Friday, May 29, 2009
The White Fires of Venus
by Denis Johnson
We mourn this senseless planet of regret,
droughts, rust, rain, cadavers
that can't tell us, but I promise
you one day the white fires
of Venus shall rage: the dead,
feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each
of us will have his resurrected one to tell him,
"Greetings. You will recover
or die. The simple cure
for everything is to destroy
all the stethoscopes that will transmit
silence occasionally. The remedy for loneliness
is in learning to admit
solitude as one admits
the bayonet: gracefully,
now that already
it pierces the heart.
Living one: you move among many
dancers and don't know which
you are the shadow of;
you want to kiss your own face in the mirror
but do not approach,
knowing you must not touch one
like that. Living
one, while Venus flares
O set the cereal afire,
O the refrigerator harboring things
that live on into death unchanged."
They know all about us on Andromeda,
they peek at us, they see us
in this world illumined and pasteled
phonily like a bus station,
they are with us when the streets fall down fraught
with laundromats and each of us
closes himself in his small
San Francisco without recourse.
They see you with your face of fingerprints
carrying your instructions in gloved hands
trying to touch things, and know you
for one despairing, trying to touch the curtains,
trying to get your reflection mired in alarm tape
past the window of this then that dark
closed business establishment.
The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park music
converged on by ambulance sirens
and they understand everything.
They're on your side. They forgive you.
I want to turn for a moment to those my heart loves,
who are as diamonds to the Andromedans,
who shimmer for them, lovely and useless, like diamonds:
namely, those who take their meals at soda fountains,
their expressions lodged among the drugs
and sunglasses, each gazing down too long
into the coffee as though from a ruined balcony.
O Andromedans they don't know what to do
with themselves and so they sit there
until they go home where they lie down
until they get up, and you beyond the light years know
that if sleeping is dying, then waking
is birth, and a life
is many lives. I love them because they know how
to manipulate change
in the pockets musically, these whose faces the seasons
never give a kiss, these
who are always courteous to the faces
of presumptions, the presuming streets,
the hotels, the presumption of rain in the streets.
I'm telling you it's cold inside the body that is not the body,
lonesome behind the face
that is certainly not the face
of the person one meant to become.
Posted over on Poets.Org
by Denis Johnson
Here in the electric dusk your naked lover
tips the glass high and the ice cubes fall
against her teeth.
It's beautiful Susan, her hair sticky with gin,
Our Lady of Wet Glass-Rings on the Album Cover,
streaming with hatred in the heat
as the record falls and the snake-band chords begin
to break like terrible news from the Rolling Stones,
and such a last light—full of spheres and zones.
you're just an erotic hallucination,
just so much feverishly produced kazoo music,
are you serious?—this large oven impersonating night,
this exhaustion mutilated to resemble passion,
the bogus moon of tenderness and magic
you hold out to each prisoner like a cup of light?
Posted over on Poets.Org
On The Nature of Space Travel
she asked if he believed in aliens
with soft flesh he asked & machines
(she writes codes for applications
tells the angels she is afraid of miracles)
no—he says not wanting to be glib or dismissive
the speed of light is one hundred eighty six thousand
miles per second—per second & the closest star system
is four point three seven light years away forty one point five
trillion miles away—Eridani is the closest star known to have a planet
it is ten point five light years away—more than a hundred trillion miles away
(she cannot sleep at night so she naps in the day dreaming of poems she cannot
remember feeding grackles cubes of her flesh even as the starlings starve)
& the light we see from the stars is all in the past—old light— the mechanics
of distance creates doubt that UFOs are ships even piloted by machine
(o the boredom—the boredom—asleep for tens of thousands of
years only to show up at a place that may not even be)
our fastest achieved speed is approximately forty thousand
miles per hour equaling about eleven miles per second
but let us remember that in quantum mechanics
(how she leaves her body to float alone)
how separated atoms can communicate
at great distances—incredible ones
in a seeming vacuum
(what seams stitch
& unstitch loss)
& the possibility
the energy it takes to move
a single atom into a separate time
(how would you know oblivion if you saw it
a woman walking in a mist with her eyes swollen her face blue)
how wormholes may exist but how to move a machine (how many atoms)
how to withstand the gravitational forces or pick the location in which you drop
(she eats too much & cannot get far enough away from all those numbers—hours years)
perhaps she says they sent out nanomachines that built larger machines on arrival
we look into the past—remember—how would they know which star to choose to
develop the technology—to pick a star—to see us before we were already gone
(she calculates the arc of a trajectory that will never decay
pushes the hair from her face & watches a child fall)
what can travel at the speed of light but light itself
were some consciousness to develop—become
a light—conscious light—time does not
exist at the speed of light he says
a consciousness of light—if
UFOs are, they are light
balls of light
from one end of a universe
to another & across & thru &
yes he says a quantum light consciousness
is not only possible but likely the only means
& is it alien—no (she says i must believe & he sees
her close enough to want the light to come—to be—home)
© 2009 Richard Lance Williams January 25 on the nature of space travel (light delivered)
or how she orders a bowl of soup
& a mini-loaf of rustic bread
(how they call a loaf
of bread rustic)
the clouds have
how his cuts
the harder damage to
the deeply hidden heart
& even then one imagines
some thing blocked—a thin
layer of cells pierced by a thinner
layer—an onion tissue tiny tear & all
the blood goes pouring out & the waiter
calls his manager & she calls an ambulance
was it oxtail or French onion or how they used
the proper form of address & it is all about presentation
funny how it all fits when it no longer matters the tines like fingers
like lightning like the clouds falling the steam enfolding silver
once a woman told her that she needed to be less obscure
& how she thought it was plain enough what it was
or if you remember that it is all remembered
the rust of a ghost pulling apart a loaf
of skin & fat the scraps of time
tossed toward a black hole
a napkin & one thin mint
one thin sheaf of gold
© 2009 Richard Lance Williams January 26 Monty P & the Wrestler meet H. Heisenberg
to swell to press against dreams of limitations
(ones & zeros added or subtracted
the location of X on multiples
of Y as in a voice X goes
out—swells & each
individual ear Y
is ear Y1
the same as Y2
of course not he says
but is X only X & not X1~
or does Wittgenstein pull heaven down
one heaven at a time one moment being sewn
as if they were beads floating on a long glass rope
or how one can be only one or zero—this is the moment—
the moment—not in the plural—no moments—but only this long one)
swelling—already flat against it—or how we say
change proves the existence of the plural—
birds—you me—this ocean—that star
sophistry or imagine a world
without seams & this is
that world this time
in its swell
© 2009 Richard Lance Williams
Posted over on Ric Williams
The Sky Has Fallen and The Night Has Broke
When the torque of my desire becomes unbearable
left hand closes and the clutch disengages
motorcycle lifts up on its frame
and somehow I rise free of this earth
V-twin spins at five thousand rpm
against nothing at all with nowhere to catch
just a gyroscope in these loops of light blue
rock steady on invisible rollercoaster tracks
Momentum pushing to almost tumbling
this rush of motion on and gone
Is it distance covered?getting past the atmosphere?
or time?when night begins to drop?
at dark's edge there's always the choice;
take everything for just what it is,
rein it in and head home
Or make another attempt to crack the dome
set off the magnesium in the saddlebags
become a comet across the firmament
hoping someone is there to see it
W. Joe Hoppe
After being knocked off his Harley for a second time (neither accident even remotely his fault) W. Joe has given up motorcycles (sadly, regretfully, tragically) and now bombs around in a '66 Barracuda. He's been honored to appear in the first Gumball issue here and here and again in the Spring 2001 issue. Still living in Austin, TX. Still teaching at Austin Community College. Still inspired by his son Max. Still has the best tattoos of anyone Gumball has ever published. Happy Good Success Fortune Thank You.
Posted over on Gumball Poetry
BY CLAY SMITH AND RIC WILLIAMS
Albert Huffstickler displayed the human heart and soul in all its naked neediness. In his brilliantly straightforward poetry, Huff offered us a strong cup of deep compassion, never judging the madness or loneliness we experience in the darkness of our shame as anything other than our shared condition. No contemporary poet surpassed Huff in his tender, clear-eyed portrayal of human persistence in the face of the everyday abuses we suffer upon this rock we call home. He spoke directly to the heart that Faulkner knew. Huff persisted in believing we could be better to each other, that we all deserved love and respect, that we all mattered.
That much was apparent at Huff's memorial service on Monday night at Hyde Park Theatre. An overflow crowd, so large not everyone could get into the theatre, listened as Huff's friend and fellow poet Joe Hoppe got up and recounted that Huff was "a good example of how to be a poet, and how to be out in the world," which sometimes seem like mutually exclusive things. Huff's daughter Margaret Huffstickler, a singer who lives in Washington, D.C., sang a cycle of songs that her father had written (when she was a master's candidate in voice, she asked him for some lyrics and he said, characteristically, "I don't write to specifications.") Some 25 poets read from their own work or from Huff's.
Below are comments gleaned from the memories of poets and friends who knew Huff and his work. Rather than give you the facts of Huff's life, facts that no matter how detailed would not show you who he was or why he is so loved and why he matters in American letters, we give you these poetic impressions that speak to a deeper truth than the facts. It is what all good poetry does.
Beverly Spicer: More often than not, I'd be going about my business at the Julio's Complex, as we called the district of restaurants, grocery, and coffee shops at 43rd and Duval just across from his apartment on Avenue H, and Albert would be sitting outside of Dolce Vita having his smokes and coffee, drawing and writing. He'd see me from afar, and then toss back his head and emit that wry, almost screeching chuckle of his. I might make some dancing gesture from across the street in return, or roll my eyes dramatically, or just yell, "Alberto!" He had his periphery covered and knew us all, knew all about us. I loved him dearly -- that crusty, sometimes crude, incredibly eloquent, artistic soul.
Mark Smith: Huff was a poet: first, foremost, and only, a poet. He wrote constantly, compulsively, generating one, two, three, or more poems every single day for at least four decades. Many of Huff's poems are memorable, moving, powerful, but all of them are notable as an accomplishment of sheer will. Huff's life's work deserves a place among the achievements of other great outsider artists like Simon Rodia's Watts Towers or Howard Finster's Paradise Garden.
Ed Buffaloe: I first met Huff in 1968, when I was 17 and he was 41. At the time he was writing porno novels for $200 each, which seemed like an avant-garde sort of thing to do. He was also writing a lot of poetry, which was being published several times per year in ARX, a local small press magazine I was affiliated with. He didn't take much notice of me at the time, but I was in awe of him because I thought his poetry was some of the best we ever published. Huff was pretty much uneditable -- he didn't take advice from anyone regarding his poems. He knew exactly how he wanted them to be. One time he showed me a rejection letter from an editor, who told him if he would just delete the last line she would accept his poem. I read the poem and said, "Huff, she's right -- that last line is just an afterthought." But Huff said, "Nah, somebody else'll take it." And they did.
Diane Fleming: The last time I saw Huff was 10am, the day of his death. His bony knees held up the hospital blanket like a little tent. He had a tube in his nose. I wanted to say, "I love you," but I didn't. The first time I saw Huff was three years earlier on my first date with Larry Thoren. Larry brought me to Dolce Vita for coffee but his real plan was to "pass me by" Huff for his approval. In between my first and last meetings with Huff, I'd visit him at his coffeeshop table and he'd say, "Have you written any new stories? Have you started a novel yet? Are you sending out poems and stories? It's important, you know, to keep things out there." When I told him I was in graduate school, he snarled, "John finished that Masters program and his writing lost its grit." Huff's writing never lost its grit. He wrote aching sweet poems, his words taut and resonant like violin strings just twanged.
Larry Thoren: One of the things that always impressed me about Huff was his generosity. For a while in the 1990s, I seemed to make a point of being broke. Many was the time he asked me if I could use a twenty. He did the same for kids in the 'hood with rings in their noses and lips who were far from home. I was part of a group of poets who met with Huff regularly for several years to write and discuss our poems. If you listen to work by any of us today, whether you think the poems good or bad, you won't hear Huff's voice! To me this shows not only generosity, but the legacy of a true teacher. He wanted us to write our poems, not his.
W. Joe Hoppe: Art got Huff's everything. He lived a fairly pared-down existence outside of his writings and drawings and paintings. Huff had an incredible inner life, and he was able to transfer much of that into his art. Huff balanced his poems between his seeking side -- he was always searching for who he really, really truly, was -- and his compassionate, observational side, which caused him to identify and feel for and with every other sentient being on the planet. So here was a guy who knew what he was after, seemed to be pretty sure he'd never find it, and kept on writing.
Rob Lewis: What looms largest in my thinking is his presence among Austin's poets, artists, and dreamers of all kinds as an elder. By that I mean much more than simply an unconventional senior citizen who wrote poetry and painted and bearded the dominant paradigm. Huff was an elder such as a tribe might have, or a church, or a younger sibling. He was every bit as real, direct, and fundamental as the aneurysm that killed him. It will take many, many of us to fill his shoes.
Posted over on The Austin Chronicle
Deep in my chest
in my balloon pink lungs
little bronchiole trees
drop their fruit of oxygen
into a rushing bloodstream river
Lately, though those trees
bloom in bilious mucus
spring green in parallel
with the oak blossoming
in the frontyard
and all over town
Pollen deep on the cars each morning
enought to write my last will and testament
finger plowing over the sticky hood
and the conviction
that it just might be
my last willful act
if I understand such a scrawl
I walk through morning's green clouds
trying to be cool and nonchalant
suave as Jean-Paul Belmondo
hoping my lungs will open
like the door of a parked Citroen
with the keys left in the ignition
then roar down shady roads
flanked by trees in planted rows
shoot a hole in the sun
with the revolver from the glove compartment
let the light leak out
to make the pavement behind me shine.
W. Joe Hoppe
...............from his book GALVANIZED
It's a rosy
rosy view sometimes
looking back full of onlys
if I had done the right thing
then the right things will have happened
and the right occurrences occurred
A rosy view without any guarantees
and sometimes to think that
your acting alone
could make things come out right,
it's a damned high expectation
Like on a cold March day in Minneapolis
home in the afternoon
after calling in sick
sitting in front of the oven
in a robe and long underwear
with the fan on the oven door
blowing out over the kitchen
since the landlord won't turn on the heat
until everyone in the building's paid rent
and sometone's trying to fit a key
into the lock of my front door
for a long time
a long time, I can't stand it any more
and out on the doorstep
is a big drunk retarded guy
with that wine drunk sweet sick smell
all red-faced bleary
from the cold
from the wine
from being mentally retarded and lost
and drunk and wandering
on this grey day
still bitter winter
in a stained parka............
W. Joe Hoppe
..........from his book GALVANIZED
Another February grey day when the sky sucks
any color that isn't deeply ingrained
right out of everything
an eighteen wheeler's load of naked carrots
startles colorful and vulnerable
in the open air
chocked full heaping over the truck's confines
the incredible orange heap rolls and slides
some slip beneath the swaying traffic lights
like goldfish gasping to the asphalt
and the urgent awareness for a thing out of place
rises with barely any invitation.
Though I've seen carrot mounds piled for miles
filling the air with Bugs Bunny perfume
in January in the Rio Grande Valley
swollen with lifelong accumulations
of soul and air and water and electrical emissions
all the things in that region
that provide leukemia
to one child in five
Not washed not waxed nor boxed or bagged
hauled far from home in open trucks
colorful skins soaked in exhaust
scratch follows itch of chemo'ed bald head
always highways north
so far from their homes
so close to mine.
W. Joe Hoppe
............from his book GALVANIZED
Painting by Patrick Mock
When The Devils Cry Out
"Will the angels be feared of the crying out devils?"
Max Henry Hoppe, age 5
"Every single angel is terrible."
Ranier Maria Rilke
Why do devils make that noise--
is it simply agony or supplication?
Maybe to angels there is no difference
as they wheel about their orderly dominions
throned and generally singing praises.
Every single angel is terrible to us
their voices likely to burst our hearts
would a devil regard one as some long lost equal?
its presence a terror no more awful
than anything else encountered so far?
But what sense can angels make of devils?
Would common ground be brightly denied
and heads turned away from the unthinkable?
Or do angels ache to make connection
to back up their songs with action?
Do they wonder if being
unable to help
makes them less
than full fledged angels?
Do they hover around us
luminous with terrible need?
W. Joe Hoppe
..........from his book GALVANIZED.
W/ debts to Robert Creely and Denis Johnson
The bums raise their heads
from their knees and smile,
stagger out into the traffic
with arms wide open
saluting wonder and proclaiming beauty
when Denis Johnson's Cadillac drives by
Romanticized in lipstick red reflections
sex waves over the fenders
like the glossiest valentine,
"Back in '74 this blonde outside Alpine
rides me all the way to Phoenix
in a car just like that."
Heroic figures you can't ignore
eighteen and a half feet of '73 Eldorado
five thousand pounds five hundred and one cubic inches
of mighty V-8
power steering power brakes power windows
power ragtop, power power power
on the cusp of emissions laws and gas crises
why not buy a goddamn big car
goddamn big American car,
enter the darkness that surrounds us
with firm purchase,
the few who'll listen to urge me on with drive
keep the top folded back
and find the highway luminous.
W. Joe Hoppe
.............from his book GALVANIZED
Each Second, Shining
Stainless steel hex nuts
falling like raindrops
to a polished concrete floor
in a black and white photograph
silver gelatin with mile-deep resolution
a sculpture of happen stance
--but such effort--
These moments dwelt within
these images framed
must clench each brilliant instant.
W. Joe Hoppe
.............from his book GALVANIZED.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
Bard as Barfly
Well, man, who in Hell is Hank?
Jesus “H” Christ?
Ain’t ‘enery the VIIIth, is it? Why not “Chuck the Bukk”?
Since when does anybody have
To read the Balloon man,
Crying “far ‘n’ wee.”?
I just dunno.
Cuz, ya see, Chukk ain’t
‘Specially not now,
You’d want to get close to,
(Harty, har, har, haaar!)
Words were half-shit even
When chewed over with
Bar pickle ‘n’ boiled egg,
And the drink, O shit, shit, shit,
Made his pee stink the barflies
Were leery to take him on.
Why d’ya wanna come to Chuck?
Poetry ‘aint a drinkin’ game ‘n’
Arm wrestling on the bar’s
Much more the bent style
Than light-toed fisticuffs after
Chugging a jugga Lightnin.’
Yetto, yetto, yettobeapoet?
Y’are apoet if you make it
With words or concrete and
Line it up in bits ‘n’ bobs
An’ if you go to all those
Joints to sling your piece,
Jus’ be sure to have yourself
A veryveryvery good time,
A WaltWhitman blast of self,
You’ll be havin’ the time
An’ nobodddy else.
Glenn be the bard I’d like
To get drunk with,
But go get shitfaced with Chukk
If thou wishest. Just don’t let
The pathos get mixed with the piss.
David Gilmour May 2009
Old Cars and New Babies
Cold morning still dark and your breath is visible
there's a grinding under the hood
that makes your eyes see somewhere else
a gap in the flow of everything
just big enough to crawl inside
urging for that engine to catch
before the battery falters
hopeful with each whirr of the starter
while that exact right moment of combustion
skids and falters
like plastic grocery bags down a windy alley
Each breath this infant takes
could come out either way
with what seems like hours of crying
under his belt, under my skin
and cinched up my back tight
a break in the action yawn
could just as well end in a yell
or a sigh sometimes a gurgle even
and once forked off on a different path
will momentum carry it onwards
or back into inconsolable mysteries?
I catch each breath
and hold it
hoping his starter will catch
and compel him back to calm.
W. Joe Hoppe
........from his book GALVANIZED
It’s been years since I stroked air to fly
pushing off without the aid of wings
to rise above the humming wires
through gossamer and troubled flutterings
skies break from the coast of the everyday
red roofs green pastures capture living below
while I transcend, featherless,
rainless grasses, shriveled kale, bloomed out morning
glories and reach towards touchable stars
the soundest advice pipes weakly from the ground
but not once do I tumble to the sidewalk
thud hard against their reasonable concerns
even now sometimes I rise
pressing foot to pavement to catch the air again
by W. Joe Hoppe, with Brass Tacks
Posted over on Qarrtsiluni
Nightwalking in the Camp of the Nuns
Omega Retreat Center and Benedictine Convent
I can't help but feel like a beast
walking down this long dark corridor
red Exit sign at the far end
my claws clicking
on the shiny floor
I'm taller within solitude
the muscles in my shoulder roll
past dorm rooms sleeping
like miniature villages
To tiger through the burning night
rain into steam beneath my feet
put the ex in that Exit sign
there's more than one way out now
Haloed by black buzzard wings
a diligent soap smell
sticks to my hands
from the doorknobs I'll shake
in a frog-throbbing night
in a cricket melee
I'll roll tokens under every door
to be redeemed at the festival of dreams
Then bend the rattling A/C ducts
into a thrill-filled carnival ride
for the sisters to stand till dawn in line
But now a face in a communal mirror
blurry and human
bolted right to the wall
by a fluorescent bulb
W. Joe Hoppe
Posted over on Gumball Poetry
W. Joe Hoppe (born Dec. 24, 1961, in Ypsilanti, Michigan) is an American poet, short story writer and filmmaker who was at the forefront of the performance poetry scene in Austin, Texas.
He grew up in Jackson, Michigan, where he worked as a janitor in a tool & die shop and as a gas station attendant. He received a degree in communications from the University of Michigan in 1984 then headed to Minneapolis to pay off his debt to society by working in shelters. In Minneapolis he also got into the international Xerox zine scene co-editing Bitter Obscurity, Journal of Erickson's Stage 61/2, and Pocketful of Mirrors. He was a regular at readings and performances at the Rifle Sport Gallery, Circus to the Trade, and Speedboat Gallery.
He married P.S. Monear in 1990, one year after coming to Austin, Texas. Hoppe quickly became an important member of the nascent performance poetry scene that grew up around Chicago House coffee house, where Hedwig Gorski and Raul Salinas often performed together. He was a student of famed poet Albert Huffstickler and a member of Austin’s premier poetry group, The Blue Plate Poets, which included Marlys West, Pasha, Tammy Gomez, Mike Henry and Robert Lee. Hoppe received a master’s degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from the University of Texas in 1994, and subsequently received a James A. Michener Post-Graduate Fellowship from the Texas Center for Writers (now Michener Center). Through excellent timing, he was able to use the fellowship to stay home and be a house dad to his son Max, born in 1995.
Joe has published about a dozen chapbooks through Lucky Tiger Press. His poems have appeared in Analecta, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, Di*Verse*Cities, Nerve Cowboy, and Utter. His poems have been anthologized in Stand Up Poetry and How to be This Man, and on the Web at gumballpoetry.com. Joe’s one-of-a-kind poetry video, “$5200 MSTA” has been shown at the Dallas Video Festival, San Antonio Underground Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, and VideoEx in Zurich, Switzerland.
His books include a collection of short stories, Harmon Place (1991) from Primal Press, and a poetry collection, Galvanized (2007), from Dalton Publishing.
Hoppe currently teaches English and Creative Writing at Austin Community College.
Sunday Morning at the Cadillac Ranch
Going to the Cadillac Ranch
counts just the same as going
This fact was revealed to me
by the way the sun shone down
on the chrome cross speaker support
embedded in the center
of the rear window shelf
in a ’58 Coupe de Ville
By the fact that every single radio
in every single dashboard
of every single Cadillac
was tuned to an AM Christian station
By the spray painted jesusfishes
and the unsullied solid gold
of the most beauteous ’54
a chariot swung low and slow
waiting to roll on into
that great by and by
Sun’s rays jacobsladder through the clouds
in perfect parallel with ten vintage Cadillacs
nosed down into the North Texas plain
buried in cement on which to build a church
As our prayers get sent up along
of a spray can not quite empty
hissing along with the windswept choir
The Prophet Hazel Motes said:
“Nobody with a good car
needs to be justified.”
nor any of this neither.
W. Joe Hoppe
Posted over on the
Austin Community College Website
I-10 in West Texas
top flat hills
shrugging their shoulders
and nudging eachother
into a lackadaisical daisy dance
Triceratops and T-Rex
regal and bright
in the rest-stop mensroom’s
full wall mosaic
reward us for getting this far
Sleeplessness perches on the headboard
like a big-eyed rabbit skull
on the lookout for toothy thoughts
Sand in my shirt
rolling over a strange mattress
where space aliens lay down to earth
over fifty years ago
Morning and the sun shines brightly
offering no resistance
California Mojave Desert—Hwy 40
Spread my arms on out forever
while stones thorns and spikes
bid me watch my step
Even as my eyes are drawn
out and around my skull
Ringed by mountains’ dark promise of shade
somehow the sun can’t touch me
W. Joe Hoppe
Posted over on the Austin Community College Website
More disturbing even than the spare hair around my ears
shadowing my broad tattooed back and
pined away from what used to be a kinghell widow’s peak
it’s this hairy eyeball I’m regarding things through these days
The one cartooned on mensroom walls
in every club in town
three four five namechanges ago
Cannibal Club Foot Electric Liberty Lounge
The one copped from behind the straw boss’s mirrored shades
from the substitute teacher trying to be tough
the P.O. not tolerating no mess
and my old girlfriend’s dad who I couldn’t take serious
How did it come to this?
riding herd hard on my own students who
come to class exhausted whose perspective I lose
looking down from my lectern with bad faith assumed
Or my wondrous son with his far focused mind
each day when he bursts from his third grade door
as often as not my words rein him back in
main concern to make sure he’s not forgot anything
This hairy eyeball does not sit well within my skull
and I am way too happy to share my irritation
mantle of authority wearing like a hair shirt
I’ll trash once the pilgrimage bus pulls away
Then don a holey Rat Fink T
first drawn the day after I was born
I love Rat Fink like an autistic twin
treasuring his image
Years of carrying his rubber likeness on a keychain
broke it down through totemry and hard use
These days my keys are wrangled
by a glass eyeball with a green iris
That dangles in the airconditioner vent of my old truck
rides in the pocket of my coat
thumbed like a lucky marble
lucid and blessedly hairless
W. Joe Hoppe
Posted over on the Austin Community College website
Painting by Salvador Dali
For Us Toiling Away
Probably Not to Become Rich and Famous
Then there's times
in our deeply digging
submerged so far that
the domes of our heads arise
from our self proclaimed tunnels
only enough to furrow the earth's surface
like Bugs Bunny
we take a wrong turn at Tucumcari
The rivers of ourselves
not to connect up with bigger rivers
or form deltas or gulfs or well known tides
once we gain the boundless ocean
But manifest as something closer
to the Mighty Okavango
flowing off into the Namib Desert
finally engulfed by surrounding sands
Where just before fading into that wasteland
a jungle oasis crops up
supportive of hippopotami, rhinoceros, babboons,
crocodiles, fish in the middle of the desert
the only elephants for a thousand miles
W. Joe Hoppe
Posted over on Gumball Poetry
What Are You Doing This Saturday Night?
I'll bring you a bouquet of bananaslugs
wash salt off your snuffbox with sweet gasoline
obscure your porchlight with a pawnshop oyster
and darken your doorstep with romantic intentions
I'll slather your sidewalk with Burma Shave
coat your lawn in a deep pocketed london fog
prevaricate your daddy with a jar of cigars
and a mystery utensil meant just for your mom
We'll bounce off on two wheeled shoeleather soul
bursting forth on the evening like soda pop angels
in a broken drum roll just as far as it'll go
to find ourselves golden in the warm donut dawn
W. Joe Hoppe
Posted over on Gumball Poetry
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
John Korn Interview
John Korn began writing poetry around 2002. He grew up and still lives in Pittsburgh PA. He worked in a second hand store for three years and is currently a social worker. John draws and paints on occasion, is interested in digital film making, and would like to attempt different forms of story telling, audio, visual and written word.
IAI: You grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The "P" in Pittsburgh must stand for poet because when I was going to college there, there were poets all over the place. What is it about Pittsburgh that makes one want to be a poet? Why did you become a poet?
John Korn: I guess there are many poets here. I see fliers for poetry readings and workshops and have been invited. But honestly most people I know are not poets. So I would not know why there are many here. I kind of stumbled into poetry. When I was younger I would draw and paint. I liked making things with my hands. Later I got interested in story telling. When I was a teenager I remember writing some poetry, but this quickly developed into writing stories. However, they were not very good, but it did help me sharpen some skills with imagery and symbolism. I tried narrative for awhile, and took a creative writing class in college. Even though the focus in this class was fiction the professor asked us to write some poems which I did. I eventually showed these poems to a friend, and he recommended that I submit them to an online magazine called The Hold. I was published there. After that I began reading a few small press poets. There were a few that really got my attention and I began writing poetry frequently for some time.
IAI: Pittsburgh poets seem loyal to the 'Burgh and write about its streets and bridges and the dialect—Pittsburghese. Is Pittsburgh your muse?
Korn: I can't speak for other poets from this area. Pittsburgh certainly makes an impression I suppose. Yes, there are many bridges and streets crowded with old style homes. Lots of which are set on top of large hills. Streets winding around mountains. Some streets seem to be in urban areas and one turn could send you up some narrow road into a heavily wooded area. The slopes in southside are pretty surreal and scary to drive on. Lots of areas look very surreal -- to me at least. Rich areas and poor areas are often side by side. Also there is a lot of local history. I tend to focus on small stories --things like urban legends and just strange little anecdotes and stories I heard via word of mouth, stories by regular people. It's a small city. Some parts of it feel like a small town. There is certainly a Pittsburgh accent. I don't know if that inspires me, but it is a strange accent. Mostly even the people from here mock it in a cartoonish way. I love Pittsburgh. I wouldn't say Pittsburgh is my muse; I don't think I have a muse, but you can't live in a place for so long and not be inspired by it.
IAI: If you could hang a poster of a poet on your wall—like how teenagers hang up posters of rock stars and actors—what poet would that be? Why?
Korn: Oh man. I don't know. Probably Albert Huffstickler. When I think of Albert Huffstickler I kind of laugh to myself because he has a good sense of humor in his poems even when dealing with brooding content.
IAI: Do you remember the first poem you wrote?
Korn: Not really. I remember a few I wrote in grade school, but it was only because I had to. I remember the first one I wrote for college; it was about a guy taking a walk during the fall season and finding a dead man under some leaves. He took the dead man home and made him soup and fed it to him. The man came back to life. That's all I remember. The dead man's name was Jim and that was the title of the poem -- Jim.
IAI: What do you hope to accomplish as a poet?
Korn: I honestly feel like moving into other mediums often. But before I do I would like to write a series of poems that tell a loose non linear narrative maybe following a group of people in a small city such as Pittsburgh. So I guess your questions about Pittsburgh have come full circle in this interview. It does influence my writing, yes.
John Korn's new book of poetry, Television Farm, is available at amazon.com.
Interview posted over on Immunization Against Invisibility
Painting by Salvador Dali
"Story of My Haunted Head"
Yes. I work in a second hand store.
There are many regular customers
and I've gotten to know them.
One is a man about forty-something
short and chubby and sometimes
has a beard, dark brown with flecks of gray.
His hair is long and parted on the side.
He often runs his fingers in it.
He looks very kind and intelligent
but once you start talking to him
you see he's very much a child.
Perhaps something happened to him.
Maybe once he had the mind of an adult
but some accident trapped him
into being forever ten years old.
He always has an older man with him.
A guardian who is obviously his friend
and who takes him around to places.
The child man always buys very random
things. Mostly knick knacks. Old bowling trophies
with other people's names on them.
Tacky tourist ashtrays from Mexico City.
A small chair for dolls.
Ugly homemade lopsided vases.
He'll often call me over.
"John," he'll say.
I'll find him pointing at something on a shelf.
Like a fishbowl filled with colored gravel.
And he'll say, "Man, look at that. That's nice.
How much is that?"
I normally sell him things really cheap.
Because I like him.
I'll say, "Aw, that? That's fifty cents."
"Aw, man," he'll say. "Can't go wrong with that."
I'll ask him what he's gonna do with it.
He'll say something like, "Well, you take that home
and put it on a shelf...
and there you go!"
He'll stand with his thumbs tucked into his belt.
Once he bought this strange ball.
It looked like it was carved from a white stone
and it had brass straps wrapped around it
and screwed into place. Like a grid.
If you were a kid
and you got a hold of this ball
it would possibly be a magic stone.
I asked him what he thought it was.
He said he didn't know.
I asked him what he was going to do with it.
He said, "Well with something like this
what you do is you take it home
and first you have a couple of beers
and then you place it on a table
and then you got your friend
sitting across from you
and you roll it around
and you talk about what it could be, you know,
and by the end of the night
who knows what it could be.
Could be anything you know."
He often talks about drinking beer.
I imagine that he lives
in a Charlie Chaplin type shack house
on a hill. Inside maybe he has a bed and a stove
but mostly tables and shelves.
And he places these things on them.
He picks them up and examines them.
Nods his head. I don't think it's about
the object so much but more
about where he's going to place it.
Like there are these empty spaces
on the mantles and he constantly needs
to go and search for something
to fill that space. Maybe sometimes
things get crowded and he has to go
and throw some things away.
And on and on. I often see him looking
at things he's about to buy
and maybe he's thinking,
"This will go next to the ashtray."
It's the arrangement.
The search. The temporary satisfaction.
Here's this trophy. Here's this figurine.
Here's this stone.
My head has become
People I've known and meet now.
Things I've said. And say
the foggy world of dreams.
Things I've wanted and want.
Desire. Fuck ups. I
think of my endless shelves
towering, reaching church cathedral heights.
Placing things here and there.
Years and still only working
on filling the bottom shelves.
Here's the old image of my father
home from work with his sleeves rolled up.
Here's my first dog put to sleep.
Here's me, eighteen, reaching up her white T-shirt.
These things were not connected when they happened
but somewhere along the line
they got placed side by side.
Here's my grade point average.
Here's my bank account.
Here's two months gone like that.
There you go.
You find things
you don't remember putting there.
Was it there for a reason
or did you just stick it there in a hurry
on your way to do something else?
What you do is
maybe you have some beer
and maybe I reach up into your blouse.
Kiss your eyelids.
And we talk about it
and by the end of the night
who knows what it is.
Could be anything.
You can't spend too much time here.
It's like a museum.
Then you move
before you become a display of dinosaur bones,
a surreal mystery of long ago.
Posted over on Faulty Mind Bomb
Humming to Huffstickler
I'm a old man with shattered nerves
sitting home alone on a snowy night in a house
that is scattered with junk that I'm too careless
to put away and I just ordered a fish sandwich
from the delivery place down the road.
The kid who brought it to my door had strange hair
and he talked too loud.
I'm having a hard time opening the ketchup packet
for these fries, which are half cooked and soggy.
My fingers are somewhat crooked, spotted,
and don't look like my fingers. I wish I would
at least have young hands. I dont care about the rest.
The TV is on. It makes sounds, it flickers images.
There are people on there doing things
and getting involved with one another.
I think about fish and lakes
and what it must be like to breath water.
I lose my appetite and after a few bites I end up drunk
on wine picking the keys of a small piano I keep
in the closet. Its a big closet, as far as closets go.
It has a light bulb, a chair, this piano, and a table
to rest my drink and ashtray on. I imagine as I play
fingers caressing the white teeth, a woman coming
up behind and maybe smoothing the hair on the back
of my head. As if to say: Go to sleep you dumb shit.
Then we'd lie down and I tell her: Your hair feels good
on my neck.
I try and find a woman from my past to fit this fantasy.
I can't find one. I end up using an old friend's girlfriend.
I like this closet. One end of the ceiling is lower
than the other. I might drag my bed in here.
I'll sleep. A small man in his small room alone.
I'll dream of a fish swimming through snowy air
down a street filled with lonesome late night places
and their late night people crying
under late night neon signs.
It's my soul you see. It gapes for air.
It goes by slow like a strange bird.
Posted over on Denver Syntax
Albert Huffstickler, of Austin, Texas, died on Monday, February 25, 2002. Here is an article from Susan Bright, editor of Plainview Press, sent to Stazja McFadyen, editor of Map of Austin, who passed it along to Sol Magazine with permission to re-publish. This article in its entirety, was written by Chuck Lindell, and appeared in the Austin American Statesman.
SUSAN BRIGHT: "Even though many of you don't know Huff, I did and we published a book of his titled "Wanda" -- This will give everyone a sense of him.
STAZJA MCFADYEN: "Huff earned the honor of being remembered."
Bard of Hyde Park Lived a Life of Everyday Poetry
Albert Huffstickler 1927-2002. By Chuck Lindell American-Statesman Staff, Wednesday, February 27, 2002
Drinking free coffee and smoking his beloved cigarettes, Albert Huffstickler reigned as poet laureate of Hyde Park -- a rumpled hometown fixture with piercing eyes whose work found a national audience.
Friends popping into Dolce Vita for a quick hello would receive his latest poem, fresh from the photocopier at the Fresh Plus grocery store. Strangers, feeling they knew Huffstickler through his writing, would stop by his table and talk. Poets sought advice from the man all knew as Huff.
"He was the grand old man of Austin poetry," friend and poet Joe Hoppe said.
After feeling poorly for the past year, Huffstickler, 74, entered St. David's Hospital on Sunday and died the next day from an aneurysm on his aorta. Tuesday morning, graffiti appeared on the rear of the Fresh Plus: "Long live Huff."
"This is a very tight-knit neighborhood, and Huff was a mainstay. He was an anchor," said Concetta Mastroianni, owner of Dolce Vita Gelato & Espresso Bar.
From national literary magazines to crudely photocopied 'zines, Huffstickler's work received wide distribution. He won two Austin Book Awards and was honored by the Texas Senate for his poetry in 1989. Still, the prolific writer often favored a more personal approach as he wandered the area around 43rd and Duval streets.
"He'd wake up during the night and go to his Selectric 2 typewriter and bang these things out," friend Dennis Cole said. "First thing in the morning, he'd go to Fresh Plus and make copies and carry them around. Then he'd page through and select one or two he wanted you to have."
If you don't like it, he'd say, throw it away.
Dolce Vita displays three binders stuffed with Huff's work. He'd visit repeatedly, shuffling with a cane because of nerve damage in his feet, for a cup of black coffee and a chair on the patio.
"He repaid us with his poetry and his presence." Mastroianni said. "We definitely came out the winners in the deal. We considered it an honor that he chose our place to hold court."
Huffstickler radiated a personality that Austin, for all its boomtown money and high-tech splendor, can still appreciate.
His clothes were so sloppy -- ink-stained shirts, missing buttons, baggy pants held up by suspenders -- that a police officer once tried to arrest him for vagrancy. Huff had to go into Quack's 43rd Street Bakery to get somebody to vouch for him. Of course, everybody inside knew him, Cole said.
Money wasn't a priority, either. Huffstickler wanted only enough to pay for his small apartment, selling artwork and more than 30 books and booklets. A $2,000 check for a recent book, "Why I Write in Coffee Houses and Diners," came as a shock.
"He said, 'I don't know if I like this or not. I may have to get involved with the IRS,' " Cole said.
When Huff's favorite outdoor bench disappeared with the closing of Hyde Park Bakery, a neighborhood newsletter printed his poem lamenting the loss. A new bench soon bore a plaque honoring Albert Huffstickler.
"I've never met anybody as dedicated to writing poetry as Huff was. That's what he lived to do," said Michael Ambrose, a friend who helped Huffstickler publish more than a dozen chapbooks, or booklets of poetry.
"His specialty was writing about ordinary people, ordinary working people, down-and-out people. And he felt himself part of that slice of humanity. The title of one of his chapbooks was, 'It's Lonely at the Bottom, Too,' "Ambrose said.
Huffstickler was born in 1927 in Laredo; a twin sibling who died at birth became the source of many poems. He married twice, divorced twice and had four children. Huffstickler arrived in Austin at age 37 and worked odd jobs for about eight years. Needing a steady income so he could focus on writing, he reluctantly found full-time work at the University of Texas Perry-Castañeda Library.
"It seemed to me that I would have to plant myself and proceed," he once wrote.
"He refined his life until it basically was about art," Hoppe said. "He would write or draw or paint. That's what he did."
A memorial will be held at 8 p.m. Monday at Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St. Dolce Vita, which will continue the Dec. 17 poetry readings honoring Huffstickler's birthday, is selling copies of his books to help pay for the funeral.
A RANT FOR THE UNREGENERATE
Maybe there's a kind of glory
in being damaged. Well, not in
being damaged but in keeping on,
knowing you don't know the rules,
don't know what to say half the
time, don't know how to act and
still going on with it, forging
rules where rules didn't exist,
faking it, ignoring the sleepless
nights when you go over and over
again the mistakes you made, the
shame of your ineptitude, the
damage to the heart because you
just can't get it right, just
can't seem to put on the right
face. Maybe somewhere where the
score is kept, you get marks for
facing the adversity, for stumbling
on when the path is lost and you
don't have a clue as to the next
step and know that the damage
is never going to change, you're
not going to get better, you're
just going to keep blundering on
never knowing enough but knowing
enough to know that you're not
doing it right and never will.
Yes, maybe somewhere that counts,
someone knows that you've given
it all you've got and nothing
more can be asked. Maybe...
Maybe when the final count is
made, you'll be awarded a crown,
slightly bent, falling down over
your face, not gold or brass
even, some synthetic or tin or
God knows what but a sign that
someone knows and someone cares
for all those hours of anguish
and sorrow and frustration,
knows that you did all you could
with what you had-which wasn't
much. Yes, maybe somewhere
you'll be welcomed when it's over
and greeted, if not as a hero,
then as someone who did what
he could and kept on, someone
who, hardly knowing what it was,
managed to keep his humanity,
his humanness. And maybe then
you'll know that out of all this
wreckage something grew that
was shining, shining with a
subtle, slightly twisted glory,
shining with a light that can
only be seen by those who know
what it means to go on when
there's no hope left and keep
going anyway. Yes, maybe there's
a place like that. Something
in my bones tells me there is
and tells me that there is a
special kind of glory in being
damaged beyond repair and knowing
and going on till the damage
itself is transmuted into a
holiness not of this world or
any other but holy just the same.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
(From a Dream)
Bob Hope told me
that Jesus Christ is born.
I believed him.
He was close enough to
the other side to know,
probably saw him come in.
About 99 years old,
wrinkled, he looked
like a prune with ears.
I hadn't thought about
either of them in years
but decided I'd ponder both.
After all, you don't get
messages from a prune
with ears often.
You don't get Hope often either--
even if it's Bob.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
She wanted me to see her
naked. She wanted me to
know the feel of her. We
had other things but she
wanted this too only there
were other considerations,
a husband who had his own
view of things and could
never be moved. And she
loved him and, more than
that, didn't want to do
him harm. And we both
hated secrets. But then
there was that other con
sideration, how we were
together and the need to
affirm that thing we had
in this specific way.
Well, we struggled and
struggled over it and
what finally happened was
this: we did it, got naked
one day -and touched,
that's all-and kept it
a secret, even from
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
Cigarettes tasting of face powder
evoke the Second World War.
They were from my cousin Grace's purse,
smoked as we sat in my Aunt Nell's kitchen
Grace was home for the weekend from Charlotte
where she worked.
I was in high school, discontented.
All the men were off to war: Grace's husband, Dan;
her sister's husband, Heman Queen; my father.
It was a distant war. More immediate were things
like starting to shave, starting to smoke,
why I couldn't talk to girls,
what I was going to do with my life.
Grace sensed my restlessness and seemed to understand,
perhaps because her own had never left her.
So we talked and exchanged confidences
through a pale blue haze of cigarette smoke,
An intimacy between us born of the time;
the sense, even this far. away from the war,
that things would not last: an imminence in the air
as of things about to die,
of men going off not to return or to return changed.
Grace liked living in Charlotte out from beneath
Aunt Nell's allknowing gaze.
She liked the bustle of the city, the sense of life,
the soldiers passing through.
Living there five days a week,
she was able to do pretty much what she wanted to
and hinted at intrigues and romances,
stopping short of details only because
of Aunt Nell's impeccable timing:
she seemed to sense when the conversation veered
in a certain direction
and appeared in the kitchen doorway
with an omniscient lock in her eye.
Only later did I realize that she had other reasons
for looking in on us from time to time.
Aunt Nell didn't think that, at sixteen,
I needed to know all that Grace did.
Aunt Nell didn't think that Grace, for all her years,
needed to know all that Grace did.
Grace wavered between intimidation and defiance
and sometimes they argued in soft voices
in the other room.
There was a haze of mystery surrounding this time.
Now, looking back, it seems pretty obvious
what Grace was doing in Charlotte
with all those young men on their way to the war
and just as obvious why Aunt Nell,
with her staid convictions, objected.
But then, it was more mysterious than that-
and more romantic:
a perfume hovered in the air not unlike
the fragrant smoke of cigarettes from a woman's purse.
I was a very young sixteen.
Once, a couple of years later,
something almost happened between Grace and me-
on a winter evening when I was home from college.
But it was snowing outside and Aunt Nell was inside
and there wasn't much time.
It might have saved me a lot of difficulties.
Grace was sensitive and gentle and loved me
very much in her way.
She'd have taught me without my knowing
and saved me countless blunders.
But, like so many times,
what should have happened didn't.
And what did happen is more factual,
less tinged with fragrance and mystery.
The war ended.
The men came home.
Grace got pregnant. I went off to school,
then married and dropped out.
Grace was never very happy. Later, she got sick
and Aunt Nell moved in and nursed her.
I don't think this world was enough for Grace.
Perhaps there is no world for people like her.
But if there is, it's a world of beautiful young men
going off to war never to be seen again,
of brief, intense meetings amid the bustle
of city streets, ending as quickly as they began;
a transient world, as fleeting, fragrant
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
You take what you can find when you're sixteen
in a small cotton mill town in North Carolina
and there's no one to point the way and there's
an emptiness in you that you can't identify
and a shyness that encompasses the world.
There was a woman named Sue whom I used to visit,
the aunt of a friend of mine, a middleaged woman,
to discuss Literary Guild novels, which was as far
as my excursions into literature
had led me at that time.
This was during World War II.
She had dark hair and eyes,
a lean face and her husband was in the Navy
and overseas and, looking back, I think
there was more on her mind
than Literary Guild novels but that's hindsight-
one of my more highly developed talents.
She lived with her mother,
whom we all called Grandma Cashion,
and she must have known something about Sue
that I didn't because she was always in and out
of the room when I was there-always polite
but never far away.
We discussed James Hilton and John Marquand and
other famous writers and Sue talked a lot about
how the people in town didn't understand anything
and how her life might have been different if
something had happened-
I never quite understood what.
But being there seemed to bring me closer
to the drama and that's what I wanted:
to be closer to the drama.
But I didn't quite know how to be.
I didn't quite know how to be anything.
So I talked to Sue and sometimes her niece,
Lucille, who was older than me
and pretty and worked in Charlotte
would be there and we would listen to pop music
on the record player and this seemed to help
that something very open and longing in me
that I had no name for and no way
of reconciling with anything around me.
Nights in the summer, I would go out
in the front yard and sit on the grass
and look up at the stars,
filled with longing and a terrible sense
Everything seemed beyond me.
Days when it was worst,
I would go over and talk to Sue
and feel her dark eyes move over me,
signaling that I was something special-
which was perhaps what I needed most to feel:
It was as though I had been set loose
in a strange country
without a map and not knowing the language.
That was growing up.
I didn't think it had ever happened
to anyone before.
And everything I felt intensely seemed to be
something you didn't talk about.
Except to Sue- a little bit. And Sue-
she worked at the mill and waited for her husband
to return, an event, she implied, that she did not
particularly look forward to.
And Grandma Cashion moved in and out of the room
unobtrusively, fixing this, rearranging that,
Sometimes their eyes would meet and clash but nothing was ever said.
Sometimes Sue's and my eyes would meet and something
else would happen
but I didn't really know what it was and never,
thanks to Grandma Cashion, got a chance to find out.
Well, one day the war was over
and Sue's husband came back
and they moved into their own house
and I never saw her again.
It was that simple.
I would never have imagined it after
so many Literary Guild novels
but it was just as simple as that.
Nothing was ever said. It just happened.
It was only much later, after many heartaches,
that I came to realize
that Life has little respect for form.
Any term paper that Life ever wrote would never rate
more than a C.
Its transitions are bad,
whole paragraphs are often juxtaposed
and more often than not, there is no conclusion.
If I had been writing this,
Grandma Cashion would have gotten sick
one day and been carried off to the hospital
and Sue and I would have been left in the house
But I didn't write it. Life wrote it.
And high school passed and I went off to college
without, as far as I remember, ever seeing Sue again...
and have not seen her to this day.
She's probably dead.
And still she was there-someone who saw, who sensed
a part of what was going on in me
at a very painful time.
A small thing.
And it was only much later, after many heartaches,
that I came to be grateful for small things.
It's only when you come to know that
you're not going to do or get everything you want
in this world that things come into perspective.
That's called growing up-something that Life,
with its bad transitions and disregard for form,
forces on you eventually.
And that's when you begin to see that small things
sometimes aren't small at all.
Seen from a distance, they can be very large.
It's like looking at a star for a long time
till all your attention is focused on it.
If you do that long enough,
it will start to move closer and get larger
till finally you're inside it and then
there's nothing anywhere but light.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
She was a fixture,
one of those people you pass on the street
so often you stop noticing.
They called her The Princess,
rumored to be an Indian Princess or descended
from one, it was never quite clear.
She rode her bicycle around town
peddling a one page paper, cheaply printed,
about twenty years old.
They called her Bicycle Annie too
but to me she was always The Princess.
Wizened, sundark, hostile,
she'd cuss you out at the drop of a hat.
She was something out of ancient mythology,
the crone, the hag; serenely vituperative,
she went her way from one end of town to the other
dealing out recriminations with an evenhanded malice.
I noticed her first in the 60s
but they say she'd been around much longer
and continued through the 70s, 80s, 90s.
Gradually, her mobility failed.
She pushed her bicycle instead of riding it,
then walked haltingly, feet bandaged.
Finally, she went to crutches but kept moving;
and, at the last she was relegated to a wheelchair,
rode cabs to the grocery, cussing the cabdrivers.
And then one day she was gone.
She'd been there so long I didn't notice
for a long time. There must have been a day
when she stopped, could go no longer
but I don't know when it was.
Now, today in a new century, I evoke her
as I walk on my cane to the grocery.
There's a kind of dark beauty in her memory.
And that's all I can say.
I wish I could say more.
She deserves more just for enduring,
for her constancy,
for the mark she left on us all
whether we know it or not.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
ANNIVERSARY (THE MONTH OF AUGUST)
I got back to Austin August 1, 1973.
Janie brought me up from Brownwood
where I'd been staying, for no apparent
reason. I had twenty dollars in my
pocket. Bob Bryant put me up and I
went to work for a place called Texas
Temporary Placement - day labor. It
was hot. It was dirty. It was un
inspiring. I was forty five. I was
on the verge of becoming a nobody.
Haunted by my failures, sweating out
my bodily fluids on construction sites,
Mayflower vans, delivery trucks, I
pondered my future again. Sweating
and stinking, I told myself over and
over, "I'm too old for this shit!"
Maybe I was too old for anything. I
had one skill - language. I'd never
understood how to parlay this into a
living. I had a gene missing. It
was a gene called How to Find a Decent
Job and Stick to It. The August sun
bore down on me like doom. I was
incompetent. I was ashamed. Looking
back along the road of my life, I
beheld a line of corpses, all of them
me. I worked hard. I was desperate.
Woodward Furniture hired me away from
the day labor office. I had a job.
It was as hot inside the factory as
outside. All my workmates were
Mexican Americans. We loved each
other. They thought I was funny.
My mother died. I flew back to
Florida for the funeral and came back
more depressed than ever, my last
refuge gone. My sister gave me $500.
I quit the furniture factory, wandered
around lost, looking at the ground.
All this time I'd been trying to
write. I was always trying to write.
It was the only identity point I
had in my whole chaotic world. I
met Valerie. I went broke again.
Back to day labor. My friend Cogswell
told me, "If you want to keep your
writing going, you've got to get away
from the pressure. To get away from
the pressure, you've got to get away
from the profit motive. Get a job
with the state, the feds or the
university. The university's best."
I narrowed my focus, kept applying
at the university till I got a job.
I told them I was a writer. That meant
I could type. Clerk Typist. The
rest is history: I stayed at the
university - with a couple of long
sabbaticals - and I wrote and narrowed
my focus to poetry, spent my vacations
in New Mexico and dreamed of moving
there, escaping to those wide, haunted
spaces but always came back. I had
a job here. I had an identity. I
kept writing, had back surgery,
emerged crippled, struggled on. I
learned what I'd always dreaded
learning: how to do the same thing
every day over and over and over. I
hit depressions, spaced out, I kept
writing, I kept working. Some days
I didn't know who I was. It didn't
matter. I was at work. Everybody
else knew who I was. One day, to
my surprise - and everyone else's -
I retired with full benefits. Today,
this very day, at 71, I sit on the
bench in front of the bakery, idle,
content. It's hot. I don't have
to work day labor. I don't have
much but I couldn't work if I wanted
to - Thank God. But I'm writing.
I'm writing because that's what I've
become, a writer, a poet. It's
enough. It's all I can do. But
a part of me is still back there
somewhere, sweating it out on a
construction site in the August sun
as lost as any human can be. He
looks up, sees me watching. He nods
wipes his forehead and, face contorted
with anguish, says, "Don't ever
forget me. I'm always here, always
a part of you. Forget me and
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
BEDBUGS (A reminiscence)
I keep thinking about the bedbugs,
the only time we ever had them,
which was the year of Pearl Harbor,
autumn and winter to be exact.
A long time ago. Here's how it was:
we had moved to Rings Mountain,
North Carolina that fall
when my father, an army engineer,
was shipped to the Philippine Islands
in a muchtoolate effort to prepare them
for the coming war with Japan.
We were staying with his parents
in a small four room house.
This was where we would wait out the war,
my mother, brother, sister and me.
It was a strange, disoriented time.
We'd already moved twice that year.
My mother, brother and I had one bedroom,
my grandparents the other
and my sister had a room to herself, the living room.
We were starting over again for the third time
in a strange school
and in a house that was much smaller
and more primitive after
the luxury of four bedroom,
central heated brick quarters on the post.
It was cold. It was cramped.
And then the bedbugs
courtesy of a thrift store mattress
my mother had bought
in Holyoke Massachusetts just before we moved.
They appeared suddenly, almost like magic.
We woke to fierce itching and blood speckled sheets.
And the battle was set. We sprayed the mattress,
they moved to the unpainted pine walls.
We kerosened the walls; they moved back
to the beds.
We couldn't sleep and rose to dress in the cold
and walk to the smalltown school
where strangers were barely tolerated.
I was the shyest and had the hardest time,
my brother and sister
being the sociable ones.
Then, in late winter came the news
that my father was missing in action.
The gloom of Carolina winter deepened.
It was months before we learned
he was a prisoner of war.
Meanwhile, the bedbugs, drinking our blood,
destroying our sleep-
parasites gnawing at the body of the family,
drinking its life's blood.
Finally, as winter broke,
a last concentrated effort,
the mattresses burned and replaced,
the walls scoured again
and at last they were demolished.
Then gradually our lives took form
around my mother and at last, order was restored.
The news came that my father was alive
though not to return for four years.
A little later, we rented a house from my aunt
and moved to less crowded confines
and finally bought a house of our own
and were stabilized.
My older sister, a constant source of aggravation,
took a job away from home
and then it was just my mother, my brother
The winters were still cold.
We missed the central heating.
But we made one room warm with a laundry stove
and crouched by it
till sleep drove us to our cold bedrooms.
There was a radio in that room, a record player,
books to read.
And no bedbugs.
Looking back, I see this as the most peaceful time
of our family life.
We worried about my father but now,
as my mother took charge,
we relaxed, guiltily enjoying the absence
of his unpredictable presence,
his drinking bouts.
Though the war went on for a time
we existed on an island of peace.
Time passed and of course things changed.
The war ended. My father returned.
I was ensconced now in school
though always something of a stranger,
almost grown now.
Nights sitting in the front yard, sleepless,
a restlessness in me.
For a year, I worked nights in a cotton mill,
slept in class.
And my father changed, sick now, a dying man.
More time passed. I went to college. New crises.
My father died.
And now some sixty years later, it all comes back.
And I think of - bedbugs, insidious, parasitic,
attacking our sleep, degrading us.
All somehow reflecting the loneliness of a strange town,
the loss of that central figure that for better
or worse had been the underpinning of our lives.
And somehow, emerging from that time,
the growing conviction
that there was something in me out of kilter,
something that didn't fit.
And now the years have passed, no resolution there
And here on this gray autumn day,
I look back on the desolation,
the cold sleepless nights,
and it all seems to be about one thing,
don't ask me why: bedbugs.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
Sarah sits bemused.
She is waiting for
life to tell her the thing
she needs to know in
order to get on with it.
She sits very still.
She doesn't want to
miss the message, the
cosmic utterance of
her secret name, the
booming silence that
reveals her essential self.
Sarah sits bemused.
Nothing will stir her
but that one clear voice.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
What I'd really like in my old age
is an allnight diner across the street,
breakfast twentyfour hours, good coffee,
smoking in the back. I don't sleep long
most nights. Years ago, when I knew Keith
the baker across the way, I'd wake and
walk over to the bakery and visit with
him in the wee, small hours, maybe have
a toke or two, listen to some weird
flying saucer, interplanetary, aliens
amongus show on the radio and then
say my good night or morning and wander
back to my place and back to sleep.
It was good. But what I'd really like
now is an allnight diner. I could
climb out of bed at two in the morning,
cross the street and into the light and
smells of early morning, truck drivers,
newspaper workers, cab drivers, (I
worked in a place like this once) and
find my booth in back and sit watching
and maybe writing while I drank my
coffee and smoked, feeling the night
outside, not a harsh night, a benevolent
night, guarded by the city cops at the
counter, a sheriff's deputy or two,
everyone caught somewhere between
sleeping and waking, a good place to
be. We need these places and they're
fading fast, eaten up by the chains,
the massproducers. They're getting
harder and harder to find and I very
seriously doubt that I will find one
across the street from my apartment
before I die. But it's a nice dream.
Sometimes I wake in the night and
stumble to my bedroom chair and my
last night's cold cup of coffee, light
a cigarette and sit there halfasleep
dreaming of just such a place. And
the dream takes on cosmic proportions
and I find myself floating upward
through the ceiling out into the
starcluttered night and I'm walking
along a road that rises up into the
sky and far ahead, its lights out
shining the stars, is my diner, my
cosmic diner, arms outstretched,
just waiting for me.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
She's been in the neighborhood for years.
Sometimes she sleeps in.
Sometimes she sleeps out.
Once her and a guy named J.C. (it's a fact)
slept in his pickup for two years.
They ate out of the grocery store
and used the bathroom at the convenience store
on the corner. Hard living.
They parked the pickup right in front of my place
and sometimes in the night, I'd get up
and see them sitting side by side in the darkness.
I used to wonder what they thought about,
what they talked about through the long night.
Later, J.C. lost his truck
and went to live at the Salvation Army.
He was handy with his hands
and finally got a pretty good job.
I still see him once in a while
but he doesn't live in the neighborhood anymore.
But Kay is still around.
She sweeps up at one or two places,
Sometimes she gets work for a while
staying with one of the old folks in the neighborhood.
She gets by. She goes on.
Transient as a dream but a fixture just the same.
A symbol of something,
something right on the edge of our awareness
but never quite in focus,
a creature of the weather and of time,
a condition of the soul.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy
It's a time of people gone:
Helen, the street dancer, dead,
Melvin, old black man in the
neighborhood almost as long as
me-oddjobbing to extend his
monthly check. He's diabetic
too, has a foot infected, may
have to have it off, Pete the
barber says. No more scouring
the neighborhood for yard work.
It was his neighborhood too
even though he lived somewhere
else, showed up on the bus
every morning to be fed his
morning coffee by Stephanie
at the bakery. I couldn't
understand half he said, it
was mostly about work or the
lack of it. So he's gone-
another one of those fringe
people, not someone you focus
on, more like seen from the
corner of your eye, hardly
noticing till they're gone.
It's autumn today, the first
chilly grey day we've had,
and Helen's gone and Melvin
and don't forget mad Anthony
who talks to the air and
bums change for beer, his
smell a menace that you're
glad to buy off. Autumn.
People gone, the earth's
immense sorrow exemplified by
the loss of her strays.
The wind mourns, the grey air
troubles the trees and our
thoughts and something in us
is grieving-for Helen,
Melvin, Mad Anthony but
most of all ourselves.
Posted over on Nerve Cowboy