Sunday, August 30, 2009

Hammer Don't Hurt Em

"If you want me, I'll be off dancing around," my daughter says. Good enough. I'm going out to weed, myself.

Eight of Pentacles
The Stone

"Art requires form," the trapeze artist told me,
As we sat in her tent, eating candied ginger,
And drinking that bitter tea her people like.
They brought me in on the matter of some riggings,
A problem solved easily with the right counterweights.

Sometimes since then I dream of hoops and horses,
Silks and nets, my feet light and my head
Swinging low, below me, my body turning--

Not the world. But I know the muscles in my arms
Are suited for this work alone: To swing a hammer
And carve what's needed in the rock, turning
Each one I'm given into a talisman. When I began
I placed the first the highest I could stretch,
And then the next lower, the next lower,
And then to earth, to be a stepping stone.

Update: Was thinking and realized I dropped a line of what it was supposed to be.

Friday, August 28, 2009

For Those About To Black Rock, I Salute You

The way to get over fear of falling on the trail is probably not to try a tough trail in the rain without your glasses, but it just sort of happened. I wasn't sure where I'd go after I walked my daughter to school, and the streets took me in that direction. The Melvin Hazen trail is short, but nearly entirely what they call "technical." Four creek crossings, steep grades and switchbacks, many fallen trees to duck over and under, and the closest thing to a level stretch is mined with rocks and roots. One near-fall on a simple stretch, two slips on the stones on the creek crossings, one day more of rebuilding confidence.

I attempted to steal a photo from this multi-author blog that has a lot of interesting wisdom about adventuring of all sorts and describes the trail well. But it actually starts from a stretch before Connecticut Avenue.

And I stole the above photo from this fine and funny blog about solo traveling.

Here is a present for those going to the desert.

"Drink before you're thirsty,
"Take more than you need." I am charmed
By the abundance of advice and anticipation,
The addresses exchanged for the near future.
"Maybe next year," I murmur into my glass,
And watch the polite smiles surface.
You are already far away.
The ground is hard here, too;
The weeds clutch at the clay.
Under the same sun that beats
Down on your tents, I reach
In among the brambles and the bees,
To pick the ripe berries.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Something For the Rag and Bone Man

I know I should take Hail to the Thief out of the car CD player. It's like August sealed it in there.

Two of Wands

See? We shrank it. Like your balls
When you leap into a spring-fed pool
In late summer. You can cup it in your hand.
From point to point now, our goods
Bump without a stretch. Catch! Kidding.
Of course there's always some gaggle
Ready to shake a stick. A scholar tried
To tell me the tide had receded past the point
It had ever pulled back to before. I don't see it.
And look at the olive trees, dripping with fruit.
My yard man says they bear like that
When they sense a crisis, a drought ahead.
Yes, I understand him, I know a good bit
Of his language, we can converse, a good man.
But look how the gourds and melons swell
Fit to burst, how the vines top the stones
Of the terraces. --There's our colleagues.
Let's go in. They won't stand the heat.

This is my daughter's song, which she was dancing around singing while I put this entry in. I think it's Beefheartesque:

Have you ever
Put your finger on a hot glue gun
Write back to me

Have you ever
Been on the Great Wall of China
Write back to me

Have you ever
Been to KD9 planet
Write back to me

Have you ever
Been to San Francisco
Write back to me

Everybody rock and roll
I'm a guitar
Everybody rock and roll
You rock, America
And other places

Monday, August 24, 2009

Escape Route Sought

Hurt and hiding and thanking the goddess for the library and my two novels a week. This time it's The Glister by poet John Burnside. An eerie story of a town once buoyed by a huge chemical plant, now poisoned by same--everyone and everything from the birds to the grass is sick, mutated, mad, despairing, violent. And then there are the disappearances. It is horribly real but has that abstract feeling of fairy tales.

I was rummaging around for more on Burnside and found this wonderful interview by William Rycroft, a blogger whose profile says he is an actor in London. More than this I don't know, but I thank him for getting these quotes:

JB: "...Seeing that this is a universal principle – that things are always in flux – helps us to overcome our local attachments – by which I don’t mean that we lose interest in, or passion for, anything, but we do see that things pass, and this moment’s pleasure or pain is clarified by the knowledge that it will pass.

There’s a tradition in Spanish poetry that I like – where the poet is in his garden, looking around, listening to the birds, enjoying the warmth and the scents, when it comes to him that one day this garden will still be there, but he will be gone, and someone else will be experiencing these things. Someone he doesn’t even know. This is a cause for celebration, though, not elegy or regret. The game continues. James P. Carse talks about this as ‘infinite play’ – there are times when we cease to play the game of being for finite ends, and play for the sake of the game itself, a game that will go on without us.

I know, I know. New age-y mysticism and such have made all these ideas into clich├ęs. I was a sub-hippie myself once. But as experiences, these things remain true, and cannot be diminished. Except, perhaps, in rambling on about them – which I’ve just done!

WR: Why do you think society has become so divorced from the reality of most people’s inner lives?

JB: Oh, God, don’t invite me to take out the soap box. Seriously, though, the problem has been well analysed and we pretty much know what has gone wrong – we lost organic connection with the world around us, everything was commoditised, our politicians and business folk became hopelessly self-serving (as they have often done, through history, but recently it’s been so blatant it saps the spirit just to watch them get away with it), we have a neo-medieval culture of celebrity, excellence became embarrassing, we began to think in soundbites, we published more and more books about ‘complexity’ but schooled ourselves to think in simpler and simpler terms. I could go on. The central thing, maybe, is that we were the first society to know – actually to see and hear – the misery that was being endured in faraway places, by people our appetites had impoverished, while we enjoyed our bland and joyless feasts at home. What a burden of guilt that is – and along with that guilt comes a feeling of helplessness, a sense that there is nothing we can do about it."

Burnside also points out in the interview that his inspiration was the toxic poisoning in Weston, via ICI. Here's more about that and some other similar sites.

On a lighter note, I'm also reading a David Liss, The Whiskey Rebels. He writes historical detective fictions set during civilization's economic system turning points. This one is set during Alexander Hamilton's establishment of a national banking system, and it really is funny and fun to read. It takes my mind off things.

Fell asleep during The Watchmen on demand. Love the book. The movie was too faithful except where it counts.

Saw Funny People. Not a waste of money. I've always found Adam Sandler to be incredibly hot. You know what was too fucking distracting in that movie? All the ironic t-shirts.

Maybe there's a secret tunnel in the basement. Or I could smuggle myself out through the kitchen, draped in white, past the steaming pasta pots and shouting chefs and clanging cleavers. Hide myself in the laundry cart, bury myself in the hay in the wagon.

Photo: You can get yours from

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"I've Got Your Head in a F-in' Vise, Here."

Nobody cares what I might say about health care reform, even less than they might about anything else I'd write. I should go to bed, I should organize my daughter's school clothes, I should read a book.

1. Corporate health insurance companies are death panels.

2. Conservative Republicans such as Dick Armey and Tommy Thompson have been making decisions for me about my health care all my life. Congress, administration, corporate health insurance board positions, for-profit hospital lobbyists, lather, rinse, repeat.

3. And as long as corporate health insurance companies can keep picking up the skim, the whole lot of them of any party would be fools not to take what they can get. Everyone gets their cut and it's been pretty peaceful, but you know how it is, people start getting greedy.

4. “People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn’t have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.” This quote from the Investors Business Daily editorial offends most not because it's so way wrong--Hawking is British and actually spoke up for the NHS--nor because it perpetuates the lie about "death panels," but because of its infantilization of people with disabilities. From the sobby "This brrrrillllliant man" language to the Google I Feel Lucky selection of a poster child to the assumption that Hawking himself couldn't possibly have an opinion in the matter or care about how his views might be characterized in an international publication--it's just grotesque. But I know they only got carried away because they care, so, so deeply.

5. Republicans advocate giving "extra points" to those who take steps to maintain good health. What nanny will be responsible for counting the number of pushups Rush Limbaugh does daily? I fear some of our friends on the right will be quite deep in the hole, what with their cigars and steaks and painkiller addictions and alcoholism and hearing problems and obesity.

6. I don't have any moral problems about helping to pick up the tab for an abortion for a young woman in New Mexico, say, for whatever reason she might want one, or the Viagra for an old man in Iowa, for whatever reason he might give. Being sexual is healthy.

7. I find it morally repugnant to help pick up the tab for a corporate health insurance executive's liposuction or her child's private school tuition, for that matter. In countries with national health plans, some parents get up to two months of post-birth midwife visits. That would save the lives, health and/or sanity of countless women and infants. The US still has an appalling infant mortality rate.

8. It's not costing us more because they're giving us more care, or better care, or giving immigrants care, or because doctors are charging more. It's costing more because corporate insurance executives are taking a bigger skim.

9. They're taking a bigger skim not only because they want it, but because their stockholders, who may be you and me, want a bigger skim.

10. If I believe people are allowed to do as they please with their bodies, that liberty must extend not only to their sexual lives but to their diets, habits and more. If it's none of my business, it's none of my business.

11. Some get angry thinking about having to "pay the freight" for people who are "out of shape" (what, octagonal?) and "don't take care of themselves." People who know me know my diet and exercise habits. Last week I was in a trail race and did a face plant onto a rock. Just bruises and scrapes, from my cheekbone to my kneecap, but what if it had been worse? No one seems to be proposing I pay extra for my selfish, potentially dangerous "lifestyle" of fitness.

12. They say if they give us health care we'll just start going to doctors all the time, like it's going out of style, surgery here, shots there, tra la la, cause you know we can't be trusted to handle the stuff the rich people get and our kind will just take advantage. Cause hospitals are so cool and everyone wants a piece of what's behind that velvet rope.

13. I have no moral objection to giving up my piece of the skim in perpetuity in order to establish a national health system, even if it helps pay for dialysis for a stinky old racist piece of trash who never took care of his body one damn day in North Dakota, because he is a human and like me a parasitic growth on a planet struggling to stay alive, a parasite suffering like me from viruses such as language and auto-immune disorders such as love, at least once in his life if only for his dog, and we are all, after all, ending up in the same place.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pearl Sake

This came in on the way back from the restaurant.

The Ballroom Down the Street

I love the look of men in suits when they're
A little bit drunk and ready to take them off.
The tie, that got loosened an hour or two ago,
During the dancing. The jacket is shed in the parking lot.
A few more buttons, and it's the night.

The ballroom down the street hosts weddings
Over all the warm months, a harvest
Of festivities, a reaping of flowers, limos, music--
All to give the man his moment
When he removes the armor, the shell.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Swing That Thing, Ya Big Ol' Teabagger, You!

All the sugared-up little girls have gone home to wreck their own living rooms, and I am not fit to be anyone's babysitter, because I almost forgot to pick up one of them at camp today. I fend off despair by thinking that eight years and 90 minutes ago, I was at least lucky enough to have a little live human in my arms. She's made it so far, and I haven't lost her yet! I fend off that wearying, sighing sensation that makes you just want to sink back in and give up with the weapons of humor and absurdity. Like this guy, from a War Room post by Alex Koppelman. Because it's documented. This has got to be a huge surrealist joke (please?).

""I'm totally against government involvement in healthcare," Anthony Sutton, one of the Tea Party crew, told me. "It's not a right." Sutton, though, probably wasn't the best spokesman for his cause: at 53, he's eligible for Medicare, because of a disability claim, and the only reason he isn't using his government healthcare is because his wife's job has a better plan. He was pretty sure Obama was up to no good, with healthcare or anything else. If the country isn't careful, "we would come into a socialist state, or national socialism, like Nazi Germany," Sutton said. I asked him if he really thought Obama was a Nazi. "I don't think he's a Nazi, but I do believe that he is not what he appears to be," Sutton said. "He still hasn't proved his citizenship. I think he was born in Kenya."

"Alas, Sutton couldn't even get the bogus "facts" of the Birther movement right. The reason he knows Obama is Kenyan? "Because of where he got his education, and certain countries that he lived in -- the only way he could have lived there is if he was not a U.S. citizen," he said. "They wouldn't allow U.S. citizens." I asked him which countries he meant. "I wish I could name the countries, but I think it's -- I'm just guessing -- Malaysia, or one of those Muslim states." Obama never lived in Malaysia, and at any rate, neither Indonesia -- where he did live -- or Pakistan -- the country where Birthers suspect Obama must have traveled on a Kenyan passport -- banned U.S. citizens. Sutton also thought Obama "got money to pay for his school from the Saudis." How did he know? "It's documented.""

Now I'm off to write 20 pages of a public health document, because in this great country, even this moron has the right to have his food tested for salmonella, and to have that test done right. The people doing the testing to protect him will be so different from him in so many ways; their intelligence is only one difference, and likely not the most obvious one to him.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


I should just stop reading anything about it. I will. It's just poisoning. I saw too many references by journalists and cops who should damn well know better who, instead of calling it out as a sociopathic, racist, misogynist hate crime, spouted nonsense like "he acted out of loneliness" or "he couldn't find anyone to love."

Pandagon says it better than I can.

George Sodini was angry at the entire world of “desirable” women for not up and volunteering to have sex with him, and every day anonymous men around the country and world beat, rape, and even kill women because said women were also considered insufficiently compliant, often to unstated demands that women were supposed to just anticipate and fill without complaint. Today, women will be raped or beaten or maybe even killed for choosing to do differently than a man desired of them---everything from screwing up the household chores to being deemed a tease to thinking they had a right to go to this party/walk down this alley to leaving a man who wants them to stay. But most people won’t see Sodini’s crime as different by degree, but by kind, because unlike most men who commit this kind of hate crime against women, Sodini didn’t know his victims.

We’re going to write him off as crazy. But the thing is that “crazy” doesn’t mean completely detached from the world, at least most of the time. Sodini wasn’t one of those people who is so wrapped up in their delusions that they can’t hold a job and need to be kept in an institution. In fact, what’s disturbing about his diary entries is that they sound pretty much like the same ranting you get from every misogynist who thinks he’s a Nice Guy®, and who hates women for their perceived malicious unwillingness to have sex with him.

Dan Savage, bless his heart, has also been on the case. Other feminist websites have also known and been writing about this misogynist group.

I'm going to stop wallowing in scaredness and anger now, and move on to other things.

Oh, except Amanda Marcotte has more to say:

I’ll add: LIFE ISN’T FAIR.

Many women are more gorgeous than me. Many people, period, are smarter than me. It’s 100 fucking degrees out and that sucks. I don’t like getting a period or taking a shit. LIFE ISN’T FAIR.

Lizzie Skurnick, in her very light and fun book, Shelf Discovery, made a really good point: fairness and justice are WAY different issues. You can demand justice. You can’t really demand that life be a bowl of roses by stomping your feet. Women can demand equality. Men can’t demand sex. Nor can women, but for some reason, no one sheds tears for unattractive women who can’t get laid. Rape is injustice. Not getting laid is unfairness.

When life doesn’t seem fair, there’s two things you can do: fix what you can and accept what you can’t. ...[But] these wankers... think by being men, the unfairness they perceive is way more important than the actual injustice women face. They’re worse than children throwing temper tantrums, who can on occasion be reminded that Mom is a person with feelings, too.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Absolutely Free, Like The Mothers Sing

I'm giving away a copy of Gravity Dancers, a collection of Washington women's writing, to whoever submits (wait for it) the most original knock-knock joke (in my judgment) over the next two or three days. Put it in the comments here or on the facebook version, all's good.

Some people, like like Ira Shapira in this Washington Post story, say when you give it away, you're messing up the whole structure. He said bloggers took his story. Well, first off, they didn't really take his story, they just made fun of it. I don't know if he gets that. That's what the blogs are for. I think he started to understand that in the chat. He isn't allowed make fun of people in the Post, whereas snark is Gawker's business model (and it has had its ups and downs). I've heard it said that Gawker media is quite the sweatshop and doesn't pay for crap, which would put it on a par with most newspapers through the past 30 years.

When I post a poem on this blog, it means I probably won't be able to submit it to get published anywhere, or enter it in a contest. I'm supposed to put all kinds of privacy settings and prohibitions on my blog so Facebook, where it's mirrored, won't be able to take my blog snark and my poems and give them away and reprint them. I'm imagining that scenario, or that of a blogger taking my poems and making fun of them. That's so pathetic, I'd actually feel sorry for the blogger. Besides, a poem I didn't post here or on Facebook or anywhere but which was sent with proper decorum to a contest, and won, got picked up by a newspaper and got made fun of, so what's left for me in terms of humiliation and lack of recompense? Butt, meet rock bottom.

If I give away poems on my blog, am I reducing the overall value of poetry? Mostly I have no idea whether anything I write is any good, so I might as well put it up here as spend the time trying to get it published. I send a lot of random bait into the cosmos, and sometimes good things come back my way. I don't mean to sound insulting, but I'm much too lazy and it's much too dull to worry about who has the rights and who has the copies and where it's all going, so I refuse to do that for my poems, at least. Let them be free!

The Harriet Tubman poem turned into a multi-part mess, but this portion is relevant to this rant...

Master Spy for the Union

Because I cannot bear to see your brilliance
Thus dimmed,
I write you,
I have set my mind to the task
Of finding some way you might now be
Repaid for your heroic service.

In the new world, they say there is no need
Any longer to hide ourselves. In the new world,
You are a laundress. For a while, the work
Brought an odd peace, a return to the time
Before the weight, without the weight.
Days passed so. And then it brought your head low.

That is how I came upon you, nodding into the lye
Suds above the tub. Because I cannot bear
To see your brilliance thus dimmed, I pretend
This is another role you have hidden yourself
Within; she is listening, she will report all--
But there is no one here to hear.

I reach my hand across the table
To cover yours. Because I cannot bear to see
Your brilliance thus dimmed, I will write
Your story. You will tell them who you are.
There may be some repayment in it.
You do not want promises, and
I do not want to lie.
We will be free or we will die.

Photo: By the way? If you want to BUY the book, go nuts on or Politics & Prose! If you want it but you're really strapped for cash, I have some copies at cost that I am happy to sell.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

"I Could Be In Love With Almost Everyone"

"Almost" is operative. But even before a night spent sleeping in the dunes, I was feeling the spirit of Arthur Lee. I'd been reading Smile: The Story of Brian Wilson's Lost Masterpiece by Domenic Priore, the 60s LA music expert, and getting obsessed with having to hear some of his stuff again, so I spent $7 on downloads and burned a CD and then was late to pick up E. Our quick beach trip felt entirely and satisfyingly like getting dropped on Venus for one solar cycle, or at least into some parallel universe, not least because of snapshots such as midnight LED bocce and splashing up in the morning to see a small herd of ponies just standing around looking at the surf, followed by my favorite Libertarian candidate and his girl strolling by, eating watermelon. Tip: If you wave an LED frisbee at the ponies, they will leave your tent alone. "They hate LEDs," a veteran of the beach informed us.

Driving through the Eastern Shore and Cambridge got me working on a poem about Harriet Tubman. Could take a good long time. Best quote of the weekend, from E, from a story relating a conflict: "Is there some way to resolve this situation that doesn't involve yelling at me?" Oh, and I invented a new cocktail called the Via Ferrata: Rum, blueberry juice (for the wild blueberries growing out of the rocks), and limoncello (for Italy).

I got Smile at the little ad hoc storefront library in our neighborhood (while the big new library is being built), along with
In the Heart of the Canyon
by Elisabeth Hyde, which I crunched through in a few hours like it was a bag of chips eaten in a PMS frenzy, accompanied by a similar mix of pleasure, annoyance and lite self-loathing that usually accompanies said latter activity. It had gotten a pretty great review in the Times, so I was game, but a book that begins with a list of characters (which you really need to consult in the reading, because they start to sound alike) and ending with a list of travel companies--well, that's an interesting marketing tie-in. It's a sort of Grand Hotel approach to a Grand Canyon river rafting trip, delving shallowly into a collection of adventure tourists and their guides, their motivations and discoveries, which aren't too momentous. But it could have been worse, and at least it wasn't melodramatic about it all.

An "adventure" trip, even of a tamer variety, sure does bring out character and conflict; people are put through an intense and demanding experience mentally, physically and emotionally that hits many psychological triggers, all in a tightly compressed duration and constrained, privacy-challenged environment. The guides are especially interesting to me, as they're guides of this process as well as of the trip; at best, they can lead people through a challenging growth experience, and at worst, they have to wrangle some champion assholes. My brother had to do a lot of this when he guided sailing and snorkeling trips, in his former career. This book wasn't the one to work that dynamic, though it tried.

Oh, well, two days til the new Thomas Pynchon is out. It's about a private detective!

I have to go scratch mosquito bites now.

Photo: This portrait of Arthur Lee pops up in a lot of places, and I managed to find out who shot it: Ronnie Haran Mellen, but not much more. I prefer the more gothy/baroque Lee persona, but he looks so happy and healthy in this one, I couldn't resist.