Sunday, March 31, 2013

Doing Something

The Christians are holding their Easter today: a red sun is climbing the wall. When I went out for a walk, this morning, the stars were still bright, and Vega was overhead, burning blue. Just above the trees, to the South, a lopsided moon was limping home.

I turned aside, went to the lichen-splashed rock, and rested my cheek against it. A bird or two were already singing in the dark, singing to the stars. I wished a happy Easter to my friends who celebrate it, groping, as I usually do on holidays, for the happiness I know so many of my friends find in them. Not for the happiness, you understand; even I am not so silly as that. But for an understanding of the happiness. I cannot even imagine a world so changed that holidays would make me happy.

Yet I am a happy man, as I reckon things. Ridiculously fortunate, and aware of my good fortune. I take pleasure in so many other things, which most people seem to pass by as worthless. The birdsong and the stars, for example. Touching people with attention. Ordinary food. Most people seem to be getting so little pleasure out of ordinary life: they're always anxious to escape it, to go do something special. I don't want to do anything special. What I want is a calm and stillness, where the seeds of light might germinate.

Before a holiday, people will ask, “Are you doing something?” – as if I wasn't, ordinarily, doing something. But it would be ill-mannered to say, “yes, I am going out to look at the stars in the morning, and making coffee.” Instead I say, “No, nothing special, nothing planned. How about you?”

Nothing seems stranger to me – nothing alienates me more – than the combination of religious holy days with social feast days. If Easter were my holiday, my response would be to go off alone, go to the mountains, watch the sunrise, pray to the risen son. It would not be to hold a noisy party. I can't even begin to understand how these things knit together in most people's consciousness. But clearly I'm the odd man out. It must make sense to them, or they wouldn't do it.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Moon in the Wrong Place

In the main, I'm glad to be done with pretend-friends, and to be allowed to get on with my life, such as it is. But today the bitterness wells up, surprisingly strong. The third full night's sleep since the time change: a full moon setting, improbably, in the southwest: the air thick with other creatures' seed: that's enough to explain it, maybe. Spring has always been an unhappy season for me. I find myself laboriously working through unconvincing justifications for my own behavior, and for others': surely I'm old enough to know better. We all seem poor, sorry creatures to me, surprised by the brilliant light of Spring. We go on pawing the leavings, sucking on long-unmarrowed bones, telling over our wealth of broken shells.

Peace. Old, unhappy, far-off things: why bother? Still, the heart has gone out of me, somehow. I am only a disgruntled ape who failed in his bid for alpha, and leaves his band in pique: and yet I don't have the strength of mind to really see it that way. I only cling to the fantasy: even then we could have fixed it, we could have made it well; but our courage failed, severally and as a group.

I shake my slow, thoughtful, orangutan head and pull my way into the trees, as deliberate as a sloth. I think it's simpler than that. I fought for dominion, and I lost, that's all. Why complicate it? And now I have to make the best of exile. Which has its consolations. I can make my nest where I please, and keep my long slow thoughts to myself.

But the moon, the moon in the wrong place. That troubles me.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Tiny Hatch of Sky

A squirrel springs from a chimney to a power wire, his tail undulating as he swims through the air: against the brilliant white sky the curves he has drawn linger like a wake. A crow follows him, a moment later, with its utterly different, be-damned-to-flow, aggressive flapping. And this in the tiny hatch of sky visible between the shed roof and the silk tree: my palm at arm's length covers the whole view. At a guess, I'd call it one thousandth of the vault of heaven, as it would be available to me were I sitting on the roof. Maybe not so much going on above the rich fields of the skyline, but still: I must miss almost all of the life going on around me, even when I'm attending to any of it. And these are only the creatures I'm designed to notice, the ones big enough to be the prey, predator, or companion of a great ape: a trifling subset of them. The world so teeming, and I so blind.

Yesterday on the train, my phone chirruped at me, telling me I had voice mail from Martha, which meant no doubt that the initial ring had escaped me. I tried to get the message, but between the roar of the train, and the ill reception, and my bad hearing, I had not a chance of understanding the message. I could barely detect a voice amid the rush of sound. I got off at 82nd, ran up the concrete steps, and crossed over to catch the bus for the last mile home. There, on the freeway overpass, with even more roaring all around me, I called home, guessed at Martha picking it up, amid the din, and hollered my location and travel intention hopefully into it, and hung up. She did get my message, as it turns out, and understood it. But it may not be long before we give up on telephone voice communication altogether: only old habit keeps us from texting instead.

I've always been what they call absent-minded. It was easy for me to let conversations wash past me, unobserved, even back when I could hear them. Nowadays, while I know people are talking all around me, I almost never understand talk that isn't directed to me. More of life escaping unobserved. I settle in with my book and let it go. I prefer the deliberate, much-meditated written word anyway. But it is a loss, and I miss it. What were the couple sitting behind me, the interesting-looking ones with traveling packs, murmuring to each other? What was the complaint that the woman with anxiety etched on her face, clutching a faded cloth bag, was making to the surrounding air? I'll never know. The squirrel-tail figures fade, and the sky goes blank.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Privacy. Completion.

Chögyam Trungpa said something to the effect that Westerners would never attain enlightenment until they abandoned their fetish for privacy. The hardest Buddhist teaching I ever heard, and not one that will ever make the feel-good Buddhist self-help bestseller list. Abandon privacy? Do you know how much that entails?

Take Luisa's last – we are into Holy Week, now, and the Christians are swarming. She imagines Jesus wintering over in the tomb, considering, in his privacy there, the work to come. It's a short poem, only ten lines, and so closely woven that quoting a bit of it would be idiocy. Just go read it, and come back. I'll wait here.

Luisa Igloria: Vigil

I try to imagine a life of the spirit that has no such withdrawals – in fact, I try to imagine any life at all without them – and come to a blank: my cultural inheritance gives me nothing to work with. And yet: the moment I heard those words of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's – probably second- or third-hand, as one does with such teachings – I felt the hammer fall. Sometimes truths fall with such weight, and ring so clear, that you know that simply hearing them has doomed you to a journey. You may put it off for years, or decades, but sooner or later you are going to have to pack your things and go.

Let me hasten to add, that doesn't mean the teacher is right. That's a different matter. They may be disastrously wrong. You want guarantees, you go to some other shop.

I drove south some fifty miles, up the Willamette Valley, yesterday. It's slightly warmer there than here: the middle valley is sheltered from the east. Here only the fruit trees have flowered: the larger trees are having none of it. Standing pat: not a bud, not a gesture. But up in the valley all the trees are pointillist clouds of new spring green.

Compline: the completion of the day. Prayer, wrote Seon Joon, becomes an enlarging ache echoing in the space between voice and silence.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Reckless Devotion

Science, O beautiful beautiful science! Science and love and art: three names for reckless devotion to reality.

Sunday, March 24, 2013


No one seems to pity Jove, hagridden though he is,
staggering backward, fumbling for whatever silly mask
of swan or bull – always the mis-timed oaf:
always wanting, never wanted. Being

chief of gods doesn't get him far.
He's reduced to clumsy violence, and singing,
in a reedy voice, “Oh Lord, please
don't let me be misunderstood.” He wrings
his hands and his privates in dismay.

For all that, he is his own taster,
risking every beauty that falls under his gaze,
smitten every time, put off by no shapeshift,
misled by no disguise. It is the very seal,
the imprimatur of beauty, to have
Mr Jupiter long for you. The old perv.

He has populated heaven and earth, and
he is strangely bound by kindly ties:
what his daughters ask for he cannot refuse,
and so the wheel of human misery rolls on,
Troy and Thebes are sacked,
fleeting mortals emulate his rapes;
the beauty is hollowed out of everything;
only what is cruel and bestial remains.

They say that Pluto, summoned late at night,
refused to blind him, and left muttering
blasphemies; Jove sat on alone,
running a finger on the sharp edge
of a prickling thunderbolt
till dawn flushed the eastern sky.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

And Also Much Cattle

Should not I have pity on Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand, and also much cattle?

And here, now, with the maple flower blushing more and more furiously, going from tawny to red?

I am thinking about my long betrayal of beauty, and wondering if I can ever reach forgiveness. I have spent a lifetime in Tarshish; I have friends and family there; the call has faded to the faint twittering of birds; and as long as I carefully avoid crossing water, I should make it to the end of my days.

Only. There is the reddening of the maple flower in the morning, and gray eyes catching the last light of evening. There's the wathuma gebind of the Spruce boughs in the wind, and the rain scrabbling against the window pane. I am not yet so old and dignified that God would jib at dragging me out of bed in my pajamas and sending me to sea.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Changing Trains

All the shops are closed now, and
although the beauty is roaring in your ears –
even so – the black moth, the traveler,
flutters on the stove in vain;
if it says a visitor is on the way, from one subway
heart to another, changing trains –
the parted lips, the catch of breath, the careless
sweep of thick and grizzled hair –
it does not say when, or how, or if
any train can stop
on the black-iced rails. It does not say how
a French princess, leaning back against the satin,
could lift her eyes and bring you back to daylight:
you – so long underground – so cold, so used
to the damp shapes of worried men
who smell of bleach and ammonia, men
with mops and buckets at their blistered knees –
No. Even if she looked, even if she did,
you are already ruined, and the day,
the day could not bear you.

in response to  "I round the corner..." in response to small stone (222)

Composing in the Post Window

Blogger has become robust enough, and its auto-save works well enough, that it's now safe to compose right here in the Post window. But I'm only just now beginning to trust it. In the early days, composing in the Post window (rather than on a local word processing app) was a great way to lose five hundred or a thousand words at a time. It doesn't take many burns like that to leave you wary about the stove. If there seems to be anything crank or slow about the saves, I immediately cut whatever I have and paste it locally: but even that may be overkill these days.

So many things just gradually, over time, work better: automobiles and clothes washers may not keep up the pace of computer hardware and software, but practically every machine I use nowadays is a huge improvement over its counterpart when I was a kid. I think it's silly to expect technological improvement to radically alter the human condition, but at the same time I'm irritated by people who don't recognize that the sheer stupid frustrating labor of, say, writing a term paper, or doing a load of wash, has been cut in half in the past fifty years. If people matter, the expenditure of their time and effort matters.

I tend to focus on developing disasters, and I make no apology for that: there are several trends underway now that are going to lead our species to a horrible crash in the next century or two. I don't for a minute believe that our present population, let alone its doubling, is going to be sustainable. One way or another, our population is going to drop to five or ten percent of what it is now, in next couple hundred years. As the gangsters in the movies of my youth used to say, cracking their knuckles: "Look, buddy, we can do dis de easy way or de hard way."

Still. A people at peace tends to improve all its circumstances, gradually. It's the disaster and destruction that grabs the headlines, and war makes everything horrible, but there is a slow countervailing force towards civilization and improvement, which is much more apparent to me at my present age than it was when I was younger. People tend their gardens and fix their houses, they make their streets safer, they master new subjects and learn new skills. Truth gradually seeps into consciousness, even against the tides of propaganda. Many cruelties that were a matter of course in my youth are now widely considered unacceptable. Poisoning oneself with nicotine and alcohol are no longer considered normal (or admirable, or de rigeur) among mature American adults.

Things go wrong. Things may go completely wrong: we may be at the end of our species. I don't know whether our sense and industry, or our self-destructive greed for dominion, will ultimately win this race: but there is a race, and it hasn't yet been called.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Heart Root

Seon Joon, of (thus) , sitting there writing in the morning light – precisely where and as I usually write of a morning: cross legged in the love seat with a laptop on her lap. Makes me inordinately happy.

Martha still asleep. Sun lighting up the maple flower. I walked out this morning and found my trees again. Twenty-some needles spring from a single peg: but some single needles grow right off the twig. I found one old last-year's cone in the mud. Shaped like a small potato. When I pulled, it came apart into nested rings, like an arboreal version of a Russian doll. I'm becoming convinced that what I have here are Western Larches. Nothing else seems to fit the bill. Some people call them tamaracks, I understand, although they're a slightly different species from the eastern, mostly Canadian tamarack. I was confused by them being called deciduous, since these are fully fledged, but maybe they don't shed that much down here in the lowlands, where it often barely freezes in the winter.

Flickers and robins calling. Maybe a ramble in the Gorge later; some massage in the evening.

It tikleth me aboute myn herte roote:
Unto this day it dooth myn herte boote,
That I have had my world as in my tyme.

Saturday, March 16, 2013


It's odd, and disturbing somehow, to see how punctiliously my fat deposits stand upon the order of their going. For a couple weeks my face and thighs slimmed down, while my waistline didn't budge a millimeter. Then suddenly last week, apparently, the order went out to start releasing the belly fat. My jeans are suddenly loose: my suspenders are not ornamental, now, but deadly practical. It's one of those times when I become aware of my body as a self-regulating machine, making complex operating decisions that it doesn't bother to consult me on. The bozo up there in the cerebral cortex doesn't have the slightest idea how to run a body: he's like one of those vapid network anchors “commentating” at the Olympics. Yah, like you know what it takes to throw a javelin!

I have to remind myself again and again that I am not trying to lose weight: I am trying to eat in a healthy and reasonable manner. There's a risk to all this meticulous measuring and recording: the tools threaten to set the agenda. The scale and tape measure readings are so sharp-edged and unambiguous, and such universally accepted arbiters, that it would be very easy to let the numbers start to drive this process. I did use a supposed “goal weight” – loathsome concept! – to set my initial caloric intake bounds. But that was just because I needed to start somewhere, to have some landmarks. I remind myself, again: I am not “driving to 160 lbs.” I am not headed for some mystical ideal goal weight. I am just trying to eat a reasonable amount of good food, and to follow the CDC's quite sensible and up-to-date minimum exercise recommendations: half an hour's exercise per day, two resistance-training sessions per week.

I am already at my eating and exercising goal. I'm not going anywhere. This is it: I'm succeeding. I can feel good about myself. I have developed considerable intellectual curiosity about what will happen to my body, and I have some hypotheses I'm testing, but that's not the real point. The real point is to eat well, to move around a lot, and to feel like I and my body are on the same side. The war's over. My body gets to weigh whatever it wants to.

Birthday. I'm fifty-five years old today. An improbable number, from all points of view.

I went for a walk this morning, south along 86th Avenue, and about a mile down, discovered a line of big, burly conifers, totally unknown to me. Four or five in a row, standing between the sidewalk and the street. Their needles weren't in bunches, but in clusters something like flower-umbels. Huge, dark, powerful trees, with this madcap arrangement of needles. I adored them. I wonder what they are? Walking back, I saw two more individual, younger trees of the same species. Have I been seeing them all my life, without seeing them? Probably. Whatever they are, I'm taking them as my totem.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Low-Carb Conversion Experience

The debate about low carb diets goes on its merry way, and probably will for some time now. There was a hullaballoo about a diet study – last year, if I remember right – which purported to match low carb up against low fat diets, and it was greeted with delight by everyone who was irritated by the low carb people, because the two diets came out about with about the same results. Hah! No difference!

But when I had a look at what they actually did, it was disappointing. They hadn't done what most low carb folks would call a low carb diet at all: they'd just swapped the proportions of the macronutrients around in a standard calorie-restricted diet, which completely misses the low carbers' point. Their point is not that a calorie of carbohydrate makes you fatter than a calorie of protein. Their point is that a calorie of carbohydrate makes you hungrier than a calorie of protein: so a high carb diet leads to overeating. If you restrict the calories, you prevent that effect from appearing. Of course the low carb diet came out the same as the low fat one.

Studies comparing low carb diets with others show a small but consistent advantage in compliance; but the effect is not as big as I had thought it would be, in the first flush of my low carb enthusiasm. And the insulin resistance story is not looking nearly so clear as an evangelical Atkins-ite would expect. It's all a bit puzzling.

My own low carb experience was extraordinary. I've been overweight nearly all my life, and I've tried and failed at a number of diets. The low-carb experience was radically different. Suddenly – for the first time in my life – I was not hungry all the time. I wasn't thinking about food all the time. I could forget – forget! – to eat lunch. It was a deeply liberating experience. I thought I'd finally found it, and screw the dietitians who pointed to the kidney problems of rabbits force-fed steak. It wasn't that I even particularly wanted to be lean, by that time: what I really wanted was not to be hagridden by such an embarrassing obsession with food. And I'd found it. I was finally in a reasonable relationship with food.

Well, this went on for a couple weeks. I lost a lot of weight, and lost it quickly. I was eating all I wanted. Passing thoughts of cake and potato chips left me unmoved: I didn't even want the stuff any more.

In a couple more weeks, though, things got rocky. I started craving the forbidden carbs: craving even bread, which I'd never craved in my life before. Fruit, which was now off-limits, tantalized me. All that sugar! I managed to stay away from it, with an effort, but I wanted it. With dismay, I saw my old obsessiveness beginning to return. And I really didn't feel all that good. I was getting sick of meat: and I was worried a bit about all the nitrates I was eating.

I soldiered on, until a sale on pepperoni at my grocery store. Pre-sliced pepperoni, like they put on pizza. Cheap! Hardly a perfect food, but it would feel like an indulgence, without kicking off those insulin swings. I examined the labeling closely. (One thing you learn, following a low carb diet, is that all kinds of things are loaded with sugar these days, including, for instance, most commercial beef jerky.) This was fine. No sugar, no carbs at all. I bought a package of them, maybe two. And I went home, settled on the couch, and proceeded to eat almost the entire package. And a day or two later I did it again. There was no way to avoid understanding that I had managed to do what was supposed to be impossible: I had binged on fat and protein. What's more, I wanted to do it again.

It was a discouraging moment. I hadn't found the magic way out, after all. The insulin story just didn't account for what had just happened. Had I just been fooling myself? I couldn't believe that, either. The experience of being free of hunger, free of craving, had been too profound, too liberating.

I floundered for a while, diet-wise. Put most of the weight I had lost back on. But I kept reading and thinking. In particular, I came across Stephan Guyenet's Whole HealthSource blog, which introduced me to some of the research on palatability and satiety. I don't know of a better introduction to this whole topic than just browsing his blog posts labeled “hyperphagia.”  (Hyperphagia, for those not Greekly inclined, means “eating too much.”) The neurology of all this is fascinating, but the upshot is that eating foods that are exceptionally tasty disables the ordinary satiety mechanisms that tell us we've had enough. If this is true, then the low carb people probably got the mostly rightly answer by accident. It's not the insulin responses that drive overeating; it's the over-tasty food. The insulin responses are important – they make the overeating particularly unhealthy – but the driver is simply that our food tastes too good. It's laced with sugar, salt, and fat, and we gobble it up: our brother rats do exactly the same. It's difficult to create food that tasty without carbs, but – as my pepperoni experience demonstrates – it can be done. And if it can be done, you can rest assured that the food labs at General Mills etc. will do it. And package it, advertise it, and deliver it to you.

A lot of diet programs have recognized this for a long time, although the neurology of it was not even guessed at until recently. Weight Watchers, I recall from my stint with them long ago, spoke of “red light foods” – foods that you find that you simply can't stop eating. These will actually vary from person to person. They will also vary over time. But they're easy to identify subjectively: I just look for the things that I'll eat even if I'm not hungry, even if I'm full, even if it makes me uncomfortable. I'll eat barbeque potato chips until my stomach bulges and my hard palate is sore. I'll eat enough peanut M&Ms at a sitting to supply the calories of two or three ordinary meals. Those are the foods I have to avoid. I eat them only on special occasions, and in restricted amounts, and I DON'T have them around the house, certainly not where I can see them.

So my diet, put simply, is this: don't eat stuff that tastes too good. This may strike you as bleak and joyless, but the fact is that plain ordinary food actually tastes fine, once you're no longer blasting your taste buds with these manufactured foods. I don't really think the sum total of enjoyment I get out of food has decreased, since I started restricting the over-tasty stuff. A secondary effect of those foods – which are almost all artificial, unhealthy, over-processed things in the first place – is to blast your palate and make it indifferent to the pleasures of real, ordinary food. Once I recovered from that I found that a plain undressed salad, or a simple baked sweet potato, could taste really extraordinarily good.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Red Curtain

Hmm. Two hours' sleep. Not sure how well I'll function today. Woke at two, with sleep just vanishing behind its red curtain. Got up, washed the dishes, put on laundry. If I'm to be sleep deprived later today, all the more reason not to let the chores steal a march on me.

Now it's nine o'clock. Milk-white sky: not a breath of wind. A perfunctory caw from an unseen crow. The spin of the washing machine, finishing off its third load. I close my eyes and sleep surges up: my head nods. I open my eyes and type again. There's a dream off the starboard bow, a dream of building this house into something beautiful, and crows walking gravely through it. Ah. That's George MacDonald: the raven librarian. Corvids do walk with their hands behind their backs, usher-like. The Spanish is getting away from me, I can't keep up with myself; what's to do?

Perhaps to bed again. Just for a bit.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Fragment of Bright Sky

Morning. Light makes its way in, twisting and turning through the net of new, tawny maple-flower, ducking under the porch ceiling, backing cautiously up to the narrow window, and falling inside. It's Spring. God knows what time it is – it will be another week before my time-instincts synch up clock time again – but at least it's light: the cloud cover is pulsing with it.

I'm of an age, maybe, when most sweetnesses carry twinges with them.

Some have seen a likely lad
Who had a stout fly-fisher's wrist,
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl who knew all Dante once,
Live to bear children to a dunce...

And so one's pleasure in likely lads and learned girls is tinged with that, of course. So much seed falls on barren ground. Still the Spring does come, each time more gloriously improbable than before, and you realize that the current behind it has to be much huger than ever you knew or dreamed.

And I? I stretch my fingers, crack my knuckles, feel the strength and cunning of my hands. I'm stronger and more certain every day.

Despite my poem about visitors, I have had wonderful visitors recently, and one more treasured friend coming this weekend. I am deliberately not learning whether hugs are against some monastic precept, so that I can plead ignorance. She gave me a bit of sky, once, as a bookmark. Sometimes, after a dry season, the blessings come as thick as a blizzard of snow.

The sacred joy that is without suffering. Even to imagine it is to carry a little fragment of bright sky with you.

Monday, March 11, 2013


So many visitors


to us, unaccustomed to any:
Mr Hatred, Mrs Envy, even
young Overweening Pride.

It's hard to know
how long they will stay, what
they will want for dinner.


Outside, the little birds come.
Martha calls them a mixed flock,

like a racist speaking
of miscegenation. These
things happen.


Easier visitors: but
they rise, paring
peels of air

at a shift of light,
or at the hiss
of distant air brakes.


Nothing undemanding stays.

Saturday, March 09, 2013


No sleep in me tonight - or I should say, this morning. Thoughts crowd in on me: yellow-jackets cluster on the hummingbird feeder. I should have been, said, thought, done...

Idle thoughts, but they won't leave me alone. So I drink this cinnamon tea, and let them build a nest.

I've glimpsed Arcturus rising twice, now. Spring. Jupiter and Aldebaran falling down into the west. The sky wheels every night, but it starts sooner every night too. Thank God at least for that. There's a larger wheel driving the one we see.

...Old-Who doesn't speak any more.

They used to have Thunder talk, or
The Rivers, or Leaves, or Birds. It's all
"Cheep, cheep" now. It's a long time
since a cloud said anything helpful.

Maybe. Maybe it's a long time since we listened properly.

You look at their little shoulders,
bent over but strong. Like them you
hunch against the wind and that weight 
pressing down -- Time on its way somewhere,
using us all, people and rocks,
as a prop, as a wobbly crutch.

So I'm reading William Stafford at long last. No one told me he was a comic poet! He makes me laugh, over and over. A wobbly crutch! Very wobbly. Poor Time!

It's barely poetry, in a way: I'm not sure how much his poems would lose if you wrote them out as prose. Or -- this really is a better way of putting it -- they make terrific prose, just as they stand. The poetry is in the thinking voice, and in the kindness. The pattern and texture of his words never run away on their own: no insurrections allowed. There's a strange tendency to think of formal poetry as more disciplined, more strict, tamer, but of course it's exactly the opposite. It's metrical pattern and rhyme that give the pretext for language to run amok, that bring the random, impudent, contradictory impulses in. You have to let the words swirl, if they're going to form patterns. Free verse is for people who don't like their words running away from them.

But that's all by the way. There's nothing stern or controlling about Stafford: but his poems do make sense. They say exactly what he means them to say. So far as I've read, anyway.

And now I think I'll try sleeping, again. 4:30. Good night!

Friday, March 08, 2013

Blogger Dale Favier Interviews the Poet by the same Name

What is your working title of your book?

Glasswork, from the poem that ends:

And finally, having scooped
the pulpy stuff of cleverness away,
you'll come to the almond
amygdala, gleaming, and inlaid
with rage and desire like parquetry,
and hidden under that –
only glasswork made by tender hands,
fragile bowls of sky or midnight blue.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I'm not one of those dignified poets who builds great monuments of public poetry. My poetry is irredeemably personal. Mine has been a messy, heartbreaking life for a couple years, and these poems come out of that. The dominant theme, I suppose, is fragility – hence the title.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. Confessional poetry.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Hah. Like I know the names of any actors!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

What? That's some kind of joke, right? “Ow, putting my hand on the hot stove hurts!”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Well, that's the question. I think it was a mistake to make this into a book, actually: I think I moved into poetry books too fast. I think I should break it down into two or three chapbooks, and shop them around that way, enter some contests, maybe. I just threw all my favorite stuff from the last couple years into the pot.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Well, it took years to write the poems, of course. The book I slapped together hastily to submit to this year's Airlie Press contest. See above.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Story? Story? What story? No. But I think I fall recognizably into what you might call the Mary Oliver, William Stafford, Chase Twichell school: or what you might call the White Knight school:

So, having no reply to give
    To what the old man said,
I cried "Come, tell me how you live!"
    And thumped him on the head.

I am interested always in the question, “How does one live?” and “How does one tell people how one lives?” and the further questions of “How does one listen to someone telling one how one lives? And does it make any difference?”

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Machik Labdrön. Next question.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

Beats me. I'm astonished and grateful that people like to read my poetry: I always think there must be some mistake. But here's poem, changed somewhat from its debut on Mole:


Cain planted corn and thought,
“I own this land!”

Abel taught sheep to believe he was kind,
and cut their throats.

Eve never learned to turn away
salesmen with catalogs of apples,

a deal of seed, and wriggling discourse:
at night she told Adam how they would be rich.

Never mind who finally murdered whom. It was
only a matter of time.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013


A gray and dreary day: the rain becomes visible and disappears again, but the dripping from the twigs goes on regardless: every end and nub is lit with a dull silvery spark, that winks, falls, and reappears. Somewhere out east, there, beyond the clouds, is the sun, I suppose, or even this light would fail. But it's difficult to believe. In the parking lot of Fred Meyer an unprepossessing young man was shouting at his girlfriend: “it's just fucking DARK and GRAY and it goes ON and ON and ON!” Like she could do something about it.

It doesn't go on and on, of course: in fact we had quite a nice sunny warm-ish day just a couple days ago, which got his hopes up. That's probably the problem.

The uncanny blue of spruce needles, the pale green of the spreading lichen on the steep bit of sidewalk over yonder, and the vague greeny-black of the doug firs standing against the east: all muted, all fading. I'm finishing my second breakfast, unless it's my early lunch: hamburger, sweet potato, romaine salad, all of them plain but for a bit of salt, all of them startlingly vivid and rewarding on this dull, dull day. I am perhaps too fond of ordinary food ever to become a foodie. I like this stuff: I don't feel any inclination to jazz it up.

But I remain moody and belligerent, like that young man: I want to pick a quarrel and have it out with someone. My disappointment is close to the bone, and cold, cold: surely it must be somebody else's fault?

I close my eyes and question my body. The faint silver wavering shring of my tinnitus: the hunch of my shoulders, an uneasiness in my knees. Take a couple breaths, drop the shoulders, move my feet out from under my chair. The anxiety that's left is in my back, in the neighborhood of the kidneys. I arch my back, toss my head, grimace. Sometimes you move just warn off the buzzards. Keep your distance, buckos! This one's still warm and liable to kick.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013



William Dement, a sleep researcher at Stanford, convinced me with this book of the importance of light hygiene. I do not sleep well if there's any light in the room. The modern world is full of light sources: clocks, power strips, computers -- even when they're supposedly off, our myriad electronics have little LEDs glowing, red or green or yellow, little eyes in the dark. Real darkness is not a matter of turning off the lights. It's a matter of blacking out your windows and covering up all those little eyes. Dement demonstrated in the lab that even these little increments of light disturb people's sleep: although they're unaware of why, they sleep less soundly and wake more easily in the presence of even very little light.

Sleep gets its own entry in my "whupping the food thing" series for two reasons. First: sleep is the great restorer of oomph, and everything about whupping the food thing rests on oomph. To eat right I need to plan ahead, to not always take the easy way, to throw myself into the fight with some vigor and enthusiasm: above all, to keep out of temptation's way, and to occasionally resist temptation if my planning fails. All those things require oomph, and if I start the day with a meager supply, chances are there won't be enough when my trough times come. If I'm exhausted, grieved, discouraged, and out of oomph by mid-afternoon, the odds that I'll be gorging on ice cream and potato chips before the end of the day skyrocket. I can't afford not to get a good night's sleep.

The other thing sleep does is relieve persistent pain. I'm not sure if it does this by actually encouraging the repair of tissue, or more subtly by somehow resetting the brain's pain responses, but the effect is striking. Most people my age or older are navigating their exercise around some pain or other, their "bad knee" or their "tweaked back" or something: we're working the trade-offs between the benefits of exercise and aggravating some pain or other. The catch-22 here, of course, is that to really get a good night's sleep, you have to exercise. I have clients in whom this has spiraled down to an almost sleepless and completely pain-filled life, getting around by motor-chair because they can't walk on their excruciating knees, unable to drive because they fall asleep at the wheel, unable to sleep because their body is desperate for exercise, and unable to exercise because everything, everything hurts. Trust me: you really, really don't want to go there. And the simplest intervention in this vicious cycle is a remarkably easy one. Block every single damn light source, block it completely. If you want to get fancy, it also helps to quit using televisions and computers for an hour or two before bed. Those are both powerful light sources, and you stare straight into them. I've never managed to do that: I'm too fond of dinking around on my computer in the evening. For me, it's enough to make it dark dark dark. Blackout curtains, clock hidden under the bed, duct tape on the power strip light. Really dark.

What does avoiding pain have to do with whupping the food thing? Well, exercise turns out to be critical for a normal metabolism. Whatever goes wrong with modern metabolism, and disposes us so disastrously to type II diabetes, cardiovascular deterioration, and cancer, study after study shows that exercise militates powerfully against it. I believe there's much more to it than the simple fact that exercise burns calories: the human body is designed for activity, and a whole slew of things begin to go wrong when it's sedentary, a cascade of ill-effects and metabolic abnormalities. My guess is that almost nobody with disordered eating regulation is going to really fix it without becoming active: and that almost nobody sedentary is going to become active if it's painful. So we come back to sleep. Protect it, cultivate it, defend it fiercely. Sleep is your friend.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

The Nasties

I don't really like it when poets get the nasties.
Bleistein's cigar sets Dresden gently burning;
Gjertrud's No-No and her Clumsies bring
the fall of Cambodian leaves in early Spring.
You'll say I'm blaming clots on angioplasties,
but loathing runs in all ways all at once:
because one thing is hunted, one thing hunts.