Monday, November 29, 2010

Views from the stoop

Your body and soul will sit on separate stoops
chewing the same piece of gum. --Charles Simic

Yes, I know those stoops. Each of them.

The one where the body sits trying to draw out the last bit of flavor from a stick of gum that gave it up yesterday. But it's peppermint and she might walk by, so it pays to be prepared.

Meanwhile, the soul gave up on the gum a while back. It doesn't even know the jaw is still chewing. The soul instead traces the edge of the building, from the trash cans, past the hanging laundry, up to where the rooftop meets the gray-lit evening and wants to shake hands, has its arm outstretched, but the skyline puts forth a fist to say, 'pound it, dawg.'

Skylines have always been more hip than rooftops. Especially seen from the stoop.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


First, the facts: 1) he kept meticulous fishing logs. 2) equaled only by his business ledgers. 3) These logs and ledgers and some photographs are all the proof we have of his existence.

Aaahh, but there's more, you say. There's a house, where his family still lives. True. But a house is not a life.

There's the businesses and property he owned-- wait. Not so much. The names are changed and those who remember are dieing or forgetting. We all forget. You don't get that one.

Boat? Nope. Plaques, certificates... no, sir. Redirect, please.

[pause] [closes eyes] [deep breath]

He walks the sidewalk with quick steps, hands in coat pockets, hat pulled down, glasses on. He laughs at the dinner table. He pours a drink and settles back into an armchair during the holidays.

He was born again! Not a religious conversion, actually reborn, in the 1940s, the 1970s, the 2000s. You can see his smile, his gait, his mannerisms in each. I swear to you with a voice that contains his and look at you with eyes that include his, that he walks with us, and through us and in us.

And when we are gathered, and telling stories, he sits with us, and if you took the various smiles from among us, you could reconstruct his, but you don't need to, because he is there. He did live. He does live. We are his proof.

[smiles] [turns] [walks back to table]

I have nothing further.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Seat yourself

The reality of the cat right now is a curled sleep, perched by the window so that if he were to wake he could turn his head and see both inside and out.

I think we're all looking for that seat, the one that let's us see everything, all at once, without having to move. If said perch comes with a remote control, so much the better.

For me, that seat is never enough. It may be the best view and I'll take it in, dig it, breathe it, taste it, but then wonder about the view from somewhere else. I'm always wondering what's behind door number two, or 22 or 222.

I might get up and move to the kitchen because there's coffee there. I might go to the back door to check out the squirrels pilfering acorns in the back yard or see what abstract art the trees and leaves have wrought.

I'm not happy with any single view or vantage point. Restless and curious is a roughshod combination.

But if the sun beams through the front window and brightens the room and warms my face and illuminates the book or notebook page, I might, like the cat, close my eyes and sit for a while.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

From the cosmos to the common

I pour lukewarm coffee, thick and black and still and deep as ink. As it hits my tongue, not as hot as I like it, I am moved.

I am moved by Gary Snyder and his advice for children.

I am moved thinking about astronomers watching a baby black hole and the changing, transient consequent universe, that still seems to us fixed.

I am moved by family, the girls getting awards at school, and reading together; Ava falling asleep in leotard and tights on the top bunk bed; the tone in Robin's laugh and the open wonder in her questions; and Anna asking who were Merlin and Charles "Dicksen" and Shakespeare from her book.

I am moved by gratitude and how whenever I hear or see that word, gratitude, I hear the Beastie Boys in my head.

I sip room temperature coffee in the afternoon and I am moved by all of it, from the cosmos to the common, and what to do with it all and then I hear Gary Snyder:

To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

Stay together
learn the flowers
go light.

Hey, Gary. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Lord, you sometimes speak" *

"Lord, you sometimes speak in wonders," the book said. The kind of jaw-dropping in the world yet otherworldly stuff that words can't wrangle onto the page, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you sometimes speak in whispers," the book said. Ssshhhh, pay attention. The kind of revelation you could drive past or miss from flipping channels when it's sitting next to you, quietly singing the questions and answers you're looking for, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you sometimes speak in silence," the book said. Aaah yes, when you're waiting for the thunderclap or the banging gong, but that's not the thing at all. A game show answer where you buzz in and go all John Cage on 'em, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you sometimes speak in scripture," the book said. The written word, alive in so many places--a receipt, a brick wall tagged in graffiti, napkin scratching, scripture, those sacred words that find you and speak directly, I'm guessing.

"Lord, you always speak in Jesus," the book said. And Buddha, and Mohammad, and the Dalai Lama, and a beggar, and a bartender, a homeless man singing a song he thought he'd forgotten, a barista, a charitable act, a smile. How would God speak, after all, if not through people, I'm guessing.

Then again, it's not my hymn. I'm just reading and trying to sing along. I can't even carry a tune. I'm just guessing.

* Title and quotes from a hymn of the same title, sung at Easton Church of the Brethren, Nov. 14, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Ink story

I have a two-pronged tattoo policy: first prong, I have to sit on an idea for a tattoo for a year and still dig the idea. Second prong, tattoos have to be positioned as to be covered by a short-sleeve shirt.

The second prong is the white collar workplace clause. I worked for a museum for two or three years before my bosses knew I had ink, which didn't and probably wouldn't have mattered anyway.

I got my first tattoo when I was 25. The idea came from a British Romanticism class at Washington College. I was bowled over by William Blake (especially after suffering through Neoclassicism the semester before), his free-form, wild-eyed flow and his artwork. Flipping through books in the stacks in the college library, I saw it and knew:

I had several friends who started their ink affairs in high school. I always dug it, but never had anything I wanted to get. I didn't want a tattoo just to have one; it had to say something. About me.

So Blake was first. The second came via a Catholic priest who brought in a rune of St. Patrick and recited and discussed its inscription and the piece with a group of us. I don't think he figured it would wind up in ink on my right shoulder. I tabled the idea for a year and kept coming back to it. I took it to Jon in Salisbury, discussed, changed it up to fit a shoulder and there it sits.

The third came from Chogyam Trungpa's book, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. It is the symbol he gives for the dawn of the Great Eastern Sun, a worldview of "seeing life as a natural process and tuning in to the uncontrived order that exists in the world.... seeing that there is a natural source of radiance and brilliance in the world--which is the innate wakefulness of human beings."

Each of my tattoos are a sort of personal symbol or icon that have revealed themselves to me at pivotal points in my life; points that have warranted, for me, remembering, have inspired me and which I carry with me. As well as being artwork that I really dig...

Taken together, they are symbols of reason, passion and understanding. They are literally and aesthetically a part of who I am: a walking (sometimes running), thinking, breathing work-in-progress, built upon certain building blocks.

Another trip to Salisbury may be coming soon. I've had a number of ideas tabled over the past couple years. Ideas that may become the next symbol(s) in/on my mobile lexicon. Either that, or I may just roll in and get Yosemite Sam with "Back Off" written under him or Woody Woodpecker...

Friday, November 12, 2010

All in accordance with

Would the naked emperor take out the messenger who showed up with a mirror? Yeah, I think so.

We like to realize our flaws on our own, even the emperors among us, or to go on oblivious, thinking more highly of ourselves than we should.

Humility is a dish best prepared alone, or maybe prepared with others and then eaten alone, with enough spirits to numb it going down.


That was this morning. In the meantime, I've had a day full of work and conversations with the girls, and dinner out at Chili's and the grocery store and a heart-in-the-throat win that turned into a heart-on-the-floor-stomped-on-by-combat-boot loss by the Ravens. My mind no longer inhabits rarefied space of the morning.

Sometimes philosophy and poetry are where my mind wanders. Not when the heart is pounding or I'm making lunch or I'm walking down the store aisle looking for canned pumpkin.

Che Guevara wrote that, "In nine months a man can think a lot of thoughts, from the height of philosophical conjecture to the most abject longing for a bowl of soup--in perfect harmony with the state of his stomach."

Never take a hungry Che to an Andy Warhol exhibit and expect a conversation... I agree with Che's stomach sutra. I would add to it the hangover/sickness clause because deep, free thoughts don't flow when you're hanging over the toilet bargaining with whoever will listen to make it stop, make it go away.


It's morning again. Beans are ground and new coffee going down and Charles Simic and the day ahead. The mind is atop its perch. The emperor is still naked. Maybe we'll leave him his pride.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The New Room

Dear philosophers, I get sad when I think.
Is it the same with you? --Charles Simic

The office in our house is largely second-hand, cast-off or leftover. It's my favorite room in the house.

Our girls call it "The New Room," because it's been assembled and arranged more recently than the rest of the house.

Maybe our lives are the same--overlapping circles of being cast off or jettisoning parts and people and coming together with new-to-us stories and people who are their own cast-offs. But the way we come together, the intersection of it all makes it, us, new.

We watched Toy Story 3 last night. We'd seen it in the theater but the girls wanted to see it again. There's a montage in the beginning, home movies that show Andy and his toys growing from elementary school to college age. Aside: despite getting older, I often feel like the toys who stay the same over time, I rarely feel like I've grown up.

I'm a sucker for storylines or songs or photos that show kids growing older or father-daughter relationships. My heart swells to the point where I'm 2.4 seconds from sobbing over that shit.

Anna is eight and cares about brand names, while Ava at five is concerned only with colors and cuteness. Their vocabulary and expressions, body movements seem to change daily. It's awesome. It's gut-wrenching.

This passage of time stuff. Most of the time I am cool with it. I can embrace it. I love my life more at 38 than I did at 28 or 18, and I dug it then.

It makes my existence to watch and be a part of the girls growing and laughing and beaming happy. At the same time I follow the thread to us being kids and my parents going through this and my parents being kids and their parents going through this and I know/knew their parents and three out of four of them are dead now and... Fuck!!

I'm not often taken in that direction, but that's where thinking leads sometimes. Logical-emotional-existential thinking when you're sitting in "the New Room," looking at your bookshelf that once held your Betamax tapes of Star Wars and your old little league games.

Dear philosophers, I get sad when I think.
Is it the same with you?

Friday, November 5, 2010

An as$ pocket of wonder *

Sometimes I want one book. One book that fits into a pocket (ass pocket, or thigh or even jacket) that I can carry with me and pull out in case of boredom or stagnation; a book that will deliver instant wonder, instant inspiration; a book that induces reverie, reflections on beauty and time; turns me on; and provides both telescope and microscope into existence.

I have a few candidates for the position of carry-all pocket book: Robert Hass's Praise, W.S. Merwin's Shadow of Sirius, will be auditioning Charles Simic's The World Doesn't End.

It's like carrying an aesthetic Swiss Army knife, including a bottle opener because sometimes twist off inspiration just doesn't cut it.

This is a book that you have to be able to get something out of from just reading a page or two. Like with two girls napping in the back seat while wife (or husband) runs into a store. Like just stopped through the coffee shop and have 10-15 minutes to yourself.

It has to be dense, exploratory, experimental, funny, demand and reward re-reading and pondering and memorizing and maybe even reading out loud (though probably not in a mall).

Yeah, to have one book like that. One ass pocket of wonder and inspiration. A Linus Van Pelt security blanket of a book. Sometimes I think that would be pretty cool.

* Title with a nod to R.L. Burnside, whose "A*s pocket of whiskey" remains one of my all-time favorite album titles

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The day after Andy Irons died

Drinking coffee in the afternoon, the day after the election when all the world wants to talk about is who won, who lost, what it all means.

Funny how government is now a competition with clear-cut winners and losers when really it's just a volleyball rotation of the same players with different names; no longer about doing something together.

Drinking coffee in the afternoon, when all the country wants to talk about is what a bonehead Randy Moss is and the nerve, and what team will he end up on.

Drinking coffee in the afternoon, the day after Andy Irons died. But nobody is really talking about it. He was 32. One of the very best in the world, living a life, doing a job that most people, that for 25 years I have thought would kick ass.

He walked on water around the world. I only knew him from video, through interviews, articles, photos. And yet it seems like a bigger deal to me than a concession speech or a new helmet. One of the few who lived his dream in the world.

And while nobody really talks about Andy Irons, who died in a hotel room in Dallas, not known as a surfing town, I learned something today.

I had never heard of Dengue Fever.