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.


  1. I'd love to see a photo of your dog.

    But then, I'd love to see a photo of your cats, too. Have you previously posted a picture of the kitties and I missed it?

    Heck, I'd like to see a picture of your deer-proofed garden.

  2. I like the focus of your blog. I found you on facebook looking through blogland.
    I blog too.
    One interesting point you make in the poem is that we are not what we have at the moment, whether it be depression or bipolar or any other disease.
    I am an LCSW who now stopped practicing. I have my little pension & just write write write.

  3. Keep us posted when the book comes out. I'd like to buy a copy.

    I must say, I'm surprised at your take on the bailout. You sound like a fiscal conservative, and yet you're a poet. How is that possible? I am always finding new reasons to hold you in high esteem.

  4. LKD--done.

    Joy--so good to meet you!

    Richard--I believe in a global market correction and more regulation. The pain may be mitigated through government intervention, but only short-term.

    I say let's take our lumps now, and let the greedy home purchasers suffer along with the lenders. Is there no common sense left in our republic?



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Unexpected Light
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