Thursday, December 30, 2010

Beware of Expungement

Every now and then I get bummed out. I love that phrase: "Bummmed Ouut." Or the more prosaic: "Bummed." I get bummed every now and then. I'm proud of my generation for dreaming up that one. Otherwise I'd have to go with "sad," "mad" or "bad" or visit Roget's Thesaurus, where I can get lost for days.

It has been a long nine months, beginning back here with the FBI raiding my demented mom's care facility and giving her the boot. Then she had a horrible couple of months and died. Then pneumonia, then a family feud, then yada yada yada, culminating with me on the pity-pot this week. Not a comfy place to sit.

In everything give thanks, sayeth the Bible. My 12-Step program makes gratitude a numero-uno priority. So I'm working on my y attitude. Meanwhile, I thought I'd let you have a peek at the unedited me. Part of my love affair with poetry is that I get to expunge (!) (is it real, or is it Roget's?) expunge the bad stuff that would otherwise stew inside and grow toxic.

Caution: expurgation going on here:

End of December

I lie down on my bed with my fat dog
beside me growing old before his time
slowly dying of his master’s love
for feeding him relentlessly

If only I could fall asleep and awaken
next spring, like the trees in my yard
or the magnolia in the garden, then
I might remember happiness or even

contentment. At 5:30 p.m., Dec. 28,
sleep is a dream that keeps me awake
as do the past year’s march of miseries
and I name them in case I should forget

starting with my mother’s demented
implosion on the Ides of March
then her slide into madness and death
and all that followed, discord, illness

the tapestry that was my family
unraveling thread by thread faster
than I could piece it back together
My fat dog snores, snuggled close

and I try to believe this is love
this is enough to keep going on
this is a blessing big enough
to balance the accounting sheet

But in the end I lie awake counting
my woes, angry with myself
for being wretched when I have a dog
beside me growing fat and old with love

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

In Remembrance

On this day 120 years ago, 150 Sioux people were massacred by the U.S. Army beside Wounded Knee creek in South Dakota. Almost half of them were women and children.

The phenomenon known as the Ghost Dance in late 1890 had led to a resurgence of resistance by the native tribes, who had been ordered to reservations created by the U.S. government. The Ghost Dance vision foresaw the return of the buffalo, and a new freedom for the Indian. Officials feared it would lead to native uprisings against whites.

On Dec. 29, 1890, Big Foot’s Sioux band was retreating as ordered to the Pine Ridge reservation. On the 29th, surrounded by a force of more than 350 men armed with cannon and guns, the Sioux had given up what rifles they had and were powwowing with cavalry leaders about the ordered retreat.

During the powwow, a single gunshot was heard. Immediately the cavalry, including cannon, erupted into gunfire at point-blank range. Half of the Sioux people were killed outright, along with 25 soldiers from “friendly fire.” Many of the remaining Sioux were tracked and killed. A few survived to make the trip to Pine Ridge.

Wounded Knee Creek

In the frozen waste of the Badlands I sigh
under the snow for those who fell here

I remember the red-stained white snow
churned into mud and blood by fear

I hold in my white arms the memory
of frightened people running like deer

Between my banks the water still flows
to honor them, tear by helpless tear

(© Chris Alba)

If you click on the photo above, a Sioux invocation from the archives of Edward Curtis, you’ll go to YouTube for an awesome ballad by Robbie Robertson about the massacre at Wounded Knee.

There’s a very fine book about the westward expansion of the U.S and its destruction of the Native American people, called Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, by Dee Brown. It culminates with the massacre at Wounded Knee, which is generally considered to be the end of the Indian Wars. You can find Wikipedia’s discussion of it HERE.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Post-Christmas Giggle

Twas the day after Christmas, and all through the house
Not a laptop was stirring, nor a computer mouse.
The hubby was working, but the little wife was not;
she was stretched out immobile on the marital cot.
The kitties lay with her and occasionally a dog.
The creatures were sleeping, unconscious as logs.
Dear hubby washed cars, and dishes, and clothes
While wifey my dear was not troubled by those.
For curious reasons, her spine was a tingle
As were her hands - such gifts from Kris Kringle!
Electrical pain shot jolts through her neck
Making her cry , "Hey, what the heck??!!"
She wrote a quick poem, then quickly she fled
To the warmth and relief of the marital bed.
And that's enough of that crap.

Here, late in the evening, is a tribute to Monkey Man and his Sunday 160, a tale told in precisely 160 characters and spaces:

Hours wasted Christmas Eve
Hiding gifts in paper
On Xmas morn two seconds later
got mounds of trash you can’t reuse
It’s the “Xmas Wrapping Ain’t Recyclable” blues

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Blessings to You

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a great day!

Three generations of our family gathered on Christmas Eve and shared a tamale/enchilada feast and memories of Christmases past. As we always have, as far back as anyone can remember, the older ones (including my age group now!) claim the seats at the dining room table while the kids make do in the other room. When I was a kid, that room used to be the kitchen. Now, it's the living room and they're watching old Christmas movies on my beloved's new gigantic HD TV.

It was a beautiful evening. I missed my mother, not as she was in the past few years, but as she was in decades past, bustling around with a dish towel in her hand. Mom was always doing something, from sun-up until bedtime. She sat down and rested only after 10 o'clock at night, fresh from her shower in a muumuu on the couch, reading the day's newspaper. When my daughter was a little girl, she drew a picture of me and titled it "Mommy always working." My mother trained me to work. I haven't done a terrific job keeping up with my legacy lately but that is the standard my mother engrained in me.

We greet Christmas morning with treasures filling our Christmas stockings, with reading the second chapter of Luke in the King James version, and with watching "Charlie Brown's Christmas." Who knows what the rest of the day will bring. But I know it will rain down blessings on our heads and I pray that blessings rain down on you and on your families.

Christmas Morning

We lie abed with the old dogs and listen to the wind

the children are all grown and have flown with the wind

the window is a collage of leaves washed by the rain

these are the gifts of the Magi: the scent of old dogs

the wealth of the years and the preservation of love

We lie abed with wrinkles and our sagging skin

our love windblown by the turbulence of years

imperfect and well worn The smell of it is beautiful

and your legs are soft as fur where they mingle

with mine and I pet them with my foot

as I consider rising up and bowing down

with this great gift extended to the king transformed

as we are by the hand of God

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Christmas Shock

Is it just me, or is everyone not blog-visiting because they're busy with holiday preparations?

I feel bereft. I don't spend time visiting my blog friends because my chore list is getting longer by the minute, keeping me away from the computer. And although I post a thought or two every few days, I get few visitors in return. This is my second Christmas as a blogger, so I don't know trends. I miss checking in with people to let them know their blogs are appreciated, and I miss your comments too.

Glad tidings of Christmas to you and your beloveds. I wonder what you all are busy doing. Are you doing the same things I am? Mailing last-minute gifts, shopping a little for stuff I forgot, returning things I shouldn't have bought in the first place? Pulling together details for the family gathering on Christmas Eve, checking in with everyone who's coming and with those wo are not because I miss them? Fixing decorations that are failing because they're 10 years old, trying to keep the finances up to date, and (always my favorite) cleaning the house for company?

I asked my hubby if I could hire a housecleaner in lieu of a Christmas gift and he said no. So today, while I ran errands and kept appointments and shopped a bit, he dusted the living room and every single knickknack in it! I went around studying the furniture and the multitudinous stuff that clutters it up, and he did indeed dust as I like things dusted. I'm speechless. I'm shocked. He gifted me with his own time! I'm going to stay married to this man forever.

Please say a prayer for a clean report for my youngest daughter's biopsy.

One big part of my life this past year that has blessed me is the blogging community that has welcomed me into its midst. You're a generous bunch of people, funny, honest, talented, caring, and thought-provoking. God bless your holiday, every one of you.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Which Wolf Will I Feed?

Today marks the longest darkness of the year. With the Winter Solstice, winter begins in all its bite and gloom and sense of death, where I live, its barren trees and frost-burnt landscape, shades of charcoal and brown as far as I can see.

This morning, as I look out on naked trees and gray sky during a break in a week-long rain, I feel the weight of the Winter Solstice on my shoulders. What it deprives me of is important to me: sunshine, warmth, the ability to walk sleeveless and barefoot in my garden, the joy of living in a fertile landscape. It will rain on Christmas, says the forecast, and the unrelenting rain has begun to cause problems around my county.

But then, with my second cup of coffee, I remember an epiphany I once had during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting:

My attitude makes the difference between peace and unhappiness.

There's a Native American legend about two wolves. A grandfather tells his grandson that two wolves fight within him, one full of evil emotions, and one full of good. "Which wolf will win?" asks the grandson. The grandfather replies, "The one you feed."

The same message can be said many different ways, but the point is the same. First, my thoughts govern how I feel, and second, I have the power to change my mind - to feed a different wolf! The process, in the example of winter, looks like this:

The Winter Solstice is the longest darkness of the year. Yes, but from this point on, the hours of daylight will lengthen every day! The winter landscape looks dead, yes, but the life force is simply resting, as all living things must do. Sleep gives me strength to exert the energy of living. And the rain? Rain is the Great Nourishment of the earth. It hydrates the cells of our land, feeds our oceans, helps fuel our climates, awakens the sleeping seeds in the earth. Rain is the Lifespring.

All is well. Earth's cycles of rest and replenishment are in motion as they needs must be. God, or Gaia, however you name that power or life source, continues to provide for the needs of the planet, and the creatures living on it, like you and me.


After a three-year drought that turned to dust the riverbed,
today the manna from heaven falls on the surface of the soil,

Which laps it neatly as a cat. The pores of leaves open
like mouths to drink it. The shrubbery shivers with raindrops,

The pine needles quiver, the brave narcissus bow their heads.
Rain toots on the roof like a piccolo. A sigh of satisfaction

Escapes the mouth of the ground. Roots hum as their veins swell,
and brown water begins to pool in the riverbed. Small puddles

Rise in the low spots. Slowly they reach for their neighbors,
a trickle builds, they link, and the river’s muddy blood awakens


Speaking of rain, here's a vintage rain song on youTube by the folksinger Melanie, who performed it at Woodstock (where it rained). If you're like me and you can't catch all the words, lyrics are right beneath.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Strange Way to Make Peace

It's the Last Bus before Christmas. That has a sad sound to it, but never mind. At the wheel of the Totalfeckineejit's greatest invention, the Poetry Bus is the poet and recent medical-crisis survivor The Weaver of Grass. She told us fellow poets to make something out the word STAR. As there are many kinds of stars. this should get interesting. Follow this link.

Always an obedient chickita, I wrote a poem and stuck the word STAR in it. It was fun to write because I decided not to have me the poet/narrator appear in the poem to confess any personal emotions, and furthermore, you couldn't appear in the poem either. It was to be an observation poem without an observer, but it still needed to have an emotive impact on the reader. Does it hit the mark?

The other enjoyable part of this poem is its repetitive references to the principles of fractal geometry, which I taught myself in about two hours this past week. (Ha.) There's some interesting stuff on the Web about fractals, which are beautiful geometric shapes formed by infinite replications of similar units. PBS has a great program about fractals here. They're all around us and in us: branching trees, our lungs, watersheds and river systems. I hope the poem works for you.

A Midnight Course in Fractal Geometry

Sleepless again....a repetition of many nights
Windows in the pentagonal glass room reflect
endless patterns of white Christmas lights
Cheerful chaos erupts
from ordinary roofs and shrubs
Curves and angles and loop de loops
swing in a wind with a storm in its arms
A rope of blue transforms the invisible
fence....Now waves on a blue sea
undulate again and again and again
In the looking glass
infinite points of light
form infinite replicas of stars
repeating themselves until they vanish
into the midnight place....Men know how
to wrest order from chaos
They can turn these patterns into formulas
explaining why the shapes make sense
but they can’t say why
the stars make peace
on a December night

Friday, December 17, 2010

Lame Things the Brain Thinks

This is a cross-section view of my brain first thing in the morning and after several hours of Electronic Hell. Just kidding. It's a thing I made to honor my youngest daughter one day when we were not getting along.

A funny thing happened on the way to the store....

Someday I will start a list of the odd things I think of first thing in the morning. Waking up sleep-ridden, mindlessly making coffee, and opening the shades of my office, my brain isn't engaged until somewhere down the line, maybe about the thirtieth cup of coffee.

The morning before last, all I could think of for the first, oh, two hours of being awake was the line "A funny thing happened on the way to the store...." And nothing funny whatsoever had happened on the way to the store the last time I checked. I was so obsessed with that line, I Googled it. And nothing funny ever happened on the way to the store. On the way to the Forum, yes, and on the way to the theater too. But there is nothing funny about American stores at this time of year. They're crowded and parking is a pain.

Thursday morning, the weird thing that was stuck in my head upon awakening was a word: Imatropium. I'm a tropium. It's meaningless. I looked it up. My goofy, sleepy brain got a big kick out of saying it over and over again at 4:30 in the morning! The dumb word made me get up! I had to track it down, because I knew I'd seen it somewhere. And I found it: It's a misspelling of a chemical that I've been inhaling for the past month as part of my post-pneumonia treatment. And I'm not going to look up the chemical, either. I find myself in an obsessive state of mind, and Lord knows where that investigation would take me.

I got stuck in TECHNICAL HELL all day Thursday. Since I had so jolly much time in the morning, being as I woke up before the crack of doom, I decided it was a great time to address some digital technical difficulties. It turns out to have been an utterly insane idea, on all fronts.

First on the list was the satellite company, to whom we just paid a gazillion dollars to have a guy come to the house and "set up the system" for our new enormous flat-screen TV, which is my beloved's long-awaited Christmas gift. Oh, how happy he is! But we needed a new piece of furniture for the TV, because it no longer fits in the old-fashioned, beautiful oak entertainment center we've had for 20 years. And I discovered this proposed new piece of furniture was hideous, as my beloved perceived it in his dear head: a piece of laminated plastic crappola from one of those close-out super discount kind of places. That would mean the monolithic new focal point of MY living room would be the new enormous TV balanced upon a piece of shit. No!

Have you bought what one might call a "substantial" piece of furniture lately? I'll just say that it's more than half our mortgage payment. And then, come to find out, you don't just plug stuff in to an outlet. There now are multiple cables of various types and special surge protectors and "connectivity," and one must have surround sound and that means installing speakers all over our dinky living room, but wait, the surround sound dealy-bob happens to be a piece of crap, in the technician's eyes, and he advises us to retain the fine old HUGE speakers that go with the (now INCOMPATIBLE) stereo, which will have to have its own remote control device, as will the DVD player, because it's ... what? 15 minutes older than the new humongous TV? It will also need its own remote, so here are your three remotes, sir, see ya.

And the first thing that happens after paying this technician, who has been sent to our home by the national satellite company (accessed by an automated 800 number), yes, well, the first thing that happens is that we can't get the DVD player, which is playing the little DVD merrily, to communicate with the gargantuan TV, and so now we can't watch movies.

A simple thing to fix, no? When I called the automated 800 number and finally got to a human being, I learned that the satellite company doesn't "do" DVD players. What about the billon dollars we paid the guy to "set it up"? That was just to hook up the new satellite dish they said we had to have, and make it talk to the new satellite receiver boxes they said we had to have. I made her go talk things over with her "manager" but the answer was the same: Not our problem.

That was my first technical failure. My second took many, many hours longer. I decided, because of some crazy wild hair, to sort out why my computer doesn't recognize my digital camera. After spending all day and all evening sorting it out, I discovered that it's a simple matter of incompatibility between Canon and Microsoft Windows 7. I did find a "patch" on Canon's site and wasted, oh, maybe three hours doing every sort if iteration you could think of, to no avail. So sorry.

In my leisure moments, I idly poked around the computer, looking for reasons why my printer isn't recognized either, why I can't do scans, why I have to go in a back door to get things to print. Alas. No answers readily available there.

So I've spent the entire day attempting to solve difficulties associated with my purchase of equipment that won't even nod at each other let alone communicate. I fired off a couple of snide emails, but what will that accomplish, if their geeky little heads couldn't figure it out and avoid the incompatibilities in the first place? I don't mean to inply that all geeks have little heads. Just the geeks at Canon and Microsoft.

I knew I should have thrown all of this aside in order to decorate our brand-new Christmas tree. Had I done so I would have felt fulfilled as the evening came to a close. Instead, I felt frayed and dog-bitten by the hounds of hell. But a sweet little rain began falling, and I'm warm and dry and I have stuff to battle with even if no one's talking to each other.

If I wake Friday morning obsessing over another meaningless phrase, I'm getting up and decorating the tree.
THIS morning, I gave up trying to sleep at 5 a.m. but without a stupid phrase in my head, praise be. And this is how masochistic I am: I picked up the printout of Canon's camera-driver "fix" and read it again, and I felt my fingers itching to just TRY IT ONE MORE TIME, in case today the "fix" would work when it failed 504 times yesterday.

This is insane behavior, the definition of which is "to do something over and over again expecting different results."

Here's today's happy thought: On this date in 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright had their first successful airplane flight at Kitty Hawk. For some reason, their "insane" behavior, attempting multiple times to fly a motor-driven aircraft, was rewarded with SUCCESS!

Tomorrow, I think I'll address fractal geometry, which I learned all about in the wee dark hours this morning....

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Would You Like to Know the Future?

Twenty-five years ago I was lying in hospital room in Santa Monica, California, with my brand-new baby daughter.
It was stunning. I’d never thought about becoming a mother. Wasn’t in my cards, I thought. Yet here was a perfectly formed little human being, looking with those deeply concentrating eyes into my own as if I were some wonderful sight. I held her, she was mine, we were a new team. I had a great career. Now I had a baby daughter. Ah. How…?

Now I’m thankful I couldn’t see into the future. When I say that, I picture being told the events that would transpire in the next 25 years. What if someone had told me what would happen in my future when I was 25, like my daughter is now? This will happen, that will happen. Just the events only; not my inner life, not my emotional state.

It might look something like this: Your marriage will fail. Your father will die soon. Your child’s father will give you the boot. You’ll spend years alone. You’ll become an alcoholic. You’ll go on the wagon, marry a truck driver, get the boot from a wonderful job. You’ll live through a massive earthquake. Your best friend will die. Then your next best friend too. Your mother will get Alzheimer’s and lose everything in her mind, and then she’ll die. You’ll get pneumonia, and then…

Hey! What happened to “happily ever after”? The trouble with just knowing the events is that they don’t explain what happens inside you when they happen to you. The litany of stuff sounds frightening. If I had known what my future held, I might have simply adopted a dog and hidden from life.

But the events came and I adapted. Not knowing what lay ahead, I just kept getting up every morning. Hard times mellowed out. Good times came. They didn’t look eventful and probably wouldn’t have made the list of milestones. “You’ll go to the mountains and make snow angels with your daughter and laugh your head off and remember it for the rest of your life.” Would a crystal ball have told me that? “Many times you’ll look at your life and thank God for everything.” Would it have told me that?

I don’t want to know the future. I’ve heard it said that with one foot in the future and one foot in the past, you piss on the present. I like the present just fine. I imagine that I’ll be equipped, I’ll find the inner resources and outer resources to cope, when whatever lies ahead comes to pass, just as I have in the past. The worst happens, you think, and it doesn’t kill you. It does seem to make you stronger.

I like the photo I used for this post. As a marching band came up the street toward me at a Christmas light parade last weekend, I opened the shutter of my camera and exposed the picture until they marched past me. To me, the photo captures what the future looks like as it arrives: something beautiful, if you look at it in the right light.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Recipe Calls for Rainbows, Elephants, and Pineapples

My silence this past week stems from a couple of writing assignments that captured my attention (liking the story is always a nice bonus when you’re being told what to write about). The longest assignment was a dramatic story about the difficult rescue of a 38-year-old wife and mother who was severely injured in a remote wilderness area. A series of little miracles saved her life and her ability to walk, and she radiated gratitude.
My house is now decorated with Christmas lights and red velvet bows. Tomorrow is my youngest daughter’s 25th birthday and we’re headed for some kind of adventure, and possibly getting our Christmas tree, a lifelong tradition on her birthday. I’m still not feeling very well, but it has been a great week.

And now TFE’s Poetry Bus is chugging around the world, with Titus the Dog driving. Titus is a wonderful poet, but I’m not sure about having a hound at the wheel. If the unusual prompts are an indication, it’s going to be a wild Monday. Our choices were to write a poem to place in an “Essence Vessel” (it’s indescribable; you’ll have to go look at Titus’s post here), or to write a poem after watching a performance artist at work. I’m eager to see what the Bus riders will do (they are all linked here). Buffaloed at first, I decided to respond to the performance artist, with this:
If I were the Creator

I would spin stars on my index fingers
balance a plate of pineapples on my head
and march around the continental shelves
shin-deep in sea water.

I would drape myself in a cape of clouds
harness the jet stream to a herd of elephants
for a gallop around the glowing blue globe
with a flock of ravens.

I would swing a rainbow like a hockey stick
smack all atomic elements into the Milky Way
to be gobbled up by the black hole there
and jettisoned away.

I would resurrect my invention of manna
stir it with oxygen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide
and mantle the earth with a nourishing soup
so no one would starve.

I would station angels on mountaintops
so the air would resound with song
and heavy hearts float like soap bubbles
glittering in the sun.

If I were the Creator laughter would reign
and the moon’s music would lift the night
like a velour blanket tucking all in
for the sleep of a child.

Where is the Creator? Indeed, has he left?
Without him the world is wholly bereft.
Maybe he’ll hear this mad dream of mine
and respond with a sign.
I hope he is kind.

The illo of continental shelves is courtesy

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

My Mother’s New Appearance

My mother, dead five months now, surprised me by floating through my dream this predawn morning, wearing remarkable clothes she never wore in life.

In a large gathering of familiar people at a once-grand, now-tired hotel, I glimpsed her sometimes as my dream-plot unfolded. She wore flowing silks (or maybe rayon) in bright, large florals—a tunic outfit, once, as she threaded her way through the lobby to the big banquet room, and later an ankle-length dress, an updated 1920s style with a dropped waist. The dress was a few sizes too big for her little body, but she had put on a bit of weight since she died.

For the last 30 years, my mother lived in blue jeans and plain cotton blouses, never tucked in, and that’s what she was buried in. For church and special occasions, she had two pairs of trousers and a couple of dressier blouses, plus a pants suit. My mother despised dresses, and on the rare occasion when she wore one in the ’60s and ’70s, they were shapeless and ugly.

She wore an awful knee-length A-line polyester dress, in an orange and navy geometric print, for her 25th wedding anniversary celebration with my father. She sewed an undistinguished floor-length polyester dress for my evening wedding in 1977. I tried to get her into clothing that fitted her curvy shape, but she wouldn’t have any of it. I wonder if she was motivated by dislike of her body (which she had expressed to me a time or two) or simply comfort.

I smiled to see her in my dream wearing those eye-catching bold floral designs in fluid, clinging fabrics. Oddly, she accompanied a lady friend wearing the exact same clothes. The sight of the two them, dressed alike, made me pause in my dream to marvel and wonder why. But I didn’t speak to my mother until later in the plot, and then it was a curious encounter.

I had gone into my hotel room to attend to some private mission, and I noticed as I closed the door that its lock was broken. That made me uneasy, vulnerable and fearful that someone would intrude. And sure enough, my mother opened my door and stood in the doorway, wearing that ankle-length dress. Behind her in the hallway was a shadow of that companion dressed like her.

I repudiated her immediately. I didn’t know if her mind was fully restored to its pre-Alzheimer’s existence but I gave her no chance to talk. I didn’t want her to witness what I was doing. My response to her standing in my doorway was along the lines of “Excuse me! Please leave! And shut the door behind you!”

And without any ado, she turned around and went out. I noticed then that her dress, which was a pastel aqua with an enormous floral pattern, was slightly too large for her, being loose around the hips. It was an eye-catching, attractive dress, but she needed at least one size smaller.

Then I remembered she had died. I felt a little guilty for sending her out, but mostly pleased because of her clothing, and then I dismissed her from my mind because she wasn’t important to my plot.

I wonder what dreams are about sometimes. I wonder if they’re significant or simply imaginative random adventures our brains spin in sleep. Part of me wants to ask questions about the whys and wherefores of this particular dream, but the other, more influential part of me says that’s inviting paralysis by analysis. Simply enjoy the curious dream and let myself smile about my mother’s new style of clothes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Let Me Tell You a Crooked Tale

I have to make a rhyming poem. That’s as easy and as painless as making my legs six inches longer. Some people I know can dash these things off at work while using Skil saws and scalpels. I put on sackcloth and ashes, lit my white-sage bundle, did a smoke cleansing of the office, and read “Jabberwocky.” Twas brillig but no juice.

Poetikat, the rhymer of all time, is making me do this. She’s in charge of the Poetry Bus, and our leader Hisself the Eejit lets her get away with it.

A rhyme by itself is painful enough,
but the dastardly Kat makes it even more tough:
Use the name of a pub! she wickedly chortles.
Turn the words in the name into kitties or mortals!
Do it all on your head and then in the buff!

The Crooked Kilt

A pub up on High Street called the Crooked Kilt
sported the finest accoutrements man ever built
Like bidets in the “Lasses”
and self-filling glasses
and self-cleaning floors when thy cookies were spilt.

How about this:

I Kilt Him
I had a crooked spouse
who was truly a louse
about buying me flowers on my birthday.
So I tied him in lashes
and cooked him to ashes
then scattered him gaily on Earth Day.

No, again? Well, then, here is my best shot:

A Crooked Plot
A solitary man lived down the lane
and they called him Crooked Joe.
His affliction was strange but he didn’t complain
about his hard row to hoe.

At daybreak a person could find him
far out in the field on his tractor,
In shades so the sun didn’t blind him,
headed west since the sun was a factor

in the pain that tormented his head.
So west he would plow until about noon
when the sun was straight up overhead,
then east he would turn and head for the moon.

No one knew why but the sight of the sun
drove poor old Joe unbearably wild.
He’d howl and run with his britches undone;
insanity he showed as a child.

Luckily for Joe his fields were thin
but their length was incredibly long
and where his land ends, the Kilts’ begins
and Eliza discerned what was wrong.

So Eliza Kilt watched out for Joe
and she opened their gate for his plow
when he ran out of westward to go,
hoping he’d finally marry her now

and this be the summer his heart awoke.
One day she hailed Joe with bewitching glee,
and by Jove, he stopped the tractor and spoke,
then he did something she didn’t foresee:

He leaped from his seat and grabbed her waist!
“Eliza, my dear, you must marry me now!
I’m tired of waiting, and we have to make haste
so you can open your gate for my plow!”

She scrambled aboard with undo speed
without pausing to ask the man why.
They sped to the church, then home with their need
while the sun laughed high in the sky.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Read This or I'll Bump Off My Cat

This is the Best Thing you'll read all day, possibly all week.

So says my (biased) therapist (a New Yorker subscriber), who wants me to submit what follows (to the New Yorker). I wouldn't really bump off my cat. That was just a reference to an old postcard I have: Under a photo of a friendly-looking pooch, with a gun held to its head by someone out of frame, was this header:

Buy this or we shoot the dog.

(Sorry. I thought it was hysterical.)

What follows is a true story. To prove it to you, I took the photo above.

The Last Sliver of Soap

Here I stand in the white shower stall
warm water thrumming on my back
holding the last sliver of soap on my palm,

a thin, pink, oval broach, end piece
of the bar I salvaged 100 days ago
from my dead mother’s bath. I anoint

my body with it this one final time,
beginning the rite — unchanging rite —
of showering, raising my left arm

to salute the God I serve, raising then
my right arm to salute the strength
He gave me, rubbing the last sliver

of soap between my palms. Leg up
next, as if to step up to an altar,
honoring the march of days in a life.

With a stone’s smooth polish, soap
glides over my belly and breasts
blessing the lives they have nourished,

and in this rite I remember the day
my old mother yelled Shit! in the shower,
withered butt sagging and dignity pierced

as I and the aide conspired to cleanse her.
She hated the shower, demented but clear
that washing her body tormented her soul.

I hear her, and see her, and she is alive
as the last sliver of soap slips in my hands.
This was her brand, her ceremonial bar

night in and night out, preparing for bed,
emerging anointed, blessed be the day.
I pause in the shower to savor her then

holding what’s left of a relic of soap
the final memento I claimed from her room
the morning she died, a used bar of soap.

100 days later, the bar is a shard, last tie
to her body now buried in dirt, and she
requires no cleansing but I baptize myself

in the name of my mother, a holy bond.
The last sliver of soap in my hand is
sacred and I’ll save it, box it in velvet

tuck it away with a note, an intimate
totem of the woman she was, some earth
and a heart before God washed her away.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why Can’t I Read Anymore? (Hey,I'm Not Alone!)

Please see the update at the end of this post.
This is the coffee table in my office.

I haven’t been able to read a book since September 2009.

All my life, I’ve surrounded myself first with children’s books and then with novels and poetry collections and other things like essays and biographies. I can say I’ve literally consumed books, since I ate part of The Travels of Babar the Elephant when I was three. My shelves are jam-packed with books I love and can’t part with, even the chewed-up Babar.

The only time I’ve gone without reading is during my 28-day rehab after giving up 15 years of sobriety. That was in June 2006. Even then, we were reading the book Alcoholics Anonymous every day.

September before last, I don’t know what happened exactly. I had stopped taking my anti-depressant medication and fell into a deep depression. I started blogging, which was a godsend because I couldn’t care about anything else. I won a regional poetry prize and was writing oodles of (unhappy) poetry. The weather turned cold. By October I was on psych units in two different hospitals (not simultaneously).

When I got back home, I couldn’t read books anymore. In the past year I’ve bought several novels by my favorite authors, but they sit by my desk gathering dust. I open them; I close them. I read a few pages of this one or that one, but I can’t go on. Sometimes my friends try to help by giving me a book they couldn’t put down. But it seems I can put it down without any problem.

I remember the last novel I read, and if it’s the last book I ever do read, it doesn’t say much about my literary perspicacity. Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, by Christopher Moore, is an entertaining marine-science fantasy about saving the whales and the ocean. It won’t win any Pulitzers, but I’m glad I read it, just like I’m glad I’ve read Douglas Adams and Kurt Vonnegut.

When Mario Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize in literature this year, I thought I’d found my breakthrough novelist, the one who was going to rescue me from my sorrows. A novel has saved me from depression before, first in 1984 with mystery writer Ngaio Marsh’s Death and the Dancing Footman, and most recently Louise Erdrich’s magical The Master Butchers Singing Club in 2004. They lifted my spirits out of some kind of angst about living and gave me back my joy.

The news called Vargas Llosa “one of world’s greatest and most adventurous writers” and mentioned some similarity to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, another guy who saved my life once with One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’ve been so insulated, I’d never even heard of Vargas Llosa until the Nobel Prize. So I researched his bibliography and critics and bought two praised novels through the used-book network Who Killed Palomino Molero? for $4 and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter for $1.

The Palomino novel is thin and seemed approachable. It opens with a detective studying the tortured, castrated, impaled corpse of the boy named Palomino which is hanging in a carob tree. I have no bias against violence in murder mysteries (being a fan of James Lee Burke and Dennis Lehane, creators of violent havoc, and in fact one of Lehane’s novels scared me spitless, which I loved). But for some reason, what has happened to the boy Palomino distressed me a little. Now the book rests facedown on the coffee table in my office, opened to page 14-15. Arrrggg.

The Palomino novel lies on top of a stack of literary journals at least 15 inches high (see photo), and there are two of these towers of Poetry, Ploughshares, Fence, et al, on my coffee table. I’ve read many of them all the way through (skipping the fiction; I don’t do short fiction). (Obviously, I am not doing fiction at all, which is the point of this post.)

I save the journals because there are poems I like in them, and because if I’m in the mood to write a poem but can’t get going, all I have to do is browse through a journal, and POP! goes the weasel muse. I’ve written hundreds of poems in the past few years. Lines of poems race through my head at least once a day. Yesterday it was: “I wanted a thing and I wanted it bad.” I’m trying to compose some rhyming poetry, which I never do, for TFE’s Poetry Bus, and that line had a certain meter to it. I didn’t say that lines of great poems race through my head.

This morning I was brushing my teeth and opening the blinds in my gorgeous sunroom office when I suddenly thought: I wonder if poetry has ruined my ability to read novels? I wonder if poetry has given me a literary form of ADHD?

Oh, gak!

I think I'll just go gopher hunting, get a little violence in my life. We have one in the garden eating the hollyhocks, the precious little arsehole.

****** Update 8:30 p.m. ******

The comments you've left for me today have been hugely helpful. The biggest bonus is that I'M NOT ALONE. After reading some of the first comments, I wrote my own little fantasy (reprinted here for your ease and edification):

...Is anyone else in blogland experiencing this novel-reading difficulty? What if we've tumbled onto an actual disorder caused by blogging? What would happen then? Would we all have to go into treatment to become novel-readers again? Would there be rehabs? Would one of the pharmaceutical companies develop a pill that costs $20 each and then develop off-label uses for it and create a nationwide need for their drug (like, say, the manufacturer of a drug that rhymes with seroquel-don't-get-me-started-on-that)?

(Beware: I'm about to leap to a highly unscientific conclusion.) The majority of the bloggers responding to this post do indeed experience some perceptible change in their reading habits, i.e., a novel-reading reduction. Is this a blogland-wide trend? Anybody want to throw in their two cents? Any two-bit theories? I'll try to keep track of the, um... (what's the right science-y sounding word here?) DATA TREND here.

On another note, the gopher won today's skirmish and so has lived to tell the tale. He/she/it backfilled the tunnels into which I buried traps, good traps that were not touched by human hands but were baited with a banana. I was disappointed. I had actually been lucky enough to find the intersection of three tunnels! What a gold mine! But I only had two traps. Apparently I picked the wrong two tunnels. Hm. This gopher is smart. But I'm tenacious. Tomorrow is another day.

Gopher: 1 ----- Chris: 0