Friday, December 14, 2012

The Tree and the Boathouse

The 14th of December is my sister’s birthday. It is Christmas Tree Day.

We’ll pull the old plastic thing out of the windshield box covered in a year of dust. No older. We keep it back of the boathouse, our name for the saddle shop where Daddy keeps his ski boat and Mother her junk. The building has plastered walls outside. Cracks and decay betray the chickenwire undercarriage that holds the plaster in place.

I tell myself that the shreds of an old movie poster are still there. A b-rate 1940’s flick. A Zorro-like hero, heroine in arms, her clothing tattered as the newsprint the poster hangs on.

How many times have I tried to write the boathouse? A dozen times or none. I can still with my eyes closed walk the obstacles alongside the boat. A fold-up mattress. Garage sale toys. Hefty bags split with cast-off clothing, Mother’s mostly.

The tree’s near the back in front of the brass bedstead. We’ve been told our whole lives: the bedstead’s antique, a valuable. It is itself a cast-off. Like the saddle shop, turned boathouse, a survivor of the Wild West. It belongs in a bedroom above a saloon, a saloon girl bathing a cowboy in a tin tub beside it. The brass is corroded with age. The bed’s metal cross-spring supports—too stiff to squeak like the good ole days.

The box the plastic tree sleeps in a windshield box covered with one of Mother’s old electric blankets. Nothing as useful as a windshield box for storage. A Christmas tree must be sheltered, though to be certain it is plastic. What harm could a year exposed in a saddle shop turned boathouse do it?

Boxes and blankets don’t keep out the dust. Not much a spider can do either in these temperatures, at these altitudes. The tree has outlived its present container. Hopefully the gravel on Wyoming’s backroads has been doing its job, and an empty windshield box will be there for the taking. Won’t keep out the dust, but it’s the principle of the thing:  artificial trees absorb each holiday they live through.

We’ll take a water-hose to its branches. In Daddy’s auto-body shop, an air-hose hooked to a compressor will blow it dry.

Plastic cannot age.

But it can breathe. It can trap. The brother-brother-sister singing of Carols. A Mother’s enraged longing for an East Texas home. The smell of cookies baked for the widows in the ward. A Daddy’s worries about the bills. The Christmas play the children stage.

A plastic tree can weather all that, but not the year between. Cardboard and wired fleece must cushion it. Today we’ll unwrap it to witness again.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Reading

 A return to the world of my blog after a very long hiatus. I thought I'd try to record one of my published pieces that you can find at the following link: St Sebastian Review

If you notice something about the rhythm of this piece and want to know a bit of poetic esoterica, read up on Sapphics. For some unknown reason, I have used this form a lot when writing about my own childhood. Click below to see me reading "Upon My 39th."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Two Occasional Poems

Check out two poems in a new literary journal. One, "The Flannel Lord," is the title poem of my manuscript of short poems currently in search of a loving publisher.

Here is the link to the journal:

Friday, December 31, 2010

Dickens by candlelight--Day Twenty

A key character in Bleak House died recently of spontaneous combustion. I was surprised to find that, in fact, spontaneous combustion has some grounding in fact! (Dickens reminds his readers of this in his preface to the novel.)

Considering my experiment, the tragedy of Old Krook reduced to ashes has reminded me that death by fire need not be so mysterious.

So I came up with the following equation:

Candle+Bed+Book+Clumsy reader prone to fits of sleep= Fire Hazard

Also, me and fire: there are stories. In fact, if I ever pen a memoir one of my first title choices is My History with Fire.

If you, reader of this blog, were to write a memoir, what would you have as a title? Comment!!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Am I possessed? Dickens by candlelight--the Experiment Continues

I am not supposed to remember any of this.

Not the cold metal of the folding chairs. Not the stage. Not the dim outlines of the figures watching. Neither the suggestion, nor the trance.

I’m not supposed to remember any of it. Not even the fact that, for a few brief moments, I became, or rather, was possessed by the Late Charles Dickens.

Is there still a circuit known as the National School Assembly? Its members a bunch of traveling “entertainers” wandering from one rural spot of the Heartland to another? troubadours roaming from woebegone elementary school lunchroom, to high school gymnasium? Are school budgets such that they can still pay to book Bob the One Man Band, Simon the Mathematic Magician, Maryjo and her “School Violence is Wrong Puppet Show”?

In those days Wyoming schools had more than enough oil money to hire anyone who’d brave the winds and black ice to drive out 120 miles from nowhere to entertain a bunch of schoolkids. No one cared much for the likes of Bob or Simon or Maryjo. At least you didn’t have to sit in class for an hour, but truth be told most school assemblies suck. Real talent doesn’t play the Middle Schools in towns like Mud Lake, Idaho.

I bet the hypnotist didn’t come cheap, because everybody loved the hypnotist. I never expected him to call on me as a volunteer. I thought I’d be watching from the audience while freshman footballer clucked like a chicken, or an eighth grade cheerleader climbed on a chair, but then wouldn’t get down once she became convinced she was standing at the top of a cliff. It was late in the show for a special segment. I was an awkward middle schooler, lanky and thin as a GULAG survivor; I was used to not getting picked.

But he pointed to me. Said come up with about six others. He put us under, no watch, no candle, no psychedelic light, just his finger. Look directly at his finger, he kept saying. Then, snap. We were out.

I was especially susceptible to suggestion, he told the audience once I had fallen back against the metal chair, chin to chest, my legs sprawled on the floor before me.

“When I count to seven and snap again, Jon, you will awake, but not as yourself. You will awake as a famous person. Anyone man, woman, living, dead. You will not know who you will be until I snap my fingers, until I ask your name again, until I count to seven, six, five, four, three, two, one and snap.”

“Will you stand up please? Would you give us your name?”

“I will,” I announced to the audience in BBC British. “My name is Charles Dickens.”

It's like I told you--possessed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Breadmaking as a Metaphor for the Love of God

My good friend, Mark, drew my attention to this poem by Rumi. I had forgotten this wonderful piece. Leave it to a Persian to make you feel insecure, even one from the 8th Century:

from "Breadmaking" by Rumi:
There was a feast. The king
was heartily in his cups.

He saw a learned scholar walking by.
"Bring him in and give him
some of this fine wine."

Servants rushed out and brought the man
to the king's table, but he was not
receptive. "I had rather drink poison!
I have never tasted wine and never will!
Take it away from me!"

He kept on with these loud refusals,
disturbing the atmosphere of the feast.
This is how it sometimes is
at God's table.

Someone who has heard about ecstatic love,
but never tasted it, disrupts the banquet.

If there were a secret passage
from his ear to his throat, everything
in him would change. Initiation would occur.

As it is, he's all fire and no light,
all husk and no kernel.

The king gave orders, "Cupbearer,
do what you must!"

This is how your invisible guide acts,
the chess champion across from you
that always wins. He cuffed
the scholar's head and said,

And, "Again!"
The cup was drained
and the intellectual started singing
and telling ridiculous jokes.

He joined the garden, snapping his fingers
and swaying. Soon, of course,
he had to pee.

He went out, and there, near the latrine,
was a beautiful woman, one of the king's harem.

His mouth hung open. He wanted her!
Right then, he wanted her!
And she was not unwilling.

They fell to, on the ground.
You've seen a baker rolling dough.
He kneads it gently at first,
then more roughly.

He pounds it on the board.
It softly groans under his palms.
Now he spreads it out
and rolls it flat.

Then he bunches it,
and rolls it all the way out again,
thin. Now he adds water,
and mixes it well.

Now salt,
and a little more salt.

Now he shapes it delicately
to its final shape
and slides it into the oven,
which is already hot.

You remember breadmaking!
This is how your desire
tangles with a desired one.

And it's not just a metaphor
for a man and a woman making love.

Warriors in battle do this too.
A great mutual embrace is always happening
between the eternal and what dies,
between essence and accident.

The sport has different rules
in every case, but it's basically
the same, and remember:

the way you make love is the way
God will be with you.

So these two were lost in their sexual trance.
They did not care anymore about feasting
or wine. Their eyes were closed like
perfectly matching calligraphy lines.

The king went looking for the scholar,
and when he saw them there coupled, commented,
"Well, as it is said, 'A good king
must serve his subjects from his own table!'"

There is joy, a winelike freedom
that dissolves the mind and restores
the spirit, and there is manly fortitude
like the king's, a reasonableness
that accepts the bewildered lostness.

But meditate now on steadfastness
and clarity, and let those be the wings
that lift and soar through the celestial spheres.
--The Essential Rumi --
pages 183-185

No Night Could be Darker Than This Night

For the first time in 372 years, a lunar eclipse coincided with the Winter Solstice. I watched it out of my window looking at St. Nicholas Park in Harlem, the Gothic Shepard Hall of the City College of New York in the background.

Below is the view I had from my reading chair. This was the eclipse in its final stages. For all of my talk about the value in slow things, I felt I was watching the whole of winter on fast forward.

I thought of this poem, "Twelfth Night" by Laurie Lee. Although its title alludes to the Epiphany, this poem feels like one for the Winter Solstice, especially a solstice when the hemisphere could see the light of a full moon blotted by shadow in a matter of minutes.

"No night could be darker than this night,
                           No cold so cold,
                           As the blood snaps like a wire,
                           And the heart’s sap stills,
                           And the year seems defeated.

                           O never again, it seems, can green things run,
                           Or sky birds fly,
                           Or the grass exhale its humming breath
                           Powdered with pimpernels,
                           From this dark lung of winter.

                           Yet here are lessons for the final mile
Of pilgim kings;
The mile still left when all have reached
Their tether’s end: that mile
Where the Child lies hid
For see, beneath the hand, the earth already
                           Warms and glows;
                           For men with shepherd’s eyes there are
                           Signs in the dark, the turning stars,
                           The lamb’s returning time.

                           Out of this utter death he’s born again,
                           His birth our saviour;
                           From terror’s equinox he climbs and grows,
                           Drawing his finger’s light across our blood –
                           The sun of heaven, and the son of god."  --"Twelfth Night", by Laurie Lee

I learned this poem when I sang it with a college choir in an arrangement by Samuel Barber. Here's great performance of it. (Oh, I miss my days as a choirboy.)
Any thoughts on the eclipse and on the longest night of the year? Comment!