Tuesday, January 31, 2012


(1) The heart is a large involuntary muscle in the chest cavity.

(2) The heart has its own timer: it takes advice, but not orders, from the central nervous system.

(3) Heart is where the home is.

(4) If you go back far enough, heart is related to core, courage, cordial, and cardiac (but not to curd, curt, or courteous): the hypothesized Proto-Indo-European root is kerd-. The Germanic languages, you will recall, changed an intial 'c' into 'h', which is why a Latin unicorn has a cornus, but an English one has a horn.

(5) The meanings of English heart used to include "memory." We have forgotten this, mostly. Except that we still learn things "by heart."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Should burdens fall softly,
balloons nudging and noddling

their way from your shoulder to the floor;
should feet flutter struggling from their nest of shoes;

should ribs open out like fingers spread
in a “hands-off!” gesture to the flickered sun

(I've read about snakes that fly
by flaring their ribs into glider wings);

then, only then, I'll sink my hands
into your breathing hair and pull them out:

whirring thoughts, pulses of flame,
tendernesses that have no name.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Yesterday I took my mom grocery shopping. Her husband's down in Costa Rica for a week, building houses for Habitat for Humanity, and the friend who was going to come stay with her was prevented from coming by the winter storms. My mom is doing quite well: I offered to simply shop for her, but she was quite up to making the shopping trip, and the cart served quite well as a walker. I just walked along beside her, chatting occasionally, making sure no one jostled her. It was easy.

Spending that much time with my mother – who is a lovely and un-difficult person, let me hasten to say – exhausts me, in prospect and in reality. Our relationship is not an easy one, not for me, at any rate. I spent the morning in trepidation and the afternoon in exhaustion. Humiliating, but there it is. And I had so been looking forward to this weekend as a weekend of recovery. Instead I read my Curzon mystery, and ate and ate and ate – leftover rich Chinese food, cake, whatever I could get my hands on. A waste of a day. And as the day dwindled into evening I noted, with self-loathing, that my plan for getting regular exercise again was going to go by the boards. And that I had left the dishes undone. Everything I looked at or thought about was a reminder of some failure or other, and there wasn't enough food in the world to insulate myself from it.

I stood at the sink – having ascertained that no, there was no ice cream in the house, and watching the urge to get more duel with the reluctance to do something so fraught with initiative and self-reliance as going to the store myself – and, leaning there like a sick man, breathed, and watched my breath. Inchoate resentments against my family rose around me, like the steam from boiling pasta. I have been surrounded all my life, they said – suddenly and surprisingly coalescing into words – by people whose egos have depended upon my continual failure.

Now that, of course, was absurd, a classic instance of depressive thinking, a billow of nonsense tethered to a couple rusty bolts of half-truth. I loathed myself all the more for entertaining it.

But instead of dropping it, I played what-if with it. And what if it were true? What then? What would it mean? What would be the appropriate response?

The answer came at once: the appropriate response would be to say the hell with it, I'm going to succeed in spite of them. I'm going to succeed to spite them, as a matter of fact. I'm going to succeed and rub their faces in it.

So I washed the dishes, and then I got on the stuck-bike followed out my exercise plan. And so I ended the day.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


The young man hurries out of the building and comes to my open car window. “Fill it with unleaded?” I say, using modern intonation but obsolete words. He nods. He probably doesn't even know what “unleaded” refers to: it's just a word that old geezers sometimes use for “gas.”

“Regular, I mean,” I say, but he's already moving around the car, taking my debit card with him. He's not the regular morning guy. There are two clans that seem to run this gas station, one Chinese and one... Armenian, maybe? Kurdish? God knows. Portland is a city full of immigrants. I got my hair cut yesterday by a pleasant-looking, wary Ethiopian woman. I asked what her first language was, and she answered “Amharic,” and added firmly that Amharic was really the only language of Ethiopia. (I know how much salt to take that sort of statement with. Americans abroad are apt to make the same claim about English here: what they mean is, they wish it was the only language.) I had a vague notion that Amharic was a Semitic language, but that was as much as I could remember about it. I asked her if she knew any poetry, or children's rhymes, she could recite for me – that's how I like to make my first acquaintance with a language – but she said she didn't know any. I doubted that was true. Does anyone really grow up not knowing any children's verse, even in the modern world? But nursery rhymes were maybe too intimate a matter to share with strangers. I settled for asking her how to say “hair-cutting” in Amharic. She murmured a few sibilant syllables, nothing I could really hear, and I stopped pressing her. We went back to talking about where I lived and what my work was: the standard barber-chair conversation. The shop had six chairs in it, and was empty. I worried about whether she was making it. It's a long, long way from Ethiopia. What happens if you make your big bet here, and it fails? Well, you take a job pumping gas, I guess, if you can find it.

Further up the Valley there's some pretty serious flooding. The second front predicted hasn't rolled in yet – not here in Portland, anyway – so maybe the water will have a chance to subside before it does.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Homage to William Blake

I spend a lot of time kneading oiled flesh, which means my hands are strong but soft. This is sometimes a bad combination. A day or two ago, after washing the dishes, I dragged the surprisingly hard crusted snow off my car's windshield with my soggy-skinned hands. Wasn't till I was driving that I noticed I had torn scraps of skin off from between my fingers. Ouch.

(I'm healed up now, in time for my weekend appointments. I heal like a young dog, fortunately.)


Los by starlight –
he lets his hammer fall
and it slides slowly down the ice,
its haft curling round its head; it moves
down the slant, the second hand
of an unfixed, unfixable clock, to skid
silently over eave and gutter, to write
self erasing circles in the space
above the snow. It falls
without a sound.

Much as I admire William Blake, I have to say that he was utterly and completely wrong about stars.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Three Ways from Winter


Jealousy wakes hungry after hibernation, quick to rage,
almost blind: its little bear-eyes caked with winter sleep.

Don't get in its way until it's stretched and eaten.
It will wander away into last years' leaves on aching feet.


Joy falls soft like snow,
turning trees to fishing nets

and cinder blocks
to intricate work in blue enameling.


Children still must be washed and fed.
Above the wrung cloths

stars spin on invisible wheels: sparks that fly
from the grinding of inconceivable knives.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Oh, if you're here by way of Laura Allen, you probably want my massage blog.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Morning, with Crows and Snowflakes

Snowflakes gathering to the streetlights, and falling away. A blue morning, dark and quiet; the radio is playing softly: some melancholy country/soft rock crossover crooner. I can't quite recognize the tune, but the obsessive repetition of the refrain, and the anxiety conveyed by the ragged voice, feel quintessentially American. We can endure neither our ills nor their remedies, it says.

But it grows lighter, nevertheless. I can see the snowflakes now outside the spheres of the streetlights, drifting down, striking a repelling layer of air some three inches from the parking lot pavement, and bouncing up off it once, even twice, before settling. The flakes aren't dissolving immediately on contact, now. This may stick.

A dozen crows cluster in the air, and drift over to the tallest and nearest of the doug firs, settling on its crown. In all the mornings I've sat here and watched them, I've never seen them settle there, though it seems, to this ignorant primate, like the obvious spot. Is it the snow route? Half a dozen more join them.

The streetlights go out. The snow turns back to rain. Or are those fine flakes? More crows come to the moot: all the highest boughs of the doug fir have black ornaments bobbing at their ends. And then they all launch off and move over to the telephone wires northwards, along 62nd, where they get coffee and and joke and network and exchange business cards. Crisis averted. They've negotiated to discount the loans with the French and German banks.

And now, it's real morning. There are colors: green hedges, blue awnings, red cars. A surprising flood of light, now, coming through the thick cloudroof. Over there, our new white Honda Civic – new to us, of course, not factory new – glows as if it was the real source of all this light, the whitest thing in all this white world. We got it last week. We've become increasingly anxious about Alan driving the now ancient, can't-get-parts-for-it '85 Honda Accord, so the idea of getting the Civic was to give him the Ford, once we've spruced it up a little, replaced the struts and so forth.

When I finish my coffee I'll head on over to KCC for the morning sit. I went last week, too. It was nice to see everyone.

New snowflakes, daytime snowflakes, coming down now. A man hobbles past the windows, white flakes pasting themselves to his red coat. He comes in and takes his place at the special booth where Tosi ordinarily sits, the imperial seat, right by the door, between the old and new dining rooms. He's one of those men with ageless faces who forgathers with Tosi, talking in resonant confident voices in endlessly flowing Greek. Probably, like Tosi, in his seventies or eighties, though you'd guess fifties or sixties. All these men have strongly marked faces, and there's not one of them you'd mistake for American. They don't smile at strangers, for one thing, though they laugh and tease freely among themselves. Not even a flicker of recognition for me, though we've been sharing restaurant space for thirty years, and I must be as familiar to them as they are to me.

Off to KCC. Good morning! xoxo

Friday, January 13, 2012


Pondering forgiveness: and finding that the first step is to draw up the bill of attainder. If I were to forgive, what would I be forgiving?

Blue sky, the awnings pitching and flapping in the wind. A cold, bright, ugly day, with ice on the wind. Sunlight falls on my right shoulder, on my ear, and on the blond hair of my cocked head: I keep scooting down the bench to avoid it. Threatened with sunburn, in January!

Panic slowly rising. I don't want to think about this. About any of it.

But soft. This is only the racketing of a bright winter day, only the uneasiness of a burrowing creature brought abruptly into the sunlight. I squirm and nuzzle for a weakness in the earth, for a thrusting place for my snout. My star-nosed cousins, you know, can find out far more by groping with their tendril-blossomed snouts than you will ever be able to see with your great lemur eyes. There are realms below the clotted grass roots that you'll never know, not the way we know them: where the judder of an earthworm sends a whisper down a dozen branching galleries, and a footfall slams like roundshot against earthworks.

I am more demoralized, more afraid, than I can remember since the bad old days of IBM. I'm not sure what it's made of, but I know I have to slow down, way down, become deliberate and – to borrow my own word – dogged. I need to to make a list of the five main projects I'm working on, boiled down to single sentences, and be able to say which of those things each thing I'm working on is in service of. Because I suspect I've sold myself into service of something or someone else. Careful here. Careful. Whatever you do, don't hurry, don't shy, don't skip. If you run it only draws the predators. Step by step. Life is elsewhere, maybe, but that doesn't matter right now.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012


Driving to the airport.

Useful for understanding the amount of money spent on these things. Not to mention the extent of Rick Perry's humiliation.What the candidates spent per vote in Iowa.

Ronald Searle gone. How can that be?

I'm sick with the flu. Last night it was those strange chills, when you shake and you can feel the cold air moving right through your flesh and stroking your bones; when you feel so close, so close. But tonight it's just the sore throat and the headache in a thick clot behind my eyes. I even feel good enough, for minutes at a time, to be mildly bored. That's a good sign.

No chicken soup in the house though. Bad planning.

Happy 2012!