Thursday, May 31, 2007

Love Poem

I posted some manic-depressive poems a year ago; now why not some love poems? I don't have to be a poet to share what I wrote when I thought I was a poet, although saying this comes close to a tautology in its obviousness, more a redundancy, actually, just like my use of "actually." How I do blather! Ignore me. Or don't. And thanks for all the lively discussion that followed my last post.



You are a fever in my blood.
You douse the sun, turn the sky violet.

All my veins flow backwards.
Swollen with love, my heart seeks its double.

Your mouth seals mine,
inhaling all my purple waste.

Love, I am riddled with glory:
light pours through bullet holes.

Tomorrow I lead my first tour at the Fort Bragg Botanical Gardens as a certified "Master Gardener," one of the first in our county (though it's kind of like a medal from the Wizard of Oz; there are so many gardeners here who know so much more than I and always will).

Bouncing between kilobunnies and kilorats in a mixed state; little things piss me off, and I'm not just speaking of my anatomy,


Monday, May 28, 2007

Giving Up Poetry

I’ve been reading some very good online and print journals of late, and I am seriously entertaining giving up poetry as a genre for my talents (except for the occasional toss-off). In fact, whatever else I see when I read the best journals, I see that my verse would stick out like a sore thumb if ever published in the middle of so many elegant, painstakingly crafted pieces.

I’m not saying this in irony, nor do I say it to be contradicted by the reader’s encouragement. It is not a plea for someone to say, “Stay the course, CE,” no; it is a considered result of reason and observation, something I’ve been slouching toward for some time.

Truly, I am not good enough for current poetic standards. In retrospect, had I not married young and become a doctor, I ought to have studied under masters, perhaps gotten an MFA, attended all the seminars from all the name poets I could. Instead (given whatever opportunity I have had)—perhaps for fear of failure, perhaps for lacking the humility for instruction, perhaps out of protectiveness against having my art altered by any external, well-meaning hand, I bull-headedly pursued my own lights and muse into whatever my verse has become today. And as it is, it is inferior to the good poetry I find myself reading, with its original diction, premise, construction, scene-painting, tantalizing incompletions and often insuperable puzzles. Since it appears that this is what good editors now prize, I am, well, sunk—at least for this time and this age, the only period an artist can rationally count upon. Therefore I think I should embrace prose wholeheartedly and be done with my dream of being a poet, saver for the occasional piece, as I said above.

Now it’s true that contemporary poetry is a very large tent and has room for both the blunt and the refined, and for the most part I belong to the former category, still the best journals seem to prefer a certain refinement beyond my skill. The Journal, published by Ohio State University, has many examples of this in their new issue. Here’s the first and second stanzas of a poem by Molly Brodak, “Like Your Jesus, Only Mine”:

Wait up, bitch!” begs back the pale bus stop boy.
O molester moustache, O fake hobble—
they group up—legs of toddler proportion, whatever glamour wants,
and papery shirts, long as dresses

hung with tangles of gold—
the kind that rubs off, once finger-loved.

The poem concerns a brief dispute between wannabe white gang-bangers, or “wiggers” (= “white niggers”), as one can see from the description of the clothing (although some of the principals may actually be black; we can’t know). The only action in the poem I am sure occurs, besides the boy at the bus stop begging the other to wait, is when the other boy bangs him in the chest with a cell phone. Then the scene segues abruptly to a restaurant, and at the poem’s end the other boy (not the pale bus stop boy) gets a call from his dad on the same cell phone. All of this is very cryptically done in brief and powerful images that evoke a story line of their own—even if you have no idea where that story line leads.

Now not all the poems in this journal are quite as difficult as this, still it appears to be the prevailing style. As I said to Kathleen last night, “I want to connect the dots. They want to disconnect them.” Or better put, many of the more successful current poets want to disconnect and reconnect the dots again in a somewhat disconnected way, forcing the reader to put the pieces back together Humpty-Dumpty like, never sure the egg shell edges really fit. Or if these poets deconstruct to construct, what they construct is often more difficult to understand than their process of deconstruction.

Despite all this, with sufficient ambition and steadfastness, one can usually piece a narrative of some kind together from a poem of this type. Here’s another one from the issue in its entirety, “Cure” by Kristin Abraham. As I read it over and over, with sufficient time between my readings, I felt that I finally “got it.” Perhaps I was not versed enough in this kind of poetry to decode its substance sooner; perhaps I deceive myself into thinking there’s something to get; but my gloss makes sense to me at the least. Here’s the poem, double-spaced as in the issue:


They played


(She was the foot of the bed / chart

marked with asterisks and daggers,

the story looking over its shoulder.)

Then the next she

was born, they

called her Ridiculous.

Ridiculous as

shh, I can hear them, as

little door in my mind

(the not-so-pleasant fairytale.)

Now the family can’t

sleep: birds

are living

in her walls, unraveling

the hem of her name.

Now she tosses crusts

to the birds, now the birds

won’t leave.

Bear with me here. I think this poem is about discovery of sexuality in childhood and its association with the primal scene, so that the child eventually discovers where she actually comes from (as in “unraveling / the hem of her name”), and how this ultimately unsettles the family dynamic as she comes to terms with her growing adult sexuality, a revelation that can’t be undone, hence the birds won’t leave. The “Cure” is in effect, the end of childhood, the cure for childish misconceptions. Once you understand you are the result of your parents having sex you can’t go back. Perhaps the birds symbolize the lost innocence of childhood, perhaps they symbolize the persistent reminder of adulthood. Regardless, things have changed, and not necessarily for the better.

Now I’m not saying that Ms. Abraham would admit that her poem is “about” anything, but I am fairly sure a determined, intelligent reader would likely unearth some of the same substance as I have.

Why poets and readers of poetry want to work this hard, I don’t know. Susan Sontag wrote that irony had been exhausted in the late 20th century. It seems as if poetry had been exhausted, too, so that the best poets dancing on the edge of the art have had to go to great lengths to put an original stamp on the art. It is not enough to tell the truth wryly as Frost did; one must provide an almost out-of-body experience for the reader. Again, not all the poems chosen by the editors in this volume are this abstruse, and I would say a word about David Moolten, an excellent poet/physician from Philadelphia, whose work I remember from long ago—I think, if I am not wrong, from some online workshop. He has matured into a fine poet whom I can still understand without banging my head against his poems. One of his three poems in the volume, “Tolerance,” is a masterpiece. In fact, to the editors’ credit, he is the only poet with three poems in the issue.

Anyone more interested in these sorts of debates can refer to my Logopoetry essays, written almost ten years ago, which now strike me as horribly outdated, since the examples I used for difficulty of substance—Dylan Thomas, for instance—now seem, in comparison to current fare, fairly easy to understand (if “understanding” in the usual sense can even be a goal of the poetry most admired today). Having said all this, here’s a piece I wrote this morning about my feelings of inferiority towards the poetry which garners more recognition in this age among the cognoscenti:

Second Fiddle

It’s not easy to be
almost good enough
understudy, journeyman
playing the chitlin circuit
on a minor label
in a middling journal
tuxedo an Armani rip-off
a few millimeters
from handsome,
two freckles from pretty,
an eyebrow from beautiful.

It’s not easy
to open the violin case
for the first fiddle,
to straighten the conductor’s
music sheets, to rehearse
lines with the lead.
For a while you think
there may be a chance
but when the lead gets sick
they import someone,
pass you over—
you are the ultimate insurance,
you are the just in case
never shooting, always
falling star.

Since I know most readers of this blog are not poetry aficionados, indeed some have told me that the only poetry they read is found here, no doubt many will prefer my simple complaint to the complex reverberations of “Cure.” If this is true, don’t pick up a literary journal. You may be disappointed.

Memorially Thine,


Saturday, May 26, 2007

Swimming: Prose-Poem

I was going to erase yesterday's effort but decided instead to let that rough attempt at a poem stand as evidence of the process. Here it is re-written as prose, and I think it works better. (My editor was right. Then she always is.)


Scanning the pool’s bottom I note the aging plaster in yellowish brown patterns like pee stains. Once at a YMCA I saw a turd on the bottom slowly dispersing. I like children but I canceled my membership because of memory.

Ropes held up by donut floats divide the lanes, each lane with a royal blue stripe down its center, six tiles wide.

How many strokes in a lap? So many variables. Counting, you risk a loss of rhythm. Arithmetic is not forgetting though it prunes language down.

Pearls of exhalation dribble from my mouth. What you inhale in a moment you blow out for three strokes. How can you take all that in with one gulp?

Poetry, how Jane Hirschfield’s three years at a Zen monastery might help silence the mind in the rhythm of the sickle of the harvest, in the planting of the rice shoots, calf deep in muddy water—in the employment of the definite article or in making tea: heat water add tea let steep pour ten spondees.

Thoughts come in words, words written in lipstick on the mind’s mirror where peace might have been. I want being without thought, only water sliding by (look—she swims well in the next lane, nice ass!)

See? Even distractions are verbalized. There is no woman, only these words. But you see her, don’t you, in the black one-piece with the open back, thighs tight and churning?

Words speak only of what’s already past, can never catch up with the next stroke, useless as bus exhaust, I might as well be fart-propelled. I want to be like those apes in 2001, pre-verbal. I envy brain-injured patients who can’t speak or think in words. Then whence epistemology? From a fucking stone? It’s just a word, who needs it?

Some part of me keeps track of every lap: lap 31, chant 31—and how’s my daughter doing, single mother and all, my brain directs my limbs without my thinking, three strokes: swoosh swoosh swoosh: gulp air: breathe out, strings of bubble bath pearls, arms heavy as pewter because lead is cliché and you think you’re a writer.

K-FUCK, my brain’s only station!—all that Sisyphean gossip, all that Herculean chatter and object-association nonsense, plums and apricots and women’s asses, pinking shears and postage stamp borders, how I hate leg irons and iron horses and Lou Gehrig and iron lungs beaten red on anvils like the color of lava expanding as the big island gets bigger with eels for Easter Island and Captain Cook stewed flight steward Hawaiian Airlines need new swim trunks still too fat what kind of salad afterwards maybe Jacuzzi wait for my heart rate to slow?

Perhaps a hemisphereectomy: remove half my brain and it won’t talk to itself so much, or at least a corpus callosotomy, mama disconnect the phone one mind one thought one bliss.

Finally (was it exhaustion that clued me?) how to turn it off:

Pretend you’re asleep. You dream of a body; it’s not your body. Someone else is swimming. You float in wordless sleep. If you start to wake, say only: “not my body, not my body.” Last lap.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Poem: Swim; How I Really Look; Harry "The Robber" Reid

As soon as I put up my website, I go to check a couple of links and find that the venerable e-zine, niederngasse, no longer appears on a search and its domain name seems up for grabs. Can anyone clue me in on this?

The web is such a living thing; I must have upwards of twenty poems in their archives over the years, and now, suddenly, my link is no good? Eek. On the Net everything is so five seconds ago, soon to be nanoseconds.

Today I will post a poem I think the reader will enjoy, whether poetically experienced or not, the kind of poem I wish I could write more often. It's my favorite kind, where subject-object dualism is overcome, though not without a protracted struggle. And that's just in the content of the poem. But what I'm really referring to is the design of the poem; if possible, I like to write a poem where the reader just drops in, like those old Hertz commercials where the driver drops into the car from the air. Suddenly he is driving. Suddenly you find yourself in a poem. Fun to do if you can pull it off. The reader will judge.

And for the record, although it won't upload for my profile picture very well, this is pretty much how I really look:


This Democrat-approved funding bill for Iraq makes me want to throw up from deep inside my colon. Weenies? Not strong enough. Shit-sucking maggots? "We have to be politically realistic," (Reid and Pelosi). "We have sent the President a message."

The message? "We bend over for you, King George. Please send us some pork barrel knee pads."

Oh I'm sure I don't know the half of it, all the political reasons, what Republicans have sworn to vote with the Dems on the next funding bill, yada, yada, but judging from appearances--a bad idea in life and politics--doesn't it seem the Dems blinked? Or could I be wrong? We will see with the next funding vote. Myself, I'd vote against this bill on principle no matter what the liberal leadership told me. Since Pelosi married money, I guess it's easy for her to give away, in the same way Senator Reid gives it to his sons with our taxes, generous man that he is.

Don't you think most elected representatives give in to the temptation of entitlement? "I've worked all these years in Congress and I get paid nothing like a CEO and I have a zillion constituents and I'm always raising millions I can only spend on my campaign and not myself and isn't it time I did a little something for myself and my family? It may smell but as long as it's legal, by God they'll forgive me. Besides, the voters only know what television tells them."


If I don't paste in my poem soon, no one will read it, so I'll save my political griping for another day. Have a lovely Memorial Day Weekend, and try to forget that it's these Bozos in Washington that our troops laid down their lives for. You may say "the people," but in our system, they are "the people." That's how a representative democracy works. How I lament that America does not have the superior parliamentary system. Prime Minister Reid? It would never happen, though in the analogy it would more likely be Pelosi.

Here's my damn poem, a tad long, though not as long as the swim, posted on the heels of my brief discussion of exercise from the last post. BTW, I did break a zero yesterday, weighing it at a svelte 259!


I hope to enter the Zen
of unconscious body mechanics
and escape my radio head
always tuned to KFUCK.
Scanning the pool’s bottom
I note the aging plaster
in brown patterns like pee stains.
Once at a YMCA
I saw a turd on the bottom
slowly dispersing.
Though I love children.
I canceled my membership.

Ropes held up by donut floats
divide the lanes whose centers
are marked by a royal blue
stripes on the bottom, six tiles wide.

Should I count the strokes each lap requires?
Strangely, the number changes.
Arithmetic is not forgetting
though it prunes language down.
To force uniformity of propulsion
you risk losing the rhythm
required of motion, not worth it.

I’m in bubble land, look!
Pearls of exhalation
dribble from my mouth!
While swimming it always seems
there is much more air
to exhale than inhale,
only that moment
to turn your head and gulp.

Tired of local geography
KFUCK now turns to poetry,
how Jane Hirschfield’s three years
at a Zen monastery
might help silence the mind
in the rhythm of the sickle of the harvest,
in the traditional planting of the rice shoots,
calf deep in muddy water--
in the employment of the definite article
or even in making tea:
heat water add tea let steep
pour ten spondees
(in porcelain cups).

Thoughts come in words
written in lipstick on the mirror
where peace once was.
I want being without thought,
only the water sliding by
(look—she swims well
in the next lane, nice ass!)
See? I verbalize
even my distractions.
Words speak only
of what’s already past,
can't catch the next stroke,
useless as bus exhaust.
Is there a radio channel for the deaf?
How I hate KFUCK!

I wonder if consciousness
is only material,
I think of brain-injured patients
who cannot speak or think in words--
then whence epistemology?
From a fucking stone?

Some part of me keeps track
of every lap: lap 31, chant 31
and how my daughter’s doing
single mother and all
while my brain amazingly directs my limbs
in spite of all the multitasking,
three strokes, three strokes
swoosh swoosh swoosh
gulp air, breathe out
in sibilant bubbles,
arms heavy as pewter
(because lead is cliché).

Fuck KFUCK, all
that Sisyphean gossip, all
that Herculean chatter and
object association nonsense,
plums and women’s asses,
leg irons and horseshoes
beaten bright red on anvils
like lava expanding
Hawaii getting bigger
I ate limpets there
from the rocks
saw three moray eels
need new swimming trunks
don’t deserve them
still too fat
what salad to have
Jacuzzi or not?

Perhaps a hemisphereectomy
is the answer:
remove half my brain
and it won’t talk to itself so much:
one mind one action
one thought one bliss
one mind one action
one thought one bliss.

Finally it came to me,
how to turn it off,
though perhaps you must first
reach a certain level
of physical exhaustion.
But here it is, old as Lao Tsu:
Pretend you’re asleep.
You dream of a body--
it’s not your body.
Someone else is swimming,
someone else is breathing,
someone else is thinking in words
while you float in a wordless sleep.
If you begin to wake, say only
not my body, not my body.
Last lap.

At 1 Kilobunny (too sore to do much today),


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I Have a Website!

Yes, after near ten years of publishing and being published on the World Wide Web, I finally managed to construct a website. It is the result of a html course I took while severely depressed, but I did manage to complete the assignment. The site is not high tech, just a simple pathway to some writings of mine. Eventually I hope to add some musical compositions, so for now the "music" link will lead you nowhere. The site is linked to the title of today's blog, if you haven't figured that out.

In my ongoing commitment to exercise, I swam one-and-a-half miles yesterday, and on the treadmill climbed 1200 feet in three miles in an hour, as well as lifting a bunch of weights, whose tonnage I don't calculate. So far I've lost very little weight, despite my thrice weekly marathons, because the exercise increases my appetite. Despite my best intentions I find myself grazing late into the night, and once I've eaten a certain amount of victuals after dinner, I throw up my hands and say, "What's the use?" And permit myself a measured gluttony.

No matter, this is a war not a battle, and even if I don't weigh much less, maybe ten pounds at best, I look much more compact. As they say, "inches before pounds."

Since I generally go to bed around 3 AM and wake up around 10 AM, it's hard to go all those night hours without scarfing. I do try to avoid fats. Except the peanuts I gobbled last night. In any event, if I ever master the art of eating moderately while exercising immoderately I may someday look like Mr. Universe without the HGH and steroid bulges.

How did Stallone pull off "Rocky" at 60? It wasn't Jack La Lanne's Vita-Shakes, no, he was busted in Australia for HGH and testosterone. Did you know that the continued use of steroids shrinks your balls? Bodybuilders call them "raisin nuts." Sounds like cereal, doesn't it?

I don't know if I've posted this picture of my lovely wife yet, but here it is:

Another good reason not to take steroids.

Have you heard this one? My mother's maiden name was Swedish; I won't give out the name for security reasons. However, it's been said that "Swedes have short dicks but long memories." I submit that in my case it only looks as if my member is short because of the extraordinary size of my balls.

Not many comments lately. Me, I thought my take on Congressman Mike was hilarious. Especially since it was essentially all factual.

No matter. Just because you read doesn't mean you have to comment. But if you don't I will hunt you out like the vermin you are and expose your considerable defects, physical and mental, to the world, by calumny and obloquy and umbrage and flatigious laceration. Yes, for failure to comment, I vow to capture you, you hapless slugs, and dump you in a bowl of salt and watch your green lives explode into a vengeful foam.

Are we clear?

At 2 Kilobunnies

Love always,

Dr. Chaffin

Monday, May 21, 2007

New Poem; Also the Parnassian vs. the Conversational

An Apology for Bad Poems

I’ve been talking at you for years
like a deaf grandfather. I don’t mean
to lecture, that’s death for poetry.

But if poetry can’t compete
with “The Wall of Death,”
at least it can be a Ferris Wheel.

At the zenith of our revolution together,
your head jerking like a gopher sitting sentry,
I’d like to hear, “Grandpa, what’s that?”

“That’s where the A-Bomb hit in ’62.
Nothing grows there except man-eating radishes.”
“Really? And Grandpa, over there, over there!”

“That’s a whale sunning himself in a tree.
Those are sea otters flying about.
The gleaming carousel is made of abalone.”

“And there, Grandpa, what’s that?”
“That’s the Red Giant, gouty Antares
limping out to milk his Apatosaurus.”

“Really? What does the milk taste like?”
“Like vanilla ice cream smothered in caramel
and melted into a thick, sweet soup.”

We descend and dismount. Carnies bark
from booths overflowing with kitsch.
Sorry, son, the poem is over.

I penned (typed) this one first thing this morning. Notice how deafness recurs as a metaphor for me. ;-)

Incidentally I stole the title for today's poem from Robinson Jeffers.

I'm trying to loosen up my verse a little. But there’s always a catch.

The tradition of Parnassian verse, as in Homer, Virgil, Beowulf, Spenser, Shakespeare (ignoring comedies and comedic interludes), Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, Tennyson—a type of poetry Matthew Arnold wrote of as containing "high seriousness"—seems clearly over.

Yet much of the magic of poetry depends upon such high seriousness, since we must take poetry seriously to set up heroic expectations, or even anti-heroic expectations. (See "The Hollow Men" by Eliot, "Out, Out" by Frost, or "Roan Stallion" by Jeffers. The moderns could still do high seriousness.)

What am I trying to say? There must be a point between the conversational voice of Billy Collins and the often elevated voices of Milosz, Larkin, Yeats and the like.... I think Eliot mixes the conversational with the Parnassian better than anyone:

From “Gerontion":

"The tiger springs in the new year. Us he devours. Think at last
We have not reached conclusion, when I
Stiffen in a rented house. Think at last
I have not made this show purposelessly
And it is not by any concitation
Of the backward devils
I would meet you upon this honestly.
I that was near your heart was removed therefrom."

(italics mine)

I find the conversational more effective when set up by the serious, the empyrean, or the Parnassian, but so few poets can do this—change voices in mid-stream successfully. You have to be very good to do this. Most of us can only write well employing one voice. In reading Jane lately, as good as she is, she doesn't even attempt this. Most poets don’t.

Again, without form verse libre is impotent; without seriousness the conversational becomes banal. The necessary dualisms of great writing are in the very nature of writing, just as Shakespeare relieves the political machinations of Henry IV with Falstaff.

Here’s a different example of coming from the conversational to a conclusion of high seriousness (Yeats):


I met the Bishop on the road
And much said he and I.
'Those breasts are flat and fallen now,
Those veins must soon be dry;
Live in a heavenly mansion,
Not in some foul sty.'

'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.

'A woman can be proud and stiff
When on love intent;
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent.'

(italics mine)

Since first being enamored of poetry, I have been enamored of poetry of power. I find Plath powerful at times but not Collins. Dylan Thomas is powerful, as Larkin can be, but Walcott rarely. Milosz can do it, though he is a bit jagged. Coleridge's "Rime" must be the most powerful poem ever written in the sense I mean.

I wrote an essay called "Power Lyrics" several years ago in which I tried to develop this theme more clearly, but I doubt I'll ever explain it properly; it's like what Blackwell said about pornography; I know it when I see it.

What is even more powerful is when the poet has the skill to interrupt serious verse with a snatch of the intimately conversational, even ridiculous, or vice-versa, which takes us completely by surprise and works despite (and because of) the momentary jarring of switching inputs.

If you are confused by these points, it is the fault of the author, not your brain. Maybe I’ll nail the concept another time.

All for today,


Saturday, May 19, 2007

Baby Steps

"Jealousy" by Edvard Munch:

Since coming out of my depression, now on firm ground for nearly a month, breaking into kilobunnies at times, clean and sober save for my prescribed medications, I have had a return of sanity to my art as well.

I have been guilty in the past of whining in a corner, decrying the state of contemporary poetry, jealous of the successful, feeling my "genius" ignored, yada yada piss bam boom.

I recall a moment of sanity I had once in Palm Springs, where in driving around I noted that over 25% of the cars on the road were Mercedes Benzes. A twinge of jealousy pricked me; why did they have such handsome buggys while I drove a beater? I was a practicing doctor, wasn't I? Then it occurred to me: they had worked for them, budgeted for them, else sacrificed to lease them. In a word, they had earned them. And I hadn't. I hadn't even tried.

Get real, Dr. Chaffin!

Back to poetry. In the same way I have half-heartedly sent out a few submissions now and then, completely inconsistent, the rejections either provoking me to despair at having no talent or to disdain for the editors who lacked the wisdom to perceive my gifts.

I have just completed sending out 40 submissions to paying journals both by snail and electronic mail, depending on the guidelines. To the best of my ability I seriously studied the preferences and examples of each magazine and sought to tailor my submissions to their wants.

This is so elementary that it unfailingly appears in every writer's guidebook in the very first chapters. Instead of listening, I have wasted so much time complaining about the state of poetry that I never tried to get on the bus in earnest. (This attitude did result in some good essays.)

Isn't that how most of us are? Experiencing jealousy over the possessions or accomplishments of others as if someone had waved a magic wand and dropped such things in their laps?

Get real, CE!

The Chinese pictograph for danger is also the symbol for opportunity.

It's been said that "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity."

Wish me luck. I've decided to start behaving as a grown-up when it comes to my art.

Thine in Truth and Art,

Craig Erick

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How I Pissed Off Congressman Mike!

(If you just want to see the pictures, scroll to the end of the post.)

Yesterday I was awakened at 7:30 AM by a strange voice.

“Is this Craig? Craig Chaffin?”

Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I said “Yes?”

“This is Mike Thompson, your U.S. Representative, and I want to know why you called me a ‘weenie!’”

“Huh? Oh, in that letter I sent at your site?” I tried to remember, as I write a lot of letters to people who don't know me.

“Do you know my Iraq voting record? Do you know anything about me? Why did you write me such an offensive message?”

Gathering my dream-spattered thoughts: “Well, I assumed I would only get a form letter from you, so I called you a ‘weenie’ about Iraq in case I might actually get a response. Look’s like I did. You know, it’s hard to get the attention of an institution without spraying some graffiti.”


“Never mind.”

“Is it true you are a doctor, a medical doctor?”


“I can’t believe that you, an educated man, would write me this.”

“What, do you want me to apologize?”

“Do you know my record on the Iraq war? I was posterized by the Republicans for visiting Iraq before the war, looking for a non-military solution. And have you heard of the recent McGovern bill for immediate re-deployment of our troops? We only have 171 votes. So it won’t get passed. But I voted for it.”

“Is Pelosi with you on this?”

“Of course.”

“That’s good to know. But why do I hear all this noise of trying to compromise with the Republicans?”

“There is no compromise.”

(On his website he prides himself for being a moderate Democrat known for his bipartisan work.) “That’s refreshing to hear,” I say, “especially with the vetoes and Democrats talking about benchmarks and all.”

“Do you know I’m a vet and I saw my buddies blown up and that I go to Walter Reed every two weeks to visit the wounded?”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Well I do!”

I resisted the temptation to ask, “Are you a chaplain, too, or just a saint?” because at this point I’m wondering what he wants. A medal? An apology? Absolution? A contribution? I mean, who am I? Just some nut case from his district that occupies all of coastal Northern California.

“Uh huh.”

“And I’ve opposed the Iraq War from the beginning. I’ve always voted against funding the war.”

This I tried to check online but I couldn’t find his 2002-03 voting record.

“That’s good to know.”

“So who told you I wasn’t doing anything about Iraq?”

“Oh--when I attended the peace rallies outside your office, it was the considered opinion of all the activists that you weren’t doing enough.”

“Why don’t you tell those people to go protest at the office of someone who supports the war and leave me alone!”

“Are there any other congressman in our district?”

“Uh… no.”

“So where do you suggest we go?”

He couldn't even recommend another congressman to bother.

I suppose you could make this stuff up but I didn’t. Since he called me at 7:30 AM I assume he was in DC. For reasons I can only surmise, my e-mail must have crawled up his tightly wound ass big time. I mean, “weenie?” I’m sure he wanted to wash my mouth out with soap or rap my knuckles like a nun with a ruler, his being a Catholic and a vet and all. I’m sure in Viet Nam he never heard anything worse than, “Watch out for those darn gooks!” Oliver Stone and Stanley Kubrick must have lied to me.

Afterwards I did him the courtesy of researching his record online as much as I could in a few hours, and indeed, he should be proud of his stance on Iraq, the salmon fisheries, and other issues.

But why a relative flew with him on a junket to China in 2005 and who paid for it, I couldn’t find out, so I wrote him back to ask. And what a general partnership in “Travis Webb,” worth $100,000, might be I have no idea so I asked him about that as well. I hear he serves at the World’s Largest Salmon Barbecue in Fort Bragg every year so I told him that I hoped to see him there and meet him in person. I was tempted to sign my new letter, “Your Employer,” but I don’t think he’s ready for that yet.

Ah, the hubris. In a country of free speech my own congressman spends half an hour on the phone with me because I dared to call him a “weenie.” As my employee, how dare he wake me up early in the morning and rant about my insulting him! I have every right to insult him!

What--after all these years dealing with the press and politicians and constituents, does he expect life to be fair? Is he losing touch? Did his wife turn him down the night before so he had to sublimate some anger at an easy target? Or is he just a stuffed shirt Boy Scout type like Shakespeare's Malvolio, wearing crossed yellow garters? Heck if I know (see how he's already helped me clean up my language?).

This kind of behavior can certainly make you doubt the sanity of a politician. He took a shotgun to an ant, a very sleepy ant at that. Luckily the ant, though mistaken about the facts of the congressman’s record, did not take the assault personally—especially since Thompson belongs to the Congressional Sportsman’s Club and I assume has guns, just as our late DA up here, Norm Vroman, was discovered to have a cache of illegal weapons and a small marijuana farm when they searched his house after he died. (Norm would have been re-elected, btw, if he hadn’t croaked. In fact, up here, if we’d contacted Jonathan Edwards we might have been able to re-elect him from the beyond. Everyone's so "spiritual" up here, though I think them more spiritualist. Did Arthur Conan Doyle really have a hand in murdering Houdini? Now there's an interesting story...)

Since marijuana is the biggest cash crop in our county, I regret I didn’t ask him what he was doing about it. I assume, like most politicians around here, he opposes legalization to keep our prices high. And since we need illegals to harvest the grapes and pears, of course he voted against the seven-hundred mile fence down south. That's too bad, because everyone knows that Mexicans steal the jobs Americans are too lazy to take.

All that said, I need to ask you this question to check my own sanity: Have you ever been awakened by a congressman early in the morning who bitterly complained about you calling him a “weenie” in an e-mail message? I submit that this may be one of the strangest occurrences in my long and interesting life. Unfortunately, now I can’t help but think of Mr. Thompson as “Weenie Mike.” I mean, who but a weenie would call up a constituent to complain about being called a weenie? Tsk, tsk.

Here's the good congressman at his wine-promoting site:

Now his face does look a little florid in this one, but I wouldn't accuse him of overindulging in wine promotion--it's probably just too much sun:

1 Kilobunny,

Craig Erick

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Managing a Mood Upswing

At two or three kilobunnies hypomania begins to appear. I chatter; Kathleen says, “You’re moving too quickly.” I multitask, I stay up until 4 AM reading, I charm strangers (who naturally pour out their life stories to me), I think about punching out anyone who disrespects Kathleen, particularly all the idiots who have no idea of how to treat lip readers.

Money worries vanish. I exercise with gusto. My body is in less pain. I pump out submissions like a Saudi king. The world is my oyster again. (Where does that phrase come from, anyway? Oysters are rich, yes, but rather unsightly and very difficult to open, with dangerously sharp edges. Then if the world is truly your oyster you no doubt have underlings to open the oyster for you.)


One great thing about feeling good—a little above euthymia, almost hypomanic—is that one’s quandaries tend to become Seinfeld-like in their triviality.

Take yesterday. I was swimming at the gym. A Latino man entered the lane next to me and began to jog slowly up and down the pool. Each time I passed him I got a schnauze-full of treacly-sweet menthol lime deodorant. Ecch.

(Here’s today’s diversity comment: I’ve noticed an overuse of cologne in this order: Arabs, Blacks, Latinos. My worst experience was being stuck with a rich young Arab in an elevator. Afterwards I searched for turbans in the shape of an atomizer bulbs.)

Back to the gym. I remembered a notice on the locker room door pleading with clients not to use cologne or essential oils or other strong scents, as there had been complaints. So while swimming my requisite mile I was in a quandary as to whether, like a good Communist citizen, I should turn in this reeking pendejo; or whether, as a Libertarian, I should confront him directly if I was sufficiently bothered; or whether, as a Christian, I should turn the other cheek and fuhgedaboutit.

When I finished my laps and entered the locker room I re-read the notice. It only applied to the saunas, which I don’t use! I was off the hook! Oh Happy Day! I didn’t have to make a decision.


It doesn’t take a lot to make me happy on a euthymic day. I am, truly, a different person. Kathleen says: “I’m so glad to have my husband back.” My older brother repeats, “Good to have you back!” All I can say is, “Good to be back!”

But it’s not all good. In my free flowing, equal opportunity, people-bashing humor (though to be fair I am fondest of bashing myself), I’m more liable to hurt Kathleen’s feelings—though I am also quicker to apologize and make up. I’m also tempted to drink or abuse drugs, because I’m feeling so good already what possible difference could it make? It’s as if the increase in mood is so intoxicating I want to speed up the process to get maximum enjoyment out of it. Sly Stone knows I can get even higher. The world is my oyster indeed.

My point? In manic-depression intervention is needed at both arcs of the mood pendulum. Last night I finally dosed myself with antipsychotic medicine after a double dose of my sleep meds failed and I was still going strong on a Michael Crichton novel at 4 AM. Naturally I woke up this morning fuzzier than a sheep’s navel (just short of “the thorazine shuffle”).

Clearly, I don’t want to risk getting too high or I’ll eventually flame out and get too low.

I’m not saying that if you have this disorder you have to micromanage your mood, only that if it accelerates in one direction or the other, you need to pay attention, and fast.

At two kilobunnies,


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tracy McGrady and George Bush

Tracy McGrady, a seven-time NBA All Star, just experienced his fifth first-round loss in the NBA playoffs, although the Rockets took it to seven games. Before the series he said, "This is on me. It’s on me to lead my team to victory."

Overall he played well, but Utah had a better team, especially as their big men were more mobile than Yao Ming (as in Ming vase), an over-hyped player whose offensive limitations and defensive liabilities are rarely mentioned for fear of reducing the NBA's worldwide revenue.

When the series was over, wiping a tear from his eye, McGrady admitted his failure and responsibility, even though during the series he was his team’s most effective player. In his view he could have played better, thus accepted the blame for the loss. There's a manly approach to responsibility and failure, even if a bit harsh.

In The Chronicles of Narnia C. S. Lewis writes that “a king should be the first in battle and the last to retreat." We read about such men in history, like William the Conqueror and Admiral Nelson. They are hard to imagine in this day and age.

Imagine if George Bush, "The Decider," like Tracy McGrady, said: "I decided to go to war with Iraq. It was one of my early policy aims and 9/11 only steeled my resolve to do it. Yes, I had advisers who favored it, but I didn't have to take their advice. I take responsibility for our failure there, and I'm going to do everything I can to get our troops back home. We’ve lost and it’s on me. Time to move on." (Shocking, I know.)

One of the great things about sports, for all the criticism of salaries and steroids, is that athletes can tell the truth about things like responsibility and disappointment. Like McGrady, they can even speak in the first person. For Bush it’s mainly “we” when speaking about the war, and not the magisterial “we” of the Queen but the “we” that implies a country united in a dumbass war. Spin, spin, spin.

Bush rails against our enemies, the violent fanatics, but what is he? His invasion of Iraq has resulted in more violence than if we had not invaded. (Here I say “we” because Congress and the American people initially supported the war, though we now know, recently confirmed by the former head of the CIA, that intelligence was manipulated for political purposes.)

Although it is painfully obvious that the Iraqis are worse off than under Saddam, Bush remains a true believer. I don't think he's mad; I don't think he's evil; I don't think he's merely misguided; I think he actually believes in what he's doing. This qualifies him as a fanatic, because one definition of a fanatic is someone who continues to believe and act upon his beliefs when all the facts point to the contrary. How have suicide bombers in any way advanced the Palestinian cause? How has the invasion of Iraq made the world safer?

Bush still believes that democracy is the best defense against terrorism, and in this he is likely right. The problem is, you can't impose democracy on a primitive, feudal, theocratic society. Such a society must first go through a dictatorship that can guarantee order while promoting modernization before democracy can even be considered. This is what Ataturk did for Turkey and Deng Xiaoping did for China. For Bush and his advisers to be ignorant of this necessary transition seems unfathomable to me.

The recent death of David Halberstam reminds us of the irony of his book, The Best and the Brightest, which exposed a cadre of extremely intelligent, accomplished men whose hubris—a failure to grasp both history and the limits of American power— steered us into the (as yet) still greater quagmire of Viet Nam—something against which even De Gaulle, no friend of America, warned Kennedy not to stick his shoe in.

Unlike Tracy McGrady, Bush doesn’t think he’s lost the playoffs yet. As president all he has to do is use his executive powers to extend the series. Since he is convinced his principles must be right, reality can’t concern him. “Right makes might” is a silly approach to foreign policy—unless the leader of the free world tries to make a Sunday School lesson out of it. Then comedy becomes tragedy. 36,000 more troops are scheduled to be sent to Iraq. Does this mean the first troop “surge” failed? No, the series has just been extended.

Monday, May 07, 2007

My Baby Goes to Her Senior Prom

Yes, that's my baby, Sarah, gussied up for her senior prom. She was actually born after my first wife and I separated, but she spent nearly every weekend of her life with me until I moved to Mexico, when she was already a teenager and not much interested in wasting her weekend with Papa. She's the only daughter I didn't obtain custody of; my other daughters, Rachel and Keturah, are 29 and 27, respectively.

When a father says his daughters are beautiful he is of course suspect. But I've never had to say of any of them, "she has a good personality." Or, "she has a sweet face." That day may come, but I doubt it. They are a handsome lot and will always be beautiful to me. But unlike some, I have objective proof as well!

Because Sarah is seriously interested in pursuing an acting career, she is committed to staying in the LA area for the foreseeable future. She's the only daughter who hasn't yet been up here to visit me in the redwoods. But I'll be down there for her graduation in June. Meanwhile I haven't heard if she was prom queen; she was nominated. All our lives she and I have had this routine: "Who do you think you are, Queen of the Prom?" To which she responds, "And you're chopped liver!" I think I actually got to show her chopped liver at a deli once. She was thoroughly disgusted, although gastronomically she is the least challenged of my picky-eating progeny.

What I'm most proud of is not Sarah's looks but her humility. Despite her getting nearly all the starring roles she's ever auditioned for in community theater and high school, both musicals and dramas, she doesn't act like a diva. She is truly concerned about others and has a natural compassion. She is also charismatic and always draws a circle of friends around her. And, thanks be to God, she's my one daughter who seems to have been spared any trace of the bipolar gene.

I've written three poems about her but I won't upstage her today by posting one. And, of course, as she was the baby we have the fewest baby pictures of her--about which she has naturally complained.

She's pretty grown-up for 18 and will be seeking her own apartment after graduation. She already has a job.

Here's to you, baby!

Love, Papa (chopped liver)

Saturday, May 05, 2007

1 Kilobunny: Flowers, Dogs, Bloggers and Daughters

It's a beautiful sunny day in the coastal redwoods and while walking Kenyon this morning I noted a new flower: Pacific starflower.

Kenyon, by the way, seems to be doing much better. He is playing with his sock, wagging his tail, and on our morning constitutional together he wants to explore the forest. Nevertheless, while walking back home along the side of the road today, due to his poor vision, he ran into a young redwood shrub and turned around and began walking in the wrong direction. He's so hard of hearing now he couldn't hear my voice, but clapping awoke him to his mistake. Still, on the rest of the journey, he had to nose into everything, even venturing into the forest by himself--something he hasn't done in a long time.

He was improving for reasons unknown prior to this new (old) behavior, but his improvement seems much accelerated since we once more obtained a COX-2 inhibitor for dogs, Previcox. It works like Vioxx and Celebrex in humans. If some do not believe animals experience pain, why is Kenyon so much friskier on a pain medication?

Kathleen and I take Celebrex, though in dog years we're not nearly as old (Kenyon would be 84). Besides, I'm the only dog in the duo, since you all must know by now how beautiful Kathleen is.

In reading Ellen Goodman's column today I was briefly miffed that she quotes a blogger at length with no attribution. Would she do that to the Associated Press? To Robert Novak? I think not. The supercilious treatment by newspaper journalists of bloggers is shocking. We are some generic phenomenon to be sampled like water; dip in and see what you get, even quote us, it's only water.

My blog, of course, is more personal than political. Sometimes I feel like Ted Koppel; I started it because we were being held hostage in Mexico by thieves for six months, just as Ted started "Nightline: America Held Hostage" because of the Iranians seizing our embassy. After that crisis was over, however, Howdy-Doody (doesn't he look like him?) found enough crises to go on for another decade. And here I am, nearly two years later, sometimes writing, as in the Seinfeld show, about nothing. Speaking of which I have two musical gigs coming up. No auditions were necessary, I just sent the venues a CD. As for Michael Richards(on)?, where did he get that kinky hair?

I'm becoming more circumspect in my poetry submissions, finally doing what all the books tell you to do: study your market. In the case of poets that means studying the vagaries of the poetry editor. Before submitting to another paying magazine the other day, I actually researched the poetry editor, even found an audio interview where he stated that he did not like "nature poetry"--which is what he mainly publishes in his eco-journal. More tellingly, besides Mary Oliver, the poet he is most fond of publishing is his wife. She has good credits, but I find such literary nepotism distasteful, as at Melic I wouldn't even first-publish staff; family would have been beyond question. I guess some editors are just so objective that they don't need to adhere to the appearance of objectivity, (he said snarkily).

I continue to read Jane Hirschfield in the hopes of meeting her. One technique she uses unabashedly, as old as Homer and as young as Disney, is to personify nearly everything, ascribing sentience to pots and pans and rocks and trees, whatever is in her immediate environment, which lends a magical background to much of what she writes. Another major distinction is the absence of romantic love; so far no important love interest, man or woman, has appeared directly in her work (that I can tell). From her poems I assume she's single, but one is often mistaken when trying to deduce a poet's personal life from her art.

Then Picasso painted his lovers.

(I wish I had the talent to paint Kathleen.)

Oh, and one thing more. My oldest daughter called last night, which she often does when she is "in crisis," like Ted Koppel--but she's one of those people who seems to live their life from crisis to crisis. I said something wise to her I wish I could better exemplify: "Life is not a crisis but a process." She was blaming herself for not folding the wash yet. "Either fold the wash or don't," I said, "but don't castigate yourself for not folding it."

Guilt is mainly a waste of time. It is only valuable if it provokes a change in behavior; if that change is not realistic or wanted, best not to condemn yourself for continuing a behavior; better to accept it.

Accept yourself to change. Don't change to accept yourself!

Must be at 1 Kilobunny,


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Finally, an acceptance; David Schubert, neglected poet?--toxic narcissist

I am happy to announce that my long string of rejections has been broken by a paying magazine, Byline.

It should be out in July. I first sent five poems which the editor found "too edgy," but she took the time to say some nice things, even suggesting another venue (that's the kind of editor I sought to be at Melic). So I immediately re-read the guidelines and examples from the magazine, tuned my voice down to some milder pieces, and she took one.

In other words, if you get your foot in the door, try to keep it propped open.

Does this give me hope? Enough to go on for now.

The other day I bought an old issue of QLR devoted to David Schubert, a man who did little but write poetry, succumbing to insanity and institutionalization by age 30, and subsequently dying of TB at 32. What's interesting about the issue is how many prominent literary lights praise him, and how many personal reminiscences paint him as an extreme narcissist. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, I suspect he was rather bipolar, but he also may have had a narcissistic personality order. BTW, his later poetry ain't bad. Here's a sample, the opening stanza from "Predicament":

"Their love is exhausted in
Family," you told me. It is true
to my experience; what can one do?
To be left with the cinders of recrimination
For what cannot be returned. No,
To live without expectation of
Love. That is like a toothache,
Chronic and infectious. To mock
Your feelings, as someone I know,
Laughing at us all as sexual
Maniacs, is but self-mockery.

In googling "David Schubert" + poetry I found no less than 817 references listed, which surprised me.

Here's a comment from John Ashbery: "I don't think it's demeaning to call Schubert a "poet's poet"--a poet whom poets in particular treasure for the knowledge of the craft of poetry he can give to a practitioner of it, but also one whose work is open and available to everyone."

David Ignatow strongly identified with him. James Wright called him "A Master of Silence" and "inadvertently neglected." Schubert's one slim volume of poems was published in 1960, 15 years after his death. As a transitional poet between the suprarationalism of Eliot and the rationalism of Auden to the stark confessionalism of the 60s, he is an interesting writer, but one I consider more a historical footnote than a major voice. What's interesting about him is his inability to express what he wants to express, how he elliptically misses it and acknowledges the frustration in the same way. His later poems are more direct. His most ambitious, and one of his most successful poems, is "The Voyage."

Many influential literary friends strove to have his only volume, Initial A, published during his lifetime, but failed. Some of them sought this purely out of friendship and pity, truly--which gives us an insight into what may go on at the top tier of editorial discussion. Remember Eliot went to great lengths to have his mother's undeserving poems published and succeeded. (Don't forget Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Stewart, Hugh Prather, Jewel, and Leonard Nimoy.)

As for his private life, Schubert had a bizarre marriage in which he was supported by his wife and which included physical and verbal abuse on his part, though his wife remained inexplicably devoted to him.

Most telling of Schubert's inner life is a quote by his good friend, Theodore Weiss, in a letter to Renee Karol dated April 29, 1941: "It's amazing, the proportions of David's ego. Sitting alone with him, he busy carrying the burden of his 'greatness,' I realise how terribly much the image of his 'genius' has taken hold of him. Thus he's walking me to the subway and suddenly asks me, 'How is it Ted, I feel, I am! such a genius?'"

In reading the verse and life of this relatively (and deservedly so) obscure poet, there is perhaps hope for all poets striving for some sort of recognition in their lifetimes. More important is that we not be deceived or swallowed up by our own narcissism at the cost of reality. It is a good thing this man never became a father, for instance. Then serious poets rarely make good fathers; their egos leave little development for the individuation of their children, unless an understanding spouse ameliorates their toxic self-absorption. (I realize this claim is an exaggeration, but I could cite many examples, such as Stevens and Frost.)

Enough for today. To the tomb of the the unknown poet!


Unexpected Light

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