20 September 2009

Iowa Dirt Grows Good Food

The tomato plants underneath Eleanor's bedroom window have just about given us everything they've got...which has turned out to be quite a lot. Soon I'll be composting the dried-up stalks and spent root balls. But what a good run we had...

A particularly cool summer, these Brandywines (heirloom) grew huge but then hung on the vine, green for months. Finally, about seven or eight weeks ago, they started to ripen...and hot damn if they didn't turn out to be the best tomatoes I've ever eaten! "Full-flavored" doesn't cut it, either - these feral beasts tasted five dimensional, interstellar...metal-flake hi-fi polychromo-luscious, straight outta Eden! Janelle, Eleanor and I have eaten so many of them like apples, right off the vine. [And why shouldn't we? They're completely organic n' natural, from the seed to the soil...no pesticides, no newfangled fertilizers (blood meal and table scraps), and irrigated only with rain and filtered water direct from our basement dehumidifier.]

Yeah...we'll miss our tomato connection this winter (and the brisk nights here tell us that we are slowly heading back into the almost endless winter here), but saved a cache of seeds - so we lean forward to the next planting season in the shimmerin' Iowa dirt...

17 September 2009

Eternity In An Hour

The three girls from Updike's "A&P" live across the alley from us. They sunbathe. They laugh in high registers. They maneuver. The passing of time, for these girls, is still a fairly abstract concept. It's some kind of haze. That this haze burns off of youth is both a blessing and somewhat of a sad thing...I was never a farmer's daughter, but I remember afternoons that lasted an eternity.

15 September 2009


Mama & Papa Squirrel lack essential trust. (Yesterday I mounted a cake of squirrel granola in a tree for them. No bites.) But, then again, why should a squirrel trust a man? No reason I can think of. And why do I seek the squirrel spectacle? Is it wrong to foster rodentia-hominid dependency? Will their pups respect them? How did electricity get submerged in the spaces that separate their slender bones?

right now I am listening 
to Pharoah Sanders
"you gotta have freedom,
you-got-to-have-----free-dommmm..." saxophonics
boiling dewdrop
under the skin hot moon-half hung
in the sky
gonna *yeah* today gonna *shake it down now*
(solar action and now my backbone's
starting to get into it)
Come on out, squirrels
let's hustle, let's
dance this morningtime boogie!

13 September 2009

Right On

Eleanora Fagan, ladies and gentlemen, before her Descent. I'm hearing her an' Pops Armstrong right now, on the tinny, hilarious speakers mounted in our kitchen. It's Sunday jazz! Right on...Janelle's out teaching a pre-natal yoga class today (and for the next six Sundays). If you were in her class, here's what you'd be doing right about now: Butterfly Pose, Camel Pose, Tree Pose, Malasana Squat, Table Pose, Cat Pose, Child's Pose, Downward Dog, and other various pelvic tilts and stretches. In other news, it's a warm sunny day here, and the cicadas and the crickets are lovemaking in dark corners of the sidewalks.

11 September 2009

Song of M____f

In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the English colonized Ireland and split it into two castes: the English-speaking, land-owning gentry and the broke, down and out, Irish-speaking pidgin pone peasantry. As a result, I stand before you, a family man, attempting to assimilate parking meters into my olfactory. It doesn't come out right, so scansion occurs out back of The Majestic, where tooth fairy, where apple, fried chicken, she grinned- and, look, here comes a "Jazz is prose," type of situation, and I'm in the land of Guaranteed and Bona Fide, so I lay down sideways, spy a grey mouse and am broke peasantry. I'm all "I'm into Mouse." Rodent becomes a symbol of Hopkinseqsue Christlike indelibility. So I go Vedanta. I go to Ogun. "Lay it down, Ishtar," and so forth. Mouse dies a lonely. So I go Sunni and save my seeds on my window sill, look down at Sergeant Gentry, banging his clubs, slinging his slugs. Sunni sprouts into a degradation system of sound based on human vocalizations older than corn or distinctions such as English Irish Black White Prose Poetry Legit Il- and scales are born, based on the inflections of early hominid voice patterns- calling for help, birth, pray, orgasm, death gasp, mastodon feast, and so on. So we've bargained. Got Celia Cruz, got Django and Van Morrison, too. Not too mention Robert Johnson's eyeball in the sky, blood-dirt homes of the self. Carl Jung? Come on, man. Brakhage, Berryman, DiPrima. Orgones a-plenty! "Not a bad bargain, baby" I says to Self here in the land of corn. Indeed, not at all...

Star Toast

You can cut toast into the shape of a star. Even then - and even to a two-year-old - the toast will only become about 17% more interesting. If anything, we find that star-shaped toast, while handsome, only makes us think of Christmas cookies. So then we want a Christmas cookie - not this tricksy toast. The star shape works against toast, in that way. So there's no need to make it look like something else, especially something the cosmos is full of. Nevertheless, sometimes we render toast into the shape of a star or quasar or black hole. And sometimes it expires, flames out, or collapses into the Void. So we move on with our day. Most things, we understand, are not at all eternal.

09 September 2009

Lumbering Towards Evolution

I'm spending too much time in office hours these days. (My students are steadfast in their pursuit of the Muse. How long will I maintain the illusion of expertise? Oh, another thirteen weeks or so...) Today a student got defensive when I told him part of his poem didn't work. Yes, it does. "Look, you asked." Well, I know, but- "I'm telling you straight. You can't mix metaphors like that unless you're going for 'muddled.' Now, are you going for 'muddled'?" Yeah. "Oh. Well, there you go. Success."

Like that. And it's not the same with young women. They listen, they weigh what I've said - or at least pretend to. They consider, clarify. The guys- no, they're all instant geniuses or cosmic failures. Who put these tendencies in their/our heads? God? Evolution? "The patriarchy?" (And sure, on some level, it's useful, defensiveness, but only when you've learned who your enemies are and what you're defending, exactly. But defensiveness as a primary character trait is damn limiting.) "Look, muddled is easy. Concision and clarity are where the work is." He growled up at the metaphor-less moon and said, All right. I'll try again. (Attaboy, genius.)

06 September 2009

Sunday Afternoon

An old (a.k.a. "antique") milk bottle from Dublin, Georgia. It sits on our front porch waiting for the agrarian South to rise again and reclaim what's being chewed up and spit out in the mechanized world of post-Moloch. Today I'm thinking, "damn, I've got it good." Good home life. Good gig here in Iowa. Also, it's overcast. So the crickets are singing love songs while Eleanor naps. Apparently, one of Janelle's clients is in crisis - she's been on the phone with 'em for a while now, out on the back porch. Low tones. Crickets. Sunday afternoon.

Two days ago, I read at a poetry reading. Not my poetry. A friend's. It was sort of a post-modern stage performance. I was onstage. Except that it wasn't really a stage. I think I was the narrator. Yes, I was the narrator. He - my friend, the poet - kept calling me "the narrator." And so. As far as I could tell, the poem - er, play - was about a love affair between a girl and a boy. The poet was also in the play, as was his new girlfriend. In fact, that was the entire cast. I'm not sure what we were doing up there, any of us... After the show, I ducked out, purchased a solitary burrito on the pedestrian mall, and made it home before Eleanor went to bed. Then Janelle and I stayed up late, talking about funny things like plays that are poems and burritos that cost eight dollars.

04 September 2009

Some Loose Associations

Generosity: My friend Sarah made a quilt for Eleanor and sent it via U.S. postal service. It's a work of art. It's a real beaut.

U.S. Postal Service: Yesterday I started reading Bukowski's Post Office, his first novel. I'm glad I waited 'til after my career on the psychiatric unit came to an end to read this book.

Psychiatric unit: On Tuesday, after workshop (my latest story was 'shopped and batted around), over beer, another writer asked me to describe what it's like "doing psychotherapy." I tried.

Hawaii: The writer that asked me that was/is from Oahu. I told her, "I've always wanted to visit Hawaii."

Oahu: The opposite of Iowa, probably, in most every way. Iowa's all right. It's Iowa. It's what it is. I'm what I am. I'm not Walt Whitman.

Walt Whitman: This week, I covered "Song of Myself" and Ginsberg's "Howl" in my creative writing class. It was mania in action. I think it went pretty well. I have no way of knowing. (How do you know if you've moved someone's soul?)

Soul-moving: Yes. There it is - my goal as a creative writing teacher: To move souls, primarily, then to teach a few basic skills & give encouragement.

Generosity, Pt. II: It's not me that's moving souls, it's the poems we're reading. Somethin' to give 'em hope in this here Kali Yuga wrapped in a Kali Yuga.

Kali Yuga: I read this on a t-shirt last weekend and laughed: "Sometimes life hands you a Hell sandwich."

Generosity, Pt. III: Then again, sometimes life hands you a person who hands your kid a work of art, poetry in thread.

03 September 2009


A month or so ago, on the eve of my departure for Napa Valley, a huge storm blew through town. It knocked off the electricity for almost the entire night, blew our moped over, tore windows open, and flooded the streets. The next morning, it looked like a Golem had come smashing through the neighborhood. Limbs were down. Trashcans were out in the street. Patio furniture was upended. But most curious: this green marker was found hanging - as you can see - from a tree outside our kitchen window. It's been there ever since, suspended from a tiny branch about twelve feet from the ground.

02 September 2009

Steve Willoughby

Someday I'm gonna be rich.
Someday I'm gonna be bona fide.
Someday I'm gonna be
just like Steve Willoughby,
but today I'm - simply- I'm simply terrified. I'm terrified.

Someday I'm gonna be bright.
Someday I'm gonna be smarter- smarter than smart.
Someday I'll know something
just like Larry King,
but today I - simply - I don't know where to start. I don't know where to start.

Someday I'm gonna be hot.
Someday I'm gonna be bigger, bigger than big.
Someday I'll be adored
just like Wally George,
but today I - simply - I ain't worth a fig. I ain't worth a fig.

Someday I'm gonna be good.
Someday I'm gonna be virtuous.
Someday I'll be a paragon
like Louis Farrakhan,
but today I - simply - I'm a mess. I'm in a mess.

Someday I'm gonna be cool.
Someday I'm gonna kick major major butt.
Someday I will transcend
just like Jane's Addiction,
but today I - simply - I'm in a rut. I'm in a rut.

Someday I'll get a career.
Someday I'm gonna stop wasting all my time.
Some day I'll gain a skill
just like Deborah Norville,
but today I - simply - I ain't worth a dime. I ain't worth a dime.

-Vic Chesnutt