Sunday, June 30, 2013

Half up

I finished reading The Piano Teacher this morning, a dark and very intense book that I thought was great. Coincidentally, the year's half up, so here's my list of books read so far in 2013. I didn't read any real clunkers - my least favorite, surprisingly, was In Watermelon Sugar. My favorite is hard to say, but here I highlight those I would particularly recommend.

1. Of Lamb by Matthea Harvey (Jan. 18)
2. The Best of Fence, ed. Rebecca Wolff (Jan)
3. Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson (Jan. 21)
4. Too Loud a Solitude by Bohumil Hrabal (Jan. 26)
5. Sestets by Charles Wright (Feb 6)
6. The Infinities by John Banville (Feb 7)
7. Almanac of the Sleepless by Karin Gottshall (Feb 7)
8. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (Feb. 8)
9. The Quiet Winter by Carrie Bennett (Feb. 9)
10. Talking doll by J. Hope Stein (Feb 15)
11. Corner Office by J. Hope Stein (Feb 18)
12. Sex with Buildings by Stephanie Barbe Hammer (Feb 19)
13. Group Portrait with Lady by Heinrich Böll (Feb 26)
14. Old Filth by Jane Gardam (Mar 12)
15. In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan (Mar 15)
16. The Complete Perfectionist by Juan Ramón Jimenéz (Mar 15)
17. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (March 19)
18. The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (April 5)
19. After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey (April 9)
20. The Lambs of London by Peter Ackroyd (April 9)
21. Dog Ear by Erica Baum (April 12)
22. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes (April 20)
23. Nets by Jen Bervin (April 20)
24. The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa (April 21)
25. Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam (April 25)
26. Under the Skin by Michel Faber (April 29)
27. This is Not a Novel by David Markson (May 4)
28. Morte D’Urban by JF Powers (May 25)
29. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas (June 21)
30. Ophelia Unraveling by Carol Berg (June)
31. The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinek (June 30)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Oh my Darling

The new issue of Prick of the Spindle includes my poem “Clementine.” It’s an object poem, and about the fruit rather than the miner’s daughter. The fruit in a state of decay. Advanced state of decay. Like ready to take off.

It only occurred to me after writing the poem that maybe we don’t call this fruit clementine in English (though I checked now and we do). What the difference is between clementines, mandarins, tangerines, and tangelos is, I don’t know. 

Poet friends Kathleen Kirk and Dana Martin Guthrie also have poems in this issue, so please proceed directly to GO and collect $200.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Snowstorms defy interpretation

I often struggle to differentiate plague from plaque - orthographically, of course. I do abhor poor dental hygiene. I do joke about ‘bubonic plaque’ to get my kids to brush conscientiously. Still, while bad dental care may be epidemic, it never wiped out millions of lives. Nor does it have to be contagious.

Misreadings sometimes come from skimming a text, instead of actually reading. Or they can be a kind of Freudian slip - the mind insists it sees something that the eyes, on second look, prove to be something else. Or sometimes you expect to see a certain word, so you do. The brain won't have it otherwise. 

Scanning my blog the other day I read “Unbelievable in Stores,” even though I’d written the post myself and knew it was “Unavailable in Stores.” Unbelievable and Unavailable have such similar architecture. And it's true that mistakes make life more interesting. Here are some other misreadings of the past weeks: 

How rodent the artist remained despite basking in adulation. 

The bakery was well known for its French parasites

February saw uninterpreted snowstorms. 

Gutsy winds fanned the wildfire. 

France condoms attacks on wine students. 

The plane had to make a memory landing due to engine trouble. 

Leaders voweled to defend the euro. 

She touches up her blush and apples lipstick. 

Authorities say at least 25,000 humble bees have died in the lot. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

There's a trick with a knife

I’m engaged in some magical thinking. If I stop here on page 518 of the Bonhoeffer biography, with 24 pages to go, he will not be killed by the Nazis. That’s all there is to it. The American troops are very close. The camp guards are unstable. Bonhoeffer is still alive and he will stay alive as long as I prevent his death by not reading about it. 

It’s funny how when reading a history book/novel or biography you might still feel a sense of suspense, even though you know at the outset what goes down. I knew in Wolf Hall, for example, that Henry VIII casts off Katherine and wins Anne Boleyn. And I knew before I started Bring Up the Bodies that Anne Boleyn would be a goner. Everybody knows that! But if a book is written well and the reader cares, the development still fills you with dread or anticipation. 

And, boy, do I care. I cannot let Bonhoeffer die. The world requires this small sacrifice of me - skipping his stupid, useless and deeply regrettable death for the sake of the greater good.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Hotshot Realtor

I enjoy going into people’s rooms
and nosing around their groans

when I ride my small hot dog
in the Parade of Homes.

(from "Independence Day", p. 116)

Friday, June 14, 2013

A stranger to oneself

A woman came up to me on the street today, an apparently sane woman, and asked, “What color is your hair? Is it brunette?” She then asked, “What is brunette? Is your hair ash blonde?” It occurred to me that I could not answer these questions. First off, what color is my hair, and then, what brunette precisely means.

It occurred to me that I should ask her what color she thinks my hair is. She was looking at it. I don’t give it much thought, except for the grey wiry bits that jump out in fluorescent light, which I enjoy for their bold acrobatics and clear identity. 

It’s like the other day when the doctor asked me how much I weigh and how tall I am. I was unable to say. “Tell me in English,” she said, but language was not the problem. Surely these numbers were in my file? 

Along with my wrist-slash burn mark, I grow concerned that there’s an undertaker somewhere taking my measurements. It really is time to shred those old journals that give me so much concern.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Unavailable in stores

I have this great burn on my wrist. I got it on the weekend, and, as often happens, when my wrist touched the hot grill, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t realize at first the damage I’d done. Too late I went to the sink to run cold water over it.

The burn festered overnight Sunday into a glorious slash-like mark, and because I didn’t bandage it, the wound has since then been functioning as a kind of second wristwatch. On the right arm, the red gash, on the left, the watch. Throughout the day, I look at both of them. They tell two different kinds of time.

As you can see, the burn saved my outfit today. I went to work all in black, which I regretted on the way to the train, also because it’s warm. But when I turned up my cuffs, I had this colorful, hard-won accessory.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Many thanks to Kathleen Kirk, who reviewed my chapbook Inksuite over at Escape into Life this past week. You can read it here.

One of the poems in the book is “Reading While Walking.” I won’t claim that I read & walk terribly often, but I certainly do, as long as it’s daytime and there are few people about. Just as with texting & driving, this could be dangerous, but I only practice it on familiar routes. For me the hardest thing about reading & walking comes after I look up to check I'm not headed for a stack of horse manure and I have to find my place back on the page. 

Though I’m comfortable reading & walking, only recently did I get the nerve to read in the bathtub. Despite my worry about waterwarp, it can be done, though even the most careful bather will splatter at least a little water on the pages. The real problem is where to put the book when you want to soap up or refresh the hot water. You can’t put it on the tub edge and in my case the floor isn’t a good option either. My book emerged whole, but my preoccupation with splash-damage didn't make the experience as pleasurable as it should be. So it gave me a laugh when I found this picture on the internet. 

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Morning becomes electric

No offense but if there are more than enough people in the elevator, I’m not getting in. I will wait for it to return empty. Especially if it’s 80F degrees out. Like now.

I still can’t make the celsius/fahrenheit calculation. I can navigate either system and know what the temperatures imply, but ne’er the twain shall meet. 

Speaking of which, I was at the doctor the other day and she asked how tall I was. I said I didn’t know. She asked how much I weighed. I said, “you’re asking me?” It’s not that I don’t know, it’s that I don’t know in meters and kilos. I STILL don’t know after 20 years in Germany. I have failed to dovetail.

Which brings me to the crossroad of lamplight and frost, the opening image of my poem, "Crossroad Ghazal," now up now at Fugue. 

At the crossroad of lamplight and frost, my compass fails. 
Let the chasm lull; let the landscape adjourn for sleep. 

Later the poem says “a hot wind becomes me.” It’s not for me to decide, but I’d like this to mean “become” in both the transformational (turn into) and the flattering sense (to suit). I’d like to jump that chasm. 

When I was young one of the books prominently displayed (for my unknown height at the time) on my parents’ shelves was Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra.” I long thought “becomes” was used in the transformational sense, as in ice becomes water. Later I realized it could mean black suited Electra’s complexion (or Lavinia’s, in the play). 

In fact mourning does transform Electra; it engulfs her and she is inseparable from it. 

I played with that book spine a lot when I was a kid. When I thought of the title - which was one of the phrases that stuck to me and popped up in my mind at odd times - I made the mental shift to “morning” and changed “electra” to “electric.” 

You can actually watch the whole play here, if you don't mind bad lip-sync and commercials. 

Tuesday, June 04, 2013


All these years keeping fairly skinny from carrying big books around.
Now my ribs called. They want to break up.
Just 40 minutes on the train total every day, and the back must bear a fat library & a notebook, pens & documents. 
And sometimes the ears never remove the earphones, meaning paper is not engaged.
The right elbow wants answers. 
The neck and shoulders cannot offer boundless hospitality. 
Still, there’s a lot to be said. About being prepared. Say for example I was stuck in a tunnel for two hours.
Would two big books sustain me? Very probably. 
Would you choose between these two? Not happily.

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Shades of grey

sea salt grey - city shadow - porpoise - smoked truffle - 
wool peacoat grey - vintage pewter - gothic arch grey - 
wall street grey - ozone - off grey - smoke & mirrors grey - 
street chic grey - arctic seal - museum piece grey - 
stone grey - spalding grey - tinsmith - aloof grey - zircon - 
grey heather - antler - Irish mist - sparrow - slate - 
urban grey - grey pearl - contemplation grey - salt glaze - 
timber wolf - full moon - cool granite - foggy morn - 
pussywillow - cloudy - Earl Grey - plush grey - deep grey - 
antique grey - steelwool - lint grey -  greyhound 
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