Monthly Archives: May 2009

Forty Poems in Forty Days- part II

Half way through my self-imposed challenge of writing 40 poems in 40 days, and I’m still in it. As proof, here are the poems from days 11-20. Fair warning: among the prompts in this ten day period were writing something repulsive and/or not politically correct, and writing an over the top erotic poem. If you read further, having been warned, I am not responsible for what happens to you…

************************************************
Day 11 called for no punctuation
The thing is (comma)
it’s not hard for me to do (period)
It’s easy (exclamation point)
I often leave punctuation out
in my poems (semi-colon)
commas (comma)
semicolons (comma)
even periods
or question marks (period)
Doesn’t everyone (question mark)

Bacon!
It’s a
wonderment
of
red,
orange
and
sienna
proteins,
with
twisty white
fatty
pathways
leading
to heaven.

It all makes sense now…
All the mother wounds
God-shaped holes
shifty obsessions
and cat love.
Even the Disappearing Mine
when I was ten
and the meaning
of the Green Flash incident.

I understand it all,
the secret.
The key lies in realizing
that your whole life
is actually—

Ah, but I don’t need
to tell you.
You can see for yourself
just do what I did:

In Microsoft Excel 2009
go to the menu, click on “tools”
choose “data analytics” from the dropdown
install the “analyze my whole damn life” toolpack
then use the help menu
to write the “understand everything” equation.

Minor Hues
Everybody knows
about ochre,
umber
and burnt sienna.
But who respects beaver?
What praise draws timberwolf?
Wherefore not into glory goes cornflower?
Is there a palette
that will honor
these marginal shades
before Crayola
shuffles off
their mortal coil?

The Ideal Man
You can keep
your
Apollo,
Adonis
and young Ganymede
buggered by Jupiter.
Give me
William Shatner,
circa 1967,
yellow-green tunic
torn at the shoulder,
wiping blood
off of his knuckle-busted
Elvis sneer
before teaching
a quarrelsome Klingon
the facts of life.

(untitled haiku)
Poop? Poop! Coprolites?
Maybe in a few million
Shit hardened years

Summer of Hate
I hear it was
really something
that first summer of 1967.
Peace and Flowers
positive vibrations
all that happy hippy bullshit.
But within a few years
the hippies switched
from LSD to speed
started killing cats for food
and the streets
filled with real shit.
Ever since then
it’s been
a Summer of Hate.

A Summer of
yellow-eyed
disease infected homeless
in crap-caked clothes.

A summer of
sneering teen gutter punks
from the burbs
playing homeless for the weekend
spitting on passersby
who don’t give them change.

A Summer of
abscess ridden junkies
leaving their fluids in the gutter
and port-a-potties overflowing
with the orange caps
of their syringes

A Summer of
Those who never made it out
of the Sixties
wandering emaciated
food and dried slobber-ridden
birds nest beards shaking
as they rant to thin air.

A Summer of
faux nostalgia head shops
yuppie ice cream parlors
and comodified counterculture
drawing in
fat, complacent onlookers.

Summer in and Summer out
for almost 40 years now
an Endless Summer
of Haight.

Autoerotic asphyxiation
Every time I think of you
I pull the plastic tubing
a little tighter
swell another half inch
and reach for the lube

How I Know I’m In Love
Sometimes it comes
In little things transformed:
Your earplugs on the dresser
Coated with dried wax
Beautiful to me

Captain! Oh Conservative captain!
(with all due apologies to Walt Whitman and Abe Lincoln)

This twentieth day of May
Two Thousand and Nine
you left us, dear Rush.
Call me no more, you said
the titular head
of the party Republican.
“I never sought it.
I give it back.”
Oh sweet selfless prince!
At the thought of politics
shorn of your presence
I weep, unashamed, like a woman,
and tear my shirt in grief.
“Mention me not,”
you told MSNBC,
“for an entire month!”
An entire month!
Scarcely can I imagine one day
without you by my side
to stem the Liberal tide.
The dark days ahead
seem to me as grim
as to you must seem
the thought of life
without oxycontin.

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Project Dylan: Bringing it All Back Home (1965)

After a shameful break, I’m back with “Project Dylan”, my sequential overview of my favorite Bob Dylan albums. So far I’ve covered Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A’ Changin, and Another Side of Bob Dylan. Now on to Bringing It All Back Home

****************************************
In standard Dylan exegesis, Bringing It All Back Home is where Dylan breaks with the folkie/protest singer identity of his earlier work. Not only is he already turning electric here, well before he gets to “Like a Rolling Stone”, but his artistic focus turns to an inner symbolic world where his vision reaches the surreal new levels that mark him as the poet of his generation. I suppose that’s all true as far as it goes, but what I hear throughout this album is seething protest. The protest is now bigger, and more fundamental, than civil rights or the anti-war movement. It’s nothing less than a repudiation of the way things are, the entire way society is organized.

“Subterranean Homesick Blues” kicks in to it with full tilt electrified blues, rock and roll by any other name, that in just over two minutes flat of rapid-fire verse paints a picture of a society that one can only hide out from in basements as it seeks to put you on the day shift. And what else is it but the whole system of expectations itself that he doesn’t want to labor for anymore in “Maggie’s Farm”: Well, I try my best/ To be just like I am/ But everybody wants you/ To be just like them/ They sing while you slave and I just get bored/ I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more? The pervasive rebellion reaches a high point on “Outlaw Blues”, an echoing steely blues song that warns off all comers: Don’t ask me nothin’ about nothin’/ I just might tell you the truth.

The whole argument comes to a conclusion in the masterful incisive poetic stream of consciousness that is “It’s Alright Ma’ (I’m Only Bleeding)”. I won’t go into its rich detail here except to note that the poet, even while admitting: If my thought-dreams could be seen/ They’d probably put my head in a guillotine, still asserts: Although the masters make the rules/ For the wise men and the fools/ I got nothing, Ma, to live up to. Read the rest when you have a chance, and see if it doesn’t ring even more true in the aftermath of financial and consumer collapse in 2009 than it did in 1965.

Even a song that is clearly comedic, like “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream”, where Dylan actually busts up laughing at the beginning, uses absurdism and rhyme to lay bare the genocide and thievery at the heart of the founding of the country. The joking “On the Road Again” similarly insists on opting out of the great big out-of-control American nightmare: You ask why I don’t live here?/ Honey how come you don’t move? So too with the seemingly abstract poetry of “Mister Tambourine Man” and “Gates of Eden” which nonetheless seek out realms beyond the straightjacket of everyday life.

There are more personal moments too, including what I think is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”. My heart aches every time I hear the lines: My love she speaks like silence/ Without ideals or violence/ She doesn’t have to say she’s faithful/ Yet she’s true, like ice, like fire, not least because I know nothing I write will ever touch it. “She Belongs to Me” shimmers with line after line of beautiful poetry subtly undercut by the servitude to the woman it portrays. Words also fail to describe the bitter beauty of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, a breakup song that assigns longing and melancholy regret for the breakup to the other party, surely a neat trick if there every was one. It also seems a kind of bridge to the albums larger theme of protest, the bereft woman as American society itself, told to leave failed excess behind and begin again:

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you.
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore.
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue.

40 Poems in 40 Days!

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February I went to a poetry workshop where two poet-professors from Davis, Brad Henderson and Andy Jones described their semi-annual ritual/challenge of doing 40 poems in 40 days. The idea is, regardless of quality of result, to write a poem a day every day for forty days as a way of kicking your poetic muse into gear. They do this a couple times a year, although typically only a handful of the resulting poems go on to be used elsewhere. They even provided a list of daily prompts to guide your efforts if you need direction.

This whole venture sounded like fun, and fit nicely with my own intention for the year to re-connect with my muse. I knew I would be busy in March and April with my film project, so I decided I’d give it a try starting in May. And here we are! Being a confessionalist in my writing, I’ve decided to share the process with you, my hapless victims. The first ten day’s worth are below, more to follow…

Warning: These are meant to be exercises, and some of the prompts that inspired them are intentionally nonsensical. Proceed at your own risk…

Hot Water
(for Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”)

Some said fire, some said ice
but Frost (great seer)
got it right on both counts:
the lineaments
of our slaughter
are even now
being traced
by the drip, drip, drip
of hot water

A Truth Beyond All Truths
(owing something to Wallace Stevens’ “Landscape with Boat”)

Anti-matter, florid, eccentric

Meets its opposite and wipes out all things
Leaving behind the scintillating blue array
Of particle trails
Rushing out from a point that is no point
Primeval blank vacuum field

In the Night before all nights
Something erupted there,
Or nothing,
Whichever, kept expanding
Into all the things that now are

The truth, even now,
Is that these things are still the nothing
They once were,
Even we are that nothing
Which is to say something

We, all, the empty space
From which pours infinite creation

untitled
I would lie there
twelve years old
on the sand
between the dusty spread legs
of two oak covered hills
yearning for something
that stirred
like the slit-eyed leopard sharks
in the crusted salt
brackish tang
and sinuous twist
of the slough before me

Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu
All 200 patients
of the Denton Regional Medical Center
in Denton, Texas
have custom headphones
built into their beds
that play every Aerosmith song
ever recorded
on demand

Since most of the patients are older
classics are popular
In Cardiology, Radiation Oncology and
Geriatric Neurology
it’s strictly
“Sweet Emotion”, “Dream On”
and “Mama Kin”

Even down in Progressive Care
and the Adolescent Unit
they still have the good sense
to pick it up with the Run-DMC remix
of “Walk This Way”
and cut it off circa 1994
with “Cryin’”

Only in the Psych Ward
in the basement
does anybody have the
bad taste, or derangement
to listen to
“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”

Nightmare of myself given childhood encouragement and high school confidence
He feels nothing but satisfaction,
a kind of ownership,
as he slaps the behind
of the lithe young blonde
lounging in satin
on his way to the shower.
More of the same
in the streamlined gleam
of his sports utility vehicle
gliding down LA freeways.
The feeling reaches a peak
in the glass-walled office
where all eyes at the trading desk
behold him with nervous regard
while his view
sweeps the city
that the electronic millions
he commands
courses through
as he confidently ignores
their expected reverence.

ellipsis
Of all the…
I have ever…
the one
that endures is…
Even now… rises
at the memory of… …
lying… on the…
as we… the width
and breadth
of…
until…
ran its course
and…
took its weary toll

It’s Surprising to Me Too
Legions of menstruating grandmothers for Obama
Will have their final battle
With the spider monkeys of doom
On the caldera of an Icelandic volcano
On July 4, 1876
For reasons that are yet obscure
But will one day be the subject
Of Applied Chronametrics term papers
Flashed through cerebral upload academies
By eight year olds

600 Montgomery
It squats at the bottom
like a giant marble bullfrog
The functionless top scratches heaven
with its ornamental cement pylons
In-between
stack upon stack
of white stone, black window
options narrow

Question to the Taiwanese birders I met at the Explorer’s Inn, Tambomachay, Peru
Do grebes float
In the Rio Tambobo?
Venturers
through a fluidic space
whose muddy bottom
is as bone-littered
as the Chauchilla Cemetery,
do they brave caiman,
giant river otters
and threats whose taxonomy
I can’t even name
and then emerge
to build nests
in green jungles
abutting sandy riverbanks?

I began to seek the way out long before
We lived in Salinas, I was only six or seven. I was not allowed to go to the 7-11 by myself. I snuck there anyway with my next-door neighbor. On the way back we cut through an abandoned lot. We got away with it! Home, no evidence, parents never even knew—“What happened to your foot?” I looked down to find my right foot covered in blood. I must have cut it on broken glass in the lot. I didn’t feel it before, but as soon as I saw it, I screamed and cried. Pain? Yes. But almost as bad— Caught! Lying, guilt, doing what I wasn’t supposed to. My foot throbbed and pumped out crimson. The blood shooting up the dropper’s neck, in my system even then. It left behind a triangular scar that remains to this day.

May Writing News

And now the year is one third over! Don’t fret, though. Good things are afoot creatively, which I shall share with you forthwith:

Film- We finished seven days of shooting in April for the short film that I’m writing and producing, “Three Conversations About No Thing”. This month the crew is working on editing, and we’ll screen the film, or some portion thereof, during Scary Cow’s quarterly screening at the Victoria Theatre on Sunday June 7th. Invitations will be headed your way once tickets go on sale! And, as if that’s not enough, I’ll also be appearing at the screening (briefly) as a pizza delivery guy in “Just Super”, someone else’s project that I did some crew work on.

Publication- I’m at 14 submissions year to date, not quite one a week, but still a pretty good pace. The acceptance rate is currently hovering around 7%, which hopefully will revert toward last year’s mean later in the year and net a few more publications. Meanwhile, a poem I submitted last year has just appeared in the SoMa Literary Review, which I’m very excited about: http://www.somalit.com/(untitled).html . I also continue to write for LEGENDmag, an online and offline publication covering the progressive urban independent lifestyle. You can read one of my latest here: http://legendmag.net/thelegendonline/2009/04/16/i-make-movies/

Performance- I read at the Café International open mic on April 24th. At first the whole scene there seemed very chaotic, but it grew on me by the end of the evening. Furthering my pledge to read somewhere once a month, I’m aiming to hit Brainwash’s open mic Monday May 18th. Details to follow…

Novel- I’m expecting to hear back this month from a freelance editor I met at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February, who’s doing an evaluation of the manuscript of my novel, Out In The Neon Night. Hopefully this will help me plan the next step of targeting a new round of agents and publishers. In the meantime, you can read the first chapter on my blog: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/2009/02/first-chapter-of-my-novel-in-neon-night.html

Blog- And then there’s the blog. Fascination and fear at future evolution, thoughts about being a man and reflections on personal holidays can all be found here: http://chris-west.blogspot.com/

Back in June, at which point the year will be almost half over! I promise I’ll get off this passage of time trope soon…

Independence Day

I think it’s quite as important to have private holidays as public ones.

Thanksgiving, Easter, Memorial Day and their kin can, perhaps, bring us together as a community and help us remember important things. But there are also private dates of remembrance that can bring us together with ourselves. These dates of ritual observance can remind us about where we’ve been and give us occasion to think about where we’re going.

Yesterday, for example, was my Independence Day.

On May 3, 2002 I went to stay with friends for the weekend while my wife moved out of our apartment. Regarding the specifics, I’ll only say that she had her reasons, she did it after two and a half years of trying to get me to do it, and nothing we did to try to hold it together in the interim had worked.

At the time I was melancholy, and vaguely terrified, but looking back it was a profound gift. Within a few months, things that I had put on hold for years had reawakened. I was writing again, buying new music, getting out in the town to try a hundred new things. Our separation lengthened into divorce and I began the baffling process of learning to love again.

Other things reawakened to, old demons of depression and addiction, and the past seven years have had their share of heartbreak and turmoil. But I grew through them, and, looking back, everything that I think of now as who I am- the people I know, the things I do, what’s most important to me in life, came about after this date. I’m so grateful that life (and to be fair, her) gave me the kick in the butt I needed to start to become a whole person.

I treasure this wholeness now, and want to use this seven-year anniversary to reaffirm my commitment to continue to pursue it no matter what.