Thursday, April 30, 2015

All Sewn Up

Bury the Silk

You need to sink the silk into the muck
For three full moons--every fiber must
Suck in the mud to be transformed.
We have created this cloth
For hundreds of years on this island,
Just this way. The dirt smells
Like blood. It's rich. Iron, copper,
Silver. The cloth must be pressed hard
Under shovelful after shovelful
Of blackness, the cloth needs to drown
In this filth we would rush to wash
From our hands, until the cloth
Begins to feed on it, breathe
Only dirt. It becomes one
With the mud. Trust the process.
Its strength is reliable, its beauty
Incomparable, its hand fit
To touch the skin of gods.

On the island Amami Oshima they have made a type of cloth since at least the 11th century that's known as mud silk. The silk thread is soaked in mud or even buried for a few months in order to get the richest deep brown/black/blue color and a certain smooth but stiff texture, almost like silk leather. The iron in the soil is a mordant. In the 18th century, only people in the ruling classes were allowed to wear it. Designers still use it today.

This is it for National Poetry Month, but I have too much work to do tonight to wrap it up proper. I might do so tomorrow, or just let it speak for itself.

Today's judge is poet Jessie Carty, who among other things has a great Tumblr. Click that thing and you won't regret it.

Image: Kentaro Takahashi, New York Times, from an article on how it's becoming prohibitively expensive to keep making the cloth by hand.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Pennyroyal, Parsley, Rue

The Yoshiwara's Daughters

We've all got a child no one knows about
Tucked away somewhere. In a castle,
In the country, in the ashes in a jar
In the temple. But most of our children
Take no more shape than memory: that time
We knew there was no hope of rescue, the time
We fell down laughing, or when we
Kicked the ball right over the wall, or
Slept safely, breathing in concert.
They are the ache of fear when the bone-dry
Tissue refuses to show any blood,
The flux and spasm after the herbs,
The bruises from your own fists,
The pinch of the sword's tip--
That last resort. And the triumph
You felt on waking up alive! That love
For your own life is your own
Most precious daughter: sad and fearful,
Willful, she's hard to raise.
Everywhere she hears that she's
Not wanted, but there's this whisper
That says: "Listen more carefully.
Stay up late." Tonight, my love will sing
The song she wrote for our daughters.
She changes the words a little, so the men
Will think she's singing about them.

Today's prompt: "nobody knows" poem.

Today's judge: OMG OMFG it's Marge Piercy!!!! I have at least 10 of her books within a few feet of me and more somewhere around here! I have all those crumbling paperbacks I bought secondhand when I was so poor in the early 80s!!! Like Small Changes where a woman lives with two men and I'm all, yes, it can be done! Why do you think I named a character in my mystery Jackson, huh? (Well, OK, that and Patti Smith's son.) And DAMN Woman on the Edge of Time!!!! Why didn't anyone found a religion based on THAT scifi novel, huh? Well? WELL?

I'm a fan.

Kickball was actually one of the big courtesan-ly accomplishments, right up there with calligraphy and blending incense. THIS IS TRUE.

Then of course there are those things that some people know but everyone ought to know. Like that a woman's life has value in itself, not only as a baby-bearing or pleasure-delivering or hell, work-doing machine.

Image: Harunobo. Night Rain at the Double Shelf Stand. Just having some tea and getting your hair did.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

You Make Me Feel So Real



Karakuri
The builders uncovered a mound of something that looked like bones, but with an old man and some old books, we pieced it all together. At the time before the invaders, the leader's engineers devised the most extraordinary type of automata. The secret was every once in a while they would do something you didn't expect: Fling the tea in your face, totter off to serve someone else, you know, show a little spirit. Not always something dramatic, no, sometimes they'd laugh behind their hands, cry quietly, whisper for you to please stay. You just never knew; that was the trick of it. The priests said the automata had demons inside them, but who listens to the priests when times are good? Everyone of style had to have one. As always, elegance tends to extremes, and it became the fashion to push their limits, give conflicting orders, that sort of thing. They'd watch them appear to go mad, repeating a movement or a word over and over until a spring burst. Of course there are always those who can't tolerate capriciousness in the first place, and these would take even such an expensive toy and smash it to bits after too much wine. When the invaders came, it put a stop to all that. We needed fighting puppets then.

Opted for prose poem today. Prompt was a twofer Tuesday, "matter and anti-matter."

Junot Diaz called the book by today's judge, Eduardo Corral, "wise and immense." Who could argue with that?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Parting


Learning to Look Back

Don’t neglect this glance in your arsenal:
The strategic turn of the head to one departing
Can serve to seal the deal. But here’s the trick:
Work quickly, lightly, as with ink on paper.
Take too long with it and your head will
Ache, you’ll start to see your childhood
And beyond, times gone and gone before
That, and you are ink, a dark puddle.
That was a fine piece of paper
You started with, and now it’s ruined.

Today's prompt was "looking back."

Today's judge was Okla Elliott, a poet who has a novel coming out soon. Looks scary!

Image: Harunobu

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dive

The Other Wave

My every step is one across a sea,
A sea surrounded by a moat, within
Another sea. I wade and slosh and duck
From broken board to sand to rock, dripping
Tea, tears, wine, and the sweet relief of blood.
See, the surface reflects stars and lanterns.
You believe the bed is stable, so you sleep,
While I feel the slow roll and upheaval.
My home is the floating world, the realm
Of desire, which is unceasing,
And so of suffering.
You may be deceived and
Think you drank your fill but
Hear, how harsh your breath and
See the shore recede with
Every stroke.

Today's prompt was "across the sea," and I've been hearing Bobby Darin in my head all evening.

Today's judge was story editor for many episodes of Sailor Moon! and ! again! ! You can read six of Todd Swift's poems here.

Image: Utamaro, Abalone Divers, part of a triptych. I'm leaning pretty heavily on the Utamaro, because most of the other biggies from that time did almost all erotic, and during National Poetry Month you never know who's going to walk in on you.

Friday, April 24, 2015

I Don't Know What Was So Great About It.

Great Tenmei Famine, 1782-1788

I was sold after the locusts came.
I haven't been hungry since. This time
They blame the volcanoes, they blame
The leaders, they blame the priests,
Then they blame us. But they still come
Here and buy food. We arrange the dishes
So it looks like they're getting more
Than they really are. Everyone here
Knows that trick, same as we know
Everyone wants most what they can't get.
We're not too bad off, here
Behind the moat, not yet anyhow.
Soon enough, he says, they'll come down
Like a hammer on a nut. But today,
If the sun never shines, how am I
To miss it, shut up here? I do
Feel the cold. No one can warm me.
The men grow food in the small plots
Of ground given them. He brings melons
To feed the new young girls.

The prompt was to write a poem about a historical event.

Samurai were so badly paid that they had little gardens so they could grow enough food. They were kind of like the Walmart employees of feudal Japan.

The famine was thought to have been touched off by a series of volcanic explosions that caused a series of cold summers. This article has an interesting look at the worldwide Little Ice Age and points out that there was a relief food system in Japan for the starving.

Most women who worked in the Yoshiwara had been sold at around 8 or 10. Many felt it beat the alternative.

Today's judge is North Carolina's Kathryn Stripling Byer. I'm still so amazed that Writer's Digest got so many noted poets to read what has amounted to thousands of poems a day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Carry On

Sea of Trees

I.
It's dirt in my mouth.
So tired, I had to let my head fall
To the floor. The dark hairline
On the back of your neck
Is my new horizon.

II.
Viewing the leaves, the blossoms, the rocks
And the waterfalls--all beautiful, but
The innkeeper knows why lovers like us
Come to a place this remote. He doesn't look
Directly at us. The ones who bring the wine
Stand a little apart, a little in awe
As if we're from the stage, and we've come down
To walk among them a little while.
It's true. We have come down.

III.
How many robes have been dropped
In this forest, how much skin
Dropped from bones, how many bones
Among the roots, how many instruments
Rusting in the leaves.

IV.
I have enough left to find a patch of sky.
The clouds are horses,
Tired and old. I don't believe
They could tote even another feather.
I like to think I'm a merciful person.
I won't ask them to carry me.


The theme of the love-suicide was wildly popular in Japan for centuries, and hit a height in the early 18th century. Many immediately see this as some sort of pathology, and these are sometimes the same who have no trouble with Shakespeare or Verdi. The most hopeful and exciting article I've read in a while was about a monk working to help suicidal people near the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara near Mount Fuji, a popular place for people to come to die. It's really beautifully written. Here's something he learned:

"Lying in the hospital, he spent a week crying. He had spent seven years sacrificing himself, driving himself to the point of breakdown, nearly to death, trying to help these people, and they didn’t care about him at all. What was the point? He knew that if you were suicidal it was difficult to understand other people’s problems, but still—he had been talking to some of these people for years, and now here he was dying and nobody cared.

"For a long time, his thoughts were too dark and agitated to sort out, but slowly the darkness receded, and what remained with him was a strong sense that he wanted to do the work anyway. He realized that, even if the people he spoke to felt nothing for him, he still wanted something from them. There was the intellectual excitement he felt when he succeeded in analyzing some problem a person had been stuck on. He wanted to know truths that ordinary people did not know, and in suffering it felt as though he were finding those truths. And then there was something harder to define, a kind of spiritual thrill in what felt to him, when it worked, like a bumping of souls. If this was what he was after, he would have to stop thinking of his work as something morally obligatory and freighted with significance. Helping people should be nothing special, like eating, he thought—just something that he did in the course of his life."

If you have come to this page through a search keyword and need help, please hit this link immediately, or call this number: 1-800-273-8255. Someone will be there to help you.

Today's judge is a lot more fun than this day's subject! But Justin Marks does have a poem called "Visit Me In My Grave," which begins: "My fear of being an asshole / leads me to / being an asshole..." Enjoy!

Image: Utamaro, from The Courier of Hell.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Walk Off!

My People, The River

Nobody says who owns this sand,
So I stole it, for us. No boundaries
For us; every day it's a new line
To cross. Swagger, sword: I stake my claim
Slant and watch it wash away with the next storm.
Every day there's a new story,
Another song and dance. Here by the water
You can't tell if we're daughters or sons,
Demons or thieves. Twenty-five years
Is long enough for us, my family.


Prostitutes and kabuki performers used to live on the riverbanks with the trash that washed up, because the land was always shifting so no one could own it. Kabuki is said to have originated with women performing with a lot of swagger, playing men's roles as well as women's. Then it became popular and moved into the brothels, then it became so dangerous only men were allowed to do it. Kabuki and the Edo superstars all come out of this kind of outlaw swagger. "25 years" is a reference to the inscription on the sword of too-fast-to-live Otori Ichibei.

And tell me this is not the perfect day for the surreal-est of punk poets Megan Volpert to be the judge!

The prompt was a title of "My [blank], the [blank]."

Image: Okuni, said to be the first Kabuki performer. They say she also invented the fashion runway.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Enforcement Isn't Selective Enforcement?


Courtesans vs. Censors

Who is the man who wins our tears?
Not the one who can keep five wives quiet.
He's the one who wears handcuffs as if they were silk cords.
Who is the man we drink to tonight?
Not the one who forces us to pass the bottle under the table.
He's the one who keeps the ink flowing freely.
Who is the man who opens all gates?
Not the one who makes laws against books.
He's the one who makes us laugh.

The censorship imposed under the Tokugawa shogunate had several prominent victims; artist Katagawa Utamaro and the comic writer, illustrator, tobacconist and all-around flaneur Santo Kyoden being two of the most known. The usual penalty was to spend 50 days in handcuffs. Kyoden did it and went on to marry a few more working girls of the Yoshiwara and to open a tobacco shop. I read in a few places that Utamaro's health never returned after he completed his sentence. Kyoden's story is featured attacked artist No. 3 in this Cracked magazine article. "Five wives" is a reference to the image that got Utamaro in hot water, a gorgeous pass-agg depiction of an historic leader viewing blossoms with his five wives, in a time when ostentatious displays of wealth were in danger of riling the populace.

It's interesting to me that the two big bouts of censor crackdowns in the 18th century came after famines in Japan.

Today's prompt was "authority." Today's judge is Dorianne Laux, an authority in a good way. I'm planning a trip to Oregon right now, so perfect timing.

Image: Santo Kyoden hanging at a mansion, by Utamaro. From what I can figure, he's the one at front left. He looks like he's having a pretty good time.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Right Here, Right Meow

Abandon

Charcoal dawn's approach. Start to coax
A man's body away from warmth,
To yawn, to stand, to walk away
From a cat and a lady.
A boat bobs, no harbor.

Prompt today was use only two vowels out of the alphabet, with Y as a wild card. I read there's a Japanese idiom "all the cats and ladies" that means the same as "every Tom, Dick, and Harry" in English, so that's what that's about.

Today's judge: Christian Bok? You must mean Christian Rock! Cause that's what this experimental poet does. You can check him out here.

Image: The meow, the myth.

Friday, April 17, 2015

No Strings On Me

Bunraku Domestic Drama

I hope you're prepared to devote
A full day to this. It takes time
For this art to unfold. Begin
With a nod to the text and a pledge
To resist deviation. Every move,
From swinging fists to gentle daubs
Of her tears, is done with sticks.
The female puppets don't need legs,
But for this story, they constructed
One lovely foot for him to kiss.
These days it takes three masters
To manipulate just one of them, think of that.
They never hide themselves--we all
Know they're there, and we forget
They're there, as we're spun into
This month's variations of the beloved story:
The lovers love, transgress, and so they must
Die by their own hands, so artfully
Guided by the hands at their backs.
Love it while you're here, but don't
Live it or they'll shut the playhouse down.

Too much to explain on deadline, except to say love-suicide bunraku plays were so popular people started offing themselves and the censors banned the theaters from doing them. Also that Chikamatsu Monzaemon went back to writing bunraku cause kabuki actors messed with his lines too much and bunraku doesn't stand for that kind of thing.

Yeah, missed another day yesterday, I'll slip it in, comme elle a dit. Today's prompt was, god help us, "a swing poem." I tried to resist the obvious.

Today's judge is Boss, Todd Boss. Check him here. He works poetry in with public art and films.

Image: Masanobu. Now who's pulling the strings.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Scope Creep

Telescope

Tell me, spyglass, what do you see?
I see tiny dutchmen waving at me.
I can almost hear them across the water:
"Children! Primitives!" they bark.
"You're doing it all wrong!"
They never fear to visit
Any indignity upon us, their hosts,
Yet they are so concerned
That all must be done correctly.
And all the power of the glass
Won't reveal what's inside their ships.
It must be so precious to hide it that way.
When the wind comes around,
It smells like death to us.
With their big noses,
How can they ignore the stench?


Dutch and Chinese traders were allowed into Japan, but only under strict rules. Rengaku, or "the Dutch effect," refers to the relatively fast way Japan was able to "catch up" with technology and even overcome the west after years of isolation. The theory is that some technology from the Dutch sort of leaked through and developed despite the obstacles. It's always funny to see the world as others see it, to paraphrase Burns. I don't know if there's a word for Rengaku in reverse, but there certainly ought to be.

I am a supporter of reparations, but I don't believe most programs of reparation are of sufficient scope and vision. It is not only American fortunes that were made on the trade of people as slaves, but European ones as well.

Image: Wiki Commons and it ain't sayin

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pull Back The Covers


Yellow

Light changes color, I knew that
Even before they brought me here
As a child. I was tea and now I’m petal
And at night I am gold. I dreamed
The moat was full of enormous boats
Bobbing like jugs and buckets. Giants
Charged out and tore off the gates,
Smashed in the doors, broke screens
Like firemen, pressing us flat
Between leaves of paper. I was trapped
Inside a book and I was yellow.

When I was little, I could never figure out why they used the words for skin color that they did.

Today's prompt was to use an adjective as your title. Today's judge is a real poetic heavyweight: Alberto Rios. You can read some of his work here. I'm so psyched to be in the company of these National Poetry Month judges. It's like when I run a long race and I see the elites passing me, and they're on their way back to the base when I'm just starting out, and they're like, "good race, good job." And they're serious, because I'm old and slow, but they're so nice about it.

Image: Yellow Book. You know Wilde was never published in it, isn't that strange.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Truly, It Is A Lonely Planet

A True Guidebook To The District

Most of you are here to impress
Each other, not me. We’re lazy as cats
When you’re not looking. At your step
Down the street, the scene springs to life.
The cheap ones are thieves and the honest ones
Cost more, so you’ll pay the same either way.
The bad ones hurt your body, and the good ones
Hurt your conscience, so you’ll hurt either way.
I have a whole book of secret ways
To make yourself cry, and each style of sadness
Is distinct, with a name and a poem to go with it.
It’s very beautiful, but I’m not allowed
To show it to you. For years, I’ve saved
My greatest sadness, and I haven’t had to spend it
Yet. Yes, it could be yours. This wine is worth
Every bit you pay for it. Don’t be fooled;
I am the one true guide to the district.


Missed a couple days, have things scribbled, was running around. Will make up for it later, threat or promise ;)

Today's poetry judge is spell crafter Annie Finch. The prompt was honesty/dishonesty.

Guidebooks to the Yoshiwara were often produced and highly popular, with names and portraits of popular women and tips on how to conduct yourself there so you wouldn't (ha) get ripped off or look like a bama (or in their words, yabo or hankatsu. Hankatsu means you got only enough tsu to get that tsu matters but you don't really have the full tsu. You're half-baked.). Anyway, I saw similar guidebooks of Paris prostitutes from turn of the last century at the Museum of Eroticism in Paris.

Image: Hishikawa Moronobu, 1678, from Love in the Yoshiwara, a little earlier that what I've been focusing on but you get the gist. Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Four And A Half Stars In Your Eyes


Four Seasons At The Four Seasons

Spring
Blossom festival
Duties ended, princesses
Hit the hotel bar

Summer
Masked men dislodge a
Wasp's nest from the eaves outside
Room 237

Autumn
Orange skies. Sheet-wrapped
Lovers huddle on sidewalks.
Just a fire drill.

Winter
Irish, neat. A low
Table near the window wall.
Footprints in thin snow.

Today's prompt was a seasons poem; the judge is haiku master Michael Dylan Welch. (I'm going to start linking the judges for the Writer's Digest Poetry Month project, because they're fuqing saints to put up with us, and some tiny promotion is the least I can do.)

I have a soft spot for the Four Seasons. It looks nondescript, like the dullest office building, from the outside, but inside, it's all luxury and views of the park. I interviewed Rita Mae Brown there one spring. Last year, we went ice skating Christmas Day at the waterfront rink, and DD fell and cut her hand. The drugstore was closed, no convenience stores around, but the front desk at the Four Seasons hooked us up with a full first aid kit. I told them we weren't guests, but they said they were happy to help current and future guests. That's how you do it.

Image: "Executive Chef Douglas Anderson’s decadent French toast is made with smashed chocolate croissants served with Nutella, black cherry compote, whipped butter and maple syrup. The dish is offered during breakfast Monday - Friday 6:30-10:30 am and weekends 7:00-10:30 am for USD 17 exclusive of tax." I got too many food allergies to get into all that, but I'll watch.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Answer Is: Good Intentions


How To Walk To Hell

The plum blossoms are fragrant,
And the pines are lofty
When did charcoal ashes turn to morning frost?
This is how you walk away from a difficult place;
Movement that is calm can also be swift.
I trusted the fickle world, I trusted people,
I turned without twisting, soft and supple, like a cat.
But a piece of gold is better than moxa for building strong legs:
All that was left was the final striking of hands.
The feeling is easy, like turning a key in a lock--
This is his own house,
But the threshold seems too high for him to cross.


This is a found poem built from instructions on how to walk “nanba aruki,” the walk/run of the express couriers and samurai, and from the kabuki love-suicide play by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, The Courier For Hell, (tr. Donald Keene) about a courier-service manager in Osaka who steals from a samurai to buy out his courtesan’s contract, and then runs off with his love to the mountains, where they get caught and die.

There was a brisk business in distance-running couriers at that time, with all the money being exchanged and the messages that had to get among the three big cities, Edo, Kyoto, and Osaka.

It took much longer to put together this found poem than it does to write one!

Image: Still from Dolls, film by Takeshi Kitano. It's based on Chikamatsu Monzaemon's works and opens with a bunraku performance of Courier.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Sweet Sixteen Tons

Prayer For Daruma

The mist from the fountain
Rises and settles
In soft beauty
Into the clouds
And returns to us
In the rain

The wisp of smoke
From my most expensive
Incense finds its way
Into the nostril
Of the horse

Like water and smoke
I work without ceasing
Even asleep
I am getting paid
And even as I sleep
All I earn vanishes
Before I see a cent
To pay for my bed, my food,
The smoke and water

Will I live to climb
To the temple and vow
To sit in silence
For my last days?
Observe, please
My serene unconcern
As I pour the wine
I have earned, and
As I am paid to pour.
In this moment, I am
A past master
Of non-attachment.


There was a fashion for Zen in Yoshiwara, but that's not why they called prostitutes "daruma." The founder of Zen was said in legend to have meditated until his arms and legs fell off. Daruma dolls, made for good luck, are modeled after this--they're sinply round faces and torsos. You can tumble them over, and they rock a bit and roll right back up again. A second visual pun is obvious above--the meditating master, seen from behind, looks like a phallus. It shows up in a lot of the art from around then. This image is from a hundred years later than the period I'm writing about; the artist is making a very old joke.

Image: Shaku Soen, late 1800s, Daruma Meditating.

"Fights And Fires Are The Flowers Of Edo"

Matoi

I'm every bit as bad as any fireman--
The bell sounds and I hoist my standard,
Soak my dress and fall to dash the flame,
Lie back and light my pipe again.

I fight dozens of them every night--
Tear down anything standing
Near anything burning, it all folds.
Daylight: flat, damp, a curl of steam.

Image: Yoshitoshi.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

It's Not The Golden Journey, It's The Destination

Love Sick

I love the tile in my bath
So cool against my skin, such support
When I can't fall any farther

Maybe National Poetry Month makes me sick. All I know is it happens every time, and I still get my poems up here motherfuckers ha. And it's not supposed to be a haiku mmmmk?

Photo: It's the one everyone uses for their inspirational quote about kintsugi, and that's cause it's public domain. You gotta have an inspirational quote about kintsugi every year or they take away your new age license.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Vanquishing Power Of The Two-Wolf Shirt

Nothing To Fear

Here is a song about creatures to fear
Though it may appear they mean no harm:
A tiger who howls in loneliness.
An ox that works through the night.
A pregnant rat.
A peacock dragging his tail in the dust.
A monkey vomiting wine.
A goat content to graze in the valleys.
A horse that shies and stops on the road.
A snake, still, on a sun-warm rock.
A dragon.

The prompt today was to write a things-not-as-they-appear poem. Given the theme I've chosen, almost anything would qualify.

Image: Wolf Hat by Utagawa Kunisada. I didn't know much about him, but Wikipedia says he was the most popular of his time. Lots of twisted stuff, really nice. This is from a kabuki play; most of his work was images from these.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

High Time for a Haiku


Spring Greenery

You take my tears when
You leave for grief. It's envy--
You are free to go.


The scholarship has caught up with the euphemisms around the Floating World. Here's a great article with extensive interviews of the curator of an exhibition currently at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum. A few details: Most Yoshiwara prostitutes were sold into it as young as age 7, trained for several years, and were put to work by their teens. And they didn't last long; there's a mass grave from those times found outside the district, with the remains of more than 21,000 people "without connections," mostly women, mostly in their 20s.

If you'd like to learn more about human trafficking today, this group is a good source.

Image: From the Ukiyo-e Tarot, created by Koji Furuta. A really good deck, variation on the Waite so it's easy to learn, but carries its own meanings as well.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Time, Gentlemen

On the Clock

A clock must be constructed with wicked precision,
But the increments themselves can be sliced
As thick or thin as works within the measure
Of sun to sun. We behind the moat know
Time is our trade, but we incline to accommodate,
Make a few adjustments to the gears. It's only sensible
That the hour of the rabbit allow a greater span
For husbands to right their clothes, shove on
Their hats, and shuffle home again. It's right
That the hour of the snake should slip by
As smoothly as its namesake. If you hear me
Steal from the bed and ghost off barefoot,
It's not to take a rifle through your pockets.
I'm heading for the pillar clock in the hallway
To tilt a counterweight a bit, slacken the chain
On the machine. My hands know what to do
To make the bells go off, and send him scrambling
From my bed a little sooner, or buy some time
For us to breathe a little longer, disregard
What the light tells us and obey the engine.

Being isolated for a couple hundred years means you get to make your own time. The Utamaro prints on the "Hours of a Courtesan" are protected. This image of a Japanese Edo clock is from a site on karakuri, or automata, a very fine site indeed. The clockwork is the same in the puppet as the timepiece; it's just exposed in the latter. We've all got something inside us destined to run down.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Rumpspringin

Lattice

music, smoke, cats, piss:
these may take their liberties
flow the night streets
as they                   please
the rest of us are secreted

screen slats                    lattice
slats fan slats                    skin
a ritual glimpse                    the game
to keep you                    going
round every corner                    promise

rose, lily, lily, rose
item: six embroidered robes
layer, layer, layer                    flower

To be put behind a lattice was the mark of having achieved the middle-class of prostitution in the Yoshiwara. It's different from being put in an Amsterdam window display; the idea is that mystery is more valuable. Manufactured mystery. The more expensive you were, the more layers of robes you wore.

Photo: Took it a couple years ago and used it already, but it fit.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Float, Float On

A Foot In The Door

The first two visits, I don't even look at you.
You've put out for a hell of a spread,
But I don't fill your pipe, and I don't touch
My cup. The house feasts on my refusals.

For these few days, the power of
My denial keeps this world afloat.

The house has done its diligence.
The spies report: a small income,
A small house; men respect you;
Good connections on the black market.
Your sword is legendary,
My maids giggle, even with all I've seen.

On the third visit, I can drink,
I can smoke, I can listen to your songs.
Two old warriors, we can't keep our hearts
Still at the smell of a challenge. My hands
Plunge beneath your robe, and I can drown.


So if you wanted the best of the Yoshiwara, you had to put some effort in. You had to fill out an application and go to two interviews and pay for a lot of treats, musicians, the whole shebang. The woman you were after wasn't permitted to eat or drink, but would just sigh and look devastatingly disappointed, I imagine. Sometimes she'd even say no on the third visit. But sometimes she'd say yes, and you'd become a regular. You still had to keep up the love letters and poetry and treats and cash flowing, and sometimes you'd have to fight off other regulars. You couldn't rest on your, um, laurels.

This is the first post for National Poetry Month. Last year, my theme was the Albigensian Crusades. This year, it's the Floating World, the Yoshiwara district in Edo, post-1750. I'm using this theme and combining it with the prompts from the Pad 2015 Challenge at the Writer's Digest Poetic Asides Blog. You can visit there or the NaPoWriMo site to find out more and do it too. Or throw them some cash, never hurts.

Image: Ripped off from someone's Pinterest, a vintage 1970s subway poster of Agemaki, the courtesan from from the Kabuki Sukeroku. "Don't forget your umbrella."

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love Is Kind Of Spooky

I was going to try to send this to a magazine, but I'm too tired. Haven't slept in a couple days. Too many work. Wrote this between works.

Snow Day

It's an old-timer's joke. When it snows, they call:
"Liberal Leave--That means liberals get to leave!"
Nature's predictable unpredictabilities, a big freak snow
(deniers say there's no such thing) springs the drones,
Federal workers, and their contractors, and their sub-contractors,
And their sub-sub-contractors from our pens in the cube farm
Before that 5 o'clock whistle blows. Down the rolling

Hills of McLean we slide in holiday mode,
And into the bar that bygone days called Charley's Place.
Halfway into the first round and already the ends of our hair are touching.
It takes three to make a conspiracy: You're a drunk,
I'm a PR trinket; Eddie, just another glassed-up geek.
Where did you learn to make your voice sound like a man in a movie?
Is this the part where I stumble to the ladies room and everything goes black?

I don't know what brought you here, but I'll tell you what got me:
It was the smiley people on the PowerPoint, those scrawled emoticons,
There among the Getty-grab montage, the calculated ratio
Of racially ambiguous stock-photo faces and bare-faced
Helvetica, there it lay, that half-assed plan to swallow it all.
Most of them were all, yeah, OK, they saw it as a technical
Issue, more overtime, something to spin
For more gold. He saw it and turned cold.

You don't even have to be the type who's played these games
Since birth (it helps to have a dad who came home and drank and never
Came to your school or told you what he did all day in that suit) to know
A few simple hacks that can change your life! Ghost and encrypt,
Randomize, keep it all in draft form on a shared address,
A sort of cloud-based mutual masturbation; and, um, cui bono, what else?
Oh: Look for the glitch. Glitch first, then pattern recognition.
Your innocuousness is your greatest asset. Cultivate a single
Artisanally crafted eccentricity as a sort of vaccine. You want to be
Overlooked. Like the Potomac. People live here for years
And never notice those rocks. That current. It's lethal.

The roads are ice and our wheels are spinning, trying to play it out,
Another million, another fiscal year, another sub-sub-sub--
(It makes a sound like going down the drain. It makes a sound
Like in a basement. Like water. Concrete. A hole in the floor.)
Contract for the app that drives the device that drives the system that drives the
Payday. You come up gasping, like Jean Valjean out of the sewer
And into the snow, dented cars, salt-rimed and ice-stippled.
Slipped through their fingers again. It looks like Moscow out here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

See Me Feel Me

Crickets

I.
Silence has the edge.
My hearing started going but I don’t get
Monsters, like a real artist.
Of course I think of Goya when I think
Of going deaf, I can’t help it,
It’s a reflex, it’s how I was raised,
For comfort, I turn the pages
Of Los Caprichos, think thank god,
It’s not just me.
They really do look like that,
The heads of asses, the gaping mouths
With no sound. It’s not just me.

II.
My hearing started going, and I don’t get silence.
Some get oceans, some get bells,
Some get the test of the Emergency Broadcast System.
I get crickets, I get distant sirens.
Where is the bug, where is the accident?
In the other room? A few blocks away?
Inside or outside? Here I am,
In a state of perpetual alarm.

III.
Oh and also Poe, the prince of auditory hallucinations.
Some hear things that never were, and think
Why not? They turn their shame into a heartbeat
And scream and give themselves away.
I bet you heard that alright! Here come the cops again.

III.
You could look at it this way, there must have been at least
One time in your life that you were alone
In a house, even just a room, just a bed, and you hear things
You’re not sure, was that a thing, and you think:
Someone’s in here. Someone’s coming after me.
Your mind turns the random creaks and pops
Into a pattern, and then into a person.
You just want the sounds to make sense.
But there’s no one there. There’s no one after you,
No one following you, no one spying on you,
Reading your texts, researching your movements,
Trying to find out your next move, building an altar to you,
Filming you, filming you everywhere, nobody.
You’re alone. It’s OK. You’re completely alone.

IV.
Silence, like any other weapon, depends
For its effectiveness on range, the skill
Of the one who wields it, and the quality
And care put into its manufacture.
I’d say you’ve got these covered.
You’re no toddler in the supermarket cart,
Taking mommy’s gun out of her purse to play
With and shooting the cashier. You’re trained.
You know what you’re doing. But I have to tell you--
(I shout into the night, at the treeline at the edge
Of the yard, because I can always say I’m drunk,
If the neighbors say it’s a problem, if they say
She needs to see somebody. Calling out,
Talking back to the ones who aren’t there,
Who have never talked to me,
That’s my weapon.) --I have to tell you,
I know you’re out there. I can’t hear you,
But I know you’re out there.

V.
Crickets are prized for their singing
Or for their fighting. The nobleman holds
An exquisite cricket vessel in his portrait. I feel him hearing
The papery crinkle of the cricket hopping,
The surprisingly rounded thud against
The walls of its molded gourd.
The cage is designed to amplify sound.

VI.
I get sirens. I wish I’d get the ocean.
I’d like to duck and plug my ears
And hear the resounding boom. Close my eyes
And breathe water. Oh salt, salt, clear me.
Some people pay a lot for this kind of treatment.
I want the ocean. It doesn’t drown out the crickets.
In their cunningly crafted gourds, they bob
Out on the tide and into the stream.

Photo: Ann-Margret gets sudsed.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Je Suis Curiouser

Nine of Swords

In Admiration of the Professional Mourners


I never remember when to kneel,
Or sit, or stand, (or speak or heel)
Or bow my head, so you assume
I'm new to mourning. Not true.
It's clear I'm not a pro, I haven't
Kept up with the latest techniques;
Neither meta nor rootsy, my grief
Is outsider grief, self-taught. To you
Goes that blessed relief of tribes,
Armies, nations who share your sorrow
And issue proclamations in its honor.
I am alone in mine.
I know a well-crafted fence when I see it;
I can admire a fine machine, and proper
Words and what to wear. But it's a
Rulebook I was never given to master;
I'll show up at the Home
With a tub of potato salad, not knowing
That's just not how it's done anymore.

But like an old woman who dances
On point in her dreams, my nights are filled
With ghosts, with so many dead you'll
Never, never know, so many you've never
Even seen or heard of, but I have, I know
Them all, and through the night I offer
Such exquisite tribute the dead themselves
Are brought to tears. It's simple, as it
Must be. It gets them every time.
Of course I'll tell you how. I give away
My art, I always give it away. Here's all
I have to say: "I realize that you are gone."

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reboot In The Face


Next to the Last Straw
Now I have to paw through all my possessions,
Now, when I finally had everything organized,
I have to find something else to burn.
Of course it's ridiculous! It's old, I'm old,
I'm cold, yes, bones grind but I don't see a spark.
What on earth am I supposed to destroy this time,
I ask you? This old thing? This wrinkled garment
Wrapped my vanity for years. It's fit to go up
With a real whoosh. Can't you smell
All the molded petroleum woven into its warp?
The children's sweat spun into its weft?
I don't see enough here to conjure wings,
Not out of this rag, but if this is what
You command, gold from straw,
Bricks without it, I'm powerless.

Photo: The Rockford Files.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Get Your Nails Done Or Something, You'll Feel Better

Swag
It is not yet solstice, but the trim
Along the awning of the Best Buy is sagging.
I turn on the television, Law and Order,
Because this is the only kind of magic I can afford
To allow into my home. You know how this ends.
My gods have betrayed me, yet every day
I pray to them. Walking home from the bus
I pick up a few of the prettiest little
Dead leaves to put on my altar.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vaguebookin

Isn't that a town in Sweden? Or perhaps a kind of vodka. Anyway, a lovely young woman inspired me to write a poem.

Zero to Fifty
I take my measure, and it is zero:
Nobody invites me anywhere;
Nobody reads my poems, not even
My lovers, unless I twine
Around their legs and whine. Yet
Like everyone, I hold onto
A few signs the gods hold me
In some esteem. Count mine:
Nothing I care about has ever
Been stolen from me. I can sleep
Anywhere. Everywhere I ever lived
Has had an abundance of hot running water.
I step into the shower and watch
The water flow over tiles swirled
In grey and green and ochre,
All the colors of a beach at low tide.

Photo: Let the Right One In. I'm a social media vampire--you want me, you must invite me; I'm not allowed to invite anyone.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

That First Hint Of Fall In The Air

Like Nigel Tufnel says, D Minor is the saddest of all keys, one that tends to make people cry instantly when they hear it. This is, like, a combination of Plath and Dr. Seuss. It's like a Pleuss piece.

XVI: The Tower
Drunken Jenga Night

I am only following orders to get out
More, make some new friends, get my mind off
Things. Like that. So it’s margaritas in the babble
Of the bar, hours after the happy hour—it still smells
Of handbags and 5 o’clock breath, a fresh layer of powder.
I’d say that flop sweat of the cubicle still hangs
In the air like smoke, except no one is permitted
To smoke anymore. I sneak them. I sneak everything
These days; I am a master sneak, a sip, a look
At my phone, those are just the ones you catch me at,
Diversionary tactics so you won’t notice the big deception.
You’d be wise to think of everything you see these days
That way. But to the task at hand (mine shake.
Are you sure you want me on your team?):
The destruction and simultaneous reconstruction of the tower.
One is the one that sets the tone. Two is the one I’ll leave
Up to you. Three is the one that no one could see.
Four I perform for the man at the door,
Who couldn’t bear keeping the order any more.
Five is the monster who waits at the gate
To topple the tipsy woman he hates. Six! Six! Six is success,
Writ large on the poster above the picture of a gleaming window wall.
Seven—oh, place what you have taken away
So carefully. More and more holes in the structure,
Rickety, swaying: You’ll never get it back
The way it was. You know that’s not the way
This game is played. Seven, seven, they all
Stop to watch what happens next.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Straw Man Burns Brightly

And now for something completely different in style. Any reference to any living person named Ken is not intended. Was listening to a bit of Morrissey this morning, ripped his inimitable way with titles.

On Conversing With A Neighbor, Whom I Had Believed To Be A Reasonable Man
Did you see the car up on blocks he said
Yes they came and stole the wheels
Just took them right off! It's awful
What people will do. But you know
And here I see my vague murmur of assent will not do
You know I don't know what people are thinking
Parking right out on the street with rims like that
I mean what do they expect? They know the neighborhood
They should know this neighborhood, they should know better
I'm just saying you should be a little more careful
In some neighborhoods. I'm only talking
About PREVENTION. If you want rims like that,
You should have a garage, and you should keep it locked
All locked up inside. And if someone who lives with you
Steals from you then, well then you shouldn't have let them
Into the house. You have to be careful who you let in,
I don't care if it's your grandfather or your friend,
Oh and these boyfriends, THESE BOYFRIENDS THEY HAVE,
Just don't let them in. People just don't think.
People think because they park a couple blocks
From the police station, they're safe, THEY'RE NOT SAFE,
The police don't care about their rims, the police
Have better things to do. I'm just asking
For a little COMMON SENSE. I don't get to do whatever I want to do
And expect you to look after me. I use COMMON SENSE.
I LOOK AFTER MYSELF. I'm only asking them to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.
Is it so hard to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY? I'm not going to
TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for what happens to them.
And what happened to the car alarm? If you're going to
Go wherever you want to go with those fancy rims
At least get a car alarm. A loud one. Make sure it works.
Test it every day. Make it louder. I'm talking here
About prevention, WHY AM I NOT ALLOWED TO TALK
About prevention? WHY AM I NOT ALLOWED TO TALK
About responsibility? And I'll tell you, I saw it,
There was a beer can next to that car. That car
Might have been drinking. WHY DO THEY EXPECT
They can park anywhere they want when they've been drinking?
THEY CAN'T DO ANYTHING THEY WANT. What did they expect
Was going to happen if they go around like that,
With those rims and their drinking? I can't believe
How much the cars are drinking these days,
The cars get so drunk and never FACE THE CONSEQUENCES,
These are just the CONSEQUENCES when you don't use
COMMON SENSE. WHY CAN'T I TALK ABOUT THE REAL PROBLEM?
I'll tell you the real problem here. I'll tell you:
It's CAR DRUNKENNESS. I'll tell you what we SHOULD TALK ABOUT.
Car drunkenness. Why are the cars getting so drunk?
AM I ALLOWED TO ASK why the cars are drinking so much?

And he paused for a breath and I said:
YES! I said YES, YES, I know the answer!
The cars are drinking to drown out your crap,
And all the crap from those standing behind you.
The cars are drinking because they are tired
Of looking after you. Taking responsibility
For you and everyone else in the world has
Driven them down. They are drinking so much because
They can't do whatever they want. You can do
Whatever you want, but they can't do much of anything.
They are drinking so much because it is the only thing
They are allowed to do. You want them to drink.
It makes everything easier. The cars are drinking to forget.
They are drinking to forget you. They drink to forget
That the cops don't care, and that the alarm
Will never be loud enough or work well enough,
And that no matter how far or how fast they go,
They'll never make it to that locked garage
In that peaceful locked neighborhood
Where nothing bad ever happens.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

"I am not afraid of sh*t storms"--Aeschylus. Sort Of.

Navigating by the Stones

I realize, halfway up the washed pebbles
Of this slippery slope, that I don't want to go
Back down the way I came. But the wind
Has got me now, no way to change the tack.
Switchback, switchback. Plastic sacks
Lashed to the masts by the fury
Of the mornings storm. I'll churn along
Until the trail surfaces into the sunset,
Hits a road bobbing with commuters,
Tugging at the ropes, and singing
To keep their minds off the pain.

Image: Mine. Sometimes you see evidence of what must be human work on random rocks.
Headline: One of my favorite writers.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Kind Of Conclusion

Inquiry
















Images: It doesn't hurt. Halfway thru this month, I was diagnosed with a skin condition called dermographism. Even small scratches and little pressure leaves a distinct mark. I decided to write a word or two somewhere on my skin each night, with the goal of having a completed poem for the last night of the month. It itches furiously for a while--it's a histamine reaction--and then it subsides. Pardon the poor penmanship. If I'd been thinking, I'd have made a title card as well.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Penultimate Words



Jongleur
The purpose of the artist is to make beauty
Real to us. The artist needs to be granted peace
And food and drink. We should allow
The artist what's deserved. His pursuit
Is noble beyond the hunt; he is the fruit
Of centuries of counts and is every inch a prince.
Get it? You might train him to dance
On the end of a chain, but he's crafty, that one,
Watch him now. Here is how he
Beckons beauty in: His mother and the whores alike
Rush to his aid. Here is how he makes beauty
Real: By showing us the scuffed boot
And the sugar stipple of dirt along the ruff
Of her petticoat. He should have had
A dozen castles. There's no need to beat the man.
Give him his stick. Pour him a drink,
The poor damned fool; he will never be forgiven,
He will always want for more. Show him
A landscape and the artist will take a shit
On it. Process is critical to the artist's
Creation. His process incorporates his own
Destruction, we'll give him that. Well done.
We won't miss the moment when the trumpet sounds--
That punchline of a last word
When the prey is taken down.

Video: Toulouse-Lautrec's last words were "Le vieux con," generally believed to have been directed at his father.

Turn It Down

Sanctuary
The purpose of the cathedral is to have a place to safely
Contemplate. You need enough room to assemble, a vantage
Point, created to dominate the lands around. The structure
Should be the center of the town. All roads flow
To its doors. This is the place designed for you
To flee to in danger. Kneel here, and no one
Need fear that you'll be stabbed in the back. Well,
It has been known to happen, even for all the eyes watching, for all
That every corner is strange to light but holds, like the saint,
Eyes. Watch what you say here. For all can hear. Your voice
Rises to the arches, into all that air and circles
And circles, your words a trapped bird beating to escape.
Oh screech and claw, bright visitor! That this spirit
Created of your breath will fall is fine proof:
There was poison there. The saint's fine devotionals
Spin up to the arches to chase down your voice, her music
Turned mad as a vielle a roue on festival day
Among all those echoes. What you said, and when,
Will be the subject of their inquiry. Who said what,
And what was meant, we can no longer tell. Punishment
Must befall all, and our task to pluck the feathers,
Trusting in our Master to sort each scrap of down.

Image: The incomparable Remedios Varo.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Murderous Silence Of The Castle Keep


Observatory
The purpose of the castle is to have a place to survive
A siege. You need a high vantage point, a way
To get goods in, and a water source. One out of three.
What a coincidence--that's also the number for
Our odds, the ratio of survivors, and the blessed mystery.
Once we could embrace the whole town, piling up
The pregnancies and the bastions, opening new loopholes.
I look back, and back, and count the marks on the wall,
The levels the sun got to at noon, but I can't name the day
The castle turned into a trap. Around and around the walls
I slink and crawl, dodging whatever falls--from our fortress
Or from their weapons; nobody can tell. Once we could see all
From here. We were as a vast iris, the aperture
At the tip of the mountain. Now we know nothing, blinded
By the thick walls. I can tell you there are enough
Marks now that I pray the cats will do their work
And tear me a rush of light, my escape to my true crown.

Image: Found it when I was walking from the market to the train.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Better To Lie On Your Back Than Lie On Your Knees

"A professional model is like a stuffed owl. These girls are alive."
--Henri de Toulouse Lautrec on women in brothels

Pink Cities
Take all the boys to visit Venus, ply her
With sweets and brandy. Five flights up she lives
With a little monkey, a few canvases. The most
Closely regarded for a time became the one
Who owned the gaze. Once the most adored,
Now nailed, with her gal pals--the bored barmaid,
The woman gazing rapt at a plum. Others trafficked
In their images and made the money. She falls
Apart here. Some things never change.
No less than the damned above the altar
Does the black cat and the ambiguously placed
Hand signify. Bend her fingers into this
Text: I see, you see, cross me, blessed.

There's an anecdote that Toulouse-Lautrec knew the model for Manet's Olympia, Victorine Meurent, and would bring folks to visit her. She took to painting and music, but didn't get paid so much at either pursuit as she had at her first career. From the little I've skimmed, it looks like Manet was a real dick to Toulouse-Lautrec; maybe he was to everyone; maybe his arrogance was justified. I read Henry's refusal to let the model be forgotten as a sort of counter strike--even if there was some cold-bloodedness and mockery in his bringing the boys around, he's still seeing her as alive--not as a broken toy once animated only through genius.

Image: "Woman Lying on Her Back."

Friday, April 25, 2014

An Old Protest Song


The prompt today is a classic: the fake translation. You take what a poem in a foreign language sounds like in your own and then tweak it into shape.

Predicator
Predicator
Take by permission,
Come fail all they demand of her
No fast sell--
Kill over fear,
Kill all who fail to predict her

Can't predict
It's so specific
You fuckin' bitched-up adjuster
Come on simulacra,
A Cassanova
So predictable of a monster


A little Sonic Youthy, maybe? Peire Cardenal was a troubadour who saw the worst results of the Albigensian Crusade and lived. He was pissed. He was known most for--and mostly wrote--sirventes, political satires. Here's a chunk from his story about how he'd basically tell God to go to hell because God is being all Judgy McJudgmenty. It's translated by W.D. Snodgrass, who's more palatable to me than Pound; the whole is called "A New Protest Song."

"I’ll now compose a brand new protest song
Which I’ll perform on the Last Judgment Day
Telling the Lord who contrived me from clay
That if He’s planning to claim I’ve done wrong
Then stick me down with those devils that scare me,
That I’ll just say: “Have a heart, Lord, and spare me!
I had torments in that damned world enough;
If You don’t mind, keep Hell’s pitchforkers off!”

This is the original of the Cardenal piece I "translated," which I chose for its techno-metal sounding title. I have no idea what it means. I suck at French, much less Occitan.

Predicator
Tenc per meillor,
Quam fai l'obra que manda far,
Non fas selui
Que l'obra fai
Que als autres vai predicar.

Qui en predic
Met son afic
Lo fach e-l dich deu ajostar,
Car meils lo cre
Aquel que-l ve
Son predic per l'obra mostrar.

Image: The man the myth the legend, from a manuscript. I've been seeing cardinals all over the place for the past week or so, so he should have shown up here by now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Unspeakable, Inedible

The Hunt

The circus, the races, the hunt, the kitchen--
These are the places human and beast
Have their most honest dialogue. You might add
The castle, the brothel, the dance hall, the studio.

It's an old family recipe:
Stack three thick steaks up just like bricks,
Shove them onto the coals and suffer
The flames to engulf them. The one
Pressed between the two will be
Tender, done perfectly.

The son pushes a hook through the cormorant's throat.
The father waits for the moment the hallali sounds.

A couple weeks back, the NaPoWriMo prompt was to use a recipe to tell a family secret. It's not my recipe, nor my secret.

Image: Henry is hoist by his own canard. And I have no idea who this person is, but this blog is fucking amazing and that's where it popped up.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Debout


One of these is a legitimate question asked at the trial of Oscar Wilde. If you can guess which, you may earn a sweet.

The Questions I Would Ask At The Trial
What do you want to bet the Marquess and the Count
Are kicking up their heels together in hell?
What makes these fathers so vain of how they look?
What lengths won't they go to, to try to keep it up?
Who can sit still for a portrait on a night like this?
Who can remember? Where was that portrait hidden
All those years? How did it emerge looking so fresh,
So new? What is the mystery of its preservation?
Were you cursed by the black prince? Do you dream
Of riding? How many years does it take
To take down a castle? How long can you
Stand a siege? What are the names
Of the other men? Is powder on your hands
Reason enough to be seized? Did you set out
To be a martyr? Is it true that you
Put your head in your hands and walked
To the top of the hill? How many dead
In one bloody week? Why did they forbid
Anyone to add another kiss to your tomb?
Was anything said about a sonnet?

Toulouse-Lautrec was a defender of Wilde and with him the night before the trial. He drew his portrait of Wilde from memory, after he got back to his room, because the writer had been too edgy to sit still.
Image: You can't do this anymore. Stolen from NPR. They took it from someone named MrOmega at Flickr.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Oil On Cardboard

The Bed
He doesn't miss a trick, that one.
Not the face in the crowd or the one
Slumped in the corner or the kick.
A bitter little monster, without
Either youth or age to excuse it.
He's a good cook, I'll give him that.
And you know I never turn down ready money.
He's in the armchair, drawing
Or sleeping, I don't care which, and
I almost forget he's there--but with you,
Once they're gone, I forget everything.
The ones who pay to watch--breath.
The ones who pay to have us--water.
Everything we need, but nothing
We need to hold onto.

Image: Le Lit, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Come On Berbie, Let's Go Party

Sorry to miss a day. I couldn't get this up last night.

Oh stop.

So you get a bonus poem, two cocktail recipes, and a lecture.

Earthquake
Wormwood wants earth that's drained to nearly dry.
The roots are a monster. They'll try to break
Clay pots; they won't be enclosed. In spring,
It is everything you don't want to see--grey,
Kinked, stiff and gnarled, brittle branches
Clutching at any detritus of seasons past
That it can hoard. It has a tremor. Nubs
Of green force their way out of the ugly wood,
And this may be the source of the stories:
They say there is a spirit trapped inside,
A dragon, a hunter, a beauty, its name
A star that falls and turns the river bitter--
Taste what I am made of, it demands.

Various apocrypha attribute the invention of the Earthquake cocktail to Henry (his preferred spelling) de Toulouse-Lautrec. There are several recipes floating around the Internets, but the one that for me combines authenticity and palatability is this: One part cognac, one part absinthe, splash of red wine.

There are know-it-all foodies and … drinkies? What do you call an expert on spirits? -- who will argue this shit to the death, usually in loud voices after they're half in the bag, and tell you a lot about thujones and all, but here's the reality: there's nothing particularly different about absinthe. The ritual and mythology just primes you to think so. Artemesias are medicinal in different ways; medicine is bitter; you get the medicinal properties out of any herb by processing it with alcohol. You use different artemesias in different ways in cooking, drinking, and medicine to get different effects. Way back, people used to make their own absinthes, vermouths, aperitifs and digestifs to their own recipes, handed down and tweaked, so to speak, over the years, and many still do. The traditional use of artemesias was to get rid of worms. I mean stomach worms, not earthworms. Every herb has a tendency to produce a particular effect, but any herb can also produce a particular effect in a a particular person, ranging from puking to falling asleep to hallucination. Medicine is tricky and herbalism trickier, because it's harder to standardize the dose. If you soak lawn clippings in alcohol and drink enough of it, it's going to kill you. You should work with a personal root doctor or similar, and be patient and careful. Southern wormwood, or Sweet Annie, grows wild all over the southeast U.S. If you choose to work with it, you should work with a good traditional Chinese Medicine expert, because they're very familiar with it. All of this is to say that I get annoyed when people talk about hallucinating from absinthe or that it's particularly dangerous. You might as well say the same of Aperol, which I prefer.

It is also to say that Toulouse-Lautrec wasn't killed by the absinthe. He was killed by his father, just like any other normal, decent artist.

Last night I had a very sweet drink of a spoonful of Few rye (I can't drink very much alcohol; i just fall asleep), pomegranate juice, homemade limoncello, an orange slice, and a grind of a spice mix I make with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, and allspice. How fucking precious is that! But tasty.

Here's a bitter poem by Anne Bronte. I'm like, yeah baby.

O GOD! if this indeed be all
That Life can show to me;
If on my aching brow may fall
No freshening dew from Thee;

If with no brighter light than this
The lamp of hope may glow,
And I may only dream of bliss,
And wake to weary woe;

If friendship’s solace must decay,
When other joys are gone,
And love must keep so far away,
While I go wandering on,—

Wandering and toiling without gain,
The slave of others’ will,
With constant care and frequent pain,
Despised, forgotten still;

Grieving to look on vice and sin,
Yet powerless to quell
The silent current from within,
The outward torrent’s swell;

While all the good I would impart,
The feelings I would share,
Are driven backward to my heart,
And turned to wormwood there;

If clouds must ever keep from sight
The glories of the Sun,
And I must suffer Winter’s blight,
Ere Summer is begun:

If Life must be so full of care—
Then call me soon to Thee;
Or give me strength enough to bear
My load of misery!

Image: What was the bishop's fortress in Albi was transformed into the Museum of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stoner


Barbican
It takes 40 days of fighting to earn
An indulgence. The longer the siege goes on,
The greater the chance to save
Your soul. The more stones launched
Over the walls, the greater the chance
Of escape. The longer you suffer,
The more you pray. The more you speak
His name, the closer you draw
To salvation. Kiss the stones, for they
Serve you. Within them lies your legacy.
If the walls fall and let the arrows
Fly at you, this is a blessing. These stones
Are your bread. Every broken tower
Brings you closer to your liberation.
Nine months, and we are perfected.
We deliver ourselves to you without a cry.

Over the past several years, I've been able to play on a trapeze in a castle and with a trebuchet. I'm very grateful for the experience.

Image: Trebuchet stones from Montsegur.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kick Against The Pricks



I was right about the universe, because if it wanted me to write, it would not put me into hours-long work meetings. I pulled a NaPoWriMo prompt from a couple of days ago to come up with this.

Sin gives us everything that we desire in a home.
Sin's universal appeal is founded on several compelling qualities.
Sin embraces our sense of comfort and well-being, and makes us feel connected to our environment, in beautiful colors that spring from nature itself.
Because it is derived from nature, sin stands up to weather and nature without fading.
If anything, weather tends to enhance the beauty of sin.
Sin is virtually maintenance-free, standing up to the elements year after year.
Sin's proven reliability passes the test of time in any climate.
Hard-fired sin in will not shrink like a substitute.
Modern sin is energy efficient.
Does sin cost more? In many cases, sin is available without extra charge.
There really is a difference in quality between substitutes and genuine sin.
With genuine sin you can dream any design, and transform it into a beautiful, living experience.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Lion Low

Don't feel so good tonight, and that's no lie. I'm on the couch while my child watches her favorite show, Restaurant Impossible. The NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem that is a lie--just 10 lines of lies. I can do that. I'm taking down lines from the show. Lying is not one of the seven deadly sins, but Dante classed alchemists with liars. Just my luck.

His presence is still with us.
There are a few people who need to be here.
I couldn't do this alone.
You can really taste the meat.
I think you should let them in.

Welcome home.
She is an asset.
I'll definitely come back.
We know changes need to be made.
I think everybody is very pleased with the way this came out.

Image: Triumph over Monfort.

Queen Of This Realm


On Encountering Fouquet in the Circle
It's the heretics' gift to see what's far ahead
But never what is under her own nose.
But you may ask a question of the dead:

Yes, you are immortal; there are those
Who'll never hear of how the bishop lied
But only hear of songs that you composed,

And how, reformed, you joined the other side
To devote yourself to rid the world of ones
Who with the body said the spirit dies--

So kill their spirits, first, then kill their sons.
No, have no worries they'll forget your name
More perfect than the perfect on their tongues

(More than a thousand with me here are lain)
Or that your deeds might someday come to light
And you, as with your God, would know disdain--

Our tombs are open; yours is shut up tight.

Folquet de Marselha was a troubadour who had a sudden change of heart and became a monk. It was a fine career move, because he eventually became Bishop of Toulouse; just had to help kill off a lot of his former party pals to get there. The prompt for today from NaPoWriMo was to do a terza rima. I tried to work in some of Canto X, which is about chatting with the heretics and has a disputed line.