Night Words

Those words that come at night wash
swim the room like pieces of litter
flowing down a gutter in rainfall
cooling the street and gloom.

Then come the slow-moving
two-wheeled wheelbarrows
pulled by a pair of worker
words pulling like tugs

the barges of raw sense:
to to wit
to to whom
to to why
to to reason
of of love
in in fear
two by two
far and near.

spring

with spring’s sprang nearly sprung
green cheer spread here and there
winter’s rust vanquished vanished
birds appeared and cats chirped

bees abuzz and poets well coffeed
at sidewalk bistro tables smiling
flowered girls no more sobbing,
words like dandelion seeds fill

vacant lots of napkins and notebooks
from self sown gardens of the mind –
happens every year most this clime
a great force in and out the ages goes.



No Word

It might have been said,
were there one to say it,
she was the last human,
but then she would not
have been the last one.

She’d been told to keep
by the river, the fresh fish
would grow and multiply.
The weather returned,
the goats and chickens.

She talked to the animals,
but she found life easier
if she kept silent, forgot
words, let go lingo and,
in the end, was no word.

On the Whole of Things

having cut it out [it, all its]
pleasure now without article
embellishment whole
some questions

consider blue hydrangea
yesterday transplanted
from pot to ground
root, stem, leaf, bud

in which will we find
whole plantness
cup without coffee
gives us to mark time

a day without hours
hours without minutes
minutes without seconds
where will we find time

for whole things
words opening
seeds, bulbs
into whole language

grown in pots
root-bound can
but describe
like mathematics
can not be


Free Words (some assembly required)

not spoken words
not hidden words
not hearded words

dug words
fished words
sifted words

surfed words
combed words
well travelled words

free words on
the sidewalk
skipped by

letters spewed
like weed seeds
across a manicured

lawn as solid green
as the village scene
where words score

sales counts
remaindered words
recycled words

composted words
buried words
words love lost

lost and found
words washed
up on a beach

words gargled
words swallowed
words repurposed

words typed
words scratched
words fallen

from the sky
like manna
made into beer

words loaded
words emptied
words cooked

words eaten
words wiped
clean

as tables
freshly set
with white tablecloths

words waiting
aside
words walking

whispered remarks
“Shall I hear no more?”
utterly.

(note: written while reading
noT wriTTen words
by Xi Xi, trans. Jennifer Feeley,
Zephyr Press, 2016.)


The Poet’s Tale

The poet is born in squalor, his first love. Some of the poet’s favorite words include seedy, shabby, seamy. These are words made with a hissing sound. In phonics, that sound is called a sibilant, and is produced by forcing the tongue toward the teeth, with the lips near closed, forcing air out like a snake whistling. But opposite words are equally valued by the poet: classy, stylish, exclusive. Even if the reader uses words without really caring about words as such much. The poet is not primarily concerned with getting a point across, and is held harmless if some point hurts its object in the bargain, even if so much the better. If an annoying sound appears to sharpen the point, there’s value added. The poet is in love with words.

But it’s easy to confuse poetry with sarcasm, satire, or irony. And the true cynicism of poetry often gives way to stoicism. This may occur when the poet realizes there is no point to anything, including his own poetry. Innuendos may still be highly valued (particularly where points may be scored), for all words have their beginning in figures of speech, which is to say, metaphor. That is precisely what an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is meant to solve. Words disallow mistake when artificial trade-offs are refused. But language is no place for despots, try as they might to exert control, to establish absolute authority. Who controls the movement of words over space and time?

Words are all substitutes. No one can claim dominion. One is as good as another. Language is democratic. And that is why the poet is married to shame, his own mother, at once virgin and harlot (that is to say, vagabond, a beggar for words). In a truly democratic society, where everyone is equal and all words hold common sway, and competition without compromise is useless, it may begin to appear the only way to have a-leg-up-on is to attempt to subject another to shame. But shame has never worked as a measure of control. And that is why poetry can be so hard to get, and why hard times come so often to poets.

The poet stands accused of nothing and nonsense. His love of words and sound and color is scorned and mocked. He is the scapegoat for confusion.

Coast Road Trip: Adage and Algae

The idea, now an adage, that a picture is worth a thousand words, seems to have come from early 20th Century advertising strategies. A picture might be worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate shopper, and advertising must be short and quick and hit hard enough to leave a brand image on the brain. The problem now for advertisers might be there are too many pictures. We are now uploading upwards of 2 billion photos daily to the Internet. If the early 1900’s advertising adage is true, that’s two trillion words, daily. It’s easy to see why a writer struggling to reach a goal of 500 words a day might resort to posting a pic or two. Or simply trade the blog in for an Instagram account. Digitized images are the algae of the Internet.

Mural in Harbor Zone, Crescent City, CA. Photo by Susan.

Penina’s Paginations

For some, grammar might be understood as an attempt to control language, or to control a speaker. But the only way to establish complete control over a language is to kill it, which is probably or nearly impossible, because language possesses, like the planarian, the ability to reform or regenerate from a tiny piece of itself. I point to an object, and that is how grammar works. The object could be the sugar bowl on the kitchen table, the moon, or a running man. I link to it for the purpose of linking you to it also. But first, I have to get your attention. Of course, I can always point to myself, or point to an object by myself, like talking to myself, which might be one origin of poetry. When the objects we point to disappear, or others claim to be unable to see them, we come to the first existential crisis of language, where we find ourselves in grammar school, the subjects of rote repetition in an effort to create memory. In grammar school, we learn to wear a uniform.

We learn to number our clothes. The hat, number 1. Or maybe we start with the shoes, the socks being a subset. First we put on the right sock, then the left, then the right shoe, then the left shoe. Never mind it’s a sunny day and we were thinking what fun it would be to go barefoot. To go barefoot, in grammar school, is one of the first examples of being ungrammatical. We are assigned a seat, a number in a numbered row, alphabetized and numbered in the numbers book. Having a number is essential when everyone looks alike.

So it was with a tremulous motion I finally approached my MS Word file containing my first published novel, “Penina’s Letters,” to correct a few unintended consequences. The first printing had contained an unacceptable number of typos, and the front matter setup has always felt a bit clumsy to me. The chapter listing page, for example, showed the chapter titles but no page numbers. And the ISBN didn’t show on the copyright page. But why the tremolo? Why not just go in and make the changes? I did manage one corrected copy upload, after the first printing back in 2016, ridding the book of most of the obvious errors, mistakes which, it pains me to admit, I had failed to spy with my little proofreading eye. But a few issues remained, as additional readings revealed, but the thought of entering the MS Word file again and resubmitting for revision to CreateSpace for approval with the hope of not making matters worse was all more than I felt up to. Besides, I now had other projects underway that required my attention.

Then, a week or so ago, I was notified that CreateSpace was closing its doors and all texts migrating to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). So I took the opportunity to become acquainted with KDP by reworking the front matter of “Penina’s Letters” and fixing a trio of what I recognized as outstanding mistakes.

My first submission of a redo file for KDP’s approval was rejected – something to do with pagination errors. Mercifully, the rejection came within the 24 hours promised, and I went back to work on the Word.doc before motivation waned, resubmitted again, got approval, ordered a proof copy, and voila! No page numbers at all.

Suffice to say, after all that preamble and bramble, that for the past several days I’ve been immersed in a kind of MS Word pagination purgatory. Changes to a text often cancel out other changes, or sit on top of them, burying them below – but that suggests there is a top and a bottom to the thing, and of course there is not.

I got page one to say 1 but could not get the other pages to follow suit. I got every page to say 1. And so on, nothing acceptable. I began to think, rationalizing and trying to come up with some creative solution, why bother paginating at all anyway? Does the common reader really need page numbers? And isn’t a page number a kind of mar on an otherwise illuminated manuscript page? I got page numbers to show, but not in the footer where they belong. I toyed with “different front page,” “link to previous,” “create section break,” erase all and begin again. Deeper and deeper into an MS Word morass I sank. I entered “document,” “paragraph,” the journeyman’s “tools.” Suddenly blank pages and huge gaps in the text began to appear throughout the manuscript. I fixed and corrected and proofed. At one point, I had a file with pagination complete that seemed correctly formatted. I resubmitted yet again to KDP, and the proof file came back still with no page numbers.

I took a break from the project. I remember McLuhan saying something about pagination beginning with the printing press. The fall is into the printing press. Is there a page 1 to the Internet? In a mosaic, one may enter and exit anywhere. Page numbers are useless. There are no pages. There is the infinite scroll – over, under, sideways, down.

“Backwards forwards square and round.
When will it end, when will it end,
When will it end, when will it end,”

the Yardbirds sang.

“We don’t need no stinking page numbers,” I can hear Puck Malone of “Penina’s Letters” saying. But in the end I managed somehow to successfully place page numbers on the outside edge in the footer of even numbered pages, in sequence, every other page. I seemed to recall seeing books numbered only on every other page. I looked through some books. Saul Bellow’s “The Actual” places page numbers only on the odd numbered pages, right edge of page, in the margin, spelled out, in italics: page one. Enough.

Interested readers may utilize the “look inside” feature at Amazon to get an idea of how the new printing of “Penina’s Letters” came out.

 

 

Words of Love

Honey,
I’ve looked everywhere
for the lost words
telling your love for me
in the kitchen compost bin
in the basement of my heart
in the attic of my ass (what
a Fantastic Voyage that was!)
through the crawl space
between my breasts
in the curls of my hair
in the fishnets between my legs
between my toes and under my nails
Alas! nowhere to be found,

she said, subtle armpits open
to the heat of the night

Baby, she went on,
I can’t love you if I can’t
find the right words of love
come back tomorrow or next week
I’ve got the College Dictionary
here and the Bible
and a stack of noir paperbacks
I’ll find your words of love
if it’s the last thing I do

Up my nose, under my eyelids
around and around my ears
maybe stuck in earwax I’m thinking
his words of love where could they be
could someone have stolen them
who would want them
someone else’s words
could they be buried
in the cushions of the couch
lost in the halo of my navel
tangled in the curlers tossed
across my dresser in the old
35 millimeter slide box
in the china cabinet in the corner
(which has not been opened
over a decade of Thanksgivings)
in the medicine chest upstairs
in the hall closet
in the glove box of the Buick
under the rug
in the dirty clothes hamper

Maybe, Sweetie, you told them
too slant, or to another
words of love must be true
if they are to come back to you.

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