Saturday, March 31, 2012


When I strain your hair, the sand runs black
over my knuckles. You had to go back
to fear sharks again. Or not: I forget.
Either one you might have said, and meant.
We meet with formality, ambassadors of tribes,
and dally like puppies on the patterned floor,
you stand on my feet to walk to the door.

No one less like winter have I ever known:
sunlight booms on the sunwarmed stone,
ants run away to a cooler home,
spattered unspent glasslight springs
back from the corners like blowing foam.
Between your fingers gathered flax
melts and drips like candle wax.

My ledgers are written on sheets of ice
that lie underground, with tick of dice
and the click of tumblers, one by one,
in spaces innocent of any sun,
where the long slow glaciers run:
but there still, when you pull the latch,
is the mystery that our hands still match.

Thursday, March 29, 2012


He lifts his hands high, as though asking
for water to be poured into them. The needles
sink easily into his wrists. They pull the thread
down through the veins, choosing at every fork
the way back to the heart. The string dye turns out
not to be color-fast; it blackens the blood: where
the veins close to the skin had been blue, they
turn a dark occluded midnight.
He still holds up his hands.

Threaded now, he thinks of
the clew of Theseus,
the claw of the Minotaur,
the clay wound round with waxen floss,
the crusted and scabbed integument
waiting for when, if ever,
he lowers his throbbing arms.

Suppose a murmur rises
in the unseen crowd behind;
suppose that god, goddess, or monster
has stepped down, holding brightness
in a long left hand;
Suppose now someone or something
takes hold of the inner end of the string,
and pulls.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sunday and Tuesday, Chimp and Orangutan, Cadillac and Tom's

Morning. Finally landed here, at the Cadillac Cafe. I set off for Tosi's, which ordinarily opens at the civilized hour of 6:00, only to realize, on arriving at the empty parking lot and dark windows, that this was Sunday. Of course it was Sunday, that was why I was heading out early: I wanted to get my breakfast-and-writing time in before the morning sit at KCC. But on Sunday Tosi's doesn't open until 7:00, when half the useful day is over. Where else would be open?

Well, no place I wanted to go. I know, night owls feel oppressed by morning people, but let me tell you, the feeling is mutual: to someone who wakes up brimming over with energy and eager to do things at five in the morning, it seems like the whole world is tailored to night owls. Nothing is open. A glorious beautiful morning opens up, it's full daylight, and everyone else in the world, inexplicably, is sleeping. The number of things you can actually do is pretty limited.

So I drove to the ATM, and deposited some massage checks, and then decided I'd drive over to Northeast, KCC's neck of the woods, and see if there was anyplace opening at 7:00 over there. I seemed to remember some places out Alberta or Killingsworth way. By that time it would be close to 7:00, and I'd be that much closer to where I had to be at 9:00.

Nothing. Broad daylight and not a soul on the streets. Downright eerie. Then a gleam of hope came to me: the Cadillac! A little upscale for me, the sort of place where the silverware all matches and the coffee packs too much punch, but at 7:00 on Sunday you can't be choosy. At least they know how to scramble an egg.

So here I am at the window, looking out at trees, across the way, leafing out in the annual Spring insurrection. A yellow chrysanthemum glows on my table. The coffee tastes wonderful, so I have be stern with myself: only two cups of this yuppie-style coffee, or else my hands will be trembly during my massages this afternoon. My equanimity returns. I'm full of good will, even towards night-owls. They didn't ask for their strange affliction. My mind wanders off into wondering about the evolutionary advantages of the variation: did you want some of the primate-group wakeful at night, to keep an ear out for tigers? Did the night-owls wander around, on the night-time savannah, or did they stay put? Did they yearn for an all-night diner? Did they get so bored that they prodded the alpha, to make him wake up enough to take a swipe at them? The stars, the stars must have been glorious.

I come back to this world, this strange world we've made for ourselves. People in ones and twos, scattered about the cafe, drawn to each other's proximity but carefully avoiding getting so close that they might have to speak to each other, or, God forbid, touch each other. No careless nestling and nuzzling together for us, no sleeping together in a huddle, tuning our nervous systems to each other, learning to know each other's smell and heartbeat in the night. No, we keep our distance, surrounded by invisible spheres of personal space, masters of our own loneliness, each of us our own lieutenantless alpha, our own hiveless queen. Well. It keeps me in work: but I wonder how long it can last.

And now it's Tuesday, and I'm at Tom's. Never remembered to post the above. Sunday and Monday have become my busy days.

I had to go, but even as I went, I was dissatisfied with those last couple sentences. Chimps may be our closest relatives, but we have other close relatives that are far less gregarious and tribal. Orangutans would spread themselves farther than people in a breakfast restaurant. Socially, they resemble no ape more closely than 21st Century Americans: either solitary, or serially couple-bonding, with the closest ties being between mother and child. And remember they're the cleverest of the apes, after us. And, like us, they don't go into heat (or are in heat all the time, depending on how you look at it.)

But when I watch either chimps or orangutans, my main sense of how they differ from us is the speed at which they live. Turn the dial faster than “human” and you get chimps, quick, busy, sociable, and chattery: turn it slower than “human” and you get orangutans, slow, deliberate, solitary, and taciturn.

Well. Today is an orangutan day: dark, slow, and sad, pregnant with rain and regret. But though the sky is dark, the colors of Spring are rising and glowing in spite of it. It will come, after all, at least one more time.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

A Level Head

I love arguing philosophy, though I'm hopelessly ignorant about it – or rather, probably, because I'm ignorant: but I generally come away from one of these internet passages of arms with a deep sense of failure: of having been glib when I should have been silent, of having pretended to understandings I don't really have. My philosophical education amounts to what any undergraduate should have, and no more: it's just enough for an engaging talker and accomplished bullshit artist to duck from tree to tree, taking potshots, and never staying in the open long enough for anyone to take a careful return shot.

So it's fun. I get a thrill from punching above my weight. But I come away like Boswell from a bawdy house, wondering what mental diseases I may have contracted or spread, vowing not to go again, and carrying a strong sense of having wasted my powers for a moment's trivial gratification. I only do it when I'm anxious or distressed, and trying to escape something.

The ground is wet, and the morning's been showery, but it held off long enough for me to ride dry to Tosi's. No wifi here, which I'm beginning to view as a blessing. Social media siphons away an alarming amount of me. I have a sense of urgency about time: I have been wasting it, scattering my attention, skipping from one shiny thing to the next. Time to slow down, breathe, and settle to my real work.

But at the same time, it hasn't all been bawdy houses. I feel I have really been hammering out what I think I'm doing, in my massage practice, in a number of online conversations. Now I have to rewrite or tweak much of what's on my massage site: I say a number of things there that I either wouldn't say at all, now, or else would say differently. And it's only now that I'm clear on that, that I feel I can go on to build my practice. I'd like to about double the amount of massage I do, but I haven't done anything to advertise or promote my practice for a couple years: I've been coasting along on loyal clients and word of mouth. Now that I'm really done moving house, and really have formulated what my massage practice is, maybe I'm ready to take it on the road.

Fifty-four. 3x3x3x2. It is a number, as Poshi said last night, that is almost impossible not to factor, if you're inclined that way. Three times 18, for one thing: I've had the time to grow to adulthood three times. It's a little embarrassing that I haven't managed to do it even once. At the DMV, renewing my driver's license for another eight years, the man – about my age, with his sparse hair gathered into a gray ponytail – had to retake my picture. “The computer doesn't like this one,” he explained, making a rapid side-to-side motion with a flat hand. “The eyes aren't in a horizontal line.”

I sat back down for another picture. “I've always had trouble keeping a level head,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” he said ruefully, and snapped another one.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Spring Rains

The spring rains continue, the real Oregon spring rains: cold, obstinate, and unhurried. No need for theatrical downpours or thunderstorms. These aren't piddly little continental rains that throw a tantrum and cry themselves out: these are rains that have settled in for the long haul. They have the whole Pacific Ocean to draw on, and months before the less-rainy season arrives: there is really no particular reason that they have to stop before July. They usually do, from time to time, but it's a matter of grace, not of necessity.

Deep breath. So accept the rain as a given, and go on. I don't usually bridle at it this way. Usually the rain makes me happy. But I'm off-balance, wanting to ride to work, but not wanting this head-cold to flower, wanting to change my life so that I live in the bright sunlight, convinced that if only the sun was out my will would work properly. I'm one of the least superstitious people I know, but my life is riddled with superstition.

Suppose that I lived somewhere the rain never stopped. I wouldn't pound my head against the wall this way: I'd simply accommodate it.

Tomorrow is my birthday: I'll be 54, which is a pleasing if rather large number. It means I've lived 9 six-year lives, or 6 nine-year lives: it means I'm twice as old as when I had my first child.

All my life before I had children is vague, hazy, unreal to me. I confess that sometimes childless people strike me as irresponsible and clueless, not really grown-up. What they do has consequences only for themselves, or for other people who – supposedly at least – can look after themselves. It's not an attitude I foster, but it's one I can't always avoid. Childless people aren't really any more in control of their lives than we are. it's just a little easier for them to pretend: to pretend that they make their own schedules and choose their own pastimes. But every adult has at least one wayward helpless person for whom they're held accountable.

The rain goes on. I keep an ear cocked for my cell phone. The cold is getting into my bones: I can feel the chill in the radial and ulnar bones of my forearms, and in my shoulder joints. It's as if my body was framed up with scavenged wire from freezer shelves: stale, icy and slow to move. The cold seems to come from the inside out. I huddle my coat over my shoulders and scowl. The warmth is grateful, but I'm moodily aware that I'm cold, not because it happens to be raining, but because I'm deconditioned. Sure, I have yet another plan for getting myself back in shape – this one predicated on eternal rain – but I more than usually acutely aware that this game of aging is one of losing one's conditioning and getting it back again, phase after phase, over and over, until finally the phase comes when you can't get your conditioning back, for one reason or another. And then you're truly old. And a bit after that you die.

Well. That's a gloomy point of view, and I can comfort myself with the fact that my father is not yet, by that reckoning, old. And if I'm counting properly, he's 27 years older than I am. And even my mother, miraculously, is still alive and well, though she is truly old, and has been for decades. So apparently I'm built of sound genetic timber. Still, I yearn to be back in shape. I hate this. I hate having to stock up on oxygen with a couple deep breaths before I can tie my shoes: I hate the faint lurch I detected last night when I was rising from my knees during a massage. I should be able to breath even when I'm bent over, and I should be able to rise from my knees as easily as a ferret lifts its head.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

et ego in Circadia vixisti

Chimneys blotch the thinly snowed-over roofs. I woke at five, automatically calculating, before I was sure I'd read the clock properly, “it's really four, right? Spring forward. Right.”

And Martha woke too, and I read to her for a while – near the end of the Lord of the Rings, the scouring of the Shire – till she fell asleep again. Still no sleep in me, not then, so I slipped out the bed and out of the room. And now the vanished sleep has come back, making my eyes swollen and irritated: but now I don't want it, lest my circadian rhythms get even more confused. There are many things I need to do today: but nothing I look forward too.

Eventually the morning came, and I opened the blinds, and saw that the world was dusted with snow. A gull passes the window, now, calling its complaints. Over in the east, between the houses, is a brightness, where the cloud cover thins, but mostly the sky is dull gray, the same cold color as the snow. A wind stirs the fir boughs in my neighbor's yard, and shakes a little snow loose. Most is already gone.

A crow comes to rest on the on the telephone wire, his legs spraddled, Western fashion. The wind is moving the wire so much that he has to flirt his tail continually to stay aboard: he tires of that and launches again: a black scrap blown suddenly upwards, out of view, over the house.

I really don't care how you number the hours of the day, but skipping them back and forward twice a year, playing the devil with circadian rhythms and disrupting whatever delicate balance people with sleep disorders have achieved, is deep-dyed nonsense. But it did allow me to post this joke on Facebook on Sunday morning, which almost made it worth it: et ego in Circadia vixisti, I wrote. "I, even I, have dwelt in Circadia."

Sunday, March 11, 2012


A scallop shell, pale blue, rests
underwater, shifting and shimmering
in the urinal: as its sea-chamber
warms and yellows, it darkens,
yearning to understand, maybe, or

hungering for light. Does its heart
climb the thin thread of wet warmth
reaching down to it? It was held
within the mind of some designer,
lives faintly in some portfolio,

but this intimacy
is all out of proportion. I and thou,
O wavering scallop! Tied by fates
that neither can control. The last kiss
of epthelial lips, one last

springing leap for the waters
collected from chipped coffee cup,
from the steel nightstand glass,
from a dozen unsuspected unsuspecting places,
and here to join a greater way,

but first, this swirling embrace,
in a little porcelain foyer, in
a little room in a restaurant,
a tiny resting place that no one
and everyone calls home.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Builder of Bridges

March 30th is the Launch of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage by Marly Youmans, from Mercer University Press. It won the Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction. Lucius Shepard writes:
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage tells of a young boy's travels through the black heart of Depression America and his search for light both metaphorical and real. Writing with a controlled lyrical passion, Marly Youmans has crafted the finest, and the truest period novel I've read in years.

We, of course, being bloggers, get to sneak backstage and waylay the producer among the properties. I asked Marly this question:
I'm curious about origins. Did the Depression come first, imaginatively -- with the story growing up, so to speak, inside it -- or did the story come first and then locate itself in the Depression?  & was there some particular book or film that turned your mind to that time?

In some families -- mine, certainly -- the Depression lives on as a place of origin: I think that my grandmother, who died quite wealthy, never threw away a paper clip or a rubber band in all her life: she never stopped storing things up in case the bad times came again. Did your family have "Depression legends"? Did they inform this novel?

And got this wonderful answer:
Dale, my mother remembers her family saving jars, paper bags, string, and so on.  They lost much hard-earned Georgia property during the Depression and had good reason to be saving.

Unlike most of my work, this novel is seeded deep in family story—not because I knew all my stories well, but because I did not know all of them well and longed to know certain ones better.  Large portions of my paternal family history remained a blur to me, despite my questions.

It’s possible to see how what I did not know about my father and his family triggered a story. My father’s childhood as a sharecropper’s son was what we would now call harsh, although he never called it so. Life in the deep South was not pretty for his parents, born three decades after the Civil War, and he was born in 1926, before the hard times of the 1930’s. He was pulled around in a box till the age of four, perhaps because he had some light cerebral palsy—later on he developed a number of neurological problems. But by the time he was seven, he was plowing on a cut-down plow. As a teenager, he ran away from home several times and rode the rails. Once he was discovered in Florida, a good distance from his home, 90 miles west of Savannah. At 17, he joined the Army Air Corps and fought in World War II as a tailgunner, and the miracle of the G.I. bill allowed him to attend college and graduate school and become a professor of analytic chemistry.

But from my father’s teenage years, all I knew was fragments.  His times as a runaway and as a teenage tailgunner were mysterious to me. I believe it is often not so much the fragments but the spaces between the fragments that lure a writer. We want to cross a gap, join one land mass to another. It can’t literally be done. But the gaps can inspire a new story and a new wholeness.

While Pip is not based on my father or any member of my paternal family, his life shares many family facts. The family house at Lexsy (the farm with the outbuildings and well, the four-room house with porch and giant hedge) is the blueprint for the Orphanage, and Pip’s rural life of labor and school is not much different from the life of any sharecropper’s child of the time. He does resemble my father in intelligence and his dash of neurological trouble. Like my grandfather when he was a boy, Pip chooses as his favorite sibling not one of his legitimate brothers and sisters but one of two illegitimate and mixed-race half-siblings brought up in the family after the death of their mother. In this way, like my great-grandfather, Pip’s father appears to be a builder of bridges, both real and metaphorical.

More about the book at Marly's place. I'm so looking forward to it!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


An ant, the size of this 'l', walks carefully
the perimeter of my laptop, straying at whiles
onto the warm snow of the writing app, blinded,

struggling on. I pause with my finger over him.
I've killed them before, without thinking,
despite my Buddhist convictions.

They make your fingertip smell like rust.
A Buddhist when convenient, you might say, or
culturally Christian, instinctively American:

bugs are to kill. Or you can spiral into
justifications: is
an individual ant a sentient being? Surely

the hive is the sentient being? By which argument
my own status as unexpendable
is hardly beyond doubt. I pause again, then

lift my laptop, and blow. A mighty wind,
and the field of warm, dazzling,
inexplicable light vanishes. Falling

and falling, what whisper of consciousness
draws the eddying curves of his descent?
What flickers of fear or desire

Haunt his fall? I am the Lord your God
who brought you out of Egypt
The sun falls warm on my skin,

And I glance up, blinking,
at the unexpected radiance of Spring.

In response to this Morning Porch post.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012


I try to imagine this timid, trusting teenager
tending bar in a downtown dive: I fail.

Yet she does, or says she does. Perhaps
the drink is a catalyst. Perhaps she is not a teenager.

Perhaps she is not timid. The silences that accrue,
maybe they are mistakes of mine, cues missed.

I am a full generation older than she:
the backs of my hands show

corrugations, like weathered bark.
I pause with my hands on her shoulders,

listen. Somewhere, far away,
someone is weeping.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Against Purity

Well, no. I used to think that. Now I think the shaping intellect is more of a curse, and it's better to let yourself drawl and yawp all over the page. Say everything. All you need to do at the end is run back through it and take out the intensifiers and repetitions.

When I was young I loathed Dickens. Now he's my favorite novelist.

When I was young I loved Flaubert. Now I can't read him. What's the point? He went meticulously through all of his baths, throwing out babies to purify his bathwater.

A gull flies straight towards my window, wobbling like someone you meet on the sidewalk, when you can't decide who's going left and who's going right, and just before disaster, one of you makes a desperate resolve. Swoosh! and he's over the roof. Good luck, fellow traveler.

See? Like that.

And all the branches of all the firs are nuzzling and noddling each other, and the power lines shake, while the wind herds the cloud cover over the housetops.

I laugh, shake my head, and close my tired eyes. God, how I love you.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Extrapolation, Incompetence, Spring

I'm reading Jonathan Carroll's Sleeping in Flame. Such a long time since I've read a novel! The first half I enjoyed very much. But now we've come to the magic, and suddenly, from being sensitive and nuanced, it's become clunky and over-explained. I watched Clare Dunkle do the same thing in the progression of the Hollow Kingdom trilogy: from the first volume, a magnificent, eerily haunted gothick-cum-Jane Austen novel, it dwindled to two ordinary fantasy-kingdom genre novels. Once the secret is out of the bag, the bag collapses, and the secret, in the light of day, is not all that interesting. Why would it be? In itself, it's neither real nor emotionally right: it's just something someone made up. The systematic explanation of the rules of someone's magical world are far less interesting than the Oregon State Department of Motor Vehicles pamphlet explaining the rules of the road. Those at least encounter reality and reflect it.

You can feel it, when someone drops the shaping imagination – what Coleridge would have called the esemplastic imagination – and shifts to the busy-work of hammering out their system. The tree of their creativity has been girdled, and it's only a matter of time till it dies. I hate watching it. That's one of the reasons I quit reading modern fantasy: it got to be too depressing, watching those moments of high, intense imagination collapse into traffic manuals. They switch from what had to have been, what could have been no other way, to what might have been, to something merely possible. Any hack can play with that. Nothing strangles the literary imagination quicker than extrapolation.

I firmly believe that the state of Massachusetts only pretends to elect their governors: they must really select them by written exam. How else to explain the extraordinary political incompetence of Mitt Romney and Mike Dukakis? You could swear that neither of these men had ever dealt with the public in their lives. Their instinct for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong way amounts to perverse genius. Two more nationally unelectable men I've never seen. Maybe the people of Massachusetts are freakishly attentive to policy, and vote on issues, rather than on personality? That hardly seems likely. It's a puzzle.

Light wells up behind the trees and the houses, washes over the fret-bars of the power wires, pools in the deep places of the rumpled sky: white cloudlight, surging in like the tide. The asphalt and cement glow with it. Today, the 3rd of March, is the beginning of Spring in Portland.

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Stronger Thought of Peace

My favorite new blog in a long while. New to me, I mean. A couple tastes:

The Gaps in Us

. . . His fingers . . .
in between the ribs at odds in my chest.
The bones should feel stranger, I think,
as God lifts us up by the gaps in us.

Receptivity and Little Disasters
. . .
In my dream world, we wouldn’t need to wait for something bad to happen before we could speak to those around us. I won’t pray for trouble. But if disasters big and small are what make our hearts receptive to connection with others, I will use them to the fullest. Bring on the dirty diapers, dropped books, unexpected thunderstorms, and broken pencil woes. If our lives start to suck, at least we’ll have something to talk about.

Of course, we always had something to talk about.

But now you finally want to share with me. How were you to know you had me before hello?

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Overstaying at the Window of Tom's Cafe

A wind beats the fluttery awning
as a householder beats a rug:

silver nightgowns of water fall
down to the darkened walk.

A cripple with bowed head
limps to the door:

his humped spine lifts
his collar so high

that it opens a mouth
for the rain to run down.

Tell me, winter: has she
forgotten already how she trusted me?