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.