Tuesday is trash/recycling day on our street. Eleanor gets excited because she gets a rare glimpse of "trash boy" (her/our name for the trash collector) - we peer out of Ella's window down at him while he empties the can and bin with total economy of movement. "Trash boy!"
25 August 2009
Last night I dreamed that I was taking photographs of all kinds of owls, stuck there in my dreamscape like totemic emeralds in the rough of my mind. Look! A long tall brown owl! and Hey! A short, fat golden owl! etc.
And so this morning I took a for-real photo of the for-real fake owl cookie jar in our kitchen. In so doing, I started a meta-feedback loop in my conscious-to-unconscious reel that - who knows? - could make tonight's dreams even more potent. Maybe I'll dream that I'm taking fake photographs of for-real demi-owls unmasked as my family of origin before they were born. Or maybe I will be the owl tonight, with beneficent cobwebs in my limbic.
24 August 2009
Our house is extremely close to the neighbor lady's house (her name's Beverly. She's lived in the same house for over thirty years. Her husband left this realm about ten years ago). And so: Yesterday I was peeing. The bathroom window was open, you see. For the breeze of it, you understand. And Beverly steps out with a plastic bag of garbage in her hand. She looks over at me, and I her. The locked gaze of mutual embarrassment. What can a man do when an elderly woman is watching him pee?
Today I spent twenty minutes talking to a Pulitzer Prize-winning genius in the shade of an old front porch. Just me and him and the cicadas. It was a moment frozen, suspended, outside of time, almost. Some people in this weird world are the real deal. It's not their genius or prizes or appointments that makes them so. They're just real and therefore rarities in the cascade of pretense. James Alan McPherson, I believe, is such a man. He said some things to me I'll be digesting twenty years from now...
We were walking down the street a few days ago, when:
Janelle: Did you see that lady in the SUV?
Janelle: She looked witchy.
Me: I saw that.
Janelle: It was her eyes.
Me: She looked like she had a couple wharf-bats sucking on blood oranges behind her eyes!
A few days ago I mowed the lawn. Afterward, a noble squirrel appeared on the scene, using the grass clippings to build a nest in the lone tree in our backyard. Up the tree, down the tree, collecting and applying the raw material to his empire, too high up for me to see. I watched him a long time before deciding to go get the camera and take a few shots. Most squirrels would've disappeared while I went to fetch the camera. They just know to do that. It's in their DNA. Not this squirrel, though. He didn't get the escape gene. He practically posed for these shots.
23 August 2009
Walt Whitman once wrote a long-lined poem about composting. And I can understand why. There's something compelling about the world's rot. It's the way we're all headed, and if you have Transcendental predilections, it's a metaphor for the cosmic tilling of life forces into the eternal loam. I don't know about these things, though. All I have are a few suppositions and a thing I call intuition.
But I built this huge, raccoon-proof compost bin because, for the first time in over a year, we finally live someplace where we can start composting again. This is a huge relief. Seriously. I hate sending perfectly good organic matter to the landfill when I can, you know, put it in a miniature landfill in my backyard. Yeah, all "green" justifications aside, I suppose composting satisfies that neurotic, pack rat part of me that doesn't way to say goodbye to banana peels and toenail clippings... "there's got to be a use for this!" (Now there is: the worm farm!) It's actually pretty sick, but whatevs.
In preparation for my Creative Writing class (which I'll be teaching on Thursday mornings), I've been brushing up on my favorite poetry lately. Here's a good one about maggots (who, along with earthworms, countless flies, and ants, can be seen on the compost scene):
Ode To The Maggot
Brother of the blowfly
And godhead, you work magic
In slabs of bad pork
And flophouses. Yes, you
Go to the root of all things.
You are sound & mathematical.
Jesus, Christ, you're merciless
With the truth. Ontological & lustrous,
You cast spells on beggars & kings
Behind the stone door of Caesar's tomb
Or split trench in a field of ragweed.
No decree or creed can outlaw you
As you take every living thing apart. Little
Master of earth, no one gets to heaven
Without going through you first.
by Yusef Komunyaaka
21 August 2009
there is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average
human being to supply any given army on any given day
and the best at murder are those who preach against it
and the best at hate are those who preach love
and the best at war finally are those who preach peace
those who preach god, need god
those who preach peace do not have peace
those who preach peace do not have love
beware the preachers
beware the knowers
beware those who are always reading books
beware those who either detest poverty
or are proud of it
beware those quick to praise
for they need praise in return
beware those who are quick to censor
they are afraid of what they do not know
beware those who seek constant crowds for
they are nothing alone
beware the average man the average woman
beware their love, their love is average
but there is genius in their hatred
there is enough genius in their hatred to kill you
to kill anybody
not wanting solitude
not understanding solitude
they will attempt to destroy anything
that differs from their own
not being able to create art
they will not understand art
they will consider their failure as creators
only as a failure of the world
not being able to love fully
they will believe your love incomplete
and then they will hate you
and their hatred will be perfect
like a shining diamond
like a knife
like a mountain
like a tiger
their finest art
- Charles Bukowski
20 August 2009
The tomato plants are in terra cotta, an idea I had back in the spring, knowing I wouldn't want to leave big leafy mamas behind during the move to our new home. I carried each by hand the block-and-a-half from there to here, while various neighbors watched and smoked cigs on their porches.
That was a month ago. Now, as I've said, tomatoland is right underneath Eleanor's bedroom window. Most mornings and some nights, we'll look down upon tomatoland, and Ella will say, "Hi, tomatoes. We're going to eat you!" And what are we having for dinner tonight? BLT's!
But now it is 11 a.m., Bukowski, and I'm crafting my syllabus, last minute, always at the last minute, and the sunlit retarded men in jean shorts, whose bodies are shaped like ducks' bodies, are hurling weekly newspapers against the vinyl siding of the houses.
19 August 2009
"...come on! and, on the table, at the midpoint of summer, the tomato, star of earth, recurrent and fertile star, displays its convolutions, its canals, its remarkable amplitude and abundance, no pit, no husk, no leaves or thorns, the tomato offers its gift of fiery color and cool completeness."
That was from Pablo Neruda's "Oda al Tomate." And these fine young specimens (pictured above) are from the garden - the portable garden I hauled from our old house to this new one a month ago. It's been a cool, wet summer, and so, believe it or not, these are our first red tomatoes! These plants have been working hard since April, when I sowed the seeds in an indoor tray. Outside, ice and snow covered the ghost world. But inside...life was happening.
Death was happening too, though. We had just put Stella in the ground and I was ready for the Iowa winter to be over. I told Janelle, "The death...is killing me - I need to help bring something to life," then walked up to Ace Hardware and bought some seed trays. Five months later...here we go. Yes. Very good. Thank you.
14 August 2009
We discovered a small cache of drawings in one of the old closets in this house. The artist is apparently "Mackenzie Jennings." I love this one. It looks like Julianne Moore to me...except, you know, a little bit cross-eyed. But nevermind. Last night I had a strange memory from earlier in the summer, when we were down at my mom & dad's, in Manchester, Georgia.
My parents live on a sharp curve and one night we heard a fast car careening around the bend, then a terrific roar followed by a loud metallic thud. My dad and I went out to see what was up: Yes, indeed, someone had lost control of their car and run off the road, into a deserted dirt lot across the street. We walked over and saw the driver clambering around inside. The car, a Honda or whatever, was beached on a big piece of concrete, which it had unearthed when it slammed into a small steel post presumably protecting an ancient old penile fire hydrant. The driver's side door was dented in considerably. Stuck, the driver was gunning the accelerator, trying to get off the island of rock and steel. I thought of a trapped coyote. My dad and I hung back.
Within about a minute, Nefertiti emerged from the passenger door of her chrysalis, lithe and wobbly, and as she did, an empty Seagram's bottle rolled onto the ground. Her up-do was a glistening leaning tower of Pisa. Hoop earrings. Stiletto heels on gravel, now. I heard a man's voice, quite loud. It was a deejay, on another planet - Atlanta - recounting, in static, the past fifteen minutes worth of R&B and soul songs. Nefertiti didn't straighten her skirt or do anything cinematic like that. She just looked down at the car, still running, and said, "Man, shit!" She was a tall drink of water.
The next ten minutes happened fast- I asked her if she was okay. She said she was. "You live around here?" No, she said she was from Atlanta, visiting her cousins. "Have you, uh, been drinking?" She said nah, uh-uh, no way, not at all. She then asked for my dad's cellphone. He handed it over. She called, in rapid succession, five or six people - all of whom refused to help her. (Some damn cousins, I thought.) I felt bad for Nefertiti and her moment of non-glory on the side of the road, stuck with two generations of random, unknown White men to help her. And what happened next surprised me.
My dad said "We'd better get you out of here before the cops come." And so that, then, became The Plan. He ran to the shed and came back with a massive pry bar. And by the time he had returned, another random dude had stopped to help get Nefertiti back to the realm of the Gods. This dude was three times my size and pretty damn cinematic, actually. His biceps were pythons and, you know, he could've been John Henry - easy. Especially when he and I lifted up on the chassis, Nefertiti at the wheel, and my dad working that pry bar under the axle, working it to beat the band, working it like no damn tomorrow for Nefertiti or any of us. And in the distance we all heard the sirens...
Later on, Dad told me a story I had never heard before, about being a drunk teenager wrecked on the side of the road. And did a beneficent country roads stranger help him elude the flashing lights and get back home safe? Of course. "Why, though?" I kept asking. And he kept deflecting. "They just decided to help me, I guess," which is really no answer at all. "Man, I was stupid back then." He shook his head. There's more to this story, I thought. Maybe. Maybe not. You never know with dads.
By the time the cops arrived, Nefertiti was gone. John Henry was gone. And so were Bo and Uncle Jessie, the two ofays with the pry bar and cell phone. The only thing there was a sideways steel post and the ancient old penile fire hydrant, the landscape's erect fuck you to Johnny Law. We settled in for the night and in a few minutes all Nefertiti's cousins started calling on the phone, wanting to know did she make it out all right, did she make it back to Celestial, did she get back to her throne and ambrosia?
13 August 2009
More rain last night - a little soft drizzling midwestern djinn that stole across town in the wee early hours of the morning. I wouldn't have been awake to notice, except that Janelle mysteriously bolted upright in bed, backlit by flashes of lightning outside our bedroom window. "You okay?" I asked her, but she was already back asleep, repossessed by the sandman. But I got up and looked in on Eleanor before darting outside to put away the weedeater and throw a tarp across the moped. I was in my underwear. Sharp rocks stung my feet. A twentysomething couple, man and woman, hidden in shadows across the street, was smoking cigarettes on their front porch. He was talking in storytime tones. She was laughing. You know the deal: courtship. It was after 4 a.m., hour of quietude in the human kingdom, and to them I was the scraggly guy across the street tending to the details of his existence.
11 August 2009
The Queen Of Pinups. God bless her (and God bless Irving Klaw). In case you don't know, Bettie "I Never Was The Girl Next Door" Page was voted "Most Likely To Succeed" in high school. And from the late Forties to the late Fifties, she succeeded in being photographed thousands of times in various poses of nudity, sadism, and masochism before Congress, recognizing her as a force of pure eros, formed an official Subcommittee On Juvenile Delinquency. Somehow they found Bettie Page's S&M photographs to be The Enemy, responsible for the unraveling of American morality and, as a result, ordered the incineration of most of the extant negatives and prints of her - truly a tragic loss.
At about the same time, Bettie converted to evangelical Christianity. She ended up employed by Rev. Billy Graham and his God Squad, preaching the envangel. Twelve years later, she was diagnosed with acute schizophrenia. Like a lot of people suffering from schizophrenia, she spent the rest of her life destitute, in and out of mental hospitals, group homes, and the legal system. When the forces of pop culture saw to it that she became an icon of hip, noir s&m femininity towards the end of her life, she did a few interviews but always refused to be photographed: "No, I don`t think my fans want to see me old and fat...Remember me as I looked when I was younger."
I have a theory about this "schizophrenia" diagnosis, though: What drove Bettie Page insane wasn't a pure constellation of latent tendencies and brain chemistry. This is a highly disputable claim, but, for my money, the culprit was/is the repressed macro-culture's inability to claim and integrate its own eros. A victim of bad timing and classic group dynamics, Bettie Page became the perfect scapegoat - the incinerated witch. And who among us could take the pressure of being adored so covertly and also loathed so publicly? Like Dylan, she found some temporary solace in the "born again" mythology. But a psyche under duress only has so much resilience before it will retreat into the depths of its own madness...and I think it's a testament to Bettie Page's femme-ferocity (pictured above) that she kept going as long as she did. I mean, it's not like there weren't a lot of powerful forces working against her...
The incomparable Miss Page endured, then died in California eight months ago today, in the pale American winter. She was 85 years old.
10 August 2009
09 August 2009
As I say, we've been getting some rain lately. Not tons. Not scads. Not buckets. Just a few downpours here and here. A few sun showers. A little raw material for the de-humidifier in our basement to work with.
I realized today that the summer is almost done. I don't mean the actual summer, but - you know what I mean: summer. In less than three weeks, it's back to school, work, workshop for me. And I'm not complaining, but where did the summer go??? And why? Oh well. I'm listening to "A Night In Tunisia" now and drinking a microbrew. Outside - rains. And the baby's asleep. And my brother-in-law's in town. And all is well, really. Summer or no.
07 August 2009
More Gordon Onslow Ford madness. Here I've merged one of his visual pomes with this morning's view from Eleanor's window. Rainy day today. Rain is an empty envelope suspended in the albumen we breathe. It's a river trapped between a fly's wings, negotiating head spaces...it's entering the walls of our basement through holes the rough circumference of a millipede.
05 August 2009
On my flight back from California, I sat next to an art
historian. We talked about an hour or so before I pull-
ed out one of the Gordon Onslow Ford postcards that Ryan
had given me and said, "What do you see here?" "Well,"
he said, "I see Spanish surrealism, for sure...and, uh,
contemporary Australian dot painting...and, um...yeah...
it's interesting." I never know what people mean when
they call something "interesting," but I have to agree
with him - it is, unlike a lot of art, pretty damn
Ford constructed an esoteric art philosophy called Inner
Realism, which held that painting, if done the right way,
could be a doorway to other planes of consciousness, all
the way down to the "Inner Worlds of the Mind Shared By
All." In his artist's statement he explains that "we
travel over vast distances, at great speeds" to these
inner worlds every night as we dream and thereby "become
recharged with cosmic energy for the next day." He goes
on to explain that "On waking up, our experiences of
deeper dimensions are too fast, too vast or too minute
for human memory, with its limited range of awareness,
I like these ideas. I mean, they're crazy. And I like
'em. I'll tell you what I see, though: Thumbprints
hexing hammerheads, poxed in bundle/s of rod material,
quiver, hole in a man, breathe, tap tap eucalyptos-
concen- what did you- in ventricle of the sauropod, oh,
emptied out eyes, it supposes, the sand world- eclosing,
all busy with its bowl of hearts- and fastidious! the
production, microfilaments of the solar lookaround, trying
with your golden meat of the empathy collect. dynamite
in the desert and now an animal draws its shape from
sunset boxes, eddies of the juju pentecost...
04 August 2009
Stolen moments - Eleanor in action.
Last night, in search of a decent, well, okay, passable Mexican meal here in Iowa, we drove about twenty miles down the road to West Liberty, an industrial corn outpost with empty streets and a pair of curved train tracks that skirts the cemetery and fairgrounds and runs right behind the fire station. Here, on 3rd Street, we found a place called El Torito, or, if you'd rather, The Wee Bull.
There was only one other dining party inside - a group of about eight senior citizens - and it was one of 'em's birthday. They were laughing the whole time, and downing bluberry cupcakes they had brought from home. Eleanor stared at them, weaving figure-8's with her tortilla, in hand. Janelle and I forked down our fajitas and relleno. For some reason, I couldn't stop watching the proprietor, a softspoken man captivated by a Spanish soccer game, which must've bounced off forty-seven satellites to make it into the Wee Bull.
"Not bad. B+?"
We clinked our beer bottles, and a kindly old woman presented Eleanor with one of the coveted cupcakes, which she scarfed down instantly. The sugar went straight to her bloodstream and lit a bonfire there. And so, as a result, we spent the next forty minutes running up and down the empty streets of West Liberty, laughing across the train tracks after Eleanor's sugar-burning soul tumble. And a silent grain bin stared down at us, unblinking.
03 August 2009
Lamp anima. Conjurer of fibrillations.
Two days ago I returned from Napa Valley (not pictured), where I attended the 29th Napa Valley Writers Conference, under the instruction of people like Elizabeth Alexander, Robert Boswell, Carl Dennis, Peter Ho Davies, Jane Hirshfield, Antonya Nelson, David St. John, and my fiction workshop instructor, ZZ Packer.
It was a cool scene. As good or better, though, was the fact that I was able to kick it with my boy Ryan and his good gal, Wendy. Ryan and I drove out to his new home in Point Reyes, where I communed with seals, wasps, huckleberries, some quarks, and three Aztec statues that put chills down my spine.