Saturday, February 27, 2010


in the next room
they’re slowly strangling the mezzo soprano
in the next room
they’re slowly strangling the mezzo soprano
in the next room
they’re slowly strangling the mezzo soprano
in the next room
they’re slowly strangling the mezzo soprano
in the next room
they’re slowly strangling the mezzo soprano
in the next room
they’re slowly strangling the mezzo soprano

Thursday, February 25, 2010


In the first chapter, the author could give a general description of what an average guy would do throughout a complete day.

An average guy wouldn’t walk into a Phoenix coin shop on September 5th, request information about purchasing $154,000 in gold bullion and present his brother’s passport.

An average guy would never dare to contact a successful businessman to present him with an idea he believes in. An average guy would see a tank with a lot of nifty plants and say “why’s it so overgrown and green?”

If you’re standing next to an average guy, you’re not really scared of him. But Jesus would look just like an average guy – wouldn’t be anything special about His appearance. He’d buy light bulbs or a new screw for a hinge just like any average guy would do.

An average guy would not want to date a very bright woman. In short an average guy would be effectively destroyed by this. An average guy would be airlifted straight to the hospital.

An average guy would break you split you up would break you a million times more than a relationship with the troubled guy with the guy who’s troubled. An average guy would bash the thing’s head in with his fist to free himself.

He would make haste to the boss lady, and ask to mercifully cut out the crap that is Char Siew, and make the chicken smaller size, like how an average guy would normally have his chicken.

The best advice for an average guy would be to only wax or pluck the hair that extends way past what seems to be the normal eyebrow range.

I wondered for a long time how an average guy would cope with a world of Lovecraftian horror. An average guy would give you his limbs for submission, and the fight would be over fairly quick.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Winter was salt.
Salt in the road.
Salt in the snow.
Salt in the throat.
Salt like no tomorrow.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

room enough, and time

What I like about February is how short it is. In Germany most people receive a monthly rather than a weekly or bi-weekly paycheck, so from the employee point-of-view, February is a bargain. Soon after, though, March seems like a lugubrious slog.

I woke up to new snow but even as I took the dog out for her morning tramp the pocks of treedrip were marking the snow.

I think it’s over now. Snowtime, I mean.

Let all the rain come! I got a thirsty new purse.

a whole sunset on my head

I’ve been lucky so far this year book-wise. I read Herta Müller’s The Land of Green Plums, which I liked much more than I expected. I hadn’t intended to read it, but my mother had it along at Christmas and left it here. I thought, oh yeah, more literary obscurity from the Nobel Prize folks, but her writing is great. The book is peppered with sentences like this: “On my way home I was carrying a nutria fur cap in my hand and a whole sunset on my head.” (p. 184)

I also read Chris Bachelder’s Bear v. Shark. A few pages in I thought I was going to hate it, being largely a poke at an over-the-top media-drenched society. But it was hilarious. And it answered all sorts of important questions, like “do the Dutch have a culture?” and “does a shark have a neck?”

The first book I finished this year was John Banville’s The Sea. I didn’t like it as much as Athena, but still, he’s an incomparable prose stylist. I’d like to say Banville is a marvel at describing characters, but in fact he’s a marvel at describing everything, from a breeze to a dog’s hind leg.

As for poetry, I have yet to have my socks knocked off but I did hugely enjoy Howie Good’s 5-poem ebook Pig/Iron. You can read it here for free! I can be a hard sell on prose poetry, although I write it myself, and though I didn’t like the first poem that much, I was convinced by the second that I was in good hands.

Now I’m reading Today I Wrote Nothing by Daniil Kharms, and can only say I’m more than impressed. May I say I feel less alone in the world? May I say “The miracle worker was very tall?”

I guess it sounds like blue skies&black coffee but I’ve read some so-so stuff, too, including some poetry I couldn’t even begin to understand and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, which annoyed me and weirdly enough is on the (in)famous list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. Goes to show that books need a decade to stew before being propelled to “classics" status.

Friday, February 19, 2010

ghost stories

When I try to speak French, Italian spooks me,
less the form than the mood of it, the flighty rise and ebb.
People talk about phantom limbs, but rarely of the phantom itch.
The itch occurs, but what’s under it?
The song in my head this morning, a song I didn’t know I liked.
The parts haunt the sum.
The choir in the ostrich.
The goon in kangaroo.
Illness is a kind of haunting, too.
Of behavior, maybe, or a ghost in the genes.
The typewriter, too, is not extinct. It lives on
in street work, factories, rivers, in feet descending stairs.
My father’s boxy black one.
My electric Brother.
“Haunt” refers to a place a man can frequently be found.
He occupies it, fills, inhabits it, looking for something
he’ll never come home with.
In the house without children, the mind fills with children.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

accidentally like a martyr

It’s a sure thing that by noon everyone has thought at least once of death, if not their own directly, then indirectly and subconsciously, since every death draws that line.

N. was confronted with it first thing in the morning, when she switched on the radio.

P. got a glimpse of it when two teenagers rushed across the street to catch the bus. Alongside the tension, he resented it, as if the boys had dragged him out into the traffic, too. (The boys managed not to be hit by a car.)

T., W. and Wm., and everyone else who went through the train station saw it on the front page of the newspaper.

U. read about a character’s suicide in the chapter she finished on the subway to work.

O., the office hypochondriac, thought of it at least three times, always directly and without embellishment.

S. put it out of his mind when he killed a couple fruit flies in the kitchen, which he considered his right to do.

E. had to deal with it when he read about the Georgian luger who crashed, and again when he saw a photo of the mother mourning, and wondered if death would have her, too.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

i heart chinese

Happy Valentine's day.

Friday, February 12, 2010


Sometimes when I read poetry book blurbs I find the ingredients that go into the book funny.

Take Circle by Victoria Chang, for example:
“Locating human desire within the helixes of politics, society, and war, Chang skillfully draws arcs between T’ang Dynasty suicides and Alfred Hitchcock leading ladies, between the Hong Kong Flower Lounge and an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, the Rape of Nanking and civilian casualties in Iraq.”

Wow, huh? It’s like a recipe for some crazy salad.

“In a poignant body of work that releases us from the dungeon of routine while casting an unflinching glance at our inextricable connection to the Greek classics, Ambrosia combines one container of Cool Whip with walnuts, shredded coconut, pineapple chunks, mini marshmallows, maraschino cherries, mandarin slices and a dollop of sour cream.”

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Walk Through the Memory Palace

This is the current stop on the virtual tour of A Walk Through The Memory Palace by Pamela Johnson Parker, sponsored by Read Write Poem. The chapbook is a steamy one, full of hot weather and heat-slick slugs, sexual desire, family relationships, the body and iced tea. It teems with color and flora, and I almost wished I’d read it in summer rather than a German snowstorm. Parker is a poet obviously entranced by sound, hepped up on nature and attuned to emotion.

I went two ways on the collection. There was a lot that I enjoyed, including many images and the use of sound. I appreciated the subject matter and I admired the craftmanship, its attention to linebreaks and structure. On the other hand, there were a couple things that weren’t my cup of meat. I’ll touch on them later. And, before I go on, you should know there’s a marvelous website devoted to this book, where you can not only read the poems but also listen to the poet read. Do that.

The first striking image in the book occurs in the first poem, 78 RPM. Here, an adolescent couple, sometimes chaperoned by an aunt, are hanging out on the porch listening to music. The poem is slow, in a good way, also because it’s hot out, and there’s an audible undergurgle of teenage longing, and all the senses are engaged. Halfway through, there’s a suggestive image of the needle as it drags along the vinyl record.

“The stylus traces
Its sapphire finger

Down the record’s groove,
As he skates a single
Finger along the sun-

Bleached down of your

Not that y’all wouldn’t have gotten it, but these lines clearly evoke the vagina, like a fuzzy groove in a record, like a closed purse about to be plumbed, and BOOM! it is a very sexy poem.

My favorite poem in the book is probably Breasts, the last one. Actually, I’d usually scrunch my nose up at a poem about breasts, the poor things have been so romantized and adored and exploited for literary purposes. Parker doesn’t ignore the symbolic baggage of breasts – nurturers, sirens, cancer factories – but she handles the subject well, and in all those guises. The poem is broken into six parts - Figures A to F –each segment prefaced like a text book illustration, as in “Figure D. Table showing statistical survey of definite tendency toward the development of breast cancer among family members.”

Figure A shows a woman inspecting her breasts in a mirror. It’s an intimate shot, adoring but respectful. Very tactile, very sensual. Figure B is similar, showing a woman examining her breasts laid back in bed with the fingers circling the breast “inward like a nautilus,” an image I liked a lot.

Figure C is the absence of breast after a masectomy. The body in this segment comes across as hide, as material, a bother, a wound. The scars are like zippers and the chest is disturbingly nippleless.

Figure D harks back to childhood where a girl observes her grandmother’s wobbly breasts, and is glad to be yet undeveloped. But the tree from which she observes is “weighted down with a pearly spray of bloom,” and the child shakes the branches knowing some day she’ll “sag like gran.”

Figure E is my favorite part of the poem. The subject is the speaker’s boyfriend, a pathologist working in cancer research. I like this segment for its distance, its clinicicity and it’s humorous last line, where the boyfriend tells the speaker, “You’ve got great lungs.”

Figure F has the speaker up late nursing her daughter when she gets a call from her sister with the news the sister has breast cancer. This is the emotional apex of the poem and the book and, while it packs a punch, I would have liked it served up more subtly. As it’s written, the speaker learns of her sister’s cancer while clutching her baby to her breast... Nevertheless, I liked “Breasts.” It’s an honest poem that works like a 360 degree examination.

Parker pays close attention to sound, and, regarding structure, is an impressive craftswoman. If I have a quibble with the book, it’s that sometimes it reaches too far for me for what is traditionally considered “poetic,” for example with alliteration, such as the “feathering fronds of seafern” in the poem “Engendering.”

In the same way it brings scrolls of beautiful language, which, while pleasurable, don’t seem to serve to convey much beyond themselves. The poem “Unreal Gardens with Toads in Them” begins “Today’s listless, nothing to / enumerate — no light / in its hues of jade, and no white- / green heads of hydrangea, / no dark hearts of redbud leaves, / no celadon of the sun- / lit maples, no sea-green treefrog’s / back with each inclusion / of amber and topaz (though he’s / never seen the sea, why / not sea-green?), no silver-tipped spears of lavender now / poking up in the herbal bed —“

By that point, I wanted a reference point and lacked it. This is all, of course, a matter of personal taste. Parker’s chapbook took first place in Quarrtsiluni’s Chapbook Contest, judged by Dinty Moore. As it says in Moore’s blurb, “this poet sees through the obvious to something radiant on the other side, painting a startling portrait of an intimate world.”

All the info on this tour can be found here, including past reviews and those upcoming.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Monday, February 08, 2010

almost amazing grace

"Chris Allen, the aide who sat alone in the car with Sanford as he spoke to his furious wife on the phone, told CNN in an e-mail Friday that the drive to Columbia was 'awkward, emotional, almost fictitious, and at this point a blur.'" (CNN)

I must admire the invention of “almost fictitious” here. It’s completely screwed up, but delightful. I think he must have meant “almost unreal.” Of course if the drive is now "a blur," I don't know how one could judge it to be fictitious or not fictitious. Still, I’m going to steal the expression, since “almost fictitious” makes a great description.

I have an almost fictitious love of Puccini.
I spent an almost fictitious weekend in Rome.
My grasp of the situation is almost fictitious.
By ten o'clock, the evening was almost fictitious.

I think this is the expression many book reviewers have been searching for to describe that new animal, the embellished memoir.


It’s my dad’s birthday – 75 today. He was born in Scranton, PA, but lived most of his life in NJ before moving to Santa Fe over a decade ago. He loves it there. I love it there, too. My dad and I have a lot in common. Neither of us is a terribly enthusiastic person. We both had kind of unhappy childhoods, his worse than mine. We both like elaborative humor. Neither of us is into horseback riding. He writes. I write. I hope my dad lives forever. Thanks to my brother Thatcher for letting me use this photograph of pops dressed as a skeleton.

Here's a found poem from one of my father's emails.
I had a dream Saturday night
you were abducted by gypsies.
You were very young, like in kindergarten,

and we were traveling somewhere. June came
to tell me some people were taking you away.
I saw a group of men and women walking away and one

of them was pulling you in a little red wagon.
By the time I caught up with them they’d gone
into a house but two of the group, two

men, were standing outside. I said I had come
for my daughter, I had to have her
because we were leaving tomorrow –

this wasn’t true, but I thought I needed a reason
to get you back. One of the men asked how
late do you let her stay up?

I figured he was stalling me while the others left
with you by another door or hid you somewhere
and so I started for the door,

and I looked in – the door had windows in it.
It was a frightening dream.
But June said it was about poetry.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


The snowstorm has been irresponsible, and now the snow sits thawing on the lawn, nursing mud. From the window, all I can see is mud, smashed-up grass and the last patches of snow.

Stare long enough and the earth is more like a photograph of the earth from outer space - the water, wispy clouds and continents that we know so intimately from tv.

song of the day: la vie en rose

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

not the crown but the tiara

The Literary Bohemian told me this morning that my piece "Attending the Tasting" has been selected for Best of the Web 2010. Thanks to the editors there for nominating my writing, and congratulations to them, too, as they had three pieces selected for the anthology. Not shabby!

I actually shuffled my links yesterday and "Attending the Tasting" is over there at the top if you'd like to read it. It's about wine. In generous quantities.

Monday, February 01, 2010

if a body meet a body

I haven’t said anything about the death of JD Salinger, who gave us The Catcher in the Rye. It’s practically uncool to like this book, being so conformist, but alas, I love it. I haven’t said anything about his death because, 1) in effect, for our purposes, it’s as if he passed away a long time ago, and 2) I figure lots of people love The Catcher in the Rye their own selves and it’s presumptuous of me to go expounding about it like an enormous selfish baby.
Anyway, I'm sort of glad they've got the atomic bomb invented. If there's ever another war, I'm going to sit right the hell on top of it. I'll volunteer for it, I swear to God I will. p. 141.
It’s been snowing like mad here. Lovely, and yet almost like being blessed too much. Not to complain. On the way home it was even snowing inside the tram. It was dark out and I thought it might be a trick of the streetlights or a reflection in the window. I closed my eyes tight and opened them. Closed them again and opened. Nope. It was snowing in the tram. All I had to do was look at my black sleeve and see the snowflakes land and turn to water beads. Somewhere a window or vent was open and it was snowing in the tram, but nobody wanted to acknowledge it, and besides there was a toddler in the next car making a racket and that was kind of distracting.
People never notice anything. p. 9.
Over at Good Reads, one of the groups I’m in has a thread on foreign words. For today, mine was the German word “Brustwarze,” which literally means “breast wart.” Translated into English it’s “nipple.”
I keep making up these sex rules for myself, and then I break them right away. Last year I made a rule that I was going to quit horsing around with girls that, deep down, gave me a pain in the ass. I broke it, though, the same week I made it - the same night, as a matter of fact. p. 63.
Song of the day: Lived in Bars
I'm not kidding, some of these very stupid girls can really knock you out on the dance floor. You take a really smart girl, and half the time she’s trying to lead you around the dance floor, or else she’s such a lousy dancer, the best thing to do is stay at the table and just get drunk with her. p. 70.
I'm taking down the part about my sad review, lest it be misconstrued. I'll leave up the Salinger quote, though.
I was still sort of crying. I was so damn mad and nervous and all. ‘You’re a dirty moron,’ I said. ‘You’re a stupid chiseling moron, and in about two years you’ll be one of those scraggy guys that come up to you on the street and ask for a dime for coffee. You’ll have snot all over your dirty overcoat, and you’ll be – ‘ Then he smacked me. I didn’t even try to get out of the way or anything. p. 103.
Another funny thing my Purple Haze brother used to do at 13 or thereabouts was buy two copies of books he really liked. Of course we all rolled our eyes at him, but I have to admit it made sense in a way, and maybe I was a little jealous of what a lunatic he was. The Catcher in the Rye was one of those books, the duplicate copies right next to each other on the shelf.
“Perhaps you know my son, then, Ernest Morrow? He goes to Pencey.”
“Yes, I do. He’s in my class.”
Her son was doubtless the biggest bastard that ever went to Pency, in the whole crumby history of the school. He was always going down the corridor, after he’d had a shower, snapping his soggy old towel at people’s asses. That’s exactly the kind of guy he was.
“Oh, how nice!” the lady said. But not corny. She was just nice and all. I must tell Ernest we met,” she said. “May I ask your name, dear?”
“Rudolf Schmidt,” I told her.
p. 54
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