On Online

I confess I enjoy Instagram, the online gig for posting pics and videos, even live events. I see creative and playful, inspiring and innovative work displayed. I say “confess” as in avowing the obsessive pull of the scroll, the annoying culling aimed at removing me from myself, and knowing in the end this online business is not good for us. I see they’re letting the big Tease back into the fold, a financial call that makes sense from an advertising perspective, where the more is more but you can never get enough. I didn’t know he was ever on Instagram. I don’t recall seeing any personal pics from the Mar-a-Largo club. Maybe you have to be his Instagram close friend. The Instagram close friend feature is duplicitous by design.

One of the folks I follow on Instagram regularly posts vintage pics of veteran literary writers accompanied with insightful quotes. For example, this morning, at 4 am, I noticed a pic of a youthful Anton Chekhov with the quote: “I don’t understand you, you don’t understand me and we don’t understand ourselves.” Like William Carlos Williams, Chekhov was a doctor. I don’t know if either would have downloaded Instagram given the chance. I wonder if Williams would have posted a pic of “a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.” It’s almost certain though that the pic would not have had the same influence his poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” has had.

These days when I’m up at 4 unable to sleep but also unable to read or get up and get something productive going, I find myself often as not reaching for the tablet and opening Instagram, but I hear in my mind’s ear the aching Leonard Cohen song, especially in winter (if it were summer and 4, I might get up and get a coffee and walk outside and watch the sun rise over the climbing rose):

It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening

“Famous Blue Raincoat,” 1971, Leonard Cohen, from the album “Songs of Love and Hate”

But what happened this morning was, seeing and thinking about the Chekov, I grabbed my little notebook and jotted down a few reminders of what I was thinking that I might later this morning share with you here online.

A Talk Story

We recently purchased a used copy of the 2001 Modern Library Paperback Edition of “The Fun of It: Stories from The Talk of the Town,” edited and with a preface by Lillian Ross, who wrote for The New Yorker for some 70 years. Her “Portrait of Hemingway” appeared in the 13 May 1950 issue, and is still read today as a classic first example of literary journalism.

The earliest “Talk Stories,” in the 1920s, didn’t have bylines (the group of stories were signed “The New Yorkers” at the bottom of the “Notes and Comment” section) and their style was intended to entertain while educating with facts. Harold Ross, the first New Yorker editor, no relation to Lillian, “didn’t like bylines,” she tells us in her editor’s preface to “The Fun of It.”

“He wanted the stories in The Talk of the Town to sound as though they’d been written by a single person, and he wanted that person to have what he called ‘the male point of view.’ ‘We’ was always supposed to be male.” In spite of those constrictions, Lillian Ross went on to write “hundreds of Talk stories,” with “the singular challenge of creating these stories pure fun for all of us who do them.”

Harold Ross himself contributed Talk Stories, also anonymously, so it’s possible he was responsible for the August 12, 1927 Talk piece titled “Fence Buster,” about the new New York Yankees baseball player Lou Gehrig. The piece includes the staples of the Talk Story: “By the late twenties,” Lillian Ross says, “the department usually featured a ‘fact’ piece plus a ‘personality’ piece plus a ‘visit’ piece; the mix became traditional.”

Thus we learn, in about the required length of around 1,000 words, that the young Gehrig’s father was a “janitor and grass-cutter” at Columbia University, and that Lou looked up to Babe Ruth, though unlike the Babe, he did “not drink, smoke, or gamble.” Lou enjoyed fishing for eels, which his mother pickled. And in 1927, at the age of twenty-four, he made “about $10,000 a year.”

$10,000 a year is double what I made in my first teaching job around 50 years later. Of course, I had the summer off, while Lou Gehrig had to work. I suppose we could say now that I taught for the fun of it.

El Porto at Night

Out of ocean back to sun
slow purple tide drifts down
darkness like a tidal wave
floods and a dark fog falls.

Strand partygoers barefoot
swimsuit prance in sandals
streets car-lined seldom trees
dwellings cliche toe crammed.

Sleep cans built on sand hills
swept of seawrack the breeze
the moon in her habit prays
and down rains grace gently.

Each drop 15% ABV the lifeguard
says and turns on your nightlight
what a concept and flies away
into south Santa Monica Bay.

In the distance the bass bob bloom
of close-in closed out hollow waves
like artillery shells down the line
hear water mewling through shingle.

In the morning late for the school
bus stops for you up on Highland
you forget now why all those tears
on a lovely morning such as this.

Before the Mast

I am all wet
wet is what I do to you
with blue and green oils
I fill your valley and canyon
play host to millions of minions
swamp your mountain up
to it its bald peak cooling
your outrages.

I am atmospheric host
to my children who swim
on my skin and burrow
deep below
when one leaves
I cry.

I rise up
and hug the dry bones
and slide away.

I bay and bawl but
I’m not angry but I yowl
and roar and spit
up splash into the sky
drown your bounced boats
I am wet noise.

I know when you come near
and when you go in
as you say
I spread my molecules
and envelop you.

You dive down in me
your bloated body floating
cured with salt
draped in seaweed
and that silly snorkel
you look just like
another funny fish.

I am mostly all body
a bowl of jelly
I won’t lie still
I love my sailing curves.

You can’t walk on me
you talk over me
all your rocks sink
I answer only to the moon.

For a New Year

Happy new year
one at a time
Happy new ears
ones that can hear.

Happy new shears
to cut the old hair
Happy new crown
for the frown clown.

Weary old year
falls into compost
Happy the earthworms
bring a new day.

Now in the rains
the ground soaked
the basement wet
the table settled.

Blessed the unsung
who hear buoy bells
Blessed the obscure
quilting deep poems.

In the New Year
may clear water
be your cheer
light your walk.

May you talk happily
quietly so hear poetry
may your words work
magic in the new year.

Closed

The sign on the door read closed
simply and clearly defied to be
misunderstood though cryptically
short did not attempt explanation
explication or anything of the sort
as an action word as still as ice
and as a modifier most unhelpful.

The door was obviously closed
yet several skeptical browsers
rattled the handle the better
to check and be sure the door
was not only closed but locked.

A few others cupped their eyes
peering through the windows
research for more information
the shelves are full they said
well lit by well placed lights.

A few loitered outside the shop
it looked warm inside friendly
somehow a coffee pot sat
at the end of a clean counter
a colorful display with creative
text menu wide aisles sparkling
linoleum floors booths of fat
Naugahyde benches a place
to dwell and tell and repeat
stories but Closed it read.

A Tree Thinks Knot

A tree thinks knot
like we think kneel.
Falling leaf sneeze
and the old oak hip

turns in the midnight
breeze below zero
lights out beneath
full down comforter.

We hurly-burly reach
out akimbo with hug
be underground root
dew moist sensation.

The tree sheds sorrow
and we take a shit
no shave no shower
ready for near wind

’twill blow us off face
of our ease no stress
as we paddle out
absurdly, wildly.

Out about and look back
the trees up on the beach
waving hysterically our
free roots touching salt.

Out of Mind

I think therefor I am
not yet done with it
this out of mind business.

And what of the tree
who thinks knot
the tree is nought?

In a rush to see what mind
is all about I slipped
on the perverted banana
peel and fell head over
heal I fell amongst
the fallen hilarious
it was that one time
out of my mind was I?

Go out of your mind
rush to the sea
there you will find
the blue green anemone
whose lovely
tentacles wave hello
and like us does
everything thru
its nose.

What is out of sight
is best viewed in mind
the drifting dunes
like our minds
slowly change shape.

Garage Sale

The garage sale of my mind was well advertised
signs on telephone poles and online postings
but no one thought to see what they might find.

The mind is a dump full of toxic stuff
tossed flowers blues and greens faded to drab
food scraps bald birds pick at and hot rats scatter
as trash trucks dump squandered load after load
junk heaps smoldering bent metal smashed glass
furniture akimbo wood and styrofoam blocks
book pages torn dogeared magazines ripped
warped vinyl toasted surfboards jelled banners
all absurd plans unrolled blueprint messes
colossal architectural collapse
reductio ad absurdum that’s what
all effort reduced to brood swat and tricks
flood the roads in and out the ear brain zaps
of a blog heap pile to pile one subscribes
lost in here with no purpose no safe pass
age strength twisted steel shafts up and down
leaning precipitously toward the trash
piles of concrete slush crushed and composted
the worms finished their work years ago
today the skies clear ceiling drawn up
don’t let it drag us under these words
will all grow back come spring in new jangles
bright new jungles of fresh piles of junk.

In the Cold

In the still of the cold
when you feel so old
you reach for the one
who’s left you alone.

Your frosty glass rim
shows one pair of lips
another took a powder
now lost in the snow.

No storms rage
if no boats out
no parade today
no lovely waves.

This bitter cold blown
down from the north
now covers our town
white toothed frown.

The mood inside is
frightful the cold
outside delightful
let’s not get buried

in snow
let it go
let it go
let it go.

Solstice

We decline down the stairs
amid icy stares underground
stay warm huddled with others.

We refuse the cold’s summit
but around noon note a bit of
the bump and we stand still.

We see ourselves as heavenly
in the arc of the sun and crouch
of a close moon and our bodies

rotate out of hibernal touch
not to create a paradox
but the point is opposite

apogee if that makes you feel
any warmer the closer you get
the freeze-dry blue eyes.

Back in August when we slept
in the basement to keep cool
you worried about spiders.

All fragments yet perfectly
balanced along hot and cold
lines our lukewarm garbage

sustains us through this
our winter solstice
when even time stops.