Autumnal Approach

Autumn appears quiet
a dry cat curled asleep
the homeless huddled
until shuttled to a new
space just like the old
spot rules & restrictions
apply living en plein air
places of Objet trouvé
found objects surround
lean-to tents shapes built
with plastic tarps bicycle
parts organic architecture
like Falling Water cantilevered
over gutters running
incessant and unrelenting
life out of woods where
one lives deliberately
as autumn approaches
preparing for rain wind
and snow provisionally
on the surface of the
bottomless city plans.

Tabor Space

At the bottom of the bell tower you poured
yourself a coffee, put a contribution into the jar,
and through the big doors entered the space,
a two story high ceiling of 100 year old wood,
brick walls with stained glass windows, a few
stuffed chairs by the Brobdingnagian fireplace,
tables and chairs spread out in the space,
a lending library bookshelf, a kids’ play area,
and the floor to ceiling folding sliding doors
hiding the dark cool nave of empty pews.
I would sit in a stuffed chair or at a table
and read papers or doodle in my notebook,
sitting on the big couch in the far corner.
Young moms with children came and went,
small group meetings held at the larger tables,
couples hooked up for a coffee & snack talk.
It was mostly volunteer, then went commercial,
then closed as the virus swept through
so many spaces, closing doors and attitudes.

Anyway, Tabor Space has now reopened,
a second location for Favela Brazilian Cafe,
and we visited yesterday, chatted with the
Brazilian baristas, and we sat with a coffee
and we looked around and I took a few pics,
and we’re glad the space has reopened:


My Affliction

Everywhere I look I see
signs of the cross
in telephone poles
at the busy intersection
of the homeless and
the morning commuters
in the brow of the woman
wearing the human billboard
advertising her three kids
and out of work husband
a veteran and a nice guy
trying to get back on his feet
after stepping on a landmine
at the bottom of the cross
and I don’t doubt it and wonder
if she’ll take the afternoon off
and drop the double sawbuck
just handed her all in one place.

I am tempted but the cross
at the local church remains
hidden behind a giant plastic
boastful Jesus his coiffed hair
combed and sprayed by the
altar ladies with their flowers
holy water and broken nails
who come and go they have
come and gone and still
they come and go
and carry their crosses
quietly and secretly
and do not advertise
their own club afflictions
and anyhow don’t allow
admittance of my cross.

Every Friday at three
in the afternoon
the altar ladies
take down the real
Jesus and put up
the plastic one
and Sunday after
masses they hang
the original back.

Meantime at the bottom
of the telephone pole
at the crossroads
the homeless gather
to disperse the day’s
take and affirm
nothing is finished
the kingdom never
comes but the will
is always done
daily bread is not hard
to come by not nearly
so hard as forgiveness
of debts and trespasses
or deliverance from evil.

Comma Splices

If I wanted to use one,
I’d use two, one for me
and one for you, 4 to a
bar, 5 to a fence.

Comma connotes pause,
like a cat’s paw does,
when lifted midair.

Pick up your comma poops,
put in scoop bags,
and place in the trash can.

The Once and Future Comma Queen
will return to Gramarye.

Pause, and enjoy, an ice
cold comma, tonight.

Harmonic Bohemian Comma Scale:
lunula moon, clipped ring finger
nail, crow talon, gypsy jazz plastic
guitar pick, muddy udder rudder,
silent scythe, silver clacker spoon.

There is no substitute
for a comma, either
you use one or you don’t.

Comma rules form
a book of spells,
a Grimoire.

When Then

When sound is noise that murmurs gurgle
and talk crabbed rambles and gabbles
When susurrus of water shuts off clang bang
and no breeze blows blossoms and all fall
long leaves crisp prematurely dull and grey
When thoughts are crickets in a dark repeat
and inanimate objects won’t cooperate
When strings stretch and snap out of tune
and ears fill full of hardened yellow wax
Then it’s time here for a nap or a blue beer
for there’s been a near miss missio dear.

Subbing in Substack

I spent a few hours this week delving into Substack, the online self-publishing venue giving independent writers the opportunity to build a syndicated portfolio intended for a dedicated audience of subscribers who read for free or pay, often on sliding scales, the writer usually offering more content to paid subscribers. It’s a little like busking, where the musician sets up on a busy street corner and pulls out the axe and puts out the tip hat.

One great plus of Substack is that there are no ads, few distractions. The presentations I’ve seen are clear and clean. I was already a free subscriber to Caleb Crain’s “Leaflet,” a combo newsletter of his bird watching photography and his lit-culture-watching writing, and of Julian Gallo’s “Cazar Moscas” – wonderful title that, which means to catch flies, or to fish with a fly, apt metaphor for Substack. When Substack began, in 2017, not too long ago but maybe a long time in online years, the idea was to establish a newsletter, so that with every Substack post an email notification went automatically to subscribers. And that’s how I still read Caleb and Julian’s new pieces. And this week I discovered and subscribed to Patti Smith’s Substack. I had become aware of podcast capability at Substack, and when I found Patti there, I saw that she was also putting up short videos, which I immediately found attractive for their simplicity, honesty, clarity. They didn’t seem to be performances, but downhome one way conversations, personal, if you will, in of course an impersonal, voyeuristic way. For example, I saw her in her everyday place in Rockaway, and it looked exactly like a lived in beach house might look if it indeed was lived in.

Anyway, I had been interested in moving my “Live at 5” guitar gig from IGTV to some other venue, not really all that interested in seeing my seventy something selfie on the silver screen anymore, and growing tired of Instas addictive format, and I thought about podcasting, that is audio only, some guitar, song, story, poem, conversation. Then I became aware of Substack’s video capability and before I knew it, I was going live on Substack with a “Live at 5” show. Or so I thought. The whole enterprise ended in disaster. As near as I can tell, Substack does not enable live streaming. You have to upload either audio or video, and the videos are limited to, it appears, under 10 minutes. I had by Substack “Live at 5” showtime 16 free subscribers. I’m not sure what they ended up seeing or hearing, if anything. And then, late last evening, I discovered the “Live at 5” video I had made for Substack in the photo gallery of my Samsung device. It was just over 5 minutes long. I watched a bit of it, stopped it, and deleted it.

Interested viewers may check out another version recounting my subbing at Substack experience here. I’m reminded of Dylan’s famous words, “and I’ll know my song well before I start singing,” an admonition I’ve never paid much attention to, and also reminded of the Nobel Prize time Patti forgot the lyrics, which was no big deal, but of course everyone had to make a big deal of it, as if pros never get nervous or forget the words.

Where do I go from here? IDK. Real time with real people might be nice.

On Symbols

Symbols attract as well as repel, signal good or evil, nearness or farness. Roadside signs first used to advertise products, cigarettes or shampoos, evolve to say something abstract: Jesus Saves. A symbol is a belief.

An abandoned roadside sign, the billboard, its wooden legs leaning askew, its paper layered panel weather faded, becomes a symbol of change, of nostalgia, its country road long ago bypassed by an interstate highway, its message no longer visible or intelligible to the passing strangers, one of whom, at a quick glance, scratches his head and wants to shower or reaching into the glove box finds the pack empty and begins to watch for a filling station, motel, or cafe to appear on the horizon.

A series of signs spaced along the side of a road at planned intervals may form pieces connected to frame a storyline, like a sentence connects words to form a complete thought. The symbols pass fast and furiously. The whole edifice constructed by some outlier becomes part of the local landscape. In town, the abandoned grade school is converted to a micro brewery and bed and breakfast inn. The old one room church is now a real estate office.

The romanticist, who loves symbols, is a quick change artist who substitutes his own for the ones he was given:

“It is always, as in Wordsworth, the individual sensibility, or, as in Byron, the individual will, with which the Romantic poet is preoccupied; and he has invented a new language for the expression of its mystery, its conflict and confusion. The arena of literature has been transferred from the universe conceived as a machine, from society conceived as an organization, to the individual soul.”

Edmund Wilson, “Axel’s Castle: A Study in the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930,” Scribner, 1931.

That soul comes and goes like the moon, now new, now waning, and the reader might be caught in the moon illusion, where symbols appear larger when closer to the tree line, where a tree is traded for shade or a home.

In today’s political jargon, as writ large in media, classicism is conservative, romanticism liberal, the symbols of the conservative fixed and permanent, those of the romantic fluid and ambiguous:

“Blake had already contradicted contemptuously the physical theory of the eighteenth century. And to Wordsworth, the countryside of his boyhood meant neither agriculture nor neo-classic idylls, but a light never seen on land or sea. When the poet looked into his own soul, he beheld something which did not seem to him reducible to a set of principles of human nature.”

same as above

The classicist looks at the billboard and sees an advertisement upon the landscape; the romantic looks at the billboard and sees an advertisement as part of the landscape:

There is no real dualism, says Whitehead, between external lakes and hills, on the one hand, and personal feelings, on the other: human feelings and inanimate objects are interdependent and developing together in some fashion of which our traditional notions of laws of cause and effect, of dualities of mind and matter or of body and soul, can give us no true idea.

same as above

And, as science advances, the soul retreats. It’s difficult if not impossible to register and catalog the movement of the soul:

“Every feeling or sensation we have, every moment of consciousness, is different from every other; and it is, in consequence, impossible to render our sensations as we actually experience them through the conventional and universal language of ordinary literature. Each poet has his unique personality; each of his moments has its special tone, its special combination of elements. And it is the poet’s task to find, to invent, the special language which will alone be capable of expressing his personality and feelings. Such a language must make use of symbols: what is so special, so fleeting and so vague cannot be conveyed by direct statement or description, but only by a succession of words, of images, which will serve to suggest it to the reader. The Symbolists themselves, full of the idea of producing with poetry effects like those of music, tended to think of these images as possessing an abstract value like musical notes and chords. But the words of our speech are not musical notation, and what the symbols of Symbolism really were, were metaphors detached from their subjects – for one cannot, beyond a certain point, in poetry, merely enjoy color and sound for their own sake: one has to guess what the images are being applied to. And Symbolism may be defined as an attempt by carefully studied means – a complicated association of ideas represented by a medley of metaphors – to communicate personal feelings.

same as above

The classicist wants to be sure of things, and has a fixed point of view, wants to demolish the target; the romantic lives with variable viewpoints, ambiguity – it’s enough to get close. The symbols of the classicist do not suggest beyond convention, but can only denote. In any case, neither seems satisfied with what unwritten laws they develop. A tree at an oasis to a desert nomad is not the same tree as the one under which the family on vacation parks its recreational vehicle in the state forest campground, not to mention the one in the wilderness no human has ever seen. And, “A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees,” Blake says in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.”

Or a billboard, for that matter.

Nine Pieces of Very Short Flash Fiction

A Victorian Family

Once upon a time, in a three story house full of dark rooms full of furniture and footsteps, and then there were none.

Inside Out

In the beginning the end already coming and who could stop it apparently will not.

Nostalgia

In the mid 1950’s, the Young family moved to California, and come the turn of the century, they had all transferred out.

Joseph K.

With his English degree from Yale, Joseph K. procured a job as an underwriter in a huge banking firm headquartered in Manhattan, where he rose through the ranks to write a mission statement about which he one day was questioned.

The Big City

She had no family, a miserable job that paid measly, and only a few friends who like her mistrusted men.

The Brick Pulled from the Wall

From the playground he threw a baseball through the window of a confessional and thought, perfect, I’ll confess and no one will ever know.

A Longer Work

After writing a thousand pieces of flash fiction, none of which were accepted for publication anywhere, it came to him he might as well start writing a long novel.

Metamorphosis

He lost his putter, stopped mowing the grass, let the weeds grow, and the butterflies returned to suburbia.

Whipped Cream & Cherries

One day, he passed the dive bar on the corner and entered the ice cream parlour next door, where he met his future wife filling sugar cones for a birthday party.

Come, eschew the myth

Come, eschew the myth
of Dionysus,
the cafe with jazz aged
aperitif,
give me ice cream
to stimulate my spirits,
and a parlour guitar,
not bitter liqueur,
for my digestif.

Yes, let Bacchus
and his buddies
revel with the devil,
give me chocolate
raspberry swirl.

Don’t say, “Out of peaches
‘n cream, try a frosty
fruity pilsner.”
Ok, bait and switch,
if you can add a scoop,
please, and make it float.

The evening passes slowly
amidst dark cans clatched
down the dry alley where
sleeps Suzy with Sobrius.

A War with a View

These are two very different books, but so close in flavors and effects. Both concern a soldier recently returned home from World War One duty. Rebecca West wrote “The Return of the Soldier” when she was only 24, living with her three year old, in 1916, the war still on and in some of its deadliest and darkest hours. J. L. Carr’s “A Month in the Country” was published in 1980, when he was in his late 60’s, WW1 at that time superseded by a number of other high and mighty events.

This is not a book review, that lockstep genre one learns in literary basic training. War narratives often exaggerate plot and action. The truth is action, if it comes at all, stops time, stops waiting, lifts the soldier off the ground or water, suspends. There is no plot to that moment. If he remembers anything of the action the memory stirs smells, sounds, touch, taste. World War 1 is memorable for its suspension of progress, the soldiers on both sides stalemated in their trenches for days, weeks, months, years, the most significant action perhaps a slow moving cloud or fog hugging the ground and when it gets to you takes the skin off your face. And of course in any war for every soldier that experiences what I am here calling action there are several others who experience only the waiting. Both experiences take their toll and can leave soldiers, whatever their experience, broken machinery.

In any case, for the most part, these books avoid that portrayal of action, and take place in beautiful natural settings, far from any action of the war. Both returned soldiers suffer from emotional trauma, but are able to enjoy life returned away from the front. They don’t suffer from anhedonia, usually the result of not enough action. Both books are necessarily novellas, because so much has been left out. Both concern a small cast of characters in a little window of time and action out of view of the mainstream. Rebecca West has her character Jenny narrate, so it’s a first person but not the soldier returned who talks, while Carr’s book is told first person by the returned soldier, Tom Birkin. Both books are love stories surrounded by nature in lovely landscaped settings mostly unspoiled. The writing is clear and concise, natural and unaffected but poetic, impressionistic, descriptive. Both books touch on class as a theme, work, and all the trappings and dressings of diversions and social nakedness.

“Penina’s Letters” too touches on those themes and uses some similar techniques to get its soldier returned story going and told, but I suppose its author may not have seen enough action, and so had to substitute satire for reality, or maybe should have relied on someone else to tell his story, Penina perhaps.

War On

Somewhere usually a war on near or far but
most of the world watches war as audience
in a theatre or in a church reminded darkly
sacrifice need not be so bloody violent some
of course preoccupied by their own war know
the maps the open fields the rivers and farms
i remember watching one of the wars on TV
donald rumsfeld mumbled something about
Iraq being the first war of the new century
as if announcing a baseball game turned in
a new statistic i couldn’t deny his hysterical
perspective myself having been born quickly
between WWII and Korea boom destined to get
in line for boot camp for the Vietnam Error
at 18 already sick of this phony war business
how quickly young boys on a beach in bathing
suits become old men in dress greens that color
they use so pollutes the wettest shades of nature
of grasses and leaves of fields and ocean waves.

The murderer attends Mass fills the pew
the fakery has achieved that much
frivolity yet the beauty of this war
seems to be no one left who believes
in war the reasons for not the hand
that signs the paper not that hand
covered in oil and blood but does not
cry like the hands of a working man
tears seeping over the banks of blue
rivers coursing through a field of skin.

In the natural order of things human
when some authority comes down heavy
as a tank made with human hands
made to crawl along tracks of its own
making through the green fields
of somebody’s home tearing through
the outdoor clothesline scattering
the chickens and dogs barking and
babies barely crawling who see
the tanks for what they are inhuman
monsters driven by human machines
men made to march made to doom
demented torches lighting but one
step ahead sinking into the dulce
earth the metallico wheels slogging
over the homeland where the pitter
patter of the patria played on an
accordion in the rain waiting for a
flood to wash this war away.