30 April, 2019

On Being Present In Spite of the Kentucky Derby

Hawthorns. Yep, they hurt.
I travel for the same reasons I eventually come home. This is often difficult to explain to people who either aren't pushed in seemingly opposite directions by the currents or who have denied their impulse for wanderlust and diaspora. For those who are similarly afflicted as I am, no explanation is needed, but please, brothers and sister, bear along while I wander this thought to some stopping point or another. 

It's a short leg, I promise.

There are currents at work in both cases, but in neither case am I afflicted by a sense that something is missing or lack of satisfaction. The only real difference is this: when I'm out, I attune to the rhythm of the road almost immediately, like stepping through a door. But when I come home, there's always a reentry process, like having to wait in a decompression chamber so that my lungs can breathe the air of home again.  It's not even about the tangible things in my home life -- my sobriety, my relationship with Amanda, my needy dog or apathetic cat, the house and the familiar and comforting things housed there. Where I have the most trouble is in the intangibles: things that I am compelled by socialization or cultural imprinting to care about: the condition of my yard; seemingly petty and oddly mean-spirited technological issues; the status of our battle to keep the bank from taking our home, in spite of us doing everything right in order for that NOT to happen; business clients who don't pay their invoices on time; obligations created out of cultural necessity -- like most bills, showering, and wearing pants; and locally, the hubbub over the very decadent and very depraved Kentucky Derby -- that fastest two minutes of sport that create that have contributed to a pendulum like boom and bust economy, not to mention labor exploitation, sex trafficking, and the continued exploitation of the city's homeless population in an attempt not to offend the tourists who come here, piss in the street, and call it bourbon.

There are battles here that are worthwhile, and ensuring that rich touristas have positive few of the town I have chosen to call home is not one of them.  But am glad that of the things I hang onto from being out, the things I continue to foster with my personal daily Practice, the idea of being focused on the here and now remains central to my decision-making process about how to (and if) to interact with any of it.

When I'm out on the road, I work to maintain a relaxed but present state of mind, and I try to stay open to whatever experiences and people I can. Through my daily Practice, I'm working to maintain that same relaxed but present state of mind off the road. It's more difficult than it sounds because, in spite of the hassles of traveling (including a lost suitcase), the distractions of a stationary life can fill the ol' brain chamber up with all kinds of things that can distract me from remaining present and being open to the world as it unfurls itself on a daily basis. Things that cause me to miss the beauty and the savagery that are just as present here in Louisville as they are on the road.

Whippoorwills sing
as the coffee cools.
The dog naps, defying
her need to hunt the song
down. Here I sit, listening


waiting for something
maybe the sound
of a gong: a guide,
a rhyme, a tune
encoded in each ring.


Thanks for reading! If you like what I'm doing, please consider leaving a tip. It helps keep the lights on. Thanks again!

24 April, 2019

Kentucky Writer's Day 2019

"Well, you're cozy sitting back here with all your friends."

I was surrounded by three empty chairs, all of which were leather, soft, and looked as comfortable as the one I was sitting in. I made some off-handed reply, as one does in those situations. Except for me and the guy recording the event for the University of Kentucky Archives, everyone else there was paired or grouped off.

He introduced himself to me. Later I would find out he was some assistant director or under secretary of Kentucky Workforce, standing in for the director who was unavailable today.

"What brings you here?"

"Well," I said, "I've never been to one of these, and it seemed like a good time."

I always find Frankfort to be a beautiful little town in the way that all river towns are beautiful. Nestled up on both sides of the Kentucky River, it's beautiful in the way all river towns are beautiful -- this mixture of old and new, a sense of nostalgia without much in the way of sentiment, and an understated laiz faire attitude about things in general, except for a short list of completely random Things That Actually Matter (Unless They Don't At This Particular Time.)

I'm sitting the coffee shop next to Poor Richard's Books on West Broadway after going out to the Kentucky Library and Archives to watch the inauguration of the 2019-2020 Kentucky Poet Laureate, Jeff Worley. Given that we have a governor who barely reads anything except bible tracts and Ben Shapiro, that we managed to get another poet on the state dime is an extra special pleasure. The Kentucky CoffeeTree Cafe makes a decent cappuccino, has a nice atmosphere with shelves of books, some chairs and couches along with the tables, and variety size of those, too, with even one small table in the back with a single chair for solitary keyboarders and anti-social bibliophiles.

The ceremony out at the Archives was about what I expected. A few speeches and some nice poetry, some of it even read by the poets who wrote it. Right now is the break between the ceremony and the readings of the past and newly minted Poet Laureates, which will be held a few blocks away at the public library. I'll get to listen to the first hour or so of the readings before I need to leave and catch my bus home.

Although I have no part in today's festivities, I wanted to come anyway. Like going to the AWP in Portland this year, I need to start getting to know this part of what my friend George calls (sometimes a bit sardonically) "poet culture." I've paced back and forth for years, stopped at the imaginary border by my anxieties and insecurities. I used to spend a lot of time -- too much time -- drinking and ruminating over whether I really belonged in the same room with these people and being generally resentful if I wasn't ushered in like a dignitary. I removed myself from a conversation and then got pissed off when no one talked to me.

And while I'm a bit too gray in the goatee to be all starry eyed about these kind of things, it was nice that no one gave me the bum's rush. It's never easy being an artist. But it's nice to know that I can, every once in a while, sneak in to the same clubs as the cool kids.
After the new Poet Laureate gave his acceptance speech, I was standing outside waiting on a cab. My new acqauintance, the under secretary, walked by on the way to his car. He asked I enjoyed the ceremony.

"I did," I answered. I was going to go on about how smoothly it went and how I enjoy the brevity and wit of poets. But he nodded in the affirmative and strode off towards his car and towards the next thing on his agenda. As I he pulled out of the parking lot, I stood there waiting for my cab, waiting for the next thing and enjoying the spring air.




Thanks for reading! 

If you like what I'm doing, please consider leaving a tip. It helps keep the lights on. Thanks again! 

16 April, 2019

From Field Notes: Excerpts, 7th-9th April 2019 - Orange Poppy, Long Gone

7 April


view of the Wakarusa River
Spent the early afternoon downtown. Had lunch with the Market Street Irregulars and then had the opportunity to visit my friend, local artist Heather Houzenga, at her shop at the base of Market Street. We mostly hung out in front of her shop, which lends itself to the opportunity of running into other people. At one point there were maybe 5 of us including Heather, Ray, Dave Cuckler, and Jeff Creath, who split time between Carroll County, Waukegan, and parts unknown with his wife and fellow globetrotter, Kat. There were also two dogs, including Heather's new pooch, Handsome, a boxer mix that is still very much a puppy... but a happy one, and Ray's lovely dog Lady.

It felt good just to be able to hang out on the street without anyone wondering whether something illegal is happening -- one of the graces that is still afforded in a place like Mount Carroll, Illinois.

At one point, later in the day, Dave was downstairs playing guitar and singing, and I was listening through the floorboards. There are moments we experience that resonant, repeat, and carry us backwards and forwards in time, embodying all of our sense memories into a distilled, rich, existential bliss. Listening to Dave Cuckler sing through the floorboards is one such moment, and it let me know that I was, if only briefly, at a place where I still have a home.

Music through the floorboards
that long remembered smile.
A congregation of old friends,
dogs, and peaceful passersby.

8 April

The river is high here, like everywhere else. Parts of Savanna are flooding. The power and prestige of the Old River 1 never ceases to amaze me.

The river lays siege to the flood plain
reminding people (again)
these ancient arteries
will wash away
what passes for Empire.

9 April

I was able to take some time yesterday and walk around town a bit. On my way back to where I'm staying, I walked up the Washington Street hill and over to S. West Street, by the house I lived in here with my ex. Inexplicably, the place is still standing and there's a family living there.

I know it seems strange to some people that I like coming back here. One local musician, a friend of a friend, upon figuring out that I was actually me and discovering that I showed up intentionally to visit, asked what I was visiting for. There's a basic assumption among some folks about this place... an assumption I hear more from people who are born and raised from here -- that there is nothing here. Or, at any rate, there's nothing here that would be of any interest to anyone not from here.

But the truth is that I learned a lot here. Mount Carroll is the place I learned to embrace a place and find beauty, poetry, and music -- even when there is a (very) thin veneer of stasis, greed, and ugliness. It was here I learned to live more in the moment and to seek out community rather than expect it to come find me. It was here that I learned what the word home means -- with all those fraught implications.

It was here that I learned what it means to dive deep and follow the currents. What I didn't learn here was not to dive TOO deep. I had to learn that later.

Some things persist
in spite of soft memory.
What is not erased
is a reminder that 
what we carry in the present
we picked up in the past.

Orange Poppy, Long Gone



Thanks for reading! If you like what I'm doing, please consider leaving a tip. It helps keep the lights on. Thanks again! 

Footnotes to "Orange Poppy, Long Gone

 1. Old River -- the Mississipi. I'm less and less inclined to use this name because the river predates America, predates, Mississippi, and has, at times in it history, submerged the area it is now named for.

08 April, 2019

From Field Notes, 1 April 2019: Out of The Abiding Place

Somewhere east of Libby, Montana. Woke up to first light in my mountains. Rocks stretch out and up, lifting the sky like I cup Amanda's breasts sometimes when we sleep. -- like holding a jacket open for the sun to wear, with a pattern of clouds and rain drops crystalized in suspended animation.

Thinking about Portland and about the way ahead. All of it. There are two states in which I feel most myself -- like I am living the life I was born to live -- when I am in motion, writing; and when I am still, in Amanda's arms. Every other state of being is the space between that I traverse. Geography is a myth we've believed into reality. States of Being are the only states that matter. And if I had to nail down what to call this, I'd call it a perma-state of transition. Moving between motion and rest. Between travel and her arms. Roads and rail road tracks are the paths we make, all treading in the same direction. 

Montana is an ocean of green -- endless waves of evergreens and white oak, slowly waking grass. The mist and snow offer it a supernatural aura. The place has always been magic to me. Like Menifee. Like the river. All sacred. All dirty. All beauty. All savage.

Lift up old mountain.
The sun needs a coat.
The clouds portend
of beautiful things.

Roll on train, through
this sacred place.
I will wander amongst the mist
some other day.



Please check out my work for sale on Amazon.

You can also throw a little in the tip jar:

03 April, 2019

Field Notes, from March 29 2019: Oh, The Humanities


Air palpable with earnest outcries
read to the appropriate audience
words spent on prayers to gods
too busy to grant wishes

(From my last day at AWP:)

The folks I saw yesterday (Friday) were not out today. I want to believe that the old guy flying a sign on the corner of Halliday and MLK -- who, up close, doesn't look much older than me -- got what he needed and was able to sleep in doors last night. I want to believe that Tanya J. McDonald -- who told me her name 5 times and who was clearly released from a hospital with no sense of where she might end up -- was able to find peace and safety and some comfort in mourning her mother's death.

I saw them. I looked them in the eye and took their hands and helped in some small, temporary way. I want to believe it made a difference.

But I don't feel that optimistic today.

There's something about all the appropriate mourning and moaning here that's just so far-sighted in all the wrong ways. People see injustice at a distance and want to engage it. But when it's up close, they overlook. Or worse, they look through it like it's air.

Of course there's talk about Trump and  the peril to democracy -- mostly by white academics. When I hear work by writers of color, or by immigrant writers, or by people recounting stories of assault and the abuse of power, there is no presumption that democracy is in peril.

There is no presumption that democracy exists at all.


Beauty is abandoned
in the course of natural process --
the fragrance lingers,
a memory seized
right in the moment breath freezes.








Please check out my work for sale on Amazon.

 You can also throw a little in the tip jar: