Sunday, August 30, 2015

Dog days

I showed up.

I photographed poorly.

I cancelled my insurance. 

I laid claim to a glacier.

I toothed and nailed. 

I cracked my gum. 

I stole a pigeon. 

I longed for a cigarette.

I enjoyed touching the sandwich man’s hand when he gave me my order.

I imagined a new way of crossing the border. 

It was the end of August.

I grew tired of myself.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Titus Groan

I finished Titus Groan today, the first book in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. It was a great reading experience. The mood is melancholy, the descriptions and vocabulary are marvelous, and the  odd characters have evocative names like Sourdust, Dr. Prunesquallor and Lady Fuchsia, to name a few. 

A high point came near the end in the death battle between the servant Flay and the cook Swelter. It was one of the longest scenes in the book, but wonderfully sustained. Near the beginning comes the lightning bolt of a summer storm:

To Flay it seemed an eternity of nakedness, but the hot black eyelid of the entire sky closed down again and the stifling atmosphere rocked uncontrollably to such a yell of thunder as lifted the hairs on his neck. From the belly of a mammoth it broke and regurgitated, dying finally with a long-drawn growl of spleen. And then the enormous midnight gave up all control, opening out her cumulous body from horizon to horizon, so that the air became solid with so great a weight of falling water that Flay could hear the limbs of trees breaking through a roar of foam

The end scene in which Titus is made Earl of Gormenghast was also glorious.

I’m afraid I didn’t make enough checks to mark my favorite passages and sentences. I bought the book used and besides such checks there are just two places where a reader wrote had written a note. 

In the chapter called The Burning, the second paragraph describes a seating arrangement which seems to have an editing flub regarding who is sitting next to whom. An attentive reader notes in the margin: “? Nannie was on Gertrude’s right.”

At the end there’s a scene where Mr. Rottcodd, curator of the so-called Bright Carvings, looks through a window to see there is a new Earl, and realizes that he has seen no one for over a year. He hadn’t known the previous Earl died.

What had happened? As he asked himself the question, he knew the answer. That no one had thought fit to tell him! No one! It was a bitter pill for him to swallow. He had been forgotten. Yet he always wished to be forgotten. He could not have it both ways.

Alongside the paragraph, the reader wrote “yes, you can.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I needed a day off & I took it

It was a good day to finish Brenda Hillman’s Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire.

It was a good day to go with my son to a weight-lifting place he wanted to join, and did.

It was a good day to remove adverbs from sentences.

To inherit a book from my daughter. To listen to Bach. To find the shower gel I bought at the TJ Maxx near my mother's for $7 costs 71 euros in Germany. 

It was a good day to make tomato sauce & meatballs.

It was a good day to see my piece “See Also Fire” published at The Offing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Some observations on my trip to France, from my semi-German perspective

First, France is more beautiful than Germany because its ancient buildings are still standing.
Also, France is more of a mess than Germany because its ancient buildings are still standing.

Germany looks more well off. I looked at the GDP per capita stats, however, and it’s not that much richer, #11 vs #13 in Europe. So why does France look rundown? Is it those ancient buildings, which are painfully charming but also slowly disintegrating?

We visited Semur-en-Auxois, for example, by reputation one of the most worthwhile villages in Burgundy. It’s enchanting from a distance, like outside the town walls or from one of the town towers. But close-up it’s sad. I say it reluctantly. 

Ancient buildings hold 1000x more charm than any efficient modern structure. Ancient buildings pose 100 more problems, and need more care. 

France is more rural and less populated than Germany, which is relaxing when you’re driving through the rolling landscape. Germany has rural areas, too, but its uninhabited areas are often wooded rather than agrarian. 

It is also true that the French are not punctual. As my husband told the man who was supposed to meet us at 4 pm to let us into our apartment but showed up at 5.30, “Roland, la ponctualité est pas votre force.” This after Monsieur Roland was also an hour late for our meeting to return our deposit and reclaim our keys. In fact rather than being ‘just’ 50 minutes late, he was out in the street stretching it out to a full hour with a smoke break - we saw him. 

“Je suis désolé Je suis désolé Je suis désolé,” he protested. Désolé, my ass. 

It is indisputable that the French language is fabulous. I wish I’d stuck to my French lessons. 

Gorgeous place. The well-cared-for abbey of Fontenay brought me to tears. 

Also Proust and Satie and Apollinaire and Matisse. 

But fate has delivered me to Germany, where I am late for work, accompanied daily by Weltschmerz and Bach cantatas.

Herr Camper related that when a missionary painted the flames of Hell to a congregation of Greenlanders in a truly vivid fashion, and described at length the heat they gave out, all the Greenlanders began to feel a strong desire to go to Hell.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Notebook G, The Waste Books

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

to flash or not to flash

I have a short piece up at Matchbook called Buchenwald. Such things are often called flash, or flash fiction, or micro-fiction. I don't like the word flash. It reminds me of 'flash in the pan,' or Flash Gordon, or a flasher. And mine's a story, though not a fictional one. I wish there were another label for it. Matchbook's subhead is "stories quite short," which I can live with.

New Pages says of Buchenwald, "If you were thinking the story would be light subject matter, YOU THOUGHT WRONG. It's super short, intense, sad, and somehow humorous."

I can live with that, too. Germany isn't much of a tourist destination, but there are some places and things worth seeing. And a concentration camp really is worth anyone's time, depressing and horrid as it may be.

Monday, July 20, 2015

High Heeled

I always want more:
more Everest, more starshine,
something in the department of vertical.

That’s why I’m up here.
It’s better than smog,
better than settling.

Since coaching myself to one-up
the utmost, my dreams
only know the Amazonian. 

Could you say that again?
At these heights, I hardly
hear you. Sometimes from 

my perch on the umpteenth
floor, I feel the distant pinch
of the finite. You’ll see 

others like me, pumped
up, outrageous in altitude.
In the ascendent, 

the hitch remains poise,
attaining cliff stillness, 
and nerve enough not to topple.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Go fly a kite

I am not at all into Harper Lee. I read “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a teenager, possibly for school. I re-read it as an adult some years ago, and it struck me as a black-and-white YA novel. People like that, I get it. For those who want a soothing, unnuanced look at good vs. evil in competent prose, it’s a good place to tank up. I'm not dissing it, just don't think it deserves the unbounded praise it's received.

But with the whole “Go Set a Watchman” mania raging now all I can say is go away. I wouldn’t even think of reading it. (Ok, for a thousand dollars.) I don’t even care what a Watchman is. Is it a wearable gadget? I don't know. And I’m not going to spend another 2 minutes thinking about it. 

For me the best thing about “To Kill a Mockingbird” is that internet meme with the adorable grey cat looking at the book and exclaiming “WTF ... this book has absolutely no information on killing birds.” Exactly. 

In fact, cat and dog and other animal videos pretty much do for me what Harper Lee does for people, only more economically.

Monday, July 06, 2015

First, identify

XYZ is a runic chant.
XIX is a fresh gust of wind.
XLX is a kind of claustrophobic flipbook.
XSY is a book of bridges.
XWZ is Joyce-like rabbit hole of loss.
XKY is a brave oddity.
XZC is an unusual specimen.
XCK is consistently smart.
XKC is a masterpiece of human hysterics.

(First lines of selected book reviews at the Pank blog.)

Thursday, July 02, 2015


scorching sun,
the corner winos
switch to white

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Summer reading, maybe

Summer’s here and I see reading lists. Though I’d love to order fresh books, this morning I looked at my shelves to see what’s languishing there unread. Found quite a few, some of which I’m glad to be reminded of, others that might not make it. I confess I bought a number of these neglected books, but some were foisted upon me by my mother and other well-meaning friends. Here’s how they stack up: 

Still on My List
What a Carve Up by Jonathan Coe
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Mr Peanut by Adam Ross
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein
Crash by JG Ballard

Quite Possible
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Small Ceremonies by Carol Shields
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and The End of The World by Haruki Murakami
The Girl With Curious Hair by David Foster Wallace
Down by The River by Edna O’Brien

Could Happen, Someday
Hitler’s Willing Executioners by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
The Mill on The Floss by George Eliot
The Man Who Loved Books Too Much by Alison Hoover Bartlett
The Gift By Vladimir Nabokov

Not Ruling It Out Entirely
The Thief and the Dogs by Naguib Mahfouz
City of Glass by Paul Auster
Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson 
Suspended Animation by F. Gonzalez-Crussi

Snowball’s Chance
A Spy in the House of Love by Anais Nin
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini

Monday, June 22, 2015

We Watch The Imitation Game with the Subtitles on

(quiet laughter)
(laughs) (phone ringing)
(mechanical whirring)
(rhythmic marching)
(music) (exhales)
(panting) (sonar pinging)
(indistinct chatter)
(children’s playful shouts in the distance)
(door opens) (panting)
(gasps) (birds chirping)
(chuckles, stammers)
(indistinct voices in the background)
(music) (sobbing)
(groans) (claps hands)
(alarm blaring)
(chuckles) (chuckles) (chuckles)
(music chatter fading)
(quiet sigh) (gunfire)
(rhythmic clacking)
(loud whirring) (deep whirring)
(whirring and clacking winding down)
(door closes)
(dog barking in the distance)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The semi-productive weekend

I thwarted a bamboo plant.

I sat down to finish In The Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, in which the narrator leaves his mother behind for a seaside holiday that becomes a rhapsodic meditation on adolescent girls. I found it much slower than Swann’s Way, which was gorgeous and even revelatory. 

Wore my monocle in honor. 

So now I’m free to decide whether to go on to volume III of In Search of Lost Time. Leaning towards yes, but perhaps not. First I am reading Monsieur Proust, a memoir by Proust’s housekeeper. I’m a quarter of the way through and feeling like a satisfied voyeur. Proust liked to eat sole, when he ate at all. He did not use soap. It is down to earth.

Also, they say you shouldn’t feel restricted by your age, gender or situation in choosing what to put on, but I don’t buy that brand of soap. Most of the time I feel like a 14-year old boy embarrassed by a propensity for nosebleeds, but that doesn’t mean I want to go about shirtless in shorts and flip-flops. So after many a tortuous I-hate-myself shopping excursion, I was happy to find two shirts that are comfortable and ok for the office. A bigger victory than it seems.  

I wrote a poem that I was happy with. So far. 

Also did a tiny bit of exercise, which is more than I can say for most days - week or weekend. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The spit that directly disgusts me

Happy Fernando Pessoa's birthday. Here is a little of The Book of Disquiet, rendered by two different translators. 

Travel? One need only exist to travel. I go from day to day, as from station to station, in the train of my body or my destiny, leaning out over the streets and squares, over people’s faces and gestures, always the same and always different, just like scenery. (Richard Zenith, p. 370)

You want to travel? To travel you simply need to exist. In the train of my body or of my destiny I travel from day to day, as from station to station, leaning out to look at the streets and the squares, at gestures and faces, always the same and always different as, ultimately, is the way with all landscapes. (Margaret Jull Costa, p. 75)

I envy all people, because I’m not them. Since this always seemed to me like the most impossible of all impossibilities, it’s what I yearned for every day, and despaired of in every sad moment. (RZ, p. 39)

I envy in everyone the fact that they are not me. Of all impossibilities, and this always seemed the greatest, this was the one that made up the greater part of my daily dose of anguish, the despair that fills every sad hour. (MJC, p. 139)

I’m astounded whenever I finish something. Astounded and distressed. My perfectionist instinct should inhibit me from finishing; it should inhibit me from even beginning. (RZ, p. 136) 

I’m always astonished whenever I finish anything. Astonished and depressed. My desire for perfection should prevent me from ever finishing anything; it should prevent me from even starting. (MJC, p. 129)

I have no social of political sentiments, and yet there is a way in which I’m highly nationalistic. My nation is the Portuguese language. It wouldn’t trouble me if all Portugal were invaded or occupied, as long as I was left in peace. But I hate with genuine hatred, with the only hatred I can feel, not those who write bad Portuguese, not those whose syntax is faulty, not those who used phonetic rather that etymological spelling, but the badly written page itself, as if it were a person, incorrect syntax, as someone who ought to be flogged, the substitution of i for y, as the spit that directly disgusts me, independent of who spat it. 
Yes, because spelling is also a person. (RZ, p. 225) 

I have no political of social sense. In a way, though, I do have a highly developed patriotic sense. My fatherland is the Portuguese language. It wouldn’t grieve me if someone invaded and took over Portugal as long as they didn’t bother me personally. What I hate, with all the hatred I can muster, is not the person who writes bad Portuguese, or who does not know his grammar, or who writes using the new simplified orthography; what I hate, as if it were an actual person, is the poorly written page of Portuguese itself; what I hate, as if it were someone who deserved a beating, is the bad grammar itself; what I hate, as I hate a gob of spit independently of its perpetrator, is the modern orthography with its preference of ‘i’ over ‘y.’
For orthography is just as much a living thing as we are. (MJC, p. 233)

Sunday, June 07, 2015

The monstrously long week

Listened to: Titled by Arto Lindsay, my new favorite song
Read: Dusk Litany (what is better than a good short poem?)

Ate: Cheeseburger, grilled tuna, cake, broccoli, cookies
Drank: Juice with disgusting iodine/iron supplement poured in

Outside: Heat, sunshine, pollen
Inside: Chores & tasks 

Yeah: Wore a blouse that I have hardly worn at all, making me feel better about the money I spent on it 10 years ago
Nay: 149 euro t-shirt, 27 euro body lotion 

Cursed: The moment I was ready to submit a poem & realized the title sucked
Learned: ‘Monstrous’ means large as much as it means monster-like

Visited: Frankfurt cemetery, Germany’s biggest
Dreamed: I was in prison for a minor offense. I was sentenced to a year but escaped to see my mother. I fled in the dark in uncomfortable shoes. I got to her house. I was changing into Birkenstocks & knew I had to return to prison or get more time but as I was making to return two Chinese ladies came in. They were prison reps come to apprehend me & although my story made them cry they took me back.

Made: Meatballs
Discarded: More moth-nibbled clothes

Word of the week: Purview
Pithiness: Man loves company, even if it is only that of a smoldering candle. - Lichtenberg

Friday, June 05, 2015

Nothing fits me anymore

It reached 90 degrees today, unusual for early June. I dislike hot weather and such strong sun. I had jeans and a long sleeve shirt on and that was a mistake. After work I stopped by the café where my daughter works and she brought me a coffee. My daughter is a beautiful girl who is having a hard time now. I didn’t want to disappoint her by not drinking it. A couple sips and I broke a sweat. 

Anyway, all this is an excuse to say I have a couple of poems out this month.

Nothing Fits Me Anymore is in Gravel
and Reader’s Block is in Bird’s Thumb.

I also have a poem, Electric Singer, in RHINO, which I got in the mail today. It’s a print publication so I can’t link to the poem unless they post in online, which I expect they will eventually. Still, if you like a good, eclectic annual, buy a copy of RHINO. There’s always something marvelous in there.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

In The Unfinished Folder

image thanks to Anu Tuominen
Poems in which the end goes wrong.
Poems in which only the end works.
Poems that can’t take a joke.
Poems like a mob of disconnected sentences.
Poems that lean too sweet.
Poems in an induced coma.
Poems that made all the wrong choices in life.
Poems with one wow line surrounded by meh. 
Poems that remain just a 3-4 word germ.
Poems that trip predictable.
Poems like a hoarder’s wicked kitchen.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Jewels and Binoculars (week 21)

Listened to: I’ll Keep It With Mine, one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs, in honor of his birthday
Watched: This spoof on women fending off compliments

Inside: Dog hair city
Outside: That time of year when the wisteria rhymes with hysteria

Read: Wislawa Szymborska’s “The Kindness of the Blind
Wrote: Lots of “(noun) of (noun)” phrases

Ate: Rucola with feta, pine nuts and potatoes
Drank: Italian red 

Yeah: Galleys for upcoming poem in Bird’s Thumb 
Nay: sports fandom and “patriotism” that depends on war glory

Discussed: Handwriting. Writing a letter by hand nowadays is like walking instead of driving a car. Everyone looks at you like you’re weird, or at least that’s how you feel.
Decided: I should get a full-length manuscript together, just lazy and insecure.

Missed: My parents
Acquired: Birthday presents for the kids

Cursed: Housework
Learned: There’s a swath of grey hair under the top layer of my hair. I found it at the hairdresser's. I thought it was (undissolved) mousse. 

Word of the week: Ampule, which sound electric but is filled with liquid
Pithiness: If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. ― Meister Eckhart

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The weary museum translator

Based on a true story:

Original German version: In antiquity, the image of a face with a wavy beard and a full head of long hair usually depicts a river god, the hair evoking the flowing water. This sandstone sculpture likely represents the god of the Rhine. 

English translation: The bearded face most likely represents a river god, probably of the Rhine. 

French translation: River god?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Every appointment has been moved to last week

Listened to: Audio book of The Dogs of Riga, a Henning Mankell book
Read: More Proust

Saw: Gladiators battle, or at least some serious guys dressed as gladiators
Watched: Thebans, an opera by Julian Anderson

Laughed: Fakely
Cursed: Genuinely

Nay: Homesick
Yeah: Poem accepted at One Sentence Poems

Acquired: Labello. I blow through a lot of money but don’t seem to acquire much.
Discarded: A German guide to bike tours in Ireland

Visited: Roman-Germanic museum, Cologne
Learned: Oedipus had four children, two of whom killed each other. Kind of a bad family situation there all around. 

Ate: Cinnamon buns
Drank: Starbucks products 

Inside: Yoga, a little too close to the guy in front of me’s feet
Outside: Pushed a shopping cart full of beer across a lawn along the Main River, accompanied by a colleague holding an umbrella over my head

Word of the week: Wafer (if the wafer of light offends me - charles wright)
Pithiness: "It’s easier to help the hungry than the overfed." - Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

Thanks to Valerie Roybal for permission to use the image

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Burns like black handkerchiefs

Two of my poems are up in the new issue of DMQ. One's a found poem, the other a book poem. Actually, both book poems, since the found poem was found in a book.

Cool and sunny. Off to friends on the Rhine for the weekend. We'll see the opera Thebans in Bonn, which I understand is a Sophocles drama in English. Delight of delights - I don't have to rely entirely on subtitles.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

April into May

Listened to: Spiritual High Part II
Read: The End of Retirement by Jessica Bruder (Harper’s, Aug. 2014) 

Saw: A documentary on the Lodz ghetto
Watched: Interstellar 

Laughed: Amy Schumer
Cursed: Bad news from kid’s school

Nay: 4 rejections
Yeah: 1 acceptance, and an essay published at Lunch Review 

Acquired: Toiletries
Discarded: Moth-eaten clothes

Visited: Traiteur Jeanette café
Finished: PoMoSco, the April project of found poetry 

Ate: Tarte au Citron Meringuée
Drank: Spanish wine

Inside: Wiped down bathroom walls
Outside: Rode a bike, jogged, got rained on 

Word of the week: Wingless, disguised as wineglass
Pithiness: “I stayed in a really old hotel last night. They sent me a wakeup letter.”  Steven Wright 

Friday, May 01, 2015

Overlapping Landscapes

“Eternal tourists of ourselves, there is no landscape but what we are. We possess nothing, for we don’t even possess ourselves. We have nothing because we are nothing. What hand will I reach out, and to what universe? The universe isn’t mine: it’s me,” said Fernando Pessoa.

“The floor is something we must fight against,” Russell Edson wrote.

The clutter of my mind gets tidied up in “Overlapping Landscapes,” an essay in the inaugural issue of Lunch Review.

Monday, April 27, 2015

We could be heroes

A woman missing inside her home for more than 48 hours was found Monday morning when she emerged from the front door for work. It was unclear whether she’d been hurt or was deliberately missing.
She described the ordeal when she arrived at the office. The woman, the mother of two children, said she survived on food she found in the house.
“I could only eat what was left in the fruit bowl or the refrigerator,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if I was getting enough from all the different food groups, but I’ll look into what those groups are now more closely in case this happens again.”
Apparently the police were not involved in any search. The woman’s daughter came in at one point on Saturday, dashed upstairs to grab her phone and left again. The daughter couldn’t recall if she saw her mother during the 2-minute visit.
“I think I called out ‘mom?’ but I don’t remember if she answered,” the daughter said. “Wasn’t she just in her room?”
One neighbor recalled the woman going into the house on Friday evening around 8.50 pm, dressed in yoga clothes.
“I had no idea what was about to happen,” the neighbor said.
The woman said she didn’t consider herself a hero when she emerged from the house.
“There was one time when I wanted to drink cold water from the tap but at first only warm water came out,” she said. “I just kept running the tap hoping it would get cold.”
Luckily she was awoken by daylight on Monday morning.
“I was like, whoa, better get dressed,” the woman said.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Last week

Listened to: Vogliatemi Bene, Un Bene Piccolino (Madame B)
Read: Paul Hostovsky’s poem “Man Praying in a Men’s Room

Saw: Photography Forum exhibition ‘Augen auf!’
Watched: Dressed to Kill with Michael Caine & Angie Dickinson (Brian De Palma) 

Laughed: The End of the World news bit
Cursed: Long, unproductive conversations 

Nay: Overcrowded yoga class
Yeah: Poem accepted by Gravel Magazine

Acquired: It was a low-spend week. I bought a magazine.
Discarded: Uneaten food gone bad

Visited: The mountains
Learned: Most refrigerators are set at too low a temperature to keep meat until its ‘best by’ date

Ate: Blueberry pie
Drank: Coffee, coffee, coffee 

Word of the week: Small, as noun (the small of the back, the small of the valley, would you like to try a small)
Pithiness: Language most shows a man: Speak, that I may see thee. - Ben Jonson

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Offending Animal

I’m still participating in the Scout poetry challenge with Found Poetry, though not daily. Today’s task was to gather questions from a text and use some to write a poem. The first attempt I wanted to develop further and decided not to post it. Ditto #2. So the poem I posted, “The Offending Animal,” was not my favorite, though I enjoyed writing it and am not un-fond of it. To be honest I didn't think the questions I found - which were all so particular - would ever compose a poem.

My source text was “Great Pictures, As Seen and Described by Famous Writers,” edited by Esther Singleton. About 82% of the poem comes from one essay in the book by William M. Thackeray. Searching online for the painting in question, “Banquet of the Arquebusiers,” I came across this strange portrait of a child by Gerard ter Borch. The child, Helena van der Schalcke, is the new mascot for The Rain in My Purse. Other than rain, what would a child carry in a little bag embellished with black lace? 

As to the poetry challenge, unlike the 2013 Pulitzer project, poets aren't obliged to post a poem every day. And some days I can’t manage it. Then on days like today I did three, though not all in one day of course. The problem with seeing any promise in the poems you post is that technically they are already "published" in online poetry terms. 

Monday, April 20, 2015


The morning walk to the tram.
Downhill. Sunshine.
The construction site. The chestnut tree lopped smaller.
But not dead!
Thank god.
The difficult corner, visibility-wise.
Tempting death, like everyday. Tempting being a verb or adjective.
The Doktor’s house, painted pale lilac.
His ivy, his wood deck, his miniature pond.
All pleasant for the patients.
And everyone else.
Fences, fences, dog feces.
Der kleine Park ist schön.
Nice spot for a smoke, if you smoke.
Pigeons. They call this a cluster flock!
Spring gives everything its own frisson.
Even the enormous white portal of the cemetery looks like a dollop of whipped cream.
The foot descending to meet its shadow, and pulling back again.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Fresh supply of rainwater

It's warm and overcast here, and breezy. If you look outside it doesn't look inviting, but the temperature is so pleasant, it's like wading into a sudsy bath. It may rain, may not. Germany is not California. 
Image from Lichtenberg-Gesellschaft 

If you read this blog you know that George Christoph Lichtenberg is my idol. He lived north of here in Göttingen, which doesn't have much to offer except that he lived there. Lichtenberg said of it:

If you want to take the rainwater cure you should come to Göttingen, where there is a fresh supply at all times. 

I wrote a short review of his marvelous book "The Waste Books" for Escape into Life. Go over and read it. If he were alive I would be his agent.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Buying the farm

One day long ago when I was living a lonely and desolate life in Kansas, my jeep skidded on black ice on of I-135 North. I happened to be crossing an overpass at that moment and as the jeep slid right towards the guardrail, I was sure it would topple over and plunge from the bridge to the field below. This all seemed to happen in slow motion, giving me time to recall the euphemism of “someone buying the farm,” and thinking how pathetic it was that the last song I would have listened to in my life was whatever pop song was playing on the radio at the time. I confess I have forgotten it now, mostly because when the jeep finally did slam against the guardrail, it was arrested there, still standing on all four tires, the view of the field below mercifully far away. Oddly enough, at the other side of that field was a Chrysler dealership, and I slowly drove the jeep along the shoulder and down the off-ramp towards it. I was shaking and grateful to still be among the living. The salesmen at the dealership shrugged and dismissed me. I was free to return to my empty life on the plains. It struck me then that no one would have missed me, I had no one to tell my story to, and the life of self-imposed isolation I had chosen had not turned me into a romantic figure, but a sad mass of loneliness.

This poem is two years old, but I remembered it this weekend when a jeep drove by.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The past week in pleasure & pain

Listened to: Jolie Holland sing Pure Imagination
Read: Novel Interiors
Lorenza Guzman 

Saw: A man in pink pajamas smoking a cigarette and talking on the phone in an upstairs window along my streetcar route. 
Watched: The German movie Kriegerin, about neo-nazis in the northeast. An eye-opener.

Cursed: Fate

Failed: Rejections
Succeeded: Finished a book review I’ve been promising 

Regretted: Offering someone a thank-you gift who proceeded to treat me like shit. At the end of the shit session, she held out her hand to receive the gift, which I changed my mind about (I regretted the offering, not the withholding). 
Realized: Spite is karma's handmaid. 

Visited: Frankfurt’s Palmengarten, the local botanical garden. 
Learned: There is a type of rose named ‘Aspirin.’

Ate: Meatballs, rucola, mozzarella, peanuts, rolls, tomatoes, crackers, cookies, chocolate, octopus, fontina.
Enjoyed: Lorenza Guzman sculptures 

Word of the week: Mazurka, a dark dynamic word that means Polish folk song
Pithiness: The thoughts written on madhouse walls by their inmates might be worth publicizing. - Lichtenberg

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

die Taube

One regret I have about not having been born a man is never being called a gentleman.

On top of regrets about being born.

Marlene Dietrich said of Meryl Streep: ‘In the old days such an ugly person would have played the maid, or not even have gotten a screen test.’

Everyone lives under an assumed name.

The character was described as having “abominable teeth,” which I misread as “abdominal teeth.”

In German the pigeon and the dove are the same thing, die Taube.

When you chose a name for your child, was it a name you once wished for yourself?
 ( luise   gudrun   josefina )

For years after Albert Camus died his car was housed in the garage of a mechanic he’d been friendly with. It was a 1955 Citroen that Camus had named Penelope. 

I told them I didn’t care if he wrote like an angel. An angel wouldn’t write anything I’d want to read.

Everything holds up a mirror, while the mirror holds up a door.

‘Comme tout le monde je m’appelle Erik Satie.’ - Erik Satie

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mancave Envy

I’m seeing all these mancaves and it makes me super envious. Freud would say my house and I are not physically equipped to have a mancave, but we want one, and the power it represents. I’m going to indulge my boyish nature, appropriate some hormones and rename my little studio. I’ve got some of the accoutrements already.

My mancave has a chair named Bernhard because that’s a man’s name. 

My mancave has a manual typewriter because it’s bromantic.

My mancave has a Native American blanket because bold, masculine graphic.

My mancave has a picture of a beautiful woman, because beautiful women.

My mancave has genuine spiderwebs because Spidermancave.

My mancave has a dog because man’s best friend.

My mancave has an X-Acto knife in it because get off my lawn.

I understand every mancave needs a sign on the door, and you’ll be glad to know mine does have a sign on the door. My daughter (the beautiful woman whose picture graces the cave) gave it to me. It says “Mom,” in honor of Thoreau's mom, who washed his clothes for him. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dear Goatee

Preparing to do Found Poetry's scouting project next month, I dug up this poem I did two years ago when I took part in their Pulitzer project, in which each participant chose a Pulitzer prize-winning book as a source text for found poetry. Mine was Independence Day by Richard Ford. "Dear Goatee" was written using words on p. 186 of the novel. It was a challenge to find a new poem every day of April, and you certainly got intimate with the book. To keep from going insane, I usually limited myself to one page per poem. With the scouting project, we'll use a variety of texts, and I'm looking forward to trying something new. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Had the Day off

Pruned the roses and cut back the ropey, dead clematis
Kissed the Rome-bound husband & son goodbye
Delivered wonderdog to her vacation
Took a stab at some found poems before PoMoSco
Went grocery shopping
Read Emily Dickinson’s #420 (There are two Ripenings)
Ate a salad of rucola, tomatoes & mozzarella, like an Italian flag
Bought a song on iTunes
Basked in the sunshine on the terrace
Shook three men’s hands
Posted a Throwback Thursday photo
Learned a childhood friend’s sad fate

Sunday, March 15, 2015

i taste a liquor never brewed

Anne Sexton will be played by Lindsay Lohan.
Robert Frost will be played by Christoph Waltz.

ee cummings will be played by Jeff Goldblum.
Sappho will be played by Cate Blanchett.

Emily Dickinson will be played by Mia Wasikowska.
Guillaume Apollinaire will be played by Jack Nicholson. 

Derek Walcott will be played by George Clooney.
Sylvia Plath will be played by Sissy Spacek.

Ai will be played by Eartha Kitt.
John Donne will be played by Clint Eastwood.

Wallace Stevens will be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. 
Sharon Olds will be played by Catherine Keener.

Sunday, March 08, 2015


Last night at a concert I discovered one of my most longstanding misreadings. A countertenor was singing a raft of French songs, including Claude Debussy’s Prelude and Clair de Lune, two of his best known pieces.

The concert program included the lyrics and I was reading the actually kind of lame melodramatic texts of various songs (o my heart) and it was slowly revealed to me that the two Debussy songs were not from what I’ve long been reading as Suite Bergmanesque, but from Suite Bergamasque

In other words, the songs weren’t a homage to the Swedish director Ingmar Bergman as I’ve been unconsciously assuming for about 25 years, but to a clownish dance from the Italian town of Bergamo. Since I never thought about the inspiration for the songs, or dwelled on any associations I made with them, I’d never corrected this abiding trick of the eye. 

You’d think it would have occurred to me that Bergman and Debussy didn't have overlapping lifetimes. In fact they missed each other by four months - Debussy died in March 1918 while Bergman was born in July of that year - meaning the composer never had the opportunity to see Wild Strawberries, or The Seventh Seal, or even the first movie Bergman directed, To Joy.

Well, dear 25 years, it’s been lovely having Debussy’s Prelude evoke all those Swedish walks on the beach, and letting Clair de Lune call forth the light in the foghorn scene from Persona. In fact, I think I’ll continue to let it. It’s much more pleasing than an awkward Italian dance from a town best known these days for its rinky-dink airport, served primarily by Ryanair.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

The week that was

On a 1-10 scale, the past week gets a weak 5. No one died or anything. Nor did a tree fall on my car, but I don’t drive. The week didn’t win an award for leading actress, or screenplay, or original score. And I banged my elbow. 

Listened to: Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro
Reading: In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower by Marcel Proust

Saw: Birdman. I wasn’t crazy about it. And the popcorn sucked. 
Learned: To properly pronounce sangfroid 

Laughed: My own joke at work, which involved an English nursery rhyme peppered with German. That’s how desperate I was for humor.
Cursed: Being 5 minutes late for yoga, meaning I was locked out.

Failed: The moths are back.
Succeeded: Drafted a poem; received an acceptance

Regretted: My desk calendar. Every day there’s a new photo, and 55% of the time it seems to be a selfie, and god knows we’ve had enough of that.
Dreamed: My father was taking a bath in a shed in a rural setting. He got all contorted and was shouting for help. Luisa and I were nearby but I said he was just making noise and didn’t need help but Luisa went and helped him get out of the tub, exasperated with me.

Acquired: A rose-scented candle
Discarded: A purple poncho

Ate: Risotto Milanese
Ingested: A mouthful of exhaust smoke

Word of the week: Flummox, a well-built verb with an unconventional ending. 
Pithiness: "We spend our time envying people we wouldn’t like to be." - Jean Rostand

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Customer grouch

With beer sales up, Germans said Proust! more often in 2014.

On annihilation, raise your hands over your head.

Things to do in Hilarious, Germany

China will never follow the path of western colonists, the foreign mystery said.

Swiss tourism faces tongue challenge after bank abandons currency peg.

The couple bought a 4-story townhouse where they’re ravishing their twins.

Profitability will be hit by an investment in customer grouch.

Jesus Charlie.
(Je suis).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Visiting America I decide to reconsider my disdain of scented candles

Blue Lavender
I’ve spent years overdosing on lavender in the form of soaps, sachets and lotions but this candle came with a wooden wick that promised to crackle. Open mind, I told myself, not every scented candle wants to strangle you with apple cinnamon. And unlike the ubiquitous pumpkin clogging the American esophagus, this was the scent of cottonballs and vaporous soufflés, of swans and a pale lilac sunset that glows for approximately 33 hours.
Mystery Collage by Valerie Roybal

This wore a distinct masculine cast. Black wax and black glass, it purported to be aromatherapy and gullible woman that I was I bought it. It sat knobby in its chamber; the flame elicited beads of moisture, exuding an unctuous smell, like a mix of 1) burning tires and 2) sweat in a smoky, upholstered club that hasn’t been vacuumed since Adam. Womanly goodwill aside, I didn’t want such an atmosphere roasting my clothes and, dear reader, I tossed it. 

Wild Bluebells & Jasmine
When I had to whittle the cargo down for the sake of my suitcase this is the bouquet I almost manned overboard. Wild bluebells and jasmine, I said, how ridiculous. Do bluebells even smell? Is it just girlish, poetic marketing? But the candle was small, the color a robin’s egg blue, so I tucked it inside a sock in a side pocket. And in truth it became my favorite, because it said snow-capped mountains to me. It said bells of alpine goats who’ve been freshly shampooed. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

In the room the women come and go, talking

Two stand-out experiences I had on my trip to America had to do with public interaction, and how much friendlier, open and trusting it is than in Germany.

The first took place in a ladies’ fitting room. I came out to look in a larger mirror and found - not unexpectedly - strangers commenting on each other’s outfits in a way unimaginable in Germany. Friendly and helpful and possibly not altogether honest comments. I asked the fitting room attendant if she thought I had the right size, but it didn’t matter whether I needed advice - it was just refreshing not to feel you must stay closed up inside yourself, to make contact with people, even in a banal retail setting. In Germany in contrast, privacy starts with avoiding strangers.

In the second case, my mother and I had just seen a movie we had differing opinions on (Whiplash). We stopped at the ladies’ room, where there was the usual backlog of ladies. But everyone in line was talking to the others about the film, whether they liked it, how intense it was, what a fantastic jerk one of the characters was. Except for my mother and me, the ladies were strangers to each other as far as I could tell. You’d never strike up a conversation with a stranger standing on line in Germany, much less engage in a large, inclusive conversation, superficial as it may be.

I can’t lie and say I don’t miss that. I miss it all the time. It makes life more pleasant; you feel less isolated, less invisible. You are invited to participate in an exchange. This can also go too far sometimes, as with the well-off American man in front of me on the plane, who needed to interact with the duty-free team for over a half an hour about which watch looked best on him, then which one to buy for his wife as well. Blabbity-bla.  

And of course I returned to Germany this morning to news of a road-rage murder in Nevada, a 16 year-old executing his family then being killed in a shoot-out with police in Kentucky, and another deadly shooting at a Walmart in Mississippi. You can’t have it all.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Unhappy landings

On the morning of my departure I took the dog out to spare my husband at least one walking, since for some days he’d be sole proprietor. My good intentions only went so far, however. I was in a hurry. On the front stoop I put the long rubber boots on slapdashedly, my left heel lodged just ¾ of the way down. Sure enough I stumbled on the cement steps near my house. It was a long descent. On the way down, I had ample time to rue my haste and plan my landing.

I braced the fall with the outer edge of my left hand – luckily without involving the dog – next, my left shoulder slammed the sidewalk (though I only surmise this from the pain I felt later), then my left cheek touched down, impressively far from where the fall began. I smashed my pinky and it bled, my index finger, too, and the knuckle of my right thumb. It was still dark so I did without witnesses. No one heard me moaning; I had time to assess the damage and recuperate my wits. I decided my hand wasn’t broken, so I rose to continue my walk, tears or no tears, because someone still had to do it.

A day later I woke up a continent away with a vice-like headache and nausea that followed through. My mother said I probably had a concussion. All I wanted to do was walk the dog with the least amount of bother, then get on a plane, and a day in bed with the sun shining on the snow outside was my lecture on laziness.

Sunday, February 01, 2015


Evan S. Connell’s Mrs. Bridge, about a housewife suffering vague existential unease, begins with a Walt Whitman quote:  But where is what I started for so long ago? / And why is it yet unfound?

A Matisse illustration for Charles d'Orleans
The companion novel Mr. Bridge begins with a quote from Wallace Stevens’s “Tea At the Palaz of Hoon:”
I was the world in which I walked, and what I saw
Or heard or felt came not from myself;
And there I found myself more truly and more strange.

Dorothy Allison’s autobiographical novel Bastard Out of Carolina begins with an epigraph from James Baldwin: “People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.”

I love the Thomas de Quincey quote Billy Collins chose for Nine Horses: “See, then, that bronze equestrian statue. The cruel rider has kept the bit in the horse’s mouth for two centuries. Unbridle him for a minute, if you please, and wash his mouth with water.”

The epigraph to Collins’s Horoscopes for the Dead is also terrific - from Alan Bennet’s The Uncommon Reader: “It was the kind of library he had only read about in books.” 

Roberto Bolano’s Nazi Literature in the Americas starts with an epigraph from short story writer Augusto Monterroso: “If the flow is slow enough and you have a good bicycle, or a horse, it is possible to bathe twice (or even three times, should your personal hygiene so require) in the same river.”

The Map and the Territory by Michel Houellebecq uses an epigraph from medieval poet and duke Charles d’Orleans, who wrote most of his poems while a prisoner:
“The world is weary of me, / And I am weary of it.”

The Blue Flower, Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel about the German poet Novalis, starts with a quote from Novalis himself: “Novels arise out of the shortcomings of history.” 

Edna O’Brien’s Down By the River starts with an epigraph from James Joyce’s Ulysses that makes me think I need to take another crack at Ulysses:
Darkness is our souls do you not think?
Flutier. Our souls, shame-wounded by our sins.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Thanks for not much

I have so not gotten on the gratefulness wagon I have to avoid certain settings, since my failure to chime in would surely draw a collective frown. It's not that I'm not grateful, it's just that I don't want to join the latest emotional directive. It's like when everyone is reading the same book, and it’s The Da Vinci Code.

I understand gratefulness is supposed to boost your happiness hormones and all that, but why make a project of it. Yesterday, for example, I went home really looking forward to the two hours of the day when I would not be working. I was so happy I even smiled. What I felt was gratefulness, but I didn't have time to craft a hallmark card about it.

Anyway, in the thankfulness department, my semiannual give-thanks-to-a-teacher anxiety came to a head this week when a couple FB friends posted about teachers who changed their lives by recognizing their talents or inclinations. Then a Slate editor published a memoirette about his relationship with his 10-grade English teacher, who advised him well after school ended not to pursue lawyerdom, along with delivering other life-enriching lessons.

To confess, I've always felt kind of grateful to my 10-grade English teacher, a former nun who presided over our class with dry detachment. She swayed like a stork in her 70s get-up, a short bob and bell-bottom slacks. She was a humorless sort, but she had the idea of giving students an extra point for each book they read. So if you had 86 points, a B or B+, you could kick it up to an A by reading 4 or more extra-curricular books each grading period. She passed out a list of acceptable titles that I kept until my house burned down 10 years later. I was already a reader, since my dad demanded I read 10 books every summer, but reading now had more rewards. I read everything. I read also to please my teacher, though she was about as interested in me as in dryer lint.

One day I got up the nerve to ask her if she'd recommend me to take honors English the following year. She looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language. I didn't fit her picture of what honors English was. I knew who was in honors English and it's true I was not like them. Today they are housewives, realtors, or working payroll at a swimming pool chemicals company.

I was stung, it's true. As I said, I’ve always been kind of grateful to this teacher but lately I wonder what for. I’m grateful that she helped spark my interest in literature. But I am not grateful to her for anything else, not any later academic success, not my landing in journalism, not my poetry. I would like to thank her for taking an interest in me, but she didn't, and I managed anyway.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New year's misreadings

Lately instead of doing upper-body or lower-body I just do full-body stench workouts.

It’s a grueling procedure, so prepare for preposterous care at home.

The app makes photo mortgages of your face and much more.

The room had a sort of underwear light.

We are in the midst of disgusting an entire library.

It’s the thought that gonuts.

Perhaps when you ejaculate everything, you’ll see you’re wealthier than us.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Backward dog

Listened to: Be Brave from My Brightest Diamond
Reading: Dina’s Book by Herbjorg Wassmo, a Norwegian writer I’ve never read before

Laughed: SNL’s Lawrence Welk show with Will Ferrell
Learned: You can’t do anything well when trying to do four things simultaneously.

Failed: Poetry rejections.
Triumphed: First yoga class. Arrived dressed for class, on time, and pre-paid. 

Watched: Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows
Observed: Most virtual interaction with America this week was negative. Obese people in too small clothes, right-wing weirdos, & selfie obsessives. 

Dreamed: I was Thatcheresque.
Received: A book of stamps!

Acquired: Jewelry
Did without: Jewelry

Cooked: Tomato sauce. Mine’s made with carrots rather than sugar, and rosemary rather than basil.
Drank: Fennel & Anise tea.

Word of the week: Cosmonaut
Pithiness of the week: "My father predicted everything when he said I would procrastinate until I died." Jane Bowles

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The I-Did-It list

Some writers I know put together year-end notes - some counted their submissions, some counted how many poems they wrote, others stood on their heads naked and recited from memory in French. 

No one was bragging; many were modest. Still when I counted up my rejections, and tried to reckon how many poems I'd written, I just didn't want to go there. I don't even know how to count how many poems I "wrote" last year. Should I count the stillborn, the lame, the aborted? What about those I’d begun years earlier and finally finished in 2014? In any case, it wasn't many. And those rejections, man, a deluge.

Truth is I sent almost twice as many submissions in 2014 compared with 2013 (74 vs 40) but still got just two more acceptances (11 vs 9). A bunch of those submitted remain outstanding so I could squeak out another acceptance or two, but I’m not expecting an effusion of yes

Of the acceptances, I had to pull the poem because I later realized it resembled - in idea if not in wording - a poem by another poet that I had read long ago. The editor understood and I was grateful, though sorry and a bit disturbed. 

So I liked the pep talk I got reading Lisa Romeo’s "I Did It" idea, which asks you to look back and acknowledge your accomplishments, big and small. Here are some of mine. 

For one, I didn’t regret any of my acceptances, i.e. wish I’d sent my poems to a ‘better’ publication. Acceptances were few, but wonderful, and I was particularly heartened to land my poem “Inksleep” in Beloit, and “Bloodshot Cartography” in Crab Creek.

Two editors corresponded with me about poems I'd submitted asking for minor changes. I was happy that the editors considered those poems worth the effort. 

I was especially fond of the video Nic Sebastian made of my poem "Ambien" from Poetry Storehouse
Marie Craven also made a dynamic, delightful video of "Dictionary Illustrations." It can only be viewed offline, unfortunately, which I have done many times, as have my husband, mother and children!
(These videos were not my accomplishments, of course.) 

I also got a Pushcart nom from Storm Cellar.
And Best of the Net noms from DMQ and Right Hand Pointing.
And Dancing Girl Press accepted my chapbook - “Heiress to a Small Ruin” - for publication later this year.
And DoubleBack press plans to reprint my first chapbook, “In The Voice Of A Minor Saint.”

So I feel good despite my crappy stats.
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