Sunday, December 31, 2006

Villanelle: Avoidant; Hope for the New Year


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s to Hope in the New Year!



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

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Sonnet: "Not a Book;" Hope in Striving

Not a Book

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Won’t estimate my rattage today.



Friday, December 29, 2006

Power Outage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At some level of obsessive kilorats, bloody but unbowed,


Where's My MTV?

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Holiday Hiatus; Blogger Begs Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig Erick

Friday, December 22, 2006

CBE: Pharisees

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Post for December 22 : Chinese Brush Experiment

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


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

Anti-War Villanelle

Hail to the Chiefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I won't comment on my mood.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sonnet: Gym Talk; More on Iraq

Gym Talk

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sonnet: Watershed


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

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


Monday, December 18, 2006

Sonnet: Winter Sun; Money on My Mind

Winter Sun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thine as ever,

Craig Erick

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: A Question of Faith

A Question of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

At 0.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Poem: The Passing

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

The Passing

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

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

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

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

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

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

All for today,


Friday, December 15, 2006

Dweebler and the Neocons

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

Dynamic Duo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Stuffing the Flag by Dweebler Cramden

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

Stuffing the Flag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Dweebler,


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Villanelle: Fog; On Iraq

Trial by Fog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All for today,


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Sonnet: Celebrity; More Mushrooms


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

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

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

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

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



Monday, December 11, 2006

Sonnet Sunday: Hunting Mushrooms

Mushroom Hunting

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, December 07, 2006

Triolet: "The Mariner;" Shrink Gives Hope

The Mariner

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for all the kind encouragement,


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ghazal: Reality Bites; On Self-Esteem

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

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

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

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

Thine in Truth and Art,

C. E. Chaffin

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Triolet: Request; mood worsens


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

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

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

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

4 Kilorats,


Monday, December 04, 2006

Triolet: Unnatural

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

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

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

At 3 Kilorats,


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sonnet:: On Love; Kilorat Report

On Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

At 3.5 Kilorats,


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Triolet: Primary Colors

Primary Colors

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over and out,

Dr. Chaffin

Friday, December 01, 2006

Pantoum: For Jack London

For Jack London

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope all is well you,


Unexpected Light

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