eye witness accounts that may or may not be legitimate. Getting news online means dealing with spurious sources, trolls, moles, dunderheads, and those well-intended transmitters of information that get lost in the sea of bullshit.

Not surprisingly, the corporate owned media (Disney owns ABC, GE owns NBC, and CBS is a monster all its own. And don't forget News Corp and Viacom. For a list of who's feeding you your news, see this chart) isn't really covering the movement – and yes, I feel pretty confident in calling it that – even though there's clear evidence of something. But, here in the Big Empty, that grand land called the Midwest, it's easy to ignore the movements that may (or may not) help redefine the future.

All I do know is that from what I can tell, I like it.