Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Delta of Venus

Our neighbors were an older couple, Herr and Frau Hierse. He had Parkinsons and a troop of carepeople. She was stalwart and fit and made sure he got out every day. At first he could walk, slowly and with help. Then with help, and shuffling with a cane. Then with a caretaker on each arm, his wife supervising. Finally in a wheelchair. Through the wall, I heard how well she played piano. She was kind to our kids. One day over the fence she told me they hadn’t had children because she found out after they married that she had kidney problems and needed dialysis. The shocker came when she died of an aneurism, and he was left with the carepeople, and no longer came outside. Eventually he moved to a nursing home and a year ago he died, leaving no heirs. The house stood empty until this week when all the furniture, rugs, lamps and knick-knacks found themselves on the curb, to be picked through by scavengers. I was one. I found a box of books, and learned more about them in a half hour than in 8 years of being their neighbor.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


I have two poems up at A Clean, Well-Lighted Place. The first is "Thrall," a poem that languished in my unfinished file for a long time. To end it, I changed the word in the first line that was irksome and replaced it with "thrall," and made that the title.

The second is "Bud," which in contrast is a poem I wrote quickly and was happy with early on. I  was glad, too, because I'm not really known for nature poems. OK, I'm not really known. Useful expression, though, and democratic, and as fitting for an artist known for her brush stroke as for a neighbor known for his philandering.

Friday, August 24, 2012


The other day I was getting ready to go home and asked myself if I'd learned anything that day and the truth was I hadn't. In the nick of time, a colleague came over and starting telling me about a guy with a fliehendes Kinn, which is literally a fleeing chin. I'd never heard the expression and thought it must be a pronounced chin that looks about to leap off someone's face. Wrong. It's the opposite, what we'd call a weak or receding chin, a chin practically swallowed by the neck.

In my 20 years of "learning German" the fun never seems to end.

One of my recent favorites was Katzentisch, or cat's table, which I learned literally about 2 weeks before I heard of Michael Ondaatje's book, "The Cat's Table." In German the Katzentisch was a table for cats to eat from, but eventually came to mean a separate table away from the main action, including a kids' table like those installed at family holidays. We have a desk at the office for reporters visiting from other bureaus we call the Katzentisch. How I've often longed to sit there, and be transformed.

Anyway, what I learned today has nothing to do with specific words. Rather, I read that the first typewriters placed the letters in alphabetical order, "causing the keys to jam easily." It was unclear why alphabetically-arranged keys would jam. I found out it was because letters that are frequently paired, like S/T, or G/H, were near or neighboring, and the bars would get tangled in the carriage. Thus the letters were rearranged into the QWERTY pattern, and so they remain though few people use typewriters anymore, and those swinging typebars were eventually replaced in electric typewriters by a typeball. Even my Blackberry uses QWERTY, though I don't see the practical purpose anymore. I guess we veterans of typing class refuse to give it up, rather like yards, feet and inches.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pet shop

long day. after work I dropped in to buy something for stella at the pet shop but the line was long and the lady at the front had many jackrabbit questions so i ducked back to watch the mice trot the wheel, and to stand in front of the aquarium wall for a while, communing with the fishes, and the fish despite their very unpresumptuousness all had long german names, like Schneckenbarsch, and their eyes caught the lamplight, and they swam slow, wondering, teeming, and it was the best thing that ever happened.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Lodgings to remember

A tidy room in the soot and collapsing labyrinth of Naples where I sang “On the Street Where You Live” in the marble bathroom because I was infatuated.

A powdery flowery hotel room in Paris with two double beds and a TV on the bureau where my friend Carle and I watched Saddam Hussein crawl out of his hole.

The Silver Saddle motel in Santa Fe where I stayed twice - first on my maiden voyage to NM where I met a rancher from Telluride who asked to come in, and second with my friend Amy on a road trip from eastern Kansas to Taos.

The Hotel Manin in Milan where I lived with my husband and two toddlers for six weeks in utter misery while we looked for permanent quarters.

Stranded in Japan in the smallest room imaginable where you could touch the opposite walls with your arms outstretched and the only place to keep your suitcase was with you on the bed.

In Vienna in an attic room of the Hotel Regina, a dim room like a maid’s quarters with a slanted roof but very pleasant in the grey rain all quilted and muffled and far away.

The beautiful Hotel Bad Schachen on Lake Constance where I was for work, unfortunately. I attempted writing a poem, which failed, and didn’t try again for more than 10 years. 

The Beijing dormitory I had to walk 3-4 miles to get to in the bitter cold in shoes too small in a relationship of unreciprocated love which my superhuman efforts failed to change. 

The Presidential Suite of the Watergate Hotel where due to a hotel flub we were upgraded to expansive living quarters and a panoramic view and what struck me most at the time (I was 11 or 12) was the phone installed next to the toilet. 

A motel on the Canadian border on the way to Montreal where I stayed with a boyfriend I didn’t love anymore and indeed he too appeared very weary.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Get your kicks on Autobahn 6

Saxony was a surprisingly interesting place to visit. We stayed in an area called “Saxon Switzerland,” which is hilly and full of impressive rock structures, as well as the Elbe river, which famously flooded ten years ago. We saw some great sites I didn’t know existed, including the Bastei and the K√∂nigstein Fortress.

I cock an eyebrow whenever someplace claims the fame of another, e.g. “the Florence of the north” (Dresden), or “Little Venice” (London has one, so does Sweden, not to mention the cities of Treviso, Chiogga, Vrobska, etc.), or the personally painful “Mainhattan,” the New York-wannabe nickname for Frankfurt (am Main). It’s lame to rely on resemblance to make a place sound worthwhile. Without exception, the area making the claim is not going to measure up. 

Why the area we visited is called Saxon Switzerland I do not know, and not to ruin the experience I will not inquire further. I’ve been to Switzerland. It’s mountainous! Stunning! Expensive! And riddled with kitsch.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Having happily made it to Saxony, largely offline, I missed the chance to say my chapbook, "Homebodies," was out at the very moment it happened.

Yup, it's out, and at $5 very inexpensive for 20-something poems, including 'Steam' and 'Ambien,' and prose poems about wines, teas and Monopoly tokens. There is also a ghazal and a homage to Francis Ponge.

I consider myself a homebody, something I was convinced of again today when I returned from a short vacation and was relieved to find I had not been robbed of my books or computer or silverware! Like police homicide outlines, all the crap I left on the floor was just where I left it, and the papers lying around because I don't know where they should go were still lying around, thank God. 

Anyway, the little totems and other subjects of this chapbook revolve around the home, whether it's a horror of a toothbrush standing up in its cup, or the transformation promised by the toaster. You can order it here from Hyacinth Girl Press.

The cover art is by a Chattanooga-based collagist named Hollie Chastain

Saturday, August 04, 2012

vacation bookbag

People Are Tiny in Pictures of China - Cynthia Arrieu-King
Selected Poems - WS Merwin
The Ninth Life of Louis Drax - Liz Jensen
The Book of Disquiet - Fernando Pessoa
A Visit from the Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan
Charles Dickens - Jane Smiley
What Narcissism Means to Me - Tony Hoagland
Atlantis - Mark Doty
Foe - JM Coetzee
The Wind Blows through the Doors of my Heart - Deborah Digges
One Hundred Poems from the Chinese - Kenneth Rexroth (ed.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Elastic language

Who knows if we’ll make it to Dresden. First Carlo broke his arm, so he can’t drive. Then one of the friends we’re going with offered to drive our car. Then the doctor wanted Carlo to stick around for physical therapy, which he was able to delay. Then our car ended up unrepaired in a locked lot after the mechanic came home to find his wife dead, and himself, not unexpectedly, incapacitated. 

Will we, in 2-3 days time, get our car repaired? Or will we pay for a vacation rental we never see? I’m considering asking the hospital to induce me into a coma for a week instead. I might come out more refreshed. 

On the upside, I have some dynamic poems out today in the new issue of Glasschord. Dynamic because that’s the theme of the issue, and submissions were in some way supposed to embody “dynamics.” I have a prose poem about the piano called Counterpoint, and two poems about the imaginary typefaces Cascade and Abbing. The poems are going places, even if I’m not.

If you are a writer or artist, check out the themes of Glasschord’s upcoming issues - funk, for example, and commerce. The thing about themes is thinking “outside the box.” Still, the guidelines leave plenty of room: 

FUNK 1) a style of music perfected by James Brown 2) a dejected or fearful mood 3) a musty, overwhelming odor of organic origin 4) that sweet that nasty that gushy stuff
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