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.
“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:
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.
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.
Two days ago I an around telling everyone “tomorrow’s my dad’s birthday!” I know my wretched memory, and it was my way of making sure that I don’t forget. Yesterday, I forgot. Sorry, Dad! I hope you got some cake. I’ll get the kids together and we’ll FaceTime later. Right now, one of them is sleeping under a cat on the couch, and the other is having chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon toast for breakfast.
“He who loves men, loves their joy.”
-The Brothers Karamazov
We had another one of those “-1” death days yesterday. I’m not really sure what they’re doing out there. But I do know that masks are now required by law in Washington state. It’s a “public health order,” anyway. In his presser, Inslee said something about it being a misdemeanor to not wear one indoors in public, or anywhere outdoors that social distancing isn’t possible. Enforcement is likely to be scant, of course, what with the ever-present mantra of “our police have more important things to do.” LIke pulling body parts out of suitcases. I, of course, have no idea how many people, if any, are guilty of the big hypocrisy, but there is an unmistakable coexistence of the calls for enforcement of mask wearing, at the same time as calls for the defunding of the police. One commenter wrote that we should be “quizzing” people about the masks they’re wearing.”When was the last time you washed that?” That sort of thing. Yes, that’s the world I want to live in.
Gonna put this in here for posterity, too, because I hope that reading this in 20 years just sounds ridiculous: I’m not paying much attention, but there’s enough white noise to infer that the city of Seattle is starting to get a little sick of the whole CHAZ experiment. Apparently there’s been a few shootings, and of course there’s no police allowed. The mayor or the police chief or someone said “It’s time for everyone to go home.” There’s a slow, collective facepalm developing in all the offices that opted to let this particular situation go unchecked. Yes, I’ve seen the conservative websites saying that CHAZ is all violence, drugs, and mayhem; and I’ve seen the liberal websites saying it’s a summer of love. That’s all very predictable and meaningless. None of it fully true or fully false. We no longer have the luxury of being able to understand the world through information.
I admire the clumsy struggle to get things right, but weep for where we end up in the process. Every sign-waving protester wants to be the next Gandhi or MLK, but those guys were like Gordon Ramsay in Kitchen Nightmares – once their work was done, the restaurant may not have been perfect, but there was simply no longer a call for that level of intervention. A little unspectacular management is enough to keep the ship afloat, but we believe that anything short of mutiny is slavery.
We could do with a few precincts worth of Mother Teresas.
Mother Teresa and Mr. Rogers. My family gave me “Kindness and Wonder” for Father’s Day. I’ve only read the introduction so far, but I’m a sucker for messages of joy, so I have a feeling that I’ll be tearing through that book with some zeal. And saying embarrassingly cheesy things here on the blog.
Joy As long as we define ourselves by all that we’re against we’ll have to go on wondering where all our happiness went.
Phase 2. I took The Boy to a real, live soccer practice yesterday. They have it very ground down and structured – I couldn’t watch because spectators aren’t allowed inside of the complex. We have to wait in the parking lot, or come back later, or have kids old enough to drive themselves. This morning I’ll be taking The Girl to a soccer practice of her own, 45 or so minutes to the south in Auburn. I’ll say this: It was nice, last night, to go somewhere outside of West Seattle. Outside of the very few places I’ve been for the last 3 months. It really is staggering and defeating to think of how limited my movements have been. Half a dozen trips to Home Depot? It’s a mile from home. I’ll take this trip to Auburn and back, breathe a little on the highway with the windows down, read some B.K. in the parking lot, and come back at lunch time for a very likely stop at the Habit Burger drive thru.
My biggest move so far has been a drive South to Burien last week, 10-15 miles. I was on the quest to retrieve the meat we ordered months ago. A quarter of a cow – 100 lbs of beef. It comes from a farm somewhere in Eastern Washington, and I picked it up in an odd little spot: an Australian meat pie company. It was not a glamorous operation, not a very “foodie” type of a place. Too spare for even any hipster love. I screamed my name through a mask and over the hum of refrigerator compressors until that became too frustrating for both me and the guy trying to hear me, then I pulled the mask down and said it again. Worked the first time. The police did not come. But the beef did:
Beyond the obvious joy of an abundance of beef, there’s the pleasure of having cuts that I might not normally think to buy – London broil, tri-tip, that sort of thing. There’s also short ribs, soup bones, lots of good stuff. And one very large brisket that I can’t wait to spend a day or two cooking sometime soon.
Things keep happening, even if they aren’t.
Happy late birthday, Dad!
“A man who lies to himself is often the first to take offense. It sometimes feels very good to take offense, doesn’t it?”
– The Elder Zosima, The Brothers K.
Here’s a reprint for a day that’s simply one too many:
Soft Armor Guard against the joylessness - the shout the sloganed cry. Guard against the chanted curse and truthful-seeming lie. Guard against the joylessness - against the sheepish fright. Guard against the mirthless marches that wilt without the light (a truly righteous Army thrives even out of sight). Guard against the joylessness - the hunt the blue bird’s noose. Guard against the flashing placards that turn a lynching loose. Guard against the joylessness - against the textbook heart. Guard against the low momentum of the classroom’s faded arts (the ivory’s crumbling fastest at the over-polished parts). Guard against the joylessness my son, my girl child, by suiting up in Mother’s grace and by wielding Father’s smile
I’ve always had a hard time writing to a specific theme. I could come home from a hockey game and write a better poem about baseball than hockey. All of this to say that I don’t think I have a specific Mother’s Day poem in the archives. I do have this, written in 2012, when the kids were still 1 and 3 years old. I was only just starting to get good at this dadding business, and their mother’s work travels left them very much longing, and I with my hands very full. I was still working full time then as well, so it was a whirlwind. We celebrated her returns:
Mama’s coming home today!
In anticipation, the pancakes fly
From the children’s plates
To the dog, through the sky.
Mama’s coming home today!
The sun makes noise to celebrate!
In obeisance, the butler rises
To quiet the household’s gears
With oils, and compromises.
The sun makes noise to celebrate!
Mama’s coming home today!
In preparation, a runner’s sent
To deliver the angels’ praise
For surviving, and keeping up the rent.
Mama’s coming home today!
She hasn’t traveled for months now, and that is what we celebrate. Here’s to a world waking itself up to travel, and a love that never leaves home.
Let us say that only Everest for the mountains
and the Sequoia for the trees
and the blue whale for the animals
(and if we must split land and sea
then it’s the elephant for me)
can be what we call giant.
I have seen the giant pacific octopus
and wished that it were bigger.
The last thing I ever want to do is the thing that everyone else is doing. For the purpose of this entry, that thing is playing the victim. Claiming specialness. I am not special. I am not a victim. But I am willing to observe, politely and mildly, that there is a bit of an extant sentiment in society that is, shall we say, ever-so-slightly in opposition to men. There’s lots of things we’re not supposed to be, depending on who you ask. But it’s all the same thing in the end, really. The thing we’re not supposed to be, is us.
So what. My entire childhood and adolescence were based on doing exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do. Big deal. Still, here I am: one of these men – at least in terms of biology and mentality – that we don’t seem to want much of. I write occasional poems in support of others like me because after three years in college, I learned more than anything that the most important thing to do is to celebrate and support with the greatest fervor those things that are the most like ourselves. The liberal arts world in college is a world based on the elevation of things of your own kind, and denigration of things outside of your own cultural circle. And also tolerance. Do what you will with that little contradiction.
I am aware of what kind of man I am. I only very occasionally build things, but I have an embarrassingly impressive array of tools. That kind of cliché. I fold laundry more than I hammer steel, I wash dishes more than I turn wrenches. My hands are not hard or large. I am tall but not imposing, and I am (he meekly admits) terrified of confrontations. My God, I think back over all of the fights I have craftily avoided in my life and I am not proud. But it’s still in there, that core thing, that masculinity that is called toxic nowadays. I know our need of it, and bristle at the mockery directed its way.
I am not here to argue against that. It strikes me as hypocritical in some ways. The masculinity I own and revere does not raise its voice to protest. It works and produces and creates and lets that action speak for it. It follows the cardinal rule of the writer in that it does not tell – it shows. I am here not to complain but to be a fan. To write up my support for the hard things that we are, and for the shittily unrefinable parts of our nature that I would not run from a fight to preserve.
Having said that:
GO AHEAD Be dirty and don’t hide your large hands that could split timber. They flip thin pages, too, rattle pans and feed their fighting heirs. GO AHEAD Be mean and lift the heavy thing and don’t mind making a little show of it. Your beambroad back can bear it and won’t tremble in the least GO AHEAD Be hard, clumsy and cruel and let the sneer of the timid mock itself. You hardly can part from that look that feeds you its forsaken strength GO AHEAD Be bare-knuckled and nude because we need most what no one wants. The world knows and keeps a place for the things we expel.
An empty house chairs pushed neatly in no holes where pictures hung. a cold stove Put away your tools let the meat rot. Don’t ask after the dust.
They say in the aftermath the evil’s come out but the evil out there lives in their mouths. So it’s something to look around face to face, hue to hue listen to someone being accused ...and know... ...and know... the opposite’s true. I think you dig me, Mr. Hughes And when you said you - a Kentuckian - were brothers with an African that was fine and I mean that the good way you would mean it back in your place and time, not sarcastic like we do in mine. But I wondered (this one's harder ...I know... ...I know...) could you have reached your other brotherhand to secure a little kinship with a white man? Talk about fine!