Sunday, December 31, 2006

Villanelle: Avoidant; Hope for the New Year


You wake: the house is cold, the light is dim.
Make coffee, walk the dog, turn on the heat.
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

You think about the things that might have been:
New car, big house, the children bright and neat.
You wake: the house is cold, the light is dim.

You know you’ve got to take it on the chin.
You wish life weren’t so damnably concrete!
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

The light is thinner than an actor’s skin.
(To read your poems out loud would be a feat.)
You wake; the house is cold, the light is dim.

Where do we get the courage to dig in?
It isn’t for survival we compete.
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

I used to tackle tasks with a mild grin.
Now I turn my head as they accrete.
You wake: the house is cold, the light is dim.
The redwoods eat the sun; the light is thin.

Today’s poem started off as a sonnet, then the villanelle form took over. It’s easy to write about the immediate because “the immediate you have with you always.” Per usual I make no judgment of the poem’s worth; I find that impossible for any poem unless it be years old. I have not submitted any of these formal attempts to anyone; one thing I must do in the New Year is aggressively submit to magazines. I don’t know if these formal attempts of mine are any more than anachronistic curiosities.

Our landlord just stopped by to tell us our heating bill would be $240. This is patently unfair since he divides the three units by inhabitants, not square feet. He said he would switch to the square footage next bill, but that doesn’t help us now, especially with the increased outlay (always inescapable) for Christmas.

This is New Year’s Eve. There is much I could do today, I suppose, but in the spirit of the holiday (as in the spirit of my poem) I likely won’t do much besides work on my writing. I did sweep the porches yesterday, bring in the trash cans, and did some other minor duties associated with reality, but after all, a poet lives in his head.

Will all practical poets successful at the business of life please raise your hands?

I have never been good with money; I am not neat; I am usually anxious when I pay bills, fearing I won’t have enough, indeed, leaving them unopened for a spell like fortune cookies whose fortunes I know will be bad. This may have started when I was a poor student for so many years, scraping by. Then even when my income was greatest I had to file for bankruptcy. To me, money means unhappiness. To the normal mind, I suppose, money is a blessing. Much of my attitude stems from my family of origin; money always caused unhappiness, it seemed, especially in the hands of my father as a bludgeon to confirm our unworthiness.

Yet as impaired as I may be, I can still benefit the human race, I can still dream of a future more amenable than my present circumstances. This is hope, the one virtue most needed in depression, and the one virtue least available in the same.

Here’s to Hope in the New Year!



p.s. My reference to “anonymous” yesterday included more than one person, Norm. ;-)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sonnet: "Not a Book;" Hope in Striving

Not a Book

A twisted oak of possibilities,
An auto race outside the sheltered bowl,
Menu of sanities, insanities,
The rodent tunnels leading to one hole.
A lot to think about; a lot to do.
You need illusions to answer the bell.
To think about yourself will surely screw
Your chances for the prize; down you fell
(Not that you couldn’t box, we know you can)
Because your self-awareness let you down.
Instead of punching you thought of your span,
Mortality, the slough in which we drown.
Take your head out of your ass and look:
This is your life and not some fucking book.

It seems with formal verse that the sonnet is my default mode. The common verse of ballads rarely appeals; villanelles nearly always lend themselves to some serious drama; triolets are five-finger exercises; pantoums are just damn difficult and don’t, at least in my hands, qualify as lyrics, more as epigrams. I like to mix Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnets, although today’s is purely Shakespearean. And I don’t abide by the rule that each quatrain should have its own temporary conclusion. As for blank verse, who would read it? It belongs to the pre-modern or Victorian period and won’t fly in the wake of Prufrock--even though Prufrock is largely blank verse.

This is, of course, a positive sonnet urging participation in life rather than omphaloskepsis, or navel-staring. In my depressions I am surely guilty of this error; yet it is not my fault that the human mind has the capacity to fold in on itself until there is nothing left but a vague yearning for one’s former personality. As Kathleen says, “I’ve seen you inhabit your face in these last few days.”

Indeed, depression is like dispossession and normal mood like possession, when our souls possess our bodies instead of having fled them. I spoke to my brother-in-law about it recently, describing how in severe depression one feels without a soul. “Really?” he said. In that sentence I knew he had never experienced depression (and we know that 90% of the populace never does).

I admire the shit out of my brother-in-law. He works long days at his law firm and when he comes home almost immediately takes up a project in the garden or around the house, else returns to work on his computer. He loves to work. And in his working he forgets himself. I envy him for that discipline and productivity; yet if I shared his nature I would likely never have written a poem. Yet I would rather be more like my brother-in-law than write another poem. Unfortunately my nature leaves me little choice.

But I did not become a doctor by being lazy or averse to work. I worked my butt off, not only in class but outside school to help support myself and my young family. And this did not inhibit my other pleasures of music and poetic composition and fishing. Medical school was a time of balance, I think, between work and leisure. Yet now, on disability, I feel I have too much leisure. It is up to me to undertake work of whatever kind. For me, in the immediate, that means dusting off my novel, designed as an airport book, putting my columns and short fiction together for another book, and submitting my poetry to august journals that might improve my reputation. But at 52, I sometimes feel as if I am pursuing “a dying fall.” Achieving a reputation at my age is a low probability. But that does not make it unnecessary; it’s in the striving that we live and gather hope.

I do feel as if I am on the cusp of something but I don’t know what it is. A major re-evaluation of my life? (I mean healthy introspection without unnecessary dwelling on my deficits.) I want to participate in life, not be crushed by it. I want to complete my literary projects, not avoid them. But it is in the striving that we live. A man without it is not truly alive. Hope must stand before us like an Orthodox icon. Without it we are lost, as I have been these last nine months. Nine months of depression. Could it be over? Doubtful. But with each step I take toward striving I move farther away from the toadstool on which I’ve been sitting, immobilized.

Won’t estimate my rattage today.



Friday, December 29, 2006

Power Outage

We returned from Christmas on Wednesday, Dec. 27, whereupon we discovered that the storm from Tuesday, with 60 mph winds, had caused a power outage in our rural domicile. Most recent estimates is that we might have power by Sunday. My computer battery is ancient, thus I can't post from home. I'm here at a coffee bar using wireless to write this.

We have no heat, no plumbing, no stereo, no stove, no nothing. We can read or play Scrabble. I bought a Coleman lantern for some cheerier night light other than my bluish headlamp, and one propane canister lasts the evening--even though it warns us not to burn it indoors, due to CO concerns. With the windows open, we woke up alive. Don't know if I should be disappointed in that or not, as I am still treading the cogwheels of depression on and off--clearly I need more to do, more with which to engage myself, so that I think about myself less. On the whole, what with the new antidepressant and the buoyant love of my family over Christmas, I am doing better, but I am wary of any temporary improvements given this year's history.

When we wake up it is butt-ass cold, forty or below. It's the same reading at night in bed. Kathleen is wearing my Arctic expedition weight polypropylene long underwear and dreads to get out of it in the morning. My hands are so cold she shrieks if I touch her skin. That hasn't prevented at least one episode of amorousness; many children are born in the Fall because of it. Luckily, we are past the age of conception, unless it be the conception of our own old age and doom.

Our oldest daughter, a single working mother, was delighted with her gift of a day at a spa. Our younger daughters sent us a number of thoughtful gifts. Kathleen baked a storm of cookies, including absolutely delicious truffles which would afflict my waistline with further excess.

As for our lack of power, there is no one to complain to, no one to sue--it is "an act of God." There were some 133 stations in our county alone that were knocked out; power has been restored to Mendocino Village but four miles out in the redwoods is a buck dancer's bet as to whether we'll have heat by New Year's. Still the human animal is phenomenally adaptable, even unto death. It's so cold in our house that the ice cubes in the freezer lasted two days before melting.

I suppose we could start a 12-Step program to cope with our powerlessness over power, but by the time we had our first meeting, people would likely be addicted to power again.

Unfortunately, unlike the two other units on our property, we have no wood stove or fireplace. Our new neighbor from farther south actually had the prescience to bring a generator with him, so we can here it puttering at night while his house is bright with light. We could ask him to borrow his toilet, but as he is connected to the same well pump, he likely has the same problem we do. (Before I realized our new limitations I unfortunately made a large deposit. Now I must attend to business exclusively outdoors.)

Love to all my poet/blogging acquaintances, from LKD to Twitches, from Sam Rasnake to Jim Zola, from anonymous to inconsequential, from Elisa to Chris, from Rob Mackenzie to Beau Blue, and to all I left off this short list.

I pray this new year will be better for me and my illness. I will be writing down some New Year's goals, but I won't share them here lest I be held to them by a disapproving and disappointed reading populace.

At some level of obsessive kilorats, bloody but unbowed,


Where's My MTV?

The power is out. Our butts are cold.
We don't add to global warming.
Despite this, if the truth be told
Daylight's only good for farming.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holiday Hiatus; Blogger Begs Off

I just want to say to all those who drink from this questionable well that I'm on hiatus until the New Year--unless I get the blogging bug before then.

I Hhad a wonderful Christmas at my sister's, with all sibs there and various relatives. I felt so good in their company I hope I don't crash afterwards.

I realize also that one thing that has been eating at me is my environment; our rental is small and the redwoods render it claustrophobic. When we looked at other rentals I wanted something with an ocean view, but we didn't qualify with our credit. I have an unofficial lease until next August, but I really must get out of there and get a place with a view, always a necessity in my life.

And how about that troop surge in Iraq? We are so blessed with our leaders and their creative logic.

"Hey, Hey, George W. Bush; how many kids have you turned to mush?"

Merry Merry God Bless You Every One (and Toto Too!)

Craig Erick

Friday, December 22, 2006

CBE: Pharisees

Another Chinese Brush Experiment: the poet can only go forward and not change a single word except for grammar or spelling. Enjoy the roughness of unfiltered verse, unlike my usual formal posts, which, surprisingly, are usually just as rough in terms of immediate composition.


Oh you brood of vipers with your venomous hippocracy,
Steaming in the waft of your self-righteousness
Above the artichokes that take so long to cook.
You don't tremble at the tripartite God.

I went to you once, to an elder
For advice about dating and whatnot
He decided my girlfriend was an abomination
While his wife reminded him of his own petting (early in their relationship).

Should I countenance the religious with anything but scorn?
Should I lick their boots for a scrap of forgiveness?
I do not think the humble know them.
Give me the humble every time.

The sun rises on the righteous and unrighteous.
The sun is implacable in its fairness.
The gold disk illuminates the dark corners
Of human lies, traditions, protections, evasions.

This would be a moral poem if it had a moral.
But it is a moral poem, if deceivers are understood.
I knew a man once with a thousand Krugerands.
He also owned semi-automatic rifles and taught Sunday School.

Do we need people like this to advance religion?
The slavery of the Indians to the preternatural host?
The incorporation of folk beliefs into the bleeding Jesus?
The mother gods become the blue and white Mary?

Fuck the systems, fuck the gods.
True light comes from true light, there is no mistaking it.
It cuts the soul with a diamond-edged blade
And leaves a man with nothing except a beggar's bowl.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Post for December 22 : Chinese Brush Experiment

I would like to do a Chinese Brush Experiment, an exercise where the poet can go only forward, never back--except to change line breaks, punctuation, grammar or spelling. The words themselves may not be changed in any significant way. Here I go:


Demosthenes chewed stones but spit them out,
his tongue ungrateful for the discipline she'd learned
from pebbles wrapped in saliva.
Not an announcement, no parasol and green balloon
over the astronomy lab, shame it is.
As I was saying, the shortest route between two points
is woven like a snake, even two snakes mating
which is a vision you can't be responsible for.
I mean in a general sense, no presupposition
the black girl in the orange raincoat smiles
for no reason, you grip your cane, shield your heart
and take suspicion for your lover. Shame.
It's not the same for everybody, you know--
but as I get older I want to be more open,
coiled to try to understand, intent upon meaning,
without dismissing the ravings of the inexperienced
nor promoting the ignorance of academic singularization,
to live with an open door because the house of your life is stout
and your fear is a trace element
folding on itself atomically
the nuclear blast so green
green fire, the parasol on the desert was dust.
Dangerous dust. Ha! The sore point:
how the ulcer of aggression feeds the maggot of desire.
We were talking about that, and the confessions
of the Samoan twins, accused of terminal obesity
exceeding the cholesterol limit
by two kiloblubbers.
Thank you very much.
You have been very kind.
May you all be blessed in all things by the grace of God,

Anti-War Villanelle

Hail to the Chiefs

With their boot heels they grind us down to sand.
No nest to feather for the common man.
We were a country; now we are a land.

There is no grave apocalypse at hand.
The threat of it they use to fuel their plan.
With their boot heels they grind us down to sand.

All we like sheep give in to their demands
While amputees can’t move their own bedpans.
We were a country; now we are a land.

The elite rule with their adrenal glands
And slaver at the chance to bomb Iran.
With their boot heels they grind us down to sand.

A mad idealist is in command.
I’m sure he’s never read the damn Koran.
We were a country; now we are a land.

Elected, aren’t they? With a Marine band!
(Appointments go to suits in a sedan.)
With their boot heels they grind us down to sand.
We were a country; now we are a land.

I have never been a political poet, but recent developments have driven me to write about the insanity going on. Send more troops? Hilarious. Say we have 300,000, which is impossible. The Iraqis have 30 million and a gun in nearly every home. And this is an urban guerilla war, not the kind of thing that lends itself to large conventional troops. It reminds me the carnival game, "Whack-A-Mole." Soon as you hit one gopher another comes up.

Again I am impressed by the lack of public and vociferous protest. There are a few, like congressman Murtha. But it seems all the major players see our continued involvement in Iraq some kind of necessity for stabilizing the Mideast. I am repeating myself, but you might as well try to tame a brood of vipers.

I don't know what I'm going to do about this. I guess I'll write my congressman for starters. Then there is Poets for Peace, which I've never really pursued. Perhaps one of my political poems would suit them.

I won't comment on my mood.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sonnet: Gym Talk; More on Iraq

Gym Talk

I exercised today. I walked two miles
Uphill in forty minutes, then I swam
1000 yards, staring at blue tiles
In crosses underwater. No cardiogram
Was needed, since my pulse behaved itself.
True, my back ached while swimming and walking
But pain is no good measurement of health.
I slipped into the Jacuzzi. A man was talking
About impeaching Bush, as many do.
“Clinton’s little lies harmed none,” he said,
“While Bush, that preening Christian cockatoo
“Believes more sacrifice honors the dead.”
Honor the living, I say, pull up the tents!
We’ve done no good; look at the evidence.

Today’s sonnet reflects my experience at the gym yesterday, though the events and subsequent conversation have, of course, been manipulated for the sake of brevity. But the passion of men my age in the locker room discussion of the present administration was amazing. I haven’t seen citizens exercised like this in a long time.

On the other hand, where are the protests? Where is the million man march against the war? Why are there no great demonstrations? Is it simply a matter of scale, that we’ve only lost 3000? Or is it because the economy is good, despite the drain Iraq puts on the treasury? Or has apathy reached new levels in our society?

Do we think, “That’s just Washington as usual and there’s nothing we can do about it?” Cindy Sheehan may be a flake, but she had the right idea. But the point is not to throw one dead son in Bush’s face, rather to throw the whole debacle in his face, preferably with a huge demonstration or a national demonstration coordinated locally, with protests from LA to NY. But where are the organizers? If people behaved fifty years ago as they do today, segregation might still exist.

If anyone knows of any effective movements opposing the war that I might join, please write me. I am constantly amazed at the lack of protest over our current fatal misdirection. What, we blew up the Mideast so we have to stay there and try to put the pieces of the balloon back together? Get a life, America.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sonnet: Watershed


Pain ravages her face and makes her old;
I see new bags beneath her sea-green eyes.
She stays in bed a lot, dreading the cold;
She goes for heating pads, never for ice.
I watch her wince when she exits the van;
It takes a while for her to straighten and stand.
Her disks won’t stabilize and nothing can
Restore their architecture to God’s plan.
I love her desperately and she’s in pain.
Her pain is amplified within my head.
The helplessness I feel is the same
All humans carry to love’s watershed.
Watershed makes rivers, even of tears,
Though grief remains after the water clears.

I have suffered degenerative disk disease for so long that it is a part of my life I endure without too much thought. But a fresh disk impairment can be disabling. Chronic pain is always better than acute pain. And Kathleen, my wife, is suffering acute pain. We all stand by helplessly so often when our loved ones suffer, but often there is nothing to do but stand by. Thus the genesis of today's verse; I hesitate to call it a poem.


Monday, December 18, 2006

Sonnet: Winter Sun; Money on My Mind

Winter Sun

The winter sun is weak, light without heat.
It doesn’t warm the ravens or the gulls.
They sit on rocks, feathers over feet.
They accept the sun but still, summer pulls.
The sea lions are immune to such decrease.
Their blubber warms them better than a fire
While mice shiver in holes for a surcease
From this icy sun they deem a liar.
Sun should warm, sun should power the earth
With juice-splashed fields and a riot of grass
But the winter sun spawns only a stillbirth--
Why bears sleep in caves to let it pass.
Still, a sterile globe is better than none.
The cruel disk is, after all, the sun.

I want to thank all of you who have shared my journey and, for the last three months, my deluge of formal verse. After church yesterday I think I went down a notch; I didn’t know if I was ready to attend and I wasn’t. My mind keeps circling money for some reason:

“You’re 52, why don’t you own a home?
“You have no retirement plan.
“Your disability income could be cancelled in a New York minute.
“If you managed your income better you could save for the future.
“You don’t even have life insurance for Kathleen. (To be fair, it’s not that I haven’t tried. I have been declared uninsurable. As soon as they read I’m a manic-depressive whose father committed suicide, it’s all over.)
“What will happen in a major illness? Kathleen may need a hip replacement, her hips have been so bad. How are you going to pay for that without health insurance?
“You should be giving more money to charity.
“You’re impractical and will never get a hand on reality.
“No way your Social Security, if it’s still available, will be enough to live on.”
“Maybe you could get one of those cheap trailers in a mobile home park someday if you’re lucky.”

Now some of these thoughts are wise and necessary; what isn’t is to have them circling in my head every time my mind is not occupied with something else. In my natural, non-depressed state, I don’t worry about money. In my depressed state I can’t keep it out of my head. And there’s nothing to do about it now. This is Christmas month, after all.

I don’t want to share more than one obsession a day so I’ll quit here.

Kathleen is suffering terribly from a degenerating disk in her back. She spends most of her time in bed to relieve the pressure. Other than securing pain medicines for her, there’s nothing I can do. I know the disease Oh so well. But it doesn’t help my mood to watch her suffering.

At 1 Kilorat, maybe more, I’m confused. (That’s a -1 one on the mood scale for any who haven’t read that portion of my blog concerning Roger Dier. And for most people it would be more like a -3 or -4; my ratings are higher because of all the depressions I’ve endured.)

Thine as ever,

Craig Erick

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: A Question of Faith

A Question of Faith

Six gold candlesticks and a central cross
Grace the altar but I cannot embrace
The vacuum of our Lord’s missing face,
The cinnamon fire that turns our gold to dross.
Where is he? He was never at a loss
For words before, except during his passion.
Jesus is, quite simply, out of fashion.
His guidance might as well be a coin toss.

When I was younger I gave my heart to him,
Eager to serve and suffer, eager to please.
In the vacuum where he doesn’t dwell
I sought him with all my being, with life and limb.
Now church just makes me cry, I’m never at ease.
If I lost what I never had, am I in hell?

If I began to talk about the grief that the Christian Faith produces in me, I would have to write a book, not a blog. I was converted at 16 and had a wild ride through cults, an undiagnosed manic-depressive who got so spiritual that Christ had to tell me when to brush my teeth. And my manias have always taken a Christian bent.

To sit in church, as I did today, and feel like an utter outcast from God--sure, the people are nice--but it's as if nothing is there for me but grief. I cry for my mistaken faith; I cry for my inability to feel anything towards God or the faith; I cry for "betting my life on Christ" and having my life blow up in my face. I think my sin is presumption, the expectation that something good should have happened within or without me because of my devotion. Then I think it might be grief for an earlier time when I could feel devotion, feel something behind the hymns and worship.

This is a troublesome area for me, but I dared going to church today despite my illness. I don't know if the tears were a good or bad thing; probably good, since I knew, vaguely, what I was crying about. I was crying about my extreme disappointment with God, as if someone shot my father. God is inscrutable to me. Christ I can't relate to. I believe in the Holy Spirit but would never say he's working in my life. Religion continues to be toxic to me, though I wish with all my heart it would offer the comfort it seems to offer others.

At 0.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Poem: The Passing

It's always dangerous to post a first draft of a poem, but in these months of writing in form, everything has been a first draft. Besides, I think two days of Dweebler's shenanigans are driving readers away. He is an intellectual low brow and delights in mocking my work. In any case, here's a poem I wrote very quickly this morning.

The Passing

I used to pay attention to the flickering moth
circling the yellow light and the dust
swirling in a rain of particles
at night, on the porch.

I used to watch fog creep up the valley,
swept up in its graceful blanketing
of the fir-green hillsides and the river
it entirely obscured.

It is not Sehnsucht that I seek, not the pull
of regret in the gut like having been in love
and having your love fail. It is more
that I don’t pay attention.

There is no poetry left in me,
no magic words to roll around my tongue
until they connect with my feet
and we are one.

I don’t play the guitar much, either.
My soft fingers recoil
from the wires that sing;
I listen to the radio.

A bit elegaic, I think, but few of my friends continued to play the guitar into their fifties. I have. But as this poem demonstrates, I lack magic in my life. Yet part of that is surely due to the onset of benefits from my new antidepressant, Cymbalta. It has really quieted my brain. I'm able to read again. Maybe someday I'll be up for reading poetry again. There is magic there, but it takes some work.

All for today,


Friday, December 15, 2006

Dweebler and the Neocons

Since I am not inspired, my cousin, Dweebler Cramden, has consented to compose another startling poem. (He would correct me and say that it is not a poem, that he only writes verse. My mistake.)

Dynamic Duo

Oh hear the drum! The neocons
Believe their Tetragrammatons
Will fool the public well.

What they don’t know: the average Joe
Can apprehend the quagmire, so
There’s nothing left to tell.

Cheney and Bush were in such a rush
To give their policies a push
(And send Iraq to hell).

This demonstrates to potentates
The power to manipulate
Is not a one-time sell.

Cheney talks from the side of his mouth.
His thoughts go east, his tongue goes south.
(His head needs no gel)

While our commander takes a gander
In all the states that do not slander
What we’re doing so swell.

Bush loves his navel, he loves to travel
He loves to pound his favorite gavel
And smile for clientele.

His self-delusion’s so complete
He lets Christ wash his dirty feet
Inside a roach motel.

A war that’s lost cannot be won
The chance of history is gone,
Broken our citadel.

But these darn fools invent the rules
They learned from all their "think tank" schools
Until we must rebel.

Get up and wave your protest flag
Against your favorite gasbag
And try to ignore the smell.

Now I don't necessarily agree with vituperous vitriol my cousin espouses, then he is also a British citizen and can't know the bounds of American civility. I apologize to any who were scandalized by Dweebler, but he would very much like to hear from anyone who enjoys his verse, especially if she is a wealthy, well-padded woman of a certain age.

(Nearly neutral but afraid to claim it--0.5 kilorats),


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Stuffing the Flag by Dweebler Cramden

My cousin, Dweebler Cramden, had a court appearance today, where the boredom and the flag drove him to pen the following:

Stuffing the Flag

I am a criminal—the court is clear.
An orange jumpsuit waits for me somewhere.
My crime? I stuffed a flag straight up my rear.

I think burning the flag is insincere.
It’s been done and done—it’s de rigueur
While my stunt makes the flag just disappear

And reappear again, no worse for wear—
A little rumpled, ready for laundry care
And salvageable for another dare.

The flag covered my ass when I began
But by degrees diminished so my can
Was all there was to see. I am a man

But I swear my genitals were out of view—
Only my ass and the red, white, and blue.
Still I was charged with public nudity

Although my cape was always standing by
Honored inside my body cavity
Where even the police ought not to pry.

As you can see, my cousin tends toward earthiness. He was in a pre-trial motion about misleading a wealthy woman of a certain age that he was Orson Welles. I say, what does it hurt? He's a gigolosaurus specializing in lonely fat women. He provides a charitable service and is much more entertaining than a mere escort. I hope he gets off with a warning. He can always move back to England, but he says there are more ample women here. He's a fine businessman and a credit to the obese everywhere.

Thanks, Dweebler,


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Villanelle: Fog; On Iraq

Trial by Fog

Enclosed inside the intimacy of mist
Our visibility’s but fifty feet.
Beyond this bubble we do not exist.

The road is perilous. It turns and twists
As if its narrowing shoulders have to meet
Enclosed inside the intimacy of mist.

I want to scream, I want to raise my fist
And curse the small circumference of our light.
Beyond this bubble we do not exist.

This driving makes me itch. I should desist.
We have to trust the way like idiot sheep
Enclosed inside the intimacy of mist.

Back home we make a fire, share a kiss.
The fog’s outside, a monster with no teeth.
Beyond this bubble we do not exist.

Head on your lap, relieved, I feel blessed.
The breathing of your belly makes me complete
Enclosed inside the intimacy of mist.
Beyond this bubble we do not exist.

I have refrained from the political arena thus far in my blog, although being an American I feel myself as qualified as anyone else to comment.

The parallels to Vietnam are not funny. That war was "winnable." Then we could "contain" Communism through a corrupt state. Then it was "peace with honor," which meant massive withdrawal and a tacit admission that we had our butts kicked.

The throes of policy makers at present are legion and unnecessary. Anyone with a wit of sense can see nothing will improve the situation and that our leaving may be more helpful than our staying, since one infidel enemy will be removed from the conflict. But to stay to train Iraqi troops, many of whom no doubt belong to death squads, is a lame excuse in supporting a government that cannot stand on its own, just like Vietnam.

Who cares about destabilizing the region? It's already destabilized. And whatever our support does, it only prolongs the inevitable.

To have Bush running around with a divine light in his eyes, telling us this is the war on terror we're going to win, makes him certifiable, truly. He's a man who believes in his own neocon vision more than reality. It's downright embarrassing. Europe is right to snicker. What a tar baby we have embraced, what a quagmire of mismanagement and fatal underestimation. I thought we were going into Iraq to search for WMDs; turns out we invaded to occupy, a notoriously bad idea in a post-colonial world.

The Iraq Study Group didn't go far enough, but no matter. Looks like Bush isn't going to listen to them anyway. He must listen to the secret voice of God, like Pat Robertson. How else could he be so sure of himself?

All for today,


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sonnet: Celebrity; More Mushrooms


I heard the raven call me to its nest.
Blue wings on black, he made a low-pitched caw.
I went to climb his tree; I did my best;
Thick overhanging limbs made me withdraw.
He ruffled in a redwood far above me
And still he called, and still I answered back.
I think he was the first bird ever to love me
Even though I was white and he was black.
We strive for some great prize above our station,
To win the lottery or find a cure
For cancer, or to uplift our sad nation
Embroiled in a suicidal war.
I’ll take the raven, he’s high enough for me.
Let others scramble for celebrity.

I returned to the sonnet today because yesterday’s was so inferior I had to make a second stab at it. I love the way sonnets often unfold; the first eight lines are a set up, and the last six often an exposition. Certainly that obtains for today’s offering.

I wasn’t as anxious this morning and have no notion why. I made the coffee and went back into my html madness, trying to construct a website as the final project for my class. I’m not the greatest detail person, and in code you can make very few mistakes. So I end up scanning my code for missing quotation marks or semicolons that can make the whole difference for what code follows. With luck I’ll have a website up by the new year. Then anyone interested in my poetry and essays can go straight to them and avoid the blog. Or do both. I do admit some of my literary essays may be slow going for the uninitiated, but I believe the prose is clear—it’s the ideas that give some trouble, or so I flatter myself to believe.

Had a much needed tune-up for our beater van, from which we’ve lost, in our travels, all the back seats, and whose sliding doors only open on the driver’s side. At least we recently paid it off, and though ugly, it is reliable. I would love to drive it into a tony LA restaurant and hand the keys to the attendant, sandwiched between a Jaguar and a Rolls.

It’s raining pretty steadily here. Yesterday on our walk I nabbed a King Bolete and a Chanterelle (prized mushrooms). Kathleen called me her “truffle hound.” So after all these years I’ve finally discovered what I’m good at—collecting fungi. The mold in the shower was trying to tell me but I didn’t listen. Nor did I listen to the ringworm of my patients; but the call to fungi was always there.



Monday, December 11, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: Hunting Mushrooms

Mushroom Hunting

Beware the Fly Amanita, whose cap,
Bright red with yellow spots, practically shouts
Its alkaloids are poison. The Death Cap
Is worse and the Destroying Angel counts
Among the deadliest of mushrooms. Fungi
Are mostly underground, their mushrooms fruit
Of a larger mycelium formed by hyphae.
(The metaphor of the iceberg here would do.)
Mushroom gathering is a risky task.
Avoid anything white with white gills.
Carry a guide book so you can ask
Which fungi’s not accompanied by ills.
A single mushroom is enough for death;
A single fool enough for a last breath.

I just took a three-day break from blogging, not deliberately but because it felt right. And in those brief days I fear my poetic skill has plummeted, as witnessed by this sonnet meant for Sonnet Sunday. Following a little mushroom seminar I attended, Kathleen and I have been hunting mushrooms and we cooked up a couple of Chanterelles the other night which were delicious.

There’s also the deadline for having designed a website, namely today, for my html class. My brain has been like cement but I pulled it together to make some kind of a website. Not entirely primitive but not entirely stylish either.

The increased dose of my new antidepressant seems to be helping me, but I’m not out of the woods yet. Mornings seem to be worst, when I have anxiety and my mind rehearses all its little circles of doom: what I can’t do, what I should do, what I will do and all the rest.

I don’t know if I’m on the road to mental health, since I’ve had quite a few false starts in the last eight months. One can only hope that we got the cocktail right.



Thursday, December 07, 2006

Triolet: "The Mariner;" Shrink Gives Hope

The Mariner

The Mariner blessed the sea snakes unawares.
They roiled and flamed upon the green glass sea.
(An albatross divided wheat from tares.)
The Mariner blessed the sea snakes unawares.
His dry mouth croaked out penitential prayers,
His penance to re-tell his history.
The Mariner blessed the sea snakes unawares.
They roiled and flamed upon the green glass sea.

My psychiatrist gave me hope yesterday. I had become a little angry and irritable and he said, “A fighting spirit is good.” He changed my medications logically and showed real concern, emphasizing that he would be back from vacation in two weeks and again be available. Kathleen came along and was impressed with him. She opened a discussion about ECT and the doctor promised to look into a facility with a proper protocol and a negotiable payment plan.

All ye that have medical insurance in this country, thank your stars. One third of Americans lack it.

I have always considered “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” the two greatest poems in the language. (That they happen to be my favorites may affect my judgment.) Today’s poem is obviously a tribute to “The Rime.”

I forced myself last night to attend an independent publisher’s group, and in putting on my social face I could pretend not to be depressed for the duration. The doctor’s visit and forced socializing did improve my mood for the evening, though before the afternoon appointment with the doctor I was in pretty bad shape.

I will not rate my mood today, but I am feeling marginally better.

Thanks for all the kind encouragement,


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ghazal: Reality Bites; On Self-Esteem

Poems are like Rorschachs and reveal the man within. In “Ode to a Grecian Urn” Keats achieves almost a manic transcendence, while Hardy’s “Neutral Tones” is a dark depiction of a failed romance. In my first Ghazal, then, given my current state of mind, it is not surprising that I dwell on the dark side of reality. Since I chose to submit it to a journal, however, I had to delete it from above. It was called, "Reality Bites."

I go over and over rehearsing in my mind what I will say to my shrink today. I feel a bit ashamed that I have been so public with my disease, almost as if that’s the only thing I’ll be remembered for, though the same can be said of Robert Burton and Kay Jamison. And it is therapeutic to put these things in writing, which helps objectify my plight to myself.

I want to say that “trying” to fight depression only worsens it in my experience; acceptance is all until it passes. If your truck is stuck in the mud, you can spin your wheels or take out a good novel and wait for the mud to dry. You can’t dry the mud yourself. Those who are not manic-depressive tend to overestimate what behavioral changes can do for a deep depression.

Look: I just took a class on mushrooms and went mushroom hunting. I’m in an HTML class where I’m building a website. I start a master gardener program in January. I try to walk an hour a day. I’ve lost a little weight on Kathleen’s high protein diet. I’ve written a poetry review for a major newspaper. I finalized three poetry manuscripts and have them all floating in various contests. I correspond with literary friends. Sometimes I go fishing. I do household chores like vacuuming, the dishes, cooking. I spent a long time nursing a vegetable garden along until October when it essentially died. I give advice to friends and family about their mood disorders. I help take care of our old dog, Kenyon. I pay the bills. I have to plan for medication refills through the net from Canada. I help with shopping. We watch good movies come nightfall. But this little bit is not enough to justify my life. Not even a Pulitzer would justify my life. The question is, why do I feel it necessary to justify my life? Because my self-esteem, especially when depressed, is based on achievement, not loving acceptance. I wish I could change this about myself; when my mood is up I can approach this view. Alas, for now it remains as distant as Antarctica.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Triolet: Request; mood worsens


Take a stone blade to my hairless chest.
Plunge it in and turn it, find the heart
And cut it wide--you know it’s for the best.
Take a stone blade to my hairless chest.
Carve me a hole where blessed death can nest.
My life was more extraneous than a wart.
Take a stone blade to my hairless chest.
Plunge it in and turn it; find the heart.

I think I’m getting worse. The medications aren’t working. I am near tears much of the time. The noise in my brain is relentless-—snips of song and memory and accusations with a backup chorus of hopelessness, helplessness and worthlessness. I doubled my antipsychotic medicine last night to see if my brain would be any less negatively active, but it did no good. I am on a cocktail of seven medications and they are clearly not working. The new and expensive antidepressant my doctor added two weeks ago has done nothing.

I want to leave this place but I could never do that to my children and wife, who for some strange reason still think my life is worth preserving. They are obviously poor judges of character.

And don’t worry, reader; being suicidal doesn’t mean that I would act on it, because I won’t. That doesn’t stop me for yearning for some fatal disease.

4 Kilorats,


Monday, December 04, 2006

Triolet: Unnatural

I don’t know where today’s triolet comes from. I converted it from a longer free-verse draftwas working on that likely will go nowhere. It is dark, but I had to delete it in order to submit it to a journal. One good thing about form is that you know when you are finished with a poem, more or less, before the last-minute tinkerings.

Kathleen and I found a heap of mushrooms yesterday in the woods around the property. Most of them proved edible, mainly Zeller’s boletes. There was another bolete called a Slippery Jack, but the cap was slimy and the book told us to strip the skin off before cooking. Not easy to strip the skin off of a mushroom. We passed on the slimy shrooms.

I did not wake up feeling rested today and I remembered that if I were to stay up all night it would can provide a temporary reprieve from depression. But I don’t want to do that before my next shrink appointment Wednesday or it may falsely minimize my symptoms. I may do it afterwards; what do I have to lose but a little sleep?

At 3 Kilorats,


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sonnet:: On Love; Kilorat Report

On Love

Let all be done in and for Love.
“All you need is love” John sang--it’s true.
Perhaps not practical, but if you wove
Love into every action, forgetting you,
You might experience a stunning bliss.
The irritating clerk who takes your call
Could be forgiven for her ignorance.
The myriad cracks in your defensive wall
Might be repaired as love helps you accept
The natural limitations of your role.
Attacked, you turn your cheek, strive to protect
The peace, go grab your robe and beggar’s bowl.
Why can't we do this when Love calls us on?
Self-preservation is the Devil’s con.

I had a terrible day yesterday. I tend to wake up OK, but within an hour anxiety starts churning in my stomach and I become afraid. I drag myself through the day, fearing I will not think of anything to do. Yesterday I attended a class on identifying mushrooms and I envied the fungus its peace. Or I would have if I hadn’t been so preoccupied with myself. I hit the bed early, watching UCLA (my alma mater) beat USC for the first time in eight years. Normally I would be happy over the event. But I could only experience the tension of the game, the anxiety about the outcome, and no triumphant emotions visited me after UCLA’s incredible victory. This is called anhedonia, the inability to experience pleasure.

We truly only experience pleasure when something calls us out of ourselves, a poem, a piece of music that helps us forget ourselves as we merge with the beautiful, the transcendent. This can happen as easily with a nature walk as with a vintage car show. What the thing is doesn’t matter much; it’s the process of transcendence where true joy lies. And in depression this is nearly impossible.

I was buoyed up by my daughters and siblings at Thanksgiving, but my briefly improved spirits were parasitic—they were entirely dependent on the love of others. Back at the ranch I fell into my chemical slough rather quickly. And I hate what it does to Kathleen to see me like this. Last night as I cried she kept saying, “It’s not your fault, you’re sick.” How sick I am can hardly be imagined by those who have not had a serious clinical depression, and many I have talked to who claim to have had a depression have no idea to what depths it can take you.

I tried to write a positive sonnet today nevertheless. My will is ultimately not subject to my mood, not that any act of will can lift me out of it. After college I took a job at a warehouse that was mindless, all I thought I was capable of in that depression. Repetitive physical tasks can be helpful, but when you stop, there you are again.

In any event I plan to go mushroom hunting with Kathleen today and try to employ my new knowledge of fungi. They won’t know that I envy them. O happy fungi!

At 3.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Triolet: Primary Colors

Primary Colors

The blue log burned red, red, red.
No one could stop the bitter purple fumes.
The doctor said the fire was in my head.
The blue log burned red, red, red.
What was it that the yellow doctor said?
“Your brain is mulch where the flower of evil blooms.”
The blue log burned red, red, red.
No one could stop the bitter purple fumes.

The triolet is noticeably easier than a villanelle or pantoum. Yes, there is a nod to Baudelaire, and yes, I know the title repeats the title of the book about Clinton’s first campaign. But that doesn’t mean I can’t use the title.

Today we go to a class on mushrooms. Not the psychedelic kind. I wonder, if it’s in lecture format, whether Kathleen will get much out of it. I hope they have slides.

The big USC vs. UCLA game is on today, one of the few football games I watch. My daughter and I went to UCLA; a cousin played for USC. If my dad were alive, we’d be watching it together and rooting against each other. He’s been gone almost twenty years. That’s hard to imagine.

I’m still depressed but I’m trying not to write about it. Each day is a bleak vista I must fill with something. Everything is “ought to,” nothing is “want to.” And I just can’t turn off the noise in my brain unless I’m doing something, like writing. I haven’t played my guitar in I don’t know how many months; I’ve never gone this long before without playing it. Therein lies a story. I took a blues finger-picking guitar seminar some time back. I left the seminar with one small assignment. I couldn’t face the assignment. Thus I haven’t brought my guitar out. I feel if I do, I will have to master the lesson and will not be able to play freely in my own flat-picking style. Sensitivity to failure? Yes. Hopelessness about success? Yes. And failure and success are essentially equal in my present frame of mind. Depression is so Kafkaesque.

Oh, and never trust a depressive when he says, “I’m trying not to write about it.”

Over and out,

Dr. Chaffin

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pantoum: For Jack London

For Jack London

Winter takes no prisoners. It kills.
Death by snow is gentle, a relief.
Too late to cut your dog. His blood spills.
Blood freezes quicker than a thief.

Death by snow is gentle, a relief.
Pull up the sheets of soft white crust.
Blood freezes quicker than a thief.
Maintaining consciousness is a must.

Pull up the sheets of soft white crust.
Your bile and your bones have turned to ice.
Maintaining consciousness is a must.
The cold would fix your brain inside a vise.

Your bile and your bones have turned to ice.
Your parka feels harder than a brick.
The cold would fix your brain inside a vise.
You feel sleepy more than you feel sick.

Your parka feels harder than a brick.
Too late to cut your dog. His blood spills.
You feel sleepy more than you feel sick.
Winter takes no prisoners. It kills.

It's been cold here, though not snowy cold on the coast, but down to the high thirties, why I perhaps wrote this pantoum, which is inspired by Jack London's story, "To Build a Fire."

Pantoums, in my brief reading about them, are quite adaptable. They don't necessarily need to rhyme. Some classicists hold each line should be eight syllables within a rhyme form of ABBA. But few are written so strictly. Other sources say there is no limit on the length of a line, though rhyme should be preserved. There is no limit to how many quatrains you choose to employ. I went with five. I don't know if I'll continue with pantoums, I may throw in a triolet or a ghazal tomorrow. Tomorrow's another day.

As a Laker fan I was happy to see Kobe in the zone last night in the third quarter when he made nine baskets and ten free-throws in a row and scored thirty points. Phil Jackson rested him for most of the 4th quarter. Utah looked tired.

Valerie's comment yesterday I read after today's post; funny that she would think about falling asleep from the cold a day before I wrote on that very subject.

Hope all is well you,


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Villanelle: Devout; Depressive Thinking


I wake up to a house cold as a stone.
The old dog limps downstairs, I let him out.
He wanders in a forest of his own.

My wife nests in her bed, warm but alone.
Her sleeping face warms me, what love’s about.
I wake up to a house cold as a stone.

She loves me more than anyone I’ve known.
Her heart’s heat is what keeps the true chill out.
He wanders in a forest of his own.

There is no sin for which these words atone.
My love, being deaf, can’t hear them if I shout.
I wake up to a house cold as a stone.

Love is a small, shy bird easily flown
And can’t be caged in words within, without.
He wanders in a forest of his own.

We’re not just one, we’re not each other’s clone.
Our separateness doth make our love devout.
I wake up to a house cold as a stone.
Love wanders in a forest of his own.

This marks the end of my villanelle composition for November. I’ve already touched upon Nature, Death and God, so I thought one on Love would be a suitable ending, though I think my darker villanelles were in general, better.

What have I learned from writing these 23 villanelles? First, that form is still relevant. Second, that the power of anaphora persists as strong as ever; repetition of phrases adds power to poems. Third, this form isn’t hard, although the choice of end-rhymes is important as you only get two rhymes. You don’t want to end a line with “industrial,” for instance.

I can only hope the reader enjoyed these poems as much as I did writing them. The artistic discipline they required each morning has been one stay against my ongoing depression. While writing I think about the poem, not myself. (My wife encouraged me to no longer rate my mood, but I would put it at 1.5 kilorats today.)

Yesterday I sent another ms. off to another ms. contest, this time “The Richard Wilbur Award.” I think I have mss. floating in four contests now, but the odds that my one ms. out of 500 should be selected are rather astronomical. But it is a discipline or sorts, even if it costs $25 a pop.

I cried yesterday while sitting with Kathleen. I felt myself a complete failure. Between tears I mumbled: “So this is my choice: To be a lousy poet or a crazy doctor.” So I felt. So depression makes me feel. But Kathleen reminded me that I was an outstanding doctor, and I was. And she doesn’t think I’m a lousy poet; she thinks I’m good. When I’m feeling better, I, too can have such positive thoughts. But now I walk through a wasteland of self-despite. My twisted logic says: “If I feel this bad, I must be this bad.” When feelings rule, you’re really up shit creek. In depression feeling drives thought; in normal mood, thought drives feeling. In depression I think of myself sadly because I’m sad; in a normal mood I would feel sad only if I suffered some loss.

I’m also terribly ambivalent about poetry, a love-hate relationship I’ve had for a long time, because I feel my poetry will never gain the recognition I had hoped, and therefore fear I am wasting my time, and I need to find a real job (if only my back and mood were better). But I go on writing. As I say to my students (and I haven’t had one for a while), “Only write poetry if you cannot not write poetry.” That’s how it’s always been for me.

I have not decided on a form for December. I’m considering pantoums and ghazals. Tomorrow I should debut the new “form of the month.”



Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Villanelle: Wise Man. Thought vs. Action

What the Wise Man Said

I journeyed to a wise man on a hill.
His hands were leather and his head was white.
He told me that my mind was not my will.

As he spoke he moved farther uphill.
I followed him into the fading light.
I journeyed to a wise man on a hill.

It wasn’t my mind that followed but my will.
He had me there; my will attained that height.
He told me that my mind was not my will.

But if mind must shepherd thought for good or ill,
Does action render mind a parasite?
I journeyed to a wise man on a hill.

“You can’t prepare for change,” he said, “it’s still
“The act that makes the change, not your foresight.”
He told me that my mind was not my will.

I went back down the mountain to fulfill
My dreams or bury them in the grave of night.
I journeyed to a wise man on a hill.
He told me that my mind was not my will.

I got the idea for today’s poem from a soft news segment on a course at Harvard about happiness. I remember what the professor said: “You can’t plan change. You either change or you don’t.” “Shit or get off the pot,” in other words.

I say I want to swim but I don’t. Therefore I am not swimming. And all the arguments and pleading and guilty scenarios in my mind have nothing to do with me getting in the car and driving to the gym. Action talks, bullshit walks. But how does this apply to clinical depression?

In deep depression one must absolutely will oneself out of bed, will oneself to make a bowl of cereal, will oneself to check e-mail (which you are sure will be derogatory and judgmental). In depression the mind tells you you can’t do anything but your will disproves your mind over and over, unless you enter a catatonic state. The problem with will is that if only will is operative, there is no pleasure in attaining a goal, only a mild relief that you have done something. I get no pleasure from putting away the dishes this morning, but I will myself to do it and afterwards regard my work as something.

I believe it was Adler who spoke about the will to power being ascendant in human psychology. Reality is not so easily explained. Consider the soldier in Iraq who fell on a bomb to shield his fellows. One could argue that he willed himself to the power of a glorious memory, but I don’t think so. It’s not like he was a suicide bomber. It was an act of noble charity.

Depressed or not, there are a great many things in life that we must will our way through, from filing taxes to getting a tune-up on the car. Habits make willing easier, however, as in my habit of writing a poem in form each day. But while I am at a task that requires my mind, it is my will that propels me to the end so that I don’t stop and say, “This is too difficult.” If the mind invades a process that way it is best to take a break and not argue with your own mind. Who has ever won an argument with himself? For each side of you that wins, another side loses. It is in action that we choose how to be. Thought may be useful in planning an action, but it can never perform the action.

Food for Thought,


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Villanelle: Resisting Autumn. HTML trials.

Resisting Autumn

November’s dying. Gold has turned to rust
And rust to brown. The great rains have begun.
Nature hoards its strength because it must.

But why is Nature always boom or bust?
The Douglas Irises have come undone.
November’s dying. Gold has turned to rust.

A little sun would elevate my trust.
At least the green of firs can’t be outrun.
Nature hoards its strength because it must.

Brown skeletons of thistles join the dust.
The cowslip parsley’s white has turned to dun.
November’s dying. Gold has turned to rust.

I’d love to see a single bulb upthrust
To light the forest floor, a change begun.
Nature hoards its strength because it must.

Perhaps I ought to call Prometheus
To bring us fire and burn this season down.
November’s dying. Gold has turned to rust.
Nature hoards its strength because it must.

I think my medication change has had some salutary effect on me. Although my balance is not so good, my head is not filled with the constant, narcissistic self-despite which characterizes depression. And my anxiety about everyday tasks seems slightly reduced.

For instance, yesterday I got up on a tall ladder and cleaned the rain gutters at our rental.

Our landlord is sly. When I told him this needed to be done, he simply slid a big ladder in the garage. I wonder if I’m being used or whether the partnership between the landlord and me is natural. In either case, the back rain gutter is pretty helpless as it’s protective mesh of wire has fallen down near the bottom of the gutter, inviting redwood fronds to bury it into oblivion. The mesh in the front gutter is in good repair, so I didn’t have to hand-clean the vegetable matter out of its depths.

I am not well but I don’t feel as sick. My great frustration has been an html class I’m taking at the local community college. I just can’t seem to get it. I sit at the computer and compose code and nothing ever happens on the page as I intended. The concept of the Cascading Style Sheet and the Document still puzzles me, and I don’t know how much of the former I should employ for the latter. I have continued in this class during my depression because I know it is good for me, even if my failure to grasp certain basic principles makes me fear I have lost my mind.

The four great themes of poetry are nature, love, death and God. Yesterday’s villanelle was about death, today’s about nature. The rhyming was difficult in today’s offering but I hope it does not appear unnatural.

Thine in Truth and Art,

Craig Erick

Monday, November 27, 2006

Villanelle; The Dead

The Dead

The dead shall rise again. The dead shall rise.
Out of the sea they come, covered in flesh.
They are astounded at their newborn eyes.

Will these bones live? Nothing can sanitize
The worm within the shroud around the dress.
The dead shall rise again. The dead shall rise

Not wiser for their absence, mouthing lies
They lived and breathed, lying as they confess.
They are astounded at their newborn eyes.

Christ said, “Come as a child.” No disguise
Can save them from the dreaded second death.
The dead shall rise again. The dead shall rise.

They must submit. There is no compromise.
It’s them or God, and they are in excess.
They are astounded at their newborn eyes.

The sun sets on the dead. By moonrise
Most are dead again in God’s winepress.
The dead shall rise again. The dead shall rise
And be astounded at their newborn eyes.

I continue to be dull in my mind but my emotions are marginally better. Unlike my normal self, I have little to say. I trust it's the medication that's doing this, flattening my affect, taking some of the noise inside my head away. One good sign is a return of sexual interest, something I have sorely lacked these last eight months. But I have been fooled before, thinking I was on the road to recovery, so I won't invest too much time in considering if I am better. At least I am no worse.

I will continue to labor at poetic forms. Thanks for all the feedback. I am not currently rating my mood because the microscopic attention I pay it may be bad for my mental health.



Sunday, November 26, 2006

Failing Sonnet Sunday; Wonderful Thanksgiving!

This morning my mind is dulled for reasons unknown, possibly by the new medication. Thus I did not compose a sonnet for Sonnet Sunday, for which I apologize. In its stead I wrote my first snippet of free verse in two months. Here it is:

The Missing

rain on the skylight.
Mouthfuls of drops
thread the forest like spores,
pearl my windows.

No light but gray light.
No light but the sky
painted in primer
diffusing down
to the roots of trunks
in a mist of dull silver.

Where are the birds?

Despite my mood impairment I enjoyed Thanksgiving immensely because all three of my daughters and my grandson were there. (Writing the word "grandson" has a strange effect on me. Doesn't it imply something about my age?)

The love of my daughters lifted me up. They alternately hung on my arm as we toured Haight Ashbery and Fisherman's Wharf. Our bond is strong. When I returned home yesterday I cried because I missed them already.

Afterwards we watched "Rushmore," a movie my brother bought me for my birthday. We didn't get the movie, though my brother and daughters are enamored of it. I saw no change in character in the protagonist, no crises that changed his outlook, although near the end he accepts a more realistic goal in obtaining a girlfriend than trying to get laid by a teacher.

Naturally the interruption in my blog was due to the holiday.

I can only wish that others had as sweet a Thanksgiving as I. I was surrounded by the people I most love, including my siblings. Kathleen said it was good to see me laugh. I was skating on love. I will try to hold on to that.

Thanks for stopping by,


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Vilanelle: Cold Dawn; That Dog Smell

Cold Dawn

I feel the cold dawn of old age.
My years run swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.
My youthful strength was flimsy camouflage.

I think the golden years are a mirage.
My joints eagerly join in the rebuttal.
I feel the cold dawn of old age.

Where is my understudy from offstage?
Come do my stunts, be me, and make it subtle.
My youthful strength was flimsy camouflage.

I don’t want to engage but disengage.
My works are rusted ships but fit to scuttle.
I feel the cold dawn of old age.

One day you wake with nothing to assuage
But boredom. And there’s no one left to coddle.
My youthful strength was flimsy camouflage.

Pain from my ankles to my shoulder blades:
This is my harvest, this the body’s total.
I feel the cold dawn of old age.
My youthful strength was flimsy camouflage.

Today I can only afflict the reader with trivialities. Yesterday Kathleen and I cleaned the house. I vacuumed. She had me put some kind of powder down first that helps separate animal hair from carpet hair. Whatever. On my hands and knees going up the stairs, the small brush nozzle attachment kept getting plugged with hair. It was dog hair, not carpet hair. Could it be the magic powder wasn’t magic, or was the carpet hair swept into the vacuum first, leaving only dog hair behind?

Afterwards I went to vacuum the car, so I took everything out of it, including Kenyon’s blanket. I handed the blanket to Kathleen. “I just washed that,” she said. “Smells like dog,” was all I said.

You know that wet dog smell? It’s like a wool sweater soaked with rain. There’s a damp mustiness about it that nothing can quite match. You can find it in the scratch-and-sniff book for masochists.

2 Kilorats,


Monday, November 20, 2006

Funeral Notes

Funeral Notes

I won’t take death lying down.
Let me sit up so I can curse the day.
I don’t want a martyr’s tinsel crown.

If my poetry should gain renown
And some fool wishes to embalm this clay,
I won’t take death lying down.

A Viking funeral—let me burn and drown--
Is better than the coffin’s slow decay.
I don’t want a martyr’s tinsel crown.

Death is the ancestral hand-me-down,
Your last best suit, it is the great cliché.
I won’t take death lying down.

We hope some deed or word, some towering noun
Might keep our memory forever in play.
I don’t want a martyr’s tinsel crown.

I’ll curse you if you put me in the ground.
(I’d rather you put my books on display.)
I won’t take death lying down.
I don’t want a martyr’s tinsel crown.

I want to thank LKD for her compassionate comment yesterday, proving that she is truly “one acquainted with the night.” It’s easy to tell who knows and who does not know the experience of severe depression. There is no way to fake the knowledge. I wish I were never given the knowledge, but you can’t pick your parents, and both of my grandmothers, not to mention a bunch of aunts and cousins, are manic-depressive, as was my father.

There are certain disadvantages to the diagnosis in terms of practical matters. I can’t get term life insurance because my dad committed suicide at age 62 and I have the same disease. As for health insurance, we are catapulted into the states “high-risk pool”, where we can get Blue Cross for $1200/mo. or sign up with Kaiser for around $800, the only disadvantage being that Kaiser is over two hours away, and not an easy drive on the two-lanes. Even when I was a practicing doctor I favored universal health insurance. Massachusetts is trying it, God bless them. With a third of Americans uninsured, it is one more class division between the haves and have-nots. I worry about Kathleen’s hip, which is painful and clicking, and whether she might need a hip replacement. And if I had insurance, this depression might be over as I could afford ECT. But we muddle on, try to walk each day for an hour, stop when Kathleen’s hip or back become too painful. And Kenyon can’t join us on these walks, they wear him out, although he still swims like a seal.

Today Kathleen has declared housecleaning and I look forward to it since it consists of concrete tasks with immediate rewards. I once asked my pastor at a large Lutheran Church if there were any menial tasks I could do to help me with depression; I ended up vacuuming the whole sanctuary but my back couldn’t take it. And they say irony is dead.

I think I’ll cut this off here and check in with the domestic engineer and receive my sentence.

One crying spell yesterday; I usually try to resist.

At 2 Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sonnet Sunday; Picture of Kilobunny

First, a kilobunny sent to me by a rabbit fancier, Jennifer:

Now for today's sonnet:


I take so many medications that
I am a walking pharmacy, and still
I am no better. I’m suicidally fat
And anxious. I would delegate
My pain to someone else if only I could.
Jesus invites it, but could he name the pill
I am or am not taking that would put
A grin upon my face, laugh in my gut?
He is no pharmacist. He took my sin
Supposedly, but melancholy’s no sin
Unless it end in sloth. I’m in a rut.
When I was young religion took me in
And made me worse, but granted me a meaning;
Now I don’t know if I am sick or sinning.

It’s Sunday, Kathleen’s sleeping, and I woke up early enough to try a new church. But I didn’t, as in the state of depression religion merely heaps more guilt upon me. As I’ve before stated, I feel no relationship with God; I pray he has one with me. At 52 I’ve learned a number of things, but I think the most important of them is endurance. Sometimes you must simply hold on to the edge of the life raft and hope for land before hypothermia does you in. Sometimes that is your only choice. So I hold on, so I’ve held on before.

If circumstances dictated my mood I would be happy. I have an adequate income. I am married to the one true love of my life, someone whose sleeping face gives me joy when I am well. I live where I’ve always wanted to live: on the northern California coast near the redwoods. As much as my back permits, I have time to write and fish.

The fact that I’m depressed in the midst of such luck helps elucidate the difference between unhappiness and depression. Depression can strike when you’re on top of the world. It is no respecter of persons or circumstances. It is a failure of the primitive portions of the brain to sustain the necessary neurotransmitters that make a sense of happiness possible. Let me repeat that: It is a failure of the primitive portions of the brain to sustain the necessary neurotransmitters that make a sense of happiness possible. It is not a sin, it is not a retreat, it is not an avoidant behavior pattern from childhood, it is not a lack of courage, it is not a reaction to loss, it is a physical failure of the brain, better compared to a seizure than anything else. When in the grip of it you can only try not to hate yourself too much, avoid suicidal thinking, and continue to venture out into the world to stay in practice in case you return to it some day.

Underneath my skin I am sure people are angry at me. I think Kathleen must be angry at me. When I meet people I think they can see through me, but I know they can’t, and I fake normality with the best of them. How else did I get by as a doctor for 20 years? The depressive must pretend to be normal in order to avoid the sting of misdirected sympathy from those who do not know the difference between the blues and clinical depression.

There, I’ve said enough for one day. I hope I haven’t worn this topic out and that the reader is not angry with me for my not getting better.

At 2.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Villanelle: On Television

On Television

I watch the television; it watches me.
Eye to eye, the contest isn’t fair.
The TV has more personality.

We are a symbiotic entity.
It feeds my brains electrons while I stare.
I watch the television; it watches me

When plots pile up into redundancy
I still take pleasure in the clothes and hair.
The TV has more personality.

The TV can’t induce passivity;
It seeks to rivet me with violent fare.
I watch the television; it watches me

I know the tube is not reality
But can you blame me if I prefer it there?
The TV has more personality.

In my depression I must praise TV.
It grants a respite from my long nightmare.
I watch the television; it watches me.
The TV has more personality.

The final default setting for a depressive is television, I think. As Homer Simpson said, “How can you not like television? It asks so little and gives so much.” In my depressions it is a drug, like alcohol. Once the anxieties of the day are over, I can settle into my bed and watch re-runs of Law and Order for hours. And now with NetFlix, we are able to watch re-runs of series I’ve already seen, like Six Feet Under. There is more comfort in a re-run, I think, since you know some of what is going to happen, and the reduced surprise leads to reduced stress. And there’s always the clothes and the hair to watch, as Sam Waterston in Law and Order sometimes gets a bad haircut. Last night Kathleen opined that he was showing his age; I replied that he just turned 65.

When I get out of this depression for good, my blog may change or appear less often, because my need to blog will be reduced by my participation in reality. Speaking of which, I turned in my book review for the Philadelphia Inquirer yesterday and the editor pronounced it “good.” I was not beyond feeling a little better for that compliment, which argues that I am not in the deep kilorats of depression. To have real positive feelings inside my chest would take a further revolution in my neurochemistry. But it was good that I was not entirely immune to the feeling.

Other happy items are Kathleen’s continuing hip and disk pain, and Kenyon’s bad wheel. Without medical insurance I feel helpless to help Kathleen. But some days are better than others. Yes, as the brother of Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov said, “You are responsible to everyone for everything.” Despite my interest in Russian mysticism, that saying strikes me as an intolerable burden, though when my mood has been better I have seen great wisdom in the saying. It’s a shame that depression influences even the meaning I extract from my favorite books. Which makes TV all the more attractive.

Thanks to Jennifer Danner for sending me a photo of a true kilobunny. I tried to put the image in here but it wouldn't take.

At 2 Kilorats,


Friday, November 17, 2006

Villanelle: Hero and Fool; PTSD

The Hero and the Fool

To live in fear is not to live at all.
Gestapo boots trample the abject mind.
Before a hero comes, a fool must fall.

The fool still fears the arcing cannon ball
Although the generals have long since resigned.
To live in fear is not to live at all.

It’s more than foolishness that comes to call
When post-traumatic stress creeps up behind.
Before a hero comes, a fool must fall.

The fool may dunk his head in alcohol
To drown his demons, playing deaf and blind.
To live in fear is not to live at all.

Who is the hero then? Does he recall
Grenades, nerve gas—living and dead entwined?
Before a hero comes, a fool must fall.

The hero can forget the Berlin wall.
The fool still feels barbwire up his spine.
To live in fear is not to live at all.
Before a hero comes, a fool must fall.

Among my other maladies I believe I suffer from PTSD, although I haven’t been over the strict criteria. Wait! I’m on the web. I can go look it up. According to strict criteria, I don’t qualify, though I share many symptoms. I’ll italicize the ones pertinent to my state:

Symptoms of PTSD fall into three general categories:

1. Repeated "reliving" of the event, which disturbs day-to-day activity
• Recurrent distressing memories of the event
• Recurrent dreams of the event
• Flashback episodes, where the event seems to be recurring
• Bodily reactions to situations that remind them of the traumatic event

2. Avoidance
• Inability to remember important aspects of the trauma
Lack of interest in normal activities
• Feelings of detachment
• Sense of having no future
• Emotional "numbing", or feeling as though they don’t care about anything
• Reduced expression of moods
• Staying away from places, people, or objects that remind them of the event

3. Arousal

• Irritability or outbursts of anger
• Sleeping difficulties
Difficulty concentrating
• Exaggerated response to things that startle them
• Hypervigilance

Ockham’s Razor suggests that one should look for one cause to explain a person’s symptoms rather than multiple ones. In this I don’t qualify for PTSD, though I do detest Mexico and want no part of it, and I live in fear that my insurance company will stop their disability payments at any moment. My bipolar depression can explain, I think, all of my psychiatric symptoms. It is not like my normal self to worry. It is not like my normal self to fear the future. It is not like my normal self to be a passive and a little agoraphobic. These symptoms are all part and parcel of my primary illness. And I remember what it is to be well, though it seems magical to me now, as I recently had four days of remission before sinking down again. Send me your kilobunnies!



Thursday, November 16, 2006

Villanelle: Constraints of Form

Constraints of Form

I’m tired of villanelles. I want free verse.
These strictures would no doubt make Whitman cry.
I know he cried when he saw Lincoln’s hearse.

Expansiveness, that’s it. Throw off the curse
Of formalism before you mummify.
I’m tired of villanelles. I want free verse.

The villanelle renders my poetry terse
And unfit for a Whitman lullaby.
I know he cried when he saw Lincoln’s hearse.

Everything I say I must rehearse.
I think I’ve lost all spontaneity.
I’m tired of villanelles. I want free verse.

Whitman worked as a Civil War nurse.
He saw the bloody bodies piled high.
I know he cried when he saw Lincoln’s hearse.

Why can’t I cry? Has form emptied my purse?
I want to rip it off like a necktie.
I’m tired of villanelles. I want free verse.
I know Walt cried when he saw Lincoln’s hearse.

At 1.5 Kilorats,


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Villanelle: Morning Anxiety; On Thanksgiving

Morning Anxiety

There’s burning in my belly when I wake.
I push my gut against my wife’s curled knees.
The pressure helps a little; I won’t break.

Anxiety rattles like a rattlesnake
Inside my abdomen, malignant tease.
There’s burning in my belly when I wake.

Who goes there? Who’s the monster on the lake?
Are you the one to fist my heart and squeeze?
The pressure helps a little; I won’t break.

It is not death. It’s just a minor quake.
It’s not a plot by Mephistopheles,
This burning in my belly when I wake.

This vague sense of free-falling I can’t shake.
I feel the swinging of my own trapeze.
The pressure helps a little; I can’t break.

If my only motivation is to escape
Anxiety, how petty my reprise!
There’s burning in my belly when I wake.
The pressure helps a little; I won’t break.

My wife has suggested, for my mental health, that I write about something beside myself today, and I am beside myself in choosing a topic, so let’s talk about Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is the only true American holiday, excepting birthdays of notables like Washington and Martin Luther King. It also falls inevitably on a Thursday, so the rush to make all holidays occur on a Friday or Monday has been resisted, just as in Easter and Christmas. Even so, many people take Friday off, though not those in the retail business who must tend the biggest shopping day of the year, like my oldest daughter, who sells shoes.

Turkey is the traditional entree for Thanksgiving—and in my humble opinion, ham just doesn’t cut it, even with all those pretty cloves stuck into its sides. And how do you put cranberry jelly on ham? Other traditional fare includes candied yams, which I’ve never liked. Mashed potatoes are compulsory; green beans have been the staple vegetable in our family, usually with sliced almonds. Dressing is a must; we use Mrs. Cubbison’s. Above all the gravy makes the difference between a good and great dinner. My parents fought over the gravy, as have I with my partners. It’s important not to make it too watery, nor to choke it with too much flour into a paste. It should be a light brown and flow down the edges of your mashed potatoes easily. Nothing but pepper or salt should be allowed for seasoning the gravy. So much my culinary prejudices.

This year I am looking forward to a rare event; our three daughters and grandson will all be at my sister’s for Thanksgiving. So will my younger brother and his squeeze, as well as my sister’s in-laws. I can’t remember the last time we had so many Chaffins together. Non-Chaffins should be warned that they may not be able to get a word in edgewise, since Chaffins were born to talk. It’s not that our chatter isn’t interesting, it’s just that it doesn’t leave much space for comment—if you’re not quick as a Chaffin. Verbally my family of origin would be hard pressed to be exceeded; my younger brother is a copywriter, my sister is a lawyer, and I am a poet. My older brother, regrettably, will not be there, but he is less verbal and more visual, having long been a creative director in the advertising business. In this mix will be three dogs as well; my sister’s two dachshunds and Kenyon.

I look forward to supervising/babysitting my grandson, a very active and self-directed boy who so far does not display much interest in verbal skills. I know he’ll be OK because I see in his play that he is adept in spatial relations and imagination. I don’t know what Sponge Bob is doing, but I know that Jacob regularly positions him in different places with different companions, and talks with them all.

Without sharing specifics, five of the six Chaffins to be present are on medications for mood disorders, so I don’t feel all alone. We have beaten the nursing home crowd to the punch, having had the pleasure of discussing our medications freely in the prime of life, long before a lack of other topics at the rest home required it.

In any event, whatever my mood, I have been looking forward to this great gathering. The joy of seeing all my daughters at once is palpable, and as they are mainly grown, I will also have the pleasure of watching them relate to others as adults—at least I hope so.

(No rating today, as Kathleen suggested; there’s still my villanelle for the dark side.)

Craig Erick


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Villanelle: Reckoning


And then the judgment came upon all flesh.
We looked down at our feet. We couldn’t meet
The eyes of he who turned the world to ash.

The billionaires were scattering their cash
In frenzied example to the meek
And then the judgment came upon all flesh.

I heard great wheels grind, coming to thresh
And separate the tares out from the wheat;
And then the judgment came upon all flesh.

I thought some might be saved but hope was dashed
When mercy slunk away from every street:
The eyes of he that turned the world to ash.

The world resembled one festering abscess;
There was no cure except the hellish heat
Shot from the eyes that turned the world to ash.

Citizens mouthing "God" with every breath
Were silenced, forced to watch their sins accrete.
And then the judgment came upon all flesh:
The eyes of he that turned the world to ash.

Today’s villanelle was more difficult than usual because the end rhyme I picked for the first stanza, -esh, is hard to manage. Thus I allowed myself the liberties of slant rhyme, and while the syntax could be better, I am in no position to judge myself today. If fact, what artist can truly judge his work? I have always been amazed by which of my poems have been “hits,” in terms of the attention garnered through recital and publication, and which have not. Often what I think are my best poems don’t get much attention. That’s likely because what I think are my best poems are denser than most.

Yesterday Kathleen dragged me all over town in a surfeit of errands, but was kind enough to deposit me at a coffeehouse with a wireless hook-up for most of the time. At our home in the redwoods, the best we can get is dial up at 31 kbs. Maybe that will change if Ma Bell gets her act together. I don’t know about Hughes Net.

I had a difficult day yesterday, but my mood improved late at night, which is par for the course in depression. I don’t like my morning anxiety, but there’s nothing for it. I can hardly believe I’m still struggling in my eighth month of depression. What I pray for is a full remission.

At 1 Kilorat,


Monday, November 13, 2006

Villanelle: Men in Suits; Mood dips

Men in Suits

The men in suits decide which war is good
While desert grunts hear shrapnel whizzing by.
The men in suits never give up their blood.

It doesn’t matter how hard we withstood
Snipers and bombs, watching our comrades die.
The men in suits decide which war is good.

I’d kill the policy makers if I could;
I’d trade them tooth for tooth and eye for eye!
The men in suits never give up their blood.

Democracy cannot be understood
By ancient Islam culture blown sky-high.
The men in suits decide which war is good.

Mostly the war produces widowhood
Though our commander still clings to his lie.
The men in suits never give up their blood.

There is no love, there is no personhood
When men are ground up for bad policy.
The men in suits decide which war is good.
The men in suits never give up their blood.

I was plain wrong when I claimed a week of euthymia (good mood) yesterday; in reviewing my blog it was only four days. It felt like a week because I felt like myself again. Unfortunately, today I feel on thin ice and I’m anxious.

I got up yesterday and wrote my sonnet and blogged, which is my daily mental toilette. Later I felt restless. I couldn’t concentrate on the book I am supposed to review, or on learning the hieroglyphics of html. Finally at 1:30 PM I jumped in the van and drove south about forty miles on winding Highway 1 to the Garcia River. Three years ago in October I had netted a steelhead and a salmon at a deep part of the river, and I thought perhaps there would be some fish pooling around now. I didn’t get a bite, which is not unusual for the unluckiest fisherman in the world. I wear a hat that proclaims, “Fish Control My Brain.” I have since learned that that control means that I am constantly directed away from fish. If I’m there, they are not.

But the feeling of restlessness and irritability persisted as I fished. The landscape was overcast with occasional sprinkles; the bracken of summer had decayed into the color of straw; the leaves of the blackberry bushes had begun to turn red, imitating the dreaded poison oak, but I know the difference in the shape of the leaves. I saw a raven fight off a white-tailed kite over a territory dispute near the bluff above. Placid cows grazed high on the steep embankment along the river, and I thought it a miracle that they did not fall off for an unscheduled swim. I saw a beautiful red-tailed hawk.

I was entirely alone in this somewhat forbidding landscape, and not surprisingly, following my irritability, an angry irritability, melancholy descended. Was it for not catching fish? Was it my memory of fishing there three years ago that reminded me of all that had transpired between, our whole sojourn in that unmentionable country south of the border? In any case I felt like crying but controlled myself. When I came home Kathleen immediately spotted my change in mood. I can hide nothing from her.

This morning I woke up anxious. I held on to Kathleen as if she were a large stuffed animal for comfort. Eventually Kenyon stirred and I had to walk the old boy, as in his dotage he can easily get lost and confused. He stops sometimes, stands still, and exhibits the thousand-yard stare. I remember when he was young and frisky. Now I am a helpless participant in managing his decline.

The point is, my mood is still fragile. I could dive down from here. The self-critical thoughts have returned; I’m no good, I’ve never done anything in my life, yada yada. But I noticed another aspect of my illness, namely jealousy.

I’m jealous of the success of other poets and musicians. I feel somehow it’s not fair, that I’m good enough to be recognized. But even as I think this I castigate myself for my narcissism, since those with greater recognition, in general, have also striven harder to attain what they have. Other than a whole wad of publications on the net and a lesser wad in print, I remain a third tier poet, one of thousands who have not distinguished themselves from the herd. It is sad that the world of poetry works much like Hollywood, but them’s the cards, deal with it. I’m not submitting to anyone right now, a deficiency I need to correct. but sometimes it seems purely hopeless to try; I think my poetry is retro and the moment of its potential recognition has passed me by. Can I accept that without bitterness? Jealousy is the essence of narcissism and I am ashamed of it. But I must admit it. I resent those with greater success, especially when I think their verse is inferior. I try to tell myself that they earned it, but I can’t help believing they had lucky breaks. Take Wanda Coleman, for instance; what’s she doing in the second tier of poets? She is obvious and bombastic, though a good performer. Or take Charles Bukowski, from whom Garrison Keillor chose multiple entries in his anthology of poetry. I could go on, but naming names is always dangerous. You risk expulsion from the potential circle of venerable elders. I suppose my greatest achievement in poetry was when Dorianne Laux solicited me for an issue of the Alaska Quarterly Review and I had as much space as Billy Collins. To be solicited for a top flight journal is a thrill.

At 52 I’ve pretty much let my music and songwriting slide. I’ve let medical practice slide, though not by direct choice. Look: I’m being honest. The Bible advises that we pray for our enemies, for which a competitor in the small world of poetry might qualify, especially if I think their verse inferior to mine.

In my worst moments I’m so jealous I want to appeal to some objective cosmic judge for a decision. After all these years, from adolescence on, why have I not been able to master these feelings of injury? Those who succeed are not injuring me, only helping themselves. Why do I, in my worst moments, resent them? The answer is simple: I think I’m their equal or better, and that it just isn’t FAIR. What a ridiculous concept, that life and art should be fair. In my case it stems in part, no doubt, from being a middle child, a same sex second child quickly followed by my sister only 16 mos. later. Why did my older brother get more liberties? How come I couldn’t be his equal? It never dawned on me that it was just a difference in age that allowed him greater privileges. But I took his privileges as somehow diminishing mine. This is a problem I go through on the edges of depression. I wish I knew a cure.

I do remember one epiphany when I practiced in Palm Springs. At that time a Mercedes was the commonest car in the upscale desert. One day when driving I realized why others had Mercedes and I didn’t: They had earned their cars. I was not gypped; their cars did not diminish me; they had earned their luxury. Enough said. Or not enough.

My narcissism, which crops up when my mood is bent, embraces the ridiculous idea that the success of others, particularly others I think less talented, somehow takes away from me. This is plain silly. But it is one of the slippery slopes into depression again, as I must condemn myself for my narcissism, afterwards paralyzed by my perceived failure. Perhaps the only antidote for this is to simply accept that I have these feelings, justified or not, and that I need to keep working in the hopes of being recognized someday. “Don’t look behind, someone might be gaining on you.” But I am open to comment or commiseration regarding this psychological thorn, and I trust, among artists, that I am not the only one to suffer from it.

At 1 Kilorat, with Anxiety,


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: Be Careful

Be Careful

Most of our lives are tediously mundane.
Go trace them with a stick of dynamite;
They won’t explode because they can’t ignite.
Our memories are as white bread as our pain.
We shuffle through the sameness of the rain.
The rain is good but it won’t cleave the heart.
It can’t promote your longing into art.
It’s been that way since Abel died by Cain.

A mackintosh, umbrella, a warm haven
Is all you want come evening, and a beer.
I wouldn’t take away your hope of heaven.
But why should it be cheerier than here?
Who we are here will likely be what’s given.
Be careful not to lose imagination.

I don’t know where this poem came from. It started as free verse but the first four lines converted themselves into a quatrain before I could re-assert my will. So it became a sonnet. Not a happy one, certainly, but a cautionary sonnet.

Yesterday we took Kenyon swimming at Ten Mile River. On the shore of the beach was a line of pelicans 200 yards long. I’ve never seen so many pelicans. They were brown pelicans, the common kind; we haven’t seen white pelicans here as yet.

There is something so primitive about a pelican in flight. They remind one of pterodactyls; all they need is a bony protrusion from the back of their heads and you could hardly tell the two apart.

A northwest wind blew fiercely while we were there. About a half hour before high tide the ocean made it over the bluff of sand and united with the river through an isthmus only 20 ft. wide. The mixing of the salt and fresh water never ceases to amaze me, the marriage of the land to the sea. The waters may have been barely deep enough to accommodate some migrating salmon, but we saw none. I’m still waiting for the salmon/steelhead runs up our local rivers. What’s strange is that no one seems to know much about them, likely because the local fisherman catch their salmon at sea, before they journey to spawn.

I have no more to report. I’m working on a book review. I’m working on my html class. I stay up late and watch movies on Turner Classic Movies. Last night we saw The Maltese Falcon and most of the original Thomas Crown Affair with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

Maybe writing about depression was more interesting for the reader, however painful to myself. Isn’t that the way it always is? A tale’s no fun if the hero’s not in danger.

I now have a week of not being depressed. Though I feel lucky and happy to be myself, the threat still sits on my shoulder like a drooling vulture, if vultures can drool. Depression can certainly return me to road kill in a New York minute. But I’m starting to find my feet.

At Rodent Neutral,


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Anti-Villanelle; Contemporary Poetry


An anti-villanelle would suit my mood.
Post-modern poetry should not make sense—
Brash metaphor, a narrative that’s crude.

Red dog, blue cat, the sawhorse was imbued
With hair; wash, cut, dye and rinse.
An anti-villanelle would suit my mood.

A man raking. Car crash. Somebody sued
My poems for using the pluperfect tense.
Brash metaphor, a narrative that’s crude.

The bearded lady and the dwarf collude.
The dog-faced boy won’t howl, take down the tents.
An anti-villanelle would suit my mood.

Grasshopper leaps, the cockroach crawls for food
While kilorats gnaw the New Testament—
Brash metaphor, a narrative that’s crude.

Such blather may result in hebetude
While its practitioners say, "It’s intense!"
An anti-villanelle would suit my mood--
Brash metaphor, a narrative that’s crude.

I’ve been reading a lot of contemporary poetry lately, as I had to review 27 issues of The Melic Review to pick 20 poems to submit to a net anthology. I’ve also read three books by an author for a review in the Philadelphia Inquirer (through the good graces of Frank Wilson).

In reviewing Melic I noticed there seemed to be a fall-off near the end of 2002 when the poems more and more became verse disconnect, where the primary voice of narrative was buried under layers of scene-setting, non-pertinent images, and disregard for continuity, with a touch of epiphany at the end--but not too much--not enough to confer unity on the poem. Here are three excerpts for your delectation (the authors will remain nameless):


the body’s entire
expression is self-centered
in this glyphic hill
the architecture of a lost amazon
civilization the texture of foam


Flesh and blood (mine . . . ours) mingled to form
a giant so large he would have difficulty
carrying his heart. Murmur . . . the traffic

between worlds, walls we learned
to listen to.
Had to!


Now here I am on foot among scattered bags
Taxis ride the plains I whistle at one to bring it down
Muleskinner and sage
A birch rod dips
toward sacred words Everything's out of tune Tom

Much of contemporary poetry behaves like this. It screams: “Language and syntax are not enough! We must break it up with interruptions of imagery and bizarre, startling connections. It is a collage of words, not a narrative per se.” I have dealt with such claims in my essays on Logopoetry.

My problem with such poetry is that it is written for poets and aficionados, not for “the common reader”—someone with the equivalent of a liberal arts degree, whether dactic or autodidactic (though nowadays I don’t know what the degree is worth). Because of my stance on this I am considered retro, a bit of a dinosaur. In most of my poems my hope is that the reader will understand the theme without suffering consternation from images and ideas at cross purposes.

After this brand of poetry began to invade our magazine, I stopped and put out a call for “power lyrics.” Out of some thousand poems we were only able to find about eight that came close to fulfilling our criteria. It was plain discouraging. We wondered where the poets of our earlier issues had gone. I still don’t know. But I think there was a sea change in 2003, at least in what we were receiving in submissions.

In any case, my villanelle today likely makes too much sense to belong to the category I invoke, but I did try to make it a little more contemporary than my others. It doesn’t matter if you like it. It exists for itself. And that is frequently the attitude I find among contemporary poets, whether MFAs or just trendy. My poetry is not trendy. It aims for the human heart and failing that, the human mind. But I sometimes think I was born a little late.

Happily Rodent Neutral,

C. E. Chaffin

Unexpected Light

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