Monday, May 31, 2010

on the occasion of miss lulu's 14th birthday

For Luisa, Waiting to be Fetched

Darkness, too, has no mother
unless it’s silence.
In the lot where you kick
a stone across the asphalt,
the dark loses form like a leper.


Sunday, May 30, 2010

heavy metal

One of the charms of my neighborhood is the church bells. They’re real. Every evening at quarter to six off they go. It’s interesting how I use the ringing to orient myself in time, sometimes subliminally, thinking I should start dinner, or find out whose house the kids are at, or realize more than half my life is over.

I'm sure I'm not alone in this focusing moment, although no one talks about it.

I lived in Kansas for awhile and there was a church on every second corner. Many rang “bells,” but they weren’t real. I don’t know what they were. Electronic? Recordings? Styrofoam? There’d be more beauty in someone coming out and ringing a dinner bell on the church steps.

I hope all the church-goers out there are asking god to stop that oil this morning.

Here's a short, sweet clip of bells in nearby Wiesbaden.

Friday, May 28, 2010

there will be fun

I’m still reading Blood Meridian, which might as well have been titled Blood Bath. The writing is marvellous, but the book is blood drenched, blood soaked, bloodstained, bloody with a capital B and all the other letters alongside. I hate pretty much everybody in it.

But on page 204, something fun happens. At least it’s fun for me.

“Carroll and Sanford had defected from the company and with them now rode a boy named Sloat who had been left sick to die in this place by one of the gold trains bound for the coast weeks earlier. When Glanton asked him if he were kin to the commodore of that name the boy spat quietly and said No, nor him to me.”

A colleague says this boy eventually goes apeshit. I told him to spare me – I’d find out in due time. I’m sure some wet, red death awaits crazy young Sloat.

Anyway, I now feel less left out of this story of bloodthirsty men. Let the carcassing resume.

&tonight: Notorious

Thursday, May 27, 2010

my sweet lord

I read a poem today that’s been entered in a contest that plagiarizes another poem. The latter is a terrific short poem about a dog I read ages ago in a review of an anthology and never forgot.

The poet who does the plagiarizing lifts the short poem, which is only three lines long, and plants it smack in the middle of his poem, which is also about a dog. Oh dear, at least change the subject.

And why did I feel horrible when I discovered this, as if I were suddenly “in on” something wrong? I almost wish I hadn’t read it. I guess it’s how people feel who witness a crime, like why was I standing on the corner of 43rd and 7th when the mugger shot the little old lady. It was probably an accident! Anyway, I pointed it out to one of the judges and leave it to her. I say that but it’s clear to me the poem should be pulled from the contest. I hope it is and the guy learns his lesson.

Believe me, I think it’s easy to unknowingly plagiarize something. A line sticks in your mind and one day you can’t remember if it’s your line or if you read it somewhere. I wrote a draft once that had a great line in it and later I realized, hey, that sounds like Anne Sexton. It was Anne Sexton. Luckily the poem never ventured from my notebook.

If you want to riff off another poet, go ahead, but there are limits. Anne Sexton, for example, was a great fan of Federico Garcia Lorca, who wrote in his gorgeous “Gacela of the Dark Death” –

I want the ocean to go on without its bed.

To which Sexton replied in her “Letter Written on a Ferry While Crossing Long Island Sound” –

I’m surprised to see that the ocean is still going on.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my mom arrived today bearing books and a supply of Crest toothpaste, an American wonder.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

in eerier days, the rights of the accursed were protected by feral laws

It’s a warm sunny day here, the kind of weather that makes you thirsty. I went into the office kitchen to get a glass of water. Our refrigerator has an ice cube maker, so I was really looking forward to a cold drink. On the shelf of glasses there was this really big glass. Wow, I thought, that’s just the thing. I picked it up and was filling it with water when it occurred to me that actually it was a vase.

Elsewhere among mistaken identities, this past week I have misread the word “earlier” as “eerier,” “accused” as “accursed,” “federal” as “feral” and “oarsman” as “orgasm.”

This made for more interesting reading.

Friday, May 21, 2010

rechts stehen, links gehen

Some people think German gardens are populated by garden gnomes. This is wrong. I’ve not once seen a garden gnome in a German garden. I have seen them for sale, but who’s buying them and planting them among the roses I don’t know. But Germany does have a number of sacred cows.

1. The Autobahn. One of the only roads in the civilized world without a blanket speed limit, although a 130 km/h limit is advised. Drivers definitely do speed along like there’s no tomorrow. The Autobahn is an untouchable – any arguments for a speed limit are laughed off.

2. Which brings me to the Mercedes. The Mercedes is a sacred icon.

3. Dark Bread. Germans are big into bread, dark bread. “Toastbrot,” the sliced white stuff, is not that popular and is usually limited to breakfast. They’ve got wheat, sourdough, rye, wheat-rye, whole grain, multigrain, bread with sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, linseed, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, Zopfbrot (Challah), pretzels, and hundreds of others. Many families don’t make a warm dinner, but serve “Abendbrot,” consisting of bread and cheese or cold cuts.

4. Sunday. Sunday is holy, even without church. All stores are closed. If it’s not the Church, it’s the unions hollering about how retail stores must remain shut for the sake of family and spirituality. Besides that, you are kindly required to make no noise on Sunday. No lawn mowing, for example. And if you live in an apartment or row house, no drilling or vacuuming or vibrating. Makes life tough, if you have to work, that is.

5. The Advent calendar. It is not Christmas unless you’ve done the chocolate countdown. In America I think these are considered hoity-toit, at least I thought so when I first saw one. But here it’s de rigueur from top to bottom.

6. Wurst, as in bratwurst. In the German version of the Bible, Eve tempts Adam with a bratwurst. Some suspect it was a bockwurst, but the pictures aren’t so good.

7. Order. Germany is one of the few places where you may be reprimanded by strangers for not minding the rules. Recently I was waiting to cross the tram tracks with my daughter, who’s 13. The tram pulled away and no others were coming, so we crossed even though the light was still red. The woman next to us began yelling about how she had been standing there waiting so as to be a proper model for my child. I was sorry for wasting her time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

brown bread

What could be worse than a rejection that arrives one mere day after you’ve submitted some poems?

I guess a rejection that comes 220 days after you’ve submitted to a publication that doesn’t take simultaneous submissions would be worse.

Well, thank god that didn’t happen!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

like runaway suns

I’m reading Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. This is the third McCarthy I’ve read, following The Road and No Country for Old Men, both of which I loved.

Years ago I lived for a short time in Kansas starting up an English program for Chinese students at one of the million small colleges in the Midwest. I ran into my counterpart (rival) at a larger college once or twice and I remember him talking about McCarthy in a very haughty way, how important he was, how I’d never read anything unless I’d read McCarthy, and blah blah blah, so of course there on the spot I swore a blood oath never to read that macho McCarthy.

I’m lucky to be a disloyal kind of chump because McCarthy is sensational. Here are two gorgeous sentences from Blood Meridian...

He told how they’d taken the city of Chihuahua, an army of irregulars that fought in rags and underwear and how the cannonballs were solid copper and came loping through the grass like runaway suns and even the horses learned to sidestep or straddle them and how the dames of the city rode up into the hills in buggies and picknicked and watched the battle and how at night as they sat by the fires they could hear the moans of the dying out on the plain and see by its lantern the deadcart moving among them like a hearse from limbo.

About that fire were men whose eyes gave back the light like coals socketed hot in their skulls and men whose eyes did not, but the black man’s eyes stood as corridors for the ferrying through of naked and unrectified night from what of it lay behind to what was yet to come.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Longest Two Minutes in the History of the World

I was waiting for the train, according to the timetable due in two minutes.

A woman yelled at her son, begging for something from the vending machine, anything, a piece of toast even! But she was whining into her cell phone I’m at the station...

Looking at my watch, it was that point in spring when half the world goes round in jackets, while the other half’s in shorts and tank tops. The earth could well come to an end abruptly, with half of us boiling, half of us in on the fire next time.

I had a book in my bag, but should I go to the trouble of pulling it out to read?
Could I concentrate for two minutes? Then abort the effort to hunt for a seat?

I was waiting for the train. Due in two minutes.

A short guy with an accordian came up the platform playing a song that brought back that restaurant I went to once in Texas, where the proprietor slept out Sunday in a hammock out back, but the policy otherwise was “all day, all you can eat.”

Friday, May 14, 2010


Well, 80 years of blogging here and finally I get an award. Thanks to Kathleen! Now, with the Blogdiggity Award, I can retire. Here are the rules:

"1. Thank the person who gave you the award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass along the award to 15 bloggers you think are hella awesome.
4. Contact said hella awesome bloggers & let them know you think they are the blogdiggity.
5. Retire."

I've done #1 now. Here's part #2.

1. My mother finally allowed me to quit ballet lessons when I was 7 or 8 years old after I sat on the floor of the ballet studio and refused to move. I was not as lucky with flute lessons.

2. Decades ago when I was young and good-looking, I starred in a Chinese television commercial. In exchange I got to use the pool and sauna for free, which I never did because they were always being repaired.

3. On my left hand, my index finger is shorter than my ring finger. On my right hand, my index finger is longer than my ring finger. I've blogged about this before.

4. I would probably be perfectly happy not working. My husband says I’d go stircrazy, but I don’t think so. I like reading and writing and if I have time I even like housework. The footnote being I would be perfectly happy not working as long as I was still able to collect a decent income.

5. If we split the country in two, and in one half everyone had the “right to bear arms” and in the other half there was a blanket ban on guns, I would choose to live in the latter half.

6. I love the Frankfurt cemetery. It’s an easy walk from my house. You can sit there all day and cry and no one will think you’re weird or possibly insane.

7. I just spent 7 minutes and 49 seconds on the phone with my son, who’s home alone today, instructing him on how to make French fries in the oven. I will be calling him back when the estimated cooking time has elapsed to make sure everything is okay.

I'm afraid I have to stop here at #3. Not because I'm self-centered, but because I've leafed back through the string of bloggers who've won this award and I'd be naming a bunch of people all over again. And the cycle of madness would go on.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

wild card

The sky looks convincing this morning
I may walk out into it
and pull the wildflower card

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


My mom is coming to visit, which is great. I will gladly vacate my room for her. She used to sleep in the computer room in the cellar because she didn’t want to walk up two flights to the attic guest room. Plus there’s a place to smoke in the cellar, which she did/does. She can’t smoke in my room but she’ll enjoy better surroundings, including a windowful of wisteria. I’m even considering putting up wallpaper, which will freak my husband out. Ha ha!

Whenever my mother comes I make a book order at Amazon. She sent me her itinerary yesterday and despite the limp euro I made my order. I really do have a small hill of books at home I need to get to, but what the heck. Here’s my list:

The Door by Magda Szabo - This doesn't sound like something I'd usually read but I was sold on a few good reviews.

A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke - I've always wanted to read him, and put this memoir of his mother's suicide on my list a long time ago. Looking forward to it. The book, I mean.

Awe by Dorothea Lasky - I've read a couple of her poems and really enjoyed them. I hope I will not be disappointed. I hate that.

Factory of Tears by Valzhyna Mort - ditto above

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas - I probably found this in that senseless book I love to hate, "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die." But really, this book sounds like the prototype for "Lark and Termite," which was a disappointment. Except of course this one sounds like it doesn't suck.

How German It Is by Walter Abish - I asked myself if I really needed this. Probably not. Then I read the first page (on Amazon?) and decided that actually I did.

With Deer by Aase Berg - I had better be blown away, that's all I can say. But really, I'm part of a poetry group at Good Reads and this was recently reviewed, and it sounds different and new and worthwhile.

The Poetry of Surrealism by Michael Benedikt - ditto above with the blown-away clause

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


I was at the dermatologist today. I’m supposed to go every two years to have my moles looked at, being unable to keep track of them myself. The doctor hoped I wouldn’t be chilly with my clothes off, but being a puritanical wasp, in fact I was kind of warm with embarrassment. This is absurd since my dermatologist is also my gynecologist, and her examinations have gone beyond the surface of my skin.

At least today I was allowed to keep on my underwear. I lay down on the examining rack and was prodded left and right and flopped over onto my belly. I was reminded of playing “Hänsel” with my son, how he used to lie on the couch while I “cooked” him – smeared his back with imaginary ketchup, sprinkled him with pepper, or tenderized him with karate chops, then pretended to scoop up little chunks of him, and told him how delicious he tasted.

My doctor did none of that. But she assured me that also I have been generously sprinkled. Browsing around with her cold little nitelite microscope, the doctor exclaimed, “Frau Sloat! I have counted over 100 moles!”

song of the day: watching the detectives

Monday, May 10, 2010


I read a review the other day of The Flight of the Intellectuals, a book I must admit I’m not all that piqued to read. It’s basically an attack on intellectuals who support Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan. I’m out of my depth on this subject but I relished the excerpt quoting the author, Paul Berman, contrasting the words “fascist” and “totalitarian.”

. . . ”Finally, Mr. Berman believes in straight talk and insists we use words like fascist to describe some Islamic ideas rather than totalitarian. Why? ‘It is because totalitarian, being abstract, is odorless. Fascist is pungent. To hear the emphatic f-sound and those double different s’s is to flare your nostrils.’”

Try it at home.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

dear desire

I've been busy in my room building a new continent. It's a modest one, with a peninsula and range of shady mountains. No housing has gone up, meaning the envoys who come bringing news of far away shouldn't stick around. From my desk, there's a lovely view of a lake that spreads out like a soft ballroom. Above it, I've hung my favorite photo of Ingeborg Bachmann - a young woman, rowing a rowboat towards the shore.

Monday, May 03, 2010


Since the ash cloud cleared, letting the poor ocean have back the headlines, my package from America finally arrived. I won a book at Good Reads called Why I Hate Straws, which looks funny. I also got Columbine, a Jim Kweskin CD, and a pair of earrings. My mother slipped in a Teen Vogue for my daughter and a baking book, too.

She enclosed a note on Columbine:

"Dear Sarah,
I ended up using three bookmarks when reading Columbine – one regular, one for the index because there are so many names and it can’t be read in a few sessions – the last for the section entitled NOTES as to where the author got his sources. This book is the most horrific I’ve ever read.
Love, Mom"

She left the bookmarks in for me.
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