Day 209 1/20/14: Get To Know Your Stigmata Toaster

UnknownIn my endless quest to combine the most unlikely texts possible, I have joined in holy linguistic matrimony a pamphlet called “Stigmata and Modern Science” and the user manual to my Oster TSSTTR6329 Toaster. I hope this inspires you to write an experimental poem or at least make some toast.

IMPORTANT SAFEGUARDS: Young children or incapacitated persons should not bear the external marks of the wounds of Christ or the material element of stigmatization, except to the extent prohibited by law.

Warning: Atheists reject the stigmata as an aggressive form of miracle. Never insert your fingers into the holes. Handle with Care.

1. Spontaneously, in ecstasy, and during complete suppression of will and suggestibility, insert the crumb tray into the slot.

2. If living for years without earthly food, lightly tap the sides to dislodge any crumbs lodged in the toast chamber.

3. After the desired level of darkness has been reached the wounds must not vanish.

4. When the wounds bleed they must emit fresh blood. Accumulations create unsanitary conditions and the possibility of fire.

5. The nail-shaped formations of the wounds should be of equal size and freshness and glow more brightly than others.

6. The frozen light will illuminate the crust in the middle of the wound and the brighter edge to assure even browning.

7. English muffins cannot be created by mystical contemplation alone.

8. It is normal for non-Catholics to create an odor.

9. To reduce the risk of electrical shock, bleed during a vision of the Crucifixion and wipe with a damp cloth.


Day 206 1/17/14: Friday Poetry/Science Mishmash

basho81. Your eyes will love this: Beautiful biofluorescent sharks & other fishes.

2. Nature has feelings: A fascinating piece on the poetics of Basho.

3. Writer’s block? Pshaw! Check out poet Bernadette Mayer’s writing experiments.

4. New Zealand welcomes Shark Whisperer Ocean Ramsay.

5. Weirdly beautiful time lapse video of living, breathing & fighting coral from the Great Barrier Reef.

Day 204 1/15/14: Whales Weep Not!

whalesWhat writer could get away with using “whale phallus” in a poem and still make it beautiful?

That hot-blooded Brit D.H. Lawrence of course!

Whales Weep Not!

They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains

the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.

All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge

on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.

The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers

there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of

the sea!

And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages

on the depths of the seven seas,

and through the salt they reel with drunk delight

and in the tropics tremble they with love

and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.

Then the great bull lies up against his bride

in the blue deep bed of the sea,

as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:

and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood

the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and

comes to rest

in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale’s

fathomless body.

And over the bridge of the whale’s strong phallus, linking the

wonder of whales

the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and


keep passing, archangels of bliss

from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim

that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the


great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.

And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-

tender young

and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of

the beginning and the end.

And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring

when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood

and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat

encircling their huddled monsters of love.

And all this happens in the sea, in the salt

where God is also love, but without words:

and Aphrodite is the wife of whales

most happy, happy she!

and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin

she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea

she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males

and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.

Day 203 1/14/14: Poetry & Impermanence: A Rant

Keats-Bright-StarPoetry is a brutal art. One (meaning me) slaves for hours and hours trying to finish a poem that is nearly there. What am I not doing? Am I thinking too much?  Pursuing instead of waiting? Filling up instead of emptying out?  Oh the pressure of the final stanza! Oh the need for transformation, the weighty promise of the unwritten. I wanted some sharp outline of the knowable unknowable. I wanted a final image that resonates in the body as much as the mind. I wanted a poem that shimmered with intellect like T. S. Eliot regurgitating The Upanishads, its edges limned with a the ghost of Robert Frost holding a delicate pane of ice over a swollen stream in March. That kind of poem. All that suffocating desire.

So I stopped writing poetry and wrote an e-mail to my school asking them not to offer employee discounts to SeaWorld. I wrote and rewrote the e-mail. I added things and took things away. I wondered what magical syntax or brutally economical description would be enough to make Recreation Connection re-think the idea of a killer whale living in a cracked aquarium. I started off cheerily! Happy New Year! Thanks for adding Whale Watching to the list of Employee Discounted Activities! Sure beats watching the aforementioned animals perform tricks in a chlorinated pool!  I didn’t use so many maniacal exclamations, but I did make an attempt at friendliness (HelloI am not insane and soon you will warm to my politics). 

I wonder about all the writing we do. All the many non-poems, non-public pieces that we nevertheless compose with compassion and conviction. I think of the journals occupying the shelf on my closet. I think of burning each one, records of my life made long before “journaling” became a verb.

Keats had the best epitaph: Here lies one whose name was writ in water. His epitaph is better than any line of poetry I will probably ever write. A name writ in water is then inscribed in stone. Moss fills the letters.  E-mails vanish into the ether. The blog posts accumulate behind burning links.

If I destroy those journals, will I  stop feeling the weight of accumulated unread years? I’ll wrench pages from spines and light them on fire with adolescent glee. Or maybe just toss them casually in the garbage or donate them to Goodwill and dream of some hipster finding them. But first I’ll transcribe a line or two. A few words from each entry. A record of each vanished day. Some sort of path from there to here.

Day 188 12/30/13: The Shag-Eyed Shark

shark-fish-talesIn the poem “The Shag-Eyed Shark,”  a crew of crusty fishermen vent their rage on a shark, cutting out its liver, only to have the shark help them catch a school of prized mackerel. While the old salts in this didactic tale learn not to judge by appearances (they even open the shark again and replace its liver), men & shark in the real world haven’t quite achieved that level of friendship. But if you would like to extend some kindness to sharks, (or other imperiled sea friends), your donation to Oceana will be doubled if you donate before December 31!

Day 187 12/29/13: Poetry Exercise: The Alphabet’s Spine

Had a great time at an Artist’s Way workshop this afternoon.

In addition to inventorying our creative triumphs and horrors, we used each letter of the alphabet to write a word or an entire line. These off-the-cuff exercises are great because you might find a gem of a line that you can use later on. Writing like this also reminds me to loosen up, to stop thinking, “This is good,” or “This is bad,” but to say instead things more appropriate to the time, energy, etc. that the piece took to write like: “this writing has a nice sort of galloping spirit to it,” without it having to be “good,” or a product. I admit,  X was hard. Xenophon, (a student of Socrates) wrote a famous treatise on horsemanship, and though using him was a bit of desperate stretch, it opened the poem up in a new direction that I could keep pursuing beyond the end of the alphabet if I so chose.





Elementary instruction, but

Far off in the misted glade

Geometric shapes resolve into

Horses carrying messengers.

In another life perhaps,

Joyously you awaited them.

Knowing you had just the right fragment

Learning first how to translate and

Maybe someday becoming the words themselves

No matter if you’ve forgotten alchemy

Or another lost art,

Perhaps still there on the edge

(Quiet) of remembering  or

Re-envisioning how it was or went

Somehow, even now, all is not lost.

There is still something there.

Understand you can still see or

Visit those places once outside now

Within and maybe a third space will open

Xenophon spoke of the unlikely

Yoking of instinct and sense and

The Chariot of Zeus (1879 illustration from St...

The Chariot of Zeus (1879 illustration from Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zeus changed forms so to enlarge his own myth.

Day 171 12/14/13: Visiting Van Gogh’s Mother

Once my brother Sean told me about a painting he “liked to visit” at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. A  Jackson Pollock. I guess it must have been “Number 10,” .  To visit a painting, like Rilke visited Cezanne, means to really spend time with it, and to learn how to see, how to look.

Yesterday I decided that I wanted to go find a painting to have a relationship with. When I say relationship, I don’t mean it like those crazy people I hear about on Howard Stern who declare their deep romantic attachments to Ferris Wheels, bridges, bows and arrows, and a host of very public monuments (if you’d like to learn more about these very “alternative” relationships, you can watch a documentary called “Married to the Eiffel Tower” ).

I just wanted a painting I could visit and study and get to know. The hunt for such a painting would be interesting even if I never found a canvas I could “settle down with.”

The closest museum to me is the sedate and manageable Norton Simon in Pasadena. I don’t mean to make it sound like a nursing home. There are lots of exciting paintings there and a beautiful pond outside. It’s just that if I don’t wear the right shoes to a museum, my feet ache after one hour, and even though the Getty Center has comfortable places to recline in the galleries, it can feel overwhelming.

One of Norton Simon’s most well-known paintings is Van Gogh’s “Portrait of the Artist’s Mother.” I had seen it for the first time last year. It seems like famous pictures are either way smaller in person or monumental in a way that completely alters your conception of them–I felt that way when I saw Rousseau’s paintings for the first time. The Van Gogh picture is fairly small (16 X 12 3/4), but alive and electric as so many of his paintings are, and green—strange sickly green. According to the refreshingly direct wall text:

“By the autumn of 1888, Vincent van Gogh had settled into his Yellow House in Arles, and at the end of October he would welcome Paul Gauguin in what he hoped would become an artist’s collective—a “Studio of the South.” Portraits were on the Dutchman’s mind, as not only had he exchanged self-portraits with Gauguin, Émile Bernard and Charles Laval that same month, but he had also set out to complete a series of family portraits. According to van Gogh’s letters to his brother, Theo, this portrait of their mother was based upon a black-and-white photograph. Of the portrait, the artist wrote, “I am doing a portrait of Mother for myself. I cannot stand the colorless photograph, and I am trying to do one in a harmony of color, as I see her in my memory.” Despite his intent to liven up her visage with his palette, van Gogh created a nearly monochromatic version—in a pallid, unnatural green. Nevertheless, this preeminent figure in the artist’s life sits attentive and proud—a model of middle-class respectability.”

I sat on a bench in front of the picture, feeling annoyed when other patrons crowded around MY painting. When they’d dispersed, I moved in for a closer look. What I love about her green flesh is that while it is so potentially alienating, the color of living death,  the overall impression of the picture is one of presence, as the museum put it: “attentiveness.”

Maybe I could become more alive by meditating on the face of Van Gogh’s mother.

The dark green background and the pale green portrait reminded me of Blake’s poem “The Nurse’s Song” from Songs of Experience:

When the voices of children are heard on the green, 

And whisperings are in the dale, 

The days of my youth rise fresh in my mind, 

My face turns green and pale. 

Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down, 

And the dews of night arise, 

Your spring and your day are wasted in play, 

And your winter and night in disguise. 

Oh the levels of green! The green where the children play, the implied green of youthful inexperience, (light green–light in shade and weight) the pale green of the nurse’s face comes with a certain kind of remembering–a dawning sense of mortality and dread…and I think of Van Gogh telling Theo that he wanted to paint a portrait of his mother in harmony of color, as he saw her in his memory. What is the color of memory? Does it vary depending on the thing remembered? I used to imagine my mother’s past in black and white while the life she led with me unfolded in color.

I decided to see what other paintings were around. Manet’s Ragpicker is impressive dominates an entire room. His pants seem romanticized, (only one tear), but his hands tell the truth. The Ragpicker also avoids eye contact with the viewer.  He seems to peer down some unseen side street, as if assessing a promising, glittering heap of junk.

In her portrait, Madame Manet, the painter’s wife, looked serene, but distracted.

Matisse’s “Nude on a Sofa” possessed the unsettling stare of a murder victim posed as a an artist’s model. But I liked her mismatched nipples and that the hair on one armpit seemed bushy and full, while the other armpit was just growing in.

I also admired the pocket mirror-sized Goya portrait, and Zurbaran’s St. Francis, whose brown robe matched the skull precariously tipped beneath his praying hands. I even saw two paintings featuring female satyrs ( a first for me).

But no picture had the magnetic draw of the kind and glowing Mrs. Van Gogh.

The best plan is probably to find a few pictures (or sculptures or…) in each museum, each piece designed to elicit contemplation or agitation, reverie or possibility and go visit them depending on your mood. Plan a visit. Or show up unannounced. Pick a popular painting and eavesdrop on the conversation it inspires. Make a pilgrimage to the museum on an unlikely day, when the sun is shining and everyone else is playing Frisbee or going to the beach. Sit alone and look at the painting. When you get tired or restless, keep sitting. Push past boredom.  See if the painting dissolves or resolves into something else. Notice what the picture causes you to remember. See what it allows you to forget.

Portrait of the artis's mother

Portrait of the artist’s mother (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Day 152 11/24/13:Poetry Mashup #2: Automatic Sea

Today’s creation is a combined effort from “How to Do Automatic Writing” by Edain McCoy & one of those great old volumes (#13, I believe), from the series The Ocean World of Jacques Cousteau entitled “A Sea of Legends.”    (I can’t believe this book is only 85 cents on Amazon. I love the messy early 70s color of the pictures and the illustrations are a nice mixture of Greek antiquities, Medieval woodcuts, modern painting (Paul Klee) and random delights like a photograph from a weird, experimental ballet called Sea Shadow) The automatic writing book is a nice beginner’s guide, and a creative way to bypass the  inner critic or nag one’s spirit guide. I’ve used it once and had a nice conversation (transcribed with my left hand in weird, sprawling ransom note script), with some unknown entity who seemed to have my best interests at heart.

Xeno-escrite: The rare phenomenon of writing in a language unknown to the writer.

Why the deities who live vividly in our minds

cannot be projected onto paper

is uncertain.

Venus could only be produced by the sea,

but the sea had to produce also a being more popular,

more accessible than a goddess.

She appears on the water looking into a mirror

to see if she is closer to becoming a fish.

Allow…energy to flow gently into your writing arm

Some people like to imagine that this is the life-giving energy of a benevolent deity

A soft, dreamy half wake focus.

Pliny wrote that when winter has been severe,

many fish are taken in a state of blindness

& all seas are purified at the full moon.

Asking about the Far Future: Moon phase: Full or early 3rd Quarter

Retrieving Information about the Past: Moon Phase: 3rd or 4th Quarter

Contacting the Dead: Moon Phase: Any

Xeno-glossy: the rare phenomenon of speaking in a language that is unknown to the speaker.

Everything on the earth and in the sky had been listening to the Great Master of Song

and choosing a specific language for itself,

but the fish had been quite helpless.

Never blindly follow any commands but those of your own heart.

The Sirens called for Ulysses, for they had knowledge of the past and future and could give him happiness.

Jonah sank…but as his breath failed,

he began to remember

the blue and shining sky,

the sweet odors of the desert

and the happy dreams of childhood.

Keep practicing until you can go fairly deep at will.

Write your name over and over.

If necessary, write the name of the entity you wish to contact

or write the word WRITE.

When you have received all the communication you want

or if it has stopped of its own volition,

sit in front of a mirror in a darkened room,

repeating the undeciphered tablets

to your reflection.

Day 145 11/17/13: Poetry Mashup: On The Nature of Shark Attacks

This is a great exercise to defeat writer’s block. Take lines or groups of lines (selected at random or purposefully) from two different texts and combine them in a poem. What’s fun about this is that each text (especially two very different sorts of books) begins speaking in the cadence of the other and correspondences are revealed between music and also subject.

For this poem, I combined lines and whole stanzas/paragraphs from Roman poet/philosopher Lucretius’ imagespoem “On the Nature of Things (circa 1st century B.C.) and a 1975 book by George A. Llano called “Sharks: Attacks on Man.” I loved seeing how these two books spoke to one another—Lucretius discussing the nature of the soul and the body, Llano recounting the sometimes gruesome and terrifying accounts of shark attacks. There’s a tension I found between the fear of death and an attempt to understand the nature of existence thereby extinguishing that universal dread.  Here is a longish excerpt of my “poem”:

All the wounds were full of sand.

The rest of the soul dispersed through all the body

Half moon incisions, leaving the bones exposed

Are we to say that the soul resides complete in each of the pieces?

I dove from the wharf and headed out into the sound.

There was a constant cloud of minnows

Earth, and sea and sky and life in all its forms

From a shark’s point of view all humans must look like dreadful swimmers.

I don’t know if it was a fin or a tail.

I knew it was some kind of fish.

But things are made of atoms; they are stable

until some force comes, hits them hard, and splits them.

I saw the shark throw the woman out of the water and then I saw it grab her again.

I’ve shown that things cannot be made

from nothing, nor, once made, be brought to nothing….

The shark let go disappearing in a cloud of blood.

“Let me die, let me die, I am finished,” she said on the beach.

Words pass through walls and slip past lock and key,

And numbing cold seeps to our very bones.

The reports of men adrift at sea

imitating liquid notes of birds

little by little the men learned

As it was a moonlit night, and during some moments very clear, I was able to observe that strange figures crossed very close to us..until at a given moment I felt they were trying to take away the corpse, pulling it by the feet…I clutched desperately the body of my companion and with him we slid…

For if in death it’s painful to be mauled

and bitten by beasts, why would it be less cruel

to be laid on a pyre and roast in searing flames

or to be put to smother in honey, or grow stiff

with cold atop a slab of icy stone

or be squeezed and crushed beneath a load of earth?

When the body and soul have been divorced

then nothing whatever to us, who shall not be

can happen

Keep close to your companions.

Swim smoothly in retreating.

Keep your eye on the shark.

Day 136 11/8/13: The Sharks of English 101

Going through the notes I took during student presentations, I realized I have the rough beginnings of a poem on the weird and wonderful variety of sharks in the ocean.

So often I find these words together:

vulnerable, beautiful, strange.

English: Shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus)

English: Shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrhinchus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes ugly is lucky.

The translucent goblin hates the sun.

Too deep for fishermen,

his nose is a flattened sword

to study currents.

When pulled into the upper world,

the Shortfin mako rebels

&  aborts her eggs

Other things we know:

Nurses travel long distances for love.

Porbeagles play seaweed games.

Megalodon’s jaws were a tunnel, a gateway

crushing whale skulls like grapes.

The angel (also called the sand devil)

lies motionless on the ocean floor

waiting for a hapless mollusk,

and captured in the swirling, indiscriminate sweep

of the fisherman’s trawl.

Who has seen the flickering southern lantern?

Been ambushed by a shaggy-bearded woebegong?

The poisonous flesh

of the slow, drowsy Greenland shark

will make you drunk.

Its teeth are dense, yellowed icicles.

It sneaks up on sleeping seals,

while the twirling, breaching

spinner shark can only be called

an ecstatic hunter.