Monday, October 29, 2012

Don't Look At Me That Way

Since there's no doubt, at least here in Cucumberland, that we are about to lose power I thought I'd take a moment to compose a post before the opportunity flickers into obfuscation. (Actually, I'm sneaking this in between outages.) See, this is how it works here. Things go dark. Not only during hurricanes or tropical storms, or even days that bluster gently (yes, this is possible), but also during a total, all-embracing tempest known as writer's block. This has been the case for me for the last two weeks. With the exception of poetry, I've written zilch. But throw an obstacle on my course—please!—make it something that—if it can't be avoided—I'll hit hard, make time count, right down to the wire, then maybe, just maybe, I'll produce.

(Perhaps I trust that I really do work better under pressure.)

Then there is Lu, who, in her sparkly blue-eyed youth, has again drifted outside in the midst of this tropical storm. Her father found her in the street, barefoot on hard-packed tar, face lifted into the driving rain and howling winds, red maples and pines reaching out to her. She to them.

What are you doing out there? He calls to her.

(She is communicating. Does he not know?)

Just wanna walk around, I need fresh air, it's raining, it's a hurricane, and I want to be outside in it, she answers casually.

Fresh air. Really darling, come in. Come in to where it's safe. Come away from under electrical wires and trees that go snap in the wind. She can't though. She's compelled to be in and under all those things, these treacherous things that carry impellent power over all reason. Why is it we strangely and instinctively want to center ourselves in the core of a storm? In Rhode Island, mandatory evacuations have been declared in several low-lying and coastal communities. But by the seawall in Narragansett poncho-festooned people wait just behind the stone barrier for waves to crash against and over it, as if the rain and wind is not enough. It's not. They want to feel the surge. They want, they need, storm to surge flesh and soul. After all, this is the kind of obstacle that wakes us, isn't it? This is the surge that tells us we're still alive!

Don't look at me that way, she says. And if she doesn't say it, her face does. In what way does she mean?


I understand the urge for a surge. Even in these partly-sparkly hazel-eyed middle years, I appreciate the rush of a dangerous storm surge, or a blackout, or a deadline. It speaks to my very core. A generative reminder that time passes in a flash. Grab it. Communicate. Write, dammit.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ocular Allusions

What it is about the seasons lately, failing to meet my expectations by, one might say—at least here in New England—continually failing to season, has ignited in me a nagging sense of loss and, well, just plain glumness. (Nagging because it's a rare Day that performs as it should within the framework of its given season; Day has become defiant, belligerent—refusing to comply, he turns away and knocks Expectation on its head. He rebels! I nag!) This is the glum loss about which I am writing in a series of poems, a poetic sequence, for a poetry class that I'm currently taking with Catherine Imbriglio at Brown Continuing Studies.

There are twelve of us, poets (though I'd hardly plunk myself in this particular category, but I will fake it for the duration of the six weeks), casting a sequence of poems linked, for the most part, by either form or theme. And I will fake it further because I need to believe that this can be done. Six poems, or more, linked by this glum/loss theme. Belligerent Days that become belligerent Seasons that become belligerent Years!

The good news: my eyesight is improving. It's true! Maybe it's the changing light of our seasons. Maybe I really AM growing younger! When my ophthalmologist had me sit behind what she called, and what I could not then spell, a phoroptor—a word I couldn't release from my mind, what I heard as and what I quietly recited so I'd not forgetFROPPER FROPPER, FROPPER! (what a strange name for an instrument) (as it turns out FROPPER is a social networking site specializing in Indian dating)—she found that, within the past year, I was minus (or is it plus in phoroptor language?) .50 from the prior year's examination. That puts me at -3.25! Which means that maybe I won't need readers in the supermarket. Heh. And wasn't I happy for the phoroptor, even if I couldn't spell it, but now that I can the image in my mind has turned to a beast—a highly photogenic (and perhaps Vietnamese) dinosaur.  PHOROPTOR!

That was this morning. When I left my ophthalmologist's office I was so happy to be at positive (or is it negative?) phoroptation I decided to take a little walk so as to let it all sink in. And there, to the left, to where I turned my rejuvenated oculi, was this magnificent, versicolor (word of the day) tableau and I quick-grabbed (because Day, like a smart-mouthed teenager, can turn on me at any moment) my iPhone and shot what was, what is, undoubtedly, Day behaving like Fall! Compliant FALL!

(This is not good for my poetic sequence—which might very well be titled Ocular Delusions. And which now seems as old as a dinosaur.)

And because my disposition has shifted widely from glum to blithe and I cannot, at this very moment, be too disappointed in Day (even if he still knocks Expectation sideways), I'm going to sign out by offering one last poem (not one of mine) from yet another former U.S. Poet Laureate, which shall also serve to top off the grand callithump parade that is to come (believe what I say—it will!). 

Introducing Philip Levine (in a video of much better quality than that of which I was able to capture), all the way from Brooklyn, NY, giving us a little lesson and believing everything he says:

Black Wine

Have you ever drunk the black wine - vino negro -
of Alicante?  The English dubbed it Red Biddy
and consumed oceans of it for a pence a flagon.
Knowing nothing - then or now - about wine,
I would buy a litre for 8 pesetas - 12 cents -
and fry my brains.  Being a happy drunk,
I lived a second time as a common laborer
toiling all night over the classic strophes
I burned in the morning, literally burned,
in an oil barrel outside the Palacio Guell,
one of the earliest and ugliest of Gaudi's
monuments to modernismo.  Five mornings
a week the foreman, Antonio, an Andalusian,
with a voice of stone raked over corrugated tin,
questioned the wisdom of playing with fire.
He'd read Edgar Allen Poe in the translations
of Valle-Inclan and believed the poets
of the new world were madmen.  He claimed an affair
with Gabriella Mistral was the low point
of his adolescence.  As the weeks passed
into spring and the plane trees in the courtyard
of the ancient hospital burst into new green,
I decided one morning to test sobriety,
to waken at dawn to sparrow chirp and dark clouds
blowing seaward from the Bultaco factory,
to inhale the particulates and write nothing,
to face the world as it was.  Everything
was actual, my utterances drab, my lies
formulary and unimaginative.
For the first time in my life I believed
everything I said.  Think of it: simple words
in English or Spanish or Yiddish, words
that speak the truth and no more, hour after
hour, day after day without end, a life
in the kingdom of candor, without fire or wine.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A Callithump Parade

Since I've been run down and not feeling well of late, making it a bit difficult to see the world, to read, never mind write (and converse, OY!, forgedaboudit!), I'm going to attempt to dazzle you, first, with some original photography; second, with more original photography; third, with engaging video; and fourth, with, well, more engaging video.

Part I
This is what I call the prelude to the Arrival of the Martians at Barnstable Harbor. They are coming, you know. After all, we did invade their extraterrestrial territory. They are due in three weeks or so, just in time for the grand callithump that is known as Halloween. (Now you believe me—don't you?—that I am quite ill.)

I'm posting this particular photo because, unfortunately, I will not be in Barnstable for Halloween and therefore will not be able to offer photo-documentation of the actual coming, or landing, of the Martians. But rest assured, the above is honest evidence that I was, indeed, in Barnstable Harbor for the psychedelic Martians-are-coming prelude. (I'd better warn my mother-in-law.)

Part II

While in New York a couple of weeks ago, I met (I'm using that term loosely, although I really do think, er, believe, that I met) U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003) Billy Collins  at the Brooklyn Book Festival, as well as the Pulitzer Prize-winning, U.S. Poet Laureate (2011-2012) Philip Levine. Seated directly in front of me, he was, Billy Collins. Eyes penetrating my glazed, hazel irises. We shared a smile. A wink. A...

You don't believe me, do you? Here, another photo—taken just before the shared winks:

(OK, well I practically met Billy Collins.)

Part III

But, let's get back to the Martians for a moment. Here, in this contemplative poem, Billy recites the derelictions of certain Martians with whom we are familiar, Martians whom, without thought or, sometimes, expression, land on, and feed off of, our verdant, selfless earth, often forgetting to reseed:

(The young gentleman seated beside Billy Collins is Ishmael 'Ish' Islam, New York City's 2012 Youth Poet Laureate. He may be one of those Martians, though, I think not. See Ish, the award winning poet and producer, here, reading his poem Daydreaming at the Voting Booth.)

Part IV

And now, to round off this shivaree, one last reading by Mr. Collins, inspired by the poem Drinking Alonewritten by Li Po, whom we might also describe as one of those self-indulgent Martians:

Beware the Martians. Do not, under any circumstance, let them drink alone! (Or just plain drink.)