Thursday, August 30, 2007

Life Forms

Life Forms is a poetry book by Daniel J. Langton; he kindly sent me a copy a few years ago. It was put out by a very small San Francisco press, Cheltenham, in 1995. I don't know if it ever saw a second edition, which is a pity, because this one has rather a lot of typos in it. Really too bad. Here are two poems that caught my eye while I was browsing through it again last night:

On Meeting Franz Kafka Halfway
Through His Book Tour

He said, Gin and tonic. Which surprised me,
I thought Perrier or some exotic crap. Not
that G&T is a real drink, really it’s for dyps.
God, he’s small, nervous, with long hands,
that mittel-Europa ferret look. I sit with him,
What do you think of America, I ask.
I wrote the fucken thing, he says. His eyes are tired,
rimmed with hotel meals. Do you know Larry King?
he says. Will you sign my Schloss? I ask,
I’m looking for a girl, he says, I want to be engaged.
He signs my book, I notice he’s now Frank.

Slow Poem

There is a building that contains the dossiers
of everyone in the world. A young man was assigned
to read them. Each day dossiers arrived and
dossiers were taken away. He read at different
speeds, sipping tea.

The young man slept there, with the windows closed.
He ate in a niche with no windows.

Written lives. Places and torments. No thought
of the future. The funny cruelty of juxtaposition.
The slim files of huge hopes taken away.

After forty years he was given a pension that
would permit him to live as he pleased. He was
watched. When he died the experiment was declared
a success. He had learned nothing.

[photo: Rose of Sharon, 8/30/07]

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Two Thumbs Way Up for Keith Olbermann

Could not miss his "Dragnet"-style re-enactment of Larry Craig's police report!

"No actual senators were harmed in the making of this film."

"I'm a cop. A cop in a toilet."

"Craig exited the stall with his roller bag without flushing the toilet."

"He has a wide stance when going to the bathroom" (presumably why Craig's foot touched the cop's).


Fortune cookie fortune

"Work expands to fill the time available."

I'm eating pizza leftovers at my desk with the door closed and hoping no one comes to see me during this office hour. I need to cover the same material at 2:00 that I did at 11:30, but more efficiently. I think my 3:15 section benefits the most, because by the third go-around I've made the necessary adjustments. I'll be glad to have this first full week under my belt.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

More Engman

A nice break in the weather today. Wish I'd been outside a bit more.
* * *

We're shipping Randy's quilt tomorrow to the PA quilt show. It runs Sept 6-9 in Harrisburg.
* * *

I should be in bed but LOTR: The Return of the King is on, and it's hard to walk away from it once heads get rolling.
* * *

From John Engman's Temporary Help, two more poems of dark days that foreshadow our own:

Richard Nixon

Are you the President of pink flamingos and sad plastic flowers?
I remember you as a young man waving through a blizzard of television snow.
I remember you as an old man weeping real tears that fooled nobody.
I will do my best to remember you as a wise, china owl in a city garden.
Would you rather I remember you as a wise, china owl in a city garden
or as someone’s father selling pencils in the rain under a streetlamp?
Do you believe America will fall to pink flamingos and sad plastic flowers?
I believe I could have been elected President but nobody voted for me!
The young woman sitting beside me on the bus could have been an angel
of Michelangelo but half her face had been destroyed by a grenade.

Red Wine

Something in his voice tonight
is like joy as he describes

red noise and ribbons of white fire,
the beauty of the bombing of Iraq.

We are watching a late broadcast,
a new war on CBS, and my friend,

a woman with whom I have not slept,
admires the way the anchorman uses

his voice to confuse sex and death.
Showbiz, I tell her, is great stuff.

But she says no, the human touch.
He warms our insides like red wine,

as if he rushed to the studio to say
folks are dying, the sky is falling,

just for us. We believe he is kind.
We believe he has never been kissed.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Drinking the koolade

Drove up to Lycoming this afternoon to run some last-minute errands (parking sticker, voicemaul setup, class rosters) before donning regalia to take part in my first-ever convocation. I don't know why I never did this at Bucknell. I didn't go to my own graduation at Houston (but the Vermont ceremony was great). Anyway, a nice 45 minutes outside on a slightly breezy but otherwise muggy August afternoon. The faculty, staff and administration walked double-file over to the quad, then stepped to the side to line a pathway, through which the first-year students passed while we applauded. It seemed all so delightfully pagan. In the tent after the ceremony, I bypassed the trays of appetizing morsels and dove straight for the iced barrel of bottled water.

On the way home, I saw the Goodyear blimp make a steep nosedive across the freeway and disappear behind some trees. I think it's here for the Little League World Series, though I heard on the radio that there were no games scheduled for today.

Classes start on Monday. I'm about as ready as I'll ever be.
* * *
Here's a poem from John Engman's Temporary Help:

The Window in the Cow

You are a child with much to learn,
my professor said, when I compared
windows in cows to Nazi experiments.
The worst-case scenario for cows is veal,
he said, brief lives in small, dark stalls.
And didn’t I eat steak? Someday I would be
dead, he said, of what might be diseases
cured by such cows. So I changed my thesis

and learned a first lesson in rhetoric:
try to think before you feel what you see.
From my dormitory room, I could see the cow
grazing pampered grasses, strolling her acre
of the University behind a chainlink fence,
scolding those who came to see her bowels,
and the four stomachs, with a woeful moo.
Like an Old Faithful or Mount Rushmore,

backdrops for photographs of children,
she was exotica for the family album.
And if she came close, mothers and fathers
could study her puzzling intestines through
glass held by rivets to her torso, encourage
the children, with oohs and ahhs, to step up
and rub her soft ears, the children amazed
that such a cow was willing to be touched.

Thursday, August 23, 2007


Congratulations to Katie Hays, Tyler Mills, Donika Ross, Brandon Som and Becca Wadlinger, whose poems have been selected for the 2007 Best New Poets Anthology!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I may, I might, I must

If you will tell me why the fen

appears impassable, I then

will tell you why I think that I

can get across it if I try.

[photo: Robin tracks, 4/24/07]

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


So proclaimed a label attached to one of three lamp harps--those springy things that clip into place and support a lampshade by means of a threaded eyehole and (usually) (somewhat) decorative finial--one of three lamp harps that appeared, to my eye, to be identical. I'd become convinced that the fluorescent lights in my nice, new windowless office were exacerbating my headaches, so last night R & I bought some lamps. Cheap lamps. Four lamps in one box for about 50 bucks, some basic assembly required.

I put them together today, one every few hours, as a treat--in much the same way that I used to reward myself with chocolate--and now I can work without fluorescent glare. Much nicer.
* * *

Still raining and chilly, but nothing drastic. And we need the rain. Yesterday, or maybe it was Sunday, I took some wet photos in the garden.
* * *

I'm thinking of a new series of photos and have started experimenting with a few but I don't want to say anything more about it. There's really no time right now: classes start tomorrow at BU and Monday at LC.
* * *

eyehole is a creepy word. It looks much less so when capitalized--Eyehole.

See what I mean? The second one looks like an archaic expression of greeting, something uttered by Plains Indians: ay-yuh-HO-lay!
* * *
Home again, home again. Jiggety-jog.

[photo: rain on nasturtiums, 8/20/07]

Friday, August 17, 2007


I'll be out for much of the day. We're having something done.

[photo: ice truck, 5/2/07]

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Night thoughts

Last night, R and I were out back, watching the sky for shooting stars. I don't see all that well at night, partly because my eyes are tired and partly from these bothersome bifocals, but I did see one quick lightscratch streak northward. We saw a tiny dot moving really fast, really high, that we thought might be a satellite. Then we both saw something odd, crescent-shaped with no running lights, flying about the height of a large incoming passenger plane. Its underside was faintly illuminated the slightest amber, as if picking up the reflected light of the town. It moved very fast, in a straight line, and was quickly gone.
* * *

Friday is the postmark deadline for the Keystone Chapbook contest. Manuscripts have come in steadily, online and by mail. I'm hoping for one more small bundle because I had a goal number in mind and we're very close to it. Things will be fine if we don't hit this number, but for some reason the thought of actually making the mark (or exceeding it) has me buzzing. Just a little. Okay, a lot.
* * *

I meet with my new Foundlings* on Saturday. Tweaking their syllabus tomorrow.
* * *

Here's a poem by Gayle Elen Harvey, from her 1992 chapbook, Flower-of-Turning-Away:


like the songs
of endangered birds. The stars
tonight are fuming
in darkness, caught in the throat
of the sky.
Someone’s filling room after room
with white roses, tells me
he’s sorry.
Love makes its own statement, a network
of warnings.

*- collective noun referring to first-year Foundation Seminar students, coined by a BU faculty member.

[photo: Night Alley, 1/12/07]

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


The headache has cleared--imagine burly movers dragging loaded file cabinets across screeching wooden floors, and the wounded silence after in which thought itself is afraid to twitch--and I'm trying to drop back into the workflow. I slept a lot over the past couple of days (was it two? or three?). Walking home in a minute, but first, here's a poem by Pamela Stewart, from her 1997 book The Red Window:

Who Tells You How to Live

To journey like an ant from that crushed garter snake
in the road to intricate tunnels of saliva and grit—

would that please you? Keeping to the pattern of travel
with a precise burden of food on your back—is that enough?

Early morning in this forest is a racket of birds
and squirrels. Swamp rabbits chew the damp grasses.

Those kittens someone dumped from a car smash wildly
in the underbrush. Soon it will be too hot to feed.

One or two airplanes cross—invisible
cosmic insects below a blue swim of galaxies.

Isn’t it enough that the body keeps working its parts,
that words spill bright as birds above this seeded earth?

Who tells you how to live in this blessing of dust?
See, the ants come and go. They look like they are singing.

Monday, August 13, 2007


No adjectives available.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The long view

I was photographing a teddy bear this afternoon, when it hit me: I am no longer a teddy-bearish kind of guy. Even when I was into them, I was a bit of a snob about it. None of those Hallmark mass-produced cookie-cutter bears for me. I liked interesting bears, unique bears. I still have two miniature bears (somewhere) that were made for me, and because they are so small (so small that I've no idea where they are?) I imagine I will hang onto them. The bear I was photographing (to sell) is one-of-a-kind, also hand made, also a gift (from around 15 years ago), but I look at it--him (what was his name? he had a name card) and mehh, I don't need this in my house.

Though I'm surrounded by books I'll never read again, there are hundreds I'm unwilling to let go. One of my goals as a young adult was to one day acquire/amass a decent reading library; since then I've focused on having a decent poetry library and--even though I've given hundreds of poetry books away (to the Stadler Center library and to the Gary Library at Vermont College), the books I've kept (many of them) feel like an extension of my adult identity: it's almost as if they emit a sub-frequency or collectively give off an energy of place.

I've always admired photographs of Pablo Neruda's house: every wall, every level surface covered with an endless array of objects--art, masks, bottles, shells, driftwood, stones--so encompassing was his love for the physical world, an attentiveness I share (though now I tend to photograph stones and leaves and insects, not take them home). I always thought I'd love to live in a house like that.

But now, suddenly: ehh, not so much.

[photo: birdnest fern, 8/5/07]

Friday, August 10, 2007


Last night I dreamed I was sitting at the table in my parents' kitchen, listening as my brother talked, haltingly but urgently (can't remember what about), gesturing with his hands. As his right hand made a wide sweep, I suddenly caught it, mid-flight, and held tightly to his index and middle finger. He stopped talking. Our hands slowly sank to the table: his right, my left. With his ring finger, he gently stroked my fist. I opened my hand. He slipped his fingers out and then laid his hand fully on mine. And we sat there together, holding hands.

Two notes on this dream:
1) My brother is left-handed; I'm right-handed. We do not touch with our dominant hands.
2) I can't remember ever touching him as an adult.
[photo: Radiator, 1/11/06]

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Human kinks

One of my favorite books to browse, when I have a few moments, is a sweet old 1887 edition of Whitman's Specimen Days in America. Here's his February 1877 entry titled "One of the human kinks":

How is it that in all the serenity and lonesomeness of solitude, away off here amid the hush of the forest, alone, or as I have found in prairie wilds, or mountain stillness, one is never entirely without the instinct of looking around, (I never am, and others tell me the same of themselves, confidentially,) for someone to appear, or start up out of the earth, or from behind some tree or rock? Is it a lingering, inherited remains of man's primitive wariness, from the wild animal? or from his savage ancestry far back? It is not at all nervousness or fear. Seems as if something unknown were possibly lurking in those bushes, or solitary places. Nay, it is quite certain there is--some vital unseen presence.

[photo: pokeweed, 8/9/07]

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

What hump?

Yesterday, someone quoted a line (or three) from Young Frankenstein, reminding me of how much I love that zany movie. Need to see it again. Sheer delight.
* * *
They've torn down a footbridge on campus (presumably to replace it): today, on my walk home, I saw that the emptied area was wrapped with that screaming orange plastic mesh. (Does that stuff come in any other color? Can you make a hammock out of it?) The bridge had annoyingly recalcitrant planks (two-by-fours I think) that would would loose and buckle upward, causing many stumbles. In mid-June, from that bridge, I watched a snake (pictured above) slip noiselessly close to a medium-sized bullfrog, then suddenly lunge at it: Very Animal Planet, with wild thrashing in the shallow creek water. Froggy escaped. I've seen the snake a few times since, and photographed it last week sunning on the rocks.

Oh, and I started two poems on that bridge: one in 1994, during my June Seminar, as I watched the muddy roiling runoff from a thunderstorm and remembered going on a bus to watch a baptism; the second over ten years later as I bent down to pick a fallen catalpa blossom off one of the planks.
* * *
It's hot. I'm not complaining. But I'm especially savoring the Jello pops I make in my freezer. Yummy!
* * *
This morning my brother's dog was mangled to death by an unknown creature. He lives on my grandmother's farmhouse in Loveland. Mom phoned tonight to tell me about it, and to say that her latest test results were okay.

When our phone rang at about 4:30 this morning--a wrong number--I was suddenly immobilized by dread about my parents; I don't know when I slipped into Dread Mode with regard to late-night calls, but it took me a good hour to fall asleep again.
* * *
While browsing this evening through Juliana Gray Vice's chapbook, History in Bones, one particular poem drew my attention--probably because of the confluence of two of my abiding interests, housesitting/inhabiting another's space and the Wiccan/pagan calendar (to state it briefly). This is part two of her long poem "Bird, Smoke, Crystal, Bone":

This book I’ve pulled from a stranger’s shelf,
an old, no doubt expensive leather-bound
on witchcraft, fails to mention New Year’s Eve,
which seems an oversight. It’s understood—
if only in the dour modern sense—
that this night is something magical.
Anticipation charges the air, the news,
and even the owners of this house have flown
to someplace elsewhere, better, to celebrate
in style. Their dog and I have gone through our
routines—just one more icy walk before
we call it a night. And in the meantime, this:
a few portentous hours to fill, to kill,
with pages falling open on their own,
the weight of print and plates and fissured spine
selecting for me passages to read,
a scattered history in bones and ash.

[photo: unidentified hisser, July 31]

Monday, August 06, 2007

Ant lions and sperm

I have been dreaming about ant lions. I don't think I've ever seen one, but I've wondered about them a lot.

* * *

Here's a poem by Ann Townsend, from her chapbook The Braille Woods, published in 1997 when the Stanley Hanks Poetry Center still did their amazing chapbook series:

Night Watch in the Laboratory

The whipping fishtails beneath the microscope
were what you called me to see. A little package

of protein, you said, to describe the pure energy
unscrolling across the slide. One smear holds

a thousand beginning s spending themselves--
but see, you said, the ones who might always fail,

the double-headed, the lax, the crooked tails,
the inelastic ones, swimming in circles, their inner

compass gone wrong. They're like the goldfish
I bought once with the missing fin that swam

sideways, then not at all. But wait, you said.
Watch them all slow down. My eye pressed

to the rubbery gasket, the history of a generation
passed, like the dull ache I get in airports

of distant cities: so many bodies flinging themselves
onto the escalators and motorized walkways,

so many downing a last drink before the jetway,
the precarious wings lifting skyward.

In all their faces, a public blankness lets each
hustle through a crowd. Your sperm swam

and slowed, and, as the moments ticked by
on your watch, as you held me lightly,

I saw them grow less hungry, less helpless, turn to chalk.
And I lost my breath to watch your little death

as your fingers tightened around me,
and remembered the alkaline taste

on my tongue, sour, metallic, alive,
full of the fishy taste of you.

[photo: foggy quad, 9/18/06]

Friday, August 03, 2007

The page turns itself

Seems that way. Nothing I'm really doing, except adding years like tree rings: always me to the core, never really feeling as old as I (suddenly) am. Goodbye, 46. Hope to see you on the flip side.
* * *

Last night I finished quilting the border of Claudia's quilt. In the box that Mom sent this week was a very dark brown print, with tiny rust-red and mustard flecks, that picked up two of the main tones in the quilt. Just to be safe, I tried three different fabrics against the border; R agreed that the first one was exactly right. I cut two long strips, 1.5 inches wide, hand-stitched them together on a 45-degree angle, pressed the whole long strip in half on the ironing board, then pressed each half toward the middle. Very hot work on a hot August evening. Wrapped the whole thing tightly around an old Shaker herb tin and clipped it in place. Making quilt binding is not hard but it does need to be precise.

Tonight I trimmed the quilt square ("blocked" it, trimming the sides so they are completely even and square) and stitched on half the binding. I hope to have it done by Sunday afternoon so I can wash it and hang it up to dry between two bath towels out on the line. I promised Mom I'd mail it to her so she could see it first. Then I'll send it on to Claudia, and then I'll post photos. She knows I'm making it but I want the actual quilt (its appearance) to be a surprise.

* * *
While packing (and unpacking) books, I ran across my copy of Edison Dupree's Prosthesis, winner of the 1994 Bluestem Prize. I think I remember buying this book. To my embarrassment, I've never read it. In my defense, it's a slender volume, only 56 pages, quite nicely designed but ghost-pale and easy to lose among the hundreds stacked double-deep on my shelves. (On the publisher's website linked above, the book has a black cover--which is nice--and the same title design, so maybe it's in a second printing; I do hope so.) Here's the first poem I, in good fortune, opened to this afternoon:

Song of the Man Who Has Hit Bottom

Nothing much happens here, inside
this broken hold. Strings of kelp
plait me a green mustache, so fish
don’t know me. They just prowl by,
like-minded in their schools,
working those vulgar gills, and I wonder:
where’s the recovery team?
Everything tight up there? Bad year?
These cycles will reduce us all
to bare bones soon.

But sometimes in my dreams I’ve seen
my savior, in his brilliant metal
helmet. Through the faceplate
I’ve seen him, sucking, like a lamb,
on the long hose that loves him.
His face is kind and dull among
those plump dioxide grapes he labors
musically to expel.
His glove touches the hull,
attaching a crumpled bladder.
He vanishes, jerked upward
like bait reconsidered.

Mind you I’m not complaining.
One simply learns to wait. One takes
this fringed pink anemone
to wife. Her name is Friday.
She’s going to do everything else.

[photo: Atlanta Night (taken from my hotel window at AWP this spring)]

Added note: I should have switched this photo with the Aug 1 one; they would have worked better that way around. Mehh, hindsight . . .

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"With favorable auguries"

So reads one possible origin of august. It's always been a good month for me (I'm a Leo & my creative energies always seem to surge around this time).
* * *
I was locked out of my office today: my key felt heavy and sluggish in the lock yesterday, and I should have phoned someone then, but today it wouldn't work at all. I called the campus switchboard from my cell and was connected to campus security, who contacted the locksmith, who showed up within ten minutes. Meanwhile, I wandered around my new digs looking for a place to sit. My office is in the lower basement, [BS] on the elevator button (as opposed to [B]), and though there are stairs, I keep getting lost on them--none of the stairwells seem to connect directly to the floor (or half-floor) directly above (or below, depending on where you start). Yesterday, on the first floor, I noticed a new set of stairs, but they went up, not down.
Anyway, there are some deep-set windows along the outside hall, like big square window boxes, and I parked in one of them, dug around in my bag, and decided to take some photos of the shadows cast through the mini blinds. I'd only snapped a few when Mister Hunky Locksmith arrived. He had to remove a cylinder (tumbler?) from my the lock, but was back within 15 minutes with a replacement, and now my key works fine.
* * *
Meanwhile, R phoned to say that his wholecloth quilt has been accepted into the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in Harrisburg! I'm so proud of him.
* * *
On Monday we received a package from Mom: lots of quilting fabric, some really neat old quilt blocks, and a nice 1940-era vintage quilt top. The neatest thing was a tiny coverlet (possibly a doll quilt) that dates back to around 1900 (probably earlier), pieced in great red and white prints. The quilting is minimal, and I don't think it has any batting. I'm tempted to re-quilt it, though I know (for the sake of authenticity) that I should leave it as is. Will take some photos soon.
* * *
There's no accessible printer in my building. I need to walk over to the library to print out a few more Keystone manuscripts . . .
[photo: blind shadows, 8/1/07]