28 September 2008

Plant & Animal World

Iowa mornings are beautiful. Even when I'm hacking up phlegm, wrapped in a blanket, standing barefoot on the cold concrete stoop out front, watching Stella take a long slow leak on her favorite juniper bush. I look up to the skies and squint - for without eyeglases or contacts, my world is a pointillist Mondrian's world - & I see various North Stars, moons, poltergeists of activity, sunlight tipping out from the East, and cloud fragments tinged celestial-menstrual redgold, trying to escape.

Later, as I bike to school, the sky has shed its skin and become a new sky. Nothing celestial-menstrual about it. It's an inverted lake now, bottomless blue, thick with invisible gods. It's an earthen sky. It's an atmosphere. It's untouchable air blowing arpeggios down upon this plant and animal world.

Good Day

Teaching my two classes of rhetoric this semester has been an exercise in discomfort, mind-numbing oration, and the destruction of countless hours of valuable time (spent not writing, but course planning, paper-grading and other pointless tasks of the academia grindhouse). After an agonizing re-appraisal - and a particularly helpful fireside chat with a fellow writer who ran through the same gauntlet last year - I decided to lay down the actual factuals for my students today.

I told them: You don't want to be here; I don't want to be here. This class sucks. Big public universities are little more than breeding grounds for the (expletive) boring, middle-class, track-housing-dwelling automatons you're all destined to become. Up until now, I have been operating as more or less of an agent of the (expletive) conformation and heart-removal process set up to destroy you, which is just an extension of high school and all the other institutional forms of control that you've been passed through - like some kind of raw material - since you were born. You're excited to have made it to the University of Iowa? Don't be. This (expletive) school - like most schools - doesn't really want you to be empowered and excited about change. It wants you to clam up, color between the lines, spit back rehearsed answers, and endure the prolonged insult to the soul that is institutionalized education. The teacher-as-authority-figure's job is to enforce this process. As a result, most of you are pretty boring. You're bored and you're boring, and I'm bored with all of us, including myself.

It was a good day.


I am tired. It is late. Crows crowd my mind on lapis lazuli lampposts.

Power Lines

The last full moon, which brought us Autumn. Here in the North Country, the leaves are fading, turning, falling. There's a chill in the air. And amidst all the collegiate inebriatations and apple bakes inspired by the chiller temps, Halloween decorations have started to appear on windows and doors. Halloween's the hippest of all holidays, and it's also Me & J's wedding anniversary, so I dig seeing that. I also dig seeing Mama Moon in all her plenitude, gracing the earthlings with money shots of her Great White Belly, laughing above the power lines.

27 September 2008

Chuck Berry

We spent yesterday evening out on the town, so we could partake in U of Iowa's Homecoming Festivities, but mostly so we could see n' hear a still-got-his-mojo-workin', eighty-one year old Chuck Berry take to a makeshift stage downtown and rock out with the ancient riffs he perfected fifty years ago. We also got to see a quaint little parade. When the Veterans Against The War came marching down Iowa Street in the golden drip of sunset, people lost their minds cheering, roaring, amber leaves falling. Janelle & I were filled with a sense of actual hope for actual sanity in the world, if only for that majikal fifteen seconds. Same treatment, though, for the Johnson County Democrats, the Students For Obama, and the Save Iowa's Rivers organization. A sustained feeling of possibility spanned the crowd, in other words, which was an all-around proud finale to the first five weeks of the semester. Five down, ten to go...

24 September 2008

The Mary's

Mary Jo Bang (author of Apology For Want, Louise In Love, The Downstream Extremity of the Isle of Swans, & Elegy) and Marilynne Robinson (author of Mother Country, The Death of Adam, Housekeeping, Gilead, & Home). Fearless leaders. Geniuses of the written word.

Mary Jo teaches the poetry seminar I'm attending this semester. Marilynne's my workshop leader/instructor. Mary Jo's class is all about the "vexed, interior" voices that crowd confessional poetry. Marilynne is a gentle, fierce, discerning, funny, empathic teacher who gives specific yet somehow deeply philosophical feedback. She also has an old, small dog that attends workshop and will snap at you with saurian ferocity if you get between it and anything edible. This lends an element of unease to workshop, if nothing else does.

Like Marilynne, Mary Jo is also down-to-earth. She'll tell you about her years being a physician's assistant, before she decided to try writing poems, what mechanical Missouri is like in the summer, and her take on existence as a photographer/visual artist. She's also a wonderful listener. At a potluck, she helped Janelle & me wrangle Eleanor, who was hell-bent on climbing into a large galvanized bin of icy Coca-Colas. "Parenthood is sacrificial, isn't it?" she said.

23 September 2008


I bought this defused hand grenade for $5 when I was around eleven years old. Maybe younger. I purchased it at Big Buck Trading Post, on Main Street, in Manchester, Georgia. $5 was a lot of money to me back then, which lets you know that I really wanted that hand grenade. (I had visions in my head of being like Chuck Norris in his Lone Wolf McQuade role.) Anyway, my dad gave me an advance on my allowance so I could walk down to Big Buck and snag the grenade "before some other kid does" (my words at the time).

As soon as it was mine, I threw it high into the air and watched it thud to the ground, then roll a few empty feet. I never threw it again, but I've kept it around ever since. Know why? 'Cause I'm a genius. That's why.

20 September 2008

India Cafe

We did not eat at India Cafe tonight. In fact, I just picked the last of the pine nuts out of the skillet while listening to Van Morrison's "Philosopher's Stone" here in the luxurious kitchen of our downsized domicile. Janelle is putting Eleanor down to sleep right now and Stella's trying to dig a hole to China right through the floorboards of our house. I'm not sure why. Perhaps there's buried treasure that only she can sense.

Damn. These weekends evaporate like...something vaporized. I wish they were longer. I wish they were strung together. I wish time wasn't so damn goofy and always goofing on me...let India Cafe be a symbol of my naked discontent.

We went to the farmer's market today, which is just a block or so from India Cafe. We walked, perused, passed judgment, and bought several armfuls of: vegetables (squash, potatoes, cucumbers, and tomatoes - all organic & fresh from the Iowa topsoil), houseplants (two stellar jades that'll keep us company and greened-up here in the house during the impending, "long, terrible" winter), a nice bouquet of red, weird flowers, and...(drumroll)...bacon (fresh from some local hog's belly, preservative and hormone free)! Huzzah!

19 September 2008

The memetic diaspora appropriated into a signifier of hegemony.

Last week I found myself at a defining point in my academic career, wherein I was able to glance around, occupying several different vantages at once, and see the wide sea spread out to the four corners of the world. The sea, I understood, was (wo)man's search for meaning and definition. Language the blunt and beautiful tool. This is the spirit of the times. This is what's going on: a whole lotta people trying to say the unsayable, name the unnamed, and talk about processes that may or may not even be real. And you can see this happening in the realms of gender studies, poetry writing, fiction writing, rhetoric, cultural criticism and just about everywhere else. Everything's in question. Reality, though - and I mean all of it - is just an old, ancient, kaleidoscopic, multidimensional, lumbering, quivering, vibrating myth. And the new myth is troubled because it thinks it's a new myth. It doesn't realize it's just another facet of the old myth in new, critical clothes. What's any of this got to do with Runts (c) candies in a gumball machine? Not much, I guess. Ah, but what do I know? I'm just a gleam in one of the myth's several million pulsing eyes, strange monster that it is. Maybe everything is everything. And maybe everything is worthy of worship.

14 September 2008


I saw this car parked outside the Coralville Mall and thought, "this person's probably pretty damn cool..."

And so today I woke up, discovered that we'd left the fridge open all night, spoiling everything, and then ventured outside with Stella, where I found the busted remnants of a bicycle lock that let me know the score: Bike #3 (a.k.a. "Blue Bike") had been stolen from our yard in the driving, drizzling rains of last night. "Bastards brought tools for this," I said to Stella, who had peed on the kitchen floor in the night, causing me to think more mortal thoughts about her (as in, "Man, Stella's really wearing thin these days, poor old gal..."). At the same time, a lanky young dude biked by our house, completely innocent of anything, probably, and I gave him the Evil Eye. The remnants of the bike lock sparkled, scattered.

Anyway, in addition to this Bad News, today I also learned that David Foster Wallace had offed himself over the weekend (hung himself in his own home). For those who don't know, D.F.W. was a writer of words who didn't hesitate to go ahead and sort of revolutionize and revitalize (post)modern fiction. Sure, he could be indulgent. But so what? When he was on, the mutha was on, which is more than can be said of most. It's sad. His family's loss is also the world's.

If I coulda caught the bicicyle thief, I'd have broken his kneecaps (and that should say a lot, coming from a pacifist). Instead, I'm just a guy on his porch, scowling complacently, exhausting imagined karma.

13 September 2008


This morning we stumbled upon an absolutely perfect and understatedly stunning (it was damn near hidden in plain sight) neighborhood bakery. From the doughnuts to the scones, the buddha-room bathroom to the old pink Mercury parked out back, the place was a testament to Swiss-Helvetica artfulness. Outside, we met a couple that just arrived from Austin. "Where's a good place to eat?" they said. "There isn't one," I replied, "you're in Iowa." Awkward silence (been getting a lot of those lately). "Unless you want a delicious cup o' joe & doughnut, that is. 'Cause this place is ay-may-zing...""

12 September 2008

Every Vineyard Has Its Weeds

Today in my class, one of my students - a "sporty" kid of good humor, 18 years, and good ol' Iowa boy countenance, who playfully complains whenever I assign anything to read, and who paradoxically also shows great promise as a critical thinker - showed up in class with his face all broken and mashed, scabbed over and bruised. After class, checking up on him, I asked him if he was injured playing sports. He said, "No, actually I passed out from drinking, and when I tried to get up, I smashed my face pretty good." Awkward silence. "That's college for you," another kid said, smirking and shrugging his shoulders as if he just dropped a bon mot worthy of Dorothy Parker's keen approval.

This world is eating itself. And I know - kids'll be kids. Kids'll drink and be stupid, be smart, figure it out, etc. But this world is, in fact, eating itself. I think like a parent now. Maybe a postmodern parent who loves Public Enemy and is therefore a limited sliver of society's idea of "cool," but a parent nonetheless. So I wanted to take this kid under my wing, slap him on the neck, and pull his ear as to what time it really is. "It's time to wake up, son." But that probably wouldn't have been kosher. And so I toil in my own vineyard...

10 September 2008


I went out to the Foxhead last night and drank with the fiction writers. Also a cadre of poets. This after workshop and a long two days of hustle. I'm starting to see how this is all going to be workable. At last a glimmer of understanding in all this bewildered transitionment! Freedom...

Stella's doing a little better. I've been getting her out more often, which is good for us both. She says "hello" to you, in her old age. "Hello," she says, "I can perceive that which you cannot...and vice versa." Yes indeed, I suppose. Stella resembles a coyote blend caught in the Between Worlds. Her eyes are milky and powerful. And out in the streets, I can hear a Harley sputterin' and fartin' down the road.

09 September 2008

La Mermaid

"Approximately three hours before gutting Jem Kline, who claimed I was dealing dirty, I am feeding ammunition into a six gun at midnight, coffee - black - shirtless in my kitchen. Kate still sleeps. An empty demijohn on its side in the sink, like a sunken ship. Horinzonless Arizona night and all these games of chance. In my mind, I see my familiar, the feejee mermaid on her plaintive plinth, frozen and howling through Creation: Papa Death's fish-girl. And now I can hear Kate stirring. It's a shot of rye. Gig line tight. I'll polish my shooter 'til it shines like a dime & place that at the small of my back. The buttons fall through the buttonholes and Contained Kate emerges like a pale moon, like some kind of Yes in the storm. We meet Wyatt later. I fold my knife. Always did like Jem, but, then, we had never played cards together."

07 September 2008

Chiclet In A Basket

This morning Eleanor & I let Janelle (a.k.a. Ma 'Nellie) sleep in. And so what this means, really , is that Ella tore around the kitchen and living room for about an hour, strewing scrambled eggs and avacado husks in her wake, until I was able to corral her into a wicker basket and tote her around the house like an Anne Geddes accomplishment...which made her squeal, smile & and coo with an almost unfathomable kind of contentment.

06 September 2008

10 Facts Divided By Two

This morning I woke up suddenly, my head still full of strange dreams, with Eleanor tearing out of the bedroom, shrieking, en route to solitary morning adventuredom.

This morning I woke up, already wondering how Monday was/is gonna go.

This morning we arose, broke bread briskly, then drove north, to Palisades Park, where fern gullies, ferocious mongrels, and mute Indian mounds lay in wait.

Today I woke up thinking of Flicker.

This morning I looked at Janelle and, referring to La Vida En General, said, "This ain't easy, is it?"

Ella runs the show.

Ella is my showboat.

Ella rants at break of day, and breaks sorrow into two even halves - tosses them both to Claudia Rankine, genius who never built a rabbit box.

Ella is her mama and me and some mystery besides.

Ella binds what's right and puts it in my gut.

05 September 2008

The Sieve

This is my dorje. My friend Matthew gave this to me a while ago. It now occupies a tiny space above my typewriter...er, I mean, keyboard. Basically, a dorje is a stylized Tibetan Buddhist rendition of a lightning bolt or staff of holy power. It's the symbol of the kinetic spark that exists between the terrestrial and the celestial, the mundane and the divine, the relative and the absolute...you get the idea. Heavy shit.

I won't lie to you. This has been another rough week. A gauntlet run. A dues-paying week. When will I no longer be paying these ethereal dues? I dunno. By the looks of things, this is just my life. And I don't mean wah-wah, self-deprecate, self-deprecate, poor me, pity me. Just that I should get used to the idea, once again, that the long haul is called a "long haul" for a reason: It ain't easy hauling freight. So, for now, I dip my dorje into my mind and try to remember compassionate Submission to a Force that's a whole Hell of a lot together than I'll ever scheme to be.

And I'll work on my stories. And grade the papers. And try to make friends with time that runs like a sieve...

p.s. props to Paulie & Rah for general heart chakric awesomeness.