Tuesday, November 30, 2010

If Glenn-effing-Beck went hunting with Gus and Vedder, the world would be a better place, and I'd write a poem for his bullet-ridden ass, too

i.e., while it's not always about the hog, sometimes it is, indeed, about the hog.

(Y'all just think on that a spell, okay? The written arts sometime require the active participation of the written arts-partaker)

(Meaning you. Dammit.)

I told y'all a story in August about a big feral sow I ran over a few years back late one night at Spunky, while transporting a couple of drunken psychopaths back to their deer-camp. It's pert near the anniversary of that dark, dark night of the human soul; so, in honor of Gus and Vedder and drunks with firearms everywhere—in other words, this is for Texas—here is the quartet of poems I wrote memorializing what they wrought.

Red Wind in the Holler

At the bottom of the holler is a joining
of springs, within a wood so dense
and low seasons come and go in tiny

increments. The black soil is cool, and carnal,
and the grasses sparse, and even the cedar
is stanched by the gushing arc

of oak, pecan, and ash that blots out the sun.
The water's pure and cold, and every season
the busy slope is littered with the bones

of those who coveted its sweetness, lulled
against their senses by whispers in trees
among the smell of damp earth, and ruse

of night, when the moon induces fevers
on the willing, and the tender.

The North Wind

Long drops of rain were streaking the clay road
a deeper red when the wind shifted from the west,
a crazy, rudderless whirl at first,

shaking free dried leaves and acorns and stirring
them with dirt, swirling into tiny gyres that fluttered,
short-lived and euphoric, along the holler's edge

leaving ghostly plumes of scattering dust in their wake.
The damp smell of oak and creosote and juniper
loosed in the air, once the first surge of north wind

cleared the tree-line, blue-black sky looming,
wind gradually bolder as it rolled overhead
'til the Norther ripped in as if the Judgement

had come, rain changing sideways, gushing drops
suddenly an angry stream that skipped across the big spring's
surface like furious stones, sun giving full anarchy upon earth,

dream kingdom winking from its crevices.
With evening came calm, and a brittle wind; and at least one lane
that opened for the dead. And everything in the pasture

lay still for awhile.

Dead Sow

Gnarled and split, she is opened and emptying
Given beneath a graceless code
Chrome and steel, dirt-riven and glistening
Ruptured order, sudden as fire.

Boned and blooded, her meat to the nightmare
Her wound a dark river that snakes in the dirt
She lunges with teeth gleaming red under tail-lights
Wavers, and sinks nearer this cactus-land.

A supplication come from the high grass
Leaded chamber, and then wider, mean feral eyes
A strangeness that looms just over her shoulder
Erupts in an instant and craters her sky.

She cannot tell the worm from the root
When she swoons to find the shivering light
Just wakes to summers dripping with acorns
Blood-drunk, under an indolent moon.

The Brood

They were on the scrawny side
her squalling rat-sized orphans
and the moist heat of her sanctuary

was already dim in their memories
when the last of her was suckled.
She was twitching, but gone

and even all of her was never enough
for the blunting of their hunger
insatiable in their panic

sharper than the bristles that mimicked
the contours of their soft spines
or the spindly tusks that budded

eagerly toward half-formed snouts
and now it was all they could remember
because she was milk to them, if she was anything.

And this time, when the milk dried up,
they felt the frigid north wind at the end
of their suckling, felt it blow across the clay road

over their bodies, but into their mouths
from her, until they were inhabited
by nothing else. They began running

back to the tall grass, then over the red clay,
trying to outrun the immensity of it,
to thaw just enough to be hungry again

but colder every stride until they reached
the briars on the edge of the holler
and felt its warm red breath rise up

inviting them home.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Irony v. Sincerity

Paula Jane and I had an interesting discussion tonight, prompted by a video we saw of Olena Davis, Jericho Brown, Tina Chang, Meghan O’Rourke, and Mark Wunderlich discussing the topic alluded to in the title of this post, the perceived oppositional relationship between sincerity and irony in poetry.

At the outset, I should explain that reflexively, I associate irony with mockery, perhaps because that is a deficit I tend toward, and have learned to guard against. I have not wished to become one of those that Yeats admonished:

Mock mockers after that
That would not lift a hand maybe
To help good, wise or great
To bar that foul storm out, for we
Traffic in mockery.

Never let it be said that I traffic in any such thing. I am a dabbler, if anything, and not a very confident one; Irony is a thing I have learned, a detachment I have formed to counter the puzzling phenomena I encounter when I venture outside myself. It is, therefore, a natural development, in kind with the century from which I come, yet often times antithetical to my professed values. At my core, I am convinced it is a device belonging to those who are not fully formed, a symptom, perhaps, of dissonance between one's internal and external worlds—a crutch, favored most by those who have become part of that dysfunction, and discord.

Therefore, in this, as in all things, I am at opposition with my several selves; yet I must trust the still small voice that lives at their center. I must believe that sincerity matters. Not truth—while I do believe, instinctively, in the reality of it, I do not pretend to have any better fix on what it might be than anyone else, and recognize the multiplicitous variations on that theme affecting these complicated vessels, containing the tics and stammers which make life bearable, for all of us. But the recognition of truth's being, and the desire to be, somehow, among its component parts—to be, while trapped within the cell of ourselves (as Auden described it) a creature of light (as did Ted Hughes) is strong within me, certain as the coming of a new day, reliable as the beating of my animal-heart, and more succinct than the need to construct new metaphors. It is there that sincerity lives, in that space between sensation and the fallacies by which my senses apprehend the external, and the infinity within me that abides in a state of separation-anxiety from infinity without.

So, understand, it is from here that I come to this debate; curious, but convicted.


Brown initiated their discussion by positing Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman (as well as Phillis Wheatley, less obviously) as progenators of American poetry, and being constructors of verses that were a “very good mixture of ironic and ecstatic.” As an example, he read (quite badly, I'm afraid) Phillis Wheatley’s perspicacious, exquisitely wrought On Being Brought from Africa to America:

‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d and join th’angelic train

Chang's assertion that irony in modern poetry is a “tool to deal with the sentimental or sentimentality” was, I thought, rather superficial. Poets have come to fear the sentimental, doubtlessly, and similarly disdain the idea of single truth; yet it seems obvious to me that just as irony is a symptom of some greater cause, this fear and disdain are mere overuses of whatever it is that irony cures.

Olena Davis is the reason I watched. I'm a big, big fan of her work, and I was really curious about her persona—which, I'm happy to report, is entirely consistent with her poetry (and I gotta say—in all honesty—damn—she is a beautiful woman). According to Olena, sincerity is problematic because it so often results in poetry where the lines show—work that is not only too earnest, and which is too explicit, but which also suffers from inherent preachiness—expressing the poet's truth as fact.

She also said that she requires a great deal from language, extending even to her love-life, citing the failure of her last relationship as example. "I can't believe somebody when they just say the thing. I need it to be modified in a million different ways, and all those admissions to be made, and as a poet that's what I do, and as a person." (This troubled me, as I shall come back to later)

Meghan O'Rourke had a lot to say—I thought her distinction of irony as being “situational,” “tonal” or “feigning ignorance” to be interesting, and her admission that sincerity seems today to be "like a dirty word” instructive. Her contention about “doubling” sounded slight, but more perceptive was the idea that sincerity has morphed from the truth-seeking of the Romantics to a convoluted effort to attempt truth, an effort which she mistrusted. Likewise, her analogy of irony burgeoning in the 90's, when bands like Pavement popularized a mode of saying cool was spot-on. Like Chang, she cited Plath as among (relatively) recent poetry's best irony practitioners, effectively using the proto-poem for Ariel (titled Whiteness I Remember) to illustrate her initial sincerity, buffered finally by ironic intent.

Wunderlich probably came closest to expressing my own beliefs.. He read off a list of bullet-points, most of which I accept, among them:

* Sincerity is a desire to state the truth, in some fashion
* Irony is the effect of romanticism vs. modernism, of feeling vs. thinking
* One of the things that's hardest for us to take today when reading the romantic poets is their ultimate sincerity
* The world has become a more grim and complicated place. (It) seems larger, individual experience is dwarfed by the city, by the war, by large governments, by forces that are beyond their control. Therefore, one begins to employ irony as a tactic to ward off the world.
* Irony will always be subservient to sincerity (I like this one best, I think).
* Irony is a shield to protect the vulnerable self.
* Sincerity should not be confused or conflated with sentimentality, even though they are first-cousins. Likewise, sincerity should not be conflated with the truth.
* All good poems are sincere, even though they employ irony.
* Irony is a minor planet, orbiting around that which is sincere
* Irony is a tone. Sincerity is a fact.

He also claimed that when Ted Hughes rearranged the order of the poems in Ariel, he took from Plath an ironic distance she had created in order to "tear it down", which had the effect of creating something "more true"—creating, by use of irony, an artifact that was finally sincere. His observation regarding "the ironic self as a created persona", and Plath's "mediated relationship between feeling and poem" were first-rate—I'm gonna read this guy's poetry.

Later, as everyone on the panel took potshots at sentimentality—sincerity's "first cousin", remember—Wunderlich rode to its defense. "You have to risk sentimentality in a poem," he said. "You have to risk crossing over that line—if everything is kind of ironically coded in the poem, it can become dead on arrival." (Obviously, I was impressed by that).

The discussion that followed between Paula Jane and I was driven mainly, though, by my discomfiture with some of what Olena Davis said—the idea that some poor bastard is wandering around somewhere muttering her name and having malt-liquor for breakfast because he wasn't able to express his love for her in a way that suited her creative temperament.

I have all kinds of problems with that idea; obviously, she is free to sabotage her relationships all she wants, but the implications of what she said—that what he felt for her was subordinate to its expression—seemed (and seems) really, really fucked up. Like the relationship between life and art and language has become perverted into something that celebrates the constructions of the artistic imagination as being superior to life itself. It's like Yeats' allusion to "the artifice of eternity" in Sailing to Byzantium. I wrote a post alluding to it a few months ago, in which I point out that the idea that intellect supercedes nature is one that is inevitably hostile to not only nature, but to all of what is perceived as external creation, and to the humans who populate it. It is the belief of one who is not convinced of the reality of those around him or her, and it seems to me to be a poetry that somehow celebrates narcissism, and does not accept sincerity as being legitimate for obvious reasons.

Paula Jane patiently tried to explain to me her ideas of poetry, which are closely aligned, I think, with Olena's (they are similar in more aspects than their work); how language is a thing which has a life that is real as as a beating heart, and how its expression is as important—perhaps more?—than what is being expressed.

Perhaps she will comment, and better explicate these ideas. It is as though I have a blind-spot here, as regards this possibility. I cannot imagine anything more important than what is said, and its intent, and the thoughts and feeling attached to it; it seems to me that language is merely a device that serves expression, and too often serves it poorly. And that the value of poetry—the magic of it, as Auden has said—derives from its ability to communicate more acutely than ordinary language is able to.

This post has grown long enough, but I want to conclude by giving you David Foster Wallace's take on the Irony/Sincerity dynamic, from his essay E Unibus Pluram:

The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of ‘anti-rebels,’ born oglers who dare to step back from ironic watching, who have the childish gall to actually endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point, why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things. Risk disapproval. [...] Who knows. Today’s most engaged young fiction does seem like some kind of line’s end’s end.

This has begun already, of course. It is described as being the "New Sincerity" (like the old sincerity, only it comes with pinstripes or something), and since someone somewhere thinks it's rebellious and hip we'll undoubtedly see more of it.

Thus it has ever been, right?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Red-Headed Stranger

Hoot used to say that it was impolite to ask a stranger where he was from. "Never do it," he said. "If he's from Texas, he'll tell you soon enough, and if he's not, there's no point in embarrassing him." Still, it's occurred to me that some of y'all reading here are probably Yankees—don't be embarrassed, everybody can't be from God's home-state—and as such, don't really know who Willie Nelson is. I mean, you have an idea, of course, but you basically think Willie's the guy who sings that piece-of-shit song To All the Girls I've Loved Before, and who butchers Pancho & Lefty. While you would be factually correct, you would be 180 degrees away from knowing the truth (it'd be like judging Elton John by any music he made after Madman Across the Water).

For the uninitiated—or the underinitiated—or the initiated who just love the fucking tunes—here is Willie's masterpiece: Red-Headed Stranger, from 1975. This was a great achievement in American music, among the best ever. Hear it, and know the real-deal genuine article Willie, and know too why he's so fucking important.

(And if you're not from Texas, take heart. The great Jerry Jeff Walker did not originate in Texas either, but he's by-God made up for it. There's a bumper-sticker you'll see time to time that attests that its exhibitor was not born in Texas, but got there as fast as she or he could. So, there's hope. Just don't move to Austin. San Antonio and San Marcos can certainly use your burgeoning Texas spirit, and both are plenty close to Austin to drive up and visit. But there's too damn many people in town now, so unless you can induce some of the more frightful transplants to replant themselves elsewhere (I think most Californians would be much happier in California, personally), just add your name to the waiting list. We'll let you know when your number is called, promise)

Shotgun Willie

Willie Nelson was busted for possession of 6 ounces of reefer today. He is 77 years old, and like all right-thinking Texans, I am goddamned proud of him.

And if you're not from Texas, it may be difficult to understand how much we do love him. Venerate him. He sort of represents the best part of us, I think. If you want to know who we are, don't think of the petty meanness and stupidity of Rick Perry or George Bush, or the simplistic jingoism and anti-intellectualism of the morons comprising our state board of education. Don't think of the hypocrisy of any number of self-righteous patriarchal white men whose spit-filled invective causes others to misapprehend the true nature of my home.

If you would know the Texas I love, the Texas I would die without, look into Willie's clear, kind, dilated eyes. You'll find us there, laid-back, compassionate, romantic, and marching to our own tune. Sentimental and funny, and often profane, we have a connection to kin and place that is unbreakable. Mirroring Texas, a place of big skies and sunshine, at our best we are a people of expansiveness and light. Like Willie.

First video is Gary Allen's doing (Austin's own) Bruce Robison's What Would Willie Do. Next is Toby Keith's I'll Never Smoke Weed with Willie Again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Paula Jane thinks I shouldn't tell y'all about the tears (in the previous post)...says it sounds hyperbolic. I say it's not hyperbolic cause it's fucking true (how can something literally true be hyperbolic?). She counters that perception is all that matters when you're writing. I say I don't give a fuck, but that's not really true. I do give a fuck, don't want y'all thinking I lie to you. I don't.

And I don't think y'all think less of me cause I'm moved by the sight of poor Jake Spoon swinging from a rope—if you do, you're way too fucking cool for me, cowboy, so you're probably in the wrong place. Round here we think and feel in equal measure. And we don't generally do snark—sorta hold with Yeats, on that score. Mock mockers after that.

Lonesome Dove represents the mythology of my people, and I consider it to be merely an extension of that which began with the sacking of Rome in 387 BC. There are complicated feelings involved, beyond mere affinity for my kin. There is a way of relating to the world that is at issue, and at the end, we lose. As we always do.

The last scene, from the greatest western ever made, beginning with Captain Call burying Augustus, and ending back in Lonesome Dove. Helluva vision.

Happy Birthday, Rangers

Sometimes the lines blur, no doubt; so easy to cross em, when you're not paying attention, lost in some fever or shrunk inside the blinders of yourself.

When they hang ol' Jake, it knocks the hell out of me, every time. I get a little weepy, just thinking about it.

The Texas Rangers (not the goddamn baseball team—the Rangers, you dig?) are 175 years old today.

My ancestors Milt, Joe, Jake, and old-man Jack all rode with the Rangers, in their day, out of San Saba county, Cherokee village. Joe was with em the day they rode to the top of Baby Head Mountain, and found the infant's head affixed to a Comanche spear. Milt was with em when they rode south to the Pecos, searching for poor Alice Todd.

Adios Boys. You won't hold it against me. I never meant no harm. Yeah, I got tears streaming down my face now, watching poor Jake dangling from that tree. That's some tough country, you know? Watch the video, and see for yourself:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Law, Like Love

I'm tired, and need to sleep. No time for a proper post, and I haven't had an opportunity to write poetry in days. Which is bullshit, cause I need to write 15 more poems, and finish a couple stories to complete Pink House. And I spend so much of my day lost in my head, or worse (like reading sports blogs—the Cowboys win a cuppla games, and I lose every bit of my resolve to give that fucking game up).

Paula Jane's been reading some of Auden's sonnets, which has caused me to think of him in my few lucid moments. I've been set in a Wallace Stevens-place for a month or so (which can be exhausting, by the way), and now I think maybe I need a little Wystan to even me out. Smooth off the edges. Balance me out. I have no idea, really, what I just said.

This is among my favorite of his poems. It's called Law Like Love. Read this poem, then read it again, aloud. It is immensely pleasureable, as nearly all his poems are.

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this I
f therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men I cannot say
Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When that sun is high in that Texas sky, I'll be freezing my ass off in the northern tundra

Just back from a trip to Chicago. On the road home, listening to one of my several trusty Texas-music cd's, heard one of my favorite songs, at precisely the right moment—know what I mean? Like the story I told y'all about Cathy Cee and Dancing in the Moonlight, or a story I haven't told you about Walden Books, a gap-toothed girl and Wish You Were Here. Times when a song you like (as in the former case) or love (as in the latter) registers its maximum potential on the emotional register.

The song was George Strait's Amarillo by Morning, a pretty straight-forward story about a guy who's lost everything—or maybe, thought he had—and realizes that nothing or no one can deprive him of hope, or of the essential joy of being alive, unless he permits it to happen. And he won't. Let it happen, I mean.

The tempo changes throughout the song, as he's thinking to himself, alone on the bus, heading to his next rodeo. Lonesome at first, melancholy, the last verse is decidely upbeat, as his spirit rises. He is undaunted, and engaged with what happens next, whatever that is, unwilling to compromise the coming day by dwelling on the past. The fiddle music, at the very end, though—mournful and true, and doggedly hopeful, but still recognizing the essential loneliness of self—is remarkable.

Paula Jane was sleeping when I heard the song in the quiet of this early morning, after being on the road awhile, with the sun just peeking over the horizon. Just as I imagine the cowboy in the song, which made the moment perfect.

As an aside, when he delivered the line, When that sun is high in that Texas sky, I nearly fucking cried. Went straight to my heart, you know? If you're from Texas, you do—how can the sky appear to be so big? It's the same size everywhere, of course. But dammit, it feels a helluva lot bigger there. And I miss it.

Anyway, give it a listen. A real Texan, singing a real Texas song, about something of the human condition that is very real.

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Not much more to say than that.

If you're aware of who he was, and what he represented, just utter his name, and feel the ache of everything that should have been, but isn't.

The first video is a collection of several of his speeches, and a snippet of one of MLK's. The first, announcing his candidacy for the presidency in 1968, is rather halting, and his message is not altogether formed. Next is the famous summation of MLK's I Have a Dream speech. Following that is the reason I posted this—probably my favorite of Bobby's speeches. He was scheduled to speak at half-time of a basketball game in inner-city Indianapolis, before a predominately African-American crowd, just after Martin was shot. Several of his aides wanted to whisk him away, concerned for his safety; many cities around the country were well on their way to burning that night. Bobby chose to deliver the horrible news himself, and delivered an impromptu speech that revealed what I think is the essence of who he was. I love how he searches for his words, reciting the Aeschylus, in the way of one who reads and remembers poetry often.

Indianapolis was among the few cities in America that was quiet, that awful night.

The second video is Ted Kennedy's famous eulogy at Bobby's funeral.

Don't know what else to say, cause it still hurts thinking about Bobby's murder. Let us still hope for what he asked us to dedicate ourselves to, that night in Indianapolis—that the savageness of man might someday be tamed, and that we might somehow make gentle the life of this world.

(Not bloody likely, but it's a great thought).

Bobby Kennedy should be 85 years old today.

Once in a (very) blue moon

Just cause i feel like it...Nanci's homefolks, and I really love her voice (both singing and talking)...
And damn i love this song...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lizzie Siddall

Above is a depiction of Elizabeth Siddall as she is painting, created by Dante Rossetti. I mentioned her in my previous post, of which he was the subject. Which is the way she is remembered, in the main—that is, by her association with him.

She was, however, a remarkable person in her own right.

I learned more about her because of the representation above; I noticed it while searching for his paintings. I admit I thought it to be ironic at first—kind of funny sometimes when one is slapped across the head by one's own preconceptions and latent prejudices, isn't it?

She was the daughter of a tradesman (her father was an ironmonger), one of seven children in a family that was poor, although not dirt-poor. She received no formal education, though she did learn to read and write. According to wiki, she happened upon a scrap of Tennyson from a bit of newspaper that had been used as butter-wrapping, which thrilled her imagination, and set her way. I like this story very much, and hope it's true—Tennyson (another poet much loved by me) achieved his first real success in 1842, when Lizzie was 13.

Six years later, while apprenticing in a lady's hat-shop, the artist Walter Deverell accompanied his mother to the shop. Struck by Lizzie's odd beauty, he induced her to model for him, beginning the career for which she is best remembered. Deverell was associated with and influenced by Rossetti's Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, though not an official member (apparently membership was finite and closed), and through him, she came to model for Pre-Raphaelite artists like Hunt, Millais and, of course, Rossetti himself.

Their association erupted rapidly into a passionate affair. Recognizing her talent, Rossetti gave her lessons in art and poetry. Although Deverell, too, was in love with her (as were, doubtless, others), by summer of 1852, she was no longer sitting for artists other than him.

Lizzie blossomed, these years. Rossetti was obsessed with her, drawing and painting her endlessly, thinking, in the way peculiar to tediously romantic young men, that she was some realization of his greater self, in this case that she was his Beatrice (the equally tedious device of his idol, Dante Alighieri) . To his credit, though, he came to as passionately believe that she was a genius, and introduced her to John Ruskin, who was also much taken with her abilities, and became her patron, endowing her with the sum of 150 pounds a year, and buying nearly everything she produced.

Rossetti's obsession, though, gradually waned, and his eye wandered. There were affairs with several other women, leading to her conviction that he was trading her in for someone younger. Her subsequent depression, along with the lifestyle of the young, urban, ultra-hip crowd they mixed with, led to her addiction to laudanum, and to a number of physical ailments. After Rossetti finally married her, she became pregnant the following year, giving birth to a stillborn daughter, in 1861. This was the end for Lizzie. Inconsolable, she became deeper into her addiction. In early 1862, after discovering that she was pregnant again, she took her own life.

The rest—Rossetti's discovery of her body, his destruction of her suicide note so that she could receive a Christian burial, the romantic gesture of burying his poems and their gruesome retrieval, his descent into self-pity and addiction and finally madness because of his guilt—don't really concern us here.

The work Lizzie left behind was buried surely as Rossetti's poems were, beneath what I can only regard as the disinterest of the critical elites—couched, I'm sure, within any number of critic-speak justifications. Which add up to nothing, of course, more substantial than the fact that she's not supposed to be good. She is Beatrice, after all. She is an object which contains the projected yearnings of a man. She is a muse, a creature made from the bathetic pixie-dust fueling the fantasies of the (male) artist who glorified—objectified—her. Beyond her innate goodness, her natural beauty, and her essential simplicity—the blander the better—she does not matter. Because she is not, beyond that, beyond which the artist imagines, beyond what swells the heart (and nether regions) of the patriarchal critical establishment.

Lizzie was not a typically beautiful woman—heavy-lidded, skeletal and severe, with thin lips and an angular figure. Beneath the brush of painters of her time she became something else, a thing scarcely related to her at all. It is a hard thing to be the container for the dreams of others, especially when the vessel containing the possibilities of your own desires is not only infinitely smaller, but exists only at the pleasure of others. Her self-portrait, at right, must have been representative of something important to her—her actual depiction, removed from the manipulations of self-gratifying dreamers. How deep must have been her desire to be received on her own terms—how could it not have been?

As I've said, Lizzie had no education. No Eton, no Cambridge, no Oxford, nor even any public schooling. The only instruction and training she ever received was begun at age 23, at Rossetti's knee (so to speak). Several more of her paintings can be seen at bottom, and numerous others seen here, and here. Her poems can be read here. You be the judge.

I will say this, though. I suspect that if Lizzie had enjoyed the same background and education as Rossetti, the master-teacher relationship would've been reversed. I'm rather ashamed that I did not know more about her, that I was in effect among those who objectified her—several of her images have hung in our home for years—without even a glimmer of curiosity regarding who she was, beyond being an appendage to a poet and artist I admire. Whatever it's worth, when I remember this story in the future, it is Lizzie who will come to my mind. For me, Rossetti has become subordinate to the legend of Elizabeth Siddall.

I like a number of her poems, but this may be my favorite. It's called Dead Love (do look though at her other poems, and her paintings and drawings—they are remarkable):

Oh never weep for love that’s dead
Since love is seldom true
But changes his fashion from blue to red,
From brightest red to blue,
And love was born to an early death
And is so seldom true.
Then harbour no smile on your bonny face
To win the deepest sigh.
The fairest words on truest lips
Pass on and surely die,
And you will stand alone, my dear,
When wintry winds draw nigh.
Sweet, never weep for what cannot be,
For this God has not given.
If the merest dream of love were true
Then, sweet, we should be in heaven,
And this is only earth, my dear,
Where true love is not given.

Dante Rossetti

Dante Gabriel Rossetti was among my favorite poets when I was a teenager, and I still retain warm feelings for him. He was also a wonderful painter, founder of the pre-raphaelite school which also begat William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, and a close friend of the poet Swinburne (another of my early favorites). I've read that when he and Swinburne went out on the town, their final destinations were impossible to predict. Rossetti made it a habit to write Swinburne's name and address on a piece of paper, and affix it to his lapel, so that when they were separated during the wild night that followed—and Swinburne became incapacitated, as he invariably did—some kind passerby might see him home.

Rossetti is also known for his tragic love affair with his model, and wife, Elizabeth Siddall (pictured at right, in Rossetti's Beata Beatrix). Despondent over the stillborn birth of their daughter several years before, and hopelessly addicted to laudanum, she died by her own hand, at the age of 32. Grief-stricken, Rossetti buried his poems with her, sheathed within her flowing red hair. Seven years later, he ordered her exhumed, in the dead of night, so that he could retrieve them. It was reported that she remained beautiful in death, and that her hair had continued growing, filling the casket around her vibrantly, shrouding her in luscious red. He published the poems the following year, but was oppressed by his guilt for their retrieval for the remainder of his life. His book was savaged by critics for the rather frank eroticism of his poems—like Swinburne, he was considered a "dirty" poet. For the next dozen years, until he died at age 51, he alternated between fits of depression and mental problems even more severe, exacerbated by drug and alcohol addiction.

He published his second and final volume of poetry in 1881, the year preceding his death, and in it he finished his House of Life sonnet sequence, from which the following poem, A Superscription, originates. It is probably his most famous poem, and provides what can only be described as the ending punctuation for a life that, in spite of its achievements, would best be decribed by the man who lived it as being misspent.

Look in my face; my name is Might-have-been;
I am also called No-more, Too-late, Farewell;
Unto thine ear I hold the dead-sea shell
Cast up thy Life's foam-fretted feet between;
Unto thine eyes the glass where that is seen
Which had Life's form and Love's, but by my spell
Is now a shaken shadow intolerable,
Of ultimate things unuttered the frail screen.

Mark me, how still I am I But should there dart
One moment through thy soul the soft surprise
Of that winged Peace which lulls the breath of sighs,
Then shalt thou see me smile, and turn apart
Thy visage to mine ambush at thy heart
Sleepless with cold commemorative eyes.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ernest Dowson

Arthur Symons described Ernest Dowson as resembling a "demoralized Keats", a representation which has always occurred to me as being apt. The similarities are several, and obvious—a fixation upon beauty so pure (in its way) that it verged on naive, an effortless-seeming musical facility, deep strains of both passion and melancholy infusing their work—and, of course, tuberculosis. Just as it ravaged Keats and his family, it obliterated Dowson's, who lost both parents to the disease just a few years before his own tubercular death, at the ripe old age of 32.

Of course, there were as many ways in which they were extremely different; Keats was by all accounts a far better adjusted person than was Dowson (but really, who wasn't?), and was also far more driven. Similarly, Keats was not a drunk or a drug-addict (nor was he a prospective pedophile), and though he certainly confronted despair on a regular basis, he did not succomb to it, as Dowson so often did (and with such apparent relish).

Dowson was, of course, a member of the Rhymer's Club, a storied group that included Symons and Yeats among its members; it is likely, in fact, that he would've been counted as its most promising member, in 1892 or 3, a state of affairs which obviously did not reflect reality. Symons would write his book about symbolism which had a profound influence on the poetry of the next century, Yeats would, of course, become Yeats.

And Ernest Dowson fell in love with an eleven year-old girl, made a goddamn fool of himself, become an even bigger goddamn souse, began reveling in the idea of living in the shadow of his former promise, all the while creating verses in his little notebook of varying quality, from the trite and the self-indulgent to the sublime. It is both legend and fact that nearly all of his poems were written to the girl, who was the daughter of his landlord, and a barmaid in their tavern. According to Symons' account, when the girl became 17, Dowson courted her, with the permission of her parents. There was a day when, at her mother's behest, she sat in a chair and distractedly listened as he read his tortured, love-stricken verses aloud to her—I have been faithful to thee, Cynarae, in my fashion—and promptly eloped with the waiter who lived upstairs.

This is among my favorite of his poems, written obviously about her, with a little more self-awareness that he is typically noted for. It is called Flos Lunae (the last verse is probably my favorite of anything he wrote—it is so honest, and so brutal, it nearly breaks my heart):

I WOULD not alter thy cold eyes,
Nor trouble the calm fount of speech
With aught of passion or surprise.
The heart of thee I cannot reach:
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

I would not alter thy cold eyes;
Nor have thee smile, nor make thee weep:
Though all my life droops down and dies,
Desiring thee, desiring sleep,
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

I would not alter thy cold eyes;
I would not change thee if I might,
To whom my prayers for incense rise,
Daughter of dreams! my moon of night!
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

I would not alter thy cold eyes,
With trouble of the human heart:
Within their glance my spirit lies,
A frozen thing, alone, apart;
I would not alter thy cold eyes.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ain't made for the cold

It's a bitter-cold night in the northern tundra, and I'm feeling lonesome for home. The tumblers in my head are spinning, wild and inexplicable in their dark, and my thoughts are jumbled, thickly, noisomely, like they are struggling against their container, driven to distraction by the little light showing through.


This is a poem about Texas I wrote, couple years ago:

On a Tuesday Evening, in August

In the pasture tonight, Papa's burnt-out stone
house shone under the whole moon
like a ruined, shrunken Rome.

Past the peach orchard, on the way
to the pond, the grasses moaned long
and low, lilting strains of threnody

deepened by sunflowers, large
as dinner plates, beating heavy
shadows along my feet.

I know how long the plow has rusted
beside the withering dogwood tree.

The sun unlooses chaos on temporary things.

Come see how young the Earth is
beneath its mouldering wounds.

I saw the sky black with locusts
summers ago when the sun wasted
the tomatoes and shrivelled the pond

small and tame as a wash-tub.
The dried mud was split and peeling
and the grass shivery and mean

when the sluicing cloud passed over
and a great white owl began to scream
on the high bank of the western rim

like a forgotten child, bawling across
the leavings of a Caesar or a Khan.

The sun begets confusion on temporary things.

Come see how sure the earth is
beneath its piddling wounds

The cicada sings past dark sometimes
during a full moon, and in August
they'll sing straight through the night

and the fictions of 3am are ended
by the undulations and urgency
of noon. Tonight the apple cactus

will bloom its chaste flower and even
the rattlesnakes will sleep and dream
of fat bullfrogs, and the scorpions

will dream of locusts, of soft bodies
that shudder under their tender venoms.

The sun designs its vision on temporary things.

Behold, how golden the earth is
beneath its glittering wounds.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


While Auden's ditty was undeniably spot-on—

No one could ever inveigle
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
To offer an apology
For his Phenomenology.

—he can be forgiven, finally, don't you think?

The flat-headed one, who "ruined the minds of a whole generation", has, after all, been ascended to pure being for 179 years, today.

Friday, November 12, 2010


When Teri died it was as if i was creation. As if all of matter was contained in me.

While the words echoed in my head, and my brain attempted to create a thought in English to acknowledge what i heard, i felt the expanding universe stop. Felt the white-hot sensation of a billion billion stars, the airless gloom of deepest space—and i felt everything subvert, decreate, devour itself, contracting finally to the head of a pin—and then, gone. Fifteen billion years, reduced in seconds to nothing.

i became nothing.

This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends...

This is, indeed, the way the world ends.

Not with a bang, but a simperingly stupid (and very, very frightening) overuse of pointless technology.

From the Huffington Post:

Holographic idol Hatsune Miku is the creation of the group Crypton Future Media, using software from Vocaloid, and the group has put the avatar on tour with a live band. The sight of thousands of screaming fans waving glow sticks while the the holograph "performs" on stage is straight out of a science fiction novel.

Do not watch this video, immediately before sleeping.

(Ye were warned)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Some stories are so outrageous, so contemptibly beyond the pale, that you're forced to wonder if we're living in a country that has lost its soul.

Two years ago, a 16 year-old Silsbee (TX) High School cheerleader identified as H. S., was abducted into a room by 3 football players, thrown onto the floor, and gang-raped. When others at the party ultimately came to her rescue, two of the rapists, including star athlete Rakheem Bolton, fled through a window, leaving their clothes behind (Bolton later returned and demanded his clothes from the homeowners, threatening to kill them when they hesitated).

H.S. and her family turned the matter over to the law. Like the woman in New York state whose serial-rapist is serving probation while she is sentenced real time, like the women in Iraq raped by civilian contractors whose crimes are actually protected by law, and like thousands of others seeking justice in our society today, H.S. discovered that the law was obviously not created for her.

First, her school decided it would be best for her to keep a low profile—avoid the cafeteria at lunchtime, forego the prom, stop cheerleading. H. S. decided that she was not going to be victimized anymore, though, and declined to behave as if she had committed a crime.

Then, the first grand jury not only declined to indict because of several juror's prejudices, these jurors released details of her sexual history into the community at large. At this time, Bolton and his fellow rapists were permitted to return to school, and athletics, while another grand jury was empanelled.

The situation came to a head February 27, 2009, at a play-off basketball game at which she was cheering, and the rapist Bolton was playing. During the first half, he was fouled twice, and it was customary for the cheerleaders to shout the players names before their free-throw attempts.

H.S. did not create a scene. She didn't wave her arms and scream obscenities at her rapist, did not assault him, did not regard him in any way. She refused, though, to cheer specifically for him. While the others called "Go Rakheem!" (have to wonder about them, don't you? what kind of self-loathing women are they growing in Silsbee?), she folded her arms, stepped back, and remained mute.

At half-time, the shit hit the fan.

From Sports Illustrated:

"It was the administrators against me," she recalls. As fans walked by, the cheerleader, dressed in her maroon-and-white uniform, was reduced to tears by a powerful posse: Silsbee superintendent Richard Bain, principal Gaye Lokey and cheerleading coach Sissy McInnis. Voices raised, they issued an ultimatum to the 16-year-old: Cheer for Rakheem Bolton or go home. "It wasn't right," she says.

(She) was scolded "in front of God and everybody," says her father. H.S. had not "abided by the Cheerleader Constitution," according to Hunt. The code requires cheerleaders to shout equally for all. Rather than cheer for Bolton, she chose to go home.

The violation was apparently so egregious that as H.S. walked into cheerleading class the following Monday, McInnis met her with this hello: Go to the principal's office. H.S. was kicked off the squad. Within an hour her father was in Bain's office. "I asked him, 'Are you telling me that my daughter had to cheer for her [attacker]?'" recalls the father. "He told me that if it means she had to cheer for Bolton or be removed, then that's what I'm telling you."

Her family filed suit on her behalf, to force the school to recognize her constitutional right to free speech. Earlier this month, the radically conservative fifth circuit court of appeals not only denied her request as frivolous, but ordered her family to pay all court costs. Women need not apply for justice from among the likes of Garza, Clement, Owen, or Jones (Esquires).

Her rapists were quickly indicted by the second grand jury. However, big-shot athlete Bolton was given a sweetheart accomidation by the special prosecutor, David Barlow, and the Judge, Joe Bob (I'm not making this up) Golden—both of whom, coincidentally, are big-time supporters of Silsbee athletics. In September, Bolton pled guilty to a lesser charge of Class A Assault and was sentenced to one year in prison, suspended by the judge in lieu of two years probation, a $2,500 fine, community service. And an anger management course (he threatened the homeowners, remember? That'll teach him.). He will not be required to register as a sex offender, and is free to pursue his big-time football dreams.

From KFDM news:

Bolton says he wants to move on with his life and get back to the sport he loves."College, play football," said Bolton. "Everything else I wanted to do, I can finally do it now." While Bolton is looking ahead in his life, he also looks back on the impact of the case on the former cheerleader. "I have no hard feelings," said Bolton. "I never have and I feel like it was just a misunderstanding."

Big of him to forgive her, huh? Rape so often is just a case of misunderstanding, isn't it? So easy to misconstrue what a woman wants when she's being pinned down on the floor, screaming for help. No, this guy will never be back in the system, will he?

There's just so many things wrong with this story that it makes me really, really sick. I know the one from New York is just as egregious, as are more than we can count these days, but this one happened in Texas, and I'm feeling low enough as it is about the political future of my home state. And my nation.

The pig I hold most accountable for this nonsense is the superintendent of schools (who also, incidentally, sits on the board of the Silsbee Chamber of Commerce). He had it in his power to diffuse this situation many times, and instead spitefully, misogynistically, fanned the flames. A little basic human kindness was all that was required, you know?

As for Rakheem, it's probably too late to change his woman-hating ass. A glance at his facebook bio tells you that he is not the brightest of lights, nor the most humble:

My name is Rakheem aka roc but my girl calls me daddy. in my spare time i like to chill wit my fat mama adriane…i love sports im a genius in football some may call it a master mind…well anything else yu wanna know yu can ask my adriane cause she knows more than me lol…

Doubtlessly, he will hurt women again, and maybe someday he'll even be punished for it.

Here's all the contact info I could find. I encourage you to send emails, make phone calls, let em know they don't live in a vacuum. The world will remember Silsbee's name.

Richard Bain Jr., Superintendent, Silsbee Independent School District: (address) 415 Highway 327 West, Silsbee, TX, 77656; email rbain@silsbeeisd.org; phone (409)980-7800/(409)980-7824
Eldon Franco, Principal, Silsbee High School: (address) 1575 Highway 96 North, Silsbee, TX, 77656-4799; email efranco@silsbeeisd.org; phone (409)980-7800
David Barlow, Atty. at Law: (address) 485 Milam Street, Beaumont, TX 77701-3518 phone (409) 838-2168
Silsbee Chamber of Commerce: (address) 545 North 5th StreetSilsbee, TX 77656-4038; phone (409) 385-5562

The Ms. Blog story and petition is here.
And here is a link to the Silsbee Independent School District page.

La Maison Rose

(For Wallace Stevens)


This house was made from oak
and ash and cottonwood, felled
and hewn from nearby woods,
half-timbered, mortised and tenoned,
plastered with teutonic precision
by old-country artisans from down
south who blew in, performed
their crafts, then blew away again.
They never gave this Pink House
another thought.


Playboys and Troubadours have livened
these walls and Luke the Drifter's
given odes to whippoorwills and light.
Voices here echo mathematical harmonies.
Even the cantilevered roof that covers
the back porch reflects the essential
geometry of exception—the lurid trill
of an albino skunk, the weird mooing
of a horse who believes herself a cow—
integers, crucial as any, in the equation
that explains our Pink House.


We are wearers of earth, who live here,
wrapped in the lineaments of place.
At night, we're warmed by filaments
of muttons—in sleep, we dream
upon foul plumes. Waking, our heads
and feet are armored by epidermides
of beeves, our bodies arrayed
in hirsute bolls. We die when we're old,
are folded inside, vested in oak,
in maggots and loam.


Our edifice of light is square by design
and towerless, bereft of palms,
but glories in tuftless ordinary days.
It is a place of windows, though, and stars
and a receiver of suns and moons.
It is known to every kind of wind,
moans in August for the odor of rain,
and creaks under the restless weight
of human purpose. Barely civilized, it longs
for the promiscuous pleasures of entropy.


Our imagination has joined
with this house, and Cosmos.
Our walls are thin.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


In the film Chariots of Fire, when Andrew Lindsay joins Harold Abrahams in attempting to beat the clock round the courtyard at Trinity College, he proclaims that he is doing so on behalf of John Keats, which causes the gathered students to cheer, with great fervor. Almost certainly apocryphal, the scene is nonetheless illustrative, not only of a time when students read poetry for the joy of it, but of the special place that Keats occupies within the ecstatic human consciousness.

Paula Jane was reading to me from his sonnets earlier today, and reminded me that I had missed his birthday—215 years old, Sunday before last—and we were both marvelling at the power and sensuality of his verses. Keats is among the rare poets whose name has become a descriptor for far more than the symbol of a man or woman; as with the great poets, he represents an essence, and in common with Shelley, his is such that the sound of his name quickens the pulse and races the heart, because he is forever associated wth an approach to reality that rapturously regards the possibilities that dwell in the heart of every breathing moment.

His self-styled epitath, Here lies one whose name was writ in water, was intended to be a bitter comment on his legacy, but to me it has another meaning. Keats spoke from a place that somehow transfigured language into something approximating the essential, elemental as fire or wind or water. It is there his name is etched, into the foundations of our awareness, a place where mere language cannot impress.

Even if you've read this poem 100 times, read it again, and remember why you loved this great poet in the first place:

Bright star, would I were steadfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors
No--yet still steadfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever-or else swoon to death.

(Note: I copied this poem at Poemhunter.com, and was amused to see that the readership there rated this poem as being 7.6 on the 1-10 scale...Tough graders, I guess—lol)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Anecdote of the Sombrero

Among the many-hatted secular set
Henry prevails, like the shrewd surprise
Vince delivered to the hard-hearted

French whore, her sensibility mock-frail
as the clip-board-attached-to-a-man
at Fresh Plus, who claims that love

is best kept hidden beneath a bushel
of boscs, or a peck of pickled prigs—
no one owns the sidewalk, though,

and Henry is free to come and go
from end to end according to his pure
intent, his keen rhomboidal sentience

an elliptical plea upon the deaf and blind
and multiplying. He is the god of alternative
headware. Urbanity wilts, under his feet.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Snake Lady, and Dancing in the Moonlight

I want to tell you a story about a girl named Cathy Cee, a legend among my high school sophomore class—referred to in excited whispers among the guys I knew as being the Snake Lady.

These events occurred during the summer of my sophomore year, which I alluded to in an earlier post about football. Freshman year, I'd begun reading subversive books, skipping workouts, and growing my hair long. I injured my knee first week of fall practice, and was out for the season. That summer, I skipped nearly all the workouts, and began hanging out with a guy named Danny Dunbier, who became as close to me as a brother.

Danny had Roger Daltrey hair, a pretty badass Torino, parents who were away in Europe for the summer, and a cousin in Santa Fe (Texas) who grew reefer. I had a job, working as a busboy at Alfy's Fish & Chips, but only worked about 20 hours a week. Most other moments of that summer were spent in Danny's company, in what seemed like a never-ending party.

Last day of school ended at noon on Friday. We were on West Beach in Galveston by 12:30. The party was epic, lasting all through the night, punctuated by several trash cans of jungle juice, and an epidemic of girls dancing topless around a huge bonfire, a couple of whom OD-ed on quaaludes—we all took turns walking them around, during the night.

Not sure how I got there, but I woke up at about 5am, back of Danny's Torino in the library parking lot, and that's how I met Cathy. She was in the front seat, naked, next to my friend Steve, a junior I knew from football, who was passed out beside her. She wasn't embarrassed at all. "Hi, my name's Cathy. What's yours?" We talked awhile, until I found out the time, and freaked out—I had to take the SAT at 7am, and I was still pretty buzzed, and grungy from the beach, so I split.

I didn't see her again till about a week later. I was hanging out with some guys I knew from the tennis team—we were standing outside a Little Chief convenience store, talking, and she drove up, in her green Chevelle.

"Hey," she called out, looking at me. "Let's go for a ride."

I heard a voice from behind me. "Oh my God. It's Cathy Cee!" Someone else: "The Snake Lady!"

We kept company that summer. Cathy was 28 at the time, blonde and gangly, and trailer-park pretty—I don't mean to be offensive, or classist, because I have nothing against trailer parks, and I surely never had anything against—had any problem—with Cathy Cee. She had a thing for young guys, and every so often would choose a protege, for lack of a better term. There were numerous benefits to her attention, some of them not obvious, one being that she worked the early nightshift at Zackies convenience store in South Texas City 5 nights a week, and she sold me beer, even after I moved on. And for another, she was very kind—thoughtful, generous, and patient.

There were drawbacks, though, or rather one huge drawback, and his name was Bubba. He was an especially violent member of the Bandido's motorcycle gang, and Cathy was his Old Lady (not sure if that meant they were legally married, though to Bubba it wouldn't have mattered either way). Several guys made it a point to tell me of others that Bubba had sliced and diced because of their attentions toward Cathy, and pointed out he was liable to do worse to me. And God, he was fucking enormous—decked out in his gear, astride his huge Harley, he looked like a monstrous demon, straight out of hell. Thing is, he was rarely around—Bandido's mayhem required his presence at beatings, stabbings, shootings, bludgeonings all over our great state, so Cathy was free most nights, sometimes for weeks at a time. She never really talked about Bubba, only told me that I'd better never let him catch me, 'cause there wasn't a whole helluva lot she could do to help me once he did.

The summer progressed, blissfully—one party and one adventure after another, new experiences and ideas, progressing I thought to something...tangible. There was a place we often gathered at, a clearing in a wood, in the middle of town. There was only one way to access it—there was a canal at one end, dense woods on every other side, with a dirt road leading in. At a certain point, on a small rise on the road, arrivals were required to hit their headlights 3 times riding in, so everyone knew they were OK. There would be 8 or 10 cars gathered there just about every night, in a rather large circle, with a fire in the middle. Music always playing, people hanging, talking, drinking, smoking, and usually dancing.

A couple weeks before school started back, we were out there late at night, and I fell asleep in the back seat of Cathy's car, and woke up in the early morning hours, feeling really, really good. Maybe it was the way it all fell together that makes the memory so vivid, maybe there was some larger significance, I dunno, but I had a gush of feeling that was as close as I had ever come to something sublime. Looking out into the moonlit night, I saw my friends dancing around the fire, without any trace of irony at all. Cathy was stroking my hair, and I remember she was very serene. I saw Danny and Steve, and Tommy and Will, all swaying with their girls, and I was sure these were my friends forever, and that somehow we had become enchanted—unencumbered from time and responsibility—etched in the amber of this moment, forever. The song playing on the radio was Dancing in the Moonlight, which was ridiculous and perfect and funny and fucking spine-tinglingly absurd. Really, how many perfect moments are there?

Bubba rolled back into town that week. Several days after that, I was on a break at Alfy's, and decided I was fished-out. I snuck a draft beer into a paper cup when Roger had his back turned, and walked next-door to have a Bonus Jack from Jack-in-the-Box. I walked in, saw the girl with the gap in her front teeth standing next to the grill, and she saw me, and everything changed, instantly.

Danny and I drifted apart, and actually had something of a falling out later on. God knows what happened to Steve—heroin, last I heard. Tommy, too, just kinda fell away, and Will was killed in a motorcycle crash the next summer.

I saw Cathy Cee whenever I bought beer, of course, and occasionally I would see her around town cruising in her green Chevelle, often with a new protege. Sometimes, I would hang around and make smalltalk—she often seemed kinda lonely, and she was always happy to oblige. But we, too, finally lost contact, and I have no idea what happened to her.

The gap-toothed girl wound up beneath several thousand pounds of tangled metal, beside an ugly man-made lake, plunged from the road atop the Texas City levee. Again, everything changed. Instantly.

How, and if, these moments connect, I don't know. Got no especial lessons to offer, no real wisdom gleaned, or anything like that. I have it on good authority that the gap-toothed girl is dreaming dreams so sublime and so colossally dazzling that she doesn't give a rat's ass about this earth, or give it or me a second thought. And Cathy Cee—wherever you are, darlin', I hope you're as serene as you were that last night. That Bubba is retired from the Bandidos, become fat and bowlegged, and utterly devoted to you—and that sometimes, at least, somehow, some way, you and he find time to groove beneath the moonlight.

Game Over? Maybe. Maybe not.

I saw the grainy image the other day of Bobby Kennedy laying on the cold kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel in LA, with a young busboy cradling his head. For the thousandth time probably, but it startles me every time, and I sometimes wonder if that's the moment when it all came undone. The American idea as I understand it, I mean. The possibilities of American liberalism.

There are a thousand moments, of course—some nearly as painful, each imbued with its own special significance—but for me, that's probably the one. Liberalism was born from the Jeffersonian ideal, which itself was always a house of cards supported by the faith and manipulation of charismatic believers. Bobby's death left a void that has never been filled, and here we are.

I think, too, of the hypocrite Sandra Day O'Connor. All that pretense of rationality and moderation, then giving the fifth vote to create the majority in Bush v. Gore, in effect giving us the presidency of George W. Bush. And thus, Samuel Alito. Thus Citizens United v. FEC.

Thus ending democracy as we have known it.

This is how America seems to me now. As if, having teetered upon the edge of the Corporatist-Fascist abyss for the past several years, we have begun the descent, and are gathering speed. I fear that real discovery of America that Thomas Wolfe wrote of, and that many of us have anticipated, may have a different face than we believed it would. It is a face that is thousand-faceted, familiar and convenient. It is a face that is old as hell.

Then I think Of Bobby's speech at Capetown, in 1966:

"Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." ...Men (have) moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and then the total -- all of these acts -- will be written in the history of this generation.

Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in the isolated villages and the city slums of dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage such as these that the belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Yeah, I read that, and I feel ashamed for the brittleness of my faith, for the limits I have imposed upon the reservoir of my hope. I'm just stupid enough to keep believing in what Jefferson called the world's best hope, unteachable enough to still expect our hour to come, perverse enough think history is still on our side.

I still believe in the fucking green light, for God's sake. Will someone kindly slap me across the head?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

His Life was not exactly a Macca song, was it?

Gram Parsons oughta be 64 today.

Pointless to think about what he may have accomplished if he hadn't been in such a hurry to die—so don't do that, allright?—but I do wish he coulda maybe burned just a few degrees less intensely, and stuck around.

Two videos featuring Gram & Emmylou—A Song for You first, then Return of the Grievous Angel. I love how in A Song for You, when Gram delivers the line, "So take me down/to your dance floor", he pronounces dance with a long A (daynce). Fucking kills me, you know? (He is one of my own. And I love him.)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hoot's Testimony

I got nothin...Ever feel like that? Like you're shrinking—like even language has become a burden, even the interior dialogue, the one happening in your head, too difficult, or associative, to summon the English, so you retreat to pre-language, to symbols. And then, only softly—carefully—because symbols are more acute. They can cut you wide open, yer not careful. Wide open is not, not, not good. Even the slave-language I live in is better than that.

But the thought of it—these few I've gathered together—make me plumb tired.

Y'all agree, right? Y'all agree with every motherfucking thing I say. No dissent. A wisp of breath, from the corners, that's all. Yeah.

Here's something old. About old Hoot, the guy I told you about. Probably not a poem. Too fucking sentimental, no doubt, but what the fuck you gonna do? I ams what I ams, like Popeye said.

This is called Hoot's Testimony.

I first seen Mozelle
at Baby-head School
in nineteen thirty-two.
Twenty then, I was riding herd
for Old-Man Murchisons' crew.
Chasin' after a skittish calf
got tangled in the briar.
She was sitting up on the slope—
I saw her tusselled yellow hair—
and I knew right then I was took
but good— knew it deep
and hard and true.
We was married soon as she
was fifteen. And my ridin' days
was through.

What liars they are
those deniers of love

Hard days, war and sickness
and we never left these hills.
Two girls and a boy still-
born and laid with the kinfolks in our plot.
Ever blessed thing we ever loved
mixed up, in this dirt.
And though I've rustled all I could sometimes
to keep body and soul together—
heart has been a restful time,
in every kind of weather.
Twelve hours workin' in the cotton field
or sixteen at the store,
mattered not a damn to me—
Mozelle would see me at the door,
tussel up her yellow hair,
shine at me, with her gentle eyes.
I was her cowboy, ridin' the slope—
O what can they mean, hard times?-
What can the whims of moments mean
to them that really own time?

What liars they are
those deniers of love

I sit in front of the station now
from noon, to one or so,
when Mozelle clangs the dinner bell
and it's time to wander home.
I stop sometimes, and have a joke
with Old Pete, at the tire shop.
But nearer I get to being home
quicker gets my step.
Mozelle will meet me at the door
tussel up her hair—
yellow to me, as ever it was,
eyes as bright and clear.
What can matter, days or years—
Who can eons hurt?
O, time is just a human idea—
And love is mixed with dirt.

What liars they are
those deniers of love

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Winter's Bone

Paula Jane and I just watched it. One of the best picture's I've ever seen, and that's some deep country, you know? Hit me right across the mouth.

Someone told me that the last poem I wrote wasn't really a poem at all. I dunno. Thought it was. Felt like one, writing it, reading it. Could be I don't know what a poem is anymore, or maybe my idea was always a little off. Could be my idea of dissolving into verses was fucked from the start—maybe verses are no better than we are, maybe poetry itself is nothing to save anyone.

Hoot was an old guy I knew. He was married to Mozelle, and lived with her across the creek from the pink house. He was always telling stories about the outlaw Sam Bass; when I was a kid, they seemed contemporaneous, and I was always expecting him to show up one day.

I always imagined Mozelle having yellow hair, when she was a girl.

When Ree's uncle waded into that nest of vipers to bring her home, I welled up. Kin means something, no matter what else we find was less than advertised. Blood tells, for good or ill, but for always, either way.

I have these dreams. Maybe you got em, too, if you're really fucking out there—really reading what the fuck I say—maybe you know what I mean.

I'm very, very slow, on the uptake. Sometimes this is willful, sometimes I am sort of lost inside myself. Sometimes I like it that way. Sometimes not. Weaver thought I was something better than what I am. She seldom guessed right, though.

Just how it crumbles. Cookiewise.

I really thought it was a poem.

When Yeats saved my life, long time ago, he made me believe I had a home—that I could live inside the art. Maybe the motherfucker lied. Then again, maybe it was the early Yeats, told me that. The romantic Yeats—the one some hipsters laugh at.

I've been told that I'm a romantic. Maybe I am, around the edges. I'm afraid to look too deep. Easier just to be—ain't it? Like Auden said. I thought he was a romantic, too, underneath it all, but he says I'm wrong.

I'm wrong all the fucking time.

I find existentialism to be wrong-headed, and beside the point, anyway. Maybe believing in God makes you a romantic, these days.

Afraid to sleep tonight. Afraid of the dreams. You ever feel that way?

Probably not. See Winter's Bone, anyway. Great flick.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

I Seen Hoot, A'walking

I had a dream of spring-time, wildflowers
thick along Highway 16, junipered air
mixed with appetite and greening.

Hoot was standing up on the rise
waiting for Sam Bass to happen by
but Mozelle was glittering

like refracted light, from his lips
and fingers and eyes.

Wallace Stevens was a mean old coot
but choose your fictions well, boy—
'just puttin' one foot ahead

of the other is a act of faith suh-preme—
And if you gotta believe in somethin'—
Let it be yellow hair! O, Let it be yellow,

let it be yellow, let it be yellow hair
, he said.

When I looked back, Hoot was dancing
alone under the pale morning light
over the bridge and past the creek

on a crooked voyage home.

I remembered where I was going.
The wind whipped over my skin.
Cicadas chirred their love songs.

Damp oakwood musked the air.

The Grievous Angel

Gram Parson's real name was Ingram Cecil Connor III, a good Irish name for a man with an authentic Irish thirst.

You probably know the famous story of how he OD'd on morphine and booze in 1973, at the ripe old age of 26, and how his road manager and a buddy borrowed a hearse, and stole Gram's body from LA International Airport; how they were pursued by the cops, and managed to escape to the desert and Gram's beloved Joshua Tree, where they drenched his body with gasoline, and set him afire, per his wishes. You may even know how incredibly influential he was—how he was country music's first outlaw, how he was worshipped by several generations of songwriters, how the Stones wrote Wild Horses, in his honor—and still not realize, as I didn't till not very long ago, how motherfucking good he was.

Either way, this is a great video. Give it a listen.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Brendan Behan

When Brendan Behan was 8, he was walking home with his sainted grandmother and one of her friends, when a stranger coming upon them supposedly remarked, "Oh, my! Isn't it terrible ma'am to see such a beautiful child deformed?" To which the old lady indignantly replied: "How dare you! He's not deformed—he's just drunk!"

The story may be apocryphal, but we are forgiven for believing it possesses some grain of truth. Behan did his very best during his short life to live up to that early promise, telling whoever would listen that he was, at heart, "a drinker with a writing problem." In between ritual drinking, and plotting to blow stuff up for the IRA, and prison, he did manage to produce some stories and plays and poems, many written in the Irish (in which I am ignorant, embarrassingly).

The video is Brendan his ownself singing his scathing approximation of British arrogance, The Captains and the Kings: