Tuesday, September 30, 2008


I generally begin the morning, settled in at Tosi's, by opening a wordpad document and naming it with the date. Every so often, after a few dozen of these files has accumulated, I do some housecleaning: open each of the files in turn, give it an intelligible name, and move it to a subfolder named "posted." But some of them haven't been posted, or parts of them haven't been posted. It's always interesting to see what I've censored, and why. I'll be posting a few of the censored posts (suitably cleaned up) over the next few days. Here's the first.

I wrote this a couple months ago, when I turned from reading about Cook and other explorers to reading Orhan Pamuk. I have struggled a long time with a prejudice against the Islamic world, which long predates 9/11 and the current idiocies. Somehow Pamuk finally undid that for me, simply with a description of a man coming home to Istanbul in the falling snow.

I put this aside then because of the racism it rises from: and I still have some qualms about posting it. I haven't found the snow that will reveal the Hawaiians' humanity to me, though I know damn well it's there. There's always some people on the periphery who will do to body forth your personal bogey-men (in my case, people who live in eternal blazing sunlight and want nothing but justice). Whether you should allow yourself to post poetry based on it, though, I don't know.


Listen. I know, I know, I know
What they did. Cook brought misery,
Some intended, most not. You could say
He deserved it. You could say
We all deserve it. No doubt we do.

It was the snow
That turned the corner for me. Snow
Falling in Istanbul. Arriving there,
Fresh from the Hawaiian Islands, from

The brutal clubbing of Captain Cook
(Struggling and drowning in two feet of water,
Struck again and again), I realized
That in my mind people who never saw snow
Were not quite human.

If you never pulled off snow crusted boots
With numb hands, well --
What kind of monster would that make you?

But the Turks and the Persians
Of course they had snow. I knew that,
As one knows things that one has not yet met in story,
Idly. But now that I have seen the flakes sifting down
And vanishing in the gloomy Horn, I know
That the Turks were human. They would have
Reasons of the heart, even if they were bad ones,
For drowning Captain Cook.

Just this past week, a friend wrote in praise of a poet
That he sought justice for his people
And my blood ran cold.
Justice, God I hate justice, and I hate peoples
Who require it. To want justice
Is to want to live in the endless sunlight,
On the white sand, endlessly, endlessly
Clubbing a wriggling man in the water.

So I wander the streets of Istanbul
In the falling snow. Give me cruelties
With a beginning and an end. What man
Who knows himself can possibly want justice?
Not me. I want mercy. Have pity
On a worn out sailor far from home. We have done
What we could. Let me raise myself
Onto my knees, just once,
The blood streaming from my face,
And taste the sweet air
Just once.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Wherein You Have Offended

We're also on the cusp of entering the ten days of teshuvah,, wrote Rachel, the ten first days of the month of Tishri during which it's customary to seek forgiveness from anyone one has wronged in order to approach Yom Kippur with a clean slate. If I have offended in the year now ending, please forgive me? (Seriously, if anyone has bones to pick with me, please reach out and let me know so that I can do whatever I am able to make amends.)

You have offended against my vanity,
By loving me despite my faults.

You have offended against my suffering,
By understanding me.

You have offended against my prejudice,
By loving my enemies and your own.

You have offended against my tears,
By drying them.

You have offended against my glibness,
By taking complicated things as they are.

You have offended against my loneliness,
By touching me when I was most outcast.

You have offended against my darkness,
Like a broken hydrant, shedding light;

You have so offended, Rachel, that I doubt
You can ever make amends.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Shadows of Clouds

4:17 am. I fell asleep early, at 10:30, and woke at 1:00. Lay in bed thinking for a couple hours, and finally got up. Now, do I try to nap for a couple hours before driving Tori out to the college to meet up with her car-pool? (I never did quite grasp what the event is. It involves going to Hillsboro, though.)

Maybe I do. I'm very tired now. Tired enough even to sleep a bit, maybe.

Such a strange life. Nothing seems quite real to me. Nothing but the the touch. I'm only really alive when I'm touching somebody. The rest of it is a long slow cinematic pan, a sliding picture-show. Words leave people's mouths and float to my ears. I hear them or I don't: I make my best guess as to what they might mean, either way. Who knows? The speaker might not know what he means either. We're all hard at work producing meanings for each other's consumption, but we seldom achieve much but echoes of what other people meant before.

The trees of the park walk deliberately around me. Kisses are real. You are real. But future and past, wobbling through our talk? I can barely even track them in the conventional sense, let alone believe in them.

The patterned clouds push the trees down to the horizon; their shadows creep over the root-mounds. Great rushes of tenderness, of desire. I'm afraid for you, afraid for all of us.

These fragile bodies. All we have.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Machik's Heart

For Jenny

Machik Labdrön appeared in my Ngöndro visualizations of her own accord, early on, dazzling white, and always dancing. She borrowed her forms from Chenrezig and Sukkasiddhi, I suppose: like most enlightened beings she shifts forms casually. I'm partial to her because she paid her dues as a human being, having married and raised children to adulthood before achieving enlightenment. (I found this image of Machik on the web, by the way, unattributed, which may mean that someone somewhere holds a copyright to it. If so, let me know! I don't want to be thieving.)

A flush along the jawline;
a little catch in the breath.

I listen for all that's not said.
I am so many people in so short a time:
the lover who left, the boyfriend in highschool;
teacher, false confidante, mother,
the little cat that came once and
never came again.

It is not this business of
becoming other people that is risky
It is trying to remain myself.
Let go, let be, remember only
the infinite tenderness of the Buddha,
Milarepa's quizzical smile, and Machik,
dancing, white,
dancing. I hold her heart,

beating, in my hands, not just hers,
but my own, and Machik's, and
the cat's, all one heart, just this one
fleeting evening.

Later I stand in the washroom,
unable quite to catch my breath,
having traveled through an alien,
intimate past, knowing far more
than anyone ever meant for me to know.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I lived through it! And so many lovely people came to see me through -- I was so grateful to them.

Thanks, thanks everyone.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Small as Ocean

for Christine

I suddenly saw you today
you were twenty-one and
looking in the mirror
and you had no idea, no idea at all
that the world behind you was staggering
in the slipstream of your beauty.

The pupils of my eyes
are very small,
as if the dark spots
were nostrils,

you said.

We watch our sons
recede, and the world shrinks;
the shadows are tall
when the sun is low. No matter
how little we become, the casting
runs over the dusted ground:
We have done
what we could.

I hold your ribs
in my hands, and
each finger finds its warm ledge; and
like the ticking of a clock
I feel the beating of your heart.

Suppose we have gone small
as they have grown:
The fire still rises, and
the haunting of your body
by heart and wicked blood
and the marvelous sky, and
the shadows stride over
the red clay and the forest; and

opening into
the wildest widest open
countries, they are
night skies and torches,
seen at the last drunken
glimpse and dreamed long after.

You had not learned then,
as you have learned now,
that empires and monsters
and small fluttery things
enter at every inbreath;

that to say as small as these
windows into the heartspace
is to say
small as leviathan,
small as ocean.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Wow, thank you all for the encouragement! Thank you so much. Public speaking is a trial for me -- which is why I abandoned teaching -- but this is reading aloud, which is an entirely different and much easier thing. So I'm actually looking forward to it. And I don't think they let you bring rotten fruit into Barnes & Noble, so I should be okay.

Here's my playlist. It's eleven short love poems:
Untitled ("I love clumsy women")
Vanity Fair
Not True Any More
Love Comes to Portland
The Rain You Sent
The Poor in Spirit
Pilgrim in Brooklyn
Love Poem (to Jo)

As for recording -- sorry. Beyond my technical skills. I don't think I even own a device that records sound. But I'm glad you want to hear!

Friday, September 12, 2008


Barnes & Noble Reading Series is delighted to present poets Dale Favier, Dan Raphael, and Maryrose Larkin.

When: September 17, 7:00 p.m.

Barnes & Noble
1317 Lloyd Center // Gift section
Portland, OR 97232

Hosted by: Tom Mattox

Dale Favier has taught poetry, chopped vegetables, and written software for a living. Currently he works half-time as a massage therapist and half-time as a database administrator for a non-profit. He is a Buddhist, in the Tibetan tradition; he lives with his wife and two nearly grown children in Portland, Oregon. He never wrote much poetry until he began blogging a few years ago, at Mole – http://koshtra.blogspot.com – and fell in with bad companions, with whom he eventually brought out an anthology, Brilliant Coroners. He has an M.Phil. in Medieval English Literature from Yale, and his most recent work has been translations of Old English alliterative verse.

Dan Raphael: All that matters about dan raphael is the poetry, which he performs in places like Wordstock, Bumbershoot, Burning Word, Mountain Writers, Portland Jazz Festival and KBOO. His most recent books are Breath Test and Showing Light a Good Time; he's currently working on his new manuscript City Rain Coincidence. Current poems appear in Stringtown, Otoliths, Knock Journal, Skidrow Penthouse and Refined Savage.

Maryrose Larkin lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as a freelance researcher. She is the author of Inverse (nine muses books), Whimsy Daybook 2007 (FLASH+CARD), and The Book of Ocean (i.e. press). Maryrose is part of Spare Room, a group of people who organize readings and other events in Portland. She is co-editor, with Sarah Mangold, of FLASH+CARD, a chapbook and ephemera poetry press.

Learn more about the B&N Reading Series


I woke before dawn. Orion was walking in the southern sky, but he was gone when I went out to the car, and there was a lavender sky to the east. Now I'm in Tosi's.

"How are you, Tosh?" asks a customer.

Tosi answers in a single syllable, as he always does, forcefully and finally. "Same," he declares. As if he wants it put out of doubt forever, that his state of health or mind could ever change. And he is, in fact, one of the anchors of my life. Always here, always the same. He looks sixty, maybe, but he's well over seventy. Sixty years ago, as he's fond of recounting, he arrived by ship in America, innocent of English, and was put on a train with a label bearing his destination pinned to his shirt. Went to work for his uncle, (or was it his cousin? I'll have to listen more closely, next time) in Chicago (or Cleveland?), busing tables and washing dishes. He still buses tables, when they're shorthanded: the waitresses fuss at him when he loads the bus tubs too full and lugs them to the kitchen. "Do you think you're a teenager? You're going to wreck your back." Tosi grunts dismissively.

He takes a hand at the line, too, in a pinch, though we rather wish he wouldn't: he doesn't really have the timing of a line cook any more, and the eggs arrive a little hard or a little runny, the toast maybe a little burnt. The waitresses apologize obliquely when he does, murmuring "Tosh is cooking today" when they set down your plate. But it's usually his son Jim cooking, who makes a perfect breakfast, every time. If you like diner food. No one complains about Tosi's cooking, though. I think we all know that the day Tosi lets a job go undone at the restaurant will be the day he decides to die.

He sits at the odd booth beside the door, at slow times, and his old friends come in, and have animated conversations in Greek. They all have wonderful faces. They belong to the last generation that didn't really care about men being handsome, the generation in which a man like Humphrey Bogart, with no physique and no prettiness, could be a film star. And consequently they're much more attractive than the men twenty years younger, who have mostly run to fat and look like they couldn't handle themselves in a fight. Of course, Tosi's friends are Greek, too, and the Greeks are the handsomest people in the world. They just are.

His youngest daughter waited tables here, for a few years. She was astoundingly pretty, and even more astoundingly innocent and attentive. She listened to everything everyone said with round eyes, she loved and admired everyone, she was delighted by the most tired jokes. When she confided to me that she was getting married, I took her hand and said, "Oh, all the blessings!" She was the kind of person you could be maudlin with, without embarrassment.

She's a schoolteacher now, and has kids, and has put on weight, and looks a little worried. I see her here every once in a while. Her face still lights up when she sees you, but only after a small delay. She doesn't live at the surface now: she has to come up from somewhere to respond to you. I grieve for the girl who used to patter happily around the restaurant, pouring coffee.

The cars swish down Sandy Boulevard, now, with their long shadows in front of them. All going to work. I don't have to go to work till noon, now. Time to write almost every morning. I still can't believe my good fortune. Mornings to write, afternoons at the Foundation, massage in the evening: it's the perfect life. I keep expecting someone to snatch it away. Surely you can't live so much the life you want to live, and get away with it? But I won't borrow trouble. It knows where to find me; it has my address; it can look me up if it wants me. I'm not going to go looking for it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Elephant Downstairs (Unfinished)

My brother started me on The Lord of the Rings. I suppose I was ten or eleven. He was nearly done with the The Fellowship of the Ring, the first volume, and said I should read it when he was done. I picked up the second, The Two Towers, just to look at it. About twenty-four hours later, in which I did nothing but read and sleep, I had finished it, with the gates of Cirith Ungol slammed shut against Sam; my brother in the meantime had finished the Fellowship, so I devoured that, going back in the narrative, as well. I gulped down The Return of the King in another twenty-four hours, up until the destruction of the Ring -- and stopped.

I couldn't bear to finish, to no longer have it in front of me to read for the first time. It was several days before I picked it up again and finished it, very slowly for me -- I was in the habit of wolfing my books, in those days. But this was the last I had: I savored it.

Of course I read them again, over and over: I counted some forty times, before I lost track. I read them aloud to my children, a couple times to each. I learned Spanish, French and German partly by reading translations of The Lord of the Rings into those languages. A long easy text that I knew by heart: it was a perfect way to absorb vocabulary. So it's a peculiarity of my linguistic competences that I know the words for hauberk, baldric, and chalcedony in four languages.

Where was I? Oh yes. I put off finishing. And I thought of that when I thought of the fact that I've tended to leave things by favorite authors unread. Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy I read soon after I had first read the Rings: I remember that the very first time I felt carsick, we were on a long journey in southern Oregon, near Mt Thielsen, and I was staring at an ink drawing of the helmeted twin soldiers that pursue Titus in the last volume.

Gormenghast is chilling to read because the author dies under your hands: he had a degenerative illness -- I don't remember what -- that gradually robbed him of his powers of connected thought and of sustained artwork. Titus Alone has strange gaps and discontinuities that increase as the book goes on: but as Peake is so idiosyncratic, laconic and florid by turns, both as a writer and as an artist, you don't realize it for quite a while. He never loses that power of the line, the power that Blake thought was the essence of art: in one swift curve he captures a whole world of imaginative intensity. But as Titus Alone progresses the canvas on which those lines emerge is increasingly blurred confused -- or, simply, and terrifyingly, empty.

So I came to the end of Gormenghast in a sobered and subdued frame of mind. And for years and years I never read anything more of Peake's. There wasn't, after all, a lot more to read, and it wasn't easy in those days to find: everything but Gormenghast was long out of print. But eventually I snapped up Mr Pye, which was not much more than a morsel. And there it lay. I read his wife's biography of him. It is, as some complained, a hagiography, but all the more moving for that: she loved him and missed him desperately. And although I'm sure he had numerous faults, one thing he could clearly do is love: he swept her off her feet, and she stayed swept, ever after.

I felt, reading that biography, that I understood fully for the first time -- though I couldn't quite put it into words -- what I was in the world for. Peake saw things. Beautiful and ugly. And they set up a resonance in him: they made him a wellspring of vividness and intensity. One night, he and his wife-to-be heard odd trampling noises below his studio: on opening a trap door in the floor they found that an circus elephant had been lodged there, whom they fed buns and sugar. I have no idea whether this story is true -- his later biographer presents it as true -- but it certainly feels true: that Peake, by the intensity of his perception, could cause elephants to appear in the middle of London.

And that, I felt, was my own gift, on a far lesser scale; my calling. I have always heard the elephant downstairs. I have always been struck witless by apparitions of beautiful and grotesque things, not all of which can be seen by other people. And I've always had a gnawing, nagging idea that my job was to make a door, or at least of window, of myself, so that these things could come into the world.

Last night, rubbing oil along the humped spine of an old man, the night air came walking in, at intervals; his younger German wife, leaning against the wall, spoke softly, looking aside, as Europeans do. Pools of light and dark, sleeping and waking; a cuckoo clock that spoke unexpectedly; a tiny dog that let me rub his belly but never quite trusted me. I am doing the work I was sent to do. And so what if it breaks my heart?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Too Rich Already

I am too rich already, for my eyes
Mint gold...

--Mervyn Peake

Mervyn Peake's grotesquerie has been dwelling in my heart, the last couple days. I don't think it has anything to do with horror or revulsion: it has to do with loving things as they are.

It is the real bodies that claim my attention and my devotion, and the extravagances that time puts on them are what I love above all: the crusted, twisted, hammer-toed feet; the marbled muscle-and-fat purses of the inner thighs, the jowls that give you purchase to stretch the facial tissue. What do I want with twenty-year-olds, their perfect bodies, their fluid joints, their bland, uncharactered perfection? Give me bodies that have suffered, that have fought with the world. Give me pouchy, knobbly bellies, hips that lock, arms that can't rise above the shoulder line. Give me scars, mutilations, edemas, hernias, mastectomies. I want a book that's been well read, with scribbles in the margins and tattered pages. I want an old house that has settled, that has yawed and twisted, that has been loved by the uncritical eyes of five-year-olds for generations.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Camassia Preserve

The shallow soils of this rocky plateau support wet meadows, Oregon white oak-madrone woodlands, vernal and permanent ponds, and even a stand of quaking aspen.

Strange skies, peeling
like the bark of a madrone;
poison oak gleaming like
fire reflected in brass;
oak galls nest in
last year's leaves.
Grasshoppers cock
and spring, as I pass;
drawing the straight lines
of a pattern I'm too dull to grasp.

I find my son
at the brink of the dell,
sitting on the bare gray stone.
Below is a firepit,
unsanctioned, no doubt.
For a moment evening
takes my imagination, and I see
the restless teenagers,
the flaring light, the dares;
they know this place is sacred
but no one has taught them
what to do with sacred places.
They can only improvise.

But here in the strong
but failing sun
are only blackened rocks;
my son with his long thick hair,
his steady kindness, his
grace; he is indulging us
by going on this walk, but
he cheerfully
makes a virtue of all necessities.
We leave this to you, all
this beauty and confusion.
We're sorry it could not be more,
that we could not hand you
a confident future.

My dear son
we bequeath to you
an evening habit of video games
a nature preserve or two
and this fading autumn sun.

Monday, September 08, 2008


Let the vultures carry scraps
to the bluffs above the river;
Let the fox leave bits of me in the gravel of the creek.
Let drops of my blood fall in the marsh
to engender dragonflies, and small hunting things
that are furtive in the reeds; things that snap suddenly
with toothless jaws. Let my fingers
burrow into rotten stumps
like grubs, and wait their long winter,
to emerge, glistening, long-legged, wrinkle-winged.

Let the dogs fight over the bones
that are left on the dunes,
filch a rib or two from each other, till the game
turns elsewhere. Then the ants will chew them clean,
and the winter sun will turn them
into white splayed branches where
the blown sand pools.