Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Sonnet, "Anxiety;" Depression Worsens


You know it in your stomach when you wake,
Almost like hunger but a different feel--
Like being driven by the winds of hell
Forward and forward and forward until you break
Or want to break, but anxiety won’t allow
A total breakdown, it would lose its grip.
Content yourself with the almost trembling lip.
Know you can live in any time but now.
Time future runs ahead, you eat its dust;
Time past is pure regret, paralysis.
And all your hours of self-analysis
Can never re-create a basic trust.
You wonder if as an infant it was better;
Not if your mother raised you by the letter.

Three steps forward, two steps back, so it is in my sputtering depression. Yesterday I took a turn for the worse. I don’t know why. My medications didn’t change. I suspect the change to standard time had something to do with it, as contrary to the usual symptoms of depression, which get better at night, mine got worse. Driving home from my html class I really felt like weeping but what for? For bad chemicals? They don’t deserve my tears.

I had planned to go fishing today but don’t feel safe in leaving home. It’s good to be near Kathleen. Oh, I can take the heroic route and force myself to fish, but there would be no pleasure in it save the knowledge that I can do nearly anything while depressed, but I know that already. It’s just a matter of the psychic price one must pay. Often an activity can briefly lift you out of yourself, which is good, but my computer class last night filled me with anxiety about all the things I don’t know and how hopeless it appeared that I shall ever be able to construct a rudimentary web page.

I’m tired, I’m confused, I fear falling down the mineshaft again. I’ve never had such a rocky recovery from depression. Usually I just flip out of it when the meds kick in. I’m tired of living with it. I’m tired of anxiety and hopelessness. I’m tired of getting my head above water for a few days and being dunked back into it. Depression truly sucks.

I know it’s Halloween today, which marks the end of the month, a month in which I’ve written a sonnet nearly every day as part of my mental toilette. Perhaps an interested reader can suggest whether I ought to persist in sonnets or change the form for November. I am not trying to write great poetry, simply a sonnet a day to bolster my sanity.

At 3 Kilorats,

Craig Erick

Monday, October 30, 2006

Sonnet: Not Poetry; Ms. Contests

Not Poetry

Another manuscript goes out today
Of my best poems. The orphans need a home
More permanent than all my journal play.
They need a book that they can call their own.
The stigma of self-publishing is gone,
Or so I’m told by those content to print
The exhalations they insist are song,
Not fearing their own talent counterfeit.
But I persist in contests. Why I do
Is either born of stubbornness or hope
That some fey judge will grasp the master clue
To verify my genius and my scope.
(This sonnet isn't poetry but verse,
A morning discipline that I rehearse.)

As the reader may see from this desultory sonnet I am not much inspired today, and in casting about for a subject I chose my preparation of yet another manuscript of poetry to enter in a contest, the T. S. Eliot prize. If there’s ever a prize I’d like to win, this would be it, as T. S. Eliot has been a pleasurable obsession of mine for more than three decades.

The ms. I’ve been putting together flaunts the custom of my other three, (only one of which has been published as a book). There is no theme, no divisions, no attempt at a unifying rubric for the collection—I just chose the best poems I think I’ve written on any subject and put them in alphabetic order with a few modifications.

With the completion of this entry, given the title Unexpected Light by my editor, Kathleen, I now have three different manuscripts floating around in Contest Land. As each of these contests receive 500 or more manuscripts, on a pure statistical basis I have an 0.2% chance of winning each of them, though I hope my talent and hard work might boost me to the top 100, increasing my chances to 1%. What makes such contests so hard to predict is the changing judges. Dana Gioia and Diane Wakowski are going to bring very different sensibilities to judging, thus the winner, once the mss. are narrowed down, will be that lucky poet who pleases a poet with a body of work and unavoidable biases.

I know my poems are fairly retro, as most of them make some kind of sense--though not all. In the Post-Modern wasteland my work may appear as a discarded McDonald’s wrapper useful only for the delectation of a seagull. But on I go, and I have never so aggressively pursued prizes in my life as I am doing now. I will keep entering until I run out of money or they run out of patience. Meanwhile there are other avenues of publishing to explore, but I hesitate to self-publish, because that makes one ineligible for many more prizes, like the Pulitzer, which I no doubt richly deserve for my contribution to seagulls.

Moodwise I’m still fragile; the change in time doesn’t help, with the early darkness: “I have been one acquainted with the night” –Frost. I am better, certainly, but still suffer the mad chatter of my anti-self telling me that I’m no good. This only has power over me when I’m already anxious or fearful, and I get so tired of the record I want to put a corkscrew through my ear and grind my brain to soup. But Kathleen wouldn’t like that, and besides, Thanksgiving’s coming up, so I’ll desist for now. Brain gravy just ain’t popular.

1.5 Kilorats,


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: Hearing-Ear Dog

Hearing-Ear Dog

I watch her watch him with a heart of grief,
Confirmed by copious tears near twice a day.
Death’s slowly coming, nothing like a thief
But obvious and clumsy, in the way.
Kenyon goes blithely on, although his hips
Tremble every time he tries to stand.
If dogs were boats he’d be a foundering ship
Half sunken, soon to beach upon the sand.
We’ve taped one foreleg, it seems to help him walk
Though walking makes his respirations soar.
She’d like to keep him tied up at the dock
But there’s no rope to hold him anymore.
He is her service dog, the two are one.
Who will hear for her when he is gone?

For those who followed our adventures in Mexico, where Kathleen and I both ended up in jail in fighting to retrieve Kenyon from the grip of our greedy former maid, today’s sonnet is familiar in subject. Kenyon’s in the winter of his years now, and sometimes it seems a weekly proposition as to whether we may have to put him down. Believe me, we are doing everything in our power to keep his quality of life at a level commensurate with being alive. Besides the pain medication he takes, we frequently take him swimming, which he still does unbelievably well, chasing his bottle through river and ocean currents as far as sixty yards and faithfully bringing it back to land, where he drops it like a trophy after we praise him.

He is such a noble animal, partly because Kathleen raised him from a puppy. Their bond gets stronger every day. Kenyon will hardly leave her side anymore. I used to let him out in the morning, but now he won’t come down until Kathleen wakes. I don’t know how he holds his bladder. Unfortunately, when he goes out now, I have to follow him, since a neighbor returned him the other day from the treacherous two-lane by our house where she found him sitting in the middle of the roadway. The old boy gets confused. His hearing is poor. His vision is slightly better, but also on the slippery slope of decrepitude.

Each day Kenyon goes on is sweeter for the paucity of days he has remaining, but his approaching fate rips Kathleen’s heart out. I’ve never seen a human being so bonded to an animal and vice-versa. Then bonding with animals is one of Kathleen’s gifts. As a deaf person her sense of touch and observation of visual clues in animals is astounding, and they respond to her like no one else. I hope someday she can find work in handling animals. As I’ve said before, the only thing better than being Kathleen’s husband is to be her dog. I cannot fathom the depths between them, just watch in wonder as she brushes Kenyon’s coat, which is, incidentally, still shining.

As for my mood, the reader has no doubt observed that for two days I have been writing about things beside myself, which is an excellent sign. But I am still in somewhat of mixed state; I am anxious about nothing and my head is filled with self-accusatory chatter to which I must sometimes say out loud, “Fuck you!” As long as one recognizes the voices to be not-self but unfortunate childhood programming, acceptance is possible, however difficult. What choice do I have? My father was a belligerent asshole and my mother was a repressive perfectionist. Add the manic-depressive gene to the mix, from both sides of the family, and you have a recipe for disaster. Nevertheless my three sibs and I are all doing well. That says something about the resilience of the human spirit.

At 1.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, October 28, 2006

Satan the Cat: Sonnet, "Thinning the Pretenders"

Thinning the Pretenders

Don’t bury me in sawdust, it's flammable.
Cremation should be straight. I need dirt
In case I’m someday famous. I have no will
But if I did I’d give you my last shirt
Like Jesus would. Shirt off the back and welts—
Flog me with your superior reticence.
Borrow the clubs and the spiked belts.
Tell the police there was good evidence.
Plato endorsed the poets’ persecution.
We could use some persecution now—
At first the whippings, then electrocution
Would rip the laurels from most poets’ brow.
We need a thinning of this bastard art.
If you won’t die for your work, well that’s a start.

Today’s sonnet I tried to begin as dissociative as yesterday’s, but alas, I was forced by long habit to make some sort of sense out of it, which makes it a Post-Modern failure. Don’t get me wrong: I tried to let it disintegrate but I’ve been writing too long in the mode of communicating meaning (which for lack of a better term might be named “The William Stafford School” here in America) to dissociate on cue. I get the feeling the Brits have not gone to the lengths we have in deconstructing poetry, but I’ll have to query my Brit poet friends to be sure.

I attract black things: especially ravens, and to a lesser degree, crows, seem to follow me around, and though I suspected this was a psychosis long ago, Kathleen has assured me that the phenomenon is real. What it means I don’t know. I know they don’t feel antagonistic; it’s more that they’re watching. And who knows but an angel might take the shape of a raven? To be fair they could also be demons. And I’ve just noticed it again, so “black is back” may be a good omen for my depression.

And another sort of black has come to me. Three nights ago a cat came whining at our door and with Kathleen’s permission I let her in. She is a large, black, sleek, domesticated pussy with white only on her left rear toes. She acted as if she’d always belonged here; she leapt right up on my lap and made it difficult for me to type on my laptop. She sampled Kenyon’s food, then went by him to try to rub her back against his muzzle for pleasure. Kenyon didn’t move. This audacious cat obviously has had previous contact with dogs. She’s the kind of cat that just takes over a room. Kathleen hopes we can keep her but I think she cruises the neighborhood for the best food and attention and returns to her owner. She’ll lie on her back and paw at you to rub her. Like most cats, she’s in charge of all living contact. If she deigns to sit on you, well good. I call her “Satan” but Kathleen doesn’t like it so we’re open to another name. White-toed devil? “Satan” sounds so much like a sleek black cat, and has the added advantage of desensitizing us to a loaded word.

Incidentally, I went to my first movie since moving to the Northern California coast. “The Departed” was excellent. I think Leonardo Di Caprio by far did the best acting job; I consider his performance Oscar worthy. That boy can act. If there are any doubters, go watch “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” again.

At 1 kilorat,

Craig Erick

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sonnet for Poets; Comment on Post-Modern Poetry

A Sonnet for Poets

The voice I seek to voice is only sand.
Look now—the Devil wears a tricorn hat.
Napoleon on amphetamines. Remand
This suspect to that prison, this or that.
Merlin made an elephant of a toad.
Bless the small finches! All the tan oaks
Are dropping acorns on the asphalt road.
No dog. No cat. The poets get the jokes.
Oh, a blue martini wonderfully stirred.
When then ile fit you. A cranberry Cape Cod.
The glass is sweating so the ice is blurred.
I believe in the Devil but not in God.
The couplet should make something of all this:
Dunk your head in a vat of hippo piss.

My mood seems to be improving, so I let today’s sonnet disassociate in the Post-Modern tradition. And I want to say this, and mark my words: It is easier to write obscurely in a dissociative, Post-Modern fashion than in a traditional fashion. Narrative is hard work; so is unity. When these are removed, a sonnet can be composed much more quickly, while a free verse poem finds its own propulsion and the only readers that remain for this fiasco are poets and aficionados—the state of poetry today. Robert Pinsky tried to ameliorate this cultural trend by making a record of Americans’ favorite poems. I do not believe Charles Olson or Paul Celan were represented.

William Carlos Williams averred that “The Waste Land” ruined poetry because it came too early for proper literary development. In other words, it was inevitable but it came prematurely; it was a futuristic anachronism for the state of poetry at that time. In my essays on Eliot, available at The Melic Review, I repeatedly make the point that there has been nothing really new in poetry since “The Waste Land,” which contains everything from lower class chatter to nonsense sounds and a sort of false erudition. This doesn’t mean there have not been great stylists since, like Thomas or Larkin or Roethke or Strand, only that there were no rules left to break. Thus I am free to write a sonnet today whose puzzle for the reader is the reader’s puzzle and not mine. It is not my job as a Post-Modern poet to make sense, only to make a few connections between images and emotions. If this is how you like your poetry, fine. I just want to emphasize that much of what parades as new and original may in part be a blind for pure laziness, an unwillingness to learn form and clarity before galumphing about in the disorganized cupboard of the poet’s mind.

At 2 kilorats but feeling fragile,


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Sonnet: "Night Life;" Reality TV

Night Life

I’m trying to get the energy to sleep.
I must be upright if I brush my teeth.
My clothes are piled beside me in a heap.
If I don’t brush I’ll wake up with bad breath.
The television holds me in its grip
But not for long. That cauldron has no power
To glut my eyes with shit at this late hour.
I’ll turn it off as soon as I get up.
Get up. That is the problem. I must move
From this soft mattress to the icy squares
Of cheap linoleum, and I must prove
I’m mobile, conscious, present and aware
When all I want is to spoon my sleeping wife
And euthanize my pitiful night life.

Today’s story brings us to a cultural divide I had not crossed, for which I thank my brother, Clay Chaffin, for an introduction.

When “Survivor” came out in the late 90s I missed the boat. I instantly realized that “reality TV” was scripted so that spontaneous action could only occur between strict parameters, already established by the production company. And should the spontaneous action fall short of expectations, they could always re-shoot it. I became so contemptuous of the craze I found series like “Law and Order” more real than “The Apprentice.” Thus I didn’t watch a single reality show until I was visiting my brother and he insisted we watch “The Apprentice” one night, which mildly amused me for an hour, though I would have preferred to watch something else.

In my recent and ongoing depression Clay advised me to watch “Project Runway.” I was desperate enough to do anything, and so I did. And lo and behold, I loved it! It has been one of the few blessed things that can call me out of depression, however briefly. And why? Because Project Runway gave me the distance I needed to avoid emotional pain and still gain some entertainment.

When you’re deeply depressed you are sanded raw and you want to avoid overidentification with the feelings of others, whether real or imagined. You do not want to be seriously interested in a human drama, it is all too painful. Since I care nothing for fashion, I could enjoy Project Runway at a comfortable distance, observing the participants (whose lives are fashion) like bugs in a jar. Funny bugs. Entertaining bugs. Oh, I had minor preferences among the participants, but it didn’t really matter who won. It was all so comfortingly trivial, like having an ant farm.

As Homer Simpson said, “How can you not love television? It asks so little and it gives so much.” I’m with him on the “asking little” part. That’s what I want of life when I’m depressed. I don’t want to watch a good drama. I don’t want to read good literature. I want fluff, fodder, things that don’t engage me in any fundamental way. All else is suspect. Here’s to trivial reality shows as a help during depressions.

At 2.5 kilorats,


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Disgruntlement; Sonnet "Crutch"


I like to drink my brandy mainly straight,
A rock or two to cool it, a small glass,
No snifter, I don’t need to demonstrate
By swirling and sniffing that I have class.
I think I drink less when I drink it straight.
To weaken it with cola or ginger ale
Tends to make me underestimate
How much alcohol I will inhale.
I wonder, what with all the medication
I’m taking, why I need another crutch.
I’m far beyond the help of education.
I drink because I drink, and I drink too much.
Suffering is served straight without a mixer.
Is that why I dilute it with elixir?

This morning I have that disgruntled feeling that no matter what I do it will be unfulfilling and trivial. I’ve already deleted most of what I’d written in today’s post that reason. It’s a feeling of restlessness, of casting about for the next thing, then discarding it for lack of interest; of taking up a task only to quit halfway because it seems pointless.

This is a state I have recorded before in these pages, which often presages an ascent out of melancholy, for which I obviously hope. That I can hope puts me at no worse than three kilorats. At four one begins to lose hope; at seven all hope is a cruel joke; at nine the only hope, which is not hope, is a hope for death.

As I have said before, I have never had a major depression that sputtered so in recovery. Part of the reason is medication. When my pain management doctor puts me on oral narcotics I find them hard to resist, as being out of pain is wonderful. Nothing else has ever worked for me. But if I go off them my mood plummets. This has happened twice in these seven months, and I’ve sworn never to take them again for that reason, as physical pain is infinitely preferable to emotional pain, in my estimation. But I’m human, and as the poem above explores, open to temptation. Anything that may temporarily improve my mood, or ameliorate my physical pain, is hard to resist.

This writing about myself is tedious. But it is a discipline in my depression, and however trivial I regard it, it is not nothing. While occupied with my post I don’t hear the voices arguing in my head and I don’t have the space to hate myself.

At three kilorats,

C. E. Chaffin

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More on Depression; Sonnet, "Resisting Melancholy"

I wrote a long blog entry this morning then lost it as my connection disconnected. I should know better, as this has happened before. Best to write your blog entry in a word document and afterwards paste it in.

Like this minor stupidity, we too easily forget the dangers of the past unless forcefully reminded again. It's human nature to need a two-by-four on the forehead to get our attention, why Jesus called us “sheep.” Why didn’t he call us pigs? Pigs are smarter and better symbolize our fallen nature. And why not cows? Because sheep are renowned for being dumb, dumb, dumb. How they survived for domestication is a question for previous predators incapable of herding.

I also rattled on about depression, talking about the 10 Kilorat variety where one is reduced to a microscopic dot of pain, self-despite and self-loathing, with an unquenchable thirst for self-annihilation. In that state you are truly better off dead--without others around to remind you of the possibility of a different outcome (in which you cannot believe, they must believe for you). After today’s sonnet I’ll post a poem that comes from a much deeper depression than that with which I am now afflicted.

One does not beat depression, one survives it. If you have any thought in your head about your “triumph” over depression in the past, it is a dangerous illusion. The wolf is always at the door. Don’t mock the Devil, he’s listening. Keep passing the open windows. (I speak only to serious depressives when I say this.)

I always thought it ironic that when I went to AA for a time, it was all about not drinking or taking drugs. When I attended DMDA (Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association) it was all about taking drugs.

But here’s another thing: About 60% of bipolars also have a substance abuse problem. So it’s about taking the right drugs, but this statistic shows that the right drugs are often not enough. And if bipolars use common drugs like alcohol or marijuana to partially ameliorate the pain of depression or the excitation of mania, who can blame them?

Alcohol worked for my father until he was 62; when it quit working he killed himself. He would not or could not face the diagnosis he’d received while hospitalized in the Air Force as a young man. And so it goes. But even more so.

Here’s today’s sonnet, followed by another poem written in deep, deep depression.

Resisting Melancholy

You are a mailed fist around my heart.
Metal against flesh; now who will win?
I am forsaken by the healer’s art.
My medications multiply like sin.
It’s only by acceptance I resist;
To struggle is to fall into your trap,
Mistaking us for equals. In the mist
Of madness I would lose you like the clap
But it is not that simple. No infection,
However terrible, could freeze my soul
And sand my skin until there’s no protection
And make a million fractions from the whole.
Through infinite divisions I endure.
You’re not the power that you thought you were.

At 3 Kilorats,

The Usual Suspect

Monday, October 23, 2006

Depressive Recidivism; Sonnet, "Mastering Melancholy"

Depression is a terrible thing, but a sputtering depression is new to me. Usually I rise out of the Slough of Despond all at once, spread my wings beneath the sun to dry, and take off. But this depression, which I date back to April Fool’s Day (how appropriate), has been sputtering. I get out of it, my record being ten days, even have a day or two of kilobunnies. But I descend again.

Manic-depressions are the hardest of all depressions to treat. I’m on six medications. If I were still living in Long Beach I would have opted for outpatient electroconvulsive therapy by now. But without medical insurance, and here in the boonies, it is not a possibility.

Many mystics talk about “The Dark Night of the Soul.” No doubt those more spiritual than I have come through darkness to a new understanding of light, but my experience with depression since the age of 13 has taught me that it is a serious illness which must be treated aggressively, and that each time I suffer a depression it seems another part of my soul has been taken. The great insights I get from depression sound like this:

You’re worthless how could you be on disability you should be practicing medicine you’re a leech on society your poetry is of no account you will never be recognized your life is a total waste why are you even alive you stink up reality with your narcissistic pre-occupation how can anyone say they love you it is all a lie you are a living lie you call yourself a Christian but you don’t go to church and you drank too much last nigh besides you waste time watching TV you have no plan for retirement you live hand-to-mouth you’re pitiful why does God even allow you to stain the earth?

Except it’s much worse than that. That’s what antipsychotics are all meant to treat, the psychotic inner babble of the depressive, a faucet that cannot be turned off without help.

I’m not saying I haven’t had to have treatment for acute manias in the past; I have. Yet for most manic-depressives the ratio of depression to mania is at least three to one. And manias are almost always followed by severe depressions if left untreated.

My crying jags began while visiting my daughter and grandson over the weekend, and per usual they came in the late morning and late afternoon. Weeping while depressed does calm the system temporarily, but I find it actually increases depression since there is nothing real to cry about, thus crying reinforces the black mood instead of ventilating it.

Having said all this, territory most of you have traveled with me if you have followed my blog, I refuse to give in to depression in any ultimate sense, the subject of today’s sonnet.

Mastering Melancholy

You are the demon that I know so well,
So intimately even my wife can’t know.
I’d tell her if she could. She knows your spell
And how you turn a living man to wood.
Mere wood is better than your torturings,
The way you saw me always against the grain
For the most friction in your butcherings
Leaving a raw vacuum of pain.
There’s no negotiation, nothing to mend.
My resin bleeds for no one; I am lost,
Lost in the darkness of your great pretend.
A terrible joke it is, and at such cost.
But you won’t master me; I master you
By doing nothing more than getting through.

At 3.5 Kilorats,


Monday, October 16, 2006

Mr. Faust--He dead.

I was able to get the computer repaired for $106 after ripping the phone jack out of it accidentally. The shop couldn't fix it; I would have had to send it back to the factory; but for the above price, I got another card with a phone jack that slips in where my wireless card also goes. So my Guiness Record for continuing sonnets continues.

Mr. Faust—He dead.

The kettle barbecue is slick with rain.
Redwood fronds surround it. Up above
Clouds feather in and out; white pinions strain,
Give way to sun and cover it as they move.
My heart is open. I have no regrets
Worthy of crucifixion. I am whole
And wounded. I have paid off all my debts
Though not a betting man. My given role
Of doctor, teacher, writer, I accept.
We all must own aspects we didn’t plan for.
No one grows up wanting to be a janitor.
I have no reputation to protect.
My former dreams of prominence now amuse me.
No seraphim in white could disabuse me.

It's my birthday tomorrow, the big 52, no more excuses, I'm playing with a full deck. A little melancholy today, maybe 0.5 kilorats.

Thine in Truth and Art,

Craig Erick

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: "And So It Goes"

I may not be blogging for a couple of days. In the tangle of wires leading to my easy chair I got my leg trapped yesterday, and in ripping away a cord I also dislodged my dial-up port for getting online.

I'm at a cafe with wireless today, but none of the financial tasks Kathleen so nicely listed for me can be done, due to the lack of this or that information. This is much like yesterday, when I got a manuscript mailed off with some difficulty but did nothing else. Some days are like that.

In Mexico it was doubly so. If I awoke and made one phone call and the person didn't answer, it was almost a guarantee that I would connect with no one and nothing that day, so that it was better to lounge somewhere with Neruda and a margarita--when strangely, those whom I was supposed to meet would somehow run into me, and other things would get done, or not, but at least I was in the flow by giving up to the flow.

When all connects, a friend of mine calls it "shredding"--a term derived from his being a short order cook, when the orders and the food came flying out in a perfect dervish of effort. I call this connection of desire and action with life the River of Kairos--kairos being the Greek term used for the birth of Christ: "in the fullness of time," or at the right time. When you're in the kairos slot everything leads to everything else inexorably and you are drawn through the necessary connections as in a dream. When you are out of kairos, or stuck in kronos, the Greek word for measured time, you will spin your wheels and never get a thing done. Spinning my wheels allowed me to blog, since I couldn't do anything else no matter how I tried. Maybe that means this is what I was supposed to do. The sonnet below expresses this difficulty more succinctly. The phrase "And so it goes" is taken both from Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five and Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.

And So It Goes

We all have them; days when nothing clicks,
Tab 'A' won't fit slot 'B'. All your calls
Find only message machines. You cannot fix
The toilet without a part. Your engine stalls--
You fear it might be going, too. It's not
That you're not trying, you're trying with all your heart.
But this is not the day to try. The knot
Of kairos won't unravel. You've done your part
And that is all you can do. No results
Are results, too. You know what's not
Permitted to be realized today.
You're so bull-headed that it took a lot
To grant your head-banging a brief stay.
You're from the West, convinced you can impose
Your will on randomness. And so it goes.

Rodent Neutral,

Craig Erick

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Miracle of MIndfulness: Sonnet "To Be"

After the retreat, I had a few days of consciousness. When I say "consciousness" I mean I was not dyssynchronous, a term I made up to describe how, especially in anxiety, we either get ahead of or behind ourselves, which in my case makes for many minor domestic accidents--a bump on the head, some broken glass, a burn while cooking. These sorts of things don't happen when I'm present. As Kathleen says, "There he goes again, galloping off in all directions at once."

How much of my mind's busyness is due to anxiety and how much to my mood disorder and how much to my fertile imagination and how these three are related, no one can say. But I remember as a young child, say five, how I could be present with a pool of leaves or while observing a caterpillar or capturing a lizard. It is a dream of mine to be more present, to be in the moment without my mind floating away to other things. Nowis what's important. That's where we live. You can always take time to plan, but you must not grasp your plans too tightly, as if you could control the future; you will always need to flex, to make adjustments, to make room for God.

There is also the knowledge of when you can't be present, or choose not to, or arbitrarily shift to being present with something or someone else. Certainly the composition of a sonnet does better without interruptions, but should a neighbor appear at the door, I can make a decision about either telling him to come in or asking his pardon to finish my work first. It takes self-knowledge to decide. Then the script and the choice are always made easier by mitigating circumstances, i.e., your neighbor is weeping and holding a dead pet. In that case you don't have to worry about the sonnet at all as the man's grief draws you away as it should. And then you are present with a grieving man.

Everyone knows what I'm talking about. To not be present is how most accidents happen. "The Miracle of Mindfulness" is what I mean, though I never finished that book. I'm no mystic but I could sure use more training in this discipline, because it is no miracle but the unredacted state we ought to enjoy most of the time. Today's sonnet broaches the question:

To Be

Conscious and present, to treat all things
As holy, the way you grasp a spoon or knife--
Stay with it and watch your imaginings
Yield to this moment. This is your life
Frame by frame. It's your story to tell,
A one-act play God made up for the stars.
The audience is dead, invisible
So lose your understudy. There's no cause
To think of who's ahead and who's behind.
This is your moment and it always was,
When you forget your role, and deaf and blind
Feel your way through. Put the show on pause.
Finger your spoon and forget about its use
Until the grapefruit comes. Revel in juice.

Also, that sense of concentration in childhood to which I referred is demonstrated by another poem:


As much as we arborealize,
the central trunk
should be a corpus callosum
to dip into
like water of heartwood,
each twig accessible,
the journey reversible:
red-cheeked on my tricycle
with a battered cowboy hat
admiring a pool
of autumn leaves.

Wherever we go
we should be able to go
back and out another
shoot flowering,
up the green fuse
to the white explosion
and back.

I remember
the scraping of palms
on stucco at night,
fearful pteranadon wings,
or taking acid at fourteen
naked in the Big Sur river,
its bottom stones littered
with sycamore gold.

(Depublished and available for publication)

At rodent neutral,

Craig Erick

Friday, October 13, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Hangover Sonnet


I want my hat. Where did I put my hat?
It’s cold in here. The digital thermostat
Says 54. My mind, my mind is shot,
A slug crawling from thought to thought to thought.
Red wine must be the Devil. I can drink
A lot of brandy and not feel this way.
They say it’s in the skins. I’m on the brink
Of jumping on the wagon. I’ll join AA
To lose this dead weight feeling. The coiled spring
That used to be my brain has given out.
My limbs move through molasses and I doubt
Even God could gather me under his wing.
I wouldn’t recognize him if he did.
I’m suffering, I deserve it, quo pro quid.

That's my sonnet for Poetry Thursday, though I claim no direct relation to the speaker.

What is beta? It's like the emperor's new clothes. Everybody goes around saying they're doing it beta, but how many people know what that means?

I've entered four poetry ms. contests this fall and didn't win the first two. When you're pitted against 500 other poets or more that's not surprising. This week I'm entering a fifth contest, the Stevens.

I have a good idea for a new ms.: "Craig, instead of trying to organize your books on some principle, why not just pick out your most outlandish poems?" Why not? Come out blazing. Dare to be different. Die your hair pink.



Thursday, October 12, 2006

Blogs as Literature: Sonnet, "Worry"

I gave my reasons for blogging some time back. I can’t make heads or tails of site stats, why people read or don’t read it, and I try not to pay attention, though it’s fun to find a hit from Turkey or Malaysia. I write for an audience I can’t define. There is no Nielsen box above this screen.

The tremendous advantage of a blog for a writer is instant feedback. I can’t pop into the middle of a John Irving novel and say, “Mr. Irving, I like the way you weave wrestling and bears into nearly every book,” or, “I think The Cider House Rules boring and tawdry and here’s why.”

Instant feedback benefits both the writer and the reader, as the former can improve his writing and the latter can feel as if he’s having an impact on the outcome of the thing he’s reading. It’s participatory literature.

I often think of Annie Hall when I make this point, where Diane Keaton and Woody Allen are standing in line at a movie while a self-important blowhard behind them holds forth on Marshall Mcluhan. Disgusted, Woody Allen leaves the scene and comes back with the real Marshall Mcluhan, who says to the man: “You understand nothing about my work.” A blog makes this scenario possible. The writer makes himself vulnerable to immediate comment and the readers can talk to the author at will. For poetry this is wonderful, as in the way Coral recently helped me clean up the meter in a couple of sonnets.

I don’t claim the blog is the literature of the future, though one would think with 55 million blogs some might be worth preserving. But the blog as literature is a new category, in the best hands going beyond autobiography and journaling to an art form (though I’m still looking for that blog). It has given voice to many frustrated writers, to people in other professions who long to be writers, and to idiots who just want to see their name on a page in the ether. Yet it’s not far from a tradition of literary journaling, as in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy or Samuel Pepys’ Diary. One thing that makes these books worth reading is that they include the customs, fashions, and prejudices of their time, not to mention the quirks of their authors. In my own blog I have leaned toward Burton at times, writing to distract myself from melancholy. (As for Pepys, I don’t do Puritanism.)

Today’s sonnet I wrote for Kathleen, who like my mother tends to be a bit of a worrier. I’m convinced a large part of Kathleen’s anxiety comes from her deafness; if you are a deaf lip reader in the world of the hearing, as opposed to a deaf signer in the world of the deaf, there’s always the fear that you’re missing something, that you’re being left out. Even in reading my lips she gets at best 85%, sometimes 90% of my words, filling in the rest with logic and imagination. This doesn’t mean if she weren’t deaf she wouldn’t be anxious, as anxiety is no respecter of persons. But imagine not hearing someone creep up behind you and extrapolate from there.


Worry dresses in gray for dignity
When it should only wear blood red.
Gray camouflages its ubiquity--
The mad banker living in every head
Counting and recounting all the things
We can’t control as if we really could.
This madness is unique to human beings.
You won’t find it in the meadow or wood
Where animals know only a moment’s fear
And act accordingly: fight or flight!
No exigencies of the coming year
Disturb them; they don’t know wrong from right,
While we dissect the “maybes” with “ifs” and “buts”
And die the anxious death of a thousand cuts.

(I need a better title.)

Rodent neutral,


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Brief Excursion into Poetics; Garden Poems

What is an intentional poem? It's a poem you write intentionally about a subject already chosen. The subject should be broad enough to allow some wiggle room, and the poem may end up only loosely associated with the subject, as poems have lives of their own, part of the mystery that makes me go on writing.

An intentional poem goes against the common grain of inspiration, sharing the values of the 18th century more than our own. Inspiration has been all the rage since the Romantics and in Post-Modern times has been expressed through spontaneity and serendipity as in the work of William Carlos Williams or John O'Hara. It's been said that modern poetry can be divided into the "raw" and the “cooked.” We must remember that great formalists like Richard Wilbur are still alive, representing the “cooked” school. Nowadays poetry can partake of any age, though it's dominated by the inspiration of the moment. Yet that, too, can be sleight-of-hand in many hands; witness Billy Collins who appears deceptively spontaneous although he must plan the effect (in his revisions if nothing else).

Inspiration is the lifeblood of poetry but is only of value if the poet is already accomplished, having plied his craft for years. Inspiration alone rarely a good poem makes.

Even the most inspired poems need some trimming or rational additions after their birth. The most famous example is Coleridge's “Kubla Khan,” where the first part of the poem came straight from an opium vision and the second part of the poem, appended for closure's sake, is obviously intentional.

Inspiration is the water for which we build a fountain. It is the sunlight we capture with a lens. It is the bird we study with binoculars.

Without knowing the craft of poetry, without being in voice from long practice, inspiration cannot produce a good poem. Forget Richard Bach and automatic writing; you're not going to write a good poem that way.

On the other hand, a purely intentional poem rarely rises to greatness; because its subject was planned it's hard to rise above a workmanlike effort, though this may occasionally be overcome as one becomes inspired during the effort.

Below, today's intentional sonnet. I asked Kathleen what I might write about today and she suggested the garden. I'll say nothing about it here because that is the poem's burden. But I’ll put an older, intentional free-verse below it for comparison’s sake. Both are intentional; they differ mainly in form. And because both are intentional, neither one is outstanding.

I teach my poetry students to write often. It's like a singer staying in voice. If you write often you will be prepared to erect the form, the fountain that holds the water of inspiration. If unprepared, it is unlikely you will be able to do the inspiration justice. Also, what feels inspired during the process you may later find was actually plebeian, because to write at all you must suspend judgment during the process or you freeze up.

Here endeth the poetry lesson for the day, except for today's intentional poems, below, one written today, one six years old.

The Garden of Disappointment

My garden promised better than it became.
In June the peas were climbing and the beans
Were following after, up the wires and string.
Their snaking tendrils had the ways and means
But somehow faltered. Sure, I got some peas
And beans but only enough to garnish greens.
They looked above mere salads; they fed the bees
And I was sure they would ascend like trees.
Not so. As for tomatoes, two giant plants
Reached six feet high, where globes are hanging still
But only globes of green. Fall has advanced
And it's unlikely they will ripen. The till
And tiller are disappointed; so many hours
Spent gardening. The lies were in the flowers.


Sleeping Beauty

The puce and yellow snapdragon
knows nothing about beauty.
It wants a bee, a breeze,
a bath and nitrogen.
Today it droops, mouths sealed
while red gramophones
of petunias sicken and wilt.

Touch the nasturtium’s
velvet underside
and white flies scatter
like snow brushed from a boot.
Beauty is powerless,
why I must dust these flowers
with poison snow.


Feeling a little stronger today after resuming Zyprexa last night and upping my Wellbutrin back to 150 mg. twice a day; I had had to lower the Wellbutrin as I waited for my Canadian prescriptions to arrive. Hear that, Mr. DEA man? Hear that, Pfizer and Merck and Lilly? Americans pay the highest drug prices in the world while these same companies sell their wares much more cheaply abroad. What's that about? It's about the pharmaceutical lobbying, of course. But why should a senator care? He has health insurance and I don't. As my middle daughter's boyfriend, who works for customs, remarked: "Government jobs are welfare for the middle class." And the U.S. government is thwe largest employer in the world, I imagine. At the very least it has the highest budget.

At rodent neutral but less fragile today,

Craig Erick

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

More on My Name; Again, the Dream

Another thing about my name: it doesn't translate well into Spanish or German. When I lived in Germany, it resembled "Krecch." The German gutturals made my name sound like honking a loogie. In Spanish it wasn't much better: "Kraich."

As for my middle name, I've always been proud of it, since it comes from my mother's maiden name, "Erickson," which is why it's spelled with a 'ck.' The grandfather who gave me this name I never met; he died before I was born. An immigrant Swedish blacksmith, he shared perhaps the most illustrious name in Scandinavian history, that of Leif Erickson, who discovered Iceland and Greenland and was likely instrumental in establishing a settlement in Newfoundland five centuries before that dreamer, Columbus, introduced smallpox to the Indians of Haiti. (Yesterday was Columbus Day. But you don't hear us stoic Scandinavians complaining about it; it would be against our nature. Let the wimps from warmer climates have their moment in the sun, their parades and pastries. Come north and we'll freeze your balls off.)

So "Erick" is OK, and it happens to mean "Eternal Ruler."

Chaffin comes from Normandy, which the Vikings settled, and the name supposedly pre-dates William the Conqueror invading England. He was a Viking, albeit a short and stocky one. "It's not the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog." (I'm dangerous in a fight not just because of my size and anatomical knowledge, but because as a depressive I have often wished for death, so the whole thing is a win-win for me. Then I won't get in a fight unless me or mine are truly threatened; but I've never lost a fight either, though at almost 52 I hope I'm done fighting. It's bad for my image and my back.)

In The Chaffins of America, a book written in the 30s by a genealogist for his own interest, not because someone paid him to find a family crest, there's a legend about how the name, "Chaffin," came about. Supposedly in the Middle Ages the Devil tried to cross a bridge in Northern France to spread the plague to a village. A cat fought him off at the bridge. Cat in French is "chat;" supposedly "Chaffin" was derived from this. I trust it was a Norman (Viking) cat and not some Frank. If my last name were French I might actually commit suicide.

So here we are: Craig Erick Chaffin or C. E. Chaffin. Why not both? Since most correspondents and editors call me "CE," that's good. And if I sign "Craig Erick" it's just as good. But I don't like "Craig" alone just yet; that will take some time. Craig is from the Gaelic for "rock," by the way (crag). Thus the full meaning of my name is a bit pretentious: Rock, Eternal Ruler, Devil-Fighter. Notice there's nothing about "poet" in there. Perhaps I would be better suited to lead a guerrilla war in South America, but I can't stand the weather except in the Andes or Tierra del Fuego.

Now for the big moment: I own my name. Craig Erick Chaffin it is. People commenting here say they like it. I'm just going to believe them. And if they don't really like it, who cares about the name of some obscure blogger with delusions of grandeur? And what choice did I have in the matter, anyway?

This admission does not preclude the use of nicknames like CE, Wadie, Doc, L7, Lispo, Daddy Long Legs, Dr. Feelgood, Craig Crackerbox, The Human Garbage Disposal, Tapeworm, Boots, Professor, and Joe Blfltstyk, to name a few.


Now for today's sonnet. Last night I had a new version of an old dream which tends to recur just before I get depressed; Kathleen thought I was starting to get a little sketchy yesterday, so I must resume the Zyprexa I was tapering off and stay away from the pain medication the specialist gave me last Wednesday. You, dear reader, do not want to see me depressed again, do you? Or do you prefer the dark side?

As Kathleen says, "You're such a delicate flower." Chemically that's true.

Again, the Dream

I had the dream again, anxiety
Incarnate in my work. Patients and charts
Were thrown at me indiscriminately,
Like abstract paintings or Rorschachs in the dark.
There were never enough facts to find my way.
The charts kept coming and the patients died.
I couldn’t order tests or X-rays.
The only power I had was power denied.
And still they came, in a collage of suffering
That lacked the information to unravel
The mysteries of their illness. Wavering,
Unable to decide, lacking a gavel,
I was in limbo, doomed to ruminate
Without a doctor’s power to mitigate.

At rodent neutral but frightened, possibly in a mixed state,

Craig Erick Chaffin M.D. FAAFP

Monday, October 09, 2006

Owning My Name

Today is John Lennon's birthday as the radio keeps reminding me. I wonder if he ever went through the problem of owning his name. My name, Craig Chaffin, is rhythmically equivalent to his--a spondee followed by a trochee. I don't remember ever liking my name. Most of the Craigs I ever knew were dorks. Think of how many famous actors, writers and musicians are named "Craig." What? You can't think of one?

My mother had two criteria for her three sons' names: 1) That they begin with 'C' to match our last name; 2) That they could not be shortened or easily turned into nicknames. My older brother had his name, "Christopher," changed by common parlance into "Chris." And irony of ironies, my younger brother, Clay, had his name turned into "Dobey" by his own family (after the clay used in traditional southwestern construction). "Craig" alone went unmodified. "Craig" alone fulfilled my mother's stated criteria.

Why don't I like my first name?

First, because of the echo of a sulphurous "egg," whether the raw variety tossed on Halloween or the Easter variety that eventually turns rotten. My mother hated to waste anything, so after dyeing Easter eggs she would chase us down for weeks afterward trying to get us to eat our art. When I mention Easter eggs I smell not only the egg but the vinegar in the dye. For these and other reasons I don't like the "egg" sound in my name. It's that visceral and that simple, though I don't mind eating eggs now and then.

Maybe here's a good place to post today's sonnet, which illustrates the difference between poetry and verse, as it is merely verse:

Owning My Name

You, Craig Erick, time to own your name.
You’re running from its homonym, the sound
Of “egg” within the “Craig,” the childhood shame
Of being called “egghead,” when friends would hound
You with “Professor,” “Brainiac” and the like
While you desperately wanted to be cool,
So much you walked to school, leaving your bike
At home since bikes were not. As a rule
You never cared too much what others thought.
But when you ran for president of your school
You made up buttons: “Craig the Egg.” Your plot
Succeeded. For a semester you would rule--
Also as quarterback, lead in the play--
Until depression washed it all away.

My first name also feels or looks round to me, like someone with a lollipop for a head. (I call young anorexics like Lindsey Lohan "Lollipop Girls" because with their skinny bodies, round faces and big hair, they remind me of lollipops.) I think the open 'C' and the closed 'a' and 'g' contribute to this notion visually, not to mention the sustained "ay" of the vowel, encapsulated by the 'C' and 'g' curves. Pictures of me as a young child show a round head accentuated by a butch haircut. The sound of "Craig" thus has two negative connotations for me: the association with 'egg' and the idea of a very round head.

Enough "Craig" for a day.

Thine at one kilobunny,

Craig Erick

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Sonnet Sunday

Recently I boasted to Rob Mackenzie that I could write a sonnet in fifteen minutes. The notion afterwards appeared at some board whose provenance I don't recall, where people timed themselves on the task in public. My effort came in at somewhere around eleven minutes. But the one below, penned yesterday, took only five, likely because the form was the substance.

It's been said that form is an extension of substance. What then if a discussion of form is the substance? What if the form of the form determines the substance of the substance?

I think form should be second nature for any poet. Any poet who can't write a decent sonnet in half an hour should join a slam team. Ah, c'mon Craig Erick, you're a snob!

Damn straight, and we need more snobs in this poetry biz to filter out all the wannabes. Rhyme and meter are basic to the art; at the very least, an aspirant should be able to write decent blank verse. Sadly, many of my former students had difficulty with both. But I squeezed at least one sonnet out of every one of them, even if they whined and sweated blood, though there's one student out there, and you know who you are, who took a hiatus from the course but has yet to cough up a regular sonnet, likely why he's avoiding me.

Five Beats

Some prefer their sonnets regular.
Others like them straining against the bones
Of form. Like this. Or this. The amateur
Knows nothing but a pitter-pat of tones.
I like my sonnets rare, not medium.
I like to break the law. I like to tempt
My readers to a cliff. Tedium
Is all that ever comes from the attempt
Never to show your underwear in verse.
I moon you. I approve I do. I swoon
Melodramatically inside my hearse
Beneath the brittle, voyeuristic moon.
Do what you like—it’s only five beats.
Pound it like abalone or write like Keats.

Kenyon swam his heart out yesterday and has been up the stairs twice this morning without a splint. Kathleen and I plan to get the Sunday paper and drive down to a beautiful beach whose name I won't reveal. There Kenyon will frolic and the unluckiest fisherman in the world will lose tackle, bait, and lures to the greedy ocean with nary a fish to show for it. (I don't like to let fish get in the way of my fishing.)

At two kilobunnies.


Craig Erick

Friday, October 06, 2006

Poetry Thursday: Thine in Truth and Fart

I realized that I had ignored the Poetry Thursday prompt yesterday about body parts. So I penned a new sonnet to comply.

I'm not requiring myself to write good sonnets, simply five-finger exercises in form. Once in a while, as in "Schism" or "Be Quiet My Head" (previous posts), I may manage to write something worth preserving for an Andy Warhol second.

Sonnets are usually serious but rhyme can take you into light verse if you're not careful as in the closing couplet below. Yet gas is no joke to me; in Mexico I was in the worst pain of my life with repeated amoebic dysentery. For days I seriously wished for a colostomy, had visions of disemboweling myself to end the pain.

In the context of my personal experience the poem might come over as serious--if the reader knew this background--but the poem won't fill that in--so it's doomed to be comic, or at least sardonic.

I know of no poetic scale that allows for the labeling of tone. I suppose below I think my tone either sardonic or wry.

Brother Ass

My nose is nearly Aboriginal,
Wide with no bridge. My eyes have bags,
Or better, luggage. My belly’s a dirigible
Bloated by dysentery (and it sags).
My shoulders slope, my chest is without hair
Unlike my belly and the works below
My hands are somewhat small but can squeeze air
Into smaller and smaller cubic molecules.
My legs are strong but short for 6’6”.
I have a low center of gravity,
Good for balance on a Viking ship
Or to foot the neck of my depravity.
St. Francis called the body “Brother Ass.”
That donkey's almost killed me with his gas.

At Two Kilobunnies,

Thine in Truth and Fart,


Poems about Pets: The Dead Turtle Question

Jarod Anderson, a young man, avers that my poem about Kenyon was a successful pet poem. What is a successful pet poem? The closer you are to something or someone, the harder it is to write well. As I was not so personally connected to my daughter's turtle or tortoise, as the case may be, I post a poem about its demise below, along with its link to Snakeskin, now a singularly august e-zine for all the years it's gone on, outliving Melic.

My request, for any so disposed, is to tell me whether the last three lines originally published are worth keeping or not. I think they try too hard to impart a meaning, thus am in favor of jettisoning them into the pool where all my "almost" poetry sinks. Do weigh in with your thoughts. I am eminently teachable since my dear wife, Kathleen, became the first human to come close to taming me. My mother tried, but then.... boys will be boys!

The Terrapin Question

We never named him or knew his sex.
He wasn't happy if turtles could be happy.
I purchased an aquarium to protect
him from the cats. His chitinous serape
was not enough, I thought, to keep him safe
in this unnatural habitat. His back
was a mosaic of rounded squares.
His belly plate was yellow, marked with black.
I didn't know if he liked water or land.
I placed him in a shallow bath to see.
Proving he was no amphibian,
he sought the dry end like a refugee.
My daughter left for college.
His care devolved on me.

I tried to furnish him with water and food
but never cared or really understood
his needs, so my care wasn't that good.
When I'd put him on the floor for exercise
he moved so slowly I didn't see him crawl
when suddenly he'd be at the far wall
as if by magic, as if turtles could fly.
They can't. But living things can always die.

When he first disappeared I was disturbed.
I looked in closets, crevices and thought
he'd joined the two iguanas we misplaced.
I looked in every possible hiding place
except beneath the sofa where the space
was much too narrow to admit him, I judged,
when lifting it I saw his carapace!
Relieved, I placed him in his house of glass
and crumbled lettuce for his tiny beak,
put out fresh water, forgot him for a week.

I found him with his legs and head and tail
extended as if posed in a museum.
I picked him up-- there was a sour smell
and no attempt to pull a single limb
into its case. I always wondered
if his kind died outside or inside the shell.
Now I knew. I threw him in the trash
like a spoiled pie, dead of neglect.

[When my last hour comes will I retract
inside myself, all doors and windows closed,
or have the courage to die with limbs exposed?]

Thine in Amphibian Demise,

(Shhh---at two kilobunnies!),

Craig Erick

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Jungian Dreams and New Sonnet, "Death Watch"

Since the men's retreat I have been having a number of dreams in that light period of sleep before waking, which allows me to remember them. As a psychiatrist I never made much of dreams; I thought Freud made much too much of them. Jung approached them from a different perspective, and the men's retreat I just attended was oriented around Jungian psychology, especially the archetype of the Magician. I have been trying to jot down notes on my dreams when I wake up since the retreat; before it I didn't remember dreaming for a long time, coincident with my depression, which I hope with all my heart continues to lift.

My first batch of dreams were about both manic-depression and the Jungian self and shadow-self. Here's a sample of my dream log with tentative interpretations offered in italics:

I saw a furry cylinder, long and thick as a log, with only the head of a collie poking out. The "collie-log" was in the middle of a clearing, like a grass and dirt parking lot. Someone kept telling me in silent dreamspeak that there were two dogs but I could only see the one. I wondered if the collies were alive or dead. I was assured they were alive but their eyes were black as a raven’s, the kind of glass used by a taxidermist. A man came with a lathe and a plane to sculpt a single piece of wood six feet long, 2” X 1” with a shepherd’s hook on each end. The tool was to get the collies out of the cylinder. The man shaping it was my wife’s late husband’s son. He was young and lithe and muscular but I didn’t see his face. (In real life their son is nothing like him.)

The woodworking figure fits the Jungian archetype of the Magician well. The hidden dog may have been the Jungian shadow, and the reason the other dog looked dead was because without the shadow self the real self cannot function. The cylinder can also obviously be construed as a phallus, or a symbol of masculinity. To be a full man I must see the dog that isn’t there, the hidden dog. And the son was preparing a tool to do that very thing, though I never saw the second dog.

Next I was driving in my van with my wife and saw a Honda Odyssey traveling in the adjoining lane. The Honda stopped and its hood opened up. A white dog and a brown dog, medium-sized, happily jumped into the compartment and it shut. I said to Kathleen, “How come we don’t have that option on our Voyager?”

My sister has a Honda Odyssey and two dachshunds, but the dogs weren't dachshunds. It seems obvious to me that the white and brown dogs represented my self and my shadow, and both were happy to disappear into the den together—and when they did, they vanished, just as when one’s shadow is truly incorporated into one’s self.

Today's new sonnet, coincidentally, also concerns a dog--Kathleen's beautiful blonde service dog, Kenyon. Those familiar with the history of this blog will recall how both Kathleen and I went to jail in Mexico trying to get him back from his kidnapper. He's a Labrador/Newfoundland/Golden Retriever mix, and I wish I had a picture to post of him. I'll try to post one soon. He looks like a long-haired Golden but his head is too large, and his feet are webbed for swimming like a Newfoundland. He is so much a part of Kathleen that he won't even eat if she's away. He moons for her at the door, waiting for the sound of the garage door opening, after which he gets up excitedly and fetches something to give her, usually an old sock. When she enters, I take what she's carrying out of her hands, and she communes with Kenyon for a few minutes: "There's my puppy. You're such a good puppy. Good puppy!" These verbal affections are, of course, accompanied by petting and stroking him as only Kathleen can do. To Kenyon, Kathleen is like the sun, the moon--like the subject of one of Shakespeare's love sonnets. The two are joined at the hip. His condition is deteriorating, however, and we see the time approaching when they will have to be unjoined. We hope it is not soon. In any case, today's sonnet came to me yesterday in the space of about ten minutes. I revised it a little since.

It's been said that it is a virtual guarantee that any poem about a pet is bound to be a failure, and I'd written only one poem about Kenyon before, in free verse, which was roundly panned and thankfully remains unpublished. Here goes:

Death Watch

Kenyon is 11. His hips quiver
When he stands. He can’t assay the stairs
Without the help of hands, though still he dares
To swim and fetch his stick in a swift river.
His eyes, once lucid brown, have cataracts.
His hearing—-well, his hearing has gone to hell.
At fifty yards he cannot hear me yell.
Clearly he’s suffering, although he acts
As if he weren’t; he’s noble to the core.
He still rolls over with a little nudge
And when I splint his leg he doesn’t budge
Despite the pain. I thought animals bore
No pain as humans know it, but I was wrong.
The old boy lives in pain—-but not for long.

Thine in Truth and Dreams,

Craig Erick

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Sonnet "Schism;" Mood improving.

Dear Friends,

I'm sitting here in my second day of euthymia (normal mood). I am trying to slow my mind down, to experience the miracle of mindfulness--the spoon dipping in the yogurt, each touch of my fingers on the keypad. I've tried this before but this is still very new territory for me.

Kathleen says of me, "There he goes, galloping off in all directions at once." I never really understood her comment before, but the retreat, my depression and the medications have all conspired to make me slow down, to notice my environment, to be less injury and accident prone, which is my nature. How did I get this way?

Beyond my own biology, my mother communicated constant anxiety to me, my father communicated impatient anger. Though they did not intend it, the result is great internal pressure for me whenever I attempt a task, especially when I am not euthymic. The pressure has not been crippling only because I was born strong-willed. But life would be so much easier if I simply took my time and paid attention. Even yesterday I gashed my head on an awning by not looking around first; then because of my height, my head is a collection of bumps and scars, so I have an excuse. Even so, I have hope that by slowing down, by not getting ahead of time in my head, by not living, because of pressure, in the immediate future, I may change. I pray it is so.

Today's sonnet is below. The first draft morphed into a completely different second draft, because I made up the first quatrain while driving and things change on paper. For those who don't know "rood," it's a Middle English word for "cross." I am grateful for your audience and your comments.

Thine in Truth and Art,

Craig Erick


How can we love ourselves and hate God?
Because the self has long replaced the rood.
There is no demon daddy to wag the rod;
The ghost in the machine was rendered crude.
How can we hate ourselves and love God?
Humility is not humiliation.
Luther tried with whips that cost him blood;
Devotion doesn't equal flagellation.
On Golgotha our efforts were rejected,
Religion vanquished—we can’t keep the Law.
On that foul hill we saw God unprotected,
Humiliated, lacerated, raw—
He hated himself for our sake to no avail;
In this new age it’s just a fairy tale.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Raven

I had a lovely break and possibly a life-changing experience at the men's retreat; time will tell. I think that last night, due to the experience of the retreat and resuming Zyprexa (an antipsychotic drug used in severe depressions and also mania), my head came above water and I feel much better today, though admittedly fragile. I can even wrap my brain around the idea of hope ("having to construct something to hope upon" --Eliot, "Ash Wednesday").

I wrote this sonnet today; it began in my too busy mind while I was watering the garden. (I couldn't post a sonnet for "Sonnet Sunday" because I was where bears proverbially shit.)

The Raven

Be quiet my head, suspend your ceaseless chatter.
The soup inside your skull is boiling hot
With details and demons—it doesn’t matter—
Whatever you thought you thought, you already thought.
Be quiet my head, the animals command you.
They have no words for water, air or food
And yet they drink and eat just as we do
But have no scent for being misunderstood.
See that large raven? When he calls he calls
For now and for forever, and when he flies
He has no thought of flying but never falls.
His being is his doing; he knows no lies,
Unlike his human brothers who march to war
And soon forget what they were fighting for.

I will not rate myself in kilorats or bunnies. Faith is all.



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