Monday, July 30, 2012

Poetry Jam #9

A funny thing happened, just now; I looked in my big folder of handwritten writings and found that the number of new poems it contained was only enough for one decent-sized poetry jam.  This isn't because I've stopped writing poetry; it's because, although I like writing by hand, with my shiny fountain pen, when I have an idea for a poem it's usually easier to type it out on the closest computer.  Does this mean that I spend way too much time in close proximity to computers?  Probably.

But at the same time, I also have a number of hand-written stubs, proto-poems I started without finishing or fixing, that I've been meaning to revisit.  The next poetry post will probably include many of these, because some of them are actually pretty cool.  They're just not done, is all.

As for the poems I wrote on the computer, I might have included a few in this post to pad it out a little more.  But they're on my desk top, and I've only got my laptop here, so they'll have to wait!

Today's poems are from the approximate period of April 2011 to December of that same year.  The themes they address are diverse, but mostly they are sad, because 2011 was kind of a downer of a year for me.  It had its bright spots, as most years do, but on the whole 2012 is really kicking its ass.  Way to go, 2012.  Keep on kickin'.

A Downtown Walk

I think I hear an echo,
or am I speaking double,
talking loud enough for two?
A distressing conversation
set between myself and you.

I swear I heard a whisper
of something like a whistle,
something small enough to miss.
In my lifelong agitation,
in the shadow of a kiss,

I think I hear a siren
in buzzing, throbbing silence,
walking up the busy street;
a vibration in my headphones
where the storm and waters meet.

I wonder where it's screaming,
to where its wheels are squealing
in a little lonesome town,
upside down beneath the waters
where the stranded ducklings drown?

It feels like something's burning,
a million pictures taken
in the lifetime of a day,
of a moment soon forgotten
set in sepia and grey.

Song to You

No beauty meets a melody
like yours in every word you speak,

No light could shine as crystal clear
and cool as you in your mystique;

No secret ever kept as sweet
and left my heart so weak,

Your soul so like a minor scale
expressed in an ecstatic peak.

Amazon Blues

I think I saw you walking
seven blocks from Ferry Street;
I pulled up to a stoplight,
watched you cross and didn't speak;
I didn't want to say a word,
I just tried to be discrete.

I guess I figured you'd be leaving,
thought you'd go and disappear;
I hoped you'd travel 'round the world,
come back in twenty, thirty years,
and I still can't quite imagine
why you'd keep on living here.

The Ballad of the Silent Word

The silent word was dead;
it died three thousand years ago
the instant it was born,
it shouted with a silent voice
and gently drooped its head.

The silent word was dead:
the mourners let it lie in state,
it moldered in the room
and suffered long in silence
as the eulogy was read.

The silent word was dead:
asleep inside a stack of paper,
dreaming of a song,
it flared up into silent life
the instant it was read.

Sleight of Hand

The sound of a hundred hands inspires
the sight of a thousand lucky eyes,
the lines and lights,
and lies
a powerful public work declaims;
the words of a silent leader's mouth,
the people's fear
and doubt.

The radio plays the people's choice
of cynical songs on endless loop,
to see the depths
to which they'll stoop;

A miracle on a darkened stage,
identical birds and swarthy cats:
a rabbit from
a hat.


The sunlight on a beam of cherry wood,
warming in the afternoon and
holding warmth throughout the night;
a blossom on a branch of vanity,

Nothing comes close
to water at the end of drought
or drifting dunes of melting snow;

Nothing comes close
to floating on a stream of melody,
slowly sinking at the moment
nothing holds you up but earth;

To dreaming, and at last remembering
nothing comes close.

The Long Night

If only to be young and strong
as all the world is breaking down,
with fire burning all around,
releasing ashes to the evening,
keeping moonlight from the ground,
I would stay where I belong.

If only to be home among
my people, and to see their faces'
resignation take its place
beneath a grainy layer of dusk;
I'd take a look at them and brace
against the plunge that comes along.

If I were ever young and strong
and swaddled in decaying light,
I would be troubled by the night;
observing all that's growing and
remarking on the present blight,
I would admit that I was wrong.

The Nothing Man

In the name of Nothing Man,
a final will and testament
bequeathing none and nothingness,
to name whoever else will know.

Nothing leaves the Nothing Man,
and nothing new has come before
it disappears into the night,
like nothing new has ever done.

Come the night the Nothing Man
denies the night that came before,
and never mentions anymore
the only name he ever knew.

Broken Glass Around my Head

Shining streets of broken glasses
gleam in corners of my eye;
I had nothing much to do with
how they broke; I don't know why
but something makes me want to hurry home,
hurry home away from  here,
away from all the broken beer
that's soaking in the stars.

Music in the evening hours,
music in my eyes and ears;
I am blinded, I am out of touch
and deaf to all the sounds the people
make; they make me want to hurry home,
hardly have to say a thing
before I hill the doorbell ring
and I am back at home.

Poway Under Cover of Darkness

The spotlight on the silver streets;
the absence of persistent beats
is keenly felt, as keen as night
as winter's cold in city lights.

A chilly fifty-three degrees,
this southern California breeze;
the constellations upside down
above my California town.

All of this I keenly miss
with music in my ears; if this
is music, let it stand and play
a song of moonlit nights and days.

Roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll, roll,

Rolling on the paperweight forever,
ever rolling on a compact disk
and spinning on tectonic plates,
roll, roll, roll, roll,

Rivers in a cabinet
and monsters under bassinets
roll, roll, round and round,
ever rolling under solid ground,
roll, roll,
twisting in the horrible,
horrible hurricane,

Rolling over carousels together,
never rolling anywhere apart,
and twirling into silver dollars,
roll, roll, roll,

Commentary now!

The end of the last poetry jam left me moping and despondent over the ill-treatment of my foolish heart at the hands of a pretty girl.  A Downtown Walk, Song to You, and Amazon Blues find me in much the same condition, because I would not just get over it already.  None of them, however, are actually about that particular girl.  The first is a more general contemplation of melancholy.  The second is an abstract expression of longing, directed at no one in particular.  The third is about a completely different girl from a different time.  One day, I may find it difficult to keep them all straight.  But for now, I take comfort and peace of mind from my lovely girlfriend, who doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

The Ballad of the Silent Word is kind of heavy handed, and it used to be more so.  It's written in my notebook with a different fifth line: "and whimpered as it bled."  Clearly, I spent way too much time being morbid before I wrote this.  The idea for this came from an article I read about a "post-literate" society, a concept of which I am very much not on board with.

Sleight of Hand is also kind of heavy handed, I guess.  You try to make a general point about society and everything comes out totalitarian, with the statues and the subliminal messages and what not.  No, I don't think we live in a Stalinist nightmare of memory holes and gulags.  I just think people aren't as fond of truth as they are of comforting illusions.

And then there's Cherry, which is a positively cheerful bit of dreaming.  I've posited before that my most artistically successful things have always been melancholy rather than happy.  But while I can read melancholy into this poem, it doesn't strike me that way.  Reading it makes me feel happy, and I think it's still a really good poem!  Imagine that.

The Long Night was written as a more or less immediate response to the novel Less Than Zero, which I reviewed last year.  Needless to say, it sent me right back into apocalyptic-doom mode.  The feelings came from reading the book, but the imagery was inspired by my memories of 2003 Cedar Fire in San Diego County.  What connection is there between the two?  None really, but there felt like there was one at the time.

I wrote The Nothing Man more or less in one piece between sets at an open mic night that I was attending.  No, I wasn't reading poetry in front of anyone; I just had an idea and wanted to write it down before I forgot it.  It's kind of ridiculous, but not the most ridiculous thing I wrote last year by far.  No, you're not allowed to read those things.

The only way that I can explain Broken Glass Around my Head is that I was slightly drunk when I had the idea for it.  I was walking home from a social event for my teaching cohort at the Eugene Hilton, and much wine had been served.  Judging by my handwriting, I wasn't really drunk by the time I sat down and wrote the thing, but walking through the streets at night can clear your head a bit.

Poway Under Cover of Darkness reflects another night time stroll, under much soberer conditions, back in my home town for the holidays.  The difference between those two walks can clearly be felt in the difference between these two poems.  I like the second one more, to be very honest.

And finally, Roll, x10 is, well, a poem.  I'm not even sure if I meant to title it at the time, it just had the word "roll" written a bunch of times in the upper margin.  Word association and stream-of-consciousness produced this underrated masterpiece.  Look upon it and beware; just reading it might get you high.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just a Regular Road Trip

Last Monday, I went shopping for a used car.  On Thursday, I drove my purchase off the lot.  But strictly speaking, it wasn't me driving: the driver was my friend Bau.  You see, the car that won me over, that I knew could satisfy my needs, fit my budget, and provide me with the satisfying road experience I wanted, was a 2008 Chevy Aveo.  And it had a manual transmission.
The Scariest Thing in the World, scheming in Eugene, Oregon.
Now, a short-term thinker might have shied away from such a purchase.  Not only had I never so much as turned the ignition on a stick-shift before, I had a stated commitment to embark on a journey of over a thousand miles just three days later.  I had to return to my ancestral lands to participate in my father's wedding, and there was a general expectation that I should arrive in one piece.  Were I to play it safe, I might have stuck, at least for the immediate present, with my dad's Dodge Magnum (pictured here, covered in snow).

But I had other considerations.  I wanted a car in my own name: one that was more practical for my lifestyle, easier to maneuver in tight spaces, and lighter in its fuel consumption.  I also thrilled at the unexpected opportunity before me, to learn a new skill and impress some folks.  So I signed on for The Unknown Quantity and spent the next three days mastering its conceptual intricacies, and trying really hard not to roll backwards into a line of cars when I parked on hills.

Finally, on the date of Saturday, July 15, having sufficiently leveled up (and placed all my meager skill points in hill-scaling), I set off down Interstate 5 on my epic adventure.  It was, for the most part, uneventful and unremarkable.  But I learned a lot about diving, lessons that rang truer as each of the ensuing, interminable hours passed.

I've made this particular journey several times, in both directions.  I've done it in a Suburban, a task that seems harrowing through narrow mountain passes.  I've done it in the Magnum, which is a lot more secure but not much more economical.  I had reason for trepidation, driving stick for the first time over such a long distance.  But I found that, on long stretches of sparsely-populated freeway, driving The Mighty Muskrat was a lot like driving an automatic.  I might glide in neutral over a slow curve or down a steep hill, or shift down to fourth or third while ascending an imposing mountain, but most of the time I could sit in fifth gear and cruise along at a steady 70 miles per hour.  I couldn't exactly zip past slower traffic with the greatest of ease, but you have to give some things up when you surrender a machine with an 8-cylinder hemi engine.

I stopped in San Francisco to spend the night at my sister's place; despite my fears, I was not defeated by that city's exaggerated, non-euclidean topography.  True, I only had to negotiate two hills in my time there, but it was an important personal triumph, not to mention a mercy for my transmission.
The Mountain Goat, greeting the dawn in San Francisco, California.
Monday morning took me out of the Bay Area and back onto the 5, where it is distressingly easy to go more than 80 miles per hour, whether you want to or not.  High winds swept across the central valley, jostling me on the road and somehow generating the ghostly sound of a windshield wiper on a dry pane of glass.  That noise was probably the scariest thing on the entire trip, but since I only heard it in high-wind zones and it persisted even when I was in neutral, I decided to press on without fear of catastrophic failure.  It's that kind of optimistic thinking that characterizes my general attitude toward drives like these.

Driving through California's great central valley is not one of life's most essential experiences, unless you're way into expensive gasoline, malodorous cattle ranches, and perennial angry placards accusing Democrats in Congress of taking away the region's water (which I suppose was once naturally abundant).  Fortunately for me, The Yellow Submarine has a capable sound system, with a quiet engine and decent isolation from the inherent noise pollution of a high-speed freeway.  Armed with a book of over forty CDs, I beat back the monotonous advance of insanity and kept my eyes out for the slightest change in elevation.

Passing through the Grapevine and into that mystical parallel universe known as Los Angeles county, I knew I was about to face my greatest challenge.  Armed with my stick-shift, I was to attempt a crossing of the most congested city of the American Nightmare, at just about five o'clock in the afternoon.  I would be forced to stop, and start, and stop, and start, time and again, inching my way through urban blight and doubtless ruining my machine with amateurish jolts and stalls.  And that was why I abandoned the direct route and made for the San Bernardino freeway.

I have no doubt I saved at least an hour from my total travel time, but that section of the 10, at that time of day, isn't much better than the 5.  Apart from a few glorious minutes of 60-mile-per-hour bliss, The Tiny Minivan and I crawled our way home in first and second gear, when we were allowed to move at all.
There was basically no rush in taking this shot before I had to start moving again.
It was at these low speeds, navigating the capricious currents of Los Angeles traffic, that I truly began to appreciate the joyful burden of the manual transmission.  Although I frequently found myself in the position of having to start in first from a dead stop, I avoided the stalling and lurching that plagued my early efforts.  I reached a level of basic understanding with my vehicle.  Although I obviously could not hope to control the traffic, I could control my car to an extent that I'd never been able to appreciate in an automatic.  When we finally reached the 15, and I was able to move about once more with freedom, it was a very satisfying release.

Finally rolling into the humble town of Poway, California, I felt a great deal of pride in my accomplishment.  I'd taken a car I knew very little about and finished a physically challenging drive.  I'd covered the last 215 miles of the trip with only about six gallons of gas, even as I pushed through stop-and-go traffic and steeply inclined grades.  I had renewed my confidence in myself as a driver.  And then, with less than half a mile to my mother's house, I stalled at a stop sign at the top of a hill.
The Car of Many Nicknames, relaxing in Poway, California.
My two-day drive was an important lesson in humility and in possibility, a chance to reevaluate my relationship with my car and the world I drove it through.  It was also dull, long, and by the end of the second day physically uncomfortable.  But it was definitely worth doing.  I'm not looking forward to doing it in reverse in a few weeks, but I'm sure that will be worth it, too.