Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Zombie Haiku

Zombie Haiku as suggested by the lovely Arlene Ang--
six unspectacular things about myself.

My skin is oily
though not scarred bad by acne--
that should be "badly."

Frogs are a symbol
of wisdom and felicities.
Oh to hear them sing!

J. Alfred Prufrock
is my little mutt's given name,
prim like a butler.

Fan of the Simpsons,
I collect memorabilia--
worthless on e-bay.

Fan of the Lakers
my television habit
starts November 1st.

I love blackberries.
their purple glistening beads,
exotic perfume.

My shoes are thirteens
but I sometimes doubt about
the correlation.

1 Kilobunny,


Monday, September 15, 2008

Manuscript Completed! Of Pain and Snails

I finished my "Selected" manuscript today and sent it to the publisher. I can still hardly believe someone approached me to publish a book of my poems. On the other hand, should I be surprised? I've worked hard on what Lou Rawls called "the chitlin circuit," those middling journals who publish me while the august journals look down their collective noses. I like to characterize those journals with the three 'p's: Poetry, Ploughshares and The Paris Review. Yet recently I noted that a journal in which I appeared, The Alaska Quarterly Review, had an acceptance rate of 0.4% or less. Then again, the only reason I appeared in that journal was because a guest editor somehow had read and liked my stuff and solicited me directly. I pride myself on the fact that I filled as many pages as Billy Collins in that issue. But without the favoritism of the editor, without the ad hominem knowledge she possessed of my work, I wouldn't have stood a chance. Thus serendipitous connections count more than talent in many respects. This is old news to the cognoscenti.

My volume will have the simple title: "C. E. Chaffin, Selected Poems and Love Poems, 1998-2008." That is, unless, the publisher thinks I should change it for marketing purposes. But that would be a mistake. My name is the most marketable thing about me, for better or worse. It's my branding, and branding is everything in marketing. Think of "beer" and if you don't think of Budweiser, I'll be surprised.

Meanwhile after completing my ms. and idea for a poem came to me, below, from the POV of a snail.


Night is good for the slow,
with our green-gray skirts of suction.
We like smooth surfaces:
windows, painted wood, plastic and steel.
Do you know how long it takes
to near a promising plant?
Bricks slow us down.

Our mouths won't bite a human,
out teeth are internalized
to trim leaves with precision
and no waste.
The poisons you throw at us
only make us stronger
as your philosopher said.

In the moonlight, our slick
glistening behind us, we approach
the worship of the green
with an appreciation
beyond your fondest religions.
We honor what we eat with feats of climbing,
our weight balancing on tenuous stems.
Not ruminants, our harvest
must be fresher than hay
and we always leave some behind,
not like the locusts.

Deer feed down to the nub
indiscriminately. They'll savage
every flower, especially roses.
I'm not saying we leave roses alone,
but in general we leave
more than enough for another bloom.

Our cuts aren't fatal, we are not gluttons.
We feed with wisdom and it's slow going.
Our shells are little protection
against you, unlike the birds.
When a human heaves us
at a wall, we don't recover
and magically turn into slugs,
our lesser brethren: We die.

Have pity on us.
Have you never admired
the spiral patterns of our shells,
the beauty of our long necks
with our eyes on slender stalks?
The delicacy of our approach?
If we were horses it would be different.
A belly-walking gastropod
cannot compete in sympathies
with animals who have legs like you.

It's more an honor to be eaten,
steamed in butter and garlic
in an oval of bread
than wasted against a wall.
“Give and it shall be given.”
We yield ourselves without complaint.
Your garden will survive us.
Can't we come to some
slow compromise?

Truly, the deer and our own cats have damaged my garden much more than snails this year. A little PR for gastropods is not out of order.

I continue in great physical pain. Or if not great, significant. I fear the pain medication I'm taking may be bad for my mood, so I walk a tight wire between physical pain and depression. If I had no medicines for physical pain, I fear I might stay in bed the whole day. Given my nature, this is not probable, but my first hour after awakening is always a trial. Maybe if I had a protective shell and moved slowly at night I'd do better.

1 Kilorat,


Friday, September 12, 2008

9/11: World Trade Center Kaddish

I wanted to do something for 9/11. The poem below was published in Small Spiral Notebook not long after the tragedy. I have purposely not revised it.

In Memoriam,


World Trade Center Kaddish


America, your confidence is shaken.

Though patriots say your resolve is steeled,
we now know steel melts at 1500 degrees.

In the ground are empty sockets.

Some say "The chickens have come home to roost,"
like Malcom X after Kennedy's death.
Some say, "Forgive, don't bomb the innocent."

Debris fill the cavities.

Myself, I hated the towers'
garish imposition on space
but we can't always choose our symbols.
Still, I won't buy a tee shirt.

Build it and they will come,

Blow it up and they will die.

Do you hear James Earl Jones' voice?
He's the real voice of America:
Verizon local and international.
What should we put in his mouth now?

"Be comforted, America,
you will not weep forever.
Temper your fervor with grave introspection.
Remember rain falls on the just and the unjust
and a rich man rarely enters heaven."


America, you are not a Christian nation
for there are no Christian nations.
Christ said, "My kingdom is not of this world."
His kingdom was not attacked.
But how should we respond?

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing.
Better nothing than slaughter innocents.

America, if you must do something,
do something audacious:
"If you sin, sin boldly," Martin Luther said.

But let the innocents first know,
let pamphlets rain from the sky
and overwhelm the lie
that we are the enemy.

We come against all isms

America are you awake yet?
War is messy, the innocent die.
America, are you sure
you still have the stomach for this?


Black woman in white face.
Is this Pompeii?
No-- nothing is preserved.

What happened to the skyline?
Manhattan's pillars imploded
and Samson's hair was jet exhaust

The lions still flank the midtown library
but offer us no riddles.
Fire has made us one:
The ash survivors wear
contains the victims.

Have mercy, O God.


Someone cut a slice out of the Pentagon,
black smoke coughs incinerated braids.

Worse is the memory
of space no longer occupied,
where sudden ghosts are left
with nothing real to haunt
save vacant air and a pit of debris.

How many ways are there of not approaching
this atrocity, this national violation?

America, you have been put in stocks
for all the world to see.
Feel the whip of the turbaned Puritans?


Maybe nobody cares about us rich Americans
but even a lion gets hungry.

I fear for you, Saddam.
I fear for you, Iran.
I fear for you, Afghanistan.

We do not hate your people
but "a fly makes the perfumer's ointment stink."
To succor means complicity
and it is hard just to remove the fly.


Savagery grinds the human heart
to a flint too dull to spark.
War makes monsters of good men:
How much more the evil ones!
Good-night, Lieutenant Calley.

And never presume that people fight
for the right cause for the right reason.
Used car salesmen all,
buffeted by opinion, suspended
between the profit and the loss.


I have two cars, two computers,
two televisions and an ocean view.
They have clay huts and a copy of the Koran.
I did not get here by accident. Did they?

I should stop watching TV and read the Bible,
I suppose, wherein Job utters:
"What I greatly feared has come upon me."
But I am too angry and astonished to concentrate.

When I took my Pakistani friend
to a Gay Pride Parade, he said,
"Back home we'd simply
line 'em up and shoot 'em."

Does God bless Pakistan, even Afghanistan?
Of course.
His rain falls on the just and the unjust.


I am proud of Flight 93
but I can't understand
the others' timidity.

Box cutters?

With a flotation pillow for a shield
and an oxygen cylinder for a club
those ignorant fanatics
could not have withstood me.
(Note to my Pakistani friend:
one hero of Flight 93 was gay.)

For whom shall we die?
For you, America?
For God? For Allah? For country?
How does one die for his country?
Isn't that too abstract?

America, you are an ideal
and a very imperfect incarnation.
We can only die for freedom
else live in slavery.


I want to cleanse my mind of television,
do a hard-disk wipe of talking heads
whose earnestly raised brows
bring twenty-four-hour dissection:
the importance of being earnest.

America, turn off your televisions.
Grieve with the living for the dead
who are more than information,
more human than ourselves even,
having achieved mortality first,
the destiny that most unites us.


To die for freedom
is the ultimate freedom.
To murder in the name of God
is the ultimate slavery.
It is not about religion,
it is about fanaticism.
As C.S. Lewis wrote,
"Whatever becomes a god
becomes a demon."

I have seen the doll's-eyes of young cultists
chanting sacred syllables in the street,
invoking angels, posing beatific from a holy brainwashing.

If you meet the living God
I do not think he will ask
about the angel of destruction
(who measures righteousness
with an abacus) or how many bodies
he put to sleep before bedtime.
In heaven terrorists may be located
only with great difficulty
in hell's Classifieds.


I have an Iranian barber.
He cut my father's hair before mine.
If I stop by during business hours
and the chairs are empty
I know he's praying
so I get a magazine and listen
to the hummed prayers from the back room.
He beams when showing me
pictures of his grandchildren,
dark-eyed, dark-haired, like him.
He is a good man.


I've scattered the ashes
of my parents in the Pacific
but I knew whose ashes they were.

"The greatest forensic undertaking in history"

I know we all want relics--
perfectly understandable in grief--
but does our obsession with bones
too much confirm our materialism?

No mass grave and memorial
with a common belief in heaven
will ever suffice.
Is there no emperor
but the emperor of death's dream?


Yet America is not the Great Satan.
Islam is not the Great Satan.
Israel is not the Great Satan.
Iraq is not the Great Satan.

The Great Satan is an -ism
as in, "My security depends
on my trust in an absolute truth
to make sense of the world.
and I will defend it to the death
because I cannot face the terror,
the terror of doubt true faith requires.”


If America indulged in terrorism
we could blow up the moon.
The effects on earth's orbit, tides and climate
could subsequently be classified as natural:
no increase in pollutants,
just floods, volcanoes, earthquakes,
maybe an ice age or two.

Think of how the moon's absence
would alter the skyline
and how little credit men and nations
receive for what they don't do.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

New Publications

I have some publications up, in Quill and Parchment (feature, for this you'll need the passwords, in order, september and school), Underground Voices and Abandoned Towers (under "Poetry").

I've also had an overture from a publisher but I'll keep that quiet for now, no need to upend good fortune with presumption.

I have been battling the deer, who more than decimated my vegetable garden and took care of a host of blooms as well; the very plants they are said not to eat, mainly of the daisy family, are not even immune to them. I have found but two resistant flowers, zinnias and marigolds. They eat the flowers of petunias, cosmos, lobelia, alyssum, poppies, roses, geraniums, jasmines, and in some cases their leaves well. They resist spices in general, like sage and dill and lavender, but will eat mint. Our persistent drought has made them bold in seeking anything green, even if authorities say they "dislike" it. It's all relative to hunger. I'd eat grasshoppers if I had to.

That said, my mood has improved since increasing my Effexor by 75 mg. a day. I'm glad I thought of it. Too often even the experienced chemically impaired patient fails to suspect his disease first. I should know better. To be fair I was blindsided by the scene of the crime.

Little else to report. I did replant over thirty vegetable starts today with my motion-activated sprayer (Scarecrow) set to spray a swath to protect them against any approaching mammal of a certain size. This includes humans, sometimes to my guests' dismay.

Tomorrow I pour wine at a Subdudes concert. Pretty good ticket for me. Wish you were there.



Tuesday, September 02, 2008

New Publication, Old Poem, Holding at 2 Kilorats

Here's a new publication on the theme of parents, where I am lucky to be the featured poet: Quill and Parchment

To enter, the passwords are "september" and then "school."

My mood remains fragile, I am navigating melancholy with appropriate fearfulness, hoping the disease of depression will remain at bay, but just last night at a meeting of men where I know I am loved and accepted I felt like the complete outsider, and the long view of my life being worthless wants to creep into my mind and declare me an utter failure, but these depressive symptoms are recognizable and I intend to view them as a tourist views a city, not owning them for my self. I still have a sense of self, though tenuous, as in deep depression my self becomes an abstraction and I become depression incarnate: hopeless, helpless, worthless, angry, sad, fearful, incapable of love, pleasure, or human connection. I will see my shrink tomorrow and see if I should increase my adjunctive anti-depressant, Abilify, even more.

Some spider bit my ass repeatedly and Kathleen says the bumps make a smiley face. LOL!

Pray for me, or if that is too much, think of me with favor--as I so dread dropping into a drop-dead depression again. I was recovering steadily before the motorcycle accident; now I'm on shaky ground again.

Here's a revision of a villanelle I sketched during my depression, where the fog proves a prescient metaphor, I think, for the black dog:

Through Fog

Encapsuled in the intimacy of mist
Our visibility’s but fifty feet.
World within world we exist.

My markers vanish, the road dips and twists
As if its narrowing shoulders have to meet
And marry in an intimacy of mist.

I want to scream, I want to raise my fist
And curse the small circumference of our light.
World within world we exist.

This driving makes me itch. I should desist.
We follow dim tail lights like idiot sheep
Pastured in an intimacy of mist.

Back home we make a fire, share a kiss.
The fog’s outside, a monster in a sheet.
World within world we exist.

Head on your lap, relieved, I feel blessed.
Your belly's breathing makes my being complete.
Conjoined, one droplet in the intimate mist,
World within world we exist.

2 Kilorats and holding,


Unexpected Light

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