Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Saturday, November 27, 2010
I have wandered
far and wide
in the Sierra Nevada
but nothing like
the autumn wind tonight.
The Sunny Top of California
Dew gathers on the meadow grasses.
Deneb takes its place in the center of the sky.
Step by step around Rockslide Lake,
keeping my eyes on the radiant moon,
I call out the names of old Chinese poets,
who instruct me by saying nothing.
All my life I’ve loved high lonesome places.
Odors of moss and bark
and cones and twigs and snowmelt mud,
I feel like I’ve been coming to the Sierra
for a thousand years.
A human life is no more than a flicker of lightning,
but to die on a glacier
my bones would be pure forever.
Watching the moon begin its slow descent,
my mind quiets down
until there’s scarcely a ripple.
In the morning I’ll look for a campsite
somewhere green and steep and wild
where a wolverine might feel safe.
I talk brave,
but all I want is an autumn alone
with books and tea
and Bugler cigarettes rolled-your-own,
to be deeply enjoyed without hurry
on the sunny top of California.
dogwood in blossom
is all the spring I need.
CLEAR AUTUMN MORNING
Orion stalks the Pleiades.
Paper ~thin, a silver crescent begins to rise.
Dawn light fills Evolution Basin.
On the southern slopes of Mt. Huxley
folds and wrinkles come into focus.
Cold air drains from Muir Pass.
Frost sparkles on the grasses
white as the Milky Way.
One star by day, thousands at night,
I'm never so alive as here.
I lift a cup of tea to the alpenglow
and clear autumn morning,
thirty miles from a road.
The Sunny Top of California
La Alameda Press
9636 Guadalupe Trail NW
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87114
Friday, November 26, 2010
We watched it by woodfire light, one simple candle and two crate tables pushed together for a Thanksgiving little feast.
coda: I've got lots of smart friends; some can even spell better than little ol' me.
At least two times I have posted this Beckett quote, and each time "charitable" has been wrong.
I worked with a plumber this morning and hunkered down into his work, back to me, I heard him mumble to himself, but loud enough for the world, "dummy". About himself. A little mistake he had made. Like the one I've been making.
I even have a kind neighbor who tried to correct my ways to get the word, finally, right. "Dummy".
When a moment might be warm again (ha!), I will remount the Beckett and snap another photograph and finally have the words of Molloy right as rain.
By the way, it should be "defence". Too.
For the moment the above has all the feeling, though wrong. I'll be changing it.
And then it will be right.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Tomas Transtromer was born in Stockholm (1931) and published his first book of poems in his early twenties — nothing has slowed his poetry down since, not even a crushing stroke in 1990 which bothers his speech, but not his writing, or piano playing, alebit one handed. Long a practicing psychologist (since the early 60s), before the stroke he worked in juvenile prisons, with drug addicts and the disabled. I've chosen the poems below from The Sorrow Gondola, the first collection of poetry the poet completed after 1990.
Spring lies deserted.
The velvet-dark ditch
crawls by my side
All that shines
are yellow flowers.
I'm carried in my shadow
like a violin
in its black case.
The only thing I want to say
gleans out of reach
like the silver
in a pawnshop.
A Page from the Nightbook
One night in May I stepped ashore
through a cool moonlight
where the grass and flowers were gray
but smelled green.
I drifted the slope
in the colorblind night
while white stones
signaled to the moon.
In a period
a few minutes long
and fifty-eight years wide.
And behind me
beyond the lead-shimmering water
lay the other shore
and those who ruled.
People with a future
instead of faces.
There's a swarming beneath us. The trains are running.
Hotel Astoria shivers
a glass of water near the bed
shines in the tunnels.
He dreamt he was a prisoner in Svallard.
The planet rotated and rumbled.
Glittering eyes walked over the fields of ice.
The beauty of miracles existed.
Walk by, they are buried. . .
A cloud floats over the sun's disc.
Starvation is a tall building
moving in the night
in the bedroom an elevator's dark shaft
opens toward the interior.
Flowers in the ditch. Fanfare and silence.
Walk by, they are buried. . .
The silverware survives in large schools
at the depths where the Atlantic is black.
radiates from my clothing.
Clattering tambourines of ice.
I close my eyes.
There is a silent world
there is a crack
where the dead
are smuggled across the border.
The Sorrow Gondola (Green Integer)
translated by Michael McGriff & Mikaela Grassl
Please click on here:
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Born in 1924 in Lwow Poland, where he was forced to leave as a student when the Soviet Red Army invaded in 1944, for Krakow, where he studied economics, and then another move to Sopot where his parents resided and he began work at the Polish National Bank, all the while continuing his Law studies, poet and essayist Zbigniew Herbert dropped into a bookshop when he was twenty-four and wrote his first of many essays. While reading the essay I thought it was as fresh as a daisy and may have been one of his concluding remarks, often repeated by many others to this minute, on the demise of poetry. Zbigniew Herbert passed away in 1999.
"Poetry," he muttered, "but almost nobody buys that these days. It's commercial waste paper."
That last phrase, though softened by the adjective "commercial," grated on my ear for a long time. On the way home I wondered, mournfully: are we really seeing the demise of poetry? Is this oldest of literary genres departing to the cemetery of exhausted forms? Forms too diminutive for the coming content? Does emotion lie under the threshold of sensitivity in a person of our atomic age?
In spite of everything, poetry exists. There are poets who write poems, publish defenseless little books, literary journals print experts' polemics, critics are led by the nose. Only the whole movement is suspended in air, because a poet's word never becomes a household word. Contemporary poetry is ridiculed by the average reader, and school has done an expert job of making the classics repugnant. The number of people who read poetry is minuscule — it's an inarguable fact.
Let's try to find the causes of this state of affairs, let's try to find a way out.
( from "Poetry In A Vacuum?" 1948)
A. But language is a common medium of communication for all people.
B. That's exactly where the problem lies. Language is an impure instrument of expression. Tortured on a daily basis, made banal, subjected to base treatment. So the dream of poets is to reach the virgin meaning of words, to give things their proper names, as Norwid says, "Let words mean only what they mean and not against whom they are used." That's a quote from another great poet. For me the dialogue with objects was such an attempt to reach the pure source of speech. It was also a rebellion against liars and swindlers."
(from "Conversation on Writing Poetry" 1973)
The Collected Prose, Zbigniew Herbert
Monday, November 22, 2010
Nice big white library at the center of town, run and used by all sorts of book lovers. We know the place and went through a side door and could hear the reading had already begun.
Norris Church Mailer was what she might term a southern belle — attractive, great eyes and lots of spunk. She was reading to maybe 30 local folks in a parlor setting, circled with books and the walls decorated nicely in wood craftsmanship. Norman Mailer was in the front row, now nearing the end of his life, sitting with crutches that would help move him like a human crab when it was time to leave. We snuck some chocolate chip cookies early from the reception table and called that supper (life on the road) and went in to enjoy the reading.
Norris Church Mailer once said she reached to read People Magazine before The New York Review of Books. Yes, she was enjoying herself at this reading. So were we. We were but strangers, but I got the feeling everyone seemed to know and like the author when she was done.
She knew she would never write War & Peace. Or The Naked and the Dead.
She had something else to offer.
It was southern hospitality. It gets me every time.
I was playing this piece of music when I heard of her passing.
Photo courtesy the LA Times
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Leslie Marmon Silko
Leslie Marmon Silko is a native New Mexican (Albuquerque birth, 5 March 1948) but has lived a good deal of her adult life in an around the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona.
The majority of her stunning and still-life memoir The Turquoise Ledge centers around her daily walks and hikes on the arroyo, keeping her eyes out for turquoise and sharing with her readers an open commentary on desert life love — whether sheltering turquoise or myriad pages simply on the description and relationship the author has with rattlesnakes about her premises or inside her house. There are companion parrots, a pet mouse, and desert rats, too.
1/4 Laguna Pueblo and otherwise Anglo-American and Mexican-American heritage, Silko, like any natural storyteller (and she is genuine) draws most of her heart and instinct from the years as a youngster when she was educated by her grandmother and aunts in traditional stories and the old ways. There is nothing like the storyteller who draws from the well of childhood.
This influence soaks through every page of this personal memoir, so one becomes accustomed to what I call an Indian drag...the methodical and no-big-deal celebration as a living witness. Less on human life and more on what is living about and with us, shaken right down to reptile life, insects, slant of sunlight, dusty emptiness. Pages and pages and pages. The walkabout of the day. Precious few non-Indian writers can do this sort of magic quite as well; maybe Jaime de Angulo comes best to mind.
The majesty of the Silko patience and wisdom is that without describing much of herself — each day as one reads from this new book — one looks forward to spending more time with the author, who does give of herself through her surroundings.
Encounters with wild beings aren't as jarring probably because I am watching for the wild creatures but not expecting humans, like the two horsemen.
Later I met with them in the hikers' parking lot; I'd managed to walk the same distance in the same amount of time as the horses.
I often think of Geronimo and his ragged band of women and children in their final years of resisting the U.S. troops. Five thousand of them had pursued forty or fifty Apaches, mostly women and children. The troops rode horses, while the Apaches traveled on foot. In the steep rocky terrain the horses were ineffective; they went lame and slowed the troops; if the Apaches got a horse they promptly butchered it and dried the meat. Travel on foot was the fastest way over the steep rocky trails of Sonora and Chihuahua.
Another turquoise rock washed out of the dirt in the back yard. The off-white limestone is about two inches by one half inch with odd deposits of turquoise in the moon-shaped indentations. "The end is broken off creating" —my notes are incomplete; I wonder if I can find this rock and complete the sentence. I turn to my collection of turquoise rocks. No labels, no containers. Just handfuls of turquoise pebbles and rock fragments mixed with dust and paper clips on my desktop. Nothing.
Then to the other tables that I've covered with turquoise rocks; and from the description I wrote, I only had to pick up one other piece of rock before I spied the correct one. It is almost arrowhead-shaped with the point broken off. The off-white limestone appears pockmarked and in the tear-drop indentations in the limestone small spots of turquoise in calcite and metal salts are attached.
So I would end the unfinished sentence like this: "a resemblance to a broken arrow tip." The white limestone also has turquoise on the other side in a sort of cheesy-crust texture but with no eye-catchers like the pockmarks or moon craters with turquoise spots.
The turquoise is quite hard to scratch with a fingernail and is not chalky. My note continues: "The limestone is some of the whitest I've found to contain turquoise." Again comes the question—did it occur in the layers of whitish caliche on this hilltop or was it found elsewhere and brought up here by humans? Like the old trade beads I used to find in the back yard, like the other pieces of turquoise I had found in planters and clay pots and around the house while my broken foot healed.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Friday, November 19, 2010
George Dennison was a handsome man. It's curious how few photographs there are of this fine author and activist on the Internet. The new home of our faces.
George was gone to lung cancer at age 62 in 1987, which was just about the time I met him. He had come down from Maine to attend a birthday party at our place in Vermont for Hayden Carruth. Many came, it was a wonderful party that spread out from a large lawn tent. That August night, when only the hardcore were left and staying over, George rolled out a sleeping bag and slept out on our lawn. Stars in his eyes. The only one who even gave it a thought to do such a thing.
Born in Pittsburgh and raised in a lifetime freedom-fighting, George was the author of a novel, short stories, plays, children stories and in his work as a teacher and therapist the author of the classic The Lives of Children, one of the bibles out of the sixties free school movement. As he set it in stone: relationships, not instruction, promoted real learning.
He wrote well of his friends — Paul Goodman, Hayden Carruth, The Bread & Puppet Theater — as well as neighbors and workers and jack-of-all-traders from his part of Maine.
I'm more than happy to showcase a few pages from Temple, from a Writer's Notebook (Steerforth Press), which maybe shares best of all George Dennison's place on earth.
I went over to Dick's place to talk about some bookcases. Beautiful views on three sides, autumn hills and fields. In the shed/garage (attached) two large bird wings. "Oh, that's a goose, a Canadian goose. George shot it. Yes, as we lost it. Isn't that awful! It went bad. I had it soaking in baking soda, and I put ice cubes in, but it just wasn't cold enough down cellar...."
Dick had a cold. "I shouldn't have gone out yesterday, but I've been trying to get some of the snowmobilers to swamp out some trails with me, and yesterday was when they could do it, so I thought I better show up."
He was drawing diagrams: packing crates for a complicated display booth he has built for a local businessman. Got out some vodka. Supper on stove. House terribly overheated, but everybody here is used to that. As always, talk of sports.
"Where've you been? Haven't seen you for a while. We called you a couple of times for poker. Did you get to the see the fight (Ali-Spinks)? I was disappointed. He's about used up, I think. But the pre-lims were good, weren't they? Yes, I thought they were real good."
And soon: "The best ball game I ever saw in my life was the Braves and the Dodgers down in Boston. Warren Spahn was pitching. Oh, he was something else. And that great big colored man, what was his name, well darn it I almost had it! Catcher — right! Campanella, Roy Campanella. But I don't know, I think the players today are faster at everything, and they get paid so much. Oh, I think they are. Look at track. Don't you remember how long it took them to break the four minute mile. Glen Cunningham — he was the big runner when I was in school. I got my growth later. But I was a good runner. I ran everything from the hundred to cross-country. Yeh. One of our local boys here, from Phillips, was the national champion in cross-country. Marty Toothaker. Yeah. I figured I was doing good if I could see him finish. When you see him today you'd never guess he was a runner. He can hardly get out of his own way (laughing) . . . a great big belly on him . . . But hockey was my game. I was a good skater and fast on the ice. I used to skate with the high school team when I was a freshman. I wasn't on the team. I just worked out with them . . . and then the next year they took hockey out completely, said it was too dangerous, or something. Oh, wasn't I disappointed!"
(I've heard about the local skating: because they used to cut ice from the ponds and the new ice was good for skating until the next snow. Now the snow piles up and no one skates.)
He let me have the bill for the last job. He'd held it for six months — a peculiarity of his.
I took him the three dollars for gluing and sanding the little stool. Gave him a five. We were standing just inside the door of his little shop. (Every time Eddie glues a chair the legs are uneven — it's because the floor of his workshop is uneven). He had already said, "Nice day, isn't it?" — sunny and brisk after three days of bitter cold and hard wind. (These are not banal remarks, but little prayers and attestations of an underlying joy.) The wide door to the little shed/shop was open, plenty of light. He was peering into his wallet. I could see that there were two ones there, together with a couple of fives and a twenty. Suddenly an outburst, angry, out of patience — "I can't see a goddamn thing!" He game me the singles. I questioned him, since I knew it would have to be serious, even extremely serious, before Eddie would mention it. "Do you need new glasses?"
"They can't fit me for glasses anymore. They can't give me a tamn t'ing. I've got cataracts."
"Can't they take them off?"
"They're not ripe yet. It may take six months, it may take a year."
It was clear that the sudden dependency and inability to work was frightening, painful, and humiliating, since he's fiercely independent. "I've been putting the drops right to 'em. Damn them!"
"Can you drive all right? Do you feel safe driving?"
"No, I don't feel safe — I can't see that well any more! Especially on days like this. All that light from the snow. On a cloudy day I can see a little. It's all blurred. It's getting hard to see in here." (Hard to make the axe handles and the fiddles he's been making.)
"Nellie doesn't drive, does she?"
"No, she don't."
I asked what he'd do about shopping. "Well, there are people who say they'll take us in whenever we need it — but I hate that, it's god damn monotonous. Nellie has to go to the hospital maybe three times a month — she's got the sugar diabetes. I have to go twice a month."
I said we'd help. The idea of shopping like this disturbed him terribly, the idea of being dependent and beholden.
"We usually keep a good stock on hand . . . except there are things we need now and then. Damn Nellie always buys the smallest amount she can of anything, and she won't get more till she uses that last drop of it, then all of a sudden she has to have it. That's bullshit. If I buy a large amount I catch hell. . ."
Bitter mouth, bitter eyes, silence. One can see how important good sense has become to him — it carried his competence and independence through several heart attacks. He needs it to cope with illness, age, poverty, and now this hastening blindness — and it's being defeated by the silliness, giddiness, irresponsibility, lack of foresight of this fat little woman-child, who is spirited and seems to have a loving disposition, though perhaps not for him.
"All you're payin' for is the gottam jar . . . and with the cost o' gas. . ." (When he speaks excitedly, his French-Canadian accent is stronger.)
I remember: Nellie's father, mean, killed himself, never had a friend, couldn't even stand himself.
A crisis is beginning now in Eddie's life.