Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Poetries #8

I think by now, a careful reader with an appetite for punishment will have figured out all my tricks and inclinations when it comes to poetry.  I like to think I'm fairly diverse with the forms and techniques I use, but I also know I'm not a genius at this.  Talented maybe, but clumsy, impatient, and definitely undisciplined.  Discipline is a requirement for great poetry, and you'll find little of it here.

It doesn't really matter though, because I had quite a lot of fun writing these poems.  Yes, even the mopey ones.  These poems are all from the month of July 2016, a month in which I had little to do and plenty of time to ignore it.  I think I had a few good ideas that came out in decent shape, so here they are for your reading pleasure.

As far as content warnings go, The Security System Fails makes reference to school shootings; Came to Grips and Coughing both have to deal with illness (nothing serious, I just had a bad summer cold); Honey Pot and We've Been Here Before have some kind of weird food/sex vibe going on.  Honestly I don't know why that keeps happening.

As usual, commentary at the end for the patient and forgiving.

Flashes of Light in a Terrible Drought

Embers sparking in the streets
of south Eugene at two in the morning,
close to where the bowling alley
went ablaze a year ago.

White and yellow, Chinese Lanterns
cut the deep blue night to ribbons,
down the street from the empty lawn
where Civic Stadium used to stand.

Candy coated reds and blues
pollute the darkness of the moon,
pursuing drivers on the run
across the bright Willamette River.

Advice for the Young Growing Old

Celebrate a life
of gentleness and kind words;
cultivate a quiet state of mind.

Find a peaceful home
within your heart for all the
wild, impulsive marches of the soul.

Love the entire world
as much, if you can manage,
as you despise its worst injustice.

Be as human as
your parents and your children,
breathing deep the air of growth and grace.


Hanging by his ankles from the wide
window, his feet betraying no concern -
a lazy smile, seven stories high
and over ninety million miles beneath
a nonchalant, recumbent summer sun.
A finely cultivated air of rapture
emanates from truly unrepentant
troublemakers in the prime of life.


Depending on you,
accidents will happen;
night bird flying,
capturing moods.
I found a reason
not to touch the Earth -
give it time.

Honey Pot

Honey, spread on flesh and seared to fine amber,
sprinkled fresh in batter, smeared with butter; honey
with agave, honey blessed with maple syrup.

Pure and unadulterated honey pot,
such impressive composition, say the judges,
spoonful after spoonful dripping cool with bliss.

Bursting spring, when nectar, honey are in season!
Honey pots are overflowing, spread on flesh and
baked in bread, a splash of lust, a blush of honey.

Came to Grips

I wore a bit of cloth between myself
and the cold night that whispered through the blinds.

He closed on my throat, pushed my shoulders down,
and drew my breath across the length of my chest.

The fine hairs on my arms ans legs protested,
they resisted being called to rise.

An urgent cough was satisfied, another
cough suppressed, another half released.

A hollow circle, whole and battered, swung
around, and dissipated what it stole.

The Ecstasy

Heaven is a faint cloud
of noble gasses, lit with ball lightning
an instant after closing time.


Her parents named her oldest brother John
in trust that God would fill his heart with grace;

they called her second oldest brother Rob
when they foresaw a future in his face.

Their youngest son was duly christened Fred
in yearning for the dawn of world peace -

and then they named their only daughter Hope,
that from her chains she would obtain release.

The Security System Fails

Hard iron blast shields
torn, shaken

          Black rivets
screeched, scattered.

          Charred fingers.

Dead blisters.

          Red bullets
struck twenty two students.


Cough so loud
the old guitar
beside me hums
in harmony -
cough so loud,
the sweetest sound
echoes through
her body like
a soft volcano,
trembling in
her hollow breast.

We've Been Here Before

Wet with citrus,
weighted down with sweet juice
in the steam of hot days.

Orange fruit
and lemons, ripe and palpable
through bright, dimpled skin.

A mist quickens,
percolating from the air
and sweetening the brain.

Baskets dip,
and liberated tangerines
burst loudly with color.

A hand is reaching
up, further through thick leaves,
claiming nature's touch.

Barely conscious
of the cool scent, the young picker
gladly obeys commands.

A whole day
to be lost, overcome with wet
desire, lost in the orchard.

Madame Owl

Silent feathers, silent talons clasping
electric branches in the urban dark,
and still she sings in lovely tones.

ripple forth from errant motorcycles,
and she calls them, hoot, hoot -

                              She calls
aloud, to wheels roaring, engines brilliant
with oil, hoot, hoot -

                    To sleepless city
lights with wild screams and candied colors,
hoot, hoot, she murmurs,

          She will be their mother,
sing the missing lullaby in gentle
measure, send them back to moon and stars.

My Heart

I forgave my heart for breaking,
Lord have mercy, I was gracious
in accepting tearful pleas
from a sad and stricken penitent.

I forgave my heart, but I
did not forget its base, craven
treachery, its sabotage
and painful, pitiful surrender.

I forgave my heart, and I
remembered why it broke, forever,
and I never let the sobbing fool
forget its shame and sorrow, either.

Five in the Morning

Sweat in my sore eyes,
I might never sleep again -
have to click "refresh".

She Looks Straight Ahead

The sky is clear and the day cool, but soon
you know it will be hot; you are prepared.
A fan positioned by the open window,
a pot of Arnold Palmer - your breast is bared
and the soothing breeze reflects across your shoulders.
Through your blinds, the common swimming pool
erupts with laughter, dazzling and delighted
with itself for hosting such a jewel.
She walks with such assurance, you could swear
she was Astrud Gilberto, her intent
to make love in her lithe, familiar guise
to someone equally magnificent.
The light across her shoulder blades is kind,
but oh, you watch her so sadly through the blinds.

Flashes is the sort of poem a Californian writes after watching Oregonians make merry with fireworks on the Fourth of July.  Aren't they afraid of wildfires!?  The police are of course pursuing drunk drivers, since the fireworks are totally legal.  Civic Stadium and Southtown Lanes in Eugene did both burn down a year ago, so this poem gets a little bit of historical dating in that regard.  I don't know if fireworks were involved.

Advice is really about me advising myself, though it is phrased as advice for others out of sheer, unbridled arrogance.  This is the best way to give yourself advice.  The poem arises from my continuing efforts to internalize attitudes that promote peace of mind.  Call it a therapy poem.  Maybe one day it will be found on a therapist's wall.

I'm not sure what brought on Indestructible, but I got the image and I had to write about it.  Just some troublemaker worrying the neighbors while dangling from a window, feeling the limits of freedom.  Hope he has sunscreen.
Playlist is kind of dumb.  Kind of really dumb, actually.  For starters, it's an acrostic, which is just... yeah.  An acrostic of the word "dancing".  And each of the lines is a song title taken from my iTunes library.  Ugh.  I did my best to choose titles for good effect, but let's be honest here.  This was a goof.  A goof from start to finish.  At best it's cute.

Mmmmmm, Honey Pot.  This is me in a sensual mood.  It's scary.  This poem is notable for its hexameter lines, which is longer than I usually write.  It's a little repetitive and draggy, but mmmmm.  Honey.

Came to Grips is kind of a strange one.  I had a really bad cough that was keeping me up at night, and I started thinking about ancient depictions of nightmares as demons or incubi that sat on people's chests and drained their life out.  Spooky.  The lines are pentameters, with a lot of long feet placed in for variety.

The Ecstasy comes out of my recurring fascination with the difficulty of properly rendering haiku in English, leading directly to misguided attempts.  Here I went with a 5/7/5 pattern of words rather than syllables, because everything is made up and the points don't matter.  Ball lightning is a very mysterious phenomenon, and noble gasses like neon glow with colors when electricity passes through them.  Pretty straightforward for a poem about transcendence.

Now I like Etymologies, but we should be clear that it is not much more than it appears to be.  I like the idea of parents giving names to children on the basis of deep research into the historical meaning of their names, rather than for silly reasons like tradition or novelty.  The three brothers only exist, of course, to set up Hope's couplet, which is a neat little bit of Feminism 101.  The whole thing came to me after considering why it is that so many girl's names are also abstract nouns like Hope or Faith or things like that, while the same is uncommon with boys' names.  Of course, once upon a time all names had transparent meanings in their original languages.

The Security System Fails was an experiment in spondees that went dark quickly.  I think the experiment was successful, as the ratio of stressed to unstressed syllables is two to three (more than that just would not flow).  It got kind of a scary mood, and turned into a vignette about the limits of visible security measures in the face of determined malice.  Twenty two was chosen for sound and visual purposes, and is not a reference to the casualties of any actual incident.

Coughing is another poem about this damn cough.  It's about trying to find beauty in a painful inconvenience, and was inspired by an actual guitar.

Oh damn, I got all sensual again and seriously abused the word "wet".  We've Been Here Before is about memories of picking fruit with a lover, poetically transmogrified into rampant debauchery.  Avert your eyes.  It also continues my recent fascination with the spondee.

Madame Owl is basically made up of pentameters, but I tried to give the lines a more interesting shape.  It's an attempt at describing the sounds I often hear through my window at night.  Not sure why I can't describe the lights on police and emergency vehicles without referencing candy, but I think it works.

Mopey shit in tetrameters, that's what My Heart is.  Kind of a cracked attempt at getting to the bottom of a heartache that never really heals.

Five in the Morning is just a regular old syllabic haiku about insomnia.

I'm glad it turned out to be last, because She Looks Straight Ahead is my favorite.  Lust, longing, and the Girl from Ipanema in sonnet form.  I'm actually kind of proud of the rhyme work here, especially intent/magnificent.  It looks almost wrenched, but it's really not.  Well done, poet.  The "you" in the poem is not me, but I think "you" and I are kindred spirits.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Bird Keeper

When I took the body of my pet lovebird, Zoey, to the veterinary clinic for an autopsy, I was nearly speechless.  At the earliest opportunity, I left the building and drove home, my throat twisted and my eyes raw.  That was the hardest time.

The thing is, it happened months ago, back in April.  I didn't write about it here at the time.  Zoey was a beautiful bird that I knew and loved from the moment she hatched from the egg, some fifteen years ago.  But after memorializing her on Facebook and Tumblr, I didn't know what else I could add on this blog.

Zoey only lived in my apartment for the last month of her life, but I had never seen her as an old bird.  It's true she had some apparent medical problems, but she remained lively, curious, and friendly as always.  I had honestly forgotten how old she was, assuming I still had a few years left to take care of her and enjoy her company.  Finding her gone was a shock, because I was so determined to do my best for her.

My family has had birds since I was a kid.  And like many kids with pets, responsibility was a lesson I was sorely in need of learning.  I truly loved that succession of small parrots, of which Zoey was the last.  Taking care of them was a chore, though, and what kid doesn't try to avoid those?  

So I took on the responsibility of caring for Zoey with some apprehension.  There was my own mental health to consider.  Though I'd seen myself on an upswing since landing my new job, depression has been a constant in my life for a very long time.  I knew its effects well, especially the way it sapped my energy for necessary tasks.  The last thing I wanted was to fall into a cycle of neglect.  

That did not happen, however.  In the time Zoey lived with me, I cleaned her cage once a week, and dutifully kept her well-stocked with healthy food and fresh water.  She saw a veterinarian for an infection in her nostril, which I applied medicine for, as well as for the bare patches on her shoulders.  I played with her nearly every evening, and allowed her the freedom to explore the apartment with careful supervision.  Zoey was a happy bird, and I felt like a responsible bird keeper.

Inevitably, finding an animal in your care to be deceased leads to feelings of guilt, in addition to loss and confusion.  Those feelings diminished somewhat, when I consulted with my sister and made a better estimate of Zoey's age; she had in fact lived a long life.  But I still remembered all the times I'd been less involved in her care, and the many years I'd spent living far away from her.  Zoey and I were friends in a way I hadn't been with any other bird, and I deeply regretted the time I'd lost with her.

Far from taxing my mental health, taking on Zoey was a clear benefit.  She was a link to happy childhood memories, as well as a perpetually cheerful presence.  Tending to her needs gave me a routine that helped me structure my day, an important part of my self-therapy.  Sharing pictures and videos of her with my students made me feel proud.  And I would not put this lightly: it can be absolutely wonderful to have a pet of any kind in the home when you live by yourself.  They may not talk back, but they are incredibly sympathetic.

A beautiful young bird called Zoey.
 By the time summer came around, my next move was obvious.  I liked being a bird keeper, and I wanted to be one again.  And since there were no more family birds to take on, it was time to look out to the world for a new one.  Or, as things ultimately turned out, two.

A little searching brought me to the website of Exotic Bird Rescue of Oregon, where I found an unexpected opportunity to adopt a pair of peach face lovebirds.  Going by the unusual names of Bondog and Sherbert, they are a bonded couple of presumed females.  Both are somewhat timid, and Sherbert has a common disability: widely splayed legs that make walking and climbing an awkward affair.  But both seemed like the perfect fit for my life, though their origins as "rescue birds" remain somewhat mysterious.

Bondog (yellow) and Sherbert (green) on the day I first met them.
Clearly, there's no replacing Zoey, who would playfully chase my fingers whenever I held an interesting object and fly to my shoulder unbidden.  With Bonnie (what kind of name is Bondog anyway?) in particular, I'm lucky if I can put my finger near her without receiving a hiss and a pinch.  They love to be together, but they need separate cages whenever they fall to squabbling.  They both seem perfectly content to spend all their time in one corner of the room, preening and eyeing me with suspicion.

Bonnie does not care for a camera in the cage.
I knew as soon as I met them, however, that adopting them was not a mistake.  A bird does not need to love being handled to be a source of joy.  Watching the pair of them enjoy each other's company is a satisfying experience all its own.  When they splash their little faces with water, or even when they dive heartily into their food dishes, I feel a calm satisfaction in knowing their needs are met.  When they fly across the room after a tasty snack of millet, it's gratifying to see they are healthy and strong.  


Even such little birds can have out-sized personalities.  Bonnie is a brash character,  eager to be in the lead of things and sometimes treating her friend without consideration.  Sherbert is more shy, but she is very gentle.  She uses her splayed legs to great effect, even if her landings are always a little clumsy.  I've never seen a bird more determined to keep up.  It's true they can get to fighting sometimes, but when they start cuddling, you'll never find a sweeter pair.

Still not a big fan of that camera.
I was very clear in my intentions to have lovebirds in my home, as opposed to any other parrot species.  Over the years I came to appreciate their cleverness, their enthusiastic voices, and their sheer capacity for affection.  Bonnie and Sherbert are gorgeous animals who I look forward to caring for, years into the future.  And it will be years; one of the things they stress upon adopting a parrot is their potential longevity.  Lovebirds typically live about fifteen years, but twenty is not unheard of.  As far as can be known, Bonnie and Sherbert are both about three, so with proper care I can expect them to be in my home for at least another decade.  It's a big responsibility to take on, but I feel big enough for the task.

Yes, sometimes they are good enough to sit on my shoulder.
Already, I feel myself falling in love with these birds.  It's a wonderful thing to love an animal as a pet, to bond with a creature so different from oneself.  I believe it testifies to the remarkable reaches of the human capacity for empathy, to see and respond to something almost human in a non-human creature.

Netflix and chirp.  They're just like us!
Zoey and I had a bond of friendship, one I will always miss.  Bonnie and Sherbert are bonded with each other, but I am pleased to be a vital part of their little world.  Or, at least the part that provides millet.
Millet for days.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Pokémon Go: A Trainer's Report

This is an unusual review for me, because Pokémon Go is a very unusual game.  I'm not accustomed to games that require me to leave my house; those are usually called "sports", and the less said about my relationship with them, the better.  But if catching pocket monsters is ever classified as a sport... well, that's actually a more disturbing possibility than I thought.  Best not to pursue it.

If Pokémon were a sport, my Lapras would be the best there ever was, maybe.
Pokémon is a series of games that seems to have been waiting for the technology of "augmented reality" from its earliest days.  The original Red/Blue versions for the Gameboy were essentially games about amateur naturalists, enthusiastic plant and animal lovers who combed the long grass looking for specimens to complete an encyclopedia.  The combat aspect is really only a means to an ends within the conventions of the genre: the thrill of Pokémon is in the collection, not in the fight.  Now, by removing the monsters from fictional long grass and replacing them amongst real human communities, the engagement of the player is theoretically even stronger.

You may also discover your home is full of ghosts, which just raises more uncomfortable questions.
Granted, it is technically possible to play the game without leaving home, in a limited way.  Certain items can bring the Pokémon flocking to your location, and if you happen to live next door to a Pokéstop (lucky me!), you can easily replenish basic items like Pokéballs and potions.
That really is about the limit of it, though.  To really engage with the "augmented reality" of Pokémon, you need to find a way out into the sunlit space of ordinary reality.  To play this game to its full potential , you need to learn to engage simultaneously with both.

This purple Pokéstop is just within range of my apartment, which I consider its primary value as a residence.
Once you've physically placed yourself in the right locations, Pokémon Go becomes a little more interesting.  At designated locations called gyms, players can battle the Pokémon left by other players, and capture the gym in the name of one of three teams.  Following the map, you can see where other players have established lures, hot spots for Pokémon activity.  And the game encourages long walks with the egg-hatching mechanic, essentially a reward for going to new places, or even just moving around in a big circle.

I walked 10 kilometers for you, egg, show me what you've got...
But what about the other world?  The one where most people can't see the colorful monsters we're chasing around?  Due deference to this reality is required, not least because it is full of cars and creeks and other unfortunate things to walk into.  The stakes of Pokémon Go are pretty high when you consider an outing might end in some sort of real-world disaster.

Someone tell this Venonat not to play in the street!
Prudent players must keep their wits about them, not only for safety but for etiquette as well.  Pokémon Go may lead you through busy pedestrian areas, so you've got to be considerate in sharing your space.  If the gym you're battling for is adjacent to a local restaurant or coffeehouse, perhaps the polite thing to do would be to patronize it now and again.  And if you chance upon a real animal on your journey, it's considered good form to let them in on the action.

No, cat!  Look back at the bird!
By far, my favorite aspect of Pokémon Go is how it has affected the way I see the city I live in.  I moved to this town about six months ago, and social anxiety has mainly kept me indoors during my free time.  With the excuse of a video game, I'm not only going outside more often than before; I'm also visiting locations and seeing remarkable sights that I might easily never have known about.  It turns out that there are beautiful parks, ponds, and architecture all around me.  And as a bonus, they're all just filthy with Pokémon.

It would be inhumane not to catch this one...
 Is there a downside to this?  Well, we already knew being outside was dangerous; it's probably best to play in nice safe groups.  Public spaces aren't always very accessible for disabled people either, which can keep them out of the potential fun.  And as any rural resident can tell you, the game is a bit less exciting when you are miles from the kind of landmarks that get marked as Pokéstops and gyms.  So unlike most video games, Pokémon Go cannot provide an identical gaming experience to all players in all places.  That might be mitigated in the future, but for now it seems like an unfortunate consequence of the basic design.

There's no guarantee you'll find a Meowth chilling in your friend's place, but it's always kind of nice when you do.
If you do have the means and the time, catching Pokémon on your phone is a great pastime.  Battling for the glory of your team, training up an impressive roster of fighters, or just stumbling upon rare Pokémon in unexpected places, all evoke the childlike excitement this franchise carries so well.  It still has some bugs that need to be worked through, but the core experience is solid.  At least when it's not infested with Rattatas...

No, Rattata!  That's unsanitary!