Tuesday, May 2nd 2006

Haiku invitational results…
posted @ 9:41 am in [ - - ]

Thanks to everyone who submitted haikus! Feel free to keep writing them, of course. Jeez, I thought it would be easy to pick out a clear winner, but it’s not.

I think Brian gets a LOT of style points for asking a practical question with Yoda-like syntax in haiku form:

We will be in town over Memorial Day See you we can, right?

Don gets style points, too, for putting a LOT of philosopy and social consciousness into a 17-syllable format:

so much talk and prance so little time to romance put your nukes away

Chris and Nokomis have really strong poetics:

My dog likes to bite People who don’t belong here Then kisses their wounds

Wet-sparkle sandy shell Collected Dry and dull, shelved

Each of Claudia’s entries really capture the frustration of late-stage academia (with which I am sympathetically familiar):

Who really cares anymore? About knowledge, books and the written word? Only those who control us

Elizabeth has a really nice sense of that as well:

blogging is splendid. how much nicer it is than a dissertation.

I don’t know, folks. I don’t think I can pick. I do think it’s cool that togther, we whipped up a compendium of nearly 20 haikus, and that there was such a cool range. I really enjoy collaborating with you!

Friday, April 21st 2006

Haiku Invitational!
posted @ 1:24 pm in [ ]

You know, haiku is great stuff. One can crank out poem-lets in a relatively short period of time, and the syllable restrictions (5-7-5) force one to select interesting words. I encourage you to whip one up and leave it in the comments area. Any topics are welcome, and I’ll post each and every haiku I get. I’ll leave this posting up front for a few days to give folks a chance to haiku, and then next week, I’ll laud the author of the best one, quite possibly in haiku format. So take a minute and make some art! Here are a few to inspire you to do much better:

He climbs up higher I contemplate from below, grateful for ladders

WTF, George Bush?! Stop tapping my phone, jerkweed. Why are you still here?

Casual swearing: How could Grant Theft Auto dorks be so offended?

I hate when you drive. You squash far too many squirrels, and too few fascists.

Who sat in jelly then on the couch and the dog? The butt prints abound.

Thursday, February 16th 2006

Where is our Pericles?
posted @ 3:58 pm in [ - ]

After the great, victorious Persian Wars Invincible Athens stood the only superpower in the known world. To do business was to do business with Athens, Athens, loved by all Athens, feared by all Athens’ superior culture emulated by all the known world The Delian League paid tribute to noble Athens whose only conquests were bloodless riches, its stately temples and public buildings reflected by the sun-kissed waves of the wine-dark sea

Not sated by the tribute of most, Athens turned to conquest of all, those first who would not love Athens who would not fear Athens who would not pay Athens Mothers sent their sons to faraway lands: “Come back with your shield or on it” the middle class, now too small to feed to a foreign army, placed Athens’ creaking ships on the wine-dark sea

When mighty Athens reached the Melians It had already lost the names of its heroes “The strong do what they will, the weak do what they must.” You must love Athens You must fear Athens You must pay Athens or you must be destroyed and so the Melians were. Shining Athens died with the first of its fallen– Apollo’s own chariot could not pull the sun from the wine-dark sea

Too many would-be conquests stood up to now-friendless Athens, They would not love Athens They would not fear Athens They would not pay Athens Spartan swords killed many, Athenian hubris countless more and the nameless Athenian ultimatum-givers toiled in Spartan salt mines, spoils of war while Socrates went down to the Piraeus, the smashed seat of mighty Athens’ power over all the wine-dark sea

Saturday, September 10th 2005

Protected: What the f*ck?
posted @ 2:10 pm in [ - ]

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Saturday, July 16th 2005

My Main Literary Man, Raymond Chandler
posted @ 4:04 pm in [ ]
From time to time, my writing students ask me what I like to read, and what I think is good. I love Raymond Chandler’s stuff. For those of you not familiar with his work, he wrote detective novels set in L.A. in the 40s and 50s. He had a gritty yet beautiful style, with incredible description–definitely art. A lot of folks tried to copy him, but to my mind, nobody else ever got close. Most remarkable was his process: if nothing happened on a particular page, he’d wad it up, throw it out, and start a new page. It took him forever to write his books, but the description is incredibly tight and there is SO much going on there.

This is the first chapter of Farewell My Lovely, ca. 1940. If you can forgive his lack of political correctness (it was 1940, after all), an incredible opening to a book. I use it sometimes for rich description assignments.

It was one of the mixed blocks over on Central Avenue. I had just come out of a three-chair barber shop where an agency thought a relief barber named Dimitrios Aleidis might be working. It was a small matter. His wife said she was willing to spend a little money to have him come home.

I never found him, but Mrs. Aleidis never paid me either. It was a warm day, almost the end of March, and I stood outside the barber shop looking up at the jutting neon sign of a second floor dine and dice emporium called Florian’s. A man was looking up at the sign too. He was looking up at the dusty windows with a sort of ecstatic fixity of expression, like a hunky immigrant catching his first sight of the Statue of Liberty. He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck. He was about ten feet away from me. His arms hung loose at his sides and a forgotten cigar smoked behind his enormous fingers.

Slim quiet men passed up and down the street and stared at him with darting, side glances. He was worth looking at. He wore a shaggy borsalino hat, a rough gray sports coat with white golf balls on it for buttons, a brown shirt, a yellow tie, pleated gray flannel slacks and alligator shoes with white explosions on the toes. From his outer breast pocket cascaded a show handkerchief of the same brilliant yellow as his tie. There were a couple of colored feathers tucked into the band of his hat, but he didn’t really need them. Even on Central Avenue, not the quietest dressed street in the world, he looked about as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.

His skin was pale and he needed a shave. He would always need a shave. He had curly black hair and heavy eyebrows that almost met over his thick nose. His ears were small and neat for a man of that size and his eyes had a shine close to tears that gray eyes often seem to have. He stood like a statue, and after a long time he smiled.

He moved slowly across the sidewalk to the double swinging doors which shut off the stairs to the second floor. He pushed them open, cast a cool expressionless glance up and down the street, and moved inside. If he had been a smaller man and more quietly dressed, I might have thought he was going to pull a stick-up. But not in those clothes, and not with that hat, and that frame.

The doors swung back outwards and almost settled to a stop. Before they had entirely stopped moving they opened again, violently, outwards. Something sailed across the sidewalk and landed in the gutter between two parked cars. It landed on its hands and knees and made a high keening noise like a cornered rat. It got up slowly, retrieved a hat and stepped back onto the sidewalk. It was a thin, narrow-shouldered brown youth in a lilac colored suit and a carnation. It had slick black hair. It kept its mouth open and whined for a moment. People stared at it vaguely. Then it settled its hat jauntily, sidled over to the wall and walked silently splayfooted off along the block.

Silence. Traffic resumed. I walked along to the double doors and stood in front of them. They were motionless now. It wasn’t any of my business. So I pushed them open and looked in.

A hand I could have sat in came out of the dimness and took hold of my shoulder and squashed it to a pulp. Then the hand moved me through the doors and casually lifted me up a step. The large face looked at me. A deep soft voice said to me, quietly:

“Smokes in here, huh? Tie that for me, pal.”

It was dark in there. It was quiet. From upstairs came vague sounds of humanity, but we were alone on the stairs. The big man stared at me solemnly and went on wrecking my shoulder with his hand.

“A dinge,” he said. “I just thrown him out. You seen me throw him out?”

He let go of my shoulder. The bone didn’t seem to be broken, but the arm was numb.

“It’s that kind of place,” I said, rubbing my shoulder. “What did you expect?”

“Don’t say that, pal,” the big man purred softly, like four tigers after dinner. “Velma used to work here. Little Velma.”

He reached for my shoulder again. I tried to dodge him but he was as fast as a cat. He began to chew my muscles up some more with his iron fingers.

“Yeah,” he said. “Little Velma. I ain’t seen her in eight years. You say this here is a dinge joint?”

I croaked that it was.

He lifted me up two more steps. I wrenched myself loose and tried for a little elbow room. I wasn’t wearing a gun. Looking for Dimitrios Aleidis hadn’t seemed to require it. I doubted if it would do me any good. The big man would probably take it away from me and eat it.

“Go on up and see for yourself,” I said, trying to keep the agony out of my voice.

He let go of me again. He looked at me with a sort of sadness in his gray eyes. “I’m feelin’ good,” he said. “I wouldn’t want anybody to fuss with me. Let’s you and me go on up and maybe nibble a couple.”

“They won’t serve you. I told you it’s a colored joint.”

“I ain’t seen Velma in eight years,” he said in his deep sad voice.

“Eight long years since I said goodby. She ain’t wrote to me in six. But she’ll have a reason. She used to work here. Cute she was. Let’s you and me go on up, huh?”

“All right,” I yelled. “I’ll go up with you. Just lay off carrying me. Let me walk. I’m fine. I’m all grown up. I go to the bathroom alone and everything. Just don’t carry me.”

“Little Velma used to work here,” he said gently. He wasn’t listening to me. We went on up the stairs. He let me walk. My shoulder ached. The back of my neck was wet.

Thursday, June 2nd 2005

Protected: Epic nerdy love poems
posted @ 5:09 pm in [ - ]

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Monday, September 27th 2004

posted @ 4:04 pm in [ ]
She awoke again in the ‘vert, this time to droplet prisms on its rear window as thousands of tiny suns rose behind it. She stretched on her way back to the driver’s seat, started it up, backed onto the dirt track that had brought her here, turned around, and began to think of going home.

She stopped at the first diner, sharp and ravenous. Eggs, toast, coffee, more eggs, pancackes, hash browns… she felt as if she hadn’t eaten in days. She was sure she had, but she had no memory of the food itself, what she had eaten, and what it had been like. She remembered something about mixed fruit jelly in the little plastic square bubbles, yet it remained entirely surprising, as if the experience had been implanted in her without her actually having had it. It was so good–why couldn’t you get these things in the supermarket? She got a large coffee for the road and set out.

The trip home was quick and direct. Getting found was easier than getting lost. Late afternoon shadows reached toward her from the city where she lived, and she pulled up to her apartment building as the stars would have been lighting up the desert sky again. She couldn’t see the piercing starlight from there–just the whining sodium lights of city parking lots and streets. She gathered her things from the ‘vert: the camera, the bottles of Jose, the suitcase with a few quick getaway items, the bag of drive-thru trash, the receipts from diners and gas stations and the Desert Inn, and went inside, half hoping her key wouldn’t open the door.

Once inside, she was comforted by familiar scents. The apartment was again sparse, no plants, no fish, but it still smelled like the sagebrush and pinon pine incense she liked. Her photos were all still there, and so was her bed, and everything else that was just hers. The things that were gone were only the things she didn’t miss: the hard leather couch, Alan’s law books, his half-dozen or so corkscrews. She hadn’t wanted to come home to any of those things. The red velvet garage sale couch was pushed into a corner, presumably so Alan could get his knockoff Persian rug out from under it. She moved it back to its place of honor, then glanced at the few pieces of mail that had come through the silent brass slot in the door. There were no messaages on her answering machine, for which she was grateful.

She put the clothes from her suitcase into the washing machine and went downstairs to the shops along the next block of her street. She dropped off her film so she could later choose the next addition to the photo wall. The Desert View Inn, maybe, or the arroyo from last night. She got a few groceries, which the bag boy somehow managed to place in the bag so it looked like a still life, a tip of bread and some green leafiness poking out of the top. In a smaller bag, she carefully carried a new addition to her apartment: a small spiky cactus, round like a grooved barrel, with the promise of a bright pink bud on top. It should be fine, she thought, if she had to go away again, and it would be nice to have another living thing in her space. She found a spot for it on the windowsill and looked at the mail again.

Between the few bills and pieces of junk mail, there was a postcard of a small, slender, green-eyed coyote on a high mesa, the points of his fur glowing in the fading light. “I’m still thinking of you,” it said. “Just found out I’ll be in town next week and I’d like to see you if that’s OK.” It wasn’t signed. She smiled and set the postcard down next to her new cactus. Would it be a small grinning coyote at the door next week, or the equally beautiful and unpolished Seth? She wrote “pork chops” on the shopping list for next week, curled up in the center of her own bed, and fell asleep without dreaming of Alan, Jose, or hard couches, just the endless dome of desert sky.

Tuesday, August 17th 2004

posted @ 12:44 pm in [ ]
Flashes of light woke her and she turned over onto her back, the vynil back seat of the ‘vert squawking beneath her. Another flash of light let her know what had woken her a few sleepy seconds before. As she started to sit up to look for approaching headlights, a crackling sound nearby broke through her sleepy haze to tell her what was happening. She lay on her back looking up through the driver’s side window of the back seat and smiled. Lightning. Rumbling thunder became booming thunder as the storm moved swiftly toward her position, carrying with it the faint hiss of… rain. Droplets began to hit the window, but she could still see a few stars. She smiled again. As if a thunderstorm, however rare and beautiful, could obscure every last one of so many millions of stars.

She got out of the ‘vert, leaving it unlocked. Surely she was the only creature for miles around who could drive, or even open a car door. Checking the ground carefully for the right places to put her feet, she made her way to the edge of the arroyo, and sat down. The drenching rain began to come down more softly as the drops became too large to pelt. Each drop left a near-perfect 3-inch circle on the starfish sweatshirt until the dry spots were small oddly shaped slivers, and then they disappeared completely. The desert normally swallowed all sound–she loved it in part for how quiet it was. Tonight, the sound of rain and thunder blocked everything else out. Down at the bottom of the arroyo, a little trickle started, fed by the rivulets spilling down its walls. It expanded to a small stream over the course of the storm, and she watched it pulse to life.

How mystical it was, she thought, that water would just fall from the sky. What a remarkable place to be, a unique planet, that defying the other spheres’ extremes, managed to have water storms. The rain soaked her clothes, her skin, her hair, the earth around where she sat, the nearby plants, the ‘vert, the dusty track that had led her to this spot, everything. It washed the dust off her and swept it down the arroyo to be carried off and eventually returned to the desert when the arroyo dried out again.

Eventually, the rain stopped. It was still dark, but the darkness was paler. The sky was still, but the ground and the plants began to hum with life. Toward the bottom of the arroyo, several small creatures came out to lap at the impromptu creek while it ran by. It was too dark to see them well, but she could see and hear tiny commotions as they went about their business. Perhaps they were mice or small rabbits. Mammals almost certainly–she could barely make out a tattoo of delicate padded feet. She sat very still so she wouldn’t startle them, hoping that the recent drenching would mask her alien scent. The desert always reminded her to be still and listen.

The moon came out then, so bright she could have read by it. The shadows of rocks and plants and marauding mice doubled the landscape’s cast of characters, and their sudden activity. The soft diligent creatures below her didn’t seem to notice at first, but they suddenly stopped, all at once. She could barely make out dozens of tiny pink ears from a few yards away, standing straight up, the size of kernels of corn.

Then suddenly, she felt it too. Accustomed to a different habitat, her senses weren’t as honed as those of the mice, but something else was there, behind her, very close to the tip of her still shadow. She turned her head slowly, still not wanting to make any sudden movements. There, in the ten feet between the ‘vert and her right shoulder, was a small, slender coyote. The moon silvered his fur and greened his eyes, and he just sat there, still and dry, next to the exaggerated end of her chin on the ground behind her. The mice had silently scattered, and the desert around her was going quiet again.

The coyote let the end of a bubblegum-pink tongue show through his teeth and panted very softly, like a dog, but he was still a different kind of animal. Even in the dark just beyond the reach of headlights, a racoon is not a cat, a fox is not a dog, and their belongingness to the wild shows in the quality of their movements, as if they still know how to make the air swirl around their unbrushed coats. The coyote was like that: a relative to familiar creatures of her world, but very much at home here in his. You could put a coyote in a comfortable enclosure, feed it by hand, even make friends with it, but it would never, ever be a dog. She looked down at her own hands, at the pads of her fingers and the undersides of knuckles. She looked at her knee, bent and sticking out as she sat, as the coyote’s were. She turned back to the coyote, who seemed to grin, a gleaming sharp triangular grin, and peered pointedly into her big green eyes. He panted a little, like he was laughing softly, then with a flick of that soft pink tongue, stood up and loped away, at an unhurried, even pace. She watched him go, the tips of his fur glowing in the moonlight.

Tuesday, July 27th 2004

posted @ 10:39 am in [ ]
Afternoon and Reno came and went like casual slot machine quarters. Gas stations, diners, convenience stores, they had all started to run together. Was the bony 20-ish waitress with the fading Ronald McDonald Red hair and multiple face piercings in a diner or a truck stop? Off which highway? As the clear edges of recollection melted and pooled together, she began to breathe more deeply, and her shoulders began to relax and drop. Her right knee, slightly stiff from driving for days, had risen to the challenge and no longer ached. Her shoulders felt warm and tan. She could start back soon.

The approaching sunset promised orange and gold on a purpling backdrop. She turned west so she could watch it while she drove. The highway narrowed into two lanes, then a small, barely paved road into the scrub, and finally gave into dirt track in a surprisingly gradual fashion, ending at the edge of an arroyo. She stopped the car and got out, still looking west, the eastern sky stretching a purple blanket of stars toward the western horizon. She got a faded red sweatshirt out of the trunk of the ‘vert and sat on its warm hood, heels on the front bumper. With the falling temperature, she knew the hood would soon be covered with a fine coat of droplets. The air was dry and still, as if the wind held its breath in anticipation of the last sliver of fireball sun’s descent.

The sweatshirt had been Dale’s, and it was long on her in every possible direction. Dale had faded and softened in her mind as the sweatshirt had on her body. Now he was just big and sweet and pretty, standing in the doorway in mismatched socks and rumpled boxers with his dark wavy hair all sticking up at crazy angles, and that lopsided grin. He had understood about the pictures, and even drove to Philadelphia with her one time. In the end, though, she hadn’t needed him desperately enough. She wouldn’t have been crushed, or dead, or worse, without him, and it seemed he couldn’t quite live with that. She loved him enough, but she was somehow too… regenerative, perhaps, as if she could slip off into the desert and regrow a lost limb. She spread her arms out in the faded red sweatshirt like a road-dusted starfish and stretched. After watching the stars for a while, she got in the vert, pulled the top up, and slept.

Tuesday, June 22nd 2004

posted @ 10:17 am in [ - ]
She was back on the road a little after sunrise, after saying an affectionate goodbye to the luscious, sleepy-eyed Seth. She had to make Reno by afternoon, she said, and was gone with his scent still on her hands. The ‘vert sang along beneath her, as if it were just as happy to be there as he had been.

About 20 miles into the drive, the streaming road began to sputter tiny houses alongside it, mostly bright white ones, almost seeming to be their own sources of light. The houses consolidated somewhat, and organized into a small town. She found a white stucco building not much bigger than Bungalow 2 with a Tecate sign in the oversized window that overwhelmed it, and restocked Jose.

A handsome creature, fortyish, with rugged features, a slightly greying mustache, and a flannel shirt wearing at the collar and elbows, looked her over as she came in the door. She smiled and glanced away. Clearly he was the local operator, and she didn’t like them too smooth. Alan was smooth now. He had been awkward and sweet when she met him, shy about looking at her or talking to her, often looking at his beautiful, perfect hands. She thought it was adorable. Now he argued like Socrates, glaring right at her, full of evidence and high sentence, having completely forgotten that he had hands at all. Smooth was entirely unappealing.

She asked for a fifth and two half-pints of Jose, and Mr. Smooth reached back behind himself and pulled them down for her without taking his eyes off her. Flattering, perhaps, but much too steady. She handed over two 20s and pulled her hand away before he could “accidentally” brush her fingers. He gave her her change and placed the bottles in a brown paper sack, still not watching what he was doing. Beginning to feel like an antelope haunch, she looked past his well-built shoulder and caught a glimpse of the stockboy, shirt off, in a pair of not-quite-snug jeans with a telltale band of boxer brief just barely peeking out of the waistband. She watched him for a few seconds and let him catch her at it. She smiled, looked him over, and left, tossing an afterthought of, “Thanks,” toward Mr. Smooth.

In the parking lot, she tucked the fifth and one of the half-pints into the suitcase, and dropped the other half-pint in the map pocket that would sit next to her calf. As she perched on the seat, car door open, she could see the stockboy watching her from the open back door. She slowly pulled her long, mostly bare legs into the car, smoothed the left calf as if it were covered with a fine, slighly rumpled, organza, closed the door, and fired up the ‘vert. Just as she pulled away, she took one more look, up and down, and blew him a kiss. He half waved, but mostly blushed. She grinned for the next several miles, and got started on the half-pint.

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