Friday, September 29, 2006

Last Note Before New-Agers Swallow Me

Yes, I'm terrified of this retreat, since my mood has dipped considerably over the last four days, though I have obtained the medication I was missing at some cost-- while waiting for the mail order medications from God knows where that take God knows why so much time to arrive with their postmarks from Cypress or the Seychelles.

In my melancholy I have visions of myself breaking down at the retreat in some happy drum circle and crying uncontrollably. Then the enlightened will surround me and ask me what's wrong. "Bad chemicals," I'll say. They'll ask, "What did you take?" "No, I mean the bad chemicals my brain makes. I'm a manic-depressive." "Oh," they'll say, pitying me without understanding. Maybe they'll suggest an archetype to meditate upon, or lead me to the sweat lodge. All I know is that I was doing well until Tuesday of this week, when I felt sadness over the cost of a lawyer. I was not depressed, I was merely sad; but being still fragile, I started spiraling downward and now here I am at 3 kilorats, trying not to cry as I write. I trust the return of the other antidepressant to my regimen will help, but one can only hope. On a positive note, my younger brother has climbed out of his depression with the help of a good psychopharmacologist, and I can only say, it's about time, good to have you back!

Having nothing but time to kill until Kathleen gets off work and drives me to the campground, I did some more organization of my poems. Out of roughly 600 poems I have 400 published and 200 unpublished. What worries me in the submission guidelines of the snooty journals, like the Antioch Review, is that any online publication of poems is considered publication. I think this patently unfair, especially in the early days of the litnet when readers were few. But as with medical school, the top notch journals aren't looking to accept but reject you. They want a few good poems. It's finding the fly in the ointment that they do; I know, from eight years of editing, how that goes.

Where am I going with this? I want my best poems available for publication, so I'm not sure I should even post them on this blog. Can I have an opinion from a copyright lawyer?

More globally, I feel myself in that stew of hopelessness where I am living the pipe-dream life of a writer while guilty of not practicing medicine, like I should be doing. I can't accept my "disabled" label. It makes me feel so less than. Yet I know this is my bad chemicals speaking; over the weekend Kathleen and I had fun fishing and hiking and I felt happy. Not manic, not in denial, just happy to be. I aim to get back there, but this sputtering depression is driving me nuts. It seems that just as I start to get my head above water someone or something dunks it down again.

I ventilate here simply to continue my narrative and share my fear of the New-Agers, who may prove more scary than the Touchy-Feely Presbyterians I encountered earlier.

I'll post an unpublished poem below. This cannot be considered a publication credit because it is self-published in a blog. That's my opinion, anyway.

At Three Kilorats,



Too Many Voices

I've lost my soul.
Some strange imposter puts on airs,
practices smiles, greets my mailman.
I page through obituaries and yearbooks
and the diary I never kept
but there's no record of me--
so I take a hummingbird's sip
of pear blossom nectar,
spit it out my nose and laugh.

The angels (particularly the obese ones
dedicated to pleasure) laugh mostly, it is their job.
My job is to seek the food of one will,
the drink of one thought.
In my dream I lead the sheep to safety,
only to discover at last, the joke:
they are all wearing my face.
Each time I wake I lose another piece of me.
Out of charity I embrace what's left.
There was too much of me, anyway,
too many demands and too many voices.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Men's Circle Approaches

Tomorrow I leave for the local men's circle for three days in the woods with sweat lodges and the theme of the Jungian magician within; the other archetypes for men are warrior, lover, and king. No drugs or alcohol or pets allowed, which means I can't take Kenyon and get him stoned. Nor can Kathleen come, as she doesn't have a boyish figure and would be a shock to the other naked men in the sweat lodges, where a "sacred space" has been created. I went to the three preparatory workshop meetings and listened to the talk, but my skepticism remains. One of the participants was so excited by all the magician talk that he handed out his own flyer for a lecture series, "Ancient Wisdom Concepts and Practices." Here are a few snippets from his outline:

"Music co-created with beings in spirit for healing, upliftment, and ecstasy."

"Accounts of talking to plants, trees and animals."

"The Angelic Order and Midwayers--who they are and what they do."

What do they do in that spirit world, and why should I bother with them? And were the Midwayers present at the Battle of Midway? My accounts of talking with plants are pretty one-sided. Of course, the plants do all the talking. Hard to keep up with them once you lift the gag order.

There will be a $7 charge for the lectures. My job this weekend is to avoid this man at all costs. I'm going to try to enter this experience without prejudice, but for a 51-year-old doctor and mental patient, I will no doubt suffer from skepticism and hilarity, and I will have to cover my mouth not to laugh when the next lost seeker showers his insights upon my material Christian brain. For me to be in touch with spirits would mean I need to raise my medication dosages.

Oh, these men are all well-meaning and will get a mountaintop boost from the experience, which is always followed by a letdown in real life. I'm going in order to try to make some friends, but I hope they're not just from the spirit world, as I find it easier to rap with someone I can see. "Better a live dog than a dead lion."

Thanks to Jarod for his comments on the last two days. He's right that comments don't reflect the interest in a blog, but I'm feeling a little fragile right now. Why I whined a little. Not a lot.

Two Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Two Steps Back

For the last two days I've been fighting melancholy again. A large, unexpected expense came our way, thanks to the State. More I cannot say except that I've engaged a professional, the same sort of professional known for eating its young with nary a burp. In any case, the precipitating event, long since past, tripped my melancholy wire, which puts me in danger.

The pathetic fallacy has taken a big beating since the era of the Romantics but it is almost unavoidable in depression. Example: I look out on our deck where a $2.99 kettle barbecue stands by a weathered redwood bench with a crimson bathroom floor mat hanging over the railing. The barbecue looks sad to me--so small, short a screw from the assembly packet, so cheap and unwanted that it becomes an object of pity that makes me want to cry. Psychologists would say that I'm projecting my own sadness on the barbecue but it doesn't feel that way. My mind wants to hug the barbecue, to comfort it, to say, "Poor little barbecue, cheap and small. I want to protect you but I'm powerless." Silly, huh?

Depression is silly in how its globalization of objects leads to a false and sometimes psychotic sympathy. I don't usually feel sorry for bugs and barbecues but I when I'm depressed I can. And it's not pity or empathy that I feel but commiseration. "Poor houseplant with the two brown leaves."

I'm not saying I'm depressed but the past two days have seen some slippage. I may need to go back on that medicine, just tapered, that adds pounds the way an abacus adds numbers.

I also wonder why my last post elicited no comments. Apparently the first draft of the poem was so bad that no one in their kindness felt free to speak to it. I finally commented just to get rid of the goose egg. When reduced to commenting on my own blog I am pitiful and deserve to be depressed.

Back to two kilorats,

Dr. Chaffin

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fishing on the Lost Coast

How about I post a fresh poem today unsullied by the reification of multiple drafts? It poses a nice contrast to yesterday's sonnet though the theme is much the same.

Fishing on the Lost Coast

Where heads of bobbing kelp can be mistaken for seals and often are,
Where tables of black rock are skirted in mussels, forming terraces in an insatiable fountain,
Where the frog spawn of life runs out in a herd toward the receding swell like horse heads beneath the swirling detergent in the pasture between rocks,
Where I watched the brilliant monofilament tangle and untangle, ribbon and bow in the light,
Where my half-century eyes threaded the line in the sun’s slant without eyeglasses and I tied my knots easily,
Where young gulls cruised north above me home to rookeries they have outgrown,

Where you must distinguish the feel of your weight scraping over bottom stones from a nibble,
Where you must ignore the kelp sawing at your line without being tempted to set the hook,
Where the ochre dance of palm kelp bending back with each onslaught looks like a group limbo,
Where the horses of froth stream under the surface toward the nearest barn of unforgiving rock,

Where twenty feet up I leaned against crumbling shale above the black bedrock honeycombed in igneous white,
Where I clutched the neck of cheap table wine and lifted it with my left hand because fishing occupied my right,
Where the hollow walls of pristine waves unpolluted by surfers exploded on the dark islands,
Where the hyperactive surge scaled old funnels and chutes over aprons of rock spilling into the small cove where I hoped for a fish,
Where I quit fishing altogether to devote myself to the bands of sunset: red, orange, yellow, green, aqua, blue, and violet,
Where I lay back in the oblique but still warm sun while my mind reached for a poem that doesn’t fit inside this poem,
Where the lost poem was about the ocean as healer and how it transformed plankton into whales and waste into seagulls,

Where the sun set like a gold coin on its side through the far cloud line,
Where it became a fat disc of molten white then a thin ripple of fire through the gray of the horizon,
Where the land and sea were suddenly washed by blues and grays and a coolness draped the shore like a shroud,
Where the bugs came out from the headland and danced in the impending dark,
Where I felt the tentative creeping of deer haunting the coastal headlands behind me,
Where the ocean purified me and the wind washed me and the rock strengthened me,
Where the surging, swelling foam bathed all things in a white soup,
Where I took my empty bucket and bait and pole and hiked back to the road,
Where I am transported again if I read this poem, back above the grinding, inexorable sea.

Rodent Neutral,


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Sonnet Sunday

I don't know if my comrade in the conspiracy of poetic form, Rob Mackenzie, is going to post a sonnet today, but I'm hopeful. Poetry Thursday has shown no interest in the humble pseudopod that sprouted from its more massive protoplasm, which may cause a queue of poets to de-link to the site, but what would they care?

I promise to organize a movement if one evolves. Poetry Thursday is great; it's not about craft but therapy. "Here's this wee topic: The guilt of a pregnant mother over sneaking cigarettes." With that kind of freedom, who can fail to succeed? I'm happy to play because smart people come to read my poetry. Some don't even watch TV, which speaks for itself.

If I solo write a sonnet, all sonnets are alone no matter how much they pretend to a sequence. That's the great thing about form; it delimits the quantum of sound and sense being slung.

Don't you love it when a poem weds a great musical line to a great thought? You have to listen to one or the other for a moment before truly combining them in your head, much like you might listen to a tune on the radio before remembering the words. In the best the two are inseparable, as in the Beatles' "(Money) Can't Buy Me Love."

What is it about "The young in one another's arms, The mackerel-crowded seas?" Or "When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall?" "My love is a red, red rose?" "Bloody but unbowed?" "A violet by a mossy stone?"

I'm fond of saying that the most successful poems become part of the language just like more current fare: "life in the fast lane" or "so five minutes ago." In turn an apt metaphor, "hung like a horse," in becoming part of the language, becomes a cliche'. Yet if the trope is good enough, even when transformed into cliche', it continues to function well if vivid enough: "tighter than a well digger's ass." That still works for me.

Poets commit cliche' when using cliche' unawares, the sign one has not read enough poetry. Yet even the well-read can screw up, especially if the originally poetic figure of speech has already joined the language and one uses it like language, not antiquated verse.

To use cliche' knowledgeably for an effect within a poem is the sign of an accomplished poet. I had to name this rhetorical effect for the Melic Poetry Tutorial, (still available for the modest price of $300 and the best bargain on the net, if a poet can swallow his pride). I named it because I couldn't find a rhetorical term for it. It's important for a poet to know rhetoric, but that's just the beginning of the course.

I called the poetic effect in question "reverse cliche', that is when you knowingly embed a cliche' in a poem and it takes on new power from its surroundings. Eliot uses the technique sardonically at the beginning of "The Waste Land" by reversing Chaucer: "April is the cruelest month." Anyway, I advise using this figure of speech to increase the broadness of a poem's power, since invoking a cliche' can rope in almost every reader. In other words, if you're writing a poem and find a cliche' in your verse, try twisting it.

After all that prologue, here's this week's sonnet:

The Better Fisherman

I cast the pearly squid into the cove
Hoping for a bite. I saw its white
Beneath the jade-blue waters as it dove
And drifted through the kelp and out of sight.
A seagull landed on a nearby rock
Dressed in his gray suit and white vest.
His movements were like movements of a clock
(For the rocks I thought him overdressed.)
Swiveling his head the scavenger eyed me
With eons of evolutionary power.
I felt as if the bird could look inside me—
(I was depressed, my world had gone sour).
Always unlucky, I quit and tossed the bait.
The seagull swooped and caught and flew and ate.

Rodent Neutral,


(I'm going to have to be a firm two kilobunnies before I dare rise above neutral publicly)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Poem vs. Prose-Poem

Yesterday I posted this as a proem, or prose-poem, something I generally avoid. With the help of those who commented, today I recast it as a poem with the former version below it. If you have the time, can you tell me which version you think is better?

Sensing Trees

A redwood’s autumn is not as dramatic
as that of a deciduous tree
if you prefer color to sound--
which brings to mind
the old question of whether
it’s better to be deaf or blind.
Blind is the answer a wise man gave me.
Does that mean communication
is more vital than safety?

The redwoods ply the edge
of an expanding continent
like icebreakers. When wind strikes,
their spent fronds fall
like missiles pelleting the roof,
each frond a lost church
with needles for pews.

Dead fronds lace my deck
like fish skeletons gone pale rust--
rigid millipedes with neeedles for legs.
Though acidic and hard to mulch
the needles are members in good standing
because they never desert the frond.
Remember the blind vs. deaf question?
Would you rather hear or see the redwoods?
Easy one. What about as an infant with your mother?


Sensing Trees

A redwood’s autumn is not as dramatic as that of a deciduous tree, if you prefer color to sound--which brings to mind the old question of whether it’s better to be deaf or blind. Blind is the answer a wise man gave me. Does that mean communication is more vital than safety?

The redwoods ply the edge of an expanding continent like icebreakers. When wind strikes, their spent fronds fall like missiles pelleting the roof, each frond a lost church with needles for pews.

Dead fronds lace my deck like fish skeletons gone pale rust, rigid millipedes with needles for legs. Though acidic and hard to mulch, the needles are members in good standing because they never desert the frond. Remember the blind vs. deaf question? Would you rather hear or see the redwoods? Easy one. What about as an infant with your mother?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Rare Prose-Poem

Back when I was still editor of The Melic Review I frowned on prose-poems and relegated them to flash fiction.

The thing below started off as a poem but fell more naturally into prose, I thought. It approaches the density of a poem without incurring a poem's difficulties. Comments welcome. This is fresh off the griddle, btw, always a mistake to expose so early, or so I tell students.

Sensing Trees

A redwood’s autumn is not as dramatic as that of a deciduous if you prefer color to sound--which brings to mind the old question of whether it’s better to be deaf or blind. Blind is the answer a wise man gave me. Does that mean communication is more vital than safety?

The redwoods ply the edge of an expanding continent like an icebreaker. When wind strikes their spent fronds fall like missiles pelleting the roof, each a lost church whose needles are pews.

Dead fronds lace my deck like fish skeletons gone rust, rigid millipedes whose legs are needles. Though acidic and hard to mulch, the needles are members in good standing and never desert the frond. Remember the blind vs. deaf question? Would you rather hear or see the redwoods? Easy one. What about your mother?

Rodent Neutral,


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A Bubble Gum Fish; Men's Circle

Yesterday I was fishing off the rocks in my secret place and caught a black fish with rust-colored patches on its flanks and descending to its belly. I was happy, of course, as I rarely catch a fish. When I got it home and began to clean it, however, I was in for a psychedelic surprise. The fish's liver was bubble-gum blue, the kind of blue in a 7-11 slushy. Worse, its flesh was the same blue. "One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish." Was it edible? Was it poisonous? In all my life I had never seen such a thing. It was not the color of food but candy. Blueberry gum.

As a fish lover I wasn't going to let the color defeat my urge to consume the fish. So I called my friend Ralph, whom I call "The Fishmeister" because he's a much better fisherman than I and knows a lot about it. He told me the fish was a Greeling, a member of the Ling Cod family, whose members also come in a candy apple green. So I cooked it and it was delicious. As it cooked the blue color transformed to the usual white. (I think it was a Jumblie fish and I should have been in an oceangoing sieve to have caught it).

On to the men's circle. My experience of psychosis, especially of the religious kind, has made me skeptical of any "spiritual" experiences. Nevertheless my psychiatrist recommended this men's circle and retreat. Naturally he attends. In preparation for the retreat our facilitator is sharing about the Jungian archetype of the Magician, the Trickster, Odysseus, Loki, Coyote, Raven--you get the picture. It's one of four archetypes for men: Warrior, Lover, King, Magician.

I left the first meeting at halftime, but last night I made it through. We were told to close our eyes and imagine our magician and call to him. In my mind's eye I saw a raven in flames that did not burn. This is an apt metaphor for my life; I have had many close calls with death and other detours, but by luck and wits and the grace of God I have managed to escape from many narrow situations. Then there's being a poet, musician and psychiatrist, all categories of the Magician.

Thus I can definitely identify with this archetype. Whether I will levitate in the sweat lodge is another question, though I do hope my belly will hide the size of my member. Penis comparisons among naked men is unavoidable, the inevitable sideways glance quickly hid, and my increased weight from the medications will, of course, make me smaller appearing. Thank God at least I have big balls. Speaking of balls, yes, I have a poem on that, below, though it's about a special case.

Thine in Seussian Fish,



That Government Hook

I know a man whose balls
are pink and delicate
carnations of irradiation,
twin oysters supercharged
to never spit a pearl.

He managed to get out in six
while doing seven to ten
because NASA sought virile men
and wished to know how many licks
a man's jewels could take
before the shine came off.

Convicts will volunteer from boredom
as much as for freedom.
If killing time means killing your balls,
big fucking deal.
Who wants to be a father anyway?
Mine was an asshole.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dr. Chaffin Weenies Out; Kathleen Stands Firm

For those who occasionally come to this site, know that I'm in a beta blog fix. Google and Blogspot combined their sign-in requirements to promote this new technology, but the sad side effect is that I can't comment on my friends' non-beta blogs, unless the anonymous feature is enabled. As a middle child my sense of fairness bleeds; how can I pay people back for commenting here if I can't comment in turn?

Also, for those not conversant with our fascinating neighbors, recently jailed and released for grand larceny, we had a real blowout with them yesterday. They had enlisted us to open a cable TV account and share the expense, since as they operate only on a cash basis they couldn't order it themselves. The bill was due last week. We paid it. They didn't kick in their share. Yesterday I called the company to have their codes shut off. They were. When Bill and Darcy came home there was a firestorm. "How could you do this to us? Don't you trust us? We told you we'd have the money this week. Jesus!"

To which I replied I had already warned them if the money wasn't in at the beginning of this week I would do what I said I would do and did. I told Bill to shut up on the phone. "I hold the cards here," I said, "so don't fuck with me." When Darcy called afterwards I told her that due to her protesting as the victim instead of thanking me for getting them service at all, I was inclined not to have the codes turned on for their reception again.

That's when Darcy came to the door and said, "I can't believe you don't trust us after all this time. Don't you trust us?"

To which Kathleen issued a resounding, "No. I don't trust you. You tried to turn me into your fence."

Darcy was flabbergasted by the term, so repaired to her unit to ask of Bill what 'fence' might mean. She came back with a diatribe about how all the things she had wanted Kathleen to sell were truly hers, that her former landlady (who recently had Darcy jailed) had "given" these things to her. Kathleeen stood her ground but I didn't. Bill brought over a $50 and said "keep the change" (which wasn't much change but no doubt helped him satisfy his grandiosity). So I weenied out. I called the cable company and had them reconnected. After all, they did pay me early this week as they said they would. I went ahead with the disconnection because I know they're in hawk to the landlord, who's evicting them, and thus took a dim view of their credit.

Perhaps the main reason I disconnected them instead of waiting another day or two was because they are television addicts--I got a good dose of Schadenfreude in taking away their lollipop. I have never been to their place when the TV was not on and too loud to talk over, made worse by Bill's need to bloviate about what's on TV, especially sports.

What if their story is true? What if their landlady had offered them all the 'stuff' the police took away? It is a slim possibility, and in general I give folks the benefit of the doubt. So maybe I didn't just weenie out, maybe it was because the quality of mercy is not strained. Also because I think they would go bonkers without the lullaby of their electronic babysitter, and that Sturm und Drang would continue in their manipulative whining for the forseeable future.

Their arraignment is today. If the bail is low enough they'll return, or maybe they have resources I don't know about, cash stuffed away for just such emergencies to buy them their temporary freedom.

Kathleen also questioned Darcy how she could rent a car without a credit card. Darcy claimed Enterprise would do it for a cash deposit of $200. She encouraged us to check the facts but were too lazy to do so.

My Jungian shadow confesses to delight in turning their television off, and I knew it would provoke a firestorm, but all in all I didn't want to live near those two if they didn't have television. I could have stood my ground and they would have had no recourse as they have no credit card. But Kathleen, God bless her, didn't budge and was disappointed in my manhood for not standing firm (pun unintended).

On the plus side, I got fifty dollars and put the fear of God into them. I have established that I have power to cut their lifeline off with a phone call. They have no life apart from television that I can see; if they were in hell, I doubt they would notice their surroundings as long as they had a television.

I'm glad I can blog into the black ether rather than stay chained to the little box of horrors.

Except for his limp, Kenyon's doing find. I've now wrapped his left "knee" joint with an Ace wrap and duct tape, and amazingly, he hasn't tried to chew it off. Kathleen insists that it helps him, as he can bear more weight on the leg. I'm not convinced. It certainly doesn't hurt. When I suggested it to the vet she was not enthusiastic but I know now that you can splint a dog. Naturally as a doctor I'm puzzled by the extra joint in his leg that we don't have; do dogs have two knees? If so, I bandaged the lower one.

Tomorrow I aim to blog on the men's circle up here and its preparation for a retreat at the end of the month. The theme is the archetype of the Magician.

Thine at Rodent Neutral,


Monday, September 18, 2006

September 11

I have run across a number of sites revisiting 9/11, most recently a poem reviewed by Rob Mackenzie by a Mr. Armitage, and thought it behooved me to share one more.

The link to it is incorporated in the title of this brief note. The site features features an early draft of my poem, "World Trade Center Kaddish," which I wrote within the first month of the tragedy for an anthology. It has the virtues of being raw and fresh, the deficit of being unpolished.

Yes, that's two posts in a day. Forgive.

Rodent Neutral,


Me and Richard Corey

I got some good help from Jarod Anderson and Norm Ball yesterday with my newborn sonnet and have since incorporated some changes which change the poem for the better.

One advantage of blogging poems instead of workshopping them is that the people who comment are not out to humiliate you or raise their own reputations by sullying yours. They're usually well-meaning friends trying to help you. Anyone with experience at any of the major poetry boards know what I mean.

Now a funny thing happened to me on the way through my mail. A nice lady, Diana Collins, asked me to link to her Famous Poets and Poems and in the bargain wanted to include me in her list, where I likely don't belong, but who am I to resist free publicity? I've been called "famous" before in a now extinct literary journal, but fear I am the personification of devaluing the adjective, though Warhol may have ruined it for all time.

You'll find the link to the site on the sidebar, but here's a link directly to me and my work, bio, etc.: CE.

I have been mowing down minor obstacles of late, from an IRS dispute to recouping some funds from a small family trust. I've also been thinking about a poem that would emphasize the mundane requirements of reality as true existence, while the exercises of the mind and imagination are rendered less important--a poem against poetry, in other words. Most poets aren't terribly good at reality; I think I'm lucky not to be living in a shack and subsisting on oatmeal and rice. I was a dreamy and solitary kid until exposed to elementary school. I think most poets started out as daydreamers and found the words for their daydreams later.

I've mentioned before how in my manic-depressive groups people were shocked to hear me refer to practicing medicine as "babysitting people until they die." That is a bit harsh, but true in itself, except for the fact that it was also my job to improve quality of life. That's reality for you. Who wants it? But we all need it!

Kathleen's good friend from New York scolded her for using a credit card that didn't earn frequent flyer miles. Like we knew such things existed! But there are people who do.

I have yet to compose the poem I propose, so for the present I'll post one that makes the opposite point, the usual poetic position.

Richard Corey’s Clan

They have a secret handshake
for dry palms only,
wristwatches synchronized.

If you pass them on the street
they have the trick of acknowledging you
without making eye contact.

They actually follow
their car’s maintenance schedule
and use the recommended oil.

In spring they carry umbrellas,
in summer, sun block,
in winter they wear hats.

In their glove compartments are gloves.
Their checkbooks balance.
Their children get braces.

If they inadvertently smack their wives
or dabble with heroin, it doesn’t matter—
they can handle it.

I want to be part of their family.
Good breeding tells.
Pow! Pow!

(Published I forget where)

Holding at Rodent Neutral,


Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sonnet Sunday

Today's sonnet I wrote for Kathleen's and my sixth wedding anniversary, Sept. 14. Yes, Virginia, there is true love in the world and I found it with Kathleen. Even so, poetry has its own demands, and though I wanted to write a very romantic sonnet for our anniversary, the poem took a wry turn to set up a simple conceit prefigured in the title.

You can't force a poem to be something it's not, a frequent beginner's mistake. You can't manhandle a poem and expect it to be something worth preserving. As I tell my students, "Get out of the way of the poem." So I did with this one, though I think it at best an average example of my work.

At Rodent Neutral, Thank God!


Thinning a Verb

I love pistachios and basketball
And blackberries and the furious mane of spray
When ocean batters rock and the pall
Of fog through pines above the aqua bay.
I love fireworks and my guitar
And everything the Beatles ever wrote.
I love the charm of a familiar bar
And my worn flannels and my paisley coat
(Though you won’t see me wearing them together).
I love asparagus and artichokes
And licorice whips and nuts and rainy weather
And Halloween and good off-color jokes.
___Have I devalued ‘love’ with things too steeply
___To say “I love you” and not mean it deeply?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Another Poem on Beds

Yesterday I failed to recollect that I had another poem involving a bed which I hadn't posted, and thus, in the interests of truth in recollection I provide it for you today, unpublished, once workshopped, written a little over a year ago when Kathleen and I were stuck near San Diego for several months on a tiny full-size bed, naturally uncomfortable, in a week-to-week rental of a studio cottage, not that I'm complaining, as it was much better than being homeless.

Here goes:

(After Life)

I have forgotten how to sleep.
The shock cords of my ligaments
and poles of my bones
belong to that bargain tent
you can never get back in the bag.

Like the fossil of a pterodactyl
impossibly mangled in rock
I groove the mattress,
arranging and rearranging
the angles of my skeleton
until exhaustion intervenes.
I do not call it sleep.

I resent the hell out of gravity.
My wife says I twitch all night.
When I wake to find her on the couch
I blame my lumbering ancestor,
the lobefin fish,
for the second great mistake.

At Rodent Neutral,



p.s. The pain of the poem above has been much ameliorated by the Magic Bed II.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The Magic Bed II

I first discovered the benefits of latex foam mattresses when I bought a '69 VW Camper for $600 back in 1987. That little bed in back was the best thing I'd ever slept on, even if too short for my frame.

In 2000, when Kathleen first moved in with us in Long Beach, we had no bed and no washer. She left to be with her ailing mother for two weeks and instructed me that both conveniences would be expected when she returned.

I searched the net for the best deal on a quality latex foam mattress and found one manufactured by King Coil for under $1200. It gained the sobriquet "The Magic Bed" for its sheer comfort, and my daughters used to curl up in it with us to watch TV. Given the size of my daughters, all around 6' tall, that's quite an advertisment for the bed.

When we first moved to Mexico in 2002 we arrived by plane with Kenyon, two guitars and a studio amp, and assorted luggage. In 2004, when all our money was wrongly confiscated by California's family court and my disability pension was cancelled, after struggling to set things right, Kathleen and I finally arrived back in San Miguel with five pesos and one liter of gasoline to our name--but I insisted on bringing the magic bed down. Having no luggage rack, I tied it by a number of ingenious methods to the top of our van. Nevertheless, all through the trip I had to re-adjust it and tighten it and add new cord to secure it. I also had to put an aerodynamic baffle made of cardboard over the front of the mattress, as the wind would get under it and start to lift the whole thing.

Kathleen was opposed to this transport from the beginning, but with my back pain I was determined to sleep on the magic bed again. Kathleen turned out to be right, as when we had to leave for the States again, the kidnapper's son (for those new to this blog, that means the son of our former maid who held Kenyon, Kathleen's hearing-ear dog, for $10,000 ransom) let his dogs trash the mattress, so it had big chunks bitten out of it. If we'd left it in storage back in Long Beach I wouldn't have had to purchase a new one.

Thanks to Katheen's recent income from Safeway as a supermarket slave, we were able to buy a bed to replace the Magic Bed I. We call it, interestingly enough, the Magic Bed II. (Poets are always so creative at naming.)

It came with two different kinds of foam rolled up tightly in plastic, a wooden base, and a zipping cover to hold the 3" and 6" foam layers together. The 3" foam is top quality memory foam that conforms to all the protruberances of the body, and the foam beneath it supports the experience, being a little firmer.

Both of us woke yesterday with less pain in our bodies. In the morning I usually gather myself at the edge of the bed, catalogue my various aches, my lumbar spine being the worst, then grit my teeth to rise. Yesterday I sat on the edge of the bed and was amazed by the dimunition of pain the Magic Bed II afforded me. I woke two hours earlier than usual and more refreshed. Kathleen, who also suffers back problems, woke up in much less pain as well. We are very happy with our bed!

I should mention that the bed cost $70 more in California because a fire retardant feature was required. And what was this indispensable fire retardant? Merely a layer of material, presumably asbestos inside a cotton cover, to place between the mattress and its base. Hmmm... this is to keep my mattress from melting?

One thing I detest about my home state is its endless meddling in our lives, and how contractors grow rich manufacturing stupid things that don't serve any purpose except to satisfy a law passed "for our own good." The Caretaker State sucks. As bumper stickers say out here, "Don't Californicate Oregon." I'd go further and merge the northern counties of California with Oregon.

If anyone would like a magic bed delivered to their door, here's the website where we purchased ours: Bragada. We own no stock in the company, indeed have no retirement funds at all, but for the price it's hard to beat. You can have the whole deal we bought delivered to your door with two free latex foam pillows for under $900 (unless you live in California). And for the well-heeled, there are even more sumptous beds available.

As a doctor I treated a lot of aches and pains with latex foam mattresses and Rockport shoes.

I have yet to post the same poem twice on this blog, but today's subject calls for a repeat of a my only poem about a bed. I wrote it about the Magic Bed I.

Thine in Latex Foam,



My bed calls to me, a bouquet
of white roses wrapped in fresh sheets,
sun-white and window-warmed.

Like a cod from the deep I am hauled to bed;
its rumpled buttocks welcome me.

I am drawn to bed by the scent of softener;
its hungry linens mouth my skin.


Clown-faced and innocent
my bed came to me,
grieving over the lost gravity
of my body.

Its button eyes wept over my heels’
impression in the carpet,
its stripes grew crooked with jealousy
at my hollow pant legs.

“You’re too small,” I said,
“my feet hang over your edge
like drying fish.”

“You’re too flat,” I said,
“for me to conform to you
the way you do to me.”

“You’re too soft,” I said,
“I sink into you like a stone
in a bowl of oatmeal.”


My bed misses me and I am afraid.

I hear its anxious springs creaking at night.

There is nothing quite like me to fill its emptiness.

(published in Big Bridge)

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Andy Rooney Gets Stoned

Poetry Thursday has called for a poem today from inside someone else's shoes. I once imagined what it would be like to be Andy Rooney, who strikes me as slightly compulsive, not to mention curmudgeonly, if he smoked some pot while on camera. Here is the result:

Andy Rooney Stoned

"What does 'irregular' mean?
Look, here's one trio of socks for 15$
and another labeled 'irregular' for 5$.
See any difference? I certainly can't.
Let me tear off this packaging, there.
I'll put the expensive one on my right foot
and the cheap one on my left foot, OK?

Whoa--my feet look so far away and white.
Are they even alive? Here's one sock,
now the other on. Can you see any difference?
If you look closely at the line of gold
along the toes you might notice
how on the cheap pair the threads
are not as straight, they’re wavier…
they remind me of wheat fields
in the Midwest and sometimes
you'd see an eagle...

But these socks-- which is which?
Who knows? Would you pay
three times as much for the one
on my right? Or is that from the cheap pair?
I don't know anymore. But the threads,
the gold threads on black, are a symbol
of strength, like the lion, the lion
in the savanna hunting, hunting
for the other socks. Where are they?
I had six pair (won’t pay my fare).

Why does everyone say I’m a whiner?
By the way, if your feet are as ugly as mine—
you know, blue-veined on pale marble
with bunions and onychomycosis
(that is, fungal thickening of the toenails),
don't take your socks off in public.
See? You want to look at that?
Jesus! I didn't know my feet
had so many colors, the blue,
the orange-yellow calluses,
the sparse white hairs,
the pale flesh, waxen maybe...hmmmmm....

Look, the sole turns white
when you press down on it, see?
No, not white, more yellow..
while the surrounding sole looks pink,
but yellow on the calluses.
You can tell a lot from people's feet.
Are feet irregular? They say the right one
is usually longer, but they make shoes
the same length. What's that about?
A podiatrists' scam to promote surgery?

Jerry, could you turn those lights down?
They're much too bright.
Where are my tinted glasses? There.
Notice how my ears are irregular?
Give me a mirror, Jerry.
See? One temple must be bent lower
to make them appear level on my nose
because my ears are not equal, are they?
Or are they? I can't tell in this mirror.
Are they irregular? And which one?
Does that mean one is worth less than the other?
Now, do the glasses look level?

Strange sound, that, the rubbing
of plastic over the ear, like, like...
Do you have any gum? My mouth is so dry.
What's with this dark suit I'm wearing?
Everyone knows I'm a pessimist already--
tits on a boar! As I was saying—
Wait, turn the lights down, Jerry! I'm going blind!
And how people look like their dogs.
And this old Olivetti I use. Word processing. Bwah!
Sounds like processed food-- ecch... can't stomach it….
and now, see, the ugly foot-- the sock's off. Is it irregular?
How does all this lint get all over, anyway?
And this a new pair. And why don't they invent shoes
that don't need socks? Is science unable
to solve the odor problem or is there more money in socks?

I hid my money in a sock when I was a kid.
Ching, ching. I can hear the coins even now.
Real silver, not these alloy Oreos you people spend.
Sheesh, I'm not hungry, but I don't want any more coffee.
Is this a slow motion film, Jerry?
I keep seeing my hand trailing through space,
watch-- and my pen, too!

My God! Look at this desk!
Ancient and ink-stained, so many scratches,
they look like Chinese characters.
It's spelling out something: "You are irregular.
You will be assimilated."
Yeah, but who's gonna pay my celery?
I won’t be treated like a vegetable.
Ha ha! Look, I need a new ribbon.

Cut, Jerry, and call my ex,
I have some new insults for her.
Not the yellow phone for God's sake!
Reminds me of sardines in mustard sauce.
See how the plastic glistens with that fishy sheen?
Is the plastic irregular? I see swirls in it…
Cut, cut!

(Published in M.A.G.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Neighbors, Bed, Submissions

Our neighbors act as if nothing has happened. They have a court date this month but seem dismissive of it. I don't know if they've paid our landlord yet, but I try not to pry too much, balancing the traitor, the friend and the voyeur. I want to attend their next day in court to see if any of their stories hold water. I should think if they were wholly guilty of grand larceny they would have skedaddled by now. They are being evicted at the least, but who knows how long that takes in California, the victim's paradise?

They did manage to secure two old televisions from garage sales as soon as they were released, which are always on and usually too loud to talk over. In the meantime they owe us $45 for the cable bill we share. I want my mopney surely as the landlord wants his. Then they owe him $2500.

The great news is that OUR BED arrived today, shipped from Virginia, latex memory foam sure to make our achy-breaky joints more sanguine in the morning.


As for me, I have become more aggressive about achieving greater recognition for my verse. I didn't win the last ns. contest I entered, which received 651 mss. 651 mss. at $25 per means $16,325, much less than the monetary reward and cost of pubication the contest undertakes. Perhaps I should start my own ms. contest and live off the overage. Face it: most of the mss. entered are simply glanced at and put aside as kooky or amateurish. Maybe twenty deserve more attention. Hand the last five to the judge and voila! His prejudices decide the winner and the press makes a handy profit. The judge for the contest was Tim Seibles, whose style gave me little hope, but that's not the point. The point is to keep trying.

Yesterday I entered two manuscripts in Ohio State University's Morse Prize The manuscripts are Sine Wave (from which I've posted quite a few here) and Wear Me Like a River (Love Poems for Kathleen). I'm working on a third manuscript until I can submit three at once to contests, provided I can afford the entry fees. There's a sucker born every minute. I also submitted to Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker. No, I'm not holding my breath. But all three can be reached through online submissions, if you're curious.

The foam beds are gradually expanding from the rolls they came as as Kathleen and I toast each other on a bed worthy of our age and station with a cheap cabernet. Tomatoes and cucumbers and gourds are ripening my my garden. Peach and blood-red dahlias bloom there, too. And I've blathered enough for one uneventful day.

My anxiety has been better, so I'm posting a poem about anxiety below. My mood's OK, say 1 kilorat. I put myself in the negative still because no matter how content I may feel in the immediate, I still feel the power of depression curled within me, mocking my sanguine exterior.

Thine as always,



I am running. It is night.
A giant eye pursues me
through the dark forest
on silent pseudopodia.
Branches bend against
its malleable globe
but never snap, the sound
of their brushing enough
to spook the nightingale
that sang me to false safety.
I’m never safe.

I am running. It is night.
There is no ‘i’ in “eye,” is there?
Where is the white marble
with the dark bull's eye?
Hiding in blue-black between trees,
hissing past pine cones,
maintaining its distance?
How I wish it would close!
I’m never safe.

I am running. It is night.
Should I lie down
in this brief field
under the moonless sky and wait?
Will I be swallowed, sniffed,
inspected, prodded, analyzed?
Devoured, will I become
a cartoon on its retina?
There is no ‘i’ in “eye.”
It's my eye, isn’t it?
Well isn't it?
I’m never safe.

(Published in M.A.G. along with others)

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Obesity and Casuistry

First, know that since I went beta with my blog, I'm not allowed to post at non-beta blogs. So if any of my usual haunts are feeling neglected, Google promises this will be fixed soon.

It's too bad that the taste of food can't be separated from its mass. If you could put a slip of paper on your tongue and experience prime rib, you would not feel as if the taste belonged to you unless you also swallowed the strip. The pleasure of eating is not just taste; it includes mastication, swallowing and satiety. The enjoyment of food is inextricably linked with these other sensations: the crunch of nuts, the slide of an oyster, the abdomen pleasantly distended.

I ate seven or eight tacos tonight. Not all at once but in stages. I am satiated but not in pain. I can't imagine the satisfaction of taste alone without the sensation of swallowing it, to claim that food for yourself, to swell your stomach with the triumph of having consumed something so tasty--which may or may not be good for you. Experts say fudge and fried chicken are bad for you, but how can they be if they taste so good? It goes against biology. Too bad biology has failed us until obesity is a plague. I read that there are more obese people in the world now than people in hunger. The fat get fatter and now the thin get fatter, too, in modern times. I don’t know whether to call this trickle up or down.

I sometimes think of the grinding poverty depicted in Angela's Ashes, or the depressing privation of some of Dostoyevsky's characters. How will obesity affect literature? It has already affected style, with many resorting to the combination of loose-fitting tops and form-fitting pants, as if the normal-appearing legs made one look normal weight while a massive belly is disguised by billowy material. What, they think they’re fooling us? Sorry, the joke is on the fat people, a group to which I now belong. And it was easy to get here. Just eat what I want and shun exercise. Sit on my ass and write.

But there’s obese and morbidly obese. Doesn't it freak you out a little when you see someone, usually a woman, who hides her arms with long sleeves only to reveal rolls on her wrists? Especially when the woman seeks further camouflage by wearing fancy bracelets? Ecch!

The plague is upon us. According to body mass index I need to drop about 20 lbs to achieve the distinction of being only overweight. To be "normal" weight I'd have to drop about fifty. Yet I am not so fat as to gross someone out, unless it's someone I haven't seen for a long time, someone who must readjust their image of me. Before my failed back surgery I was trim; afterwards I rolled slowly uphill to the well-padded club, where I now check in at 270 lbs. And my worst habit is late night binging. This is partly the fault of two medications I'm on, lithium and Zyprexa. If I'm sensible I realize the treatment of my depression is more important than my looks, especially since I don’t have a lot of physical vanity (though I do have some or wouldn’t be writing this schlock). What I really need to do isn't to take up an exercise program, but stop one. I need to quit the exercise of lifting my hand to my mouth so often. I should have my arms strapped to my sides between meals.

Doesn't everybody know that obesity is caused by a virus that the processed food companies put in the American water supply? The Department of Agriculture is in cahoots with the ranchers and farmers and Kraft and Nabisco. These same concerns own the weight loss companies too, I suspect, through dummy corporations. They get you coming and going. Imagine that perhaps the same people who tempt you with Twinkies are also milking you to take those Twinkie pounds off. That’s a slick marketing approach: sell the cause of a disease and its treatment at the same time. If I were a reporter and not merely a bloviator I might do an expose' on these connections I suspect, but I can't concentrate because I crave another taco and they’re all gone.

I made my bread and I'm going to have to lie in it.

I have a poem on weight gain, of course:


In the early September heat
with no hint of October,
my thin hair plasters my scalp
like spaghettinni—and I am fat.

I wasn’t always fat. In home movies
I am skin stretched over a xylophone,
taut as a kayak, yet now
my body feels thick and foreign
as a space suit or a sleeping bag.

I understand breasts better now,
like sacks of coins beneath the skin
that jiggle when you jump.

As an antidote I try to see myself
more as the sum of my existence
than any single frame, thus base my weight
not on this moment but as an average
of all my years on earth. Using this method
I’ll never be as fat as I am now.
(Besides, everyone knows it’s glandular.)

I'm not heavy I'm your brother!

At 0.5 kilorats,


Saturday, September 09, 2006

Update on Neighbors; Poem by Larkin

It's the weekend, when most people have more things to do than sit at their CDT and moon.

Sometimes the life of the mind supersedes reality. Reality has a habit of hauling you to jail for all those unpaid parking tickets. Reality is merciless and especially so to dreamy poets. Anyone who puts poetry before reality is sure to experience material setbacks. Then the thrill of making insurance payments can't hold a candle to a good poem. We should be forgiven for being distracted, and not just by poetry but by the wonders that trump poetry.

One such experience was when I saw my first and only snowbow. I don't know what else to call it. South of here, at Manchester Beach, in October of 2003, it was snowing lightly. The sea was drenched in moonlight through the haze. And I saw a snowbow, arched over the sea in a light gray, like a colorless rainbow in a world of black-and-white. This is the kind of wonder that poetry usually fails; I tried but abandoned any attempt to do it justice in verse. It's one of those "you had to be there" things. But oh, what a wonder!


My neighbors were released yesterday. After they had taken a bus to the nearest town, whom did they call for a ride home? That's right, Judas. Judas the inured. On the way home they gave me an earful of innocence. They have a court date in a week. It's a longshot, but maybe part of their story is the truth--that their last landlord was a crazywoman who told them she didn't want her stuff then sued them to get it back. My question is: How does a crazy person have the wherewithal to organize a suit, much less charges for an arrest? I'm going to try to weasel my way in as a spectator next week so I can hear the legal version of all this.

Have I made up for my "betrayal" by my continuing kindness?


Since I switched to beta out of necessity for my blog, I haven't been able to repair all the links I had formerly. So if any of you poets or manic-depressives (my people!) want to be listed here, please send me an e-mail.

I had planned to blog about my relapse in mood today, about the free-floating anxiety that's returned as well as the melancholic interruptions, but writing about things beside yourself is therapeutic in its own right, so why should I revisit the symptoms I have heretofore described in detail?

Today I added Jane Kenyon and Philip Larkin to my links, two poets I'm very fond of. Below is a poem by Larkin that always blows me away. What sympathy this tippling librarian, a skeptic, had for an experience of faith he would never seriously consider. If I had to pick ten poems I wish I'd written, this would be one.

Faith Healing

Slowly the women file to where he stands
Upright in rimless glasses, silver hair,
Dark suit, white collar. Stewards tirelessly
Persuade them onwards to his voice and hands,
Within whose warm spring rain of loving care
Each dwells some twenty seconds. Now, dear child,
What's wrong, the deep American voice demands,
And, scarcely pausing, goes into a prayer
Directing God about this eye, that knee.
Their heads are clasped abruptly; then, exiled

Like losing thoughts, they go in silence; some
Sheepishly stray, not back into their lives
Just yet; but some stay stiff, twitching and loud
With deep hoarse tears, as if a kind of dumb
And idiot child within them still survives
To re-awake at kindness, thinking a voice
At last calls them alone, that hands have come
To lift and lighten; and such joy arrives
Their thick tongues blort, their eyes squeeze grief, a crowd
Of huge unheard answers jam and rejoice -

What's wrong! Moustached in flowered frocks they shake:
By now, all's wrong. In everyone there sleeps
A sense of life lived according to love.
To some it means the difference they could make
By loving others, but across most it sweeps
As all they might have done had they been loved.
That nothing cures. An immense slackening ache,
As when, thawing, the rigid landscape weeps,
Spreads slowly through them - that, and the voice above
Saying Dear child, and all time has disproved.

--Philip Larkin

Isn't it amazing? The empathy of this heavy-drinking, agnostic librarian. Forget what anyone told you about Larkin; I consider him one of the major poets of the last century. I think he forms a bridge from the intellectual formalism of Auden to the dawn of the "Confessional" poets.

At 1.5 kilorats,

Thine in Truth and Art,


Thursday, September 07, 2006

Brief Post

I know you don't believe the title since it's hard for me to sit down and not write 1000 words.

For those following our neighbors' story, they're still in jail and charged with grand larceny, receiving stolen goods and embezzlement. Their bail has been set at $15,000 each. As they have no resources I know of they will likely be partying in the pokey for a while.

Marc Awodey, a poet I mentioned in an earlier blog, sent me a nice e-mail. I learned he's also a visual artist, and in reviewing his work I was reminded of Edward Munch, whose stolen paintings were recently returned to their gallery. Marc's paintings are outstanding and reasonably priced. Go have a gander. Art is the one investment I have never regretted.

Marc also reminisced about earlier days on the net when he was following David Hunter Sutherland around the way I was following Marc in our publishing. To close the circle, David asked me to write a jacket blurb for his first book, Steel Umbrellas, which I did. In the evanescent reality of the web I suppose all three of us used up our fifteen minutes but I'm still milking mine.

Today's poem was written not long ago while hiking a nearby dirt road. For any who wonder what is meant by "growers," I live in Northern California so connect the dots. Recent reports claim the majority of pot farms hidden in the state forests are managed by the Mexican Mafia.

Phantom Drums

I hear drumming in the woods.
I stop dead. The drumming stops.

Brittle reeds crack underfoot.
Silence. I start walking.

I hear drumming again. I imagine
a circle of growers armed to the teeth

pounding on skins to goad their green
and purple beauties into bloom.

I stop. Again the drumming stops. I turn
my head. Ha! Wind playing my ears!

At 1 kilorat,


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Call Me Judas: Neighbors go to jail but Dr. Chaffin doesn't.

For those who did not read or don't recall the preparatory information for today's epistle, you might want to read my August 30 entry first.

Today the circus came to town. Three cops, one with gun drawn, 4 vehicles and a U-Haul truck.

The sergeant with the piece first knocked on Mike's door, our harmless neighbor. Mike saw the gun and was startled, but directed the police to the other tenants, my friends Bill and Darcy. (These are, of course, pseudonyms.)

Afterwards everything in their house was catalogued and photographed, while the police let friends of Bill and Darcy's former landlady repossess her goods, which included a Morris antique chair, an antique bureau, a plasma television and objets d'arte, including a large handmade quilt they had hung above their bed.

So the chickens came home to roost. Our landlord had heard through the grapevine how this couple had scammed other landlords; they rent for six months, avoid the deposit and leave the tail of the rent owed. The landlady of their previous residence had been in Hawaii when they skedaddled with her stuff. There is another line of secondhand information which claims they were evicted. Both may be true.

I slept through all of this and got the news from Mike, who has Albert Einstein hair and hails from Manhattan. He's worth at least three blogs but I like to hoard my material.

The goods were hauled back to the former landlady while Bill and Darcy were hauled to jail in handcuffs, an experience with which I can sympathize. (Dr. Chaffin has been to jail more than once, and not only for manic episodes.)

And who did Bill place his phone call to from jail? And whom did Darcy call? You got it. Yo.

If you read the August 30 post, you'll know that it was on the strength of my testimony that a warrant was issued. But I was always cordial with them, and we watched the NBA playoffs at their house (which gave me an eyeful of stolen property, though I didn't know it).

The cops took this long to move because ours is a county with a small population and a large expanse of land, so arranging for three officers to take a house took some doing.

As for the phone calls, both Bill and Darcy were unconcerned with their incarceration; they would be discharged soon, they assured me, it was all trumped up charges. Hmmm...

What most concerned them was their stuff and whether it was secure. Darcy told me she had $800 in a drawer towards the rent (strangely, they're behind in the rent, the worried landlord informed me.) They wanted to know if their furniture, television, yada yada, had been conserved, and they asked me to go over to their house and make sure. Darcy is going to call me back to find out. Unfortunately I will have to report that their stuff has been taken except for a bed, which apparently wasn't stolen.

Darcy made up a string of incredible lies on the phone. The landlady "was crazy. She had it in for them." The goods they had taken "she hadn't wanted when she was in Hawaii, then she changed her mind when she got back." Darcy had been to civil court "three times" over it and it was all "bogus." Every question I asked she had an answer for. But what is most significant is what Bill and Darcy were first concerned about: How was their stuff? Was their stuff OK?

This is always the first concern of sociopaths. Not their freedom, their defense strategy, whether they'll be released today, but their stuff. In all the times I visited e.with Bill as he drank a beer in front of me, he never offered me one. I wasn't valuable stuff. I did notice he offered his pot dealer a beer. Why? Because he wanted some stuff from him. Obviously it's all about stuff, and people are objects, and if they stole something, it wasn't stealing, they merely took stuff the landlady didn't want.

Understand this about sociopaths: To them, people are things. People are the means by which to obtain more stuff. I’ve had sociopaths in therapy before, usually court-ordered, and they’ll mimic any behavior that will lead to an earlier release from the hospital. They’ll dissemble “progress” in therapy, and when they leave they tell you how much you helped them. And they don’t change one iota.

You may say, "You are convicting your neighbors before their guilt has been proved." But I know a sociopath when I see one, and I had no illusions about Bill and Darcy from the beginning, when I told Kathleen they were scammers.

Now for the Judas factor. How does it feel to be a double agent? To be the person responsible for the warrant and also the first person said miscreants call for help? Strangely, to my surprise, I can play both roles without difficulty and Bill and Darcy suspect nothing about me except that I might be another easy mark. Darcy began to talk about money on the phone, but I steered the conversation elsewhere. I asked her if vegetarian meals were available in jail and she assured me they were. They advertise themselves as "vegetarian gourmet cooks." I've seen their repasts and can confirm this boast. But I also remind myself that Hitler was a vegetarian, lest anyone confuse morality with preference and habit.

You may ask yourself, "How can Dr. Chaffin come up with a poem for this event?" I have one, believe or not, unpublished but I'm fond of it.


If we lived in a police state
you might inform on me.
"Yes, officer, it pains me
but it's for his own good."

A tear falls in your Mocha Mix;
the citizenship plaque
goes above the coffee maker;
patriotism is hard.

When our children ask about me,
you say: "He's too sick to visit."
How noble it feels
to comfort them!

They send cookies, books
and drawings to hang
above the stainless toilet.
The guard tears them down.

You said you loved me.
You said I was a "good man."
It was not enough to feed
the worm inside you.

As the wife of a political prisoner
and his patriotic jailer,
you have secured
both pity and admiration.

How does it feel, if it does?

Thine in Truth and Art,


(holding at 0.5 kilorats. Had some melancholy moments yesterday but they passed.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Can anyone read this blog in good formatting or post here without difficulty? Please advise.

A few days ago I switched my blog to the new beta version, mainly because it was the only way I found to resurrect my blog from the bad formatting by which it was temporarily afflicted.

Now there's a new problem; I can't comment at my friends' non-beta blogs, which I tried to do. I couldn't post because the beta doesn't completely recognize the prior version for interaction. If you have trouble reading or posting to this site, please send me a note at Also, those who have recently written me should be advised patience, as my hotmail account is still being held hostage and I can't access it.

Any questions?


As we age the tables turn; avoiding pain becomes more pleasurable than seeking pleasure. If you're 50 you'll understand it. That's where I'm at with my back and my bipolarity.

I prefer the term, "manic-depression," of course, because it gives the experience of the disease while "bipolar" pretends to scientific neutrality. This is not a neutral disease. It's very much either/or, for or against.

You could say Bush is bipolar on the war on terror.

As for the personal, I'm at 0.5 kilorats, though my brother thinks I'm higher and Kathleen thinks I'm better, so it doesn't matter. My loved ones are telling me I'm better at a time when I can handle the endorsement without feeling like a failure for not saving them all from pain.

Happy Labor Day!


Thoughts about the past; still held hostage by Microsquish

Held hostage by Microsquish day 4.

What I can't access: literary correspondence files, medication orders (including my blood pressure medicine yet to be delivered), submission files, family correspondence, just a few niggling things.

The reps that write me insist they've unblocked my e-mail but I can't get in. And apparently they don't work Labor Day weekend, unless Bill Gates sent them all to Africa to step on mosquitoes.

Enough whining. We all keep correspondence too long, as if it were a totem, a fetish that proves we existed in the past, that we had feelings in the past, that our past mattered. But who among us in this e-mail age goes back to moon over and treasure past correspondence? The only reason to keep it all is in case you die famous and someone wants to do a biography on you. Now fame is rare for anyone but the famous, like Carmen Electra, Pam Anderson and Paris Hilton. So you have to ask yourself: Why do I keep all this correspondence? Do I secretly believe I might be a famous poet someday?

I believe enough in that possibility to save my literary correspondence, hoping some graduate student might someday discover me, although this scenario strikes me as a monkeys and typewriters proposition. As for the rest, I need my passwords for various sites, lots of other technical information as well. But it's amazing how much you can live without. We lug our bronzed baby shoes through the world like a ball and chain, thinking yesterday matters when it rarely does.

"My history amounts to me but I am not merely my history."

(Quote from a failed poem of mine, the one line I like)

My sister recently gave me a packet of letters from Germany which I wrote when I was 16/17. Did I open them? No. Did I throw them away? No. Did I save them somewhere like a mad packrat? Yes. Why? What if I wanted to read through them sometime? I don't want to throw away that if. Yet my year in Germany was so beset by depression that I fear to read the good face I put on it in letters home. At that age I was too young to know what depression was.

We are forward looking creatures. The further we get from memories, the less they seem to matter (unless you're in trauma-oriented psychotherapy). I have a habit of dissociating myself from the past, as my feeling about the past is that remembering it will be an unhappy experience. Or perhaps it's painful to read the words of a 17-year-old when that same person is now 51.

What I most remember about the past are the severe depressions and manias I experienced, and all that feels radioactive to me. And all correspondence before the age of 30 has no clue to my diagnosis. I willed my way through life while psychotic and undiagnosed. Am I tough? You bet, and that's no brag. Mental patients aren't glassware; they're some of the toughest people you'll meet, because they have had to function under the worst kinds of duress.

I admit that a manic-depressive poet is a cliché, but a manic-depressive doctor is not. I have a much published poem I wrote during my internship that touches on that experience, which I will post below. One correspondent wrote to me about this poem, saying "It's the one work that will likely live on after you." That was high praise, but all that is half a lifetime ago.

I should mention, for those who care to comment here, that you may get an "unsecure" warning box if you try to post. I don't think this is dangerous, I think it's just a glitch in the new beta blogging I've begun. I can't say with certainty that it's OK to post here, but I'm running the risk myself and so far nothing untoward has occurred.

At. 0.5 kilorats, though the mixture of emotions inside me can never be adequately expressed in mere numbers; but in terms of the depth of my depression, yes, Virginia, after five months I've been better for about a week.

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

p.s. I am slowly repairing my links, so please, anyone who wants to be listed on this page, write me!

A Time to Weep

I suppose you could call me heartless
as a dull anvil clanking in a sodden barn,
the damp wood too lazy to echo your pain;
and your limbs twisted like great roots,
your hearts rank melons bursting with fluid,
your tidal headaches, your equatorial fevers
were all grist for my scientific mill,
my hands cold and precise like metallic probes
on your beaded foreheads.

I suppose my brief visits and cryptic prognoses
do little to comfort your collapsing veins.
You ask for a word, I spout statistics.
Your skeletal hands pray for light--
I check your pupils. Do you understand?
It is not that I care not for healing
if only the power would come;
but science is an impotent matchstick
broken in death’s fingers.

I have never collected moths
but you are pinned somehow on my mind’s wall
several hallways from heart.
Allow me this distance,
allow me not to weep.
Should those dark waves with their thousand eyes
once spill over the dike, I do not know
what sort of god I should become--
most likely a madman
but never again your doctor.

(Published in the Christian Medical Society Journal, among others.)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

New Format: Attack of the Touchy-Feely Presbyterians

It's 10 AM, which means "Breakfast with the Beatles" is over. I've been listening to the show for at least 15 years. When you consider the Beatles only recorded ten-and-a-half hours of music, it's amazing how inexhaustible their genius is. Of course these shows always feature rare outtakes and solo work, but still: ten hours and change? There's another reason I listen. It's my ritual if I don't go to church and I've only been to church once since moving to Mendocino County.

In our town of a little over one thousand, there are three churches: Baptist, Catholic, and Presbyterian. The Presbyterian is by far the largest, so I attended there last week. But the touchy-feely factor was simply too high for me. At the end of the service we joined in a large circle, holding hands to recite the Lord's prayer. And during the prayer request time, as soon as one was mentioned from the cheap seats, the minister would immediately close his eyes, raise up his head, and utter a telegraph to the Almighty. God was much too available there through human affection, and the two should not be equated in my humble opinion. They do offer eucharist at 8:30 AM but that's a tad early for me, though I hope the service is more formal.

I don't want to go to church inhabited by Hug-a-Bunches. I like God at a formal distance and parishioners who don't violate my boundaries. Oh you could say I'm a stiff, that it's my fear and pride that keep me from rolling in human honey, and I'd have no objection. On the other hand, I don't like faith trivialized into an encounter group. I may have to drive to the big city of 6,000 to find a church more comfortable. Then if you live in a place where your psychiatrist wants to hug you, there may be no liturgical relief.

As you no doubt noticed, I have changed my blog's style. This was a necessity in restoring my blog at all. I hope the new design doesn't put anyone off; the old one was boring me anyway. And I promise to restore links soon.

A valued correspondent wrote me and asked, "Deep down, what do you expect of your blog?" Here was my answer: 1) To stay in the writing habit; 2) To have a greater audience for my poetry; 3) To help the mood-disordered, and 4) To keep friends and family informed of my existence. What do I expect "deep down?" That I don't know. Perhaps to broaden my reputation.

Meanwhile Kathleen has been slaving at Safeway's deli for more than a month in order to eventually obtain benefits for both of us, as our medications are prohibitive for starters, although I save a lot of money by ordering them from overseas. Her work also allows us some extras; we bought a TV after living without one for five months, so we're all set for basketball season. Meanwhile we can watch Law and Order re-runs to our hearts' content. We don't have all the dialogue memorized yet, but eventually we expect to be as proficient with Sam Waterston's summations as my daughters once were with the Rocky Horror Show. Just preserve me from the vapidly affectionate Church Show.

Here's a poem that touches on the religious question lightly:

Irregular Couplets for an Inscrutable Deity

First, explain the platypus;
Then, middle-age adipose.

Why do men build dark places to worship the light?
Why are poisonous things so often beautiful and bright?

You should have given them all rattles.
I wish politicians had them. It addles

my brain to think you know all. Why should I pray?
"Foreknowledge is not predestination," theologians say,

but I find the distinction odd.
You're not Cassandra, you're God.

(published in Poetry Superhighway)

At O.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, September 02, 2006

Microsquished / Dolphins

Yes, did I mention how Microsquish has locked me out of my main e-mail address? I'm sure I have. Their advice so far has proved incompetent.

I think the problem may be in my computer settings, and possibly related to the distortion of my blog as well. On my computer it has no left margin; the print is squeezed as far left as possible on the fake parchment.

I finished categorizing my published poems, a long and tedious task, but at least now I won't have to worry about what's been published and where. It is a commentary on my self-regard that I had to recoup some poems from e-zines of which I had no copies. Then it's fun to practice archaeology on yourself.

In a few years I would not be surprised to see something like Internet archaelogy to exist as a discipline. Who will ever filter out the gems from the mud in this medium? Given enough graduate students, nearly any study can be done.

Here's my study of e-zines in which I have appeared that have subsequently gone belly up without archives:

Defunct Journals 9/2006

Apples and Oranges
A Writer’s Choice
Beauty for Ashes
Blue Moon Review
Disquieting Muses
Dust on My Palms
EZ Books
Free Cuisenart
Horsethief’s Journal
Poetry Now
Poetry Tonight
Recursive Angel
Shallow End
Spoken Word
Susquehanna Review
Tintern Abbey
Wired Heart
World Poetry
Writer’s Hood
Ze Books
Zuzu’s Petals

I'm sure I've missed a few, but who cares? The question is always, "What have you done for me lately?" If any readers know which e-zines are worth submitting poetry to nowadays, preferably those who pay, please let me know.

Here's a poem that has nothing to do with anything and was written 20 years ago in San Clemente, CA:


Beyond the breakers
torpedo flanks
smoothed wakes
into fine threads.
Like scimitars
black dorsal fins
sliced through blue swells,
backs arched in parallel--
water gazelles!--
Or gray gods gliding
over and under
in fluid steeplechase,
weaving sky and sea.

Vaulting broken waves
I stroked my way
to these weird mammals
become fish.
Silently they welcomed me
by changing
neither course nor speed.
South we swam.

And that's all I got tonight, what with my mail and blog in a fix. I'll reset my e-mail in the blog to another valid address should anyone like to mail me.

0.5 Kilorats,


Friday, September 01, 2006

Failed Experiment; Thanks for the Comments

I don't know if I mentioned that I ran out of Lamictal for a few days this week, and I noticed one new symptom in its absence--a feeling of disgruntlement, a superficial dissatisfaction with every activity undertaken--from television shows to newspaper articles, from playing the guitar to weeding, as if whatever you do you'rre condemned to disike it in your pessimistically impatient state of mind, always looking for something else. As soon as I re-started the Lamictal this symptom disappeared. That's how I knew it was a symptom.

I promised to update my blog tonight at 9 PM tonight and comment on the experiment. Unfortunately I have nothing to report. Why?

My blog's formatting looked horrible, scrunched to the left. So I ditched everything and re-formatted it, losing my links, including stat tracking, though thankfully the comments remain. I've checked other blogspot blogs and they appear fine. But the layout of my blog on my computer looks awful, with no margins and text not aligned with marginalia.

I've also been locked out of my main e-mail address by Big Brother MicroSquish as well. For my own good. Because their Outlook Express program tried to sign in too many times to their Hotmail program.

Microsoft is so complicated now that it's developing inflammatory diseases, where the software interferes with itself much like rheumtoid arthritis, where one protective antibody attacks another and your joints swell up.

As I noted above, the stat program was deleted so I don't know the traffic anymore and have only the comments to go by. And I'm much encouraged by those who said they came for the poetry, and especially the soul that called my poetry "powerful,' the quality I most seek.

After 51 years of doing everything from selling Fuller Brush to brain surgery, I've admitted that I'm first a poet. Saying that always gives me a shiver of inferiority, as if my art were of no account, by no means as important as selling insurance or digging ditches. But I can't help myself. I yam what I yam. .

Getting out of the way of the poem, that's the secret... discovering how the words of the intial draft want to be arranged. Even speaking in the first person you must dissociate yourself from the poem as your creation simply to analyze its relative merits. Much you will find tangential on second glance, maybe your best lines. You must delete them if they don't advance the poem, else you love yourself and your voice more than poetry. There are many temptations that look like poetry when in fact they are not. Be merciless with your most cherished lines if they stand in the way of the poem.

How I prattle and preach! Like an authority in search of a subject...

Poem below.

Thine at 1 kilorat,



This poem is nearly 20 years old but I was never satisfied with it so I recently revised it while sorting my poetry files.

Lunar Dip

Like a flattened pearl a white shell weights my palm.
Bubbles coalesce and merge between my toes.

Humped like buffaloes, sand crabs burrow,
trailing Vs in the gray glaze like sticks in a stream.

Ankle-deep water chills me, my calves stiffen as curling mirrors
of waves shatter against my chest into cold bright foam.

The moon’s reflection on the dark water stretches out
like a roll of silver dollars spilled. Swim to the last coin.

Anyone else notice screwed up formatting here?

I go to this blog that some say is my blog but that depends on your point of view. If you were a hard nose you could tell me just how I screwed my template up and so on and so forth.

I just want confirmation from others as to whether my blog's narrative appears all scrunched to the left. I'll be grateful if you can corroborate my experience of the reality field.

Unexpected Light

Unexpected Light
Selected Poems and Love Poems 1998-2008 ON SALE NOW!