Friday, October 31, 2008

The Sound of My Voice and Notes Ephemeral

I have a new publication in Qaartsiluni, "Tectonic Illusion." Q is a fine online journal with much good writing to recommend it. It took me two tries to get in. I also have an audio version there, if any have a wish to hear my voice.
My piece is the only formal poem in the bunch.

Here's another link to Soundzine with a recording of "Wading the Smith."

And there's always "Where Are the Frogs" at Blue's Cruzio Cafe.

Physically I'm still in bad shape, in a world of pain if it were not for the morphine and Celebrex to mask it. And mask it they do; since returning to my smoking addiction, the early cough and lung pain alarms seem switched off; this poses a danger to my health, but it is worth the trade-off of rising out of bed without dreading it so much. I can lift my arms only in John McCain style. And I still can't play the guitar due to the nerve injuries. 40 years of practice and I'm interrupted. I'll get an MRI soon to see if there's a surgical lesion that proves remediable, but my hope is that time will be my healer--I dread surgery and have historically recommended to patients that they avoid it unless absolutely necessary, for it is violence done to Nature, and Nature usually has a better path to offer.

Better to die of Nature than Science. Let my children and siblings and grandchildren be gathered to my bedside like Jacob when I go, so I can say once more, "I'm the luckiest man in the world!" Which I am!

I've filed papers on Jacob's father to restore grandparents' visitation rights. He left me no choice. My birthday present, arranged surreptitiously through my second daughter, a day with Jacob, was heavenly. How I love that little squirt! (Picture on previous blog.)

I've fought the deer to a standstill and still have my garden blooming under deer netting into November, not to mention some healthy red romaine lettuce for salads. My newly planted blue blossom and princess flower bush add new color. In Mendocino you can grow many plants year round due to the mild climate, though my zinnias are approaching their mutual end.

Tonight I attend a Halloween party and dress up in costume for the first time in over ten years. I go as Caesar because it was the only costume that fit me. But I need sandals, or should I wear cowboy boots for satire? Best to invest in the costume wholly and play the part. Toga, toga!

I have piles of paper on my desk, mostly medical bill disputes. I hate dealing with the bureaucracy on this, since all the work seems to fall on me. Blue Shield doesn't know its asshole from a hole in the ground, truly, and you can never get the same claims adjuster twice. It's all computerized, but much data has not been entered, resulting in eternal co-pay long after I pass the out-of-pocket limit.

I ordered eight new CDs since playing music in my van to LA and back, which gave me a new thirst for music. Two by Leonard Cohen, two by Brahms (complete piano quartets), Dances with Wolves and Natural Born Killers soundtracks, and two by the Grateful Dead. Call me eclectic; my ears hunger for quality in diversity. Brahms arrived first, my favorite composer, and plays in the background as I write.

Much of the trivial today, but the literary ultimately rests upon the apotheosis of the trivial. I've started a new story in the SteamPunk genre for a magazine challenge. You can look it up in Wikipedia; it's a Victorian version of Cyberpunk, roughly.

2 Kilobunnies,


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Journey to LA and Back

I just finished a whirlwind trip to Southern California, where I cleaned out storage, obtained legal help regarding a certain matter, had lunch with old friends and partied with my daughters at various venues, including shooting pool in a gay bar. Last time we went there I was hit on by a man nearly my size but I demurely declined, having no natural urges for such trysts.

For my birthday present my daughter arranged a visit with my grandson Jacob. Here's an old picture (he's six now):

I can't believe how much he reminds me of my late daughter, Rachel: Not only does he have her coloring, but his lanky, athletic movements and supreme distractibility make for a behavioral copy as well. His mother had auditory ADD, and just like with her I had to tell him five times not to step on the pumpkins at the pumpkin patch we visited, whereas with my other daughters once was sufficient. He's a free spirit with boundless energy and it's really hard to get his attention sometimes. I do give credit to his father and grandmother for teaching him good manners.

Anyway, though it had been over a year, he bolted right up into my arms and we played all day. I bought him a play set of Vikings and he said, "Oh Grandpa! I love Vikings! How did you know?" Being Nordic myself, I told him: "You are a Viking."

We carved a ginormous pumpkin later with both a ghost and a bat design. He lost interest in that project quickly and went back to play with his Viking set.

My youngest daughter, Sarah, which means "Princess," while I was there, never traveled with an entourage of less than five. Then she's always been like that, surrounded by friends and admirers. As a stage performer she has charisma, which is hard to explain given her parents' retarded social skills at the same age (19). This only goes to show that personality is 75% genetic, and when the DNA dice roll, you get what you get, even if it doesn't look like or behave like you.

Here's Sarah at her high school graduation with a proud Papa:

In a marathon effort I drove six hundred miles from Long Beach to Mendocino yesterday, averaging 60 mph including gas and food stops. It amazed me since driving down I took two days. But I wanted to see Kathleen so badly and couldn't face another Econolodge.

For any interested in my upcoming book, a hardback for $17.99 due out February 15, you can do me a great favor if you have any connections to literary magazines for potential reviews. I've lined up three already but hope to have ten times that amount prior to its debut. Cross your fingers for me, or better, direct your fingers to a friendly editor to pitch the possibility of a review. And you can also write your own review and submit it (Are you listening, Norm?). To any so inclined in either capacity, I'd be happy to mail you a PDF copy prior to publication, with the hope that having a cyberversion will not dissuade you from buying the actual book.

J. Alfred was, of course, ecstatic to see me and he licked most of the hair off my bald head, I fear, in his excitement. Nice to have a pack animal around.

In all, The River of Life pushed me with a strong current through all the affairs down south, and things went swimmingly. I surprised myself. My usual reaction to the polyglot concrete playground of LA was held in abeyance with an assist from the Grateful Dead blasting as I entered the web of endless freeways.

Did you know California roads rank second to last in the nation? It is estimated that in LA alone, maintenance for a car is increased $800/yr by the bad roads. And rather than repairing our roads, this year's ballot has a proposition to fund a high speed rail between the Bay Area and LA at the cost of megabillions. New jobs are promised. I suppose the relationship between borrowing and job creation is only par for the course in our presently upside-down economy. Who coulda thunk, 100 years ago, that the world would constantly borrow from the future to pay for the present? I wonder what Eliot would have thought of that. Certainly Pound blew his mind over it.

Nothing more to report this morning. I am well. I've also lost more weight, having broken the zero of 260. The key is eating less. Duh!

I mail my ballot today. I may actually vote for the high speed rail as I tire of driving 1200 miles to see my daughters and grandson, though next time I expect I'll fly.

And to Ralph and Eric: Thanks so much for joining me at a historic bar for a three-hour, three-beer lunch. It was divine.

2 Kilobunnies,

Dr. Chaffin

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Dog and the Book

Here's our new dog, J. Alfred Prufrock, whom we recently rescued from the pound:

He's so prim and proper-looking that we felt he needed an English butler's sobriquet, so we settled on the famous character of T. S. Eliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (one of the greatest poems in the language).

J. weighs all of fifteen pounds and is about 15" at the shoulder, a smallish dog. But he overcomes his height in the tall grass, where he likes to chase deer, by jumping in the air with his forelegs held back high above to see. He looks just like a deer when he runs; he literally prances. He lives for gophers and cats. I think his breed must have been meant to be ratters, or rodent police, as he likes to tear up small objects and digs industriously for gophers only to smell disappointment. I wonder what that smells like to a dog.

According to my research, the sheba inu, of which he is certainly a mix, dates back to the 4th century B.C. in Japan, and the breed was rescued by interbreeding three lines after WWII. It was originally raised to flush birds and perhaps hunt wild boar. J. shows an intense interest in birds and likes to chase cabbage moths, sometimes successfully pawing them to ground.

The breed is known to be dignified, bold, energetic and very clean. To see how much J. resembles a purebred, here's a picture of a purebred shiba:

I know there are cat people and dog people and people like my daughter, Keturah, who despise all furred things and prefers reptiles and amphibians. More discussion of our dog would be beyond the scope of my usual narrative. Let me say simply that he's a wonderful dog and I love him. He's stubborn but a pinch collar had him heeling so well I replaced it with a regular collar. He has definitely enlarged my happiness.

My hardback collection, "Unexpected Light" (new title due to the publisher), is slated for release 1/15/09. I hope to arrange a release party. Any close to Northern California should write me for an invite. It will be priced somewhere between $15 and $20, a reasonable amount for a perfect bound hardback with a jacket. I hope everyone who reads this blog will buy one, unless I've spoiled you by giving my poetry away for free. Even so, to have a nice volume in your hand and read a poet at leisure is a different kind of pleasure.

I'm excited about arranging readings and obtaining reviews from magazine editors who have published me. I hope to saturate the litnet with my ubiquitous omnipresence even more so than formerly. I won't go so far as spam or robocalls, but I do intend to do whatever it takes to make the book a success. And if it is not, well, it's only poetry.

2 Kilobunnies,


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Blogging as a Public Diary

This is my 493rd post since I began the blog in July of 2006. How does my blog differ from a diary? First, I don't always write about what's important to me but what I think might interest others. I write for an audience, not my bedroom shelf.

My audience, after two years, amounts to 43 visitors per day, though those 43 are spread across all my posts, due to search engines that track things like poetry and depression. Thus by sheer longevity my blog becomes a bit of a reference document, as a recent visitor struggling with bipolar disease demonstrated, who just discovered it.

What's funny about my wanting to write about what interests others is that I get more attention when writing about my actual life than when I wax philosophical or poetical. I think this is likely because people are starved for authenticity. So often the authenticity that brings initial attention to someone is quickly swallowed up by commercialization. Once a personality has become a celebrity, he soon becomes a commodity, and then you know what to expect--and the personality is likewise constrained by its "image." A small-time blogger has no such restrictions.

Maybe my blog is more of a diary than I think. I write more when I'm depressed, for the therapeutic benefit of gaining distance from myself through words. In that state I need comments to prove I exist, while at other times I have faith that I do and the urge to objectify myself in words decreases. Then blogging becomes more of an occasional diversion.

These mood factors means my blog must be terribly uneven except for the unusual length of most posts, as I find it hard to write less than 1000 words once I get started.

Better perhaps to think of this blog as a public diary, one meant to be read by others. I don't report everything, my privacy restricts some matters, but when I do describe my life, I try for direct honesty laced with humor.

Blogging about blogging must be the nadir of blogging, forgive (or not).

I could cut this post short if I simply posted a poem from my upcoming book, one this blog has not seen:

As If

Below the first cross
of the brain’s junction
with the cerebellum
and the second cross
of the neck’s junction
with the shoulders
is a third cross
where spine meets pelvis,
the first chakra,
site of the commonest human ache
and cause of disability,
a small price to pay for going
where quadripeds can't:

the way of craving and surfeit
or the way of denial and longing,
the way of Narcissus
or the way of Christ
as you alternate
between serving self or others—
best trust your heart
and not think too much.

Step as if
you already stepped
where you are about to step,
balance as if
you already balanced
where you are about to balance,
write as if your words
mean something,
speak as if they do.

It's possible that in 493 posts I already posted this. I'll have to search the archives to be sure. (Tried, didn't see it).

How many mice does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Two, if they're small enough. Ka-Ching!

Flowing in the River of Life,


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Medication Compliance, Poetry, and Cat Portraits

It surprises me, but since I've been feeling better I have developed a slight resentment against all the medication I must take in the morning. It takes three swallows. Here's my menu:


Lamictal: two 100 mg. tablets
Adderall: two 20 mg. tablets
Abilify: one 5 mg. tablet
MS contin: two 30 mg. tablets
Effexor: three 75 mg. capsules
Celebrex: one 200 mg. capsule
ASA: one 81 mg. tablet


Adderall: one 20 mg.


Klonopinone: one 1 mg. tablet
MS contin: three 30mg. tablets

So, that's five medications for mental health, two for pain, and one for preventing vascular problems (aspirin).

At my last visit to my shrink I wondered if we could cut anything. He responded by saying, "You haven't been stable very long, Craig. Just keep taking them and enjoy yourself."

Great shrink! Like all mental patients, as soon as I start feeling better I want to take credit for it, thinking my naturally defective chemistry overcome by my newfound health. This is a fatal misapprehension; fatal.

How many times have I had a patient in practice who felt better, unilaterally stopped their medicines and relapsed?

My worst case was my father. He wouldn't see a shrink so I slipped him some antidepressants and an anti-anxiety agent. After a couple of weeks he felt better and stopped the medicine. After two partial responses to the medicine in the midst of a serious depression, he quit both times. Then he suicided.

Was I a bad son and a good doctor? A good doctor and a bad son? I lacked the authority of a real doctor for my dad, thus the treatment was partially undermined by that, the lack of the empowering mysterium tremendum of the white coat. As a son I had to plead with and cajole my father to take his meds. Perhaps it forestalled his suicide for a time, as we discovered after his death that he had been writing suicide notes since March when he finally committed the deed in November. But it was all for naught. He was from the John Wayne generation and his last note said something like, "It's either the hospital or the end. I can't bear to go to the hospital." His mother had been hospitalized twice for shock therapy and I don't think he could stand the shame. Tragic but predictable, although his death wasn't; we all thought him a survivor.

Thus I adjure you, all mood-impaired citizenry, to keep taking your meds as the price of sanity. It's been shown that if you have one clinical depression, your odds of a second one are great, and your chance of responding to your first successful medicine are reduced in the second go-round. Many psychiatrists advocate a lifetime of medication for one serious depression. I favor giving people one chance with their first depression, maintaining them for a year and then gradually withdrawing the medicine. But in cases of manic-depression, medication is surely needed lifetime, and many first time depressives are later diagnosed with manic-depression.

If the pancreas and liver can become diseased and need insulin replacement and interferon, respectively, we have no qualms. But if the brain is diseased we confuse it with our "personality" in what Ernest Becker calls "the causa sui project," where we attribute the success to ourselves and think that it's actually our own power that has delivered us, when in fact it is simply the treatment of a diseased organ.

You are not your depression; clinical depression means a diseased organ, save in this case it is the organ of consciousness and easy to mistake for your self, a fatal mistake. To all of you who don't know better, and to all you who do, remember to take your meds faithfully until your doctor lessens your dosage. To do otherwise is stupid, and as in my father's case, may result in tragedy. He never got to meet his great-grandson.

Lately I've been happy about poetry again, its possibilities, how the pleasure of a good reading can exceed the joy of a movie or a book of prose. That I labor in this antiquated and unpopular field does not minimize its impact for a few. And the purpose of poetry? No one has said it better than Sir Phillip Sydney of the Elizabethan age, though he stole from Aristotle: "To teach and to delight." In other words, a sugar-coated reality pill (to speak somewhat derisively), or better, an adventure in words that lifts you up out of your reality and gives you the perspective of another, which can be salutary. As for contemporary poetry, there is too much striving for "delight" and not enough teaching, but given the state of culture, any morality is usually rejected out of hand as a violation of boundaries, unless the morality is insinuated so carefully that the reader doesn't know it until it is too late.

I have a little essay in Melic entitled "Poetry and Morality," and another on "Prophetic Poetry," (begin with the tenth paragraph), if any should be interested in further speculation along these lines.

I'm busy proofing the proofs of my "Selected Poems" from my publisher now. It's tedious to proofread. You can't really "read" the poems while doing it; it's more of a housekeeping exercise, and in that frame of mind many of the poems seem limp to a glancing eye. But I know better; I believe in my poetry; my poetry often has the power to get through the modern multi-tasking brain and sometimes stop it cold. This has always been my ambition, a poetry of power, or as I have defined it, "Language distilled into its most powerful form." More thoughts on this in my essay in Tryst.

Here I will break continuity and post a picture of each of our cats for LKD, though I'm sorry to report that I don't know how to transfer new photos from our digital camera directly into my computer through Kodak Easy Share; it seems only the pictures held in the card memory, and not the current pictures, can be uploaded.

Here's Topaz:

And here's Jojo:

The pictures don't do them justice, especially Topaz, who is a beauty and whom we sometimes call "Remedios" after a beauty in "One Hundred Years of Solitude." As you know, our dog's name is J. Alfred Prufrock and I hope to have a picture of him soon.

Meanwhile the weather is brisk and sunny, the pineapple sage is blooming, in fact I have a haiku about that:

pineapple sage blooms
hummingbirds flitter and sup
from the long, red tubes

If you have never smelled pineapple sage, you're in for a treat when you encounter it. Great for iced tea!

And how about a short example of a poem of power?

Keep the Faith

You say two friends were murdered
but it's a nice day
and there must be middle ground
between the abandoned mineshaft
and the Holstein sky.

Ants kill ants as easily as popping sodas.
Some father fish swallow their fry,
others rock them gently inside their jaws.
Sometimes an ox is gored
by another ox and dies.

Sometimes a country sends its young
to float like dynamited carp
in distant rice paddies.
If mercy were based on evidence
I'd shoot you.

So, with medicines and poetic morality, cat portraits and poems of power I leave you.

2 Kilobunnies,


Thursday, October 09, 2008

The "Constant Gardener;" New Publication and New Poem

There's a cold, cleansing wind clearing the coast today from any gray hover, knocking empty plastic pots about, testing the branches of my new princess flower bush, littered with buds, whose deep violet flowers will be a joy--if only it gets enough sun where I planted it partly for shelter for the wind.

I don't think I've spent so much for a plant before. It was $38.99 but well worth the price if it adapts and flourishes. Right now I think the shock of planting and a new environment have inhibited the buds' unfolding. I worry about my plants, I want them to do well, like children in school--they are so helpless, rooted to one place, unable to escape a blistering sun or petrifying wind.

The night before last I forgot to turn on my motion-activated water-spraying deer deterrent, and the wind blew the deer netting off of my new vegetable plantings as well. The deer descended in the night and destroyed the broccoli, cabbage, and most of the kale. I don't mind the broccoli, it was already trying to produce minuscule heads prematurely. It just goes to show how vigilant I must be in my gardening here--one lapse and the whole toboggan crashes. I am dedicated to having a garden; this is the third time the deer have triumphed, but like Winston Churchill I won't give up. Besides, I've only had six months' experience in this new environment, and there is always a learning curve (although most of my instruction has come from the dreaded quadrupeds).

My book deal is on; the publisher is very kind and solicitous and willing to work with me on the layout and design. That's the easy part. The marketing is the hard part. In America trying to market poetry is like trying to sell space heaters in the Amazon. My goal, and it may not sound like much, is to sell at least a thousand copies, a high number for a volume of poems. I hope all that read me here and enjoy my early drafts will come through and purchase copies, and I further hope it gets out before Christmas so it can fill a gift niche.

It has taken a long time for me to recognize my own poetic voice, but I notice that my poems, in journals and anthologies, seem to stand out for one reason: power. I want powerful poems that stop you in your tracks. Subtlety is not my strong point, rather going for the gut-punch. As I have often remarked, a good poem forces you to read it until the end, even if you don't like it. I hope that most of the poems in my volume will rise to such intensity, or I've missed the mark. Kathleen threw in some formal poems I might have excluded from the ms., but I trust her judgment, and at least they function to show I have mastered form, so that my free verse does not depend on false credit like the bailout.

How about that bailout, huh? Too little, too late. If anyone doubts the global economy now they are absolutely in the dark. Still, printing money for bad debts has to be inflationary, and the idea of buying up bad mortgages and reducing them for consumers is beyond socialism: it's Santa Claus dressed in greenbacks. I am morally opposed to the bailout, even if morality has nothing to do with economics, though I suspect it does. If you bite off more than you can chew, spit it out, period. What the government seeks to do is to enlarge the oral cavity and esophagus of consumption with Monopoly dollars. I pray Paulson knows which markets to shore up; even so most economists agree that 700 billion is not enough. Imagine that! I say let the dice roll and the world will take its lumps in order to reform markets to a position where they are not so vulnerable to sneaky derivatives. We can't continue to live off of the future, on imaginary gains and appreciation--this is smoke and mirrors, but greed blinded us. Furthermore, in polling and letters to congress, the majority of Americans oppose the bailout, while our two presidential candidates endorsed it. A financial Iraq, perhaps?

I still have no picture of our new dog, apologies especially to LKD, but I'll get one up soon. He's a scamp and a darling, quick and smart. He's a leaper who has pawed moths out of the air. He may make a good Frisbee-fetching dog once I get him trained, but so far he avoids swimming, which disappoints us, but hope is not lost. You can train a dog to do near anything as long as you don't violate its basic dogness.

As the poem below attests, I have a dear bipolar friend stuck just where I used to be, and it tears my heart out to see him so, thus the new poem. The poor man has lost twenty pounds and is afraid to go out of the house. My empathy for him is my prayer, but though he is older than I he does not understand the disease nearly as well, nor has he endured it anywhere near as long as I have at a stretch. Nevertheless, in clinical depression time is suspended anyway, crawling slowly to the grave, and one day can seem like an eternity. He is under the care of a good doctor, my doctor as well. I hate to see him suffering, and that suffering, empathically, feels only a stone's throw away, and too long exposure to his toxic emotions could threaten me, I know. But I must continue to visit him, as Jesus said: "I was in prison and you visited me." I know of no worse prison than depression.

I just had a poem published in an excellent new journal, A Capella Zoo, though my work is only available in the print version, a glossy, perfect bound journal of high quality. I'm enjoying the other authors as well, something I can't always do in the journals in which I am published, which bodes well for this nascent enterprise, at least in my somewhat jaded, subjective view.

I have little else to report. This year's men's retreat was wonderful and perhaps I'll provide more details about that spiritual journey in another post. Suffice it to say that this year's workshops and rituals helped me realize one reason why my life has been such a struggle: I was a forceps baby! Also, I buried my problematic father one more time, and this time it seems final, though there's always more work to do on a dysfunctional parent, since they tend to live on in your head forever. Yet I won't let someone live rent-free in my head. I burned a symbol of him in the ritual fire and it felt good.

Mood at 2 Kilobunnies!


To a Depressed Friend

In this starless night of pain I come to visit you.
You fear your wife's arrival after work
though she most loves you.
You want to shout “Leper!” like Moses prescribed.
but why move your lips? It is too much effort.

If I could swaddle you in my arms and whisper,
“Despair is not incompatible with love,”
(though it puncture your last boundary),
tears would fog your John Lennon glasses
and drip down your white beard.
You don't want me to see that.

Your eyes are so blue I see each red thread in the sclera.
Your skin is pink as an Englishman from India.
You look like Jerry Garcia and you like it
(back when you could feel any affection for yourself)
but there is no happy Dead song
to lift your spirit from this bog of soggy mulch
with no inlet or outlet for fresh water.

Like a ghost you walk through the supermarket.
Fluorescent lights siphon your spirit.
Is there hope in Celexa and Abilify?
Selectively abilified? Don't doubt me
with your moist eyes, I believe in chemistry,
my friend, it is the waiting that kills, a living death--
as if a tumor had replaced your heart.

My tearful zombie, we know the plastic bag
over the head, the pills like jumping beans
in the medicine cabinet, the rope in the attic,
the derringer you used to strap to your ankle.
It's OK to fantasize, just don't--you know?

Are you the camel on the carousel of death?
Burden bearer, long walker, desert horse--
or the zebra confused by stripes?
You're not the lion supporting a bench,
moving in a flat circle. Try to ignore
the revolving mirrors, the ice cream vendor music
on eternal rewind. I'd blow up the carillon
for you if I could, but you must endure.

This is so hard to grok: You are not your depression.
It's just your lizard brain malfunctioning,
the prosencephalon and mesencephalon
in reptilian cahoots, your neocortex having
capitulated to ancient phylogenies.
It's neither you nor your fault.

Before I leave you gift me some apples
scored with wormholes.
“They're good for applesauce,” you say.
Likely they will end up on my compost heap
though I haven't the heart to refuse you.
The red and black millipedes that live there
will consume them just as you are consumed
by the memory-eating monster of blackened neurons.

Advice? I wish you could grasp it.
Hold on, endure, wait for the medicines to work.
Don't spin your wheels in muddy repetition,
just wait for the sun to dry and one day
you'll drive away, though in the rear-view mirror
you'll recognize the bag of skin you shed
and shiver at the thought of suffocation.

Listen: though it may feel more tangible
than the loose vertebra begging fusion in your back
or a toothbrush on your gums, or your bum knee,
depression is unreal. Unreal, I say,
a temporary funeral of the imagination,
a death mask you once wore
that suborned your face
but not your face, a shrunken facsimile
of where a smile dwelt
in the white forest of your beard.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lavender Boy, New Dog, and The River

I've been working on a poem for awhile, unusual for me to plan out such a narrative. It all began with a provence lavender that refused to change or bloom, unlike the lavenders I saw in everyone else's yard. Yeah, the poem is a little long for a blog, but so are my usual postings. You can ignore the poem if you wish and proceed to the next paragraph below, but I think it's a fun read.

Lavender Boy

It started as a lump out in the garden,
a mound of lavender that never changed.
I planted it in May. Transplanting it
did nothing. By September no thin shoots
had risen in violet efflorescence,
the fine hairs of its silvery leaves
speared dew for nothing. Where were all
the purple standards gardeners expect?
Seduced by vegetable melancholy,
had it turned its attention from the sky
to purely subterranean concerns?

My spade marked a wide circle
around the stunted plant.
Painstakingly I loosened earth
six inches down, when the spade
hit something solid. I substituted
fingers, pawing dirt with care,
when the outline of two shoulders
surfaced beneath.

My fingers recoiled. What could it be?
Dirt shook from a pale forehead, amethyst eyes
opened with sagacious innocence.
I freed its hands and motioned it
to help me but it wriggled them
in self-discovery, the way a baby
looks at its hands. Three-and-a-half feet down,
its bluish feet sprouted like potatoes.
Each rootlet I broke through
made the whole thing quiver.
Unearthed, it looked like a boy.

I feared to break his body like a carrot
or bruise him like a melon.
By his armpits I lifted him
gently as a slice of cake.
What stuff he was made of
was moist and pliable.
He hardened when I stood him
in the sun beside the zinnias.
I thought about Gepetto:
“What a beautiful boy! “

His lips were pale violet,
his hair was lavender that flowered.
Wherever he displaced the air
lavender filled the vacuum.
It seemed right to dress him
in a suit of silver velvet
with a frock collar.
He could gather blackberries
all day without staining his finery.
Only fires made him nervous;
I quit smoking because of it.

He drooped in the morning
before his drink restored his turgor.
When I put him in the shower
he swelled and sprouted--
beware of over-watering, I thought.
He liked the water cool.

Within a month he dressed himself
but speech took longer.
Toothless, he struggled with consonants
and diphthongs. He had a thin, melodious voice.
When he said “Chaos,” I said “Gaia.”
He grinned and said, “Uranus.”
I said “Aphrodite.” We understood each other.

Time passed and his limbs grew woody
as perennials do. It made him rough,
he didn't like it, still he eschewed return
to earth, said it would mar his sentience.
But I could see no future beyond a sachet
for the closet, nothing to accommodate
his soft, scented hands and fragile smile.
With tears I planted him again.
He asked nothing of me except to scent
all my days with lavender.

Since I put deer netting everywhere in my garden and turned up the sensitivity on my motion-activated sprayer, I've had no trouble except for gophers eating my potatoes, though I think there are potatoes left, at least judging by their above ground greenery.

We got a new dog after a year of mourning for Kenyon, and he's a fifteen-pound whippersnapper sheba inu-chihuahua mix, full of vim and vigor and bound to chew anything available down to the nub. I have begun reading dog-training books, have begun to try to think like a dog as a book by the Monks of New Skene suggests.

He can sit and stay and shake hands so far, but his staying power is less than ten feet. Kathleen and I have agreed he needs a crate for in-house training. We're trying to get him on a regular schedule but it's hard. Sorry, no picture yet.

Our cats have deserted us since the dog's acquisition. Did I tell you his name? He looks so prim and proper, like an English gentleman, so we named him "J. Alfred Prufrock," "J." for short. He likes to chase deer and points like a hunter despite his diminutive stature. He also likes to chase moths in the air, making me suspect he might have some bird dog DNA.

As I intimated, he's not a cat-friendly dog and Topaz and Jojo live outside now, coming to the porch at night for a feeding. We can't let the cat food stand outside because of the crafty raccoons. The cats look well-fed but I don't know if they'll ever make friends with the dog. He behaves just like a cartoon dog in relation to the cats.

On the literary front, besides having submitted my "Selected" to a publisher that approached me, the anthology "Crazed by the Sun" is now out. Click on the title for more information. In it I rub shoulders with e. e. cummings, Theodore Roethke, Marianne Moore, and many more contemporary poets like Sandra MacPherson. I'm honored to be included. My poem concerns attending a carnival with my youngest daughter, though that tells you virtually nothing about the poem. If you'd like to read it, here's the link:

At the Carnival

I'm still in a lot of physical pain, thank God for Celebrex but I couldn't get by without the morphine as well. My back is hurting more, a good sign that I might return to my chief chronic pain. It all takes time; some things heal, some things don't, hard to tell why. My back never has, though I have congenital defects to blame that on. My left hand remains too weak and numb to play the guitar with any authority, but if I stick to open chords I can sneak by, concentrating on my voice.

I just finished my third Mendocino Circle of Men's retreat and I must say it was magical. Every year is. It's a privilege to be associated with such great men in spiritual solidarity and intentional ritual. My chief insight this time around was that my life has always been a struggle--partly, perhaps, because I was a forceps baby trying to claw my way out. Life doesn't have to be that hard just because it began that way, but in my case it seems more like a prophecy.

The main thing is to try to stay in the river of being, to remind oneself that the hidden spiritual connection between all good men and women ultimately supersedes the daily grind we call life. Whatever your occupation, it is possible to stay in the river for periods, though we often find ourselves scattered on the shore of our own shortcomings. Have courage, the river can absorb it. The river of being is always flowing, it's our access that's impaired. So try to concentrate on the divine throughout your day and you will feel the difference. Take a deep breath and thank God for all the things you are and have, especially the love shown you by others. You can't think yourself into the river, you can only notice when you're in or out. Sometimes we enter it without thinking; other times we can't imagine it really exists. But it does. The flow of God's spirit is not constrained by any religion or viewpoint; there is no dogma to qualify you except for a willing heart and an open mind. May you dip in the river today.



Unexpected Light

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