Sunday, August 31, 2008

Near Relapse, A Poem, On Will

I've been a bad, bad blogger as I have not blogged in nearly two weeks. Ah, the suspense! Has he retrogressed into depression, are his joints regenerating, can he play an acoustic guitar yet? Are there new publications, new formulations? What happened to his theory of the mind?

Yes, I had a meltdown after briefly visiting the scene of the crime, my sister's house where I underwent electroshock as an outpatient and worsened with each seizure (plus Invega). I came to tears about it Friday, indeed dipped into the bone closet for a spell, but my loving wife and neurochemical manipulation promise better, though I must stay on an increased dose of Abilify for now.

My joints hurt mucho but I am curiously glad to be alive, presently in that transition phase where sleeping with my head to the side is nearly possible for half an hour before pain intervenes. It is hard for me to play the acoustic guitar, my left ring and pinkie fingers are numb and the dorsal extensors of my left forearm are weak as well. July 21 was the accident date; it will likely take a year or more for the central neuronal axons to regenerate, and physical therapy cannot increase the rate of nerve growth. Patience, in other words.

There are new publications, but for now a new poem:


A tongue of lacy foam
nudges the stranded bull kelp
upshore. Caramel bulbs float,
pulling brown snakes behind
like heavy hoses, brittle when snapped,
coiled in Medusa mounds
the color of molasses,
pods softly popping under heels

Sea-glass sparkles beside
abalone fragments, prisms of pink
and the mussel's sky blue and limpet rings.
The tide rises, kelp edges up
onto fine dry sand where strands
desiccate to bitter black.

Far west a storm died,
power done and undone,
telegraphing a swell:
stone-holds were ruptured,
water-trees uprooted,
some with young bulbs thin
as the human amnion.

So I was ripped from my moorings,
sea-story over, sunk down
like dough in a doctor's palms,
seal-heavy in the white glare,
tucked in a bassinet and spirited
away from mother sea, her bells
and voices, the kelp towers.

My theory of the mind foundered upon the shoals of will. Will is the simplest aspect of being and yet the most inscrutable. I cannot move my arm unless my arm consents to move; the body is more a democracy than we think. And initiating action, and what goes into the timing of that, are hard to separate out. Am I willing my fingers to type? Only in a general way; rather I am filling white space with narration and my fingers are obedient servants, like workers in a hive. Having incorporated mitochondria and other organisms into our being, it might be instructive to think of ourselves as a metaorganisms, a colony of ants, for instance, with the ego for queen. And the link between mental control and physical action is interdependent; I will a muscle to flex, it flexes--unless emotion or danger forbids--

Should I punch back if punched? And what are the consequences? Or do I reflexively punch back without a thought, like a spring mechanism? Or does the latter only occur when the challenger seems weaker? If I'm cold, do I actually will myself to bundle up or do I grab an extra blanket without thinking? Existence occurs by bodily participation, be it only the sensors on alert. Imagine living without moving. To move is to live, if it is only movement of the mind, a concerto of neurotransmitters chattering.

I've weakly answered my opening questions.

If I had anything to say to you it would be to bet your life on love, practice love in all you do, aspire to act lovingly even when you feel antipathetical toward compassion; the discipline will fill the empty times, the reward is greater than you imagine.

Fragile, near two kilorats,


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gardening, Pets and a Summer Poem

It is a sweet and golden day here on the Mendocino coast, nearly windless with the occasional sound of a wind chime, the tinkling of my glass mobile of a lighthouse, and the sandpapery slidings of a windsock decorated with tropical drinks.

Our favorite aestival drink has become the "pink monkey," a mixture of vodka, Italian pomegranate soda, Fresca, ice, and a slice of lime. Refreshingly sweet but with the almost bitter clarity of pomegranate, a juice now in vogue for its anti-oxidant properties, but long a favorite flavor of mine. I remember harvesting pomegranates from my neighbors' bushes growing up in SoCal, not that we ever asked permission.

Even in the suburbs I dreamed of living off the land. There are still few thrills for me as great as drinking fresh creek water. The first time I drank from a stream, backpacking in Big Sur at the age of 14, I was taken aback that water could simply be sipped from an open source instead of arriving, chlorinated and fluoridated, through a stainless steel pipe. The best things in life are free, indeed, as were the blackberries I harvested today twenty feet from my front door, which I mixed with vanilla yogurt for a wonderful brunch.

It's been a dry spring and summer here and the deer, now searching everywhere for green tidbits, have effectively decimated my garden. Last night they topped the broccoli and brussel sprouts which leaves me with no crop except for the few flowers they won't eat, zinnias and marigolds among them. I may convert my garden to flowers only, though there is still time to plant some winter crops, but before I plant anything new I must deer-proof the garden. At present I have but one "scarecrow," a motion-activated sprayer that discourages mammalian pests, but I need at least two to protect the garden, plus some deer netting to throw over select plants. Do I have the gumption to start over again? I think so.

I think of my first garden on the coast as an experiment. Curiously its greatest enemies have been our cats, who love to dig up new plantings, and the damned deer. Gophers have been absenet and insects not much of a problem. Since we rent I have no ambition to put up a fence, not to mention that it would disturb our ocean view. But I am no longer unapprised of the hazards of gardening here. Deer will eat almost anything in my experience, though they do have a preference for roses and edible greens. They sampled my apple mint last night, about to bloom, but did not devastate it, evidence that perhaps mint is not on their preferred menu.

Kathleen, after a year since Kenyon's demise, is ready to adopt a new dog. We looked at an Australian heeler mix the other day, a lovely, athletic, freckled beast of medium size, but she was so energetic that I did not look forward to minding her during the day while Kathleen is at work. I don't think I have the energy to keep that dog entertained; it would likely be in constant motion and in no small danger of escaping and exploring the adjacent State Park unless tied up. I've always wanted an Irish Wolfhound, as my size makes such a dog look normal-sized, but Kathleen points out how much room it would take up and how much food it would eat.

It is a worldwide scandal, America's fixation with pets, as many are better fed than the world at large, not to mention the excellent veterinary care in a world where most veterinarians earn their keep by treating cattle and other more valuable animals in the economy. In Mexico dogs were no more or less than furry burglar alarms, and their relative neglect was shocking in view of American prejudices. Other nations employ animals; we anthropomorphize them. Is it all Disney's fault? At least in 4-H students learn to groom their animals for slaughter, while the housepet remains an end in itself. I do think the Paris Hilton chihuahua fad has gone too far, however, since we heard of a wedding our friends gave in Mexico with Chihuahua bride and groom (appropriately dressed) a reception for 100. I'm told it was a "black nose only" affair, with exceptions made for bipeds.

Through the accident I've lost a month of my life and am just catching up with correspondence and other duties, though I might have saved my garden if I'd been feeling better. As it is I don't mind feeding the deer if only they had better manners and could wait in line to have their hooves stamped.

I recently joined a blogging network on Facebook and discovered that poet Ann Marie Eldon had over 200 regular subscribers to her blog, which I found astounding. Props to her. It is mind-boggling that a platform like Facebook automatically fills in the statistics for blogs when you sign up for their network, if a little embarrassing for my dearth of regular subscribers. Then I have not always been the most regular of bloggers, nor do I promote myself much beyond writing.

Wednesday our magic bed arrives with its mattress of extra-firm latex foam, the best sleeping surface I have discovered. Our old joints scrape and grate with anticipation of a partial reprieve from the assault of nightly gravity.

For today's poem I want something summery, so I'll paste in one from my years in medical school in Galveston in the late 70s. Galveston has a climate of 80/80 six months of the year--80% humidity and 80 degrees. I have never been more uncomfortable physically in a climate than when I lived there, but since summer took up half the year, I did write a number of summer poems.

Mid-Summer Invitation

The humid night sits on a rocking chair.
Cicadas, crickets melodize the air.
The summer's fullness pushes through the screen
like a ripe pear.

Faraway, radios sing and blare.
A dog insists a cat was nearly there.
An automobile's signature of wind
tingles my hair.

I dream the dreams of summer, I loaf and loll.
I will not wrestle with a thorny soul.
I'm sinking in a dish of mint ice cream, with chocolate
running around the bowl.

Join me then. Here is a mild cigar,
a glass of beer, one shy small summer star
and this my porch. We'll rock and sip and smoke and talk
and talk some more.

(published in Arkenstone, 1978)



Monday, August 18, 2008

To My Left Pinkie, Revised

Here is a second draft of my pinkie poem:

To My Left Pinkie (three weeks after the motorcycle accident)

You were not sprained as I twirled,
suspended as if on a rotisserie,
slamming each shoulder in turn
before my helmet broke
and I lay supine on Highway 1.
How dare you play the fool
and insist it's you that hurts!
Alien digit on my keyboard
punished by each 'a' and 'z,'
you would make my neck a liar.

Faintly I feel your origins
descend my inner arm and elbow
down to the ulna's tip until
pain absolutely concentrates
in your three-jointed misery,
as if you were freshly broken
or come too near to frostbite--
but there's no bruise or swelling
just your wrinkled cylinder
with two tufts of blond hair.

In pain's intensity
your pink and yellow flesh tones
seem strangely psychedelic.
Are you showing off?
How odd to be upstaged
by such an undistinguished part!
The indignity! I can no longer play
a 7th chord on my guitar, a demonstration
of how the body boils down pain
to elementary deception.
Should I accept this, rail at you
and indemnify my spine?
Who switched a deuce for a queen?
And if I can't trust your trumped-up signal
how can I trust anything?

You have hoarded the free currency of pain
inside your little bank, out-shouting
all my separations, dislocations,
compressions and abrasions.
Perhaps the Empiricists were right.
Perhaps a headache comes
from undetected hemorrhoids,
bursitis from a hangnail,
my fluttering eye's tick
from an abraded knee.
So much for the perceiver.
If you were a middle finger
I could make the right response.

Your insult is one of disproportion,
encapsulating suffering
into one mean appendage,
oppressed and oppressing,
without splint or dressing,
a nothing turned celebrity
in the mistaken pagination of the brain.
Traitor, puppet, fall guy, shill,
least valuable of digits!
Worm not worthy of a ring,
usurper of my first-born pain,
poseur, impostor, not even
my first choice to pick my nose
when it should be my neck on the marquee!
Still “ouch!” means “ouch!” I yield
the floor to a deceptive field;
perception's not all it's cracked up to be.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Poem: To My Left Pinkie

Here's a fresh draft regarding my recovery and referred pain. I owe the idea of this piece to Scott Murphy and his wonderful poem, "A Conversation, a Praise." No doubt this poem on a phantom tweak needs some real tweaking before I put it in a finished folder. Comments and criticism appreciated.

To My Left Pinkie

You were not sprained as I twirled
as if suspended on a rotisserie, slamming
each shoulder before my helmet broke
and I lay supine, a failed gymnast
in a hair-raising routine.
You make my neck a liar:
the pain comes from my cervical disks,
old donuts leaking jelly on the nerves,
not from some local dislocation.

I'm past the blackout pain, a telegraphic
shock sharper than any razor stropped,
as if my arm were an electric cattle prod,
my scapulae molten bomb fragments,
my ribs losing their welds,
barbed wire around my thorax
like a poisoned barrel hoop.
Three weeks post-accident
you have achieved a stardom undeserved,
you, alien digit on my keyboard
punishing each 'a' and 'z.'

Faintly I feel your origins
descend my inner arm and elbow
down to the ulna's tip until
pain absolutely concentrates
in your three-jointed misery.
You ache as if you had been broken
or come too near to frostbite
but there's no bruise or swelling,
just your wrinkled cylinder
with two patches of blond hair.
In pain's intensity, your pink and yellow flesh tones
seem strangely psychedelic.
How dare you play the fool
and insist it's you that hurts!
You, you were spared, no miner's canary
but a turd left in the tunnel after rescue.
So easy to ignore before,
I'm sorry I underestimated you.
I pledge allegiance to the body's meanest parts,
all are potential understudies
in the drama of pain's economy.

How odd to be upstaged
by such an undistinguished part.
The indignity! I cannot play
a 7th chord on my guitar, rude evidence
of how the body boils pain
down to an elementary deception.
How can I rail at you and indemnify my spine?
Who switched a deuce for a queen?

Your pain enlists a mother board
of cervical and other plexi
whose interwoven signals
processed through a blind committee
agree you are the victim and the oppressor,
symbol of all that alienates us from ourselves.
If we can't trust the origin of sensation
how can we trust anything?

Locke, Berkeley, Hume, I take it back.
“If a tree falls in a forest,” ha!
It may be that a headache comes
from undetected hemorrhoids,
bursitis from a hangnail,
the tick of my fluttering eye
from an abraded knee.

Pain is a currency, it seems
free traded throughout the corpus,
for me now hoarded in a pinkie bank.
Of all my separations, dislocations
and compressions, you claim pre-eminence.
If you were my middle finger
I could make the right response of you.
Instead I use my right hand to curse you.

Mainly your insult is one of disproportion,
how you encapsulate my suffering
into a small appendage,
oppressed and oppressing,
in no need of splint or dressing,
a nothing elevated to celebrity
in the tabloid of the brain.
You, traitor, puppet, fall guy, shill,
least valuable of digits!
You, worm not worthy of a ring,
usurper through your phantom pain,
poseur, impostor, bastard of extremities,
not even my first choice to pick my nose
when it should be my neck on the marquee!
Still, “Ouch, ouch!”--you win!

Unstably Yours,


Thursday, August 14, 2008

On Rachel's Death

We just passed the anniversary of my daughter's memorial service. Prior to that, on the anniversary of her death, we scattered her ashes where the river meets the sea on the Mendocino coast, where she and Jacob had played together.

It was tough but also freeing. Amidst my tears I lost control of the empty bag of ashes while being pushed at once from both the river and ocean currents. I almost fell in. I didn't recover the bag. There's a poem in that.

While looking through a draft file last night I found a three-line sketch and re-formatted it:

On Rachel's Death

The hole
in the ground
left by the tree

the hole left
by her life
or my life
or any life

always lacks
dirt enough
to cover
the uprooted

Loss is a coin
tossed down
a depthless well;

you listen
for a splash
that never


I'm in some sort of mixed state, can go from anger to worry to sadness to confidence to happiness in a matter of hours. I've increased my Abilify dose because of it.

Aren't some of the Olympic commercials terrific? Love the United ads.

In Kiloinstability,


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Of Time and Tolle

It's been a while, hasn't it? Almost two weeks. I spent one week at music camp, where I felt isolated by the cliquishness of the other participants, not to mention that I am more a blues/rock player than a dabbler in traditional Celtic music. Unable to use my left pinkie, I appeared at camp with my ice maker (rather than ice breaker)--a little battery-powered amplifier for my electric guitar, whose fingering is easier, thus I could play a little--but the acoustic warriors did not seem happy with the surprise, though I played at acoustic volume.

I felt like an outcast, truly. I am not an unfriendly person but I found Lark Camp to be a pretty closed phenomenon. Many insiders had been coming for over a decade, eager to play with their long-lost friends. I wish I could have been a friend found, but it was not to be.

Upon arriving home I had to prepare for performing the following two days, at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens Saturday and the Noyo Food Forest on Sunday. These gigs went passably well, but my heart was not much engaged. I felt more like a jukebox distraction than an artist pouring out his soul. But that is the meaning of professional: You do it because you're committed, not because you necessarily want to on a given day. Imagine if doctors said, "I don't feel like doing surgery today." The world would fall apart. Civilization depends upon the contract between personas, our social selves, and our responsibilities--even if so minor a thing as playing music for a benefit.

I have plateaued, it seems, in my recovery. The acute pains of nerve entrapment have quieted somewhat, but the persistent aches slow me down. I have maybe 50% of normal neck motion. My shoulder motion is somewhat greater, good enough to impress the orthopedist not to do surgery on my shoulder separation three weeks out. He said it should have been done acutely but that scarring now would require a larger operation and it was better simply to pursue physical therapy and reserve surgery in the event that the pain proved intolerable long-term. I had surgery on my back once before for long-term intolerable pain and it was a disaster that led to my disability.

My family doctor wanted an MRI of my neck to define the disk injuries and rule out occult fractures, but given my 20% co-pay, which would amount to over $500, and the fact that I'm relatively stable, we have decided to table it for now. I'm sure my cervical spine is just as messed up as my lumbar.

I had an emotional meltdown yesterday with at least three crying spells. I think it was the backwash of the accident, over which I had never wept, combined with my feeling of rejection at the music camp and Kathleen's ongoing dip in mood, in part related to my brush with death. How do you apologize for an accident? God knows the thought of losing her would send me into a tailspin. I think we should rather consciously rejoice in the miracle of my escape, but sometimes that's hard to do.

I have two new poems out in Centrifugal Eye, "Radiated" and "The Dust of Guanajuato." Both poems concern, coincidentally in the wake of my accident, physical problems--sunburn and air pollution. I have Lynn Strongin to thank for recommending the magazine to me; she has work in there as well.

I have been of late overwhelmed with spam and I blame Facebook for the most part, along with a program meant to alert me to others' birthdays. Both applications required a password to search my address list, and in all this trading of information I suspect the spam bots got a toehold. It's tedious to paw through my junk mail, but I could miss letters from editors if I don't. Perhaps I will begin to utilize another of my addresses until the spam typhoon dies down, but I've had my hotmail address for over ten years. (Did you know the founder of Hotmail, who sold out to Microsoft, is now trying to build a utopian city akin to Silicon Valley in northern India?)

I finished "The Power of Now" by Eckhart Tolle, and I have tried to practice remaining in the present, but sometimes my emotions get the better of me, along with thoughts of the future and the past. He claims we are all filled with the light of God, it's only a question of how much we become conscious of it. His message is not greatly different from other spiritual gurus like Baba Ram Das (Richard Alport) in "Be Here Now."

I want to honor the present and be present in the present but the present includes so many distractions, like the numbness in my left pinkie as I type. I don't want to focus on that or my aches and pains; it's easy to be present with pain, but that is an alarm of the body and not the fullness he seeks. I give him points for clarity, but he does demand a big leap of faith, since he supplies no reason for us to believe that Christ, or The Divine, lives in us all; he assumes it as a fact and goes from there.

Traditional Christian doctrine would require a submission to the Holy Spirit to have a foundation for access to eternal love within, but who am I to limit the reach of God? I journey towards the present but find so many detours, as in my ambition to clean up my desk today. Perhaps I can make that a test of presence, though no doubt sorting dead-tree correspondence will often return me to the past and the future.

I've also been reading Jung and his disciples, and again I am fascinated at how much his psychology depends upon the interpretation of archetypes in dreams. (I have tried to remember my recent dreams but keep losing them in the present.) Whereas Jung seeks integration of the conscious with the unconscious through mediators like the anima, the feminine guide for man, Tolle wants us to draw on an inner well of joy that he claims is always present. And strangely, in my presently labile emotional condition, I feel a monumental sadness while also conscious of an underlying unity and joy, though yesterday the sadness overwhelmed me, but the latter felt suspiciously like "bad chemicals."

The Beatles sang that Love is the answer and it is. But how to apply that inwardly in everyday life brings me to an impasse. I find it much easier to help my brother in need when opportunity affords than to think about my own spiritual state. I would like to be filled with light at all times; alas, I am only human, and the light shines when it will. Perhaps it shines brightest when I am least aware of it. But it seems there are too many shadows in me for the light to pierce the fog consistently, although Tolle, no doubt, would tell me to forget about dreams and dream the present.

Here's a new poem:

After the Accident

Third degree abrasions peel,
a scab falls and another.
I network through DNA,
my business cards abound.
Floss flicked a filling out,
it rattled on the floor.
My tongue explored the jagged
grotto of amalgam's absence,
another part discarded.
Here a nail, there a hair:
after a while it adds up.

My left collar bone pushes
my skin up like a tent pole.
But where did the trapped gas go
when the ligaments popped?
Could I have breathed it out,
sent a postcard to the ambient air?
I wonder I'm not whittled to the quick.
I wanted my poems to be dolmens:
the body decides.

From Kilorats to Kilobunnies in the same breath,


Unexpected Light

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