Through the Alley at Twilight

Twilight, the time of evening just before dusk,
brouhaha of shadows passing to their roost,
a calico on her last prowl before turning in,
ethereal blue rectangles lighting living rooms.

Porch lights welcoming neighbors and intruders,
strings of lights celebrating an open cafe or pub,
or a place to sit out on the stoop and talk,
couple browsing by in postprandial comma,

recalling injuries of the day, hair down,
disappointments, missed chances, kiss offs,
walking up or down the darkening alley,
unpaved gravel, ruts, the walk difficult,

but nowhere near impossible, preferred
way, the two birds scuffle, feathers ruffle,
they separate, then come back together
and drop lower into the trees, looking

for a mate that won’t hate to sleep alone,
will get up and fetch the bone without
undo complaint, make some coffee,
filter dreams, shovel another load of mulch.

Add Title

You say primordial like it was a long time ago,
but look around, see the ooze from the same
old sores seeping through the bandages of time.

Of universe you birthed forth, blind at first,
then you thought you could see, with eyes
no less, your ears and nose full of dark matter,

and through every pore of your skin comes
and goes all the bugs of a family fortune,
a species come true, true to life.

But you are not true to type or form.
You mix and mingle and wander,
one day fins, the next, feathers,

anything to get ahead, until one day,
you fall in love with another just
like you. Well, almost.

Is Poetry Good for You?

Here at The Toads, where we have, since 2007, contributed to the general discussion of literature, we sometimes get questions regarding the uses, benefits, and effects of reading poetry: Is poetry good for you? How long does it take for a poem to kick-in? What are poetry’s side effects? How long does a poem last? Will reading poetry help my anxiety, depression, or pain?

These and similar questions are often accompanied by anecdotal experience offered as evidence or symptom. Someone knows a guy who read a poem and joined a cult; another attended a poetry reading and woke up with a hangover; a mother noticed her daughter slipping a book of poems into her missal at Mass – what to do?

What’s the best time of day to read a poem? Is it ok to read poetry while on steroids? Should you mix poetry with television? Are there any good poems about math? Can you suggest a good gluten free book of poems? What are this poem’s contraindications?

Medical doctors may suggest reading no more than two standard length poems per day. All things in moderation, including poems. As for the opinion of the man on the street, Everyman, vox populi, the wisdom of the crowd seems never closer to madness than on the subject of poetry.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Jazz on a summer’s day
sleepy jazz on a rainy evening
jazz on the night of a full blue moon.
Jazz on a transistor radio in the next room.

Jazz in a whiteout blizzard
jazz on a foggy morning in the surf
jazz on a summer’s day
jazz when the falling leaves fall.

Jazz in a coffee house with wifi
jazz in a clean well-lighted place
jazz high up in the trees
jazz on a yacht in the tranquil bay.

Jazz trio at the wine bar
jazz aboard a tugboat
on the Mississippi jazz live at five
jazz out a picture window.

Jazz on a crosstown bus
jazz at a sock hop
jazz in the cold grotto
jazz in an empty church.

Jazz from a food cart
jazz in a classroom
jazz in Healdsburg
jazz in Drytown.

Jazz in a confessional
jazz working on the railroad
jazz in a sweatshirt
jazz in jail.

Jazz it kind of got away from you
jazz on steamboats fixing everything
jazz at The Coming of the Toads
jazz in and jazz out of a blue collar.

Jazz on a jukebox
jazz at Terre Rouge
jazz in a red convertible
jazz on a Martian moon.

Jazz in the slow lane
jazzy walk around the block
jazz down on Stark Street
jazz at low tide.

Jazz rumbles across the trestle
jazz if you go out in the woods today
jazz between Scylla and Charybdis
jazz on the air.

Jazz in Seattle in a coal car
jazz at a concert in the park caldera
jazz in the near light like a candle
jazz in the faraway dark quiet.

Jazz alone and jazz together
jazz out there and jazz in here
just jazz at a rent party cleaning
up after they’ve all gone home.

Jazz about this and jazz about that
jazz when flat and jazz while sharp
streaming jazz in a steamy heat
jazz on a fine summer’s day.

Vaccination Loop

Around noon yesterday, a bumper to bumper half block line of cars continuously moved like connected parts of a tram and entered the dark barrow shaft entrance to the Oregon Convention Center underground parking mine, while a similar line of cars exited back into the partly sunny Portland spring day. Once in the garage, visitors politely and patiently vied for parking spots, which quickly opened and closed thanks to an efficient and extensive mass vaccination loop leading from the garage and through the building, organized by volunteers and clinicians from various organizations, including what appeared to be a deployment of an Oregon National Guard platoon. With the exception of the mandatory wait after being vaccinated, to watch for reactions, visitors had no still time to browse the book brought along or take out the knitting needles. Indeed, few were even looking at their cell phones, intent and occupied as they were with following personalized directions and moving along – short stays at this or that staffed table to answer a few questions, show ID, sit for the quick shot of vaccine, and schedule the second appointment (if this was the first) while waiting for the reaction release time written on tape and displayed on one’s shirt to expire.

The goers to this convention seemed mostly older folks, most of whom no doubt did not consider themselves particularly old, just of a particular age, which would be considered an inadequate definition of a person. Yet here we were, grouped together by age and moving along like a line of kindergarteners on a field trip. Except for the Guard, everybody looked somehow out of uniform. Question: How can you tell a group of people is older? Answer: There are no tattoos. One fellow I noticed was wearing the rubber shower shoes we used to call go-aheads, shorts, and a flowered t-shirt, not regular gear in a Northwest winter month. A newcomer from California, maybe.

Not without some trepidation had I prepared myself for the field trip before leaving home: what to wear? what route to take? what book to bring? Did I have my ID and medical card? How would I prove my appointment confirmation? This last, it turned out, I had over prepared for, and unwittingly as a result momentarily fell from the loop. Once into the building and into line, I noticed just about everyone was carrying a piece of paper, a print out, it turned out, of their email appointment confirmation. I no longer have a printer, but the email came with a QR (Quick Response) code that can be saved to and read by a cell phone or other scanner. And I had already pre-confirmed via online registration site the appointment, so I thought with that and my QR code saved to my phone, I was good to go. There were two lines moving quickly, everyone six feet apart and masked, instructed to be ready with confirmation proof. We were not yet within the Exhibit Room itself, but still in the lobby with its majestically high ceilings and large windows and aisleways full of natural light. When I reached the volunteer at the end of my line, I showed her my QR code on my cell phone, assuming she would scan it. But she said, “No, I need to see the date.” I had before leaving home cropped the code so it was fully visible, cutting off the rest of the email, including the date. As I now scrambled to find the original, she brushed my effort aside, pulled me from line, and directed me to a woman at a computer located at the end of a kind of train siding line, where no one was in line, so I quickly made my way to the computer and showed my QR code. Instead of scanning it, though, she asked my last name, looked at her computer, said, “Hi, Joe, go on in.” I merged back into line, my confidence in the efficiency of the loop restored, even if my QR code never did get scanned. I was reminded of the time when my girlfriend and I went to see the Jimi Hendrix Experience at the LA Forum. We waited in line while the gatekeepers took tickets and ushered people toward their tunnels, and too late realized that they were also checking purses. When my girlfriend opened hers, the little pint of as yet unopened Southern Comfort placed comfortably and clearly visible within, the gatekeeper said, “Go on in.” Jimi would have been 78 today, and could have fit comfortably into the vaccination line with the rest of us.

Also, as it turned out, I had overdressed as well as over prepared. I began with my loose fitting Red Sox t-shirt, thinking I would take my outer shirt off and easily roll up the sleeve of the t-shirt to take the shot. Over the t-shirt, I wore a flannel long sleeved shirt untucked, and over that, a vest with many pockets for holding things like book, pen, and cell phone. And over the vest, a bright yellow, thin rain jacket. In both vest and jacket pockets I had stored an extra face mask. At one station, I was given a packet of information with a page to fill out: name, address, phone number, etc. And mother’s maiden name? Good grief! And the same questions, this time answered yes or no with check mark, I’d already been asked by a nice enough fellow at the station where I picked up the form, and from where I was directed to a grouping of round tables with golf pencils available for the filling out of the form. At the next station, an Army NG Sergeant asked to see my papers and ID. He did some work on his computer, scanned my medical card, wrote 70 in bright red ink at the top of my worksheet, and pointed me to yet another volunteer who directed me into a vaccination line. It was at this point I recalled the infamous follow the yellow line at my downtown LA draft induction physical, circa late 60’s. What a loop that one was, but I was now on deck, next up, and was directed to a desk number where sat a clinician with vaccine at the ready. She invited me to sit, and that’s when I realized I had worn too many tops. Trying to take the rain jacket, vest, and flannel shirt off all in one swift move, my arms got all tangled up in sleeves and tails and I fell into the seat feeling like a kindergartner who has just failed hanging up coat after recess. More questions, mostly the same ones, the shot (routine – the loose fitting t-shirt at least proved to be a good idea), bright day glow green bandaid, the piece of tape showing my wait time stuck to my Red Sox shirt, and I was on my way to the waiting area to sit out the reaction wait time and schedule my next appointment, all the while wrestling on the go trying to put my arms through the sleeves of my mess of shirts.

The wait time proved invaluable as the cell phone scheduling of the second appointment looped and looped, looking like it was going to take as long as it took the schedule the first appointment – over an hour, while getting the vaccination, from parking to shot, had taken only about 15 minutes. But a volunteer happened by, I asked her for help, and she looked at my phone and said, “Oh, just type something into that space, anything, hi.” And I did. I typed “hi,” hit “schedule” again, and the loop stopped looping and kicked out my appointment: 3 weeks out, at 7:45 AM. Good grief!

Field trip over, headed back home, reflecting on the experience. Before getting a vaccine appointment, folks generally are experiencing frustration and anxiety over the computerized process, the apparent vying for a limited number of appointments, feeling uninformed as protocols and procedures seem to change weekly, thinking it shouldn’t be this way, stuck in a time loop. The Convention Center experience, to the contrary, was personable, friendly, efficient. And I was sent home with a card confirming what I had just accomplished. I have it stuck with a magnet to the icebox.

Crow, Rock, & Grapes

Trip to Mars

Somewhere Else

It was last April, in a piece titled “What is Essential,” we again mentioned John Cage, then in the context of the pandemic quarantine discussion:

In John Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing,” we find the following comment: “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.”

“What is Essential,” April 24, 2020

Of course, some places are more irritating than others, some conditions worse, but it seems common to living in any means people like to get away, out of town, go up to the cabin, drive out to the beach, go camping, sail the seven seas, see the world, go somewhere, anywhere, but somewhere else.

Not talking here about those forced to leave home, from war or famine or wildfire or flood, abuse or political upheaval. Catastrophes are not “irritations.” A catastrophe is sudden and overturning; an irritation is slow and creeping, an itch one can’t quite reach. An earworm. One can live with any number of irritations, but one can not go on as before during or after a catastrophe. “Would like” suggests preference, unrelated to need, not desperate, but a privileged choice.

“Where should we spend the weekend, in town or in the country?”
“I don’t know. I’m bored with opera.”

The COVID19 virus affects different people in different ways, depending on predicament, but literally everyone on the planet Earth has been affected, to one extent or another, slightly or severely. Wouldn’t it be nice to get away? Maybe that’s the attraction of Perseverance, of Mars, of space travel.

“Earth is irritating.”
“Let’s go to Mars.”
“Good idea.”
“I’ll book a flight today.”

Can a simple irritation, almost unnoticeable until all goes quiet, grow into a catastrophe? It seems unlikely. Irritations come from within; catastrophes come with the wind. There’s talk of getting “back to normal.” That too seems unlikely. In fact, in any case, wasn’t there something particularly irritating with what was considered normal?

Universe as a Looper

Having recently acquired a Roland Boss RC-1 Loop Station Looper Pedal, and after several faulty attempts to quickly master the electronic musical gadget, and with the Mars Rover Perseverance and related NASA coverage in the news, and having just come off a few posts with the theme of home, I’ve begun thinking of the universe as a looper.

To begin in the middle of this current loop of thought – I read with interest an opinion piece from The Atlantic, “Mars is a Hellhole: Colonizing the red planet is a ridiculous way to help humanity” (Shannon Stirone, 26 Feb 2021). It’s a guns versus butter model argument. Says Stirone, taking the Earthbound wealthy would be Mars colonizer Elon Musk to task: “Musk has used the medium of dreaming and exploration to wrap up a package of entitlement, greed, and ego. He has no longing for scientific discovery, no desire to understand what makes Earth so different from Mars, how we all fit together and relate. Musk is no explorer; he is a flag planter.”

A counter argument might suggest that Musk’s enterprise is not quite the United Fruit Company, nor is he spending money on Mars, but here at homebase Earth, creating at least some jobs, presumably, and advancing knowledge in the general and random way that can lead to discoveries that tangentially do help Earth, however speculative or foolhardy they may seem at the outset. At the same time, at least part of the wealth created goes toward philanthropic efforts.

In any case, surely the universe will continue its looping design with or without Musk, with or without Earth, for that matter.

The looper pedal is used to lay down a series of recorded notes or chords (or electronic noises or sounds) that then play back while being added to, overdubbed, with additional series of notes or chords which in turn loop back around – in the RC-1, for up to 12 minutes before relooping. The key is the overdubbing and the circular motion. There is a beginning and an end to the loop, but no end, theoretically, to the looping phase, each one of which has a bearing on all the rest, and no end, again theoretically, to the overdubbing, each dub contributing to a new whole.

I’m now in the process of creating a musical composition using the looper. It will be a fugue that begins with a big bang and expands with overdubbing and recapitulations for the entire 12 minutes available to approximate a musical cosmological model of the universe. I’ll use 12 loops within the loop, ending by then recording the finished now finite whole loop using the Garage Band app on my laptop, and erasing the original from the looper station to free it up for more creations.

I do wonder how this fugue I’ve planned will help humanity, or will aid in space exploration or the colonization of Mars. It seems certain it won’t. But the universe will not be able to ignore it. My fugue will be part of the big looper and its seemingly even greater indifference.

No Direction Home

Continuing the theme of home and homelessness, that borrowed title comes from Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone.” The tone conveys not quite, but almost, an atmosphere of schadenfreude, as the speaker inventories in a kind of letter or rant to a former friend a causal argument of falling, in this case, apparently, falling from a position of false security or privilege, of having a good time home to being alone, friendless, homeless. “I told you so,” is in a sense the message. “How does it feel,” the speaker asks, who knows perfectly well how it feels. The theme is Gatsbyesque, peels away the thin skin covering the old reveling times, exposing the hollowness and emptiness of a gilded life, the phony friends, the gold leaf too thin to sustain any doubt, the common metallic iron at the core showing through, glitter gone down the drain. Dylan’s clown dressed in rags becomes the anti-hero living on the streets, rock and roll bottom, gutter run, where everybody’s stuff gets swept away. The title’s source is cliche proverb: A rolling stone gathers no moss. What is moss? A day in the moss, collecting stuff for winter needs. In Dylan’s song, we assume the moss includes all those hangers-on who did not and could not know the real Gatsby, not the Great Gatsby, but the rolling stone Gatsby, the Gatsby whose funeral almost no one attends. The party’s over, things change, everybody’s moved on. One middle class reading of course might not see it this way, still wanting to rise, move up, get a bigger home, nicer car, fancier clothes, borrow a real necklace to wear to the party, the better to feel fitted in to the in-class. And in that same reading, that the rolling stone individual is not a fallen character, for that would suggest it’s possible for any one of us to fall, at any time, for any reason. No, that middle class reading must place blame on the individual, calling their predicament a choice, wanting to recognize that they didn’t fall, couldn’t fall, because they never actually belonged to begin with, even if their fall was, paradoxically, their choice. Either way, they couldn’t win, born to lose. And the beat response? We all need someone to look down on, and if you want to, you can look down on me.

There’s No Place Like Home

“Homeless in Space” brought a thoughtful, if aphoristic, response from Ashen, heroic reader and writer over at Course of Mirrors:

“Your post sparked a thought. Some people don’t experience their early home as a safe place to root and grow. Frustrated expectations may foster a sometimes unconscious element of resistance, not to fit in, as it were, like… being homed can mean being owned
being holed can mean being controlled
being placed can mean being traced
being named can mean being framed or tamed”

Thoughts, too, of home, whatever the experience, I was reminded of the end of the film The Wizard of Oz, when the good witch Glinda tells Dorothy she’s always had the capability of going home, and tells her to tap her heels together three times while saying: “There’s no place like home.”

Indeed, there is no place, existentially speaking, like home. Home is an idea, often reduced to an ideology, that doesn’t necessarily match what’s really happening (growing equity, capital). Also I was reminded of the song from “Inventories,” new book (from the serial novel started here last July as a pandemic quarantine exercise), in which the word home appears 38 times:

“Back Home Again”
What I know about love,
I wrote on a postage stamp,
mailed myself halfway to the moon.
I’m in stardust singing I do, I do, adieu,
and I can’t go home again.
Born in the back of a beach bum shack,
I sailed the seven seas.
Never made it back home again.
Adieu, adieu. You can’t go home again.
Born in a corral of a rodeo,
off a road they call Route 66.
Between the cowboy and the clown she broke free.
Goodbye, goodbye. She won’t be back again.
The moral of this story, the point of this tale,
when you leave home, you can’t go back again,
because you won’t be there when you arrive.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, goodbye.
And it’s home again, I want to go back to you,
see my family and my old friends too,
but I can’t go home again.
Goodbye, my love, goodbye my love, adieu.

“Inventories” is a journey book about a semi-god (a type, allegorical, character, an oligarch on the run) who wants out (to escape his life of privilege and its human costs), to leave home, only to find himself engaged in any number of other homes along his way.

There’s no place like home, and no way to escape.