Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Posts from 2011

Some posts I liked from this past year:

Non Credo
Love is the only thing that's real, to me. If I have a path to God, it runs exactly as Dante's did, right through Eros. Nothing else matters, not really.

And anyway, I'm Aaron, not Moses.
The one who stayed behind, the one
who looked after the little ones
and tried to make everyone happy.

Eve of the Living
Outside, an oblique light is scattered by the light rain; the sun is shining, but the sky makes a dark, bruise-colored backdrop. The passers by look at me, their faces lit up as though they were on stage. People always get a kick out of seeing a white-haired man on a bicycle: they smile at me benevolently as I wheel it off the curb and onto the street.

Egg Thieves
Gods are never false. You can hear them
intoning the lines of Polonius:
“... as the night the day
thou canst not then be false to any man.

So there.” And then they hawk and spit,
a bit of April snowfall for a joke.

Advice from the County Extension
Consider the Eater of Hope
How he lingers in the dark threads
of water in the cracks of old concrete

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
or gold enameling, and hidden under that,
only glasswork made by tender hands:
fragile bowls of sky or midnight blue.

Luisa has Accomplished Fifty Today
Luisa has accomplished fifty today:
the age at which, my old professor said,
you don't take shit offa nobody.

What Impends
The woods are more open by the day.
Three croaks from overhead: a raven,
rattling like gravel in an ice cream churn.

The Sockiad
there were socks! A whole wall of socks! No problem. There were two basic kinds, athletic and gentleman's. That was easy. I wanted gentleman's. There were a number of dignified socks, navy and black, with self-effacing patterns: nothing to offend Jeeves' sensibilities. My heart rose. I could do this. Even with a Y-chromosome, I could do this.

Champagne Flutes
My mother had a set of champagne flutes,
very narrow, which fascinated me because
they filled so quickly

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


One of the things I watch for at this age, of course, is the onset of old-man habits. I've noticed one coming on -- slow, dogged preparation. Today rather than hopping into the passenger seat of the car, and hauling my pack onto my lap, I opened the back door and set the pack on the back seat. My patience -- which you might also define as my determination to do things the easy way, regardless of how long it takes -- has been steadily increasing. If it takes that long, well, it just takes that long. I'm not to be hurried or flustered.

Which seems all to the good: it's a combination of a longer view (if my back's a little iffy I'd better coddle it; I have several massages scheduled this week) and of not giving a damn how I appear. "Dashing" is no longer in my repertoire, no matter how I sling my pack around. I'll settle for "comfortable." And if people have to wait five extra seconds for me, well, it won't kill them.

Now, those who know me might observe that I've always had a dogged and deliberate streak, and further that they've never known me to be all that sensitive to the opinions of others. But they wouldn't be quite right about that. Even those of of us who are, as a middle school teacher delicately said of my daughter, "internally motivated,"* have a list of proprietary characteristics we pride ourselves on, and one of mine was swooping in and out of vehicles. It does injure my pride a bit to be observed deliberately loading the car when all I'm doing is going to breakfast. But pride, as I think now, is there to be humbled.

*"Your daughter is internally motivated," observed the teacher. "God yes," I agreed. "She's as internally motivated as a mule."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Choosing Up

A quiet pause here,
between two struggling worlds:
the mountain hidden behind
coarse-plastered walls of cloud,
the river obscured by fog, even
the freeway muted and cottoned and quiet.
Only the crows break through.
The trees tangle
their fingers in strands of cloud
in vain: they're too weak
to pull down the sky.
We are all at a standoff, and as we listen
to the sough of tires on asphalt
we wonder: when he comes at last,
whose side will the new year take?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas Carol

The ghosts do come crowding, at this time of year.
It must be the dim and panicked backspin of the sun,
unable to find its footing, or maybe the long chain of money –
never long enough – jerking to its end,
punching the trachea. Last night your phantom
loaded me with gifts in gentle forgiveness,
and I woke up tearing the sheets with screams.

A response to a morning porch response.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Just the worst time of the year for a journey

Sometimes I want nothing better than the tack and gear of traveling: good old well-worn boots, backpack faded with sun and rain, a steel canteen that was new in 1945. Today or tomorrow is the shortest day of the year. Tonight is the night when we call the sun back. Unless we just want to follow it. What, after all, do we have to offer? We're hardly in a position to bargain.

Sometimes I want to make a numbered list, just for the relief of seeing the numbers appear on the page, each in its place, the reassurance of four coming after three.

Christmas doesn't come like that. It's dangerous, variable, driven by rumor and anxiety. It lies buried somewhere at the far edge of the year, like a landmine. Somewhere else, somewhere far and far beyond, are the pale blue mornings of March and April. It's hardly worth even thinking of, though. For now, there's wax under our fingernails and stray fir needles on the backs of our jackets, and the neighbor's lights reflected in the driveway puddles. There's clouds climbing the ridge and backing off, there's condensation on the windows or frost, depending on which way the thermometer tipped at three this morning.

Butter and sugar crusting over my slowly curing chest: a layer of bone, a layer of muscle, a layer of fat. I wash my hands and wait, wait for the hot water to come. When it does I let it pool in the cup of my palms, soften the connective tissue, loosen the joints.

Okay, I'm ready for the new year to start. Huddled over the sink, I lift my head and see that strange stout man with the twinkly eyes, that Santa Claus, who lives in mirrors these days, with his shirt hanging down over his belly, and a faint puzzlement at the corners of his pursed mouth.

Merry Christmas, old man, whoever you are! Pull yourself together and get to work.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Few Hints on Charitable Giving

This is, in some ways, the perfect time to be down with a cold. Work is mostly a matter of plodding along doing data entry. I don't need to be at my best: I just need to keep my head down and go on typing. Hundreds of gifts to process. Charitable fund-raising is an very seasonal enterprise: I handle more gifts in a week, at this time of year, than I ordinarily handle in a month. Anything that needs special handling causes the work flow to buck and pile up: I feel like Lucy and Ethel on the assembly-line, between Thanksgiving and New Year's. The giving season.

Here's a few hints about how to do charitable giving:

1) Make one big donation to one good organization, rather than a bunch of small ones to a bunch of organizations. Two reasons for this. One is that you minimize the proportion of “handling” – the generation of thank-you letters, data entry, and so forth – so more of your money goes to what you actually want it to go to. The other reason is that you'll get less ask mail. Organizations don't trade the names of people who give larger amounts: they trade the names of the little donors, especially the ones who haven't given recently. (Now, this is the opposite of the rule for advocacy giving. An advocacy group gets a lot of its clout from being able to say they represent a lot of people, so you want to spread your gifts of that sort as thin as possible.)

2) Do a bit of research: at least check the organization's rating on Charity Navigator. If they don't have three or four stars there, you'll want know why not, before you give.

3) Don't staple your check to anything. Just don't. If you don't trust the organization to keep track of your check, you don't trust them enough to give them money.

4) If you have any helpful suggestions about the organization's process? – save them for later. Don't make them between Thanksgiving and New Year's. The whole organization is scrambling, and the last thing they have time for is a closely argued proposal for changing the font on their reply envelopes. It's really, really, just not the time!

5) If you're moved to put a smiley face on the envelope you send back? Or a note saying “keep up the good work!” or “thank you!” – it will be read and it will set a little glow in the heart of the person who opens it. Probably they won't have time to make any special answer, but believe me, it makes a huge difference. It doesn't get tossed unread. It registers.

And – thank you. Thank you. We mean it when we say thank you. You guys are the best.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marginal Notes

I just read a biography of Andrew Jackson, and I'm nearly finished with John S. D. Eisenhower's history of the 1846-1848 war with Mexico. I generally find post-revolutionary American history depressing, and I expected this to be the most depressing period of all: the time when American racism and imperialism was at its rawest and ugliest. But – maybe because my expectations were so low – I've been somewhat pleasantly surprised. Even Jackson comes off better, at a closer view, than I expected.

What I had not taken into account was that American dealings with the Indians and Mexicans had a good deal more to do with Britain and France than I had imagined. I'm so used to thinking of America as a superpower that I was misinterpreting things. England and France were the superpowers of the day, and any time they came into conflict with the United States they started stirring up Indian revolts and looking for ways to nose into North American territories that were under shaky or dubious authority – which meant, usually, ostensibly Mexican territory. The U.S. was looking for security. It's not a glorious motivation, but it's better than simple self-aggrandizement.

The other thing I'm struck by – coming to this history now, and knowing a lot more about military matters than I did when I first formed my impressions – is that the defeat of Mexico, far from being a foregone conclusion, was one of the most astonishing feats in the history of American arms. Virtually all the advantages – of numbers, terrain, matériel, and motive – were with the Mexicans. American artillery was better – they had done their European shopping more scientifically than the Mexicans – but that was about it. By most ordinary reckonings, the Americans should have lost badly. (The Duke of Wellington, in fact, was sure that the war, and in particular Scott's lunge to Mexico City, would end in an American disaster.) It's hard to avoid the conclusion that the American troops, from generals to privates, were simply, in modern-day parlance, much more empowered and self-reliant than the Mexicans.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Empedocles, dear friends, is sick:
Sick of the long fever.

A catch of sulfur in his lungs
And he struggles, retching, to Etna's lip,
On a day when the fires are hot, and
His own elements at war, he comes to look
With longing at the love
Of fire for rock, of rock for fire.

Empedocles, dear friends, is sick:
Sick of the long fever.

Four elements, four only, it's very simple.
And between them only two passions:
Love and strife. See how the dandelion
Loves the earth, and how his seed
Strives to leave it: nothing else is needed
To explain the motion of our souls.

Empedocles, dear friends, is sick:
Sick of the long fever.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Aggressive Debridement

“Aggressive debridement” was recommended by the only good study I could find, and I paused on the word “debridement.” Both prefix and suffix pointed to a French origin. Free association fetched up “bride,” but that's a good Old English word, and although I could imagine “debridement” developing from that – divorce is not too far-fetched a metaphor for detaching dead or diseased tissue from living tissue – I didn't think it likely. Further association brought me to “debris,” which seemed far likelier, but I couldn't imagine the phonological history that would invent a 'd' out of thin air. At that point I resorted to the online etymological dictionary.

It turned out to have a Germanic root after all, but it's the root that gave us “bridle”: a word that French and English horse-people have shared since long before the Conquest. French débrider meant literally “to unbridle,” which is not a first very intuitive, but débrider eventually became the word for taking all the tack off a horse: at which point the imagery becomes quite exact and satisfying. Most horse tack is in fact dead tissue – leather – which you take off to the relief of the living flesh. To 18th and 19th Century surgeons, who were as familiar with saddle horses as we are with automobiles, the metaphor would have sprung easily to mind.

So I could go back to filing down that ugly toenail. The universe was intelligible, after all.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Coffee Bubbles, Teeth, Aengus

A cluster of a dozen bubbles, about the size of those little circles that like to float above Scandinavian vowels, floats in my coffee cup. One of the bubbles pops, and the other bubbles immediately close ranks, huddling together to reassure each other in their grief. I spend a while trying to figure out the physics of this, but I've never studied fluid dynamics – I don't even really understand why the bubbles form in the first place, let alone why they huddle – and I give it up.

The mathematics governing such things must be very complex. And yet, given how long we can watch them – waterfalls, cream swirling into coffee, the switchbacks of water droplets running down a wet window – I suspect that our unconscious minds must be able to almost grasp it: we're drawn to these things as we are drawn to what we almost, but can't quite, predict. As we are to a good story. A story fascinates us if we can almost, but not quite, predict its outcome: every plot turn makes you think: “of course! I could have guessed that, it had to happen!” at the same time as you know: actually, “I wouldn't have guessed that in a thousand years: it's only in hindsight that its inevitability is clear.”

But still, there some understanding of how things must be. Something snaps shut with a satisfying click.

The birch trees are pale yellow, and their peeling white and black bark gleams behind the strands of leaves, like eyes behind a teenager's hair. I am too cold with my coat off, too warm with it on: I settle for wearing it like a cape.

December. We met the neighbor whose back yard meets ours: she was all in black, black pants, black sweater, black parka, black mittens, and she looked very slight, as though she might blow away in a strong wind. Her teeth were pleasingly crooked, stitched in every which way: I wanted to draw them. She's looking after the place for her brother and his wife, who will be back in the spring. They have a poetry board in the front yard: the weathered poem in it is Yeats's Wandering Aengus:

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Remember's better to understand than to be understood. Ask again.

Monday, December 05, 2011

German Radio

Duck under the awning, sprinkled black with mildew
listen to the rustling patter of six-legged, hurried things,
nurse your sore, string-wound hands against your chest.

Breathe the dust of rotting canvas, taste
the brown of sugar and the red of ketchup, grope
in the sudden dimness for German instruments

that can't ever be deceived. Here,
where each transistor is its own heavy resistance, here
set the tuning band to seek, here:

put yourself in the sway of blond and delicate boys
who dreamed a mastery of circuits when you still clutched
a pistol and a plastic tomahawk.

Friday, December 02, 2011


What strikes me immediately, viewing his photo, is that, at even seven years old, he is already irredeemable. He sits under the Christmas tree, having wrapped himself up – swaddled himself, really – in a red bathrobe. He is hunched over his crossed legs and studying something. The openness and wide eyes expected of a child at Christmas are conspicuously absent. He is disappointing everyone by his inwardness. He has already had too much, and wants to hide: he hides inside his robe, inside his pajamas, inside his body. The way he hunches includes whatever he is poring over – it's almost certainly a book – decisively excludes everything else. He will spend his life finding, or building, protected spaces to inhabit.

And yet, on the contrary, as a corrective, or a corollary, he loves the wind and the open spaces, at least when he's alone. He doesn't learn to be afraid of heights until young adulthood. He turns around, having climbed up to a ledge on Oregon's Mt Washington, and the land hundreds of feet below swoops and turns bizarrely. He is fascinated and horrified. Now he knows what ordinary people feel like, why they're so silly and cautious on cliffs and bridges and rooftops. But he also knows that he'll never be fearless again: and he never is.

He is in the first grade, and he is in love with a little blonde girl named Susan. He watches her gravely. He never bothers her. He looks her up in the phone book and finds her address. Then he looks up the address on the city map and thinks he could find it, maybe. He sets out one afternoon. No plan in mind: he just wants to see her house. He is so normally unenterprising that when his father, driving home from work, discovers him, a few blocks from home, he's astonished. He pulls over. The boy climbs into the car, defeated.

“What are you doing here?” asks his father.

“Walking,” says the boy. He never says more than that. His father drives him home, and he never tries it again. But he longs for Susan, with an intensity that never really makes sense. He never tries to make it make sense. He's learned, by now, that all the really important things can't be made sense of and can't be spoken.

Not aloud. But there's one secret exception: there are books and maps. No living person can tell him anything he wants to know. There's no way to talk about Susan, or about the wind, so that anyone will understand it. But there are hints, sometimes, in books. And there are maps of places he has never been, with names he can read, but can't say. He searches maps obsessively, preparing as best he can for the voyages he may have to make, and any book in a language he can't read transfixes him. When he finally gets to take a language class – it's not till he's eight or nine – he devours it. The truth about Susan and the wind might be written down in Spanish: there's no telling. Wherever it is, it will be in someplace odd and neglected. He studies codes and ciphers and secret writing.

Susan has vanished: she's replaced by Julie in the second grade, and then Dottie in the third. He and Dottie actually sit on the swings together and talk, talk about all the things they read about. He wants to give Dottie a ring. He wants to write to her in some secret writing, some cipher. But she vanishes too, when he moves to Springfield, and acquires a no-nonsense stepfather. Everything is a jumble and a mess, after that. Some orderly progression was interrupted there, and never resumed.

He stands at the freeway entrance from Moses Lake, Washington, his patched jeans faded to a pale blue, his long blond hair blowing in the desert wind. Billy sits dejectedly among the packs. When a car goes by, they both stick their arms out, thumbs poking up. Billy thinks it doesn't matter if they stand up or not, and they've been there four hours already. But Dale will only sit down if there's no car in sight.

A knock on the door of the Mexican hotel room. They both giggle. It's her friend, the dancer, the one who reportedly goes on to make blue movies a few years later.

“Are you guys okay in there?”

“We're fine,” chirrups the girl.

“We don't want any pregnancies here,” warns her friend, who believes in getting down to brass tacks.

“We're being careful,” says the girl. And they are. They're just touching each other. He's amazed and grateful. He's far too young for her. His heart is skidding like a jet ski over choppy water. It's twilight.

She knows Spanish. When the Mexican guys croon dirty things to the tourist girl who won't understand it, she spits, “chinga tu madre,” and they veer off, startled. He knows she won't want to know him when they get back to the States. And anyway, she'll be hundreds of miles away. She's tipsy now: and she's just had a soft spot for the chuckleheaded little brother of her friend's friend from the start, and she's been amused by his obvious, undemanding crush on her. And they're leaving Guadalajara tomorrow, going their separate ways. What the hell.

The wallpaper is a dim blue-green, and he'll remember the deep peace of that room, the peace of being accepted, the pulsing warmth welcoming his fingers, forever.

Up on the ridge, where we are now, at least a few stars win out over the ambient light of Portland: Vega has been appearing in the early evening, against all odds, falling westward, telling me that I have not blown all my chances, that I'm still, somehow, blessed; that it's still my job to carry the chalice to the stone. This business of bearing sacred blood becomes more mysterious, not less, as time goes on. Whatever it depends on, it's not anything I'm accustomed to calling “me.”

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Stopgap Job

It was my first staff meeting at the Foundation, maybe five years ago. I was going to be on display for the first time in my new job. I loved all the people I had met so far, and Faith, my new boss, had coached me thoroughly. I was to present the weekly fund-raising report, and make a few comments on the numbers (which she shamelessly supplied to me: this was not, apparently, regarded as cheating on my homework). Despite my nervousness in groups, I was feeling reasonably competent. I had, after all, a piece of paper to refer to, with good numbers on it: how far wrong could I go?

But before the reports, according to our agenda, we were to go around the table and each tell our good news, our accomplishments last week, and what we were going to do this week. I eyed that a little distrustfully. What about bad news? What about failures?

As it happened, my turn came early. I made a few wry, diffident remarks, highlighting my confusion and my obstacles; the unexpected difficulties of my first week, and how Faith had spent much of her time rescuing me from one pitfall or another. I was not far into this before I became aware that I was out of line. Merris, my grand-boss, was viewing me with concern. Faith wore a rather desperately encouraging smile, like a mom watching her seven-year-old blowing his lines in the school play. What was it? How had I blundered? I quickly wound up. There was a tiny, deadly silence, quickly broken by encouraging noises, and we went on to the next person. I was rattled, but the fund-raising report, later, seemed to go fine.

I didn't take me long to figure out that I had struck a huge difference in working cultures. My behavior would have been unremarkable at IBM. That was how programmers, and particularly QA guys, talked. We lived in a world in which everything goes wrong. We were detail-oriented, which generally means a defensive style, focused on avoiding catastrophe. To watch us slouch into a meeting, and mumblingly describe our last week, you would think that nothing whatever had been done, and that the best anyone could say was that disaster had, remarkably, been averted once again. You would never have guessed that some of these people were men and women who had had their doctorates in mathematics from MIT in hand at age 26, and strings of published papers in distinguished computer science journals; you would never have guessed that we were proud as Lucifer of being on a crack team doing groundbreaking work in software. You would have been reminded of nothing so much as of a bunch of bored teenaged boys sulking their way through a family meeting. None of us wanted to be there: we wanted to be at our computers, solving problems.

The contrast with the fund-raising specialists at the Foundation was almost comical. They swept into the meeting room, chattering and bubbling with energy. No one ever sat back in her chair. Not a lounging figure to be seen. All of them were bolt upright, sitting on the edges of their chairs, bright and alert as a bunch of meerkats. And I heard the word “fabulous” more in that first meeting than I had heard it in all my twelve years as a software engineer. Meetings were fabulous. Phone calls were fabulous. Donors were fabulous.

I gradually became acclimated and learned to translate. I had to recalibrate. “Fabulous” meant, roughly, “good,” or “good enough.” The absence of “fabulous” meant “possibly a problem,” and the (very rarely admitted) “difficult” meant “total screw-up.”

I would have rolled my eyes at this, except for one thing. For the first time in my life, I was fabulous.

I liked being fabulous. In fact, I loved being fabulous. And, though I blush to admit it, I've worked twice as hard, and gotten twice at much done, at the Foundation than I ever did at IBM.

I have never worked in such a functional organization. It's small, for one thing: just five full time people and three or four part time people. We get through an incredible amount of high quality work, with such a tiny crew. I'm not aware of any friction or unhappiness between any two people: and I don't think I've ever worked any other place I could say that. When a problem surfaces, the last thing anyone cares about is whose fault it is: beyond making sure the same kind of thing doesn't happen again, nobody has the slightest interest in that. What we do with problems is solve them. What we do with work is get it done.

I took the job as a stopgap, half-time work to keep some money coming in until my massage practice grew large enough. Now I plan to stay as long as they have me. A man would be a fool to walk away from a work environment this – well, what else can I say? – this fabulous.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Walking to the store. Five seagulls wheeling, like vultures, over the car lot by 82nd and Burnside. They stay there as I walk under and beyond them. Is there something on the ground that I can't see? Or just an arbitrary gathering spot? Two more seem to be thinking about joining them, but veer off south.

Intense joy suffuses me, along with a sly intimation of triumph. Today the washer and dryer are hooked up: the last daily system of the household is in place. I begin to feel we've pulled it off. One of the most difficult feats of war: retreat in the presence of the enemy. We're installed in the new house, and all systems are go, and I never interrupted either of my jobs, or even much of my daily writing routine. I feel like Joe Johnston must have felt, giving the Sherman the slip yet again, leaving the disgusted Northerners to discover, a day or two later, the emplacements of black-painted logs and scarecrow sentries that had been holding them back.

I walk into the store and buy celebratory ice cream. On my way back, a jaunty crow promenades along the mansard roof of a gas station, pitch black against the throbbing white sky. I give him a solemn salute. You and me, brother. Nobody gave either of us permission. We're not asking for it, either.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Western Meadowlark

Here we have
the western meadowlark: he haunts
the wind-rippled pools of grass between

the heavy hooded cedars and the firs,
where the scars of Indian-set fires
have faded to weed and lupine.

But I heard him first in a trash field
where rolls of barbed wire fence
dripped rust onto abandoned concrete walls;

I was alone, shut out, fleeing real
or imagined injuries, but I stopped:
shocked, appalled, and grateful,

that cowering in some
industrial parody of “a dip or depression
such as a cow footprint”

and fleeing persecution
far more systematic than mine,
he would still bring his flute out of his coat,

and play for himself, for his two wives,
and even for his enemy.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Couple Notes on OWS

Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

For most of human existence, warfare has been a matter of bringing two mobs within hailing distance of each other, engaging in various ritual shows of intimidation, throwing some things at each other, and finally a few bold individuals making dashes at each other and exchanging a few blows with club or spear. This goes on until one side or the other panics and runs away. That's how warfare has usually been practiced, for millennia. Grimly standing in one place and murdering each other for hours at a time was invented within historical times, by those endlessly inventive people, the ancient Greeks. It's not how our species has usually done it.

Perhaps I bear that too much in mind when I watch protests and footage of protests. I don't really get the concept of “peaceful protest.” It looks like warfare, to me. It feels like warfare. I hate it, all of it, all the time, even when in theory I approve of it.

I'm deeply grateful to the Occupy movement for bringing to the fore issues that should have been front and center for a generation. And I was as shocked as anyone by the images coming from UC Davis. And yes, I have had the revenge fantasies too, of forcing open that police lieutenant's mouth and eyes and spraying his face with stuff that burns ten times more than habanero peppers. I have them so insistently that I'm spending a fair amount of my mental energy setting them aside. But I still have a nagging sense that it's a bit disingenuous to pretend that the whole point of these protests has not been to provoke just such an outrage. The point wasn't to have a camp out. The point was to make the violence beneath everyday economic relationships visible.

We tend to think of defaulting on debts as a failure, as a breakdown of the system. In fact, default is an integral part of any financial system. If lenders can't lose their money, they have no reason to evaluate credit. They'll loan money to people who probably can't pay it back, which results either in speculative bubbles – the ruinous housing bubble we've just experienced is only the last in a series that we've seen, and we have not yet put anything in place to prevent more from happening – or in perpetual debt.

If people can't legally default – as is the case with student debt now – they will be reduced to debt peonage. A gentle form of it, sure, but an average graduate, carrying forty thousand dollars of debt, with occasional minimum wage work his only prospect, has no reason to think he will ever be free of debt. He won't be thrown into prison, but he will never own real property. He will never be a stakeholder. If such a person does not become a radical enemy of the existing order of things, it will only be because he's easily hoodwinked or morbidly given to self-blame.

We need to allow these people what we have traditionally allowed to everyone – the opportunity to go bankrupt and start over. The troubles we have seen recently are only the beginning, if we don't give these young people some path to achieving independence. It may be true that they should never have incurred this debt – in fact, it is true – but it's also true that virtually every authority they encountered encouraged them to do it, from their government to their parents to their academic advisers and professors. No one intended to cheat them: but they have been cheated, and they know it.

See John Keegan's History of Warfare for the Greek innovation in warfare. For debt, I'm drawing (as so often these days) on David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 years.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Our Preposterous Tribe

Up the roaring sidewalk came a rush of golden leaves
lit from behind by the headlights of the train.
They whirled up above my head, and I thought
you might be coming with them. You might.

Life comes slow to the leaves,
and leaves quick: gold flares and flinches
like finches of leaf, and – barely turned –
the flakes are torn down by the rain again.

we are the last of our
preposterous tribe, and our little knobs of nipples
bob below our ribs. Our ripples of hair
grow in unseemly tufts, unshaven:

our ruffs of red-streaked dye only fluff
the rufous heads of rusted locomotives; bones
poke through our septums like bleached goatees.
Yet we drum, with wrinkled fingers, on

hollow-stomached gourds – we revel in sounds
too low for profane ears to hear: we call to each other
with throbbing wooden throats,
and listen to cliffs for an echo.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Champagne Flutes

My mother had a set of champagne flutes,
very narrow, which fascinated me because
they filled so quickly, especially

if you filled them with red wine,
which you're not supposed to do, but
if you do they fill up red and

almost instantly,
because they are so narrow, and
the wine is so red. Anger

is like that.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Morning, the small rain down-raining: I look down the line of cars, stopped at the light, and see all their windshield wipers rubbing against each other like the legs of flies.

I think of copper and gold, of the Freeport mines in Papua, and feel that old bone-ache, the wish that we could just stop, just for a moment. Stop slave driving and poisoning and strutting about thumping our chests, and maybe go for a walk in the woods instead. It's not as if any of us are here for very long.

Last night the flustered trees made desperate grabs at the power lines, while their yellow leaves swirled around them; they moaned and hissed. Somewhere the wind caught something just right, and it piped and buzzed like someone learning to play the flute. But it was not nearly so cold as the night before.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Chinook Landing, yesterday. We thought we'd walk along the river, in the fog, till the predicted rain drove us home. But as we walked along the green-turfed escarpment the fog burned thin: first the islands and then the Washington shore appeared, gold and orange and pale green. And then the sky turned blue and the fog disappeared, except for a watercolor smudging around every distance. One of the most beautiful days I've ever seen on the river. The pale yellow leaves of huge cottonwoods fluttered above us. Out on the piers, a great blue heron hunched, motionless, in his gray coat: and on the furthest pier, a cormorant, rising a little to shake out his wings. Three buffleheads flickered rapidly past and skidded to a landing on the water. So unexpected, this little protected cove of time.

What I didn't say last time, is that the day before, Alan had decided to stay on as a renter at Ashley's, at least for a few months. So we find our nest emptied. That, no doubt, is what prompted my words about having outlived my purposes. But this morning he joined me at Tom's, and we sat here companionably, while I wrote and he went through his anatomy flashcards.

Martha and I have been saddened somewhat, that college has not been for our kids what it was for us – a liberation, an escape into a larger world of dizzying ideas and amazing people – but on the other hand, our kids are still here, tied into the community they grew up in, with no intention of vanishing into a new life. This is maybe a more humane model. They seem to have no desire to escape or to cut ties. Probably a good thing, even if it does startle us. I just wish their economic prospects looked a little brighter. Thirty years ago, intelligent industrious well-educated kids like them were shoo-ins to good jobs. Now – who knows? But in any case, we will all stick together and muddle through.

No idyllic watercolor river scenes today: the rain is steady and the light is reluctant. Cars swish endlessly by, kicking up little bow waves, and everything that overhangs is dribbling.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mornings on Concrete

The first thing I see, when I wake, is the loom of the table saw, and a jumble of construction materials. The plastic sheeting we took off the bedcovers last night festoons the boxes of tools, clusters of lamps, plastic drawers full of tape, screwdrivers, WD-40, and nails: piles surround us on all sides. There's an invisible sparkle to the dimness, motes of sawdust just waiting for the sun to demonstrate their existence. We're living now in a single room, a makeshift dump of makeshifts, exiled from our exile. The floor guys are doing their stuff. They've prepped the floors, ground and sanded them. They'll start putting on coats of finish later today. In the meantime, we're sleeping in what used to be the garage, but was added on to the house at some point. First thing we did when we got the house was tear the rotting carpet out of here. So we're down to the concrete slab, and we're in a little nest on it. Everything we'd moved into the house is now moved into here. “I'm hoping,” I said last night, as I looked around the cluttered space, “that we've come to the low point of 'Occupy 86th Avenue.'”

But I can step to the sun room, on concrete still dusty despite repeated cleanings, and look up through the skylights to see the new morning, and look out at the back yard – a space considerably smaller than our current bedroom. English Ivy and kiwi writhe upwards out of sight, climbing the evergreen hedge. The enormous kiwi leaves (is it really kiwi? That's what someone said) have turned color, and hang like signal pennants. England expects that every man will do his duty, perhaps, or Engage the enemy more closely.

It's not raining just now: the sky is white and far away.

I'm both happy and overwhelmingly sad: the sense of having outlived all my purposes is strong on me, this morning. I'll go into work for a bit, before anyone shows up, and then come back to take Martha out for breakfast before the workmen arrive. And maybe write a little update blog post there at Tom's, who knows?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

That Hippie Free School, and the Rigid Position

I strongly advise reading the whole comment thread to the previous post. Lots of wonderful thoughtful stuff.

This made me laugh: Or, you could just become gay. Solves the "ugly sex" problem! Creates others ... from Jarrett.

During the the years at my boarding school -- what I fondly refer to as "my hippie free school" -- one of the many wonderful things that happened to me was encountering openly gay men. That was not so common, in the early 70s, as it is now. I barely knew homosexuals existed: I certainly had no clue that I actually knew any of them.

But my room mate was gay, and our school was one of the few safe places in Spokane, Washington, at the time. Gay boys and men were in the house a lot. So it was my very good fortune to meet the people before I met the stereotypes. There were, of course, people I liked and people I didn't. But I was on my home ground, surrounded by friends, so I felt entirely safe. I could absorb the culture without any fear of getting lost in it; I could flirt without committing myself to any identity.

My orientation was obvious to me. I liked girls. I've always liked girls. The supposed latency period that Freud mentions, when boys purport not to like girls? I skipped that. There has never been a time in my life, since first grade, when I haven't had a serious crush on someone female. I am, as an old friend of mine once put it (in mild exasperation), "heterosexual to a fault."

So the wonderfulness of being around gay men had nothing to do with discovering my orientation. It had to do with being an object of admiration. I was a weird kid, in middle school. A dork. I read books all the time. My hair was too long. I am congenitally incapable of following a party line, any party line: I was out of place even among the weird kids and the outcasts. Being associated with me in any way was a social death sentence.

And then -- there I was at my hippie free school, fourteen years old, plump and inarticulate, with gorgeous flowing blond hair -- and I was the toast of the town. People admired me. They sought me out and chatted me up.

I blossomed. I suddenly found that I could talk. One of the longstanding reasons for my stumbling, almost stammering speech, was that I always dumbed it down. You didn't want to be using fancy words, if you were a teenager in Springfield, Oregon. You didn't want to let a word such as "inadvertent" or "malevolent" fall from your lips. You didn't want to get too clever.

But among these people, clever was a good thing. Words came pouring out of my mouth. I had, it turned out, lots and lots to say. (No doubt much of it was tiresome, but much is forgiven in a glowing teenager.) My hands came to life: I could gesture. I could throw my head back and laugh. I could unlock my wrists and hips and ribs, and let them sway. I could brush my hair out of my face, rapidly or languidly. My words and my body, for the first time, were free. The experience was transformative. I no longer had to hold myself like R. Crumb's Whiteman. I could be someone else.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Ugly Sex

Lama Michael is not often wrong, so I recall vividly the times he was. One time he was speaking about seeing someone after many years of absence, and how what was disturbing about it is that people change, and we're not willing to let that happen.

He was so wrong about that. What's uncanny about seeing someone after many years of absence is how relentlessly the same they are, how often you are rocked by it. “Oh yes! He always did tilt his head that way, when he was thinking. How could I have forgotten?”

I'm down with the illusion of the self, down with the fact that whatever lives on, body and memory die. But the tenacity of the self, in this life, is no delusion. More of a tragedy.

Burdens of sky, burdens of water.

This is not much of a poem, and I doubt anything can be made of it, but I've been mulling the topic over, the last few days. What does it mean to boys, growing up as the ugly sex, the grotesque sex, the repulsive sex? And what would it be like to grow up some other way? I called this "The Ugly Sex":

We are the ugly sex. Forever outside.
The joke of a naked woman
is that you want to see her:
the joke of a naked man is that you don't.
We are monsters crouching in the yew,
listening to the harps inside the hall.

Are we in the palace, or are we not?
Plates of shivering meringue
move on unseen hands:
we frighten girls witless
by the mere in-drifting
thought of our reptilian flesh.

It's all true: that we are brutal,
half-tamed, dazed and wounded beasts
you can't trust for a minute: also true
that we wander in our gilded halls
unable to take form, longing to be seen,
knowing that one glimpse of us
would send our lovers shrieking into hell.

It's a tangential response to Marly's Psyche, of course: at the heart of that myth is the simultaneous wonderfulness and repulsiveness of men. Which are we? Could you creep in with a lamp by night and discover the truth? Maybe you could, but what would be the price of knowing?

I wrote that in response to these lines of Marly's, the end of Psyche's account of her first night with Eros:

I lay within a nest of shattered twigs.
A shape with wings was sobbing on my breast,
Some wall between us battered down to dust.
I touched the face invisible to me.
His serpent pinions beat convulsively.

Marly Youmans, Throne of Psyche

But I think I'm too trapped in the male experience, just now, to receive this on its own terms. How ghostlike the male experience is! How we wander in our palaces, supposedly masters, but at the price of being unable to appear in our own shape! That's the myth of Tolkien's Ring, of course: oh yes, you can have power, all the power you want – but only at the price of not being able to appear as yourself. You can claim your power or you can appear with your own face, but you can't do both.

The sun gleaming on the endless, endless miles of the North Pacific.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Sockiad

Socks, you understand, are a business investment for me. I take them seriously. I do in-home massage, and many of the homes I work in are shoeless: the first thing you do, when you come into the entryway, is take off your shoes. So there your socks are, part of your public work ensemble. And when you begin work – as every massage therapist knows – all your client can see, through that little hole in the face cradle, is your feet, as you move about. Your feet are very much on display. Your clients gaze at them and think about them. You don't want holey, ratty socks. You want something that looks sharp.

Being male, I'd never bought socks. I didn't really know where socks came from. For all I knew, wives and mothers plucked them from the secret potted sock trees in women's restrooms in shopping malls, when they fruited in November, and brought them home as auxiliary Christmas gifts. But reason told me this was unlikely, in late capitalist America. Anything that can be commercialized has been commercialized. They must be bought and sold on the open market.

So – I thought – how hard can buying socks be? They're pretty simple garments. I should be able to nip into any clothing store and come out with socks. I didn't really believe that women have innate clothes-acquiring abilities that men are incapable of learning. And I really did need socks.

So I went into one of the Fred Meyers that still sells clothes, and cautiously found my way to menswear. Not that hard, and I managed it unobserved. And there were socks! A whole wall of socks! No problem. There were two basic kinds, athletic and gentleman's. That was easy. I wanted gentleman's. There were a number of dignified socks, navy and black, with self-effacing patterns: nothing to offend Jeeves' sensibilities. My heart rose. I could do this. Even with a Y-chromosome, I could do this.

All I had to do was find the right size. There were a number of different brands and prices, an incredible variety, in fact. It was the motherload of socks. So... I started examining them more closely. This pair, with a tasteful, I suppose argyle pattern, what size were they? Well, too big for me, by an inch or two, clearly. I have smallish feet. Not freakishly small ones, just small. Size 8 or 9, in shoes. I puzzled over the sock package for a while. Eventually, with the aid of my reading glasses, I discovered the size. They claimed that these socks would fit shoe sizes from 6 to 12 ½.

Now even I, hampered as I am with a Y chromosome, knew that was silly. A size 6 shoe is three inches shorter than a size 12 ½. There must be some mistake. This must be a foreign brand of sock, made in some racially homogenous, large-footed land. I needed a domestic sock. So I moved on down the rows to another brand. These were too big too. I squinted at the sizing. 6 to 12 ½. Weird.

Bottom left: 6 to 12 ½. Top right: 6 to 12 ½. Random sampling, different brands, different spots: 6 to 12 1/2. I gradually became convinced of it: this entire wall consisted of socks that were exactly the same size. To wit, an inch and a half too big for me. And as I pored over the socks, a new conviction was borne in upon me. Despite the brands and patterns, every single sock on this wall was the same sock. Every one. One mind and hand had designed the machines on which all of them were made. One sock to rule them all...

I was shaken, and my confidence that this was something the gender-impaired could do began to ebb. Was there really only one men's sock produced in the world? Surely not. Maybe Fred Meyer was just the wrong place to look for socks. Or maybe – maybe socks would shrink? That seemed possible. Anyway, to go without buying something would be to admit defeat. I chose a package, more or less at random, and fled to the cashier. I'd wash them and try them out.

Well. They were, of course, an inch and a half too long, even after washing. Not a total loss, because they'd fit my son. But clearly I'd gone to the wrong place. For different sized socks, one would have to go upmarket. I'd go to Macy's next time.

Macy's. Past the glittery lights, a little loopy, within moments, from the perfumes. Second floor. Whoa! A young man with a predatory mien, looking to be about fourteen, short hair slicked up, all in black, wearing a badge... a store clerk! I dive into a further aisle and work my way around. I seem to have lost him.

Here at the heart of menswear is, again, a treasure house of socks. But I'm not the naïve, trusting shopper I was yesterday. I take to sampling right away. 6 to 12 ½. 6 to 12 ½. I recognize this sock now, in all its brand-names and all its muted patterns. It's the same damn sock.

But in my zeal I've forgotten my perimeter defenses. Damn! The young man has found me, and I'm trapped against the sock wall.

“Can I help you?”

Well, no, obviously. If your mother works here, she might help me. I may have a Y chromosome, but I know that the only person who can help me is a store lady, someone who's been here 30 years and has seen the socks come and go like the tides. But what the hell.

“I'm looking for socks, but these are all too big for me.” He squints at the back of the package. “It says shoe size 6 to 12 ½,” I concede, "and I'm right in that range, but these are too big. Do you have smaller sizes?”

Sizes? I might have been speaking a foreign language. The boy took a stab at restoring rational discourse. “Were you looking for Polo socks?”

What? Oh, the brand. The package we were looking at did, indeed, say “Polo” on it. “Oh, I don't care who makes them,” I said cheerfully. “I don't get out on my pony much.” The boy smiled weakly, recognizing from the tone that I believed myself to have said something humorous. He backed away a little bit.

“Would there be a smaller size of socks?,” I asked, determined to be as plain as I could. “These are all the same sock. I need something smaller.”

The boy made a show of looking about, but we had already lost all confidence in each other, and clearly the sooner the interaction ended, the happier we both would be. “I'll just have a look around, then!” I said, and he fled. Moments later, I fled as well, and managed to get out of the building, to the blessed outside, unperfumed air, which I gulped as my heart rate and blood pressure returned to normal.

That evening, I consulted with Martha. I still intended to buy socks. My blood was up. I'd give it a rest for a day or two, maybe, though. “I'm thinking maybe boys' socks? Or women's? Lots of women have feet my size. But the boys' are almost all athletic.”

Martha frowned. “Maybe ladies' trouser socks,” she mused. That second X chromosome kicking in and doing its stuff.

The following evening, I came home and found on the bed several pairs of socks to be tried. Ladies' trouser socks, indeed: but while they fitted the foot, they threatened to strangle my calves, which are a bit thick from bicycling. No. But the last sock: ugly as hell. It had “Dr Scholls” printed in big white letters on the soles, but that was okay. The visible body of the sock, the foot, was presentable. The ugliness was a weird mesh that ran up the calves. But they fit! And they were comfortable! And the ugly part was hidden under my jeans.

“What are these?” I asked. “I've seen something like them before.”

“Well,” said Martha, a little embarrassed. “They're, you know, special socks. I mean, they're diabetic-old-lady socks. I have to admit it makes me feel a little weird to know you're wearing them.”

Of course! I knew they had reminded me of hairnets. But they fit.

“Could you get some more for me?” I asked, humbly.

Thursday, November 03, 2011


. . . when I spoke, the rooms replied with words
That seemed to bear the accent-mark of joy.
Enchanted hands appeared with olives, wine,
And plates of dusky fruit like none I'd seen.

Marly Youmans, Throne of Psyche

And so. Tricky and dangerous, to speak of plenitude,
when sober industrious folk are starving in the cold,
blaming themselves for rules broken or kept –

still we must, because there it is, the sweet unfolding,
of gifts unknown, undreamed of, the platters overflowing;
scented baths and servants nested in their shells,

awakening to service as butterflies
awaken to the sky, ready with mouth and fingers.
To say I did not earn this is to speak

a language they have never learned: their wide dark eyes
open into nights far deeper, and they rise from seas
that beat in arteries of Earth. Where they took shape

nickel and iron spurt like mercury.
There is nothing more dangerous than to receive
such gifts. Except refusing them.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


. . . my sisters married parched old kings
To give my father fine alliances;
I scaled the tree and heard an oracle
Foretell I would not bear a fate like theirs.

– Marly Youmans, The Throne of Psyche


All the girls, driven early to choose
between old men and monsters, between
gods in masks and gods in suits of gore:

Could we not for one gold month in summer
declare time out? Say July, July
will be the month of no seductions,

not a marriage, not a grope, no sly
or brutal innuendo. Just a month
for children to be children, thirty days

to play and wonder, look up at the sky
and see no vicious swans: see no
slack-faced bulls swimming the bloody sea?


No delays. We stumble in our haste
to pitch our evils, wounded and gasping,
in the fresh-earthed mounds where Venus

was rumored to be snapped with her new friend,
(unless it was Brigitte or Brittany or Eve)
and Vulcan's agony churned the ground.

No truce, no peace, no amnesty; if you wait
at all the good ones may be gone. We used
to cut an eye-hole in the melon rind

and thrust a dirty finger in its flesh:
waiting for elegant slices took too long.


But this is only always to look backward,
too late, too late, the summer is too late!
And we run backward through the flickering reel

and back before the first red sons
rose glaring in the bloody-fingered east:
we try to say “here, it started here,” but tapes

snap and glitter and run on and on, each crime
turns out more monstrous than the one it spawned,
till only Sin remains, alone and naked,

stitching fig leaves, with a trembling needle,
onto its swollen lips. And still the film runs on.


Somewhere in Ionia faithful servants
restore the lion gate. Women are everywhere,
none of them afraid: the sky has softened

and they talk in quiet voices. The men are asleep,
with smeared faces, bruised into beauty,
the paths of their tears pale, edged with black;

ash-crust is clotted on their eyelashes,
and their beards are stiff with seaweed.
The woman hope that, rescued from the tide,

and spread out thus to dry, perhaps they'll
bleach to some acceptable color,
and wake before the rains.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Sort of Music

“I'd let 'em down easy, let 'em down easy,”
said the man who drove implacably
the cruelest war of the age:
but he wanted his beaten enemies

to go home and start again, build
a new coop for the chickens,
haul the beehives upright, turn
their muddy ground into fields.

What becomes of us now?
The hills are no closer, the sky no further.
The first frost comes
when it always did.

We reach for whatever splinter-hafted
tools are still in reach:
at a distance the banging of a hammer
becomes a sort of music.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Wild Pears

The deer rise high on their hind legs,
reaching for wild pears;

it's not that we do it well, Dr Johnson says,
it's that we do it at all.

I asked, too late, “do you do hugs?” – and you said
“I don't really, but I'm trying to learn” –

but by that time you were in my arms.
Oh, darling, I wish I could rewind,

and revoke the expectation.
I want to love you only and always

as you understand and want to receive it,
as deer receive the wild pears:

the sweetness at the limit,
where reach and grasp are one same thing.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What Impends

The woods are more open by the day.
Three croaks from overhead: a raven,
rattling like gravel in an ice cream churn.

We've moved to the high country
where the power lines cut the sky
into polygons of cloud

too bright for human eyes: where
the stars burn like acetylene,
and loneliness fits over your heart

like the sleeve of a sphygmomanometer.
What impends – what waits – what hangs –
is a noiseless leaning tower of air.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


There are always ruins, she said. I used to think, but not here: not in this raw country. The Indians left no real trace, and our traces, the wounds we've inflicted on the forest, are still open and bleeding. There's nothing calm or elegiac about the trash fields left by clear-cutting.

But I was wrong, though I had to grow to middle age to understand why. For one thing, the Indians did leave traces, and in fact they're still here: they just didn't leave the sort of traces I knew how to see. And for another, with enough practice you can see the present wounds as ancient tumbled temples. The space of years and the paint flaking off the white bones of the statues, the impenetrability of the old carved letters, those are accidents that make it easier to see the futility of ancient hopes. With practice, you can see the stumps and snags and quick-rusting cables the same way. The ambitions are no less forlorn and distant for having moved men yesterday instead of couple thousand years ago.

I traveled in Greece when I was in my early twenties – it was I think on my 22nd birthday that I sprang up a slope spattered with massive stone blocks to the top of the hill of Mycenae – and nothing hit me so hard in the face as a Greek tour guide, in the front of a bus, announcing with pride our entrance into the Forest of Daphne. I craned my neck: I looked everywhere, bewildered. We were swaying through a stand of sparse shrubbery and spindly second-growth pines. It was on my lips to ask, “where is the forest?” when I understood. This was the forest. And yet Greece had forests, real forests, once. And then almost at once we were on the other side of this wretched man's “forest,” driving on to the next wonder.

There are always ruins. When we were moving out of the old house, I drove to the Powell's warehouse, where they buy books in bulk, and brought in box after box of decaying books: yellowed paper, cracking spines. They bought a tenth of them, for a tenth of what I paid for them. The rest, a person could dump into a bin to be sent to hungry libraries in the third world. I dumped them there. All those books. I'm not one of those people who buys books and doesn't read them: I had read all of these, at least once, at some point in the long backward of days. They were supposed to make me wise, or at least knowledgeable. Ha.

After a month of dislocation, a month in which I've ridden my bike maybe twice, my own body is a ruin: I haul myself out of bed with an effort; I use my arms to help heave myself up from a cafe booth. It all goes to wrack so quickly.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Three preceptors have told me three different stories recently, and I consider them as I wash down the little stand – full of construction grime – to make myself a sink for shaving.

One told me: “you are fearless: I have always appreciated that about you.”

And one said, “you are soft,” which others have said of me. They are to be taken as words of praise from Buddhist lips, or from a poet's, I suppose.

And yet another said, “but there's no problem!”

Of course there is a problem, but – I translate – what if the problem is not what I think it is? What if a person with one sweep of the arm cleared the table – books and papers and dishes flying – and simply started over?

I have let so many nets of expectation, so many interpretations of my duty, settle over me; I have developed so many habits of thought and action for fulfilling or evading them, that I can no longer see through it all. They don't just color my world: they make it. But there is a real world out there, a world of red leaves, and shifting sunlight, and ants with ticklish stomachs, that cares nothing for my obligations.

Theodore Roosevelt's uncle was the man who arranged for building and fitting out the Alabama, in England. I never knew that.

Over there, the heads of two Douglas firs stand against an October sky the color of old snow. The trees are an old, tired black: the black of a belt that is fading a little, going a little green. They don't move.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

From a Love Letter

Just memorized this stanza this morning -- this is from memory:
I don't love you because you're good at rhymes
and not because I think you're not-so-dumb,
I don't love you because you make me come
and come and come innumerable times;
and not for your romantic overcoats,
and not because our friends all think I should,
and not because we wouldn't or we would
be at or not be at each other's throats,
and not because your accent thrills my ear --
last night you said not "sever" but "severe,"
but then "severe" describes the act "to sever" --
I love you for no reason whatsoever.
It is so easy to memorize metrical stuff that rhymes: I got this by heart in five minutes, and started graving it in my long-term memory by saying it over as I walked back from Tosi's; just a couple recitals tomorrow and I'll have it forever. It's from "Love Letter" by Gjertrud Schnackenberg, from the early 80's. The whole poem is marvelous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"Opening the World" at St Johns Booksellers

Portlanders: St Johns Booksellers is now carrying Opening the World. Support me and a fabulous local bookstore!

(If you're not in Portland, order it direct from Pindrop.)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tenth Horseman

All day the roar rattles my office window,
the chanting and the drums, the honking
of the horns of supporters safe in cars,
headed for a weekend in the suburbs.

All is horror: your baby faces all alight
and dressed in tattered cotton armor
you think will make you real
when the rubber bullets fly. Oh, go home!

This beast is older than you think,
and he sleeps in your own young blood as well:
if you once wake him well he'll eat you all,
using your own teeth, chewing your own tongues.

Go home and make a peanut butter sandwich.
Find a channel playing Gilligan's Island
or Bewitched. Dream about

some spotty Apollo, some Aphrodite
wearing braces. Do a little algebra homework.
Forget about oppression and justice. Go home.

On empty pavement, two blocks from the march,
drawn up two abreast are nine police
on horseback, still but for the swish

of tails, their plastic visors raised, the horses
visored too, in riot plexiglass.
A strategic reserve, no doubt. Oh please, go home!

The third row was missing a horseman: the third man back
had no one on his right. So they sat
before Agincourt or Crécy, before

Peterloo. Always that one space empty,
held by the phantom dream of order. That's the one:
the one who will panic and begin to shoot.
Oh please, my dears: oh please, go home.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Death Pledges

It seemeth that the cause why it is called mortgage is, for that it is doubtful whether the Feoffor will pay at the day limited such summe or not, & if he doth not pay, then the Land which is put in pledge upon condition for the payment of the money, is taken from him for ever, and so dead to him vpon condition, &c. And if he doth pay the money, then the pledge is dead as to the Tenant, &c. -- Sir Edward Coke
With all due respect to Sir Edward, this is absurd spin and obfuscation. It's called a "death pledge" for the simple reason that someone taking it on knows that he's going to be in debt until he dies. Debt peonage is as old as civilization: it's illuminating to consider,in fact, whether the two terms are not broadly equivalent.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


On the wrong side of a continent
which the origami of my heart
has never learned to fold, or on the shore
of islands whose names made my heart catch, oh!
when I had not traveled and learned
that no country is far and fabled
when you get there, or where the scented oil
gathers my hands and your chest together –

on any of these crumbling banks,
with the cold rain rattling, and summer
just a story to soothe the children –
is it too late
to stop the dapper Mephistopheles,
to refinance my soul, consolidate
its mortgage, amortize the beating
of my under-capitalized heart?

House within house, roof under roof:
oh darling! Where tabs and slots of flesh
are fitted and rocked, where happiness
is sold by weight, because (you know, my dear)
contents may settle – I hear
the splatter of the wind against the shingles,
the push of tiny, restless, chitinous feet –
I feel the waste, the coming-on of war.

Sunday, October 02, 2011


Suddenly, Chopin is the theme of my life. On Friday, my massage downtown was done to his music – I have no idea which pieces, I don't know one from another, but I always recognize him, ignorant as I am: I had an album of his piano music, which was the only classical music I ever played back when it was usually Crosby Stills & Nash, or Simon & Garfunkle, on the record player. (Not the stereo: stereo was beyond my means, back then.) I loved the way the piano wandered, seemingly without direction. I've never been able to view the over-organized authoritarian march of symphonies as real music, however grand it may be: music that knows where it's going before it gets there leaves me cold.

So I stroked the chest of my poor South American exile, who longs for warmth, and thought of Schnackenberg's “Kremlin of Smoke,” about Chopin in exile in Paris, Warsaw falling to the Russians, and Chopin, having no more sense than any other musician, but having the extraordinary sense to simply follow the notes. That's all the sense we need. The only discipline we need. As if that weren't to say: all you have to do is the hardest thing in the world.

And then today, Luisa's poem about the ghost of Chopin rising from a Japanese bed:
However his name is said, its syllables
linger a little: sostenuto, the way water-
drops slide down the glass panes, the way

each prismed surface looks sheathed in another
skin; the way each bud in the garden might be
a heart embalmed, floating in a globe of fluid.
Sunday at Tom's. Coffee. Over there, a glossy girl of Japanese descent is sitting with a Caucasian couple – kindly, dowdy, gray, and stout. She is sparkling and making jokes, and wagging her index finger at both of them: they are rolling their eyes, but glowing with her warmth. They heave themselves at length out of the booth, and she lifts, hummingbird-like, without effort, to accompany them. Sage is right about how all these things converge to a message:
When I nearly knocked myself out in the garage as my brother and I were digging around in the bikes, I found myself on the floor with a pile of toddler toys on top of me. Was this The Universe playing a knock-knock joke where the punch line was my lack of playfulness? I don’t know; but it’s fun to guess.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


. . . fans
open in the underbrush like a hundred
feathered eyes. . . .

Oh yes, there was a time
when the back of my hand could see Alcor,
when my knees could read an optometrist's chart
down to the smallest line.

Great sad watery eyes in my shoulder blades
looked backwards with regret;
my every knuckle was nobbled with eye clusters
that gave me a wicked return
to a table-tennis serve.

My penis's hooded lens, on its flexible neck,
could see around corners, up skirts:
every bit of me was eating up light –
the soles of my feet had a sidelong glance
at the passing ants on the sidewalk,
and my elbows blinked sentimentally
at moonset over the river.

How did I dwindle to this one minor pair,
huddled on their cheekbone ledges,
peering through a shrubbery of eyebrow,
timid as soft-boiled eggs?

I have offended some great hulking sweating
son of a sea god, maybe, dripped hot oil on Cupid,
stolen a pie that was cooling on Pluto's
vaporous window-sill. I took the tags off a mattress,
undertipped at a fancy restaurant. Who knows?
My offenses are in ranks, they march to heaven.

Now my palms are empty flesh, my ankles
are lumps of bone: my forehead is blank
as an unwritten check. Not even a lash
flutters at my wrist. My body is blind,
blind as Homer, blind as Stevie Wonder.
I blunder and I stagger:
just two tiny bulbs for guides.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Back to Plan A

We've been in the new house a couple days. Our original plan was to shore up the foundation, tear off the roof, replace all the rotten wood, and then put it all back together (maybe with the ceiling pushed up to the roof and a couple skylights), and move in. But at some point Plan B took over: do the minimum now – replace the sewer line to the street and upgrade the electrical system – go ahead and move in, and leave the big repairs and renovations for next summer, when we'd have some experience living in the house. There's things you learn about what a house needs for comfortable living that you only know after you've lived in it for a while.

(I suspect Plan B also took root because Martha thought it unwise to keep me under the stress of living without a home kennel for that long: but she hasn't confessed to that yet.)

But yesterday we found a tiny puddle of standing water up under the ceiling of one of the closets, and tearing down a spongy bit of sheetrock revealed some flourishing mold. Mold like that is serious bad news. So last night we moved back to our long-suffering host's house. It's back to plan A.

Really, I'm relieved. I felt we were jumping the gun, that the house wasn't really habitable yet. And moving in before doing all that work – which would require emptying at least large sections of the house – seemed like deliberately doubling our labor. But we're displaced persons again, for a while. Meanwhile, the sewer work and the electrical work go on. I'm happy anyway to be employing people.

The scale of the sewer work has startled me. When the guy described it, as snaking a new pipe through the old sewer line, I was picturing something minimally invasive: laparoscopic sewer surgery. But this is really impressive incisions: trenches ten feet deep, two mounds of earth on the parking strip as tall as I am. There's a shovel like Mike Mulligan's, only gas-powered, and two big trucks, and crowds of wiry brown men in bill caps with worried expressions and moustaches on their faces. I've never initiated so much physical fuss and to-do in all my days. It's very odd to drive up to one of those “road work” signs with a sense of of ownership. This is my road work.

So – dispatches from the field, as events warrant and permit: we're not home yet. xoxo

Monday, September 26, 2011


Black and ragged clouds
try to pull from the struggling feet
of black doug firs, black socks;

an invisible ball bearing
in a plastic maze -- the first blue light --
circles the rim of heaven.

An unexpected whip of rain
cuts the bridge of my nose:
we die in glory if we die today.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Byzantium: the Lady-Friend of the Archeologist

The serpent is inlaid with gold,
all the gold that he can hold;
the dove is rimmed with chrysolite –
she hasn't got a hope of flight.

All across the tessellations
march the figured constellations:
God is pictured there as well,
and Noah, leading apes in hell.

Where Jesus is, I couldn't say,
From a boy he's been this way:
his mother says since he could toddle
he's always been inclined to dawdle.

Late to dinner, late to lunch,
enraptured by a sudden hunch
that bees will talk if treated right –
you'd only need to be polite.

You'll find him squatting in the yard,
both eyes closed, listening hard,
to the golden-flickered hum
of the vespid on his thumb.

she lifts her fingers from the tile,
lit by a wandering, ragged smile,
bringing away the thick prosaic
dust from the eyes of the mosaic:

she believes she's found behind the sky,
of gathered lapis lazuli,
the lines of his suddenly stinging doubt
traced in the ancient workman's grout.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Raven wrote:

“. . . there are things that we can conceive of that are not possible, but there is nothing that is the other way around.” (On the marvelous POEM site, which, alas, requires registration.)

It was not even a main point. You often find people's most deep-seated beliefs this way: not by looking at what they argue about – which are usually the things they are unsure of – but in their throwaway “of course, we all know” remarks.

This is the fundamental divide between me and the community that likes to think of itself as skeptical. I think that statement is false. Not the first part of it, which is clearly true. Of course we can conceive of things that are not possible. Raven's example of Dumbo, an elephant that flies by flapping its ears, is an excellent. Quite conceivable: utterly impossible. No, it's the second part that strikes me as preposterous. “There is nothing that is the other way around,” she says: that is, there is nothing which is possible which we cannot conceive.

Now I suppose, if I were to put her on the spot, she would rapidly backtrack to a more philosophically defensible position: that there is nothing possible which would be inconceivable by a large enough intelligence, or something like that. And discussion would patter away into increasingly abstract and unprofitable realms of theological speculation. I'm not interested in that.

What I'm interested in is what this reveals about the self-identified skeptical mind, which is a staggering confidence in the ability to conceive, or imagine: that there is nothing which we – we, you and I! – Cannot comprehend. It is a faith compared to which belief in ghosts or astrology or a supreme being looks modest and rational. I can only call it grandiose, and in flat defiance of all evidence. I find it charming, deeply attractive, and quite loony.

I know, I know. I've had these conversations, and I'm familiar with the second line of defense, too. If it's not conceivable, we simply have to leave it alone. Wittgenstein said something along those lines: what cannot be put into language must be left in silence. And there's a pat obviousness to this argument which is appealing. But two things. One, I do not believe it, not for a second. Its not what Raven and her community really think. They really think that everything possible is conceivable. For another thing, it is not actually the habit of the scientific mind at all. Banging away at the limits of the conceivable is practically the scientific national sport. If you want to find me an incipient scientist, find me a child of ten who, with all the force of her imagination, tries to conceive of the Earth, to really conceive of it, to feel it in her bones, as a ball flying through space. She fails, of course, but she tries again, and there's a prickle of euphoria and panic as she gets near it. And then she tries more, conceiving of it as both tiny – as we know it to be, an insignificant planet of an insignificant star – and as vast, as we know it to be, huger than anything our mammalian imaginations were ever designed to hold. Nothing, I would say, is more attractive to the mind that takes up science than this moth-like flutter at the burning light bulb of the inconceivable. Most scientists, would think of this a necessary stage of development. Some of them would even think it was the heart of science.

I do think it's the heart of science: I also think it's the heart of religion, and it's why I identify myself, (although I am by most definitions an atheist) as primarily a religious person. I think that fluttering against that light bulb is important; I believe that anyone who stops doing it begins to harden in mind, and to die in spirit. It's why I think that wilderness is sacred, and that its destruction would be a spiritual disaster even if it weren't an ecological one. We need to stand regularly in the presence of what is beyond our control and our imagination. It's why we religious people, even those of us who don't particularly believe in God, think that prayer or contemplation is a necessary part of a good life. Not because it works. Not because we're sure anyone is listening. But because it's taking on the adventure of speaking to something inconceivable, of being willing to take the enormous part of our mind dedicated to social, interpersonal processing and open it to something bigger, in precisely the same way our ten-year-old budding scientist takes the portion of her mind dedicated to conceiving of soccer balls and opens it to the hugeness of the earth.

Monday, September 19, 2011

To my Daughter, away from Home

It's like a face
that has just looked away:

it's like the outspread
hand of a dancer

when the footlights
are cut. A faint

sickle gleam
is laid over its cheek,

and it turns with
the rising or the setting sun.

Darling, don't grieve for home:
the ghosts are gathered

thick enough already; the light
has already bled into the ground.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Opening the World" on Peony Moon

If you're interested in contemporary poetry at all, one of your regular pull-offs on the information highway should be Michelle McGrane's Peony Moon: she features new poetry books and chapbooks, with -- this is the rare part -- a couple pages of poems, enough to really get your teeth into and decide if you want to read more of this poet. Following Peony Moon is a poetic education.

So I was delighted and grateful this morning to see my book featured there, along with two of my favorite poems. One of the the faintly louche pleasures of publishing a book of poems, I find, is discovering which of the poems different people gravitate toward.

I was surprised and pleased by both choices. "Calculus" was written to a prompt from one of the now-extinct prompt sites, I'm afraid I no longer remember which one, to write about mathematics. I think this was supposed to be a really hard prompt, with the idea that if you could write a poem about math you could write a poem about anything. To me, of course, it was cake. I have an intensely emotional and "poetic" response to mathematics: for me poetry and math inhabit the precisely the same ecstatic, extravagant spiritual world of perfect forms and impossibilities. I dashed off "Calculus" as fast as I could type. I didn't expect anyone to like it, though. (If there's one thing blogging has taught me, it's to have confidence in my audience, and trust them to follow me. I couldn't count the number of things I've posted things, expecting dead silence, only to receive warm, unexpected responses, often from the unlikeliest people.)

"Border Country" was another poem whose response surprised me. It's full (I thought) of private imagery and of imagery from Tibetan Buddhism. I thought it was a bit of self-indulgence, a piece of private poetry. But it resonated immediately with the part of my audience I think of as "the poetry people," and I've never been sure why. Maybe they have more of a taste for being teased, that way, than most people.

Here's the link. Thank you, Michelle!

Saturday, September 17, 2011


Infanta, the score of five claws
drawn crosswise over your cheekbone;
consort to princes
of the blood (that one particular blood):
there is yet time but not very much of it --
you could, you could, you could strip off your gold
and go naked into the world of hummingbirds
and of yellow birch leaves spattering light
across lattices of bright white bones
where kisses
come without question or consequence;
where my hand would rest on your belly
and move only with your breath.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Windows Here

You tear the paper packet open
and push your tongue inside.
Sugar meets the spurt of saliva.

It crusts and crumbles; a clear syrup
forms in the channels. Sweetness!
And yet prickly and dry as sand.

The husky voice of the respirator
sings torch songs to a chirping backbeat
of vital signs: O baby,

it croons, O if you only knew.
Huge cakes filled with honey-air
and flavored helium: happy birthday,

happy birthday, dear! This was on sale,
and that stirred an unfamiliar rasping
near the prostate. Birthday candles

of lithium burn a brilliant blue
in the pure oxygen of your room.
One slender needle will suffice

for cake and lung and balloon.
One long venomed stinger
protruding from an infected abdomen

(still jacking) will make you well:
everyone knows that poison
cut small enough will heal.

It's not that your hands are too weak,
dear: it's that the windows here
were never made to open.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


But seriously, how could you say a person had wasted his life? You would have to be sure that a) that his life was intended for some particular purpose and b) that he hadn't met it. Maybe you're privy to God's private thoughts like that, but I'm not. And likewise, I give a skeptical ear to discussion of a meaningful life. Meaningful to whom? And meaning what? Is it really proper – is it really meaningful to discuss a life as if it was an intelligible statement? Possibly. But if so, both the speaker and the audience are supernatural creatures, beyond our understanding. We should probably not get too big for our britches. Lets leave the meaning of our lives to creatures with the capacity to assess it.

I prefer more mundane questions: am I leading a useful life? Am I leading a satisfying one? And these are pretty easy to assess. I'm leading a useful life, if people would be distressed if I vanished. I'm leading a satisfying life, if I wake up looking forward to things. It's a little more complicated than that, maybe, but not much.

Just finished reading a fat history of Mexico. In times of stress I always become more political; and being – in the most minor way possible – a refugee, makes me think of refugees everywhere. My house stands empty, not yet moved into: the house we are buying has stood empty for six months, and belongs, in vanishingly minute shares, to people who have never seen it, will never see it, have not the faintest human interest in it: indeed, it's very difficult to determine, when a bank owns a property, just which bank it is, and equally difficult to determine who owns that bank. And the sale is hanging fire only because the bank (whatever bank it is) doesn't seem to know for sure whether, when it foreclosed on the previous occupants (whoever they are), it entirely extinguished all of their legal claims to the property. The temptation to simply move into this vacant house and get some people employed in making it habitable is strong. We wait, though.

We sleep in a living room with swords in brackets on the walls, a halberd or two, and a sort of shrine made of two daggers and needle-pointed vambrace above the mantel. The three samurai swords and the halberd make the four horizontal strokes of a Chinese character, at night, which the streetlight completes by supplying vertical strokes from the mullions of the window. At bedtime I read The Hobbit aloud to Martha, by dim lamplight. My eyes are not as good as they used to be, but I know the book so well, having read it aloud so often, that I need to distinguish only a few words per line to recite it correctly.

The weather has cooled, and we begin to worry about what we'll do when the rains come: much of our stuff is still loose in the back of the pickup (especially heavy stuff, such as the weight machine) or lining Ashley's driveway in a litter of cardboard boxes and makeshift containers. It's not supposed to rain until Saturday, though, and while I go to work and catch up on things, Martha exercises her genius for compression. I think of James Stephens' Philosopher, who teaches the precept: If there is no more room in a box, you must take something out in order to put something else into it, and his Philosopher's Wife's precept: There is always more room in the box.

Ashley's is close to Tosi's, so close that each morning I hesitate about whether it's even worth hauling my bicycle out of the garage. I could just stroll. At Tosi's I sit in the booth I've sat in of a morning for twenty-five years, and look across the slant of Sandy Boulevard to the north: four doug firs march away down the ridge, in a dwindling sequence, towards the invisible Columbia, beyond Ken Van Damme's Automotive. (Ken has breakfast here too, in the morning, and reads the paper.) Tressa, the ablest waitress I have ever known, brings coffee exactly when I want it, and remembers not only my regular order but also the different order I would make if, by some calamity, I didn't make it in until horribly late, say 8:30. No wifi at Tosi's, though. I can't decide if that's good or bad.

Each morning I think about how full of unemployed people Portland is, and I try to figure out some labor-intensive enterprise I could start up, to help all those people, like Martha, who are chock-full of skills, and are eager to work, and can't find a job. But it's not a kind of thinking I'm used to or good at, and I soon give up. I think vaguely about buying cheap properties and doing a bit to make them good, cheap, ecologically sound rentals, since the great American public has decided that the working class should no longer be able to afford to buy houses. But I know that idea only comes to me because my father did something like that, under radically different economic circumstances; and that few people could be less suited than me, by temperament or skill, to be a slumlord, however benevolent.

I wonder if I can bear to vote for a Democrat for president, again. I'm not one of those people who cherished great hopes of Obama, if you'll remember: he was and remains a center Democrat, and his administration has been governing, by most measures, to the right of Richard Nixon's. I like him more, personally, than I've liked any president since Jimmy Carter: I like his civility and his prudence and his imperturbability. Nevertheless, he is, politically, what in my youth would have been called a moderate Republican: I was horrified by some of his cabinet choices. His great selling point is that he's not dangerously insane.

Of course, if the Republicans nominate, say, Perry – and polls say he might win – and Oregon is in play – I'll vote for Obama, because any other act would be patricidal. Otherwise I'll probably vote Green: I want the Democrats to know that they're losing me.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mask, Moving

A One Minute Videopoem: 'Mask'

Brenda Clews made this, riffing on a blog post of mine. Amazing.

It's one of the deepest pleasures, having someone take your work and make something new with it. Art to me is nothing more nor less than conversation. I have no interest in making objects, per se: I only want to talk to people: to them and through them and with them and by them.

Elves began it, of course, waking trees up and teaching them to speak and learn their tree-talk. They always wished to talk to everything, the old Elves did.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ser Chö Ösel Ling

A hot moon weltering in the blood of pine forests: the wind could sweep our new-built cloisters away with the careless back of its hand. "The Place of the Clear Light Golden Dharma," in Goldendale, Washington, is threatened by wildfire. But the latest news seems to be good, They're holding the line of the Little Klickitat River, and there's a fallback line at Highway 97. But a number of homes have been lost, already. There's a fire haze over Portland, though from other, nearer fires, I think. After the coolest summer I can remember (while the rest of the country was broiling) we in the Pacific Northwest have surfaced into an intense late summer, now, in the second week of September.

Monks from other traditions, Tibetan and Zen, as well as regular members of sanghas round about, have come to help improve the fire defenses. Mostly lean, tough-looking, shaven-headed men in reddish skirts and heavy brush boots, to judge from the photos. I haven't been out there myself. Possibly it's not the image most Americans have of their native population of Buddhist monks. (Do most Americans know they have a native population of Buddhist monks? Good question. I doubt it.)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

It's Live!

My book is here, and it's gorgeous! Go buy a copy to reward Jo for her rashness in publishing a completely off-the-radar poet. She's done an amazing job. Order it here.

Dave Bonta made this "moving poem" out of a reading of one of the poems in it:

The Last Brave Ship by Dale Favier from Dave Bonta on Vimeo.

(Read his post about the mole, the video, and the book.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Oh Rosetta, little rose, stone
of my multilingual heart:
Do you still think that to say something over and over
is to make it true?

The New Year begins to write itself
in anger and forgiveness, mark after mark
in the soft clay of love and friendship:
the intelligibility depends on the hardening.

Litera scripta manet: each letter, being written,
manhandles the next. In the elevator I count the floors
in five different languages, still hoping
for a 'A' from teachers twenty years dead.

The sound of rain thins to a whisper.
September is the pivot of hope and
the hinge of nativity: it is the kneading trough
of the old year. We lie down naked

in the clay, and the rain surges
as it drums on wart and callus;
on the roof; on the oak leaves
toughened by a long summer.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Luisa Has Accomplished Fifty Today

In the east there's a glowing patch
of fawn-colored sky with soft gray kerchiefs
drifting across it. Dawn.

Luisa has accomplished fifty today:
the age at which, my old professor said,
you don't take shit offa nobody.

Not grandmothers, who have
gone to their various rewards;
not husbands sifted

to fruit and chaff
in their right proportions;
not puppyish admirers,

blond or gray, who want
to scribble in your margins.
(Fair enough: but

it belongs to them, not you.)
And should anyone ask
the secret of being beautiful at fifty

you don't even have to say
the obvious – “Attend to beauty,
and it will attend to you” –

You can make the faintest
acknowledging or deprecating moue,
an impatient shake of the head,

and go directly to the next task,
as you have as long as you can remember:
cooking, cleaning, worrying –

and doing your daily obeisance
to how the tunic rubs its velvet raw;
to Annie Oakley's interval of thought.

velvet tunic: Occasional

Annie Oakley: Dear Annie Oakley