Dolce & Metallico

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.

The Anglers

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.

Poetic Fact

The use of metaphor is not pretentious. Most folks use metaphor, most of the time, in ordinary circumstances – metaphor is hardly limited to poems or wordsmiths. When we look at something familiar but see something different – the metaphorical mind engages. Advertising is grounded in metaphor, where images are often used to counterpoise logic (vintage cigarette ads will provide examples), and we seldom ask ads to explain themselves. Advertising traffics in pathos, which, while it appeals to the emotions, does so in logical ways. The Spanish poet Federico Lorca suggested other forms of logic (words used to reason) are available and frequently used to understand or make sense of persons, places, and things – and of events and experience. Lorca named one other kind of logic Hecho Poético. Poems are not puzzles to solve. They are facts. Poems are modes of experience grounded in common sense, mother wit, connected to mood: indicative, ordering, questioning, wishful, conditional.

Intermission: Two Songs

The song he sang bang bang
wronged his world in ruin.
The song he sang rang rang
in a public call box.
No one by picked it up
to hear his sad sack tale.

Who does not doubt
the flood zone maps,
the flow of the fire line?
One in trees, one underground.
One flies to the sky.
One climbs to a fallout shelter.

One portrays, one predicts.
In two camps the singers roam.
The songs below go gong,
in the trees so tinkle.
One pulls down, one pulls up.
One rises green, one drops red.

The Dream of Baseball

“And the phantom crowd’s horrific boo
dispersed the gargoyles from Notre Dame.”

“Dream of a Baseball Star,” Gregory Corso, from The Happy Birthday of Death, 1960

Yesterday, July 23, was opening day of the pandemic delayed Major League Baseball season. That’s about four months later than normal. The abnormal, short 60 game season is underway. Welcome to the virtual ballpark. I missed the first game, the Yankees vs Washington Nationals in New York, which already tested one of the new, shortened season rules: the Nationals lost in only 5 and half innings, timing out due to rain delay. One of the new short season rules eliminates any chance to play the game out to 9 innings.

But I caught the second game, the Dodger game, against the visiting Giants, played in a fanless Dodger Stadium on what appeared to be a typical sunny late July LA evening, but quiet, still, the air clear. What is the opposite of standing room only? Empty seats.

But not exactly empty. Cardboard cutouts of fans filled the seats behind home plate. There was Tommy Lasorda, former Dodger player and manager, leading the cheers to the Dodger late innings 8 to 1 win. Fans can buy a selfie cutout. Maybe Paul and Ringo will spring for a whole pavilion section devoted to cutouts from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover.

Baseball has never been a good example of an effectively televised sport (McLuhan explained why). But the season opener last night underscored the importance of a fan filled stadium, smelly beer and greasy hotdogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack, also the importance of ceremonial hoopla to major league sports. The fans are part of the game, as William Carlos Williams suggested in his poem, “The crowd at the ball game“:

“It is summer, it is the solstice
the crowd is

cheering, the crowd is laughing
in detail

permanently, seriously
without thought”

Aging, and working on mindfulness, one may find one’s lackadaisical waking mindset similar to one’s sleeping condition. Normally (not necessarily as a rule but on the whole and customarily), the logical links connecting thoughts create continuity and coherence and one feels in control, though who or where that one is, where one feels it, or to what extent any feeling of control is fantastical, gets instant replay once the lights go out – replay in slow-motion, surreal angles, calls reversed. That helps explain why poets have always had an affinity for baseball.

Photo: Portland Beavers, by Joe Linker

What Shall We Do With a Drunken Surfer

She bops down to the beach to dance
in the sand by the water the seaweed
brittle and he trips aback and nearly falls
like the drunken sailor in the shanty
“Ho! No! Thar she blows!”

She desires to dance politely
he wants to throw the bottle
into the waves they bouncing
round two junks in the vessel
carried away in a rash riptide

With a message for the great white
whale they glide over the stonefish
ease through a fluther of box jellies
the moon full but the night not fair
the music stops the beach empties

He awakes in the bottle rolling in the ripples
with her sound asleep soft nipples
in the warm sand above the water line
calm and sober like the walrus
angel watching over you

What shall we do with a drunken surfer
who dreams full of fishes seaweed wrack
brack Saltwort Ale and other foolishness
who never caught a fish nor wave enough
to feed his wife out combing the beach

Insect Us

The bed cuts in two below
the double hung window
a winged grass summer
recruited fellow enters
follows hollows spends
the sun day in tiered
bell bottom cuffs.

The light suspended night
emerges sounds now audible
flushes waterflow distances
scratched glasses niblings
windowsill paint flakes
scent trail antennae erect.

Crawling to the bed
an 18 wheelerlegger
seen from 8 miles high
climbing the Grapevine
downshifting in the heat.

Slithers up the sheet
the fan worrying wakes
you just in time to see it
climb across the bed
to my side where
you let me sleep.



Signs

No Vacancy Next Exit Yield Yellow
Curves Ahead Jesus Saves 20 is Plenty
Men Working Wrong Way Slow Down
Beach Turnout R R Trucks Surf’s Up
No U-Turn Warning Coming Merge
Living Together Dinosaur Crossing
Strong Odor Theatre No Syntax
Call Mother Footnotes Wait Here
Boiler Room Home Economics Pool
Skid Row Lemonade Hardware
Look Concrete Buy Sell Trade
Cash for Cool Clothes Shoes Hats
Only the Lonely Steel Plate Cars
Dance Tonight Bingo Poker
Yoga Beer Book Rack Comics
Yes Short Story Masterpieces
Happenings Falls Rounding
Not an Exit Lemon Drops
People Sleeping in Roadway
Birds Icy Spots Leery Reckless
Backstage Backstory Face Front
1000 Ugly Christmas Sweaters
Noises Off Flying Goat Coffee
Trees of Mystery No Roller Skates
Route 66 Las Vegas Barstow
Fabulous No Standing Anytime
Lands End Dip Advertise Here
Mudslide Homes of Happiness
End of the Trail No Lifeguard

Pretty, vacant, and we don’t care

Watch the stars as they collide
Erase the dots in your eyes

What do the lyrics say we can’t hear
The singer and the song disappear

Pretty vacant and we don’t care
Pretty vacant and we don’t care

What’s your name the color of your hair
Saw you down at the LA fair

Have so much no need to share
Look at us oh what a pair

Pretty vacant and we don’t care
Pretty vacant and we don’t care

“Pretty, vacant, and we don’t care”
was part of an originals set played on
Live at 5 from the Portland Joe Zone last night,
and included:
Bury My Heart in the Muddy Mississippi
If You’ll Be My Love
Two Riders Were Approaching
Goodbye, Joe
She Shakes Me Out