Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Food of Love

I could never sing. In the grade-school operetta
I sat dark offstage and clattered coconut shells.
I was the cavalry coming, unmusical, lonely.

For five years, I played the piano and metronome.
I read Deerslayer in small print while I waited for my lesson,
and threw up after the recital at the Leopold Hotel.

I went to a liberal college, but I never learned
how to sit on the floor or help the sweet folk song forward.
My partridge had lice, and its pear-tree had cut-worm blight.

Yet this song is for you. In your childhood a clear falsetto,
now you sing along in the bars, naming old songs for me.
Even drunk, you chirrup; birds branch in your every voice.

It's for you, what I never sing. So I hope if ever
you reach, in the night, for a music that is not there
because you need food, or philosophy, or bail,

you'll remember to hear the noise that a man might make
if he were an amateur, clattering coconut shells,
if he were the cavalry, tone-deaf but on its way.


I sent you this bluebird of the name of Joe
with "Happiness" tattooed onto his left bicep.
(For a bluebird, he was a damn good size.)
And all you can say is you think your cat has got him?

I tell you the messages aren't getting through.
The Golden Gate Bridge is up past its ass in traffic;
tankers colliding, singing telegrams out on strike.
The machineries of the world are raised in anger.

So I am sending this snail of the name of Fred
in a small tricolor sash, so the cat will know him.
He will scrawl out "Happiness" in his own slow way.
I won't ever stop until the word gets to you.

William Dickey

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dresses I have never worn

Ruby Tells All

When I was told, as Delta children were,
that crops don't grow unless you sweat at night,
I thought that it was my own sweat they meant.
I have never felt as important again
as on those early mornings, waking up,
my body slick, the moon full on the fields.
That was before air conditioning.
Farm girls sleep cool now and wake up dry
but still the cotton overflows the fields.
We lose everything that's grand and foolish;
it all becomes something else. One by one,
butterfiles turn into caterpillars
and we grow up, or more or less we do,
and, Lord, we do lie then. We lie so much
truth has a false ring and it's hard to tell.

I wouldn't take crap off anybody
if I just knew that I was getting crap
in time not to take it. I could have won
a small one now and then if I was smarter,
but I've poured coffee here too many years
for men who rolled in in Peterbilts,
and I have gotten into bed with some
if they could talk and seemed to be in pain.

I never asked for anything myself;
giving is more blessed and leaves you free.
There was a man, married and fond of whiskey.
Given the limitations of men, he loved me.
Lord, we laid concern upon our bodies
but then he left. Everything has its time.
We used to dance. He made me feel the way
a human wants to feel and fears to.
He was a slow man and didn't expect.
I would get off work and find him waiting.
We'd have a drink or two and kiss awhile.
Then a bird-loud morning late one April
we woke up naked. We had made a child.
She's grown up now and gone though God knows where.
She ought to write, for I do love her dearly
who raised her carefully and dressed her well.

Everything has its time. For thirty years
I never had a thought about time.
Now, turning through newspapers, I pause
to see if anyone who passed away
was younger than I am. If one was
I feel hollow for a little while
but then it passes. Nothing matters enough
to stay bent down about. You have to see
that some things matter slightly and some don't.
Dying matters a little. So does pain.
So does being old. Men do not.
Men live by negatives, like don't give up,
don't be a coward, don't call me a liar,
don't ever tell me don't. If I could live
two hundred years and had to be a man
I'd take my grave. What's a man but a match,
a little stick to start a fire with?

My daughter knows this, if she's alive.
What could I tell her now, to bring her close,
something she doesn't know, if we met somewhere?
Maybe that I think about her father,
maybe that my fingers hurt at night,
maybe that against appearances
there is love, constancy, and kindness,
that I have dresses I have never worn.

Miller Williams


That has to be one of my favorite all time poems. I love
it so. I can see Ruby. I know this woman. I know her
daughter. I know her man. I can see her dresses.

I want to write a poem called

Dresses I Have Worn

It would go something like this:

There's the long, black silk one
with the sublte sexy slit in the back. Three-
quarter length sleeves, fitted waistline,
zippered back, brass buttons in a U-
shape (that dips slightly away from the waist
and toward the rear for added affect)
that I wore to Papaw's funeral. Too small
now to fit the weight of the ages, I still
feel compelled to keep it there, at the back
of the closet, wrapped in plastic.

But it would say more without being so
desciptive about the dresses themselves.
I just felt something go through
my body as I touched those dresses--
something close to melancholy or wistfulness
or maybe even dysphoria.

Word retrieval problems march on!

Oh those dresses in the back of my closet
that I've kept though I can't wear them any longer,
and even if I could, I don't know that I would.

Each of them was worn at a wedding,
funeral, class reunion, or dedication
of some sort.

But there's a poem lurking somewhere
in them there dresses, there is.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

God takes care of himself

What can I say? It's a Modest Mouse morning.

Styrofoam Boots / It's All Nice On Ice, Alright

Well all's not well
but i'm told that it'll all be quite nice
you'll be drowned in boots like Mafia
but your feet will still float like Christ's
and i'll be damned
they were right
i'm drowning upside down
my feet afloat like Christ's
i'm in heaven
trying to figure out which stack
they're going to stuff us atheists into
when Peter and his monkey laugh
and i laugh with them
i'm not sure what at
they point and say
we'll keep you in the back
polishing halos, baking manna and gas
well some guy comes in looking a bit like everyone i ever seen
he moves just like crisco disco
breath 100% listerine
he says looking at something else
but directing everything to me
ever time anyone gets on their knees to pray
well it makes my telephone ring
and i'll be damned
he said you were right
no one's running this whole thing
he had a theory too
he said that god takes care of himself
and you of you
it's all nice on ice alright
and it's not day
and it's not night
but it's all nice on ice alright

From the album The Lonesome Crowded West

Monday, October 23, 2006

Don't know how

I made it through the weekend.

It's 10:53. I haven't washed my face.

I am still wearing the clothes I slept in
(Bob Dylan t-shirt and black sweat pants).

Haven't brushed my teeth.

Haven't started on my mid-term.

Didn't answer the door though whomever it was
was certainly persistent. I think they knocked
for almost 20 minutes.

I have been home so little in the last 20
years that I don't know how to do this.

Many times through those years I would
think of all the things I was neglecting
because I didn't have time to do them.

My bedroom, for example. One of the last rooms
in the house to be renovated. It still has wallpaper
peeling off the ceilings and walls.

Three layers. Beautiful old floral print. 12 foot
ceilings. Beautiful crown molding and baseboards.

I was going to start on it in January as that would
be the first time in a number of years that I would
not be in school.

I was going to strip the paper off the ceilings and walls.
Repair the plaster cracks. Replace any rotted wood
around the windows. Prime and sand and wash
the walls. Then paint them a lovely eggplant or some
such variation on a purple theme. Then I was going
to accessorize with reds, golds, and sage green.

I could start it now but I have no enthusiasm for it.

I just sit here, sipping my cold coffee and not believing
this has happened to me.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

After Reading Pastan's Notes to My Mother


You've never sent me one
letter, though you never forget
to drop a thank-you card
in the mail (always handwritten
on the back of a picture-you-took-
turned-postcard). Though I know
the shape of your headstone
and where you'll lie (your casket
stacked atop Dad's in the Veteran's
Cemetery), I can't say I'll visit and leave
you messages there. I can't give you
messages here, though I rehearse
the lines daily. It's as if you already
don't exist, and I am talking to a stone.


I'd like to think I wrote
you letters from camp,
but I can't remember if I ever
went to camp except once, at
fourteen when I thought I
was ready to exert my wing-
spreading detachment.
So I'll tell you now what happened
that summer: I fell in love
with the tanned, blonde lifeguard
and felt the rush of a long
tongue in my mouth; I confessed
my sins and let my sobbing self
be soothed in the arms of the christian
kids; I smoked pot for the first time
in the amphitheatre after the crowd
had dispersed; and I realized for the first
time that maybe home and the idea
of missing it might just be some grand
scheme from a very clever creator.


Your hair was always perfectly
swept up into a French twist
or an elegant chignon.
Your uniforms were so stiffly
starched it seemed they were
ready to stand at attention, so bright
white it hurt my eyes to look at them.
You never let one of us kids forget
how bad women had it out "there,"
how cruel men were, how backbitingly
vicious other women were, the drudgery
of spending ones entire life
cleaning up after others. Perhaps today,
my muteness can be explained by my
insistence not to repeat the pattern.
I won't complain (much), I nearly
always cut my own hair and refuse
to twist it into anything that resembles
some French-do, and I never wear white.


Started this in FL after coming in from the beach one
day. I love Pastan's poem. It makes me think about
the mom I didn't have and to think about the one
I do have in ways that are uncomfortable to think
about but true.

Truth is supposed to set us free, but I'll be damed
when I tell the truth. I just keep getting caught in the snares
and traps that litter the forest floors and the bedroom
floors and the dark ceilings of my life.

Bad day yesterday. I am wasting time letting myself
feel so badly about the recent turn of events. I keep
saying I can't help it. I'm tired. I'm shot. I'm bummed.
I'm in a state of despair. And that is all true, but I have
to do something to get out of this funk.

It would help if the sun would shine.

Rainy again this morning.

When I was working, I would entertain
the idea of how lovely it would be to just
lounge around in bed all day on the rainy days.
To just read books and sip tea and listen to some
great music.

Here I am. Not working. Unable to lounge
around in bed.

Doesn't seem so appealing now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Choosing Your Clothes

The day you died, the sun came
up (as expected), and I slept later
than usual. When Katherine called
to tell me you were beating
the windows out of Sammie's do-it-all
trailer, I told her to relax. There
were things about you she could not
know, I said.

I could not know the next morning
would find me pulling your husband
away from your body, dead now
at least eight hours.

Death is not lovely like the trailing
ivy that covered the chain-linked fence
that fenced you in. Not easy and light
like the breeze that lifted your hair
and let it fall softly across your face
that last day in May when you told
me you were better.

I saw a picture of you in the house
when we were trying to find something
to bury you in. You were young and small
and smiling. Katherine and Glinda kept looking
for the three piece outfit, the one with black
slacks and a vest and a long-sleeved white
silk shirt. The outfit they felt best represented
the you who would be on display for friends
and family.

I was overcome and unable to breathe
in that small house, utilities turned off,
boxes all over the floors. And I felt
I was suffocating in the slow way a person
does when they think nothing they do
makes a difference.

I excused myself from that room and your life.

Today, I have only this: a purse
with five pairs of sunglasses; a memo
to yourself (with a call list that included
me); some small change, a few ink pens
and your address book.

I have thought about calling the numbers
in your book so many times since that day,
but always reason wins out and I decide
there is no point in calling.

I still can't bring myself to take flowers
to your stone. To make more of you in death
than I could in life.


Juat looking over some old poems. I'd like to do
something with this one.

Bad day today.

Wish I didn't have class tonight.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Dropping the euphemism

He has five children, I'm papa
to a hundred pencils.
I bought the chair he sat in

from a book of chairs,
staplers and spikes
that let me play Vlad the Impaler

with invading memos. When I said
I have to lay you off
a parallel universe was born

in his face, one where flesh
is a loose shirt
taken to the river and beaten

against rocks. Just
by opening my mouth I destroyed
his faith he's a man

who can think honey-glazed ham
and act out the thought
with plastic or bills. We sat.

I stared at my hands, he stared
at the wall staring at my hands.
I said other things

about the excellent work he'd done
and the cycles of business
which are like

the roller-coaster thoughts
of an oscilloscope. All this time
I saw the eyes of his wife

which had always been brown
like almonds but were now brown
like the crust of bread. We walked

to the door, I shook his hand,
felt the bones pretending
to be strong. On his way home

there was a happy song
because de Sade invented radio,
the window was open, he saw

delphinium but couldn't remember
the name. I can only guess.
Maybe at each exit

that could have led his body
to Tempe, to Mars, he was tempted
to forget his basketball team

of sons, or that he ever liked
helping his wife clean carrots,
the silver sink turning orange.

Running's natural to most animals
who aren't part
of a lecture series on Nature's

Dead Ends. When I told him,
I saw he was looking for a place
in his brain to hide

his brain. I tried that later
with beer, it worked until I stood
at the toilet to make my little

waterfall, and thought of him
pushing back from a bar
to go make the same noise.

Bob Hicok


Found this poem in a box I brought home
from my office. Kept it long ago when I was
counseling people who had been terminated
from employment.

Don't think I ever read it to anyone.

My dismissal was not quite so nice,
and I don't think the person who let me go
left my office feeling anything other than
worry about workplace violence (she brought
up counseling twice during the whole ordeal).

She is so very, very not connected.
To this life. To the universe. To love.

I think I feel something close to pity.

I know I feel violated. I know I was unfairly
released. I know my being aches.

Not sure about the line breaks in the poem.
They seem random to me, but maybe that's
the feeling Hicok wanted to convey.
The random nature of these things.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sunday in Macon

My mother, nearly blind
from cataracts, follows me
through the courtyard. The pool
is covered in its winter black tarp.

Though I assume she cannot see
this closure of a season, she finds
a reason to remark: "How many
little feet must have trod this path

all summer." And I think, "People
see what they want to see even when
they cannot see." But I only follow
her comment with some helpful

advice. This way, Mom. Step up
here, turn right there, the coffee's
over here, the doughnuts are old,
the milk outdated at the Deluxe Buffett.

And she just follows me, listens to my
advice like I'm a sage or a saint. Gives
herself in her stockinged feet to my
every suggestion. I even tell her

which container is the strawberry
jelly, which button is caffeinated coffee,
which chair is clear of crumbs
and relatively safe to sit in.

Friday, October 06, 2006

As small as a world and as large as alone

Bad day yesterday

and totally drained today. Going to have lunch
with a friend then come home and start packing.

My mom, my youngest and I will leave for Naples
tomorrow. The trip has been planned for months.
I wasn't worried about the cost when I planned the trip.

I was working. Thankfully, most of it has been paid for already.

I want to just will myself to let go of all of this nonsense
for the next 9 days so I can just enjoy seeing my sister,
my nieces, and my new great nephew.

The ocean has always been such a calming presence,
so I plan to just lie on the beach all morning and into
the afternoon.

Just lie there and look out at the water
and think about how small I feel in the presence of such
a great expanse.

And hopefully I'll find a shell that will sing to me
so sweetly I won't remember my troubles (thank
you ee).

My hat's off to you, mr cummings!:

maggie & millie & molly & may
. . . e. e. cummings

maggie and millie and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

millie befriended a stranded star
who's rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Was advised

by friends
to subpoena my personnel file.

Geez. Don't think like that. Need to think
like that now.

Never a write up. Never a complaint.
But there are bad bad bad people out there
who would like nothing better than to see
someone else suffer.

What a bunch of bunk.

This whole thing I mean. Not the advice.
The advice is given from others not so naive--
others who actually care.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Monday, October 02, 2006

One thousand Eight hundred and Twenty Miles to Dodge and Back (Including a Tornado)

Wow. Amazed today and riding high.

Billy Collins alone was worth the price of admission,
the hotel cost for 4 nights, the cost of all the food I ate
and wine I drank. All the tanks of gas I burned and the tornado
I barely missed(had to get off the road and didn't
make it to Jersey until Friday morning).

More about it later. So much I want to write.
So much I don't want to forget.

Being there was one of the most inspiring events
of my life.

I even left the troubling letter below alone. Honest.
It didn't enter my mind until I started home.