Saturday, September 29, 2012


As it falters the elderly brain switches into a kind of dreamlife where scraps of memory are repurposed, elaborated and reinvented. Haunting, repressed events and experiences from the past resurface in a different guise, people are assigned new motives or confused with other people, and time springs its linear lock.

My stepfather, who turned 87 this month, increasingly engages in reminiscence, reconstructing the past and floating his versions of it. When I saw him in April he asked if I remembered the summer I temped as a receptionist at his office, and how on one day we put my desk out onto the front lawn so I could work in the sunshine. Try as I do I can't remember this, and it is unlikely it ever happened. A receptionist needs above all to answer the phone, and in those days, before the cordless and cell phone, it would have been impracticable. And yet the power of suggestion is strong and I strain to remember what he seems so sure of. Maybe we got the desk out the front door near the entrance and were happy with that? I am kidding myself.

Now five months later, he continues the story and takes it further. Now the desk is not on the lawn but we've dragged it up into the sparse, hilly woods across the road. With the building on Rt. 206 near Somerville, I'm basically ensconced in the peaceful green of the Duke Estate, which was private in those days. This is an impossible and lovely story I wish were true, only better, not the story of a summer temp but a permanent position, that I could go to such a job every day, typing and answering the phone, and didn't have to leave the woods for the world.

Friday, September 28, 2012

long days

The best thing about my mother's apartment is the setting, butt-up against a small stretch of woods. The deer come to the edge with their gestures of the feminine. The crickets are so many they seem to roar. In my jetlag I'm awake before dawn. I sit at the back window and have this all to myself, this enormous throbbing that has no end-point or goal.
A lot of experiences find no real end.
As a small child my best friend was the daughter of my mother's friend Louise. We spent days together, slept in cribs and cots together, tumbled around in the backseats in the days before car seats. When her family moved to Pennsylvania I was sure she would remain my dearest friend. But I saw her only once or twice again, and she'd begun a separate life, playing sports I didn't play, making friends with strangers, and my feelings of affection for her became an onus and embarrassment I still can feel.
We are much more comfortable with the 'clean break,' not the ragged thread that seems to disappear only to stitch back up into the fabric somewhere far off.
My mother mentions the time your sister went to live with your father. When was this, I say, because she is making it up, or exaggerating. When she was about 15. I don't remember that, I say. That must have lasted all of three days. It was a long three days, my mother says.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Fall reading

At the turn to autumn I finished Elfriede Jelinek’s Wonderful Wonderful Times and began Richard Ford’s Canada. You couldn’t find two more different worlds, though they take place at nearly the same time in history.

Set in post-war Austria, what struck me about Jelinek’s book was the down-spiraling dynamic and the feeling no one's in control. As if there weren't even a narrator. The manic title, Wonderful Wonderful Times, with its exaggeration and sarcasm, heightens that impression. (The German title is the more sober Die Ausgesperrten, meaning 'the outsiders,' or 'the barred,' and is in part a reference to Camus' The Stranger, alluded to many times.) 

Canada is controlled. The past tense helps. The narrator lets you know ahead of time what is going to happen. He is sane. He establishes his trustworthiness. He downplays and explains, or at least seeks explanation. 

Jelinek does none of that. Disgust, hopelessness, delusion all tumble across the pages. And despite the lack of humanity, things still turned out worse than I expected! (Thank you, realism.) A good book to end a summer of rain, atomic sunshine and temperature swings.

I got interested in Canada after some online friends read it. Years ago I enjoyed Independence Day, but decided Ford was another white American suburban guy I didn’t need to do more of. Then about 5 years ago I read a short story of his that was so fabulous I felt like a snake that shed its skin. 

I didn’t have a compelling reason to read Canada now except a colleague offered to lend me her copy. Then I noticed Ford would read in Frankfurt in October so my colleague and I got a bit excited and bought tickets and I knew I had to read it before that, and I knew I was going to the states for a week any minute now and I really didn’t want to lug the book back and forth (since it’s my colleague’s). 

I gave up today on finishing before I leave. I will be lugging it. Over Canada.

 * *
From a Guardian interview:
In the book, Canada becomes a sort of promised land. There is a line: "Canada was better than America and everyone knew that - except Americans." Is that how it feels to you?
"I never had much conceptual idea of Canada being better. But whenever I go there, I feel this fierce sense of American exigence just relent. America beats on you so hard the whole time. You are constantly being pummelled by other people's rights and their sense of patriotism. So the American's experience of going to Canada, or at least my experience, is that you throw all that clamour off. Which is a relief sometimes."

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pop quiz for autumn

Is it okay to water plants with seltzer?

What smells better - lavender or bacon? 

Implications aside, do you like watching forest fires? 

What is a good book to read in autumn? 

Earth, wind, fire, water. What’s your suggestion for a fifth element? 

What do you hate about umbrellas?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The home country

The home country was getting comfortable on the couch.
After the commercials, it switched to the recliner because of the end table for its drink. 
“What’s for dinner?,” the home country wanted to know. 
“Sauerbraten mit Bratkartoffeln,” I said, wearing my irritable checked apron. 
There was no acknowledgement. The home country gets pretty wrapped up in its shows. 
“I’m thinking of taking tomorrow off,” it yelled into the kitchen. “Or maybe just calling in and pretending to be sick. Whaddya think?”
Groan, I intoned into the oven. 
The home country had no concept of “fair warning.” It just blurted out decisions and ideas and expected the world to be happy about it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Q: Describe what you publish in 25 words or less

A: Tweetable humanity.
Joanne Merriam, Editor of 7x20 (Seven By Twenty)

A: words and sometimes dots
Shannon Peil, Editor of 

A: crushing, blissful snark 
Andrew Toskin, Arts & Letters director of Autumn Letters

A: Literary mutinies 
Laura Roberts, Editor Black Heart Magazine

A: Odd & cranky writing 
Frederick Barthelme, Editor of Blip Magazine

A: Things that boil nerves. 
Sebastian, Editor-in-Chief of The Boiler

A: Spiny, sharp & succulent. 
Sara Rauch, Founder & Editor of Cactus Heart 

A: Top shelf stuff, 90 proof 
Russell Streur, Barkeep of The Camel Saloon 

A: Almost dark/almost light. 
Lisa Marie Basile, Caper Literary Journal

A: Cleanliness and craft 
Anthony Blake, Executive Editor of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place

A: Philosophical time bombs
Christine Gosnay, Editor of The Cossack Review 

A: Poems, Feral & True
Marc Beaudin, poetry editor of CounterPunch Poets' Basement

A: Noir coloratura letters
Adam Henry Carrière, Publisher/Editor of Danse Macabre

A: soul balm
Catherine Keefe, Managing Editor dirtcakes

A: Writing that pops
Hugh Behm-Steinberg, Editor Eleven Eleven

A: A literary peepshow.
Travis A. Everett, Founding editor of escarp

A: eggs cracking open
Mel Bosworth, Managing Editor of Flash Fire 500

A: Waffle-rocking Lit
Danny Goodman, Editor-in-Chief of fwriction : review

A: Pure, shiny awesomeness
Barrett Bowlin, Associate Editor of Harpur Palate

A: Idle hands plus pencils.
Mike Miller, Editor-in-Chief of High Coup Journal

A: Grit, blossoms & sparks.
Chris Hutchcroft, Editor of Misjudge Your Limits

A: dead things, live things
Michael Quinti, Editor-in-Chief of MOLT

A: Rich sound, wild skill
C.J. Sage, Editor-in-chief of The National Poetry Review

A: Love/Death/Evil
Rusty Barnes, Editor of Night Train

A: Crapht.
Editor of NOTHE, Editor of NOTHE

A: Bite and Fizzy-Pop
Jack Little, The Ofi Press Online Literary Magazine

A: fine words on real paper
Greg Lamer and Robin Sontheimer, Rabbit Catastrophe Review

A: Brevity. Word Daggers.
Joseph A. W. Quintela, Editor of Short, Fast, and Deadly

A: Trapdoors to inner worlds
Carli Castellani, Artistic Director of Status Hat Artzine

A: Antinews
Khakjaan Wessington, Supreme Overlord of Toylit

Thursday, September 13, 2012

20-minute story

This takes 20 minutes, a long time on the internet, but is very enjoyable and engaging, especially if you've read Paul Bowles' "The Sheltering Sky." I read it last year and admired but also hated it, and I appreciated this storyteller, Edgar Oliver, recounting his trip to Morocco to Paul Bowles' bedside.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Royal Pain

Well, it's news to me but it's National Read a Book Day. That makes it a good opportunity to mention how much I'm enjoying Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I think most people know these are novels about Thomas Cromwell, Chief Everything to Henry the VIII. I have never read much about English royalty, but these are great, and I found the prose a good antidote to much of the overwritten, stylish stuff I read this summer. My only complaint is I'm reading a borrowed copy and have to slap my hand when I pick up a pen to mark something or underline. 

Other good books I read this summer were David Markson's Vanishing Point and David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. With the latter I did complain about the writing sometimes, though, despite the strength of the story. I mean you must take offense at sentences like, “Warm snowflakes settle over Orito’s skin, whispering as they melt.” You must. 

When I bought my computer, it came with a free Kindle app. I've been loading that up with freebies, I admit, but at the same time nothing compares to an actual book, and besides the intimate relationship the reader can have with each, real books are the best way to make a room inviting and interesting. Whether they're lined up nicely on shelves, or stacked at the edge of a table, or traveling from room to bedside, or whatever. Just like I sometimes need a pen in my hand to think with, I need a book in the room to stave off an empty panic. 

Sunday, September 02, 2012


It was September, cool oozing from the wildflowers.

To be kind, you wished the leaves would fall in water. 

A little absinthe, and I felt like one of those roses revived with aspirin. 


thanks to Fleurografie for the two-headed bird.
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