Friday, April 30, 2010

disaster tourism

I’m reading Every Man Dies Alone, a story set in Nazi Germany. It’s about a couple that launches a show of anonymous defiance after their son is killed in the war. I know many people who love WWII and holocaust stories. Because they’re so dramatic. Because they’re so good guy/bad guy. Because they’re so goddamned sad.

Still, my colleague F. says this book sounds depressing. Most Germans don’t like to read WWII books because they’ve had the moral lesson pounded into their brains at school. They prefer someone else’s disaster, like Vietnam, and here she tells me about the Vietnam vets who weren’t allowed to return to America because they were addicted to heroin. I said I didn’t know that, that seemed odd to me. But apparently her husband reads eagerly on this topic. So whether or not it’s true, I guess most people would rather not have to identify too closely with dishonor. Except Americans don’t avoid VN books, digrace or not, do they? The genre is lively and literary and Tim O’Brien is its King.

Germans are just weary of being the Nazi nation. They’d rather be something else now. I get that, but it doesn’t snuff the fascination. Sometimes when reading a WWII book in the UBahn I hide the cover because I feel I’m insulting everyone. And then I think, you know, you worry too much about this stuff and you’ll never have any fun.

Not that the lovely cover of Every Man Dies Alone gives away anything. When the book came out it was heralded as a literary event. Honestly, it reads more to me like a B-Movie, but not in a negative way. It’s very dramatic, and the good and bad guys are easy to identify.

As an end note, on this day in 1945, Hitler committed suicide. After all that, nothing like dying a coward.

song of the day: picnic

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not the first straw, but the last (13-15)

The first straw was probably when I noticed how she would yawn when looking at herself in the mirror. If she were putting makeup on or just gazing at herself, suddenly she’d launch this modest, puckered yawn, always the same, and somewhat disturbing, as if she were trying to freeze a portrait of herself in a certain pose.

Then there was the time she made out with my boyfriend while I was on vacation. She confessed to me later, saying it was because I was so pretty and she was so jealous of me and I knew this was bullshit but I took my mother’s advice and put the friend over the boyfriend. She was a voluptuous girl, really.

For example, once she asked me: If a man broke into your house and you were naked but had a small towel, would you cover up up top or down below? Without hesitating I answered down below. But she looked at me meaningfully, and said very slowly, I would cover up up top. As if she were a sage, or had just thought a lot –for better or worse- about what drives men wild.

Whenever we would play at being our favorite band, she was always the female singer, and I sat behind her at the imaginary keyboard. She was pushy, but also outgoing and daring, and I liked that about her.

But the last straw was this. One day we were on the phone, and it hit me that she was speaking with some kind of weird Jersey or even Brooklyn accent, her vowels gone all raunchy. I wasn’t sure if it had been a gradual acquisition, or she had just woken up one day and decided it was fetching.

In any case, it was clear to me we’d arrived at the fork in the road.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

my monkey's worth

The best thing about finishing a book is starting a new book.
The best thing about finishing a book is finding out the end.
The best thing about finishing a book is finishing a book.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I detect the El Supremo from the room at the top of the stairs

The fabulous thing is I got my own room.
Desk, shelves and computer.
I hung up my Macbeth poster.
I hung up my pipe smoker and the pictures of my dad
and my favorite 9/11 photograph.
I carried the fattest dictionary and best books
into the room like brides polygamous.
I beat the blue rug.
With wisteria twisting outside my window now
in peace I can nurse a pleasant greensickness.
I’ve spent too much time enslaved to the staircase.
Ahoy, my sewing basket says goodbye gypsy days!
That pen that’s been traveling the world
behind my ear now has a place to lie down.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Dear visitor,
Today my blog is the bus stop for the book tour of January Gill O’Neil’s Underlife. I liked many of the poems in this book, but I’m going to talk about just one, “Old Dog,” which January has permitted me to re-post.

Old Dog

Sounder! Here girl. Come . . .
He shouts to me like I’m a coon dog
chasing possums out in the fields.

The school’s back lot became a small country where
names were given but not deserved
and I took it and took it,
even laughed with everyone else
at my own black self, suffering like most of us suffered –

quietly. The laughter so loud you forgot homework,
the blue-and-white uniforms, red veils worn in church,
Jesus on a beaded noose in our pockets.

Today, on this purgatory of a cloudy day,
I stare blankly into an open meadow from my desk
as wind kicks up dust and memory;
more so, the chance to recall
a small morsel of a boy and his big mouth

and my harsh resolve to talk back,
even if it’s nothing more than this,
a romp through a few stanzas.
I am grateful for that old dog of memory –
for what it lets you keep
and what it lets you throw away.

Of all the things I like about this poem, what impresses me most is the grace with which the poet handles the topic. Thirty or 40 years ago, the situation addressed here was called “getting picked on” – it wasn’t called “abuse” or “bullying,” now punishable by a jail sentence. I could launch into a tirade about how folks today should get their shit together and stop calling themselves “victims” every time the cashier shorts them 4 cents at 7-Eleven. But I’ll restrain myself, because here is a person who “took it and took it” and could have ended up lynched like Jesus in stanza 3 but instead shrugged it off, an act that these days seems to demand superhuman effort.

Those last two lines killed me. The speaker gives the occasion what she considers its due, tossing it in the garbage where it belongs, and all that without showing her claws, without loosening a sluice of expletives, without malice or really much trace of resentment at all. So while this poem is a personal triumph, it’s also an ode to reason, balance and sanity, and it’s also a great long raft of fresh air.

In her review a few days back, Donna Vorreyer said the reader would find herself in these pages. The poem went for me beyond the points I’ve mentioned because some decades ago in a parallel universe, I was the one white girl in my grade school class. I kept a very low profile and put up with my share of taunting. I remember being followed home one day by a clutch of kids who had a chant that started “Black is beautiful / white is shit / if you don’t believe….,” and I have to say I’d forgotten all about that, and maybe there’s a poem in it somewhere and please god may I emerge as gracefully as January has.

Information on previous and upcoming stops can be found here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What the Thunder Said

The shopper up ahead has a boatload of groceries. The shopper up ahead has forgotten the Kleenex and runs sheepishly to Aisle 5 to grab them before all his items have been tallied. He has also not weighed his bananas and has to leave the line for that. The shopper has a ketchup bottle without a price and the cashier must leave the retrieve a different one. The cashier scans the ketchup twice. By accident.

Ineptitude is one thing. More annoying is the supermarket king. He’s in line behind you. The king could be a queen, no matter – what matters is knowing that the supermarket king is the most important person in the whole world. His getting out of the store is a matter of life and death. He cannot believe the hold-up, and needs to register his astonishment, which he does mostly through incomprehensible grumbling, punctuated by heavy sighs and snorts of chagrin. Unless someone hears his lament, he will morph into a frog and not be king anymore.

Do not respond to the groaning. Do everything possible to avoid eye contact. One sign of acknowledgement and the king will inflate like the Michelin Man and you will be sucked into the negativity which passeth all understanding. . .

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

my funny valentine

There are a lot of body words that turn people off. I’m thinking nostril, for example, or gland or scrotum. But there are also body words that people love for their beauty, maybe, or their comic charm.




Pulse point





Monday, April 19, 2010


Somewhere in or around chapter six in the history of vegetation, some of the darker green gets tired of how the moss sits pouting among the lowest stones. It gets tired of grass and of dirt and the too careful architecture of trees. It gets bored with the dull stumpfoot bushes. When it has had enough of whining, it decides to try something wild, something sly and inextricable.
It decides to do something skyward.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

my current address

S. Sloat
P. 293 Jude the Obscure
1895 Christminster

“Save his own soul he hath no star.” - Swinburne

Friday, April 16, 2010

Notes on Succulence

It struck me this morning in the buttery cut
roses, exo-petals tinged with the brink
of wilting, scent a carnage tucked

in weakening, mittened fists:
nothing ever gleamed like this.

At noon I felt it in the apple’s soft spot,
smelled it in a slosh of vinegar.

After work I saw it in the soap froth
caressing a row of raw necks at the barber shop.

It brims in the props of Flemish still lives.

Not to be confused with opulence
or corpulence. Not to be hoarded
in a purse lacking vinyl lining.

It stews the first drop of decay
whose fissures splay like frost,
unseen beneath the headiness,

under the vulgar, the creeping rot
for which the war was fought.


I ran across the photos of Justine Reyes the other day. The photograph above is from her Vanitas series, which seemed to fit well with my poem "Notes on Succulence." Thanks to Justine for letting me use this shot, called "Still Life with Fish and Orange Slices." There are some stunning photos in this series, and she has other work up, too, at her site.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Free of Pomegranates

Prick of the Spindle's poetry submission guidelines make me laugh.

"Submit up to five poems in a single document.
General guidelines to keep in mind before submitting your work:

* Make it fresh.
* If it sounds like someone else's work, it probably isn't fresh.
* Speaking of fresh, please no cicadas, pomegranates, or babushkas.
* Have a point.
* We're not ordinarily interested in pop culture.
* Generally, if your work contains words such as "alas" and other archaicisms, we are not the publication for you.
* You're not Ginsberg.
* Five means five. Six is not the new five.
* If you're going to use rhyme, do it right.
* Ways to get your work rejected without being read:
a. Use a lot of unnecessary formatting, like bolding and italics, for no real reason.
b. Use yellow font.
c. Use script font.
d. Make your work otherwise aesthetically obnoxious.
e. Overalliterate."

They neglected to mention you are not Charles Bukowski, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, Seamus Heaney, Aase Berg, ee cummings, or anybody else. But that's okay. I'm looking forward to some pomegranate-free poetry.

By the way, if you're interested in reviewing my chapbook for Prick of the Spindle, they have a copy to send. See the right-hand side of this page.

Monday, April 12, 2010

what I'm reading

Over at her blog, Kathleen Kirk has been running a series on what people are reading. It’s really interesting, and inspires mucho booklust, and makes me want to put my two cents in.

I usually know that I’m not all that keen on something when the number of books I’m “currently reading” tops three.

I’m at four as of this morning, having started W.S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius. Of the heap I’m sitting on, this is my favorite. I really love Merwin. For one, he’s gorgeous. I also love how his name resembles “Merlin,” because W. is also a sorcerer.

Merwin takes the most basic materials and finds their power, hammering them until they’re . . . until they’re what . . . something eternal. There’s nothing fancy about his word choices, no overly weird layouts on the page, nothing disturbing about the lack of punctuation. It adds to the stream of the thought, and draws you into thinking along with him. There’s no unnatural posing going on. His approach is simple: he relies entirely on the resonant power of language. He writes often of nature but it’s almost degrading to call him a “nature poet.” Has anyone done this? Desist.

I opened the book pretty much daring Merwin to do it again. Surely there couldn’t be more he could say after The Lice, The Rain in the Trees, The Carrier of Ladders, the translations, etc. He can’t make the tired spring or stone or river into something so deep again, can he? Yes, he can.

But Sirius is the brightest, most searing, most serious star. It can be seen in the daylight.

Whenever I think about the Nobel Prize committee complaining about how caught up American writers are with themselves and their culture - and I often agree with them - I want to shout “NOT W.S. MERWIN! Give HIM the Nobel Prize!” Really, he deserves it. I hope he lives long enough for them to realize it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

spotless every Sunday

My poem "The Man from Sound Effects" is up today at Pure Francis. This journal publishes a new piece every Sunday, which is the end of the week on the European wall calendar, but on American calendars always appears at the beginning of the week. Why is this? This often screws things up at my house.


In unrelated news, today is the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. I visited there last Sunday, and it was an enormous experience. Visitors to Germany find it much easier to visit Dachau since it's close to Munich, but Dachau isn't half as well presented as Buchenwald, in my humble.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

april 10

Happy birthday to my mom, born in 1936 in Scranton PA to James and Eleanor Decker. She was the second of five children. All fives kids had middle names that began with J (her J was Jean), and my grandfather, a sailor, had their names tattoed in a list down his arm, right next to the anchor.

We took this photo about 5 years old on a summer vacation, but I like my mother's expression and the black & white of it.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Another crippling consequence of the modern positives

Cleaning up, I got all happy and thought about writing an ode to throwing things away, but then I got confused because of the whole recycling thing. Throwing things away isn’t what it used to be. Not the relief of decluttering, of kicking materialism’s ass, of embracing simplicity, learning to live with less, the whole bit. Now you should find new uses for stuff. Even the old flannel nightgown you never wear. You should darn it, spruce it up with rick-rack, make it more appealing and upcycle it into a “vintage” tunic. Not the defective ceiling fan. You should fix it, or let the kids build a jet airplane in the yard with it. Not the even your garbage is safe. Couldn’t you incorporate it in some amazing artwork even though you sucked in art class? Well, you could at least try. That’s the other thing these days. Everybody is an artist. You just need to dig. Boy, I was looking forward to throwing a couple sacks of crap out but now I feel obliged to hide them in the basement. And wear a beret.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

electric boots

I took the day off. Pretty quiet week in Europe anyway.
Slept 11 hours, then three cups of coffee.

When I was 11 or less, my favorite song was by Elton John.
His real name was Reginald Dwight. Nerd name?

My poem "Voyager" was a finalist for inclusion in The Best of the Net 2009. Didn't make it though.
Did I need to know this?
I have a hard time with disappointment.
There's just so much of it.

Not to wallow!

song of the day: bennie & the jets

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

for my neighbor, due in may

Why Pregnant Women Don’t Tip Over
-title of an article in The New York Times

Because a single thought occupies the mind of a traveller,
which at each crossroads reappoints itself.

Because the best tool for balance is bulk, and the high-wire walker
leaning leeward prevents the plunge downwind.

Because a lullabye hums steady in the cogs of the lumbar curve.

Because half a hundred hormones stew in the blood and sinews,
dissolving like salt that holds the dhow afloat.

And also clouds assume oddball shapes; yet their progress proves
smoother than any boat on any lake.

Because balloons bloated with helium hover lamplike; over time,
tired, yes, but dragging their strings loyally, royally.

Because the spine is a stack of boxes storing torpor,
even doses of wax and wane.

Because the hillside hangs on through erosion
and the arrowhead’s exposed unbroken.

Because erect is a synonym for sane, for symmetry,
for world-on-a-string.

Because sex makes a swashbuckler of us all
but there’s an anchor called the fetal load.

And as the Scots say when the cup is full carry it even.

In other words it’s not the cowl that makes the monk but how he bears it.

And even your bachelor aunt will tell you
the flophouse is no place for a lady.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Buchenwald II

Death by work – Death by bullet – Death by beating –
Death by roll call – Death by inner bleeding – Death by infection –
Death by despair – Death by strangulation – Death by malnutrition –
Death by exhaustion – Death by electric shock – Death by dogs –
Death by dysentery – Death by torture – Death by asphyxiation-
Death by disgust –

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Perp Walk

Mostly I feel like I should explode. Because there’s been so much prep devoted to National Poetry Month, so many venues established, goodies and treats arranged, board countdowns, prompts, etc., I felt I should just pop open and spread everybody with lemon Jell-O.

I’ve tried it before and succeeded. Tried it before and failed. In the end, I decided, despite being away a few days as of tomorrow, to try the Read Write Poem program and post every day on my other blog, but then yesterday Read Write Poem posted its obituary. So I thought . . . okay. . .

So if I write a poem/draft/rewrite, then so it goes. If not, amen. Hey, just like every month.

I’d hoped to take part in Kelli Rusell Agodon’s poetry giveaway with my chap but I needed a partner book to raffle – a new or “very gently used” book that was supposed to be one that I love – and thinking about that killed me. Give away a book I love? Then I thought I’d fake my love, but started to feel bad, like I was misrepresenting myself. My love! I happened on a “halfway loved” book I thought would do, but it turned out to have a brown stain on the top of the pages, and what is worse than a brown stain?

So here it is first day of Poetry Month, and already I’ve failed. But here’s a nice review of my chapbook, which is a longer version a review Jill Crammond Wickham did a couple months back for Read Write Poem.

I’ll be away for a few days in Weimar, including a side trip to Buchenwald, so happy trails.

dead line

This time we really mean it.
I mean, we really mean it.
I know we’ve said it before.
And we’ve also said before that we mean it.
Yeah, there was that time last week.
And that other time a few days ago.
But we bluff you not. This time we mean it.
No joke. No halfway, wishy-washy kind of mean it.
Nope, we’re behind it 100%.
Doubt at your peril!
This is really it.
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