California Boys

August 29, 2012 § 1 Comment


Jack the boy, Jack the poodle

Jaden at my mother’s house

I had a blissfully crowded time in California seeing a lot of family, including three of my five (step) grandsons, all amazing, beautiful, talkative and smart.

After showing me his fantastic Lego creations, Whitney’s son Daniel climbed the plum tree at my request—seeing a child in a tree is one of life’s sweeter pleasures—then ran around the yard among the fallen fruit, asking to be tickled, and giggling as only children under eight can do. At bedtime, he climbed in my bed, burrowing under the covers like an oversized cat and had to be dragged out by his feet. Okay, I chose to drag him out by his feet. Dragging children around by their feet is one of my favorite activities. I used to do it with my stepchildren on the grass. I think Matthew liked it best.

Chris’s sons Jaden and Jack visited at my mother’s house with my daughter-in-law Lolita. (She’s my ex-daughter-in-law, to be precise, but I was invited to the wedding, not the divorce.) Jack did approximately 17,000 backflips and somersaults and joyously ran the length of the park my mother’s yard abuts; Jaden made a horror movie on his ipad.

The horror theme was my idea, my mother’s house being a perfect setting. Not that it looks scary as a whole—it looks magical, whimsical, comfortable or just weird, depending on your point of view—but parts of it are horror-worthy and Jaden found them easily. He took footage of her blank-faced dolls, the fake skeleton above the living room door, the clay feet protruding from under the secretary.

“Great Grandmother’s House” Jaden was going to call it, but that had too many letters for the imovie template. “Great Granny’s House?” he asked. “Great Fanny’s House,” Jack said in delight—he loves my mother’s first name, though I don’t believe he knows its more embarrassing connotations. He likes it because he’s never heard it before. And he announced that next time he visits her, he’s staying two weeks. I suspect my mother would gladly host the boys forever.


I returned to chaos. My two cats and Charles’ cat are not adjusting well to their blended family. Lola and Mouchette hiss whenever they meet, and Lola likes to stalk Mouchette, then launch into a high-speed attack. Snarls, yowls and squeaks, humans shouting. Lola and Fitzroy have a more complex relationship, kissing and fighting by turns. Fitzroy is naturally aggressive, being a sexually unsatisfied male (even neutered animals can be unsatisfied), so he doesn’t mind the abuse, and Lola, like all of us, is doubtless enraptured by his charms: his snowy chest, his striped amber pelt, his golden eyes, squared off strawberry nose, furry chin, Martian ears, sharp white teeth….

Princess Mouse Velvet mostly stays in my room, though Lola sidles in for combat and as a result spends time in a cage. (Charles decides when to cage her. I’m not good with jail.) This morning began with a three-way fight, crashes and meows, ferocious beasts racing across my body. I asked Charles if this life was as hard as having four children under six. He said it was harder. He’s the cat cop, cat warden, cat anger-management counselor. I just console the innocent, forgive the guilty, make sure there’s enough food in the house and make dinner.


My father had a steel comb with which he would comb our hair.

After a bath the cold metal soothing against my scalp, his hand cupping
my chin.

My mother had a red pullover with a little yellow duck embroidered
on it and a pendant made from a gold Victoria coronation coin.

Which later, when we first moved to Buffalo, would be stolen from
the house.

The Sunn’i Muslims have a story in which the angels cast a dark mark
out of Prophet Mohammad’s heart, thus making him pure, though the
Shi’a reject this story, believing in his absolute innocence from birth.

Telling the famous Story of the Blanket in which the Prophet covers
himself with a Yemeni blanket for his afternoon rest. Joined under
the blanket first by his son-in-law Ali, then each of his grandchildren
Hassan and Hussain and finally by his daughter Bibi Fatima.

In Heaven Gabriel asks God about the five under the blanket and
God says, those are the five people whom I loved the most out of all
creation, and I made everything in the heavens and the earth for
their sake.

Gabriel, speaker on God’s behalf, whisperer to Prophets, asks God, can
I go down and be the sixth among them.

And God says, go down there and ask them. If they consent you may go
under the blanket and be the sixth among them.

Creation for the sake of Gabriel is retroactively granted when the group
under the blanket admits him to their company.

Is that me at the edge of the blanket asking to be allowed inside.

Asking the 800 hadith be canceled, all history re-ordered.

In Hyderabad I prayed every part of the day, climbed a thousand steps
to the site of Maula Ali’s pilgrimage.

I wanted to be those stairs, the hunger I felt, the river inside.

I learned to pronounce my daily prayers from transliterated English
in a book called “Know Your Islam,” dark blue with gold calligraphed
writing that made the English appear as if it were Arabic complete with
marks above and below the letters.

I didn’t learn the Arabic script until years later and never learned the
language itself.

God’s true language: Hebrew. Latin. Arabic. Sanskrit.

As if utterance fit into the requirements of the human mouth.

I learned how to find the new moon by looking for the circular absence
of stars.

When Abraham took Isaac up into the thicket his son did not know
where he was being led.

When his father bound him and took up the knife he was shocked.

And said, “Father, where is the ram?”

Though from Abraham’s perspective he was asked by God to sacrifice
his son and proved his love by taking up the knife.

Thinking to himself perhaps, Oh Ismail, Ismail, do I cut or do I burn.

I learned God’s true language is only silence and breath.

Fourth son of a fourth son, my father was afflicted as a child and
as was the custom in those days a new name was selected for him to
protect his health.

Still the feeling of his rough hand, gently cupping my cheek, dipping the
steel comb in water to comb my hair flat.

My hair was kept so short, combed flat when wet. I never knew my hair
was wavy until I was nearly twenty-two and never went outside with wet
and uncombed hair until I was twenty-eight.

At which point I realized my hair was curly.

My father’s hands have fortune-lines in them cut deeply and dramatic.

The day I left his house for the last time I asked him if I could hold his
hand before I left.

There are two different ways of going about this.

If you have known this for years why didn’t you ask for help, he
asked me.

Each time I left home, including the last time, my mother would hold a
Quran up for me to walk under. Once under, one would turn and kiss
the book.

There is no place in the Quran which requires acts of homosexuality to
be punishable by lashings and death.

Hadith or scripture. Scripture or rupture.

Should I travel out from under the blanket.

Comfort from a verse which also recurs: “Surely there are signs in this
for those of you who would reflect.”

Or the one hundred and four books of God. Of which only four are
known—Qur’an, Injeel, Tavrat, Zubuur.

There are a hundred others—Bhagavad-Gita, Lotus Sutra, Song of
Myself, the Gospel of Magdalene, Popul Vuh, the book of Black Buffalo
Woman—somewhere unrevealed as such.

Dear mother in the sky you could unbuckle the book and erase all the

What I always remember about my childhood is my mother whispering
to me, telling me secrets, ideas, suggestions.

She named me when I moved in her while she was reading a calligraphy
of the Imam’s names. My name: translated my whole life for me as

In India we climbed the steps of the Maula Ali mountain to the top,
thirsting for what.

My mother had stayed behind in the house, unable to go on pilgrimage.
She had told me the reason why.

Being in a state considered unacceptable for prayers or pilgrimages.

I asked if she would want more children and she told me the name she
would give a new son.

I always attribute the fact that they did not, though my eldest sister’s first
son was given the same name she whispered to me that afternoon, to my
telling of her secret to my sisters when we were climbing the stairs.

It is the one betrayal of her—perhaps meaningless—that I have never
forgiven myself.

There are secrets it is still hard to tell, betrayals hard to make.

You hope like anything that though others consider you unclean God
will still welcome you.

My name is Kazim. Which means patience. I know how to wait.

Kazim Ali

My Mother’s House has Many Rooms

August 24, 2012 § 2 Comments

Library with Poodle

I retire for a rest and computer drift in my not-large bedroom at my mother’s house in Lompoc, California. There are two single beds with carved head and footboards, once in my grandmother’s guestroom in Texas, with their original pale peach silk and lace spreads. I never slept in them visiting my grandmother—there was a less fancy room for children—but my mother slept there and I remember admiring the contrast of dark wood and pale coverlets as we talked while she dressed for dinner. I luxuriated in the hour that it took her for make-up, hair, clothing…my father was dead by then…I was both clingy and detached…

Single beds were what married couples on television used, and they still retain a whiff of the original mystery: what was the meaning of that separation, each adult in their childish pajamas needing their own private craft into dreams? I learned the answer probably as soon as I framed the question but even then it didn’t make sense. It wasn’t as if TV would ever show people having sex.

On the dresser facing me, under the cloudy & scarred gilt-framed oval mirror, in which it is just possible to apply lipstick, are a Santa Claus figurine, a Christmas tree coaster, a lamp in the shape of a tree with a twiggy bird’s nest—in which my mother has put three tiny egg-shaped stones—a pair of china showgirls doing their hair, and a photograph of my grandmother in her 30’s, wearing a flower on her bosom, a light-colored dress and short pale gloves with rolled cuffs. She’s not a beauty but she has a face you want to keep looking at: wide, calm, her features not bold but large, promising a person with secrets, kindness, sense and sensibility. I wish she’d lived longer. She took me to Mame when I was 12, and taught me to play Gin.

There’s a narrow, dark red oriental rug under the one window with its amaryllis curtains (a color I came across today looking online at dresses I can’t afford) and a small sheepskin rug between the beds that the poodle likes to sleep on. A vase on the night table brims with yesterday’s lush garden roses; a cream and sepia painting of a bride on the far wall (my sister painted it in high school and wishes it would disappear) perfectly mimics the wistfulness of the antique bedclothes. Several more paintings, drawings and photographs by friends and family adorn the walls, as well as framed, faded 19th century flower prints—those languid sexual shapes, frills and bells….Since I left New York I’ve been assailed by desire, though assailed is the wrong word: a soft pummeling, a reminded of skin and kiss, of possibility. It hardly even makes me sad anymore (though I dreamed last night that I was masturbating while my mother retrieved from my head—from a distance—souls I’d saved from the Devil. Charles was there too, vacuuming his grandmother’s oriental rug.) But back to the real bedroom—a three-tiered table holds a couple of dolls and painted china cats, and other curios; a striped hatbox rests on the closet shelf, a stuffed pink pig lies on the floor…

The room opens into a dim and spacious bathroom, which in turn leads to the library, the most in-use room of the house (during waking hours when there are no visitors). I don’t use it because something about it makes me want to go to sleep, and regardless of the fact that my mother spends so much time there, I fear that if I fall asleep in that sun-faded red leather chair, I’ll never be found. There are too many books, and few of them are new. Some were new when I was a child; some were bought in recent years: the set of Dickens and other classics that my mother originally read in other editions. There are histories of Greece, Rome, The British isles (pre-Christian), The United States; books on magic and mythology; lots of fiction and poetry; art books and dictionaries.

Random titles: The Bedside Book of Beasts, The Subtle Knife, Obama’s Wars, The Passion Artist, Bloomsday, Kontiki. Flowers of Evil, The Last Place on Earth, The Travels of Marco Polo, a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Herzog. Other than books there are more family photographs, mostly recent; various shawls (my mother gets cold); a little desk covered with papers; a map of the Arctic Circle and one of North Carolina shipwrecks. My mother reads for hours every day and the poodle watches her. He knows she’s escaping to far realms without him—moors and glens, wind-whipped seas, battlegrounds, Victorian drawing rooms. He would also like adventures, and so perhaps he and I—no, I hear my brother’s voice, “Let’s go see what Margaret’s doing.”

I go with them on errands: returning a ladder to friends (an older lady who resembles a large, hesitant, tangerine-pink grasshopper) then stopping by the bank and CVS, where we buy paper towels, some household fixit, and two bottles of red wine. I can’t get over that: the greeting cards, the feminine necessaries, bandaids, booze. No reason why not. It’s just so West Coast.

Home to tea and my bed again, my twilight burrow. You’d like it too.

from A Woman of a Distant Land

In this country, we do not bury the dead. We enclose them like dolls in glass cases and decorate our houses with them.
People, especially the cultivated ones from old families, live surrounded by multitudes of dignified dead. Our living rooms and parlors, even our dining rooms and our bedrooms, are filled with our ancestors in glass cases. When the rooms become too full, we use the cases for furniture.
On top of where my twenty-five-year-old great-grandmother lies, beautiful and buried in flowers, we line up the evening soup bowls.
We do not sing in chorus. When four people gather, we weave together four different melodies. This is what we call a relationship. Such encounters are always a sort of entanglement. When these entanglements come loose, we scatter in four directions, sometimes with relief, sometimes at wit’s end.
I wrote that we scatter in four directions, but I did not mean that we merely return home, scattering from one another like rays of light radiating from a single source.
When there is no more need to be together, we scatter in four different directions, but none of us ever breaks the horizon with our tread.
Because people are afraid at the thought of their feet leaving the earth, we turn around one step before reaching the horizon. After thirty years, those faces we wished to see never again enter our fields of vision.
In this country, everyone fears midday. In the daytime, the dead are too dead. Bathed in the sharp view of the sun, our skin crawls, and we shudder.
When the nights, vast and deaf, vast and blind, descend with size great enough to fill the distances between us, we remove our corsets and breathe with relief. When we lie down to sleep at the bottom of the darkness, we are nearly as content as the corpses around us.
The sight of fresh new leaves scares us. Who is to say that those small buds raising their faces upon the branches are not our own nipples? Who is to say that the soft, double blades of grass stretching from the wet earth are not the slightly parted lips of a boy?
In the springtime, when green begins to invade our world, there is no place for us to take refuge outside, and so we hide in the deepest, darkest recesses of our houses. Sometimes we crane our necks from where we hide between our dead brothers, and we gaze at the green hemisphere swelling before our eyes. We are troubled by many fevers; we live with thermometers tucked under our arms.
Do you know what it means to be a woman, especially to be a woman in this country, during the spring?
When I was fifteen, becoming a woman frightened me. When I was eighteen, being a woman struck me as loathsome. Now, how old am I? I have become too much of a woman. I can no longer return to being human; that age is gone forever. My head is small, my neck long, and my hair terribly heavy.

Tada Chimako, translated by Jeffrey Angles.

Born in 1930 in Kita-Kyūshū City, Fukuoka, Japan, Tada Chimako spent most of her youth in Tokyo, during the tumultuous years of the second World War. Tada authored over 15 books of poetry in Japanese and was also a prominent translator of French literature. Her work frequently referenced Greek, Latin, Chinese, and Japanese classical literature, and concerned itself with the psychology of women in both mythology and the modern world. She also published several books of essays on cultural theory, ancient thought, and mythology.—From

California on my Mind

August 21, 2012 § 3 Comments

My mother and Grandmother and an unknown girl

I’m at my mother’s house in California, in that calm before dinner preparations get serious. My desire for a walk in the chaparral was stymied by a 7-year plague of caterpillars: if you walk under any tree, they descend upon you in great numbers. Oddly, no one considers this a free source of fresh protein but rather a creepy-crawly reason to stay on the suburban street, which of course has no sidewalks and boasts lots of neighbor flower bushes that the silly poodle likes to make use of. (He’s not silly because of his excretory instincts, but just because he is. He’s a good dog, Jack.)

This afternoon, Mom showed me old photographs of herself as a little girl in 1930’s Memphis, Houston and West Texas, posing with Joe, Zipper and other long gone but not forgotten pooches. And then her school friends, all vivid with girlish spirit; and the picture above, my mother and her mother. She’s so beautiful. She doesn’t think so.

Dinner: just-picked zucchini roasted with tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic; a salad of romaine lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers, mint and parmesan; sourdough bread and various soft cheeses; cherries Jubilee over dark chocolate ice cream. Local white wine.

Roses outside the door, a warm breeze (my mother calls it a chilly wind), quiet, three of us at the table. Mom, Johnny, me. I only think this for a week or so a year, but when I do it’s very strong: all you really need is family, a house, flowers and the past… like those South American novels I read in my youth…locked up against time…

Love & work are so full of disappointment and betrayal. People tell me: write about it, write about it. I don’t want to write about the last 3 or 11 years. There’s too much I don’t understand. I want to write about my 20’s, which maybe I don’t understand either but somehow that doesn’t matter so much. All the anger and shame and whatever else has dissipated. There’s only the crayon-color of love (you love those you remember) and the odd stories.

It’s the present that makes you crazy. When you think something is over and it isn’t. When you think something will last and it doesn’t. It’s no mistake those sentences sound alike. The present is sludge, deafening noise and desperation. But not here, not now.

True Love

In silence the heart raves. It utters words
Meaningless, that never had
A meaning. I was ten, skinny, red-headed,

Freckled. In a big black Buick,
Driven by a big grown boy, with a necktie, she sat
In front of the drugstore, sipping something

Through a straw. There is nothing like
Beauty. It stops your heart. It
Thickens your blood. It stops your breath. It

Makes you feel dirty. You need a hot bath.
I leaned against a telephone pole, and watched.
I thought I would die if she saw me.

How could I exist in the same world with that brightness?
Two years later she smiled at me. She
Named my name. I thought I would wake up dead.

Her grown brothers walked with the bent-knee
Swagger of horsemen. They were slick-faced.
Told jokes in the barbershop. Did no work.

Their father was what is called a drunkard.
Whatever he was he stayed on the third floor
Of the big white farmhouse under the maples for twenty-five years.

He never came down. They brought everything up to him.
I did not know what a mortgage was.
His wife was a good, Christian woman, and prayed.

When the daughter got married, the old man came down wearing
An old tail coat, the pleated shirt yellowing.
The sons propped him. I saw the wedding. There were

Engraved invitations, it was so fashionable. I thought
I would cry. I lay in bed that night
And wondered if she would cry when something was done to her.

The mortgage was foreclosed. That last word was whispered.
She never came back. The family
Sort of drifted off. Nobody wears shiny boots like that now.

But I know she is beautiful forever, and lives
In a beautiful house, far away.
She called my name once. I didn’t even know she knew it.

-Robert Penn Warren

En Famille

August 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

My office

Charles has been living with me 6 weeks. Each day domesticity settles over me more fully. I like to take care of a man (though he’s been taking care of me lately). I like the little day-to-day things, the storehouse of memory. We’ve been married 35 years.

When I was not yet eighteen, a college freshman living in the upstairs apartment he rented to my roommate and I after his first wife left him, and we’d been lovers for a couple of weeks, I took him to dinner at my mother’s house. She’d met him when I looked at the apartment and already approved of this March-June romance. He was 30, with four kids aged two to six.

I showed him my bedroom, which was on the second floor. I had a collection of rocks on my bureau that I’d found here and there over several years and had decided were magical. He picked one up and I said, “No! You can’t touch those; nobody can touch those but me!”

You have to understand, I was raised by a mother who told me I couldn’t touch her pack of Tarot cards because it would damage her ability to read them. And magic wasn’t Disney; it was The Brothers Grimm, Yeats and the Hermetic tradition, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley, Robert Graves’ The White Goddess (which I hadn’t yet read but had carved in my bones).

After issuing my prohibition, I went into my ensuite bathroom to brush my hair. When I came out, he was gone. The bathroom was next to the only door out of the room and I had left the bathroom door open so I knew he hadn’t left. Had I disappeared him? Was he swallowed by the rock? I’d had quite a few spooky experiences in my life but nothing so drastic. After a brief confusion, logic intervened and I crossed the room to the open window. He was on the ground below. I screamed. He got up and said he was fine. “But why did you do that! You could have broken a leg!”

“I couldn’t stand it when you told me not to touch. I felt like such an outsider.”

He was an outsider. The rocks had been with me longer. But he was my first serious lover, and I didn’t want him jumping out of windows. “But…I didn’t mean…sweetie…Okay, you can touch the fucking rocks.”

No, that wasn’t the real dialogue. I don’t remember the real dialogue. But what I learned at that moment is that men are far stranger than magic.

Fast forward, 2012, living together after 10 years apart. We’re both nervous. It’s not the old marriage. I keep asking, “What if my depression doesn’t go away?” and he says, “Just give it a try.” The autonomy Charles grants me is a rarity in the universe. The flip side is I don’t feel challenged to be better. That was a big drawback in my youth; now, not so much.

He brought his cat Lola and at first my two were excited to meet the newcomer. Charles held her in his arms for the introductions. Mouchette stood up on her hind legs with a look on her face of delighted surprise. The Cowardly Lion hid in the Taliban cave, then crept out to reconnoiter. Neither one hissed or said anything the least bit unkind. Lola yowled, wailed and flashed fang.

After two weeks, my gentle Mouchette abandoned courtesy. Now she patrols the bedroom, never letting that Florida bitch in to where the big prize writes on her weird machine. Lola owns the living room couch, where my cats used to sleep all afternoon. I miss seeing them sprawled out there, like thieves on the Riviera after a big heist. But Lola makes a silky little bundle, black and gray and copper, with emerald eyes. She has a nervous habit of biting her fur off, so her pale skin shows through and from behind—buzzed butt and stringy tail—she looks like a rat. But when she’s curled up, she’s all feline. I pat her head and she cringes. She used to like me, when I’d visit Charles, but not being allowed on my bed has made things fraught.

Fitzroy and Lola are fight buddies—she likes to kiss him briefly at the dinner hour then smack him around later. He’s bigger and doesn’t care about the violence, though I think he’d enjoy longer kisses. After taking his frustrations out on Mouchette—attacking and biting until she squeals, and trying far more often than previously to have sex (which the Princess endures enigmatically)—he goes back for more of Lola’s older woman bitch-love.

He’s the only one who’s better off. He gallops around, looks anxious, gets smacked, but no longer spends hours staring at me, communicating all too well how boring, how unbearably boring his life is. Lola’s angry and scared. She misses being an only cat. She misses catching geckos. And Mouchette, disappointed in her hope for a girlfriend, spends far too much time under my bed.

Charles spends too much time playing cat counselor, and feeding them wherever they feel safe, which means I’m stepping in plates of catfood all the time. He’s more patient and indulgent than he was with his children. For me, it seems much the same: noise and wild chases in the house, dishes broken, dinner spurned—love but no respect. But the kids turned out OK (even respectful!). The cats, I think, are a lost cause.


Aging, everybody knows it.
Even when we are young,
we glimpse it sometimes, and nod our heads
when a grandfather dies.
Then we row for years on the midsummer
pond, ignorant and content. But a marriage,
that began without harm, scatters
into debris on the shore,
and a friend from school drops
cold on a rocky strand.
If a new love carries us
past middle age, our wife will die
at her strongest and most beautiful.
New women come and go. All go.
The pretty lover who announces
that she is temporary
is temporary. The bold woman,
middle-aged against our old age,
sinks under an anxiety she cannot withstand.
Another friend of decades estranges himself
in words that pollute thirty years.
Let us stifle under mud at the pond’s edge
and affirm that it is fitting
and delicious to lose everything.

Donald Hall

The Telltale Nurse

August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

photo by J.W Diehl

Bad relapse of CFS…weak, headachey, swollen glands, neurological problems…and I’m leaving for California in 2 days. What fun. Hard to believe I got through 15 years of this & worse.

I got a surprise in the mail the other day: a check for $36.31, a rebate awarded me as the result of The Affordable Care Act. My insurance company (back when I had health insurance) didn’t spend 80% of revenues on claims, so now must refund us all…it’s a nice feeling, though what can you buy for $36 these days? If you add in a Groupon (I’m all about Groupon these days), a dinner out at a restaurant nobody likes. A month of Fresh Step unscented kitty litter. A ticket and a half to a play at the heavily subsidized Signature Theater.

Last week, Charles and I saw Heartless, Sam Shephard’s newest, which is your basic 20th century dysfunctional family drama with a heart transplant from a murdered 10-year-old inserted into the slot incest, madness, and alcoholism traditionally fill. I knew what I was getting into—the play was part of a subscription package or I never would have gone—and it had its moments of effectiveness, but I kept thinking of how much more interesting it would have been without Ma, Sis and absent Pa. (The mother was brilliantly acted by Lois Smith but aging, nasty, narcissistic parents who won’t shut up need to take a 100 year leave of absence from the American theater. Yes, we get it that they’re more human than anyone else. So’s my cat.)

I would put the lady with the grave-robbed heart into a Christopher Durang play where she’d try to fit in with the other suburban mothers drinking martinis and trashing their husbands but her real life would consist of running her fingers up and down her fabulous scar in mall dressing rooms. Of course, she’d never remember to pick up the kids, who’d be played by a changing cast of naked dolls.

The best part was when the murdered girl, Elizabeth, who naturally lives with the family as a symbolic wound, tries to fuck the new boyfriend just to see if he’ll notice. Now, why interpret this psychologically? Isn’t it a better story if this is a real ghost and that ghosts can and will fuck your boyfriend if you leave him alone for five minutes? Especially if you go so far as to dress them up in a nurse uniform and make them do household chores?

Elizabeth was my favorite character but that was probably because she spent the last half of the play with bloody feet and I kept looking at those feet, marveling how real the blood looked, and wondering when she was going to get around to washing them. (She rubbed and rubbed with a washcloth but the blood didn’t come out. Was that symbolic too? Or did the director also find those bloody feet inexplicably cute?) And I thought Delilah would be perfect for the role.


New York’s had hideous weather lately, which I’m assuming will continue for the next thousand years. An article in the Times not long ago was taking about NYC being underwater by 2100, and not just financially. It will happen before that, I think. My city, which I’ve seen change so much over 50 years, will only have time for a few more incarnations before it becomes a vast fishy ruin, with coastal squatters left on the high ground: those with nowhere else to go, old ladies refusing to go anywhere, wild Pekingese.

If I live another 30 years—but wait, I won’t live another 30 years, and not just because I don’t have health insurance. Long before that the climate will be biting ass-sized chunks out of civilization and the younger generation, in fear and loathing, will force-march us to Las Vegas. We’ll be locked inside the casinos, no AC, slot machines spitting Indian-head nickels, nothing to eat but Big Gulps and fries. “Scarlett,” the old man will whine, “Is there anything else but potatoes? I’m so tired of potatoes.” (This is a paraphrase. I don’t have my copy of Gone with the Wind anymore. It fell in the bathtub once too often.)

Or they’ll put the assault rifles inside with us, and that will be all she wrote.

Grade School’s Large Windows

weren’t built to let the sunlight in.

They were large to let the germs out.

When polio, which sounds like the first dactyl

of a jump rope song, was on the rage,

you did not swim in public waters.

The awful thing was an iron lung.

We lined up in our underwear to get the shot.

Some kids fainted, we all were stung.

My cousin Speed sat in a vat

of ice cubes until his scarlet fever waned,

but from then on his heart was not the same.

My friend’s girlfriend was murdered in a hayfield

by two guys from Springfield.

Linda got a bad thing in her blood.

Everybody’s grandmother died.

Three times, I believe, Bobby shot his mother.

Rat poison took a beloved local bowler.

A famous singer sent condolences.

In the large second floor corner room

of my 4th grade class the windows were open.

Snow, in fat, well-fed flakes

floats in where they and the chalk-motes meet.

And the white rat powder, too, sifts down

into a box of oatmeal

on the shelf below.

-Thomas Lux


August 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

La Principessa

Lazy Sunday watching videos of Paul Ryan having seniors arrested for talking back at a rally; babying a sick headache with lots of tea and honey; and remembering last night with Jay and Andree, who delight me even when the evening starts as follows: “I’m pretty depressed,” I say. “Me too,” Andree replies. I looked at Jay glowering on the couch and ask, “Are you depressed too?” “No, I’m really pissed off.” “Want to tell me about it?” “I don’t think so. I’m pissed off at my wife.”

Ah, I thought to myself, just the people I want to be with! Then Charles arrived and we ate delicious food and the men played music and Andree and I talked in the kitchen about the intersection of depression and ennui (she lives in France). And by the time they drove us home we were all celebrating our baby step into curmudgeonhood. And I remember being young—ripe, starry-eyed, full of desire, planning to be a ferocious old witch…perhaps feebly ferocious…

I’ve had more ageless fun recently reading writers’ letters for a Cathedral project. Katherine Anne Porter is delightfully crisp describing registering to vote in Republican Saratoga Springs in 1944, where she was busy stirring up the Democratic minority. All her letters are crisp, even when she writes about depression and ennui. Her eye for the joys of life is exceeded only by Wallace Stevens, who comes across as one of the happiest of men—constantly delighted by the weather, flowers and trees, the city, the evening light, his wife, daughter, neighbors, friends, books…

“…And then I came home, observing great masses of white clouds, with an autumnal shape to them, floating through the windy-sky. I wish I could spend the whole season out of doors, walking by day, reading and studying in the evenings. I feel a tremendous capacity for enjoying that kind of life—but it is all over and I acknowledge ‘the fell clutch of circumstance.’ How gradually we find ourselves compelled into the common lot! But after all there are innumerable things besides that kind of life—and I imagine that when I come home from the Library, thinking over some capital idea—a new name for the Milky Way, a new aspect of Life, an amusing story, a gorgeous line, I am as happy as I should be—or could be—anywhere. So many lives have been lived—the world is no longer dull—nor would be even if nothing new at all ever happened. It would be enough to examine the record already made, by so many races, in such varied spaces….” (From a letter to his wife, 1909.)

For drollery, there’s no one better than E.E. Cummings. In a 1918 letter to his father, on why he enlisted though he hates everything about the military.

“…because I am he who would drink beer and eat shit if he saw somebody else do it, especially if that somebody was compelled to do it. And I would think myself partially cheated of the expensive adventure of the universe did I not take a chance…
I reiterate (in my coyly paradoxical style) I should think myself equally cheated if I allowed my humanly-sentimental-mind to interfere one iota with the sealed letters of sensation brought to my soul by these eyes, these ears, this nose and tongue.

So no one would be allowed to take my place? And come here in my stead? And enjoy the privilege of dying (or, more correctly, living for) democracy? …no one shall come out of the valley and the mountain with the same music in his eyes as me. Nor shall that music please, nor shall it exalt the old ideals, but it shall discover a hideous ecstasy whereat the players of other musics shall fall into the gummy latrine of destiny, and the last note of my song shall pull the chain upon them, and they shall be perfectly swallowed, and god help the sea anyway.”

So passes another day when I got nothing called work done, but managed to avoid giving into my various afflictions. I must go and feed the felines dinner now, or be inundated with needling paw-pats and pseudo-loving mrows. (Charles suggests that before I leave for California, I make all his meals and freeze them in plastic containers, since he’ll be feeding the cats…)

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Wallace Stevens

Veep Shriek

August 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

NYT photo

Romney’s VP choice got me interested in the campaign again. There was never any question who’d I’d vote for or that I’d vote, and don’t have any money to spare, but now I think I’ll send some anyway. Five, ten bucks, whatever. Just because I’d like to contribute to one more ad against the job zombie and his baby Ayn Randist. I had a friend in college who insisted I read Rand, and being someone who will read just about anything, I did. I still wish I hadn’t. You know? It’s like wishing you hadn’t watched quite so many GWB speeches.

This picture says it all. My first glance at it brought up the image of a gay horror flick: I Married a Monster, told from dual POVs: one night of energetic and deeply tiresome sex ends with Ryan biting Romney’s head off, the next night vice versa.


I’m in a writing mood: coming out of a ferocious 3-day depression that managed to topple my optimistic husband off his perch, feeling horny, homicidal and supremely unamused by the low comedy of my life. I have a sick headache and no energy, but that’s kid stuff. I can work on my poems all afternoon (that’s where the homicidal feeling comes in handy. There’s nothing a poem likes so much as a bit of primal savagery.)

I closed this blog a couple of weeks ago for several discrete reasons, one of them being that the sorts of things I write don’t seem “professional,” and my work is such that strangers Google me. But my husband, when he was talking me down from my crisis, reminded me that worrying too much about being professional can kill you. He didn’t say this; it was his hands on my back that reminded me; it was his utter insistence that I should talk about whatever I want to talk about, no matter who, it bothers (including him) and no matter that it might bother me two weeks or years later.

I’ve been worse to Charles than to anyone—in my opinion—but he said however much I hurt him it won’t reach as high as the happiness I’ve given him. I was humbled by that and struggled to believe it, because I’ve never felt that way. I love and forgive easily, but it’s not because I was given (or achieved) happiness, it’s because I wasn’t (didn’t), and I know what that does to the heart.

I dreamed Friday night that I found us a new place to live in a Brooklyn that never was: a classically beautiful room overlooking a French Impressionist sea in a house owned by a sharp & clever but motherly woman who had her own publishing biz. I moved my stuff in then took Charles to see it with a dog in my lap—Jeff from my childhood. Jeff was very old but had the flexibility and beauty of a puppy. A good sign, right? The dream ended with the realization that there was no room in the new home for a kitty litter box.

My inner shrink says: no room for shit!

But where does it go?

Littlefoot 19 (This is the Bird Hour)

This is the bird hour, peony blossoms falling bigger than wren hearts
On the cutting border’s railroad ties,
Sparrows and other feathery things
Homing from one hedge to the next,
late May, gnat-floating evening.

Is love stronger than unlove?
Only the unloved know.
And the mockingbird, whose heart is cloned and colorless.

And who’s this tiny chirper,
lost in the loose leaves of the weeping cherry tree?
His song is not more than three feet off the ground, and singular,
And going nowhere.
Listen. It sounds a lot like you, hermane.
It sounds like me.

Charles Wright

Where Am I?

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