The Narrowness of Stories

 
 I dreamed of mudslides shrinking Lincoln Park.
 A crumbled cottage made of stones. 
 Two eagles — too proud to scavenge
 spawned-out salmon choking in the foam.
  
 Dogs tore meat from a beachbound seal.
 A Jamestown Chief spit on a car – 
 The next best thing 
          he squeezed through sour teeth
 to wishing on a star.
  
 What’s history to the mud, anyway?
 What’s tradition to the sea?
 An upturned trash can on the beach –
 another homeless camp along the street.
  
 The Cascades turned their back on me
 and hid thunder from the skies.
 Olympic floods 
           just like that 
 choked to runnels.
 Tribal rage gone saturnine. 

Compass

The bear’s head points into the hills.
The horse clams sleep in Mutiny bay.
I drive a highway tight between the two,
I drive tomorrow into yesterday.

The boy found fire in the mussel shell.
The Thunder gifted him a spear.
I search for fire beneath my foot,
I search for Thunder in the gears.

The bullwhip kelp on the ha-ah-poos.
The whale flukes mute above the waves.
I find my fuel in their histories,
I find my future in their graves.

With some help from the Klallam story of “The Offended Hero.”

Librarian

 The orca’s tongue is tattooed in crowblack ink
 with the whole history of the Hoh
 and the names of Nisqually who hunted there
 in the sacred space between hawk and bear – 
 hung to cure in a frozen smoke.
  
 In the blackfish grin, written on salmon skin, 
 lives the library of the Lummi
 and the forgotten words to S’Klallam songs
 sung in the fog from which they’re drawn – 
 then gone like a dream’s unblooming.
  
 But the orca speaks, too, the newer words
 of submarine and ferry boat
 and the sharp dialect of high skylines
 that replace the flesh with the crystalline – 
 concrete terms being asked to float.
  
 A blackfin ripple loops cursive in the bay
 as the orca pens the Pacific tome
 and writes Sound verses beneath the surface
 in a Salish hand whose arc is perfect – 
 the scrimshaw line of tooth and bone. 

The Inward Aim

 Who out there might I have saved
 and who am I to say
 that if I had gone and fought along
 they'd be happier today?
  
 Which among them would have marched 
 before adoring mortars and towards
 their final chance to Meddle with 
 the Honor of their chore?
  
 Who out there might I have saved
 and what would that have done
 but reinforce the enemy
 on the ever-growing front?
  
 Which among them would have marched
 until their soles knew every grain
 of every dune and cratered ruin
 that compelled the inward aim?
  
 Who out there might I have saved
 and who am I to say
 that the lives I would have handed out
 were better than the graves? 

Lawful Thievery is the Rule

“Behaviour lawless as snowflakes…”

Still Walt Whitman, still Song of Myself

It’s been that part of the movie, where we’re all in the operating room, staring at the screen on the EKG while the tone flatlines and the doctor says “clear” one last time. Five, ten seconds pass, there seems to be no hope, and then there’s a blip:

We have a pulse, everyone.

The house has the heartbeat that it’s been missing. The last piece went in yesterday – I let The Boy nail it down. Obviously the baseboards still need to go back up, but the big chore is complete. And after I cleaned up and put the tools away, I had the Spring Break feeling of freedom, of vast expanses of unclaimed time laid out ahead of me. I immediately folded laundry. But nobody told me how to fold these two garments:

They have a knack for teleportation.


I release this one annually, a small revision or two each time. It’s the sort of poem that “real poets” would not “take seriously.” But serious poets are generally a sad lot, and afraid. Maybe one day I’ll stop messing with it, I don’t know. It’s a little late coming this year, but reading the “lawless as snowflakes” line from Leaves of Grass made me realize that it was time for theft:

Summerthieves

 Autumn starts for me like this:
 an evening's cold, capricious kiss,
 chiding me to stay alert
 that I don't miss my turn to flirt.
  
 Leaves come down like lawless clocks
 along no route that rules can watch.
 They’re shouldered first, then tickle sleeves - 
 those brittle-falling Summerthieves.
  
 Ah! Here the hub of town comes near,
 with its public houses pouring beer
 colder even than the air.
 But it's so close and warm in there
  
 That I go inside against the cold,
 where I like to think we're men of old,
 and on every wooden bench and stool
 sits a girl - an honored golden rule.
  
 The Boys can leave their coats on hooks -
 The Girls will keep them warm with looks.
 Suggestive stitches, hopeful hems.
 October stalkings, autumn gems.
  
 In here we work with noble tones
 toward a sense of coming home.
 Because man is tempted to his best
 when woman is so smartly dressed.
  
 When everything to do's been done,
 we wrap the prizes we have won
 as close to us as we are able,
 and leave the rest upon the table.
  
 Warm within and cold without,
 It’s easy to forget about
 The weathers we're supposed to know,
 And on our brazen way we go. 

A Song for Fog

   
 Captain, do not curse the fog.
 It is the lullaby of the Blackfish.
 It is the glint eddy at the wing of the Sbaqwah.
 God-blue, long as a Black River canoe.
  
 Captain, your horn is heavy like blood in a ghost.
 What can it do? 
  
 The fog is a child squat over a snake in the longhouse. 
 It never knew you.
 It does not hear you.
  
 The osprey tear herring over a broken cedar.
 The salmon scowl at the ladder and die.
  
 Your boats are wrapped in ancient names.
 Kittitas and Chimacum. 
 Issaquah and Wenatchee.
 Only the words are quiet on the water.
  
 The engines scare an owl from the head of a bear.
 The bear scares crows from a picnic table.
 It watches you bleed cars into the hills.
  
 All head and no flukes, you pilot the ghost 
 without much rudder.
  
 You think you pilot the ghost.
  
 Captain, do not curse the fog.
 It is the white noise of the Salish Sea.
 You are the brother of the Chinook.
 You are the white throat of the Blue Heron. 
 
 Trade pilothouse for smokehouse.
 Dance the deck from wheel to wheel.
 The lullaby of the Blackfish will be your song.
   

Apheresis

The easy part is the digging –
snowsilver spade slicing steamsoil.
 
Dirt hardly parts – but sighs!
Eucharine breath, epicene oil.
The lissome lisp of shovel slipped
into winesoftened silt.
 
The easy part is the digging –
straight-grained shaft stung
by stone, bonequiver knock
on bone and out the crown
emptied unto Heaven
with every chuck and throw.
 
The easy part is the digging –
brute-sunk shovel in soil.
Psalm-sung singing of sinew.
 
Instrument to sentiment.
Lie-less rhythm without end.
Monument to sediment.
Lie-less rhythm without end

The PVP Diaries #74

Algorithms and machine learning and all, so the fact that this happened is probably because I searched from my own computer. You might get different results. Anyway, I googled “the snapdragons smelled buttery delilo,” and the second result was something I had written in 2011:

“I think I am just reading things to find the beautiful words. I don’t really know how much the story means to me, in the end. I do know that this is why I need fiction – non fiction doesn’t say beautiful things. Or maybe it does. But if that’s not fiction, then nothing is. I don’t know what snapdragon is, don’t know what it looks like. What it smells like. I don’t need to anymore, thanks to Don Delillo:

It was the rooftop summer, drinks or dinner, a wedged garden with a wrought iron table that’s spored along its curved legs with oxide blight, and maybe those are old French roses climbing the chimney pot, a color called maiden’s blush, or a long terrace with a slate surface and birch trees in copper tubs and the laughter of a dozen people sounding small and precious in the night, floating over the cold soup toward skylights and domes and water tanks, or a hurry-up lunch, an old friend, beach chairs and takeout Chinese and how the snapdragons smell buttery in the sun.

When you can start with the simple rooftop summer, something that just says “this is where we sat when” and end up at “the snapdragons smell buttery in the sun” without a missed anything between, you’ve built more than a dozen carpenters could in a month. You’ve built another forever.”


All of that because a poem that I read at Naive Haircuts reminded me of that passage in Underworld by Don Delillo. If you have any interest in poetry at all, or maybe especially if you have none, follow the link and read his poems. The images are so crisp and the music is so clear that I could read those poems out loud and actually like the sound of my own voice.


I haven’t been right about much during this plague – note what I said in the very first plague diary:

For the record, my early prediction for the Societal Freeze brought about by the Perfect Vison [sic] Plague is that here in the United States it will be over much sooner than we think. We will have overreacted in effective ways, and we will look back on this whole thing as a job well done.

Me, 3/16/2020

I mean there’s wrong, and then there’s “the polls say Hillary is going to win in a landslide” wrong. But my initial plague prediction blows right past that and sets a whole new bar for prognosticative failure.

Why do I bring this up now? Because, as I guessed just a couple of posts ago, soccer has already backpedaled. I called this one correctly, for a change. The King County numbers have steadily been climbing, and now we’ve moved from a moderate to a high risk county. Practices will be little to no contact again, and though the soccer club didn’t come out and say it, this can only mean that the league games scheduled for this weekend are canceled.

But how’s the bridge coming along, you ask?

Photo credit: West Seattle Blog

Those are some kind of maintenance platforms on the underside. They’re not doing much, aside from whatever it takes to make sure the bridge doesn’t collapse, even with nothing on it. Note the prison-esque concrete misery of its Soviet style design. It was built in 1984, so it is very much a Cold War construction in the spirit of surviving Mutually Assured Destruction. Unfortunately, it couldn’t even survive traffic. I remember 1984. I was 9 years old and terrified of nuclear war. Screw you, The Day After. The Foucault-like observation tower on left of the picture is the watchtower for the lower bridge, officially the Spokane Street Swing Bridge. But I know I’ve been over all this before.

City council member Lisa Herbold was kind and brave enough to send out a survey asking the very in depth and technical question of whether we, the people, would prefer to repair the bridge, or to replace it. There’s so many ways to mock that move that I don’t know where to start. If you like, you can throw in your vote here. My vote is for replacement. I think it’s high time – and an absolutely perfect opportunity – to be ambitious. This thing’s gonna cost a fortune no matter what, so let’s be bold and creative and build something beautiful. Pull a full Singapore and find someone who will design and build a bridge that will have the whole world talking. As a rule I avoid negative generalizations about America and Americans, mostly because it is the stock and trade of the least intellectually creative people out there – Americans are fat, Americans are selfish, Americans are lazy and won’t walk anywhere, etc. Nobody hates Americans like Americans, because self-loathing is peak virtue signaling. It’s such a clever dodge. You can’t be criticized very effectively if nobody hates you as much as you hate yourself.

Jesus, I digress. Here’s a negative generalization about America/Americans: Our urban construction is based almost exclusively on the principle of Easy, Fast, and Cheap Inexpensive. Our cities are not visually, aesthetically pleasing. It is uninspiring to look at them, and uninspiring to walk in them. There is nothing to wake the spirit. Nothing to be proud of. Maybe someone could run around select streets in San Fransisco or Chicago or New York and take some iPhone photos, then hit them with a good instagram filter and say “look how beautiful,” but overall they’re real downers. They look best at night, without exception, because all you can see is the lights. But now Seattle has a chance to etch out a small fissure between itself and its deep pseudo-solcialist branding by doing something grand and moving with this bridge, instead of just taxing us with another dull, gray way to slow people down.


A note in closing: I received about a week’s worth of traffic here yesterday, and there is no ready evidence of any particular reason. No incoming links, pingbacks, no particular post with excess views, nothing. Just a lot of hits to the home page. So if you are a someone out there who directed viewers my way yesterday, I say thank you. Thank you very much.

-Build it better, Comrade Citizen!-

This Autumn Friday

The flame in our gas fireplace doesn’t get very high. For a couple of years it also took a long time to light. We’d flip the switch and wait, and step back a little bit, and watch with that jack-in-the-box tension building until it suddenly blasted on with a force that rattled the glass. It was a situation that hinted not very subtly at eventual disaster, and I did the usual thing: Searched the internet for quick fixes to my problem, and found none. Then I searched around for local gas fireplace services, found a few but balked at the probable price tag, combined with the (at the time) possibility that they wouldn’t even come into our house anyway. I eventually figured out what the problem was and what needed to be fixed (that internet again. If you don’t have one yet…), ordered a couple of parts that arrived in 2 days, installed them and got our fire turning on in a way that can probably be best described with a clever British turn of phrase that begins with “right as” and invokes biscuits, the Queen’s ankles, or something seaworthy. Or a combination of the three. “Right as eating biscuits off the Queen’s ankles in a cuddy boat.” Something. Like. That.

So now we don’t have to run out of the house when we turn the fire on and wait for it to ignite, but the flame isn’t any bigger. I assume that with more flame there would be more heat, but it rarely gets anything like cold here in Seattle, so It isn’t a real concern. As it is, the low flame makes for a really nice morning mood. Any hotter and I wouldn’t want the blanket. Any brighter and I wouldn’t be quite so relaxed. As much as I would love a real fire, part of what I love about the dark winter mornings is the quiet and solitude. If I had to rattle irons and logs, and wrestle with a flue catch, and kick up a burning wood smell in the house, it would probably just wake everyone up.

Robert Hayden knew about waking up with fire:

Those Winter Sundays

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?


I wrote a paper about that poem a few years ago. Organized it into three sections, each one focused on one word in the title. It was one of those papers that was more fun than work.

Mailing It In

I love forgetting about something until it shows up in the mail. You don’t really get to do that much in this blissful epoch of two-day and even sometimes same-day deliveries. But a while back I was offered a thing and I – wisely – accepted. I chided the sender once, then left off, and yesterday it arrived. “That’s odd handwriting.” I knew it wasn’t my mom’s, thought it could have been my dad’s, if he was in a hurry, then I looked at the return address and remembered that Miss Dickinson had been on her way, as she says in #324, Some Keep the Sabbath, “all along.” Thanks go out to Gerard for the best of gifts: a book with a personalized inscription:

It’s a gambit of sorts, because I gain more from it than this book. It means that I, like Gerard before he sent it, now have two copies and can send one off to anyone who wants it. Raise your hand in the comments and we can work it out.

There’s a lot going on, to be sure, but I don’t want to talk about it. I want to do this: Sanding the deck (it’s done, BTW, we’ll stain this weekend) inevitably, finally, reminded me of this poem:

Cut

There are days you learn things
like —
 
the real feel of sawdust,
downy in plush piles
No trace of the pain
of its bellicose birthing
 
Days you learn that things  
you don’t long look at —
things made when two mean pieces meet
and one must give —
are too quickly swept away
 
The first time you smelled it —
a tidy slice that bled
all freshness from the dying
whine of the chopsaw
(hard named thing!)
was in the garage, probably,
or a cobwebbed shed or even
in the bright back woods,
under a stiff wind
that moved whole seasons
and could not help but carry
the fruit of hewn history
straight into you
 
That first time it was only looking —
 
A place to live
A home forever
 
We know it now not
as the smell of the jobs of our fathers —
jobs that didn’t seem enough
 
We know it now
as the smell instead
of the work they did
that we silent saw
(and they more silent did)
 
 
Work that was rough,
that was mean,
that mother sometimes seemed to think
wasn’t good for much
 
That it was only the work —
just that, merely the work —
that made them,
merely, men
 
But now we know that Mama knew
and nothing good was left unseen.
We know that she knew that
 
Papa had to be the silent thing
to clear a little holy space
for a little violent shepherding
 
Now we KNOW that Mama knew
what rough cuts made the dust,
and how she must not just sweep it up
but that she must
(hard fought stuff!)
form piles —
neat peaks to bear up the brutes,
the boys, the noise-born boys!
whose shouts we shussshhhh —
 
stamp right out.
 
Believing —
 
we can polish the mean teeth
of the saw,
pad the menacing head
of the hammer,
quench the fires blasting
in the bellies,
And still have a house to live in
 
Mama —
who made us
know
Who made us
whole —
sees us act
 
as if we could make all the hard things soft and the loud things
quiet and the mean things nice and never once put tooth to tree.
 
As if we could have the
(yes, messy)
blessing of the dust
without the saw
 
We never saw that
mama cuts things, too
 
She lifts her blade while papa
(who always mutely knew)
swings his, severing, down
 
We stand between, above —
smelling home with every
swipe and hack