Thursday, December 8, 2011

some nice Chekhov passages

From his novella The Steppe:

But when the moon rises, the night becomes pale and dark. It is as if the dusk had never been. The air is transparent, fresh, and warm, everything is clearly visible, and you can even make out the separate stalks of the weeds by the roadside. In the far distance, skulls and stones can be seen....

Broad shadows drift across the plain like clouds across the sky, and in the incomprehensible distance, if you look at it for a long time, misty, whimsical images loom and heap upon each other....It is a little eerie....

The boundless depth and infinity of the sky can be judged only on the sea or on the steppe at night, when the moon is shining. It is frightening, beautiful, and caressing, it looks at you languorously and beckons, and its caress makes your head spin....

...your soul responds to the beautiful, stern motherland, and you want to fly over the steppe with the night bird.

Troika in Steppe, 1882 -- Ivan Constantinovich

Sunday, December 4, 2011

going deeper into poetry

While I was off Facebook for two months, I had an anti-epiphany followed by a discovery.


Having produced another "book" of poems (In Lieu of Opium), I realized I had run out of steam. I realized how far I am from reaching my ideal of utterance. And even the thought of trying to write another poem began to feel like a bizarre and alien enterprise.

Thinking about my poems, I believe I came close a few times to my ideal of theme, perspective, and execution. Alas, I'm not profound enough to make the kind of poem I want to make. Even describing my ideal seems to be beyond me. I know it when I see it.


I stumbled upon the poetry of Tomas Tranströmer. I was quietly flabbergasted. Deeply affected. This is it! I want to spend a calm, thoughtful year reading and rereading his poems. I want to spend time living in and between his lines.

And I might want to write little things, from time to time, about his poems. That might be a way for me to gradually formulate and express my ideal about poetry. Whatever I might have to say will not be prescriptivist. It will merely establish the peculiarities of how I experience world-through-art.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

A human being!

Yesterday morning, the Direct TV guy came to install a larger dish and an updated box. This fellow was so neat. He was professional and polite. But he was wonderfully peculiar. It was as if unnerving voices were whispering in his head. He projected a tenseness, almost quivering with vague spiritual unease. He was enveloped in a penumbra of distractedness. And he had a clipped, reluctant sense of humor.

I would have enjoyed having a non-Direct TV conversation with this young fellow. But how could I or anyone overcome his internal quivering? Suspicious energies were pouring off him and puddling around his hurried steps. He was efficient. He moved in a nervous blur. He seemed like one of my nightly dream characters come to dubious life.

Afterwards, it struck me that no novel could have prepared me for this Direct TV guy. And no literary critic's exposition could touch his persona. He is of no type. He is himself. No writer could capture the essence of his flustered, vibrating soul. Novels give us characters that are nice to spend time with. Critics try to tease out universals from the interplay of characters and their locations in plot. But real life and real people are different. Real people, like my Direct TV guy, are unique and thoroughly unexpected. No novel could contain him.

I'm glad he came yesterday. He refreshed me with how wild and preposterous is the world.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

a remarkable phenomenon

One day in 1995, I had my radio tuned to the classical FM station. A string quartet began playing -- a CD selection from the Takács String Quartet's recording of Haydn's Op. 76 string quartets. I will never forget the impression made on me, not only the brilliant music but also the unique sound of these four players.

This was before I had a computer and access to online ordering of CDs. My local record store didn't have this CD. So I phoned my mother, who lived in the Kansas City area. She went to several stores trying to find this CD for me. Alas, it turned out that this CD from 1990 was out-of-print:

I came across this the other day, about a new traversal of Haydn's quartets by the Takács:

Haydn from The Rest is Noise

What strikes me as remarkable is that, despite the passage of over 20 years and the replacement of the first violinist, this ensemble's sound has remained basically unchanged. It's unique overall timbre remains intact and distinctive. No other string quartet sounds like them.

There is a largeness to the sound. And the first violin still has that slight nasal quality, which is so damn wonderful -- a quality that is almost a color, like rich mahogany.

Haydn was a pure genius of string quartet writing. He took the existing nascent form and shaped it into profound expressions.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chekhov's characters

Anton Chekhov

I've been reading Chekhov's short stories. I'm impressed by his characterizations. Especially in the story "Enemies."

Kirilov and Abogin are astonishing to me. I won't call it verisimilitude, because I've never known anyone like these characters. For me, it is simply the pleasure of discovering and spending time with new types -- a poor doctor and a rich narcissist. Their portrayals are as transfixing as those by Dostoevsky, maybe more so.

At Abogin's fine house, Kirilov erupts from his state of incomprehension. Abogin, previously respectful and smooth, is taken aback and flares up with umbrage.

Chekhov's "Enemies"

Monday, November 21, 2011

a congruence

I read this evaluation of Tomas Tranströmer's poetry:

Tom Sleigh's evaluation

This sentence, in particular, jumped out at me:

Tranströmer's sense that memories have eyes that look at us from their own vantage point independent of our attempts at remembering insists on the objective quality of the past while acknowledging the contingent nature of memory.

That sentence reminds me of something profound my friend Yael said to me. It was in a different context than memory as such. But the gist is similar. In both cases, a mysterious, embedded significance is to be inferred. Beneath awareness, certain people, impressions, and moments are always "alive." And I think even pieces of our night dreams become second-order memories that take on a kind of independent existence. Those things are always casting glances at us (and thinking about us) from great depths.

I'm pleased to have discovered this congruity: an aspect of Tranströmer's poetry and a consoling insight from my friend.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

falling through the tones

Olivier Messiaen's Christian mysticism, which inspired his music, makes no impression on me. The notion of Eschaton has, for me, a vapor of nihilism about it.

So what I get from Messiaen's music is not anchored to religion. Nonetheless, his music does have for me a dreamlike, almost-mystical quality.

Lately, I've been pondering the death of loved ones. Despite all my pondering, I still don't know what it means. Life with their presence has given way to life with pervasive absence. It simply does not compute.

When I listen to this piece of music by Messiaen, something odd happens to me: my anguished pondering ceases. I simply fall through the tones of this haunting score. My sadness and incomprehension are stunned into a kind of indifference. Or a stupefaction. The sense of it is something like a dream. A brief transcendence. As if memory and time itself are falling between the notes...toward a realm of muted sighs.

Mieczysław Weinberg

About Weinberg

Monday, November 14, 2011

Tranströmer -- subtle visionary

Ross Shideler on Tomas Transtromer

My mind is fully blown by Tranströmer's poetry. It represents the ideal for me.

I used to write poems. I carved out my own style and voice, found my way into certain themes. But deep-down, I knew there was an ideal form of utterance that I could not achieve, a way of grasping existence, memory, and wonder with perfect words and subtle images. I am lacking the talent and sensibility to approach that ideal in my own work. My lines are too expressive.

I know that my ideal has to do with the strangeness of the “out there” and not about the vicissitudes or neuroses of the “in here.”

Tranströmer is somehow able to do this effortlessly. It's probably innate genius. In his work, the concrete is hallowed by an implied metaphysical resonance. The understatement is, paradoxically, revelatory and shattering.

My mind is blown by Tranströmer's poems.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tomas Tranströmer

I am very late coming to his work. I don't know how I didn't know about his work.

I am becoming mesmerized by his poetry. It is significant to me. It is an aesthetic wonder. My synapses are becoming Tranströmerized.

I just had to announce this fact. Later, I hope to write a few comprehensible sentences of appreciation.

Monday, November 7, 2011

music is the deepest language

I really like this lovely movement by Sibelius:

Sunday, November 6, 2011

reading Nabokov

I've been reading his short stories. Some of them are really cool. I'll write something here about one of those stories – “Cloud, Castle, Lake.”

Here, we have a neurotic protagonist – Vasiliy Ivanovich -- who is caught in a web of tensions, the fibers of which are oppressive and transcendent, portentous and hopeful. He wins a ticket for a vacation outing, from the “Bureau of Pleasantrips.” It is compulsory, so we have entered Kafkaesque terrain. Neat. This is going to be good.

Along the train journey, he catches faint glimpses of his dream. Of a daydream long suppressed, practically forgotten. As things between him and his traveling companions deteriorate, the impression grows stronger in him that his desire is near. He steals away from his tormentors and discovers a house -- a rustic inn -- set amid natural allurement. This is it! A simple room, austere. Outside the window, an environment of idyllic beauty, perpetual wonder. Images to stand in for an untouchable ideal. This is where he shall abide forever, free of world and people.

But it's not to be. He is found out and nearly beaten to death by his fellow vacationers. Desire is frustrated, on the cusp of heaven.

I usually prefer to get lost in a good story and not dwell on meanings and themes. Especially an odd story with moments of evocative prose that seem to happen just for me. But this remarkable piece inspires me to wax “philosophic.”

Inside certain neurotic individuals, an ember glows stubbornly. It burns from early to elder age. It is a secret ember that casts a faint, dubious light into the ordinary world of experience. A desire for the perfect phase, the perfect mode, the perfect one. Something or someone to explain the heart's unease and make it well. But this desire is not made of the world's stuff. When it comes into contact with quotidian, earthbound consciousness, it is revealed to be a heretical thing. It does not compute on the plane of convention and normality. It is of a different and unreal substance. That suppressed, unrealizable desire is a form of madness. To believe one has found Paradise (or a sufficient substitute) – how else could that situation end except in disaster?

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Language is equal parts logic and magic.

Poetry is where the dynamics of both things work together to open up significant moments.

Poetry is a complex of semantics and séance.

A new experience can happen with a poem, as profound as the inspiring material. Occasionally, profounder.

Metaphors can create an unusual state of mind in the reader.

A poet can present something almost beyond words in terms of simile, personification, and mixed resonance. The shadow of what is elusive casts a coloration onto the page.

The poet performs a linguistic conjuring. The poet summons the ghosts of words that hide in equivocal regions between time and emotion.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Among the Russians"

I wish I could have been there. I would have been quiet. I would have had nothing substantial to contribute to the conversation. But I would have appreciated listening to what the others said.

Prospect Magazine -- "Among the Russians"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

poetry is important stuff

Tomas Tranströmer -- a poet -- has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Here is an article: Tranströmer in Haaretz

Here is a link to two of his poems, which I like: Tranströmer poems

At some point, I might have rambling thoughts to express about his poems.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Strolling through my head...

Sometimes, I amble through the inside of my skull, to take a look at the vast, odd corners of my mind. It astounds me to consider that all of us peculiar talking anthrodpoids have such infinite dimensions teeming within our heads. What I'm getting at is, for me, something not quite biological or philosophical. The best word I can come up with is "mystical." That word is usually a place-holder for “what is unknown.” I happen to think that mind is a mystical chamber echoing with fractal abysses. Not only unknown, but unknowable. It pleases me to pronounce that something is unknowable. It makes me feel sort of profound, in a way that typically profound people would never understand. At Oxford, important folks are going on and on about the nature of consciousness – whether it is a “hard problem” or whether it is something that neuroscience will eventually light up. Or maybe a Darwinian effusion of adaptive and cultural dynamics. Blah, blah, blah. I prefer to think of consciousness (what a riddle – “to think of consciousness”) as the inside texturing of the Great Dark-Purple Pumpkin.

My brother lives and works in Nashville. He always eats lunch on the institutional premises. The other day, unusually, he joined a friend for a walk during lunch break. (Keep in mind that this never happens.) They walked through the pleasant autumn day, the air temperate to coolish, the trees beginning to change into subdued colors of clothing. A day vibrating with expectation and ineffable impressions. They began strolling across the picturesque river bridge, when my brother noticed an odd creature on the opposite side, walking in the opposite direction.

This person stuck out like a surreal apparition in the pristine noontime, like a sore thumb or a weathered, quixotic chimpanzee holding a lit stick of dynamite. He catches the attention, shall will say? He wore sunglasses.

Of all things!....he began crossing to my brother's side of the bridge, angling straight toward him. “What?!” thinks my brother, “This is going to be an unwarranted and probably unpleasant encounter.”

This tallish, pony-tailed, graying, side-burned human structure walked right up to my brother. They both removed sunglasses and looked at one another. It was Professor Unusual! (name changed for privacy).

This fellow had not been seen my by brother for a few years. This fellow lives in another city, where he teaches geology. He was visiting Nashville and was strolling across the bridge, out for a spontaneous lark. Strolling to where he and my brother became swept up into a Jungian vortex of synchronicity.

Back in El Dorado days (south Arkansas, where we and Professor Unusual had grown up), this fellow was one of my brother's best friends. We lived on the east side (odd, insular, proletariat). “Unusual” lived on the north side (eccentric, extra-spatial, “aristocratic”). He and his brother were (are) not typical human beings. Both their IQ ratings would probably be unmeasurable (on the plus side). I'll not bore you with my vague remembrances of those strange earlier days. I'll just note that everything back then was a chronic mystery and that El Dorado was an incubator of the subtly outlandish.

So...what does my thinking about my head and consciousness have to do with Professor Unusual's eruption into improbable circumstance? Nothing, really.

I think I'm merely struck by the fact that I have become a rather dumbfounded recluse – some guy who spends too much time thinking about stuff. Whereas, Professor Unusual was out for a preposterous stroll, soaking up even more extra-spatial, other-dimensional influences. In other words, he represents a contrast. A tallish, pony-tailed, graying, side-burned, and geological entity. A sort of action figure moving through the matrices of the inexplicable. Through a ritual of autumn-suffused contract with reality.

Her Eyes

Words & music copyright -- Tim Buck
All parts on this demo -- also me

Her Eyes

Breath arrested, my heart skipped a beat.
She was standing in a restaurant.
Could not take my eyes off that scene,
and I don't even know where it was.

I had to pinch myself to see if I were dreaming.
How could this happen right here, right now?
Why did she have to be so beautiful,
for crying out loud?

And those eyes, those eyes, those eyes.

Her picture is burned into my brain,
an image seared into my heart.
I'm wounded, but I welcome the pain.
It feels like a great work of art.

I want to hear her talk, hear her laugh, but
she's just standing in a mute photograph.

Her eyes are infinite, I think she even sees me.
Her eyes are beacons for secret harboring.
Her eyes are serious but also smiling.

I know she is far beyond me.
I would have melted right on the spot.
Had I been there, I'd have been spluttering
my wine in that restaurant.

But you can't take that picture from me.
I will hide it in my heart's treasure trove.
I'll pretend that shadow cross her brow means
she's sad that I love

those eyes, those eyes, those eyes.

That photo speaks of melancholy,
of something like tears behind her eyes,
of something deep, not to be
disturbed by a prying mind.

Nevertheless, I want to know how she thinks,
but she's just standing where that shutter blinked.

Her eyes are exquisite, they shine with dark mystery.
Her eyes are knowing, is she lookin' back at me?
Her eyes are not hurtful but I'm still hurting.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

the question

She likes to walk in the old cemetery
on weekdays when others are living.
If a sudden rain breaks through sunshine,
the summer elm and oak leaves make music.
If sudden rain does not break through sunshine,
the silence is a muffled voice of great irony.

Others in the city carry too much gravity.
They weigh down moments with talking,
and they look too hard through eye colors.
They are living and it is a horrible thing
to carry one's bones around so naturally!
The colors of their eyes are almost painted.
Do they blink? Eyes can be so alarming, noisy.
They make her small notebook tremble blankly.

But here the bones are very still.
And flowers left in remembrance
are simply dreaming in sunshine,
left by creatures who quickly fall
back into grimaces and laughter.

Here among those with better manners,
she will stop to sketch an imagined poem
of dragon winds perplexing the Gobi night.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sonja of the golden rooms

Where she is slides off any earthly map.
Sonja of the far place is almost smiling,
her aura tinted in shades of rare element.

Sonja sighs with music and blinks with irony.
Silks of golden hue hang like whispers of time --
are draped around her chamber of unusual being.
She lives in a room of passing-through phantoms.
Translucent drawings of impossible contraptions
drift through the quiet space of Tesla-tingling air.
A smile will bloom then fade then bloom again,
a curvature of amused lips from her thinking.

Behind her eyes is a world of oceans.
And she wrings dooms from moisture
of nightfall -- she blows it into a bubble,
a secret golden bubble inside which to fly.

I have seen her standing quietly for hours
in a corner of shadows, there without reason,
just there in dark-bouillon shadows, uncannily.

Sonja of the golden rooms is beyond my words,
no narrative will bring or halt her poised arrival.

I think I have seen her standing in aloofness --
but an ambiance of sharing blooms in shadows.
I think she passed through me to convey a riddle
without words – “You are not cured, thank god.”

Souls are beyond all science and metaphysics.
They come through vents of the molten elemental.

in lieu of opium

Some moments appear longer than moments,
and they are taller than any scaffolding of time.
To slip into the creases of such vertical durations
is to move past the present, toward a dark mystic.
In lieu of opium, succor of some kind must be had.

In lieu of opium, music opens the spaces between wondering and hurting.

There is a space of objects, colored in sounding shades
that will open like a liquid door, that will open darkly.
A space of hypnotic tones climbing, swaying, falling.
A moment of objects can open made of a few notes,
a moment drunken on curious rhythm, piquant harmony,
a moment of objects forming an abstract picture of hope...
and in lieu of opium, one can fall into the sighs of music.

Because music is invisible it is bountiful.
Paradise teems and beckons in a measure.
When there is something that can't be spoken,
the sense of it shimmers implicitly in timbres.

In lieu of opium, one can listen to wounds opening and smile with pleasure.

But when music begins to hurt instead of halo,
one may blend words into the narcosis of a poem.

Nafplion (for Regina Bou)

Nafplion, Greece

Today she will drive to the old town,
the beautiful town beside the sea.
Light will fall gracefully into her eyes.
Pomegranate air will breathe into her,
as gods whisper to Pre-Socratic spirits.
And colors will tumble down hillsides.

Today will not be ordinary.

The weight of stone a reassurance.
The feel of fitted stones underfoot
and the slant of orange roof tiles
bright in the afternoon sunshine
will soothe wild forms of mind.

And she comes because this old town
juts like a big thought into the blue bay.
She comes because this town falls back
and onto slopes, in the grammar of a poem.
She has arrived to see Nafplion dreaming
so far above the blue timeless water.

It is far from an ordinary day
when a large-eyed seer stands
amid the alabaster sighs of time,
within an old town beside the sea.

It is a solemn mystery to ponder her
pondering impressions of the Aegean.

She comes because she is living
and the dead will write her a poem.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

an evening in Appalachia

This quaint town does not exist.
How perfect is that? So let's walk
and talk of how it is to be Southern.
I'm a stranger 'round these parts,
so I'm glad you are here with me.
Let's stroll these nightfallen streets,
outside of time and just within reach.
Mountains lean back and bring dark to dark.
The town is lit with eerie lanterns of fireflies.
Hawkers of trinkets and fablers of folk songs
laugh in the rough-sawn Shenandoah bazaar.
I have plenty of crumpled Confederate dollars,
so I'll buy you a piece of West Virginia coal –
consider it a diamond in the purity of potentia.
We speak the same language, a slurred gothic potion,
a twang of piney syllables, drawled out like dog yawns.
I could speak some fine gibberish as half-chortled words.
You would understand the subtext and flavors of wounding.
Let's drink some moonshine made of secrecy and dewfall.
We'll touch our mad fruit jars then walk in drunken circles.
We could dance a slow twist
on the train station platform,
while waiting for the smoke
of a lost gypsy locomotive.
They're smuggling Tom Waits
for a midnight music séance.
We'll present Libra tarot cards
as tickets to the magic table.
Later on, let's not say anything to frighten the owls.
Let's marvel at age gaps and the mystery of kinship
or simply burn time under great aching mountains.

Monday, August 22, 2011

letter to Nabina Das

How could I know the shapes of souls
who peer out from northeastern eyes?
Or touch the fabric of days unfurling
along Brahmaputra River, beyond me?

It is all mysterious and puzzling.

Verandah roses and Palash trees blooming
send essences, oils as keepsakes into houses.
And many-thousand years breathe in dialects.

The rich silken colors that have played
amid your years of singing and dancing
through symbols hiding in folk legends --
even my reveries lack the conjuring,
and I drift on winds of my pale words.

So I have no way of knowing how it is
that you emerged from ancient depths.
Was it the gleam in your father's eyes
that spoke wryly to you of imbalances?

Beyond architecture and sea breezes lie mudflats and the salt of tears.

In some slow communion with the people,
you took them into the temple of language --
a fathomless touching of their hard tales.

Used tools hanging in peasant sheds
teem with energies of earth and rice,
their worn handles elegies of poverty.
Fields and the mists that haunt them
give up their dead tillers, a dawn sigh.

You work them into lines of hard beauty.

You speak them into tribute and apotheosis,
clothe them in the living linens of free verse.

The forgotten people of India move in slow rhythm
against the counterpoint of greed and social injury.
When old ones and wide-eyed children of hot days
are broken under callous yokes, forfeiture, seizure,
young men and women seek communal elevations
to shelter amid red scarves and crossed bullet belts,
may stake blood on a mountain under Hegelian suns.

How could I know the shape of India?
But I have felt poems of human lives.

On the bank of Brahmaputra River at sunset,
your songs hang on the weary and godly air.

Nabina's blog

Saturday, August 20, 2011

openings (for Janet)

Her selection of pigments glistens on a palette,
pigments vibrating in rhythms of probability --
stochastic atoms of colors matching synapses.

The canvas seems infinite, a white ground bass.
And music will complement her morning brushes --
Scriabin or Miles? Chopin or Tom's 3/4 cadence?
Ah...Debussy will spread his elusive prismatics!

What will emerge?

It's not for me to know how she opens the portals of dream and vision.

But phantoms come, and forms of feeling
become masses hanging in strange balance.
Deep fall the eyes into that opening rendered.
Wild is the way that spirits clothe themselves
in chromatic meaning, then aesthetically whisper
into the pensive Moment haunting brushed fabric --
melancholia and suspense, death and wan Eros.

It's not for me to call this magic or miracle of color between now and numinous.

Or...a muted drama of black ink and charcoal
performing metamorphosis in titanium white.

Objects without name are apparitions
made of what this painters is feeling,
in hues wrought from mineral silence
to uncover modes of arcane space.

A slow grinding of intuitions into image opiums.
A grinding of elements into immanent powders,
releasing powers of shaman, seer, oracle.

Sienna, umber, ochre, madder.
Cobalt, chrome, cadmium, copper.
And the blues! -- brilliant or nocturnal.
All for alchemy transmuting incantations
that sigh in violet or simmer in alizarin.

A spellbound mixing of slow ecstatic oils
into inspiration, dark-gleaned discovery,
bringing affective texture to presence.

But sometimes I do wonder...
just what is happening underneath
this paint and these ghostly forms?

If I stared too long, if eyes fell too deeply,
I might see too much, go mad inside layers.







All images the property and copyright of Janet Snell.


the well-tempered translator (for Yael)

This large stillness is not oppressive.
It wraps around her like delicate lace,
with moments holding rich suspense,
as intuition weaves its arabesques.

She has her gleaming wine, her old pen,
and notebook waiting flashes to white pages.
The table is solid, will support new thoughts.
Her laptop is patient for what will happen.

And her silent incantation spreads discipline
onto all the objects in this room of held time --
objects now guarding her ripe mood with auras.

Her temperament is suited to keys of language.
Just like in earlier days she would dance fingers
across the timbred colors of classical piano --
even Bach and his intricate mysteries fathomed!
That characteristic way of speaking variations.

Her poised soul is suited to nuances of Russian.
She has breathed that air of tales and wounding.
Her natural ear sensitive to grammar's music,
as she lived with English for another source.
Into ancient Hebrew she will cast her authors --

the mastered texts of masters will dream through her giftedness.

Opening doors between systems of saying.
That is a mission of work that she loves.
Locating transport for poems in their travel.
That is an art known to one who has ventured.

Bach found a system for compromised tuning,
so the spectrum of keys was even, well-tempered.
The ear would adjust to eccentricities of overtones,
and the ear gain fullness of keyboard expression.

In the pause of moments when choices are trembling,
she reaches into language and plays airs on strings.


At 5:30 AM today, the morning had just begun to apricot the sky. I leapt (sort of) into my car and went for a little drive. I rolled down the windows, in a manner of speaking. I went for a drive just because. And also because I wanted to feel the texture of morning air spiraling around my head. My brain was mostly empty. But it quickly filled with a thousand subconscious impressions. And with things beyond the condition of being resolved.

My brain went blank again, as I drove along stupefied at 40 mph. Going nowhere, just going. Then my awareness bent toward poetry. I remembered a poem that I post every three or four months, since two years ago. It was written by Connie Stadler. For me, it is one of the best poems I've encountered. If I could write a poem of this exquisite, time-altering quality, I would purchase champagne and dance in slow motion.

I always want to write a bunch of stuff, to explain why this poem is wonderful. But who cares about me blathering a bunch of stuff? Even if I could decipher its secret code and explicate its affective beauty, what would that even mean? It exists quite well just as it is, in itself, without my embellishments.

I dream, now...

In the forest of blue heron
On the whitest of white nights
The moon clouds pass
As laden caravanserai.
Cedar shadow calligraphy
Communicates what no human can
Cygnets sleep in sepia wash
In fearless surrender.
Darkness and I stroll among these
gardens within myself.
Sip wine, exchange no thoughts.

Copyright © 2009 -- Constance Stadler

tiny opera (in Sprechstimme)

Maria Fatima! Maria Fatima!
I have come on freeing winds
and through the seams of words.
You hold thousands of pieces
of phenomena in thralldom.

It is August but I wander
a Winterreise of cold fogs,
like Schubert's lad singing
his Lindenbaum to vision
for ears that see soundings.

So let us make new songs with intuitive lips,
here where we sit on this tree-shaded bench.
We'll frighten passersby with bending pitches
and strange sayings -- a folk tune staggering
in drunken beats and cross-rhythm carrying
a melody of metaphysics, minor-keening
to suggest odd beauty on atonal richness.

Oh, Maria Fatima!...I sing of great sadness,
just to hear you laugh, unveiling your counsel.
It makes me so happy to fall into darkness.
It makes me so sad to smile at dark flowers.

Silence! Maria Fatima is speaking with her eyes!
She is sighing a golden-throated, implicit language:

"Yes, loved ones die and friends disappear.
And Weltschmerz is made for one pure tear.
But the cuckoo coos with his linden tones,
and texture of wood is much like our bones.
We pause for wonder and that is worth space.
Questions are born to breathe in rain's grace.
Songs of speaking are dreams of curved light
falling through octaves of limbs' painful height.
I see you have brought your old stringless guitar.
So strum me to Portugal on one half-tuned bar."

Oh, Fatima, Maria Fatima...such ease you have given me.
The weight of my years melts in fire between shadows.

"Yes, go to the corner and fetch me pomegranates."

[Sprechstimme -- speech-voice, a cross between speaking and singing. Arnold Schoenberg made use of it, as did Leoš Janáček.]

August 19, 2011

A prison cell door clanging shut
is a sobering sound anywhere.

But here in Arkansas that tone cracks veneers
of time in a distinctive manner. A certain shock
that shakes out all the ghosts hiding in objects
will also quake what others take for granted.
The girls who sing in choirs and then kiss smiling
will fade. And the long afternoons of cool oblivion
will leave you behind, will go to twilight without you.

That door clangs like a crow on the Delta,
cracking the moon in a scream of feathers.

If you are young and different and found guilty,
if gothic shadows hang around your shoulders,
if you are found wanting, chained, forgotten...
infinite moments of the living dream will shatter.
And somethng uncanny will settle on your brow --
an injury that only a Job might discuss with you.

Things will get so real that any god would have gone mad.
The texture of humor and hope will stiffen into a leathering.

So...they now release you. After 18 years. Innocent, even against the law.

The world turns. Yet time is stunned on your quiet voice.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Burckhardt abroad

Florence, Italy

How exquisite the fall and cast of sunlight in late morning!

That glow on these hills is living
also in the quiet gleams of this wine.
Woodsmoke drifts from somewhere.
Warbling thrushes unseen in chestnuts
or from thickets bordering the spring.

Vineyards ripen and orchards of olive trees are still in the haze.

The bottle nearly empty beside me
on a table holding shadows in cypress,
here on a Tuscan terrace some golden miles
from the city, here where the wild is sloping.

Are my lids falling down into a revery
or am I seeing ghosts in the landscape?

Far down there, a Roman bridge of stone
and dark poplars standing – silent centurions.
Young women laughing, clothed so strangely --
broad-sleeved garments of moss color and lavender.
As they stroll languidly one's lips are reciting verses.
Poems of subtle satire or ribald country romance?

Emerging from trees men pass them mid-bridge,
rougher appareled – wanderers from Abruzzi?
The lively girls curtsey and the youths are abashed,
heads bowed in shame at meeting such wonders.

These must be legends of air and strong wine,
for they quiver and lose their solid resolution.
Leaving now the bridge of arches they disappear
into seams of grottoes and the lattices of trees.

Wide this city seen from surrounding hills,
as if a basin of forms dreamed up from earth!
Now walking the Via de Corso, I seek knowledge
between architecture of cathedrals and commerce.

Again this Italian light!...
glancing from wall to wall,
as if a series of mirrors reflecting.
Until I am almost lost or hallucinating
a new world that is also deeper in time.

Angles and planes hold memorial penumbrae implicitly.

The afternoon is warm and the people are moving.
Serious monks, gentlemen, and dark-browed donne.
But the texture of buildings is what I am hearing.
Sacred shapes murmur their myths of provenance.
And rumors of genius hang on symbolic façades.

I listen until I am lost in allegories of rebirth
that play upon this stage for an audience of one.

The citizens of Florence are dissolving!
A feint of this light or a symptom of mind?
Other folk come, at home on cobblestones --
in rhythms of gesture and alien demeanor.

Yes, I must be sun-stricken and feverish...
the antique finery of their genteel couture...
eyelashes fluttering, coy smiles, and rouge...
the gallant ones moving with a roguish stride...

I gaze into strange eyes and see the birth of irony.
An awareness of self burst from chains of convention.

They speak!...the undertones of consciousness are unjaded and revelatory!

My footsteps echo in the Uffizi Gallery,
the grand rooms in awe of their wonders.

Botticelli's Birth of Venus – audacity of beauty!
And no longer heavy pigments of a sunken age.
The movement of fabrics and the moving of beings –
an unlocking of forces pushing blood through living.

In all of these chambers of the masters,
a paradox of sensations is perplexing me.
Rhythms of form and dynamical expressions
and hues of brilliance and blooming of planes...
they all share dimension with uncanny depth,
a womb-like quiet of soul mirroring soul.

I leave this magnificence
and enter again the street.
Now the conjured free folk
have gone back to centuries.
And I move among my own –
contemporaries of a duller day.

How brief that spark of opening
to world as spellbound inspiration!
How fallen into a moribund trudging
our present pulsing and eyes of coin!

As I move among these contemporaries,
a haunting absence lies between the figures.
From paintings of new-dawning psychologies,
I retrieve certain things that are missing now.
Life for life's sake and damn all the Devils!

An urbane gentility and graceful wit
and a noble bow to things of the mind.
A glancing into ideals of old Greek visions
and a fascination with the enigma of Woman.

As I walk onto the Ponte Vecchio,
the evening ripples on into night.
Boatmen ply the quiet River Arno.
A vagrant call is answered with ennui.
Soon lights are lit along the shore banks.
I stand listlessly, and a low fog is forming.

Surely there was no scheduled celebration!
The river must now be giving up its spirits!

Unnaturally come strange barges aglow,
emerging within this false moonless spell –
a festival of floats, a naval Carnivale!

This file of blossom-decked boats
holds all manner of posing creatures –
silver masques and plumed wide hats
and laughter on the torch-lit water.

A procession of colorful tableaux.
A series of aquatic phantasmagoria.
Allegories acted out in pantomimes
and all manner of histories confused!

A great argument has sprung on the air –
Herod is losing his will to lovely Salomé,
who stands with her hands on hips
amid a pooling of seven pastel silks.

Another barque is filled with musicians --
lutes, drums, and flutes are delirious
with modal tunes, as a Fool sings forth.

Another is garlanded and eerie with gods.
Genii comport with damsels and nymphs!
Incense flutters from hieroglyph banners
that catch a sudden-rising nocturnal wind.

Another conveys a tower of scaffolds --
an uncanny Machine of new philosophy.
Its gears and other workings not visible,
and braced atop is a sphere of glass plates.
It turns gyroscopically as a Franciscan inside
is drunken and pleased by the phases of Saturn!

Astrologers mingle significantly with vagabonds.
Jealousy argues with Irony while Fate sits brooding.
Fear is hounded by Hope, Spectacle slays Tragedy.
Midgets dance as Bacchus stomps Misery into juices.
A masquerade of comedians goose a great Caesar.

Finally the last boat and somber it sails.
Black of hull and moaning its passengers.
Ostensible ambulance of the plague-doomed,
and Death at the stern cracking jokes aplenty.

Silence settles over the now-calm river.
The fog has misted off to a returned moon.
Those creatures of night drift away into mind.
I go with perhaps wisdom, phantom-gleaned.

* * *

Away homeward with my satchel of impressions.
This carriage is rocking, my thoughts are dubious.

The countryside also jostles, with luminous shadows.
Oaks and hedge and the summer grasses emblematic
of mysterious mood – a dappling of being onto forms,
somehow yearning, forthing, an energy unceasing.

Every object seems now suffused
with message and gleam of meaning.
I attend them with a new way of sensing –
with a new science of temporal space!

But I am also shaken...

My well-thumbed Schopenhauer always with me,
the effect of it appalling with coloration of truth.


Is it perhaps a better madness to plunge
from dark abyss into affirmational abyss?

There!...amid thick tangles of light and brambles –
a numinous wink from transient, renascent shapes.

He said time is a form of being inside my head.
Then I have indeed laughed on a Stygian boat!

Jacob Burckhardt (1818 -- 1897)

Burckhardt was an art and cultural historian, with an original approach: instead of focusing on political and military historiography, he delved into the social fabric of an era. His most famous work is The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860).

"This meant arriving -- through an interaction with materials, since this is the only way in which any knowledge of the past can be arrived at -- at an understanding of how things looked and felt to the people of the time: the possibilities of a situation, the mood of an assembly, the flavour of a place, and in aggregate a view of the world, a whole vision of life....Because of the indispensibility of intuition, imagination, empathy and psychological insight to the historian, plus the ability to make artistic use of given materials, Burckhardt insisted that his task could not be systematized into any so-called 'philosophy of history.'" -- Bryan Magee

This poem is an imagining of how Burckhardt might have imagined.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Lake (a ghost story)

My friend Annie Biondi Stevenson took my song "The Lake" and came up with images to go with it. She made a slide-show video. How nice of her to do that! And what a cool thing she made. Thanks, Annie!

Here's the YouTube

The Lake

I float in my boat about one hundred yards from the shore.
I drift on the lake, drinkin' ten beers or more.
Summer sun cooks me up a serving of dreams,
and I drowse like that lazy faun by Claude Debussy.

Daydreams get stirred up with a relish of recall,
and I think about that time before the dam was installed.
All the homesteads were abandoned, the coffins disinterred.
Rites were performed so no curses would stir

stir the big water,
stir the big water,
stir the big water of Greer's Ferry Lake.

But sometimes the schemes of sincere mere men
get waylaid by unforeseen consequence.
I do believe that all of those cautions did fail.
I've seen things in the depths make a sober man quail.

Some of us folk got minds that are slightly free.
We don't mock our spirits, we don't chop down willow trees.
So what of those apparitions reported back then?
Has a liquid mausoleum sealed obsessions in

beneath big water,
beneath big water,
beneath the big water of Greer's Ferry Lake?

Sometimes when I peer down in the watery vast,
I see her mad spirit amid the crappie and the bass.
Not a-swimmin', she's a-swirlin', she's a-searchin' for God.
Gonna confront him for killin' her with diphtheria's blood rot.

Well, I ain't like those who have lost their inner eye.
My peripheral sight sees through what shadows glide.
Once as a boy jumpin' headstones, a spectre gave a fright.
Momma said that was a goat with long hair silken white.

So I am primed to see what lies beyond the pale.
Yes, I have a hoard of uncanny tales I could tell.
And I'll float upon this reservoir from end to blue end
until I can speak solace to my little restless friend.

Sometimes when I peer down in the watery vast,
I see her mad spirit amid the crappie and the bass.
Not a-swimmin', she's a-swirlin', she's a-searchin' for God.
Gonna confront him for killin' her with diphtheria's blood rot.

The waves of this lake lap incessantly.
Once into a lonesome cove at dusk I did drift.
The water transmogrified to mist eerily,
in the shape of a child, up through the pines she did lift.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

"A Seasonal Affair"

Below is the link to a poem by Karla Bush (The Black Crow Writer). I think it is lovely and haunting...crafted with a natural flair:

A Seasonal Affair

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mozart and the Ineffable Priming

How silly to use the word “ineffable” and then to go a-yammering with words.'s what happened.

In 1980 (or thereabouts), I began to be “bothered” by classical music. Something was there in that stuff. It whispered seductions to me, but I was too rough and dull-brained to decipher the murmuring. I was also too stubborn to let it go. Something was there, and by god, I would keep listening, keep trying to understand, to become one with it.

(It would take another dozen years or so before that night, when Beethoven escorted me into a complete affective grasping of what great music is and what it communicates.)

Hard day at work. Then driving home. Car radio on the NPR station. To that regular afternoon program of classical music. Another Mozart piano sonata! And played again by Robert Casadesus, that light-fingered Frenchman.

It was all about the cascade. The pianist offered up the score with a delicate touch and tone. With verve -- ripples of notes, almost hypnotizing me as I drove through the Little Rock traffic. An inexpressible mood would wrap around me. I was getting close to real music but was still at arm's length from its deeper significance. I had not crossed over.

This ignorance is hard to describe. An attraction was there, but I didn't understand what I was hearing and experiencing. Those of profounder sensibility would say, “You're not supposed to understand.” But after my later Beethoven epiphany, I think they would be wrong. Later, I did understand, though that word is problematic. It's more like this: later, the music bonded with fibers in me that before had been merely burgeoning threads of significance.

The intervening years passed, and a few other pieces goosed the carbeurator of my curiosity, of my accruing response: Schumann's Symphony No. 1, Schubert's Symphony No. 8, Debussy's La Mer, Chopin's Preludes.

Mozart primed me with his liquid, dancing piano sonatas. And later, with Beethoven, my musical soul began firing on all cylinders.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We are serious!

You don't have to giggle a gaggle of words.
But almost-smiles do happen in the turning world.

Where is it frickin' written
that even blithe or blissy souls
must head for hell and black abysses
when sitting down to write a poem?

Egads!...I have no free will!
I was sipping wine pleasantly --
a bouquet of tremulous flowers
and vague indifferent visions
just hanging there in my head...
pushed me somehow into a poem.
And light instantly began a-moaning!

So serious. So serious. So serious.

Where is it frickin' written
that words must wear robes
like muttering morbid monks
with broken hearts or heads
filled with profound darkness?

Now of course one can go too far
and write a happy thing of horror --
no one wants to read vapid gushing,
a folksy wink makes a body shudder,
and a grinning poem is way grotesque.

But at least one poem in a thousand
might eschew a suicidal wallowing,
might almost smile at simple hours,
might give the fitful muse a night off,
might move in lines without a whimper.


At least one poem in a thousand
could be a Zen-like observation
of how luminosity touches objects
with its own moods and compulsion.

Damn...poetry is so miserably serious!
I think I'll jump and chort and snortle.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Lake (a ghost-story song)

Words and music copyright -- Tim Buck
All parts -- also me

The Lake

I float in my boat about one hundred yards from the shore.
I drift on the lake, drinkin' ten beers or more.
Summer sun cooks me up a serving of dreams,
and I drowse like that lazy faun by Claude Debussy.

Daydreams get stirred up with a relish of recall,
and I think about that time before the dam was installed.
All the homesteads were abandoned, the coffins disinterred.
Rites were performed so no curses would stir

stir the big water,
stir the big water,
stir the big water of Greer's Ferry Lake.

But sometimes the schemes of sincere mere men
get waylaid by unforeseen consequence.
I do believe that all of those cautions did fail.
I've seen things in the depths make a sober man quail.

Some of us folk got minds that are slightly free.
We don't mock our spirits, we don't chop down willow trees.
So what of those apparitions reported back then?
Has a liquid mausoleum sealed obsessions in

beneath big water,
beneath big water,
beneath the big water of Greer's Ferry Lake?

Sometimes when I peer down in the watery vast,
I see her mad spirit amid the crappie and the bass.
Not a-swimmin', she's a-swirlin', she's a-searchin' for God.
Gonna confront him for killin' her with diphtheria's blood rot.

Well, I ain't like those who have lost their inner eye.
My peripheral sight sees through what shadows glide.
Once as a boy jumpin' headstones, a spectre gave a fright.
Momma said that was a goat with long hair silken white.

So I am primed to see what lies beyond the pale.
Yes, I have a hoard of uncanny tales I could tell.
And I'll float upon this reservoir from end to blue end
until I can speak solace to my little restless friend.

Sometimes when I peer down in the watery vast,
I see her mad spirit amid the crappie and the bass.
Not a-swimmin', she's a-swirlin', she's a-searchin' for God.
Gonna confront him for killin' her with diphtheria's blood rot.

The waves of this lake lap incessantly.
Once into a lonesome cove at dusk I did drift.
The water transmogrified to mist eerily,
in the shape of a child, up through the pines she did lift.

Greer's Ferry Lake is in north-central Arkansas


When a cello plays
I think of you so fondly ~
moisture on my cheeks.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Every town grows slowly from the strange,
from a seed of harsh cells and owling nights.
In south Arkansas a town was peddler born --
a little trading post amid pines and Quapaws.
Sweating days and untongued bargaining
coiled into early years, into eyes like flint.

Every town has many years of frost and rain.
The congealing of a populace seems algorithmic.

How bewildering and good when wild visions come!
When they graze the surface of a coming town.
When a renegade imagination glances sideways
to dwell on faces long dead and stern women!

Urgent sex must have found convenient moments
to bring balm for lives poised on the fringe of fevers.
Brutal hours of labor -- felling trees and giving birth.
A town also born and human beings becoming neighbors.
Until the complex rhythms of gestures and superstitions
and weathers and deaths and dancing led to community.

Decades roll through fist fights, gambling, and a war.
Until oil is struck and the sky trembles over new people.
A square surrounds the merciless court house of judges.
Banks and shops rise on progress like opium-walled mirages.
And dark greenbacks of 1925 are magical with engraving.
The smells inside buildings are so fragrant with commerce.

Human beings move surely in hats and fashionable certanties
of what a day means and of what an unseen god expects.

A mile and time away a refinery blasts fumes and nightmares
for the boy who has seen it there and whose belly is filled by it.
Wraiths come at night from derrick woods tocking and conspiring,
making the days dubious and all the rooted people seem too solid.

And when the boy has become a twisting mass of years,
he almost smiles because he will never escape the strange.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

ole factory

Every night, the similar dull story:
dreaming down into vast buildings,
where experts of curious laws and logic
work amid configurations of substance
and glistening machines of entropy.
Every night, into the dense foundries
of malleable significance and rumors
that stream from sarcastic eyes removing
all knowledge and skill from my labors.

Then the day comes because the sun is surreal.
And the same day lurches through stricken hours.

Against the gods of time and predicament,
I pour red wine into this afternoon glass.
A pause to linger over the pungency,
and then I drink what tastes like lips.
And from that tasting comes aromas
gliding like silks dipped in frankincense.
Or from distant earthy villages heavy
with unknown smells from golden skin,
smells dusky and rich and deeply feminine.

I have breathed you in on a gasping desire,
imagined you on tilted planes of smiling lips
that blast the eyes of all my nights' accusers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

René Daumal

René Daumal lived from 1908 to 1944. He was a poet, editor, and allegorist during the French Surrealist ferment.

I've read his Mount Analogue and A Night of Serious Drinking. I have the biography by Kathleen Rosenblatt. Daumal was an interesting fellow. And like several others back then with an unusual shape of consciousness, he was drawn to the enigmatic Gurdjieff.

Daumal's story "The Great Magician" was made into a short film. It is available from the links below to Youtube. For me, there is something in this little story that resonates.

Okay. Now I want to digress a bit.

The real Surrealism (in Daumal's case, para- or pata- surrealism) had overtones of darkness and undertones of profundity ringing deeper than what latter-day American mystigogues have given us. I won't name any names, lest the shock offend sensitive admirers and devotees. Back then, the plunge into unconscious energies occasionally brushed up against the mystical, the harsh abyss. Now, we get a cheaper, diluted form -- self-pleased avatars produce effects for effects sake. Or ostensibly uproot the "cool" fibers of American pathology, as if that should be of interest to anyone. Their filmic (or whatever) effusions strike me as bathetic expressions concerned with a banal culture.

Real Surrealism went far beyond such trite cultural commentary. It was not interested in an oh-so ironic inventory, uprooting, and display of a self-important culture's sublimations. Now, we are given America as the exemplary enigma, the generative abyss. My word, what nonsense. Back in France during the '20s and '30s, truly bent minds were concerned instead with the dire-objective. Real soul-stuff.

Surrealism is authentic when concerned with the enigma of World, rather than with theatrics of neurosis.

The Great Magician (Part 1)

The Great Magician (Part 2)

Afterthought: This stuff in general makes me think about Surrealistic painting. What I see painted nowadays in that vein strikes me as 1) straining after effect; 2) displaying shallow sensibility. And even the old stuff -- the more I consider it, the more banal it seems to me. The masters like Dali, De Chirico, Miro, Magritte, and such...again, a straining after effect, though not nearly as off-putting as Contemporary Surrealism. The only old guy whose paintings seem to be genuine expressions of very deep sensibility is Yves Tanguy. A convincing subtlety breathes in his works.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


....upon a time, there was an anvil. It just sat there in the blacksmith shop all day, getting pounded on. It had chronic headaches. At night, it would try to weep, but it could produce no tears. "Woe is me! All I do is just get pounded on. What kind of life is this?"

And then one special night -- at the stroke of 12:16 -- a drunken, flouncing fairy stumbled into the shop. She was holding not a magic wand but a sword. She waved it around over her head rather incautiously. And then said to the anvil:

"Buck up, my dear. Things could be worse. You could have come into the world as a ship anchor. Always getting thrown overboard. That would suck. You would always get wet and always rust. But here, things are cozy, and you get to perform a valuable service to keep the world in balance."

The anvil would have scratched its head and said something, but it was an anvil.

So the hiccupping fairy kept on speechifying:

"See? This sword was wrought right here, years ago, right on top of your head. And then it went into battle. It was such a strong sword that it broke all the enemy swords. The knight who wielded it was a rebel, a champion of the peasants. They won the war, and the kingdom became all nice and stuff. Everybody was happy...except the former Lord, who got flung into the next province from a trebuchet."

The anvil started feeling a little better about itself. About its role in societal reordering and proletarian ecstasy.

So the fairy knighted the anvil with a tap of the sword. Instantly, the anvil became as light as a feather and began to levitate. Then it floated out of the blacksmith shop and onward...up, up over trees and under the moon. Soon, it realized its headache was gone. The magical flight had done wonders. But the anvil also realized the iron-y of the situation: a flying anvil is bad for uprisings.

It flew back into the shop, clunked down on its pedestal, and lived happily ever after.

the tank truck guy

Every three years out here the septic tank
fills up with "stuff" and rainwater seepage.
I phone the tank truck guy for unholy pumping.
He shows up, sitting high on the seat unsmiling.
He backs in the vehicle, jumps out, and does things
with levers and gadgets and hoses. Puts on his gloves.
The roots of his profession have gone down deep,
have become him -- this old guy is an artisan
of awful pumping. His eyes are beady and sure.
You see the same thing in electricians, plumbers,
carpenters, whatever. What they do becomes them.
I would imagine that holds true for the gentler arts --
what one gets too good at disposes of uncertainty.
No more room left for equivocal fumes, for doubt.

It's February and snow and ice cover the yard.
We slide off the concrete lid and he tells me
about roots, as if whispering esoteric knowledge.
He looks me up and down, sort of condescendingly.
As if I'd been born that morning and knew nothing.
But if it gives him meaning, that's okay with me.
I'll stand with a stupid look on my face, play the role.

I've always thought it was better to know a lot of stuff
half-assed than to become an expert lost in self-regard.

He scrapes his wrist and it bleeds. I go for disinfectant
and a clean wet cloth and a bandage. I fix him up.
He seems slightly crestfallen to have been wounded.

Afterwards, I pay him and he pulls out of the drive.
A few minutes later, here he comes back walking.
He drove the tanker off the side of the gravel road.
He was trying to radio in and took his eyes off the ice.
I offered to let him wait in my warm house for a wrecker.
I offered to pour him a cup of coffee. No to both things.
He'd just wait by the side of the road for an hour or so.

When an expert miscalculates his one big thing, the world sucks.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Love songs have been sung to death.
No more! For pity's sake, no more.
Love poems have gushed too much.
Deliver me from Neruda's stinking juices!

It's high time to catch God in a snare.
When he squeals we'll have our quarry.
A sky of stars is dumb and too much.
Why sing onto a canvas without context?

The plot is staggering. All are drunken.
It's high time to shoot a sparkle rocket
into Heaven and explode all the angels.
A shower of indignant, dumbfounded angels!
We'll gather them up for a hard interrogation.
However they answer, we'll have a verdict:
to sing and sigh and weep and gush?...
or to stand stoically in a pool of juices?

Love poems have gushed entirely too much
around the sealed lips of the world's presence.

Ha!...because I ache I turn to metaphysics.
I'll twist an angel's arm until I hear it squeal,
"It is written: one day you shall be met."

Oh, hell...there's nothing to be done for it --

Her eyes kindle the East of mornings.
Her silence holds the Source of rivers.
I've never heard her natural laughter.
But I know it would sparkle darkly
and cushion all of my fallen years.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The stricken birds sing of mortal time.
They are singing very serious songs.
If they could simply sing without stress,
the songs would have no beautiful drama.

I "sing" so obsessively because of you.
And time rushes toward the pale horizon.
And your beauty is on me like fever colors.
Your spirit haunts me like a sigh of death.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

to my daughter

When you were born I was buried
under a ton of very harsh colors.
I think I was close to breakdown.
It took time for me to recognize
that an uncanny being had come
woven deeper than blood into me.
Someone who would know my mind
and be a friend and not blame me
for being something rather weird.
Someone who would laugh with me.

You are a woman now, so beautiful.
You are so smart that it is an excuse
for my own dumbass clunky brain --
it's like I can ride on your coattails
and gain plausibility being your dad.

I remember when you were three.
That morning when we discovered
you and I had had the same dream.

I remember when I built you
that swingset and slide thing
from a structure of 4 by 4s.
You had a blast playing on it.
And you could fire a baseball
like a boy, not girly pushed.

I remember that night when you were a teenager.
When that ghost or whatever it was freaked us out.

Okay...that's enough for now.
I just wanted to say, "I love you."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

my head

When I was 13,
I decided to sculpt
a head out of clay.

What the hell?

I was a regular kid,
with no art or knowledge,
but I got it in my head
that I must sculpt a head.

So I gathered up red clay
from that spot in the yard.
And I formed from wire mesh
a substrate and stuffed it
with wads of newspaper
to hold the first smearing.

I worked like a monk
in a trance of oblivion
all that day and into the next.

My head started looking
like something nearly human,
and the third day it took on
a forlorn expression.

I made a strange man,
though I think my first vision
was to shape up a woman.
But women are weird
and my fingers were virgin.

And I could never get it
to proper head size.
It stalled between normal
and Melanesian trophy.

I was proud of my head.
I showed it to my parents,
and as usual they loved it,
like anything I made...
even this depressed
head with proportions
askew and sad features
not quite aligned.

Why in the world
did I have to make a head?
It just jumped into my head
like everything since.

Looking back I can feel
what I felt when my hands
were slimy with clay,
lost in creation,
persuading my Adam.

I was trying to make
something out of nothing.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Whatever the bird is saying
to the fixed fact of his day,
wheedling a reeded melody
or dark-limbed expression
from flute or picolo tongue...

he is turning around what he is.

And if a fish swims in a blue circle,
massaged by a spiraling current...

he is turning to always face his god.

Higher up goes the Ferris wheel,
until it drops the heart to depths.
And the passenger is changing cars,
in mid-air climbing through structure
to get a fix on one revolving view...

he is turning because of drunkenness.

Turning, turning...always to face
the curving fact as it slides away.

when it happens

It's only happened a few times.
And it comes completely of itself.
You can't strain and make it pop
and be there. It is a sly thing.
Nothing else but a chair or sofa
or a floor or a surface of wall
can hold the happening so well...

when it happens.

If God himself stared at his recliner
and that thing decided to show itself,
God would be nonplussed and shaken,
at least I'm almost sure God would be.

It rarely ever comes to me.
But when it does it seems
all things are simply there
beyond any explanation.

attack of the crazy-8s

Made it through the night without waking up at 3 AM. But the dreams! As usual, so wrong-assed and spirit-draining. One of these nights it's going to be different.

I'll dream of Butterfly people who have come to me for help. To save their land from invasion by crazy-8s. Yes, human-sized 8s, bouncing around all over Flower Land...crushing flowers and making noise. Spreading panic and widespread depression (causes the Butterfly people's glorious, dappled wings to molt). The fairest of all the Butterfly girls will beseech me to rescue them all. I will be so cool. I'll amble into Flower Land like Kwai Chang Caine: swivel-kicking, shoulder-slinging, and just Kung-Fuing the shit out of those bombastic, chaotic 8s.

Their greatest warrior, Gol8th, will present his horrible self and laugh at me maniacally, as if he had hands on hips: an extra-large 8 made out of two over-sized ebony 8-balls. Battle ensues. I bounce off his surfaces. My attacks and counterattacks impotent against this hard billiard-ball creature. Bloodied and weary, I glance over at Butterfly girl. She flutters her eyelashes and the tips of her wings. A dewy teardrop hovers in her eyes.

Filled with a new, heroic passion and completely disgusted with Gol8th's arrogance, I try the move on him I've been holding in reserve: I whip out a calculator, hit a bunch of numbers, and get the result that mathematics has heretofore thought impossible. I have managed to divide Pi's first 8 digits by a secret, intuited fraction. My computation has quickly found the terminal number of Pi. And it is not 8. It is 9. I triumphantly step up to the glistening, now-bemused Gol8th. I show him the result. I tell him that 8 is not the transcendent, ontological answer. Rather it is 9!

He begins to tremble, his two black ball halves start spinning in opposite directions. A loud whine and whir fills the air. Finally...Gol8th explodes into billions of tiny octagon bits. All the other regular 8s flee mindlessly. Their great warrior is no more. Their philosophy has been annulled. With Flower Land free and peaceful once more, the king is happy. He declares a feast and celebration. That night Butterfly girl, with a strange combination of shyness and seduction, confronts me under the great Moon Flower. And what happens next will not be told here. Because I don't know. I just stopped typing.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

ever so often

A day might pass returning
breath to contented rhythm:
"I think I'll read a book or listen
again to a Martinů symphony."
A book can swallow shadows,
and Martinů's strange smiling
can bring a pleasant levitation.

Then it passes just as expected.
Ever so often two eyes returning.
Ever so often the musical shadow
of a smile becoming a visioned rose.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

exception to the rule

Matt Dioguardi is one of the few guys posting poems who is not full of himself. I'm a worst-offender. Matt is a model of well-adjusted attitude. He doesn't take himself seriously. That's like discovering an exotic new life-form in the middle of a bustling city.

Lord have mercy! What is it with male writers (big- or small-time)? We think our junk would cause God himself sit up and take notice. It's not just our profound, world-altering poems and stylistically strutting prose. It's our smarmy opinions on any given topic. We think we actually know stuff. We want the women-folk to take us seriously. To be in a certain awe of our penetrations into the nature of reality and of our subsuming experience into breathtaking poetry! "Hey, baby...I'm gonna make you float like an angel or jump like a beatnik!" Or if not stunned, at least be extremely impressed.

Female writers, for the most part, offer their creations with a measure of humility. They don't seem to be one-person parades blaring trombones or throwing glitter confetti over their own heads. Us guys are nuts. We think we're so damn cool we don't realize how utterly stupid we look.

But Matt...well, he is someone to emulate. His opinions are measured and sober. An attractive self-deprecation casts, ironically, a more compelling light on his utterances. His poems are made available with no fanfare and no expectation that anyone should have an orgasm or epileptic fit over his creations.

Cheryl & Janet Snell

These sisters are talented! Cheryl is a writer (poetry and prose), and Janet is an artist. Their books reflect this -- Janet's compelling, expressionistic paintings complement Cheryl's poems. Those paintings make the noise of the world instantly go silent...haunting, improbable, fascinating, complex images. Those poems cast to the reader quixotic observations, existential moods, amorous enigmas.

Janet's solo work has also been exhibited in galleries.

Cheryl's novel is set in India and is gathering good reviews.

Here's the link to their cool blogspot Scattered Light:

a breath felt

A fever of gobsmacked days and nights...
a swollen confusion from listening alertly
to a whispered voice only imagined...

That voice is drifting from an unknown shore,
where night trees consider tremulous waves
rippling below gestures of an unmonthed moon.
It could be a vague sketch by Edvard Munch
come to transient life in the pigment of being.

Sometimes the world has too many worlds.
But strange eyes drift to meet strange eyes.
Ventures on winds of dissolving then making.

But it's not real and could never gain traction
on the underside of lightfall or inside a clock.
So drink to things that have no explanation.
Drink to drunkenness, to all unburdening.


A breath felt. From a corner of knowing.
The air is moving from a gift of knowing.


It sounds almost real....

dada haiku

The wind performing
through small bones of my wind chimes --
monkey gets the joke.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Wanting the Moon

A poem by Denise Levertov (1923 -- 1997)

Not the moon. A flower
on the other side of the water.

The water sweeps past in flood,
dragging a whole tree by the hair,

a barn, a bridge. The flower
sings on the far bank.

Not a flower, a bird calling
hidden among the darkest trees, music

over the water, making a silence
out of the brown folds of the river's cloak.

The moon. No, a young man walking
under the trees. There are lanterns

among the leaves.
Tender, wise, merry,

his face is awake with its own light,
I see it across the water as if close up.

A jester. The music rings from his bells,
gravely, a tune of sorrow,

I dance to it on my riverbank.

I wonder why this poem has such an effect on me? I wonder why, in contrast, all those poems I read today on the webpage of Poetry Magazine sucked and made me want to smash chunks of granite on my head? Made me want to bite my own teeth off? God...they were awful. This poem is so wondrous that I don't know what I'm going to do. Except read it over and over until I go blind.

There is such an openness to these lines. Such a welcoming volume of aesthetic suspense and wonder. An evening tableaux quivers equivocally, with images sliding into tenuous emotions, then back again into natural forms. I won't fall into lazy reading and call this a dream. This poem is pitched in a different key. Into a tone of language-as-art...and emotion creating a world. This poem does not collapse the telling-space into a boring self-absorption. It opens out. It opens out. There is such room here for the reader to live and breathe.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Return of the jerk

A week ago, I wrote this piece of wholesale celebration: "Poetry -- how I feel about it this morning." Today, I'm feeling irritable again about certain poetry. I'm back to my cranky self.

Of course, the odd thing is this: should an unpublished writer of poems be disgorging so many words about poetry as an artistic and psychological phenomenon? Why should his blathering on the topic 1) be of any value and 2) be read at all? Well, writing this present piece is a way for me to kill a little time. That will have to be justification enough.

I think poetry is a form of expressive art, akin to painting and music. I do not think poetry is a forensic or diagnostic science strutting across short lines in a sterile and sober white uniform. A poem should implicitly sing the colors of being, instead of presumptuously jotting down a prescription for wisdom-pills.

There is a lot of godawful poetry being written. I've written my share of lame junk. The danger is when a poet is convinced he has seen the light, especially a glaring, clinical luminescence. When his poems become expositions on how to understand life in some technical sense.

Loosen the fuck up. A poem -- as a specie of art -- should be an adventure for the reader. Like going to an action movie or mystery or tear-jerker. An experience for gobbling popcorn and slurping a soda pop while reading. The reader should be entertained, almost to the point of drooling or hyperventilation. Not lectured in a know-it-all tone, like in one of those black-and-white hygienic films for high school in the fifties.

Language, in my opinion, is essentially a goggle-eyed voodoo priest spinning around in a mysterious circle, with spazzy sparks flying out of his crazy feather bonnet. And a poem is where this delirious shit really gets to hit the fan. Don't hold it in -- those juicy, ancient, psychotic suppurations of being-into-words. If you do, you'll puff yourself up while your verse begins to dry and crack with sane saying.

Isn't life a kind of blind dance? Doesn't it flow in a sort of incantatory cadence? Aren't peculiar harmonies infecting the conscious melody? Here's a piece of free "wisdom" -- no one has the first clue what existence is. I think language is aware of that, deep down. A poem is where that ignorance gets to do its spontaneous modern dance. An improvisation of feeling and fuzzy thoughts coloring the white sheet in expressive pigments, building up forms of suggestive melancholy or transcendent yearning.

Sure. That's a formula for garish indulgence. So be it. At least it will make a stanza sing into the dream of life. And not a poised diagnosis gleaned from reality's x-ray. Let the bones sound their aching laments. Let the vague viscera tremble into bleeding words.

Life is a Mood and a Question. I happen to think a poem should be moody and suspenseful. Soberness and knowingness make a poem wince. Language is a form of chant. Always has been. A poem should intone, with sympathetic and intensified cadence, the high-strung syntax of being. A line of words achieves expresive symbolic power when surprising juxtapositions -- astonishing duplexes -- erupt from dubious trances, from the field of rich metaphor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

the haunted violin (for Constance Stadler)

A piano sustains our granular need
to fall between fragments of wonder.
Octaves echo human feelings, yes,
but more, the lure is abstraction.

A violin is already haunted with voices --
the plaintive songs of mountain spruces.
Can you hear secret winds in the timbre,
like a common tune of all fibered beings?

I have seen that youthful picture of you,
rapt in communion with a violin. I can hear
an imaginary tone sostenuto, with vibrato.

Nestled under a chin's held nod,
a violin almost resonates bones
and the pulse of animate plasmas.
Inner harmonics carry much saying
on the tip of a bow's touching tongue.
I've heard something in your poems
beneath the words, a world of feeling
and thinking along the fretless neck.
Those tones converge aesthetically,
becoming a philosophical sonata.

Yes, I think language is like a haunted violin....

The trampled dust remembers footprints
of lithe leopards and the upright walkers
who lean toward jade-cool distances
of mountains after hot savannah suns.
Teeth rot, flint sparks, and tears burn.
Childbirth shrieks under hanging clouds.
A modal story chanted on quivering lips
becomes lamentations to astounded gods.

A fugue spreads its overlapping grammars --
horrific moons of nightmare and lunacy,
with interwoven spells of amorous magic.
The slow thunder of lost ages drones
till drunken grapes are grown for dancing.
A city scatters dazzled peacock colors
in a rhythm of silks and furtive gestures
curling through tales of sacerdotal night.

War shudders iron and trembles bronze!
Sunsets drip blood, seas lash great galleys.
Lepers are cast out, slaves are collected.
Swords tear flesh while empires are broken.
The music of madness pounds in temples.
Marble and thought are veined with power.
Logic chases tortoises, many plagues bulge
eyes of the hopeless waiting for graves.

Shuffling and lit by Faustian torches,
alchemists spill atoms onto the future.
Momentum, inertia, and star tubes follow --
a god seeks shelter, quaking at trumpets.
Then mind so awake stares in its mirror
and threatens mystery with didactic words.
Awake and pacing in books and lectures,
the mood soon sings an aria of freedom.

The cursing eye opens -- suspicion and envy.
The world is a symphony of machines and hate.
Millions murdered by shrapnel and death camps.
The tissue of time has been rended, worn thin.
Yet even in tomorrow's fogs and confusions,
a note is sounded with compassionate bowing.
Souls gather round it, caressing the wounded
and almost pray music to an impossible god.

Deep in the fine grains of curvaceous telling,
in the resinous mixture of sounding substance,
in the haunted pleading of a violin's soprano...
the old song keeps time with our words on paper.