Sunday, June 21, 2015

Poetry Jam #19

I wasn't lying before when I said I was near the end of my backlog of poetry.  But then I kept writing poetry for months, without keeping up the pace on this blog.  So, there's a backlog again.  But that's not really so bad, right?

The first poem is something I recently found buried on my phone, back from the Sangnok days of early 2014.  But the other fourteen date from October to December of that year.  Needless to say, it was a very emotional time for me.  Putting this post together, I found myself quite proud of many of these new poems despite their bittersweet associations, so I hope you enjoy them.

A Blaze of Something

Window shopping
for a way to go,
the most expedient,
least expensive,
path to immortality
(in the strictly
metaphorical sense)
that won't burn down
the talent show.

The Last Human Beings

The month was June, and he was breathing
easy in the field of grass
as she was dancing through the flowers,
sunlight falling on her knees;
an orange glow of sun surrounded
them, a gentle hum of bees.

The blue above his eyes was swirling
like a painted sheet of glass;
his slender limbs could be mistaken
for the bodies of the trees,
their freckled branches growing slowly
from a central freckled mass.

The dappled green across her sundress
fluttered in the seasoned breeze,
the way the pollen of the poppies
turns to honey, the finest class
of sweets; and each revealing candy
scent was perfume to the lass.

 And she was laughing like a spirit,
dazzling the peonies
while he was captive to the moment,
threading roots beneath the grass
and thinking less about tomorrow
than the business of the bees.

Their never-ending summer morning
drifted from the alpine pass
as rivers flow from skies to oceans;
she as fluid as the seas
and he a slumbering willow trunk,
enchanted by her naked knees.

It Takes a Lot

Perhaps it takes a second,
all it takes to pass
the threshold, all it takes
to close the gap: it takes
my breath, it takes your breath,
it takes some getting used to,
then it takes control.

Wandering Hands

A hand in the dark, it reaches for
another hand, it finds its mate,
it gives itself a lusty squeeze,
it shudders on a sweet release:
the lights are flashing.  On and off
they flash, like crosses thrust from the hills
in the storm of the century.  Lightning strikes
and fingers burn, and hands are twitching
through themselves beneath the covers.
A fingernail hits the spot.

Three Hours

The moon was never brighter than the night
the sky was almost blue; a blinding white
face was casting shadows on the mist
and wreathing tombstones in a pale twist
of spider webs and fey October light,
raising up a ghostly autumn's tryst.

A tardy summer night
was closing up its fist:
the brilliant satellite
that flickered like a kite
at sea could not resist,
the ocean must insist.

We kissed,
and missed
the sprite's
the sleight
of night.

Mad Republic

This mad republic on the sea
is damaged public property.
It drifts between the oceans blue
like wreckage from a ship of freight,
bobbing up and down with waves
and sea foam soaking through the crates.

 This mad republic on a hill,
its beacon shines abroad at will,
its lights and shadows much more brusque
than lovely, crooked skyline stark
against the hopeful sun, a dusky
star of shame above the Earth.

This mad republic in the sky,
an eagle's fortress on the fly
where Earthlings tumble from the ledge
without a social safety net;
their steam punk fashion rules the air
before they meet the planet's edge.

This mad republic in your house
has spilled some lager on your blouse -
they tell you to go change your clothes,
they hoot and watch you take it off.
These party-goers hack and cough
like mobsters in a smoke-filled bar.

This mad republic's on a slide
and getting blisters from the ride.
The water's dead, the sun is dim,
the air is thick with clouded heads
and every word's subliminal,
the parties all political.

Bringing Home the Bacon

Behind the bunker with my little bell,
I softly click my way across the morning,
making noise to keep the office calm,
my eyes aside to give sufficient warning.

A secret message for my sweetie, stashed
beneath the stone to keep its contents covered
and my cover sound: my heart's own work,
a fine respite from being slowly smothered.

My thoughts divided by the task at hand,
the touch of skin, these distant, abstract players,
memories of fingers soft as gloves,
and plastic keys arrayed in offset layers.

Now something must come out of me, like rhyme
or sex or reasoned work, a stain on papers,
thin electric squiggles on the screen,
sincere attempts to clear my head of vapors.

I help myself to something, chocolate squares
more bitter than I'd like, not half as tasty
as a proper sweet should be, and vow
that I can bear it, I shall not be hasty.

To watch the minutes counting slowly down
from zero to infinity, the dripping
drip drip drip of honey on my mind
is almost pleasure, flower fields and skipping

through a summer day in any month;
no matter if I'm stuck above the higher
floors today, I'll simply make the time
to contact you across the signal wire.


This is a Wug.
There is no other Wug,
and that is a pity.

Only one Wug,
no plural form exists:
no cause for existence

carries the Wug,
and nothing can be learned
by such example.

This is a Wug.
This one is always blue,
and so is every Wug.

Six Years Later

We never got to live like heroes,
never got to see the walls come down
and hear the trumpets bray
a satisfying

We didn't find ourselves delivered
when the final outcomes were announced,
or glimpse the promised shore
beyond the splintered

We swore we did, but we were lying:
to ourselves, to mitigate the pain,
to steel our tender nerves
for when these votes were

We thought the future wouldn't matter
if the present felt so pure and good.
The present disappointed
when the moment

How Adults Speak to Each Other

"Happy Labor Day", September,
"Happy Veteran's Day", November;

in between, the daggers stab
and blood is drawn, the fingers jabbing

accusations of betrayal,
threats of murder through the mail.

Torrents of obscene abuses
strip the paint from shallow truces,

but let's get the kids together
for this fine October weather,

push our daughters on the swings
and make a show of wholesome things.

We're back in court on Monday noon,
our talons bared, and none too soon.


I'm afraid of all this missing mass:
the hiding places multiplying fast,
the sinking feeling filling up my gut.
Yes, I think my body's in a rut.

Yes, I know I said I'd take a ride
to find myself with nothing else inside,
to empty all this garbage in the street:
I'm avoiding all this missing meat.

What's the Word on the Street?

It's a new sign of the times
they've painted on the wall:
it's warning "keep out lefty,
streets are private property".

It's a bill for all the wrongs
they're serving instead of rights:
"Bruises are a privilege
and the tear gas costs extra".

It's a letter to the girls
who didn't make it safely
past a row of billy clubs:
it says "you had it coming".

It's a fairy tale they tell
the boys who walk too proudly:
the moral of the story
is "you sure had it coming".

It's a lie they told to get
elected, one of many:
"we can keep your children safe,
you know that you can trust us".

It's the motto on his badge,
like laughter in a dying
face, a steep humiliation:
"we are to protect and serve".

It's an angry eulogy
delivered, years to early:
"the child didn't have to die,
and we won't take this again".

Wishful Thinking

Sometimes I feel short of breath:
I'm choking down the stale spit
and I forget to stop and breathe.
The puzzle piece will never fit

if someone tries to force it in,
so why am I so adamant?
 I swear I'm gonna twist my spine
from underneath this elephant

that on my sloping shoulders sits
before this lonely month is through.
I've seen some very welcome sights,
but no relief as sweet as you.

I've slept in perfect summer nights
a thousand dreams and more with you.

I'll never lose the smallest bit
as long as I can comfort you.


With iron in your heart
you might explore the seas
at depths so fearful, none
would dare to follow you.
You'll sink beneath the waves,
your blood will pump a heavy
burden through your veins,
and wonders you could never
have predicted will
delight your fragile senses -
overwhelm your heart
and work the fragile thing
to death.
                And though you gasp
for oxygen, the divers
who will find your corpse
will not discover much
but iron in your heart.

The things you saw, descending
past the cities lost
and monsters inky black
that sliced through crystal beams
of sun and sparkly fish,
and all the wisdom sunk
beneath the bottom sand
in ships of pitch and gold,
will not avail a heart
so compromised, will not
redeem the long descent,
refund the drowning gasps,
restore you to the sky
with iron in your heart.

A Heroine Storming the Gate of the Gods

A girl with eyes like hour glasses
guards the wall with fierce alarms.
A boy with hair like burning grass is
holding out his steely arms -
between the two of them, they wield
seven blades in hands and teeth.

Before my last approach, they yield
not an inch: no sword in sheath,
no friendly words of welcome, nor a
warning of their cruel intent.

Afar I saw their weapons bore a
trace of murder.  Letters, bent
across the curving of the metal,
spelled the names of victims loved
and lovers crushed to death like petals
finely pampered, rudely shoved
between the leaves that formed the steel.

Eyes of doom survey the state
for blood to lubricate the wheel
holding shut the iron gate.

They see my face, they know the reason
I must breach their sacred wall,
and hungrily they meet my treason
with a holy, savage fall.

The battle, fierce and wild, splits
my armor; lying in the dirt
in pieces, as my target flits
about the scene, this mail shirt
cannot deflect her flensing knives
nor counteract his cleaving sword.

But blessings from a thousand lives
empower me; my wounds ignored,
I hold my ground, I keep my feet.

And though I bleed, a careful strike
with mighty arm and fingers fleet
can shatter guards and gods alike.

Her face is sundered on a slate
and I do not adore the sight:
his blood has wet the iron gate,
the witness to his final fight,
and all their blessed blades are broken.

Innocent they seem, a pair
of handsome lovers softly spoken,
but their guilt pollutes the air
that flows beneath this carnage hill,
as hate corrupts an honest tear.

I pay the price, the gods I kill,
the gate is raised, the way is clear,
I cast aside my tainted glove
and reach across a sea of flowers -
now I may embrace my love
again, enshrined with higher powers.


How about some commentary?

As I mentioned above, I found a picture of A Blaze of Something written on a white board while looking through my phone the other day.  I had completely forgotten about it, but as I recall we were putting on an actual talent show at the time.  So, call it idle scribbling.

The Last Human Beings is something I wrote shortly after coming back to America, inspired by the climate and weather of the great state of Oregon.  I like it for the rhymes, and of course for the dreamy imagery.   I was going for a Tolkien-esque vibe, something recalling both animate trees and the Beren/LĂșthien legend, because I am an incredibly nerdy person.

It Takes a Lot and Wandering Hands are both poems about sexual longing from afar.  The latter is also colored by a scene from the book The Haunting of Hill House, which I had just read.  Is it weird to mix those things up?  I think it might be a little weird.  I wrote other sexual poems around the same time, but they are either badly unfinished or creepy or just, well, bad.

Three Hours was written on the night of a total lunar eclipse that was visible in Oregon last fall.  I think the rhymes are neat, and of course the poem's structure is evocative of an eclipse.  Isn't it?  It's supposed to be, anyway.

I wrote Mad Republic shortly before the midterm elections of 2014.  You know the one, where our country committed itself to at least two years of even-more-regressive bullshit than usual?  Like most people, of course, I saw it coming.  I like some of the stanzas of this poem less than others, but I think they add up to something good on the whole.  It expresses my feelings about more than just that one election of course: partly, I think it was some of that reverse-culture shock people get when they return from living abroad.

Six Years Later is more directly about the election, and more melancholy than angry.  It's something any person of any political orientation can relate to after a bad election night, I think.  But it was written more for people who agree with me... so, hands off, other side.

Bringing Home the Bacon just makes me sad now, as it is basically what the words describe it as: a secret message to my sweetheart, back when I still had a sweetheart.  Then it got filed away into the poetry pile, and I never got a chance to share it with her.

Wug_ is a very silly poem that (I hope) is funny to people who know a bit about linguistics.  If you don't know so much, just google "wug test" to find out what exactly a "wug" has to do with plurals.  The last stanza also has a little joke based on the fact that I wrote it next to a drawing of a wug on blue paper.  That, obviously, has not been reproduced here.

I was working in my dad's law firm at this time, and I had the opportunity to read some correspondence between people involved in one of our cases.  The level of pettiness I encountered in those emails was the inspiration for How Adults Speak to Each Other.

Missing is an uncomfortable poem for me, having been written shortly after Thanksgiving while I was feeling anxious about gaining back the weight I'd lost in Korea.  You know when you've made something, and you're not really sure if you should have?  I feel that way about Missing.

What's the Word on the Street? was written in the midst of the Ferguson protests, when the grand jury refused to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown.  Its perspective, obviously, is in solidarity with the growing movement demanding justice for the lives of black people killed by police brutality, a perennial threat that shows no sign of abating on its own.  I like some of the metrical stuff I did here, but I want the focus to be on the content.

In early December, my ex told me she wanted to go on a break, and to be frank it fucked me up pretty bad.  Wishful Thinking and Iron were early attempts to express my feelings through my poetry.  Of the two, Iron is superior by far, at least in my estimation.  It might even be my favorite poem of this bunch, although it hurts me somewhat to read it over again.

And finally, we come to my mini-epic, A Heroine Storming the Gate of the Gods.  By far the longest poem I've ever written (52 lines!) and on of my more successful narratives.  At least, that's what I think.  Maybe it sucks and nobody else will like it.  I wrote most of it on Christmas, and I'm not sure when exactly I finished it.  Just a little something to keep the yuletide blues away.  Originally it was written without any breaks between stanzas, in that authentic heroic verse sort of way, but I inserted breaks between each sentence just to make it more readable.  The one thing that really bothers me is the last word of line 46, "tear".  It rhymes with line 48, "clear", but it comes just after the rhyming lines of 42 and 44, "pair" and "air".  The fact that 48 is in the next stanza just makes this confusion worse.  I am so, so sorry for this.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Run in the Life

I have never been consistent with exercise in my life.  Circumstances have rarely allowed me to be totally inactive, but like many people I grew to regard it as a chore, rather than a natural part of my daily existence.  I exercise because it's good for me, not because it fits organically with the rest of my life; and that's assuming I exercise at all. 

That's why whenever I adopt any sort of intense physical routine, it always ends up feeling like a project.  The kind of thing some hack director might make a documentary of, something like "my month of huffing and puffing before succumbing to the inertia of habit".  And in a way, I guess that's what this post is: documentation of the particular gauntlet I'm pushing myself through these days.

It would be narcissistic to just assume that you (the reader) care about the specifics of my sweaty exertions.  But since returning to Eugene, I've been trying to take better care of myself, both physically and mentally.  Exercise is a big part of that, and in writing about it I hope to encourage myself.  If it's of interest to anyone else, that's gratifying too.

So here's what I do, and I've been doing it for about a week now: some time between the hours of noon and two o'clock, I put on some gym-type clothes and walk about three quarters of a mile to the start of a running trail in Amazon Park.  I find myself at the head of the trail, located on the corner of 24th and Amazon Parkway.  I do some quick stretches, take some deep breaths, and admire what has thus far been some very pleasant weather.

We have such wonderful parks in town, it's a shame not to go run around in circles through them.
And then, the running starts.  If it's not obvious, I am not in what you might call "excellent physical shape".  I'm certainly not conditioned for any kind of distance running, though I'm a fair enough sprinter over (very) short distances.  So until the day I develop the necessary stamina, I limit my speed to what one might call a slow trot.  The goal is to get my heart rate up, rather than cover great distances or move at high speeds.

About a hundred meters down the way is the start of a one kilometer loop, and that is the course I follow.  Thus far, I have stuck to running one loop per day.  Experienced runners may scoff, or encourage me to try for more, but believe me, I'm only being realistic about what my body can do right now.  The first time I did this run, I almost threw up afterwards.  Since then I've become more and more used to the effort, but I don't want to push myself too soon and wind up hating the activity, or being angry at my body.  If this running is supposed to be good for me, then it should probably feel good when I do it.

The dirt beneath my feet is soft, and the trail is usually quiet and (mostly empty).  Cars noisily drive by just to the right, but the setting still feels very peaceful and natural, and I find it a perfect time and place for thought and reflection.  A properly paced run, it turns out, can be the ideal background activity for many kinds of thinking.  Sometimes it's a struggle to keep negative thoughts at bay, just like at any other time, but it seems like committing my whole body to one task has a way of blunting their impact.  Perhaps I'm not as mindful as I aim to be, but on the whole I don't feel bad, and that's a victory as far as I'm concerned.

Just after the loop turns back, and just before the six hundred meter post, is a park bench where I like to stop and rest for a few minutes.  I'm not completely out of breath by this point, though I am still not entirely sure if I could run the whole thing without stopping.  Of more immediate concern is the pain in my calf muscles.  Maybe it's poor technique, or maybe it's just lack of conditioning, but by the four hundred meter post my legs are usually aching noticeably, and I'm grateful for a chance to recover.  I sit on the bench, feel my heartbeat, gently stretch and massage my calves, and appreciate the natural beauty of the scene.

One of my short-term goals, of course, is to complete the loop without having to stop.  Hopefully my legs will soon become more cooperative in that regard.  But for now, I think it's good to have a moment to sit in silence and let the world happen all around me.  In the distance I can usually hear kids playing at the swimming pool, or animals moving around in the grass and in the creek.  Sometimes runners or dog-walkers pass by.  I've walked through this trail many times in my life, and all of these things are familiar to me.  But it's a comfort to experience them all the same, knowing they're as much of the world in this moment as I am.

Once my legs are back in order and my heartbeat has gone down again, I stretch some more, take some deep breaths, and trot out the last four hundred-plus meters, back to the start of the loop. The sun's behind the trees now and I have a little more shade, which is gratifying, but the workout is much the same as it was on the other side.  This time I have the creek on my right and a view of the park's grassy lawn

The end of the loop has a drinking fountain and another bench, usually just the thing I'm looking for.  But something notable happened today: I found that after taking a sip and walking back to the bench, I didn't really want to sit down.  My legs ached, yes, but not quite as much as they had before, and not quite enough to sit down.  As I said before, I've been at this for about a week now, and it's remarkable to think how quickly my body is adjusting to its new demands. 
This particular trail is sponsored by Adidas, a bit of an eyebrow-raiser in this Nike town.
I'm not sure when I'll be pushing for plural kilometers, or increase my speed, or even how long this particular regimen will last. If today's any indication, I certainly have it in me in the near future to really work up a sweat (without doubling over in unendurable pain).  Working out in the park is a lot different from using an elliptical machine or a treadmill at the gym: it's harder on the feet for one thing, but it also requires a different kind of goal setting.  There's no screen in front of you to count out the minutes or suggest benchmarks to hit: you need more determination to get the same benefit.    Still, I think I'm adjusting to it well.

My primary goal achieved, it's time to walk back home.  Walking is an exercise in its own right, of course, and among other things this routine allows me a good excuse to walk more when I might otherwise be sitting.  Running or walking, it feels good to get out and move.  When I finally return, it feels even better to wash the red dust off my feet and cool down in the shower.

So that's my run, today and hopefully for many days yet to come.  I know that it's been a big improvement in my life, and I can't wait to draw more benefits for my mind and body from it.  They say humans were built for running, and while I've never really lived up to it with my sedentary lifestyle, it will be fascinating to discover what my body can really do.

Friday, June 19, 2015

That One-In-A-Million Update

Here I am, poking my head out of the bunker to observe the devastation all around me.

What's that?  The world is still spinning?  Some measure of cheer can still be found amongst humans?

You forget these things while living under a rock. Not that I've been living under any actual rocks.  In point of fact, I've spent much of the last several months in a state of depression.  While many aspects of my life have gone on much as they have, one thing that I neglected pretty seriously was this blog, as you can plainly see.

Let's start with the cold facts for any future biographers: I live in Oregon once again, having long since realized that it is where I feel most comfortable.  I am single, looking for love again but trying to reconcile myself to the fact that the search may be long.  I'm working on getting my teaching certification renewed, and hunting for work so that I can finally establish my independence.  I saw a therapist for a few months while I was still living in San Diego, and now I'm looking into seeing another.  I'm hoping that I can really improve on the mental health front, because I finally realized this year that I have been living under completely unnecessary conditions for most of my life. 

Back to this blog here... I want to write more.  I haven't completed a story in a very long time, and producing stories is something that, however crude the result or minimal the response, I've always taken a certain amount of pride and satisfaction in.  Lately, the only things I've been able to write are poems.  Goodness knows I love writing poetry, but I want to write more.  More, more, more.

And yet, I am unsure about continuing on this particular blog platform.  My experience on Wordpress for the Korea blog my ex and I had was positive.  Despite my persistent lack of any real following online, I feel like I might get more follower-interaction there, which might more easily sustain my activity.  I don't know, the grass just looks greener over there, I guess.  Maybe all I want is a clean break with something, and a new blog is as good as anything else.

So I'll keep thinking on that.  In the meantime, I'm going to try really hard to write and make things appear on this blog, and if nothing else bring it into position for some kind of dignified send-off.  And I'll try to keep myself happy and sane, so that I can move on from what has been a rather difficult time in my life.  I don't know how many of you are out there, but I appreciate your support.

A final thought occurs.  This is the 200th published post on this blog.  A fitting milestone for ruminations of doom!  I can't think of any particular way to celebrate, except perhaps by celebrating life.  So here's a feel-good summertime song about that: