Is the comma in danger of extinction? Here at the The Coming of the Toads commas have fallen out of favor as we have begun to eschew the common comma, not all commas, and the comma in writing (where else is it used?) still remains an effective tool for the common reader, but sometimes the right word in the right place creates its own pause and nothing more is needed by way of punctuation, for the common reader or the anti-reader. Of course commas are used for more than to create pause. The comma used to separate items in a series, red white and blue, for example, often punctuated as red, white, and blue, keeps the colors from running together. The comma evolved from the colon and suggested something cut out but today the comma is used to add on, to amplify, to continue, to ramble on, sometimes unmercifully, the end nowhere near, the sentence a structure of lean-tos, each clause flipping about like a butterfly which may look to the common reader indecisive. Then there is the comma butterfly, also called angelwing, and what writer would want to eliminate angel wings from their writing, not us. Whoops, that’s anglewing, not angel wing, a mistake no comma can rescue. Still, the happy discovery that commas may suggest angel wings gives us a lift.
As said of politics, all rain is local, parochial. It may seem frivolous to a parish under water that in a neighboring bureau filled with sun denizens are dressed in shorts and sleeveless shirts drinking dizzy fizzy wine coolers in the town square park sitting in beach chairs on the warm dry grass listening to a gypsy jazz band play La Mer, while next door, where rain falls, Leonard Cohen indoors on a turntable sings, “All the rain falls down amen, on the works of last year’s man.” Yet in rain country umbrellas are not as ubiquitous as one might expect, nor are they absent in the sunny clime. The rain falls through hair, straightening the curl, seeps through flannel and wool, fills the shoes and soaks the socks, wrinkles the skin. The rain bounces off the asphalt street, runs down the gutters carrying along leaves summer and fall debris: a dirty tennis ball, a burnt out sparkler, a used up crumpled face mask. The rain overflows the curb down at the corner and a car spins by splashing a muddy wave across the sidewalk. A city bus sploshes around the corner, windows fogged, the driver and riders masked and anonymous. There are no cats to be seen out and about, a few dogs hunkered up on their porches. A woman with no umbrella scurrying shoulders hunched head down misses her bus and takes shelter under the awning in the doorway of a closed cafe, pulls out her phone and votes for sun, but the polls are closed for the winter.
You took away the source, but it was some graffiti, as I recall, but now in the grog of morning’s woke fog, I forget what it said, but one of the words was missing an apostrophe, crowds, I think, should have been crowd’s. The crowd is awaiting its apostrophe. So something is missing, the elemental that connects. That’s the meaning of apostrophe – an elision, but more, to turn, to turn away (from), even as things merge, as in a crowd. The apostrophe, like a stray bird, lands in the nest of merged things, its meld. The crowd is awaiting its possession, what it wants, its melt and weld. Also, the apostrophe that is an address to a missing person, one who has been turned away, or is turning away from another, as the crowd disperses. Waiting’s apostrophe. Waiting for the bird that has flown to return. As the crowd scatters, like birds, each one turning away from their neighbor, coming apart, each now a new apostrophe looking for a new gathering, a new mustering, a levy of birds, where they can drop into place to satisfy the whole. And today’s crowd of words is punctuated by the police, steel pot helmeted commas out to enforce the gravity of grammar, but they seem unable to put a stop to the run-on sentences.
To sand a page of flat board, one abrades first metallico then brushes dolce, as the piece turns to canvas. That is a music lesson learned in the woodshop. On the guitar, metallico is played near the bridge, where the strings are tight and unbending and sound like the steel wheels of a train or fingernails on edge across a chalkboard – both sounds rarely heard these days as trains recede farther into the industrial inner city or disappear through the countryside, and chalkboards fill landfills. In the middle of nowhere one learns to listen. Dolce on guitar is sounded where the strings loosen, up the neck from the soundhole. Sweet is dolce, but the hard, long ē of sweet sounds more metallico, so soft is dolce, not sour, but balmy. Metallico, that steel rail sound, harsh and disagreeable, straightens the spine and tingles the neck hairs. For some listeners, dolce raises goosebumps; for others, metallico does the trick. Dolce is the sound of the short, soft vowel, metallico the sound of the long, hard vowel. Thus the meaning of a musical note changes with its vowel length. A bent line over the vowel illustrates the soft sound (ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, and ŭ), a straight line the hard (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū). Often, the meaning of a poem rests within its sounds, not seen in its definitions. One must listen to a poem like one listens to a piece of music. The reading question is often not what a poem means but how it feels when read or heard, what its sounds suggest. Some poems sand wood; others cut stone.
Fans of baseball and elections found suspense and drama in the long playoff series closing the 2020 seasons, some with delight, others with disappointment, of course, but to say despair is too much; after all, it’s just a game – one in which many fans show not much interest until the end of the season when the pennants are up for grabs, the news and ads full of hype and hyperbole, the waving of bunting pandemic. Baseball fans were heartened to see a fair play series between the Dodgers and the Rays, particularly after the Astros allegedly stole championships with their sign stealing campaign now exposed, confirmed, and penalized in scandal for the 2017 through 2019 seasons. The record books for the 2020 baseball and election seasons will be forever checked with asterisks for the influence of Coronavirus disease 2019 on the play and outcomes. Assumptions got tested, predictions again found presumptuous, and predilections and presuppositions exposed. And the utmost importance of audience was heralded, as fans insisted on being a part of the game.
The clock is the most totalitarian of instruments, brutal and tortuous in its omnipresent place, its tick, tick, tick neither musical nor metrical, its singular forever forward motion that can only be circular not once portraying the true feeling of time, which can only be experienced in a still state. The watch, the clock’s child, suggests a semblance of private ownership, but it must be set to the public heartbeat. Only in a trap can time be kept. The clock is a syllabus for a curriculum of time in which two horses run a race clip-clopping in opposite directions.
In other words, a mushroom. Every poem is a mushroom, a fruit body arising from its poetic fungus, often popping up overnight. Harold Bloom might have said that. What Bloom actually said was, “Poetry lives always under the shadow of poetry.” Some poems, of course, are not edible, but all have stems and caps and gills, just like mushrooms. The stinkhorn poem is distributed worldwide, and its horrid smell attracts flies and insects no matter where it calls home. Poets are very much like the toads who sit atop the stools the easier to snag flies with their tongue. Some mushrooms are said to be magical and to possess psychic healing qualities, though just as often eaters of these mushrooms become delirious. The same is true of some poems. There are many similarities of mushrooms and poems, but one should probably not confuse one for the other, but if you treat a book properly, it will over time produce mushrooms, if not poems.
Not Alfred Prufrock’s fog, the little yellow neighborhood cat come smelling, touching, and arching once, wags, then slinks furtively off and licks herself to sleep, the house warm and safe in her arms. But the fog that falls from a hairball night, wet and thick, as sleazy as the backuped drains running up the gutters down on skidrow. A light that illuminates nothing. And the only sound one hears is the tinkle of a bell like the carriage return signal on a fin de siè·cle typewriter, the kind T. S. Eliot might have used.
O sing a new song, boots on the ground or barefoot across the earth. Sing along day to day, night to night, where you have been, what you have done, in your room, on the road. Ignoring boundaries, marvelous people working wonderful machines. The heavens are high, the earth low. Cows fly, clouds flow. Strength and beauty rest in the industrial zone, the train tracks well worn. Around the trashcan warm your hands, drop what you have into the fire, and come into the camp, voices trembling with song. This is a safe zone, though not firmly established. Self-built. Let the busses be glad, and let the roads rejoice. Let the freeway roar, and all the traffic born upon it. Let the telephone poles sleep, let the power go out. Let the people speak, let them vote with hope, with faith in the game, with love for the song.
In the news, water discovered on Earth’s moon: Not so much water apparently though that NASA will start shaping surfboards for its astronauts; nor is discovered quite right – confirmed or proven more precise. Meantime, of course, what with someone always turning up the global warming thermostat in the house, we’ll soon be wanting to bring some of that moon water down to Earth. And where there’s water, there could be also be tomatoes. And where there’s tomatoes, there could also be salsa. Now, a salsa party on the moon – countdown! And where there’s water, there’s sound, so the previously assumed to be silent moon, if you put your ear to the crater, just might produce some good vibes after all; and what’s a salsa party without music?
They line the streets, sitting out at sidewalk cafes, watching the passersby, angling for what they might catch. Patiently they wait, nursing a coffee through a first frost morning, almost napping off over a warm afternoon beer, coming back in the evening for a smooth glass of purple pinot noir or a shot of postprandial espresso. The burbling, gurgling, murmuring river of cars drifts along, punctuated by busses and trucks, bicycles, pedestrians crossing, a cop on a Harley, a delivery truck snagged on a rock, three buskers in an open boat. The anglers move along too, changing spots, carrying their birdcages of verbs, baskets of nouns, hooks and swivels and spinners tucked in their tackle box notebooks. And I move upriver, looking for a new hole, so hungry I will not catch and release a cliche, but will pick out its bones and pan-fry the fillet in butterfat in a cast iron skillet.